Actions

Work Header

Small things

Chapter Text

"Crowley, If that's you I..."

He was not sure what he was going to say, that he was sorry, certainly, but maybe also that his friend needed to come off this nonsense or tell him what was actually bothering him. He did not quite get that far.

It was silly anyway. Crowley was sulking, probably taking a long nap, and clearly did not want to talk to him at the moment. He would have to find some way to make it up to him. The last thing he would do would be to disguise himself as some other snake just to- what he was not sure either, because he was suddenly a couple meters away without thinking about it.

"Away with you. No, you can't have him." he scolded to the sound of disgruntled honking and hissing that did not come entirely from the snake.

He was also relatively certain he would not be so committed to the act, that he would let himself be pecked at by water fowl without righting himself and walking away, not having enough shame to be properly embarrassed even when he was embarrassed. A little recoil and a distressed hiss was all it took to have him decide that the snake really was just small and defenceless and that it would be unbearably cruel to watch it be hurt.

He walked back to the bench glancing back at the goose as if offended at the idea that such an animal even would try to harm a snake. It seemed slightly backwards in some way. Though birds did eat fish, and the like, and this snake was very small, and -not that defending nests was really necessary this late in the season- it could have been instinctive. He probably only got away with it because the ducks and geese here were so used to him feeding them.

Of course, if he really knew anything about snakes, or this variety in particular, he would have known it was full grown, but he assumed it was just a hatchling. He would have also known that the tiny squeeze against his hand was an automatic fear response. In fact, if you were to drop a snake in a wind tube, to mimic a very long fall, it would do something very much the same, trying to reassure itself that it could hold something solid. A snake in free fall would tie itself in knots trying to make itself feel secure, like it had something to hold onto, whether or not it did and whether or not it knew it would possibly die when it finally hit the bottom. Aziraphale did not know this of course, and so took the first little squeeze as a kind of thanks.

“Oh don't mention it.” he practically cooed at the little animal.

He sat back down, checked it over carefully for injury, and gestured to let the little thing sit beside him on the bench. It did not move. It was clinging to his hand, again, likely an involuntary response, another feeble squeeze. Either way it did not seem to want to let go, so he let it stay and shielded it from the sun and the sight of the other geese with his hand. Well, it certainly had lovely red belly scales like Crowley, but he highly doubted that Crowley would tolerate being picked up this way, would let himself be so vulnerable, or would be showing such clear signs of fear and distress. He looked around.

“Dear child, where is your mother?”

The snake that was not -in fact- a hatchling did not do anything in response. It just clung to his hand, so he assumed it was safely not Crowley and thus safe to speak to. He felt like he needed someone to speak to.

“Well, it just happens I like being in the company of snakes.” he said, with a bit of a dry tone, something of a reluctant jab at his friend who was currently refusing to be present, though he did actually mean it.

“Not that he'd appreciate the comparison.” he sighed.

“I don't know why though.” he went on, stroking the top of its head gently, “I think you're quite charming.”

“And such a lovely red belly.”

The snake lifted its head just enough to bob ever so slightly when it was stroked. Ever so gentle brushes meeting a very small snake. It was smaller than a pen, so small, in fact, he was surprised he had seen it at all to begin with. It gave him a long steady look, but of course it did, snakes did not blink and always moved very intentionally anyway. At least it had stopped periodically squeezing his hand as if still seeking to reassure itself. He had guessed by this point it was more of a stress reaction. He would have to get it to let go eventually, and he was afraid that trying to force it would definitely hurt it. He could only imagine what Crowley would think if he finally came around to discover Aziraphale had adopted the first snake he found, and with a little red belly no less. He would have to learn to care for it properly, and it just seemed such a nerve-wrackingly fragile little thing. That was, if Crowley came around within the lifespan of such a creature.

“He seems to be set on taking everything I say in the worst possible way.” he lamented quietly to his new companion, speaking softly and trying to soothe it.

“I never mean it to be an affront. It's just he...”

Well he -was- a demon, and when he pointed it out, he was not doing it to be cruel, but to state the facts. And he -was- a snake, in a sense at least. Even before the fall he had been serpentine in form, as much as any of them had visual qualities or forms when not assigned a body. If some angels resembled great wheels with thousands of eyes, then -he imagined- Crowley would have resembled a great dragon; not that he had met him personally before he had been cursed to “crawl on his stomach” and re-named “Crawly”, but everyone seemed to have some idea of how it happened, though maybe those were just rumours.

A demon he was though, and not only were they -supposed- to be at odds by nature, a construct that they had largely rejected, but in some direct way they were; physically, so to speak. Aziraphale himself could be harmed by hellfire and Crowley could easily be killed by holy water. There were things that could happen to them that were far worse then being inconveniently discorporated, and even if that was all, it was impossible they would be given new bodies again and would be trapped in opposite places, if not just wiped from existence.

“He seems to forget how dangerous it can be. He makes enemies of all the wrong sorts, on both sides, we both have, and he does things like stroll into churches and ask to be handed vials of holy water.” Now he was the one hissing about things under his breath, pleading for understanding with a snake.

That was all besides the fear he was struggling to admit to himself, that he always had.

The snake seemed to finally get over the surprise of being petted gently and settled its head down against the back of his finger with a little sigh. So he shifted to his side to make sure he was not pressing it too hard. Maybe he was soothing himself now. He looked at the little ring of speckles near the snake's neck. It was small and cooler than the air should seem to allow for, and very smooth, almost like glass. He certainly felt like he was holding something as fragile as glass.

“And if he thinks holy water is the only thing divine that can harm a demon...”

There was such a thing as divine grace, and all sorts of things on his former side, as much as twisted parallels on the other, and they did not understand how those really worked or interacted in more subtle ways, just how some could be used to harm the other side. They were originally of the same stock, and could -as such- perform similar miracles, and illusions, transformations and so on, but -they- were not really supposed to be interacting in ways that could be described as subtle, or amicable or anything of the sort, and if things that were pure and good and healing could -some of them- hurt his friend the way they did, then he shuddered to think what all that entailed. He did not know, neither of them could know. He did not know in what ways they were still the same and in what ways they were disastrously different, even now, especially now. He did not know how each of them were changing or could change, and even that was short of any kind of emotional considerations. He had always been comfortable with unknowns before.

Perhaps it was that he had been surrounded by so much certainty in so many things that leaving something up to an understanding and judgment beyond his had never bothered him before. Maybe it was that it did not feel like anything he really cherished was a stake until now.

“Well, anyway, its not like him to be this sensitive... is it?”

He may have asked this in an attempt to reassure himself that he was not the root of this, but it came out as more of an actual question than he intended. Maybe Crowley had always been more affected by it than he had caught onto. Aziraphale had though it had practically become a running joke between them, but then all of a sudden -if he could judge by his reaction at all- it had become terribly offensive.

~*~

They had been having breakfast. Well -he- had been having breakfast, Crowley had been sprawled out on a chair across from him in some kind of steadily increasing mood that seemed to have been building for months.

Aziraphale had finally conceded to having him stay with him, Even if 'with him' meant being invited to find an apartment nearer his shop. Since the end of the world had already happened and they were being left alone, he had thought that, if they could be considered to be acting in open defiance of both their sides, to no longer belong to said sides, they had no real need for their Arrangement anymore, and that they might end up spending a lot less time together. Crowley, however, and however much the world was not still ending, still seemed pointedly, nonchalantly keen on the idea of maybe going off together somewhere, though now somewhere on earth, where they both loved being, and would fight to stay; maybe somewhere that was warm this time of year.

Aziraphale had shown too much hesitance to leave the shop behind, and Crowley immediately understood, every time he asked. One time, Aziraphale asked him why he kept bringing it up, why it mattered that they be closer together, since they saw each other all the time anyway. Crowley had stopped asking. Both their excuse for being around each other, and the need for that excuse wore off in one breath and Aziraphale was left having to admit somewhat openly that he did not at all mind Crowley being around, that he might actually prefer it. When he suggested finding a place closer to the shop, he seemed to immediately take him up on it.

The whole truth was he had actually entertained the idea of him moving in entirely -a fair turn, and something that actually sounded nice- but he knew Crowley like having a lot more rooms than he had, for things that were not books, and when he brought up the idea of bringing all of his plants to the shop he started waving it off saying how if their plants met it would ruin everything. He knew how Crowley seemed to think refrigerators were supposed to work, and he was -frankly- afraid to ask about the plants.

Of course that was a fair distance to still be considered living companions, but it was close enough that a haphazard saunter could easily bring him to the shop, and did, daily. When it started to seem like turning parts of his shop into something more resembling a home would make more practical sense, he decided it would actually be perfectly repelling to customers and did exactly that. There was now a little cafe area thrown together in one corner, which could -in theory- be attractive, but always looked like someone had just dined there and not quite -entirely- left yet, or generally somehow gave off the impression of being in use even when no one was using it. There was a seating area in one of the back rooms, though books still lined the walls, but there was a sign hanging in front of the door proclaiming it off limits to customers. He could just see the reviews now.

So, in theory, they did not actually live together, but Crowley did sleep, and had taken easily to falling asleep as they conversed, and as those conversations dragged on into late hours, the natural result was him waking on a sofa sometime in the morning and sauntering out to where Aziraphale now ate breakfast. The only thing that did not feel natural about it was just how much -or how easily- Crowley had taken to sleeping a large portion of the time, when he should not even need sleep. He found it a little fascinating, seeing someone with angelic heritage sleeping, but also a little concerning. And then there was his mood.

He said mood because, well, normally little gestures of care were met with a placated kind of silence. It was as though whenever he did something to try to be friendly Crowley would be caught up enough -trying to process it- that he would not really have a reaction other than a kind of calm acceptance, sometimes a very long look. Usually. Lately, on the other hand, he seemed to be going out of his way to dramatically turn everything into an offensive gesture, and it was getting to be incrementally more absurd seeming leaps.

~*~

“Even since the very beginning he's been like that.” he told the little snake, “Even in the very first rain, when I offered him a wing to shelter under... ” Aziraphale trailed off.

Crowley certainly did not remember it like that, at least not always, unless 'offered' meant twitched it towards him awkwardly like he wanted to offer, and then clearly tell himself he had better not -for fear of judgment- and look guilty and a little sad about it. Still, the fact that he had even wanted to was what they both seemed to chose to focus the memory on, each rewriting it little by little in their own minds until it seemed odd that Aziraphale also remembered Crowley's hair being soaked through by the time they parted. The fact that the angel had spoken with him and even wanted to shelter him from the unknown of the rain made Crowley's memory of it seem warm enough to seem inconsistent with the cold wetness of the whole thing. Usually anyway. And if you asked him -which Aziraphale never had- he thought a perfectly reasonable reaction to such a thing was a good long stare.

Of course, he could have always opened his own wings to shield himself, but if Aziraphale did not think it was fully worth bothering with, then what was a little rain.

~*~

“You don't have to cover me with a blanket.” he remembered him saying as Aziraphale sat down to eat his eggs.

“Well, I wouldn't want you to get cold.” he said, taking a bite of toast.

In all honestly it just seemed kind of awkward, to notice he had fallen asleep and just get up and leave to go about his business. He did not sleep of course, he spent his time keeping financial records, cataloguing books and curating new arrivals, reading and so on. He had made one exception to that recently, out of curiosity and after the fatigue of all of that business with the world ending, and it had been a terrible idea. Awful dreams, perhaps suggesting he was just too anxious of a person these days to be suited to sleeping. It seemed rude not to do anything in acknowledgement -when he extracted himself and Crowley was asleep- so he thought putting a blanket over him was an appropriately friendly gesture, if perhaps a little human of him.

“Demons don't get cold.” He practically hissed in objection, whether or not that was true, “You... You just think I'm cold blooded.” he intoned it like the insult it was often intended as, completely regardless of whether it could be considered true at any given time.

Aziraphale, naturally, tried to brush off the accusation.

“You do. You're worried I'll hibernate or something if I get too cold.”

This was an unfair accusation and he probably should have known it. Aziraphale would have to have made a point to know a little more about the biology or design of reptiles to have drawn this conclusion, and for angels they had both always been interestingly uninterested in the details of God's creation.

“Well you -have- been sleeping a lot.” he shot back, hoping his concern made it across and glad to finally have some kind of opening to address it.

“Oh yeah, and it is starting to get chilly I suppose.” Crowley spat this back with enough venom that Aziraphale actually picked up on the sarcasm.

“You know that's not what I mean.” he sighed, trying to get back to a pleasant breakfast.

At least it probably was not. He really was worried though.

“Do I now?” Crowley cocked his chin up.

Under normal circumstances this kind of frankness would have been paired with very intense eyes giving him a very steady look over the top of his sunglasses. This had not been the case for a week.

“I- I am -really- worried about you though.” he said, not making eye contact and being careful to chose words like 'worried' and not 'concerned'.

Crowley made a derisive sound, and Aziraphale put both his hands on the table and tilted his head in an expression that said 'now really'.

“Maybe you just didn't accurately predict what it would be like living with a -demon-.” he said, putting a lot of stress and emphasis on the last word.

“That's- That's hardly fair, I'd like to think that, by now, I know you rather well... Though I wish I knew what has -obviously- crawled under your skin.”

“Oh yes, what creepy crawly -thing- ...Maybe it's a snake.” he hissed a very snake-like tongue for emphasis.

Aziraphale instantly regretted his word choice and felt lost.

“Or maybe something with wings?” he asked gently and Crowley sat back in his chair and looked off to the side, suddenly seeming ready to drop it again, though his bouncing foot shook the whole table in a threatening vibration.

“You've been acting so strange lately...” he said very carefully and gently, wanting to re-approach the subject of what was bothering him so much and hopefully not say anything else stupid.

“-I've- been acting -strange- have I?”

There was such a warning in those words, and still not even a peek out from behind his glasses, that he did not want to press. He just wanted him to be happy and at peace again, as much as peace could suit a demon. He had never known him to be so irritable or confrontational, or miserable, not towards him anyway. He wanted to shyly tuck back into his meal in hopes that was not the one wrong thing to do again, but he had lost his appetite, in a sense.

Maybe they were starting to become too human, maybe all this sleeping and eating they did was a natural result of living on earth so long, and now defying heaven and hell. Maybe if Crowley ate more, he might sleep less.

“...Do, do -you- like eggs?” he asked, picking the last of his boiled eggs up and holding it tentatively out to him.
Something in being offered food off of Aziraphale's plate seemed to bring back that reaction, of trying to even process a kind gesture enough to accept it. The way he reacted to these things had not really changed in thousands of years, despite that he was kind to him all the time -despite that they were kind to each other all the time- until this past week or so, which was what had him so concerned. Crowley tentatively reached out for the egg and he offered it properly.

“I'll have you know it's not because I'm a snake.” he said defiantly, but much calmer.

He had been watching him eat breakfast for a week and had not really bothered having any.

“Well, I eat and you sleep and maybe that's...”

Aziraphale was going to confess to possibly making a bigger deal of things than called for and maybe try to take some responsibility for whatever had come between them, even if he did not know quite what it was. Just then though, Crowley's finger brushed his, and felt hot and he jumped. And that was exactly the wrong thing.

“Yeah and you have yourself convinced that I'm the one acting strange.” Crowley snapped right back to upset and stopped entertaining the egg.

Now that was fair enough. Ever since he had tried sleeping and had that nightmare, he supposed he had been a little jumpy. Any time Crowley got too close or ended up touching him -or almost so- in some incidental way.

“If it's about that incident, then...” Crowley tried to say something and he did not mean to interrupt him, but he had to correct whatever assumption he was making.

The incident he was referring to was a short while ago. He had gotten a bit of soot on one of his wings and had not noticed until he very abruptly was made aware by Crowley -looking very concerned- and trying to clean it away. He was not used to his wings being touched or his friend so casually and intently reaching over boundaries like that. It was not that it was unpleasant at all, and -given another few thousand years to warm up to it- he probably would have enjoyed it. As it was, it was abrupt, and his mind insisted that there was something less than appropriate about it. It had been his turn to stare for a while, processing and flustered, before gently extracting himself from the concerned preening, and asking -trying not to sound too offended- what it was all about.

Crowley brushed it off and absolutely refused to discuss it further, telling him it was nothing, but he suspected he knew.

“Oh I'd hardly still be annoyed about something silly like that...”

Crowley interrupted him ineffectively to repeat the word “silly” in offence.

“... heaven's no, I -I had a... Well a nightmare, actually.” he had said, suddenly looking distressed, and maybe embarrassed.

Maybe it had been the exact worst possible thing to do, to let Crowley angrily drag it out of him what that nightmare had been about.

~*~

“You see, I'd tried to clean something off -his- wing, but he...” He couldn't really say it, it was bad enough that Crowley had forced him to.

It was like touching him catalyzed some reaction that spread like acid, like holy water, like fire.

It was bad enough Crowley's reaction was still clanging loudly around in his brain.

~*~

“So what? You're suddenly afraid that if something so pure touches some-thing- like me that I'll burst into flames?”

The fact that he grabbed a potted plant on his way out told him that he did not want to be followed.

~*~

Of course it was not really a rational fear to have and they both knew it. Especially now. They had been in all kinds of casual contact with each other over millennia, and it had never caused either of them harm; that he knew of at least. Not that Crowley would necessarily -tell- him if being touched by him hurt.

“So you see, I've done something terrible.” he confided to the little snake, who only watched him steadily.

“Letting him believe that. Not trying to stop him leaving, not... ”

He knew he was miserable at finding words for things and even being fully honest with himself about things like feelings. They both were.

“I don't... It's not what -I- think of him that's in command of these things. The fact is that we've been punished to be considered opposites...” He trailed off, realizing what he was finally putting into words.

“That's what I've come to suspect anyway -not that I presume to know, for the record- that God was punishing both of us, both side, for the war, for the fall. We all wanted to hurt each other, and now we can... Now we're opposite and dangerous to each other and no one knows what's safe and what isn't, not really, and we've already been let away with so much. And I know it felt so much like we were past all that... But if holly water can still burn a demon away...”

There were certainly other things that held a power comparable, things that were pure and healing and meant to be aligned with the side called Good. Even he, by his nature, contained something of that. He could swim in holy water because it was akin to him just as Crowley could walk through hellfire. It was not at all about what he personally held to be true of his friend, it was like the inescapable chemistry of the cosmos, and a -possibly outdated- judgment that was over and done with long ago; but for the consequences.

“...What about divine love?” he began to let himself voice his real fears out loud for the first time, in hushed and distressed whispers, “I'm a being of love, how could I not love my friend? And what if by his very nature that love eats away at him until there's nothing left?”

“After everything... Of course it isn't up to me, whether we should be allowed...”

“And if he knew, he'd try to tempt me with the idea that it was probably safe.” he smiled fondly, “That love could never be bad, that I'm not capable of doing anything wrong, Just to put my mind at ease, just so... But he doesn't know. God -only- knows and if we make guesses and we're -wrong- I... I couldn't let...”

He could not let Crowley pay the price for his comfort, or let anything happen to him, and if it was somehow his fault, he could not bear it.

His hands trembled and he felt the little snake squeeze him gently, maybe trying to steady its perch, reminding him to be very careful, as if he was not still holding the little creature like it was precious and fragile.

“And all this time, I think, I think it really -has- been eating at him, at least that I bring it up, that we're supposed to be on opposite sides... ”

It was the only explanation that seemed reasonable for the theme of his irritations and reactions.

“I'm not sure why he seems to take it all so... judgmentally. I don't know what I've done to let him think that I really -agree- with all those terrible things about him...”

He trailed off again, first folding into himself slightly and then straightening.

“If I thought it was up to my judgment -though I know it's not- and if it was in me to question the ineffable plan -which it's not- I'd say that he's been treated absolutely unfairly.” He said with conviction, despite his professed lack of conviction.

“But then, if it were any different, then I suppose Crowley wouldn't be Crowley, and I- Well... The world would have ended, for one.”

There was so much more to it than that. If Crowley was not Crowley then everything he knew and loved in the world would all be gone.

“And he's just seemed so tired lately, and it's as though everything I say to him only makes it worse, and he's hurt, actually hurt this time, and I don't know how to fix it. I don't know if I can.”

“With the way he's been acting, I'm beginning to suspect that there isn't anything I could say that wouldn't just make him think that I think less of him, or make him feel worse about himself.”

“What if by -my- very nature, all -I- can do is hurt him? No matter what I think or feel? What if that's the real punishment?”

He just wished he knew.

“Why does it all have have to be so...”

He heard his favourite word crash through his mind but he looked miserable.

“I really must be terrible... Your eyes remind me so much of his.”

~*~

Of course if he knew anything about snakes at all he would have also known that it was completely unrealistic to find such a snake in the ecological zone he was in, that -if it was there at all- it would be hibernating by now, and also that this particular kind of snake, a North American red belly to be specific, had round, large pupils and warm dark brown eyes, and not sharp yellow ones. Had he known this he would not have said anything at all on the subject, out of politeness, or anything of his internal workings out of a vague fear that putting things into words and admitting them to someone would make them too real and bring about consequences he did not want to face.

Crowley, meanwhile, had never meant to trick him. He was not even quite sure why he was there or how he had gotten into this. It seemed like such a natural progression. He had intended to be small enough not to notice, at least enough to see if Aziraphale would be there and then decide what he wanted to do.

Or it might have been that it was all a lot more involved than Aziraphale thought, his punishment. When he and the others had been cursed, it was for hubris and pride, for both questioning the plan, and Gods priorities, but also jealousy of man and things like disdain for God's creations. So their punishment was to become like those creatures they treated as so beneath them, in many ways, in substantial ways. It was not just a change of superficial costume, it was a shift in what form was -and felt- the most natural to them. They were meant to feel what it might be like to be weak and mortal and small and temporary, even if much of that was ultimately some illusion.

Being human shaped took more effort than it did to be an Angel assigned a human body, though the body itself tended human, or humanoid, and was to some fair degree his natural form as much as any, his new nature always wanted to shift it toward snake. Thus serpentine forms were the most natural feeling, and the further he shifted away from that the more effort and focus it took. He could -for example- pretend to have human eyes, but he would have to want to, and he was bad at schooling his consciousness into wanting to hide his nature. He thought maybe he just did not like the dishonesty of it, deep down, to lie about what he was, thought, after all this time, he had come to think maybe it was something more selfish, like some desire to be known for who he really was, that made it so difficult.

Any time he tried to change his eyes and he was met with kindness or affection or anything other than the usual fear and mistrust, it only hurt, it stung and burned ,and it all felt like lies, and that made it impossible for him to maintain. He was, in short, somewhat bound to the forms he identified with most, and was not really in conscious control of that. So when he was stressed and in poor control of his emotions and reactions, it became increasingly easy to be a snake, and not just look like one, but to inhabit what it meant to be a snake, biochemistry, natural responses and all. Regardless of whether the context made him feel more secure or more vulnerable that way, and maybe he also just felt very small at the moment, or like he should be very small.

Aziraphale might have been surprised to see that a goose might attack a small snake like that. Crowley was not. Crowley was glad his natural serpentine form was actually rather large, and liked to avoid disguising himself as small snakes, specifically because a surprising number of creatures you might think of as gentle would easily try to kill -and then probably eat- any snake they thought they could safely overpower. He knew, not because of any interest in God's designs, but from experience.

In any event, he -told- himself his plan was to see if he was there and then decide what he wanted to do, and then a bunch of things just kind of happened.

The first mistake had been thinking -or not thinking at all- that the small size was a good idea around geese, or even the usual ducks. He suspected it was all downhill from there, really. From the moment they attacked him, he could either reveal himself and leave, or let himself be pecked to death, and before he could decide that he did not care if Aziraphale saw him, just one quick hissed stream of -cursing his lack of foresight- and panic later, he had already been spotted and picked up, whisked off to safety.

And then his friend was holding him and patting his head so very gently and telling him how charming he was, and oozing affection, and working his way around to confessing to all kinds of things, things he would probably never admit to Crowley for another couple thousand years at least. And he reacted the only -and only rational- way he knew how, stared at him and listened.

He knew he was being sensitive and he hated it. It was not like him, or -at least- being obvious about it was not like him. It -had- been getting under his skin lately that Aziraphale seemed to be going to extra lengths to remind him of how differently natured they were, when he thought that had all been a front out of necessity, and that he seemed to develop some new paranoid aversion to any contact with him. It was as thought he had forgotten every affectionate gesture that passed between them that had not harmed him or turned the sky to blood. He had thought they were past the whole angel and demon thing, the whole act -he had thought it was an act- about needing to be careful about a creature of hell.

He was seeing it all in a very different context now. Not once did his friend mention anything about judgment for himself or fear that he might taint himself or distance himself from heaven, not once was anything unkind or even unloving said about Crowley's nature. Not once -other than perhaps calling him sensitive- did he blame Crowley for anything. He had never before heard him voice doubt about the ineffable plan, or judgments -of his own- for God or either side, but now they seemed to spill out.

His friend was having a crisis of faith.

That was the last thing Crowley wanted.

Aziraphale could not have a crisis of faith, he was certain of everything and usually cherished what little uncertainty he was allowed. Now he was questioning everything and especially his own nature, a light squeeze at his hand seemed to make it worse, and if Crowley let this continue he was afraid his own nightmares would come true. The sky was darkening, deep rolling grey clouds were filling up the sky as the red of the sunset slipped away.

But then, he was being held gently, quite carefully, close to his friend's chest, and the gentle stroking on his side only stopped so he could be shielded from the budding evening rain. It was just too late now, he thought, to correct the situation. The only polite thing he could do was slink away and address this all somehow, and quickly.

The little snake had flinched slightly, scrunching up, as the rain started, as if expecting to feel heavy, cold drops on his head next, but when Aziraphale held his hand up to protect him from the rain, it looked up, raising its head to stare at him evenly again. But he was staring helplessly past the little being into the depths of time.

He was remembering eyes like that and rain drenched hair, still content to stand next to him.

“I should have never let my fear of judgment keep me from doing what I felt was right. I didn't with the sword... And he's forgiven me over and over for it since, had from the beginning...” And then he had an even more terrible thought, “Or maybe he's just taken it into himself that it's not something that -needs- to be forgiven. How could I let him think that?”

Before he could get too caught up deciding just how horrible he was, a desperate little squeeze around his fingers brought him back to the present.

“I'm sorry...” he began, so softly and a little pained, thinking that maybe in his distraction he had been anything less than gentle with the little snake, and checking it over again for injury or distress.

Now, you could get a lot past Aziraphale about the minute details of animals. He could not -for example- tell you what all the species were or whether snakes could cry. He could say, with relative certainty -on the other hand- that snakes did not generally get teary eyed at being shielded from the rain by anyone, regardless of whether that person was an angel, and would likely not respond with such an outpouring of love; now that he could sense it over the distractions. And he -at least- had the good sense to know how to be properly embarrassed when things were properly embarrassing.

“Oh dear.” he mouthed to himself before he could say or think anything else.

He did not know what else to do, so he opened his wings to shield the bench beside him, and miracled away the water wordlessly. He did not want it to seem too much like a demand, just an offer.

Crowley supposed he had to face this sooner or later, and that there was only so much being held like he was delicate that he could reasonably allow for now, especially since it had suddenly become all respectful distance and the stroking had stopped. He was ready for this to send Aziraphale flying off in the other direction, caught off guard, for him to get defensive and maybe accuse him of tricking him on purpose. His friend always took a very long time to come around to things. He was preparing himself for the initial reaction as he morphed into his place beside him, still warm and dry. The sound of the rain intensified and stretched on.

“You weren't -really- going to let the goose...?” Aziraphale asked instead, after a long silence and very quietly.

“What? Noo. I was about to...” he made a gesture like fangs or claws in the air, “You know, and just...” he indicated leaving in a very strict way with his hands.

It somehow suggested the mental imagine of springing up out of the grass as if appearing from nowhere already mid-stride in the closest thing to a determined march all his sauntering could allow for, and not looking back.

“But...” instead of having to describe what came next he switched tracks, “What -do- you think of me?”

Aziraphale thought he had probably said enough about what he thought that evening, and instead looked like he was going to start apologizing again. He only stopped when Crowley fixed him with another long stare. His eyes were their proper size again and he had finally left off the barrier of his sunglasses. Recently his eyes had always been narrowed to fine slits, stress, fatigue, adrenaline, general distress, even anger, hurt, as he feared, and it was one of those things he had been so worried by, that they seemed progressively more closed off.

Now it was like he could see into them again. He was not sure he could quite read the expression he was wearing.

“You know, you've been apologizing to me for a solid hour.”

“Yes, and you...” he stopped because he did not know where to go with that.

He of course had just let him. Aziraphale could hardly blame him for not knowing how to reasonably extract himself from the situation. It all happened kind of quickly, and Crowley never had a real plan and never knew how to really react to anything. And if his friend took some comfort from being held, he could hardly blame him for that either.

“You -really- didn't know?” Crowley asked, with another, long and hard to read stare.

Aziraphale shook his head. He could not, after all, very well go around assuming any snake he encountered was his friend. He also could not always have the sense of things he probably should when he was so caught up in his own feelings. He could only imagine how horribly awkward that had been.

“If you think I did this on purpose...”

“Oh no, this is all my fault.” Aziraphale countered, very automatically.

Crowley's body language seemed to be arguing with itself between sprawling out on the bench and adopting a very closed posture. Finally he seemed to break out of this restlessness, back to very intentional motions, as if there was something urgent.

Aziraphale was, thus, distracted from trying to elaborate, because Crowley was suddenly overly occupied with one of his wings again, gently guiding it towards him and turning the tip to face down and then back out again, looking it over. This time Aziraphale was careful not to pull or flinch away, easier when he was just turning it and not rummaging through the feathers and trying to stroke them clean, the memory of which, in hindsight, left pleasant chills. He must have still been giving him an expression that begged an answer though.

“You're not the only one who gets bad dreams.” Crowley confessed, or chided him.

It was actually many dreams, if you were intent on calling them that, and of course Aziraphale would guess in short order, or already had.

“Crowley, dear... You're really worried I might fall?”

There was that defensiveness, much lessened, but this time the doubt laced all through it was distressing to hear.

“Because of you?” he asked in a kind of pained disbelief.

Not long ago he would have voiced such concern himself, that consorting with demons and letting himself be convinced into things could bring him to that end, but that was before he knew how deeply that was actually affecting his friend. Now, he was ready to start defending that any time Crowley had tempted him it was because he had practically asked him to, or out of some kindness, or whatever else he needed to hear.

“...Because you thought you deserved it... Because of me.”

In all fairness, with the way he had been talking over the past half hour or so, it was probably quite reasonable of him to be concerned. He was starting to form his own suspicions about how much of their experiences broke down to what they believed they deserved.

“Well, I do feel like I haven't been a very good friend.”

Even admitting that they were friends out loud like that was relatively new. It had not even been a single year yet.

“You'd think, by now, I'd be able to tell what's bothering you. Maybe I shouldn't have to ask.”

It would certainly be easier for Crowley if he would figure it out on his own, or if he would catch onto his sarcasm or shifts in moods without it being explained, but it was not personal, they were both terrible at this kind of thing, and it certainly was not because he did not care. All the confessions of how much he really did care were still rolling lazily around in his head.

“You -did- ask, you tried.”

He could not really expect him to know if he never said anything direct about it.

Now Crowley perpetually had that tone and air about him, like he did every time he asked to go far away together, that softening and vulnerability that became so painfully obvious.

“If you don't mind? In your words?” Aziraphale asked quietly after a minute.

“Oh you know, it's all these... Small things, and when there's enough of them, they eventually become one big -thing-.” he gestured expressively.

He made it sound like a thousand and one little slights had worn on him, and maybe that was how it had happened and why Aziraphale felt awful about it.

“You don't... You don't usually take it seriously, those things... Not anymore?

Aziraphale just really needed to hear he had not been being cruel all this time. Crowley wanted more than anything to reassure him of that. All Crowley ever did was try to keep him from having to feel like he had to be hard or frightening, or detached or authoritative, or any of those things that actually made a biblical Angel sound terrifying. He wanted to let him be kind and soft, gentle, and to get to think of himself that way, and maybe that was why he had such a hard time saying something when he hurt his feelings. He would have to tell him that he had done something mean, and he would have to admit to having feelings. He did not want to do that.

“Nah... Not usually, or often.”

“But sometimes? Lately?”

Crowley looked off, away from him and gripped the edge of the bench. He was trying to figure it out. It was not that being sensitive or dramatic was not in his nature, of course he was those things, he accepted that as easily and without judgment as his friend did, it was more that those things did not usually create rifts between them or leave either of them feeling terrible or small, at least not for very long before they came around.

“What do you think?” he sighed in a slightly agitated way, making it sound just a bit like hissing.

“I think...” Aziraphale started, at risk of saying too much about what he was thinking again, “That you should be allowed to be sensitive sometimes... That it's reasonable.” he paused to watch how he gripped the edge of the bench, much like he occasionally gripped the steering wheel, or a crowbar, or spray bottle, or book, like he could steel himself to face anything if he just felt like he had something solid to hold onto.

“...And that maybe it's not you being sensitive after all... And that maybe I could be kinder.” he tested.

In all honesty, Aziraphale was a little tired of not letting himself reach out when he felt he should, for fear of what it meant to anyone outside of them, and if something was hurting his friend, it was his hesitance. So he gently teased his pinky under Crowley's, it being the only finger that was not curled tightly over the edge of the bench. This earned him a very long stare, but in a few minutes Crowley had relaxed and let go of the bench, now returning the gesture and curling his pinky around his to hold it there. He felt a familiar squeeze at his finger.

“Finally get over this irrational fear you have?” he asked, but his voice was much more subdued.

“Well, all evening, if I could... hold you and... Then, I don't see the harm.” he seemed flustered, but firm at the least.

Another very long stare, and a very long silence.

He was glossing right over all the parts with the open affection and the kind words and being told he was loved, if indirectly. And if that had not caused some catastrophic reaction, then maybe it should put both of them at ease. It raised other questions though.

“Crowley dear? When you were...”

“Hm?”

“Well the reason I assumed it couldn't be you was that you seemed genuinely afraid.”

He did not want to put it in a way that might embarrass him.

“The snake, really seemed like it was in genuine distress.”

“Why, didn't you just let go?”

He had, after all, given him an opening to let go and slither off. When he was met with too long of a silence he tried to prod at him.

“Is it that you like...”

“I couldn't.” Crowley interrupted him quickly, then, at the look he was suddenly getting, “I couldn't just let go.” he admitted.

“What do you mean?” he asked, despite that he had come to suspect that much, thought he did not know why.

This was obviously something that was agitating him, but eventually the toe bouncing stopped and his grip tightened just slightly.

“Well I don't know about you, but when I change forms, it isn't just all...” he waved his other hand around, “It's not all just shapes... I -become- the thing I'm becoming, especially...”

Especially when he was in the form he was cursed to.

“I mean I'm still -me- I'm just also...”

“You don't mean it makes you...?” he said with concern.

“Noo. Not really. I don't think I ever stop being... what I am... It's just, well it's part of the punishment, right? To know what it feels like to be all...” he waved his hand around again.

“Vulnerable?” Aziraphale tested quietly.

Crowley's hand dropped as if it, unfortunately, did not have to search for the word anymore. He seemed agitated again, until Aziraphale gave his pinky a little squeeze.

“I can't imagine being changed like that. Against my will, even as a punishment for...” he said after a while, again running into the fact he did not even really know what it was Crowley was being punished for.

Certainly it was not for causing the fall of man, as the bible stated, because he had been punished before that, during the fall of the angels, and he certainly had not caused that one. Aziraphale assumed that if he even had a roll in that -which was significant at all- that with all the work he had done for hell, he would be much higher ranking at the least. Instead, even hell had always treated him, quite unfairly, like a useful nuisance.

“Yeah well, it was a long time ago.” Crowley brushed it off, “And you know...”

He remembered what Aziraphale had said about Crowley not being Crowley.

“Angel, you have a nightmare and all this seems like a reasonable reaction, but you don't -seem- very concerned about not having to imagine.”

He did not seem overly concerned about falling himself, anymore, in something of a hurry.

“Are -you- worried?”

Crowley looked away again. He was unprepared for the question and that was exactly why he asked it. That was not at all fair.

“It just so happens, I'm not actually concerned about it.” he reasoned.

“Oh? That certain of yourself?” Crowley was shifting back towards testy.

“Well obviously I'm concerned about how you'd feel, I just...”

Crowley's eyebrows raised steadily higher, prompting him to go on. After everything he had said it was possible this was a strange thing to get hung up on.

“After all this time, I'm not sure it -really- matters.”

“If you fell?” Crowley asked incredulously, both eyebrows flying upwards.

“Well...” If Crowley was really going to make him explain this, he was not sure how he could manage the words for all of it.

It was true they had already rejected sides in this, and that there would not necessarily be any significant change to his abilities or freedoms, or his lifestyle at all. He already did not want to go back to heaven and rather enjoyed Crowley's company, and was ready to fight to keep it. Crowley had proven he could still do as much good in the world as he wanted regardless. Still this was a bold statement coming from him of all people.

“Perhaps it would be for the better...”

At least, if his fundamental alignment changed, then he did not have to worry about being dangerous to him.

Crowley, meanwhile, looked like his brain might be melting.

“That's not funny.” Crowley said flatly.

“I'm being quite serious.”

He cleared his throat very quietly at Crowley's sudden intensity and closeness.

Another very long stare. Gears suddenly chipped hotly down to metal whirring past more smooth metal.

“Well.” Aziraphale began defensively, “At least then I'd know that if we got discorporated -or worse- then...”

At least they could be relatively certain to go to the same place.

“Oh, no, no, no do not put -this- on me.” Crowley warned him in a hiss.

“You are always asking to be closer, and you -you- don't seem very concerned about being trapped on opposite ends of the cosmos, and you don't seem very worried about the possibility that I might-” he defended irritably, hesitating a little over words he had resisted using for a very long time, and through it almost coming to pass, “...Lose you.” finally saying it out loud.

Crowley felt equal parts like he should be very angry, but also like it was all very sweetly placating and the natural result of this was a very strong mess of emotions that he hated not knowing how to navigate.

“Anyway, I thought that's what you wanted.”

Crowley had two settings for handling emotions. One was to act out dramatically and loudly about it, the other was to stare at them like an overwhelming obstacle in silence. Existential threats often -though not always- got dealt with much like the possibility of losing his favourite car, much to Aziraphale's dismay, despite it generally being a more practical and useful reaction. Emotions, on the other hand, got treated much more the way he expected existential threats should be, and at that very moment, as if on an intensity activated switch, that came to include the ones Crowley himself was experiencing. He was now, in fact, caught up trying to resist turning into his other form.


On one hand, what Aziraphale was saying amounted to not really caring about either of their natures so long as they would be allowed each other's company, which was not a confession he could take lightly, and filled him with warmth. It became one of those buoyant bobbles tumbling around in his head and making it hard to catch his other thoughts. On the other hand, it was starting to sound a lot like Aziraphale was not making any distinction between Crowley's want for his company, and Crowley actually wanting him to fall, or trying to tempt him to it, and that was not an accusation he could handle or process; especially not with all these other bright and soft floating things getting in his way. It was all so much light and warmth, and by contrast, it made the rest of everything in his head feel cold and dark.

“I don't... I never wanted...”

The question of Aziraphale falling was a lot like the question of the end of the world. It was one thing to go through the motions of trying, or to act like he was, so long as he knew it would never happen, and quite another thing to think he could cause -or actually had caused- it to come about. He thought, if anything, Aziraphale had understood that, at least from fairly early on.
Aziraphale heard a small pained voice turn slowly into a hiss and then his pinky was holding the tip of a tail.

“Oh no... Oh, Crowley, don't... I, this... Oh, bugger, this is -why- we don't talk about these things.”

Perhaps it was that Crowley, the snake, looked all too much like he wanted to leave, or that he looked so small sitting on the bench next to him -not as small as the little red belly, but certainly smaller than usual- or that he had relaxed his grip on his hand a little too much for Aziraphale's comfort.

“Oh, stop this.” he said, though he seemed to already acknowledge it was not something Crowley could just -not- do, because he was already moving to do the one thing he thought would get his friend to stay put.

He picked him up. Crowley, in his surprise, tried to give him a look that would encompass all the startled indignation that Aziraphale himself was capable of, and was fairly certain that he managed it, and yet he was still being held, though very gently.

“Oh of course I know that.” Aziraphale started, much too close to the tone of voice he used when Crowley was not Crowley, “You've been having nightmares about that very thing.” he soothed him.

“It's just, well, after you managed to save the world because I threatened to stop talking to you, I thought we were past keeping up pretenses that,” he sighed, “Well that -we- didn't want to be together.”

Now that Crowley was Crowley, Aziraphale held him at a slightly more respectful distance, but still just as softly.

“Not at the expense of...” Crowley hissed angrily, “Of you not being... You!”

Again, the switch flicked, overwhelmed, and he went back to silent staring.

“Of course.” Aziraphale softened, confirming he knew, maybe if he had not fully realized how much hand it had in his anxieties until now,

“Not any more than I want you to stop being Crowley.”

“And what if Crowley iss really just Crawly. What if this iss all that I am deep down? What if I deserve exactly what I got, to sslither and crawl, because all I know how to do iss tarnishh -tempt- and corrupt? What if I am just a wily venomous ssnake who wantss to drag you down with me?” The snake now reared up hissing.

Aziraphale had to stop looking at him like that. Like his heart was breaking for him. Like he wanted to soothe it all way.

“Oh Crowley, that's not what this is, is it?” he said very softly.

Now was really not the time to hold back. It seemed like now was a rare moment of vulnerability that he hoped might help him fix some of the damage he might have done. There were things Crowley should know, that he thought he knew, but he could not really expect him to, if he never actually said them.

“What makess you sssso ssure I'm not thesse thingss?” he hissed in defiance of his own very messy feelings.

“Well,” he said softly after a minute, “Even if you were, I'd remind you that I happen to be very fond of a demon who was named Crawly, and that I'm very thankful to him. I'd remind you that everything he's tempted me into has ultimately been for the better, and has helped me become a better person. I'd have to remind you that I'd still prefer his company to all of heaven's, and that I think small crawly things that try are very admirable and are as much a deserving part of gods creation as anyone... I'd point out that the Crawly I know started doing things out of love a very long time ago, all on his own, even despite not thinking it would be returned and certain he would be punished for it, and that if his love is a corruption to something then that thing aught to be corrupted. And I'd tell you that even if all these things you say sound bad, that they must ultimately -be- good because otherwise you wouldn't want to do them.”

More bright softness tumbled in.

“I tried to tempt you into killing a child.” he reminded him in some terribly small hissing voice.

“You know as well as I why you did that.” he protested.

“Do I now?”

Aziraphale sighed and shook his head, but Crowley was clearly expecting a response, or -he thought- needing one. He glanced around quickly confirming they were still quite alone, the rain now like a sheet of privacy. It seemed that he was not the only one struggling with inner doubts, and maybe hearing it would help.

“You thought it would probably come down to it, that I would get there on my own, one way or another. You knew I'd do anything to protect you from the wrath of hell. Our options were limited. You wouldn't want me to blame myself for it, so...”

If Crowley was the one who suggested it, and convinced him it was the right thing to do, then Crowley could take the blame.

“I sshould have done it.” he said with certainty, “If I thhought it was the right thing, but insstead I whissspered -rationalizationss- in your ear.”

“Nonsense.” he said quietly, chancing to relax his arm and let him rest a little closer, “You are -always- doing the hard things, the mean things, all the terrible business of necessity... All so that I don't have to. All so that -I- never have to feel like anything other than 'the nice one'.” he was almost lamenting it now.

“You never whisper anything to me that you don't think I want, or need, to hear... And I couldn't very well make you have to be the one to do it... You've never had my conviction, and the consequences for you would be...”

Of course he could not let Crowley have to face that alone. He wondered idly if Crowley was actually getting heavier or if it was just tiring to try to hold him at a distance.

“I musst -be- awful though, I was punished above almost all otherss.” he lazily mimicked his phrasing.

Well, at least the rumours and that book insisted so.

Aziraphale knew it much be a sensitive subject, considering that in 6000 years they had not really gotten to discussing it, but -again- he wondered what exactly Crowley's crime had even been.

“I was never really quite clear on that.”

In many ways Crowley was so self-sabotagingly bad at being evil, except by accident, that he had come to be deeply curious about it.

“I've known you this long and I can't actually imagine what you could have done.”

Being punished with the others for fighting on the wrong side was common enough, but it did not explain his reputation, or it somehow being twisted into him having been punished -for- causing the fall of man, unless that was all just human invented nonsense. He had never wanted to push the subject, but maybe it would hold some important insight into his friend's psyche.

“You want to know what my crime wass?” he paused, waiting.

When Aziraphale did not immediately brush it off, he took a deep and long hissing sigh.

“My great ssin was ssilencce.” he paused again while Aziraphale tilted his head slightly.

“I heard my friends starting to indulge ideas, beliefs, that I had ssome sense were probably wrong, but I stayed ssilent. I sstood by and let them, not wanting to upsset them, not wanting to challenge them. It was easssy to let them, easier to not risk their ire, to not be the one who made a big fusss of everythhing. I sstood by and watched them become extremists, because I didn't want to hurt their feelingss. I let myself doubt, because they were my friends, if it was wrong after all, and I abided by these thingsss, I enabled them, let them feel sssupported in thesse beliefss by my complaccenccy... And then when the war came...”

“You fought beside them because you were their friend, and you felt like it was your fault they were in it, and when they fell, you went with them.” Aziraphale said, now understanding.

“And in the end they resented me too.”

“Sso you ssee, I haven't really changed.” he went on, all shame and guilt apparent in his tone.

“Oh Crowley, you can't be serious.” his own voice was quiet and breaking.

Granted, he had seen what evils that kind of complacency allowed to breed in the world, but it was hardly equivalent to the issue at hand. To equate the two and mark it as some morel failure seemed less a reflection of reality and more a reflection of how he felt about himself.

“You don't see it do you?” he asked, becoming aware he was stroking at his neck scales and being more deliberately gentle.

“Of course... I all makes sense.” he said, and -at eyes teetering between hurt and relief- thought he had better start elaborating, “Of course, you couldn't see what was so wrong with having clear knowledge, certainty of right from wrong, and being able to make conscious -deliberate- decisions about it.”

Of course, he wanted a world where others could know better. That was what the whole business with the apple was about, after all. That was why 'go make trouble' somehow translated to 'go tear down the whole system that keeps people living in ignorance and punishes them anyway'.

“You've spent every day since whispering challenges in people's ears, having them question what's really right and what's really wrong, for themselves, regardless of what -anyone- else thinks. You don't see that you've sentenced yourself to an eternity of trying to keep people from their own easy spirals downwards.”

For damnation or for their betterment, he wanted them aware of what they were doing and why, not having to look back at it all with regret and wondering where exactly it all went so wrong.

Sometimes it was so hard to bear, feeling the crashing waves of love and affection off of someone who he was told should be evil and incapable of such things. He supposed that was where his first doubts -in the Great Plan actually being the Ineffable one- had really seeded from. It was almost truly painful, as if even an angel did not really believe he could deserve all of that, and he could not bear to keep looking in his eyes very long, and so he could not imagine that the love he had for his friend was not somehow relentlessly sharp to him.

“Anyway, I don't want you blaming yourself for the choices other people make. You aren't responsible for them, their choices are ultimately their own. You -should- know that. You do, don't you?”

He had been, in all honesty, afraid that too much of his love could change something fundamentally about his friend in a way he feared might be ultimately unhealthy for him, if not directly harmful, but he was gaining some clarity that Crowley could still be Crowley and love himself a little better deep down, and that maybe it was more damaging, if all the love he felt from Crowley was always turned outwards without any of it turned in; maybe it was that which would burn and eat away at him, use him up, if he let it continue.

“Aziraphale....” he started in the quietest whisper, but he did not really know what to say, and so said nothing for a very long moment.

There was a thumb, only slightly rough from handling so much dry paper, gently stroking the side of his neck, reassuring him, trying to comfort him.

“Angel, if you keep this up I suspect I might develop greyss.” he mumbled.

Aziraphale tried not to giggle at him as he seemed to have melted and was lolling to the side as if barely resisting turning slowly throat up. He could practically see all the little lights floating around in his mind through his wide open eyes. The tip of his tail gripped his arm firmly, but otherwise he was relaxed.

“I wouldn't worry about it, though.” said Aziraphale, after a long moment, “Even after what we pulled, even now that half of heaven thinks I must be a demon, and I outright dove out of heaven, my wings haven't gotten any darker.” he indicated the tips of feathers that now stretched out in front of him to shield them both from the rain, “or any better groomed.”

Crowley always had such immaculately kept wings for such a disaster of a person. Demons in general always seemed to somehow.

“Yeah, we should fix that.” he hissed softly as he turned his head a bit lazily.

That was somehow the one thing that got his angel to blush a little and shake his head. Aziraphale's thumb was stroking his side again and he was all out of loud or pointed thoughts, or even the kind that were not just a little bit fuzzy.

“I've always meant to ask...” Crowley grumbled contentedly, “How Angels, of all beings, manage to take such haphazard care of their wings.” he drawled.

“Oh, well, If you're going to drag this confession out of me too... They're... Well they're a little hard to reach in places, and really quite sensitive...”

“Ssenssitivve. Issn't that the point?” he mumbled, tilting his head in a way that suggested he would be raising his eyebrow if he had them.

Aziraphale ignored this, shaking his head again briefly and inspecting the grass next to them in the dark. Of course Crowley would think so, Crowley was, well, Crowley knew how comforting some things could be when the world was a cold and hard place.

“Admit it, you like having your wings touched.” Crowley sighed like he was falling asleep.

Aziraphale looked halfway offended for a moment before regaining his traction.

“Admit you like being held.” he teased fondly.

“If you speak of this to anyone...” Crowley tried to threaten him in a whisper.

“Crowley love, I imagine that if we tell any version of any of this to anyone, we'll be doing a lot of creative shifting around of details... And who's responsible for what.”

“Thank you, angel.” he whispered after a very long moment.

Crowley wanted to ask what exactly happened to everything moving too fast by a few thousand years, and to being in love with the ineffable above all else, but he did not want to say anything that might disrupt this feeling of security, of being home.

Chapter Text

Crowley Opened his eyes slowly, the room spinning as he oriented himself. The first thing he felt was crisp white cotton under his chin, but it was warm. He was warm and felt heavy. He was not yet examining why he was a snake at the moment. A soft sound grabbed his attention and the room snapped into place. He had a very close-up view of a tartan bow tie. He did not know Aziraphale to sleep, but there he was, laying neatly on the couch, shoes and jacket set aside, hands clasped professionally, with coils of a great snake folded over him. Crowley could not remember the walk back to the shop. There was no way to tell what time it was, the light was soft and the door closed, the smell and taste of old books lining the walls. He rested his head back where it was and laid there, telling himself that if he moved he would disturb his friend's sleep. He was his full size again and would think he might be to heavy, but Aziraphale's breathing was deep and even, rocking him slowly.

 

He did not know how much time had passed when he woke again, this time because Aziraphale's breathing changed, deeper, faster, quieter, more through his nose, the breath of waking. It was easy to just keep laying there a minute, so long as he did not know he was awake yet.

 

Aziraphale did wonder at times like this, how he could feel such affection at him, and not wake him. It made him wonder if maybe part of the problem was that Crowley had no ability to sense love the way he could at all. He supposed he had found it more convenient to think he could to some degree, enough at least to know how he felt, but maybe that was exactly why he seemed to lack certainty, or how Crowley did not find him so painfully overwhelming to be around; and what then, if he could find a way for him to have a better sense of it? He wondered what the distinction was, in terms of potential harm, between Aziraphale himself feeling these things, and Crowley actually being able to perceive it enough to be affected by it.

 

In all fairness, this was not exactly the first time this had come up. He did remember trying to reconcile similar considerations the night Crowley had danced into the church to save him. Of all the chance meetings he had encouraged to happen, that was not one of them. Up until that night, meeting strangers in a church made him feel more secure. After that night he ruled out meeting potentially suspicious characters in churches, because if something happened, Crowley would certainly turn up to help. The burns on his feet had been worse than he had let on. He had caught him wincing on the drive back home whenever he had to use the foot peddles.

 

~*~

 

Aziraphale had not been able to keep a shy smile off of his face. Crowley had taken to doing such caring things as if they were thoughtless nothings. He tried to play them off like careless slips, but in time the pretense had been dissolving, finally culminating in somewhat bold gestures of care and attention. To think, Crowley, a demon, being so kind to him when he could not even call him his friend out loud. The books being put back in his hands had filled him with a fluttery warmth, enough that he did not even think to protest a ride home, until he noticed the hissing and all of that was quickly replaced with concern.

 

Crowley tried to play it off like it was nothing, especially when he seemed to hesitate to invite him in. He could not very well do anything about it while they were in the car on the street.

 

Sitting him down, he expected him to take off his socks and shoes. Instead, perfectly shaped snakeskin shoes morphed into his feet.

 

“Really?” he said, already on one knee in front of the couch, concern stalling his processing of all else.

 

“What?”

 

Aziraphale's hands hesitated to quite take one foot in favour of scolding him a bit longer first.

 

“You can't just go around walking into churches,” in -what- he did not know how to describe, “Like this.” he put strained emphasis on almost every word.

 

Crowley made a kind of noncommittal nod to the side and his lips moved as if to form protests, but gave up. Aziraphale was trying to inspect the damage all he could without actually touching him.

 

“For goodness' sake, Crowley, you're a -demon-.”

 

His expression turned into a kind of nod, and a quick pout like a shrug.

 

“You can't -keep doing- these things..” he started off strong, “Not for me.” he said more weakly.

 

“It's a miracle you didn't catch fire.” he said, taking one foot tentatively in hand, as if afraid touching it would be worse, “...And now look.”

 

Crowley only could look, as the moment he cupped the back of his heel his brain had gone slightly fuzzy. After a couple of starting and stopping breaths, Aziraphale looked back up at him. He raised his eyebrow rather than try to voice the question.

 

“Well, I'm not... Not entirely sure if an angel's healing would be helpful?”

 

“Oh, I'm sure you do this kind of thing all the time...” his voice managed to wiggle out.

 

Aziraphale was giving him a flat look.

 

“For humans Crowley, humans. I'm an -angel-.”

 

“Oh yeah, well, you know, I'm sure it couldn't burn worse... You know, worst case scenario.” he tried to brush it off, voice still escaping past some tension of uncertainty.

 

He still looked very uncertain.

 

“What if I try to heal you and it...”

 

What if with the intent to heal, it would be as potent as something more like holy water than church grounds.

 

“You're the one who insisted I let you...”

 

“I know, I know, I know. I just -are you -quite- sure you can't heal them yourself?” he asked.

 

“Holy damage, nah, they'll heal on their own, eventually.” he reasoned very unreasonably.

 

“Well you can't just walk around like this until then.”

 

Crowley seemed to not have more of a response for him than looking down along his shin at him. He wondered how he gave off the impression of blinking without actually doing it.

 

“I'm sure if you're careful, you couldn't accidentally do too much damage. Your powers work with intent, yeah?”

 

“Well, I...”

 

“And you don't -intend- to hurt me, do you?”

 

“Oh, dear, no, never.” he said with heartbreaking sincerity.

 

Crowley's voice left off to leave the rest implied at that moment.

 

“I suppose.” he conceded, looking for some small and succinct spot to think of and heal in isolation, just in case, “Just tell me if anything gets uncomfortable.” he said as he watched the first spot vanish.

 

When that worked without consequence he tried another, and another, and so on until that foot was healed. When he looked up Crowley was gripping the couch cushion fairly hard and let his lower lip back from between his teeth, but seemed fine otherwise. Aziraphale indicated the other foot and he cooperated re-crossing his legs at the knee.

 

“There, all better.” he said, looking up, to meet Crowley's eyes which were far closer than expected.

 

Crowley sat back up straight, allowing him to sit back as well without passing too close to him, another tiny glimpse of teeth disappearing.

 

Once Aziraphale's concern passed, he seemed to remember himself again. Suddenly he had Crowley sitting in his study and giving him a very long look.

 

“Right then, well, off you go.” he said very quickly, letting go of his foot and withdrawing to a more dignified distance, now standing awkwardly.

 

Crowley left quickly and quietly, polite but without fuss. He said nothing more than a surprisingly quiet thanks. He may have forgotten his hat if Aziraphale was remembering correctly.

 

~*~

 

That incident had made him wary of situations where Crowley could be hurt worse than that, not sure if having to heal too severe of an injury would be different, and not wanting to face that he would probably hesitate in crucial moments. Once he was gone though, somehow, he could not help but go back to smiling to himself, which lasted only a few days before he was back to questioning if it had been wise at all or just incredibly careless. He knew how reckless Crowley was, and the idea that he might be responsible for hurting him only left him feeling neglectful and guilty. They had been lucky.

 

They had been lucky so many times, and he felt somehow like he had been consistently failing to be as considerate as he should be, but always in hindsight. Crowley should know that he would move Heaven and earth, literally if he had to, to keep him safe, but maybe there were subtler things he could be doing, not just to keep him safe physically to ensure they could carry on, but to care for him. It was relatively easy, if not for him in particular, to say words of love, and grand gestures were not nothing, but love should be in actions, behaviours, consistent things. Crowley did so many little affectionate things, as if that was how he communicated his feelings, and -certainly- Aziraphale had not failed in the department of quality time, not more recently at the least, but there were so many little acts of devotion and care that he was receiving all the time, and he thought maybe it indicated that these things were what communicated affection to Crowley and that was why he did them. He was starting to think reciprocating these things was important.

 

Not that there was real cause for concern now. In the weeks that followed Crowley had gone back to having the constant air of practically basking in his company. It was quite enough to make him feel guilty, how far his own gestures of affection stretched, even if putting all of those things into words and saying them out loud was hard for him. He just did not want to wait for the next time Crowley got reckless or testy to have to make it up to him. He did not want to always be fixing things after he had already let them break. There were some things you just could not fix.

 

It was also becoming very clear to him, especially in hindsight, that physical affection was something that Crowley found very affecting. He had never, and probably would never, press or question for any kind of physical intimacy, which he thought was a little odd for a demon, though he was not sure where he got that idea exactly, if not from humans. Crowley maintained a perfectly respectful distance and never even offered or invited anything except spending time together. The most he would even press -that- was asking all of twice, allowing him to protest idly once if he wanted. Yet it was painfully obvious that he liked being held, that it comforted him and put him at ease in a very visceral way, but Crowley would never ask, and Aziraphale did not know how to offer. After that one night, once Crowley had extracted himself as politely as possible, he had withdrawn to a perfectly respectful distance and never mentioned it again.

 

Aziraphale had overlooked this until recently, in part because of his inability to always read the reactions he was getting, and in a large part because he associated physical expressions of love as an unnecessary superficiality, something humans did for primarily biological bonding reasons. Angels did not suffer from the same hard-wiring in so far as he could tell, and he assumed they both found human intimacy to be alienating. Crowley had actually seemed incredibly offended the one time his tongue slipped and he called what they were doing fraternizing, as if it was mere flirtation, as if it was anything more superficial than a bond that defied the words and concepts humans invented for describing personal intimacy; as if the suggestion of it needing to be anything more than it was to be considered of an importance, beyond what he could possibly have or seek with anyone else, was terribly offensive. In hindsight that was clearer. Really if Aziraphale had not been so caught up in concerned outrage at the time, he was not sure how he would have ever been able to look him in the eyes again.

 

Perhaps Crowley was at odds with himself over it, and it was possible it was better to let it lay, even if that seemed a bit -or more- unfortunate. He would be sure to make his hand available though, if ever it seemed like Crowley might actually want to take it. In the meantime, he was just happy to see him seeming so well rested and content.

 

Crowley, meanwhile, if he was thinking in terms of anything but poorly veiled happy sighing, was struggling, and outright failing, to process that after all this time, he only had to express how he was feeling -even poorly- and it was immediately addressed. Unfortunately, all the gears were still smooth metal at a complete disconnect, and the snakes trying to hold them to each other kept slipping back off. He himself had spent thousands of years afraid to say something that might ultimately hurt his angel, and it had done them a disservice. If they could have had some exchange like this before, certainly there had been time wasted on mutual confusion and hurt feelings when they could have been spending time together that was less fraught with doubt. He had -some- level of awareness that what he craved above all else was emotional intimacy, though maybe not in those words. They were, for better or worse, ageless, but not necessarily immortal in the invulnerable sense, and on the perpetual edge of either living forever or dying tomorrow; it was bound to result in some pacing issues.

 

Any awkwardness he could possibly be feeling over the whole thing was being robed of its sting by acceptance and a lot of very warm and fuzzy things. All those kind words were far more than he had ever expected, and -despite that he was the one constantly offering more closeness- he was still overwhelmed by it. Aziraphale made a constant game of needing little things from him so he could do them, thus providing whatever reassurance or affection he was asking for. Crowley never reciprocated this behaviour. He saw now that it was likely a fear of the gesture not being returned, even if it was because Aziraphale would fail to pick up on his hinting, and he did feel like the intent to reciprocate was there now at least. The only thing he was used to asking for was to spend time together and Aziraphale had an ancient habit of declining that he was slowly breaking. These days, in fact, it was suddenly Aziraphale who would offer more often than not, as if finally comfortable assuming it was what Crowley wanted, and more a question of asking him what he would like to do together.

 

The answer was, generally, go about their lives, together more often than not, and he was starting to think he needed hobbies. They had been being kept busy enough with the work they were supposed to be doing, but now they thought interfering too much in human affairs would only be calling attention to themselves that they did not want, even ignoring that Adam had implied he wanted them all to stop toying so much with humans. Aziraphale had his books, and they did things together, but Crowley was also left alone with his thoughts and feelings too much for his own comfort. This had been resulting in an increase in naps. He was not sure it was at all a bad thing to have his time filled with rest and quality time with his friend, but he thought he could try adding something to the mix more than plants. There was nothing human books on astrology could tell him about the stars that he did not know better, and there was only so much news about them discovering more of it that came along. Listening to music at whatever volume he pleased in his own apartment was fine and all, but he was considering picking something up to occupy his hands.

 

He wondered idly if painting was a good choice as he wandered out to the breakfast table. Aziraphale put two things down in front of him, the first being his breakfast with eggs exactly how he liked them, and the second a large gift bag.

 

“What's this?” he asked, again with the impression of blinking.

 

Maybe it was something in how his pupils contracted and dilated, as if adjusting themselves.

 

“Well I...” he suddenly seemed to be having second thoughts.

 

Crowley took the bag before he could think better of it.

 

“How -have- you been sleeping?” Aziraphale asked, and Crowley was not sure if he was changing the subject.

