|Demons II: Little Things
Author: Guede Mazaka
Shape-shifter, Sam thought. Except those usually tried to change their appearances as much as possible, and John Constantine and the woman that had pushed past Sam at the stairs hadn’t looked that different. They actually had looked like…fraternal twins, maybe. Maybe John had been lying. Maybe John and his sister were on bad terms.
“Turn left here.” John slouched down in the backseat till the rear-view mirror reflected the strip of his face that had his eyes. He still looked like he was laughing. “Are you two religious?”
Dean hunched up his shoulders and cleared his throat, which was his way of saying he didn’t know what to say. He drummed his fingers on the wheel, then suddenly slewed the car around a semi and into a space barely big enough for the car. Sam clutched the handle above the door and tried not to break any teeth while he was clenching them. In the mirror, John’s reflection slid out of view, then came back without any significant change in expression. He still was watching them like he had way too many private jokes up his sleeve.
“We’re…sort of practical about it. We believe in demons because we’ve seen them. That kind of thing,” Sam said. “Why?”
A puff of smoke obscured John’s face till Dean took the next turn. Then John levered himself forward and leaned over the front seat to put out his cigarette. “What about Heaven and Hell? Or God?”
“Isn’t it a little late for a theological discussion?” Dean accelerated through a red light, then had to brake hard to keep from rear-ending an old Cadillac. He sighed and beat his fingers against the wheel again, obviously missing the highway.
If Sam had had any sense, he would’ve made Dean let him drive since he had the attention span for urban driving. He’d meant to, but all the weirdness in the club had completely pushed the thought out of his mind. That woman…after all the smoke had died down, she’d looked like the skin had been peeled off of her. Well, no, that wasn’t right, because what had been underneath had been blue and scaly instead of red and fleshy. And before that, when she’d touched him, it’d been like…like…
“Not really. It’ll be very relevant very soon, believe me.” John sat back. There was a click and fwish as a small flame appeared, throwing weird shadows across his cheeks. Then it went out, only to be replaced with the cherry-red dot of a lit cigarette tip. “All right, let me try something out on you two. Let’s say that God and Satan not only exist, but are also very concerned with humanity. With their souls, to be precise.”
“Okaaaay…left or right?” Dean asked.
The cigarette tip moved left, which Dean obeyed in such a way so that Sam ended up with a sore hip and a growing dislike for the old-fashioned door-handle. “So God and Lucifer make this bet, and the souls of everyone are at stake,” John said. “Neither side can directly interfere. You’ve still got free will. But the angels and the devils can influence. Come down and walk around looking like people. Talk to you, whisper things when you’re sacked and down on your knees.”
“So what are you saying? That my high-school counselor was an angel in disguise?” Sam turned around to stare incredulously at the other man. Yeah, weird things walked the earth, but the way Constantine was telling it, they were everywhere. They were the norm, and if that was really the case, then what Sam and Dean were trying to do was pretty damn pointless.
John smiled around his cigarette, ducking his head a little. It made him look almost rueful. “Considering that you’re here talking to me, probably not. Anyway, that was how it was…eight months ago.”
“Yeah? What happened then?” Dean swerved around some drunk that had stumbled off the sidewalk, then pulled a stunt involving a dog, a pothole and a hooker on the corner that had Sam squeezing his eyes shut and praying through his teeth till it was over. Amazingly enough, no blood ended up on the windshield.
“Near-apocalypse, couple of broken rules, and the end result’s that the influence-only law got tossed out the window. Now you walk into a bar and you damn near have to fire-hose demons out of the way. Pull up at the corner here and wait a second, all right? I need to grab something from the store.”
As soon as the car rolled to a stop, John climbed out and sauntered into the corner-store. His cigarette traced a glowing arc in the air before landing in a puddle near the curb.
Sam waited till the man was inside, then leaned over. “Dean? Do you realize we’ve got one of those end-of-the-world nuts in the backseat?”
