The problem with being a timeless abomination manifested from the infernal abyss was that it had made Shane overconfident. It had made him think he could do bigger things than just walk undetected and untouchable on the mortal plane. Bolder, riskier things; things that defied the narrative laws of the universe. Things like hold down a job at a mid-level media company without anyone realizing what he was, or have a human best friend, or spend most of his life catty-corner from that best friend without falling for him like a comet being knocked out of orbit.
Things like flying across the country on Christmas Eve without the trip becoming a Pilgrimage of the Damned.
Shane had failed pretty spectacularly at the first three items on that list, and now it seemed he was about to be laid low by the fourth as well.
A cold front had swept in from the south, turning into a blizzard at about the time Shane had been clambering into an Uber, and finally grounding flights just as the sun began to set over the snow-dusted runways and Boeing 747s of O’Hare. It would have been almost Kinkade pretty, if it hadn’t been so fucking irritating.
Shane, after arriving a sensible three hours early, had enjoyed a front-row ticket to the chaos, as the mood in the terminal devolved from bubbling anticipation to frustration to unbridled wrath. Stranded passengers and bereft relatives milled around aimlessly, despair rising off them like steam. Normally, Shane would have eaten that kind of misery up with a spoon, like a hearty broth made from all the worst elements of human nature. Today, though, stuck two thousand miles from where he wanted to be, achy and alone and annoyed, he was contributing to the miasma of ill will more than he was enjoying it.
And, as always, it was Ryan’s fault.
If it weren’t for Ryan, Shane wouldn’t care where he ended up on Christmas Day. He could have turned around and gone back to his family in Schaumburg. He could have curled up under this very bank of seats and gone to sleep until the ordeal was over. But, just as he had ruined so many other parts of Shane’s peaceful existence, so Ryan had ruined Shane’s Christmas Apathy. Even now, the simple knowledge that Ryan was waiting for him, warm and bright and ridiculous, was ruining Shane. There was probably a tree up in his apartment. There were probably lights and beer and no fucking onslaught of snow steadily building into an impassable bulwark outside.
Shane rubbed his eyes. His liked his body just fine, and he appreciated the effort that had gone into getting it for him, but having to fold it into this unforgiving plastic chair and pour shitty overpriced airport coffee down its throat to keep it awake was just demonstrably the worst.
He took his head out of his hands. Yes, his body was having a terrible evening and yes, Shane was currently inhabiting it – but there was no reason things had to stay that way.
Ryan wasn’t like, glued to the television, but he was keeping an eye on the news and the news said that it was pretty fucking unlikely he was going to be picking Shane up from the airport as planned. So, he was expecting the text when it came. What he was not expecting was for the message to say only: hey, u up?
Ryan took a moment to stare down his wall while his phone continued to ping.
Its snowing we’re delayed at least 3 hrs
I’m bored as shit
Can I come around?
And then, as though the meaning wasn’t perfectly clear, a little devil emoji and an eggplant.
Ryan continued to not respond, too busy considering how the fuck his life had come to the point where this was not only a message he had received but a message he understood. He was almost tempted to say no, just to teach Shane a lesson about treating his body like some kind of emergency Motel 6, but if Ryan was being perfectly honest with himself, it was Christmas Eve and he didn’t want to be alone.
yeah go for it, he sent back.
Almost at once, the lights flickered – or possibly it was his own vision browning out – and then Ryan felt the low swoop of nausea and familiar crawling sensation of no longer being alone in his own head.
Every time they did this, Ryan had a moment of pure fear, terrified he was opening himself up to any malevolent demonic entity that might be passing through the neighborhood, sure it wasn’t going to be Shane who actually showed up. The lights fizzed again, a string of multi-colored lamps on the Christmas tree flaring and throwing patterns on the wall like a kaleidoscope blood-splatter.
“Hey,” Shane said, warm and sure and inside’s Ryan’s mind.
“Hi.” Ryan tried to swallow down his obvious relief. “Three hours? Seriously, dude? I told you not to fly at Christmas.”