 

He had been sleeping decently enough. At least the dreams had died down for the moment and he felt like he was getting rest. He somehow had not broken his new habit of falling asleep on the couch, and always seemed to wake up with his head under the pillow that was now left there for him, and the leather stuck against his cheek was not his favourite sensation to wake to. If he was honest with himself, he would say that the warmth, cotton and slow rocking had been much preferable, but he could hardly say that. The last thing he wanted was for Aziraphale to feel obligated to do anything he did not want to, for any reason.

 

“Fiiine.” he said, somehow shrugging expressively with only his face.

 

“You wouldn't rather be warmer?” he was being asked.

 

He was trying to figure out what exactly his friend was implying, trying to re-frame the question outside of the context of his own thoughts. Crowley did not have an answer or a protest exactly, but now Aziraphale seemed to be indicating the bag.

 

“A blanket?” his eyebrow raised.

 

“A heated one.” Aziraphale asserted, looking at least a little pleased with himself.

 

That expression faltered when he stared at him too long.

 

“I- I know you said you don't get cold, and you've made your feelings about a lot of things very clear, but...”

 

But he had also outright confessed that when he was a snake he was somewhat bound to actually being one, and snakes almost certainly got cold. Also Crowley was often obviously cool -or cold- to the touch, even in human form and did not even seem to be able to fully control leaning into warm things.

 

“Well I thought a heating pad would be a little on the nose, but if you -do- get cold, it would be nice if you had something to keep you warm... I'm sorry, was this insensitive?”

 

“No.” Crowley said quickly, pressing his lips together into another shrug, “No it's... Thoughtful.” he said giving it a long look, and suddenly clearly trying to hide suddenly being more emotional than he thought was warranted.

 

It was even a beige tartan, something he knew was intended to remind him of who it was from.

 

“Thank you, angel.”

 

Aziraphale could sense the affection, and certainly he seemed moved, almost guilt-inducingly so, but he also could not shake the feeling that Crowley seemed vaguely disappointed as he set the bag down to finish his breakfast.

 

“You can take it where you want to, of course, but there is a plug in the study that it should reach.”

 

Crowley looked back up, still seemingly having trouble figuring out what facial expression he wanted to make. Little black and red snakes were trying to act as belts between the gears, nipping desperately at their own tails, but the little angels floating around kept lifting them back off and telling them that such work was dangerous and hard on their lovely bellies. It really was a kind gesture, that Aziraphale wanted to provide what comfort he could, even to parts of him that he was half in the habit of denying. Even Crowley could not quite place why his heart sank a tiny bit, even as it fluttered uselessly.

 

Of course it made sense, that Aziraphale would withdraw again. He was not even sure how they had ended up in that situation to begin with, as it was all some kind of accident. It was nice, but he did not expect it to continue. That did not keep him from waking up with his cheek pressed to the couch cushion where it still smelled vaguely of him and the rain from that night, and it was enough to make him curse his sense of smell, but it was not important. What was important was that they were free and safe, and they could spend their days together and talk late into the nights. That was more than enough and overwhelming in its own right already. Aziraphale was putting unprecedented effort already into being not just considerate, but affectionate with his words, and words were something he struggled with. Crowley knew words were his first line of defence, his go-to emotional barrier, the way he distanced himself. For that to have been set aside so intentionally, for his sake, he could only be appreciative.

 

He also could not help occasionally having a dream, processing that memory, and waking up as a snake, and that was a new inconvenience, but he figured that would wear off after a while. The nights were starting to get cooler and the heated blanket was soft and progressively nicer to twist himself up in, regardless of his form. Some mornings Aziraphale would peek back into the office and check on him. He always pretended to be sleeping if he woke, and every time he did he would see him smile fondly, and -on the few occasions he was a snake wrapped up in the blanket- actually bring his hand to his heart. It was almost embarrassing. He was not used to being on the receiving end of so much attention. He tried to resist his impulses to find ways to reciprocate more than he already was, he knew just watching someone appreciate what you did for them was very rewarding. It was nice, even if he was awkward at accepting it.

 

Aziraphale found his time occupied quite completely without having to run around on behalf of heaven and hell. He had all the time he wanted in his book shop, and also any time he could ask or allow for with Crowley. It had become something of a friendly game to him. Crowley never asked for anything, and accepted everything quietly and graciously, so trying to find what things he preferred over others was a game of careful observation. He could -for example- make him eggs any number of ways, or take him to any number of places that actually served something he would eat, but Crowley was insistently amenable about everything so long as they were doing it together, leaving Aziraphale to take note of how much and how fast he ate things in overall trends to figure out what he liked best. It was particularly rewarding when he ate enough to come home -to his shop, he corrected himself- and immediately fall asleep.

 

So far he had learned that he did not like anything overcooked, and neither bland, nor too strongly flavoured, did not like overly heavy meals, on -most- occasions, until he did, and seemed to like food more or less based on emotional considerations more than anything. He was far more likely to eat something if Aziraphale prepared it himself, as opposed to a restaurant, which -he supposed- was part of why they ate in slightly more. He was reluctant to order things for himself, but if he seemed interested in anything and Aziraphale offered small portions of it, he accepted increasingly often, especially as Aziraphale started trying to order things he might like. It seemed he liked getting drinks, or having them, because it always lead to long and meandering conversations full of reminiscing, but Aziraphale had never gotten the impression he drank all that much by himself or ever really ate much alone. It was all very endearing. He seemed to like when they occasionally went up to the roof at night so they could stretch their wings in the night air, but he was still unconvinced that was not about being reassured they had not changed, aside from whatever indulgence it was otherwise to actually be able to unfurl them.

 

Seven in the evening rolled around a couple of months into the winter and he noticed Crowley had not come home yet; to the shop, of course, Aziraphale suspected he -was- actually still at his own place. When he called him to ask if he wanted to go get a hot drink of some kind, he was surprised that he actually picked up. He did not sound like he had woken him this time at least, though that was starting to get concerning in its own right. He did not seem to be sleeping less than usual, but seemed increasingly tired. He had assumed this was because he usually took other naps throughout the day and had recently stopped.

 

“Crowley,” he asked, once they were handed their drinks by the vendor, “Is everything alright?”

 

“Hm? Yeah, no, everything is... fine. No complaints.”

 

Aziraphale wondered if that was part of the problem, but let it slide. They quickly ended up back at the shop, making him wonder why it was important to drag themselves away from the warmth of the shop just to get drinks. He liked the coco, but he still was not convinced Crowley was as comfortable in the cold as he insisted. They settled in for the evening before Aziraphale noticed something on Crowley's hand.

 

Crowley managed half an offended look at having his cup taken from him and set aside, until his hand was being held up for inspection and he immediately forgot he had a drink.

 

Aziraphale had seen red and acted impulsively, but now he was seeing a lot of dark blue too, some yellow and a bit of white. It seemed like paint.

 

“Oh.” he said, feeling a bit silly.

 

Still, it was not all bad, Crowley was giving him that look again. He missed seeing that look. After waiting months to see it only proven that Crowley would never ask for anything like this, he did not actually want to let go. It could be years, maybe centuries until the next thing that made him forget himself enough to reach out. Within a moment it was probably obvious he was looking for an excuse to keep holding his hand, and he felt self-conscious, but Crowley was just patiently watching him, of course. He rubbed a thumb gently over some of the paint, gently testing if it would come off.

 

“I see you've been painting.” he said, his voice sounding uncertain to his own ears as he continued gently massaging the paint from his hand.

 

When it was clear he was not going to realize what he was doing and stop, Crowley let himself relax.

 

“Er, yeah.” he said awkwardly, when he realized he had taken far too long to answer.

 

“And how is that going?” Aziraphale asked

 

This earned him another facial shrug.

 

“All right.” he said very quietly.

 

This was more the reaction Aziraphale would expect to see on a more regular basis, if Crowley could sense love the way he did. Of course, that would make sense too, if his punishment included the emotional and psychological effects of being like mortals, to not have that sense of -and certainty in- things like love and acceptance. Humans did things all the time to communicate these things specifically because they lacked that sense. He was not sure either of them could invest more time in each other, and Crowley did not seem to mind having things done for him, he did not seem to mind things in general, but somehow it felt that -despite being appreciated- it was all falling slightly flat, especially gifts for some reason, even if they were clearly appreciated, he could not shake the sense of slight disappointment tied up in so much gratitude. He thought he should consider reviewing his reading on how humans expressed affection in tangible ways.

 

“Everything is alright then?” he asked again, cursing that he was running out of paint.

 

“You've asked me that twice.” Crowley observed.

 

“Well,” he sighed gesturing to ask for the other hand, “You've begun to look tired again.” he admitted, relieved when Crowley shifted to let him take it, “Have you been sleeping soundly?” he asked, shifting forward just slightly so it was less awkward, almost letting their knees touch.

 

Crowley made a noncommittal sound before he could stop himself. Then rolled his eyes at the way Aziraphale was looking at him. He did not really want to explain that he was suddenly having problems controlling his form when he was asleep, or that -because of that- he had been getting really cold now that they were in the dead of winter.

 

“It's not warm enough is it?”

 

“Wha... No it's...” Crowley said shaking his head.

 

He really did like the blanket, and he thought it was very kind. Aziraphale did not seem to be buying it though.

 

Aziraphale had noticed that for the past month, he had been getting smaller in his sleep, twisting around more, bundling up tighter, as if trying to cover himself more with more of the blanket, as if trying to make its warmth big enough by comparison. It was a particularly harsh winter, and these were particularly old buildings. Crowley also seemed to be having a harder time finding words at the moment as he finished massaging at the muscle near his thumb and followed the paint up his wrist.

 

“I should have got the one with more settings.” Aziraphale said offhandedly

 

“It's not the blanket's fault.” he tried to brush it off, “Besides, then it might get too hot, where the er-the wires are.” he brushed at it fondly with his free hand.

 

“Well, you could bring another blanket with you. Or I could...”

 

Crowley supposed the reason he had not brought another was because then he would have to admit, not that he was staying there on purpose, but that he had no intention of not allowing it to happen. He thought sudden liberties and familiarity would have Aziraphale withdraw again, and he liked being there. That said, his hand was still being held and he had never been joined on the couch before, even if it was from an awkwardly respectful distance, and this sounded like an invitation.

 

“You don't have to keep buying me things.” he said, his voice betraying that he was acutely aware Aziraphale was holding his hand without any remaining excuse.

 

Aziraphale sighed. That was not what he was trying to offer, and perhaps confirmed that gifting him with things was not exactly the communication either of them was looking for. Crowley had never struck him as after anything in particular, but he did so obviously derive security and comfort from being held, and he -wanted- to offer, he just struggled with doing it. Putting those things into words felt like confessions and those were hard for him. He motioned for Crowley to switch hands again and he did so, now leaning on the other on the arm of the couch, still watching him intently. He held his finger tips between his hands, to find that they were a bit cold.

 

“Would you like it if I...” he asked quietly and Crowley lifted his head minutely off of folded fingers, waiting.

 

Aziraphale was already having such a hard time getting the words out, that now Crowley was immensely curious as to what this was about, already somehow sensing its nature. Now he was rubbing the back of his hand smoothly with both thumbs.

 

“For tonight, would it be better if...” Crowley's heart sank a little, thinking he was going to try to make sure he went back to his apartment, “If I were to...”

 

He felt ridiculous. He was reminded of the first time that he had asked Crowley out to a proper dinner, despite that Crowley had been offering his companionship for hundreds, even thousands, of years, his nerves had still been all over the place. The way Crowley had been acting for the past couple months or so reminded him of the time too; suddenly almost docile. It would be concerning to see if he was not so clearly happy. He straightened up slightly and stopped speaking to the back of his hand.

 

“Would you like to be held?” he asked him softly.

 

Crowley's head flopped somewhat dramatically to the other side to rest against the back of the couch.

 

“That's not necessary.” he practically whispered, though it was clearly idle protest, and that was Aziraphale's job.

 

“Well, dear boy, I didn't ask if it was necessary, I asked if you would -like- it.” he quipped, glancing away a moment.

 

Crowley nodded vaguely against the couch.

 

“Well then, let's set these aside.” he suggested, reaching slowly to remove his sunglasses.

 

He half expected for Crowley to interrupt him, but he let him. Aziraphale was probably the one person who could be allowed to remove them for him. He lifted them gently away to reveal bright yellow eyes that were wider than usual, and reached over to set them down next to the forgotten cup. Perhaps this had been slightly bold of him, as Crowley promptly changed form. He still was not the usual fifty pounds or so of something resembling a very solid black and red boa, but at least he was not small enough this time to seem fragile. Aziraphale shook his head, but he could not help but smile. It would be less awkward to fit on the couch this way anyway. He got up to take off his jacket and loosen his bow tie, and found that Crowley had moved to the top of the couch. He adjusted the pillow and the blanket and laid down, lifting the top of the blanket out of the way so Crowley could pour down off the back of the couch to rest on his chest. He tucked him in, finally resting one hand over him, under the blanket so he could feel if the heating wires were too hot on the back of his hand, and because he suspected Crowley would prefer it.

 

“There, how is that?” he asked, getting a quiet little wiggle, chin first, into his chest, in response.

 

Feeling the smooth warm cotton under his chin and being surrounded in warmth, soft touches and familiar smells made him realize just how much he had missed this. Aziraphale did not generally sleep for his own sake, and laying down probably would wrinkle his clothing more than he liked -in fact, Crowley wondered if he even owned pyjamas- and yet he was here, just because he wanted to do something Crowley would appreciate. It was overwhelming and wonderful.

 

Sleep came easy again that week. He did not have to ask for anything, it seemed assumed that if the night was cold -an excuse or not- he would want to be held, and Aziraphale offered, if subtly. It was not really a question of whether he wanted to change form or not anymore, it had become automatic. Perhaps it was, in part, because this was how they established this contact in the first place, and part of the reason why Aziraphale had been comfortable picking him up to begin with, but then after all this time this was so much all at once, and maybe Crowley himself was still processing it.

~*~

 

Crowley was in the desert, or at least he seemed to be, it was dusk and overcast enough that the sand had not gotten too hot. Everything looked nearly uniformly grey, and there was a weight in the air, and a wet chill, as if it was going to rain. He thought maybe he heard thunder in the distance. The sand's moderate warmth was actually a relief against it all. Crowley wound over the sand, leaving repeating patterns behind him. Aziraphale was there in the distance, so he went to see him. Aziraphale looked almost grey in this light too, even his bright wings. As he slithered up behind him, he noticed his approach and turned.

 

“Ah, Crowley, it's good that you're here, there's something I want to show you.” he said.

 

Something was off. Aziraphale was a little -too- perfectly well put together, not in the nice and tidy way he usually was, but rather, in a way that suggested a kind of vanity. He stood stiffly and his motions were coldly deliberate, his gaze steady and unabashed. There was a light in his eyes, but it was a glint now, more than a spark, dangerous and hungry. His wings appeared white at first glance, as they were, but the light coming from within them was not just off, but negative, a radiating darkness.

 

If this was one of his dreams, now would be the time he would start blaming him, telling him how terrible he was, telling him he was leaving, going very far away and not coming back. Instead Aziraphale smiled, but it was not really warm. Crowley rose up and tried to speak and only hissing came out. He took human form and still only hissing came out.

 

“Oh, don't worry Crowley, dear...” he said, approaching him.

 

The demon Aziraphale ran his hand tenderly up the back of his neck and into his hair, gripping him harshly.

 

“I didn't fall because of you.” he said methodically, tilting his head as if appraising him.

 

He pulled him firmly down and forward, as if to kiss him roughly, but moved past him to whisper hotly into his ear.

 

“I fell because you made me -want- to.”

 

~*~

 

Aziraphale was startled awake by Crowley tensing. It was not quite being constricted when he was folded back and forth over him and the couch was on his back, but he was his full size and weight and tensing as if alarmed.

 

Now, Aziraphale had gone through his paces over the years learning, as best he could, to read Crowley; especially his eyes. His pupils did not dilate the way you would quite expect a human's to, but also not quite entirely like a snake's. Crowley did, in effect, have a snake's eyes, but he also had strikingly human emotions for an angel, fallen or not, and had been around humans for six thousand years; not to mention inhabiting the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system of what was effectively a human body. So understanding what the dilation of his pupils meant -for instance- took understanding what was shared, over all the confusing and -often opposite seeming- differences.

 

A human's pupils, in general, got larger when they had positive emotions about something, to let more light, and thus more information in, but smaller in response to stress, and of course light. This generally meant a human's pupils dilated for positive reasons. A snake's, on the other hand, with some exception, dilated when they were hunting or preparing to strike, though similarly, to take in more light and thus more information, whereas they tended to get smaller in bright lights, as the majority of snakes were nocturnal or crepuscular. This would -seem- rather opposite of humans, in that smaller pupils would tend to denote calm, or -if very small- that things were too bright, and large pupils would indicate aggression. The only direct parallel that could be drawn between all manner of creatures was that larger pupils let in more light and more information, and smaller ones let in less light and less stimulation.

 

And that was how Aziraphale came to understand, in his own way, to read Crowley's. Small pupils could mean bright lights like they did for snakes or humans, but they could also mean over-stimulation and distress that went beyond trying to process it, and into a kind of panic. Open pupils -could- mean he was gearing up for quick action or a fight, to strike, so to speak, but also -very generally- trying to take in more information as quickly as possible, processing but not yet overwhelmed; which could also mean he was enjoying something, depending on the context. In between they were relaxed, neither scrambling for extra information, nor tensed against anything. All of that considered, the way his pupils were flashing back and forth between far too small and far too big -though visually a subtle difference- without settling in between, in combination with the squeezing and having lifted his head to stare as if in alarm, told him that he was clearly terrified in some way, trying but very unable to process. He was surprised that nothing about the set of his jaw looked ready to strike at something, but held very still anyway.

 

“Crowley.” he spoke very gently.

 

That seemed to get his attention some, maybe bring him to the present.

 

“Crowley it's me, it's Aziraphale.”

 

Crowley looked at him a little more steadily. It was. It was Aziraphale looking at him with a good deal of concern, slightly dishevelled from sleeping -or not sleeping- under him on the couch all night.

 

“Oh, you poor thing, you've had a nightmare.” he said, adjusting himself up just slightly.

 

Crowley thought it was somehow underselling it to call it that, unfair, even.

 

Aziraphale watched his eyes go back to relatively normal, but the tensing did not really stop, it just became a periodic involuntary spasm. When he reached slowly up to him Crowley almost flinched away, so he stopped. He pulled his hands back slowly, high enough on his chest to give him space, and undid the cuff of his sleeves very subtly. His tail was tensing against him and the couch, as if trying to wrap around his shin, so he lifted his foot slightly to let him, giving him something to hold properly. He made a gesture like there was noting up his sleeves, but moved them very intentionally out of the way, finishing by displaying open palms. He was relieved when Crowley touched the tip of his snout to one hand and laid back down against his chest, letting him hold him. Coils wrapped over his forearms, pinning him, but did not squeeze quite too hard.

 

“That's it. You're okay. We both are.” he consoled him, not knowing what the dream was about, but having some idea of what could scare him like that.

 

He rubbed his thumbs gently against him and that seemed to help too. Now a full sized snout and chin dug gently against his chest, tasting the air just subtly. His breathing seemed to go back to normal and the squeezing stopped.

 

“I'm here.” he got another squeeze, but this time it seemed intentional, gentler, and a deep sigh.

 

Eventually it was past noon and Aziraphale asked him if he wanted brunch. Crowley was starting to think that their hobbies were not enough. Usually he had the distraction of work to keep his mind busy, off of less convenient things, and he felt like he had far too much time to dwell on the personal. His apartment had become progressively more filled with plants already, as had the book shop, and now canvas and paint littered his once unused living area. Still, he had this nagging sense of a vague winding, in some direction, and he did not know where it was going. That made him nervous.

 

The long morning of being held securely was nice, and went a long way towards settling his nerves, if he could admit to having any. Aziraphale had intentionally gone out of his way to offer him more skin contact, as if knowing that was what would soothe him. His warm hand settled over the back of his neck and stroking him gently could have been very reminiscent of the dream, but there was such tenderness and softness in it that it broke that spell. His angel was always so careful not to be rough with him, even to the point he already suspected it could get frustrating. Eventually they got up to have brunch.

 

Aziraphale was making them eggs to go along with a couple of pastries from a local shop. Somewhere in his own kitchen there was a tomato plant waiting to be brought over, once it had ripe fruit, because he thought it might be an addition Aziraphale would appreciate. What food Crowley was going to eat he ate fairly quickly, leaving him to watch him enjoy the rest of his breakfast.

 

He was used to Crowley watching him eat, if he was perfectly honest. He pretended not to notice, because it was one of the most awkward habits he had. He seemed to find it interesting, that an angel would eat, at first a kind of fascination, and then eventually a habit. Aziraphale had almost forgotten he went through a phase or two of glaring at his food instead, until this moment. He had always made a point to not try to guess at what that was about. Not that he was glaring exactly, this time, but he did seem to be in some kind of growing distress.

 

The thought that had gripped him against his will at this particular moment was exactly and precisely just how much Aziraphale enjoyed food, in part -he had always assumed- because it was one of the few earthly pleasure he thought he should be allowed to indulge in, something he saw as harmless. Now he had fresh confessions in his head that Aziraphale no longer cared who or what he was defying, and off the back of a dream -that left chills down his spine that were not completely fear- no less.

 

Aziraphale watched his pupils widen slowly, processing, trying to process, and then the snap shut of hitting a wall, an obstacle that was too much.

 

“Sssssshhhit.” Crowley swore to himself before he could help it.

 

“Dear boy, Is something the matter?” he asked with sweet concern.

 

He opened and closed his mouth a few times. Shaking his head, but clearly caught up on something. He put his sunglasses back on.

 

“Er, yeah it's all uh, tickity-whatever...” he scratched idly at his chin, avoiding looking at his food again, “I just forgot about something.” he lied.

 

Aziraphale did not seem to be buying it, but -thankfully- let him leave without making a big deal of it, at least once he said he would be back that evening.

 

It did at least seem that he had not done anything wrong, Crowley did not seem upset with him, in fact, forgetting himself and almost leaning in for something before he rushed off. He was a little concerned, but he was sure Crowley could handle whatever mischief he had made for himself.

 

“Shit.” Crowley hissed to himself a couple of times quietly, absently, on the way back to his apartment.

 

Even though it was a short distance, sometimes he still drove, and he was thankful for that now. He tried to drown out his thoughts with music.

 

He was actually decidedly not processing what he was so upset about. He was putting very real effort into not doing that. Now the little angel lights in his head were grabbing gears and turning them very intentionally in patterns, trying to make the machine of his mind do very particular work while little snakes tried, ineffectively, to drag and coax them away. On his way in, he passed the statue, the one of an angel and a fallen angel wrestling, and he could not help but think it all looked a little backwards, even if it was supposed to be good that was losing, or especially so. He cursed again, storming smoothly into his living room and picking up a paintbrush, pressing whatever button he thought should turn his music up to the right volume, and it obeyed.

 

He had been painting abstractions mostly, to start, something resembling stars and planets, then something verdant and fresh, then the desert outside of Eden. Now he went back to abstract, with an aggressive choice of colours. When he finally felt satisfied with it he sat back on the couch and glared hard at the canvas before deciding that what he really needed was a long nap.

 

He woke to an insistent knock at his door.

 

“Crowley, for heaven's sake, open this door.”

 

The concern in his voice had Crowley across his flat and at the door before he stumbled from how quickly he had gotten up.

 

Suddenly the door did open and Crowley was there, looking dishevelled, and bleary eyed, maybe a little pained, but no more so than would be expected from sudden light.

 

Crowley watched him shift from concerned to a little embarrassed.

 

“Well, when you hadn't come back and you didn't answer the phone I-”

 

His mind had jumped to some kind of retaliation against him, by heaven or hell, to him being in danger. Now Crowley looked soft, eyebrows pushed together gently in surrender to a sweet kind of pain, and tall frame leaned so casually between the wall and the open door. He was wearing a soft black undershirt, faded, and lounging pants. His hair was a thing entirely unto itself, being so perfectly, charmingly disorganized, and made him think of his friend curled up blissfully in plush, soft things. He did not want to think he had interrupted something so enjoyable.

 

“Should I?” he would offer to leave, let him get back to the sleep he so enjoyed, but Crowley did not look like he wanted him to leave.

 

“Or you could-” Crowley almost jumped away from blocking the door, offering him entry.

 

He had not been in his living space very often, and not this one yet at all; not since he had fully moved in. He had to admit to being curious, especially at what he was filling his time with now.

 

“I wouldn't want to interrupt...” he protested somewhat idly, already letting himself move inside.

 

Everything was so green it distracted him for a moment. Sure, he knew Crowley kept plants, but he suspected this was some disastrous combination of suddenly living in a smaller space, and also having far more free time than he was used to. He wondered if keeping so many plants could count as a kind of hoarding. Looking at it all now he was struck by how obvious it seemed some -perhaps unconscious- attempt to recreate Eden, and how that had not quite fully clicked until this moment. The other obvious and eye catching addition was an easel with a large and very colourful canvas on it.

 

An abstraction of a figure writhed in something encompassing true agony and complete rapture, clashing with the softness and reach of willing surrender. Something in the strokes at the top of the canvas seemed gentle and a kind of casual meandering, and yet so much of it came to incidental points that spawned harsh and cutting lines. There was so much red and deep blue like fire and void, but also light yellow and swirling soft colours. It was an interesting use of a palate to be sure. It was beautiful and hard to look at. It was so much raw emotion poured out on the canvas that he felt like he had interrupted something private. Brushes still sat shoved in a jar to soak and the air still smelled of acrylic. Parts of the painting still shone as if wet.

 

“Oh don't mind that it's, er-” Crowley tried to brush it off.

 

“Lovely.” Aziraphale breathed.

 

Lovely and heartbreaking.

 

Crowley immediately stopped talking and blushed, hand going into his hair but not really helping it settle any. He offered Aziraphale a seat on the couch, which was, thankfully, a good and respectful distance away from where the paint was. Crowley sat tentatively next to him before relaxing and spreading out a bit more. He supposed sitting next to each other even when they had options was what they both preferred now.

 

Aziraphale eyed the paint on his hands and arm and sighed. He was clearly emotional about something, but he could not tell what it was exactly or in what way, he only suspected it had something to do with them; especially now. Something he could not really define about that painting was cutting. He took one paint smeared hand and Crowley slid the other from under his chin to folded against his mouth, muffling his breath behind it. If he had the room to be honest with himself, he loved the way Crowley looked at him.

 

He supposed he did; have that space after all. If he could confess to everything he had, if they were really just on their side, them against the world, for the world, and if pretense and barriers he had outgrown would only hurt Crowley, then he could probably do to settle with himself about a good deal more. They were best friends and had been drawn back together no matter what they did for over six millennia, they were closer to each other than anyone, and had proven they would defy any force to stay together. It seemed silly now to make any pretense otherwise and he had run out of reasons to. When Crowley looked at him like this, it was honest and open, made plain that simple touches soothed him, quieted him, sapped him of anything resembling aggressive energy. He just wished he could fix whatever was lacing it with something akin to pain. He had never been any good at these things.

 

This time he noticed the paint peeled away a bit easier, revealing soft skin. Maybe he had recently bathed, or had been sweating. He did not think Crowley was one to bother moisturizing his skin, but maybe it got dry in winter if he did not. He was going to ask him of he minded this, but that was not really the issue. He was not doing this for himself, he was doing it because Crowley seemed to like it and it seemed a good enough excuse as any, and they seemed to have established this was okay, that it was comfortable. Maybe what he wanted was confirmation that Crowley really did like it and was not just abiding by it for some reason. Massaging the tense muscle at the base of his thumb made him breathe out heavily through his nose, his hand still blocking it from coming through anywhere else.

 

“Is everything okay, dear?” he finally asked, though maybe that was not what he wanted.

 

“T's fine.” Crowley spoke against his hand, his voice only slightly high.

 

It somehow straddled the line between very convincing or not at all. Now it was Aziraphale's turn to give him a long look. He sighed. Maybe he had responded too poorly too many times when Crowley made it too plain what he wanted or needed. Maybe he had made it so that unless he was desperate about something he would not really say what he would prefer, one way or the other. The last thing he wanted was to somehow overstep some boundary by making any assumptions though.

 

“You -do- like this don't you?” he asked quietly.

 

Crowley looked between his face and his hand in the world's most subtle nod. At least he thought it was a nod.

 

“What was that?” he asked as if he had not heard his response.

 

His brow tensed, but Aziraphale did not relent.

 

“Yes, alright.” he lamented rolling his head to look away.

 

The warm and only slightly dry skin rubbing methodically across his hand and forearm was like someone plucking gently at his heartstrings. There was such care in it, and every moment of it reminded him of how it started, that if Aziraphale thought he was hurt he lost all his sense of where his walls were and reached though on impulse to make sure he was okay. Normally those walls went back up in a terrible hurry, but not this time. Something was different this time. Aziraphale had gotten brave, bold even. More than that, before it was so hard to tell where exactly to draw the line between what he did not want and what he was denying himself, but now it seemed he was done denying himself anything and that was -not altogether unpleasantly- chilling. He did not know what to do when the one stable thing he had been holding onto let go willingly and left them both in a kind of free fall. He had not thought this far. He had not let himself ruminate on what he would like or what he would prefer, because it was all off the table. All he had ever wanted was to be able to be honest about being friends, about being important to each other. Now he suddenly had that, in spades.

 

This was nice though, even if it was overwhelming at this point. He kind of liked things that were overwhelmingly pleasant and welcome. It was like the inverse of torture. Torture he had known enough, now basking in attention like this was some kind of long craved counterpoint, but he did not know what response he was supposed to be able to scrape together for it. More than that though, he did not want this to all just be because Aziraphale had -finally- caught on that he enjoyed the contact. He did not want this to be something he was doing only because he felt like it was wanted or expected of him, and if he expressed too much -just how much- he liked or wanted anything, he was concerned it would create that pressure.

 

Being a demon gave him more than enough experience being expected to use -or make use of- his own body in various ways, to tempt, to use as a tool to make people do things that were truly destructive and harming, and it was never something that sat well with him. His body was supposed to just be a vessel, a body handed out like a weapon on the way into battle. He was not supposed to identify with it, but he did. He did and he knew it was the same for Aziraphale. They identified with these bodies like humans did whether or not they knew they existed beyond them. This body was his, and he hated having physical things expected of him because if it, and to put that kind of pressure or expectation on someone so dear to him was not something he could be comfortable with. It did not matter how small or seemingly innocent the act. Aziraphale held out his hand for his other. He held back the whine in his throat.

 

“You don't have to.” he said quietly, only barely removing his hand from his own face.

 

“Dear boy, have you ever once been given the impression you can make me do anything I don't want to?”

 

“No, I-”

 

If he wanted to protest further he would have to put into words that there was a distinction between making him do things he did not want, and making him want things.

 

“I don't have to though, if you'd rather not?” he intoned it like a question, now looking slightly out of place, uncertain.

 

Crowley took it back, this was torture, he had just finally been twisted around enough to enjoy it.

 

“What is all of this about?” Crowley dodged the implied question that stung at him.

 

What it was about was the Aziraphale had spent time going over some things and realized that all these little acts of service Crowley had always graced him with the moment he hinted he wanted it, those were how -Aziraphale- communicated love, he had effectively asked for them each time and Crowley had obliged, they were his love language, not Crowley's. They had quality time in common, thankfully, that was some mercy on his conscience, but all this time Crowley had been attentively telling him how he felt in whatever ways he asked or allowed for and he had been, in many ways, relying on some flawed assumption that Crowley could sense love like he could. The reaction he had gotten these past months over kind words and caring touches told him that it was what he had really craved all long, even if he did not know.

 

He did not know how to voice to Crowley that he suspected the poor dear did not even seem aware of what his own love language was, not in technical terms, but at all, having never been on the receiving end of it enough to know. Even if he forgave himself enough not to feel at all guilty, it still made him want to shower him with whatever kind of affection he would understand most, not in abstraction, but viscerally. If he looked close to tears he could not really help it.

 

“Well...” Aziraphale seemed pained, “You seem to... You -like- being held, don't you? And I-” he held his hand in both of his, “I like you being happy... I like -making- you happy, so...”

 

“Is that all...” he asked as if it was no small thing at all, “And what's in it for you?”

 

The way he kept looking at him, for one. He did not want to make it sound like just another act of service, that happened to be made of touches due to anything about Crowley, because that missed the point a little. Aziraphale did not quite have words. Crowley needed words. He brought his hand up, intending to kiss it to make his point. Crowley twisted gently as if to pull back and he stopped to let him immediately, too quickly, even, because it seemed like it had been mostly reflex. When Crowley's hand did not actually leave he guided it slowly to place a chaste kiss on his palm near his wrist.

 

He had not meant to try to pull back, and the fact that his hand was immediately released made it easy to halt that reaction. At least he stopped feeling so awkward about not wanting to take his hand back when two gentle finger tips settled on the back of his hand to gently push it forward. It would have been far better to realize what he was doing and let him kiss the back of his hand as intended. This was just as sweetly given, but much more sensitive.

 

Again Crowley suddenly dropped his head into the back of the couch beside him. The sound he made was not quite just the escape of breath either. Aziraphale's mouth twitched into the ghost of a smile that was too adoring to be amused.

 

“That.” he said, a quiet admission, nodding towards his dramatic seeming reaction, earning another slightly more subtle one.

 

Crowley glared accusingly at him, but there was no real bite to it. This was killing him.

 

“Now come here.” he said in a moment of boldness, cutting off whatever idle protest Crowley was about to work himself up to, guiding him gently against his side, ready to relent at a moment's notice.

 

Before the world did not end, and after he had come around to more openly acting like they were friends, Crowley had reacted dramatically to being given any of the kind words or affection he seemed to obviously crave, as if it was too affecting, too dangerous, too painful, too something. He remembered more than one occasion of being aggressively pinned over it, as if daring him to continue, as if Crowley thought he could really be threatening to him, as if he would take it seriously as anything other than what it was; Crowley being sensitive and trying to make a point. It seemed to only add to his aggravation when Aziraphale only watched him react, as if the angel was wearing it on his face how sad he thought it was that he would not accept the kind words, how sweet he thought the dramatic reaction looked on him. Maybe he hoped he missed him skimming his eyes over the endearing way he curled his lip trying for all the world to look vicious. Hopefully he missed the question that occasionally dusted across his mind, of what tenderness he could surprise him with that would get him to drop the pretense for once.

 

Now Crowley, on most occasions, and especially in public, made very quiet versions of these protests as if out of habit, even though there was never any heart behind it, if there was even breath to it anymore. Sometimes it seemed, on the edge of encouraging him to insist on kind words, and he wondered what reaction he could drag out of him now if he did, gently. Still, these little nips of showing agitation told him that something was still sensitive, maybe still too much so, and so he was careful about pressing. Crowley would openly accuse him of having barriers and walls given half an excuse, but seemed oblivious to his own. So he tested to see if he would be willingly guided to his side.

 

“Angel...” he almost whined in protest, but moved under his own power to comply.

 

Crowley was used to only being held when he was a snake at this point as was fighting the impulse to turn into one at the moment. This was Aziraphale holding him, and while his snake form was as much him as this, he could not help but feel like holding him in another form had added a helpful layer of abstraction to the whole thing, something to make Aziraphale more comfortable. This was him saying he wanted to hold him regardless of what form he was in, that he did not need to buy into an excuse to do it anymore.

 

Now, not really understanding why, he was the one almost in tears. He felt shaky and weak, unable to say anything or he would definitely start crying and not be able to explain himself. So he wrapped his arms tightly around him and buried his face into the cotton on the side of his chest. Aziraphale seemed surprised, but did not protest, instead turning them both a little so he could put his feet up and they could both relax.

 

He found himself, again, being the thing Crowley was clinging to in a moment of poorly defined emotion. That was happening more often lately. This time, at least, he could run his hand soothingly through his hair. Crowley seemed to like that. He could hug him to his chest firmly and he seemed to like that even more. He did not really know if Crowley needed any more sleep at this point, but the fact that he always fell into such comfort against him was very sweet. Emotional or not, it did not take him long to fall asleep when he was being held. There was no blanket out here, and he could feel on the backs of his arms that the air was chilling his skin, so he rolled him gently in his sleep enough to untuck one wing and settle it over him.

 

~*~

 

Crowley was still clearly dreaming. He was held securely against Aziraphale and the morning light only reached his eyes by illuminating through a layer of bright white feathers. He was in a pocket of warmth and surrounded in gentle light and feather soft touches. Warm hands and paper-dried fingertips smoothed over his arms, then his cheek and into his hair. Surely he would wake to find it was all an illusion afforded him by a crisp white down duvet.

 

“Are you waking up now?” the thumb on his cheek asked him.

 

“Can't.” he protested as if pained, “S'nice dream.” he said, breathing deeply against his chest and squeezing him slightly.

 

Affection and joy were pouring off of him. Aziraphale tried so very hard not to giggle. He seemed at peace and he did not want to disturb him.

 

Now all the warm softness was jiggling him slightly instead of the gentle rocking of steady breaths. He could hardly be disappointed to wake though, finding that nothing lovely about the dream was fading. Now he just had to contend with the amused peering at him under his wing, and the only response he could manage was blushing and trying to go back to ignoring he was awake. A gentle thumb on his cheekbone tried to tell him there was no judgment here. The hand cupping the side of his face and neck was kind and loving, holding him so securely he felt like he was exploding in slow motion.

 

“Is this how you'd rather be held?” his angel asked him.

 

Crowley's grip tightened and he rolled indulgently into his hands and chest. Then he shrugged much like he did when he asked him any other preference.

 

“You know, I'm not all that comfortable guessing at what you might like, so if you don't mind...”

 

Apparently he had a problem assuming he was correctly interpreting his body language too.

 

“Yes, alright, yes, please angel.” he sighed, giving in and then going silent again.

 

“So you'll admit you like being held? Will you ask me to, next time?” he asked a little more playfully, still all tenderness.

 

Suddenly the arm wrapped over his back shifted and Crowley dragged his fingers indulgently through the feathers at the base of his wing. He regretted doing it instantly, because the surprised jolt and flex of his wings knocked them both upright off the couch. Now Aziraphale was the one visibly flustered.

 

“That was- that wasn't very...” he searched for the right word, now sitting stiffly upright.

 

It was rude is what it was, and immature. Crowley seemed to be grinning all to much about turning it around on him. Even if he looked at where they were laying with obvious longing.

 

“Oh don't get your feathers all ruffled, they're bad enough as it is...”

 

Really being half open on the couch all night had not done the left one any favours either.

 

“Really...” Aziraphale scolded him, no longer in the comfortable position of making Crowley squirm in his skin.

 

It really was not fair to put it on Crowley that there were barriers up between them, lines and boundaries they had long established, even in spite of themselves, and maybe he was reminding him of that.

 

“Look at this...” Crowley critiqued whatever mess of feathers he was observing, trying to gesture to any particularly egregious part of it.

 

It was all bad. His hands danced slightly in the air as if trying to pick a spot to start. Aziraphale folded them away, almost apologetically, almost visibly pained by it. Crowley slumped back onto the couch sighing deeply.

 

“They're -sensitive-” he reiterated defensively.

 

Crowley just raised an eyebrow and let the expression wobble off into nothing with another face shrug. He would let it lay for now.

 

Aziraphale let out a long breath. It had actually felt very good, it was just far too much of a surprise. It was not even that he did not want him to, he was just very used to his own barriers.

 

“A little warning next time?” he offered him.

 

The eyebrow came back, but he nodded in subtle and immediate agreement.

 

He could hardly even pretend to stay annoyed, and did not want to, not now. He was used to seeing Crowley wrapped up in defences, emotional barriers and a fair amount of denim and leather, not in soft clothes, with sleep-tousled hair and blushing in a way that made his subtle freckles stand out. He looked too much like he should be tucked back in and brought breakfast.

 

“Why don't you wait here, and I'll make us something to eat.” he said, about to get up and head for the kitchen.

 

“No.” Crowley said too quickly, springing up, “Let's try a new cafe?” he suggested.

 

Aziraphale did not know what this was about, but indulged him with no more protest than a sad sigh. He did like trying new cafes.

 

Crowley got dressed in an awful hurry and met him back in the living room, encouraging him towards the door before ducking back to check on something.

 

“If you don't make presentable tomatoes for him soon, you -will- suffer the consequences.” he hissed into the kitchen.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Being able to lay against his angel was never necessary, it was never in the plan exactly, never something he particularly though he should let himself hope for, or really think about wanting. Thinking about wanting things could get him into a lot of trouble, really. It -was- something that made him feel like his soul was overflowing his body though. The useless fluttering in his chest would not stop and he was still working on the issue of the gears, hard to do with them unable to catch on anything. Now the fact that Aziraphale spent the entire time watching him with such a loving expression became the background noise he slept to, like rain lulling him to sleep and soothing him when he was awake. He could not help the constant contented sighing any more than he could help the light blush that had become a permanent feature.

 

He could easily accuse heaven of being boring -whether or not he still had feelings about falling- even Aziraphale could, but if eternity was drifting on a cloud in his arms like this, he would take it. Those fingertips, massaging through his hair and dusting across his cheek, were every comfort in the world poured into one. Eventually he noticed the tiniest stitch in Aziraphale's brow.

 

“What is it, angel?” he mumbled.

 

“Oh, nothing dear, I-”

 

Really he had been thinking about the conversation they had that night in the park. He had not realized just how many conclusions he had come to on his own in their thousands of years together. Assumptions were silly. He probably should have just asked sooner. Now Crowley was raising his brow at him lazily.

 

“It just struck me as odd...”

 

That did not help the eyebrow. It was a sore subject though and he was not sure he wanted to bring it up now. Maybe it was too late.

 

“Well,” he said as he continued getting more intense attention the more he stayed silent, “You've always openly lamented that all you did was ask questions... I had always assumed that meant something more like...”

 

“Like what, angel?” he asked, his voice soft.

 

He was actually curious, he did not think Aziraphale had any harsh judgments for him, not really.

 

“Well, I had assumed it would be something like questioning why... Why humans needed to be tested, or to suffer, or why children...”

 

All that would have seemed consistent with everything he had taken issue with since. He remembered standing with him at the crucifixion. He had shown up because he had felt obligated to see what his side was doing. On its own it was enough to sow doubt in him, but then Crowley had been there, so full of love and pain, and he had learned he had been somewhat of a mentor to the child. It broke his heart to see him in that state. Crowley had tried to confess some attachment in such a casual tone, perhaps needing just one other being to understand something of it, but he could not really keep it out of his voice how much his heart was breaking, how much he was blaming himself. All he could see for a moment was a grieving mother, and not just because he had dressed like one. Really it stood to reason that Crowley had been sent to tempt him, had tried to show him the world, educated him and ended up having hand in raising him into the kind and loving being he had witnessed, not that he would accuse Crowley of such a thing as being a good role-model by accident. Between that and the incident with the arc, he should have guessed that he would have fallen a long time ago if heaven was still handing out the kind of punishment for doubts, even if he never acted on them.

 

Even the fact, that he had impulsively tried to tell him that it was part of the ineffable plan, sat like lead on his tongue the moment he thought about what he was saying.

 

“Oh it was. It was those things too...” he conceded, but there had been so much more to it.

 

Having a crisis of faith surrounded by a hundred different yelled opinions on hundreds of things tended to come with a lot of questions, and a lot of doubts. It was also before most -if not all- of humanity had even really entered the equation.

 

“It's just, forgive me, but silence doesn't sound much like you.”

 

Crowley wanted to glare at him but could not help smirking instead. Of course his angel knew him better than that. He sighed.

 

“I guess, I've always doubted that the real reason -could- have been asking those questions. I mean, imagine... Imagine you're God, even if that's futile, or blasphemy or what have you, just... You've created humans and all the animals and commanded us to love them, and then, for whatever -ineffable- reasons... Well, you give them natures, instincts, make them have to prey on each other for survival, make them compelled to sometimes harm each other, for all sorts of sordid reasons. You make man, but he's... Well he's lonely so you make him a companion, but he doesn't like her, so you just... Poof.”

 

He mimed dust blowing away.

 

“Like somehow she only exists for his sake... And so you try again, to make a companion he'll -approve- of. And you make her from a part of him so they are enough alike, but you give humans those instincts too, the ones to fight and hunt, hurt and kill and... And the animals still, they're barely self-aware some of them, but enough, enough to suffer, and you build a world that's killing and hurting them, pit them against each other, even when they're innocent and new and just small... And then we, some of us, just ask why... Why are these beings created to suffer and to not even understand why? Why are we to love them when they're -made- to be terrible in a way? ... And to watch them suffer?” More hand gesturing.

 

Aziraphale would question it the same way if he let himself.

 

All of that had been even before the fall of man, before the arc, before the crucifixion. And that was not all. Some questioned that, others questioned why they should be tasked to love such lowly creatures that did not seem like much at all. Others still, wanted to be able to walk the earth like it was made for them and not these new beings. Many were jealous.

 

“I stand by it. Maybe I'm just a demon and that's my problem and all... but I don't think it -should- have been punished like that, not just asking questions...”

 

“Crowley...” Aziraphale implored him, not without affection.

 

He wanted to understand but old habits were hard to break and what he was saying probably did amount to an offence to God.

 

“I guess I've always just had a hard time of it, not wanting to believe that God could really be that cruel.”

 

God was his creator, as much as anyone's. The evidence had stacked up, but he could not help but hope, but -look- for there being something else at play, even while he practically demanded that other people start questioning it all too. He -wanted- to believe in the ineffable plan, but there were so many things he could not help but reject being a part of it. The apocalypse and the war included.

 

Something was starting to click for Aziraphale.

 

“...You don't feel guilty about those questions.” he concluded.

 

Crowley, deep down, did not feel guilty about asking questions out of kindness or love, -he- did not think those things should have been punished, even being told it was wrong he still could not accept that, so he had done his work rationalizing other reasons why he deserved what he got. What he felt guilty about was the silence that came before them, the doubts that kept him quiet, the idea that if he had asked more of his questions to his friends sooner that he might have saved some of them. He could never know, only speculate.

 

“Should I?” Crowley tested him.

 

Aziraphale shook his head and sighed.

 

“No... I don't think so anyway, if I'm quite honest.” He went back to stroking his hair lovingly, “I don't think you really deserved to be punished at all.”

 

They had been over that though. If Crowley was not punished he never would have become himself, not exactly. He was right, he had not changed all that much, but it was Aziraphale's thinking that this was because he never needed to. Crowley, in many ways, had it right from the beginning.

 

“I'm beginning to suspect that it was part of the plan...” though he did not want to accuse God of giving one of her children a deeply damaging psychological complex on purpose, “For you to fall, to put you in my path, all the good you've done since...”

 

He watched him turn, as if his words were too bright.

 

“All the good -I've- done since because of you.” he added, at him.

 

“Angel...” Crowley whined.

 

If it was God's aim to create a being who would stand up for her creation themselves, on the ground, in person, to guide and to teach, and to practically parent them, be present with them, to make sure they had a choice and could chose wisely, She had accomplished that in Crowley. Sometimes Aziraphale even questioned if he was not made to love Crowley, instead of Crowley having been made to temper him; and love him he would.

 

“Let's not pretend I ever would have had it in me to save the world if it wasn't for you.” he cooed fondly.

 

“Angel, please.” he huffed, now making a desperate hand gesture, blushing hotly.

 

“Well it's not like it can get you in any more trouble than we're already in.”

 

Crowley was not used to being held and told how wonderful he was and it was torture. It was good, but terrible and sensitive and it was driving him to something. Aziraphale knew he no longer had any excuse to reject these kindnesses, and was just enough of a bastard to use it against him.

 

Crowley lifted off his chest just enough to give him a stern look that was a pitiful mockery of the last time he had pinned him to a wall. Aziraphale could not help but look him over with the same fondness. His hair was a mess and still between his fingers. He kissed his forehead gently and Crowley collapsed face first into his chest as if shot. He had never seem him so red. Usually when he got this embarrassed he just turned into a snake, or left. Now he could see the blushing on the back of his neck. He groaned lightly against his chest as if terribly pained.

 

“ 'Killing me, angel.” he muttered.

 

Aziraphale felt like he was drowning in the love pouring off of him, so he was not sure which of them should really be accused of excessive force, but he rolled his eye and abided by the fond smile that had been plastered to his own face for the past week.

 

If Crowley had not learned his lesson, about letting himself think about what he might -like- to be the case, long ago, he might have spent more time thinking about what it might actually be like to have such a being of love openly and unabashedly directing that attention towards him. He had not. Maybe in tiny moments of weakness such an idea brushed his consciousness from time to time, instantly stunning him and being quickly shoved aside for self-preservation, but nothing could have prepared him for this.

 

“Oh shush now.” Aziraphale tutted, stroking his neck soothingly again.

 

“Unless this is -really- harming you in some way, dear?” he asked, pausing just a little.

 

The sound Crowley's throat made without his permission was pitiful incarnate. Hopefully they could both ignore that.

 

“No, angel.” he breathed softly, very certain that any force behind the words would break something.

 

He did not know whether he feared combusting on the spot, a heart attack, or maybe just uncontrollable emotional responses, but in any case, he lay very still and quiet.

 

“And you enjoy this?” he asked, massaging his neck slightly.

 

Again, Crowley rolled into it, not so quietly.

 

“-yess.” came a barely audible hiss.

 

“Well then, I suppose you'll get used to it.”

 

Crowley did not want to think he just swallowed apprehensively, or that Aziraphale could have caught it. The impulse to remind him of his own fears of them being fundamentally incompatible were like a needle on the tip of his tongue. He resisted that. If it had been proven he could be held and it harmed neither of them, then getting used to it sounded wonderful, if impossible. All these lines and barriers were regrettable sure, but had recently been necessary. They had become safe and comfortable, keeping them at an emotional distance that kept everything is measured doses. Now his own skin felt like it was burning him, even in the January chill, but there did not seem to be any real damage. It was like going from a desert to the middle of the ocean.

 

“Unless you want me to stop?” he asked, pretty certain he knew the answer.

 

Crowley lifted till their noses almost met again just to glare daggers at him. Having to look him directly in the eye while he stroked his cheek was evidently too much still. Heat not unlike a fever bled through his shirt from where he lay back down.

 

“You poor thing.” he oozed affectionately.

 

He probably should have been able to predict this. He should have been able to read the potential of him being so sensitive to affection and kindness. It should have been obvious just how much rejecting it, playing at aloof distance, even trying to appear threatening, was a flimsy defence, one press away from crumbling. He was not surprised by the nature of his reactions exactly, so much as the sheer depth of them. He seemed pained by it, even if his voice kept suggesting and confirming that he was enjoying it.

 

“You don't even know what to do with yourself.” he observed softly.

 

It was sad, really, but hard to focus on all the time gone by when instead his mind was doing somewhat methodical work thinking of all the time ahead. Crowley buried his face deeper in his arms, somehow.

 

~*~

 

Winter had become an extended excuse for cuddling and hot chocolate in a cozy and dimly lit back room of a book shop. It was all tartan patterned softness and warmth. Sometimes there were tiny marshmallows.

 

Occasionally he had to return home long enough to water his plants, bathe, even engage in some catharsis on canvas, and check on the tomatoes. At this time Aziraphale would open the shop and customers would come in.

 

Lately he had taken to distracting them with a hot chocolate, but telling them they had to stay at the table with it and not take it near the books. This proved surprisingly effective to dodge sales. He did not even have to be rude. For the most part he could play the part of doting father or grandfather figure and then send people on their way when they felt like they had been there too long. Of course it did not hurt that he hardly thought charging them for the hot coco was appropriate. It was so cold out.

 

Elaborate pots of succulents and cacti with pretty flowers had started turning up in odd corners, on the counter and on the table with increasing frequency, and the little dining area had somehow amassed a collection of increasingly elaborate gourmet teas. Aziraphale was sure it was not any customer, but he never actually caught Crowley at it.

 

There was one customer who would come in and sigh longingly at the books, barely touched them, and occasionally expressed concern over the musty smell, who made -helpful- suggestions about the humidity level for the sake of preserving them. When asked why they came to a book store to not buy anything they eventually made some comment about a lack of stability of their own to make sure books like this stayed well kept. They wore strange clothes and on the off occasion they stopped by, the sight of them in the window seemed to drive other customers off. When asked they confirmed they had nothing to do with these strange appearances, but that they had seen a tall man in dark clothes who's limbs were an odd balance of gracefully out of control, taking these things out of bags sometimes, not that he really needed his suspicions confirmed. They spoke in a tone that suggested there was a whole level of conversation and understanding -about who exactly that man was to him- going on, and an almost amused curl to their smile. Aziraphale was not going to correct them, especially considering he was not sure they were wrong.

 

Aziraphale was fond of succulents, they stayed a manageable size and seemed to actually prefer how often he forgot to water them. Crowley was at least more straightforward about some of his gifts, like the gourmet pastries he kept stocking the tiny fridge with, and the bottles of wine, and other consumables. Still, he made sure to comment on how lovely each of the new plants were, both to Crowley and to the plants themselves when he was not looking.

 

Just ever so once in a while a new book would show up in his collection, something he had trouble getting a hold of, or that everyone assumed a lost cause. He was intent on spoiling Crowley with affection, thinking he had already more than reciprocated far in advance, but the poor dear did not seem to know how to accept all of this without dialling his own gestures up past record highs. There really was not anything to save him from at the moment, no grand gestures to be made, so he seemed to find every slightly smaller thing he could do.

 

“Oh Crowley, you don't have to keep doing this.” he said, almost a lament.

 

It was enough to make him feel guilty if he let it.

 

“What?” he asked, all vague impressions of innocent blinking, though he did not really do that.

 

Aziraphale sighed deeply. Crowley had been standing in the doorway very quietly for a solid ten minutes, always taking time to lurk, enough to watch him enjoy the things he left him, before making his presence known, always a beacon of love and affection that Aziraphale could hardly overlook. He tried not to make anything of him just watching him gently turn pages, expression embodying what a longing sigh would look like.

 

“I thought you liked books?” he teased.

 

“Oh I -love- books.” he said all matter of fact, “They're so charming,” he went on, expression gaining a sly edge, “The very embodiment of offering knowledge, kindly providing it to anyone who's inclined to inform themselves.” he spoke affectionately to the book, gently and slowly stroking the edge of a page to turn it, “So full of memories and stories... And after all, what do things like free will and consent even mean in the absence of information?” he said fondly, “Lovely things books are, empowering people to shape and choose and live better, to do better...”

 

A subtle glance to the side let him know Crowley had caught his meaning. There was no other explanation for the way he had melted against the door frame, blushing and failing to glare at him.

 

“Angel...” he whined under his breath.

 

“But that's rather beside the point, Crowley dear.” he said, closing the book.

 

He looked up and Crowley pretended he was leaning casually.

 

“Come here.” he said, turning in his chair and reaching out for his hand.

 

Crowley slowly obliged and he took both of his hands to hold them.

 

“My dearest Crowley...” he looked up at him, “You already do so much for me.” he brushed his hands tenderly with his thumbs, “You always have.” he gave them a light squeeze and watched him shift a little awkwardly, “I'm afraid I haven't allowed myself to express myself nearly enough in kind, but I -am- trying to make that up to you, if at all possible.” he explained, “And that's going to be very hard to do if you carry on this way.” he kissed the back of his hands each in turn.

 

He stood up, still holding his hands. Crowley looked like he wanted to fold into him for a moment. Their noses almost brushed before he reeled himself back in.

 

Crowley did not know what he was doing or thinking, but Aziraphale sighed fondly and held him gently to kiss his forehead, so it must not have been anything offensive.

He would make it up to him, especially once he had finished processing what exactly -everything he had been holding back- entailed. Crowley has been the most attentive and sweet friend and companion he could have asked for, for literal millennia. He led him by the hand to the back room that was quickly becoming a complete living area to sit down. Burying his nose into his hair was a lot easier once Crowley let himself collapse into his chest.

 

“And besides, you don't owe me anything regardless, not for trying to show you how much I love you.”

 

Again Crowley's nose brushed his as he grabbed him, until a moment of hesitation later when the sound that started in his throat collapsed into a hiss and Crowley was a great black and red boa, twisting belly up as if playing dead.

 

“Dear boy, you don't think that's a touch dramatic?” he asked, failing to keep all of the concern out of his voice.

 

Crowley turned back over to stare at him squarely for a moment, if only to let him know he was okay. He still was not used to hearing those words out loud, and the last time he had said anything of the like, he did not know Crowley was listening.

 

“Oh.” Aziraphale caught what he had just really said, glancing off the the side, processing how he would expect Crowley to react to easily confessed affection like that, “Well, I do, you -must- know that.” he said more quietly.

 

More than knowing that he loved every one of God's creatures, he had to know, he thought, with a tiny sting of doubt and guilt. Crowley pressed down against his chest as if gently seeking some way to crawl right into his skin, perhaps to hide.

 

“I'm sorry for all the times I never said it.” he said, stroking the scales on his head smoothly.

 

There was such pain and affection in his voice, Crowley twisted slightly against him. It was as if his mind was returning those words over and over silently, relentlessly, as he tried to find some way to let it all out. It was still all too fresh, new and sudden, Crowley would need time to adjust before the words came as easily to him. The meaning though, that was rolling off of him desperately in waves.

 

“I know, I know... Shush.” he comforted him quietly.

 

He had not realized just how much Crowley needed to hear those words. Maybe Crowley had not either.

 

~*~

 

Aziraphale set about putting out pastries and boiling water, Crowley was conspicuously absent at the moment. Just when he wondered if he should actually start looking for him, it not being like him to just vanish before they ate breakfast. It was nice, having a routine they had settled into, but that made breaks to their routine concerning. Before he could worry too much though, Crowley came back through the door, cheeks red from the cold, holding a bag. Without even thinking he met him half way and cupped his cold face in his hands, trying to warm him. Crowley almost dropped the bag.

 

His hands were hot, and his concern and affection was like a sudden jolt. He was not sure what he expected when he rushed up to him at the door and held his face, but this was nice, even if it burned on his cheeks and ears.

 

“Crowley dear, what could possibly have been so important to go rushing out in weather like that?”

 

“Tomatoes.” Crowley said, his voice fighting not to be small.

 

Every morning they got up and went immediately to eat. He did not tend his plants until afternoon and he kept thinking they would be better to bring over fresh in the morning. He had not wanted to present the plant to him until he was sure the tomatoes were decent, because he knew Aziraphale would never reject a gift from him, even if it was a little bastard of a plant that could not even get tomatoes right. So he thought running out to get tomatoes to go with breakfast was as good a cover as any.

 

“For breakfast.” he tried to add like it was obviously a perfectly rational explanation.

 

It was not exactly in the plan that it would immediately turn into a blizzard the moment he stepped out.

 

Crowley put down the two most perfect and red looking tomatoes he had ever seen.

 

“The weather didn't turn until after I got halfway there.” he grumbled.

 

Within a moment Aziraphale was fussing over him and setting a hot coffee down in front of him.

 

“It was very thoughtful.” he eventually conceded, “Thank you dear.”

 

He kissed his forehead again, and again his heart did a pathetic little leaping motion that he wished would stop. This was his eternity now, being overwhelmed and useless, a complete disaster with nothing to focus on except how everything was always just too much, his own personal heaven, where every touch and word left him raw, either reward or some twisted punishment he was enjoying -so very much- anyway, no one could really say any more.

 

“You had better have been worth it...” he grumbled to a tomato before eating it.

 

It was not bad. Seemed like a decent tomato. Then he noticed an odd little quirk to Aziraphale's brow.

 

“What is it, angel?”

 

He made a hesitant little sound, obviously not really wanting to voice what he was thinking. Crowley peered over his glasses at him until he relented.

 

“Well, it's just... It's odd really,” he said, brows allowing themselves to fully come together, “I can't help the sense that these tomatoes...”

 

He did not want to complain about them, he must have been imagining things anyway. Crowley was waiting for him to finish.

 

“Well, I can't shake the sense that -somehow- they taste a little like...”

 

“Like?”

 

“Like, well... Fear.” he sighed, rolling his eyes.

 

It was ridiculous of course.

 

Aziraphale was right, now that he said it. Fear was something he had such an easy sense of, he was not sure how he missed it.

 

“Though I'm certain it's just my imagination.” he added when Crowley suddenly sighed and leaned back, covering his hand on the table.

 

“No... No you're right... It was a silly idea.” Crowley said looking dejected.

 

That was when it clicked. Crowley had grown these himself.

 

“Oh Crowley... You didn't.” he said with affection and concern.

 

Crowley just glared off to the side at the plant in his mind.

 

“You didn't terrify some poor plant into making these in the middle of winter just for me... Did you?” somehow his tone was just slightly too distressed to completely convey he thought it was very sweet to go to the trouble.

 

Of course he had. He was not aware that Aziraphale knew what he meant when he alluded to talking to his plants. Maybe he only knew he handled some plants this way.

 

“My dearest Crowley, you...” he sighed, “That's very thoughtful of you...”

 

Crowley looked like he was slowly plotting a tiny but elaborate murder.

 

“Dearest, listen to me. You can't just expect the poor thing to make proper fruit under these conditions, I'm sure it tried very hard.”

 

He only got a coldly raised eyebrow in response, his attention still focused on the plant.

 

“Please don't...” he was not sure what logic there was to ask this, “Don't punish the poor thing on my account.” he requested, perhaps unwisely.

 

Crowley was even more certain now that the reason Aziraphale had claimed the job of the gardener was because he -was- aware of how he managed his plants and was trying to spare as many as he could from his ire. Something in him wanted to collapse. He felt like he was being dramatic, his reaction out of proportion with the situation, but he was trying to do something thoughtful, something more personal than just getting him any gift, something that came from himself in some way, and somehow he had managed to taint that. Fear was the only way he knew to manage plants and that just was nowhere near good enough to feed to his angel. He knew he was failing to keep the disappointment off his face when Aziraphale squeezed his hand. Just occasionally he was slightly less delighted by how well his angel knew him.

 

Crowley had that telltale sump to all his features that always betrayed his worst moods, the ones where self-doubt were at the forefront. It broke his heart, he did not mean any of it to be taken this way, as much as Crowley was trying to hide whatever state he was suddenly in. He was so much more transparent than he knew.

 

“Oh, no, no it was -very- sweet of you... And they are very lovely tomatoes.”, that much was honest, they were visually appealing, “I'm sure the entire plant has done its very best to be as absolutely charming as possible.”

 

He was not sure charming was what really counted from a tomato plant, and the sudden doting attention was almost embarrassing.

 

“You'll let me see it now, won't you?”

 

Of course that was what Crowley was up to in his kitchen. It all made sense now.

