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Hell Trips and just a little Hard-Sell

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His leg still hurt a little from where he had crashed into a door frame earlier when he'd been forcefully thrown out of a back room and a very special kind of card game. Only his very own brand of convincing had acquired him an invitation to the closed party in the first place and only his own special brand of convincing had made it possible for him to leave with the money he'd won and with all his shiny white teeth intact.

All in all, not the worst day in the life of John Constantine.

So here he was, enjoying a pint with one of his oldest friends, a silk cut between his lips and money enough to pay this round in his pockets.

Chas had quite a bit of a head-start on him with the drinking and he was in storytelling mode. John didn't mind that and neither did the blokes sitting at the bar with them. He recognized Dave and the high-strung one – Andy? - but not the rest of the crew. They were some of Chas' old drinking mates, but none of the people John was really involved with in any way. Usually when they were sitting around together like this they were talking about something bloody daft like football, so John would lose interest almost instantly.

But today Chas was talking of the old times.

“The guy just went down, like that, lying on the floor like a fucking corpse, snoring. And then John here fell off the chair, laughing his bloody head off.”

“Advanced psychic combat,” John muttered, feeling the first warming buzz of the drink doing its work.

“That's what you keep saying, mate. I still think you were pissed.”

Which, of course, he had been. “A little buzz is conductive to altered states of mind, Chas me mate.”

“Uh huh,” Chas said with a skeptical expression. “That why you spent most of your youth high?”

“Most of my youth, Chas?” John laughed. “What's changed, ey?”

Chas just glared at him.

“But you made it out with the book? What was it worth?” one of the guys asked.

“Made it out with the book,” John agreed. “Still have it stacked away somewhere. Bloody vile thing, that.” He gave Chas a knowing look and then grinned at the others.

“So what are you saying? The rich bloke, he was possessed? You took him down while he thought he had you tied to a chair?”

“The book was possessed, to be exact,” John said tartly.

“You're mental. How did you even get off the chair?” The guy looked at Chas for clarification.

But his mate shrugged. “Ask John,” he said and gestured. “Not sure I can rightly say what went down.”

“I'm just a lucky git,” John declared with a smug grin - because it was true, thinking of the money in his pockets, the scared look on the mobsters' faces when he'd given them a good reason to let him leave without any more trouble just an hour before - and goading this bloke into contesting his words now just for the fun of it.

But it was his friend who John couldn't place who went for the challenge. “What the fuck,” he said. “Who the fuck do you think you are? The bloke from bloody Hell Trips?”

“Hell Trips?” John asked with an amused half-smile. “Been there, done that, mate.” Not something he was all that proud of, but he had the scars to show for it and he wasn't being cowed by a pathetic little shit in a pub who didn't know the next thing about the life he led – not, when he was telling the truth for a change. Not that he cared, really.

Chas was wrinkling his brow.

“Didn't you also claim that this band you hung out with back in the day fell apart because of some occultism shit?” Whatever-the-fuck-his-name-was was demanding from Chas. “Sounds like the two of you watch way too much telly. Bloody wankers, the lot of you,” he said with finality, took up his pint and went to look for another table.

His friend gave John a remotely interested once over. “If you're making up stories they should at least be original.”

John nearly chocked on his drink before laughing. He'd not yet been accused of being an unimaginative liar, not by people who knew him. “Just a right old player, that's me, mate,” he said. “All fun and games. No harm done.”

“Good story though,” the bloke said before getting to his feet to join his friend. “Maybe you should try writing for that Hell Trips thing.”

“What the bloody fuck is Hell Trips?” John asked, having had quite enough of this accusing tone and the insinuation that he was apparently a rip-off. He knew he wasn't the only person in history who had walked away from a little disagreement with the higher ups in hell and lived to tell the tale, but it also wasn't like many people could claim to have been so lucky – and certainly not lucky enough to turn it into a new sort of tourism agency, name it Hell Trips and make money off it. If that were a viable business plan he'd thought of it a long time ago.

The guy snorted. “As if you don't know,” he said and turned away.

John looked after him with a frown.

