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always a catch

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John slouches into his apartment, running his fingers over the familiar sigils carved into the doorframe as he pulled the old, green-stained door closed behind him. Good . It was comforting to be reminded that the markers of his life before--before Angela--had remained as they were. He winced as he pulled off his black jacket, shaking it out a bit before laying it gently on a chair to dry. Yellow light thrown through the black bars of his window shades bounces off the huge jugs of holy water and illuminates the red-stained dripping from the jacket that slowly begins to spot his peeling linoleum floor. He collapses into a chair adjacent, and his body aches, a thousand bone-deep pains that radiate unpleasant heat. It feels like Lu’s blackened hands are still inside of him, rummaging around for the slimy, cancerous coals of past sins. His fingers twitch, and ache moreso than his body for the weight of a glass full of liquor or the tense, airy comfort of a cigarette. He doesn’t reach for either of these things.

Or maybe--no, he’s just hungry. Eggs sounded good right now. Or, mmm, waffles. Even better. He closes his eyes and breathes deeply through his nose. Damn. The bathroom’s probably still flooded, too.

Later , his sleep-deprived brain whispers to him. The whisper sounds suspiciously like Chas, and John’s heart pulls in his chest. Later, John.

Later it would be, then. He heaves himself up out of the chair, shoes squeaking against the wet linoleum, and makes his way gracelessly to the bed shoved into the far corner of the apartment. His clothes fall to the floor with wet slaps, and the warm scratch of the rough wool blanket feels almost soothing against his clammy skin. He curls up, in the cold humidity of the apartment, in the yellow light on the green walls, in the damp blackness. The raucous midnight song of Los Angeles drifts through a cracked window, and John breathes along to it, and shuts his eyes tightly, and doesn’t think of anything at all.

When the Californian morning comes - pale, watery, gentle in its way - and with it, the new cacophony of a world utterly unconcerned with the struggles of angels or demons, John floats for a moment in ignorant lassitude. He can feel, behind closed eyes, the memories of the last few days snapping like dogs at the edge of his consciousness, and makes the decision to roll over and bury his face in a misshapen pillow instead. Maybe if I lie here long enough , he thinks, I can suffocate myself and sneak into heaven instead of getting up today.

Yeah, like that was a good idea. Funny how a man’s priorities could be rearranged when death was less of an escape and more of an inevitable obligation.

John unfolds his long body and sits, legs folded, at the edge of his bed. The gentle light streaming through his blinds falls in stripes against him, shining off of countless scars and the smoky bloom of bruises. He shoves his hands into a patch of sunlight and examines his wrists, feeling a complicated knot of feeling take up residence in his throat. There, among the whitened nicks and scrapes that litter his arms like fragments of ash, are twin raised lines the color of roses. He turns his wrists over in the light. One is a little longer, a little more jagged - his right, the one Lu said he’d cut the tendons of. The shadows of Lu’s fingers wrap around that one like ribbons, and the sore pull of his attempt to drag him down into hell tingles up through John’s arm. He counts himself lucky that Lu hadn’t accidentally dislocated his shoulder straining against heaven’s intervention.

Now for the next question. Lowering his hands, John experimentally takes a careful, deep breath, deeper than he’s dared in years now. This time, there is no catch deep in his lungs, no burn in his throat. He breathes deeper, and the damp, slightly musty smell of his apartment has never been so sweet. Les’ disapproving face flashes in his mind’s eye, and he gives a sharp and spiteful “Ha!”

The noise echoes off the bare, flaking wood in his green-drenched apartment, and the sounds of the morning rush in again to fill the space like water. John stands up properly now and throws on a worn bathrobe, flicking on the bare bulb lights and padding through to his kitchen. The countertop is strewn with odds and ends--dirty knives of various sizes and functions, waxy pearls of candle drippings, bits of sea salt, food scraps, a tin of stale cookies and some takeout containers from last week--most of which John disposes of. The milk’s gone off, and so have the eggs, probably…

John putters around the kitchen, and resolutely does not let himself think about the night before until he’s run out of things to do and he’s sat at his stained and ugly excuse for a kitchen table with his hands around a chipped mug of Earl Grey. The mug’s faded design reads some nonsense about wine and motherhood, doubtless something Chas picked up as a joke while waiting for John to get back from a supernatural errand. John’s heart prickles with regret, then with loneliness, then with anger, and eventually settles on deep melancholy. The anger and regret linger, though, like the last breath of a Silk Cut deep in John’s chest.

John’s not a sentimental sort of person, as a rule. As the years went on he’d become used to the special kind of light some people got in their eyes, looking at him, when he pushes through the glittery din and clamor of Midnite’s bar on errands. That kinda light didn’t hold love for him so much as it held--expectation. A golden film of hero-worship, laid over John like a veil he can never take off. That light had been in Chas’ eyes, for a time, but even from the beginning it was always underscored with something deeper and darker. Not predatory--Chas never had a malicious bone in his body, for all the good it did him--but more like he’s seen something in John that he can’t help but see, too, in himself.

 

---

 

The first time John and Chas had met was under either the most ideal of circumstances, or the least. John still hasn’t decided. Reckless, greenhorn Chas had been attempting to exorcise not just a person, but a whole bloody house, stained with murders and suicides and God knows what else, and John had broken in with crucifix gun blazing and pulled Chas out of a maelstrom of malevolent hellfire. The kid’s protests had fallen on deaf ears, and when they’d fought their way outside he grabbed the kid by the scruff and sat him down and cussed him out for a good ten minutes (“Of all the dumb-ass shit I’ve seen in my thrice-damned life, what would your mother say if she’d seen you three verses deep in that mispronounced incantation …”) At first the kid had tried to stare back defiantly, arms crosses and shoulders hunched, but as John’s anger had started to bleed into gruff concern Chas had become more and more distressed.

John’s litany concluded with a firm “Never pull bullshit like that again, ya stupid kid.” The words had hit Chas like a slap, and John had stopped short, putting together bits of the puzzle in his head. “Why are you out here on your own, anyway?”

Chas’ face shifted through a deluge of complicated emotions, clearly caught a little off guard by the question. “Why do you care? You don’t even know me. I can handle myself just fine.” At this point the kid had tugged his backpack away from where John had dropped it and clutched it protectively to his chest. “I’ve been reading from Blackmoor, and he says if you cast your circle during the demon’s manifestation process instead of after you can offset any transdimensional energetic creep and successfully contain it to an area smaller than six feet by six feet…”

John had scoffed, a short, sharp bark of laughter that echoed off the side of the stupid house. Chas closed his mouth midsentence with an almost-audible click. “That’s from the first edition, kid. Third edition recommends eight-by-eight or twelve-by-twelve. Six-by-six only works if you have pickling salt or pure sea salt instead of…” John cast a look of aspersion at the bright blue bag, slightly visible, poking up out of the kid’s backpack “Rock salt.” His eyes had narrowed. “How old are you, kid?”

