Aziraphale didn’t sleep well. When he watched the clock tick over to 5 a.m., he decided to give up and shuffle downstairs to the shop. He wanted to read, but knew that would go about as well as sleep had, so he pulled out his sketchbook and settled into one of the armchairs in the waiting area.
He flipped through pages and pages of eyes, and hands, and profiles. He hadn’t realized how…compelled he had been these last few weeks. He’d say it was bordering on creepy, but he had a feeling he had long passed that boundary.
With a sigh, he turned to a fresh page, and began to sketch apple blossoms. He had studied them for the cover up piece, but had discarded the idea in the end for muddying up the image. Besides, he’d looked up the meaning of apple blossoms in flower language, and he thought “I prefer you before all” was a bit confusing coming from the Serpent of Eden.
He didn’t come back to himself until he heard Tracy’s cheery laugh as she entered the shop. He checked his pocket watch. Almost 8:05. And laid before him was a two-page spread of apple blossoms among the leafy branches of their tree.
“Oh!” Tracy stopped in the middle of the room, Lesley just behind her. “Good morning, love! The front door was locked so I just assumed you were still upstairs.”
“Yes, well.” He rubbed a hand over his face, but it didn’t make him feel any better. “I’ve been up for quite a while, it seems.”
“Too much excitement last night,” Lesley observed sagely. “Maude and I run a mean game of charades.”
“Yes, that must be it,” Aziraphale said, knowing that wasn’t even close to the answer.
“Mr. S says we’re not allowed to do pictionary again,” said Tracy. “Wasn’t fair, he said, competing against real artists.”
“Oh, it’s just a bit of fun,” Lesley protested. “Maude wants to make a little portfolio out of all our pictionary art. Newt offered to scan everything for her, too.”
“Isn’t that sweet.” Tracy moved over to the front desk and turned on the computer. “You know, I like that Anathema for him. She’ll bring some steadiness to his life. I have a good feeling about her.”
Aziraphale closed his sketchbook and got to his feet as quietly as he could. The conversation was getting dangerously close to —
“Now we just need to find someone for you!” she told Aziraphale brightly. “Someone you can partner up with next time, and make the teams even!”
He forced himself to smile, but he wasn’t sure how convincing it was. “Yes. Wouldn’t want to disappoint for game night.”
“If we get up to eight people,” said Lesley, “might force me and Maude to move out of the flat and into a house!”
“That’s an exciting step!” said Tracy.
Aziraphale sidled past his employees, making affirmative noises, and escaped as fast as he could into his room. He knew the “even teams” thing had been a joke, but it still hurt. Maybe he could follow Tracy’s lead and bring a new person every two weeks. If he had any other friends he thought might be interested in dinner and game night…
He immediately thought of Raven and shook his head. That was not happening. Raven had burned that bridge yesterday — after dousing it in kerosene, too. No, that was one friendship he was willing to drop. He’d had enough people in his life trying to control his “health,” and he certainly didn’t need a, a boyfriend who did that.
And despite what some in his past might advise, no, it was not worth being in a relationship with someone just to be in a relationship. He was not going to put up with Raven’s controlling behavior just to “make the teams even.”
He blinked, and realized he’d been clutching his sketchbook to his chest.
Oh, blast. He needed to start setting up for Crowley’s session. And drink some tea. And scrounge up some toast.
It was going to be a long day.
He had just finished setting out his ink caps when there was a brisk knock just outside his room. “Come in,” he called.
Crowley stuck his head into the doorway. “Morning, angel.” And then the rest of his body followed, revealing that he was carrying a cup carrier with two cups. “Brought you some tea this time.”
Aziraphale felt numb. And also like his brain had been replaced with crumpled paper. “Oh.”
“Wasn’t sure what you wanted. Went with English Breakfast? That alright?” He tilted his head. “Are you alright?”
Oh. “Oh. Yes. Tickety boo. Thank you.”
“S’alright,” he said, but with a careful quality about it.
Crowley picked up one of the cups and held it out to him. For one crazy moment, Aziraphale wanted to refuse to separate the two drinks. But he was being ridiculous. They were only cups. Tracy was just getting inside his head with that “even teams” nonsense.
He reached out numb fingers, which brushed Crowley’s as he took the tea. The cup was hot, near burning through the cardboard covering, but the contact with Crowley’s skin sent electric shocks up his arms. It lingered longer than he usually felt with shocks from static electricity, and felt far stranger.
