Tangible Schizophrenia


Deal I: Stick and Carrot

Author: Guede Mazaka
Rating: NC-17. Violence, semi-noncon.
Pairing: John/Balthazar, some John/Lucifer and John/Midnite
Feedback: Good lines, typos, etc.
Disclaimer: Does not belong to me in any way, shape or form.
Notes: AU. Balthazar is human and John’s a demon, but Midnite still owns a bar.
Summary: When you’re setting a trap, you have to be careful that you get who you mean to.


The first thing Balthazar did every morning, even before he stepped into the bathroom, was take a reading. He’d started out using the Tarot, but runestones seemed to respond better so nowadays he used those. He squatted on the floor beside his bed and pulled the bag of them out from beneath his pillow, then upended it onto the white square of dawn light the window threw before him. The little flattened pebbles clattered dully as they skidded over the floor, some spinning slowly and some dropping as still as a corpse. A few nearly went out of bounds, but not quite: Balthazar knew just how far to cast.

After they’d all settled into place, he leaned over them and examined their arrangement, first looking to see which had fallen upside-down and then to see if any ominous or encouraging groups had formed. He spent longer this morning on them than he usually did, because the signals were…mixed. Very mixed.

His gut lurched uncomfortably, but if Balthazar had learned anything about reading the future, it was that the unlucky possibilities were quickest to seize on any sign of weakness. He swept the runes back into their bag, which he replaced, and then padded into the bathroom. By the time he was doing up his tie, he’d convinced himself that such a casting was perfectly normal for a pivotal moment like early retirement. He was going to fund his withdrawal with money extricated from clients who would prefer not to inform the police or the federal authorities. If he was caught, eternity would be very unpleasant for him.

But he wasn’t going to be. He’d been very careful, very lowkey, and so he didn’t smell a whiff of suspicion from any corner. Not even from Papa Midnite, who was the one he worried most about.

Balthazar’s day at the office passed normally with the single exception of a message he received a little after lunch: Midnite wanted a consultation. That combined with the morning’s reading concerned Balthazar enough to send him into the backroom where he wasted a good chicken confirming that it was innocuous. Most likely someone had brought Midnite a possible offer and he wanted advice on how good an investment it was. It’d happened before, and generally such occurrences ended up putting a fat fee in Balthazar’s bank accounts.

He was putting on his coat to leave when he noticed the fleck of blood on his cuff. Frowning, Balthazar picked at it, but it was too large to flick off. He considered running it under a faucet, then rejected that idea. Midnite’s visit was the last thing he had to do today, so he might as well show up on time for that and then throw away the shirt later. It was merely a stain, he told himself. It didn’t mean anything.

The club was deserted when he walked in, the only sign of life being a huge man slowly mopping up the floor in one corner. When Balthazar got closer, he saw the unblinking eyes and corrected himself—zombies didn’t count.

“In here.” The man himself didn’t appear, but Midnite’s voice was clearly coming from a side-door.

Previously, they’d always met in Midnite’s office. Balthazar glanced at the zombie again, but it was still over in the corner with the mop. He took one slow step backwards, then turned around and ran for the doors. They immediately began to swing shut, but he yanked out a rosary owned by a Spanish saint and flung it through so the massive wooden panels shuddered to a stop. His fingers grazed one of them a bare second later; he wrapped his hand around the edge and began to fling himself out into the street, only to have his foot skid. Swearing, Balthazar dragged himself back up, but he’d lost too much time.

A puddle, for God’s sake—

--he ducked the chair thrown at him, but by then the zombie had skimmed across the room as if on wings. He remembered the stark, unthinking whites of its eyes being the last thing he saw before things burst into red-tinted unconsciousness.

* * *

What woke Balthazar was not the chanting or the pain of the ropes cutting into him, but the smell of smoke. It nipped high up inside his nose and stung him into coughing, jerking around till he understood that he had been immobilized.

He was sitting. The chair was hard plain wood without any arms. His wrists and elbows were bound behind his back and his ankles were tied together, but neither of those were tied directly to the chair. If he wanted to fall flat on his face, he was free to. Someone had removed his coat, belt, socks and shoes. His shirt had been pulled loose from his trousers, and when he shifted about, he could feel a more viscous substance than sweat sticking the fabric to him in swirling symbols that ran over his back, stomach and down his arms. If he concentrated, he could sense those pulsing in time with the chanting, but every time he began to picture what they might be, someone shook a rattle to break his train of thought.

The side of his head felt as if someone had scraped the skin off it down to the bone, every little breeze sending waves of pain through his skull, but otherwise he seemed relatively unhurt. This fact actually worried Balthazar more, since the more physically damaged he was, the less use he would be for any spells or…sacrifices.

He opened his eyes just as the chanting ceased. It had sounded as if he had been surrounded by a large group, but the only person he saw in the room was Midnite.

“I paid you enough for you to leave the rest of my money alone,” Midnite said in a calm voice. He was standing over a table, grinding up something with a mortar and pestle. His sleeves were rolled up and Balthazar absently thought that this was the most casually-dressed he’d ever seen Midnite. “But you shouldn’t take that as the reason why. It only made the choice a little bit easier.”

Balthazar’s first thought was to protest his ignorance, but he soon realized how pointless that would be. He straightened up and slowly twisted at his wrists, testing how much give he had. “I put enough money into your accounts to deserve a little more consideration, I’d think. What I took was nothing in comparison. You might even call it a well-deserved extra fee, since profits garnered from working black magic take a little more effort to launder than profits made by selling, say, cocaine.”

His arms were bound too tightly let him twist to reach his pockets, so even if Midnite had left anything—which Balthazar doubted, but one never knew—it wouldn’t be of any use to him. He could still talk, but any magic that relied on words alone wasn’t going to be strong enough. If he struggled any more, then he’d have his blood, but Midnite would have countermeasures in place against that.

Midnite wasn’t answering. He’d finished grinding and now he was carefully scooping a fine powder into what looked like a disturbingly medieval feeding cup, complete with long spout that could have doubled as a dagger. When he was done with that, he added a dark liquid that was too thin to be blood, but couldn’t actually be only wine.