And there it was, the golden light of awe in his eyes. “I’m...I’m eighteen, sir.”

“Where are you from, where are your parents? Don’t tell me you’re a fuckin’, boxcar kid or something.” Chas’ face twisted into something almost resembling amusement at that.

“Home sucked, parents sucked, I got tired of being my old man’s punching bag and left as soon as I could. And I’m not stupid.”

John had given Chas a searching look, noting jeans that hadn’t been washed in over a week, the dark hollows around his gold-shining eyes, the hard slash of a mouth in a face too young for the heavinesses it seemed to carry. Now that he’s looking closer he sees the thinness in Chas’ round face, the bloom of poppy-red around a green iris. Fuck.

“Ah, sprang fully formed from the mouth of suburban California, I see. And what, you’d been seeing things?  Things you couldn’t get out of your head?” A noise of contempt escaped John’s lips. “And you couldn’t leave well enough alone after that. Books aren’t always gonna save you, kid.”

And Chas had looked up at him, in the sweet California sunset, stained with the sun’s afterthoughts of desert heat, with those huge green-glass eyes, and John’s heart had broken for him just enough. The irony of what he’d just said was not lost on him in that moment, and he sighed deeply and pulls out a cigarette, feeling an unfamiliar roughness in his chest as he struggled not to cough. It went without saying that looking at the kid felt like looking back at the long road inside of him that led up to here, a road that started in the dusty middle of a home that kept breaking in ways he couldn’t fix.  

There’s the taste of a promise at the tip of John’s tongue when he’d come back to himself in that moment, with Chas’ big eyes still pinning him in place against the blooming sunset sky. He sighed again and looked askance at the kid. “You got a place to stay tonight?”

Chas’ face had clouded with suspicion, but was overlaid with a longing underscored by loneliness. “Are you offering? You’re not gonna murder me or anything, are you? Cause, I mean, y’did kinda just save me from demons, so that wouldn’t really make much sense--”

“I look like Ted fuckin’ Bundy to you? No, kid. I don’t want your death hangin’ over my head. And,” John sighs a third time, feeling both too old and too young for his twenty-six years. “Sure, I’m offering. I got an apartment at the edge of the city. Warded up real nice too, holy water, the works, so you don’t have to worry about anything followin’ us.”

The kid’s face brightened absurdly at the word apartment , and then his eyes narrowed at John’s drawled followin’ . “Anything...following us?”

John flicked ash off his cigarette and examined his nails, stained with blood and dirt and God knew what else. “I don’t know about you, but if some upstart delinquent tried to forcibly evict me from my place of repose I wouldn’t let him get away with it for long.”

The kid considered this. “Right on, I guess.”

John pulled at his cigarette one final time, still regarding Chas. Silence stretched between them, for a moment. The kid fidgeted briefly, scuffing his shoes in the dirt and taking a moment to put away his worn copy of Blackmoor and the rosary around his neck into a beat-up canvas backpack. He stilled when he noticed John looking him over, and his fingers drifted to fiddle with the bracelet of saints he wore--among other things--on his right wrist. His eyes met John’s, and his mouth started to form the shape of a question when John sniffed and turned towards the beaten-up truck he’d arrived in, flicking his cigarette away and crushing it with the heel of a boot.

“Get in the car, kid. You want some grub?”

Chas’ mouth had closed with an almost audible click and he nodded enthusiastically. “That’d be awesome, sir.”

John snorted. “ Sir ? The name’s John Constantine. I’m barely older than you.”

Thank you, Mister Constantine--”

“Please, for the love of all that is holy, call me John. I ain’t my father.”

Chas stopped next to John and stuck out his hand, back straight and shoulders squared. “I’m Chas Kramer!”

John looked at the proffered hand and its bracelet of saints and the thick pink scar underneath the tiny painted faces, and took it. “Good to meet you. Try not to die until we get to the diner.”








Chapter Text

Three mornings after Heaven intervened and Chas died and Angela was possessed, John decides to see what’s become of Gabriel.

It isn’t pretty, and it takes him longer than he’d thought to actually find the thrice-damned creature. He’d started with all the usual supernatural hotspots--Midnite’s bar, certain areas of the sewers, a couple caves and mountains outside of Los Angeles, the underworld-famous Home for Wayward Celestial Bodies down by Redondo. Spots that the recently cursed, exorcised or otherwise disadvantaged beings usually flocked to in the mortal realm.

But in all these places, no trace. Not even the usual signs from the humans that tended to hang out around divine beings--the less fortunate, the homeless and directionless, the dopeless hope fiends that usually would be abuzz with news of a new arrival in their dirty, hidden haunts. But this time--not a whisper.

So John looks to the less favorable side of the coin that God flips when cutting off an angel from heaven, and starts reading the obituaries and police reports in the LA Times. Unusual deaths, animal sightings, noise complaints of a certain nature, that sort of thing.

Eventually, when he’s sitting in his dusty, thrift-store armchair in the sunlight of a late California evening and getting nowhere with the stupid paper and highlighter, he throws it down and slouches, rubbing his eyes. He reaches for the cell phone sitting on the side table and flips it open for maybe the fiftieth time that week, searching for a missed call from a certain name.

No messages. Nothing, again, as if he deserves to expect anything else. He blinks at the tiny screen and very deliberately closes the phone, setting it down. He watches his hands gently place it on the chipped wood of the end table, and then watches them pick up the stupid phone again and open it again and then before thinking about it he’s punched in the number and he’s listening to the line ring. Stupid, stupid, stupid--

“Hello, LAPD, Detective Dodson speaking.”

His almost breath catches at her familiar voice. So normal it’s almost painful. He stares into space, not seeing the walls of his apartment, only trying to conjure the image of her face--clean, untwisted by pain or possession, just answering the phone.

“Angela? It’s John.”

There is the static of a sharp breath, then--

“John Constantine?”

He can’t tell what possible emotion her tone could indicate. “Yeah, Constantine. Listen--”

“How are you, John? Are you alright?”

Concern? For him? “Yeah, yeah, I’m fit as a fiddle--listen, I’ve been, uh, looking for Gabriel, and I’ve checked all the usual spots and signs, and I’m getting nowhere with the newspaper--have you had any reports of cannibalism lately?”

“Cannibalism? John, what do you mean? How have you been? Tell me you’re not drinking yourself to death, or anything, over Chas or me or Isabel--jeez, do you want to get coffee or something? I haven’t heard from you in a week, John.”