“Sorry,” he muttered, transferring the cup and shaking the affected hand. “This was very thoughtful of you, my dear, thank you.”
“Nah,” Crowley shrugged it off. “I was already there for my coffee. And I, uh, picked some up for Lesley and Tracy as well. No big deal.”
“Well. Still. It was awfully kind,” Aziraphale insisted.
His chest felt tight like it had last night. When he’d been sitting at the dinner table with three other couples and there was one remaining chair sat next to him, empty.
He blinked away the prickles behind his eyes. “Ah. I’m, uh, ready when you are.” He patted the tattoo chair with his free hand.
Crowley swayed, then seemed to do a double-take. “Right. Yeah. I’ll just.”
He took a long chug of his coffee while Aziraphale washed his hands. By the time Aziraphale had snapped on his nitrile gloves, Crowley was straddling the chair.
His client waited until he was seated on the wheelie stool before pulling his shirt up, revealing the in-progress tattoo. It was a mess of lines, but Aziraphale could easily follow the sharp black of the snake coiled amongst the leaves, apple, and faded black lettering. It only waited for Aziraphale to bring it to life.
“This healed well,” he informed Crowley as he shaved the area.
When Crowley didn’t respond, he wondered if he’d been heard, or if he’d spoken aloud at all. But then, ever so softly, Crowley said, “Aziraphale?”
His breath caught in his throat. His eyes burned, and he was grateful that Crowley couldn’t see him. He tried to clear his throat as subtly as possible so that he could answer. “Yes?”
“Are you okay?”
It was a simple question. A simple question that he could simply answer with a simple lie. All he had to do was say ‘yes,’ and then they could get on with the session, and he could lose himself in tattooing and not have to think about empty chairs sat next to him and empty flats he couldn’t sleep in and he could do what he does best and give someone, give Crowley a lovely tattoo to match his lovely eyes and maybe then he wouldn’t feel so empty inside and —
Warm hands covered his own, and he startled. His vision was blurry and he blinked and blinked until he could see. And what he saw was that Crowley had somehow turned around in the seat. He was hunched over so he could hold Aziraphale’s hands, and even though he still wore his sunglasses, it was obvious his client was watching him intently.
“Angel,” he said, and it was the gentlest Aziraphale had ever heard him. “I’m canceling.”
He couldn’t process those words. “…what?”
“We’re not having a session today,” Crowley explained. “I’m canceling. Do you have any other customers today?”
Aziraphale hesitated, then shook his head.
“Good. Come on. We’re getting out of here.”
And then his warm hands were gone from Aziraphale’s, and the tattoo chair was empty.
“Oi, Tracy!” he heard from the hallway. “I’m stealing your boss.”
Aziraphale hurriedly swiped at his cheeks. They were dry, but hot, and he was sure his eyes were red. He didn’t really want to go anywhere…but he also didn’t want to sit around and wait for Tracy and Lesley to descend with well-meaning coos and camaraderie.
He started to clean up, and when Crowley returned he helped out silently and efficiently. It was only a matter of minutes before everything was taken care of.
Crowley brushed down his shirt and grabbed his leather jacket. “It’s still a little chilly outside. Do you have a coat?”
“Er. Upstairs. In my flat.” He pointed up as if Crowley might not know where upstairs was. “What…where are we going, exactly?”
He shrugged. “Just. Out. Unless you have somewhere in mind?”
“No. No, that’s fine. I’ll. Um. Be just a minute.”
“Take your time. I’ll be up front.” He jerked a thumb towards the front of the shop.
Seems Aziraphale wasn’t the only one pointing in obvious directions.
They split up. Aziraphale rushed past the next room, where Lesley had already begun tattooing his morning appointment, and made it to the back stairs that led up to his flat.
He couldn’t shake the sense that he was playing hooky. He was meant to be working, after all, not skiving off with his client. But despite all the other emotions inside him begging for attention, he felt an odd thrill at Crowley’s idea. Of getting out. Of getting away.
After grabbing his vintage cream coat, he joined Crowley at the front desk where Tracy was checking in an elderly gentleman as a walk-in.
“Now, Mr. Scroggie,” she was saying, “do you want anything in the crystal ball? Or around it, perhaps?”
