-*-

Hellblazer

Oh My Goddess

A Christmas Carol

Rod M

David Tai

Trisha Sebastian

-*-

"Got any Christmas spirit, mate? Jack Daniels'll do."

-John Constantine,

"Vertigo: Winter's Edge"

-*-

STAVE I: Finn's Ghost

-*-

London.

Her lights shone in the night a bit brighter, and

yet a bit softer than usual this night, reflecting the mood

of her people on this night before Christmas.

Whether in drunken merriment or with a grudging sort

of acknowledgement, everyone felt the influence of the

holiday. The city was alive with people going to and fro,

to a party, or a family gathering, or just a small meeting

of two. Some celebrated in solitude, raising a glass to

memories of years past, of better days, and hoped for better

days to come. And there would always be a few who would

decide Christmas would be a nice night for suicide.

On the streets, a homeless musician wailed a

melancholy tune on his saxophone, a tune that would elict a

sad smile on anyone's face. His saxophone case laid on the

sidewalk, some money tossed in by passing strangers.

Far above, standing on the fire escape his apartment

building, a blond, somewhat ragged looking man in his 40's

listened to the Christmas blues.

This man was not the kindest of men. Some cringed

at the mention of his name, while others spat and cursed.

Lying, cheating and stealing were his claim to fame, even

among the denizens of Heaven and Hell. News of his arrival

was often met with fear and confusion, and in his wake were

scattered the casualties of his chaos, both innocent and guilty.

He knew others looked down upon him, but he did what had

to be done, made the difficult decisions, and would not repent

for his deeds.

His quick, almost rebellious attitude towards authority,

either spiritual or earthly, was betrayed in his contemptuous

sneer. His thin smirk, usually reserved for flipping off devils

or mocking his so-called friends, was turned towards himself

this evening. He was still wearing his ever-present trenchcoat,

which had accumulated much wear and tear and blood and dirt

in his travels, as he clutched a lit cigarette in one hand and a

bottle of whiskey in the other.

The Magus, John Constantine.

"Merry Christmas," he grumbled sarcastically to

nobody in particular, raising his bottle in a toast. "Bah

bloody humbug."

Behind him, in the apartment, the telephone rang,

unanswered and ignored. Happy and gleeful holiday

television specials flickered on the television, their merry

message ignored. From the apartment next door, the sounds

of revelry and partying drifted in, making John's flat seem

all the more desolate in its inactivity.

On the table, amidst a wasteland of adverts and

other junk mail sat an envelope sent by his sister Cheryl.

He knew what it was without opening it, an invitation to

spend the holidays with his sister Cheryl and niece Gemma.

Any other year, he'd have been glad for the relief.

Any other year.

There'd be too much trouble brought to Cheryl if he

went there now. It was bad enough when magic touched

Gemma's life, and he wasn't sure Cheryl'd forgiven him for

that yet.

He'd have to make it up to Gemma next year. She

always hated him when he didn't show up for the holidays.

The phone rang once more, drawing an irritated glare

from the Magus. That'd probably be Chas calling, inviting

him over despite his wife's whining protests.

He'd certainly have to pass on that.

Slowly, groaning from the soreness of sitting in one

position far too long, John made his way back inside. He

shut the window behind him, slumped into the couch, and

slowly closed his eyes, and hiccuped as an alcoholic bubble

escaped his lips.

"Tsk, John. Can't even hold yer liquer no more, can

ye?"

Lazily, John lifted an eyelid. Standing before him,

in a translucent and ghostly light, the spirit of Brendan

Finn smugly stood. He wasn't much different than he was in

life, a somewhat portly irishman, slightly balding, with the

remaining hair he had left growing a little long and unruly.

"Bloody hell, Brendan, if you're gonna haunt me, at

least do it at a more godly hour."

"Afraid I can't do that, m'boyo. Special request,

y'know, from 'em up there."

"Aw, bugger." John sat up, lighting a cigarette.

"So, what're you supposed to do here?" He looked up to see

Brendan busy raiding the refrigerator.

Brendan held up a bottle of Foster's, squinting one

eye critically at the bottle. "Shite, John, don't you have

anything better than this pisswater? Ah well..." He slammed

the fridge behind him, tossing John a bottle of his own.

Taking a seat next to John, Brendan sighed. "John,

John, John. Ye gonna hate me after I tell ya." He popped

his bottle open and took a big swig, before looking at John

sadly.

John smirked. "Oh? Like what? You're the Spirit

of the Bloody Past or some shite like that?" he commented as

he drank from his own bottle.

"Actually..."

The moment ceased to be amusing.

"No, you're kidding, you're fucking kidding me."

"I wouldn't say I'm the Spirit of the Bloody Past,

no. More like, wot wossisname.... Bob Marley?"

John scowled, tapping his cigarette on the ash tray.

"Jacob."

"Ah, aye, Jacob Marley."

John looked Brendan over. "Shouldn't you have

chains, then? 'I wear the chains I forged in life' and

whatnot?"

"Well, if I was sent to Hell, I suppose I'd have

chains..."

Resigned to a night of haunting, John seemed to

slump into his seat, defeated. "Well, fine, if I'm to be

haunted, it might as well be you."

"Yer da' wanted the gig too," said Brendan. "I'm

sure that would've gone down well with'ye."

John laughed bitterly. "Ah, yeah, another Christmas

with the old man telling me what a worthless shit I am."

Brendan smirked. "See? Aren't ye glad I volunteered

for this gig? And I gotta say, there's a fun night for you

planned ahead. Probably better than pub crawlin'. Jaysis,

this is your life Constantine." He swept his hands apart like

a game show host, grinning widely.

With a deep breath, John finished off his cigarette

quickly. He tossed it at the ash tray, then looked at

Brendan curiously. "Oi, since when do you work for Heaven?"

"Since they decided not to kick me out, considerin'

all the daft shit I pulled. St. Peter wanted me head after

the Irish question, so I hadta cool it."

"Heh. Right then, let's start?"

