"I can't fucking believe it." Constantine whirled around, his tan trench coat fanning out behind him. "Our very own apartment." Gary grinned. He rarely saw John this happy, save for the time Gary gave him a cat for his birthday. Gary leaned against him, lacing their fingers together.
"This is big, John. Really big. I've never lived with a significant other before."
John snorted. "What about me makes you think I have?" The two of them looked around the apartment. It was modestly-sized, one bedroom, one-point-five baths, with a decent kitchen and a view of Central City Bay. "What do you think, Prospero?" John glanced down at the Egyptian Mau cat between his legs. The cat just hissed and scurried off into the bedroom.
"I still can't believe you named that damn cat Prospero. You know that's the villain, right?"
"And this Prospero is also an asshole, love. It all works out."
"He is an asshole, isn't he?"
"You bought him, love, you tell me." John spun around slowly to see the apartment. "I can see it now. We put the dining table there, under the window, so in the morning, you can read the paper without turning on a light, and so I can smoke without the landlord finding out."
"Kidding. I'll do it on the terrace."
"That's right, there's a terrace!" Gary sped off like a child following an ice cream truck. John chuckled and followed after him. "Wow." Gary gazed out in amazement. From the tiny balcony, they could see almost all of Central City, the cars below only the size of ants, the people even smaller.
"Gary, you lived in a much nicer apartment before this. I don't understand why I couldn't just move in there."
"Because the Time Bureau was paying my rent, but this place, this is ours." Gary took one of John's hands in his. "I love you."
"Love you, too." John brushed a kiss against Gary's cheek.
"Oh! So, our first anniversary is in three days."
"And I got you something. Kind of an early present." John froze. He was not prepared for this. Gary reached into his briefcase and pulled out an envelope. "Two tickets to London. I thought it would be nice to see where you grew up."
John stuttered. He could hardly breathe. "Oh, I, um...what?"
"Yeah? Is that...not something I should have done?"
Taking a few deep breaths, John steadied himself. It would be okay. "Nope. Everything is A-okay."
Gary looked at him, confused. "Are you sure? Because you've never said the phrase 'A-okay' in your life."
”Just keeping you on your toes, love. When do we leave?”
”Tonight. Pack your bags, baby.”
”I predicted this! Hopelessly domestic.” John smirked, ignoring the growing uneasy feeling in his stomach.
Their plane touched down at Heathrow early the next morning. Gary yawned and stretched as he awoke, lifting his head from its resting place on John’s shoulder. John, on the other hand, hadn’t slept a wink. His stomach was churning with anticipation, but not the good kind. The kind that you get during a horror movie when you know something bad is going to happen, but you’re not sure what.
”So, are you excited to be back?” Gary shook John’s shoulder enthusiastically.
”I’m excited to be anywhere you are, love.” Gary’s face fell.
”That’s not a yes. What’s wrong?” John shook him off.
”I’m fine. It’s nothing. Just...jet lag.” The look of concern on Gary’s face faded slightly.
”If you say so. Come on, let’s get off this pressurized death tube.” They made their way out of the airport, and Gary inhaled the crisp winter air. “It’s beautiful here. I love Central City, but I’ve always wanted to see the world.”
John shrugged. “If only I could see it from your perspective, squire. Come on now, let’s find our hotel.” He hailed a taxi and gave the cabbie the address. On the drive over, Gary’s expression remained worried, although Constantine couldn’t have noticed with the way he was staring out the window so intently. When they arrived at the hotel, neither one spoke, except to tell the desk clerk of their names. Their room was, as per Constantine's usual, the honeymoon suite, but both ignored the carefully scattered rose petals and ice-cold champagne, and made a beeline straight for the bed.
"I know I slept the entire flight over, but I'm so tired. Wake me up in an hour." And hardly thirty seconds later, Gary was out cold, snoring loudly. John took this as an excuse to take a shower, turning the water up to nearly its hottest setting, wincing as it scorched his skin. He scrubbed like he thought he could wash away all of the bad memories that came flooding down with the water from the shower head. Astra. His father. Their voices echoed in his ears. John. Killer. And then his mother. He didn't know her voice. He only knew what she looked like.