“No, just the phrase, ‘Johnny I never knew ye.’”
“You know,” chimed in Crowley, “I still don’t understand how you know his name is Johnny. You never knew him, after all.”
“Well that’s the point, innit?” asked Mr. Scroggie. “I never knew him.”
“Hush, you,” Tracy told Crowley. To her new client, she said, “Let me pull up some sample crystal balls and fonts and we’ll see what calls to you.”
“We should head out,” Aziraphale told his own client.
“Sure thing, angel.”
“Have fun, duckies!” Tracy called to their retreating backs without looking away from the computer where she was looking up references.
“I never knew anyone named Johnny,” they heard Mr. Scroggie say as they exited the shop. “Or John.”
As soon as the door closed behind him, Aziraphale stopped and took a long, shuddering breath. The pressure in his chest had lessened, rather like if he had a full bookshelf weighing him down and someone had removed a row of tomes.
And there was no telling what would take their place.
Crowley stood two steps away from him, staying close by but giving him space at the same time. Aziraphale didn’t realize how much he needed that thoughtful balance until it was offered.
Noticing the hand held to his heart, Aziraphale lowered it self-consciously. “Ah. Yes. Fine. Shall we?”
They began to stroll down the pavement. Or rather, Aziraphale strolled. Crowley more sauntered, with his hips swaying side to side. He’d stuffed his hands in his pockets, the posture striking a strange cross between relaxed and defensive.
And Aziraphale had no idea what he was supposed to do now.
“Isn’t there a park nearby?” asked Crowley. “St James’s?”
“Yes, just a few minutes’ walk.”
“Excellent. We can start the day by feeding some ducks.”
“You don’t like it?”
“No, I didn’t say that,” Aziraphale protested quickly. “I’m just…surprised. Is all.”
“Because we can do something else!” said Crowley. “Thought feeding ducks would be relaxing. Mindless. But it’s only a suggestion.”
Warmth bloomed in Aziraphale’s chest. Crowley’s kindness was shy and insecure, but he was trying to comfort Aziraphale and that meant the world.
“It’s a lovely idea,” he told Crowley. “We’ll just need to pick up some oats on the way.”
He was rewarded with a quiet smile that made him flush for some reason. Confused, he straightened his bow tie and dove into another topic of conversation.
They talked for hours. Crowley was so easy to talk to, and they never ran out of conversation. They talked all the way to the park, and throughout the entire time feeding the ducks. When they ran out of oats, they simply strolled through the park.
Crowley never once pressed Aziraphale for why he was upset earlier, as Tracy and Lesley would have done. But not in a dismissive way. He got the sense that Crowley was willing to let Aziraphale dictate terms. If he wanted to share, he could do so in his own time. If he didn’t, that was perfectly acceptable.
And that was wonderfully freeing.
“Here you are, angel.” Crowley offered him a red ice lolly.
“Oh. Thank you,” he said, accepting the ice cream with another brush of fingers that triggered another round of electric sparks. What was wrong with him today?
Crowley joined him on the bench with his own ice cream, vanilla with chocolate flake, and settled into a proper sprawl. The pose looked far more comfortable on a bench than on a wheelie stool.
Between the nice weather and the hours of walking, Aziraphale had warmed up enough that he’d been able to shuck his coat and roll up his sleeves again. He tilted his face toward the warmth of the sun. He could not have imagined this morning that his day would turn out like this.
“I think we’ve hit every food option in the park now,” said Crowley.
Aziraphale hummed in agreement. “And all of the snacks were scrumptious. Though perhaps we should find a full meal for dinner tonight.”
He froze. Could feel the blood draining from his face. “That’s not. I mean. Only if you want to, of course, I certainly don’t expect you to…you’ve already been tremendously generous with your time, and —”
Crowley held up a hand, stopping Aziraphale’s ramble in its tracks. “Full dinner it is! Honestly, I’m offended you think this is a chore for me, angel.”
Words which would have stung if he hadn’t lowered his sunglasses and looked over them like he had yesterday. Aziraphale felt his breath hitch as if from far away. Those amber snake eyes he had been drawing for weeks were before him again, entrancing him and pinning him to the bench like prey. At the same time, he was flooded with warmth down to every finger and toe, and his chest ached with…something.
