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1.

He got lost on his first mission, needing help from Aziraphale to find the wandering tribes and properly distribute the manna. (Nichiel said he owed Aziraphale a favor, and Aziraphale waved it off and said there was no hurry.)

2.

Nibbled a piece of the manna. It didn’t taste like anything to him.

3.

Gave out one more miraculously multiplied fish during the Sermon On the Mount than was allowed per person, because he felt sorry for the gaunt woman who asked him to. Also he paused more frequently than he should have because he wanted to hear the sermon better. He’d come all this way, after all.

4.

Apparently God had decided to answer the prayers of the people of Australia regarding the difficulty of finding food in their harsh environment. (The prayers were to their uniquely named deities, but prayers from good people were still legitimate prayers.) Nichiel visited the outback for several months. He then made a bunch of suggestions in his debriefing with the Metatron. The only one which eventually came to pass was a few species of Australian bee becoming stingless, as Nichiel had observed that they had few enough predators that this would be unlikely to do them harm in the long term. A few humans were sent helpful visions to alert them about the new easy energy source.

“Between you and me, I still think there’s far too many dangerous animals in one place than necessary, and those animals themselves are far too dangerous,” Nichiel confided in a friend later. Duma, Angel of Silence, was an excellent listener, and didn’t seem shocked at Nichiel’s mild criticism of Creation, at least where Australian fauna was concerned. "I mean, New Zealand is much safer and full of fat birds that can't fly. Seems imbalanced."

5.

As ordered, Nichiel made a deer conveniently die on the path of some hungry travelers in the Russian Empire. Then he decided that it was unfair that the deer was so scrawny and surreptitiously made it fatter post-mortem. Later that day, in a nearby village, he tried coarse, thick bread and a simple peasant beetroot dish, and it was like a glorious explosion in his mouth. Manna must have had some sort of anti-angel stamp on it. This human food, cooked by humans, was amazing to him. His hosts thought he was having some kind of fit by the weird noises he was making.

6.

In feudal Japan - his orders were to ensure a bumper crop of rice for a specific city for some ineffable reason - he tried some sake when the lady of the house offered, instead of politely declining. Then, astounded and delighted, he promptly drank too much of it and had to painfully sober up before returning home.

7.

Nichiel made a detour on the way back from a mission in Spain and stopped by Morocco for the day’s rest he’d earned. This wasn’t against the rules. It did flout expectations a tad. He was curious about this Ramadan concept, and became impressed by the act of devotion and hoped God appreciated it as much as Nichiel thought They should. Also, the harira soup for breaking the fast at sundown was delicious.

8.

In 1848, Nichiel was supposed to send a bunch of seagulls to eat the pests that were devouring the crops of the new founders of Salt Lake City, Utah. An eccentric group, Nichiel thought, but they seemed earnest and no more harmful than average. Though happy to help, he asked his handler why he was needed, because wouldn’t it be normal for hungry birds to seek out and eat insects no matter what? Didn’t they always do that?

She frowned at him and told him that if the humans who witnessed this believed this was a miracle, that would boost the faith statistics of that area in an appropriately judicious manner for decades, maybe centuries. That’s what mattered. Now stop asking questions and go conspicuously wrangle some gulls.

9.

His most harrowing mission was in China in 1960. It was one thing for a country to experience consecutive years of bad harvests. That was simply something that happened. But the local dictator’s policies had exacerbated the natural difficulties. They forced many farmers to abandon their own land in favor of recklessly rapid industrialization, replaced centuries of agricultural wisdom with ineffective pseudoscience, reallocated supplies according to politics rather than need, and suppressed the truth about the results so harshly that doctors literally feared to write STARVATION as a cause of death for fear of being prosecuted as an enemy of the revolution.

Nichiel was there to save a few people. He had a list. Why he was supposed to save them and only them, he had no idea, but in the guise of a traveling doctor (Chinese, of course, anyone looking foreign here and now wouldn’t last long), he dutifully saved them and only them. Even when he saw people forcing others to eat dung if they were caught stealing grain. Even when he saw desperate parents digging shallow roadside holes too deep for their abandoned babies to crawl out of, leaving notes begging for someone else who had the food to spare to adopt them.

Then he came upon a child who’d been so hungry that he’d dug up clay and eaten it to quiet his stomach. Now his bowels were obstructed and he was dying in agony. Agony. The best surgeon in the world could not have saved him at that point. His mother was holding him and weeping.

ARE YOU HERE TO TAKE ACTION? Death asked Nichiel in his hollow, resonant voice, ready to swing the scythe. They hadn’t met before, but Death knew everyone, and greeted them all as polite acquaintances. Even angels.

“He’s not on my list,” Nichiel said, in a voice only he and the Horseman could hear. “I’m only supposed to save people on my list. Klexos was very clear about that. She’s fond of rules.”