“You don't watch much telly, do you? American TV series. It's all the rage with the kids,” Andy told him.

“Yeah,” Chas suddenly said and looked like he had just realized something. “Geraldine loves it. It's about this chain-smoking ponce who is a supernatural detective or something.”

“Chain-smoking ponce?” John asked, staring at the Silk Cut between his fingers and taking a long drag, blowing out the smoke through his nostrils with relish. He was about to laugh and then immediately forget all about this bloody thing, when the frown on Chas' face deepened.

“He's called Johnny Ravenscar,” he said.

John nearly chocked on the lung-full of smoke at the familiar name – the name of the hated loony bin he'd been shipped off to after Newcastle -, coughed until he could speak again and muttered: “That's subtle. ” Ravenscar sounded like one of those poncy Gothic names that people who were into horror and fantasy would go for. It was just a bloody coincidence, of course. Not that he ever trusted in coincidences.

“It's why I remember the name,” Chas mumbled as way of apology.

“And doesn't he have this pretentious nickname?” Andy asked, apparently warming to the topic of this crappy series now, too drunk already to notice that the rest of them were ready to move on. “What was it now?” He pulled all the still working parts of his brain together, comically staring at thin air as he tried to remember.

John took a final drag of his pint, suddenly ready to leave the cozy warmth and cheery atmosphere of the pub behind and get back on the streets; maybe head home – or head wherever lady luck and bastard magic would lead him from there.

Coincidence, he thought again, well aware of the fact that he spent most of his life riding the synchronicity highway and coming through – not only because of sheer dumb luck, but also because of his connection to magic.

Andy clicked his fingers in a sudden outburst of energy. “I know it. Laughing magician. They call him the laughing magician.”

John could feel the side of his mouth raise itself into a half smile, staring at Andy like the bringer of bad news.

There was no such thing as true coincidence.

And didn't John Constantine bloody well know it?

* * *

Chas brought around the tapes. John didn't ask questions about where he'd managed to get them this fast. He suspected it had its perks to have a teenager at home sometimes.

“What's wrong with the place?” Chas asked, wrinkling his nose.

John looked over his living space with half an eye, not really paying much attention. He wanted to get down to the heart of this and preferably fast.

“I can see the sofa,” Chas said with a grin. “Did you do some housecleaning?”

He rolled his eyes. The second time he'd run away from home to come to London he'd ended up living with Chas and his crazy mother Queenie – and since then Chas had been a witness to what John called his own brand of order which was closer to chaos. “Before I left for New York, I did.”

“That was two weeks ago.”

“Think so,” he said with a grin. “Haven't been here much since.”

“That explains that then.”

The old TV was rarely used. He wasn't much for watching telly these days. But he was tense as Chas put on the first episode of Hell Trips. Coincidences had a way of coming back and biting you in the arse and he sure could do without that.

They drank bear and sat through an excruciatingly bad opening sequence. There was a lot of thrown in random symbolism that made John roll his eyes and brace himself: Skulls and ravens, fire and demonic writings, blood and a black cross. Whoever had patched this together had no idea about magic, surely. It was all pop culture references and going through the motions.

John was waiting to see some hidden message, to hear a forbidden whisper, some demon from hell beckoning him on and revealing itself. This whole show might be someone trying to get in contact with him; it might be an evil power corrupting innocents in his name; hidden magic broadcasted to millions and drawing them into some evil scheme.

Nothing much happened though, and John relaxed against the cushions, losing interest fast. “That's rubbish,” he said, not sure Chas was even listening. “What's the little girl all about?”

“Think she's going to be his partner.”

“God,” he said and his head fell back against the backrest. “Kill me. This is just terrible TV, isn't it?”

“Told you.”

John Ravenscar turned out to be played by an attractive, dark haired actor, wearing a long black trench coat. He did wear a white shirt and dark suit and a loosened tie. John looked down at himself and grinned humourlessly. He looked rumpled and real, where Ravenscar looked proper and slick and like he knew what he was doing.

He smoked, making a show of it.

He carried around cards reading: “John Ravenscar. Exorcist. Sorcerer. Demon Hunter.”

