On the day that John's little brother turns eighteen, he gets his name changed. John catches him leaving City Hall with the official papers still clenched in his hands.
Cohen, Arthur, the papers say, most of them in neatly typewritten letters -- a couple in his brother's familiar, slanted handwriting. It's possibly the most honest birthday gift he could have gotten himself.
John lights up thoughtfully, while Arthur watches him, cautious like he's afraid of being yelled at. Well, John thinks, At least it's easy to remember.
He asks, "How many forms of ID did they make you hand over before they believed you were old enough to be there without your parents?" and his brother relaxes.
"Just one, actually," Arthur says, "After taking one look at 'Constantine', I think they understood."
John takes a drag of his cigarette. "So that's it? You just don't like the sound of it?"
"I can't keep a name that's already inextricably associated with..." Arthur hesitates, then amends, lightly, "I can't keep a name you're going to make famous."
Inextricably, John notices.
"You can say it," John tells him. "It's just a word; it's not a virus -- getting it in your mouth won't kill you."
Arthur shrugs. "Alright. I've already heard the stories. I don't want such a distinctly occult name." He puts a distinct emphasis on the word, sarcastic.
"That's not really true, you know" Arthur says. Like John is going to believe him. "I just don't want to be 'Constantine's little brother' for the rest of my life."
And that, at least, sounds like John's little brother.
That evening, John takes Arthur to deport a couple of half-breeds up in some area of LA. Arthur clutches his brand-new Glock, and shows a natural talent for sneaking up on supernatural entities.
Even later, Arthur sits on the edge of the bathtub in his small apartment, rubbing spit into the spots of blood on the collar of his light blue shirt, so that they won't stain, and John congratulates him on his ability to remember convoluted exorcisms.
Arthur shakes his head. "It's got to be the traditional Rituale. I don't have anything like power to back it up," but he's still smiling, a little rueful, proud of his ability to catch demons unaware.
John sometimes thinks it's a miracle that his younger brother doesn't hate him. Or vice versa. But here they are, watching each other's backs, cleaning demon blood out of their clothes.
"Mom's going to flip a table when she finds out you changed your name." The click of John's lighter echoes off the tile.
"Mom never needs to know," Arthur says. He scrubs at the bloodstains, focused.
John exhales a cloud of smoke into the tiny, dingy bathroom. "So you're --what? Running off to join the circus?"
Arthur looks up at John, hands still for a moment. "I know a couple of people."
His shoulders are tight, defensive, and John does his best to look like he doesn't notice. "What, like the Beast Man and the Bearded Lady?"
"Kind of." He's getting better at his poker face.
"Yeah? And you think you're gonna enjoy circus life?"
Arthur gives him a long look, still tense, but proud and steady, more so than John would have expected. "I will." He laughs -- or well, it sounds like it's meant to be a laugh. "Anyway, most of the time I think that freaks are the only people worth knowing."
That makes John laugh, for real, and Arthur goes back to his laundry with a small smile.
Then, after a while, John has to say, "I didn't think you had it in you," quietly. He only means that he didn't think that Arthur would leave their parents, just disappear into the night one day, never come back, the way John did. Arthur has always been a good kid, trustworthy, responsible, the kind of kid that John could hate, if only he hadn't been so pragmatic, so tough. If his eyes hadn't lit up at the very suggestion of danger.
"I don't," Arthur says, "Not really." He hangs up the damp shirt on a hanger over the shower-curtain rod. "I mean, I've set them up with life insurance, long-term care insurance, retirement accounts, everything. All they have to do is leave that shit alone, and they're set."
John remembers Arthur quietly taking control of the family finances, bank accounts, taxes, everything, the same year that John taught him to shoot. He was fourteen, John thinks. All he says is, "And once again, I am deeply appalled by your ability to commit to a plan for years ahead of time."
Arthur nods. "I had to get out."
And that, more than anything, surprises John. Arthur was a good kid; smart, responsible, quiet. A dead shot, and scarily unflinching from the first time he pulled the trigger, but only John knew about that. He fit in so aggressively that that it was impossible to imagine his life as anything other than mostly normal, with the occasional interlude of violence when John called him for backup.
But here Arthur is, his shirt now completely blood-free, having used a gross stain-lifting trick that John had never heard of, and he's casually stealing one of John's cigarettes and lighting up with a smooth flick of his own lighter, not his first time.
"These circus friends of yours," John says, "I guess they showed you around some. If you're so certain that you want to get out and join them."
John can't understand why Arthur is giving it all up -- he's good at mundane things, investments, insurance, he could get a good job, be wealthy, be normal. He doesn't have the same curse that John was born with.
