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the deft, sweet gesture of your hand

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the deft, sweet gesture of your hand

reaching for me.


 

Aziraphale thinks, often, though he tries not to, about the way Crowley moves .

He thinks about his long legs and their wide stride, how he sprawls wherever he sits, lounging in a badly-upholstered chair in a restaurant as if it was his garish throne, how one knee falls sideways and a leg kicks out. The sharp line of his shoulders, his narrow hips, the way they sway with every step or turn, the figure he cuts in a long black coat or a leather jacket. He thinks about his hands, clenched tight around the Bentley’s steering wheel, the graceful, careless arch of his fingers cradling a wine glass, barely touching it, as if daring it to fall and shatter, the long and beckoning curve of them as he offered his hand to Aziraphale at the end of the world. They’re cool--Crowley, cold-blooded, is always cool--and dry and particular and certain, and Aziraphale tries very hard not to think about that, but it’s harder, now, after what was supposed to be the end of everything came and went.

There are a great many things he tries not to think about.

 

The thing is, Aziraphale has kissed Crowley before. Once, drunk in Paris before it was really any place for a decent sort of person to be. Stumbling through the streets, an endless bottle of wine passed easily between them, their hands not so much brushing as colliding, each touch followed by a peal of laughter, first nervous, then elated, and then--more a quiet and a breathy whisper, a fumbled apology on a numb tongue clumsy and too-thick in his mouth, and his shoulder, pressed against Crowley’s. So close there was really no excuse for the way Crowley’s fingers dragged across the back of his hand as he took the bottle, and certainly none for the way Aziraphale’s hand landed on Crowley’s rather than the bottle when he took it back, how it lingered there, not quite holding Crowley’s hand, but holding Crowley’s hand holding the bottle.

And then Crowley yanked his hand back as if burned and dropped it, the glass shattering loud in the street, the wine seeping blood-dark between the cobblestones, and Aziraphale leapt back, tutting over how it splashed his feet. He’d grabbed Crowley’s elbow to pull him away too, but Crowley was lurching away from him, clumsy, feet tangled together, and Aziraphale--drunk, clingy, too much wine in him to remember he wasn’t supposed to be--Aziraphale didn’t let go, and it pulled him closer, stumbling into Crowley, and he tried to open his mouth to apologize. He met Crowley’s eyes, desperate and wild as a stray dog backed into an ally, his chest heaving as if he’d run some great distance, cheeks flushed with drink, and Aziraphale wanted. He’d been ill and Aziraphale could have lost him, but he hadn’t, and he wanted him.

He wanted with an enormity he’d never known, like something had broken in his chest and everything he’d ever wanted, ever kept himself from wanting, everything he’d dammed up and hidden in the dark, was rushing over him and drowning him; he felt thousands of years of want , so all-consuming it could devour the sun--two suns, two bright and yellow and piercing suns boring into him. Crowley looked as if he was about to say something, and Aziraphale was desperate for him to keep it to himself, whatever it was, keep the street quiet, keep them small and unnoticed in the shadows, and without thinking he darted forward, a fast and hard press of inexperienced lips.

It wasn’t gentle, or chaste, or kind, it was desperate, and he stayed there, his lips against Crowley’s, his hand gripping his elbow hard, for just a moment. The want rose in his chest, pushed up his throat, told him to open his lips, push against Crowley, tangle his fingers in his hair, lick into his mouth, crawl inside him and live where no one could find him, not that dogged parishioner who came to his house every morning, not the damned king demanding more blessings, not Gabriel or Heaven--

His breath caught, and Crowley shifted at last, kissing back, his hand rising, briefly, just for a moment, to touch Aziraphale’s face, the softest graze of fingertips against his cheek, and it wrenched a desperate sound from Aziraphale. Sobriety crashed over him, and he stumbled back, eyes wide and scared, he hadn’t--he didn’t think, he hadn’t thought of what came next. He had perhaps been more ready for Crowley to shove him back, laugh about it or tell him off, than he had been for Crowley to kiss him back, for the warm slide of his lips, his hand on Aziraphale’s face.

Aziraphale looked up and around, and saw nothing but stars and an empty street, no force of angels bearing down on them to smite Crowley, drag Aziraphale before God and rip his Grace from his chest, and he thought--maybe they didn’t see, maybe they didn’t know. If he were human, he would pray, he would swear he’d never do it again, promise on his life that he’d lock that want in his chest and never let it out again, if only She would forgive both of them this once.

Crowley was staring at him, dazed and stricken, his hand still in the air where he’d touched Aziraphale’s face. Aziraphale straightened his tunica, his breath shaky, and Crowley blinked at him.

“I’m sorry,” Aziraphale said softly, and Crowley’s bright eyes darkened.

Some part of him wanted him to say, there’s nothing to be sorry for, to take his hand, touch his face again, kiss him; Aziraphale had pulled away, but he wanted Crowley to pull him back again.

It was a single tortuous moment before his old bravado restored itself, with a grin that didn’t quite fit. “Not the first time someone’s made a drunken pass at me, angel, don’t worry about it.”

Aziraphale let out a breath and his heart sank, relief and disappointment warring. It was for the best, he knew, it really was for the best. He smiled sheepishly and stepped carefully around the broken bottle, and they continued down the road, no wine between them, no brushing of hands or gentle laughter. A drunken pass, there and gone in a moment. He brushed his cheek where Crowley had touched it, unconsciously, and felt hollow.

It truly was for the best, to forget, to keep his eyes from lingering, to restrain himself--certainly, to keep from getting too drunk. However hard it was, it was easier, certainly, than what necessarily came after: a rejection, or worse, reciprocation, and what then? Crowley is his dearest friend, and Crowley is a demon. There is nothing, Aziraphale knows, but ruin in that.

 

It is two years after Armageddon that Crowley arrives on his doorstep in the middle of the night. Aziraphale is shelving books, and hears a loud thump on the door. He turns, frowning--the shades are drawn, the sign has been changed to closed, and the door is locked. Crowley left hours prior and he’s certainly asleep; and besides, he never bothers to knock. After a moment, he turns back to the shelf, considering whether he wants to reorganize his collection of Virginia’s work entirely chronologically rather than grouping her fiction, her nonfiction, and her autobiographical (he has never read her diaries or letters; a curious thing about personally knowing so many people who come to be rather important historical figures is that reading private artifacts which become part of mainstream literary canon feels extremely intrusive). He hears a weak sound on the door, like someone knocking, but not quite; as if they’re simply touching it.

He approaches it cautiously, and opens it just a crack to see--

Well, Crowley, sprawled out on the steps, soot-stained and barefoot in his pajamas, his hair he’s grown back to his shoulders wet and matted and plastered to his face. His long arm is stretched before him as he feebly touches the door, patting it like it’s the most strength he can manage.

“Crowley!” Aziraphale cries, throwing the door open. He crouches and puts his arm under Crowley’s to help him stand. “Crowley, my dear boy, what’s happened?”

Crowley mutters something Aziraphale can’t understand and his knees give out. Aziraphale barely manages to catch him, his heart hammering in his chest--what in God’s name could’ve happened to put Crowley in such a state without killing him?

He looks around wildly. “I think--do you think you could make it up the stairs?”

Crowley nods against his shoulder, and Aziraphale helps him make the tortuously slow journey through the bookshop. On the narrow stairs up to the flat, Crowley grows pale and whispers, “Angel, I--” before he vomits what must be an entire stomach full of water.

“Oh, dear,” Aziraphale says faintly.

“’m sorry,” Crowley whispers.

“You’ve nothing to be sorry for, nothing at all,” Aziraphale tells him sternly, and helps him the rest of the way up.

The bed is an old and curtained thing, something he purchased around a hundred and thirty years ago during the Arts and Crafts movement, and he’s hardly used it the whole time he’s had it, but he thanks God Jane Morris had talked him into it as he lowers Crowley onto the quilt. “What do you need?”

