The bell above the door jingles and Ryan glances up from where he’s organizing boxes behind the counter. There’s a man standing just inside the doorway, tall and slim, his presence making Ryan’s protective wards hum unhappily.
Whatever he is, the man doesn’t appear to be fazed by Ryan’s magic as it prods at him in curiosity.
“Can I help you?” Ryan asks, hoping he doesn’t sound as hostile as he feels when the ring on his middle finger begins to warm in warning.
The man meets his gaze as though only just realizing he’s there. “I don’t know,” he says. “You tell me.”
Ryan pauses, fingertips buzzing with static, carefully keeping his magic in check. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
The man laughs, the corners of his eyes crinkling, and Ryan feels disarmed by how gentle he looks. The man gestures at the window where Ryan has most of his advertisements.
“Can’t you read the future?”
Ryan blows out a breath that he turns into a laugh as he realizes the man’s just joking.
“I offer palm readings,” Ryan explains. “I’m not psychic.”
“Disappointing,” the man says.
“Did you want a reading or are you just here to complain?”
The man quirks an eyebrow. “Aren’t you supposed to be nice to customers?”
“I own the place,” Ryan tells him. “I don’t have to do jack shit.”
The man laughs loudly, his head briefly tipping back with the force of it. “I appreciate the honesty.”
“That doesn’t answer my question.”
The man reaches out to fidget with items on the shelf nearest to him. “I don’t believe in any of this stuff.”
“And yet here you are,” Ryan points out, the man’s attention slowly moving back to him.
The man tilts his head and smiles. “Here I am,” he agrees. “Guess I wanted to see if it was all it was cracked up to be.”
“So you are here for a reading.”
“It can’t hurt, right?” the man asks with a shrug and Ryan’s not entirely sure he buys it, but he’s willing to take a chance.
“Right,” Ryan agrees. “Come on back.”
He doesn’t check to see if the guy’s actually following, just leads the way through to the room he’s converted from a staff breakroom to a reading room.
“Have a seat,” Ryan tells him when he finally follows Ryan inside, glancing around like the whole thing fascinates him.
He does as he’s told and Ryan sits opposite, quickly sanitizing his hands.
“We have three price points,” Ryan says, nudging a laminated sheet across the table.
The man barely glances at it. “A basic reading is fine.”
“Should’ve guessed,” Ryan says with a laugh. “How about we start at the beginning. What’s your name?”
The man rests his fingers against the edge of the table. “Shane.”
“Nice to meet you, Shane. Let’s see how exciting your life is.”
Ryan holds a hand out and Shane carefully reaches across, his left palm up. When their hands brush, Ryan pulls away at the crack of static that takes him by surprise.
“Jesus,” Shane says with a huff of laughter. “Do you charge extra for that?”
Ryan laughs and shakes his hand out, reaching for Shane again. “I think it would be too cliché to say that’s never happened before.”
The look Shane shoots him says he’s barely holding back from making a joke about it, but he lets Ryan take his hand and there’s less fanfare this time.
Ryan glances down, smoothing his thumb across the width of Shane’s palm, allowing himself a moment to appreciate Shane’s hand. It’s narrow, but long with even longer fingers.
“We start with the shape of your hand,” Ryan begins, tracing the edge of Shane’s hand around up to his fingers. “A long palm and long fingers means you’re a water type. You’re creative and perceptive, possibly introverted.”
Shane doesn’t confirm or deny, but he watches Ryan carefully.
“You can be emotional,” Ryan continues, “but you’re intuitive.”
Ryan adjusts Shane’s hand until it’s in a cupped position. “We look at these areas to read the mounts of your hand,” Ryan explains, nudging at the raised sections of Shane’s palm. “This one under your middle finger means you’re stubborn. I see that a lot in nonbelievers.”
Shane laughs sharply. “Sure,” he agrees, sounding like he doesn’t mean it. “Which one is the mount of bullshit?”
Ryan smiles, but doesn’t look up from Shane’s hand. “This protrusion under your pinkie is the Mercury mount. It means you talk too much.”
“The worst part about this is that I don’t know when you’re joking.”
Ryan tips his head and smiles. “Guess you’ll never know.”
Unfurling Shane’s hand using gentle pressure from his thumbs, Ryan takes another look at his palm. “You have a short, sharp heart line here,” he says, rubbing just under Shane’s ring and pinkie fingers. “You’re less interested in romance, but it’s a deep line which means you form strong connections with people, romantic or otherwise.”
Touching the middle of Shane’s palm, Ryan hums quietly.
“What?” Shane asks. “Am I going to die tomorrow?”
“Maybe,” Ryan jokes, “but I can’t read that here. I’m looking at your head line. You have marks here and here.”
He points them out to Shane, who acknowledges them with a tip of his head. “Sure. What do they mean?”
“Those are decisions in your life. Big decisions.” He traces the leftmost one which appears as a large X. “You made a choice here.”
Shane doesn’t reply, but stares down at the marks, his mouth a thin line. Ryan can’t help but feel a jolt of excitement that he’s hit on something that’s making Shane think.
“So what’s this circle here?” Shane asks after a moment. “Is my hand playing tic-tac-toe?”
“No,” Ryan says gently, smoothing his thumb along the curve of Shane’s own. “This is your life line. The circle could mean some kind of injury or hospitalization. It’s a bump in your life that’s clearly affected you.”
Without warning, Shane pulls his hand out of Ryan’s grip, flexing it a couple of times before dropping it into his lap, out of Ryan’s sight. “I think that’s enough,” he says and Ryan nods, knowing it’s not his place to push any further.
“The thing about hands is that they’re always changing,” he tells Shane carefully. “In a few years, these lines and mounts may be completely different. Nothing I say has any permanence. We decide our own fates.”
Shane nods, acknowledging the disclaimer for what it is, and then rakes his fingers through his hair. “What does your palm say about you?”
Ryan sets his hand palm-up on the table and looks down at it. “It says you owe me ten bucks.” He gestures with a wiggle of his fingers and Shane lets out a surprised laugh.
“That’s fair,” he agrees and reaches into his pocket for his wallet. “Do you have change for a twenty?”
Ryan smiles easily. “Sure, you can check out in the shop.”
Leading the way back through, Ryan stops short at the sight of a man perusing a shelf in the corner. He hadn’t heard the bell ring, nor did his wards indicate anyone else had entered.
“Hey, welcome,” he says stepping behind the register to get Shane his change.
The man in the corner barely spares them a glance, but Shane keeps looking back, like maybe he knows him but can’t remember from where.
“Here you go,” Ryan says, handing over two five dollar bills. “I hope I’ve helped open your eyes to the possibility that not everything is as it seems.”
“Yeah,” Shane says, seeming distracted, as he looks at the stranger again. “Thanks for the reading.”
It seems anticlimactic for Shane to leave without looking back, but he leaves the shop without another word and the wards around Ryan finally begin to calm again, settling back into a gentle buzz like the white noise he’s used to. He waits a moment, wondering if maybe Shane will return, but after a long silent pause, there’s nothing.
With a sigh, Ryan chalks it up to a strange encounter that he’ll never understand. He doesn’t let himself linger on the thought and instead turns towards the man in the corner.
“How can I help you today?”
Ryan wakes to the feeling that something’s not quite right. It’s dark in his room and when he reaches for his phone, the screen says it’s 2:37am.
He rubs at his face tiredly and lets tendrils of his magic wind around his apartment, searching for anything out of place. The living room is clear and so is the kitchen, but he pauses as he checks the area by his front door, suddenly aware of the sensation of someone nudging at the boundary of his protective wards.
He sits up, instantly more awake. Whoever it is isn’t actively trying to break through the barrier, just testing the edges of it, but it’s enough to make Ryan nervous.
He gets out of bed, pulling on a shirt and a pair of basketball shorts, and makes his way through the apartment towards the front door. Looking through the peephole, he can’t see anyone outside, but the presence is still there when he checks his ward. It’s not unheard of. It wouldn’t be the first time a neighbor has accidentally disrupted his wards, but somehow this just feels different.
He turns, wanting to grab his phone from where he’d left it on the nightstand, but only makes it two steps down the hallway before there’s a knock at the door. He pauses, a sense of panic suddenly looming that he has to fight to push down. No one he knows would knock on his door without calling first.
Quietly, he makes his way back to the door, peering through the peephole. It’s not who he expects.
Pulling open the door, Ryan asks, “Shane?”
Shane looks up, his posture appearing entirely opposite from how it was in the shop a few days prior. He seems cagey now, shoulders hunched, clearly agitated by something.
“I’m sorry,” Shane immediately apologizes. “Can I come in?”
Ryan finds himself automatically stepping aside and holding the door open in invitation, worried that Shane’s in trouble. He suspects one day his empathy is going to get him murked. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” Shane says as Ryan shuts the door behind him. He sounds out of breath and panicked. “I don’t know how to say this without sounding insane.”
“Shane, it’s two-thirty in the morning and you’ve shown up at my apartment which you shouldn’t know the address of. I think we’re a bit beyond that.”
“You’re in danger,” Shane blurts and Ryan takes a step backwards.
Shane shakes his head, eyes darting around uncomfortably. “There’s someone in here.”
Ryan’s stomach sinks in horror. “No there isn’t.”
“There is,” Shane promises and Ryan shakes his head.
“I would know. I already checked.”
“I don’t think — ”
Ryan shakes his head again, wondering how much of his hand he wants to show. “Shane, there are wards on my apartment. If someone was in here, I would sense it.”
Shane blinks at him in surprise, clearly seeing Ryan in a new light with that information. With less than a quarter of a percent of the population able to harness magic, Ryan knows it’s guaranteed to take anyone off guard. “You’re — ”
“A little,” Ryan confesses, not yet willing to get into the details. He holds up his hand, letting sparks dance across his fingertips. “I’m maybe not as helpless as you think.”
Shane wets his lips and slowly drags his gaze away from Ryan’s fingers. “No offense, but I’m not sure your wards are made for someone like this.”
“Who are they?”
“They’re not — ” Shane begins before cutting himself off. Ryan doesn’t get to find out what he’s about to say because his gaze snaps to the doorway of Ryan’s living room and he shoves at Ryan with enough strength to knock Ryan off his feet.
Surprised by the power of Shane’s push, Ryan doesn’t have enough time to call up the magic needed to buffer his fall. He hits the ground with a thud definitely loud enough to wake his downstairs neighbors and it knocks the wind out of him. As he glances up, he finds Shane’s form shifting as he moves out of view into the living room and Ryan suddenly gets the feeling both of them have their secrets.
There’s a thud from the living room and Ryan scrambles back up to his feet, moving through the apartment in time to see Shane throwing someone to the floor. Shane had been right, Ryan thinks numbly. The wards had missed someone in his apartment.
The man looks oddly familiar and it takes a moment to place his face, but Ryan eventually realizes it’s the man who was in the shop when Shane left after his palm-reading. The man Shane wouldn’t stop staring at like he knew something was up even before anything happened.
“What the fuck?” Ryan asks aloud because Shane has both hands around the man’s throat, strangling him.
“You think that’s going to hurt me?” the man laughs. “Why do you even care what I do?”
“I’m calling the cops,” Ryan says because he feels helpless and doesn’t know what else he can do.
“No!” Shane yells, and when he whips his head around to look at Ryan, his eyes are black and unnatural.
Ryan stumbles back a step, heart thundering in his chest. “What the fuck is going on?”
Shane turns back to the man without an answer, one hand reaching for his side. When he pulls a knife out, Ryan thinks his legs might give out.
“Shane, c’mon,” he pleads. “Don’t do this. Don’t fucking kill someone in my apartment.”
But Shane doesn’t listen. It feels a bit like Ryan’s losing his mind. Like maybe he’s still asleep and this is just an elaborate dream. He’s not about to jump in and try to wrestle the knife away from Shane for fear he’ll get stabbed accidentally, so he has to watch in horror as Shane drops his hand down and buries the knife into the middle of the man’s chest.
“Jesus fucking christ,” Ryan curses, clutching at his face in horror, but as he watches, the man doesn’t bleed, just snarls at Shane, bucking beneath him, his shape shifting into something huge and monstrous. Whatever he is, he’s not human, which might have been what Shane had been trying to tell him earlier.
He looks like something from Ryan’s nightmares.
