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Lavender, Chamomile, and a Rather Permanent Arrangement

Chapter Text

It was raining again, splashing down in great puddles outside and soaking passersby as they slunk past the shop window, collars turned up against the wind. 

Crowley glanced at the clock on the wall and gave a deep sigh. No one came in when it was raining like this, and it had been raining for a straight week. He'd heard on the news on his drive in that morning that there was flooding everywhere and he wasn't particularly surprised, England always seemed to flood whenever it rained. This was, of course, rather unfortunate, as it rained for at least half the year. 

Theoretically, Crowley could see straight through his shop window into the window across the street, but there were three problems with this that day. 

The first was the fact that the rain was so heavy it blurred everything and made it difficult to see ten feet ahead. And, although this didn't really affect visibility, the way the drops kept spattering onto the windows at a perfectly irritating volume when the wind blew just right wasn't helping Crowley's mood. 

Second was the fact that it was a Saturday - the Saturday before Father's Day, in fact - and so everyone was out full force buying last minute gifts and cheesy cards they didn't mean a word of. 

Lastly, and this was a problem every day, but was still worth mentioning: the windows of the shop across the street were completely covered on the inside with paper. Crowley loved walking past the shop on his way home, because the windows were plastered with the owner's drawings, and it seemed as if every time he passed, there was a new one to look at. 

And so, instead of being able to stare directly into the store, Crowley could only see a sliver of the interior through the not yet completely covered front door.

He had been in before, but only a couple of times when the owner had been moving in a few years back and he'd gone to introduce himself. The man had been pleasant enough, but despite Crowley’s acute interest in the owner, they’d never had a real conversation that went anywhere beyond basic small talk. 

The shop itself was called Heaven's Ink, but the peeling sign above the door didn't exactly make this obvious, and it was difficult from the outside to even tell what kind of store it was. 

As Crowley watched, someone in a long grey overcoat slipped through the door and warm light spilled into the dim street briefly. He sighed again and tore himself away from the window and out of his thoughts, grabbing his plant mister off the table and sauntering over to his favourite dracaena. He rubbed one of the glossy leaves between his forefinger and thumb and just stared at it for a moment, his mind still wandering in the direction of the shop across the road. The bell rang and he jumped, glancing at the door and wrinkling his nose to push his dark sunglasses up. 

A woman holding the hand of a small child was picking her way through Crowley's shop floor, which was more accurately described by his regular patrons as a jungle. 

She smiled at the tall man and the boy just stared up at him, eyes wide. He was wearing an obscenely yellow raincoat and welly boots, and must have been about three or four years old, still seeming a touch unsteady on his feet. Crowley offered them both a friendly smile and leaned his hip against the counter casually. 

"How can I help you?" 

The woman smiled and glanced around, her eyes seeming to settle for a moment on the hanging baskets dangling from the ceiling. 

"I'd like to get some flowers for Father's Day, just to brighten things up." 

Crowley nodded, setting the plant mister down on the counter and shoving his hands into his pockets. "Any ideas on what flowers? I haven't done any premade bouquets today, the weather doesn't usually help business, but I can make you anything you want." 

The woman nodded and glanced down at the boy, then gave a small sigh. "I'm not sure my husband has a favourite flower. I think white roses would be nice, though." 

"Mm, okay. Any other colours you were thinking?" Crowley asked, his voice slightly softer than usual as he noticed the uncertainty in the woman's face. 

"I think just white and green would be quite nice, not too overpowering." 

Crowley nodded and pushed off from the edge of the counter, wandering around to the back. "Give me five minutes." 

He slipped through the door and began to gather up a few roses, easily picking a fairly basic bouquet and quickly arranging it before carrying it back out to show to the woman. As he walked, he grabbed a bowl of lollipops off the shelf, casually setting it on the front counter and showing the woman the bouquet. 

"How's this look?" 

The woman nodded, flashing a smile that was a bit too bright to be genuine. "It looks perfect, but I don't believe lilies are allowed in the hospital." 

Crowley went slightly cold and glanced at the bouquet. "Ah. I'll go um..I'll go take them out," he mumbled, turning hurriedly and slipping into the back again. He quickly pulled the lilies out, replacing them with a few large flowers and then quietly tucking a couple more roses in along with some extra filler flowers. He wrapped it up in silver paper and carried it back out, setting it down on the counter. 

The little boy was still staring at the lollipops, so Crowley pushed the bowl a little closer to him and then eyed the bouquet. The flowers would ordinarily cost at least twenty five pounds, possibly thirty on a slow day, but he made a decision and tapped a few buttons on the till. 

"That'll be ten pounds, please." 

The woman left, towing the little boy along, who had filled his pockets with lollipops. Crowley smiled to himself and picked up the bowl, setting it back on the shelf just inside the back room. They weren't just for anyone to take, after all. 

Then he glanced at the clock again and wandered to his fridge, taking out a small tupperware and grabbing his umbrella on the way out of the shop. He locked the door behind him and glanced both ways, then jogged across the road and pushed the door open just as the man from earlier was trying to leave. Crowley stepped back slightly to let him out, then slipped in after him, dumping the umbrella in the rack. 

 

The owner of the shop across the street was A. Z. Fell, and he was a tattoo artist, although it wasn't exactly immediately obvious from the shop's decor. There was no reception desk, just a low table with several rather old but expensive-looking leather chairs. The walls were covered in book-crammed shelves that reached all the way to the ceiling, dripping with little trinkets and hanging scarves. The faint scent of incense mixed well with the permanent smell of hot chocolate that drifted out from the back room's door, which was open slightly. 

The only island in this sea of clutter was the bench with the cabinet next to it, a large lamp overhanging both. The bench was gleaming; everything was clean and tidy and neat, if only within the little workspace. 

After the mess of last week, after hearing his apartment door slam and all those words, those horrible words hurled at him in anger, the shop felt like paradise. It was a little utopia of cluttered, peaceful cosiness, and its serenity washed over him, soothing everything - that awful feeling of rejection, of loss, even his own dull, aching anger. It was exactly what Crowley needed, even if he’d never have admitted it. And now he was free, in a sense, unfettered and able to fully enjoy the shop without that nagging feeling of guilt in the back of his mind. Although perhaps ‘enjoy’ wasn’t exactly the right word, not yet.

Crowley looked down at the worn wooden floor beneath his boots and sighed, wandering forward and knocking on the wall next to the open door. "Zira?" 

Crowley didn't know the man's first name, he'd only ever managed to find his middle name after extensive Google searches prior to their third and most recent meeting several months ago - when Crowley had just ‘popped over’ to see how he was getting on after that business with the landlord - and had settled for calling him that and only that. The artist didn't seem to mind at all. 

Zira poked his head out around the door, his round face breaking into a bright grin when he saw Crowley waiting, the tupperware clutched in both hands like a holy offering. 

"Oh. Hello, Anthony, you look soaked! Would you like some tea?" 

The warm voice washed over Crowley, immediately making him smile and relax as he leaned against the wall, holding out the tupperware confidently, or at least in a way he thought looked confident.  

"How about a swap? I know we don’t really know each other that well, but I made too much pasta last night and I can't eat it all," he drawled, reverting to over-casual behaviour in a vain effort to hide his nerves. “I thought you mentioned something about that new Italian restaurant last time I was here, so..” Crowley trailed off, cursing himself in his own  mind, as he felt that he might have crossed a line into creepy rather than friendly.

But Zira was watching him with that intent, amiable look, his blue eyes focused on Crowley as if nothing else would ever capture his interest in quite the same way.

Zira's smile only widened, nothing but sincerity in his expression as he took the proffered dish reverentially. "Thank you so much! I did actually forget my lunch today, and I do love pasta. Why don't you come and sit down? I just put the kettle on."  

Crowley ached slightly, shoving his hands in his pockets to cover his sudden confusion and mild discomfort as the interaction veered off the tracks laid out by his internal script. "I should really get going, I-" 

"Oh do come, please," Zira interrupted quickly, flashing the other man another bright, genuine smile that caused something inside him to click into place. "None of my other neighbors here talk to me, and it would be lovely to get to know you better." 

Crowley hesitated, then gave a soft sigh and nodded, straightening up off the wall. "It would be..nice, yes. Do you have time?" 

Zira rolled his eyes and pushed the door further open, then turned and slipped back into the back room. "Of course, why would I have invited you otherwise?" He called from inside, so Crowley stuck his head around the door. 

The room beyond was cluttered, more bookshelves crammed into a tiny space, but there were also two very comfortable looking armchairs and a small coffee table, as well as a tiny, quite new-looking kitchenette that contained a counter, a kettle, a sink, and a cupboard. As Crowley watched, Zira took the kettle off the stand and poured the water into a small teapot, then stuck a cosy over it and got two mugs down from the cupboard. 

He glanced back at Crowley, briefly looking confused before flashing a grin. "Come sit down. Did you bring anything for lunch?" 

Crowley shook his head slightly, still very much on edge as he watched the artist sit down in one of the armchairs. "No, I didn't, I didn't think I'd be staying for lunch," he answered, his nerves making him blunt. "Sorry." 

"Don't be sorry! We can just have tea, it's not the end of the world," Zira smiled, watching Crowley as he walked into the room unsteadily, still feeling like an intruder even as he sat down and sprawled into the comfortable armchair. 

He looked over at the artist, who was suddenly looking down, studying the cover of one of the beaten up books on the table as if he'd never seen it before. 

"Thanks for inviting me in," Crowley announced after a moment, and Zira's head snapped up, his cheeks colouring as he smiled at his companion. 

"Oh, of course. Anytime." 

Silence settled again, awkward and thick as both men stared down at the floor. After a minute or two, Zira got up quietly, moving over to the kitchen counter and pouring the tea into two mugs. He added sugar to both, just half a spoon, then picked them up and carried them back to the armchairs. He handed one to Crowley, who stared down into the mug blankly. The tea was a weak yellow color and didn't look particularly inviting, but it smelled sweet and almost spicy, so he took a tentative sip. 

"It's ginger and honey, sorry, I forgot to say," Zira rushed out quickly, apparently noticing Crowley's uncertain expression. 

Crowley swallowed and nodded slightly, still feeling somewhat unbalanced as his brain lagged behind, struggling to process this unexpected situation. "I think I like it. I've never really tried any other kind of tea." 

"It's good for your immune system," Zira announced, jumping on the chance to have a real conversation with Crowley. "Which is good when the weather's bad like this, it's very easy to get sick." 

Crowley smiled, taking another long sip and setting the mug down on the coffee table carefully, so it barely made a sound. "It's just a tad colder than it should be at the moment, isn't it?" 

"Just a tad," Zira agreed, his blue eyes softening even more as he smiled at Crowley. "I love listening to the rain, but I don't particularly like getting wet." 

Crowley pulled a face and leaned back in his chair again, forcing himself to look relaxed. He was a firm believer in 'fake it 'til you make it' and he was putting it into practice now. "I don't think there's anything I like about rain. I'm glad we have it, though. I suppose I like seeing how green everything is after summer rain like this." 

Zira grinned and took a sip from his mug, his eyes still smiling at Crowley over the top of the cup. "You're right there, it really freshens everything up, doesn't it?" 

Crowley nodded, glancing away from his companion to look around the room again, taking in all the old, peeling book covers and the drawings stuck to any available blank space. Some he recognised as Zira's style, while some appeared to be given to him by other artists, as they stood out among the rest. He hadn't been in the back room before, and there were plenty of small things to occupy his attention, which was rather helpful, as he was struggling to keep looking at the artist next to him. 

It was like trying to look directly at the sun - Zira was just too bright, too cheerful, too friendly, and Crowley was forced to turn away periodically. He adjusted his sunglasses and glanced back at Zira, who had dropped his smile and was watching the florist curiously. 

"Can I ask you a personal question, Anthony?" 

Crowley tilted his head back slightly, allowing his own lips to curve up at the unfamiliar sound of his first name, spoken so softly. Very few people ever used his first name, and never in such delicate, yet easy tones. "Mm, depends what it is." 

This seemed to fluster Zira, but he ploughed on nevertheless, his cheeks once again dusted with pink. "Why do you wear sunglasses indoors? I've never seen you without them, I just wondered, I'm sorry if that's too...invasive." 

Crowley just shrugged, picking his mug up again and taking a long drink from it before answering in order to hide his slight embarrassment. "I have a really high sensitivity to light, even lights inside can hurt my eyes, so I usually just wear sunglasses to be safe. I have a darker pair for sunny days as well." 

Zira nodded slowly, his gaze once again getting too much for Crowley, who looked down into his mug instead of into those crystal blue eyes. 

"I'm sorry to hear that." 

"I'm used to it, it doesn't really bother me anymore," Crowley said quickly, noticing the concern laid thick on Zira's voice and desperate to avoid any kind of pity or awkwardness. "I just have to wear my glasses." 

Zira gave a little sigh, but hesitated before speaking, tapping his fingernail on the side of his mug lightly. "How's the shop going? You must be busy for Father's Day." 

Crowley let go of tension he hadn't known he'd been holding and shook his head slightly. "It's still quite slow because of the weather. I suppose that doesn't affect you that much." 

"No, I make appointments far enough in advance that people usually come whatever the weather," Zira agreed, glancing towards the back room door as if expecting something. "I think things are slowing down here a bit, though." 

Crowley leaned his head back against the armchair, his head still turned towards the artist. "How so?" 

"Oh, I think it's because of the shop a few streets away. They have more artists and they're good at all that Facebook stuff," Zira answered with just a hint of contempt in his tone that made Crowley smile unconsciously. Maybe Zira wasn't all softness and wide smiles. 

"I could help you with that, if you need," he said quickly, leaning forward again without thinking, his eagerness briefly taking over. "I have a page set up for my shop, so I know how to do it." 

Zira's face lit up, every shred of annoyance immediately fading from his expression as he grinned shyly. "Really? Oh, that would be fantastic." 

Crowley nodded hurriedly, suddenly all tension and energy again as he leaned all the way forward, resting his elbows on his thighs. "I could do it right now." 

Zira blinked, his voice suddenly becoming uncertain and slow, his fingers curling tighter around his mug. "Oh, my client is coming back in about fifteen minutes. But I have a longer lunch break tomorrow at twelve?" 

Crowley struggled to hide his disappointment, trying to cover it up with a layer of suave disinterest that unfortunately seemed, to Zira, to be completely sincere. "Oh, sure. I can do that. If you want," he answered a little sharply, turning his head away from the artist and setting his mug down quickly, with a quiet thud of ceramic on wood. "I suppose I should probably go anyway." 

Zira swallowed, rising out of his seat and pushing his hands into his pockets as he looked down at the floor, then back up at Crowley. "That would be great.”

Crowley stood up abruptly, all angles unfolding as he straightened his skinny legs. “I'll um. See you tomorrow, then," he rushed out, shoving his hands in his pockets and glancing towards the front room longingly. He felt suddenly as if he was being shown the door, and now he wanted to leave as quickly as possible, to leave the little shop and the far too bright man behind. "Thank you for the tea." 

"You're welcome," Zira answered politely. "It was lovely to see you." 

Crowley glanced back at him, already halfway to the door, and managed an awkward half smile. "You too." 

And then he was gone, and the little room was suddenly very empty and very full at the same time. All the words that had been left unsaid were almost like a vacuum, drawing on the air, while the substantial weight of so many misunderstandings and miscommunications was left hanging - although part of that did leave with Crowley, resting heavy on his thin shoulders.

 

Crowley didn't slam the door, he shut it very quietly behind him and grabbed the plant mister off the front desk on his way past. He wandered through the sea of plants, glaring at each of them until he suddenly crouched down, rubbing a leaf between his fingers. "This is a brown spot," he said quietly, his voice low, but very firm and matter-of-fact. "You know I don't like brown spots."

Crowley leaned down very close to the plant, his voice dropping even further into a menacing hiss. "You had better sort this out right fucking now, you little shit, otherwise you aren't going to make me any money, are you? And then you won't be any fucking use to me, will you?" 

The plant just sat there, as plants tend to do, but Crowley felt that it was listening. He always talked to his plants, and they always turned out lush and beautiful and flawless, with the proper discipline. Crowley wasn't one to let go of something that worked, or at least something that he thought worked. 

After a few more very one-sided conversations around the shop, he sauntered back behind the counter and swapped the upbeat playlist he'd had playing to something rather more melancholy to fit his current mood. Then he leaned against the counter, removing his sunglasses just long enough to rub his eyes with his fingertips. 

He felt like something had definitely gone wrong just then, in his first proper conversation with Zira, but he couldn't quite put his finger on what had happened or even the exact moment at which it had taken a turn for the worse. 

Unfortunately, despite Crowley's belief that he was an unflappable sort of person, the kind of person with unshakable cool confidence, he was, by nature, a chronic overthinker. This problem was always exacerbated in situations that made him nervous, and nerves were definitely a huge factor in his interactions with Zira. He'd been thinking so much about what he'd been saying and how he'd been acting and sitting and reacting to things, that he hadn't spent much time actually paying attention to Zira or his body language.

Crowley had missed a lot of things. He'd missed Zira's blushes, he'd missed the way Zira had stared at him when he was talking, he'd missed the look of captivated interest on Zira's face when he'd asked about the florist's sunglasses, and now he was brooding over their conversation with only about fifty percent of the facts. 

Crowley didn't know what had gone wrong, he didn't know how to make it better, and, worst of all, he didn't really know why he cared so much. 

The bell above the door jingled suddenly, ripping him out of his thoughts and thankfully forcing him to forget about Zira as the afternoon began to get busy. 

 

Chapter Text

Crowley checked his watch impatiently, then went back to what he was doing, quickly tucking the last few flowers into the bouquet and wrapping it easily. He carried it out of the back room and dumped it in one of the holders, then scooped up a small bag from the counter and headed out of the door. 

Despite his dark glasses, Crowley had to squint as he stepped into the street; the sun proving to be brighter than he'd thought, and he fumbled with the lock before striding across to Zira's shop as quickly as he could. He pushed the door open at exactly noon, finding the shop apparently empty. 

"Anthony, is that you?" 

"Yeah, where are you?" He called back, glancing around briefly to try and find the source of the disembodied voice, without any success.

"I'm upstairs! Give me one moment, and I'll be down." 

"Alright." 

Crowley smiled to himself, wandering unsteadily to the bench and leaning against it heavily as he looked at the wall behind it, plastered with photos of Zira's finished work. It was easy to be captivated, drawn into the perfect greyscales and the vibrant, exuberant colours. 

"Do you like them?" 

Caught in the act of pure, innocent admiration, Crowley jumped, his cheeks flushing as he turned. "They're stunning," he answered honestly, unable to play it cool in the face of Zira's slightly worried, even embarrassed smile. 

"Thank you," he said simply, then glanced down, his eyebrows knitting together as he saw the way Crowley was standing, still awkwardly leaning on the bench with all his weight on one leg. "Is everything alright?" 

Crowley opened his mouth to reply, then realised he had no idea how to. "Uh. Yeah. Old injury," he managed, after only a few seconds of frantic thought. 

Zira smiled sheepishly, glancing down briefly before letting his gaze drift back up to Crowley's face. "I suppose I probably shouldn't ask. Did you want to come upstairs? We could have lunch and I don't actually have a laptop, so if you still wouldn't mind helping me, we should probably go and use my computer." 

Crowley nodded quickly, taking an unsteady step towards the artist. "Yeah, of course." 

Zira moved forward without thinking, reaching out for Crowley's arm and drawing back awkwardly. "Do you...do you need help?" 

"I'll be okay as long as you have a handrail,” he answered, but punctuated the sentence with a rather obviously fake smile, his eyes not quite joining in.

"Alright, it's just through here," Zira mumbled, opening a door that was mostly concealed by bookshelves and taped up drawings. Crowley followed him up slowly, cursing his stiff leg in the privacy of his mind as he clung to the handrail with a white-knuckle grip, each step a struggle. Zira turned to look back when he reached the top of the stairs and horror passed over his face briefly before he hurried back down, wordlessly taking Crowley's arm and walking beside him, helping him with each step. 

"I'm sorry, I didn't realise you were-" he tried to rush out, but Crowley shook his head quickly, gritting his teeth as he took another step. 

"It's fine. My apartment has stairs everywhere, I'm used to it, I just...I slept weird last night and now-" Crowley let out a soft hiss as he took the last step, swaying ever so slightly on the landing. Zira gently guided him forward, one hand spread on the small of his back to help him keep his balance. 

Crowley forced himself to swallow his pride and let the artist lead him to a plush couch, collapsing into it gratefully and stretching his leg out in front of him. "Thanks, I'm sorry," he mumbled, his skin still feeling as if it was on fire where he had felt Zira's gentle touches. 

"Don't be sorry. I'll go make you some tea, you rest," Zira said firmly, brushing his fingers over Crowley's shoulder uncertainly before bustling off through a doorway. 

Crowley let out a deep breath and leaned forward quickly, massaging his thigh as he glanced around the room, finally taking it all in. The apartment had definitely been cleaned fairly recently, and most likely in a hurry, as there were neat piles of papers and books on practically every surface. They were stacked up on the coffee table, the desk, the windowsill, the bookshelves that were already overstuffed. The couch, coffee table, and desk were the only pieces of furniture aside from the shelves, and the room didn't look particularly well lived in, despite all the stuff everywhere. The computer on the desk even had a layer of dust on the keyboard that suggested it hadn't been used in at least a couple months. 

"Anthony?" Zira's voice cut through the peace of Crowley's thoughts, soft and questioning, as if half expecting only silence in place of a response. 

"Yeah?" Crowley answered immediately, the quiet uncertainty in the artist's voice unsettling him somewhat. "Everything alright?" 

"Yes, of course! I just wondered if you had any allergies to anything," Zira called, the harmonics of relief sounding in his words. 

"No, not allergic to anything," Crowley smiled, going back to massaging some life into his stiff muscle, his thumbs digging into his own skin through his jeans as he worked at the tough knots centered around his scars. 

"Good, good to know," Zira hummed, as if half to himself, then went silent for a few minutes. 

Crowley just sat back and waited, trying his best to ignore the throbbing in his leg as he leaned his head back and closed his eyes. 

After a while longer, he heard the swish of soft footsteps and opened his eyes lazily, immediately met with Zira's bright smile as he handed over a cup of hot tea. 

"It's chamomile and lavender, it's good for pain, so drink up." 

Crowley nodded slightly, sniffing at the tea as Zira took a seat on his desk chair, meticulously setting his own mug down on a coaster. 

"Thanks. Is that the computer you were talking about?" Crowley asked, taking a sip from the hot liquid and trying not to pull a face as the unfamiliar taste assaulted his tongue. "It looks really old." 

"It is," Zira admitted, embarrassment taking over his expression as he glanced at it guiltily. "I suppose I really should know how to use it, but I'm terrible with technology. I can't even use a mobile phone." 

Crowley smiled from behind his mug, dutifully taking another sip and deciding it wasn't actually too bad the second time around. "We can't all be good at everything, I guess. I can help you with it, don't worry. As long as it can actually pull up Facebook."

"It might be a bit of a gamble," Zira joked softly, looking down at his mug shyly as Crowley grinned, even this tiny attempt at humor warming his chest. 

"It looks like it. Do you want to eat lunch or wrestle with that first?" 

Zira glanced at the computer and gave a soft sigh. "I forgot breakfast this morning, so I suppose we should probably eat first." 

"Yeah, you must be hungry," Crowley smiled, tilting his head slightly and suddenly frowning. "Oh, I left my bag downstairs on the bench." 

Zira got up hurriedly and gently pushed Crowley back into his seat, his touch once again burning Crowley's skin through his clothes. 

"I'll go get it," he said simply, and Crowley was too shocked and confused to say thank you before the artist disappeared down the stairs. He came back a moment later with Crowley's bag and handed it over to him, responding with a quiet 'you're welcome' to Crowley's dry-mouthed thanks. 

"I'll go get us both some water and my lunch, alright?" 

Crowley just nodded in response, starting to unpack his bag carefully and setting everything out on the coffee table. After a minute or two, Zira wandered back in, placing two glasses of water on the table and sitting down beside Crowley with a plate in his lap. The sandwich was neat and tidy and cut into triangles, and Crowley had never been so close to the artist. He could feel his warmth and his elbow brushing his arm, and it was all too much and not enough at once. 

Zira pressed a button on a small remote and a record player in the corner wound itself into life, spilling the soft, liquid notes of a piano into the stifling room. 

"I hope you don't mind. I like to listen to music at lunch," Zira said softly, glancing at Crowley with an unreadable expression on his face. 

Crowley smiled. He wanted to tell the artist that he was very thankful for the music, because without it he felt he was likely to go insane or simply explode sitting there on that couch, inches from Zira. Instead, he just nodded and picked up half of his own sandwich from the box on his lap. "I do too. It doesn't bother me at all." 

Zira just nodded and silence settled between them, but it wasn't the silence from yesterday. This was light and easy, a silence that came from the complete lack of any words that needed to be said, rather than from awkwardness and words that wanted to be said but simply couldn't be voiced. 

Crowley finished his lunch first, so he set his water glass down and dragged himself to his feet, walking over to the desk chair and collapsing into it. He pressed the power button on the side of the computer and waited patiently, unconsciously rubbing his leg with his fingertips. 

He could hear Zira getting up and walking around, but he didn't think much of it, busy watching the little progress bar as it struggled across the screen. 

"I'm sorry, I suppose I should have checked it was working," Zira suddenly spoke up behind Crowley, his voice all soft nerves and apologetic tones. "I think I need a new one." 

"I think you do," Crowley said simply, as the progress bar finally finished and the screen began to actually load. He waited a few seconds to let everything catch up, then clicked on the web browser and watched it try to open the search page. 

"You know, this might be easier if I bring my laptop this evening or something," Crowley mused after another thirty seconds of staring at a blank white window. 

"Oh, I don't want to put you to any trouble," Zira answered quickly, but he seemed disappointed, as far as Crowley could tell while still facing away from him. 

"It'll only take me half an hour to go home and grab it, if I leave straight after I close, we could spend the evening working on it," Crowley suggested, and Zira sighed, just as the search page finally loaded. 

"If you wouldn't mind, that would be fantastic." 

Crowley nodded and turned the computer off, then got up and found himself chest to chest with Zira, who shuffled backwards quickly, his cheeks flushing as he tried to get out of the way. 

"Sorry, I um. I'll get a new computer soon," he mumbled, and Crowley nodded, walking back to the couch slowly. He was surprised to find that in the time he'd spent at the desk, the tea he'd drunk earlier had kicked in somewhat and relaxed his tense thigh muscle, allowing him to walk much better and with a lot less pain. Crowley just smiled to himself and reached down, picking up his bag and swinging it over his shoulder. "Thank you for inviting me over, but I should probably go and sort the shop out if I'm coming back later," he announced, and Zira watched him, his blue eyes a little less bright than usual. 

"I understand. Do you need help?" He asked, his voice also heavy with an emotion Crowley wasn't sure he could put his finger on - although given the florist’s track record, it was surprising enough that he’d even noticed the disappointment Zira was trying to hide.

"No, I'll be fine. Thank you for the tea,” Crowley answered politely, walking to the door and resting his hand on the handle as he looked back at the artist.

"Oh," Zira murmured, flashing a smile that didn't quite reach his eyes. "You're always welcome here, Anthony." 

 

When Crowley got back from fetching his computer, the tattoo shop was already closed, so he knocked on the door and waited, leaning against the wall to take some weight off his leg. It wasn't too bad now; the throbbing pain had settled into a more usual dull ache, and that was fairly manageable for Crowley. 

The door clicked and he stood up as Zira opened it, smiling at him in his usual bright, friendly way. "Come in, I've just put the kettle on." 

Crowley smiled to himself and stepped through the door, then followed Zira into the back room slowly and sat down in one of the armchairs without waiting to be asked.  

Zira glanced at him and grinned to himself, watching Crowley open up his laptop while he poured the boiling water from the kettle into the teapot. He put the lid on and walked over, sitting down beside Crowley and looking at him curiously. "I don't think I even have a Facebook account," he announced quietly, and Crowley glanced at him with an amused expression.  

"I doubt you do. Do you even have email?" 

"Oh yes, I used to use it a lot."

Crowley arched an eyebrow and gave a quiet sigh. "You need to learn to use these things if you want to have a competitive business, Zira. How do people contact you to set up an appointment?"

"They come in, of course," Zira answered, slightly more defensively than was really necessary. "And I talk to them." 

Crowley's worried expression changed into a fond smile and he shook his head slightly as he turned his attention back to the screen. "You need more help than I thought," he chuckled softly, and Zira cracked a smile, nodding slightly as he began to relax again. 

"Would you mind terribly helping me? I know I'm useless with technology, but you seem to be good with it." 

Crowley glanced up at him, then shook his head and went back to pulling up his email and logging out. "No, of course not," he said distantly, too busy thinking about how many hours he'd get to spend with the artist, helping him and talking to him and joking with him. Of course he wouldn't mind. It was exactly what he wanted. 

 

The evening did turn out just the way Crowley had hoped - Zira seemed relaxed and comfortable with him, smiling and laughing at his mostly awful jokes. And although they didn't talk about anything 'important,' the quiet, amiable chat about their respective shops and Facebook and normal, everyday things suited the florist perfectly. 

Crowley even ended up staying much later than he'd thought, and he left the shop not long after it had gotten dark, sauntering across the street to his car. He glanced back and smiled to himself as he watched the lights in the artist's shop go out, leaving only the upstairs window lit. 

It felt like an intimate moment to him, knowing that Zira was going upstairs to bed, settling in for the night without him, but he tore himself away after a moment or two and wrenched the car door open. 

 

As Crowley drove home, his thumb tapping on the steering wheel in time with the music blasting through his speakers, he just couldn't keep that insistent, warm smile off his face. 

Unfortunately, there was one thing - or rather, person - who could wipe that smile off his face, and he just happened to be waiting outside Crowley's apartment, his back against the wall and a cigarette dangling from his fingers. 

Crowley curled his lip, but parked in his usual spot on the street calmly, then got out and stalked towards him, his hands shoved into his pockets. 

"George, how unpleasant to see you," he announced, and the man just laughed, kicking off from the wall and advancing towards him. Crowley slapped his hand away before it reached his cheek, his teeth clenching in anger. 

"Don't be like that, Crowley, I know you missed me," George purred, flicking his cigarette end away and reaching up again, grabbing at Crowley's shirt and jerking him in close. "Didn't you?" 

Crowley shoved him away roughly, his throat closing up as he tried to breathe evenly, tried not to show how unsettled he was. 

"After you called me a cunt and a selfish asshole and insisted I cheated on you? No, not really!" He spat, and George stared at him for a moment, then sneered. 

"It's been over a week. I assumed you'd come crawling back by now, darling, " he countered, the twisted, sarcastic pet name hammering another nail in the coffin. "Is he treating you better?" 

Crowley swallowed, his fingers fumbling with his keys, trying to find the right one as his hands trembled. "I was never with anyone else, there is no other man," he insisted quietly, knowing there was no point. There never was and never had been, and he knew he had to accept that. 

"We both know that's not true. How about you just take me upstairs and pour me a glass of something strong and we forget about all this, hmm?" George purred, his voice suddenly all dangerous charm and syrupy sweetness. 

Crowley glanced at him, saw that horrible glint in his eye, and shook his head quickly. "No. You left me, and that's the end of it. I don't want to see you again," he snapped, but he knew his voice sounded weak and unassertive. 

George stepped towards him, running a hand down his chest slowly, those eyes fixed on his, a smirk half formed on his lips. "You keep telling yourself that, Crowley." 

And then he turned and walked away, leaving Crowley trembling with rage and grief and even a touch of fear. He just about managed to get the key in the lock and turned it, adrenaline propelling him through the door and up the stairs, until he finally leaned against his apartment door, breathing heavily. 

After a moment, he slipped inside the flat, stumbling slightly and grabbing onto a shelf for support as he limped into the kitchen. He reached up and grabbed a glass from the cabinet, then a bottle. He glanced at the glass, then uncapped the scotch and took a few long swigs from the bottle before setting it down again unsteadily. 

Crowley stared at nothing for a second or two, then dragged himself into the bedroom and collapsed onto his mattress, just closing his eyes and waiting, waiting for sleep to take him.

Chapter Text

Crowley sighed and sat down on the front counter, staring off at nothing. 

He'd been very busy the past few days with a wedding that had suddenly come up after the last florist had backed out, and he was tired. It had become obvious very quickly that the florist before him had given up due to the bride's complete lack of manners, but it was done now and he'd made enough to cover the next month's rent. 

However, it had meant that Crowley hadn't been able to visit Zira for lunch for almost a week, and so he'd been checking his Facebook page every evening to see if he was still using it. Surprisingly enough, he didn't seem to have any issues with it, and had even put up a couple of new posts.

Crowley glanced at his watch and sighed. It was ten minutes to closing, and he didn't want to wait. He slid off the counter and grabbed his keys, then turned everything off and slipped out of the front door, locking it behind him quickly. 

He shoved his hands in his pockets and hurried across the road, pushing the tattoo shop door open and smiling as the bell jingled. 

As soon as he walked inside, however, he froze, and just stared. 

Zira was working, and Crowley had never actually seen him tattooing anyone before. He had taken off the coat that Crowley had assumed was just part of him, and had rolled up his sleeves to his elbows, revealing forearms that were completely covered with tattoos. One of his arms was decorated with only white ink, sprawling beautifully across his tan skin in delicate patterns, while the other arm was in black and grey, and appeared to be mostly animals, drawn in his own simplified, yet incredibly intricate style. 

Crowley couldn't help it, he couldn't stop his mouth from dropping open or the way he stared from behind his dark sunglasses, but he did shove down the urge to rush over and touch him, to run his fingers over the designs and study them in depth. 

Zira glanced up, and his whole face lit up, the frown of concentration disappearing as his eyes fell on the stunned Crowley. "I'll be done in a minute, my dear. How about you put the kettle on? I'm quite thirsty." 

Luckily enough, even if Crowley's brain had gone on holiday, his body was paying attention, and he nodded and hurried into the back room without a word. He even began making tea, his hands moving automatically as he filled the kettle and put it on to boil. 

Then his brain finally caught up and he grabbed onto the edge of the counter, only one huge, buzzing thought occupying his mind. My dear , he called me my dear

Crowley felt a little weak, his hands starting to shake as he opened the tea cupboard and stared at the endless selection of carefully organised recycled jam jars. His eyes settled on a familiar label and he pulled the jar out carefully, setting it down on the counter. 

My dear. 

It was the way Zira had said it, as well; it had slipped from his lips as if it meant nothing, as if it was so easy to say, so natural for him to think of Crowley like that, as dear to him. 

And then the overthinking cut in and Crowley tipped several spoons of the tea into the pot moodily as some treacherous part of his mind calmly pointed out that perhaps it was easy for Zira because he called everyone that. Maybe it was just his way and it really did mean nothing. 

Crowley shoved the jar back onto the shelf and took a deep, shuddering breath as he tried to shake away all thoughts clinging to his consciousness. It had either meant something or it had not, he reasoned. There was no use thinking about it anymore because the only person who really knew what it had meant was Zira and he wasn't about to just walk up to him and ask. 

But of course, telling oneself to stop thinking about something rarely works, and Crowley kept worrying and over-analysing until the tea was finally ready and he was carrying two mugs out of the back room. 

Zira looked up again and waved him over, flashing him such a bright, happy smile that every little confusing thought and worry dropped away, leaving Crowley smiling as he walked over and handed Zira his mug. 

"Oh, the lavender one, this is nice," he said genuinely, taking a few sips. The woman on the bench smiled at Crowley and adjusted her arm slightly before closing her eyes again and focusing once more on the music playing through her headphones. 

"It's the only one I recognised," Crowley answered, slightly sheepish, and Zira chuckled, handing the mug back. 

"My handwriting is atrocious, I'm sorry. I'll be another five minutes, I just have to put a tad more shading in and then wrap it up. You can wait for me upstairs or in the back room, whichever you like." 

Crowley nodded and left the mug on a nearby table, then headed upstairs and sat down on the couch, making himself comfortable. 

The tea was definitely helping, relaxing him and calming his thoughts as he stared at nothing, his spare hand resting in his lap passively.

After a while, he heard footsteps on the stairs and Zira walked into the living room, his sleeves rolled down again and his coat back on. Crowley managed to hide his disappointment with a slight smile as Zira walked past him into the kitchen. 

"Are you hungry at all, Anthony?"

"No, I'm fine," Crowley called back quietly, his gaze unfocusing as he stared at the opposite wall. He heard a cupboard open and close and then footsteps again, and looked up into Zira's smile. 

"Here, I forgot to give this to you last time I saw you," he said, his cheeks slightly flushed as Crowley reached out and took the clean tupperware from him carefully. "I wanted to say thank you, it was delicious, and it was really nice of you to give it to me. You're a fantastic cook." 

Crowley almost spontaneously combusted, but managed a just about normal smile and nodded slightly. "Thank you, I'm just glad you enjoyed it," he answered softly, his mouth kicking in with an automatic, polite response so his brain could continue having a fit in peace. 

Zira just smiled and wandered over to his desk chair, sitting down on it primly and looking over at Crowley, who was still struggling to get over 'fantastic cook' and the look on Zira's face when he'd said it. Maybe 'my dear' had been significant after all. Or maybe he was just being nice.

Crowley's little bubble of elation burst and he came crashing back to reality, blinking a few times as he looked down at the container in his hand. 

"Thank you for making tea, by the way, it was lovely and it's great to see you." 

Crowley forced a smile and tilted his head slightly, glad his sunglasses concealed at least part of his expression. "I'm sorry for dropping in unannounced, though, I just thought-" 

"No, don't be silly, I said you were always welcome here and I meant it," Zira cut in quickly, his face soft as he looked at Crowley fondly. The longing in his eyes was, of course, completely lost on the florist, who was still too busy worrying about 'my dear' and 'fantastic cook' to notice. 

But he did smile, and Zira felt his chest tighten at the sight of Crowley smiling so genuinely, without even the smallest trace of pain or awkwardness. "Thank you." 

Zira just shrugged in response and leaned back in his chair. "I haven't seen you for a few days, how have you been?" 

And suddenly it was easy, and they were chatting like old friends, laughing at each other's jokes and listening to each other's stories. Crowley told Zira about his demanding bride, and Zira told him about a man who'd come in completely drunk at two in the afternoon and asked for a parrot to be tattooed on his forehead. 

And finally, at the end of the evening, when it was getting dark outside and shop lights were going off along the street, Zira stood at the top of the stairs with Crowley, and smiled at him. 

"What if we went out to get lunch somewhere this week?" He suggested quietly, just as Crowley turned to leave. "My treat, since you cooked me that wonderful dish." 

Crowley stopped immediately, his heart pounding in his chest as a smile spread across his face, joyful and genuine. "That sounds perfect. How about Friday?" 

"Friday sounds great," Zira answered with a matching smile, and Crowley gave an awkward nod, glancing back at the artist’s face before saying a brief goodbye and heading down the stairs. 

"I'll see you on Friday," Zira called after him, then looked down at the floor and gave a little sigh. He stood like that for a moment, still and lost in thought, before shaking his head and bustling off to clean the kitchen. 

Downstairs, Crowley was just heading out of the door when something caught his eye. A large, leather bound photo album was laid out on the table by the bench, each page a sheet of designs, all of which appeared to be in bright colours. Crowley glanced towards the stairs, then wandered over, natural curiosity getting the better of him as he glanced over the pages. 

They were full of rainbows and little flags and even a block of large rainbow lettering - pride. 

Crowley's breath caught in his throat and he ran one finger over the word, then turned and hurried out of the shop, letting the door swing shut behind him. 

 

Just before he went to sleep that night, Crowley went on his phone and loaded Zira's Facebook page out of habit, and was immediately confronted with a new post. Zira had put up pictures of the designs Crowley had seen in the book, along with several other pages and a short caption. 

It's June, pride season again! I'm doing reduced rates for all the flash tattoos shown here, and for all other LGBT+ pride tattoos for the rest of the month. 

Crowley tapped on one of the pictures, staring at it for a moment and contemplating one of the smaller tattoos. He had always admired tattoos, but had been too frightened to try actually getting one himself, and yet the idea of going into Zira's shop and shoving his sexuality under the artist's nose was rather attractive to him. 

Crowley only entertained the thought for a few minutes, however, then sighed and set his phone down before turning the lights off and settling into bed.

Chapter Text

Thursday was dull and boring despite how busy Crowley's shop was, and only served as a stepping stone to Friday. It was all Crowley could think about while he worked, and he spent about double his usual time getting ready in the morning. 

Finally, he was standing outside Zira's shop, his hands in his pockets, staring down at the concrete as he waited. His long hair brushed his jaw, tickling his skin, but he didn't bother to tuck it back; it would just interfere with his sunglasses. He checked his watch again, then smoothed the front of his jacket down and reached up to knock on the door just as it opened and Zira stepped out, all smiles and radiance. "Anthony! How was your morning?" 

Crowley's chest tightened slightly, but he just smiled back and slipped his keys out of his pocket, hooking the ring around his index finger. 

"It was alright. Where are we going? I can drive, if you like." 

Zira glanced at him, suddenly rather unbalanced at having to make an actual decision on quite short notice. He shook his head slightly, struggling to try to hide this mild unease, although he needn't have worried - Crowley was too nervous to pick up on anything subtle. 

"Well, I don't actually have a car, so that would probably be best. And I didn't realise I was choosing where to eat." 

Crowley shrugged and glanced around, his manner too casual to be genuine, though he firmly believed he looked perfectly nonchalant. "I don't really eat out, so I thought you should probably choose. And you're really not one for technology, are you?" 

"I do take the bus sometimes," Zira protested with a soft little smile to show he wasn't actually upset, and Crowley looked him up and down critically from behind his dark glasses. The man was wearing his usual coat, a waistcoat, and a bow tie, and he just couldn't fit that look into his image of what public buses were like. 

He raised an eyebrow slightly and wondered briefly why he was even attracted to Zira, but the confusion faded as soon as the artist smiled. It was a little nervous and slightly shaky, but it was sincere and excitable and almost made Crowley melt into a puddle on the pavement. 

"I know this really great Thai place, I could direct you if you like," Zira suggested cheerfully, relieved at having chosen somewhere at random from his long list of exceptional restaurants, even though the suggestion had slipped out before he'd actually had a chance to think about it. 

Crowley just nodded and immediately started walking, spinning his keys on his finger as he led the artist all the way across the street to his car. 

“Sounds perfect.”

He got behind the wheel and took the disabled badge off the rearview mirror before Zira got in, tossing it into the back seat just as the artist sat down and pulled his door shut. He ran his hand over the dashboard in front of him and glanced at Crowley, eyes wide. 

"This is a beautiful car, Anthony! I've never seen one quite like it." 

Crowley grinned like a proud father and eased the Bentley into gear, pulling out of his parking space slowly before accelerating down the road. "I put a lot of work into keeping it nice," he announced, shifting gear smoothly and without thought, keeping the Bentley running with a beautiful purring sound. 

"It shows," Zira answered simply, glancing behind him to see what Crowley had thrown in the back and spotting the blue badge. He gave a little sigh, but turned back to face the front, pointing down a side street. "Left here." 

Crowley braked and swung a left, and Zira studied the side of his face, his body suddenly feeling wrong and uncomfortable, like it was two sizes too big. Crowley didn't trust him enough not to be embarrassed about something so simple and so normal, and it really shouldn't have hurt as much as it did. 

Zira leaned his head back against the headrest and sighed again, much deeper this time. "Right at the lights." 

Crowley glanced at him, but didn't say anything, his grip tightening on the wheel and his knuckles turning white. 

The rest of the car ride was spent in pensive silence, aside from Zira's quiet directions and Crowley's finger tapping on the steering wheel to some beat he'd had stuck in his head for hours.

Luckily, it only took ten minutes or so before Crowley had found a parking space behind the restaurant and they both got out, Zira waiting patiently while Crowley locked the Bentley's doors. 

Crowley didn't say a word until they were sat down in a corner of the busy little restaurant, and Zira had finished chatting to the waiter, who he apparently knew from many previous visits. 

"You come here often, then?" Crowley asked casually as he watched the waiter walk off. 

"Yes, well, I'm not good at cooking, at all, and um. So I eat out a lot and I usually come here at least every other week," Zira admitted, a little awkward as he looked down, straightening his knife and fork carefully. 

Crowley watched him for a moment, then sighed and leaned forward slightly. "Did I upset you somehow, Zira?" 

Zira looked up sharply, his eyebrows crashing together as he gave a quick, worried smile. "No, no, of course not." 

Crowley tilted his head, his jaw tightening briefly before he suddenly sat back, pretending to relax into his chair. "Alright." 

Zira turned his gaze back to the table, his heart beating heavy in his chest, thudding in his ears. He wasn't good at lying, but it always seemed to be his knee jerk reaction, and now he could see that Crowley didn't believe him. He couldn't exactly go back on the lie, he couldn't just tell Crowley that he'd seen the disabled badge, so he just took a deep, quiet breath, and tried to fix it. 

"Have you had a busy morning?" 

Crowley's expression didn't change, but he gave a slight nod. "Yeah. I got these new white roses in and painted them for pride, so people have been coming in a lot for those." 

Zira couldn't help but raise an eyebrow, leaning forward ever so slightly in his chair. "That's so sweet. Are they rainbow, then?" 

Crowley finally smiled again and shook his head slightly. "No, not just rainbow. I did a bunch of different ones and told people I could do any flag custom. It's been pretty popular so far."

"Well, it does sound fantastic," Zira grinned, the relief that flooded through him when Crowley smiled obvious on his face, to all except the florist himself. "I'm glad you've been busy. It always makes the days go faster, doesn't it?" 

Crowley looked at him for a moment, nodding slightly. "I'm not sure I always want the days to go faster, though. But I know what you mean." 

Zira opened his mouth to reply just as the waiter came back, and by the time they'd finished ordering, he'd forgotten what he was going to say. 

Crowley just looked at him, still sprawled in his chair, a half smile on his lips. "You look lost." 

"I completely lost my train of thought," Zira admitted, with a shy little smile that Crowley absolutely hated because it was just too cute. 

"Well how have you been, then?" He asked quietly, but with a gentle teasing in his voice as he slid a little further down in his seat, his legs spreading slightly. "Since I saw you two days ago." 

Zira looked down briefly as Crowley moved, then away quickly, his cheeks colouring slightly as he tried to return his thoughts away from his companion’s sitting position and back to the conversation.

"I've been good, busy again, but uh...good, yeah. I've had a regular back for a new design, I like doing those."

"I expect a lot of people come back to you,'" Crowley mused, then realised he'd actually said it out loud and scrambled to edit himself. "I mean, you do such great drawings," he added lamely, and Zira looked down, his cheeks dusted pink. 

"I suppose I do have quite a few repeat clients." 

Crowley smiled, tilting his head to watch the artist as he took a drink from his water. "What kind of design was it?" 

Zira's eyes lit up at the rare opportunity to talk about his work, and Crowley just sat back and listened contentedly, enjoying the chance to let Zira's soft, warm voice wash over him. 

He listened to the artist talk about needles, ink, techniques, even aftercare, up until the food arrived and Zira broke off to thank the waiter. 

"This smells divine, Zira," Crowley remarked immediately, and the artist looked up from his plate quickly, a bright smile already spreading across his face. 

"Well, I suggested we eat here and you ordered the best thing on the menu, so let's call it even, shall we?" 

"You didn't tell me that at the time," Crowley chuckled, picking up his knife and fork. 

"It seemed like you had it under control," Zira answered with a smile that was just edging towards a smirk. 

Crowley simply smiled in response and began to eat, letting comfortable silence settle between them. 

Every now and then, Zira would put down his fork and launch them both into a brief conversation, but Crowley mostly just listened and ate and nodded. 

Once or twice, he caught the artist staring at him, and Zira would look down, a shy smile spreading across his face. Crowley tried not to get self conscious, but did adjust his sunglasses slightly and glance around the restaurant nervously; he simply couldn't help himself. 

Eventually, they both finished, Crowley a few minutes before Zira, and had a brief tussle over the bill. Zira won, of course, after insisting that he was the one who suggested it, and after all, Crowley could get the next one, couldn't he?

That comment did nearly give the florist a heart attack, his eyes widening and his breath hitching while his brain screamed next one at him over and over, drowning out all else. But of course the artist missed this rather obvious reaction, as he was too busy handing his card to the waiter, and by the time he turned back to Crowley, the man had managed to get himself back under control.  

At last, Zira led Crowley out of the building, calling a brief goodbye to the staff before following the florist to his car. 

As soon as they got in, Crowley started the car, only glancing across to his companion once. Zira was staring out of the window, a slight smile playing at the corners of his lips, and it was a struggle for Crowley to tear his gaze away from that face and those beautiful, distant eyes. 

 

By the time they got back to their street, the silence between them was like a layer of fine dust built up over years, undisturbed and thickening over time. When Crowley pulled up outside his shop, Zira was already reaching for the door handle, his fingers wrapping around it hesitantly. 

"Thank you. For driving me, I mean. And coming," he murmured, suddenly awkward as he glanced at Crowley. "I...thank you." 

"You're welcome," Crowley answered quietly, his voice soft and his heart thudding in his chest. He wanted to lean over and touch Zira's arm or even just to say something, anything to pull him back and keep him there, in that moment. 

But he didn't, and he scrambled to get out of the car as Zira shut the door behind him. He leaned against the Bentley, watching desperately as the artist began to walk away, across the road. 

"I'll see you tomorrow!" 

Crowley had framed it like a statement, but in all reality, it was a question, too timid to even suggest there was any possibility that this would not be so. 

"Of course!" Zira answered without turning, and jogged the last few steps to his door. He hesitated, and Crowley's breath hitched as he waited, expecting the artist to glance back for one last look. Instead, he unlocked the door and slipped inside, leaving Crowley leaning against his car door and feeling rather alone. 

 

The first thing Crowley did when he finally got back to his apartment that night was pour himself a drink. He tipped a rather generous 'two fingers' of whiskey into a glass, then carried it into his living room slowly, staring around at the stark, modern furniture gloomily. 

He'd always been a subscriber to function over form, and he hated clutter, so he was struggling to understand why he was yearning for Zira's overfilled shelves and stacks of trinkets whilst standing in his perfectly functional, perfectly clean, perfectly tidy apartment. 

What Crowley didn't realise, of course, is that it wasn't his clutter. His own mess made him feel untidy and often ultimately quite depressed, but all of Zira's things had some meaning or purpose to the artist, and therefore were an extension of him, at least partially. 

Essentially, the demon was failing to understand that he wasn't missing the shop so much as its occupant, in a roundabout sort of way. And the fact that most of his interactions with the artist had taken place in the shop certainly wasn't helping with this confusion - the shop and Zira had become entangled in his subconscious mind. 

In any case, he took a long sip of his whiskey as he turned away from the living room to glance towards the kitchen. His home phone was sitting in its place on the breakfast bar, the red light on the answering machine blinking at him slowly. 

Crowley sighed to himself and walked over, lifting the receiver and pressing play on the message. The robotic voice on the other end announced that the message had been left only about ten minutes ago before letting out a quiet beep. 

"Crowley!" George's overly cheerful and slightly slurred voice boomed out, making the florist jump slightly. "Are you there?" 

Crowley curled his lip and downed the rest of his glass in one go, then set it on the side carefully. 

"Obviously not. I'm calling to tell you...I'm very drunk! I can't remember why I called...um." 

There was a brief pause and a muffled hiccup before George went on, sounding more serious. 

"Ohhh yeah. I love you. You uh, you mean so much to me, Anthony. I don't...I don't want you to go. I'm gonna be at the bar for a while. Maybe...maybe you could come by?" 

Crowley sighed heavily, resting a shaking hand over his eyes as he leaned against the countertop, pressing the receiver against his ear so hard it hurt. He couldn't do this again, he couldn't feel that guilt and sadness, curling through him, so insidious and dark, corrupting him back into old patterns. 

The phone beeped quietly, then announced another message, left just a few minutes after the first. 

"Fuck you!" 

Crowley flinched again and curled his fingers around the phone tightly, gritting his teeth against the rush of emotion in his chest. 

"You're a piece of shit, Crowley! A fucking nobody," George drawled on, clearly a couple more drinks in at that point. "You can't even be bothered to call me back, and I know you're in. You're always in on a Friday night, you boring fucking prude! I don't know who shoved that stick up your ass, but-" 

The phone slammed back onto the holder and there was the sound of a soft sob, half stifled and yet almost echoing in the empty, too empty apartment. 

Chapter Text

Zira looked up as the bell above the door jingled, his breath catching slightly as he saw Crowley standing on the mat, thin body all angles as it was silhouetted against the light from the glass door. 

Zira glanced at his client, who was still wearing headphones and apparently oblivious to the world, then flashed a quick smile to the man standing awkwardly in the middle of the room. He could feel a warm glow starting in his chest already; a gentle contentment that only arose when he was in the florist's presence. 

"Good evening, Anthony. Have you closed up already?" Zira asked in his usual friendly voice as he bent his head back to his work, the buzzing of the needle sounding rather loud in the quiet room. 

"Yeah. Um. Want some tea?" Crowley responded, his voice a little rough. Zira glanced up again, frowning slightly at the man's tone, but unable to really glean anything from his expression, not with those dark glasses so firmly in the way. 

"That would be lovely. I got a new rooibos in, some of that would be great. It's the red tin at the front of the cupboard," he said simply, but kept his eyes trained on Crowley as he walked off towards the back, his movement a little stiff.

"There's ibuprofen in the drawer," Zira called out softly, but the florist gave no indication that he'd heard, so Zira turned back to the job at hand. It was hard, pushing away the thoughts of all the things he could say. 

How he could ask Crowley about his leg, or his day, or why he seemed to radiate a vague upset-ness that Zira wasn't quite sure he was sensing correctly. After all, there were no signs he could put his finger on as reasons he thought the man was upset - he just felt it somehow. 

But upset was also a very broad category. Zira only knew that Crowley was off, he didn't know in what direction - he didn't know if he was sad, or angry, or even just tired, and he wasn't sure he was ready to ask enough questions to find out. 

Friendship had always been something quite fragile for Zira, dangling from an oh-so-easily cut thread, ever since he was a child. And it always seemed to have been his fault - for getting too interested in something, not interested enough; caring too much, not caring enough. 

This wasn't to say that the artist had never had friends, proper friends who cared for him unconditionally, but they had been few and far between, and he'd learned to be incredibly cautious when forming new relationships. 

"Zira?" 

The artist blinked, shaken out of his thoughts by that slightly hoarse voice above him. He turned the machine off and looked up into dark glasses, a mug held out like a holy offering. 

"Just one second," Zira muttered, setting the machine down carefully and wiping the ink off his client's arm before taking his gloves off. Then he reached out, his smile soft and welcoming as he took the cup from Crowley's hands. "Thank you, Anthony. I've still got at least half an hour to go here, I'm afraid." 

The florist hesitated for a moment, shoving his hands into his pockets and tilting his hips as he shifted his weight off his bad leg. "That's okay, I'd like to watch, actually. If that's alright, of course." 

Zira nearly choked on his tea, but managed to swallow it normally, flashing a nervous, slightly uncertain smile. "Um. Yeah, just...not too close." 

He set the mug aside carefully, and pulled on a fresh pair of gloves while Crowley fetched a chair and carried it over to the bench. He set it down a few feet away from Zira, settling into it with his elbows on his knees, his chin resting in his hands. 

Zira glanced back at him briefly before starting in again, forcing his breathing to stay even and slow. It felt like being watched by his mentor all over again - he could sense Crowley's gaze on him, burning his skin as he worked, but he tried his hardest to shake it off and focus on what he was doing. 

After a few minutes of nothing but the sound of the needle, Zira saw Crowley shifting out of the corner of his eye, the tips of the florist's fingers sliding under his glasses as if running under his eye. Then he sniffed quietly and sat back in his chair, his arms folded over his chest. 

Zira could still feel him watching, but it was less intense now, a much more casual gaze as Crowley's mind drifted to other things. The needle dipped down again and Zira took a slow breath, allowing himself to relax into what he knew best as he added the finishing touches to the shading with a steady, calm hand. 

It only took another twenty minutes or so to polish off the tattoo, and Zira cleaned the man's arm, wrapped it up, took his money, and gently guided him out of the door in less than five. When he turned back to face his workspace, Crowley hadn't moved, his body remaining so still that Zira could barely see the rise and fall of his chest as he breathed. 

"Is everything alright with you, Anthony?" The artist asked at last, walking back to the bench to wipe everything down, throwing himself into the cleaning ritual to take his mind off the florist sitting nearby and the foolishness of his own question. 

Crowley stirred as if being woken from a doze, despite the fact that he had been wide awake behind those glasses, and managed a small smile that grew more genuine the longer he wore it.

"I'm doing better, yeah," he answered calmly, leaning forward again. "You didn't drink your tea." 

Zira rolled his eyes with a bright smile, his back to the florist as he leaned over the bench to clean it. "Mm, I'll reheat it in a minute. It's nice to see you." 

Crowley was silent for a moment, wrestling with this and himself as he hesitated. "How was your day?" 

Zira tossed the paper towels in the bin and took a deep breath as he turned his lamp off. "Busy, but good. And yours, my dear?" 

Another brief pause in the conversation clanged like a bell as Crowley swallowed thickly. "Good, yeah. Busy as well." 

"Thank God I don't open on a Sunday, hmm?" Zira chuckled softly, finally turning to face the florist and leaning back against the bench. "Saturday is chaotic enough." 

Crowley cracked another smile, this one natural and bright enough to allow Zira to let go of his worries about the florist's upset state of mind. 

"You're telling me. I sold over fifty of those roses this morning, I lost count after lunch. And I got booked for another rushed wedding job." 

Zira smiled the smile of someone who rather liked weddings and started rolling his shirt sleeves back down, buttoning the cuffs around his wrists almost absentmindedly. "When is it?" 

"Next weekend," Crowley grimaced, getting up abruptly to grab Zira's mug off the table. "I'll go heat this up for you." 

"Oh, you don't have to, I-" Zira rushed out, but Crowley was already sauntering away, his slight limp exaggerating the hypnotic way his hips moved, tipping from side to side as if not quite attached to his body correctly.

"It's fine. I'm gonna make myself one anyway." 

Zira just sighed and went back to tidying up, tossing his gloves in the bin and wiping up the spilled ink. It was only a few minutes before Crowley came back, carrying two mugs this time, and handing one to Zira before collapsing gratefully into his chair. The artist smiled and sat down again, holding the handle of the mug in one hand, the other cupping the bottom of it carefully. 

Crowley took a long sip from his own mug, watching Zira as he took a breath in and opened his mouth to say something. Then he shut it again, staring into his tea as he struggled to find the right words. He finally sighed and tapped a fingernail against the side of his cup as he started to talk, a little softer than usual. 

"I..I wanted to apologise for yesterday," Zira began, looking up at Crowley seriously. The florist shifted, his eyebrows rising above his glasses, his mouth falling open slightly. "I feel that I monopolised the conversation, and I'm sorry. I know that sometimes when I get on a topic I enjoy talking about, I can go on and on and I'm...I'm still working on that. I wanted to apologise if it got annoying or if you felt that I wasn't interested in what you had to say." 

Crowley remained still for a moment after Zira unfolded this little speech, his mouth moving slightly, framing words he couldn't quite figure out how to say. It was a very short moment, however. 

"But you didn't do that," he said quietly, disbelief and confusion resonating in his voice. "You did talk a lot, but I like listening, I'm not...I'm not good at talking. And everything you had to say was interesting. I'm interested in what you do, Zira, that's why I came over to watch." 

The artist blinked, taken aback and suddenly unbalanced, as if someone had just proved the world was flat. "Oh. Um. Thank you, I suppose," he mumbled, looking down quickly so he didn't have to imagine Crowley's expression behind those dark glasses. "I'm sorry, I'm just used to people saying I talk too much." 

Crowley smiled this time, the disbelief dropping away as he understood. "Don't apologise, Zira. And don't worry about it, I'm terrible at conversations, so just listening suits me perfectly." 

"Even so, I'll try to ask you more questions," Zira said quietly, nodding to himself slightly as if in approval of his own words before he finally looked up again, facing those dark glasses. "Where is this wedding you're doing going to be?" 

Crowley leaned back in his chair, drawing one knee up to his chest and absentmindedly rubbing his other thigh. "In some barn somewhere, apparently. I think that's stylish these days. Not that I would know." 

Zira arched an eyebrow playfully. "What do you mean 'not that you would know?' Isn't that part of your job?" 

Crowley chuckled, and the artist felt a little warm glow start in his chest, pleased and triumphant that he'd made the man laugh. "I meant that I've never been married. And yes, it is sort of part of my job. But only the flowers part, I don't have to know what's stylish for the wedding as a whole, I just have to know how to get the flowers right for what's already in place and the client's specifications." 

"That sounds quite difficult," Zira smiled, realising he'd gotten the florist on a roll and trying to keep him talking. He seemed more relaxed than usual, and he wanted it to stay that way. He wanted to be able to imagine that this was normal, that Crowley would come home to his shop every day after closing and ask him how his day was. 

"I enjoy it, it's peaceful, putting all the flowers together and arranging them. It can be a little stressful getting them there, but it's always satisfying seeing it all done." 

"I expect so. I suppose it's much the same as finishing a tattoo," Zira mused, taking another long sip from his tea. Crowley tilted his head slightly, watching him as silence fell for a moment, light and easy. 

The artist looked down into his mug, blinking slowly and taking a deep breath. It was already getting difficult to stay awake, to stay with the conversation. 

"Zira?" Crowley's voice cut through the fog of exhaustion, full of quiet concern. "You okay?" 

Zira blinked and smiled uncertainly, shaking his head ever so slightly. "Sorry, Anthony. I didn't get much sleep last night, I keep falling asleep with my eyes open." 

Crowley shifted in his seat slightly, staring at the artist for a moment or two before speaking. "Do...do you need me to go?" He asked softly, his entire manner reluctant as he watched Zira intently from behind those glasses. "I can if you need to sleep." 

As usual, Zira didn't quite pick up on the florist's subtle cues that he didn't want to go - the uncertain tone to his voice, the way his fingers tightened on the arm of his chair, the slight frown tugging the corners of his lips down. Zira was too busy thinking about the night before, how he'd sat up worrying about the lunch they'd had together, worrying about how the conversation had gone, whether Crowley had enjoyed himself, even that stupid blue badge. 

And now here the florist was, sitting in his shop, talking to him kindly, concerned about him, enjoying his company. It was all getting a bit much once again. 

So he smiled and gave a tiny little nod. "I think that might be best, I'm sorry. I'm really tired, and I'm just going to bore you to death." 

"I don't think you could ever bore me, Zira," Crowley answered almost before the artist had finished talking. They both stopped for a moment and just looked at one another, both of them unsure if they'd heard the sentence quite correctly, and if they had, what exactly to do about it. Then Crowley broke the spell, standing up abruptly and turning away in an attempt to hide the dusting of colour on his cheeks. 

"I'll go, then. I'll um. Probably see you tomorrow, yeah?" He muttered, shoving his hands in his pockets and staring at the floor. 

Zira rose out of his chair and walked over to the florist, letting his hand brush over the man's arm ever so gently and feeling that little thrill run through his body; the thrill he always got when he allowed himself to touch Crowley. 

"I'd like that, Anthony. Thank you so much for understanding," he murmured, and the florist almost choked on his words, looking as if he wanted to step away from Zira, but just couldn't quite manage it. 

"I..I- you're welcome," Crowley mumbled, glancing towards the artist very briefly and flashing a small, slightly worried smile. 

"Have a safe journey home, my dear," Zira added softly, and this time he saw the blush spread over the florist's cheeks. 

"Thank you," Crowley forced out, then suddenly began to walk, hurrying out of the shop in long, unsteady strides. Zira watched him go, a small smile playing at his lips before he gave a little sigh, and turned away to clean up the dirty mugs. 

He still wasn't sure - the blush proved almost nothing. Crowley was awkward, that much was certain, and it was endearing and quite sweet, in Zira's opinion, but he also didn't know how far it went. Did the man blush around other people who wished him a safe journey? Or was that just for Zira? 

The artist had no real way of knowing, and so he washed up the mugs and then went upstairs to sit on the edge of his bed for a moment or two to collect himself. 

Not long ago, Zira had made a mental list of reasons why he couldn't allow himself to think of Crowley as anything more than a delightful friend, and so he went through the list silently, his lips moving ever so slightly as he thought. 

After all, there was no use getting himself worked up about little signals that may or may not mean something since he couldn't act on them either way. He would forget about it and just stop trying to think so much - enjoy the moment. 

Unfortunately, the 'moment' for the next few hours only consisted of Zira staring at the ceiling in the dark worrying about Crowley. Some things just didn't work, and rationalisation was certainly quite high on that list.

Chapter Text

Crowley stood outside the shop for a moment, his hands in his pockets. He hadn't had time to see Zira in a few days, and he was oddly nervous about going back to see him again, especially since the artist had already closed the shop for the night. 

The lights were still on, though, so Crowley took a deep breath and reached up to knock. 

After a moment or two of anxious waiting, the lock clicked and Zira poked his head out around the door, his curious look breaking into one of pleased excitement. 

"Anthony! I had a feeling it might be you. Come in, come in." 