The proper response would’ve been for Dean to put his crazy driving skills to good use and get them out of here, but instead his brother actually seemed to be thinking over what John had said. He glanced out the window, then looked at Sam. After a second, it registered with him that Sam was not buying this and irritation spread over his face. “Sam? Do you realize that we’re guys that drive around the country chasing down ghost stories?”
“Yeah. Ghosts. Curses. Monsters. I don’t remember any people with little horns on their foreheads or big fluffy wings sticking out of their backs, and the one demon we came up against was pretty damn active,” Sam muttered, dropping back into his seat. “And noncorporeal.”
“But that noncorporeal demon was less than eight months ago. And you know, Dad taught us about demons, but that was the first one we’ve come up against.” Dean put his hand up to his mouth and chewed on a knuckle, staring over the wheel. He kicked his feet a bit. “Things were…well, better till recently. You were off at Stanford playing college-boy, but you were okay. Dad was around. Hell, our old house was poltergeist-free as far as I know till—”
The first reaction Dean had was to rub his hand over the freshly-abused spot on the dashboard. Then he twisted his head around and looked up at Sam, surprise and irritation mingling on his face.
“What the hell was that for?” Dean snapped.
Sam slumped back in the seat and rubbed at the heel of his hand. His emotions had gotten away from him for a second, and maybe his hand was sore now, but he felt like he was thinking a little clearer. It just…he hoped none of this got into his dreams tonight. “Dean. If what he says is true, then Hell isn’t just a curseword.”
“Well, neither is Heaven.” Dean slowly pushed back in his own seat. He exhaled loudly and glanced out the window, then looked back at Sam. “You’re not blaming yourself for Jessica again, are you? My non-exorcism Bible knowledge might be a little rusty, but I’m pretty sure you can’t go to Hell for not believing in a weird nightmare that just…” Dean awkwardly flipped his hands “…just happened to really happen.”
It wasn’t something Sam wanted to discuss right now, so he put on a grudging expression and slowly nodded. “And that means that back there? I think we walked into a bar full of demons—holy shit!”
“My hood!” Dean screeched.
They both slammed themselves back in their seats as something crash-rolled over the front of the car. One of its limbs flopped up against the windshield and it definitely had too many fingers. If those could be called fingers. If that could be called skin.
“Stay there. It’ll just be another second,” John said, calmly walking after the…whatever. He waved his hand at them just to make sure they got the point.
Well, he could do that, but Sam could roll down the window and look and holy God, was he sorry he’d done that. He pulled in his head, then had to open the door to lean out and puke. It wasn’t because of what he’d seen, because there’d been worse, but because of the reek.
A hand thumped him on the back, which was more psychologically reassuring than physically helpful. “What the hell are you doing?” Dean snarled. “What’d you do to my brother, and—and my car! You could’ve told me to move it if you were going to do that! I thought you were buying cigarettes!”
“I was.” Rasp of a knife being drawn out of its sheath, and then wet hacking sounds. “Don’t worry about Sam—it’s just the smell. Sulfur. Gets to people the first few times…though not you, I guess. Funny, that.”
All of Sam’s lunch and dinner was now on the pavement, and it didn’t make a very appealing sight. He reached back and flailed till Dean handed him a tissue, then wiped his mouth with it. “What is that?”
“Minor demon.” John came away with something fist-sized and gory in his hand, which he wrapped along with his knife in a newspaper he found on the sidewalk. Behind him, the…body…was turning oddly brittle, with large parts of it falling off and then flaking into dust. “It’d been following us for a couple blocks.”
“Can’t believe I missed it,” Dean sarcastically said. He bent over the seat and opened the door for John, which of course was to keep John from messing up the car more than he had to.
“Well, not really your fault. It looked like a bunch of trash. Which is also funny, since usually they like to look at least a little human…” With a shrug, John sat down and pulled the car door shut. “So where was I?”
Sam and Dean looked at each other. Then they both turned to face forward; Dean took a low, long breath. That pretty much settled it, then—new ballgame to learn. Though personally, Sam had decided he was going to try and pretend it was just research for another job.
