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Learning to Breathe Again

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Angela surveyed the street with a practised eye as she got out of her car, locking it behind her. In this neighbourhood, even in broad daylight, it was a toss-up whether the vehicle would still have all its wheels by the time she got back, but it was a necessary risk.

She was looking for Constantine, and no matter how hard he'd been trying to avoid her, this was where she was going to find him.

Honestly, it was a futile effort on his part. She didn't need go to his apartment - where he wouldn't answer her knock, anyway - or ask around her contacts on the street where his local hangouts might be. A month ago that's the way she'd gone about tracking a guy like Constantine down.

Today all she had to do was trust that hidden part of herself that was speaking to her ever more loudly with every day that passed.

It was the part of herself she had tried to deny even existed for most of her life but now all that was over and done with. She just had to deal with it. She had psychic powers - and they were damn useful. Especially when trying to find a guy who didn't want to be found. Where official channels and standard police procedure might fail her, the voices of the ether lead her straight to a dingy bar in the middle of a hazy Tuesday afternoon.

She had to pause a moment, letting her eyes adjust to the dim interior, and even once they did she couldn't immediately spot him, though the place was all but empty at this time of day. Her feet were already moving, though, taking her round the bar to the far corner of the room till she stood over a small table with a single chair and a slouched occupant who gave her an unimpressed glare from beneath lowered brows.

He didn't speak as she grabbed a nearby chair and dragged it over so she could sit opposite. It left her with her back to the room, which she didn't care for, but again: necessary risk.

"Hello, detective," Constantine finally muttered, lifting a glass to his mouth.

She looked at him more closely. The light was poor but he didn't look right. He looked downright awful, in fact.

"You really look like shit, Constantine," she said.

It struck her how odd it was that he looked as terrible as he did. When she first met John Constantine he was dying. A terminal cancer patient with only months to live - he hadn't exactly had a healthy glow about him, although he had seemed fit enough to the casual eye. But he wasn't dying now. Or he wasn't supposed to be. His cancer was gone but this man slumped in his chair seemed closer to death than ever.

"Yeah, nice to see you, too," he said.

"You've been avoiding me." She amended the statement as soon as she made it, suddenly understanding: "You've been avoiding everyone."

"You want a drink?" Before she could answer - a refusal because she was technically on duty - he slid his half-full tumbler over to her. "Here, have mine."

He pushed up off the table, clearly intending to leave, but she leaned over and grabbed his arm, halting his attempt to rise. She wasn't about to let him run out on her. She had no interest in chasing him all over town.

"Sit down. What the hell's the matter with you?"

"I can't help you," he said, his eyes flat, looking everywhere but at her as he remained frozen with her hand still tight on his elbow.

"You don't know what I want."

He sighed suddenly and sank back into his chair, dislodging her hold on him. She sat back, too, mirroring his posture. Now, at least, he was looking at her. "Doesn't matter," he said wearily. "Go. Go... back to work, detective. Go back to your life."

"Just like that, huh."

"You shouldn't be around me, and I have no interest in being around you. This isn't your place."

She glanced around. "It's a little low-brow for my tastes, yeah." Of course, they both knew he wasn't talking about the bar. "I belong in this world as much as you do."

"God, you really don't."

"Why not? I'm a..." she couldn't help the self-conscious glance around before she said it, "a psychic. Aren't I?"

"You're a cop."

"So?"

"Exactly how much of my daily activities do you think qualify as legal?"

"Like we even have laws for any of this stuff. You don't care that I'm a cop. What is it, why are you dodging me?"

"I don't need a new sidekick."

"Oh, please."

"It's not the cop thing," he admitted.

She finally felt like she was getting somewhere and she pressed him on, impatient. "Then what? What?"

"You're one of the good guys, Angela."

"And you're not? You saved me. You saved my sister's soul. Why'd you do any of it if -"

"I did that to try and buy my way out of eternal damnation. Which, fuck me, actually worked. Now..." He frowned down at the tabletop.

"Oh. This is some kind of mid-life crisis. Aren't you a little young for that?"

"Funny."

She hadn't really come here to offer moral support. She sighed. "You'll be okay, John. You're just... a little lost."

He transerred the frown to her. "You shouldn't try to read me."

"I didn't. You're not that hard to figure out."

