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The Nuances of 'Together'

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Podfic available by StarcatcherBetty

 


 

 

“Crowley, look.” Aziraphale pointed one gloved hand into the shadowy corner of the window display of the antiques shop they were passing. “That’s the pot that belongs to the set in my back room.”

“You broke the pot that belongs to the set in your back room in 1968.” Crowley said, rolling his eyes. Aziraphale huffed and dropped his hand.

“I don’t mean literally, my dear. But it’s a matching pot. Let me pop inside for a moment and I’ll—”

“Angel, we’re going to be late.” Crowley reminded him. Aziraphale’s hand slid into his own and he gave a small squeeze.

“I’ll just vanish it back home and we can be on our way, then?”

Crowley eyed the front of the building. He doubted very much anybody on this street could afford to lose profit, and much as that was good enough reason to let Aziraphale get on with stealing the current object of his magpielike attention, Crowley knew he’d feel a little twinge of dismay every time the tea set in question came out for at least the next five years if he let the angel do as he pleased. Faced with the possibility of having to drink out of stolen china the next time he visited the book shop, Crowley let out a great sigh and strode forward to hold the door open. Aziraphale beamed as he stepped inside.

“Very good of you, dear, thank you.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Crowley grumbled. “Hurry up, the show starts in fifteen minutes.”

Aziraphale wound his way through the narrow little shop with practiced ease and plucked the teapot from the window display before taking it to the counter. Crowley half-listened to the old woman and Aziraphale chatter as she rung up his purchase, more intent on looking at a shelf covered with every kind of garish, oversized ring you could imagine. Crowley was just about to lift up a poison ring with a large black pearl on it when he heard Aziraphale let out a downcast little “oh drat.”

“What is it?” Crowley asked, looking up.

“Crowley, you wouldn’t happen to have any cash on you, would you?”

As a matter of fact, Crowley did, and he gave Aziraphale a look which plainly said you always do this as he moved towards the counter to pay for Aziraphale’s purchase. Aziraphale gave him a look back which communicated yes, and I’m eternally grateful you continue to indulge me, which earned him a small snort from Crowley.

“That’s fifteen pounds even.” The cheerful old woman behind the counter said, smiling sympathetically and warmly at Crowley. He handed over the requisite bills with a shrug and a what can you do sort of smile of his own.  “Thank you, love. I’ll just wrap this up for you, shall I?” She pulled out a sheet of brown paper and made quick work of the teapot before handing it over to Crowley in a recycled box that had, according to it’s labelling, once held an angel Christmas tree topper. Crowley gave it a stern look as he accepted the package. “And I must say, the two of you make a lovely couple.”

Crowley opened his mouth to respond, but Aziraphale laid a hand on his elbow, wrapping him in a half-embrace as he took the box from him over his other shoulder. “Thank you, madam. Have a wonderful evening.” And he swept Crowley out of the store.

“You know I can’t stand when you do that.” Crowley hissed as the door closed behind them and they emerged back onto the street. It was marginally darker than when they’d gone in; winter was coming on in earnest and the sun was on its way down, although obscured by thick enough clouds that they were going to miss the last of its rays.

Aziraphale sent the package back to his shop with a brief wave of his hand and let go of Crowley’s elbow. “I thought we were in a hurry.” He pointed out, and Crowley snorted again.

“Come on, then, the theater’s still three blocks from here.”

 

The show was very good. Crowley was surprised by just how good, in fact. Both he and Aziraphale had long held the opinion that Mormons and Mormonism were invented by and comprised of the worst kind of fanatical lunatics and it was nice to discover that, within the confines of satire, the musical was still comfortable and tender in its own way. They continued to snicker about it as they made to leave the theater.

“I’m just glad there was a happy ending.” Aziraphale mused as their laughter was dying down. Crowley looked at him out of the corner of his eye as they went to gather their coats.

“Be a bit of a deviation from the art form if there wasn’t.” He pointed out.

“Oh, not necessarily. There are lots of popular musicals with less than happy endings. Fiddler on the Roof. Les Misérables.”

“Les Mis has a happy ending.” Crowley argued. Aziraphale shot him a scathing look and Crowley grinned, leaning into the argument they’d been having as they stood around and waited after musicals for the last ten years. “Look. If you’re going to say Les Mis doesn’t end happily then you have to concede that Wicked doesn’t, either.”

Aziraphale let out a little huff and crossed his arms, leaning against the wall where they were in line to get their coats back. “Elphaba goes off with the man she loves and escapes the world that had done nothing but hurt her all her life. I don’t understand how you can see that as anything but happily ever after.”

“Because it’s not about Elphaba, you silly angel. The story is framed by Glinda, told by Glinda, and is about Glinda. Glinda is left behind living a lie she helped perpetuate and in an isolation she made for herself.” Crowley slapped his palm on the elegantly embellished wood that framed the doorway to the coat room. Aziraphale patted the back of his hand with a fondly exasperated expression.

