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Those Boys With The Demon Blood

Chapter Text

"John Constantine?" Sam asks, even though he's almost certain. The dude is pretty hard to miss if you know what you're looking for.

Constantine gives him a considering glower before responding. "Don't normally see Winchesters on this side of the pond. What can I do you for, squire?"

That answers one question while raising a few more. Sam knew that Constantine had known dad, and met Dean at least once, enough to have remembered him. Although from the sound of it, that could have been more about getting on dad's nerves than anything to do with Dean. But the thing is, Sam doesn’t think he really looks as much like dad and Dean, not as dad and Dean look like each other. Not enough to be picked out as a Winchester if they were your only basis for comparison. Maybe it’s in his soul, or maybe dad showed him a picture - that doesn’t really sound like the John Winchester Sam knew, though. Not really the point. Sam indicates the chair opposite the Hellblazer, Constantine shrugs so Sam sits.

"What's it going to cost to get my brother out of Hell?" Sam says, cutting to the chase.

The Hellblazer actually looks surprised for a minute, and Sam wonders if he’s overstepped, pushed too far at one of his last chances. He’s come a long way for this, and he knows he has to play it hard, if he's going to get this dude to respect him, but-

“Hell?” Constantine says it slow and firm, almost cold, on the border of incredulous. That’s a test as Sam hears it, he can almost hear his father in it. It’s the opening of negotiations, trying to put Sam on the back foot, trying to show him just how big of an ask he’s making. But Sam doesn’t care about haggling, doesn’t care what it costs. He’ll pay. Its that simple.

“Hell.” Sam mimics John’s tone with a little less surprise. “How much?”

“Who says I can do it, and who says it’s gonna cost you a thing if an' I can?”

“Everyone who’s ever heard of you,” Sam answers. It’s true, not that it matters.

“Fair cop,” John says and grins at Sam for the first time. It’s not quite real though, Sam’s good enough at reading people to know that much. “But this time, they’re wrong," John continues. "It ain't gonna cost you a thing. Can’t say I mind the idea of Dean Winchester owing me one.” He stubs out his cigarette and drains his pint glass.

“C’mon then?” Constantine says, as he stands in one swift motion of trenchcoat and smoke. Sam’s left rushing to get up and follow him, stumbling over himself and his own hope to follow the Hellblazer out of the bar and into a dingy back alley.

John leads him out into the drizzling streets of London.

They take a path that Sam couldn’t repeat if he wanted to, they take the first left every time and still end up somewhere new instead of a circle. They end up outside a door that looks like every other door, on a shabby street that looks like every other shabby street.

John opens the door with a strange flourish which Sam is pretty sure has some purpose other than show. Then they’re walking into a dusty little apartment, the sort that’s really just some rooms in a house but the other doors have been blocked in and the landlord has managed to tuck a kitchenette and a bathroom into what used to be closets.

“Grab a seat, this is gonna take a sec,” John says and indicates the only comfortable chair, other side of the room by the little gas fireplace. Sam does it without thinking, still not sure this isn’t some crazy complicated dream. Because nothing in their lives- his life, goes this easy.

Once Sam is sitting on the other side of it, John pulls the faded rug off the floor to reveal a pre-painted devil’s trap and a bunch of other complicated concentric magic circles. Well, a demon test, that makes sense at least. Sam can trust a bit of healthy distrust in a hunter- or whatever Constantine is.

The exorcist gathers candles and other odds and ends from under the sink, and mostly ignores Sam. It’s kind of surreal, and it reminds him of Dean when he’s packing out his weapons for a hunt. Methodical near maniacal focus translated across a different set of actions but the same intensity, the same near masochistic readiness for the fight.

“You’re sure it’s Hell?” Constantine asks him after a few minutes, he’s lit another cigarette and he seems to be adding to the pre-painted patterns on the floor in chalk. “Not Valhalla, or one of them other places?”

“Yes,” Sam says, still surprised when his voice doesn’t break, still surprised when he doesn’t break. “It’s Hell, I… I saw the hellhound come for him he wasn’t… there wasn’t-”

“Right,” Constantine cuts him off in a tone that brooks no argument. That’s another Dean like trait, discomfort at other people’s emotions, cutting Sam off before he can go all ‘chick-flick’. Sam’s grateful despite the painful reminder. He nods and Constantine gets back to work.

After a while he wanders back to the kitchen and sets an electric kettle to boil. “Want a cuppa, mate?” He offers it like an afterthought, like he’s only just remembered that Sam might be a real person.

“Um, sure,” Sam says. Still not sure why or how he’s here, still not sure what the protocol is for visiting one of the world’s foremost demon hunters while he prepares to go to Hell and back to save your only brother from the pain you’ve brought down on him.

“A’right,” Constantine makes Sam a cup of tea in a chipped mug. It says ‘World’s Worst Brother’ on the side, and John gives it an oddly fond smile when he gets it down from the little shelf above the bench. He mixes something altogether else for himself in an old pewter goblet. Something strange and herbal, put together out of an assortment of mix and matched jars and containers, all stored on the kitchen bench in an old shoe box. It smells dark and heady, and Sam’s pretty sure at least two of the ingredients are some type of blood. He adds a liberal dose of what looks like brandy, then shrugs and takes a long drag straight from that bottle too before he puts it away and tops off the whole noxious thing with hot water.

“You got anything of his?” Constantine asks, handing Sam his tea and getting Sam’s attention back on the exorcist and off the concoction cooling on the bench. Constantine clarifies needlessly, “Something he had on him when-”

“Um, yeah, of course…” Sam says, hurriedly, not wanting to go back to that place in his heart where Dean screams through his death. Sam sounds nonchalant but it still hurts, there’s a lurch in his chest when he takes Dean’s pendant off his neck and hands it over. Constantine gives it a very long look, like he’s gonna melt it with his glare before flicking his wrist and wrapping it around his palm in one swift action.

“That’ll do.”

Then he goes to yet another box of mystery objects, this one on the mantel piece. He pulls out a lighter. It looks just the same as the zippo he’s been using to light all those damn cigarettes but it’s got something etched on the side in a rough hand, must be some kind of sigil but Sam can’t quite see it. He’s not sure if Constantine is keeping it turned that way on purpose and he’s not sure he can ask any questions. Not sure of anything anymore. Sam expects him to use it to light more candles or something but he just pockets it along with the pendant.

“Well, we’re set.” Constantine looks around the circle like he’s not as sure as he sounds but then he grins at Sam over his goblet of, whatever the hell that stuff is. “Be a mate and keep an eye on things while I’m gone? Oh-” he starts to say, then, like it’s another afterthought, “an’ how’s your Latin? Just in case it ain't, y’know, me that comes back? Wouldn’t want some black eye’d wanker riding this pretty corpse ‘round London, now would we?”

Sam hesitates, despite the fact that his Latin’s fine. He'd seemed so matter of fact. Sam was actually starting to hope. Starting to hope this was as easy as the Hellblazer made it all seem.

“I’ve probably got the Rituale Romanum writ down somewhere ‘round ‘ere-”

“Exorcizamus te, omnis immundus spiritus,” Sam begins, cutting the older man off mid sentence because this is about all he is certain of these days, “omnis satanica potestas, omnis incursio infernalis adversarii, omnis legio, omnis congregatio et-”

“A’right, a’right,” Constantine says, through a chuckle, “that one’ll do the trick, right enough.”

“Thanks,” Sam says, because he hears the compliment hidden in it. Yet another hauntingly close taste of Dean wrapped in this older British package.

Constantine makes his way to the centre of the circle and rolls his shoulders then sits down cross-legged, coat spread out around him like armour.

“Well. Bottoms up,” John says with a grimace at his cup then drains the whole thing. “Won’t be a tick. Here goes everything.”