Except John has never seen Arthur grin, not really, not before tonight, when he disappeared into the darkness and deported a demon, holy water, Rituale Romanum, and a bullet to the face.
"I know what I don't want," is all Arthur says.
And John says, "Yeah," in agreement.
John is in the middle of a last-minute debate with Beeman, when it occurs to him, that yeah, he knows one guy who he can probably call for backup. If he's in the country.
Arthur picks up on the third ring, and growls, "Goddamnit, Eames, you had better be fucking dying," without even waiting for a greeting. John glances at the clock, surprised to find that it reads two in the morning.
"Sounds like you have the wrong number," John says, dryly.
There's a pause, and John thinks he hears something clattering in the background, before Arthur asks, "So what's the infamous Constantine doing, calling me at this completely unreasonable hour?"
"Two things," John responds, keeping it short. "Are you still in LA? And is your friend still looking for property? Because I found a nice big lot, good neighborhood, very affordable, really great for building on."
"What's the catch?" Arthur asks, voice suspicious. "No, let me guess -- I have to help you evict the current owners and tear it all down, right? Tomorrow."
In spite of himself, John smiles. "Got it in one, kid."
Arthur groans, and there's a sound like he's flopping back onto the bed. John thinks he going to refuse. Then Arthur says, "Alright. But you'd better have some coffee for me when I get there. And the cool guns."
John looks at the armaments laid out on his table -- homemade holy-water grenades, thrice-blessed silver bullets, some kind of holy crossbow that Beeman swears is going to be more effective than ever before. "Yeah, we got the cool guns."
They are halfway down the red steps that lead to Midnite’s club when John stops.
"Stay here, and don't you fucking dare shoot anyone," John says, jabbing his finger in Arthur's direction. Arthur spreads his hands in front of him, palms up, in what he knows is entirely unconvincing innocence.
"Why can't I come in?" he asks. "Wait. Can I come in if I agree not to inflict bodily harm on any of the patrons?"
"Why are we even here?" Arthur doesn't like it here, not really. He enjoys the occasional night of clubbing, but he doesn't want it to be at a club where some of the patrons are literal maneaters. Midnite's club is no place for mundanes.
John gives him a crooked smirk. "To keep you from becoming wasted potential." And then he disappears into the crimson depths of the club.
It's not a good sign, Arthur thinks, When your chain-smoking, technically homeless, borderline-alcoholic older brother thinks you're wasting your potential. He nods to the bouncer, sits down on the steps and checks his watch.
Heavy dubstep pounds through the walls. Combined with the red, velvet-lined walls, it has the effect of making Arthur feel like he's dreaming of being inside of a beating heart. This is less romantic than it sounds -- most things involving hearts are. He gives it ten minutes before he steps up to the bouncer and starts to con his way in.
Give your mark something he wants. Arthur imagines Eames coaching him through it, close and whispering in his ear. Palm, misdirect, switch, Arthur thinks -- that one he learned long before Eames ever tried to teach him a con.
Twelve minutes after John went in, Arthur's tucking his phone back into his pocket and settling at the bar. The bouncer is under the impression that he's a very abstracted and eccentric clairvoyant.
"What're you doing here, little thing?"
Arthur looks up from the drink he's just ordered.
"Looking around, you know, the tourist thing," Arthur says, smiling as innocently as he can. "Just came in from New York,” that’s true, at least, “Can't sleep anyway — I thought I'd check out the nightlife."
Arthur inhales a lungful of her perfume when she leans in close. Something light and floral, sweet. Her hair is unnaturally blond, and it's piled atop her head with attractive carelessness. She looks like one of those Japanese girls that only exist in magazine spreads, artificially gold hair, white eyeliner, and a deep tan that -- considering that this is LA -- might be the only thing about her that's actually genuine. Her dress looks like something that was stolen from a Victorian history museum, and passed through the hands of a rock star before she got it. It's white, of course.
She smiles at him with glossy pink lips, and Arthur struggles not to flinch away when she leans in like she's about to press a kiss to his neck, just under his ear. Thankfully, she keeps her gloss-sticky pout to herself. Instead, she takes a deep breath, the tip of her nose brushing against the curve of his ear as she withdraws.
There's an entirely false look of surprise on her face, and she flutters a hand in front of her face in a mockery of scandalized surprise.
"Oh, little thing. You've been a very devious creature, haven't you." She exclaims.
Arthur turns away, but she reaches out, faster than he'd expected, and latches her hand around his upper arm, spinning him back around to face her.
"Where are you going, little thing?" she asks. "We've only just got started."
She pulls him close, and this time, she whispers into his ear, deliberately. And Arthur freezes up. She says his name — not Arthur Cohen — too low for anyone else to hear, but her hand around his arm is steely, certain.
