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A Sudden Flight of Birds

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Two miles onto a supernaturally quiet southbound M40, Crowley flicked the jeep's indicator light on, which was surprising enough, and pulled over onto the hard shoulder.

"Something wrong, my dear?" Aziraphale asked, peering curiously at him. Crowley didn't turn to face the angel, and from that angle Aziraphale could watch the slow progress of a blink, the fall and accompanying rise of eyelids that seemed unaccustomed to the gesture.

"You know," Crowley said conversationally, "abject terror is really quite exhausting." And he got out and climbed into the back of the car, slumping down into the leather seats with a sigh (this kind of upholstery, much like the cassette player, was not standard American military issue, but much like the cassette player, Crowley had simply assumed that any car he was going to drive would be furnished as such). "You drive," he said to Aziraphale.

"Um," said Aziraphale. While it was technically true that he had been taught to drive an automobile, that had been at a time when top speeds only exceeded 20mph going downhill, and even then with a certain amount of overzealous effort. Which Aziraphale had certainly never applied.

"What?" said Crowley, testily.

"Well..."

"Oh, never mind," Crowley muttered. He waved his hand at the steering wheel and the Jeep took itself off, conscientiously indicating before rejoining the empty carriageway at a sensible 60mph. Aziraphale frowned.

"Are you sure there's nothing the matter?" he asked.

"What on Earth could be the matter?" Crowley replied sarcastically.

Aziraphale, who had never really got the hang of sarcasm, started to say, "Well, there was the whole failed Apocalypse just now-"

"Please," Crowley said, "please just shut up." There was something small and terribly exhausted in his voice, and Aziraphale's frown deepened. He struggled with himself for a moment, then cautiously removed his seatbelt. When fiery death failed to reign down on him, he let out a sigh of relief and climbed carefully between the seats into the back of the jeep.

Crowley raised his head as he did so, but said nothing, leaving Aziraphale to stare somewhat uncomfortably into his own warped reflection in the demon's dark sunglasses. He was an angel, and providing comfort to the distressed was part of the job description, but he wasn't quite sure that that part of his remit had ever been intended to encompass The Enemy. Then again, hadn't they just stood together, wingtip to wingtip as it were, against the Lord of Hell, the Dark Prince, Satan Himself? In the end they hadn't had to actually do anything, of course, but that was quite beside the point as far as Aziraphale was concerned.

"Take off your sunglasses, please," he said politely. To his vague surprise, Crowley did so, folding them up and tucking them neatly into the inner pocket of his suit jacket.

"And now," said the angel, "I suggest you go to sleep." He didn't understand it himself, but he knew it tended to make people feel better, and Crowley was nothing if not fond of adopting Human affectations.

"Going to chase away the nightmares?" Crowley murmured, an odd look in his snakelike eyes – or perhaps, Aziraphale mused, he was just unused to seeing the whole of Crowley's facial expressions, partially covered up as they had been for most of the last hundred years.

"You know I can't-"

"Joking."

Crowley closed his eyes and let his head tip over onto Aziraphale's shoulder. In a matter of moments he was breathing deeply and evenly. His hair smelled of burnt rubber and his clothes were scorched in places and definitely the worse for wear, but his body was relaxed and heavy against Aziraphale's and his youthful face was as peaceful (or at least, as lacking in Evil intent) as Aziraphale had ever seen it.

The jeep continued to drive itself back to London, taking much longer than the journey tended to when Crowley was driving, and Aziraphale didn't once think to put his seatbelt back on.

*

This is Aziraphale: slightly unkempt blond hair, kind brown eyes, and white skin with a propensity to disgustingly cheery pink cheeks. He sounds – and looks – as though he has an extremely expensive and lengthy education behind him, paid for by loving but distant parents. He isn't old, or rather, he isn't as old as he should be, human bodies never really having been designed for displaying distinct gradations in age beyond, say, eighty-seven. Let us say, then, that while, like all beings of angel stock, he maintains his body in the illusion of health and relative youth, he is also the kind of person who is never more in his element than in the dusty old back room of his bookshop, poring lovingly over a new acquisition or puzzling out the Daily Telegraph crossword with a cup of hot cocoa. This kind of thing tends to warp people's perceptions a little.

While it is true that Aziraphale is intelligent, however, he has also been alive an awfully long time, and has already had – at least once before – each of the thoughts that passes through his brain on an average day. Indeed, it might well be two hundred years since the last time he had a truly new thought of his own making.

That is about to change.

*

The traffic in London had barely calmed down by the time they made it back into the city, but at least the M25 wasn't incinerating the unwary anymore. As they approached the flyover, Aziraphale glanced down guiltily at the sleeping demon (entirely the wrong direction in which to be expressing concern for what he was about to do, of course, but after the day's events he simply didn't care to examine his priorities too closely) before making an intricate little gesture with his hand – getting through this traffic would take a miracle.