He stretches up and cracks his neck. He stretches out then, snap- just like that, his eyes white out, he arches up hard and his head’s thrown back with a half yell, then utter, terrifying, silence. The demonologist, breaths out and crumples in on himself. He doesn't breath in again. Sam jumps despite himself. Despite knowing this world the way he does, it shouldn’t shock him but it does. The room smells suddenly dark and damp, like forests and earth and darkness. And Sam can feel the creepy, sticky feeling of magic on his skin, he can smell sulfur and phosphorous. And he can see the way John Constantine contorts in this realm as well as the next. This is it, this is his last even almost legitimate chance. Here goes everything, sounds about right.

God, he hopes this works.

Chapter Text

Getting into Hell isn’t as hard as most people think. Getting out is another matter, and it takes a bit of planning. Technically this is just a spot of recognisance but it pays to be prepared anyroad. So that’s how John ends up traipsing through the dark alleys of his own subconscious, looking for a backdoor via the darkest end of the Dreaming.

There are other ways. He could try find a minor demon or better yet a reaper - a rogue that’d do it for favours or a local who he can bully. Problem is that could take a while. Even if he finds what he’s looking for this time he may still need to try that one as well, gotta keep something up his sleeve. Right now he doesn’t have the time, time moves different in Hell. And if his calculations are right Dean has been in the pit for a while, a month maybe even two. Maybe a bit less but not much less.

Damn it. He should have paid attention to that soppy un-Winchester like email, John’s still not great with computers (magic and technology don’t always mix) and it had been over a week after it was sent before he read it. He’d just assumed the lad was drunk, would rather he pretended it didn’t happen. He did try call, which honestly is more effort that John usually expends in those circumstances but he needed to check in for any sightings of Rosacarnis on their side of the pond. When the lad didn’t pick up he’d assumed he’d seen the UK calling code and decided to ignore it. There had been other things to take care of. Cheryl’d got herself in a spot of bother, there was that baby kraken in the Thames, demon numbers are through the roof and he still hasn’t followed up with that thing in Newcastle. It’s been a busy few months.

A month though, that’s a long time for an untethered soul to be in one of the inner circles of Hell. At least a year, maybe longer depending how deep they’ve got the lad. So, quicker is better than safer at this point. Then, if he finds what he’s looking for he can take the risk and pull him through, or at worst he dumps the kid in the Dreaming or Purgatory and comes back for him later. Anything’s safer than being a dead demon hunter in Hell. They say Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, they’re wrong, as they so often are. Hell’s got more fury stored up than any living human could. Not to mention, Dean Winchester always did have something uncomfortably righteous about him. So, all things said, the quicker, the better.

Unfortunately, the quickest way to Hell that John knows, other than a Hellhound’s teeth, happens to be through his own bloody soul. So, sod it, off he goes. Half-cocked is his raison d’etre after all. The real problem with this particular plan isn’t it’s haste, so much as that there’s a reason that John drinks himself to sleep most nights. John Constantine’s subconscious isn’t a very nice place to be, it’s got plenty of ghosts and monsters all its own and that’s even at the best of times.

“Oi, killer!”

And there’s one of ‘em now. John sets off at a full tilt run, he doesn’t bother looking back to see if his father has any extra heads, or demon’s eyes this time or just the old familiar stink of gin, don’t matter a damn. He’s just glad he’s still full grown. He’s running down a street that looks suspiciously like the Liverpool housing estate he grew up on, when he has to skid to a halt. The ghosts of every person he’s ever failed crowd the paths and stare out from curtains - but they don’t approach.

“I can explain?” John tries. Still panting from imaginary adrenalin.

“John,” Dream chides, patient as only the Endless can be.

Oddly enough, Daniel makes him more nervous than old Morpheus ever did. Something about one of Them having been human just gives him the creeps. Thing about the rest of ‘em is that they are genuine anthropomorphic personifications. They’re just simple universal forces that caught a bad case or personality from hanging out around humanity for too long. At the end of the day, they are what they are - they’re simple. But the new Dream is a whole other kettle of fish. He’s not as predictable as the other buggers. He had a mum, and a dad, and school chums, he had dreams all his own before he became Dream. It makes him dangerous and in danger. And it makes John uncomfortable.

John glances over his shoulder, his father’s still coming after him but Dream waves a hand and Tommy Constantine freezes in mid bull rush. Face twisted, demonic without ever having been to Hell. Yet. There’s one man John won’t be going after. He turns his back on the man, the way he never would have in life, gives Dream his full attention.

“Where were you going John?” Dream asks.

“Hell, people tell me to often enough. Thought I’d give it a go?”

“I thought you’d already been, once or twice. Hellblazer. My Aunt is not inclined to lie, least of all about those with a habit of, eluding her.”

John shrugs. His eyes slip off Dream, but then they fall on the ghost of Emma and snap back to the Archetype instead. Dream is watching him with a critical intensity, his skin crawls as the Man in White considers him.

“Why are you trying to use my domain to get back to Hell, Constantine?”

Ooh, last names is it.

He thinks about lying, then thinks better of it.

“I’m looking for someone.” He knows his tone dares the Sandman to challenge him. This might be Dream’s domain, but it’s still John’s fucking skull.

“Don’t test me, Constantine. Not here.”

“You owe me,” John says. Because he knows it like breathing. He’s always known it, known that Dream owes the Constantine line. He’s never been sure why, he just feels it in his bones and his nightmares. A chip he’s never tried to call in, but always had in his pocket. He knows it like he knows magic. It’s just there, waiting. He knows it cost him Mouse, and he knows that’s bad even though he doesn’t know who that is or what it means.

“I suppose we do,” Dream says and waves a white gloved hand.

The world morphs around them, the old ghosts and older street fade into nothing, and a walled garden grows up in their place. John’s been here before, in his dreams. It’s one of them old country houses but it ain’t Bela’s or Annie’s. It’s full of overgrown roses, there’s bees, it smells like sun-warm brick and rosehip, and it feels a little like home.

“This don’t look like Hell, mate.”

“This is the Fawney Rig, it belonged to Lady Johanna Constantine. Your great-great-grandfather sold the Earthly one to pay off some gambling debts, I believe.” It is said without judgment or malice but it gets John’s back up anyway.

“Still ain’t Hell, squire.”

“No, it’s not. But it is still yours, Constantine. Your own little slice of the Dreaming. I don’t come here often, but when I do, I do not care what, or whom, I might find.”

John isn’t sure how to respond to that one. He understands all of its implications, it’s the sort of thing he’d been planning to do anyway. Find a nice little spot to stash the lad’s soul until the brother finds the right resurrection spell. But doing it with permission, he hadn’t even considered asking. There’s got to be a catch, some twist of the knife. He’s just gotta find the ticking clock.

“I thought you weren’t meant to get involved? In Heaven an’ Hell, and all that? Souls of the waking...”

“I’m not.”

Well, that’s communicative.

“Now,” Dream continues, as though John isn’t giving him a raised eyebrow of clear frustration. He smooths down an invisible crease in his flowing white coats. “I believe your old friend Matthew may have some unrelated matters to discuss. Good luck, Constantine.”

“Matthew?” John says. What old friend? He doesn’t know anyone in the dreaming called-

The raven flies down off the roof of the sprawling manor house. It lands on the head of a crumbling statue, a nymph of some description by the looks of it. When it speaks John knows who it is, and his blood runs cold for it.

“You sure about this, Daniel?”

“Yes,” Dream says, with finality.

“Cable!” John says. “You made Matthew Cable into a Raven of the Dreaming?”

“Sort of, my predecessor was very fond of him. And now, I should let you both catch up. I am sure you have unrelated matters to discuss.” There’s something more in that which John can’t quite put his finger on, but it’ll have to wait.

Dream smiles at them, benevolent as his reputation implies, and disappears in a puff of unnecessarily showy and very unnecessarily sparkly sand. John sneezes, and Matthew chuckles.