“You can’t stop me,” the man tells Shane, his voice so deep and loud that it hurts Ryan’s ears, like he’s not meant to hear. The man’s form flickers, his body lighting up like the glowing of embers in a fire. “You’ll pay for this.”
In the blink of an eye, he shoves Shane off of him, pulling the knife out of his chest and burying it into Shane’s side instead. Ryan takes a step forward in shock, but the man disappears in a billow of ash, leaving Shane to slump forwards, one hand pressed to the floor to keep himself from faceplanting.
“What the fuck is going on?” Ryan asks, gasping because he can’t seem to catch his breath. “Who the fuck was that? What the fuck are you?”
Ryan finds himself sinking down, his knees refusing to hold him any longer. He sits on the edge of the coffee table and tries to remember how to breathe.
Next to him, Shane pulls the knife out of his side, not a drop of blood spilling, but the blade is black with a murky sort of goo. He sets it beside Ryan on the table and presses a hand over the wound.
“I’m not human,” he grunts and Ryan hangs his head down and shuts his eyes, willing himself to relax.
“His name is Morinoch.”
Ryan blows out a breath. “Friend of yours?”
“He stabbed me,” Shane deadpans and Ryan finally looks up.
“You stabbed him first. Friendship is about reciprocity, right?”
“We’re not friends,” Shane tells him. “He’s a demon. I’ve been tailing him.”
“Jesus,” Ryan murmurs, raking his fingers through his hair. “Is that what you are too?”
“It’s complicated,” Shane admits, which doesn’t sit right with Ryan. Ryan levels him with a look, but Shane doesn’t clarify.
With a sigh, Ryan pushes himself to his feet and wanders through into the kitchen to grab a dish towel. When he returns, he tosses it to Shane, who catches it easily.
“Don’t drip on my carpet. I need my deposit back.”
“Thanks,” Shane replies, sounding sarcastic.
“Are you going to die?”
Shane shrugs. “Maybe.”
He doesn’t seem concerned, but Ryan’s not sold. “Why were you both following me?”
“I wasn’t following you,” Shane tells him, lifting the hem of his shirt so he can press the dish towel against the wound on his side. “I was following Morinoch.”
“That’s the kind of shit that’s going to get you stabbed again,” Ryan threatens and Shane looks up at him like he actually believes Ryan might follow through.
“I was intrigued,” Shane admits and Ryan folds his arms.
“I wanted to know why Morinoch was following someone unremarkable.”
“Thanks,” Ryan says blandly and Shane shakes his head like there’s been a misunderstanding.
“I didn’t know about your magic. Someone like Morinoch doesn’t take easy souls, but magical souls are somewhat of a delicacy.”
An ice cold dread trickles down Ryan’s spine. The thought of a demon getting his soul terrifies him, but something must show on his face because Shane catches his gaze.
“I won’t let it happen.”
“You’re a demon,” Ryan points out. “What’s in it for you? You want my soul instead?”
“If I wanted your soul, I would’ve taken it by now," Shane says with a look that actually scares Ryan.
“So why haven’t you?”
Shane glances away with a sigh. “That’s why I said it’s complicated. I don’t work for the big guy downstairs.”
“You’re a freelance demon?”
“I’m a non-practicing demon.”
Ryan actually laughs at that and the corner of Shane’s mouth twitches like maybe that was his intention. “Haven’t heard that one before.”
“I settled my debt a long time ago.”
“You’re enjoying retired life?”
“Being stabbed wasn’t part of my ten year plan,” Shane jokes.
“Should’ve thought about that before deciding to save me. You still haven’t answered my question. What’s in this for you?”
“There’s nothing in it for me,” Shane admits and Ryan tilts his head.
“And I’m just supposed to believe that? A demon doing it out of the kindness of their heart?”
Shane thins his mouth and takes a brief look down at his side. After a moment he says, “I need a favor.”
Ryan shakes his head. “No, I’m not making a deal with a demon.”
“I didn’t say a deal,” Shane says, staring over at him. “You don’t have to help me, but it’s in your best interest.”
“You mean if I don’t, you’ll let Morinoch take my soul,” Ryan corrects, but after a second, Shane shakes his head.
“I won’t go out of my way to let him, but if you don’t help me, he probably will.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Shane sits back on his heels and lifts the hem of his shirt. When he moves away the dish towel, Ryan can see the stab wound, dark with demon blood that oozes like tar. There are dark lines under Shane’s skin, spidering outwards, looking like an infection spreading through Shane’s body.
“This is going to kill me if you don’t help,” Shane tells him bluntly. “If I die, no one can save you.”
Ryan stares at the wound, his stomach sinking as he realizes his dilemma. He has to save Shane or they’ll both die. The only consolation is that Shane clearly hates needing Ryan as much as Ryan needs him in return.
“Fuck,” Ryan says with a feeling and Shane nods and lowers his shirt again.
“The blade was forged to kill demons.”
“But you don’t think the wound will kill Morinoch?” Ryan asks. “You stabbed him in the chest.”
“I missed his heart,” Shane explains, sounding regretful. “It should’ve killed him instantly. He’ll have healers to help him and he’ll be back to finish the job.”
“Fuck,” Ryan says again.
“He knows where you live now,” Shane tells him. “You’ll need to hide.”
“I have stronger wards,” Shane starts, but Ryan shakes his head.
“I can’t just uproot my life, Shane. How long will it be? A month? A year?”
“No,” Shane argues. “Morinoch has never been patient. He’ll be back before the end of the week.”
“Jesus christ,” Ryan says, rubbing at his face. “For the record, this is totally insane.”
“Yeah,” Shane agrees. “I never thought I’d get stabbed with my own knife.”
“It’s been a long time since I’ve done healing,” Ryan warns. “I’ll need to find the books my Tita wrote for me.”
Shane looks at him, clearly intrigued. “Magic runs in your family?”
Ryan nods. “She taught me everything she could before she passed. It’s hard finding valid information these days.”
Shane huffs out a laugh. “No kidding. The internet ruins everything.”
Ryan offers him a grim smile that feels a little like a white flag. He supposes they’re really going to do this.
“Did you drive here?” he asks, already beginning to run through all the things he’ll need to pack.
“No,” Shane says with a shake of his head.
“Then how did you get here?”
“I didn’t drive,” Shane repeats and his tone insinuates that he did something demon-y that would blow Ryan’s mind and send him into another panic if he said it aloud.
“Fine,” Ryan says. “Give me an hour to pack. We’ll take my car.”
Ryan doesn’t know what he’s expecting, but a modern one bedroom apartment isn’t what he expects Shane to live in.
“Are you serious?” Ryan asks as Shane lets them inside, but Shane just shrugs.
Ryan can feel the warmth of some kind of ward as he steps across the threshold, but it welcomes him in, curling around his body, making him feel undeniably safe in a way he can’t put into words.
“Mi casa es su casa,” Shane says, tossing his keys onto the kitchen table and gesturing broadly with his other hand.
He’s sweating around his hairline and there’s an unignorable dark stain on his shirt, spreading down the leg of his pants.
“You look like shit,” Ryan tells him. “Sit down before you pass out.”
“I’m fine,” Shane argues, but sits in the nearest chair like it’s his own choice.
Ryan drops his duffle bag on the couch, where he suspects he’ll be sleeping for the next few days, and then digs into his backpack for his book of magic.
He doesn’t refer to it as often as he probably should, but he’s not in the habit of getting in enough trouble to warrant it.
“How long exactly has it been since you healed someone?” Shane asks as Ryan sets his book on the countertop beside the fridge and starts paging through it.
“I’ve never healed a demon,” Ryan says blandly, barely glancing up. “Have you ever been healed?”
Shane seems avoidant, but eventually admits, “Once or twice.”
“So it should work,” Ryan points out, but Shane lifts one shoulder.
“I’ve never been healed by a human.”
“There’s a first for everything,” he sighs. “The wound needs to be clean. I can’t do anything with all that blood everywhere.”
Shane grunts, but obviously knows Ryan’s right because he nods towards the sink. “Throw me that sponge.”
Ryan glances at said sponge — the one that’s off-color from probably a couple of months of usage — and then at Shane. “No. Do you know how many germs are in that?”
Shane blows out a breath and gestures to himself. “Do you think my demon body cares about germs?”
Ryan doesn’t relent. “Anyway, I didn’t mean that you need to clean it. I can do that. Let me see it.”
When he steps closer, Shane eyes him warily. “Don’t you need to read your book?”
“I use cleaning spells every day of my life. I think I can manage this.”
Shane doesn’t seem convinced, but pulls his shirt up, setting Ryan’s soiled and unsalvageable dish cloth on the table.
Dropping to one knee, Ryan realizes it’s not as large as he was expecting, but it’s definitely deep and the dark lines of infection are climbing higher up Shane’s body.
“Hold still,” Ryan tells him, carefully cupping his hands over the wound. He focuses inward for the strands of his magic and gently tugs them to the surface, guiding them across Shane’s skin.
For what it’s worth, Shane doesn’t move, but the table lets out an ominous creak where Shane’s gripping the edge of it. “That feels strange,” he admits and Ryan briefly glances up.
“Does it hurt?”
“No,” Shane tells him, but doesn’t elaborate as Ryan pulls his hands away, the dark demon blood no longer in sight.
“That’s better,” Ryan mutters, mostly to himself. The wound is oozing slightly, but not half as bad as before, and now he has a better idea of what he’s up against. He pushes himself to his feet and brushes his palms against his thighs. “Give me a minute for the healing. Do you have tea?”
Shane blinks at him with a frown. “Are those things related, or do you have a late night craving?”
Ryan can’t help but laugh. “No craving. In healing, we typically infuse tea to get the damage inside.”
“Oh,” Shane replies. “Top cupboard by the fridge.”
There’s a kettle sitting unplugged at the end of the counter, which Ryan fills with fresh water and sets to boil while he drops a box of tea from Shane’s cupboard next to it and goes back to his book.
Ryan’s semi familiar with minor healing spells because he uses them for when he nicks himself with his razor in the mornings. What he’s not familiar with are the blood magic spells listed in his Tita’s handwriting. He’s never worked with blood magic before and never thought he’d be dipping his toes into it for a demon.
But he does know it’s not at all like what it’s usually portrayed as in media. Blood magic only requires blood because it’s a stronger kind of magic, not that it’s bad or evil in any way.
Ryan shuts his eyes and carefully checks on his magic, knowing he’s going to need as much as he can find.
When the kettle clicks off, Ryan feels a little more confident in his own abilities. He’s always been a natural at magic, so he hopes this will be the same.
“Camomile?” Ryan can’t help but ask as he drops a teabag into a mug and lets it steep.
“For after those long days of eating souls,” Shane jokes and Ryan worries it might be one of those half-truths.
From the block to his left, Ryan pulls out a sharp paring knife, testing the tip of it with his thumb. The book says two or three drops should be enough, so Ryan drips in four to be safe and then cups his hands over the mug. The incantation is easy enough, but it's the intent Ryan has to focus on. He has to want it to heal.
When he pulls his hands away, the tea doesn’t look any different, though Ryan’s not truly sure what he’s expecting.
“Is it done?” Shane asks and Ryan shrugs.
“I think so.”
He passes the mug over and Shane sniffs at it, eyeing Ryan like he half expects it to be poison.
“Remember,” Shane says, “you need me alive.”
“Just for a week or so,” Ryan counters and Shane’s expression shifts minutely with just enough intrigue that could get them into trouble.
After a moment, Shane drinks, clearly not affected by the heat of the water because he drains the whole mug and sets it aside when he’s done. It takes a second, but as the tea sinks further into Shane’s body, Ryan begins to feel the flickering of magic. It’s like the strands of magic inside his own body, except he has less control over them.
Quickly, he drops back to one knee, both hands hovering over Shane’s stab wound as he encourages the magic to find him. It snakes lazily through Shane’s body, poking and prodding as it goes at a body that’s far more damaged than Shane lets on. It might just be the demon part of him, but Ryan guides it to the wound instead, letting it heat beneath his palms.
“Fuck,” Shane says between gritted teeth, fingers digging into his own thigh probably to keep from grabbing Ryan instead. “It’s doing something.”
“Good or bad?” Ryan gets out, trying not to lose focus.
“I don’t know. It’s burning.”
