They have taken to sleeping together.
There’s nothing to it, Crowley reminds himself night after night, as Aziraphale diligently turns off the lights, takes off those ridiculous woolen slippers of his and slips into bed, wordlessly offering him warm expanses of skin to lay his head and body on. It’s only natural.
It starts after the body exchange ordeal, and Crowley was not expecting it, really. He thought he was handling things pretty well. The breakup. The bookshop burning. The quasi-Apocalypse. Yeah, yeah, it wasn’t a breakup, but come on, it was at least sort of a breakup.
But, no. Going back to Heaven did it for him. Brought him to the breaking point. He’s seen the angels’ cold indifference, their scorn – how dared them? How dared them treat Aziraphale like that? How dared them disrespect a divine being whose moral stature should make them shiver and hide in shame? He’s seen the infernal flame, a pleasant trip to the sauna for his fallen, cold-blooded soul, through Aziraphale’s eyes. And he has imagined, no, felt the angel’s terror, the loneliness he might have felt, the infinite loneliness.
They are no longer in danger. He likes to think so, at least. But his chest won’t stop hurting, his hands won’t stop yearning. He feels the wild and frankly nonsensical need to console Aziraphale for something that hasn’t, strictly speaking, happened to him. He also needs – no less nonsensically – to make absolutely sure that Aziraphale exists in the physical realm and is not going to turn into a floating semi-transparent head any time soon. Ok, that might be a slightly more founded necessity. In any case – Crowley has to touch him.
He lies sleepless in bed, nursing his needs and desires, for one, two, three nights in a row, then decides he’s had enough. Whatever. His fear of rejection – of being absolutely ridiculous – is nothing compared to this weird, unbearable itch inside and outside his body.
He manifests in Aziraphale’s darkened bedroom in a blink, and is surprised to find the angel sleeping. He probably needed to recharge, he supposes. He stands awkwardly at Aziraphale’s bedside, not sure where to look or what to do with his limbs. All he can see is Aziraphale’s pale, moonlit hair, a hint of his brow and nose, the rest of his body just a rounded lump under the covers. Crowley shifts his weight from one leg to the other, and somehow this barely-there noise, above those of the sleepless city outside, is what wakes Aziraphale up. The angel startles, gasps, reaches for a non-existent weapon. Crowley puts his hands up, an automatic reflex.
“Crowley?” the angel is now sitting up and squinting.
“Yes,” he manages, internally scoffing at how small and frightened his voice sounds. He’s ready for the angel to ask him what he’s doing there at this – ha! – ungodly hour, and he’s ready to explain himself, got a whole speech prepared, in fact – oh you know, over time I have gotten so used to sleeping that I really truly need it now, on the regular, but I can’t sleep because I got very scared the world was going to blow to pieces, so I was wondering if you had a good scotch or something we could drink together till I pass out on your couch and maybe, just maybe, in the meantime, could I shake your hand once more to congratulate you on saving the world? With me? As all good friends do? Also I’m glad you haven’t been discorporated or worse, just… outright destroyed? – but Aziraphale just lets out a soft, relieved sigh and encouragingly pats the empty space beside him on the bed.
Crowley needs nothing more – he slithers under the covers and gets as close as he can be to Aziraphale without touching him. He just stares and waits, for permission, for rejection, for an outraged question, something along the lines of what the Heaven are you doing? I was just smoothing out the sheets, get thee behind me, etc. etc. Nothing of the above comes. Aziraphale just closes what little distance remains between them and envelops him in a tight hug.
It’s nothing Crowley could even attempt to describe. They don’t hug, usually – no, never. They barely even touch, and when they do, it’s the kind of casual touches that are bound to occur when two occult beings share their personal space for six millennia. Yes, Crowley has imagined. He has craved. But being in Aziraphale’s close proximity has had to be enough. He’s not even sure he deserves that. But this, this feels like it felt to be commissioned the stars. It feels like being entrusted with something precious and fragile. Crowley marvels at how solid, how all-encompassing Aziraphale is, his entire body radiating grace and gratuitous healing energy, and wants nothing more than to wrap himself around Aziraphale like an armor, never letting anyone so much as think to harm him again. He has no idea if their touching is generating a sort of telepathic activity, but he could swear he can feel all that Aziraphale has ever suffered in his long existence, all the rejection, all the dismissal, all of humanity’s pain, and it breaks his heart. It breaks his heart because there’s no trace of bitterness for all of this in Aziraphale, no desire to retaliate, no rage if not the purest, most righteous form of indignation.
