This is my early Christmas gift to my friends in the fandom- early, because we should share the love year round.
"An advance on my check, John, that's all I'm askin'," Chas pleaded, following close behind John as they walked down the brightly-lit street. The whole road was decorated in wreaths and bright Christmas lights, the smell of cinnamon thick in the air…it made John ill. It didn't help that his apprentice was pestering him again, either.
"When you took the job you told me a check every other week was just fine," John said with a scowl. "I'm not going to start advancing your checks every time you screw up."
Chas ran a few steps to keep up, jumping over the feet of a homeless person sitting against the side of a building. "I know that's what I said, but my landlord is being pushy, and I still haven't paid the damage deposit…"
John took a drag off his cigarette, and then tossed it aside into the street, not giving Chas an answer. Chas waited a few moments, trying to keep up, looking at John expectantly.
"Please, John? Please?" he begged, and John finally stopped walking.
"Sure, you can have your check."
Chas's expression brightened so much that John almost felt guilty. Almost. "Really?"
"Sure. If you can find an employer willing to pay on the first day. Good luck."
John started walking again, ignoring the devastated look on Chas's face. The kid was naïve; he needed to learn that not everyone was going to cater to him hand and foot in life because he was a pretty young teenage boy. Life was hard, it wasn't going to get any easier, and John wasn't going to sugar coat it for him.
He expected Chas to follow him to do some more pleading; but when he turned and looked, the kid was walking the other direction, head down, his hands stuffed in his pockets. John snorted and lit another cigarette, continuing his walk to home without hesitation. The kid would get over it.
He couldn't help, though, the gnawing feeling of guilt deep inside. Not guilt from refusing to give Chas his check early- guilt from the desires he'd been harboring. Guilt because Chas's scent was intoxicating, guilt because all John really wanted to do was find out if Chas's hair was as soft and his skin was as smooth as it looked.
It was ridiculous. He just needed to get laid or something.
"Sir? Some spare change?" A homeless woman said, holding out her cup, breaking John out of this thoughts. He sneered at her.
"Aw, come on, it's Christmas Eve…"
John ignored her. Damn homeless people, they always felt it was their right to get more money just because it was a holiday. Well, fuck them. John didn't even acknowledge Christmas anymore. He didn't see the point. Everybody just acted cheerful, acted like they were happy, when it was all just a pointless charade for the family to get together and get free shit.
He breathed a sigh of relief when he finally got out of the mayhem of the streets and into his apartment. Now he could do what he did every year- get piss ass drunk and ignore the world.
He did just that. He spent the evening sitting around his apartment, his record player filling the apartment with mellow lounge music, his whiskey supply getting lower and lower.
"Damn Christmas," he muttered, hearing carolers outside his window singing something about bells merrily ringing. He walked over and slammed the window shut as loud as he could.
"An asshole, as usual," a strange gravely voice said.
John reached into his jacket for a gun or something and spun around- and he came face to face with someone he hadn't seen in years.
His old partner. Harvey Lukas.
He was barely recognizable, though. Every inch of his skin was torn and bloody, he was missing several fingers and toes, and his eyes were sunken in and almost black. He had chains on every limb, dragging him down, and once in a while, John caught a sight of the maggots crawling under his skin. The smell was absolutely foul, enough to make John step back.
"Constantine, you still haven't learned a thing. Even after a trip to Hell."
John took a few moments to gather his wits. "What earned you a field trip out of Hell, Lukas? I wasn't aware that Lu was giving day passes."
Lukas smiled, his teeth dangling, mostly rotted away. "I'm not out of Hell,' he said with a shrug, a brand new gash opening up in his cheek even as he spoke. "I'm just giving you a message."
"Well, hurry it up. You're making this place smell like shit," John scowled, putting on an act of bravado in the face of something that truly horrified him. The shell of his handsome, young, brave partner, ravaged by Hell.
"Unless you change your ways, John…you're going to Hell."
"So I've heard."
"And unless you do something, Chas will too."
John's expression turned to one of angry confusion. "What the hell are you talking about? That kid is practically an angel already."