“Let’s assume that’s good,” Ryan tells him and redoubles his efforts. He shuts his eyes, his breathing deep and even as he traces through each of the infected veins, clearing them out and letting his magic flow through to heal.
“Ryan,” Shane says carefully. “Ryan, stop.”
But Ryan knows he can’t stop now. He’s so close to clearing it out.
Shane lets out a yell that seems to shake the entire apartment, the mug rattling against the table next to them, and Ryan finally pulls the last of the infection out, the wound snapping shut behind it, skin knitting together with a familiarity that Ryan knows. He pulls his hands away, his magic dissipating in a rush that has Shane sagging forward.
There’s a gentle click of something hitting the floor and when Ryan looks down, there’s a rock between his knees. It’s solid and black and when he picks it up there’s some weight to it.
“I think that’s your infection,” Ryan tells him. “A demon kidney stone.”
Shane doesn’t answer and for a second Ryan worries he’s accidentally killed him. Eventually, after a long second, Shane lets out a pained grunt, his hand falling to the skin that’s no longer damaged and broken. Somehow, against all the odds, Ryan has managed to heal him.
“You did it,” Shane says, sounding about as stunned as Ryan feels.
Ryan slumps backwards, dropping heavily onto his butt, barely enough energy to catch himself with one hand. “Oof,” he exhales, and really feels it.
Shane peers down at him, his brows drawing together. “Are you okay?”
“Give me a second and I’ll let you know,” Ryan says, lowering his head between his knees to blink away the black spots that creep in from the edges of his vision.
Shane gets up, clearly having no after-effects — or at least none that he lets on to — and leaves the kitchen. For a second, Ryan wonders if Shane’s just going to leave him there to pass out, but after a few minutes of Ryan breathing evenly and savoring the quiet, Shane pads back into the room.
“C’mon,” Shane says, reaching down to grab Ryan’s elbow. His grip is tight, skin uncomfortably hot, and it’s clear he could easily yank Ryan to his feet with barely any effort. “You’re exhausted. You can take my bed. I just changed the sheets.”
Ryan shakes his head. “The couch is fine. I just need to sleep.”
According to the clock on the wall, it’s now almost 5am and Ryan feels drained of both magic and energy.
“I don’t sleep,” Shane tells him, his hand flexing as though he’s losing patience.
“And yet you had to change the sheets.”
“Because they’d been on there for almost six months. If you wanted to sleep on a blanket of dust, all you had to do was say.”
Ryan’s not entirely sure he buys it; he has too many questions. But for now, he’s exhausted and probably couldn’t even fight his way out of a wet paper bag. He’s going to accept the peace offering for what it is.
He nods. “Fine.”
Shane finally pulls him to his feet, his touch lingering just long enough for Ryan to get his balance and stay upright.
“We’re safe enough tonight,” Shane tells him. “Morinoch won’t strike twice in one day.”
“Sure,” Ryan agrees around a yawn, but he’s so tired he’s not entirely sure it would matter either way.
He grabs his bags from the living room and lets Shane lead the way to the bedroom.
The furnishings are sparse and the nightstand holds a lamp and a charger — nothing else. There’s no trace of personality and for some reason, that’s what really drives home the fact that Shane’s a demon.
“I held up my end of the bargain,” Ryan tells him, setting his bags down and sitting on the edge of the bed.
Shane nods and scratches at the stubble along his jaw. “I’ll keep you safe,” he murmurs and for some reason, Ryan almost believes him.
He nods in returns and lets out a yawn he can’t quite hold back.
“Get some sleep,” Shane tells him, lingering in the doorway. “You’ll need your strength.”
He pulls the door closed as he leaves and Ryan sags as the bizarreness of the night slowly seeps into his brain. It still somehow feels like a bad dream and he’ll wake up in the morning wondering if he should stop eating cheese before bed.
He kicks his shoes off and carefully pulls off his pants, but that seems like enough. Without undressing any further, he slips under the blankets, reaching one arm out to turn off the bedside lamp.
He yawns at the ceiling, his eyes already drooping, and between one slow blink and the next, he falls asleep.
“Bad news,” Shane says as Ryan wanders his way into the kitchen. The clock says it’s a little after one in the afternoon and his stomach is protesting the fact that it hasn’t been fed yet.
Ryan glances at him nervously. “Did Morinoch find us?”
Shane shakes his head and sets a mug of coffee on the table for him. Ryan’s not a huge fan of coffee, but he takes it anyway, letting the mug put extra warmth into his hands.
After a moment, Shane lifts the hem of his shirt, showing off his hip, above which is the stab wound from the night before. It’s reopened, though it’s nowhere near as bad as before. It looks more like a picked scab and it’s beginning to bleed.
“I can heal it again,” Ryan tells him, taking a mouthful of coffee and moving to set it back down.
Shane drops his shirt and holds up a hand, waving him off. “Eat first. I ordered a few things.”
Taken by surprise, Ryan doesn’t try to argue and it turns out that a few things means a full breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausages, hash browns, and pancakes.
By the time Ryan leans back in his chair, almost too full to move, Shane has a paper towel pressed to his side to keep the blood from seeping into his shirt.
“It’s not as deep as before,” Shane murmurs, looking down and prodding at it, which only encourages the bleeding. Ryan nudges at him under the table with his foot.
“Don’t touch it.”
He’s not sure how it became normal to sit at a kitchen table with a demon and eat breakfast and lightly argue, but it seems like an ongoing thing to up the ante of his life.
Ryan wipes his hands on a wad of paper napkins and pushes himself to his feet. “C’mere,” he says with a gesture. “I can’t kneel or I’ll have to unbutton my pants.”
Ryan genuinely only means that he’s too full to bend at the waist, but Shane lets out a huff of laughter and says, “I wouldn’t object.”
Flustered and slightly horrified at the idea, Ryan bluntly says, “No.”
Shane watches him like he expects further argument, but Ryan doesn’t continue and eventually Shane just shrugs.
Ryan shakes his head and holds his hands up, gesturing for Shane to raise his shirt. Shane does, without any quips or backtalk, and it barely takes Ryan any effort to heal him with one pass.
“It’s just superficial,” Ryan tells him, shaking away the slight tingling that works its way up his arm. “The inside is still clear.”
“So no tea needed?”
“Not yet,” Ryan agrees. “I need to stop by my shop today. I’ll grab a few things that might help in case this doesn’t stay healed.”
Shane stares down at him, unblinking. “You want to go to your store.”
Ryan laughs, a little incredulous. “I’m the owner and only employee. If I don’t open it, it stays shut.”
“And a demon threatening to eat your soul isn’t a strong enough reason to stay away?”
“I didn’t say I was going without backup.”
Shane folds his arms, but somehow Ryan already knows he’s won this argument. The fact Shane survived the night is because of Ryan, and Ryan highly suspects Shane never wants to be indebted to a human.
“I’ll let you add your own wards,” Ryan throws in as a compromise and Shane sighs.
“For the record, this is a bad idea.”
“Noted,” Ryan replies. “I’ll get my keys.”
Unlike the first time Shane was in his store, he moves around with purpose, hesitating in various spots and adding wards that make Ryan’s own seem like a barricade of silly string in comparison.
“You’re good at that,” Ryan tells him, setting aside a few essentials to take home later.
Shane grunts. “I’ve had a few years of practice.”
Shane glances over, clearly noticing Ryan’s prying for what it is. “A few centuries.”
Ryan’s brows raise. “Why did you set my wards off but Morinoch didn’t?”
“What?” Shane asks, pulling together the last of wards and forming a tight mesh of alarms and protections around the entire shop.
“When you came into the store, my wards knew you weren’t normal, but they didn’t alert me to Morinoch.”
Shane glances over at him. “I wasn’t trying to hide from you. Morinoch was.”
“He thought I would notice him?”
Shane shakes his head. “No, he hides from everyone.”
Ryan blows out a breath. “At least he’s consistent.”
“He’s not — ” Shane starts before stopping. He wipes his palms on his thighs and glances around at the invisible network he’s created. Eventually, he looks back at Ryan. “Of all the demons you could’ve lured in, Morinoch might be the worst.”
Ryan’s stomach sinks. “Thanks,” he says blandly. “And here I was thinking you were.”
“I’m what the kids would call practice.”
“Which part?” Ryan asks. “The bit where you brought a knife to a fight and got stabbed with it? Or the bit where I had to save you?”
“The saving is still very mutual,” Shane points out. “Would you like me to remove the wards?”
Ryan knows it’s a bluff, but calling out a demon seems like a bad idea. “Are they working?”
“Do you see Morinoch here?”
“That doesn’t mean they’re working,” Ryan sighs and Shane levels him with a look, clearly annoyed that Ryan would ever question his abilities.
After a moment, Shane waves his hand, gesturing from one end of the store to the other. Slowly, a ripple works its way across the ceiling, showing exactly where they’re encased within Shane’s wards.
“They’re working,” Shane tells him coolly.
“Great,” Ryan says with a nod of agreement. “That means I don’t have to close the store at all this week.”
“That wasn’t part of the agreement,” Shane tries and Ryan tilts his head in thought.
“Did we have an agreement?”
Shane takes a breath. “This is extortion.”
Ryan laughs outright and the corner of Shane’s mouth twitches. “Don’t you have to have morals to be extorted?”
“You’ve clearly never met a politician.”
Ryan laughs again and says, “That’s fair. Okay, then yeah, this is extortion. Would you rather learn how to run the cash register or perform palm readings?”
The laugh Shane lets out doesn’t sound at all how Ryan expects it to, but Ryan can’t help but feel a thrill at somehow managing to catch a demon off guard.
“I can stand by the door and stop you from being killed,” Shane suggests and Ryan nods, unable to keep from smiling.
“Sure,” he agrees. “Great plan. No idea why we didn’t think of that earlier.”
“That’s a scam,” Shane tells him on Wednesday when a customer leaves after a palm reading. There’s no one else in the store and Ryan’s just pulled out a container of leftover noodles from the night before to eat for lunch.
Ryan barely looks up, waving a hand over his food to warm it. “You ran away when I read yours. I think there might be some truth to it.”
“I didn’t run,” Shane argues.
“What? You walked quickly?” Ryan slurps up a mouthful of noodles and enjoys the face of disgust Shane makes.
“Everything you told me was bullshit. It was just vague enough to be applicable to anyone.”
“You didn’t like me seeing the big decision in your life,” Ryan tells him. “Was that decision when you chose to be a demon?”
“I didn’t choose to be a demon,” Shane grunts. “I’ve always been this way.”
“Then what was your choice?”
“That’s personal,” Shane says and Ryan raises his brows at him.
“We’ve known each other for almost three days now. I think we’re at the point where you can tell me anything.”
The joke earns a huff of laughter from Shane, who then shakes his head like he can’t believe Ryan is the way that he is. He looks down at his palm, probably looking at the markings Ryan had pointed out before, but then closes his fist.
“I think it’s all bullshit,” Shane says, looking back up, allowing Ryan to showcase his best no shit expression. “But the only decision I made was to give up being a demon.”
Ryan laughs before he can stop himself. “How can demons choose not to be demons?”
Shane shrugs. “Just woke up one day and didn’t feel like eating souls.”
Ryan snorts. “So what do you eat to survive?”
“Humans give off energy and it doesn’t affect them if I feed off it.”
“What do you mean? What kind of energy?”
“You can tell when someone is in a good or bad mood, right?” Shane asks and Ryan nods.
“I eat energy like that. It’s just enough to keep me alive.”
Ryan takes a few mouthfuls of his lunch and chews slowly, thinking. “How did you stop becoming a demon? Don’t you have like a boss or something? Or are you freelance?”
“I tricked my creator into a deal.”
Ryan frowns and asks, “The devil?”
Shane shakes his head. “We’re not all created by the devil. There’s an organized structure. It’s very bureaucratic.”
“It’s a literal bureaucratic hell,” Ryan jokes, earning a huff of laughter from Shane. “So you tricked them and they freed you?”
“I tricked them and they almost killed me.”
Ryan’s brows raise. “How did you survive?”
“Honestly? I don’t know,” Shane says with a shrug. “I was surprised that I woke up, but my connection to Hell was gone and no one came to kill me.”
“Jesus,” Ryan murmurs around a piece of green pepper and Shane nods. “That’s an impressive resume.”
“Keeps me humble,” Shane jokes and Ryan laughs, wiping at his mouth with a cleaning spell when he drips sauce down his chin.
