Day 1 – 3:15 a.m. PST
Crowley rolled over with a soft groan, refusing to open his eyes on the principle of he was sleeping, damn it. One hand pushed his hair out of his face as the other reached for his phone, which was ringing shrilly on the pristine table next to the pristine bed he’d been sleeping in. He knew who was calling without having to look, and so notwithstanding his exhaustion, he picked up the phone.
“Angel,” he said, the word escaping him like a sigh of relief.
“Crowley,” the angel replied, his voice bright and chipper. Must have sealed the deal on a good first edition something, Crowley thought, smiling to himself as Aziraphale continued talking. “How is California, my dear?”
“Dunno, really," Crowley mumbled. "I think at the moment, most of California is asleep.”
"It's the middle of the night, angel."
Aziraphale snorted. "It's eleven in the morning."
Crowley snorted louder. "Yeah," he said patiently, "in London. It's three o'clock in Los Angeles."
"Oh. Hm." Aziraphale's wrinkled brow was audible in his voice. "I'd forgotten about that."
"Forgotten about time zones?"
"Yes, quite. Did I wake you?"
Crowley breathed out another soft laugh. "A bit, yeah."
"Terribly sorry, dear boy," Aziraphale said. "I'll let you get back to bed."
"Wait, Aziraphale." Crowley sat up just slightly, opened his eyes a crack. "Why'd you call me? Is everything okay?"
"Of course it is," the angel replied guiltily. "I just wanted to see how you were liking the West Coast."
"Plane got in, went straight to the hotel, been asleep since. It's exactly the wild California romp the movies told you about."
"I really am sorry to have woken you," Aziraphale repeated. "I wish I had something important to say."
Crowley yawned, attempting to suppress the sound so as not to make Aziraphale feel worse. "You'll think of something," he said absently. "In the meantime, learn how to send a text, please."
"Alright," said Aziraphale, rolling his eyes loudly, and Crowley knew he would not be texting anytime soon. "Good night, Crowley."
Day 4 – 9:43 p.m. PST
Aziraphale perked up his head, pulled out of the depths of his book by the gentle sound of his personalized ringtone for Crowley. Crowley had gifted him the phone with the ringtone pre-installed, and Aziraphale did not know how to change it, but he liked the song, so it wasn’t too bad. It made him smile every time Crowley called, and he had a sneaking suspicion that that had been the demon’s intent.
Putting aside his reading, he answered the phone with a friendly “Hello.”
"This is a nightmare," Crowley said by way of greeting. "Literally a nightmare, Aziraphale. He's a menace."
Adjusting quickly to Crowley’s moods was one of many talents Aziraphale had picked up over six thousand years. He shook his head softly. “I know,” he said sympathetically, his mind conjuring up images of Warlock setting things on fire. "But isn't that good, for you?"
"No," Crowley hissed through gritted teeth. "No, it makes my days much more difficult, and much more numbered."
Aziraphale sighed. "I'm sorry, my dear, I should have convinced you to stay."
Crowley sighed louder. "I should have convinced you to come."
"It doesn't make sense –"
"I know it doesn't make sense for the gardener to come on a family vacation,” Crowley snapped, obviously weary of this particular argument. “But I'm dying, angel."
"You're being dramatic,” Aziraphale soothed.
"I’m not being dramatic. I’m never dramatic,” Crowley replied. “The boy never stops running and asking questions and demanding things. There’s not a locked door or a childproofed anything in this world that he can’t get past."
"Well, you're being paid to watch him, are you not?"
Crowley groaned, exhausted. "I don't need money, Aziraphale, I need a break. Why didn’t you tell me that nannying was such hard work?”
“I’m sorry,” Aziraphale said, unable to keep the amusement out of his voice. “I didn’t think I had to tell you that raising the antichrist wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. I was under the impression you’d factored that into your grand scheme to save the world.”
“Angel,” Crowley whined petulantly, an almost pleading tone that made Aziraphale’s stomach twist in a way that was not altogether unpleasant.
Aziraphale swallowed that feeling down. Now was not the time, he told himself, and then he caught that thought halfway through in order to remind himself that it was never the time. Now was not the time, and here was not the place, and Crowley was not the person. Except he was, of course, always. The angel shook his head to clear it and took a deep breath.
“Yes, alright,” he said, “what do you want me to do about it?”
“I don’t know,” Crowley sighed. “Just think it would be easier if we weren’t five thousand miles apart.”
“It’s only a few weeks, Crowley. Try to relax.”
“Okay.” Crowley nodded his head, entirely for his own benefit, and leaned back, closing his eyes. “Tell me about your day, angel,” he said.
Aziraphale told him about the customers he’d kicked out of the bookshop, about the human kindness he’d encouraged, about the new translation of Sophokles he’d started. He didn’t tell Crowley about all the time he spent missing him. It would be counter-productive, he thought, to bring Crowley’s mind back to that issue when he was meant to be distracting him from it, so he left that part out.