 

Crowley wanted to immediately reject the notion that the plant deserved anything but to be kicked out, but he brought the plants that would not be persuaded by fear -here- so he did not know what he could do with it. Then, suddenly, it actually seemed the perfect idea. The plant -should- know exactly who it had disappointed. That would teach it.

 

It was not all bad though, somehow this all seemed to precipitate a long after-breakfast cuddle while Aziraphale read on the couch. That was lovely, that was whole new precedent of not needing any excuse to curl up against his chest while he read, it being the middle of the day and a lot like just going back to bed because they could. He could hardly mind the book being held over his back, not when Aziraphale's nose perpetually found its way into his hair.

 

~*~

 

Sometimes he felt the whole book slump against his back, but when he moved even the slightest bit to see if Aziraphale had fallen asleep, he was instantly nuzzled against and sometimes kissed at his hairline, as if he was not sleeping but had become distracted with him instead, as if he was soothing him back to sleep, thinking the settling of the book had disturbed him. His insides writhed happily every time he glanced up only to meet attentive eyes.

 

Aziraphale was usually positive in general, with a few stark exceptions, but now he was outright cheery at all times. Crowley could have eyed a book or two jealously in the past, but now watching him leaf gently through the pages only reminded him what he needed a brief reprieve from before it just got to be too much again. He had never felt like he had such a weak heart until now.

 

“Mmmm.” Aziraphale mumbled into his hair, “This feels right.” he mused, putting the book down to rub his back deliberately.

 

He got to the backs his arms and his hands felt hot, and wonderful. Immediately he reached up and tucked them in with the heated blanket, rubbing his arms to warm him.

 

“Crowley dear, you really do get cold so easily.” he commented in response to all the contented humming.

 

Crowley hugged him a bit tighter and wiggled into him, a display of how comfortable he was.

 

“Well if I didn't...” he suggested lazily, leaving the rest implied.

 

“Yes, you're quite right.” he mumbled into his hair, kissing his forehead tenderly.

 

~*~

 

Crowley watched Aziraphale take off his jacket and shoes at the door, something he did not even do getting back to his shop in the evenings, something usually reserved for settling down to read for the night, and which looked a lot like a man coming home for the day. It was as if he was anticipating exactly what the evening was intended to entail; food, easy comfort, and falling asleep together.

 

Crowley ducked into the kitchen to make sure everything was ready, certain his stomach would be tying itself in these useless knots all evening.

 

“You had better be on your best behaviour.” he hissed, not entirely inaudibly to the tomato plant.

 

Aziraphale picked that moment to slowly round the corner behind him, peering experimentally into the room. The plant's leaves did their best to stop shaking and perk up.

 

“Oh what a lovely thing.” he said immediately, sliding over to them, trapping Crowley against the counter.

 

Realistically speaking, Crowley could move at any time, but he hardly felt like that was the case.

 

“So charming. You've been doing your very best haven't you?” he went on.

 

Normally Crowley would not stand for this, but it was all part of the plan.

 

“Oh but this soil is very dry though, I'm sure he wouldn't mind if I got you some water.” he suggested.

 

Now Aziraphale's hand absently rested on his back as he reached past him to find a cup. This made it a little easier to hide his annoyance, to stare less pointedly at the plant. He watched him pour a cup of lukewarm water generously over the soil. Perfect.

 

He had been getting steadily better at caring for all the plants that were slowly filling his shop, and he did not have Crowley's green thumb. Mostly he had learned that each plant had a very particular amount of water and sun it liked to get.

 

“Such green leaves and what a robust stem.”, he said, stroking one leaf gently, “I'm sure that you could make wonderful tomatoes, given the chance.”

 

Crowley shook his head. Smirking covertly to himself.

 

“I wouldn't be too sure about that, it's a little bastard of a plant... Tries to wilt every morning and every evening. Can't even make a worthwhile tomato.”

 

Aziraphale looked offended, drawn into the idea that the plant could understand them. He had never heard Crowley be this mean before. Not in private, not when no one was looking and the had the option to be kinder.

 

“I'm quite sure it's a very good plant, and that it only needs some time and warmth and a bit of water, and it could do a very good job of things.” he said affectionately to the leaves.

 

“We'll see about that, won't we?” he directed more towards the plant, glaring downwards.

 

He could see the leaves perking up with genuine ease as they spoke, and was almost glad to see them wilt just slightly under his gaze. He indicated the dinner table, and Aziraphale went to take his seat.

 

“That's the man you disappointed.” he hissed under his breath as he left.

 

He walked over to join him, leaving the plant with a clear view of his angel for the dinner. If Aziraphale had overheard what he had said, he did not make anything of it. This was truly genius, if he had the audacity to claim so, which he did. The more he made Aziraphale laugh and smile, the more he enjoyed his meal, the better.

 

Now, you do not go six thousand years as two relatively clever people without figuring a few things out, or -at least- narrowly not figuring some things out. There were things they both had a great deal of suspicion about, and their own beliefs -and the resulting reaction reality tended to have in response to them- was certainly one of those thing. They also knew -by some unconscious mechanism- that it would be dangerous to let these suspicions to the surface. After all, what is left of the reality you know and love when you become fully aware the world would bend to anything you believe enough to be true? Where does the line of belief and reality get drawn when you become too aware of your ability to control one and your complete inability to control the first? If those questions just made your mind uncomfortable, you can imagine. That was a dangerous mental trap which selective cleverness saved them from falling into, perhaps by design. Thus we have two immortal beings, each with thousands of years of practice trying to let themselves believe what was the most convenient, with equal practice at never letting themselves examine this compulsion too closely. In fact, they had become very practised in general at conveniently overlooking the obvious, even when it was no longer convenient.

 

So when Crowley started making assertions about what was still in his fridge and in perfectly preserved condition from the first night they had it, Aziraphale told himself quietly that Crowley's refrigerator must just be more advanced than his own, rather than trying to dissuade him from his notions about refrigeration. After all, who was he to assume Crowley was the one who had it wrong, Crowley was always better with technology anyway. Their dinner was thus, absolutely perfect.

 

Crowley was trying to hit every note he could, if for no other reason -that he could admit- than to show off how wonderful and full of love his angel was. He even gave him a guided tour of all his plants and bit his tongue long enough to let Aziraphae praise them. Being the suave host was becoming increasingly difficult tough, as Aziraphale continuously betrayed himself in every moment. His comfort with everything, as unprecedented as it was, was evident in every particularity of his behaviour. He knew exactly what was expected of him and was eagerly playing along. Crowley had seen him manage to eat any dish without spilling a drop, so it was plenty normal to see him go an entire evening without loosening a stitch of clothing -best not to risk wrinkling them- so when he waited until after dinner and desert, until they were situated with the last of the wine and comfortable, to unbutton his sleeves and roll them out of the way, it was very hard to interpret it as anything other than the offer it was.

 

Demons don't swoon, of course, that would be very un-demonic of them. They might, however, be persuaded by events to fall easily into the arms of whoever they want, the moment they felt like being there. Thoughts were useless anyway, who would bother having such irritating things. Fond smiles and hands in your hair are a much better use of time after all, especially if your forehead is kissed.

 

“What a lovely evening.” his angel said to him, “So very thoughtful...” he went on and oh, they were getting back to praise now.

 

Crowley could not help but twist and squirm subtly into all of this.

 

“How is that?” Aziraphale asked, nuzzling into his hair.

 

“How's what?” he breathed.

 

“How is it that you manage to act like no one -ever- holds you like this?”

 

Crowley did not realize they were having a conversation, or that it was one that could be lost, but -from the moment his lip moved and he had no ready answer- he got a very strong sense of both. Crowley promptly decided that they were not, in fact, having this conversation. There was no way he was explaining any of this to himself or anyone else.

 

“Well -I- don't go around fraternizing with humans.” he managed to choke out.

 

He did not really want to be confrontational or for that to come off as a judgement, he stated it because it had long been the truth. He also did not want to have to justify that no amount of physical contact held any interest for him if there was not this kind of connection behind it, or this amount of love, and he did not think he should have to admit to himself -or anyone else at this moment- that Aziraphale was the only person he had ever had any such connection with. It seemed like obvious things should not cruelly insist on being stated. Thankfully, Aziraphale seemed to take it for the defence it was.

 

“No, no I suppose you really don't. It's -almost- a shame, really...” he said, stroking his cheek very gently, “I imagine they'd find you very easy to love.”

 

He almost felt bad, watching Crowley's skin turn from hot under his hand to as red as his ruby belly scales. Crowley went from trying to get leverage for a good stare at him, to hiding against his chest. It was far too easy to overwhelm him with affection and far too fun to do. Usually he took a change in form as an indication he had pushed something too far, but now he wondered if maybe this had been a bit too much, despite the very human-like quality of the red cheek under his palm.

 

Aziraphale has clearly been right. Their natures were incompatible and this was slowly killing him, corrupting him on a fundamental level maybe. There was only so much of this Crowley could take at any given time. It was not just all the love and sweetness -the unabashed implications he made and all the clever ways he found to suggest that he loved him- it was everything that it contrasted so sharply against sometimes too. He was having it spelled out to him, with every kind gesture, every soft touch, every loving word, just how badly he had needed this and just how much he had gone without it.

 

“Oh surely you can't deny that?” Aziraphale asked in response to all the pained head shaking.

 

“Angel, please...”

 

“Crowley, you can't possibly think...”

 

“Aziraphale!” Crowley snapped, instantly regretting it.

 

“...I suppose I just can't imagine someone knowing you and not loving you.” he said quietly after a moment.

 

Of course he would see it that way. Of course he would assume that the problem was that Crowley was loved and just lacked a sense of it. Of course in his mind anyone would meet Crowley and love him, because that was what Aziraphale felt, because Aziraphale was overlooking that humans were -overwhelmingly- not like him, especially the humans put into the path of a demon. Of course he was not thinking of the implications of temptation and sin when he thought of Crowley having to approach humans that way. That was what made this all so sharp. Aziraphale still had his chosen delusions about what it was to be a demon, and he did not really want to correct him. It would break his heart.

 

“Angel, there is -nothing- to do with love in what humans want with me.” he said quietly, to explain his outburst.

 

He did not really want to explain more than that. The hurt he saw on his face was already enough.

 

“Please, just drop it.” he pleaded.

 

Aziraphale nodded immediately. Of course love was a sore subject for him, of course physical affection could be complicated. He did not want to imagine. He could tell Crowley did not want him to. He was not sure how affectionate words had spun themselves so readily into a barb.

 

“I'm sorry.” he said very softly.

 

Crowley was already wrapped back around him trying to cover whatever other feelings had come up with an angry pout. If he was not entirely imagining it, he might have been shaking a little.

 

“I won't... I won't speculate about how anyone else feels or should feel.” he promised him, realizing now how that could be cruel.

 

“But can I keep telling you how I feel?” he asked, tipping his chin up.

 

That was more the reaction he was looking for. Hot and red, but relaxed, pliant, soft huffs of breath and gripping to him, not deflection or intimidation. Still, he seemed like he was running a fever and did not actually come up with a response.

 

“Too much?” he asked him gently, before the whine in Crowley's throat could form into a proper protest.

 

~*~

 

He decided it was probably incidental to Aziraphale's living arrangements actually including a public shop, and his own place being a personal dwelling, that they never used to visit at his place very much, if ever. Now though, it was slowly becoming normal and comfortable to be including him in this space.

 

Crowley was increasingly comfortable at least. Aziraphale was slowly processing a new level of insight he suddenly had into his companion's inner workings. It was easy enough to set aside, in the moment, when he was holding Crowley and he seemed content, even happy, at peace -he might hazard to say- curled up on him. The entire new set of reactions and behaviours he got just holding him and playing with his hair was endlessly fascinating. Crowley was, to his relief, as Crowley had ever been, right up until the very moment he thought it was time to be held, when suddenly he was some softer version of himself capable of soaking up love and attention, without harm, despite what his writhing might suggest.

 

When he was left to think about it, that was another story. He did not miss all the hissing under his breath at the plants, his threats, or -seemingly a new tactic- his promises to reward them with the angel's presence, threats to send him away. It was downright uncharacteristic to see him being so cruel to anything. At first it seemed obvious and simple projection, play the cruel and uncaring god to the helpless plants, punish their failure, harshly and swiftly, not seeming beholden to any mercy or logic, much like how Crowley saw divine punishment; how he saw -his- punishment. He told himself they were just plants, that even if Crowley thought they were afraid, they were healthy and well cared for, in some sense. It nagged at him though. His mind kept chipping away at it.

 

He felt, in many ways, like he was left playing Crowley's role, questioning the whole system, breaking the rules, sneaking them water here and there, just because it happened to be in his cup and he was done with it anyway, but also whispering sweet encouragement to them, telling them what he thought they needed to hear.

 

It did not sit entirely well with him to begin with that he seemed to be punishing the plants the same way he had been punished. It sat even less well when he realized why this new tone of threat bothered him so much. The projection was not impersonal, it was not treating -others- as he had been treated, it was re-enacting the harm done to himself to things that were an extension of himself. Now the greatest threat being used was not death or banishment, it was that they would never see Aziraphale again, that his kindness would be taken from them. They were told they had to be good enough to deserve him and were failing.

 

Other than the excuse of having not visited his home much, he could not understand how he had missed all of this. He knew that being a bit aloof and oblivious was one of his worst traits. Now every time he heard him shame them, all he could hear was him punishing himself for not being enough. Especially that poor tomato plant. He had to say something, he could not bear it if the next tomato he tried tasted like this deep well of shame, the fear of rejection made palpable by the last one was enough. He did not know how to bring it up though. Crowley would hardly be conscious of this very complex form of psychological self-harm, and he could not very well discuss it with him without opening that wound. It explained something of the long, nearly embarrassed, looks he got when he was caught holding a leaf gently and telling them how lovely and wonderful they were, but he could hardly let this go on.

 

“What is -THAT-?” he heard Crowley from the other room.

 

“Oh dear.” he mouthed to himself, relatively certain he had found a dead leaf.

 

“You were all warned!” he made a show of lifting the pot and showing it around to the other plants.

 

Aziraphale was already rushing over to him.

 

“Crowley, Crowley please.”

 

“No angel, they need to know who has authority here and I THINK THEY'VE FORGOTTEN.”

 

Aziraphale watched all the plants shake in fear.

 

“Oh no, no no no...”

 

He wanted to stop him, hush him, soothe him, interrupt this episode, but Crowley fixed him with a stern look, not having any part of it.

 

“You KNOW what happens to him now.” he called to the room at large.

 

Crowley tucked the pot under his arm and sauntered over to the hall that lead to the elevator, Aziraphale hot on his heels.

 

“Crowley you can't.” he pleaded, “Crowley the poor thing hasn't done anything wrong. Leaves get old and used up -I suspect anyway- hey have to grow new ones..."

 

“You suspect?” he tested derisively, getting off the elevator and sauntering strictly out to his car.

 

He tossed the plant in the back seat and got in. Now Aziraphale was torn between alarm, and wanting to know what he actually did with them. He was driven on a short tour of the shops down town until Crowley seemed to settle on the right pot, still trying to make his case without either accusing him of cruelty, or quite making it sound like the obvious projection it was.

 

“If you're going to -dispose- of it, why are we picking out a pot?”

 

Crowley did not answer him. They went to his car.

 

“You like the pot?”

 

“Well, yes, I told you, it's perfectly charming as far as pots go...”

 

At this rate, he was a little concerned it was going to be the burial clothes at a funeral, and he felt bad for having helped in picking it out.

 

“But Crowley...”

 

Another glare stayed his tongue. It was marked all over his face that he would not be told how to manage his plants.

 

“Get in.” he demanded, opening his door.

 

They drove to his shop. Aziraphale watched in mild confusion as he slid the plant, carefully enough, out of one pot and settled it into the other, dumping any excess soil back on top. He righted himself and waltzed past him into his shop, ignoring that the door aught to have been locked. He stopped somewhere near the middle of the room and turned to him, suddenly not making eye contact.

 

“Where do you want this one?”

 

Just like that it all clicked. That was why their plants could never meet, because then his plants would know. They would know that Crowley did not actually have it in himself to dispose of them, or harm them, that he would do the only thing he could think of and bring them here. Surely, that was not at all conscious either, bringing these rejected part of himself to be judged and either neglected or cared for at Aziraphale's discretion. He thought, maybe, deep down, it even betrayed his most consuming and unconscious desire, to be accepted and loved by him. It was breaking his heart and he could hardly even articulate it.

 

“Unless you don't want it...”

 

“No! No I do. It's lovely.” he said too dramatically, rushing over to take it from a pointedly haphazard grip.

 

Crowley was not sure what in the situation warranted all this drama, or why Azirwpahle's lip shook just slightly. He watched him hold the plant protectively and take it into his back office. He situated it near a lamp and immediately gave it water. Something near his heart squirmed.

 

“There now. No need to be afraid, you can keep me company while I read.” he cooed at the plant.

 

Crowley watched him gently remove the dead leaf, and tenderly kiss one of the ones on top, and did not know why his heart made a little flipping motion.

 

“There. Good as new.” he said fondly.

 

He could not really criticise how he kept plants because the more he brought new ones here, the more he seemed to teach himself about caring for them. Their methods were different, but he could not deny how the plants here flourished. Aziraphale turned to him, still giving him a stern look, but also still seemingly on the verge of tears.

 

“You think I'm cruel to them.” Crowley said stepping forward, “You shouldn't be surprised.” he said, raising one brow.

 

He seemed to be trying to back him against the desk. Aziraphale assumed he was trying to intimidate him away from whatever he was about to say to him, and he made it very clear he was not impressed.

 

“Admit it, you just can't stand to see me be cruel to them. You don't like seeing what I'm actually capable of, not even, even...”

 

Not even to his stupid plants.

 

Aziraphale wanted to brush off the intimidation as ridiculous, maybe even take up a sturdier tone and push back, but he could hardly fake coldness with him now.

 

“What I can't stand is to watch you be so cruel to yourself.” he defended agitatedly, finally relenting.

 

“Whu...?” Both eyebrows raised quite high, sunglasses slipping down.

 

“Oh Crowley, you dear, sweet -stupid- ...”

 

Crowley wanted to protest -whatever this was- but Aziraphale was suddenly holding him, and was very intentionally tugging him down to make a particular point of kissing the tattoo on his cheekbone. When all he could do was lose his balance slightly in response, he was kissed there a few more times, almost frantically. The fluttering in his chest must have been made of all his confusion. He was pushed easily off balance into the chair at the desk so he could be held comfortably, forced to look up at him.

 

He could see Crowley trying to formulate a response and really only settling on random letters to try to get him started. He took whatever risk was involved moving his glasses the rest of the way off and onto the table. His eyes flickered over him, still trying to process.

 

“I can't really blame you for not seeing it, how could you...” he said softly.

 

He was hardly one to speak.

 

“You don't find it a little on the nose, dear?” he asked him gently.

 

“Nose?”

 

“Yes, the ah... You know, these...” he knelt down a little to look in his eyes a bit more easily, “These aren't things that are inherently bad, they don't need to be scared and threatened into behaving right... You don't need to terrorize them into being good enough.” he said, holding his face and fixing his hair, stroking his cheek, the one with the little snake “They're already quite lovely.” he said, kissing his forehead.

 

“The... plants?” he asked, eyes flicking up, widening for a moment.

 

“Well, dear, they should be as dear to you as...” he eyed the book on the desk, “As anything. You put so much time and care into them, so much of yourself... Yet I have never seen you be cruel to anyone or anything like you are to them.”

 

“You think I'm projecting.” he realized in a neutral tone, possibly too breathless to put any particular inflection on anything.

 

Crowley was not, in fact, stupid, and they both knew it. He had always been at least as clever as creative denial would allow. He did not even know what to do with the accusation yet, only that kind and clever fingers had him in a kind of trap.

 

“Then how is it? Being surrounded by all these rejected pieces?” he gestured around at what was implied to be a graveyard of his own aggressive pruning of himself, his tone defensive, a bite.

 

“I've always found it quite sweet that you would share something so personal with me. They're each so lovely. Having so much of you around me makes it feel like home.” he mumbled into his hair.

 

“Angel...”

 

He was trying to be annoyed, but he was being so soft with him again.

 

“And, well, I want to apologize, for ever having not realized... for any failure on my part to take proper care of them.” he said, kissing his hairline again.

 

Crowley swallowed his impulse to push back. He could not find the words, he could hardly think of why he wanted to be annoyed past all the useless flips his heart was doing.

 

“Then, what other clever conclusions have you come to?” he asked, not quite as testily as he would have preferred.

 

He thought that, maybe, if he breathed again, thoughts and intonation would come a little easier, but that could not be right.

 

“Well, it seems maybe we could revisit the question of moving in properly?” he said, tone soft and sweet and the implication uncharacteristically bold.

 

If he took this logic to its clearest extent, it seemed to stand to reason that what Crowley really wanted was to be close to him, physically, as much as anything, though he was not sure how he needed the plants to spell that out for him.

 

“But the er-plants?” he tried to default back to whatever reasoning they had come to before, wondering how much it aught to feel like an excuse.

 

He could feel himself losing mental traction and any ground he had in this exchange.

 

“Just as well. I think it might be better, from now on, if -I- decide who deserves to be punished.”

 

Crowley felt his heart shoot a terrible barb down through his stomach, knocking any breath that remained from him on the way.

 

Aziraphale only notice his thumb had made its way to his bottom lip when it started to shake under it. This time it was Crowley's eye that lowered to trace over the words as they were spoken to him, just before snapping to fine slits.

 

“If- If you'll allow it, that is.” he amended, kissing his forehead again, thumb retreating back to his cheek to hold him securely.

 

Crowley was not in any state to argue or to agree to anything. He could feel his skin burning, his ears on fire. He felt like there were levels of implications being made here and he was not presently able to draw conclusions about which ones were intended and which were an innocent misunderstanding. If Aziraphale had implied something he had not meant to, he had not caught it himself. He pressed his lips together to stop them grasping at useless syllables again.

 

Still, it was the most wonderful discomfort he had ever been in, to be pried apart here and there, as much as he would allow, gently but relentlessly so all the places he was soft could be soothed with kisses and everywhere he felt empty could be filled with sweetness. He could not bear it and he never wanted it to stop. If he was ever forced to admit out loud that it was all a bit too fast, all of a sudden, he would make Aziraphale regret it. More empty threats.

 

“Let's ah... Let's have a hot coco? Or a drink?” he suggested, mercifully, giving him whatever emotional space he needed.

 

Crowley nodded, following him on impulse to standing but then feeling awkward enough to stay at the desk for a moment. He glanced over to the plant, which only vibrated a little nervously now that they were alone.

 

“Enough...” he said, expression cool but undeniable warmth behind it that he could not hold in, bringing a couple fingers up under a leaf to turn it in the light, “You heard him. He likes you. You get to stay.” he said, flicking the leaf inconsequentially away from him as he gave up his slouch against the desk.

Chapter Text

 

 

Aziraphale supposed it was inevitable from the first that they would develop a dialogue that was ever increasingly their own. Usually that meant borrowing whatever words from their long, shared history to say what they needed, regardless of the time, because they both knew, they both remembered. Sometimes this involved age old codes or even a kind of sign language. Recently this had come to include a dialogue of body language -something Aziraphale could not remember being any good with- and abstractions, even innuendo, though not in the way most people might assume that word to be used.

 

For the past week, from the moment he was actually invited over again, he had been making very sure to tell each and every plant how lovely they were. By now every single one of them had flowered, much to Crowley's annoyance and embarrassment, even the ones they were not sure -should- flower.

 

“Attention seeking little traitors.” Crowley hissed.

 

“Oh come now... There's no shame in wanting love and attention.”, he said, cupping one flower gently to inspect it, “They're doing such lovely job of it too.” he cooed, taking his hand away slowly to let it settle on its own weight again without damage.

 

Crowley was an interesting sight too, hiding behind a hand and blushing that way, suddenly taking every interaction with the plants -very- personally. Aziraphale supposed that having been a nanny for approaching a solid decade was what spurred this particular bout of presenting male more often than not, since Crowley seemed to like maintaining an overall balance, of a kind, but a very feminine outfit or two were working their way back into the rotation on occasion, and not for any temptation or other business, but simply a celebration of that freedom.

 

Aziraphale was used to this coming with a much cooler demeanour, especially in modern times. Lipstick and eyeliner sharp enough to cut and a walk that spoke of cold premeditated murder. It was as though presenting female -and suddenly being treated as a potential target- made Crowley very automatically adapt a demeanour of ice-cold fire, a sharp edge, just to ward off and halt any abuse in its tracks, whether it be because she was approached as a woman or as a trans woman, the saunter became a kind of war-dance. In short, he was not used to seeing Crowley presenting female and seeming soft, or anything short of dominating. Crowley was still Crowley though, regardless of the gender of the moment, and Crowley could not look at him without turning red, as of late.

 

Crowley's hair, lately so short as to almost hide just how red it got under enough sun, now hung asymmetrically in sweeping expressive curls and bouncy tendrils the colour of blood and fire. The dress was black of course, the jewellery understated and as snake-themed as ever, with little ruby accents. The lipstick that usually brought sharp contrast to fiendish smiles was still dark and red, but he wondered how it stayed put behind the grip of sharp teeth or the hand she kept dragging across her face. Crowley now had to sit through watching him gently tend any plant he could find every time he visited and was not allowed to use his absence as a threat.

 

“Angel please.”

 

She could not bear to watch any more of this. It was only the beginning of their evening plans and her nerves were already raw. They still needed to go out; a show and then dinner.

 

Aziraphale could concede there was only so much he could promise unconditional love to the plants in front of Crowley without it counting as some kind of elaborate torture. She still tried to sit casually and proudly, but that blush that was near permanent had deepened in place. Aziraphale went over to the couch, leading the offending hand gently away from miraculously perfect lipstick.

 

“Perhaps we should wait until after dinner to risk messing this up?” he suggested gently about the makeup.

 

From the blank and narrow stare he had to assume his words had a potential meaning beyond what he had intended, but he was not sure what that was in this context, at least, he was not going to let his mind work at it. He sat and tipped Crowley's chin to inspect that everything was still at least symmetrical, not knowing enough to know what else to check for.

 

Crowley could not resist the impulse to try to hide against his chest, but a thumb on her chin halted the motion.

 

“And -do- try not to get lipstick on this shirt.”

 

“This shirt?” Crowley raised one eyebrow, taking part of the collar casually between two fingers, tilting her head, eyes narrowing and brushing a thumb over the fabric as if contemplating kissing the collar on purpose to make some kind of point.

 

It was intended as a threatening gesture. Crowley was so certain he would be the easier of them to embarrass. Other than the obvious risks to them involved, now largely past, if he was bothered by the assumption that they were a couple, he would have taken issue with it from the very first time they were spotted together in Rome.

 

“Crowley my dear, if you do that before we go out I will -not- miracle it away.” Aziraphale threatened, all sweetness, but firm.

 

“Bastard.” Crowley scolded him lightly, blushing hotter, and pushing him away to get up.

 

Of course the lipstick would not rub off until she intended it to, that was the point of a liquid lipstick, after all. She was -in fact- quite sure that makeup these days was formulated to stay flawless until it was removed, and thus that was always the experience.

 

They had a lovely evening without incident, as they always expected to when their focus was entirely on experiencing things together. The show was painfully modern, but fine, fun even. Dinner was lovely, and ran late, until it seemed a miracle that the restaurant had stayed open for them without complaint.

 

Finally, it was late and they had turned in, giggling through the hallway to the door as much as they thought could be polite at this hour. They took their seat as usual, retiring with a final glass of red wine, but when Crowley went to curl up against his chest, she was stopped again, and fixed him with a cold stare.

 

“Crowley dear. You are always lovely, but if you don't wash this off before we turn in...” he tried to say delicately, leaving the implication open ended.

 

Of course he was still concerned about getting the makeup on his clothes. The fact that Aziraphale's fingers even considered tugging at the perfectly tied bow tie was like electricity across her cheeks. There was no way he would actually just remove his shirt to save it, surely. Crowley immediately stood.

 

“Er, I uh, a... M. Almost forgot.” she said quickly, skirting around the couch and rushing off into another room.

 

Noises flooded out to the living area, but it did not sound like anything distressing. Crowley came back, looking refreshed, clean, dressed in something soft and ambiguous in black satin, hair still long but tied haphazardly back on top to keep it out of the way, now holding a gift bag.

 

“Oh.” he said, smiling and blushing a bit himself.

 

Brown and blue tartan flannel greeted him. Sleepwear. Dark, but still something he would wear.

 

“Well, that would simplify things a bit, wouldn't it?”

 

He was not sure how it had not occurred to him sooner, perhaps being tied up in how slowly they had made their way to sleeping together -again, not intended as some would mean the phrase- and how it was always on couches. He let Crowley lead him to the bathroom to change.

 

Crowley spent the time he was gone making pained noises muffled into a cushion, hoping to get it all out before he came back. The dam -of aloof distance- had broken and now he kept relentlessly peeling back layer after layer and tenderly addressing everything he found there. Crowley felt a lot like someone losing something, like a battle, especially for someone who kept being given so much, though, perhaps, at the expense of mental and emotional stability. All of this caring tenderness was at risk of sparking against the wrong thing and setting something uncontrollably aflame and there was nothing to be done to stop it. Crowley could only grip to every bit of denial and rationalization, every distraction available, and hope to buy time.

 

Aziraphale wandered lightly back out to the living room, clothes folded in a neat pile in his hands, now soft and patterned from head to toe. Crowley quickly sat up straight, playing at collected, and slid over to make room for him. He left his clothes on the side-table, and drew Crowley in against him. He kissed her dark widow's peak, now with all her hair brushed back, and the moment his hand swept into the waves, Crowley removed the elastic that was holding it all back. He had not yet played with Crowley's hair when it was long before, but he tried to be very gentle and make sure he did not pull any accidentally. Everything now was deep contented sighing and the subtle shift of flannel on satin.

 

~*~

 

“Aziraphale, please” he complained out loud.

 

“Is something the matter?”

 

“I can't take it any more.” he whined as if terribly pained.

 

They were standing near the table, he had not done a thing to him. Crowley was giving him a look up and down and shaking his head.

 

The issue was not the clothing exactly, or even that it was outdated, that had grown on him. It was that -for as much as he kept and maintained the clothes as well as possible- fabric still broke down in time, at some point fibre just turns to dust. So Aziraphale wore perfectly cared-for suits, as properly as possible without being too stiff, but not so occasionally he would find him in a vest that was clearly losing itself to time and Aziraphale -somehow- managed to neither notice nor care its dreadful condition.

 

“Look at it, angel, the thing is threadbare, it's like wearing a corpse.” he said, making a face.

 

“Don't be dramatic Crowley.”

 

Crowley just stared at him. Threadbare was bad enough, but threadbare fabrics that started with fibres like velvet or corduroy were particularly egregious.

 

“Oh -alright- yes, it's a little old, but I -like- this one... And I-”

 

Crowley was already rolling his eyes. It was not that, after all this time, he was suddenly going to take issue with these old and stubborn choices. It was not that he minded the garment, ultimately, if it made Aziraphale happy, it was that it seemed a couple years off of actually falling to dust, was utterly beyond repair, and he thought Aziraphale would be sad to see it go.

 

“Can't I just?” he tilted his head and left the rest implied, not knowing which syllable to go to next.

 

He slipped a finger along the edge of the vest from the top of the buttons down, and started slowly restoring the little fibres and the weave. Aziraphale said nothing. Meticulously, he filled it in, to a gradually increasing condition, probably letting his fingers dust the fabric more than they needed to. He knew Aziraphale would not really mind, he only seemed to have an issue with maintaining these things with miracles himself. Aziraphale rolled his eyes in turn, as if to say 'if you must' but watched him render it like new without protest, a fond smile peeking through.

 

“Thank you, dear.” he said as Crowley reached up to straighten his bow tie, just a moment before clearly wondering if he should, and withdrawing awkwardly.

 

Aziraphale caught his hand lightly, bringing it back subtly towards his chest. Now that the vest was whole again, he had to concede that it looked nice together, even if that was because he was used to his style by now; easy when he only had the one. He adjusted his lapels, smoothing them, probably the only time he had ever handled them gently instead of using them as handles. Still, he felt like he was standing too close and like anything too expressive would be rude in such proximity. Aziraphale stepped a bit closer. Strange really, to be this close and not have to be the one looking up. Easy to forget he was taller when they were always laying down.

 

“Why don't we step out to the roof for a bit? Stretch our wings?” he suggested, from under his nose.

 

“Mm? Er, yeah.” Crowley said a little too long after he had stepped away.

 

~*~

 

The air, he found, was fresh but gaining warmth, very slowly, even as the snow crunched under foot. Red light cut shattered neon across the blue and white of snow and shadow on the rooftops. It was far too bright, right in the corner of his vision but after a moment it would be gone to leave them with softening and darkening pinks and blues. Aziraphale's wings stretched open and picked up all the cold and warm tones of the snow and sky. Crowley's opened and only reflected the occasional bit of blue like glass over darkness and burned sharply red at the edges of feathers as if on fire.

 

He unfolded his own quietly watching Aziraphale's face a little too much to be wholly absorbed in his own stretching. He always looked like he took such indulgent pleasure in being able to stretch those muscles, like it was decidedly sensual, enough to make him wonder if maybe the angel's wings were not significantly more sensitive than his own and not at all fond of being cramped up. For him it was already like a combination of sitting on a limb in an awkward fold all day and letting down a very tight high ponytail that you were not used to, but with more relief and pleasure than pain or discomfort and a tendency to crawl down the nerves in his back. Just stretching them felt like a needed massage. Aziraphale's were a mess, of course.

 

He opened his eyes, after a long moment of feeling the cool air brush through them to find Crowley quietly -not so subtly- watching him. His eyes lingered on his wings and he could not help but feel they were being appraised in much the same way as his vest was. Crowley raised an eyebrow at him and he similarly rolled his eyes. He nudged one out towards him very subtly, either offering something or accepting a standing offer. Crowley's hands seemed magnetically attracted to them all of a sudden, but stopped short with the same abruptness.

 

He was overwhelmed for a moment with feeling like this was something he should not be doing. They looked so bright and soft, and full of light. He was not sure how much of humanity's notions about fallen angels having dark wings and angels having white wings actually came directly from the rare occasions people had managed to see the two of them for what they were, but seeing their wings always made him acutely aware of their differences, even more so than when Aziraphale -tragically prone to occasional accidental cruelty- reminded him on purpose. He could never really tell him how much his words affected him sometimes, knowing he did not mean them to be unkind and would be so heart broken; but then, he seemed to be slowly gaining a sense of it and trying to make it up to him. White feathers came up to brush thickly into his hand and between his fingers, encouraging him, telling him it was wanted, and as soft to touch as his most dream-like memory.

 

Aziraphale sat as he extended his wing, settling on the bench they left there and getting as stiffly comfortable as he could. He watched Crowley blush and felt his fingers tremble very subtly, against the feathers, as if afraid to be too rough, too invasive, and tried to slowly coax him over the the bench by very gradually relaxing his wing.

 

He watched him slowly finish running his fingers through where they were and then carefully separate one feather at a time, not moving them too sharply at the base, to smooth out any separations or kinks in the anterior barbules, smoothing all their little fibres and parts back together between his fingers in sets so the barbs down each shaft sat together smoothly, stuck to one another and able to move as a single thing, making it so they came together again in a tidy, unbroken edge. He held each one carefully at the shaft so the tugging motion did not tug at the whole feather. Of course he probably should have expected that he really would try to be this gentle.

 

It felt like hair, but stiffer, and deeper, the largest ones almost a small bone anchored only in fine but strong muscular tissue. Articulating it externally was not -in sensation- unlike shifting a finger bone around to feel the stretch of the muscle in the joint, just finer, sharper, in his skin next to all the nerves. At the surface it was sharp and tugged -tight- though small motions could feel like scratching an itch, especially if the feather wanted to shed, and deeper it pulled and pushed robustly at the surrounding flesh. Done right it could feel massaging and pleasantly chilling and crawl wonderfully through the whole wing and his back, done wrong it could hurt horribly, burning and pointed.

 

Crowley was certainly doing it right, and he had underestimated what it would feel like to have someone else handle them this way, and so much more gently than he had the patience for himself. He could not help but watch him slowly and carefully take each feather in turn and subject it to this, but it was also unbearable to keep looking. Crowley was shyly keeping his eyes to his work, and that was a small mercy, but it made him think of all the times he had spoiled him with attention until he was a blushing and flustered mess and felt a sweet pang of guilt for how much joy and amusement he had taken from causing it.

 

Crowley was so focused that his eyes slowly gave up the pretence of having a human-like sclera at all, something he did not see that often any more. To think, all the things he had read that depicted or romanticized the serpent of Eden -or mythical beings of shared origins- through all of human history, and he had been next to him since the beginning, a real person, his companion, currently sitting here preening his wing. To him Crowley was Crowley, but to the world Crowley was something else. It made him wonder sometimes what he thought of his own fame and all the assorted forms of fanfare that Aziraphale had been -perhaps very blessedly- left out of, but he did not want to bring it up, sensitive subjects and all.

 

Among other things, it reminded him of all the times he himself had obviously been so focused on something else, and it had left Crowley with nothing to do but watch him and be left to his own thoughts and observations. He could not remain oblivious to the way Crowley watched him, not after all this time. He supposed lately they had finally traded places, leaving Crowley to be indulged and him to observe, but even at that, what Crowley was indulging in had consistently become Aziraphale; by him, really. Now that had inverted too, and he could feel himself scrambling for mental distractions just to make it all a little less poignant.

 

“Funny,” he began, torn between memories and the methodic working of his wing, “That it took the world so many millennia to come up with a phrasing that was as succinct and as exact in meaning as the turn of phrase you came up with that day...”

 

Crowley could not know what he was on about yet, but a small smile betrayed that it already seemed like a compliment.

 

“Our first conversation... A lead balloon.” he specified, noting it to be the most equivalent translation he had heard.

 

Crowley twitched almost imperceptibly a moment before he finished the lopsided smile, still working a feather, and still quite distracted. If it was not for how much he had been practising paying extra careful attention to him lately, he would have missed the flicker in his brow.

 

“What is it dear?”

 

“Hm? Nothing.” he said, shaking his head and not looking up from his task.

 

He wanted to reach out to him but he would have to extract himself first.

 

“Crowley?” he tried to gently grasp him with his voice instead.

 

This finally got him to look up, and then immediately avert his eyes. When Aziraphale would not stop staring directly at him and looking concerned, he relented with a sigh, one he had been holding in for a very long time.

 

“Wasn't technically.” he admitted.

 

“Wasn't technically... Do you remember something? From before...” But Crowley cut him off before he could drag up an even more sensitive subject.

 

“Wasn't technically the first time we spoke. In the garden.” he specified.

 

He was trying to brush it off as unimportant. He had never wanted to bring it up because it was silly really and the very fact that Aziraphale probably did not remember would be upsetting to him. Aziraphale, above all else, wanted to believe he was kind. Crowley could sense insecurity like Aziraphale could sense love, and what the angel dreaded most was the idea that deep down he was -or had the very real capacity to be- callous, careless, thoughtless, unkind or neglectful in any way. Aziraphale was not always perfect in that regard, but he tried so hard to be, and to bring it to his attention that he had forgotten an exchange between them because Crowley had been -in a sense- beneath his notice at the time, felt like it would be cruel. So he never ended up correcting him.

 

It all also ignored their more one-sided interactions. Aziraphale had been a kind of grounds keeper in the garden, sometimes watching the east gate, sometimes guarding or watching other things, like the tree, it was hard to visit the garden and not notice him. He was sure they must have at least been aware of each other for a decently long time, but Crowley had almost always been in the form of a snake on any relevant occasions, when he was present in the garden at all.

 

“Pardon me dear, but I should think that I'd remember...”

 

“It's nothing.” Crowley interjected again, quite willing to drop it.

 

“Please?” Aziraphale stopped his protest in its tracks to quietly insist.

 

“Well... You, er... Yelled at me once.” he admitted, blushing and trying to refocus on what he was doing with his hands.

 

Yelled at you?” he said, like he was pleading.

 

“Scolded, more like... You didn't know it was me, at the time.” he sighed and tried to adjust his thoughts, juggling them around to an approach that made sense and was palatable, “I was a snake of course.”

 

That made him feel a bit better, there were lots of animals in the garden and he did not have any reason to take note of one particular snake back then. He let a blend of relief and fondness curl his lips away from worry.

 

“I can't imagine what reason I'd have had to yell at you.” he said, now curious about what story from their history he was about to be told, what simple meeting from a simpler time.

 

Crowley made a kind of reluctant and non-committal sound, and took a hissing breath.

 

“I was...” he blushed, “Under foot -so to speak- at the time.”

 

“I didn't?” Aziraphale asked, alarmed.

 

“You -almost- put your weight down on my tail... You did catch it though, took your weight back... Almost tripped actually it was -almost- funny. You, clutching your chest... But then...” Crowley explained, and could not help but smile fondly, in spite of everything.

 

Aziraphale was wincing and squinting as if trying to recall, and getting close, but not really wanting to.

 

“You seemed -too- upset at the idea that you might have hurt... me.” he said with an odd slight pause and softening before the last word.

 

“And I yelled at -you- for it?” he seemed too distressed about this even now, “I didn't say anything dreadful did I?” he asked, but the corner of Crowley's mouth twitched up.

 

They exchanged looks and it was clear his amused fondness was bewildering to him, it also made him think that maybe this would not turn out so badly, that he had brought it up. Crowley knew now he could be honest and still probably save Aziraphale's conscience.

 

“Oh Angel... No one else would have cared. The rest of your lot would have been eager to sniff out a demon in the garden and happily step on me, stomp on me, slay me... Whatever they could get away with and act like I deserved it for being there... But you...” he went on, the amusement coming to the forefront now, “To -you- it didn't matter whether I was a demon or anything else, I'm not sure you bothered noticing, you were just upset at the thought that you could have hurt a living thing. How -I- could have been hurt. You just cared.

 

Asides from that, he had seemed to already be having a bad day. He had -surprised and reactive- scolded him, hilariously worked up about it, and eventually picked him up, put him up on a warm rock to nap instead, and told him -still agitated, but giving way to embarrassed- that crawling around under foot was no place for him, and to stay there on the rock, where he was out of harm's way; as illogical and contrary as that demand had been. Crowley, then Crawley, had just been thankful that snakes could not blush and had sat there in hot and awkward embarrassment, letting himself be yelled at, and handled, because the idea of an angel caring if they stepped on him had blind-sided him. It was also -though not exactly direct- the first time someone had expressed concern for him since he fell.

 

“I'd have bitten anyone else for handling me like that.” he said almost wistfully.

 

“You didn't -say- anything?” he asked, clearly embarrassed and tone desperate.

 

“I couldn't get a word in edgewise.” Crowley said with an expression similar to when he was told he had given the sword away, eyebrows raised and shaking his head at the memory in front of him, too amused.

 

He was trying not to openly grin, resulting in a lot of twitching smirks. It was nice to see him all flustered like this, it felt like he had regained some ground.

 

“Crowley is that?” he paused a moment, distracted by the shift to combing fingers through smaller, softer feathers, “Is that why, on the wall...”

 

Crowley smiled in acquiescence, relatively assured Aziraphale could not even see him.

 

“Anyone else... any angel, or even most demons would have just ignored I had even spoken... At best.” he conceded, “but you... I didn't think it -entirely- hopeless that you might at least care that I had spoken.”

 

“I suppose I didn't disappoint, then?” he said softly, and a bit more cheerfully, edging towards one of his more playful wiggles.

 

“No, angel.” Crowley mumbled into his hair, now settling entirely behind him to stroke fine downy feathers into a proper arrangement near his shoulder.

 

Not disappointed, not then. Certainly whatever doubts he had experienced came later, when he was forced to accept that Heaven's kindest angel was also heaven's most frustratingly obedient -even when it was obviously a prison and so opposite to his nature, even when it plainly left him feeling broken and miserable- and periodically again after that when he was forced to question if it would not be more respectful to leave him to his own devices, after a certain point of protest, but that was not something to get into. It was written in their mutual understanding and no good could come of dragging it up or discussing any of it directly, surely.

 

His hair was very soft and he smelled like old paper, coco and all the things he chose to scent and surround himself with. His wings were politely perched into this plane in a way that fully respected the fabric over his back, so he could not even entertain the notion of massaging any of the tension properly out of those muscles, not more than he could by pressing strategically against layers of fabric. He was very warm for the cold night air and Crowley wanted to fold into it, but he carried on to the other wing, thinking it absolutely offensive to leave this half done.

 

Aziraphale was trying to think about some other way to start conversing again because being alone with quiet breathing and the meticulous, mercilessly, slow and gentle treatment of his wings was starting to feel like doing ninety in the middle of the city. He was trying to be quiet and still, but that was starting to require a distraction he did not have. Now he knew the pattern he was working in, and anticipating the move to the next feather and then it finally happening each time was making his nerves try creative new ways to express themselves. The chills felt like they were sliding up his neck to spill across his brain in an altogether very pleasant way. Crowley was clearly not even attempting anything but dutifully doing his best to make them each proper again, very systematically, with such care; but -surely- he must know what it felt like. He felt drunk.

 

“Is everything alright?” he asked him and the slight uncertainty tugged at Aziraphale's heart.

 

“Er, yes. Yes it's lovely thank you.” he said, too quietly and too quickly.

 

Crowley let himself smirk devilishly where Aziraphale could not see. He was trying to be as gentle and respectful as possible of course, but this still felt like sweet vengeance, for all those times Aziraphale had been relentlessly tender towards him, probably knowing full well what it was doing to him. A lesson to help him empathise, even.

 

“It's just very...” he cleared his throat.

 

“Sensitive.” Crowley finished for him, some clashing of cold knowledge and warm fondness in his voice, “I know.”he said lightly.

 

If anything he had renewed how gentle he was being and that might have been worse. He closed his eyes and resigned himself to just enjoying it. He focused on keeping the tension out of his throat so he would not make some embarrassing sound. When Crowley got to finally raking his fingers through the base to straighten the under-layer around the joint he could not help but roll his head a little, letting the shivers run through him without letting himself shake visibly, but it was over too quickly. When Crowley finished he stood to stretch his wings once more and settle them into a comfortable position. He tried to blink something akin to seduction out of his eyes, and keep it from his voice.

 

“There now,” he tried to say brightly, “Is that...”

 

He had turned to get Crowley's opinion, but stopped when he saw he had gone pale, lower lip quivering almost imperceptibly, eyes wide, and his pupils fine slits. He checked back to his other side, expecting to see some source of danger for all the apprehensive staring through him. Then it occurred to him what Crowley was staring at.

 

“Oh dear.” he softened, watching Crowley let his hand drop helplessly to his side, “No, no... Look at me.” he said, trying to quickly gauge whether approaching him would be worse.

 

Crowley looked like he was mentally retreating into himself, into a bad memory. He carefully took his hand and watched him try to shake it off, bringing the other to drag roughly through his hair.

 

Suddenly, Crowley had been subjected to a very striking image of Aziraphale looking far more clean-cut and well groomed than he usually was, expression far too heated and indulgent and surrounded by far too much darkness and faded light.

 

“Crowley...” he said softly, all concern and love.

 

“I- It's just, for a second, you, er...” he tried to explain, staring, wide and sharp, from behind his hand down into the snow between them.

 

For one moment that he was entirely unprepared for, the demon Aziraphale had been adjusting one cuff to ask him what he thought of his handiwork.

 

“...Looked like I'd been groomed by a demon?” he suggested gently.

 

Of course he did. He had been, after all. That was Crowley's own doing. His voice groaned without his permission in frustration with himself. He truly was the architect of his own suffering. Still, now Azirapahle had gathered him into a comforting hug. He was warm and soft. There was no aggression in how he was being handled, no hunger, only sweetness. The hand behind his head was light and stroked his hair gently. When he brushed, nearly nose to nose, past him it was to kiss his forehead lovingly. When he spoke in his ear it was to comfort him.

 

“That's it...” he cooed as Crowley relaxed, “Let's get you inside and warmed up, shall we? What would you say to a nice cup of coco?” he asked softly, “Perhaps with a touch of whisky...” he added when Crowley seemed unconvinced.

 

~*~

 

Now the focus was back on him and almost too much to bear all over again. Aziraphale seemed intent on spoiling him with any comfort he would accept and anything he seemed to enjoy. He was used to being the attentive one, not being catered to. He could not say it was not reassuring though, that if Aziraphale was changing at all, it was in the ways he wanted to, getting to be kinder, softer, more loving and more attentive. It was easier to accept it all, knowing it benefited Aziraphale as much, ultimately, knowing it was something he wanted.

 

Aziraphale did what he could to make him comfortable. He got him his drink, the blanket, and held him as close as was practical at the moment. He wondered if they should address whatever this was, or if it was just an expected reaction that did not bear discussing more than they already had.

 

“You know, dear...” he eventually brought himself to begin, “If I did... fall, I wouldn't stop being me any more than you stopped being you.” he offered, hoping it would help, “And I think you know better than anyone, at least I hope you do, that... Well that whether or not an angel falls... Knowing you, it seems at least, it has very little to do with their morality or character.”

 

He supposed they were on the subject now.

 

“Oh, angel... That's not really,” he said before sighing deeply, “It's not that I think you'd become someone else, not... Not -really- and I don't know if it would take you -changing- for it to happen in the first place... But it isn't about me -having you- is it?”

 

“Er, w- I'm not sure I follow.”

 

“Angel, it -changes- you, not.. Not because of the changes in your body, or your brain, not because of the pain or what side you're on or what...”, he gestured around, “Things can burn you... Not because it imposes anything on you. Not directly...”, he took a deep breath, not sure he even ever wanted to explain this, “It changes things for you... what things mean...”

 

He was at a loss. He did not know how to explain something he had never really fully processed himself.

 

“One day, you're helping Her put the stars in the sky, building the world and creating alongside Her, and love is... Love is unconditional and everything is love and done with love and... and then one day it's not.” he tried to elaborate, “Love's become a conditional thing and it's too late, and you've done something wrong, you -must have- because you're being punished, told you're bad, the worst even, lower than the lowest, a disappointment, a failure, and that love is taken away, and you're told you deserve it, and it's your fault, and not just Her love, angel, but -all- love. All of it.” he went on, his voice getting increasingly unsteady, agitated, and starting to shake.

 

Aziraphale took his cup and set it aside, but he did not even seem to notice.

 

“You can't sense it any more. You can't feel it... Not the way you used to. And you're told you don't deserve it, not ever again, that you can't -be- forgiven.”, tears were running free now, “A-and it burns, to be stripped away from it, Her love, and to be cast down, and i-it, it feels like everything before was all lies. And anything that's good and made of that love starts to -burn- you. And you start forgetting things, because it hurts to remember, and you can't... You can't remember...” his hands met his own mouth before he could quite stop his voice.

 

He took a long shaky breath, trying to get his voice back. This was not what he wanted to get caught up in. For all he had ever joked about it not being so bad to fall, after the fact, even he knew that was something of a defence. He was vaguely aware of Aziraphale trying to console him, but he could not see past the tears now.

 

“I don't want you to have to know.” he said very much more quietly, hands lowering to a pleading gesture.

 

It was bad enough he had already said so much on it. The last thing he wanted was for Azirapahle to get a real sense of what it was like, or to be left feeling the same way he did about it all, even just empathetically. Azirapahle was, in so many ways, tied up in considering himself a being of love, and Crowley did not want to see what it would do to him to feel alienated from that.

 

“Angel, it's not that I'd stop wanting you, no matter what, or that I really think you'd leave me, it's not... about me. It's about what you want -for yourself- about who -you- want to be.”

 

There was not a lot Aziraphale identified with outside of being an angel, or outside of that love. If Aziraphale stopped being able to be the being of love he so wilfully identified as, especially because of him, he could not bear it.

 

“Oh Crowley...” he said, his voice so very soft.

 

He pulled him into him, as tightly as he could, bringing his hands in to kiss them and hold them to his chest, and wrap him up under his chin. He did not know if Crowley had cried about this in a very long time, or if it was falling that he was crying about at all, rather than his fear of what could be. Aziraphale's own vision was clouded with tears, but he held him as securely as he could around all the subtle sobbing.

 

He did not mean to bring all this up. He had meant to make sure he was properly decompressing after being reminded of that dream. He did not know if this was a necessary part of that, or if he had just made something worse.

 

“Crowley, listen to me,” he said, rubbing the backs of his arms, “I don't need to be able to sense love to know how much I love you. And I know -because of you- that being a demon wouldn't keep me from loving. If I can love, and I can express it to you in ways you understand, then that's enough. More than enough.”

 

Then he was grabbed again, a bit of a surprise this one time, if for no other reason than Crowley's obvious state, and their noses brushed together again before Crowley collapsed back against his chest. This time he had lingered enough that he caught it. He understood why Crowley kept doing that. He wanted to kiss him. Right now he was very emotional though and this was not really the time to address that. Still, a sweet little flutter filled his chest.

 

“...And I don't think I'd really need to sense love to know how you feel.” he tried to put it as delicately as possible, his voice newly soft.

 

He tried to wipe his tears away but then Crowley was kissing his palm instead.

 

“Angel, I'd tell you every day, if I had to... Every moment, I'd...”

 

Watching his lip quiver was one -heartbreaking- thing, feeling it against his own palm was entirely another. Crowley had always struggled with the words, as if he knew they would burn in his throat, or as if actually speaking the words was like some spell, something he was not allowed, or there would be consequences. It was hard to blame him. It never seemed to be having doubts that got them in trouble, it seemed voicing them was more what was punished.

 

Full yellow eyes stared at him tearfully from behind the hand Crowley had stolen to cover his feelings with. Crowley's hand was shaking on his, but gripped him in place, and he did not really want to extract his own hand from where it was anyway. He gently guided him in closer to kiss the snake on his cheekbone, once softly, and then a few more times. He wanted to hold him close, but Crowley kept pulling away as if there was still more to be said.

 

“I know.” he consoled, him.

 

Crowley seemed to swallow something back into himself.

 

“You do sense it then?” he asked, slowly, a shy admission.

 

“Of course, dear boy. I always have.”

 

Now Crowley turned red and enthusiastically conceded to being held close, if only to hide, so Aziraphale could tuck them in.

 

It was never that he did not sense it, or even that he outright denied it, more than he was often at a loss as to what to do with it, especially when it had been something dangerous to Crowley.

 

“Crowley, dearest...” he asked eventually, now stroking his hair, “Is there a lot you don't remember?”

 

He did not want to make him talk about it, and he would let him pretend to be sleeping if that was what he wanted, but it was not often they actually opened a dialogue about these things in particular. He knew he must remember some things from before, he commented on some of it regularly enough.

 

“It's probably better this way...” he finally sighed gently into his shirt, “When you lose so much, to have that... Distance, that...” his hand brushed against him looking for the word.

 

“Disconnection?” Aziraphale suggested.

 

“I always figured that's why I forgot... Because it hurt too much. Because that was the only way it stopped burning so badly.” he said like he had already made a kind of tired peace with it.

 

“Are you worried that if I fall, that I might forget you?” Aziraphale was almost afraid to ask.

 

“I don't know.” he said after a long moment, “I didn't think forgetting was part of the punishment, I always just figured it was...” he made a whining uncertain sound in the back f his throat, “Kind of a symptom.”

 

“Oh.” he said quietly, coming to understand.

 

Crowley -though maybe not in exact terms- had assumed it was the trauma of it. He assumed he forgot so much -of what he had before- because the loss was too much to cope with otherwise.

 

“Even...” Aziraphale almost asked, tilting his head and pursing his lips, but stopped again.

 

He looked at Crowley, pleading silently with him not to drag out of him what he was about to ask.

 

“Even?” Crowley asked him, brow raised.

 

“Well, dear, you've never mentioned... I, perhaps similarly, assumed that it was too painful...”

 

Crowley was not backing down, holding his gaze as steadily as he could from off his chest.

 

“Well, I don't imagine your name had always been Crawly?” he suggested as softly as he could.

 

Crowley could be upset he was dragging up that old thing, and certainly he used to say it far more than Crowley liked, but now if the context for it ever came up he could not bring himself to mind hearing it said with such affection. Aziraphale respected that he did not identify with it, and he was grateful for that, but it had never sounded like the lowly squirmy thing -that it did the way everyone else said it- when it was coming from his lips. Aziraphale had always managed to make it sound like the name of a person; these days, a person who he happened to think -very- fondly of. It was the name that had been burned into his soul -possibly very intentionally, and perhaps mercifully- over whatever used to reside in its place. He sighed deeply.

 

“No.” he admitted, finally, “No, I don't remember it.” he said somewhere close to a whisper.

 

“You... You don't remember anything from before the fall?” Crowley asked him, though he was not sure if he was nearly brave enough to have done so after all.

 

Aziraphale let out a long, pained sigh.

 

“Well, I hardly remember anything about myself... It was so long ago, and well, I think it might have all been very uneventful, up to a certain point, not much to remember... Not much reason to.”

 

He did not want to let him down, but Crowley seemed relieved, if anything.

 

“Though, I'm sure that if we had encountered each other, I -would- remember that.” Aziraphale said, not sounding entirely like he was not trying to convince himself of it.

 

He could only imagine what he could have been like before falling, but he did not know if there was a way to phrase that sentiment that would make it perfectly clear he could never want Crowley to be anything other than who he was, and even if there was, he thought that could still be insensitive. Instead he did his best to slowly and gently let himself feel everything he did towards him, actively, in the moment, watching him for any sign of distress, letting himself respond openly, unguarded to the waves of love he always felt off of him. He tucked him up close, right under his chin, wordlessly suggesting things to him like safety, certainty and security. He hoped that somehow, if it was strong enough, personal enough, immediate enough, he might be able to feel something of it.

 

Crowley hummed in contentment, so he kept going, burying his nose into his hair and curling around him. The more he let energy out to wash over him, the more he seemed to bask in it, and respond helplessly in kind, love spilling out of him, whether or not he could feel that he was doing it. He wondered if it could be safe to press that energy into him at all, if he might feel it then, if it would be welcome. When he slowly let himself cover him with it, gently slipping around him, the only response he got was a contented sigh.

 

“Aziraphale?” Crowley asked him, after a long time of melting progressively further over him until he had been sure he was asleep.

 

“Yes, my dearest?” he said, still slowly stroking his hair.

 

“Is this what heaven was like?”

 

The question was so small and sweet, so unguarded and even innocent, possibly not even wholly consciously asked. He felt more of his own tears leave his eyes. Thankfully it did not take all that much thought to know how to answer that.

 

“I think this is better actually.” he said gently, “Heaven was never so personal.”

 

He kissed his forehead tenderly, earning another one of those lovely huffs of breath. Again his nose rose from his chest to meet his own, but the moment he could taste his breath, Crowley melted away again, sighing deeply to himself, at least sounding contented this time.

 

~*~

 

It had taken a while to actually witness for himself, but Aziraphale finally had a sense of how and why the stray paint kept getting higher up Crowley's arm. Each time he caught him painting, he found him wearing shorter and shorter sleeves, or even removing everything but an under shirt, all seemingly a progressing attempt to keep the paint off his clothes. This time he had finally happened to come over when Crowley was not eager to put down what he was working on to switch focus, and finally actually got to see him paint.

 

When he was painting it seemed he had focus for little else. At some point the rag and the pallet he was using would get full enough and he would need to wipe the brush clean or press it into a particular shape quickly as he was working, and just end up wiping it on his arm. It also got on his hands, and thus got smeared on his elbows and occasionally his cheek. This time he watched the end of the brush smear across a muscle on his upper arm as he folded his arms to himself in a moment of contemplation without bothering to put down the brush.

 

If there was one thing giving him pause about insisting Crowley move in with him altogether, it was that he really did seem to have his own need for space, and spaces. He had not even seen how he kept his room, or what spaces he had here asides from the ones he had been shown. He did want him to consider the shop his home, at least as much as anywhere else, but that was not really what he had come here to discuss that day.

 

“Crowley dear?” he asked and got a small distracted sound, ”I've been thinking...”

 

Crowley turned a little to glance at him, arms folded and the brush adding to the sleeves of paint covering his arms.

 

“Of course, angel.” he teased him with a light smirk, which Aziraphale ignored.

 

“And I've been doing some reading...” he said, waiting for the next eyebrow quirk to meet it with a level look. “Well, I just thought, there's a decent chance they'll try to come after us again eventually... Perhaps not soon, but at some point.”

 

Crowley sighed deeply but only nodded to himself for the moment.

 

“So I've been looking through some of my -oldest- resources, and I think... Well, it occurs to me that we might benefit from some warding, of a sort.”

 

“Warding?”

 

“Yes, I still have a lot to look through, but...”

 

“Against angels and demons?” Crowley interrupted him to intone gravely, quickly checking to make sure no one was listening.

 

“Well, yes.”

 

“Angel, that's old magic, that is...” he said, now finally discarding the brush into a jar of water.

 

“I just though, that with everything that might be coming, someday, it might be to our benefit if we really could, you know, manoeuvre without being noticed.”

 

“I'm not saying it isn't a good plan... I'm just not sure it's possible.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“Oh angel, you don't think I'd have tried?” Crowley was asking him to consider just how he would have benefited from being invisible, untraceable, even to other demons.

 

“Of course I've considered that, I just didn't think you'd have the means...” he was not trying to imply Crowley had just been incredibly negligent or thick, “Warding against angels, unfortunately, takes angelic energy... So I assumed...”

 

“That I didn't have some other angel come around to mark my flesh without telling you? Figured you'd have noticed me missing?” Crowley asked, half way between offended and teasing him.

 

“Mark? Dear boy, what are you...” he stopped when Crowley's hand met his forehead, and he sat down next to him.

 

“These spells you're speaking of, angel. Where do you think they need to be written to guard a living thing?”

 

“Oh. Oh! Oh dear, that won't do at all.”

 

Warding a living thing would mean marking their flesh permanently, and to ward against angels would involve imbuing it with angelic energy. Similarly, warding against demons would require it being imbued with demonic energy. If either of them tried to have their flesh marked that way, it would probably only burn them, or worse. If Crowley was going to try anything of the sort it was Aziraphale precisely who he would come to, and given the risks he would have refused.

 

“These spells you're looking at, angel, they're intended for humans.” he said, watching Aziraphale already sighing in defeat, “Otherwise both sides would already be abusing them.”

 

“Well, when you put it like that.” he said shaking his head.

 

Then he stopped though, tilting his head just slightly.

 

“What ideas are you playing with now?” Crowley asked, but any harshness or warning had dropped from his voice.

