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exhale

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Crowley has woken up in many beds over the years, and he has always woken up alone.

That’s a demon’s lot in life, he supposes. Where humans cram themselves together for warmth or comfort or even lack of space, Crowley has always been the one left out: unapproachable, untouchable. He doesn’t hold it against them. Human hesitation is built into their cultural memory, preordained by the acrid yellow of his eyes and the burning-salt smell of brimstone that lingers in his hair, and it’s not their fault. He’s long since learned to coil around himself and ignore the empty spaces that surround him.

But now—this is different. This is new.

Now Crowley is waking, and there is someone else with him.

He’s aware of it before he’s even fully conscious, before he even fully comprehends what all the things he’s feeling might mean. The weight of something—not touching him, but somehow palpably near—the warmth of it. The cinnamon smell of someone familiar, someone close, someone only half a foot away, tucked beneath the sheets with him.

“Good morning,” Aziraphale whispers, quiet in the watery grey light.

Crowley still doesn’t open his eyes. His heart has lurched into a syncopated rhythm and his hands have begun to sweat, and he’s desperately aware of every inch between them, of the vastness of the space, made small and inconsequential in the sleep-warm sheets of a shared bed.

He hadn’t forgotten Aziraphale crawling in next to him the night before—how could he, could he ever? the way Aziraphale had asked, his voice strong but his hands fluttering; the way he’d climbed, clumsily, under the blankets, as if he weren’t quite sure how; the way he’d laid there in the dark, flat on his back, until his breathing had slowed and deepened and turned slightly rumbly in the night—but Crowley had assumed he would be gone already, evaporating away like an early morning mist at the first suggestion of the sun.

He means to say, “Good morning,” back, but instead what comes out, sleep-rough and mumbled, is just, “You’re still here.”

There is a pause, and then Aziraphale’s hand is warm against Crowley’s wrist, and Crowley imagines how that must look: the reach across from Heaven and six inches over into Hell, leaving doctrine and dogma shed like autumn leaves in its wake. The curve of faith and hope and trust in Aziraphale’s palm as it settles, certain of itself, over Crowley’s skin.

“Yes,” Aziraphale whispers. “I’m still here. Is that all right?”

Crowley takes a deep breath, steadying himself, and he blinks his eyes open.

Aziraphale looks back at him from across the pillows, his eyes unreadable in the faint light. There is a crease from a pillowcase imprinted high on his cheek, turning pink already; Crowley reaches out, back over the same distance Aziraphale has already crossed, to smooth his fingertips and all his faith and all his hope and all his trust over it.

“You’re the first,” Crowley manages to say, looking not quite at him, studying that crease on his cheek. The indentation of it is already fading under his touch. “Never woken up with someone before.”

Aziraphale smiles, not a sympathetic smile but an understanding one, and Crowley wonders—not for the first time—what loneliness looks like in ethereality, in a being made of love and for love. What existence must have been like for Aziraphale, in all these long years, with the cold host of Heaven at his back and the endless seas of outpouring love that have only served to separate him from those that would finally love him in return.

And yet: the dawn is touching the horizon, and Crowley is still stroking his cheek from the opposite side of the bed.

“Neither have I,” Aziraphale answers. He blinks so slowly, tilting his cheek further into Crowley’s hand, and he’s so—quiet, like this, Crowley thinks. The thrumming tension, the fluttering uncertainty, the barbed defensiveness, it’s all gone, and he is, for perhaps the first time in six thousand years, still. It’s not as unnerving as Crowley might’ve thought it would be. Instead it’s something like confession: a laying bare of the soul. An exhale: a letting go. “I think I quite like it.”

Crowley watches him another minute, his fingertips on Aziraphale’s face, still tracing that line as it fades. He says, “I think I’m going to touch you.”

The smile twitches, nearly dislodging Crowley’s fingers. “You are touching me.”

