A Softer Fall
Aziraphale is well aware that he, unlike other angels, has shortcomings. He supposes it comes from working around humans, from being in human form, for so many thousands of years, and he is more or less at peace with that. He knows full well that he can be a little gullible, or lacking in forethought, and heaven knows he can be stubborn, especially in the book-selling department or, indeed, the agreeing-to-Crowley’s-incredibly-stupid-and-risky-plan-to-avert-Armageddon department. And he knows he can, on occasion, be just a little bit oblivious.
Deep down, you really are quite a nice... He thought he’d been paying Crowley a compliment, he really did. Well, he’d possibly been anticipating a small rise: an eye-roll, or perhaps a snarl if Crowley was feeling particularly touchy. Aziraphale most definitely had not expected to be grabbed by the lapels and thrust against the nearest wall.
And, well, he finds it terribly hard to think with Crowley standing so close to him. No, no, Crowley has always stood too close to him, which is to say at all (as on the walls of Eden), but also like a person who cannot admit that he craves touch, hovering at the edge of the circle of air warmed by Aziraphale’s body, regularly a hair’s breadth from actual contact. No, this isn’t common or garden standing too close, this is pinning him to a wall with his entire body standing too close, and Aziraphale is drunk, startled, wordless on sensation. Their noses brush. It doesn’t once occur to him to be afraid.
But despite everything else, Aziraphale is very bright, and now, defenses and deflections fallen away in sheer surprise, he turns his incisive intellect to the matter before him for what may very well be the first time. He actively tries not to examine, well, Crowley too closely on any given day, because quite frankly that way trouble lies, but Crowley has never laid hands on him before, and he’s so close their noses are touching.
The empty corridor rings faintly with the echo of Crowley’s anger, but he seems to have run his course, nice is a four-letter word, taking short, sharp little breaths that almost seem to hurt him. No one is coming; it's just them, as it always is. Aziraphale looks at him. Can’t take his eyes away, in fact. Crowley is so close that Aziraphale can barely make him out, and his body is warm and taut and distracting. Something in the vicinity of Aziraphale's chest stutters. But then Crowley leans back, just an inch, and their noses are no longer touching. Aziraphale hasn't quite finished his study yet, though, and so he places his hands on Crowley's, trying to gentle them but holding them firmly in place all the same. He thinks that if he doesn’t, Crowley will simply retreat, and he realises he's seen Crowley do that before now and again -- reel something bigger than he is back within the confines of his being. He also realises he's staring at Crowley's mouth, almost hypnotized. Thought doesn't grind to a halt this time, though. The machine is moving and has too much inertia to stop. There's an answer here somewhere, he can sense, bigger than the one he set out to find. Slowly, so as not to startle him, Aziraphale reaches up and draws Crowley's sunglasses away from his face.
His eyes are… Suddenly Aziraphale understands something about why Crowley wears them so incessantly, even around him.
He still remembers the screams of the rebel angels as they fell from heaven. He thinks some part of a demon never stops screaming. It’s part of the punishment; part of what makes them what they are. Crowley always seemed different somehow, but oh, Lord, oh, Crowley, it’s there in his eyes, a terror and a misery so bottomless Aziraphale isn’t sure it could ever be soothed.
Because, he is suddenly sure, the last time Crowley did something that genuinely defied his nature, he was punished so severely, so irreparably, that even now, after all this time, he's still reeling from it. Still screaming. And at just the wrong moment, on just the wrong day, Aziraphale had suggested that he was doing it again. I'm a demon, I’m not nice.
"I'm sorry," he says, and he means it in so many ways, not least how very inadequate it feels. God loves you as you are , he wants to add. He’s sure this must be true. She loves all creatures, great and small, no matter how wretched, and so it must surely extend to demons, too. (How someone can both love and punish so harshly, so permanently, at the same time is a difficult, squirming thought that he leaves largely unexamined for now, unready.) So, God loves you as you are, he wants to say, except that if he says it out loud, he knows it isn’t those words that will come out, not with Crowley standing so close, not with his body vibrating with this slinking anguish that hides, shivering, behind the distraction of rage. Aziraphale can feel the shape of the I in his mouth; I love you, I love you as you are, and he isn’t ready for that either.