“Don’t be an idiot. You don’t know half of what I was doing with your investments—if you get rid of me, then you can say goodbye to all of that. And you can say hello to an official investigation, because I am sufficiently well-known to be missed.” Balthazar was trying very hard to think of something that would get him out of this situation, but he couldn’t seem to focus. He’d begin to pull up part of a spell and then Midnite would move his hands, or a hot breeze would puff over the back of Balthazar’s neck, and the spell would be gone.

This had been precisely what Balthazar had wanted to avoid. It was ridiculous to keep magic locked into its primitive roots, acting as if everyone was still in the time of the Inquisition with its damp dark subterranean chambers and its absurd ideals. They were in modern times, everything was for sale, and Midnite should be giving a damn about keeping the knowledge in Balthazar’s head in working order. After all, it was to his financial advantage.

When Midnite turned around, Balthazar flinched before he could help himself. He pressed back into the chair as Midnite walked towards him, cup in one hand and something black and coiled in the other. “If I thought an apology would mean anything to you, I’d offer that, but I’d think a discussion of proper compensation would be more in line with your interests.”

He sounded panicked. Perhaps he was panicking, since Midnite showed no signs of stopping. “I think you should know better than to assume you know what my interests are,” Midnite said. He’d nearly reached Balthazar. “And you’re not that irreplaceable. You were barely in this world to begin with, and the majority of my assets lie here.”

“Where they won’t do you any good except in this goddamn shadow-world—” The cup came at Balthazar and dignity and pride bowed before self-preservation: Balthazar attempted to throw himself off the chair.

He was abruptly, painfully slammed back by invisible hands. Someone slapped him on the bruised side of his face and he gasped at the excruciating burn that lanced through his skull. Stupid of him—he clamped together his teeth, but not before Midnite had shoved the tip of the cup’s spout into his mouth. Balthazar tasted copper and gagged, tried to spit it out. Tossed his head to the side so the metal ripped into the corner of his mouth, but Midnite yanked up his head by the hair and rammed the spout in so hard it chipped one of Balthazar’s molars.

Pain. Pain so Balthazar bit down harder and flung himself towards Midnite, hoping to catch the other man off-balance. Instead he caught a blow in the stomach that made him wheeze; he nearly gasped but caught himself the second time. Air forced out his nostrils so hard it burned him, and then he tried not to breathe for as long as possible but Midnite had used the momentum to push Balthazar back into the chair, so hard that now it was tipped onto its last two legs. The liquid in the cup was splashing into Balthazar’s mouth and he was desperately coughing it back up.

For a few moments, he thought he was succeeding, but then two fingers pinched his nose shut. He was already short of breath and now his lungs were screaming at him. If he wanted to breathe, he had to swallow. He couldn’t swallow because then that was it—no escape from whatever Midnite had planned for him, no early retirement, no sidestepping of the damned family legacy that had dogged him all his life.

His lungs were ablaze. His vision was going.

Balthazar whined, squeezed shut his eyes. He swallowed. The fingers loosened just enough for him to snort up a modicum of air, the bare amount necessary to keep him conscious and desperate for more. He swallowed again, received another short influx of air, and so on till finally Midnite released him so he could slump dazedly in the chair. His stomach was beginning to hurt. Cold—so cold that he was losing feeling—was spreading slowly from his feet up past his knees.

He slowly drooped over so his head was hanging between his knees. His stomach heaved, but before he could throw up, Midnite had seized his chin and was ramming something into his mouth. He choked and tried to spit it out, but it snapped back. Then cold metal slapped tight into his right cheek and he understood. He bit at the gag, then chewed at it in a furious, maddened, brief frenzy that left him feeling sicker than before.

Midnite’s footsteps didn’t break rhythm as they left the room. Cursing him, Balthazar jerked about till he’d fallen off the chair onto his knees, which were so numb he didn’t even feel the impact. Tendrils of acid were eating their way through his gut so he drew up around himself, knotted his body and then uncoiled so hard he fell onto his side. His head rang. For a moment that was more painful, but after that moment, it was bad enough to make Balthazar scream into the gag. There was a second of dizzying, brutal pain, and then his mind disconnected from the overload.

He was on the ceiling, and he was down on the floor. He wanted to crawl away from his twitching, burning body, but he seemed to be tethered over it. It hurt to watch: sometimes he threw his head back as if he were trying to make it meet his the soles of his feet and the creaking of the bones in his spine would nearly bring body and mind together again. Sometimes he tucked his head down and seemed to be weeping.

It was cold up on the ceiling, but down on the floor the heat was so strong that it should have melted Balthazar’s skin. He shivered, he drowned in his own sweat, he froze and crisped and eventually the two extremes met.

Balthazar blinked hard as he slammed into one. The frisson jarred him so hard he nearly threw himself back onto his knees, but it didn’t last for long enough and so he could collapse back onto the floor. He was almost too exhausted to breathe. His eyes closed.

He might have slept, somehow. All he knew was, the next thing he knew he was listening to a muffled babble he recognized as Midnite’s apprentice trying to tell someone to fuck off. Whoever it was, they weren’t paying attention. Good for them, Balthazar thought. And the ferocity of that thought took up so much energy that he couldn’t even lift his head as the door opened.

“—tell it to the Pope, kid. Because it sure as hell is wasted on me…and what the fuck is this? Midnite get a bad deal on his imports or something?” The second voice crouched down beside Balthazar’s head. Fingers swiped down Balthazar’s cheek, then slipped under his chin and tilted his face up.

“Oh, my G—I mean, you’re not supposed to be here. Midnite’s…oh, man. You should—I should—leave—” Chas stammered.

The second person laughed. It sounded very familiar. “Oh, Christ. Don’t tell me you thought Midnite was a nice guy or something. This your first look at the other side of his business?”

“I’m—going to get him.” Chas more or less ran out of the room.

“And that leaves you and me and an interesting puzzle,” murmured the second voice. Balthazar felt a more pleasant variation on heat as whoever it was bent over him and…dragged their nose down the side of his face and throat, taking a long whiff as they did. “Very…interesting.”