She says his name with such unbelievable tenderness. Not in a romantic way, not ever, not even when they were in fear of their lives and leaning towards each other in the front of the jeep, and he had gently--so gently--fastened the protective talisman around her neck, and felt her soft breath on his cheek. Even then it was not about love, as such, more--survival. More about seeing the same kind of fear and the same kind of knowing in another person’s eyes.

“I’m so sorry, Angela. You know I’m not in any danger.”

“Even so! It’s...good to hear your voice.”

“And yours. So yeah, cannibalism? Animal sightings? Any pedestrians with chunks missing?”

John hears the sound of Angela rustling around, thumping something on her no doubt fantastically cluttered desk. “Let’s see...we had a man attacked by some kind of dog, creature, thing, last week...some sightings of what was thought to be a bear a day or two ago...you know this is highly illegal, right? Me telling you this?”
He sighs. “Yes, I know, and I appreciate it. We both know I wouldn’t ask if it was just...mundane interference. But it’s not.”

John hears her consider this. “Right, so if it’s Gabriel then why won’t my vision show me? Usually I get at least something, with the supernatural ones. Especially now after like, activating it in your bathtub.”

He squints and scrunches up his nose, thinking about it. “My theory is that Gabriel’s in such a weakened state right now after being cut off from Heaven that they’re not leaving the usual residue around--glowing footprints, that sort of thing is what you’d usually see. In another week or so I think they’ll have recovered enough to start leaving signs, but by that point they’ll have caused so much havoc that it’s not really worth thinking about. I want to move fast.”

“So why are you asking about reports of cannibalism?” He hears the disgust in her voice, but more than the disgust is the fascination. God, he missed her.

“Angels and demons eat, among other things, the flesh of mortals. Animals satisfy them too, but humans are the preferred snack. Just because angels don’t generally eat the good people doesn’t mean they don’t eat any people.”

“I thought it was just demons!”

He almost smiles. “I hate to disappoint you, but angels and demons are...kind of basically the same creature, just from different places. Like...dogs, you know? There’s many different kinds and they’ve all been bred for certain things so they look different, but they’re all still dogs.”

“Gabriel is the Tibetan mastiff of the angel world, then.”

John snorts. “If I knew what a Tibetan mastiff was, sure, I guess.”

Angela laughs. “They’re bear hunting dogs, John. Flippin’ huge. Eat anything. My aunt had one when I was young.”

“Ah. Yes. Gabriel is the Tibetan mastiff of heaven, then. I imagine they’ve been quite hungry in the past few days.”

“Jeez, that’s terrifying. Okay, looks like you’ll want to try near Long Beach.”

John feels his stomach drop. “Not near the airport, I hope.”

“Nah, like, literally on the beach. That’s where the, uh, bear sightings and things have mostly happened. Let me come with you.”

His heart joins his stomach, somewhere under the chair. “Absolutely not, Angela.”

“As a member of the LAPD it is my responsibility to address threats to the citizens of Los Angeles--”

“And all cops are bastards, y’know, and I don’t need Gabriel to eat you too.”

“Gabriel knows me! They wouldn’t! And you said--you said you would train me.”

A hysterical laugh almost bubbles up out of John. “I’d prefer for our first, uh, case together to be something a little smaller than a destitute archangel, buddy.”

“Don’t buddy me, jerkface.”

“I always thought it was cute how you don’t like to swear.”

“Motherfucker. There, are you happy?”

“Euphoric. Ecstatic. In exaltation.”

She snorts. “Most recent sighting was at Junipero and First, down by Bixby Park. Call me when you find them.” And the click.

John releases an unconscious, tightly held breath, and grins for real. Time to go angel-hunting.

---

There aren’t very many good places to hide on Junipero Street, but Gabriel’s made do behind a little old apartment building amongst newer development. Park Place peels off the blue siding of the building John stops near, to examine what looks like a huge stain of ash in the sidewalk. Tiny flecks glitter in the dark stain, like chips of mica. John straightens. In the right place, after all.

He shoves his hands into the pocket of his long leather coat and looks around into the foggy, fluorescent night. The streets are empty, cars lined up like sleeping beasts along the side of the road, and distantly the low roar of the wind and the sea comes in and recedes, like radio static. It’s a nice spot, John will admit. A little humid for his taste, so close to the water, but not bad, as haunts go.

He sighs and turns, and starts picking his way between the off-white apartment buildings, peering behind gates and into corners. He finds what he’s looking for curled up in a great, stinking nest of palm leaves and white trash bags, woven together and stacked until it’s somehow eye level with him, ensconced behind a dumpster. The dumpster is somehow in better condition than the nest.

John stands before the huge nest, and his fingers itch for a cigarette he doesn’t have. He scratches at the nicotine patch on the inside of his left bicep for a moment, then kicks the side of the dumpster and barks, “Get yourself up, angel.”

The huge woven basket of trash shivers, and slowly long appendages extend out the top and lift the body of the angel up and out like some kind of insect. John wrinkles his nose and shoves down the urge to gag at the cloying, musky stench that follows.

Gabriel’s human glamour has completely deteriorated since he left them floating in that stupid pool. Now the angel crouches before him, a grey-skinned, bipedal creature that easily overshadows John’s six foot frame even while they try to cower. Their body is smooth, and completely hairless, somewhat refractive in the same way of shark skin, but less gaunt than the demons of hell that John’s seen. Their face--which they hide from the light behind two long, folded arms--is covered in slitted vertical eyes, blinking in an odd rhythm as they regard John. Strange, non-human muscles ripple in the yellow fluorescence as Gabriel shifts on their massive, pawlike feet.

John watches their throat work for a second, before they finally speak in a voice that sounds like ten voices, timidly trying to harmonize with each other in a song they haven’t learned yet: “What do you want, human?”

John affects a casual stance and examines his short-bitten nails. “Have you forgotten me so soon, angel? It wasn’t a week ago you were in my face and begging me to kill you as Mammon screamed.”

Gabriel fidgets, and the claws of their feet flex and retract with agitation. Their voices have remembered how to harmonize, but all in sour notes now. “Constantine.”

“The one and only.”

“Have you come to witness my shame? To gloat? To finally end my miserable existence? It’s been quite freeing, you know, these past few days, living as my kind was originally conceived.” Their voices shift, becoming sweet, like how they used to talk to him. “You are the first human I’ve deigned to speak to, since falling.”

John raises an eyebrow at that.

Gabriel affects some kind of sighing motion with their upper body, and lowers their hands from their many-eyed face. As they speak, their pose becomes less and less animal-like, and starts to resemble the Gabriel he knew. Internally he breathes a sigh of relief. Sometimes they’re truly too far gone, and then...

