Tangible Schizophrenia


Grave Measures II: Night Scene

Author: Guede Mazaka
Rating: NC-17. Rough sex.
Pairing: Constantine/Van Helsing/Balthazar.
Feedback: Good lines, typos, etc.
Disclaimer: None of this belongs to me. I did it for the happy, not the money.
Notes: Constantine/Van Helsing. Mixes in some Hellblazer book-canon, but primarily relies on the movie.
Summary: Gabriel’s temper gets shorter and shorter. John and Balthazar attempt to make private arrangements.


By the time they got to John’s place, it was dark so Gabriel could walk up without anyone noticing how splattered with blood he was. Then again, that might not have been necessary. Whatever the hell that last thing had been, its blood dried purple and smelled like…grave-dirt, John decided. Mud with a little bit of dead flowers mixed into it.

Much as it pained him to do, he ended up putting more of his clothes on Balthazar. The shirt was fine, but the pants rumpled up around Balthazar’s ankles in a way that made John snicker. He scrubbed the last of the water from his hair into the sink, then did up his tie. “Not so much the dandy now, are we?”

“No, we certainly aren’t,” Balthazar coolly replied. He was sitting on the kitchen table, well away from any knives, amulets or other potential weapons, and trying to do up his sleeves. Only his fresh wrist-splints were getting in the way, and apparently that tongue of his wasn’t quite flexible enough to do the job. It was getting better and better by the minute. “Do you shop solely at the Salvation Army? Which is an appropriate name if I ever heard one…”

“I wouldn’t speak so lightly of salvation if I were you. There’s not that much keeping me from deporting your ass back there.” John began to turn, winced because his bruises were stiffening up, and made himself keep going. He opened cabinets till he found a fresh roll of bandages. Plus a dead fly, which instead of merely disgusting him made his throat briefly close and his hands clench on the cabinet door.

No, not now. Beeman and Hennessey and any other losses whom John hadn’t found out about in time could rest in peace. Though John might need Balthazar around on the earthly plane, he had no intention of letting the bastard get any peace. He’d take back his debts from Balthazar’s hide the way Lord God himself did it—one drop of sweat, one drop of blood at a time.

In the meantime, he really needed to get his arm bandaged up. Gabriel had been nice enough to do a hasty stitching job before he’d disappeared into John’s shower—John idly wondered if that would purify or curse it—but now that the bite was closed, the flesh around it was starting to turn red and tender. Last thing John needed was an infection from Hell. “So what’s with you and Gabriel? Should I bother setting up two extra mattresses, or just the one?”

“Why, John, I’m touched. I never knew that you gave a second’s thought to my personal affairs.” Balthazar finally gave up on the cuffs and rested his arms in his lap, eyes narrowed into contemptuous slits. He leaned forward, dropping his voice into just plain lech for the punchline. “Or that your tastes ran so low, for a self-proclaimed champion of all that’s holy. Do you just like to watch, or did you want to direct as well?”

“Very mature of you. What, do you miss Ariel? Looking for a big, strong substitute?” A spare holy water grenade turned up in another cabinet; John took it and set it on the counter. He pulled up his sleeve a little farther, making sure it’d be clear, and then held his bitten arm over the sink. The grenade cracked nicely when he smacked it against the counter’s edge, leaking slowly enough for him to get it over his wound before squeezing.

The water splashed down and pain splashed up. For a second, John thought he’d gotten acid in his eyes and that that was why his sight was blurring. But no, that was just the steam rising from his arm that felt as if he’d just dipped it in molten lead. He slipped a little and grabbed for a cabinet-handle overhead, gritting his teeth against the burn.

It wasn’t too bad after the first second, and he was just letting out his breath when he suddenly remembered.

But Balthazar had already taken the opportunity and gotten himself across the floor, body slammed up against John’s hip. His teeth clicked just a hair short of John’s ear every time he spoke, sparking adrenaline into John’s blood so every muscle tensed and every nerve snapped tight.

“You have no idea, you pathetic piece of trash,” he cooed. “No idea, and you think you’re the top of the world behind the world. Lesson for Johnny: wise up.” Tongue dragging along the curve of John’s ear so he twisted away. “You think Lucifer just wants you as a punching bag? You think that’s all he’d use you as? And you look down your nose at me—I know you, too, Johnny-boy. I know you’re planning to game your way around Gabriel, around Lucifer, and I know you will, as you invariably do, fuck. Up.”

“Didn’t exactly the last time, did I? Not like you.” John abruptly relaxed. Just long enough to catch Balthazar off-guard, and then he pivoted to slam his arm in Balthazar’s face. The one soaked in holy water.

Balthazar was getting back some of his old stamina, for he hissed instead of screamed. But he definitely went flying back into the table, one arm instinctively going out to catch himself. The jolt to his wrist was what made him stagger, but a moment later he was up and slashing claws within inches of John’s stomach. John jumped backwards and scrambled for the last cabinet where he kept the blessed gold knuckledusters.

He didn’t get there. Someone caught his wrist and wrenched him out of the way so he skidded into the fridge. The impact rattled his already aching back and sent him down to the floor, head dizzy and knees sprawling.

When his sight cleared, he began to look up only to have that nervy shudder go down his spine. He hesitated so he could only see feet, then slowly lifted his head the rest of the way.

Gabriel must have just finished since his hair was dripping on the floor and his shirt turned translucent with moisture wherever it touched his skin. He carried his own spare clothes—John idly wondered if they went wherever the hell Gabriel kept that shotgun—and they fit him well.

Stupid thought. But then, John wasn’t exactly used to seeing Balthazar looking like he was about to cry, either. It looked like Gabriel had caught Balthazar by the forearm as the demon had went past him, then had yanked up that arm behind Balthazar’s back, neatly forcing him flush up against Gabriel’s. He had his other arm around Balthazar’s chest to lock Balthazar’s free arm there, and his head was buried in Balthazar’s neck. One guess what he was doing there. It was making Balthazar squirm and whimper, face screwed up like he was in extreme pain, or…

John dropped his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. He spread his fingers to hide the flush in his cheeks and refused to think about why that was there. “Do I need to give you two a moment?”

