Tonight, The Cutters Bar on Charing Cross Road just wasn't cutting the mustard.
Tonight, of all nights: Saint bloody Valentine's Bedding Day — the night when all single red-blooded chavs across London were looking to get laid. For those single red-blooded chavs who had the Sight, who could feel the pulse of the Imbolc season spreading through the ley lines of the Great Wen, having talent meant that getting laid was a magical imperative.
John Constantine was back from the States, newly single, and absolutely soaking for it.
Since his release from Ravenscar, he'd been holed up in a council flat in East Croydon, trying to ignore the impending miners’ strike and the rising unemployment rate in Thatcher’s Britain. He hadn’t started the year off by living there alone. Her name had been Rachel: a soft mouth and hungry eyes, a waist he could fit his hands around, a bottomless well of need that had suited him right enough. He should've known she couldn't be trusted.
He'd left town for a bit — a jaunt to New York to see a shaman about putting a hex on Wall Street — and when he'd gotten back, he discovered the bint had cleaned out all his kit and cleared off for good. Sold for junk, most like: most of it was worthless, the kind of trinket some two-bit shyster would use to tell your granny’s fortune, but one or two of the relics had real power and would keep Rachel on cloud nine for bloody months.
Anyway, she'd left, and blow him if John Constantine wasn't between girlfriends and alone on St. Valentine's Day, feeling the pull of the season directly below the belt.
John knew this dive like the back of his hand. Nate, who tended bar here, had gigged for John's band on and off; before Ravenscar, the Mucous Membrane had played on that dingy stage on one too many drunken, raucous nights. In the 70s, he and the lads must've hooked up here with half of south London — he’d taken his pony for a ride, and himself been taken, in the john, in the filthy cupboard behind the bar, in the even filthier alley outside.
Tonight some big-haired pretty boys were mangling Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love”, last year’s number one smash hit, and John was here to put an end to his sexual drought.
Nate had been plying him all night with the kind of Glenfiddich he couldn't afford. There were two girls in shoulder pads at the nearby table egging each other to make a move, and, just for variety, a chap in a biker jacket was giving him the eye from under mirrored shades. Speculation and lust and willing was coming off them, same like it always did in this place. But tonight, it all tasted like the last bitter dregs of an unsatisfying drink and felt like a dull knife rubbing his edges blunt, and it wasn't enough.
Desperate times called for desperate measures.
"Calling it a night, John?"
"Change o' scenery," John said, getting off the stool. He threw a couple of crumpled notes on the counter and slung his trenchcoat over his shoulders. He took a moment to take a final whiff of the atmosphere — girlish sighs of disappointment, a shrug from Biker Boy yonder — then he was out in the February cold.
He lit up in the street. Dangerous habits died hard.
As he took in the sweet hit of nicotine, he turned his senses inward. This was the place where the magic lived, in the pulse of his heart, a tight sweet drum of need, beating its insistent rhythm through his body and filling the old tackle with blood, drawing him...where?
John hadn't been there in years, not since Ravenscar, but you never forgot where it was. The walled-off courtyard behind the ancient inn, between the bookshop and the record store. Rap on the correct sequence of bricks, and there you were, on that crooked, slanting-roofed street bisecting Charing Cross Road that the mundane world didn't know was there.
Knockturn Alley — the heart of the dark wizarding world, where you could buy dragon's eggs and other black market drugs if you had the right currency, where you could indulge your fetish for half-goblins and sexed-up werewolves if that was your poison and even if it wasn’t.
The Ministry of Magic had never cleaned it up, though it seemed Millicent Bagnold had promised Maggie she’d get round to it once the war was over. John had heard that Tom Riddle's lieutenants had run a base of operations from there; now that His Nibs was gone, likely there were some former Death Eaters who’d gone to ground there and might still be a danger to them all.
John took a tentative step onto the cobblestones of the ancient wizarding street. He felt the thick, oily lure of sex magic curl up through the thin soles of his shoes and lodge like a hook under his breast-bone.
He’d never been to Lapdogs and Englishmen. There were other more established bars and fetish clubs, lurking in the low lights at the end of the alley beyond the Coffin House and Trackleshanks’ Locksmiths. But there was no mistaking the source of the magic, and there was a first time for everything.
The pub was like any other mediocre pub in the mundane world: badly-lit, grimy, spelled with the piddling drum and flute sounds that passed for music among the wizarding folk. It was surprisingly crowded, which John initially put down to the season — on this night, even the most restrained wizards who usually eschewed Knockturn Alley’s sex clubs were out on the scene looking for some action.
He felt the appraising glances thrown his way, lingering over his non-wizardly clothes, his still-pretty face, and the talent his years in the mundane world couldn’t mask.