John scoffed. “Nice that. I should totally make some of them, see how fast they get me back to the actual Ravenscar in a straight jacket. Giving out me fucking name and address...”

Chas didn't chuckle or smile. He looked as bored as John felt. Maybe television monsters weren't all that exciting any more when you had seen the real thing too often. “Easier ways to scam people.”

“Right,” John agreed. Ways that wouldn't lead them right back to your doorstep.

John fell asleep while a demon slaughtered a family, grandiosely explaining to the world how this was only the beginning of his evil schemes. Chas woke him with a kick to the shin some minutes later. “If I watch this shit, you sure as hell will too.”

“Thanks, mate,” John mumbled.

Johnny Ravenscar saved the girl from dark spirits, discovering along the way that she had some light magic around her. And that was where it all went off to a good start: Johnny Ravenscar took her on as apprentice.

John Constantine nearly choked on his own laughter. Chas looked at him with a frown until John finally got air back into his lungs and started laughing like a maniac, toppling over and laughing into the crook of his arm. It only took a scene with the bugger instructing the kid to stay close to him where she would be safe to send Chas into a bout of laughter, too.

It was simply hilarious to imagine that they'd been ready to believe someone was mimicking John Constantine there.

“If he doesn't shag her by the next episode this whole thing stinks,” John declared, between laughs.

They couldn't stop laughing for a while after that; John was even laughing so hard that his sides hurt, tears streaming down his face by the end of it, because, of course, there was a very important rule apparently for teachers not to sleep with their apprentices or you called down dark powers or some such.

“They should have told that to my teachers,” John muttered, still chuckling. He had very fond memories of Frank and Harriet who'd given him his first taste of how much power lay in tantric sex magic. And, damn, he was good at that stuff now, even though it wasn't the only thing he'd learned from lovers and one night stands over the years.

But no sex for teacher and student, apparently. Not on TV. He laughed again and this time nearly ended up falling to the floor.

It wasn't even that the whole thing was actually that hilarious. It was just a stupid telly show for teenagers who wanted to dream about witches and magic with just a little pinch of horror.

John was close to just calling it quits. But then there was something, the mildest possible allusion to years spent in a loony bin “that gave me my name” that made him stare hard at the screen and watch on. Ravenscar certainly hadn't given him his name, but it had left a mark; all parts of the Newcastle story that had shaped him from the cocky and irresponsible boy practitioner into the depressive oaf who knew too much and couldn't stop now.

There was another funny moment when Ravenscar proclaimed how magic had been what saved him from a bleak childhood in a loveless northern home, but it was already hitting too close. John knew that magic was as much his curse as it had been his salvation, that even before he'd known it he'd followed the Constantine curse into a life that he sometimes craved more than anything and sometimes wished he could just leave behind.

In episode three things turned decidedly less funny. He knew the demon, knew the story. Names were changed, the way John Ravenscar saved his sorry hide was stupid, the spells were all made up phrases and gibberish, school boy Latin and rituals that showed zero magical understanding, but the demon, the story – it was simply too similar to something he'd lived through to be comfortable.

He thought about looking up the people who'd been involved back then. There had been that hippie bird who'd found the cursed clock in the first place. Maybe she had talked about it?

By episode four his face had become an unhappy mask.

Even Chas suddenly looked gloomy.

There was no denying it anymore.

This was Newcastle.

Somebody had taken the bits and pieces of information that were always floating around about it and had turned them into entertainment for the masses.

Just, Astra was a little girl called Rose, pure and innocent of heart, who had certainly not called down her doom herself. And Johnny Ravenscar was trying his best to save her, because no price was too high to pay to save the innocent. It was all proper fairytale and knight in shining armour stuff, even though the tone was dark and the outcome would certainly be grim.

In the end the little girl died, but her soul went to heaven. Bloody, fucking hallelujah.

Of course.

John threw a bottle right at the television, watching the shards fly this way and that with satisfaction.

“Bullshit,” he said out loud.

There was no such thing as true coincidence and he'd been an idiot to believe otherwise even for a minute. If there was one thing that John Constantine was good at, that it seemed John Ravenscar hadn't mastered yet, it was fooling himself. But that had to end here and now.