“The most humble of demons,” he agrees and Shane grins.
“I’m glad I’m finally getting the deserved recognition.”
“Y’know,” Ryan says, tapping at his mouth with his chopsticks, “this isn’t how I saw my week going.”
Shane opens his mouth, but Ryan can already guess what he’s about to say.
“I’m still not psychic,” Ryan tells him and the way Shane purses his lips means he’s guessed correctly.
“You’re not bad for a human,” Shane tells him after a moment and Ryan holds his gaze just long enough to see that he’s not joking.
Ryan focuses on picking out pieces of chicken from his lunch.
“You’re not bad for a demon,” he admits and it feels like they’ve settled into some kind of truce.
When the bell above the door rings, signaling a new customer, it feels like a welcome reprieve.
Shane doesn't eat, but seems to enjoy cooking, not that Ryan's complaining because free food is free food. He’s adept in the kitchen, his movements fluid as he dices onions and carrots for a pot pie one night, wrist loose as he whisks eggs for an omelette one morning.
“How did you get so good at that?” Ryan asks, curiosity getting the better of him when Shane sets a plate of curry in front of him. It has a color and fragrance that Ryan could only dream of recreating in his own kitchen.
Shane wipes his hands on a dish towel and sits at the table opposite him. “I went to culinary school.”
“Got bored of doing demon stuff?”
“When you’re as old as I am, you try anything once.”
“Sounds dangerous,” Ryan retorts, spice from the curry immediately sticking to his tongue as he takes his first bite. It’s the perfect burn, like Shane knew his exact preference. “What other schools have you been to?”
Shane shrugs loosely. “You name it, I’ve probably done it.”
“What? Like it’s hard?” Shane quotes and Ryan almost coughs his mouthful back onto his plate.
“Demons aren’t meant to have a sense of humor,” Ryan tells him after he swallows. “You must be the only one to have seen Legally Blonde.”
“You have a lot of preconceived notions about demons.”
“What?” Ryan jokes. “You’re actually just one of the guys?”
Shane folds his arms and lifts an eyebrow at him. “I’m not sure how many times I can tell you I’m not your typical demon before you start believing me.”
Ryan scoffs. “You can’t reverse psychology me into thinking demons are misguided souls.”
“That’s not what I’m trying to do, Ryan. Demons aren’t good. But I’m not a typical demon, no matter how you try to spin it.”
Ryan watches him, taking a couple of bites of food and chewing slowly to process his thoughts. Shane’s not wrong, he supposes, but something still doesn’t sit right.
“I can’t trust you,” Ryan admits before he can stop himself. It feels like too much truth to say aloud.
“I can’t fix that,” Shane points out, unfolding his arms to offer up his palms, and Ryan stares down at them, wondering if what he read on them is still true, even for a demon.
“There are too many reminders that you’re not human.”
“Can’t fix that either,” Shane sighs.
“Can you at least eat?” Ryan tries. “It feels like a fetish when you cook for me and then watch me eat.”
Shane lets out a surprised sounding laugh. “I — hmm.”
Ryan swallows his mouthful and stares at Shane. “Please don’t tell me that’s what this is.”
“That’s not what this is,” Shane confirms with another laugh. “But it’s not out of the kindness of my heart either.”
“There’s no issue of me assuming that,” Ryan deadpans and Shane shoots him an unamused smile.
“People give off a lot of emotions when they eat,” Shane explains. “It makes it easier for me to feed from them.”
Ryan sets his fork down and stares at Shane. “You’ve been feeding from me.”
“Have you noticed?” Shane asks with a questioning twitch of his eyebrow.
“That’s not the point. You should’ve asked.”
Shane pauses. “Can I feed from you?”
Ryan realizes his mistake, because when faced with the question, he’s not sure of his answer.
“You don’t need to trust me,” Shane points out and Ryan stares down at his plate, feeling strangely obligated. “You also don’t have to say yes.”
“Because you’ll do it anyway?”
Shane shakes his head. “No, I’ll stop. I mean that you don’t need to feel indebted.”
“What — ” Ryan starts before pausing. “What’s it like?”
“Feeding from humans?” Shane asks and Ryan shrugs. “It’s like putting a lemon slice in your water and expecting lemonade.”
“And for the record, souls are the lemons?”
Shane sighs. “It’s not appetizing, but it keeps me alive.”
“Are stronger emotions more appetizing? Are weddings and funerals an all-you-can-eat buffet to you?”
“Positive emotions are better than negative ones,” Shane explains and Ryan lets out a huff of laughter.
“I must taste like shit right now.”
Shane shrugs before saying, “You’re very open with your emotions.”
“What does that mean?” Ryan asks, already afraid of the answer.
“I don’t have to eat every day when I’m around you,” Shane tells him, which feels like one hell of a confession. Ryan watches him for a moment, but Shane doesn’t seem embarrassed.
“Don’t get used to it,” Ryan tells him. “After Morinoch is gone and I’m safe, you won’t see me again.”
“Oh no,” Shane says without feeling. “Please. Anything but that.”
“I’m just saying. If you’re not careful, you might end up actually missing me when I’m gone.”
“Hmm,” Shane says. “We’ll see.”
Ryan picks up his fork and takes a mouthful or two before speaking again. “For the record, I guess it’s only fair that you get to eat when you feed me.”
“So generous,” Shane says blandly.
“That’s a yes, in case you need explicit approval.”
“You’re the one with the hangups,” Shane points out, but he gives Ryan a nod of understanding. “Perhaps I’ll eat your emotions with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.”
“Jesus christ,” Ryan sighs as Shane makes the classic Hannibal sipping noise at him. “I can still take it back, you know.”
Shane nods solemnly. “Let me know when you change your mind.”
Ryan’s lived alone for so long now, it’s strange to have someone around constantly, and it’s not that Shane’s apartment is a bad place to be, it’s just — not home.
“How long have you lived here?” Ryan asks one morning as he snoops through a bookshelf in Shane’s living room. He thinks the contents of it might be some kind of joke because it looks like a lit major’s wet dream. If they’re actually Shane’s favorite reads, he’ll eat his metaphorical hat.
“Seven years,” Shane grunts and Ryan shakes his head.
“No,” he replies and Shane looks over at him.
“It’s not exactly up for debate.”
“You’re telling me you’ve lived here for seven years and haven’t put one thing on your walls?”
Shane glances around, like he’s only just noticed. “I like my walls.”
“Your off-white, blank walls?” Ryan confirms and Shane nods before returning to the crossword he’d been working on at the kitchen table. “What kind of demon are you?”
Shane sighs and sets his pen down, clearly realizing Ryan’s unignorable. Leaning back in his chair, he asks, “What kind of demon do you think I should be, Ryan? Should I have red walls and a painting of the devil on the mantel?”
“I don’t know. Let’s try it.”
With a snap of Ryan’s fingers, he uses magic — a simple and temporary illusion spell — to change the color of Shane’s walls to a deep burgundy. With another twitch of his hand, he adds a crude, child-like drawing of a horned devil above Shane’s bookcase.
Shane doesn’t seem surprised nor impressed.
“Not sure it’s my color,” he says blandly and Ryan snaps his fingers to an imaginary beat, changing the color each time.
“Let me know when you see one that is.”
“Stop changing my stuff,” Shane complains without heat and Ryan settles on a gentle pastel yellow that, when the sun through the windows hits, gives it a cheery kind of warmth.
He adds a handful of half-remembered paintings he once saw at The Broad and locks them into place with a quickly scribbled rune on a piece of scrap paper on Shane’s coffee table.
Shane doesn’t complain any further, returning to his crossword, and something inside Ryan feels a little more settled.
“How’s it doing?” Ryan asks a little while later. Shane’s puttering around the kitchen, putting away dishes in a way that boggles Ryan’s mind in that it seems so un-demon like.
Shane closes the cupboard where he keeps his mugs and turns towards him, one hip cocked against the counter. “The world? The universe?”
Annoyance is more of a feeling Ryan can deal with around Shane. He frowns and gestures loosely at him. “Your stab wound.”
Shane raises his brows and then reaches down to lift the hem of his shirt. “What do you think, doc?”
“I think I should’ve let you die,” Ryan mutters, but takes a step closer to get a better look.
It’s scabbed over now, barely the size of a penny, but there are still a few dark lines radiating out at the edges.
“It’s better,” Ryan admits. “But the healing isn’t sticking.”
Shane scratches at his stomach, drawing Ryan’s gaze for a second before he realizes he’s being distracted.
“It was a knife designed to kill me,” Shane points out. “It’s not meant to heal.”
“Do you want me to — uh?” Ryan holds his hand up and Shane nods, lifting his shirt a little higher in invitation.
Shane’s skin is warm under his palm and he can feel the movement of him calmly breathing.
“Where did you get a knife to kill demons?” Ryan can’t help but ask as he slowly lets his magic seep towards the worst of the damage.
Shane lets out a laugh that ruffles Ryan’s hair. “Stole it from a demon hunter.”
“They exist?” Ryan asks, realizing just how far he has to tip his head to meet Shane’s gaze up close.
“For being part of the magical community, you don’t know a lot, do you?”
“Not a lot of people know what I can do,” Ryan admits and Shane raises an eyebrow at him.
“You run a magic shop.”
“I run a shop that offers goods that some might consider magical. I provide no guarantees.”
Shane lets out a low whistle and Ryan scoffs.
“You didn’t know I had magic until I told you.”
“That’s different,” Shane says and Ryan frowns at him.
“Because it’s me,” Shane says with such seriousness that Ryan’s not entirely convinced he’s joking.
He laughs loudly, fingers curling against Shane’s hip as his body shifts with the movement. “You’re such an asshole. Are you sure you voluntarily left Hell? Or did they kick you out and you’re not big enough to admit it?”
“I’m big enough,” Shane says and Ryan catches himself with a cough of surprise.
“I’m going to let it fester next time,” Ryan warns, pulling his hand away and withdrawing his magic, but the wound has disappeared for the time being, leaving unmarred skin behind.
Shane smooths his shirt back down and tips his head slightly, enough that Ryan realizes he’s thinking. “You’ve already seen proof,” he says eventually.
“I’m not debating how big is big enough,” Ryan complains, taking a step back and folding his arms, and Shane lets out a laugh that sounds slightly surprised.
“Noted,” Shane tells him. “But I meant you’ve seen proof that I left Hell voluntarily.”
Ryan pauses, hating how easily Shane can take him off guard. “You said the other demons almost killed you.”
“Your magic felt the damage they’ve done inside.”
Ryan hesitates, somehow, a part of him feeling a twinge of empathy. “So that’s not what a typical demon is like?”
Shane shakes his head and Ryan stares at him for a moment.
“Does it hurt?” he asks and Shane stares back like perhaps no one has ever asked that before.
“Some days are better than others,” he eventually answers and Ryan tucks his hands into his pockets as his magic lurches, like it wants nothing more than to crawl into Shane’s body and heal him from the inside out.
“I could take care of it.”
Shane shakes his head. “It’s not your problem. You only need to heal my hip.”
“I know,” Ryan agrees. “I’m just offering — no strings attached.”
“That’s not how that works.”
“Okay, so how about with every meal you give me, I heal part of it. Quid pro quo.”
Shane doesn’t seem entirely convinced. “Maybe.”
“You’ve already fed me a few times. That’s at least one and a half legs.”
“Generous,” Shane grunts and Ryan shrugs.
“Okay, well what seems fair to you?”
Shane’s mouth thins, like maybe he’s realizing that Ryan’s right and it’s about as fair as it’s going to get.
“One leg,” he compromises and Ryan grins, knowing it’ll annoy Shane. Shane sighs like that’s exactly what it does. “How are you gonna do it?”
“Take a seat and I’ll show you.”
Shane spares him a look, but does as instructed, sitting down at the kitchen table, his body angled towards Ryan. Ryan drops to one knee in front of him and pats at his thigh.
“A please wouldn’t go amiss.”
“Oh yeah?” Ryan answers, sending a gentle shock through Shane’s calf with a twitch of his fingers. Shane barely flinches, but stares down at Ryan like he’s not amused.