And then what he came for hit him full force — lust and grief and longing, rolling in waves from the far end of the bar, and making the hair on the back of his arms stand on end.
The thin, pale man was sitting alone, surrounded by shadows. He was dressed in the academic robes of a schoolmaster, the fabric still shiny and new; he looked young enough to be a final year student rather than to be teaching them himself. Pasty-skinned and awkward and dank-haired, he looked like the least likely sort to be anyone’s lover, but John knew from his long experience that, under the right circumstances, this stripe of chap — neglected as a kid, teased as a teen, and as an adult, never once been touched — would start the kind of sexual inferno that could torch houses and burn cities to the ground.
John had no idea who the man was, but his virginity was an irresistible siren song, on this night of all nights.
The other wizards in the room, full- and half-blooded men and women of talent, could all feel the insatiable, alluring pull of the man’s sex magic, same as John did; they were, however, still keeping a wide berth. The skinny teacher looked like trouble. It’d take a brave or foolish prospect who would, for the sake of one wild night, run the risk of being set on fire.
John Constantine had never pretended to be particularly bright or particularly cautious. He shrugged off his trench and slung it over the back of the adjacent chair, and stepped into the shadows around the man.
“Hey, teacher, you leavin’ those kids alone? Try someone else on for size.”
The man glanced across at him. Even that brief, dismissive flicker was scorching. Then he paused and went back for a longer, harder look, staring into John’s eyes as if he could see all the way down to John’s soul. John could taste the crackling slide of the man’s power; it came from John’s own old alma mater right enough — that fabled Scottish school of wizardry and wankers — but there was something else there, something dark and hungry, and it took his breath away.
One corner of the thin lips curled upwards in a smirk.
“At least you have balls, I’ll give you that.”
“Yeah, and they’re not even the fittest part of me,” John said, taking belated hold of his patented charm. “Can I join you, mate?”
The man’s smirk grew wider. “Do you see anyone else here?” he asked, which was invitation enough for John.
“Everyone's afraid of being expelled, looks like.” John insinuated himself into the chair, careless of the bulge tenting his trousers. It wasn’t as if the man couldn’t bloody well tell how aroused he was, anyhow. “Whereas school’s been out for me for a while now.”
“I can see that,” the man drawled. His accent was clipped Estuary, but John could hear the mundane Midlands heritage underneath. The freshly-minted teacher from the posh Scottish school was really one of them, then. “Couldn’t keep your grades up?”
John grinned fiercely. “Nah. Dropped out to join a band. Followed me dreams of guts and glory and the Velvet Underground.”
A sarcastic eyebrow lifted. “Worked out well for you, has it?”
“Can’t complain,” John said, and he couldn’t — not even after Newcastle, not even after Ravenscar. Music was a bitch, but it was his bitch right enough, same way the magic was; Scotland and the bloody wizard school rules could never have held his attention, and all his professors had known it.
Still, John figured he’d better stop with the ancient wizard-school-dropout history and start acting like a romantic prospect while he had the teacher's full attention. “What’s your poison?”
The bartender slid over a double scotch and a shot glass of Firewhiskey. John wasn’t skint, though the Rachel-less weeks had put a dent in his New York job money, but he was gratified as well as surprised when the man lifted a finger in the barkeep’s direction.
“Cheers. You didn’t have to, it was my shout.”
The man shrugged. “They know me here. Unlike you.”
He knocked back the drink, and then the hard, speculative stare was back. John felt it searching him, casual with power, dismissing the trivial stuff on the top and rattling the bottom drawers where his secrets lived. John could barely read him in turn — say whatever else you like about the school, those Hogwarts-trained Occlumency defences were the bollocks. All he knew was the sizzle of the man’s magic, and the hot pulse of need that dwarfed his own.
“Well, then. Now you know me: my name’s John.”
The man’s eyelids flickered. “You can call me Prince,” the man said; John knew it wasn’t totally bogus.
Still, he couldn’t let the tosser get away with it. “They tease you for it at school?”
The eyelids flickered again — a giveaway, right enough. Bastard might be powerful, but he hadn’t seen half the shit John had. “No. It was for other things.”
“Kids can be such little shitheads,” John said with feeling. He saw the answering flare in Prince’s eyes. “Hey, at least we’ve got ourselves the last laugh, haven’t we?”
Of course, he meant nothing more than the fact Prince clearly now taught at Hogwarts, doubtless lording it over the next generation of the little wankers. He was taken aback by the sudden eruption of rage and sorrow, before Prince got himself under control once again.