There’s so much that Crowley wants to say, but how could he spoil this moment with words? Words are human, imperfect, fallen. You don’t speak to holy things in words. The air is still around them, punctuated by Aziraphale’s gentle breathing, every inhale pressing their chests together. Crowley attempts to get some of his feelings across, squeezing his eyes shut in concentration. As if noticing, Aziraphale pulls back the tiniest bit, enough to cup Crowley’s cheek with his hand. Crowley can barely breathe at this point (and forgets he doesn’t need to). He silently blesses – who has he become, really? – the darkness sparing him from meeting Aziraphale’s eyes, which he’s sure are burning something dangerously similar to love into his own.
Aziraphale plants a kiss on his cheek, chaste and feathery, then another on his cheekbone, and one on the bridge of his nose, and one on each of his now-closed eyelids, and one on the corner of his mouth, and one on his lips, and back again. Crowley can’t help but smile at how light-hearted and loving this little onslaught is, and tries with all his might to stop the happy tears threatening to fall any second now. He decides on nuzzling Aziraphale’s neck – oh, he smells so familiar from up close, and yet so new – and settling down on his chest. He tucks his hands under Aziraphale’s pajama top for good measure, and rests them on the small of his back, skin supple and smooth under his fingertips. He indulges in a small caress, stroking the delightful back dimples he has only just discovered, the cushiony riverbed of Aziraphale’s spine. He hears Aziraphale sigh contentedly, and soon slips into a deep, dreamless sleep.
So that was a thing. The morning after, Aziraphale wakes him up with coffee and a beaming smile, and says, with the nonchalance of someone informing you that they’re going to buy green beans at the farmers’ market, “I think you should just sleep here at night.”
Crowley stares, mouth slightly agape and the coffee cooling in his hands, for several minutes. Aziraphale stares back, no trace of hesitancy or doubt in the bright pools of his eyes. At some point, Crowley swallows, clears his throat, hums, half-chokes on his coffee, and stutters, “sure”.
And so they sleep together. Big deal. Except it really is a big deal, and Crowley spends most of the day counting down the hours that separate him from bedtime. It feels comfortable not to talk about any of this, about feelings, about putting the two of them in a box – Aziraphale is ever the talking type, endlessly talking about anything and anyone, endlessly asking him what’s wrong and what’s right and what he’s thinking, so this is a nice change. Well – does Crowley want more? Yes. Will he, at some point, want to address the fact that he is head-over-heels let-me-perform-some-pathetic-heroic-act in love with Aziraphale? Also yes. But would he risk breaking the fragile balance that allows him to sleep in Aziraphale’s arms every night? Heaven no.
But on the third “morning after” of the new arrangement, as Crowley likes to think of it, something changes. Aziraphale does the talking in the most peculiar way. Crowley is awake, but pretends to be asleep. Doesn’t want to get up just yet, wants to soak in the weak sunlight coming through the blinds and Aziraphale’s cologne. He hears the angel getting up, getting ready for the day, fumbling about. He feels a surge of affection for the little noises Aziraphale makes, thinks he would be happy just watching him, no, even just hearing him go about his day, for all eternity. He and I exist here now, he thinks, stupidly, idiotically, blissfully in love. It just moves him, for some reason, to think about Aziraphale immersed in his little tasks, being himself, without knowing he’s being watched. I’m always watching, always a couple steps behind you, don’t turn around just yet.
Then, suddenly, he feels Aziraphale’s familiar weight pressing down the mattress beside him. He keeps his eyes closed, shivering in anticipation.