But he finally does what Ryan tells him and sets his socked foot against Ryan’s thigh. Carefully, Ryan rolls up Shane’s pantleg enough that he can reach his ankle. There’s nothing remarkable about it and his skin is warm when Ryan curls one hand around it, but it’s easy to murmur the healing spell he’s becoming far too familiar with. His magic hums as it flows into Shane, but Shane doesn’t react.
“This isn’t any different from you healing my hip,” Shane says and Ryan tips his head slightly.
“Why did you think it would be?”
Shane, for once, looks caught out.
“You know what happens when you make assumptions?” Ryan asks, earning an unamused stare from Shane.
“Shut up,” Shane tells him and Ryan lets out a laugh.
“It’s no worse than your hip,” Ryan continues. “And it actually stays healed.”
“How do you know?”
“Because the area around your hip has healed already. My magic isn’t nuanced enough to differentiate between the new and the old wounds. But the old wounds haven’t come back. At least, not that I’ve noticed.”
Shane doesn’t say anything more after that, just lets Ryan finish healing the entire three miles of his leg. It’s exhausting work, but there’s definitely something therapeutic about the vibration of it beneath his palm and the way Shane’s body readily accepts it, regardless of what he says aloud.
Ryan can’t deny that the damage is extensive, but the years, possibly even decades of time since they occurred have smoothed them and turned them less ragged. It’s easier to heal, no doubt, but he knows Shane will definitely feel the difference.
“There,” he says, letting go of Shane’s ankle and unrolling the hem of his pants. “One leg, as good as new.”
Shane slides his foot off of Ryan’s thigh and Ryan pushes himself back to his feet, watching as Shane straightens and bends his knee, like he’s testing it out.
“Huh,” he says, which Ryan interprets as wow, Ryan, you’re the best, how can I ever repay you?
“Let me know if you want more healed.”
“Sure,” Shane says, but he’s distracted, no longer paying attention to Ryan’s attempts to annoy him.
Ryan watches for just a moment longer and then lets out a huff of laughter. “I’ll leave you and your leg alone,” he says and figures it’ll give him enough time to catch an undisturbed nap on the couch.
“Do traps work on demons?” Ryan asks that night. He’s sitting cross-legged on the floor of Shane’s living room, a laptop open on the coffee table and a bowl of chili and rice next to him. He picks at it as he scrolls through Google, and Shane grunts from the couch.
“Demons are hard to trick.”
“That’s not what I’m asking,” Ryan presses, taking another spoonful of food. “Would traps actually stop a demon?”
Ryan lifts the laptop, pointing the screen in Shane’s direction and Shane leans forward to look at it.
“That would work,” he agrees after a moment. “But like I said, it’s better in theory. They’re too hard to hide.”
“You can’t put it under a rug?” Ryan asks, setting the laptop back down, and Shane snorts quietly.
“They hum. We can hear traps from miles away.”
Ryan scratches at his stubble, quietly thinking as Shane returns to watching the documentary he’d put on earlier.
“You’d need a distraction,” Ryan murmurs.
Shane glances back at him, seeming unconvinced. “Sure, but I’ve never met someone who could outwit a demon.”
“You did it,” Ryan points out. “To stop being a demon.”
“I’ve never met a human who could outwit a demon,” Shane corrects and Ryan turns back to his laptop, trying not to feel too defeated.
“Maybe you haven’t met enough people,” he grunts and he can feel Shane’s gaze lingering on him.
“Maybe,” Shane agrees and by the time Ryan looks back up, Shane’s watching the TV again.
With a quiet sigh, he closes the current tab and goes back to Google, opening up the next page of search results. Already at page seven, he knows it’s not looking good.
In the morning, there’s a cat sitting calmly in the middle of the kitchen. Ryan pauses, halfway through rubbing at his freshly-shaven face, and wonders if he’s still dreaming.
Shane’s sitting on the couch, not seeming to have moved since Ryan left him there the night before.
“Is that a cat?” Ryan asks and Shane doesn’t look away from the newspaper he’s flipping through.
“What else would it be?”
“Why is it in your kitchen?”
“Because that’s where he eats.”
“Why — ” Ryan starts and Shane finally looks up.
“Ryan, meet Obi,” he says with a gesture between them. “Obi, meet Ryan.”
“Hi, Obi,” Ryan says awkwardly and Shane lets out a soft laugh.
“I’ve had him for three years. He’s not new, just knows where to hide when guests are around.”
Ryan steps around Obi — who doesn’t even flinch — to get to the kettle, finding there’s already a mug of tea waiting for him, still steaming and clearly freshly made. He picks it up and sniffs it and when he glances up, Shane’s watching him.
“It’s not poisoned.”
“Didn’t think it was. Just trying to decide if it was for me or not,” Ryan admits and Shane leans back and crosses his mile long legs.
He takes a sip, relishing in the warmth. “Thanks. Guess this means you want more healing.”
“I wasn’t — ” Shane starts, actually sounding flustered, and Ryan watches in fascination.
“Oh, this is new,” he says with a laugh. “I didn’t know I could embarrass a demon.”
Shane quickly gathers himself and levels Ryan with a look. “We’re allowed to have a whole range of emotions these days.”
“The devil’s kindness knows no bounds.”
“I’m still not related to him,” Shane points out and Ryan drinks more of his tea, watching him over the rim of his mug.
“Do you want to be healed or not?”
Shane holds his gaze for long enough that Ryan starts to worry that he’s pushed past the weird boundaries they’ve silently established. But eventually, Shane blinks and tips his head in confirmation.
“The other leg this time?” Ryan asks and Shane kicks his foot up onto the coffee table and wiggles his toes.
“Two can play this game,” Shane tells him and Ryan hates that he’s right.
He sets his mug down with a sigh, pushes up his sleeves, and moves closer to Shane.
“Ryan,” Shane grunts, and Ryan suddenly finds himself snapping awake, something sharp and uncomfortable jabbing at him in an unignorable way.
He gasps for breath, feeling like he’s still half-submerged in sleep, the weight of it draped over him, clearly wanting to drag him back under.
“Ryan,” Shane repeats and Ryan finds the strength to pull himself up, realizing he’s on Shane’s couch, head tipped down towards the armrest, and a crick in his neck because he’s not as young as he once was.
“What’s going on?” he asks, becoming all too aware that there’s a pressure still weighing on him that feels far too much like someone else’s presence. It’s dark around them and although Ryan’s sure he fell asleep halfway through an episode of something Shane was watching on Netflix, the TV is off now. “Oh god, is it Morinoch?”
Ryan panics, immediately reaching for his magic, but Shane shakes his head.
“It’s me,” he grunts and Ryan realizes as he follows the tendrils of his magic that they’re already coiled around Shane, prodding at him insistently.
“Jesus,” Ryan repeats, gently pulling it back towards himself, but the more Ryan pulls at his magic, the more it seems to pour out of Shane like it has been slowly working its way inside him like a steady drip. “Why didn’t you say anything?”
“I did. You wouldn’t wake up.”
“Fuck,” Ryan exhales, carding his fingers through his hair. “How long has it been doing this?”
Shane shrugs loosely. “Twenty minutes? You shut off the power a few minutes ago.”
Ryan blinks, glancing around as he takes in the room again. The darkness isn’t surprising since it’s probably close to midnight now, but from where he’s sitting, he can see the microwave clock is off and there’s no little red light on the front of the TV. He’s drained the whole room of energy.
“What the fuck,” Ryan murmurs, feeling off-balance as the last of his magic slips out of Shane and the lights in the room flicker back to life. “I haven’t lost control of my magic since I was a kid. What was I doing?”
“You started healing me,” Shane tells him, his gaze quickly snapping to Ryan’s nose, where Ryan begins to feel a slight tickle.
When he brings a hand up to his face, his knuckles come away wet with blood.
Ryan pushes himself up and makes his way into the kitchen, leaning over the sink as his nose begins to bleed in earnest. He can hear Shane moving around behind him and a hand presses against his shoulder as Shane reaches around him to turn on the faucet and wet a handful of paper towels.
“Here,” Shane says, handing them over.
“Thanks,” Ryan replies, pressing the wad of wet tissue under his nose and leaning his elbow against the counter as he starts to feel lightheaded.
“You should sit down,” Shane encourages, squeezing gently at Ryan’s shoulder, and Ryan doesn’t have the strength to argue. He lets Shane guide him back towards the kitchen table and drops heavily into the chair Shane pulls out for him.
Keeping the tissue under his nose, Ryan rests his forehead against the tabletop, shutting his eyes and breathing steadily.
“I’m sorry,” he mutters and it sounds like Shane sits opposite him, but he doesn’t lift his head to check. “I know you don’t want to be completely healed.”
“I don’t not want to be healed,” Shane says, which is too confusing for Ryan’s exhausted brain. “I don’t want to owe you anything.”
“Why would you? I’m just a human.”
“Doesn’t matter what you are,” Shane tells him. “I’ve done my time owing people.”
“Healing is easy. You’re protecting me twenty-four-seven from one of the worst demons you know. I’m getting the better end of this deal-which-isn’t-actually-a-deal deal.”
Shane lets out a sigh and something warm rests against the back of Ryan’s head — he thinks it might be Shane’s palm.
“You’re underestimating how much the healing helps me.”
Ryan doesn’t know what to do with that, nor with the way his stomach flips with a familiar kind of anticipation.
“Most humans don’t do things under the assumption that they’ll owe someone something,” Ryan points out and Shane hums.
“I know,” he admits. “It’s infuriating. You’re all too trusting.”
“You think I trust you?” Ryan tries to joke, but it terrifies him that it might be true. He thinks Shane might know it too, because he’s quiet for a beat longer than necessary.
In the silence, Ryan becomes aware of a strange kind of warmth slowly flowing through him, rolling through his shoulders like a blanket has been draped over him. He makes a soft noise and Shane’s thumb brushes the back of his ear.
“Is that you?” Ryan asks and Shane touches his ear again.
“Giving back some of that borrowed energy.”
“The stuff you feed off me?”
“Yeah,” Shane tells him quietly and Ryan hums.
“Didn’t know you could do that.”
Shane blows out a breath that Ryan feels. “Gotta keep things exciting.”
The tips of Shane’s fingers shift against his hair in what one could easily mistake as a calming head rub. Ryan doesn’t think it’s necessary for the energy transfer to work, but it’s nice.
“There’s probably a lot I don’t know about you, huh?” he asks as the warmth starts to tingle down his spine.
“One or two things,” Shane jokes and Ryan lets out a huff of laughter.
“Tell me another,” Ryan says and Shane’s fingers pause.
“Where’s the fun in that?”
“You’re right,” Ryan sighs. “I could guess instead.”
Somehow, Ryan feels the warmth of Shane’s laugh in the center of his chest, radiating out like a flare of magic. When he pulls the wad of tissue away, his nose has stopped bleeding and he feels a little more alert. Despite it, he doesn’t want to lift his head at the risk of losing Shane’s touch.
“I bet your middle name is something biblical like Isaac or Adam.”
“You think demons have middle names?” Shane asks in a tone that causes another flare in Ryan’s chest.
“Do you even have a last name?”
“I have a social security number,” Shane admits and Ryan finally lifts his head out of sheer surprise.
Shane sets both hands on the table, watching Ryan carefully. “I had to get a name for it.”
“So, that’s a yes?”
“My middle name is Alexander.”
“Oh no,” Ryan says, shaking his head, and Shane can’t seem to keep the amusement off his face. “What does it mean?”
Shane grins and Ryan knows it’s going to be bad. “Protector of man.”
“No,” Ryan complains, laughing despite himself. “The audacity.”
“I didn’t know it when I picked it,” Shane admits like Ryan will in any way believe him. “It was near the top of the names list.”
“Un-fucking-believable,” Ryan says, with another shake of his head. “What’s your last name? Savior of the Universe?”
“Madej,” Shane replies smoothly and Ryan pauses.
“That’s — not what I expected.”
Shane shrugs. “I thought it sounded nice.”
“Nice,” Ryan repeats with a quirk of one eyebrow and Shane shrugs.
“I’ve learned over the years that I’m allowed nice things sometimes.”
“Isn’t that a bit of a heavy revelation for a demon?” Ryan asks and Shane shrugs again.
“Took me a while to believe it.”
Ryan watches him carefully. “Is that why you didn’t want to be healed? You don’t believe you deserve it?” Shane doesn’t answer, but meets Ryan’s gaze and doesn’t blink. “How much did I heal you tonight?”