Brendan cleared his throat, as if getting ready to

make a speech. "I'd preach t'ye about your life, but

considerin' wot I did in mine, I'd be a bloody hypocrite. So

I'll just say this: you will be haunted, by Three Spirits."

John raised an eyebrow. "Speech was kinda short,

wasn't it?"

"Would you prefer the unabridged version, Johnny?"

He smirked. "No thanks."

"Aye. And with that, I think I'll take me leave."

And Brendan Finn faded away.

"What, that's it for you?"

"I've done my bit, Johnny," said Brendan's

disembodied voice. "Try t'have a happy holidays. And get

some fuckin' Guinness. Don't ever let me catch you with

that pisswater in yer fridge again, hear?"

And then John Constantine was alone.

-*-

STAVE II: The First of the Spirits

-*-

Sitting on the couch, John eyed the clock warily,

watching the hands tick away the seconds as the first hour

past midnight approached. If he remembered the story right,

the first spirit, the Ghost of Christmas Past, appeared at one,

the Ghost of Christmas Present at two, and the Ghost of

Christmas Future at three.

Hrm.... the Past was the childlike figure, the

Present was the jolly giant, and the future was Death. He

wondered if he'd get the same treatment. With a smile he

recalled the anthromorphic manifestation of Death, and she

was far from a robed entity with a scythe. She was rather

cute, actually, and considering how many times he'd cut it

close in his life, he was already somewhat familiar with

her.

Maybe he'd finally get her to have a drink with him?

Heh.

Probably not. Oh well, dream a little dream...

And suddenly his television turned on, with a

shapely, tall, tanned, almost cat-like platinum blond woman

on its screen. John scowled.

"Oh," he said, disappointed. "It's you."

//"Well Happy Holidays to you too, wiseguy,"// said

a somewhat offended Urd from within the TV screen. //"You

DO know why I'm here, right?"//

"Spirit of Christmas Past, I presume," he said

dryly.

//"Bingo, John-boy. Though to be honest, I'd just

let you rot, but I really couldn't say no to this gig."//

John raised an eyebrow. "And why not?"

With a smirk, Urd leaned forward. //"Part of the

job, John-boy."//

"Uh huh." He slumped back into the couch, unamused.

On second thought, it seemed entirely appropriate that the

Spirit of Christmas Past was someone that didn't like him.

He didn't like his past anyway. "So, shall we?"

//"Come on over and touch the screen,"// said Urd.

"There's better ways to know me, y'know," quipped

John.

//"Veeeery funny. Just shut up and do it."//

"Yes mistress! Got a whip and some leathers to go

with that, have you?"

//"SHUT UP!"//

And without further ado, John touched the television

screen and suddenly was reduced to digital static, traveling

through endless miles of cables. Time seemed to linger on

forever, yet be only a passing second.

And then he found himself sitting on a very plushy

recliner. In front of him was the largest television screen

he'd ever seen in his life, indescribably large, a size

which put the screen in New York's Times Square screen to

absolute shame.

"Welcome to UrdTV," said a voice beside him. John

turned to look, and saw another recliner next to his, with

Urd in it. She held a remote control, and the table between

them was filled with beer bottles.

"Interesting," he replied. "This thing gets the

sports channel, yeah?"

Urd nodded. "Yeah, but not tonight." She aimed the

remote, pressed a button, and suddenly the screen was

divided into dozens of smaller screens, each showing a

segment of John's life.

"Look familiar?" asked Urd.

He gazed up at the endless scenes and saw his

life... a montage of images he'd seen all too often, of

loves lost, betrayed, killed, spurned, of friends betrayed

and burned, of every little dirty deed that soiled his soul.

"My my my," said Urd. "So many memories, so little

time."

"I'm all too familiar with the smoking ruins of my

past, thank you," replied John. It was true, to, as he'd

faced down the ghosts of his past misdeeds many times by

now.

Urd shrugged. "Fortunately for you, reviewing The

Worst of John Constantine, isn't what's called for at the

moment. And, as you say, it's old news by now. Instead, I

think it's appropriate that we go somewhere you've forgotten

by now."

Once more, Urd took aim with the remote, and this

time the dozens of screens merged into one vision, of a

cloudy winter day, high above Liverpool as the snow fell down

gently. The view from the television slowly panned down,

focusing on the thousands of people below. It moved as the

focus became narrower, moving towards the city, until

finally it came to view a scruffy looking little boy,

wandering aimlessly through the city streets.

"I guess... I guess that's me," said John.

And suddenly he was gone from the comfy chair,

instead standing in those streets of old, a transparent

ghost next to the boy that he once was. A ghostly Urd

appeared next to them a moment later.

"Y'know, you didn't look too shabby as a kid," she

said, bowing down to peer at young John's face. With a

smile, she ruffled her fingers through his hair, though they

passed through with no effect at all. "Tell me, John, do

you remember this place?"

The Magus hmmed as he took a look around. They were

on a bridge hanging over a low canal, with slabs of ice and

water flowing beneath them.

"Of course, it wouldn't surprise me if you didn't,"

said Urd teasingly. "What with your history of alcohol and

drug abuse, probably fried away some important brain cells

there."

"Shut up."

"So do you remember?"

"... vaguely."

"Well, that's what I'm here for, Mister Magus.

Anyway, meet John Constantine, 8 years old. After another

verbal lashing from your father, you've run away from home."

John nodded. "Right, what now?"

"Just watch."

And they watched, as Young John stood on the bridge,

kicking stones into the stream. His expression was solemn,

especially so for a boy his age.

"John! Oi, John!"

Both Constantines turned to see who called, and a

lanky looking boy, goofy in his general appearance, appeared

at the foot of the bridge.

"Hi Gaz," replied Young John, his voice not very

enthusiastic.

"Who's this?" asked Urd.

"Gaz," said John quietly. "Gary Lester, good old

Gaz."

As the elder John spoke, little Gaz trotted happily

across the bridge, then slipped on a patch of ice and fell

flat on his face.

Both Constantines frowned.

The elder Constantine shook his head sadly. "A

clumsy idiot from beginning to end."

Urd blinked. "Oh, he's one of the dead, huh?"

"Mm-hm."