As he turned off the shower, wiping dripping water from his face, his reddened skin shuddering involuntarily as he met the chilly air of the bedroom. Gary muttered something in his sleep and turned over. John quickly toweled off and got dressed, dragging a comb loosely through his messy hair. He fell onto the bed opposite his boyfriend, who smiled softly. He reached for the remote and flipped on the TV on the news was some news story about Liverpool. His blood ran cold as they showed a birds-eye shot of his hometown, and flinched as the camera briefly passed over the house he once called home. It was a tiny white-painted cottage with green shutters. It had been fixed up since John lived there, but he recognized it. The house where he learned his first spell. The house where his sister left him to their father's mercy, or lack thereof. The house where John's father called him 'Killer' and put out cigarettes on his arms.
He rolled up his sleeve to examine his bicep. The scars had nearly faded under the twisted tattoo that spread across his right shoulder. He turned to wrap an arm over Gary's waist, then passed out, the sins of his past nearly forgotten.
Gary sat up quickly, his chest heaving after some nightmare now faded from memory. He peered down at John, who rolled onto his back and opened his eyes, smiling gently. "Afternoon, love."
"Afternoon. Now, I did make some plans for the rest of the day."
"I see...and what would those be?" John cocked an eyebrow.
"Well, first, this." Gary leaned down to press a gentle kiss to John's lips. "But now, we have to get up." John groaned.
"Do we have to?"
"Yep." Gary gave John a shove, and he tumbled off the bed.
"Ow! That's cold, mate." Gary shrugged and hopped off the bed, replacing his blazer and tightening his tie.
"Grab your coat. It's chilly where we're going."
They walked down the sidewalk, the light fog blocking their vision, so for the moment, it seemed like they were the only two people in the entire city. Like it was a ghost town. "We're here." Gary gestured upward, and John followed his hand to see the London Eye.
"The London Eye? The second most touristy location in all of London?"
"Shut up. And besides, we won't be around the tourists. When you've got the Time Bureau's connections on your side, you can get a private car on the most popular tourist attraction in England. Sorry, second most."
"Ooh, connections. That's pretty sexy." John stood on his tiptoes to place a hungry kiss on Gary's lips. They separated to the sound of someone clearing their throat loudly.
"Have some public decency," the stranger said, and then as he pushed by them, "faggots."
Gary stiffened, as if the simple phrase had been a punch in the gut. John put a hand on his chest to hold him back. "It's not worth it, love. You're going to meet plenty of people when you're with me, who'll tell you you shouldn't be with me. For a number of reasons. But you have to remember, these are the people who would tell you time travel isn't real."
"I know, but...we've been together for a year, and I've never heard that word. Not directed at us. I don't know if Central City is just a more tolerant place, but somehow, I just...forgot. There are people who don't think we should be together."
"Yes, but those people don't know what they're talking about. If you love me, and I love you, which we do, those asshats don't matter." John squeezed Gary's hand.
"You're right. It's fine. Let's just..." Gary indicated for them to keep walking, and they did, getting into an empty car. As they began to ascend, Gary laced his fingers with John's.
"Side note, who's taking care of Prospero while we're gone?"
"Ava and Sara."
They rode up the side of the Ferris wheel in comfortable silence. When they reached the top, John faced Gary, their noses just inches apart. "I love you," he said, brushing a curl of black hair out of Gary's face.
"I love you, too." They kissed then, beginning their descent as the sun began its, the colors dancing on the glass walls.
"So, what's next for our adventure?"
"Dinner. Well, sort of."
"Sort of? What in the hell does that mean?"
Apparently, it meant gelato. "Gelato for dinner? I expected some fancy place that served caviar or truffle oil, or some other expensive nonsense."
"Nope. Because I'm not made of money, and also..." Gary lowered his voice so only John could hear. "I found your candy stash. I know about your sweet tooth."
John's eyes widened. "Please, this will ruin my well-crafted image of badassery. I'll do whatever you want."
Gary stifled a laugh. "Whatever I want? That's an interesting proposition."
"Whatever. I just want ice cream."
"See? Sweet tooth." They stepped up to the freezer. "Two scoops of vanilla, please." Gary stood aside for John, who came up next to him, sliding his hand into Gary's.