Some of the eyes flick away from John, and stare off into the middle distance. “But it’s all over now, I suppose. Caught at last by the Hellblazer himself. Tell me, will you shoot me this time? Stab me with some cursed athame? Suffocate me with--”

John rubs a hand across his face, already feeling some kind of petty regret. “For the love of Christ, shut up. You’re such--you’re such a goddamn drama queen sometimes, Gabriel.”

“As if you are not also the most melodramatic human I have ever had the misfortune to be...seduced into dealing with.”

“I know you love to argue this particular philosophical point with me, but I can’t seduce you into doing anything, and I never have. You angels do have the same kind of agency as humans. You just don’t like to admit it.”

Gabriel drops their arms to their sides completely now, and slumps against the side of the dumpster, and their huge frame dents the metal, produces a loud clang. Some of their voices tinge melancholy with minor chords. “John, you know I enjoy our little talks, but if you’re not going to kill me, then leave me in peace.”

John taps his foot. “Hmm, can’t do that. Your version of peace involves disturbing the peace of Los Angeles in a rather big way, I’m afraid.”

“But you won’t end me, either. You know there’s not much that will kill one of my kind. I already tried jumping into the sea.”

John snorts with derision. “Wish you’d just stayed there, instead of coming back and--” John struggles to keep his voice down, “--fucking eating people, Gabriel! What did you expect me to do? Turn the other way while you snacked on humans? That’s no better than the demons I kill. You’re supposed to be better. You’re designed to be better.”

Gabriel shrugs, indifferent. “And yet, I am not better. I just am.” They tap dull, double-jointed fingers on the ground. “So it goes, John.”

He pinches the bridge of his nose and takes a measured breath. “Don’t fucking quote Vonnegut at me. You’d be in for such a world of hurt, you useless abomination. Lucky for you, I have some measure of a conscience, so I’m going to take you to Redondo and get you fixed up and not eating people anymore, and you’re going to become a member of society again.”

Gabriel doesn’t react to this at all. “Yay for me.” Some of their quieter voices sound like they’re screaming hysterically, but from a very far distance.

John takes a step closer and holds his nose. “Get up and put that nest thing in the trash. Let’s go.”

With laconic reluctance, Gabriel gathers themselves and unfolds their long, weird body to scoop the stinking nest into the now-dented dumpster. John holds his sleeve to his nose and does his level best not to vomit in front of Gabriel--the worst indignity that could possibly undermine his authority, here.

Gabriel, at least, seems indifferent to his discomfort. Typical. John backpedals hastily out of the alleyway and takes a huge breath of the clean, humid air closer to the street, hearing Gabriel lumbering along reluctantly behind him. He hears them snuffle wetly, and say, somewhere above his head, “So, do you have a TAP card, or are we going to walk all the way to Redondo?”

Chapter Text

John does indeed have a TAP card, and he’s very fond of the metro system. The metro system, however, is less fond of Gabriel, who has to duck down and squeeze through almost every doorway and barely makes it into the subway car before the doors close and the train jerks into motion. Gabriel awkwardly sidles around the pole that John’s holding onto and wraps their six-fingered hands around their kneecaps. They blink warily at the bright lights, jammed against the top of their head, and their flat nostrils flare and snuffle some more, the sound barely audible against the roar of the train.

In the corner of the car something stirs, and John whips his head around. He’d thought the car was empty when he’d picked it for him and Gabriel, but he’d missed the slumped and dirty figure of a woman in a huge coat, curled into the end of the subway car like she’d put down roots and grown there. He watches her for a moment. Gabriel’s invisible to all but the really psychically sensitive mortals, so he’s not worried about them being seen. Still, there’s something that’s raising the hair on his neck--a bright current of wariness that doesn’t go away after a moment.

Gabriel sees where he’s looking and follows it with their head. They shift and snuffle again, and their hot breath ruffles John’s hair. He feels a drop of saliva hit the back of his head, and recoils. He scrubs it away, but the spot where it touched his scalp burns cold. “ Gabriel , Jesus, keep it together!”  

Their voices whisper and whine. “Sorry, John. I’m hungry.”

He swats at their knee. “Be less hungry.”

The woman in the corner of the car turns towards them, and John freezes, staring straight ahead out at the dark, rushing tunnel outside the train, straining to keep her in his peripheral vision. Her mouth opens and closes like a fish. John endeavors to look as casual as possible, positively straining with the effort of it.  

After what seems like a small eternity, the woman turns her head back and settles deeper into the cocoon of her coat. John breathes out. Gabriel snuffles wetly above his head, still indifferent. Stupid creature.

----

The night air at the Redondo stop is warmer and less foggy than Junipero Street. John takes a breath of it like he’s taking a drag off a Silk Cut-- through the teeth, into the chest, hold, exhale sharply-- and feels a brittle kind of tiredness in his bones as he strides down the yellow-lit streets towards the Wayward Home for Celestial Bodies. It’s not any real kind of tiredness, though. John’s insomniac ways have seen to that--but a gentle weariness that feels like a cold fire crackling in his sternum. He feels the world tugging at him from the inside, downward.

Gabriel, surprisingly, is mostly silent beside John as they walk, odd-gaited on grey hands and feet like a gorilla. Their head swivels this way and that, listening to the distant sound of a car, the yap of a dog, the clang and clamour of Los Angeles’ four AM song. Their eyes blink in cascades across their face, and the shine of their many irises catches John’s eye for a brief, spooked moment.

The Wayward Home for Celestial Bodies is a rambling, ramshackle, red-roofed building near the corner of Warfield and Blossom. John has no idea how they managed to get property in such an upscale part of town, but he figures it might  have something to do with the heavy layers of glamour that the house wears like a lady in her furs. He can really only see how tall it is sometimes, out of the corners of his eyes. Elsewise it just looks like a strange patch of clouds and a star or two, poking out from the California mist. 

The person who answers the door goes through a surprising volume of facial expressions upon recognizing John, and before he can even say anything, they notice Gabriel and seem to forget completely about him in favor of a very poorly-controlled fit of terror. John pinches the bridge of his nose and only allows himself half of a sigh before attempting to explain, “Ren, hey, good to see you too, buddy, listen, I picked up this angel on Junipero and brought them over here, figure you guys could help them out more than I could--”

The door person raises a trembling finger and whisper-shouts to John in a hoarse voice, eyes fixed on Gabriel, “That’s--an archangel , John Constantine!”

There is a bit of a ruckus behind them in the half-open door, and they whip around and desperately make a shooing gesture at whoever is demanding their attention. They step down the doorstep and shut the door behind them, effectively concealing Gabriel and John from the other residents.