Though the angel’s voice was pleasantly soothing, and Crowley was exhausted, he had the courtesy not to nod off in the middle of Aziraphale’s story. When Aziraphale had nearly finished his retelling of the day, Crowley was on the edge of sleep.
“I sealed a few letters to be sent off tomorrow,” Aziraphale said after he finished describing the bird he’d seen on his windowsill, “inquiring about some Voltaire first editions, I thought you’d like that.”
“I do like Voltaire,” Crowley mumbled drowsily, smiling to himself.
“I know you do,” Aziraphale replied. “Anyway, I think that’s all, the rest has just been regular old bookshop work. Boring, you don’t want to hear about it.”
Crowley sniffed, then sighed. “Courssse I do,” he said.
“Then I’ll tell you about it tomorrow,” the angel promised earnestly, “and you can tell me about your day, hm? Now, get some rest.”
Crowley grunted some form of affirmation, which was good enough for Aziraphale, and then he was asleep before the angel had ended the call. He slept like a log that night, the most restful sleep he’d had in months, and he couldn’t help wondering if Aziraphale had miracled him through the phone to make it happen.
Day 9 – 10:57 a.m. PST
Crowley had almost decided to leave his phone back at the hotel, in a characteristic fit of bubbliness wherein he declared to himself that he was going to enjoy living in the moment. Once he'd been at the beach for a few minutes, though, he found himself glad he'd brought it after all; he was certainly fond of the moments of peace, but each moment was not so different from the last, and he bored easily.
It was one of his few proper days off on the trip – the Dowlings had deigned to take Warlock to Disneyland themselves, rather than delegating the task to Crowley and a small number of Secret Service – and this beach was the quietest he could find on short notice. He figured there were few things in California to catch his interest that he couldn't easily find in England, but the sunshine was one of those things.
He felt the vibration of his phone and answered the call before it rang. "Hello, angel."
"Oh – hello, Crowley," Aziraphale replied, surprise coloring his tone. They’d been speaking every day since Crowley left, for a few minutes at least, and he had never picked up so fast.
Crowley smiled, a proper glowing smile of the sort that Aziraphale would have loved to have seen. "How's things?"
"Good," the angel said cautiously, "things are good. Are you alright?"
"Course I'm alright," Crowley answered quickly. "Why wouldn't I be?"
Aziraphale decided to skip over the great many reasons why Crowley might not be alright, figuring it was more or less a rhetorical question – he'd never quite gotten the hang of those. "You sound… different," he ventured.
“You know what that is, angel?” Crowley didn’t pause for an answer, saving Aziraphale the trouble of figuring out whether or not it was rhetorical. “That’s the sound of my soul warming up.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“It’s my day off, angel. I’m basking.”
Unwrinkling his brow, Aziraphale breathed a small sigh at the knowledge that nothing was actually wrong with Crowley. Well, that he wasn't hurt or upset, at any rate. “I wasn’t aware demons got days off,” the angel said dryly.
Crowley hesitated for a long time before he replied. “Demons don’t,” he explained, “but nannies do.” He was already mentally figuring out how to twist his day of sunbathing into a report to convince Hell that he was doing demonic work.
“Right,” Aziraphale said, his voice low. “So you’re just…”
“Basking,” Crowley offered.
“Basking,” he repeated, “all day?”
Crowley let a twinkling laugh bubble up from his throat, leaving him breathless. “All day, angel,” he said airily, “isn’t it wonderful?”
“Sounds lovely, my dear. I'm glad you – I mean, it's good for you to calm down a bit." Aziraphale chewed on his lip gently. "I’ll let you get on with it, then.”
“Oh,” Crowley said, realizing suddenly how much he didn’t want Aziraphale to hang up. He tried to think of something to say to keep the angel on the line, but came up empty-handed. “Okay,” he said blankly, “alright, then.”
Aziraphale nodded, frowning at the shift in Crowley's tone. "Alright, then," he echoed. "Don't forget to, erm," he paused to think of what people do at the beach. "Wear sunblock?"
"I don't need it," Crowley replied with a barely-suppressed laugh.
"You all – all covered up, then?"
That got a proper laugh out of the demon. "Badness, no. Got a new swimsuit for the occasion, and it covers nothing, practically."
Clutching his phone with white knuckles, Aziraphale swallowed hard. "Nothing?"
"Nothing," Crowley repeated.
Aziraphale took a deep breath, collecting himself enough to respond coherently. "Tempting on your day off," he said brightly. "You can write that up, I expect."
There was a pause in which the only sound was Crowley's shallow breathing. It lasted long enough that Aziraphale was about to ask if he was okay, but then Crowley spoke, his tone low and rough. "You think I'm tempting?"
"No!" Aziraphale answered, too quickly, too loudly. "I – I mean, not no, just," he stammered through an attempt at backtracking. "I mean – I thought that was your goal."