Death was neither kind nor unkind, simply stating the truth. THAT IS NOT MY QUESTION.

Feeling something in him break, Nichiel gave the mother a vial of mystery liquid he’d made materialize in his doctor’s bag. “Feed this to him, and it will soften the mass and he will recover. By the way, as I was traveling, I saw a persimmon tree in fruit. I’m not sure how others missed it. Do you want to know where it is?”

Death inclined his head in acknowledgment and headed for another part of the village.

 

10.

For overstepping his bounds in China, Nichiel ended benched from field missions for more than fifty years. Then, all of a sudden, a mission came up that needed an angel who would be overly empathetic and friendly towards humans, and his flaw became a virtue. So that he wouldn’t look completely clueless on arrival, he was teamed up with a few saved souls of virtuous deceased Youtubers to teach him some of the basic concepts before he was maneuvered into a Buzzfeed internship to get close to Ryan Bergara. They met in a neutral space, neither Paradise nor the Silver City, specially supplied with real computers and a genuine internet connection. One of Nichiel’s teachers, Esther Grace Earl, helped him choose a name for his deepest cover yet.

Once Andrew Ilnyckyj made it into Buzzfeed, it was nothing like he expected, and the work he did for his first stretch of time there was no preparation for the joyful chaos after being swept up in the new web series Worth It. Well, almost all of it was joy. He felt way worse about the greed and gluttony of eating food covered in gold leaf than he would ever tell the camera. Yet he liked sharing meals and laughing with Steve and Adam enough that he did nothing harsher than lightly mock the concept of gilded pastry or ice cream. He was glad nobody in the Silver City actually watched the show.

(The homeless shelter near his apartment was fed particularly well after such shoots, though.)

(+1)

About eight months after Shane/the demon Shemodai had learned the truth about Andrew/the angel Nichiel, Buzzfeed had a cheesy corporate training day thing, including plenty of team-building games.

“How did we get paired up with each other to do trust falls?” Shane said, holding back laughter. Ryan was looking at them with concern even as he was about to topple backwards into the arms of some intern over a Buzzfeed Multiplayer. Sara and Jen weren't paired with each other, but with other friends of similar builds. Jen was wearing a tiny iron horseshoe as a charm around her neck today, probably a lucky gift from Anathema. Maybe she was nervous about crashing to the floor, given how often she tumbled to the ground in her daily life, let alone these

“Maybe my real boss has a sense of humor,” Andrew said dryly.

Shane lined up behind Andrew as their overenthusiastic coaches were yelling for people to do. “I feel like you shouldn’t feel like you should trust me.”

“Tortured syntax aside, I agree. Thing is, I’ve got a long history of almost doing what I’m supposed to, enough to still be considered good, but never being perfect.” He’d never outright verbalized that idea before. He was surprisingly okay with it. Nichiel and Shemodai didn't have to be like their kinda-sorta older brother figures, star-crossed husbands Aziraphale and Crowley. They just had to be unlikely work friends Andrew and Shane.

“It’s not really falling, anyway,” Shane said, and he would know. “Ready? 3...2...1…”

Andrew - Nichiel - Andrew closed his eyes and let go. Friendly hands caught him.

Chapter Text

Soon after Shane stopped suppressing Ryan’s abilities - but before filming the next season of BFU Supernatural - Ryan spotted two ghosts while living his ordinary life. The ghost population was thinly spread outside of known haunted locals, full of weak, unobtrusive ghosts that didn’t have the motivation or strength for ordinary people to notice much.

The first was a twenty-six-year-old (at time of death) named Yusuf. Nine years ago he had slipped and cracked his skull in one of the shower stalls at Ryan’s gym. Ryan had to find this out through discreet questioning of gym staff, since Yusf had a limited vocabulary. Shane said that was common in ghosts that had been dead multiple years with only a light hold on this world. It included Yusuf’s own name, his girlfriend’s name, and phrases like, “Is she happy?” He startled Ryan the first time Ryan saw him roaming around all translucent and naked with “blood” gushing from his head wound, and Ryan dragged Shane there before work the next day for Shane to check if he was evil.

Far from being evil, Yusuf turned out to be a nice ghost who used his limited energy to turn off any faucets left running in the showers, as if he didn’t want anyone else to slip either. Ryan eventually got the idea to find the girlfriend’s Instagram. She had completed her Ph.D. in biochemistry and gotten a job she liked in the field, and also had what seemed like a nice husband and a cute baby. Ryan printed out some of the happiest photos and taped them to the wall of one of the shower stalls just before closing time, then left the shower going at a trickle to attract Yusuf’s attention. When he came back the next morning, the pictures were gone and Ryan never saw him again.

“Plan worked. Have I turned into the kid from The Sixth Sense?” Ryan asked Shane later that day while seated side by side at their workstations. He’d waited until their immediate office neighbors were all elsewhere.

