Tangible Schizophrenia


Candle at the Window

Author: Guede Mazaka
Rating: PG-13
Pairing: Constantine/Midnite
Feedback: Typos, characters, etc.
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Summary: Post-movie, Midnite offers a little bit of hospitality.


Legba holds the reins of the world in his hand. Nobody goes anywhere without him, and nobody gets anywhere without him. When he’s full and happy, he bends down and he pinches the roads to shorten them so the people get home sooner. When he’s angry, he squats and with both hands he snarls the roads so nobody find their way forward or back, never mind whether they be kings or paupers.

When people light candles in the window, it’s both a prayer and a calling. They’re asking for Legba’s attention, and if they do it right, they’re steering him towards the lost souls they want coming back.

Now, Midnite’s not all that sure he wants John Constantine always returning to his club. The man breeds trouble. He does heaven’s work and he reeks of hell, and he mostly has no clue exactly what kind of attention that draws him. Or maybe he does, but if that’s so he doesn’t care so it makes no difference.

But he’s good. Good like skilled, like dripping power even when his breath smells like death, like a blot of gray that never tarnishes all the way. Good like it’d be stupid to ignore, and Midnite’s not a stupid man.

He puts match to candle, cupping his other hand around the frail flame. This time, these moments in between the old broken truce and the new one that’s coming, he keeps his doors open for Constantine.

* * *

His friend runs on danger and smoke. When one or the other runs out, John collapses like a puppet whose strings have been slashed all at once. Never mind the cancer—Midnite never worried about that, though he was sincere in his sympathies. But he’s come to understand by watching that John only really lives when he has the sharp side of magic running along his skin. So something mundane, something gross and purely physical, cannot kill him because he isn’t even alive that way.

When he falls against the side of the door, he’s alone. The girl has gone home, and well enough, for no matter what power she has she is uninitiated. Midnite takes no apprentices, and somehow he doubts that John will be looking for a new one any time soon. As far as Midnite knows, he only picked up Chas because the fear of death got to him and he struck out in all directions for some way of living on.

“Nice night,” John mutters. Over his shoulder, the sun is rising red as lamb’s blood. He grapples with the doorframe, pulls himself up an inch or two before slumping again so the candles set on the sill rattle. His eyes flicker towards them. “Aw, Midnite.”

“Get in here. I have no need for the flies that you are letting inside.” Ignoring the coy sarcasm of the other man, Midnite takes John by the arm and pulls him deeper into the backrooms.

One of Midnite’s servants is watching Chas’ grave nonetheless, for the boy did have talent and he did die in the service of their trade. His body will not be abused in the name of magic. John should have seen this, for Midnite had not warned his man to hide, but still the man stays to see to the last rites himself.

His step is weak and wavering, slack with exhaustion, and when Midnite takes him by the chin and turns his face up towards the light, the color of his skin is gray instead of pink beneath the white. Though no mark mars his body, he has lost blood. His bones feel like matchsticks beneath his papery skin. A nail drawn over the back of his hand flakes off blood, sweat, dirt. Stale chlorine.

“It’s not going to get any prettier no matter how long you look.” Words are half-mashed by the way Midnite is holding up John’s jaw, but that does not stop him from trying to joke anyway. He never smiles when he does so. Most probably take him for serious.

Midnite does not. He lets go of John and watches the man crumple into the chair behind him. John comes down slowly, too tired to promptly obey the pull of the earth. His limbs splay outward as if they were made of jointed wood and his shoes rattle on the floor like the dance of the hanged men.

He wouldn’t need to be prettier. Drawn and pale and worn though he is, he looks like the elongated idols of the loa that are scattered around the room. Their shell-and-bead eyes follow him as his head falls forward, his arms flop on the table. His black shoulders rise to form a bowl-scoop between them that flows into his neck, ivory like the stained carvings that traveled here through the bloody hands of slaves. When Midnite sets a dish for him, he holds it with forefingers and thumbs, putting it down with both hands so it does not rattle. There is spiced meat and rice, and sprinkled along the edges is chili pepper mixed with cocoa powder.