The sunglasses slid back into place, breaking the connection. Aziraphale sucked in an unsteady breath. How could Crowley dislike his eyes? They were absolutely mesmerizing.
And then he registered what Crowley had said. “Not…not a ‘chore,’ exactly. But you can hardly wish to spend your whole day with me. I’m merely your tattoo artist.” His mouth twisted at that, like a curdled smile, and he thumbed the hem of his velvet waistcoat.
“Nyeah,” came the drawl from his left. “I mean. We’re friends, aren’t we?”
Stunned, Aziraphale raised his head. Crowley was looking off toward the duck pond, nonchalance incarnate. But Aziraphale fancied that he had gotten better at reading Crowley without being able to see his eyes, and he noted the tension in the corner of his mouth, and in the angle of his arm propped on the back of the bench. That casual question had cost him.
But he was so glad Crowley had taken that chance.
“Yes,” he confirmed. “Yes, my dear, we are friends.”
The tension eased from Crowley’s arm, as he finally relaxed, and the corner of his mouth began to curl. “Your ice cream’s melting, angel.”
Crowley’s suggestion for the afternoon was the Camden Market, which Aziraphale readily agreed to. The market was far enough to discourage walking, but it turned out that Crowley’s vintage car had broken down the day before. He apologized, which Aziraphale waved aside, and they took a bus.
It was easy to lose themselves in the market. Aziraphale pored over every book stall, of course, while Crowley’s eye was caught by an antique star chart and bottle of scotch. When they needed a break, they smoothly transitioned into people watching until they were ready to move on.
It was possibly the best holiday Aziraphale had had in a long, long time.
Crowley deferred to Aziraphale for dinner, and he chose a sushi place close to his shop. They dragged the meal out for as long as they reasonably could, but in the end were forced to leave. Crowley offered to walk Aziraphale back to his shop, and he readily accepted.
He wasn’t ready for his lovely day to end. The only move left was to invite Crowley up to his flat. That…that was a thing friends did, wasn’t it? That was fine.
But he didn’t want to ask Crowley up and have Crowley accept out of some obligation. Not when he’d already monopolized Crowley’s entire day.
But the thought of returning to that empty flat and having a repeat of last night was unbearable.
They slowed to a stop outside the door. The trite phrase “well, this is me” caught in Aziraphale’s throat.
Crowley swayed in place. “Well. This is you.”
A small huff of a laugh was dragged out of Aziraphale. He didn’t want to say goodbye. Not yet.
He wrung his hands, then ran a thumb along his right wrist tattoo, a quote from Oscar Wilde. I can resist everything but temptation.
Emboldened, he met Crowley’s gaze through the sunglasses. “Would you like to come up for a cup of tea, my dear?”
The relief in Crowley’s answering smile echoed Aziraphale’s to his core. “Thought you’d never ask.”
Aziraphale led him through the dark tattoo shop. When he’d left earlier, he hadn’t expected to be out for the entire day. Tracy and Lesley were going to have questions. And he wasn’t sure he’d have any satisfactory answers.
As they climbed the steps to his flat, he realized that he hadn’t hosted a visitor in over five years. His nerves started buzzing beneath his skin. His space was always cluttered. He hoped Crowley didn’t find it off-putting.
If anything, Crowley seemed…intrigued? Charmed? He looked around with interest at the books crammed into shelves and towering over every flat surface. Aziraphale hurriedly freed up space on his couch, dumping all of its contents on top of and next to his desk.
“Sorry about the mess,” he made sure to say as he ferried stacks of paper.
Crowley flapped a hand at him in dismissal. “Listen, angel. I know you said tea, but first I was thinking…night cap?” He raised the bag with his new bottle of scotch.
“Oh, I couldn’t,” Aziraphale said before he could truly consider the offer. “You bought that for yourself, I couldn’t ask you to share it.”
“Good thing you didn’t ask then,” Crowley replied with a smirk, still holding the bag up. “Come on, you don’t think I bought this to drink alone, do you?” He made the bag sway like a watch in a hypnosis act. “Always meant to share it with a friend.”
Friend. Aziraphale’s smile was slow and wide. “In that case, take a seat, and I’ll fetch some glasses.”
Aziraphale wasn’t much of a scotch drinker, but he did indulge on occasion. He found he was able to keep up with Crowley, glass for glass. After one glass, he no longer noticed the burn against his throat. After two, he moved from his armchair to the couch to show Crowley some of the drawings in his current notebook — not the one with the snake eyes, whose inspiration was still covered by sunglasses, but his professional one.