Arthur puts his drink down, and he’s half a second away from breaking his word about not shooting anyone, when John materializes out of the writhing mass of bodies, scowling darkly. The half-blood takes one look at him, hisses Constantine, and lets Arthur go at once, melting into the darkness and strobing lights.
"I leave you alone for ten minutes," John says, as he drags Arthur further into the club.
Arthur follows him without replying, his gun a reassuring weight at his side.
Meeting with Midnite is a completely different kind of trip. The moment he crosses the threshold of Midnite's back room, Arthur feels every inch an ignorant Catholic boy, stranded in the midst of deep shamanic powers that he can neither see nor understand. If he were wearing a hat, he'd have taken it off out of sheer respectful reflex.
Midnite is not a big man -- Arthur had been expecting someone physically imposing -- but he sits behind his drink-and-ash-littered table with the regal aplomb of an emperor granting an audience; he wears his power like a heavy robe.
After several seconds of respectful silence, while Midnite sits back and looks over the both of them, he says, "John tells me you are a reasonable demon hunter, for all that you are blind to the mysteries."
Arthur inclines his head respectfully, noting that the ashtray and the scattered relics and half-filled glasses on the little table form a kind of impromptu altar, ash and drink and holy water.
Midnite asks all kinds of questions, from Arthur's birthday to the name of the first demon he killed. The answers that he gives don't have a direct impact on membership, Arthur knows, but the way that he phrases them, the way that he answers, with truth or half-truth, with a sly smile or a silent headshake. Those clues are what Midnite wants to see.
In the end, the only question that really matters is, "Why are you here?"
Between the way John's watching him carefully from behind the impromptu altar, and the way Midnite is looking at him with piercing sharpness, Arthur thinks about what potential is being wasted, about the click-click of Eames' safe under his hands in the dreamscape, and Arthur answers as honestly as he can. "Because my brother asked it of me."
"And you love your brother?" Midnite asks. Just like it's a perfectly natural addition to Arthur's statement.
"Yes." Ignoring the way John's rolling his eyes in the background — not so much because it’s true (though it is), but because the ash in the ashtray is arranged in loops and whorls that might as well spell out blood and bone, and Arthur knows enough to know which way the wind is blowing.
"You're wasted on that group of criminals," John says, as they leave the club, Midnite having denied Arthur membership, but with a smile, saying, Your brother doesn't give you enough credit.
When they first came into the club, John told him he was wasting his potential. Arthur knows his brother well enough to know that he's after something. "Was membership to Midnite's club all that important?" Arthur asks.
John lights up again. His lighter is silver and carved with symbols of blessings and protective wards. It's old and battered — Arthur always wonders who John stole it from.
"You deserve it," John says, not like it's an answer, but like it's the only thing he's willing to say in response.
Arthur appears at his door one night -- Can't I visit my own brother when I'm in LA? -- smiling his most dishonest smile, holding a bottle of expensive whiskey, and already halfway to dead drunk. His suit is somber and black, but John can't tell if it's meant to be some convoluted jab at his sense of style, or if Arthur just came to his place straight from a funeral.
It's probably both, but the whiskey is very good, so John lets it slide.
Arthur shows John how to hide a tiny paperclip between his teeth and his cheek and use it to pick the lock on a pair of handcuffs. He unbends the end with his fingers, and opens the cuffs with the clip held between his front teeth and the tip of his tongue, his eyes bright with alcohol and probably some pretty good drugs.
"When do you ever have to get out of handcuffs?" John asks, not so much appalled by the idea that his little brother is doing illegal things, but that he's gotten caught. Arthur spits out the paperclip and says, "Cool, huh? Eames taught me how to do that," and he licks his lips in a way that makes John absolutely certain that he does not want to continue that line of questioning.
John sends Arthur to the shower before he gets maudlin, but when he comes out, he stumbles into John's bedroom and collapses on the bed, looking wide-eyed and completely lost.
"She didn't know," Arthur says, and for the first time, John thinks that maybe he should ask what happened that Arthur was this fucked-up over it. "It's not suicide if she thought she was going to wake up, right, John?"
Rules are rules, John thinks, feeling vindictive -- because fuck Arthur anyway, he thought John would be a good person to come to for comfort? But he just flicks the corner of the blanket over Arthur's body, and says, "Go to sleep, kiddo."
Arthur almost doesn't meet Gabriel, because by the time the half-blood shows up, he's lost way too much blood to really be lucid.
Someone touches Arthur’s face, and he turns towards it — warm, familiar — and he almost says Eames? and he wonders if he's already lost it, because the face hovering in his vision is cool and young and completely, obnoxiously angelic.