They smelled of tobacco--Constantine. With a jerk, Balthazar twisted himself around and out of the demon’s grip. Constantine’s fingers clawed at Balthazar’s arm and got it, dragging up on it so Balthazar had to sit up or have his shoulder dislocated.

The half-breed looked just as he had standing in the door of Midnite’s office, right down to the mocking glint in his eye. For all Balthazar knew, the suit might even be the same one. The only thing that was missing was the cigarette.

“Well, you look like shit. Though I don’t know…this might be an improvement.” John reached out and flicked a piece of Balthazar’s hair out of his eyes. When Balthazar jerked, John yanked him a couple inches closer. Got him by both shoulders and leaned forward.

Balthazar twisted back, but had to stop when claws sank into his shoulders. He watched helplessly as John lazily sniffed from his belly to his throat, turning his head away when John then stuck his face into the crook of Balthazar’s neck. Warm breath saturated skin that had already been soaked in sweat, wringing an inadvertent hiss out of Balthazar. He jerked again, hooked his hands around his ankle bonds and fumbled furiously, futilely with the knots.

“What the hell…you smell like…” John rubbed his cheek against Balthazar’s throat, stubble scraping through the dampness there. He pressed his nose hard behind Balthazar’s ear and sniffed, then shoved it into Balthazar’s collar. When Balthazar cried out and writhed, John wrapped his hand in Balthazar’s tie and strangled Balthazar till he held still. “Like…oh, fuck--”

He abruptly pushed himself away and fell onto his elbows, breathing heavy and loud. His shove had sent Balthazar over on his back, cracking arms and hips on the floor so for a moment, Balthazar just lay there stunned. Then something started crawling beneath his skin, prickling and restless so he found himself arching to scratch his shoulders against the floor. The insistent sensation only worsened.

“Fuck, fuck…” John glanced over at the same time Balthazar looked at him. The uncomprehending fear in John’s eyes momentarily stilled Balthazar.

Then John shook himself, as if he’d just taken a blow to the head, and put a hand to his face. He shook himself again, but this time it was like a dog recoiling on the edge of unclean ground. His other hand slid slowly across the floor towards Balthazar, and Balthazar was horrified to find himself squirming to meet it. But when he stopped, the itch beneath his skin turned to stabbing pains. He bit down on the rubber of the gag and jerked his head around, trying to persuade himself that having a thousand needles jabbed into him was the better choice.

“Goddamn it—okay. Okay. Fuck, I am going to kill him for this.” It took a few beats after that for John to start moving.

He put his hand on Balthazar’s shoulder and the sudden cessation of pain whipped Balthazar around him, whimpering and trembling because he was fighting to press against John and fighting to get away at the same time. The latter impulse temporarily won out and Balthazar tried to kick himself back, but John had curled his fingers around Balthazar’s arm. He shook Balthazar like a cat with a mouse, then grabbed Balthazar’s tie again and dragged at it till Balthazar looked at him.

“Listen. You are going along with this, because this—this hurts--” the word exposed a surprising rawness, given its source “—and otherwise—never mind. You don’t look like the self-sacrificing type.”

Balthazar frantically shook his head, pushing at John with his knees. The tie jerked hard into the flesh of his throat and he choked, saw black. Fingers slid beneath the silk to massage away the soreness and he was almost nuzzling John before he caught himself.

“No, you really fucking are going to go along with this. Trust me.” Something dark and bitter and old underpinned John’s dry tone, but Balthazar barely had enough time to notice it because John was undoing the gag.

Before Balthazar could say anything, his tongue was being forced back by John’s and God help him, he couldn’t seem to resist. He was moaning and opening up his mouth, revolted and hungry—he wanted to throw up, he wanted to throw himself forward. He ended up shuddering away when John finally let him go. “Get off of me.”

“Can’t. Which is not my fault, by the way.” John slipped his hands beneath Balthazar’s arms and pulled them up, thumbs stroking along Balthazar’s chest so even as Balthazar twisted away, his breath was hitching. Balthazar’s knees sprawled and John shoved himself forward, getting Balthazar splayed over his lap before Balthazar could even blink. “Look, this hurts less the faster you do it. You’re not—fuck, you work with Midnite, so you can’t be completely clueless about how this kind of thing works.”

Balthazar wrenched at his hands and feet again and again, not minding the pain because at least it helped him concentrate. He turned his head aside when John leaned forward, but undeterred, John simply licked along Balthazar’s cheek. Licked. His tongue was a hot, wet curve that ran from the side of Balthazar’s mouth to nearly his ear, and when it moved, Balthazar’s body shivered. He tried to keep himself stiff, but John’s tongue-tip would trace the curve of his ear and his knees would go. A flick over his bruised temple and his back unlocked. “God, please don’t do this, please don’t—let me go…”

“You taste like…Christ, I’d forgotten things could taste this good. It’s nothing but sulfur afterward,” John breathed. His hands slid around Balthazar, chasing shivers, and ran down Balthazar’s arms to circle his wrists. Then he brought one back around to stare at the blood on it, eyes unfocused. His head weaved a little, as if he were drunk, and he started to put his fingers to his mouth.

“Please don’t,” Balthazar rasped, struggling not to look. He wanted to lick John’s hand for him. His stomach was heaving in disgust at himself.

John jerked, then gave himself a hard shake. With a snarl, he slashed his hand against his pants to wipe it off, and that was when Balthazar realized John’s comment about not being able to stop hadn’t been meant to be cruel. It’d merely been truthful.

His nausea stopped as desperation froze it into a hard, heavy pit that sank out of sight. “Oh, God.”

“Believe me, He’s not about to step in,” John snorted. He reached behind Balthazar and leaned forward at the same time to nip at the base of Balthazar’s neck. Before Balthazar had stopped shuddering, he was moving on, licking and biting up Balthazar’s throat.