"Lookit wot I got, John!" Gaz said happily, lifting

a rumpled brown paper bag.

"'nother dead frog, Gaz?"

"No, this!" And with a dramatic reach within the

bag, Gaz pulled out a can of spray paint and a towel.

"Going to spray paint the bridge?" asked young John.

"Even better!" replied Gaz eagerly. "M'gonna sniff

it!"

Young John looked skeptical. "Sniff it? Are you

mad? What's that supposed to do?"

"It makes y'feel great! Here, watch!"

They all watched as little Gaz eagerly sprayed paint

into the cloth, then put his face next to it and inhaled

deeply. The younger Constantine laughed and egged Gaz

to go on, while the older Constantine just frowned.

"His mom always did say I was a bad influence,"

muttered the elder Constantine.

Urd shook her head. "This was your friend, was he?"

John smirked. "Well, someone had t'do it."

Eventually, Gaz offered young John the towel.

Before John could try, a screeching voice yelled out and Gaz

bolted like there was no tomorrow, taking the can with him.

A moment later, Gaz's mother passed by, running angrily

after her son. Young John, knowning a good time to exit

when he saw one, quietly moved on.

By reflex, John fished in his pockets for a

cigarette. Being an astral projection, there wasn't much

point to doing it but he did it anyway. Needless to say,

there were no cigarettes.

"Good ol' Gaz went on to bigger'n better drugs,"

said John as he and Urd followed his younger self down the

suburban Liverpool streets. "And then he messed with demons...

and the rest is history."

"Was he your only friend?" asked Urd.

"At this point in my life, I think he was."

Young John walked onwards, past empty streets and

through crowded walkways, with no real destination in sight.

A young girl several years his senior rushed up from behind

him and grabbed him by the jacket collar.

"John! Where've you been?"

Urd smiled. "The plot thickens. Who might this

be?"

Though he had a feeling she knew already, John

answered. "My sis, Cheryl." They both watched with amused

smiles as Cheryl pulled young John home, chiding him every

step of the way. The elder John watched her, stared in

fascination. She was as beautiful as he'd remembered, a

radiant and fiery young girl, always pulling John's reigns

in when he went wild, always holding him close when his

heart was wounded.

"She... was a lot like... like a mom to me, as best

as she could be anyway."

"Why Constantine, if I didn't know better, I'd think

that was genuine love I hear in your voice."

John smirked. "Maybe it is."

"Hm... I think it's time," said Urd.

"We finished?"

"Nope, time to fast forward a bit."

And after a brief moment of static, they found

themselves inside a modest two-story house, moderately

decorated with Christmas ornaments. In the kitchen, Cheryl

was looking over assorted things on the stove. Young John

sat by the Christmas tree, turning a small, gift-wrapped

package over in his hands.

Unseen and unheard, Urd and John watched John's

young counterpart with interest. The elder John looked

around. "Hm. Something's missing," he said.

Little John seemed to notice as well,

looking around with some apprehension. "Where's dad?" he

asked.

Cheryl frowned slightly at the question, but didn't

break her stride as she adjusted knobs on the stove and

moved dishes into the oven. "Dad... he's working overtime."

"So 'e won't be in?" asked little John.

"No, he won't."

Young John smiled brightly. "So s'just you'n me,

sis?"

"Looks that way, Johnny."

"Good!"

"John, that's not a nice thing to say!" chided

Cheryl.

"I don'care, I hate him. I'd rather be with you

anyway." Cheryl sighed, though she couldn't help but smile

just a little.

Urd blinked. "So, didn't like your old man?"

"He's in hell," said John. "I left him there."

"Ouch, that was a hell of a thing to do."

"Trust me, he had it coming."

Little John, meanwhile, was busy turning over the

wrapped gift with his name on it. Cheryl chastised him for

it, telling him to wait till after dinner. Amazingly, John

did wait, though it seemed that being alone with Cheryl

lightened the boy's spirits from the glum state he'd been in

earlier in the day.

John scratched his chin as he looked upon his

younger self sitting down to dinner with Cheryl. "Y'know, I

think that might've been the most peaceful Christmas I'd

ever had."

"You'd forgotten all about it too," said Urd.

"Yeah," he said sadly. "I guess I did."

At last, young John finished his dinner and

immediately charged towards his gift from Cheryl. Before

she could stop him, little John tore the wrappings away from

his gift and squealed with delight. Held in his hands was

an amateur magic show kit, complete with wand, magic rings,

cards, and tophat.

"The magic kit!" young John shouted happily. "You

got it!"

Cheryl laughed. "Well, I couldn't let my only

little brother down, could I?" She embraced him from

behind, cuddling the smaller boy lovingly. Both Johns

looked mildly embarrassed, and the younger John squirmed

slightly under his sister's embrace. "Aw, sis, c'mon, cut

it out."

"Just promise me you won't run away anymore?"

At this, both Johns frowned.

"Promise me, John," repeated Cheryl. "You know how

much I worry'bout you when you run off like you do!

Please?"

"Aw... awright."

Cheryl smiled. "Thanks, Johnny. Love ya." She

gave him a kiss on the forehead then ruffled his hair. The

older Constantine turned away from the scene, even as young

John eagerly tried some of the magic tricks with an

attentive Cheryl as an audience.

Urd put a hand on his shoulder. "You know, she

really was too good to you."

John didn't turn around, still staring out at

the snowfall outside. "Yeah, maybe she was," he flatly

replied.

"You were lousy at keeping promises, weren't you."

It wasn't a question, but instead, more of an accusation.

Before John could reply, she hit the 'fast forward' on the

remote once more. The world burst into blurs and static for

a moment.

"Hey, what-"

"Ten years later," answered Urd. "Look around."

The house hadn't fared well in the passing of ten

years, with peeling wallpaper and a browned floor. It spoke

of a lack care, a decay of morale. Sitting at the kitchen

table was a middle-aged one-armed man, balding, with stringy

white hair and a craggy face, along with Cheryl and a very

nondescript, plain gentleman. They sat around the kitchen

table, around a Christmas dinner with candles, though the

mood there was hardly warm and happy.