Lukas laughed hoarsely. "You have a chance to say you will change your ways, change to save yourself and him. But if you don't promise me that, you'll be receiving visitors tonight," Lukas said, his chains clinking.
John's eyes narrowed. "Are you threatening me?"
Lukas smirked. "No, John. I'm warning you."
"Bullshit. This is bullshit."
"I somehow knew you wouldn't take the easy road," Lukas said, and quick as that, he was gone. The smell lingered, though, but John still wondered if it was the alcohol causing hallucinations.
It didn't make much sense, considering he'd had more than this before without serious consequence, but he had to have something to blame it on.
As with every Christmas, within a few hours, he was passed out on his bed.
John woke up to a strange, cool breeze. He groaned and forced his eyes open, looking around the room.
The window he'd closed before he went to bed was open again.
He was fully awake within moments, dropping his psychic shields, searching the apartment for some kind of presence. There was nothing there, though, and he breathed a sigh of relief.
"Damn wind," he muttered, walking to the window and closing it again, slamming it even harder this time.
"Oh, John, don't be so harsh. It's Christmas."
John spun around, about to attack whoever it was that snuck into his apartment. He was baffled, though, when it turned out to be a teenage girl, sitting on his kitchen table, wearing a flowing white gown. She looked Filipino, or something of the sort, with long black hair and dark brown eyes.
"Who the hell are you?" John snapped.
"Constantine…I'm the Ghost of Christmas Past. But you can just call me Wishie," the girl said, hopping down off the table. John scowled at her as she explored.
"Get out of my damn house."
Wishie laughed lightly, picking up a vial of holy water and turning it over in her hands.
"I don't want to leave yet. I haven't shown you what you need to see, John."
"I don't need to see a fuckin' thing when it's midnight. Get the hell out," John snapped, trying to shake off the eerie similarities between this visit and the visit from Lukas.
It's just the alcohol playing tricks on you. You just need to sleep it off.
"I'm the Ghost of Christmas Past. It's my job to show you what you may not know," Wishie said, stepping over to John and grabbing his wrist- and all of a sudden, John wasn't in his apartment.
He was standing in the living room of a house, a fire burning in the fireplace, a Christmas tree standing in one corner of the room. Everything looked and felt warm and cozy, and in the middle of the room, two little kids were tearing into their Christmas presents.
One of the kids, complete in blue duck pajamas with footies, looked very familiar.
"I've got the camera!" a woman's voice said, and John turned to see a man and woman walk in the room. The woman as exquisitely beautiful, Hispanic, with long curly black hair, glowing tanned skin, and piercing hazel eyes. The man looked like your average Joe, with brown hair and light skin. Both were beaming at the sight of their children.
"Where am I?" John asked Wishie, who had stepped up beside him.
"In the past," Wishie said simply.
"Can't they see me?"
Wishie shook her head. "No. They can't see you or hear you. What you're seeing is untouched memories, Constantine."
John looked on as the little girl clutched a stuffed unicorn she'd gotten. The girl looked just like her mother, just as beautiful even though she couldn't have been over six years old.
The little boy had barely tanned skin and curly brown hair, features that were familiar to John. What really gave it away, though, were the eyes. Huge, hazel eyes, full of spark and optimism.
"Chas, hold that up so Mommy can take a picture," the man said, and Chas dutifully held up the book he'd unwrapped.
"Why did you bring me here?" John asked, turning to Wishie. "What's the point?"
Wishie smiled. "You have to figure that part out for yourself, John. It's not over yet."
"Do you want your big present now, Sasha? What about you, Chas?" the woman asked, and Chas and his sister looked at each other with unabashed, childish excitement, getting to their feet.
"Yeah!" they both exclaimed at once, scrambling to their feet. Their mother opened the door to the outside, and John found himself in the country, nothing but rolling hills and fields outside the door.
He'd had no idea Chas lived in the country before he came to LA. Absolutely no idea.
He gave Wishie a confused look before following the excited children out the house. The parents walked hand in hand toward the barn, the children throwing out wild guesses as to what their surprise could be.
The father told the kids to wait outside the barn, and they reluctantly did, their mother keeping them corralled.
