Chas was across the room when he said the words to John, who was rifling about in one of his many boxes of magical trinkets again. He stopped, lifting his head up and turning in Chas’s direction. There was a long pause where John just stared at him.
“Yer what?” he chuckled.
“Marry me,” Chas repeated.
He stepped across the mill floor, closing the distance between them. John quirked an eyebrow, watching him carefully, like he thought Chas had gone crazy.
Maybe he had.
“Er, I’m not sure if you realise who you’re talking to, but it’s John, mate. Not Renee.”
Chas threw him a look.
“I know who you are – I’m not having some kind of flashback or hallucination, if that’s what you’re thinking.”
John was silent again for a moment.
“Alright. So what is it then?”
“I would’ve thought that’s obvious,” Chas said.
John scoffed a laugh. “It really isn’t, love.”
Chas’s heart ached a little at the term of endearment. John had only started using it after they’d first slept together; that was a year or so ago now. And though he knew John referred to most women that way, the change for him felt meaningful. Probably because he knew John always did things for a reason – sometimes a really stupid reason, sure, but a reason nonetheless.
And the term always weakened Chas’s defences, which John no doubt knew as well. But Chas had his own weapons.
“Okay, I’ll spell it out – I want you as my husband,” he told him. “I love you.”
John had been pretty annoyed the first time he’d told him that, six months prior. He’d wanted a no-strings-attached arrangement, and Chas had ruined it with messy, and apparently unrequited, feelings.
John shifted, but covered his unease with flippancy, as was usual. “Ah, of course you do. What’s not to love? Good looks, great arse, experienced in the ways of the occult – I’m the perfect companion.”
Chas sighed, frowning. “Could you be serious for just one second?”
“Not when you’re asking ridiculous things, no.”
“It’s not ridiculous, it’s a simple question,” Chas said. “I’m proposing to you.”
The truth was, none of this had ever been simple for Chas. He’d been in love with John for a long time, probably for as long as he’d known him, and it was purely due to lack of reciprocation and opportunity that nothing had come of it. When John had finally invited him into his bed, it all just came rushing out, and he refused to pretend anymore.
“Well, that’s very romantic, and no offense, but it’s not really my thing,” John replied. “Rules and responsibility and all that.”
Chas knew John was trying to be polite and let him down gently. He cut through it. “I know you don’t feel the same way about me, John, and I don’t expect you to,” he said. “But this isn’t about that. And it’s not about rules and responsibility either. It’s about what happens if something happens to one of us. Well, mostly if something happens to you.”
A look of dawning realisation passed over John’s face.
“Ah, Washington,” he said. “That’s what’s brought this on.”
“You say that like you didn’t nearly die,” Chas scolded. “And I did. Twice.”
“But like you said, I only nearly died. All’s well that ends well, ay?”
Chas frowned at him. “No, it doesn’t. If I hadn’t been there, to save you, you would be dead.”
“But you were there.”
“And what happens when I’m not?” Chas asked. “What happens when my extra lives finally run out? I’m going through them at high speed these days, with everything the Rising Darkness has been throwing at us. It’s only a matter of time.”
“I am a Master of the Dark Arts, in case you’ve forgotten,” John told him.
“And that got you exactly where, in Washington? Oh, that’s right, in the hospital for a month, in a coma.”
John waved a dismissive hand. “The incantation should’ve worked. It was just bad luck.”
“Which we seem to be having an awful lot of lately.”
“Well, I don’t see how us being married will help with that.”
Chas ran a hand over his face, the fight that filled him a moment ago now draining away. He let out a sigh.
“You didn’t have anyone down as your next of kin, John,” he told him. “When I first brought you in, they thought it was me that had hurt you. They took you to surgery and wouldn’t tell me a damn thing. For hours and hours. I had no idea if you were dead, or dying, or if I should try and cast something to save you.” He paused a moment before continuing. “Even when I found out you did pull through, I had to fight the hospital for days before I could visit you in the ward.”
“I–” John stopped, then went on. “I didn’t know, mate. I’m sorry.”
“I won’t go through that again.”
“I’ll fix it up. I’ll put you down as the emergency contact.”
Chas shook his head. “No. I want this to be binding. I want to be the one that’s called, consulted, informed about anything and everything that happens with you. There should be no mistake that you’re mine.”
John’s eyebrows went up.
Chas hadn’t meant it to come out quite like that, but there was no use taking it back now. It was the truth, after all.