“How many episodes of this shit are there?” he asked.

“About ten so far,” Chas told him and he had apparently sobered up too. They both knew that this could not be explained away by coincidence any more. Someone had turned John's sorry life into a TV hit – and now it was just a question of why and what for. “Is this bad, John?” Chas asked.

“Don't know. Bugger it all to hell, I really don't know. Fuck.” He touched a hand to his face and thought about it. “Shit.”

“If it's bad, I'm going to leave you to it,” Chas said tartly and folded his arms in front of his chest. “I've seen things with you that drive people raving mad, but I'm not sure I want to know what lunacy has led someone to turn your life into that.” He pointed at the screen, where the episode was still running, the picture now blurred by the beer that was still coating the glass.

“You and me both, mate.”

* * *

John Constantine was not an unknown.

Move in the right circles and everybody knew his name. People knew things about him, knew some of his exploits. Only very few knew the whole extent of his messed up adventures. But people knew rumours, knew about him. In the occult circles he moved in that was as good as real currency sometimes. It tended to suck when somebody had a grudge against you, but most of the time it came in handy. It made people think of you as some sort of adept, even when the real events had been more con than magic.

And John knew all about playing people, knew how to make the best of all of it when he needed too.

He wasn't the most popular occultist meddler in London, but he'd made a name for himself.

There had even been desperate kids who wanted to follow in his actual footsteps, who hadn't yet learned that with magic all of them had to carve out their place in the world of light and darkness for themselves. Every idiot could do magic with the right ingredients and words, but there were things that just came easier to those with a certain affinity for it. Every art had an element of craft and with dedication you could learn it. But craft didn't necessarily make you an artist.

John knew all about that.

He'd never had the patience or even inclination to become an adept, even when he'd craved more power. He knew his own talents and limits, knew that his ability to manipulate and deceive people when he needed to was fuelled by magic just like his devilish luck at the gambling table, but just getting by was more than enough for him.

But, yeah, at the end of the day it was obvious that he had made a name for himself and people who knew or those who didn't know him believed a whole set of contradictory things about John Constantine, depending on where they had learned of him or what pleasant first hand experience they'd made.

There was a reason he used a particularly nifty spell every few years to cover his bases and wipe his records mostly clean. He'd been involved in too much shit over the years not to.

And here he was now sitting naked on the floor of his bedroom, cross-legged and trying to push all the questions aside so his mind could really focus. It was a simple charm to find any malicious influence surrounding him. Simple enough and just a first step to make sure all hell wouldn't break loose before he was ready for it.

If he went down, he at least wanted to see it coming.

He took a deep breath and started his incantation, smearing his skin with ink and runic signs.

This better be bloody worth it, he thought.

* * *

“Rise and shine, John. Rise and shine,” Chas said loudly. “Not everybody needs to know that when it comes down to it you're just another miserable bastard.”

“Brilliant. Thanks, Chas. That's helping tremendously,” John spat.

“Shouldn't have slept on the floor.”

“I was doing a spell.”

“Of course,” Chas said in his best accomodating-the-insane-voice and set a cup of tea down right beside John's head onto the cold floor of his bedroom. “Found out something?”

“There is quite a bit of evil out there aimed right at me.”

“You knew that already.”

“Yes.” He finally found it in himself to move and try to at least get into a sitting position.

“So no clue about what brought on the Happy Adventures of Johnny Ravenscar?”

“No. Nothing malicious I suppose.” It was probably time to pick himself up from the floor and get dressed. Chas had seen him starkers often enough to not mind, but his limbs were uncomfortably cool and the last thing he needed now was to catch a cold.

“Here,” Chas said and dropped a magazine on his best parts. “Pays to have a teenager at home,” he added and vanished back into the living room.

John picked it up.

There was a picture of the dark haired actor who was playing Ravenscar on the front page. And apparently there was a whole feature about the show in there. “I don't fucking believe it.”