Arthur is relatively sure, however, that this isn't a dream, because he knows how he got here, through the door of the New Castle Club, and a taxi before that, from the shit motel where he dropped his things before heading towards the address that John had texted him.
In a dream, when he loses too much blood he feels heavier, like his body is dragging his mind back to reality. And it hurts. Right now, he just feels light.
Then the angel speaks, and Arthur is certain that this isn't a dream, isn't Eames, because he says, "Oh, you would to such a terrible thing, Constantine," his voice coming out ice-cold and hypnotic, like the beginnings of hypothermia.
Arthur hears John talking through a haze, something about ungrateful half-breeds in general and Gabriel in particular — his last thought before he passes out is, So this is Gabriel. No wonder no one likes him.
Eventually, Arthur becomes conscious of the engine of a car turning over, a startling absence of pain, the sound of conversation.
Gabriel's voice issues from somewhere above him, as thin as a razor and as bright as judgement, and Arthur is mostly horizontal on the back seat, uncomfortably cramped, with one of his legs tucked up against the seat back. His head is resting on something warm -- a leg, probably -- and someone is stroking his hair.
Surprised, Arthur opens his eyes briefly to find that the world is limned in brilliant silver, and it lurches in a way that makes him gag. His head is in Gabriel's lap. Arthur thinks the ride would've been much more tolerable if he'd stayed unconscious.
"Your family business is off to quite the start," Gabriel says.
"It's not the family business." For a moment, Arthur is surprised that he managed to get his own mouth to cooperate for a whole sentence, until he realizes that it was John's voice that he heard.
"The Brothers Constantine," Gabriel muses, ignoring John's protest. "You must admit, it has a certain ring of legitimacy. Two young exorcists freeing the West Coast from the bondage of the Adversary."
"He's not an exorcist," John snaps, defensively. Arthur really isn't certain how to take that. It sounds like John is trying to defend him. "He's more than a glorified demon hunter."
The rattle of the car's engine fills up what would otherwise be a tense silence. Gabriel runs a hand through Arthur's hair again, careful but impersonal, like a nurse tending to a dying man. He says, softly, "There is no shame in being an exorcist, John Constantine. The world needs exorcists, in the same way that a city needs executioners."
John doesn't reply, and the half-blood's words seem to echo through the interior of the car until Arthur, lulled by the bumping of the car and the roar of the engine, passes out again.
Arthur wakes to midmorning sunlight and the sound of his phone buzzing on the nightstand next to him. He flails until he gets his hand on it, sending something clattering to the floor in the process.
"What?" Arthur snaps. Well, he means to, but what comes out is a lot more like a croak, because his throat is parched, like he's been out for days, maybe.
"Arthur?" It's Eames. Of course it's fucking Eames. Arthur's night before involved not just alcohol, but blood loss, hellfire and an asshole of an archangel -- of course Eames calls him the morning after.
Arthur swallows a couple of times, and says, in a more normal voice, "Yeah. What do you want?"
There's a long silence on the other side of the line that suggests that Eames is either about to lie spectacularly or he is about to hang up without answering. Arthur takes the time to look around. He's in John's bed, all of last night's gore and most of the blood cleaned away, wearing something old and not his. The suit probably wasn't salvageable anyway.
"Just checking up on you, darling," Eames drawls, going for the lie instead of the prank-call. "I heard there was rather significant tremor in your area last night. Just checking that you haven't fallen into the sea."
There is no massive gash in the muscle of his thigh; there is no chunk of flesh missing from the right side of his stomach. Nothing. Not even scars.
"I'm fine," Arthur says. “I could have used a little more sleep, though.”
Eames says, "Then I’ll let you get back to it,” rushed and artificially light, “Goodbye, Arthur," and hangs up.
Arthur stares at the phone, actually holds it away form his face to stare at it. He finds his totem on the floor and rolls it between his fingers, but the weight is right, so all this must be real.
John makes a face when Arthur appears in the kitchen. Wordlessly hands him a very Irish cup of coffee.
He says, flatly, "Congratulations. You've just sold your soul to the Lord in exchange for a miracle of healing."
"Hmm. I wasn't using it for anything, anyway," Arthur murmurs as he drinks his spiked coffee and takes eggs and some ham out of John's fridge, so that he can have real food for breakfast.
He opens the blinds, ignoring the way John shields his eyes and grumbles. The sky is an uncharacteristic shade of blue, vibrant and beautiful, and Arthur sips his coffee-flavored whiskey and considers calling Eames back.
"So?" Arthur says, giving John a meaningful stare.
John, in the best tradition of older brothers everywhere, makes him wait for it, taking a slow drag of his cigarette, and exhaling thoughtfully before he responds. "Hey. You're the opinionated one, remember? I just hang around to pull your ass out of the fire."
