|Audition II: Interview
Author: Guede Mazaka
The first half-hour of the uptown job did improve John’s mood considerably, but then it degenerated into yet another angel-sponsored mess. It was a good thing Heaven seemed to believe in the less-is-more proposition and had on the ground one representative per five demons, since John couldn’t deport an angel for being an idiot.
Well, he could, but that involved a hell of a lot more fuss-making than doing the same to a demonic half-breed, so he generally tried not to. Which put him in a bad mood, since he was of the mind that one should take what one had coming to oneself. And that last shot hadn’t helped, even if it’d mostly missed him.
He stumbled back into Midnite’s around four-thirty in the morning. Things were slowing up by then—Sunday, ironically enough, was a big day for sinning and kept the demons busy—but the dancefloor was still reasonably full. Full enough for John to not immediately take things amiss when somebody bumped up against him.
Then their arms rose and slung around him, and a girlish laugh tickled his ear. Literally: Ellie was on the drunk side tonight and licked at the traces of blood on John’s face till he shoved her off. “Ooo, Johnny. Why didn’t you invite me along? I thought we were friends now.”
“Didn’t want to get your dress dirty,” John muttered. He had to push her back again and because of that almost missed the chair looming ahead of him.
The damn thing took him in the shins and one hip so he had to grab its top to keep from falling over it. That one second gave Ellie enough time to twine her hands around his arm. “Aw, Johnny. You know I’d get dirty for you.”
“Really flattering of you, but I’d rather you tell me what the hell’s up with everyone. Why’s there so much movement going on?” John tugged at his arm, but she had a pretty good grip on it and he was forced to put up with her all the way to the door to Midnite’s office.
Ellie had never liked Midnite and was patently frightened of him, probably because he’d never ever responded to her flirting like it was flirting, so she dragged John to a stop just outside the door. She batted her eyes at him. “What makes you say that? As far as I know, it’s same-old same-old…are you sure you’re all right, John? Maybe you need to relax. You sound like you’re seeing things.”
“Very fucking funny,” John snarled, twisting free of her. He heard her heels skittering on the floor and that was going to cost him later to get back into her good graces, but right now he didn’t care. He banged open the door and had to slide in fast so it didn’t catch him on the backswing. “I need a drink.”
Midnite was in the middle of getting up from a chalk circle he’d drawn on the floor. It looked like he’d been trying to work up an astrological horoscope. “You need a shower. And a dose of—”
“Whatever. I hate dealing with Michael. It almost makes me wish we had Gabriel to kick around again—at least that fuck knew when he was being annoying. Michael’s just—what the fuck? Oh, you.”
John had started to flop down on the sofa, like he usually did after a shit job, only to run into something with elbows and a funny yelp. He got back up and turned around to see a startled Gabe holding up a foot-wide book as an impromptu shield. Gabe slowly put down the book and scooted deep into one corner of the couch, still eying John like he was foaming at the mouth.
“I told you Michael was trying to infringe on Sammael’s territory. He’s young and he doesn’t yet understand that the way things work on this plane developed out of necessary compromises, not dishonorable concessions,” Midnite was saying. He went on about warning John about this and predicting that and all sorts of other self-aggrandizing bullshit, but at least it looked like he was mixing John a drink.
Given that Midnite was basically a glorified bartender, that happened a lot less than John felt it should have. But he was too tired and in too much pain to really make the effort to comment on it, and instead just appropriated most of the couch. His head thumped down about an inch from Gabe’s thigh and he got to see the other man attempt to climb the sofa arm. It made John laugh a little.
Then Midnite handed him the drink and John was stupid enough to down it straight without stopping to smell what was in it. He paid for that with about ten seconds of choking and fighting against the stream of fire that’d flashed down his throat. Then he crashed back into the cushions and felt his mind start to fuzz over. “Son of a bitch.”
“You’re…are you bleeding?” Gabe asked, going from faintly annoyed to wide-eyed concern in less time than it took for a demon to corrupt a teenager.
Something poked at John’s shoulder and he didn’t make any attempt not to snarl and curse and lash out. He clipped Gabe’s chin before his muscles gave out and made him flop over again, which was just in time for Midnite to get his hands on him. “Hell, Midnite. Never figured you for the date-rape type.”
“John…” Midnite sighed. “No, get his head up. I need to get his coat and shirt off.”
“Don’t fucking touch that!” John snapped. He tried to twist away, but the hands on his arms and shoulders tightened too fast for him to get away. His head spun lazily around a red center, and he stopped suppressing his nausea in hopes that he’d manage to puke on Midnite before the bastard did anything to him. “Goddamn it, it’s hydra spit. It’ll—”
They wrenched him up and Midnite rattled off a charm that made John’s skin sizzle. At least, that was what it felt like.
“I’m not,” Gabe said. “I wouldn’t touch that with a fucking telephone pole.”
“Shut up. Midnite, I already downed some mandrake powder. Just get off and let me sleep it off, damn it.” The moment they let go of him, John rolled off the couch and made for the door. He got a credible two yards before the bulk of the mickey Midnite had slipped him kicked in.
* * *
The low roaring suddenly cut off, which was about the best thing that had happened to John all week. His headache instantly dropped down about two levels to ‘excruciating’ and sensations were no longer so damn overwhelming that he was cringing inside his own skull. He slowly pushed himself off the leather seat and got his bearings. They were outside his apartment.
“Can you walk?” Gabe stared at John from the other side of the front seat. He pulled the keys out of the ignition and shoved them in his pocket without looking away. “You’re heavier than you look. I might drop you a couple times if I have to carry you up.”
John pinched the bridge of his nose and breathed shallowly till his vision steadied. “I didn’t hit you that many times. Which was for your own good, by the way.”
“You’re really not a nice person, are you?” Gabe said. He sounded torn between being amused, in the way John was when a televangelist came on talking about God’s endless mercy, and being puppy-irritated. He looked tired as well, and he couldn’t stop yawning.