John glares at the large black bird.

“I saved Abigail,” Matthew says, getting right to the bone of contention. “And Alec forgave me, too. Why can’t you?”

John sniffs. “I can, I just don’t usually bother.”

Matthew chuckles again.

“You still perverted?” John asks.

“Are you?” the raven replies, a familiar shine in his eyes.

And that makes John crack a smile. He lights a fag to cover it.

“I am sane again, if that’s what you meant. And I am going to show you the backdoor to Hell, if you want.”

John exhales, long and slow. Imaginary smoke in an imaginary land.

Then, and only then, John says, “Yeah, a’right. What’ve I got to lose. Right, mate?”

With that the raven flies, out through the garden gate, and John follows him. And he keeps following him. If he doesn’t think about the fact that he’s walking on nothing and dreams, then it isn’t so bad.

He feels it when they reach the Nightmares. There is pain in the air, fear too, close to visceral as you can get in a place with no bodies. It shivers across John’s skin, gets under his coat and into the fine hairs on the back of his arms. Like dark magic and the bad kind of pain. It smells like cheap gin and roll your own fags, it sounds like his sister crying and speeding trains, it tastes like sulfur and burnt sugar blood. John shrugs it off, don’t think about it and it ain’t real. Simple. Simple. Simple.

“This is as far as I can go,” Matthew says with an unusual solemnity. He lands on a broken tombstone and John comes to a stop beside it. He looks down. ‘John Constantine, born 10 May 1970 - died TODAY. Bastard. Dangerous Occult Dabbler. Forgotten and Unloved.’ It’s even in some godawful B-movie font.

“Nice,” John comments.

The raven manages an impressively unruffled shrug of his wings.

John looks around, nothing but graveyard and graves. And dirt. Soft, damp, dirt.

“You have got to be taking the piss?”

“Nope,” Matthew laughs, rough and scratchy. A bird’s laugh not a man’s.

John makes a face.

“My friend Eve has a door through Purgatory, if you’d prefer it.”

John pauses, thinks about it. He's not sure he ever wants to see a Leviathan up close.

“Think I’ll take me luck with the muck, mate.”

“Suit yourself.”

John sighs, stubs his fag out on his own gravestone, and rolls up his sleeves. This far into the nightmares his will won’t be much use to summon up a spade, so he’s better of digging by hand and saving his energy. For an arguable amount of savings anyhow. No one ever said the road to Hell was dignified, or called Johnny Constantine dignified, for that matter.

“See you ‘round, John.”

“Yeah, and- thanks.” It’s grudging. He doesn’t want to say it, it isn’t good for his reputation. And and escort through the Dreaming is the least old Matthew Cable owes him and his, after everything the sod put Abby Arcane through, back when she was Abby Arcane-Cable and not Abby Arcane-Holland. But having this particular ball of feathers in his pocket could be of use in more ways than one. Dream’s ravens have a very unique skill set. And whats a few words for a crooked little liar like John Constantine.

“Anytime, Hellblazer, anytime. Say hello to the Swamp Thing for me.”

At least he doesn’t mention Tefe or Abby. Matthew flutters away, leaving John to dig his way through his grave and back to Hell. He better bloody hurry. Without the raven around his ghosts are already encroaching.

 

Chapter Text

The demon city of Dis hovers in Hell’s upper circles, surrounded by a moat of blood and fire. It is home to every demon strong enough to drag itself out of the torture pits, but lacking the bollocks to claim a slice of Hell for themselves. The whole place is made of hundreds of thousands of fractured memories of home, seen through centuries of torture and tinged by eons of hate and screaming fear. It’s sort of pretty, in an horrifically morbid sort of way. And it’s the last place in Hell or Earth that John Constantine ought to be, dead or alive. So of course that’s where he ends up, first off. Hell’s good like that.

John swallows down his apprehension and keeps his head down. Sticks to the outside walls, almost blends in. It shouldn’t take too long. If he plays it right. That’s a bloody big if, unfortunately. He just has to act like he belongs. Think it hard enough and the very dirt’ll believe him.

John is unlucky enough to have Hell’s own blood in his veins. Which should, under the right circumstances, get him anywhere he wants if he puts enough power behind it. You walk around this place with that much sulphur in you, act like you own it, and it’ll believe you as much as you do. Hell wants to be and do what you expect of it. It’s why Hell normally has three rulers. Not just because three demon lords can’t agree long enough to start a fire, let alone the apocalypse (though that one’s always been a bonus).

It’s all about stability. Or the lack thereof, to be precise. Hell is a responsive dimension. Meliable. Built from the pain and fear of its inhabitants, fueled by, as much as causing, their misery. The very fabric of Hell is nothing but suffering, fear, and expectation. A constant state of terror fueled flux. Purest pain magic there is. Nothing but will and wanting and soul power. It’s a heady mix, to the right kind of addict. And it needs the will of the Dukes to keep it solid. Tell it where and when and how, to bend the minds and wills of men and be bent by them. They’re one leader down right now, with Azazel dead and unreplaced. Should make this even easier than usual. It doesn’t.

It should be right simple so long as no one- bollocks.

“Well, well, well.” Crowley smirks as he forms himself out of the shadows. “Johnny Constantine, in the not-quite-flesh. How delightful. Haven’t seen you down here in awhile, matey. Not since the last time you died.”

John sighs. There’s a Hellhound behind him, he can feel it before he smells its putrid breath, feels the heat of it on his neck. He doesn’t quite shudder but he knows he’s not going anywhere. Not yet. He glares at Crowley instead.

“Have you got any idea what price that bad bleach job of yours could fetch me this week, if I put it on a spike, Johnny?”

“Less that it’d cost you to deliver it, Fergus.”

Crowley flinches, just a bit. John winks at him and lights a fag.

“Why the fuck are you here, Hellblazer?”

“Language,” John smirks past his cigarette. “What would your old mum say if she could hear you now.”

“Not a lot. Stop avoiding the question, mate. Juliette gets hungry when people piss about.”

“I’m still alive, Crowley. Not scared of your little puppy.” John really is a very good liar, it’s a talent.

Crowley looks even more considering than usual, and takes a step closer to John. Makes a show of leaning in and taking a wiff of his soul, even darts out his tongue, tastes the magic on the air around them.

“That might be even more stupid than dying.” Crowley whispers it, breath cool on John’s neck compared to the humidity of Hell.

John shrugs again. “I’m here to check up on someone. Nothing to get worked up about.”

Crowley laughs. John shouldn’t hang out with demons. They’re getting to know him - more than biblically, more's the pity.

“Well now, that’s a puzzle I’d like to solve.” Crowley’s as close as his Hellhound now. Both breathing down John’s neck. John doesn’t give ground though, no matter how much he might want to. It just encourages the wanker.

John brings the cigarette back to his lips, takes a long drag and lets the smoke curl out across Crowley’s borrowed face.

Here, in Hell, Crowley can’t hide the demon red that roils within him, can’t hide the flecks of gold neither. Stubby broken remnants of wings, superimposed and bleeding over the human body he’s keeping alive down here by sheer force of will. It’s not a pretty picture, even if his corpse does look a lot like one of them New Romantic lads John had a bone fide crush on, back in the day. Might even be the same bloke, who knows.

“I know it can’t be your demonic other half,” Crowley sneers, but he’s watching John for any sign of a reaction. Testing the water as he speaks, give to get; clever sod. “Unlike you, Daddy, he’s been smart enough to stay out of sight ever since Azazel bit the big one, probably topside. Heard he was bonking Blyth, you know that?”

John didn’t. But he doesn’t let it show, just raises a bored eyebrow.

“You’ve got to know that Nergal’s in chains almost as deep as The Bright Lord himself, otherwise you wouldn’t be here at all. And I doubt you’re looking for Rosacarnis after what she did to you last time… so it’s a human, right?”

