Author's Note: Sorry this took so long. Thanks for sticking with me. All character references are from Hellblazer. It's great if you recognize them, fine if you don't. Enjoy.
Twenty-one years to the day. Twenty-one years to a day filled with smog, scorching L.A. heat and a sky filled with heavy black clouds. They looked like clods of tar hanging there on the skyline. Or maybe tumors. There was a low rumble of thunder on the horizon and the occasional flash of lightning which illuminated the underbelly of the cloudbank, but the masses refused to break.
Constantine sat on his bed, looking out the window at the abominable weather and tossing back shots of vodka, one for each friend he'd lost. To a point. If he drank a shot for every one of them, he'd be dead of alcohol poisoning long before he even came close.
Twenty-one years to the day since he'd committed suicide—the first time—and he was still alive and screwing people over. Funny, how he couldn't even commit to that. Maybe it was a shame he hadn't stayed in hell that first time.
For Astra, he thought, tossing back a shot. My first ghost. Condemned to Hell by my monstrous ego.
For Emma, the one I couldn't save. The beautiful artist who was murdered in cold blood. The price of loving John Constantine.
For Matt, the one who faced what I've run away from so many times with a wink and a smile on his withered face.
For Hennesy, the crusader who fell.
For Brendan, the master of all drinking games.
For Beeman, the ever-loyal.
He paused for a moment and caught his breath, feeling more than a little shaky. This was a ritual, and yet every year it got harder and harder to perform. Then he poured one more shot and tossed it back, his eyes tearing at the burn. Funny, how the lost one who wasn't dead hurt the most to think about.
For Kit. The only one who saw straight through me from the start and stuck around anyway. The one who stayed true to herself.
He put the bottle on the floor and turned around at the sound of the door opening in time to see Angela enter with his mail and a bag of groceries.
"Today's the day?" she asked softly. She came over to the bed and sat down beside him, slipping her arm around his waist.
Constantine nodded and leaned against her just a little. He knew that he must smell of alcohol, but she was completely unphased by it.
He sighed. He'd known this was coming; he'd warned her of his "anniversary" earlier in the week, but he was still surprised she'd remembered. He'd begun to take it for granted that no one paid attention to his needs, and it always caught him off guard when Angela did.
"Yeah," he muttered, though he didn't even believe it himself. "Sure."
Angela narrowed her eyes at him.
"I thought we were going to work on the honesty thing."
"What do you want from me?" He pulled away, looked at the floor, his temper flaring just a little. It was a defense mechanism which had always been his downfall—the minute he started to feel threatened in any way, his anger kicked into high gear. "Sure, I'll tell you how I feel. I feel like I have so much fucking blood on my hands I'm drowning in it. I feel like a guy who pulls people in and then hangs them. Jesus, Angela, I feel like…I feel like dying." He paused abruptly, surprised to feel tears at the back of his eyes. He hadn't meant to get so emotional. "Fuck it, I need to get out of here."
"My place?" she asked softly.
There was a crack of thunder from outside, louder than before, and then the sound of rain beating down on the tin roof of the building. Constantine shook his head. Someone definitely had it out for him today. But then that was hardly unusual.
Angela shook her head then leaned up, kissing him soundly. He nearly fell backwards, reeling from the contact. His entire body felt raw, throbbing with pain. He wanted desperately to simply give in to her, to let her see his grief, but he simply couldn't do it. The fear was still there, through the grief, through the disillusionment, through the dulling alcohol buzz.
If I let her see through the mask, I'll lose her too.
"You've got to stop thinking like that," she said aloud, and he realized suddenly that she must have sensed his thoughts. Jesus, she was getting good at that. "Stop kidding yourself, John. I saw through the 'mask' months ago."
Angela took the shot glass out of his hand and put it beside the bottle on the floor, then turned and kissed him again, pushing him back onto the bed. He settled back, watching as she kicked off her shoes and swung her legs up onto the bed to lie beside him, her chin propped up on one hand. Her eyes took him in with a sort of muted curiosity.
"Who were they?" she asked suddenly, gesturing to the shot glass on the floor.
So she knew I was drinking to them. She caught that part too.
Constantine braced his arms beneath his head and swallowed, trying to clear his head enough to talk. He hadn't ever been able to talk about this rationally, and he doubted he ever would be. It just hurt too damn much.
"Strangers. Friends…Partners in crime, I guess you could say."
Everyone I ever cared about. Except for you.
He paused for a long moment before answering that one. He'd been happier in the last three months he'd spent with Angela than almost any other time in his life. And yet all of that was overshadowed by the constant fear of loss. He knew she wanted to deepen their relationship, to move beyond the period of late nights watching movies on her couch and kisses stolen behind the wooden partitions in his apartment. But that wasn't something he could bring himself to ask for yet. It wasn't that he didn't have experience in the romance department, at least physically…It was the fact that he'd had one real relationship in thirty-five years and the end of it had sent him into the downward spiral he was still only now recovering from.
"Yes," he managed at last. "A couple. I don't…usually let people get that close."
She smiled a little, ran a hand down his shoulder and arm.
God, I want to let you.
Angela's smile widened and she moved closer, slipping one leg over his hip and running her fingers through his hair. He slipped a hand up to the back of her neck, pulling her in despite his fears. He wasn't sure if it was the alcohol, his mood, or simple lack of human contact, but the slightest touch from her seemed to send currents of electricity singing through his body. He was disgusted with his own reaction and yet utterly powerless to stop it. He'd never felt more vulnerable before, and yet he felt rooted to the spot, unable to run away as usual. He blinked hard, ashamed to feel his eyes stinging with tears.