"This is ridiculous. Take me back," John said, shaking his head.
"Not yet. Not for a while yet," Wishie said as Chas's father exited the barn- a horse in tow. A slender, grey horse with white speckles all over.
The kids absolutely went crazy. John could tell this was something they'd begged and pleaded for, something they'd wanted all their lives.
Then, suddenly, the scene faded away and another one faded in.
They were standing by the same barn, only the fields around it were mowed down, and nicer fences had been built. Two horses were grazing in one paddock, while in the other paddock, someone rode a galloping horse across the field. John recognized it as the same horse from the Christmas morning he'd seen, but the horse was taller and more muscular now.
As the horse and rider got closer, John could easily tell it was a young Chas. Maybe 11 or 12.
He pulled the horse up to the trough of water and let it take a drink, and after a few moments there was the sound of a car pulling up in the gravel driveway. Chas looked up, and John followed his gaze to see a police car pulling up.
The horse snorted and stamped its foot, and Chas shushed it and jumped down, tying the horse to the fence post and walking out of the paddock to the car. The cop got out, wringing his hat in his hands.
John wasn't close enough to hear what they were saying, but moments later, Chas's jaw dropped and he stumbled backward. As the cop tried to comfort him, he collapsed to his knees, his body wracked with sobs.
Another blur of nothingness, and then John was in a different house, a small, dirty place.
"What the hell is going on?" He asked Wishie. "What happened?"
"Car crash," Wishie said matter-of-factly. "His parents were killed."
John felt a pang of something he rarely felt for other people- sadness. "His sister? Sasha?"
"Adopted by a family in Wisconsin."
John swallowed hard. "And Chas?"
"This is the first of his four foster homes."
John watched as a still-young Chas came in the room, a bruise on his jaw, clutching a book to his chest. He glanced nervously over his shoulder, and then headed for a chair in the corner, sitting down in it and beginning to read.
He didn't have peace for long. Moments later a woman came in the room, yelling at Chas in rapid-fire Spanish.
John had always wondered how Chas knew Spanish.
"Do you want to see his next foster home?" Wishie asked, and John set his jaw and shook his head.
"No. I want to go home. This is stupid," he said, watching as Chas was dragged from the room.
"You and I both know that's not true."
"It's true. I want to go home."
"One more home, John, one more foster home."
That quick, they were in a different place. Finally in LA, judging from the view out the window of the dingy, dirty apartment they were in.
Chas was quite a bit older now- in fact, John distinctly remembered that outfit. He looked about 15 or 16, which means he would've been working for John for at least a year by this point.
Chas was sitting at the table, a book about demons opened to the chapter about remote possession. Chas was working hard, taking notes, doing a translation. Probably a translation John had asked him to do.
The door opened, and a man walked right through John, one of his hands holding a beer, and the other wrapped around a woman's waist. Both were quite obviously drunk off their asses.
"Chas, go to your damn room," the man said, and Chas looked up.
"I'm in the middle of this, Tim. Can't it-"
"Go to your damn room!"
Chas's fists clenched, and he stood up and began to gather his books and papers from the table, muttering as he did so. Tim took a swig from his beer, shot a look at the girl with him, then grabbed Chas by the hair and slammed him face first into the tabletop.
"Faster, come on, out!" he demanded, and Chas gave up on the idea of taking his stuff, instead just stumbling out of the room, one hand on his now-bloody nose. John sneered and tried to grab onto Tim's shoulder, aiming to turn him around and give him a good punch to the face, but his hand went right through the man.
"Damnit, I didn't know," John said, looking at Wishie, who simply shrugged.
"He didn't want you to know. He only wanted to impress you."
John looked back at Tim, who'd started a session of heavy petting with the woman right on the kitchen table.
"Are you ready to change your ways? Based on what you've seen?" Wishie asked, touching John's arm. John realized just how mushy, how stupid he was acting, and he shrugged her off.
"The kid came out of it fine. I mean, look at him now. He has his own apartment, he's an annoying little fucker, he does all the work I give him to do...I don't have to change the way I treat him," he said stubbornly. Wishie's smile, however, didn't fade. The girl seemed eternally optimistic and bright…like Chas.