John doesn’t flinch. He refuses to fucking flinch. But his eyes do narrow.

“But which bloody one, huh Johnny? Someone, righteous, maybe?”

John doesn’t answer, but that’s an answer too, innit?

“You got the inside on something us ground troops don’t got a line on, Constantine? Is that it?”

John’s shrug is noncommittal incarnate, still gets the point across. Not technically a lie.

“Hmph.” Crowley’s eyes narrow in suspicious consideration. “You feel like helping me walk my mutt, Hellblazer? Get some Hell fresh air in your lungs? It’s almost as good for you as that cyanide stick.”

“Don’t got nothing better to do,” John admits, with half a smirk that rivals the demon’s own. “Do I?”

It’s a dangerous game, any game with Crowley is, but John’s done worse for less. At least being with a powerful demon lord will stop any smaller sods from sniffing about. Sometimes the ones that don’t know to be terrified of him are the most dangerous, after all.

Crowley leads him through the dark alleyways and out of Dis, through a secret door that he may or may not have simply created for that purpose.

They go slow at first.

At one point, once they’re outside the city and deep on the back roads, they pass the molten wreckage of what used to be a 1926 Bentley, and John’s a nice enough bloke not to ask about it. This is Crowley’s personal silk road and the fact he’s taking John here without a sealed deal is more telling than anything else.

It’s a long walk. Deep into the bowels of Hell. Twisted roads, walls of broken dreams, and screaming souls crunching under foot. It’s easier if you just don’t think about it, really.

There’s something up, in Hell, though. John can smell the fear and cold ozone on the air when they hit the torture floors of the Pit. Lots of the usual too, of course, viscera, and sulphur, and burning bones. Lava and rivers of blood. Bodies on spikes, torn flesh and twisted screaming. Tacky, mostly.

But there’s something else in the air too. Something colder and older than it should be. Ice forming on the walls in Hell. Not a good sign. It means someone’s moving. The only thing that can freeze Hell over is the angel at its very own core. If he’s cold enough, and angry enough. Angry archangels ain’t good for anybody’s business, not even torturers and demons. Maybe least of all. The demons can smell it too. They’re twitchy, watchful, anxious. Not good. Not good at all.

They pass the main pits quickly, though. As if Crowley knows they’ve got to be going deeper for whoever it is John’s looking for. Really fucking deep. He’s right of course. It was always going to be harder than it seemed.

The hellhound pads along at Crowley’s side, and John is amused to note when the demon absently rests his hand on the hound’s burning fur. It is so at odds with his couldn’t-give-a-shit demonic persona that John wonders if he even realises how often he does it. It seems at times like the hound leads them, John doesn’t know just how careful Crowley is being, but this is most certainly the back way behind the back way, to where they’re going. The hounds are made of Hell, they know it in ways that even demons don’t and he’s using that to their advantage. Demons are made down here, sure, but hellhounds are made out of the very fermement. Made out of fear and pain, soulfire and imaginary blood. Crowley doesn’t just breed them, he cultivates them.

At some point they end up deep enough that the bones under their feet aren’t fully human anymore. Blood so old it’s turned to crystal. Crowley’s cuban heels click, click, clicking all the way.

John just hopes it isn’t too close to that damn Cage. Lucifer always implied he needed the skin, the body, but what if that wasn’t all there is to it. What if the soul will do. John tries not to shiver.

They stop short at last, on a bone outcropping, almost a lookout post. Overlooking one of the oldest pits. John’s almost afraid to stop.

A vast cavern, walled with screaming souls and viewing windows. Ringed in dark galleries. Central and centrifugal. Almost empty, though.

Because it’s special, John realises. It’s designed to be observed, while many of the newer torture chambers are like factories for pain. There’s something... sacred about this one dark and bloody place. It’s old, for a start. Very, very old. This one has been waiting a long, long time. Specially designed, almost Grecian. Like the place they kept Loki or Sisyphus. This is the kind of place they turned the old gods into Dukes of Hell. Like the place they held Nergal, back when he was a god, not a demon. John knows this kind of place. Knows it in his blood. This is the kind of pit that becomes a palace when they’re done with it. This isn’t torture, it’s sacrifice, it’s creation. Or as close as Hell comes to creating anything. This is so much worse than he thought.

There’s a single figure suspended above the hellfire flames that lick the walls of the place. Chains, and hooks and the memory of flesh. Demons surging and writhing far, far below in their smoky forms.

John knows what he’s going to see, but he still flinches the first time he hears him. And it’s too late, he knows Crowley saw his reaction. Too late to hide it.

Dean Winchester.

Screaming, voice hoarse but recognisable. Screaming for his brother. Sam. Only word he’s got left. Voice, and mind, and soul all torn and shattered across Hell’s hardest edges. He’s not even really screaming for help anymore. John can hear the loss and hopelessness in it, fractured and disorientated and primal. It’s just desperation now pure and simple, like he doesn’t remember any other words. He doesn’t think anyone’s coming, but he can’t stop screaming for help anyway. John leans on the rail, pretence of getting a better look, but really he just needs to catch himself on the confirmation. Hold out against the truth of it all. Just a few more breaths of false hope. You’d think he’d get used to this, but he never bloody does. Until he heard the voice he wasn’t sure, wasn’t sure this was where he was being led, didn’t want to be sure.

“That’s him,” John confirms, once he can.

“I know, King of the Crossroads remember? Some kid who’s the direct descendent of Cain, Christ, and John the Baptist, decides to sell his righteous little soul? Well I take some sodding notice, don’t I? You, of all people, come looking same month? Well, I’m not a bloody idiot, now am I?”

“Christ?” John asks, ignores the rant before is starts. He looks at Crowley when he asks it, more as an excuse to look away from the chasam and the man strung across it, than any real need for confirmation in the demon’s eyes. The other two ancestors John already knew, the whole vessel thing is hereditary after all and Lucifer chooses to look like Sam Winchester too often for a coincidence... but Christ? As in Jesus sodding Christ?

“Other side of the family, I suppose?” Crowley says, leering like a knowing little git. He steps up closer, right into what would be John’s personal space, if this wasn’t Hell where the concept has no meaning and no right to any. “You know you owe me now, right darling?”

“No.” John shakes his head. “You’ve gotta get me closer. Close enough to touch, and I’ve got to get back out too, and then we’ve got a deal.”

Crowley scoffs, but he’s thinking about it. John can tell. Can see it ticking over in the back of the demon’s mind.

“That’s a bloody suicide run, mate. Even for me. You know how close we are to the Cage from here?”

“Yeah,” John says with ice cold certainty. He can almost feel Lucifer whispering in his blood, in his ear, in his fucking bones. Shivering cold and close, and calling to him. Closer, Johnny, just a little closer...

Crowley takes a deep breath and turns away. He’s been topside too often and too long if breathing is that ingrained. John files that away, just in case. The demon pets the hound again, thoughtless gesture. Nervous. Genuinely nervous. If John thought demons ever sought comfort, he’d blame it on that.

“You know who that is?” Crowley asks, points out a demon stalking the edges of the lowest gallery, at eye level with Winchester’s strung up soul. Watching with an intensity that would make John’s skin crawl - if he had his real skin on, that is. The demon in question is bigger than human. All powerful muscle and heavy bone, blood red flesh, no skin at all, skull face and long, sharp, Ibix style horns. And it has the Mark of Cain dug soul-scar deep into it’s back. Old and nasty and strong.

“No,” John admits. He’s never seen that Mark on an almost living thing before. He thought all the Knights were dead, but there were other ways to get the Mark of Cain carved into you. Once. A very long time ago. If you knew the wrong kind of demons. Suffered at their hands long enough, it’d leave a trace. That trace.

“That’s Alastair, mate. And he’s taking this one personally. You know what that means, Constantine.” It’s a statement, not a question.

