Author: Guede Mazaka
They always say ‘see you around,’ but nobody ever wants to use their eyes.
It’s two weeks after, so John figures Angie must have snapped out of her little slumming period and gotten back to work. Good for her, and really—if she could will herself to stop seeing, then she’s not just powerful but way out of John’s league, and he really doesn’t need the reminder, sweet as her smile was. He tells himself he doesn’t need the lighter he left on Chaz’ grave either, but truth is, nowadays he wakes up tangled in his bedsheets, sodden cloth strangle-drowning him in his own fetid sweat, and what he’s doing is clicking his fingers. He’s not calling for her. Guess that means his little trip on the white and narrow’s over, too.
Open season in L. A., hot as God-that’s-so-fucking-old and steamy like some old fire-god trapped beneath the streets is snorting in his sleep. There’s never any other kind of weather around John’s place. He doesn’t understand why people always look at him to make excuses for it—he lives on top of a fucking bowling-alley, after all. Hard to miss the metaphor of a big gaping tunnel at which people throw balls.
Yeah, he’s a whore. He got his eyes opened at fifteen and he’s been turning tricks ever since. Spread himself for every little exorcism, every supernatural misstep in the city, then turned around to pimp them out to heaven’s justice. It’s a living. It was a living. Technically, he figures he’s got a blank slate now and he doesn’t have to keep on with it. He could stop. Move into a nicer district. Get a regular day-job. Date a cop.
Sure. And he’s not seeing the pretty shimmery glow around these two guys who’ve just walked in with Papa Midnight’s business card—double handful of pennies on the back—sounding like they’re straight from Dublin. Smelling like they’re descended from heaven. John’s thinking about quitting the trade and in walks the newest sainted of the brethren, Connor and Murphy MacManus. If that isn’t a sign that somebody’s fucking with John, he doesn’t know what is.
“Nice to see you give a shit after all,” he mutters. He stays seated.
They stand, black wool coats slung over their shoulders, lips dangling cherry-tipped cigarettes that throw off smoke like the snake in Eden hissed temptation. The one on the left, Connor, is nice enough to tip John a bow. “Evenin’, sir.”
“Boys,” John nods. While he’s at it, he pours himself another glass of whiskey. He’s hoping that the fumes will cut the tease of nicotine, but no such luck. Alcohol and cigarettes, it’s like a match blessed by Lou himself. “I’ve got working hours, and now isn’t one of them.”
“Ah, but we aren’t working, either. In fact, we’re just about to crash for the night.” Murphy’s a couple sheets to the wind and moves like it as he comes over, fingers the neck of the whiskey bottle like he’s trying to tell John something about sin. It’s funny, in a way—they still think he’s got something to learn. “We’re heading out tomorrow, but now we’d be needing a place for sleeping and maybe some eggs in the morning.”
The whiskey sloshes straight for the back of John’s throat when he tosses it down, and at first there’s no feeling. Then he breathes in, shallow because smoke rings are leaking from the Irish bastard’s lips, and he can feel burn all the way down to his gut. Maybe this time it’ll be his liver, and he’ll get the cirrhosis scraped away by Archangel Michael himself. “This isn’t a hotel.”
“Well, I don’t think a hotel would do us proper. Considering our profession.” Connor tilts as he walks. It’s not a normal tilt. In fact, John’s pretty sure that angle has been used to prove that ninety-nine percent of the population is going to end up in hell. “What do you think, Murphy?”
Now two streams of smoke are blowing at John and even squinting he can barely make out the other men behind it. But smoke is just tiny particles floating in the air, same as the smog that makes L. A. sunsets so hellishly spectacular, and so he has no problem seeing their corona. It’s flared up from spidery white to full-blown eye-fucking gold and it sends tingles of want up John’s spine.
Murphy clearly thinks with his dick most of the time, since his response is to suck John’s tongue out of John’s mouth and into his. And fuck whatever they say about these two’s private predilections for guns and isolation, and fuck Connor’s slurring laugh, and fuck John’s chair for good measure.