Crowley hesitated, suddenly feeling uncertain and uncomfortable. "Are you sure? It's late, I don't want to im-" 

Zira flung the door open and reached out with a soft laugh, his fingers curling around the lapel of Crowley's coat. "Come on, you're letting the cold air in!" He protested with a wide smile, gently tugging on the florist's coat. "I haven't seen you in days, and you have the audacity to suggest you're imposing?" 

Crowley allowed himself to be pulled into the shop, smiling as Zira released his coat and shut the door behind him, locking it again quickly. 

He took a deep breath and tried to shake off the feeling that he was doing something wrong, just as Zira's hand brushed over his arm, and almost short-circuited his brain. 

"Tea, dear?" 

"Uh..y-yeah, please," Crowley stammered, his arm tingling and warm where those gentle fingers had pressed into his skin ever so lightly. Zira wandered into the back room, raising his voice to continue the conversation as Crowley followed him much more slowly. 

"How have you been? Busy, I assume?" Zira asked, just as a jolt of pain shot through Crowley's leg, causing him to stumble and grab for the wall shakily, leaning against it and gritting his teeth. He reached into his jacket and pulled out a bottle of pills, tipping one into his hand and swallowing it dry, then tucking the bottle away again, closing his eyes, and forcing himself to breathe normally through the sudden, intense pain. It felt like being stabbed all over again; the pain was shooting up and down his leg as his knee buckled and gave out, and he slid to the floor with a quiet thud. 

"Anthony? Is everything-...oh!" 

Crowley didn't look up, he was too busy trying to breathe, his nostrils flaring desperately, one hand shaking in his lap, the other still pressed against the wall. Zira hesitated for just a moment, then rushed over, kneeling down in front of the florist and gently tilting his chin up with one hand. 

"Anthony? What can I do?" He asked quickly, the words tripping over themselves to get out in a rush, his blue eyes wide and worried. 

Crowley smiled grimly and shook his head, another shooting pain tipping him over the edge and causing tears to well up in his eyes, luckily hidden behind his glasses. "N-nothing, it'll pass," he mumbled, then swore to himself silently as the tears spilled over and streaked down his cheeks, betraying him, betraying his weakness. Zira quickly leaned forward, reaching up and brushing them away as gently as he could, his warm hand lingering against Crowley's cheek for just a moment. 

"Oh, Anthony, I'm sorry," he murmured, his other hand coming to rest on Crowley's knee. "I wish I could help, I really do." 

Crowley nodded slowly, forcing a deep breath and a small smile. "I know you do. You could, um...you could help me into a-... ssshit ! A chair," he mumbled, hissing the curse as yet another spasm ran through his thigh. 

"Of course," Zira nodded, just about managing a comforting smile, despite the distress still obvious on his face. He moved around and crouched down to wrap one arm under Crowley's shoulder, his touch gentle, although his hands were shaking slightly. "Alright, I'll try to lift," he murmured, then began to pull as carefully as he could, supporting the florist as he got his legs back under himself, and helping him all the way into a standing position. Crowley fell against the wall again, panting heavily and letting his eyes slip closed. 

"Fuck, I...I need a minute." 

"Okay, you're okay," Zira soothed, his hand wrapping around Crowley's shoulder and his thumb stroking back and forth; the gesture calming him and giving him something else to focus on - that hot, almost burning sensation of the artist's ever so gentle touch. 

After a moment, when the pain had subsided somewhat and Crowley had managed to get his breathing under control, he started walking again, still leaning against the wall heavily. Zira rolled his eyes and stepped forward, slipping his arm around Crowley's waist and causing him to stiffen, his eyes widening as he tried to keep his reaction to himself. But his heart was thudding in his chest now, his whole body on fire with the realisation that Zira was holding his waist. Those skilled fingers were gently digging into his side, that strong, tattooed arm was supporting him, holding him, and it felt so, so good. Crowley took a breath and forced himself to keep walking, leaning on Zira as much as he dared. The artist didn't seem bothered, stepping in time with Crowley's movements and helping him all the way into the back room, and over to the most comfortable chair. 

Crowley collapsed into it gratefully, tipping his head back with a loud groan and staring up at the ceiling angrily. All he could think was, why now? It always seemed to pick the most embarrassing moments to get bad, and Crowley couldn’t help but think that Someone was having a laugh at his expense. 

"Do you need any painkillers?" Zira asked gently, and Crowley shifted in his seat, stretching his sore leg and moving his head so he could look at the artist, who was still standing over him worriedly.

"No, I have some fairly strong ones, I just took one. It should kick in soon, hopefully," he answered, trying to keep the annoyance and still quite acute pain out of his voice. 

Zira smiled slightly and turned away, going back to the kettle. "I'll make you some of that tea you like, that might help, too," he announced softly, putting the kettle back on to boil and opening the tea cupboard. Crowley tensed, waiting for the questioning to start, for the usual grilling he got about his leg, but it never came. 

Zira just went quiet, his hands working quickly as he hummed to himself absentmindedly.

"Zira?" 

"Yes, my dear?" He looked up immediately, smiling at Crowley in a way that could so easily have been pitying, but was instead firmly sympathetic.  

Crowley forced an answering smile and took a slow breath. "How have you been?" 

What he didn't say was that he was itching for a distraction, something else to think about, to focus on. He needed to hear that soft voice, made even warmer by enthusiasm; it always made him forget about everything else. 

"I've been alright," Zira answered, shooting the florist a look that simply said, 'I know,' which of course Crowley didn't see. "I've been quite busy too, which is nice. The Facebook page is definitely helping, I have a whole week fully booked in advance now." 

Crowley began to relax, the pain starting to ebb away as the painkiller finally began to do its job, easing his discomfort bit by bit. He smiled to himself, watching the artist as he poured the boiling water into the teapot. 

"That sounds good, I'm pleased for you," he said, his voice still a little strained, but genuine as he leaned forward and started to massage his leg lightly, trying to force the pain away. 

"Yeah, it's good. The only thing is, when I have really busy days, and well,” he paused slightly, before going on in a slightly quieter voice. “When you're not here, I tend to forget lunch." 

Crowley froze, blinking for a moment before leaning back in his seat again and looking over at Zira, who was searching the cupboard for some biscuits he was sure he'd left in there. 

"You mean you haven't had lunch any of the days I haven't been here?" He asked slowly, and the artist shot him a puzzled look. 

"No, why do you sound so surprised?" 

Crowley heaved a long sigh and decided that although he was very definitely not in the right mood to deal with this, deal with it he must. Preferably without shouting. 

"Zira, it's really bad for you to skip meals," he began gently, and the artist just sighed, staring down at the teapot blankly. "You need to eat regularly. Didn't you tell me that you rarely eat breakfast? You can't skip breakfast and lunch, it's not good for you." 

"It's fine, Crowley, I've always been forgetful," Zira insisted, and Crowley had to take a deep breath, his fingers curling on the arm of the chair. 

"Please listen to me, you-" 

"No!" The artist cut in desperately, turning sharply to face his companion. "You need to stop now, please. I know it's not good, okay? I'm trying my best, Anthony." 

Crowley swallowed and just stared at him for a moment, watching as he turned away again with a soft little sigh. The florist opened his mouth, then closed it again. Then finally found his voice and opened it once more. 

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to upset you. I can...I can go?" 

Zira smiled slightly and shook his head as he began to pour the tea. "Don't be silly, I'm not even upset. I just get a bit defensive sometimes, that's all. Sugar?" 

"Uh, yes please," Crowley managed, taking a deep breath and running a hand through his hair nervously. "I'm still sorry." 

"There's nothing to be sorry for, I promise," Zira assured him softly, handing him his mug with a bright, completely genuine smile. "I shouldn’t have snapped, but it’s done now. Let’s just forget about it. Drink your tea, it’s good." 

Crowley took the mug carefully and watched as Zira sat down in the chair across from him, his gaze fixed on his own slightly overfilled mug. As soon as he looked up, Crowley looked down and took a long sip of the hot tea to cover his embarrassment at having been caught staring. 

His fingers curled on the arm of the chair again, frustration taking over as the silence settled around them, a little awkward. Crowley allowed himself one quick, sly glance, taking in the peaceful look on Zira's face as he drank his tea, both hands wrapped around the mug, and found himself softening slightly. 

The frustration dropped away, and Crowley let out a slow breath, unable to tear his eyes away from the man across from him as he made himself a promise to make more of an effort from now on. He decided, in the privacy of his own mind, that he would visit Zira every day at lunch and make certain that he was taking care of himself. And maybe every now and then, he'd make too much food at dinner and just happen to take it over to the artist for him to have for lunch. 

Crowley smiled to himself ever so slightly at the thought, then gave a tiny nod and took another long sip of his tea, satisfied with his plan. 

"How are you feeling?" 

Crowley blinked, shaking himself out of his thoughts and forcing his mind to focus again, enough to form a coherent response, at least. The way Zira was looking at him wasn't helping - that gentle, genuine concern was rather distracting, there was too much to think about, too much to say. 

"The medication is working," he said simply, nodding slightly as if in confirmation of his own words. "I'm a lot more comfortable, but it's probably going to hurt for a while."

Zira set his mug down and gave a soft sigh, his lips twitching up into a small, slightly pale smile. "What are we going to do with you, hmm? Maybe you should go home, get some rest?"

Crowley's heart sank, chilly disappointment taking its place as his grip on his mug tightened. 

"No, I want to stay, I haven't seen you in so long and-" 

"And there's always tomorrow," Zira pointed out gently, his smile widening slightly. "Trust me, I would love for you to stay, my dear, but you look exhausted and I think you should go home and rest up. Once you've finished your tea, of course." 

Crowley took one look at that expression and gave in. The artist was still smiling, but there was a firmness in his eyes, a determination to get his own way that he knew he wouldn't be able to fight back against. 

In this, Crowley was mostly correct, for once, but he did miss one key detail. Zira's focus was not just on 'getting his own way,' but mainly on simply taking care of the stupid man sat across from him, the man who really, really didn't know his own limits. Which was a little bit much for Crowley to figure out for himself. 

In any case, he did promise himself that he would be back the next day, and he would spend as long as he possibly could with Zira to make up for it. 

 

Unfortunately, the fates apparently had something a little different in store for the two of them. 

When Crowley took the walk across the street the next day, made infinitely longer by the still acute pain in his thigh, he found the tattoo shop to be shut. He knocked anyway, leaning against the wall in an attempt to keep his weight off his sore leg while he waited. 

It only took a minute or two before Zira was unlocking the door, opening it slowly and flashing a small smile. 

"Anthony, is everything alright?" 

Crowley blinked, slightly taken aback by the lack of light and life in the artist's smile. "Um. Yeah, I was coming over to check on you. Not open today?" 

"No, I didn't have any appointments today. Well, I did, but I moved them," he admitted, looking down at the pavement under his feet and sighing quietly. 

"Zira, what's going on?" Crowley pressed gently, finding himself incredibly unbalanced and worried by the defeated, flat expression on his face. "You seem upset." 

"I don't want to talk about it," he answered shortly, and Crowley stared at him for a moment, mouth open slightly, his eyebrows pulled together in confusion. 

"Okay. Have you eaten anything today?" 

"No, could you-" 

"I'm not going anywhere," Crowley interrupted sharply, before Zira could try to push him away. "In fact, why don't you come sit with me while I work today? You look lonely, you could bring some drawing stuff or whatever." 

Zira looked as if he was about to say no, his mouth even opening to frame the word before he hesitated and then nodded slightly. "Alright. Let me go get a few things." 

Crowley smiled in response and turned to watch the street lazily as the artist quietly closed the door and wandered off. He was only gone for a few moments, and emerged with a small tote bag and his keys in his hand. 

Somewhat impatient, Crowley started walking, leaving Zira to jog a few steps to catch up just as he stepped out into the street. 

They crossed in silence and Crowley tugged his own keys out of his pocket, quickly unlocking the door to the shop and pushing it open. He slipped through first, holding it open behind him and sauntering towards the counter to hang his keys on the hook behind it. When he turned, he found Zira standing in the middle of the room, gazing around in wonder, his eyes lit up bright and happy as his gaze swept over the countless plants and flowers set out all over the shop floor and walls. 

"Sorry, it's a bit of a jungle," Crowley announced, for something to say, and Zira's eyes immediately flickered over to him, his smile wide and relaxed. 

"Oh, don't apologise, I think it's absolutely perfect. It's a lovely nature fix, being in here." 

Crowley felt his own lips curve up in a smile and jerked his head towards the back, trying not to think about how contagious the artist's happiness was. 

"Come on, you can set up at one of my tables, if you like." 

"That would be lovely," Zira answered politely, and followed Crowley into his personal haven. 

It was even more of a mess than the front of the shop, but to Crowley, it was an organised mess. 

There were tools everywhere, boxes of flowers, stacks of drawers full of different colours of wire and paper and paints. A bucket of white roses sat next to the door, beside a bucket of the painted pride roses, in so many bright, inviting colours. 

Crowley hurried over to one of his tables and cleared a space quickly, just shoving everything up to one end. Then he glanced back at Zira just in time to see him holding one of the pride roses and staring at the blue, pink, and white petals with wide eyes and an emotional, but completely unreadable expression. As soon as the artist realised Crowley was looking at him, he quickly shoved it back into the bucket, his cheeks colouring as he stared down at the floor. 

"I think I found some really nice shades for that trans flag one," Crowley smiled, leaning his hip against the workbench casually as he tried to reassure Zira without quite knowing why he might need reassurance. "Those ones are all dry, they're fine to touch." 

Zira blinked and gave a small nod, clutching at the strap of his bag with a nervousness that made Crowley feel like an idiot. 

"You can come sit down," he said quietly, a little unsure of why the artist had clammed up so suddenly, but determined to try to fix it. "You can have this bench here, I'll work over there. If that's alright." 

The artist managed what almost looked like a real smile and walked over to the bench, sitting down slowly. 

"Thanks, this is perfect. It smells really nice in here." 

"It always smells nice and fresh," Crowley agreed, and was gratified to see Zira's smile widen just slightly. He took a deep breath and sat down at his own bench, picking up the arrangement he'd been working on and getting back to fiddling with the wire dutifully. 

He even managed to go a full five minutes before he allowed himself to glance at Zira surreptitiously, finding him already engrossed in sketching. Relaxing somewhat, Crowley returned to his work, and a busy, comfortable silence fell in the little shop for quite a while. 

Then Crowley suddenly looked up, a small realisation dawning. He got up and walked past Zira to open a small cupboard, rummaging around until he found what he was looking for. Turning quickly, he set the individually wrapped muffin down on the table in front of Zira, who looked up in vague surprise and just stared at it. 

"It's for you," Crowley clarified quietly, shutting the cupboard door again and walking past the artist back to his own table. He didn't say what he wanted to say, remembering Zira's reaction last time he'd tried to talk to him about eating, and instead just sat down and began to set up his paints. 

Zira set his sketchbook down and glanced over at Crowley before unwrapping the muffin and thanking him quietly. 

"No problem," Crowley mumbled simply, already absorbed in getting his black, grey, and purple paints set up to start on another of the white roses. Zira watched him for a while, eating the muffin silently and studying the concentrated expression on Crowley's face as he worked. 

After a minute or two, Crowley looked up to see the muffin gone and Zira already drawing again, his pencil curving across the paper confidently. 

"Zira?" 

"Yes?" He didn't look up. 

"Promise me you'll eat a proper dinner tonight and I'll make you something for lunch tomorrow," Crowley proposed, trying to get the whole sentence out in one breath so he didn't have to wait for an answer. Zira lifted his eyes from the paper slowly, fixing them on him with a blank stare. 

"I always eat dinner, and it's always healthy," he answered firmly, without any anger or annoyance in his voice, just certainty. "But I do love your cooking." 

Crowley hesitated, then nodded slightly and went back to painting. "I'll bring you something tomorrow, then." 

Silence settled in the shop, broken only by the occasional customer, who was always dealt with quickly so Crowley could come back, and sit down to work. And steal glances at Zira while he was working, of course. 

They didn't manage to catch each other looking, but they were both satisfied with the little glances they got throughout the day, and when Crowley finally closed, Zira didn't even have to ask to be walked home. 

Instead, Crowley just set off walking, leaving him to run once more to catch up, scurrying after him as he strode across the street with his usual unsteady gait. Zira fumbled with his keys, but managed to get the right one out, unlocking the door and pushing it open. Then he stopped and glanced behind him, taking a slow breath. 

"It was lovely to see you today, Anthony. Thank you for dragging me back into the world." 

Crowley felt his throat and chest tighten at those words, but did his best to sound normal when he spoke. "Anytime. You're always welcome at mine if you need some time to relax," he forced out, even managing a bright smile at the end. 

Zira just nodded and smiled back, then said a brief goodnight and slipped into the shop. Crowley stood there for a moment after the lock clicked, his keys dangling from his fingers as he took a breath through the sharp, sudden stab of loneliness, then he finally turned and headed for his car, his step slow but certain.  

 

The next morning was a Saturday, and as such, was rather busy. Crowley had a queue at the till, something that happened very rarely, and he was getting rather stressed. 

He liked running a shop, but he didn't like customers very much, and he'd already been berated by one middle aged lady that morning; one being one too many. 

He slammed the drawer on the till shut and looked up into blue eyes. His eyebrows shot up, his whole body suddenly seeming much less tense as Zira smiled at him, his head tilting to the side ever so slightly. Crowley couldn't help but think that those smiles should have been bottled up and used as medicine, but when Zira held out the small indoor plant he was holding, he nearly collapsed. 

"I'd like this, please," he announced, and Crowley nodded dumbly, tapping a few keys on the till and digging out one of the little care instruction cards he made for every different kind of houseplant he sold. 

"I wanted to say thank you again," Zira admitted quietly, setting the plant down on the counter to get his wallet out. "You really helped me yesterday. I wasn't doing well at all, and you reminded me to put things in perspective. So I thought I'd buy a plant from the shop, then it can help me remember to take care of myself when you’re not around," he added cheerfully, handing over a ten pound note and taking the offered care card. 

Crowley froze for a split second, his heart leaping into his throat just before he smoothed the note out and placed it into the till. He took the freshly printed receipt with trembling fingers and handed it over to Zira, who was watching him with a slightly expectant look. 

Crowley swallowed and smiled, carefully pushing the plant towards him. "I hope it works, Zira," he murmured, his voice coming out much more tender than he'd planned and almost causing his own heart to stop. 

Zira just beamed and took the plant carefully, holding it as if it were unbelievably fragile. "I'm sure it will. I'd better go and leave you to work, but I'll see you at lunch, right?" 

"Right," Crowley muttered, and stared at Zira longingly as he walked off, until the next customer rudely interrupted his thoughts by asking for a bouquet. He looked at the man for a moment as if he was speaking Russian, then sighed and nodded, turning to walk into the back.

Chapter Text

Crowley had asked Zira out for dinner, and he wasn't sure if he was regretting it or not. 

Things had been going well with them lately, as they'd managed to get a routine, more or less. Crowley would go over to Zira's every weekday lunchtime, usually bringing over something for them to share, and would visit him in the evenings over the weekend. They talked about everything, but sometimes they didn't talk at all, and just worked side by side on accounts or simply read silently in each other's company. 

Dinner was a step forward, though. 

They'd gone out for lunch, yes, but that was lunch. And Zira had asked Crowley, not the other way around. 

Crowley looked down at the rose on the passenger seat, then turned his gaze back to the road just as a light turned red and he screeched to a halt, swearing softly. He was already five minutes late, as choosing his outfit had taken longer than it really should have. 

He sighed and glanced at the white rose again, still undecided as to whether he should give it to him or not. 

It was the best rose he'd had in the shop, perfectly formed and still not quite finished blooming, and he wanted Zira to have it. He knew plenty about the significance of rose colours, but on this occasion, he didn't care. White was the only color he could think of giving to Zira, as red was out of the question and all the others just seemed...wrong. White suited him too well. 

Crowley pulled away from the junction with a squeal of tyres and finally turned down the right road. Zira was waiting, staring up at the clouds in the sky with his hands in his pockets. Crowley almost crashed the car, as the artist had decided to leave his coat at home and had rolled up his sleeves again, leaving those beautiful tattoos out on perfect display. 

Despite this - and it was a big 'this' -  Crowley did manage to park the Bentley and Zira opened the door, picking up the rose carefully before getting in. 

"Is this for me? Oh, it's beautiful, Anthony," he exclaimed immediately, his voice as soft as his eyes as he turned to look at Crowley. 

"Yeah, it's um, I just thought you'd like it," he muttered, shifting back into gear and pulling away from the curb. "Where are we going?" 

Zira looked down at the rose in his hands, letting out a slow, calming breath. He hadn't expected this; he hadn't expected Crowley to be so... like this. It was white, not red, he kept telling himself, but somehow he knew that that didn't really matter. It was still a rose. 

"Hmm? Oh, um. Wherever you like," he answered distantly, and Crowley heaved a loud sigh. 

"That doesn't help me, I don't know any restaurants," he pointed out, trying to sound good-natured, but his nerves made him miss the mark slightly. 

Zira looked up quickly, blinking to clear his head and glancing at Crowley to see if he really was annoyed. "Um. How about this fancy Italian I know?" 

"Anywhere with good wine suits me," Crowley smiled, relaxing slightly now that there was an actual plan in place. "Are you okay to direct me?" 

"Of course," Zira said simply, settling back into his seat as the atmosphere became much more breathable. He stole another glance at Crowley and smiled to himself, then began to direct him quietly, still feeling the rose sitting heavy in his lap. 

 

Once they got to the restaurant, Crowley parked and got out, leaning against the car as he stared up at the building. Zira walked around to smile at him, his hands in his pockets. 

"You said fancy, but I didn't think you meant this fancy," Crowley chuckled, and Zira noticed the harmonics of nervousness in his voice. 

"It's alright," he hummed, starting to walk towards the entrance. "It's not so fancy inside." 

 

Crowley begged to differ, however, and as they were led to their table, he couldn't help but feel incredibly out of place, his rather low cut shirt under his usual blazer style jacket seeming inappropriate in a restaurant where everyone was wearing suits. 

Zira didn't even notice, and ordered them a bottle of wine while Crowley was busy with his anxious thoughts, still glancing around and taking in the chandeliers and the candles on every table. Then he finally looked over at his companion, those blue eyes reflecting the flickering light of the candle, and found himself very glad he'd brought the rose. It was the right thing to do. 

"You seem nervous," Zira announced softly, reaching across the table slightly and setting his hand down on the tablecloth almost invitingly. "But you needn't be, I promise this place isn't really all that posh." 

"It is to me," Crowley sighed, glancing up towards the ceiling again, then back at those irresistible eyes. "I don't...I don't come from a family with a lot of money. Or any, really. This is the fanciest place I've ever been," he admitted quietly, and Zira's eyebrows shot up as he rushed to comfort his friend. 

"Oh, well you really don't need to be nervous, I promise. I used to come here quite a lot and the staff are always fantastic, and it's always quite quiet on weekdays at this time," he soothed, just as the waiter brought the wine over. 

Crowley picked up his glass as soon as the waiter was gone and downed half of it in one go. Zira just gave him a fond look and sipped from his own glass, then sat back in his chair and tilted his head slightly. 

"I recommend the ravioli, since you were so upset with me last time," he grinned, a little spark of mischief in his tone. 

Crowley rolled his eyes at the joke and finally began to relax, opening the menu quickly in the hopes that it might help him let go of his nerves. "Everything sounds really good."

"Everything is," Zira answered simply, opening his own menu on the table in front of him.

 

As soon as Crowley eventually settled down, the evening became much more fun, the conversation flowing easily, especially as more wine was topped up. They chatted and joked and laughed and ate, and finally wandered back out to the car park after having called a taxi inside. They stood quietly in the warm night air, leaning against the back of the Bentley side by side and staring up at the sky. Well, Zira was, anyway. Crowley couldn't stop staring at those tattoos; he had found it difficult to keep his eyes off them all night, but now he was a little tipsy, and he was really struggling. 

Zira pretended not to notice, but it was a little obvious. He just hoped that Crowley was staring out of fascination rather than distaste.

He folded his arms over his chest and Crowley nearly fainted, but was saved by the taxi pulling into the car park. They shared a quick, slightly boozy smile, and got in. 

The taxi dropped them off at Zira's shop, and it took the artist a moment to figure out his keys, fumbling and jingling in the dim light of a nearby street lamp. Crowley hung around, staring at the pavement and trying to face up to the walk home, just as fingers closed around his wrist and Zira gently pulled him towards the door. 

"Come have some more wine, I have some really great vintages. Come on." 

Crowley almost protested, but there was already enough alcohol sloshing around in his brain to make it much easier for him to say yes, so he followed the artist inside and up the stairs. 

He collapsed on the couch, sprawling out, legs spread, while Zira rummaged around in the kitchen, eventually finding two glasses and a bottle. He uncorked the bottle and carried it into the living room, his breath hitching slightly when he saw Crowley spread out so languidly, but he forced the thoughts away and handed the florist a glass. 

Crowley grinned at him, watching him carefully as he poured a generous measure, then filled his own glass and sat down next to him. 

"Thanks," Crowley said simply, and Zira just nodded, sipping the wine as he leaned back against the back of the couch. 

Silence fell for a moment or two while they both contemplated and drank the wine, then Crowley heaved a huge sigh and glanced around the room. Zira hadn't turned the lights on in the living room, only the dim one in the kitchen, so it was still quite dark, and he wasn't getting any less tipsy. So he reached up and slipped his glasses off, tossing them onto the seat beside him and blinking a few times to adjust to the light. 

Zira's jaw dropped and he simply stared, taking it all in as Crowley gulped down some more of the fine wine. Even in this dim light, his eyes shone, a brown so pale they looked like liquid gold; a rich, beautiful colour that Zira had never seen on anyone else. The artist was captivated, his hands itching to draw those eyes, perfectly formed and so stunningly golden, bright and intelligent despite the slight drunkenness of their owner. Crowley glanced at him and he looked away quickly, staring down into his wine glass instead as his heart thudded in his chest.

"You okay?" Crowley asked, already slurring his words slightly, just before he finished off his glass. 

"Yeah, just...pensive," Zira answered softly, downing the rest of his and reaching for the bottle for a top up. "We talk about loads of stuff, right? But we rarely talk 'bout you." 

"Mm, don't really like it," Crowley mumbled, watching intently as Zira filled his glass. 

"I guessed that," he chuckled, setting the bottle back down and leaning back again, allowing his gaze to settle back on Crowley's face. "But I wanna know. What happened to your leg? That's an easy one, innit?" 

Crowley stared at him for a moment, then laughed, nearly spilling wine all over himself. "Nah. I didn't think you were capable of saying something so common as 'innit.' Anyway, I got stabbed." 

Zira blinked, still staring directly into those perfect eyes, unable to tear his gaze away despite the little voice in the back of his head that kept trying to point out that Crowley might notice if he didn't stop. 

Luckily for Zira, Crowley was too drunk to notice, and there was a good possibility he wouldn't have noticed anyway. 

"Stabbed?" Zira echoed uncertainly and Crowley nodded emphatically, taking another long swig of his wine. 

"Mm. Was a policeman, y'know. Got stabbed by some kid while I was trying to break up a stupid fight. Little shit got me six times. Four in my stomach and chest, twice in my leg. Hence the leg," he answered, dimly aware that he was going to regret all of this in the morning, but too busy drinking his wine to care. He lifted his shirt slightly, revealing a thin expanse of pale skin above the waistband of his low cut jeans. "There. Oh. No, there," he mumbled, pointing to a scar about an inch long to the side of his belly button. "Those ones don't hurt anymore, it's just 'cause he ripped up all the muscle in my leg, doesn't work properly anymore."  

Zira reached over without thinking, brushing his index finger over the thick scar ever so lightly. "Wow. I'm sorry, Anthony, I didn't know," he said quietly, frowning slightly. Crowley rolled his eyes and waved a hand expansively. 

"You couldn't have known, I didn't tell you." 

"You were in the police?" Zira asked wondrously, his mind bouncing to the next question like a drunk rubber ball. 

"Yeah," Crowley muttered, finishing off his fifth glass of wine. "And th'army before that. Was too poor for university, y'know? 'N stupid; just wasn't good at school and my mum was an alcoholic, so I didn't get any help. Then the army came round my school being all like 'you'll find your community here, you'll get an education,' and me being a dumb little shit with no friends and no prospects, I signed up." 

Wine glass now forgotten, Zira watched wide-eyed as Crowley spoke, laying out his life for the artist in that dark little room with the smell of wine hanging sharp and acidic in the air. 

"I didn't like it. They don't like gays, y'know, not now, and especially not then," he went on, staring at his empty glass sadly and missing the way Zira’s eyes widened, just for a moment. "It didn't affect me personally, 'cause I kept myself to myself, but it...it hurt my friends. I didn't stay any longer 'n I had to, but when I got home, I didn't know what the fuck to do with myself. Still too dumb for university, still fuckin' poor. So I joined the police. Seemed an obvious choice." 

Zira reached for the bottle and topped up Crowley's glass in the hopes that it would keep him talking, keep him rolling out his life story, keep him spilling all these little secrets that meant so much to him. Some small part of him felt that this was just slightly taking advantage, but a much louder part of him kept pointing out that this was probably the only time Crowley would ever open up to him. 

"Did you like the police?" He prompted gently, watching as Crowley took a nice long drink from his glass. 

"Yeah. It was alright," he mumbled, leaning his head back against the sofa until he was looking up at the ceiling. "Didn't agree with a lot of what went on. Nothing really bad, just...little things I didn't like. Policies, bad commanding officers. I spent nine years as a beat cop, and I just took all the shit I needed to take to become a detective, and then got stabbed. I was in the hospital for weeks and was told I was being put on desk duty indefinitely, so I left. Probably a good thing, I don't think I would have made a good detective," he chuckled, turning his head to look at Zira with a sad smile. "I used the savings I had to open my shop, and I haven't looked back since. Four years now." 

Zira smiled and leaned over, carefully tucking a lock of Crowley's hair back from his face and almost missing. "You've certainly had an interesting life, haven't you?" He murmured, his inaccurate fingertips brushing Crowley's cheek ever so lightly. 

Crowley swallowed thickly, his eyes soft and bright as he stared at his companion. "I suppose so." 

Zira nodded slightly, then suddenly smiled as a thought occurred to him. "I always wanted to ask you, why did you come in to see me that first day? You brought me that wonderful pasta, and I was so shocked. Pleased, but surprised. I'd always thought you were quite antisocial." 

Crowley laughed and took a quick gulp from his glass before answering, once again tipping his head back and letting those eyes focus on Zira's. "Not antisocial, just shy. I broke up with my boyfriend the week before," he answered simply, the smile on his face fading somewhat as the memories came rushing back. Zira stared at him for a second, struggling with his own emotions. On the one hand, there it was, glaring confirmation that Crowley was gay or bi, and yet on the other hand, the look on his face was heartbreaking, that sort of confused sadness at having lost someone so important to him. 

"It was a good thing, really," Crowley went on before Zira could come up with something to say. "He- uh, he wasn't...he didn't treat me right," he said firmly, his eyebrows lifting slightly as he glanced at Zira, reminding himself that this was true, and the proof was sitting right next to him, watching him with such a soft expression. "There're other people out there who I know would treat me better," he smiled at last, but it was still a little sad. He couldn't quite forget that shouting, not quite yet. 

"Of course there are. You deserve much better," Zira answered with a smile, although in the privacy of his head, the clamouring, overwhelming thought was simply yes , I would.  

"So anyway, I thought to myself, what's that one thing I've never had time to do? Have a proper conversation with that nice friendly neighbor. But I'm really awkward, so I took you food because it would be something to start a conversation, so I didn't have to." 

They both grinned and Zira just nodded slightly, staring into that stunning gold. "That sounds about right. I'm glad you did, Anthony. Really, I am." 

"Good. Me too.”

 

Crowley woke up to his obnoxious alarm, cutting through the dream he’d been having and scattering it completely, never to be remembered again. 

He slapped the clock and opened his eyes, blinking in the dim light of his bedroom. Through the throbbing pain in his head, he remembered the night before; the hazy, uncertain, and yet still rather horrifying details of his drunken conversation with Zira. He let out a heartfelt groan, sliding his hand over his eyes as if he could take back the last twelve hours or so through willpower alone.

He hadn’t really said all of that, had he? 

“Fuck,” Crowley muttered to himself, slowly sitting up and dragging his hand down his face. He stared at the floor for a moment or two, then got up unsteadily and grabbed his glasses off the bedside table. Despite the fact that every part of him wanted to crawl under a rock and sleep for the next week, he knew he needed to open the shop, and maybe, just maybe, he wanted to see Zira. He didn’t really want to face him after all that, after all those words spilled out in a quiet little room with too much wine, and yet he was so used to seeing him, so used to sitting in his shop and drinking some strange new tea, that avoiding him just didn’t seem like an option.

In any case, the stupid man didn’t eat if he didn’t go over there, Crowley reasoned to himself as he struggled into his jeans. 

The thought that perhaps Zira was overdoing the helpless bit to encourage Crowley over there every single day hadn’t occurred to him, and probably never would. After all, even though Crowley liked to present an aloof exterior, he’d always been one for caring for people. Not fixing people, not exactly - he’d learned a long time ago that that was a fool’s errand - but just giving them a nudge in the right direction every now and then, or just being there as a shoulder to cry on and someone to make the tea; small acts that meant so much more. It had never once occurred to Crowley that someone might not need him, because people always needed a friend who would do the everyday kind of caring that he excelled at.

So he grabbed the dish of ‘leftovers’ from his fridge just before he left, and took it all the way to work with him. He set it in the mini fridge in his back room, then went out to open the shop and face the day, although he wasn’t sure he was in any state to deal with customers.

 

By the time Crowley was ready to close for lunch, his hangover was almost completely gone, but he was already exhausted, having had a rather busy morning. 

He dragged himself across the road anyway, dish in hand, and leaned in the door frame as he knocked, his eyelids briefly fluttering closed behind his dark glasses. Then he heard the lock click and the door swung back just as he opened his eyes to see Zira staring at him. 

"Anthony? You look tired, is everything alright?" He asked softly, reaching out towards Crowley, who quickly pushed himself off the door frame and slipped past him into the shop. 

"Just tired, I brought lunch," he announced all in one breath, gesturing with the dish. Zira caught it carefully, giving a soft little laugh as Crowley let go of it easily. 

"You shouldn't wave heavy things like this around, you could drop it," he scolded gently, but Crowley wasn't listening, he was too busy staring into the artist's eyes. 

He could feel his nerves eating him up inside, a vague, bottomless uncertainty gnawing at his stomach as he tried to figure out if anything had changed. He didn't know what he'd do if Zira suddenly started treating him differently. 

"Let's go upstairs and I'll heat this up," Zira smiled, watching Crowley in a sort of amused concern as he swayed slightly, miles away. For once, Zira was picking up on Crowley's nerves completely, perhaps because he'd been expecting it - he'd known that the florist would remember the night before and be kicking himself for opening up. So he reached out and wrapped his fingers around Crowley's forearm, giving a gentle tug. 

"Come on, my dear. Come eat lunch," he murmured, and Crowley came crashing back down to Earth, his mouth opening and then closing again as he glanced towards the stairs frantically. Then he managed to get it together and gave a small nod. 

"Alright," he mumbled, voice slightly hoarse, and Zira just smiled, gently leading him forward and up into the shop's dinky apartment. 

He guided Crowley all the way to the couch and sat him down gently, resisting the temptation to just stroke his hand over that pale cheek or fiery hair, instead forcing himself to step away. 

"I'll be back in a moment. Let me go put this in the oven and get you some tea." 

Crowley just nodded dumbly, looking down at his lap and taking a deep breath. He didn't trust his voice, not at that moment, so he just listened to the creaking of the floorboards as Zira moved away, walking into the kitchen slowly. 

Then he closed his eyes and carefully removed his sunglasses to drag his trembling hands down his face. He was sure this was going to be too much for him, that his heart would give out under the strain of all this uncertainty and stress, and frankly, it would have been a relief. 

"How's your leg today?" Zira called from the kitchen, and Crowley glanced up, his heart sinking into his stomach as he grabbed for his sunglasses to cut out the glare. 

"It's um-" His voice came out squeaky and odd, so he stopped and cleared his throat before continuing, vaguely aware that his cheeks felt rather hot. 

"It's fine, thanks. I uh, I walked to work today since I felt well enough, and I still have to pick up my car," Crowley answered, and he heard a soft chuckle that made him smile slightly, despite everything. 

"Well, it's good you felt well enough. I'm glad you're doing better," Zira answered, and that seemed to be it. No more questions, no more digging, and no pity. 

After a moment or two of silence, Zira emerged from the kitchen with a cup of tea, handing it to Crowley before sitting down beside him carefully. 

"Lunch looks delicious, what is it?"

Crowley looked over at him in pleased surprise, all his nerves suddenly dropping away at the sheer normality and lightness of the question. Zira flashed him a small, knowing smile, and he relaxed at last, smiling back genuinely. 

He hadn't known what he was expecting, but this certainly wasn't it. His worst nightmare would have been another grilling, delving deeper and deeper into his past - this appeared to be his best dream. Zira was just...normal; his usual smiling, bright self, his eyes just the right amount of soft. 

Crowley let out a long breath and leaned back in his seat as he wrapped his hands around the mug. "You'll have to wait and see, won't you?"

Chapter Text

About a week after that rather eventful dinner, Crowley was setting up the shop with his back to the door when he heard the bell jingle. "I don't open for another ten minutes, but you're welcome to look around," he called, slightly distracted as he leaned over a table to take a closer look at a succulent that appeared to be losing its luster. 

"That's alright, I already know what I want." 

Crowley froze, his breathing cutting off as his heart began to beat faster; that horribly familiar voice tarnishing his place, his safe place, and rolling out into the air so confidently, taunting him. 

He spun around, but George was already grabbing him, fingers twisting in the front of his coat as he shoved Crowley up against the front desk, the edge biting into the small of his back. 

Crowley gasped in pain, trying to twist away, but George's grip was too strong, his hips pinning the slightly smaller man down, his face inches from Crowley's. 

"Hello, darling," George purred, and Crowley tried to push those hands away shakily, despite the growing resignation in the pit of his stomach. The man leaned in further, already uncomfortably close, his breath warm, his eyes hard. "Look at me." 

Crowley shook his head slightly, tilting his head back as he craned his neck to look as far away from George as possible, trying to ignore the painful way the man's knuckles dug into his thin chest. 

George curled his lip in annoyance and disdain and nudged his knee right up between Crowley's legs, rubbing over him and causing the florist to let out a stifled squeak, then a broken, profanity-filled protest as his whole body shuddered at the sensation. Crowley could feel his heart thudding against the inside of his ribcage as if it was trying to escape, his mouth falling open slightly as he drew in a shaky breath. His hands moved to the counter to support himself, gripping on as tightly as he could manage. Every part of him wanted to be as far away from George as possible, and the fact that the man was grinning certainly didn't help. 

"I thought so. You don't like this, do you?" He snarled, reaching down and grabbing at the space his knee had just occupied, fingers rough and painful, violating. 

Crowley froze completely, unable to make a sound, unable to protest, his eyelids fluttering as his eyes filled with tears. His breathing was shaky and ragged, sounding loud in his ears as he forced himself not to look at George, not to let those tears fall. He couldn't let him see how weak he was, but he was already struggling to remain standing as static swam in his vision, threatening him with dizziness. 

"You're a fucking prude, and a pussy," George chuckled, suddenly releasing his grip and grinning nastily as Crowley let out a deep breath, his whole body trembling as the intense tension dropped away. It left him feeling even more light-headed than before, but the sensation of the floor moving under his feet was beginning to fade. "You used to do anything for me, what changed?" 

Crowley squeezed his eyes shut, his nostrils flaring as he gritted his teeth, refusing to answer, refusing that satisfaction. He couldn't let him have any kind of win. Not like this, not even with the answer writhing on the tip of his tongue. 

You. You changed.

George growled, shoving Crowley's chest and forcing his back even harder against that sharp desk edge, digging into his flesh and making him wince involuntarily. "Look at me!" 

Crowley shook his head ever so slightly, still struggling to breathe with the weight of his ex's proximity, too close, far, far too close. The air felt heavy and thick, suffocating him even as he tried to breathe, struggling against the feeling that he was drowning. 

"Look at me!" George roared, and Crowley whimpered as fingers wrapped around his jaw, jerking his head round. 

Golden eyes snapped open behind dark lenses and George grinned, showing off quite a few too many teeth. 

"That wasn't so hard, was it? Come back, Crowley. Come on," he purred, his voice switching from enraged to seductive in seconds, but retaining that dangerous quality running over and under and through each word. "Kiss me." 

Crowley squeezed his eyes shut again, cutting out all light, only dark behind his eyelids, darkness that he could build on. Build up Zira's smile, his soft blue eyes, allow that comforting, calming feeling in. Hoping against all evidence that maybe if he thought hard enough, he could be somewhere else, he could be across the street listening to Zira talk about needle thickness and ink viscosity and his latest designs. 

George's fingers tightened, nails digging into Crowley's skin, fingertips pressing painfully against his jawbone and yanking him out of his brief little escape and back into his own shop. 

"Fucking frigid piece of shit," he muttered, still only inches from Crowley's face. "You're never gonna find someone to put up with you like I do." 

Then there were lips pressed against Crowley's, firm and unyielding, and he forced down the urge to gag, nausea flowing through him as he finally brought his hands up, pushing George away from him as hard as he could. 

The man staggered back, grinning as he wiped his mouth on the back of his hand, then began to back away slowly. "You'll see, you'll come back," he insisted, then turned and sauntered towards the door, pausing only to kick a plant over on the way out. 

Crowley stared after him for a moment, chest heaving, then stumbled and sprinted forward, slamming the lock home and quickly flipping the sign to 'closed.'

He turned slowly and his throat closed up as he saw the plant laying on its side, soil spilled out around it. Crowley wandered over to it, dazed, falling to his knees while sobs bubbled up in his chest and spilled over, almost uncontrollable as he righted the plant with shaking hands and tried to scoop the dirt back in. He was moving frantically, jerkily, he could barely see through the tears blurring his vision, but he kept going, trying, needing to fix something. 

As he gently packed the dirt back into the pot, tears streaming down his cheeks, he whispered to the plant, assuring it that everything would be alright, that he'd protect it, that this would never happen again. 

And when he finally finished, he sat back on his heels, buried his face in his hands, and began to cry in earnest - huge, wracking sobs that made it almost impossible to breathe, his lungs burning and his cheeks hot with the endless flow of tears. 

His body didn't feel his anymore, and familiarity did nothing to dull the feeling of horror and shame flowing through him, touching every nerve, making everything hurt. His long fingers tangled in his hair; pulling, holding, grounding him with a new, sharper sensation. 

It took a long time for Crowley to run out of tears, to simply run out of energy to keep crying, but eventually he dragged himself to his feet, feeling like a dead man walking as he limped into the back room and collapsed into a chair. He stared at nothing for a while, then slowly folded his arms on the workbench in front of him, lowering his head down to bury his face in them. And then stayed like that, shutting out the world and drowning in his own private prison, drowning in hate and fear, shame and grief.  

 

Crowley woke to a soft pinging sound on his phone some hours later, and lifted his head slowly, blinking in the dim light of his back room. It had gotten stormy out while he'd been napping, and despite being only about six o'clock, it was already quite dark. 

He reached for his phone shakily and turned the alarm off, then glanced towards the door. He'd spent all day at the workbench, alternating between crying, sleeping, or staring off into space. But now it was time to see Zira. 

It was the tattoo shop's closing time, and despite his apprehension and his desire to curl up in bed and sleep the rest of the week away, Crowley found himself standing up and slowly making his way across the street. He shoved his keys in his pocket before trying the handle and finding it unlocked. The door swung open slowly and he hesitated, taking a deep breath before slipping inside to find Zira still hard at work, his sleeves rolled up as usual. 

Crowley stopped, squashing the urge to check his watch and struggling to ignore the petulant little voice in the back of his head that insisted that Zira should have been done by now, should have been ready to pay attention to him. Only him

Then the artist looked up, and Crowley nearly burst into tears all over again, his knees trembling in relief as that perfect softness washed over him - pouring into him and soothing all those wounds and bruises left behind by the morning; just enough to take the edge off. 

"Good evening, Anthony. I'm nearly finished, my dear, just ten minutes. Alright?" 

Crowley nodded wordlessly and stumbled into the back room, once again throwing himself into a chair and burying his face in his hands. 

The pain came back, throbbing and aching in every single corner of his body as the thought that perhaps he didn't deserve all that kindness crept in treacherously, niggling at the back of his mind and causing his eyes to sting once again. 

Crowley swallowed and tried to push all his thoughts away, tried to shove it all down, but suddenly he could feel hands on him again, grabbing and digging at his flesh, and he jumped up out of the chair, folding his arms over his chest as he started to pace. His lungs were beginning to burn, so he forced himself to keep breathing, even in quick, short little bursts, so he could keep pacing, back and forth, back and forth, in the tiny room, over and over and over. 

Until he ran into a gentle hand, thick fingers running over his forearm, another hand closing around his bicep ever so lightly. 

"Anthony? I've been trying to talk to you, my dear. Is everything alright?" 

Crowley froze, his breathing heavier now, much harder to force his chest to rise and fall. Zira's gaze was worried, but still soft and kind, and instead of making him feel calm as it usually did, it was bringing him closer to the edge. The edge of what, he wasn't quite sure, but he knew he felt on edge

"I'm fine," he managed, his voice a little strained, but still close to normal. Zira tilted his head slightly, disbelief obvious in his expression, along with a puzzlement that, in any other situation, Crowley would have found unbearably adorable. 

"You don't look fine, Anthony. You're shak-" 

"I said I'm fine!" Crowley snapped, and instantly regretted the tone. He was tired and worn down and still shaken, but those four words had made Zira look so taken aback, so surprised. 

The artist pursed his lips for a moment, then gave a slight nod and let his hands slide from Crowley, leaving him burning for more. 

"Alright. I'll leave it." 

Crowley's soul got to its knees and wept at the sudden sharp tone to the artist’s voice, and he tried to grab at Zira as he turned away, but he was already walking off, going over to sit in one of the chairs.

"Do you want to go out for dinner?" Zira asked casually, reaching for a mug left on the table and inspecting its contents, his jaw still tight, his lips pressed together as if repressing something. 

Crowley stared at him for a moment, struggling to switch subjects so dramatically, but he had quite strong feelings about being out in public that evening, and that was enough to kick his brain into answering. 

"Uh. No, I don't...I don't really feel like going out. Sorry," he mumbled, and Zira just shrugged, setting the mug back down and looking up at Crowley with a disconcertingly blank look. 

"Okay. Takeout? I haven't eaten yet today," Zira admitted quietly, his gaze still settled on Crowley, unwavering despite the harmonics of shame in his voice. "It would be good to get food as soon as possible, really." 

If Zira had been standing closer to Crowley, he might have been able to hear his brain fizzling before it gave out completely. 

"Jesus Christ, Zira! What happened to that plant and taking care of yourself?" he growled, anger suddenly flooding through him, replacing the shame and the pain and making him tremble ever so slightly as he clenched and relaxed his fists by his sides over and over. 

Zira glared at him, his jaw setting, those eyes no longer blank, but hard and angry. 

"If all you’re going to do is berate me, then maybe you should just be quiet," He shot back, his voice calm, but dangerously so, suggesting that Zira was on his own edge. Crowley was too wrapped up in his own emotions to notice, so he stepped forward, his lip curling slightly, his movements jerky and quick. 

"I ‘berate’ you because you're stupid ! You can't even manage to fucking eat unless someone tells you to! How did you ever survive? Maybe if you weren't such an idiot, I wouldn't have to come over and nag you!" He answered, raising his voice slightly, but not quite shouting yet, still closer to a growl. 

Zira got up quickly, hurt now texturing the anger in his expression, his whole body starting to tremble as that calmness broke. 

"Fuck you, Anthony! It's not like I ever asked you to come over, is it? I don't force you to be here! If you hate it that much, why don't you just go?" 

"Maybe I will!" Crowley shouted, matching the volume Zira's voice had risen to, his chest heaving, his fingers curled into fists. "Maybe I'll just leave and never come back!" 

"Leave, then! I don't even like you, you just keep inviting yourself over! Over and over, and I'm sick of you!" Zira screamed, loud enough that the whole street probably heard it, even from the back room. 

But now those words had been said, ugly words, false words, and there was no way to take them back, no way for them to be un-spoken. They both froze for a moment, staring at each other, then Crowley jerked his head slightly, his face dangerously blank. 

"Well." 

Then he turned on his heel and marched out, slamming the door behind him as hard as he possibly could.

Chapter Text

It took a few days for the argument to settle and fade like a bad bruise, left alone without any poking or prodding. 

By the fourth day, however, Zira was getting mildly impatient. He'd seen Crowley walking in and out of his shop a few times, admittedly because he made sure he was near a window around the times the flower shop opened and closed each day. He'd even seen Crowley leave with a delivery; the Bentley completely stuffed with flowers and absolutely bursting with bright, beautiful colours - that had certainly been a sight to see. Although it had been a little bittersweet. 

Despite trying his best not to think about it, Zira couldn't help but replay their argument a thousand times, analysing the exchange and Crowley's behaviour beforehand over and over and over until he had a hundred different theories and a headache. Even then, he couldn't stop thinking about how he'd found Crowley in his back room, pacing so frantically and completely deaf to his gentle calls. He'd had to put himself directly in the man's path to get his attention, and he was sure that had to mean something had been very wrong. 

And that had certainly been part of the argument - Zira had let his worry stir up his irritation and his exhaustion into rage, whipped up until it was fluffed out like a startled cat's tail, much bigger than it should have been. He regretted it now, of course he did, and that expression on Crowley's face just before he'd left broke his heart every time he thought about it. 

So the night before, he'd gone over to a big garden centre just after closing up his own shop. He'd selected a plant he knew Crowley didn't have - a tiny star cactus in a small terracotta pot, and that morning, he'd left it on the step of Crowley's shop with a little card tucked underneath. 

Zira kept telling himself he should move away from the window and get some actual work done, but instead, he just leaned against the wooden frame and took a long sip from his tea. Just as he was once again thinking about how much he should really be getting set up, the Bentley pulled up with a screech of tyres and Crowley hopped out, already ten minutes late for opening, and already limping. 

Zira winced when he noticed this, and the way Crowley unconsciously grabbed at his leg made his breathing hitch in sympathy, but the florist kept walking forward nonetheless. 

Fingers tightened around a hot mug as Crowley stopped, staring down at the step for a moment or two. Then he took a couple paces forward and crouched down slowly. Even from this angle, even with the florist's back to him, Zira could tell how carefully Crowley picked up the plant, his body language reverent and gentle. 

Crowley stood up a little unsteadily and glanced back across the road. Zira took a sharp breath, his eyes widening as he realised Crowley was smiling, ever so slightly. 

Hope bloomed in the artist's chest, hot and tight and nervous, but so incredibly welcome. 

And the door swung shut behind Crowley, closing with an odd sort of finality that caused Zira’s heart to sink. He heaved a shaky sigh and stared at the shop for a second or two, then forced himself to turn away, shaking his head as he went downstairs to finally get to work. 

 

Fretful was the best word to describe the rest of Zira’s day. It wasn’t easy to focus on his work, not after that morning, not while he was waiting - any second now - for the door to open and the bell to sing out. Even playing music didn’t help; he kept thinking he heard the door opening in the background and looking up, only to be disappointed. 

And by the time he started to clean up for closing, he was losing that little scrap of hope he'd found that morning - up until he finally heard the bell jingle from the back room and froze, halfway through putting a mug back in the cupboard. 

"One moment!" Zira called, his voice a little squeaky and just a tiny bit nervous as he shoved the mug back into the cupboard and rolled his sleeves down neatly. Then he took a deep breath and slipped out of the back room, trying to ignore his heart pounding in his chest. 

Crowley was there, already sitting on the bench with his ankles crossed and his posture much more rigid than usual, betraying his discomfort even with those thick sunglasses disguising his expression. A wrapped parcel laid in his lap, about the thickness of a large book, with a small card taped to the front. 

Zira hesitated, his fingers curling in his pockets. All he wanted to do was rush to Crowley, to beg him for forgiveness, to touch his cheek and tuck that messy hair behind his ear and maybe even take his glasses off to see into those perfect eyes. Instead, he took a slow breath and a few shaky steps forward. 

"Anthony. I thought maybe you'd given up on me," Zira began softly, his voice trembling with the effort of staying calm.

Crowley tilted his head slightly, a slow, but genuine smile spreading across his face. 

"I'd like to say that I really do like it when you visit me, and everything I said in anger was false. Please accept my deepest apologies," Crowley rolled the words out like a red carpet, his smile turning into a bit of a smirk. 

"You...you memorised my card?" Zira stuttered, his cheeks already red, his nails now biting into the palms of his hands as the struggle to maintain his self control suddenly got a lot harder. 

"Not on purpose, I just read it too many times," Crowley murmured sheepishly, his smile going back to its usual soft, slightly embarrassed quality as he held out the box. "A little warning, I think we might have gone to the same card shop." 

Zira bit his lip lightly, unknowingly almost causing Crowley a few major health problems, and delicately took the box from his outstretched hand. "You didn't have to do all this, I-" 

"I'm the one who caused the argument, I acted badly and I'm...I'm sorry, Zira. Besides, you got me something, so that makes it even. Surprised me, that did. I didn't expect to be apologised to after the way I acted, and I'm really glad I got you this now," Crowley went on, the first sentence a bit of a struggle, but the rest spilling out easily, too easily; driven well over the speed limit by anxiety and guilt. 

Zira just sighed and shook his head slightly, moving over to sit down next to the florist, a good few inches away, just in case. "It's not your fault, Anthony, I was...I was too sensitive as well, and…I could tell you had a bad day. You looked so incredibly upset," he murmured, leaving this dangling - almost a question, but ever so slightly not. Crowley glanced at him, his cheeks a little pink, but didn't take the bait. 

"Nothing excuses my behaviour," he replied simply, watching as Zira opened the card carefully, without one little rip in the envelope. He slid the card out, smiling again when he saw the rather familiar picture of the little kitten on the front. 

"You really bought this before you saw mine?" 

"Yep," Crowley chuckled, popping the 'p' as he leaned back and rested his hands behind him to hold himself up. "I was really confused when I found yours, it's the exact same one." 

Zira grinned and shook his head slightly, then opened the card with trembling fingers and read the scratchy writing a few times over. 

Zira, 

I'm so terribly sorry for the way I acted, it was childish and reckless. I worry about you, but I know I do take it too far, and I'll try to take a step back in the future. You mean a lot to me, though. I hope you know that. 

Please forgive me, 

AJC 

Zira looked up at the man sitting next to him, all nerves and embarrassment, and managed a sad smile without bursting into tears. "Of course I forgive you, it was just one stupid little fight, Anthony. It...it didn't really mean anything." 

Crowley nodded slightly, looking down at his lap and straightening up with a sigh. 

"You're right, it didn't. But I'm kind of glad it happened. Now we know that we both can admit when we're wrong, and that we can sort things. That's good, isn't it?" 

Zira opened his mouth to answer, but Crowley was already jumping to the next point, folding his hands in his lap and trying not to start cracking his knuckles to cope. 

"Why don't you open that? I...I want to know if you like it." 

Zira smiled to himself, but didn't say anything, certainly not anything along the lines of you being so nervous about a small gift is horribly endearing, and I'd like you to stop now, and most definitely not anything like I'm sure whatever you bought me is nowhere near as powerful as the simple line you mean a lot to me, nothing could top that. 

He swallowed all those words, holding them back and shoving them down deep as he unwrapped the parcel delicately, once again not leaving a single tear in the plain brown paper as he slid the box out and set it on his lap with an appreciative sigh. 

"Oh Anthony, it's perfect," Zira breathed, running his fingertips over the little gift set of teas, encased in a beautifully crafted wooden box with a glass window set into the top. 

"I, um...I didn't think you had any of these," Crowley mumbled, burdened with the feeling that he had to say something without being blessed with the knowledge of what to actually say. He was striking out blind in the dark, and practically vibrating with the stress of it. 

Zira could feel it, the shaky tension in the air, so he just turned his head and offered the florist a simple, happy little smile. 

"Thank you," he said softly, and Crowley swallowed hard, his eyes wide behind his glasses, his eyebrows raised well above the dark frames. 

"Come to mine. I'll...I'll cook for you tonight, you haven't been to my flat before, and I always come to yours, it's only fair.." he trailed off uncertainly, put off by the blank look on Zira's face. 

The artist was simply trying to process this development, struggling to cope with the idea of being allowed into Crowley's place, his safe place, his own place, and he wasn't doing a very good job of it. However, he did manage to thaw out his expression before Crowley went into complete panic mode, and even allowed himself a small, shy smile. 

"I'd love that." 

 

Zira glanced around as the Bentley pulled up outside a rather fancy looking apartment building. 

He wasn't quite sure what he'd been expecting, but a rather modern monstrosity of glass and steel with its own parking garage had definitely not been it. Crowley glanced over at him as he pulled up in his designated parking space, turning the car off carefully. 

"George helped me pick it," he said quietly, sliding the key out of the ignition and just staring at it for a moment. "I still can't decide whether to move or not, but I think I'm going to need to find somewhere cheaper soon anyway."

"I didn't think it felt like your style," Zira answered weakly, not quite sure how to react to the quiet melancholy in Crowley's voice. It was heartbreaking, but so casually spoken, so inattentive, that he had no idea whether to address it or not. He opted to ignore it for now, and apparently chose correctly, as Crowley managed an uncomfortable smile and jerked his head slightly. 

"Come on, let's go up. I think you'll like the inside more." 

They got out of the car and Zira followed Crowley to a metal door at the far end of the garage, using all his concentration to stop himself from rushing to the florist's side to support him. The limp had gotten worse, and when Crowley reached the door, he stopped for a moment, his fingers curling around the handle and his shoulder falling against the metal as he tried to catch his breath. Zira hung back tactfully, allowing him a few seconds to recover before Crowley heaved a sigh and pushed the door open to reveal a dimly lit staircase. 

Zira swallowed, anxiety suddenly flowing through him as he hurried forward, gently catching the back of Crowley's jacket before he could take the first step. 

"Anthony, let me help," he rushed out as Crowley turned slightly to glance over his shoulder, his cheeks already bright red with embarrassment and shame. 

"I don't need-" 

"No, I know you don't need help," Zira cut him off gently, coming to stand beside him and offering him a soft smile. "I know that. You're insanely strong, stronger than I could ever hope to be. But sometimes things are better with a little help, even if we don't need it. Let me make it easier." 

Crowley hesitated, and for one horrible moment, Zira thought he might still refuse, until he finally dropped his gaze back to the steps in front of him and gave a slight shrug. 

"Yeah, alright. I...I just need a little support." 

"I know, you're okay," Zira soothed, sliding his arm around the man's waist and rejoicing briefly in the feeling of their sides pressed together so firmly, until he took a deep breath and forced himself to concentrate.

Crowley grabbed onto the railing with a white-knuckle grip, taking the first step with a soft, shaky hiss and hesitating, leaning on Zira ever so slightly. 

"I thought it was illegal not to have elevators and stuff these days," Zira commented softly, taking the next step with Crowley and feeling the man's arm slide over his upper back, gripping his far shoulder with fingers of iron. 

"Mm, it's up these stairs," Crowley muttered, unable to bite back a soft whimper in time as his weight shifted and caused a sharp pain to run up and down his entire leg. "You can go up these stairs or all the way around the building and up a ramp, but I've fallen on the ramp before, there's no railing." 

Zira sighed and took the next step, Crowley's breathing ragged in the echoing stairwell, his weight heavy against the artist's side. 

"When did you move in here?" 

"Two years ago. Is that relevant?" Crowley answered, with a slight bite of irritation in his words. 

Zira shook his head slightly, rubbing his thumb over Crowley's side as the florist stopped again for another brief rest. 

"Take your time. We've got all night," he murmured cheerfully, and Crowley shot him a look that very clearly showed he wasn't particularly in the mood for jokes, but Zira missed it anyway. He was too busy trying to do some basic math and figure out why Crowley would have moved into an inaccessible apartment - considering that his injury had happened about four years ago. 

Crowley grunted as he took the next step and Zira gave a soft little sigh as he realised. George. 

Crowley had said something about his ex not treating him fairly, then something about George picking the apartment, and now here they were, struggling up a flight of slippery concrete stairs to get to the blasted elevator. Zira's lip curled briefly, but he took a deep breath and brought his focus back around to Crowley, finally supporting him up the last step and helping him forward to the door. 

Crowley winced, reaching into his pocket and pulling out his keys, his hands made unsteady with pain and exhaustion. He fumbled to get the right key and dropped the entire key ring, his eyebrows shooting up and knitting together. 

Zira ducked down and scooped the keys up quickly, letting his arm slide from Crowley's waist, but keeping one hand on his side, more for comfort than support. 

"Which of these is it?" 

"The round silver one," Crowley answered quietly, his voice thick and trembling, as if he was about to start crying. "Yeah, that one." 

"Alright," Zira hummed, his heart sinking at his companion's tone, but trying to keep him afloat with his own quiet optimism. "There we go," he mumbled as he opened the door, letting Crowley walk through and then slipping past him to press the button for the elevator just on the other side. 

Crowley collapsed against a wall, turning his face away from Zira and taking deep, but slightly ragged breaths as he tried to calm down. Zira was quite close to panicking himself, the sheer intensity of Crowley’s pain taking him by surprise, so he did what he always tried to do in such situations - he tried to help. 

He wandered over to Crowley and reached out slowly, rubbing the man's upper arm gently. "Anthony? It's alright, we'll get you sat down with a cup of tea, yeah?" He soothed, his voice gentle as Crowley glared at the ground, his teeth gritted through the pain in his leg. "You can rest up and take some medicine." 

The elevator pinged and Crowley hauled himself upright, finding Zira already beside him and finally giving up, allowing his weight to drop onto the artist without any attempt at a protest. 

Zira caught him easily, helping him forward wordlessly, his hand once again snug around Crowley's side as he led him into the elevator. Crowley slapped the button for the third floor and just stared at nothing, his breathing a little more even now. 

"I wanted to do something for you tonight," he muttered after a moment or two of thick silence. 

Zira blinked in surprise and looked up at him quickly. "And?" 

"And my stupid fucking leg is ruining it," Crowley snapped, then immediately heaved a sigh and tried to apologise, cut off midway through by Zira's gentle voice. 

"Don't be silly. And you needn’t apologise, I can tell you're in a lot of pain. Nothing is ruined, and you don't need to do anything special for me. It's nice enough being here with you, Anthony. If you don't feel up to cooking, maybe we can order in and just relax, I just want to spend time with you." 

Crowley was silent for a moment while he struggled to handle this little speech, and Zira just waited patiently, leaning his head against the florist's arm - which certainly wasn't helping matters. 

The elevator stopped and Crowley started forward as soon as the doors opened, guiding Zira down the hall and all the way to the end. He carefully took the keys from Zira and just about managed to unlock the door, pushing it open with his shoulder and stumbling inside. 

Zira followed him quickly, trying to grab onto him and hold him upright, but he was already hobbling off at a fair speed, muttering something about a bathroom and some pills. 

So Zira quietly closed the door behind him and looked around, blue eyes widening at the sight. 

The apartment was quite dim, with heavy curtains over the door to the balcony, but one part of it right towards the end was bright and lush and full of beautiful plants. Zira wandered past the immaculate kitchen and the rather uncomfortable looking stylish couches in the living room with barely a glance, his gaze still trained on the mini jungle. 

It only took a few seconds to cross the apartment, and he found himself standing under a massive skylight, windows on either side obscured by the sheer amount of perfect green leaves. Every single one of the plants was the picture of health, growing beautifully in the amazingly direct sunlight, and Zira couldn't help but gaze around in wonder, a smile playing at the corners of his lips. 

"I told you you'd like the inside." 

He spun around immediately, finding Crowley standing behind him in the middle of the living room. 

"Oh Anthony, they're all so stunning!" Zira gasped, unable to help himself as he glanced back towards the plants, the little paradise of nature in such a dim, concrete, modern apartment. 

Crowley managed a weak smile and pointed to a curtain that Zira hadn't noticed until that moment. "Could you draw that across, please? It's a bit bright, I want to take my glasses off for a while." 

Zira obliged immediately, loathe to block off the plants from his vision, but eager for the absolute treat that was seeing Crowley's eyes laid bare for him. 

As he wandered back towards the couch Crowley had just thrown himself onto, he finally took in the rest of the rather stark apartment. Everything seemed to be in either shades of grey or black or very, very dark colours that looked almost black, and the floor was that same polished concrete as the stairs. The kitchen was the only really inviting part of the flat; large and with gleaming dark granite counters. Zira couldn't see the bedroom or the bathroom, and he assumed they were off to the side, where Crowley had disappeared only a minute or so ago.

"I just need a short rest, I'll be alright in a minute," Crowley muttered, watching Zira closely as he walked over to the only bookshelf in the room and began to inspect the contents. 

"That's alright, take all the time you need," Zira answered, his voice cheerful, but a little distant and distracted. "You have some nice books." 

"I don't read much, I just like having physical copies. Usually I listen to them as audiobooks and then buy my favourites." 

"That still counts as reading," Zira smiled, his eyes falling on a small framed picture tucked away on one end of the middle shelf. It showed a much younger Crowley standing in an army uniform next to an older woman with light brown eyes and greying auburn hair. "Who's this?" 

