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Timothy Hunter stumbled down the dark dirty alley, the tattoo that the strange
woman had given him had finally stopped throbbing and had now settled down to a
mild stinging instead.

His father had quite predictably gone berserk when he had seen the huge
butterfly overlaid by a deadly looking scorpion on his twelve year old son's
chest. At first he had gaped at his son in pure disbelief, then had completely
lost his temper.

"Are you on drugs or something?" He had roared, and Timothy had laughed. He had
not meant to, in fact he had been as scared of facing his father as he had been
just after he had seen what the woman had done to him. But all the events of the
day had finally caught up with him and he just couldn't help it. He had simply
laughed. Just laughed, and that was when his father had grabbed him with his one
remaining arm and had thrown him against the wall.

Of course there was no way Timothy was going to stick around after that. Not
with his father roaring at him like a maddened bull elephant and tossing him
around the loungeroom. Doing the only thing he could think of, he scrambled to
his feet and ran for his life.

And now here was was, crouched in a filthy alley, cold hungry and miserable. And
just to add that final perfect touch, it had began to rain.

Cursing under his breath, Timothy pulled his jacket tighter around his slender
frame, not that it did much good keeping out the cold. Slowly he walked to the
other end of the alley, carefully skirting around piles of refuse, his hands and
feet already numb with the cold.

"Jesus, this is so fucked up." He muttered as he set one half frozen sneakered
foot in front of the other. "Maybe I could go back home, see if Dad's calmed
down yet." But even as the words left his mouth, he knew there was no way his
father would have calmed down by now. And he had to admit, this was all his
fault. Every bit of it. No, he amended mentally, this isn't my fault-it's all
the magic. Yeah, that was it. Every rotten stupid thing that had happened to him
was all due to the magic. Ever since those four mages had appeared that day to
explain the mysteries of the world and show him the paths of magic, nothing had
been the same. He was supposed to be the next Merlin. Yeah right, he thought
bitterly. Did Merlin ever have some weird babe in a shop tattoo a giant
butterfly and scorpion to his chest? Did Merlin's father ever lose his temper
with him and use him as a football? Did he ever trudged down alleys in the
pouring rain while his stomach growled and his hands and feet felt like they
were in another country?

Yeah, let's hear it for magic...hip hoo-fucking-ray.

And now here he was, wet, cold and all alone; and why, because he wanted to keep
Molly from harm.

With a sigh, Timothy shoved his hands deeper into the pockets of his light beige
jacket. Molly, the only person who he really cared about. Oh he loved his
mother, although she had died when he was only six, and his Dad of course,
although it was hard sometimes. His father had never been the same since the
accident that had killed the woman he loved and had taken his arm. He loved his
son, Timothy was sure of it, but Bill Hunter had decided to drown his sorrows in
beer and television. These day, he rarely moved from the battered old armchair,
unless it was to get another can of beer.

Still, as shabby as it was, it was still his home, and his father would be there
waiting for him. Timothy stopped, rain dripping off his dark hair and glasses.
Maybe...no, he would have to wait until his father had calmed down. Then maybe
he could explain everything.

"Yeah, and then you can tell him about the four men that had waylaid you that
day when you had been playing truant from school."

Suddenly Timothy's mind turned back to that day, that wonderful, terrible day
when he had been out on his skateboard. He remembered the tall blind man dressed
in white, a cane grasped in his hand. Mr E, the same lunatic that had tried to
kill him. He remembered the Phantom Stranger, clad all in black, his eyes
shining with a weird light, and Dr Occult and his female other, the sweet gentle
Rose. And John of course. John Constantine.

The memory John brought a sudden smile to Tim's lips. Out of all of them, he had
liked John the best. He had instantly warmed to the untidy blonde hair and
friendly blue eyes, the lingering smell of beer and endless cigarettes. Somehow,
John had seemed more...real than the others, more human. Tim had come to feel
closer to John than to even his own depressed, defeated father.

"John." Timothy whispered, his eyes widening. "That's it, I'll go see John,
he'll help me. After all, if anyone can, it will be him. He's fantastic, he can
do practically anything. He's smart and powerful. He once saved me and Zatanna
from all those demons and sorcerers. He'll be able to help me...I know it."

//And what do you think he'll have to say once he sees what you have on your
chest?// An insidious little voice sneered. //I'll tell you, once he sees that
you have a tattoo that's bigger than your whole fucking body, he'll go as
ballistic as your dear old daddy did.//

Timothy felt his insides go cold. But of course John would, after all, hadn't he
warned Tim against the dangers of magic?