“Do you gentlemen have your numbers?” Said the coat room attendant, smiling lightly at them both.

“Ah, yes, thank you.” Aziraphale produced two slips of paper and handed them to the young woman.

A moment later she returned with their coats and Crowley’s scarf. “Well, get home safe. It’s supposed to snow something fierce tonight, I heard. Keep each other warm.” She winked at Crowley, who would have glared at her if Aziraphale hadn’t taken his hand and given it a squeeze.

“We will.” He replied as they swept back out into the atrium, helping Crowley into his coat as they went.

“Why do you do that?” Crowley demanded as they stepped out onto the street. It was, indeed, quite cold and windy now.

“Do what, my dear?” Aziraphale asked distractedly as he rummaged in his coat pocket for his gloves and then, not finding them, rummaged in Crowley’s.

“Oh, never mind.” Crowley snapped, shoving his hands in his pockets to keep them warm as Aziraphale made off with his favorite pair of mittens.

 

Crowley answered the phone with a grumble, sinking back into his blankets the moment the receiver was cradled by his ear. “’lo, angel.” He said on a yawn.

“Sleep well, Crowley?” Aziraphale asked, his tone fond.

“It’ssssss dark all the time.” Crowley complained. “Might as well be asleep.”

Aziraphale hummed down the line. “That new exhibit on stone age man has opened up at the museum. It might be good fun. Would you like to go today, or should I call again later in the week?”

Crowley rubbed his eyes with his free hand and glared at the clock on the bedside table. “Dinner afterwards?”

“Of course.” Aziraphale said graciously. “I’ll buy.”

“You’d better. I’ll pick you up in an hour.” Crowley said.

“Excellent. See you in an hour.”  And he hung up.

Crowley stared at the phone in exasperation for a moment before he set it back on its holder. It remained silent against his scrutinizing gaze. Then he flopped back down in bed, staring up at the shadows on the ceiling.

 

The new museum exhibit was indeed very entertaining (the things humans believed about their own history and their own planet never ceased to amuse Aziraphale, and Aziraphale’s completely unnecessary smug attitude about it never ceased to amuse Crowley), and the restaurant they went to afterwards was very good.

They were sipping wine, considering dessert, when Aziraphale let out an exclamation and pointed out the little picture window they were seated beside. The snow that had been threatening all week had finally begun to fall, in great soft white flakes that clumped together, coating the sidewalk and the narrow street outside.

“Beautiful.” Aziraphale murmured, staring out the window. Crowley hummed his agreement. He supposed he ought to find snow wet and cold and inconvenient, but in truth he’d always loved it. Loved the way the winter seemed to usher in the quiet, comfortable togetherness he was currently sharing with the angel. The first snowfall always made Crowley feel paradoxically warm, and this one was no exception. He nudged his feet against Aziraphale’s under the table, and Aziraphale gave him a soft smile.

Their waiter eventually appeared and Crowley ordered them dessert. Aziraphale was still watching him with a warm, rather soppy sort of look, and Crowley couldn't help returning it just a bit.

When their dessert arrived, Crowley was a little put out to discover there was only the one slice of cake and two forks. He opened his mouth to say something to their waiter, but Aziraphale cut him off by asking for the bill. Crowley glowered at the man’s retreating form as he walked away.

“Oh, don’t look like that, my dear.” Aziraphale said airily. “I don’t mind sharing.”

“It’s—that’s not the bloody point.” Crowley exclaimed, his feelings from the last week finally coming to a head. “Why do people keep assuming we’re together and why do you keep letting them?”

Aziraphale froze, a forkful of chocolate cake halfway to his mouth. He looked like he’d just been slapped. He was focuing very hard on a spot over Crowley's shoulder and his eyes seemed rather wet. Crowley felt a panic begin to slither up his throat, constricting his breathing. He wanted very much to say something, anything at all to make Aziraphale stop looking like that, but he had no idea what.

Before Crowley could think what to do, Aziraphale took a deep breath and rearranged his features into a haughty expression. With a little sniff he picked his fork back up and resumed eating the cake, and Crowley, feeling it was the least he could do after whatever had just happened, let him have the whole piece to himself.

They didn’t talk as they left the restaurant and Crowley drove the Bentley back to the book shop to drop off Aziraphale. When he’d parked the car, he grabbed Aziraphale’s wrist to stop him getting out.

“Angel,” he started, his voice low and as calm as he could make it considering his heart was hammering away in his chest, and then he stopped. He had no idea what to say.

Aziraphale let out a little sigh and grimaced at Crowley in the dark car. “Oh, Crowley.” He said, sounding very tired all of a sudden. “I… I think you’d better go home now. I’ll call later.” And he wrenched his wrist out of Crowley’s grip, got out of the car, and hurried inside. Crowley stared after him, watching the lights upstairs blink on through the thickly falling snow.