“Lots of demons and angels,” Dean said. He shifted the car out of park, then glanced over his shoulder. “So how could you tell it wasn’t just trash?”
“I can do it because that’s my little gift.” John sounded about as happy about that as Sam was about his dreams. “Most people can’t see angels and demons for what they really are unless the angel or demon wants them to. But if you wanted pointers…if a demon’s pretending to be something, the light doesn’t hit it right. They get the shadows wrong. Which is ironic as hell, but…okay, pull over here.”
Sam looked warily out the window. “This is a bowling alley.”
“Was. Home, sweet home,” John sighed. “So what’s the verdict? You sticking around for more, or are you running off to your fleabag motel now?”
Dean tapped his fingers on the steering wheel, then sighed himself and reached for his seatbelt. He never could turn up the opportunity to find out more about what really went on in the dark.
Frankly, Sam still wasn’t sure if this was the better idea, but he was out of good ones and suddenly he really wanted to be indoors. He reached for his own buckle.
* * *
Constantine’s apartment took up the entire back of the building, one long main room with a kitchenette tucked to the side and what Sam assumed were the bedroom and bathroom at the end. It was clean and spare, but Sam suspected that was due more to lack of belongings and time spent in the place than to any conscious effort.
“Dude. Did you do these yourself?” Dean was poking at the protective glyphs carved into the doorframe. “These are Kabbalah symbols, right? Well, most of them. I don’t recognize this one…”
The only substantial pieces of furniture in the main room were the kitchen table and a couch, which had a pair of bare feet on top of one end. John was regarding them with a weird expression that wasn’t exactly disgust or exasperation or affection. “Balthazar?”
“Johnny.” The voice that went with the feet was low and slightly accented. It was also less than welcoming. “How nice. You brought home snacks. Do I get the puppyish one or the quiet one?”
“Funny. The one that’s talking is Dean and the other one’s Sam. Try not to fuck with them too much, all right?” John dryly said. He put out his cigarette in an ashtray sitting on the kitchen counter and then took out his newspaper bundle, which by now had soaked through in spots with blackish blood. “Dean, do me a favor and get the hell inside. Put on all the locks.”
His tone of voice irritated Dean, but only until Dean got a good look at the other side of the door. Dean obligingly did up all the locks, but not before staring at each one. Paranoid? he mouthed at Sam.
Sam shrugged and resettled his bag strap on his shoulder. Locks wouldn’t keep out a lot of what he and Dean went after, but this was also downtown L. A. People could be problems, too.
The feet came down and a man got off the sofa, then wandered towards John, who was now rinsing off his blood-clotted knife in the sink. John’s apartment-mate was a couple inches shorter, but with a slightly broader build. Even though Balthazar had been lying on the couch, his suit was spotless and crisp; he could’ve passed for a cover of Fortune500, or maybe GQ, if not for the bare feet.
His eyes passed coolly over Dean and Sam, who felt a weird…it was something like what had happened when the demon-girl at the bar had touched him, but a lot weaker. Still, it made Sam back up a couple steps.
Balthazar’s eyebrow went up, as if he’d gotten it too. Then he turned to John, now busy trying to shove the chunk of demon into a glass bottle of…other chunks of demon, and put his head on John’s shoulder.
Dean blinked a couple times, looked at Sam as if to say ‘are you getting this?’, and then made an elaborate show of wiping his feet on the doormat. Though he still couldn’t help taking peeks; Sam hoped to God his brother wasn’t going to take any acceptance-of-alternative-lifestyles cues from Oprah, because as much as he loved Dean, he might just have to kill him for that.
“Johnny? Are you aware that you’ve brought home two of the juiciest pieces of demon-bait I’ve ever seen?” John was facing the sink and Balthazar was facing away from it, so Balthazar could nuzzle John’s shoulder and glower at Sam at the same time. Then Balthazar sniffed. He frowned and sniffed again, then pulled up John’s arm to look at the bloodstained cuff. “Melchior?”