“Nothing,” Crowley says; his voice is raspy and strained, his words barely making it out of his throat intact. “Or maybe--a bucket, I’ll bet,” he says.

Aziraphale miracles one, because he’s quite certain there isn’t a single one anywhere in the shop, and he’s certainly not going to leave long enough to make sure. He puts it on the floor beside the bed.

He pushes Crowley’s wet hair away from his face, and barely contains a gasp. One of his eyes is blackened and swollen shut, and his lip is split. There’s a bruise on his cheekbone, swollen and split, and without thinking, Aziraphale puts his hand to it to heal.

Crowley screams, squirming away from him, and Aziraphale flinches back, the warm glow dying out. “Don’t--don’t--” Crowley is trying to raise his hackles and snap at him, Aziraphale knows, but he’s weak, and gives up after a moment, his eyes falling closed. “Satan below, that hurt.”

“I’m sorry,” Aziraphale says. “I didn’t think what angelic healing might do to a demon.”

“’S fine,” Crowley says. His breathing grows slower. “Really, angel, ’s fine.”

Aziraphale sighs, and looks around. There’s a chair in the corner of the room, and he goes to get it, but Crowley’s hand darts out, latching onto his wrist. His hand doesn’t feel cool; it’s hot, blazing hot, so hot it burns just a little, and Aziraphale stares.

“Don’t--” Crowley stops, takes a breath, and opens the one eye he can. “Just stay here.”

“I’m just getting the chair,” Aziraphale assures him, and Crowley nods, letting him go. By the time Aziraphale has moved the chair to the bedside, Crowley is asleep.

 

Crowley came to him injured once before, in Paris. A group of Aziraphale’s most loyal parishioners had seen his eyes and tried to exercise the demon from him, dragging him into a church to do it. He’d barely escaped without the misguided fools growing frustrated and killing him, and it’d taken him a full day of lying in Aziraphale’s bed to recover from the toll of spending hours on consecrated ground. When he woke up, feeling tired but refreshed, he’d insisted on taking Aziraphale out for a drink to thank him. There were, in the end, many drinks, and the tavern they had been drinking in closed in the deepest part of the night. They had been sent out into the streets with a bottle of wine they refilled endlessly with miracles, and they’d ended the night with the bottle shattered on the ground and something broken between them.

 

Aziraphale’s heart barely has time to settle before Crowley jolts awake with a gasp, shouting his name and trying to stumble out of the bed.

“Crowley! Crowley, I’m right here, just, lay down, please,” Aziraphale cries, easing him back onto the quilt. Crowley grips his arm tight, his one open eye fever-bright. “Relax, it’s alright, I promise, you’re safe.”

“Aziraphale,” he gasps, “no, you don’t understand. They came to my flat, Hastur and--a few others. They know we tricked them, angel, they could come for you.”

“They came to your flat?”   That, he supposes, explains the state he’s in.

“They made me--” Crowley breaks off, looking sick. “They made me drink holy water.”

Aziraphale freezes. “Are you sure?”

“Am I sure?” Crowley scowls. “Yes, I’m sure, they came in while I slept and they said someone told them we lied. They stuck a funnel in my mouth and poured holy water down my throat and set my flat on fire and I--I came here.”

“Crowley, if you drank holy water--”

“I should be dead,” he says, and nods. “I don’t know why I’m not, but look--I survived, so maybe they’ll think we weren’t lying, but they might come here.” He seems to realize he’s gripping Aziraphale’s arm, and lets go, sinking back onto the bed. His speech has exhausted him, and his eyes take on a feverish glaze again, his words slurring. “We’ve got to be ready.”

“Don’t worry about that now,” Aziraphale says. “If they come here, I’ll take care of it.” He hasn’t fought in a long, long time, but there was a time when he was a warrior, in Heaven’s first great war. 

“But--”

“I’ll take care of it,” he says sternly, and the demon sighs irritably, turning his gaze to the ceiling. “Crowley, I know you’re tired, but I think we should get you cleaned up.”

“I’m fine,” Crowley insists. “Just need some sleep.”

“You’re feverish,” Aziraphale tells him. “And not to mention, you’re absolutely filthy, and if I can’t heal these cuts, I’ve got to clean them.”

“Just let me nap first,” Crowley says, eyes closing, and Aziraphale sighs. He hesitates a moment before he slides an arm under Crowley, hauling him to his feet, and the demon groans, leaning against him. “Leave me alone.”

“When you’re cleaned up,” Aziraphale says amiably, guiding him to the bathroom. There’s a chair beside his bathtub, and Aziraphale helps Crowley sit in it. He runs a warm bath and miracles a first aid kit and a basin of water to work with.

“What are you doing?” Crowley mutters. His head is tilted back against the wall and his eyes are closed. Aziraphale kneels on the floor and wets a soft white washcloth, and begins gently washing Crowley’s feet. “What are you doing?”

“You walked halfway across London barefoot,” Aziraphale tells him. “Your feet are filthy and cut to ribbons.”

“So sorry, didn’t have time to put on shoes before they burned my flat down,” Crowley grumbles, but he’s too tired to muster the usual fire behind it.

It’s quiet but for the sound of the bath water running as Aziraphale cleans the many small cuts on the soles of Crowley’s feet, and when he’s finished, he has to nudge him awake again to get him in the bath. He doesn’t realize until he’s already helped him out of his pajama shirt and pants that he probably could’ve just miracled him out of them and saved them both the trouble, and at the same time, he realizes they’ve hit something of an obstacle when Crowley is standing--or rather, swaying in place, largely held up by Aziraphale--in his underwear. “I’m going to, er--do swim bottoms sound alright with you?”

Crowley shrugs, and Aziraphale reminds himself that he’s really already seen it, when they switched bodies, and with a snap of his fingers, Crowley is wearing black swim shorts. He guides him into the bathtub, a fond smile pulling at his lips when Crowley gives a contented sigh.

Aziraphale has tended to the sick and injured during periods of plague and war many times throughout his long life, and he tries to adopt the same kind-but-impersonal detachment as he carefully washes Crowley. It is slightly harder, Crowley being the sole object of six thousand years of repressed desire, but he’s also Aziraphale’s closest friend, and a person besides, so he does him the courtesy of not ogling his bare legs or torso as he goes. Aziraphale wishes he would just be a little more dramatic about the whole thing, crack filthy jokes and whine when Aziraphale runs the cloth over a bruise a little harder than he meant to; but he keeps his eyes closed, and his face turned away. 

“I’ve got to wash your hair, alright, dear?” he says, mostly to make sure Crowley is awake, and he nods. He miracles a cup and fills it with comfortably warm water from the tap. The moment he begins pouring the water over his head, Crowley’s eye that hasn’t been swollen shut flies open, and he flinches away.

“I--don’t. Don’t do that,” he says, and looks away, cheeks coloring. “Sorry.”

“No, it’s alright, I should’ve thought,” he says. He looks around and thinks for a moment. “What about one of those modern showerheads? The ones that come off, like you have? You could sit in the chair and lean your hair over the tub, and I could use that so it--it doesn’t get on your face.” Crowley hesitates for a moment, but he nods. “I’m so sorry, dear, it’s just--”

“It’s dirty, I know,” he mutters. “Should’ve kept it short, saved us the trouble.”

“No,” Aziraphale says, a little too quickly, and Crowley’s gaze slides back to meet Aziraphale’s. “You’ve got lovely hair, is all.” Crowley stares at him, eyes a little sharper, as if the statement had found its way through the fever-addle, and Aziraphale blushes just a little. “Come on, got to get you in the chair.” He retrieves one of his own robes from the back of the bathroom door. “Do take care of it, dear, I purchased it from Liberty London all the way back in--oh, when? I was with Oscar--”

Crowley groans. “I’ve just had my flat burned down and ran here, barefoot, to warn you, and you’re still on about Wilde?”