"That's my mum," Crowley answered quietly, tipping his head back against the back of the sofa and closing his eyes. "She came to see me when I finished my basic training." 

"You both look happy," Zira commented, and turned to walk over to the couch, his hands pushed into his pockets awkwardly. "Can I ask you something?" 

Crowley took his glasses off and tossed them onto the coffee table before heaving a huge sigh and smiling up at Zira. 

"Of course, but remember that I'm exhausted." 

Zira chuckled nervously and sat down next to him, taking a moment to phrase the question before looking up into Crowley's breathtaking golden eyes. 

"Alright. You said you didn't like being in the army, why do you have a picture up?" 

Crowley smiled slightly and shifted position, resting his injured leg up on the coffee table.

"Well, because it was a big achievement for me. I'm proud of passing my training, even though I'm not necessarily proud that I made the choice to join. I was a drifting kid, I didn't know what I was going to do with myself, and in the area I grew up in, that usually meant you'd end up running drugs or something like that. But I didn't, I'm here instead, and I think that's something to celebrate. Besides, I don't have that many pictures of me with my mum, and I like that one." 

Zira leaned back against the sofa slowly, pulling a face unconsciously as he realised how truly uncomfortable it was. 

"I don't think I can argue with those reasons," he smiled, and Crowley grinned, letting his eyes close up as he leaned his head back once more. 

"Mm. You always have this slightly disgusted expression when I talk about the army. Care to tell me why?" 

Zira blinked, taken aback and slightly worried. He hadn't realised his reaction had been that obvious, and although he couldn't hear any signs of annoyance in Crowley's voice, he wasn't entirely sure he hadn't offended him. 

"I um...well, total honesty - I don't agree with what the army does these days. I don't really know enough about it to make a reasoned argument, but it seems like all we do with the army is meddle in places we shouldn't and make things worse." 

"Yeah, I think that's a fair assessment," Crowley answered quietly, starting to massage his leg lightly with the heel of his hand as he opened his eyes and stared up at the ceiling thoughtfully. "But in my experience, a good proportion of the people who sign up do it for reasons like me. It's the people taking advantage of kids like that that make me angry." 

"And the government in charge," Zira mused quietly, and Crowley gave a soft, humourless chuckle. 

"Yep. I'm glad there was a phase in my life where I got my shit together, but I'm glad it ended," he said simply, and Zira nodded, looking down at his hands as he relaxed. 

"Yeah, I can understand that. There was a big part of my life where I just spent my time being a stupid rich kid, and I really wish I could take that back now. We all waste time on things, that's just life." 

"You're definitely right there." 

"Speaking of, can I ask you something else?" Zira murmured, looking over at Crowley and taking a few deep breaths to quell his nerves. He wasn't sure if what he was about to ask would offend, upset, or even anger his companion, but the question was burning a hole through him, and he knew he just needed to ask. 

Crowley lifted his head, grinning at the artist, albeit with tired eyes. "Go right ahead. You're always asking me stuff lately, I'm getting used to it now." 

Zira smiled, but it was gone in an instant as he looked down at his lap, flexing his fingers where his hands lay on his thighs. 

"Um. Well...well, you said something a while ago, after that dinner we had, about how your ex...um, George, isn't it?" Zira didn't wait for an answer before plunging on, his chest starting to get tight as he tried to ignore his uncertainty. "You said he...he didn't treat you right and I wondered...well, I thought maybe you might tell me more about what that means? If it's not too private. If it is, you can tell me to shut up," he rushed out, tripping over his words and wincing as he finally finished. Crowley had looked away, his jaw tightening as he stared off at nothing with a hard gaze. 

"Since you asked so nicely, I guess...I guess I could talk about it," Crowley began slowly, his demeanour relaxing slightly as he looked down at his lap instead. He paused for a moment, gathering his thoughts while Zira watched him expectantly and with a rather concerned expression, as he could tell how tense the question had made his friend. Then Crowley took a deep breath and lifted his gaze to Zira's bright blue eyes, his own expressionless, but a little shiny. 

"He just...he was just always a big personality, you know? We um, we met in the police, and I think he was just too used to getting his orders obeyed," Crowley mumbled, looking down again as his cheeks began to turn pink. "And I'm not really...I'm not like that, I act confident a lot, but I'm just not. He always used to overpower me, like into getting this place, he always had to get what he wanted. It started off alright, but I think he slowly realised, even unconsciously, that I'm a bit of a pushover sometimes, and he started taking over more and more. And if I tried to push back, he'd call me names." 

Crowley took a slow breath, and Zira shifted a little closer to him, his heart sinking as the pain of betrayal and ruined trust crept into the man’s expression, becoming more and more apparent as he kept talking. 

"It got worse until he was basically controlling everything, making me do things I didn't want to do. Things that maybe, if he asked nicely, I would have done, but he just got worse and worse until his first resort was manipulation. And um, well, one time, force, but that was just once."

Crowley swallowed hard, then forced a smile and looked up at Zira quickly, his eyes slightly manic and still rather wet. "But I'm fine now, it's all fine. How about I go and start dinner? My leg feels okay now." 

Zira felt his heart leap into his mouth at the subtle horror of it all, at Crowley so hurt and so obviously trying to pretend he wasn't. It was all too delicate, too scared, as if he was getting crushed under the weight of it all and had to scramble out the other side, into fake cheerfulness and distractions just to survive. 

So Zira leaned over and gently took Crowley's hand. He wrapped it up in both of his, ignoring the flash of surprise in the florist's expression, surprise followed by an emotion that Zira couldn't quite place, but could tell was almost unbearable.  

"Look at me, Anthony," he said softly, but with a convincing touch of firmness. "You didn't deserve any of that, my dear. I'm so very glad you're okay now and you're not with him anymore. I'm sorry that happened to you, I really am." 

Crowley stared at him for a moment, then sniffed quietly and tore his gaze away, looking down at his lap to escape that overwhelming tenderness and quiet, comforting acceptance. 

"I'm alright, I just...I want to stop thinking about it," he muttered, and Zira nodded quickly, squeezing his hand again before releasing it, hating the sudden feeling of cold air where warm skin had been. 

"I know, how about I come help you with dinner? It would be nice to actually learn something about cooking," he joked quietly, but deliberately. He may have had a mental block on noticing others' affection for him, but that didn't mean he was emotionally incompetent; in fact, he knew exactly the right way to get people like Crowley to accept help. It was simply a matter of letting them view it as a favour to him, rather than to themselves. 

"Could be fun. Don't burn my apartment down," Crowley chuckled, hauling himself out of his seat and swaying slightly as he put his glasses back on. 

"No promises," Zira muttered, getting to his feet and quietly following Crowley to the kitchen. 

 

Despite Zira's apprehension, and his concern for his host, it turned out to be an exceptionally pleasant evening. Crowley was much more cheerful once he started cooking, and the pill he'd taken finally began to reduce his pain. 

And although Zira did manage to burn the vegetables, they just laughed it off and ate what was left of their dinner, sitting on that awful couch together and joking around. Not long after they'd finished eating, Crowley drove Zira home and waved to him as he walked up to the door and slipped inside. Zira closed the door behind him carefully, then headed upstairs to sleep off the excitement of the evening.

 

Chapter Text

Crowley woke up the next morning to sunlight spilling through the window onto his pillow. He groaned and rolled away from it quickly before opening his eyes lazily, and just staring at the wall while he tried to wake up. 

He'd been dreaming, he knew that, but the only thing he could remember was hands on his, holding ever so gently, squeezing - or had that been last night? 

Crowley pressed the heel of his right hand against his eye, letting out a deep sigh as he tried to get his exhausted brain to come to life fully. It had been last night, and his breath hitched even now as he remembered that intense concern on Zira's face, the heat from his hands. He'd seemed so protective and yet so gentle. He'd apologised for Crowley's experiences with George.

That part was really doing Crowley's head in - the man he wanted so terribly, the man he could see a future with so clearly that he felt he could reach out and touch it, was apologising for the actions of his toxic ex. It was simply too much to handle, too big and too emotional to think through, not while he was this tired and half asleep, certainly. 

Crowley forced himself to sit up, dragging both hands down his face and letting out another heartfelt groan. There was too much happening, too many thoughts swirling around in his head. He had to pick one at a time, untangle it from the mess, look at it, lay it out neatly in a pile. 

Zira had been in his flat. He'd looked around, he'd been so excited about the plants. Even after he'd left, Crowley had felt that the shadows in every room were still a little bit lighter, the brightness of his beautiful smile lingering in the corners of the dreary apartment. And maybe it was his imagination, but his plants had all seemed a little taller, a little glossier just after he'd driven the artist home. 

Crowley took a deep breath and set that one aside as he got up, testing his leg carefully and finding it to be relatively pain-free. 

Just as he dragged himself into the bathroom, the thoughts all mobbed him again, clamouring for attention, screaming to be heard. He sat down heavily on the toilet lid and buried his face in his hands once more, trying to keep his breathing slow and even as the emotion built up in his chest. He felt like he was going to burst, the pressure in his ribcage escalating until his eyes began to sting and the tears finally fell, accompanied by the first soft little sob. 

Crowley wasn't sure why he was crying. 

He didn't know if they were sad tears, happy tears, frustrated tears, or a mix of all three. But he did know that it made him feel better, just crying by himself, locked away in his bathroom, letting it all spill out and flow down his cheeks. 

It felt like such a sweet release, a much needed cathartic act that finally allowed him to feel everything he'd been stifling. Everything about George, about Zira. About his past, about his leg, about his endless, daily physical pain. About how all he wanted to do was curl up in tattooed arms and cry and cry and listen to that soft voice comforting him all night. 

The realisation that this was impossible only made him sob harder, his fingers sliding up to tangle in his hair, his body starting to rock slightly in a feeble self-comforting gesture. It did nothing in comparison to the feel of those gentle hands on his skin, but it was the best he had. 

And he made up his mind then and there that later he'd have to make do with another cheap imitation, another 'best he could get.' He would go and visit Zira and just talk with him and sit too far away from him and watch him smile. It was nothing like the scenes he conjured up at night to help him sleep, but it would have to do. Because nothing else would even come close to easing that horrible pressure in his chest; nothing else could make him forget about everything weighing on his mind quite like Zira. 

 

Crowley stared at the closed sign hanging in the door and hesitated. He didn't know how Zira would react to him showing up on a Sunday, without even a call or text to announce his intentions, but he had to admit that he didn't really care. He just needed to see him.

The aching in his chest was still there, dull and dormant, but ever present. He sighed and reached up, knocking loudly on the glass and tilting his head back to look up towards the apartment windows. Immediate regret came just after bright sunlight glinted through his dark glasses, leaving a bright spot in his vision as he looked down hurriedly. 

The door clicked and opened just a crack as he blinked over and over, trying to clear the burning white hole in the scene in front of him. 

"It says clo-...Anthony!" Zira gasped, flinging the door open and grinning at the florist. "What a lovely surprise! Come in, my dear, I'm not dressed yet, but I'll make you some tea." 

Crowley stared for a moment, taking in the loose t-shirt and pajama trousers with a pattern of little ducks. For some reason, it was exactly what he'd expected Zira to wear in bed, but it was still rather surprising to see him wearing it. He took a deep breath and smiled at the artist, then carefully slipped past him and into the shop, his hands shoved in his pockets. 

"Tea sounds great, but I can make it, if you like," Crowley murmured, but Zira hurried past him to the stairs, shaking his head quickly. 

"No, I already boiled the kettle anyway, it's no trouble. Come on up." 

Crowley nodded slightly and began to follow Zira up the stairs, keeping a tight grip on the handrail just in case. When he finally got to the top, he wandered into the kitchen and found the artist facing away from him as he poured water from the kettle into the teapot. 

The loose shirt had slipped down slightly, the collar just low enough to show off part of another tattoo - a very small pair of white ink feathered wings right at the top of his back, almost on his neck. 

Crowley tilted his head to look at them a little closer, then chuckled softly. "I should call you angel from now on. Those wings are so cute." 

Zira turned, blue eyes sparkling as he laughed softly and leaned back against the counter contentedly. "Thanks. They were my first tattoo, so they're pretty sentimental."

He folded his arms over his chest and Crowley's eyes widened as he realised how many more tattoos he could see on the artist's arms - his entire forearms and just the start of his upper arms were on display, showing off continuations of his beautiful designs. 

"You like tattoos, don't you?" Zira asked with a mildly amused smile, his head tilted to the side slightly. Crowley blinked, shaking himself out of his thoughts, his innocent fantasies of running his fingers over that artistic skin, stroking and feeling each design under his fingertips. 

"Yeah, I'm too much of a wuss to get one," he mumbled, looking away quickly, as if he hadn't just been staring with his mouth open. "But I really like yours, angel." 

He froze immediately, the pet name slipping out before he could grab it, pull it back. But Zira was laughing. 

"I'm not exactly angel material," he grinned, turning away from Crowley once more to pour out the tea. "I think you have to be religious for that, for a start." 

Crowley shoved his hands in his pockets again to try and disguise his nerves as he glanced around the room. He couldn't - or wouldn't - say it out loud, but he knew that Zira was wrong. There was no way he couldn't be an angel, not with all that softness and kindness filling him up and spilling over into Crowley's world. 

Besides, when he'd first gone into the shop to see Zira, he'd been a mess, and although he was still a mess, he had somewhere to turn, some one to turn to, and comfort readily available when he asked. He figured that 'guardian angel' just about covered all of that. 

"Sugar?" 

Crowley swallowed hard, closing his eyes for just a few seconds as he tried to gather himself back together. 

"Just a spoon, please." 

Zira hummed in acknowledgement and there was a soothing clinking of metal against china before he turned, offering Crowley a mug. 

"Here you are, my dear. That lavender one you like. How's your leg, by the way? I meant to ask earlier, but I got distracted," he smiled, before turning once more to grab his own mug from the counter. 

"It's a lot better today, thanks for asking," Crowley smiled, his chest warm with the realisation that Zira had picked the tea just for him. "I thought we might go to the park for a bit, it's such a nice day. What do you think, angel?" 

There it was again.  

Crowley swore quietly in his head, but through the haze of panic, he saw the way Zira's smile widened, he saw the brightness of his eyes as he followed him to the couch. Maybe it wasn't so bad after all, not if it made the artist smile like that. 

They sat down together and Crowley sprawled out as usual, trying not to think about the distance between them. His fantasies about the artist had been getting more complex and detailed over the time they'd spent together, evolving from just a formless, shapeless wanting to imagining the smoothness of his skin, the weight of his leg pressing against Crowley's own as they sat together. 

Crowley didn't fantasise about sex. No, he fantasised about touching , about affection and closeness. He dreamed of wrapping his arm around Zira's curvy waist and feeling the artist rest his head on his shoulder; of laying in bed with him and stroking his cheek over and over until he fell asleep. 

And he was trying to push it all to the side now, once again squashing it down, shoving it all into a little box and locking the lid. He couldn't think about it, not now, not with Zira beside him. The artist might notice, and Crowley couldn't let that happen. He was too afraid of losing his friend. 

"Anthony? Have you zoned out again, my dear?" 

Crowley blinked and managed a small laugh, taking a sip from his tea to cover his embarrassment. "Yes, sorry. You were saying?" 

"I was just asking which park you had in mind," Zira smiled, tilting his head slightly as he studied his companion's face closely. Crowley all but squirmed under his gaze, struggling to focus with those tattoos out on full display in front of him, and the artist looking so touchable and yet so distant on the couch beside him. 

"I didn't, really. Just...thought some fresh air would be nice," he muttered, and Zira nodded emphatically, one of those blinding smiles spreading across his face again. 

"We could feed the ducks at St. James's Park, I used to go there a lot." 

Crowley looked down into his mug and took a slow breath, still struggling to keep his emotions in check. "Sounds good. You should...you should probably get dressed, no?" 

"I think that might be a good first step," Zira chuckled, getting up and setting his mug on the coffee table. '"Excuse me for just a few moments."  

 

By the time they reached St. James's, it was definitely past noon, the sun bright where it hung high in the sky.

As soon as they reached a bench, Crowley threw himself into it, letting out a deep sigh as the pain in his leg ebbed away to a manageable dull ache. Zira sat down next to him much more slowly, folding his hands in his lap and taking up very little space whilst Crowley's limbs dangled everywhere, spreading out over more than half the bench. 

"I told you we could have taken the underground," Zira scolded gently, and Crowley just curled his lip slightly, shaking his head. 

"No, escalators do me in. Never liked them, and something about them always makes my leg worse. I'll be alright, angel, don't worry. I just need a minute to-" he pulled up short as he realised his mistake, his mouth hanging open and trying to frame words that wouldn't come out. He let out a soft sound, halfway between a word and a grunt, then closed his mouth for a moment or two before speaking again. "Just a minute of rest. It's really not bad today."

Crowley could feel Zira's gaze on the side of his head, but when he turned to face him, all he could see in the artist's expression was mild amusement, and rather obvious, but innocent pleasure. His eyes were lit up again, brightened by the slip up that had horrified Crowley himself. 

"Good, I'm glad." 

There was a pause, a silence filled by the sounds of people talking around them and the ducks that waddled on the paths and swam in water. Then Crowley spoke, reading from his own internal script. 

"Look, you asked me that question last night, about George. Does that mean I get to ask you something?" He said quietly, glancing over at Zira and trying for a playful smile despite the nervy tightness in his chest. 

Zira just leaned his head back slightly, flashing a lazy, beaming smile. 

"If you like." 

"Well, you said you wasted time being a rich kid, what did...what did you mean by that?" Crowley asked carefully, his gaze still fixed on the artist from behind his dark glasses. 

Zira shifted slightly, cleared his throat. His fingers fumbled with the edge of his jacket, pulling it tighter around him as he looked away, searching for the right words. 

He sighed. “Well, I, uh, come from a very rich family. A very prejudiced rich family," he began slowly, picking each phrase with care, slotting them into place to build up the picture. "And I didn't want to go to university, so my parents gave me this basically useless job in the family company that allowed me to travel and paid me a ridiculous salary. It took me a good few years and some really lucky meetings with some great people for me to start to realise that my family's ideas of what's right and wrong are very...skewed." 

He sighed and stared at a duck that had wandered quite close to their bench, allowing his eyes to follow the bird as it moved away from them again slowly. "It took me another year to...well, to break away, I suppose. I essentially revealed that I had very different ideas to them, I guess I showed my true self to them, and they…" Zira trailed off briefly, swallowing hard and looking down at his hands rather suddenly. "Well, only my older sister talks to me anymore. And it's not like we talk often. I don't...I don't want to talk about what happened. But it wasn't a good situation, and I'm glad I'm out of it all now. And I'm incredibly lucky that I saw it all coming and moved all my money out of my parents' reach, it gave me enough to support me for my apprenticeship, enough to set up my business, and it covers my rent if I ever have issues. So I suppose I should thank them for that, really. Although they would have taken it all away if they could," he went on softly, glancing at Crowley and managing a small, sad smile. "I like who I am now, at the very least.” He paused, and added with sincerity, “I'm a good person." 

Crowley felt as if his mouth was full of sand, but that look in Zira's eyes, although foreign and almost completely unreadable to Crowley, was absolutely ripping him apart inside. He swallowed and leaned towards the artist ever so slightly. 

"You are a good person," he agreed firmly, his voice suddenly serious, deep and insistent. Zira turned away and smiled to himself, the sadness fading slightly as he stared out over the water. 

"Thank you. It means a lot coming from you, my dear." 

Crowley stared at him for a moment in vague shock, then took a slow, controlled breath in and leaned his head back to look up at the clouds scudding across the sky. 

"Oh, look at that!" Zira exclaimed suddenly, and Crowley shifted lazily, barely moving his head as he looked at the artist. He seemed excited about something up the path, blue eyes bright and interested. 

"Mm?" 

"Look, there's an ice cream cart, isn't it cute?" 

Crowley was silent for a moment, his mouth open slightly, then he straightened up and pulled his wallet out of his jacket. He tugged a five pound note out and held it out to Zira, who looked vaguely offended. 

The note was shaken slightly and Crowley gave a soft, mildly exasperated sigh. "Take it, and get both of us something." 

Zira looked for a moment as if he would refuse again, but instead took the note carefully and tried to give Crowley a stern look that only served to make the florist's heart pound faster in his chest. "Fine, but I'm-" 

"Yes angel, you can get the next one," Crowley chuckled softly, waving a hand to hurry him along gently. "Come on, I'm getting hungry now that food's been mentioned." 

Zira rolled his eyes fondly and stood up, folding the note up between his fingers. "What do you want?" 

"Surprise me." 

Crowley watched the artist walk away, studying the way he walked and the back of his head for a moment or two. Then he sighed and looked out across the river, his whole body feeling heavy. 

Spending time with Zira to make himself feel better was all well and good - until those moments where the conversation lapsed for a while or the artist left to make tea or buy ice cream. Those moments were worse than just spending the day alone. 

Crowley glanced towards the artist again, watching him as he talked to the ice cream vendor excitedly. Nothing lit up his face quite like a good dessert, and that always made Crowley smile. He was just so sweet, so easily excited, and it made such a difference from the cynicism and constant pettiness he was used to; it made him feel light and calm. 

Zira grinned at him as he walked back to the bench, sitting down with an ice cream in each hand - a flake and a strawberry fruit split. 

"Which one do you want?" 

"The flake, if that's alright." 

Zira beamed, handing the ice cream over and looking down at his own. "That's perfect, I get the one I wanted." 

Crowley chuckled and rolled his eyes, carefully pulling the flake out of the ice cream to eat it first. "You should have told me that to start with." 

"It all worked out, didn't it?" 

"It could so easily have gone wrong," Crowley pointed out with a smile, and Zira just grinned, shaking his head slightly. 

Silence fell once more as they ate, watching the ducks float past on the river and the tourists as they walked around the park. Despite how busy the park was, it was peaceful sitting there, soaking up the warm sun and enjoying the light breeze. Just what Crowley needed. Time with Zira to just...do nothing together. 

 

They didn't talk much after that, but Crowley sat and watched while Zira fed the ducks, a huge smile on his face as he was mobbed completely. He seemed to highly enjoy the whole experience, while Crowley was quite glad he was a few feet away from the carnage. 

Once Zira had run out of oats, they headed home, walking together in contented silence until they reached the tattoo shop. 

"How about a cup of tea?" Zira asked quickly, slipping his keys out of his pocket and flashing Crowley an encouraging smile. 

"Oh, um. No, I should probably get home," Crowley answered awkwardly, glancing at the shop's door reluctantly. Zira immediately looked crestfallen, his eyes suddenly betraying a quiet sadness. 

"Will...will I see you soon?" He murmured, sounding more like a plea than a question. 

Crowley swallowed hard and nodded quickly, stepping towards the artist awkwardly, wanting to comfort him, but not entirely sure how. 

"Yes, of course. I'll come for lunch tomorrow, like usual."

Zira smiled, but it didn't quite reach his eyes. "I'll look forward to it, my dear. Have a good afternoon."

"Yes, um. You too, angel." 

And that seemed to be comfort enough, that simple word; enough to bring Zira's proper smile back just as he turned away to unlock the shop door. Relieved, Crowley hurried off, knowing he was blushing and trying not to give the artist time to notice. 

 

The flat seemed even more empty than usual when Crowley got home, shutting the front door behind him with a quiet click. He leaned back against it, taking his sunglasses off and staring up at the ceiling. 

In comparison to that morning, he felt numb, his chest heavy as he breathed, his fingers curled into loose fists. The wanting was getting harder and harder to ignore, especially after spending such intimate moments with Zira. Because, to Crowley, silence was intimate. 

Maybe not angry silences or awkward ones, but the kind of silence where there was nothing that needed to be said. The kind of silence that settled when two people were sitting on a park bench together, simply enjoying the view. There was something so elegant and special about that, about just living in the same spot as someone for a while. 

He had never been able to get that with George, now that he thought about it. George always wanted to do something, to watch TV or talk or just fill every silence with something. It was so refreshing to have those quiet moments again, simple moments. Even if it did give Crowley too much time to think about how he wanted to hold Zira's hand and just squeeze it every now and then, to remind him he was there. 

Crowley groaned and pulled himself out of his thoughts, dragging his hands down his face slowly. Fuck. 

He glanced towards the phone and suddenly he wasn't numb anymore. No, anger flowed through him, chilly and controlled, cold enough to burn. He stalked forward, making his way into the bedroom purposefully and crouching down by the side of the bed. 

Crowley reached under and pulled out a small box, tossing it onto the bed angrily. He ripped the lid off and stared down at the contents, his rage faltering for a moment. Then he took a deep breath and reminded himself what that box represented. He needed to let go. 

He tipped the box over, spilling everything onto the bed - photos of him and George, the one tie George had left at his apartment, those tickets from the time they'd gone to see a West End show for Crowley's birthday and George had complained the whole time. 

Crowley gathered it all up and carried it into the kitchen, dumping it on the side. He took a lighter out of the drawer and picked up the first photo. 

Ash built up in the sink, fluffy and white, the last little remainders of a life Crowley wished he hadn't had. He didn't cry or curse, but his heart beat a little faster in his chest, his lips curling up into the smallest smile as the last photo and the last ticket burned to nothing. Then he took the tie and cut it up with scissors, cut it into the smallest pieces he could, thinking about Zira with each slice. 

After all, Crowley couldn't stop thinking about the night before, not now that he was alone again. He couldn't stop thinking about how he wanted to be better for the artist - he couldn't go back to George, not now, not with Zira so pleased that he wasn't with him. That mattered far more than that empty ache inside of him, and how much he hated the cold side of the bed. He couldn't fill either of those back up with George just because it was convenient, not anymore. 

He picked up every little tiny piece of the tie and dropped it into the bin, then washed out the sink and leaned back against the counter. It was all gone. It was over. 

Realistically, he knew it had been over since the day George had come into his shop, but he still hadn't quite let go. And that was dangerous. 

Crowley had always struggled to leave, it was so easy to think it was his fault, so easy to just get tired of being alone and settle for the only thing he could get. But not anymore, not with Zira beside him, not with those kind words still burned into his memory. 

He was done. And it felt fantastic.

Chapter Text

It was dark in the bedroom, but it didn't matter. 

Zira was hugging his knees, staring at nothing, the blankets tangled around his legs. He was trying to think about nothing other than the two blissful weeks he'd spent seeing Crowley every single day after their trip to the park - trying to focus on that happy, buoyant feeling he'd felt when they went to lunch or just sat and chatted and drank tea. 

It was getting harder, though. He hadn't slept all night or during the day, despite spending the whole night trying to reach that sweet release of sleep. It would have been nice to think of absolutely nothing for a while. 

He'd cancelled all his appointments, but there was one that he couldn't bring himself to postpone, he just couldn't make that phone call.  

The knocking on the door downstairs was a testament to that, yanking him back into the real world as he turned his head stiffly to look towards the bedroom door. Zira swallowed, his mouth dry and stale. He could feel the stickiness of his cheeks as he blinked, the dried tear tracks making his skin feel tight. His head ached, his eye hurt. The gash on his cheek had stopped bleeding hours ago, but it hadn't stopped throbbing yet. 

The doorbell rang, chirpy and cheerful, cutting through everything and making Zira wince. 

"Zira?" 

He buried his face in his hands, feeling as if he was being torn in two. Half of him wanted so, so badly to just bolt down the stairs and fling the door open. He wanted to see Crowley's face and hug him and just feel the comfort of his presence, but the other half of him just wanted to hide. There was no way he'd be able to handle another rejection, and the sticky shame filling his lungs was too much for him to face his friend. Not like this. 

"Zira? Is everything alright? Come down and talk to me!" 

The shouting and knocking lapsed for a while and Zira relaxed slightly, closing his eyes. Tears leaked out from under his eyelashes and spilled down his cheeks, dripping off his jaw slowly. His head was throbbing, he could hear shouting again, the voice rough and unfamiliar, feel the panic tightening his throat all over again. 

A sudden loud tap and rattle jerked him back into the present and he looked up sharply just as a second stone smacked into the glass of the open window.

"I know you're up there, Zira!" Crowley called, and the artist dropped his forehead onto his knees with a soft groan. He couldn't do this, he couldn't handle this, he felt like he was going to just explode or burn up into nothing but ash.  

"If you come down, we can go to my flat. I'll cook you anything, anything you want!" 

Zira squeezed his eyes shut as the quiet came back for just a moment or two. He felt numb, empty; everything was suppressed, shoved away in a little box with so many other things, things he never wanted to take out. Then Crowley called up again, sounding rather desperate this time, but very firm. 

"If you don't come down in the next two minutes, I'm going to leave and I'm not going to talk to you again!" 

Zira's eyes snapped open and his chest got tight, his breathing shallow and quick. He wasn't thinking rationally, not anymore, and he had no idea whether the florist's threat was genuine or not. 

It was, of course, a bluff, but Zira was panicky and exhausted, and so he launched himself out of bed, stumbling and almost smacking into the door frame before hurrying down the stairs. 

He flung the back door open without thinking and looked up into Crowley's dark glasses. 

Even with the sunglasses in the way, Zira could see the shock on the man's face; complete, utter shock. 

"Zira?" He breathed, then suddenly rushed forward, bundling the artist backwards into the shop. His hands were everywhere, on Zira's face, his sides, his back, his hair, and it was all too frantic, too much, too sudden. "Are you alright? Are you hurt anywhere else? What happened?" 

Zira's breathing got even shorter, his lungs burning as true panic took over and he started to tremble. He was feeling so fragile, his whole being made of the thinnest glass, and Crowley’s worry was just enough to push him over the edge, sending him tumbling down through endless darkness towards his inevitable shattering at the bottom of the pit. 

Crowley froze as soon as he noticed Zira’s panicked state, his eyebrows clashing together as he reached up and tugged his sunglasses off, those golden eyes wide and worried. "Hey, hey, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to overwhelm you. I just...fuck, what happened, angel?" He murmured, gently taking Zira's elbow. The artist shook his head quickly, squeezing his eyes shut as he struggled to breathe, wrestling with the horrible, empty sensation of fear and falling. 

"Okay. You're alright, angel, I promise," Crowley soothed as calmly as he could, starting to lead Zira towards the back room. "Let's go sit down, yeah? That's it," he encouraged, his arm slipping around Zira's waist as he stumbled slightly, feeling rather light headed. 

"I'm...I'm okay.." he muttered, trying to push Crowley's hands away, trying to get away. He couldn't be this close to him, not like this. The fear was still sitting low in his stomach, reminding him that rejection was imminent. It was too late now, he'd let Crowley in, and he would ask questions and Zira would have to answer them. It was all too late. 

Crowley helped him into a chair and sat down on the coffee table, leaning forward to take both of his hands. Zira glanced up into those intense eyes and found he couldn't look away; golden irises holding his gaze, mesmerising in their fierce, yet tender concern, even as Crowley leaned closer, his thumbs rubbing over the backs of the artist's hands. 

"That's it. Take deep breaths, you're doing great, angel. It's okay to be scared, but I'm going to help, alright? I'm gonna clean you up and sit with you until you feel better, I promise. I just need you to calm down a bit first." 

Zira nodded slightly, his breathing slowing as he focused on those soft eyes and that one word. Angel. It always made him feel warm and wanted, and he latched onto it, pulling it tight into his chest to comfort himself as best he could. 

"There we go," Crowley murmured, squeezing Zira's hands gently as the artist finally managed to calm down, letting go of his panic and starting to breathe normally again. "I know you're scared, but you don't need to be scared around me, alright?" He went on quietly, flashing a small, anxious smile. "I'm gonna take care of you, angel. It's alright, I promise." 

Zira managed a small nod, taking a deep breath as Crowley stood up and wandered over to one of the cupboards, pulling down the first aid kit. 

"Are you hurt anywhere else?" He asked quietly, opening the kit on the counter and tugging out the antiseptic spray and some cotton pads. 

Zira shook his head slowly, finally finding his voice, although it came out croaky and dry. His whole body still felt heavy, as if he was still in shock. Nothing seemed to be being processed by his brain; everything felt too fast around him, too difficult to follow and understand. "No, not badly. Just bruises." 

Crowley nodded and sprayed some of the antiseptic on a pad with shaking hands, then went back to sit on the coffee table. His long fingers cradled Zira's jaw, his eyes narrowing in concentration as he began to dab at the gash on his left cheek. Zira hissed in pain, squeezing his eyes shut quickly and trying to focus all his attention on the warm hand gently holding his face steady. 

Even in this situation, those little touches felt so precious, so warming, and he leaned into the sensation to drown out the pain and fear still pounding in his chest. 

"I know, I'm sorry," Crowley sighed, leaning in a little closer and starting to clean the cut above Zira's eyebrow. "I know it hurts. Can you tell me what happened?" He asked, his voice still gentle, but with an angry edge to it, anger that Zira knew wasn't directed at him, even in his disoriented state. He shook his head ever so slightly, his breath catching as his throat closed and threatened him with even more tears. 

"Did someone do this to you?" 

Zira squeezed his eyes shut, unwanted images flashing in his mind, pushing him, taunting him. More tears welled up and spilled down his cheeks as he opened his eyes quickly, blinking those memories away. 

Crowley just let out a soft breath and shook his head calmly. "It's alright, angel. Let's talk once I get this done, yeah? You're doing great." 

Zira shook his head ever so slightly, but let Crowley finish up, his touch so delicate and gentle. 

Once he'd cleaned the cuts on the artist’s cheek, forehead, and lip, Crowley carefully helped Zira up out of his chair and led him upstairs to the couch, sitting him down gently. 

Zira simply stared at nothing, the core of his being feeling empty and heavy, despair not nearly enough of a word to describe how he felt. The cushions sank next to him and he glanced at Crowley, who simply smiled nervously. 

"Come here," he murmured, opening his arms and gesturing inwards with his fingers. "Come on, you look awful." 

Zira didn't need telling twice. He fell into that inviting chest, arms wrapping around him tightly as he buried his face in Crowley's shoulder as comfortably as he could. His grip tightened on the florist, his whole being suddenly feeling so, so warm. It was thrilling and exciting and soft, and it was everything Zira needed to finally open up. 

He dug his fingertips into Crowley's back and began to sob, crying harder than he had in years as the florist gripped him tighter, pressing a soft kiss to the side of his head. He didn't say anything; nothing needed to be said. 

Zira just needed to cry, he needed to sob and shake and be held, and as Crowley's hand slid into his hair, cradling the back of his head, his cries doubled, barely letting him breathe. 

Crowley simply rested his head against Zira's lightly, and the artist pressed himself a little closer into that thin chest, his fingers now curling in the fabric of Crowley's coat. 

It took a long time for Zira to get it all out, to finally cry out every emotion he'd felt over the last twenty four hours, but eventually he did gently pull away from Crowley's embrace to bury his face in his hands instead. 

"I need to know what happened, angel," Crowley pressed softly, his hand continuing to stroke up and down Zira's back as he tried to get up the strength to talk. The fear was back again, paralyzing, telling him over and over that the florist would simply be horrified. And then he remembered those blue and pink and white roses, the hand painted ones in the shop, and dropped his hands away from his face. 

"I um…" he took a deep breath, then closed his eyes as Crowley shifted closer to him, his arm sliding around Zira's shoulders. "I had someone over last night. Just a one time thing, you know? I'm not really...I'm not proud of it, but I do it sometimes. I um. I met him on this app," he went on, his voice getting slightly strangled as he neared that terrifying admission. "He came over and we...we went upstairs and I...I didn't tell him that-" Zira cut himself off, looking up into those carefully blank golden eyes, feeling that arm around him. "I'm trans. I didn't tell him beforehand and...and he got angry." 

Crowley's blank expression faltered slightly as surprise, then anger broke through for just a moment. Zira tried to ignore this and ploughed on instead, just desperate to finish, to get it all over with so he could face what he was sure was coming next. 

"He tried to beat me up. Um. I managed to get him out of the shop, but he got a few hits in. I'm...I'm alright, just a bit...bruised." 

Zira looked down and a fresh round of tears welled up, only to be brushed away by Crowley's careful fingers as soon as they fell. "It's my fault, I should have told him. I...I should have-" 

"No, angel," Crowley interrupted softly, but firmly, his expression gravely serious. "No, this isn't your fault. I promise you. You did nothing wrong, that guy was a piece of shit, okay?" 

Zira shook his head slightly, his vision blurring briefly as more tears welled up and spilled, his lips trembling. "It's me, Anthony. I'm...no one wants me." 

Crowley all but recoiled, his eyebrows crashing in genuine confusion, his fingers curling and tightening on Zira's jaw. Then he blinked and took a slow, deep breath. 

"That's ridiculous and untrue, Zira, there's plenty of-" 

"Not even my family," Zira insisted softly, his voice broken and hoarse, his fingers curling in his lap as pain ripped through his chest. "Even they don't want me."

Crowley didn't hesitate at all, sweeping the artist back into his arms and clinging to him tightly, his hand returning to cradle the back of his head protectively. " I want you, angel. I do. I promise you, there's nothing wrong with you, and everything wrong with all the people who rejected you. You're perfect, angel. I promise ." 

Zira almost protested, almost tried to pull away, but instead sank into that already familiar chest, his face pressed into one angular shoulder, thin arms wrapped around him tightly. He allowed his own arms to curl around the florist's waist, his fingers spreading against his back. Warm and protected there in Crowley's arms, Zira found himself wishing he would never have to leave. 

Crowley took a deep breath in, resting his cheek on his companion's head once more. 

"How about we order something for dinner and watch a movie tonight? Take your mind off things. We could have a blanket and some popcorn...how does that sound?" 

"Fantastic," Zira muttered, his voice muffled by Crowley's coat, but still clearly audible. The florist laughed softly and squeezed him a little tighter, then began to pull away slowly. 

"Alright, I'll go get the menus, okay?" 

Zira nodded and let him go reluctantly, leaning forward as he walked off so he could still see him in the kitchen, knowing if he let the florist out of his sight he’d fall straight into another panic attack. He compromised with himself and just watched as Crowley rooted around in the drawer and pulled out all the takeout menus he could find. 

It was surprising, even to Zira, how well he was doing, especially compared to how he'd been before Crowley had arrived. He'd barely moved in twenty four hours, but with Crowley there, so calm and so collected, he felt...if not fine, then a fairly close approximation. Aside from one thing. 

"Alright, I've got Thai, Chin-" 

"Anthony?" Zira interrupted softly, his tone causing Crowley to look up immediately and then sit down very slowly, concern filling his gaze. 

"Yes, angel? You okay?" 

Zira nodded slightly and managed a small, wan smile. "Yeah. Um. Are you going to ask me anything? Y'know, about being trans and everything. I'm not used to people just...not asking about it." 

Crowley shrugged, his mouth hanging open for a moment before he answered, his eyes narrowed slightly in confusion. 

"I've got trans friends. Well, I used to. I don't really feel the need to ask questions, I suppose. I know what transgender is, and what it means. All the other questions I could ask seem invasive." 

Zira swallowed and gave a small nod, glancing down at his lap briefly before looking back up nervously. It felt like there was a huge weight sitting in his stomach, but he had to get all of this over with. 

"You can...you can ask me invasive ones, if you want to. I'd rather be open with you." 

Crowley stared at him for another long moment, then sighed deeply. "Zira, look. I don't need to know any of this stuff. It's your business, it's your body. I didn't even really need to know you were trans in the first place. Not to say that I don't appreciate you telling me, because I do; I know that was hard and I know you had to trust me to do it. And I respect that. But everything else has nothing to do with me, or anyone else for that matter. If you want to tell me specifically, then that's obviously fine, but I'm worried that you feel obligated to because of what just happened to you, and that's not the case. I'm your friend, angel, and I'll be your friend no matter what, because I care about you. Not your gender." 

Zira looked away sharply, one hand coming up to cover his mouth and nose as Crowley reached over and began to rub his back slowly. 

"I know that was a lot, I'm sorry, but it needed saying," he said quietly, and Zira managed another small nod. 

"Thank you," he choked out, willing himself not to start crying for the hundredth time, the sheer relief of such quiet acceptance overwhelming him. "I've never had this before." 

Crowley snorted humorlessly and offered the artist a sad smile. 

"I can tell. Come on, dinner. I'm hungry, we can have basically anything under the sun, what do you want?" 

Zira dropped his hand back into his lap and smiled at his companion wryly, warm blooming in his chest.

"You really know how to take my mind off things, don't you?"

"Food takes everyone's mind off things. What do you want?" 

"Pizza." 

"Done." 

 

Crowley picked the plates up off the coffee table and stood up unsteadily, but waved away Zira's immediate protests that he could help. 

"Shh, I'll be two seconds, start the movie and get through the adverts." 

Zira just rolled his eyes and pressed play on the random rom com they'd picked to watch as simply something light to keep them occupied. Crowley had already insisted that he was sleeping on Zira's couch for the night, so there was a folded blanket and a pillow next to the couch ready to go. Zira glanced towards the kitchen to make sure he could still see Crowley, then leaned over and grabbed the blanket, unfolding it over his lap. 

When Crowley hurried back in, just as the movie started, he slipped under the blanket beside Zira and unthinkingly wrapped an arm around his waist. The artist twitched slightly in surprise, but grinned and quickly laid his head on Crowley's shoulder before he could move away. 

"You alright?" 

Crowley's voice was soft, but made a little higher than usual by the concern creeping into his words. 

"Yeah," Zira mumbled in response, letting his eyes slip closed as the florist gently drew him into his side just a little more, that arm tightening around his waist. "I feel okay. Still a bit shaken, but okay."

"That's good. It's okay to still feel a bit off balance, it's gonna take some time. But I'm glad you're better." 

"Thank you," Zira sighed quietly, shifting his weight towards Crowley slightly and keeping his eyes closed. 

Silence fell for a while, full of warmth and softness and comfort. Zira could feel every breath Crowley took, his own breathing falling into the same rhythm as they just sat together, enjoying the moment. 

Zira's mind kept returning to the moment earlier, when Crowley had insisted he was perfect. 'I want you' had sounded quite a lot like another three word phrase; spoken so firmly, and yet with such a tender undertone. It was hard for Zira to know what to think anymore, he just felt so tired and overwhelmed and uncertain about everything. Because after that simple 'I want you' had come the word 'friend,' spoken casually and followed by an 'I care about you' that was almost as bad as the first phrase. It was all pressing on his mind, the thoughts endless and unceasing as he went back over their interactions over and over again. 

And then Crowley was moving, very gently sliding one hand up to cradle Zira's head as he carefully began to pull away. His other hand came up, landing on Zira's cheek ever so lightly, just as Crowley rested his forehead against the artist's carefully.

"It's going to be alright, angel, I promise," he murmured, just above a whisper as his thumb ran over Zira's cheekbone. "You just sleep now, that's it." 

With that, Crowley leaned back again and very slowly laid the definitely not asleep Zira down on the couch, moving his legs onto the cushions as well and pulling the thick tartan blanket over him, up to his chin. Zira felt Crowley's long fingers stroke over his hair one last time, a soft little sigh accompanying the motion. Then Zira opened his eyes just a crack and smiled to himself contentedly as he watched Crowley wander into the kitchen.

Chapter Text

Crowley woke up disoriented and confused, fumbling for his glasses as he squinted against the light. When he'd managed to get them on and straight, he propped himself up on one elbow and glanced around, finally remembering where he was. 

As it sank in, he felt a tiny smile playing at the corners of his lips, remembering the night before. After all that worry, concern, and fear, the time he’d spent with Zira just holding him and watching a movie together had been utterly blissful.  

He'd left the artist asleep and gone off to make tea, then found him awake when he walked back to the couch. They'd watched the rest of the movie in contented silence, and once it had finished, Zira had excused himself to bed.

To an outsider, it would have seemed like a quiet evening in, but to Crowley, it had been anything but. In fact, it had been thrilling

He remembered the way his heart had thundered in his chest as he embraced Zira for the first time and felt him hug back so tightly. It had made him feel so light and yet so grounded, held and holding like that. 

Crowley had dreamed of that moment for weeks, he'd thought about how soft Zira would be to hug, imagined the warmth of his body and the gentleness of his touch on long, sleepless nights. And the real thing was simply miles above, completely incomparable. 

Even just thinking about it made Crowley grin, overflowing with happiness as he stared at the wall. It had also felt like a dam had broken with that first hug, that first nervous offer - everything after that had become so easy, so much less nerve-wracking just to touch him and hold him and be close to him. 

He had felt the outsides of their legs pressed together and had held Zira's waist as he breathed and leaned into him. He'd gotten practically everything he wanted, all wrapped up in one fantastic night that had had such an awful beginning. 

Crowley sighed to himself and got up slowly, tugging at the drawstring of the pajamas Zira had given him. They were rather too big, so he pulled the string tight and tied it before wandering into the kitchen to investigate; there had to be something he could use to make a decent breakfast. 

After a few minutes of rummaging, he managed to scrape together enough ingredients to make a mostly normal pancake batter, so he heated up a pan and began to cook, only having time to finish one before Zira emerged from the bedroom, bleary-eyed. The swelling around his eye had gone down a lot, but his hair was sticking up in all directions and there were pillow crease lines still fading on his cheek. He rubbed the side of his face sleepily as he walked up to the counter, then flashed Crowley one of his signature smiles. 

"The smell of food woke me up," he chuckled, and Crowley grinned, handing him the plate with the first pancake on it and trying not to let his overwhelming relief at seeing that genuine, beaming smile show too much. Crowley could already tell Zira was feeling much better, and it was making his whole body feel light, his mind at ease. 

"I figured. How are you feeling this morning?" 

Zira nodded, wandering past Crowley to get the bottle of lemon juice out of the fridge, his movements still a little sluggish. 

"A lot better. My eye doesn't hurt so much, and I slept well knowing you were here. It's hard to feel safe on my own after things like that, y'know?" 

Crowley didn't say anything for a moment, staring down at the pan as Zira covered his pancake in sugar and lemon juice and rolled it up delicately, his technique careful and precise. Then Crowley swallowed and lifted his head slowly, trying to ignore the thoughts whispering at the back of his mind.  

"No, I can imagine. I can stay again if-" 

"No, no. After all, it's not good for your leg," Zira answered quickly, shaking his head as he cut his pancake up into bite sized pieces, apparently absorbed in his food. "I'll be fine."

"Okay. Well, you know you can always call me if you need," Crowley pointed out quietly, flipping the pancake in the pan and stealing a worried glance at his companion. "Why don't you give me this guy's details, and I'll talk to someone at the police station for you? You won't necessarily have to do a report, but they can keep an eye on him for you," he added slowly, already feeling a flash of guilt at the lie, but certain it would be best. He could handle this himself.

Zira's face fell, but he nodded slightly and stabbed a piece of pancake with his fork. "I can write it down." 

"That would be really helpful," Crowley smiled, trying to keep his tone encouraging. "And then you'll never have to think about him again, I promise." 

He tipped another finished pancake out of the pan and put the plate up on the bar next to Zira's. "There you go. Look, I have to work today, angel, I have another event I need to get ready for, but how about I come back tonight with something to eat? We could watch another movie or just eat, I don't mind, but it would be nice to come back and make sure you're okay," he suggested, trying not to sound too worried while still coming off as sincere and caring.

"I'd like that," Zira smiled, relaxing again as he started on the second pancake eagerly. "I like having you here." 

Crowley nodded slightly, his chest warm and a soft smile spreading across his face slowly. "Good. I like being here." 

 

Crowley spent most of the day working, his hands on autopilot while his brain kept returning to that morning, to the image of Zira's smile as he ate pancakes, and the little wave he'd given Crowley when he left. Every time he thought about it and compared the smiling Zira to the panicking, trembling wreck from the night before, he felt a flash of rage. The knowledge sat deep inside him, heavy in his stomach; someone had hurt his Zira. The man who beamed over pancakes, the man who always helped him up every step without hesitation, the man who was always smiling at him in that insanely bright, empathetic way. Something had gone very wrong with the world, and someone who deserved nothing but the best had gotten hurt. And Crowley couldn’t let that slide. 

He kept his phone close to him with the ringer on all day, just in case Zira might need him, but it never rang. He wasn’t sure how he felt about this; he couldn’t really be sure whether it was a good thing or not, but he forced himself to put it aside in order to work. 

Once he'd finally finished the arrangement he'd spent most of the day on, he loaded it into the Bentley and headed off, dropping off the flowers first. 

Then he smoothed the little piece of paper out on his lap, scanning over it once more. Zira had written down all the details he could remember, and after some extensive research, Crowley had scribbled a name and address at the bottom. He tossed the paper into the glovebox and eased the Bentley out into the road, grinning to himself. 

Rage was flooding in once again, pouring through him, icy cold and heavy as lead, and this time it wasn’t going away on its own. He clenched his jaw and tightened his grip on the steering wheel, his foot heavy on the accelerator. He was furious. 

 

It didn't take him long to find what he was looking for. He parked in the back, got out of his car and smoothed down his coat. Then he walked around to stand outside the building, his arms folded over his chest and his back leaning against the wall. He settled down to wait, a skill he'd developed to an art over his many years in both the army and the police. It wasn't easy, to turn one's brain off so completely whilst still looking out for those little clues, the small sounds that would indicate the wait was over. Crowley was, although he'd never admit it, slightly out of practice, and yet, when the door swung open and he heard that voice, a voice he knew now from some fairly heavy social media stalking, his brain immediately shifted back into gear and pushed him off the wall. 

Crowley stepped forward slightly, smiling to himself grimly as the man walked towards him a little unsteadily, away from his friends and down the reeking side alley. Crowley wrinkled his nose, but followed him discreetly, catching up with the man just as he was zipping his practically painted-on jeans back up. 

The man turned and was met by Crowley's hands on his shoulders and his knee in a rather soft place. He folded up with a pathetic sound and Crowley followed him as he went down, crouching beside the man and patting his shoulder companionably. 

"Hello, Tom," he grinned, his voice dangerously friendly. "I think you might know a friend of mine. He owns a little tattoo shop only a few streets from here, and-" 

"Yeah, the fucking-" 

"Did I say you could speak?" Crowley snarled, and the man's lip curled, rage flaring up, but the palm of Crowley's hand was already en route to his cheek, and the harsh slap was enough to surprise him into silence. 

"I would love nothing more than to beat you into a bloody pulp, Mr. Hansen, but that would upset Zira, he's a little bit too forgiving, so I'm just going to settle with a simple threat. If you go near him again, I will find you, and I will hurt you. Do you understand?" 

Crowley's voice had dropped to a hiss now, sharp and dripping with rage and disgust. Tom, even through the haze of pain and alcohol, must have seen something in that expression, behind those dark glasses, because as Crowley rose, Tom remained on the ground, his hands coming up instinctively to cover his head. 

That something, the part of Crowley's expression that only very few people had seen, was something that had been molded and shaped in Crowley's younger years and had become a part of him he kept under strict lock and key. 

Well, up until now, Crowley reflected as he turned in silence and walked away. He shoved his hands in his pockets and smiled to himself, the satisfied smile of a job well done.

 

Not long later, the tattoo shop door opened and Crowley grinned at Zira, a tired, but rather pleased grin. "Hey, angel."

Zira just raised an eyebrow, stepping back from the door to give him room to enter. 

"You look cheerful. What happened?" He asked suspiciously, and Crowley simply slipped past him, shoving his hands in his pockets. 

"Nothing, I just had a good day working," he lied, shrugging and limping towards the back room slowly, wanting nothing more than a cup of tea with his friend. Zira hurried to catch up with him, one hand coming to rest on his back. 

"You look exhausted, Anthony. Do you think you should go home, my dear?" He murmured, gently pulling Crowley back as he turned to face the artist, suddenly concerned. 

"I'm fine, are you okay? You don't want me gone for some reason, do you?" He asked quickly, insecurity and exhaustion driving those words out of his mouth and into the air. 

Zira blinked, slightly taken aback, then sighed and reached up to brush a lock of hair behind Crowley's ear. "No, of course not. I'd love for you to stay, but it's nearly ten, Anthony, and you're limping. I think you should go home and rest. Maybe we can go out for lunch again tomorrow or something." 

Crowley hesitated for a few moments, then gave a quick nod and a small smile, trying to hide his disappointment. He knew the artist was right. "Yeah. That sounds good. I'd um. I'd like that. I'll leave you to sleep, then."

Zira nodded and wrapped an arm around his waist, gently supporting him all the way to the door without a word. Crowley rested one hand on the handle, then turned suddenly.

He wasn't thinking, not anymore. His brain had scuttled off to some corner somewhere so it didn’t have to watch what was coming next. 

His hands came up before he could stop them, cradling those soft cheeks, his eyes fixed on bright blue. Zira looked rather startled, but this didn't register with Crowley quite yet. He was too busy pulling the artist closer, long fingers pressing into that smooth skin, his head tilting. 

Then his lips brushed Zira's, uncertain, trembling, before connecting properly. Something burst in Crowley's chest, warmth flooding through him, making his entire body feel full with energy, his veins hot, and yet- 

Zira wasn't kissing back.  

He was standing stock still, his body frozen. Crowley jerked himself away, twisted the door handle, and was gone. 

 

The Bentley roared as he floored it down the road, grinding the heels of his hands against the steering wheel. His brain was back from its corner and was shouting at him, the CD player was blasting Queen at something near full volume, and his whole world was falling apart. 

He'd known there was no way it could happen, he'd known he was picking up those little signals wrong. Zira only cared about him as a friend, that much was obvious now, and Crowley was cursing himself for thinking, hoping it could be anything more.

After the thrill of the evening and the quiet contentment of the morning, this was simply too much. 

He parked underneath his apartment with a screech of tyres and threw himself out of the car, stomping all the way up the stairs and glaring at the floor while the elevator took him up. Slamming his apartment door behind him, he stalked into the plant room, his jaw set and his fingers curled into fists. 

Crowley could barely breathe. His chest and throat were tight, torn between rage and despair, unsure whether to scream or cry or both. He leaned over one of the plants and his nostrils flared in rage, his jaw unclenching just long enough for him to speak. 

"Is that a dead leaf?" He hissed, his voice low and threatening, his hands trembling by his sides. "You know I hate that. That's not acceptable." 

Crowley leaned down and ripped the dead leaf away, crushing it between his fingers with a deep growl. He spent the next ten minutes berating his plants until he ran out of insults, then collapsed on the couch to stare at the ceiling. 

He didn't know what to do anymore, how to face Zira knowing what had happened. He knew he wouldn't be able to stay away for long, but he also knew he couldn't talk about what had just happened. Ever. 

Pressure began to build up behind one of his eyes, threatening a headache, so he ripped his glasses off and tossed them aside to rub his eye with his fingertips. Everything was off, everything felt wrong. He felt sick to his stomach, anxiety and anger and anguish all mixing together into nausea. He'd have to just...pretend it hadn't happened. If Zira tried to mention it, he'd just have to change the subject. That was clearly the only way this was going to work. 

Defeated, Crowley dragged his hands down his face and then got up abruptly, slouching into his bedroom to sleep off the day.

Chapter Text

Zira tried to grab Crowley’s coat, but the door was already closing, snapping shut with an accusing click. He grabbed at the handle, fumbling as he tried to open it and run out; run to him. But just as he wrenched the door open, he heard the Bentley roaring down the street, tyres squealing as it turned the corner. 

He let go of the handle, allowing the door to fall closed again, then leaned back against it, slowly sliding down to sit on the floor and hug his knees. 

Zira stared at nothing, his heart heavy, his whole body numb. He'd done it all wrong. 

It had just been such a shock to finally get what he wanted, so suddenly, so casually. He'd had it in his head somehow that it would happen in a big way, that they would have a story about their first kiss, not some quick peck that practically happened by accident, and it had frozen him to the spot. 

Oh, it had felt good, though. 

It had felt insanely good to be kissed so delicately, so nervously, so carefully. To be kissed by someone who felt for him, who cared about him; rather than some one night stand who wanted only one thing. No, this had been much more real, and he could still feel Crowley's trembling lips against his, soft and gentle and so, so sweet. 

Zira reached up slowly and ran a fingertip over his bottom lip, his eyes slipping closed. He couldn't stop himself from imagining how many more of those amazing kisses he could get, how many more first moves Crowley might be capable of. 

Then he opened his eyes again, sending a round of tears cascading down his cheeks as his breath caught. He'd hurt Crowley. He'd rejected him, completely by accident, and he wasn't sure how to fix it. He didn't think calling him would be appropriate, somehow - perhaps there was something bigger he could do. Not too big, but big enough to get his point across completely and without question. 

He had a feeling Crowley would try to pretend it hadn't happened, to brush it off and save himself the embarrassment, but Zira couldn't let that happen. Not after months of wanting and being too shy, too nervous, too absolutely certain he was unlovable to make the first move. 

Zira wiped the tears off his cheeks and smiled to himself, leaning his head back against the door and closing his eyes once more. He had a plan, at last. He knew what he had to do, and he knew it would be perfect. 

 

Crowley stared across the street moodily, then glanced at his watch. It was nearly lunchtime - just a few more minutes, and he could close and walk over there and confront himself; confront his mistakes and his anxieties, and force himself to get over it all. There was no way he was letting go of Zira as his friend - he wouldn’t know what to do with himself if he had to - so he had to do something. Even if it was just to show Zira that nothing had changed, that they could recover from his mistake and move on. 

Crowley glanced down at the desk in front of him, then heaved a sigh and walked out from behind the counter. He scooped his keys up on the way, flipping the sign and locking the door behind him before heading off across the street, the walk suddenly seeming awfully long. 

The bell over the artist’s door jingled as he pushed it open, slipping inside and glancing around anxiously. Zira was talking to a customer, but as soon as he noticed Crowley, he hurried over, nerves sitting heavy in his stomach, his heart fluttering in his chest. He didn't stop close to Crowley, he didn't leave their usual personal space, instead walking straight into him and slipping an arm around his waist. Crowley barely had time to be surprised before Zira was kissing him, one hand running over the florist's cheek, brushing his skin. Zira pulled away after only a few seconds, knowing that if he didn't stop himself, he could stand there all day, one arm around Crowley, their lips locked together. 

"It's good to see you, my dear," Zira murmured to the stunned and still motionless Crowley, then turned and walked away to finish talking to the customer. Crowley simply stood for a moment, shocked and shaking ever so slightly as he struggled to process what had just happened. 

He swallowed and suddenly the realisation slapped him in the face - Zira had kissed him, in front of a customer.  

The artist had walked straight up to him and kissed him as if they did it all the time. As if they'd been together for years and had had time to get used to one another, to kissing one another, to being together. And it had felt so easy, so natural, even with Crowley so shocked he couldn't move. 

He glanced at Zira, still apparently deep in conversation with the customer, then suddenly shook himself and hurried to the back room, grabbing at the door frame on the way in to steady himself before throwing himself into a chair. He buried his face in his hands and groaned softly, just as Zira slipped in, his footsteps quiet on the rug. 

He saw Crowley sitting there, trembling, and gave a soft little sigh. 

"Anthony? My dear, come upstairs with me," Zira murmured, walking over to him and crouching down slowly, one hand on a skinny knee. "It's more comfortable, and we can talk." 

Crowley didn't move, and Zira's heart suddenly sank, his mind filling up with unwanted thoughts, accusing him of misjudgment, of upsetting his Anthony.  

"I didn't...I didn't mean to upset you, my dear. I, um...are you okay?" 

Crowley swallowed again, forcing himself to lift his head and look at the artist, his trembling hands dropping into his lap. "Just a bit shocked," he managed, his voice just a little hoarse. "I thought...after last night, I thought you didn't want me." 

Zira smiled sadly and reached up, stroking Crowley's hair back from his face gently. "No, my dear, I was just as surprised as you are now, that's all. And you left before I could explain, so I thought I'd try to make it up to you today."

Crowley cracked a small smile, relief washing away the confusion and embarrassment and leaving only tenderness and a quiet little wanting. "You certainly did. And I'm...I'd like to come upstairs, I think I need something to drink." 

Zira chuckled and stood up, offering him a hand and smiling brightly when he took it. "You look a bit stiff today, everything alright?" 

Crowley nodded, his heart leaping into his mouth as he rose, and Zira immediately slid an arm around him, pressing their sides together so firmly. 

They managed to make it upstairs without too much trouble, and Zira gently helped Crowley sit down, then leaned down and kissed his cheek softly. 

"Do you need anything, my dear?" He murmured, gently pulling Crowley's glasses off as he looked up, golden eyes a little surprised, but mostly just full of some tender emotion Zira couldn’t quite place.

"No, I'm okay. Um, well, you would be nice," Crowley stuttered softly, nerves making it hard to get the words out as Zira smiled down at him. 

"I'm coming, I promise. I'm just going to pull the curtains across, make it more comfortable in here for you," Zira answered quietly, and Crowley almost grabbed at him as he walked off, heading for the window. Zira noticed, but finished what he was doing and closed the curtains before heading back to sit down beside him. 

As soon as the artist had sat down, Crowley lunged forward, and Zira giggled against his lips as they kissed, a little sloppy, but so, so sweet. Crowley slid his hands over Zira's cheeks and into his hair, into those soft, fluffy curls, while Zira wrapped his arms around Crowley, trying to draw him ever closer. 

Neither of them could feel, hear, sense anything else other than their lips together, their hands on each other's skin. They both felt hot and shaky and nervous, and yet perfectly placed, exactly where they needed to be, where they were always supposed to be. The world could have been falling apart around them and they wouldn't have noticed, as long as they were still there, holding one another, kissing and kissing and almost in tears with the simple realisation that they never had to stop.  

They were finally there, at a finish line of sorts, but also a starting line. And there was no reason to back down, no reason to pull away, no reason to stop. They could touch whenever they wanted to, as long as they wanted to, without worrying about whether the other would notice. And they could finally kiss, all day, all night, wrapped up in one another and their deep, fond affection. 

This realisation, this powerful epiphany, spurred Zira on to gently deepen the kiss, his fingers curling, his wanting bursting from his chest, but Crowley broke away carefully, affected rather differently. He was overwhelmed, he was scared, so he turned to the nearest source of comfort - and pressed himself into the artist's arms, his whole body rejoicing as Zira let out a happy little sigh and hugged him as tight as he could. 

Crowley buried his face in the crook of his angel's neck and squeezed his eyes shut, willing himself not to start crying at the sheer tenderness of it all. He'd never been embraced so gently, so eagerly, at least not without some kind of motive. But Zira was just hugging him so tightly, holding him and stroking his back, simply because he wanted to, and that thought almost broke Crowley. 

"It's alright," Zira murmured as he felt the florist tense in his arms, then press himself even closer. "I've got you, my dear. Are you okay?" 

Crowley shook his head ever so slightly, and Zira let out a quiet sigh, one hand sliding up into that long, flame red hair. It was just as soft as he'd imagined, silky between his fingers, but he forced himself to focus and continue to just hold him. 

"Do you want to talk about it?" 

Another slight shake. 

"Are you just a bit overwhelmed?" 

This time, there was an almost imperceptible nod, and Zira pressed a kiss to the side of Crowley's head. 

"That's okay, my dear. Just close your eyes and keep breathing, we can just sit here and take our time. No rush." 

Crowley nodded again and allowed himself to relax into that soft, welcoming chest, the slight extra padding making Zira so comfortable to hug, so warm and easy to fall against. 

Silence fell for a while, another of their comfortable, intimate silences, until Zira shifted slightly and gently began to pry Crowley off him. "I'm sorry, my dear, but my back is getting stiff, I just need to move around a bit." 

Crowley released him immediately and turned away slightly, his cheeks bright red as he glared at the carpet. He wasn't good at this. 

Affection was something Crowley gave out in spades. He found it easy to shower people in gifts and kind acts and attention, but receiving it was a whole different matter. He wasn't used to tenderness and gentle hugs and soft kisses. He wasn't used to people wanting to be affectionate, touching him so innocently. And no one had ever made him feel quite so cared for as he felt in Zira's embrace. 

Crowley jumped when Zira reached over, stroking his hair ever so slowly. 

"You look upset, Anthony, have I done something wrong?" Zira asked softly, the nerves returning with a vengeance, his heart heavy and pounding in his chest. Crowley shook his head quickly, taking a huge, gulping breath in. 

"I'm not...not used to this. Affection like this, I...I'm sorry." 

Zira relaxed somewhat and leaned forward, gently taking one of Crowley's hands. "Hey. Look at me, that's it. What do you need? How can I help you right now?" 

Crowley's golden eyes widened in surprise, and he managed an ever so small smile, despite everything, despite his heart racing in his chest. "I think I just need to talk for a bit. Less touching, just for today." 

Zira nodded quickly, glancing down at their linked hands. "Is this still alright?" 

"Yeah, I can...I can do hands," Crowley smiled, his shoulders dropping as he realised how serious Zira was about helping him. "And I want to get used to everything else, so maybe just...ask before doing it? I do enjoy it, it just gets too much all at once." 

They both took a breath, and Zira gently squeezed Crowley's hand, causing him to look up into those dazzling blue eyes. 

"Can I ask you something?" Zira murmured, and Crowley just nodded in response, looking down at his lap again to avoid getting overwhelmed by the brightness of that caring gaze. "How long have you...well, known you wanted to...be with me?" 

"Since the first time we met, just after you opened your shop," Crowley answered promptly, and Zira's expression melted into a soft, joyous little smile. 

"Really? Oh, I had a crush on you since you brought me that pasta. You were just so...nervous and sweet," Zira chuckled, stroking his thumb over the florist's knuckles. "How did it take us this long?" 

Crowley grinned and leaned back against the sofa cushions, golden eyes blinking slowly. "We're both idiots," he said quietly, and Zira nodded, looking down at their hands once more. 