She brushed his lips lightly, teasing, then pulled back and looked him straight in the eyes. He caught his breath, realizing that for the first time in his life he'd truly met his match. The shield, the mask he so painstakingly melded into a façade to protect his true self was utterly useless here. She could see and understand everything he'd tried so hard to keep hidden, especially from her. It was terrifying and oddly liberating all at once.
He found his thoughts straying to Kit Ryan, the only person he'd ever let in without a fight. The memory was almost too painful to acknowledge. He'd half convinced himself that she was nothing more than a figment of his imagination.
"You can tell me," said Angela at last.
"Tell you what?" asked Constantine, though he knew perfectly well what she meant.
"What it is that you're hiding. The thing you think you can't even bear to see yourself."
His first reaction was to laugh in her face, push her away or even get up and leave himself. But this was a pivotal moment in their relationship, he could feel it.
If I'm not honest, you're going to leave. Things will go back to being the same as before…and that…
"I…can't…" Simply speaking was suddenly too great an effort to manage.
"Yes, you can." Angela squeezed his shoulder with a warmth that seemed to permeate his entire body.
"No, you don't understand…I…can't. You'll leave too and I…" He broke off, shook his head.
I fucking love you.
She leaned closer and just smiled, her entire face alight with empathy, green eyes sparkling with tears.
"I know, John. And I…love you too."
The tears were more from relief than anything else, though they hurt terribly. It felt as if he was being torn from the inside out; all the walls he'd built had been demolished in seconds, and years of unvoiced grief flooded over like a waterfall. Angela leaned in and just held him as the sobs came at last, tearing from his throat painfully.
"Easy," she murmured, her breath cool on his fevered skin. "Breathe."
"She was so…so fucking good to me," he gasped, finally confronting the memory. "And I…I fucked…nearly got her killed…I always…always let everyone down. You too, eventually. I know…I will."
I can't lose you.
She ran a hand through his hair, massaging his scalp, and pulled back far enough that she could see his face. She was crying too, he saw, and the realization burned with relief.
"John…"Angela shook herself, swallowed hard. "I'm afraid of the same thing."
"You…you are?" She nodded, and Constantine managed a real breath. Somehow the knowledge that she understood so completely made the fear that much more bearable. He managed another shaky breath, then kissed her, suddenly desperate for physical comfort.
Angela pulled away after a moment, sensing his need, and reached for the top buttons of his shirt. He bit his lip, feeling ready to explode with pent up emotion, then gently took hold of her wrist, struggling for some semblance of control.
"You sure this is what you want?"
"Yes," she said firmly. "Do you want it?"
"God yes," he blurted, unable to keep the desperation out of his voice. "But I…I'm scared, Angela. I can't…have you…end up like them."
"That…has got to be the hardest thing anyone has ever asked me to do."
"Try." She moved over a little, straddling him, still fully clothed.
Constantine hesitated for a moment, then nodded and sat up, pulling his shirt the rest of the way off and tossing it to the side. This was the thing about Angela, the thing that kept him coming back to her even though it scared him shitless. She was so sure of what she wanted, so stubborn, so full of life. Being in her presence kept his demons at bay, if only for a little.
He ran his fingers through her hair, teased the hem of her shirt. She leaned forward, allowing him to pull the garment off. He complied, then tossed it in the direction of his shirt and reached up to unclasp her bra, running his hands over her body. She let her eyes fall closed for a moment, then kissed him again, pressing one hand to the side of his face.
She pulled away from him after a moment, began fighting with his belt buckle. A sudden thought occurred to Constantine then and he stopped her again, sitting up a little to face her.
"Angela…have you…is this…" he trailed off, feeling unbearably awkward.
She bit her lip, pulled out of his grasp.
"No. Not my first." Her voice held an undercurrent of shame, and he realized there had to be something much bigger behind this confession. But it wasn't the right time, and he didn't push.
"All right," he said at last. "If you're sure."
"I'm sure," she said again, smiling just a little.
God, I want you. I need you.
Angela rolled off of him, removing her remaining articles of clothing as he did the same. His throat caught painfully at the sight of her; he almost couldn't remember what it felt like to be this close to someone both emotionally and physically. He felt the tears returning as she straddled him again, running her hands over his bare chest and shoulders. He leaned up, kissed her collarbone and took hold of her waist. She moved down on him without further hesitation, and a rough sob tore from his throat at the contact.
"It's okay," she murmured, her breath coming ragged.
You're so beautiful.
He closed his eyes as they started to move. It had been so long since he'd felt anything, even with the occasional halfbreed from Midnite's that he'd begun to think numbness was the only thing left. Somehow Angela's simple gentle compassion felt better than any of the rough, overpracticed halfbreeds' attempts had. He found himself sobbing again, practically screaming with emotion as the faces of the many ghosts and estranged friends flashed before his eyes. He felt as if his entire body might implode as the torrent of emotions carried him over the edge at last and he lay gasping, aching with relief.
"Jesus," he whispered as Angela moved over to lie beside him, breathing hard. She laughed a little and brushed the back of her hand against his forehead.
"Yeah. God, yeah."
Twenty-one years. Twenty-one years to the day, and I think I might finally have something worth living for.