“Only if I get to be Bruce Willis’ character,” Shane said. He took a long sip of his tea and patted Ryan on the back.

The second ghost was a much less pleasant haunting in the unisex bathroom of a casual restaurant where Ryan and Shane had invited Kelsey Impicciche. They wanted to do another Sims video with her, and also the poor girl mostly ate salads alone at her desk now that her besties YB Chang and Evan Ghang had both left Buzzfeed. Ryan had never been to this restaurant before, despite it being near enough to Buzzfeed HQ for them to go during their lunch break, so he’d been completely unprepared for the transparent ghost of a middle-aged blonde woman in a waitress uniform to be snorting lines of cocaine off a laminated menu while crouched on the floor.

“I, uh, I don’t want to step on you,” Ryan said once he got his voice back.

“I stole my friend’s tips for weeks to pay for this impure shit,” she complained. “Sold all my son’s fucking toys, and for what?”

Ryan did not relieve himself successfully, but he would rather hold it than continue to try in such company. He went back to their booth where Kelsey was happily eating a salad and chatting away.

“You should go wash your hands,” Ryan told Shane, whose entree hadn’t arrived yet. If the ghost had been a bad enough person, despite Shane’s exile he still had the ability to boot her to Hell. What Ryan had heard from her suggested she might qualify.

“I’ll get around to it. Kelsey’s telling me about the new Sims expansion we could try together.”

Making eye contact with Shane, Ryan said slowly, “I’m not asking you to ditch her, just reminding you that even Bigfoot spawn like you shouldn’t forget about hygiene.” “Ditch” had become their code word for “genuine spooky stuff” in front of other people.

Shane immediately left for the bathroom. Kelsey asked Ryan, “I hope this isn’t rude, but has your dynamic been different since your car accident?”

“A little bit,” Ryan said, before steering the conversation somewhere safer.

Ten minutes later, Shane came back and said, “Sorry, there was some trash in there that needed to be dealt with before the bathroom was fit to use.”

“Public toilets sure can get icky.” Kelsey speared a cherry tomato on her fork.

Ghosts were more likely to haunt abandoned buildings and quiet places, Shane had told Ryan at one point. (Both of them realized how funny it was that Shane was now the one telling Ryan about hauntings, after Ryan’s years of “humansplaining” towards him.) Too much vitality from the living overwhelmed them. Overrode them. This was why Ryan’s two ghosts so far were in a small, more private corner of a well-used location rather than in the middle of the weight room or right in the dining area.

However, there were exceptions.

In November, Ryan and Shane went to the Death Becomes Us festival in Washington, D.C. to perform a live version of a True Crime video in front of a huge auditorium. It was their first public appearance outside of their home city since everything had changed for them, which led to both of them feeling a little more tense than last year. At one point during the flight, their plane hit really bad turbulence and Shane grabbed Ryan’s hand on reflex. Ryan saw that Shane’s eyes had gone full black. Shane had repeatedly said that demons couldn’t get traumatized, that he could simply turn off the part of his human shell’s brain that wanted to feel afraid of things, etc. Crowley had gone behind Shane’s back and told Ryan and Sara that this was because demons were actually all traumatized to some degree, by definition, and had merely internalized the results as normal. And that absolutely none of them handled the physical sensation of falling as well as they pretended to.

“No homo” sentiments were extra stupid when dealing with someone who wasn’t actually male and who was the most important person in Ryan’s life. You didn’t need to want to date someone for that. So Ryan squeezed Shane’s hand rather than squirming away. “Close your eyes, deep breaths, and lean on me.”

“I thought I was supposed to look after you,” Shane murmured, complying.

“Shut up, Shane.” Ryan was glad to see Shane’s eyes back to normal-looking the next time he opened them.

The ghost part happened during the simultaneously most rewarding but most stressful part of the festival, the meet-and-greet. Taking pictures with fans, getting to talk to them and sign their shirts, the hugs and high fives and seeing the homemade tribute shirts and whatnot were fun. But beyond the intensity and sheer mass of the crowd, it was weird for Ryan to see Ricky Goldsworth pinback buttons (WE <3 RICKY GOLDSWORTH, except the heart looked realistic and had knife buried in it) on a group of friends. Some misguided fan had sneaked a bottle of what might have been real holy water in as a cosplay prop and Ryan steered him away from Shane as subtly as possible.

Then what looked to be a 13 or 14 year-old girl, not only transparent but flickering, walked through several other fans. She held out her arm for Ryan to sign.

He had a felt tip pen he could use to sign a living arm, but he was at a loss as to what to do here, especially in front of all these people. She stood there, looking more and more disappointed, and when Ryan gave up and took a photo with someone she huffed and floated away.