And after three glasses, he was floating on a warm cloud high above the worries and anxieties of the past twenty-four hours. He rolled his head to the side to watch Crowley as he lay sprawled on his left, head thrown back against the back of the couch. With the sunglasses on, Aziraphale had no way to know if his eyes were open or closed. His chest rose and fell in the steady rhythm of sleep. It was like watching ocean waves.
“Your couch is much more comfortable than mine,” Crowley drawled. “Mine s’like a panel of cardboard, but…sturdier. Bu’ this? Could sleep a hundred years on this.”
Aziraphale’s eyes prickled. “I love Tracy,” he said.
Crowley’s chest froze mid-rise. When his breathing began again, it had picked up the pace. Crowley rolled his head as well so that they were watching each other. “You do?”
He nodded a fraction. “I love her. And Lesley. And Maude. I love them all. They’re my friends. But I don’t want to live like this anymore. I can’t.”
Hot tears streaked down his cheeks before he realized that his vision had gone blurry. He felt pressure on his left hand and guessed Crowley had taken it.
“Aziraphale.” His voice was soft and low. “Would a hug help?”
Without conscious thought, Aziraphale pitched toward that voice. His face landed on a thin chest and an arm instantly wrapped around him. It was awkward and uncomfortable, but Aziraphale burrowed further into Crowley’s embrace, wrapping his own arms around his friend’s waist.
And he cried.
He cried out every lonely feeling that had built up in him over the past thirty, nearly forty years. Every time his friends paired off and left him on his own. Every time he went to a function alone. Every time he only learned he’d been on a date after it had happened and the man had lost interest. Every time he returned to an empty flat with its empty chairs and empty bed. Every time he read a romance and was jealous of fictional characters.
Every time he’d lied about having a crush or being attracted to someone, when it was something he simply never experienced.
Every time he thought he was broken.
Slowly, piece by piece, he came back to himself. The cold on his cheek from the wet patch he’d cried onto Crowley’s shirt. The strange angle his spine was bent at to hug Crowley. The soothing motion of Crowley’s hand sweeping up and down his back. The pressure of Crowley’s chin on his shoulder.
He sucked in one last shuddering breath, and something about it must have cued Crowley.
Before spitting out a rote “I’m fine,” Aziraphale took inventory. His limbs were heavy, whether from the crying or the alcohol he couldn’t say. But emotionally he felt drained — and lighter than he had all day. As if someone had removed every book from that bookshelf sitting on his chest.
“Better,” he agreed.
Crowley’s hand never stopped running over his back. Aziraphale hated to give that up, but his posture was becoming more uncomfortable by the second. With a sigh, he leaned back, and Crowley let him go.
“Thank you, my dear. I—I think I needed that.”
Crowley hesitated. “Do you want some tea?”
He nodded, and started to stand, but Crowley leapt to his feet with a “no, no, angel, I can get it.”
“Don’t be silly. You’ve never even been in my kitchen.”
“How hard can it be to find the tea?”
Not that hard, but Aziraphale still insisted, and they ended up in the small kitchen together. Or rather, Aziraphale was in the kitchen, and Crowley leaned against the door jamb.
As he went through the ritual of preparing the agreed-upon chamomile tea, Aziraphale found words were slipping from his mouth faster than he could curate them.
“Lesley and his wife Maude host a dinner and game night every second Friday. It used to be just the four of us, a cozy affair. Then Tracy began bringing a new date every time, which was fine. And a young man named Newt moved in next door to Lesley and Maude. They began inviting him as well, and still it was fine.
“Then Tracy seemed to have settled on Sgt. Shadwell, because she’s brought him to our dinners for the last six months. You remember, the man who keeps getting tattoos from her? As I said before, it’s the strangest courtship I’ve ever seen, but it works for them.
“And still it was fine. Because I could team up with Newt and I always had someone to talk to when the couples paired off.
“But now Newt has someone of his own. And when all the couples pair off, I tend to get pushed to the side with no one to talk to. And it hurts more than I expected.”
The kettle whistled, and he turned off the heat. He focused on pouring tea and refused to look for Crowley’s reaction.