Aziraphale rolls his eyes and helps Crowley into the robe. He turns the chair around for Crowley to sit in and wraps an outrageously soft towel around his neck, guiding his head down so his long hair is falling towards the bath. “I don’t understand why you’re so jealous of Oscar, Crowley, I really don’t.” The showerhead above transforms itself into a removable nozzle, and Aziraphale puts it on the lowest setting, careful that the water only makes contact with Crowley’s hair rather than his face.

He runs a hand through Crowley’s hair to separate it out, and he shutters beneath him. Aziraphale pauses, and does it again. 

“’M not jealous of Wilde,” he says stubbornly. Aziraphale forces himself to pull his hands out of his hair and squeezes rose oil shampoo into his palm, working it into a lather. “Just don’t see what’s so great about him.”

“He was just a dear friend, Crowley,” he says. “You’d been asleep for twenty years, you know, I got a bit lonely.”

“Yeah, yeah,” he mutters, and Aziraphale bites his lip, guilt bubbling up at poking the old wound of Crowley’s long sleep between their spat in 1862 and the outbreak of the Great War. He doesn’t know what to say to smooth it over, and so instead he gently works his hands into his hair, rubbing shampoo into his scalp as carefully as he can. Crowley’s closed eyes flutter and his breathing hitches. If Aziraphale isn’t mistaken, he pushes up into his hand, just a little. 

“I never--Oscar was sick, at the end, you know,” he says. “Very sick. I was with him when he died; a few of us were, but…” He makes sure to work shampoo into the fine hair at the base of Crowley’s neck; around his ears; at the crown of his head, and he combs his hands through it, his jaw working.

“But?” Crowley murmurs. His eye opens, meeting Aziraphale’s for a moment, and then darts away and closes again.

“I didn’t take care of him,” he says quietly. He picks up the showerhead and begins rinsing Crowley’s hair. “He was weak and nearly comatose, but I wasn’t the one who did this.”

“Who did?”

“Robbie, I think,” he says. His hands shake a little, and he holds the showerhead a little away, worried his unsteadiness will splash him. “Robbie did most of this, at the end.”

“Robbie,” Crowley says, as if he’s trying to remember who he was. “You--he was your friend, wasn’t he?”

“He was,” Aziraphale nods. “But he was Oscar’s...oh, he was Oscar’s dearest friend, at the end, do you understand?”

Crowley looks at him. “Can’t you say it? Just this once, can’t you say it?”

“Of course I can,” he says. “He was his lover.”

“Not that,” Crowley sighs, and Aziraphale purses his lips.

“I know,” he says. “I--I know. It’s just...Crowley, you--”

“I go too fast for you,” Crowley says bitterly, and sits up. “Yeah, yeah I know.”

Aziraphale turns away, searching the cabinet for the softest towel so he doesn’t have to look at him.

He knows Crowley is waiting for something; he’s a bit oblivious, sometimes, but he’s not completely obtuse. Crowley has always watched him when he thinks he’s not looking, but since Armageddon came and went and left everything just as it was, he lets his eyes linger a little longer, meets Aziraphale’s to make sure he knows he’s looking. He’s less careful with his compliments, less guarded in Aziraphale’s presence. He sits closer than he has to, lets his snakeskin boot rest on Aziraphale’s brogues under the table, rests his hand lightly on his shoulder as he passes behind him, and he’s waiting for Aziraphale to do something. Take his hand and stop him from going, ask him upstairs after dinner, lean in when he rests his eyes on Aziraphale’s lips.

The question isn’t Crowley’s interest; and of course, it isn’t by any means Aziraphale’s interest either. His interest is so wide, so all-consuming, he can hardly breathe around it sometimes; he wants Crowley to press him against a wall again so he can grab his hips and pull him ever closer, kiss him with all that hungry desperation that drove him forward in Paris a millennium ago, fuck him into his ridiculously expensive mattress and kiss bruises all down his chest; and he wants to walk hand in hand in St. James’ Park, kiss him gently in the mornings, wants Crowley to play that soft crooning music he loved so well in the 1920s and take him in his arms, swaying together offbeat and stepping on each other’s feet around the bookshop.

The question is--

Well, the question is a bit more complicated than what they both want, and it isn’t the time to be thinking about it. Crowley is ill, and he needs someone to take care of him, not someone to want him. So Aziraphale does what he is very good at doing: he takes a deep breath, packs it all away, and turns around, his favorite towel in hand--it was never really a question, it’s the ivory Egyptian cotton Matouk he picked up at Bloomingdale’s just last year, obviously .

He sets to work drying Crowley’s hair with gentle pats, and he grumbles, “just--y’know, rub it around.”

“You’re not supposed to do that,” Aziraphale scolds. “Dry it gently, so it doesn’t get all knotted up and what not.”

“You’re so fussy, you know that?” Crowley mutters, but he’s growing tired again, and doesn’t seem to have the energy to take the towel himself. Instead, he leans into it, and--well, if Aziraphale’s hands slip, now and then, to move his hair around, without the barrier between them, to run his hands through his hair and make him sigh in that contented way, that’s perfectly understandable. All part of the process. Have you ever helped a demon get cleaned up, including hairwashing, when he’s dreadfully ill and should be dead by all rights? Exactly. So you’re in no position to judge him. 

When he’s finished, Aziraphale sets to work properly cleaning his wounds with disinfectant, wrapping them with gauze and applying bandaids. He’s especially delicate with the split wound on his cheekbone, the one he’d tried to heal; he trails his fingers over the bruise surrounding it, aching desperately to soothe it away. He makes to put neosporin to his cut lip, but Crowley’s hand stops him, wrapped loosely around his wrist.

“I’ll do that,” he says, and takes the dot of gel from the tip of his finger, applying it himself, and Aziraphale hates himself, that watching Crowley doctor a wound, finger pulling at his lip, makes his heart beat faster. He swallows hard and busies himself with packing away all the supplies, and helps Crowley stand when he’s finished. With a wave of his hand, Crowley is wearing soft white pajamas under the robe, too tired to even protest that they aren’t his style, but he does mutter, “Now I smell like you and your fancy soaps.”

Aziraphale smiles. “So sorry, dear, I’ll be sure to stock something that smells like cedarwood or cinnamon in the future, just for the next time you show up injured on my doorstep.”

“’M not complaining,” he says as Aziraphale helps him back to the bed, taking care to wrap him snuggly in a heavy blanket. “This smells like you too.”

“I made it,” he says. “During the Cold War. The whole of the 1960s was dreadful for my nerves, and knitting settled them a bit.”

“Really? The whole thing?” Aziraphale nods. “You should put it downstairs,” he says, burrowing under it. “’Sss good.”

“You can have it if you really like it,” Aziraphale says, sitting back in his chair at the bedside. “I was--well, I was knitting it for you, but it wasn’t quite right.”

Crowley opens his uninjured eye at that. “What do you mean? It’s a blanket. You were making it for me?”  He picks up one corner, eyeing it, and Aziraphale blushes.

“It was my first big project and I wasn’t very good,” he says. “Look at all the knots, dropped stitches--it’s not even a rectangle, I kept adding stitches somehow, so it just keeps growing towards the top.”

“I like it,” Crowley insists. “If you’re just going to be cruel to it and hide it away up here, I’ll take it.”

“Well, if you’re sure,” Aziraphale says doubtfully.

“I am,” he says, and Aziraphale supposes that settles it.

They’re quiet, for a few minutes, and Aziraphale thinks Crowley has fallen asleep again until he asks, “have you made me anything else you never gave me?”

Aziraphale thinks, you know me too well, and cracks a wry smile. “I suppose so, yes. I’ve been trying to make you a scarf for years and I just can’t seem to get it right.” It’s not that he can’t make a scarf; he’s made himself many, at this point, and every autumn he donates a box of them to local charities and churches and community centers, but he can’t make one for Crowley. Whenever he believes he’s finally done it, all he can see are the tiny imperfections, all he can think is how he’ll put on a very grateful face and then think how ugly, how frumpy, how unsuited to him it is in private, and he’ll keep it in a drawer out of sight unless he knows he’s going to see Aziraphale, and then he’ll wear it, for his benefit.