"I told ye the little bastard'd skip on us!" the

one-armed man

"That's your dad?" asked Urd

"Mm-hm," said John, nodding. The hatred he held for

the old man was evident in the level glare John was giving

him. "Yeah, that's him."

"And the fella with Cheryl?" asked Urd.

"Cheryl's future hubby," replied John with distaste.

"Tony Masters. All the spine and personality of a sponge."

"I'm sure he's got his reasons, dad," said Cheryl,

sticking up for John as he knew she would.

"DON'T YOU TRY AND DEFEND THE BOY!" her father

raged. "He can go t'hell for all I care."

"Dad!"

"He's why yer mother's DEAD!"

Cheryl sighed, exasperated. She, and John, had

heard this one a hundred times over.

Unseen by them, John shook his head. "One Christmas

I didn't mind missing."

"You sure about that?" asked Urd.

John stayed silent.

Lifting the remote once more, Urd hit the fast

forward button. A moment later, they found themselves in a

different household, a place of fresh paint and new

furniture. Christmas decorations were everywhere,

especially around the fireplace where a tall decorated tree

stood proudly. Near the fireplace, a television played 'A

Christmas Carol', the 1947 version with John Carradine as

Scrooge. Cheryl sat on the couch, a few years older but

still beautiful to John. On her lap was a little girl, the

spitting image of Cheryl, with long brown hair tied back in

a ponytail.

Urd saw all this and smiled. "Cozy little family

they have here. Your niece, I guess?"

"Yeah," he said quietly, as if to not disturb the

peace of the moment. "That's m'little princess."

Urd smiled. "She's beautiful."

"Mum, when's unca John gonna come?" asked Gemma.

Cheryl's expression darkened. "He... he shows up

whenever he can, luv."

"He's coming tonight, right?" asked Gemma. "He

promised he would."

John scowled. "I get the idea."

Urd shook her head. "Just a little longer."

"Gemma..." Cheryl hesitated, searching for a

gentler way to tell things as they were. Instead, she lied.

"Yes, he'll show up, sooner or later. So don't you worry

about it, okay?"

Urd cast a sideward glare at John. "Just curious,

Constantine. Where were you on this particular Christmas?"

John looked uncertain, a little ashamed. "I was...

I was..."

With a click of the button, Urd changed the channel.

After a moment of static, they found themselves in the

middle of a dingy apartment, thick with hazy smoke and

incense and the sharp smell of alcohol. Young men and women

were everywhere, partying wildly, all in some state of

undress. Loud music was blaring from a stereo, though it

seemed everybody was too occupied with someone else to pay

it much heed.

Under the Christmas tree, between a naked girl's

legs, beer bottle in one hand, a tit in the other, slept

young rebel John Constantine.

Urd stared down at the younger Constantine with

disgust. "Well, I see you've got your priorities."

To her surprise, John didn't defend himself.

Instead, he looked away, sullen as ever. "I've seen

enough," he said. "We can leave now."

"Yeah, we can."

And without further ado, she aimed the remote at him

and hit the power button. John Constantine suddenly found

the world turning into static, and then dark oblivion...

-*-

Tokyo, Japan.

Skuld's room.

The little brunette goddess frantically tried to

organize the scenes for her part in the drama. The youngest

of the three Norns, Skuld's brow furrowed, her goddesses

marks standing out in sharp relief against her skin. She

had to come up with something for John. And she had very

little idea what to do.

It wasn't easy. There were so many possibilities.

And most of them were icky.

Skuld would've asked Belldandy to help, but

Belldandy was already on her way to see John. And she

didn't want to ask Urd. Urd would have probably made fun of

her, and she didn't want to hear that.

She didn't know what else to do. There wasn't

anyone she could ask.

"Yoo hoo! Anyone home?"

Skuld blinked. She recognized that voice.

No. Oh no.

"PEORTH!"

A young brunette goddess swept into the room with

the flair of an artiste, something Skuld didn't think she

was entitled to, no matter how well she did it. Among the

goddesses she had a fairly exotic uniform, an ebony thong

and tube top encircled by wide, golden, belt-like ribbons

about her torso which almost gave the impression of a gift

ribbon waiting to be untied. While the three sisters grew

their hair long, beyond their backs, Peorth kept hers much

shorter, stopping a few inches below her jaw. The sole

exception to this was her ponytail, which snaked down the

length of her back in graceful slight curves.

This was Peorth, goddess of mystery, and

self-proclaimed chief rival of Belldandy's at the Goddess

Offices.

Skuld mainly saw Peorth as a pretentious nuisance.

"PEORTH! GIMME BACK MY ROMANCE COMICS!"

Oh yes, and a thief as well.

Peorth ignored the protest with the air of an

aristocrat, tossing her short brunette tresses over her

shoulders. Instead, she peered over Skuld's shoulder at the

monitor, giving her a wide smile. "Ah, running through a

knotty problem, dear?" Peorth patted Skuld on the head, even

as she read the scenarios running through the computer.

Fuming, Skuld ducked out from under her. If there

was anything she hated, it was being treated like a little

kid. Which was another reason to be annoyed at Peorth.

After a moment of rapid typing, Peorth straightened

up with the air of a satisfied cat, and then turned to

Skuld. And smiled. "There, these might help." With a

wink, she turned and walked away.

Skuld blinked.

And blinked some more.

And then turned back and read the new script...

"Yipe! Oh, no... no, he's not going to like this."

...and decided to disregard them.

And she continued on her search.

-*-

STAVE III: The Second of the Spirits

-*-

John lurched upwards and rolled off the couch, landing

hard on the bare floor. "Christ," he said, rubbing his palm

over his eyes. How long had he been asleep? He looked at

the clock. Ten to two.

He'd fallen asleep on the couch. That's what

appeared to have happened anyway, and the discomfort in his

neck and back was reminding him of it. With a groan, he

rose from the couch and stretched. Twisted muscles strained

to straighten out, while various bones popped into place.

For a moment he wondered if it had all been a dream

after all. The details of the event were all still in his

head, and yet seemed to grow hazy.