"Oh, it is, angel," Crowley drawled, trying to sound smug rather than completely thrown. "But I wasn't aware it worked on you."
"It doesn't," the angel snapped, embarrassed. "I have to go."
Crowley shook his head fondly, using a great deal of self control to stop himself laughing again. "Bye, angel."
"Goodbye, Crowley," the angel choked out. "Don't get heat stroke."
When Aziraphale hung up the phone, Crowley dissolved into a fit of laughter that lasted at least ten minutes before he could return to his basking in the sun.
Day 15 – 1:44 p.m. PST
Crowley stood before a full-length mirror, adjusting his perfect hair and his perfect clothes in an effort to get his less-than-perfect mood under control. He generally considered himself above public restrooms, but this was a public restroom fancy enough to have an adjoining individual powder room, which was where he had run off to in order to prevent himself having a breakdown in front of the child.
Things had been going alright for most of lunch; Mr. Dowling had taken them to the most expensive restaurant on the West Coast, then immediately left the table for an important work call. Crowley considered this a plus, as being around the man almost always made his blood boil, but it also meant dealing with a lot of awkward questions from Warlock about where his dad had gone, and no help whatsoever from Harriet, who looked like she was about one martini away from filing for divorce right then and there.
Well. Crowley was used to all that, by now, but that didn’t mean he had to like it. And now he was hiding, properly hiding out in the restroom to avoid dealing with the fallout. It was pathetic, he knew, so he called up the only person who could snap him out of it.
The phone rang twice before Aziraphale picked up, greeting Crowley with a voice as smooth as butter spreading on hot toast. “How are you, my dear?”
“Awful,” the demon croaked. “Smite me, angel, I’m begging you.”
Aziraphale cleared his throat, marking his place in his book and setting it aside, settling in for a roller coaster ride of a conversation. “What’s happened now?”
“What’s happened? Sssome bloody Americans thought it would be a grand idea to bring an eight-year-old menace to Roy’s. Roy’s!”
“Alright,” the angel said calmly, “but what’s actually happened, Crowley?”
Crowley inhaled deeply through his mouth, exhaled slowly through his nose, the way he’d been told to do when he was on edge like this. “Dowling can’t be arsed to sit down for one meal with his son,” he began irritably, “and the boy doesn’t handle it very well. I don’t blame him, really, but for Hell’s sake, I wish I wasn’t the one doing damage control.”
“Tell me from the beginning, dear boy, and I’ll see what I can do,” Aziraphale soothed.
“Dowling left on a phone call right after we ordered our meals –”
“What did you get?”
“Spicy tuna roll,” Crowley answered. “Doesn’t matter.”
“How was it?”
Crowley could practically hear the sparkle in Aziraphale’s eye; the angel’s excitement over expensive food was unmatched, except by his love for books. But Crowley did not have time to indulge him in this moment. “I didn’t eat it,” he said, trying not to snap. “I was too busy trying to talk the boy down with lies. Your dad has his responsibilities, Warlock. He wants to be here with you, but sometimes things get in the way. You’ll understand when you’re older, Warlock. It makes me sick.
“And of course, he doesn’t believe a word of it. He cries and yells and throws a glass plate at his mother, and poor nanny has to magically make sure it misses her fucking head.” Crowley took another steadying breath, slumped down into a soft chair in the corner of the room that he wasn’t sure had been there before. “After that, he tried to run away,” he continued wearily. “Ran straight into the kitchen. I swear, it’s like he can sense the worst possible place to go, and he always goes there.”
Aziraphale winced sympathetically. “Oh, gosh,” he said, “how did you get him out of there?”
“I didn’t,” Crowley admitted. “Apparently, we’re on a first-name basis with the head chef, so she offered to let him sit on the counter and watch her prepare some lobster dish.”
“Well, wasn’t that kind?” The angel sounded smug, as if it were a personal victory, as if every act of human kindness was somehow his doing.
“Yeah,” Crowley agreed, his tone full of forced cheer, “it was real nice, until little Warlock realized that lobsters are animals.”
Aziraphale’s face fell. “Oh, dear.”
Despite being in crisis mode, Crowley couldn’t resist a laugh. “Yes, angel. Oh, dear. He started crying again, shouting some nonsense about the sanctity of life and insisting that we save Brother Lobster.”
“Oh, dear,” Aziraphale repeated guiltily. “Sorry. What did you do then?”
Rubbing his eyes, Crowley exhaled a deep sigh. “I left,” he said wretchedly.
“What do you mean, you left?”
“The boy’s surrounded by Secret Service,” Crowley whined defensively. “He’s perfectly safe, just not enjoying himself. I had to get out of there, angel, I felt a proper attack coming on.”
Aziraphale shook his head, pinching the bridge of his nose, pursing his lips. “How did you just walk away? You’re his nanny, nobody said anything?”