John licks his lips, then lights a new cigarette to hide it. He thinks about it. The Grand Torturer, that’s what lesser demons call Alastair. They’re too scared to speak his name, and he suspects even Crowley’s only doing it for show. Can’t quite bring himself to cower, not in front of something as lowly as John. But John can hear that old edge of trepidation in an old demon’s voice, too.

Part of Crowley is older than sin, literally, but part of him is a kid in demonic terms. He’s an amalgam, made of bits of one and parts of the other, like Dream. But what that means now is he’s got stuff at risk in this. Not as much as some bloody twit of a living exorcist, but still. When the Dukes of Hell fight, it’s never pretty, and the eldest of ‘em almost always wins while covered in blood. Crowley’s still got to be careful down here. Pick his battles. He’s strong but maybe not strong enough for what John needs.

“It’d better be be a big bloody favour,” Crowley says, like he knows where John’s thoughts have strayed. John hears what could be called fear, just at the edge of that borderline posh, demon smoke voice. Owing a demon isn’t a good idea. But a favour is a lot cheaper than his immortal soul. Maybe...

John glances down and the figure writhing and hacked to bits on literal tenterhooks. Skin flayed and mind in worse condition. Watches as a rivulet of blood courses across Dean’s tattered skin and drops into the abyss below. The hooks dig in deeper, drag at skin and flesh and bone. Winchester screams, ragged, and wordless this time. John snaps his eyes back to Crowley.

“A’right,” John agrees, quick before he can lose the nerve. “One favour, once, that does no harm to me or mine. That’s it.”

“Deal,” Crowley smirks. And that’s enough, here, in this place. That would bind it. But Crowley kisses him anyway. It tastes like sulphur and ice, like lemon and sin, and ash and blood. It tastes just like a goddamn mistake. It always does.

Crowley doesn’t step back, not an inch, and John doesn’t push him off.

“Close enough to touch,” John reminds him.

Crowley smirks and for half a bloody second John thinks they’re actually going to get away with this. Thinks the deal is gonna pull through, and maybe it’s even going to be worth it. He’s wrong. Of bloody course he is.

Crowley does get him close, though.

First, Crowley whispers something to the hellhound who runs off, eager to obey. Whatever the unknown task is it does the trick, and right quick too. An imp scampers in moments later and Alastair gets some kind of message. The torturer abandons his ‘work’ with Dean to follow the imp, even if he doesn’t look happy about it. And that can’t be a coincidence. Crowley looks way too pleased with himself, for a start. John thinks that’s too easy. It turns out it is too easy, but he doesn’t know that yet, just suspects it because his luck’s always been rotten no matter what Lucifer and Fate may say on the matter.

Crowley smirks at John like a smug prick, then beckons and leads him down yet another dark and blood dirty back road. Strange, semi-organic tunnels and the stench of sulphur clawing at him as they traipse their way down further. There’s worse parts of Hell, then John hears Winchester scream again, and decides maybe there aren’t.

They walk out of the tunnels onto the same gallery walkway that Alastair had been stalking across just before. It has an extended gangway bridge out to the point where Winchester is strung up across the pit. It’s invisible, or maybe nonexistent, until Crowley touches it. This close John can smell the blood, and viscera, and other unseemly things. He wonders for a broken moment if Winchester hates being filthy as much as he hates the pain, always such a fastidious chap, even if he’d never admit it. John ignores the twisting in his gut and braces himself, if he can just get a hand on the lad’s soul…

Dean opens his eyes when John approaches.

“No,” Dean says, half shakes his head. Like denying it will make it untrue.

It’s a single word, a cracked and broken whisper. And it makes John’s imaginary heart stop.

“It’s me,” John says. “It’s really me, luv.”

Dean winces, and shakes his head again. “Don’t, please.”

He twists his head, breaks eyes contact with John and winces as he does so. One blood stained tear crawling down his cheek and catching to sting in a long laceration down his throat.

Dean must know that’s only showing weakness. He must know begging ‘em not to just makes ‘em do it more.  And John’s not sure if that means Winchester wants his demons to look like John Constantine, or he’s just so far gone, so broken, that he doesn’t care any more. John’s not sure which one of those options scares him more. It’s enough to stop him dead in his tracks. Enough to stop him for the space of a breath. It’s enough to fuck it all up worse than it was.

“Dean,” John starts to speak without thinking. It’s the wrong thing to say. Bloody stupid move. Because he never calls Dean, Dean - not outside his own head anyroad and even then only at the best or worst moments. If he wanted the lad to know it was him and not some demon wearing his face or his skin, he should have been thinking. Trying harder to play act as himself.

John is just about to reach out when the whole gangway shudders and he almost loses his footing.

“Oh bollocks,” Crowley mutters from behind them.

John spins just in time to see the demon taking a few hurried a steps back. Putting sudden distance between himself and the reunion on the bridge.

He’s confused for a moment, still caught on the broken soul before him. Then he sees what it was that got Crowley’s attention.

Oh bollocks is right.

Lilith rises from the screaming mass of demonic energy below.

A vast white cloud of painful power. She whirls and twists and spills up and over the gangway. She floods herself into one location, contorting into a more physical form. At first she’s a vast white worm of a thing, with a huge gaping maw, full of row after row of vicious, shark-like teeth. She roars, and the souls and demons all shiver alike at the sound. John takes the whole quarter step back. Any further and he’s in the abyss.

“Um, right,” Crowley starts babbling. “I was just about to, um, bring you a present, love. John Constantine, he’s been causing no end of trouble in soul revenue in Europe, quite the prize.” Crowley’s still backing up as he speaks, like he doesn’t want to be anywhere near the thing he serves. Like he thinks he can get away, if she doesn’t want him to. John doubts even Crowley has that much sway. Not this deep. Not with the First Demon swarming and swirling before them.

Lilith shimmers, her edges blur, she must drag some image out of one of their brains. She shifts once more and settles into the form of a young woman. Too young to be anything but uncomfortable when she insinuates herself right up next to him and places an almost tender hand on John’s cheek.

John isn’t even a little bit surprised that Crowley started fumbling to sell him out as quickly and directly as possible. Demons are, as demons do. He is surprised when Crowley makes an almost apologetic face over Lilith’s shoulder though. That demon is going to catch a bad case of humanity if he isn’t careful.

“I know who he is,” Lilith says, almost ignoring her minion in favor of touching John some more. Her tone drips too much honey for something that evil. John tries not to wince too obviously. It’d just encourage her.

Her eyes are white and her movements are still more worm than woman.

“I was just about to-” Crowley starts to defend himself.

“Go away, Crawly,” Lilith snaps.

“Yes... ma’am.” The tension in Crowley’s spine suggests that one day Lilith might pay for that particular tone. John also suspects Lilith doesn’t realise it. Which is a chip he can play if she just-

She waves her hand and Crowley disappears in a puff of confused smoke. Maybe not.

“My brother Nergal likes you,” she tells John while looking him over like he’s food. “He thinks you’ll make a pretty little King. What do you think, Constantine?”

This is why John hates Hell. Too many folks down here who know him too bloody well. And isn’t that telling.

“Dunno, luv. Not really my kind of gig.” He tries for a shrug.

Her nails dig into his flesh and he just knows that somewhere back in London his real face is bleeding too. She’s just that kind of powerful.

“I don’t think you get to choose,” she says primly. “None of us get to choose, Johnny.” Her talons dig in deeper as she speaks. Cut to the bone, if there was such a thing here.

John’s mind races ahead. Counting options, moves, ways out, and spells that could actually work down here. He’s done the math. This deep Winchester has been here years, not months. He doesn’t have much time left. None of them do.