“No,” Crowley says, “I mean, I’m going to—I’m going to—”

The words catch and stick in his throat, and Aziraphale turns his face just a little so he can press a kiss to the heel of Crowley’s palm as his fingers start to shake. “Kiss me,” he finishes. “Yes, I think—I think I would quite like that as well.”

Across the pillows: some six inches. He wants to reach across them, to follow the line of his hand—of his faith, of his hope, of his trust—and to find Aziraphale waiting for him. To touch the bare soul of him with his own. He wants to. The seconds draw out, one, two, three. He wants to. Eight, nine, ten.

But Crowley has been holding himself back for six thousand years, and he doesn’t know how to lay bare a soul so twisted and torn as his own, how to fit it like a blackened, mangled puzzle piece around the shape of something whole and shining. He doesn’t know how to let go of the things he has dug his hands into like claws, the things he has held up in protection of the soft, bloody spaces between his ribs. The things that have protected him from this moment all his long, long life.

He has always woken up alone. He doesn’t know how to be anything but.

“I don’t think I can,” he finally says. “I don’t think I—it’s too far.”

“Crowley,” Aziraphale says, so gently, and his palm on Crowley’s wrist squeezes once, twice, thrice, before skimming up his arm, brushing his hair back from his forehead. “Crowley, I’m right here.”

“Will you stay?” Crowley asks. “If I kiss you,” if I’m horrible, if I’m honest, if I’m everything human hesitation has ever protected them against, “will you stay?“

Aziraphale’s hand settles warm on Crowley’s cheek: the press of his palm to his sensitive skin. “Oh, my dear,” he breathes, and he’s closer now, closing in the distance on his own, “Oh, my dear, don’t you know by now? I’m never going to leave.”

There’s all this history between them. There’s all this fear—all these what ifs. There’s all these moments they should never have had and all these things they should never have done and all these consequences they should never have escaped but they did, they did and they have and they’re here and Aziraphale is here and Crowley just—lets go.

Crowley kisses him.

They meet halfway across the bed, a tangle of wrists and elbows and dry, brushing kisses—hesitant, testing. “Is this all right,” Crowley half-pleads against Aziraphale’s mouth, “am I doing it right,” and Aziraphale makes a sound like all the breath has left him at once, and then he’s pulling Crowley closer, pressing in, thighs to thighs and belly to belly and chest to thundering chest, heartbeats echoing against one another as Aziraphale kisses him again, and more deeply, again, and more urgently, again, and it feels like kissing breath into Crowley’s lungs and a promise into Crowley’s heart and love, it feels like love, like a warm wing parting the rain around him, like the parting of those lonely seas to find him here, and Crowley clings with every bare and mangled electron of his soul, with every horrible honest exhale of his heart, and Crowley kisses him back and Aziraphale is here, Aziraphale stayed, Aziraphale has chosen him, has chosen faith and hope and trust in him, has closed his hands over the raw and exposed places inside Crowley’s chest to hold him together, to hold him closer, and Crowley licks the saltwater taste of it from Aziraphale’s lips and hopes Aziraphale can taste it too: this love, this endless love.

“Stay,” Crowley hears, gasping, cut-off and aching, from his own mouth, “Stay, stay, stay.”

This is not a plea to run away, not anymore.

This is a plea to stand, to face Heaven and Hell hand-in-hand. This is a plea for mornings in beds together, for kisses that feel like waking up and coming alive, for choosing to walk into the middle distance and stay forever in the six inches they have carved out for themselves. We’re on our own side.

“I’m here,” Aziraphale gasps back, breathless and beautiful, pulling and pressing and choosing Crowley with every part and particle of himself. “Yes, I’m here. ”I’m going to be here, always, forever, can you feel it? I’m going to stay.“

Crowley feels it. Crowley believes it. “Always,” he promises, kissing Aziraphale and kissing Aziraphale and kissing Aziraphale. “Forever.”

Neither of them ever wakes up alone again.