“You hurt the poor dead fan’s feelings,” Shane said when they were back in their hotel room. He was sprawled on his back on his twin bed, chewing and swallowing a pack of cigarettes. Lit cigarettes, Corporal Wojtek style. This had required disabling the smoke alarm first. Ryan was glad Shane was comfortable being more himself around his nearest and dearest these days, but he couldn’t help but watch in horrified fascination.

“How was I supposed to handle it?” Ryan protested.

Shane shrugged and lit another cigarette using a spark from one of his fingers. He’d become more affectionate and protective in many ways, and more open in all ways, but he could still be a dick. “I didn’t sense evil from her, so I can’t do an easy banish.”

“What are you?” the same ghost asked, appearing at the foot of Shane’s bed.

Nonchalantly, Shane got into a cross-legged position and finished chewing and swallowing. Then he smiled. “I’m the heart and soul of Buzzfeed Unsolved! Ryan’s ironically the brains, and un-ironically the arms.”

“Are you fucking kidding me -”

“Young ears, Ryan!”

“If she watches - watched - our show, than she’s heard me swear plenty.”

“I’m a Shaniac,” she said shyly.

“Excellent choice.” Shane gave her a double-thumbs up.

Ryan rubbed his temples. “You’re a ghost, though.”

“I think I’m having a dissociative episode,” she said matter-of-factly.

“I need a moment,” Ryan said. He grabbed his phone and his jacket and excused himself to the balcony. He could see the Washington Monument in the distance, and some crows fighting over a fallen Happy Meal directly below him. Then he made a call.

Aziraphale picked up quickly. He almost never slept, and kept Crowley’s cell phone near him if Crowley himself was taking one of his recreational naps. “Dear boy, is something wrong?”

Ryan explained the situation. One of the crows made off with the entire McNugget box before he was done telling the story.

“It sounds like your stress is about more than this one ghost,” Aziraphale said.

“I guess. Shane says my powers didn’t wake up until they got enough stimulation on the Queen Mary, but that a demon operative wrote some secret sigils on my college campus to keep them from developing much further for a few years, and that they took off when I started seeking out paranormal hotspots again. Except he was there to keep me from noticing. So I should have slowly gotten used to them in a gradual way, but instead they’re hitting me all at once. This is living normally, too! I want to go out there to real, intense haunted places and seek out serious ghouls, but I’m also terrified of it.” Ryan took a deep breath. “I feel like I shouldn’t be mad at Shane about this. I mean, he was under a ton of pressure, and now he’s helping me with the fallout. But I am mad. I don’t like it.”

“It’s no sin to feel hurt by someone you love, regardless of whether you forgive them,” Aziraphale said. Something about how gently he said it made Ryan’s throat feel tight. “Crowley and I have known each other long enough to hurt each other many times. Sometimes terribly so.”

“I can imagine that.” Thousands of years of “enemies-to-friends-to-lovers slow burn”, as Sara put it, boggled Ryan’s mind.

“As for the deceased young fan, I’m afraid I never had the skill to do what Shane can. The reverse, rather. It’s rare for Heaven-bound ghosts to be hurried along there anyway. They aren’t delaying their fate on purpose. They are seeking something, even if it’s only their own permission to continue on. Perhaps Ni - I mean Andrew - could give you a second opinion?”

“Andrew’s gone for the weekend to sightsee Saturn’s rings. I think one of his angel friends got a big promotion and a bunch of them are celebrating.” Ryan paused to enjoy how weird of a sentence that was, and how much weirder his next sentence was going to be. “He asked to leave his cat at Sara and Shane’s apartment for a few days so that Wellington doesn’t try to eat his human body. He said he had to leave it behind in a Sleeping Beauty state in his Earthly bed because it wouldn’t survive the vacation.”

“It’s nice that he’s keeping in touch with his...er...more permanent social group.” Aziraphale sighed, maybe thinking about the limited human lifespan. “It’s up to you, of course, but it might help your worries if you went back inside and engaged with the ghost.”

“I’ll try it. Thank you, Aziraphale.”

“Good luck, Ryan.”

When Ryan went inside, the ghost was curled up Shane’s bed, hugging a pillow, and crying. Shane was still sitting cross-legged and had laced his hands over his stomach. For a second Ryan thought Shane had made her cry. Shane had recently admitted that, while his devotion to Ryan and Sara and his fondness for Jen and a handful of others were genuine, most of his other human interaction was based in skillful performance. Nothing particularly malicious, but on some level hollow.

Then Ryan listened to what she was actually saying. The girl had a rough life. Had had. Yes, she’d always had a decent material standard of living, but her family life had been very difficult, she was having trouble at school both academically and socially, and it didn’t help that she probably had an undiagnosed mental illness but her mom didn’t want to take her to an evaluation. Now she was also questioning her sexuality, afraid of what she’d find but unable not to search.