“You don’t have to be so particular about it,” he says. “You know I’ll like anything you give me.”

Aziraphale only hums in response. Crowley could say that now, but he hadn’t seen the truly atrocious state of these scarves. They should never see the light of day, these scarves.

Crowley drifts off to sleep, and Aziraphale picks up the copy of the Summer Book he’d thought he lost years ago and thus never finished. He brushes the dust off the cover, and sets to finishing the slim novel.

 

He’s nearly finished it when Crowley wakes again, shouting Aziraphale’s name, and vomits another stomachful of water into the bucket. 

And then he’s crying and shaking, curled in on himself, and Aziraphale leaps to his feet and he doesn’t know what to do, so he just sits on the bed, puts one hand on Crowley’s shoulder, and strokes his still-damp hair, murmuring, “it’s alright, it’s alright, dear, don’t worry, it’s all alright.”

“God--Satan--somebody, fuck, dammit, angel, what the fuck,” Crowley says, his voice hoarse. “What the fuck?”

“I don’t know, dear, but it’s alright,” Aziraphale says. “It’s alright, it’s alright, I’m here and you’re alright.”

“I’m gonna die,” Crowley insists, and then he laughs weakly. “I’m gonna--my insides are boiling, angel, I bet they are--”

“They are not,” Aziraphale says severely.

“I’ve thrown up six times what they made me drink,” Crowley says. “It just keeps coming and I don’t know--they’re probably going to come here looking for us--any time now--”

“It’s alright,” Aziraphale tells him, and he takes his hand. “It’s going to be alright.”

“How do you know?” he snaps. 

“I promise,” he says simply. “I promise it’s going to be alright. I’ll do whatever it takes, Crowley, it’s going to be okay. I’ll take care of you.”

“You’ll take care of me,” Crowley repeats, disbelieving.

“Of course,” he says softly. “Just rest now, alright? Is there anything you need?”

Crowley just keeps staring at him, blinking. “No,” he says at last.

“Anything at all?”

“You could--well, you could read to me,” he says, looking away. “If you wanted to.”

“Certainly,” Aziraphale says. He gets up and goes to the books stacked on his dresser; most of the books in his flat are relatively modern, from the last fifty years or so, and only reside here because he’s largely run out of places to cram things downstairs. It’s a misconception that Aziraphale resents or resists the modern, he’s simply set in his ways, and when he runs into new things that he finds interesting, he folds them into his small universe for the next thousand years along with all the other things he enjoys. He does make an effort to stay up to date with the literary scene, stopping in bookstores every now and then to see what’s new, and several years ago, not long before Armageddon, he had gone into his favorite to find a display devoted to a poet who had recently passed away.

He’s since read all of her published work, and he’s been meaning to try and introduce Crowley to it for sometime. His fingers dance along the spines of her books, and settle on Devotions.  

Yes, he thinks, Crowley will like that one. Or he’ll hate it and I’m about to make his already poor evening even worse.

He reclaims his seat in the old chair, and begins to read. “I Wake Close to Morning,” he says. “Why do people keep asking to see / God’s identity papers / when the darkness opening into morning / is more than enough? / Certainly any god might turn away in disgust. / Think of Sheba approaching / the kingdom of Solomon. / Do you think she had to ask, / ‘Is this the place?’”

“Is this your attempt at deathbed conversion?” Crowley asks incredulously. “Because it’s not that I don’t believe, I know She’s out there, obviously, I’m just not a fan.”

“Hush,” Aziraphale says. “It isn’t like that. Listen closer, dear. If you don’t like her, I can choose something else. ‘This morning the redbirds’ eggs / have hatched and already the chicks / are chirping for food. They don’t / know where it’s coming from, they / just keep shouting, “More! More!” / As to anything else, they haven’t / had a single thought. Their eyes / haven’t yet opened, they know nothing / about the sky that’s waiting. Or / the thousands, the millions of trees. / They don’t even know they have wings. / And just like that, like a simple / neighborhood event, a miracle is / taking place.’”

“I don’t like birds,” Crowley says petulantly, but he’s relaxed slightly.

“It’s not about the birds, and you know that,” Aziraphale tells him sternly. “Or rather, it is about the birds, but--”

“Yes, I know,” Crowley says. “It’s about noticing the little lives going on. And you’re thinking it’s about me, too.”

“I’m not.”

“You are,” he accuses. “‘More! More!’ I don’t relate.”

“Certainly, dear,” he says, biting down on a smile, because he had written next to it, in crisp neat cursive, ‘ Oh, Crowley,’   because it had rather made him think of Crowley, Before, though he only knows what he’s told him. 

“Besides, they’re about to get more,” he says. “More than they’re asking for, even. They’ll open their eyes and see all the trees and the sky and--their wings. It’ll be brilliant for them.”

“Of course,” Aziraphale says. He turns the page, and smiles at the next poem. “‘I have refused to live / locked in the orderly house of / reasons and proofs. / The world I live in and believe in / is wider than that. And anyway, / what’s wrong with / Maybe? / You wouldn’t believe what once or / twice I have seen. I’ll just / tell you this: / only if there are angels in your head will you / ever, possibly, see one.’”

Crowley looks at him, something raw in his face, in his fever-glazed eyes, and Aziraphale puts the book down. “Is it alright, dear? Would you rather I chose something else?”

He closes his eyes. “No, go ahead,” he says softly. “It’s--this is fine.”

Aziraphale bites his lip, and unsure what to say, he takes his hand. Crowley’s eyes stay closed, but his face relaxes at the touch, and Aziraphale begins reading the next poem. He swears Crowley sniffles just a little when he says, voice softening, “‘Yes, I know, God’s silence never breaks, but is / that really a problem? / There are thousands of voices, after all.’”

 

Crowley is asleep when they come.

The bell downstairs rings, unusually loud, and he’s roused for only a moment, and soothed when Aziraphale assures him that he must’ve forgotten to lock up, it’s only a customer, he’ll go get rid of them and be right back. Guilt eats at him for lying, but Crowley is ill, and he’ll panic if Aziraphale is honest.

It’s Hastur and two demons Aziraphale isn’t familiar with, one of them dripping something unidentifiable but very unpleasant on Aziraphale’s turkish rug. Hastur is smoking, and isn’t that wonderful, it took him twenty years to get the smell out of the shop when he quit.

“May I help you?” Aziraphale says pleasantly, and Hastur flicks his cigarette to the floor.

“Where’s Crowley?”

Aziraphale squares his shoulders, something hot rising in his chest, the way it had when he was in Hell; something that wanted to rip something apart to prove that anything that wanted to touch Crowley was going to suffer for it. “I don’t see how that’s your concern.”

“We heard a rumor he pulled some kind of fancy trick to survive the holy water,” Hastur says. “Seems we were right.”

“Were you?” Aziraphale asks. “Because it seems to me that he survived.”

Hastur laughs, and the two demons with him follow suit, albeit nervously. “Barely. I thought he’d burn with the flat.”

“No, you didn’t,” Aziraphale says. He thought he would be nervous, but instead there is a simple fury in him, keeping him still. “You knew he’d survived, so you panicked and set it on fire, and now you’ve pumped each other up and come back to try again. But it didn’t work last time, and it won’t work now.”

“Just tell us where he is, angel,” Hastur says, and Crowley’s endearment in his mouth, covered in condescension and threats, makes Aziraphale’s skin crawl. “And we’ll be out of your hair.”

“I’ll not,” he says. “And I would thank you kindly to leave my store.”

Hastur sneers, and lights a fire in the palm of his hand. “Y’know, if Crowley lied about the holy water, maybe you lied about the hellfire. Maybe we can give it another go, right here. What do you think?”