"It just...feels right, though. At least to me. Like we fit together properly." 

Crowley's cheeks flushed immediately, but he gave a small nod. "Yeah, it does. It really does." 

Zira smiled to himself and closed his eyes for a moment, allowing himself to feel that burning joy, spreading through his chest and warming his entire body. Then he turned and hesitated. 

"Can I kiss you?" 

Crowley looked startled, his golden eyes wide, but he gave a small, nervous nod, and Zira dove forward, smiling against his lips before kissing him so softly, so slowly. Crowley matched the pace carefully, feeling Zira's hand gently cradling his cheek, feeling the artist's body move closer to his. It was all getting too much again, but he took a slow breath and told himself silently that Zira deserved this, and everything else he wanted. He had to calm down to give the artist everything; he wanted to give him everything. 

Zira broke away after another moment or two, his eyes even brighter than usual as he grinned down at Crowley. Then he leaned forward and pressed their foreheads together, his eyes slipping closed contentedly. "I've been waiting for this for so long." 

"Me too," Crowley managed, his hand still in Zira's, his chest rising and falling evenly. 

Zira just smiled to himself, running a hand over one thin shoulder and then tilting his head to kiss the florist's cheek. "Let's get some lunch."

Crowley laughed, suddenly feeling much more comfortable as the artist pulled away, his cheeks dusted with pink. 

"What? I'm hungry," he giggled, and Crowley's laugh faded as he just stared, wondering how one person could contain that much cuteness. Then he grinned slowly and reached up, stroking his knuckles over Zira's cheek ever so lightly. 

"You just make me laugh, angel. What do you want to eat?" 

Zira leaned into the touch slightly, his eyes closing up for a moment as he thought. "How about we just walk to the shop and get sandwiches? We don't have much lunch break left," he suggested softly, and Crowley pulled a face, leaning his head back against the sofa. 

"I don't really want to walk anywhere." 

"Then I'll get you something," Zira smiled, getting up off the sofa and letting his hand slide from Crowley's. "What do you want? I'll-" 

Crowley opened his mouth to protest, but Zira just spoke louder until he shut it again. 

"I'll get you whatever you want. And don't be like that, it's a five minute walk, you cook for me often enough that I can go to the shop and buy you a sandwich." 

"Fine. Surprise me, but not egg," Crowley answered, pretending to be annoyed, but unable to hide the slight smile playing at his lips. 

"Not egg. Alright, I'll be back in ten minutes or so," Zira smiled, leaning down to kiss his cheek one last time before turning and heading off down the stairs. 

Crowley closed his eyes and heaved a deep breath, then leaned forward and began to massage his leg lightly. It wasn't the worst it had been in a while, but he could feel it throbbing even when he was occupied with Zira's soft kisses, and he didn't want it to get any worse. 

He still had to make it through the rest of the day and then home.

Crowley sighed and leaned his head back, feeling his hair brush his cheeks as it fell back. He smiled to himself ever so slightly, the feeling of Zira’s hands on his skin returning, feather-light imitations, memories of those gentle touches. He’d finally gotten what he wanted, and despite how overwhelmed he’d felt in the moment, remembering it all now just made him feel so calm and so wanted, and he couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt that way. 

 

When Zira arrived back with a shopping bag, he found Crowley stretched out on the sofa, his leg propped up on the back, the other dangling over the arm. He grinned at the artist sleepily, one arm tucked behind his head, the other hanging off the edge of the sofa. "Hey." 

Zira chuckled and rolled his eyes, setting the bag down on the table carefully while trying not to let his gaze run over that prone body, just in case it became too obvious. "Are you comfortable there?" 

"Yes, very," Crowley answered simply, but sat up slowly, using his hands to help move his sore thigh. "I was thinking about something." 

"That's not uncommon," Zira grinned, starting to unpack the bag carefully, setting everything out on the coffee table and glancing at Crowley. "Are you going to tell me what it is?" 

The florist heaved a sigh and leaned forward, watching Zira's hands move as he folded up the bag neatly. "Well, we...we've kind of already done the um...dating part, right?" 

Zira looked up at him sharply, confusion apparent in his expression, and slight excitement welling up in his chest. "Yeah, I suppose we have. We've been out for dinner quite a few times." 

Crowley nodded, looking down at his jeans and picking at a loose thread to hide his nerves. "I just thought maybe we should label this. And um...I'd really like it if we could spend a night together soon. I miss sleeping beside someone." 

Zira stared at him for a moment, his heart breaking just a little at the sound of Crowley's almost despairing tone. "Oh...yes, if you like," he murmured softly, moving to sit down next to the florist and running a hand down his back slowly. "I'd like that. Are you...you sound upset, is everything alright?" 

Crowley nodded slightly, taking a deep breath and trying to dispel the familiar dull ache in his stomach. "I guess...I think things with my ex kind of messed me up a bit. And um...I just need...I need something more . More than what we have had. I'm not explaining myself very well, but.." Crowley trailed off with a deep sigh and Zira leaned over, brushing his hair away from his face gently. 

"No, I think I understand. You're still feeling quite lonely, is that right? Well, I don't mind, my dear. I'm happy to move this relationship as fast or slow as you want, and I think you have a point about us having done the dating part. Because I think we were both thinking of each other as romantic interests rather than friends...it's the same sort of thinking. But I do think we need just a little bit more time. Maybe a couple more days." 

Crowley hesitated for a second, his cheeks bright red now, his fingers curling in his lap. "I don't...I don't mean um, sex, I-I just mean sleeping," he managed, having to force each word out through his nervousness and the dull ache in his chest. Zira blinked, then smiled slightly and leaned into his side slowly, hugging his arm. 

"Alright, my dear. I still think maybe we should give it a couple more days. But that sounds fantastic, just spending a night together, you're right." 

Crowley smiled ever so slightly, but took a slow breath, trying not to get too excited or nervous. "Yeah. How about a date? I know we just agreed we've done it before, but we could do it again. Tomorrow night, you can pick where we go as usual, and we can come back here after and just...cuddle." 

Zira grinned, his eyes slipping closed at the blissful thought of spending an entire evening with Crowley in his arms, serving as a comfortable pillow and a vendor of occasional soft kisses. "That sounds perfect, Anthony. It's a date. I'll come over to yours as soon as I finish my appointments tomorrow, and we can go then." 

Crowley leaned his head against the artist's and let out a soft sigh. "Good. Now we should probably eat this food instead of just staring at it." 

"You're probably right there." 

 

When their lunch break was over, they stood by the door, and Crowley stared out across the street, his body language reluctant, his hands shoved into his pockets. 

"I suppose I'd better get back to it." 

"Yeah, you probably should," Zira murmured, but took a step closer and leaned up just enough to kiss the florist's jaw lightly. Crowley cracked a smile immediately, his eyes hidden by his glasses, but the rest of his expression soft enough to make up for it. 

"Can I have a goodbye kiss?" He asked slowly, his voice hesitant, uncertain about asking for anything, let alone a kiss. 

Zira hesitated and Crowley’s heart immediately sank into his stomach. He turned his head away sharply, his jaw tight. "Forget it, it's fine. I shouldn't...I shouldn't ask for things," Crowley muttered, glaring down at the wooden flooring and kicking at it with his toe. "Fuck, I'll just-" 

"You can ask me for anything, darling," Zira soothed suddenly, his voice not loud or sharp or particularly attention-seeking, and yet each word hit Crowley around the face like a nice hard slap; forcing him to listen. He turned again, slowly this time, and Zira flashed him a sad little smile, one warm, thick-fingered hand coming up to cradle Crowley's angular cheek. 

"Anything, Anthony. Please ask me when you want things. That's the only way I know what you need, darling, and you're allowed to need, to want things. I promise you," he went on, still in that same soft, almost broken tone. Crowley couldn't help but nod, his Adam's apple bobbing as he swallowed. 

And then Zira was smiling and kissing him, those lips so incredibly soft, so inviting, those hands so warm on his cheeks. They leaned into one another, sharing that warmth, sharing that tender, yet fierce feeling. 

Just for a moment, and then Zira was pulling away and gently pushing Crowley's chest, his face split in a wide, immeasurably joyful grin. "Go! You'll never leave at this rate!" 

"Don't want to," Crowley muttered without thinking, but Zira was already ushering him out, laughing and squeezing his arm one last time.

"Go on, you soppy thing! I'll see you tomorrow, darling!" 

Darling.  

Crowley almost tripped over the curb, but righted himself and did an awkward half run across the road to avoid getting hit. When he looked back behind him, Zira was just closing the door, so he took a slow breath and slipped his keys out of his pocket. 

Darling. 

His fingers fumbled, but he managed to get his own door open with only minimal swearing, then hurried inside and dumped the keys on the counter before he allowed himself to react to darling. 

It had sounded so tender, so matter of fact, so easy, just like my dear had been. 

It should have made him feel sick, it should have made him feel panicked and scared. 

After all, Crowley had lost count of how many times George had used the word against him. Darling as a guilt trip, a manipulation, a sarcastic exclamation to remind Crowley just how ridiculous he was for wanting to be loved. 

And yet, the tone was so completely different, so familiar, so gentle. Zira had taken a word that made Crowley tense up, a word that made him want to run, and had so easily, casually turned it into a word that made his entire body feel warm. He thought about it again, replayed the word in his head, just the way Zira had said it. 

Darling. Crowley smiled to himself, his hand brushing the bloom of an orchid as he walked around behind the front counter. Tomorrow was going to be perfect.

Chapter Text

Crowley heard the bell go from the back room, and he could have sworn that it tinkled out a different note when Zira walked in. Or maybe he just had a knack for it now; for recognising the artist even when he couldn't see him. 

"Anthony? Are you ready?" 

That voice, ever so soft, ever so warm, washed over him, and he closed his eyes as he remembered that first lunch, that first time he'd just sat and listened to the artist talk. He smiled to himself, and stepped out into the shop. 

Zira turned away from admiring the little star cactus he'd gifted Crowley ages ago, and his eyes widened as they fell on the florist. 

Crowley had made somewhat of an effort to look smarter, even sporting a silky red button up under his usual black jacket. Granted, the red was so dark, so rich it was almost black, and the top three buttons were undone, but it went with the waistcoat nicely. 

Zira's eyes sparkled as he narrowed them, then his smile beamed again, bright enough to make the florist squint behind his glasses. 

"Is that a women's waistcoat?" 

Crowley hesitated for a moment, his mouth hanging open, then moved his head slightly, making a noncommittal, nervous noise. Zira just grinned and stepped forward, pulling him down into a very brief, but tender kiss. 

"You look fantastic, darling, I was just curious. It seems like it's more of a women's cut." 

Crowley swallowed and nodded slightly, rather distracted by the way Zira was running a hand down his chest. 

"Uh, yeah. I um, I wear a lot of women's clothes, they just...fit nicely. I uh. George didn't like-" 

"Hush, George can go fuck himself," Zira interrupted with a confident little smile. "I'm your partner now, and I'd like to say that you look fantastic and sexy and stylish. How about we go eat?" 

Crowley closed his eyes for a moment, mentally rewinding to that soft kiss so he could process everything once more, just to check he'd gotten all the details right. Details like the way Zira's lips had felt so hot on his, fitting perfectly, or the fact that he'd heard Zira swear for...possibly the first time ever? Partner. 

That definitely sent a shiver down his spine, as did fantastic and sexy and stylish. Crowley took a breath to collect himself, then smiled and opened his eyes again to see Zira still standing there patiently, watching him with unconcerned curiosity. 

"Everything okay, darling?" 

"Yeah, just um...needed a second. But I'm alright now, let's go." 

"Are you sure?" Zira pressed gently, and Crowley gave a soft little sigh, looking down at the artist for a moment. 

"Yeah," he said at last, smiling ever so slightly. "I'm just still getting a little overwhelmed at things, but I'm handling it. I wanna take you out, though, come on." 

 

Crowley looked up at the pub’s facade and smiled to himself as Zira walked around the car to stand next to him. 

"I thought you'd like it. There's this really comfortable table in the back, I had them reserve it for us. It'll be private and dark and the food is great," he announced, his words rushed slightly, as if still nervous. 

"It sounds perfect, angel," Crowley answered simply, sliding his hand into Zira's and gently starting to pull him forward. "You clearly know what I like." 

A few minutes later, they were sat in a corner, just like Zira had described, on large, plush chairs, tucked right out of the way, and dim enough for Crowley to slip his glasses off, setting them on the table beside him. 

"So. Our first date," Crowley began quietly, really putting his teeth and tongue into the last word, enunciating it far harder than was necessary. 

Zira just nodded and looked down into his glass of water, then swallowed and pushed the glass aside slightly. "I'm nervous," he said bluntly, finally raising his gaze back up to those soft golden eyes, so offensively, beautifully lit up by the candle sitting on the table between them. "And I have no idea why." 

Crowley just shrugged and leaned his elbows on the table before resting his chin in his hands. "That's alright. Me too." 

"I don't know what to talk about or where to put my hands or where to look," Zira mumbled, and Crowley reached across the table, gently taking one of his hands in his. 

"That's one hand sorted. Look at me, if you like. And...we can talk about whatever you like, angel. Anything. How are you feeling? For example. Your eye looks better, does it still hurt?" 

Zira sighed and nodded slightly, his gaze dropping back down to the table. 

"It's better, yeah. I'm...I'm sorry." 

"No, don't be sorry," Crowley soothed quickly, squeezing his hand. "Come sit over here. If you move your chair around, you can sort of sit next to me, would that be easier?" 

"Yeah, um. Okay," Zira mumbled, his cheeks now on fire as he got up and moved his chair around the table. He sat back down hurriedly and Crowley leaned over, rubbing his shoulder gently. 

"At least there's one upside to you being so nervous," he said softly, a slight smile playing at the corners of his lips as Zira looked up at him questioningly. "It means I'm a lot less nervous. 'Cause I'm trying to help you." 

Zira rolled his eyes, but he was smiling now, so Crowley leaned over the corner of the table and pulled him into a soft kiss. The artist stiffened in surprise, but relaxed almost immediately, his fingers twisting in Crowley's waistcoat, holding on tightly as the florist cupped his cheek and pulled him deeper.

Crowley could feel Zira calming down, his touch less desperate, a slight smile twitching at his lips, and it made his whole body feel light and full of energy, knowing that his partner was happy because of him. After a moment or so, he broke away, lingering slightly, not moving back into his seat quite yet, letting those blue eyes flutter open and fix on his first. He heard Zira's breath catch in his throat, saw his eyes widen slightly, and, last of all, noticed his bright smile as it spread across his face. 

"Better?"  

"Much," Zira murmured, not yet tearing his gaze away from that mesmerising gold. "Anthony?"

"Yes, angel?" Crowley smiled, sitting back in his seat at last, but still leaning over the table, his chin in his hand as he watched the artist intently. 

"We should look at the menu," he pointed out with an ever so slightly shy smile, his eyes flicking down to the menu and back up again. Crowley chuckled and nodded slightly, then opened the menu and gave a soft sigh. 

It had been printed with light brown ink on quite dark yellow-ish paper, and it was almost impossible for him to even see the printing in that dim light, let alone make out the words. 

He pushed it aside, pinched the bridge of his nose for a moment, then gave up and turned to Zira. 

"I can't...I can't read it," he admitted quietly, and the artist looked up blankly, confusion slowly collecting in his face. 

"You can't?" 

Crowley swallowed, suddenly feeling nauseous and strangled all at once, his fingers curling so his nails pressed into his palms painfully. "It's too dark in here, the ink is too light, I-...my eyesight isn't that great, Zira." 

There was a brief, sickening pause, then Zira leaned over the table and rested a warm hand on his cheek briefly. 

"Hey. It's alright, don't sound so upset. I can read it to you, or I can pick you something. We've been to enough restaurants for me to know what you like by now." 

Crowley managed a small smile and nodded slightly, his breathing slowly returning to normal as he focused on evening it out.

"You can pick me something, I trust you," he mumbled, looking down as Zira's hand slid off his cheek. "I'm sorry, I just...get embarrassed, and-" 

"It's perfectly fine, darling," Zira soothed quickly, gently cutting him off. "It's okay to feel embarrassed, it's okay to feel however you feel, but there's no need to be, really. I don't mind at all, I don't think it's something to be ashamed of. I think you should think more about how many things you do manage to do for yourself, considering your eyesight and your leg. I wasn't lying when I said you're the strongest man I know." 

Crowley took a deep breath and flashed him a shy smile, his nerves starting to drop away again.

"Thank you, angel. Look at us, though, comforting each other all the time. It's like a seesaw." 

Zira laughed, blue eyes sparkling in the low light as he leaned over to press a firm kiss to Crowley's cheek. "That's because we're both insecure and empathetic," he chuckled, sinking back into his chair just as the waitress came over. 

 

"Are you coming back to mine?" 

Crowley's hands tightened on the steering wheel and he glanced over at his companion. 

"From the tone of your voice, it sounds like you want me to."

"Of course I do," Zira smiled, rolling down the window just enough to stick his hand out into the warm night air. "I don't think I've quite gotten my kiss quota for the night yet." 

Crowley chuckled softly and rested his hand on the gear stick, just as he shifted down for a roundabout. "You know, I think I'm getting used to this whole relationship thing again. After eight years of a wasted relationship, it's hard...I guess it's hard opening myself up to that again, but you're just...so different. In a good way, obviously." 

"Hold on," Zira mumbled, then repeated himself much louder. "Eight years?" 

Crowley glanced over at him, his brow furrowed. "I thought you knew that. I met George five years after I joined the police, exactly. Eight years, I wasted eight years on him."

Zira shifted uncomfortably, pulling his hand back into the car and glancing out of the window. 

"That's a long time...and this...a week after?" 

Crowley looked over at him and that sick, strangled feeling came back, making it difficult to breathe, making his hands shake. "You're not...you're not just a rebound or something, angel. Please...please don't think that, please." 

Zira turned his head away, leaning it against the window instead. "How can I be sure?" 

The lights of Zira's shop were approaching, so Crowley parked the car and leaned over quickly before Zira could try to get out. 

"Hey, look at me. You're not a rebound. I was unhappy with George for a long time, and I always wanted to come talk to you, to do something about my feelings. I just...I saw you every now and then and you just looked so happy and bubbly, like you were making everyone's lives better around you. You still look like that, and you definitely make my life better. Please believe me, I've spent so long imagining our future together, that's not...that's not a rebound." 

There was a long, uncomfortable pause, then Zira finally turned his head to face Crowley, his eyes full of genuine fear. "What kind of future?" He asked softly, forcing a small, shaky smile. 

Crowley smiled back, a little sadly, and leaned over to kiss him, wrapping those long fingers around his jaw and pulling him just a little deeper.

"That kind of future." 

 

They wandered inside, hand in hand, Zira gently helping Crowley up the stairs before slowly pinning him up against the wall, his fingers bunched in the front of his jacket, their eyes locked together. 

Crowley smiled and reached up, slipping his glasses off just before Zira leaned up and they were kissing again, a little deeper this time, a little faster. 

There was no doubt that it wasn't quite as special as their first proper kiss, and nothing ever would be, but it was still thrilling. It was still sending shivers up Crowley's spine, making him pull Zira ever closer, his hands running up the artist's sides. It was still everything he wanted, and he still didn't want to let go. 

But Zira broke away first, turning away from Crowley and wandering into the kitchen. 

"Wine?" He called out, and Crowley sighed, stepping away from the wall and shaking his head slightly. 

"Not for me, angel. I've taken a lot of medication today," he replied, walking to the couch instead and throwing himself back into it as Zira reappeared from the kitchen empty-handed. 

"How about some music?" He suggested, sitting down next to Crowley and resting his arm on the back of the sofa. The florist took this as the invitation it was meant to be and quickly curled up, his back half resting on Zira's chest, his head leaning back against his shoulder. Zira wrapped his arm around Crowley's own angular shoulders and kissed the side of his head, his other hand coming around to take Crowley's and lace their fingers casually. 

"I'm quite happy like this, but I don't mind," Crowley answered softly, smiling slightly as Zira squeezed his hand.

"Alright, darling. I'm too comfortable to get up now, anyway," he chuckled, rubbing Crowley's shoulder lightly and grinning as he turned, burying his face in Zira's neck and leaning the side of his body into the artist. Zira let his arm slide down to wrap around that skinny waist instead, holding him tightly as he curled up sleepily. 

"Anthony, can I ask you something?" 

"Yeah," Crowley mumbled, despite dreading any kind of question - he was too tired to protest. 

"I meant to ask in the restaurant, what happened to your eyesight? It's okay if you don't want to answer, I don't mind." 

Crowley gave a soft sigh and closed his eyes, turning his head slightly to press his face even closer to Zira's skin. "Bacterial meningitis. I don't exactly know what happened, but the hospital fucked up somehow and I caught it while I was in there for the stabbing. It damaged the nerves in my eyes, I have partial sight loss on the left, it's just a little cloudy, and the light sensitivity is all messed up. Computers aren't so bad, but I find reading very difficult." 

"Hence the audiobooks," Zira hummed, hugging him a little tighter as he let out a soft little sigh.

"What?" 

"You told me you listen to a lot of audiobooks. When I went to your apartment, remember?" 

Crowley nodded slightly, but didn't say anything, so Zira just squeezed him again, gentle and soothing. "I'm really sorry that happened to you, my dear. But I'm glad you're here and you're alright and everything." 

"Thanks. Can I ask you something?"

"Of course." 

Crowley took a deep breath, running one hand down Zira's chest slowly to calm himself down. "Can I spend tomorrow night here? I know you said we needed time, but I just...I need a good night's sleep, and I really have trouble getting that on my own."

Zira hesitated for a moment, then smiled and gave a small shrug. "I don't see why not. Let’s do it."

"Good." 

Silence spread between them, warm and easy and, in Crowley's case, a little sleepy. Being wrapped up in strong arms like this again was making him feel so relaxed, so comfortable, he couldn't help almost drifting off, his whole body heavy against Zira's cuddly frame.

After a while, though, he gently began to untangle himself, stretching his leg out and gasping softly when the muscle spasmed. 

"Fuck!" 

"What's wrong? Can I help?" 

Crowley shook his head slowly as the jolt of pain faded and his shoulders dropped. 

"No, it's done now. It does that sometimes if I'm in one position too long," he sighed, moving so he was sitting next to Zira, their legs pressed together. He slid down slightly and let his head fall onto the artist's shoulder, his eyes closing up slowly.

"I've missed this," he mumbled after a moment, and Zira began to stroke his hair, feeling those silky locks under his fingers. 

"Missed what?" 

"Cuddling. Such simple physical affection, without any real expectations, just...comfortable." 

"I'll cuddle you whenever you need," Zira purred, gently pulling him just a little closer. "And I'll kiss you whenever you want. I'm here for you, just like you're here for me." 

"I wouldn't mind a kiss," Crowley chuckled, and Zira turned quickly, grabbing his cheeks and starting to rain kisses down on him; over his cheeks, forehead, nose, jaw, any little patch of skin he could find, even Crowley's eyelids, until the florist was laughing uncontrollably and gently pushing at his chest. Joy was bursting in Crowley's mind like fireworks, bright and colourful and loud, just as Zira moved quickly and very carefully pinned him to the couch, suddenly straddling his hips. 

Crowley's breath caught in his throat, and Zira was kissing him, deep and fast, too fast, and everything was too much. He could feel the artist's thighs pressing into his hips, he could feel that weight over him, stifling and far too close. He turned his head away quickly and wriggled out from under Zira, trying not to make it obvious how much he was panicking.

"Darling, are you okay? Was that too much?" Zira asked gently, reaching out for him, but Crowley was already standing up, shoving his hands into his pockets. 

"I um...I just gotta go. I'll see you...I'll see you tomorrow." 

 

As soon as Crowley got back to his apartment, he stripped right down to his boxers and climbed into bed, still cursing himself silently. 

He never used to be like this, he never used to have a problem with physicality. 

Crowley sighed and curled up, hugging himself as tightly as he could and squeezing his eyes shut. 

He wanted to give Zira everything, he wanted to give himself over to the artist to do with what he pleased. It used to be so easy, just to lay back and relax and enjoy watching his partner achieve that bliss. But now he was panicking just to have Zira on top of him, kissing him. 

Crowley curled his fingers in his hair, growling in frustration and curling up even tighter. 

He had to be able to do it tomorrow. He had to show Zira he would give him everything, he had to make sure he wouldn't- 

He wouldn't leave.  

There it was, that underlying fear, gnawing away at his stomach, telling him he'd never be enough; never be good enough, never be enough of what Zira wanted. And he would lose the one thing that made his days really count. 

He took a few deep breaths and hugged himself just a little tighter, making up his mind to push through. He could do it, if he concentrated, if he stayed relaxed. He'd done it hundreds of times, he could do it again. For his angel.

Chapter Text

Crowley stared up at the shop sign, then sighed and took a deep breath. He was preparing himself, or at least trying to, although he wasn't sure at all that it was working. In fact, he was quite certain it wasn't. 

The door swung open suddenly and a hand wrapped around his arm, gently pulling him forward. 

"Anthony! Don't just stand there, come in!"

Zira was laughing, and he looked so perfect that Crowley almost started crying. Those blue eyes sparkling with light and joy, a huge grin showing off his teeth, his hand burning on Crowley's arm. 

Instead of bursting into tears, Crowley stepped forward and pulled him into a kiss, his motions a little desperate, a little jerky. But Zira was already running his hands down the florist's sides, calming him, soothing him. Showing him there was no rush, no need to tremble so. 

The kiss slowed and deepened, and still Crowley stood there, showing his admiration the only way he knew how, with his hands in Zira's hair and on his cheeks. 

Zira broke away fairly quickly, however, very gently pulling Crowley closer, into a loose hug, his fingers spreading on his back. “I was worried about you yesterday. Are you feeling alright?” 

Crowley took a deep breath, forcing the emotion down, forcing a smile even though Zira couldn’t see it. “Yeah. I’m fine, angel, I just...I had something I had to do, and I’d forgotten about it,” he mumbled, although as he said it, he knew it sounded ridiculously unlikely. Zira pulled away just enough to give him a doubtful look, drawing breath in to speak, but Crowley cut him off with another deep, needy kiss. He had to show him it was fine, he had to push him on so he could get it over with, he could give Zira what he needed and move on. 

Crowley gently began to push Zira towards the stairs, pulling him ever deeper, fingers tangling in those tight curls. And then Zira was breaking away again and leading him upstairs and Crowley moved as if in a dream, following him all the way into the bedroom. 

Crowley glanced around, barely registering the soft carpet under his feet, the honey-beige of the walls, the endless stacks of books. The only thing he really noticed was the bed, and that was only because Zira was already pushing him down on it, leaning down to kiss him. 

Crowley closed his eyes and allowed it all to happen. He felt Zira's hands stroking down his chest, he felt himself being pushed back, helped onto the bed. Then there was weight over him again, those lips on his, a hand sliding between his legs. He whimpered into the kiss, suddenly feeling as if he was choking, something obstructing his throat. He turned his head away sharply, but Zira kept stroking, massaging, those expert fingers far far too stimulating. 

Then the weight was lifted and Zira was sitting back, gently pulling him up, leaning in once more to capture his lips. 

The choking feeling faded, the tightness in his throat evaporating, but as soon as Zira broke the kiss and guided one of Crowley's hands between his own legs, the florist was gone. 

He was in a different room, much darker, much more stark. He could feel fingers in his hair, much too tight, holding on until his whole scalp hurt, throbbing with pain. 

"Anthony?" 

The voice jerked him back; it didn't belong to the memory, it didn't belong to the pain, and Crowley snapped his eyes open, finally focusing on Zira's bright blue eyes. 

"Oh. Sorry, I was...miles away," he choked out quickly, but Zira had his arms folded over his chest, his jaw set. 

"You won't touch me," he said quietly, his voice low and hurt, his eyes dull. 

"I'll um...try again, just come here," Crowley said hurriedly, flashing an uncertain smile, his whole body feeling wrong. "Please."

Zira shook his head and stood up off the bed slowly, his bottom lip trembling ever so slightly. "I think you should go." 

Fear and guilt and terrible self-hatred flooded through Crowley, slamming into him and making him feel nauseous and shaky. Nothing else mattered now, nothing mattered except keeping Zira. Keeping him here, not letting him go. 

"No, I-" 

"You're dating a trans man," Zira said sharply, his own eyes suddenly swimming with tears. "If you can't bring yourself to touch a trans man, then you shouldn't have agreed to date me!" 

Crowley's jaw dropped, his eyes widening as guilt and self loathing turned outwards, rage bubbling in his stomach. 

"You...after everything, you really think I'd be like that?" He hissed, his jaw clenched so hard it hurt. "I cleaned you up, I held you, I comforted you! I cried over the fact that you were hurt, I hated that man as much as you did! Don't you fucking tell me I'm transphobic!" 

"Then why won't you touch me?" Zira screamed, tears spilling over and streaming down his cheeks. "I thought you cared about me! I thought you would be different! But you're exactly the same as all the rest of them!" 

Crowley was scared and exhausted and guilty and furious, and he had no idea how to react, he had no idea how to handle this. He was on a knife's edge between screaming back at the artist and breaking down sobbing, and he had no idea which was more likely at that point. Zira glared at him and he felt the rage breaking through, burning his throat, burning his lungs.  

"Fuck you! I would do anything for you, you have no fucking right to say this shit to me!" 

"Get the fuck out of my house!" Zira yelled, then turned away sharply, his hand slapping over his mouth as he tried to stifle a sob. Crowley stared at him for a moment, his body suddenly so, so heavy. 

He couldn't bear to see Zira like this, he couldn't let him blame himself. 

He took a deep breath and dragged his hands down his face slowly. 

"I'm not transphobic, Zira. I'm not. I'm asexual." 

A bomb of silence dropped on the room, forcing all the noise out, every little sound. All Crowley could hear was his own heartbeat, his own still rather ragged breathing as he stared at Zira’s motionless back for a second or two. 

Then Crowley sighed and got up slowly, starting towards the door unsteadily. "I'll go. I'm sorry, you should find someone else who can give you what you want." 

But there was a hand closing around his wrist, and salty lips on his, and Zira was there, hugging him so tightly. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry!" He gasped out, and Crowley awkwardly wrapped his arms around the artist, stroking his back slowly.

"It's um, it's okay, angel. I...can you give me a second? I need to sit down." 

Zira broke away quickly, burying his face in his hands instead as Crowley limped over to the bed and threw himself down. 

To go from flashbacks to fighting to...whatever this was, was too much. It was all too much, all at once, and Crowley started to cry. 

It began softly at first, but escalated to quiet sobs in a matter of seconds, so many emotions all tangling together, too many to even figure out why he was crying at all. All he knew was that his whole body ached, and the tears streaming down his cheeks were such a welcome release. 

Zira dried his own eyes quickly and hurried over, sitting down next to Crowley and running a hand down his back. 

"Hey. Hey, it's alright, darling. I'm here, it's okay. Try to take deep breaths, tell me what's going on." 

Crowley took a deep, shuddering breath in, and managed to stop sobbing for a moment, although the tears kept falling, cascading down his cheeks and dripping from his chin. 

"I...George used to-" he cut himself off with a soft sob and Zira sighed, gently turning his head to face him. Crowley’s eyes widened, that soft, worried blue gaze feeling like a cold dagger in his chest, too kind, too sweet, too much

"Stop thinking about George for a minute. I need you to calm down so you can talk to me properly," he began slowly, his voice gentle and encouraging, but firm enough to prevent any argument. "Think about me. You look terrified, darling, and I'm going to hazard a guess at why. Do you think I'm going to leave you over this?" 

Crowley managed a tiny nod, then tried to choke back another sob, turning his head away again, suddenly too ashamed to meet his partner’s gaze. 

"I'm not, Anthony. I promise," Zira murmured, shifting closer to him and gently pulling him into a loose hug. "I'm not. I can't give up the best thing that ever happened to me over something like that now, can I?" He went on, chuckling softly as he stroked Crowley's hair back from his face. "I'm so sorry, my darling, I'm so sorry I shouted at you. I was scared too, and I'm so proud of you for telling me. It's gonna be okay, I promise. You'll see." 

Crowley smiled shakily when Zira laughed, but the tears kept coming, a little harder now, his chest shuddering as he tried to hold back a sob. 

Zira just shushed him softly and began to rock him back and forth ever so gently, running his hand up and down the florist's side and talking to him about nothing until he finally began to calm down and relax into those inviting arms. He closed his eyes and managed to take deep breaths at last, his whole body trembling with the effort. 

Zira simply hugged him a little tighter and leaned down to kiss the top of his head. 

"How about we try to talk now, my dear? Just...remember, you don't have to tell me anything, you're not obligated to talk to me." 

Crowley sat up slowly, sniffling a bit and nodding slightly. He couldn't look at Zira, not now, not like this. It was hard enough to admit to what his life had been only a few months ago, but after all those flashbacks and that argument, it was ten times harder. He felt shaky, useless, almost unworthy of even looking at those caring eyes. 

"I...well. I never used to be uh...sex repulsed, I just didn't feel...sexually attracted to people. I used to have sex quite a bit, when I was in relationships, but I didn't feel any need to. And then...and then George-" Crowley choked, that horrible feeling coming back, of something in his throat, pressing on his tongue. Zira reached over and pulled a blanket around his shoulders carefully, then began to stroke his hair slowly and rhythmically, his touch ever so gentle. 

"It's okay, darling. Take your time, I'm not going anywhere." 

Crowley nodded, the feeling fading away as he focused on Zira's movements, on the feeling of those careful fingers brushing over his hair. He closed his eyes and took a slow breath in, trying to tell himself that everything would be okay, even if he was fairly sure he was lying. 

"I'm okay. I-I think. Um. I used to...to do things for him, you know? Like my other relationships. But over time, he got more demanding. More often, more things I didn't really like. And...and if I didn't do them, he'd guilt trip and manipulate and um...force me." 

Zira's eyes widened, his hand stilled on the florist's hair. "You told me all of this when I went to your apartment, didn't you? I just...I didn't know." 

Crowley looked up sadly, tears blurring his vision and spilling over, running down his cheeks as he finally allowed himself to look at Zira’s gentle, worried expression. "Yeah. He didn't think asexuality was real, he called me names. And um, you remember when we had that fight?" 

Zira's face went blank, then horror took over as the realisation crept in. "Oh God, no...I…" 

"He came to visit that morning," Crowley went on quietly, determined to get it all out before he broke down again, his lips and hands trembling as he stared at the sheets. "He pushed me up against the counter in my shop and grabbed me and threatened me. I um, I got him off me, but it...scared me." 

Crowley took a sharp breath in, then began to sob again, once again unable to look Zira in the eye, his cheeks on fire with shame and embarrassment. The artist immediately pulled him into his arms, cradling Crowley's head against his shoulder as those long fingers tangled in the back of his shirt desperately. 

"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. I wish I'd known, darling, I do. I never meant to hurt you, I never meant to upset you," Zira murmured, hugging Crowley as tight as he could and ignoring the tears running down his own cheeks. "And I'm so sorry I made you uncomfortable. You never ever have to worry about doing anything for me, my dear, and I'm never going to leave you. You mean far too much to me for that." 

Crowley curled his fingers even tighter, huge sobs wracking his body now; heavy, painful sobs as he finally let out all those emotions, all the self hatred, all the doubts, all the worry. Zira simply squeezed him again and began to rock him once more, rubbing his back soothingly and letting him cry it out in silence. 

Sometimes there just aren't any more words to be said, after all. 

And after a while, Crowley began to calm down, tears still running down his cheeks, but no more sobs assaulting his lungs. As soon as he felt that he was completely in control of his own breathing again, he gently began to pull away from Zira, just enough to start unbuttoning the artist's shirt. 

Zira blinked in shock and quickly grabbed at Crowley's hands, gently pushing them away. "Hey, it's alright, you don't need to-" 

Crowley turned his face upwards, golden eyes pleading and still swimming with tears. 

"I want to," he said simply, each word laden with such paralyzing emotion that Zira immediately let go of his hands; wary and uncertain, but trusting Crowley whole heartedly. 

The florist's fingers worked quickly despite the leftover trembles, and he was soon slipping Zira's shirt off his shoulders, leaving him feeling rather exposed in the warm, albeit low light. 

Crowley's eyes widened, glowing with admiration as he stared at all the tattoos in front of him, each one vibrant and perfect and insanely detailed. Zira swallowed and tried to hide his stomach, to wrap his arms around it, but Crowley gently pulled them away and planted a firm kiss on his jaw. 

"Beautiful," he whispered simply, one hand trailing up onto the back of Zira's head, the other stroking down his arm with just his fingertips. "I wanna see."

"I don't feel beautiful," Zira protested softly, and Crowley just smiled a sweet, innocent smile. 

"Then I'll make you feel stunning," he murmured, sitting back slightly before diving in and starting to kiss over the scars under Zira's nipples. The artist jerked, uncertain, but Crowley was holding his sides, his grasp firm and unyielding as he focused on one line, kissing along it slowly. Zira stroked a hand over his hair and Crowley smiled against his skin. 

"Handsome," he murmured, almost as if to himself, then moved along to the other side. "Stunning." 

Zira's breathing hitched and he curled a finger under Crowley's chin, gently pulling him up and into a slow, tender kiss before letting him go. Crowley just grinned lazily, golden eyes half lidded. 

"You're perfect, angel," he purred, then gently pulled one of Zira’s arms around, starting to study each tattoo, following the long, smooth lines with his fingers. He inspected each one, taking in all the beautiful details, all the stunning designs, working his way up one arm, across Zira's chest, then down the other arm, just staring at it all. 

When he finally looked up, Zira was smiling, but there were tears in his eyes once again. Crowley winced, quickly moving back up and cupping his cheeks in his hands. 

"Did I upset you? Oh, I'm sorry, I-" 

"You didn't upset me, darling. I'm just a bit overwhelmed, I don't think anyone has looked at me like that before. Can I..?" Zira reached for Crowley's shirt, and the florist leaned back instinctively, giving him an uncertain look. The artist just smiled. 

"You don't have to say yes, I just want to do the same for you, that's all," he murmured, his eyes a little worried, but sympathetic and just a touch pleading.

"I'll try," Crowley answered simply, glad that he’d managed to keep the tremble out of his voice, and Zira nodded, starting to undo the buttons carefully and slowly.

"If you want me to stop, you just say. There's no shame, my darling, I just want you to be happy and comfortable,” Zira assured him quietly, his voice as gentle as his fingers. 

Crowley let out a deep breath and smiled, allowing his gaze to settle on Zira's eyes, dulled with concentration, but still shining and glittering like flawless jewels. His eyelashes were long, long enough to brush his cheeks when he blinked, but they were blond and difficult to see without being this close. Crowley wanted to reach out and touch them, marveling at how intensely delicate they were, but he settled for resting a hand on the artist's cheek instead. 

Zira's eyelids fluttered in surprise and he looked up, those star-like eyes searching Crowley's for just a moment before he went back to the buttons, a small smile tugging at his lips. 

"You're absolutely stunning," Crowley breathed, and watched the dusting of pink spread on Zira's cheeks. "Everything about you is perfect." 

The artist chuckled softly and finished the last button, very gently pulling Crowley's shirt off his shoulders and slipping it off completely. 

"If you say so, my dear. Now you, on the other hand. You're definitely perfect," he purred, running his hands down those curving sides, his mouth open ever so slightly. "Jesus, look at you," Zira went on softly, and it was Crowley's turn to blush, his body tensing slightly as Zira ran one warm hand down his chest. 

"I don't usually like mirrors," he admitted softly, and Zira gave a quiet little sigh, leaning up to kiss his cheek. 

"We have a lot of things in common, but I wish this wasn't one of them," he murmured, brushing Crowley's messy hair behind his ears. "We can work on it together." 

Crowley nodded slightly, captivated by those intense blue eyes, and Zira smiled, his hand stroking the florist's cheek so delicately that he barely felt it. 

"Do you trust me, Anthony?" 

"Yes, I think so," Crowley mumbled, suddenly nervous, suddenly uncertain, but Zira was already pushing him back gently, guiding him to the bed ever so carefully. He shifted to straddle Crowley's hips and patted his cheek lightly as he tried to close his eyes. 

"Hey, stay focused on me, my dear. Take a deep breath, and try to stay in the present, if you need me to stop, I will. I'm just gonna touch your chest, nowhere below the belt, okay?" 

Crowley managed a small nod and focused on keeping his breathing even while he trained his eye on a beautiful white and black ink snake on the artist's shoulder. As Zira leaned forward, he studied every scale, every little detail, twitching as he felt hands on his sides. 

"Shh, I've got you, darling. My perfect partner," Zira murmured, leaning down further and kissing Crowley's cheek and jaw, then stroking his hair and moving down to his chest. He kissed the centre, then moved down to the side, where a knife scar sat over Crowley's ribs, light and raised. Zira kissed it softly, his lips lingering slightly before finding the next one further down on his stomach. 

Crowley began to relax, feeling the tension in his limbs fade away as he finally let his eyes slip closed, one hand finding Zira's soft curls. 

"That's it, Anthony. I've got you," Zira encouraged softly, kissing the last two scars tenderly before moving back up and pulling Crowley into a slow, easy kiss. Crowley felt even more tension melt away, his fingers slipping from Zira's hair to his cheek, feeling that warm skin under his just as the artist slid off him and fell to the bed beside him with a deep sigh. 

Crowley smiled to himself and rolled over slowly, his eyes once again meeting Zira's as the artist shifted closer to him, his arm slipping around Crowley's waist, tattooed skin standing out against the florist's pale side. 

Crowley opened his mouth to say something, but Zira got there first, his smile fading as concern took over his expression. 

"I think you need to get a restraining order." 

"What?" 

"Against George, I mean," Zira sighed, stroking his hand over the shocked florist's cheek. "I don't like thinking that he can just...show up. I don't want you hurt, and I know it might be different for you, but I don't trust him any further than I can throw him." 

"Neither do I," Crowley mumbled, gently pulling away from the artist and sitting up. He dragged his hair back from his face, raking his fingers through it before letting out a deep, shaky sigh. "I don't...you're right, of course you are. It's a good idea. But right now...I'm just so tired, Zira. I'm so...I'm tired."

Zira scrambled to sit up next to him, one warm hand running down his spine. "Hey, hey, don't get upset again. We can talk about it tomorrow, why don't we get some sleep? You can borrow some of my pajamas again, if you want. And we can just cuddle and relax, we don't need to sort it out now." 

Crowley nodded slowly, trying to let go of the sudden anxiety squeezing his chest, and turning away from Zira to get up, wobbling slightly on his feet. Zira sighed and watched him, his hands resting in his lap helplessly. 

"They're in the top drawer of that dresser, darling. You can change in the bathroom if you like." 

Crowley didn't say a word, but managed to make it to the drawer, pulling out a pair of pajama bottoms with little doves on and limping out of the room. It only took him a minute or so to get changed, and he wandered back into the bedroom to find Zira sitting on the bed and just pulling on a loose t-shirt. 

He smiled at Crowley when he saw him standing there awkwardly, and stood up, gesturing to him as he walked around to the other side of the bed. "Come on. Come lay down, my dear." 

Crowley nodded shyly and wandered over, slowly climbing in under the covers and wincing as he twisted his leg slightly. But Zira was already pulling him closer, so Crowley rolled over and smiled to himself as he felt Zira's arm around his waist, drawing his back up against the artist's chest. Zira curled up slightly, his knees tucking into the backs of Crowley's, his lips briefly brushing over the florist's bare shoulder. 

"This is perfect," Zira mumbled, his grip on Crowley tightening ever so slightly as he ran his hand over that tattooed arm. 

"Yeah," he answered simply, letting his eyes close up as Zira began to relax, his breathing slowing down and evening out already. And Crowley felt himself start to drift off, start to let go, and welcomed it easily, warm and safe in Zira's protective grasp. 

 

An abhorrent beeping woke Crowley the next morning, and he thrashed about searching for his glasses for a good minute or two before giving up and stalking out of the bedroom, still shirtless with his pajamas riding low on his hips. 

"Angel? What's-...is that smoke?" 

Zira stared at him wildly, his cheeks bright red, his hair sticking up in all directions. 

"I'm trying to make breakfast!"

"Well, if by ‘make,’ you mean cremate, then you're doing great. Have you seen my-" 

"Coffee table, darling." 

Crowley nodded and wandered off, squinting against the painful light and even trying to shield his eyes - not that it did any good to block out the brightness of the room in general. He finally found the coffee table by way of slamming his shin into it, and scooped up the glasses, shoving them on his face. Then he turned and walked into the kitchen, wordlessly and very gently pushing Zira as far out of the way as he could. 

Crowley switched the extractor fan on and the smoke alarm finally gave up, leaving the room suddenly feeling very quiet. Zira sighed and leaned on the counter, watching from the other side as Crowley cleaned out the pan and cracked a few fresh eggs into it. 

"Crowley?"

"Yes, angel?"

There was a pause, and Crowley looked up after a moment to see Zira leaning his chin in his hand, his eyes distant as he thought. 

"Oh!" Zira said suddenly, his eyes widening in sudden remembrance. "That’s what it was! I forgot to tell you," he went on, ignoring the look of amused, slightly distracted interest on Crowley's face as he went back to cooking the eggs. "My name, it's not Zira. I let you use that because it's easier, and I'm a bit embarrassed. See, I changed my name years ago, when I was a rather young idiot, and I picked something I thought would sound cool. My first name is Aziraphale, and I just put the 'Z' in as a cool initial, and a joke. Um...is that too weird for you?" 

Crowley blinked slowly, trying to process this and finding it quite difficult to get to grips with, especially this soon after waking up. 

"What? Aziraphale?"

Zira nodded, his cheeks once again bright red as Crowley pursed his lips and thought about this for a moment or two. 

"I like it," he said at last, tilting his head to the side to look at the artist critically. "I think I prefer Zira for...well, everyday use, if that's alright with you." 

"It's much easier," Zira smiled softly, his eyes shining with the joy of acceptance. "But I do like Aziraphale on special occasions. Even if it is a stupid name, it's my stupid name now." 

Crowley chuckled and tipped the second batch of eggs onto another plate. 

"I can understand that. I have no idea how to spell it, you'll have to show me sometime. What do you wanna do today?" 

Zira took a deep breath and watched as Crowley began to eat, rather more quickly than the artist usually did. 

"I was thinking about trying to do something about that restraining order," he said gently, wincing when Crowley froze. "Maybe you have CCTV in your shop?" 

Crowley swallowed and nodded slightly, stabbing one of his eggs with his fork and watching the yolk run. "Yeah. It'll be on one of the tapes," he said flatly, his voice devoid of any emotion. "And I have some nasty voicemails from him. But look, I need more time to think about it," he added quickly, setting his fork down and pushing his plate aside, suddenly no longer hungry. "It would mean a police report and I'd have to go to court. I'd have to admit to all the people I used to work with and all the people George still works with that he was...horrible to me for years and I stayed with him. I'd have to admit that he sexually assaulted me in public and I did nothing. I don't...I don't know if I can do that, Zira," Crowley went on, his voice rising in volume and pitch ever so slightly towards the end as he tried to swallow the rising lump in his throat. He looked down quickly as soon as he’d finished, his breathing a little short and shaky. 

Zira just sighed and got up slowly, walking around to the other side of the counter to gently pull Crowley into a loose hug, his cheek resting against that skinny chest. "That's okay. Whatever you need, my dear," he soothed, closing his eyes as Crowley wrapped his arms around him and let out a slow sigh, finally relaxing with his partner’s warm chest against his. 

"I'll think about it, I promise. Maybe it's best if I go home for a while today, spend some time by myself. We could have dinner together?" 

"I'd much rather you stayed with me," Zira answered bluntly, his fingers spreading on the florist's back as he smiled to himself. "But if that's what you need, it's alright." 

"I think I need some processing time...a lot has just happened," Crowley sighed, leaning down to kiss the top of Zira's head lightly. "I'll make you dinner, though, maybe pick you up at six?" 

"Yeah, okay. You gotta get dressed before you leave, though." 

"Yeah, I know. I'm just enjoying this hug for a minute first." 

"By all means, enjoy," Zira chuckled, squeezing him a little tighter and smiling to himself as Crowley began to rub the artist's back slowly, his eyes closing as he focused on the feeling of their bodies pressed together - so warm, so fitting, so perfect.

Chapter Text

Crowley woke up gasping, drenched in sweat, his sheets tangled around his legs as he sat up abruptly. His chest heaved, his breathing rasped in the pitch dark, silent room. 

He buried his face in shaking hands, hot tears streaming over his fingers. 

Zira. Zira had been in his dream. 

It had been sweet and glowing and warm and full of soft kisses and laughter and such tender embraces. And then the good had faded. 

He could still taste the fabric in his mouth, feel the rough hands on his skin. The dream had been so real; concocted as it was from a memory, but the original copy hadn't been Zira. No, the original voice had been much deeper, much harsher in his ears, and yet all that softness in his dream had clashed so intensely with the pain and the fear and the resigned nausea as to make those lilting tones sickening. 

In fact, Crowley was already launching himself off the bed, slamming back the bathroom door,  and falling heavily onto his knees in front of the toilet. 

He felt wretched, useless, like a grimy old toy abandoned at the edge of a park. He flushed with a shaking hand and fell sideways against the cabinets, leaning his burning cheek against the cool wood as his eyelids fluttered closed. 

That was a mistake. 

He snapped them open again, staring wide-eyed at nothing, desperate to banish those images that had popped up again, treacherous, devious. He gagged once more, but there was nothing left to come up, so he just sat there, miserable on the bathroom floor. 

It took Crowley about a quarter of an hour to find the energy to get up, and even when he'd made the decision, the act itself turned out to be much harder than he'd expected. 

He almost collapsed twice, but both times managed to hold onto the counter, and was finally fully upright and stable, despite the intense protestation from his leg. His throat burned and itched, but he ignored it, his hands sluggish as he reached for his toothbrush. 

By the time he'd left the bathroom, it was nearly five in the morning, and he couldn't face going back to bed. 

So Crowley got dressed, brushed his hair, slipped his glasses on, and sat down in front of his TV. He turned it on, but wasn't watching it. He stared at it, but he didn't take in anything, too busy returning to that dream over and over, remembering that face leaning over him, that voice whispering such repulsive words. After a while, Crowley took his glasses off and buried his face in his hands once more, letting out a deep, unhappy sigh. 

 

Crowley glanced up as the shop bell rang, his heart sinking immediately. He set his phone down on the counter, trying to muster up a relatively normal smile for the man walking towards him through his personal jungle. 

Zira was grinning and holding some kind of paper bag, those eyes sparkling as ever, but having a rather different effect on Crowley than usual. 

"Hello, darling, I thought I'd surprise you with some lunch today!" Zira announced, setting the grease-stained bag down on Crowley's front desk proudly, his chest puffed up slightly. Crowley managed a sickly smile. 

"Today's not a great day, an-" He cut himself off, barely suppressing the gag. 

Call me angel. You know I love it, say it now

"-Zira," he finished lamely, and a brief pall of confusion passed over Zira's expression. 

"You don't look busy, but I can go if you like." Though he still smiled, the smile was getting a bit pale. 

"I think that would be best," Crowley answered far too quickly, his voice coming out a little strangled. "I'm sorry, I've just got a lot to do." 

Zira nodded sharply, then forced that smile brighter again. "How about a kiss before I go? I've missed you." 

"I saw you yesterday," Crowley managed, his tongue feeling thick, his whole mouth dry as nausea turned in his stomach. 

"I know. Please?" And there it was, that wide-eyed pleading expression that simply made Crowley melt. It wasn't fair, he reflected as he gave a dejected nod. It wasn't fair that some people were so blessed with natural cuteness, and it certainly wasn't fair that Zira had learned to use this in his favour. 

Crowley leaned over the counter and nearly jerked away as soon as Zira's lips brushed his, but forced himself to remain still. His chest was tightening, his breathing quick and shallow as he felt a nonexistent hand closing around his throat, squeezing hard as pain flared up throughout his body. 

Crowley gasped as he broke away, his heart beating so fast he was surprised he could hear individual beats. Apparently oblivious, Zira gave him a soft kiss on the cheek and turned to leave. 

As soon as the door swung shut behind him, Crowley was staggering to his feet, dragging himself into the back room and away from the clinging, heavy stench of greasy food. Under any other circumstances, it would have smelled amazing, but Crowley felt as if he was going to pass out any second, and the food wasn't helping. 

He collapsed back into a chair and just glared at the floor, trying to get his breathing back under control and let the pain in his chest ease up. Crowley had had panic attacks before; he knew what was happening, but that didn't particularly make it any easier. 

It certainly didn't make him feel any better about the thought sitting in his mind like a flashing neon sign - the person who had, only a few days ago, made him feel the safest he'd felt in years, was now giving him panic attacks with a simple kiss. 

The despair shuffled over a bit to make room for anger, and Crowley curled his fingers, his jaw clenching as that sense of injustice washed over him again, much stronger and more passionate. Some people never had to worry about these things. 

Some people lived their whole lives without this, without trauma, without anxiety, without internal conflicts that could rip their relationships apart at the drop of a hat. Some people even lived their whole lives without daily pain, without having to take heavy duty painkillers to make it through every day.

And it wasn't fair.  

Not that anything ever was, but Crowley still felt that perhaps the scales could have been tipped in his direction by even just a few degrees. 

However, the anger faded almost as quickly as it had come, simply leaving Crowley cold and numb, and so, so tired. 

 

Crowley closed up shop about an hour early that afternoon, but stayed in the back room and went through inventory and finances and taxes, burying himself in the numbers so he didn't have to think. Or go home. 

Home to the setting of that nightmare, to sleep in that bed. To lay under those blankets and stare at the ceiling and remember all those things he wanted to forget. All those things he thought he'd been on the way to forgetting, with Zira there to hold his hand and guide him to better things. But once again it was all lying at his feet, broken into so many tiny little pieces. 

Crowley heaved a sigh and slammed the inventory book shut just as his phone rang. He slipped it out of his pocket and answered it without checking the caller ID. 

"Hello?" 

"Anthony? Hey, darling. I just wanted to check in. You seemed...well, off at lunchtime and I saw you closed up early. Are you sick? I...I could bring you something, or-" 

"I'm fine, Zira," Crowley cut in quickly, pinching the bridge of his nose and struggling to breathe evenly. "I've just had a busy day." 

There was a long pause, too long and too silent. 

"I feel like you're avoiding me," Zira said at last, his voice blunt and heavy. "I don't know if that's true, but if it is...I'd rather you just tell me why, I'd rather talk through it and fix it, I just...you're worrying me." 

"I'm not avoiding you, I'm just...not feeling good, and it's not something you can fix," Crowley sighed, closing his eyes and tightening his grip on his phone. "I just need some space." 

Another long, excruciating silence. 

"How much? How long?" 

Zira's voice was soft and shaking and just a tad higher than usual. 

"I...I don't know," Crowley admitted softly, taking his glasses off to rub his eyes with his thumb and forefinger before looking over at the forgotten bag of food sitting on one of the back tables. "Probably just tonight." 

"Oh. I thought you meant like a week or two," Zira chuckled quietly, relief dripping from his words. "That's okay. How about I come and stop by at lunch again tomorrow? Maybe we can chat. I'd like to make sure you're doing alright." 

Crowley rolled his eyes, but he couldn't banish the tiny, sad smile tugging at his lips. "Alright. I'll talk to you then." 

"Take care of yourself, darling," Zira murmured before hanging up, and Crowley set his phone down carefully, glaring down at the table. 

He wanted, more than anything, to fall into his partner's arms, to bury his face in that comfortable chest, and feel those gentle fingers in his hair. He wanted that blissful feeling of being so safe and cared for and protected, but he knew he wouldn't be able to get it again. At least not for a while. 

Crowley took a deep breath and got up, finally making the decision to head home. 

 

The next day, he was half an hour late to open. 

It had taken quite a while to wash the tear tracks off his face after he'd opened the door to find a card on his mat, where it had fallen from the letterbox. 

It had simply been addressed to Anthony in a curly script that Crowley had recognised instantly. Even so, he'd opened it gingerly and pulled out that same kitten card all over again; this time with a different message. 

Darling, 

I thought I'd give you another card, since it seemed to work so well last time, and I'm so awful at talking. I get all the words mixed up and I have trouble getting exactly what I want across. Anyway, I'm worried about you. You don't talk to me enough, and I know that's because of your previous experiences, but I want you to know I'm always here to listen. I hate seeing you upset, my dear, and I've gotten better at noticing it. If you really aren't ready to talk to me, I understand. But please try for me.

Your angel x

Crowley had put the card in the drawer with the other one and tried to focus on work, but as lunchtime drew nearer, he got more and more nervous, his fingers trembling as he tied the last bouquet before his break. 

He handed it to the woman on the other side of the counter, managed a sickly smile, and watched her go as dread built in the pit of his stomach. 

About ten minutes later, Crowley's heart dropped as the door opened again and he was suddenly staring into hopeful blue. 

"Hey," he said quietly, his voice hoarse as Zira walked up to the counter, smiling ever so slightly. 

"Hey yourself," he murmured, tilting his head to the side slightly. "Did you get my card?"

Crowley nodded, stepping out from behind the counter with his little watering can, but Zira caught his wrist and leaned up. 

Fear flashed through Crowley's chest, hot and sickening, and he pushed Zira away with one gentle, but firm hand. 

"No, no. I can't," he protested frantically, almost dropping the can of water as Zira stared up at him, eyebrows clashing together, hurt flooding his expression. Guilt immediately broke over Crowley like a wave, and he set the can down on the counter hurriedly. 

"You can um...have a hug, though?" He suggested nervously, his voice thick and uncertain as Zira's eyes began to shine, ever so slightly wet. 

"Uh, yeah. Sure," he mumbled, and suddenly Crowley was wrapped up in strong arms, but he didn't feel safe. 

He didn't feel warm or cared for. He didn't hug back, he didn't press his face into that fluffy blond hair. He didn't run his fingertips down Zira's spine, he didn't kiss the side of his head. 

Instead, he stopped breathing. 

He could feel hands on his sides, pushing him down, shoving him, trapping him. His chest felt heavy, a weight against it as he was pinned down, a knee pressing into his sternum. 

Crowley broke away hurriedly, turning away from Zira and falling against the counter, holding onto the edge of it with a white-knuckle grip as he tried to force his lungs to fill with air. His eyes were squeezed shut behind his glasses, his whole body tense with the effort of trying to banish those images, those memories, horrific replays of his dream. 

"Darling, it's alright, try to breathe." 

That voice cut in, and Crowley was gasping, his chest rising and falling rapidly as he drew in quick, short breaths, too shallow to be effective. A hand slid over his shoulder and Crowley jerked away, stumbling and nearly falling, but being caught gently by a tentative arm. 

"Anthony, you need to try to breathe," Zira murmured, but his voice was shaking now, trembling and scared. "Please. There's nothing here to hurt you, I promise. It's just me, it's alright." 

Crowley dropped his hands and grabbed onto the counter again to steady himself, finally looking at Zira's face, at that horrified, distressed expression. 

"I...I need you to go, Zira. Right now." 

"But-" 

"Please.

Zira's eyebrows clashed again, his mouth pressing into one thin line. Then he turned on his heel and was gone, leaving the shop so empty and silent, except for Crowley's ragged breathing as he slid down to sit on the floor. He tossed his glasses away and buried his face in his hands, and just sat there, guilt and despair and quiet, insidious fear eating him up inside. 

Chapter Text

Even having opened half an hour late that morning, Crowley took the rest of the afternoon off and just went straight home to sit and stare at the TV for a while. It didn’t make him feel better, particularly, but it did make him feel numb, and that was at least different. He didn’t have to think, he could just sit there and ignore everything. 

Except for the buzzer, which went off at about seven, cutting through Crowley’s catatonic state and waking him from his trance of trashy TV. He glanced towards the intercom system by the front door disinterestedly, assuming it was a mistake until it rang again, making him jump ever so slightly. 

Crowley got up unsteadily, shuffling over to the door and pressing the button as he leaned against the wall, resting his head against the concrete with sullen resignation. 

“Hello?” 

There was a pause and Crowley almost turned to walk away, his hand sliding away from the button. 

“Anthony?”

He froze, cold spreading through his body, freezing his insides and sending shivers up his spine. He felt torn, desperate for that warm, gentle embrace, and yet fully aware that even one tender touch could bring back so many feelings he just couldn’t handle.

“Look, I know you didn’t want me there at lunch,” Zira went on, his voice trembling slightly, but determined and firm. “But you looked really upset, and I can’t just...I can’t just leave you to be upset, that’s not fair. Please let me in, at least tell me why you don’t want me around.” 

Crowley heaved a sigh and pressed the buzzer to unlock the downstairs door, then reached over and unlocked his front door. He hesitated for just a moment before he went back to the couch, collapsing onto the hard cushions and glaring at the TV while he waited. 

It only took a few minutes before Zira was slipping into the flat, setting a small tote bag down by the door and walking over to the couch. Crowley didn’t look up from the TV, but folded his arms over his chest unconsciously, defensive against the anxiety sitting heavy in his stomach. 

“Hey,” Zira murmured, slowly sitting down next to him and reaching out tentatively. Crowley jumped when his hand came to rest on his knee, finally tearing his gaze from the screen to look at Zira’s fingers spread on the fabric of his jeans. He couldn’t bring himself to look at Zira’s face, not yet. Possibly not ever. 

“Please talk to me, Anthony. I don’t know what I’ve done wrong,” Zira pleaded softly, and Crowley felt his throat close up at the thickness of his partner’s tone, at that slight break in his voice. “I’m trying, please meet me halfway. I feel like I’ve hurt you, and I can’t bear that...I can’t bear it,” he went on, sniffling as his hand slid off Crowley’s knee. 

Crowley got up abruptly, his own hands trembling as he curled his fingers as tightly as he could. He didn’t know what he was feeling anymore, it was a mix of too many things, too many different emotions all clamouring for his attention, but he did know it was getting hard to breathe. And he knew that he couldn’t sit there and listen to Zira cry over him. He just couldn’t. 

He opened his mouth to say something, then found he had no words and simply retreated instead, rushing off away from the couch and stumbling through his bedroom door, slamming it behind him. He collapsed onto the bed and buried his face in his hands, hating himself, hating George, hating everything.

Crowley felt weak, he felt like a child cowering away from shadows, away from imagined monsters under the bed. But he couldn’t help it, he couldn’t stop the panic clawing at his throat, he couldn’t stop the feeling that he was drowning, he couldn’t banish the pressure of that knee on his chest, pressing down harder, threatening him. 

He knew it was irrational, he knew it made no sense. And yet he was powerless to stop it. 

A soft knocking on the door made him jump, and he swallowed hard as the handle rattled under his glare. It wasn’t locked, but Zira didn’t open it, not yet. 

“I’m getting too much for you, aren’t I?” he called through softly, his voice much stronger now, much less tearful. “It’s okay. I know it’s hard when you’re emotional yourself to handle other people being upset. I’m calm now. But look, you gave me that ultimatum, when I was hurt. And I know now that you didn’t mean it, but you told me that you wouldn’t ever speak to me again, and I think I need to set an ultimatum too.”

Crowley slid his arms around himself, his fingertips digging into his own skin as horror and dread took over, making him feel hollow and heavy. He couldn’t let him in, and yet he couldn’t stand to lose him like this, not over George, not over something he thought he’d put behind him. 

“We can’t have a relationship like this, darling. We’ve only been together for a couple of weeks, if we’re breaking down this early and completely unable to communicate, this isn’t going to last. I need you to talk to me, because I want this to continue. But if we can’t talk, it can’t. I care for you so much, Anthony, and I’m not going to give up yet, but if you won’t talk to me, I’m going to have to leave.” 

There was a long pause and then a quiet sigh. “I realise it’s not a very strong ultimatum, but I’m going to go home. I’ll...I guess I’ll see you whenever you feel ready.”
Crowley swallowed, his whole mouth suddenly dry, his voice catching in his throat. 

“Come in.” 

It was weak and far too quiet, so he repeated it louder, but the door was already opening. Zira walked in calmly and sat himself down next to Crowley slowly, his hands folded in his lap, his gaze trained on the rug. 

He didn’t say anything, he just waited patiently, and Crowley buried his face in his hands, his cheeks on fire. He could feel the tears building up in his throat, he could feel the sobs getting ready to escape, but they didn’t spill quite yet. He took a deep, shuddering breath, and dropped his hands, resigned to his fate, resigned to making himself vulnerable all over again.

“I had a nightmare.” 

Zira still didn’t look at him, but surprise registered on his face for a moment, his eyebrows quirking up as Crowley stared at him. “It was about something that happened with George. Do you remember when we talked about him that first time, and I said he forced me once?”

Zira looked up sharply this time, horror etched into every corner of his expression, his mouth open ever so slightly. Crowley looked away hurriedly, the tears finally blurring his vision. 

“I dreamt that, but it...it wasn’t George.”

“But I-...I wouldn’t-”

“I know,” Crowley whimpered, curling his fingers so his nails bit into his palms, sharp and painful and comforting. “I know that. But I can’t...I can’t help it. When you touch me, I remember.” 

He blinked and the tears overflowed, running down his cheeks, dripping off his chin. “I can’t stop myself from panicking, I just...it just happens. I know you wouldn’t do anything like that, it’s just these images, you know? Like flashbacks, but...it never really happened.” 