Ryan tiptoed over to his bed and sat there as she continued to talk. She eventually switched to talking about how much she loved their show. How it looked at scary things and made them okay by talking about them with a friend. She’d seen every episode, even the ones with Brent, and wanted to meet Shane and Ryan more than anything. She’d scraped up her allowance to come see them with her older sister, and they’d gotten into an Uber and they were so close to the venue and the car in front of them had been weaving strangely and…

She trailed off and started shaking her head. “I dunno what happened after that, but maybe I got a concussion. My sister wasn’t there and I couldn’t find my phone. I remember getting into the meet-and-greet line.”

“We’re honored that our show is so important to you,” Ryan said, meaning every word.

“Thanks,” she said, sitting up and wiping her tears away with the back of her hand.

Shane had a felt tip pen in his hand now. It was translucent too. “How about we each sign one of your arms? What do you want them to say?”

At her request and on her left forearm, Shane wrote I’M COMING OUT OF MY SHELL. Ryan took a few tries to grasp the pen properly, but he wrote LET’S GET INTO THE THEORIES.

With a wide grin, she inspected the words and traced them with her fingers, not acknowledging that nothing about her was opaque. Then she looked at Shane. “Are Maizey and Gebra going to live happily ever after? In the Hot Daga?”

“Of course they are,” Shane said. “As happy as a brave ear of corn and her french fries wife could ever be.”

“Good,” she said. She turned to hug Ryan, and she felt very cold and not very solid, but Ryan did his best to hug back. Until suddenly he was only hugging himself.

“She’s gone, buddy,” Shane said.

“Oh. That’s good, right?” Ryan hugged himself harder.

“It’s the best outcome for her by this point.”

“Yeah.”

“Flattering to have a soul hold out just for us, huh?”

“Yeah.” He was still hugging himself.

Shane handed Ryan a box of tissues that had been on the other side of the room seconds ago. It’s not like it flew through the air. It wasn’t near Shane, then it was. “I heard everything you said to Aziraphale. Sorry, I didn’t want to run out on her and warn you.”

“Oh.” Ryan blew his nose. He realized he didn’t care. He might have even hoped for it.

“It’s okay. You can be as mad as me as you want. I don’t take your friendship for granted. Do you want me to take all this away again? Your perception? I could.”

“No. I’m sad we had to help her, but I’m glad we did.” Ryan tried to say the movie quote in an authentic frightened stage-whisper. “I see dead people. All the time. Sometimes they don’t know they’re dead.”

“Unlike Bruce Willis in that, I’ve always know what I am, but maybe here’s to you working on what you are?” Shane switched beds, bumping shoulders companionably.

“Yeah, here’s to that. Let’s be degenerate celebrities and get something out from the minibar.” There were plenty of bars in walking distance but Ryan could not take the risk of seeing another ghost right now.

“And I thought I was the evil one!” Shane made a face of exaggerated shock.

Ryan wheezed. “Please, you’re so chaotic neutral. Let me show you how it’s done. I’ll also take out a soda.”

Chapter Text

“Shemodai, wait, wait, I can’t submit this form.”

“Your Unholiness, I’ve spent four whole shifts filling out paperwork for this Earth mission, what can it possibly be?”

“Listen. Individuals in the culture you’re trying to blend in with usually have middle names. If you only go by ‘Shane Madej’, you might have people wonder what your middle name is.”

“Are you being serious, Euryale? Plenty of humans don’t have middle names. They won’t mentally go from doesn’t have middle name to must be a demon!

“I’m already accommodating your request to have a statistically unusual first and last name combination just so you can feel more at home.”

“...Then ‘Alexander’. Shane Alexander Madej. It means ‘defender of mankind’.”

“Ah, subliminal lies, very good.”

“Why, thank you. I’ll flaunt it frequently for you.”

“Now one more thing - you put in a request for a body ‘one inch taller than the average American height’. That’s nicely inconspicuous, but are the team going to know what you meant? Do you even know what that looks like? Just because our department is partially responsible for the continued use of ‘inches’ by any humans at all doesn’t mean any of us are well-versed in using them ourselves. ”

“With all due respect, I’m sure it’ll be fine. See you tomorrow.”

Chapter Text

It’s yet another anniversary of the day they met, so Ryan and Shane get together for a few beers and to watch a handful of their favorite Unsolved episodes. Over the decades, Shane has allowed his physical appearance to match Ryan's in aging, but he’s still got youthful strength and energy. The last thing he says to Ryan before dropping him off at his house is a joke about that. The last thing Ryan says to him is that fond shut up, Shane. The last way they touch is a clumsy sideways half-hug while Ryan is still in the passenger seat.

The following evening, Ryan is teaching his second-youngest grandchild how to ride a bike. He lets go before she’s ready, she goes down a slope out of control, and as he’s chasing after her, a driver who is going way too fast in a residential area nearly hits her. But with a surge of what might be called youthful strength and energy, Ryan flings himself at her bike and shoves her out of the way. She’s injured, but survives.