Fear blossoms in his chest, but he stomps it down--Aziraphale has always been so good at putting away inconvenient emotions to return to later, and that proves useful now. “Alright,” he says, and Hastur blinks at him. “What a wonderful idea. You know Crowley can survive holy water, because you’ve seen it, twice now, and you know I can survive hellfire, so prove it again. Set my bookshop on fire, destroy the only thing that could be inconvenient collateral damage if I were to smite you right here, and then it’s my turn.” Hastur and the other two demons stare at him. Blood roars in his ears, adrenaline singing through him, and he’s forgotten, just a little, that he really can’t survive hellfire. “Go on. Try it, and if I don’t survive, you can go and find Crowley, and keep doing something you know won’t kill him, and if I do, I’ll kill all of you. Go on.”

The flame in Hastur’s hand flickers. “How the Heaven did this happen?” he asks. “Just tell me that. How?”

Aziraphale, truth be told, has thought about what his answer to this question should be many times, having expected Heaven to come knocking at some point, and he has come to the conclusion that there is only one thing Heaven would find so distasteful, so heretical, so unthinkable that they wouldn’t ask to know more, or try and use it to their own gain for the Next Round. “Use your imagination, my dear fellow.”

Hastur frowns at him.

“We enjoy / In eminence; and obstacle find none / Of membrane, joint, or limb, exclusive bars; / Easier than air with air, if Spirits embrace, / Total they mix, union of pure with pure--” Aziraphale begins, hoping that if the dreadful demon isn’t familiar with Milton, he’ll at least be able to put two and two together.

“Oh shit, they fucked,” the dripping demon gasps, and Aziraphale--grateful though he is that he isn’t part of this conversation, of course--wishes that Crowley was here to start cackling in an entirely undignified manner. Aziraphale, being dignified, only looks at them placidly.

“Are you--” Hastur’s eyes widen. “A demon, and a--wouldn’t something explode-- how--”

“My dear fellow,” Aziraphale says, hoping he hasn’t turned red, “certainly you understand the particulars of how those of angelic stock...couple.”

“Angels and angels and demons and demons but not--”

“I think we should go,” says the dripping demon, staring at him, wide eyed. 

“I agree,” says Aziraphale, and Hastur extinguishes the flame in his palm.

“Upstairs will hear about this too,” Hastur swears, backing up. “That shouldn’t be possible.”

“But it is,” he says. “Ta, have a safe trip home,” he says, ushering them out of the store, and he locks the door after them. He leans against it, the conversation falling on him like a ton of bricks, and he cannot believe he told them to set him on fire, what was he thinking--

Well, he was thinking about Crowley, of course. Who is still upstairs, sick and unconscious, and needs him.

So he smooths the front of his waistcoat, straightens his bow tie, and makes sure to step on the tip Hastur’s cigarette on his way back upstairs. The last thing he needs is a repeat of the fire.

Crowley is awake when he enters the room, blinking at him blearily and struggling to sit up, and Aziraphale feels a rush of affection so strong he nearly wants to cry. “Who’s that?”

“We’ll talk about it another time,” Aziraphale says, and he pauses at his stacks of Oliver’s poetry anthologies, thinking very, very hard to himself, before he selects Felicity.

“Did we finish the other one already?” Crowley asks as Aziraphale sits down.

“No,” he says, “no, we’ve still got a few remaining in Devotions. Just listen, dear,” he says. He opens it about halfway, to a section labeled ‘LOVE.’ “Just listen a while, please,” he says, and takes Crowley’s hand. “When did it happen? / “It was a long time ago.” / Where did it happen? / “It was far away.” / No, tell. Where did it happen? / “In my heart.” / What is your heart doing now? / “Remembering. / Remembering!’” Crowley is looking at him strangely, like he is lucid enough to understand that Something is happening, but not, exactly, what.

He turns the page. “The First Day,” he says, taking a shaky breath. “After you left / I jumped up and down, / I clapped my hands, / I stared into space. / In those days I was starving for happiness. / So, say it was both silly and serious. / Say it was the first warm sting of possibility. / Say I sensed the spreading warmth of / joy.’”

 

Crowley falls back to sleep rather quickly, though he’s clearly fighting it. He sleeps for nearly a week, waking occasionally from nightmarish fever dreams, or to throw up, or simply to murmur something nonsensical and return to unconsciousness. When Aziraphale wakes him to ask how he’s feeling on occasion, he’s able to hold a conversation. It is, admittedly, a little nerve-wracking, the way it reminds him of Oscar’s deathbed, but Crowley is steadily getting better, and Aziraphale takes heart in the first day he doesn’t throw up at all.

He wipes his sweaty, fevered brow until he’s back to his usual cool temperature, and combs his hair; he changes his pajamas with a miracle on occasion; he changes his bandages until the third day, when he’s completely healed--it’s a good sign that nothing permanent has happened, that he hasn’t lost his supernatural healing--but mostly, he reads, and thinks, and--well, he knits.

 

It’s been a week by the time Crowley is sitting up and chatting animatedly, whining about how Aziraphale is keeping him prisoner and fretting over where the Bentley is and how it’s doing, and Aziraphale decides he’s probably fit to at least migrate down to the back room. Crowley insists on bringing the ugly blanket with him, and he still won’t hear a word about its flaws; he just keeps running his hands over it as if he likes the bloody thing.

“You can’t keep me trapped here forever,” Crowley tells him a few days later still. “I feel fine, angel, good as new, I promise.”

“I just don’t want you to strain yourself,” Aziraphale frets. He’s filling the electric kettle to make Crowley yet another cup of tea (this one promises to strengthen his immune system, and although Crowley doesn’t have an immune system and his illness was brought about by ingesting holy water, they don’t exactly sell tea for that at the corner store, and he thinks maybe it will still have some kind of benefit for his health).

“Suppose it’s not like I have anywhere else to go,” Crowley says. “Flat getting burned down and all.”

“Your poor plants,” Aziraphale says, and immediately feels guilty for bringing them up; he knows they’ve been on Crowley’s mind since he woke properly. He’s quiet for a little while, until the water is boiling, and he says as he’s putting the tea bag in Crowley’s favorite cup, trying to feign nonchalance, “you could move in here, I suppose.”

“Move in?” Crowley says, and Aziraphale knows without looking that he’s gaping at him.

“Well, it’s not as if I use the upstairs flat but for the bath,” he says. “And...well, it’s been no trouble having you here these past few days.”

“No trouble? Aziraphale, I’ve been bedridden,” Crowley says, and he sounds unsteady. “You’ve been--waiting on me hand and foot, you call that no trouble?”

“I don’t mind,” Aziraphale says quietly. “Taking care of you when you need it, I don’t mind.”

Crowley doesn’t say anything for several long seconds. Aziraphale is fussing with the mug more than he needs to so he doesn’t have to turn around yet. Finally, Crowley sighs, “angel.”

Aziraphale turns, still avoiding his eyes, and brings him his tea. “It’s really no trouble if you take the flat upstairs, if you don’t mind me storing some books there.”

“Let me think about it,” Crowley says, wrapping his hands around the mug. “I--I just need to think about it.”

“Of course,” Aziraphale says quickly, kicking himself. “Of course, take your time, no rush.” Of course he doesn’t want to live here, it’s not his sort of place at all, it’s a cluttered old bookstore and--

Aziraphale interrupts the thought to remind himself it isn’t the time or the place.

“Listen, how about I take you out to lunch?” Crowley asks. “To say thank you, for...all this.”

“You don’t have to do that,” Aziraphale says, and Crowley rolls his eyes.

“We’d be going out anyway, angel, I’m just saying thank you too,” he says.

Aziraphale is already standing to get his coat. “Well, if you insist.”

 

They take the tube to Mayfair first to pick up the Bentley--Crowley works himself into a state on the way insisting that Hastur has broken the windows in or stolen it or set it on fire, but it’s perfectly unharmed waiting patiently in its usual parking space--and then make their way to the Ritz. Lunch, as it often does, stretches into dinner, and it’s evening by the time they’re stumbling out to the Bentley.