 

Aziraphale did not know how to tell him, at just that moment, that if Crowley could feel the love pouring off of himself, he might have some equal suspicion that a demon could generate a fair deal of -very personal- energy that could be quite safely given to an angel. He was not sure how to frame that gently, and it was only one half a solution at best.

 

“Oh nothing.” he said, less than honestly, “I'll keep looking into it, but you're probably right.” he brushed it off for the moment and took his hands instead.

 

He did not doubt that Crowley had done his own research or come to competent conclusions, he just thought he might be underestimating how unique their position was. He looked at his hand. This time the paint on his arm was still wet, and too close to both clothing and a decent sofa. Aziraphale got up and lead him to the kitchen sink.

 

“If this keeps up, you'll have it halfway across your chest next.” he said, wetting a paper towel at the sink.

 

Crowley would ask him what exactly he was implying, but -even after thousands of years- he was never quite certain when Aziraphale was implying anything. He seemed so set on caring for him, especially now, that he seemed to forget things like how affecting it could be to be handled so carefully, even with a recent lesson involving his wings. He had always been that way though, even back in Eden, he had picked him up to set him in the sun, headless of the possibility of being bitten, and so unexpectedly gentle. Then every time since; after the church, every bit of casual contact or moment of concern, the time in the park, and every time he had held him after that. He had even made sure the water he was using was warm enough to be comfortable. Now Aziraphale took his hand to rub off the paint under the warm water.

 

“You know, I could do that.” Crowley finally protested, not liking the breathy quality to his voice.

 

He did not really want to discourage this, but he imagined there was a point at which this became an outright ridiculous excuse.

 

“Oh? Can you dear? Because I seem to recall more than one occasion where you showed up at my shop looking like you were bleeding in technicolour all over your hands.”

 

“The paint was dry.” Crowley protested, voice weakening when he saw that Aziraphale actually seemed amused more than earnestly scolding him.

 

He took his other hand to the sink. Now he was very gently pinned to the counter, or it felt like he was. Aziraphale could not possibly know. He could not conceivably know what it felt like to have him carefully massaging the paint off of his cuticles, or his palms, or his wrist. He could not know what it was like to have his hands work methodically up his arm. He had tried to make a point of enlightening him, letting him experience something similar himself, but the lesson did not seem to be taking. At least facing the sink he could not see him biting back any reaction he might have.

 

“Well, it's the least I can do.” he smiled softly as if to himself, “Unless you think I'd be any good at helping you with your wings.” he said, gently towelling his hands.

 

Crowley managed to mostly swallow the sound his throat tried to make. He had a feeling very much like trying to do mathematics while very drunk. All of the numbers were there in front of him, and he was relatively certain that together they meant something, but the logic of it was slippery and he could not be entirely certain he was not imagining connections and meanings that were not really there. Surely -surely- Aziraphale remembered what it was like, at least he had to assume a week could not dull the memory so much, for them -in some ways- that was like a breath ago, and he could not very well be thinking Crowley could be any less affected by it than he was; the evidence likely being to the contrary if anything. He could feel the heat in his face, unfortunately.

 

“Please...” his voice managed to wiggle out before he could decide how he meant that.

 

Aziraphale just looked up at him with bright eyes and a little smile. His smile was so sweet Crowley could never figure out whether to think it was hiding anything at all. If it was it was a very clever disguise.

 

“Oh. My apologies, I should have asked if you were actually done first.”

 

“M?” he asked, finally forfeiting a rare emotive blink.

 

“Well, it doesn't do to get you cleaned up if you plan to get back to it. I imagine you aren't done with it, you've been staring at it critically for a solid twenty minutes.”

 

“T's what artists do...” Crowley shrugged it off, shaking his head.

 

“Well, maybe a second pair of eyes might help.” he said, finally releasing his hands and returning to the other room.

 

Now that Crowley could breathe again he shot a helpless look over to the tomato plant, just needing someone to empathise with the situation, maybe pleading with it to impress him, before following him back out to the other room.

 

He found Aziraphale seemingly trying to sort out the optimal viewing distance and settling on a few meters away.

 

“I'm sure you know best, but I think it's quite lovely.”

 

Crowley made a face, and then resisted elaborating for a few moments.

 

“Eh, I just can't get the colours to look vibrant enough this time... It doesn't matter what I do, they just come off a little... Muddy? Flat? Er...” he said, wondering if he had found the right word yet.

 

“Pardon, my dear, but where exactly?”

 

“All over...” he gestured around the top third of the painting and down the one side, “You know, there.” he said vaguely.

 

Aziraphale -really- was not seeing it. He long suspected they did not see colours the same as each other to begin with, but with their ability to perform miracles and Crowley's ability to pick out colours when he needed to, he was never able to settle on one conclusive suspicion. He suspected, generally, that Crowley might be somewhat colour blind, as snakes were, or so he had recently learned, in his natural state, but the evidence was largely inconsistent. He was not sure they had even run into it head-on before.

 

“Crowley dear? Is... Is there a chance that you're not, ah... Looking at it the way you normally would?” he said and turned to him.

 

Crowley met his eyes for a very long moment before his eyebrows flew up in realization. He cursed a couple times and went over to the paints, picking up a few of tubes, shaking them slightly in frustration and hurrying to stick pieces of masking tape around them, scribbling something on them quickly with a pencil.

 

He could have slapped himself. He knew that in any form his eyes did not naturally see colour the way a human's did, though of course what they could and could not perceive at any given time was somewhat of a choice that they only had to make. Still, sometimes he got so ingrained in habits of when to change his colour perception, and when not to bother with all that extra visual stimulation, that he stopped consciously deciding when it was needed. Somehow it had not always wholly occurred to him that -painting- was one of those times when he should bother with it. He was just capturing things the way he saw them, or remembered seeing them anyway.

 

Aziraphale, now immensely curious, wandered over to inspect which tubes of paint were probably being labelled something vindictive. It was not at all what he was expecting though. He had expected that maybe red or green paint, possibly yellow would be in the mix, but what he found was a hastily scrawled labelling of the pthalo blue, Cyan and a kind of violet verging on magenta.

 

“Wait, you know?” Crowley said after a moment, before seeing the look on his face.

 

He could not stand to see him looking so disconcerted.

 

“What is it Angel?”

 

“Well, I -suspected- of course. Hard not to after so long, but I didn't think...” he trailed off.

 

All this time.

 

“Crowley... It's not... Tell me it isn't -blue- that you can't see?” he pleaded, coming over to him and taking his hands again.

 

“W- That, It's, Distinguish might be more accurate... And -really- I can see it any time I want to, any time I bother to, anyway...” He brushed it off, sensing somehow that this was upsetting to him, “Do it all the time, every time I...” his voice died out as he looked down into Aziraphale's very blue eyes.

 

“Oh Crowley, I'm sorry, all this time I thought it was the one colour you -could- see clearly.”

 

Though it explained some of his more interesting use of colour, if he had not been thinking to check.

 

Crowley watched him bring his hand to his bow tie, seemingly unconsciously. Suddenly his eyes seemed to dart through other times and he looked rather self conscious, folding in on himself a little and turning pink. Of course Aziraphale had taken to wearing a lot of blue over the years, and his eyes were blue, so maybe it made him sad that Crowley could not see that without minor miracles. That feeling like inebriated mathematics started to play at him again.

 

“What made you think that?” he asked him, but it was soft, genuinely curious.

 

“Well, you had commented on... my eye colour before... So when I started to get the sense there were colours you didn't see so well, I just assumed it might be red or green like most people. I mean your vessel -is- human, more or less.”

 

“Of course I'd want to know what colour your eyes are...” he blurted before he could bother getting flustered about it.

 

Then some numbers started to fall into place.

 

“Wait, angel, then...”

 

The only colour Aziraphale ever wore other than light neutrals like tan and beige, with the occasional bit of brown, was blue. Crowley had always taken it as a reminder of their differences, of Aziraphale being off-limits in a sense, that he had to consciously modify his vision to see him the way he saw himself, the way everyone else got to take for granted. He had assumed on some level Aziraphale must know and was doing it to remind him of a similar sentiment, or else did not care.

 

“All this time.” his words leaked out, revealing his thoughts before he was properly done with them.

 

He reached up to brush the self-conscious hand away and straighten the blue and beige tartan tie. Aziraphale still looked quite upset, until he rested their foreheads together, running his fingers under his lapels to stroke them again.

 

“I suppose, I should have just asked.” Aziraphale conceded, voice light, almost distracted, with a sad little smile.

 

Crowley's nose nudged his and he waited to see where he was going to go with this. Predictably enough, he only nuzzled him subtly before pulling away again. He was starting to wonder if these almost-kisses were even conscious.

 

Crowley's heart was fluttering high and fast and it was far too loud of a sensation.

 

“You've really been...?” Crowley asked, looking over these clothes and thinking back to every outfit he had ever seen him in.

 

“Well, I thought it might be nice, if you could see them properly... If they looked nice to you.” he confessed, “Really, who else would I bother dressing for? It's always you keeping me company...” he justified, not sure that really helped.

 

Crowley seemed to be wearing his bashfulness for him in a deep blush, not meeting his eyes.

 

“Aziraphale, I-” he cut himself off by biting his lip.

 

Then Crowley hugged him and he could feel that he was shaking from somewhere in his chest. He would be worried, but this did not seem like distress, not exactly. Then the hands on his lapels changed to a grip and he was walked steadily backwards until he was forced to sit on the couch. Crowley pushed, opening one palm near his shoulder, so his back was forced straight against the cushion, the other on the arm rest for support, and for just a moment he thought he might climb on top of him. After that show of force though he collapsed down next to him and was just very insistent about being held.

 

Eventually Crowley stopped looking away or hiding from him enough that he could see his eyes were fully yellow again. He hoped that it was just strong emotions this time and not anything unpleasant. Sometimes he could swear it also happened when Crowley was struggling with identifying as anything but the new form he had been given when he fell, as anything beyond being a demon. He loved them though, his most vulnerable inner self showing through, and he always tried to meet them with kindness.

 

“There you are.” he said fondly, gazing into them.

 

He had managed not to turn into a snake this time, though clearly embarrassed and emotional, but a very snake-like tongue still tasted the air at him subtly in place of answering.

 

After a long enough moment Crowley had to look away again.

 

“How do you do that?” he asked very quietly.

 

“Do what, dear?”

 

“Look into my eyes like that... Like you think they're...”

 

“Beautiful?” he suggested, watching Crowley bring a hand to his chest as if wounded, “You know what the humans say about that don't you, dearest? The eyes being a window to the soul?”

 

He was not sure that answered the question for him exactly because his eyebrows raised in a pained plea, as if to say that was exactly why he was asking.

 

“Of course your eyes are beautiful.”

 

Crowley did not always seem to remember he had eyelids at his disposal in this form. Unfortunately now seemed to be one of the moments it occurred to him that he could close his eyes to hide them, if he really wanted to. Maybe it was more because this was all just too much. Aziraphale adjusted them so he could hold Crowley close, under his chin where he could kiss his forehead.

 

“You poor thing. You haven't had anyone telling you how lovely you are, have you?” he said, placing another kiss at his hairline.

 

That was finally too much. A moment and an incoherent noise later, a solid fifty pounds of muscle sat coiled on top of him.

 

“Oh.” he said realizing he had pushed it too far, “So sorry, my dear.” he said, at least politely averting his corporeal eyes.

 

Chapter Text

 

Aziraphale took a long drink of his tea, letting it flood his throat with warmth just this once, delighted by how pleasant it was to get to it while it was still hot. He did not know how long that would last until he got distracted again. Crowley had gone out for the day so he had decided a fair use of his time with be indulging in some additional research. Crowley was going to make some pretence he had not spent the day going to check on his old neighbour, even now that he was allowed whatever kindnesses he felt like, of course.

 

He did understand if Crowley felt like he needed the breathing space. He could tell he was overwhelmed by all the sudden attention. After all this time though, and now that they were allowed, he only wanted to do what he could to spoil him, to make sure he did feel loved, and he -somehow- got the sense Crowley -liked- being overwhelmed, he just wish he had a better sense of what exactly was too much, and what exactly Crowley preferred in general. He never seemed to ask for anything any more, now that their lives were tidily wrapped up together.

 

The book he was looking over detailed some sigils that could be used to modify or add exceptions to the other spell-work it had gone over so far. He had not quite thought of such a thing, but now that the book brought it up, he thought it might be a good idea to not accidentally disguise their energies from each other, if they could go through with this at all.

 

Then there was the fact that Crowley seemed to keep almost kissing him. Maybe he was too close to it all to remain objective, but he was not quite sure what that was about or what it meant. Of course they loved each other, and of course they could define and redefine the nature of their relationship however it suited them, but it was more a question of why he was not following through on it.

 

He supposed, of course that whichever angel or demon supplied the energy for the spell would potentially inherently already be an exception to the workings of it, the spell being more to hide a mortal from -other- angels or -other- demons, but he would have to confirm the exacts of the verbiage used to describe it, and in this source it was somewhat ambiguous. He would not want them to unnecessarily be modifying or weakening the protection.

 

The bulk of the issue was that he did not know why he was pulling back, and there were many possibilities to consider. Crowley might assume it was unwelcome. He might not be aware that he was doing it. He might not be sure it was what he wanted. He might be suffering the impulse as a very casual gesture, as it would be intended in another time, and be too aware of what it could imply now. It might have been a somewhat emotional reaction inherent to the biology he was currently wrapped up in, and be something that he, ultimately, did not actually want.

 

He ran his finger down the edge of the page as if to turn it in his usual pattern, but realized he was not sure if he had absorbed what was on it yet.

 

It might have been otherwise instinctive in ways Crowley was not comfortable with. He might be afraid of rejection, or afraid that it would not be rejected. He might be afraid of what it would mean for Aziraphale, that it was too fast or too late. He might still be hurt and upset about the last disagreement they had. He might still be angry about being told it was over between them. He might believe that ultimately such a thing would end up muddying their friendship. He might be afraid because it would feel very much like actually tempting him to something.

 

The parchment felt dry under his hand and he kept glancing away too much, to try to get to his tea while it was still the perfect temperature. There was nothing he had found that seemed to indicate it would not work on them, if it was safe to begin with, but the second issue was whether the two could be combined. It seemed like whoever initially came up with these spells -had- intended them to be used to keep someone shielded from all angelic and demonic forces, in case they were to suffer some terrible fate in the name of the great plan, to make it seem like they had passed away, or been disposed of, as intended, so they could carry on in peace. It was akin to being able to fake your death, as far as angels and demons would be concerned.

 

Of course Crowley could also be putting himself up to it because he thought it was what Aziraphale wanted, and that would not do at all. He had been spoiling him with a lot of attention lately and he supposed it was possible that Crowley was interpreting it as romantic or sexual interest. It was not that he was repelled by these things, and certainly he was not sure there was a meaningful distinction -if any-to be made between romance and what they had already established, but he could not possibly let Crowley abide by something just because he thought it was desired of him. He supposed that was what was keeping him from just kissing him to settle it, the possibility that -though seemingly offered- it was not really wanted.

 

Of course their vessels, as much as they had come to identify with them as their own bodies after all this time, were effectively human bodies. What worked on human flesh should work on them. They did inhabit them in a way very similar to a soul. This was part of why they had so easily been able to swap them. It was literally just a trade. Of course being in Crowley's body he could feel echoes of his energy the entire time, but souls did that, they left echoes on things they had been in contact with for a very long time and bodies were no different. The question was more that the warding had to reach through the flesh and brand itself to the soul, if it had any hope of hiding them especially. Surface level stuff, as far as soul work went, a shield or shell in form, but still.

 

He just wanted Crowley to feel loved. More than that, he wanted him to feel like he deserved to be loved. He wanted Crowley to be able to see all the good in himself the way he did; well, maybe not just -good- but everything worth loving, being all of him. Crowley did at least seem to see that his punishment and title were unfairly given, but that seemed an issue beside his own judgements of himself.

 

Still, imbuing the spell-work for each of them would require pushing some energy into each other's souls, or selves, as much as they were like souls in their natural state, effectively having part of themselves -even if it was a small part- occupying the same space as one another, and that worried him for the same reasons it worried him to try to share a vessel. Sharing one body would either be an unfathomable experience, or suicide. They had no way of knowing. It was not like wrapping around him, energy or otherwise, where they got to stay all separate. They had established it was safe, pleasant even, to wrap around each other, but these were two separate things.

 

Now there were no lines, no sides, no predictable consequences to relating to each other and thinking of each other however they wanted to, not other than what consequences that brought at each other's hands. He did not want to do anything that might hurt him. He also did not want to neglect to do anything that might -by its absence- hurt him. Crowley could carry on just fine without being kissed by him, but if he might enjoy it, that could be nice too. It would probably be very pleasant, actually, if he had any sense of things at all. He could not possibly let himself think of the way love and pleasure would pour out of him -in the event it was something he wanted at all- it would be indecent to do so, not knowing if it was welcome. He sighed.

 

Aziraphale ran out of books to look over and the two thought processes, previously distractions to each other, converged. He was left with a few cold dregs of tea and settling into a consuming desire to just know what it was exactly that Crowley actually wanted, what he was comfortable with, what he would like, what was safe for them, and what they might be allowed, cosmically speaking. Finding some way to afford them some protection was well and good, but in the aftermath of being freed of expectations, Crowley seemed to be suddenly spiralling in his own internal struggle and Aziraphale was not used to asking him to open up about it. What he was used to was watching him vanish from the world in occasional fits of century long naps and possibly some heavy drinking, and that was making him feel particularly negligent and useless at the moment.

 

The greatest problem with the collection he was reading was that he was not exactly certain of its source, not in the couple of very exact ways that would be helpful, only that it was very old, ancient, and had proven to be one of very few legitimate sources of usable occult knowledge, little as he had ever had use of that when it had nothing to do with prophesy. Every prominently known name in magic since only seemed to have scratched out some legitimacy or effectiveness for themselves by having been privileged with -what seemed a measured- glance at it, to seed their work. Now with the texts laid out before him, still unsure of how they had even made their way into his collection, what stood out to him most was that they kept referencing a much more personal experimental journal, which did not seem to be among them. Unfortunate.

 

He would have to ask Crowley. He assumed these books must have been snuck into his collection by him, considering that -while Aziraphale could remember owning them for a long time- he did not actually have any recollection of procuring them, though it would have been thousands of years ago, and his memory was not always as good as he expected it should be.

 

~*~

 

Crowley meanwhile, was trying to steadily accept a cup of tea.

 

“What has that boy done to you?” the elderly lady tisked.

 

“Hm?” entirely caught off guard.

 

“That friend of yours that you're always on about. You never get like this unless he's said something.” she sighed, serving herself tea and offering him a slice of coffee cake.

 

He had thought he had been being rather more stealthy about it than that.

 

“Nothing.” he -not so much lied as- dismissed.

 

He had not done anything wrong, but technically speaking he had done a lot. She just raised one eyebrow judgementally and sipped her tea. Really the issue was more that he could not get breathing space to process what he himself kept -almost- doing, mostly because he had not actually wanted any.

 

Any other time in history -almost any- and it would have been plenty acceptable and socially ambiguous. This day and age it meant something in particular though. In times when it would have been considered a sign of friendship or respect they were not at the point of being able to admit to either of those, either to themselves or in front of prying eyes, not to mention questions of physical safety, and so now they had a very limited history of most kinds of physical contact and the world -in the meantime- had done a lot of work to make a very big deal out of all of it. He could not just kiss him like an old habit, even if that was what it felt like it should be.

 

These days it was generally -with limited exceptions- considered a communication of ultimately wanting something else, and -to be internally honest- a lot of lines had recently become very blurry all of a sudden and a very large part of him absolutely wanted more of it. He was ready to blame that all on his nature, either in inhabiting a human body or as a demon -punished to experience needs and wants beholden to messy biology, as any other creature did, unable to simply opt out- he was not sure, but he was ready to blame hormones or something.

 

He could not say this was the first time this had burst to the forefront, more like the second or third, and he was usually better about managing it. He did not need physical affection to be more than at peace with everything they had, he could never -need- anything other than his company. Though it had been recently demonstrated to him both that he enjoyed it and that Aziraphale seemed suddenly very willing to provide it. He was not sure why exactly, what precisely his intentions or thinking were, but one thing was very certain in his mind; though his body may try to insist otherwise, he could not -just- kiss Aziraphale.

 

“It's complicated.” he finally concluded, helplessly.

 

“Have you considered talking to him about it?” she asked, betraying a long experience with people and how needlessly complicated things got when you did not simply communicate.

 

“Noo.” Crowley shrugged with his face and then shook his head in absolute rejection of the idea.

 

Aziraphale seemed, clearly enough, not to suffer such a compulsion. The last thing he needed to do was talk to him about it, especially when his own feelings about it were still so messy.

 

“No, of course it's always better to just speculate and stew.” she said in no particular tone.

 

“So has Jacques been making himself useful?” Crowley changed to subject a bit too loudly.

 

“Oh, yes, he's been such a dear... But I'm sure already knew that.” she said accusingly.

 

“No idea what you're talking about.” he said, finally sipping his own tea for the distraction of it.

 

She gave him a long, knowing look but let it slide. Of course he was not going to admit to having interviewed people to move into his flat explicitly to make sure they would help her, and certainly he would never confirm her suspicions that he either paid the young man or discounted his rent to ensure his compliance. If she had come to suspect there was something angelic in his nature she would only be half right, in a sense, not that she would ever know, but she certainly was not allowed to observe that out loud or to his face, and that she did know. Nice, kind, and love were all four letter words to this one, that much had been clear from the start.

 

“Well, you just make sure he's treating you fairly, and kindly.” she volunteered her advice for his consideration.

 

Crowley was beginning to think that treating him too kindly was exactly the problem. All that sweetness, tenderness, and all those kind words crawled under his skin and started demanding ever increasing additions to keep them company, and the more there were the louder it got. He already felt like he was too full of these soft and bright things, but their brightness and warmth threatened to sharpen into flames if he did not abide them.

 

“Of course.” he said weakly.

 

~*~

 

Aziraphale was not worried too much about not hearing from Crowley for the first day because he knew he planned to be away. After a couple days though, given everything that had happened -recently enough, with the apocalypse that never was and such- he was just starting to wonder when he should allow himself to be anxious, what was over protective, or too possessive, or if there was such thing as hyper-vigilance when all of heaven and hell wanted to punish you.

 

Eventually he found himself at his door again, knocking very softly. He supposed maybe if there was no response he could leave him to his space, but then if he heard nothing at all he thought maybe he should worry more. It occurred to him then that they should set up warding on their buildings if they could, though they should do it at the same time as themselves otherwise it might tip someone off that they were up to something, prematurely. Before he could finish deciding what to do if he did not answer, the door opened.

 

“Angel!” he exclaimed warmly, tipping his shades up.

 

He did not usually wear them in his house, but the drill in his hand made it pretty clear why he had them on. It was impossible not to swing right through relieved to cheery being greeted with such enthusiasm. Aziraphale had come here with a purpose more than checking up on him, but he let himself follow him out to the kitchen to see what he was up to.

 

“Be done in a minute.” he practically chirped.

 

There was a lot of weather-treated lumber and white plastic piping involved, and it all seemed very vertical. He seemed to be securing wheels onto the bottom of whatever they were. The sound the drill made was horrid, but watching him work was rare and it was over fast. Of course with his very hands- on approach to inconveniencing people, he was not sure why he was surprised he would make other things himself, but it seemed to suggest this was potentially not the kind of fixture you could just purchase. He wheeled them towards and away from the floor length kitchen windows a few times to test them, seeming satisfied.

 

“Crowley dearest, what is all of this for?”

 

“Oh you'll see.” he said somewhat cryptically.

 

Aziraphale sighed. He would let him have this one.

 

“Well, if you're free for a moment, I ...” he ignored a nervous twitch in his chest, “I brought you something.” he said, taking something out of his pocket, “I just thought that since we didn't need to keep up pretences any more, really it's almost silly I didn't think of this sooner...” he was already rambling.

 

Crowley was midway through a happy sigh and a curious head tilt, watching him suddenly get all flustered when Aziraphale presented him with a key. He took of his sunglasses entirely.

 

“Unless that's too ah... Oh.”

 

Crowley's hand was now gently wrapped around his hand and the key. Then the key was gone and he had suddenly rushed off. He came back a moment after closing a drawer with a key chain in hand. There were two keys on it, one very old looking and one new. He took off the older one and handed the key chain with its shiny new one to him.

 

“What's this?” he asked, reminding Crowley how thick he was for a clever person.

 

He did not want to have to say it, or explain why he had it ready. He kept holding it out for a minute, ignoring the heat across his own face, until he saw recognition replace confusion.

 

“Oh.” he said again, like an answer, softening with a warm smile and slipping it into his pocket.

 

Crowley could not help but follow him with a little smile of his own.

 

Aziraphale was not going to examine why there had been two keys, or why one looked like it had been there a very long time, why the new one looked freshly cut, Crowley having recently moved, or why the key chain was a little metal book with a white feather on the front cover and looked old. That was something he would turn over in his hand and his mind in the privacy of his shop the next time he was alone. Their silences were not usually awkward, and this one was not tense exactly, but maybe it was uncomfortably full of potential.

 

“I was thinking... If we do figure out the warding, at least, we should also consider warding the shop, and your flat.” he said, not just for something to say “Though I'm not sure what I have exactly covers spell-work for the inanimate.”

 

“Oh I'm sure we can come up with something.” Crowley assured him far too confidently.

 

“Perhaps... It would all be a bit easier though if I had access to the -ah... supplemental journals, I suppose you could call them, that the books keep referencing.”

 

“The what? What books now?” he asked, then seeming to remember, “Oh tha- Weeeell, you know...” he seemed suddenly affected enough to be searching through syllables again, “Probably lost to time, really... I mean, if you don't have any idea where they might be.” he finished, with a look Aziraphale could swear was akin to worry, looking at him expectantly.

 

“Oh, no. Unfortunately not.” he sighed.

 

Crowley did not seem to think it was nearly unfortunate enough. It seemed odd that he would be the one with hang-ups about looking into their options. Maybe he just knew better and was being polite.

 

“Oh, shame, that.” he said , shifting his weight and looking around as if for a new topic.

 

“How is she anyway, your neighbour?” Aziraphale tried to make polite conversation.

 

Crowley set about putting away the tools and tidying up a bit, leaving these -what he might call racks if pressed- in front of the windows and tucking everything back in place in the room behind them. Of course he had let slip where he was going, of course Aziraphale saw through it at least as easily as anyone else. Being reminded of his visit there only really served to remind him of the preoccupation it had all dragged up. He cleared his throat uncomfortably.

 

“Fine.” he said, his mouth shrugging for him again.

 

Aziraphale was smiling at him so fondly.

 

“Oh come off it, angel.”

 

“It really is so kind of you.” he was already saying, from the very moment Crowley had acknowledged he knew what he was thinking.

 

His blushing was deep and tinted the tips of his ears.

 

“You don't have to deny it any more, you know that, don't you dear?”

 

Certainly, he was out of excuses to. No more complaints to be had about his side not liking it. He supposed now he was just left facing the fact that he was not comfortable with compliments. He did not know what to say, especially when Aziraphale made his way under his chin.

 

“So, I suppose, there's no real consequence to my telling you...” he began and Crowley's stomach started flopping around preemptively, “That in all the millennia we've spent on earth, you really are the most considerate person I think I've ever met.” he said, watching him for what his reaction would be.

 

He looked almost mortified, but in a way that suggested something slightly less unpleasant.

 

“Perhaps not even -so- deep down.” he pressed further.

 

He brushed some little spirals of white plastic shavings off of his shirt and Crowley inhaled deeply. Now he could feel his heart beating hard and fast under his hand, which he politely withdrew.

 

“Dear boy...” he said, too softly, “You look like you could use some fresh air.”

 

Crowley swallowed audibly and his eyes were doing something interesting. They were not narrowing in a way that told him he was having a hard time processing, but the illusion of white sclera was threatening to dilate out of his eyes. If he was forced to guess, he would propose that maybe he was feeling emotionally vulnerable.

 

“Crowley?” he asked softly, which prompted him to -very consciously- close them for a moment.

 

Aziraphale was worried he had pushed something too far.

 

“Er, uh, yeah.” he said, blinking to clear a bit of extra moisture from his vision, “Stretch our wings or something...” he suggested.

 

Aziraphale did not think that was a good thing to suggest just now. He had thought that it might be nice to help Crowley with his wings the next time, but he was so sensitive and easily affected -whether he would admit that or not- he thought it might be better to suggest staying some place more comfortable or private, but then, right now, it seemed maybe it would be better not to approach the suggestion that they should find some place comfortable for him to lay down. His mistake was hesitating too long.

 

“W-wait.” Crowley said, his voice suddenly small in a way that tore at him to hear, “Aziraphale... Don't, please don't think we have to do anything, not...” he seemed utterly distressed now, “Not just because last t...”

 

“No.” he cut him off before he could spiral any further with that thought, “No, no dear boy, that's not it at all.” he said, slowly taking his hands, “Actually I was going to suggest...”

 

Now Aziraphale looked away.

 

“Well, less suggest, more that I was just thinking...”

 

Crowley was right, for a clever person he felt downright incompetent.

 

“Well, if I was to... return the favour, I just didn't think out on a roof, especially with all the snow in this cold was really the best place... Especially if you -ah, ended up...” he was not sure how to put this delicately, “Cold blooded? For some reason.” he tried, gently.

 

Admittedly the snow was quickly melting and it was not all that chilly, he just did not think it would be comfortable.

 

“For sssssome...” Crowley mumbled weakly, attempting to glare at him because he could feel the blush across his face burn so hotly it burned in his nose like his eyes were about to start tearing.

 

Truth be told he was already trying very hard not to. Snakes could not blush so uncomfortably, they did not have the sympathetic nervous-system for it.

 

“I'm sorry, dear. This is too much, isn't it?” he said, anxiety clear in his voice.

 

He was genuinely concerned he was overdoing something entirely, though he was not sure exactly how to define it; affection maybe. As he stood there in apprehension he watched his pupils slowly start to narrow, as if confirming what he was saying. Still, his hands finally responded and tightened on his.

 

“Sso... You'd have me some place comfortable?” he asked, his hands now quite firm, trapping him where he was.

 

Aziraphale felt his own cheeks heat up.

 

“Yes.” he allowed, a matter-of-fact quirk to his eyebrow.

 

“So you can preen me?” he asked and it sounded like a leading question.

 

He was not sure he liked this sudden shift.

 

“Yes?” he did not sound very certain, “Unless...” he was cut off.

 

“In case I can't handle it?” he tiled his head, raising his brow, “In case I enjoy it -too- much?”

 

That sounded a lot more forward out loud than in his head. He tried not to wince himself.

 

“Well, it -is- all very...” he said, looking at their hands.

 

“Ssensitive?” he suggested, head tilting the other way, “We've established that haven't we?”

 

Aziraphale was not looking at him at all now and seemed rather flustered. That helped him feel a bit better. He leaned down to bury his nose in his hair for a change.

 

“How considerate.” he mumbled, not as disaffected as he intended it to sound.

 

“Well, if you're -quite done- making your point then...” Aziraphale spoke again after a long minute, “You can tell me whether that's something you'd like.”

 

He glanced up to see where Crowley currently was between nervous and defensively bold. In response, his throat tried to make sound and his mouth attempted to form words, but none of it was actually coming out as language.

 

“Oh Crowley, I know you probably think I have no idea what I'm doing, but I promise I'd be careful... Though, you probably don't need my help, I imagine your wings are quite well kept as they are.”

 

He made an uncertain sound before he could think better of it. Truth be told, every time he had tried to turn his attention to caring for them, he kept getting too preoccupied with the thought of having it done for him. That made it extra sensitive, in somewhat of a new way, and had somehow resulted in him unconsciously avoiding doing it. He could not preen them himself without thinking about Aziraphale touching them, and that had not felt appropriate somehow, so he had just stopped. They were not anywhere near as bad as his had been though.

 

“You don't ever -have to- though, dear, if that isn't what you want.” he made sure to specify out loud.

 

“Oh angel, that's not...” he said too quickly, now not sure where to go with it.

 

He felt like he was making something out of nothing. It was just grooming. He had done the same for him. It seemed profound though. He did not think it was in an angel touching his wings, in and of itself -though that did carry a faint whisper of blasphemy- it was more just Aziraphale, in particular, wanting to. For him there was no necessity in it -as he pointed out- Crowley kept good care of them fine on his own, and he thought maybe that was it; that it was being done, not just as a kind gesture, but explicitly because it would feel good. Of course he wanted it, he was just caught up on how to feel about it, or -that- he had such strong feelings about it. His wings itched, not so metaphorically, under his skin as if with a mind of their own.

 

“Well then, wh-” Aziraphale began to say, lifting his head to look at him.

 

Too close. He was too close. Crowley had not thought to pull back and now they were nose to nose again and he had not put them that way. Aziraphale was interrupted when their foreheads were bumped together by the force of his wings unfolding themselves into corporeal space. Crowley hissed, surprised by it himself. At least he had managed not to break anything in his kitchen.

 

“Oh.” he said in warm surprise, “Oh... They -are- a mess though aren't they?”, he said, suddenly distracted by it, starting to try to circle behind him, “Crowley, you haven't been grooming them?” he admonished, clearly surprised.

 

He did not know how he could explain himself. Instead, he stepped forward to allow him passage to look at them.

 

“Yeah w- you know I've been er... Distracted lately... Busy, t's all.”

 

Aziraphale stopped circling him, coming to rest where he could see him again, near the arch to the living area, and stood back. His demeanour had shifted again, his moment of concerned fussing done with. Now he seemed subdued.

 

“You know dear, you don't need excuses with me...” Aziraphale said to him, very quietly.

 

He sounded sad, shrinking into himself a bit.

 

“Not any more, anyway.” he allowed with a sigh.

 

Being distracted was not, in some context, inaccurate or dishonest exactly.

 

Aziraphale watched Crowley try and fail to cover his face with his hand, unable to really stop staring at him to make an effective attempt. He looked so embarrassed, but any syllables that could be spilling out were held in by his palm.

 

“Unless, you're just shy?” he asked, hopeful.

 

He really hoped that was all this was, that Crowley liked the attention as much as he seemed to, and was just having a hard time adjusting to accepting it without all the barriers he was used to, barriers imposed on them by their positions. He could not really know for sure, if Crowley was so overwhelmed he would not communicate with him, though. He slowly brushed a hand against his arm, asking to take his wrist, and Crowley loosened his grip on his own face to let him gently pull his hand away. He took it in his own. Crowley easily complied and offered him a little impulsive smile, almost like an admission.

 

“It's complicated.” he said like a little plea for understanding.

 

Aziraphale smiled and then let it drop, thankful for the sentiment but dismayed that it did not really answer any of his questions.

 

“Perhaps we're suffering from something of the same anxiety...” he said after a while, “It's not enough that you would -allow- for something, dear... I'd like to know what you want.” he explained.

 

That said, his wings bursting out on their own accord might be indication enough of what he really wanted, but -being an involuntary reaction- he still wanted to check. He was trying to make this easy for him.

 

“Does that mean you would -like- me to help you with your wings?” he asked, indicating them taking up a significant amount of space in the kitchen still.

 

Crowley nodded, his wings rustling themselves shyly.

 

“And -now- would be preferable over later?”

 

Another nod, his eyes fully yellow.

 

“And where would you be most comfortable?”

 

Crowley wondered for a moment whether he meant physically or emotionally, but it was probably a question of both. Inviting him to his room seemed forward, but he did not think being bent over a couch would feel less compromising or less suggestive. His concern at the moment was controlling what kind of sensitive and enjoyable it was.

 

Much like a back or neck massage, he imagined it could go either way, but he did not know if he would be able to control how he responded -internally- to Aziraphale touching him anywhere, really. Mostly he may have been getting caught up on whether he should explain that. On the other hand it seemed they had covered that implication already as directly as he knew Aziraphale to be about these things. He was quiet too long.

 

“Crowley...” Aziraphale started after a very subdued moment, “Are you always like this when it comes to physical intimacy, or am I making you uncomfortable?”

 

Immediately Crowley tugged his hands closer and kissed his forehead.

 

He did not know why Aziraphale had to go and put words to things that were so technically correct but loaded with potential implications that made his ears burn. Next he would be calling conversations intercourse.

 

“Oh.” he said softly.

 

Not uncomfortable exactly, at least. His grip on his hands was quite solid.

 

“Well, you always have had a hard time with words...” he observed, mercifully.

 

For him to be getting this hung up on the question, there must have been something about it that was particularly affecting or that he was anxious about, maybe ashamed of.

 

Then something seemed to occur to him.

 

“You -don't- know what it's like, do you, dear boy?” he asked, “To have someone else touch your wings? How you'll respond?”

 

Crowley shook his head, admitting to it. It was close enough, if blessedly indirect.

 

“Crowley, dear, I know what you're like with physical affection, and I can imagine how sensitive your wings might be...” he started moving his feet and pulling him along, “It's alright.” he coaxed him, “You'll tell me if it's too much?”

 

Crowley nodded, unsticking his feet from the floor to follow.

 

They made it to the middle of the living area before Crowley hesitated again. He did not really want to lay down on the floor, but for a hot moment he gave it sincere consideration.

 

“There really isn't much room, is there?” he asked after a while, when Crowley had seemed to freeze up again.

 

He really was an absolute mess, but if offering to hold him still effected him as it did, Aziraphale did not know what he should have expected, giving him a key to the shop and then offering this when he was already off-balance. He let Crowley's feet decide where they would go, curious.

 

“Probably for the best.” he soothed him when he was slowly pulled in the direction of the hallway.

 

At least if he laid down he could bury his face and his voice in a pillow. He awkwardly extracted one hand to turn the knob and give the door a tiny push, letting it open. At least now Aziraphale was distracted for a moment.

 

Crowley's room was as oddly tidy and fashionably spartan as the rest of his flat; an obvious exception made for plants, of course. The one exception was that, while still tidy enough, the bed did at least look like it got slept on. He had no more idea what to expect than what he could have gleaned while helping him move boxes, and what his old flat looked like the night after the apocalypse that never happened.

 

It was dark, subdued in colour, and yet still gave off the impression of richness, maybe even just in the combination of warm and teal-toned greys. Expensive fabrics, but understated. Now it was slightly less clear to him whether this was an intentional palette chosen for how it would play off of his colouration, or if it was that all these dark colours just looked very similar to him. Immediately his eyes went to a large white fluffy feather that was sitting on his bedside table. He felt himself raising one eyebrow but made a point not to stare at it, or let on he noticed. It must have been shed on his couch the last time he had his wings out. Crowley stood awkwardly between the door and the bed as if waiting for judgement, or instruction.

 

Aziraphale took off his jacket and set it on the foot of the bed. When he unbuttoned his cuffs and started rolling up his sleeves Crowley decided to take that moment to lay down face first on the bed in something of a hurry.

 

“Lucky you were wearing a shirt like this.”

 

Crowley had, in fact, been wearing a men's under shirt, as he had just been working on projects around the house, and his wings had taken convenient advantage of the very large arm holes and narrow back, so there was no fabric caught in any kind of liminal space. It would also be convenient enough -by some perspective- to nudge it out of the way of whatever feathers and muscles it may obstruct. Not that the shirt would be the same after this.

 

He did not know by what logic he had lead himself willingly into this mess. His brain had felt fuzzy for -what felt like- a good hour now, and he found himself suddenly needing to contend with Aziraphale's weight shifting next to him on his bed. That was something he had not processed should mean anything to him in a very long time. He needed to focus on breathing.

 

“Crowley dear, are you alright?” he waited until he got a response.

 

Crowley eventually looked over his shoulder for him, finding him on the furthest side, sitting patiently. He held out his hand, waiting to be offered his wing. When he settled his primaries across his lap he stilled them with his hands slowly.

 

“There, that's not so bad.” he said, and Crowley actually seemed to calm slightly.

 

He was right, the little tickling sensation of having his primaries shifted around was not too much of anything. It was nice, but after a few long minutes of rustling gently in his feathers, he started to get the sense it was actually it risk of putting him to sleep. It was already making his nerves crawl, sure, but he could not actually feel his hand at all, until he got to straightening the base of a feather, and then it was light, incidental touches. It was a lot like stretching a hundred little sore muscles and scratching a thousand tiny itches. He was almost asleep when he spoke again.

 

“Has it really been bothering you all this time?” he asked, sounding only mostly like he was trying to make conversation, “The vest, I mean.”

 

“What? Noo.” Crowley came alive somewhat to answer.

 

Aziraphale did not look convinced.

 

“It's grown on me, really.” he admitted, “T's charming, in it's own way...” he yawned against the pillow, “I just never quite understood why... Why not just fix them?”

 

Aziraphale could have actually been found in a new style of clothing more often than not right up until within these last thousand years or so. Then, at some point, it had seemed he settled on something he liked that never seemed too far out of date to be plausible, thanks to fashion cycles.

 

“Well, mostly, it just happens slowly enough.” he moved on to a secondary, “You know, something starts in a seam, in a place, an amount that only you would notice...”

 

“And once you realize it's gone beyond that?”

 

“Well, I'm not sure it really matters anyway, and we aren't supposed to be using frivolous miracles on ourselves, besides.” he said, slowly checking over each secondary as he went.

 

“You could have asked me.” he said offhandedly, almost distracted.

 

“And have it show up on your record that you've been fixing my suits?”

 

“They wouldn't have to know they were yours.” he said, sounding more cheery than the conversation justified.

 

“They'd have figured it out eventually.” he defended, “Eventually, it would start to look like you were taking care of me.” he moved on to the next feather, “... Suits that outdated that never fell apart or looked old.”

 

That much was fair. It had taken all of fixing his vest and straightening out his feathers to get uncomfortably close to the image in his dream.

 

“I'm just... Just say-pfft. W-pfft,” his wing twitched a little spastically, “Wai-Aziraphhh-”.

 

Aziraphale was taking paranoid stock of him for a minute, worried he had hurt him, or done something he should not have. Red and shaking could mean a lot of things.

 

“Please...” he chocked out, finally giving away it was definitely laughter.

 

He had just gotten to where the secondaries blended into the scapulars at the joint, and Crowley was suddenly trying very hard not to fold his whole wing aggressively into him, or else knock him off the bed entirely. A bird the size and weight of a swan, even a large goose, had enough strength in its wing to beat a full grown man into a coma, or worse. Their wings were attached to complex muscle structures over their whole chest and back and were strong enough to heft their human bodies through the air. Human bodies were not really designed for flight, they were heavy and awkward and did not seem to have a single hollow bone. Their wings were something else entirely, and Aziraphale -until he thought to change it- currently had the strength and constitution of a man of his description.

 

“Oh!” he said, redoubling his effort not to move his hand, though it seemed a bit too late, “Oh... You didn't tell me you were ticklish...”

 

“I'm not.” he squeaked in protest.

 

“Bit of a firmer hand then?” he asked, ignoring him.

 

He sunk his fingers in between the feathers enough to press firmly against the skin and then stayed very still. Crowley took a deep breath. It did help, it was settling the nerves and helping him to stop twitching.

 

“I've never been ticklish before. I don't know what you did.” Crowley said with a perfectly straight face as if he honestly believed it was Aziraphale's doing.

 

“I thought you said no one else had touched your wings.” he argued.

 

“They haven't.”

 

“Well then how would you know?” he asked and Crowley just stared at him.

 

“Are you trying to imply that -anyone- is only ticklish when it's someone else?”

 

“Well, dear boy, it isn't very effective when you try to tickle yourself is it?”

 

Crowley had not considered that. No one was really in the habit of trying to tickle him. He supposed he had assumed demons were not ticklish, but then, no one really went around trying to tickle demons. At least it was not the reaction he was afraid of having to this.

 

“That's better though, dear?” he asked, warm fingertips holding the fleshy edge of his wing firmly.

 

Crowley did not feel like he was going to accidentally throw him into the far wall any more, so he nodded.

 

“That one.”, he hissed, letting his wing twitch.

 

Unfortunately, Aziraphale moved with him so it did not pull.

 

“No, no, pull that one.” he specified, spreading his wing out a bit more.

 

“This one.” he asked, though testing at it was enough to feel it let go.

 

He pulled it out the rest of the way. There did not seem much wrong with it, except that it was old. He set it aside next to them, and rubbed gently at the pore it came from.

 

Crowley sighed in contentment, ruffling his feathers slightly. It did actually help his nerves crawl less, these firmer touches, and the warmth of it was not the disastrous playing on his nerves he feared it could be.

 

“What were you saying then, dear?” Aziraphale asked and he had to try to spin himself backwards through the last few minutes.

 

“Er...”

 

“About the vest?” he prompted.

 

“Oh, yeah, I was just saying how uh...” he caught himself up, “How, well, how that's kind of the problem with your old lot, isn't it? If you're fond of it, and if you're going to wear it, then maybe it's worth keeping... nice.”

 

“Well, we're meant to be helping humanity, we wouldn't want to waste miracles on silly things...” he was interrupted.

 

“Do you -really- think the others even actually believe that? You haven't seen how they dress? How everything is always sterile, pristine and perfect? You don't think they maintain themselves, their clothes, with miracles?”

 

“Well, that's not really any of my...”

 

“Aziraphale.” he said firmly, making a point to look back at him.

 

He could feel aggressive love coiling itself tightly around him. This was how he knew it was safe to wrap around each other, if it remained unobtrusive, because Crowley could not feel when he was doing this, and had thus been doing it progressively from the beginning. Tentatively and slowly returning it did not seem to harm him either, despite whatever paranoia he had been entertaining about it. There was not really any risk from other angels sensing his love now, and they would hardly think that whatever Crowley projected was actually coming from a demon.

 

“Angel, you aren't a waste of miracles... You -do- get that right?”

 

In all fairness, he had not actually thought about it quite like that.

 

“Of course.” he defended.

 

He was not sure he liked what Crowley was accusing him of, but -given his own history of judgements- he could hardly complain. Of course it was probably more that he just did not entirely mind things showing their age and history. The vest was at least as charming to him old as it was new, and he was not really dressing for anyone, at least not anyone other than the two of them. That was all a little besides the point at the moment.

 

“I see.” he said, smiling and blushing to himself.

 

Crowley and his new lack of faith that he was not a ticklish person did not like the look of Aziraphale looking too amused or visibly coming to any kind of conclusions.

 

“Hm?” he prompted him to explain.

 

“You're concerned for me.” he said, smiling at the feathers he was working through in his hand.

 

Crowley shook his head, but he ignored that.

 

“You're concerned for my emotional well-being.” he said.

 

Crowley shook his head more, like that could not possibly be right. Aziraphale was now carefully running his fingers through scapulars over the wing joint to straighten them, it was warm and sensitive and it certainly made his nerves crawl, but it was more relaxing than anything. Absurdly distracting though.

 

“Nah...” he said, not really sure why he was protesting.

 

“You are. You don't have to deny it. It's very sweet of you.”

 

Crowley's protests and his whole voice, dried up in his throat.

 

“You've always somehow managed to be the more considerate of us.”

 

What Aziraphale was doing had not changed, but those words dripped through him, and each little crawling nerve turned into a cascading and pleasant chill. If he had to pick a word for it, subduing.

 

“Angel...” he whined.

 

“Certainly, you've always been very observant, I'm just not sure I ever could have expected you would use it to be so attentive.”

 

That made it worse. Better. Much worse.

 

“Nk... Angel please...” his voice pinched.

 

He did not seem to feel himself smothering him with a face full of affection so thick he felt like it made the air solid. Really, he wanted to ask him about that, about his seeming inability to sense love, and what about it might have allowed for the question he had asked the other night, if it had come across in his body language, or if there was some chance he had actually felt it.

 

“You don't even seem to have a sense of how obviously loving you are... Poor thing...” he said, almost to himself.

 

When they made their wings fully corporeal, it was not just the wings themselves, it was an entire bone and muscle structure to go with it, mostly in muscle over their ribs and chest, a change in their breastbone to accommodate it, an extra set of something like shoulder-blades down their back. It was one of these extra back bones he put his palm gently against now to straighten the feathers underneath, speaking softly the whole time.

 

Crowley's voice broke into a breathless hiss.

 

Crowley, after a strangled sound, had gone still and quiet, prompting him to stop what he was doing, and give a nervous glance to his wing which had stretched out to brush the far wall and was vibrating as if being held back from something. The last thing he wanted was to trigger some involuntary reaction out of one of them. The last thing they needed was for one of them to get hit.

 

The last thing Crowley needed was for him to start cooing compliments and affection at him while touching his wing like that. That was one loaded second away from changing the entire tone of this interaction irrecoverably. The last drag through the feathers on the underside, in combination with is words, had sent nerves cascading over the front of his hip.

 

In a flat second this had gone from his usual idle protest to something Aziraphale was not sure about. He pulled his hands back slowly and watched that wing closely. They both scrunched themselves in very tightly and he shifted out of the way to let them. He was going to ask if he should stop or even leave, but then that wing opened out behind them and pressed him down to the mattress. Crowley had not moved. He was just pinned down flat next to him, unable to lift his arms. He waited patiently.

 

“Crowley?” he asked, somewhere between concern and questioning if this was entirely necessary.

 

He could abide being flattened gently to keep him from moving, but it was going on a solid minute now and he was starting to worry.

 

“Is it...” he tried to ask what was wrong, but very quickly found that continuing to speak would only get him a mouthful of alula feathers.

 

A glance over the wing told him that Crowley was not just bright red, but that this extended to his lower back, under the edge of his shirt. Crowley eventually glanced at him under the edge of his wing.

 

“I need you to stop.” he said very slowly, watching his eyes dart to the other wing like an involuntary question, “No, not the... not with the feathers...” he said, relatively certain he could handle that, “I need you to stop talking.”

 

He lifted his wing a bit, watching him sigh and tilt his head, almost speak and then deliberate visibly.

 

“You can ask questions just...”

 

The warmth and massaging he could take. Even the crawling in his nerves and the indulgence of it he could handle, he could keep the tone of it where he needed to, control in what way it was affecting his nerves. The affection burning at his ears the entire time, that was a whole separate equation. His voice had been going right down his spine. Little snakes, stripped from their gears kept turning themselves belly up to play dead, but all the little angel lights kept telling them how that was a terribly morbid way to joke, just heartbreaking, and how lovely their bellies were.

 

“Yes, well, I suppose you never have been able to take a compliment...” he sighed.

 

“Oh this is hardly the same...” he quipped back agitatedly.

 

“I'm sorry.” he said, very sincerely, “Should I... let you be?” he asked, shrinking away from the aggression in a way that suggested he was more concerned for Crowley than actually afraid of anything.

 

Offering to step back or give him space was being met with enough of an outpouring of affection that he would assume that was what Crowley wanted, and yet he was pressed in place where he was.

 

“Crowley dear, can you tell me what I did wrong?” he asked, so gently and earnestly it ate at him.

 

Wrong was not the issue. Obliviousness might have been.

 

“Angel...” he sighed deeply, distressed at this point that he still could not tell if he needed to say something or if Aziraphale was entirely aware of the issue, and did not see why it was a problem.

 

He deflated back into the pillow.

 

“You can't just go around... Holding people down and playing with their nerves and -then- telling them h-how...” he tried to explain, but had to stop, hearing the words himself was too much.

 

When he put it as directly as that, it seemed obvious.

 

“Oh!”

 

Crowley flinched, too aware of his sudden understanding. If it was clicking now, it had not before.

 

“It's too much...” he said weakly.

 

He wanted to explain that he was just trying to stay safely away from that line. His voice had abandoned him for a moment.

 

“Oh, of course...” he said, oddly accepting, “I'm sorry, I should have realized...”

 

At least he looked sympathetic more than judgmental.

 

“Are you okay?” he asked.

 

Even that made his heart flutter, twisting in useless knots. Of course his first concern was for Crowley, despite having asked, and checked repeatedly, and let him direct them at every turn, his concern was -still- somehow that he was overstepping a boundary. Crowley nodded, desperately wanting him to know he had not done anything wrong.

 

It's not...” he tried to keep him from apologizing any more, but he voice had turned to hissing for the moment.

 

“Oh you poor thing... I didn't mean to be so forward.” he went on apologizing, “I'm terribly sorry, I didn't think... and I just assumed that if anything was really too much you'd just...” he tried to gesture as much as he could.

 

Crowley muttered something into the pillow.

 

“What did you say, dear?”

 

“...You know I can't -always- do that.” he confessed, weakly, because he had to, barely glancing at him.

 

He could not just keep letting him think that so long as he was not a snake everything was fine, not if this was going to come up again.

 

“Oh?”

 

It was fair that him turning into a snake had become his way of communicating that things were too much, and they had not discussed it beyond that. Certainly in almost any circumstance that understanding was more than adequate. He had not really thought they needed to talk about it more than that, he trusted Aziraphale absolutely with his boundaries. He saw the necessity in it now though, because it was not Aziraphale who was the problem, of course not. There were certain circumstances under which it would not do to just turn into a snake any time he got too stressed or started to feel upset or flustered. He did not want to have to explain that.

 

He was not ready to explain why he could not, under what circumstances he had to condition himself out of it to do his work, why it was a breath away from being a problem now, what sordid things he used to have to put himself through or why -in particular- he had to stop. They were not there yet. He was not there yet. There were entire other conversations that had to come first. He was not really used to there being things that they could not just talk about.

 

Crowley looked utterly lost and even a little devastated. His big golden eyes were all watery and he was a shade of red that usually indicated an inability to speak.

 

“Oh dear, I'm sorry. Of course, it's too much. It doesn't matter why. It's alright.” he assured him, “I don't want to force you to talk about anything.” he said gently, still only able to see Crowley's eyes over the edge of his pillow.

 

He wiggled up, next to him at the headboard, very slowly, the wing letting him. He stroked his hair and Crowley moved into it. He wiggled a bit closer.

 

“I'm not... Well, I'm not sure I can really stand to be told about things that upset you so much, I just...” he sighed deeply and kissed his forehead, “I just want to understand.” he said, staying at his hairline.

 

“When you're ready, of course.” he added after a minute, pulling back to check on him.

 

Crowley caught his hand and made it vanish into the pillow clutched under his chin.

 

“I suppose that means you don't want me to go?”

 

He squeezed his hand gently, now having devolved into fully hiding in the pillow. Aziraphale adjusted so he could stroke his hair with his other hand.

 

“This isn't always a problem, is it?” he asked with some concern.

 

Certainly he spent more than enough time holding him and calling him all sorts of things, but Crowley shook his head against the pillow.

 

“Just when I'm touching your wings?”

 

He nodded. Then he curled into himself in the opposite direction, still taking his hand with him.

 

“I'm sorry, angel, I should have tried harder to explain...” he lamented, his voice getting progressively more unstable.

 

He had barely processed this being an issue himself if he was honest. He could not keep denying it was an issue altogether, not now. He would be kicking himself for letting it come up like this, but he also had to acknowledge he would have never brought it up otherwise.

 

“Oh dear, no, no you've been communicating quite enough...” he insisted.

 

Certainly turning into a snake and playing dead for a solid minute was a very strong communication of something. All the times he seemed to be pleading with him to understand, and he -had- backed off, but this potential implication of it had all just gone over his head. Of course Crowley had tried to confess that he turned into a snake when he was too emotionally overwhelmed, and Aziraphale had done his best to always stop short of it happening, just short, to ease off before it got to that point, but maybe that was not enough. He had considered it a good sign that he had been turning into a snake far less often, but maybe he was misreading that too.

 

If this was not exactly what Aziraphale was concerned might happen, he did not know what to make of the conversation they had about it earlier; other than maybe some implication that he was just such a train wreck of a person that he could not handle any kind of physical contact without falling to pieces. He was not sure which was worse, really.

 

“Tell me the possibility had occurred to you...” Crowley's voice betrayed him to beg.

 

“Oh, of course it did.” he defended, he was not -that- oblivious, “...In theory.” he amended, “I didn't really expect it to actually come up.” he said, voice fading.

 

Of course they both realized that was absurd, now. These were effecting things that were proven to have a profound effect on Crowley in particular. It was just that Crowley -oddly enough- had never given any indication to him that he, or anyone, should be concerned about actually causing this kind of reaction. Of course someone he loved and trusted handling him in all the ways that effected him most was at risk of brushing up against this at some point. Aziraphale was not sure why he needed this pointed out to him.

 

“Perhaps I do take it too much for granted that I can just opt out of these things.”

 

If his body had any kind of inconvenient reaction to anything he could just tell it to stop, or ignore it without discomfort or consequence. Thinking back, he realized that Crowley had already confessed it did not work that way for him. That implication seemed clear to him now, that part of Crowley's curse was to feel everything as profoundly and viscerally -as involuntarily- as a mortal would. That did not really leave room to just casually opt out of the human experience.

 

What Crowley did not want was any momentary desire for anything to ever end up making anything about their relationship with each other less comfortable. He did not want pressure, or obligation, or regrets. Bodies and hormones could scream and beg, they could tell lies, they could convince you to rationalize your way into things, out of things, and -for all he believed people could behave reasonably and lovingly with them- he was not sure either of them needed to be making space for all of that in what they already had, especially not with all his baggage. Aziraphale had never given any indication he was interested in anything of the like, and certainly not with him. He could just opt out of it and seemed more comfortable with that.

 

There was nothing wrong with everything they had, not a single thing lacking. He did not ever want it to change, no matter what his hormones tried to convince him was possible. Everything over the past few months was more than he could ask for and he hated that his body had anything to say about it. He had been trying to avoid this, fretting it without even quite acknowledging it. Maybe he would have to just miracle the worst of it away and live with the rest. He did not think that he would be able to get away with taking long naps until the feeling passed, not now.

 

Now he had to take responsibility for what he was feeling and try to keep it to himself. Unfortunately, inhabiting flesh meant that cognitive emotions became physical feelings at the whims of his body, like sadness, arousal, or embarrassment, and those could be expressed to people and garner responses that came with feelings of their own, and then -the worst trick of biology- those feelings in turn had to go and effect the way he thought and felt about things on a cognitive level. It was a rotten cycle and his body needed to stop.

 

“No, angel, this is my fault, this is... I'm not like you, I'm the one who had to go and t-”

 

Aziraphale did not have to hear the rest to know where his obvious collapse of mood had taken him.

 

“Dear boy, don't you dare.” he cut him off coolly and Crowley's voice died again.

 

“This is a perfectly reasonable reaction for you to have.” he said almost as sternly.

 

He watched Crowley's brow stitch together.

 

“Well, I can hardly blame you. For -months- now, I've been... Well, I've been -relentless- haven't I?” he asked, “Feeding you every last bit of affection you've allowed for... Even when it leaves you an absolute mess... Of course it -should- have occurred to me...”

 

Crowley wanted to say something before he talked himself into the wrong conclusion, but he did not know what he could say, or if his voice would let him.

 

“Here I've been holding you and touching you, kissing you and telling you how lovely you are, even how much I love you...”

 

Crowley squeezed his hand. He did not want him to stop doing any of those things. None of those things had to have anything to do with this. None of those things had been forced on him, they were kind offers.

 

“That's not the same, and you asked... You keep asking, you don't have to... Please... Not just because I've...”

 

“No, no...” Aziraphale shushed him, kissing his hair again, “That's hardly my point.” he assured him, holding his hand back nearly as tightly.

 

He could not, in good conscience, try to hold his hand back with the same force.

 

“Yes, I made sure it was welcome, and yes I -certainly- made sure you enjoyed the attention... But I never actually asked what any of it -meant- to you, did I?”

 

The nature of their relationship had largely taken shape and ingrained itself during a time when they were actively a danger to each other and often under strict watch. In all their sudden freedom to express themselves, it had not yet felt like they needed to discuss it. He supposed making sure they were on exactly the same page, in explicit terms, was not something they were in the habit of doing, and maybe that needed to change.

 

“Doesn't have to mean anything.” Crowley defended quietly, still not looking up at him.

 

“Of course it doesn't -have- to.” he assured him sincerely, “But I never gave you much of a chance to explain if it did... Or if you wanted it to.”

 

“You're not offended?” Crowley glanced up at him.

 

That at least was a small mercy. He seemed to be acting like his own comfort with it was assumed and like he was -again- most concerned for Crowley.

 

“Heaven's, no.” he said very automatically, “Oh but I've been just torturing you haven't I?” he said, reconsidering what everything looked like without the hard line he assumed was there.

 

Everything he had said to the plants in front of him was hardly even the bulk of it, but that alone made him wince to himself.

 

“I'm sorry.” he said, kissing his hair again gently.

 

Crowley struggled with another of those impulses to kiss him, quietly, face first into his pillow.

 

“Wasn't really a problem before today.” he muttered into down and cotton.

 

At least not recently, not like this, not that he seemed to be entirely buying it anyway. He still was not sure how it was Aziraphale apologizing for this.

 

“Of course not.” he said, but it sounded patronizing.

 

“Well if it's so obvious I wouldn't be able to help but... fall into your arms, then why are you so surprised?”

 

It would have been far easier to be threatened by the agitation in his tone if he was not so clearly mortified himself, even taking into account two angel sized wings facing him against a headboard.

 

“Well, I thought that if it was going to come up with -me- that it... Would have, already...” he said.

 

Crowley made a sound like a wheeze, but he seemed to miss it. He was really actually hearing with his own ears that Aziraphale thought that it being him would -avoid- the issue instead of being the cause of it.

 

“But it seems obvious now, with how sensitive you are to being touched, and how, um...” he stopped and made a face.

 

“How...?” Crowley asked him, clearly lacking any sense, and trying to keep up with this logic that cut Aziraphale out of the equation.

 

“Well how you are with compliments it seems obvious. That's all.”

 

“What's all?” he asked, clearly not willing to let this go.

 

Aziraphale was sure this was intended to be one of those questions intended to make him regret whatever he had been about to say, but he did not know how to tell Crowley that he was not going to be the one who would find his choice of words regrettable. Surely, Crowley could not admit to everything he just had, and not know where Aziraphale was going with that. He did not want to be the one to have to point this out to him just then.

 

“Crowley, please.” he said, trying to save him.

 

“No, angel, I want to know what's so obvious about me, what makes me so clearly vulnerable to your charm...”

 

Aziraphale was not sure that was true. At least this new line of conversation had him semi-functional seeming again. Subject as that was to change.

 

“This hardly seems like a good time... Really, I don't know what I was... I can't...” he protested.

 

“Angel.”

 

Aziraphale sighed. He had tried to spare him.

 

“Well, stands to reason don't you think? That you might have a- ah, praise kink...” he said, for lack of a better term, wincing.

 

The words went straight to his lungs.

 

“Praise kink?” Crowley repeated in breathless offence, eyebrows shooting up, “Angel, you make it sound like...” he went on, voice actually shaking, “...like I like to be told how good I'm doing when-” his voice died in a desperate huff of breath.