The ropes around Balthazar’s ankles slackened, then fell away and suddenly he could slide closer to John. He did, he didn’t—he did, and he was groaning at the feel of John’s mouth on his neck even as his hips were jerking away from John’s hands. John shrugged, muttered something and ran his hands up Balthazar’s sides, beneath Balthazar’s shirt. His nail caught one of Balthazar’s nipples and Balthazar hissed, came back to himself long enough to yank himself sideways but John hauled him back.

“Goddamn it, stop being such an idiot.” John’s hand ran roughly down the center of Balthazar’s front and Balthazar’s shirt fell open, but John didn’t stop there. His fingers squeezed down Balthazar’s waistband, found the rising prick that had Balthazar turning his face away to hide the shamed flush, and pressed it against Balthazar’s thigh.

“Don’t—God, please don’t do this—I’ll do anything else, but please not—oh, God—” Balthazar whimpered. He writhed as John’s hand teased his cock. Banged his head on John’s shoulder to clear it but that didn’t help. That only put him near to the smell of the demon, the feel of his skin and Balthazar was covering it with his mouth, unable to resist the sudden craving.

A second later he jerked back and John’s hands came with him. The one stayed on his prick, rubbing it against his thigh so he bit his lip, sucked on blood, couldn’t think. The other dipped over his chest even as he curved away from it, chased the bend of his body till finally it darted in to rake over his bared stomach. He swayed, still shaking his head, and it dropped to claw him out of his trousers.

“Don’t, don’t—” Balthazar’s head fell back as John bent to suck at his nipple, eyes jerked wide and staring as fingers mercilessly worked farther and farther between his legs “—don’t, don’t—”

“Stop?” John rasped. Then he bit down hard on Balthazar’s nipple and hung on, worrying it while Balthazar cried out and twisted and finally slumped with tears stinging his eyes. His fingers scraped against Balthazar’s thighs, and at first Balthazar thought the bursts of heat that made him squirm were because of John but then he understood they were because of what John was smearing, removing—what had been painted on Balthazar earlier.

And Balthazar’s knees were spreading, he was sinking down even as John’s fingers pressed upward, even as inside he screamed one last time that this was not how it was supposed to be so the last remnants of his former life, former self were bloodily flayed away. He screamed inside and sobbed outside, and even the feeling of John’s fingers working in him, slicked with too little to ease, couldn’t make him stop. He forgot about what John was doing and just knew hurt.

John wrapped his arms around Balthazar and drew them together, shaking Balthazar out of it a little bit later. The blunt tip of John’s prick nudged at Balthazar’s entrance but didn’t go any further. He blearily looked up.

He couldn’t see well enough, but he felt the thumb run across his cheekbone. Its gentleness was the worst part. “Don’t,” he brokenly whispered, the second word like shattered glass in his throat. “Stop.”

Then he let himself drop beneath John’s pushing hands. The burn slashed him up so he barely could make himself breathe, let alone control his body. He let John do the rest, and when the end came, he let it be dragged out of him by the violent twisting of John’s body.


* * *

It seemed as if years should have passed, but when Balthazar gained consciousness again, the come dripping between his thighs hadn’t even dried. He winced against the brutal ache that permeated his whole body, then reached up—and stopped. Stared at the dark, swollen flesh ringing his wrists.

“How’s your head?” said John.

Balthazar flinched and curled in on himself, not caring how pathetic he looked. He scrabbled till he could pull his shirt over himself.

“I’m serious. I need to know—just a headache? Hearing anything—I mean, that you weren’t already hearing?” John was crouching down in front of Balthazar, half-smoked cigarette dangling from his hand. He looked as if he’d had little trouble pulling himself together. “If it’s starting, then you need to move.”

“What do you care?” The voice that came out of Balthazar’s mouth was a fractured croak. “What are you talking about?”

A look of frustration passed over John’s face. He looked away, smoking furiously, then stabbed out his butt and turned back. He put out his hand and sighed impatiently when Balthazar balked at it. “Okay, keep doing that and I’m just going to leave. I made it a hell of a lot easier on you than I really needed to, given the kind of guy you are.”

For some reason, the thought of John leaving sent Balthazar into shaking chills. He jerked up before he even knew what he was doing; the pain was incredible. “Wait!”

John blinked.

“Wait—is this still the damned potion? What did he do to me? My God, what—what’s happening?” Balthazar raggedly asked. His hands were trembling and the more he willed them to stop, the more they shook. He ended up having to wrap his arms around himself to get them out of the way. “What did you do?”

“Look, I didn’t do any—wait, potion? Whose?” Anger flooded into John’s face. He reached for Balthazar again, and this time he didn’t let Balthazar flinch away. “Midnite’s?”

Balthazar hissed through his teeth and pulled at the grip John had on his arm. “Let go. Yes, his. He—”

“John!” Feet came clattering down the stairs, and a moment later, Midnite burst through the door. For the first time ever, Balthazar saw what the man looked like in the grips of a panic. “John—it’s too late.”

“Oh, it’s way too fucking late,” John snarled. He flung Balthazar back and threw himself onto his feet, hands curling at his thighs. The light caught on sharp claws. Then something black blurred at John’s back and shot outwards to either side of him, obscuring Balthazar’s view.

A moment later, they’d settled into a pair of gigantic wings that nearly spanned the whole width of the room, black and naked like a bat’s. Balthazar awkwardly dragged himself to the side so he could see John stalk towards Midnite.

Midnite put up his hands and the air between the two of them rippled. John took another step, but he moved much more slowly, as if he were pushing through water. He stopped there, but from the look on Midnite’s face, Balthazar guessed John could have gone a lot farther if he’d wished to.

“You goddamn son of a bitch. Why the fuck did you do that?” As John spoke, he slashed out his hand to rip at the air between them and something audibly tore. A spot of blood gleamed on Midnite’s cheek. “No—why the fuck did you do that? First you and O’Reilly botch my exorcism so I end up like this, and then…if you wanted to get rid of me, you could’ve fucking done it to my face!”

“He wasn’t meant for you,” Midnite hurriedly said. He continued when John abruptly rocked backwards, thrown off-balance. “You came early, and you…he was supposed to incubate for another six hours.”

‘Botch his exorcism’? That almost made it sound as if John had been human sometime in the past.

