Thank you: Mitchy and Settiai for beta-ness
Disclaimer: I own nothing, no profit is made
Rain is turning the alley into a sewer; his cheek is pressed into the grit and the stink of it, and he can only hope the sound of skittering, scraping claws on brick comes from rats.
"Get off me."
The air hisses as hell burns the storm away; the weight pressing him into cracked concrete and rivulets of filth shifts but it doesn't lift.
"You know what death really is, Constantine?"
He knows what it isn't; he doesn't reply and the voice doesn't sound like it gives a damn as it carries on, breath fetid and searing the back of his neck.
"It's forgetting. You're forgotten and you're gone. Breath is the afterthought; a pulse just seals the deal."
Oh. "Balth, I missed you." He laughs; shards of pain through his ribs end it in a gasp but it's worth it just to hear the demon snarl.
Crooked fingers dig into the roots of his hair and pull his head up an inch, slam it down like it's two. His blood is warm as it trickles down and stings as it dips into his eyes, forcing tears that tinge the darkness red. Under his ear the ticking of his watch stitches time together, maybe just holds it in place.
A car's horn and a door slamming. The water-muted pounding of feet and the tearing of cloth. A confusion of sounds and the weight is gone, and the air feels frozen in its wake.
"Yeah, that's right, run!" The voice is high and scared, and it cracks enough at the end to make its demand a question, but it's the finest thing he's heard this week.
Hands grip his arm and then his collar, haul him to his feet until he's face to swinging crucifix with the man. Boy. They get younger every day. An anxious face peers out from under an old cap. "You okay?"
He raises a hand to smear the blood from his eyes; the other is already searching his pocket for his cigarettes. "Sure, kid. I had it handled."
He recognises that smirk. He's owned that smirk. "Right. You need a ride?" A thumb is jerked towards a battered yellow cab parked askew at the mouth of the alley.
Of course he doesn't.
But he takes it anyway.
Chas - he learns his name is Chas after the second week - is everywhere. The first time their paths cross, two blocks from Midnite's in the aftermath of a deportation, thinks it's co-incidence, but now he's pretty sure the word he's looking for is 'stalking'.
Amusement runs dry after the first week and apathy carries him through two more but anger flares in another alley, in another night in the rain. There's blood welling fast and hot; at least it's not his.
"What the hell were you thinking?"
No, he doesn't want to know. "Shut the fuck up."
Newspaper isn't an ideal compress at the best of times, and the rain and blood is turning it into so much mulch.
"Am I going to die?" Chas is trying to keep his voice steady and toneless but fear creeps around the very edges.
The newspaper tears as he presses down harder. "Everybody dies."
A huff, only half made of pain. "Funny. Today?"
He raises his head and catches a wide-eyed gaze with his own. Sees himself mirrored there, reflection lending him panic he'll deny and rage he won't.
It's easy, too easy, to push Chas under. To tell the eyes to glaze and the mind to sink down until harsh breaths even and the pulse-pushed flow of blood slows. It's harder to force his will into the gaping rib-edged hole that talons tore, force it to knit until it's a shallow shadow of itself.
"No," he says again, to a night that doesn't care.
Donovan's death is just one more scar, he thinks, like an epitaph scars a stone.
He has enough scars.
It's cold and colorless, and winter-stripped trees are skeletons against the skyline. The grass is dulled and faded but glares where frost catches what light the clouds allow. The yellow cab is a brand in the distance, parked up on the edge of the cemetery.
Chas is inside. Probably reading. He thinks he should have let him come afterall, so the living would outnumber the dead. Or walking dead. Hennessey is swaying over the Latin, Moira is standing black hair and pale lips and already gone in every way that counts.
It's not a funeral. It's barely even a farce. When there's no one left, it's just an ending.
He's not sure why he's here. He doesn't do this. Donovan wouldn't have done it for him. But he's listening to mumbled, meaningless prayer and the shuddering silence of Moira refusing to cry. He's glad of that, isn't sure what he'd do. Still isn't sure what to say after the coffin is lowered and Hennessey has murmured his condolence and farewell.
"Why are you here?" Her voice is low and bruised deep.
His fingers find the softpack and tap a cigarette up, and he lights it with the ceremony of a benediction. The fire's alive and smoke is the only thing that's warm. "I don't know."
"It's not for me, and it's sure as hell not for him."
"Then I guess it's for me."
Her smile is worse for its pity. "Still threading the needle."
They've fought, they've fucked and they've fought again, and he wonders how long she'll remember Donovan, let alone him.
"What will you do now?" His interest is as meaningless as the prayers and they both know it, but she forgives him. She always does.
"Go home. Forget."
The engine stutters and then dies somewhere between the corner of dark and darker, and in the shadows of the rear view mirror Chas's eyes find and hold his own. "So teach me."
He tells himself he has nowhere to be; it's the only reason his hand is still resting on the door handle and not turning it. "Why?"
"Because I want to learn."
He shrugs, lets the ambivalence lace his reply. "So learn."
Chas's eyes don't blink, don't let him go. "I need something, someone, to learn from, Constantine."
Didn't he used to be Mister Constantine?
"Not me, kid." He shakes his head, pushes the handle down but can't open the door until the truck has rumbled by. "Not me."
"I'll trade you."
And now it's starting to rain. Damned if he'll get soaked again. "What?"
"Look, it's like an apprentice, yeh? You teach me and I'll work for you."
The rain makes trails through the grime on the window and fractures the street light again and again. "I don't want anyone to work for me."
"Look, I'll drive you around. I'll fetch and carry." There's a trace of fever in the eyes and it's close enough to desperation to make no difference in the dark.
"You do that anyway."
"I owed you, but we're square now."
"Your life is worth three months of driving?" He finds that amusing enough to cough a laugh and feels as much as sees some of the tension in his driver ebb away.
"Two. I only went to three because I figured you'd say 'yes'."
"You can't just say 'no'. Negotiation. Look it up. There has to be something you want."
Maybe there is. He wonders whether Chas will remember him longer if he says 'yes'.
"Driving me wherever, whenever?"
He says nothing and realises his mistake a moment too late as Chas defines silence as agreement. "Great. I won't forget this, man."
"John, why would you do that if you know it's not my car?"
"I told you to move it."
"Right, John, you did tell me to move it. But if you would've have told me that was a three-hundred pound mirror you were dropping with a pissed off demon? I would have moved it further, John."