"One scoop of pistachio, mate." The cashier eyed them suspiciously, his eyes flickering subconsciously down to their interlocked fingers, but he obliged, handing them their cones, pointedly shifting his hand so as not to touch either of them. Gary shifted nervously. He had noticed the way the cashier was looking at them, and like with the passerby earlier, he was surprised? Confused? Aghast? John set his jaw as he paid, making direct and intense eye contact with the young man behind the counter. As he was handed his change, he made a point of not putting anything in the tip jar. "If you have a problem with me or my boyfriend, please take your ignorance and shove it up your arse. Have a shitty day." He spun on his heel and sauntered out of the shop. Gary glanced back and forth between the shocked cashier and the open door in surprise, before dashing off after John, who was waiting under a nearby lamppost.
"That was fucking amazing. You are incredible, I have never loved you more in my entire life." Gary threw his arms around John's neck and kissed him warmly.
"No problem, love." The two of them sat down at a nearby patio table with an umbrella over it, watching the colors of the sunset fade into blue night.
"So, I have to admit, I did have a little bit of an ulterior motive, getting us tickets to London. I thought that just maybe, being back here, you might...want to tell me a little bit more about why you don't like to talk about it? You don't have to, but since we're moving in together, and I've already told you all my deep, dark secrets-"
"You haven't, actually."
"Told me all your secrets. You've never told me about why you haven't talked to your family since we started dating." Gary sighed.
"I hoped you forgot about that. But, since I suppose I'm asking you to bare your soul, I might as well do the same. So, my parents. They weren't...thrilled at the prospect of me dating a guy, but they came to terms with it. I've never been all that close to them, so that wasn't a huge change. But my sister..." Gary looked up and took a deep breath. "My sister went off on me. Told me I was going to hell, that I wasn't her family anymore. And that really sucked, because she was my rock growing up. I idolized her. I didn't really have any friends growing up, so she was all I had."
John was silent for a moment, before he gently placed his hand on top of Gary's. "What's your sister's name?"
Gary sighed. "Marianne."
"Well, I'm sure Marianne will see eventually the error of her ways. In the meantime, there's some champagne back at the hotel. What do you say, want to drink away your problems?" John stood, offering Gary a hand.
"Hold on, I did what I said I was going to do. What about you?" John hesitated.
"Please, can it just wait until tomorrow?"
"Fine." Gary stood and they walked back arm in arm. As they got ready for bed that night, Gary poked his head out of the bathroom, toothbrush in hand. "Hey, John?"
"What's up, love?"
"Can you just tell me one thing about your family? Or why you haven't been back here in twenty years?"
John groaned. "I thought this was waiting until tomorrow."
"I know, but I just...I want to know one thing. Just one."
"Why? Why can't it just be in the past?"
"Because it's not! It's clearly still affecting you here and now, and I think if you get it out there, it'll help."
"Well, I don't, and they're my memories."
"Just tell me!"
"Because you won't love me anymore!" Gary stopped in his tracks.
"You think whatever you're going to say will make me stop loving you?"
"Yes. No. I don't know."
"That makes absolutely no sense. There's nothing you could say to make me stop loving you."
"I guess." Gary leaned down to press a kiss on John's scarred shoulder.
"You don't have to tell me yet. Just...sometime. Please." John nodded. Gary returned to the bathroom, finished brushing his teeth, and hopped in the shower. When he emerged, he put his glasses down on the counter and leaned out again. "John?" No response. "John?" Again, nothing. Gary scrambled to put his glasses back on, and what shocked by what he saw. Or, in this case, a lack thereof. John was gone, and in his wake, a piece of hotel stationary lay on his side of the bed.
Gone for a drink, and needed some time to mull things over.
I'll be back.
At that moment, Gary's panic set in. What if John had been kidnapped? No, the note was in his handwriting. And they were on the top floor of the hotel. But still, the anxious feeling in the pit of Gary's stomach continued to grow. He pulled out his phone and dialed John's number. John was his ICE. He hoped to god he was John's. It rang all the way through to voicemail.
