Chas’s phone starts ringing and he snorts, teases the other man about the missus checking up on him, ribs him about Renee still pulling the leash from the other end of a divorce. He pauses in between quips, waits for the angry return that never seems to stay so angry for very long, returns each one with a shot of his own and laughs. He doesn’t answer the phone. It stops ringing. When it starts again, he reaches over and fumbles in the sticky mess on the floor for the ignore button.
His own phone joins in a little while later. Gemma, checking up on him. He hangs up on her without picking up. He does this six times before she finally stops calling. He waits for Chas to say something, but he gets nothing.
He talks about old jokes, old run-ins, refers to Renee with ‘Plan R.L.F.’ ( " Run like fuck, d'you remember? Don't deny it, mate, you know it's a good bloody name for your tyrant. " ) just to get a rise out of Chas. It's mildly irritating when nothing is forthcoming. He recalls the time Chas had his ass handed to him by a girl at a bar over an arm-wrestling match, laughs until his sides feel fit to split over it. Chas doesn’t laugh, predictably. Always sore about that, was Chas.
It seems like an eternity before he hears a key scratching at the lock, before the door swings open and he glances up to see his niece standing there, hand at her mouth and horror in eyes that remind him so much of his sister’s. His tone is mild, even cheerful, as he tells her he’s just having a chat with his mate, catching up and all, and when he smiles at her, there's something in it too weary and fragile for her to protest.
She leaves without a word. His phone doesn’t ring again.
But Chas’s does. It rings and it rings and it rings.
He’s pacing the floor, bottle dangling in a loose grasp and fingers digging into his scalp, and all he can hear is the incessant beeping of that fucking phone.
The mess on the floor sucks at his shoes as he goes across it, soles slapping sickly against the tile as he passes in and out in a haze of motion and very little thought. That phone beeps on, steadfast as a soldier, and the harsh burr of whiskey clings to his voice when he finally shouts at Chas to just plug the fucking thing in or throw it out the sodding window. He’s just as infuriated when the equally acidic reply doesn’t come.
A kick is aimed at one of the outstretched legs on the floor, and the sick thump as his foot meets an unresisting bulk almost incites his stomach into open rebellion. He stands there, swaying uncertainly, vision swimming where eyes unfocused squint at the other man’s face, waiting for a reaction. It’s finally with a huff that the lanky form folds, plops to the ground beside his friend with a heavy release of alcohol-fogged breath and a hunch to his spine that makes him seem so much older, so much more beaten than before.
He’s got candles, he’s got blood, he’s got the right spells and the right words and the right runes. He’s got eyes like knives and a line for a mouth like a thin slash across his face and a look on his face like he’ll never smile again, and no one looking at him now would dare say that his rituals lack the power of intention.
No one comes.
No one dares answer his call. He threatens, he yells into the aether, but there is no demon, no angel, who would dare step between the First Fallen and his ultimate trophy for just a tiny sliver of John Constantine’s soul. No one will deal with the damned con man.
He’s reduced to pleading, kneeling in a chalked-out circle surrounded with embers still clinging weakly to puddles of wax with chin hanging to chest, and murmured promises fall like rain from lips that are slowly reduced to mouthing anything, anything, anything, as his pride dies at his oldest friend’s side.
He’s used to the deaths.
He’s used to the loss that pervades like a chill, the frost that freezes the air solid in his lungs and threatens to freeze him to death. He’s used to the faces haunting his nightmares, the whispering mouths spelling out your fault, your fault.
And he’s used to Chas Chandler.
He’s used to his best mate, his oldest mate; used to looking sideways at him in the cab and remembering the day Chas had taken him in. Pissing rain out, a typically bleak day in London, and a boy only a few years older than the homeless sixteen year old shivering on the street corner had offered a place to stay for a few nights. In Constantine’s eyes, they’d squared with each other when he’d killed Chas’s mother – abusive, with a malicious chimp for a familiar, Chas wouldn’t have lasted much longer had Constantine not shown up, she’d been planning to kill him – but Chas refused to consider it settled.
His best mate. Who'd come back time and time again, no matter how badly Constantine treated him. A friend he’d never deserved.
He’d come, too, whenever Constantine needed him. He’d come when he was still furious over the Nergal situation, in Glasgow, when all Angie had had to say was that Constantine was in danger. The empathy virus had shown him everything, every heartbreak and rotting guilt and violent grief, and he'd stayed all the same.
His best mate.
Their debt is settled now, he supposes. A life for a life. But Constantine sits beside his oldest friend with a cig burning down between his fingers and the shards of a bottle scattered at his feet, and he feels as if he’s died as well.
The sun is beginning to rise. He can see the peace in his friend’s face. Anyone who says that John Constantine damns everyone he loves, anyone who spits it to his face and expects it to be a winning blow, he’ll laugh at, loud and long and hard. He knows better than that.
Chas Chandler is saved.
Anger. Betrayal. Laughter. Love. So many things passed between two men in a lifetime, traded from lips to fingertips, all things that he is now deprived of. His saving grace. his best friend.
Mucous Membrane is categorically dead, now. Beano, Gary, Ritchie, and Chas, and now Sid Vicious sings alone on an empty stage, bottle in hand and grey in his hair. The weight of it settles in his chest like a stone, and he can’t quite bring himself to recite a eulogy, a prayer, even a single word of thanks. Chas knows better. He knows Constantine better. And even if he could speak, even if throat weren’t closed off by a stranglehold of grief, there are no words to fit the relationship between John Constantine and Chas Chandler. A selfish bastard who would crawl into a burning building for his best mate, and the best mate who hated and loved him.
How do you express that, in a handful of words? A smattering of letters? It can’t be spoken, it can’t be written. It can only be praised. It can only be mourned.
He lies down beside the dead man as the sun rises, rests his head on that solid chest and listens to the silence resonating inside where once a steady thrum of life had echoed in all its vibrancy. He stays there, still, doesn’t mind the blood drying and crusting in hair, under nails, soaking half of his shirt.
John Constantine lays his head atop Chas Chandler’s chest and he listens to the emptiness where once both their lives had been grounded.