|The Doctor Is In: Constantine and Balthazar
Author: Guede Mazaka
Ah, the violins. Pure, sweet, high glissandos that beautifully mirrored the sweeps of his pen across the paper. Tumultuous waves in navy blue--*click*--and then the horrible black head of the sea monster rising from the depths of a bassoon’s boom. Paul smiled fuzzily at the sketch coming to life on his notepad.
*Smecker? Your ten o’clock’s invoking demons in the coffee machine. The supernatural is not covered in my job description. Or by the fucking building insurance.*
“Why, Greenly, you’ve learned to make a convincing argument. And you were smart enough to dig up these four-color pens, so instead of sending you to the cleaners in little pieces, I’ll just have you nip round to grab me a bagel sandwich. Italian. Go light on the oil,” Paul said. The dying quivers of the symphony kept him just calm enough for him to sit up without stabbing the intercom. Fucking uncreative son of a bitch had been phoning it in ever since Paul had gotten drunk enough to go down on him, as if that meant anything except that Paul had had a flashback to his rookie years. Demons. Like Greenly didn’t know the water cooler had been blessed by Paul’s “therapist,” the good Father Rory.
Paul checked the time: quarter till eleven. Well, he supposed he had to put in a show of work sometime before lunch. Away went the CD player. “Come on in,” he called.
“What’s with the wait? I have an exorcism at twelve.” John Constantine, according to the thick police file attached to his folder, generally photographed like a pale pretty-boy coming down from a heroin kick. In person he was even more haggard, but the fuck-you stare was considerably more effective.
“If you wanted it to be effectively intolerable, you should have patients arriving after us and being seen before us,” added Balthazar. He had no police record and the voluntary information section of his file was thin, but his IRS file that Paul had wheedled out of an old ex had to be kept in a two-inch binder, which was currently under Paul’s couch.
And he was already coming off as a smug bastard. Like Paul needed advice on how to get on people’s nerves. “The idea is to exasperate, not to get my waiting room destroyed. I just redecorated.”
Balthazar was annoyed. Constantine sprawled out in his chair and looked bored while playing with a set of charms, among which Paul recognized a St. Anthony’s medal and a miniature Buddhist bell.
“You can’t exorcise me. The FBI’s been trying to do that for thirty years and they’ve got better connections than you do.” Paul decided he’d sit up for this one and swung his legs over the side of the couch. He clicked his pen to the red ink and flipped to a fresh page, then started a flow-chart of the real FBI administrative structure: how the power moved behind the official titles and ranks. If he got bored, he could always forward it to that weirdo Mulder in the basement. “So under ‘reason for visit,’ both of you were rather vague. How about we start with a quick Q and A, just to narrow down the problem?”
“Sure. Why not.” For a guy who was footing the considerable bill for this visit, Constantine was remarkably blasé about getting his money’s worth. He got himself a cigarette without offering one to anyone and stared over Paul’s shoulder at the coil of rope hanging from the wall. “Not a hemp kind of guy?”
Something about that made Balthazar twitch, Paul noted. “Nah. Nylon for me. Creative in bed?”
The muscle in John’s cheek jumped, but he stayed loose and relaxed. A long, lazy smoke ring slipped from his mouth, as nonchalant as Murphy’s were. “It’s more for my line of work.”
“Does he qualify as work?” Paul asked, nodding at Balthazar.
John let out a raspy laugh and leaned forward, pulling his cigarette from his mouth. He suddenly twisted around and grabbed Balthazar’s wrist, jerking it around so something silver disappeared up Balthazar’s sleeve. Then he let go and rested his arms on his knees, ignoring the glare Balthazar sent him. “What kind of question is that? And what kind of psychiatrist are you?”
“There’s nothing wrong with the sex,” Balthazar added. This time it was his turn to look casually indifferent to John’s irritation. “That is what you were getting at, wasn’t it?”
Constantine abruptly threw himself back in his seat, muttering about half-witted half-breeds.
“More or less.” Paul had perfected his deadpan expression precisely for moments like these, when both John and Balthazar were temporarily taken aback. It was always best when the victims thought of themselves as hardened cynics; the naïve were more demonstrative, but they got boring very fast. “So the sex is good. How many times a—”
“Why the hell do you need to know?” John snapped, stabbing his cigarette back between his lips. He sucked on it like a professional. Probably also was more for his line of work.
Balthazar heaved a sigh and carefully didn’t stare at John’s mouth. He started playing with a coin, his fingers moving in an obscenely slow ripple that kept drawing John’s gaze to it. “Honestly, Johnny. I thought you were over the blushing virgin routine.”
“Five times a week?” Paul guessed. He finished his flow-chart and then began to embellish it with flowers. Agents that he’d personally fucked got pansies, while ones he suspected were in the closet got daisy chains.
John looked as offended as a blonde who’d just had someone point out that her roots were showing. “We can get up to that in a day—well, I can. Whether Balthazar does depends on how generous I’m feeling.”
“So he’s extremely controlling?” Paul quickly said to Balthazar, cutting off the demon’s reply. Good thing, because the legs of John’s chair had begun to look distinctly snake-like, with fangs pointed up towards John’s ass.
“Oh, he likes that. Born ass-licker.” A flick of ash into the air and John turned the chair-legs back to normal, only to find himself scrambling to avoid a flying saucer.