"He'll go mental." Tim whispered. And the thought of having to face an angry
John Constantine was more than Tim could bear. No, going to John was not an
option. He would have to face this problem on his own.

So John was out, and the other three...Tim thought hard. The Stranger might be
able to help him, but how would Tim ever be able to find him? Magic was no
longer possible now that he had the tattoo, the maps as the strange woman had
called them made it virtually impossible. Every time Tim tried to create a
spell, the scorpion would sting him, the pain was unbearable and left Tim
feeling dizzy and weak afterward.

The same with Dr Occult, he would help, but how could Tim contact him without
the use of magic? It was impossible, and as for Mr E, the very thought of
summoning him made Tim go cold. It had been Mr E that had taken him to the end
of time in order to try and kill him. If it had not been for two of the Endless,
Death and her sibling Destiny, E would have succeeded.

Tim sighed heavily, the rain was coming down even harder, soaking him through to
the skin. His wet jeans were clinging to his legs and his battered old sneakers
were squelching now.

//I must look like a drowned rat.// The thought made him smile, then the smile
faded as his situation sunk in. Here he was, alone, wet, hungry, no money ad
nowhere to sleep tonight.

"Well done Tim." He said miserably. "Now you're bloody well set aren't you. Well
genius, what the fuck are you going to do now?"

"How does a hot meal and a warm bed for the night strike you?"

Startled, Tim spun around. A familiar figure was leaning against a wall of a
smoky brick building, rain dripping of the sodden dark blonde hair.

"John?" Tim called out, peering through the sheeting rain. "Is that you?"

"None other." The figure pushed himself away from the wall, tan trenchcoat
flapping about his ankles. "Good to see you again young Tim."

With a laugh of pure delight, Tim launched himself at the taller figure. "John,
how did you know I was here?" he cried out.

"Easy." John replied as he caught the boy up in a hug. "You called, I answered.
And here I am, soaking frigging wet and as cold as Christian charity to boot."

Frowning, Tim pulled back from the older man's arms. "Called you, But...but I
never called you."

"The fact that you are obviously in trouble is enough Timothy." John replied
smiling down at the young boy fondly. "Look, let's get the fuck out of this rain
and then you can tell me what's going on. Come on lad, I have a friend waiting
to drive us back home."

Tim followed John back out onto the main street. Parked nearby was a black cab,
a dark haired man sitting behind the wheel, waiting for them.

"Hullo you two." He greeted them cheerfully. He was an older man with a rather
battered but friendly face. "You must be young Tim Hunter, John here has told me
all about you. Well hop in then, the missus is waiting tea on me you know." The
last was spoken to John, who grunted as he climbed into the back seat and
settled himself down beside Tim.

"Back to your flat then John?" The cabbie asked.

"Yeah Chaz, cheers mate."John replied. "I have to get this young man home and
dry him off before he catches his death."

"Righto then." With that, they were soon heading down the well lit street
towards John's flat.

It didn't take them long to reach John's address, the rain had slackened off a
little now but the temperature had dropped, chilling Tim to the bone.

"Here we are." Chaz said as he pulled the cab up to the kerb.

"You coming up Chaz?" John asked as he climbed out of the cab. Chaz shook his
head.

"Nah, I promised Renee that I'd be home for tea, you know how she gets if I'm
late."

"Yeah, well give her my best." John replied with a grin. Knowing how Chaz's wife
felt about him, that would put her into a right mood, knowing that Chaz had been
chauffeuring him around again.

Chaz gave him a rueful grin. "Nah mate, I'd rather keep me scalp on me head,
know what I mean." With that, he gave them both a wave good-bye and pulling away
from the kerb, headed down the rain slicked street.

Turning to the now shivering teenager, John said.

"Okay young Tim, let's get you inside before you freeze to death.

"Fine by me." Tim spoke through chattering teeth. Following John inside, he
wondered desperately how he was going to hide the damned tattoo from the mage.
John had eagle eyes and the minute Tim took his shirt off, John would see. Fuck,
fuck, fuck.

//Easy moron.// The little voice piped up again. //Just don't take your shirt
off, he'll never know.//

Once inside the small untidy flat, John switched the electric heater on.

"Here Tim, you get them wet things off while I find you something dry to wear.
Then I'll make us both something to eat. You feel like curry? I have a couple of
frozen packets, I can zap them in the microwave, what's wrong?" John asked,
seeing the look on the teen's face.

"Oh, nothing." Tim replied giving himself a quick shake. "Uh, how about I go
into the next room..."

"Okay, suit yourself, just hurry up, you're dripping all over me carpet."

Tim hurried into the small bedroom, peeling his wet things off. The tattoo was
starting to sting again and to add to his misery, there was an odd tickling
sensation as if the butterfly was fluttering it's wings.