He leaves while John is still resting his head. One should not watch the gods eat, and though John is by no means a god, he walks too close to them. He who sees the divine at its worst is never forgiven.

* * *

The freshest bloodstains on the floor have faded to match the old ones, and the chalk of the veves is beginning to wear away. Midnite has no requests waiting to be filled, and at present he doubts he’ll have to renew the protective spells on himself and his belongings. After what has just happened, both sides will stay very, very quiet for a while.

“I haven’t been down here in a while.” John hasn’t showered. The fine red lines have cleared from his eyes, but his hair is stiff with sweat and the remains of his shirt flap aimlessly about his bony torso. He has a streak of grave-dirt on his pant-leg, and a smear of drying juice from the steak at the corner of his mouth. “Revving up for anything?”

“If I were, I wouldn’t have let you in. The house rules still hold.” The corner has Midnite’s hat and coat, and his sleeves are rolled up because he was feeding the goat penned in the next room, and if he didn’t he would have no shirt. He knows a few other brands of magic, but he cleaves to voudoun because it has wit like that.

The other man shifts on his feet, hand flexing against the wall. He takes every breath as if it were his first, but already he looks thoughtful, hungry. His stare is brighter than it has been in months and it bends the light towards him as he looks around the room. The John Constantine, back from the dead.

“Feeling better,” Midnite reflectively says. He lifts his hand and slowly curls it, watching the ripple of his knuckles. John Constantine, dying and desperate and decaying, had been easier to push aside, but also he had been easier to look at, to fathom. John Constantine, old friend and one of the greatest magi in the world, burned too hot and too quick to get close to.

“A little bit. It’s nice to not be choking up blood every time I turn around.” The tilt of the head, the sliver of white teeth behind the lips, it’s all slowly returning. Soon the care will be gone, the strings hidden away to leave only the cool trickster rambling over the stage. “Thanks for asking.”

Then John twists around and makes to put his face where Midnite doesn’t want it. He stops when Midnite seizes him by the throat, but doesn’t pull back. His pulse races briefly against the press of Midnite’s thumb.

“You know the way out,” Midnite says.

The other man’s eyes narrow, then half-close in mock laughter. “What is it with people and trying to strangle me? I thought only vampires had neck fixations.”

“I keep a neutral house, John. You can stay as long as that is also true of you.” But of course it is not, and can never be except for fragments of time here and there. Although Midnite cannot hold John’s restlessness against him—it is the man’s nature, like to devour is fire’s nature—he sometimes rails against it anyway. He finds it irritating, and more importantly, he finds the fact that it can irritate him irritating.

John takes the words in silence, turning them over. The weighing and valuing of them can be seen in his eyes, but he keeps to himself what final worth he finds in them. The slope of his shoulders change, loosen and drop beneath his coat, and one side of his mouth tries to twist into an emotion.

“Yeah, I know. Give me a little credit.” He lowers his eyes and while Midnite is off-guard because of that, he leans forward to press his lips against Midnite’s cheek. Then he pulls away.

He turns for the stairs, straightening his tie with the same reverence with which a priest picks up the Host. Around him, the rest of his ruined suit swirls in echo of the tattered lives he carries behind him.

“There might not be a candle next time,” Midnite calls after him.

“I won’t hold it against you.” Then John pauses on the stairs and looks over his shoulder. A sour grin sneaks onto his face. “No, I would fucking hold it against you. But I’d know why.”

He thinks there will be a candle next time.

It’s no consolation to Midnite to know that John has a shot at being right.

* * *

A single candle, a scraping of spit from his cheek, and a piece of red chalk. It is a small, small spell, but a larger one would be needless embellishment.

Where John sees angels and devils toying with the fates of men, Midnite sees the opportunity to have free will, and to make choices. So he makes his, and he chooses to leave up to Legba’s hands what the roads bring the next time.

He licks his fingers and pinches out the candle. The flame flares against his skin, sizzling through the dampness, then dies to leave him in the dark.