"No, I mean you really shouldn't. I know how to protect myself from your kind."

"More magical jewellery? Guess it's all the rage." But as soon as the mocking words left her mouth she realised she could feel it; something was itching at the edge of her mind like an animal scratching at the door. It wasn't even the thing itself but rather her awareness of it. She couldn't help knowing it was there - what she assumed was some protective ward he carried on him or - no, it wasn't on him. It was part of him, under his skin.

She wanted to dig it out.

The sudden touch of his hand jolted her out of her reverie. His fingers were wrapped around hers as he drew her hand away from his collar. She hadn't realised she'd even tried to touch him, but she was leaning right over the table, arm reaching for whatever it was she knew was there at the nape of his neck.

"You want to see my tattoos you'll have to buy me dinner first."

He let go of her hand and she flinched away, her fingers tingling strangely.

"So I can't read your thoughts?" She paused. "Would I want to?"

He only smirked.

She shrugged. "It doesn't matter. Everyone has issues, Constantine, you're not that special."

"You're telling me to get over it."

"Get over yourself. You're still a good guy, even without a reason to be."

"Your logic is flawed, detective."

"No. Something happened to pull the rug out from under you. Now you don't know where you stand. There's only one thing to do - you get up each day and keep doing what you always did. Because it's all you know how to do."

"The nihilist approach. Cute."

"Or the practical one."

"I've never felt like I was one of the good guys. I did what I did for selfish reasons. Most good guys aren't self-serving assholes to quite this extent."

She found herself smiling slightly as she offered up a platitude. "Act as if you have faith -"

"Faith is bullshit. Where's yours these days?"

The smile froze on her face. "With my sister. You asshole."

"Angela..." He looked pained. Because it had to be so hard, talking to her and brooding at the same time. She rolled her eyes - whether more at him for being him, or at herself for caring, she couldn't say. "Thanks for trying," he finished.

"I suck at pep talks," she said.

"I noticed."

So that was that. She stood, leaning across the table a little. "You know, maybe you don't need to be good. Maybe you should just try being a little nicer."

The first hint of a sardonic grin appeared. "And why would I do that?"

"Because it might make it easier for you to avoid me. I always know where to find the assholes in this town."

She was beginning to wish she hadn't found this one. She wasn't sure what she'd expected, tracking him down like this.

She left the bar and stepped out into the relative glare of the afternoon light. The shadows were starting to lengthen but it was still hot as... Well, not quite hot as hell. She paused for a moment, blinking in the middle of the sidewalk, before turning to head back down the block to her car.

She was only a few yards away when she heard the door of the bar swing open and shut again behind her.

Slightly hurried footsteps came after her. She kept walking and after a few seconds Constantine caught up, adjusting his pace to keep abreast of her.

"You never said why you wanted to see me."

You're an idiot, Constantine, she told him, though only in her head.

His face turned to regard her suddenly as they continued walking side by side, and she wondered if her abilities included projecting her thoughts loud enough for others to hear them - a downright disturbing prospect. Even if he was an idiot and she didn't care if he knew she thought so.

"Angela," he began, and stopped.

"You haven't figured it out, have you?" she said.

"You need my help with something?"

She shook her head. Kept moving forward. "I don't know what I need. I'm kind of lost, too."

He was quiet for a while, until they reached her car. She slowed, and stopped, and Constantine, one hand digging in his pocket for something that was no longer there, turned to face her.

"Need a pep talk?" he said.

"No."

"That's probably for the best."

She needed an ally. A friend. She needed to know she wasn't alone.

It had always been just her and Isabel, until it wasn't. Until it was just her. She'd always kept herself apart from others but she'd never minded the solitude. Now in the quiet of her own company there was no peace to be found, only the voices, the knowing - what was out there, what was to come.

She needed something to help her make sense of the chaos her life had become. And Constantine was an asshole all right but he was all she had.

"Stop avoiding me," she said.

"Well there's not much point, apparently," he said. He added, with his next breath, "Okay. I'll stop."

"Good." She rounded the car which, miraculously, still had all its parts. Pulling open the door, she was about to get in when he spoke.

"If I choose a different bar next time, will you let me buy you a drink?" he said.

"Depends on the bar."

He smiled. A little. If she ever got a full grin out of the guy she'd start to worry. "I uh, I know just the place," he said.