"Toss your wet clothes out here and I'll bag them up for the wash." John called
through the door. "And if you look in the top drawer, you should find a t-shirt
and some tracksuit pants. They'll be a bit big but beggars can't be choosers or
so they say."

"Okay." Tim called back. After a little rummaging around, he came up with a dark
blue shirt and a pair of gray trackpants that had definitely seen better days.
Quickly pulling them on, he then gathered up his wet clothes and carried them
back out to the loungeroom.

"Here you are." Tim said as he handed the sodden pile to John, who had now taken
off his trenchcoat and had lit a Silk Cut.

"Cheers mate, I'll pop them into a bag and take them to the Laundromat later.
Now, how about some grub and a nice hot cuppa, then you can tell me what's been
going on."

The packet curry was bland, but it was hot and filling. //At least my stomach's
not complaining any more.// Tim thought ruefully. Sipping the cup of strong tea,
he watched as John scraped the plates and set them in the sink to soak.

"Now, do you want to tell me what's going on?" John asked as he carried his own
cup to the small laminated table. He seated himself opposite Tim, his face
utterly serious now.

Tim shrugged, a habit he had when he was gathering his thoughts. Then looking up
at the older man, the man that he thought of as his mentor, he began.

"I...I had a falling out with my Dad. He got really mad about something and
he...well he hit me and so I took off."

"He hit you." John replied cautiously. "Where abouts, I don't see any bruises."

Well, it was more like he threw me, up against the wall. I landed on the sofa."
Tim replied. "So I thought it was best if I took off for awhile. You know, let
him calm down a bit."

John nodded, taking all this in.

"So what did you do to get your dad so mad at you?"

"Ummm, it was a m..misunderstanding." Tim stammered. "It really wasn't that
much, it's just with Dad having such a hard time and all..." He trailed off,
face flushing furiously. He hated lying like this, but there was no way he could
tell John the truth.

"I see." John's face had taken on a grimmer expression now. Finishing his tea,
he gathered both mugs up and carried them over to the sink where they joined the
plates and used cutlery.

"Come on out to the loungeroom, it's warmer in there."

Following the older man out of the small kitchen, Tim felt something tighten in
his stomach. John seemed different somehow, tenser.

Settling himself down onto the old battered couch, John looked up at the teen.

"Does you dad hit you very often?"

"Uh, no...that is, not really. Well I mean..." Tim felt his face grow even
hotter. It was just his luck to be such a shitty liar. And what was worse, he
was aware of how closely John was watching him now.

"You all right Tim, you aren't getting sick are you?"

Timothy could hear the concern in John's voice and it made him feel even worse.
Shaking his head, he replied.

"No, I guess I'm just tired, that's all."

"Well, I'll make you up a bed on the couch. It's a bit lumpy but it's better
than a dirty sodding alley in the rain eh?"

"Okay." Tim replied swallowing hard, he was beginning to feel really shitty now.
After all, John was a friend, well more like a big brother or an uncle, someone
that Tim really admired and looked up to. And here he was lying through his
teeth. And worse still, he had made his dad sound like some drunken abuser as
well. His own father who hardly ever laid a hand on him. Could things get any
worse?

"Look Tim, I know what it's like having your dad get drunk and hit you." John
said suddenly. "My own dad was a drunken old tosser who hated me and made my
life miserable. He...well he blamed me for me mum's death and took it out on
me...you know."

Tim could see how hard it was for John to tell him this and it managed to make
him feel even guiltier.
"What I'm trying to say Tim is, well if your dad's not treating you right...well
you know that you've got a bed right here. I know it's not much but..." John's
voice trailed away with a shrug.

Tim swallowed hard. "Thanks John." He managed to get out. John looked at him and
smiled.

"I'll go get some blankets then." With that, he disappeared into the bedroom,
leaving Tim alone.

//Great, now he thinks you're an abused kid like he was when he my age. Just
terrific.//

Suddenly John came back into the room, some sheets and a couple of blankets
piled up in his arms.

"Here you go Tim, this should keep you warm." He said as he dumped the lot down
onto the sofa.

"Thanks John." Tim replied. "This is...this is really nice-I mean, the way that
you're taking care of me and all." He stopped, not quite sure of what to say
next. John chuckled as he reached out to ruffle the boy's thick dark hair.

"Not a, hey...what the hell..." A puzzled look crossed John's face and he lifted
his hand off Tim's head. Frowning he gazed down at the teen.

"Tim?"

"What it is John?" Tim asked, confused. "Is there something wrong?"

