A/N - All characters herein are the property of other people. Mainly Warner Brothers/DC Comics, with a side order of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy.
Stop me if you've heard this one...
An Englishman, an Irishman and an American are in a bar...
Well, there are two Englishmen, actually, and one of them is dead. He comes sauntering unsteadily back to where we are slumped, trying to open a packet of cigarettes...
I need to go back a bit, about, oh, several hours and a few bottles ago.
I had driven my girlfriend to the airport, and now she was gone. Gone, probably for good. Why would she ever want to come back to me? So I had gotten in my car, and driven until I ran out of gas. Then I'd walked into the first bar, intent on getting dead drunk. Or possibly just dead. It was that kind of bar. A thin man in trenchcoat was thumping the jukebox and swearing at it until it started playing something maudlin and Celtic.
“Turn that fuckin' shite off!” A bottle went past my face, hit the wall by the jukebox.
“Fuck off yourself, you bleached wanker.”
Another man, in a leather coat, is sitting at the bar. Both are blond, one naturally so. Both are smoking. Both are as hammered as I intend to be. I march up to the bar.
“Whisky. Neat. Leave the bottle.”
“Who the hell are you?”
“Someone with more money than God, so fuck off.” I'm in no mood to be pleasant. In fact, I could do with a fight. The trenchcoat guy grins.
“I'm John, this is William.”
“You plannin' on getting bolloxed?” The other enquires, affably. “Pissed. Drunk.”
I do not want to discuss this, merely tip the bottle up. They both look at each other.
“Woman.” Says the one. “Usually is. Welcome to the sad bastards club, Alex.”
Quite a lot of time passes. We finish the whisky, move onto tequila.
“People think I'm the son of the devil.”
John squint at me.
“Nah. Met him. Eyes are wrong.”
“I hate my father.”
“Mine's in hell.”
“I killed mine.” We both look at William. He shrugs.
“...So, my mate Ripper only goes and falls off his bloody bike, breaks his leg. So yours truly has to come over and sort out the whole fuckin' mess.”
“Bleedin' hero.” William squints at the empty bottle. We are the only people in the bar now. John had said – something – to the barman, who had just left us alone. I wanted to learn that trick.
William's face morphs into something dreadful: I'm so drunk that I just stare at him.
“God, you're ugly.”
“Well, I wouldn't fuck you
with John's dick.” He stands up, lurches. “Dead man walking...hehe..dead man falling over...whoops.” He bounces off the bar, slithers down the wall.
“...she was so damn beautiful, like...a flower. And she loved me.”
“...s'like that film, you know, 'I see dead people'.” John flails his arms. “Fuck off, the lot of you!”
“S'not my fault I killed people. 'M a fuckin' monster...”
Three parallel conversations, all of us in our private hells. It seems like a good idea when I say,
“You guys want to go to Vegas?”
The hotel room looks exactly like three guys on a weekend bender have been partying hard in it. It smells like it, too. I stumble into the bathroom. There's a body in the bath.
“Don' like bath-tubs – spent a week chained up in one...” It opens an eye. “Fuck.”
“It's okay for you – you're already dead. I just wish I was.” I stick my head under the cold tap. I'm starting to sober up, and that isn't good. I'll start remembering things. Start feeling. We've already drunk the mini-bar. Twice. “Where's John?”
“He was leching on that bird in the fishnets.” William tries to snigger, turns even more pale. “Ooo, why do I feel like shit?”
“Because you insisted on eating all the worms in the tequila bottles?”
I wish I hadn't said that.
I am in Las Vegas with a Mage and a vampire.
My best friend is a flying alien. I should disbelieve these guys?
William – Spike- looks my age, but is quite a bit older. He's the one without a heartbeat. He is in love with a girl who recently rose from the dead and has a calling to fight evil. She dumped him. William would be evil, but he has a chip in his head, a 'fucking Jiminy Cricket EMP'. Nicely complicated for him.