“Nope.” At least Midnite hadn’t tried to steal John’s cigarettes this time, John discovered. He shook out one and lit up as he got out of the car. The nicotine helped turn his stumbling into a sort of drunken sway that made things less painful when he tripped over the curb.
It took him a while to get the door open without accidentally blowing himself to Lucifer’s living room, so by the time he got in, Gabe had managed to get himself and his duffel bag right behind John. The other man slipped up next to John and tried to stick his hand beneath John’s elbow. John shook him off and started up the stairs, then slipped on one. He barely caught himself on the railing.
Gabe sighed and stuck his hands in his pockets. He strolled along besides John as they worked their way up the stairs and into John’s apartment. Occasionally he whacked into John with his hip when John was tipping too far the one way, so between him and the railing, John could navigate reasonably well.
“So what were you doing? We washed a hell of a lot of weird crap off of you,” Gabe said. He dumped his bag on the couch and leaned against the couch back to watch John stagger around the kitchen.
All right, fine, John would go grocery-shopping in the morning. But right now he just really wished he had something to take the sour rotten taste out of his mouth. He ended up rinsing his mouth out a few times with sink-water before he headed for the bedroom.
John tossed his coat and tie over a handy coat, then crawled onto the bed. After a second, he dredged up enough energy to pull up his left leg and take off his boot. He dropped that over the side, then pulled up his other foot.
He got an audience for that one. “You always come home like this?” Gabe asked. “No wonder Midnite’s nervous around you.”
“Do you always ask people fucking stupid questions when you’re sane?” John countered. He tossed off the shoe and rolled over, then went to sleep.
* * *
John half-woke, stretched, and then woke up the rest of the way when his arms and legs hit something. He rubbed his eyes open and squinted at the other side of the bed.
Gabe was really taking the study part of this seriously. He had one of John’s books spread out on the mattress and was slumped over it, his arm pillowing his head. The afternoon sunlight striped his face and the hand he had curled over the pages so John could see exactly how young and vulnerable the kid looked. Jesus. Someone really had it in for John.
He whistled air through his nose when John sat up, then blinked a couple times and opened his eyes.
“Aren’t you supposed to hit the couch?” John said. He slid his hand beneath Gabe’s head, lifted it up and pulled the book out from under him. Then he dropped Gabe, who’d been turning like he was going to nuzzle or something, and checked out the reading material.
“No, you are since you’re the host. But you’re a rude bastard, so I figured I’d let you sleep instead of getting my head bitten off.” Yawning, Gabe pulled himself around in a crescent that opened towards John. He folded his hands beneath his chin and looked sleepily up at John. “Midnite said you’ve had an apprentice before.”
John barely stopped himself from wincing. He flipped through the pages till he found the beginning of the chapter: moderately-advanced demonology. “Midnite says a lot of stupid shit. Why the hell are you reading this? You can’t just jump into demon-summoning—well, unless you want your soul sucked out of your ass. You’d probably try to use a binding sigil—”
“Would not. Those scar over and then you’ve got a bloody demon running after your head, and free to collect it, too,” Gabe muttered. He looked more than a little smug at John’s surprise. “I did a lot of reading last night. Since you had to go uptown and do whatever.”
“Yeah, you read.” After turning a few more pages, John snapped the book shut and set it on the bedside table. Then he twisted around to face Gabe and tell him to fuck off, but for some reason John ended up just sitting and looking at him instead. It was too bad John had pissed off Ellie last night, because obviously he had a lot of pent-up lust to work off.
Gabe flicked his fingers at the bedsheets, then pushed himself up on his elbows. He started to reach towards John’s shoulder, but withdrew when he saw John getting ready to slap him away. “I’ve got a good memory. Pretty much photographic.”
“Great. But that’s not everything,” John said. He scratched at his knee, feeling his nicotine cravings starting to stir. His shoulder was acting up a bit, but he thought it’d probably be okay without any bandage now. Too bad his mind couldn’t seem to get it together after some sleep. “Did Midnite tell you who I am? What I’ve done?”
“Not nearly as much as poking around this place and handling your stuff has. Jesus. Some of the vibes I’ve picked up are even worse than what that Zohak motherfucker showed me,” Gabe replied with a half-shrug. He glanced up at John, long enough so that John could see he was being truthful—and was indeed a little nauseated by his discoveries—then pulled himself forward and nuzzled his way up John’s inseam.
John exhaled irritably and pushed himself back and around to lean against the headboard. Gabe followed, and patiently shoved at John’s ankles till he could scoot them apart and slide up to nose at John’s crotch, which was already a little swelled thanks to the usual morning problem of being a human male. He rubbed his face along the bulge of John’s cock till things started to go past strain into painful, and then he undid John’s fly with his teeth. Fucking little tease—his mouth brushed John’s prick so John breathed in a little too quick.
“You’re pretty young to be this fucked-up, aren’t you?” Things like watching a tongue slither hotly down the side of his prick made John feel a little more appreciative of humanity, though he was well aware that they never were good for very long. But he still dug his nails into the sheets and felt them dampen with sweat.
Gabe flicked his eyes back up at John, some odd emotion going through them too quickly to be identified. Then he arched back and smoothly swallowed John’s prick. His lips were gorgeously strained and after every swallow, he made a low purring sound that vibrated through his whole mouth and set up a crazy drumming in John’s head. When John’s skull thumped back against the wall, he only heard it and didn’t feel it.