“Told them I had to attend the restroom,” Crowley replied with an audible shrug. “What were they gonna do, check?”
“You’re impossible,” Aziraphale muttered, fondness creeping in at the edges of his annoyed tone. “Go back out there and do your job, you old serpent.”
Crowley pouted for a moment, then remembered Aziraphale couldn’t see his face through the phone, so he accompanied the expression with a miserable whine. “Fine,” he huffed, reluctantly rising from his chair. He stood in front of the mirror again, smoothed out his skirt, squared his shoulders, reapplied his lipstick. “But I’m going to tell him lobsters don’t have souls.”
“If that’s what it takes,” said the angel, ignoring Crowley’s attempt to rile him up. “I trust you’ll figure out the right course of action.”
“My job is to figure out the wrong course of action,” Crowley pointed out.
“Well then,” Aziraphale murmured, smiling quietly to himself, “figure out both, and go from there.”
Crowley heard the smile in the angel’s voice and gave a soft smile of his own. “Alright,” he said, steeling himself to face the music, “I’m going in.”
“Thank you, angel.”
Day 18 – 12:36 a.m. PST
The shape of the dark hotel room came into focus as Crowley blinked groggily, pulled from his sleep by the sound of his phone once again. He answered it without hesitation, grumbling a quiet “Hullo?”
“Crowley,” came the breezy reply. “Crrrowleyyy.”
The angel sounded… odd. Crowley couldn’t put his finger on it through the fog of his half-asleep brain, but he could tell something was off; he straightened up in bed, wide awake. “Aziraphale? You okay?”
Aziraphale gave a low chuckle, a quiet snort. “Course I’m okay,” he reassured the demon. “M’just, just, you know. Miss you.”
Smiling, Crowley let his body relax from its tense position, sagging back into the soft bed in relief. “Angel, are you drunk?”
“Mhmm,” Aziraphale breathed contentedly. “An’ I miss you.”
“So you’ve said,” Crowley replied, his voice full of warmth. “Did you call me in the middle of the night just to tell me that?”
A beat of silence, then Aziraphale muttered, “The middle of the – oh, crumb. Not again.”
“Yes, angel, again,” Crowley snickered. “By the way, you’re piss drunk at, what, nine in the morning? Is that what you do when I’m gone?”
“Morning, evening, all that nonsense,” the angel mumbled, a bit irritably. “None of that matters when you don’t sleep. S’not as if there’s anyone to answer to, with you and the Dowlings gone.”
Crowley pondered this for a moment. “You eat, though,” he pointed out. “When do you have your meals, if you never know what time it is?”
His face turning hot, Aziraphale hedged with several thoughtful hums before speaking. “I don’t… I don’t really eat, when you’re not around.”
“But you love food,” Crowley objected incredulously.
“I do, but it’s not – not really fun, without you,” explained the angel. “Not as if I actually feel hunger. Just – I like food because I like us going places together and – and enjoying ourselves.”
Crowley swallowed hard and decided to change the subject. “So what do you do, when I’m not there?”
There was another long pause while Aziraphale first tried to remember through the haze of alcohol what he did to pass the time when he had his days suddenly free of Crowley and the antichrist and the garden, then considered how to answer the question without sounding pathetically boring, then downed a full glass of wine and decided not to answer it at all. “You should get back to sleep,” he said gently. “Need your rest, don’t you?”
“Not really, no,” Crowley replied, pointing out the obvious. His voice took on a teasing edge as he continued, “You woke me up, angel, make it worth my while.”
“I’d love to,” murmured the angel huskily, without thinking.
Shooting up straight in bed again, Crowley choked out a strained, “You what?”
Something clicked in Aziraphale’s mind, and he held back a curse word threatening on his tongue. Luckily, or perhaps unluckily, he found himself just in that sweet spot of intoxication where he was cognizant enough to recognize that he was doing something he absolutely shouldn’t do, but not quite enough to stop himself. “I would, you know,” he said, full of newfound confidence. “I’d – if you were here, I’d make it… very much worth your while.”
Crowley cleared his throat nervously, feeling like he’d been thrown from a helicopter into uncharted waters. He tried to maintain his composure as he spoke, but the words came out shaky and high-pitched. “How so?”
“Don’t know,” Aziraphale said, “because there’s lots of varial – valiab – unknowns, right? Can’t be sure what I’d do until – unless I know what you’re doing, too.”
“Angel,” Crowley murmured, and the word sent a shiver down Aziraphale’s spine, not just the pet name but the way Crowley said it, like it was the only word he knew. “Angel, you’re overthinking things.”
“Am I?” asked Aziraphale, who was sure he was not thinking this through nearly enough.
“Yeah, you are,” Crowley answered lightly, a hint of disguised desperation in his tone. “I can promise you, the only variable you need to consider is that right now, I’d let you do anything to me. Anything at all.”
