Aziraphale stood outside of Crowley's front door.
The demon had been inexplicably absent from the book shop for two days now, not even so much as a phone call. It wasn't exactly odd for them to not speak for days at a time; indeed, in the past, there had been years of silence between them. But ever since Not-Quite-Armageddon, the longest time they had spent apart was about twelve hours. Most evenings, after whatever dinner Aziraphale had wanted, they would open a bottle of wine in either the book shop's back room or Crowley's living room, and spend a few hours talking about nothing in particular before Aziraphale would find a reason to end the evening - needing to do inventory, catching up on his reading, reorganizing something or another. And then, without fail, Crowley would appear in the shop between seven and eight the next morning, sometimes with pastries for breakfast, sometimes with coffee or tea, and sometimes with a spectacularly terrible idea for how to spend their day.
But it had been two days of silence now, and Aziraphale was worried.
He wasn't worried in the sense that he was worried that something might have happened to Crowley; he knew Crowley wouldn't be getting involved with anything dangerous or stupid, at least not without telling Aziraphale all about it first. He also knew that if Hell - or Heaven, for that matter - had come for Crowley, the city would have been leveled before Crowley would go down. No, he knew Crowley was perfectly intact physically. He was worried about Crowley's emotional state.
Aziraphale raised his hand to knock, but hesitated.
The last time they had seen each other, Crowley had seemed a little frazzled. Every other sentence had trailed off into pensive silence, he had appeared to do everything in his power to avoid eye contact, and when Aziraphale had placed a hand over Crowley's after one of those trailed-off sentences, Crowley had nearly jumped out of his skin. So his absence was questionable, at best.
Bracing himself with a deep breath, Aziraphale knocked.
After a long moment of nothing, the lock clicked, and the door inched open. Crowley wasn't on the other side; wherever he was, he had apparently just miracled the door open. Aziraphale took a small step inside. "Crowley?" he called carefully.
"Yeah," came his voice from down the hall, sounding exhausted. Defeated. "I'm here."
There were no lights on in the apartment. Aziraphale found Crowley seated on the floor by a window, only the street lamps illuminating him. "Hey, angel," Crowley said without looking up. He was among his plants, mister in one hand, and the other in his hair. His knees were drawn up to his chest, and he was wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt. He looked tired. He sounded tired. Something about him seemed… broken.
"Crowley," Aziraphale said in such a gentle tone that the demon flinched as though hit.
"I'm fine," he answered the unasked question.
Crowley sighed. His head dropped as he untangled his fingers from his hair, and he finally looked up. He wasn't wearing his sunglasses, and his eyes were a little bloodshot. "No," he said, his voice cracking. He cleared his throat and looked away. "I guess not."
Aziraphale paused for a second before he slowly lowered himself onto his knees in front of the vulnerable figure. "What's wrong, my dear?" he murmured, placing a soothing hand on Crowley's shoulder.
"Nothing," he said automatically. But before Aziraphale could call him on it, he shook his head. "It's not… it's stupid."
"Please talk to me," Aziraphale urged.
"I can't." Crowley twitched as though to get away from the angel's comforting hand, but the result was that Aziraphale moved closer and put his other hand on Crowley's knee. "I can't," he said again, as if pleading. He looked up at Aziraphale, and choked on a sob.
Without missing a beat, Aziraphale moved forward to catch Crowley as he collapsed. Aziraphale pulled him into his chest, wrapping his arms around him, as Crowley took a shaking breath and tears spilled from his eyes. "Shh," Aziraphale whispered, combing his fingers through tousled auburn. "My dear, it's all right. I'm right here, it's all right."
The mister dropped and rolled across the floor; both of Crowley's hands were fisting into Aziraphale's jacket as he took unsteady breaths. He buried his face into the crook of the angel's neck, trying to say something, anything, but managing little more than another sob. So Aziraphale just held him, rocking very slowly, and stroking his hair as he murmured comfort.
Something had broken, Aziraphale could see it now. He still wasn’t quite sure what it was, but Crowley was holding onto him as a drowning man clings to anything that would float. What had happened?
It took a full five minutes before Crowley's breathing began to regulate itself, and another three before he sat back again. Aziraphale's hands fell to rest on Crowley's legs, and after a second of consideration, Crowley took them in his own. He still wasn't looking at Aziraphale directly.
"I'm sorry," Crowley said in a quiet voice.
"There's no need to apologize," Aziraphale assured him, squeezing his hands a little.
"No, not for," Crowley half-gesticulated, briefly raising their clasped hands, "for that. Not exactly the first time I've cried on you, is it." It was true; but it had only happened twice before.
"Then whatever are you apologizing for?" Aziraphale questioned.
Crowley took a deep, steadying breath. "It's uh. It's hard to explain." He chanced a glance at Aziraphale, and was correct in assuming this statement caused the angel's brow knit in confused concern. "It's just…" Crowley sighed, and squeezed Aziraphale's hands tightly. He was readying himself for something; they could both tell this was something Important. Whatever had caused him to disappear for two days, this was it. "Angel,” he began; then shook his head a little and tried again. “Aziraphale. I can't… I can't keep on like this. Not at this pace, not knowing. I don't want--- Look, I know, and you were right, I know I was going too fast, asking too much, back then. I know that now. You were right. But. I can't slow down any more. It---" He squeezed his eyes shut. "It hurts," he whispered.