Gabriel jumped. Literally—he jostled Balthazar and given how he was holding him, it wasn’t surprising that Balthazar twisted hard and away. The oddest look, like shame or something like that, passed over Gabriel’s face. Then he released Balthazar so quickly that Balthazar nearly fell on his ass. “Can I leave you two alone for more than fifteen minutes without a fight happening?”

“Nope.” John slowly pulled himself to his feet, swallowing back all the complaints his body made. His shoulders were still screaming from earlier, and his hips felt like someone had taken a sledgehammer to them. He was just trying to pretend he didn’t have a back to get banged up. “You…uh…ready to go?”

“Give me a moment.” Well, Gabriel wasn’t much for excuses. He just spun on his heel and walked over to the windows, where he rested his hands on the sill and lowered his head as if praying.

Balthazar had fallen bent over the table and still hadn’t risen. He didn’t breathe till after Gabriel had crossed the room, and even then it was a faint, shaking breath that irritated John. This wasn’t the half-breed he remembered. Hell, even his nemeses were letting him down.

Mostly out of curiosity, John went over and tilted Balthazar’s head so he could look. Still no breakage of the skin, but…“World-class hickey there. I don’t know whether this’ll be more shocking, or the fact that you died about a month back, or hell, that you’re walking in with me.”

“Save your pity. You’re not in a much better position,” Balthazar snorted. He stayed hunched over for another moment, then knocked John’s hand away and stood.

John let him alone, more interested in what had come off on his fingers when he’d touched Balthazar’s neck. Spit. So…licking? Gabriel had said he’d been a werewolf and never quite gotten over it, but what had been going on here felt a little more universal than that. Interesting. Balthazar had had a point—John was somewhat in the dark when it came to the higher levels of Heaven and Hell, the ones that didn’t bother with individual souls, and obviously he needed to learn fast.

He twitched. Then he lifted his head, trying to figure out what the hell that was. It prickled insistently at his skin and begged at his nerves, tweaking them so his fingers restlessly worked around each other. It…Gabriel was smoking. Fuck. John abruptly turned to the counter and furiously bandaged his arm in an attempt to ignore it, only he forgot to wash off his fingers first and he accidentally touched the spit to a crack that’d opened along one scab.


Christ. He sucked in air as quietly as he could and tried to wipe it off, only it’d…already dissolved into his blood. At least, he couldn’t feel it anymore. Shit. Shit, shit, shit.

“All right, where’s your friend?” Gabriel came back over, much too calm, and breezed out the door without even looking at them. It was a toss-up whether Balthazar’s expression was relieved or insulted.

“You know, Johnny, something you learn once you’ve been in hell awhile—at a certain level, it’s not playing around anymore. Not…bargaining for your retirement. There’s a reason why they call it war.” Balthazar actually sounded like he was talking seriously, and not trying to lead John into some horror’s gnashing jaws.

“Not sure how good your advice is, but I’ll keep that in mind,” John said, more dismissively than he felt. Little bubbles of aggravation simmered and burst in his throat again, and he wished once again that a second chance had really meant a second chance—at his old life in his old world. Instead, he’d just been bounced into another game, and now he had to learn the damn rules all over again.

* * *

Midnite’s club hadn’t changed much, which was less reassuring to Balthazar than it should have been. He didn’t like following, but given a choice between standing on Constantine’s side or getting any nearer than four feet to Gabriel, he opted for the one that wouldn’t see him fucked rawer than a raped nun within five minutes. And Constantine hated sharing the sidewalk, so that was why Balthazar loitered behind.

His neck had long since passed from itching and now throbbed, low and deep and insinuating, and every time his collar rubbed against it, he nearly twitched out of his—out of John’s clothes. Which interested him since they smelled deliciously of fear and despair and sickness, but even that wasn’t enough to distract him.

Power just rolled off Gabriel. Normally that would excite Balthazar but not make him lose his mind, but this particular power was a devastating mix of heaven and hell—corrupted good, mitigated evil, it was all twisted up together and it was possibly the most intoxicating sensation he’d ever come across. It gave Constantine’s unique ability to inspire infuriation a run for its money. It was enough to make Balthazar want to give in, and not only because Gabriel had something of Lucifer’s presence. It was enough to make that appealing instead of humiliating and vengeful, which had been about the best Hell’s strictly-enforced hierarchy had offered Balthazar.

The bouncer looked up and then stared when they came forward, head swiveling back and forth, back and forth. Constantine shoved his hands in his pockets and clucked. “We don’t have all night.”

Gabriel didn’t even wait for the bouncer to pick up a card. “She faked it. And he wasn’t jealous of you, but of her.”

John shot Gabriel an inquiring look, but Gabriel turned a cold shoulder to him and instead concentrated—too hard to Balthazar’s eye—on prying the cord from the bouncer’s hand. He had them past the rope before the bouncer had even begun to stammer a question.

Inside it was dark and smoky, which had to be giving John the twitches. Half the crowd was all new faces, which Balthazar took to mean that John had been busy, but enough familiar half-breeds were around to make Balthazar step a little closer to the other two. He tugged his sleeves further down to hide the splints.

“How did—” John asked, but Gabriel was shoving hard through the crowd and apparently didn’t hear. With a disgusted sigh, John dropped back and glowered at one group lounging by the bar. “You’d think a little demonic blood would loosen him up.”

“He smelled it on the man,” Balthazar dryly explained. “The bouncer’s having an affair with the wife of the singer up there because he doesn’t think he can have one with the singer.”

John glanced sharply back, then slowed to avoid a waitress. A slight smile crept onto his face. “Werewolf, huh. Is that the deal with him and your neck, or would that be the vampire coming out?”

“I don’t really feel like telling you.” The next time they passed a waitress, Balthazar snagged a glass. She swore and grabbed for him, but he pivoted too quickly and too many people flowed between them for her to follow. He gratefully downed half the drink while scanning the room—Gabriel didn’t seem to be needing directions anymore, for he’d made a beeline for Midnite’s office. “You aren’t making a very good guide. Better watch it or Gabriel might not bother shielding you anymore.”