Breathing heavily, Aziraphale groaned at the demon’s words. “I’d want – I’d want you all dressed up,” he said quietly – not shy, but modest. “In your pretty stockings, your hair all done up, everything. You know – you know how that gets to me?”
“I didn’t know,” Crowley said breathlessly. “You like it?”
“Oh, I do, I do,” the angel whispered fervently. “And I would… I’d get down under your skirt, and I’d put my mouth on you.”
Crowley was very thankful in that moment that he slept mostly in the nude. “Angel, angel,” he pleaded, “can I touch myself?”
“You don’t need my permission,” the angel replied, slightly baffled.
“Of course I do, Aziraphale," Crowley said exasperatedly. "I'll wait till you're off the phone, if you don't want me to right now."
Aziraphale’s breath hitched, his head swam, and he struggled to speak. “You can,” he said after a lengthy pause. “Yes, I want you to.”
“And you?” Crowley flicked his tongue out to wet his lips, reaching a hand down to awkwardly push his underwear down his hips. “Is that something you don’t do?”
“Touch myself?” Aziraphale asked nonchalantly. “No, that’s… not something I don’t do. It’s something I do on occasion, like – like right now.”
Crowley, who had been expecting a very different answer, muttered a soft “Shit,” accompanied by a guttural moan as his fingers found their mark. “Tell me more,” he panted, his eyes fluttering closed. “What would you do, if I were there? What would you want?”
“Want everything,” said the angel. “Want to touch you everywhere.”
“You can have it, all of it, all of me, please.”
Aziraphale let out a low moan, his breaths picking up as he worked himself to the sound of Crowley’s voice and his mirroring sounds. “I would,” he murmured with intensity. “Have you with my hands, with my mouth, until you couldn’t stand it any longer. Have you wrapped around me and underneath me and make you feel so good."
"So good," Crowley echoed softly.
"I think about it every day," Aziraphale admitted shamelessly, "every single day. Think about taking you behind the peonies when no one's around, or sweeping you off to – to a guest bedroom and having my way with you."
"Then why haven't you done it?" The question came out somewhere between a growl and a whine, an impatient, desperate tone that reflected Crowley's current state as well as the frustration he'd kept pent up for thousands of years.
"Didn't think you'd want me to."
A small, hysterical laugh escaped Crowley without his permission. "Clueless," he mumbled to himself, then raised his voice slightly. "Is it me or Nanny Ashtoreth?"
"M'not attracted to nannies," Aziraphale said impatiently. "It's you."
"Good," whispered the demon. "Good."
Several seconds passed with nothing but the sound of fast, shallow breaths and high, gasping moans from both ends of the line, and then Aziraphale spoke up. "What do you think about, then? What do you want?"
"Angel, I've had wet dreams about catching a whiff of your cologne as you walk past. I could get off to the sound of your voice saying my name."
Aziraphale bit his lip, stifling a moan. "I'm – Crowley, I'm so close."
"Me too, me too, so close," Crowley babbled distractedly.
"Go ahead," Aziraphale murmured. "Come for me, Anthony."
That pushed Crowley over the edge instantly with a breathless, keening moan, prompting a similar reaction from Aziraphale. Crowley murmured a few incoherent interjections and endearments as he listened to the sounds Aziraphale made, a soft string of “oh, angel, yes, angel,” between the demon’s short breaths. Coming down, restoring their heart rates to normal, steadying their breathing, both angel and demon smiled to themselves, satisfied and content.
"Angel," Crowley said after a minute's comfortable silence. "That was really good."
"Yes," Aziraphale replied simply. "Think you'll be able to get back to sleep now?"
Crowley nodded, humming a quiet noise of affirmation, and then yawned just for show. "Oh, yes, I think so. Quite helpful, you are."
"Good," said the angel, relieved that he had managed to make the phone call worth his while without keeping Crowley up all night. He still felt strangely guilty, though he couldn’t pinpoint the reason through his inebriation; he resolved to sober up as soon as he was off the phone, to face the day ahead with a clear mind. It all seemed to make perfect sense, for a moment. "Goodnight, my dear."
"Goodnight, angel," whispered the demon, and it sounded like a prayer, like a confession.
Day 20 – 2:54 p.m. PST
Aziraphale paced the back room of the bookshop, muttering to himself. He’d been pacing and muttering for longer than he’d care to admit, even if he knew how long it had been, which he didn’t. Pacing and muttering was not usually his scene, it was more – well, it was something Crowley would do, if he were nervous. He was often nervous, and Aziraphale had seen him pacing and muttering many times throughout their long, long lives. Aziraphale didn’t do nervous, not as a general rule; he tended more toward denying complications than worrying about them.
He was certainly nervous now, because it had been sixty-two hours since he had heard from Crowley, and such a silence would maybe not be so worrying, but for the circumstances of that last conversation. He’d expected… something. Anything, really. He’d expected that Crowley would reach out first, and maybe that was his mistake, but he couldn’t wait any longer.