“Well I’m sorry, Ryan, I didn’t realize you were an oracle,” Shane shot back. He didn’t sound even remotely sorry. “Fuck, this couch is comfortable.”
Without any intention of doing so, Ryan started tucking his legs up under him. And then as soon as he thought about it, the action stopped.
“Shit, sorry,” said Shane, who had clearly just been in the process of hijacking Ryan’s nervous system. “Do you mind?”
Ryan thought again about protesting, just for appearances’ sake, but it was almost endearing that Shane felt equally at home in Ryan’s skin as he did in Ryan’s apartment. Almost.
“Yeah, sure,” he sighed and, as if on its own, his body promptly finished rearranging itself to Shane’s weird comfort specifications.
“I have been sitting in the same chair for two hours,” Shane said. “And I was afraid to move in case someone stole my chair, which I did not want to even be in! That was the real tragedy. I didn’t even want it, Ryan, and yet.”
“And now you’ve come two thousand miles to steal my chair,” Ryan said. He felt disconnected and dreamy, as though he were at the extreme edge of exhaustion or the beginnings of a good buzz. His hands, independent of his thoughts, were skating down his sides and along the seam of his jeans, as though checking his limbs were still in place. His fingers brushed over his stomach where the hem of his shirt rode up. A bolt of desire that both did and did not belong to him flared in his gut.
“Well,” said Shane. “Not entirely for the chair.”
Ryan could feel his fingers twisting in the fabric of his shirt. Like this, his body was an idling car they were both sitting in – either of them could reach out and take control at any moment.
“If you’ve come all the way from Chicago to feel up my shirt, I’m gonna be disappointed, dude.”
Shane’s delight was bright enough that Ryan could sense it. “Well, I do hate to disappoint you,” he said, and slid Ryan’s hands under his shirt and up his ribs.
They’d run the entire gamut of this trick before, a kind of experiment that escalated from Shane riding shotgun in Ryan’s head to him taking total, utter control – lovingly but unceremoniously bundling Ryan, his consciousness, his agency, his self into some dark, timeless place that existed inside Ryan’s own mind. He’d been unable to see, unable to hear, to tell if days or weeks or minutes were passing and he’d freaked out so hard he’d almost broken his hand on the coffee-table when Shane leapt back into his own body and left Ryan free to act out his panic in wild flailing.
They’d gotten better at it since then.
Apparently done touching Ryan’s chest, Shane had now grabbed full control of Ryan’s hands and was utterly failing to use them to unbutton Ryan’s jeans. It was sort of incredible, how combining their powers made them infinitely worse at literally everything.
“Do you – do you want help?” Ryan said, trying not to laugh. It wasn’t the first time he’d been flipped off by his own hand, but the experience never stopped being disconcerting.
“It’s not my fault you have delicate little doll hands,” Shane complained.
“Go on, give ‘em back.” Ryan had the distinct sense of Shane retreating, his fingertips becoming more real somehow. He flicked the button easily, because it wasn’t hard, pal, like come on. He might still be terrified of the general concept of demons, but sometimes moments like this made him reconsider.
“All yours,” he said sarcastically, holding his palms up like an offering to the Christmas tree. At once they were enthusiastically snatched back. Shane ran one through Ryan’s hair, tugging lightly at the short buzz at the nape of Ryan’s neck. He made a pleased humming noise.
“God, you’re weird,” Ryan muttered.
“You love it,” Shane countered, and there was no point arguing. He kept saying he couldn’t read Ryan’s mind, but he’d certainly be able to feel the way Ryan’s heart hitched when his own fucking fingers trailed down into the hollow of his throat.
“Lie back?” Shane suggested, his voice in Ryan’s head pitching a little high.
“Lie me back yourself, you coward,” Ryan said. It wasn’t his best line, but well – it was the end of the year. Shane laughed and did not do this, so – grumbling performatively – Ryan pulled himself back until his head was pillowed on one arm of the couch and his feet shoved up against the other. He let Shane shimmy his jeans and his boxers off his hips and take him in hand, pulling up in slow, easy strokes. Closing his eyes on a sigh, Ryan knocked his head back against the arm of the couch.