Nicotine. Ash. It’s all over Murphy’s mouth, staining his teeth and stuffed just beneath his gums and dripping from the top and tucked beneath his tongue. His hands are invading John’s coat and kneading John’s shoulders way too close to the tats, which are flaring on and off now with a hot prickling that screams warning warning warning but John isn’t listening. It’s been two fucking weeks and all he has to show for it are a couple gum wads stuck to the underside of his table, and by God he’ll get down and suck the smoke out of Murphy’s cock if it means he gets to inhale again.
Yeah, how does heaven like that?
Like usual, heaven’s silent as the grave. The noise is coming from John bouncing over the table as Connor yanks him over. He gets ripped through Murphy’s hands that slide down his chest and press into his sides, just below the spots where Lucifer waded in with both hands and where it now aches every time John passes a church. Jesus Christ made destiny with one side-wound; John’s gotten a couple and what it gets him is one Irish son of a bitch rubbing his heavenly fucking tongue over the skin that shows when Murphy pulls up John’s shirt. What it gets him is Connor giving him smoker’s mouth-to-mouth, all that noxious searing beauty of an addiction steaming down John’s revirginized throat tissue. Breaking it back in.
Murphy hooks his fingers into the waistband of John’s pants and tugs hard enough to get a few hairs caught in the zipper and then ripped loose from John’s crotch. He blinks in confusion as John curses him, all that light pouring over his shoulders so it almost seems to drip onto John. Not really. It’s an optical illusion, like a lot of things that don’t have to do with damnation and salvation.
“Get his belt, you bloody shite-for-brains,” Connor laughs. His hands curve around John’s head from behind, cradling it or maybe getting ready to break John’s neck. There’s a scar on his thumb that rubs John hard beneath the jaw and for a moment he’s relieved to feel something humanly frail about these cocksure bastards, but then Connor has his fingers pushing down John’s collar and his breath forcing more smoke into John’s lungs and there’s nothing relieving about it.
It’s all push and push and push till there’s a twist and something’s broken but it fits better that way. The thing about not using eyes is that then they never get so scarred that they can’t close.
Touch goes better. Touch is easier to fool. Touch isn’t seeing the consequences of power, but feeling it and feeling the way it flows beneath the flex and smooth of Connor’s shoulders, feeling seep of it from Murphy’s tongue. John puts up his hands and he can almost swipe drops of that holiness off of Connor’s face, pull it from Murphy’s hair. It’s warm not burning and it spreads deep beneath his skin, soothing and numbing like forgiveness. Or like addiction.
That’s the other thing about touch—it can be trained to read one sensation as another. Tenderness, tender like the skate of Murphy’s fingertips along the crease of John’s bared hip, like the soft chewing of Connor’s teeth in John’s lip…that’s like a brand from a different time and place that’s going to mark John out for trials he’s already suffered, punishments for which he’s already paid twice over in blood. That hurts his soul. That makes him writhe and spit Connor’s smoke back at him and kick till at last Connor rears up, slams down John’s wrists wide on the table so the whisky bottle rattles. Tips and spills before it rolls off to break on the floor so now there’s the curling itch of whiskey fumes when there isn’t the corkscrew drive of cigarette smoke in John’s nose. It’s soaking into his side, evaporating cool so for moments at a time he’s tormented by the contrast.
But that’s nothing new. That’s like the heavy weight of Murphy bending John’s knees into the sharp edge of the table, the careless way Murphy’s hand lies across his thigh so he can feel the burn of Murphy’s cigarette creep closer and closer to his flesh. The look in Connor’s eye as he stabs out his butt just a little short of the whiskey pool, lazy amused because he knows just enough to see the irony and not enough to see the black that should be its adjective. “Don’t want to light the host on fire, Murph,” he drawls.