John takes a step back from Ren, who appears to be glowing slightly with the intensity of whatever they seem to be feeling at the sight of Gabriel, and shrugs helplessly. “Hey, I mean, they were half-feral and eating people and I don’t really have time--”

Ren whips around and gets in John’s face, stomping forward and shoving a finger against his chest. “You absolute motherfucker. You motherfucker. They can’t come here. You know that this is different from our usual crowd, and your usual bullshit . What the fuck is wrong with you?”

John cringes a little bit at Ren’s sudden vitriol. “Listen, Ren, not in front of the kid, Jesus, take it easy. Why, specifically, can you guys not take Gabriel? This is kind of your whole thing, rehabbing wayward seraphim.”

Ren visibly tries to contain themselves, still flicking anxious eyes between John and Gabriel. “Yes, John Constantine, rehabbing wayward seraphim, which means we’re already over our capacity pretty much always, and also that capacity is full of celestial beings who have probably had less-than-pleasant dealings with archangel Gabriel in the past. They’ll rip Gabriel to shreds. No, no, no. I’m sorry, but you’ll have to deal with them on your own.”

Anxiety closes like a hand around John’s throat. “God, no, please, there has to be--space, or another place to take them--something--”

Ren huffs. “I feel for you, John, I really do. It’s not an easy job. But if Gabriel of all angels is fallen, well...I can’t see the other residents taking that well under any circumstance. Probably best to keep them a secret for the time being, y’know?  At least until their glamour comes back.” John hears Gabriel snuffle wetly and scratch at the concrete path with a silver claw, and Ren jumps slightly at the sound. Useless abomination.

“So--what, I just have to take them back to my apartment? Set them up with a bowl on the floor and a dog bed? I’m sure this will all go over well with my landlord, my building doesn’t allow pets--” John grits his teeth and cuts himself off, clenching the hand that’s been tapping for a cigarette at his side through this whole exchange.

Ren shrugs, looking tense. “Yeah, and you better skedaddle soon too, before someone looks out a window and sees you and this bastard on our front lawn.” 

Gabriel whines halfheartedly behind John, voices wavering like theremins, “I take exception to that, it’s not our fault none of us have mothers, you insensitive dick....”

John kicks behind him and gets a good whack at the side of Gabriel’s bony foot, and the thready echo of their voices subsides. He holds out a hand to Ren, doing his best to appear professional. “Well, then, Ren, thanks so much, sorry for taking up your time, we’ll be on our way now. Say hi to Hezekiah for me, would you? He probably hasn’t forgiven me for the last time I was here, but…”

Ren sniffs a little and looks down at Constantine’s proffered hand before very reluctantly taking it. “Best of luck, Constantine. Quit bothering us.”

And with that, they turn sharply on their heel and slam the door on their way back into the house.

Gabriel snickers. “That went well.”

John waves a hand at them, irritated beyond measure, and feeling the night catch up with him in a wave of exhaustion. Every bone in him feels heavy. He shuts his eyes against the sight of Gabriel’s many inquiring eyes, and the bulk of the Home, and the lights of the city, and wishes desperately for--someone. Not Angela. Maybe Chas. Hell, don’t think about him right now--  

“Shut up. Shut the fuck up. We’re going home.” Without turning to see if Gabriel follows, he sets off into the foggy night, and eventually the two become nothing more than two uncertain shapes in the orange haze.

Sitting on a street corner opposite the Home, a woman in a big dirty coat sways to the throbbing midnight song of the city. Her eyes are glassy, and her mouth opens and closes as if she’s tasting the air. She moves her head like a periscope, and watches man and angel disappear.

---

The metro ride back to John’s neck of the woods is, thank Christ and all the disciples, uneventful, unmarred by chance encounters with unusually perceptive mortals. He’s so deeply, disgustingly tired that he hardly remembers walking through his building, taking the stairs and unlocking the door to his dark, high-ceilinged apartment. That, at least, would be more comfortable for Gabriel. Not that he gave a shit whether Gabriel was comfortable.

As he slouches through the apartment he sees Gabriel peering around with interest at the holy water by the windows, the dishes in the sink, almost-empty bottles glimmering amber on the countertop. They run a wickedly sharp silver fingernail across the surface of John’s heavy kitchen table, strewn with odds and ends, covered in carvings from cases and spells long past. The heavy, metallic-looking claws of their feet click against the linoleum like a dog’s.

He undresses in a haze of exhaustion, pulling the blackout shades down against the creeping purple light of a silvery California morning. Gabriel pokes their head into John’s dark room as he’s undoing his belt, and John jumps.

Fuck, Gabriel, what the hell do you want?” 

Gabriel’s voices laugh. “No need to be such a prude, John. Nothing there I haven’t seen before. Where am I sleeping?”

John blearily mutters some vitriolic nonsense to himself about some angels that don’t know when to leave well enough alone, and scrubs a hand over his eyes. “Certainly not in my bed, or anywhere near it. There should be a spot on the floor big enough for you to curl up on, yeah?” 

Gabriel blows out through their slitted nose. “Yes, but it’s cold and hard and I’m not a dog, John, I’m an agent of the Lord. I’m royalty. I’m hot shit, as you say.”

John kicks his pants off and throws them onto a chair, making his way through the dim room to the closet. After a moment of searching, he chucks a ratty duvet and a rather limp pillow at Gabriel’s blinking face. “Yeah, well, in this house you’re barely a serf, and I am the king. Now let me sleep.”

Gabriel snorts, acknowledges the gift of the duvet and pillow with a raised silver claw, and ducks out without closing the door. John, too tired to even think, swings the door shut and collapses into bed.

For the first time in ages, when he shuts his eyes against the reaching fingers of the silver morning, he sleeps without dreaming.

Chapter Text

The first thing John says to Gabriel upon stumbling into the kitchen in his threadbare bathrobe is “Fuck, Gabriel, take a fucking shower.”

Gabriel, squatting at his kitchen table and delicately trying to operate John’s ancient French press with their comparably huge hands, startles at the sound of his voice. If John’s apartment had normal ceilings, they would have crashed into and perhaps through the roof; as it is, they merely knock the French press over and half-brewed coffee and grounds go everywhere. The smell of coffee mixes in with Gabriel’s weird, dying-flower-smelling angel BO, and it’s really quite atrocious.

John stands with a hand on the doorframe, blinking in the sunlight at Gabriel, whose eyes blink in dizzying waves back at him guiltily. John shrugs and just says, “Clean that up.”

Gabriel turns to do so, and for the first time in daylight John sees the sickening, gory mess that is their back, where their wings used to be. Shards of bone shine oddly in the sunlight, where they stick through torn refractive skin. Flushes of white spread out from whole mess, like dead, infected flesh reaching spiderwebs across the grey planes of Gabriel’s now-useless flight muscles. Some of it has scabbed over in odd yellow patches, but most of it just looks angry and corrupted. Wrong, in a way that exceeds the usual wrongness of grievous injury.