“He got on my nerves at Midnite’s. Don’t worry, I just whacked him into a houseplant so you can still collect your money from him next week,” John grunted, jerking away his wrist. He put the bottle down in the sink and stared at it, then stared at the chunk of stuff he had in his hand. After a moment, he rotated the chunk around so he could squeeze it a different way and resumed trying to force it into the bottle. “That’s where I met them, by the way.”
He nodded towards Sam and Dean. Balthazar looked incredulous. “And you got them out alive? And unpossessed?”
“Hey, excuse me, but we’re not little girls. Does this look like The Exorcist?” Dean protested.
“No, you’re just wide-open to every damned demon that wants a pretty puppet. Damn it, John—” Balthazar whirled on the other man “—I am not interested in playing host to a bidding war. Has your brain gone so soft that you’ve got to bring your idiotic fun home to soil the nest?”
Sam blinked, then jerked to life. “Fun? I don’t think so. We’re not…we definitely don’t do that.”
Dean took a breath, shook his head and instead of speaking, put his hand to his face. “Yeah, you don’t,” he muttered. He pulled an innocent ‘What?’ face at Sam’s glare.
“And nest? Give me a break, Balthazar.” Finally having gotten the demon flesh into the bottle, John corked the container and put it away in a cabinet. He started washing his hands. “Midnite asked me to take them along.”
Oddly enough, this seemed to upset Balthazar even more. He pushed away from the counter and stalked down the room into the half-open door at the far end, muttering furiously and not always in English. John placidly finished washing his hands, then shook off the water into the sink. “There’s some leftover spaghetti in the fridge,” he said. “If you need to use the bathroom, you’re going to have to wait a couple minutes. The couch folds out.”
“You know, if this is going to be a problem…” Sam started.
“It’s fine. Balthazar’s just…touchy about Midnite. Stupid ex-demon, it’s not like he hasn’t yanked Midnite’s chain just as many times as…” Whatever John said next was lost because he turned around and set off after Balthazar.
Well, that and Sam was having a bit of a problem processing what John had just said. “Ex-demon?” he finally repeated.
“Come on.” Dean snagged him by the arm and dragged him—though very quietly—after the other two. “Come on. Man says something like that, we’d be stupid not to go find out what he means.”
Which sort of made sense, but something was nagging at Sam and it didn’t have to do with making sure they hadn’t jumped from the frying pan into the fire. Something about…John was going to make nice with Balthazar, and that probably meant—
For the umpteenth time of the night, Sam collided with Dean’s back, and this time was pretty spectacular: he walked up Dean’s heels about an inch and got a mouthful of Dean’s hair. But it definitely wasn’t his fault, because if Dean hadn’t jerked to a stop like that…and Dean really needed better hair-gel, Sam thought as he backed off. That tasted disgusting.
That was…Jesus. Sam gradually became aware that his eyes were so wide it hurt, but somehow he couldn’t remember how to close them. That was one way to convince someone, he vaguely supposed.
John lazily lifted his head from Balthazar’s neck; he had the other man pinned to the wall and from the looks of it, that was all that was keeping Balthazar on his feet. The split in John’s lip had broken open again and traces of blood from it were smeared over Balthazar’s mouth. As Sam watched, Balthazar dazedly flicked out his tongue and licked that off, then leaned forward to suck on John’s lip, hand twisted up in John’s tie.
Which John allowed for a couple seconds before pulling off and turning to look at Sam and Dean. “Did you need something?”
“Er,” Sam intelligently replied.
“Forks,” Dean blurted. He winced, gave himself a shake, and went on a little more coherently. “Where’s your silverware?”
“Second drawer from the right. Oh, and don’t touch anything in the fridge that isn’t in a takeout box.” Not thrown off in the least, John bent down and got busy with Balthazar’s shirt.