Aziraphale wasn't reacting; he was listening, and was clearly prepared to listen until Crowley had said everything he needed to say.
So Crowley took a breath, opened his eyes, and stared at the planter of orchids above the angel's head as he pushed on. "I can't lose you, I can't. I won't. And I will keep waiting, I really will, if that's what you need, I would do--- I'd do anything for you, Aziraphale, anything, I really would. But I need you to know, to understand--- I just want you to know what I'm feeling, what's going on with me. I think it's fair. I think. It hurts, it does, but… but I'll still wait forever, if that's what it takes. Because I’m not going anywhere, not unless you--- but you wouldn’t, because you haven’t, and I---" A pause. A shallow breath. “It hurts,” he continued, “but that doesn’t mean I won’t wait. I’d like to know, if you want, if you can, I’d like to know how you--- how you feel. About me. Us. About us. But talking to you about it, it just seems like--- what if that’s too fast again? What if I push you away, by asking? So I haven’t. But it’s been a long time. And I’ve been waiting. And I’ll keep waiting, angel, I will, as long as I can be near you, I will. But I still--- if you can, if you want, I want to know.”
Aziraphale let out a very long breath that he didn't realize he had been holding. There was a lot to take in, but he was surprised to find that none of it had surprised him.
Crowley swallowed, and dropped his eyes to their hands. "So," he said with a note of finality, "I’ve been avoiding you, because I was afraid to ask. And that’s why I'm sorry. We don’t have to talk about it now." He started to take his hands away.
But Aziraphale held them firmly.
Crowley looked up, and gold eyes met blue properly for the first time in two days.
"So this is what you've been simmering in, all this time?" Aziraphale asked gently.
"Longer," Crowley admitted.
Aziraphale nodded in acknowledgment; he had clearly suspected as much. "And you've been worried about my response. Which is why you haven't brought this up sooner."
Crowley gave a single, meek nod, unable to drop his gaze.
To his slight surprise, Aziraphale's concern melted into the slightest of smiles. "I see. Then perhaps I can alleviate some of that worry. Shall I?" He smiled a little wider when Crowley looked taken aback. "I have been doing some thinking myself. For quite some time, as well. And given recent events, I had been wondering how to properly express myself to you. But you, my dear, have done the difficult part, by initiating this conversation." He sighed in a satisfied kind of way, and leaned forward until their foreheads were touching. Crowley twitched slightly, as though this contact was unexpected, no matter how slowly Aziraphale had moved into it, perfectly telegraphing his intention. "I realized," Aziraphale said much softer now that they were so close, "that there is nothing in this world more important to me than you, Crowley. And I, too, cannot lose you. And I won't. And so I think I should like to take another step forward with you. To show you just what you are to me."
Crowley was forgetting to breathe, but took a shaky inhale. "What… what I am to you?" he repeated.
"Yes," Aziraphale confirmed. He slipped one of his hands from the tangle on Crowley's lap and brought it up to Crowley's cheek. "Everything, my dear. You are everything to me. And it's about time that I told you that."
Tears began to fall down Crowley's cheeks again, but this time, he wouldn't take his eyes off of the angel. "Aziraphale…"
"I'm so very sorry that it took me this long," he continued, wiping away some tears with his thumb. "You’ve been incredibly patient with me, all this time. You deserved to know sooner, but I was never sure how to say it."
"Oh angel," Crowley breathed. He reached up to hold Aziraphale's hand against his cheek. "I don't care how long it took, because--- because you did, you said it, and I can--- I can finally say it too." A smile was starting to spread across his face. "You are--- to me, you are everything." He took a shuddering breath, and the smile broke over his face in earnest. "My angel," he breathed. "My everything."
Sitting on the ground, surrounded by plants, in semi-darkness, after six thousand years of knowing each other, after centuries of wanting each other, after days of worry, an angel who was afraid to love and a demon who loved too much finally opened their hearts to one another, only to find that the only difference was that things unsaid had finally been spoken.
 - Crowley had dropped him off after a very nice dinner at a Peruvian restaurant around 9pm, and had made an excuse to go back to his own apartment, saying he'd be back in the morning, and had indeed returned around 9am. [return]
 - He had laughed this off - "Ah, sorry, angel, let my mind wander a bit too far; here, lemme refill your glass." [return]
 - The answer seemed to be obvious: right here. [return]
 - Crowley had always sneered at this question. [return]
 - A bit too direct; he didn't want to scare Crowley away with their first interaction in a few days. [return]
 - The first time had been after the Flood; Crowley blamed it on the rain - "Demons don't cry, angel." The second time had been the night before The First Sunday Of The Rest Of Their Lives, when they had returned to Crowley's apartment after stopping the world from ending; that, however, is a story for another time. [return]