“Fucking, love. I didn’t mean —“
“— I don’t care what you meant or didn’t mean,” Prince said tersely. He took hold of John’s wrist; his fingers burned themselves against John’s skin. “Are you coming with me or not?”
The other wizards stood aside as they left the long bar counter hand in hand. In the moment, John was surrounded by the collective roil of jealousy and apprehension, all wound tightly up together, and then, sharp as an arrow and bright as day, the fear-filled thought: Death Eater.
Well, that explained the shadows. Not to mention the virginity.
John couldn’t tell if this was fixing to be one of his usual-level fuck-ups, or if it was in fact a fuck-up that he might not survive. Either way, with the turmoil of magic urgent in his blood, his body dangling from the hook lodged in his breast-bone, nothing was going to stop him from following Prince where he led this night.
Where Prince was leading was down a flight of stairs at the rear of Lapdogs’, and across a dark, narrow corridor lined with wooden doors. His room was at the end of the line.
John entered first, to see discoloured walls, bare floorboards, a rude cot pushed up against the sliver of window. Lit only by the moon and one meagre candle, it was even more sad-sack depressing than Prince’s cold boarding school digs must be.
“Why, Mr. Prince, you've surely pulled out all the stops for Saint Valentine’s.”
Prince drew out his wand — dragon’s heartstring, sizeable; made of either blackthorn or hawthorn, John couldn’t quite tell — and drew a circle in the direction of the door. John heard the locking ward click into place, and then Prince grasped hold of his shirt front with his free hand, shoved him against the wall, and leaned in close.
John felt his face tilt up, felt his body softening against Prince’s where the man had shouldered him back up to the peeling wallpaper. It took a beat for John to realise that the bugger hadn’t been leaning in to kiss him, but to confess.
“I know what you heard, and it’s true,” Prince was saying in a fierce whisper. “I gave in to the darkness, I belonged to Him. Do you see this? Do you know what it is?” He jerked up his left sleeve and thrust a pale forearm under John’s nose. The blackish mark of a skull and a snake was faded around the edges, but it couldn’t be mistaken for anything other than what it was.
“Fuck. Yeah, I know.”
Prince tugged the sleeve down again, put down his wand, and started to draw off his robes with shaking hands. “Still want to do it, after seeing that?”
“Can’t scare me off that easy,” John said, which was true. The prospect of fucking a Death Eater, who could pin you to the bed with a thought and suck your brains out through your prick and then shag your empty eye-sockets without lube, would make the average wizard beat a hasty retreat; it instead made John Constantine so hard he was shaking, too.
“Right, then,” Prince muttered, and pulled John in for a real kiss.
The kiss was sloppy and desperate, a full-frontal assault. Clearly Prince hadn’t had much experience, or any, but the clumsiness almost got John off all the same — a wet tongue invading his mouth, skinny arms crushing the breath from him, the magic so strong it was gagging them both.
“Slow down, love,” John managed to gasp, but Prince didn’t seem to know how. He groaned into John’s mouth, hands making fists in John’s shirt, his own robes more off than on, erection barely contained under seriously old-fashioned drawers rutting helplessly against John’s thigh.
“Had it with slow. No one would touch me after what happened; I thought there'd never be…”
“Chrissakes,” John sighed, and seized hold of Prince’s sweat-damp hair, and took charge.
With John driving this time, they managed to get each other’s clothes off with a minimum of ripping, and then John settled the schoolteacher’s naked body across the cot with as much gentleness as he could muster.
Prince’s eyes were feverish, the fire threatening to burn him up from the inside; John felt it along every nerve of his own skin. He ran a hand across a taut nub of nipple, traced the fine bones of sternum, and Prince trembled all over like a skittish horse at its first race.
“Look at all this,” John said, drinking it in — the shivering muscles, the heavy, dark-red prick leaking across skinny flanks, the man’s virginity shining like treasure on this night of all nights. His own arousal was making him light-headed. “Nobody’s laid a finger on it all your life, until now.”
Prince squeezed his eyes shut; he put an arm across his face so he wouldn’t have to look at John. The snake on his Dark Mark seemed to lock eyes with John, though John knew that was just his own fancy; surely the damn thing would only move if His Nibs was back.
“Take it,” Prince muttered, muffled. “All of it. It’s no good to me.”
John slipped onto the cot and hoisted one thin calf onto his shoulder, spreading those prim legs like a whore’s. The oily magic that thickened the air between them made everything wet and slick.
He reached between Prince’s thighs; his fingers circled the unbreached hole and then slowly slid in, one at a time. Prince hissed between his teeth and did his best to buck John off the cot, John had to use all his strength to hold him down.
“Easy, love. Don’t want it to hurt more than it should.”