John had gone silent, his wings dipping slightly, but his claws still stayed out. “So who was showing up in six hours? That you’d hate enough to inflict that on?”

“I don’t hate you, John,” Midnite said quietly. He slowly lowered his hands, palms facing outward. There was a lot of painful history in the looks he and John exchanged. “You remember your advice the other night?”

“No.” The wings snapped up against as John’s eyes bulged. “Yes. Holy fucking God. That was not what I meant. You are an idiot.”

“I was trying to correct my error,” Midnite snapped. It seemed that even his patience, fueled by whatever kind of past wrong lay between him and John, had its limits. He dropped his hands completely and stalked towards the door. “It should have weakened him long enough for you to have a chance. I don’t know what it’ll do to you.”

John groaned and dropped his head into his hands, his wings drooping till they scraped the floor. After a moment, they pulled tightly in and then vanished. “Well, I feel…fine, more or less. And he’s not dead when he should be.”

It took several seconds for Balthazar to understand that last comment referred to him, but once he had, he had enough energy to stagger to his feet. He couldn’t help flushing when Midnite and John turned to look at him since his shirt didn’t extend far below his waist, but rage kept him up. “Well, thank you very much. Can I just express right now how much I don’t appreciate being tossed around like a used bottle?”

“Sure, but it doesn’t mean we’ll listen. Speaking of, what’d he do?” John said, turning back to Midnite. “Never mind, it doesn’t matter. What are you going to do now? I mean, you just fucked with your best ally on Lou’s side, and I think he’s going to notice. He’s already pissed off at you.”

“Are you in a hurry to tell him?” Midnite retorted, already going for the door. The nerve of the man was incredible. “I think I’d better figure out how you changed the spell.”

Snarling, John shook out a cigarette and flamed his whole hand in order to light it. He glared at Midnite’s back, but wasn’t making any attempt to stop him. “And you just think I’m going to go along with this because I like your bar? You’re such a—hey, what about Balthazar?”

“He’s not something that concerns me right now,” Midnite called back.

What?” Balthazar snapped. He took a step forward and his anger instantly evaporated as his knees buckled, agony temporarily blinding him.

He should have fallen, but something caught him and held him up. As soon as he realized what, he went stiff and cold.

“I’m tempted to keep you around just because I want to find out what the hell you did to Midnite to get this,” John said, voice tickling Balthazar’s ear. His hands shifted on Balthazar, clothes rustled and Balthazar sucked in a breath, squeezed his eyes shut.

Then heavy cloth wrapped around him. His fingers automatically reached out to take hold and his balance tipped, but John caught him again and shoved him against the wall. He went, but couldn’t help cringing when he felt John’s hands on the trousers bunched around his knees.

“Put that on.” John nodded at the coat he’d hung over Balthazar’s shoulders, then leaned over to pull up Balthazar’s trousers for him. “So where do you live?”

Balthazar stared at him. Then he glanced at the door.

A light slap brought him back around to look at John, biting back a hiss of pain. Head cocked, John drew a finger down the bedraggled tie that still hung around Balthazar’s neck. He twirled it, then got a turn of it around his hand and pulled till Balthazar was forced to step forward. “If you think I’m letting you run around free so you might get word back to Lucifer, then you’re a very, very stupid man,” John casually said. He leaned forward, eyes flickering when Balthazar’s breath hitched, and tapped Balthazar’s mouth. “By the way, as far as I can tell? This isn’t part of the spell.”

If that was true, then Balthazar didn’t want to think about why he still felt that strange hot itch whenever John paid attention to him. He pressed backwards as he felt the heat of John’s body intensify. “Don’t.”

“Stop saying that. It doesn’t work.” That slender tongue burned its trail over Balthazar’s lower lip, then withdrew so he was left staring hopelessly at John. “Try learning to do something else.”

The tie tugged at Balthazar again and he stumbled forward, just grazing John. He jerked away and reflexively pulled John’s coat more tightly around himself. A second later, he realized the ridiculousness of that and nearly broke his throat trying not to laugh hysterically. The tie pulled, a hand seared into the small of his back, and in that way he lurched towards the door—but not the exit.

* * *

“Nice place,” John said, sweeping his eyes around the apartment. His grip loosened and he didn’t seem to notice as Balthazar slipped away to lean against the wall. Instead John kicked the door shut and kept on walking, occasionally spinning about to get an overall look.

Normally it would have immensely gratified Balthazar to see a demon marveling over his place, but at the moment he was more grateful that John was distracted. Before the grace period was withdrawn, he’d limped to the bathroom and locked the door with shaking hands. Then he more or less fell into the shower stall. For a minute or so, he merely laid in the bottom.

Eventually he worked up the energy to turn on the water. He let it sluice over him so the gentle warmth unknotted his muscles and soothed his aches. An inch at a time, he wormed out of his clothes and pushed them out of the stall. The effort wore him out, and he’d counted to five hundred before he had regained enough energy to reach for the soap.

The suds peeled away the dried come, the smeared streaks of the working Midnite had stored in Balthazar, and as they did, his nerves finally began to settle down. He started to think rationally.

Midnite had been trying to…attack Lucifer? And in some way, this would have helped John, who was showing more and more signs that his so-called unconventionality went deeper than eccentricity. So Midnite and Constantine were allied—Balthazar wondered if Lucifer knew.

Then again, telling Lucifer might result in Balthazar feeling better due to a horrifically dead Midnite, but it wouldn’t help him in his current state. Which he was beginning to understand better than he suspected John had noticed. He stared at the blood swirling off of him, then pressed at one of the thin sores circling his wrist so more dripped out. It wasn’t the right color.

Balthazar reached out and shut off the showerhead. The remaining water slowly whirled around him, pooling between his knees before it finally flowed into the drain. It left behind a crust, which again was slightly different than the shade that dried human blood should be.

After a while, he decided that however far gone the change was, it wasn’t going to be complete. He still felt cold, and what showed beneath the rips and scrapes in his skin still looked human. Shivering, Balthazar turned around and pushed open the door. Then he scrambled back, muffling a surprised curse.