Well, he told himself he couldn’t wait any longer, but he also couldn’t make himself dial the blasted phone. “Just call him and ask,” he berated himself quietly, running a hand through his already rather disheveled hair. “Just call him and it’ll be fine. It’ll be fine. He’ll – just call him and he’ll set it straight.”
He didn’t realize he’d dialled the phone until he heard the sound of Crowley’s voice saying, “Hi, angel.” It was a relief and a shock, the combination of which made him yelp and nearly trip over a nearby table leg.
“Oh! Oh – hello, my dear,” he stammered while he tried to gather his wits. “Er, how are you?”
“M’alright,” Crowley muttered, his voice drained of all its usual brightness and bravado. “Listen, angel, I – I’m sorry I haven’t called, really I am.”
Aziraphale released a bit of the tension from his shoulders, attempting to will his mouth less dry. It was fine, he reminded himself, everything was fine, but that tone in the demon’s voice was not at all promising. “That’s okay,” he lied smoothly, having found his bearings. “I just wanted to check in, make sure you’re doing alright.”
Crowley cleared his throat, rubbed his eyes aggressively. “Yeah, yeah, it’s… I’m fine,” he said, sounding tired and distant. “Been a hectic few days, is all.”
“I’m sorry,” Aziraphale replied, suddenly feeling rather foolish. He hadn’t paused for even a moment to consider that Crowley might be busy, might be dealing with something on his end of things that had nothing to do with Aziraphale or their last phone call. “Can I help at all?”
There was a long, tense moment where Crowley didn’t speak, didn’t breathe, and then he fell apart. “I don’t know,” he said, a bit thickly. “I don’t know, Aziraphale, I’m just…” He stopped, sniffed quickly, and when he spoke again, he sounded so small that Aziraphale pitied him, actually pitied him, for the first time in his life. “I’m so scared, angel.”
Aziraphale had never heard Crowley admit to being scared before, and he didn’t know what to do with the statement. All he knew was that the wretched drag of the demon’s whisper, the way his voice broke, made something start up inside Aziraphale, like a pilot light being lit in his gut that told him he had to protect Crowley. “Scared of what?”
“What if we can’t do it?” Crowley asked, marginally more composed, closer to a conversational tone, but still with that desperation lurking underneath. “It’s just so hard, Aziraphale, and it’s… I’m exhausted, and I’m irritated, but none of that matters, does it? Doesn’t matter if I’m good at being a nanny, or if I enjoy it, because every time the boy throws a fit, every time he gets into mischief, I think – well, we’re doomed. We’re utterly fucked. I’m so, so scared that what we’re doing isn’t enough. I don’t want to lose.”
Aziraphale swallowed thickly, a solid lump in his throat. “We can do it,” he murmured, aiming for confidence and reassurance. “We can, Crowley, I’m sure of it. It seems much more daunting when we’re apart, but we are in this together. You’ll be coming home soon, yes?”
“Good,” the angel replied quickly and cheerfully. “You’ll come home, things will go back to normal, everything will be fine.”
“Everything will be fine,” Crowley repeated hazily, trying to convince himself.
Aziraphale breathed a sigh of mingled relief and disappointment, glad that Crowley seemed to be calming down, but still anxious about the issue he’d called about in the first place, which he surely couldn’t bring up right now. “Are you going to be okay, Crowley?” he asked gently.
“Mhm,” the demon hummed vaguely. “I have to go, angel, I’m sorry, but – but I’ll call you when I can, yeah?”
“Yes, of course, dear. Do try to relax, will you?”
“I’ll try,” Crowley answered, and there was a hint of a smile in his voice. “Bye, angel.”
Aziraphale threw out an overly chipper “Goodbye,” injecting a bit of divine warmth into the word to make Crowley’s day a little easier. After hanging up the phone, he collapsed into the nearest chair, exhausted and exasperated, heaving a sigh full enough to strain the buttons on his waistcoat, and began counting down the hours until Crowley would be back.
Day 21 – 8:31 a.m. PST
Crowley puttered around the extravagant bathroom of his hotel room, grabbing two pairs of earrings and examining them next to his face in the mirror to see which would suit him better for the day. It occurred to him distantly that his morning routine was all but muscle memory by this point, that he could carry a conversation and apply his mascara at the same time, so he summoned his phone from the bedside table with a snap and called Aziraphale.
The angel picked up immediately. “Crowley, hello,” he said brightly.
Unable to resist the contagious lightness, Crowley smiled wide at the sound of the angel’s voice. “Hey, angel,” he answered, still sounding tired and strained, but in a way that sounded like the leftover vestiges of a head cold, rather than the broken desperation of the other day.
“What are you up to?” Aziraphale asked, thinking it was best not to make the demon talk about how he was feeling, unless he brought it up first.