"Somehow I knew you'd say something like that," she said, shaking her head. "You'll have another visit tonight. My only hope is that you take this one to heart, John."
John didn't have a chance to speak before the room faded to black.
When John woke up, he was back in his own bed, in his completely sealed apartment. He sat up with a gasp, looking around.
It was a dream. It had all been a dream.
It was almost one in the morning, but there was no way he was going to get back to sleep after all that. He got up, groaning at the hint of a headache setting in, and he headed for the kitchen and grabbed another bottle of whiskey.
He walked to the window, looking out at the deserted street. Everyone was home with their families, either asleep waiting for Santa Clause or partying like tomorrow would never come.
For a few moments, he wondered what Chas was doing.
Probably out at a nightclub or something. He's a teenager, he can entertain himself on the holidays.
"Don't you have anything good to eat? Like crumpets?"
John turned around, and for the third time that night, a person had managed to sneak into his apartment when everything was locked up tight. Only the first, if he assumed the first two were hallucinations.
"Oh, come on. Get out of there," John said, and the girl pulled her head out of the refrigerator, holding a pint of ice cream.
"Looks like Chas is the only one with good taste," she said, a British accent tinting her speech. She was wearing a mis-matched, punky outfit and a polka dot tie, and her dirty-blonde hair was slightly mussed.
"Who the hell are you? Stop eating that, that's Chas's!" John demanded, grabbing the ice cream from her and shoving it back in the fridge. She pouted.
"Just wanted a snack."
"Who are you?"
She grinned, jumping up to sit on the kitchen table. "I'm the Ghost of Christmas Present. Or Kym, since your lazy ass probably can't remember that much," she said. "My friend told you I'd be coming."
"She didn't tell me that all of you would be as annoying as Chas."
"Are you ready to go?"
John quirked an eyebrow. "Go? Go where? More stupid time-travel field trips?"
Kym smirked. "Field trip, yes. Time travel, no. Come on," she said, grabbing onto John's hand. The room spun, and John was standing on the streets of LA, in a less than safe neighborhood.
"What are we doing here?" John asked, looking around. Moments later, Chas almost ran into him as he walked by.
"Chas! Hey, Chas!" he called out, but Kym grabbed onto his arm.
"He can't hear you or see you," she said, and John rolled his eyes, following after Chas to at least see why he was in this part of town.
Chas slowed down and stopped by a toy store, and John almost ran into him. The teenager stared at the window display, which was an array of toy barns and horses, even some fences. He put once hand on the window, squinting to better see the toy horse by the barn, one of a majestic gray horse with white speckles all over.
John watched on as Chas sighed, and then the teen continued walking until he got to a back-alley apartment building, and John stopped outside, unsure.
"He doesn't live here. Does he?"
Kym nodded, a hot dog having appeared in her hand out of nowhere. "He's lived here for six months now. Only rent he can afford on what you pay him."
John scowled. "I pay him plenty."
"You pay him minimum wage, John. You're a bloody cheap asshole."
John ignored her comment and walked inside, where Chas was arguing loudly in Spanish with an older man. "What's going on?" he asked Kym.
"He's a few weeks behind on his rent. That's his landlord."
John's fists tightened as he watched the argument escalate, but eventually Chas appeased the man by pulling out his wallet and shoving a couple of twenties at him. The last money he had, from the looks of it.
John gave Kym a look, but the girl seemed occupied with her snack. She only followed as he went after Chas, following him up the stairs and past an unconscious drunk to his apartment door.
Chas didn't bother with a key- in this kind of neighborhood, locking your door was pointless. He walked right in to the one room apartment and flipped on the light, and the roaches scattered.
"Why didn't he just tell me?" John asked Kym, and she raised an eyebrow at him.
"Because he thought you were smart enough to figure it out on your own."
"No, John, that's pride. He has a little bit of it left."
The apartment was nothing more than a bed with no sheets and some stacked boxes, nothing more. Chas got into one of the boxes, pulling out a can of soup and peeling back the lid. He began to drink it cold, settling down on the bed, looking out the window.