Zira took a deep breath, and when Crowley looked up, he was crying as well, wiping the tears off his own cheeks quickly and forcing a small smile. 

“It’s going to be okay,” he murmured, his voice strained, but his smile growing ever so slightly. “We can get through this together, I promise. We’ll work on it, I can be patient. We’ll just start again, at the basics, and work our way back up.” 

With that, he offered Crowley his hand, his fingers trembling. Crowley stared at it for a moment, but swallowed his nerves and reached out, taking it gingerly. Then he looked up at Zira and managed a tiny smile as more tears spilled down his cheeks, tears of relief, and joy, and even a little fear. 

“Thank you.” 

Zira smiled and squeezed his hand tightly, his thumb running over Crowley’s skin, his lips trembling ever so slightly. “I’m not going to give up on you just yet. I mean it.” 

 

They sat in silence for a while, until Zira squeezed Crowley’s hand again and got up, his fingers slipping from the florist’s and leaving him feeling rather lost. 

“Have you eaten today, darling?” Zira asked, crouching down to unlace his shoes. Crowley blinked in surprise, the question taking him a bit off-guard. 

“Uh, no. No, I haven’t.”

“Then we should order something,” Zira announced, slipping his shoes off and straightening up, then turning to smile at his partner. “And I think I should stay here tonight. Or you can come to mine, I don’t mind. But I think you shouldn’t be alone.” 

Crowley drew in a breath to protest, then realised he didn’t have any reasons as to why it wasn’t a good idea. In fact, all the things he could come up with were reasons he should let the artist stay, so he just sighed and nodded slightly.

“Just...not in the bed.”

“No, of course not,” Zira said simply, slipping his coat off as well and draping it over Crowley’s desk chair. “Why don’t you come to the living room with me, and we can find something to eat?” 

Crowley stood up uncertainly, wincing and gently grabbing onto Zira’s shoulder as pain shot through his leg and he stumbled. Zira just stood calmly, not reaching out for him, not touching him. Crowley could see on his face that it was taking some effort, so he slid his hand off the artist’s shoulder and took a deep breath to calm his nerves. 

“Can I hold your arm?” He asked quietly, his jaw tight. Zira just nodded and offered it to him, watching as Crowley grabbed on, barely leaning against him, but grateful for the stability. 

“Thanks,” he muttered, and Zira just smiled wanly, helping him all the way to the couch and sitting down beside him. 

“Can I tell you something?” Zira said softly, after just a moment of silence. Crowley turned to look at him, one eyebrow raised, a flash of interest breaking through that still-fading numb feeling. 

“Yeah?”

Zira smiled, a light blush already spreading over his cheeks as those bright blue eyes shone with warmth. “I care about you, Anthony. A lot.” 

Crowley swallowed hard, then managed a smile, despite the sudden rush of very mixed emotions in his chest and throat, making it just a little difficult to breathe. 

“I care about you too, Zira.” 

 

“Anthony?” 

Crowley jolted upright, nearly smacking into Zira and curling over, burying his face in his hands as the intense panic began to fade in the face of wakefulness. The bed sank beside him and there was a soft sigh. 

“I heard you talking in your sleep,” the artist announced quietly, his voice a little hoarse from sleep. “I came in here and thought I ought to wake you. Do you...do you want anything?”

Crowley shook his head, pressing the heels of his hands into his eyes as he tried to force down the rising nausea. He could feel his fingers trembling, his whole body feeling like it didn’t quite belong to him. 

“I’ll be right back, give me a minute or two,” Zira murmured, and then was gone, leaving Crowley alone in the dim light of the bedside lamp. He slowly lowered his hands from his face and glanced around, then unfolded and got up as if he was still dreaming. He grabbed the blanket and pillow off the bed, wandering out of the bedroom and straight to the living room, where he pushed Zira’s blanket and pillow off the couch and replaced them with his own before sitting down heavily. 

“Anthony?” 

That soft voice was close again, shaking him out of his thoughts, waking him up completely as feeling returned to his body. He could see Zira crouching down in front of him, blue eyes wide and worried, more worried than he’d ever seen him look before. 

“Hey,” the artist murmured, forcing a shaky smile. “What’s going on?”

Crowley swallowed, his throat feeling like it was lined with sandpaper as he glanced back towards the bedroom door fearfully, half expecting to see a figure standing there, waiting for him. 

“I don’t think I should sleep in there anymore,” he managed, his voice thick and broken. “That’s um...It happened in there.” 

Zira’s eyes widened and he reached out, but thought better of it before his hand could touch Crowley’s cheek. “Oh...I’m sorry, darling, I’m so sorry. You need to move, this isn’t good for you.”

Crowley closed his eyes for a moment, then gave a small nod, drawing in a deep breath and letting it out slowly. 

“I’ll help you look for somewhere, we can start in the morning,” Zira murmured, reaching out again and this time very gently taking one of Crowley’s hands. “We’ll figure this out, it’s alright. Look at me.”

Crowley opened his eyes reluctantly, his fingers curling, squeezing Zira’s, holding him tighter. 

“You’re going to be okay,” Zira said firmly, forcing a sad smile as he ran his thumb over Crowley’s knuckles slowly. “This is just a...a hiccup.” 

Crowley nodded slightly, staring down at the floor between the artist's feet so he didn't have to look into those soft eyes. His heart was heavy in chest, full of fear and panic and the overwhelming feeling of being cared for so tenderly. 

A ping sounded from the kitchen and Zira got up, brushing one hand over Crowley's hair lightly as he walked off. Crowley just sat there for a while, hugging himself tightly and closing his eyes against everything until he heard footsteps coming towards him again. Zira pressed a mug of hot chocolate into his hands, flashing him a worried, but hopeful smile. 

"This should make you feel a little better," he announced, sitting down beside Crowley, but still keeping a few inches between them. 

"Thanks," Crowley mumbled, taking a long sip of the hot drink and trying not to flinch when he felt Zira's hand brushing his back. 

"Oh, sorry. I should have asked," Zira sighed, but his hand came to rest between Crowley's shoulders anyway. "Is this alright?" 

"Yeah," Crowley forced out, his voice a little strained, but even. It was borderline; it was making him shiver internally, but it still felt manageable. "Zira?" 

"Yes, my darling?" 

"I...I tried to call you that pet name I use the other day, and um...it was in my dream," Crowley began uncertainly, taking a deep, slow breath. "Could you ask me to use it? But...nicely." 

Zira gave him an odd look, but nodded as his hand started to stroke slow lines up and down the florist's back. "Okay. Um. I'd like it if you'd call me angel again, Anthony. It makes me feel so happy and...and cared for." 

To his rather pleased surprise, Crowley found himself relaxing into Zira's touch, a smile tugging at his lips. The artist sounded so nervous and caring, so tender and honest, and it was impossible to compare what he'd just said to the words in his dream. It felt as if he'd finally driven a wedge between the Zira in his nightmare, and the Zira sitting beside him. 

"Thank you, angel," Crowley murmured, his tone breaking a little over the last word, but much less than he'd expected. "I'm...actually feeling a lot better." 

"Good," Zira smiled softly, his hand slipping back into Crowley's and squeezing gently. "I'm going to be worried about you for a while, I'm afraid." 

"Me too," Crowley chuckled dryly, leaning into the artist ever so slightly. "I think I need to get some more rest." 

"Drink some more hot chocolate first," Zira encouraged gently, and Crowley obliged, letting out a soft little sigh. 

"I'm sorry for dragging you into all this," he said after a few minutes of silence. "All this stuff with George...it's not pleasant."

"No, it's not," Zira agreed firmly, his jaw tight as he stared at the floor. "It's horrible and I'm just glad I'm here to help you,” he went on, lifting his head, his eyes softening as his gaze met Crowley’s. 

Crowley smiled slightly and left it at that, finishing off his hot chocolate in the calm silence that settled between them like a soft, fluffy blanket.

Chapter Text

The next night, Zira was woken in the dark by his ringtone, blaring out from the bedside table. He groaned and picked it up, squinting at the time before answering it. 

"Anthony, it's four in the morning, you'd better be-"

"I'm sorry," came the soft reply, interrupting him and trailing off into a stifled sob. "I'm so sorry, Zira." 

Crowley's voice sounded so broken, so defeated, so despairing, that all Zira could do was give a little sigh, sitting up in bed and drawing his knees into his chest. 

"Oh my darling, it's alright," he soothed hurriedly, but tried to keep his voice as calm as possible. "Was it a nightmare?" 

"Y-yeah, the same one," Crowley choked out, another sob tearing through Zira's heart and making him wince as he curled his fingers tighter around his phone. "I'm s-sorry for calling so late, I really am, I just...I needed to hear your voice." 

Zira pulled the phone away from his ear for a moment, dragging a hand down his face and pressing it over his mouth and nose for just a moment before dropping it away to reply. He forced his voice to stay comforting, cheerful, calming. 

"That's alright, my darling. I'm here for you, always. I should have stayed with you, I can come over now, I just need to-" 

"It's fine, Zira, please don't blame yourself. And I really just need to talk for a while, I don't want you to walk here in the dark," Crowley cut in softly, sniffing a bit. "I...I had such a lovely lunch looking at apartments with you today." 

"Yeah, we found some good ones," Zira smiled, jumping on the chance to follow a thread into better things and away from blame and sleepy, irrational offers. He knew Crowley was fishing rather explicitly for a conversation, so he gladly gave it to him, his eyes slipping closed as he imagined holding the florist in his arms and talking to him until he drifted back to sleep. "Maybe we can go look at some soon." 

"I'd like that, it's nice having people with you to make big decisions," Crowley mumbled gratefully, his tone becoming much less wobbly, his breathing a little more even and calm. 

"Yeah, it is," Zira agreed softly, taking a deep breath and wrapping his spare arm around his shins. "I'm really tired, darling, how about I get a book? I could read it to you, then at least I don't have to come up with the sentences." 

Crowley gave a soft little laugh; more the laugh of someone who really, really needed the release than someone who'd heard something funny. "That sounds perfect, angel." 

Zira smiled to himself, hearing the lack of hesitation as Crowley spoke, the pet name slipping out as easily as it ever had. 

"Moby Dick?" Zira suggested jokingly, and once again there was a soft, breathy laugh from the other end of the line. "Or the dictionary?" 

Crowley snorted and Zira heard an odd sort of rustling noise. "Sorry, I just put you on speaker. Um. You mentioned that book the other day, that classic one Colin Firth did a movie of? Maybe that? I've never read it." 

Zira thought for a moment, then got out of bed and wandered over to his bookshelf. "You mean Pride and Prejudice?" 

"That sounds right," Crowley murmured, suddenly sounding slightly embarrassed. "Sorry, I'm not very well-read." 

"That's nothing to be ashamed of, you've had a busy life," Zira answered immediately, reaching up and tugging a book off the shelf. "I've got it here, my darling, would you like me to read it?" 

"If you wouldn't mind." 

"Of course not." 

Zira moved back over to the bed, turning the main bedroom light back off and switching the bedside lamp on instead. Then he settled back into the pillows and pressed the speaker button on his phone before starting to read quietly, a small smile playing at his lips. 

Every now and then, Crowley would add a little comment or laugh softly or even just make a soft, appreciative little noise. But after half an hour or so, he went quiet, and another five minutes after that, Zira heard the first quiet snore. He smiled to himself and placed the book on the bedside table before turning the lamp off and rolling over. 

Then he took the phone off speaker and returned it to his ear, his smile widening as he listened to that slow, even breathing for a moment or two. 

"I love you, Anthony," Zira finally whispered, his eyes slipping closed, his whole body relaxing into his warm sheets as the sheer relief of confession washed over him. "I love you so much, my darling, sleep well." 

And he hung up at last, setting the phone aside and rolling over to sleep, secure in the knowledge that he'd soothed his partner back into the welcome embrace of unconsciousness. 

 

Zira had gotten a call later that morning, shortly after he'd gone down to open the shop, and Crowley had quietly announced that he was tired and in pain and wasn't going to make it to work. Zira had gently told him to rest and left it at that, but had decided privately that he would close an hour early and pick up some takeout to surprise his partner. 

And there he was, pressing the buzzer, two bags sitting on the step between his feet. He waited for a moment or two, then pressed it again just as an irritable voice snapped out a 'what' over the intercom. 

"It's me, darling. I've brought food," Zira answered cheerfully, although the tone had worried him. He had rarely heard Crowley sounding that annoyed, and he had a feeling he was going to find a mess in the apartment upstairs. 

A loud buzzing sounded, along with a heavy click, and Zira pushed the door open with his shoulder, hurrying up the stairs to the elevator. By the time he got to Crowley's front door, he figured it was unlocked, and found himself to be right. He let himself in and set the bags down in the kitchen before wandering towards the living room. 

"Anthony?" 

"Bedroom," a strained voice called back, so Zira slipped his shoes off and wandered around the corner to find Crowley's bedroom door standing open. The florist was sitting on the edge of his bed, bent over his leg, his jaw set in pain, his whole posture practically vibrating with agony. Zira swallowed and slipped inside, slowly walking over to sit down next to his partner as carefully as possible. 

Crowley sucked a deep breath in and let it out slowly before leaning over slightly and resting his head on Zira's shoulder. 

"I took a nap and I missed my last pill, so I have to wait for this one to work." 

Zira sighed and began to stroke down Crowley's back, over and over, smooth and gentle. "Well, I brought food, and we can eat it in bed and look at flats at the same time."

"True," Crowley conceded softly, golden eyes slipping closed. "I think you should have a spare key. For this place, just in case...in case anything happens with my nightmares." 

"I think that's a good idea," Zira murmured, ignoring the way his heart soared at the offer, so mundane, so simple, and yet so unbearably intimate. He took a breath and continued talking softly, rubbing slow circles between Crowley's shoulders. "How about I go get you some of this food before it gets cold? You should probably be eating with your meds anyway." 

Crowley let out a soft sigh and nodded slightly, carefully moving himself around so he was sitting with his back against the headboard, his sore leg stretched out in front of him. Zira stood up and leaned down to kiss his forehead before turning and walking out of the room. 

It only took a few minutes to dish up the food, but Zira took his time about it. He smiled to himself as he got cutlery out of the drawer, once again thinking about that spare key. It felt like such a big step, especially after the events of the past few days, to be able to let himself in whenever he wanted. It was a sign of trust, a sign of love, even - Crowley wanted him around more often, just as much as he himself wanted to be around. 

Zira picked up the finished plates and took a deep breath before heading back into the bedroom. He found Crowley massaging his leg, but he stopped and looked up as soon as he noticed Zira. He managed a small smile and a quiet 'thank you' as he was handed one of the plates, and Zira sat down on the edge of the bed again, letting his hand brush over Crowley's shin before starting to eat. 

They ate in silence, their usual comfortable quiet, and when Zira got up to take the plates into the kitchen, Crowley thanked him again, slightly more enthusiastically this time. 

Zira smiled and leaned down, his fingers curling under Crowley's chin lightly as he pressed a soft, brief kiss to his cheek.

"You're welcome, my darling." 

Impatient to get back to his partner, Zira simply left the dishes in the sink and hurried back into the bedroom to find Crowley already on his laptop, scrolling through pages of flats. 

"There aren't that many close by," he murmured as Zira sat down beside him carefully, leaning back against the headboard and folding his hands in his lap. He turned, and instead of looking at the screen, studied the side of Crowley's face, those eyes reflecting the screen, his eyelids lowered slightly as he looked down at the keyboard. He looked so attentive, so absorbed, but as Zira watched, Crowley's eyebrows clashed together, his lips twitching down slightly as a flash of annoyance passed over his face. Then he was looking up, his eyes locking with Zira's and a smile slowly spreading, brightening his eyes. 

"You were staring at me, weren't you?" 

Zira felt his cheeks colouring immediately, but he just gave a small, slightly nervous smile, and a nod. "Yeah." 

Crowley just grinned and looked at the screen again, pointing to one of the search results. 

"This one looks good. It's only ten minutes' walk from yours, and it's on the first floor." 

"Sounds ideal," Zira agreed softly, shifting a little closer to look over Crowley's shoulder. "Make a note and we can call in the morning." 

"Done," Crowley smiled, adding the flat to his favourites list and then pausing for a moment, apparently deep in thought. He closed the laptop and set it aside with hands that were trembling ever so slightly, and turned to face Zira. 

"I um...I wanted to try something." 

Zira raised an eyebrow and pursed his lips slightly. "Am I going to have to tell you it's a bad idea?" 

"Possibly," Crowley chuckled, but Zira could tell by his eyes and his smile that he was immensely nervous. "Please?" 

"I can't agree unless I know what it is now, can I?" Zira pointed out with a teasing smile, although he was getting a little worried himself, unsure of exactly what the florist had in mind. 

"I think it would be easier just to show you," Crowley sighed, and Zira rolled his eyes, but gave a small nod. 

"Sure, then. I have no idea what I'm getting into, but fine." 

Crowley leaned over, and Zira almost jumped when he felt the florist's hand brushing over his cheek, before coming to rest against his skin tenderly. 

"Lay down for me?" Crowley murmured, his voice questioning and soft, his eyes flickering down to Zira's lips, presumably because he was too nervous to look into his partner's eyes. 

"Alright, darling," Zira replied softly, turning his head to kiss Crowley's wrist before laying down slowly, his head resting on the pillow, his back against the mattress. Crowley took a deep breath, then, to the artist's complete shock, swung himself up to straddle Zira's hips. 

Their eyes met and Crowley laughed nervously, leaning forward slightly so his hands rested lightly on Zira's soft stomach. 

"I want to try what we did last time, just...in a way that makes me feel more in control." 

Zira nodded, his gaze soft as he stared up at his partner, at that flame red, messy hair, those perfect golden eyes. At that perfect body, curved and slender. He wanted nothing more than to run his hands over his love, to stroke his skin, to kiss him all over, to hold him and hug him and stroke his hair, to make the pain go away. But he couldn't do any of that. 

He kept his hands by his sides, his breath catching in his throat as Crowley leaned forward and began to unbutton Zira's shirt, fingers moving deftly and quickly, soon pulling the garment open wide and immediately pressing his lips against that warm skin. 

Zira jolted slightly, not expecting the florist's lips to be so hot and yet so tender. He almost slid his hand into those red locks, but stopped himself just in time and gritted his teeth against the sudden burst of frustration. 

"God, I want to touch you, darling," he murmured softly, curling his fingers in the sheets to keep his hands grounded as Crowley kissed a line down to his belly button. 

"Not yet. Give me some time," Crowley answered softly, his hands stroking over the artist's belly, massaging it ever so lightly before he ducked back down to kiss over Zira's surgery scars. 

Then those hands were running up, fingers rubbing over his sensitive ribs. Zira tipped his head back slightly and there were lips on his throat, warm and gentle and affectionate. And Zira couldn't stop himself in time, his hands tracing the outside of lean thighs, his fingers curling around bony hips. Crowley tensed, but Zira shushed him softly, his voice coming out much calmer than he'd expected. 

"It's alright, darling. It's just me," he soothed, not moving his hands anymore, except to stroke his thumbs back and forth, over and over. 

"I know," Crowley mumbled a little hoarsely, and Zira felt the florist smile against his jaw, before pressing a brief kiss to his skin. 

As Crowley's kisses moved up slowly, drawing ever closer to Zira's mouth, the artist couldn't stop his breathing from getting faster, shallower; anticipation sending adrenaline coursing through his body. Until finally, Crowley pressed a soft kiss to his cheek, and suddenly those perfect lips were brushing over Zira's, trembling just like their first. Crowley let out a soft little sigh and then kissed his partner at last. 

Zira felt as if a weight had been dropped from his shoulders and his chest, his eyes slipping closed. He could feel Crowley's hair brushing his cheeks, he could smell the florist's scent of cheap, but serviceable cologne and fresh cut flowers. 

And after a moment, he could feel his partner start to shake, the movement ever so slight to begin with, but building up until Crowley finally broke away, gasping quietly as he sat back. 

"I-I'm sorry! I can't-" 

"Shhh, my dear, look at me," Zira interrupted quickly, his grip on Crowley's hips tightening unconsciously. "It's alright. You tried, and we got to have such a lovely kiss. It's going to take some patience, but we took a step forward tonight, and I'm proud of you." 

Crowley nodded slightly, moving to sit beside Zira and dragging his hands down his face with a heartfelt groan.

"I just want it to be easy again." 

"I know," Zira sighed, reaching over to run a hand over Crowley's arm as he tried to ignore his own sharp disappointment. "And it will be, I promise. We just have to give it time. How about I go get changed for bed and we try for a cuddle?" He suggested softly, and Crowley gave a slow nod, fearful eyes coming to rest on Zira's. 

"What if-" 

"No, we're not going to think about that. It'll be nice, and if it isn't, then we'll work on it," Zira interrupted firmly, sitting up and reaching up to brush Crowley's hair back behind his ear. The florist managed a small smile, leaning into his partner's hand ever so slightly. 

"You're too good to me, Zira," he murmured, his eyes closing as Zira allowed his hand to open against Crowley's cheek. 

"Don't say that, my darling. You deserve the best," Zira answered softly, and those golden eyes fluttered open to stare into his, so in awe, so needy. Zira leaned forward and kissed Crowley as lightly as he could, breaking away after only a second, and cupping his chin in one hand as he leaned back. 

Crowley smiled again, but this was a different smile; much more confident, happy. It reached his eyes, making them shine and glow, and it radiated through his whole body, relaxing him even as Zira leaned in and kissed his cheek softly. Then Zira pulled away, his heart feeling as if it was swelling, almost ready to burst as he took in that undiluted, beatific smile. 

"I'll go...I'll go change," he mumbled at last, and Crowley nodded, looking down. The smile faded, and Zira swallowed before getting up, trying to shake the desperation to get that smile back, to make Crowley that happy all over again. But he tore himself away and hurried out into the kitchen to grab his bag, carrying it into the bathroom. 

A couple minutes later, he wandered back into the bedroom to find Crowley already changed and curled up in bed, messy hair strewn all over the pillow, his eyes half closed. 

"Hey," Zira murmured as he walked in, somehow feeling that he needed to announce his presence. Crowley just grunted, so Zira closed the door behind him and wandered over to the bed, climbing in on the other side. 

"Are you okay? You seem down." 

"Just tired," Crowley mumbled, taking a deep, heavy breath. "It was hard, doing that. I liked it, but it was...it was scary." 

Zira lay down beside him slowly, rolling onto his side to face Crowley and run a hand down his arm. Crowley smiled a wan smile, his eyes full of an intense anxiety that made Zira's throat feel dry - he did not like seeing his partner this worried. "That's okay. We'll keep working on it, it's not the end of the world. And it'll be easy again, you'll see." 

Zira reached up slowly, giving Crowley ample time to push him away before his hand landed on the florist's hair, starting to stroke it as soothingly and as gently as he could. 

"I hope so," Crowley answered fervently, his eyes slowly closing as Zira's gentle touches eased his worries. 

Zira just smiled and carefully began to pull him closer, humming a soft little tune as Crowley pressed himself into Zira's chest, folding up in his arms as if there was nowhere else in the world he could be. He buried his face in Zira's shoulder again, so the artist cradled the back of his head with one hand, the other stroking up and down his back where his arm was draped loosely over Crowley's waist. 

Smiling to himself, Zira let his eyes start to close up, content with Crowley's unusually cool body heat against him, and his heavy, yet tender touches. Then the florist shifted, letting out a deep sigh as he rolled over, his back now pressed to Zira's chest. Zira swallowed and moved slowly, careful not to overwhelm Crowley as he curled himself around his partner's body, pressing a soft kiss to his shoulder and wrapping an arm around his waist. 

"I've got you, my dear." 

"I know, angel."

Chapter Text

Crowley woke up rather warmer than usual the next morning. 

Though he could already feel his leg throbbing, he simply ignored it and opened his eyes slowly, blinking sleepily in the light until his gaze finally focused on the unconscious body beside him. 

Zira was still fast asleep, breathing softly and slowly, a tiny, peaceful smile on his face. His fluffy blond hair was bright, touched with gold where the morning sun was shining through it, and his face was half hidden by the pillow, his arms childishly tucked up against his chest.  

Crowley just stared for a moment or two, taking it all in, studying those familiar features made ever so slightly different by sleep. 

Then he reached out tentatively, stroking his knuckles over Zira's cheek. His eyes widened as Zira's eyebrows furrowed, his head turning into the pillow even further while he let out a soft, protesting noise. It was unbearably adorable, so Crowley stroked down again, this time calling out to him quietly. 

"Angel?" 

Those blue eyes cracked open, bright and shining even so full of sleep, and Zira blinked slowly, before realisation dawned and a warm, half-conscious smile spread across his face. 

"Good morning, darling." 

Crowley couldn't resist that voice, so full of warmth and tenderness, so he dove forward, his fingers curling under Zira's chin as he kissed him, gently pulling him just a little deeper. Zira smiled against his lips before kissing back, his hand sliding up to tangle in Crowley's hair. 

At that point, Crowley broke away quickly, but stayed only a few inches from Zira, his golden eyes still closed as he focused on keeping his breathing even. 

"It's alright, my darling," Zira murmured softly, his hand carefully running down from Crowley's hair to his shoulder instead, rubbing gently and soothingly. "You don't have to push yourself." 

Crowley smiled slightly, opening his eyes again and just staring at Zira for a moment. He felt as if he was overflowing with emotion, and if he didn't do something about it, he'd burst, so he just pulled his perfect angel into another soft kiss, and even let out a quiet sigh of frustration when Zira broke away. 

"I wanna touch you," he pouted sleepily, and Crowley took a deep breath, then flashed a small smile. 

"I can't promise anything," he murmured, trying to hide his nerves without much success. He leaned back away from Zira just enough to slip his shirt over his head, and Zira was on him immediately, pulling him into a slow, easy kiss and running one hand down his chest, the other down his side.

Crowley closed his eyes and deepened the kiss ever so slightly, reminding himself that he had control, he had the ability to dictate this. And then Zira's hand was on his hip, just a little too far down and in for comfort, and Crowley could feel that pressure on his chest again, that horrible weight that left him breathless. 

As soon as Zira felt him tense, he let go and moved away, but it was too late. 

Crowley sat up hurriedly, pulling his knees into his chest and squeezing his eyes shut as he struggled to breathe, once again feeling something in his mouth, his throat. A hand landed on his back and he flinched, but it just stroked down slowly, running over his spine and pressing gently with soft fingertips. 

"Hey, hey, it's okay, my darling," Zira murmured, his voice sounding like it was coming from some distance away. "Can you look at me, honey?" 

Honey. 

That was new. So loving, so quiet, so gentle. He hadn't heard it in his dream, George had never used it. It was unsullied, untarnished, and Crowley finally looked up, his golden eyes meeting blue. 

"That's it," Zira smiled, and there was worry behind that smile, despite how comforting it was. "It's all okay. Look around, alright? Try to think about all the details that are different. It's morning, for a start." 

Crowley managed a small nod, his breathing starting to slow and deepen as he looked at the new sheets, the curtains drawn across the windows, even Zira sitting beside him with such an adoring look in his eyes. 

"I'm...I'm okay." 

"I know," the artist smiled, leaning over to kiss Crowley's cheek and tuck a lock of his hair back. "I told you, you're the strongest man I know, and I wasn't lying." 

Crowley managed a small smile and a slow nod, then sucked in a deep breath and closed his eyes for a moment. "I like honey." 

"You mean you want me to say it more?" Zira asked softly, once again running his hand down Crowley's back. "I can if you like." 

"Yeah," Crowley answered, opening his eyes again to smile at Zira sadly as he took another slow, careful breath. "Darling has some...connotations for me, and I like you using it, I do, but...when I'm panicking or need comfort...maybe honey would be better." 

Zira nodded hastily and leaned forward slowly, giving Crowley plenty of time to protest before their lips connected, soft and light at first, but deepening almost immediately as Crowley reached up, his fingers curling around the back of Zira's jaw. 

Crowley tried to unfold his legs and broke the kiss instantly, crying out in pain and leaning forward to grab at his leg. Agonising jolts were shooting up his thigh, his knee was throbbing, everything hurt. Spasms ran through the muscle, each one a new jolt of excruciating pain, sending Crowley back down to the bed. He curled up tightly, groaning and gasping, his fingers tangling in his hair, nausea rising as the pain just climbed and climbed, ripping through him and making his whole body tense. 

All he could feel was agony, until Zira lay down behind him, wrapping one strong arm around his waist, leaving the other free to gently pull Crowley's hand away from his hair and start to stroke it slowly, his fingers combing through the tangles. Crowley grabbed onto his arm instead, unconsciously digging his short nails in, his whole body jolting with another burst of pain. 

He couldn't even swear; he could barely breathe. His whole body was trembling, but it slowly began to lessen, the spasms becoming fewer with more time in between as Zira's gentle touches helped him start to relax. 

As Crowley's heartbeat slowed and became quieter, no longer a heavy thudding in his ears, he found he could hear that soft voice, talking to him as calmly as Zira could manage, with still a touch of frantic worry obvious in his tone. 

"I've got you, honey, it's okay," he repeated over and over, his hand shaking slightly in Crowley's hair, his whole body pressed to his partner's as if in the hopes that he could force the pain out of Crowley's body by sheer proximity alone. 

"I'm here, Anthony. It's okay," Zira murmured, hugging him a little tighter as he began to breathe deeper, the pain subsiding into dull throbbing instead of sharp, heavy jolts. 

Crowley took a deep, slow breath, and wiped the tears he hadn't realised he'd been crying off his cheeks, embarrassment taking over from the pain. 

"Angel?" 

"Yes, darling?" Zira answered quickly, the harmonics of worry still twisting through his words. 

"I need you to get my pills, a glass of water, and a slice of toast. Would you-" 

"Of course I wouldn't mind," Zira interrupted gently, already disentangling himself from Crowley and sitting up, his hand lingering on his partner's side. "Where are your pills?"

"The two orange bottles in the bedside cabinet," Crowley mumbled, slowly pulling the blanket over himself, careful not to move too much in case it started the spasms off again. 

"Alright. I'll be five minutes, darling. Shout if you need anything else." 

Crowley was in no state to count time, but it seemed to him that Zira came back quite quickly, carrying a plate and a glass of water. He set both down on the bedside table and leaned over to stroke Crowley's hair slowly. 

"You need to sit up, how can I help?" 

Crowley took a deep breath and shook his head slightly. 

"You can't, it's alright," he mumbled, then gritted his teeth and pulled himself upright, pain jolting through his leg, but only until he was sitting up, his whole body trembling slightly. The dull throbbing was still there, but he was used to ignoring that. 

Zira handed him the plate carefully and Crowley took all of the pills in one go before downing half the water and starting in on the toast reluctantly. 

"What are they for? If you don't mind me asking," Zira murmured, sitting on the edge of the bed beside him and rubbing his shin slowly, those bright eyes fixed on his. 

"The white tablets are painkillers, the little ones are muscle relaxants. They're supposed to stop my muscle from spasming, which is what just happened, but they don't work that well." 

Zira nodded slowly, reaching over to brush a crumb off his lip, his expression still full of concern. "How often is it that bad? Is that the worst it gets?" 

Crowley heaved a sigh and finished off the toast before setting the plate down and grabbing the water instead, his hand trembling ever so slightly. "I usually have a few days like this every couple weeks. It'll suddenly get bad for no reason or some stupid small reason, and get slowly better over time. This is slightly better than the worst I've had it, because I'm not throwing up my pills. That's usually not a good day." 

Zira winced and moved around to sit next to Crowley, his hand gently finding his and squeezing it lightly as that intense, thoughtful gaze dropped to the floor. "I wish I could do more."

Crowley nodded slowly, then set the glass of water aside and leaned his head on the artist's shoulder. "I know. But it really does mean a lot, having you here with me like this." 

Zira smiled and turned his head slightly to press a soft kiss to the top of Crowley's head, his hand tightening around Crowley’s. "I'm guessing the ex wasn't much for comforting you?" 

Crowley let out a deep sigh and shifted a little closer to Zira, his eyes closing slowly. "No. When I had bad days, he'd usually go out drinking with friends so he didn't have to be home with me. He said it was depressing. But I don't...I don't want to think about him anymore. I have you now." 

"Yes, you do," Zira smiled brightly, letting go of his hand to wrap an arm around his waist instead, his thumb rubbing over Crowley’s side. "I'm sorry I brought him up. Look, I have an appointment in just over an hour, it's probably going to take all day, but I really don't want to leave you here. Would you be up to taking a taxi back to mine? You could bring an overnight bag? I just don't like the idea of you being on your own." 

Crowley smiled to himself contentedly, his fingers curling slightly as a wave of tiredness washed over him. "That sounds perfect, angel." 

"Good, do you need help packing or anything?" 

"No, I'll be fine," Crowley sighed softly, turning his head to press a light kiss to Zira's jaw. "Go make yourself some breakfast." 

Zira hesitated, but got up and headed out, pausing for just a moment in the doorway and glancing back at his partner. "Do you want anything else to eat?" 

Crowley looked up and shook his head quickly, flashing a weak smile. "No, not right now. Best to keep it bland for this morning." 

Zira nodded and slipped out, and Crowley watched the doorway for a moment, already feeling exhausted and a bit empty. Then he heaved a deep breath and wrapped his hands under his thigh, linking his fingers underneath it before swinging his legs over the edge of the bed. 

He stood up unsteadily, gritting his teeth against the pain and slowly starting to walk along the bed, towards his dresser. Just as he reached the end of the bed, however, a fresh jolt of stabbing agony ran up his leg, weakening his muscles and causing his knee to fold underneath him. 

It all happened so quickly, he barely knew how. He knew that he'd been standing upright and had ended up on the floor, his side suddenly throbbing and aching, but that was about it. He just groaned and sat up slowly, using the footboard of the bed to heave himself back up, just as Zira hurried in, his eyes bright with worry. 

"I heard a thud, are you-" 

"I'm fine, everything's fine," Crowley hissed out hurriedly, his cheeks colouring as Zira walked over to him, lifting his chin with one finger. 

"Look at me, Anthony," he said firmly, then pointed to the florist's side accusingly. "You're bleeding. Please don't lie to me, this stuff is important. I know you're embarrassed and scared, but there's nothing to be embarrassed about. You're not weak, there's nothing wrong with you. Now take off your shirt." 

Crowley stared at him for a moment, that little speech rather too much for him that early in the morning, but he managed to get it together enough to obey the command, slipping his bloody shirt off and looking down. 

Zira hissed softly and crouched down, gently pressing the skin around the nasty gash and ignoring Crowley’s quiet curses. 

"I think I hit the footboard going down," Crowley muttered, wincing as he saw the bruise already darkening over his ribs. Zira sighed and glanced at the end of the bed - at the sharp corner of the footboard. 

"You're getting a new bed when you move. And carpets," he mumbled, then stood up and turned away. "I saw a first aid kit in your bathroom, I'll go and get it." 

Crowley heaved a sigh and buried his face in his hands, his whole body aching with a different kind of pain. He couldn't help being embarrassed, not after the amount of times he'd been called pathetic or stared at or even laughed at. He could feel the tears building up, and he tried to swallow them back, to force them down, but it was no use. 

He heard footsteps coming back into the bedroom and dropped his hands quickly, trying to wipe his tears away before Zira noticed, without success. But Zira didn’t say anything, instead slowly sitting down beside him and gently guiding his arm out of the way as he pulled out a bottle of antiseptic. 

"I know it's hard," he murmured, tipping some of the antiseptic onto a cotton pad and starting to dab at the cut lightly. "I know it's going to take time to trust me, but I promise I'll never judge you." 

Crowley winced at the sting of the antiseptic, but didn't reply just yet. Zira sighed and smoothed cream over the cut, then carefully taped a pad over it. 

"There, all done. It's going to be sore, but there's not a lot I can do about that." 

Crowley nodded slightly and gently grabbed at Zira's wrist before he could get up, his chest feeling rather tight. He couldn't look at his partner, not yet, but he took a deep breath and forced a small smile. 

"Thank you." 

Zira simply leaned over and kissed his cheek, pulling him into a careful, loose hug. "Anytime. Now let me pack for you, you just have to tell me where things are."  

 

They made it to Zira's shop just under an hour later, and Zira unlocked the door, helping Crowley inside. He groaned softly when he looked at the stairs, his head tipping back, but Zira just wrapped an arm around his waist and helped him forward. 

"We'll get there," he said simply, glancing up at Crowley and flashing him a small smile. "I promise. Just one at a time." 

The first step was hard, but the last was agony, and Zira had to practically carry Crowley up it, steadying him as he stumbled on the landing. His breathing was coming fast and ragged, as if he'd just run a marathon, but Zira was still gently urging him on, taking most of his weight as he led him into the bedroom and finally allowed him to collapse on the bed. Crowley kicked his shoes off immediately, laying down and curling up, trying to ignore the pain and nausea as Zira shut the curtains and then leaned down to gently take Crowley's glasses off. 

"There you go. I've put your bag by the bed, it's got your laptop and everything in there, but I think you should try to rest. I'll come and check on you in an hour, alright?" 

Crowley managed a small nod and a soft thanks, then closed his eyes as he heard the bedroom door click shut behind his partner. 

 

Crowley woke up a few hours later, groaning softly and rolling onto his back as he rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. Something caught his attention and he turned his head slowly, staring at the orange pill bottles set out on the bedside table, along with a large tartan thermos. A small note sat beside them, so he picked it up and scanned it quickly, a little flash of emotion bursting in his chest as he realised Zira had written it in a larger script than his usual handwriting - presumably to make it easier for Crowley to read. 

Darling, don't forget your medication, and I made you some of that tea you like best. Please drink all of it, you need to stay hydrated. xxx

Crowley smiled to himself and slowly pulled himself into a sitting position, then took his pills and unscrewed the cap off the thermos. He took a long gulp of the hot, sweet tea, smiling to himself as he felt it already relaxing and soothing his entire body. Only Zira could make tea like that, he thought to himself, staring down into the depths of the thermos. He was sure that if he bought the same tea and made it exactly the same way, it would still come nowhere near the way it tasted and felt when Zira made it for him. 

Crowley sighed and took another gulp, then fished his phone out of his bag and set an audiobook playing as he got comfortable leaning back against the headboard, the blanket laid over his legs haphazardly. It felt peaceful sitting there, tea in hand, a story rolling out into the air for him as he closed his eyes. Much more peaceful than he ever felt at home. 

He would be the first to admit that it probably wasn't the type of rest Zira had had in mind for him, but it certainly felt much more restful than being asleep. Perhaps because he at least got to enjoy it. 

After a while, he set the empty thermos aside and laid down, curling up comfortably under Zira's soft blankets and just listening to his audiobook in quiet contentment. His leg was still aching, but he was used to ignoring it, and so he just lay there and waited. 

 

It was another hour before Zira came back up, slipping through the bedroom door quietly and smiling as Crowley lifted his head to squint at him sleepily. 

"Hey," Zira murmured, showing him the packaged sandwich in his hand. "Do you feel okay to eat some lunch?" 

Crowley smiled and hauled himself into a sitting position, glancing at the clock on the bedside table. “Yeah, I don’t feel so sick anymore. How are things going downstairs?”
Zira sat down on the edge of the bed, handing Crowley the sandwich with a bright smile. “It’s good, he’s gone to get some lunch. I’ve told him I’ll be ready in half an hour.” 

Crowley raised an eyebrow playfully, his lips twitching up a little further. “Yeah? That seems like a long time to just bring me a sandwich.” 

Zira chuckled and leaned over, pressing a firm kiss to Crowley’s cheek. “It does, doesn’t it? You know you could just ask for a kiss?”
“That’s much less fun,” Crowley grinned, unwrapping the sandwich and taking out one half. “Thanks for this.”
“It’s alright, I’m just glad you’re eating,” Zira said simply, laying back on the bed and staring up at the ceiling, his hands folded on his stomach. “This guy won’t stop wriggling, it’s exhausting.” 

“Yeah? Sounds like a pain,” Crowley mumbled, taking a bite of his sandwich as he eyed the artist laid out in front of him, watching as those blue eyes slipped closed. 

“Mm, he’s not got any pain tolerance, as far as I can tell. And he’s been telling me all about the tattoo he wants next, a full rib piece. As if he could ever get through that. I’m definitely not going to do it, far too difficult.” 

Crowley smiled to himself, content and relaxed as he ate and listened to Zira complain, just watching him and reminding himself that the artist was all his, and he could have this every day, any day. All he ever had to do was ask. 

Although that wasn’t always that easy for him, he had to admit. He appreciated that Zira thought differently, but the attitude that had been repeated over and over throughout his childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood, still lingered. Avoid showing weakness at all costs, always appear tough, always be in control. 

It was hard to accept that some days that just wasn’t possible, and it was even harder to remember that Zira simply didn’t think that way. 

“Anthony? Everything okay?” 

Crowley shook himself out of his thoughts and managed a small smile, leaning over to set the empty sandwich box on the bedside table. “Yeah, just thinking.”
“Are you going to tell me what about?” Zira asked, his expression interested rather than demanding, with a touch of mischief that only served to widen Crowley’s smile. 

“Maybe.” 

He took a deep breath, then gently nudged Zira’s side with his foot. “How about you come sit next to me? We can talk properly.”

“That doesn’t sound good,” Zira chuckled, but moved obligingly, sitting up next to Crowley and reaching up to stroke his hair slowly, sweeping it back behind his ear the way he always did. “Are you okay?” He repeated softly, his tone suddenly serious, although still gentle. 

“Yeah,” Crowley nodded, looking down at his hands in his lap and letting out a soft sigh as Zira took one of them carefully, lacing their fingers together. “Just...thinking about things. I’ve never really had anyone take care of me like this before, I guess it’s a little...not overwhelming, just...odd. Being in the army and then the police, and...well, being with George, it doesn’t really...I don’t really have…” Crowley trailed off, his heart sinking slightly as he searched for the right words, finding them unfortunately rather elusive. “I don’t...I wasn’t ever anything but tough, and it feels a little...frightening to be vulnerable with you. With anyone. And I guess...I worry that you’ll get tired of me. George used to say that sometimes, when we fought. He said no one else would put up with my leg, you know? ‘Cause it’s alright when people are just sick sometimes, it’s easy to be caring, but when it’s every week? Every day? It’ll be hard on you.”

Zira waited patiently until Crowley was finished, occasionally squeezing his hand, but staying completely silent. 

“Is that it?” he asked gently, after a moment or two of silence, and Crowley nodded dejectedly, taking a slow, deep breath.
“Yeah. Sorry.” 

“Don’t ever apologise for talking to me,” Zira soothed, resting his head on Crowley’s shoulder and squeezing his hand once again. “I understand not feeling like you deserve being taken care of, or it just feeling strange. Sometimes I still worry about you accepting me, after so many bad experiences with my family and...other people, but I think that just takes time. And I know where you’re coming from, I know it’s going to be hard sometimes, but I care about you. I’ll be here for the everyday, I promise. As long as you’re here for mine.”

Crowley rested his head against Zira’s, letting his eyes close for a moment or two as a soft smile played at the corners of his lips. “I don’t think you really have issues like me, Zira.”

“Maybe you just haven’t seen them yet,” he pointed out, with a humorless chuckle. “I don’t really want to get into that right now, not while we have a limited amount of time. But I do have insecurities, ones you don’t know about. Nothing bad, just...comes up every now and then.”

“You should tell me,” Crowley murmured, lifting Zira’s hand and pressing a soft kiss to his knuckles. “When you’re ready.”

“Maybe later.”

“Can’t argue with that.”

Zira smiled to himself and Crowley let their hands drop back into his lap, still firmly interlinked as he glanced at the clock. “You should go back downstairs. Have your own lunch.”

“I should,” Zira agreed softly, but didn’t get up, instead turning and pulling Crowley into a brief, slow kiss, his spare hand brushing over his warm cheek. Crowley just smiled into it, welcoming the effective distraction from everything else - from his leg, from his worries, from the knowledge that Zira would have to get up in a moment and leave him alone again. 

It was over far too soon, however, and he allowed Zira’s hand to slip from his as the artist stood up, glancing back at him reluctantly. 

“Do you have everything you need?” He asked quietly, and Crowley gave a small nod and a slightly weak smile.

“Yeah, I’ll be okay. Don’t worry.”

“I’m always worried about something,” Zira chuckled, leaning down to kiss Crowley one last time, lingering ever so slightly before pulling away. “I’ll be back in a couple hours, try to get some more rest.”

“I will,” Crowley murmured, his voice coming out a little hoarse as he watched Zira turn and walk off. The door closed behind him with a quiet sound, and Crowley sighed, falling back against the pillows and glaring up at the ceiling. He didn’t want to be alone, didn’t want to be left to his thoughts. But as usual, he had to wait for what he wanted, so he rolled over and closed his eyes, trying to ignore the pain, and everything else. 

 

Crowley woke up once again, but this time he had company. He could feel a warmth behind him, and hear Zira humming to himself softly, that same tune he always hummed when he was feeling particularly comfortable. 

Crowley let out a soft sigh and shifted his leg experimentally, wincing as pain shot up his thigh, aching and sharp. The humming stopped and he rolled over quickly, grabbing onto his partner and burying his face in Zira's inviting chest. Zira chuckled softly and ran a hand over his hair, setting his book aside carefully. 

"Welcome back to the world, darling," he murmured, wrapping his arms around Crowley and pressing a soft kiss to the top of his head. "How are you feeling?" 

Crowley just shrugged and cuddled closer into the artist, letting out a deep, slightly pained sigh. 

"I'll take that as not great. Would it maybe help if I read to you again?" 

Crowley nodded quickly, lifting his head to flash Zira a sleepy, but heartfelt smile. "Yes, please." 

Zira chuckled and leaned down, kissing him ever so softly before reaching over and picking a book up off the bedside table. 

"Here we go, the one I was reading the other night. Does that sound good?" 

Crowley nodded again and curled up slightly, his legs tangling with Zira's, his face pressing closer into his chest. Zira let out a contented sigh and wrapped one arm around Crowley, the other holding his book as he began to read. 

Crowley closed his eyes and allowed himself to drift away slightly, focusing on the feeling of Zira's voice vibrating in his chest, the sound of his words, so warm and gentle. It was such a perfect distraction, so calm and warm and comforting, and as he felt Zira's hand stroke up and down his back, he couldn't keep the smile off his face.

Chapter Text

A few days later, Crowley woke to the sound of Zira's alarm clock. It was similar to his, but subtly different, and he quite liked the advance warning for where he was going to wake up. Although that morning, it was more irritating than helpful. 

"Turn it off right now, angel," he growled, turning his face into the pillow. 

"I'm trying!" Zira chuckled, and the insistent beeping shut off a few seconds later. "You're already grumpy. Today's going to be fun." 

Crowley just groaned, then jumped slightly when he felt Zira's hand stroke down his back. 

"I'm just joking, my dear. How about you make the tea, and I'll go check for post?" 

"Five more minutes," Crowley implored hopelessly, but for once, Zira decided to indulge him. 

"Let's have a compromise. No more sleep, but five minutes of cuddling," he suggested, and Crowley felt the artist's fingers in his hair, gently teasing out the bigger tangles. 

"Mm. Fine," Crowley grunted, knowing this was the best he was going to get and rolling over to squint up at his partner. Zira just grinned and pulled him into a slow kiss, then propped himself up on one elbow and let his hand come to rest on Crowley's cheek. The sheets slipped down, revealing his now rather familiar tattoos, and Crowley smiled despite himself. 

"How's your leg?" Zira asked softly, obliging as Crowley gently pulled him back down onto the bed and pressed himself into his arms. 

"It's a lot better, but I think it's going to get bad again soon. I can usually tell," he mumbled, pressing a soft kiss to Zira's neck and wrapping his arms around the artist tightly. 

"We'll deal with it when it comes to it," Zira answered confidently as Crowley turned his head, resting his cheek against his partner's chest. 

"I suppose so. I'm just tired of it." 

Zira heaved a heavy sigh and Crowley rolled his eyes, already knowing what he was going to say. "I've told you so many times-" 

"I don't have time to go to the doctor, not right now," Crowley interrupted patiently, but he knew the excuse was bullshit. And Zira knew it too. 

"Fine. After the apartment search," he murmured, backing down as he always did and squeezing the florist gently. "You need to go." 

"I know. Come on, I'll make the tea." 

"You always change the subject, Anthony," Zira reprimanded, but his voice was more amused than annoyed as Crowley moved to sit on the edge of the bed, his back to the artist. 

"You can't change the subject if the conversation is already over, angel. Go get the post." 

 

Not long later, Crowley poured the boiling water into the teapot and glanced up as Zira walked into the apartment, sorting through letters while he wandered into the living room. Crowley put the lid on the teapot, and when he looked up again, Zira had frozen in the middle of the living room floor, staring at an envelope. 

"Zira?" 

When he didn't get an answer, Crowley walked over slowly and stroked his hand down Zira's back briefly, causing him to jump and nearly drop everything he was holding. 

"Hey, sorry, I didn't mean to scare you," Crowley murmured, and Zira took a deep breath, hurriedly shoving the letter he'd been staring at into the middle of the stack. 

"It's alright, I was miles away," he announced, rather too loudly, and accompanied with a nervous chuckle as he hurried off, shoving the post into his desk drawer. "All junk." 

Crowley frowned, stepping forward and gently turning Zira around to face him, cradling his face in his hands in an attempt to encourage eye contact. But Zira wouldn't look at him, his cheeks colouring slightly as he tried to pull away. 

"Junk mail isn't usually handwritten," Crowley pointed out softly, this time letting Zira twist away from him, the artist's jaw clenching as he glared down at the floor. 

"I don't want to talk about it." 

"But you seem-" Crowley tried, and Zira drew in a sharp breath, finally turning and fixing those hard blue eyes on Crowley. 

"Yes, I'm upset. That's why I don't want to talk about it. Please drop it?" 

As he spoke, the hard tone faded and was replaced with a thick, pleading voice, so Crowley simply pulled him into a loose hug and kissed the side of his head tenderly. 

"Alright, angel. It's dropped, but I'm here if you want to talk." 

"I know," Zira sighed softly, gently pulling away and forcing a rather strained smile. "Come on, we need to get ready for this appointment. We've still got to have breakfast." 

Crowley took a deep breath, trying to let go of his worry as he nodded and let Zira wander away from him, into the kitchen. He stood there for a moment, trying unsuccessfully to squash overwhelming feeling that something was very wrong. It made him feel sick and uncomfortable, as if something with quite a few very sharp teeth was looming behind him, but he couldn't turn around or run. 

He certainly knew better than to push Zira on anything after being told to drop it, so he just sighed and followed him into the kitchen to help him with breakfast. 

 

By the time they got back to Zira's after their appointment to view an apartment, Crowley's leg was aching again, and he was tired. 

He collapsed into Zira's comfortable couch and leaned his head back, watching as the artist wandered into the kitchen. 

Zira had seemed preoccupied all morning, staring off into the distance and barely responding to Crowley whenever he spoke to him. Crowley knew it had to have something to do with that letter, but he was still reluctant to talk to his partner about it. After all, Zira had seemed fairly adamant, and Crowley knew the artist could get quite inflamed if he felt he was being backed into a corner. 

"Angel?" 

"Yes, dear?" Zira answered from the kitchen, his tone a bit distant. 

"Would you bring me a donut from the cupboard, angel? The custard ones." 

There wasn't a response, but Crowley smiled to himself when he heard the rustle of plastic wrap. Zira was never one to turn down the opportunity for something sweet, and Crowley had known he wouldn't be able to resist. Maybe it would be enough to get Zira to sit down for two minutes at a time and actually talk to him. 

Sure enough, Zira walked in a few moments later with two plates. He handed one to Crowley and sat down beside him, taking a deep breath before picking up his treat. 

"What did you think of that one?" Crowley pressed gently, not yet touching his donut. 

Zira looked up, brushing sugar off his lips with his thumb. "The flat? Oh, I thought it was ideal. Five minutes from your shop, small and cosy, first floor, no stairs. Your own parking space." 

Crowley nodded slowly, watching Zira take another bite of the donut and rolling his eyes fondly as the artist almost spilled custard everywhere. 

"That's what I thought. I might tell them I'm interested," Crowley said slowly, tilting his head slightly as Zira glanced up again. "Did you like it, angel? I mean, beyond practicalities." 

Zira hesitated for a moment, apparently thinking this over, then nodded. "Yeah. If it were my place, I'd want it to maybe have just a touch more natural light, but...well, that doesn't really matter to you, does it? And I've gotten used to having the curtains closed a lot more now," he added with a soft smile. "I think you should take it, darling. It's a lovely place and you really need to be out of where you are." 

Crowley smiled and leaned back against the back of the sofa, his own donut forgotten as he watched Zira lick the custard off his fingers. 

"I'll make the call later today. For now, I think I might go lie down. I'm feeling like I need some more rest. Come keep me company?" 

Zira took his plate away carefully, giving him a knowing look before getting up. 

"I'll be there in a moment. Go get comfortable." 

Crowley sighed, reluctant to walk away without a solid promise, but headed into the bedroom anyway. He slipped his jeans off and crawled in under the covers, flopping onto his stomach with his face half buried in the pillows. 

After a short while, he heard the door open and close, and felt a gentle hand in his hair. 

"Are you okay, darling? You look a bit pale." 

Crowley grunted softly and turned his head slightly, folding his arms under the pillow. "M'fine, just didn't sleep great last night." 

"Well," Zira corrected absentmindedly, and Crowley heard the floorboards creak as he walked away, towards the door. 

"You knew what I meant, angel," Crowley mumbled with fake annoyance, glad the artist couldn't see the smile he was trying to hide. 

"True," Zira murmured, clearly no longer listening. Crowley sighed and shifted position slightly, closing his eyes as he tried to relax, but the sound of Zira pacing over and over was making it difficult to drift off. 

The heat in the room wasn't helping either, so Crowley sat up and slipped his shirt off, tossing it aside sleepily and dragging a hand down his face. The pacing stopped and he looked up to see Zira staring at him, his hands in his pockets, his expression still worried and preoccupied - but slightly less so as he ran his eyes over Crowley's chest. 

"You just gonna stare?" Crowley challenged after a long moment, and Zira blushed immediately, looking down at the floor between his feet. 

"Sorry, I just-" 

"It's fine, Zira, I'm just...worried about you. Why don't you come sit down?" Crowley sighed, sitting up and adjusting himself so his leg was still stretched out in front of him comfortably.

Zira shrugged, then wandered over and sat down heavily, his blue eyes roaming over Crowley's bare chest once more. 

"You don't have to just stare," Crowley murmured, and Zira didn't need telling twice. 

He pulled Crowley into a quick kiss, his movements slightly twitchy and desperate, his fingers trembling as they curled under the florist's chin. 

Crowley gently took Zira's wrists, guiding his hands to his chest, letting the artist stroke over his ribs. Zira just about remembered to avoid the still-healing cut on Crowley's ribs, deepening the kiss slightly as he skirted around it to rub his thumbs over the skin just above the florist's hips. 

Crowley broke away quickly, then kissed Zira again, just a brief, hurried peck before resting his forehead on his partner's. 

"I think you need to talk to me, Zira. Whatever's going on is obviously getting to you, and I'm here to help," he tried again nervously, letting his fingertips trace the curve of Zira's jaw before running down, over his neck. "Please?" 

Zira pulled away slowly, reluctantly, letting his hands slip from Crowley's sides. For a moment, Crowley thought he'd just get up and start pacing again, but instead Zira stood up and slipped his coat off. 

"I think I need to lay down." 

Crowley sighed, but didn't say anything, laying back as he watched Zira undress to his t shirt and boxers before he finally climbed into bed. He lay on his side next to Crowley, stroking his knuckles down the centre of his chest slowly, almost soothingly. Crowley just flashed him a small smile and leaned over to kiss him, but Zira gently stopped him. 

"I do want to talk. I...I just thought that if I tried not to think about it, then it would go away, but obviously that was ridiculous," Zira began softly, and Crowley sank back into the pillows, his hand finding Zira's and squeezing lightly. "I um...I got a letter from my parents this morning," the artist went on, not quite meeting Crowley's gaze, his cheeks once again flushed. "I haven't decided if I'm even going to open it or not, I'm honestly quite scared to." 

Crowley nodded, lacing their fingers together and shifting a little closer to his partner as he tried to push away his own emotions to fully support Zira. "I can understand that. It's a big thing to handle," he murmured softly, reaching out with his spare hand to stroke over Zira's cheek soothingly. "We could take a look at it together, if that helps." 

Zira let his eyelids flutter closed for a moment, turning his head to kiss Crowley's fingers softly. 

"I think maybe just having you here while I read it would help. I...I just don't know what to expect. A-and I'm a little scared." 

"Hey, hey," Crowley said quickly, smiling sadly as he gently patted Zira's cheek until he opened those sad blue eyes. "They can't do anything to you anymore, Zira. They can't cut you off, they can't kick you out. You're an adult, they don't have power over you anymore." 

Zira smiled, but his lips were trembling slightly and his eyes betrayed the horrible uncertainty in his heart. "They can still manipulate my emotions, Anthony. You should know that from George. There's no button to press to just stop feeling for or caring about someone. They're still my parents." 

Crowley sighed and opened his arms, quickly wrapping himself around Zira as soon as the artist cuddled up to his chest. 

"I've got you, angel," he murmured, cradling Zira's head as he tucked it under his chin. "Whatever happens, I'm gonna be right here with you, okay? I'll hold your hand whenever you need." 

"I know," Zira said simply, and silence fell for a moment or two while they both just enjoyed the embrace, the moment of quiet contentment before everything would be thrown up in the air again. 

Crowley kept rubbing Zira's back, holding him a little tighter as he thought about exactly how awful his parents had to be to have thrown him out like that, cut him off for who he was. He had a rather acute feeling that this wasn't going to end well. 

After a while, Zira slowly pulled away and muttered something about fetching the letter before getting up and shuffling out of the room. Crowley watched him go, trying to ignore the nauseous apprehension in his stomach. Seeing the artist so stirred up about the existence of the letter made him quite doubtful that Zira was going to be able to handle the contents, but it was that or watch him worry about it for the rest of his life. 

The door creaked quietly as Zira slipped back into the room, holding the little white envelope Crowley had seen that morning, with the address handwritten in black ink. 

Zira managed a wan smile and moved to sit beside Crowley on the bed, his back against the headboard. He took a deep breath, looking down at the letter in his lap, then finally picked it up and opened it. 

Crowley remained lying on the bed, his eyes closed and his hand running up and down Zira's shin as he read the letter to himself silently. It was tense, the air barely breathable, but Crowley just waited patiently, not wanting to intrude until he was asked. 

A few sniffles later, Zira gently nudged him and the letter was passed along, to Crowley's slight surprise. He unfolded it carefully and began to read, his eyes skipping over the name at the top. 

"Zira, your name-" 

"It's fine," Zira murmured, taking a deep breath and letting his hand fall into Crowley's hair. "I don't mind you knowing, darling." 

"Alright," Crowley mumbled, then continued reading, his hand stilling on Zira's leg. 

Dear Alice, 

I hope this letter finds you well. It took quite a bit of effort to find you, I must admit that I never expected you to be running your own shop like this. Perhaps you did inherit something from your father - his enterprising spirit. 

In any case, I'm writing to let you know that we will be in London this weekend for one of your father's club meetings. I know that it's been quite a while, but your father's health is declining, and he would like to see you. We would be happy to take you (and your partner, if you have one) to dinner. It would be lovely to catch up and talk. Please call the number at the bottom of this letter, so we can organise a meeting.

Love, your mother xx

Crowley scanned the letter a couple more times before handing it back up to Zira, then sitting up himself and wrapping an arm around the artist's shoulders. 

Zira leaned into him gratefully, his face blank, but his eyes a little misty. 

"How...how do you feel about it?" Crowley asked gently, squeezing his shoulders briefly and taking a slow breath. He knew how he felt, but he was once again trying to keep his own emotions out of it, at least until his partner had gotten a chance to express his own feelings. 

Zira simply sighed and closed his eyes, pulling his knees up into his chest. 

"They had to have used my real name to find me, so why'd she use my birth name? I mean...it's not that hard," he mumbled, his breathing just a little shaky. "I...there was a lot of shit in that letter."

"Yeah, there was," Crowley sighed, leaning his head against Zira's lightly as the artist pressed himself closer into his side. "They clearly aren't great people. But...look, I have half siblings, right? My dad left when I was a kid, and I have other family out there, but he died before I could meet them, and I really...I really regret that. It would have been so much easier to have a relationship with them when he was here, but I...I waited too long. I don't want that to happen to you, angel. It's a horrible feeling." 

Zira let out a slow breath and took Crowley's spare hand carefully, holding it nice and tight as he closed his eyes again. "I'm just scared I'll get hopeful and then it'll come crashing down again." 

Crowley nodded slowly, squeezing Zira's hand lightly. "Yeah, I can understand that. I can't make this decision for you, I think you should take time to think about it. But I can promise you that I'll be right here with you, whatever you want to do." 

Zira was quiet for a moment, then gently pulled away from Crowley to lie down, folding his hands on his stomach as he stared up at the ceiling. "I'm going to consider it. But I want to talk and think about something else for now." 

Crowley laid down beside him, half on his side, half on his stomach, one hand trailing over Zira's white ink arm admiringly. 

"How about talking about what you like best?" Crowley smiled, letting his gaze flicker up to meet Zira's for just a moment. "I've been thinking about getting a tattoo for ages, but I've been too scared," he admitted softly, tracing one sweeping line with his fingertip.

"I don't think you'd notice it much," Zira hummed softly, watching Crowley's finger as it stroked over his skin, following those bright lines back and forth along his arm. "You must have an insanely high pain tolerance to still be able to walk. I could do it for you, start with something simple. Simple and small, that's always the best way to get your first one." 

Crowley smiled, shifting closer to the artist until his chest was pressed against Zira's arm, his own hand coming around to rest on that warm, round cheek. Zira's soft blue eyes were half lidded; tired and relaxed, a small smile playing at his lips. 

"What would you get, my darling?" 

"Well, that's the other problem. I only really have one idea, and I'm not sure if it's a great one," Crowley murmured, running his thumb over Zira's cheekbone and feeling his heart flutter in his chest as the artist let his eyes slip closed contentedly, that small smile widening slightly. 

"Mm, hit me." 

"I want wings like yours, but black," Crowley announced softly, and Zira's eyes snapped open, immediately focusing on Crowley. 

"No, that's not a good idea. Matching tattoos are always bad." 

Crowley sighed, leaning forward to kiss Zira softly, briefly, and pouting as he pulled away. "Please? It's not like I'm getting your name tattooed on my lower back, it's just...a pair of wings. It would look good no matter the connotation, and it...I want you to tattoo me with something that means something to us." 

"But what if-" 

Crowley heaved a breath and turned away quickly, rolling away from the artist. "Nevermind." 

He could feel his heart beating faster in his chest, those words still playing on the tip of his tongue, taunting him. 

But I love you, Zira. I love you, I'm almost thirty six, I'm not some idiot kid. I love you, I know I love you, and I know this is going to last. 

Somehow they were always there, those three simple words, always in the back of his mind every time he was around Zira, and yet they were so impossible to say. They left him too vulnerable, too needy, and absolutely terrified. 

A hand stroked down his side slowly, just before Zira slipped an arm around Crowley's waist, pressing his chest to his partner's back. 

"I'll think about it," he whispered, pressing a soft, lingering kiss to Crowley's bare shoulder. "I promise. I just don't want you to regret it. That seems to be the theme of the afternoon." 

Crowley managed a quiet chuckle at this, and was gratified to feel Zira's smile against his skin. 

"I think I might need a nap, angel," he admitted softly, and Zira just nodded, hugging him a little tighter. 

"Me too." 

Chapter Text

Zira was getting a bit panicky. 

He'd decided to meet up with his parents, after a lot of back and forth and conversations with Crowley in the middle of the night when he couldn't sleep. And he was trying to get dressed. 

Everything he put on felt wrong, everything seemed to fit him imperfectly, everything just...didn't work.

He glared at the mirror, tilting his body to the side slightly just as Crowley slipped into the bedroom. He looked stunning as always, wearing his usual black coat and waistcoat with that dark silk shirt underneath. He'd tried to put a tie with it this time, however, and it wasn't working. 

"We're going to be late, angel," Crowley murmured, limping over to his partner and wrapping his arms around him from behind, leaning most of his weight on the artist to keep it off his leg. 

"Did you take your pill?" Zira asked quickly, fussing with his bow tie. Crowley sighed and let go to reach up, pulling Zira's coat off before he could think to protest. Then he began to roll his sleeves up, ignoring the artist trying to bat his hands away. 

"Yes, I did. Three hours ago. And stop! You need to look like you, and this is more you," Crowley said firmly, finishing the second sleeve and stepping away so Zira could see himself in the mirror. 

Zira sighed and ran a hand over his chest, then let his shoulders drop slightly as he realised Crowley had a point. 

"Fine, you're right. As always," he mumbled, turning quickly and starting to undo Crowley's tie. "You're not wearing a men's waistcoat, are you, darling?" 

"I might be. Looked more formal," Crowley pointed out softly, and Zira just sighed, tossing the tie onto the bed and undoing the top three buttons of Crowley's shirt. 

"This place is going to be very very fancy, isn't it?" Crowley sighed, glancing over himself in the mirror and then turning away quickly.  

"Yes. But you'll be okay. They always drink red wine, and you work from the outside in with the silverware. Nothing else matters, alright? Try not to worry, darling." 