* * *

There will be a super exciting episode coming up. This much I can promise! Johnny will meet a moss monster that isn't what it seems!” Arthur Davies tells me his eyes twinkling with mirth. “A moss monster. The costume will be awesome. There has been some criticism of the special effects and costumes in earlier episodes, but everyone on the team now wants to step up their game. And this is gonna be good.”

John stopped reading for a moment to press a hand to his eyes. Hard. “Moss monster. I'm sure Holland will love that. Although I don't think he has a telly in his muddy home,” he muttered to himself glaring at his own broken television set. “Lucky me.”

He skipped the next paragraph, not sure he could take more waxing on about all the details that went into the demon designs or all the thorough research that had supposedly been done on magic and spells.

“So where do you get your ideas from, really? Why did you choose an anti-hero like Johnny Ravenscar.”

“Anti-hero,” John said under his breath. “You con a few people and suddenly the bloke next door isn't good enough to be a hero any more even when he saves humanity from being swallowed up by hell, ey?”

“He's very dear to me, that character. I've been thinking about him for a long time. Truth be told, he's based on a story I once heard, about this guy supposedly mixed up in all kinds of dark stuff like this. I had this friend who was very into the supernatural, ghosts and tarot cards and coven meetings at the witching hour. She told me a lot of stuff about legends and the urban myths of today's occult scene. Crazy stuff. One day she told me about a man who people thought had gone to hell and come back alive - and well apparently without selling his soul. He became a kind of celebrity with some of these folks. A legend. A myth.”

“So you're saying there really is a John Ravenscar?”

“Well, yeah, you can see him on TV every Friday.” He laughs. “No, just an urban legend. People assign all kinds of things to this one guy and as they are telling it to each other it gets more and more outrageous. And I looked into this whole thing, asked around, wrote down some of the weird stories and found that to some of it there were some facts and some were just completely made up, but I became more and more enamoured by the idea of this weird streetwise wizard, who doesn't need a wand to banish demons. That's where John started. That's where I started. I was really fascinated and thought, hey, if someone like that existed, you'd want to meet him, right?”

“I'll make sure you will, mate. I'll make sure you will.”

There was no coincidence, only synchronicity.

And John Constantine was the king of synchronicity if he put his mind to it. This guy wanted to meet an urban legend? He bloody well could arrange that for him.

* * *

When Arthur Davies came back to his apartment that night it was darker in the hallway than usual. Apparently the light directly above his apartment door had stopped working sometime during the day and knowing this place he expected it would take some time for someone to come around and fix it. You'd think things would be moving faster in an expensive place like this.

He had the strange sense that somebody was watching him when he stepped into the hallway and the elevator doors closed behind him. But when he looked around nobody was there. So he fished his keys out of his coat pocket and made his way down the hallway. At least the lamp at the other side of the hallway was still shedding enough light for him to see his way around well enough.

So when he reached his door he was already thinking about a hot shower and maybe another writing session after, the tranquillity and quiet of home after a busy day. But the key didn't just slip into the lock as it usually did and only went half in the second time, blocking as if he had the wrong door. He stared at his hand, not sure if he had slipped or maybe tried with the wrong key. But it was the key to his apartment alright, but even when he tried again it still wouldn't fit. In a sudden panic he stared at the door, the door bell and then the hallway. No, he wasn't going crazy, he was at the right apartment, the right floor. This key had to fit into the look. The strangest ideas flew through his mind about reasons why someone would have exchanged the lock in his absence, about the pranks someone might be playing on him...

Then he looked more closely and there was something on the floor, a mark, a sign? Another mark on the door, beneath the lock. Apparently he was going crazy as he thought this looked like some spell marking, like the signs and symbols they were using on the set of Hell Trips... Somebody was playing a trick on him... He was about to bend down to look at it more closely, his mind racing and immediately telling him that this was indeed a marking made by man, not just dirt or a smudge of oil.

Then the lamp at the end of the hallway started flickering – and went dark, taking away all the light that had remained.

“What the... What is going on here?!” he nearly shrieked in the darkness and dropped his keys. He wasn't afraid of the dark, of course, but this was another inconvenience he didn't need right now. Something was wrong with his lock... He started fumbling in his pocket for his mobile phone. He could use it as a makeshift flash light, maybe. Perhaps he should call someone. Maintenance. Someone.

