|Grave Measures Epilogue: Cure
Author: Guede Mazaka
Another thrashing kicked up a wave of inky water at John, nearly catching him in the eyes. He ducked his head away at the last moment, but still managed to get a mouthful, which he promptly spat out. Bitter, grainy, with a hint of sewage that made him long for a good, strong dose of whiskey to wash it out.
Whoever who was at the door knocked again.
A tentacle flopped free and slithered rapidly over the edge of the sink, slapping till it got to John’s thigh. He jerked away and yanked the tentacle back in, only to lose his grip on the whole damn thing. “Balthazar!”
Third knock. John threw himself to the side and grabbed the nearest knife. Just as the little slimy shit leaped at him, he stabbed it squarely in the mouth. Tentacles waving, it fell limply back into the dirty water, oily blue swirls leaking into the black. The knife-handle stuck upright like a tiny mast.
“Balthazar, you half-breed piece of shit, answer the goddamned door!” So much for that shirt, John thought. He raised his arms to shake off what he could of the gore and sticky ink, which wasn’t much. His shirt was sopping, stained, and as he scraped the stuff off, one sleeve started to slide down from his elbow. At first he tried pushing it up with an elbow, but then he remembered that yeah, he was only going to toss the shirt anyway and just did it with his hand.
“I am, Johnny.” Footsteps ambled across the room behind John. “Unless you want your apartment full of miniature reanimated nixies, you’ll ask more nicely. I almost knocked over the candles.”
John gave him the finger over one shoulder, but all he got was Balthazar snickering at him. He sighed and gingerly picked up the now-dead baby…thing…by the knife-handle, holding it well away from himself so the last few twitches of the tentacles didn’t splash him. Later he could do something about mussing up Balthazar’s damn suit in retaliation, but right now he had to figure out whether it was just pollution mutating the local sea-food, or if somebody was stupid enough to try and breed krakens in the harbor. He carefully tilted the knife—made a quick scoop when it looked like the baby was going to slide off—and poked around in the mushy flesh till he found the eyes and beak.
Well, fuck. It looked like he was going to be spending the week haunting cheap Asian restaurants by the docks. He shook off the disgusting thing into the wastebasket, then dropped the knife on the counter. After that he had been planning to change, but his head was lifting and his nerves were prickling, giving him pause.
A second later, John ducked out of the kitchen just in time to see Balthazar slammed up against the wall, whimpering and clinging desperately to Gabriel’s shoulders. John looked at himself again, shrugged, and walked over. It couldn’t be the worst mess Gabriel had ever seen.
Gabriel let Balthazar down much more gently, which was a good thing for Balthazar since he seemed to have forgotten how to work his knees. He slumped against the wall and rubbed at his neck, eyes dazed and hair disheveled. His tie had been pulled down and one tail of his formerly pristine shirt had been yanked out of his waistband.
“Sorry. I haven’t eaten in a while,” Gabriel muttered, licking the red off his lips. He leaned past Balthazar to close the door.
“I wouldn’t worry about him. He’s been living well in the party district.” John pulled down a sleeve and wiped at his face as best as he could. “You’re really a lousy date, you know. Gone for two months and then you don’t even call.”
Up close, John could see that it’d been a pretty rough couple of months for Gabriel. He’d gone somewhere cold again because he was a bit paler than John remembered, and he definitely hadn’t been eating much. But he was done healing to judge by the way he moved. And still wary, to judge by how he could let his gaze drift a slow scorch over John’s face and throat, but couldn’t bring himself to try touching. “I would have, but the cell phone was eaten.”
Even Balthazar looked pretty amazed at Gabriel’s deadpan, though he recovered a moment later. He pushed himself off the wall and began to straighten his tie. At least, that was what he was supposed to be doing, but the way he slowly ran his fingers down the silk, looping it through a circle of his forefinger and thumb, was definitely asking for something else. “Payphones.”
Gabriel knew he’d been caught out and, true to character, didn’t deny it. He also didn’t linger on the subject. “Is that kraken ink on you?”
“Yeah. I thought a little sushi might spice up Pussy’s dinner.” John let his eyes rest on Balthazar as he said that; Balthazar rolled his eyes and pulled Gabriel further into the room. “Fixed the bathtub, by the way. So you can stand in that instead of showering over the floor drain.”
He went back over to the sink, thinking something along the lines of it being a shitty way to meet again, and of it being Gabriel’s turn to do…whatever. After all, John had invited him back, and hadn’t reneged on it even though it’d been two goddamn months without a word or even a feeling because Gabriel would keep himself shut up tighter than a nun’s cunt. Nice, really nice. If something had happened to him, the first John would’ve known about it was when he collapsed and died from it. The bastard hadn’t even offered a…a handshake. Balthazar, that smirking little snake, had rated a welcome mauling, but John…was not that mortal anymore, so Gabriel could knock it off with the porcelain-doll treatment.