“You’ve got to sober up,” Aziraphale tells him. “You can’t drive like this.”

“If I’m sobering up, you’ve got to sober up, too,” Crowley says, and Aziraphale agrees with a put-upon sigh.

The drive is pleasant as they continue some silly argument they’d begun over dessert, the slow golden light turning everything soft and rich and lovely. Especially Crowley, Aziraphale thinks, and he lets himself think it. He lets himself admire the way the light makes his hair look like fire and his skin gold; he admires the carelessness of the one hand on the wheel, the other arm crooked in the open window; he admires the stretch of his long legs and the way the black henley he’d miracled for himself fits across his chest, the buttons undone; and when Crowley looks at him looking, he admires the way the light makes his sunglass lenses amber, and he wishes to God that he could see how his eyes must look.

“Something on my face?” he asks, frowning, and Aziraphale laughs nervously.

“No, nothing,” he says. “Just--focus on the road, I think.”

Crowley shrugs and adds his other hand to the wheel, fingers drumming along to the beat of Good Old Fashioned Loverboy. 

His heart is beating fast in his ears when they arrive back at the bookshop, and Crowley can tell he’s feeling odd, keeps shooting him curious glances, and Aziraphale walks straight to the cabinet in the backroom where he keeps the wine.

“Alright, angel?” Crowley asks, and Aziraphale nods.

“Tickety-boo, dear,” he says, and Crowley huffs a laugh, standing awkwardly, as if Aziraphale’s odd energy has put him off-center too. He pours them both a glass of wine and takes a long sip of his own. “I have something for you.”

“Okay?” Crowley says, brows pulling together.

Aziraphale opens a drawer and pulls out a dark red scarf, the one he’d knitted while Crowley slept. He presents it with all the false calm he doesn’t feel, and Crowley puts down his wine glass to take it in hand, delicately, as if it’s fragile. “I--well, if you look, there’s a knot there, and I forgot to match the dye lots, so partway through the color’s just a little different--”

“It’s great, angel,” Crowley says softly. 

“You don’t have to wear it, but you said you wanted--”

“Shut up,” Crowley tells him, winding it around his neck. His giving it this soft, funny smile that he doesn’t wear often, and it makes Aziraphale feel warm.

“I know it’s not perfect, but--”

“Makes it better,” Crowley says. His fingers find one of the knots, and his smile widens a little. “I like it better. Can’t buy it in a store or miracle it up. I know you made it.” Aziraphale makes a wounded little noise, and Crowley looks at him strangely. “You sure you’re alright, angel?”

“Yes, quite,” he says faintly. He takes a long drink of his wine. “You’re sure you don’t mind?”

Crowley rolls his eyes. “’Course not,” he says, and tilts his head. “You want tell me why you’re so nervous about giving me a scarf?”

“I’m not nervous,” he says quickly, and sighs. “I’m just--worried you won’t like it, is all, and you’ll feel obligated to keep it and wear it, and I don’t want you to feel obligated, I want you to like it--or, not wear it at all, if you don’t.”

“It’s a scarf,” he says slowly. “I promise, I like the scarf. I’m going to wear the scarf. I’m going to enjoy wearing the scarf.”

“If you’re sure--”

“Aziraphale, is this about the bloody scarf?” Crowley asks impatiently. “Because this is a lot of haranguing about a scarf, even for you.”

He’s quiet for a moment. You know me too well, he thinks. “It’s not about the scarf,” he admits.

“Then what is it about?” Crowley’s voice has taken on that gentle quality he would certainly deny being capable of for the rest of his eternal life. He sits down on the chaise, and Aziraphale sits next to him.

“It’s just,” he starts, and the words die in his throat. “It’s about,” he tries again, and sighs.

“Is it about--” Crowley tries, but Aziraphale thinks something along the lines of, fuck it, and grabs the scarf, pulling Crowley towards him. He stops centimeters away from his face, a silent question, and they stay that way for several long moments. Aziraphale has squeezed his eyes closed, but he has a feeling Crowley is gaping at him, open-eyed. “What, and I mean this in the most encouraging way possible, the fuck, Aziraphale?”

“Er,” he says cleverly, “yes?”

“Okay,” Crowley says. He takes a deep and shaky breath. “Okay. Okay. I need--we should--”

“Yes?” He has not opened his eyes.

“Aziraphale,” Crowley says. “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but should we--er, talk about this? First?”

“What do you mean?” Aziraphale is aware on some far-away level of how ridiculous this must look, the two of them sat on the old chaise, talking with their mouths barely apart, and Aziraphale with a white-knuckled grip on Crowley’s scarf.

“You’re shaking, Aziraphale,” he says, and leans back. Aziraphale’s heart sinks.

“I’m sorry,” he says dimly.

Crowley takes the hand that’s holding onto his scarf for dear life in his own. “You don’t have to be sorry, just, tell me--well--” he’s sputtering, as if he’s not sure which of the thoughts racing through his mind he should land on. “Could you open your eyes?”

“Oh,” he says, and he does, though he fixes his gaze on their clasped hands. “Yes, sorry.”

“Could you explain what’s happening here?” he asks. “Because I’m at a loss.”

“Which part?” Aziraphale says, and Crowley sighs.

“Aziraphale, it’s been six thousand bloody years of ‘you go too fast for me’ and pretending you don’t know how I feel, and then you just give me a scarf and try to kiss me,” he says. “The last time you kissed me, you ran off like you’d been hit, so you can see why I want to... clarify things first, this time.”

“I didn’t run off,” he says, frowning.

“Yeah, you did,” Crowley insists. “You walked me back to the inn first, and then you disappeared for two hundred years and when I saw you again you acted like nothing happened.”

“I was--” Aziraphale takes a deep breath. “I was afraid, Crowley,” and he sees him soften at the word. “I didn’t…”

“What were you afraid of?” Crowley asks gently.

“Heaven and Hell, I suppose,” he says.

“We don’t have to worry about them anymore,” Crowley reminds him, and elbows him. “You scared them off with your tough act.”

“I know, but…”

“Aziraphale, I can’t read your mind,” Crowley says. “I’m not going to be able to guess what you’re thinking if you just trail off enough.”

Aziraphale laughs at that, a small thing. “Yes, I know, it’s just,” and he looks at the scarf, still wound around Crowley’s neck. “It’s like the scarves, and the blankets--and a sweater, one time--”

“Can we talk about your knitting another time?” Crowley says a little desperately, “because I’ve been waiting six thousand years to have this conversation and I’d really, really rather not change the subject.”

“I’m not changing the subject, Crowley, just listen,” he says irritably. “As I was saying, the scarves. They’re not...right. And you,” he says, gesturing to him without meeting his eyes, “you...are. And you like things that are right. Flashy things, neat things,” and his throat feels thick, “pretty things. Interesting, fun things. You like exciting things. And I was always afraid I’d give them to you and you would be very kind about it--you are kind, Crowley, you are, just let me finish--but you wouldn’t like it, not really, but you’d feel stuck with it. And you’d wear it to make me happy, but you would regret it.” He pauses. “Accepting the scarf, I mean.”

Crowley doesn’t say anything for several long moments, and finally Aziraphale can’t bear it anymore, and he looks at him. His eyes are hidden behind his sunglasses, but his face is slack, and a little wounded. “Crowley? Are you--”

“Give me a minute,” he says, and clears his throat. “I’m processing the fact that you’ve been agonizing over knitting for most of a century.”

“Take your time,” Aziraphale says faintly.

“So in this elaborate sort of,” and he gestures vaguely, “knitting metaphor you’ve constructed for yourself, you’re the scarf, yes?” Aziraphale nods, feeling a little foolish. “And you think--Aziraphale, you think you’re not interesting enough for me?”

He shrugs. “You change all the time, Crowley, and I...never do.”