 

Then he was back face-first into the pillow. He could not the least bit handle whatever it was Aziraphale's eyebrow just did.

 

He could not go on talking because the suggestion of it alone was too much, and -as his mind made involuntary work of playing it out, the most momentary intrusive thought- he was suddenly coming to the realization that it was probably true, in any sense. He wondered if they could actually be discorporated by embarrassment.

 

The hand in his hair was calm and steady, placating, and not at all judgemental, and that was the only thing saving him.

 

It was so much more involved than that though, this was not shallow or hollow praise intended to stroke some fetish in a limited context -as sweetly given as that would be- this was so much more personal and substantial than that and it dug so much deeper. These were sincere compliments about him as a person that were given for no reason other than that Aziraphale felt they were true. He was not even going to examine Aziraphale's growing tendency to reduce profoundly emotional things to some kind of kink. The fact that he raised his eyebrow a little as if to say he considered that possibility a foregone conclusion, was like a shot to the gut.

 

“So sorry dear, I didn't mean to embarrass you.” he said very softly against his hair.

 

Crowley's grip tightened on his hand, but he was otherwise unresponsive. Still no turning into a snake, even though he clearly seemed to need to, if ever such a thing could be a need.

 

“Does it help if I stroke your hair.?” he checked and Crowley nodded.

 

He spent too many long moments asking him very gently what he was comfortable with.

 

“T's all fine, angel, really, just...” he turned red before he could say it.

 

“...Just don't compliment you while touching you anywhere sensitive?” he confirmed.

 

Crowley nodded from the pillow again. He could not believe himself or how this had come up.

 

So far, Aziraphale knew that to involve parts of his wings. He would ask what else was off limits, but he did not want to force him to tell him everything that was that kind of sensitive and he was not entirely sure Crowley wholly knew. That was something they would have to unpack later.

 

“Well,” he said eventually, “If you don't want me to leave, or stop, and we aren't just going to rely on you changing shape, to know when something is too much...”

 

Crowley seemed to be positively dying of hot embarrassment, but he was not about to go dragging this all back up later, or risk overstepping something in the interim.

 

“We're going to have to find some other way for you to tell me.”

 

Crowley glared at him.

 

“Unless, you'd prefer if I just stop any time you start to turn red? Or stop using coherent words?” his tone was earnest, but his eyebrow said something else.

 

He glared at him only slightly more. That was a cruel threat and one he could not possibly mean to follow through on. He collapsed into the pillow. Forcing him to admit he liked being overwhelmed with affection might have been necessary, given the context, but it felt like he was punishing him for something.

 

“No.” he said, muffled but unmistakable.

 

“Oh, but you are prone to idle protest... And you do seem to get rather... non-verbal.” he said, concern clear and obviously thinking out loud.

 

Crowley whined into the pillow.

 

“I think I can manage one word, angel.” he said, very defensively.

 

He was pretty sure he could handle that. What he could not handle was Aziraphale clearly knowing what a safe-word was, calling it that, or walking him through picking one.

 

“Oh? Have something in mind then?” he asked as if it was nothing, his eyebrow saying everything so he did not need to.

 

Crowley did not already have a safe-word, and he did not need a safe-word because at this rate he would be dead first; gutted by the point of an angel's eyebrow.

 

“Something you'd never normally say?”

 

“Oh, for heaven's sake, Aziraphale...” Crowley almost cried into the pillow.

 

He knew without looking that his eyebrow had only climbed higher in response. When he finally did wiggle himself back out of the pillow though, he was all warm smiles and forehead kisses.

 

“There. That wasn't so hard, was it?” he cooed gently.

 

Of course using his full name had become something of a sign he was serious about something, but he hardly thought it would be appropriate. Then he realized what he had said.

 

“Heaven?” he asked, feeling the dysphoric twinge on his tongue that time.

 

“We should probably deal with the other wing later.” Aziraphale suggested.

 

It vibrated shyly for a moment at his back. His nerves were, obviously enough, already on end.

 

“Would you like to nap for a bit, dearest?”

 

It was as if Aziraphale knew that naps were how he dealt most naturally with anxiety. He nodded.

 

“Should I?” he asked, but a wing was already holding him back down firmly, and Crowley had hardly loosened his grip on his hand.

 

Chapter Text

 

Aziraphale was not sure what time it was. He was not even sure if he had fallen asleep at any point or not. These were such inconsequentially small amounts of time, hours, days, and this was as good a way to spend them as any. Crowley had progressively curled up to him until he was sleeping on his chest and absolutely burrowed into a mess of plush duvets that was slowly devouring them both. His wings were still draped across them and far warmer than he expected, especially now that it was creeping ever so slowly towards spring. His only regret was having not brought along something to read.

 

He had all the time in the world to look around now though, from where he was. There were books around, but they all seemed the kind of meandering fiction that Crowley used to try to sleep sometimes, not research, historical records and scattered hints in texts he had a head for at the moment. There were bedside tables but they were mostly empty, though he did not know what was in their drawers and was not going to check. There were plants here too, ones he had never seen before, but also understated, as if defying any kind of description other than being what you might expect from them just being called a house-plant. They were mostly tall.

 

He was not sure what he was expecting, but this was a level of simple comfort beyond any possible suspicion. There were no strange accessories, not a hint of chafing anywhere on the -very solid- headboard, not that this really surprised him. Pyjamas in simple black satin lay on the edge of the bed, threatening to slide off. There was barely even anything personal, at least visible, as if it really was just a room to store his clothes and sleep in sometimes. Aziraphale could hardly criticize this, considering he used his room for less, and to hide more. He supposed there was some personality in the unnecessary amount of pillows. He did appreciate being able to prop himself up however was most comfortable though.

 

The one exception to all of this was the feather on the bedside table. He recognized it, like you would recognize something exponentially more distinctive than your own hair. It stood out as if glowing in a room that was so subdued. The blackout curtains made sense, after all, who would want something silly like dawn happening to wake you up from a good sleep, even if that meant having no sense of the passing of time. A couple of dark feathers now sat next to him and he was suffering his own impulses to just quietly take them when he left. He could think of plenty of uses for nice feathers like that.

 

A whole sea of them shifted at him as Crowley stirred. He wondered how aware he was exactly that for a solid number of hours, at least, he had been trapped under a very large and very affectionate winged snake. At least him changing back seemed to indicate he was feeling less overwhelmed and let him be aware of when he was blinking awake at him. Crowley was all golden yellow eyes, blushing and stretching and he could not help but smile. No one else in the world got to see Crowley how he really was, and certainly not like this.

 

“I must be the luckiest person in all of God's creation.”

 

Of course that was what he would wake up to, bright blue and curious eyes looking at him so fondly, a smile with all the warmth in the world that only moved to say something like that. It was a strong start to the day, really, that he would wake up and immediately have to hide behind a pillow. He shoved the pillow at Aziraphale instead.

 

“Keep that up and you'll never get to the other wing...” he grumbled, not quite sure he wanted him to hear it.

 

Aziraphale leaned down and Crowley's heart stopped until he felt him kiss his forehead. He nodded towards the other wing.

 

“At this rate, I'll have to do the first one over again.” he said, indicating how ruffled they looked after being out all night.

 

Crowley rustled his feathers back into place, making the difference between the two that much more visible again. Aziraphale was not so subtly eyeing the messy one, much in the same way you might eye something small and helpless in an unfortunate circumstance; like a small kitten that needed a bath.

 

“Are you hungry at all dear?” he asked sweetly.

 

“Not yet really, but we could get something for breakfast.”

 

He was already giving the door a disappointed look, despite moving to get up, and it hurt to see.

 

“I didn't ask if we could eat.” he specified softly, “I asked if you were hungry yet.” he said, pulling him gently back down.

 

If Aziraphale kept tipping his chin to look at him whenever he found it convenient, and not kissing him, Crowley was sincerely considering the logistics of pinning him to the headboard without it being overtly sexual.

 

Crowley liked to think of himself as someone who could make anyone regret asking for anything. It was really simple actually. The plain fact was that most people were not actually self-aware enough to know what it was they really wanted, and humans had made an elaborate culture around convincing people to tie vague notions of happiness and success unequivocally to largely unrelated -and generally material- things, sometimes sex. Making someone regret a wish or request was often as simple as actually just granting it in earnest, only to watch them realize how miserable they were, or how incapable they are of handling it.

 

Unfortunately, he seemed -most- apt at doing this to himself. This was not the worst example of it by far, almost the opposite actually, but he had spent more time than he could admit wanting nothing more than Aziraphale's undivided attention all to himself, had even directly requested on more than one occasion that they just run off together. It was not that he wanted to take any of that back, but it was repeatedly re-astounding him just how much he had failed to estimate what it would be like to actually have all that loving attention turned freely and unabashedly towards him in almost every moment.

 

Aziraphale himself seemed to have suffered some recent motivation to become an increasingly conscientious and attentive companion. Up until now he could be frustratingly aloof, and his fears of being negligent were not wholly unfounded, as sometimes it seemed being able to opt out of discomfort and distress was a disadvantage to him always being as empathetic as he wanted to be. Now though, he seemed to finally be able to focus on fulfilling his heart's desire to be the most actively and meaningfully loving person he could be, and his choice for directing all of that was at Crowley.

 

Currently Crowley was stuck with a very human heart, in a very human body, having more angelic proportions of love poured out at him than he ever thought possible. If people could die of a broken heart, surely they could die of one that was too full, so -as much as he had considered suggesting to solve many of their problems by just moving away together somewhere- he was hesitant to start suggesting that again until giving himself a moment to adjust. Every exhale felt like having drunk a very heady wine feeling the alcohol seeping out of his lungs, thick as smoke across his tongue on every breath. Every inhale felt -not unpleasantly- like the cleanest and freshest lungful of air that was too thin when his mind was already oxygen starved. Something in him was going to burst and he would be in serious trouble without his heart or lungs.

 

“Would you like me to preen that one, or would you rather be held?” Aziraphale's voice hummed through the warm cotton against his ear.

 

Usually when people who were not so naturally inclined, and were not entirely practised at reading people, tried to suddenly outdo themselves with personal affection, they could be rather clumsy and ham-fisted about it, often accidentally stepping over boundaries in their haste to perform what they assumed should be wanted of them, but Aziraphale had always been a cautious person, and it was very clear he valued Crowley's comfort above all else. He did not push to do things for him with any disregard for whether they were welcome, just because he saw it as a kindness. He did not already have some pre-formed notion of what Crowley wanted or expected of him that existed outside of what Crowley was expressly stating, even after six thousand years. There was, in short, nothing self-serving in the way he had started being so carefully attentive, and -though it was something that must take attention and effort to change over to- he was putting in all of the work, unprompted. This suited Aziraphale like nothing he had ever seen. This suited both of them so disastrously well.

 

This time Crowley got as far as grabbing his dress-shirt aggressively and giving him a very stern and flustered look before sinking back against his chest. Aziraphale could at least pretend to be nervous, instead of giving him that perfectly heated cold glance that said he was curiously waiting to see where he was going to go with it all. Even if he did want to kiss him, that would make it impossible. He almost missed the little breath that sounded like discomfort.

 

“I'm sorry, I don't know what's w-” he immediately started apologizing.

 

“Crowley.” he was interrupted very sternly again.

 

“Oh, it's not that, dear...” he said very much more softly.

 

Aziraphale sighed deeply, wondering how to frame it or if there was any point in trying to put a spin on it. He did make sure to kiss his temple though, wanting to make it clear it was not about this new endearing tendency of his, but also not wanting to just grab him and kiss him without talking about it first, especially given where they were.

 

He could not be certain, having not discussed it yet, but he had a nagging suspicion that sex and intimacy were a complicated thing to Crowley, either personally or as a demon, maybe with him in particular. He was not sure in what ways exactly, but he did not miss the heat in his seeming compulsion, at least this time, and he thought that maybe laying in bed could put a very particular tone to something like that.

 

“Do you have any idea what it feels like?” he asked him, knowing that was insufficient information, afraid the question itself might be cruel, “The feeling of love that...” he got as far as generally trying to indicate him before Crowley started to look pained.

 

“No, angel, I can't say I do.” he said, clearly not following and also quite agitated at it being brought up.

 

“Well... I imagine you know how strong a wing can be, even on something the size of a duck or a goose...” he assumed, since anyone who had been around as long as him, and was so full of unmanaged hubris, must have had a violent exchange with water fowl on more than one occasion.

 

Crowley nodded vaguely, entertaining the analogy.

 

“Imagine wings as big and strong as ours... Big, big things... Now Imagine what it might be like if one that size just...” he made some small, searching gesture, “Were to smack you bodily into the ground.”

 

The suffocating violence of the imagery brought to mind the sensation of being winded by a football, while walking face first into a hot room, being smacked down with a pillow and having your nose broken all at the same time, only much stronger, unspeakably more profound.

 

“Not subtle?” he asked weakly, his hands already hiding his face.

 

“Not often, these days, no.” he admitted with a sad smile.

 

It was also often a very sudden and unexpected reaction that seemed to derive partially from whatever he was thinking in that particular moment, making it that much harder to predict.

 

“Oh Crowley, to think, I've never had to suffer any doubts about how you feel.” he said, holding him close, “I just don't want you to ever have to have those kinds of doubts, not from now on.”

 

“Is that why you've become so intent on -torturing- me?” he complained, only getting a soft smile.

 

It was a very long minute before he spoke again, and when he did, his voice seemed small.

 

“...So you can sense what I'm feeling? That strongly?” Crowley asking him, ignoring the twinge in his stomach.

 

“Well, not the particulars, but very generally.” he explained, perhaps less than helpfully, “So, dear boy, if you're looking for an excuse not to speak to me, it doesn't quite work like that.”

 

“How -does- it work?”

 

Of course he had been surprised to learn he had the sense at all, so it stood to reason that if he ever had he did not remember.

 

“Well, it's all rather vague. Just love, nothing more specific than that.”

 

It sounded like an empathic sense that only had one channel. Crowley seemed to accept that, at least.

 

“Crowley dear, the other night, I'm not sure if you remember, but you asked me what heaven felt like...” he prompted, wondering if he would remember his exact words, or the reasoning.

 

Crowley gave him a facial shrug.

 

“Must have been asleep then.” he sighed sadly.

 

He still wanted to know whether he truly could not sense love, or if maybe his sense of it was just diminished, maybe something he was unconsciously blocking out. Maybe, if he knew that he could reach out and there would be love there for him to feel, it would be easier.

 

Crowley just wanted to know how he managed to babble about heaven in his sleep without waking up with a dry tongue or something.

 

“And you really don't remember?”

 

Certainly there were some things he seemed to recall, at least in a factual sense.

 

“I don't know, angel, what have you read lately about repression?”

 

Aziraphale was giving him that look again, the one that was almost like crying, but also like he was going to start fussing over him or kissing his face again. If it was less affectionate or any less empathetic, he would call it pity.

 

It made sense, that he assumed it might be repression if it had the same symptoms and seemed to have the same experience. They were not human, but their bodies were, and thus their neurology could be, especially in Crowley's case. They were, on some level at least, as akin to humans as humans were made in God's image, after all.

 

“I suppose you may as well ask me to describe what it's like to sense love or something... But I'm afraid I might be being more insensitive than that.”, he sighed deeply “I just want to understand what it's like for you, but I shouldn't keep dragging this up. I'm sorry.” he said, kissing his hair again.

 

“Don't be sorry, angel.”

 

He knew he usually sounded very annoyed with it all, but Aziraphale seeking such an intimate understanding of him, even beyond what they had managed so far, it was the kind of expression of love that he could get a sense of. Even if it dragged up sore subjects.

 

“It's like... Remembering the memory, but not having it directly... Like you remember the parts of it that -er, are like facts. Like heaven is bright. Like having made a star. Like you -know- these things... On some level at least. Like you remember playing the memory back to yourself, sometimes even the feelings you had about it then, even after it's gone, like echoes, even if you don't remember the feeling in the memory itself. It's like all the details -and whatever it meant to you in the moment- are gone... At least, when I remember at all.”

 

“Like remembering that you like being on boats, but not... Not remembering what it's like to feel the wind in your hair, or what the air smells like... Just that you liked it?”

 

If a boat was eternal bliss, and love was just the feeling of wind in your hair, and the word 'like' somehow implied that you needed it to breathe.

 

“Like that, yeah, and if I really try... really -scratch- at it, I might be able to remember what it felt like, some things... Maybe not each star in particular, not every detail the way it feels like I should, but what it was like to do it, at least kind of generally... But then...”

 

Then he would have to face every emotion and realization that came with never being able to have that back, everything that came with that no longer being his reality, everything that came with having lost that.

 

“So you remember enough to -know- what you're missing, but not enough that you even get to have that memory? ...Because it...”

 

He made it sound like even the things he did remember had the personal experience of it stripped out, the emotional connection to it gutted, so everything could be tidy digestible facts, because otherwise it was too much pain for his mind to process. Now Aziraphale really did look like he was going to cry.

 

“That,well... That sounds just awful...”

 

He had no idea what to say, he just wanted to make it better. Impossible, sure, but he wanted to do something to help.

 

“Oh, angel, don't cry.”

 

He genuinely did not know how such a wily demon could be so sweet and ridiculous. There was something deeply wrong about a universe where he was not broadly considered a good person.

 

“No, Crowley, don't... This isn't about how -I-feel.”

 

Crowley was going to kiss him. It would happen. Someday, he would forget himself just enough that in a moment of emotion like this, he would just do it and have to deal with whatever that meant to either of them. He would just have to find out whether or not it mattered exactly, whether it was good or bad or if it changed anything at all. He had already made it halfway there. Aziraphale kissed his face all the time.

 

Aziraphale was not sure what had made him suddenly so effusive. He contemplated just asking him if he wanted to be kissed, but this still did not seem like the right time or place for that. He did not yet know how he intended the gesture, what it meant to him or whether this was the right context for it. Even these kisses, to his cheek, temple, forehead, the sides of his face, where starting to linger a little too tenderly, starting to get a little too close to his ear or neck.

 

“Crowley, please.” he begged him, trying to make sure it was soft and warm.

 

He seemed to remember himself and drew a hissing breath next to his ear. Then it was very easy to kiss both of his hands and then his forehead because they were already covering his face again. He gave him a while to collect himself and curl back up.

 

“Crowley, dearest?” he breathed deeply, “Don't you feel it when I wrap around you?” he asked.

 

“You mean, like this?” he asked, squirming indulgently into his arms, “'Course.”

 

Aziraphale was not sure if he was being flippant, or if he was just sleepy enough not to examine the logic of it.

 

“No, my dear, I mean...”

 

He meant the way Crowley often had him in a strangle-hold. He unfurled the energy that would normally inhabit his wings, if they were corporeal, and folded him gently into it all. Crowley hummed.

 

“Feels warm.” he said sleepily.

 

“You do feel that then?” he asked.

 

“I feel -you- angel.” he specified, “Can sense... plenty, just not... Not the way you can.”

 

“And if I hold you very close, and projected as strongly as you do, are you sure you couldn't feel it?”

 

Crowley was not sure he liked the sound of the word 'projected' in this instance. Aziraphale made it sound like he was a walking torch of embarrassingly loud emotions that was often hard to even look at, even if he could not see it himself and even if no one else bothered noticing. Not that he never felt like that, especially lately, which was probably why he did not like the sound of it.

 

“You're welcome to try.” he tried to play at coolness, but his voice was feeling mild at the moment, and it really did sound very nice.

 

“Well, I'm not sure if I can -quite- manage it, my dearest... But I'll give it my best.” he said, being cheeky.

 

It was not at all hard to focus on all the love and affection he had for him. It felt like breathing, to fill himself with it, like he was finally taking full breaths of air, used to a weight on his chest that had been lifted.

 

Every time, he was so careful. Always like the gentlest hug, as if he was afraid that if he squeezed too hard Crowley's surface would break, like an overripe peach. It was like being eased up to by the ocean, like the tide, except its was not just the first brush over your foot that felt as if it had been warmed by the sun.

 

“Well dear?”

 

“T's nice.” he mumbled, almost drunkenly.

 

Being wrapped up in flesh was preferable to them both for the most part, but it was very absorbing, for him at least, distracting. Perhaps even more so for him, not just because of his curse, but because he wanted it to be, because he actually tried to live like a human would. He never really forgot what he was -he could not- but sometimes he lost the sense of where his energy was outside the body, lost track of what he was projecting, got absorbed in the physical sensations that were grounded in nerves and skin. Like a cat's tail, the rest of him swayed where it wanted, these unanchored extensions, this aura of his being that was just too big to stuff into a mortal body. Aziraphale, wrapping around him like thousands of warm and feather-light touches, made him aware of where all his edges were, it felt like being able to feel again, with his whole self.

 

“What do you feel?” he asked, as if the answer should not be obvious.

 

Of course it was wonderful.

 

“Just feels like you... Just more of you.” he almost mumbled, seeming far too happy to just go right back to sleep.

 

Aziraphale seemed really hung up on trying to conceptualize what his experience of things were. Crowley did not know if a visual representation of things could help. He made the little lights he felt visible, and let them chase the feeling of soft touches all over, so little fireflies filled the air, leaving thread-like trails of light behind them. Of course his mind would settle on a bright electric blue, the colour he adjusted himself to see the moment Aziraphale was around, or the colour his brain often filled in for him -even when he did not- because he knew what colour his eyes were.

 

Of course, this made him acutely aware of how he was already wrapped back around him. It would not really surprise him if their auras had become all pressed together lately, it certainly felt like it in general, constant embraces. There was always that heady feeling of too much and too little air. It was not until this moment that he really noticed how much less reserved Aziraphale had become about it, as if finally having tested the water enough over time to be reassured it was completely safe to reach back the same way.

 

Aziraphale saw the shape of himself traced out in the air anywhere they were in contact, filling the whole room with soft blue light. Either Crowley could not sense love, or he could not distinguish between Aziraphale and the love coming from him. Maybe he could not distinguish between the feeling of Aziraphale and love altogether. Maybe he could not sense love because some deep fear held him back, or -he could at least joke to himself- Crowley could not sense love, in part, because the affection pouring off of himself drowned it out.

 

“You asked me if this is what heaven feels like.”

 

He did not want to embarrass him, but it was really very sweet.

 

“I thought, you remembered what it was like, at least very generally.”

 

“Ye-ah, well, I wouldn't remember the really good parts... Probably, anyway... And I wasn't actually -in- heaven all that much, per se... And you seem to remember heaven generally like I do... But that's...”

 

Crowley could not remember asking this specifically, but the sentiment of it was very familiar and he was trying to trace the steps that lead there. Really it was reassuring Aziraphale remembered heaven being the same kind of cold sterility, and impersonal, the way he did, it reassured him he was not missing much by not being there; but there was heaven as it was now, and what it meant to be an Angel in God's favour in the cosmos in general.

 

“Doesn't seem like it -has- to be like that, upstairs, seems like it's that way because of the people, the er- culture, or what have you.”

 

Following that logic, if you could surround yourself with the right people, and have the freedom of good favour, and all your senses intact to bask in it, it sounded like that could be pretty nice; certainty, security and love, but then, in a lot of ways, he had that here.

 

“Doesn't matter anyway, if there was someone worth being around in heaven, it'd be you, and you're here so...”

 

“And there's nowhere else I'd rather be.” he cooed at him, cuddling him closer.

 

The fact that Aziraphale had chosen to be at his side in the end meant the world to him, but he really had stubbornly gone out of his way first. Still, his desperation to believe the best of people and the system, and his loyalty, they were not bad traits, only less charming when it robbed him of clarity or lead him to say hurtful things.

 

~*~

 

He had not quite realized how used he was to feeling Aziraphale near him, until he felt like the bottom dropped out of everything. He was headed in some direction, probably out of London, or across it, thinking it better to keep moving. He really wished he had kept some of the holy water aside to drop the tape in, since Hastur would escape at some point and be all the more motivated. He was somewhere between worrying about escaping, and already deciding he should certainly go make sure Aziraphale was not under similar attack, when the pit of his stomach dropped out with everything else.

 

He tried to tell himself it was in his head, just a product of his anxiety, even if he was already starting to turn the car, but then the thought of him no longer being a part of his life raised the question of how he -would- cope with it. Everything he had lost before -that was too painful to remember- he had forgotten in order to cope, and if that was how he responded to this too, he had no way of controlling that. The car stopped. Surely he could not already be disconnecting from his sense of him, not that he really knew how this worked. He hardly remembered the -process- of forgetting. Either way, something was suddenly horribly wrong with everything and his car was driving back the other way now at speeds he did not know it was capable of.

 

He had already stormed off twice, but he did not really know the kind of shame necessary to keep him from needing to do so again. He wanted that to be the issue, that he might try and fail to make his case again, because the thought of anything having progressed to something less salvageable than that was too much.

 

Even stuffed into little human bodies, their auras -or their true forms- were far-reaching, and after six thousand years Crowley was certain that his ability to sense when Aziraphale was nearby was only to be expected, assuming he was not imagining he had that sense. He imagined it could be compared to standing in a grocery market and looking out at the people around you, being able to recognize someone you knew, only where the supermarket was all of London, and less corporeal than that. Though, sometimes it was hard for him to tell the difference between his imagination clashing with coincidence, and what happened to be real. A thousand and one little realizations, of what could be, were buzzing at the back of his consciousness, trying to breach into it, but the noise of it all was letting him shove it all back. He just needed to focus on driving. Aziraphale would be at his shop. He was always at his shop. He had to be there.

 

It was not over. It could not be over.

 

If his thoughts had not already been a consistent stream of swearing before, they certainly were when he saw the smoke that was too close to the shop for comfort, and certainly somehow more so when he was faced with having to entirely accept it really was the shop on fire.

 

Something in him broke over that day.

 

It was a blur of reactions and emotions that he was still processing now. He had gone from disbelief into warring rage and depression. Being as he could not do anything to change what had happened or what was going to happen, he found himself in a bar, not caring that he was crying in public because everything was over anyway. He would rather die with the world than to forget him. To forget the last six thousand years would be to forget himself anyway. It was over.

 

Consciously he was teetering between staying there and drinking while the world burned down around him, and going after the people responsible during the impending chaos. Maybe even take a good swing at the highest authorities -he- could find for having this be the end. He could hardly hope to survive against all the forces of heaven and hell, who would all be after him, but maybe he could find Gabriel and punch him squarely in the face, even if it was his last act. Unconsciously he was desperately trying to drink enough that he might feel it all a little less, no small feat for a being like him.

 

Either way, he was done with any pretence at all of buying into the system, or of letting anyone else do so in peace. Heaven and hell, angels and demons, it all meant nothing if everyone's big plan was to burn down everything that meant anything like it was all worthless. Again, he was left wondering how things could have gone if he had been more insistent, made Aziraphale examine things more, found the right questions to ask him, gotten him to ask the right ones.

 

Aziraphale was smart and a good person, so surely he could have found some discussion to engage him in that would have made a difference. He had been hesitant to, more than he had, until it came down to the final hours, because Aziraphale -wanted- to identify with heaven, and he had wanted to respect that, ultimately, even if he felt it was a horrible idea all around. Still, it felt like he had failed horribly, and he could only hope he did not have to live through the rest of eternity this way. There was no warmth, no light left in the world, except maybe the hellfire that would chase him vengefully to the end of it, figuratively, because it was already ending. All the light the world had for -him- had already gone from it.

 

The world was going to end and there was probably nothing he could do about that either. He questioned if he should be making his way into hiding in the stars by now, but without Aziraphale, it would just be an eternity to dwell on whether he could have done more to save him. Maybe at some point he would open the one book he had managed to save and spend his time reading it until the end, maybe he would think of something at some point that he could do after all. Maybe when he was done taking a precious moment to fail to process, he would see what he could do for the humans on his way out. Maybe he could pray, maybe the last time he ever would, that Aziraphale would not be destroyed, that he would find some way to escape, in the end, and -even if he did not come find him- that he could be happy, find some place that actually did suit him.

 

For this moment though, everything was darkness, the book was nothing more than an anchor, something to hold onto in this mess, and he just needed to feel what he was feeling; which was, at this point, too much. One thought and anxiety spiralled uselessly into another and somehow -when he got like this, stopped processing- he always managed to meander back to the beginning, the first big thing he never finished processing; his fall. It was how it all began, more or less. If you could not mutter to yourself about your fall from heaven in a random tavern at the end of the world, he did not know when else it was appropriate.

 

Then -there in the middle of fresh and unprocessed hell on earth- Aziraphale appeared in the air in front of him. He was hazy, and his eyes did not seem to quite be able to settle on anything. They then proceeded to have a conversation that would leave Crowley with even more to unpack at some point.

 

For one, Aziraphale's greeting seemed already a confession he had been wrong to let things get this far. Which seemed the closest to an apology he would probably get. For another, he seemed to come to the conclusion himself that Crowley would end up choosing Alpha Centauri, even though Crowley had not finished settling on it yet. He -seemed- to catch his meaning, when he -again- confessed his emotional attachment, though he did not seem to want to spare a moment to truly acknowledge it or get into it just then. Immediately he was distracted by having to tell him what happened to the shop, and really he was heartbroken for him, but then the world was ending so, it was all going to burn anyway. Another upswing to having done just the right thing, grabbing that book. The book had gone from being an anchor to a life-line, and then, all of a sudden, they had a plan, they had a direction. They had hope.

 

He could have kissed him then, just for being brilliant, except he could not, and he was not exactly corporeal anyway, and he did not yet know whether he was relieved enough to forget being angry, everything was all off balance. It was easier to handle the news of him being discorporated when he was right there in front of him and seemed to have escaped heaven. He was already trying to work out the logistics of getting back together, all corporeal and the like, but Aziraphale seemed to have other plans for him. They had to act now and pick up the pieces later. At least they were going to the same place. Then Aziraphale started doing that thing again, where he said things in highly suggestive wording and Crowley could not tell whether he was aware of having done so, or how intentional it was.

 

Now was not the time to unpack anything, least of all that Aziraphale's fist thought seemed to be sharing his body to get to Armageddon, and that the only thing stopping him was that he was concerned it was not safe for them. If he was expecting Crowley to protest, he had not left him the space to even process the suggestion. They had come a long way from 'I'm an -angel- and you're a -demon-' to 'pity the logistics that forbid us from just walking around in the same skin', and never mind the phrasing, or the implication that he was assumed willing, that was for another time. Now he must have been feeling much better, at least, because he was back to being annoyed by phrases like 'with a wiggle on' instead of being relieved just to hear it again.

 

The end of the world was in Tadfield, the universe was looking out for him after all, and Aziraphale -though discorporated- was going to be there. He felt like he could breathe again and sobered up in a real hurry. Then a lot of stuff happened very quickly, and they were walking off of the battlefield to make their various ways home. It was over, and he was looking at Aziraphale. He had watched it all happen, been there for it himself, and yet he could hardly believe how lucky they had been, or that he was looking at him now, all wrapped up in the body he was used to seeing, against all odds. A bottle of wine and a ride later, they were back at his flat and it was time to start processing everything that had happened and planning their next move.

 

He unlocked the door, opening it and stepping aside, not being able to recall Aziraphale ever having been here before. It took the shop burning down and the world almost ending, but he had finally taken him up on his offer to go back to his place; not that they had not spent many long nights talking together in his shop until dawn.

 

Ordinarily this would be Aziraphale stepping out of his comfort zone, but right now he could not think of anything more comforting than Crowley's presence, or that they had a relatively safe place to return to at all. He was sure they both had stories to tell, and their work was not done. Heaven and hell could try to retaliate at any moment, and -even if it felt like they could be taking the time to catch their breath- he thought it was probably prudent they figure out what to do to protect themselves.

 

He watched Crowley slump, back against the door, after he closed it. He looked tired, and he sighed like he wanted to give in to relief, but something about the look on his face to him that he too knew they were both still liable to be under fire.

 

Crowley felt unsteady. The wine, if anything, had helped calm his nerves a fair deal. The day had left him raw and feeling like he was shaking somewhere on the inside. He did not think their bodies were meant for this kind of stress. Now, especially finally feeling like they had some privacy and safety, he was resisting an overwhelming urge to hug him, just hold him. He was just very relieved to have him back in one piece. How close he had been to losing him was rushing at him all at once now.

 

“Dear boy, you look positively dreadful.” he said, watching him pale visibly against the door.

 

Then Aziraphale was under his chin and gently indicating he should remove his sunglasses now that he was home. His nerves could not take this at the moment. He wanted to grab hold of him and never let go again. This was all stupid, this whole dance they did that kept threatening to let them be torn apart forever. He hated it. He hated the necessity of it. He hated that it was probably a better idea to keep them on because Aziraphale was not good at handling emotions, especially not the kind directed at him.

 

“Angel, are you sure?” he asked as Aziraphale's hand lifted ahead of his.

 

This was the second time that day someone had reached for his glasses. The first time it had been unwelcome and abrupt, a cruel and casual tearing away of his barriers; violating. This was different. This was slow and gentle, and something he was afraid was as easy to stop as the wrong brush from his own hand.

 

“Just... Let me see you?” Aziraphale said to him quietly, caving into something in himself right in front of him.

 

Crowley's hand followed his, meekly, but did not make to stop him.

 

“There you are.” he said fondly, with a little smile, having pulled them away.

 

Crowley clamped his mouth shut so the air escaping his lungs cold not make any noise, and it felt slow and hot in his nose. He meant to close his hands on his but he was left holding his glasses instead. Then Aziraphale had one arm around him.

 

“Up you get...” he coaxed him, pulling him out of his slouch against the door and into the flat.

 

“Let's sit down, shall we? Perhaps even a cup of tea...” he said, leading him.

 

Aziraphale was hugged to his side under his arm. It would be too easy of a motion to just bend their trajectories together slightly. Halfway there Aziraphale stopped leading him for a moment.

 

“Oh.” he said, more warm than surprised, despite that Crowley had not done anything.

 

Crowley -had- been leaning towards him, putting himself as close to him as possible, and -in a less corporeal sense- trying to wrap around him since he had re-appeared. He slogged, more than sauntered, to the couch now with a less than subtle tilt, though clearly not drunk. Crowley wanted to hold him, but would not, would not even ask at this point. The poor thing had probably had his fair share of rejection over the past couple of days. He could hardly blame him.

 

“Sorry.” Crowley mumbled, in a constricted kind of way, trying to right himself a bit.

 

Aziraphale had to wonder how aware he was of it at the moment, or whether he was just apologizing for seeming too affected and not quite being able to keep his exhaustion and emotions in check.

 

“Don't apologize, dear. I can't imagine the day you must have had.” he said, wrapping his arm around his waist a bit tighter.

 

Aziraphale found holding him, even to his side, to be a relief; more so because Crowley seemed to draw so much reassurance from it. Crowley nodded and he could already see him holding back tears. Usually Crowley put up every front and pretence of being cool and collected, unaffected, especially in public, but this had all just clearly been too much. The entire way home he had seemed to want to just fold into him, even quite obviously to Aziraphale, despite that he was usually bad at reading these things, and now Crowley was as much home as either of them could be, given the circumstances. Body language aside, it was a little hard to miss his energy not just leaning towards him, but actively grasping at him, as if afraid he would leave or be taken away again.

 

“I thought...” his voice broke, and he took that opportunity to swallow whatever he was going to say.

 

Aziraphale lead him to sit down on the sofa. If there was a time to fall apart rather than act, now was it, briefly anyway, and Crowley had more than earned it. Aziraphale's way of processing things was very much quieter, generally -at least after his initial reaction- and slower, rationalizations about it slowly fading away until he accepted things somewhere in the background, never sure when it happened exactly that he came to conclusions or how long it had really been that he had accepted knowing something by the time it came to the forefront.

 

Crowley, in general, seemed to either process things very emotionally and immediately, or bury them. Right now that meant that Crowley was primed to fall apart, and Aziraphale felt as put together as he could, whether or not that was illusory. He wanted to tell him that he could give up whatever facade he was still trying to maintain, but he thought it might be better to get them settled in first.

 

The whole place was relatively open-concept, and that made it easy to start making tea and find a blanket -even if it was a decorative throw- and some cushions, though similarly decorative, to try to make him more comfortable. Crowley seemed to accept the distraction of being tucked in and brought tea, watching Aziraphale figure it all out with little interjection.

 

He had already been mulling over the final prophesy the entire way back. Some idea of how they needed to proceed was already biting at the back of his brain, like the hell hounds at their heels. That needed to wait, and he was sure it could, for at least a few hours. Both sides were frustrating bureaucracies, and it would take them time to organize a retaliation. They would probably also wait until they were out, not in a building they could have easily set traps in. Whiffs of holy-water reached his nose.

 

He handed Crowley his tea, and held his hands steady around it, kneeling to meet his eyes. He wanted to come sit with him, but he also felt like something was about to break open and he was procrastinating about it, really, trying to prepare himself for whatever it was, in his own way. The longer he looked up into his eyes, the more he watched any trace of white threaten to disappear completely, and the more he felt ill-prepared for whatever was about to spill out.

 

“Crowley, dear... I'm going to clean that up for you.” he said, indicating the direction of the holy water still on his floor, “Then we can sit and talk.” he assured him, rubbing a thumb against his hand.

 

If Crowley had any protests, he bit them back behind a shaking lip to nod in agreement.

 

He wanted that danger to him gone, now that it had been put to a relief of a use -he assumed as a kind of trap, given what he found on the floor- he wanted it entirely out of the equation. He wanted Crowley to feel like this space was safe again, if that was possible. He made sure he got rid of every last trace of it, checking the room and the hallway over a few times, very thoroughly. He made sure any trace of it was gone from himself too, not caring what miracles he used to do it or what kind of report they might show up on.

 

Crowley wanted to get his attention, ask him to stop buzzing around and just hold still, just come sit down where he was close and where he cold reassure himself he was safe and not going anywhere. It was not wholly rational though, he hardly had the words for it, and he did not trust his voice anyway.

 

Finally he perched on the sofa next to Crowley, and quickly checked himself over one more time to be sure, earning a quirk of an eyebrow and a head tilt, in spite of the fact that he still seemed close to tears.

 

“I'll admit I'm relieved... That it's gone.” he said, more to make conversation than anything, “But that really was a sloppy trap, and I rather think we could come up with something less dangerous than that.”

 

In fact, he was suddenly sparing a lot of thought as to what they could do as far as safety precautions. Crowley just gave him the same long look he had been giving him since Tadfield, still looking like he was going to fold into him, and still trying not to cry.

 

“Crowley.” he sighed, all concern and affection, “What is it, dear?” he asked, giving him his undivided attention.

 

Crowley was already shaking his head as if to dismiss it, but his voice did not seem to want to obey him. His mouth opened as if to speak before he closed it again to hold in whatever sound was about to come out. He could not stand seeing him like this.

 

“I- Angel, I thought I'd lost you.” he said, losing control of the shaking in his lip.

 

He took his teacup away before he could manage to spill any of it and set it aside. Watching him try to hold all of this back somehow made it even worse. If he had strongly suspected he might be referring to him before, this laid it out undeniably before him that what he had witnessed earlier was Crowley grieving because he thought he would never see him again, and that even now he was finding the possibility of it too much to consider. The fact that they were not out of the woods yet did not escape him either. In fact, that was probably what had him still in this state, that he still could lose him before this was over. This time his glasses were gone and there was no barrier or excuse between Aziraphale and his tears. He was not even sure there was anything he could say that was honest or could really help.

 

Crowley very much was not expecting Aziraphale to be the one to pull him into a hug, even if it was for a lack of words, or because he was a complete mess and was sure he looked like it. Somehow folding into his shoulder and staying there came unexpectedly easily, and Aziraphale was nowhere near as stiff about it as he would have thought.

 

It hurt, watching him try to make falling apart tidy and unobtrusive, and polite. It was as if he thought too much emotion would be unwelcome or off-putting. It was certainly awkward, and he had very little idea how to help, but if they were going to make themselves useful tonight, there was pressing reason to let him go through whatever processing he needed to.

 

Besides that, it was heartbreaking. Aziraphale had always had a hard time confessing attachment, regardless of how he felt, but Crowley had always done so easily, even if Aziraphale always brushed it off, or rejected it. He could not help but think that him doing that was exactly why Crowley was trying to hide how much this was affecting him, and it felt all wrong. He pulled him in closer, turning him so he could hold him, and to let him hide against him.

 

“I'm so sorry, dear.” he said trying to soothe him.

 

“I came back... again, after they came for me I thought -maybe they figured it out- that they might... and I couldn't... You weren't there and everything was burning, and you'd -never- let it all burn down, so I knew... I thought... And they'd never...”

 

Neither heaven nor hell would ever just let them walk away again if they could get their claws into them. That it seemed clear he had run into a burning building to look for him -between this half confession and the book- even knowing it was probably hopeless, was something they should probably unpack and address later.

 

“Oh, Crowley... I'm right here.” he said, rubbing his back.

 

That was either very wrong, or right, because it seemed to be the last straw between Crowley and breaking down completely. Suddenly he was in a very tight hug. It was probably what he needed, at that moment, to put himself back together, to finish actually breaking down first.

 

“That's it.” Aziraphale said, rubbing his back.

 

He took the time himself to hold him securely and bury his nose in his hair; something burnt like old incense, something very warm and spiced, something sweet but pleasantly sharp, his sweat, and his car, which -less usual- smelled far more of burning than he would like. For one heartbreaking moment Crowley was actually just crying, openly sobbing. He had been in a constant state of worry and nerves himself all day but seeing Crowley in such distress just drove it all home. It was not too long before he calmed down again and started trying to clean himself up and apologize. He handed him some tissue.

 

“Don't... Don't you ever apologize for...” he sighed, trying to find a way to even define all of it, “Well, for having feelings.”

 

It was more than that, but it would have to do. He wiped off his own cheeks on the backs of his hands. He had to admit even he had found it cathartic, just being able to be present with each other and feel whatever they were feeling, after the day they had, given the day they were probably about to. There was no chance of them sleeping tonight, no chance of them doing anything like letting their guard down until they had worked something out.

 

Aziraphale meant to give his arm a reassuring pat and retreat to a decent distance to converse from, so they could figure out what to do next, but took his hand on impulse. Apparently that was very welcome too because now Crowley had it in a subtle death-grip and he was not getting it back. He seemed to be back to an illusion of relatively put together, at least now that he had a grip on things.

 

“Well, I'm not sure all the holy water in heaven could help us now anyway.” he cleared his throat a little, “But I -am- ever so glad to see you're alright, dear.”

 

“For now.” he scoffed, “I killed another demon, angel, with holy water... I'm not even going to imagine what they'll do to me.” he said, right before his mind started trying to, against all better judgement.

 

“If they catch you.” Aziraphale corrected, hopefully, and then withered.

 

He was not sure there was really any way they could keep that from happening. It was really quite hard to be his cheery and optimistic self at the moment, thinking about what could happen to them.

 

“When, angel.” he corrected him back, bitterly, “It's only a question of when.” he lamented, deflated.

 

He did not even think running off together now would help, not without the distraction of the war they had all wanted.

 

“Don't know what your lot have planned for you but...” he devolved from there into general sounds of distress and things that were less defined than that.

 

Being torn in half and lakes of sulphur sprang to mind, for a start.

 

“Crowley, Crowley, please, Don't even speculate. I can't...”

 

He would break down crying if he had to consider what they would do to him for even a moment. It was bad enough even having to consider everything he had already been put through -by hell or being a demon, historically speaking- and he knew he did not know the beginning of it.

 

“Sorry.” Crowley muttered, not lacking in sincerity.

 

“I'd take your place... If I could.” he admitted, sudden cold certainty.

 

“Oh, angel, no. No I don't want to- Can't even think of what they would do with an angel.”

 

The best they could hope for was they they would not either, being as anything they tried might -too immediately- destroy him. He at least looked like he understood, his expression being on the right continuum of something encompassing dread, apprehension and horror, if not quite far enough along it.

 

“Still, if I knew I was saving you from it, then, well, I'd have that, at least.” he offered him a small smile and Crowley squeezed his hand, already shaking his head.

 

It was as if he was telling him he could not just say stuff like that. Again he was faced with his raw emotions. This was his own doing, he was the one who had started strongly encouraging him to take those glasses off when they were alone, in private, knowing why he wore them. He had a very expressive face, even more expressive eyes, and Aziraphale was not sure he was even good at the kind of dishonesty it took to try to hide one's emotions.

 

“Same.” he said tearfully.

 

He could not really criticise him for having a hard time with this, a far as they both knew they were sitting together at the opening scene to their own torture, execution and funerals. Something nagged at him though, something squirmed insistently against the back of his mind. Maybe it was just that -at their cores- they were both optimists, and everything had proven to have a habit of working out for them so far. Maybe it was that his faith in the great plan and heaven had been replaced with a growing faith that there was something bigger -and altogether kinder- going on, and that they had whatever they needed to see it through, even if they did not understand it.

 

“Maybe then we could at least hope for a quick death, if we traded... If they didn't know, the first thing they tried, it would probably be over with quick.” Crowley entertained morbidly.

 

“If that's not their goal to begin with.” Aziraphale was somehow right there with him, willing to entertain it because he felt like they were on the edge of something else.

 

“Yeah, that's exactly how creative they are.. I killed a demon with holy water, so maybe they'd just find some to dip me in...” he joked, flippantly.

 

As if they could or would go near the stuff.

 

“Real shame I couldn't take your place in that case... Give them a right scare...”

 

“Shame we -couldn't- just trade.” Crowley said in the same barely convinced drawl he had used to agree with Aziraphale's misgivings, about something similar, earlier that day, “At least fuck with them a bit, on our way out.” he interrupted himself bitterly, “Not that we could without...” he added before Aziraphale could also interrupt him.

 

“Oh!” Aziraphale was suddenly wide-eyed and looking everywhere, and then in his pockets with his free hand.

 

“No, no... Dear, sweet, brilliant boy, that's exactly what I think we're meant to do.” he said, looking mildly distressed anyway.

 

His tone was so warm, his eyes had their light back, and he had resumed seeming almost naively enthusiastic. Crowley took his free hand to dig the prophesy out of his own pocket, certain it was what he was looking for.

 

“Look here.” he said, taking it between his fingers, only enough to steady it.

 

'When alle is fayed and all is done, ye must choofe your faces wisely, for soon enouff, ye will be playing with fyre.'

 

“Every prophesy so far has helped us along to the best outcome, beyond -even- what we could have conceived of... They've all been on the money, astoundingly so...” he said, licking his lip and taking a breath, “If we were wearing each other's faces, well, even if it doesn't save us entirely, perhaps at least whatever they have planned won't have the expected effect, and it might... Give us the upper hand, so to speak?”

 

“T's worth a shot...” he nodded vaguely, “But, angel...” he leaned back to look at him curiously, “Are you... sure that's safe?” he tested, one knee wobbling idly.

 

“Well.” he cleared his throat and straightened a little, “I'm not sure what else she could be trying to tell us.” he said, looking at the paper, “Besides, it's hardly the same... Trading bodies, vessels, it's not really like squeezing into the same one is it?”

 

Crowley, in spite of all else, could not help but be amused, watching him rationalize his way into this instead of away from it. There were comments he could make about him seeming set on getting into his body, but he was not going to go there. He knew Aziraphale would not be half as affected by it as he himself would be, and he hardly had the constitution for however he responded at the moment. All he could muster himself was a raised eyebrow.

 

“I don't suppose you have a better idea?” he asked, knowing the answer and only sounding mildly annoyed.

 

Crowley shrugged dismissively with his whole face and shook his head, still not trusting himself to say anything.

 

“Well then, it's settled.” he asserted, then paused, almost said something, and then brushed it off.

 

“What now?” Crowley nearly grumbled, not missing that he was about to be indicated for some comment.

 

“Ah- you um, well, I don't mean to be insensitive but, you still smell like burning car.” he winced, “I can take care of that though.” he brushed it off quickly.

 

For just a moment the gears in Crowley's mind ground to a halt, before he realized he probably meant with a miracle; probably, unless he would find that frivolous. Crowley snapped his fingers, instantly clean. Aziraphale rolled his eyes at him, shaking his head slightly. He had to wonder how much the heat in his face was visible and how much -or what- he had read into it.

 

“It would probably be better to switch sooner rather than later, give us time to get used to it. Really -sell- it.”

 

Crowley just nodded at him in a vague kind of way.

 

“We should be careful though, not to ah- inhabit any of the same space, while we switch.”

 

Now his anxiety was showing.

 

“Yeah... What with the potential of exploding and all...” Crowley said with a tone and meaning that completely escaped him, somewhere near toneless in a vaguely distressed sort of way.

 

“Could you be a dear and make sure no one is watching?” he asked, tone forced to lightness, “We'll have to pick our moment carefully.” he said, sounding less certain by the moment.

 

“Not a soul.” Crowley answered the unspoken question after a moment.

 

They were probably busy plotting, and likely assured they would find them again quite easily, the moment they wanted to. They were creatures of habit.

 

“Right.” Aziraphale said, fidgeting and straightening himself, turning towards him more.

 

They were already holding hands. Aziraphale pressed back against him, with his true self, very carefully. He felt the surface of his being like a malleable film.

 

“Crowley, dear boy, you have to move out of the way.” he scolded him lightly.

 

“Nuh? Yeah.” he responded, as if snapping out of a trance.

 

He pulled his energy like thick spider webs off to one side, breaking his connection with nerves, one at a time. Aziraphale slid gently past him to take his place, half his hand now, leaving room for him. They would have to be careful, with the heart, lungs and brains, make sure they did not damage their bodies unnecessarily. For the first time in thousands of years his body became flesh he could shed. He did not like that feeling, but Aziraphale sliding so gently and respectfully past him was a decently pleasant distraction.

 

Taking too long at this might be unfortunate. Aziraphale would inhabit his body in whatever state he left it in. It would be stressed near the point of crying again and a general kind of nervous, on a biochemical level, there was no helping that, but allowing himself to get too flustered was a level of emotional vulnerability he just was not prepared for at the moment. There was only so much to be done about that anyway, with him slowly sliding into place, inhabiting the nerves next to him, the ones still connected to the brain he had lived in for the past six thousand years and had not vacated yet.

 

Crowley had been ill prepared for the intimacy of it; maybe they both had. It was all gentle leading and warmth and -at some points- something close to confusion about what belonged to who. He felt himself being pressed into place, as if Aziraphale was tucking him in properly. Millions of feathers dusted gently away from his being and he opened his eyes. What he felt was strained sort of calm, suspended stubbornly over a pit of anxiety.

 

Crowley had gone quite malleable about halfway through the process, so he took over directing him. When he was done he retreated into his new form. Instantly he was bombarded with sensation, anxiety and a deep craving for security reined supreme. He was not sure how Crowley could just leave everything so unchecked, endocrine system running amok, nerves a complete mess, hormones a disaster. He immediately thought to clear it all away, but this seemed a rare opportunity to understand something of his friend's experience. Crowley seemed to be taking a moment anyway.

 

“Dear boy, is this?” he was a bit at a loss, and the voice was weird, “Is this what it's like for you?” he asked.

 

“You're one to talk.” Crowley brushed it off, with the air of waking.

 

He felt like he could taste repression. He ran the tongue over the roof of the mouth as if trying to clear and unpleasant flavour. Really he had to stop looking at him like that. He knew he had expressive eyes, whatever else they were, and that was as much a part of wearing sunglasses as anything.

 

From their own perspective they had felt like they had poured out into each other, but they were not anchored to space the way most other beings were, more, peeking into it at particular points if you really got down to it, and it was -in fact- their bodies that had swapped places around them. All things were relative.

 

Crowley flexed his hand, Aziraphale's hand, the one that was not holding his own.

 

“I know, it's not much.” he looked uncomfortable suddenly, “Can't help but feel like you lost out...”

 

“Angel.” Crowley snapped, “I l-lost you today.” he said, swallowing something, “Do you have any idea how relieved I was to see this face again?” he asked.

 

Then he calmed down enough to regain enough self-awareness to blush.

 

“I know it's not -you- not really... but it's been you, to me, for six thousand years.” he said, looking away, “I mean, I'd get used to it, if I had to, you having another face... if it meant...”

 

If it meant getting to keep him, getting to be near him; if it meant he was okay. Of course he could not admit to all the times in their history he had wished these hands would just hold him. He was thankful that it felt like these cheeks did not blush quite as hotly. His own body's blush response had always been annoyingly on a hair trigger, and far too enthusiastic for his liking.

 

“Angel...” he sighed, looking away again, “You can't go around looking at people with my face like that...”

 

Of course Aziraphale would look angelic, even with his face, but then, he had to wonder if he never looked that earnest and sweet. Seeing someone he was so fond of staring out through those eyes made him start to see how Aziraphale might find them charming. It was one of the first affectionate things he had ever done, compliment his eyes. Aziraphale was very clearly used to trying to be unobtrusive and only take up a polite amount of space, and seeing it in his own body made it very obvious, made him look so small, and kind of delicate. He would have to coach him out of it if they were going to pull this off.

 

Aziraphale, meanwhile, was trying to settle similarly with how Crowley was wearing him. It made it sharply apparent how much Crowley's body language was always very open, especially towards him. On Crowley it looked cool and aloof -when everything else in him did not show through too much- on his body it looked inappropriate. He could not deny how comforting the hand wrapped around his was; soft, warm and only dry or textured enough to suggest handling a lot of paper. Every echo in this body craved that warmth, even though -for him- it felt dissonant. He felt his face get hot the moment he noticed it, even though it was just the body's memory of how it usually responded to stimulus. It stung, and he could hardly imagine how Crowley lived like this.

 

“Well, angel, if this doesn't work out, this could be our last night on earth.” he drawled, gravity and dark humour clashing with a hint of suggestion.

 

It sounded odd to hear his speech patterns and more relaxed way of speaking coming out in Aziraphale's voice. His own face took all of this in and looked back at him, scandalized.

 

“Crowley, you can't sit like that. It's completely indecent.” he scolded him, face still hot.

 

Crowley straightened up and fixed his bow tie, straightened the vest and his lapels.

 

“Is that what you really think?” he teased.

 

“Not for -you- just...” he made a face.

 

“Better start trying to get used to this now then.” he said, raising one eyebrow.

 

They probably had the night at least, to coach each other, get used to walking around, but also reminisce, get everything they needed to off of their chests and go through the collection of gourmet food in the fridge and whatever wine they were saving for a special enough occasion. This could be their last night together, and they were going to make the most of it in any way that really mattered.

 

By the time the sun rose, they were much more comfortable in their skin, and it was a beautiful Sunday morning.

 

~*~

 

“How did you get back anyway? They didn't let you go, or you wouldn't have needed someone to wear...” Crowley asked him.

 

“Oh, I already told you that.” Aziraphale brushed it off.

 

“Not -really- though did you? I mean, you said you'd left, that it was 'unconventional' and that you didn't use official channels, but you didn't really specify how... How you just -leave- you know...”

 

“In fact, you were annoyingly vague about a lot of things.” he added with a cool eyebrow quirk.

 

“Well, it's nothing remarkable...” he said, proceeding to explain the very simple act of having reached out to the world -or the model of it- to be drawn back down to it, “What is it, dear?” he finished.

 

Crowley was hiding his face.

 

“You make it sound like you just... Threw yourself out of heaven to get back to...”

 

He could not say to what out loud because his heart was already harassing his ears with relentless throbbing noise. It was not a sentiment that had been lacking before, or an implication he had entirely missed, but this was laying it quite bare at his feet.

 

“To you, here on earth. Yes well, I suppose I did.” he shrugged, stroking his hair.

 

No bloody wonder he could hardly function around him any more. Aziraphale no longer even thought it was profound that he would chose him over heaven, suddenly accepting it as a given that they both should just understand, and was treating actually -telling him- that like an afterthought.

 

Aziraphale traced the line between them the same way, where he felt Crowley against his own ethereal skin, adding a shell of little golden lights to the mix. With them tracing each other, in themselves, it started to look they their edges overlapped slightly. Crowley made a sound that started like a hum and died softly in a breathless sigh, tilting his head back.

 

“Do you think...” he seemed to think better of the question before it quite escaped.

 

“What is it, dear?”

 

“It's nothing, angel.”

His question had sounded so wistful, already so clearly like hopeless longing, he could not help but insist.

 

“It didn't sound like nothing.”

 

Crowley gave him a curious look, as if adjusting to this shift, Aziraphale starting to seek out the things Crowley felt he might not want or need to hear. Then he looked decidedly away, only blushing a little noticeably more.

 

“It's …” he wanted to brush it off but could not settle on a word to dismiss it, “Just a thought, silly, really.”

 

“Would you tell me anyway, dear?”

 

Crowley sighed deeply, hoping the fluttering would fly away on his breath.

 

“I was just wondering if it could be safe...” he said, working up to it, “To overlap like that.” he finished softly, nodding gently to the lights in the air around them.

 

He did not have to ask if it was possible, he could feel the boundary between them like a membrane, feel the potential of it to give way, like tissue on the surface of water. He might not be able to sense whatever undefinable energy he radiated in response to some feelings, but when he really paid attention he could feel himself, and he could feel Aziraphale against him, and he could feel him always slipping so softly past him, almost never pressing back, even now that he came so gently meet him.

 

Aziraphale was taken aback for a moment. If he had expected anything, somehow it was not that.

 

“Oh.” he said, surprised but warm, “Oh, I... I don't know.” he had to admit.

 

Aziraphale had, in fact, been exceedingly careful to avoid it ever happening, and had been putting many a spare thought towards it lately due to the spell-work he was looking at. Even when healing him, or embracing him, even when they switched bodies, he had been careful that whatever space or flesh they each occupied, that their celestial selves, never overlapped, never pressed into each other, in case it could hurt them.

 

“Probably explode though, right?” Crowley said with a humourless little huff of a laugh.

 

“Honestly, I don't know, but I hardly think it would be worth the risk of hurting you.”

 

Given how it felt to hold each other this way, and given -even- how it felt to slip past each other when they switched bodies, he imagined it could be very pleasant, especially if they were doing it for that purpose, just to feel each other. Nothing was worth the risk of hurting him though.

 

That did not help at all. That Aziraphale's concern and top priority was absolutely what the consequences were to him did not at all help him want it any less. It was hard to stop thinking about it, watching the illusion of it around them.

 

“...Although...” Aziraphale went on, unexpectedly, “If any of those protection wards were every to be of use to us, I suppose we would have to figure that out.” he considered, “But Crowley, I just couldn't abide by any risk of something happening to you... Either of us, really.”

 

He had every suspicion in the world he could let the love pouring off of Crowley seep in and it could not harm him, but no certainty whatsoever he could offer that safely, or anything else in return. The fact that such genuine and earnest love was something Crowley could generate so easily seemed like some kind of cosmic anomaly.

 

Of course that would be where Aziraphale went with it, practical considerations and safety. Crowley sighed.

 

“...It does sound lovely though.” he added, noting the sad little shift his commentary had caused.

 

He had not missed the implication that Crowley was wondering if it could ever be safe to be closer together than they already were, for the line between them to seem to bleed into nothing. Now it made sense of why he had to have it dragged out of him. Crowley undoubtedly struggled with emotional vulnerability and intimacy, even before and asides from his own repeated rejections. He wondered what all was tied up in all of the love and affection, that he did not personally have a sense for. He just wanted to understand what would benefit Crowley, what he wanted, and what he needed from him.

 

Just this moment, that seemed to be being held while he slept. If they played their cards right, they would have eternity to figure it all out.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

As far as Crowley was concerned this was heaven on earth, at least, the way humans seemed to conceptualize it. He had never slept so restfully. It was likely the particular flavour of comfort warring with nerves and anxiety that had him wanting to continuously just go back to sleep where everything was warm and safe, uncomplicated, and the exact right place between having all the meaning in the world and being inconsequential. Being warm, comfortable and relieved made him sleepy, but then, he also took naps to deal with being emotionally overwhelmed, or to cope with anxieties he could not face down at the moment. Somehow this was so much of both, it did not surprise him at all that he could barely keep his eyes open long enough to question how long this could last, or how much time was slipping by.

 

The answer was, after all, as along as they both had the patience for, and Aziraphale seemed surprisingly longanimous. Eventually, feeling slightly ridiculous and not wanting to risk talking, because that would inevitably come with compliments and affection, he rolled far enough away to settle his opposite wing across Aziraphale's lap, now sprawled across the foot of the bed and tangled comfortably in cotton and down.

 

Aziraphale abided by this with mild amusement, being shushed any time he tried idly to start a conversation. Apparently, now he could not be trusted with words or he would say something too affectionate. It was not all bad though, his silence seemed enough that he could handle all his scapulars and the underside of his wings joints being combed through with only contended humming. Even a firm hand to press all the accumulated tension out of the muscles around his wing joint seemed incredibly welcome. At least until it seemed to cross the line between a needed massage and continuing for the sake of indulging him. Maybe it was more an issue with holding him down too firmly -since he seemed compelled to squirm, but kept insisting he could continue- but either way, he eventually waved him off.

 

“You'd like me to stop, dear?” he confirmed, before he had to really protest or say or explain anything else.

 

He laid down next to him, sideways across the bed, and he lifted his wing to let him slip underneath.

 

“Are your wings sensitive like that?” Crowley asked, finally breaking the easy and amused silence, with an unexpected question.

 

“I imagine so, under the right context.”

 

They were sensitive, and with all that nerve crawling he imagined the intent in touching them was highly influential.

 

“...And are they ticklish?” he asked, in no particular way.

 

Aziraphale did not like that question at all.

 

“Possibly.” he admitted without wanting to.

 

Similarly, they were sensitive, and he imagined it was somewhat context specific. Crowley smirked at him indulgently, but did not move towards him. He just smiled to himself as if making note of it. His wings veiled themselves just outside of perceptible reality again, settling closed as they went.

 

“Don't you dare.” Aziraphale scolded him pre-emptively.

 

“What?” Crowley defended, still smiling.

 

“Find some opportunity to ambush me like that.” he said, as if imagining Crowley was already making plans, scheming, “ I assure you, you are undoubtedly more ticklish than I am, dear boy.”

 

“Oh relax, angel.” he said, enjoying being able to roll freely onto his back again, “I wouldn't dream of doing anything to you that you haven't agreed to.”

 

Aziraphale knew that -the moment he heard the words- to be absolutely true. It always had been. He would ask once, offer mostly, put had never pushed very hard for anything, especially physically. Though he could be emotionally demanding on rare occasions. He supposed the one potential -minor- exception to this were the things he settled into that he could not perceive himself doing and which Aziraphale had never bothered making him aware of. His restrained impulses to kiss him were -at this point- still just accidental confessions that he wanted to, on some level. He would ask him about that, some day very soon. Perhaps once they were in private, but no longer letting days pass laying on a bed.