“A little possessive there, Chas.”
“I don’t care.”
“I can see that.”
They stared at each other for a few moments before John went on. “And what does Renee think of all this? She never liked me much to begin with. I don’t think me being your husband is exactly going to go over well.”
“She knows I’m in love with you – she’s always known,” Chas told him. “Why do you think she divorced me?”
Any amusement left now drained out of John’s face. His brow furrowed.
“You said it was because you weren’t there for her and Geraldine. You didn’t say anything about competing affections.”
Chas hadn’t told him before, that John was one of the reasons he and Renee had split up. Certainly, his absence as a father and husband was the primary cause, but that really only happened because he was always off on some mission or other with John. And he was always off on those missions because it was John. It hadn’t taken Renee long to work out that Chas felt more than just friendship for the man.
“Of course not. You didn’t know how I felt then,” Chas said. “I wasn’t going to confess to it in the aftermath of my breakup.”
“You could’ve said something later,” John pointed out.
“Well, I’m saying it now.”
“Just as you’ve slapped me in the face with a marriage proposal,” John replied. “Ta for that.”
Chas sighed. “It doesn’t have to be a big deal. I didn’t want it to be. I just wanted that security, have it known on paper, by law, that we’re in this together. We can head down to the county court, sign a few things, and be done with it. Nothing else has to change,” he said. “You won’t owe me anything, won’t have to do anything different, except if something does happen to me. But I already trusted you with that – it’s just making it formal.”
John exhaled a long breath, rubbing his hands over his face and walking a few paces side to side. “Except I know you, love – you’re a big ball of feelings, always have been. There’s no way this isn’t a big deal for you. Despite your insistence otherwise.”
Chas had been hoping John wouldn’t see through his bluff, but that was evidently in vain. He furrowed his brow, swallowing.
“That doesn’t mean it has to be for you. Especially since you don’t have all those pesky emotions to deal with.”
John’s smile was wry when he brought his gaze back to Chas. “That’s really what you think?”
“Of course it is,” Chas replied. “We have sex, I get a lot of feelings about it, and you get on with your life. That’s how it works.”
John tipped his head a little, gaze slipping away.
“If you say so.”
His response was suspiciously ambiguous. Chas narrowed his eyes.
“Are you saying it’s not?” he asked.
“I’m not saying anything.” John lit a cigarette and resumed his slow pacing back and forth.
“John.” Chas’s voice was low in warning.
Chas wanted to smack that insolent, half-grin off his face. He’d always been frustrated by John’s inability to express his emotions properly, but this time he didn’t have the patience to mess around with it.
“Are you actually sleeping with me for a bit of fun?” he demanded to know. “Or is there something else there?”
John shrugged. “Ah, I don’t know. There’s a lot of things. It’s not always so clear-cut, y’know.”
“But is it like what I feel for you? In that ball park?”
Chas scowled. “John, I swear–”
“I don’t like to label anything. It’s too restrictive for my tastes.” He shoved a hand in his pocket, taking another drag and refusing to meet Chas’s gaze. This level of evasion was unusual for him.
The realisation hit Chas like a ton of bricks. He rubbed a hand over his eyes.
“Oh my god,” he groaned. “You're actually in love with me.”
John didn’t reply, just stared down at the cigarette in his hand.
“Jesus, you’re an asshole,” Chas said.
John finally looked up at him, a furrow in his brow and a grimacing smile on his face. “Well, yeah. That’s not news.”
“Why didn’t you say anything? Why did you just let me pine over you like some pathetic groupie you’ve taken to bed?” Chas asked. “You felt the same, all this time, and you did nothing.”
“Because this is exactly what I didn’t want,” John told him, gesturing. “I didn’t want things to change between us, and I knew if I told you, you wouldn’t be able to leave it be. You’d make a fuss, want us to be something else, something official and conspicuous.” John huffed a laugh, throwing a hand up. “Which I suppose you did anyway, trying to badger me into marriage.”
Chas sighed. “I wasn’t badgering you – I was asking you. With all the shit we’ve been dealing with lately, I wanted something that was real, that means something.”
“You don’t need a bit of paper to prove that.”
“When you won’t even say the words to me, I think I do.”
John furrowed his brow and turned away for a moment, taking the last drag of his cigarette before stubbing it out on the floor. His fingers twitched slightly as they fell back down by his side.