The two opened bottles of Fosters by the couch, one

his, one Brendan's, quickly dismissed that notion.

"Ah, shite."

He shook his head, running his fingers though his

mop of hair. He felt a tinge of regret, thinking back

on those times he'd let Cheryl and Gemma down. If Urd

wanted to make him feel regret, she'd done her job. It

wasn't anything new to John, though there was one bit of

silver lining to Urd's tour, it helped him remember.

It really had been a while since he remembered

_that_ Christmas, just him and Cheryl. They tried to make

popcorn later and ended up making nothing but a mess. He's

the one who caught hell from his dad the next day.

John grinned. "But it was worth it."

He staggered to the bathroom and turned up the tap.

He plunged his hands under the spray, cupping them and threw

some of the water on his face. Off in the distance, the

bells of the tower rang twice. John paused as he heard

them, reminded of what had happened so far, and what was

scheduled to be so far.

Two in the morning, that meant the second of the

spirits would be coming. He tried to recall her name...

Bell... Belladona? Belldandy? Something like that. All he

remembered of her was that she was certainly more pleasant

than Urd.

"Bloody stupid, all this is," he muttered, shaking

the water out of his hair.

//I'm sorry, John, but we need to do this.//

John looked up to see a friendly face looking back

at him from his mirror. "Right on time, then," he said to

her.

Her soft brown eyes brightened at him, and she

smiled beautifully. //May I come in?//

"Why not," he sighed. "Seems I'll be getting the

lot of you tonight. Come on in."

A head with brown hair pushed through, followed by

one shoulder, then the next. Belldandy stepped lightly down

from the mirror, sitting on the edge of the sink. Her robes

settled around her like the wings of a dove, as she smiled at

him. "I can't say that I'm as upset as you are. I think that this

may do some good for you."

John took out a cigarette from a pack from his

pocket and lit it up. "Me? Good?"

Belldandy gave him a reproving look. "There are

things within you that are good, John Constantine. We both

know they are there."

John shrugged, trying to look nonchalant. "Yeah?

So what?"

"This is a chance for you to recognize those things

and to change your life accordingly," Belldandy said,

reaching out to pinch off his cigarette.

"If I'm going through this whole charade, can't you

at least let me have a fag?"

"No." There was no wavering in her voice, and John

sighed.

"Well, then. Let's get it over with. Spirit of

Christmas Present, blah, blah..." He looked around him,

curiosity on his face. "Isn't there supposed to be food of

some sorts?"

Belldandy smiled indulgently. "I'm not that kind of

spirit. Take my hand," she said, extending it to him.

"We're going to visit some friends of yours."

He looked at her warily. "You sure you want to nip

around to my friends' first?"

"What better way to show you what you're missing out

on." With that, Belldandy pulled him through the mirror.

Five seconds later, she reappeared with John in tow.

"Didn't expect that, did you?"

Belldandy shuddered. "Do Eddie and Grant do that

every Christmas?"

"As long as I've known them, anyway."

"On second thought, perhaps we should go over to

your sister Cheryl's house instead."

John fought a smirk. "Right."

-*-

Belldandy pushed through the hallway mirror, tugging

John forward. As before, they were in ghostly garb, pale

figures compared to the brightly colored room that greeted

them. A fire burned merrily in the fireplace, where the

stockings were hung. Cheryl's husband was sitting in an

easy chair, dozing with headphones on. He had a happy

contented smile on his face.

"You're gonna be late, Gemma. Hurry up!"

Gemma came rushing in from the back of the house.

She was dressed warmly, carrying a bag full of gifts. "I

was just wrapping the last package, mum." She reached over

and kissed Cheryl on the cheek. "Sure you don't want to

come with me?"

"Wait a minute, where's she going?" John asked.

"They always spend Christmas here at the house."

"Wait, John."

Cheryl laughed. "I'm sure you'll be fine without

your mum tagging along." The doorbell rang.

"That's my ride," Gemma said. John noticed her face

growing sad. "You'll tell me if Uncle John calls?"

Cheryl's face grew cold for a brief instant, then

brightened again. "Yes, I will." She reached up and

tightened the scarf around Gemma's neck. "Don't be late for

dinner."

Gemma laughed. "I won't." She rushed to the door

and opened it. "Ready to go, Susan?"

A tall girl with stepped forward and kissed her on

both cheeks. "I'm always ready. Let's go, Gemmie."

"Gemmie?" John peered at the stranger. "She calls

her Gemmie? Who is this person? How come I've never seen

her before?"

"Susan's a good friend of Gemma's. They're in the

same history class in college," Belldandy said as the two

girls walked arm in arm down the street. "It's something

you might have known had you been over to see Gemma in

the dorms like she asked."

John looked sharply at Belldandy at that, but there was

no look of accusation like he received from so many others.

In her face, he saw wistful regret.

"It's not my fault," John protested.. "Things just

happen..."

"I never said you were at fault, John," Belldandy

said with a smile. "It's obvious that you love her."

"Of course I love her!"

"Then why don't you say it more often?" John was

silent, as Belldandy walked through one of the walls of the

house and into the kitchen. He followed her there to see

Cheryl setting the table. She already had three plates out

and reached up to get a fourth. Then, looking thoughtfully

at the phone, then the clock, she snorted in disbelief.

"Why should I expect him to call? Why should I

expect him to come?" Cheryl snorted in derision. "He never

does, lousy bastard." Still, John could see the utter

disappointment on her face.

"Is there any reason why you don't go to see them

more often?" Belldandy said, stepping out of the way as

Cheryl closed the cupboard door and crossed to the oven.

John shrugged. "I don't want them caught up in my

messes." His face turned somber. "I try to keep it away

from them as best as I can."

"Oh, John." The words were a long sigh. "Do you

have to be so naive?"

John whirled around. "What?"

"Haven't you learned enough about magic?" Belldandy

turned to look at Cheryl again. "Here's happiness, and a

home. Family who cares about you. This takes more magic

than dispelling a demon."