"Ah yes, because that solves everything," Crowley chuckled, but his smile faded as he watched Zira check the mirror once more, a frown tugging at the corners of his lips. 

"Angel?" 

Zira heaved a sigh and shook his head slightly, still staring at the mirror. "I know it's stupid, I had top surgery years ago, but I can't stop feeling like my chest isn't flat enough, or I need to adjust my binder." 

Crowley sighed and gently turned Zira away from the mirror, pulling him into a hug instead. 

"It's just your anxiety about dinner. You look handsome, my angel. Just like you always do." 

Zira sighed and buried his face in Crowley's chest, trying his best to calm down as the florist began to rub his back slowly. 

"I'm doing okay," Zira mumbled, as if saying it enough times would somehow make it true. In actual fact, he was terrified. 

He had no idea what was going to happen, what they were going to say. And he hated not knowing; it always made him jittery, whether it was simply not knowing when the bus was going to come, or something much larger. Seeing his parents was definitely much, much larger than bus schedules. 

Zira forced himself to pull away from that comforting, familiar embrace, his eyes cast down to the floor. Crowley gave a soft sigh and then began to walk out of the bedroom, his gait painful and awkward. 

"Hold on, darling, let me help," Zira rushed out quickly, jogging over to him and wrapping an arm around his waist. Crowley thanked him softly and they walked all the way downstairs and out to the Bentley side by side, Zira taking most of Crowley's weight without protest. 

"Are you sure you're okay to drive?" Zira asked gently as Crowley opened the passenger door for him pointedly. 

"I'll be fine, angel, don't worry. It'll be best if we need to make a quick getaway." 

Zira sighed and leaned up to kiss his cheek, then got into the car and shut the door, his hand shaking on the handle as he took a deep breath. Crowley leaned on the Bentley all the way around to the driver's side, but started it as soon as he got in. Just before pulling away from the curb, he glanced over at Zira and flashed him a small smile. 

"It'll be alright, angel. Just try not to panic, make sure to keep breathing. I'll be with you the whole time." 

"I know," Zira sighed, leaning his head back and staring out of the window to keep his mind occupied. It didn't work. "And you'll really help, I know you will, it's just...my parents." He trailed off and Crowley reached over, squeezing his shoulder briefly. 

"It's a big deal, I know. We'll be alright, and if you need to leave, you can just tell me. I'd fake an emergency for you." 

"How romantic," Zira said sarcastically, but it made him smile, and he turned his head to study the side of Crowley's face instead. "Anthony?" 

"Yeah?" He didn't look over; he was too busy navigating another roundabout. 

"You really are a great partner." 

Silence fell for a moment, but Zira saw the dusting of pink on Crowley's cheek, the slight smile pulling at his lips, the way his adam's apple bobbed as he swallowed. 

"That's all I ever want to be for you," he announced softly as soon as they were on the other side of the roundabout. 

"Well, you already are," Zira insisted gently, leaning over to kiss Crowley's cheek, just briefly. "I hope you know that, darling." 

"I do now," he mumbled, and Zira could tell he was at a loss for words, so he just changed the subject to save him the embarrassment. After all, the look on his face was enough - a surprised sort of pride, mixed in with just a touch of nerves and a good helping of earnest sentimentality. 

"How long is it now?" 

"Ten minutes, angel. If you start asking 'are we there yet,' I will hit you." 

"I think that's a fair reaction," Zira chuckled, leaning his head back again and closing his eyes, listening to the purr of the engine. After a moment, the CD player clicked and started playing 'Somebody to Love' quite quietly. Zira glanced over at Crowley questioningly, and he just shrugged. 

"It's the only CD I have in here, sorry." 

"No, I um...it's not something I'd listen to at home, but I do like it," Zira said quickly, fiddling with his shirt sleeve to try and keep his nerves at bay. "I mostly listen to classical when I'm working." 

"Of course you do," Crowley laughed, pulling the car up at a red light and leaning over to guide Zira into a very brief kiss. "You're a psychopath," he announced as he fell back into his seat, grinning to himself. 

Zira rolled his eyes, but couldn't stop the smile from spreading across his face after such a soft, caring kiss. "You just don't appreciate-" 

But he was cut off by Crowley leaning over and cranking the volume up before pulling away from the red light. Zira just chuckled and looked out of the window again, listening as Crowley turned the volume back down to a reasonable level. 

"Can I tell you something, angel?" 

"Mm?" Zira didn't look away from the window, his mind wandering back to the last time he'd seen his parents - all those tears and all that shouting. 

"You're adorable and handsome and I think you look fantastic tonight," Crowley said quietly, and Zira felt his cheeks flush as he turned to face the florist once more. 

"Thank you, darling. I think the same about you." 

And then they were both blushing in silence, but a happy silence. 

Until Crowley pulled into a parking lot, stopping the car in one of the disabled spaces and reaching back to grab his blue badge. He stopped when he saw Zira staring at him, his jaw clenching. But Zira reached over and gently took the badge from him, hanging it on the rearview mirror for him and leaning over to kiss his cheek. 

"Don't look at me like that, I know you need it. Especially tonight, I saw all those faces you pulled when you were changing gear, you shouldn't have driven." 

Crowley opened his mouth to protest, his eyebrows furrowed above his glasses, but Zira got there first. 

"I'm grateful that you did drive me, darling, don't worry. Let's just go inside, alright? I don't want to have an argument about this." 

"Who said we were going to have an argument?" Crowley huffed, and Zira tilted his head slightly. 

"I'm nervous, very nervous, and you have that look on your face. We should drop it, and talk about it later if you still need to." 

Crowley sighed and just got out of the car, shutting the door behind him and limping around hurriedly to try to open Zira's door for him, but he was already getting out, in a rush to go and help Crowley walk. 

They almost collided into each other, and Zira laughed, gently grabbing onto Crowley's coat to keep himself upright. "Sorry, sorry! What a great start to the evening." 

Crowley just chuckled and reached around him to shut the car door, then took his arm carefully. "We'll be fine. Come on." 

It took them a little while to make it inside, but they eventually got to the little desk at the front, where Crowley stopped and immediately fell against Zira's welcoming side. Zira could hear his breathing, ragged and fast, but didn't comment. He just wanted to get Crowley sat down as quickly as possible. 

The maître d' came hurrying over at last, and Zira announced that they were with the Williams reservation. He noticed the odd look Crowley shot him, but ignored it, gently pulling him forward and over to their table. 

Crowley sat down heavily in the nearest chair, immediately stretching his leg out under the table and thanking the waiter who hurried over to fill their water glasses. Zira sat down much more primly, glancing around and just taking it all in. The restaurant was huge, but quite dimly lit, with a piano player in one corner, and huge, glittering chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. The tablecloths were all pristine, and the glasses all shone on the tables. 

Zira glanced over at Crowley and wasn't surprised to see he was already looking rather uncomfortable. Crowley flashed him a weak smile and leaned over quickly.

"Is kissing allowed in places like this?" He asked in a low, ever so slightly suggestive voice, and Zira just grinned. 

"Absolutely not," he answered, then pulled Crowley into a soft, slow kiss, his hand running over his cheek, stroking that warm, smooth skin. Zira knew people were watching; he didn't care. He pulled away slowly, lingering slightly as Crowley smiled against his lips, and then they were back in their seats, staring down at the tablecloth. 

"Is it still too bright in here for you?" Zira asked hopefully after a second or two, and Crowley looked up, glancing around. 

"Yeah, sorry, angel. It wouldn't be too bad, but it would be uncomfortable." 

"That's alright," Zira said quickly, then checked his watch. "They should be here any minute." 

"I'm glad we got here early," Crowley sighed, leaning over slightly to drag the heel of his hand down his leg. Zira glanced at him worriedly and then reached over, tucking his hair back behind his ear. 

"Me too. And once this is over, whatever happens, you're coming back to mine and we're going to cuddle all night," he announced softly, gratified to see his partner smile in response. 

"That sounds perfect, angel." 

"Alice!" 

The voice was booming and friendly, but Zira winced, getting up slowly and gently putting a hand on Crowley's shoulder to keep him in his seat. He turned to face the voice and sighed. 

"Father." 

The man walking towards him looked familiar, but was certainly not the same. He still had thick grey hair and a huge, impeccably groomed beard, but seemed thinner, less broad across the shoulders, and his step seemed to be less confident. In short, he looked much older, and a little frail. 

"Where's Mother?" Zira asked quietly, and felt Crowley's hand on his hip, just for a moment. Such a simple touch, barely there, and yet so comforting. 

"Checking her coat." 

Crowley gently grabbed onto Zira's arm and finally pulled himself out of his chair, turning to face Zira's father and offering his hand. "I'm Anthony. I'm Zira's partner," he announced, a little nervous, but covering it up well. 

"Michael Williams, it's good to meet you," Zira's father answered, his expression full of good-natured, if a little snooty, interest as he glanced Crowley up and down. Just as he released Crowley's hand, Zira's mother hurried up and tried to hug him, whilst announcing his birth name to the whole restaurant for the second time that evening. 

Zira stiffened and pushed her away as gently as he could, trying to fight down the rising anger at the same time. She blinked and had the nerve to look offended, so Zira turned to Crowley, trying to redirect the interaction as quickly as possible. 

"Mother, this is my partner, Anthony," he rushed out, and Crowley managed a polite smile, his grip on the back of his chair beginning to turn his knuckles white. 

"My name's Linda, nice to meet you," Linda smiled, although it was quite obvious that she was lying. 

Job done, Crowley sank back into his chair with a wince, and Zira sat down quickly, gently taking his hand under the table and squeezing it tightly while Michael and Linda sat down across from them. 

"So, wine?" Michael announced and Crowley shook his head slightly. 

"I'm uh. I'm driving, so I won't, but I'm sure Zira would like some," he smiled, and Zira noticed with a warm feeling the way his partner emphasised his name, forcing it back into the conversation. 

"Yeah, that would be good," Zira mumbled, and thought to himself that he'd probably need at least a bottle of the stuff to get through the evening, even with Crowley by his side. 

A waiter was waved over and the wine list and menus were handed out. Crowley opened his quickly and then shut it again, shooting Zira a look. Zira squeezed his hand under the table and flashed him a small smile. 

"I'll pick something you like, darling," he murmured, then looked up to see Linda watching him closely, an odd look on her face. 

She looked older as well, her dark brunette hair losing some of its color, her face a little more drawn. She'd definitely had some work done, but she was wearing one of those same overly formal dresses she'd always worn, with those hideous diamond earrings she loved so much. 

"I almost didn't recognise you," Michael announced suddenly, smiling at Zira rather companionably. "You look very different." 

"Yes, that would be the surgery and the testosterone and the ten plus years," Zira answered sharply, and felt Crowley tense beside him ever so slightly. But his parents just laughed, and Linda shook her head slightly, watching him curiously. 

"I thought that maybe you would have grown out of this phase by now." 

Zira felt Crowley stiffen again, but squeezed his hand again gently, assuring him it was okay. It wasn't okay, but it certainly wasn't any worse than he'd been expecting. 

"So! How did you two meet?" Michael cut in suddenly, and Zira could see the discomfort in his eyes. He'd never been able to talk about it, not when Zira had first come out, and apparently not years later either. 

"I run the shop across the street from Zira's," Crowley began quietly, picking up the slack in the conversation with apparent ease. "I'd seen him a few times and eventually got up the courage to talk to him." 

Zira managed a small smile when he remembered that day, then looked up at Crowley and relaxed ever so slightly as he studied the side of that comfortingly familiar face. "We were friends first, and it just kind of happened." 

"It's so nice to hear a proper first meeting story, these days your people always meet on those apps, don't they?" Linda smiled, and Crowley stared at her for a moment. 

"My people?" He echoed quietly, and she waved a hand vaguely. 

"Gays, they always seem to find unusual ways to meet. I suppose just meeting at a bar is rather old fashioned these days." 

Zira gritted his teeth, but Crowley didn't rise to this, instead glancing down at his partner with a soft smile. 

"I'm just glad I met him. Doesn't matter to me how it happened." 

"So what do you do?" Michael asked, watching Crowley with an interest that suggested he was trying his hardest to distract himself from the woman sitting next to him. 

"I'm a florist," Crowley smiled, although his expression was a little strained. "I do lots of weddings and funerals, things like that." 

"Ah, yes," Michael said distantly, then frowned slightly. "Do you have to go to school for something like that?" 

Crowley nodded slightly, letting go of Zira's hand under the table to rub his leg absentmindedly. "Yeah, I took a fairly short course on it, but my mum worked at a florist's for a while when I was young, and I used to go there after school and help out, so I knew some of it already." 

Zira looked down at the table, taking a few slow breaths and trying to keep himself calm, to keep his mind from returning over and over to that hated name. 

"So how long have you been doing that?" Michael went on with his questioning, still staring at Crowley in that rather uncomfortable way. 

"Four years, coming up on five now."

"So what made you choose to do that?" 

Crowley swallowed and Zira glanced up as soon as he noticed the nervous pause, flashing his partner a small smile. 

"I was a police officer, I got injured in the line of duty, and wasn't able to continue my career, so I left." 

"Ah, that makes sense. Not sure what man would choose to be a florist without some reason," Michael joked, but Crowley just forced a wan smile while Linda laughed dutifully. 

Zira reached out again, gently taking Crowley's hand back, his fingers trembling as he laced them between his partner's. Crowley squeezed his hand tightly, but didn't look down. 

"Shall we look at the menu?" Linda smiled suddenly, and Zira quickly opened his, glad for the relief from the conversation. Crowley didn't bother even opening his, instead just watching as the waiter brought the wine over and poured it out, without any thanks from either of the parents. Zira thanked him absentmindedly, and Crowley did as well, handing him his empty glass to keep it out of the way. The waiter flashed him a polite smile and hurried off, and Zira glanced up briefly before going back to the menu. 

He was having to read each line a few times, already infuriated and struggling to keep it down. It was hard not to stew over everything that had been said already, his heart racing in his chest. He could feel Crowley's thumb stroking over his knuckles, but it wasn't enough; he needed to be embraced, to be held, to be kissed. Crowley leaned over and kissed his cheek as if reading his mind, and Zira blushed, smiling without looking up from the menu. 

After a minute or two, the waiter came back, and both Michael and Linda ordered starters and entrees, so Zira ordered a starter to share and both entrees before handing the menus over. 

Michael chuckled as soon as the waiter had walked away, raising an eyebrow at Crowley. "She orders for you, huh? Got you wrapped around her finger." 

Anger flashed over Crowley's face, briefly enough that only Zira, well-versed as he was in his partner’s expressions, noticed it. "His," Crowley corrected sharply, then shook his head. "I have problems with my eyesight that make it hard to read in low light. Zira knows what I like, and so I trust him to pick something for me."

"So you're still committed to this whole transgender thing, are you?" Linda cut in, clearly having been bursting to ask since she'd sat down. Zira forced down the rage, swallowing it as Crowley seethed beside him. 

"No, mother, I got surgery and have been living as a man for over ten years just for fun," he snapped, reaching for his wine and downing half the glass in one go. Linda stared at him for a moment in shock, then shook her head slightly. 

"I just don't understand it, Al-" 

"My name is Aziraphale," Zira interrupted sharply. "And you don't have to understand to use my legal name and my correct pronouns. It's not that hard." 

"It is for us. Your father and I raised you, we've only known you as Alice, not...Zira," Linda went on, digging the hole a little deeper and saying the name as if trying to hold it at arm's length. "You have to understand that." 

"I've given you over a decade," Zira answered, his voice suddenly dangerously calm. 

"How did you become involved in the tattooing business then, Zira?" Michael said suddenly, rather too loudly. Zira took a slow, shuddering breath and ripped his gaze away from his mother as he tried to shift gears. 

"I got my first one and I was fascinated after that," he forced out quietly, clinging to Crowley's hand under the table as if it was his only lifeline. "You have to go through an apprenticeship and everything." 

Crowley glanced at his watch, then leaned over to murmur into Zira's ear softly. "I'm going to go to the bathroom, I need to take my pill," he said as quietly as he could, and Zira nodded, letting go of his hand and watching him get up. 

"They're over there, darling," he murmured, pointing towards the back of the restaurant. Crowley just nodded and began to limp away determinedly, sending shivers of discomfort up Zira's spine. He wanted to jump up and help him, but he knew it would only mortally embarrass him, so he turned his gaze back to the table. 

"Is that why he wears those glasses? Is he blind or something?" Linda asked suddenly, making Michael wince almost imperceptibly. 

"No, mother," Zira said, struggling to keep his voice even as he felt his throat start to close up, his hands trembling in his lap without Crowley there to anchor him. "He has nerve damage in his eyes that make him very sensitive to light." 

"Well, how did he get that?" 

"Now, Linda, I think maybe-" Michael tried weakly, but was cut off almost immediately. 

"I'm just curious!" 

"He was infected with meningitis when he was in hospital for his leg," Zira went on in the same low, strained tone, still not looking at either of his parents. Something caught his eye and he looked up to see Crowley already walking back towards the table, his walk still a bit unsteady. 

"You know, I'm sure you could have snagged yourself a much better man," Linda announced suddenly, and Michael's eyes widened slightly as he tried to interrupt. But she surfed her voice over his easily, raising it as Crowley got closer to the table. "It's easier for a woman to find a good man, you know. Maybe if you hadn't made this...this ridiculous choice to become a man, then you'd get something better than a crippled, half blind florist. The only good thing about him is that he doesn't flaunt the way he is like so many other gays." 

Michael had gone bright red, and as Crowley walked back to his seat, so had he. Zira could tell by his expression that he'd been in earshot for the entirety of that little tirade, and this realisation was enough to break through the shock. 

Zira stood up so quickly his chair tipped back and crashed to the floor, shocking his mother, who reeled back away from him. "Don't you fucking dare!" He screamed, all that pent up rage and hurt suddenly boiling over, making his whole body shake as he jabbed a finger at Linda. "I don't give a flying fuck what you say to me, I'm used to your bigotry and your fucking awful, hateful mindset, but you can't say shit like that about my partner! Anthony is the best man I've ever met, and I love him more than I ever loved either of you two! I love him more than anything in this world, in fact, and he makes me happy. So go fuck yourselves! I'm going to go home and never think about either of you again!" 

Zira grabbed the shocked Crowley's hand and gently tugged him away from the table, then wrapped an arm around his waist and began to help him out of the restaurant as quickly as he could walk. Zira was still shaking, but he focused all of his energy on keeping Crowley walking steadily, helping him all the way out to the car. As soon as they reached the Bentley, Crowley wrenched the door open, but they both froze when they heard Zira's name being called desperately. 

Zira glanced over his shoulder to see Michael running across the car park. Confused, he looked over at Crowley, who just shrugged. 

"This should be good," he said simply, and Zira sighed as Michael skidded to a stop in front of him. 

"Look, I'm...I'm sorry," he said quickly, panting slightly as he shoved a folded piece of paper towards Zira. "I'm sorry about her, I really am. Please take this, please. It's my mobile, I, um...I still want to fix this, but it was naive of me to think that your mother would. You're my...you're my son, and I love you. Please take it, we don't have to meet again, you don't have to do anything, I just...I miss my son." 

Zira stared at him for a moment, completely torn until he felt Crowley's hand on his shoulder. He took the paper carefully, looking down at it for a moment. 

"This isn't a promise, Dad," he said quietly, finally looking up and waving the paper pointedly. 

"I know, and I know I don't deserve one. It's up to you now, I won't force you. It was good to see you, anyway, and good to meet you, Anthony. I'm glad to know my son has someone to look after him." 

Zira nodded and watched as Michael turned and walked away slowly. His fingers were trembling on the paper, so Crowley gently took it from him and tucked it into his pocket. 

"Come on, angel, let's go home," he murmured, gently pulling Zira out of his stunned trance and back into the real world. Zira managed a small nod and turned, getting into the car quickly. 

Crowley did the same, and they left the parking lot in silence, driving for a few minutes before Crowley finally got up the courage to talk. 

"Are you okay, angel?"

Zira took a deep, slow breath, having to think about this for a moment. He felt empty more than anything, empty and a little numb. Maybe even slightly relieved, slightly lighter than before. 

"I think so," he said slowly, turning his head to watch Crowley's face as he drove. "Are you?" 

"I might need to punch a couple walls before I can answer that honestly," he joked softly, shooting Zira a slightly washed out smile. 

"Look, I don't...I don't think any of those things about you-" 

"I know," Crowley cut in gently, shaking his head ever so slightly as he pulled the car over. "I just...I'm a little hung up on one thing," he admitted quietly, still staring straight ahead. "You...you said you loved me." 

Zira smiled softly and leaned over, ignoring his heart pounding in his chest as he gently took Crowley’s hand. "Of course I love you, Anthony. I've been falling for you ever since we met, and I think I'm probably going to spend the rest of my life falling for you. You are a bit thick, aren't you, dear?"

Crowley swallowed hard and managed a smile, finally turning to face his partner. His face was lit up rather oddly in the warm light of the streetlamps; emphasising the worry and slight confusion apparent in his expression, even with those dark glasses in the way. "But...you never told me." 

"I was waiting for the right time and it just...never really came," Zira sighed, reaching up and stroking his knuckles over Crowley's cheek. "And I thought...I don't know, I suppose I thought it was obvious." 

Crowley gave a soft chuckle at that, turning his head to kiss Zira's hand ever so lightly as his face softened. "You've got to remember that I'm a bit thick, angel." 

"Apparently I forgot," Zira grinned, leaning over and pulling him into a soft kiss at last, his hand running through Crowley's silky hair just as the florist broke away gently. 

"I think we need to do this at home," he mumbled, shoving the car back into gear and pulling out into the road hurriedly. "I need to be able to touch you properly."

Zira grinned to himself and sank back into his seat, his eyes closing up for just a couple seconds. "Does this mean you love me back?" 

"Of course it does, idiot," Crowley laughed, and Zira's smile widened even further. 

 

As soon as they got back to Zira's, they both stumbled up the stairs and into the bedroom, pulling one another into desperate, shaky kisses. It didn't take long for the desperation to fade, however, and soon enough they were sitting on the bed, their kisses turning slow and deep. Crowley slipped his coat off and tossed it aside, just as Zira unbuttoned his waistcoat and ran his hands over his partner's sides eagerly. Crowley broke the kiss suddenly, his golden eyes opening slowly. "I want to touch you, Zira. Just...just your chest. Please?" 

Zira nodded quickly, managing a reassuring smile and kissing the corner of Crowley's lips ever so softly. "Of course. Can I touch you?" 

Crowley swallowed, then nodded slightly, flashing an uncertain smile. "Just...start slow." 

"Of course, my love," Zira murmured, and suddenly Crowley was kissing him again, tugging his waistcoat off his shoulders and pushing him down towards the bed. Zira laid back willingly, grinning against Crowley's lips as the florist moved to sit on his hips, deft fingers making quick work of Zira's shirt buttons. 

Zira ran his hands over Crowley's sides slowly, exploring gently, feeling his ribcage rise and fall under his touch; a little quick and heavy. Then his shirt was pulled open and he felt those long fingered hands on him, dancing over his skin, over his scars, over his curves. Crowley broke the kiss for just a moment, golden eyes bright and full of longing.

"God, I love you," he muttered, and was kissing Zira again before the artist could reply. So instead, Zira moved expertly, easily flipping them over so he was the one on top, without breaking the kiss. Crowley dropped his head back to the mattress, panting ever so softly, so Zira backed off for a moment, stroking his hair slowly and watching him closely in case he started to panic. 

But Crowley just smiled, running his hands back up Zira's sides and gazing up at him with eyes full of adoration. "I love you," he said again, much more softly this time, wanting, needing an answer. Zira gladly gave it to him, smiling down at his partner with the same loving admiration as his lips framed those words again, so familiar and yet so new, so exciting, so thrilling. 

"I love you too." 

And he slid away from Crowley, falling to the bed beside him and tugging him into a hug. Crowley pressed himself into Zira's welcoming arms eagerly, burying his face in that warm chest and wrapping his own arms around the artist. 

There was nothing else to be said, so they just stayed quiet, wrapped up in one another and the comfortable silence. After a while, Crowley shifted to stretch his leg out, and Zira took a deep breath in, as if waking from a trance. 

"Are you hungry?" 

Crowley chuckled softly and leaned up to press a soft kiss to Zira's jaw. "I guess. I'm assuming that means you are?" 

"Well, we were supposed to be having dinner," Zira pointed out defensively, but Crowley just smiled and kissed the side of his head. 

"How about ordering some McDonald's? As a little treat." 

Zira smiled and hugged Crowley a little tighter, his hand tangling in that soft red hair as warmth spread through his chest. "Mm, sounds perfect, my love." 

"Every time you say that, I just want to pin you down and kiss all over your face," Crowley chuckled, slowly sitting up and grabbing his phone off the bedside table. Zira didn't say anything, just reaching up and starting to undo Crowley's shirt while he pulled up the delivery app and scrolled through the options. 

"You want your usual, angel?" He asked quietly, and Zira just nodded, finishing the last button and twitching his shirt open as Crowley added a few things to the basket. Then he finished the order and lay back, dropping his phone onto his chest as he stared up at the ceiling. 

"That was an awful evening, but I have a feeling this night might almost make up for it," he announced softly, and Zira cuddled closer to him, slowly stroking a hand over his bare stomach. 

"I think you might be right." 

 

"I think I frightened the delivery man," Crowley announced as he dragged himself back up the stairs to find Zira sitting on the couch in his boxers and a t shirt. Zira just smiled at him, his heart feeling heavy and full as he stared into those tired golden eyes. 

"I doubt you frightened him, looking like that. I expect he was hoping to be invited upstairs," Zira chuckled, reaching up and slipping his hands under Crowley's still-unbuttoned shirt; resting them on either side of his stomach as the florist leaned down to kiss him ever so softly. 

"Possibly. Here you go, anyway," he smiled, dropping the bag into Zira's lap before falling to the couch next to him, sprawling out as always. Zira forced himself not to look, instead opening the bag and grinning as he looked inside. 

"Oh! You got me an ice cream? How thoughtful," Zira grinned, tugging the treat out and glancing over at Crowley, who was grinning, his eyes fixed on the TV as it played some rerun of a sitcom Zira didn't recognise. 

"I hid it in the bag so it would be a surprise, but that might have made it a bit melty," Crowley hummed, shooting Zira a glance that made him feel a bit melty.

"I'll eat it first, then," Zira smiled, taking the spoon out and setting the bag down between them. "Thank you, Anthony." 

"You're always welcome, angel." 

Crowley leaned over and took a carton of fries out of the bag, starting to eat them with his eyes still fixed on the screen. 

"Are you still feeling okay?" He asked after a few long moments of silence, and Zira poked his spoon into the ice cream, just staring at it for a while. 

"I think so," he answered at last, glancing over at Crowley. "I've been too wrapped up in you to think about it, to be quite honest." 

"I suppose that's probably a good thing," Crowley murmured, taking his sandwich out of the bag and starting to eat it quickly. 

Zira finished off his ice cream and began to eat his food, relaxing into the peaceful silence and watching the TV with Crowley sleepily. 

As soon as they'd finished eating, Crowley announced that he was getting into bed, so Zira followed him absentmindedly, climbing in beside him and closing his eyes as Crowley cuddled up to him, one lanky arm slipping around his waist. 

"M'tired, angel. G'night," Crowley muttered, his voice muffled slightly, and Zira just stroked a hand over his hair, letting out a slow breath. 

"Mm, love you. Good night," he murmured, but Crowley had already gone silent, his sheer exhaustion taking over. Zira sighed and pulled him a little closer, wincing as he grunted ever so softly. But he didn't seem to wake up fully, so Zira just held him tighter, closing his eyes and trying to calm the memories that kept popping up in his mind.

Those looks of utter disgust on his mother's face; the way Crowley had looked at him when he'd walked back to the table, that insistence on using the name he hadn't heard in years. But willing them away didn't seem as if it was going to work, so he slowly disentangled himself from Crowley, got up, and wandered into the kitchen. He opened a fresh bottle of wine, poured himself a rather large glass, and leaned back against the counter as he swirled it around. Then he picked up his phone, glanced at the piece of paper stuck to the fridge, and pressed the 'new contact' button. He saved the number under 'Dad,' then tucked his phone away and heaved a sigh. 

Zira stared at his wine for a moment before taking a long gulp and setting it aside to drag his hands down his face. He was tired, God knew he was exhausted, but he didn't feel ready to sleep yet. The thoughts wouldn't settle down enough, his anxiety about whether he'd done the right thing, whether he'd given his mother a fair chance. He was certainly regretting the fact that Crowley had learned he loved him in such a fraught situation; he was kicking himself for not having got up the courage to tell him sooner, and it wasn't a great feeling. He'd botched it just like he'd botched their first kiss, and he wasn't sure he'd be able to forgive himself. 

"I thought the bed was cold." 

The familiar voice cut through his thoughts, making him jump ever so slightly as he dropped his hands back to his sides and found himself staring into golden eyes. Crowley leaned over him and picked up the glass, taking a long drink of wine before setting it down again. 

"You look upset. You told me you were okay," Crowley announced, his voice gentle, but ever so slightly reproachful. Zira sighed and hopped up to sit on the counter, scooping the glass up again and swallowing half of it. 

"I botched it. Again," he answered shortly, unable to keep the heavy disappointment out of his voice. "And it only really just occurred to me." 

Crowley tilted his head, moving forward slightly and reaching out for the glass. "Botched what, exactly?" 

Zira jerked the glass away quickly. "You've had an extra painkiller today, you can't have more alcohol. And telling you I love you for the first time. Just like our first kiss." 

"Well, first of all, we both botched those first two kisses," Crowley pointed out with a tired smile, stepping forward and spreading Zira's legs so he could stand between them, his hands coming up to cradle the artist's jaw ever so gently. "Second of all, it was romantic. Maybe unconventional, but you were defending me, and I thought it was incredibly sweet. And I don't think there's much about us that's conventional, so I don't see why we should tell each other we love one another for the first time over some candlelit dinner like any other boring couple." 

Zira chuckled, a smile finally playing at the corners of his lips as Crowley leaned in, his forehead coming to rest on Zira's. 

"I love you, angel. Nothing else matters, I promise you. Come back to bed with me, I know you're tired." 

"I want a kiss first," Zira murmured, his eyes slipping closed as he felt his worries start to fade away at last, chased out by Crowley's soft words and tender touches. 

"Mm, that can be arranged," he chuckled, and kissed the artist lovingly, pulling him a little closer and sliding one hand up into those fluffy blond curls. Zira grinned against his lips before kissing back slowly, enjoying the utterly overwhelming sweetness of the whole moment, making his heart swell and allowing him to forget all about wine as Crowley finally broke away and gently pulled at his hand. 

"Please, angel. I can't sleep without you." 

Zira let out a soft sigh, slowly letting his eyes open up and staring at Crowley for a moment. "Yeah. I'm coming." 

Crowley just smiled and took his other hand, helping him off the kitchen counter and leading him back down the hall, back towards sleepy cuddles and whispered confessions of love under warm, soft blankets.

Chapter Text

Crowley awoke the next morning aching. He rolled over with a soft groan and found his face pressed up against the outside of Zira's thigh. 

Zira just chuckled and reached down, fixing Crowley's hair gently as he looked up at his partner, still trying to blink the sleep from his eyes. 

"Good morning, darling," Zira said warmly, and Crowley felt his whole being melt a little as he just stared up at that bright smile. Zira carefully closed the book he'd been reading and set it aside, then leaned down and kissed Crowley's forehead softly. "I love you." 

A sudden rush of emotion ripped through Crowley's chest, heavy and needy, and he sat up hurriedly, swinging himself into Zira's lap. Zira made a soft, startled sound, but wrapped his arms around Crowley's waist hurriedly, even as the florist tugged him into a desperate, passionate kiss. 

Crowley pulled Zira deeper, his heart bursting as those three words played in his head over and over, that completely casual tone, so easy, so loving, so right. 

Then he was being pinned to the bed, Zira's weight gently holding him down as the artist pressed soft, loving kisses to his neck and jaw. 

"Fuck...I love you too, angel," he muttered, and Zira chuckled, his hands stroking over his partner's bare ribs, holding him ever so gently. 

"I know. I know you love every inch of me, honey," he purred, returning to his task of covering the florist's throat with loving kisses. "Do you know how much I love you?" 

The seductive tone in Zira's voice was absolutely irresistible, and Crowley allowed his eyelids to flutter closed, his whole body already belonging to Zira. He didn't particularly feel desire, but there was anticipation there, a little shiver running up his spine. After all, he'd had sex enough times to get used to pleasure, and both his body and his mind knew all those little cues, those indicators that that blissful release was imminent. 

Zira's hands wandered a little lower, his lips following and trailing kisses down the center of Crowley's chest while his hands caressed the florist's sides, then his hips. 

A hand slipped between Crowley's legs and he gasped, his body arching up, his lips forming Zira's name, calling out to him softly. 

"I know, honey. I've got you," Zira soothed, his fingers starting a gentle massaging motion, his teeth grazing over Crowley's stomach as the florist jolted and shivered. 

He was already getting uncertain, but the pleasure was there, already building, and he felt safe in Zira's gentle grip. 

Then the artist ducked down even further, gently pulling Crowley's pajama trousers down, just enough to press a soft kiss to him, through his boxers. As soon as Crowley felt that warm breath on him, however, he jerked, gently pushing Zira's head away from him and closing his legs abruptly. He was struggling to keep his breathing normal, but Zira just moved to lay beside him, stroking his hair over and over. 

After a moment, Crowley turned his head slowly and stared at Zira with wide, sad eyes. "Let me try to do something for you, please. I just want-" 

"Shh, my love," Zira cut in gently, trailing his fingertips over his partner's cheek soothingly. "You're panicking, honey, and if you try anything else now, it's just going to get worse. Let’s count it as a step forward and move on, alright? How about a cuddle in the bath?" 

Crowley heaved a deep, frustrated sigh, but the casual offer was taking the edge off it just enough. He turned his head towards Zira's hand, and the artist stroked his cheek obligingly, smiling at him lovingly. 

"Look at you. My handsome love," he murmured, sitting up slowly and swinging his legs over the edge of the bed. "I'll go start the water running." 

Crowley just watched him go, then rolled over onto his side and buried his face in his hands, trying to force away the horrible, creeping feelings of inadequacy and disappointment. He wanted to be able to perform, he wanted to feel comfortable giving himself over to Zira. But even though he trusted him, Crowley’s body and memories weren't giving him the chance. 

He heard the tap turn on in the bathroom and footsteps coming back towards him, but didn't react until he felt hands on his sides. 

"Come on, Anthony. I know you're disappointed, but you can't mope all day. Come cuddle with me, please? Indulge me." 

Crowley sighed once more and gently brushed the hands off him as he got up a little unsteadily, stumbling directly into Zira's chest. 

"Hey, hey, I've got you," Zira said cheerfully, wrapping his arms around his partner and kissing the side of his head lightly. "Come on, you'll feel better for a nice hot bath." 

Crowley allowed himself to be led into the bathroom, turning away from Zira to take his pill bottles down from the cupboard while the artist undressed and adjusted the water temperature. 

Once Crowley had swallowed his pills, he turned and froze, staring at Zira with wide, admiring eyes. 

Zira smiled nervously, folding his arms over his chest defensively just as Crowley took a step forward, his hand trembling as he gently tilted Zira's chin up ever so slightly. 

"You...fuck, you're stunning," Crowley murmured at last, his eyes remaining fixed on Zira's as he sank to the mat, his hands running down from the artist's sides, over his hips, rubbing circles at the top of his thighs. 

"Look at you," he went on softly, not yet noticing how badly Zira was blushing. "I just wish I was able to make you feel good," Crowley sighed, leaning forward and pressing an innocent kiss to each thigh before getting to his feet again. "You deserve it." 

Zira just smiled and pulled him into a brief kiss. "We don't need to have sex for you to make me feel good, Anthony. But I'm glad...I'm glad you find me...attractive." 

Crowley quickly drew him into a loose hug, one hand running up to cradle the back of his head. "Of course I do, angel. You're insanely attractive, and anyone who can't see it is an asshole." 

Zira smiled, pressing himself into Crowley for just a moment before breaking away and getting into the tub without a word, reaching up to tug on his partner's hand. Crowley hesitated, but kicked his boxers off and got into the warm water, sitting between Zira's soft thighs and leaning back into his chest comfortably. 

"This is a lot nicer than I expected," he mumbled, just as Zira's arms slipped around his waist, and soft kisses were pressed to the back of his shoulder. 

"I just wanted to hold you," Zira murmured, and Crowley turned immediately, folding himself up, curling up with his side against Zira's chest, those arms still tight around him. 

"Well, I just want to be held," he announced quietly, and Zira gave a soft chuckle, squeezing him a little tighter. 

"Aren't we lucky?" 

 

Silence settled between them for a good ten minutes, until Crowley felt Zira's fingers in his hair, pulling it back from his face carefully. 

"What are you doing, angel?" He asked, sprinkling in a bit of fake annoyance as he uncurled and stretched his sore leg out in the hot water, completely incidentally giving Zira full access to his hair. 

"Shush," Zira answered simply, and continued to work, splitting the hair into sections before starting in on the plait, his fingers moving quickly and expertly, easily combing through Crowley's hair. 

The florist closed his eyes, letting out a soft breath and relaxing into the sensation contentedly. 

"I thought you might like this," Zira gloated softly from behind him, his fingers still working ever so gently. Crowley smiled to himself, no longer bothered enough to pretend he was indifferent. 

"I've always liked people touching my hair like this," he admitted quietly, hearing the snapping sound of a rubber band before Zira wrapped his arms around him again, kissing his shoulder lightly. 

"Mm, me too," he purred, nuzzling the florist's upper back lightly as he squeezed him just a little tighter. "You know, I was thinking since I'm closed today, I could do that tattoo you wanted?" 

"I thought you were against it?" Crowley hummed, a little surprised and unable to hide his smile as he leaned back into the artist's chest heavily. 

"No, just...it's my job to warn people about matching tattoos, and...well, that was before I was sure my love for you was reciprocated," Zira sighed, resting his chin on Crowley's shoulder, his fingers spreading on his stomach. 

"You weren't sure?" Crowley asked softly, his voice betraying his amazement and confusion. "I thought...I thought you knew." 

Zira squeezed him tighter, spreading his hands on his partner's chest. "I didn't, but it wasn't because you were doing anything wrong, my love. It's just hard for me sometimes, the same way it can be hard for you. I saw the signs, I noticed how tender you were with me, how caring, but I managed to convince myself that you couldn't love me, or that if I told you I was in love with you, then you'd get overwhelmed and leave. I know it was stupid, but...I couldn't help it." 

Crowley simply nodded, stroking one hand over the artist's black ink arm. "I can definitely relate to that. We're both a bit fucked, I think. But that's all okay now, we're together. It's going to be alright." 

"Yeah, it will," Zira smiled, leaning down to kiss Crowley's shoulder once more. "It's getting cold in here already."

Crowley hummed his agreement, closing his eyes and feeling the weight of Zira's arms against him as he breathed, his chest rising and falling, pushing those arms up and down. It was a soothing kind of pressure, comfortable and reassuring, reminding Crowley that Zira was still there, still with him. 

And then Zira's arms were slipping away, sliding from around his waist as the artist gently pushed him forward and stood up behind him. Zira stepped out of the tub and leaned over, gently taking Crowley's hand. 

"Let me help." 

"I think the only way I'm getting out of here is if you help me," Crowley pointed out with a soft, slightly embarrassed chuckle, gripping onto Zira's arm tightly and starting to haul himself to his feet. He stumbled once he was upright, but Zira was there, holding him up, gently helping him step over the edge of the tub. Then he was being wrapped in a fluffy towel and kissed, and he melted into Zira's chest, savouring the feeling of being cared for so tenderly. 

"I love you," Crowley murmured as soon as Zira broke away, and was answered with a soft laugh. 

"Mm, I love you too, darling," Zira smiled, kissing him one last time before grabbing his own towel off the rack. "Come on, let's get on with it." 

 

Crowley followed Zira downstairs about five minutes later, holding a bowl of cereal. He sat down on the bench and watched Zira work on the stencil, finishing off the cereal while he waited. Zira had been insistent on him eating something, and they hadn't had much in the fridge, but he didn't mind much. 

He set the bowl aside and looked over at Zira, watching him as he traced the stencil. 

"Did you just redraw it?" 

"No, I traced it from a picture of mine," Zira answered quietly, finally sitting back and starting to pull the tape off the tracing paper. "It should be exactly the same." 

"I'm a little nervous," Crowley admitted softly, and Zira glanced up at him with a soft smile. "That's okay, darling. Most people are for their first, but I'll take care of you, and it's only small," he murmured, leaning over to pull Crowley into a soft kiss before breaking away to tell him where to sit. Crowley did as he was told, feeling Zira's hands on him, gentle and careful as he washed Crowley's upper back. 

"Would some music help?" Zira asked softly, just as he started to shave Crowley's skin, his spare hand rubbing soothing circles into the small of his back. 

"Probably," Crowley mumbled, closing his eyes. "You have my spotify, don't you?" 

"I barely know how to use it, but yes," Zira chuckled softly, wiping over Crowley's back again before smoothing some kind of lotion over it. 

"How about that one playlist I always put on when I'm cooking?" 

"Mm, okay," Zira hummed, and leaned away for a moment just before 'From Eden' started playing over his speaker quietly. "You know, when we first met I didn't have you pegged as a Hozier man," he announced softly, reaching for the stencil. "Sit as still as you can, my love." 

Crowley held his breath as Zira pressed the paper down, smoothing it carefully and holding it there. 

"I liked this song after you played it once, and it grew on me," Crowley admitted quietly, grinning as Zira leaned forward and nuzzled his cheek. 

"Yeah? Just like me." 

"Oh, I don't think you grew on me, Zira, I think I liked you from the start," Crowley chuckled as Zira carefully pulled the paper away and sat back to look at the stencil. 

"It looks good to me, do you want to check first?" 

"No, I trust you," Crowley answered simply, closing his eyes as he heard Zira pulling a fresh pair of gloves on and pulling his tray around. 

"I didn't think you believed in the idea of love at first sight," he mused quietly, and Crowley tensed when he heard the gun buzz for just a moment. 

"No, I...I don't. I just...I don't think you grew on me just because I already liked you, and I like you the same amount now, it just…it got deeper as well." 

"So love is just a deeper form of like, then?" 

The gun buzzed again and this time Crowley felt Zira's hands on him, one holding the gun, the other once again rubbing his back slowly and soothingly. The needle dipped down, and Crowley tensed again, clenching his jaw. 

"I...I think so. They're separate, in some ways. Ohhh, that smarts." 

"Yeah, I know. Just keep taking deep breaths, and if you feel dizzy, let me know right away. I've got you, my love. Tell me more about your theory, I'm interested now." 

Crowley managed a soft chuckle, closing his eyes again as he felt the needle stroking over his skin, running along the stencil lines easily. "I guess I think that you can love someone but not like them sometimes. Like if you fight, maybe you don't like them in that moment, but you do still love them. But you have to like someone before you can fall for them. At least most of the time, y'know? Like I suppose you probably didn't like me very much when we had that fight after...after the incident at my shop." 

"I don't think that's a representative example," Zira muttered, wiping the excess ink away. "I was angry, you made me angry, but most of the reason I was angry was because I was worried. I was worried sick about you because I knew something was wrong." 

Crowley sighed and nodded slightly. "You know what I mean, though." 

"I do, I just don't think it applies to our relationship." 

"I think that's probably a sign of a good relationship, don't you?" Crowley smiled, already starting to relax and get used to the feeling. 

"Yes, I do," Zira said simply, still rubbing Crowley's back lightly. "I think we have a lot of mutual respect, and we're both...decently calm people most of the time." 

"I've had to work hard on that, I'm glad it's paying off," Crowley chuckled, and Zira's hand stilled on his back, the needle lifting for a moment. 

"What do you mean?" 

Crowley heaved a sigh and shifted position slightly before Zira started in again slowly. "I had some anger issues when I left the army, unsurprisingly. I went through a lot of therapy, I worked hard on myself, and now...now we don't fight very often." 

"I think maybe George practically beating disobedience out of you probably helped," Zira pointed out softly, and Crowley tensed underneath him, his jaw tightening. 

"I...never thought about it that way." 

Zira sighed and lifted the needle again. "Maybe we shouldn't be talking about this right now." 

"No, I need the distraction," Crowley sighed, resting his forehead against the back of the bench. "George didn't beat me." 

"I know, it was a...figure of speech," Zira muttered, leaning in close as he got to some of the smaller lines. "But I have noticed that sometimes you seem like you have trouble saying no to me. Like, I'll ask you to come to bed, and you'll look like you really want to say no for a moment, and then you give in." 

Crowley sighed and was silent for a moment or two, gathering his thoughts. "I don't think that happens very often, though. And it's about specific things, like getting into bed. You know...beds are difficult. But I trust you, I just-" 

"They're just behaviour patterns that were sustained for eight years," Zira murmured reassuringly. "I'm not offended, my love. I'm not even really worried about it; what time we go to bed is not that important. I just wanted you to know that I've noticed, and I understand. And I wish I could just...God, I want to slap that man," Zira added with a chuckle, his hand running down to Crowley's side and massaging it gently as he followed another long line around the edge of the other wing. 

"Me too, but I'd probably never be able to," Crowley answered moodily, gritting his teeth against the pain from the needle and the cold ache of disappointment in his stomach. 

"That's okay. Lots of people never manage to stand up to their abusers like that, it's fairly normal. The best way you can get back at him, in my opinion, is to live your life with me and be happy. He tried to tear you down, so build yourself back up, and leave him in your past. You're already doing it, you're already so much happier than you were," Zira smiled, leaning over to kiss Crowley's cheek softly. 

Crowley smiled to himself and just sighed, finally starting to relax again. Zira stroked a hand down his side, his thumb rubbing over his partner's ribs briefly, over that scar from Crowley's fall. 

“Darling? I...look, I don’t really know how to bring this up...I’ve been waiting for a good time and it’s just never come, what with your nightmares and my parents and everything...” Zira trailed off and took a deep breath, lifting the needle away from Crowley’s skin again. “We never talked about that restraining order again.” 

Crowley was silent for a moment, his eyes closed as he thought through everything he wanted to say. Then he lifted his head slightly, swallowing his discomfort. “You’re right. And I’ve made a decision. I’m not going to do it. He hasn’t called or visited at all, which...I don’t know if I’m surprised or not, really, but that’s a whole other conversation. I just don’t feel like dragging up my life like that right now. Like you said, I need to leave him in my past, and going to court isn’t going to help that.”

Zira bent back to his work, the needle starting to run over Crowley’s skin and making him wince. “I agree wholeheartedly, darling. When I suggested it, I didn’t know enough about the process and I was scared he’d be bothering us, but now I understand more and it’s been a while, I don’t think it’s worth it. But, um, how do you feel about the fact that he hasn’t called?” He asked delicately, wiping the ink away carefully before continuing on another, shorter line.

Crowley tried not to flinch, remaining as still as possible.  “I’m glad. I just...I don’t know, I feel odd too. He acted like he wanted me back so badly, and then...I don’t know. He...I feel like he threw me out. Used me up and threw me in the bin.” 

Zira lifted his hand again, sitting back slightly. “He did. But that doesn’t mean that you’re worthless, Anthony.”

“I know, I know. It’s just hard not to feel a little bit bad about it,” Crowley pointed out quietly. “I know I deserve better, but I was with him for a long time, and he wasn’t always shitty to me. And...and I know that he probably only gave up because he found someone else. I feel sorry for whoever he is.” 

There was a short silence before Zira replied, his voice a little thick. “That’s not your responsibility, darling.”  

Crowley sighed and shook his head slightly. “It’s not, and there’s nothing I could do even if it was. But I do think about it sometimes.” 

Another short silence, textured by the buzz of the needle.

“You can talk to me about these things, you know. Like when you’re feeling them,” Zira murmured, and Crowley sighed softly, a little flash of guilt curling through his stomach.

“I’ll get better at talking, I promise. But it’s really not...it’s not that big of a deal, I just think about it sometimes, it’s not like I’m constantly worrying or feeling bad. I’m doing well, I promise.”

I know you are, darling,” Zira soothed, his voice finally getting its smile back, and a soft, proud tone to his words. “I’m nearly done, by the way." 

"Already?" Crowley asked, eager for the change of subject and still blushing from Zira’s gentle words. 

"Mhm, it's a very simple outline and I'm good at my job," Zira chuckled, and Crowley smiled to himself. 

"Listen to that arrogance." 

"Here's a little tip, Anthony. Don't annoy the man with the tattoo gun." 

Crowley just grinned, his eyes closing again as Zira wiped the ink away for the last time and sat back to inspect his work. 

"You're all done. How about we go out for a proper breakfast?" Zira suggested brightly, gently starting to clean the tattoo, keeping a hand on Crowley's lower back, holding him in place. 

"Christ, that sounds amazing," Crowley muttered, feeling more lotion being spread over his back. Then there was a snapping of gloves and Zira hummed to himself softly. 

"I'm gonna get a picture, my love. Stay there." 

Zira got up and wandered off, coming back a moment later with his phone. He took a couple pictures quickly, then gently helped Crowley up and over to the mirror. 

Crowley's eyes widened immediately, a bright grin spreading across his face as he stared at the little pair of wings just above and between his shoulders.  

"Now we match, angel." 

"Maybe I'll have to start calling you demon as a pet name," Zira joked, carefully taping plastic wrap over the tattoo, his touch as gentle as he could manage. 

"I don't think it quite has the same ring as angel." 

"You're right. Go put a shirt on, I'm gonna post this to Facebook before we go. Think about where you want to eat." 

"One more kiss?" 

Zira narrowed his eyes playfully, stepping towards Crowley. "Hmm, I'm gonna have to think about-" 

Crowley grabbed his jaw gently and kissed him quickly, grinning against the artist's lips as he started to laugh. 

"I can't kiss you if you're laughing!" He protested with a chuckle, and Zira just pulled away, gazing up into Crowley's eyes, his own bright and full of love. 

"Go on, or we'll be going out for lunch at this rate," he said softly, reaching up and stroking Crowley's cheek with one gentle hand. "And I want pancakes." 

Crowley rolled his eyes, but kissed Zira's cheek quickly and hurried off, holding onto the handrail tightly as he dragged himself all the way up the stairs. Then he wandered into the bedroom, opening the top drawer of Zira's dresser and rummaging around until he found one of his own t shirts, buried at the back. He slipped it on carefully and was just pulling it down when he heard his phone chime. 

He picked it up and smiled to himself, reading the notification a couple times over. 

A. Z. Fell Tattoos has tagged you in a post.

Crowley unlocked his phone and opened Facebook, his smile widening as he read the post and glanced over the pictures - both of their wing tattoos side by side. 

I'm so happy to announce that today, I gave my partner Anthony his first tattoo, a pair of black wings to match my first tattoo. I love you, darling! 

Crowley rolled his eyes fondly and was about to close the app when he noticed the post already had several comments. Curious, he tapped on the comments section and blinked as he began to read - they were all clearly loyal clients, and they were all excited; gushing about how cute the tattoos were, how happy they were for Zira. One of them even stated they'd been worried he was lonely, and were glad he'd found someone. Crowley's phone suddenly felt heavy in his hand, his chest warm and tight. People cared about Zira, and right there in his hand was the proof, and he was so, so glad he'd had some small part in revealing this to his partner - his shy partner who was always worrying about whether people liked him or not. 

"Darling? Are you done yet?" 

"One minute!" He called back, reading the next comment as it popped up. 

Now we get to play a guessing game: is he the redhead that kept wandering around making tea while I was getting tattooed?

Crowley chuckled to himself and went to his profile, swapping his picture out for a photo of the front of his shop and making sure everything else was private. After all, maybe this little 'guessing game' would get more people through Zira's door. 

"Anthony! I'm hungry!" 

Crowley chuckled and pocketed his phone before hurrying down the stairs and over to Zira, who pulled him into a brief kiss. 

"Let's go. Breakfast time," Crowley announced, and Zira just smiled, starting towards the door. 

"Well, more like brunch now, but who's counting?"

Chapter Text

Crowley looked up as Zira appeared in the doorway, smiling at him brightly and causing his heart to beat a little faster in his chest. 

"How's the new bedroom? You testing it out?" 

Crowley chuckled, getting up off the bed unsteadily and walking over slowly to stand directly in front of Zira. 

"Yeah, it's good so far. A little empty," he admitted quietly, letting himself be lost in those stunning blue eyes for just a moment. 

"Mhm, that's what happens when you sell all of your stuff," Zira grinned, and Crowley sighed, leaning forward to kiss his cheek lightly. 

"You know I had to change things." 

"Yeah, I know," Zira murmured, reaching up and stroking Crowley's hair back from his face carefully, fingertips brushing over Crowley’s cheek. "We'll sort it out. I'm glad you asked me to help you move in, you look exhausted." 

"That's because I am exhausted," Crowley chuckled, leaning towards his touch slightly, needing more in the same way he needed to breathe. "Stay with me tonight? It's too empty in here, I don't...I don't want to be on my own yet," he admitted nervously, but Zira immediately soothed his anxiety with a loving smile. 

"Of course I will, darling. And I understand, it is a little empty right now. How about we take a look online tonight, before bed? Get you some other furniture." 

Crowley nodded, reaching out and gently taking Zira's hand, wanting nothing more than to curl up and be held by his partner. "Come sit in bed with me?" 

Zira nodded and followed him willingly, back to the bed and sitting down beside Crowley as he picked up his laptop. 

The apartment itself was much smaller than Crowley's old one, but there were plush carpets in the bedroom and living room, and the walls were all warm cream colours; much more inviting than bare polished concrete. 

The first thing they'd done once everything had been moved in was put up the curtains, then Zira had helped Crowley scatter his plants around the entire apartment, spreading them out everywhere until the place resembled a sparser version of his shop. 

Crowley noticed Zira glancing around and smiled, opening his laptop on his thighs. "It's already starting to feel a bit more like home," he commented softly, and Zira nodded, leaning over to kiss him briefly. 

"It is, and I think this place will feel more like you than the last one when you get settled in," Zira agreed quietly, brushing a hand over Crowley's cheek as he pulled away. 

"I was hoping that maybe one day it would...well, feel like us," Crowley murmured, his gaze flickering down to Zira's lips before returning to those ever so slightly surprised blue eyes. 

"Really?" 

"Of course. Maybe...maybe not yet, I want to get settled here first by myself. And it might...it might feel too quick. But soon, Zira. I mean, we practically spend every night together anyway." 

Zira took a deep breath and the surprise in his eyes gave way to simple contentment. 

"I'd like that. And you're right, not yet." 

Crowley smiled and kissed his partner's cheek before turning to his screen instead, trying to swallow the lump in his throat; formed of pure, raw joy and love at the thought of finally living with his angel. 

"Let's find some furniture we both like, then." 

 

They ended up going through several different websites for over an hour, until Zira's head began to droop on Crowley's shoulder, his eyes closing slowly. 

Crowley carefully shut his laptop, then gently began to push Zira away from him, as slowly as he could. Despite his best efforts, Zira stirred and let out a soft, whining sound of protest that made Crowley's hands shake at the sheer, unbearable cuteness. 

"Hey, angel. It's alright, but you gotta lie down, love." 

Zira groaned, his eyes slipping open in the dark, blinking up at his partner with a look of sleepy curiosity. "Why?" 

"Because you're falling asleep," Crowley chuckled, gently guiding Zira down to the bed, his touch careful, but firm. "Come on." 

"M'kay," Zira mumbled, slowly sliding down and closing his eyes as Crowley pulled the blankets over him carefully. 

"That's it, angel. I've gotta get changed, I'll be right back," Crowley murmured, stroking that irresistibly fluffy blond hair before sliding out of bed and limping over to the dresser. He stripped his jeans off with some difficulty, his thumb brushing over his long, jagged scar and making him wince slightly. Then he finally tugged his pajamas on and dragged himself back to bed, falling in beside Zira and immediately pulling him into a loose hug. 

Zira grunted in his sleep and unconsciously nuzzled closer to Crowley, who gripped him a little tighter, one hand sliding up to cradle the back of his head. 

"I've got you, angel," he murmured softly, ignoring the stinging in his back as he squeezed Zira's waist lightly. He buried his face in the artist's hair and let out a deep sigh, then began to relax, the sheer comfort of having his love wrapped up in his arms already soothing him towards sleep. 

 

Unfortunately, it turned out to be a rather restless sleep, as Crowley awoke in the middle of the night, sitting up abruptly and dislodging Zira, who had been sleeping soundly half resting on Crowley's chest. 

Crowley quickly pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes, his breathing heavy and shaky, his hands trembling as the panic started to fade, too slowly. 

"Hey, hey," Zira murmured sleepily, his gentle hands running over Crowley's back, careful to avoid his still tender tattoo. "What is it?" 

Crowley heaved a deep sigh, dropping his hands away from his face and wringing them in his lap instead. 

"Fuck, I don't know," he muttered, pulling his knees into his chest and resting his forehead on them for a moment. "I think I had a nightmare, but I don't remember any of it." 

Zira sighed, leaning into his side and wrapping one hand around Crowley's bicep, the other still rubbing slow circles into his back as he let his head come to rest against Crowley's shoulder. 

"That's probably a good thing. You want some tea or anything?" 

Crowley let out a slow breath, lifting his head and flashing his partner a smile in the dark as that sick, sinking feeling finally dropped away, soothed by Zira’s warming presence. "No, angel, I'm okay. I really don't feel that bad this time. I felt a little shaky to start with, but I'm just tired now." 

"Are you sure?" Zira pressed gently, and Crowley just nodded, leaning into him gratefully, sharing in as much of that loving warmth as he could.

"I'm sure. I just want to lie down." 

"Okay, darling. Cuddle?" 

"Of course," Crowley grinned, laying down with Zira and allowing himself to be gently drawn into the artist's chest, immediately curling into him and closing his eyes contentedly. "Mm, exactly what I needed," he mumbled, inhaling Zira's comforting scent of books and tea and old fashioned cologne as he relaxed into that soft frame. Zira pressed a kiss to the top of Crowley's head, squeezing him tighter for a moment or two, making him feel incomparably safe and cared for. 

"I love you." 

"Mn, love you too, angel," Crowley muttered, his eyes slipping closed already, his body letting go. He was surprised at how easy it had been for him to come back from the nightmare, especially since he reasoned it must have been fairly awful to wake him up. It was unusual for him to forget his dreams as well, and he wondered if Zira's gentle touches had had some part in dissolving those memories. But he didn't wonder for long, as sleep curled itself around his mind and tugged him under, down into the fog and the nothingness of pure, blissful rest. 

 

The bed was cold when Crowley rolled over that morning, searching for what should have been beside him. Panic set in immediately, freezing his heart in his chest, until he realised he could smell bacon. He fumbled for his glasses and launched himself out of bed, desperate to get in the kitchen and intervene before the bacon became charcoal. 

In fact, when he got to the kitchen, Zira appeared to actually have things under control, and was sitting at the table on his laptop while bacon sizzled in the pan. Crowley wandered over suspiciously, and Zira glanced up for a moment, that infectious smile lighting up his whole face. 

"Good morning, love! Have you seen this?" 

"It's a bit difficult to answer that question when I have no idea what 'this' is, angel," Crowley pointed out, a little grumpy after his interrupted sleep the night before. 

"The Facebook post I put up when I tattooed you - it's got tons of comments on it now. Everyone wants to know who you are, and it's only been a few days." 

"Oh yeah, I noticed that right after you put it up," Crowley hummed, getting some rolls down from the cupboard and slicing two of them. Zira glanced over, then back at his laptop. 

"Brown sauce please, my love. You didn't tell me." 

Crowley dutifully dug the brown sauce out of the back of the fridge and tipped some onto both rolls before transferring the bacon from the pan. "You were shouting for me to come to breakfast," he answered simply, flashing Zira a smile as he turned and handed him one of the plates. "Your roll." 

"Thanks, darling," Zira said, his voice a little distant as he stared at the screen. "Is that why you changed your profile picture?" 

"Yeah, you noticed?" Crowley asked in vague surprise, squashing his roll with one hand before picking it up. 

"Only because I liked your last one so much," Zira hummed, turning the laptop so Crowley could see the screen as he began to eat. "Most of the people commenting are past or repeat clients, but I think it's gone a bit further than that now." 

"Let's just hope that the only client of yours who ever saw us kiss isn't on Facebook, it would totally ruin the magic," Crowley joked, but only halfway. After all, it was making Zira smile, and he wanted anything that made his angel happy to last as long as possible. 

"Oh yes, it really would," Zira frowned, pulling the laptop back towards him and scrolling through even more comments as he ate. 

"I've got to work today," Crowley announced quietly, and Zira just nodded, still focused on the screen. 

"Me too. Only this morning and probably quite briefly this afternoon, are you working all day?" 

"Yeah, probably," Crowley sighed, picking up his plate and taking it to the dishwasher. "I've got a funeral next week and a wedding the week after, and I need to be selling little stuff to fill in the gaps. I do like my job, but it's hellishly time consuming." 

"Mm, mine is too, just in different ways," Zira chuckled, closing the laptop and finally setting it aside. "What time do you need to leave?" 

"As soon as possible really, angel. I'm going to go get dressed."

Zira nodded and gently pulled him down into a soft kiss before he could walk past him. "You're not getting away that easily," he joked, and Crowley just kissed him deeper to make a point. 

 

Crowley was just packing up to spend his lunch break with Zira when the door bell jingled. He glanced up and saw a tall woman walking towards him. She looked young, with long, thick dark hair, but she had a tattoo on one of her forearms, so Crowley guessed she had to be around nineteen or twenty. 

"What can I do for you?" He asked, in a particularly good mood after that morning, and having noticed the piercing in her lip and her dark dress. He'd always had a bit of a soft spot for people with a little bit of punk in them, especially younger people. 

"I'd like some roses, please," the girl announced in a mild American accent.

Crowley leaned on the counter, tilting his head slightly. "How many? I'm assuming red?" 

"Red and white, please. Maybe a dozen?" 

Crowley nodded, smiling as he turned away, opening a glass-fronted refrigerator behind him. "Do you want them wrapped up nicely?" He asked, picking out six perfect red roses and another six white ones. "It's a little bit extra, but only a couple of quid." 

"I think so. And a card, please." 

Crowley selected a sheet of red paper and a sheet of plastic, wrapping the roses up expertly and taping a packet of plant food to the bouquet before handing it over. "That'll be...ten quid, please," he hummed, tapping a few buttons on the register and taking the note that was offered to him. 

Then the woman took the card Crowley gave her and used a pen from the counter to write it, exquisite, well-practiced handwriting spelling out one short word. Zira.  

Crowley blinked, but didn't have time to react to this before the roses were handed back over the counter and the woman flashed him a bright, knowing grin. 

"I got my first tattoo from Mr. Fell, and I saw his Facebook post, please give these to him. From both of us." 

Crowley stared at her in utter shock for a moment, then mentally shook himself. "What?" He managed feebly, then tried again. "How did you find me?" 

"Well, you did put a picture of your shop window as your Facebook profile," she pointed out with a slightly smug smile. "There aren't that many florists around here owned by men called Anthony. And you're right across the street from him, it's quite obvious."

Crowley swallowed, then set the roses down on the counter very carefully. "How about...would you like a cup of tea?" He asked quietly, and she simply smiled. 

"Sure." 

 

"So what's your name again?" Crowley asked as he poured the water into the kettle. 

"Anathema," the woman answered, wandering around the back room and inspecting his bins of wire and paint and tape. "I didn't expect a florist's to have so much...extra stuff." 

"The flowers don't stick to each other by magic," Crowley chuckled, leaning back against the kitchenette counter and watching her as he folded his arms over his chest. "Why'd you decide to find me?" 

Anathema looked up, her face blank. Then she sat down on one of the tables, kicking her feet slightly while she watched Crowley for a second or two. "Honestly? Mr. Fell helped me out when I was having a really awful day. I was considering switching courses at university, I was questioning all my life choices, but he calmed me down and helped me with ideas for my essay. And he talked about you. The whole time." 

Crowley blinked, and Anathema flashed him a smile that was tinged with just a little sadness. 

"He seemed so lonely, he kept saying how much he liked you, and I could tell by the way he spoke that he was in love with you. It was obvious, gushing about how sweet you were to him, how handsome, how kind," she went on, her smile turning more sincere as she spoke. "But he said he couldn't tell you, he was scared to because he was sure you'd reject him. I told him that was stupid, but I wasn't sure he'd ever listen to me. I just...I used to think about it a lot, because he was just so kind to me, and I felt bad that he was so depressed." 

Crowley had gone bright red somewhere near the beginning of this little speech, and it didn't seem like it was going down any time soon. "He-" Crowley gulped, his words disappearing as he tried to shove the emotion down, stop it from crawling up his throat. "He really said all that?" 

Anathema smiled and nodded, crossing her ankles as she glanced at the teapot pointedly. Crowley blinked and turned to pour out the tea with ever so slightly trembling hands. 

"Yeah. And a lot more. He literally couldn't stop talking about you, just because I asked him about the plant on his shelf," she chuckled. "He said he bought it from you so he'd take care of himself as well as you take care of him. How is he, by the way?" 

"Zira? Oh, he's um…" Crowley's mind wandered to that morning and he swallowed again, staring down into the two mugs, side by side. "He's great. We're...well, we're talking about moving in together soon." 