Twenty minutes later, the jeep was pulling up outside Crowley's Mayfair flat having miraculously managed to maintain its steady speed of 60mph all the way from Uxbridge.

"Come on," said Aziraphale, shaking Crowley lightly, "we're back."

The demon made a sound of protest, causing Aziraphale to wonder if waking him again might be one miracle too far, before finally winching himself upright with what appeared to be a great deal of effort.

"Come on," Aziraphale said again.

A very dazed-looking Crowley stared at him blearily. "What?"

"Oh, really," Aziraphale muttered, getting out of the jeep and walking around to Crowley's side. He opened the door and half dragged, half supported Crowley out onto the pavement. "Whatever is the matter?"

"'m tired," Crowley croaked, rubbing one yellow eye with the heel of his hand, the other reaching out to steady himself against Aziraphale's shoulder. "Where's m' shades?"

"In your pocket. You took them off. Don't you remember?"

"Hmm?" said Crowley distractedly.

"Come on," said Aziraphale for a third time, torn between worry, confusion and utter exasperation, "let's get you upstairs and then you can have a nice long nap in a proper bed."

"Okay," Crowley agreed. He didn't move. His eyes had the glazed look of someone trying not to blink in case they can't complete the deal and force their eyelids open again, which was ridiculous because Aziraphale knew that Crowley had a dreadfully unnerving tendency to forget to blink altogether.

"You'll need to move your legs," Aziraphale prompted.

"Good idea." His fingers tightened in the fabric of Aziraphale's shirt where his hand still rested on the angel's shoulder.

"Oh for Hell's sake," Aziraphale sighed, then put his arm around Crowley's waist and pulled him into the building.

It was a beautiful old Georgian townhouse split into flats, and what Crowley's interior designers had done to it was, in Aziraphale's opinion, nothing short of infernal. As he led Crowley, stumbling slightly, down the hall and up the stairs to his bedroom, it occurred to him that he hadn't been up here before. How long had Crowley had the flat, now? Twenty years? Thirty?

It was... well, it was a monstrosity of white minimalism much like the rest of the flat, with the exception that one whole wall of eves had been knocked out to be replaced entirely by slanted floor-to-ceiling glass.

"Goodness me," Aziraphale said, disentangling himself from Crowley to walk over for a better look. The sun was just starting to sink in the sky, turning clear blue to palest gold, and in the distance Aziraphale could see across the light-scattered serpentine to the back of Kensington Palace.

He smiled, and turning back to Crowley, said, "I wouldn't have thought-" and then stopped again. Crowley stood where Aziraphale had left him, looking pale and grimy against the crisp white walls, swaying slightly.

"Are you sure you sobered up back there at the air base?" Aziraphale asked, walking back to peer into Crowley's face.

"'m just really tired," he said dully.

"Well, then," Aziraphale said, a little reluctantly, "I suppose I'd better let you..." His voice trailed off as he watched Crowley attempt to free a button on his shirt, fingers fumbling.

He looked... he looked lost, as though he didn't quite know how he'd got here, and so far from his usual smooth self that Aziraphale said quietly, "Oh, my dear boy," and placed his hands over the demon's to still them. They trembled slightly, and Aziraphale squeezed gently. "Let me help," he said.

Crowley lowered his hands to his sides with a single, jerky nod and allowed Aziraphale to undress him. There was a moment of awkwardness when the angel couldn't find the linen basket, remembering at last that washing wasn't part of Crowley's world and leaving the ruined clothes in a neat pile behind the door instead.

"White Egyptian cotton," Aziraphale sighed, eyeing the bed and then the charred and greasy streaks on Crowley's body; all that was left of the Bentley. "If you go to bed like that, you'll have the devil of the time getting the marks out."

"Quite," Crowley murmured, the corner of his mouth turning up in the suggestion of the beginnings of a smirk. Something inside Aziraphale loosened ever so slightly.

"I do dislike your habit of wishing damage away," he said, taking Crowley by the arm and leading him unresisting into the lavish en suite. "I think for this once you can do it properly."

Crowley's shower was, like everything else in the flat, luxurious and oversized. Big enough for two people, in fact, which was handy because despite his lack of complaint, Crowley simply stood under the water, eyes closed and forehead leaning against the tiled wall, and completely failed to wash himself.

Hot water. On demand. Aziraphale still hadn't quite got over the luxury of it. He stripped his own clothes off, one eye on the unmoving demon, as steam filled the room and felt his own tight muscles begin to loosen in the warmth.

"You know," he said gently, climbing in behind Crowley and reaching for the expensive, designer shower gel – it did smell rather good – "given this little performance tonight I'm rather glad not to have found you during the nineteenth century."