“Thanks for the concern, but I think I can take care of myself. Unlike some people, I improve after coming back from the dead.” Something or someone had caught Constantine’s eye, and he was trying to make surreptitious gestures. When those didn’t seem to work, he smacked his coat out of the way and started to push through the crowd, moving away from Gabriel.

It was a stupid move, and especially since they didn’t know who was backing the attacks. Balthazar checked the distance between himself and Gabriel, then gritted his teeth and went after John. As soon as his wrists were healed, he was going to work out some of his frustration by beating Constantine to a pulp. “John—damn it, Constantine—”

The music drowned him out. John kept going, eventually ending up by a pillar where he fell into intense conversation with whoever was standing behind it. The dancers surged and receded before Balthazar as he made his way over, shoving and elbowing when he had to. His bones were beginning to mend together and he didn’t want to snap them again, so it took a little longer than he’d expected. He emerged just as a hand fell on his shoulder; Balthazar instinctively spun out from under it and leaped backwards, knocking up against John as he did. His glass dropped to shatter on the floor.

“…stop teasing and tell me, Ellie. What do you mean—what the…Balthazar, for—” John lifted his arm and turned from Ellie, who was looking beautiful and cruel as always, to glare at Balthazar. Only he froze once he saw who’d pushed his way into the corner.

He didn’t personally know Arioch, but he knew an evil when he saw one. And a Duke of Hell certainly counted as one.

“John Constantine,” Arioch said. His voice was like rocks grinding flesh into a shapeless mass, and though his shape was that of a well-dressed, burly giant nearly seven feet tall, his true form rose in a menacing shadow behind him. “Your reputation precedes you.”

The muscle in John’s jaw was ticking and fear suddenly rose as the strongest of the scents that clung to him, but he managed to meet Arioch’s gaze with equanimity. His hand dropped to his coat, then kept going to tap by his hip; Balthazar had to admire a man who could have a cigarette craving when threatened with instant annihilation. “Thanks.”

“I’ll just be going…” Ellie sing-songed. She gave John a wink when he looked at her, then dashed off.

Balthazar made a note to string her guts over the bar when he got a chance. She’d probably marked them when they had walked in and called over Arioch. Ellie was—all right, at the moment she’d beaten Balthazar for ability to go with the winner, and she therefore desperately needed to be removed from the scene.

“You have something that my lord Lucifer wants,” Arioch went on. His shadow curled hungry mouths over his shoulders that snapped with a little too much substance for Balthazar’s taste. Balthazar edged backwards and Arioch’s eyes slid to him. The Duke’s smile widened to show yellowed teeth dripping with black froth. “And you, half-breed, are due back in hell.”

“If Lou wants something, he can ask for it himself.” John stepped forward, partially inserting himself between Arioch and Balthazar as he did.

Arioch marked it, amusement gliding over his eyes like an oil veil. “I didn’t know you’d developed such a taste for our kind. Changed your mind about where you’d like to end up?”

It was more than a little grating to hear that lascivious tone in Arioch’s voice and know exactly what the bastard meant, but Balthazar pushed that away for the moment. Constantine’s stubbornness at letting someone get to what he considered his, whether that be friend or enemy, before he did was buying Balthazar a little time. And though it was the height of insanity to challenge a Duke of Hell, there were other ways. Ariel had at least done that much for Balthazar.

“First things first. I’ve gone through a hell of a lot of trouble for that, so you can’t just expect me to give it up to you.” A little bit of cockiness was sneaking into John’s smile. He tugged at his lapels and then straightened his tie, looking up at Arioch. “Not to mention it’d be doing Lou a favor.”

“You do not do favors for the ruler of Hell, you insolent waste of flesh.” The way Arioch spoke should have been warning enough: his voice was smooth and unruffled, beautifully modulated. “Tell me where the Spear is before I rip that knowledge from your brain.”

John blinked rapidly, opening and then closing his mouth. He dropped back a step. “The…Spear?”

Arioch smiled again. And quick as damnation claiming a soul, the mouths of his shadow darted forward at both of them. Balthazar cursed inside and hastily released the spell, though it hadn’t yet been properly tied off. Then he was slammed backward as John dove for the safety of the bar. His wrists twisted and Balthazar bit down on his lip, trying not to cry out. His knees hit the floor, and then he had to deal with John’s limbs flailing all over.

The light had blown through Arioch’s shadow and torn it to shreds, as well as sent most of the club into fits. He hit a table on the other side and knocked it over, howling and clawing at his face. Then he abruptly straightened to show that the shadow had become the substance, and the substance fixed enraged red eyes on them.

“Great. Great idea,” John panted. He was starting to roll down his sleeves.

“Constantine, that is the Third Duke of Hell. You can’t do a damned thing.” Balthazar felt at his wrists and was momentarily relieved to find they hadn’t rebroken. Then he flinched back as Arioch leaped at them, futilely throwing up his arms.


Then the floor shook as if an earthquake started. Balthazar dropped his arms, a little shocked to find that their bones hadn’t been what had just been smashed, and looked out to see that Gabriel had slammed Arioch aside. Now he jumped nimbly up and snarled open-mouthed at Arioch, who had reverted further to become an angel with wings of hissing snakes. Gabriel’s jaw—changed—to let him bare huge fangs, and the shadows piling up behind him were shaping themselves into…wolves. A pack that wound themselves around his legs, snapping and growling. Occasionally a snake would lunge and they would tear its head to ribbons.

“What the hell is that?” John breathed.

Gabriel responding to Balthazar’s…call. Balthazar bit down on the side of his mouth and tried not to think about how he was going to end up paying for that. “How they settle issues of seniority in Hell.”

“Really.” John’s eyes were still wide with mingled terror and shock, but his fascination with anything that could kill him in abnormal ways was beginning to kick in. He went up on one knee to watch as Gabriel rumbled something at Arioch. Arioch hissed back, laughing, and flared his wings so the serpents formed a deadly halo around him. “Must make you all warm and fuzzy inside, knowing they want you that badly. Nothing but the best for you, darling.”

“It’s as much for your benefit as it is mine,” Balthazar muttered. His head cleared a little, and he began to process the last few moments. “Why is he asking about the Spear?”