“Crowley?” Aziraphale’s voice is little more than a puff of air, reaches Crowley like something from a dream. Crowley keeps his eyes closed, still: if it is a dream, he’s going to make it last. “Dearest,” Aziraphale breathes, seemingly relaxing as he realizes Crowley is too deeply asleep to hear him. He combs his gentle fingers through Crowley’s hair, and Crowley has to muster all his strength to keep very, very still, to hold back the tiny, whimpering sound threatening to escape his throat. Then the angel speaks again. “My dearest. I thought I’d lost you.” Aziraphale’s voice, already barely audible, breaks, and the little strangled sound nearly kills Crowley on the spot. “I don’t know what I would have done. Eternity had never sounded quite so grim before.” Oh, his hand, the cool balm of his touch on Crowley’s forehead and cheek. “Nothing will keep me from you ever again. I promise.” His hand leaves Crowley’s face, and Crowley would like to protest, but knows better. Whatever happened is too delicate for that, nothing short of a miracle. “Dream the most pleasant dreams,” Aziraphale whispers, and then he’s gone.
Now that must have been a one-off thing, Crowley thinks, if not a post-apocalyptic fever dream altogether.
Except it keeps happening.
It happens in much the same way: Aziraphale sits on the bed, checks that Crowley’s asleep – he’s not, but he’s an excellent actor – and proceeds to have a whole little one-sided conversation, caressing him lightly. His fingertips, this time, travel up and down Crowley’s arm, moving in tiny circles.
“D’you know,” Aziraphale whispers, “I’ve never meant a word of what I said… about it being over, about us not being on the same side.” Crowley hears him swallow, a painful sound. “For a moment I thought those were going to be the last words we’d say to each other.” Aziraphale’s palm comes to rest on Crowley’s, a tentative thumb brushing its middle. “I’m aware I talk a lot, you know, I just never talk about the important things. There’s so much I should have said to you back then, when you asked me to run away with you. You must know—” Aziraphale hesitates, inhales sharply, “I would have gone anywhere with you. I still would. Always will. I was just trying to protect you, I guess, in a clumsy useless way.” The hand is gone all of a sudden, and Crowley feels Aziraphale getting up, then lowering his face to his ear. “Sleep well, love.” He leaves the room, the air suddenly colder without him.
Crowley lies in bed, staring at the ceiling, for an impossibly long time. He feels physically unable to move. All he can think is love, the way the syllable descended upon him from Aziraphale’s lips like a blessing. He evaluates the possibility of pretending to sleep forever.
The third talk happens very early in the morning, with Aziraphale still lying in bed with him. Crowley has been awake for a while, but hasn’t bothered moving or opening his eyes, reluctant to leave the warm cocoon of the covers and the crook of Aziraphale’s neck.
He feels Aziraphale’s body, still pressed flush against him, stir gently. Aziraphale yawns, pats Crowley’s back gently, as if ensuring he is in fact there, then lets out a small sigh and nuzzles Crowley’s hair. Crowley just basks in the attention, this is too good to be true, still doing his best impression of sleep. He wonders, idly, if Aziraphale is going to say something else. What else would he say? He already said more than he needed to. But a greedy little beast has been growing inside of Crowley, and it wants more, everything Aziraphale would be willing to give and then some. It feeds on the sweet nothings, the praise, the pet names, and it’s absolutely insatiable. Stop it. He’s going to realize that this is stupid and cannot go on, all this touching and saying things, and he’s going to send you back where you came from. It’s alright for an angel to comfort someone in distress, but how long till he gets tired of your neediness?
Aziraphale’s whispering voice stops his self-deprecating train of thought. “Darling,” Aziraphale says, and Crowley can barely hear him, but the word vibrates inside his ribcage. When Crowley doesn’t reply, doesn’t move a single muscle, in fact, he continues, “I had a dream we went for that picnic.” His voice sounds so blissful, so fond, Crowley has to physically wrestle with the smile creeping up his lips. “We had cucumber sandwiches and excellent wine, though I can’t for the life of me remember what brand.” Aziraphale plants a soft kiss on the top of his head. “You looked so happy, I never want to see you be anything but.” He caresses Crowley’s nape, slowly, absent-mindedly, and sighs again. “Beautiful boy, you brave, brave man.” And then, with his face hidden into Crowley’s hair, quietly, so quietly that Crowley is sure he must have made it up: “I love you.”