"This is John Constantine, exorcist, demonologist, and maste-petty dabbler in the dark arts. Chas, remind me to get my business cards changed! Anyway, leave a message."
Gary grinned slightly, but it faded as he realized that meant John either didn't have his phone or it was off. John only did that when he didn't want to be found. Gary crawled into bed, pulling the covers over his knees, and typed out a brief message.
I didn't mean to push too hard. I'm sorry. Where are you?
He sent it and stared at the screen, waiting for a reply. He waited.
And waited until eventually, he fell asleep.
He awoke the morning before their anniversary, in a complete panic. His dreams, although quickly fading from memory, left him uneasy and scared. He rolled over. John hadn't come home. Gary closed his eyes and did his best to steady his breathing. It was okay. This was where John was from.
Then again, John had a habit of unhealthy coping mechanisms, including, but not limited to:
- getting in fights
- trying to exorcise powerful demons
- doing any combination of the above
- having sex
The last one sent Gary deep into his own thoughts. Would John cheat on him? Was that possible? Was this big enough to push him that far? Feeling lost and hopeless was not Gary's forte. He picked up his phone off the bedside table and opened it. No new notifications. He dialed a number and held the phone up to his ear.
"Come on, pick up..." he muttered into the receiver, pacing the room.
"Gary?" An exhausted voice on the other line picked up. Ava.
"Ava, I need your help."
"Gary, it's three in the morning."
"John's missing." A pause.
"What do you mean, 'John's missing'?"
"I mean he's gone! I was trying to convince him to tell me about his family last night, and I guess I hit a nerve, and he left a note saying he was going for a drink and he'd be back, but he's not back!"
"Okay, Gary, calm down. Are you sure he's not just still out?"
"What, you think he's been gone for nine hours?"
"Oh. No. Maybe he's crashing at a friend's house?"
"First of all, Ava, he doesn't have any friends here. Secondly, he would have called, or texted, but his phone is off."
"Shoot, Gary, I don't know what to tell you."
"Thanks anyway, Ava. I'll let you know when I find him."
"Sure thing, Gary. Bye." The phone clicked as she hung up, and Gary relaxed his face into his hands.
"Shit, shit, shit!" And then he remembered. About 3 months into their relationship, John had a visit from a client that sent him into a frenzy. He disappeared for a week, then showed up on the Waverider, totally shitfaced, wearing a wizard hat, with absolutely no memory of what had happened. After that, he agreed to let Gary install a tracking app on his phone, in case anything like that happened again. And it hadn't. Until now.
Gary opened his phone once more and went into the app. He was frantic as the little blue dot showing John's location refreshed. What seemed like hours later, a notification popped up. They had located John. And he was in...Manchester? John had apparently taken the train the entire way.
Gary threw on his clothes from the day before, grabbing the duster that Constantine had left behind (not a good sign), and hailed a taxicab to the train station. As he boarded, he stared intently at his phone. The little blue dot had moved slightly, but not enough that it mattered. Gary was going to find his boyfriend.
He ended up falling asleep on the train, the lulled rhythm of the wheels on the track pulling him deeper and deeper into sleep. When he awoke, they had arrived in Manchester. He left the train, pulled out his phone, and stared at it in shock. John was no longer in Manchester, but in Dumfries. Scotland.
Gary sighed and went to buy another ticket.
The rest of the day proceeded much like this. Gary would go to John's last location, and John would already be hours away. By 9 o'clock that evening, Gary was ready to sit down and cry. He didn't know how much more he could take. He checked in to the nearest hotel (he was in Glasgow now) and passed out. He woke up again early the next morning and kept on with it. That day, he made stops in Lockerbie, Dumfries again, Carlisle, and Newcastle. He almost caught up to John in Newcastle, but by the time he reached the cemetery he was supposed to be at, he was gone. Gary hitched a ride to Liverpool, and when he made it, he was more relieved than he had been in years. John was still in Liverpool.