Shane finally looks away as he cards his fingers through his hair. “Almost all of it.”
The answer surprises Ryan, but it explains why he feels so drained. “Huh,” he says, neutrally. “How does it feel?”
“It’s different,” Shane says, but doesn’t clarify, and Ryan knows better than to push.
“Should I heal the rest?” he asks and Shane actually laughs, looking at Ryan like he can’t quite understand him.
“You don’t know when to quit, do you?” Shane says with a frown and a shake of his head. “You’ve given everything you possibly can tonight and you’re still offering more. Even to a demon.”
“Ex-demon,” Ryan corrects and something about Shane shifts.
“You should rest,” Shane says and it sounds a hell of a lot like Ryan’s being dismissed. He doesn’t know what he’s done to deserve it, but he doesn’t think it’s anything he can talk himself out of either.
“Is that an order?”
Shane laughs, his eyes crinkling, but the corners of his mouth turn down. “Ryan, I don’t think I could make you do anything at this point.”
“Can I have something to wash the taste of blood from my mouth?” Ryan asks and Shane lets out a breath and seems to soften again.
“Sure,” Shane says gently. “I’ll get you a glass of water.”
“Thanks,” Ryan replies, actually meaning it, and Shane nods like he knows.
When he gets up, he pauses beside Ryan’s chair, setting a hand on his shoulder for just a moment. “You really should rest,” he adds before moving away, leaving only a lingering warmth behind.
“What are the chances that Morinoch has forgotten about us?” Ryan asks as he carefully stocks a shelf with candles. Shane’s standing at the counter, flipping through a catalogue that Ryan had found in the mail that morning. It’s almost time to head back to Shane’s place, but they haven’t had a customer in two hours and Ryan has already turned the sign out front to Closed.
“Depends,” Shane says, sounding distracted. “How often do you pray?”
“Oh no,” Ryan jokes. “Must’ve forgotten.”
“Don’t start now,” Shane says. “Brings me out in hives.”
Ryan lets out a huff of laughter and goes back to stocking. “But seriously. Do you think he’ll ever lose interest and just give up?”
He can feel Shane’s gaze on him, but he doesn’t look over.
“If you think he’ll go away, you’ve misunderstood how stubborn demons can be.”
“Doubtful,” Ryan retorts. “I know how obnoxious you are and you’re not even a full demon these days.”
“I’m still fully competent,” Shane tells him and Ryan finally looks over, feigning confusion.
“Are we still talking about your demonhood or — ?”
Shane shrugs casually. “Still fully competent.”
It’s not something Ryan should think about, but there’s a lot of Shane and Ryan has assumptions.
“You’ll find out,” Shane continues and Ryan blinks.
“When I save you from Morinoch, you’ll see I’m fully competent as a demon. What did you think I was suggesting?”
Ryan holds his gaze, refusing to let Shane needle him. “I’ve already been inside of you. It wasn’t that spectacular.”
“Next time, I’ll make it unforgettable.”
He looks back down at the magazine and casually licks his fingers to turn the page.
“You wish,” Ryan mutters under his breath and Shane hums quietly as though he can’t be bothered to argue anymore.
Ryan’s head snaps back up and he almost drops a candle from where he’s halfway through moving it from the box at his side to the shelf. “What?”
“Morinoch is nearby.”
Ryan sits back on his heels and glances cautiously towards the doorway. “When were you going to tell me?”
Shane shrugs and infuriatingly turns another page. “I just did.”
“Shane,” Ryan complains and Shane looks up like Ryan is nothing more than a house fly buzzing around to annoy him.
“How long has he been around?”
Shane flips the magazine shut with a sigh like there’s no chance he can go back to reading it now Ryan’s questioning him. “A day? Maybe more?”
Ryan pushes himself to his feet, anger quickly coursing through him. “You didn’t think it was important for me to know that?”
“It would’ve given you time to panic,” Shane tells him. “I need you to have a clear head.”
Ryan clenches his fists at his sides, feeling his magic crackle around his knuckles. “I need to know when my life is at risk.”
“Your life is at risk every day,” Shane tells him. “Every time you get in your car, there’s a risk, but you don’t need someone to warn you about that.”
“If I crash my car, my soul won’t get sucked into hell to be tortured for the rest of existence.”
“Depends on how good you’ve been, I guess.”
“I’m being serious!” Ryan snaps and Shane folds his arms.
“So am I.”
“You — ” Ryan starts, but he’s too angry to finish the thought, half worried he might accidentally curse Shane and end up with two demonic enemies.
He turns and heads into the hallway that leads towards his reading room and stockroom, needing space to cool down.
“You can’t leave without me,” Shane tells him and Ryan tosses a silencing spell towards the doorway of the stockroom, sealing himself into a bubble of quiet as he steps up to one of his shelves and presses his forehead to the cool metal frame.
He takes a steadying breath, knowing that he has to stay calm and harness his magic. If Morinoch is close and waiting to strike, he needs his full strength. No matter what Shane says, he won’t allow his panic to ruin things; he can’t.
He feels calmer just being away from Shane and Ryan realizes it’s a lot to suddenly be surrounded by someone 24/7 when they’re essentially a stranger. He rolls his head from one side to the other and thinks about what a chaotic week it’s been. If someone had told him he’d voluntarily be roommates with a demon, he would’ve laughed them away. If they’d told him he’d want to keep said demon safe by the end of that week, he would’ve assumed they were delusional.
He doesn’t know what it is about Shane — whether it’s the fact that he gave up being a demon to live the most boring life ever, or that he’s one of the most intriguing people Ryan has ever met. There’s just something about him that draws Ryan in and the thought alone is terrifying.
Carefully, he lifts his head and exhales slowly, releasing all of his frustrations in a single breath. Which is when shit hits the proverbial fan.
Ryan can’t explain it entirely, but something seems to ping against his wards. It’s not a warning or a threat, but more like someone plucking one of the strings of a guitar and the noise humming outwards. He turns his head and glances towards the doorway.
The door is still open but the silencing spell ripples across it like the refractions of a soapy bubble. He stares at it, half expecting Shane to poke his head around the doorway, annoyed that he can’t rile Ryan any further. No one appears, but there’s another twang against his wards, sharper this time.
He drops the silencing spell and takes a step towards the door.
There’s no response, but when Ryan steps into the hallway, Shane’s at the end of it, his body taut and eyes black.
“Shane?” he repeats and Shane turns his head to look at him, a shock of cold unease winding through Ryan’s body.
“He’s here,” Shane says and it feels like one of Ryan’s wards snaps and crumbles away with the next cautious tug.
“Fuck,” Ryan gasps, turning and throwing his hands out, trying to pull the ends of his wards together again. “Fuck, Shane, he’s getting in.”
“Let him,” Shane murmurs. “It ends today.”
“We’re not ready,” Ryan warns him.
“Yes we are,” Shane tells him, and just like that, lowers his wards, leaving the frayed strands of Ryan’s, which Ryan knows can’t keep out demons.
Something crackles through the air and after a moment, the bell above Ryan’s door jingles softly.
Shane turns and walks away but from where Ryan’s standing, he can’t see where he goes.
“Fuck,” Ryan curses again, but knows he needs to do something. He can’t sit around and wait while Shane fumbles his way through things again.
He makes his way towards the doorway and takes a steadying breath.
“Morinoch,” Shane says calmly and Ryan watches as the man in the doorway brushes something off the hem of his coat and looks up. He’s wearing a different body this time, but his eyes are black like Shane’s.
“I didn’t think you were making deals these days,” Morinoch says coolly. “What has he offered you in exchange for protection?”
“He hasn’t offered anything,” Shane tells him, not flinching even when Morinoch takes two steps closer. “I make my own choices.”
“Mmm, that’s right, you don’t answer to anyone now, do you? Except for him.” His gaze flicks towards Ryan, who freezes under the stare, dread slowly filling his body.
“I don’t answer to him either.”
Morinoch watches Ryan just a second longer before turning back to Shane. “That’s not what this says,” he says, gesturing vaguely down the length of Shane’s body.
Shane folds his arms and Morinoch looks back towards Ryan. When Morinoch tips his head, Ryan feels something tug inside him, hard enough that he takes a step forward, feeling unsteady. He throws up a protection spell almost instantly and Morinoch holds both hands up, quickly conceding.
“No need to panic,” Morinoch tells him, as though he’s not there to steal Ryan’s soul. “Just checking.”
“Checking what?” Ryan asks, glancing towards Shane with unease.
“Morinoch,” Shane warns and Morinoch laughs.
“You’ve marked him.”
“No I haven’t,” Shane says at the same time that Ryan says, “He’s what?”
“Oh, this is very interesting,” Morinoch says, glancing between them. “You thought this would stop me?”
“What’s he talking about, Shane?” Ryan asks, but Shane doesn’t look over at him. “Shane.”
“He’s marked your soul,” Morinoch says and Shane shakes his head.
“I haven’t,” Shane promises, finally glancing at Ryan. “Ryan, I haven’t.”
“Then how do you explain the mark?” Morinoch asks and Ryan presses a hand to his own chest.
“What mark?” he asks. “Shane, what the fuck is he talking about?”
“I don’t — ” Shane starts and then stops. He blows out a breath and then shuts his eyes for a moment. “Let me in. Let me check.”
Ryan doesn’t know what he’s talking about until he feels the tugging inside him again. It doesn’t feel cold and intruding like Morinoch, it feels like taking a shower after a day of playing in snow — it tingles and spreads warmth as he prods at Ryan, and Ryan can actually feel the way curiosity turns to surprise.
Shane withdraws almost as quickly as he enters and Ryan shivers as the warmth disappears.
“I didn’t do that,” Shane says and Morinoch actually laughs. It’s a horrible, chilling sound, but definitely still a laugh.
“He’s marked you too,” Morinoch says, looking at Shane. “How have you managed this?”
Shane looks at Ryan, who’s no closer to knowing what the hell is going on.
“What’s happening?” Ryan asks. “Is he here to take my soul or not?”
“The soul is a delicate thing,” Morinoch says, addressing Ryan. “It gets scuffed and marked as humans go through life. It makes it easy to see which souls are worth saving after death. The numbers for eternal damnation are disappointingly low.”
“What’s this got to do with me? Why is my soul marked?”
“Relationships alter the soul — for good and for bad,” Morinoch explains. “Love marks a soul.”
Ryan scoffs. “We’re not in love. I’ve known him for less than a week.”
“I’m also a demon,” Shane adds helpfully and Ryan shoots him a glance.
“Thought that part was obvious.”
“There are other bonds that can mark a soul,” Morinoch continues. “I assume you healed him. You showed him mercy and stopped him from dying and somehow marked both of you in the process.”
Ryan can’t help but think back to his wandering magic, how it’s always been so drawn to Shane.
“What does it mean?” Ryan snaps, annoyed at the lack of answers. He looks at Shane. “Have you fucked up my soul by asking me to heal you?”
Shane shakes his head. “Souls marked by other demons are harder to take. But I wasn’t the one who marked yours, so it might not be the same.”
“I’ll just have to find out,” Morinoch says, turning on Ryan, who takes a step backwards.
“Don’t touch him,” Shane threatens, pulling out the same knife that got them into the mess they’re in.
Ryan actually laughs at the same time as Morinoch, though his own sounds a little more panicked. “Don’t get stabbed again.”
“Thanks for the reassurance, Ryan,” Shane says blandly, shifting to put his body between Morinoch and Ryan.
Ryan takes another step back, pressing one hand to the wall of the hallway, feeling terrified, his knees threatening to give out as they begin to shake.
“I’ll make it quick,” Morinoch promises and Ryan feels the tugging inside him once more.
“Shane,” Ryan warns and four things happen in quick succession:
Firstly, Shane jabs at Morinoch with the demon blade. It’s not close enough to cut him, but enough that Morinoch takes two steps backwards out of Shane’s reach. It coincidentally puts him directly over the spot Ryan needs him.
Secondly, Shane swings his arm around and tosses the knife in Ryan’s direction. Ryan has to use his magic to guide it, making sure he doesn’t accidentally kill himself in the process, but catches it in one hand.
Thirdly, he uses the knife to cut his own palm, squeezing his hand into a fist to draw out more blood than he needs. He’d rather be safe than sorry.