John is older, English, and snarky as all hell. Which is a place he is familiar with. He appears to have an even more fucked-up relationship with his family than I do with mine. Most of his girlfriends are dead, or married to other people. Most of his friends appear to be dead, too. Some of them follow him around. One of his (still-breathing) friends is some kind of teacher to William's girl. John got cured of lung cancer by an infusion of demon's blood, and has sold his soul so many times, there's a bidding war going on.
Then there's me. I'm one of the richest men in the state, if not the country. I was sired by a man who thinks that Machiavelli is an acceptable role model, and that, as John says, 'ethics is a place in England'. My best friend fell to earth in a meteor shower, the residual effects of which crop up as often homicidal mutations in our hometown. My girlfriend just left me to go travelling, and I don't think she'll come back. I'm the normal one.
To go back a bit...
I woke up in pain sometime yesterday. Part of the pounding in my head was an engine.
Piece it together, Lex. You left the airport, drove. A bar. Remember the bar. Right. And two guys. You were drinking with them. Bits of the conversation filter through. Something about demons? You have not been kidnapped or tortured. You are going to Vegas. A pale hand reaches over from somewhere, and I smell spirits. I focus on an angular face. If I look that bad...
“Hair of the bleedin' dog, mate.” He says. William. Spike. That means John is driving. Driving what? This is not my car.
Right. My car is hooked to the back of the...RV with the blacked out windows. I remember watching Spike lift it onto the towbar. Sometimes, I think I'm the only guy I know who can't benchpress a truck.
I'm glad it's dark. I take the drink. If I don't, I'm going to start remembering, and I'm aiming for long-term memory loss.
“So, Vegas. Where are we going to sleep?” Spike is eyeing the horizon with caution.
“I've got it covered.”
Las Vegas. Very loud, very bright. I always keep a suite at the Lexor – used to fly out here regularly in my student days with whatever pack of drunken frat boys and sorority girls were pretending to be my friends that week. I can find my way around blindfold – or blind drunk.
The drive here was fairly uneventful. I wasn't conscious for a lot of it. I do remember John hexing a patrolman. Spike now has the man's gun, which he's been shooting road signs with.
“You're Lex Luthor? Fuck.” Spike grins. “I thought you'd be taller.”
“If I was any taller, you wouldn't fit into my spare tux.” He can't use a mirror, so I pull his bow-tie straight. John slouches on the couch.
“What are we doing here again?”
“I'm rich, I'm miserable and I need a distraction.”
Spike starts rummaging through the mini-bar, finds the vodka.
“C'mon, Johnno. It's a great idea, get pissed, chat up women, lose money at the tables.” He takes a slug. “S'not like it's your money.”
Dressed up, Spike looks a lot less homicidal. In fact he looks like the sort of rich frat boy buddy I used to hang out with. John looks morose, and refuses to lose the trenchcoat. He's marginally more sober than we are, since he was driving. This needs to be remedied. A glance at Spike, a nod, and we tackle him.
“Right, time to teach you little fuckers how to drink properly.”
John has realised that we are serious about adjusting his sobriety, and has complied.
We take the elevator down to the casino. I remember how to do this; rich, arrogant drunken bastards. Drink enough, sneer enough, and perhaps it will stop hurting...
Spike pauses in the act of drinking.
“Bugger. I know that bloke.”
I follow his gaze, see a narrow-faced dark man at a roulette table.
know him?” John narrows his eyes. “How?”
“He sold my father some...artwork of doubtful provenance a few years back.”
“What kind of artwork?”
“Some kind of ceremonial helmet.”
“And where is it now?”
“Somewhere in the Luthor vault. Why the twenty questions?”
“Because Ethan knows nearly as much as me about – stuff. You might want to get rid of it.”
John turns his head again.
“I'm getting a bad feeling about this. I thought someone had banged that wanker up a while ago....Where's that other bugger gone?”
Spike has sauntered up behind Ethan. He doesn't reflect in the mirrors, so the man doesn't see him until Spike says “'Ullo, mate” in his ear. Chips and alcohol go everywhere, as the man gives one wide-eyed glance and runs.
The vampire comes back, grinning, with his pockets stuffed with stolen chips.
“Where's a good table to lose these, then?”