Gary tracked his phone to a small pub called O'Reilley's Tavern. The windows were so smudged and dirty he could barely see through them, and what he saw didn't exactly amaze him. It was tiny, with one long, cracked wooden bar and a grizzled red-headed bartender, a few mismatched tables and chairs in the corner, a low wooden stage with a pair of fiddlers on it, and a dusty space cleared out for a dance floor. It was as much John's kind of place as it wasn't Gary's, so he set his shoulders and marched through the door. He walked through the overwhelming smell of sweat, grease, and beer, ignoring the stares of the other patrons who were well aware that there was an impostor in their midst, and approached the bartender. "Excuse me, sir, I'm looking for someone, I think he might be here. He's about yea tall," he held a hand a few inches below his eye level, "he's got blond hair, may or may not be wearing a tie?"
The bartender nodded and replied in a heavy Irish accent. "I think I've got the one you're lookin' for." He nodded his head toward the end of the bar, where, true to his word, John sat, a long line of empty glasses in front of him. "I'd take this before you go over there, though. He's a little...irritable." The bartender poured a shot of tequila and slid it to Gary. "So, who is he? He's been here since about about five or so, and the only words he's said to me are to ask for more beer."
"He's my boyfriend."
Gary could feel the rage bubbling up inside, and with no Constantine to hold him back, he let go. "Yeah, he's my boyfriend. We're very much in love, and if you have a problem with that, you're an ignorant ass."
The bartender took a step back. "All I was going to say is that he's pretty good-lookin', but he's got a mean streak. He's threatened to fight at least four people since he got here."
"Oh." Gary stood down. "Sorry." He knocked back the shot and made his way over to John. His stubble was past the point of 'ruggedly handsome' and more on the side of 'desert island survivor'. His hair was a mess, even more so than usual, and had a dead leaf tangled in it. Other than that, he looked fine, if not a little tired.
"John?" Gary sat down hesitantly on the stool next to John, who looked up, startled.
"Gary?" His eyes were slightly damp, and beside his haggard appearance, his voice was gruff but filled with emotion.
"John, what the hell? You disappeared on me. I...I thought I lost you." Gary swallowed hard, his words shaky.
"I don't know, I just needed a moment."
"Yeah, well, that moment turned into two days! You just left!"
"Yes, yes, you're right, but I had my reasons."
"And what were those? You still haven't told me anything." John tossed back the last of his drink and stood up, wavering slightly.
"I assume you tracked me to Newcastle."
"Yeah, why were you in the cemetery there?"
"I was visiting Astra." Astra. The name was familiar to Gary, but he wasn't quite sure how. "Astra was the daughter of a friend of mine. She was possessed by a demon. My crew and I summoned a bigger demon to kill the smaller demon, but it didn't work. Astra was dragged to Hell. And it was my fault. A nine-year-old girl, and I damned her to Hell."
Gary was speechless. What do you say to a thing like that?
"And then here, in Liverpool. I grew up here, you know that. I lived with my father, and for a while, my sister. My mother died when I was born. My father thought it was my fault. He called me 'Killer'. Fun nickname for an eight-year-old boy, eh? And my sister, she left. I don't know what happened to her. Only that she left me with that bastard."
Gary blinked, and he could feel the tears in his eyes. "Your sister...what was her name?"
John sighed. "Cheryl."
"Cheryl and Marianne. I don't know what we did to deserve sisters like them."
"Speak for yourself, I damned a nine-year-old girl."
"After the fact."
"It's reverse karma. Is that a thing?"
"You're the warlock. You tell me." They made eye contact for a moment, and then they both cracked up. Gary's abs ached as he bent over, howling with laughter.
"Oh..." John raised his head, still smiling broadly. "Barkeep, can I get a glass of water? I need to sober up." He downed the water in one go and turned to Gary. "Let's take a walk, shall we? It's a little loud in here." Without waiting for a response, he stood up and walked toward the exit. Gary followed him a moment after, still wearing John's coat. They wandered down the sidewalk, the streets mostly empty. Like a ghost town.
"John, what are we doing?" Gary asked as they came to a stop alongside a river, under a gas streetlamp decorated with a wreath and red bow. John ignored the question.