“Oh, to hell with it.” John flicked the water off his hands, then stalked around the corner into the bathroom. He unbuttoned his shirt as he went, so by the time he made it to the door, he could peel it off and drop it in the corner. While he was at it, he toed out of his shoes and socks as well.
The shower was on, but not much water was getting into the tub. Balthazar’s clothes were neatly folded and stacked in the driest corner, where John dropped his belt. He slid off his pants and boxers, letting them puddle all over Balthazar’s wrinkle-free shirt, before sloshing his way over to the other two.
Gabriel apparently hadn’t managed to finish undressing before Balthazar had gotten to him. Now he knelt in the bathtub, one hand on the side to steady himself while he fucked Balthazar raw. His hair had come loose and streamed in tangles over his soaked shirt, so wet they looked black, whipping off every time he shoved himself forward. Over them, Balthazar’s arms clutched pale and desperate as a drowning man at a life-saver; Balthazar’s head lolled back against the edge of the tub, mouth as slackly open as his eyes were tightly shut. His knees occasionally climbed clumsily up Gabriel’s sides, trying to urge him closer. John couldn’t see Gabriel’s face because he had it pressed into Balthazar’s neck. The smell of blood and sex washed into the air, diluting the usual faint zinc odor L. A. water gave off.
After a moment, John got into the tub behind Gabriel. He had to put a hand on Gabriel’s shoulder to steady himself and that momentarily broke Gabriel’s rhythm, but a broken keening from Balthazar redirected Gabriel’s attention.
“Can you tell he missed you? One part of you, anyway,” John said under his breath, laughing a little. There wasn’t nearly enough room so he ended up balancing with one leg in and one out, fingers digging into Gabriel’s shoulders. He scraped at Gabriel’s collar till he could get his nails beneath the heavy wet cloth and peel it down. The porcelain rim was cold, not helped a bit by the lukewarm water they were wasting, so it chilled the outside of John’s prick. Inside, however, he was hot and getting hotter, and it would’ve taken a hell of a lot more to discourage him.
Gabriel’s shirt only came down enough to expose half—maybe two-thirds of his shoulderblades at most, but his arms kept jerking so the cloth flopped back up, or Balthazar would spasm so he’d shove it up. Balthazar’s moans were starting to turn into ragged shallow gasps, but John got one last cry out of him by ducking down and biting at his wrist, not quite deep enough to draw blood. He nuzzled from there up the center of Gabriel’s back, dropping back whenever a particularly strong thrust would’ve slammed Gabriel into his jaw.
The claw-marks from Lucifer were still there, but only as faint white lines that to John’s eye would be all but invisible when they were finally done healing. In contrast, the far older ones from the wings stood out as stark rust-brown ridges, twisting their way beneath the folds of Gabriel’s shirt.
John waited till Balthazar had Gabriel knotted up, then swiftly leaned forward and licked along one. He felt Gabriel stiffen, but then Balthazar threw back his head, making the tub ring, and started to come. Nothing in Heaven or Hell could pry off Balthazar while that was happening, and John took full advantage of it. Even helped a little by pulling on Balthazar’s knees, making it easier for him to stay clamped onto Gabriel.
Running a tongue up one side of the scar drew a shiver from Gabriel in spite of himself; John tried a tentative nip at the top and nearly got teeth knocked out by the violence of Gabriel’s buck. He was saved by whatever that did to Balthazar, which saw Gabriel yanked down an impossible inch further. He gave the spot a quick, apologetic swirl of his tongue before moving on, running his teeth lightly over the skin but not catching them on anything. That went over better—he heard Gabriel’s breath hitch. Encouraged, he pressed his mouth across the scar and lightly sucked.
Balthazar’s heels finally stopped knocking against the tub, which should have been a warning. But John was lulled by the feeling of Gabriel’s muscles relaxing against his lips, and so he didn’t pull away in time to avoid Gabriel’s sudden twist around. His knee and ankle banged against the tub as Gabriel somehow got them out of that and up against the wall in less time than it took for a heart to beat; John swore but halfway through was muffled by Gabriel’s idea of an apology. Brilliant idea, really.
He got his arms around Gabriel’s neck, meaning to explore a little further with those scars, but forgot about it when a slick finger suddenly probed between his legs, a mouth settled on his pulse and chewed lightly at it. John’s knees unlocked and he had enough to do to just keep from falling. He bit at Gabriel’s jaw, messily kissed his way around, and finally got to Gabriel’s mouth just as the finger stabbed up and in, snapping all his muscles tight.