Fourthly, Ryan drops to one knee, slapping his bloodied palm against the floorboards and sending out a crack of magic so loud his ears ring and he staggers backwards.
Morinoch doesn’t seem to realize anything has happened until he glances down and sees the glow around him as the trap beneath his feet flairs to life.
It’s taken a few days to perfect, but Ryan’s painstakingly carved a devil’s trap into the flooring, hidden by his welcome mat and only activated by his blood magic. It hums loudly, just as Shane said it would, though it must be even louder for demons, because Shane takes a step back, bringing his hands up to his ears.
Carefully, he shoots a muffling spell in Shane’s direction, letting it buzz around his head like a protective bubble. Shane drops his hands back down and glances at Ryan in surprise.
“This wasn’t in the plan,” he says, voice tinny through the magic and Ryan shrugs.
“You planned this,” Morinoch accuses and Ryan turns to look at him.
“What did you think we were doing this whole time?” he snaps, feeling insulted. “Waiting to welcome you with open arms?”
Morinoch struggles within the confines of the trap and Ryan knows it won’t hold him for long.
“Shane,” Ryan calls out, flinging the knife back in Shane’s direction. “You can do the honors.”
Shane catches the knife with enough dexterity that Ryan’s somewhat impressed, and Shane steps within stabbing distance of Morinoch.
“Shane,” Morinoch warns. “The second you deactivate this trap, you’re dead.”
“On three,” Shane says, but Ryan feels a warmth deep within his chest of Shane carefully nudging at his soul. They need the element of surprise to be able to remove the trap and kill Morinoch before Morinoch can kill them, and letting Shane in is the only way to wordlessly communicate. “One.”
But the presence within him tugs, the signal he needs, and Ryan waves his hand out with a cleaning spell, wiping away the blood and instantaneously breaking the seal around Morinoch.
Ryan actually appreciates the look of surprise on Morinoch’s face the moment Shane’s able to reach into the trap and plunge the blade into his heart. But he doesn’t get to appreciate it for long because when Shane pulls the blade out, Morinoch crumbles — like a burned up log at the bottom of a fire pit — into nothing more than a pile of ash.
He stares over at the floor, and despite there being no draft in the shop, the ashes swirl in a vortex, rising upwards before vanishing without a trace. It seems strange for it to end so simply after a week of torment, but Ryan stares at the spot where Morinoch once was before glancing over at Shane.
“Is he gone?”
“Yeah,” Shane says, his voice still tinny from Ryan’s muffling spell, until Ryan waves it away with one hand. “There’s no coming back from a demon blade to the heart.”
“Holy shit,” Ryan exhales. “Jesus fucking christ.”
Shane lets out a breath of laughter and turns towards him. “I told you it would work.”
“No, you didn’t!” Ryan complains, stepping forward enough that he can press a hand to Shane’s chest and shove him back a step. “You told me my plan would get us both killed.”
He belatedly realizes he’s left a bloody handprint on Shane’s shirt, the cut on his palm still bleeding freely. Shane glances down at it and then at Ryan.
“You should heal that.”
“Need to catch my breath first,” Ryan tells him, because whatever magic he has right now, it’s low and there’s barely anything to draw from. “I think I panicked.”
Carefully, Ryan crouches down, the effort of standing suddenly feeling like too much.
“I think,” Shane says, carefully walking around the edge of the trap, “your cleaning spell worked on the entire store.”
Ryan frowns and looks up, but quickly realizes that Shane might be right. The shelves are spotless, there’s not a single finger smudge on the windows, and the cobweb in the corner by the register is now gone, along with the friendly spider that used to reside in it.
He drops heavily onto his butt and hangs his head between his knees. “Part of me is grateful that you didn’t let me panic knowing Morinoch was nearby, but you’re still an asshole.”
“I know,” Shane agrees. “Morinoch always liked tormenting souls before taking them. I didn’t want to give him the chance to do that to you.”
He steps close enough to lean down and rest a hand on Ryan’s shoulder, and above the bone-deep exhaustion, Ryan slowly begins to feel a warmth spread through him, radiating out from his chest and making his fingers and toes tingle. Shane’s sharing energy again and it’s calming in a way Ryan never thought Shane’s presence would ever be.
“I think I misjudged you,” Ryan admits before he can help himself, his magic sluggishly winding its way towards the warmth, lazily prodding at it like a cat kneading a soft pillow on which it plans to sleep. Shane prods back like he’s making sure Ryan knows he can feel him.
“I’ve been telling you that the whole time.”
Carefully, Ryan’s magic curls around Shane like it belongs there and Ryan gets the sudden feeling that maybe his magic has known all along and he’s been paying attention to the wrong signs.
“I think you did this out of the goodness of your heart.”
“What’s that?” Shane deadpans and Ryan laughs so hard he feels half-mad from it.
“You’re so fucking annoying,” Ryan tells him and Shane’s brows raise.
“That didn’t last long. I thought you were going to be nice to me for more than five minutes.”
“You can hide it with humor all you want,” Ryan tells him, “but I can feel the truth right here.”
He lets his magic tug at Shane and Shane slowly withdraws, leaving Ryan’s magic circling around like it doesn’t know where to go. A spark or two dances across Ryan’s knuckles and when he flips his hand over, his palm is healed, not even a scar remaining.
“I think you’re a good guy,” Ryan says and Shane stares down at him, his expression soft.
“I think you’ve had too much excitement for one day.”
Shane holds his hand out and Ryan stares for just a moment before accepting it. Shane doesn’t even seem to strain as he pulls Ryan to his feet in one easy tug. Ryan takes an unsteady step towards him, the momentum driving him forward, forcing him to brace a hand on Shane’s chest to save himself from faceplanting into it.
“Thanks,” he says and Shane squeezes his hand just once before letting go.
The thing about Ryan is that he’s been known to make poor life choices. There was a day in college when he drank an entire twenty-four pack of Pabst by himself and regretted it the next day when it made its way out of him in various ways. There was a weekend in his late twenties when he went out fishing with some friends and forgot sunscreen, and another when he ate a shocking amount of funnel cake at Knott’s Berry Farm and then rode all of the rollercoasters.
It’s been known to happen still. His current predicament involving the killing of demons is probably only second to the way Ryan slides his hand up Shane’s chest to reach his neck and pull him down.
Ryan’s exhausted, it’s been a long week, and he’s just killed a demon. He thinks he gets to make a few rash decisions if he wants. But he knows he can’t be the only one to blame when Shane doesn’t resist and in fact meets him halfway, his mouth pressing warmly against Ryan’s own, one of his hands clutching at Ryan’s hip to keep him steady.
Much to Ryan’s chagrin, kissing a demon is exactly like kissing a human. Shane’s mouth is soft and he’s responsive to the way Ryan leans into him, undeniably in favor of the direction it’s going. The hand on Ryan’s hip moves around to the small of his back and holds him close, Shane’s palm endlessly warm through Ryan’s shirt.
Ryan lets out a quiet noise, opening his mouth and swiping at Shane’s bottom lip with his tongue, beginning to feel overwhelmed by the strength of his feelings. He wants Shane and he’s not ready for their time together to be over. Now that Morinoch is gone, there’s nothing to keep Shane in his life, and he’s not sure he wants that.
He brings his other hand up to clutch at Shane’s shoulder and Shane finally lets the kiss deepen, dipping down a little further so that Ryan doesn’t have to strain quite so far. For Ryan, it’s practically perfect, his body buzzing with adrenaline, which he’s not sure is from killing a demon or just kissing one. He nips at Shane’s bottom lip and feels the shift of Shane’s smile against his mouth.
Shane’s unexpectedly gentle with him, his fingers brushing Ryan’s jaw for just a moment, before he carefully pulls away, breaking the kiss. Ryan makes a quiet noise of disappointment, but doesn’t try to pull Shane back in.
For a long second, Shane stares down at him, thumb tracing just below Ryan’s mouth, his gaze skating around like he doesn’t know what he wants to look at most.
“Why’d you stop?” Ryan asks, fingers playing with the hair at the nap of Shane’s neck.
Shane watches him for just a second longer before saying, “You’re going to regret this.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Isn’t this fraternizing with the enemy?” Shane asks. “I can’t be trusted.”
Ryan settles his palm against Shane’s chest, feeling something that might be a heartbeat. He’s not sure how demon bodies work, but whatever it is, it’s steady and calming. “You’ve saved me twice now. I’m starting to think you’re not so bad.”
“Thank you,” Shane says blandly and Ryan lets out a laugh.
“I think I’m starting to figure you out.”
“You know you’re not unattractive,” Ryan points out and Shane’s eyebrow quirks.
“You mean, I’m not bad for a demon?”
Ryan shrugs. “I’m saying if you bought me a drink, I wouldn’t think twice.”
Shane watches him for a long moment, his gaze assessing in a way that makes Ryan feel far too exposed. He touches Ryan’s mouth again like he can’t help himself. “Can I buy you a drink?”
Ryan lets out a heavy breath, hand tugging at Shane’s shirt like he wants to pull him back in but needs to figure out the thoughts in his head first.
“Yeah,” he says around an exhale. “You wanna get outta here?”
Shane nods and Ryan pulls him in for another kiss, unable to help himself.
Ryan kisses Shane the second they walk through the door of Shane’s apartment. It shouldn’t be surprising, but Shane lets out a muffled noise between their mouths and allows Ryan to crowd him against the wall as he kicks the door shut behind them. He doesn’t seem to have any reservations, his hands steady on Ryan, one on his shoulder and the other cupping his face.
Ryan holds Shane by the hips, but he can feel himself trembling, his palms clammy against Shane’s shirt.
Shane rubs his thumb along Ryan’s cheekbone and then carefully pulls back to break the kiss.
“Okay?” he asks and Ryan lets out a shuddering breath, but nods.
“I think it’s just adrenaline.”
“C’mon,” Shane tells him and uses gentle touches to wriggle his way out from under Ryan and guide him towards the living room.
It’s easy for Ryan to slump onto the couch when his knees are shaking the way they are, the shock of everything finally catching up. His mouth tingles from the friction of Shane’s stubble and he rubs a hand over it as Shane steps away.
“Where are you going?” Ryan asks, but Shane holds up a finger.
“Give me a second.”
Ryan tips his head back, sinking further into the couch cushions, as he kicks his shoes off and uses the coffee table as a footrest. He’s still trembling slightly, but shutting his eyes and taking deep, even breaths seems to help.
“Here,” Shane says suddenly, a hand on Ryan’s shoulder, and Ryan realizes he’s lost track of time because Shane’s holding out a mug of steaming tea for him.
“Mm,” Ryan grunts, sitting up enough to accept the mug. “Is this part of your seduction plan?”
“Is it working?” Shane asks, stepping over Ryan’s outstretched legs to sit beside him.
“It’s doing something,” Ryan says, blowing a cooling spell into his mug and taking a sip. “Is it always like this?”
“When I bring people home?”
Ryan lets out a laugh. “When you kill demons.”
“Oh,” Shane says with a quiet snort. “This is my first time.”
“Bringing people home or killing demons?”
“Yes,” Shane says and Ryan watches him, trying to figure out if he’s being serious.
“Being a demon isn’t conducive to meeting people?”
“You’re the first human to intrigue me enough to try,” Shane admits and Ryan thinks it might be an answer for both of his questions.
“You risked a lot to try to save me.”
Shane shrugs and glances away. “We’re even now.”
Ryan takes another sip of tea, his hands finally starting to stop shaking. “I didn’t finish healing you. There’s one piece left, but you just made me tea, so I could heal it now.”
Shane rests his arm along the back of the couch, his body angled towards Ryan.
“Then we’d be even,” Ryan tells him and Shane tips his chin up just enough to acknowledge him.
“We could start over.”
“Sure,” Ryan agrees. “If that’s what you want.”
Shane takes a moment to think about it and then nods. “This week — it was nice not being alone.”
Ryan knows it’s a lot for Shane to admit, especially aloud. Carefully, he leans forward to set his half-empty mug on the table and then curls one leg up onto couch so he can turn towards Shane.
“Ignoring the threat of death the whole time,” Ryan jokes, “yeah, it was nice. I didn’t think we’d get along.”
“I’m an easy-going guy,” Shane says with a shrug that makes Ryan laugh.
“Sure,” Ryan agrees. “You just also happen to be a demon.”
“You keep bringing that up and I’m going to get a complex.”