He groped around till his hands ran up against Gabe’s shoulders, then slipped his fingers into Gabe’s hair. The other man took that for a signal to speed up and John hissed, his knees jerking up so his foot bumped Gabe, who rose up a little and then was bringing his mouth down John’s cock so he took in that devastating little bit more. John cursed and dug his nails into Gabe’s scalp, then twisted Gabe’s hair. His little finger grazed Gabe’s earring before sliding into the hoop and getting stuck so John tugged at the lobe when he tried to move his hand. Gabe moaned and went at John like he was a thirsty man just stumbling into civilization and John was a garden hose. His ass went up and John’s eyes watched it wave around, and damned if that wasn’t a beautiful thing to see while the rest of the world imploded behind John’s eyelids.
Gabe swallowed. Licked his lips as he came up and imploringly forward, grabbing John’s hand and pulling it to grind against the strained front of his jeans. He dropped his head onto John’s shoulder once John had gotten past his fly and taken his prick in hand; he was already hard and the head of his cock was slick with precum. It only took a few pulls before he was coming all over John’s belly, whining and writhing like a mad thing.
“Slut,” John snorted. He pushed Gabe’s jeans down past the hips, then slid his hand back through the coarse wavy hair sprinkled around Gabe’s cock and massaged his fingers up till he had two twisting and turning inside of Gabe.
The other man was still gasping and shaking from the first time, and he resisted a bit, mumbling something about giving him a second. John brought up his other arm and pressed down on the small of Gabe’s back so he couldn’t move, and kept right on fingerfucking the smartass till Gabe was clinging to John’s shirt and begging. He did do that very pretty. Then John drove in a third finger and bent down to bite around Gabe’s earring at the same time, and Gabe climaxed with a hoarse cry.
It took a good five minutes for Gabe to stop shivering after that, and collect himself enough to get off of John. In the meantime, John unbuttoned his shirt and used it to wipe himself off. Miraculously enough, his pants were spotless, so he just did up his fly. Once Gabe moved, John got off the bed and hunted up a fresh shirt. “I should’ve just kept you chained to the pipes and fucked you senseless. Then I could’ve dumped you in a hotel and you wouldn’t even have noticed.”
“Why the hell are you so scared of me?” Gabe asked, rolling over into a sitting position. He winced and kept his knees spread and ass raised slightly off the bed. Then he rolled his eyes at John. “Don’t look at me like that. You are, and with the shit you’ve seen…though you know, that idea with the chains isn’t too bad. Once you get rid of the second part.”
“Cocky slut,” John corrected. He threw on the shirt and started buttoning up. “I did have an apprentice before. Chas. He was maybe a year younger than you.”
Gabe scratched at his chest, then pulled at his shirt-tails. He’d lost some buttons so it gaped open to let his nipple-rings glint at John. “What happened to him?”
“I came home one day and he was strung up from the ceiling. He wasn’t in one piece.” John grabbed his coat, swung his tie around his neck, and walked out. He didn’t stop till he was out on the sidewalk, and that was because Beeman was on the doorstep.
“Found that address for you, John. But I did some checking, and I don’t know if it’s bad enough for you to have to—” he started, holding out a scrap of paper.
It disappeared into John’s pocket and he kept on going. “Thanks, Beeman. But it’s always better safe than sorry, isn’t it?”
* * *
John tiredly stepped into his apartment, then froze.
Gabe walked out of the kitchen area with a butcher’s knife in one hand and one of John’s blessed kris daggers in the other. When he saw John, he rocked back on his heels and absently flipped the kris so it somehow disappeared up his sleeve; his jacket apparently had dried out enough for him to wear it. “I’m cooking dinner. It’s not poison.”
“Where’d you get the food? And should I be asking about what you did for a living before you got a half-breed playing mind-games with you?” John asked. He shut the door and locked it, then warily came into the kitchen. Things smelled good, which made him nervous.
“I didn’t do anything you wouldn’t approve of, Mum,” Gabe said. His voice had just a touch of sarcasm to it, but the way he waved the butcher’s knife at John had a lot more to it. “You look like shit. Were you killing demons again?”
The stuff on the stove did smell edible, so John decided he’d temporarily forget about how surreal the situation was. He glanced at the meat on the cutting board, then lifted the pot lid and sniffed. Nothing that wasn’t actually food in there.
“That’s done. I was just getting this ready for tomorrow.” Gabe laid the knife in the sink and started heaping the meat into a bowl. Occasionally he grabbed the chunks and mixed them up so the marinade he had in there would coat them.
John got out a bowl and spooned himself up a good helping. “That’s really sweet of you. So when you were planning on asking me if you could lure a coyote devil in here?”
The other man stopped and stiffened. Then he shrugged and kept tossing meat. “Not me. Your friend downstairs—Beeman—he asked me to do it in exchange for lending me the money for the food.”
Oh, had he. Clearly John was going to have to make a trip down and remind Beeman not to fuck around with his private life. It was bad enough that Midnite couldn’t keep from meddling, and the last thing John needed was for Beeman to start, too.
He walked over and took a closer look at the bait Gabe was making. Sipped some soup while he was at it—that was pretty damn good, actually. “Huh.”
“Did I screw up anything?” Gabe asked. He turned big, dark eyes on John.
“Cute. Real cute.” John slurped up the last of his soup and turned away. He washed out the bowl, then did the knife for good measure.
Gabe was having a hard time not blowing up at John. “For Christ’s sake. I’m sorry about your other one, but I’m not him. If you tell me what he did wrong, I’ll make a point of not doing the same damn thing.”
“He didn’t do anything. I did,” John snapped. He banged the knife back in its rack, then stalked into the bathroom.
There he stripped down and took a cold, rough shower, making sure to scrub himself clean of all the dried dirt and blood his black coat and pants had nicely hid. He watched it swirl down in long streams of black and rust. Then he put up his hands and rubbed hard at his face. The tub rang loudly when he kicked it, and that sure as hell didn’t help his new bruises. It didn’t really help his thinking, either.
When he came out, Gabe was flopped over the couch with a bowl of soup on the coffee-table and yet another one of John’s big old grimoires propped up against his knees. He looked up at John, eyes guarded but intense.