“I’m getting ready,” Crowley replied breezily. “Got the curlers in, getting the earrings sorted out, all of that, before I have to go wrestle with the antichrist all day.”
Aziraphale forced himself to move right past the mental image of Crowley with curlers in his hair, applying his makeup in harsh fluorescent lighting, maybe walking around in his underthings while he got ready. It was definitely not the right time to get into all of that. Instead, he asked: “You wrestle with him?” It seemed unlikely to Aziraphale, and slightly inappropriate: Crowley could surely beat an eight-year-old boy in any physical contest, it simply wasn’t fair.
Crowley laughed on a short breath. “No, it’s an expression,” he said fondly, then cleared his throat and hesitated for a long moment. “Listen, Aziraphale…”
Aziraphale stopped breathing; he was fairly sure his heart stopped beating as well. “Yes?”
“About the other night,” Crowley began anxiously. “Do you… I mean, what are we gonna do about it?”
“Do about it?”
“Yeah, like – I mean, when I get home, and everything. It changes things, doesn’t it? In a really… weird way.”
Taking a beat to process Crowley’s words, Aziraphale agonized over his response. The demon didn’t sound too enthusiastic about it, he said it was weird, and Aziraphale was not one to be overeager, not one to get too attached to someone he didn’t want to lose; he’d made that mistake too many times. He figured Crowley was simply bringing it up out of a sense of obligation, hoping that Aziraphale would let him off the hook.
“I don’t know,” he replied eventually. “I don’t think anything really has to change.”
“You – you don’t?” Crowley asked, incredulous and disappointed.
Aziraphale bit his lip. “No, I don’t. I don’t think it has to be a big deal.”
“Angel, how could it not be a big deal?”
“We could forget it ever happened,” said the angel, as diplomatically as he could.
Crowley blinked back the threat of tears stinging his eyes. “I don’t want to forget it happened,” he said, his tone hard and clipped, “and I don’t think you do, either.”
“I – well, I was under the influence, and I rather think neither of us were thinking straight.”
“That’s bullshit,” Crowley snapped.
“My dear boy,” Aziraphale murmured in an attempt to soothe the demon.
“I’m sorry, angel,” Crowley interrupted him. “I don’t know how often you jerk off with people on the phone, that it’s so easy for you to ignore, but personally, I tend to think something like that has to matter.” He took a deep, shuddering inhale to cool his temper, to steady himself before saying something he’d really regret. “I have to go,” he muttered irritably.
“Okay,” stammered the angel, unable to keep up, unable to defend himself. By the time it occurred to him to say goodbye, Crowley had already hung up the phone.
Day 21 – 12:52 p.m. PST
Crowley anxiously tapped his foot on the marble floor of whatever government building food court he was in. Warlock was only a few yards away, digging into a colossal pile of crinkle-cut fries, but Crowley knew better than to be lulled into a false sense of security; the boy could turn any circumstance into a disaster within seconds, if he so wished. Crowley didn’t fancy leaving him alone for too long, even while he had eyes on him, so he was beginning to get a smidge impatient at Aziraphale’s refusal to answer the phone.
It had rung and rung and rung until it went to voicemail, which meant a robotic voice telling Crowley that the person he was trying to reach had a voice mailbox which was not set up yet, forcing him to hang up and call again, six times now. It was the seventh call that the angel finally picked up.
“Yes, Crowley?” Aziraphale spoke in his perfectly manufactured put-out tone, the one he used when Crowley touched one of his books (not to be confused with the genuinely put-out tone he used when a prospective customer touched one of his books).
“Angel, I’m sorry,” Crowley said, the words spilling out of him in a rush, afraid that Aziraphale might hang up on him before he got to say it. “I’m sorry about this morning, I didn’t mean it.”
Aziraphale fixed his face into a stony mask, even though Crowley couldn’t see it. If he looked the part, maybe it would be easier not to melt and forgive Crowley immediately. “Which part didn’t you mean?”
“I didn’t mean to be such a prat,” Crowley answered earnestly. “I just – well, there’s no excuse.”
“No, I want to hear it,” said the angel, softening slightly. He knew, of course, he knew deep down that he was equally at fault for the spat, but it was easier for both of them to pretend that it was on Crowley. Because Crowley would apologize, because Crowley would talk about it, and Aziraphale never would.
Crowley took a deep breath, shaking his head. “I’ve been under a lot of stress, you know,” he said shamefully, “and I took it out on you.” A long beat of silence rang loud in his ears before he continued, “I was just tired and irritable, didn’t have anything to do with you, really.”
The silence stretched on even longer this time, a purposeful silence, a meaningful silence, as Aziraphale waited patiently for Crowley to tell the truth. The demon resisted as long as he could, holding out hope that Aziraphale would believe him, would forgive him, and they could move on with their lives, but no such blessing came.