Gabriel forced John’s head back to the wall with the force of his kiss, blurring the world into such a haze that John didn’t swim out of it till there were three fingers in him and one thumb rubbing hard into the crease behind his balls, and he was moaning for more. He arched and squirmed till he got one leg around Gabriel’s waist. Stopped there because the change opened him deeper and Gabriel wasn’t shy about accepting that; Gabriel had to wrestle John the rest of the way up. In the end, he had to twist out his fingers and put both his hands on John’s waist to do it. John complained at the withdrawal, gasping and cutting his nails across Gabriel’s back, but was promptly shut up when Gabriel more or less sat John on his prick. And there wasn’t any time to catch breath—no, Gabriel was moving the moment his cock was inside John, pressing up till the white burst against the backs of John’s eyes and then pulling out so John collapsed onto him, whimpering. He kept moving, always moving, so John scrambled to hold onto him. He dug his nails into Gabriel’s flesh till he smelled blood, sank teeth into Gabriel’s shoulder till he was sucking greedily at it, did all he could to get a toehold somewhere. A hook. A something that would keep this coming back, filling up John till nothing else, not failure or death or grief, could fit inside him.
And he pulled Gabriel down, brought him down with a last jerking clutch at him. Maybe other people would’ve felt sorry about it, but John didn’t. The heights were for dreamers that didn’t want to wake up. Here, where they were, was for the people that wanted to get on and enjoy it.
* * *
“About fourteen hundred years the first time, right after I cut off my wings at Masada. Then four hundred years. That started just after Vlad’s burial—his first one. I’d been beginning to remember, but killing him wiped out my memory again. I’ve only really known what I was for a little over a century.” Gabriel sat on the corner of the bed, dressed only in pants because Balthazar had stolen his shirt after he’d discovered that John had thrown his filthy clothes on top of his own. He didn’t seem to mind, but then Balthazar was cuddling up to his thigh in nothing but said shirt, looking smug and well-fucked and letting his tongue snake all over Gabriel’s hand.
John supposed there was something appealing in that. He didn’t feel like getting dressed other than throwing a fresh shirt over himself. Not when he could sprawl on the bed with a pack of strong, anise-scented cigarettes Gabriel had brought him, an ash-tray, and Gabriel finally talking. “You and Vlad…”
“Who was the one at Masada?” Balthazar asked, lolling his way onto his other side. He shot John a warning glare. For a demon, Balthazar could be remarkably skittish at times. It made John wonder just what Ariel might’ve done to him in preparation towards making him a familiar.
On the other hand, it could’ve just been Hell. Weirder things than a tolerable Balthazar had come out of that place.
“I have no idea,” Gabriel said. He shrugged off John’s surprised look. “I went in to steel them against the Romans’ last attack, and I just saw…there’s something in the way men smile when they know they’re about to die and they’re ready for it, they’re willing to give up their lives for something they deem greater. I saw it in a youth’s face, and then a spear obliterated it in a crunch of blood. That was when I realized I could love. You don’t love God, if you’re an angel. You adore him.”
The smoke from John’s cigarette spiraled into the ceiling, molding into this and that face. Once in a while he’d lift a finger and make it freeze while he memorized one for later, when he was back at the hopeless job of keeping L. A. on the balance.
“Would you really have done what you threatened, with Angela and Lucifer?” he asked some time later. “You didn’t know if your blood or Lucifer’s would have worked…and she definitely wouldn’t have done it. Might’ve turned around and stabbed you, if she’d known what you were saying.”
It was a long time before Gabriel answered. He traced his hand over Balthazar’s face, ran his fingers through Balthazar’s hair and curved them down to rub beneath Balthazar’s chin, face intent on something else as if the touching was merely to remind himself of something.
“I would have anyway, if I’d been forced to it,” Gabriel said. The corner of his mouth twisted up in an ancient smile of bitter, quiet triumph, and suddenly John understood what Gabriel had meant earlier. “The last time I had to make this choice, I wasn’t willing to go that far. But I’m tired of making myself forget afterward.”
John smoked through his cigarette before he had an answer to that. “Good thing we’re all about the choice behind the door they don’t tell you about, then,” he muttered, pushing himself up into a sitting position. “Christ, I’m hungry. Hey…so there’s this great little noodle store down in Chinatown, which is conveniently near where I’ve got to check for baby krakens anyway. We could go there, have a good meal and then you can help me skim the scum off L. A. Sound good?”
“I’ve heard—” Balthazar fought against Gabriel’s hand for a moment, then sulkily laid back down.
“Sounds fine,” Gabriel said.