“You remember when we walked through Midnite’s place?” John went over to the fridge and opened it. Like he’d expected, the bowl of coyote bait was sitting there. He took out his ring of charms from his pocket and flipped up the Anasazi one, then held it over the bowl. No glow, and it smelled fine as well. “That’s not really all of it. A lot of people fight demons. Some fight angels. A couple of us just fuck with whoever’s being the worse bastard at a given time. But the half-breeds don’t hate any of them half as much as they do me.”
Pages flipping. Apparently Gabe had regressed to the silent treatment, which John found funny but not enough to laugh out loud at it.
“They say I’m the only guy Lucifer would come to collect himself,” John muttered. He checked out the supplies Gabe had bought and mentally tallied up the lot. It came out about even with the value of the latest relic John had dropped off with Beeman.
“Is that true?” Gabe asked.
John turned around and lit a cigarette. He leaned against the fridge and blew ribbons of smoke at the ceiling, then made a hand pass beneath them. The curling tendrils slowly started to condense in the shape of a street sign. They took forever to finish forming the letters of the name, but once they had, they dissipated in an instant.
“He showed up at Chas’ funeral. Left a very nice flower arrangement. I hear they still can’t get grass to grow on that spot of the graveyard.” The street name wasn’t a big surprise, but it was a pain in the ass. It’d be too far to walk in time. “I committed suicide when I was fifteen. Spent two minutes in hell, and supposedly I was stamped for that place forever, but there’s more than one way to beat the devil. He’s still pretty pissed about that.”
“I can imagine. But you aren’t the only person who’s ever tricked the devil out of his soul,” Gabe said. He’d abandoned all attempts at pretending to read and was hanging over the top of the couch now, like every word that came out of John’s mouth was made of gold.
Damned if he did, damned if he didn’t. That was the natural condition of John’s life anyway so he should’ve given up a while ago on changing that. But knowing better didn’t always translate into doing better, and goddamn it, he was just going to fuck up with eyes wide open. And Midnite wondered why John still had bouts of insomnia, given how jaded and amoral he was. “Nope, but I’m the one that made him look like the biggest idiot. He got thrown out of Heaven for pride, remember.”
Gabe nodded and waited. Once he started to realize John wasn’t going to keep going, he started shifting uncomfortably around, kneading the couch-top and glancing at the floor. He wanted to ask if that’d been why Chas had died, but couldn’t quite work himself up to it, John figured.
“You going to read all night?” John asked. He sent a clump of ash from his cigarette sailing into the sink. “Do you need to get the car keys?”
Blinking madly, Gabe took a second to get the balls to reply. “No. Are you just dumping me at Midnite’s again?”
“No, I’m going to see whether to let you keep my dagger. It’s a good piece of steel,” John said. He watched Gabe get it, then almost trip himself in scrambling to get off the couch with a weird twist in his stomach and a couple of words stuck in his throat that might’ve been a prayer. They sure as hell hurt like one.
“Where are we going?” Gabe was bouncing a little, which reminded John.
He pushed the other man towards the door, but paused himself to grab a couple things from the cabinets. “I’ll tell you in the car. By the way, I ever catch you hopped up and your ass will hit the street so hard it’ll leave skid marks on the pavement. I don’t need to put up with some crackhead’s mistakes no matter how good their blowjob is.”
The first thought to come into Gabe’s head clearly was to punch John. But then he shook himself, and then he snickered instead. “No problem. I was into it to try and keep off the demons anyway, and since you dosed me up I haven’t needed that shit. So…you like starting your morning off that way?”
John sighed to himself. “Jesus Christ. A twenty-year-old.”
“For two more bloody months, so would you get off that? Honestly,” Gabe muttered. “I know I’m not the youngest goddamned one you’ve ever had.”
He sounded jealous. He looked slightly peeved beneath the blankly innocent look he shot over his shoulder. Goddamned cocky little psychometrist.
“Stop getting reads off my stuff,” John finally said. “That’s fucking rude.”
Gabe hummed some punk-rock song John had heard blaring around the nightclubs and clattered down the stairs like he hadn’t heard John. Yeah, he really was going to listen. Sure. This was going to fuck up so badly John could taste it, but hopefully it’d have the decency to leave the smart bastard in one piece so John could tell him I-told-you-so before kicking him out for good.
* * *
This part of L. A.’s sewer system wasn’t that bad, as sewers went. It smelled like shit, but the actual sewage was running a good foot and a half beneath the walking ledges running along either side, and those were relatively dry. Nevertheless, Gabe made a point of leaving his coat in the car. He edged along beside John with a wrinkled nose. “Can’t we just do an expelling spell on the street over their nest?”
“Yeah, we could, but we’d still have to find the damn nest. And you can’t track any kind of Fuath using a dowsing rod, or by any way except walking around and following the trail.” Thank God for cigarettes, John thought for the umpteenth time in his life. Not only did they give him the patience needed to deal with humanity, but they also helped a hell of a lot with the stink. “Anyway, I don’t know if I need to kick them out yet. Right now I just want to talk to their clan head.”
He rummaged around in the bag he’d brought and dug out the roll of black electrical tape, then the flashlight. He kept late enough hours so that he didn’t have a problem seeing down here—well, that and leftovers from the stint he’d spent as a were-leopard—but judging by the sound of things, Gabe was having more trouble. John handed him the flashlight and kept back the tape.
They went on a couple feet in the dark. “This would be like putting a big ‘we’re here’ sign over our heads, wouldn’t it?” Gabe said.
He was talking about the flashlight, John assumed. “Well, we are.”
“You could’ve mentioned we weren’t sneaking around.” Gabe’s soft-stepping abruptly turned into nonchalant ambling that echoed throughout the sewers. He clicked on the flashlight and twisted its beam so it circled up the wall and over the ceiling, then down to the carcass right in front of them. “Fuck. That’s revolting.”