Specifically, Paul’s flying saucer. The tea-cup followed a second later and clipped John on the shoulder as he dove out of his chair, then ricocheted off. Both cup and saucer smashed against the wall, and Constantine smashed into Balthazar. They tipped over Balthazar’s chair in a tangle of curses and flailing limbs.
Paul hastily scooted back, narrowly avoiding a kick from John, and groped beneath his couch till he found the reality-button. Say what he could about the landlady, at least she was sensible enough to have that function installed just in case the canon-to-crackfic levels ever got too high for them to handle.
He slapped the button just as flames and sulfurous mists had begun to spring up around the edges of the room. The universe instantly realigned so they were a good bit farther from Hell, and back to the elegantly, maddeningly bland décor Paul preferred when deconstructing patients into textbook cases of exceptions from the official medical classifications. As soon as they’d settled down, Paul put down his notepad and pen and got out the Desert Eagle Connor had sent him for Christmas. No common sense, those two, but a fine sense of what would amuse Paul.
Two shots into the carpet above their heads saw the pair wrestling on his floor freeze, hands around each other’s necks. Paul put on his best smarmy smile. “So if the problem’s not with the sex, then what is it with?”
“You’re looking at it,” John gasped. “He keeps trying to kill me.”
“Well, every relationship has its moments of hostility.” The surprise was gone and the gun wasn’t going to be useful anymore, so Paul put it away and kicked up his legs, lying down on the couch.
John stared incredulously at him, which was stupid because that meant John’s grip on Balthazar was relaxed just long enough for Balthazar to throw him off. He hit the ground with a thump that rattled the fake certificates Paul had hanging on the wall. “‘Moments of hostility’? Are you kidding me? He’s a goddamned demon!”
“Has it ever occurred to you that calling him names is counterproductive?” Of course Paul knew exactly what Balthazar was, but that didn’t mean all that much to a guy that had had to deal with the IRS’ Internal Affairs division. In Paul’s opinion, Lucifer had fallen way behind in the scum-of-the-earth creation contest.
“Really, Johnny, listen to the man. You’re hurting my feelings,” Balthazar cooed, sitting up. He picked up his quarter from the floor and flipped it into the air, then looked startled when nothing happened.
Yep, quality of Lucifer’s output was definitely going down. Which reminded Paul…he slid out his schedule and flipped ahead to the next month—oh, yes, good old Morningstar was scheduled for a meeting. Something about problems with his kid, but Paul didn’t want to beat that dead horse. He wrote in a note to discuss Lucifer’s loss of pizzazz instead. “And Balthazar, I realize you’ve got a difficult position, but communicating your insecurities to John by touching off his temper is highly ineffective. He might throw you out before he realizes what he’s doing.”
“What?” The coin flipped harder and this time Balthazar made the room vibrate, but no apocalypse came crashing down. Hopefully he’d understand that Paul wasn’t so stupid as to hold appointments in a place that couldn’t cope with a petty little Doomsday.
“I know, I know, it looks like sex would always win out, but people are more complicated than that. Sometimes we get so pissed off that we forget we’re desperately addicted to nookie. And then you’re dead in Hell and John is sexually frustrated and regretful, but once something’s done it can’t be undone,” Paul went on. He could positively taste the rage rising from both of them. It was a little like over-spiced Indian food. And speaking of, Greenly should be back with Paul’s sandwich by now.
John leaped to his feet, Balthazar simply pounced from the floor, and Paul calmly watched them collide with each other, as his couch had conveniently dropped into the ground. The last thing he saw as the floor panels slid shut was John ripping a strip from Balthazar’s shirt.
The couch bounced gently on its shock absorbers, then started to move forward through a well-lit tunnel. After about ten yards it stopped and began to rise, the ceiling opening up before it to show the waiting room. Paul stretched, yawned, and when the couch had lifted clear of the tunnel, he stepped lightly off it to meet Greenly at the door. “Did you get the extra pickles?” he asked, taking the bag.
“The pickles? The prize-winning ones that you have to stand in line for hours to get?” Greenly pretended to think. “That’d be a fucking no. See, I figured I might want to get back before you got yourself splattered over the wall by those two. It’s Friday and I’m not staying late to scrape off your fucking brains.”
“Sorry to disappoint you, but I’m perfectly all right.” Though from what Paul could hear, he might have to redecorate his office after all. It still sounded like John and Balthazar were at the vicious fighting level of foreplay. “Unlike some people, I’m not dumb enough to forget about an escape route. But it’s nice to hear you care.”
The other man flushed, but a straight denial was interestingly absent from his mumblings. “So what’s with the locked-room deathmatch, anyway? Constantine’s check didn’t bounce.”
“No, and neither did the bigger check of a man who prefers to refer to himself as Papa Midnite.” The guy’s real name amused Paul to no end, and had promptly been committed to memory in the case that he ever needed a favor of the voodoo persuasion. “He’s got an interest in having them delivered to him in a weakened state.”
“Well, now I know what’s going to show up in your porn collection next,” snorted Greenly. “Sheesh. You’re a fucking greedy son of a bitch, you know that?”
Paul rolled his eyes. “And you’re impatient. Shut up and let me eat, and then maybe I’ll fuck you so hard you won’t be able to jabber on like a monkey. Let alone complain.”