A sound from the end of the hallway drew his attention and he froze. But now that he had stopped moving, the hallway was eerily silent again and it was too dark to make out anything at all.

As soon as he started moving there was the sound again and he stopped. “Hello?” he asked into the darkness sheepishly. He was not some scared child, was he? No need to get jumpy.

Too much work with made up witches and demons, he chided himself. He loved writing for his show. Hell Trips was his baby and he loved how it was coming alive more and more with every new story, every new episode. He loved how Gareth had brought alive his Johnny Ravenscar on screen. But right about now he wished he had something other than his anti-social demon hunter on the mind.

It would do him no good to let his imagination run away with him.

He needed to focus and find a way to open his door.

Shuffling steps in the darkness.

“Hello?” he asked again, bending down while he tried to find his key on the floor. His hands were shaking. More steps. And these were real steps. Another person was here and not talking, not answering him. His lock, his key, the darkness... It was scaring him now.

He fumbled around and the startlinb clinking of the keys was loud enough to hurt. His heart racing and his hands shaking he pulled himself up to try and get the key in the lock again.

Steps coming closer and the key wouldn't fit still... He felt nauseous.

A clicking sound.

A lighter. Fire. A flicker in the blackness.

He could see someone lighting a cigarette, just steps away now – could smell the tobacco in the air and froze again, staring at the barely visible outline of a face.

What kind of sick criminal would...?

“Something wrong, mate?” a gravely male voice asked.

He nearly fell over backwards, trying to scramble away.

Suddenly the lights went on. A pale haired, badly shaved, but handsome man with a roguish smile was standing before him, wearing a rumpled tan trench coat, his hand on the light switch and taking a deep drag of his cigarette. “You smoke?” he asked. “You look like you could use a fag. Or maybe a drink. Stiff one.”

Arthur knew he was gaping. His heart was still racing, although his brain was already catching up, realizing that the danger was past now. He wasn't about to be murdered by a stranger who was smiling at him in visible amusement.

But with another spike of irrational fear he realized that there was no way the lights could just have gone on again like that, because they shouldn't be working, hadn't been working when he had pressed the light switch. Something just didn't add up here and then his eyes fell on the stranger's hand that was resting against the light switch. There on the back of the hand was a circle, painted in red and adorned with signs and symbols Arthur had never seen before.

The stranger's smile changed immediately, but it didn't exactly turn dangerous – satisfied maybe, mocking. “Handy that,” he said, looking at the back of his own hand and then waving it around. “Learned that one in India. Good times. Helps with all kinds of spells of power. Let it be light and all that.”

He took another drag of his cigarette and Arthur just stared like he was seeing a ghost. His heart was still beating loudly in his chest and a knot was forming in his throat making it hard to speak. “You... You are...” His voice was so faint that he had trouble believing it was his own.

The man smiled brightly at him, handsome and amiable. But his blue eyes had narrowed and there was a dangerous glint to the blue now. There was no mistaking that this man was ready to play dirty if he thought it would serve him better. “John Constantine,” he said with a mocking nod.

“But, you... You are... I mean, you're just a...”

“John Constantine,” he repeated, letting ash fall onto the pristine hallway floor. “But you knew that already, Arthur. I can call you Arthur, right, mate? After all it's like we already know each other so well,” he said, his voice carrying a slight note of warning now.

“Oh god, I... This is a joke, right? Did Gareth put you up to this?”

John's face turned into a blank mask suddenly, his blue eyes boring into his. His whole mind was screaming at him to get away now, to hide, to run. This man was dangerous, maybe not magic, but if he was who he said he was – hadn't he been in that crazy place, Ravenscar, for a reason? “Gareth is the ponce who is playing the character who is based on... who exactly?” John asked with an even clearer warning in his voice. “Think long and hard about all the things people told you about John Constantine, Arthur. And then think again. Do you think I'd take something like this lightly?”

He knew he paled visibly.

Immediately John's face relaxed into a friendly smile again, looking him over like prey. “Right. We both know the answer to that. Good. Makes this much easier.”