The inside of this one was still glistening with the sticky moisture of internal fluids, and not of the surrounding dampness. Strangely enough, it seemed to be missing its guts, like someone had just…skinned it. Goddamn it. John reached behind Gabe’s head and across to the wall to put out his cigarette on it. “That’s not good.”
Back to the tip-toeing for Gabe. He pulled in the flashlight so its beam basically circled their feet. Then he apparently realized that looked a hell of a lot like a big target and turned it off. “Why’s it not good?” he whispered.
“Because that’s a dead Fuath,” John muttered. He unzipped his bag and took out his shotgun, plus a good handful of shells, before shoving the bag in Gabe’s arms. After loading it up, John stuck the shotgun beneath his arm and dug around in his pockets till he came up with his other pack of cigarettes.
He stuck one in his mouth, reminded himself not to bite down on the damn thing, and took out his lighter. Then he started off again, holding up the lighter flame as a concession to Gabe’s sight. The other man did pretty well with only that much light, which made John feel a little less irritated about having to do that in the first place.
They came across another Fuath corpse about ten yards further down, just before a fork in the sewers. John could hear some kind of fight going on in the right-hand pipe, and nothing in the left-hand one. He paused, pushing at the folds of the Fuath’s scalp with his toe. Then he raised the lighter so Gabe could see him and pointed down the right-hand lane. “Go check that out.”
Gabe blinked, then gave John an incredulous look. “And you’re taking the other one?”
“Remember, aim for the eyes. They’re the most general weak point of anything,” John said. He handed Gabe the shotgun, then patted him on the shoulder. “Hey, the whole point of having apprentices is so you no longer have to do the dirty work. So go ahead. Show me your stuff. Unless, you know, you’re suddenly not into this anymore.”
“You’re such an asshole. I don’t even know why I…” Gabe irritably exhaled. He took a step back while still facing John, but when he figured out that John wasn’t going to change his mind, Gabe whirled and stalked down the right-hand pipe.
John snickered to himself, but once the kid was out of sight, he sobered up. This was going to be a real blast, all right…he rolled his shoulders to loosen them, then went down the left-hand pipe.
He didn’t have to go too far. About fifty feet in, the air in front of him whooshed and John hit the concrete. His lighter clipped the ground and he almost dropped it, but snatched it up in the nick of time: a long, gleaming black object came down on the ground where he’d been, and through the wall he could hear the muffled sounds of a huge crash in the other pipe.
Then the thing silently swung up and waved in the air—it was a tail. The rest of the bastard was splashing around—again, not with any actual sound—in the sewage, while the occasional pale limb flailed up to claw at it. That was some poor bastard of a Fuath getting a fatal baptism. The thing giving it looked like a cross between one of those raptor dinosaurs and a shit-pile. Its tail came back down on the ledge and began to sweep lazily back and forth like a cat that had its prey well in hand; the Fuath’s struggling was getting very weak.
John stood up and eyed the tail. Being careful not to inhale, he lit the tip of his cigarette and let it burn for about two seconds. Then he took just enough of a drag to fill his mouth only with smoke and tossed the cigarette onto the dinosaur-like thing’s back.
It went up like John had doused it in gasoline first. The bastard thrashed around, its head flying up as a howl screeched down the other pipe. Its red eyes rolled wildly backwards—and then it caught sight of John. Before he could blink, it’d leaped up onto the ledge, its back covered in foot-high blue flames, and was lunging at him with teeth the same size as the butcher’s knife Gabe had been using earlier.
He blew out the breath he’d been holding and got a faceful of hot, steaming roar. Then he was down on the ground again and scrambling back against the wall to avoid the stamp of a gigantic clawed foot. John slammed up against the concrete, then gathered himself and made a desperate leap for the ledge on the other side of the pipe.
He barely made it. Something snagged his coat when he was half-over and it was almost enough to throw him into the sewage. Then it abruptly gave way as a shotgun blast rang through the pipe, and John landed a bare inch away from the edge.
As soon as he could, he was up on his feet and glaring down the pipe. “Goddamn it! I said check out the other one!”
“But Fuaths distort sound! If the noise was coming from that way, obviously it was going to be in this—” Gabe cut himself off. His face went white and his eyes wide, and then he disappeared behind the bulk of the very angry monster that was rising up from the water.
“Goddamn it,” John repeated. Of course Fuaths threw sounds like baseball pitchers did curveballs. And they were not a fucking nice race, so anything that’d take them on wasn’t going to be that easy to kill; John had sent Gabe down the other way because he’d realized he hadn’t brought exactly the right stuff for the quick kill.
But now the slow kill was out of the question as well, because the damn thing was surging towards Gabe and John was damned if he was going to have Michael waving yet another dead person in his face.
He nearly ripped out his pocket grabbing a holy-water bomb. Threw it so it scored a direct hit on the back of the thing’s head. “Hey! Hey, you ugly fuck!”
It abruptly drew up, then turned around so quickly that sewage splashed up the walls and onto the ceiling. Behind it, the ledge was empty, but John didn’t have time to look and see if Gabe had gotten knocked into the water.
More splashing behind John signaled the Fuath getting out while it could—so much for their reputation as fearless and determined fighters. He gave it the mental finger and turned all his attention on the other son of a bitch in the sewer.
Its flat, saucer-like eyes were fixed furiously on him. When he lifted his arm, it jerked up. When he cut his palm with the edge of his lighter cap, it stretched out its head and neck and was practically drooling. But it held back, which worried him: was it smart enough to know what he was about to do next?
John started to swing his bloody hand towards the wall and the thing rushed at him. Pulled up short, but it’d ended up angling itself so it could probably lunge again and catch him before he’d have time to smear the whole sigil on the wall. Shit.