"If you knew what I've been through--"

"I do. I've read your files. It is part of my duties as the

goddess of the Present," she said with a smile. "I know

exactly what has happened to you to make you into the

man you are today." As Cheryl stirred some pie filling and

poured it into a crust, Belldandy observed, "She went through

some of the same things you did, too." She turned to look

at John with large gentle eyes. "Wouldn't you be better off

sharing things again, as you did when you were children?"

John stood silently as Cheryl started to hum a Christmas

tune. Despite being angry with him, she was still

able to keep a cheerful expression on her face. "It's not

like that," he protested weakly.

Belldandy gave him a stern look and suddenly John

felt as if he'd done something sacrilegious. Usually, that

sort of thing didn't bother him, but under Belldandy's

compassionate, yet hard gaze, he found that he couldn't look

her in the eye.

"Come with me, John, we have one more stop to make."

John followed Belldandy into the hallway mirror and stepped

out into the London streets. John looked back at the large

department store window.

"How'd you do that?" he asked. "I thought your

domain was just mirrors."

"It has a reflective property," Belldandy pointed out gently.

The cold wind whipped down the street, making the leaves in the

bushes rustle, but Belldandy walked on, her hair and clothes

untouched by the wind.

John followed her down the street, searching his

pockets in vain for a pack. "Where to next, O fearless

leader?"

The sarcastic remark seemed to bounce off of

Belldandy's robes. "We're going to see another friend of

yours. I checked in on his whereabouts," she added hastily

as she saw John about to open his mouth to remind her about

the earlier incident. "He's on the phone right now."

They turned around a corner. A large black cab was parked

next to a phone booth. Inside, a dark-haired swarthy solidly built

man with a square jaw, faintly thug-like in appearance, was on the

phone. John recognized him immediately.

"Chas?" John strode up to the booth. "Hey, Chas!"

"They can't hear or see you, John," Belldandy

reminded him gently, standing behind him.

"Oh, he can't, can he?" John grinned. "It's a good

thing, too, 'cause he's a simple-minded pussy-whipped

tosser!" He leaned in closer to the booth, grinning madly.

"John!" Belldandy said, appalled, as he laughed

uproariously. She turned the look of admonishment and

sorrow back on him again. "If you could hear what he was

saying and to whom..." she said, as a small speaker

appeared with a wave of her hand.

//Frank William Chandler! Yer gonna catch yer death

of cold! Get yer butt back here an' have dinner with yer

family like you should!//

"Honey, I gotta find out if he's okay. I haven't seen him

in over a week." Chas leaned against the door and sighed.

//'e's a drunk, a bum. He's always gettin' you inta

trouble.// The voice turned pleading. //You don't need a

friend like 'im. Come home, Frank.//

"He may be a bum, but he's still my friend."

"There ya go, Chas," John crowed. "You tell that

harridan what's what."

Chas looked out into the cold and the dark. By the

way he pursed his lips, John could tell that he was thinking

about his warm house and the fireplace and comparing it to

the cold London air and the mission he was on.

"She's a lousy cook," John confided to Belldandy.

"Last time she made a turkey, she'd forgotten to take the

giblets out." He chuckled in rememberance. "Chas hates it

when she cooks."

"Alright. I'm coming home."

"What?"

//See ya soon, Frank.//

"Right back atcha, luv." Chas hung up the phone and

exited the booth. He took one last look around the street.

"Damn you, John. Damn you to hell." He got into his car

and drove off.

John ran out into the street, waving his fist at the

receding vehicle. "Bastard!" he cried. "Well, fuck you,

too!"

"How many times has he asked you to dinner?"

Belldandy appeared next to him. "And how many times have

you refused?"

John growled. "What's your point?"

"How long is it before your friends start giving up

on you?" She gestured towards the empty street that Chas

disappeared down. "Frank has stuck by you, through thick

and thin. But friendship can't exist in a vacuum."

"So, you're saying someday Chas is gonna disappear

on me? Hah! Like that will ever happen."

Belldandy shook her head, sorrowfully, and said nothing,

turning away.

John didn't miss the expression on her face. "Wait!"

But she had already disappeared, leaving him to stand

alone in the dark street...

-*-

STAVE IV: The Last of the Spirits

-*-

"Belldandy? You there?" John called out into the

London night.

Nothing.

He frowned, not liking the fact that Belldandy had

seemingly ditched him in the middle of the city. Shouldn't

he have been waking up in bed right about now, as if it was

all just a dream?

Around him, the streets of London were quickly being

engulfed in a thick fog. The ground underneath his feet

suddenly felt different too, soft dirt and grass instead

hard London street. In the distance, Big Ben's bells rang

three times.

"Ah, yes, third spirit."

Nothing to do but wait for the inevitable, then.

After all, it was how the story went. He pulled a cigarette

from one pocket and a lighter from another.

Before he had a chance to take his long awaited

smoke break, something emerged from the darkness and fog.

Clad in a hooded cloak, it held a large scythe in its

concealed hands.

He stared at the short figure, as it lifted the

scythe and shook it menacingly, motioning for him to follow.

John shook his head, exhaling a cloud of cigarette

smoke, following as the city began to fade away into

nothingness.

"Okay, Skuld, lose the scythe and the cloak. It's

bloody ridiculous."

The figure pulled the hood back, revealing Skuld's

face. She was not smiling as usual. She tapped the scythe

once, and it became her long-handled mallet. "Hi, John. I

guess you know why I'm here, don't you?" she said, looking

sadly at him.

John frowned. Skuld's body language was of one who

didn't want to do what she had to do, but he wasn't in a

mood to be gentle. "Yeah, yeah, cut to the chase already,

will you?"

Skuld refused to look at him in the eyes. "I'm...

not ready for this kind of task yet, John..."

"Look, I understand already, you're just doin' your

job. So let's get this over with, eh? Then I'll take y'out

for ice cream."

Skuld fidgeted. "Well, I had a hard time finding

nice futures, and..."

"Nice futures?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Skuld, the whole point of this was to make me repent my

ways. Isn't that the way the whole thing is supposed to

work?"

Skuld shuffled her feet against the ground, her

mallet behind her. "But..."

