Prelude



Eighteen years ago... 





John Constantine, uncle. 

That, to John, sounded about as right as The Best of The Sex
Pistols, as performed by the London Symphony Orchestra.

The stupid balloons and the teddy bear he was carrying were
also, he thought, painfully out of place.  But then again,
what else do you bring to your newborn niece?

"Feel like a bloody idiot," he grumbled. 

John hated kids.  Nothing but small noisemakers that wreck
the neighborhood and grow up to wonder what you did to mess
up the planet.

The slight hangover he had wasn't helping either.  A subtle,
but nagging headache loomed in his skull. 

Oh well. 

With a deep breath, he rang the doorbell.  A moment later, a
young woman with short blond hair answered the door. 

"John?" she asked, looking at him with some surprise. 

He smiled crookedly.  "Hi, Cheryl.  Long time no see." 

Her face immediately darkened.  "John Constantine, of all
the nerve!  Where have you BEEN for the last few years?  Do
you have ANY idea how much I've been worrying?!" 

Great.  He set sis off on 'mother hen' mode.  It was only
natural, he knew, since she helped raise him when their
mother died, but still... 

"Aw, Cheryl, c'mon-" 

"You don't call, you don't write, for all I know you were
dead!" 

"Jesus, Cheryl, I'm sorry!  Okay?" 

Her frown turned into a smile suddenly as she caught him by
surprise and gave him a hug.  "Don't do it again, you stupid
little bastard." 

"Okay sis, I won't," assured John, returning the hug,
greatly relieved that the pestering mode was over.  "Now... 
where's the little tyke?" 

"C'mon, this way," she said as she lead him into the
modestly small house.  "Really, though.  It's been two
months since she was born.  Where've you been?" 

"Oh, here'n there," said John. 

They came to a room painted in pristine white, highlighted
in pink.  Lots of frilly... stuff... just lots of frilly
stuff dominated the room. 

And in a little white crib, sleeping soundly, was the sprog. 
It had little pink fingers, an' little pink toes, and a cute
little nose, and a cute little tuft of hair atop her head. 

John looked at it with much fear.  Demons, he could handle. 
Babies were entirely a mystery. "Hallo there, kid. Oi,
Cheryl, what's her name?" 

"Gemma.  You like it?" 

"Gemma, eh?"  He shrugged.  "Not bad." 

"Well, I'll just put these balloons and the teddy bear over
here," he said, stepping away from the crib as quickly as
possible. 

A slight hissing sound came from the doorway. 

"Oh shite, the stove!" cried Cheryl.  "I'll be right back!" 

She left the room quickly, leaving John alone with Gemma. 
Having nothing better to do, he hovered at the crib's edge
and peered down at Gemma curiously. 

And then she opened her eyes. 

And for a moment, they stared at each other. 

*WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH*

"Oh shit!  CHERYL!  CHERYL!" 

"Hold on, John!" yelled Cheryl from the kitchen. 

*WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH*

"Cheryl, she's havin' the mother of all hissy fits here!" 

"What did you do to her?!" 

*WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH*

"It's not my fault!" yelled John.  "I swear!" 

"Hold on a moment!  I'm almost done!" 

*WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH*

Well, thought John, that wasn't fast enough.  With the
crying driving him mad and making his headache even worse,
he had a few options. 

Option one was to get the hell out, a reasonable idea. 
Except that Cheryl might kill him for leaving the baby
alone. 

Option two was to try to quiet the kid by himself. 

He took one of her small hands in his and wiggled it. 
"Heyheyheyhey, wossamatter, eh?"

*WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH*

"Shh, c'mon, mum's on her way, at's a good girl...." 

*WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH*

"Bugger." 

His mind raced through a few things he'd heard of about
babies.  It had either shat, pissed, or it was hungry.  In
those cases, nothing he'd do would help.  Though sometimes
they just liked to be carried, right? 

Hmm... 

"Heeey, easy now, shh, c'mon, come t'uncle John."  He lifted
her slowly, carefully, then cradled her in his arms.  She
squirmed about for a moment more, then began to settle down. 
Her cries settled down until they were just gurgles and
coos. 

"There, issat what ya wanted?" 

The child's eyes looked blindly around the room, then
settled on his again. 

He braced himself for the worst. 

And she smiled. 

There were very few moments in which cynical, hard-boiled,
don't-take-shit John Constantine was ever filled with
wonder. 

This was one of them. 

He saw hope, promise, infinite possibilities, innocence
unspoiled, a million things he thought was gone from the
earth, all in her eyes. 

For a moment, he forgot he was a mage, and thought of
himself as an uncle.  Silently he swore that he'd protect
her, no matter what. 

And then she spat up on his arm. 

"Ewwww, jeez!  CHERYYYYYYYYYYL!" 


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