“You know that everyone around me dies. But that’s not all of it. Everything in my life turns to shit as well,” he said. “If I don’t define something, don’t parade it, don’t say it out loud – it can’t be taken from me, can’t be ruined.” He looked back at Chas now. “If I just shagged you, didn’t make anything of it, then I could keep it.” John swallowed. “Keep you.”
Chas’s heart ached at his words. He took a step closer and pressed a hand to John’s shoulder, turning him around. He slid the other hand behind John’s neck.
“I’m yours anyway.” He looked down at him. “Naming it isn’t going to put it at any more risk. Hell, the way things are going, we’re probably screwed anyway, so may as well make the best of the time we’ve got left.”
Chas kissed him now, deep and slow, with John’s head in both his hands. When he pulled away, John’s eyelids were heavy and mouth slightly agape.
He gave a sloppy grin. “Well, when you put it like that, love.”
“And if you do – love me – then stop being an idiot. Be my damn husband already.”
John chuckled. He leaned up to press a few brief kisses on Chas’s mouth, and then nip at his bottom lip with his teeth.
He was still grinning when he looked Chas in the face again. “Yeah, go on then, why not.”
Chas kissed him thoroughly, hands in John’s hair and down his neck, just enjoying the feel of the man that was finally agreeing to be his. And John didn’t fight it for once; he let Chas do as he pleased for several minutes, his fingers stroking at Chas’s jaw and down on his throat.
But as tender as the gesture was, it didn’t take long for those hands to migrate lower, first running over Chas’s ass and then pressing up against the front of his jeans. Chas took the hint and began fiddling at the buttons of John’s shirt, pulling it half-way open a moment later. He pressed a palm to the bare skin he found there, John’s chest arching under his touch.
Chas could only take a minute or so of them groping and pawing at one another before frustration got the better of him, and he took hold of John’s ass in both hands to lift him off the ground. John had practically been climbing him anyway, and he opened his legs to instinctively wrap them around Chas’s waist, arms curling around his neck.
Their kiss broke apart, and Chas lifted his head to look at John. There was a wide grin playing on his lips, and the fingers of one hand snaked up into the back of Chas’s hair. John had always been an inexplicable combination of irreverence and tenderness that Chas couldn’t resist, and he felt his own predictable rush of lust and love in response.
“We should go to your bedroom,” Chas grunted.
“Gonna make love to your new fiancé?” John teased.
“No,” he replied. “I’m going to fuck the brains out of an infuriating little bastard until he learns how to express his emotions properly.”
John laughed. “That might take a while.”
“I’m willing to put in the hard yards,” Chas said, his voice thick with suggestion.
John pressed their foreheads together, lids still low, grinning.
“And that’s why I love you.”
Chas made an annoyed noise in the back of his throat. “Trust you to say it now, in response to sex.”
“But that’s why you love me,” John told him.
Despite the cheek that pervaded the words, when John kissed him it was nothing but sincerity and affection. Chas felt his heart swell, and he kissed him back with equal enthusiasm. After a moment he broke away, breathless, chest warm with affection.
“I suppose that’s true,” he admitted. “For better or worse.”
“Going to make an honest man out of me then, or what?” John asked, as he began to mouth along Chas’s jaw.
Chas snorted. “Oh please. I’m decades late for that. And I can’t really see you pretending to be the blushing virgin either.”
John gave Chas’s earlobe a slow suck and then took it between his teeth, biting down just enough for it to smart. His breath was warm at Chas’s ear. “And what gives you that impression?”
Chas’s body shuddered in response to John’s provocative behaviour, and he turned his head to find John’s mouth again. When he finished kissing him, he looked up into John’s dark gaze.
“There is one tradition I’m keen to follow, though,” Chas said.
John raised an eyebrow. “Oh yeah? What’s that?”
Chas unhooked one of John’s legs and turned him sideways to carry him, knees over one arm and upper body cradled in the other. He grinned at the skeptical look on John’s face.
“I know I said I wanted you as my husband, but I can still take you to bed ‘bridal-style’.”
“That’s supposed to be on the wedding night,” John pointed out. “We’re not married yet.”
“Guess I’ll just have to do it then too,” Chas said.
“You’re hopeless,” John said.
He rolled his eyes, but there was a smile playing at the corners of his lips. And he didn’t struggle to escape from his position as Chas turned toward the bedroom, instead looping his arms back around Chas’s neck and kissing him sweetly on the cheek.
Chas smiled. Perhaps he could make a respectable husband of John Constantine yet.
Probably not though.