John shook his head. "You're not cut out for this

job, kid." He patted her on the head.

Skuld sulked. "I'm not a kid anymore," she said.

"It's just... just... I can't do this, John!"

There was a sigh. "I can see I'll have to do this

myself."

They spun around. Peorth was there, her thin robes

gathered underneath her, sitting atop a tombstone. She

motioned for them to come closer.

"Bonjour, mon cheri," she said smoothly. "And little

Skuld, of course."

"Beat it Peorth," said Skuld icily.

"Oh, but ma petit enfante, I'm here because of you,"

replied Peorth. "You can't handle the job, so it's my

turn."

Skuld's jaw dropped. "But... but.."

"Feel free to accompany us," said Peorth. "Think

of it as an education."

"Oh, I'll come along!" yelled Skuld. "Just to make

sure you don't try any funny business!"

Much to Skuld's irritation, Peorth ignored her

entirely and was instead turning her attention to John. "If

you will, monsieur Constantine, look over here."

With a sweep of her arm, she indicated some point in

the distance. At the same time, the fog rolled away

revealing a crowd of people dressed in black, all solemn and

sad in appearance. As the fog disappeared, John could see

they were in a graveyard now, and that the scene in the

distance was a funeral. John didn't recognize the faces at

first, but as the crowd thinned, he finally saw Cheryl,

along with Chas, his wife, and their daughter.

Without saying a word, Chas gave Cheryl's shoulder a

gentle squeeze. A moment later, he and his family left

Cheryl alone to mourn.

"Surprised that many people showed up for my

funeral," muttered John.

"Your funeral?" asked Peorth. "This isn't your

funeral."

"Isn't mine? Then whose..." Realization hit John

hard, as his eyes widened and the unlit cigarette dropped

from his mouth. "Jesus, no..."

He rushed up to the tombstone and read its words.

GEMMA MASTERS

Beloved Daughter

John touched the tombstone gently, tears falling

from his eyes as he did. "Not Gemma, no..."

Skuld whispered to Peorth, "Who's Gemma?"

"His niece," Peorth whispered back. "You didn't

read the files, did you?"

John wiped the tears from his eyes and walked back

to Peorth, less swagger in his step and a haunted look in

his eyes. "Tell me," he said, willing himself to stay calm.

"How'd she die?"

"The usual pattern, ever since she was a child,"

replied Peorth. "Got a little depressed, fell into the

wrong crowd, got mixed up in some dangerous things..."

"I wouldn't have allowed it," said John icily.

"This couldn't have happened."

"Ah, but John, you weren't there to stop her."

"So... so where the fuck was I?"

"You died as you lived, my dear Johnny... a mystery."

"Dammit, that's not..."

"If you insist on seeing _one_ possible future,

then..." She looked over meaningfully at Skuld.

Skuld shrank back, but was held in place by John.

He glared, his hand tightening on Skuld's arm. "Show me."

"Y... you're hurting me, John..."

"SHOW ME!"

And Skuld showed him.

-*-

It had been years, it knew that much.

But Time meant nothing here.

Neither did Space.

It knew only that it belonged nowhere.

Where it should have gone, it did not know.

There was Nothing.

It reached out. It felt Nothing.

It looked around. It saw Nothing.

Smell, Taste, Sight, Touch, Sound. Maybe even other

senses. It could no longer remember just how many there

were.

All gone. Except one.

Thought.

It only could think.

And it knew it had been thinking for eternity.

So many things to think about, and no way to do

anything. Regrets, memories, hopes, wishes. Played over

and over and over, simply because it had nothing else to do.

It struggled to remember. What had it been?

It didn't remember. All its dreams, all its hopes,

all its fears, all its despair, all ran together after a

while, until it was unsure what was real and what was

fantasy.

All it could think of, all it wanted, all it ever

remembered, all it ever needed, throughout the timeless

limbo, all mingled.

It went on, throughout the ages, thoughtlessly,

yearning for something, but it didn't know what.

It had forgotten that, once, it was a man named

Constantine.

-*-

And suddenly they were back at Gemma's grave.

The goddess of mystery cast a curious eye at John

Constantine. His expression was unreadable: certainly not

happy, but without despair either. It was... grim.

Peorth felt herself sadden upon hearing Skuld cry

quiety, but hardened herself. There was a job to be done

here, and it wasn't meant to be nice.

"What did you think it was, Johnny?" Peorth asked

him. "Did you think you'd steal into Heaven? Or conquer

Hell, maybe? Too smart for your own good, Constantine, and

now neither side will have you. You're alone. It's a very

rare being, Constantine, who has managed to piss off both

Heaven and Hell into not wanting you. So here you are.

Alone, at last, for eternity. Pretty, isn't it?"

"NO! NO!" Skuld screamed, shaking her head. "He's

not going to be alone!"

Peorth tilted her head, looking sadly towards John.

"Perhaps... but if not this, then something very similar.

You know this, don't you, John Constantine?"

Skuld shook her head, tears flowing, clinging to

John with all the strength she could.

John took a deep breath. "Yeah, it probably is."

He lit up a cigarette and puffed away on it. Damn, but he

needed that.

He looked down at Skuld, who met his eyes with

tear-streaked cheeks.

And then he looked up at Peorth with a fixed stare

and a slight smirk. "Well, all of this, all that you've

shown me, s'not gonna happen."

"Oh?" asked Peorth. "And why is that?"

"Because I won't let it," he said, confidence

creeping back into his voice. His grin didn't quite have

the same cocky self-assuredness, but the gleam in his

eyes...

He would find a way.

Peorth shrugged. "Well, I guess that's the end of

the tour then. Skuld?"

Skuld shook her head frantically.

Peorth was grim. "Do it."

John raised an eyebrow. "Do what?"

And then Skuld, with a loud cry, pushed John

Constantine into the grave of Gemma Masters.

He fell, tumbling head over heels, yelling and cursing as

he did, into the infinite void...

-*-

STAVE V: The End of It.