“Crowley,” he says instead, murmurs. Begs, really. For what, he hardly knows, except for the pain to ease, for catharsis to this thrumming physicality that's sprung up between them.
Crowley's eyes widen, and a moment of recognition passes between them, the kind of perfect understanding only an angel can offer, and Crowley, who always just wants to be seen, can't seem to stand the scrutiny now it's on him.
"Don't," he chokes. "Don't do that."
So of course Aziraphale does it harder, standing quiet and calm between the demon and the wall, looking at him with all the acceptance he can muster in his heart. It’s quite a lot.
Crowley makes a tiny, ragged sound, and Aziraphale aches for him. Then, a change in the world: minute, perhaps, on the grand scale of things, but no less devastating. Crowley falls; falls forward, falls into Aziraphale, mouth falling like feathers against Aziraphale’s mouth. And Aziraphale, well, he catches him .
A kiss, he thinks. Crowley is kissing him, or he’s kissing Crowley, and somehow it isn’t shocking at all.
Shockingly sweet, though. The violence has left Crowley's body (it never does stay long) and now he is all melting heat and desperate tenderness, and Aziraphale feels almost in pain with it, an ecstatic sort of torture. Because this is wrong, it has to be. If it isn't, then he wouldn't have been hiding from it for decades. Eons. He wants it so very, very badly.
"Aziraphale," Crowley says softly, hands on his face. "Angel, I--"
But just as Aziraphale feels, in a rush of emotion, that he might finally be able to catch up to Crowley, a woman coughs pointedly, not five feet away.
"What?" Crowley snarls at her, angry for a far more mundane reason now, but the moment spools away from them nonetheless.
Aziraphale can only hope there'll be time to finish this later.
Later comes soon enough. A miraculous dinner at the Ritz, enough alcohol to smooth the way, and it strikes Aziraphale as they step out into the evening that what they are now, is free.
It's raining; of course. Aziraphale miracles up an umbrella, striking white against the grey sky, and large enough for two. Smiling a little, Crowley steps beneath it, tucked close to Aziraphale's side, and they walk in comfortable silence the short distance to Green Park.
“You know,” Crowley says as they begin to stroll unhurriedly down a quiet pathway, well sheltered by the umbrella’s canopy. “That thing, in Tadfield Manor, I was never really certain if you wanted me to apologise.”
“A demon, apologising?” Aziraphale asks tartly, before conceding, “Well, I suppose it wouldn’t be the first time.”
“Never was one to conform,” Crowley says. His tone is light but there’s a tension in his limbs.
“It’s something I’ve always liked about you,” Aziraphale admits. He comes to a stop, and Crowley turns to face him.
“Well.” Crowley pulls a face, but Aziraphale can tell that he’s pleased. “Feeling’s mutual.”
There’s much more that could be said in this moment, and Aziraphale would like to say it eventually. Soon, in fact. But right now, what makes the most sense is to reach up with his free hand to touch Crowley's face, and draw him down for a kiss.
"I do love you, my dear,” he says as they part. Crowley twitches, a jerky movement in which Aziraphale can see both the desire to back off and the need to come closer. Then he lifts his sunglasses off, stuffing them into a pocket without looking away.
"Well, that's a relief," he finally says, voice sounding terribly brittle. "Because I was planning on staying with you for a while. You know, for a little bit of… forever?"
A flustered laugh bursts out of Aziraphale.
"I'm serious," Crowley says. "I'll sleep on the couch if that's what you need, but angel, don't think for a second that you can get rid of me now."
"If you have any doubt," Aziraphale tells him, "then I'm afraid you haven't understood me. I love you, Crowley. Of course I want you near."
Aziraphale looks into his eyes, glowing in the dim light, and watches as understanding dares to dawn.
"Oh," Crowley says. He takes Aziraphale's arm, dazed and clearly aiming for nonchalant, and they continue their walk down the path. Three steps later, he stops again and slides himself wordlessly around Aziraphale, who strokes his back and makes soothing noises while he clings. The rain patters softly against the umbrella over their heads, just as it once did on Aziraphale's wing. How remarkable, the long slow fall towards one other. Aziraphale is uncertain about so many things these days, but he knows, without even the faintest doubt, that he will never not catch Crowley.