Ryan doesn’t.

*

“Do you think I’m doing well? It’s been over a century since I’ve tortured anyone, and this is the first time it’s been someone who’s still alive,” Shane says conversationally, as small hellfire flames flow from his fingers and begin heating up the sharp gardening trowel Shane grabbed off a cobwebbed shelf. Not that this is a real conversation. He's gagged the guy with copious duct tape.

It wasn't hard to find this man. The hard part is not ending this too quickly, yet trying to finish the job before anyone tries to interfere.

Shane imagined Nichiel barging in, wreathed in righteous glory, and ordering Shane to desist at once. Instead, the garden shed door opens in a normal way, as long as you disregarded all the locks Shane had placed on it. Mundane or infernal. The Andrew Ilnyckyj persona has also been given the gradual appearance of aging, but that is not the same as appearing weak. Andrew's eyes are cold. At first he says nothing, hands tucked deep into the pockets of his brown jacket.

Shane's subject starts struggling and whining for help. It has no bearing on the situation, so Shane ignores it in favor of addressing Andrew. "Well, are you going to stand there and gawk?"

"I'm giving you a chance to stop on your own," Andrew says, without inflection.

Shane's laugh feels torn out of him. "He killed Ryan."

"I'm not exactly pleased with him either, but if he deserves this vengeance, it's not your job to give it."

"Speaking of jobs, where the fuck were you when it happened? Weren't you supposed to protect him? Huh?" When Andrew doesn't immediately reply, Shane hurls the trowel at him. He expects Andrew to deflect it. Instead, it bounces off Andrew's cheek, making a brief sizzling noise. Though he winces, Andrew doesn't immediately heal himself.

"It was a natural death. Nothing demonic or otherwise evil. I did what I was supposed to do, no more and no less, but that doesn't mean I relish the pain of everyone who loved him," Andrew says, a twinge to his last few words. Belatedly, Shane remembers that Steven must be distraught right now.

“It was negligence,” Shane snarls. “His, at least.”

(The meaningless noises get louder.)

“Then let’s work together to make sure he gets fairly convicted of third-degree murder according to local laws. Divine justice will come to him eventually. It would be unjust to those who love him for you to rush the process.”

That isn't enough. Shane wants this man to die in agony, with Ryan’s blood on his hands so recently that there will be no time for him to repent or redeem himself. Shane can only evaluate the status of living souls he knows extremely well, so he doesn’t know where this scum will go if he dies in the next hour, but Shane wants his afterlife odds to be as bad as possible.

Andrew starts pulling his right hand out of his pocket. Shane grabs a metal rake to fight, if he has to. He doesn’t want to fight an angel who has become a friend, but he wants to surrender even less. “Are you planning on discorporating me over this?”

“I don’t want you becoming a malevolent ghost that goes on to possess someone. Or something.” Andrew could try to destroy Shane, unmake him, but it’s rare for Heaven to order something like that and Andrew is not a natural warrior.

“I’m not backing down for you.”

“I would be surprised if you did.” Andrew takes out his phone.

“Calling for backup?”

“Taking pictures of what you’ve done and are still doing. To send to Sara. This thing has an excellent zoom lens.”

For a wild moment Shane wants to howl with every emotion howling is capable of expressing - extreme amusement, anger, territoriality. “You think I give a shit?”

“You wouldn’t sound nearly so upset if you didn’t.” Snap. Snap. Snap.

Shane can’t lose even more of his heart today. If Shane goes home after this and Sara’s not there because she’s too disgusted with him, if he can’t have her at least, he might as well swan-dive into a whole vat of holy water.

So, after a tense moment, Shane drops the rake. “Fine. Whatever. Fuck you.”

If Andrew gave him a look of pity, Shane really would have lunged at him in a rage. Even kindness would be annoying. But Andrew gives Shane a nod of respect. “Let’s heal him and make him forget, and I’ll see you home.”

*

The day after Andrew talks him down, Sara comes down to the basement den where Shane’s spent the past six hours flipping through channels without watching anything, idly petting their elderly black cat Chiffon when she’s in range. Their young calico, Creme “Carrie” Caramel, runs after Sara. They also have a gray tom cat named Stormageddon, but he’s scared of windowless rooms because of a bad kittenhood before being rescued from a hoarder. Shane has developed a thing for getting cats out of abusive dark, dank environments and into light and comfort.

“I made you hot chocolatl,” Sara says, thrusting the mug into his free hand and settling next to him. She’s in a fuzzy bathrobe and one of his old t-shirts over sweatpants. Both of them are retired from having day jobs, though they make a small amount of money from the animated webseries Shane writes, Sara draws, and they both edit and produce.