John’s chest seizes in sympathetic pain, and he looks away. Not awake enough to deal with this.

He slouches to the counter beside Gabriel, flips on the electric kettle, and begins the automatic process of making a cup of tea for himself. Gabriel mops up the mess they’ve made of the coffee, surprisingly reticent. John looks over.

“Can your metabolism even handle coffee at this stage, anyway?”

Gabriel shrugs without looking up from their paper towels. “Coffee’s never too bad. It’s usually what they put strays on first, to get them off the taste of blood. It helps one remember their glamoured form, as well.”

“Well. Learn something new every day.”

The kettle dings. John blows across his mug of tea, watching the steam curl away in the humidity. Gabriel finishes cleaning up the spilled coffee and sets about making more. It’s quiet--well, as quiet as John’s apartment gets, with the low hum of cars thrumming through his windows, and the symphony of creaks and thumps and growls that emanate periodically from his old building. Sometimes John feels, illogically, that he lives inside the belly of a gigantic creature.

But John feels none of the tension that frequently exists between him and Gabriel, the tension of two beings that know only one of them holds the power in an interaction. This feels different, somehow, when it’s Gabriel in John’s territory, inside his house , and they’re on their best behavior. But they’re also just very obviously not interested in fucking with John while in this form. When they’re cut off from all the righteous, insane power of Heaven and God.

He idly watches the weird form of the angel squatting in his kitchen until some of the vertical golden eyes on Gabriel’s neck flick to his and narrow in confusion. John looks away, unwilling to be scrutinized when he’s wearing this stupid bathrobe, clutching his mug of tea, unready to face the world in every respect. He clears his throat. “I’ll help you get cleaned up after coffee, if you want.”

Enough of Gabriel’s eyes roll towards him so that he knows his offer is being carefully considered, turned over in Gabriel’s weird machine-mind to try and see if it’s a trap or a joke or some kind. Eventually the song of Gabriel’s voices croons sweetly, “That would be nice.”

John pushes himself off the counter and goes to investigate the state of the bathroom. He hasn’t gotten around to replacing the bathtub after awakening Angela’s powers had shattered it, but he’d dragged all the pieces out and chucked them, and there was a drain set into the sunken tiled floor, so he’d sort of just been showering...there. Without a bathtub. Who needed a bathtub, anyway? Not him.

He goes to the medicine cabinet behind the mirror and pulls out the big value bottle of hydrogen peroxide, and shakes it to see what’s left. Barely any . Probably for the better, anyway. He’d tried to fix up Angela with his peroxide after putting her in the bathtub, and she had vehemently refused, and then rambled in a shellshocked haze about all the research damning peroxide and alcohol as ineffective. And who knew what it would do to angels.

John replaces it, and instead sets his big gauze pads and medical tape on the sink, alongside a huge bottle of soap, his well-used suture kit and a bunch of old towels he’s decided he can sacrifice on the altar of getting Gabriel cleaned up. His hands pause over the suture kit, briefly. The last time he had used this was on Chas.

No, now was neither the time, nor the place. He shakes his head, trying to dislodge the memory, all memories of him. Even the good memories weren’t worth this awful bite of grief in his chest every time he found a fragment of Chas. Weren’t worth the itch, and the emptiness, and the hunger inside him that woke up and started looking for some kind of fix every time the grief threatened to wash him away. He looks away from the suture kit.

After a moment’s hesitation, he also crouches down and retrieves a pair of pliers from under the sink and sets them with a heavy clunk on the dirty marble. He looks down at them, at his hands on the edges of the sink, littered with their scars, and then meets his own eyes in the mirror. Squints. Rubs at a few days’ worth of stubble. There’s the familiar shadows under his eyes, but they seem less pronounced, even after his recent late-night adventures.

Gabriel pokes their head in and interrupts his contemplation of himself, surveying the state of the bathroom. “Your bathtub’s gone.”

John swings around and regards them as they blink at the remains of his bathtub, and the towels, and the medical supplies. “Thank you for the obvious, Gabriel. Just sit under the showerhead, will you?”

Gabriel complies, the click of their claws echoing oddly in the small space, and sits quietly as John fiddles with the tap. This close, their stink is almost unbearable, but John can also hear the soft chorus of their breathing. It sounds like wind through leaves, like a hundred voices are breathing at once. Huh.

Eventually the tap yields and lukewarm water hits Gabriel’s shark-skin. Their voices hiss and they jump a little. “Cold!”

John flaps a hand at them. “Keep your hair on, give it a minute.”

They wrap long, oddly jointed arms around themselves and the soft arch of their mouth presses into a thin line. John looks over when the water is almost too hot for him to keep his hand under, and makes a questioning face. They pout back. “Still cold.”

He shakes his head and goes to hang his old bathrobe on the door hook, feeling--oddly--slightly vulnerable and self-conscious clad only in an old, small pair of basketball shorts. He looks up after grabbing the towels and soap, and all of Gabriel’s many golden eyes are trained on him. He shifts, curling his toes a bit on the wet tile. “What? Can I help you with something?”

Gabriel shrugs, and some of the eyes flick away, some crinkle in mirth. “So pale, John. You should get more sun. Buy a Speedo, go to the beach. I hear Will Rogers is a nice spot.”

“I don’t tell you how to live your life, angel.” John upends the bottle of soap across the plane of Gabriel’s left shoulder and hands them a towel. “Scrub, and let me get a look at that mess on your back.”

Gabriel winces at his mention of where their wings used to be, but turns around as they scrub at their chest and arms with the towel. Sooty residue stains it black almost immediately; John sighs internally. Only a few voices echo in perfect, tremulous fifths and octaves as Gabriel says over their shoulder, quietly, “Be gentle...please.”

John hesitates, towel and pliers in hand, at the fragile tone of their voice. He nods. “Sure, Gabriel.”

And what a mess it is. As Gabriel goes through most of John’s towels and leaves sooty, glittery smudges all over the tile, John picks razor-sharp fragments of hollow wingbone out of the twin gashes in Gabriel’s back, fervently glad for the pliers. Often he has to peel up scabs to get at the smaller pieces, and watch as clear, thick blood that glimmers like mica chips sluices down the drain. Gabriel only hisses at him periodically, when he pokes at a particularly deep or sore spot, but otherwise doesn’t give him any attitude. That, more than anything else, indicates to John just how serious this whole weird task is.

Eventually the wounds in Gabriel’s back are cleaned out completely, and are merely two big lacerations of the kind John’s seen many times before. At Gabriel’s behest, he carefully scrubs at the unbroken skin around the wounds, watching ashy water drip down his wrists like black vines. Gabriel’s skin feels smooth, and cooler than human skin, but no less alive, and sometimes there is a soft buzz of static, like John’s put his hand next to a television screen.