Balthazar didn’t seem to mind audiences either, though he was pushing a little at John’s hands. “I’m still not happy about this,” he muttered. “It’s trouble enough keeping you in one piece, so don’t expect me to do anything for Midnite’s little side-projects…”
Time to get dinner. Sam and Dean side-shuffled out of the doorway, and Sam shut the door. Something thudded and groaned behind it, making Dean flinch.
“‘Little side-projects’?” Dean said.
“And ‘juicy demon magnets.’ I’m guessing that leaving town really is out of the question for now.” At least they were going to get fed. Though Sam was actually not that hungry, between throwing up earlier and what John had been doing with the bottled demon flesh.
* * *
They got their chance to ask for a little clarification when John came back out. He’d changed his clothes, though they were almost identical to the ones he’d been wearing before. The only major difference was that he was missing his tie and his top couple of shirt-buttons were undone so if anybody wanted to see, they could get a good look at some fresh bite-marks.
“That was fast,” Dean commented. His expression said he wasn’t totally in control of his mouth.
In spite of that, Sam still was going to smack him. Just as soon as they got some privacy.
“Well, one of us is usually on the clock.” John glanced over their empty, tomato-sauce-stained bowls before leaning against the kitchen counter. He took out a cigarette and stuck it in his mouth, but didn’t light it right away. Instead he took out a key-ring of charms and started flipping it around; occasionally he’d stop to hold one up to the light. “No questions about him? Either you’re really dull or you’re really stupid.”
“Maybe we didn’t want to be rude,” Sam muttered. He scraped around his bowl with his spoon. It’d actually been pretty good food, as long as he didn’t think about what else John probably did in his kitchen. “So he used to be a demon, but now he’s okay?”
Dean poked at his bowl. “Sex can’t be that good,” he said under his breath.
He probably hadn’t meant even Sam to overhear him, but John’s apartment was weirdly conducive to echoes. Luckily, John’s skewed sense of humor extended that far and the other man only snickered, holding his lighter to his cigarette. “Don’t knock it till you try it, kid.”
That got Dean’s attention. “I’m twenty-six.”
“And I’m ten years older, and let me say, I can look at you and know you’ve really got no clue. Maybe you’ve taken a couple stabs at the curtain, but you haven’t really lifted it yet.” John blew out a stream of smoke so long that the end actually reached the table. He started playing with his charms again. “You do anything weird lately? And I don’t mean did you see anything weird—I mean have you done it yourself.”
“Look, I’m getting really tired of this bullshit,” Dean snapped, slewing his chair around. His bowl clattered and the spoon fell out when his elbow joggled it, but he didn’t turn to look at it. “Could you please just cut the Mr. Mysterioso routine and tell us what’s going on? You can skip the primer—we’ve already had it.”
Not cowed in the least, John finally settled on one charm. He held it up to the light and the little thing must have had a bit of glass in it, or something reflective, because Sam felt a warm spot flash over his forehead exactly as if he’d been grazed by a light beam. “Well, yeah. I gave the first half to you in the car,” John snorted. “The second half is that congratulations, kids: you’ve got shiny magical powers.”
“He’s got a point. You do make too much of a production out of this.” Balthazar came stalking up the room, missing tie and jacket but otherwise neat as a pin. He shot a glare at John, then one at Dean. “What he means is that you have latent psychic tendencies. You’re also very old for them to not have expressed themselves, which leads to two important consequences.”
“Somehow I don’t think they’re good consequences.” Dean had set all four legs of his chair back on the ground and was listening despite the attitude.
John made a gesture that was halfway between a shrug and a wince. He tilted his head back to blow gray rings at the ceiling. “Nope. It makes you really vulnerable to possession, and that makes you really attractive to demons—I mean full demons, the badasses that get to lead legions at Armageddon—who want to sneak onto this plane now that the truce-bet is broken.”
That…actually would explain a lot, was Sam’s first reaction. His second reaction was to put his head in his hands and surreptitiously bite at the side of his finger. Goddamn it. Goddamn it. His life was never going to be normal. He’d had his one shot at it and he was beginning to think that he’d never get another one.