When Lilith leans up to lick the blood off his face John doesn’t think. His stupid soul just does the only thing it knows how to do, this close to the Cage. He reaches for the Devil. He reaches out with his mind and his will and he screams for Lucifer, focuses on the taste of Grace and… stops himself.

“I’ll swap,” John hears himself say. Thinks he surprises himself as much as Lilith in that moment.

“What?” She pulls back to look him in the eyes.

“Said I’ll swap. Lucifer can have me instead. That’s what this is about, right? The big one?” John shrugs. “May as well be riding with the winning side, right luv?”

She doesn’t know if she can trust him. Doesn’t know what to do with the offer. But he can see her weighing the option anyway. Considering it. She’s wanted him strung out on spikes for too long not to. He even thinks she’s about to do it, when she leans back in and he braces himself for the taste of carrion on her breath-

“I don’t think so,” her voice ghosts cold over his face. “I’ve already got you both right here, why would I trade, when all I need to do is hold on. I’m starting the apocalypse John, this is about a lot more than our petty little grudge match. Don’t you think?”

“Fair cop,” John says, with a barely surpressed smirk. “But I’d like to counter with this-” John snakes his arms sudden around her still human form, tugs her close and spins all their weight before she can react. He tips them both into the abyss below.

Lilith screams and lets go of him. Doesn’t want to risk getting so close to what lies below. She has to pull back and turn to smoke to save herself. Screeching her frustration after him as he spins and falls towards the Cage.

Now what, Constantine? You stupid sod.

He tries to turn his fall into a controlled dive, can't keep falling where he's falling. He struggles as demon after demon touches and recoils from him as he passes. He’s already bleeding. He just has to focus. Blood calls to blood. Even here. If he uses up every last trace of magic in him. He might just-

He lands on a manicured black grass lawn with a bone aching thump. He’s blinking, bleeding, and disoriented. But he’s here. Nergal’s palace. Nowhere near the Cage. Burning red spires tower above him and thrust up into a crackling ever-night sky. Other end of Hell. Not the first place Lilith’ll look for him, but not the last neither.

Now what?

“Constantine!” Lilith’s screeching voice echoes through Hell. Closer than he’d like and alerting every damn demon in the place that he’s about.

Oh fuck it.

John Constantine gives up, in the heart of Hell, gets to his knees and prays.

“Now you listen up Anael, you owe me mate. After that nonsense with Elle, I could still tell her you lived through it, yeah? So you get you wings on and you get down here and save-”

“That.” Lilith says with bone breaking finality. “Wasn’t. Very. Nice.”

Fine, so this was the first place she’d look. Nevermind that then.

Lilith’s too angry to hold a form now. She doesn’t want to fuck with him anymore, just fuck him up. And fifty sets of teeth’ll do that just as well as a sad little girl’s face will. John doesn’t even get up off his knees. He just glares up at the shifting, mind bending form of the Demon Queen.

“No one ever called either of us nice, luv.”

Better to go out snarky than sobbing, yeah.

“That’s enough,” a new and seductively familiar voice speaks from the lightless shadows.

If John had blood down here it’d freeze at the sound of that voice. Lilith recognises it too and snarls at the shadows, but she stops trying to bite John in half too. So that’s nice.

To John’s ears it’s an indisputably but indefinably English voice. She sounds well travelled, aristocratic but not too posh, with a trace of New York and the American midwest over English vowels. No discernible dialect but that ever present taste of home. Well, that’s Her all over innit, the journey’s end and the final hearth. ‘Course she sounds like home no matter where that is, and of course John’s isn’t one place, isn’t placable. So this is it then. Eaten by the First Hellspawn on Nergal’s front lawn. Can’t say he ever does things by halves now can you.

“You should be on our side,” Lilith snaps, once her outrage wears off enough to let her.

Death shrugs as she steps into view. She’s got a can of cola and a bendy straw.

“You know the rules, Lilith,” Death says with her usual irreverent solemnity.

Lilith does not look impressed by the rules.

“And so do you, John.” Death looks John dead in the eye when she speaks. John grimaces in acknowledgment. Knows ‘em. Don’t mean he has to follow ‘em.

“Fancy giving me a ride back then, luv? Wasn’t looking forward to diggin me way out.”

Death sighs at him, reminds him of a very gothic babysitter. Which isn’t a good thing to think. At least if she can read his mind, she’s polite enough not to mention it. He’s still surprised when he realises that’s actually what she’s turned up to do, though. Sometimes he forgets half her Reapers were angels once. That’s the problem with praying, you never know who might be listening in.

Lilith backs off as Death gets closer.

“See you soon, sweetheart,” Lilith says to Death, in an oddly superior tone. John thinks it’s for him at first, but it’s definitely directed at Death, and isn’t that odd. Not like that’s a normal kind of threat to make to the Endless End herself. Trust Lilith to think she could threaten Death.

Death acknowledges it with no more than a nod and holds her hand out to John. She pulls him to his feet, swift and sure. His skin sparks with the contact, cold and achy with repressed power.

Lilith winks away unhappily, to fuck knows where. Leaving John alone with Death herself. Still sipping on that damn cola. It’s one of those South Asian ones with the palm sugar. Odd, the things you notice.

“Don’t suppose you want to stop by and pick up a lost soul on the way do you pet?”

“John,” Death’s tone is a warning and a promise.

“Can’t blame a bloke for trying,” He smirks at her, still recoils, just a touch, when she brings out the wings. Ten sets, more’n an archangel and silver white, almost pink under Helllight.

“Wake up, John,” Death says, and she kisses the top of his head. Cool lips on Hell-burnt skin. “This is the last time I let you do this, John Constantine. Next time you end up down here, you’re on your own. Don’t forget that…”

The words blur and so does the world. John snaps awake, swearing.


 

John glances over to the chair that should house the younger Winchester. It doesn’t.

The candle flames are still, with no time to shift them.

“Good morning, Constantine,” a dark skinned angel says, from the chair that used to hold Sam Winchester, and probably will again on the other side of this frozen second. “I’m afraid Anael is indisposed, I thought maybe we could talk instead? Maybe, even make a deal?”

“Ain’t that normally demon territory, mate?”

The angel smiles beatifically. “Not today.”

“Yeah? I’ll be the judge of that one. What’s your name, then?”

“You can call me Manny, and don’t worry Constantine, I am an angel of the Lord. I couldn’t lie to you if I wanted to.” Manny looks at John with angelic dispassion. “Now, I hear you want to get someone out of Hell?”

John’s out of options, and Manny smiles like a shark.

 

Chapter Text

Sam’s grip tightens on the sides of Constantine’s broken down armchair. Every instinct tells him to get up and fight, or run, or something, when the unconscious mage in the middle of the room starts freaking bleeding. Sam does fight, but it’s himself he’s fighting. He fights the urge and stays put. This could get him Dean, or closer to Dean, and that’s worth anything. Anything at all. The hope is worth a few blood stains on his hands or his soul. It doesn’t matter. Nothing else matters.

So far, there’s been freakishly glowing skin, now there’s bleeding scratches appearing on Constantine’s face. This must be part of it. Must be meant to happen. This has got to work. Sam is out of options. This has got to work.

Then, between one blink and the next Constantine is awake. But not only is he awake, he’s standing, and Sam could swear he’s moved more than a few steps. He’s leaning against the mantel piece, not even inside the circle. How did that happen?

“Wha-” Sam starts to speak, and Constantine turns to face him. He looks shaken and pale, but the bloody scratches from a few minutes ago are gone.

“It didn’t work.” He gets the words out fast. Doesn’t like admitting defeat. So like Dean that Sam wants to hug him, or maybe hit him.

Sam stares at him. Still thrown, still confused and uncertain about what just happened then stopped dead by the words themselves.

“What do you mean, it didn’t work?” Sam asks the most important question. Reality and his own sanity failing aren’t as important as Dean.