He jumps when he first touches Gabriel, and the static field fuzzes against his hand. Gabriel had looked round and noticed John standing with his hand pulled back, palm out. John meets a pair of Gabriel’s eyes, near to where human eyes would be on their eyeful face. They just kind of shrug at him. “Sorry. Some things are different in this form. The human flesh from the glamour acts as a kind of...insulator? It won’t hurt you.”

“Like an electrical wire. Got it.” John says, and puts their hand on Gabriel’s back again. Gabriel stills. The heat from the shower hasn’t warmed Gabriel’s skin even a little bit, although it’s made John’s face and ears pink. He’s glad for it, for it hiding the sudden rush of blood to his face as he just stands there with his hand on Gabriel’s back, feeling the cascading bellow of their hundred inhales and exhales. The eyes on the back of Gabriel’s neck flick to his, and then away, and he feels like he’s trapped in amber, moving so slowly. His breath hitches, and matches theirs.

Something in the plumbing clangs distantly, and the moment is broken. He snatches his hand away again, fumbles with the soap bottle, pours too much on the washcloth he’s holding, and gets it everywhere. Eventually he wraps it around his hand, and doesn’t touch Gabriel’s skin without it again.

 

---

 

“Angela? I found Gabriel.”

“John! Two calls in as many days, what a lucky girl I am.”

He snorts, a brief huff of air through his nose, and stretches out on his bed. “Seems I just can’t keep away.”

“What did you find? Did you kill...them? Are you okay?”

He frowns. “No, I didn’t kill them. Damned hard thing to do, killing an angel or a demon. Usually I just banish them, but since they’ve been kicked out of Heaven….no, they’re in my apartment, drinking all my coffee.”

There is a brief silence on the line as Angela processes all this, and lands on “...Coffee?”

John feels a grin tug at his mouth. “I know. Apparently it’s what they use up in Heaven to try and wean the feral ones off of human blood. That’s what Gabriel says, anyhow. I think the bastard just likes the taste.”

He can feel her mirth, practically see her eyes crinkle as she says, “Gabriel’s definitely pulling your leg there, John.” Her voice drops a little, becomes gentler. “John, I didn’t get a chance to ask before, how have you been since...Chas?”

Grief nips at his heart. “Don’t worry about me.”

“John--”

He can’t do this with Angela, of all people. “Listen, I can take care of myself, alright? I don’t need you walking on eggshells or trying to take care of me or whatever the fuck.

She comes right back at him with the same fire, breath crackling over the line. “I’m not your mother, dumbass, and I know what it feels like, so don’t worry about that. I just--” and her tone softens again, sings with shared sadness to him, “I miss him too. I only knew him for a day, but I still miss him. It’s okay, John. To feel whatever you’re feeling.”

The beast stirs, the one that drew him to his nicotine, to his whiskey, to worse things. John feels a surge of that anxious craving, sharper than the grief. Those feelings, though, those aren’t okay. Those feelings only ever destroy.

But none of that was something for Angela to bear. “Thanks, Angela. I...appreciate it. I don’t mean to snap.”

“Don’t worry about it. Now, when’s a good time for me to come over?”

He sits up. “What?”

“To come over. I want to talk to Gabriel.”

John glances over at Gabriel through the half-open door of his bedroom, sitting at his coffee table on the other side of the apartment, holding a book made small by their huge, long-fingered hands. “What--are you sure that’s a good idea? What is it you want to talk to them about, even?”

“Mammon. Possession. God. Heaven. I have questions.”

He sighs. “Well, we’re, uh, not doing anything right now, if you want--”

“Oh, really? Great! I’ll see you in 20!”

He squeezes the phone. “Uh, I mean, Angela--”

The line clicks, and he peers at the screen. Call Ended. He tosses the phone onto the bedside table, and flops down again, looking at the orange stripes his blinds let through of the late evening sun.

Gabriel’s voice drifts through the apartment to him. “Who was that?”

John rolls over and plants his face in his quilt. “That was Angela. She’ll be over in 20.”

“Who?”

He turns his head to the side, to better talk to Gabriel through the door. “You know, that poor woman you almost killed when you tried to use her as a portal to summon Mammon. That Angela.”

“I hear the derision in your voice, John, and I don’t appreciate it. I’m better now. I’m reformed. My people-killing days are behind me.”

John rolls his eyes and wonders idly if they have support groups up in Heaven for stray angels. “Whatever you say, abomination.”

Chapter Text

The sight of Angela in John’s apartment without some kind of supernatural crisis is strange enough, but to have both Angela and Gabriel sitting at his stained kitchen table, watching her run her fingers over the runes carved into its surface, as Gabriel trains every errant eye on her--it’s downright weird. John feels unbalanced. He feels like maybe he should be playing host.

Angela begins to say something to Gabriel, and at the same time John stands up suddenly. Awkwardly. “Does anyone want tea.”

Angela looks at him and raises an eyebrow. “Sure, John.” Gabriel waves a hand and rumbles “If there’s coffee left…”

John circles the table and puts on the kettle and pulls chipped, kitschy mugs down from the cabinet. Angela resumes asking Gabriel her questions behind him.

He hears her shuffle around and tap her fingers on his table. “So, you really just run around in like...a human flesh suit, but only when you’re following the rules?”

Gabriel chuckles, a sound made far creepier by the echoes of their various voices. “In a sense. Think of it like a snake’s skin. It’s a part of us until we start--oh, behaving erratically, shall we say. Then when we get closer in size to our base form it stretches and starts rotting from the inside out, and then just kind of...falls off.”

John turns around, feeling a kind of distant, abject disgust. Angela is leaning forward on the kitchen table, her face alight with fascination. Gabriel looks like they might be smirking, if their stone-carved face was given more to true human expression instead of the rough imitation of it.

He clears his throat. “Are you allowed to be telling us all this stuff?”

Angela snorts. “What can they do to them now? They’ve already been cast out of Heaven.”

Gabriel shifts, and their voices take on a discordant baritone harmony. “There’s more than one way to skin that sort of cat, mortal. Casting an angel out of Heaven is no small punishment, but it is far from the worst thing that can be done to a celestial being.”

John stills for a moment, feeling a flash of memory snap at the edge of his consciousness. In the relative quiet of the apartment the kettle begins to whistle, breaking the tenseness between Angela and Gabriel. He swears he can hear the cogs turning in Angela’s head, as he takes the kettle off the stove and pours tea for himself and Angela, and warms up coffee for Gabriel.

He brings all three mugs to the table and sits down. Angela takes hers and fiddles with the tag on the teabag. “So if you’d been plotting against...God and Heaven, the whole time while John and I were running around Los Angeles, why didn’t your glamour fall off then?”