"Oh, good," Anathema grinned, taking one of the mugs as Crowley walked over with them. "How do you feel about him? If you're anything like him, you're just dying to tell me all about him." 

Crowley stared off into the distance for a moment or two, thinking about everything he could tell her. He could tell her about the way morning light always caught Zira's hair and turned it to a golden halo, he could tell her about the soft noises he made in his sleep - sometimes even sounding suspiciously like Crowley's name. He could tell her about the way Zira's smile always lit up every room, the way Crowley's heart raced every time Zira took off his sunglasses to gaze into his eyes, the way Zira made him feel like he deserved affection and love; deserved to be treated delicately and tenderly. 

He smiled and took a sip from his tea. "No, I don't think I'll tell you. They're my things to know." Then he took a deep breath and set his mug down, taking his coat off the hook. "And now I think I need to go see him. You can take the mug with you, if you like. I have thousands of them." 

Anathema just smiled and set her mug down beside his. "That's okay. Thank you for it anyway, I hope you have a good day." 

"And you. Oh, and come back anytime. To see either of us, I'm sure Zira would be delighted to see you again." 

 

And then Crowley was walking across the street, his walk slowly speeding up until it was more of a run and he was barreling through the shop door and into Zira's chest. The artist laughed, catching him easily and hugging him as Crowley wrapped his arms around him desperately, needing to squeeze him as tight as possible, needing to hold him. 

"Anthony? Are you alright?" 

The roses slipped from Crowley's fingers, his eyes opening as he cradled Zira's head instead, holding him protectively. "Yeah, yeah, everything's fine," he murmured, his voice a little hoarse. "I just... fuck , I love you." 

He felt the tears pricking at his eyes, but he didn't fight it. He let them stream down his cheeks, tears of love and acceptance and pure, unadulterated bliss. Zira's hands spread on his back, just holding Crowley the same way he was holding Zira; with all the fierceness of real, heartbreaking love.  

"I love you too, my darling," Zira murmured in response, his voice so full of tender sincerity that Crowley began to sob, pulling away just enough to cup his angel's jaw in his hands. 

"You can't do this to me, Zira!" He choked out, a shaky smile spreading across his face as Zira reached up hurriedly, gently brushing his tears away. "You can't love me this much, I'll explode!" 

Zira just chuckled, his worried expression dropping away as he finally realised what was going on. "Oh, but I can, my love. And you'll be fine." 

Crowley grinned through his tears, and hugged Zira again, burying his face in that soft, warm neck. "Thank you," he whispered, and Zira squeezed him tighter. 

"Of course, my darling. And you know what? I feel the same sometimes. Sometimes I just see you and I love you so much, I feel like my heart is just going to burst. You're not the only one." 

"Thank fuck," Crowley chuckled, his tears finally slowing as the shock of Anathema's quiet testimony began to fade. "I have something to tell you." 

Zira gently pulled away, stroking Crowley's cheeks with both hands and smiling up at him lovingly. "How about you tell me upstairs over some biscuits?"

Crowley nodded and Zira took his hand, picking up the bouquet on the way and just smiling at the flowers in such a sweet, happy way that Crowley knew he'd have to start bringing them at least once a week. 

"Did it have something to do with that girl who left your shop with you? She was one of my clients." 

"It might have."

Chapter Text

The dial tone was driving Zira nuts. 

It was the fifth time he was calling Crowley in an hour - they'd had plans to meet at Zira's shop and go to a movie, but the florist was over an hour late. 

Zira almost hung up on the third ring, but just as he moved to take the phone away from his ear, Crowley answered. 

"Zira?" He slurred, his voice sounding thick and confused. "What…what time is it?" 

"It's...it's seven, Anthony. Are you okay? You sound...weird," Zira answered slowly, worry suddenly a deep pit in his stomach, heavy and cold. 

"Yeah...yeah, I took a bunch of pills," Crowley answered sleepily, his words a little muffled. "I'm really sorry...I know we had a date but...it's bad, Zira. I...I can't walk." 

Zira closed his eyes for a moment, breathing slowly to even out his emotions. As usual, his worry had been stirred up into anger, but it was clear that Crowley wasn't in any state to listen to anything Zira had to say, so there was no point in getting upset. 

"Okay. I wish you’d just called me, my love. How many did you take?" 

Crowley let out a deep, heavy sigh, pausing for a moment to think. "Three? Yeah, three. I'm fine, it was just enough for me to sleep. I've done this before, angel." 

Zira bit down on his tongue, holding back the snappy response just waiting to slip out. "Okay, my love. As long as you're alright. Are you going to be okay? Is everything alright?" 

"Yeah, I just need to sleep," Crowley mumbled, his voice still hoarse. "I'm sorry, angel. I really...I'm really sorry, I wanted to see that movie with you." 

Zira ducked his head, pinching the bridge of his nose shakily, his breath trembling. He couldn't imagine being in that much pain, that drugged up, and still sounding so genuinely regretful about a relatively unimportant movie date. "I know, we'll go another time, my love. You rest, okay? I love you." 

"Mm. Love you too," Crowley mumbled sleepily, and the line went dead. 

Zira sighed and stared at the wall for a moment, running his hands up and down his thighs nervously. Then he stood up abruptly, and grabbed his coat. 

 

By the time Zira got to Crowley's apartment, his hands were shaking, so he set his bag down at his feet and dug his spare key out of his pocket. He unlocked the door and stepped inside, setting the bag down on the kitchen counter before calling out. 

"Anthony? I thought I'd drop by and we could have a movie night in. Are you awake?" 

"In the bedroom!" 

The voice sounded hoarse and shaking, more awake than it had on the phone, but with a tone Zira had come to recognise and dread. He sighed to himself and slipped his coat off, throwing it over the couch as he headed into the bedroom, pushing the door open slowly. 

Crowley was curled up in bed, his face buried in his hands, his body folded up as small as possible. He was shaking, and Zira's heart sank even further. 

"Hey, love," he murmured, walking over and sitting down on the edge of the bed slowly, careful not to disturb Crowley too much. He didn't react. "I brought us some food and a movie," Zira went on hopefully, stroking his hand over Crowley's side slowly. 

"It hurts, Zira," he hissed at last, his voice heavy with agony. "I can't move."

Zira took a deep breath and tried to keep his anxiety in check, his hand still resting on Crowley's hip. "You need to eat something, darling. You need to try for me, I'm sure you can sit up." 

Crowley didn't answer, so Zira gently began to pull at his shoulders, trying to drag him up without any luck, instead just drawing a few whimpers from his partner. 

"Anthony, please. You have to help me here," Zira begged, his voice breaking slightly as he pulled again, his hands shaking on Crowley's arms, his breath coming quick and shaky as frantic worry began to take over. "Please."

Crowley batted his hands away irritably, his golden eyes squinting in the light as he tried to heave himself up. He stretched his leg out in front of him and immediately cried out, grabbing at it as his whole body began to tremble. Zira began to breathe heavily, his hands shaking as he stroked Crowley's cheek and rubbed his back. 

"It's alright, it's alright," he repeated over and over, his voice rising in pitch slightly as he tried to pull Crowley into a hug. 

He was pushed away ever so gently, Crowley's protests soft and whined, but when Zira moved back reluctantly, Crowley forced a small smile. 

"I'm...I'm okay," he managed, slowly moving himself to sit back against the headboard, his head tipping back, his teeth gritted. 

"You're not," Zira muttered, but didn't press the issue, instead reaching out and resting his hand on Crowley's cheek. He turned into it immediately, golden eyes slipping closed, his breathing slowing slightly. 

"I'll get you something to eat and some more pills, okay?" Zira announced softly, running his thumb over his partner's cheekbone. He had to do something, he couldn't just sit there and watch Crowley try to breathe through the agony. He didn't know what he was going to do, but he had to do something. Crowley sighed, but didn't protest as Zira got up and kissed the top of his head, his hands shaking slightly where they rested on that flame red hair for just a moment.  

"It's going to be alright, my love," he murmured comfortingly, but he wasn't quite sure. "I'll be back in just a minute." 

Zira hurried off, grabbing one of the ready meals from the bag, but thought better of it and shoved some bread in the toaster instead. Then he wrenched the cupboard open and grabbed Crowley's pill bottles, tipping out one of each and setting them on the plate. As soon as the toast popped up, he snatched it from the toaster and dropped it onto the plate, hurrying into the bedroom. 

Crowley had his eyes closed, but opened them as soon as Zira touched his shoulder, his hands still unsteady. 

"Hey. I brought you some toast, my love. Can you try to eat some for me?" 

Crowley stared at him blearily for a moment, then nodded, his eyes empty and distant. "I'll try. Could I have some water?" 

"Yeah, yeah, I'll go get some," Zira sighed, kissing Crowley's cheek lightly and slipping back out of the room reluctantly. The look on his partner's face was scaring him, it was so blank, so out of it. The pain was clearly overwhelming him, and Zira didn't really know what to do; he'd never seen Crowley that bad before. 

He filled a glass from the tap and jogged back to the bedroom, handing the dripping glass to Crowley, who took it with one shaking hand. He took the pills quickly, then gave the glass back to Zira and began to nibble on the toast. 

Zira sat down on the edge of the bed slowly, starting to rub one of Crowley's shins as he watched him eat. 

"I think you need to go to the doctor tomorrow, love," Zira spoke up after a moment or two, but Crowley just shook his head slowly, struggling to swallow a bite of the toast. 

"No, I'm fine, Zira. This just happens, they can't do anything about it." 

Zira felt his throat start to close up, his fingers curling, pressing into Crowley's skin through his pajamas. "Well, they need to fucking try, Anthony. I'm not watching you go through this again." 

Crowley didn't answer, his eyes slipping closed as his nostrils flared. He sat very still for a moment, then dropped the half slice of toast onto the plate, his hands shaking.

"Darling? What's wrong?" Zira asked, reaching out, but Crowley was already throwing the plate to the bed, stumbling to his feet, and running into the bathroom. Zira jumped up and hurried after him, skidding slightly on the tiles before falling to his knees beside his partner. Crowley was bent over the toilet, his whole body heaving, so Zira gently pulled his hair back out of the way and began to rub circles into his back with one trembling hand. 

"I've got you, darling," he murmured over and over, trying to fight the tears bubbling up in his chest. He was scared, more scared than he'd been in a long time, and he knew deep down that this wasn't right; there had to be something more the doctors could do for his Anthony. 

"It's gonna be okay, my love," Zira managed, taking slow breaths to keep his voice even as Crowley finally sat back, falling backwards into Zira's arms. 

"It's alright, I'm here," Zira smiled shakily, and Crowley groaned softly, leaning forward again and grabbing onto the toilet to try and get himself up. Zira stood up quickly, trying to help him, gently pulling him upright, but the sprint to the bathroom wasn't without its price. 

Crowley's legs folded under him and he collapsed onto the floor, almost dragging Zira with him. The artist just about managed to stay upright, but quickly sat down on the floor, gently pulling Crowley's head into his lap. 

Crowley immediately hugged one of his legs, burying his face in the soft flesh and starting to cry ever so quietly, his whole body tensed in pain. Zira squeezed his eyes shut, but he could still hear those pitiful little sobs, scared and pained and so, so desperate. 

"That's it," he choked out after a moment or two. "We're going to Urgent Care, I'm calling a taxi. Right now." 

And finally Crowley gave up arguing, the slight tightening of his grip on Zira's thigh the only response he gave. 

 

It had taken quite a while to get Crowley into the taxi, and back out at the other end, but finally they were sitting in the waiting room. Crowley had been shivering, so Zira had given him his coat, and he was starting to doze off with his head on his partner's shoulder. 

Zira leaned his head against Crowley's slowly, staring at nothing as his mind raced. He didn't know what he'd do if the doctor said it really couldn't be helped. He wasn't sure if he could go through that again, the anguish of seeing his partner so completely overcome with pain and knowing he could do nothing about it. 

"Anthony Crowley?" 

Zira blinked, lifting his head as he glanced towards the hallway. A nurse was standing with a clipboard, so he smiled and started to gently wake Crowley, helping him out of his chair and supporting him over to the nurse. Every step made Crowley gasp and Zira wince, but they took it slow and eventually made it over, then followed the nurse down the long hallway and into the closest exam room. Crowley collapsed into the first chair he saw, bending over and wrapping his arms around himself, his whole body trembling as he struggled to breathe. 

The nurse filled out the basic forms, each question answered promptly and easily by Zira, and turned to him when it was finished. "I'll get the doctor, it should be just a few minutes." 

Crowley had buried his face in his hands, still folded over completely, so Zira just sat and worried, dutifully rubbing Crowley's back even if he wasn't sure he could feel it. 

After what felt like an eternity of just listening to Crowley's ragged breathing, the door clicked and a doctor slipped in, a small man with a bad comb over, but a friendly smile. 

"Good evening, I'm Doctor Johanssen, I've read the nurse's notes. Is there anything else you need to tell me?" 

Zira heaved a sigh and glanced at Crowley, who didn't seem like he was going to be responding any time soon. "Um. I don't really know, I just...I've never seen him this bad before. There have been some days where he can't walk, at least not well enough to go to work, but he's always at least able to take his medication. And he's just.." Zira sighed, gesturing to Crowley shakily. "Really unresponsive." 

"I can see that," the doctor sighed, glancing at Crowley before shooting Zira a wan smile. "I suppose he hasn't rated his pain out of ten for you, has he?" 

A muffled ‘nine’ emanated from the shaking Crowley, and Zira sighed, feeling as if his heart was breaking in his chest. His throat was closing again, tears pricking at his eyes, but he managed to catch the serious look the doctor gave him. 

"I'm going to make a recommendation. I think Anthony needs to be given intravenous painkillers, and that's not something we can do here. You need to take him to a hospital, he should be kept overnight; if he's been too pained to eat or drink, he's probably dehydrated and low on blood sugar. They can sort all that out there as well as running tests that I can't do here. I can call you an ambulance to come and pick you up." 

Crowley lifted his head quickly, about to protest, but Zira got there first. 

"Please, thank you so much." 

 

One stressful hour later, Zira was sitting in a hard plastic chair, his fingers laced with Crowley's loosely. The florist had fallen asleep a few minutes ago, finally knocked out by the morphine they'd given him, but Zira was still struggling to come down from all the anxiety of the evening. He sighed and got up from his chair, his hand slipping from Crowley's as he started to pace, his arms wrapped around himself. The doctor had said so many things about so many different tests and scans, and it had left Zira's already tired mind spinning. At least it seemed like they were going to do something

He glanced back towards the bed and sighed deeply, then wandered over and sat down on the edge of it, running his fingertips over Crowley's forehead. 

"I love you, darling," he murmured softly, leaning down to press a light kiss to his partner's cheek. Crowley shifted slightly in his sleep, but didn't wake, so Zira very gently pushed him over in the narrow bed before squeezing himself into the gap and slipping his arm around Crowley's waist. He smiled to himself and closed his eyes, allowing himself to let go of every little worry.

Crowley was fine. He was going to be fine. It was all going to be okay. 

 

The next morning was even more stressful. Zira followed Crowley all over the hospital for seemingly endless scans, finally ending up in another little room with another doctor. She introduced herself as Dr. Nguyen and produced Crowley's X-rays and MRI, pointing out a bunch of things Zira didn't quite understand, but fortunately summed it up in one still rather long statement. 

"Because of your pain, Anthony, you walk differently, and you also told me you fall sometimes, quite often directly onto your knee. This has caused damage and deterioration in your kneecap that is giving you pain in the joint as well as your thigh. I’m going to refer you to a pain specialist, but in the meantime, your dosage of muscle relaxants seems to be quite low for your case, so I'm going to switch your painkillers out for different ones and up your dosage. Does that all make sense?" 

Crowley nodded slowly, then glanced at Zira, his eyebrows furrowed in worry and confusion. "I didn't...I really didn't think it was getting worse." 

Dr. Nguyen sighed and tucked the scans back away carefully. "From what I can see, this deterioration happened very slowly over a long time. The more you walk, the more cartilage and protective coating gets rubbed away until bone is rubbing against bone. You haven't gotten there yet, but I'm going to get you physical therapy as well and book you in for regular scans. It's probably just because it got worse so slowly, that it just became your new normal." 

Zira leaned forward slightly, his hand still firmly clinging to Crowley's. "So it's going to be monitored from now on?" 

The doctor smiled at him and nodded. "Very carefully. We don't want it to get to a point at which an operation is necessary, but that is an option if we can't help enough." 

"And is there anything I can do to help manage the day-to-day?" Zira asked softly, ignoring Crowley clicking his tongue in mild disapproval. 

"The pain specialist will be able to tell you more, but for now, massaging the muscle every day is essential, that's something you can help him with. And make sure he takes long, hot baths, that should help, as well as making sure he does his physical therapy exercises. They can be painful and difficult, and having a supportive partner to help is really important." 

Crowley nudged Zira gently, flashing him a slightly shaky smile. "You get to crack the whip this time instead of me." 

Zira just chuckled and reached over, brushing his messy hair back behind his ear. "Shush. Let's get you home." 

 

They left the hospital with new medication, a pair of forearm crutches, and a cane, all of which Crowley grumbled, albeit quietly, that he didn't need. But he did use the crutches to get from the taxi to the front door, so Zira just ignored him and went into the bathroom to run a hot bath. 

"Angel?" 

Zira rolled his eyes fondly and called back. "What do you need, darling?" 

"Come here." 

Zira sighed and straightened up, then wandered out of the bathroom to find Crowley sprawled out on the couch, his leg stretched out in front of him. "You called?" 

"Come here!" Crowley insisted impatiently, but with a bright smile, so Zira just gave him a fake annoyed look and wandered over, sitting down beside him. 

"Yeah?" 

Crowley's cheeks flushed immediately, and he swallowed, leaning closer to his partner. "I, um...I wanted to thank you for last night. I know you were really frightened and...and I know I wasn't very helpful, but you made me do the right thing. And I'm really glad you did." 

Zira just smiled and hugged him as carefully as he could, his eyelids fluttering closed. "Mm. You've got too much pride, my darling. You don't need to be embarrassed about me helping you, that's what I'm here for. That's what a relationship is, a proper one, anyway." 

Crowley heaved a sigh and gently pulled away, looking down at his lap for a moment. "Can I tell you something?" 

"Of course," Zira answered simply, scooting a bit closer to stroke his hand over Crowley's soft hair.

"I...logically, I know you wouldn't...but sometimes when I'm not thinking clearly, I still get worried you're going to get tired of my leg and leave," Crowley admitted quietly, his gaze still fixed on his hands, his adam's apple bobbing in his throat. 

Zira squashed down the urge to tell him that was stupid and ridiculous, and took a slow breath instead. "I can understand that, my love. It's not pretty, and it's not easy. And I think it's going to get harder with all this physical therapy...but I'm here because I love you. I was terrified last night, I was scared that they weren't going to be able to help you. But I didn't think of leaving you. I didn't ever think about that." 

Crowley managed a shaky smile, finally looking up at Zira, who cupped his jaw in his hands and planted a soft kiss on his lips. 

"Let's go get in this bath, your hair needs washing." 

 

After a good long soak in hot water, Zira guided Crowley back to bed and helped him slip on a pair of boxers. Crowley clung to him gently, whimpering occasionally when he shifted his weight, and collapsed back to the bed gratefully as soon as it was done. 

Zira sighed, gently helping him swing his legs up, then looked up and saw the blush on Crowley's cheeks. 

"Do you want me to try massaging it?" Zira asked softly, still wanting to make his partner as comfortable as possible, but Crowley pulled a face, shaking his head quickly. 

"No, you don't want to do that. It's...it's gross," he muttered, unconsciously sliding one hand down his thigh in an unsuccessful attempt to hide that long, gnarled scar. 

Zira sighed again and moved closer to his partner, kissing his forehead and running a hand over his cheek. "Look at me, darling. There is no part of you I find gross, I promise. I don't know and I don't care what other people have told you. I think you're perfect and handsome, and nothing is going to change that. I want you to feel better, and if this is going to make you feel better, I want you to show me how to do it," he said firmly, leaning in and kissing Crowley's cheek. "Come on, darling. I love you, every part of you." 

Crowley heaved a sigh, gently pulling his head away from Zira's hands, turning to look away from him. "I...I don't know," he mumbled, his voice breaking slightly. "What if-...what if touching it changes your mind...or...or something?" 

"It's just a scar, darling," Zira soothed, his hand shaking as he brushed Crowley's hair back behind his ear. He couldn't imagine what George must have told him to make him that frightened of being rejected, but he was desperate to erase it, to show Crowley that things could be different. "Please, darling. Let me help, I know you're scared, but it's okay. I love you." 

Crowley tightened his jaw, muscles flexing, then sighed deeply and finally turned to look into Zira's eyes again, the resignation and dull, tired fear in his expression almost making Zira's heart stop. 

"Fine. The lotion is in the drawer over there," he muttered, and Zira forced a smile, running his knuckles down Crowley's cheek lovingly. 

"Alright. I've got you, my love. Is there any special technique?" He asked, leaning over to pull a bottle of lotion out of the bedside drawer. "I don't want to hurt you." 

Crowley laughed bitterly, closing his eyes as he let his head fall back against the wall. "It hurts whatever you do, angel. But you really have to dig in to break up the knots." 

Zira sighed, spreading lotion over the scar carefully, feeling the bumpy, ridged skin for the first time, letting his fingertips follow every little curve and dip. "I guess we'll have to get used to it," he murmured, laying both hands on Crowley's thigh, trying to swallow his nerves. He began to press heavily with his thumbs and Crowley cried out, burying his face in shaking hands immediately, his body jerking. Zira jumped back hurriedly, apologising over and over, but Crowley was shaking his head. 

"Y-you have to keep going," he choked out, dropping his hands away from his face and tilting his head back. "Fuuuck...it gets better the more you do it." 

Zira swallowed hard, biting his lip as he tried to stop shaking. "Are you sure?" 

"Yes, I'm sure," Crowley groaned, dragging both hands down his face. "If you leave it now, it'll just get worse." 

Still shaking slightly, Zira rested his hands on Crowley's leg again, taking a deep, slow breath before starting to massage his thigh once more, digging deep into Crowley's muscles. The florist cried out again, pressing the heels of his hands against his eyes as he shuddered, his teeth gritting. Zira kept going, apologising softly under his breath, over and over until it slowly became easier and Crowley started to relax. 

Eventually, Zira could feel the difference under his hands; Crowley's thigh a little softer and less knotted. He even started to let out quiet little sighs when Zira touched him instead of whimpers, a slow smile spreading across his face. 

"How are you feeling?" Zira asked at last, and Crowley just nodded slightly, heaving a deep breath. 

"Mm. Much better," he mumbled, gently brushing Zira's hands away and sliding down to lay on his back, his eyes still closed. "The pain usually comes back after ten minutes or so, but for now...holy fuck, I feel good," he chuckled, pulling the blankets over himself as Zira hurried to lay beside him, quickly pulling him into a gentle hug. 

"That's gonna take some serious getting used to," Zira announced softly, smiling as Crowley cuddled up to him, hugging him tightly and nuzzling his jaw. "But I'm glad it made you feel so much better." 

Crowley grinned against Zira's skin, the heady relief of acceptance making his fingers tremble slightly on his partner's back. "Mm, I love you, angel. I'm sorry I didn't trust you to start with." 

Zira let out a slow breath, stroking Crowley's hair and playing with the soft strands gently. "Its okay, darling. I understand, I really do. I just...I wish we'd met years ago, so you wouldn't have had to go through all that...all that shit that made you so scared," he murmured, allowing himself to really feel Crowley pressed up against him, that thin chest rising and falling against his, his own arm wrapped so tightly around Crowley's waist, holding him so lovingly. "But we didn't. So I'm just going to do my best to make you feel better," Zira went on softly, feeling Crowley smiling against his neck. "I love you." 

"I love you too, angel. I'm sorry I'm so difficult sometimes." 

"It's not your fault. Now go to sleep," Zira chuckled, running a hand up and down Crowley's back soothingly. "Before the pain comes back." 

"Mm. Okay, angel. See you in the morning." 

"Mhm. I'll be right here, my love." 

Chapter Text

Crowley lit the last candle on the table, shaking the match out and looking up hurriedly when the front door clicked. “Angel?”

“Mhm, I went to the store on the way home, sorry I’m a little late,” Zira announced as he kicked off his shoes. “I got you some of that wine you like.” 

“Good, ‘cause I made dinner,” Crowley grinned, walking into the kitchen and bending down to take the dish out of the oven. As he straightened up, setting it on the side, he felt hands sliding over his waist, then arms wrapping around him. He grinned to himself, leaning back into Zira’s warm chest as he felt soft lips on his neck.

“Mm, missed you today,” Zira murmured, and Crowley let his eyes slip closed, his head leaning back. 

“I’m sorry, you know I had to do a delivery over lunch.”

“I know, darling. I’m just happy to see you now. This looks delicious.” 

Crowley sighed as Zira stepped away from him, taking two bowls down from the cupboard and setting them out.
“I want to talk to you about something,” he said quietly, trying to keep the nerves out of his voice as he started to serve up the pasta. 

“Yeah?” Zira hummed, picking up the bottle opener and taking the cork out of the wine bottle. “What’s that? Are you feeling okay?” 

“Yeah, yeah. I’m fine,” Crowley mumbled, picking the bowls up and walking out of the kitchen. Zira grabbed two wine glasses and followed him, setting them down on the table and filling them before sitting down. 

Crowley took his seat slowly, avoiding Zira’s gaze as he reached for his wine. “Uh. It’s been a good few weeks now, and I know...I know we talked about you moving in, but-”

“Yes, I’d love to,” Zira said simply, grinning at Crowley as he stared at him in shock. “I knew all these candles were about something, and I was hoping you’d ask soon. I think it’s the most practical thing with your leg-” Crowley opened his mouth to protest; a reflex thanks to his ingrained embarrassment over his injury, but Zira just raised his voice slightly, a knowing little smile on his lips. “...which is getting better, I know, but slowly. And I want to be around to help, even if you don’t really need it, because I love you and I want to make things easier for you. So let’s do it.”

Crowley swallowed, trying to figure out how to fit this into the available space in his mind. He hadn’t expected it to be so easy, he’d expected Zira to tell him it was moving too fast, or to point out how much he liked his own apartment. He wasn’t entirely sure how to react to all this; it didn’t fit any of the internal scripts he’d spent all day thinking over, and so he had no idea what to say. Luckily, Zira knew his partner quite well and just smiled. 

“I’ve been thinking about what I want to do with my flat,” he announced, gently steering the conversation in a slightly new direction. Crowley tried to look like he knew what was going on, nodding slowly. “I think I might turn it into a sort of library or something. It might be nice as a little reading room or something. There’s this place a few streets away that offers safe spaces for LGBT kids, I was thinking it might be nice to have something like that.”

“Above a tattoo shop?” Crowley asked, finally catching up and taking a long sip from his wine. 

“Well, why not?” Zira chuckled, starting to twirl spaghetti around his fork. “It’s free space now. It’s obviously too small for like...support groups and stuff, but I could stock it with LGBT books and have a little lending service. I have quite a few rare copies already, and the natural light in that apartment is fantastic.”

Crowley just stared at Zira for a moment, taking in all of this; his happy, excited tone, his determination to help in any small way he could. He couldn’t help thinking about that kind enthusiasm, and why he’d fallen in love with Zira. The two were definitely connected. 

“I love you,” he said at last, and Zira looked up, surprise registering in his eyes for just a moment before being forced out by a bright smile.

“I love you too, darling. I can’t wait to spend every night here with you.”

Crowley blushed and turned his attention to his food quickly, but he couldn’t fight the contented smile that spread across his face. 

 

There were boxes everywhere

Crowley leaned against the wall, watching Zira as he carried in the last box and set it on the kitchen table. 

"Is there really room for all of this?" He asked quietly, and Zira looked over at him, flashing a bright smile. 

"It looks like a lot more than it is. They're mostly full of books, so I pack them half full. Once I get the bookshelves put together, you'll see." 

"We, angel. I can help you with a bookshelf," Crowley chuckled, and Zira shot him a playful, but concerned look. 

"I'll believe it when I see it, darling." 

"Oh, it's like that, is it?" Crowley laughed, picking his way around a few boxes to stand in front of his angel, his hand coming up to cup Zira's chin lightly. Those blue eyes fixed on his happily, a smile spreading across his lips. 

"Yeah, it is," Zira murmured, his eyes flickering down slightly before slowly dragging back up to Crowley's gaze. "You can try to help, darling, but if it gets too much, you need to say." 

"I know," Crowley sighed, dropping his hand and turning away slightly. Frustration dripped off his words, made his jaw feel stiff. 

Zira heaved an echoing sigh, painfully aware that he'd ruined the moment. "Your doctor said-" 

"I know what she said!" Crowley snapped, his shoulders tightening, his hands shoving into his pockets as he glared at the floor. 

"Anthony...come on," Zira murmured, stepping around in front of him and trying to take his hand. Crowley shook him off half heartedly, but Zira tried again, this time coaxing the shaky florist into his arms. 

"That's it," Zira soothed, his hand sliding up into Crowley's hair to cradle the back of his head as he suddenly tightened his grip on his partner's waist. Emotion flooded through him, a heady mix of love, joy, and frustration, so he hugged Zira as hard as he could, pressing his face into soft blond curls. "I know physical therapy has been hard and you're feeling down, but try to focus on the good. I'm finally going to get to wake up next to you every morning and we're going to start a proper life together. It's going to be alright." 

Crowley squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, his fingertips digging into Zira's back before he pulled away just enough to talk. "My leg is never going to be okay," he mumbled gloomily, and Zira just sighed. 

"I know. But it'll be better soon. It's getting better. And I know it's frustrating sometimes, but you have to take care of yourself so it keeps getting better." 

Crowley gently pulled away from Zira's arms, dragging his hands down his face slowly before dropping them to his sides and forcing a smile. 

"Let's start on these shelves." 

Zira smiled much more genuinely, reaching out to stroke his cheek briefly. "How about you go and get the blankets and pillows in from your car while I get all the pieces out of the box?" 

"Yes, angel." 

 

Crowley did manage to help with the bookshelves despite Zira's apprehension, although his role was mostly in holding things together while Zira put the screws in. But eventually he got to sit on the couch and watch Zira arrange the books, one entire wall in the living room covered in shelves. 

Although Crowley had no idea what order Zira was placing the books in, he enjoyed watching him, and listening to him mutter to himself as he figured out his system. When Zira finally finished, he scattered some of Crowley's smaller plants on the shelves, then sat down on the couch beside him and flashed him a smile. 

"Do you like it?" 

Crowley glanced around the room, the joy welling up in his chest, making him a little choked up. It was really starting to feel like their place at last, a place they could build a life together and live together and be happy together. "Yeah, angel. I love it." 

Zira grinned, resting his head on Crowley's shoulder and closing his eyes as the florist wrapped an arm around him. 

"Can I ask you something, darling?" 

"I don't know why you always ask me that, of course you can," Crowley chuckled, pressing a kiss to the top of Zira's head and stroking his hair slowly, trying to press it down flat. 

"I'm just polite, I don't like blurting out random questions all the time," Zira answered stiffly, but smiled when Crowley snorted. "Do you ever want to have kids?" 

"Well I'm almost thirty six, angel. I think...I think it might be a bit late," Crowley chuckled, stroking his fingertips over Zira's soft cheek. "At least by the time I sort this leg out enough to be chasing a kid around." 

"I don't think it's ever really too late," Zira protested quietly, pressing himself closer into Crowley's side. "I always wanted to adopt a little one." 

Crowley frowned suddenly, his hand stilling mid air. "Wait...couldn't you..?" 

"No, I had to have...all that stuff removed," Zira admitted softly, running his own hand down Crowley's chest slowly. "It's safer that way, medically speaking. Well, they think it is. Um. So adoption is my only choice, really." 

"Oh. Yeah. As a cis gay man, I never really thought I had any other option. Well, other than surrogacy, but that never seemed like something that would work for me personally," Crowley shrugged, dropping his hand back into his lap. "To actually answer your question, though...yeah, I would like to have kids one day. But um. I don't feel anywhere near ready yet. With my leg and...well, still working through all that trauma with George, it just feels like I have a long way to go with myself at the moment. And with you." 

Zira nodded slightly, his hand finding Crowley's and squeezing it gently. "Yeah, I agree. I've just...I've been talking to my dad a bit. By text, y'know? I guess that's what made me think of it. With my issues with my parents, I didn't feel ready, but now...now I'm taking steps in the right direction, I think." 

"I'm really glad you're talking to him, angel," Crowley murmured, letting out a long breath and tightening his grip on the artist's shoulders. "I think it'll be good for you. And if he does anything shitty, tell me and I'll beat him up." 

Zira laughed, the pure, happy sound causing a soft smile to twitch at Crowley's lips. "Yeah, because you're so scary, my darling. Even I could take you in a fight, especially on one of your bad days." 

Crowley opened his mouth for a sharp retort, but shut it again quickly. He may have been in the army, the police; he may have threatened a man for Zira's sake, and out of his own anger. But that didn't mean he had to be that man anymore. So he just turned his head and rested his cheek in Zira's fluffy hair. 

"I'd do anything to protect you, my angel," he murmured after a moment, and Zira let out a contented little sigh. 

"I know, love. I know you would." 

There was a brief lull in the conversation as they both wandered off into their own thoughts for a minute or two. Crowley was the first to speak again, his voice soft and a little teasing as he pulled his angel even closer to him. 

"You know...now we're moved in together, even when I can't come see you at lunch, I can stuff your bag with sandwiches. And you'll be eating breakfast every single day," he grinned, and Zira just snorted, cuddling into Crowley's side, getting as close to his partner as was physically possible. 

"That'll only work if you leave cute notes on the sandwiches," Zira chuckled, turning slightly and wrapping his arm around Crowley's waist. 

Crowley just smiled to himself, closing his eyes contentedly, relaxed in this warm, easy, loving moment. "Mm. I'll have to buy some post it notes," he murmured, then thought for a second before going on softly. "In all seriousness, I am proud of you," he began gently, squeezing Zira a little tighter, knowing he didn't really like talking about it, not after that huge fight, not with all the associations to George and Crowley's pain. In short, the topic was a huge, tangled mess, that was best left alone and not prodded, in case either - or both - of them got frustrated, but just this once would be okay. At least, he hoped so. "You've been doing a lot better lately, even when I haven't been there and you've been stressed or upset. I just...I love you, and it makes me happy to see you taking care of yourself better, even if it wasn't an intentional problem to start with." 

Zira took a deep, heavy breath, almost climbing onto Crowley's lap as he tried to hug him even tighter. "Thank you, darling. I...It's because of you, it really is. I told you, I know you'd always protect me, and you do, even from my own stupid little mistakes. And you make me feel like I'm worthy of working on myself." 

Crowley squeezed his eyes shut, his fingertips digging into Zira's back gently as he tried to brace against the tsunami of emotion crashing through him. His nostrils flared, and for a moment, he thought he might start to cry, but managed to take a calming breath. 

"I love you," Crowley announced at last, when he could finally trust his voice not to wobble. "So much." 

"I know. I love you too," Zira answered simply, pressing a soft kiss to Crowley's neck and relaxing against him completely, their bodies warm together, chests rising and falling in unison as they both smiled. 

 

Silence settled for a while, comfortable and relaxed, until Zira shifted, slowly lifting his head off Crowley's chest and straightening up. Crowley smiled and just watched him, taking in that contented, warm expression on his face. 

"I bought us a housewarming gift," Zira announced when he glanced over at Crowley and caught him staring. "I'll go get it." 

"A housewarming gift? Aren't other people supposed to buy us those?" Crowley called suspiciously as Zira got up and walked towards the kitchen. 

"Yes, my dear, but since we don't know anyone, I thought I'd buy us something anyway," Zira chuckled, wandering back a moment later with a shopping bag dangling from his fingers. He handed it to Crowley, who just raised an eyebrow. 

"Open it," Zira urged with a grin, and Crowley sighed, pretending to be annoyed as he reached into the bag. He pulled out two matching sets of pajamas, one black, one cream. The black ones were plain and soft, the cream ones decorated with little sheep. Crowley gave Zira an unimpressed look, but the artist just smiled. 

"Come on! It'll be nice, we'll be like a repressed married couple from the fifties," he insisted, and Crowley just sighed, shaking his head slightly. He was fighting a smile, but was absolutely determined to keep up his ruse of annoyance. 

"We'll look like idiots, angel." 

"It's a good thing we're in our own home, then. Where no one can see us," Zira pointed out, tilting his head slightly. "Come on. I'm tired, I want to go to bed, so you have to put them on." 

Crowley sighed and stood up, pressing a soft kiss to Zira's cheek before slipping past him and heading for the bedroom. 

"You're incredibly lucky I love you so much." 

Zira just grinned to himself and followed slowly, shutting the bedroom door behind both of them. 

And later, when they were curled up in bed in the dark, Zira already half asleep on his partner's chest, Crowley had to admit to himself that the pajamas were, in fact, quite comfortable. And rather cute.

Chapter Text

Zira was buried in a book while Crowley watched TV. In truth, Crowley was half asleep, his head resting on his partner's shoulder while he stared at the screen. Occasionally, he'd mumble an answer to one of the questions on the quiz show that was running, but mostly he just basked in domestic bliss and Zira's comforting body heat. 

They were both so settled that they jumped in unison when there was a loud knocking on the front door. Crowley groaned softly and Zira put his book down immediately, staring at the door in startled confusion. 

"Who would be here this late?" He asked the room in general, and Crowley just snorted. 

"Why don't you go open it and find out?" He suggested, and Zira gave him a sharp, only mildly amused glance. 

"Fine, I'll let you off because your leg is sore," he muttered, getting up off the sofa and wandering down the hall. Crowley muted the TV and leaned his head back, listening to Zira's quiet footsteps. 

The door clicked. "Good evening, can I-" 

"Where is he?" 

Crowley froze. 

His entire body turned to ice, his throat suddenly closing, his lungs pausing mid-breath. 

"I'm sorry, I don't know-" 

Crowley reached for his cane shakily, eyes still fixed firmly on the end of the hallway, his arm moving slowly, as if afraid that any sudden movement would have disastrous consequences. 

"Anthony. Where is he?" 

The voice was demanding, sharp, but slurring. He was very, very drunk, not that this was any consolation. 

Zira hesitated, and when he spoke again, his voice was cold and clipped, dripping with fury. "I think you need to leave. Right now." Crowley's fingers closed around the handle of his cane and he rose slowly, his heart hammering at the inside of his ribcage as he shuffled towards the hallway.

"I think you need to fuck off," George snapped in response, and Crowley winced, collapsing against the wall as he tried to shake away the images and memories conjured up by that phrase in that rough, inebriated voice. "Are you fucking him? Does he let you fuck him? Because I had to fight to get him to-" 

"Get the fuck off of my property before I call the police," Zira interrupted, the fury no longer cold, but red hot and obvious, and Crowley swallowed hard, suddenly unable to face walking down that hallway. He hadn't heard his partner speak like that before, and the combination of George and this new side of Zira was already sending him spiralling. 

"It's not yours, it's his, get the fuck out of my way, I want to talk to Anthony!" 

"He doesn't want to talk to you," Zira answered flatly. "You're a fucking piece of shit, he hates you, I hate you, and I need you to leave right now." 

"He doesn't hate me," George sneered, and Crowley could see the look on his face in his mind's eye - having heard that tone plenty of times over the years. "Ask him about all those times he came running back to me, huh? I bet he hasn't told you. I bet he never told you that he got down on his knees and begged me to take him back. I fucked his throat until he couldn't talk, then made him beg again." 

Zira was silent, and Crowley felt that was almost worse than the anger. It was getting unbearable standing there, listening to all of this. He didn't want Zira to think of him like that, he didn't want Zira to get between drunk George and him - he'd seen how violent George could be when he was drunk. And yet he couldn't take those steps, he couldn't just walk those few paces down the hall to face either of them. Not like that. 

"You know, one time when he came back to me, I made him sleep outside the first night. He does anything I say, anything to get back with me. You? You're nothing. Nothing to him. Now be a dear and go fetch him for me. Your little playtime with my toy is over." 

"I'm not fucking going anywhere," Zira hissed, his voice suddenly low and dangerous. "You're going to have to walk your drunk ass back home and go wank off to your sadistic little memories, and how fucking grand and special you think you are for being an abusive piece of shit. Newsflash! You're not special. You're just another fucking disgusting cis man who thinks he owns everyone! Get the fuck away from me and my partner!" 

Crowley swallowed and forced himself to take that step, right into the end of the short hallway. He couldn't let Zira get hurt over him, and he could already feel the escalation ramping up, getting ready for a full-blown fight. 

As soon as he stepped into view, George looked up, a wide, rather twisted grin spreading across his face. His eyes were distant, and he was swaying slightly, but he was staring directly at Crowley. 

"There he is! Come on, darling. Time to come home, I'm done fucking around! No more other men for me, I'm sick of this little break. Come on. Heel!" 

Zira lunged, but Crowley caught his arm, gently pulling him back before George could notice. Zira looked up sharply, his eyes switching from enraged to worried in a split second as he stared up at his partner. Crowley managed a tiny smile, his hands shaking, his whole body feeling weak with anxiety. 

"It's okay," he mumbled, and Zira clenched his jaw just before Crowley turned to George instead, taking one more step forward to block the doorway. "George, I'm going to say this nice and clear, for all the good times we had. Alright? I don't love you anymore. I don't care about you anymore. You mean nothing to me, and I'm not coming back to you, ever. I'm happy without you. Please leave." 

George's red-rimmed eyes had widened further and further as this little speech went on, and when Crowley finished, he immediately reached across the threshold and grabbed a fistful of hair at the back of Crowley's head. Before Crowley or Zira could react, Crowley was out of the apartment and on his knees at George's feet. 

Crowley couldn't breathe, the pain from his scalp and leg was unbearable, the hand on his head was horribly familiar. Time seemed to have slowed, giving him ample opportunity to really feel that sickening fear and dread, even that little curl of treacherous resignation at the pit of his stomach. 

And then there was screaming and a loud crack and he was released. Crowley slumped back against the doorframe immediately, already in hysterics, his chest heaving, tears streaming down his cheeks as he hugged himself tightly. He could hear more shouting and the sound of someone being beaten, but none of this was really breaking through the blinding haze of sheer panic, fear, and pain assaulting Crowley's mind. 

Then there were hands on him and he was jerking away, cracking the back of his head against the brickwork next to the door. 

"Fuck!" 

The voice was familiar, but Crowley had his face buried in his hands, his sobs redoubling as agony throbbed through the back of his head. 

"Hey, hey. We need to get you inside, my love. Come on, please," Zira murmured, and a hand rested on the back of Crowley's head, protecting him as an arm wrapped around his waist. He tried to fight it, shaking and crying out, his whole body twisting away from every touch, but Zira ignored all of this, heaving him to his feet and bundling him into the apartment. The door slammed behind them and Crowley collapsed, every part of him shaking violently as Zira dropped to his knees beside him. 

"Anthony, my love, I need you to look at me." 

Crowley shook his head sharply, struggling to breathe, his chest heaving in between each painful sob, his cheeks still flooded with tears. He couldn't shake that irrational, all-encompassing fear and panic, he couldn't stop thinking about that moment, that moment he'd been kneeling in front of George all over again, helpless and weak. 

Fingers wrapped around his jaw and he jerked his head away, but Zira was determined, and quickly cupped Crowley's face in both hands, very gently turning his head to face him. 

Crowley opened his eyes and his breathing stopped altogether, his hands shaking in his lap. Zira's cheek was smeared with blood, and he could see more of it on his shirt and arms, bright red and already fading into a darker stain. Despite everything, Crowley was still just about able to recognise that none of it was Zira's blood - there were no visible cuts or bruises on Zira at all, and this realisation was enough to send Crowley back into hysterics. He didn't know whether to feel frightened or protected; he was terrified of the idea that Zira could be violent, but at the same time, it had all been for him. To protect him. 

"Oh, honey," Zira murmured, his expression showing nothing but loving sympathy as he shifted just a little closer to his partner. "It's alright, my love. It's okay. He's not coming back, okay? I promise, I promise." 

Crowley's heart dropped, his eyes widening, and Zira blinked, then swallowed. 

"I didn't...he's fine, I just...I broke his nose. But um. I didn't...I didn't mean to, I just-" Zira cut himself off and sighed softly, slowly wiping the tears off of Crowley's cheeks, only to have even more slide down over his skin a second later. "I'm going to go wash really quickly, alright?" Zira sighed, slowly getting to his feet.

Crowley just nodded, drawing his knees into his chest and hugging them tightly, his eyes wide as he stared off into space. He wasn't sobbing anymore, but he couldn't stop crying. The tears just wouldn't stop coming, gathering on his chin and dripping off slowly as he just shook there on the floor. 

After just a moment or two, Zira reappeared in front of him, crouching down slowly and reaching up to stroke his hair. Crowley flinched away, squeezing his eyes shut, and Zira drew back quickly, letting out a soft sigh. 

"Anthony, my love. I know you're very scared, and you're not really yourself, and that's okay. It's okay, but this floor is going to make your leg really bad. Do you think you could make it to bed? I think you need to lie down." 

Crowley swallowed hard, managing just a small nod as he still struggled to breathe through the fear squeezing his throat. Zira got up quickly and offered his hand, but Crowley heaved himself up without it, grabbing onto the wall while he steadied himself, then scurrying off across the apartment. He heard footsteps following him and sped up slightly, slipping through the bedroom door and crawling into bed as quickly as he could. He rolled onto his side to face away from the door, but felt the bed sink behind him a moment or two later. 

A tentative hand landed on his side and Crowley flinched, but relaxed quickly, letting out a shaky sigh as Zira gently began to pull at his ribs. 

"Come here, love. Come get a cuddle. You're still shaking," Zira murmured, his tone conversational, but the whole effect ruined by the sound of his sniffs and the trembling of his fingers on Crowley's side. 

Crowley forced himself to roll over and, to his own surprise, pressed himself into that warm chest, letting out a rush of breath and starting to sob all over again as he melted against that familiar frame. Zira embraced him immediately, cradling the back of his head and running one hand up and down his back slowly. "Shhh, I've got you, my love," Zira managed, his own voice thick with tears, his grip a little tighter and more possessive than usual. "It's alright now, honey. It's alright. Nothing to be scared of, I promise." 

And then they were both crying - Zira's soft little sniffs mixing with Crowley's heavy, trembling sobs as they clung to one another as tightly as they could. 

After a minute or two of this, Zira turned his head, burying his face in that soft red hair as his hand shook against the back of Crowley's head. "I'm sorry, my love. I'm...I'm s-sorry...it scared the shit out of me. I thought...I thought he was going to h-hit you.." 

Crowley shivered and swallowed hard, his fingers curling in the back of Zira's shirt as he tried to press himself closer to his partner. "He...he probably would have," he choked out softly, and felt Zira's grip on him tighten ever so slightly. 

"I'm sorry, my love. I'm sorry, but it's okay now. It's all okay," Zira mumbled over and over, as if trying to convince himself as well as Crowley, his hands still so gentle and yet so protective as he held his shaking partner as tightly as he could. He reached over and grabbed a blanket, pulling it over both of them and tucking it up around Crowley's chin. 

"Is that better? Nice and cosy," Zira sniffed, and Crowley nodded slightly for his sake, knowing that Zira needed to comfort him as much as he needed comfort himself. He closed his eyes and focused on breathing slowly, each breath letting his partner's warm scent wash over him; that soothing old books, ink, and cologne combination that always made Crowley feel like he was home. After a while, the tears dried up, but the shakes continued, so Zira just lay there with him, talking to him softly about everything and nothing until he ran out of things to say and gently pulled Crowley into a kiss instead. 

Crowley grabbed onto his cheeks as soon as their lips were touching, trying to pull him deeper, but Zira just chuckled and stroked his hair, easily slowing the pace and kissing him softly. As he pulled away, Crowley chased his lips, not ready to give up on that physical reassurance quite yet, but Zira reached up and stroked his cheek slowly, soothingly. 

"It's alright, my love. We have plenty of time for kissing. But I want to talk," he murmured, brushing Crowley's hair back behind his ear gently. Crowley's body went numb, his heart leaping into his throat as he realised what was coming next. 

Zira frowned, his soft blue eyes fixed on Crowley's, his hand carefully stroking over his partner's cheek in a slow, comforting rhythm. "Were those things he said...were they true? I...I'm not...I'm not judging you, my love, I promise, I just...I knew it was bad - well, I knew it was awful , but I...I still didn't think it was that bad. He...he called you his...his toy .." 

Crowley swallowed hard and looked away sharply, tears pricking the corners of his eyes all over again. "I...yeah. It..it happened," he managed, choking back a soft sob as it welled up in his chest. He squeezed his eyes shut and took a deep breath before continuing, trying to keep his attention on the hand slowly stroking his cheek. "I was...I was scared of being without him. This was all...towards the end, so we'd been together for a long time. He always told me no one else would want me, particularly after the stabbing. He said it enough times I started to believe him. And...and sometimes I'd leave him or he'd throw me out, but I'd always get scared and go back," Crowley sighed, opening his eyes again and letting the tears stream down his cheeks as Zira shushed him softly and began to stroke his hair instead. "And he'd...he'd make me apologise. Even if he'd been the one to leave, I'd have to apologise for what I did to make him go, and make it up to him. I got...I got used to it, and once I was used to it, he'd just...make it worse and worse." 

Zira sighed and gently turned Crowley's head to face him, blue eyes swimming with tears. He forced a shaky smile and kissed his partner's forehead. 

"Anthony, my love. I want you to remember that if we ever have a fight like that, I would...I would never do that to you," he murmured, his voice breaking as the tears overflowed and ran down his cheeks. "There's never any price for coming home. Well, maybe an apology is nice," he added with a shaky, breathy chuckle. "But just...just a verbal one, of course. We can just...talk it out and I'll hug you and we'll cuddle and kiss and I'll tell you how much I love you. Alright? I promise, my love." 

Crowley nodded quickly, sniffling as his own tears blinded him, his arm sliding around Zira's waist to cling on gently. "I know, angel. I know." 

Zira carefully pulled him close again, cradling the back of Crowley's head as gently as he could. "He...he treated you like a dog," he mumbled after a moment of silence, his voice full of horror and disbelief. "He...I...I won't let him lay a hand on you again, my love. I swear to you, okay?" He went on, his voice trembling with determined conviction. Crowley just nodded and pressed himself closer into that warm, soft embrace. 

"I trust you, angel," he answered simply, and Zira choked on a soft sob, squeezing him tightly before taking a deep, shuddering breath. 

"After seeing him...meeting him like that...your trust means the world, Anthony. I can't imagine how hard it is to trust again after that, and I am so fucking proud of you. You really are the strongest person I know. The smartest, kindest, most loving, just all around most perfect person I've ever met." 

Crowley buried his face in Zira's neck quickly, but couldn't stop the smile twitching at his lips. It was tinged with tears, but it was genuinely joyful, his whole body feeling lighter as Zira spoke, praising him ever so softly in a voice that invited no doubts. 

"I love you, Anthony. And that's never going to change," he finished firmly, and Crowley smiled against his skin, a fresh round of tears spilling down his cheeks silently. 

"I love you too." 

 

After about an hour of laying there, Zira slowly pulled away from Crowley, propping himself up on one elbow and running his knuckles over his partner's cheek. Crowley let his eyelids flutter, an exhausted smile spreading across his face. 

"How about a bath, my love?" Zira suggested quietly, smiling down at his partner with a soft chuckle. "You look sleepy, are you okay?" 

Crowley sighed and sat up slowly, running a hand through his hair and wincing at the tangles. "Mm, that sounds good. I'm just...exhausted." 

"Panic attacks like that are really draining," Zira agreed softly, leaning over and kissing Crowley's cheek lightly. "I'll go run the water." 

Crowley just smiled and watched Zira go, his hands still trembling ever so slightly in his lap. He couldn't stop thinking about how lucky he was, and when Zira came wandering back down the hall, he couldn't help but stare, taking in every little detail of his partner; the way he walked, the little smile on his face, the softness of those bright blue eyes. 

"You look a lot more cheerful, my love," he announced, sitting on the edge of the bed and running a hand over Crowley's back as his loving blue eyes searched those shining golden ones. 

"I have a feeling that standing up is going to be difficult, but I feel...a lot better," Crowley smiled, tucking his hair back and studying Zira's eyes as he leaned towards him. Zira grinned and kissed him briefly, just a tender little peck, then squeezed his shoulders gently. 

"I'm glad. You really worried me earlier, I thought maybe you wouldn't let me comfort you, but I'm glad you did," Zira murmured, stroking his hair slowly and then getting up, offering him his hand. "Come on. You need to soak that leg in some hot water." 

Crowley chuckled weakly, grabbing onto Zira's arm and clinging on tightly as he slid off the bed and slowly stood up. "You make it sound like a dirty dish, angel," he grinned, but as he took a step forward, his smile dropped away, agony shooting through his leg. "Fuck!" 

"Shh, I've got you," Zira soothed quickly, wrapping an arm around his waist and gently helping him forward. "It'll be better in the bath." 

Crowley winced, letting most of his weight fall against Zira's side, his breathing becoming heavier again as he struggled down the hallway. Zira just walked with him patiently, murmuring soft encouragements and helping him take his clothes off when they finally got to the bathroom. 

Once Crowley was sinking into the hot water, his back against Zira's welcoming chest, he could breathe again, his eyes slipping closed as he let out a soft little sigh. Zira hugged him tightly, pressing a loving kiss to his jaw and running his hands over his chest. 

"Mm, I love you, Anthony. I love holding you like this, you know. Just us together, being together." 

Crowley smiled to himself, warmth spreading through his chest as he leaned his head back against Zira's. "I love it too. It makes me feel safe," he murmured, stretching his leg out and shifting position slightly, sliding down so he could turn and bury his face in Zira's neck. 

Zira just chuckled and carefully stroked his hair back from his face, his hand ever so gentle and warm as it brushed over his cheek. 

"You're adorable, you know that?" 

"No one's ever told me that before," Crowley smiled, slowly shifting so his side was resting against Zira's chest, one hand stroking over his skin. "I love you." 

"I know you do," Zira grinned, squeezing him gently and then letting his chin rest on the top of Crowley's head. Crowley just let out a soft sigh and moved again, slowly turning to face his partner, his knees against his chest, one hand running over Zira's thigh. 

Zira's lips parted, his mouth falling open, his eyes surprised. "Anthony? I-" 

Crowley cut him off with a kiss, one hand on his cheek, the other running higher up his thigh, but Zira was already turning his head away, brushing that hand off him. 

"Hey, I don't-...I don't think that's a good idea," Zira murmured, and Crowley tightened his jaw, letting out a deep, frustrated sigh. 

"But...but I want to, angel, I-" 

"I know you want to," Zira mumbled, leaning in to kiss his partner briefly, his lips soft and light. "But I think you've had enough panic attacks today," he pointed out with a sad little smile.

Crowley sighed and just shook his head, sliding that hand higher, stroking it between Zira's legs before he could protest. Zira gasped, his lips parting, his eyes widening in surprised pleasure as his hand closed around Crowley's wrist, gently pushing it away. 

Crowley's heart sank, he took a breath in to protest, but those gentle blue eyes fixed on his, silencing him with a loving look. 

"I don't feel like it, my love," Zira insisted softly, smiling as he reached out and stroked Crowley's cheek. "Thinking of that right now is just making me feel sick." 

Crowley's breathing stopped and he jerked his hand away, his eyebrows shooting up and crashing together. "I-I'm sorry, I didn't mean-...I didn't mean to hurt you! I-" 

Zira reached out, shocked by Crowley's reaction and trying to comfort him, but Crowley was already dissolving into pitiful sobs, his arms slowly wrapping around himself. 

"I'm s-sorry!" He choked out, tears streaming down his cheeks, his whole body shaking. "I didn't want to hurt you! I didn't-" 

Zira shook off the horrified confusion and forced himself to lean forward, very gently gathering his sobbing partner into a gentle hug. 

"Shhh, my love, calm down," he murmured, running his fingers through that long red hair as Crowley pressed himself into Zira's chest desperately, clinging on tightly. "You didn't hurt me, my darling, it's okay. Deep breaths, shhh." Zira began to rock Crowley gently, stroking down his back over and over. "I'm just worried about you, that's all. And with him having been here, it just...I couldn't live with myself if we tried something and it upset you right after that. We should try tomorrow instead, okay? When we're both not in shock and feeling a bit better." 

Crowley nodded slightly, starting to relax as the panic wound down, finally letting him take deep breaths and curl up against his partner's chest. 

"I'm sorry for over-" 

"Shush, no more apologies," Zira cut in gently, squeezing him and pressing a soft kiss to his head. "Everything is alright, I promise. You didn't hurt me, and you don't need to apologise for panicking, not after all of that. I just...I think we should try to get some sleep." 

 

Crowley woke up when he fell off the bed. 

He gasped for breath, scrambling to his feet and stumbling, his knee giving way underneath him. He just about managed to grab onto the footboard to keep himself upright, but his head was spinning and tears were running down his cheeks unheeded, hot and sticky.
Crowley glanced toward the bed and his whole body went cold. 

Zira wasn’t there.  

The bed was empty, the blankets strewn haphazardly on the mattress. Crowley gritted his teeth and turned, lurching towards the door and clinging onto the doorframe as his chest heaved, his breathing ragged from pain and panic. The tears were still coming, making it hard for him to see, his nails digging into the paint of the doorframe. 

“Zira?” He called out shakily, not sure he could take another step, not sure he could make it out of the room. “Angel?”

There was no answer, and Crowley was starting to feel lightheaded, pushing away from the doorframe and dragging himself into the hallway. “Zira?” He shouted, his voice wobbling, his breathing shallow and fast, too fast. He closed his eyes for a second, his shoulder falling against one wall, and the images from his dream returned, taunting him, making his panic even worse. 

Crowley started to sob, leaning heavily on the wall as he began the struggle towards the living room, dreading what he might find. “Zira? Zira, please, answer me!” 

His voice rose to a wail as he finally stood at the end of the hallway, staring out into the living room with wide, worried eyes. “Zira?”
A groan sounded from the vicinity of the couch and Crowley almost swallowed his tongue, too scared to go look, but terrified to do nothing. 

“Anthony? Did you call?” 

The voice was sleepy, but calm and quiet, and Crowley almost collapsed in relief, hurrying around to the other side of the couch and finding Zira sitting in front of the muted TV, rubbing his eyes sleepily. Crowley grabbed his wrists, tugging them away from his face and inspecting it frantically before pulling the confused Zira into a bone-crushing hug. 

“You’re okay, it’s okay,” Crowley mumbled over and over, until the words dissolved into soft sobs, his fingertips digging into his partner’s back ever so lightly. Concerned, Zira hugged him loosely, rubbing his back slowly and reaching one hand up to stroke his hair.

“Yeah, I’m alright, my love. I just couldn’t sleep. Come...come sit down,” he murmured, gently pushing Crowley away from him enough to help him sink down onto the couch. Crowley could still barely breathe, his hands trembling as he grabbed at Zira gently, clinging to his pajamas, needing to remember that he was there and he was okay. 

Zira slid his hands over Crowley’s cheeks, holding him still and stroking his thumbs over those perfect cheekbones. “Look at me, my love,” he encouraged gently, flashing a worried smile as Crowley forced his gaze up to meet Zira’s. “That’s it, darling. Can you tell me what’s wrong? Did you have a nightmare?” 

Crowley swallowed hard, his fingers twisting in Zira's pajama pants as he nodded shakily. "I dreamt that George...he...he hurt you," he whispered hoarsely, almost afraid that if he spoke too loudly, it might turn out to be true. "R-really bad, Zira.." 

Zira smiled sadly and leaned forward slightly, his eyes still staring relentlessly into Crowley's. "I'm perfectly fine, my love. He barely even touched me. Nothing is going to happen to me anytime soon, I promise you. It's all fine, darling. We're both okay, and he's not coming back, not after that." 

Crowley nodded shakily, leaning into Zira's touch slightly as his eyelids fluttered shut and guilt curled through his stomach, hot and nauseating. "I'm sorry, angel. I'm sorry for losing it." 

Zira just clicked his tongue and pulled Crowley into a gentle hug, squeezing him ever so lightly. Crowley turned his head shakily, pressing his face into that warm neck, pressing as much of himself against Zira as he could, still desperate for comfort and contact. "Shush. There's no need at all to apologise, I would have been scared too, my love. But I think maybe we should go lie down, I'm exhausted and I think you need rest." 

Crowley let out a deep sigh, reluctantly pulling away from Zira's arms and dragging his hands down his face as he tried to let go of the last little dregs of panic clinging to his chest.

"Come on," Zira encouraged with a soft little laugh, standing up and gently tugging on Crowley's arm. Groaning quietly to himself, Crowley hauled himself into a standing position and felt his forearm crutch being pressed into his hand, Zira's arm wrapping around his waist. 

"We can get there together," Zira announced softly, and Crowley didn't fight the tiny smile pulling at the corners of his lips. 

The first step forward wiped that smile away, however, and Crowley gasped, falling against his angel and almost causing him to stumble. 

"It's alright, I've got you," Zira said quickly, the words slipping out without any conscious thought as his grip on his partner's side tightened. Crowley just gritted his teeth and kept going, hobbling along between his supports, but mostly leaning on Zira. 

By the time they got to the bedroom, Crowley was shaking all over, the pain already making him nauseous as he collapsed onto the mattress. Zira let out a soft, worried sigh and straightened the blankets before climbing into bed behind Crowley and slowly moving towards him until they were pressed together; Zira's warm, cuddly chest up against Crowley's ever so slightly bony back. 

Despite everything, Crowley smiled to himself, his eyes slipping closed as Zira began to stroke his hair, his touch especially soothing after that awful nightmare. His breathing hitched suddenly as an image flashed up; dull blue eyes vacant and dark, blood standing out bright red against that pale cheek. But Zira's hand was running down his side, his gentle voice so loving in Crowley’s ears. 

"Hmm, I think we need a nice calm day tomorrow, my love," Zira announced quietly, unaware that he was yanking Crowley back out of his dream and into the real world once more. "We should do some fun things and just...be together," he went on, pressing a tender kiss to Crowley's cheek before settling more comfortably into the bed, his strong arm tightening around Crowley's thin waist. "How about...the cinema? We could go to that really nice ice cream place after, maybe even get some dinner out and just...walk around for a while. I'd love to spend some time out with you." 

Crowley let out a slow sigh, those images finally fading away for good as he relaxed back into Zira's chest, a sleepy smile spreading across his face. 

"Mm. Sounds perfect, angel. I...I love you, you know," he added quickly, his voice cracking just a little. He couldn't imagine what he would do without Zira, and he certainly didn't want to. 

"I love you too, my darling," Zira murmured, his voice thick with emotion, his grip on Crowley tightening once again. "I'm not going anywhere just yet. I promise." 

"Good."

Chapter Text

Zira’s mind kept wandering as he worked, wandering back to that night. The buzz of the needle wasn’t enough to drown out the crack of George’s nose as it echoed in his mind, but he didn’t feel guilty. Not after seeing his partner so distraught.

Even after their day out, spent at the cinema and at Crowley’s favorite restaurant and in bed together, Crowley had been quiet for a few days. He’d even closed the shop for an extra day, to spend his time watching Zira work and touching him every chance he got. In the evenings, he would wordlessly pull Zira close, and then closer, seeking as much comfort as he could get. 

Zira was happy to give it to him, of course, and he was glad that Crowley never asked him any questions about that night. He didn’t like thinking about what he’d done, about the way the drunk bastard had just laid there, coughing and groaning. He definitely didn’t like thinking about the way Crowley had been so scared of him, even briefly, so he tried to put it all behind him and focus on making his partner feel happy and safe.  

Zira turned the machine off to give the client a break, then glanced at his phone again, sighing when it didn't spontaneously vibrate. He peeled his gloves off and picked it up off the table, checking the time of the last text he'd sent. 

He'd texted Crowley roughly every hour since lunchtime and not had any response. He'd stayed home from work that day because of his leg, so Zira tried to convince himself that his partner was just sleeping it off. 

But by the time he finally closed up and headed home, he was too worried to even bring another throw pillow with him.

It had become a running joke between him and Crowley that ever since Zira had moved in, Crowley had been finding throw pillows everywhere. He pretended to be angry about it, and Zira just laughed and snuck one home from work every day after buying up a few and stashing them in his former apartment. He'd once found Crowley curled up in bed absolutely surrounded by the things and fast asleep, so he was quite firm in his knowledge that Crowley secretly liked decorative pillows, despite his many protestations that they were useless and cluttered up the place.  

In any case, Zira headed home that evening without his customary pillow. He walked at his usual anxious pace, a little faster than the amble that Crowley always struggled to slow down to, but still slow enough to take in the sights. 

They'd had a fight not long ago about Crowley's habit of taking a handful of painkillers at once when his leg got bad. Zira had expressed gentle concern, and Crowley hadn't been able to contain the defensive rage. Once Zira had given him space to calm down, he'd apologised profusely and admitted that it was a problem. 

Zira wasn't sure if he was going home to face another fight about drugs, but he knew he wasn't in the right frame of mind to handle being angry at his partner. It always made him feel so guilty after, even if Crowley really did deserve a verbal wet towel around the ear occasionally. 