Shrugging, John used a stool to pull himself up and grab a drink from the bar. “Damned if I know. It’s not his, and he can’t touch it so I don’t know why he’d want it. If he had wanted to get it, he could’ve taken it while he was dragging his kid home.” He took a sip, then put the glass back on the bar. “What do you mean, for my ben—”

Arioch explained for Balthazar. “Constantine is Lucifer’s,” he snarled at Gabriel. “Stay out of it, archangel.”

Gabriel’s reply was to slash his hand—now clawed—at Arioch’s throat. The snakes instantly retaliated, and then both of them went down in a swirling storm of snapping teeth and tearing flesh.

Balthazar never prayed, for obvious reasons, but right now he wished desperately that Gabriel came out on top.

* * *

Gabriel came back to himself with a piece of artery dangling from his teeth and hands overflowing of rent, smoking flesh. His belly felt full and his blood was over-warm, sizzling in his veins. The blood in his mouth tasted like the finest champagne mixed with exquisitely rare steak.

He leaned over, pushing aside something that snapped, and threw up. Not all of it was going to come up; what the wolves had swallowed for him was going to stay, and that made him sicker so he more easily could get rid of what he could. It ate at his throat like acid as it came up, but he forced himself to keep vomiting till he was coughing up nothing but blood-laced air. He lifted one hand to check on his nerves, then smashed it back down into pulped flesh when he saw how badly it was shaking.

“What on earth—Constantine?” A man with coffee-colored skin had appeared, smelling of Haiti dust and generations of magic. “What have you done?”

“Me? Hey, I wasn’t the one who had a…what’d—Third Duke of Hell sitting at my bar.” Whoever had said that smelled both stronger and weaker, and certainly more suitable. And he was moving towards Gabriel. “You’re really helping to restore the balance, Midnite.”

A surge of hunger smashed past Gabriel’s defenses and he reared up, snarling. He had the vague impression of someone slender and pale jerking backwards, but then a wave of magic came slamming at him. It was by no means a weak spell, but he wasn’t in the mood and he simply snapped it.

The recoil slapped Gabriel back to himself; he shook his head hard, and when he thought he could remember that there were mortals in the room and he had no grievance with them, he sat back on his knees. The artery was still hanging from his mouth and he pulled it out, then did his best to shake the gore off of his hands. “Are you Midnite? I’d like to request a private interview.”

Constantine’s friend stared at him, but responded to John. “What have you brought into my house? The balance doesn’t allow for Dukes of—”

Gabriel bit back on his exasperation and stood up. Everyone instantly jumped back several steps, which was such a familiar reaction that he almost laughed. He might as well be playing the Vatican’s hunting dog brought to bay again and again by fearful, ignorant townspeople.

But these were, he hoped, modern times, and if he had any chance of laying the matter of the manuscript to rest, he needed local cooperation. “Sir, I am Gabriel Van Helsing, and that was Arioch, the Third Duke of Hell. Now--”

“Impossible,” Midnite breathed, raising his hands. The fingers were curled up and…

…a shadow-wolf snapped out before Gabriel could help it. He yanked it back just as John started forward, forcing it down beside his feet. But he couldn’t force it to dematerialize—every time he tried, bile rose in his throat and his nerves began to hum, screaming that they couldn’t take that stress. In the end, he had to settle for letting it lick off the blood on his pants and coat. “That was Arioch. Don’t presume to tell me what I just ate. Now, I apologize for the state of your club and I offer compensation, but I need to speak with you.”

Midnite was still staring at him, but the shock had been swiftly replaced by wary judgment. His eyes went up and down Gabriel, then shifted to Constantine, restless by the bar, and Balthazar, who made the man briefly flinch. Balthazar shrugged and made some gesture with his right hand, to which Midnite gave a noncommittal grunt. Then Midnite half-turned, waving Gabriel towards a door in the back wall, and behind Gabriel, oddly silent servers rushed forward to clean up the mess.

He started to follow, then stopped and turned around. If the point of Gabriel’s efforts was to reduce the chances that Judgment Day would come, then he shouldn’t leave something like Arioch’s heart out in the open. He stooped down and delicately began to free the mangled organ from the crushed ribs. When Constantine stopped beside him, he nodded towards Midnite. “I’ll join you in a moment.”

John pursed his lips, then replaced whatever he was going to say with a, “Fine.”

Balthazar didn’t pause, but he did cast a ravenous look at the heart in Gabriel’s hand. Then he noticed Gabriel was looking and dropped his eyes. A moment later, he straightened his shoulders more than strictly necessary and stalked after John.

The wolf butted Gabriel’s leg, then sat on its haunches and grinned, tongue lolling. Gabriel snapped it apart in a fit of anger, and almost crushed Arioch’s heart while he was at it. He froze. Took a deep breath, and then he willed his hand to relax. “No, I won’t,” he muttered, getting up.

Past the door was an office decorated to suit a houngan of the top level, but it was empty. A door in its side-wall led into what looked like an underground crypt, well-lit but so crammed with relics that it still gave off an air of closing in on whoever walked inside.

The door softly swung shut behind Gabriel. He didn’t whip around, but it took him a moment to recollect himself before he could follow into the room behind the office. Zombies. That magic wasn’t necessarily as black as commonly assumed, but he still disliked it.

Vlad Dracul, a little voice reminded him. He shoved it away and made his way into the crypt, listening for Constantine and Midnite’s voices up ahead. A sniff told him Balthazar had wandered off into a small side-hall, so when Gabriel reached that fork, he stopped to consider the situation.

“…archangel, only he ended up part-demon. I think he’s got Lucifer’s blood in him, if you can believe that.”

“I find I have to believe many unpleasant things when you’re involved.”

“Midnite, honestly. I told you, I didn’t do it on purpose. This all fell into my lap—he would’ve come here sooner or later. You’re not exactly unknown. Even if he’s been in Tibet for who knows how long.”

Old friends. The hostile banter and the underlying regrets were unmistakable. Gabriel let them be for the moment and went into the side-hall, warning himself not to lose control. That was, not to lose any more than he already had. When the shadow-wolves came out, then he knew he was inches from tipping over the precipice. Usually he dealt with it by retreating to somewhere isolated and cold, letting it freeze the fiery rage till he could stand company again, but that wasn’t an option now. He needed to stay and track down that second manuscript. His hands were shaking again. He still tasted that blood in his mouth and he wanted more from somewhere, and damn this. Every time he turned around, something came at him that only fed the black fury inside of him.