Gabriel stirs their coffee with a fingertip. John notes absently that he’d warmed the coffee almost to boiling, before handing the mug over. “Oh, it did. It started to, anyway. But there are ways to slow the rotting of a soul, if you know who to ask. Who to sacrifice.”

---

John pulls up to an oft-visited flickering diner, glowing neon in the desert night. Neon stripes the cars which ring the diner, dusty like they’d grown from the desert ground. Trucks loom behind the diner, their engines thrumming in the cooling air.

Chas clutches his backpack in the passenger seat, looking distinctly un-relaxed. John kills the engine and pulls his Silk Cuts out of his breast pocket, lighting one as he steps down out of the truck. He smacks the wheel well affectionately. “Piece of shit.”

Chas rounds the front of the truck, shouldering his bag and shifting restlessly on his feet as John draws deeply on the cigarette between his teeth, and blows out the smoke into the neon light. He looks askance at Chas watching him. “Want a smoke, kid?”

Chas’ eyes flicker. “No, si--John. No thanks. Old man used to smoke. Not good memories.”

John shrugs, and finishes his cigarette with a few hard pulls.

The sounds of Brook Benton drift from the chrome doors as Chas and John walk up to the diner. John holds the door for Chas, and the kid ducks inside, standing and taking a deep inhale of the smell of coffee and frying food. John steps around Chas and leads him to a corner booth, sliding into a booth with his back to the window so he can see the doors.

Chas sits across, taking a menu from the tired-looking waitress with a little smile and a nod. John follows her with his eyes, sitting light in the cracked vinyl booth until he’s sure that her eyes slide over him without a flicker of malicious recognition. Her pupils are constricted to pinpoints, unusually small even in the silver light of the diner’s fluorescence.

Chas glances at John watching the waitress. He clears his throat. “Are you expecting trouble?”

John picks up his menu, skimming it and already knowing what he’ll order. “No, no trouble here yet. I’ve been caught a few times in places like this, though. Too easy to let your guard down when you’re thinking of food.”

Chas nods very seriously. John suppresses a snort at the absurdity of this kid, not much younger than him, so obviously taking his words to heart. He feels a weight, somewhere under his ribs and across his shoulders, settle like a cloak.

The waitress comes back, and Chas looks at John with his green-glass eyes. John nods at him with the barest hint of a grin. “Get whatever you want. It’s on me.”

Chas’ face lights up. When the food arrives, he attacks it like a man starved. Stands to reason, John thinks, thinking of the road inside him which so resembled Chas’.

John picks at his eggs and waffles with far less enthusiasm. The taste of smoke lingers in his mouth under the stickiness of maple-flavored corn syrup. Chas slows after the jukebox has turned a few songs over and looks up at John, finally. John can feel the awkward silence creeping in, and internally decides not to break it first. They stare at each other, gold-flecked brown eyes to green-glass.

Chas holds John’s laconic, half-lidded gaze for far longer than he expects, before dropping his eyes and fiddling with a french fry. He clears his throat and shifts on the teal vinyl booth seat. John waits.

He finally looks up again. “Sir--John, I mean. What is it you, like...do? Like for a job? How are you paying for--” He gestures to their picked-at plates, the now-cold coffee, french fries.

John raises an eyebrow, and considers saying some dumb shit to fuck with Chas’ head, but almost immediately feels a pang of guilt. Kid’s been lied to and abused enough. I don’t want to be that kinda way to him, too.

“I sell artisanal pottery.”

Chas’ eyes widen slightly. “Excuse me?”

John laughs, a short and almost mirthless bark. “No, what the hell do you think? I hunt demons, and sometimes people are kind enough to throw me a few thousand, for exorcising their kid or whatever. You’d be surprised at the money that’s in this job, sometimes. When real people ask I tell them I freelance. What is it you do?”

Chas fidgets and looks away again. John quirks an eyebrow. “Kid, I’m not gonna judge you. Can’t tell you the amount of fucked up shit I did when I first came to this city.”

He meets John’s eye again, and a small, rueful smile plays around his mouth. “Well, you’re not gonna like it, Mister Constantine, cause I sold drugs to kids. Since I was fourteen.”

John keeps his face carefully--so carefully--neutral at this news. His fingers itch for a cigarette even as he swallows against the urge to cough. He settles for picking at the cuffs of his shirt, pushing them up to his elbows. His arms are pale compared to Chas’ deep, California-desert tan, crisscrossed with raised white lines like railroad ties.

Chas’ arms bear a similar pattern, albeit fresher and pinker than John’s, half-concealed by the multitude of ratty bracelets he wears on both wrists.

“Do you use?” The question leaves John’s mouth suddenly, before he can think about it. Internally he kicks himself. Chas just looks unsurprised.

“Not anymore. It started feeling, uh, a little too easy to overdose, some days. Some guys loaded up the needle a bit too full, washed down sleeping pills with booze. Some days I really wanted to die. But y’know, deep down, I knew I wasn’t ready yet.”

John leans forward, not bothering to conceal his interest in what Chas is saying. “Not ready to die. What does that mean?”

Chas fidgets, looks uncomfortable. “I...don’t know, really. Just a feeling. It wasn’t my time. I had to get out of my dad’s house and do some good in the world before kickin’ it. Had to make up for all the fucked up shit I did. Yeah.”

And oh, how John’s heart hurts for Chas. It’s far too easy to see himself, seven years ago, itching inside his skin and searching desperately for anything to quench the raging, fiery thirst of the beast inside that crawled towards anything that made the static of his miswired brain quiet. Far too easy to see the martyr complex that crouches on Chas’ shoulders with all the weight of a literal demon, one that he feels would be leering at a demon of the same make on his own shoulder. Both beasts stirred.

But first, a more serious consideration. “Well, you can’t do that shit anymore. I don’t need adolescent junkies knocking down my door, there’ll be enough of that with the two of us in my house already.”

Chas sits up very straight at this, eyes wide. “Yes sir--John. Absolutely.” And he sticks out his hand to shake, for some reason. John suppresses a snort, but humors the kid and takes his hand. Again. Chas’ bracelet of saints jingles as he shakes once, firmly, seriously.

The ancient jukebox attached to their table whirrs and the fuzzy croon of an old country song falls from the speakers. Chas looks around at the new sound with a grin. “My days of sin are behind me, John! It’s a new day and I owe it to you.”

John does laugh at this, a laugh that quickly slides into a harsh cough. He leans back and wipes a tear from his eye. “Oh, kid. You crack me up. We’re headed straight for the motherlode of sin. More sin that you’ve ever dreamed of. You stick with me and you’ll never get into heaven.”