No wonder the kid had lost weight recently. He'd had nothing to eat but cold soup and what he could steal from John.
Quite suddenly, John felt bad for every time he kicked Chas out. The kid was just trying to get a decent meal.
"Okay, okay, I get it. I'll give the kid a raise, okay?" John said, crossing his arms. Kym laughed.
"You still don't understand."
"I understand, I get it, okay? He's got it rough. I'll give him a raise, help him find a better place, and-"
John stopped mid-sentence, not quite sure he was hearing correctly.
Chas was crying.
He'd never seen the boy cry before. Chas always tried to be so brave and so tough around him, that seeing the teenager curled up and in tears made John increasingly uncomfortable.
"Alright. I said I get it. Let's go," he said to Kym. Kym snorted and shook her head.
"How can you be so blind, John?"
John threw up his hands in exasperation. "I can see just fine! I know you ghosts want me to treat him better! I get it!"
Kym was silent for a few moments, and then she smiled.
"You'll have one more visitor, John. That will be your last chance."
Before John could answer, he was unconscious once again.
When John woke up, he didn't have a break. A figure in a black cloak was already standing at the foot of his bed.
"Oh, come on. The vampire look doesn't scare me."
"Come with me," a voice said, a voice that was young and quite obviously female.
"I don't want to fuckin'-"
"You'll come with me now."
John scowled, but something told him he had to go. He didn't have a choice. And even if he did…this was just something he had to do.
He stood up, watching the girl suspiciously. She took a few steps toward him.
"Let me guess, the Ghost of Christmas Future?" He asked, and she chuckled.
"You can call me Veetee."
With that, she grabbed onto his wrist, and the room swirled before reforming into a dingy back alley. Chas's cab was sitting there, and Chas was leaning against it…
Chas was doing drugs.
"What the hell is this?" John asked the hooded figure, stepping forward.
"This is six months from today. One month after you fired him for repeatedly being late and falling asleep at the wheel," the girl said.
"You did. The proof is right there, John, if you'll open your eyes and look."
John looked closer. There were no books on the dashboard of Chas's cab.
"He sold them all for drugs," the girl said, as if reading his mind. "Drugs keep the hunger away."
A man approached Chas, looking down at both ends of the alley, making sure the coast was clear. Chas tossed the syringe he'd been using into the cab.
"How much?" the man asked quietly.
"You raise the rates on me?"
"Gotta have my fix, man. You want this or not?"
The man grumbled, but then dug into his wallet and pulled out fifty dollars, shoving them at Chas. Chas shoved them in his pocket, and then…
…dropped to his knees.
"Oh, fuck, no," John muttered as the man unzipped his pants. "Veetee, what the hell…"
"You're the one who fired him, John. Where's a high school dropout druggie going to find a decent job around here?" Veetee asked calmly as Chas set to work like a seasoned pro. The man's moans and demands grated on John's ears like nails on a chalkboard.
"Stop this. Just…just stop," John said, trying to tear his eyes off the sight as the man grabbed Chas by the hair, forcing himself deeper into the seventeen-year-old's mouth.
"We can do nothing to stop this. It's already been done," Veetee said, and then their surroundings blurred and reformed again. John suddenly found himself in the hallway outside his own apartment.
Chas was standing there, leaning against the door, a knife in one hand, a syringe in the other. He was breathing hard, one arm bleeding from having recently shot up, and he dropped the syringe to the ground. He looked emaciated, worn, and he was covered in bruises and cuts.
"I loved you, John," he choked out through a sob. Then, John watched in horror as the boy slit his wrists.
He tried to catch the teen before he fell, and this time, his hands didn't go through him. He lowered the boy to the floor, holding him close.
"John?" Chas said, already weak and trembling.
"I'm here, kid, I'm here. And I'm sorry," John said breathlessly, brushing Chas's hair back from his face.
"I'm s-sorry…I let you down…" Chas said as John wiped the tears from his cheeks.
"You never let me down, Chas, I let you down. I should've known," John whispered. Chas tried to smile, couldn't quite manage it.
"You're here now, r-right? You're not leaving?"