John slouched against the door and tossed the towel he’d been holding at Balthazar. “I’m getting really tired of you doing that. How much do you know about half-breed demons?”

“Enough,” Balthazar spat out. Then it occurred to him that he still wasn’t in any position to use that sort of tone. He tensed, clutching the towel to himself. “Enough to keep my distance. Psychic gifts and the troubles they bring when used carelessly never appealed to me.”

“I doubt the ‘never’ part, but the rest of it’s pretty smart. Hate to tell you, though—it never works out that way. You use it or somebody makes you use it,” John said, turning to look at the mirror. He took the cigarette from his mouth and blew two smoke rings, one nested inside the other. “Just in case you never got close enough to figure this out—my sense of smell is good even when it’s not being fucked with by some lust-enhancer. I can tell when you’re lying.”

When he realized John wasn’t going to come any closer, Balthazar slowly began to dry himself off. “I knew that. I took precautions against it.”

One corner of John’s mouth flipped up. “Yeah, I noticed. You’re okay, but you could use some work.”

All too soon, Balthazar was done with the parts of himself he could reach without standing up. He debated, then hesitantly pushed himself to his feet and wrapped the towel around his waist. The rest could air-dry; he wasn’t that delicate, as the past few hours had proved and God, his calm was only skin-deep. He held onto the wall and took a deep breath. “Just what kind of demon are you?”

“One with brains. You’re fucking with yourself just fine, so why should I do anything? Anyway, I have better things to worry about, like stealing some orange juice from your fridge and for the first time in fifteen years, not tasting sulfur in it.” John spoke nonchalantly enough, but he was smoking his cigarette a good bit faster than he had been when he’d first started talking—in fact, he finished it as Balthazar watched. The fingers of his free hand were tapping quickly against his hip. “Your blood smells off.”

“Less tasty, I hope,” Balthazar shakily said. Pitiful as the crack was, he was pleasantly surprised that it’d come out in the first place. It distracted him from the realization that the one advantage he thought he might have had wasn’t actually there, thanks to John being more than he seemed. “You told Midnite you didn’t have any idea what was happening.”

One of John’s shoulders lifted and dropped. “Well, maybe I didn’t when he asked me. Or maybe I’m just a bad, no-good liar kind of demon.” He slid a glance over to Balthazar that warmed the skin on Balthazar’s throat and cheeks. “Anyway, he just fucked with me even if he didn’t mean to. It wouldn’t be very smart of me to just sit around thinking he’s going to fix everything the way I want him to, would it?”

The look and the words both spoke to several levels, none of which were very favorable to Balthazar. He swallowed down an irritated comment and slowly eased his way out of the shower. To do that, he had to pass John—he averted his face and controlled his breathing and leaned as far away as possible. “I don’t know what you’re expecting me to do, but I won’t--”

The towel started to slip as Balthazar was pulled backwards; he stupidly grabbed at it instead of pushing at John’s hands, and that was how he ended up locked tightly to John’s chest. His breathing turned ragged and his grip on the towel went white-knuckled in a heartbeat.

“You already got my coat soaked,” John murmured, nibbling lightly along the edge of Balthazar’s ear. His hand rambled lazily from Balthazar’s waist up to Balthazar’s nipple, still inflamed from the earlier bite. His thumbnail caught the small scab that had formed on the side, where his tooth had nicked Balthazar, and Balthazar gasped, jerked. Dropped the towel.

Looked up to see himself in the mirror, white skin marked red and huge eyes frozen with…with God knew what. Something black like the hair tickling his cheek, poisonous and sucking like the mouth he could see creeping up the side of his throat. Something that was growing, rising up to the surface despite all the attempts he’d made to quiet it, like the hard red flush spreading through the prick John was slowly running his hand over.

“No, you still smell—and taste—damned good.” John splayed his hand over Balthazar’s heart, then dragged it down so Balthazar arched, broke gaze with his reflection. Firm, sure fingers coaxed Balthazar into breathless moaning, stroking from prick to balls down thighs and then back up. “Come on. You only didn’t want in because you weren’t sure you could cut it in our world, and you hate being second-place. But you just got jumped up to the top level whether you like it or not.”

Balthazar’s hands slowly tracked till they found John’s wrists. There they clutched and squeezed, sometimes dragging at John and sometimes pushing him on. No excuses this time, said the flushed, panting man he saw when his eyes wandered back to the mirror. No reasons for why he was gradually turning into John’s hands except for the ones buried within himself.

“And now you’re looking for guidelines. There aren’t any—there are rules, but those are all bullshit. There’s just what you can make happen for yourself,” John sighed, nuzzling the side of Balthazar’s face. His hands moved faster, pressed harder, burned deeper.

“I thought—you weren’t going—to—to fuck with me,” Balthazar gasped.

John grinned over his shoulder, and the mirror showed long canines, longer tongue, and old scars in the mocking eyes. “Maybe I was lying.”

Then he suddenly dropped his head to Balthazar’s neck and sank in his teeth; Balthazar cried out and slumped into his climax, clinging to upright only because of his hold on John’s arms. He jerked feebly a few times before he collapsed against John, trembling. He shivered harder as John hooked up the towel and used it to wipe him down. The mirror showed him a fresh bloody bruise on his neck to go with the scabbed ones dotting the rest of him. He could feel it as a dull throb, a tender spot that pulsed whenever John touched him.

“If I wasn’t feeling so pissed off, I might actually thank Midnite,” John said, pushing Balthazar forward over the sink. He leaned out the door to toss the towel into the laundry hamper. “Then again, he never introduced me to you in the first place, so maybe not.”

Balthazar didn’t even know where to start. When he closed his eyes, he was still as lost and dazed as when they were open.

“Go get dressed,” John told him.

After a moment, he went and did that.

* * *

“I don’t think Lucifer has ever really paid attention to you, which is good for now, but that’s going to change fast.” After adding some salt, John pushed the bowl across the counter to Balthazar. “See if you can eat that. If not, I’ll add some blood and we’ll see if that works.”