It knew it, too. Its mouth spread in a wide smile and its tail lazily lashed behind it. Back and forth, back and forth…and suddenly the tail sprouted a high arc of blood. The thing screeched and whipped around. Then it turned back, but it was too slow; John had already drawn out the whole symbol in his blood.
The flames on its back, which had never gone completely out, leaped so high so fast that John almost thought the heat had singed the clothes off his back as he dove for the floor. But then he rolled and came up in the cool air, and he was still all in one piece. Amazingly enough, he didn’t even have any sewage on him.
“Took you long enough,” Gabe panted. He was waving around that kris dagger, now bloody to the handle, and more blood sprinkled his hair and face.
“Shut up and run,” John snapped, grabbing the idiot. He hauled Gabe along by the elbow till they were back at the fork, where he slewed round and skidded into the other pipe.
And not a second too soon, because he’d barely opened his mouth to catch up on his breath when the sewers were brilliantly lit up by a blue-white flash. John flung up his arm over his eyes, but even then, it took several minutes for the dancing spots in his vision to go away afterward.
“So—” Gabe started.
“So you’re a fucking suicidal idiot. What? You think I was going to be impressed by that? You think I give a shit how brave and knowledgeable you are?” The mocking sneer was so thick in John’s voice that he was having trouble bending it into words. He slashed a cigarette—one he could suck on till the ash hit his lips—into his mouth, then whacked a flame across its tip.
The light briefly striped Gabe’s face: one hand up to swipe at the blood, curls frizzed and stuck to his forehead, mouth making a cute little ‘o’ while his eyes…were making an odd jump out of his initial anger. He closed his mouth and tilted his head to look at John, like he was the one making the judgment call.
John exhaled a cloud of smoke bigger than both their heads put together. He glanced down at their feet, then moved his gaze a couple feet sideways to see his bag lying on the concrete. Apparently Gabe had gone only about two yards in before he’d ducked behind a twisting pillar of smaller metal pipes. He’d waited till John had gone off, then dropped off the bag and followed after.
“How the hell were you going to kill that thing, anyway?” Gabe finally said. “I had all the stuff—okay, you’re gonna say none of it was any good. But still, how were you going to distract it so you could do your spell? Ask it nicely?”
“Maybe.” It was fun to see Gabe’s expression turn exasperated. Fun like teasing a pitbull on a loose chain was fun. “Maybe I don’t want to teach you because I’ve got nothing to teach. Maybe I’m just a fucking lucky guy, and that’s not something that’ll just rub off.”
The side of Gabe’s mouth twisted a little. He pushed past John to retrieve the bag, then hiked it onto his shoulder. Something fell out and he made a grab for it, but John got it first. Gabe backed off and busied himself with zipping up the bag. “Maybe I didn’t want you to go all professor on me anyway. I just want to know what’s going on and who’s who and I really like waking up in your bed. I’m not some kid who needs things explained a million times, and I’m not going into this blind. I always knew weird shit was out there; I just never knew what the names for them were.”
Then he dropped his hands from the bag and awkwardly stood there, all the snap and snarl all worked out of him. His shoulders were a little hunched and he looked everywhere but above the level of John’s chin. He looked like he was expecting hell and hunkering down to take it.
John idly tossed the roll of tape he’d caught from hand to hand and stared at Gabe. He let his eyes wander over Gabe’s shoulder and spotted a ladder only a few feet away, so they probably didn’t have to walk all the way back to the car via the sewers. “Midnite thinks I’m full of myself, and maybe I am. But even I don’t think I’m the kind of guy that people think is good bedroom material.”
“Yeah, you’re pretty fucked in the head. Did I mention the creepy bit where you sometimes go all stiff like a corpse in your sleep?” Gabe briefly raised his eyes to meet John’s, then went back to looking at their feet. He turned his head a little so his throat curved towards John and leaned forward. He still was a bit breathless from earlier. “Can we get out of here and finish this somewhere where I’m not worrying about those Fuath guys popping up?”
After a last drag, John flicked his cigarette into the sewer water. He listened to it hiss and felt his skin tighten up, especially around his throat and jaw. He took a step forward and Gabe took a step backwards. Forward, back, forward, back…and aw, Gabe was bumping into the steel ladder and couldn’t go any further. “I’m not worrying about them. They like keeping their distance from certain things.”
Gabe dropped the bag at their feet. The flashlight or some other heavy thing clinked dully; it must have also landed partly on Gabe’s foot, because he winced and pushed the bag away. “Really.” He flicked up another glance, but this one wasn’t quick because of nervousness. “So what was that thing?”
“Something I’m going to have to yell at Midnite for later. He didn’t dismantle the damn thing properly before he dumped it down here,” John muttered. He slid his thumbnail beneath the edge of the tape, then ran it across so he could pull the end out with one hand. “He’ll be fucking lucky if the Fuath don’t find out and fuck with his plumbing for the next month. No wonder they’ve been acting up.”
“Hmmm….” Gabe kept his ass pressed against the ladder, but leaned forward so he could lay his cheek against John’s chest. He stayed like that for a moment, then rubbed up to nip lightly at the underside of John’s chin. His hands came around to run over John’s sides and hips, dipping teasingly between John’s legs.
John shifted so he could nudge his leg forward and Gabe obligingly scooted his feet apart a bit. His fingers pulled John’s shirt up and tickled beneath it, brushing over John’s waistband, till John pried one of Gabe’s arms out to the side. He worked his mouth over John’s jaw and sucked slowly on John’s lower lip while John wrapped the tape once around his wrist. Then John bent Gabe’s arm around behind the ladder and taped it to one of the rungs; Gabe moaned and arched up so the half-hard state of his prick made itself known to John’s belly.
“You’re still fucking nuts,” John muttered, dragging his mouth along the side of Gabe’s neck. He caught Gabe’s other hand just after it’d undone the button of his fly and before it got to the zipper, bent it back and taped it to the same rung. Then he dropped the tape roll onto the bag and put his hands to better use. “You’re just not so damned twitchy about it now.”