Alcohol gives you a short attention span. Bored now. Don't want to watch the little ball anymore.
We check out the stage show. A female magician – top hat and tails and an endless pair of legs in fishnets.
“Zatanna. She's good.”
John claps me on the shoulder.
“Stick with me, kid. Watch how it's done.”
Normally, anyone calling me 'kid' would have been threatened into oblivion by now; there's something about Constantine that lets him get away with it. Probably the feeling that I couldn't threaten him with anything worse that someone else hasn't already tried.
He swaggers up to the stage, leers up as she takes a final bow. She doesn't seem quite as pleased to see John.
“Constantine. What the hell are you doing here?”
“Just a holiday.”
She looks past him. We wave, best innocent expressions on.
“Run along and play, children.” John makes urgent eyebrow motions at us.
Spike grins, makes a complicated gesture of fist and forearm. John flips him the bird.
We spend the time drinking the mini-bar and watching pay-per-view. Mostly Tarantino, and horror movies. We do quite well until 'Interview with a Vampire' comes on, and Spike shoots the tv.
This is the Luthor suite. I pay people not to worry about gunshots. We order another tv and a refill of the bar.
A John Hughes movie comes on. I shoot the tv.
“This is what she looks like.” A very dog-eared photo of a young blonde woman fumbled out of a pocket.
“Mine's blonde, too.” Slight co-ordination problem with my wallet. “There.”
We contemplate the pictures for a moment. Women with serious eyes and wide smiles.
“Her mum hit me with an axe first time we met.”
“I'm her father's boss.”
“You dirty bastard.” Spike laughs unsteadily. He touches the smiling face with his finger. “Can't forget her, you know.”
“I know.” I put the picture back in my wallet. Clark took it, first year of college. I'm leaning back against a railing, and Chloe is leaning back against me...thinking of her name was a bad idea. “I always knew she'd leave me. And I made her do it. Told her to go see the world.”
“I have to get through every night wondering what's trying to rip her head off.” He sits there, defeated. “And I can't do a damn thing but be there. She doesn't want me around.”
“I don't think she'll come back to me. She'll meet somebody...better.”
We sit for a minute, glum.
“Fuck this for a pair of miserable bastards.” Says Spike. “Where's the booze?”
And after that, I think we passed out.
Oh yeah, there was the whole pissing out of the window thing. I won.
So this morning, or whatever time it is, we're pale, sweaty and rather more sober than we would like. When John falls through the door, bow-tie loose round his neck and a stupid grin on his face, we pelt him with whatever is handy.
“Why the fuck did you shoot the telly? The AVN Awards are on.” John is the only one with an appetite. I'm trying not to watch him eat eggs. Spike's gone back to the bath with a suspiciously sloshy baggy.
“Seemed like a good idea at the time.”
“A lot of things do.” He squints at his watch. “Got a flight back to England in...bugger. Fuck, I'll never make it back to the airport in time.”
“Change your ticket.” I wave at the phone.
“What with?” His eyebrows rise when I toss over a credit card. “You're a trusting soul, aren't you?”
“I'm used to buying friends.” I say, snidely. He shakes his head, laughs.
“You're also a mad bastard. I like you. And it's not just your money. Don't you ever get freaked out by anything? You've got a bloke in your bathroom whose been technically dead for century – open the curtains and you'd be hoovering him off them. And I talk to demons and angels and dead people.”
“It takes quite a lot to freak me out. Anyway, normal people are boring.”
“Except your girl.” He's watching me rather too closely. “What the hell's going on there?”
“I'm trying to forget...can't you...?” I wave a hand vaguely.
“Never mix love and magic, kid.” His face goes very sad and still. “People die. Shit, now I'm depressed again.” He picks up the phone, and the card. “Right, how do I get an outside line on this?...'ello, luv, millionaire central here...”
I have a pool table set up in the suite to pass the time, and I'm hustling Spike out of his winnings when the door crashes open, and three large guys pile in. I have time to see Ethan Rayne lurking behind them before the one nearest me morphs into something even uglier than Spike.
I jab my pool cue at the guy's chest. I only mean to wind him, but when it connects, there's an impact, a howl and a cloud of dust.