Balthazar stared at the soup in the bowl. He slowly picked up the spoon and stirred it around. Hunched his shoulders as John walked behind him, then relaxed with a shudder when John wrapped an arm around his waist. Nails dug into his stomach, intensifying the sharp ache in his ass, and he obediently took a sip. It tasted…not quite like how he remembered leftover gazpacho should taste, but still edible. And it stayed down. “What exactly was Midnite trying to do?”

“It doesn’t really make a difference,” John started to say, hand rubbing in circles over Balthazar’s belly.

After a moment, Balthazar gave into the urge to melt up against John. He tilted his head and hesitantly nuzzled at the side of John’s face; John stiffened slightly, which was a curious reaction. Though he relaxed when Balthazar did it again, and even grinned slightly.

“It’s a modified possession spell.” John stopped there till Balthazar scooted back in the chair so he could nibble at the underside of John’s chin. “Usually it’s a one-way street. Midnite made it two-way; if having some of Lucifer’s power suddenly flood you didn’t kill you, there would’ve been plenty of ways to keep you under control since you’d just be another poor possessed bastard. But Lou would’ve been a lot weaker, so certain…things would’ve been possible.”

Balthazar stopped nipping to think briefly, then started again. He leaned forward when John started to pull away, licking along the line of John’s jaw. The hand on his belly tensed, and then John took him by the elbow, digging fingers hard into the bruises there so Balthazar jerked to a stop.

“That’s it. That’s all I have to tell you about that,” John said roughly, his eyes searching Balthazar for something he couldn’t seem to find.

Intellectually, it was an interesting reaction for John to have, and it was something Balthazar needed to revisit later. Emotionally, it twisted a knife in weak points Balthazar hadn’t known he had. “I guessed. I…” Balthazar edged forward and kissed the corner of John’s lips. “It wasn’t because I wanted to know…”

John began to turn into Balthazar’s mouth. Then he caught himself and yanked Balthazar away, spinning him to face the soup again. “Eat. And tell me how much of a stir it’d cause if you were to call in sick for the next couple of days. Or to take a spur-of-the-moment vacation.”

Balthazar mechanically spooned up soup. He was beginning to decipher why it tasted so oddly: a trace of something else had made its way into it. Something ashy and burning and…and it had to be sulfur. Though he hadn’t tasted that when he had had his mouth on John. “Calling in sick would probably throw the whole place into shock. But I take off on last-minute business trips without giving much explanation fairly often.”

“Oh, good. That’ll make things easier…” Still mumbling to himself, John pushed away from the counter and began to dig around in Balthazar’s cabinets. He took things out without looking at them, then shoved them roughly back inside so they clinked and cracked loudly against each other. Occasionally he lifted a hand to break a warding spell.

Half the soup was still left, but Balthazar didn’t have much of an appetite. He slid off his stool and washed the bowl, then set it on the rack to drain. When he turned around, John was still poking around in the cabinets, leaving things scattered on the counters in his wake. So Balthazar started to put those away.

“You must have been pretty boring before,” John suddenly said, glancing over his shoulder. “This place looks like a museum.”

“This place was demon-free.” Balthazar dropped the last bowl more quickly than he meant to and cursed as it cracked badly. He picked it out and tossed it into the wastebasket. “What are you looking for?”

Instead of answering him, John snickered and closed the cabinet before him in favor of digging in Balthazar’s fridge. His shirt pulled tight against his back so the bumps of his spine were faintly outlined; they seemed more prominent than they should have been, and one centered just below John’s shoulderblades particularly stood out. There were scars as well.

Very softly, Balthazar walked up behind John and reached out to touch a long, straight ridge that cut across John’s left ribs. The muscles beneath his finger tensed.

“Stop doing—” John started.

Then Balthazar ran his finger over that enlarged vertebrae and things exploded out at him. He threw up his arms and stumbled back, then fell to the floor, which was helped along by the fierce gust of wind that had sprung up out of nowhere. Instinct kept him scrambling till his back slammed against the stove, which turned out to be wise because when John whirled around, wings snapping back out of sight, he was far from happy.

He kicked shut the door and crossed the kitchen in two long strides, backing Balthazar in that corner before Balthazar could even extend his legs. Balthazar opened his mouth to stammer some kind of excuse and John smacked his hand into the oven door three inches from Balthazar’s head. It cracked the glass; Balthazar ducked and kept his head down, breathing in short ragged bursts.

“Don’t ever do that again,” John snarled. He paused, then began to squat down.

Hidden in the shelf beneath the stove was a sacred Tibetan knife Balthazar had gotten thanks to his Asian contacts. He reached behind himself and yanked open the drawer, then slashed out at John.

John’s eyes flicked towards it a moment before it touched him, so he could have blocked. The faintest flash of amusement went over his face, and then the blood splashed up to hide that from Balthazar’s view.

The blade hit John’s cheekbone, cut an inch, and then jerked from Balthazar’s spasming fingers as Balthazar hissed in pained surprise. He heard the knife clatter somewhere by his foot as he grabbed for his cheek and felt blood. For a moment, he couldn’t focus on anything.

Then he had to, because John had seized both his wrists and had pinned them hard against the stove. The grin on John’s face dropped into wolfish as he opened his mouth and his tongue came out to twine over Balthazar’s cheek, coiling off the blood. Probing gently at the wound so Balthazar winced.

“You’re not thinking this through,” John chided.

“Why didn’t you feel that?” Balthazar resisted a moment longer, then lunged for John with a moan already on his lips. Their mouths crushed together, hot and messy, before John abruptly backed away with a look very like shock.

Of course it didn’t take long for John to shake that off—or hide it again. “Oh, I did. I feel what I do to you, too, but I just happen to have a much higher tolerance for pain.”

“But it doesn’t show…” The top button of John’s shirt wasn’t done, so Balthazar could glimpse a few inches of John’s chest. He didn’t even see the traces of any injuries—but he did catch a look at the tail-end of a thick scar poking up the side of John’s neck.