“Shit.” Gabe twisted and dragged his cock up John’s thigh, leaving a hot groove behind that only slowly recovered. He jerked again, but the tape held and he could only whine as John licked up the bottom of his chin. His head stayed tipped back even after John had dropped to run his tongue over the half-visible rings behind his shirt.
John’s shirt, really, and Gabe needed to expand his wardrobe before he ended up getting all of John’s clothes destroyed. The way he jerked when John sucked on his nipple nearly got his piercing ripped out when the ring caught on John’s teeth. Not that Gabe was really upset about this; he hissed and swore and tried to press himself back into the ladder, but the denim bulge John was working with the heel of his hand only stiffened up even more.
“Shit,” Gabe said again. He banged his head when John slid one hand up his chest, then slowly sagged and sucked his breath in through his teeth when John pulled his fingers back down without doing anything. “Shit. Please.”
“What?” The shirt didn’t taste all that great, and now it was so wet with spit that John could taste a hint of the metal through it. Lousy combination. But the long low raw noises he could drag out of Gabe’s throat just by running his tongue around the ring—the ring, not even the nipple—were too good.
Gabe pushed his hips into John and yanked at his arms again. He started to snap something, but lost steam when John pressed down hard on his cock, starting at the base and pulling down till he was pushing the tip back into Gabe’s thigh. “Goddamn it. Gonna come in my fucking jeans if you—oh, God.”
“Nah, I don’t think so.” John got back up. His knees and shoulder complained a little due to last night, but they got over it once he was leaning into Gabe and having a slow sweet time taking Gabe’s mouth from different angles. One way it was hot and hard, the other softer and cool-sweet, like fresh fruit. He ran his hands down Gabe’s chest and stomach a second time before he finally started undoing the buttons.
By then Gabe was doing his damnedest to climb John. He hitched up his leg a few times, trying to hook it around John’s waist, but never could get it high enough. And then he’d slide back down, whining all the way. Admittedly, John wasn’t helping when he moved his body to keep pressure constant and friction as little as possible, but he wasn’t exactly feeling guilt over that. He bit into Gabe’s lower lip till he tasted some blood—Gabe’s breath hitched and he twisted hard—then dragged the hot coppery smear along Gabe’s jaw. It petered out just as John’s mouth got to Gabe’s earring.
“Please, fucking please, just fuck me already. I’ll do whatever you want, but please, please, oh, God, please,” Gabe was gasping. He nearly fucking went off when John slipped a hand into his jeans.
John twisted his hand around and covered Gabe’s prick with it, then shoved the other man back. He kept him pinned that way and licked and tugged at the earring till Gabe stopped squirming and just slumped against the ladder. Then he got around to pulling down the jeans and digging out something to make sure Gabe could walk himself out afterward. Gabe was so limp that John had to wrestle his legs up, and even then, his crossed ankles hung against the small of John’s back without really cinching together.
It made for fucking awkward prep, since John had to keep wrenching Gabe up by the ass, and finally John just smashed Gabe against the ladder while he unzipped his fly. Then he smeared what he had left on his cock, hitched Gabe up again and let gravity slide the other man down. Gabe jerked hard and his ankles slammed deep into John’s back, his knees catching John’s ribs in a punishing pincer-grip. “Hello,” John rasped against his neck. “Up again?”
“Bloody fucking bastard,” Gabe hissed. His accent was stronger, and John finally gave in to the urge to see if he could really lick it up.
Not really, but trying started all sorts of interesting friction and movement, and that led to more, and finally John was digging his nails into Gabe’s ass and fucking him so hard that the ladder was clattering. Occasionally Gabe pulled himself together enough to bite at John’s neck or jaw, or come forward to take a stab at kissing the hell out of John, but that was pretty much a lost cause and he soon gave up on it in favor of squirming and squeezing. Which was more effective. Much more effective.
Sometimes, John thought, he saw the very edge of heaven when he managed to hang on for long enough before falling.
Coming back to reality was, as always, not as pleasant as leaving it, but he had to say that this return was better than usual. For one, the first thing he saw was Gabe sweat-slicked and slumped against the ladder, eyes wide and staring at John. He looked almost delicious enough for John to justify cannibalism.
John pushed himself off the ladder, then got his hands beneath Gabe’s thighs. He had to pause and grab some more breath before he shoved up and pulled out. Then he let down Gabe’s legs and staggered back, clutching at his clothes. After a moment, he felt steady enough to start getting those back into shape.
“My wrists and elbows hurt like a bitch,” Gabe breathlessly said. He jerked at them, then fell back against the ladder. His eyes followed as John walked around him, and a little panicky noise caught in his throat.
He’d dropped the kris with the bag, the careless little fuck. Lucky for him, it’d landed on the bag so the edges and tip hadn’t gotten bent or chipped. John picked it up and used it to cut through the tape. Then he stowed the dagger in the bag and picked it up. He turned around and Gabe was still collapsed against the ladder, grimacing and flinching as he pulled the tape pieces off his arms. When Gabe noticed John looking, he grinned and brought up his wrist to suck on one of the angry red stripes the tape left on his skin.
“Crazy little slut,” John snorted. “Someday I’m going to leave you tied up like bait like that, and see how happy your cock is to see me when I come back.”
“Leave me in a place like this and I don’t care how good you are, I’ll fucking well…what?” Gabe looked at John, then glanced over his shoulder. He slowly pushed himself off the ladder and swayed towards the bundle that’d appeared on the ground about five feet from him. Once he got to it, he leaned over and waved his hand over it.
It was dark, but John could still tell Gabe was blushing. He wandered over and scooped up the bundle, then poked it open. “Oh. Nice. This’ll translate into a good thick chunk of cash.”