Ryan lets out a breath and shakes his head, reaching up to set his hand on the forearm Shane has draped over the back of the couch. As his magic starts to wind its way through Shane, he can already sense how little there is to heal. It’s mostly around Shane’s shoulders and neck, like bruises that have never been allowed to heal.
Shane tips his head back as Ryan works his way through him, his body sagging like the relief is palpable.
“Ryan,” Shane sighs, and Ryan gently squeezes his forearm in reply. When Shane glances over, his eyes are black and endless and Ryan leans in to press his other hand against Shane’s jaw, for the first time wanting to actually see this part of Shane.
“What do you see when your eyes are like that?” Ryan asks, curiosity getting the better of him.
“I can see you.”
“Obviously,” Ryan says, knowing he should never have expected a real answer. But Shane shakes his head like he’s misunderstood.
“I can see all of you,” Shane explains. “You and your soul.”
Ryan lets his magic prod at Shane, searching for any other damage, but from an initial sweep, it seems he’s healed it all now.
“What does it look like?” he asks. “Can you see the marks?”
Shane leans into the hand Ryan has on his face and nods. “It’s a good soul,” he murmurs. “Looks tasty.”
Ryan laughs and gently pushes him away and when Shane blinks, his eyes return to their usual brown. He let out a rumble of laughter, his face looking younger, and Ryan can’t help himself from shifting forward, kissing Shane and moving both hands to his face, holding him right where he wants.
Shane moves his arm from the back of the couch, using it to pull Ryan closer and Ryan finds it easy to slide forward, swinging one leg over to straddle Shane’s thighs. Shane makes an agreeable noise as Ryan presses down, deepening the kiss and simultaneously grinding against him.
Ryan’s pulse races as Shane’s hands begin to stray, nudging between their bodies to lift the hem of Ryan’s shirt and reach the button of his pants. He breaks the kiss to watch Shane deftly flip it open, like he’s done it a thousand times before, and lets out a heavy breath as Shane pulls down his zip.
When Shane pulls at his pants and underwear, Ryan wriggles, feeling frantic, needing Shane to touch him, but Shane barely blinks as he gets them down around Ryan’s thighs and Ryan knows he doesn’t have the patience to take them all the way off. Shane touches his thighs, glancing up at Ryan like he’s checking in.
“C’mon,” Ryan encourages and Shane doesn’t keep him waiting.
The warmth of his hand around Ryan’s cock is hotter than any mouth he’s ever had on him and it takes him by surprise.
“Jesus,” Ryan hisses, bucking into Shane’s fist, unsure if it’s too much or exactly what he needs. “Shane.”
He reaches down, touching the back of Shane’s hand just long enough to murmur a spell to slick up Shane’s palm, and Shane actually stops to laugh.
“Of course you know that one,” he teases and Ryan grits his teeth, nudging forward again to give Shane the hint.
With the cooling lube, the feeling of Shane’s fingers around him is perfect. He doesn’t think he’ll ever be able to go back to using his own hand; he’s been ruined forever. Shane doesn’t hold back. He gives Ryan exactly what he’s looking for, his grip just tight enough to drive him half-mad.
Ryan rests a hand on Shane’s shoulder for support, his other hand slipping between them, resting on Shane’s stomach for just a second before dipping down further.
“Are you — ?” he starts before pausing. “Do you — ”
He has no idea how similar demon bodies are to human ones and he’s suddenly struck with the thought that maybe he won’t be able to reciprocate. It takes a little manoeuvering to be able to unfasten and get Shane’s pants down far enough to be useful, but as Ryan tugs at his boxers, he lets out a sigh of relief at the sight of Shane’s half-hard cock.
“Thank fuck,” he exhales, immediately slicking his own palm and taking Shane in hand. He knows what to do with a dick and he doesn’t hesitate as he begins stroking him.
The noise Shane lets out is something Ryan wants to remember forever. He sounds so desperate and so thankful to have Ryan’s touch.
Ryan leans down to kiss him, exhaling against his mouth when Shane thumbs at the tip of his cock, making it twitch in his hand.
“I want — ” Ryan starts, but the thought is too big. He wants too much all at once. He wants to feel Shane’s mouth around him, wants to put him on his knees and fuck between the softness of Shane’s thighs, wants to push inside him and make him feel it.
Shane kisses him, hand speeding up, stealing away all of Ryan’s thoughts until all he can focus on is Shane around him and Shane within the tight curl of his fingers.
With the rush of adrenaline from the day and the sudden relief of no longer having to fear for his life, Ryan knows he isn’t going to last long. He knew it would be a thing the second he suggested heading back to Shane’s place. What he doesn’t expect, is the way his magic flares, humming like the overhead electric lines in L.A.
It doesn’t feel wrong, as such, but it’s not a reaction he’s had before.
“Look what you do to me,” Ryan mutters and Shane grunts, lifting up into Ryan’s grip and taking Ryan with him. Ryan shifts his hand to press against the center of Shane’s chest. “Don’t move.”
And Shane doesn’t. Despite all his power, he doesn’t even seem to breathe, just does exactly what Ryan wants.
Something zaps from one knuckle to the next and he’s dimly aware of the lights in the apartment flickering. He can’t control it, but he’s not sure he wants to stop, and Shane doesn’t seem concerned. Not even when Ryan’s magic slips into him, like it’s been waiting for the chance to get back inside.
Shane welcomes it, pulling it close, and Ryan can feel him. Not just in his hand or under him, but everywhere.
“Ryan,” Shane murmurs and Ryan leans forward to press his forehead against Shane’s shoulder. Shane turns his head just enough to kiss Ryan’s neck, and Ryan lets out a panting breath, not bothering to hold his magic back as he gets closer to the edge.
“I’m gonna — ” he warns and Shane doesn’t adjust the speed of his hand, but he tugs at the strands of Ryan’s magic, like he knows exactly what he’s doing, silently encouraging Ryan.
Ryan opens his mouth and digs his teeth into Shane’s shoulder through his shirt, not enough to truly hurt, but enough to muffle his yell as his magic explodes outward and he comes harder than he ever has in his life. The whole apartment seems to shudder and something in the kitchen smashes. Down the hallway, the smoke detector chirps like it has a low battery.
“Don’t stop,” Shane pleads, which is the moment Ryan realizes he’s slumped against Shane’s chest and isn’t moving.
“Oh my god,” Ryan mutters, drawing in a ragged breath as he sits up, going back to stroking Shane.
There’s come all the way up the front of Shane’s shirt, a smear of it on the underside of his chin, and when Ryan glances down, he finds his shirt is similarly ruined.
“Jesus, Shane, you might be the most interesting thing to ever happen to me,” Ryan tells him and Shane tips his head back, eyebrows drawing together as the rest of his expression opens.
“Ryan,” he breathes and Ryan can’t help but kiss him as he comes across Ryan’s knuckles. Strangely, it’s the only part of Shane that isn’t warm, and Ryan has so many questions and not enough time.
He jerks Shane through it, circling his thumb around the tip of him and making a mess that he really can’t bring himself to care about. Shane looks so good with his head tipped back in bliss, his chest heaving with breath, and Ryan wants to keep making him look like that.
He kisses him again and Shane returns it lazily, his hand coming up to the back of Ryan’s head. When Ryan eventually pulls away, Shane smooths his palm along the line of Ryan’s jaw, his eyes glassy, but focused on him.
“You’re something else,” he says and Ryan’s stomach flips.
“Could say the same about you,” Ryan tells him, finally drawing his hand away and slowly slumping against him, boneless and satisfied, the weight of everything finally lifted from his shoulder.
“Need a minute?” Shane asks with a soft breath of laughter and Ryan nods, even as he tucks his face against Shane’s neck.
“Yeah, just a second,” Ryan responds and feels the warm press of lips against the side of his head.
When Ryan opens his eyes again, he's not sure how long it's been. He grunts and sits up using a hand pressed to the center of Shane's chest. There’s a wet spot on Shane’s shoulder that he’s pretty sure is drool and he wipes his mouth with the back of his hand.
“Sorry,” he says and Shane lets out a quiet laugh.
“I think it’s a compliment.”
"Has this happened to you before?" Ryan asks and Shane settles his hands on Ryan’s thighs, fingers toying with the waistband of his pants.
“The sleeping part?”
“The apartment-shattering orgasm part.”
Shane laughs again. "Could ask you the same question."
Ryan shakes his head at the ridiculousness of the situation. "We should've known better."
"I think your magic likes me," Shane tells him and Ryan snorts.
"That's an understatement. Is it true what Morinoch said earlier? About the marked souls. Did my magic do that?"
Shane hesitates just long enough that Ryan knows he’s carefully choosing his words. “It’s not what you think it is. A random encounter with a stranger can mark your soul if the connection is strong enough. The memories you think about most often are the ones that have marked you, whether for good or for bad. But demons are different. We can add markings, but it requires rituals — I couldn’t put one there without you knowing.”
“So how did yours get there?”
Shane shrugs. “I can only guess, but maybe not being connected to Hell makes me an exception. Maybe I’m just like any other stranger.”
“You’re really not,” Ryan promises, to which Shane offers a small smile, and Ryan realizes it’s not a conversation he can have while his dick is out.
With a wave of his hand, he wipes away the mess between them with a cleaning spell, and carefully climbs out of Shane’s lap to pull his underwear and pants back up. It’s oddly intimate to lean against the opposite armrest of the couch and watch Shane dress himself with a few quick tugs of his hands.
"I don't want this to end," Ryan admits into the silence, and he thinks perhaps his magic blew away a few brain cells as it blasted out of him because it's more than he was planning to say.
Shane watches him for a long second, his hand reaching down towards the space between them to squeeze Ryan's foot. "Who said it was ending?"
“Morinoch is gone,” Ryan tells him. “I don’t need the protection of your apartment now.”
“Doesn’t mean you can’t stay,” Shane points out.
“I have my own apartment to get back to. I’m already out of clean socks.”
Shane glances around and lets out a heavy breath as though about to deliver bad news. “I guess you’re right,” he says and Ryan’s stomach swoops unhappily. “It’s unfair if I don’t spend time at your place in return.”
Ryan pauses and, slowly, Shane turns his gaze back towards him.
“Unless that’s not what you had in mind,” Shane adds and Ryan immediately shakes his head.
“No,” he says, sounding breathy and hopeful even to his own ears. “I like that idea.”
"We can start over," Shane suggests. "Now that we don't owe each other anything."
"A fresh start," Ryan agrees and Shane smiles. "I like the sound of that."
Slowly, Shane reaches out his hand. "Hi," he says, "I'm Shane and I'm an ex-demon."
Ryan can't help but laugh even as he takes Shane's hand in his own to shake.
"Hi, Shane, I'm Ryan and I'm a little bit magical."
Shane's smile widens as he laughs and says. "Hi, Ryan, I think you really are."
The bell above the door jingles and Ryan glances up from where he’s organizing boxes behind the counter. There’s a man standing just inside the doorway, tall and slim, his presence making Ryan’s protective wards hum unhappily.
"This is still all bullshit, you know that right?" Shane says, shutting the door behind him, and Ryan lets out a sigh.
"Thankfully my business doesn't rely on your opinion to keep it running."
"I have a few good opinions."
"I've yet to hear one." Shane glances over at him and Ryan holds his gaze. "Why are you here? Need another palm reading?"
Shane lets out a sigh and moves towards the counter, dropping an insulated lunch bag next to the register.
"No, you forgot your lunch."
Ryan tilts his head. "How the mighty have fallen. Relegated to a humble courier."
Shane doesn’t respond, but he plucks annoyingly at the edges of Ryan’s wards.
“What do I owe you?” Ryan asks and Shane tilts his head with a smile.
“Don’t you know that’s a dangerous offer?”
"I've learned that sometimes it pays to live a dangerous life," Ryan teases and Shane leans his hip against the counter and leers down at him.
"Because you might meet a tall and handsome stranger?"
"Where?" Ryan asks, pretending to look around, but Shane catches his jaw in a gentle hold and meets his gaze.
"You don't owe me anything anymore," Shane tells him and Ryan lets out a breath.
"Thank god, 'cause I kind of like my soul where it is."
Slowly, Shane smiles. "I do, too," he says and when he leans down to kiss him, Ryan curls a hand over his shoulder and holds him close.