-*-

John sat up abruptly with a yell, his breathing ragged and

deep, his eyes wide open. A moment's disorientation, and then

he realized that this was his bedroom, and that he was in

bed, still wearing the clothes he had on the previous evening.

Somewhere in the distance, Big Ben struck eight.

John sank back into the bed, letting out a groan as he

settled back into its comforting depths...

"John, are you okay?"

"SHIT!" Nearly falling out of bed in surprise, he

regained his composure and stared at Skuld, sitting on a

chair near the bed.

"_What_ are you doing here?" he asked.

"I was worried about you!" she exclaimed. "I

couldn't leave you like that!"

John gave a long, deep yawn and rubbed one eye with

a palm. With a baleful glare, he looked at the clock, then

sank back into bed.

"John?"

"Kid," said John, his voice muffled by the blanket

and pillows. "G'way. Buy a big goose or something, I'll

take care of it later. I'm goin't sleep, s'too early for this

shit."

"But-"

"'nd lock th'door on yer way out," he said sleepily.

And the trickster-magus Constantine slept, past

the morning and into the afternoon.

When next he awoke, John was in a better mood.

He made his way through the small apartment, pausing

at the living room where two empty Fosters bottles sat.

He looked at the bottles for a minute, and then shook

his head, making his way to the bathroom.

While he was relieving himself, in the distance,

Big Ben struck once.

John looked at a clock and groaned.

"Shite, s'late."

And then he took care of matters.

-*-

Frank "Chas" Chandler had slept in late this day,

having managed to get Christmas Day off despite his career

as a cabbie. It felt good to slowly ease his way into the

day instead of drag himself out of sleep as fast as

possible.

He opened his bedroom door, still yawning as he

walked, pausing to step aside as his toddler granddaughter

streaked by at a wobbling run, naked as a jaybird, dripping

water down the hallway, followed by his towel-waving daughter.

He chuckled as he made his way to the kitchen table and sat

down, reaching over for the morning paper.

And then the doorbell rang.

"Get th'door," crowed his wife from the living room.

Chas grumbled and scratched himself as he went, feeling no

particular need to hurry. He opened the door.

"'lo Chas! Merry Christmas!" said John Constantine

merrily, shoving a massive frozen goose into Chas' arms, as

wide as Chas' stomach and twice as tall.

"What the fuck?!"

Chas wasn't sure how to read the situation. John

was oddly bright-eyed and bush-tailed. Even the cigarette

in his mouth seemed to be burning a bit brighter.

"Sorry I couldn't answer the door last night,"

continued John. "Had an out-of-body experience, you know

how it goes."

"Er..."

"Would love to stick around and feel the holiday

cheer with you'n the old battle-axe, but I've got places to

be today and I'm in a hurry."

"A goose?"

"Yes, a goose," replied John, annoyance creeping

into his voice. "S'the way the story... oh, wait a sec...

shite. It was turkey, not goose. Oh well, enjoy it

anyway."

"Story? What story?"

"Eh? Don't worry about it," replied John dismissively.

"Oh, and put your money on Tiny Tim at the tracks

tomorrow. Easy money."

Chas' face brightened up. Whenever John predicted a

race, he was always right. "Um, thanks, mate!"

"Right then, be seeing you." John promptly shut the

door for Chas, leaving him standing in the hallway, holding

a massive frozen goose in his arms and a befuddled look on

his face.

"Pa? Who was that? That wasn't Uncle John, was it?"

Geraldine asked, coming up to Chas, holding a wriggling,

towel-wrapped armful of toddler.

"Er, um, yeah," Chas stammered. He stared at the door,

disbelivingly, before straightening up and holding out the

goose. "Here, take this to Mum, will ye? Er, never mind,

I'll do it," he said, noting his granddaughter in Geraldine's

arms.

"It's a big honkin' goose, isn't it?"

"Well, John isn't much for doing things half-way."

-*-

Afternoon gave way to evening, and preparations were

being made for a second day of holiday feasting at the Masters

household. Tony Masters sat on the lounger, lost in the bliss

of motivational tapes as he always seemed to be as of late.

Cheryl slaved over the stoves and wondered if some of the

leftovers would be suitable for re-use.

She looked at the kitchen clock and frowned. Gemma

was running a bit late. A part of her wanted to nag her

daughter when she came home, but Cheryl supressed it.

With the way they'd lived their life so far, moving from one job

and part of London to the next, Gemma hadn't a lot of

opportunities to make friends.

The sound of keys jangling and the front door

opening alerted Cheryl of approaching company. A moment

later, Gemma's voice shouted out, "Hi mum! Sorry I'm late!"

"How'd it go?" asked Cheryl.

"Alright, I guess," replied Gemma. She smiled wanly.

"Uncle John ever..."

The frown on Cheryl's face told the story.

Gemma sighed. "Guess I ought t'be used to it by

now."

"Y'know he doesn't mean anything by it," said

Cheryl. "He's always been like that."

"And a merry Christmas to you two, thanks."

Cheryl and Gemma turned to see John, smirking and

standing in the doorway holding two wrapped packages.

"John?"

"Uncle John!" Gemma exclaimed, rushing over to

envelop him in a bear hug. John hastily shifted the

packages to allow her to cling to him.

"Sorry I'm late, princess," John said to Gemma as he

kissed her forehead. He handed Cheryl the presents, smiling

as though this were an ordinary thing for him. "What's for dinner,

then?"

Cheryl tucked the gifts under one arm, reaching over to

give John a hug. "Well, we really don't have much..."

"That's okay, I've got a goose out in the car waiting..."

Gemma raised an eyebrow at that. "Um, it'll take a while

to cook."

"Well, then we can have it tomorrow, eh?" John smirked.

Laughter followed, as the trio headed into the kitchen.

Outside, peering into the living room windows,

four goddesses smiled at each other, nodded, and

left, all except for one.

Skuld remained.

She watched John sit down at the dining table,

laughing while Gemma described her school classmates'

latest antics. She saw Cheryl smile fondly at John and

serve him another piece of roast chicken.

The little goddess clasped her hands together, eyes

closed in happiness, and said a prayer of silent thanks,

and vanished into the starry winter evening.