“That was different.”
Spike, game face on, has just head-butted another one, got both hands on his jaw. There's a crack, another dust-buster moment, and we're down to one.
John is having the crap kicked out of him. He is the most hopelessly unco-ordinated fighter I've ever seen. I just whack the broken pool cue into his attacker's back – I'm getting quite blasé about this now. Spike advances on Ethan, who is backing into a corner, swings at him, and doubles up howling.
Ethan manages a credible smirk at the moaning vampire.
“William the Bloody. Still muzzled, I see. You can't hurt me.”
“I can.” I'm weighing up the pool cue. I give him my best smile – the one I picked up from my father. He twitches.
“Don't upset the kid.” says John, lighting a cigarette. “He's had a very bad week.”
Ethan tries to make a break for it. I hit him in the groin with the cue.
It turns out that he's escaped from somewhere, or something. Seeing Spike made him think Ripper was after him to take him back. Where or whoever he's running from, it's something Spike knows about, because he growls and changes face at the mention of it. John seems less than impressed.
“I told you that buggering about with Ripper would get your arse kicked.”
“Bunch of government wankers.” Spike.
“I don't want to go back.” He's nearly crying. “Don't send me back, John. It's worse than Ravenscar.”
That doesn't mean anything to me or Spike, but John goes very still.
“I have an idea.”
Ethan is sitting in a ritual circle, almost pitifully grateful not to be smacked about any more. John has promised to hide him where no-one can get him. Zatanna has joined us. She puts out her hands over Ethan's head. John joins her, nods.
“silef silef da omoh sutatummoc...”
Ethan's eyes go wide.
“You unbelievable bastaaooooww....” His eyes change colour, pupils lengthening as his voice rises in a yowl. A shimmer of air, and he shrinks in on himself. I can't be seeing this.
Zatanna reaches into the circle, picks up the black cat, which is putting back its ears and spitting at John. Spike is laughing his ass off.
“Oh, he's so cute.” The cat stops spitting, butts up under her chin as she cuddles it. John glares at it. “C'mon, sweetheart, we'll find you some food.”
“You're keeping him?” John sounds appalled.
“He's adorable. And he'll make a wonderful familiar.”
Ethan turns a smug green stare on John, and goes all boneless and purring.
“Guess you've been replaced.” I smirk at him.
Back where I started. At the airport. Saying goodbye.
Spike shrugs, flicks away his cigarette butt. He's put his leather duster back on over the tux, sitting in the RV, well out of the sunlight.
“Oh, well, back to the Hellmouth. Give Ripper a kick up the arse from me, eh? An' YOU – give her a chance. She'll come back. If she doesn't, hunt her down and tie her up. Works for me.”
He goes screeching out of the carpark. The wrong way through the one-way entrance, naturally.
John looks at the departures board, hitches his shoulder.
“Piece of advice, mate. If you love somebody, set them free.”
I look at him.
“Anybody ever told you, you look just like...”
“Fuck off.” He grins, sticks out a hand. “Listen, kid, you're the only one of us 100% human. Try and keep it that way.”
Airport carpark. My car. Someone is knocking on the window. Clark.
I sit up. I feel exactly like I've been drinking for three days. I look like I've been drinking for three days. I smell
I open the door hastily, take a deep breath.
He recoils, coughing.
“Lex...where the hell have you been?”
“Fighting demons in Las Vegas.”
“I don't think alcohol is the answer, Lex.” He helps me upright. “We've all been worried sick, you just disappeared.”
“No, really, I've...” I give up, try and focus. “How did you find me, then?”
“You do remember what I do for a living, don't you?” Looks me up and down. “You look like shit.”
“Feel like shit.” And what I've been trying to forget surges up over me. “She's gone, Clark.”
“I know.” Pulls me into a hug. “I'm going to miss her, too. Get in the damn car and come home.” He lets me go. “Actually, get cleaned up first, because you stink. Is that cigarette ash all over you?”
Later, driving home, I think I'll take John's advice. And if that doesn't work, maybe I'll take Spike's.