Shane doesn’t have the energy for any of his usual you remember that I don’t need to eat or drink and right now I don’t feel like it. It’s a nice gesture, and he can tell from the first sip that she used the really good cocoa powder and fresh chili peppers. It’s spicy and bitter. He’s even less in the mood for anything sweet, so this was a good choice.

“Sorry I couldn’t get the froth quite right.”

“There’s no way you can perfectly recreate something I remember from being incognito at a Mayan death ceremony,” Shane says, lowering the volume on the random lacrosse game the TV has settled on. He doesn’t know squat about lacrosse, but the cats like watching the players run around.

Sara clears her throat. “Andrew told me what happened. I’m not mad at you. I’m flattered worrying about my opinion was enough to get you to stop.”

“I don’t want to talk about that.”

“Okay.”

He takes another sip. “They sure do fling that ball far, don’t they?”

By degrees, the drink gets drunk and Shane ends up lying on the extra-long sofa with his head in Sara’s lap and with two cats lying on his chest. She’s running her fingers through his hair as he talks. He doesn’t remember how she got him from dumb comments about lacrosse to talking about this. It’s going into feelings that he’s never shared with her before.

You have to understand that Falling is like going from being absolutely bathed in love in a big family to being thrown out on the street and having to survive by sticking with a gang of pickpockets, Oliver Twist style. Oh sure, I had other demons I got along with, hung out with in my free time and enjoyed working beside more than others, but we’re weren’t exactly encouraged to get deeply attached to each other. Some demons do anyway. It’s rare and never happened to me. Then comes this human. Ryan found out what I was, he found out this Shane person he was friends with was a construct to get close to him and that I’d been conning him, gaslighting him, manipulating him and what does he do? He faces his greatest fears and comes to save me. I went from having nobody beyond a friendly acquaintance to having someone who’d risk everything for me. And he made it so this person I made up in order to fuck with him, but started to like better than my real self, he made it so I could make that persona the real me. There was no way I could ever repay that and I never did and now he’s gone, Sara, he’s gone and I will never ever ever see him again and if I really were a human atheist like I used to pretend I was, I’d believe the same thing. But human atheists at least face the prospect of only missing people for a handful of decades at most. I’m going to miss him forever.

He’s glad she doesn’t try to respond to that with words, just leans down and kisses the top of his head. Just once.

(Sometimes he thinks it would have been nice to have been a child, to have grown from one to an adult instead of being grown from the moment of his creation, to have memories of being small and helpless and needing to be taken care of without being embarrassed about it.)

Eventually, Shane adds, “Andrew said humans in Paradise can see what their loved ones are doing, but we both know demonic activities aren’t directly visible from Heaven. They can only see the results. Otherwise Andrew wouldn’t have been sent to monitor me in the first place.”

“I’ll make big signs about how you’re doing and hold them up periodically,” Sara suggests.

Shane laughs, a little. He escorts his thoughts away from pondering what he’ll do when she dies as well.

*

Much of Ryan’s family is religious, so a portion of the funeral is held in a church. Aziraphale and Andrew sneak into the chapel beforehand and de-consecrate a section of the floor and one of the pews in the back so that Crowley can walk in without burning feet and Shane can stay for an extended time without his nose gushing blood.

Shane hasn’t been to a lot of human funerals, but this one seems nice enough. He has trouble focusing. Crowley, who has been exploring more femme looks and pronouns for the past few years like she does every so often, brought a notebook in her purse and passes notes back and forth with him. That helps.

The wake is better. Shane can put food in his mouth whenever he doesn’t want to make chitchat. He only really talks to Sara (of course) and Jen, sharply dressed in a black suit with her gray hair in a pixie cut and a white carnation in her buttonhole. Jen still cheers Shane up while also making him feel relaxed. He should hang out with her more, really. He’s become a lot more conscious of the ticking clock. Meanwhile, Crowley and Aziraphale are busy having their last chat with Andrew for the foreseeable future, as well as consoling Steven, who’s managed to give his own wife the slip in order to wistfully attach himself to Andrew and make him try various dishes as a sort of desperate reflex.

“Thanks for coming, man,” Jake Bergara tells Shane at one point, shaking his hand and engaging him in conversation for exactly two minutes before moving on to the next person. Shane actively makes himself unnoticeable to Ryan’s wife, kids, and grandkids using arcane powers because he would find talking to them far too painful.

*

Sara starts crying quietly on the way home, and Shane realizes that she’s been grieving too, but he’s been too wrapped up in his own head to notice. So he pulls off the freeway and checks them into a nice hotel with an excellent restaurant and a spa for the night. She deserves it. Thankfully he doesn’t need to be physically near their cats to keep them fed and hydrated with clean litter boxes. They spend a long time in the hot tub together. Shane still doesn’t say much, but he likes the water.

That night they fall asleep curled together, watching a Ruining History playlist. Watching themselves with Ryan, so young (or in Shane’s case young-looking) and full of life. Shane doesn’t need to sleep, but he does anyway.