Balthazar had his back to Gabriel, apparently studying an elaborate wooden crucifix that hung on the wall. He ran his fingers over Christ’s toes, then looked up as if he’d been expecting the agonized grimace on the Savior’s face to change. His hand wasn’t quite steady; it jerked once before he dropped it to a chest of drawers shoved up against the wall, fingering the bone-shaped handles.

“…John, I thought your plan for stopping Mammon was insane, but at least it had a point. What are you trying to accomplish—no, do not smile like that at me. Stopping Mammon gave you a chance at salvation. Which you won. You don’t need to move in this world anymore. If you still do, it’s because you want to.”

He knew Gabriel was there, and he was planning something. Every step Gabriel took stiffened Balthazar’s back and shoulders another fraction, until when Gabriel finally feathered a bloodstained fingertip across Balthazar’s nape, it felt as if he were touching silk-covered steel. Balthazar reeked of spicy, sharp fear and lust, cut with a note of jangling smoky nerves.

“Ariel said he could get me out of Hell, and back here,” Balthazar abruptly said. “And he also said he needed me because I’d found the Spear of Destiny once. He wanted me to do it again.”

Gabriel froze where he was, a thread of reason needling through the miasma of fight-heightened craving that clouded his mind. So that was why Ariel had bothered. It had to be the truth because Gabriel hadn’t mentioned that the Spear was also necessary for the spell to topple Lucifer.

“That’s needed too, isn’t it? Ariel had me tracking down things for his other projects as well, but Arioch wouldn’t have been asking unless it concerned this. Constantine would have been the last one to have it.” Balthazar took a deep breath so quietly that even Gabriel’s keen hearing didn’t pick it up; it was the rise and fall of Balthazar’s shoulders that betrayed him. “He hid it, but I could find it again. I have a…knack for that.”

Down the main hall, John was angrily pacing. “So what, I should let myself get chewed to bits for the sake of being normal? I can’t be normal if I’m dead.”

It was obvious what would come next. Obvious and enraging, for there he was, thinking he had a playable hand when he was sitting at the wrong table. The games were behind them, and right now they were in the middle of a real apocalypse, with no room for personal gain. With no meaning to justify personal bargains.

“I don’t want—” Balthazar started. Then he stopped, and this time the breath he drew was audibly sharp. His shoulders jerked and his throat tensed as he swallowed hard.

Gabriel took the last step and reached around Balthazar to drop Arioch’s heart on the chest. He drew his thumb over the bruise he’d left on Balthazar’s neck a second time, pressing in to feel the faint but still-present impressions that his teeth had left. Then he wrapped his hand around Balthazar’s jaw and yanked it up so he could watch Balthazar’s eyes widen. The boiling, itching need to slaughter had calmed somewhat, but instead of cooling, it had transmuted into something else. Something slightly less likely to see him finish his fall.

“I’ve lived my whole life this way. I—” John tucked a sob into his laugh “—I can’t change now. Saved or not, I’m in this trade. And as long as I’m here, I might as well be all that I can be.”

“You don’t want to go back to Hell,” Gabriel murmured, letting his breath tickle Balthazar’s ear. He lifted his bloody hand and danced it in front of Balthazar’s nose, feeling how the smell of it seeded a moan in Balthazar’s chest that he couldn’t quite crush. When he raised his fingers, Balthazar couldn’t help trying to follow it, mindlessly licking at air. Gabriel tightened his hold, finally getting Balthazar to grab at his wrist, and lowered his hand again. He stroked his finger over Balthazar’s forehead and nose, keeping it a hair from touching the skin. “And you think you can buy your way out. What, exactly, is keeping me from merely making you help me?”

Balthazar tugged weakly at Gabriel’s hand, choking and twisting. He started to squeeze out a few words, but Gabriel shifted his hold so his fingers pressed into the bite-mark and Balthazar gurgled into silence. Then Balthazar suddenly clawed behind him, nail almost catching Gabriel in the eye. Stung by his carelessness, Gabriel seized the demon’s wrist and squeezed till he could feel the fragile bones start to creak. They were barely healed. It wouldn’t take much.

“It’s just a little favor, Midnite.”

Not much. Not—

Gabriel all but flung Balthazar’s wrist away from him. Then he dropped his hold on Balthazar’s neck and stumbled back a step, gut clenching at how close that had been.

“Because of that,” Balthazar gasped, clinging to the chest. He rubbed at his neck while staring at Arioch’s heart. His tongue flicked out to touch it, then snapped back. His hands clamped down on the edge of the chest as he steadied his breath, his eyes closed.

Then he turned around and stepped forward so quickly that Gabriel raised his arms to block. But that wasn’t Balthazar’s intent; he abruptly grabbed Gabriel’s bloody hand and brought it to his lips, tongue curling out to swipe the clotting stuff from Gabriel’s knuckles. It teased and swirled ahead of Balthazar’s hot mouth, offering a hint of warmth and cleanliness before Balthazar engulfed the deceived bit of Gabriel’s flesh in decadent fire.

Gabriel ripped his hand away. Then he took Balthazar by the throat again and had him slammed against a cabinet before his mind could catch up. And it never quite did; his fangs came down and buried themselves in Balthazar’s neck so sweet hot blood pooled in his mouth, and his hands shredded past clothing to luxuriate in writhing, lean muscle. He was barely aware of nails digging into his shoulders, all his senses taken up with the black pleasure of having fire instead of ice for once.

The spicy blood flooding his mouth began to taste dangerously strong in death so he pulled away, not quite wanting that. No, better to leave some warmth in the flesh his bloody lips caressed, some faint pulse to leap against his teeth as he licked the wounds closed. Licked and sealed, ended that low incessant whine. His hands moved lower, pressing muscle and skin to where he wanted it, stroking and petting till he found the ridge rising along one squirming thigh. Then he ground the heel of his hand into it, slowly working from base to head and then back before he deigned to deal with their pants. He bit into the line of Balthazar’s jaw, not deep enough to draw blood but enough so that every groan vibrated against his teeth. The hands on his shoulders flexed; Balthazar hissed as that stressed his healing wrists, but then forgot all about that when Gabriel took hold of his prick.