“You hurt me, angel,” he said at last, sounding small. “You’re important to me, and – and what happened the other night was important to me, and it hurts me, that it wasn’t important to you.”
Aziraphale felt his entire body relax, releasing tension he’d been holding onto for far too long. “I don’t want to hurt you, my dear,” he murmured gently. “It was important, you are important, I promise.”
“Why couldn’t you say that?” Crowley asked without a trace of bitterness, all relief and desperation and confusion. “Why couldn’t you just say that?”
It took the angel a minute to build up the courage to say what needed to be said. He chewed on his lower lip, he took several deep breaths, he tried to plan out his exact words to avoid any misunderstanding. “Change is unpredictable,” he admitted eventually. “What we have now is – it’s solid. I trust it; I depend upon it. What if changing things means ruining things?”
“I won’t let that happen,” Crowley said fiercely, without a moment’s hesitation. “I’m not gonna lose you over something so ssstupid. I’d sooner confess all my failures to Hell and offer myself up for their retribution.”
Aziraphale swallowed thickly. “Well, then,” he said with a sense of resolute determination, undermined only slightly by a crack in his voice. “What are we going to do about it?”
“First things first, we’re going to need to talk about your partiality toward my nanny outfit,” Crowley teased.
“Why is that first?” Aziraphale asked, his voice rising in pitch as his face flushed bright red. “I don’t see why that has to be first. In fact, I don’t see why it has to be discussed at all.”
“Well,” the demon explained lightheartedly, “the nanny and the gardener? My, how the people will talk.”
“They can talk all they want. Talk till their lips fall off, for all I care. I’d rather focus on you.”
His breath catching in his throat, Crowley let his eyes flutter shut in a moment of ephemeral bliss at the angel’s words. “Alright,” he murmured, “yeah, okay. Let’s – we’ll start when I get home, and see where it takes us?”
Aziraphale nodded. “Come home soon, please.”
“You know I am,” Crowley said.
“I know,” Aziraphale agreed, “but it feels like forever.”
“Hang in there, angel. I’ll be home soon.”
“Yes, my dear,” sighed the angel, “hurry back.”
Day 23 – 3:17 a.m. PST
“It’s too early,” Crowley groaned, slumping back in his chair and resting his phone on his shoulder to save himself the energy of holding it to his ear. “Too bloody early for anything. Nothing should exist this early in the morning.”
Aziraphale smiled fondly, resisting the urge to coo at the demon’s dramatics. “You can sleep on the flight.”
“What, and hop off the plane in London, fully rested at ten o’clock at night?” He was teasing, but not unkindly. “Throws off my whole sleep schedule, angel. I’ll be nocturnal for weeks.”
“Then don’t sleep on the flight,” the angel replied. “You can sleep when you get home.”
“But –” Crowley started to whine, before cutting himself off.
Crowley pouted. “Then I won’t get to see you until tomorrow,” he grumbled, all pride going out the window of the plane he didn’t want to be on. “It’s already been too long.”
“I think you’ll survive,” Aziraphale said with a chuckle, although his chest squeezed pleasantly at the demon’s words.
“Might not,” Crowley said matter-of-factly. “Might spontaneously discorporate if I don’t see your face soon.”
A giddy smile spreading across his face, Aziraphale gave his insides a quick lecture, sternly telling his stomach that the butterflies were uncalled for, really, and then he composed himself slightly. “I’ll tell you what,” he murmured. “How about you come over to mine straight away when you get back? I’ll fix you up a very quaint little sleeping arrangement, and I’ll be there when you go to sleep and when you wake up.”
Crowley breathed a contented little sigh and a hum of satisfaction. “That sounds perfect,” he said dreamily, and then a thought came to him, and his tone shifted. “And you know, I’ll be all dressed up, still.”
“Will you?” Aziraphale’s mouth went dry. “You won’t change on the ride over?”
Lowering his voice, Crowley asked, “Do you want me to?”
“Heavens, no,” answered the angel, too quickly, but he didn’t have the wherewithal to care about his dignity at the moment.
“Then I won’t,” came the demon’s reply, as if it were that simple, as if it were inarguable that he would do something like that, just because Aziraphale would like it. It was that simple, to him, it was inarguable, and he wanted the angel to know it.
The next second, Crowley was jolted slightly in his seat as the plane began its departure. “We’re moving,” he said to Aziraphale, thinly veiled excitement coloring his tone. “I can almost taste the London sky.”
Aziraphale closed his eyes, still recovering from Crowley’s comment about his outfit, and took a few breaths to steady himself once more. “I cannot wait to see you,” he said fervently.
“Me neither,” Crowley whispered.
“Have a safe flight, my dear. I want you here in one piece.”
Crowley nodded, thankful that he was in a separate cabin of the plane, that nobody could see the goofy grin involuntarily painted across his face. “Will do, angel,” he said, his soft voice full of quiet, passionate joy. “See you soon.”