*

It should probably be noted here that angels, much like humans back at the Beginning, generally aren't self-conscious about their bodies. They have no reason to be, being concerned primarily with the inner, rather than outer, state of the people they interact with. Aziraphale is particularly ambivalent about clothes – oh he'll wear them out of social convention and a general need for protection from the elements (especially important given his chosen locale), but he has no particular care or regard for them. This goes some way to explaining his fashion sense.

It isn't quite the same for demons, but Aziraphale probably wasn't to know that.

*

Aziraphale rubbed the alarmingly frothy soap in soothing circles from Crowley's shoulders, down past his shoulder blades and the place where his wings would join his spine. Crowley's skin, he noted vaguely, was smooth and surprisingly pleasant to touch. Feeling a particularly tense muscle, he dug his thumbs in to attempt to relieve the pressure. Crowley groaned, low in his throat. Aziraphale found the sound unexpectedly pleasing to the ear, and so he did it again, slowly working his way down to the small of Crowley's back.

As he did this, he found himself fascinated by the short black hair at the nape of Crowley's neck where it gave way to tender skin, the way the water formed rivulets on his shoulders, clearing the soap from his back like the speeded up movement of continents. The way he seemed to lean into Aziraphale's touch.

His hands felt strangely reluctant to move on once he'd reached the bottom of Crowley's spine, running up and down Crowley's sides seemingly of their own accord, but after a few more moments of this Aziraphale poured more soap into his hands and resumed his journey downwards. His hands glided smoothly over rounded gluteal muscles before moving further inwards, personal hygiene in this regard being very important. His thumbs were just slipping below Crowley's coccyx when a small sound made him stop. It had sounded like a whimper.

"Crowley? Did I hurt you?"

There was no reply. It might just have been the water, Aziraphale reasoned, but better to be safe than sorry. Placing his hands back on Crowley's shoulders he urged him around so that they were facing.

"Crowley?" he asked again, raising a hand to his cheek. Crowley's lashes were clumped together with water, a dark counterpoint to his light eyes, and his mouth looked unusually pink. Must be the hot water, Aziraphale thought, feeling quite warm himself. For a moment, Crowley looked at him with unfocussed, dilated pupils, before seeming to zero in on the angel.

"You're naked," he said.

"Well, yes," Aziraphale replied, wondering why his heart was beating so quickly. "We're in the shower," he added for good measure.

Crowley flicked his bottom lip with that odd tongue of his as his eyes drifted down Aziraphale's body. Aziraphale stood still, at a loss for what else to do, a strange tingling sensation in his fingers and toes.

"Is that... all right?" he tried.

Crowley looked back up at him, staring unblinkingly for what felt like an eternity. Then he raised his hand to Aziraphale's face in a mirror of Aziraphale's gesture, said, "Yesss," and leaned in and kissed him.

It was... It felt like... Well, this was...

Aziraphale desperately tried to think beyond... beyond what the demon was doing to him, but his whole body felt like fireworks were going off inside him, loud pops and sparks and sizzles of brightly coloured light. He realised distantly that his eyes had fallen closed and his hands had found their way to Crowley's back seemingly without any input from his brain, pulling him closer.

A small detached part of him kept waiting for something, some booming voice or celestial finger come down to point at him in censure. It didn't seem to be coming, however, and the funny thing was, the really funny thing was that he didn't feel in the slightest bit guilty. Pushed up against the tiles under the streaming hot water kissing a demon felt surprisingly like... like breathing.

Crowley shifted his weight, moving away slightly before pressing even more tightly against the angel, and Aziraphale gasped at the hardness he now felt between them.

"Making the effort?" Crowley breathed against Aziraphale's mouth, warm and wet and still there – thank God, still there – and Aziraphale realised with a sharp clarity that actually yes, he had been, for quite some time now.

"I thought that was the end of us," he said nonsensically, head falling back as Crowley sucked exquisitely on his neck and reached between them. As the demon wrapped his hand around the angel's aching flesh he let out an undignified whimper. Crowley leaned back a short way as though to examine Aziraphale's face, his expression one of pure hunger.

"I'm really glad it wasn't," he said.

"Me too," Aziraphale agreed. They stared at each other for a moment, just long enough for Aziraphale to see fine tremors running through Crowley – he remembered how Crowley's hands had shaken earlier. He felt rather shaken himself right now. Then Crowley moved the hand that was between Aziraphale's legs and Aziraphale stopped thinking.

There were more words, and skin, a newfound addiction to touching, tasting, nearness. He couldn't seem to ever satisfy his desire to run his hands over every part of Crowley, watch the open abandon on his face and hear his harsh breathing. And bright spikes of pleasure that built until Aziraphale couldn't stand it anymore. And Crowley, eyes half-lidded, voice throaty with need, whispering one word over and over again, "Yesss."