"Magic." John replied, the puzzled look still on his face. "Strong magic, it's
all over you like some kind of fucking miasma. Tim, what have you been up too?"

"Nothing, I mean...you must be mistaken." Tim was desperate now, he should have
realized that such a strong magus like John would have picked something like
this up. After all, hadn't it been John that had once told him that magic left
it's own signature?

"Take your shirt off."

"Now Tim." John rapped at him. "Don't give me any frigging bollocks, take your
shirt off now."

Slowly and with great reluctance, Tim stripped the shirt from his slender body.
The tattoo stood out against the pale skin like a huge garish birthmark.
Kneeling down in front of him, John pressed his fingers lightly against the
butterfly's wings. Tim gasped as little as he felt them flutter.

"Who did this to you Tim?"

Frightened by the grim set to John's face now, Tim blurted out.

"A woman, I don't know her name but she said that she could help me. I mean, I
was so scared that I would hurt Molly and she told me that this would control
the magic. She promised me that she would help me."

"Help you." John answered in disbelief. "Christ Tim, this is magic of the
blackest kind. This is dark sorcery, what kind of shit have you fallen into?"

"I'm sorry John." Tim could feel tears pricking at his eyes now. "Please don't
be angry, it's just that I thought..."

"Angry." Getting to his feet, John shook his head. "I know who did this, that
damned interfering bitch Circe. Fuck I knew she hated men but doing this to a
boy..." Suddenly he turned on Tim, his blue eyes flashing with anger. Tim
cringed away, he had never seen John so angry in his life.

"Well I am angry mate, in fact I'm sodden well furious!"

"But I thought..." Tim began but was overridden.

"Don't you have any idea how dangerous this is Tim. Christ, didn't we teach you
anything? How could you be so bloody stupid as to let that fucking witch place
this kind of binding spell on you?"

Suddenly Tim felt his own temper rise and finally spill over. He was tired and
overwrought and now the man that he admired more than anyone in the world was
standing here in this dingy little flat, telling him off like he was a two year
old that had just wet his pants.

"Don't you call me stupid John Constantine!" Tim yelled at the top of his lungs.
"You have no right."

"I have every bloody right!" John roared back, his own face reddening now. "And
don't go raising your voice to me either."

"Well don't go yelling at me!" Tim shouted. "I am so sick of everyone yelling at
all the fucking time!"

"If I am yelling at you Tim, it's because of the sheer stupidity of what you
have done." John replied. Lifting his hand, he ran it through his hair
distractedly. "You have to understand Tim, you have to be more careful. You're
lucky, this is only a binding spell, she could have done much worse to you.
Much, much worse."

"It wasn't my fault." Tim snapped furiously. "I tried John I really tried
but..."

"Well you didn't try hard enough. Jesus Tim, how can I treat you like a
responsible adult if you can't act like one?"

"I'm not an adult." Tim retorted. "I'm only fourteen in case you haven't
noticed."

John opened his mouth to reply, then closed it again. Drawing a deep sigh, he
wearily shook his head.

"Christ of course you're only fourteen." He replied softly. "Here I am,
expecting you to act like an adult when you are only a kid."

Tim said nothing, he watched as John slumped down onto the couch.

"So tell me the whole story Tim, then we will decide what to do."

"All right then." Tim replied. As quickly and clearly as he could, he explained
how he had met Circe and how she had offered to help him try and contain his
magic so that he would not accidentally hurt the love of his life, his
other...Molly. Knowing that he had an evil counterpart out there had frightened
Tim badly and he had wanted nothing to do with the magic anymore. He no longer
wanted the power of the Merlin, he only wanted to be a normal kid. No
responsibilities, just a normal kid whose only worries was homework, pimples and
getting his first kiss.

John listened sympathetically, nodding every now and again. In one way he could
understand what Tim was saying. After all, the poor kid had not chosen the path
of magic like he had. It had been thrust upon him. Suddenly John felt
responsible. After all, the kid had been perfectly happy until he and the rest
of the Trenchcoat Brigade had turned up to turn Tim's life upside down. And now
it was time he faced that responsibility.

"What are we going to do now?" Tim asked suddenly, indicating at his chest. The
tattoo gleamed against the pale skin, the butterfly and scorpion managing to
look both beautiful and sinister at the same time.

"I can take them off for you Tim." John replied. "It won't be easy but I can do
it."

"Thanks John." Tim offered the older man a was smile. "I mean, I really
appreciate it."

"Hmmm," John gave Tim a smile, then said. "I take it that this was why your
father lost it with you."

Tim nodded.