“Just what it sounds like,” Constantine says, it would be snarky if it wasn’t so shaken. “There might be another way. But… don’t hold your breath, mate. You want a drink?”

John doesn’t wait for Sam to respond. He just stalks back over to the little kitchen area and pours two generous mugs full of brandy. He drinks half of his own and tops it back up before he hands the other to Sam.

“I’m sorry,” Constantine says as he hands Sam his drink and then Dean’s necklace. If Sam didn’t know better, he’d think the old exorcist meant it.


 

Sam heads back to the States unsure if his trip has actually accomplished anything. A few days in the semi-company of John Constantine has been enough to throw a number of his assumptions out the window. But ultimately he is no closer to saving Dean than he was when he left. Not really. Constantine had given him some leads, but then he said he had a job in France and was gone from Sam’s life as quickly and enigmatically as he had entered it.

Now Sam is back on the hunt and back on his own. Well, mostly on his own.

Ruby had been calling for weeks and he had been putting it off. He had been checking his messages while he was in the UK but he hadn’t answered any. He hadn’t even let Ruby know where he was. He’s been tattooed against possession since Meg, but since Dean’s death he’s gone further. He’s been busy. Reading half of Bobby Singer’s library had given him more than enough false leads on getting Dean out. It has also given him anti-tracking protection. It’s not nice magic, but it does the trick.

He relents within a day of landing in Boston. He’s barely out of Logan Airport before he’s finally calling Ruby back. It’s a bad idea. He knows it’s a bad idea. He knows how Dean felt about working with demons. But all his human leads are gone. Dean is gone. Ultimately, that’s all that matters. So Sam calls Ruby and tells her to meet him at a rundown little motel just outside of Boston. He gets the Impala out of long term parking and drives all the way there with an itch under his skin that he can’t quite explain.

He gets like this sometimes. More so without Dean. It hadn’t happened at all in London, which had been a relief. Now, the moment he’s back in the good old U.S of A his skin feels like it wasn’t to rip itself off him and all he can think about is Ruby. That’s not good. Sam’s a smart guy. He knows needing a demon is a bad thing, no matter how hard that demon is trying to help him.

Ruby says she’s got a line on Lilith’s location. That’s his excuse for seeing her. For letting her back in. They both know he’s lying. They both let it slide.

When she offers him her blood, he barely even flinches. He tells himself it’s for Dean. If even the Hellblazer couldn’t get Dean out, then human isn't going to cut it. Sam’s just gotta become something worse. Simple. Nothing else matters.


 

Three and a half months later Dean gets a face full of holy water in a blood stained New York art gallery. It isn’t the nicest welcome and it’s getting gratingly familiar since he got back from Hell. Dean splutters and shakes off the last few droplets with a disgruntled sigh.

“Still human,” he snaps, but keeps his hands in the air. The gun that Chas Chandler has trained on him probably has some kind of demon warding in the bullets but it’d still kill Dean just as dead even if he is human. Hell, even salt shots hit hard enough to leave you bruised and the wrong kind of aching for days.

Constantine’s stance hasn’t relaxed an inch. He’s coiled like a spring, and it’s then that Dean realises he must know. Something ice cold settles in Dean's gut. Constantine must have heard about Dean’s deal and the shit show that followed. He still thinks Dean’s dead. Fucking hunters and their fucking gossip.

“Rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated,” Dean quips, with half a cheeky smile. Maybe that'll melt the ice.

“Oh yeah?” Constantine says, not convinced and still glaring. Shit. No wonder even demons are scared of him.

“Well, maybe not,” Dean admits, tone and shrug more sheepish than he’d like. “But I’m back, that’s what matters, right?” He doesn't mean for that to sound as pathetic as it does either.

“How?” Sharp. To the point.

“Angel,” Dean says. He’s not sure why but it feels like a confession of guilt.

“Bollocks.” It isn’t a denial. Constantine doesn't even seem shocked, just pissed off. Even Chandler just sighs like the put upon sidekick he kind of is, and lowers the gun a bit. Great. Seems Dean was the only one who didn’t think that was possible. Still behind the curve even after all these years.

All of a sudden the Hellblazer takes three quick steps forward and he’s right there. Right in Dean’s face. Dean can’t breathe. For one fucked up second he thinks the guy is going to kiss him. Some dramatic gesture. But he doesn’t. He’s just glaring. Puts a hand on Dean’s cheek but there’s nothing tender in it. His hands are rough and scarred, but soft in places Dean’s aren’t. Achingly familiar but still too clinical as he tugs at Dean’s cheek. He’s looking at Dean’s eyes. Looking for something. Traces of black? Or something else? Dean passed the holy water test, what else could he be worried about? Plenty of things, really. That’s what their lives are like. It’s just what Dean would do himself, he’s not sure why it twinges.

Dean finally remembers to breathe. Constantine smells just the same. Hotel soap and cigarettes. Dirty canvas and cloves and something else. Last night’s booze, gin maybe, and this morning’s fried toast. Herbal toothpaste and a tiny taste of ozone. Dean wishes he was back to not breathing. Because after forty years in Hell ist shouldn’t come back so quick. It shouldn’t throw him like this. But in two breaths he’s back, he’s 20 and he’s lost. Brown eyes and blond hair and magic. Dean tries to swallow, almost steps away and Constantine notices it. Notices the way Dean’s eyes are on his lips not his face. Goddamn son of a bitch.

Constantine smirks then, first real expression since Dean walked in to find them already on the scene. With Constantine posing as Interpol or all screwed up things. Dean has to push down every accidental James Bond fantasy, he’s still not sure that Constantine can’t read minds, no matter what he says. And Sam didn’t bury him with the charm he used to wear, never knew it meant anything. Dean doesn’t realise that he’s touched his own bare wrist until John looks down at it too.

“Think I’m a mind reader, do you Winchester?” Is what Constantine finally says. Still doesn’t move back but his voice is softer. Almost imperceptible. Then, softer still, “You lost it, huh?”

Dean nods. There’s that damn thing again, reading him like a picture book. Constantine means the charm against psychics that’s sat on Dean’s wrist for years. He knew exactly what Dean was looking for. Maybe it never would have worked against the Hellblazer anyway, seeing as he made it. Dean misses it, all of a sudden, never knew it helped him feel safe until it’s gone. Dean tries for another deep breath, gets a lungful of smoke and herbs and skin. Wishes he hadn’t because Constantine is still there, still right fucking there and looking him in the eye. Looking at him like nothing’s changed. Looking at him like Dean’s maybe still a person. If there’s one other person who knows what Hell is really like, it’s John Constantine. And yet there he is, looking and not stepping back.

“Welcomes back?” Constantine says, like a question. Or an offer.

“Thanks,” Dean says and swallows, hard.

Dean wrenches his wrist out of Constantine’s grip. He hadn’t even realised it was there until it’s not. Constantine’s eyes narrow, he’s still looking but his expression’s gone shrewd and calculating. Now Dean’s not sure which was worse. Dean gets that nasty itching feeling under his skin. Before Hell he used to think it felt like having his skin peeled off his bones when Constantine looks at him like this. He was wrong. Being flayed alive is worse. This is almost comforting in comparison. Dean is pretty sure that John is going to push it, try touch him again, and he’s not sure but Dean thinks he might just let him. He’s not sure how far he can, not after… everything. But when Constantine gets that spark in his eye Dean kind of wants to try get burned again. Maybe a little push and shove is just what he needs to wake him back up. It’s Dean who moves closer this time.

Chas clears his throat and breaks the spell.

“I’ll just-” Chas starts to say.

But whatever it  was that he was ‘just’ gets lost in the sound of the door banging open and Sam stumbling to a stop just inside.

Dean steps back faster than he knew he could.

“The DA said Interpol was here…” Sam trails off looking Constantine up and down with well warranted suspicion.

