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Sorry, I Don't Pray that Way

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Before Astra:

John Constantine had a lifetime ban from the karaoke stage at Caritas. It was a shame, because he actually had quite a lovely singing voice, but Lorne felt the side-effects were damaging to the ambiance of his club.

"Last time I fell for those beguiling eyes of yours, the walls bled," said Lorne. "Now, do I have to wake up Ignatius?" He nodded over towards where the bouncer dozed, massive and inhumanly muscled, leaning against the wall.

"Come on, what's a little blood between friends?" John said. "It's not like anyone got hurt – that's not even possible in here, is it?"

Lorne crossed his arms and shook his head. "What's a little steam-cleaning between friends? Do you know what it costs to shampoo walls, John?"

John leaned back on the barstool. "I guess I didn't notice, with all the screaming, and that one guy licking the wallpaper." He thought about that for a while. "You should probably keep an eye on that guy," he added.

Lorne sighed. "Trust me. I keep an eye on all my precious troublemakers, you included." He poured John a scotch and pushed it his way. A drunk John Constantine was an easily evicted John Constantine

"It's not my fault!" said John. "I have a lot of psychic residue, that's all."

"I know, honey," said Lorne. "But I have bills to pay, and I'm not risking the wallpaper on some mad scheme you've cooked up for yourself."

John threw back his scotch. "You're a heartless bugger, you are." He rested his head on the bar, and Lorne signalled to Ignatius.

"Come on, there's no need to make pointed remarks," said Lorne. "Some of us have hearts and some of us have… other things, but we're all equal here."

"All equal 'cept you, Lorne," John slurred, as he was manhandled out the door.

Lorne tilted his head in acknowledgment of this fact, and wiped the damp ring from the bar with a soft cloth.

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After Astra:

It was past closing time when John's body hit the glass of the doors to the bar. Lorne was still cleaning up, though everyone else had long fled into the rainy night. Something had told Lorne he'd be working late, and so he lingered over every chore, waiting for instinct to prove him right. When John appeared, Lorne turned the key in the lock despite his better judgement. John washed into Caritas wreathed in black smoke, dripping water and ash onto the doormat.

He clambered upright, and shook the tendrils of black from his body to the ground, where they crawled about, seeking someone else to entwine. "Hullo, Lorne, me old china. Been a while." He looked exhausted as he stamped on the threads of black smoke, kicking the remnants out through the door and locking it again.

Lorne opened his mouth to speak but John held up his hand. "I know I'm banned, I know, but I swear on everything, Lorne, if you're the reason I let down another kid, I'll burn your place to the ground." He staggered and brushed against the wall – leaving, Lorne noticed, a black smear – then he lunged at Lorne, hands outstretched.

Lorne wished he hadn't sent Ignatius home quite so early. Why had his mind thought that a good idea? He waited for the magical protections to take effect, to push John away, but instead, John wrapped an arm around Lorne's neck, a gesture of affection.

Lorne tried to disentangle them, but John had him, and suddenly they were dancing.

With Lorne wrapped in his arms, John took a breath, and sung the first few bars of Tainted Love, his breath warm on Lorne's neck.

"Sometimes I feel I've got to run away, I've got to get away…"

His voice was still lovely, Lorne thought, slightly hysterical. The walls creaked in protest, but the protections wouldn't kick in if John truly did not intend Lorne any harm. And then the music had him, and he was falling into darkness.

There was pain, and there was fear, and it was all someone else's. Lorne sagged hard against John's body, but John kept him upright, still singing. His hips were pressed to Lorne's. It was literally a close dance from hell.

"I give you all a boy could give you. Take my tears and that's not nearly all…"

"All right, enough!" said Lorne, and finally managed to push himself away. "The kid you're looking for is in some shack somewhere in the hills. There was a murder there a few years back, students, some kind of fraternity hazing accident. This is blowback from that mess." He leaned against the bar, gasping for breath.

"Atta boy, Lorne," said John. "Now, you see that? That I can work with." He leaned over the bar and grabbed a bottle of whiskey. He took a swig and passed it to Lorne, who was too exhausted by now to argue.

Lorne put the bottle to his lips, tasted cigarette smoke and sulphur, and took several long mouthfuls. He cast an eye around; the walls were already starting to bead with red. He sighed and took another slug of whiskey.

"So," Lorne said, conversationally. "Are you in town for long?" He knew the answer already, or at least, he knew the gist of it. The power of the forces John was fighting, and the desperation of the people he was trying to protect – these were too great for John to ignore any avenue of help he could find. John would be back.

John shrugged and held out his hand for the bottle. He raised it in a salute to Lorne. "You can't beat the prices here."

Lorne fished in his pocket for a business card. "Next time, you call me. And we're meeting at your place."

"Fine with me, mate," said John. "It would be my pleasure to show you some of LA's finest low-budget motels."

Lorne was feeling positive enough now to snort at that. As if he'd never seen the seedy side of this town. The first drops of blood rolled down the wallpaper and pooled on the floor. "You're going to cover the cleaning costs, right?" he asked.

John laughed, and headed for the door. "Yeah, you put that bill in the mail."

Lorne put the lid on the bottle and pushed it back it position. "That's what they all say," he said to himself, sadly, and went to lock the door.