 

He had, in a sense, started this, a very long time ago. He supposed he had gotten caught up in things, after a very long night of trying to cheer him up. The longer they talked, the more it just felt like they were friends, simple and reserved affection coming easily to them in a very different time. Crowley had been in an awful mood, downright despondent at times, whatever was upsetting him clearly having enough of an anchor to keep pulling him away, through he would not talk about it. Wrapping an arm -or wing- around him and joking with him had seemed to drag a smile out of him, so he kept doing it. He knew he had a tendency to forget himself, his own anxieties and concerns, when his focus was on someone else, especially on helping them. By the end of it -and he really did not know where his head had gotten to- he almost kissed his forehead on impulse.

 

He stopped himself of course, especially when Crowley completely froze, his energy rushing up around him, as if to hold him in place, suffocating affection suddenly distracting him from all the physical evidence of anxiety and distress that had surrounded Crowley all night. They awkwardly went their own ways after that, not mentioning it, retreating again, but after that point Crowley had been slowly leaning towards him over time, slowly escalating in little loving impulses, and the longer it went on for, the more he had gotten the sense that he was at least somewhat unaware of it, either not conscious of it at all or in some kind of denial. So he had politely not commented on it. It was complicated for him, especially before, it made him worry for Crowley's safety, but he had never minded.

 

“Of course not.” he said, a sly fondness tainting the little smile more than Crowley was comfortable with.

 

Crowley had the nagging suspicion he was being called a four -or even five- letter word again; sweet, this time, maybe.

 

Things were decidedly less complicated, for Aziraphale at least, and he thought they should be able to have whatever affection came naturally to them. Now though, they seemed to be running into it all being complicated for Crowley too, in different ways.

 

At the moment, what Crowley seemed to have on his mind was either sleeping forever curled up together here, or finding a place that would serve them breakfast at whatever hour this was, and obliging him in either one was all he could ask for.

 

~*~

 

They ended up settling on pancakes, or at least a place that would serve them this far past noon. Not crepes, but a charming local option. Considering they had just spent a few days in bed, this seemed like a good balance. It was getting warmer out -seemingly by the hour- but not enough so that a hot meal and hot tea or coffee was not immensely satisfying.

 

“My dear, you look absolutely ready to go straight back to sleep.”

 

Crowley had eaten a fair deal of eggs, bacon, pretty much anything that was protein, and looked halfway in a daydream when he was not outright adjusting himself as if attempting to stay aware. He had stopped eating a minute before and slid his pancakes over to him. They were slowly settling back into the mealtime dynamic they used to have, now that Crowley was behaving somewhat normally again, and Aziraphale knew what to blame when he was not, at least generally speaking. He knew by now that Crowley was inconveniently conditioned into sleeping in response to stress, and when he was ready to talk about it, Aziraphale was sure he would know.

 

Crowley never thought he would see the day that he fell under Azirapale's attention so much more than their meal that enjoying the food seemed like an afterthought, but here they were. He felt like he did not have enough emotional barriers to help him cope with this in public right now. The last few days had left him feeling like he had been stripped bare in some way, and he had overestimated his own willingness to be out around other people.

 

This was something Aziraphale absolutely had a sense of. The sunglasses could hide is eyes, but they could not do much to conceal the blush that seemed to have decided to camp out permanently between the freckles on his cheeks. Even his body language, though turned ever more towards him, if that was possible, had become slightly more closed off in general, that is, slightly more than very casually spreading out is if London was his back yard. It was a striking enough change for him to have actually noticed.

 

“Do you gentlemen have everything you need?” the waitress said, checking on them.

 

She topped up the coffee. He watched Crowley bring his shoulders up, not enough to be an intentional communication of annoyance, but enough that he looked uncomfortable, an involuntary pulling away as if the lights were too bright, or the air was a bit chilly, or maybe all sounds were a bit harsh. Combined with the blushing, to him it seemed obvious he was in some kind of state. He looked, even plainly enough to him -and if he had to put a word to it- like he felt vulnerable. Perhaps being overwhelmed or over-stimulated, to some degree, was agreeable to him in private, but not otherwise.

 

These pancakes were buttery and fluffy, and they had been served with fresh strawberries and whipped cream. There was no problem with the food at all, it was lovely, which is what he told the waitress. He did not mean to be making him uncomfortable, and he tried to keep his eyes to his own plate, but he could hardly help observe him, when all of his own thoughts seemed quite attached to figuring out what the exact nature of his distress was. He reached one hand out to him, brushing under one finger on the table. Crowley took his hand firmly.

 

“Are you sure you're feeling alright?” he asked him.

 

“I told you, angel, I'm fine.” he replied, softly, rather than irritable.

 

Any time he asked him, he insisted nothing was amiss. Maybe that was part of it, all the contexts in which he got prickly had all shifted around and Aziraphale was trying to redetermine how to read it all. In general he thought it might be best explained by the general shift in context between them, more honest, more affectionate, and no longer having to compromise for anyone but themselves. Much of the shift seemed to be internal to him though, and Aziraphale was thus missing some of said context. Still, he thought he might be more comfortable back at his shop than going to the park.

 

Ever since that night in the park he had been -among other things- trying to pay more attention to his own vessel, in an attempt to understand what it was like. He was enough in the habit of noticing when his body thought it might be nice to eat, but was also paying attention now to when it might be nice to rest, easy to be reminded to do with Crowley always wanting to curl up to him.

 

Aziraphale could always just decouple his neurology from the biological function of the body he was given, a trick of divine intervention. Where his cognitive experience would normally -for a human- be expected to translate into biochemistry and back, he -as an angel- was encouraged to opt out of this in order to do his job without distractions. Since learning that Crowley was most naturally inclined not to actively break this bridging between thought and sensation, or was not wholly capable, he had been attempting to recondition himself to listen to his own body the same way, be in it, exist with it in the state it was in at the moment, in some hope it might help him understand him a bit better.

 

He was not sure how much this had helped him better empathize with Crowley's reactivity, not being an overtly reactive kind of person himself, but he was coming to understand something of how demanding a body was to take care of when you had to -or were compelled to- do everything the way humans did.

 

They did not need to eat, for example, but doing so was enjoyable, a little flood of endorphins that could influence his mood, his thoughts, and that was nice, but he was coming to understand that -without intervention- not having that dosage of chemistry at regular enough intervals resulted in his body getting cranky, in negative shifts in mood, in discomfort, even if they could not die or become too inconvenienced by it. In time, he could see how not taking care of his body could lead to a steady downwards spiral in mood and cognitive function that -he imagined- would eventually affect his world-view, sense of self and general outlook.

 

If Crowley had to indulge his vessel -at least in something- in order to avoid this, anything remotely like how a human would have to, he could understand how it could be a lot like having to care for a very fickle and delicate pet; if the state of that pet was directly linked to your own tendency towards positive and negative thoughts and emotions. Aziraphale had the option of experiencing this when it was convenient or fun, but -if he was interpreting this correctly- Crowley could only opt out by a far greater effort of will or energy, requiring attention or focus rather than being passive, in a way that was probably, for some things, more taxing than just taking care of himself the traditional way.

 

Aziraphale had often seen his tendency towards sleeping as being his vice of choice, but was coming to see it less as wholly a choice of indulgence and more as him simply having needs that any living creature did, emotionally, if not physically; as simple self-care. In that, he was starting to see that painting demons in general as being just wantonly indulgent was probably unfair. If they were all cursed the way he was. It was a strange kind of privilege angels had to not have these needs and look down on demons for having to be accountable to them, to be able to hold themselves above it without much thought and then attach a moral or value judgement to it.

 

Right now, Crowley looked tired and like he wanted to go home.

 

“Let's forget about the park for today, dear, and go back to the shop?” he suggested, rubbing his thumb against his hand.

 

Crowley actually looked surprised, lifting himself to look at him somewhat abruptly. It was not usual for them to interrupt their intended plans, once they had been made, and Aziraphale had been excited to try feeding the ducks something new, that he heard would be better for them. Indeed, he could picture their chubby little feathered tails wiggling excitedly, even now.

 

“Thank you, angel.” he said, squeezing his hand a bit.

 

~*~

 

Aziraphale stood back and cheerily indicated the door, letting Crowley be the one to unlock it, testing out his new key. He seemed very pleased with himself and Crowley could not help but smile. Stepping inside he realized this was the first time he had seen the shop in nearly a week, since he had been away. It seemed, altogether cleaner, somehow, not that anything done to drive customers away had been negated exactly, but there was less dust, and somehow it was even more obsessively arranged. It seemed a touch warmer, if anything, and then there were the plants.

 

He did not think there were any more than before, but they seemed much more strategically located. Some were moved closer to the limited windows, and many of them seemed to have their own little personal light, mostly red with some blue, added to them. He would have assumed this was some attempt to take care of them, to ensure they got enough light, but it seemed very intentional that they might serve a secondary function, being as there were now large black smooth stones added strategically around most of the pots. They were warm to the touch and occasionally placed more directly under the lights than the plants were. The shop, in effect, was now dotted with places, large and small, where he could curl up comfortably to bask under warm lamps.

 

Now that he was watching him take it all in, he was becoming anxious about what he thought of it. Before it had seemed a brilliant idea, now he worried it was too much, or not actually helpful, or perhaps even insensitive. Crowley eventually stopped looking around, stood still for a minute and then walked over to him quite briskly, almost losing the saunter entirely. For a moment he was prepared to be hoisted by the collar into a bookcase. Crowley still had his glasses on, but from this close he could tell there were tears in his eyes. He would be worried about what kind they were, but Crowley was already gently cupping his face. He wondered if this would be the time Crowley forgot himself enough, but then Crowley kissed his forehead and held him tightly to his chest instead.

 

At least he was not so off the mark, given his reaction. Crowley spent a lot of time defensively distancing himself from both snakes and what he himself admitted being a demon meant, around the vulnerable moments where he explained he actually was circumscribed in many ways to what it meant to be both. He could only conclude this meant he was sensitive about it, conflicted, and did not want to talk about it, but whenever he did something to take potential needs arising from those things into consideration, it was met with effusive affection.

 

It did not quite sit well with him to not have a dialogue about it though, because he did not want to risk overstepping, or doing something well-intentioned but ultimately hurtful or unwelcome, but they were running into an impasse where Crowley both would not ask anything of him, and also did not seem inclined to talk to him about what any of it meant or entailed. Potentially innocuous interior décor decisions were about as far as he was comfortable with guesswork.

 

“I didn't know if... Well, if it will be of any use to you... or if it's at all right,” he meant that in the sense of being accurate, “I just though, if you were going to be napping in them anyway, that we might try making them more comfortable?” he explained.

 

Crowley just held him very firmly, burying his nose in his hair. One of his favourite hobbies was napping in the plants and startling customers. Aziraphale had scolded him at first, not on account of driving people off, he was quite into that, but out of fear someone might hurt him. It did not take long though, for the rumours to circulate that the shop owner kept snakes that got out around the shop sometimes, and that he would take your head off if you so much as looked at them funny.

 

“And I don't want you to just abide by it...” he made his tone firm, “Not just because I-” he did not want to say he went through any trouble, it was no trouble, “Not for my sake. I want to know what -really- suits you.”

 

If Crowley dared to let go of him, he would be kissing him hotly, and that would hardly be appropriate, given that he did not know if it was welcome. If it would be chaste, a gentle brush, something that could be considered anachronic but ambiguous, if he could approach slowly enough that he would have a chance to protest if he wanted, then he might allow it, but not the way he felt every time the impulse gripped him.

 

Aziraphale smelled of old books, cologne, the heat of skin and something just a little sweet, and he focused on that. He would never admit it, but it had become something of a grounding exercise for him, counting off notes and trying to name them. All of his smells were recently new again, because smells, like tastes, were different when they were so close and thus still warm off of his skin, and for Crowley those were largely the same sense anyway. He tried very hard to resist the thought that his mouth probably tasted like strawberry pancakes right now.

 

“You suit me, angel.” he mumbled into his hair.

 

Aziraphale did not sound as pleased with that as he had hoped, sighing deeply.

 

“My dear boy, that's hardly the point.”

 

Now Crowley sighed in the same nearly exasperated kind of way.

 

“That -is- the point, though. The rest... It's all just details.”

 

“Oh, Crowley, please...” he lamented, not lacking in abashed warmth.

 

It really was a very sweet sentiment, but it was getting tiring. He did not think, ultimately, that all the details that made up his sense of comfort and security, or that made up his experiences, or that could affect him so profoundly, so deeply -or affect him at all- should really be brushed off just because they were small things. Them having each other might have been most important, to both of them, but with that condition met, he did not think the appropriate course was to just ignore every potential that could go with that. He was beginning to suspect that Crowley was in the habit of denying himself far more than either of them were entirely aware of.

 

“There's no point in these things if they aren't something you really want... But I would like to do things for you, dear, if you'll let me.” he suggested, hopeful.

 

Crowley understood that, and it was exactly the problem. He could not keep saying things that sounded like ambiguous offers to provide everything he had never even dared let himself want, and -more so- he could not keep offering to provide all kinds of affection when the whole point of it really was for Crowley's benefit; it was too terribly perfect. Aziraphale could not possibly know what he was invoking. Crowley himself had made a six millennia habit of not letting himself fully realize it.

 

Aziraphale supposed there were two main issues here. One was that Crowley seemed to have some kind of shame complex, near as he could tell, about being a demon, or about himself specifically, about wanting or needing some things. The other seemed to be that in order to know what he wanted -of him- he had to know how he viewed the nature of their relationship, and -while they had always been close and he felt like he should not have to ask- he got the nagging sense Crowley himself was not entirely sure. To Aziraphale, love was love and being close was all that mattered now, but to Crowley it seemed like these distinctions might matter far more.

 

He also suspected there was a great deal of things, potentially traumatic things, to unpack when it came to anything significant to Crowley, and he did not want to force it out of him, but at this point it seemed to be causing him more distress that they did not have a dialogue about it. He recalled him getting angry when he suggested there should be love in how people interacted with him, and he recalled the conversation where Crowley said none of this had to mean anything in particular, and that he kept not kissing him despite the obvious -and now constant- impulse. That was all he really had to go on. Most frustrating and frightening of all was that he could not know how he was affecting him without some of these answers. The last thing he could stand was to hurt him.

 

~*~

 

This carried on for another couple months or so, Crowley still denying there was an issue with anything. In his defence, he did make active use of the little basking spots, especially, it seemed, when Aziraphale was not around to see it, being as -when he was there- Crowley seemed to prefer basking in his attention. He had also kept up his habit of almost kissing him, seemingly getting increasingly frustrated with himself, but remaining steadfast in his reluctance to acknowledge it or talk about it.

 

Aziraphale, needing something else to focus on, set to work trying to track down what he could of the missing journals. Crowley did not seem entirely pleased with this, even once shooing him away from the notion of checking through his own collection. It was probably a lost cause anyway, but he stopped bringing it up and just kept looking. He needed something to do, something to occupy his thoughts with a complex problem that was not entirely wrapped around a conversation Crowley was not ready to have yet.

 

“I know it stands to reason they'd be lost, or destroyed... but it just seems -odd- that the larger works would all be together in such a carefully kept set, even after all this time, but everything they actively reference would be entirely missing.”

 

By that -actively reference- he meant notes in the margins, as if to the author themselves, but still. Stranger still was that he could not remember acquiring them or why the journals were not with them. He had broken down and brought it up again.

 

“Aziraphale, please just let it go.” he whined, seemingly embarrassed by his enthusiasm and obsessive focus.

 

“But Crowley... You don't agree it would be perfect?” he cooed, “If it could work...” he added, less convinced, “But we have to do something... They will come for us again eventually, and we don't have a book of prophesy to keep helping us... And if something happened to you and I could have done more to prevent it, I-”

 

“Oh angel.” he sighed, clearly pained, taking his hands.

 

“What do you expect to find in them anyway?” he asked, almost mournfully.

 

“I don't know... Maybe something, some experiment that was done that might give us some answers, even if they didn't think the implications of it were worth publishing otherwise?”

 

“We can look through... whatever I have... If you think it will help.” he caved in.

 

“Oh Crowley, that would be lovely, thank you, darling.” he said, perking right back up to open optimism and good cheer.

 

Crowley looked like he was cursing to himself. He supposed maybe it was all a sore subject. Perhaps his fears about how fundamentally incompatible they were, physically, had rubbed off on him. Given what he had asked -about being able to overlap- he thought maybe it just hurt to put so much focus on something he probably could not have, especially if it would -in theory- grant them lasting security. He really did feel bad bringing it up, but if there was even a chance of finding answers without having to take any risks, he was sure -at least in retrospect- Crowley would think it was worth it.

 

~*~

 

When Crowley heard the knock on the door and was still up to his elbows in paint, he panicked. He wiped his hands off very quickly and ran into the other room. It had slipped his mind when he invited him over for dinner, that they were going to go through his books at the next casually presented opportunity. He had gotten too excited that the tomatoes finally seemed to be ripe, something that felt silly now. He needed just a little more time. He needed a chance to explain first, or come up with something. He heard the jingle of keys, a sound that made his heart soar, truly, but also made him curse his own machinations.

 

He knew they were there somewhere, and he could not risk Aziraphale finding them before they got a chance to talk about it. He did not want to have to lie to him though. He already hated the dishonesty that this had brought between them. Finally he found them, dusty and hidden on a top shelf. He snatched them as he heard the key in the lock, opened his bedroom door as he heard the jingle of it twisting, set them quietly on his dresser and closed the door as softly as possible, before making his way out to an ambiguous location between the painting and the door before Aziraphale could turn around from hanging his coat. A heart-warming flutter clashed with guilt in his chest.

 

When Aziraphale came in, Crowley seemed a right mess. He was covered to his elbows in paint again and seemed altogether too excited about his tomatoes, flushed. He supposed he had always been excitable though, and after the last time, he could not bear to see his disappointment if the tomatoes were anything less than perfect.

 

“Well, let's see them then.” he said taking his hands.

 

For a moment Crowley's eyes went wide, then he took a deep breath.

 

“And let's get you cleaned up for dinner.” he added, sliding his hands up his arms, feeling the texture of the paint, and watching him blush.

 

It was as good an excuse as any to show him affection, and for all was prone to protesting and complaining in general, he said nothing about his increasingly ridiculous tendency. Fair trade, considering his habit of almost kisses that they also were not talking about. He made sure the water was warm, and that they got all the paint, even under his fingernails so he could make dinner. They were having eggs, something simple, breakfast in the evening with a light red wine. It would pair well with the tomatoes but let them stand out on their own.

 

He watched Crowley go to the window and wheel out one of the racks he had built. Now he could see that the side of them facing the window was full of cascading green. It was an herb garden. Now Crowley carefully picked out the right sprigs of green to cook with and use as garnish. The smell was amazing and filled the room the moment the plants were disturbed. His stomach growled.

 

“Oh, how charming.” he cooed, watching him blush and smile to himself.

 

Aziraphale wanted to help, but Crowley kept quietly insisting that he had it handled, and Aziraphale was not sure how to help anyway, so he kept him company, around stealing glances at his latest painting. He still seemed to be working more in abstractions, but also seemed to be experimenting with different styles and seemed to be incorporating his inability to see some colours selectively as a stylistic choice, or he was forgetting and did not really care.

 

“Crowley...” he asked, turning back to him, “When... When you don't see blue... What do I look like to you?”

 

“Er...The same, really...” he said, less than firmly.

 

Aziraphale made that subtle, polite face-scrunch that indicated he was not satisfied with something. He did not really want to explain all of this, unsure of how he would feel about his non-human vision most closely resembling tritanopia, except, on account of not being an actual vision deficiency for a snake, the teal-ish tones shifted more towards the green he would benefit from seeing, and the 'blue' light receptors being absent more than just deficient. Really the comparison even only existed for him because he experienced both himself, otherwise he was not even sure his brain would assign the colours it did to the relevant wavelengths of light. He was not even sure his vision compared to snakes any better than it compared to other human bodies.

 

“Ever try to see your tie out of the corner of your vision, or in light that's too bright?” he asked, “Well it's -kind of- like that... And well... Blue eyes are a trick of the light anyway aren't they? The pigment... T's all yellow and brown either way, really, human eyes. Almost any eyes, really.”

 

He could hardly volunteer -now- that the subdued beige he wore was often indistinguishable to him from soft pinks. He did not think he would mind the colour as much as Crowley having never told him, or having taken a long time to realize it was not intentional.

 

“So- When I see my reflection in direct light, and my eyes look grey and yellow... That's what they always look like to you, even at a distance? If you don't correct for it?”

 

He nodded.

 

“They are... nice, angel, either way...Always. Whether they're blue or warm grey. And it's always you behind them.” he said, earning a shy smile.

 

“Well... almost always anyway.” he added with a little smirk.

 

Aziraphale still remembered, a craving, like touch-memory, in his skin that night, just wanting to be held. He wondered if Crowley would feel that around anyone else.

 

“So... Despite how lovely your eyes are, and despite seeming so different from mine, they're...”

 

“Both mostly yellow with a bit of brown thrown in, just shaped different, t's all.” he said, turning something in the pan, “But, you know, when you get right down to it, it's all just a difference in shape, isn't it? The shape of molecules throwing all the light around.”

 

“Yes, I suppose it is, isn't it.” he said, just before staring into his eyes for far too long, until a pop of oil in the pan startled them both.

 

Before long, they were seated with their meals and both somewhat nervous. Crowley got brave and tried his tomato first, though he suspected he would only taste tomato. Hoping, really, that he could not taste what he accidentally leached into his plants, because if he could that would likely indicate failure.

 

“Oh... That's a tomatoey tomato.” he found himself saying, surprised by it himself.

 

He had imagined home-grown vegetables were much more flavourful than their store-bought counterparts. That was what he had been told, anyway.

 

“Crowley, dear, I knew you were interested in plants, but I hadn't realized you had such an interest in food preparation.” he remarked absently, procuring himself a bit of his own.

 

It was at that moment that a number of things occurred to him, one at a time. The first was that all of this, all of these additions to his plants being edible was all probably for his benefit, now that they were starting to share their living spaces. The second, following in quick succession was that these were the best tomatoes he had ever tasted. They were vibrant and perfectly ripe, juicy, only acidic enough to cut pleasantly through the oil of their other food and very sweet, just enough to remind you that tomatoes were -after all- a fruit, but not enough to be in any way excessive or unpleasant, not sugary.

 

“I- erm.” Crowley looked down at his plate.

 

They tasted like love, far more than they had tasted like anything before, perhaps especially because Crowley was now firm in his belief that their flavour would reflect the energy put into them. He would not say it was unfortunate exactly that he was also heavily subject to anxiety, because -while it was not entirely comfortable to taste everything else wrapped up in them- the fact that the way they tasted seemed to so honestly and completely reflect how he felt was as charming to Aziraphale as anything could be. Still, if he had been anxious about feelings like shame leaking through a little, he had not been completely off the mark, but an impulse to kiss it all better was not exactly incompatible with his impulses to kiss him for other reasons.

 

Third -as he looked him over in the light provided by the hanging fixture directly above them, trying to decide where to kiss him- was an answer to a question that had been nagging at him for some time now.

 

“Oh!” he said, more softly than seemed to befit his level of surprise, “Oh I see.” he said.

 

Having finally seen so many demons, in their demonic forms, as recently as the night of the apocalypse -that-wasn't, he had started to wonder if Crowley had a state like that as well, one where his creature counterpart was melded to his flesh and visibly protruding, almost, but not quite, like a life-form independent from him. He had thought it odd he had never seen him like that, had seen his human form, and his animal form, but never the demonic between-state that others seemed to have, and he was starting to worry why in six millennia, his friend had never let him see that. Now he realized why.

 

Crowley's fully demon form probably -was- the snake, and even at his -most- human, the snake -was- present on his flesh. He knew it was not the tattoo many mistook it for, he had obviously had it since Eden at least, and -looking very closely now- he saw, not for the first time, that it was raised like a vein, or an amateur tattoo could be, even if -in this case- it might come off as a clever artistic choice. It was so small, and integrated so closely into him that it almost looked entirely like a part of his skin, and yet it had the appearance, from this close, of a complete snake, in his skin that looked like it could wriggle under it independently at any moment.

 

Everyone's skin looked almost like it had a scaly pattern if you looked at it close enough, but Crowley's pushed this to uncanniness, if you were looking for it. It was especially visible where his skin was thinnest, though somehow he was never any less soft to the touch for it. If he looked -very- closely, almost indistinguishable from the pattern of his skin, even -knowing- to look for it, the snake seemed to push this even further and actually have very fine scales. It reminded him of the little red-belly; absolutely precious.

 

He would have liked to ask him about all of this, know what forms he could take that were equally natural to him, if there were others, but Crowley always clammed up a little when he started asking about his experience of anything, especially when it was about being a demon, despite that he seemed to appreciate that he did ask. He had always taken it to mean that it was too personal, at least for them at the moment. Even if they took their time to get to things though, he did hope it would not -always- be too personal. He had kissed him there before, once, and it had been well-received.

 

“There you are...” he cooed softly, just before kissing the snake on his cheekbone, very gently, as if it really was a snake that small and he did not want to hurt it.

 

“They're the most wonderful tomatoes I have ever tasted...” he said in absolute sincerity, then his mouth twitched just a little, “Quite possibly the best thing altogether that I've ever tasted.” he said, far too softly and with his breath still far too close to his ear.

 

White sclera vanished as he stayed close, studying how the tiny scales almost glittered dully in the light, and Crowley turned even more red, sparing him a heated look. It was almost like an accusation of something. He made the mistake of wondering how Crowley would react if he tipped his chin to meet him, and thinking about how he probably tasted like his tomatoes. That was all a bit much for the moment, considering he did not know why Crowley was holding back. Poor thing seemed frozen in place and far too red.

 

He could swear that under the brush of his thumb the little serpent flattened, looking even more like a simple marking. He withdrew politely with a sad smile and they returned to their meal.

 

~*~

 

At the very least, there was not all that much to sort through, to see if anything Crowley owned held a useful reference to the journals that might reveal where they were. He did not have the collection Aziraphale did. He -did- have an interesting collection or two of books he did not know existed, for instance, some hand written by Alistair Crowley.

 

“Crowley... This isn't -your- hand writing.” Aziraphale confirmed what he already knew, “But did you know him?”

 

“Well... You know, you tend to notice when some guy is running around, getting into everyone's business, and happens to share your name...” he rolled his eyes as if that fact was exhausting, “Got real sick of hearing about him after a while... Can't say the confusion was always inconvenient though.” he shrugged.

 

This was slight obfuscation on his part. There was reason Alistair had decided to name himself as he did, and Crowley was aware of it, just as he knew why his work had some small resemblance to that of the texts in question, but he could hardly tell him.

 

What was interesting to Aziraphale was that there was a thin thread of similarity between some of his work and the books he was looking for, almost as if Alistair had caught a glimpse of the other books. The timeline was impossible, or he would wonder if he had been their apprentice. Maybe there was a connection of lineage, in there somewhere. Still, nothing in the books he was looking at now could hold a candle to the books he already had, not that they were not impressive in their own right, and none of them referenced -in any way- where he might find the journals he was looking for. He thought this was already some miracle, to get this close to a connection, but it just did not seem to go any further.

 

Just when Aziraphale seemed to completely lose heart, his eye caught on something.

 

“Not that these aren't lovely books, dear, but I- Hold on.” he paused and tipped up onto his toes to look on the top shelf.

 

There was something there recently enough that the shape left in the dust was completely clean.

 

“What did you have here?”

Crowley was red enough that he looked incapable of speech.

 

“Something personal, I take it.” Aziraphale said for him, with a little smile, either sad or apologetic, he was not sure.

 

Crowley nodded. It was not dishonest exactly.

 

“Well, let's turn in for the night then, shall we, dear? he suggested.

 

It was late after all.

 

“Movie.” Crowley almost hissed before clearing his throat, “Er- we should watch a movie... I-um know just the one.” he said, making a determined path to the rest of their evening.

 

Aziraphale looked hurt that he seemed uncomfortable, which he immediately tried to hide for his benefit. It was obvious because Aziraphale was not actually very subtle, and he wanted so badly to explain that it was not discomfort with him. He turned back to take his hand, leading him back to the living area.

 

“Really, angel, I know it's painfully modern, but if you give it a chance, I think you'll like it.” he said, kissing his cheek.

 

He was soft and warm, and he immediately smiled against it, the awkwardness of moments before already forgotten. Aziraphale looked at him with so much fondness. He would come up with a way to tell him about the journals, or something equivalent, soon.

 

“Is it another one of those romantic comedies you like?” he asked brightly.

 

“Er, well- You could say that.” Crowley winced, not entirely without amusement.

 

There were very few things he kept from Aziraphale. Almost all of it just the kind of personal things that took time to come to, not really secrets as much as things they had not gotten to yet. The one exception to that was the content of these journals, and the entire ordeal behind them, and it had begun long before there was an expectation that they would come to each other with anything. Admitting to it all now would just be embarrassing, among other things.

 

He would have to find a way to get any relevant information into his hands without giving him the full context of the journals. Perhaps Aziraphale was oblivious enough not to put the whole picture together with the books alone, even having been there for half of all of it in the first place, but the journals made it rather explicit. He wished there was a way he could just admit to his own expertise on these things without it inevitably amounting to effectively the same thing as just handing them over.

 

He knew that the journals would not add anything to the conversation that he did not already know, but he could hardly tell Aziraphale that. He had been coming to agonize progressively more about how to tell him, or not tell him, or avoid the issue of telling him, or find a work-around that did not require outright lying or fabrication; as un-demonic as that was of him. Fortunately, finding the books -that they had- seemed to have at least eased him off their trail enough that he appeared to forget about them.

 

~*~

 

Movie nights, it turned out, were a wonderful excuse to cuddle, and to subject each other to new things. They had gone to plenty of shows, plays and even more modern theatres, but now that curling up together was an option, Crowley was finally getting to make very good use of his obnoxiously large and sleek flat-screen TV.

 

“Crowley dear?” Aziraphale asked, stroking his hair and hardly pretending to follow what was on the screen.

 

“Yes, angel?”

 

“You -do- enjoy being held like this, don't you?” he asked.

 

He was fully aware that Crowley had been putting himself in his arms for months now, with slowly increasing enthusiasm as he got more comfortable.

 

“Angel, for the last time...”

 

He was ready to tell him off at this point, because he did not know how to make himself any more obvious -indeed, he was laying on top of him again and had decidedly settled there of his own accord, had nearly been putting himself in his lap at this point, more than he could acknowledge- but he seemed to be going somewhere with it this time.

 

“And you...” he seemed to lose his nerve for a moment, “You like being kissed?” he asked nuzzled into his hair.

 

“Yes.” he confessed, quickly, quieting against his chest.

 

“...By me?” he finished the question he was really driving at, quieter than he intended, and poised to kiss his forehead again.

 

“Whho Elssse?” he hissed against his chest, caught somewhere, almost angry at the question but also turning very red.

 

“Well, that's rather my point...” he pleaded softly for understanding.

 

That actually got him to lift up to look at him, despite his failing ability to find words. Of course, if he wanted the attention, he would provide it, but it changed the equation if he abided it from him because he craved affection in general, if that explained his war with himself and seeming discomfort. Enjoying being touched, and wanting it from him in particular, were two different things. Crowley still did not seem to be finding an ability to communicate anything other than glaring at him.

 

“Well, I- I know what you said about... But I don't imagine there's all that many people you've actually been close enough to, for -you- to be comfortable with anything like this, and I-” he might have been babbling, but he was not sure how else to get him onto the same page, “Oh, Crowley, don't look at me me like that.” he scolded him defensively, “It's hardly unreasonable. Especially considering that you keep-”

 

“Angel.” he interrupted him very quickly, almost covering his mouth just to stop whatever spiral of rationalizing this was, “Angel, it's -nothing- like that.” he said more softly, lowering his hand.

 

“Why do you think I would want it to be anyone but you?”

 

It was such a sweet question, and it was tempting to let it rest at that, but the question was not of whether someone preferable was ever available.

 

“Oh I- Crowley...” he took a breath and tried to reframe it, “Hypothetically speaking...” he waited for his expression to shift to some semblance of patience, “If you could live in an ideal reality, one that would provide anything you could even only -hypothetically- want, there would be someone there to hold you, wouldn't there?” he asked, though it was not a question, “What would they be like, ideally?”

 

“Oh angel, they'd be you. You exactly...” he admitted softly, before showing more irritation, “Except they'd be holding me and...” he cut himself off, on account of not being any good at saying things out loud without having to process them.

 

“Oh?” he asked, catching a glimpse of something and raising one eyebrow, “And... What would they be doing?” he asked, in that infuriating shift to calm interest.

 

Crowley's voice dissolved into a silent hiss as he covered his own mouth and moved to lay back down. Aziraphale did not want to stop him, physically, because he was unsure if he could use words or change form right at the moment, and his hand paused in a soft ambiguous gesture between them.

 

“Wait, Crowley...” he said, sitting up a little and moving very slowly towards a weak suggestion of taking his chin, “Is that why...?” he asked, tilting his own head to try to get a better look.

 

Crowley sat back on his legs to let him, then -realizing what he was going to ask- he clamped his mouth shut. Yes, he started losing his voice to hissing when he was too worked up because he lost some control of the shape of his tongue, but he would not, and could not, admit to that at the moment. When he tilted his head away from his hand, Aziraphale did not try to stop him.

 

“I'm sorry, dear.”

 

He was curious, and it seemed absolutely precious to him, but he could tell Crowley was shifting from his usual level of reactivity and slight embarrassment, into approaching uncomfortable and something at least akin to shame, and he did not want to push that. He pulled his hands back pointedly to himself, laying back again to give him space. Part of the reason he was asking was a practical concern though, and he thought it would be irresponsible of him not to check. He would wait until later, but he wanted to be sure.

 

“Crowley, sweetheart?” he said very softly, hands against his own chest, “Can you still... Say anything?”

 

Crowley glared at him.

 

“Yesss.” he said, hissing and without any resonance, but still intelligible enough.

 

Damn him. He was making sure he could still use his ridiculous safe-word if he needed to, so he would not accidentally miss that he could not and push something too far; of all the stupidly, sweetly, considerate, maddening things.

 

Aziraphale expected that Crowley would eventually collect himself and settle back down, but the longer he watched him -not too intently- the more he seemed to turn red and fold in on himself.

 

“Wait, what's wrong, dearest?” he asked very softly.

 

“Aziraphhhal?” he said in a weak hissing tone, “You're -sssure- you're not doing all thhiss -jusst- for me... becausse you thhink it'ss what -I- want?” he asked, shifting even further off of his legs and towards the other end of the couch.

 

“Oh Crowley, darling, no... Of course the -point- of it is that you enjoy it, but I love holding you, of course I do.” he said, folding his legs out of the way so he could sit closer to him.

 

He reached slowly to take his hands. Crowley stopped scrambling away from him in slow motion and leaned towards him again.

 

“And you like kisssing me too?” he asked, getting brave.

 

“Of course I do.” he smiled softly and kissed his forehead, once and then again as he buried his nose in his hair, “If it's something -you- like.” he amended.

 

Crowley smiled, encouraging his hand up into his hair, folding in against him. The movie had stopped playing at some point and the room was quiet and dark. It was not long before he seemed like he was falling asleep against his chest. He hoped this was the end of whatever was making him so conflicted.

 

“Would you like to go to bed?” Aziraphale asked softly.

 

“Mhm.” he nodded against him, into him.

 

Crowley had indeed forgotten all about why he had been avoiding them going to his room. You could hardly blame him with all the distractions. See, it had been almost a week and when Aziraphale seemed to stop questing after the journals, Crowley soon forgot about them too, at least in a practical sense. He did not forget about trying to figure out how to tell Aziraphale everything that made the journals complicated, but he did forget about them physically, most specifically where he had left them. He was -after all- the most talented architect of his own inconvenience.

 

Of course, that night it was dark, and it did take a good long time to be remotely light in a room with such heavy curtains, but eventually there was nothing that could keep Aziraphale from noticing the stack of exactly the books he was looking for, spread out a little untidily on the corner of his dresser.

 

The moment Crowley woke up he was being showered in effusive affection and thanks, kisses around his face that left him in a stunned blush and words that left his ears ringing until long after Aziraphale had scooped them up; words of all kinds that told him how wonderful he was.

 

“Oh, I could kiss you.” he said, and then kissed the snake on his cheek instead, very gently.

 

If Crowley could have had a protest, it evaporated when his voice broke on a wordless exclamation, immediately creating a silent hiss. It was too late, there was nothing he could do short of freezing time and burning them. Tempting as that was, it would upset Aziraphale too much. He would just have to hope that he would understand, when he finally figured it out. At least, it saved him from the daunting task of finding some way around this.

 

He could not be next to him for it happening though. He could not bear to watch, and Aziraphale's most dramatic reactions -if he had any- always happened in the moment. So he pointed him towards his study, easy to do when he was so eager to open them up, and was soon left alone in bed with a promise of getting something nice to eat together the moment he was done looking through them. A whine in his throat later, he immediately lapsed into anxiety induced napping.

 

~*~

 

Crowley found himself sitting on the couch with Aziraphale, though, he could not remember how he got there. He did remember -being- there, though maybe not as high on his thighs; usually he was more careful about that. He remembered the questions he was asking and losing his voice.

 

He was faced with that simmering curious look again, but this time his hand did settle to cup the side of his face, soft but with intent, his other coming to his lower back and pulling him in close, gentle but too firm to resist. He thought maybe he was going to kiss him, but his thumb brushed firmly over his lips instead, not stopping him, this time, but feeling them. His eyes followed, pupils dilated, even more than they usually did, turning the blue-grey of his eyes into sharp rings, reminding him of a bird of prey. Human eyes did not do that. He could not remember if his were supposed to.

 

“Let's see it then.” he cooed indulgently, his thumb pressing in.

 

The gesture was not cruel, but lascivious, sliding his thumb gently between his lips to press gently on his tongue.

 

“What a lovely tongue.” he purred, outright lustfully, stroking his thumb gently along it, making it curl around him on reflex.

 

Crowley realized he was still moaning when we woke and the sound died in his throat. He just hoped to whoever could hear him that Aziraphale had not. In a strange twist, he hoped he would be distracted enough reading those journals that the sound did not register. As quickly and as quietly as possible, he hid himself in the bathroom, which was -thankfully- on suit.

 

~*~

Aziraphale was -in fact- incredibly distracted. The familiarity of it was already nagging at him, but there were plenty of vaguely plausible explanations for this; no reason to jump to conclusions. He knew he was not the only angel who was tasked with this kind of thing, and it seemed an overly human thing to do, to assume his experience was largely unique. How married he was to that sentiment, however, may have died a quick death.

 

The author said very little about themselves, but they spoke -occasionally fondly- of someone they knew, in the margins of the page, who was tasked as he had -not so occasionally been- with smiting select humans for getting in the way of the divine plan, or to further it. They wrote, in a language long forgotten, remarks openly spiteful, about their companion's apparent crisis of faith, and their anger at this being forced on him by his superiors.

 

It was hard to read. He kept slipping into his own memories of a similar time, making it hard to focus. He remembered uncomfortably, the way he was willing to rationalize harm to the humans for the sake of the great plan, even at his own great discomfort, right up until he was asked to do it with his own hand. He felt like a hypocrite, rightly so, to justify harm done to the innocents he was supposed to love and protect, right up until he had to admit it to someone else's face, or until the blood was going to be on his own hands. Crowley had openly shamed him for this, and rightly so. So often it had been Crowley who had made him take a critical look at the horrors before him.

 

He saw such a sentiment reflected in these notes too. Given that all of the speculation and spell-work had to do with warding humans from the sight of his stock, he had to assume the author's companion was an angel, if not a particularly conscientious demon; it really was that vague, at first. They spoke of feeling the need to take the choice out of his hands explicitly because they thought there was such risk of him defaulting to choices he would later regret; or that it was -hoped- he would, that he could entirely become the kind of person who would openly regret these things. They wrote of how they could let him be tested with it, until he made his choice, but that they did not think it was fair to set him up that way, or to the people he was being set on.

 

He had pointedly ignored his own suspicions that Gabriel was putting him up to it, of all the angels who could have been handed these tasks, intentionally and specifically because he knew it would be cruel, because he was convinced Aziraphale would eventually follow through, with the right justification and pressure, and that it would nip his growing tendency to question authority in the bud; because it would break him.

 

Reading the author openly voice a similar sentiment as if they knew it to be the inarguable facts of the situation was making it hard to keep his memories entirely separate from what he was glimpsing in the margins. Even the fact that the author themselves suspected their friend would eventually bow to authority and be left compromised by it cut as deeply as facing that it had been a real possibility for himself.

 

They wrote of how they wanted to approach him, had even tried to at times, but they were clearly conflicted. Some notes were kind laments, others bitter, some cursed his superiors for obviously toying with him, others cursed him for letting them. Their companion, though they hardly seemed acquainted, was -as he had been- unable to reconcile fully with his expected role, between what was being asked of him and who he felt he was supposed to be, and the author was in some kind of private, distressed outrage about it. They also seemed in some private and distressed outrage at themselves -for that- though. They threatened on paper to give the whole thing up, but had clearly continued this private mission anyway.

 

These notes were born and died in the margins. Beginning to make a relevant note, spiralling off topic and then dying when the feather ran dry. Before the end of the first journal, it only took him hoping their friend had been spared these tasks as he had been for the pieces to start falling undeniably into place. He came to slow certainty about it the way he tended to with most things.

 

Aziraphale remembered being at war with himself over it, arguing himself in circles in abandoned structures, old and forgotten even in ancient times. After agonizing over it until it become a non-option, until it was smite or be punished, his mark -though he cringed having to call them that- had seemed to vanish from the face of the earth, presumably deserving to have gone to hell after all, as they could not be found in heaven either.

 

The first time he had counted himself lucky, just relieved to be done with it. The second time he found it strange, the third, fourth and fifth he had counted himself blessed and stopped questioning it. After that they had stopped asking it of him, somehow dissatisfied or mistrustful of his involvement, though he had not been able to determine why, given that the people they wanted dead, did -in fact- appear to be dropping off the face of the earth. Now he was coming to see all the wheels that had been turning behind the scenes.

 

He thought he had been ranting in broken and empty halls, open to the sky and yet still private in any way that mattered. He thought he may as well have been thanking the wind, if it was not God herself intervening. He had voiced his suspicions out loud, though whispered to himself like secrets, once even speculating to the walls on whether an angel could have something like a guardian angel themselves. He did not know who he was speaking to, but he felt very much less alone, especially when it started to seem someone was listening after all. He could see now, in these notes, that someone had been. Of course he hardly would have noticed whether Crowley was among the snakes in the desert sand. They had hardly known each other at the time.

 

“He speculates I am an angel to him. Sweet, naïve. If only he knew...” in some phrasing, might have nailed in his certainty.

 

If that did not, the reference to him no longer having his sword to smite with anyway would have. He read through the rest fully assured of who's hand it was in, now scanning for the notes in the margins more than for answers, his heart breaking a little more with each one.

 

The notes were not overly revealing, for the most part. Mostly it was in the dedication, the outrage at an unfair system -as if it struck an emotional chord that was all too personal- and at Gabriel, on his behalf, and even in the fact that he had kept it all hidden from him this entire time. The writing turned briefly back to personal, the spell-work mostly fully explored, before they left off, speculating briefly about whether he would have to act again or if Gabriel had given up his game, wondering on paper if there was sense or safety in assuring him somehow that these people were safe, telling him that he had not equally damned them by inaction. That was where making exceptions in the warding came in, but if Crowley made himself an exception he would be signing his work, and if he made Aziraphale an exception it would be as good as confessing all of this to him and only leave him with the same hard choice over again. So he had set them lose in the world, unobservable to all involved.

 

It was not -just- some great act of service to him either, though there was certainly that. The notes also made it apparent he was in the habit of subverting the will of heaven and hell to protect those he saw as innocent, even at great risk to himself. There were hints of stories in here that had nothing to do with him. He should not have been surprised really. Crowley always thought about and felt things far more deeply than he let on, often even to himself, and had always been protective, especially of children.

 

He could not even accuse his dramatic language as histrionics, since it seemed very apparent he was never intended to find these. If he had even decided after the fact to use it for any kind of agenda, or approval, he hardly would have sat on it for thousands of years, past the end of the world and tried to keep it hidden even now. It seemed apparent that he never wanted him to know, not wanting him to feel indebted, or obligated to anything. It was obvious enough even from the very broken stream of consciousness, Crowley -in this- having had a tenancy to just stop writing mid-thought, presumably when he got too close to putting something on paper that he did not want to, or did not want to process at all, sometimes fading out with the ink dying, sometimes abrupt, when he caught himself.

 

All of this only dug and needled it into his core how Crowley had gone out of his way for him, specifically to enable him to be the person he wanted to be, from the very beginning, before he had anything to gain from it, and even when he was convinced he did not. He realized he may have been crying a little. What a sweet, clever, lovely, maddening creature, and more precious to him than anything.

 

Nothing was dated, but -given the timeline he knew- it all seemed to stop shortly before or after they met in Rome, the last note really seeming like a sudden shift in sentiment, if not certainty. When he had found Crowley there he had been defensive, and in a terrible mood. Crowley had tried to brush him off. Given the impulsive scribbling, he wondered if this had been something of an act, also for his benefit, even if it had seemed so genuine at the time. Something in that shaky scribbling broke his heart.

 

“I can't stand to be around you, angel. It feels too much like falling- I remember too sharply what happened when I crashed down last time- I don't like that you being the only thing I feel like I can hold on to feels so much like I'm dragging you down with- It's not what you-” the writing got more erratic and faint, running out of ink, until it just stopped.

 

Apparently dipping his feather to keep writing this confession was enough to make him realize he was doing it, and stop himself; for the last time. The rest of the pages were blank.

 

He had to assume their entire dynamic had evolved significantly since then. He had to hope. Still, he thought of Crowley in the other room, and realized -perhaps far too late- he was probably in some kind of awful panic. It had been hours. He hoped he would find him napping, even as that thought was cut through by his awareness of his surroundings coming back to him, accompanied by the sound of running water.

 

~*~

 

Crowley hissed as he stepped under the warm water, and it flooded over his back. He knew it was a cold shower that was supposed to help but he had never been able to stand them; he lost body-heat too readily and it pained his skin. This was too wonderful though and he bit his lip to keep himself quiet, not daring to move the rest of the way under the water. His nerves were far too sensitive and raw. He swore to himself quietly on repeat like a chant.

 

Aziraphale knew about the journals, and would -if he had not already- realize who had written them and why. It was not exactly damning, especially for a demon, though he was sure the context looked compromising, and he knew it would be painful to read. He had never intended to spy on him any more than he had that evening in the park. He had been deciding whether or not to approach him and his own indecision about it had decided things for him; the first time. He had no idea what he would think though. He could not remember what he had written exactly, and the only reason why he had not burned them long ago was in case he needed to reference his notes again for any reason, but he was certain he had slipped and committed something far too personal to paper.

 

Above all, and especially at this point, he was afraid of Aziraphale feeling guilty, or of it influencing or pressuring him in some way. He never wanted to have his attention just because he felt obligated and that had never changed, and was doubly true now. Aziraphale always seemed like he could easily rationalize himself into dedication and loyalty, but he only wanted those things if they were given freely. If he manipulated him into them it would never feel right; it would eat away at him.

 

Above all he had to get his hormones under control. This was never this much of a problem before, but of course he knew why. Of course it was all the affection and the touching. Any time his hormones had acted up previously, he was not constantly being reminded of what his arms felt like wrapped around him, or what his lips felt like pressed to his skin, or being held and told how loved he was and how Aziraphale only wanted to shower him in whatever attention he wanted. He had not even known what these things felt like at all, and any mental slip or dream had been blessedly abstract for it; until now.

 

He did not think Aziraphale really understood what he could want if he let himself, or just how complicated it was. He could try to explain, but that seemed needlessly mortifying and he was not sure he could; physically, with words that he would have to get out in a meaningful order. He also did not want to risk what it could do to him if he had to confess everything about why this was hard for him. Physical intimacy just was not worth the damage it could do to him, the way it could twist him up if he knew. Not that staying quiet about it was uncomplicated.

 

He hated that his body was responding this way. He did not care if it was normal or natural. He considered doing what he could to work it all out of his system, but doing so had only ever left him feeling hollow, empty, often depressed. It also did not seem quite right to encourage himself to lust after him. There it was. Crowley swore to himself, though it came out a distressed, tearful hissing, swallowed by the shower with everything else.

 

He also could not continue -not- explaining. For one, Aziraphale seemed increasingly paranoid, or convinced, he was doing something wrong for Crowley to be in such a state. For another, he could hardly let him keep touching him if he did not know he was starting to respond this way; though -in all the internal honesty he could afford himself- he was not sure they had not already discussed as much. He was probably incredibly obvious -possibly to Aziraphale even more than himself- having never been nearly as smooth as he thought or hoped. Aziraphale had, after all, made sure he had a safe-word, and he was starting to think they were both idiots because all of the implications behind that still seemed ambiguous to him. At least consciously anyway; his dreams were making quick work of something. His nerves, for a start.

 

It felt like the steam was getting to him, and the warm water was too much of a gentle caress against his skin. He was getting dizzy, shaking, he could not even let the water touch him there at this point, and Aziraphale was here, he would hear him. His hands could only hold back so much sound, the water only drown out so much. So far he had managed to keep his voice to quiet whimpering, hands burying his face from imagined view. At least in here no one could see him struggling like this, but at some point he would have to leave and Aziraphale would likely be waiting to talk to him. He had to turn the water colder just so he could breathe.

 

The cold water hurt. It ached and burned in his skin, turning gentle caresses to needling pain, like he knew it would, his circulation trying to clamp shut against it, but the sounds that pain made were also carried away by the rushing of the water, taking everything out of him and draining away. He realized this had been a bad idea the moment before his knees gave out. Fortunately, the moment he was not aroused any more, he turned into a snake -something he should have predicted- making his fall quiet and relatively impact-free.

 

Unfortunately, already being dizzy, anxious, cold and exhausted, and now entirely cold-blooded in a cold shower and unable to reach the tap or move very much, was all far less than ideal. It did not really help how small he was feeling at the moment either. He did at least manage to coil himself mostly out of the water in the bottom of the tub, before his mind filled with abstract memories of cold rain in the desert.

 

~*~

 

Aziraphale came back to the empty room to realize he had probably been hearing the shower for some time. Either he had been in some haste, or just felt comfortable enough to not lock the door -though he suspected the former- because the door was just slightly ajar. Not that a lock could stop him. He held the handle when he knocked so it would not push it open.

 

“Crowley, dear?” he asked, trying to be heard over the water without yelling enough that he might scare him.

 

Silence.

 

“Crowley, please answer me.” he tried a bit louder.

 

Only the sound of running water.

 

“Darling I need you to say something so I know you're okay.” he tried again, as loud as he dared.

 

He tried to count how many seconds it had been, since suspicion started nagging at him, how many precious seconds he might be wasting on caution.

 

Now he was worried. When he had suddenly felt the affection from him diminish, he though he had just fallen back into dreams, or that it only meant a change in mood, he did not like that he was not responding, either verbally or emotionally to anything he said, and even less so paired with the relentless and uncaring sound of water running. He knocked rather rudely on the door, waiting one last second before opening it and stepping carefully inside.

 

“Crowley?” he asked loudly, eyes closed for a moment in one last attempt to save his decency if nothing was wrong or if he was just being dramatic, already moving forward because he was already panicking.

 

Opening his eyes, the room looked empty. He liked that even less.

 

“Crowley!” he pleaded with the cold hard room around him, already searching for him, reasoning that if he could not see him, he was at least probably a snake and thus there was little worry of seeing him naked.

 

The water slamming shut registered somewhere in the cold and wet fog of grey. Crowley did not know why Aziraphale sounded so distressed, but he tried to go towards him in the sand, is body felt so stiff and slow though. He wondered if a cold puddle of rain had leached in around him as he slept. That was no good. He could not get to him with his body like this.

 

Aziraphale was ready to start frantically trying to heal him, ready to pray, ready to do anything he had to, but -reaching out- his ethereal body brushed his and he knew he was still there, the brush of his hand on smooth scales telling him that he was just very cold. He was alive, but he did not know what state he was in otherwise. Carefully, he worked his hand under him to lift him, using some minor miracle to keep him still, not wanting to move him very much while he was so cold. He was small again, and this was a terribly compromising way to be found, and Aziraphale already felt awful.

 

“Oh darling...” he said mournfully, holding him close.

 

“How did this happen?” he asked no one but himself, already convinced this was his fault somehow.

 

He laid down carefully on the bed so he could set him down on his chest without jostling him. They had already been in their pyjamas, so it was no big thing to tuck him in against his chest, under the flannel of his shirt where he could be warmed slowly back to body temperature. He folded his aura in against him as gently as he could. Crowley was not even conscious to ask what the best way to do this was, or what he would prefer, but he was certain it was best to do it gradually.

 

Crowley woke slowly from all the feather light touches and the warmth of skin, consciousness synonymous with embarrassment. He felt Aziraphale's hand over his back, still trembling from trying to be as gentle as possible, and he was so warm. The skin under his was hot, and he knew it was just that he was still cold, but it felt so nice. He buried his head under himself, to feel the warmth under his chin, to be as close to him as possible, and to hide himself. Now that he moved he felt Aziraphale sigh deeply, clearly relieved, as he was lifted and rocked gently by it.

 

“Crowley?” he asked, soft and hopeful, “Please be alright, darling...” he pleaded, earning a little flick of tongue out from between his shy coils.

 

“I'm sorry, dearest.” he said softly, “This must have been so stressful for you.” he said tearfully.

 

“I had no idea.” he said, resting his hand on him with slightly more confidence, “Maybe I should have known... I should have known something.” he lamented.

 

A small tail tapped his chin gently, asking him not to go off on some self-depreciating tangent.

 

“I understand.” he said, after a long moment, “Why you couldn't say anything... Why you didn't want to.”

 

He did not want to break into complimenting him too much, or anything that could be construed that way, because he would rather he turn back as quickly as possible, so he could be absolutely sure he was okay. There was so much he wanted to say to him, but it would have to wait.

 

“I'm not upset, with you, if you were worried about that at all.” he offered him, hoping it would help, “Oh, how could I be?” he said, trying not to cry again.

 

He had a nagging suspicion that his ability to create speech depended to some degree on his size among other things. He did not think this size allowed for it, not a voice he could hear anyway, and -much to his own distress- he did not think Crowley being so small was a choice this time, more than an emotional reaction. He could more than understand being embarrassed to be found like that, or by him finding the journals, especially someone so prone to it. He hardly knew how to help whatever state he was in, if he could not communicate what that was.

 

As much as Crowley wanted to stay hidden, he also wanted to plaster himself against the heat of his skin. Now that he was conscious it was uncomfortable being so cold. At least when he was a snake it was not so awkward to seek so much contact, not really being quite the same thing, contextually, or otherwise. This way he could be covered in warmth from his nose to the tip of his tail and it was so lovely. He did not actually want to face changing back. They had to talk about this and he knew it. Instead of considering it, he unfolded himself to curl against him, thankful snakes did not purr. He had felt like he was dying of embarrassment enough for the night.

 

“That's it... Let's get you warmed up.” he cooed to him, covering him gently with his hand.

 

If nothing else, for now, the love pouring off of him and his subtle movements, his breathing, was enough to assure him that he would be okay. He certainly was not going to sleep, but he thought it best if he let Crowley.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Aziraphale was worried for a moment, when he started to change shape, wondering what the implication was of having been in a state of undress when he found him -probably, assuming he was not bathing clothed- and started looking around for a spare sheet, just in case. He was quickly greeted with black satin though. Crowley always summoned his clothes onto himself when he took shape anyway, and this seemed no different. Even in his sleep he seemed to settle on his silky pyjamas. It was less awkward that way, but also made him wonder if he ever summoned clothing to himself when he change in his sleep that was out of another time, perhaps wherever his dreams had strayed to.

 

His fingers were still cold and he gathered them up to his chest. To think, his first and most profound outright act of service to him and he had kept it hidden all this time. Even if it really was something he happened upon, or never meant to embark on, the fact that he had seen him struggling and felt an imperative to help, was really very sweet. There was so much to unpack there, not least of all how the hell -or heaven- he had ended up unconscious in cold water. He did not think he would do something that risky just to get his attention, though he had outright accused him of it before, feared it, he did not really think that he was actually that purposefully self-destructive; at least he hoped.

 

He could hardly blame him for having doubts, about him, about it being safe to get close to him, especially back then. Aziraphale knew he had been a mess of rationalizations, and of course that left Crowley conflicted. It did sting to read though, especially witnessing how someone he cared about could see it all so plainly and be hurt by it. Despite all this, Crowley was acting like he was the one ashamed. Ashamed to the point of -what- he still did not know. Feeling him nuzzle into the heat under his chin in his sleep was the most comforting thing in the world. His fingertips warmed in his and curled gently against him, holding his hand or curing around his collar, whatever they could reach.

 

“I love you so much, darling.” he whispered to him, desperately, kissing his hair.

 

“Aziraphale.” he whined in a tired sigh, barely awake.

 

“Are you warm enough?” he asked softly, trying to control his voice.

 

Crowley hummed contentedly, which he took to be an affirmation. For hours now, he had been occupying himself with watching him and making sure he was okay, with checking him over and warming him gently. There was only so much he could distract himself this way now that he had stopped panicking, only so long he could keep himself from processing to not interrupt Crowley's needed rest.

 

Somewhere it registered how absolutely attentively and possessively he was being held, maybe even the slight shake in his voice.

 

“What's wrong angel?” he asked him, so sweetly, still sleepy.

 

Aziraphale did not really want to interrupt that with everything he was feeling at the moment, but it hardly made sense to keep trying to pretend he was not holding himself back from tears.

 

“Crowley, I don't even care -how- it happened, don't you dare -ever- let something like that happen again.” he scolded him, holding him tightly to his chest, “That was dangerous, Crowley.”

 

The moment his grip loosened, Crowley lifted himself a bit to look at him.

 

“I didn't -let- anything happen.” he said, in something akin to agitation.

 

“Of course not...”

 

“It was an accident.” he interrupted firmly, turning red, looking hurt.

 

“Well, I have to make sure, don't I? It would be irresponsible of me not to... If you ended up hurt because of me, even because of how I made you feel, I-”

 

“Not everyone who faints in a shower is doing it because they're s- self destructive, or- bloody- seeking attention.”

 

He was shaking and red now, but it did not seem like anger, he pulled himself back, trying to sit up.

 

“Oh darling, I'm hardly accusing you of histrionics... And even if it was to get my attention, I could hardly blame you.”

 

“'Course not... Demon. Expected isn't it?” he spat with venom, before folding in on himself a little and staring decidedly at the covers between them.

 

“Crowley, sweetheart, no. Quite the opposite, really...” he insisted, taking his face gently in his hands, “Not because of you dear...” he looked away with a regretful sigh, “Because if it did take ever-escalating displays of emotion to get me to recognize that you -have- them, after all this time, I could hardly blame -you- for that.”

 

Crowley seemed to stop shaking at least, processing what was being said. He was not sure what he was saying was exactly right or fair either, but he could not quite put his finger on it at the moment.

 

“You -are- dramatic, but darling, you feel everything so strongly and I don't want- You can't think that honestly displaying your emotions is synonymous with some kind of manipulation.”

 

He would ask where he had learned that, but it was undoubtedly the rhetoric about demons and having been accused of it any time he did show strong emotions, explicitly because demons were seen as unfeeling, manipulative and petty. He had probably accused him of it himself many times, not really considering the implications of it.

 

“I don't want you to think you have to hide how you feel. Not from me.”

 

He felt Crowley's fingers come up to gently trace over the backs of his hands. If he was not looking away uncomfortably himself, he would be able to look into his eyes again.

 

“I have to admit I really haven't been the best at listening... And lately you haven't really been...” he seemed to fold on himself a little, “At least I thought it was recent...” he lamented, holding him so gently it hurt.

 

He hated the thought that he might have ever made him feel like he was not allowed to express emotions without being accused of dramatics or impropriety. More so, he was concerned by the fact that Crowley would not talk to him about everything that was clearly bothering him, now that their walls were supposed to be down and they had run out of excuses, or that he seemed to feel the need to hide so much of himself to make him comfortable.

 

“Crowley... How many times in our history have I thought I was alone, even when you were right there for me?”

 

Crowley's expression was immediately a plea not to make him answer that. It was more times than he wanted to admit to. Mostly, he never wanted to admit to the contexts, or how much of a disaster he always managed to make for himself.

 

“I'm beginning to think the arrangement was just an excuse to be able to ask me what I wanted help with, to not have to hide it, and that the reason you didn't care about the risk to you was because you...” his eyes welled with tears, “Because you were already on the hook if they ever found out...” he said, voice shrinking more.

 

“For me, Crowley, even when I was too stupid to be able to see it, even when I said terrible things... And you never even -told- me, and you haven't been telling me what's wrong and you're upset and... And Crowley, you were so small and cold, and stiff... And I-”

 

Now Aziraphale was absolutely in tears. Inconsolable, actually. It was the last thing Crowley wanted, and yet easier to deal with than him holding him in his lap and cupping his face like that.

 

“Darling, I was so scared.” he sobbed, the weight of it all crashing on him at once.

 

His greatest fear had always been that something in his nature would eventually destroy him, and he had just suffered a very real scare that it had actually somehow come to pass. It may have been as indirect as a fear of judgement or rejection he had seeded in him, or some other distant abstraction, but -undefined or not- it felt somehow the same as his own hands burning away at him. Not only that but that it was in a way he had never even seen coming, that he was not told about; that he could not have known until it was too late. Crowley held him very tightly.

 

“Damn it, nononono no, angel, it's nothing like that... I-uh...” he sighed.

 

He could not let him keep thinking this was some kind of depression or carelessness, but he could hardly admit to what it had been. Still, he could not weigh his own embarrassment against Aziraphale's self-image. He tried to get his attention periodically until he calmed down some.

 

“I was in the shower because I-er, had a... dream.” he admitted, hoping it was enough, a hot -traitorous- blush he could feel across his nose -trying- to give him away.

 

Aziraphale seemed to become just slightly distracted from falling apart around him.

 

“Wait, so it didn't- Didn't have anything to do with me? With finding the journals?”

 

Poor thing seemed so embarrassed to have messed up this way, he was so red. He was sure needing to be rescued from a shower was just mortifying. Aziraphale still did not understand how he could have forgotten that he cannot take cold showers, but then maybe they were okay if he was human-shaped but he had gotten unexpectedly emotional. Maybe the water had just run cold before he could notice. He thought maybe he should spare him and let it go.