It was good, but he still felt a little too in charge of operations; which was to say he felt like a grown man jerking off in his apartment alone on Christmas Eve, and that was just sad, even though his dick certainly seemed to be okay with it.
“Hey,” he said in a voice that meant hey, this is getting too weird, pump the brakes. It was a voice that got used a lot when you were sleeping with an actual demon. Ryan felt his own hand still at once, and then the small modicum of control he’d ceded returned, which was the opposite of what he wanted. He very manfully did not whine at the loss of contact.
The last time he’d called a halt like this, it had been because Shane had accidentally blown out a fucking light bulb in the kitchen. Then, Shane had put a hand up to Ryan’s face and kissed him in apology; now, Ryan felt the absence of Shane’s physical body sharply, and mentally cursed the concept of snow.
“When I get back I’m gonna kiss you so hard,” Shane said. “We can stop. Let’s stop. In fact, if you could just walk me into your bedroom and lie facedown for about an hour, a luxury unknown to the huddled masses here at O’Hare –”
“I don’t want to stop,” Ryan interrupted. If Shane was going to possess him just to escape being inconvenienced and then rile him up like this, he could fucking well finish the job. “I just –”
Ryan was, in essence, talking aloud to his Christmas tree. He was a good Southern Californian boy, and he was pretty good at expressing his emotions, but the idea of telling his Christmas tree how he wanted to be touched was excruciating. In the back of his mind, Shane hummed encouragingly.
“Dude, I feel like you’re just watching me,” Ryan finally blurted. “Like, Jesus take the wheel a bit, yeah?”
Shane wheezed. “Well, first,” he said, laughing, “I can’t watch you, because you keep closing your eyes –”
“That’s it?” Ryan interrupted, belatedly realizing what he’s said and also not wanting Shane to get any ideas. “That’s it for me comparing you to Jesus? Not even a twitch? Have you been lying to me about the holy water thing?”
Shane’s laugh burbled up through Ryan’s chest. “I’ve been listening to carols for five hours,” he said. “I think my Jesus rash has well and truly come in.”
“Fuck, dude, don’t tell me about your spiritual rash when you’re trying to touch my dick.”
“Technically,” Shane said, a bullshit lilt in his voice, “as you’ve granted my possession of your earthly form it is my – ”
“Nope!” Ryan cut him off before the sentence could end. “Nope, nope, nope. We’ve talked about this. You’re renting! This is a rental! Please fill up the tank and vacuum the footwells before drop-off.”
“I like renting your body,” Shane said in a cheerful tone which indicated he’d run the words through exactly no kind of internal processor at all.
Ryan groaned in horror. “Christ,” he said. “How – have you ever – aren’t you meant to be seductive and tempting? How do you convince anyone to do anything? Do you just loom outside people’s windows like, ‘Oh hi, I’d quite like to rent your hands for the night to commit atrocities?’ Jesus, this is embarrassing.”
“I’ve always managed,” Shane said casually, and at the same time ran one hand along the inside of Ryan’s thigh, which was incredibly distracting. Ryan swallowed hard.
“You better fucking do something, or you can go back to Chicago and stare at the snow for three hours,” he said, fighting to keep his voice steady. “What was the second thing?”
“You were half-way through a sentence, what was your second useless point gonna be?”
“Oh,” Shane said. “Second was: sure, I’ll take control.”
And then Ryan was firmly flung into the backseat of his own body.
It was pretty great.
Outside O’Hare Airport, the snow was still falling. Hammering down. Really launching itself at the ground, the tarmac, the curved tops of planes now marooned among thick drifts of beige-colored ice, only occasionally visible behind the glass when wind blew the catastrophe of weather in a different direction.
Inside O’Hare Airport, people were starting to get desperate. Lines were forming at the help counters, but also at the Starbucks and the little newsstand, some vestigial need to panic-buy, to hoard protein and fats cutting in. Outside the gate, Shane’s body remained unmoving in the exact position he’d left it: ankles crossed, phone rested on a leg, a pose that could be held for hours without arousing suspicion. It looked as though he might be deep in thought, or asleep, or meditating his way above the maddening crowd. It looked a little as though he might be dead, but the social contract inside the airport hadn’t yet dissolved to the point that anyone would ask.