“Nah, he’s no Russian.” And they laugh at their little private joke, heads bent over as if in prayer. Murphy puts his butt out on the edge, then leans over to give John the last drag.
After an electroshock session, the nurse used to give John a little paper cup of orange juice.
John twists his wrists against Connor’s grip, pulls and strains till his muscles fail him and he has to fall back with a gasp or fall into a faint. It’s the same the same, he sings in his head, drunk on the 7-11 heaven of cheap smokes and shallow company. The same the same the same, and if he tries hard enough to feel it, it’ll be so. It’ll be these two clueless angels and not the dark men in the black cassocks that he remembers.
He’s not looking at Connor and how Connor’s smile dies, how the wrinkles start at Connor’s nose and splay outward over his forehead. He’s not looking at what expression Murphy makes as he bends down to take John’s cock so delicately in his mouth. He’s not, goddamn it, looking at the reflective underside of the lamp above him and seeing how they’ve crucified him with his own sins that he can’t let go.
His body is grotesque and twisted in the silver metal.
Then Connor bends over him and the distortion of the lamp’s curve plus the haze surrounding the other man blots out the truth. Sight goes away and instead it’s the dig of buttons in John’s flesh as his shirt gets knotted one way and stressed the other before it finally gives, the harsh bite of teeth around his nipple, the squirming of a tongue against his prick. It’s the red-hot sear of Connor’s nails dragging over his side, the blood in Connor’s mouth when John bites him. And it’s the smell of heaven diluted in the hot heavy reek of sex, the taste of perfection laced with blood so it’s something John can actually swallow.
The light dims, and John really should be sad about that, do something about it, but by now they’ve gotten him reacquainted with the intoxication of damage, the call of the sharp jagged edges. He barely stopped last time and now he’s back in, and he doesn’t want out. He doesn’t want Connor to ease up, Murphy to slow down like he’s worried for John—fuck worry. There’s no more room for worry where they walk now. There’s only the quick brutal snap of the world, and the slow collapse afterward.
And again. And again. Because it’s no good only doing it once. There’s no such thing—there’s only before and in-between.
* * *
The whiskey’s dried and sticky so John has to peel one side of himself off the damn table. His thighs feel like someone’s taken a razor to the muscles and his head is full of cotton wool so all the sound is curiously dim. His mouth tastes like shit. His tie’s stuck to his chest with damn near every kind of bodily fluid man has to offer. He’ll have to burn it later, just to make sure Midnight somehow doesn’t get his hands on it, because it could serve as the base of too many damn spells.
Then again, it seems Midnight must be feeling friendly towards John again, considering. When John stretches his arms, pops his back, the pain feels like a warm-up and not like the dull coda to a failed life.
“No eggs?” Connor is poking in the fridge. He’s borrowed John’s shower, probably while Murphy was fucking John over the table and swearing low and hard and bitter not to fuck with them, but he still looks shaky. When he shuts the fridge door, John can see that the man’s glow has departed his body.
It’ll come back, he almost tells them. They’re just that kind, the same way he’s the kind that would dig through an almost-stranger’s coat and swipe their cigarettes. He is, however, careful not to drop Murphy’s coat in the smears of come that dot the table. He owes them one.
And it’ll do them good to find out that sometimes heaven turns a blind eye, lets a bit of paradise drop in the wrong lap. “Ate my last one yesterday,” John says, lighting up.
His hand is glowing. He holds it up and squints just to make sure, and it is. Not much. It’ll be gone in a few days, given how long he’s gone without taking a little dip, and then he’ll have to go prowling for another fix. He wonders idly if he’s the only one who’s noticed that the buzz of power is the same, no matter what side.
“Some host you are,” Connor mutters. He keeps his distance when walking around the table, and by his side his hand keeps flexing like he’s missing something. Or like he’s itching for something.
John smiles around his cigarette and lifts his hand. He extends a single finger. Out of professional courtesy, of course.