 

“Nuh... Nothing to do with the journals, nope...”

 

“Still...” he breathed, going back to holding him tightly, “I haven't been at all fair to you, darling...” he cooed, pulling back to look at him, taking his chin in hand.

 

“You're so sweet and so very clever... And you've been -my- conscience since the very beginning. Always whispering in my ear, everything I need to keep me kind... All the right questions.”

 

“Umf.” Crowley's throat whined without his permission.

 

“And... Wait, you aren't- You aren't having nightmares again, are you?” he asked, gently tipping his chin to look at him, “About me?” he added, forgetting to display any hurt completely in favour of concern.

 

Crowley whimpered almost audibly, but certainly enough to notice, a complete failure of his voice to find words. His eyes were big and round and entirely golden yellow, and he seemed to be frozen and trembling. Aziraphale felt the air leave his lungs. Pulling his hands back behind him, he leaned back.

 

“Crowley... You aren't- you aren't afraid of me, are you dearest?” he asked softly, a pain like guilt apparent on his face.

 

“No.” he jumped, grabbing the front of his pyjamas and pressing their foreheads together, “Angel, no. It's nothing like that at all.” he assured him, his voice losing force as he went.

 

“Well something is making you uncomfortable, dearest, and if it -isn't- me, then I don't know what to make of this... You don't seem ready to explain it, and I wouldn't want to force the issue, but I- I don't want secrets between us... Not any more” he pleaded, “Not even if you think it's something I wouldn't enjoy hearing very much.” he spoke softly, politely between them, fingertips hesitant to come back to his chin.

 

Crowley was doing that thing where he seemed like he might kiss him again. It was tempting to let him, but he did not know how it might affect him and if he still would not talk to him about it, that would be a serious problem.

 

“Please, dearest, tell me what you need.” he asked, trying to make eye contact, nuzzling back but keeping himself out of reach.

 

“It's not a -need- angel.” he rejected, instinctively, never quite actually trying.

 

He hated anything to do with anything like this being called a need, though he knew that was not what he meant, and that he might not even realize the context. Crowley hated it for the same reason as every woman who had ever confided in -him or her- about it. He wondered, with a stab of anxiety, if he may have given himself away, though he was not sure either of them had any compass at all for things like implication or intimacy.

 

“Well, want, then.” he corrected himself.

 

No response really came other than a vague speech-like noise and eventually a very subtle tug, despite that he tilted his own chin away to nuzzle at his nose instead.

 

“Crowley, dearest...” he warmed himself up to it very quietly, not able to miss all of the implications flying around, not all at once, “Would you like me to kiss you?” he asked, accidentally whispering.

 

The more he thought about doing it, about how much it really seemed like he would enjoy it, the more it seemed like it would be lovely, and it was hard not to think about it when he kept grabbing him like this. Crowley turned scarlet, but immediately made a pained sound and dragged himself back.

 

Of course he wanted to say yes, more than anything. He had slipped beyond being able to deny that.

 

“I can't ask- and I... It's complicated, angel.”

 

That was not anything new, but at least it was newly acknowledged, out loud, with words. He seemed to at least be conceding to the fact that he kept trying to kiss him and that there was something to talk about.

 

“You'll explain it to me, though?” he asked, hopeful, “When you're ready?” he went on, now taking his hands.

 

Crowley nodded, maybe finally accepting that he actually wanted to know. Maybe it was obvious that it was a lot.

 

“And for now, you'll try to tell me what you would like? What you -are- comfortable with?” he asked, though he thought they had been over this, hoping he might get some kind of concrete communication out of it this time.

 

He nodded again.

 

“You -really- will, dearest?” he pleaded.

 

It was fair he kept agreeing to a sentiment like this and then being vindictively agreeable about everything, but would not ask for anything. He just could not bring himself to request anything that was not being freely offered, having some suspicion that he would do it just because it was asked of him, because he felt it was owed, and when it came to affection, he did not want that. Everything he had ever had the displeasure of being expected to encourage in people had to do with how they took and pressured things from each other, so long as they got away with it, so long as the repercussions were not personally affecting enough. He could not stand for something so petty to come between them.

 

“Angel...” he sighed.

 

“Crowley, I mean that.” he said, stroking his cheeks gently with his thumbs, “Darling, it's so nice, being able to do things you'll like... But I can't just go assuming things, now can I?” he said, giving him a look that was a little bittersweet and kissing his forehead tenderly.

 

Even if he did make assumptions about the exact nature of their relationship or how Crowley saw him, that was hardly equivalent to acts, or where his boundaries should be. Crowley just seemed to melt in his hands slightly. At least that helped his confidence, if nothing else, that he at least liked being held like this. Still, the longer he held him, the more he seemed to soften into him, and he was not sure that was what he really wanted at the moment.

 

“Crowley, sweetheart? I-” he took a breath, letting him go gently and straightened up a bit, “I'd like you to ask me for something... Something I haven't offered.”

 

Crowley's hand paused half way to hooking his fingers back into his shirt despite himself again. He wondered if he was really that obvious, or if Aziraphale was testing a suspicion.

 

“M-Wha?” he attempted speech, again with the vague impression of blinking in the way he stared at him.

 

“It... Well, it doesn't have to be anything in particular, just... Anything.”

 

Crowley took a long time thinking about things that he was not thinking about, cataloguing an escalating list of things he was certainly not thinking about having Aziraphale do, promptly backing back out of every momentary mental slip he was not having. He tried to refocus the thoughts he was not having on something more ambiguous and productive.

 

Finally he settled on something. It was not exactly -not- intimate, and it certainly carried far greater reaching implications that either of them were letting themselves consider, but he had also spent a lot of time almost asking it already. It was fair play and almost assuredly something he would consent to.

 

“Angel... The next time I preen you... Could I keep any of the feathers that you shed?” he asked quietly, eyes on the bedding between them.

 

“Of course... I'm not sure what you would want with them, but of course you can.”

 

“Don't know what I would?... Angel.” Crowley was giving him a stern look, “Why is it that you wanted mine then?” he cocked one eyebrow high, and Aziraphale got the vague sense of being circled even though he was quite still.

 

“Don't be silly, your feathers are lovely and, well, they were a part of you and I just- well, they seem a little too precious to just... Oh.” he stopped when he realized he was answering his own question, “Oh that's... That's hardly a request though, dear.” he deflected, blushing.

 

It really was only a fair turn, after all; but he was getting an accusing look through all the blushing.

 

For a moment, despite his best efforts, Crowley just desperately wanted his hands running through them again. Even asides from it not being to his benefit to let himself want things, Crowley was not an 'ask for things' kind of person, he was more a 'do things people requested in some way or indicated were wanted of him' or 'accept things that were freely offered' kind of person, regardless of role or relationship, but especially in this, and especially with him; whatever this was. Any kind of affection he could ask for was either something that would involve being touched -which only brought to mind the sensation of his hands on his skin, and was too much, to experience and to ask- or that he did not really have a particular desire for. Everything that crossed his mind, he could think of every excuse to shoot down. Even if he did not let the reasons form in concrete terms, he knew he had them. Asking this of him was a lot to ask and he should know that.

 

“Why don't you come up with suggestions, then?” Crowley asked, defensive, liking it better when Aziraphale was the one flustered.

 

“Because I- well, I don't- How am I supposed to... You don't...” he stopped himself, looking unimpressed with both of them.

 

Again he was running into the issue of not being sure enough exactly what Crowley wanted of him personally enough to be sure what nature of things he might like or be comfortable with. He could ask if something was wanted, that was fair enough, but there were so many things you just did not ask someone if they wanted when you did not know what they wanted out of the relationship in general.

 

Aziraphale pouted at him as if done playing this game.

 

The look on Crowley's face told him he considered his momentary silence to be a victory.

 

“Dear boy, don't you dare think this settles the issue.”

 

Aziraphale raised one eyebrow, in a way that may have -unintentionally or not- suggested that he would think of things he wanted and would ask for them, and would enjoy them, and that all of that was as inevitable as the tide.

 

“Oh, but maybe this is all already a lot, all at once?” he said in response to the look he got, “But please, do think about it, won't you, dear?” he pleaded, all warmth and softness again.

 

It had been an emotionally taxing couple of days, and all he wanted to do was fold back into him and sleep. He nodded on his way to laying back down, pushing him subtly to the mattress as if to say the conversation was over and it was time to sleep.

 

“Oh.” Aziraphale accepted.

 

~*~

 

It had worked for about a week. Distracting Aziraphale by way of bringing him to see things, and to new restaurants, to his favourite ones -or modern ones that carried something of their atmosphere and culinary quality- was generally effective. He could drag up old but pleasant memories and they could reminisce. It took the focus back off of himself and had the comfort of old habits. He could come up with endlessly inspired ideas for dates; not that these were dates -or not dates- exactly. He was no trying to woo him into anything they did not already have, and what they had never required a label before. They were dates in the technical sense at the very least. Aziraphale would be delighted with them every time, enthusiastic and cheery. It was working, right up until it was very clear that it was not.

 

“This has all been absolutely lovely my dear, but I hope you aren't trying to make me forget...”

 

“Forget what?” he asked from behind his hand.

 

It had -in fact- been a whole three days this time since he had stopped himself from trying to kiss him again. He thought he had been doing pretty well, actually. Of course Aziraphale was just letting himself be distracted for Crowley's comfort.

 

Aziraphale looked around and, finding they were in the middle of a restaurant, let it slide for the moment. Being in public was the one context where he had gone back to comfortable just telling him to shut up when he brought up anything to do with feelings or intimacies. It was not embarrassment with anyone seeing them, as he was happy to hold hands and generally be interpreted as a couple as much as ever, but more that being in the relative stimulation level and lack of comfort and general lack of privacy afforded by a public space was not his choice for opening up, and probably never would be. He thought this was exactly why he kept choosing public venues to spend time together. He could hardly blame him for needing a bit of breathing space.

 

~*~

 

After that, he found Crowley to have made himself scarce for nearly another week, until finally mentioning he would be out of town for a couple of days again. While this worried him, it did give him time to think, even if most of it was anxious spirals and questions he could not answer by himself.

 

He thought, maybe, overall and all things considered, the issue might lay somewhere in Crowley not being sure of what was welcome, else in some trauma he was not yet comfortable enough to discuss, or both. Either way, the logic seemed to be to make him feel as welcomed and as comfortable as possible. He thought maybe returning gestures of affection was a safe bet, but on the off chance it was general discomfort with him, he thought it best to really stick to reciprocating, not coming up with new ideas as was suggested.

 

He cursed that the distraction of the spell-work was now gone and had only been added to all of it. If he could not get anything else out of him, maybe now he would at least open up about what spells would likely work for them and what they would require, since he was certain his reluctance to discuss it before had everything to do with not wanting to give away that he was the expert on the matter. Though, all that really stood in the way now was the question of how inherently incompatible they each were with being able to take energy into themselves that was so oppositely sourced, and he suspected Crowley did not have the answers any more than he did, and that was why he had seen fit to drop it.

 

He turned the key over in his hand, studying the little metal book on the key-chain. He was sure his own reluctance to step out of his own space and his own habits could come off as disinterest even when he did not intend it to. He was sure the older key that had been on here, equally obviously intended for him, had been to his old flat, and acquired a very long time ago. Crowley had never quite given it to him, and he was gaining certainty that it was because he did not think it would have been welcome. Examining it gently, he discovered the book opened, if you really looked for it. It had room for something small inside, under glass, a note or a small photo, just on one side, but it had been left empty. It was his choice of what to fill it with and Crowley probably never intended to know. It was so tragically non-presumptive of him.

 

He knew grand gestures should not be the bulk of how he expressed his feelings, as they hardly made up for anything, and he did not want there to be anything to make up for, but Crowley being away for a few days really was the perfect opportunity for it.

 

He was running out of ways he could enrich their experience of the shop any, but Crowley's flat -and its predecessor- had always bent cold and sleek, somewhat impersonal and hardly home-like at all. He would assume this was how Crowley preferred it, except that was clearly not the case, not underneath some desire for a certain appearance. He had commented many times by now how lovely the shop was, in his own way, and treated it more like home than he ever had his own residence, now that he was allowed to. Until they did settle in together comfortably enough to move away somewhere, he thought it might be nice if the space that Crowley still clearly needed was a bit more welcoming, a bit more of a comfort to him.

 

He did go over with that thought in mind, some image of what his flat had always seemed to be and some anxiety about how much he would welcome changes, but when he got there he was greeted with the realization that this had already been slowly changing. True more throws and cushions had begun to accumulate where they sat, even if the couch was a little stiff, and a substantial and lovely wine rack had made its way into his kitchen, though the decor was still clearly on the minimal side, other than plants, but he had assumed it looking more lived-in was strictly because they were actually living in it sometimes.

 

Now it seemed at least somewhat intentional, if not wholly conscious. Even while he had been away for the past week there were already more changes, softer and more luxurious cushions obviously made for relaxing more than just looking nice, throws that were meant for warmth more than achieving some particular aesthetic. There was an oddly warm homey smell in the air, even despite the downright conspicuous lack of candles, that reminded him of baked goods. Still, he thought there was some room for improvement, and it was not like Crowley never took the liberty of introducing things to his shop; or occasionally moving things around. If anything he would rather encourage that at this point anyway, though he would like to know where all his own candles had gotten to. Finally, he settled on what he thought might be appreciated the most.

 

~*~

And thus it was that Crowley came home from his trip to find a very notable addition to his living room and a very flustered angel, folding small blankets and arranging cushions, who did not seem to have quite expected him back yet.

 

The chair was impressive, to say the least. It was nearly black and stylishly marbled in colour, a softened leather. It was big enough to be a love seat, really, but was obviously a very large and very plush armchair. The only thing that looked out of place about it was its lack of harsh lines, the way the cushioning of the arms sloped up and back down as if perfect to sleep cradled in. He would have assumed it commissioned for someone much larger than both of them, all but for the fact that it was sitting in his living room. After the past number of days -which he had just spiralled his way through anxiously- he wanted nothing more than to collapse into it, it looked so inviting; not least of all because it looked like there was room for both of them.

 

Aziraphale watched him stare at the chair, looking like he wanted to tip right off his feet, looking exhausted.

 

“It's too much, isn't it? Too um...” he waved his hands around looking for some way to describe the ways in which it was too much for the space or for him, or to be handed without warning, or something.

 

Crowley proceeded, in every appearance of calmness, to take off his sunglasses and set them on the table before swooping over to him and squeezing him to his chest. The kisses pressed to the side of his face were heart-wrenching in how shy and reserved they were, despite how often he kissed him this way. First it was one, a pause, then another, and then a few more. Aziraphale could feel himself blushing, not used to this kind of attention being on him, but he did feel far more assured that the chair was welcome, as a gesture if not as an addition.

 

If Crowley was concerned about Aziraphale intending this kind of affection to always be one-sided, this helped. He looked quite pleased with himself all of a sudden; tickled, in a word. He did not even need to change his vision to see that he was blushing, though he did, to see the full effect of it and take stock of the room.

 

“You like it then?” he asked, sounding far too uncertain.

 

Crowley wondered if he was this bad. He wanted to kiss him, absolutely, without caveat, except that if he kissed him he knew he would want more, or his body would, and he did not know if that would be welcome either. So he kissed his cheek again, which had proven to make him smile. He had spent the last number of millennia coming to identify more and more with his body, more than he was ever supposed to, but this was still something he could not quite accept. He knew he could experience love without lust, and it would be far simpler to get back to that as quickly as possible. This was a momentary slip and he would outlast it.

 

“'Course I do. You're so thoughtful, angel... Thank you.”

 

Aziraphale held his gaze steadily as he looked like he was considering doing more than just kissing his cheek again, but Crowley pulled himself away. He did tug on his hand gently though. He sat down, looking altogether relieved to get off of his feet, and tugged him along after. Calling him thoughtful stung a little bit, and he was slowly coming to terms with the fact that he did not feel like he had been nearly thoughtful enough, and felt like he was getting too much credit already. He tucked himself politely into the back corner on one side so Crowley could make himself comfortable laying across him and the chair, however he wanted to. The expressive hum of contentment he got when he finally settled down told him he had chosen right.

 

“It's not much, but, I thought it might be more comfortable to watch movies... And I thought that, it would be, well, more comfortable than the couch, when I'm not here... A nice place to curl up.” he offered him a small smile.

 

He did not want to insult his couch at all, it just seemed to prioritise looking nice over being sat on. He also had not expected to be dragged into the chair the moment Crowley saw it.

 

“Don't be modest, angel, this is...” he noticed a handle on the side of the chair currently above his head and pulled it, toppling them both back further into the chair a it unfolded, “Downright luxuriant.” he said, pleased, once he recovered from the surprise.

 

The chair had rolled him off of his lap and face-first onto his chest, where he stayed. It must have been some kind of memory foam under the leather because his limbs felt so well supported it ached pleasantly and made him forget they existed anywhere in particular in relation to the rest of him.

 

“Thank you, angel, it's very...”

 

“Oh not at all... Really, it's the -least- I could do...”

 

“For what?” Crowley interrupted him right back

 

“For, well...” he gestured, vaguely and as much as he could with the way he was pinned, around and at Crowley in his lap.

 

“Angel.” he said sternly, “You know you don't owe me anything, right?”

 

“I suppose you're right but... Well, with the- all the work you did keeping me from having to...”

 

“No buts angel... You never asked for any of that. You barely even accepted what I did offer you.”

 

He only looked pained.

 

“Oh, and I'm really quite sorry about all of that too, dear, I-”

 

“Enough.” Crowley put his verbal foot down, “I don't want to hear it, You don't owe me anything, not for what I've done, not because of anything I've asked for, or you've asked for, or how I feel.” he said, his voice faltering on the last word, “I don't want any of that.” he mumbled into his chest.

 

“What -do- you want, darling?” he tried again.

 

“Whatever you want to give...” he trailed off catching his own phrasing, turning red.

 

“Anything.” Aziraphale mouthed to himself, not quite having the nerve to put a voice to it.

 

If Crowley heard him, he made a good show of not reacting much, and arbitrary seeming swells of affection were the norm for him. He did take one of his arms from under his side and put it on top of him, seemingly as much to be held as to not be laying on it, and he moved into his other hand when he sank it into his hair.

 

~*~

 

Crowley did find a reason, after all, to pull out some of his more creative date ideas, wondering how he would outdo himself if they were ever actually -undeniably- dates, in the most courting-like sense they had ever admitted to. Aziraphale seemed intent on making it hard not to, even just in some very natural drive to reciprocate all his attention. There was only so much in the way of comfortable bedding and good food he could reasonably fold into all the cold minimalism of his flat, only so much he could find interesting books he might like, only so much he could leave out books of his own to read that might suit his taste, and -apparently- no book could now quite compare to ones he already had anyway.

 

The problem, if he could call it that, was that Aziraphale suddenly seemed intent on spoiling him back. They had re-hashed the same argument enough times about nothing being owed, and about him doing it because he enjoyed seeing Crowley enjoy it, which had always been his own excuse, and which was uniquely mollifying to hear. He was not sure how many more phrasings he could stand of him reiterating how much he just wanted to do things to watch him take pleasure in it.

 

If Aziraphale was concerned on any level that all the desire for cuddling was impersonal or brought on by the cold, it was assuaged time and again by his responses, in him picking him over heated blankets every time, by his growing comfort in asking for it -or hinting very strongly he would prefer it- and in every stubborn moment where he kept insistently curling up to him even once it was warm, and eventually too warm to keep doing so.

 

Now he kicked the blanket off of his feet completely in frustration and partially rolled over, almost putting his back to his chest.

 

“When did it get so hot?” he complained.

 

“Too warm, my dear? I could leave you the...” he stopped because Crowley looked stricken.

 

“Don't look at me like that.” he said rolling his eyes, “I don't need excuses to hold you, dear, but you have to admit, I am rather warm, and this isn't the most convenient weather for it.” he stopped again because Crowley was glaring at him.

 

Admittedly the sweat between them was making the cotton of Aziraphale's shirt less opaque than usual wherever he had been pressed against him. He was not going to say out loud that the idea -that summer was not suitable for cuddling- was unacceptable to him, but he blushed as if he had anyway.

 

“You couldn't have a room that's a little less stuffy? A few more windows? Air flow? It's a miracle you even -have- to use miracles to make this place smell musty. We're surrounded by interior walls and all -you- have in here is a damned fireplace, of all things.”

 

Admittedly some of those interior walls may have been constructs and illusion built entirely of book cases, and he got the sense they may have shifted around whenever he found it convenient.

 

“I don't recall you complaining all winter about this.” he raised one eyebrow, “And it just so happens I do.”

 

“Do what?”

 

“Have a room, with more windows, more air.”

 

“I don't mean out there.” he said, indicating the shop through the archway.

 

“Neither do I.” he sighed and rolled his eyes, “Crowley, back in the day, if someone were to own and run this shop, do you think they'd be expected to live somewhere else entirely? With the cost of a shop in a location like this?”

 

He shot him an accusing look. Of course he imagined there was some kind of room up there, but he had thought it would be used as storage, if not by design than because that was all Aziraphale would want with it. Now he made it sound more like it was potentially an actual living area, and like Crowley was just failing to consider basic logic. It was not even that which he was most annoyed with.

 

“Angel, are you about to tell me you've have a whole flat up there this entire time?”

 

Now Crowley seemed agitated, exasperated, turning back to fix him with a hard look after scrubbing his hand down his face.

 

“What did you think I had up there?” he asked, the point of one eyebrow suggesting he knew exactly what all the rumours were.

 

“Books... Boxes of books, mostly.” Crowley implored him.

 

Aziraphale gave him a soft look, as if his ideas were quaint, if only somewhat accurate.

 

“Well, it- It's not much, and it's not as though I really -use- it... Not much anyway.” he defended.

 

Truth be told, until he needed it for something, there were times when he forgot it existed. At least recently he had been making use of it again, other than for storage, and part of his recent tidying spree had included making sure it was presentable, even if he was not satisfied with it yet. He felt like it was only technically a living space, but there was at least some chance it might be cooler, on account of the potential airflow. Crowley had climbed off of him and the couch to stand expectantly at the doorway.

 

He did not know why it had never registered to him fully that the hall on the way to the roof had other doors along it. He had written them off unconsciously as not leading anywhere of importance. Admittedly, it was not much. The kitchen was usable but small, with a quaint little dining area and big bright windows. There was a bathroom, with a large claw-footed tub. The only other room was the bedroom. Aziraphale stood aside to let him look around.

 

There was airflow, that much was fair, and it looked like a recent attempt to remove a layer of dust, but it was fairly obvious nothing up here saw a lot of use. There were stacked boxes, some newer, some dustier, possibly containing books. There was a closet that he assumed did have clothes hanging in it, even if they were outdated. There were mismatched bookcases and shelves around, as if put here when they had stopped being useful elsewhere, and looked like they had been shifted recently, leaving subtle shapes where they had been defending the floor from the elements. The only thing that was not dusty was the writing desk at the back window, which clearly saw regular enough use, over time, if the marks and wear under the chair where any indication. There was a tidy vase of dark feathers resting on the top of it now, and one clearly set aside as a quill. He had wondered what he wanted with them.

 

All in all it looked like someone had been in the process of moving in, but had gotten distracted halfway through; for half a century. There was wallpaper with a stripped pattern, but it was subtle. Everything was light colours with surprisingly understated patterns, contrasted with dark and rich wood. There were creams, and subdued pastels. The lamps and much of the furniture were clearly antiques, bought new and then kept. There was nothing offensive about it, especially once Aziraphale went and opened the large windows and the full length curtains billowed out of the way to announce the breeze that swept through the entire room, making his skin feel chill for the first time in a week. The bedding seemed slightly dusty, but he did not really care. It was too hot to be standing anyway. He sat down on the edge of the bed, and when Aziraphale nodded subtly, he flopped backwards, ignoring the stiff feeling to the bedding and letting the breeze wash over him.

 

“Figures.”

 

“What's that dear?”

 

“All the beige and blue.” he waved his hand around.

 

Of course, to Crowley it looked indistinguishable from a sea of light pinks, warm toned and not approaching magenta, though he would hesitate to actually label it coral, dusty rose, which probably looked less muted to him than it was intended to, and light green-teals that reminded him of fancy glassware and fancier deserts, but Aziraphale did not need to know that. He was raising one eyebrow in a way that was quite worrisome though.

 

“Is that what these colours look like to you, then?” he tested.

 

“Well no, they -look- but I'm sure If I were to-” he adjusted his vision, and the colours did not shift far, “Oh.” Crowley said, as Aziraphale looked progressively more amused.

 

“Is this, what beige looks like to you dear?” he asked, running a hand over rose bedding.

 

Crowley made some vague sounds that resembled speech.

 

“Only some of them, sometimes.” he admitted, knowing full well what colour his suits tended to be.

 

“And you can't see the difference between blue and this sort of mint colour?” he asked, indicating bold stripes on the walls.

 

“Not all the time.”

 

The implication here that the bedding did not look beige to him was that all beige clearly enough looked pink. He looked at himself and into space, through his closet door at what he knew lay beyond it.

 

He resisted his every impulse to start assuring him of how nice his suits looked on him, either way, mostly because then he would have to admit to finding his clothing very charming; on him. At least he looked far from offended. In fact he seemed to be taking amused note of it. He smiled at him gently and pat his knee before getting up.

 

“Let's get you cooled down then...” he looked around, “I know I left it here somewhere...” he said to himself.

 

Just like that Aziraphale was looking through the boxes, for one in particular. If Crowley had ever imagined being in his bed -which he had not- for the first time or any other -which had certainly never crossed his mind- this certainly was not what he would have imagined, not that he would have imagined anything. He did imagine he would join him eventually.

 

Aziraphale had bought a fan at some point when the weather starting changing and he saw one in a shop window. He thought it might be useful to better control the temperature in his shop. He heard Crowley roll over on the bed. For a moment his energy had been straying toward him as he wandered around the room, as if trying to coil him to the bed, but now his focus seemed to have settled elsewhere. Finally, he found the box. He did not see why a simple electric fan would come out of the box requiring any assembly, so of course it was ready to plug in when he pulled it out. He set it up between the bed and the window, adjusting it to a decent height.

 

“What's this?” Crowley asked, peeking into the shelf in the bottom of the night stand.

 

It was hard not to notice the only things in the room that looked like they had been bought more recently than the fifties. Books, of course they were books, but they also looked surprisingly modern.

 

“Oh dear.” Aziraphale said out loud before he could stop himself.

 

It had slipped his mind that he had left those here, explicitly where Crowley was not likely to see them. There was no helping it now though. Crowley was already leafing past each one, expression escalating at each of the titles.

 

Crowley would have expected cheesy romance novellas before expecting anything like this. Five books on communication in different types of relationships, and just as many, some of them papers, about snakes, three of which were explicitly about caring for them as pets.

 

“The five love languages... And,” he made a face, “Reptilian ethology in captivity?” he asked, eyebrows raised in an incredulous expression.

 

“Well, I- I'm sorry dear, I-” he sighed, resigned, coming to sit next to him, “You don't seem to want to talk about these things, and you hardly seem willing to tell me when something's wrong, or what you would like... I didn't want to make you talk about anything you weren't comfortable with, and you know I'm not very good at these things...”

 

“Angel.” he tried to interrupt him, at least sounding a little amused, for the curl that had twitched into place at the side of his lip, sitting up.

 

“I thought, maybe I just wasn't reading things right... And you said that when you were a snake, it was actually like being one, and I thought maybe they would help me understand what you needed, or wanted, or what I could do to take care of you...”

 

“Angel...” he whined, sounding pained, devolving into a low hissing sound.

 

“And well, I'm not sure they were much help anyway.” he stopped babbling, giving the books a cold look, as if they had personally betrayed him by not serving their purpose.

 

Aziraphale, attention turned inward, was blushing and flustered, for once, but when he dug his fingers into the front of his shirt and straddled his lap, drawing his full attention back outwards -after a moment of surprise- he switched seamlessly to every appearance of calm observation; waiting. If he was blushing now it was indistinguishable from the moment previous.

 

The thought that he had been spending all this time doing everything he could to try to understand him, provide for him, even when Crowley had been the one compulsively maintaining barriers for once, it had gotten into his skin, filling him with warmth, a heat he had not been prepared for. Aziraphale was not that attentive towards anyone, he did not think he even had it in him, and everything he had been putting his energy towards, now that he was free to, had to do with inviting Crowley into his space and trying to keep him safe and comfortable. It was like he was trying to repay every act of service all at once, as if he had wanted to all along. It felt like being gently courted without any expectation of a return, and it was maddening.

 

He could feel Crowley's breath on his lips. His own hand hesitated, an inch from pressing his thumb to his chin, wondering if he should stop him, or if this was communication enough that it really was what he wanted.

 

“Hhhhhh-Heaven.” Crowley's voice slipped from hissing to a desperate whisper, at himself, a moment before he stopped, rolling off of his lap onto the bed next to him.

 

Aziraphale watched him with concern as he hissed at the pillows for being dusty, miracled them proper, and then buried his face in them, scarlet.

 

“Crowley, dear?” he asked, hand still paused in the air, “Did you just use..?” he asked, fighting with himself not to be amused by this.

 

He could not really blame himself for overwhelming him, he had not really done anything. At least he knew we could use the safe-word. He had not wanted to push any boundaries enough to test him on it. The point was not really to make him have to use it. Crowley was clearly struggling internally. He made a pained, sobbing sound into the pillow. He felt awful for him, really, but it was also positively adorable.

 

“You -know- that's not how it works, don't you, darling boy?” he asked him, too sweetly, too close to amused.

 

“We do need to talk about this though.” he said softly, after a long minute, “When you're ready.” he amended, referring to when he had collected himself, not to putting it off indefinitely again.

 

He wanted to comfort him, but he was not sure about how to approach him, or if he should.

 

Given that he had just used his safe-word on himself, Crowley could no longer deny that they needed to discuss this, it was getting absurd. He could feel Aziraphale's uncertainty in the way he shifted, the way his warmth got closer and hesitated. He took the pillow next to him and shoved it at him subtly.

 

It had been a good long time since he had laid on his bed, but he settled down next to him very politely now. Eventually, amidst a sea of blushing and freckles, two golden eyes did reappear over the pillow at him. He offered his hand to his tousled hair and Crowley nodded subtly.

 

“I'm sorry.” he mumbled into the pillow, eventually.

 

“My dear, sweet Crowley, please, don't ever be sorry.” he said, stroking his hair and adjusting around the pillow to mimic him, “I just wish you would tell me what you want, darling.”

 

At the moment that was to pin him to the bed out of frustration above all else. He sighed deeply.

 

“Angel I-” he bit his lip to steady it, breathing, “There's some things I'm not in the habit of letting myself want.” he admitted, starting to frustrate himself with his own vagueness.

 

“You know it's alright, don't you? To want things, that there's nothing wrong with...”

 

“Angel.” he interrupted him, “This isn't...” he -wanted- to say it was not some shame complex, or anything of the like, but he was not sure that was not tied up in this, “It's more complicated than that... Wanting some things just, hasn't gone well for me.” he said, still absurdly vague.

 

It was the last thing he could explain right now though, all the particular instances where he had let himself want something out of his reach and how it had really affected him. He was not sure he would ever have the footing he needed to explain the particulars of it. He could list them off in his head, detail the ways in which it had broken his heart, but he did not think that would ever be helpful. It was complicated beyond all of that, even. There were layers of nuance and subtlety, and he was not sure Aziraphale was aware of just how bad he was with subtlety. He still seemed to think that whatever flirtatiously affectionate dialogue he was having -with his houseplants as conduits- was subtle.

 

“Why don't you tell me what -you- want, then, angel?” he said, not insincerely, but certainly in some measure of defensiveness.

 

“What I-?”

 

Aziraphale was clearly taken aback, somehow seemingly having never expected to become the focus of this. Crowley knew Aziraphale was in the habit of being in outright denial about wanting anything he did not see as perfectly safe and inconsequential, and it was a hypocritical bit of mental gymnastics to accuse him of the same, as if it was some terrible mark of his mental health or sense of self-worth.

 

“Well, I want you -us both- to be happy.” he finally reasoned, “Together, preferably, however it suits us...” he concluded.

 

At least now he seemed newly reassured that their desire for each others companionship was wholly mutually reciprocated.

 

“And does that include anything in particular?” Crowley asked him, cattily.

 

“Crowley.” he sighed in affectionate exasperation, “That's hardly a fair comparison. Of course the details, particulars of, well, kinds or acts don't matter to me, not in and of themselves, so long as it's love...” he confessed, “But you're clearly conflicted over something, and it's very obviously causing you distress.” he refuted.

 

He just wanted to know what he would prefer of him.

 

“Would you tell me, dearest, what I am, to you?”

 

“You're my best friend.” he said very quickly, “And I-” he seemed to lose himself for a moment, disappearing into the past, staring into it for a length of time he was unsure of, “I- er... Oh I don't know, what am I to you then?” he switched from earnest, vulnerable, back to irritable and still vulnerable.

 

“Oh Crowley, love, you're the world to me, nothing less.” he said, so easily it made Crowley's eyes and nose burn.

 

“... But, I suppose, maybe it's like with gender... The definitions, performing certain things, they don't really matter to me, but they clearly matter to you, so I just want to know what suits you.”

 

He would ask him, again, if he wanted to be kissed, now that some of the ambiguity of the tone of it had been lost, but he did not like this current pattern of turning his questions around on him.

 

“You do, angel.” he said to him, again, very sweet, and perfectly sincere, but beside the point.

 

He rolled his eyes, but Crowley could not even describe in how many ways he sincerely meant it. Above all else, he was so perfectly suited, not just to Crowley, but to fit like a caress around all his broken edges in a way that made him feel whole again.

 

“Yes, but how -exactly- you feel...”

 

“I thought you said you could sense what I felt.” Crowley mused pointedly, doing that thing where he tilted his head in open curiosity, usually accompanied by circling him subtly.

 

After all this time, and shifted subtly in context as it was, it made him feel a little soft. He had already been told this did not work like that. He was playing at something for some reason. He did not like that he had taken up a habit of rehashing the same arguments. There was something he could not bring himself to say. Maybe he was fishing for a less politely vague question, or something more direct.

 

“I can feel what's in your heart, Crowley, in broad strokes, but I can't see what's in your head.” he explained, “Oh, it must be lovely tough.” he said admiringly, momentarily taken with the thought of his thoughts, “It just doesn't leave me with much context, I'm afraid...” he trailed off, thinking.

 

Maybe it was that Crowley's own sense of things, while not including love, was more complex than his own and he was looking for reassurance of something, or did not quite trust he was being entirely forward about what he could feel.

 

“I sense love, but it's not distinguished by kind, and I can't generally sense everything else that goes along with it. I'm not psychic, and not much of an empath, I'm afraid.” he tried to reframe it.

 

“So, you -really- can't tell...”

 

“I can't. There's important distinctions... Love can be friendly, it can be familial, romantic, devotion... It can be the love one has for their work, for nature, for memories, God. It can be attachment, it can be passionate... But those are all details... Important ones, especially to some, in some contexts, but I can't tell one from another, not just like that.”

 

Crowley seemed almost relieved, but Aziraphale did think it would save them a lot of trouble if he could tell these things so easily without being told.

 

“These are things I have to get a sense of the way everyone else does... And I'm not very good at it... and, well, not to be... Well, dear boy, your behaviour hasn't exactly been a straightforward communication of much except... Except that there's something, and that it's- well, all tied up, or something- complicated, as you said.”

 

Not that climbing on top of him exactly left much room for interpretation, but it hardly told him what he actually wanted, or how he felt about it.

 

“And I- Crowley, I can't just make guesswork of it. If I got something like -that- wrong...”

 

“Oh, angel... I'm not sure if you could.” he sighed, not amused exactly, but remembering a time he had said something similar with less sincerity.

 

He wanted to explain, especially now that he saw how much Aziraphale could tell he was struggling and how out of his way he was going to try to help, even in the vacuum of helpful direction. Part of the problem was that he did not even know where to start explaining, not just because it was painful and awkward for him, but because of how he knew it would hurt to hear it all. He would have to explain somehow, it would not do to keep letting these things get in their way.

 

“Angel, it's... Complicated...” he ended up reiterating, not meaning to, but not being able to find anything more concise.

 

Most of all he would have to start correcting a lot of residual notions and delusions he had previously afforded Aziraphale about what it meant to be a demon, not just fallen, but the entire culture and construct of being forcibly aligned to hell. He had been avoiding this for a very long time. Even if some of his lack of understanding caused him to be insensitive at times, and even though he himself made a strong pretence, in front of God and everyone of trying to get Aziraphale to understand heaven's propaganda for what it was, there had always been some delusions he had wanted to let him keep, on some level. Maybe it was time to let go of that.

 

It had seemed needlessly cruel to explain the gritty details of some things, and he had never been sure where that threshold was, between disillusioning him enough to set him straight, versus enough that his empathy would erase the distinction between understanding what it was to fall in the objective sense, and -in how it would come to shape him- being very much like having fallen himself. He had never been sure where the line might be, where Aziraphale might gain enough understanding of his experience that he would not be able to look at heaven, hell or God the same way again, and he felt there was a difference between encouraging him to seek that understanding for himself, and forcing it on him.

 

Now Aziraphale had come to leap out of heaven to be by his side, on his own terms, but that still left the fact that explaining these things meant explaining his own personal trauma, his own involvement in it, and making himself emotionally vulnerable it a way that -while necessary, for the understanding he wanted, for healing and any kind of catharsis- he was not exactly comfortable with, and not at all practised at. He did not have anyone else who could do him the kindness of explaining these things for him, even if he wanted that.

 

“Angel, you used to remind me -us- all the time, that I'm a demon, but I'm not sure you ever quite understood what that really meant.” he said, in a tone much like you would use on someone's next of kin.

 

“The whole question of love, intimacy, it's all, well it's supposed to be out of the question, isn't it? Indulgences, sure, hedonism, great... But emotions? Relationships? Love of any kind? We're not supposed to... Not even supposed to be thought of as capable...”

 

“I suppose it does stand to reason.” he sighed, when Crowley did not seem to be elaborating further, “That intimacy might be complicated, for -well- for you... And for a demon... I can't imagine.”

 

That was not untrue, but he was not sure he had ever been comfortable with the connotations Aziraphale seemed to assign to that. For the most part because they were in line with the assumptions everyone made, but -even at its most accurate- lacked all sense of context or nuance.

 

“Oh I -know- what you think demons like me get up to...” he quipped, less gently than he had intended.

 

“Pardon?”

 

There was something in that tone he did not like. He suddenly seemed almost testy. It was pain, he did not like seeing him in pain. He did not like causing it or dragging it up. Also a kind of bitterness clashing with something akin to amusement that made him wary. It gave the impression Crowley thought his ideas about things were insultingly quaint.

 

Crowley sighed. They never really had unpackaged this.

 

“When I first told you I changed my name... One of -your- first guesses was “Asmodeus” he said, drawling the name especially like it was tiresome.

 

Asmodeus was a demon known, pretty much from the start, for temptations to do with lust, probably the closest thing to an incubus you could conceive of at the time.

 

“Well, it's not like these were things that I didn't think you were -capable- of, you -were- known for temptations back then, in a broader sense at least, and I wasn't going to assume, but it's not like I could have just outright asked.”

 

At least Crowley's ability to communicate seemed to be steadily increasing.

 

“You could have.”

 

Sure they had not been close yet at the time, but Crowley had never rejected any attempt to converse with him.

 

“Oh yes, and how would that have gone...” he said almost apologetically, “Oh hello Crawly dear, is it by any chance -you- who's been going around seducing half of humanity to sins of the flesh?” he went on to mock his hypothetical past-self in overly simple and sweet tones, “That would have gone over quite well...”

 

One of Crowley's own expression of choice was on the tip of his tongue. He had always been one to come up with colourful metaphors. These days it always came off like he was trying to remember something the humans had come up with, but the truth was he had probably thought of it first.

 

“Have some questions for that guy did you?” he asked, suddenly with the air of circling him slowly again, despite being quite still, all too interested in his answer.

 

Aziraphale rolled his eyes.

 

“I just wanted to know what -you- had been up to.”

 

Crowley looked too amused, despite the context, though the bitter and defensive overtones were still distressing.

 

“And well, maybe how it sat with you. If you were...”

 

What I had been up to?”

 

He tried to keep the bitterness out of his tone. He wished so badly they could exist in a world where the angel's impression of things was accurate enough, but if Aziraphale had bothered examining it at all, he would already realize how much more complicated it had to be; how much more terrible.

 

Still, making Aziraphale uncomfortable in return always seemed to help when he was feeling nervous or overwhelmed. Seeing that he could blush and get flustered too helped him feel less vulnerable. He wiggled one leg idly.

 

“T's basically what it amounted to anyway, isn't it?” he raised an eyebrow, “May as well have just asked.” he said, tilting his head in the other direction.

 

“Yes, well I got my answer didn't I?”

 

He felt defensive, of his intent, though he did not want to even try to excuse some of the things he had said, early on, and he was not sure if Crowley's reluctant amusement was helping that or making it worse. He felt like he was being teased. At least teasing him seemed to put him at ease on some level.

 

“It was probably insensitive... Ignorant, even... I'm sorry dear.” he sighed, very sincerely.

 

Crowley shook his head, brushing it off. That was about six thousand years ago. Angels in general had a habit of sexualizing demons, it was all wrapped up in every bit of propaganda ever fed to him, to either of them; demons were supposed to tempt, after all. Yet the moment he corrected him on it, it was accepted. Aziraphale had always taken his word on things, let him define himself to him as he wanted to.

 

It was only the notions about demons that Crowley -did not- bother correcting, and had not -in millennia- demonstrated to the contrary that seemed to stay stuck. At this point that was mostly physical limitations he had, or some details of what was expected of him because of being a demon; and this question of intimacy. Other than that it had all fallen away. Aziraphale had always been more interested in getting to know him than he was attached to any preconceived notions.

 

His early, easy acceptance that he potentially both could and would seduce half of mankind was something he was not going to unpack at any point, though it was not -wholly- unfounded per se, and he did think it might serve them better if he had a more nuanced understanding of these things. He just did not want to watch him be so heartbroken. It seemed inevitable now. It would have been better if he could have just controlled himself a bit better.

 

“Aziraphale...” he started in a subdued tone, “You remember what the seven deadly sins are, don't you?”

 

“Of course, well, as the humans put them, Avarice, Envy, Gluttony, Pride, Sloth, Lust and Wrath.” he said, not sure how to contextualize that enough to comment on yet.

 

“And take wrath... It's not just anger is it? There are -so many- reasons a person is perfectly justified to be angry, angel, aren't there? Injustice, abuse, oppression... It would be victim blaming wouldn't it? Even for your lot, to make humans the way they are, all full of involuntary emotions, and then blame them when they get angry, angry when they're hurting and dying, being violated, angry on someone's behalf... Even the humans, if you ask the right ones, have figured that out by now... That's there's justified wrath, that isn't a sin, that isn't enough to damn your soul.”

 

“And there's a line isn't there? Between harmful pride and... and the whole... a gradient really, between that and just feeling good about yourself because you did a good job? That rush your brain -makes- when you get something right... That people are allowed to feel good about themselves, accomplished... And enjoying consuming, and having things isn't all bad is it, angel? Not until it takes from someone else? And wanting things for yourself, it's not a sin until you're holding it against someone, trying to take it from them... Wants and needs aren't sin until it's being taken, unless it's coming at a cost to someone else...”

 

He watched his lip relax subtly, confusion, hurt, the barest hint of a pout, forgetting expression in favour of listening, of trying to understand. Not ready to comment on this, maybe not really wanting to know where he was going with this any sooner than he had to.

 

“And just to think it, want... It's not enough on it's own either. People have thoughts, so many thoughts, angel, often not even voluntarily... Even God doesn't punish people for having thoughts. It takes action, or neglect, it takes -choices- angel... God is forgiving after all...” he huffed bitterly, “More than God was with us...”

 

Crowley was becoming further drawn into his own head, and the past, and his voice was getting distant.

 

“And lust, it's not enough to desire, not enough to lay with anyone properly consenting, not a man, not even a demon, not the way men have claimed, not enough to just -think- to take it at someone's expense. To truly damn a soul, they have to -take- it. They have to take it knowing -or thinking- it might be -or is- coming at someone else's expense... That it's being taken from them.”

 

There it was, his heart breaking. Crowley could not look at him and still be able to speak.

 

“And I couldn't do it, angel, I couldn't set them on each other that way... I couldn't whisper in their ears that they should do that to someone... I couldn't even begin to rationalize it.”

 

It certainly was not the most damning confession, but it was revealing, and his voice was unsteady now.

 

“But the world, back then, it wasn't all full with clever little human things to play off of, not the way it is now... It was all so much more bare -naked- in a lot of ways, direct, just people needing and struggling and wanting things... And it was my job to tempt them to take what they didn't need, to take it at someone's expense, but everyone needed everything and almost no one ever had enough and I couldn't bring myself to set and pit them against each other like that, to make them suffer at each other's hands...” his voice broke and pleaded as if he was asking, now, why this was being demanded of him.

 

Aziraphale had made his way to bury his face in his hair as he spoke, hands shaking as he stroked his hair soothingly. He could hear the quiet sniffling breaths in response to what he was saying. He could feel him folding gently around him.

 

“And the punishment... for not doing your job, for not ensnaring enough souls... The torture, if you fail, if you won't perform. They don't care how... how you do it, how you use yourself, your words, mind, your body to accomplish it, they just care that it gets done.”

 

He was crying, he knew that, but it was not even for himself. He had settled with these things, as much as he could, a very long time ago. Even now, he knew that the shame he felt shaking in his chest was not fair, was not deserved. It was Aziraphale having to know all of this now that hurt him so badly, mostly because Aziraphale suffered when he suffered.

 

What Aziraphale was being told was that under threat of unimaginable torture, and because he could not bring himself to bring harm on someone innocent, he had been forced to use himself to act in the role of the victim. Not only having that forced on him, but being made to have just enough agency in it to feel culpable, and then congratulated for it as if it was his own doing, but also told -until he believed it- that he was bad at this too, still not doing enough, and that he was unforgivably evil and did not deserve any better than this. Aziraphale was seeing red.

 

If vanishing now to drive a sword into select individuals would not be leaving Crowley's side in this critical moment of vulnerability, he was not sure anything could stop him. He had never wanted to be terrifying before, but there were some people he wanted to be very afraid of him now.

 

“It's surprisingly easy, really, doesn't even really take -tempting- to find people who would do that to someone. All you really have to do is put yourself in front of them... and let them think you don't have the power to do anything about it. Better me than someone else...”

 

So, yes, he had been known for temptations, and they were of the kind that had been suggested, but it was not what anyone seemed to think. Some demons did this, even the way he had if they had to, and derived enough satisfaction from the work to be considered very good at it. He had never been able to live up to that standard, though he had never struggled to act the part convincingly. Part of why he had been so successful in early larger endeavours was his absolute desperation to do anything else, anything that looked like he was doing his job earnestly, regardless of whether he succeeded. As time went on and the world got blessedly more complex, he had been able to find other ways.

 

Mind in the past as it was, it took him a good while to notice just how hot it was getting in the room. At first he had brushed it off as the steady progression towards the heat of summer, but then it become too much to seem natural at all in any season.

 

“You should have told me.” Aziraphale said in a voice he hardly recognized.

 

Not that he could fully trust his ears just then anyway. They were ringing from the heat.

 

“If you had told me what they were...”

 

Aziraphale felt himself shaking.

 

“If I had come to you, you would have...”

 

“I'd have destroyed them.” Aziraphale intended in a tone that spoke of cold-blooded murder, though his blood seemed anything but cold.

 

At least, that was what he meant to say -as much as he could mean to say any such thing- but if it had come out in a more ambiguous phrasing than -past- tense, that was not something either of them were going to acknowledge at the moment.

 

Chills clawed their way down Crowley's spine. That was exactly why he had not told him. Even early on, he had the suspicion that he would care and would do something about it -on principal, even if it was not personal- something stupid that would get him in a lot of trouble and get his hands bloody in a way he would never be comfortable with. Crowley had never wanted to do that to him. It also was not his intent to have started another war.

 

He had put a good bit of effort over the years, explicitly into ensuring Aziraphale would not ever have to get blood on his hands, and that if he did, he would be able to forgive himself for it. Aziraphale, had, after all, been issued the flaming sword that was fit to be wielded by war. Folded politely under a kind surface was all the holy wrath angels could be known for. It felt like all the fire the sword ever contained came from within him and that was pouring out of him now, suffocating and intoxicating; limitless and relentless.

 

Crowley, despite however he tried to shy away from the sensation, was drawn fully back to the present, gasping for breath, incredulous. As clearly and readily as he imagined Aziraphale could sense love, he felt flames, curling around him protectively, a white hot rage on his behalf, all in service to him, wrapping around him like a blanket; like a shield. It felt like finally drawing breath, like everything was warmth again, it felt as akin to him as hellfire, and -if he was aware enough to think it- he would argue it was not that far off, the fire of angelic wrath. It flooded like sweet air all over him and he felt so oxygen starved. Breathing it into himself felt so natural he did not even question it, and it poured through him like spiced honey.

 

“Crowley!” he gasped, “You can't...” his protest was weak and died before it even really left.

 

It was far too late to stop him -oh- but the sound he made was definitely not distressed. He had rushed to hold him, instinctively, trying to check him over, assess and stop -heal- any damage as it was happening if he could, but it seemed unnecessary. If the pleasured moan escaping him was any indication, it was safe enough after all.

 

“Oh.” he breathed in softening surprise.

 

Along with everything else he was clearly experiencing, skin red from head to toe, love and affection poured out with it, as strong as ever. Relief washed over him and finished taking away whatever anger fear had left behind, Crowley's pleasure now a cooling kiss where he had been burning. Even if Crowley was not burning away, it was still a little concerning how completely out of himself he seemed. He seemed drugged.

 

“Aziraphale...” he whispered, as if in a dream, drifting lightly through stars.

 

Crowley was burning alright, his skin felt like it was on fire at least. He felt so wonderfully heated from the inside in a way he had not imagined he would ever feel again. All the certainty and security -that he expected came with sensing love- was suddenly far less abstract to him. Inside, that rage turned his own anger outward where it belonged, directed at the people who hurt him, no longer festering and twisting in confusion and helplessness into shame and doubt; easier when he was not alone. It felt like the clarity he always knew he should have about it.

 

He lifted himself by Aziraphale's collar, following that fire until the last of it bled out of him. It was all for him and he wanted it. A warm hand on his cheek and a thumb on his lip gently stopped him before he could press against him trying to suckle the last of it off his lips. That thumb, warm dry flesh on his, sent shivers through him. Then it dusted away, shaking and self-conscious. If anything, Aziraphale held him closer.

 

“I love you.” Crowley said, the words spilling out before they were even a fully formed thought.

 

They did not burn, or catch in his throat either. Aziraphale did not need to answer him, he could still taste the evidence of it, indirect or not, like a protective warmth in his skin. All at once everything he had been resisting feeling, wanting, was flooding forward, surging past any sense of shame he could have about it.

 

He had never seen Crowley give in to something like this. He imagined it was natural enough to respond this way. Bodies were instinctive and eager things, not even all that good at handling the constant presence of human reactions and emotions; even those could break them. For them they were like fragile shells caught in a web of being far greater than they were every meant to contain. He was often amazed Crowley had much self-control at all, let alone the amount he did, knowing how strongly he felt everything and now also knowing how subject he was to the body he inhabited. He could not control how his body reacted but he seemed quite bent on controlling how he behaved bout it. Even now it seemed he was only pressing to be within millimetres of him, insistent and too close for the moment, but still an offer, tugging at him subtly to accept it. He wanted to.

 

“Crowley...” he whined in a whisper, having to press soft lips under his thumb again, as much to stop himself, “Now is hardly the time... Look at the sate you're in.” he mumbled softly from the other side of his thumb.

 

He said this, but Crowley did not miss that he licked his lip the way he did when he wanted something. He just was not willing to take even small things if he thought there was a chance of regret, if he thought he might have too much advantage in the situation, if he thought Crowley was not quite in his right mind, or thought it might come at Crowley's expense. That really only stoked the flames and was making it impossible to stay in denial. His body was betraying him, and his throat was the worst offender at the moment. He felt pathetic.

 

“If... If you still feel the same later... If you really want this, I promise...” he said, kissing his forehead instead, so very tenderly.

 

Crowley seemed to come back to himself a bit.

 

“Angel, you...” he breathed deeply, “You -want- to kiss me?” he asked.

 

“Yes, of course, well, you seem to want...” he said softly, “I can't help but think, the way you'd react...” his voice weakened, “I... I want to feel you...” he trailed off, blushing, the hand on Crowley's cheek shaking gently.

 

He wanted to feel that reaction. He wanted to feel the love, affection and everything else he could get a sense of -as tied up in all the things he could not sense as they may be- spill out of him. He wanted to feel the blinding, consuming heat, love, white hot, the pleasured scream that would tear out of his soul and shake distant stars. He wanted to hear the sound he would make, or find out whether he would be too breathless. He wanted to feel him melt in his hands, break open to him. He wanted to feel him enjoying it.

 

Aziraphale was speaking far too close and far too tenderly. The whimper coming from the back of his throat turned into an over-sensitive hiss.

 

“Careful, angel...” he teased breathlessly, watching him lick his lip again, “That's starting to sound dangerously like...”

 

Lust. His voice broke before he could say it though, because he was still very close and touching his lips and his eyebrow did that knowing quirk again, and because it was the kind of lust that was in service to love. He recognized the look he was giving him like he felt the thundering demand shaking its way through his own body, though he had never seen it before, not directed at him. It was not hunger for his body or even how it would feel physically, not for his own pleasure, not to take. It was empathetic, it was for how it would make Crowley feel, it was a desire to -give- pleasure. It was lust, but only by some technicality, and for such a small thing, a kiss, even if that small thing was profound to him. If lust was something he could sense at all -if he had not cut that out of himself long ago- he currently could not tell it from the fire burning in himself.

 

“I'm sorry, dear.” Aziraphale said after a breath, pulling back and trying, visibly, to collect himself.

 

As clear as it was the state Crowley was in, and as much as he was hardly responding to it the way he could, he could not separate any of this from the context of moments previous. He also did not want his hesitation to come off like rejection, not again, not the first time he was so openly expressing these things. He did not want to make him feel like his reaction had been inappropriate. It was also complicated because Crowley had also gone from talking about sexual trauma to incredibly -obviously- aroused at a speed that could give anyone whiplash, though he understood why. Crowley did not sound at all like he minded, at least.

 

“And you know, even if you want me to kiss you, it doesn't... It doesn't have to mean anything else, not if you didn't... You know I'd never...It would miss the whole point, if you weren't...” he was cut off by a desperate little pleasured sound.

 

“I know, angel, I know, I know, that's the whole... That's why...” he said, shaking with the effort of stopping himself from trying to kiss him again.

 

That was part of why he could not explain himself completely. That was why his skin caught fire every time his mind slipped and he thought about his hands on him; that he was safe, that he would never hurt him, never value anything so meaningless over his well-being. That was a large part of why he could not let himself want things that were not explicitly being offered. He still could not bear to tell him about the particular incident that made him face the wrath of hell rather than continue to traumatize himself. He could not explain everything he was capable of wanting, or why it was still so complicated even beyond what he had explained. Maybe, for now, it would be enough to know that it was complicated.

 

“I'm the one twisting...” he said and Aziraphale could see shame slowly bleeding into his face.

 

“Crowley, darling, please.” he begged him, “None of that. I already told you, not to apologize. Not for feeling anything, not for wanting...” he pleaded sternly, still not sure what exactly he did want, not in a practical sense, other than a hundred iterations of insisting he wanted it to be him.

 

Aziraphale, proprioception intact, could feel when he was giving in to rage. He could feel it as acutely as he could feel himself love. This was the only time he had ever felt consumed by it that did not make him feel monstrous and terrible; the certainty of it was terrifying. Apparently, Crowley could sense it too, and -much to his relief- had taken comfort from it, rather than being afraid or horrified.

 

“You can feel -that- then, I take it?” he confirmed, a bit embarrassed.

 

Crowley nodded, covering his own mouth, trying not to moan at the memory of how it felt.

 

“And it made you feel safe? Loved?” he asked, hopeful, but also driving at a point.

 

“Yess.” he hissed, nodding again, adorably red, still in his arms.

 

“Then it's not so unusual, is it? To respond that way.” he cooed softly, still cupping his face gently, thumb stroking his cheek.

 

Feeling loved and secure was a prerequisite for many people to even be able to experience arousal, and he imagined those things had been in short supply for him.

 

“You poor thing.” he mumbled holding him close, “I was so worried though...” the pain clear in his voice, “You are alright, aren't you, my dear?” he asked, still holding him tenderly in his hands.

 

Crowley nodded immediately and enthusiastically.

 

“I had always assumed...” Aziraphale sighed, almost mournfully.

 

He had assumed that their natures -in a sense like physicality- were potentially as opposite, at their core, as holy water and hellfire. The threat of the very real chance of hurting each other that way, actually taking energy into each other's ethereal beings -a wholly separate question from displacing each other out of flesh- was exactly the problem he had been agonizing over, very directly, for months now.

 

“Where do you think hellfire came from, angel?”

 

The morning star, and all the rest, they were fallen angels after all. He supposed maybe it was like how Crowley's love felt like rain, cooling his skin and reminding him he could put down the sword and be soft and kind.

 

“I suppose you're probably right...”

 

Aziraphale took a sobering breath and looked around the room, nothing had caught fire, nothing was out of place.

 

“Sorry, my dear, I don't think I've helped terribly much with the temperature.” he said though he could feel the fan leaching body heat away through the sweat in the cotton on his back, and everything felt cool in contrast to moments before.

 

“Mm, different kind of heat, angel.” he hummed absently, already curling up to him as if to go straight to sleep.

 

Chapter Text

 

The longer Aziraphale thought about it, the more he realized that Crowley had explained a good deal of why it was complicated, but had not actually given him concrete answers on very much at all. It explained to some degree what the possibilities were, but still left him with very little idea what was actually wanted. At least he knew, more or less, the severity, the weight, of what he was dealing with, and maybe that would help him find the right questions to ask, or the right thing to read that might help him be more sensitive, more accommodating.

 

They had a lot they needed to discuss, not least of all the spell-work. It seemed like a real possibility now, and that carried all the relief in the world. They could make themselves untraceable, and -in the process- if they did it right, make it so they could always find each other.

 

“Angel?” Crowley said, waking just enough to stare at him for a long moment, “You look terrible.” then, in response to the slightly hurt but mostly confused look he was getting, “I mean- er, you actually look like you need sleep... Or something.” he said, wondering if sleep was something they -both- could need mentally or emotionally, if not directly physically.

 

He wondered if maybe Aziraphale just was not in the habit of wearing himself out in that sense enough to find it desirable. Dealing with mental, emotional and physical stress could be exhausting and he though it was possible his need for rest was more a side-effect of that than necessarily a directly imposed need. He could not very effectively miracle himself rested, and he would not die without it, but it made him feel like he was very much -done- with the world and everything in it when he went too long without a nap.

 

Aziraphale smiled quickly as if acknowledging and then dismissing this concern.

 

“Crowley, dear, you know you don't have to... If you really aren't comfortable with it, if you'd rather I always stop you... You don't have to, not ever, even if you keep...”

 

“Aziraphale, that's not the point, not- Wh- What I, um...” he interrupted him, only to turn very red, “Is -that- why you look like that?”

 

“No.” he defended quickly, “Not exactly...” he said, fidgeting.

 

Of course he would always be paranoid he had overstepped some boundary, said or done the wrong thing, perhaps more than he ever could have added to that caution in Crowley, especially now. He did also suspect that -one way or another- hearing that he would neither reject him, nor want anything he was not offering might have been what he needed to hear, but he could hardly assume he knew how things like this aught to be interpreted, as there was no 'aught' to be had; that was all entirely up to Crowley.

 

“I guess I never did get to the point...” Crowley admitted, remembering how they got sidetracked, “The point is...” he trailed off, already blushing in anticipation of what he had to put in explicit terms now, because Aziraphale was bad at reading between the lines and blessedly reluctant to assume anything.

 

“My point was... People don't-” he took a breath and his voice softened, “They don't touch me gently. Or kindly. Not affectionately. Not with love, not-” he swallowed something, “Not much at all any more actually... I mean... pat on the arm, a peck on the cheek here or there, over the centuries... Casual things, social niceties, on occasion, but...” he refocused from his tangent.

 

Anything resembling sexual interest that he had ever had a reason to engage with, with mortals, had always been a violation. When the offer had been there otherwise, he had a hard time not seeing the potential of violation in it, especially given that he could never be on truly equal footing or fully honest with a human, not in any way that was at all practical or advisable. It was not at all comparable.

 

“Not anyone?” he asked, sympathetically, still finding it hard to believe no one would want to.

 

Aziraphale hardly had a personal sense for these things at all, but Crowley -really- was lovely, and honestly bad at pretending to be anything but really kind of sweet.

 

“Not sure I even wanted that... Not from just anyone, not- They couldn't know me, angel, not really, not... I didn't want that.”

 

Imagine, a demon with no taste for sex that did not come with genuine love, and -fully- informed consent. Aziraphale supposed it stood to reason, given everything, given how it might only punctuate that he never had someone to love him like that before. It would be outright hypocritical of him to judge whatever hang-ups he had about interacting with humans that way. They could say they loved him, probably even believe it, but no human could really know them, and he could understand how that might render the sentiment quite painfully hollow to Crowley. Not to mention the question of fully informed consent when it came to sex with an angel or demon, even if it could be called anything else.

 

“Oh darling...” he said, cupping his face gently, “It's like your wings, then, isn't it? You don't know what it will feel like or how you'll react, and you don't... Oh.” he sighed in obvious lament, “You're afraid it might put me off, aren't you? If you're too, um-” he stopped talking because he did not know how to finish that implication gently enough.

 

Crowley was already bright red. He could tell how sensitive and reactive he was, and really it made perfect sense. Of course he was also very easily embarrassed, and the world seemed to have given him a deep complex of some kind. Aziraphale could already tell he felt like he was reacting to everything all the wrong way. He was at least managing to nod very subtly now, though he was resolutely not looking at him.

 

It was more or less accurate. He knew his reactions to everything could hardly be considered normal, and even if he understood why and would not judge anyone else for that, he also could not blame himself for having hang-ups about letting someone walk into all of that without adequate warning. He also -knew- he would not be able to cope with whatever feelings came up if Aziraphale's initial reaction to anything even came off as judgement of some kind. He had been avoiding the whole issue to save them from an awkward, potentially hurtful, and hard to navigate mess, but -increasingly- that did not seem to be their chosen course any more.