"You don't like him, do you?" Arthur seems irrationally surprised by this, and John is momentarily distracted by the novelty of his little brother being irrational. It's not a good look on him.
John shrugs. "What's there to like?"
Arthur makes a noise of concession. "Yeah, I know what you mean. But he grows on you," he says. There's a smile lingering at the edges of his mouth. "Like a fungus."
"Like a cancer," John corrects him, flatly. Might as well get it over with. "He's not human."
"Yes, he is," Arthur snaps. "I may not have your talents," he continues, undeterred by John muttering, Lucky you, "But I know him. I've been inside his head, John. I would have noticed."
It's been sixteen years since they moved away from New York City, where the streets were clogged with half-breeds, and John almost lost his shit on a daily basis, but Arthur fit into the landscape like he'd put down roots -- hard, logical, impatient, even at eleven years old. It's been sixteen years, and Arthur's bland middle-American diction still cracks into razor-edged New York pieces under stress. John finds it kind of funny.
"Don't try to tell me he doesn't have any particular talents," John says.
For just an instant, Arthur looks stricken, then he says viciously, "How's Ellie? Still doing the occasional succubus impression for you?"
"At least she's honest about it."
Arthur is sullenly silent.
"Whatever," John says, agreeably. He's delivered his warning, whether Arthur wants to believe it is his problem -- and Arthur can take care of himself, John knows.
After a moment, Arthur reaches over to steal one of John's smokes. He produces a lighter from an inside pocket, and in the spirit of brotherhood, John doesn't say, I thought you quit, doesn't point out that Arthur is the one who keeps telling him that smoking is tantamount to signing his own death warrant.
Smoke floats in curling rings as Arthur exhales. "I refuse to believe that all forgers are half-bloods," he mutters.
"Probably just the good ones," John says, even though he isn't sure what forger means, in the mysterious lexicon of Arthur's deeply illegal work life.
Arthur shoots him an annoyed glare, and goes back to smoking his cigarette like he has a grudge against it. Eventually he asks, "Angel or demon?"
Not a lot of difference between the two, is what John would say to anyone else. Or maybe, You don't really want to know that, if he was feeling generous. But Arthur wouldn't have asked if he didn't want to know, if he didn't trust John to tell him the truth.
"Angel," John says, watching his brother's face for the inevitable shock.
But Arthur just laughs, the sharp, humorless bark that he almost definitely learned from John, back when they were kids. "Well glory be," he says, his voice thick with irony. "I've been screwing around with one of Heaven's finest."
For some reason that John can't quite fathom, Arthur seems to think of half-breeds as the supernatural version of Special Ops.
"I'm not going to give him up," Arthur says, focused on stubbing his cigarette out in the ashtray. John recognizes the challenging expression on his face, and the fear underneath that. He's struck by the realization that Arthur is issuing an ultimatum, but he's afraid that John will turn him away.
John finishes his cigarette and doesn't light another. And when he says, "Who knows? Maybe he's going to save you," he means it.
The kid that brings the letter to Arthur is maybe twenty, looks like he's not doing anything useful with his life, except for the way he immediately clocks Arthur's left hand going for a knife when he answers the door.
The letter is addressed in John's spidery handwriting, just Arthur's first name and a street address, no city -- and no last name, obviously. Arthur takes a second look at the kid, trying to pick out supernatural influence or whatever, but he just seems a little soft around the edges, and a little over-aware of his own inexperience. He introduces himself as Chas, then says, "Constantine wants a reply," indicating the letter with his chin, and making a good attempt at filling up the doorway, hands in his pockets, elbows akimbo, puffed up with bravado.
Arthur ignores him for a moment and opens the letter, tilting it so that Chas can't see what it says, even when he makes a completely unsubtle effort to get a look at it. Arthur reads the short message three times; once to understand it, and twice more to give himself time to crush the sudden hollow feeling in his chest.
"Why don't you come in," Arthur says finally. He steps back and holds the door open. He makes an effort to smooth his expression into something like a smile, until he sees Chas hesitate, and he realizes that anyone who John trusts enough to send as a messenger is likely to have a knee-jerk distrust of charming smiles.
Arthur holds the door open, waiting to see if Chas is polite enough that he'll come in to avoid making a scene on the doorstep. He is. Not a particularly survival-oriented quality, but Arthur guesses that he'll learn. If he lives that long.
"So why are you playing messenger?" he asks conversationally, going to grab some paper and a pen. "John broke his phone? He's in hiding again?" Arthur turns around, to look at the kid, who's standing in the middle of the living room, looking a little stranded. "Or is he just messing with you?"
To his credit, Chas sounds more resigned than irritated when he admits, "Probably messing with me."