****

Three years later, Andrew has an Earth mission and has carved out exactly forty minutes when he can meet with Shane in a coffee shop without arousing suspicion. This is time that he could be spending visiting Steven instead, so Shane is extremely grateful. Things have been better lately. The absence of Ryan in like a pebble in Shane’s shoe when it was once a thumbtack, and Crowley says the pebble will shrink and shrink, though never go away. That doesn’t mean Shane isn’t desperate to get whatever news he can.

“I couldn’t bring a physical object like a letter onto this plane of existence, but I can tell you what he wants to say,” Andrew tells him over a cappuccino decorated with foam stars. He’s miraculous rendered their conversation so uninteresting to anyone else in earshot that they’re paying no attention to it. “The first thing he wants to say is that he’s still a seer. His perception of supernatural matters is greater than normal. It took him some time to get the hang of it, but he can see and hear you as well as he can see anyone else he loves. Which, if you were wondering, is only stuff loved ones would want him to see, and only when he chooses to check in, since he has plenty of other things to do. He has not witnessed any, and I quote, ‘body functions or banging’.”

Shane wheezes and chokes on his iced tea. Something in him, something he once would not have believed even existed, mends. “Go on.”

Chapter Text

Ricky knew how lucky he was to end up working with his old team again after his long absence and not entirely stellar performance when it came to handling Ryan Bergara. Apparently his colleagues had been clamoring for him, though. Nobody ran as effective and tight an LDT- Limbo Disciplinary Team - as he did. Or as they called it among themselves, a Heck Squad. There were many like it, but this one was his, and they were such a part of him that Ryan brought up some of their nicknames on Unsolved, thinking they were his own invention. (Shemodai might have knowingly played along to test how much of Ricky was still there. Ricky wasn’t sure.)

In their Heck Squad meeting room inaccessible to the human souls they’d shortly be working on for another shift, Ricky was standing at a chalkboard scribbling out their latest schedule, plus a few ideas that were new or at least not done in awhile. You never wanted to torture a soul the same way for too long, because they got used to it, and Heck in particular required a lighter, more playful touch to its torments. The majority of Heck-assigned demons had done Earth missions, and thus had useful experience when it came to what humans would find annoying or anxiety-inducing. Any demon could evoke such crude emotions as pain or fear, pff.

“Wet socks,” said Banjo, a hulking hunk of a demon with pure white eyes. His nickname came from earning a commendation for his ironic use of distorted, subpar country music being blasted at deceased musicians of pretty much all other genres. “Too cold to go without socks, but socks never dry.”

Ricky added it to the list. “Simple, but elegant. Haven’t done that in a while.”

Francesca, who always had 3-5 live praying mantises scurrying over her head and whose leather trench coat and boots were always covered in a thin sheen of mysterious dust, paused from sipping her hot cup of ooze. “How about we show them a door to a gentle reincarnation that’ll let them try all over again, but make it recede into the distance as they try to reach it?”

“Diabolical. On the list. Night-Night?”

“I’m here to fuck people up, not to fuck around,” Night-Night growled from somewhere in the ceiling.

“Fair enough,” Ricky said. Night-Night was more of a doer than a thinker, and a team needed a variety of specialties. “Sydney?”

Sydney had spent a memorable few decades in Australia and popularized a certain style of mob execution during his stay, involving concrete weights and helpfully hungry sharks. He leaned back in his rusty metal chair with his big hat pulled low over his eyes and mumbled, “Dunno, mate, I was thinking something with spaidehs.”

“We’ve been doing spiders a lot, maybe switch it up?”

“Mosquitoes? One real loud mozzie in the room but they don’t know where?”

Ricky made finger guns. “Perfect. How about you, Legs?”

Legs’ legs weren’t especially long, but they had at least fifty of them. Ricky had never gotten the patience to count. They hummed thoughtfully. “stuffstuckinteethandtheypickandpick...and, and...andtheirgumsstartbleedinnnnng?”

“I had that happen to me when I was possessing this one goober, ugh, it wasn’t pleasant. Good thought. I think that’s plenty of new little miseries to throw into the pot for today,” Ricky said, adding that last one with a flourish. “Overall, we’re doing an icky wet day simulation for the next six shifts before switching it up again, and everyone’s going to be in a terrible hurry for something of personal importance, but things will keep getting in their way. Most of them will be generated from their own minds. Feel free to jazz it up. Francesca and I are taking on roleplay duties, the rest of you are behind-the-scenes. Any questions? No? Then let’s roll.”

Francesca tapped him on the shoulder as they filed out of the room. “Are you taking on that Puritan bastard today, or am I still working on him?”

Ricky smiled. “I know you’ve been itching for some more modern meat, Fran. I’ll toy with Thou-Shalt-Not-Commit-Adultery Pulsifer this time.”