 

“Crowley, sweetheart, I can tell what this must be like for you... At least, I can imagine.” he tried to make it sound less like an accusation and more empathetic, “These bodies, they really are reactive, sensitive, senseless, small, fragile things... Only human, really.” he said, stroking his cheek and hoping he really was saving him some awkward explanation.

 

Crowley almost looked like he might look back up at him.

 

“They are.” he conceded, sounding thankful and desperate, “It's all sso much and I'm not used to any of it, and I've never felt anythhing like thiss and after all thiss time, with everything I've want-” he stopped the words spilling out with his own hand.

 

He could not believe he almost just admitted that to Aziraphale before admitting it to himself. He felt that blush that made it feel like his sinuses were on fire.

 

Aziraphale watched his pupils shrink to over-sensitive slits.

 

“... But darling, you know I could never judge you for any of that. There is no wrong way to react to any of this, you know that, don't you?” he implored gently, trying idly and failing to tip his chin, “There isn't a thing you could do that wouldn't be absolutely lovely.” he said, releasing his chin gently because he seemed so frozen.

 

He wanted to keep reassuring him, but he felt like they were past the point where he would have changed shape by now, had not, and was potentially having a hard time of speech altogether. He was mid-thought, about how Crowley still had not explained why it was that sometimes he changed involuntarily, and other times he could not, when his mind took its turn to grind to a panicked halt.

 

“Wait... Crowley.” he said, trying to collect a lot of suddenly occurring thoughts, sitting up slightly further back.

 

That was the tone he used when he was at risk of coming to some very upsetting conclusion and Crowley was already gearing up to shut it down.

 

“Is that... Darling, when you said you couldn't always change shape when you're... It's because of all that isn't it? You couldn't-” he broke off, clearly at a loss for words -at least ones that were delicate enough- but still very clearly trying to express concern for something.

 

Crowley nodded subtly.

 

“If I hadn't conditioned myself out of it... I wouldn't have made a very effective-” words like 'mark', 'target' and 'victim' all offered themselves up, but he hated all of them.

 

Aziraphale's heart broke visibly again, first because he did not want to imagine Crowley in a situation like that and not at a liberty to protect himself, and then again with uncertainty about what else that implied.

 

Crowley watched him draw his hands back to himself, again, now shaking.

 

It did not matter if it was because he was doing anything unwelcome or not, if Crowley thought he had to make himself face this alone -feeling like he would be burdening him with this understanding- then Aziraphale would feel right and truly useless, and he could not bear to think of Crowley putting himself through that or that he had in any way let that happen. Fears were not rational. Trauma was not rational. It did not matter -why- he was afraid, it mattered if he was. He did not want to be causing it.

 

“That doesn't mean... Oh Crowley, I haven't- haven't been making you afraid like th-?” he asked, trying his best to hold back very sudden tears, because this was not about his own feelings.

 

“No! nonono, no, angel...” he rushed to take his hand, lightly hooking his collar to keep him from pulling any further away “It's not like that...” he wanted to explain how it was, but he knew what that required confessing to.

 

Each of these incidents did not tend to start out outright threatening, they started out with someone expressing some amount of interest; with a look, a comment, a touch. He could not just consciously decide to turn off automatic responses to intuitive situations. Maybe the first few times he would not have felt the impulse to change until the act itself or something approaching it, but after a while it became the things approaching that, and after those things themselves became traumatic in turn, anything approaching that, and so on and so forth until his intentionally conditioned response stacked with the rest and came to eventually be triggered by any situation feeling remotely, potentially sexual at all, especially in the absence of ever pursuing desired intimacy that could contrast all of it.

 

It did not seem to matter whether it was internal or external either, apparently. The moment a situation started to feel even vaguely, potentially, sexually charged it seemed to trigger a switch in what his ingrained responses were; now even quite separately from the question of any kind of trauma altogether. It was not that he was unable to separate the idea of physical intimacy from the threat -or promise- of being hurt, not with someone he did feel so safe with, it was that the inability to shape-shift had attached itself mindlessly to anything that superficially resembled anything approaching sex, even if it was his own excitement. He had not had occasion to figure this out until recently and was still struggling with it himself, but Aziraphale needed to understand. He needed to know he was not scaring him or hurting him.

 

“It's not even all the way... It's not conscious. I didn't realize but... It doesn't seem to matter whether I pick up on someone -else- starting to, um, to- or, if, I- ” he could feel his skin burning and he was absolutely at a loss, but he could not keep being so vague.

 

He absolutely felt like he was failing to explain it at all, possibly making it worse, but he could not actually explain anything without admitting that -he- was getting aroused, and that was something he had resisted processing himself for a very long time.

 

“Doesn't seem to matter whether I want...Just the moment anything seems- even a little- even if it's because of me...” he finally admitted, though he seemed pained to.

 

Over the past number of months he had gone from convincing himself he never wanted anything more than his companionship, to realizing just how much he craved being held, to realizing Aziraphale was quite interested in holding him and, then, entirely capable of turning him on, to barely acknowledging this had come up before, to almost letting himself realize he really wanted him to, to almost confessing out loud that he had wanted him to for a -very- long time. Now it was sitting out before him, undeniably, and he actually felt like he needed to explain it all; not for his own sake, but regardless.

 

“You're so careful, and so considerate and sso -frustratingly- gentle and that's why- I want...” his grip tightened on his collar even as he ran out of words.

 

Even when Aziraphale could be less than considerate in most things, this was always something he had been particularly careful about. There was a reason they both abstained to varying degrees from intimacy of certain kinds with mortals, and Crowley had occasion to know just how careful and selfless Aziraphale was in this regard; more than he knew.

 

“Oh! You -want- me to touch you.” Aziraphale said, as if realizing -something- of the depth to it, the context of it, with obvious relief.

 

Well, at least he understood, even if that meant watching Crowley flinch sensitively away from those words being spoke out loud. It was not just that he -could- do things that got to him that way, it was that he wanted him to, but needed to know he was welcome to enjoy his attention under that context.

 

“A- hhh!” Crowley hissed, before clamping his tongue back into his mouth.

 

Of all the things Crowley had ever accidentally cornered himself into, in his drive to appease hell or otherwise, conditioning himself into holding a human form, even when -he- was remotely approaching aroused, no matter what else he happened to be feeling, was not the least convenient thing, but he would almost rather slither away under the bed at the moment; and it -unfortunately- did not extend to his tongue.

 

Aziraphale watched his tongue change as he tried to speak, killing the exclamation -probably of his name- on itself. He clapped his hands back over his own mouth when he realized how forward that had been, and how it could have been interpreted any number of ways, given the context.

 

“Oh! Oh dear, I'm sorry.” he said softly, but quickly.

 

Crowley let go of his hand to hide his own face in embarrassment, but did not let go of his collar, not quite.

 

Even now though, he was shaking inside, enough that Aziraphale could feel it, but still not a snake. Of course, that realization was followed with the one that he had been holding him in his lap on a bed for quite some time now, talking about whether he might like to be kissed, and touching him gently. After that was the full implication settling in that this was not only romantic interest, the way he had assumed, but undeniably also that he was attracted to him -or at least that he seemed to be aroused by contact with him- and did seem like he enjoyed it, or even want to pursue it. That made sense of why he was so conflicted about kissing, if he knew he would want more than that and was not sure where Aziraphale's interest halted.

 

Unless it was that he wanted to kiss him and did not want to pursue anything else, felt bad enjoying things in a way that was not explicitly understood, that his involuntary responses made wanting to be kissed complicated and uncomfortable. That could not be right though, since he seemed to be trying to articulate wanting something and had still not given him a straight answer about kissing yet. Unless that -was- the complication, but telling him he did not want to kiss seemed too obviously dishonest, and admitting outright to being aroused by his actions had been too embarrassing.

 

“But, angel, I... Never did get the sensse that you'd want... Anythhing- I mean, you-” he said as he rubbed the cotton under his thumb.

 

“I'm already sso... Just that you want to stay together, just that you talk about -us- and the future, and... Just that you l-love me, I-” his voice become quiet and broke a little, and he was not sure he had ever acknowledged that out loud himself before and it really did mean everything to him, “I don't need anything else, not more than that, and it's... It's a mess, and you never seemed interested in that kind of thhing...” he said, realizing in that moment how often that thought had sent him spiralling straight into denial.

 

He also remembered how bad he felt for other people who had been obviously trying to catch his oblivious angel's attention; in an amused kind of way. The one recent exception, to all of that, was him admitting that he thought it would be very nice to kiss him, in a way that made him crave it more than he could ever put into words. He had to be sure he really knew what he was getting into, though, and Crowley was very much concerned he would embarrass himself somehow anyway.

 

“Oh, darling, I don't know about all that...” he sighed deeply to himself, and to Crowley, “What I thought, wanted, well, what I -assumed- was that someday we might...” he shrugged, “Settle down somewhere nice... Somewhere where we had everything we need, where we could have each other.” he explained, taking his face very gently in his hands again.

 

Crowley was quiet but seemed to be experiencing a momentary reprieve from all of his flustered and anxious embarrassment, due to a kind of curiosity. He was watching Aziraphale's face quite intently now.

 

“I never thought about what that -wouldn't- include...” he admitted, glancing away, “I just thought we would figure out what suited us on our own time... I guess I always just sort of -hoped- that everything would calm down someday...” he explained, tilting his head as if he could convince the universe to do him that favour if he seemed sweet and unassuming enough.

 

He had never actually known when the apocalypse would come, not any more than Crowley had. They could have had thousands more years to sort things out as far as he could have known.

 

“But then the word was ending, and, well, now it isn't, but there's all this worry about everyone all being cross with us, and you... Well, you've been all over the place, darling...”

 

Crowley did his best to blink away the thought that -despite never ruminating on it, or seemingly thinking about it in the active sense, by his own admission- Aziraphale still seemed to be full of easy assumptions about what he might be like under various, more intimate, circumstances. Mostly because he wanted, with his whole heart, to focus on his easy admission that he had long assumed they would retired together some place nice and sort out the details then.

 

“Aziraphale.” Crowley said in a whispery, weak imitation of an admonishment, “How long exactly have you just -assumed- we'd eventually run off like an old married couple?” he asked, feeling giddy and bashful and biting his lip.

 

“Oh I don't know... You -know- these things sneak up on me... Paris maybe? Almost certainly after London...”

 

Crowley's eyebrows just got incrementally higher as he spoke.

 

“I didn't mean to assume but, well, it seemed to be something you'd want...”

 

He could just assume they would effectively be married someday, but could not just assume something as small and simple as a kiss in case it was ultimately unwanted. Crowley tried to hide that he almost licked his lip. It made him wonder just how transparent he had been about wanting his companionship all to himself if Aziraphale was so confident of his interest in that; not that it was something he was ever exactly trying to hide or was necessarily shy about. He had to admit it aught to have been fairly obvious he had been relentlessly and patiently pursuing his companionship -in some capacity- for thousands of years.

 

“You're not upset?” Aziraphale asked him, though his amusement at it all seemed most assured.

 

“Oh, angel...” he sighed, now actually smiling, still tugging gently at his collar, “No, no of course not.” he assured him, pulling them together and sitting himself slightly higher on his thighs so he could reach him.

 

Then Crowley's lip brushed his cheek, making his skin tingle in anticipation before another shy peck. Then there was another, and then another, and Crowley was gently kissing both sides of his face affectionately. His own hands slid over his shoulders to let him.

 

When Crowley stopped to press their noses and foreheads together softly he was distracted from his own nerves again by a happy little wiggle.

 

“Mm... You like when I kiss you, angel?” he asked, already knowing the answer, but pleasantly surprised by his reaction anyway.

 

“Of course.”

 

Crowley pressed their noses together again, before losing his nerve this time. He was, Aziraphale was fairly certain now, just losing his nerve. It was probably overwhelming.

 

“Crowley, dear, all of this, do you mean- Are you trying to tell me that you -do, actually- want me to kiss you? That you just, that you wanted me to know what it could...?” he said, safely leaving the rest -what it could mean to him or how he might react- implied because Crowley was already nodding subtly.

 

He felt another subtle tug at his collar, another invitation.

 

“Dearest, you know I've been avoiding this context exactly?” he implored him, “In bed, like this... In case... I wouldn't want anything to get carried away...”

 

At precisely that moment Crowley was still straddling his thighs, as incidental as that had initially been, melting slightly into his hands, and had just made a subtle sound that suggested he thought being so careful with him, was in fact -very- sexy of him. That seemed like a perfect recipe for suddenly going very much faster than either of them meant to.

 

“I know.” he said, as if embarrassed and pained, but still a little too distracted by everything else he was feeling to fully engage with the former two.

 

That was when another realization fully clicked. The more he was cautious and considerate, and the more he held him back, not out of rejection but out of concern and respect, and the more Crowley felt safe and loved, the more obviously Crowley seemed to want exactly what he was holding back from. Now he seemed almost hypnotized, taking his turn to study the air between them and exact distance to cross before their lips could touch.

 

“Oh.” Aziraphale said a handful of times under his breath as each level of that realization occurred to him, watching Crowley turn progressively more red with each word, now clearly and undeniably embarrassed, edging on uncertain again.

 

“Oh, darling...” he trailed off, now pressing his own lips together subtly, feeling for the words that should be there.

 

“Can I hold you?” Aziraphale asked very softly, slipping his arms gently off his shoulders, running his hands very lightly down his arms.

 

His arms felt very cold, so he imagined that was why he shivered and squirmed slightly before pressing his hands to his arms firmly and nodding enthusiastically. He gathered him to him in every sense that he could. He was not sure that making him feel as safe and secure as possible would -exactly- help all around, but he was not sure what else to do when he seemed teetering on some edge between embarrassment and feeling outright ashamed.

 

“Come here, then.”

 

Crowley let himself be turned slightly so their position, which had started off haphazard, could no longer slowly escalate in suggestiveness, and so he could be wrapped up securely in his arms. He was no less in his lap of course, but now he had been scooped up into warmth and comfort instead. He could feel the subtle shaking in his own chest, a reaction he could hardly help, knowing Aziraphale was coming to realize, even as he was, what he had really come to want, at least something of it. He could only imagine the conclusions he might be drawing, accurate or not, but then, this did not feel like rejection or judgement, and it did not quite seem like pity.

 

Still, now he imagined Aziraphale would clarify the intent behind his affection, or explain that he just was not interested in the kind of thing with anyone, that it was not personal, that he did not quite realize the extent of it when he had been so accepting before, or -at least- explain that it was too much all at once and that he would need a good deal of time to sort through it all. That was all if he clung to the hope that he was not about to delicately explain why the whole concept of anything more than kissing was outright repellent to him altogether.

 

“I have never -in over six millennia- seen you this out of sorts over anything.” he sighed, tucking his knees in together against him and making sure he was wrapped in as snugly as possible.

 

It was not an exaggeration, and he had seen him face down the potential of being destroyed completely and the world actually ending.

 

“...And I'm beginning to think that I'm still not making myself quite clear enough... Perhaps not being specific, or direct enough...” he thought out loud, though 'probably' or 'definitely' may have been better -more direct and accurate- word choices.

 

In general he was not sure where exactly to start, mostly because he was uncertain what he -had- communicated already that Crowley had just failed to process -yet- and was, in turn, not quite sure what parts were and were not getting through, or exactly what he was hung up on. All he knew was that Crowley seemed to be very distressed about something that -from what he understood of the situation- should not be that distressing. It made him think one of them was missing something.

 

“You know, dear... You haven't exactly given me the impression you would be interested in any such thing either... Though I'm coming to understand something of why, and why it's, well, complicated.” he said, thinking that was as fair a place to start as any.

 

“...And I can only begin to guess at why you might have avoided the issue, if it had come up before... I'm afraid I've been rather dismissive of any...” he held him tighter and rubbed at his arms gently to warm them, “Well, I haven't- I've been rather reluctant to admit any kind of affection or attachment, and I'm not sure I -could- apologize enough... But I'm also not sure you've completely understood why, or what I meant by it all, not exactly.” he tried to explain, feeling like he was probably just prattling ineffectively, whether or not that was objectively true.

 

“I suppose I've made a great deal of pretence about it all... Even to myself, really, and I can hardly blame you for ending up all turned around by it... I've bought into it myself more than once...”

 

He had also though he had said a fair deal to him to explain it already, but he was not sure it was quite sinking in.

 

“You know it's... Well, it's ironic really...” he trailed off with something akin to amusement, though that was not quite what he had meant to say, “That you'd write that you were concerned about dragging me down with you...” he said, hoping that was not still the case.

 

“But you know, that it's all been out of concern for you, don't you?” he asked, trying to look at him tucked in under his own chin, and hoping beyond all hope he had made that clear by now.

 

“I'd been afraid I had condemned myself in some way since I gave away my sword... An you, well you were -actually- just following orders... That time. I-” he took a deep breath, “I lied to God's face about it all...” he went on explaining, though he looked mortified, “And I gave it away -knowing- heaven would not like it, that it probably... Oh but how -could- it have been the wrong thing?” he protested, still, despite himself and at risk of getting off track.

 

“Even after that, I always had the security of heaven to go back to, somehow... Or I -thought- I had, anyway...” he corrected, now newly aware of how vicious Gabriel could be, licking his lip like a nervous twitch, “We both know I was on the mark from the start about hell being quite willing to torture and destroy you. And if anyone had decided that it was all you whispering in -my- ear that was to blame for my actions...” he trailed off, trying not to get lost in the anxiety of it now.

 

“I couldn't live with myself if something happened to you because of me... And from the very beginning you've been so...” he searched for a word that could sum up everything he constantly read off of him as plain as day that was right there for anyone to see if they bothered with looking, “... Effusive.” he concluded, for lack of anything better.

 

To say he came on strong, emotionally, was a terrible understatement. They both had some sense of that by now.

 

“Crowley, it was terrifying... Not because you aren't the most charming, lovely creature I've ever encountered, not because I couldn't enjoy the attention, but because I couldn't- I could hardly have encouraged you in good conscience... And it, admittedly, it often felt undeserved, really... And certainly ill-advised.”

 

“I -had- thought I had made all of that clear by now, but... Well, what I'm trying to say is... I've never turned you away because that was what I -really- wanted; not in anything. That is, what I mean is -yes- there were times it was all too sudden, too much, too fast, too... careless... But all of that's all tied up in it all being- in it all being beyond us, all the plans, great and small, ineffable and far too knowable... It was never -just- about us, not when we were so much a part of everything else, and when everything else would see you- see us taken apart over it.”

 

Even now his first impulse was to speak of the danger to Crowley first, and correct it to include both of them like an afterthought, and that had always been the case. Crowley could hardly have not noticed that tendency, and he knew everything he was saying to be absolutely genuine, as easily as he recognized it -the quality of it- in everything Aziraphale had ever said to him on the matter. Hearing Aziraphale put it that way directly was something else though. The warm hand trailing up to cradle his head against his chest was also something else, new and ever-escalating tenderness.

 

“It -is- so lovely, watching you enjoy these things... I did tell you, didn't I? That I'd enjoy kissing you?” he asked softly, trailing his fingertips against his cheek in a way that gave him chills.

 

Crowley nodded, conceding that this had been communicated to him, even if he was not sure exactly what that meant yet. He was so comfortable and warm now, he really would just fall asleep if he was not so intently trying to follow whatever tangent of meaning he was being lead along.

 

“And do you think... Do you think how much I enjoy all of this, knowing you this way- You think it's limited to kisses?”

 

“N- Er... W- I can't-” Crowley searched weakly through syllables, trying to find the right ones to express that he did not know, that he really could not assume, without actually admitting to how clueless he felt.

 

“Dear boy, is -that- why you keep... Um.” he trailed off, not knowing how to put it delicately.

 

He was certain Crowley did not like to think of himself as someone who could be emotionally affected enough to shake like that. If he was perfectly honest, he was not sure how much of all of this Crowley had even processed for himself at this point. He imagined that -in time- more of the pieces would fall into place for him, but leaving him in this state in the interim seemed cruel.

 

“What, angel?”

 

“Oh darling you've, well, you've been just shaking.”

 

“Shaking?” Crowley mouthed, or cringed to himself, possibly in denial about it.

 

“Like a leaf...” he admitted, somewhat tactlessly, “And, well, I'm no good at reading theses things at all, really, but it seems a touch more- a fair deal more than embarrassment...”

 

Crowley groaned to himself quietly, covering his face, even though he was already tucked in under his chin. He felt ridiculous every time he was faced with how much Aziraphale really was trying to make sense of these things, all for his benefit. It made him feel useless to be making it all so difficult. Aziraphale seemed utterly lost, but he was trying so hard.

 

“It's not just that you think it's unwelcome, is it? Or that I'd- judge you, or that I'd...”

 

It seemed obvious, to both of them, that admitting to attraction or arousal was certainly at the root of it, but Aziraphale was not sure he really understood why it was such a daunting issue. He could imagine there -was- a reason, or he would not be like this, but he could not think of what it was.

 

“Angel, angel, please, you... you've made it clear... I um, I'm not...” he swallowed nervously, trying to focus on finding words, “Not sure you really realize the extent of- but that's...”

 

Crowley was not even entirely sure it was Aziraphale's judgement or rejection he was afraid of any more, if it ever was exactly.

 

“I don't think I like the idea of... Call it un-demonic or what have you, but it doesn't feel right does it? Putting that kind of attention where it isn't welcome... Where you -know- it probably isn't welcome, at least not... And I've -seen- the kinds of people who are perfectly comfortable putting that kind of attention on people who clearly don't want it, and I've... Even when they don't... You should hear the stories, angel, every century that goes by and it's still the same... Men, especially men, and all the ways they press, and pressure and insist and push and manipulate and force a-and... I never wanted to be like that, even have feelings like that, thoughts- not about someone who didn't...”

It was bad enough that sometimes he felt like he was pursuing him even after being told to keep his distance, and he knew it was because Aziraphale -had- indicated it was welcome, over the years and in even chance encounters, and it -had- been clear his concern was for their safety and not a lack of interest, but there was a line there, between different kinds of companionship and different kinds of pursuit, and he had never wanted to cross that line, not even let himself think it; but it sometimes felt more like a gradient, like there was not one defined line, and that made him uneasy.

 

“Crowley, listen to me... You have never done anything untoward or inappropriate... Not to me, and -I strongly suspect- not to anyone. And I wouldn't believe you if you told me you've ever wanted to.”

Of course Aziraphale's first worry was that Crowley might be afraid of receiving that kind of behaviour from others, given his history, but he had not considered how much it could have affected his own relationship with lust and guilt, desire and shame.

 

“You know... You're -allowed- to experience attraction, dear...” he said, though he knew it probably came with a hundred different careful caveats for him to experience it at all to begin with, “You- you should know even lust in itself isn't a sin... You said so yourself.” he reasoned out loud, in case it helped.

 

“I know, angel, and I'm... I'm sure it's some kind of... er- hypersensitivity, probably, maybe... But the point- I guess my point is that it never felt right, to want anything like this, and you weren't- this is the first you've really...”

 

“I am... um, since you seem to need it, giving you my permission, that is, to want things, enjoy...” Aziraphale volunteered.

 

Crowley's throat made an awkward and weak sound as all his gears ground to a halt again. Little snakes had been carefully oiling and cultivating them and were, once again, left to see what the damage was, as tiny angel lights gathered them up and told them they were allowed to want their bellies rubbed. He had been trying to focus on something, say something.

 

“Maybe some day you'll even tell me...” he began in a fond and soft tone, causing every last little snake to faint off of the gears.

 

“Oh, but you -haven't- even really thought about it have you?”

 

Crowley could swear he felt his heart stop. Air seemed to pass through his skin like his chest was made of vapours, making it impossible -or pointless- to breathe.

 

“Nh- Not more than a couple slips, not... Until recently, I-” he said numbly.

 

“Maybe someday you'll tell me what you wanted then and maybe we can-” he broke off because he felt him starting to shake again.

 

“Crowley?” he asked in concern, holding him tighter because that was what he seemed to need.

 

“Angel, I can't- I... You don't want to know...” he said, voice small and breaking and sounding like he was about to lose his voice entirely to something.

 

“Darling, of all the things in existence I'm content to let remain a mystery, I assure you, you -all the things about you- are not among them.”

 

“Aziraphale, they're not pleasant memories, I messed up, I -really-”

 

Now he really was shaking, and his skin was getting hot. Aziraphale was certain this was the source of it, and he would rather address that than leave him to keep stewing on whatever it was in isolation.

 

“I somehow doubt that very much, my dear... But Crowley, you don't have to tell me... Not now, not- Not until you're ... Not until you have whatever you need to be comfortable telling me.”

 

“I think I have to... Tell you, I mean... Maybe you have the right to know... Especially if... If we- If you still want to...

 

“Crowley, you can't -really- believe I'd judge you so harshly...” he sighed, though he did not want to make him feel bad for whatever anxiety he had, “Darling...” he said, taking one hand gently away from his face to slowly tease at the possibility of kissing it, “If it were me, in your place... Would you judge me for these things?”

 

“No.” he said, very automatically, “But that's-”

 

“How is it different?” he asked, holding his hand to his lips gently.

 

Crowley had to admit he did not have a good answer. If he thought of blaming anyone else for the same things it felt all wrong. He had -in fact- argued people out of similar internalized judgements before. What he knew was a bit of a separate question from how he felt though.

 

“And would it keep you from wanting to kiss me?” he asked, kissing the back of his hand gently.

 

“No...” he relented.

 

“Then, I forgive you... If you need it, and for whatever you feel like you might have done wrong... I forgive you.” he said, kissing his hand again, as if it really was that simple.

 

“Angel, you can't...”

“I can. If it has to do with me, and if they're things you feel like I should know, then it's up to me and I forgive you.” he insisted.

 

He almost thought he heard a ghost of a laugh in his breath.

 

It's not that... Just because -I'd- forgive it doesn't mean...”

 

“Oh, so now you're the forgiving one?” he teased him.

 

“Angel.” he almost whined.

 

“Tell me the least of it then? ... And I'll tell you you're still forgiven.”

 

The problem was that the least of it, was probably also the least forgivable, objectively speaking, if he could be objective, but at least it was something he had some context for now, having read the journals. He sighed deeply, resigned. He did not want any of this to come as an ugly surprise after he went through with something like kissing him, and it really seemed like that might actually happen.

 

“You remember those journals that you were so fixated on?” he asked, tilting his head a little flippantly.

 

“Yes.” he said, really quite fondly.

 

“You remember how warding against angels requires energy -from- an angel? Angelic grace and the like?” he tested, waiting to see if he would back down.

 

“Yes... Actually I -had- been wondering how you managed that.”

 

“Did you know that when angels cry, when they -really- weep, real tears, angel, not just their vessel, but them... Like you did, all over those stone walls, in genuine crisis, small amounts of their energy gets all mixed up in them? It's not quite like holy water, not really intended to purify the same way, and a lot more personal than that...”

 

Dear boy, that's your first confession?” he asked, almost laughing, “That you stole my tears and used them to keep me from having to -smite- mortals?” he asked, actually incredulous.

 

Never mind the fact that he could either handle angelic grace without sustaining significant injury or had been doing something very risky, for his benefit, even back when they hardly knew each other.

 

“Without asking, and without telling you.” he reminded him defensively.

 

That was fair enough, to take something of someone without their knowledge and put it towards an end did seem to violate their autonomy, but it was also true he -had- given his consent.

 

“Crowley... I distinctly recall begging to -anyone- who would hear me, that I would give -anything- not to have to... Surely that qualifies as permission.”

 

Should consent be made of technicalities and excuses?” he tested, “Could you have known -even suspected- it was a demon's ears your prayers were reaching?”

 

“Well, no, but I'm not sure that's what this was... And you hardly could have asked and still been protecting me the same way, though I -do- wish you had told me sooner...” he got slightly off track, “And no, no Crowley, I couldn't have had any reason to suspect that a demon would hear me crying and act to save me, like they were -my- guardian angel, when everyone else was turning a deaf ear to anything I had to say... but Crowley... Requested blessings hardly become a betrayal when they come from an unexpected source.”

 

“I don't have to tell you how personal an angel's tears are... Angel.”

 

“Well, no, of course not, but... Oh be -practical- Crowley... You were back then...” he admitted and then admonished with a disaffected eyebrow quirk.

 

“Yeah? You want to know what else I did with them then?” he asked, his impulse to nip at him warring with his own guilt.

 

“If all of your confessions are like this... Please -do- tell me.”

 

“I also made a charm... Something anyone could carry around to hide them from angels...”

 

“Oh? Is that how you made them disappear to whisk them away to do the spell-work properly?” he raised his eyebrow again, countering the challenge.

 

“W- well, yeah that's... what I made it for... But I kept it after that... Never told you about it... Still have it now, actually.”

 

He had no idea, but of course, if it was meant to keep itself and anything it associated to from his notice, and keep him from noticing that anything was quite missing, that would make sense.

 

“Crowley... That's far too useful of a thing to discard or destroy... To both of us. I'd have been glad to know you had it, and I know -why- you couldn't have told me without having to explain a lot more... I forgive you, of course I do...”

 

It did raise questions of why he had not used it in combination with his own warding to hide himself away so he would be safe, but that line of questioning was -somehow- a distraction to what was really important at the moment. He also realized the truth was probably that it had likely weakened in time and he knew -from the journals- that kind of warding, just carried around, could only do so much to obscure beings like them when far more powerful celestials were looking for them, and right at them.

 

“Even if I've used it to hide from you?” he asked, defensive but now also shaking.

 

That stung. Of course it did. His reply took longer this time and he was back to soft and subdued.

 

“Darling... If I've ever given you a reason to feel the need to hide from me, I think you had the right to do so... Even if I did worry that I couldn't find you, or sense you sometimes... I have said some awful things to you, and I know I've upset you terribly before... Our options for things like real privacy are so limited... Of course I forgive you, I'd just ask that, from now on, you tell me when you want to be away from me, and I'll respect that, of course I will.” he soothed him, rubbing the back of his arm again.

 

Of course, Crowley knew that he could never want to be away from him again, but that was not the kind of thing you just blurted out at a moment like this, even if you were Crowley.

 

“And if I've used it to trick you?” he asked, done with his own challenges and shrinking to his chest.

 

“Trick me? On purpose? How so?”

Let alone that it did not actually sound like him at all to deceive him, he was not even sure of the possible logistics of it.

 

“On pur...” he almost mocked him, but he supposed this confession also came with the embarrassing fact that he had never meant for it to happen at all, had been trapped -tricked himself to some extent- in a web of his own machinations.

 

“Crowley?” he asked, teetering between concerned and amused, uncertain which way to fall yet.

 

“Of course not -on purpose- not... Not exactly.” he muttered into his chest.

 

This was not the worst of it, not exactly, but it was the one tale to tell where he had actually had the most agency and was ultimately responsible for the whole affair. The one that had actually dragged Aziraphale into something he did not need to be involved with.

 

“Oh darling... Please... If you could ever bring yourself to tell me.”

 

He could not help but be curious. That sounded like a real story, and if everything else that had come to light recently was any indication, he wanted to know what he had been so wrapped up in, and wholly oblivious to.

 

“Aziraphale...” he groaned, “It's... This one- eh-is uh, also embarrassing...” he said, almost mournfully.

 

“Oh... well, that's...”

 

“For both of us, come to think...” he realized out-loud.

 

“Oh dear...”

 

“Are you sure you want to know?” Crowley asked, wincing.

 

“If- ah, well, if you think you can handle telling me... I'm sure I'll survive.” he reasoned slowly, looking a bit pale.

 

“If you can promise to listen till I'm done... Then, I'll tell you.”

 

The worst part of it was that he would likely figure it out fairly early on, he had been -there- after all, and would probably struggle not to form conclusions or ask questions until he was done explaining the whole thing. Crowley was, at this point, completely resigned to the idea that he would die of embarrassment anyway.

 

~*~

 

It had been, as he explained, just before the year 1900. Telephones had been invented, and were common enough, and there had long been newspapers. Radio -for entertainment- was a couple decades around the corner. Crowley was supposed to be taking a very long nap, and he was -more or less- in and around short forays into the world. He was starting to notice times changing a little faster than he was used to, especially technologically, and he thought that was where the next big potential was, for evil -or his brand of it- in technology and communications, mostly because it seemed like the greatest potential for all things.

 

True to his preferred form, he was looking for ways to set up self-sustaining systems of things that had a very obvious potential for abuse and evil, but which ultimately left people up to their own devices. So many of the things he set into motion could suit the right people just fine, and had the potential to be good, even, if everyone involved were to behave themselves accordingly; not that he would admit to that. The important part was to -look- like a breeding ground for sin and ill-intent, and with so many technological changes likely to snowball around the corner, he wanted to seed the ground floor with a few things, if nothing else, to look like he was doing something useful, maybe not rely on accidental blame or the arrangement so much to keep him from the wrong attention.

 

They had not been talking and -since he was assumed avoiding him and probably napping- Aziraphale had not made much of his long absences during this period. In fact, he would not really question it too closely until the 1920's when it would seem so odd for Crowley to miss out entirely on a time so seemingly suited to him. Of course now he knew why he would not have been much aware of him even when he was up and about.

 

Still, he had worried at the time, not least of all because the last time they spoke it had been an argument, and he had outright accused him of potentially being suicidal, and he had -at this point- gained some inclination that these long naps and absences were a kind of stress response, if not a growing certainty it was outright anxiety or depression napping, exhausted avoidance like no mortal had the constitution to pull off. Crowley had really seemed cross with him that time and he did not think it was his business to go intruding on his space regardless.

 

Now began the countdown until Aziraphale would start putting things together. First he had to confess to and explain what his latest scheme had been. He had thought to modernize and re-invent the whole culture of sugar dating; something that had gained a name and some prominence in recent decades, but was an ages old practice. He thought he could adapt current and future technology to allow potential -adult and consenting- partners to meet up or sponsor one another, make their exchanges, trade numbers if they wanted, creating a space where he himself could identify souls probably destined for hell, and do something -not anything akin to what he used to have to do- to set them on a faster road down, if they took it, and save their potential matches the trouble.

 

It was hardly an objectionable thing in and of itself, it would keep his side satisfied, but also did a lot to redistribute wealth to the lower class, and so long as no one was looking to take anything that was not offered, was mostly a venue for good -not always so clean- fun between consenting adults. Still, it looked -very- good, or very bad, on paper.

 

The next part of the confession was a little harder, because he had to explain that he had made a habit of posing as a sugar-baby himself in order to get a read on people, often keeping up long interactions with them, long-distance, usually in writing, to allow them the opportunity to start trying to pressure, demand and harass or abuse him in pursuit of things he was not offering. The clever part was that they never had to come anywhere near him for them to commit the sin of actually trying to force or coerce sexual favours -that were not being offered- out of someone, and they never had to interact with anyone other than the personas he invented. They condemned themselves and left the rest of society in peace. Of course this had the side-effect of providing a very substantial income stream, if he needed it for anything.

 

What he had to explain next was that before too long he noticed the other sugar babies advertising through his service were disappearing, fast. He was quick to investigate this, of course, fearing the worst, to find they had all retired comfortably, each of them paid a sum of money that freed them from any motivation to sell their time and attention. A couple stayed on and were only sent higher sums until they too had no need to continue. He had intended the network to take off -to some degree- without him, but that would never happen if one half of the whole arrangement were just being paid off to quit. It was too aggressive, though well-intentioned, and at risk of shutting the whole thing down, killing the stranger's own access to people to help, shutting down the very service they were using to find people in need, and Crowley was being, in effect, thoroughly and mercilessly thwarted.

 

Aziraphale seemed to be abiding by his agreement not to interject fairly easily at this point, but Crowley was quite certain he had not guessed the beginning of it.

 

Before he could get too far trying to look into this mysterious stranger, or network of strangers, himself, one of his own personas was approached by a curious client. Immediately he was offered a substantial sum of money, and promptly declined it, making some pretence about wanting to know a bit about their sponsor or what would be expected of them in turn, asking if they would not rather know what the money was to be spent on. Eventually, seemingly because the client in question could not bring themselves to be rude, some attempt at conversing succeeded, and -under the guise of a particularly chatty and difficult but educated persona- he was able to draw them into substantial but guarded conversations.

 

It never set off any red-flag that personal details were out of the question on the part of the client, and his personal details were all invented anyway; thirties and still young enough to be broadly considered pretty, the money was for academic pursuits, an orphan, no family to speak of, not many friends. The client, he gleaned was recently divorced, obviously enough, and lonely enough to be drawn into conversation despite their repeated attempts to refocus on just giving them a large sum of money and leaving.

 

He accused him of not knowing how services like this were supposed to work, only to have it argued that he was -technically- using it as intended; to give large sums of money to younger people in exchange for his own satisfaction at doing a good thing. This was technically accurate, but it missed the whole part about usually expecting to get at least emotional labour and attention out of it. Usually this kind of arrangement was used to keep an empathetic ear and receptive companion on retainer. When he could be drawn into personal exchanges, he was relatively private about his own troubles and seemed to want to provide a listening ear himself.

 

At first Crowley had to treat it with some suspicion that it might all be an elaborate ruse to get something out of it after all -maybe a very loyal friend for some kind of affair, someone too caught up in them and their kindness to be able to refuse anything, no matter how strange or unsavoury- and he did not actually -with his own growing attachment and his own want to believe in good and decent people- want to put it to the test, but he had to; it was his job. The more he flirted or made offers though, the more they went back to a professional distance, though affectionate and not at all judgemental, and offering him ever escalating amounts in exchange for no longer relying on the service. He thought perhaps he was just not the right type to be their final choice, and tried catching their attention with other personas, male, female, old, young, a little too young, only to receive the same treatment. It was incredibly frustrating, but also truly endearing.

 

Usually Crowley was disgusted with the behaviour that this kind of anonymity and advantage brought out in people, but this was the opposite. He was absolutely the exact opposite of disgusted, whatever that even was. After a while Crowley himself lost track of the network or what it was doing, if it had survived at all, and had found solace himself in having someone reliable to talk to who was always concerned with how he was feeling and who was so completely unassuming, and genuinely generous. He even felt bad having to accept at least small amounts of money just to keep him corresponding with him.

 

See, this man did not like the idea that any of these people might only be opting into arrangements like this because they needed it for financial security, so by the time he was done with it, the only people left were the ones there, not for the money, but because it was their preferred way to date people. What was worse was that now Crowley thoroughly believed him, and was having his own efforts -to keep people using the service safe- completely outdone and rendered futile. He could keep trolling with his personas for the bottom of the barrel and using it to help damned souls along, but all of his personas became hard pressed to keep making themselves talk to abusive partners when he could be one person, nearly himself, and talk to the gentleman instead.

 

He had never encountered a man so genuinely kind, especially one who clearly had enough wealth and influence to do what they wanted, and pay off anyone for anything. Their interactions quickly turned from attempting to get the man to reveal himself for what he really was, to a kind of desperate curiosity about who this stranger could even be. Their interactions had started with codes in newspapers and moved on to printed letters, again to protect their identities, and he could not find any record of the man's name anywhere. Attempts to trace the path of the letters failed spectacularly every time. Before too long at all he absolutely considered this man his friend and the more he politely declined his offers for increases in intimacy or making himself increasingly vulnerable to him in some way, the more he just wanted to spend time with him, meet him in person and put a face to all these interactions.

 

What he was confessing to now, to himself as much as anyone, was that he had started to feel very particular kinds of affection for this person that he never thought he would be capable of feeling for a human, or mostly anyone. It had filled his chest with a giddy warmth and a poorly defined longing.

 

In all and complete honesty, which he had to detail now, the whole ordeal made him miss Aziraphale terribly, which he also confessed to, but they had been disagreeing at the moment. Crowley was still angry, and hurt, mostly because his accusations had come with such a mischaracterization of himself and their relationship. It made him feel like Aziraphale did not actually know him very well at all, not as well as he should have by then, and the way he was still so ready to dismiss their significance to each other was a sting he was tired of feeling. This was not news to either of them.

 

He had never had an interest in finding companionship with humans before, and he had his misgivings about this, but he just wanted to meet him. He could hardly pursue anything else, not when their whole relationship was based on the dishonesty of the ruse that started it, but their friendship had only ever benefited them, and -if he dared to hope- there was no rule saying he could not explain everything to him if it came to it. If there really was a man so truly decent, so selfless that none of his temptations had worked, as half-hearted as they had become, he just wanted to confirm it for himself. He could admit to being drawn in by the polite and guarded, but honest affection, and the compliments and interest that were clearly -at this point- not intended to get him anything.

 

It had taken a little while to drag out of his new friend that he would rather enjoy someone to keep him company, not for anything in particular of course, in fact, Crowley got the strong sense he may well just be asexual, rather than gay as he had first assumed, but he seemed to think it would be inappropriate of him, to arrange to meet at all. It had taken a couple -years- of convincing, repeatedly arguing that there was no imbalance of power left between them, given that Crowley's persona -Joseph- now had enough money to not need the service, and he was still offering to throw large sums at him without question anyway. He felt bad, for all the ways he had come to press him for the meeting, but the man really did seem lonely, and all of his protests seemed to be based in altruistic concerns about propriety, rather than a lack of interest.

 

Finally, it came time to meet at a designated location and Crowley had found himself an absolute ball of nerves; trying and failing to correct himself every time he called it a date. It had not been agreed to as a date, or with any of those expectations. He was just meeting a friend for dinner, a very attentive and kind friend who he felt incredibly emotionally close to and who was always the most perfect gentleman, even in practice and when put to any test, who could probably get away with taking anything, and took nothing. If he somehow managed to fail to live up to that standard in person, Crowley was already planning a trip a long ways away until he had the emotional traction he needed to go back to trying to repair whatever not-anything-apparently he had with Aziraphale; Fraternizing, right.

 

He had never meant to get attached, or for this to go so far, but here he was, and there, half an hour early, of course, sat a man in the distance, waiting in a tidy -all too familiar- posture on the designated bench.

 

Fuck.

 

~*~

 

At first Aziraphale assumed he would be told about the only time he -had- managed to properly thwart Crowley's efforts, and feared he would be told about how it had accidentally driven him into some unsavoury situation, then -because he could hardly jump to wild conclusions- he thought maybe he would be told about how someone he met through the service, who had been up to something similar, had reminded him far too much of him in too compromising a context, prompting thoughts he did not mean to have, or -even more horrifyingly- that said person may have been a disappointment to meet after all. However, armed with the new knowledge of that charm, the obvious certainty fully bled through to him as it came crashing onto Crowley in his recounting of events.

 

“That was...” he gasped, before remembering he had agreed to listen first.

 

His heart was breaking for him a bit though, not least of all because he did remember.

 

~*~

 

At first Crowley panicked, before realizing that he had the charm on him and Aziraphale had not spotted him yet, and had no real reason to recognize him at this considerable distance. He slipped in between buildings trying to decide what to do. At first he tried denial, but as time wore closer to their agreed date, he could no longer keep entertaining it was just a coincidence. There was no other man about to show up at the same bench to wait for him. He knew vaguely that he was crying, but he did not have time to process why at the moment.

 

He was not prepared for the emotional vulnerability or potential reaction of confessing it had been him all along, least of all -somehow- that it had been an honest mistake. He also could not just abandon him, leaving Aziraphale to think something had happened to Joseph, or that he had been tricked intentionally, or rejected on sight. He was panicking and had ten minutes left to decide what to do. Aziraphale might not be able to recognize his demonic aura, if he was not looking for it in particular, at least, while he wore the charm, but he would certainly recognize his body. He hated shifting the appearance of his human vessel, perpetually afraid he would forget what he was supposed to be shaped like, or get stuck somehow, but at the moment he did not feel like he had much of a choice.

 

He could not disguise his eyes, but he had mentioned some kind of vision impairments before, luckily this persona had at least come to include all kinds of genuine details about himself, that were plausible enough for any human, including his sensitivity to lights and his partial colour blindness, and that was convenient, because that meant he had every reason to keep on dark glasses of some form, and he had not been overly specific about what his vision impairment was.

 

He quickly changed enough superficial details about himself to match his description as accurately as possible without looking like himself entirely any more, different enough; softer features that could be from being slightly younger or just more naturally effeminate; change the hair, something normal enough for the time but pretty, befitting his persona, similar hair colour, but not the same; different pattern of freckles, hoping he did not lose the old ones; shorter, more petite, but nothing too unnatural feeling to move in; less stylish clothing, but still nice, still dressed up, looking to impress. He cursed to himself the whole time. Hide the warding charm. Hide the saunter and walk only slightly awkwardly instead.

 

When he got to him he was certain he failed, because Aziraphale stared at him for a little too long, with an expression close to pained.

 

“Joseph?” he tested quietly.

 

“Yes?” he said, in a voice a little too bright and formal to be his own, “Is that okay?” he asked uncertainly.

 

“Oh, yes, of course, dear boy, I'm sorry... You just reminded me of someone for a moment, that's all.”

 

After that, they had gone on with their evening as planned. Crowley kept up every pretence of being far too flirtatious, because that was the way his persona always was. It was an odd balance between intentional invitation and all the accidental seeming suggestion poured in on top. He did at least seem to find him charming, even if he would not allow for anything much.

 

Of course Aziraphale was nothing but perfectly respectful and appropriate, even to the point of making him want to test him, in part because he was so sure it would not succeed, and he -now- had to find a way to shut down this charade in a real hurry. Flirting with him obnoxiously seemed like the perfect and most believable way to do that. He was not sure there was anything obvious or obnoxious enough for him to fully catch on to though.

 

Unfortunately for Crowley, the longer this dragged on, and the more it utterly failed, and the more Aziraphale was nothing but perfectly affectionate and kind in his rejections, though he could have easily shamed or admonished him, the more he was eternally grateful for being behind the mask of another person, because it was all getting in under his skin. At least it suited the act, but there was only so long he could carry on like that before having to face that it was not wholly an act.

 

It would never succeed, this temptation, and he could not in good conscience actually go through with seducing him anyway, even if it were possible, and he could hardly press enough to be considered demanding or too insistent himself, but every physical reaction he was having that was helping to sell the act so convincingly came absolutely naturally and by the time he was being escorted safely home he was a mess of blushing and nerves. He was too hot and his ears were ringing. He could not even blame wine for his fumbling or nervousness because he had been sure not to drink anything, sure it would put him off immediately.

 

That was what he was confessing to now. He was explaining his reasoning for ending it the way he had, and admitting to everything it had brought screaming to the surface for one disastrous evening.

 

At the time he had been a mess of embarrassment because it had become so impossible to keep what he was feeling wholly separate from the act at that point, mostly because it had -in a larger part than he had ever wanted to admit- ceased to be an act, that he wanted him. If it was clear in some way he was actually put off by the whole thing it would not be getting to him the same way, but he looked at him so fondly, almost sadly, and was at least making a decent act of looking the tiniest bit tempted, even if that was to spare his feelings. He was looking a little flustered in general, even if that was just because he did not know what to do with all the attention.

 

He made his case, one last time -knowing it would fail, and that there was really no point in it, not really being a test of anything much at this point- that there really was no unfair advantage in the situation, and that he really was asking on his own accord.

 

“Dear boy, I really do think I've somehow given you the wrong idea...” he lamented seeming distressed, taking in his obvious state.

 

Crowley could tell he had accomplished his goal, even though it broke his heart. Aziraphale cold not take Joseph out again without feeling like he was leading him on, or giving him the wrong impression.

 

“At least walk me to my door?” he coaxed, as his last -and only- successful temptation of the night.

 

When they got there he turned to him on the steps. He looked so sad, in a distant and distracted sort of way. Crowley could not tell him he was standing right in front of him. He could not ask whether this was about Joseph or about Crowley.

 

“You can kiss me... If you'd like.” he said, heart in his throat praying for both acceptance and rejection at the same time, kicking himself for even offering, ready to amend that statement at a moment's notice.

 

He did not know how he could risk that he really might be tricked into kissing him under false pretence, for the first time, no less. Not that he would.

 

His heart stopped for one dizzying moment when his hand cupped his face gently. He kissed his forehead tenderly instead, and left in an awful hurry. By the time Crowley could think or see again, he was gone. It was then he realized he was clutching a package. This, and the next number of moments was what he had to explain now.

 

He had wandered inside, some kind of dizzy and numb. His lips tingled with the ghost of the kiss that never happened. His skin was on fire. He opened the package because his hands had no other signal to obey, and he took stock of the money inside and read over the letter because his eyes did not know what else to do. It became very clear to him, in that moment, that he had mostly agreed to dinner to make sure that package ended up in his hands. The letter explained it, that he was breaking off whatever arrangement he had with Joseph, leaving him with enough money that he would never go without, and that he still hoped he would write, at least once in a while, to let him know he was doing well, that he would still like to be friends, if that was what he really wanted, in the absence of financial motivation.

 

At that moment Crowley had been left with three things: A stack of money he had no use for, an affectionate and heartbreaking letter addressed to a man who had never really existed, and a burning certainty that he had never and could never want someone's hands on his skin like he wanted Aziraphale to come back that very moment and hold him.

 

Of course then he really did spend a good long time asleep, right after composing a letter from Joseph that he had to stop writing because he -Joseph, of course- had fallen in love but the nature of their relationship had seemed to have been too compromised from the very start and Aziraphale clearly was not having any of it, and it was too painful to carry on with him, that he had to move on.

 

~*~

 

That letter was the one thing he did not have to explain, because Aziraphale had already read it and could likely guess at his reasoning for doing it at the time, at what he had told himself to convince himself that those were wholly Joseph's feelings, and at how that was possibly the most painful part of it all now.

 

Crowley had not expected a number of things which became clear to him in that moment. The first being that the implications of the letter were the more distressing part of confessing to all of this, somehow, even though they were not supposed to be his words, more so than admitting to how badly he had wanted him, or how absolutely he had orchestrated that whole disaster for himself from start to finish. The second that he was -in- love, had been for a long time, had been admitting to it in every way he possibly could have other than just saying the words directly as himself, though never -to- himself. The third being that Aziraphale did not seem nearly as upset with him as he probably should have been, though -looking at it all from this side of things- it seemed pretty clear why.

 

He looked pained, and heartbroken, but in an empathetic, almost relieved kind of way; sappy, if he had to put a single word to it. He was also crying and that was not at all what he was prepared for. It was enough to snap him temporarily out of his own useless state.

 

“Careful, angel...” he said, wiping a tear off his chin, though this one did carry a little of the distinct sting of grace, “I'll use these for my own dark designs...” he tried to joke lightly, just anything to break the sudden and intense silence.

 

“Dark?” he almost laughed though the tears, wiping them away quickly and showing obvious and understandable concern for his slightly reddened fingertips.

 

He kissed them gently, soothing away the irritation and that undid Crowley completely. Now he was shaking again and completely worn down from explaining, confessing to, everything he just had.

 

“ Oh Darling... I love you, I forgive you, of course I- I'm not sure there's even anything to forgive... You poor, ridiculous thing, you didn't even know...”

 

“I knew that night...” he choked out in a whisper, “I knew from the moment I saw you, I chose to keep up the act... I knew every time I tried to tempt you that evening, I knew when I- I didn't want what I did until after I knew it wass...”

 

Until he knew it was him. Then he had wanted everything that should have come with whatever game they had been playing, for him to come back and take him to bed the way those arrangements usually worked. He had wanted it, and wanted it to be okay that he wanted it, so badly his skin felt like it was burning off and he fell asleep chewing venom into a pillow and chocking on arousal and tears.

 

“Yes, well, you can blame the fact that I'm no good myself, but I can't blame you for any of that...” he sighed deeply, “I am sorry though...”

 

“W-You sorry, what could you -possibly- be ssorry for?”

 

“Well... I know it's not my fault, per se, but... You were trying to get some distance from me, because...” he trailed off, quieted, afraid to be insensitive, “... What you felt, or could have felt, wasn't something you could even acknowledge... Not when I was being so- was so unable to accept it... But I'm afraid I somehow just got in the way of that too, didn't I?” he reasoned, sure he had been being quite hurtful and needlessly prickly with him at the time.

 

He did not think Aziraphale should be blaming himself if he was incapable of meeting him and not falling in love with him each time, regardless of the seeming circumstances. Of course -Crowley- was happy to blame him, but Aziraphale blaming himself just would not do. Either way, they were definitely both idiots.

 

“I'm ssorry, angel, that it took all of thiss to tell you... You were fond of Joseph, I didn't mean t' take him-” he said, his voice so quiet and broken, that he could not help but realize new depths to his own shame over the situation.

 

“Crowley.” he admonished softly, “It seems pretty clear to me now that I -was- so fond of Joseph because I was talking to you... I had missed you so much, and I was so worried... Of course I'd find him so charming.” he sighed again, “I should have known... I really -am- as oblivious as you say.” he shook his head but it sounded playful, as far as laments went, more than self-depreciating.

 

“Oh I take it back though... I don't think my heart, or my nerves, could take another story like that, not right now... And look at the state you're in...”

 

At least he did not have to sit on the knowledge quietly to himself any more. They had been engaged with each other in this other arrangement entirely for over two years, even if it only felt like it was by some technical definition, and neither of them had figured it out until Crowley had literally come face to face with him. Of course he had no reason to suspect that Aziraphale could end up tied up in any such thing.

 

“How -did- you end up caught up in all that, anyway, angel?”

 

Aziraphale, of all people.

 

“Well er, that... Someone brought one of those papers to the shop, of course... I suppose they could tell I was alone and thought I might have use of it...” he admitted, obviously not entirely comfortable with everything that implied about how some people interpreted him.

 

“But when they started suggesting all the things such an arrangement could entail, that -I- could expect from it, I- well, at all sounded so... I couldn't help but think of all the ways someone could be taken advantage of... In theory anyway, I thought it would be better to... Well I couldn't just ignore it was happening and that...”

 

“That someone might need your help?”

 

Yes, well...” he adjusted himself slightly, “I could hardly have known you'd be handling it, keeping an eye on the whole thing... It was one of -your- wiles, that time though... For once.”

 

“And you- thwarted...” he mumbled, voice faltering halfway through, a little pinched, and very red, wishing it did not somehow sound like a euphemism of some sort.

 

The fact that it was slowly becoming apparent that he might be single-handedly responsible for causing Crowley to develop some kind of sexual denial kink was something they would have to unpack much later, given how well it had gone the last time he brought up something similar. He could wince to himself about it guiltily though. It was little wonder Crowley had ceased to bring up -the- arrangement half as often after that point. He had assumed they had stopped needing the excuse as much, but maybe the term itself had also become somewhat awkward for him. Aziraphale still felt compelled to apologize.

 

Crowley was still a mess in his arms; increasingly so. It was understandable, given everything he had just confessed to, and had just been forced to re-live. The long silence was leaving him to stew in whatever state he had made for himself. He was sure being cradled in his lap now was not at all helping, whatever it was.

 

“I do understand though, darling... How it happened, and -certainly- why you hadn't told me.” he said, rubbing his arm gently, “And I couldn't possibly judge you for it... Or anything that came of it.” he added.

 

What came of it is that I took a fucking nap.” he hissed defensively.

 

Aziraphale could hardly blame him for jumping to conclusions, given his commentary about this kind of thing was usually unexpectedly flippant.

 

“I meant, emotionally, or... If it had anything to do with why you, um...” he defended weakly.

 

Crowley was about as red as he could get, but he watched him, waiting.

 

“Well... Every time we disagree it's- well, it's usually because I've said something dreadfully offensive to you...” he said, really regretting that it always seemed to be the case, “And then, just when I'm worried that something might have happened to you or that I've really- That you've actually given up and never want to see me again, you...” he trailed off, almost sheepishly, “You come and rescue me from some blunder I've made.” he tilted his head as if indicating specific events in their shared memories.

 

Never mind that he always seemed to get himself into needing to be rescued just when he was worried he would never see him again. He also should have guessed Crowley had a way to mask himself from him, given that he always seemed to be able to sense him, or at least sense the love coming from him, until they were fighting, and he did not for a second believe -deep down- that Crowley ever stopped loving him when they fought. His love seemed to genuinely be unconditional. The fact that he could even be surprised to see him should have been a hint that something was going on, but he always assumed it was an ability demons just had, to hide from angels.

 

“And well, the last time- One of the last times anyway...” he amended, not sure which events could qualify as this exact tendency, “Well, it was particularly um, suave, of you... Really quite romantic actually.” he reminisced, his heart weakly imitating the feeling of fluttering it had then, “But afterwards, from the moment... Well, as a matter of fact, from the moment I touched your foot, you were rather, um...” he trailed off, searching for a word that would not be offensive or embarrassing to him.

 

He had gone mostly quiet, seemed to slip into, careful and weak vocalizations, becoming rather tight lipped, in an interested and subdued sort of way. Aziraphale was not in the habit of touching him at all, but after the church he had accepted a ride home, invited him in and then started touching his feet, all things that would have been completely out of character if he had not been so distracted with concern. It was at a time when he was still primed to tell Crowley he was asking to take things far too quickly, and yet he had initiated all of that, and it had been their first real interaction since -and he cringed to think of it in the only words he had for it- accidentally sugar-dating, of all things. He turned really quite red himself at that moment, out of some combination of embarrassment and empathy.

 

“Oh, we really are just... incompetent.” he finally settled on it for lack of a more encompassing term.

 

Crowley smiled at that, almost a laugh, from under his chin.

 

“I can't -imagine- what it was like having to keep all of that to yourself, though, dear...” he sighed, still wincing forcefully.

 

“Yeah well, you have to suffer with me from now on then, don't you, angel?”

 

He would suggest they could make of it whatever they wanted, going forward, but he was slowly learning not to say things that were forward enough that they would distress Crowley so excessively. Unfortunately, his eyebrow may have made the implication for him. At least his heartache and guilt over Joseph being unfortunate enough to have fallen for him had finally been soothed.

 

“I'd ask, if you were -at all- tempted... But you don't really get impulses like that, do you, angel?”

 

Aziraphale pursed his lips. He would not say never, per se.

 

“Not generally...” he said, though he could think of a couple instances where the possibilities had been slapping him repeatedly in the face strongly enough.

 

He had admitted to wanting to kiss him, even if it was because he wanted to indulge in his reaction, he thought it still certainly counted.

 

“Stands to reason you might be kind of asexual, being an angel... Wait, do angels? I mean, they don't generally eat much, or sleep, but... It has to be considered needless indulgence doesn't it? But then...”

 

He distinctly recalled many of them finding clothing for their vessels an appropriate indulgence. Their culture was both oppressive in expectation and highly privileged in general, and if humans were any indication, that was the perfect recipe for -really- weird kinks, if nothing else, though maybe not sexual the way a human would think of it.

 

“Er, well, um, I might be, asexual, as you put it, if we have to label it at all, more or less...” he trailed off, thinking that term quite possibly did not paint a very complete picture, “But I doubt it has anything to do with being an angel exactly... Not any more than you, um, being, well, whatever you are has to do with being a demon exactly... Not more than because you have a body that's, well, human, and maybe that um... You're all- Wrapped up in it, so to speak.”

 

Do other angels...?” Crowley asked, becoming more animated again now that the focus was off of him and he was curious.

 

It broke his heart all over again that he could not remember enough to already know.

 

“Oh, well, in a way I suppose... It's all permeated with Her love, general love, of course, but angels do love each other, in various ways, even specific ways, at times, quite casually even, emotionally, so to speak, and most don't make much fuss about being quite close together, even overlapping, occasionally just because it feels nice... And with bodies... We aren't forbidden comforts like that, though most are really quite private about doing things like preening each other or using their vessels that way.”

 

“And you're... You used to have these things, with other angels?” he asked, tone carefully neutral.

 

“Oh, no, not me... I never found it very comfortable, sharing the same space with anyone, being that close, being able to experience another's thoughts or feelings like that... I never really wanted to know someone like that.”

 

Aziraphale was making a face as if almost grossed out, and -despite what this might imply- Crowley almost laughed. He did remember asking him about -overlapping- not really realizing what he was asking at the time. He had no reason to know that was something angels even did.

 

“Wait, angel...” Crowley pulled back enough to actually be able to look at him, “Then, for angels, intimacy is all... It's all preening and sharing energy or being all...” he made a hand gesture lacing his own fingers together, eyebrows creeping ever higher, with a pleading set to them.

 

“Well, we -can- have sex. I imagine some do... If that's what your asking.” he specified.

 

Crowley's eyebrows dropped into a near-scowl, and Aziraphale imagined that if he could turn more red, he would.

 

“Not my point, angel.”

 

Crowley looked like he was going to kiss him again, until an involuntary quirk of his eyebrow killed the impulse again.

 

“You... You want to do those things with me?” he asked, quiet and soft, already knowing the answer, at least to some of it, but wanting to hear him say it.

 

“Well, y-yes.” he said, uncertain of what he was admitting to that he had not already.

 

Crowley seemed to be getting caught up in another moment with the space that existed between them.

 

The truth was that his anxiety over a lot of things was slowly dying. With everything they had already admitted to wanting, and all the intimacies they already shared, and now even being able to discuss the exact tone of their relationship, what they already had come to expect, and what they might like to explore, it all seemed like everything that was hard about this had just bled away somewhere in the background without them fully realizing it. Now it seemed like the only reason Aziraphale was not kissing him was because he knew exactly how he might react and wanted to take things slowly, and not even for his own sake.

 

The realization that he was -in- love, the way humans tended to mean that, and with every one of those implications, had finally just come crashing through the noise and self-insulating denial, as if it had been there all along, and now it seemed Aziraphale may have been the one easily admitting the exact same sentiment for some time now.

 

“Angel, when you say you love me... Do you mean like you love everything?” he tested, voice quiet and anxious despite himself.

 

“Oh Crowley, I mean you -are- everything to me.” he replied, cupping his face.

 

“And you want to take me away somewhere, and spend all your time with me?”

“Preferably.” he said, pretty certain they had covered that.

 

“And you want... You want to do things with me just because they'll feel good?” he asked, before biting his lip, as if holding himself back, now adjusting himself up enough to pin his legs again.

 

“Yes.” he admitted, finally seeming as shy as most might expect, but so relieved that he finally seemed to be getting it.

 

“Then we're getting out of bed now.” Crowley said, kneeling more completely to get out of bed.

 

This was a sudden seeming shift in tone that Aziraphale did not quite understand. He wondered for one ridiculous moment if actually being willing to follow through on these things killed the mood somehow.

 

“Why?” he asked, still unsure of the reason for his sudden urgency.

 

“Because you're going to kiss me, but you won't do it here.” he reasoned quite boldly, “C'mon, let's get you some scones or something.” he nearly chirped, sauntering to the door.