"Yeah," Arthur agrees, taking care to write in small, neat caps, as he composes his reply. "He does that."
After a little while, Chas clears his throat. "So you're like, his emergency contact or something?"
Arthur seals the envelope, addressing it to JC, In Hiding, mostly because it'll make John laugh, before handing it over. "How do you know I'm not backup?"
Chas examines the envelope, looks Arthur up and down, and says, "Uh, no offense, but backup usually looks a lot less like an accountant. I mean, I've seen some of the things Constantine had dealt with, and it gets -" he hesitates. "You wouldn't believe how crazy it gets."
I have held the beating hearts of six different people in my hands, Arthur thinks, letting his face go completely blank. It's gratifying to see the kid take a step back, clutching the letter.
"You don't know what crazy looks like," Arthur says, as Chas fumbles for the doorknob.
"Okay," he says. "Yeah. I'll just take this over to Constantine. Thanks. Bye!" And he all but flees back to his car.
That night, Arthur gets a call from John, and has to explain exactly what he did to freak Chas out. John's voice is a low rasp in his ear, his laugh sharp and cut short, all of it eroded by smoke, and Arthur leans back in his chair and thinks, You stupid fuck, I told you to quit, and pretends he isn't going to pray for his brother's life.
"Look," John is saying, while Dom stares at him, because it's completely unlike Arthur to take a call in the middle of a briefing. But it was John, and that meant it might be important. It might be his last chance.
"She's a police detective, okay. Her resources are a little limited. No one can know where it's hidden, so do the world a favor; help her figure out where she should go and buy her a ticket, that's all I'm asking.
"This is kind of a big deal," John adds, mildly. "I'm talking fate of humanity stuff, here. Also, her plane will be landing in Quebec in like, ten minutes."
"Oh my god, are you actually trying to get me arrested?" Arthur says, because he knows how to do irritation, but he's not good at relief. "I told you that so you could contact me in an emergency, not so that you could- you know what, never mind." He closes the file in front of him and tries to keep the stupid smile from leaking into his voice. "Fine. You've got me outmaneuvered this time. But you're going to owe me for this, John."
"Yeah, sure." Arthur can hear him smirking, that bastard.
"I thought your brother was a real estate agent," Dom says, when he's finished being struck dumb by the combined strangeness of Arthur joking with someone who isn't Eames, and then running off in the middle of a job.
"It's a little more complicated than that," Arthur tells him, already grabbing his coat. "This won't take long, okay?"
Cobb makes a face, the one that makes him look like a very disapproving fish, but Arthur ignores it. "I'm not going to bring her back here," he says. "Just finish the maze, Dom. I'll be back in a couple of hours."
"Eames is supposed to arrive today," Dom says, all false nonchalance. Arthur thought that they had a tacit agreement to pretend that Dom doesn't know what's going on between him and Eames, but Dom's not very good at it.
"Well Eames is worse than my brother at keeping to a schedule," Arthur replies. "If he comes in today, he can catch a cab. It's not like he's going to get lost in Quebec."
Once he's gotten his brother's LAPD friend settled in the hotel, surrounded by atlases, maps and a good internet connection, he finds himself grinning on the drive back to the job site. Eames isn't human, he has a three to one record of arriving at an unscheduled time, and lately, that record is significantly worse when Dom is on the extraction team. Arthur drives a little faster anyway.
John's not dead. Today, Arthur's feeling optimistic.
Can't make it. Got a job.
When John gets the text, at first, he's kind of resigned, because yeah, this is that kind of job, where he's up against insurmountable odds, and his backup pulls out at the last minute, and it's just him and one angel who he doesn't even really trust, against some of Hell's finest.
And then it hits him.
Arthur backed out. Not some acquaintance that he once beat at poker and traded a few stories with over a whiskey and a smoke. Not some half-baked kid who shouldn't have been in the business in the first place and has learned better by now. No, this is Arthur, who loves danger like he loves- like he loves guns, and who has never flaked out on a single commitment, ever, in his life. This is Arthur, who actually believes all that bullshit that the mystics spout, about strength being in blood and bone, and who would stand beside John, beside his brother, against anything in the world.
He calls Arthur, half expecting it to go straight to voicemail, half expecting Arthur to be already dead.
"You're backing out?" John asks, "What the fuck, Arthur, this is Melchior we're talking about."
There's a pause on the other end of the line that indicates that Arthur is thinking something over, and John feels just a little guilty for shouting. Not really that guilty, though, because he was counting on Arthur to keep his skin in one piece. There was a plan.
"Listen, I have to take this job," Arthur says, sounding frustrated. "We can't just- Our client is a powerful man."