“Aziraphale, I--” he cuts off, sounding choked, and Aziraphale looks at him in alarm. “You know I love you.” The words are so quiet, he can barely hear them.

“I know you...have feelings for me,” he says slowly. “But--well, why?”

“What do you mean why?” he splutters.

“It’s just because I’m here, Crowley,” he tells him gently, and turns towards him. “You haven’t got many options, and I’m not upset with you for it, of course, it’s easy to misplace feelings like that, but, I suppose, it’s easy to feel that way from a distance, but if you were to--” he gestures. “You know, be with me, properly, it would be hard to keep feeling that way, and I--Crowley, I love you, properly, I really do,” he says, and finally saying the words out loud sends something rushing through him; a warmth and relief like nothing else, “I love you, dear, and I couldn’t stand to lose you, I really couldn’t. You’re all I have, Crowley, I love you so much, and if you changed your mind and left...Crowley, I just can’t.”

“And you think you’re not everything to me?” Crowley demands, and he sounds almost angry. “What, you think your feelings are real but mine aren’t? Aziraphale, are you listening to yourself at all?”

“Well--”

“No, look,” Crowley says, and he takes his sunglasses off. “Look, Aziraphale, I’m only going to say this once. If you think that all this is some kind of--some fun pastime for me, something I don’t care about--it’s been six thousand years, if you think this is something I haven’t thought about in every way it’s possible to think about something, haven’t considered it from every angle, haven’t tried to talk myself out of it or move on because I thought there’d never be a chance in Hell--or Heaven--or either-- you’d ever feel the same way--how can you be the cleverest person I’ve ever known and the stupidest too?” He clenches his jaw. “Do you--do you honestly think that little of me?”

“Crowley, no,” Aziraphale says quickly. “Not at all, it isn’t about you at all, it’s just--well, have you really thought about it? I mean, honestly?”

“What do you mean, Aziraphale?” he asks, exasperated. “Please, tell me what grand revelation you’ve come to while you’re knitting your angsty blankets that I have overlooked for the past three millenia.”

“I mean, think about it, Crowley,” he says. “I’m--well, I’m me, I’m a bit old-fashioned and, perhaps, frumpy, and messy, sometimes, and particular, and--well, high strung, at times, perhaps.”

“Yes, Aziraphale,” Crowley says. “I know. I’ve known you for six thousand years.”

“But have you really--”

“Thought about it? Yes, I have, I have thought endlessly about it, I’ve thought about tidying up your books and arguing you into a coat that was made in the past fifty years and drawn your name surrounded by little hearts on paperwork and then had to explain that to Hastur,” Crowley says. “I have thought about it. Have you thought about it?”

“Thought about what?” Aziraphale says, confused.

“About me, Aziraphale,” Crowley says. “You know I’m--well, you know me, you know all the things that get on your nerves and make you want to throw your least favorite books at me until I quit.”

“Well, yes, but I--well, Crowley, I love those things,” he says earnestly. “I do get a bit tetchy with you sometimes, but it’s--fondness, I suppose.”

“And did it ever occur to you,” Crowley says, “that I love those things about you too?”

Aziraphale looks at him.

“Did you ever think that maybe I have learned a thing or two about you these past, again, six thousand years, and maybe I am aware that you’re going to spill old tea on my favorite records and we’re going to take ages to drive anywhere and you’re going to be spiteful with me when customers manage to buy books even though I haven’t done anything?” Crowley says. “And maybe these sorts of things already happen because we are already very close, and I don’t mind them?”

“Oh,” Aziraphale says softly. “I suppose not.”

“And did you ever think,” he says, and he’s worked himself up now, Aziraphale can tell, “that maybe I’m just a little bit afraid that you’re not going to want me, but I’m willing to risk It?”

“Crowley, I could never not want you,” he says. He touches his cheek, as gently as he can, and he dimly realizes it’s nearly the same place Crowley touched him, all that time ago in the street. 

“How could you think I’d ever not want you?” Crowley says. “I haven’t--maybe, I haven’t said it in as many words, but I thought I was showing you.”

“You were, dear,” Aziraphale says. “It’s just--a bit hard to understand, I suppose, when you’re so...well, you’re the way you are.”

“What does that even mean?” Crowley looks at him desperately. 

“You’re wonderful, Crowley,” he says, as if it’s obvious, because it really is. “You’re so brave, all the time, you’re never afraid to ask questions or do something you know you shouldn’t just because it’ll make someone angry, and you don’t apologize for who you are.” He allows his hand to cup his cheek, feeling something welling up in his chest at the way Crowley is looking at him, like he’s been trapped in the dark for some time and finally seen the sun. “Crowley, you must know, I admire you so much. How could I not want you, dearest--”

It’s as if the word has triggered something in Crowley; a high and keening sound escapes his throat, and he surges forward, his lips crashing against Aziraphale’s. His hand weaves into his hair, the other still gripping his hand like a lifeline, and Aziraphale kisses him back as well as he knows how, a hot and hungry slide of lips. He traces his tongue with his bottom lip, a smile working its way onto his face at the way Crowley shudders at it, and he pulls back a little to soften the kiss into something tenderer, hand still cupping his cheek.

“Oh, Crowley,” he sighs against him, and pushes him back so he lays against the chaise. He kisses his forehead and begins, “‘How do I love you?’” He presses a kiss to the corner of his mouth, “‘Oh, this way,’” the sharp line of his jaw, “‘and that way,’” and he unwinds the scarf, letting it fall to the floor, “‘Oh,’” he says, and sighs, “‘happily,’”   he kisses his neck, “‘Perhaps I may elaborate by demonstration?’” Crowley’s trembling hands cradle his head as he kisses the hollow place at the base of his throat. “‘Like this,’” he says, kissing his collarbone, “‘and like this,’” he says, his steady fingers finding the button of his pants.

“No more of that,” Crowley gasps, and Aziraphale pauses, smiling.

“You remember,” he says, delighted, though he’s misquoted just a bit. He’d thought Crowley was asleep when he’d read it.

“What? No, I mean,” he gestures at him, “you first, right?”

“What do you mean?” Aziraphale frowns.

“Well, don’t you want…” he trails off, and turns red. “Don’t you want me to…”

“I’d like it this way,” he says. “If you don’t mind.”

“Oh,” he says faintly. “Alright.”

But Crowley’s right; they are moving a bit fast. “I’ve thought about it,” he says softly, though the admission makes him blush. “I’ve thought about it a lot.”

“You have?” Crowley yelps, and Aziraphale smothers a giddy smile in the fabric of his black henley.

“Of course,” he says. He works a hand under his shirt, pulling it up, and Crowley lets him, his hands catching one of Aziraphale’s after he’s worked it over his arms and tossed it in the vague direction of ‘away.’

He fumbles with the little buttons at his wrist, and kisses the soft skin there when he’s bared it, and does the same with the other. Aziraphale’s heart nearly cracks open at the gentleness of it, and he presses a kiss just above Crowley’s heart, lets his hands trail over the planes of his chest. “Crowley, you’ve no idea, you really don’t,” he says, and sighs.

“What?” Crowley mutters, and he’s trying to get at the buttons of Aziraphale’s waistcoat now, wrenching it off him once he’s got them loose. He catches Aziraphale’s affronted look, and when he pulls Aziraphale’s bow tie off next, he sets it delicately on the ground, as if in apology. “Why do you wear so many layers?”

“I find it comfortable,” Aziraphale says, but he’s grown impatient with all the damned buttons, and only lets Crowley undo the top few before he’s kissing him again, licking into his mouth and smiling at the way he tastes, that bittersweet red they were sharing--could it be that it was only minutes ago?--lingering on his tongue, and Crowley moans, yanking his shirt out from where it’s tucked into his trousers, feeling out the buttons from the bottom up now. “Crowley, you don’t have to hurry--”

“If you tell me I’m going too fast,” Crowley growls, “I’m probably going to discorporate.”