“I’m curious to know what Midnite was doing with them,” Balthazar muttered. He was banging around the cabinets and drawers, searching for something. “Thought he would’ve learned his lesson about playing around with novitiates.”
He shot a meaningful glower John’s way, which John seemed to take as a compliment rather than the insult it looked like. “So you’re interested now?” “
Why, yes, Johnny. Having two potential catalysts for mass-destruction sitting in my current home, which also contains you, is absolutely fascinating.” After a last whack at a drawer, Balthazar finally found what he wanted…a coin. He started flipping it over the backs of his knuckles, which was cool-looking but which didn’t seem to require that much fuss. “What was he doing, and why was it so suspicious that you decided to bring them back here, and when can they leave?”
Something poked Sam’s arm: Dean had quietly scooted himself around the table. Now he leaned over and whispered in Sam’s ear, all the while keeping a close watch on the weird little domestic in front of them. “Hey. Your dreams?”
“And your little hunch with the card, but I don’t think we should mention…” Sam broke off and turned around. One wall of the apartment was taken up with a row of tall windows covered with horizontal blinds, and he could have sworn that something big had just flicked past them. The shadows had changed…what had John said about that?
“He was hiring them for a job,” John was saying. “In exchange for information about their mother.”
Balthazar snorted. “What about their mother?”
“Something killed her.” Dean had been facing Sam and the others, so he hadn’t noticed whatever had happened at the window. His jaw was starting to get tight. “About twenty years back. Something that slammed her onto the ceiling and then set her and the house on fire. Sound like friends of yours?”
The quick passing of black shapes happened again, and this time Sam thought he’d heard a very soft noise accompany it, like the beating of many wings. He put his hand on the edge of the table, but didn’t get up just yet. A warning prickle was rippling up and down his arms.
“No.” Something about the way Balthazar said that word, clipped and hard, made Sam turn back around. Balthazar was still toying with the coin, and his stance was casually loose, but his eyes actually were fixed on a point a little beyond Dean. “You’re such an idiot, John.”
And John was still looking up, but he’d just ground out his cigarette when there still was half a butt left. Dean finally caught onto it and looked confusedly at the three of them. “What? What’s happening?”
“I told you, Midnite wanted me to take them home. I didn’t suggest it,” John muttered. He was squinting through the charm at the ceiling as if it were a telescope. “That up there isn’t for me. I was cleaning out a haunted house all day.”
“It’s not for me, either.” Balthazar suddenly twisted his hand around to clench the coin in a fist. “I am going to rip out Midnite’s guts and feed them to the coyotes. They’re not just bait—they’re taken bait, and that bastard wants us to fend off the takers till he can use these two.”
Something whacked against one of the windows, then fell away. “Dean?” Sam said. “Did you bring up any of the guns?”
Dean silently unzipped his duffel bag and handed Sam the shotgun. He looked a little mournfully at the pistol he pulled out next, then shot an irritated glance at Sam. “I was going to grab the rifles, but figured you would think it was too rude.”
“So we’ll go down to your car and get them.” When they looked at him, John stared imperturbably back. “We’re not shooting up my apartment. Anyway, they can’t get in here. You want to mess with them, you’ve got to go out there.”
“So…why couldn’t we just stay in here till they go away?” Sam thought it was a reasonable enough question. It was almost one in the morning and he was tired and unwashed; there had to be better times to go looking for trouble.
Only according to him, apparently. John and Balthazar just looked at each other with the same weary, slightly incredulous exasperation. Then they silently walked towards the door, with a pause for Balthazar to put on socks and shoes. They didn’t carry anything that looked like a weapon, Sam noticed.
“I don’t know about you, Sam, but I don’t sleep all that well under siege.” Dean had tucked the pistol into the back of his jeans. He dropped his jacket over it, then patted Sam hard on the shoulder. “Come on. I’m kind of curious to see how these guys work, actually.”
“We could watch from the window,” Sam muttered, but he came along. He wasn’t about to trust the other two to watch his brother’s back.