“Now I like those Fuath whatevers even less,” Gabe muttered. He tipped against John and used him for support while tending to his clothes. “I feel all used and exploited now. Creepy watchers.”
“Smart-ass.” John had a hard time not snickering at the hopeful look Gabe turned up at him. “No, not again. I’ve still got two other errands to run tonight. What? I never said this was a lightweight profession either.”
Gabe pressed his face into John’s shoulder and mumbled curses about being fucking tired and didn’t they write their own schedule? Grinning, John gave him a pat on the head before pushing him back towards the ladder.
“No, I write the schedule, and that means we’ve got to go. Move.” Which John followed up with a swat at Gabe’s ass. That earned him a dirty look, but Gabe managed to get up the ladder and out onto the street above at a reasonable speed.
Hell. It was so fucking weird it might work, after all.
* * *
John stood in the doorway and watched Gabe make a beeline for Midnite’s couch. The other man collapsed onto it like a falling sack of flour. Moaned. Slowly pulled his legs onto it, which meant his ass bobbed up and down a few times before he settled down into a cat-curl in one corner.
Midnite glanced at Gabe, then did his usual eyebrow-lift at John. “I take it you’re keeping him.”
“Your little experiment from last week wasn’t so dead. Get ready for a bunch of sewage and dead fish to come up your toilets,” John said. He sat down on the couch, then kicked up his legs to rest his feet on the table. That earned him the evil eye from Midnite, but he was more or less immune to that by now. He just scooted back so he could let his head rest on the back of the sofa.
“The Fuath?” A trace of self-annoyance passed over Midnite’s face. He put down the skull he’d been holding and wrote himself some note.
Great sex notwithstanding, John still felt like a raw piece of meat from the events of the last few days. His shoulder ached and the rest of him was competing to make him wince the most. If he didn’t have to do anything for the next month, it’d be too soon.
“Are you simply going to lie there?” Midnite asked.
“Nope.” John took out a cigarette, lit it and stuck it between his lips. Then he let his head thump back against the couch top again. He heard the faintest beginning of a growl and grinned at the ceiling.
The couch creaked and rocked as Gabe humped himself up and over. He got himself turned around and pushed his head against John’s thigh. Mumbled a little when John put his hand down to ruffle his hair, then flopped into John’s lap. He rolled over so he was facing out. “Don’t tell me we’ve got something else to do.”
“Like business?” Midnite seemed torn between amusement and exasperation. His eyes followed the slide of John’s hand from Gabe’s head down the side of his neck and shoulder to rest on Gabe’s ribs.
They dangled over a little so John could just graze Gabe’s nipple with his middle fingertip, making Gabe arch and whine in half-hearted protest. “Hey, I took care of that. Actually, I’ve been tallying up and I basically managed to clear my slate for the whole next two months this week.”
“More like the next six months.” Sighing, Midnite poured himself a drink. He didn’t offer one to John, but instead busied himself with fixing his clothes. “I suppose I should be happy you no longer seem to be confusing yourself with a mindless crusader, but I wish you could’ve retained some sense of—”
“I’m not going to fuck him in your goddamn office,” John muttered. Jesus Christ, he hated when Midnite started pulling out the long mannered speeches. “I’m just going to sit here till he can get it together enough to drive the rest of the way home, and then I’m going to bend him over the kitchen table and fuck him till he’s screaming loud enough to rattle the windows.”
Gabe shivered and groaned into John’s thigh, while Midnite did a great job of pressing his lips together and imitating an over-inflated balloon. He threw off a comment about needing his office later and stalked out of the room. The door hadn’t even closed behind him before Gabe rolled over and grinned at John.
“He’s not really that offended, is he?” he said.
“No, he is, and that’s because he’d like to watch but thinks he’s too upstanding and honorable for it. He’s kind of overdue for a good riding.” John saw Gabe’s eyes spark and snickered, chucking the other man under the chin. He jerked away his hand before Gabe could bite it. “By the loa, idiot. Though he is pretty fun if, say, Erzulie’s got hold of him.”
The face Gabe made was disgusted, but not without a touch of curiosity. “Mmph.”
That was a little too far up John’s thigh. He pushed Gabe’s head back down. “No, seriously. We’re not here. You know how much shit we could set off?”
“I can probably drive now,” Gabe said after a long moment. “And I’m tired. Can we go?”
“You’re tired,” John snorted. “Yeah, right. But okay, up we go.”
* * *
John cracked open an eye, then cracked his head against the top of the bed jerking back. He winced and laid back down, rubbing at the new bruise on his skull. “Don’t fucking do that!”
“Sorry.” Gabe, who’d been so damn close he could’ve counted the number of veins in John’s eyes, meekly slid back down John. He shrugged and the sheets fell off his shoulders to show a couple bitemarks that were still red. “Just checking.”
“Checking what? My goddamn pupil size?” John snarled. Something was nagging at him. He was missing something.
Oh, right. The morning headache.
“No. More like…you sort of tended to change your mind after sex. I was just wondering,” Gabe hesitantly said. His hands ran in erratic circles over John’s shoulders. After a moment, he moved his left knee off John’s stomach and onto the bed, then lowered himself so most of his lower half was resting on John. He scooted down so John’s curious prick found itself nestled between his buttocks. “Do we have to do anything yet?”
John rubbed at his eyes. “Well, I sure as hell don’t. But I’m pretty sure you were offering to do something yesterday.”
Gabe laughed as he nuzzled John’s throat. “Huh. Yeah, that. I remember.”
“Photographic,” John muttered.
“Hmmm.” The other man slid further down, his mouth dragging a hot wet streak over John’s shoulder and chest.
If that wasn’t a nice picture to wake up to, John didn’t know what was. And he had pretty damn few nice pictures in his head. He put his hands on Gabe’s shoulders and urged the other man along, letting his head loll on the pillow. He could get used to this.