“Last month I brought a book along. Nobody even noticed I was reading for a full forty minutes.”
He handed Crowley his cup, still refusing to meet his sunglass-covered gaze.
“Last night I forgot my book.” He cracked a weak smile. “There’s only so many times I can try to enter a conversation before it’s less painful to give up. I’m afraid the whole situation finally got to me.”
He held his mug up to his face, welcoming the heat of the steam. When he heard Crowley sip his tea, he took the chance to glance up. Crowley’s long, black-painted fingers tapped silently against the tartan ceramic, and his thin lips had almost disappeared into a grim line.
Panic attempted to flurry in his stomach at everything he had just shared, but like him the butterflies were too exhausted. He felt a faint half-flutter, and then nothing.
Crowley cleared his throat. “Did you ever bring anyone to those dinners? Like Tracy?”
“Ah.” Aziraphale slumped against the refrigerator. “I, ah, never had anyone I wanted to bring.”
He felt a gentle touch on his arm and startled. Crowley tilted his head. “Let’s go back to the couch. I’m too knackered to stand around for long.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry!” Aziraphale blurted out. “It’s been such a long day and I’ve kept you later than I had any right to —”
Crowley’s hand squeezed his arm and he cut himself off, embarrassed. “Wasn’t complaining, angel. Just thought it’d be nicer to sit.”
He nodded mutely and Crowley withdrew his hand. They shuffled back to the couch and sank into the cushions. Aziraphale had to admit, this was nicer. They had done more walking today than he was used to, and he supposed he would feel it tomorrow.
Crowley ran a hand through his hair, mussing it up. “Have you told Tracy and Lesley and the others how you feel?”
“No,” he admitted sadly. “They’re not acting maliciously.”
“Doesn’t have to be malicious to hurt. They seem like good people. I think they’d want to know if you’re unhappy. Then they could try to fix it.”
“I…I know. But this isn’t — this isn’t about the dinners, it’s not, the dinners are just a…a symptom. Exhibit A of an entire hall.”
Crowley frowned. “A symptom of what?”
Aziraphale suddenly wanted out of this conversation. He wasn’t prepared for it. So he lied. “I…I don’t know.”
His friend gave a long sigh. “I wish I had a magic solution to make everything right for you, Aziraphale, I really do.”
The sincerity rang in Aziraphale’s heart. “Thank you, my dear.”
“You know I’ll be here if you need anything, right? Well, not here here, obviously. But as your friend?”
He felt an overwhelming surge of gratitude. “I’m glad you came to me for your tattoo,” he said with true feeling.
Crowley’s mouth crooked into a smile of agreement. “Any time, angel.”
They finished their tea with quiet conversation, and agreed to a final pot. By the time Aziraphale returned with the refreshed mugs, Crowley had sunk into the length of the couch — and slumber. On anyone else, the half-open mouth pressed into the cushion would have been a simple observation; but for some reason, on Crowley it was endearing.
He set the tea down, then carefully removed the sunglasses from his friend’s face as he had all those weeks ago. This time he felt a slight pang at the sight of those closed eyelids, hiding such beautiful creations. At the thought that Crowley would disagree with that sentiment.
A tuft of Crowley’s red hair flopped over his forehead. Urged on by some unknown force, Aziraphale reached out a hesitant hand and brushed it aside. His fingers grazed warm skin. He wanted nothing more than to stay in this moment, in this soft touch that had nothing to do with tattooing.
Crowley shifted and Aziraphale yanked his hand away guiltily. But the lovely eyes remained hidden, and their owner remained asleep.
Aziraphale’s fingers ached to touch him again, but if Crowley awoke he had no idea how to explain himself. So he forced himself to stand (unsteadily), to move away from the couch (in stilted movements), and to dig out a wool tartan blanket that snagged at the callouses on his fingers.
He draped the blanket over his…friend, and tucked him in without any further stirrings. He slid a thin pillow under his head, and Crowley leaned into the touch. Aziraphale’s heart fluttered against his ribs, and he allowed himself a few strokes of that red hair before once again pulling away.
“Thank you for today, Crowley,” he said softly. “It. Um. Made me feel less lonely.”
He expected another restless night, but for some reason the image of Crowley sprawled beneath his tartan blanket brought him a measure of comfort that overwhelmed his anxieties and lulled him into a deep, dreamless sleep.