John swallowed hard, tears stinging at his eyes. "I'm not leaving."
Chas went limp in his arms…and the world went black.
John woke up with a gasp and a cry of absolute agony.
He looked around, and immediately stumbled out of bed and ran to the door, yanking it open. No Chas.
Daylight was streaming through the windows, lighting up his shirt…which was splashed with blood.
He threw on a different shirt, grabbed his wallet, and ran out the door and down to the street.
"Excuse me, what day is it?" He asked the first person he saw. She stared at him, bewildered.
"It's Christmas Day, sir," she said, and John thanked her and took off running.
He had to get to Chas.
On the way, though, he made one pit stop.
He went to that toy store, the one Chas had stopped at the night before, or so Chas had seen. The horses were set up, the gray one still in its place right by the barn. He saw a man in there, but the sign said closed.
He knocked on the window and the man looked up, tried to wave him away. John was persistent, though; he kept knocking on the window until the man finally came and let him in.
"Listen, sir, we're clos-" the man started, but John didn't let him finish.
"The gray horse in the window. I need to buy it."
The man looked confused. "Is that all?"
"Sometime today would be nice," John snapped, pulling out some money. "How much?"
"18.99," the man said, picking the horse out of the window. John took the horse and shoved the money in the man's hand.
"Keep the change," he said, walking out.
"Wait, sir," the man said and John turned around. The man tugged a big red bow off the counter and held it out to him.
"For the gift."
John stared at the man, then at the bow for a few moments before he grabbed it and tied it onto the horse. He started to walk again.
"Merry Christmas," the man called after him. John paused, looked over his shoulder.
He walked as fast as he could to Chas's apartment building. The same Latino man was sleeping at the desk, and John went right by him, taking the stairs up to Chas's room and knocking loudly.
"Who is it?" he heard Chas call out, and he breathed a sigh of relief at hearing the teenager's voice once again, alive and well.
"Chas, it's me."
A long silence. "John?"
"Yeah, it's me. Come on, let me in."
He heard a shuffle inside, and then the door opened a crack, just as John moved the horse behind his back.
"John…this isn't a good time…" Chas said nervously.
"Let me in, kid."
Chas's eyes widened, shocked at hearing the word 'please' leave John's lips. He opened the door the rest of the way, his cheeks flushing with shame, probably from the state of his apartment. John, however, ignored it.
"Listen, Chas, I just wanted to say that…I'm sorry."
Chas looked confused. "Sorry for…what?"
"For not advancing your check. And for…for not knowing about your situation," John said, gesturing to the apartment. Chas shrugged.
"I didn't expect you to know. I didn't tell you."
"Either way, I'm giving you a raise. How does nine bucks an hour sound?"
Chas's jaw dropped. "I…uh…"
"And I'll advance your check whenever you need it."
John pulled the horse from behind his back. "Merry Christmas, kid."
Chas stared silently at the horse, and then he swallowed hard and reached out, gently touching its mane.
"Take it. It's for you, kid," John said, and Chas slowly and carefully took the horse from him, blinking rapidly, obviously forcing back tears.
"How'd you know?" he asked, his voice cracking.
"Let's just say…I have friends in high places," John said. Chas bit his lower lip, clutching the horse to him, and then he pulled John into a hug.
"Thank you," he said, and John wrapped his arms around the boy, awkward at first and then more relaxed. John pushed him back gently, still holding him by the shoulders.
"If you ever get yourself into a fix, you promise you'll come to me?"
"What's this about?"
"Do you promise?"
Chas shrugged and nodded. "Yeah, sure."
"Alright. Now, let's get these boxes out to your cab."
Chas, still clutching to the horse, looked up at John incredulously. "What?"
"You're moving in with me."
"But nothing. You heard me, now let's go."
Chas seemed stunned. He stood there, unmoving, his fingers trailing through the horse's mane.
John smirked. "About that other secret you've been keeping…"
Chas looked up at John wide-eyed. John leaned in, lifted his chin, and kissed him quickly.
"Enough with the secrets, alright? Be honest with me," John said, grabbing a box and heading out the door.
Chas looked down at the toy horse, touched his lips, and smiled.