Crowley doesn’t panic.
To say that he panics would be an understatement. He’s frantically pacing his flat, lost in a monologue only for his ever-frightened – and currently genuinely concerned – plants to hear.
“Ok, yeah, so he said that. My hearing is still fine, thank you very much. Either that, or I have completely lost my mind.” He gesticulates wildly, swinging the plant mister like an absolute madman. “But what do I do,” he whines. “What am I supposed to do with that information? I’ll tell you what I want to do,” and he points menacingly at the fichus, whose leaves tremble violently in response. “I want to go to him and collapse on my knees and proclaim my everlasting love to him. And then he’d run, and rightly so, because he probably just meant he loves me like angels love all creatures, great and small.” He makes a point of saying this last sentence in a mockingly high-pitched voice, then falls into complete silence, consumed by doubt.
Well, okay, so Aziraphale might not have meant “love” as in love-love. Human-love. Let’s-make-love-under-the-stars-love. Crowley’s chest hurts at this last thought. But he did say quite a lot of other things – he’s called him “love” and “darling”, and you don’t call a friend that, do you? “Do you call a friend that?” He asks the plants, who would shrug if they could. He said he would still follow Crowley anywhere, even to a remote star where it would only be the two of them. “Do you escape to a remote star with a friend?” he mutters, to himself more than to anyone – anything – else around, and gives himself an answer. No, you don’t; otherwise, he wouldn’t have asked Aziraphale in the first place.
There has been that little kiss on the lips – Crowley hasn’t forgotten. How could he? But was it a real kiss? People kiss friends and family members on the lips all the time. Somewhere in the world. Some people.
The I love you… Crowley keeps going back to it. As much as he doesn’t want to get his hopes up, it did sound real. He has heard humans saying it to each other millions of times, and always it has sounded exactly like that: like a weight being lifted, like quenching thirst, like stars colliding. He needs to know. He needs to say it back, at least, the only way he knows how.
He knocks at Aziraphale’s door, loud and urgent. Aziraphale greets him with the most tender smile, “hello dear,” and lets him in. “Was about to call you, was wondering if I’d see you today. I have found a most charming little café on my walk this morning, their apple pie looked divine, would you like to—” But his chatter stops abruptly when he sees the desperate, intense look in Crowley’s eyes. “Is something the matter?”
Make it or break it, Crowley thinks, and steps closer to him. Aziraphale stays still, firmly maintaining eye contact. One step closer. Another. The space of a breath, and Crowley’s nose could now touch Aziraphale’s forehead. Crowley waits. All he ever does is wait, isn’t it? And Aziraphale does what he does best: he clears up the doubts. He lifts his head and presses their lips together, a smooth, simple movement. It’s so brief Crowley barely registers it. Aziraphale pulls back, a hint of mischief in his smiling eyes, then kisses him again and again and again, quickly, playfully. Crowley can feel Aziraphale smile against his mouth, and puts an end to the quarrel, taking Aziraphale into his arms and kissing him for real, deep and hungry, as if Aziraphale’s lips and tongue and teeth were his only anchor to the earth.
“Yes,” Aziraphale breathes into him, elated, aching.
“Yes,” Crowley breathes back, eyes wide open. “Yes, yes, yes.”
Matters are cleared once and for all one unusually sunny afternoon. They’re sitting in comfortable silence in Aziraphale’s shop, Aziraphale reading in his favorite chair, Crowley sprawled on the loveseat, absorbed in his Twitter feed.
Crowley looks away from his phone screen to find Aziraphale already staring at him. The angel is bathed in golden light, his eyes twinkling with a foreign, ancient kind of energy. Speak, Crowley implores silently, and then, amused by his own Shakesperean pathos, speak again, bright angel!
“I love you,” Aziraphale says, a clear, full sound, pronounced as naturally as one would one’s own name.
Crowley could say it back, will say it back now that he’s allowed, every single day they’ll be granted. But for now, he will answer six thousand years of questioning eyes, half-truths and white lies in the only possible way. “I heard you.”