It was his habit of falling back on the defensive at every criticism that did it. They both knew full well that it was a product of George - that Crowley always felt he had to justify everything, to stick to his position, to explain himself. But it always made him needlessly confrontational, disproportionately angry, and ultimately self destructive. Zira had learned that the best way to handle this was to walk away until Crowley apologised and they were able to have an actual discussion, but it wasn't always easy, especially on the days Crowley was barely able to stand. It always made him understandably irritable. 

All of this went through Zira's mind a few times, circling around like a broken record until his hand was on their front door. He unlocked it quickly and slipped inside, kicking his shoes off as quietly as he could. He didn't call out, not yet; not wanting to disturb Crowley if he did happen to be asleep. 

Instead, he wandered over to the bedroom door and pushed it open a crack, peering through to see Crowley curled up on top of the sheets, his back to the door. Zira sighed and swung it all the way open, stepping through with a nice, loud footfall. 

"Darling? Are you feeling any better?"

Zira's heart sank in fear when he didn't get an answer; too many horrible possibilities flashing up in his mind, but he took a deep breath and tried to let them go. Then he went over and sat down on the edge of the bed slowly, his hand stroking down Crowley's side as he leaned over his partner to see him staring off at nothing, a ball of scrunched up paper held loosely in one hand. 

"Hey, my love," Zira murmured, and Crowley closed his eyes, his fingers curling tighter. "Are you alright?" 

Crowley shook his head slowly and Zira sighed, starting to stroke his hair soothingly, his other hand rubbing circles into Crowley's hip. 

"I'm so sorry, darling. It's going to be okay, how about I give you a massage? Or...have you taken your pills?" 

Crowley let out a deep sigh and unfolded the paper from his hand, smoothing it out on the bed before handing it over to Zira wordlessly. 

Zira blinked, but scanned it quickly, then read it more carefully. It was a day-old article taken from the newspaper, and the headline simply read Police officer dies during car chase. 

Zira felt his heart drop into his stomach at those words, but kept reading anyway, his hands already beginning to shake. 

A police officer was killed yesterday afternoon in the pursuit of a drunk driver when a third car hit the side of the police vehicle. The officer was killed on impact- 

Zira stopped reading, dropping his hands into his lap and staring at the figure curled up in front of him. He didn't have to ask. He really didn't have to ask; he knew. 

"Anthony...oh, my darling," he murmured, setting the paper aside carefully and leaning down to kiss Crowley's cheek lovingly. His hands shook on his partner's sides, but he ignored it, knowing he had to keep it together for Crowley. "Come here. Give me a hug, right now." 

Zira didn't know how to react. He didn't know how to feel, but most of all he had no idea what to say. Horror gnawed at the pit of his stomach, but it was horror for Crowley, not for George. Never for George. 

After a lot of gentle coaxing, Zira managed to get Crowley to sit up, immediately pulling him into a tight hug and cradling the back of his head the way he liked. 

"I've got you, my love," Zira murmured, and Crowley shifted, burying his face in his partner's neck and slipping his arms around him tightly, clinging on. He didn't cry, he just sat there and leaned into Zira's chest, allowing himself to be held. 

"Are you sure?" Zira asked after a moment or two, and Crowley nodded, his fingers twisting in the fabric of Zira's shirt. 

"I called the station," Crowley mumbled, his voice hoarse and trembling. Zira sighed and squeezed him gently, starting to rub his back soothingly. 

"I'm so sorry, my love. How...how are you feeling?" Zira tried softly, not wanting to push too hard, but not knowing what else to do. 

"I don't want to talk about it," Crowley muttered, slowly starting to pull away from Zira, who tried to grab him back shakily. "I think I need some space." 

"Anthony, I think you need-" 

Crowley gently pushed Zira away and laid down again, curling up a little tighter. "Don't tell me what I need." 

Zira heaved a deep sigh to keep himself calm, then leaned down and kissed the side of Crowley's head softly. "Alright. I'll make you a deal. I'm going to go make you something to eat, if you eat at least some of whatever I make, I'll leave you alone for a bit." 

Crowley rolled his eyes, but didn't protest, so Zira got up hurriedly and went into the kitchen. 

He threw together a sandwich as quickly as he could, and carried the plate back to the bedroom to find Crowley sitting up and staring off into space, tears running down his cheeks. 

"Hey," Zira murmured, and that golden gaze snapped to him, Crowley's eyes widening in surprise. "Here, I brought you this. I'll um. I'll be in the living room, so if you need anything, just come and ask, my love," Zira went on nervously, holding out the plate. Crowley forced a shaky smile and took it gently, setting it on the bed beside him. 

"Thanks." 

Zira stared at him for a moment, fighting the urge to rush to him and wipe the tears off his cheeks, pull him into a hug, just talk to him. Instead, he just swallowed and slipped out of the room, pulling the door shut behind him. Then he heaved a shuddering sigh and wandered into the living room. He sat himself down and opened the book he was halfway through reading, but it was tough going. He had to read every sentence at least twice to get it in his head, to process its meaning. His fingers trembled when he turned the pages, and the silence in the living room was stifling, full of unhappy emotion. 

Zira wasn't counting time, but it must have been at least half an hour before he heard footsteps shuffling down the hall and Crowley appeared, looking disheveled and tired. He walked over to the couch without hesitation, not meeting Zira's worried gaze at all as he sat down beside his partner and slowly laid down on his side, his head resting in Zira's lap.

"Darling, are you-" 

"I don't want to talk," Crowley muttered quietly, so Zira just sighed and went back to his book, his hand slowly sliding into Crowley's soft hair and beginning to comb through it with his fingers. When Crowley didn't protest after a few seconds, Zira continued more confidently, stroking those red locks away from Crowley's face and glancing down every now and then to see him staring off into space blankly. 

Zira managed to get through another four pages of his book before Crowley spoke up, his voice still hoarse and uncertain. 

"If I tell you some things, can you promise not to give me advice or your opinion? I just...I just want to get it out," he mumbled, and Zira gave a soft sigh, setting his book aside before leaning down to kiss Crowley's temple. 

"You know that's hard for me, my love," he chuckled softly, stroking his knuckles over his partner's cheek with a smooth, tender motion. "But yes, I'll be quiet if that's what you need," he added, getting a little brave now and running one hand down Crowley's side. 

Crowley sighed and reached up, pressing the heels of his hands against his eyes lightly. "I just...I don't know how to feel, angel," he admitted at last, his voice breaking as he struggled to hold back even more tears. "I keep getting so angry. Angry at him over what he did to me, but also angry at myself for never standing up to him. I'm never going to get that chance now, to tell him how much of a fucking arsehole he is, how he fucked me up for life and deserves to rot in hell. But now...now he's dead, and I feel so guilty for thinking all these things. It's...it feels disrespectful.."

Crowley took a slow, shaky breath in, and Zira rubbed circles into his ribs with one hand, the other still stroking his hair slowly as he tried to swallow the tears threatening his own eyes. "I feel like a-" Crowley cut himself off with a gulp, the tears welling up again and spilling down his cheeks to leave a damp patch on Zira's trousers. "I feel like a horrible person, I'm relieved that he's dead. I'm happy that a man has died. And...and I'm sad, too. We had good times, it would be so much easier now if he had been bad all the time, but there were happy days too. Especially in the beginning…and..and I just...I can't handle all of this, angel!" He wailed softly, suddenly breaking down sobbing, his next words coming out gasped and choked. "I just want it to be simple! But I-I feel like an arsehole and I just want to stop feeling!" 

Zira squeezed his eyes shut, ignoring the tears welling up behind his eyelids as he leaned over, hugging Crowley as best he could and pressing kisses to every available patch of skin; his cheeks, forehead, nose, neck. The sobs were heavy, wracking Crowley's entire body, but as Zira embraced him, making soft, loving little shushing noises, they already began to abate, coming softer and less often until Crowley lay limp and silent, overwhelmed. 

"I'm not going to give you advice like you said, my love," Zira mumbled, sniffing as he wiped his eyes quickly and straightened up slightly. "But I'm here, alright? I love you, and whatever you're feeling is okay." 

Crowley stifled one last sob and rolled over hurriedly, burying his face in Zira's stomach. Sighing, Zira just went back to stroking his partner's hair, leaning back against the sofa cushions to get more comfortable. He had a feeling he'd be there for a while. 

Zira picked up his book and tried to push away the sickening anxiety and cold dread sitting heavy in his stomach, but it was hard with Crowley right there, reminding him why he should be worried. So he decided to comfort himself for a change and set the book aside again. He curled his fingers in Crowley's silky red hair and began to sing to himself softly, feeling himself start to relax almost immediately. 

Crowley shifted slightly, and Zira smiled sadly as he felt those skinny arms start to wrap around his waist, clinging to him gently. He raised his voice slightly and kept singing, rolling out the notes of From Eden in his slightly rough, but pleasant voice. 

Over time, over a few different songs, he felt Crowley's grip on him progressively tighten, then start to relax until it finally went limp and he dropped off to sleep, his head still resting comfortably in Zira's lap. 

Zira simply smiled to himself and carefully slid out from under Crowley's head, replacing his lap with a pillow and drawing a blanket over his partner. He moved to the armchair to keep an eye on Crowley, but allowed himself a few moments of silence to think.

Crowley was obviously distressed beyond anything Zira could have imagined, and it was understandable in some ways that he didn't want to talk about it. He still had a lot of big emotions to process, and Zira knew he didn't always do well with handling unpleasant emotions around others. But on the other hand, Zira could tell these were all things Crowley wouldn't be able to manage on his own. He sighed and picked his book up, opening it on his knees and staring at it without reading quite yet. 

The more he thought about it, the more Zira realised he really didn't have any strong feelings about George's death beyond the initial, now-fading shock. He wasn't sad or angry or upset. 

He supposed he was relieved, though. He hadn't thought that George was going to come back, not after being defeated so utterly, and yet there had been some doubts. Men like George could react one of two ways to a beating; they could either run away with their tails between their legs and never come back, or be whipped up into a dangerous rage. 

But beyond this, there had been no other reasons to worry. It was very clear by then that Zira didn’t ever have to worry about Crowley going back to George, not after that night or even before. He was happy and secure in their relationship, and everything had been going well. 

However, Zira did think that if he dug deep into that part of him that was quite petty and possessive, he counted the man's death as well-deserved. But the rest of him was duly horrified at the suggestion, insisting that no one truly deserved to die. Although...at least now he couldn't hurt anyone else the way he'd hurt Crowley. Zira sighed and lifted a page of the book, rubbing it between his thumb and forefinger, feeling the slightly rough texture. 

He was conflicted, then. But not in a big way, and he had the privilege that he never really had to think about George ever again. Crowley didn't have that luxury, not with all of his memories and flashbacks and bad dreams. 

Zira's jaw clenched suddenly and he looked up at Crowley sharply, his gaze following the curve of the florist's waist, the shape of his sleeping form. Then he sighed and let go of the tension in his jaw. 

Anger was useless now. George was dead, and being angry at a dead man wasn't going to do any good. Even if he deserved Zira's rage, Zira's fury that he was still hurting Crowley from beyond the grave, he wouldn't ever know. Zira wouldn't ever be able to kick him in a soft place like he'd fantasised about every time he'd had to see Crowley shaking and sobbing over a nightmare, or see the shame in his eyes when he couldn't 'perform' for Zira. At least not again, anyway. 

No, anger would only eat away, gnawing quietly at Zira's personality until there was nothing left but anger, so he took a deep breath and got up. 

He set his book on the coffee table and leaned over the couch, pressing a loving kiss to Crowley's temple and stroking his hair ever so slowly. 

"I love you, my darling. So so much," Zira murmured softly, swallowing the sudden lump in his throat as he straightened up. Then he grabbed his laptop and headed into the kitchen to load up a recipe of Crowley's favourite dessert. He had to do something, something constructive, and Crowley had to eat, so he simply set to work.

Chapter Text

Zira opened the fridge and stared at the untouched cheesecake. He'd made it four days ago, just after Crowley had found out about George's death, and it had garnered absolutely zero interest from the florist. 

Zira simply sighed and took it out anyway, cutting a slice and putting it into a tupperware. Crowley had gotten up early to go to work before him, like he had the past few days, so Zira packed his bag quietly and headed for the front door. 

The walk seemed longer on his own, but it still only took ten minutes or so to get to his shop, even with the way he dragged his feet. He unlocked the shop door and slipped inside, pausing only to glance longingly across the street before finally tearing himself away to start setting up. 

 

At lunchtime, Zira forced himself to walk across the street, not sure what he'd find when he got there, but knowing he had to go. He ignored the closed sign and pushed the shop door open, walking straight through the flower-perfumed jungle and into the back. Crowley was sitting at one of his work benches, bent over an arrangement as he weaved flowers into a wire structure. He didn't even look up when Zira walked in. 

"Hey, darling," Zira murmured, setting his bag down by the table and reaching over to stroke Crowley's hair lightly. "How about you take a break and come sit with me?" 

Crowley closed his eyes for just a moment, then shook his head and went back to his work hurriedly. "No, I need to get this done." 

"Alright," Zira mumbled, sitting down beside him, close beside him so their legs brushed together. Then he slowly, tentatively moved his hand up and let it rest between Crowley's shoulders before starting to rub circles into his back, gentle and soothing. Crowley let out a soft sigh, but kept working still, his fingers deft and quick, twisting wire and gently working brightly coloured blooms into exactly the right places. 

"I'll be home late," he announced after a long silence, and Zira just nodded, stroking down his back carefully. 

"You'll be delivering this, huh?" 

"Yeah. It's an hour drive, I'm supposed to be there for five, so I'll be home at around six thirty," Crowley confirmed quietly, his voice flat and emotionless, his eyes blank. 

"Maybe we can watch a movie tonight, have some-"

"I might be too tired," Crowley cut in abruptly, and Zira just sighed, gently pulling at his shoulder. 

"Hey. Anthony, I want a hug. Please? We haven't kissed in four days, you haven't hugged me in three," Zira implored quietly, but without much hope. He was desperate now, desperate to feel like they were connected again, that everything would be okay. 

"I don't...I don't feel like it," Crowley muttered, and Zira got up quickly. He hadn't expected the answer to sting so badly, but he could barely breathe, and he knew he had to leave before the hurt turned into anger. He grabbed his bag and set the tupperware down on the table with a fork, pointedly pushing it toward Crowley before he turned and left, the sound of the door swinging shut behind him echoing in his mind as he walked back across the street. 

As soon as he got back inside, Zira set himself to cleaning his already gleaming workspace, his hands trembling ever so slightly. He didn’t know how much longer he could stand the distance stretching away ever further between him and his partner. He didn’t understand why Crowley seemed incapable of even looking at him, why he was avoiding all types of physical and emotional comfort. Zira was trying his best, he really was, but he didn’t know how to help anymore, and he couldn't stop the endless thoughts, the endless wondering and worrying. He couldn’t drive away the creeping dread that Crowley might never be able to talk to him again, and it was all getting too much. It was all just so exhausting

 

By the time Crowley got home, Zira had cleaned the entire flat, and had put a frozen lasagne in the oven, still desperate to try to keep his mind off of everything. He jumped up from the couch when he heard the door open and hurried over, gently taking Crowley's bag from him as he took his shoes off. 

He wouldn't look at Zira, instead brushing past him and heading for the bedroom. 

"Come have a bath with me," Zira called out quickly, rushing the words before Crowley could shut himself away, hiding away from his angel. "You need one, and it'll be fun. We can cuddle." 

Crowley turned and Zira could see the word 'no' written all over his face, so he tried again before Crowley could say it. 

"Please? I miss you, I...I miss you," he mumbled, his voice breaking ever so slightly as he realised he was begging for a hug. He was begging to be touched, and it was awful

Crowley stared at him for a moment, then sighed. 

"Fine. I'll go run it." 

 

Zira sank down into the water, reaching up to hold Crowley's hand as he stepped in and slowly sat down between Zira's legs. He leaned back reluctantly and Zira slipped his arms around his waist immediately, nuzzling his jaw and pressing a soft kiss to his neck. 

The relief at finally having his partner's weight against him was overwhelming, and Zira took a deep breath, trying his best not to start crying or shaking. For his part, Crowley let out a deep sigh and then slowly turned, curling up and burying his face in Zira's neck as his side pressed up against the artist's chest. 

Zira hummed softly, comfortingly, and rested his head against Crowley's lightly. "I've got you, darling. Please try to talk to me," he murmured, his hand stroking down Crowley's back soothingly, over and over. "I love you so much, and I know you're hurting. I just want to help." 

Crowley sighed and shifted slightly, curling up a little tighter and moving his head so it was resting against Zira's shoulder. "I'm just so tired." 

Zira squeezed him tighter, pressing a soft kiss to his forehead. "I can tell, my love. Maybe you need to find someone to talk to, to help you through all this," he suggested gently, and Crowley closed his eyes, his body becoming heavier against Zira as he relaxed. 

"I think...I think I might go see my mum," he announced slowly, running his hand down Zira's arm. "I might go spend a couple days down there, talk to her about things." 

Zira's heart sank and he swallowed, trying to be supportive, but dreading the idea of letting Crowley slip through his fingers for another few days. 

"I'd want you to come, of course," Crowley went on softly, and Zira blinked, his grip on his partner tightening unconsciously. "I know I haven't been...I don't know. I've been distant. But I do love you, angel. So so much, I really do, and even if I...I've been too distant, having you around really does help. I'm sorry I've been...I've hurt you. I didn't mean to make you feel bad." 

Zira squeezed his eyes shut and wrapped his arms around Crowley as tightly as he could, his heart soaring and yet still heavy. "It's okay, darling. I was just so worried about you, that's why I was upset. I'd love to come with you, I think we could both do with the break." 

Crowley let out a soft sigh and nodded slightly, pressing himself a little closer into that warm, welcoming chest. "Angel?" 

"Yes, love?" Zira responded immediately, not opening his eyes yet, but running his hand up and down Crowley's upper arm. 

"Can we lay in bed after this? I'd like to just cuddle for a bit," Crowley asked softly, his voice low and a little nervous, but full of sincere, innocent desire. 

Opening his eyes to stare up at the ceiling, Zira sighed shakily, his grip on Crowley tightening ever so slightly. "Of course," he answered, struggling to keep his voice even rather than letting that emotion burst out and flood his words. "I'd love that. As long as you eat something." 

"I'll try. I'm trying to get better, angel, I promise." 

Zira blinked the tears away quickly, nuzzling the side of Crowley's head to make sure his partner couldn't see his expression. "I know. I trust you." 

 

Zira hung his towel up on the back of the bedroom door and wandered over to one of the dressers by the window. He opened the top drawer and pulled on a pair of briefs, then glanced over at Crowley, who was sitting on the bed and blushing ever so slightly, but without looking away. 

"Are you staring, Anthony?" Zira asked with fake disapproval as he pulled his underwear on and dug out a pair of pajama pants. Crowley just chuckled softly, starting to feel himself coming back to life. It was like getting pins and needles after his leg had fallen asleep, except all over his body - it began with a rush and a tingling sensation, then quite a bit of hurt as he realised how blind he'd been to Zira's needs, before everything started to settle and he just felt relaxed and emotionally recharged; empty of worries, even if this happy state wouldn't last for long. 

It was that smile - the simple, unconditional, profound love in those gentle blue eyes. It was overwhelming in all the best ways, and as Zira walked over to him, Crowley reached up and pulled him straight into a soft kiss. 

Zira grinned into it, but kissed him back slowly, his heart beating heavy in his chest as he felt his partner's hands on his cheeks. It had been too long, far too long, and finally he was kissing him, finally they were together again, properly. 

Zira pulled away fairly quickly and pressed a loving kiss to Crowley's cheek, then sat down beside him, resting a hand on his thigh. 

"You look a bit happier," Zira commented softly, and Crowley nodded, looking down at his lap. 

"I'm...I'm sorry I've been distant and everything. I'm sorry that it upset you, I-" 

"It's alright, darling," Zira interrupted, hearing the rising emotion in Crowley's voice and carefully cutting him off before he could work himself up to crying. "I know it's been hard for you, and that's all past now. Let's focus on now and on the future, yeah? You wanted to cuddle, and it sounds fantastic, so let's just do that." 

Crowley nodded slowly, swallowing the lump in his throat and glancing up at Zira nervously. "I'm still sorry." 

Zira just chuckled softly and leaned over, kissing the corner of his lips. "I know, my love. Come on," he murmured, moving around to lie on the bed, on top of the sheets. Crowley hesitated before following him, lying down in front of him and flashing an anxious smile. 

Zira raised an eyebrow and reached over, resting his hand on Crowley's cheek. "If you try to apologise one more time," he smiled, his tone threatening, but his expression soft and loving and a little worried. Crowley just sighed and turned his head, kissing Zira's wrist lightly. 

"I still feel a bit off balance. I think it's going to take a while before I start acting normal again, I’m afraid. I've been feeling anxious a lot lately." 

Zira sighed and shifted closer to his partner, resting one hand over his heart while the other stroked his hair slowly. "That's okay, my love. But don't worry about me too much, alright? I'm okay, I promise. As long as you talk to me a bit more, everything's fine. And you don't have to talk all the time, just...just lie with me like the first night." 

Crowley managed a small smile, his eyes slipping closed at the soothing sensation of Zira's fingers in his hair. "That was nice." 

"It was," Zira agreed softly, leaning forward and gently rolling Crowley onto his back. Crowley chuckled, but didn't object as Zira snuggled up to his side, resting his head on Crowley's chest and sliding one arm around him. "I love you."

"I love you too, angel," Crowley murmured, running his fingers through Zira's fluffy hair and then stroking his hand down the back of his head and over his bare shoulders. "This feels amazing."

Zira smiled to himself, shifting a little closer and letting out a soft sigh. "Mm, it really does. It's been too long." 

"It has," Crowley answered simply, but just a little regretfully, running his hand down Zira's back and feeling the broad expanse of warm, pale skin bared just for him. "When do you think we'd be able to take a couple days off?" 

"I can move things around so we can go tomorrow if you want, my love," Zira murmured, moving his head slightly so he could hear Crowley's heartbeat through his chest. 

"What about your appointments?" Crowley asked quietly, his voice already taking on a sleepy tone. 

"I can move them. They're all regulars in the next few days, so they'll be understanding if I say it's a family emergency. I'd probably have to work the whole weekend to make it up, but that's okay." 

"Mm, okay," Crowley hummed, pressing a soft kiss to the top of Zira's head just as a beeping began in the kitchen. Zira's eyes popped open and he swore softly, loathe to disturb their quiet peace. 

"I forgot dinner! I'll go get it, come help?"

"Of course, angel," Crowley smiled, stroking his hand over Zira's one last time before he got up and hurried off. Crowley watched him go with an amused, loving smile, then slowly heaved himself out of bed and followed him back into the real world.

Chapter Text

The Bentley purred. Zira's knee bounced. 

"Angel, you're driving me insane," Crowley announced mildly, shooting Zira a look that managed to contain both worry and annoyance. 

Zira sighed and turned to stare out of the window at the fields rushing past. His leg went still for a minute or so, then began to bounce again as his thoughts returned to their anxious preoccupation. 

"What's going on, angel?" Crowley asked at last, reaching over and turning the CD player down. "Are you okay?" 

Zira glanced at him, then looked down at his lap, not quite sure how to put into words exactly how he was feeling. "I'm...I'm nervous." 

"About meeting my mum?" Crowley chuckled, shaking his head ever so slightly. Zira shot him a brief, half hearted glare. 

"Yeah. I don't exactly have a good track record with parents," Zira pointed out sharply, and Crowley's expression changed, becoming unreadable. 

"Yeah. Um...how can I make you less nervous?" 

Zira sighed, staring out at the road and running his hand down his bouncing leg. "I...can you tell me about her? I feel like I'd be happier if I felt more prepared." 

Crowley nodded slowly, apparently deep in thought for a moment or two. "Well, uh. I told you she was an alcoholic, didn't I?" 

"Yeah. Did...what was that like when you were growing up?" Zira asked, slightly hesitant as he studied the side of Crowley's face, trying to determine how he was feeling. His jaw tightened slightly, but he answered easily enough. 

"It was hard. She was a good mum, like in general. She made sure I got what I needed, I got fed, clothed, got all my books and stuff for school. But she just wasn't around much. I'd come home from school and she'd come home a while later, then go straight to the pub or start drinking at home. It wasn't when I was like...a small kid. I was eleven when she started really drinking, so I could mostly fend for myself." Crowley tilted his head slightly, taking a slow breath while he apparently continued to focus on the road. "But even before that, she was fairly distant with me. I don't know. I always knew she loved me, that she'd do anything for me, but the...there wasn't much affection. Not a lot of hugging or kissing, but she...she cared for me. It was hard for her, I um...well, my conception wasn't consensual," he admitted quietly, and Zira felt a bolt of shock run through him, his eyes widening, his hand landing on Crowley's thigh.

Crowley just smiled grimly, his grip on the steering wheel tightening slightly. "I'm okay, I've dealt with all of that, I've been to therapy, I'm...I'm over it. And she kept me by choice, she wanted to have me, so I suppose that...that's something. But I think that's why she started drinking when I started getting older; when I started looking like him." 

Crowley clenched his jaw again, shaking his head ever so slightly before going on in the same level, calm voice. "Apparently I don't look like him anymore. I've...I've never seen pictures. He was her fiance at the time, he cheated on her, she tried to break up with him, he got angry, and...I was made. But he was gone well before I was born...and it's all...it's okay now. My mum went through a lot of therapy as part of her rehab and she...she learned how to be a better parent. She learned to care for me as me, and our relationship has gotten steadily better from there. But I'll warn you, the rehab she went to was a bit...alternative," Crowley chuckled, his laugh so normal, so quietly content, that Zira felt himself start to relax, the difficulty of that sudden revelation fading slightly. "She's a bit of a hippie now. She teaches yoga when she's not at work, she's a social worker. I haven't seen her since I broke up with George, so she's probably going to be a bit excited, but she's heard all about you." 

"Good things, I hope," Zira smiled, and Crowley glanced at him, smirking. 

"Nah, I told her you're mean to me and I hate you." 

Zira chuckled, leaning over to kiss Crowley's cheek as he relaxed fully; relieved to hear his partner’s playful tone. "Sounds exactly like me, darling. I was mean to you the other day when I made you your favourite cheesecake from scratch. I'm such a horrible partner." 

"That really was nasty of you," Crowley grinned, glad to be rid of the heavy conversation and back to a light, breathable atmosphere. "Do you feel a bit less nervous?" 

"Of course not," Zira sighed, leaning his head back and closing his eyes in the hopes it would calm him down. "No, I do feel a tiny bit better, but not much. I just need to like...actually meet her, and then I'll be fine. Have you uh...does she know I'm...?"

"No," Crowley said simply, giving a small shrug. "She doesn't know you're trans, angel. I didn't think she really needed to know." 

Zira snapped his eyes open to just stare at Crowley for a second or two, his mouth open slightly. "You...really?" 

Crowley frowned, glancing at his partner and taking one hand off the wheel to rest it on the gear stick. "Is that wrong? I mean...she wouldn't have an issue with it, not at all, but I just thought that she doesn't...well, it's between us most of the time." 

Zira nodded quickly, swallowing his surprise and letting out a slow breath as a warm smile spread across his face. "Yeah, it's...it's fine, I'm just surprised. I kind of assumed that would be something you'd tell her." 

"It's not mine to discuss," Crowley pointed out gently, his gaze once again fixed on the road. "If you want me to say something, I can. I just assumed you wouldn't want me to, you don't...well, you don't seem to talk about it much with people you don't know." 

Zira sighed quietly and stared out of the window as he mulled this over. "I'm not really trying to hide it or anything. I guess if it comes up naturally or anything...I don't know. I don't mind her knowing, is what I'm trying to say." 

"Okay," Crowley said simply, lifting his hand from the gear stick to offer it to his partner. Zira took it promptly, lacing their fingers and squeezing gently, affectionately.

"Can I tell you something, darling?" 

"Of course." 

"I love you." 

Crowley chuckled and Zira smiled to himself contentedly, his thumb stroking over Crowley's skin slowly as he gazed at his partner, studying the side of his face for a brief moment. 

"I love you too, angel. We've still got about an hour to go, do you need a break yet?" 

Zira closed his eyes, leaning his head back again with a soft smile still playing at his lips. "No, darling, I'm alright." 

"Alright." 

 

Zira looked around as the Bentley pulled up onto a driveway in front of a small, completely normal looking house on a quiet, out of the way street. 

"This isn't where I grew up, before you ask," Crowley announced, flashing Zira a quick smile. "I helped my mum buy this place about a year after I joined the police. Shall we?" 

Zira nodded, trying to contain his nerves as he got out of the car, a lump already forming in his throat, stubbornly refusing to be swallowed. Just as he shut the door behind him, he heard a shout of 'Anthony!' and someone ran past him, colliding into Crowley in a hug. Crowley laughed, pushing his door shut with his hip and hugging his assailant tightly. 

Zira watched awkwardly, already trembling with tension, but as soon as the woman leaned away to look at him, he felt his nerves fall away. Crowley definitely didn't look anything like his father, if his resemblance to his mother was anything to judge by - they had the exact same eyes, nose, and slightly lopsided, but incredibly warm smile. She quickly broke away from Crowley and rushed over to Zira, pulling him into a bone-crushing hug before he could even think of protesting. 

"It's so good to meet you!" 

Zira stared at Crowley over her shoulder, his eyes startled as he tried to figure out what to do with his hands, but Crowley was too busy laughing to be any help. Thankfully, the woman pulled away quickly, instead looking up at Zira's face with a rather intense golden gaze. She smelled of incense and her long grey hair was curly and messy, but those eyes were brimming over with interest and compassion, and Zira couldn't help but smile. 

"You must be Zira, I'm Fran. Come on, come inside! I'll make you some tea. You do like tea, don't you, dear?" 

Zira blinked, but allowed himself to be carried along on the tide of smiles and gentle exclamations while Crowley got their suitcase out of the backseat and followed them inside.

The house itself was tiny, but homely, and smelled of the same incense as Fran. There were things on the walls everywhere; mirrors, dreamcatchers, photos - mainly of her and Crowley - and paintings that looked rather amateur, but were still very pretty. Zira had a feeling she'd probably painted them herself, and this made him smile as he tried to imagine Crowley painting. 

It didn't seem like something he'd enjoy. 

As Fran led him into the impeccable kitchen, chattering away about tea, Zira felt a gentle hand on his side, then an arm slipping around his waist and smiled up at Crowley as he came to stand beside him. 

"Hello, darling," Zira said simply, and Fran turned, her eyes bright as she grinned. 

"Look at you two, what a lovely couple." 

Crowley snorted and just shifted his weight, leaning heavily into Zira's side so he could relax his leg. "If you say so, Mum. Look, we uh...we need to talk." 

Zira glanced up at Crowley in confusion and just got a gentle squeeze in lieu of an answer. 

"I know why you're here, Anthony," Fran answered simply, turning away to pour the contents of the kettle into a squat blue teapot. "I saw the news, you've come to visit because George is dead." 

Zira swallowed hard, suddenly feeling as if he was in the middle of something that he shouldn't have been involved in. He tried to back away, but Crowley kept a firm, gentle grip on his waist, and Zira couldn’t help but notice the way Crowley’s fingers shook against his side.  

"It's a bit more than that, Mum," Crowley announced softly, and Zira almost stumbled as even more of the florist's weight was dropped on him. "Look, the tea can-" 

"I'll make it first, and then we can sit down and talk," Fran cut him off firmly, turning to face them again with another friendly, albeit rather less bright, smile. "Zira, how about I show you up to the bedroom first? Anthony shouldn't be carrying a suitcase upstairs." 

Crowley rolled his eyes and opened his mouth to protest, but Zira got there first, having been expecting his partner’s stubbornness. 

"That sounds great, and no, he shouldn't," he added pointedly, shooting Crowley a look and getting a vague, distracted glare in response. 

Zira followed Fran out of the kitchen, grabbing the suitcase on the way to the stairs. There were only two bedrooms upstairs, so Fran led him into the smaller of the two, watching as he set the suitcase down carefully and glanced around. It was a plain guest bedroom, not much of note about it, but it looked cosy and comfortable. 

"How has he been?" Fran asked quietly, taking Zira by surprise. He glanced over at her worried expression and just gave a soft sigh before looking down at the carpet. 

"Not great. At least, not...not since...well, you know. But overall, I think he's been happy." 

Fran smiled sadly and nodded slightly as she took a slow breath. "Any idea why he wants to talk?" 

Zira shrugged, flashing her an exasperated smile. "None whatsoever. He doesn't always tell me things." 

Fran snorted and rolled her eyes, but gave an answering, calmer smile. "He wouldn't be Anthony if he went around telling people things all the time," she chuckled, turning and starting to lead Zira back downstairs without another word. 

While they'd been gone, Crowley had poured out the tea, so they all went into the cosy little living room and sat down - Crowley and Zira on the couch, Fran in a rather worn, but very loved looking armchair in the corner. She sat back and sipped at her tea, while Crowley just set his down on the coffee table and leaned forward, staring at the floor in that way he always did when he was trying to gather up complicated thoughts. 

"I um. I didn't tell you the truth about George," he announced quietly after a moment or two. "I always told you everything was fine because I didn't want you to worry. But...he um...he was abusive," Crowley went on shakily, resting his elbows on his thighs and folding his hands as he kept his gaze fixed on the carpet. Zira let out a soft sigh and stroked a hand down his back slowly, watching him worriedly. He hadn't realised that was what Crowley had wanted to talk about, and he didn't know what to do now that it was happening. Once again, he felt as if he was in the wrong place at the wrong time; like he wasn't supposed to be there, but Crowley had clearly wanted him there, so he just kept rubbing circles into Crowley's back and remained silent. 

"He, um. I don't want to go into too much detail, but he was...he was really difficult to live with. And...um...he did once.." Crowley trailed off, his nostrils flaring as he swallowed hard and quickly slipped his sunglasses off. Zira leaned into his side hurriedly, wrapping an arm around him and stroking his hair back from his face gently. 

"I'm here, darling. It's alright," Zira murmured as softly as he could, glancing towards Fran briefly. She looked horrified, her mug held disregarded in one hand, her eyes intense and fixed on Crowley unwaveringly. 

"He um, he forced me to have sex with him once, and um. Manipulated me a lot, but after I broke up with him, he came and sexually assaulted me in the shop. I'm...I'm okay, I'm doing alright. Zira...Zira's been helping me with things a lot, and I was...I was really doing alright until...well, until he died. That's why I came down here. I don't-" Crowley gulped, squeezing his eyes shut and taking a few deep, slow breaths as he tried to keep his emotions under control. Zira leaned over, pressing a lingering kiss to his shoulder and squeezing him ever so gently, his heart breaking all over again for his partner. "I don't know how to feel, and I'm...I'm really struggling with the whole thing. I needed a break, and I...I need help," Crowley finished at last, ducking his head and dragging a hand down his face slowly as he leaned into Zira ever so slightly. 

There was a long silence and then Fran leaned forward, slowly setting her mug down on the coffee table. "Anthony, you need to find a therapist," she announced gently, her face and voice serious as he looked up at her, golden eyes swimming with tears. "You need professional help, but I'm here for you as well, alright? You should have told me all this when it was happening." 

Crowley nodded quickly, the tears spilling over and running down his cheeks as he tried to smile. "I know, Mum. I'm sorry." 

She smiled, but her lips trembled slightly, and her eyes were breathtakingly sad. "It's past now, it's alright. I hope that motherfucker rots in hell." 

Zira sighed and leaned his head against Crowley's shoulder, his arm slipping around one of Crowley's and hugging it tightly. 

"I think we should talk more about all this another time," Fran said quietly, glancing at Zira and then back at her son. "I've been through what you're going through now, and it's going to be a long talk, certainly an emotional one. I think we should at least have lunch first." 

Crowley nodded slightly, wiping his tears away quickly and balancing a smile on the despair still written all over his face. "Yeah. I'd like that." 

Fran got up quickly, smoothing the front of her shirt down carefully. "I'll go and see what we have." 

Zira watched her go, and as soon as she was out of sight, pulled Crowley into a loving kiss. Crowley made a soft, surprised noise, but immediately drew Zira deeper, his lips moving quickly, desperately. Worried, Zira pulled back just long enough to look up into those shining golden eyes. "It's okay. It's all okay." 

Crowley nodded shakily, and that time the kiss was slow and easy and comforting. Unfortunately, they were interrupted by soft footsteps, and Zira broke away hurriedly, a blush already rising to his cheeks as he looked up to see Fran in the doorway. 

"Anthony, we haven't got any bread, dear. Would you mind running to the store?" 

Crowley blinked, but glanced at Zira and flashed him a small smile. "Are you okay staying here? It's just a short walk." 

Zira frowned, but Crowley let out a soft sigh before he could say anything, his smile a little teasing. "I'll take my cane, it's not too bad today, and it's not like bread is heavy." 

"Alright, my love," Zira murmured a little reluctantly, then swallowed hard when he realised he'd let his most intimate pet name slip in company. Crowley just smiled and kissed the corner of his lips before getting up and walking off, leaving his partner sitting stunned and confused on the couch. 

Zira heard the front door open and close and Fran was sitting down in the armchair, smiling at Zira in a way he didn't completely trust. 

"Anthony is always so sensitive about me talking to his partners, so I always send him away," she admitted quietly, without any hint of remorse in her voice or expression. "I think he knows, but he doesn't seem to mind. He had this boyfriend a long time ago, before George, you see, it was a hazing thing or something when he joined the police. I don't really understand it, but as far as he told me, the man was pretending to be in a relationship with him for several weeks. There was a running bet on how long before he realised it was a fake relationship, and apparently there was a lot of money changing hands when he brought him to meet me. I always felt that if I had talked to him more, I could have saved Anthony the pain. He found the bet tally in someone's desk when he was looking for a pen." 

Zira swallowed, his heart dropping into his stomach as he imagined Crowley in that situation. After all, he knew Crowley well enough to know how hopelessly romantic and soft the man was, and he knew he must have been absolutely devastated. 

"That's horrible," he managed at last, struggling to swallow the lump in his throat. "He never told me that." 

Fran sighed and shrugged with one shoulder. "He's embarrassed. I can understand why. He said you two met when you set up your tattoo shop, is that right?" 

Closing his eyes for a moment, Zira allowed himself a smile as he remembered that day. It had been stressful and tiring and even a little sad, having left his old shop behind, but then Crowley had walked in. It had been raining, and he blew in with some wet leaves and an annoyed expression and a bouquet of sunflowers. He'd tried to explain it away, saying that he'd seen Zira moving in and the sunflowers weren't selling well, so he had just thought maybe someone else might like them and on and on. Zira hadn't heard a lot of it, having been rather too stressed, but he remembered it had made him feel so warm and contented in a way that was now so familiar to him. 

"He brought me flowers," Zira said distantly, opening his eyes again and blinking at Fran dreamily. "He was wet from the rain and he was so nervous. And then there was that time that I was late on the rent by a few days and the landlord came by and screamed at me in front of a customer. He heard about it somehow and brought me more flowers and a box of chocolates." 

Fran chuckled and leaned back in the armchair, watching Zira with a proud smile. "That's my boy. Always so kind and thoughtful with everyone. You've moved in together, right?" 

Zira grinned, starting to relax again as he realised all this was was an opportunity to talk about how much he loved his partner to someone other than Crowley himself. "Yeah, not too long ago. It just seemed practical. I help him with his physical therapy and things, and when he's having bad days I take care of him. And we were sleeping together most nights anyway, he doesn't sleep well on his own. Or so he tells me," he chuckled, looking down at the floor briefly. "Waking up next to him is the best way I've ever started any day." 

Fran just stared at him for a moment, that same small smile lingering, her eyes a little thoughtful. "You really love him, don't you?" 

Zira simply nodded. "It's easy. He accepts me, he cares for me. I got attacked before we were together, and he was so protective. He cleaned me up and held me and made sure I ate and slept. I was so scared to tell him I'm transgender, and he just...he just told me I was perfect," Zira murmured, letting the words just flow and fall out as he blinked the tears away. "I cry every time I think about it, sorry," he chuckled dryly, sniffing a bit before going on. "I can't imagine loving anyone other than him. He just makes me feel...he makes me feel like the best version of me." 

Fran grinned and dug in her pocket, pulling out a tissue and handing it to Zira. He took it with a laugh, his smile bright even through all the emotion welling up in his chest and tightening his throat. 

"I'm so happy he has you," Fran said simply, looking down briefly as Zira dried his eyes. "I've always been worried about him, he's always had a romantic soul, but never found anyone to share that with. Until now." 

The front door clicked and Zira looked up sharply as Crowley walked into the living room, leaning on his cane heavily. 

"Have you been making my boyfriend cry?" He demanded cheerfully, and Fran just laughed, taking the bread from Crowley's unresisting hand. 

"He's been making himself cry. Come sit down, dear, I'll make some sandwiches." 

Crowley slumped onto the couch gratefully, immediately falling into Zira's side. "You okay?" 

"Yeah, I'm fine, darling," Zira chuckled, wrapping his arm around Crowley's waist as Fran got up and slipped out of the room. "I'll massage your leg later." 

"Mhm," Crowley hummed, nuzzling Zira's jaw lightly. "Sounds good. Mum was talking about going to the cinema tonight, would you like that?" 

Zira closed his eyes, leaning his head on Crowley's lightly as he allowed that warm, loving contentment to fill him up and make his heart beat a little slower. "I haven't been in years, it sounds like fun." 

"Good." 

 

Later that night, Zira rolled over in bed and ran his hand down Crowley's bare chest slowly. Crowley let out a sleepy grunt, but didn't protest, his eyelids fluttering open to gaze at his partner. 

"Anthony?" 

"Mhm?" 

"Did you and your mum have a good talk?" Zira asked gently, shifting closer and down slightly to pepper Crowley's collarbone in soft kisses. 

A few hours before, after they'd gotten back from the movie, Crowley had asked Zira to go upstairs to read for a while, and Zira had obliged without argument, knowing him and Fran needed to talk. Zira had lost count of how long he'd been reading by the time Crowley had wandered upstairs, still crying, and had fallen into his arms. Crowley had smelled of incense and tea, and Zira had buried his face in that soft hair and just held him until he stopped shaking. 

"It was hard," Crowley mumbled, his voice a little hoarse, and just a tad deeper than usual. "But I feel a lot better now. I'll be okay, angel. I'm just...still processing." 

"I know," Zira soothed, moving back up to place his head on the pillow, facing Crowley. A warm hand landed on his cheek and he closed his eyes, relishing the tender touch. "I love you." 

"I love you too, angel," Crowley purred, and kissed him, soft and slow, ever so gently drawing him deeper and deeper until they finally broke apart, panting softly. Crowley immediately pressed himself into Zira's chest, needy and a little cold, and grinned in the dark as Zira hugged him tightly. 

"Goodnight, angel." 

"Goodnight, my love."

Chapter Text

Zira awoke to Crowley's gentle voice calling him, and the smell of breakfast wafting through the air. 

"Angel? Come on, love," Crowley chuckled, stroking Zira's cheek with his knuckles, his touch gentle and soothing even as Zira's eyes fluttered open and he stared up at the ceiling for a moment. 

"Mm, m'tired," he muttered, and Crowley just grinned, kissing his forehead quickly. 

"I know, but it's breakfast time! And I'm going to show you around today." 

 

Zira glanced around the bleak and empty car park in interest as Crowley pulled up and parked the car, looking over at his partner. 

"You should put that coat on. The big puffy one," Crowley announced gently, but Zira just shook his head. 

"It's not raining, I'll be alright," he smiled, reaching for the door handle. "So this is where you grew up?" 

"Nope," Crowley chuckled, popping the 'p.' "I'm from up north, I just don't have the accent. My mum still does sometimes, but we moved down here after I came back from the army, to get away from things. Everyone used to make fun of my accent while I was serving, so I got rid of it, and my mum started losing it because she kept speaking like me. It happens, I guess. I don't really care either way, but I do like it more here. I've always felt at home close to the coast." 

Zira nodded, and followed Crowley's lead as he got out of the car. Their hands linked together, and they headed down towards the beach. The steps down were a little slippery with wet sand, but luckily there were handrails on either side, so it wasn’t too difficult. 

It was a grey day, clouds hanging thick and low, and plenty of moisture in the air, and as soon as they stepped onto the beach, the wind whipped through them, freezing cold and driving. Zira gasped and shoved his other hand into his pocket quickly, but tried not to shiver in case Crowley noticed. He had his pride, after all. 

The wind flung Crowley's hair into his face and he just laughed, squeezing Zira's already numbing hand. "Doesn't that air smell so good? I love the smell of the sea," he grinned, and Zira just nodded, following Crowley unsteadily as he led the way along the empty beach.

It was quite impressive in the dim daylight, stretching to the horizon in both directions, flat and smooth and empty as the waves crashed beside them, and Zira could see why Crowley had been so excited to show it to him. 

They walked in silence for a few minutes, and Zira just took it all in, enjoying the waves and the sound of the wind until he felt like he was going to turn blue. He gently tugged on Crowley's hand and he stopped immediately, turning to his angel. 

"You alright?" 

Zira nodded quickly, but couldn't stop the shiver in time. Crowley sighed and shook his head slowly, reaching up to undo the zipper on his huge, puffy blue coat. 

"I told you you'd need a bigger coat, but do you ever listen to me? No," he announced to the air, pretending to be annoyed but smiling as he gently pulled Zira into his chest. Zira leaned back against him, giggling softly as Crowley wrapped the coat around him as best he could and hugged him tightly. He felt cool lips on his neck and grinned, shivering in the sudden warmth as he stared out over the endless water. 

It was so peaceful standing there, wrapped up in Crowley's body heat, observing and being a part of nature's rough wilderness, admiring it all as Crowley nuzzled his cheek and just held him so tightly. Zira felt like he was home at last, and when he turned and buried his face in Crowley's neck, he knew he could stand there forever and freeze as long as it meant he could stay in Crowley's arms. 

But after another few minutes, he began to shiver again, so Crowley gently pushed him away, starting to lead him back to the car a little quicker than they'd come. Zira didn't object, but followed Crowley hurriedly, his heart still so light and warm. 

 

Crowley bought Zira a hot chocolate at a local shop to warm him up, then showed him the amusements before they headed home, quite a few pennies poorer, but having gained a few useless knick knacks. On the way home, they argued about who was going to get to keep the sweets, but it was all playful and full of smiles, and Zira couldn't have been happier. 

When they got back, Fran announced that she was making a roast dinner and needed Crowley's help, so Zira defrosted on the couch under several blankets, content with his book.

After a while, though, he got thirsty and got up, wandering towards the kitchen. He stopped when he heard his name, leaning against the wall beside the door to listen for just a moment. 

"Yeah, he's trans," Crowley was saying, his voice a little muffled by the sounds of chopping and the hum of the fan oven. "Doesn't bother me at all, in fact...I don't know, it sounds stupid, but I think it makes him more accepting of me. I...after George, intimacy has been impossible, but he doesn't ever push or get upset. He's just so lovely to me." 

"He's definitely head over heels for you. What do you like about him, then?" Fran asked with a soft chuckle, and Zira felt a flash of guilt for listening - but it wasn't strong enough to overrule his curiosity. "Apart from everything. That's not an answer." 

Crowley snorted and hesitated for a moment. "Oh God, there's just so many things. Well, I suppose the first thing I ever really noticed is just...his appearance. He's just so cute and sweet and it comes through in his appearance, his eyes especially. They're such a pretty blue, and so hard to look away from. And he's just so...so cuddly. I just looked at him once and I knew I could lay with him and hold him and it would be perfect." 

Crowley trailed off for a moment, then sighed deeply. "He's so...so caring. I've never met anyone like him. He's affectionate, always wants to be touching me and kissing me and it...it reminds me how much he really does love me. And he's always been so helpful with my leg, just always there to support me and help me, even when I was too embarrassed to ask for or even accept help. He's just...he loves me, Mum. And I love him, because he's so great at showing me his love and being there and being himself, because he's adorable and kind and considerate. When we were still friends, just being around him and knowing that there were men like him out there gave me the strength to really move on from George. I burned all the pictures and stuff I had, because of him. And I started calling him angel, right? Because of that tattoo I told you about. Anyway, when I first said it, he laughed and said that he couldn't be an angel, because he's not religious and I just couldn't help but think about how he made me feel and gave me someone to turn to and all this stuff, and how he's basically my guardian angel. And I just...he really is. He's my personal angel and I have no idea what I'd do without him." 

Zira clamped his hand over his mouth, his nostrils flaring as silent tears spilled down his cheeks, hot and wet and full of joy and love. He could barely believe what he was hearing, all these things Crowley had never told him; had kept to himself as they'd grown together. 

"Well, you managed to survive this far," Fran pointed out with a chuckle, and Crowley just sighed. 

"True. But that was surviving, this is different. I don't dread waking up anymore. I enjoy my work more, I cook more often because I know he likes it, I read books because he recommends them to me, I sleep properly. He makes me a better person." 

In the hallway, Zira's fingertips were digging into his skin as he tried to keep his sobs silent. He wanted to rush in, to wrap Crowley up in his arms and cry on his shoulder, but he couldn't do it. Not with Fran there, that was certain. It felt too intimate to share with another person. 

"Good, I'm glad. Oh, shit...these ones are all wet. Could you go and fetch a clean tea towel? I moved them to the closet by the stairs." 

Zira panicked as he heard footsteps, quickly trying to dry his cheeks and force his breathing even just as Crowley stepped out of the kitchen and stopped. 

He reached up slowly and took his glasses off, his eyes wide and a little shiny. "Did you...did you hear..?" 

Zira swallowed hard, nodding slightly and staring at Crowley sullenly, suddenly worried he’d be angry or upset. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to-" 

Crowley cut him off with a kiss, his hands shaking as he raised them to Zira's cheeks, thumbs stroking over those sticky tear tracks as if his skin was as delicate as a fresh rose petal. He pulled away slowly, lingering slightly, his breath a little quick, then suddenly tugged Zira into his arms instead, letting out a soft sigh. 

"I'm sorry I can't say it to you. I...I get embarrassed," Crowley mumbled at last, his hands still trembling as he held Zira's lower back and cradled the back of his head. "I'm sorry. But I love you, so so much. Everything you heard was true, my angel. Everything." 

Zira took a deep, shuddering breath in, then buried his face in Crowley's shoulder and began to cry again ever so softly; delicate little sobs as he hugged Crowley as tightly as he could. He could feel his own hands shaking, but it didn't matter. Nothing mattered now, except for the fact that he was hugging Crowley and Crowley was hugging him. That was all Zira could think about, all he needed to think about. He pressed himself closer and Crowley just squeezed him gently, making a soft shushing sound. 

"I've got you, angel. I've caught the best man in the world, I'm not letting go anytime soon, I hope you know that." 

Zira grinned through his tears and lifted his head, his voice coming out hoarse and trembling. "I'm counting on it, my love." 

 

It had taken them both a little while to calm down, sitting on the couch together and just being together until Zira finally stopped sniffling and Crowley's fingers were no longer shaking. 

Once they'd gotten it together, though, they'd had a lovely lunch. The food was delicious, and the conversation had flowed easily and happily, with plenty of laughter and gentle teasing. 

When it was finally time to head home, Zira accepted another hug from Fran with rather more enthusiasm, and spent a good portion of the car ride in thoughtful silence. 

"Are you okay?" Crowley asked after half an hour of wondering, trying to sound nonchalant and failing miserably. 

Zira hummed, lifting his head as he shook himself from his thoughts. "Yeah, I'm okay." 

"You just seem distant. Do you feel like talking?" Crowley pressed gently, and Zira leaned his head against the window, folding his arms over his chest sleepily. 

"I'm really tired, but yeah. I um...I guess it just kind of hit me that today was the first time I ever really felt like I was part of a family...like a proper family." 

Crowley paused for quite a while, breathing slowly as he tried to process this and figure out how to react. Then he smiled. "Well, we'll have to come here more often, then. I like seeing you happy like that."  

Zira smiled to himself contentedly, letting his eyes slip closed. "I'd like that." 

 

Zira watched sleepily as Crowley unlocked the front door, then followed him inside, yawning as he stepped over the threshold. Then he stopped, just staring at the room. 

Realisation washed over him, lapping at his tired mind and gently prodding him into full consciousness. This was their place. 

The books and drawings everywhere; the plants thriving in every corner, the smell of home cooked food. It was theirs. And they would live there together for so long, growing into the space and into each other, becoming even more of a unit than they already were; one whole being. 

"Zira?"

Hands stroked over his sides and Zira blinked in surprise, looking up into soft golden eyes. "I'm okay. Just thinking," he murmured, and Crowley kissed his cheek, then pulled him into a loose hug. 

"What about?" 

"How long we're going to live here together," Zira grinned, leaning into Crowley's arms contentedly, that feeling of love and safety washing over him, through him, soothing him. "I love you." 

"I love you too," Crowley answered simply, squeezing him just a little tighter, his voice firm and determined as he went on. "And I want you to know something. I'm going to get a therapist and I'm going to keep working on this. I'm going to get over all of this, everything with George, I promise. And I won't push you away again, I need you too much for that. We're going to be okay." 

Zira closed his eyes again, smiling as he buried his face in Crowley's warm neck, pride and joy welling up in his chest. "We will. I know we will, Anthony. And I know it's going to take time, but we have so much time now, time to just be together." 

"I know. I'm so glad,” Crowley replied softly, letting out a slow sigh as he stroked his hand over Zira’s hair. 

"Me too,” Zira said simply, unable to stop smiling as he leaned into the arms of the man he loved.

Chapter Text

However, even after spending an hour in his partner's arms, listening to his gentle voice, Zira was still wide awake. His mind wouldn't stop spinning, sending out thought after thought while Crowley struggled to keep his eyes open. 

Eventually Crowley pulled away from Zira ever so slightly, brushing his fingertips over that soft, plump cheek. 

"Maybe we should talk about those insecurities of yours you mentioned, huh?" He chuckled quietly, but Zira could hear a hint of sincerity in his voice. 

Zira sighed, rolling onto his back and staring up at the ceiling for a moment or two. "Mm. Maybe. I'm...even though I'm exhausted and everything, now does kind of seem like a good time. I mean...I just feel so safe with you right now," he murmured, turning his head to study the soft eyes staring back at him. "I love you and I know you love me...and there's a certain power to that." 

Crowley smiled, moving around to sit up beside Zira, rubbing his eyes briefly. "Alright. But I gotta sit up, I gotta be more awake for this," he murmured, and Zira just smiled up at him, running one hand along the top of his thigh lightly. 

"You look so different from this angle," he laughed softly, and Crowley just rolled his eyes, stroking Zira's fluffy hair ever so gently. 

"We're supposed to be discussing you, not my angles," he protested fondly, his thumb brushing Zira's forehead lightly, a loving smile still playing at his lips. "Come on. First insecurity, go. If it makes you feel any better, I'll tell you some of mine after. The ones that aren't just about George." 

"Deal," Zira chuckled, taking Crowley's hand and pressing soft kisses to his fingers as he allowed himself a moment of thought. "I still get dysphoria sometimes, over little things. Especially with my shirt off. Sometimes I wonder if I'm masculine enough in the way I dress and talk and all that...I know it's bull, but gender roles really do linger," he murmured, then looked up and saw the worried expression on his partner's face. "Oh, but you make it so much better," he added, a little hurried, but genuine. "Really. I know you won't judge me at all, and...and I know you see me as a man and nothing else, so it's...it's different. You make me feel loved and desirable, even on the days where all I can see in the mirror are my thighs." 

Crowley nodded slightly, slowly sliding down to lay beside his partner again, his hand stroking over Zira's cheek tenderly. "You are so handsome, Zira. And I love your thighs, I really do. They're soft and cute and I just...I can't imagine you any other way. I understand why you don't like them some days, but I like them every day." 

Zira grinned, the blush rising ignored in the dark as he shifted a little closer to his partner, gazing up at him in adoration. "Thank you, darling. So so much."  

"What else, my angel?" Crowley murmured, his smile gentle and loving, his knuckles running down Zira's cheek over and over, soothing him as he took a deep breath. 

"I just...I get really bad social anxiety a lot. I'm always too worried about whether people like me, or I'm always thinking that my friends secretly don't want to be around me. It's...well, I guess it's why I don't really have friends anymore." 

Crowley sighed, pulling Zira just an inch or so toward him as he closed his eyes for a moment. "I have the same thing, a bit. George didn't really...he didn't want me to have friends, so I'm a little rusty on my people skills. My whole life consisted of him for so long that I forgot how to talk to people who weren't him or his friends. Or you. But you're easy to talk to."

Zira rolled onto his side, immediately pulling his partner into a tight hug, fingers spreading on his back. "Every time you tell me something new about him I want to cry," he mumbled, his grip protective as he hugged Crowley a little closer. "I'm glad you find me easy to talk to, though. I don't know what I'd do without you, my love." 

Crowley sighed, slipping his arm around his partner's waist, but only holding him loosely. "This was supposed to be about you, Zira, I shouldn't have-" 

"No, this is about us," Zira interrupted calmly, squeezing Crowley tighter and holding it for a good few seconds. "We need to have talks like this more often, we need to talk about things like this so we can know how to support one another. We both need to make friends." 

"We could join some groups or something," Crowley suggested softly, smiling to himself as he began to stroke Zira's hair. "Hit me with the next one. We're gonna come up with ideas for all of these," he said confidently, and Zira didn't have the heart to contradict him. 

"Um," he began shakily, then moved back enough to look into his partner's tired eyes, his hands coming up to caress Crowley's cheeks. "Please don't get upset with me. But...but sometimes I get insecure over whether you love me or not." 

Crowley's brow furrowed, his mouth opened to protest, but Zira pressed a finger to his lips gently. 

"Please let me finish, my love. In my head, I know that you love me beyond a doubt, I know that you love me more than anyone ever has. But sometimes I just get scared. I can't help it, and I try to convince myself that it's stupid to worry, especially when you're there with me and telling me and touching me, but sometimes it just...doesn't work. And I stay worried. It's really not anything you're doing wrong, I promise. It's me, it's this niggling doubt that I can't really be loved the way you love me. I promise it's not you." 

Zira finally lifted his finger and waited for a moment, watching nervously as Crowley closed his eyes for a long, tense moment. 

Then he drew in a deep breath, golden eyes shining in the dark as they once again fixed on Zira's. "I'm just going to have to tell you fifty times a day," he began simply, flashing his angel a sad smile. "I'm going to keep saying it and keep showing you until you have to believe. Until you forget about everything else that makes you feel that way and just think about me. Because you're right, Zira, I do love you, I love you more than I've ever loved any romantic partner, and I want you to know that every second of your life. And I want you to know that if you ever feel like this again, you can tell me. You can come to me and I'll hug you and kiss you and tell you all the things I love about you until you feel better." 

Zira took a deep breath through the emotion squeezing his throat, then quickly pulled Crowley into a kiss, ignoring the surprised sound his partner made and just pulling him a little closer. Despite everything, despite the need for Crowley that was making his fingers tremble, Zira was the first to break away, a shaky smile playing at his lips as he reached up and fixed Crowley's hair gently. 

"Tell me something of yours," Zira murmured softly, his eyes pleading as he looked into his partner's eyes. "It'll make me feel less like I'm just dumping everything on you." 

Crowley sighed and shifted, his arm sliding around Zira's waist as he thought, his eyes narrowed slightly. Then he gave a tiny shrug. 

"What do you want to hear? I got plenty more about George." 

Zira swallowed hard, his tongue feeling thick and heavy in his mouth. Crowley's tone was too matter of fact, too detached for his comfort. 

"Maybe something...something else?" 

Crowley looked away for a second, then sighed again, his expression blank. "I've never really felt like I belonged anywhere. With being gay in the army...and then the police...they just weren't...they weren't people I could get on with. And the LGBT community...I never really felt like I was a big part of that, either. I never felt comfortable there," he began softly, not quite meeting Zira's gaze as his cheeks started to turn pink. "Um. When I was with...well, all my shit comes back to George eventually," he chuckled, but his eyes were dull and full of old pain.

"Anyway. When things started getting bad with him...I reached out for help online first, on like...message boards and stuff that I'd been on for a while. I told people what had been happening to me, and...I got a real range of responses, but none of them were what I needed. I...there's a lot of problems in the community, as far as I can see, and um...a big one, in my opinion, is the idea that gay relationships are automatically better than straight ones. I was honestly told that what George was doing to me wasn't abuse because that didn't happen in gay relationships. They told me I was playing it up for attention, they told me I was just lying to make him look bad. I don't...I don't know. It was…It was bad," he mumbled, still not looking up at Zira, not seeing the horror gathering in his partner's expression.

"But the worst of it were the people who told me it wasn't rape because I'm ace. They said he was doing me a favour by manipulating me into sex, that one day I'd realise that he was making me normal," Crowley went on, his voice breaking at last, just before Zira flung his arms around his partner, squeezing him tightly. 

"I'm sorry, darling, I'm sorry!" He rushed out, pressing his face into that warm chest and clinging to Crowley gently. "You never should've had to hear that." 

Crowley just sighed quietly and squeezed Zira just as tight, burying his face in fluffy blond curls for just a moment before continuing. "I...things got worse, after that. And eventually I ended up asking my friends on the force, the only people that George couldn't stop me from talking with. They told me that it was just because of the job, that I should just lay back and let him do whatever he wanted to get the stress out," he said flatly, and Zira's fingers curled, digging into his love's skin ever so lightly. 

"I fucking hate these people," he muttered, his body trembling ever so slightly as he pressed himself as close to Crowley as he could get. "I'm sorry, my darling." 

Crowley shrugged, taking a deep, sniffy breath and running his hand up to cradle the back of Zira's head gently. "It's not your fault. And I know where I belong now. It's right here with you, in this bed, in your arms." 

Zira let out a slow breath, running his hand up and down Crowley's back slowly. "I love you, my darling. There's nothing wrong with you, and...and none of what he did was your fault or...or normal. None of it. I know you know that, I just...I don't want you to forget it," Zira sighed, squeezing him gently and smiling to himself slightly when Crowley hugged him tighter. 

"I do know that, but it is good to be reminded every so often," Crowley murmured, gently pulling away from the embrace just enough to guide Zira into a soft kiss instead. Smiling against his partner's lips, Zira gently pulled him deeper, his hand sliding up into that perfect hair and holding on carefully. 

After a few moments, Crowley broke away, his fingers going to Zira's shirt buttons immediately. Zira made a soft, surprised noise, but Crowley shook his head slightly. 

"I just want to cuddle up to you properly," he muttered, already gently tugging the shirt off Zira's shoulders. 

"Alright, darling," he sighed softly, a little uncomfortable after talking about his dysphoria, but knowing that if contact was what Crowley needed, he'd give him everything he could. 

Crowley tossed his own shirt away quickly and immediately folded himself into Zira's chest, cuddling up to him and letting out a happy sigh when Zira hugged him tightly. 

"I've got you," Zira mumbled absently, feeling those long-fingered hands stroking over his ribs and stomach, rubbing lightly as Crowley pressed himself even closer to his partner. 

"I love you," Crowley announced as if in answer, pressing a kiss to Zira's cheek, and then the centre of his chest. Zira let out a soft sigh, running a hand down that lithe, bare back and feeling Crowley's cool skin under his touch. 

"I love you too, darling."

There was a brief pause before Crowley spoke again, his voice a little slow and thoughtful. "Is there anything else you want to talk about, angel?" 

Zira shifted slightly, gently pulling away from Crowley just enough to see his face. Crowley smiled at him immediately, still looking a little sleepy, but there was so much love in those eyes. "I...yeah. Sometimes I worry that...that I don't help you enough. With your leg, and...and everything else. Sometimes I just worry I'm making it worse or-or…" Zira trailed off, trying to swallow the emotion bubbling in his chest, hot and tired and shaky. Everything was suddenly piling on top of him after such a long, emotional day, and when Crowley pulled him into a kiss, his lips were trembling ever so slightly. 

"Don't be silly," Crowley said gently as soon as he pulled away, his eyes fixed on Zira's and full of concern and love and even a little admiration. "You take care of me so well, my angel. You're so gentle and kind with me and you help me even when I can't admit I need it. You're so special to me," he murmured, stroking his knuckles down Zira's cheek just before he burst into tears; all that emotion overflowing at last. 

Crowley quickly gathered him up into a gentle hug, and Zira buried his face in that inviting chest, his arm sliding around to cling to his partner as he sobbed softly. All that hurt and pain and insecurity was mixing with the love and joy and tiredness, and he didn't know what else to do other than cry. There was just too much of it to think through, too much to handle, so he just lay there and sobbed. Crowley hugged him a little tighter, just rocking him gently. 

"It's alright, angel. It's okay, it's been a long day," he soothed, running his fingers through that fluffy hair over and over. "It'll all seem so much better in the morning." 

Zira nodded slightly, but he couldn't stop the tears from coming, so he just lay there and cried it all out until he was simply too exhausted to continue. Once he'd gone quiet, Crowley pulled him a little closer, gently guiding him to turn over. Zira turned to face away from his partner, feeling those thin arms slide around his waist, holding him gently, stroking his skin. And then Crowley pressed a soft kiss to the back of his shoulder, his voice gentle and encouraging. 

"Get some sleep now, angel. It'll be okay, you'll see. Tomorrow will be a good day, I promise." 

Zira let out a soft sigh and allowed himself to relax, soothed by the feeling of his partner holding him so gently. After a minute or two, the exhaustion finally took over and gently tugged him under, into the dark depths of unconsciousness.