One long squeeze up it, and then Gabriel let go. He raked his nails viciously down the inside of Balthazar’s thigh when Balthazar whined in protest, then spun the demon hard so Balthazar rattled the chest with the impact of his hands. Gabriel pressed immediately up behind him, grabbing for Arioch’s heart as he did. Heart’s blood, viscous and tingling, oozed into his hand. He dropped it back on the chest and shoved two fingers into Balthazar’s ass; Balthazar sucked a breath that began rasping like hooves pawing the ground and ended in begging silence, head dropping forward.

He satisfied himself with scoring his teeth over both sides of Balthazar’s neck while his fingers worked open that clenching passage, forcing the muscles to spread. Ariel had refrained from this, Gabriel realized. Dimly, half-consciously, the way a beast knew danger in man even if they’d never seen a human being before. His jaw spread wide and he thought he was laughing a little.

Then his mouth had slammed shut, molars grind-catch-grinding past each other as he pressed into Balthazar, shoving harder and deeper till their thighs were smashed together. Balthazar whimpered and bucked upward, knees trying to scrape farther apart. Some of the drawer handles were blocking his way, and Gabriel was too far gone to think about moving back so that was no longer a problem. He forced Balthazar back down and licked hard along Balthazar’s hairline, occasionally letting the point of his teeth graze the skin. His hands kneaded Balthazar’s hips, slipping on sweaty skin till one of them finally touched the tip of Balthazar’s prick. Some fragment of Gabriel’s old self spoke up then, and he reached around to take firm hold of the cock, squeezing and drawing his fist up it till Balthazar’s moans took on a different quality. A sweeter note, tangled in the harsh panting and the thuds of flesh against wood, and the slap of flesh against flesh.

“Because I thought you gave a damn about me!”

John’s voice jerked Gabriel’s head up and his mind out of its haze just as Balthazar came, thrashing and keening. The whiplash as Balthazar clenched Gabriel’s own climax out of him yanked his head back, and so when he got hold of himself the second time, he was dizzy from that. He awkwardly got off of Balthazar, who was limp as a ragdoll, and turned to lean against a nearby cabinet. His pulse seemed abnormally loud, but it was a good deal calmer than it had been since…possibly before he’d met Constantine.

“You have to love how self-absorbed Johnny-boy is,” Balthazar snorted, slowly pulling himself off the chest. His pants had rumpled around his knees and mostly avoided staining, but his thighs were splattered in a mix of whitish come and blackish demon blood, and his shirt was smeared with more black stains. “He hasn’t even noticed we didn’t catch up.”

Relaxed as he sounded, his hand had a slight tremor that was particularly noticeable when he reached up to brush his hair out of his face.

Gabriel almost rubbed at his own forehead before remembering what a mess his own hands were. He squeezed his eyes shut, decided that wasn’t going to undo what had been done, and opened them. He lifted a hand towards Balthazar only to have the demon flinch from him. A second to quash the guilt, which could wait till Gabriel had time, and then Gabriel tried again. This time, Balthazar let him touch the base of his throat.

“Hold still,” Gabriel said, just before whispering. Smoke curled around both of them, rising to the level of their throats before evaporating away. With it went the stains—most of them. The smell stayed, which was why Gabriel didn’t do this very often, but at least he could look without flinching.

Balthazar raised an eyebrow. “Useful.” He started dealing with his clothes, then paused. “So—”

Gabriel almost laughed. So damned young compared to him…a little bit of the dark rose in his smile to make Balthazar freeze and remind him that it was only quieted, not eradicated. He pushed it away and fixed his clothes, then picked up Arioch’s heart. “Try to manipulate me again and I’ll not only leave the stains on, but I’ll send you back to Hell like that.”

With his nail, he sliced off a piece of the heart, then offered it to Balthazar. After a long moment, Balthazar leaned forward and delicately took it, his lips brushing at the tips of Gabriel’s fingers. He didn’t meet Gabriel’s eyes.

Footsteps at the entrance of the side-hall signaled the approach of the others. Gabriel hastily dug a rag from his pocket and wrapped up the rest of the heart as he turned.

* * *

It was obvious what Balthazar and Gabriel had been doing. Jesus. John started to comment on it, but Gabriel just walked past him as if he didn’t exist. The bastard didn’t even apologize for knocking into John with his shoulder, though maybe that was a good thing. At least that way he didn’t notice when John hissed and grabbed at his bandaged arm through his sleeve.

Midnite looked less than thrilled himself, even though any witch-doctor would’ve been dancing at the opportunity to get his hands on angel spunk. Then again, if that was as fucked-up as the rest of Gabriel was…

“I’m looking for the half-breed Gabriel. I’m sure John has explained to you why,” Gabriel said, shooting a dry look John’s way. It said a lot, and suddenly John began to wonder how good Gabriel’s hearing really was. He looked away, rubbing at his arm.

He started to worry, too, because what he’d been discussing with Midnite could be taken to…well, fine, he’d been trying to feel out a way to turn the situation around to where he didn’t have to rely on Gabriel. Convenient as it was to know someone capable of taking down an Earl of Hell, it jerked on John’s chain to give up control of the situation in exchange for that.

“Yes, and I apologize for my earlier behavior. Everyone believes you are a myth, even the half-breeds…” And Midnite diverged into various little politesses while Gabriel nodded and occasionally put in a word to show that he hadn’t been sidetracked. Eventually Midnite got around to business, but he was so wary about revealing any of his secrets, and Gabriel was so patently irritated by that, that it was going to take forever for them to work out a deal.

Fun as it was to watch, something more interesting was limping up to John. He kept an ear on the discussion, but since it didn’t seem like an advantageous time to jump in, he watched Balthazar instead. “Well, used meat now.”

“At least I’m paying attention. You still think these are the old good times.” Balthazar had rebuttoned his shirt, insofar as he could given that half the buttons were gone, but he hadn’t tucked it in or done the sleeves. The bruise on his neck was no longer small enough to be hidden by a collar yanked a bit high, but he didn’t seem to care much. “Got something to trade, Constantine? Or is it just the same old smoke and mirrors?”