With one step he was in Arthur's space, taking the key out of his hands, pushing him to the side to get to the door. He muttered something under his breath, it sounded foreign, old, sounds and words maybe, but he was too flabbergasted to ask. A hissing sound answered John's words and Arthur could smell something burnt, smoke rising from a spot beneath the lock and on the floor, rising up and vanishing into thin air – right from the spots where previously he'd thought he'd seen markings and where now nothing was left behind, whatever he had seen gone before he'd ever gotten a good look at it.

Looking at him over one shoulder with a lopsided grin, John simply slipped the key into the lock and opened the door to his apartment as if nothing had ever been wrong with it. “Let's have a talk now, huh?” he said and stepped half inside the door gesturing for Arthur to step inside, like he was inviting him into his own home, the cigarette still dangling from his lips. “Nice flat,” he remarked offhandedly as Arthur walked past him like someone was pulling his strings, his mind not processing yet what was happening.

Tricks and smoke and... no, no. Tricks and a potentially dangerous man in his flat.

He should be scared, but he wasn't any more. Too overwhelmed to be scared.

“I hope you have something stronger than tea around. I reckon you'll need it.”

He looked up to meet John's eyes, the gravely voice drawing him in.

“Be glad that it's me barging in on you and not the... what did you call him? Moss monster? I'll have too remember that. Sure he'd hate it. Not a barrel of laughs, that one. Not someone you want to piss off if you don't know him. You'll never stop watching your back around house-plants - " and here h nodded at the ficus in the corner - “or lawns. Think about being afraid of every weed, every blade of grass in the neighbourhood?” He clapped his hands. “Good for you it's only silly old me – and I'm ready to talk things out. In fact it's a bit baffling that you wouldn't come right to the source if you were in need of... information.”

John Constantine grinned.

Arthur swallowed.

He loved his anti-hero Johnny Ravenscar, dark-haired and good-looking and always sure of himself, but watching the actual John Constantine move around his flat like he owned the place was like a dream, surreal and scary. Like one of the bad trips he'd had when he'd been young and stupid. Maybe this was all a dream.

But there just was something about this man that gave this an edge that made it feel real. The charismatic smile and the intelligent glimmer in the blue eyes?

Arthur knew he was in trouble.

Because he loved Johnny Ravenscar, but he knew he'd never consider to make a deal with someone like that in real life.

John seemed to be aware of that fact, too. His grin widened. “Let's talk then, ey?”

* * *

“Watched Hell Trips lately?” Chas asked as he picked up John at the airport, waving away a pair of tourists who would probably make the better customers.

“Nah,” John said and grinned. “I'm glad for every day that I can keep my sorry arse out of hell as it is, thank you.”

“Good luck with that then. You're chipper. Had a good trip then?” Chas remarked as John practically bounced into the seat beside him, and he took the taxi back into traffic instantly. “Where to?”

“Pub?” John asked back. “I'll pay.”

“Right you will.”

“I'll even pay you for the ride, Chas me mate.”

Chas watched him critically in the rear-view mirror, too used to John's usual practice of calling in favours. “Did you find a bookie who didn't know your name again, John?”

“Better, Chas. Much, much better. Someone who knew exactly who I am,” he sing-songed.

“I don't want to know.”

John threw his head back and laughed. “You already do, don't you?”

“I don't want to know,” he repeated. “But you will pay for the ride this time.”

“I said I would. Get off me back, will you? Believe me, right about now that Hell Trips wanker wishes he'd thought about making a show about a little London boy with glasses who is also the most powerful magician of them all. I'm sure that would have been cheaper for him.”

“Stupid idea,” Chas said, rolling his eyes.

“I'm sure Timothy would agree,” John said lightly and laughed.

Chas shook his head and very determinedly did not ask any further questions.

John chuckled some more, staring out into the rainy night, stretching a little and then slouching. He sighed.

All in a days work. There really was no such thing as true coincidence. There only was synchronicity giving you hints. And if you knew where to look for the opportunities it presented you, you could even get lucky.

Very lucky indeed.

He could go back to being a miserable bastard tomorrow.