"Made you an offer you couldn't refuse?" John drawls, because he just can't help himself, even though Arthur huffs into the phone, irritated.
"Yeah, yeah." Arthur says, "Look, I'm sorry, alright. I'll work something out."
Six hours later, Remiel, a brand new angel in the city of angels, is pounding on his door, and dragging him with her to check out a in explosion in the middle of LA where Melchior was vaporized -- sent back to Hell in a cloud of incense and loud drumming and chanting.
John breathes in, sandalwood smoke scratching the back of his throat, the distinct bouquet of a Japanese temple, and he surveys the still-smoking crater.
Jesus, Arthur. Who the fuck have you gotten yourself involved with?
"John, it is literally the middle of the night. What the hell do you want?"
"What the fuck was this girl doing ... in your bed, Arthur?" John gasps, obviously out of breath. In the background, it sounds like he's running up the metal stairs of the fire escape. "You're not even in the country!"
Arthur presses a hand over his eyes. In the bed next to him, Eames makes a sleepy, protesting noise as the movement jostles him. "What were you doing in my apartment?"
"Needed a new Communion kit," John says tersely. "Picking the lock on your place ... easier than knocking over a church."
"You didn't knock first?"
"No. You're in Kenya. Why would I- Shit!"
This last is accompanied by the sound of a body hitting something solid, like the barred steel door to the roof. Then the sound of a woman's voice, Arthur can't make out the words, but he's guessing it's Ariadne, far enough back that John can't knock the gun out of her hand. In spite of his concern for John's safety, Arthur's kind of proud that she remembered what he taught her.
"A little advice?" John says. "Before I get shot?"
"Don't reach for anything," Arthur tells him. "Toss her the phone."
There's some unintelligible negotiation and a click on the other end of the line, and then John's voice, a little fuzzy, saying, "Alright, you're on speaker."
Faintly, he hears Ariadne say, "This had better be good."
"Sorry, Ariadne. When I said John might drop by while you were there, I assumed it'd involve more knocking on the door, and less breaking and entering."
"I didn't break anything," John drawls, irritated.
"Shut up," Arthur snaps. "Ariadne, John's fine, just let him grab what he needs and leave. Without shooting at him, please."
"He looks like a fucking serial killer," Ariadne says this both loudly and suspiciously. Arthur realizes that John's probably wearing the usual black suit and probably a black trenchcoat on top of that. No wonder Ariadne drew on him. "Are you sure about this guy?"
"John knows exactly what will happen to him if he fucks with my team, so yeah, you're safe." Later on, Arthur will tell John, I gave you my address to use in case of an emergency, not if you just felt like dropping in. But for now, it's enough that everyone's alive and not perforated by bullets.
After he hangs up, Arthur tosses the phone back onto the nightstand. Eames is awake, watching him with eyes that gleam softly in the darkness, a softer light than the bright LED numbers of the digital clock. He gives Arthur a tiny, wry smile, but he doesn't say anything, and Arthur pulls him in closer out of gratitude and whispers, "Go back to sleep."
John is waiting for Arthur, drawing angelmancy diagrams on the table, with a cup of stale coffee, dipping his finger into the mug and trailing wet dark lines all over the wood. He only started because he needed something to do with his hands — he’s so fucking sick of laying low, he needs to get out and shoot something. As soon as Arthur comes back with the blessed ash, they can start prepping the weapons, finally start moving.
He’s covered the entire tabletop by the time Arthur barges through the door and tosses a sealed package onto the table. It skitters across the wood on tape-slick sides, smearing right through some of the larger symbols.
"The fuck?" John looks up at him, reading tension — no, anger — in the sharp line of his shoulders, the hard set of his mouth.
"You want to tell me why your ex-apprentice was lying in wait for me?" Arthur snaps, "Is this some kind of campaign to get Eames out of my life? Because I got to say, that's approaching stalker-levels of complete fucking creepiness."
“I don’t, there isn’t one, and Jesus, Arthur, give me some credit — I’m not that stupid.”
The corner of Arthur’s mouth turns down, but his shoulders ease, and he turns away to gather the things to bless their bullets. He uses a truly excessive amount of paper towels to clean the table before setting the round ampules of holy water in a neat little line, next to the silver pan. John digs the ammo out of the back of the cutlery drawer.
Arthur rips open the packet of powdery ash, says, "Chas — did you know he's an angel — was at the club and he cornered me for the sole purpose of telling me that I have to break up with Eames."
John looks up, ignores Arthur's obvious irritation, and asks, "Did he come up with any convincing arguments?"
"Considering that his argument consisted entirely of, you're killing him by letting him love you," Arthur snaps, "Not so much."
John snorts. What a moron. "Don’t look at me,” he says, “A lot of half-breeds hang out at Midnite's. It's a half-breed thing."