Afterwards, Aziraphale marvelled at both the feeling of preternatural wellbeing, and Crowley's seeming ability to sleep standing up (albeit slumped quite comprehensively against Aziraphale, with the angel's arms wrapped firmly around him). It was as near a state of bliss as Aziraphale had felt in a hundred and fifty years – not since he had finally acquired and been able to place upon the shelf that final elusive copy of the Infamous Bibles – though he would have to move before long, as the tiles were digging into his back and Crowley really would be more comfortable in bed.

Well, it had been a day for it, what was one more miracle? Between one breath and the next they were dry and tucked up next door in Crowley's enormous bed.

*

As with sarcasm and the internal combustion engine, Aziraphale has never really got to grips with sleeping. While he's aware that most people seem to find it a pleasant experience, Aziraphale has never really seen the point – he gets some of his best work done after dark, and failing that there's always the lure of a good book and a nice hot mug of cocoa. He doesn't even own a bed back at the Soho bookshop, and so it's a little bit of a shock just how comfortable the things are these days.

Aziraphale is very much a creature of comforts (and the associated occasional, fleeting guilt), but that isn't what keeps him in Crowley's bed until sunrise. There is soon to be a new thought gracing the dusty bookshelves of the angel's mind, and it's nascent now, floating around him like a great cloud on the cusp of irreversible gravitational collapse, to become, at critical density, as bright and hot and fierce as a new star.

Watching the demon's sleeping face, he can feel the first heated licks of it in his chest, though he doesn't recognise what it is yet.

*

The sun rose early at this time of year, and Crowley's wall-windows didn't have any curtains. Aziraphale sat up in bed and watched the sky lighten over Hyde Park, a deep sense of relief flooding him anew that the world was still all there after all. He had a sudden, strong desire to see his bookshop.

Crowley was still asleep, and had the open-mouthed look of someone intending to stay that way for some time. Getting up, Aziraphale dressed and wrote Crowley a note saying where he'd gone and telling him to meet Aziraphale at their usual spot by the duck pond before lunch. And then, because the demon was still asleep, he bent over and kissed him softly on the temple, running a gentle finger along the line of his cheekbone before tearing himself away.

The air outside had an unseasonal, crisp quality – fresh, Aziraphale thought, and he took a moment to just stand and inhale, smiling beatifically to himself. And then his eyes dropped from the lightening sky to the empty street, and the large black car that sat gleaming in the first rays of sunlight. His smile became a laugh.

"Oh, someone's going to be happy to see you," Aziraphale said to the Bentley.

*

The problem with sleep, Aziraphale mused as Crowley shared his none-too-complimentary thoughts about Above, Below and the Ineffable Plan in the August sunshine, was that it refreshed the mind and gave one a clear head – this one had clearly put that head to no good use, as usual. He'd probably get a headache, later, and end up tempting Aziraphale to blind drunkenness to drown his bad temper.

Aziraphale found he didn't mind the idea.

As they strolled across the grass towards the Ritz, Aziraphale glanced over at Crowley.

"You know, the bookshop," he said.

He'd known something was wrong the minute he'd walked in, of course – all those new books – but he would never have known why without that nice young fireman coming by. He'd been more than a little confused, poor chap, the fading memory of the day before niggling at him until it went completely and he'd stumbled back out into the sunshine, a vague frown on his face.

"Mmm?" Crowley said noncommittally.

"It's the funniest thing, but that fireman who stopped by seemed to think a man had run into the flames. Poor fellow seemed rather distressed."

"Understandable."

"Indeed. However, I'm happy to report that whoever he was apparently came back out again." He paused. "Completely unscathed." Crowley said nothing. "After the upper floor had collapsed on his head."

Crowley had his sunglasses on, and his expression was impassive when he turned to Aziraphale. "That's a spot of luck," he said. There was a thoughtful pause. "Pretty blessed stupid thing to do in the first place, though."

"I quite agree."

"Can't imagine who'd be that half-witted."

Aziraphale touched Crowley's shoulder, halting their progress across the grass. "Thank you, Crowley," he said quietly.

Still Crowley said nothing. Aziraphale was just starting to brew up a nice fit of the nerves when finally, one corner of Crowley's mouth turned up and he turned away, continuing on towards lunch.

"Come on, angel," he said over his shoulder, and Aziraphale grinned happily and caught up.

And later, while that nightingale was busy singing unheard in Berkeley square, Aziraphale put his wineglass down and looked across the table, and thought how amazing it was that you could look at another person's face on and off for nearly six thousand years, and suddenly find it so dear.

It was a small thought, perhaps, but it burned in his chest like the sun.