“Well, I did mess up the spell. It’s not evenly shared, but like that’s a surprise…what the hell are you doing?” John’s voice went from lazy to sharp in a heartbeat. His head started to tilt as Balthazar sucked at the scar, but then he shook Balthazar off. Rattled Balthazar against the stove, old rage fading in and out of John’s eyes.

Balthazar dragged in breath through gritted teeth, then looked up at John. “I remind you of someone. Or something. I can’t do whatever they did to you, so why do you keep—”

Before he could finish, he’d been hauled to his feet and jerked halfway across the kitchen. He cried out at how that jarred him, and John slowed a step, but only for that step. They were in the bedroom before Balthazar knew it, and before he could properly get his bearings, John had thrown him onto the bed.

He scrambled towards the other side, then froze because more struggling would only make things worse. But John merely gave him a cold look and turned towards the door.

John hesitated, then turned back around to give Balthazar a hotter, more irritated look. “I was going to leave. What, that scares you worse?”

“I don’t know,” Balthazar said shakily, and that was the truth. He glanced at John a last time, then let himself fall onto his side and curled up, running his hands up and down his cold legs.

The bed dipped and he looked up, but he couldn’t see anything except a span of black webby flesh. Then John lifted the wing as he laid down, tucking Balthazar against him, and Balthazar could see the thin bony fingers that stretched it out. It came down over them like a blanket, while the other one sprawled to the edge of the bed and over it.

“God, it’s nice to have the room for these,” John muttered. His hand slid up Balthazar’s back to rest on the nape of Balthazar’s neck. “By the way, did you see ghosts before?”

Balthazar slowly shook his head. “Only half-breeds.”

“Then I am sorry about that. None here, but Midnite’s has a ton…” John moved his thumb in circles over the back of Balthazar’s neck, starting along the spine and slowly moving outward. When he reached the point of Balthazar’s jaw, he reversed direction.

Impossibly enough, sleep began to tug at Balthazar’s heels. His eyelashes fluttered and he shifted, then relaxed as his limbs began to warm from John. “So it’s fine as long as you’re making me do this.”

The fingers on Balthazar’s neck slowed, then came to a stop. “You’re a broker. Buy and sell things…I’d think this would feel more familiar to you.”

It would have, but somehow familiar didn’t equal better. But for the moment, Balthazar was willing to let that lie. He hurt too much, had exhausted too much of himself to try any more right now, and God knew when John would lose his temper again…

* * *

Balthazar woke up alone, but the impression coiled around him was still warm so John hadn’t been gone for very long. He pushed himself up on one elbow and checked the clock: four in the morning. In another two hours they’d be expecting him for work; some of the secretaries and clerks would already be in, so he could call.

He’d just put down the phone when he heard the balcony door sliding open and someone cursing. His hand started to slide towards the gun and the rosary he kept between the headboard and the wall, but then he recognized John’s voice. An acrid, harsh smell drifted in before John’s footsteps, making Balthazar blow out his nose sharply and breathe through his sleeve in an attempt to stifle it out.

John came in, his previous grace gone crooked as a nunnery’s chastity. He stopped in the shadows when he saw that Balthazar was up, but even from there Balthazar could see the awkward way John was cradling his left hand.

“Guess you’re lucky it doesn’t extend to others hitting me, otherwise you’d never get any rest,” John said after a moment. He wrapped his fingers around his wrist, then twisted hard so bones snapped and popped.

Balthazar winced even though he didn’t actually feel it. “What happened?”

He was surprised at his tone of voice. So was John, who cocked his head quizzically. “Don’t tell me you’re worried. You should save that for today—did you call in and everything?”

When Balthazar nodded, John waved for him to get out of the bed. “Great. Go shave and whatever you need to do. We’re going to see a few other friends of mine.”

John wandered over to a chair and flopped into it, where he stayed while Balthazar stumbled through his morning routine. He almost seemed to be sleeping, the planes of his face smooth and almost serene when at rest. He should have been an angel, if they had cast roles strictly according to appearance.

In the middle of trying to knot his tie, Balthazar remembered he hadn’t cast the runes yet. He looked at John and wondered if it was still any good, but finally decided the previous day’s reading hadn’t been wrong—on the contrary. At the very least, it might help calm him down so he didn’t think about what kind of other friends John might have.

He’d just taken out the bag when something rustling. He glanced back at the chair, but it was empty.

“Runes?” Laughing lowly, John caught Balthazar by the waist and pulled him back, hand twisting playfully in the ends of Balthazar’s tie. “Isn’t that a bit old-fashioned for you? I would’ve guessed you’d use some of that astrological plotting software.”

“It’s what works for me,” Balthazar muttered, trying to keep John from choking him with the tie. A hand slid pointedly down his hip and he abruptly sank back against John, breathless.

The humor died out of John’s face as he tilted Balthazar’s chin up, once again staring at Balthazar as if he didn’t quite know what he had. His fingers stroked along Balthazar’s throat, then made a perfect Windsor knot in Balthazar’s tie. “Well, suppose you might as well bring them. You can—never mind.”

Balthazar pressed his cheek against John’s shoulder. When John didn’t push him away or shove them along, he inched along till he could kiss the side of John’s jaw. He moved down a bit, did it again, and then delicately nipped at the side of John’s mouth. It turned to briefly press against Balthazar’s lips and he curled his fingers into John’s shirt, pulling for more. Which John suddenly gave him, holding Balthazar by the hair and savaging the breath out of him. Whining, Balthazar clutched at John’s clothes and welcomed the tearing.

John ended it a little less roughly than he had previously, looking less angry and confused than…grimly amused. “So this is going to work out better for Midnite than he’d planned, after all.”

“Says who?” Balthazar said. He couldn’t help but grit his teeth at the mention of that name. “I don’t see why that can’t change.”

And he couldn’t help but go limp when John nuzzled him. “God, you’re beautiful when you’re pissed off,” John was laughing. “I’m starting to like you.”

Balthazar glanced up quickly at that, and whatever expression he was wearing made John flinch. Then John turned away and jerked them brusquely towards the door. His hands slid off of Balthazar, but Balthazar followed as if invisible threads still linked the two of them. For once, the metaphor was less telling than the truth.


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