It was good, it was great, it was still really weird.
The thing was, letting someone possess you for sexy purposes completely obliterated all the rote phrases of such an encounter. Every gasped yeah? every is that good for you? was rendered entirely unnecessary. If it was good for Ryan, it was by definition good for Shane, because they were sharing a set of neural receptors. Every time Ryan felt sparks shiver along his skin, Shane could feel them too. Every time Shane shifted his grip it was because it worked specifically for him, and Ryan getting to enjoy it too was a by-product. So, yeah, weird. At least not needing to talk meant that Ryan hadn’t heard any stupid comments for a few minutes.
“I bet you look beautiful,” Shane said suddenly, apparently noticing that he hadn’t bothered Ryan for a whole sixty seconds. “I wish could see you better.”
Ryan shut his eyes just to be petty. “If you try to find a mirror, I’ll kill you,” he said. “I’ll exorcise you right now and you can take your sexual frustration all the way back to Chicago – fuck.”
He arched off the couch a little, letting out a shaky gasp that seemed to belong to neither of them and both of them. They were so close like this – Ryan’s breathing was only half his own, the inarticulate sounds that kept sticking in his throat were only half his, the quick thrum of his heart seemed split on alternating beats. It was good, it was weird, it was also incredibly embarrassing.
It was one thing for Ryan to get naked with someone and have them hear how he sounded when he was enjoying himself – it was another entirely for Shane to know the exact way his pulse leapt when Shane sweet-talked him, how many small moans he was holding back, how wholly his body responded to having Shane’s hands on him, and they weren’t even Shane’s fucking hands at this point. Shane used them as if they were, though, dragging a thumb hard up the underside of Ryan’s dick. Ryan yelped. Embarrassing.
“Love you,” Shane murmured in response, and oh, okay. Apparently, this was going from a ‘stuck in the airport’ boredom quickie into soppy holiday sex. And Ryan could pretend to be unaffected by that all he liked, but if he felt something in this chest melt and give way at the words, then odds were Shane probably felt it as well.
“Yeah, I love you too,” he muttered. Shane’s touch went impossibly slow and careful, his other – well, Ryan’s other – hand coming up to mess with Ryan’s hair again. They hung in that moment for a second, like a star caught falling. Then Shane shifted, so the hand in Ryan’s hair was holding his head, holding him through the maddeningly steady pace Shane was now setting and this was going to kill Ryan. He was actually going to die and his super was going to find his corpse in the least dignified position imaginable and Shane wasn’t even going to get back from Chicago fast enough to save him from post-death humiliation. Future paranormal investigators were going to speak of him in hushed tones, the idiot who loved a demon so much he fucking died.
“Christ, yes, good,” he choked out.
“Yeah?” Shane said in a low voice. Ryan was certain it was pretty fucking obvious to both of them that Ryan’s body could not possibly be more yeah about this situation, right on the edge and very happy to be driven over like right now. But, apparently, they taught a lot of enthusiastic verbal consent in the pits of hell, so.
“Fuck, yes,” he hissed and Shane wrapped his hand more firmly around Ryan’s dick and that was enough. Ryan was gone.
In O’Hare, the general mood was fermenting into one of open rebellion. Stranded travelers circulated like increasingly furious filter coffee. Babies wailed with uncontested abandon. People were sleeping on the floor. Other people were stepping on them. Verbal fights were breaking out, threatening to spill into physical ones.
Outside his gate, Shane Madej’s body was folded calmly into its plastic-backed chair. A fly who had lived its entire life inside this terminal and would die in this terminal crawled over his hand. Shane’s body, an island in an ocean of chaos, did not move.
And then Ryan was back in the driver’s seat, roaring back into full control of his body to find himself breathless and upsettingly sticky on his own couch. He felt lightheaded and unencumbered. He had a crick in his neck that felt like the result of being a fairly small person used as a puppet by ten-foot-tall hell creature whose joints were made of elastic.