“If these were the old days—” I’d have a cigarette, and my arm wouldn’t be burning every time Gabriel looked at me “—you wouldn’t be in my clothes. Next time you get roughed up, better have your own damn wardrobe, because I’m not giving up any more of mine.” God, John was standing five feet away and the smell of sex and blood coming off of Balthazar was so strong that it was choking him. Twisting at his arm, he looked Balthazar over and tried to figure out what the fuck was there to get Gabriel’s attention.

A little too late, he remembered how else that could be taken. But Balthazar was already easing up to John, a mocking glint hardening his eyes. “Oh, really, Johnny-boy. Aren’t you a little curious? Want a sniff?” he purred. “I thought this would be right up your alley.”

John glanced at Gabriel, but he and Midnite had wandered down a little to look at…the Chair. Which was the obvious solution, but Midnite could see what anyone using it could see, and John wasn’t sure if the mortal Gabriel or the Spear of Destiny would be the stronger draw. He didn’t want anyone knowing where that damned thing was until he got a few things straightened out.

He moved his gaze back to Balthazar, who’d crept closer. “Yeah, being a pet’s really my idea of a great life.”

Balthazar stopped when there was barely an inch between them, picking at his splints till the right one started to peel off. His color was a lot better than it should have been, and his wrists shouldn’t have healed that fast. He leaned forward, head tilting as he crooned; something red and stringy was stuck between his back teeth. “Like you haven’t spent the past twenty years begging for God to take you up? How about a taste of the other side?”

That tongue of his snaked out, pink tip flicking about in front of John’s face so no matter how he turned, it was there, zeroing in on him. He tried snatching at it, but that just got him a wet thin slap on the cheek and Balthazar laughing low beneath his breath. It sounded…hysterical.


John stepped back, then slid past Balthazar before the demon could finish. He had a hunch, and it paid off when Balthazar refused to follow him over to Gabriel, but instead loitered around the back of the Chair. Occasionally Balthazar would reach up to touch at his neck, but at the last moment, he’d jerk his hand away.

Gabriel noticed. He broke off talking about possible candidates for the prime mover this time around to track Balthazar. Then he jerked his head a bit, as if his collar was too tight, and glanced at John. “Midnite says you’re the only one who’s ridden the Chair multiple times without dying.”

“That sounds about right. I don’t think it’d help, though. I mean, you did something to see where Gabby was, and whoever’s behind this managed to fool you.” The downside of standing near Gabriel was that John had to take the lingering fragrance of smoke wafting off the angel. He dug around in his pocket, but turned up no gum. Damn.

And then Gabriel took out a cigarette and lit it up without so much as a warning. His eyes flicked over when John winced away; across the room, Balthazar badly muffled a snigger. “What?”

“I quit recently. Didn’t know angels smoked.” God, that smelled good. Strong and harsh, unfiltered so it could properly fuck John’s lung cells to death. He found himself unconsciously turning back and jerked himself into a walk, pacing around and behind a bemused Midnite. “C’mon, Midnite. You’ve got no clue?”

“We don’t smoke. Nicotine doesn’t affect us.” Though that couldn’t be all true, considering how practiced Gabriel was at putting out his smoke on his shoe. He made it look graceful instead of clumsy and makeshift. His fingers were still bloody. Beneath the smoke, he smelled like Balthazar and sex and fight and light.

Now John was missing his gum, because then he would’ve had something to grind between his teeth. The burning sensation in his arm didn’t help—was it broadening? He thought it was. “There’s got to be someone local helping out.”

Ellie. Shit, she’d known Arioch was coming; she shouldn’t have expected a demon lord in the club any more than John had, but she hadn’t looked shocked in the least. John started to say her name, then thought better of it and waved at Midnite. “Sorry. What were you going to say?”

The apology put Midnite on his guard, but he nevertheless answered. “Local, yes. A regular of my bar, I doubt. Everyone’s walking lightly until equilibrium is achieved again, and especially around you. If someone wanted to keep this quiet, they would avoid where you went.”

“They have no reason to hide now that they know I’m hunting them,” Gabriel said. His eyes swept up towards the ceiling and his fingers lifted slightly, rippling as if he were petting something’s head. Then he shook his hand and blinked hard; the lighting abruptly brightened. “Nor do they have a reason to play nicely—the balance that you speak of never was a static matter, and now it may be shifting permanently. I suggest you keep a keener ear to the ground.”

Midnite’s eyes narrowed at Gabriel’s rudeness, but before he could say anything, Gabriel had plopped a small, smelly bundle into Midnite’s hand. A constant drip of purple ran from a corner of the rag—Arioch’s heart, John realized.

“Crush that and smear it around the doorways. Good evening, sir.” Gabriel pivoted on his heel and strode off, coat fluttering behind him like a broken pair of wings. The hem snatched itself down a few times, like a…wolf was toying with it, maybe.

“It’s nothing personal. He’s always like that, even to his friends,” John muttered. He checked on Balthazar, but the demon was still rounding the Chair and wouldn’t hear if John whispered low enough. “Tell me you’ll think about it. Just think.”

All Midnite did was tilt back his head and peer at John the way he did people he was about to curse into the grave. Ungrateful bastard. He had absolutely no room to chide John about only looking out for number one when he acted like this.

“Johnny-boy, you’re going to miss your ride,” Balthazar leered, walking past.

And that was enough from that corner. John spun about with his elbow parallel to the ground, slamming it back as soon as he caught a glimpse of Balthazar. He caught Balthazar in the shoulder, which didn’t hurt the demon much but did throw him off-balance long enough for John to grab Balthazar’s neck, and the bite there definitely was a weak spot. Balthazar hissed and ripped three long cuts across the back of John’s hand, but he’d lost too much strength to resist when John flung him down the hall. He skidded, almost fell on his face, and only gradually got himself back into a lopsided walk.

“John,” Midnite said. Something dropped into John’s pocket, though Midnite’s expression didn’t change. Then Midnite lifted his hands in the beginning of a blessing.