"Why didn't you tell me all this in the first place?" John asked. "I thought
that we were friends Tim. If you were so scared that you were going to turn into
this evil other, then why didn't you come to me. All you had to do was call, I
would have been straight there. Hell we all would have."

Tim stared down at his hands miserably. John was right, he should never have
trusted that woman, he should have used his magic to summon John and the others.
They would have helped. John was right, he had acted stupidly and now he was
paying the price.

"I...I don't know why I didn't John." He whispered. "I know I should have but I
thought that you would be angry with me."

"Bollocks." John snorted." "Oh sure, I'm angry with you now but that's for a
bloody good reason. I don't like being lied to Tim." He added flatly. "I don't
like you telling me lies and trying to sneak something like this past me. Oh I
knew that something had happened from the minute I first saw you in that alley."

Tim's head jerked up at this.

"That's right, I felt it as soon as you hugged me but I said nothing. I was
waiting for you to tell me, only you decided to give me a right load of old
bollocks instead."

"You knew the whole time?" Tim yelped, a look of utter disbelief on his face.
"Why didn't you...oh yeah, right. You wanted me to come clean about it."

"It would have been nice Tim." John replied seriously. "You have to learn to
trust me, after all, I'm on your side."

"I guess." Tim sighed, looking up at the older man, he said softly.

"I really am sorry, I promise I won't do this again."

"No young man, you won't." John replied. "And I am going to see to it that you
don't."

"What?" Tim was looking at John closely now. "What do you mean?"

"What I mean is, that you lied and you acted irresponsibly Tim, and that is
serious."

"So, what are you going to do?" Tim's voice squeaked on the last word.

"What do you think I should do?" John asked quietly. He was looking steadily at
him, his blue eyes fixed on Tim's own brown ones.

"Um, err...treat me with tender loving care?" Tim suggested hopefully.

"That's what I'm doing now." John replied with the hint of a smile. "But I think
tanning your hide might be a little more effective. What do you think?"

"That I'm too old for that." Tim replied, indignant at the very idea. After all,
he had never been tanned in his life. Not even his mother had raised a hand to
him and as for his father. Well, apart from throwing him against the wall, he
had never so much as touched Tim let alone spank him.

"That's too bad Tim because that's exactly what I am going to do."

Tim's head jerked up sharply. "What, no...John you're joking...right?"

John shook his head. "No Tim, I'm not. What you did is too serious to just let
this go with a scolding. You have to learn to take some responsibility and I am
going to help you."

"What, by walloping my arse?" Tim yelped incredulously. "B...b...but John,
y...you can't..."

Suddenly he felt the warmth of John's hand press lightly against his cheek and
he looked up into the pair of blue eyes. Eyes that were regarding him with
kindness and warmth and he felt himself relax a little.

"You have to learn to trust me Tim." John said gently. "You have to understand
that I know what you're going through with the magic and everything because I
have gone through it myself."

Tim nodded, feeling an odd pricking behind his eyes. "Okay John." He whispered.

"Well let's get this over with."

With that, Tim felt himself suddenly grasped and before he could utter a
protest, he was laid across John's knees.

"John, wait can't we...OUCH!" Tim cried out as the older man's hand impacted
against his backside. John set about warming every inch of the teenager's
bottom. For his part, Tim cried and kicked his legs, amazed at how much it hurt.

The tracksuit pants were little protection against the onslaught and even though
Tim fought hard against the tears that threatened to overspill, it was no good
and soon he was howling like a two year old.

Seeing that Tim had had enough, John gently helped him upright, gathering the
sobbing teen into his arms.

"Shhhh, it's all right Tim, it's all over now." He soothed the boy as he
smoothed the sweat damped hair away from his forehead. Tim clung to him,
sniffling into John's shirt, finding comfort in the warmth of the older man's
body. No one had held him like this for a long time. Not his mother who was dead
and lying cold in her grave, not his father who had decided to cope with his
grief by losing himself in beer and television. Not even Tamlin the falconer who
claimed to be his real father. No one and suddenly Tim found himself weeping
away his loneliness and fear into John's shoulder.

John held the boy until his sobs had subsided into tiny sigh and hitches, then
seeing that Tim had cried himself out, he carefully laid him down onto the sofa,
then covering him with the blankets, said.

"Good night Tim, see you in the morning. And don't worry about a thing. We'll
get it all sorted out."

Tim allowed himself a smile at that as he settled down under blankets, sleep
already beginning to overtake him. He know that John Constantine was a man of
his word and that he would help him. Even if it meant ending up with a stinging
backside, no matter what, John was the one person who was on his side, he was
the one person he could trust. And knowing that would give him the strength to
face his destiny, no matter what that would prove to be.

 

The End