Constantine looks back, not suspicious exactly but wary. Probably more wary of Dean than Sam, though. He knows who Sam is. Even what Sam looks like. Back then, back before, Dean had shown him pictures of his great big baby brother with such pride. Back when Sammy was still Sammy, still at Stanford. Still with Jess. Still safe. Safe from Dean and demons and hellfire.

Sam’s got his weight forward now, ready for action. He's still weighing up the strangers, calculating the danger of where and who to strike first. Dean can almost hear Dad in the back of both their brains. Sam’s eyes flit to Chas and the gun then back to John. Like he knows. Maybe it’s his freaky psychic shit, like to like or something. Maybe it’s just instinct. Sammy’s always had good instincts, and the Hellblazer is pure danger, even Dean knows it. Dean can see Sam notice the freaking trenchcoat, can almost see him thinking of that weird ass angel too.

Dean winces and scratches at the back of his neck. Lets Sam see him relax. Friend, not foe. Mostly.

“Dean, what’s going on?” Sam says, his voice holds a test or a challenge. Dean can’t read it though, not right now. Which bothers him more than the tone itself.

Constantine smirks like the son of a bitch he is.

“John Constantine,” Dean says, grudging but clear enough to hear. “And that’s Chas. This is my brother, Sam.” Like it needed the qualifier. As if there’s ever been any other Sam that matters. As if there’s ever been anything else that matters.

The smirk becomes a grin and Constantine walks over to Sam this time. Not as close, thank Christ, but still close enough to kill. Close enough for a pastiche of trust. He offers Sam his hand. They shake, vigorous and just this side of a fight. Dean feels himself really relax this time. He can finally breathe now, think a little clearer. He ignores the awkward prom date kind of uncertainty in the air. This isn't about that

“Nice to meet you, old son. Of course, this is just the sort of spot you’d come to find a Winchester, innit?” Constantine shrugs towards the blood splattered walls and the broken glass that litters the once pristine art gallery. Or maybe it’s the half burned American flag on the wall. What was it he’d said, he always did have a thing for iconography.

Then the miracle happens. Sam laughs, open and raw like someone lifted something off him just for a minute. It’s the best minute Dean’s had in days and he’s ready to forgive the Hellblazer for existing just for that.

“Yeah,” Sam agrees. “Blood and ectoplasm, that’s us.”

“And keeping some seals held tight, so I gather?” That’s got to be a guess because he’d been sure as fuck surprised to see Dean up and walking. Then again, if they brought Dean back from Hell for the show fight, maybe they roped in other hunters too. Maybe even the Hellblazer.

“That too,” Sam acknowledges. It’s Sam’s turn to wince now.

Constantine just nods.

Sam’s frowning again, lost the smile before it’s even finished. Dean wants to claw something up until it doesn’t hurt anymore. The Hellblazer shoots him a sharp look, and if he didn’t want Dean thinking he’s a goddamn mind reader he should stop that crap right the fuck now.

“Well,” Constantine says, turning back to Sam. “We know what this is, so who’s for a drink?”

“We do?” Dean and Chas speak at the same time. Sam blinks at them both, and Constantine smiles like a demon on a crossroad.

“Fine, I know what it is and I’m right parched.” Constantine lights a cigarette and throws Dean a wink. “Where’s the nearest pub? Buy us a drink and I’ll tell you how to kill it, sound good?”

At least Dean’s finally starting to feel certain this isn’t some twisted Hell game. Even Alastair was never this inventive.

 

Chapter Text

John takes a long deep drag on the freshly lit cigarette. He focuses on the slight burn of the smoke as it fills his lungs. The first flush of nicotine sinks into his system and contrasts with the post-coital lassitude in his limbs. He doesn’t get a headrush anymore but the tension of the addiction eases inside him – that’s what he likes about it. That it is a pressure he can sooth, unlike all the rest of them.

He watches a spider spin slowly from the tacky faux chandelier above him, listens to Dean’s breathing slowing into its normal rhythm and waits. Waits for the peace to break. He closes his eyes on the exhale and leans his back into the velveteen scratch of the hotel headboard on his bare skin.

With his eyes closed he hears it even clearer. The sharp inhale of breath as Winchester gets ready to speak. He feels the edge of his lip curl into a wry smile before the kid even gets the words out. Three. Two…

“Fuck,” Dean says. His voice is sex burnt but John can hear Hell in it too, now. That shouldn’t cut the way it does, but there it is. Something else John should have tried to stop but didn’t. Not that he got much of a chance, mind. Didn’t even know about it until after the fact and Hell holds her prizes damn tight. Literally in some cases.

“Just did, luv,” John says. Because he still knows his lines. It’d been good too – rampant and distracted and ragged at the edges good.

Dean laughs. There’s Hell in that too. And bloody Alistair if John’s not mistaken. Still soft and human with nostalgia, self-mockery and a twist of self-hatred, though. Nothing new in those. Even Hell doesn’t change a man that much. It makes something twist in John’s gut but the edge of his lip gets caught in a smile. Even the familiarity of Dean’s getting back in the closet banter doesn’t ease it this time. He wonders just which self-recrimination Dean will go with this time. Or maybe it’ll be John’s fault, not like a bloke can help being irresistible to the rough and broken few but he's sure Dean can find a way to blame him.

“I thought it was you,” Dean says, with an unusually confessional wistfulness. It’s far enough off script that John opens his eyes. Winchester has his eyes on the roof too now. John wonders if he’s watching the spider or if the light’s too dim for purely human eyes. Hard to tell sometimes.

“Really? Here I was thinking you were talking about some other bloody Hellblazer.” John really does smirk at that.

Dean blushes at the reminder of just how into that dreadful bloody moniker he gets in the heat of the moment. The blush looks good. It’s subtle, hidden by the fact that his skin is still flushed from exertion, but John knows to look for it and can see it creeping up his neck and the sides of his face. Makes him look much younger than his 30 years on Earth should, not to mention however many in Hell. John’s a tiny bit envious of that. The fact the lad can still look like a lad after all he’s been through. John’s also relieved in a strange and cold kind of way that he thinks they will both be happier for him to ignore.

“I didn’t mean…” Dean trails off, still not looking at John. He waves a hand as if dismissing the whole ‘fucking’ thing. Apparently ten years of this and a tour of Hell still isn’t enough to admit that he actually quite likes shagging other blokes. Typical Winchester. John should probably be insulted but he just feels uncomfortably fond instead.

“I meant the angel,” Dean says and finally looks at him. Eyes a bit too green and far too honest. 

John blinks back a few times. That was- that was not what he was expecting. This is so far from their usual banter that he, John Constantine, is actually thrown for a loop. Stuck without the right response for long enough that Dean picks it up again.

“With the coat, and the sparks, and… shit I don’t know.” Dean shrugs. He still watching John, trying to read his reaction for some reason. “Think I always kind of thought you might get me out. There’s those rumours, you now? I just… fuck, I don’t know. Angels man. Fucking angels!”

“Coat?” John asks, still confused but masking it with disdain. He tells himself he asks that because details are important. Probably has more to do with being the first thing that sticks out that doesn’t add another stone of guilt to the ones already crushing him.

Dean laughs and John doesn’t know if it’s because he expected that or not. The moment breaks like glass. Dean leans over, close and body hot, he nicks John’s fag, which is more familiar at least. John uses it as an excuse to break eye contact, finds and lights another while his thoughts tick by.

“He’s got one of-” Dean indicates John’s trenchcoat where it still lies on the floor after being quickly discarded hours ago.

Right, trenchcoat and all angels have the arrogance and a selfish agenda. What else did you need to do a John Constantine impression, really. That’s pretty much all he is, in the end. John has an unsettling suspicion that he would dislike this particular angel even if it wasn’t an angel.

“I’m no angel, luv.”

“I know.” Dean laughs, that hell-edged chuckle again. “Trust me, I know.”