“Jesus Christ,” John snorted. He walked away before the first word was even out of Midnite’s mouth, but still, he was grateful. Maybe he’d even have time to remember to tell Midnite so, if everything went right.

Walking back through the club was an…interesting experience. He was used to the intense hatred pouring from every pair of eyes, but the fear was new. Even if it was mostly reflected fear due to coming in with Gabriel, who had one hell of a temper for a former member of the Heavenly Host, it was a pretty nice feeling.

He looked for Ellie but didn’t see her; that wasn’t too surprising, given her instinct for self-preservation, but it did make things more difficult. Hopefully Gabriel needed to sleep sometime, because John needed to get away from him to see to a few things.

“Constantine.” Someone plucked at his arm. One very drunk half-breed stumbled along beside him, apparently following a death-wish to its logical conclusion. “Constantine…so that’s all that it’d take to bring you over. Does he take you singly, or do you get to play with Balthazar, too? Are you content with that, or should I let my lord Lucifer know you’re looking for a position in his bedchamber?”

Exactly what the shit was implying took a moment to sink in. Then John needed another moment to get his anger down enough for his jaw to unlock—that half-breed asshole thought he’d whored himself for protection? After twenty fucking years of playing the game his own way, and not taking anyone’s bullshit? He thought--John hooked up a chair as he walked past it. Then he stopped and spun, smashing it into the demon’s head. “You goddamned piece of—”

“Not now, Constantine,” Balthazar snapped, dragging him away by the arm. He let go as soon as John whirled on him and jerked his head towards the door, where Gabriel was impatiently waiting. “Have a little dignity, would you?”

“Go. Get. Fucked. Since you like it so much,” John retorted. His foot tangled with a piece of the shattered chair and he kicked it away so hard that it bounced off the wall. Feeling a little better, he stalked past Balthazar and out of the club. He slipped his hand into his pocket and felt out what Midnite’s gift was: a cell phone. Warded, too. Sometimes John could almost kiss that man.

Balthazar sighed. If John turned around, he’d probably catch the bastard rolling his eyes as well. “Don’t play innocent, Johnny. We’re demons. Of course we’re going to assume that.”

“Well, don’t expect me to go fulfilling expectations.” John swung himself into the car and drummed his fingers on the window while the other two got in. “So now what?”

“So we might as well go back to your place so you can rest. There are a few others I can try to contact for information, but I have to wait till dawn.” Gabriel started the engine, then looked over at John. He pursed his lips a couple times before he finally decided on what he wanted to say. “I don’t intend to treat you that way.”

When the hell did he learn his manners? The Victorian age? It would fit: that growling black rage chained down beneath a family-friendly exterior. Only the chains obviously weren’t holding like they’d used to, and what was coming out was fucking up John’s life.

And he could still smell the cigarettes on Gabriel. He moved restlessly for a moment, watching the lights smear in the night, then turned on Gabriel. It was stupid, but John was too worked-up to think much on self-preservation. He grabbed the back of the seat and dragged himself over, squeezing past the gearshift to snarl at Gabriel. “Yeah? Well, thanks, but the real question’s more like do you want to? Because I’m betting you don’t intend to do a lot of things, but so far you’ve had a shitty track record of keeping your promises—”

“John, sit down.” Gabriel looked straight ahead, hands flexing on the wheel. He sounded infuriatingly calm.

“Do you? Is your demon side getting the better of you? Telling you hey, let’s be like the rest and have a bite off John Constantine. Do I smell nice? Do you look at my neck and think it’d be delicious to—” John choked to a stop, clawing at the hand that’d seized his throat. He twisted and kicked out, but Gabriel didn’t ease up in the slightest. The darkness began to shade from the normal fluorescent-edged haze of L. A. to sparking, blinding black.

The car swerved and threw John backwards so the artery in his neck mashed up against Gabriel’s hand. His head exploded and he temporarily lost awareness, only to come to with Gabriel’s mouth forcing his open and burning it out. John coughed, hit out. Moaned and cursed when Gabriel bit into his lower lip.

Then he was clutching his neck and doubled over on the seat, wheezing while blood slicked over his chin. It was horrifyingly like the days just before Mammon and Angela.

A muffled roaring pulled John out of his memories: the car pulling back into the road. Gabriel was a rough-edged silhouette in the seat beside John, his hands the only clearly visible part of him. They worked on the wheel, and once John thought he saw claws gleaming.

“Truthfully?” Gabriel said. He would’ve sounded like he was dreaming but for the resigned bitter note in his voice. “I’d like to pin you down and take you apart and put you back together around me. I’m trying not to, so stop pushing. And no, it isn’t merely a demonic peculiarity. Generally I either don’t care or I simply want to kill the other person.”

There wasn’t really much John could say to that. He tried to think of something anyway, but by the time he had anything decent in his head, they’d already arrived. And Gabriel was out of the car and inside before John could even blink.

Something lightly traced down John’s back; he slapped away Balthazar’s hand and then sat up. “What the fuck is wrong with you?”

“That’s my question,” Balthazar snorted, folding his arms over the top of the seat. “Have you completely lost your mind? You’re going to push him into Hell and then worrying about some human overthrowing Lucifer will be a moot point. What he does with me takes off the pressure; what you’re trying to do to him puts it back on.”

“So that’s your game.” John straightened his coat and tie, then got out of the car.

He almost missed Balthazar’s reply, and even when he’d sorted out the words, he had a hard time believing that it’d been Balthazar muttering, “No, it’s not,” in that tone. John paused, which let Balthazar slope off before he could prod the bastard for an explanation.

He thought about that, and he was still thinking when he walked into his apartment. Gabriel was in the process of cutting up John’s window-frames, which almost made John interrupt, but the blood drying on his chin suggested he shut up for now. Instead he made his way into the bathroom and jammed that door shut before taking a seat on the toilet. He flipped out the phone and dialed one-handed while he wiped at his face…and tried to shrug off the itching feeling, which had spread from his arm to cover most of his torso. It was starting to resolve into a definite want, which he was doing his damnedest to ignore.


“Angela,” John said, keeping his voice as low as he could. “Look, I’m sorry about before, but I really need to see you.”


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