He laughs, winding a section of his hair around his finger. “No, I only mean--”

“Unless you want me to stop,” he says. “I will, obviously--”

“I know, I know, but I don’t want you to, dearest,” he says, and Crowley makes the same noise he did before, like he’s been punched, kissing him again desperately, his hands going to Aziraphale’s soft waist and pulling at him like he can’t get close enough, and Aziraphale very nearly wants to cry. He doesn’t know what to say, so he says the only thing he can think that’s big enough to hold what Crowley’s making him feel, mildly blasphemous or not, “‘Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee.’”

Crowley pauses, pulling back to look at him, and Aziraphale feels embarrassment color his cheeks. “Angel,” he says. “That’s--”

“Yes, yes,” he mutters, and he kisses him, and kisses him, his hands roaming to stroke his chest, his sides, his hair, the shapes of his ears, his throat, and Crowley makes a soft noise, his hands going to the waistband of Aziraphale’s pants. Aziraphale takes his hand and brings it up to kiss it. “I’d really like to go first, Crowley, dearest, unless you feel very strongly the other way,” he says, and Crowley makes that noise again, and Aziraphale smiles. “It’s only that--well,” he says, and he sighs at the way Crowley looks, shirtless and splayed out beneath him, his hair such a vibrant red against the faded ivory of the chaise, yellow eyes full of desperate emotion and staring up at him. “Oh, Crowley, you’re so beautiful, my dearest boy,” he says, kissing his hand again before releasing it, and he leans down to kiss his chest, his other hand trailing up his thigh. Crowley whines, hips stuttering, and Aziraphale presses soft kisses in the places between his ribs.

“It’s only that it feels right, doesn’t it, dearest, you’ve given me so much, you’ve waited so long, and I’ve gone so slowly,” he says, and undoes the button of his pants, sliding the zipper down. “I don’t want to make you wait anymore. I want to take care of you.” He rises to kiss him as softly, as tenderly as he can, his fingers just barely brushing him through his underwear, and Crowley whines again, a choked sound. “Can I?”

“Please,” he whispers.

“Wonderful,” he says, and he’s nervous, his heartbeat picking up; he’s never done this before, but he wants to, with Crowley, wants to show him the parts of himself, the love, that he’s kept locked away and out of reach for so long. He wants to make him feel loved, in case he’s every doubted it. He pushes his hand into Crowley’s boxers, and swallows the wild sound he makes with a kiss.

Crowley is fighting so hard to keep himself still his body is rigid with the effort of it, and Aziraphale tries to soothe him with gentle touches with his free hand, but Crowley is still trying so hard, his head thrown back against the swell of the chaise, and he whispers, “let go, Crowley, it’s alright, I’ve got you, you couldn’t possibly do a thing wrong,” he says, and he relaxes a little, hips bucking, and he smiles.

“I’ve never--” he gasps, “I’ve never, with anyone, before--”

“You’re doing so well,” he says. “So well, darling, you look so beautiful, it’s everything I ever dreamed, I promise, I’ve got you.” He strokes his hair. “Relax, dearest.”

Crowley’s eyes are squeezed shut, and he lets himself go with a gasp, pushing desperately into Aziraphale’s hand around him in time with Aziraphale’s strokes, and Aziraphale whispers, “beautiful,” into his shoulder, feeling a bit foolish that he hasn’t got anything better to say, so he says, “I love you,” and that doesn’t feel quite like enough, even when he says it again, with all the feeling he can muster, so he searches desperately for something, anything, and says, “‘The fountains mingle with the river--’”

Crowley’s hips stutter, and he opens his eyes just a little to glare. “Oh, don’t bring Shelley into this,” he says reproachfully.

Aziraphale blushes and laughs a little. “Yes, quite right, a bit strange,” he admits (imagine quoting a mutual friend from college’s overwrought poetry from a creative writing class to your partner in bed. That would be quite similar to what Aziraphale is trying to do here).

It’s silent for several moments but for the sound of skin against skin, and as Crowley’s rough breathing picks up, his movements growing more frantic, Aziraphale says softly, “‘Bless the feet that take you to and fro.’” He kisses his closed eyes, as light as he can, “‘Bless the eyes,’” he says, and kisses just behind his ear, nipping at his earlobe as he pulls away--and the sound Crowley makes at that is going to require to require further study, but another time-- “‘Bless the listening ears,’” and he kisses him, rough and deep, Crowley’s mouth greedy and frenzied, “‘Bless the tongue,’ my darling, ‘the marvel of taste.’” He does something with his fingers that makes Crowley cry, ‘angel,’  fingers scrabbling at the soft hair at the base of his neck. “Oh, certainly, ‘bless touching.’ ” Crowley arches his back, pulling Aziraphale down to his chest, just above his wild heartbeat, as he approaches the edge, and Aziraphale kisses him there, and whispers, “My beautiful, darling, dearest,” and Crowley gasps, a broken sound, like he’s been cracked open, and spills into his hand.

Aziraphale coaxes him through it with soft and reassuring murmurs, delighting in the feeling of his heartbeat against his cheek. They lay there a moment as it slows, and Aziraphale miracles the mess away with an absent wave of his hand. He’s a little afraid to look at him now, embarrassed, but Crowley pulls at him until he rises to kiss him, cupping his face in his hands, his mouth slow and sloppy, and Aziraphale smiles. “I love you.”

“I love you too, angel,” Crowley whispers, and then he smiles too, broad and crooked, and says, “your turn.”

 

“Crowley,” Aziraphale says into the quiet of the backroom, some hours later. Morning light is just beginning to stream in through the window, gentle and soft. The air is warm and heavy and smells like both of them and sweat and sex, and Crowley’s head is cushioned on Aziraphale’s bare chest, arms clutched around his middle. 

“Mmm,” he says cleverly, doing something that Aziraphale would describe as nuzzling, but Crowley would probably have a fit if he did. He’s running his hands through Crowley’s hair, careful not to tug or tangle it.

“You made this lovely noise when I called you ‘dearest--’”

Crowley groans, lashes fluttering against Aziraphale’s skin as he squeezes his eyes closed. “We’re not talking about that.”

“I’d like to,” he says. “I’d like to talk about it.”

“You’re not an angel at all,” Crowley grumbles. “You’re too,” he gestures, “mischievous.”

“I’m not mischievous at all,” Aziraphale says. “I’m only curious.”

“Only if you promise not to laugh,” Crowley says after a moment.

“I would never,” he promises.

“I always wondered if you would,” he mutters. “I don’t know, you call me ‘my dear’ all the time, and I used to--especially, you know, a long time ago, when you’d write to me--I used to wonder if you would call me ‘dearest.’ I used to think about it a lot.” He pauses. “I still think about it. I’m pretty sure I thought about it maybe yesterday.”

Aziraphale blinks. “Crowley, you’ll resent me for saying it, but that’s the most charming thing I’ve ever heard,” he says, and Crowley groans again.

“I do resent you for saying it,” he says. “It’s stupid, I know--”

“No, Crowley, dearest,” he says, and cups his cheek to guide Crowley until he’s looking at him. “It’s not stupid at all.” He smiles. “I think it’s rather lovely.”

“You’re so cheesy,” Crowley complains, but he’s the one with his chin on Aziraphale’s chest, gazing up at him after sex with his eyes so full of something Aziraphale might one day be comfortable thinking to himself as love.

“I’m ‘cheesy?’” he says. “What was it you were saying, about names and hearts on paperwork--”

“Oh, shut up,” Crowley says, and leans up to cut him off with a kiss.

It isn’t perfect--the angle is a little awkward, of course, but more than that, there’s still a little seed of insecurity in Aziraphale’s chest that will be a little harder to root out than one conversation and a lovely night together, and Crowley, dear Crowley, who has spent six thousand years pining, will certainly need more reassurance that this is not some blessing with a beginning and an end--but it’s as close as any thing on Earth--or Heaven or Hell for that matter--can get.