“Are you still there, you asshole?” he panted into the sudden empty echo in his head.
“Of course I’m here,” Shane replied, sounding offended. “I was raised with manners, Ryan.”
“Yeah, yeah, alright,” Ryan said. “Jesus.”
“We really have to talk about your use of the Lord’s name while we’re in bed.”
“You said you were over it! You said – dude, if you’ve given me your Jesus rash …”
If Shane were here, physically, Ryan would let himself be talked into cuddling up on the couch, watching the cheerful flicker of his decorations, gross and sweaty and pleased. On his own, he was getting kind of cold, and he was, at the heart of things, a half-naked man lying on a couch. Also, he might now have some kind of demonic skin condition.
“I’m gonna take a shower. We’re gonna take a shower? Whatever, I know I’m gonna do all the work.”
“All the work of … taking a shower?”
“For the record, you have absolutely not returned this body in the state you rented it,” said Ryan.
“I’ll pay the excess,” Shane agreed. He didn’t say anything more as Ryan crawled off the couch and ran himself a hot shower, and Ryan didn’t want to get too pleased with himself, but it seemed possible he’d finally shut Shane up.
“I was gonna ask for a beer,” Shane said so suddenly that Ryan startled and banged his elbow on the soap dish. “Ow,” Shane said, unreasonably wounded. “Yes, beer, but now I think I want something hot. Do you have mini marshmallows? You strike me as a mini marshmallows man.”
“Why don’t you put mini marshmallows in your own body, hmm?” Ryan answered, lathering shampoo into his hair. It washed down into his eyes and set Shane off in a chorus of discontent.
“Don’t make me go back to O’Hare,” Shane threatened, once he’d finished complaining. “Don’t make me murder some nice Starbucks employee because they can’t make my drink right.”
It was a very demonic threat and Ryan was still very afraid of demons – but this one was whining because the body he’d possessed had soap in its eyes, and all this one wanted, once he actually got his hands on Ryan’s body, was to touch his chest and drink hot chocolate. This one loved him.
“Yeah, sure, I’m very worried,” Ryan said, tipping his head back so the water ran down his back rather than across his face. It was absolutely going to suck for Shane to hop from Ryan’s freshly showered, comfortably relaxed body back into his own travel-worn, awkwardly cramped flesh prison, and for a moment Ryan felt very sorry about it. Then he pushed the thought a tiny bit further – “Hold on, did you just leave your body unattended at the airport?!”
At O’Hare Airport, the weather outside was frightful and inside the situation was certainly not delightful. A woman rushing past with wheeled luggage that could only be referred to as carry-on in the most academic of terms had knocked Shane’s phone from his hand, and no one had yet noticed that he hadn’t picked it back up. Overhead, the PA struggled to cut through a babble of discontent to convey that all flights had been pushed back another hour. If Shane had been present, he would have been quite strongly reminded of home – the other home, the one which that wasn’t in either Schaumburg or LA.
Outside, the snow flew sideways.
In the end, Ryan caved and let Shane have kitchen privileges to nuclearly melt a layer of pink and white marshmallows over a mug of hot chocolate, and then he let Shane fold his body up onto the couch as though Ryan were a good foot taller than he was. They set an alarm so that Shane would remember to check in with his body and see if his flight was going anywhere, and then they put on a poorly-produced Christmas film. Shane almost choked Ryan in his eagerness to pour the melted mess of sugar and cocoa into Ryan’s mouth. They both found a lot of faults with the movie.
“Thanks, Ry,” Shane sighed happily during a brief reprieve from some of the worst day-for-night shooting either of them had ever witnessed. Ryan felt his heart constrict a little.
“Yeah, well, don’t expect a gift,” he said, flippantly as he could. “This is all you’re getting. Merry Christmas.”
Shane licked a bit of marshmallow off Ryan’s upper lip. “It’s a good gift,” he said. “I love it. I’ll take ten. Merry Christmas.”