Crowley got out of the car and moved to stand on the sidewalk. “Aziraphale!” He called up to the first floor, craning his neck to look up at the window. When there was no response he moved to bang on the door to the shop instead. “Aziraphale! Let me in, please.”

He waited several minutes, shivering as the snow soaked into the collar and wrists of his coat and began to pile up underfoot. Then the door opened, and Aziraphale glared at him from the step into the book shop. His eyes were very puffy and a little bloodshot.

“Thank someone.” Crowley hissed, pushing past Aziraphale into the main room, out of the cold. As soon as Aziraphale closed the door Crowley pulled him into a tight hug. Aziraphale let out a little squeak of surprise.

“Aziraphale.” Crowley breathed into his hair. “I’m sorry.”

Aziraphale’s breath hitched, then he pushed Crowley away and strode into the back room.

Crowley followed him and found him pulling things down from the cupboards for tea, wiping at his eyes and muttering to himself. "Go sit down, I'll do it." Crowley told him, pointing insistently to the couch in the corner before starting to make tea at the kitchenette. The teapot he’d bought earlier in the week was still in the cardboard box with the Christmas tree topper on the front. Crowley removed it, gave it a quick rinse, and filled it with Darjeeling before bringing it, along with two cups and a tin of biscuits, over to the table by the couch.

“I’m sorry, my dear, I don’t know what came over me.” Aziraphale said. His face was dry again and he looked, Crowley thought, rather guilty.

“Don’t apologize.” Crowley said. He handed Aziraphale a cup of tea which he accepted readily. “Tell me what’s wrong."

Aziraphale sipped his tea. Crowley picked up his own and settled back on the couch, waiting, watching Aziraphale think.

“Do you not like people assuming we’re together?” He asked eventually, fixing Crowley with a scrutinizing glare. All trace of the person who Crowley had been sure was about to start sobbing into his chest in the main room five minutes ago was gone, tucked up somewhere else. Crowley was profoundly grateful.

“Do you?” He asked. “Like it, I mean.”

“Yes.” Aziraphale said without a touch of embarrassment or unsurety.

“Why?”

A small half-smile had formed on Aziraphale’s lips. “It just seems to rattle you so much, dear. It’s funny sometimes, the way you carry on.” He let out a laugh. “I don't mean to be cruel, but it always riles you up in such a disproportionate fashion. It had never occurred to me before tonight that you were doing it because you genuinely didn’t…” he trailed off, shaking his head, bemused.

“Aziraphale,” Crowley said slowly, something starting to dawn on him, “do you think we’re together?”

Aziraphale snorted. “Of course we are, Crowley.”

“That’s news to me.” Crowley said. He didn’t know what else to say, so he took a biscuit from the table.

“Why? We do everything together. You come round here at all hours of the day and night and I phone you on much the same schedule. We know each other’s preferences and wants as well as we know our own.”

“Yes but,” Crowley interjected, his brow wrinkling, “I believe the nuance of the word ‘together’ requires some level of commitment, or, barring that, physical intimacy.”

“We touch. We hold hands, fix each other’s ties or hair or shirtsleeves. We don’t, ah, cuddle quite as much as I’d like, but—”

“You want to cuddle?” Crowley said, raising his eyebrows. Aziraphale raised his right back, silently challenging Crowley to mock him. He didn’t. After a moment Aziraphale moved closer to him on the couch and Crowley let himself be pulled into the angel's arms. It was... very nice, actually. Warm. 

“Okay,” Crowley started again, “but we’re not… we weren’t… Aziraphale, being ‘together’ requires mutual awareness of the fact.”

“And I do apologize for that, I forget how dense you can be about some things.”

Crowley thought that was a bit rich, all things considered, but chose not to comment.

“About the commitment aspect, though.” Aziraphale murmured after several moments. “Is there… do you want something more from me, where that’s concerned?”

“Like what?” Crowley asked, rolling his eyes even though he knew Aziraphale couldn't see his face from where they were sitting now. “We’re an occult and an ethereal being who saved the world and chose to forsake our respective allegiances for each other. Can’t really think of something that tops that in terms of commitment.”

“You brought it up, not I.” Said Aziraphale with a little sniff. “I only asked because I saw you looking at those rings in that antiques shop the other day and I thought…”

“You thought I want to do the big white wedding rigamarole?” Crowley said incredulously.

“Not as such, but. I supposed if you, ah, wanted a ring…” He sounded very embarrassed.

“I just like rings, angel. There's no deeper meaning there.”

“Alright.” Aziraphale said. He gave Crowley a little squeeze. They both finished their tea, comfortable together as the snow continued to pile up outside.

The next morning Crowley woke up in Aziraphale’s very ancient and slightly worn out bed in the room above the shop to a steaming mug of tea on the rickety little bedside table, along with the poison ring he’d been looking at in the antiques shop, and a small note in Aziraphale’s handwriting that simply read, “just in case”.