Arthur dips another bullet into the pan of holy water and ashes and stands it on end on the paper towel to dry. Eventually, he says, “He wouldn’t,” low and certain, and John knows he means God wouldn’t — no benevolent lord would kill over love.
John is going to tell him that He will do what he damn well pleases, and if that means that everyone who's ever loved is going to hell for the rest of eternity, well, that's what's going to happen.
And it’s true, too. But. Well.
Arthur uses orisons that have fallen out of favor with the Church, ancient things that — when John bothers to look them up — turn out to be from Ireland and Israel alike, words that are no less holy for the fact that humans have discarded them. They are blessings that only a half-breed would know, that only Eames, protective and well-read and completely indifferent to the Church’s good graces, would have bothered to teach him.
John keeps his mouth shut and wishes he had half the faith his brother does.
It starts out like a joke — a thief and an exorcist walk into a church. But under the crucifix, there's someone sleeping — or possibly praying — sprawled on the ground, hands stretched forward in supplication. The line of his back is misshapen, ragged lumps that might be passed off as a deformity, or the eccentricity of a homeless young man wearing a backpack under his too-large jacket. Arthur knows better. Those were wings.
John stares. Then, moving as though the air has suddenly become very thick, he removes his coat and gingerly drapes it over the sleeping man. The man that was Gabriel stirs, rolls over and slits open eyes that are dull and gray without the illuminating glow of divinity behind them.
"John," he whispers. The coat rustles as he frees his hand and reaches out a few abortive inches towards John, who's standing impassively beside his feet. "John, I don't understand."
John stares at him for a while more, while he looks up through a lank curtain of hair that's more straw-colored than golden. "You're sleeping under a crucifix, you fucking drama queen," John says, but gently. "Get over yourself."
Arthur watches Gabriel's expression slip from bewilderment to hurt and back into incomprehension, and he thinks about standing in a dream-chapel and building up stained-glass windows with Eames beside him, staring at the crucifix above the altar and saying, There's no way back in, you know. Not even if you took up the sword that drove you out. You can only hope for better things; you must realize that you don't really want to get back in. The paradise garden wouldn't be enough anymore.
And he looks at this ruin of an angel, and he crouches down, tucks his unresisting hand back under John's coat, and tries not to think that this is what's going to happen to Eames.
Gabriel's eyes lock on him, and he says, "Ah, the other Constantine brother," with a hint of his old hauteur. "And what advice have you come to grant me?"
Arthur takes a seat on the steps at Gabriel's head, ignoring John's piercing stare. "You won't find faith here," Arthur says.
Gabriel makes a sound that might be a laugh, but it sounds like choking. "I've always thought that if only you blind idiots could feel God's presence -- sort it out from the entropic noise of your tiny lives -- the Church wouldn't be able to turn around without bumping into new worshippers."
Arthur snorts. He glances up at John, who's pacing restlessly in front of the altar, inspecting the vigil candles as though he's considering extinguishing a few of them, just out of spite. He tries to envision a world in which John Constantine took his abilities as a gift from God and dedicated his life to worship. "That wouldn't be faith," he points out.
"But how do I-?" Gabriel asks, but it dwindles to nothing. He means, How do I be human? but he's smart enough to realize that there's no answer Arthur can give that he will understand. "How do you stand it?" he asks, instead, "Being so small?"
Arthur leans back on his elbows, half-sprawling on the steps under the crucifix. He lies, "You'll get used to it."
"I've offended you," Gabriel murmurs.
No shit. But Arthur says nothing, just lets the silence stretch between them.
He wonders if Gabriel will get old, if he'll decide to have the ragged joints on his back removed, or if he'll spend the rest of eternity, viewing small lives from eye-level, serving as a cautionary example to the rest of the host, to those for whom Lucifer's fate isn't bad enough.
Gabriel's eyes are closed. The remnants of his beauty are still there, in the captivating profile, the elegant arch of cheekbones, and he reminds Arthur of a defaced effigy, ancient and worn.
"Has anyone ever been damned for love?" Arthur asks, so quietly that he thinks Gabriel might not have heard, at first.
Then he sighs and replies, without looking up. "I suppose that depends on what you're asking." He huddles into John's coat and says, quietly, "Some might have said that that is precisely what happened to me, after all."
Arthur stares for a moment before he gets up to leave. John falls into step with him as he walks away from the altar.
Gabriel's voice chases after them, still as desperate for the last word as he ever was. "You know the verse, Constantine. 'The greatest of these is love'. The Bible does not lie."
It’s directed at Arthur, but John’s the one who flicks him off as they depart -- sincere, immediate, as natural as breathing.