“It should hurt,” Prince panted, writhing on John’s fingers. “You should take all of it. Don’t stop. It’s what you came for, isn’t it?”
It was indeed what John had come for — the deepest sex magic of all, the sweet, irresistible lure of undiscovered country. Now the moment was here, though, John found himself trembling, as overwhelmed as if he was the one who’d never been fucked.
“Unless you can’t manage it, of course,” Prince said, sarcastically, and John gritted his teeth and pushed his way into that rail-thin body.
The heat was unnatural, a thick, wet thing created from filth and darkness and need, sticking to the walls and the air and gluing their bodies together. Deep inside the virgin arse of the man who called himself Prince, John Constantine could feel it start to set fire to his essential self.
Under the roar of the unnatural flame, he could hear other obscene sounds — the slippery, rubbing fricatives of yielding flesh, the urgent slap of skin against skin, the wordless uh, uh, uh noises that he gradually realised were coming from him.
He realised, also, that Prince had hooked narrow ankles around his hips and was doing his best to claw John impossibly closer. The man’s face was sheened with sweat, and with something else that wasn’t sweat. His breath came in groans that sounded like he was dying.
“Take all of it,” he was saying, chokingly. “Don’t stop. Quick as you can. They’re gone, and it’s no good to me.”
John didn’t know who they were, though as Prince started to unravel underneath him, he thought he could see glimpses — a tall, bespectacled man, a slender woman with hair like fire — love and hate and crushing guilt outlining the precious images in silver and gold.
He found himself saying, “Quiet, now,” much more gently than he’d ever thought himself capable of. He curved his fingers against the contorted face. “You’re talking rubbish. It’s all good, you hear me? You letting me have this, it’s more’n I deserve.”
Prince moaned: this clearly wasn’t what he wanted to hear, and at the same time John could see how keenly it hit home. He twisted his skinny hips, and the sex magic bucked and whined around them, frantic for release. The gentleness slid away, and John found himself hammering in over and over again, more viciously than any bloke ought to on someone’s first time, and yet he couldn’t bring himself to stop.
Prince had gone very red in the face. He’d stuffed a fist into his mouth; the hoarse, muffled grunts he was making were filthier than any full-throated cry. John knew what he was trying to say around the choking fingers: “Quick as you can,” and, “Get it over with”, and “Don’t fucking stop—”
“No fear of that,” John tried to say, but it seemed he had no more words left. The magic seized him by the throat and the breastbone and his painfully-raw dick, and suddenly there was no space in his brain or his body for anything but the bright flare of orgasm.
He saw white behind his eyelids, and for an instant he was one with the fertility tides, deep in the heart of Britannia herself.
He returned eventually to find the room in darkness, the candle burned down to its ends. Prince had seemingly found his own release without so much as a hand to himself. In the moonlight, he lolled slackly in the cot, drifting in and out of consciousness, long limbs limp and boneless with satiation.
John reached inwards, and the shining connection was still there, filling his mind with borrowed power. It made him feel invincible, made the dingy, stinking room into a sacred altar. What did you know, this virgin sex magic was the bollocks and no mistake.
At length, Prince cracked open an eyelid, and his swollen lips curled at what he saw. “You done, then?” he enquired, his voice wrecked. “Gotten it over with?”
The casual tone fooled no one — John could hear the still-lingering echoes of need, of magic. He felt his answering grin blossom as he stuck his hand into the pocket of his discarded trenchcoat, and drew his own wand.
“Gotten it over with? Not bloody likely. I take something, I take all of it, and this job’s not done yet. Here, it’s your turn to get on top.”
You couldn’t learn about real sex from books. You couldn’t even learn about real magic from books. And about sorrow, about love, about loss? You only learned about those things from living.
John Constantine woke in the morning in the walled-in courtyard off mundane Charing Cross Road, curled up on a pallet between the red brick and the rubbish bin. Someone had considerately spread a blanket over him as he’d slept, but he was still freezing monkeys cold.
What do you know, he’d actually survived sex with a virgin Death Eater, like he’d survived everything so far. Not one of his stupider ideas, then.
His mouth tasted foul: cigarettes, last night’s whiskey, and someone else’s sweat. All along his skin crackled the remnants of fertility magic, and sticky, drying semen from three rounds, about all the houses, in what had been extremely thorough deflowering sex.
He wondered if he’d see Prince again, now that sad sack had been liberated of his cherry, if not of his heartbreak.
He hoped so, though he wouldn’t bet on it. After all, John always only bet on a sure thing, and he wasn’t sure if anyone on the face of England would lay money on the survival of that schoolteacher who’d called himself Mr. Prince.