"I'm a complete mess, Gary. And you, you're the sweetest, smartest, most incredible person I have ever met. And yet, you found a way to love me. I was scared, Gary. Terrified. Because I thought if you knew...if you knew about my family, but more about Astra, you wouldn't anymore. But you do, and it amazes me, because every time I think I'll lose you, you find me, and you haven't stopped loving me. No person has ever done that for me. I never imagined anything like this could happen. I'm not young anymore, and most people find me...tactless? Arrogant? Overconfident? Whatever word you like. And you're no exception, I'm sure. Here we are, though. You followed me across the country to find me. I couldn't have asked for anyone better to be with me. And I don't think I could ever find that with someone else."
"John, what the hell are you saying? Are you still drunk?" Gary looked genuinely confused.
"No, love, but I am just a tad bit tipsy. Speaking of, could you give me a hand?" Gary's puzzlement deepened.
John slowly began to lower himself to his knee, and Gary rushed to help him balance. "As I said, slightly hammered. Now, back to business."
"Shush. Just let me finish."
"I love you, which isn't a phrase I have said to another person in over a decade. But you, love, you make me want to be hopelessly domestic. And I never imagined growing old with someone, or even just growing old. I could never picture my whole life. But now, with you, I can. And you're there, the whole way. If you'll just hand me my jacket." Gary looked at him, bewildered, but slid off the coat and handed it to John. He shuffled through the pockets until he finally found what he was looking for. He pulled out a small, weathered wooden box. "I was planning on doing this in our new apartment while we watched Netflix and ate takeout, but you decided to be nice and thoughtful and ruin that plan."
Gary stifled a laugh. he had almost forgotten that it was their anniversary. "Anyway, we're here now and I may be slightly intoxicated, but I promise that I'm doing this because I want to, not because I'm drunk." He took the lid off the box and slid it into his pocket. Gary gasped as he took in the ring sitting in the box. It was a simple gold braided band, nestled into the green velvet inside the teak box. John inhaled deeply before he spoke again. "Gary Owen Green, will you marry me?"
Gary's heart pounded in his chest and he exhaled shakily, a laugh bubbling up from hit stomach. He burst out giggling, and John looked up at him, deeply confused. "Why are you laughing?"
"Oh, I'm sorry, I just...I never thought I would end up here. Being proposed to at...11:43 at night, in a foreign country, after taking a train across the country, by a drunk warlock." He started giggling again, and this time, John joined in.
"When you put it that way, it is rather ridiculous. But," he straightened up, holding the box out in front of him. "I'm still here, asking. Will you-"
"Yes! Of course! How could you even think I would say no?" Gary grabbed onto John's tie, tugging him up off his knees until their lips connected in an ardent kiss, his hands wrapping around John's shoulders and up into his hair, as one of John's hands slid around his waist and the other behind his neck. Gary felt a tingling coolness on his nose, and he broke away to look up. Snow had begun to fall from the star-studded semi-cloudy skies, landing in John's hair and, combined with the glow from the gas lamp, created a halo-esque circle of light around his golden mane. Wordlessly, he took the ring out of the box and slid it onto Gary's pale finger.
"Hey, quick question?" Gary rubbed his thumb over the back of John's hand.
"What's up, love?"
"Where did you get this ring?" John smiled, but it was tinged with sadness.
"It was my mother's."
"Your mother? I thought..."
"Yes, she's dead. When she and my father got married, they didn't have the money for a big wedding or a dress, so they decided to spend their wedding budget on a ring. They got married at the courthouse in jeans and t-shirts, and the only mementos were a Polaroid that we lost when my sister left, and this ring. When she was cremated, my father kept the ring, and when I left, I took it with me. I told myself that in the unlikely event I ever found the absolute love of my life, they would get this ring. And you, Gary, are the love of my life."
"Well, it fits like a dream."
"Yes, apparently drunk me was still sober enough to know that I had to get it resized, so I stopped at a jewelry store in Carlisle." They chuckled appreciatively. "Hey, I'm really sorry again for running off. It was stupid and childish of me. I need to talk about my ghosts, not run from them."
"It's okay. We all have ghosts, and we all run from them sometimes."
To any passerby, they may have just looked like two men in the midst of an emotional revelation.
In reality, it was so much more. It was two men, both pursued by the phantoms of their pasts, overcoming the worst to reach the best moment of their lives.
It was one of those moments where you can see a perfect example of true, pure, unconditional love.