The bag of books is a lead weight in Aziraphale’s hand, heavier still for the knowledge they’ve just imparted onto him. He watches Crowley’s retreating backside and he thinks, Oh.
He thinks, This is—
It’s not gratitude—at least, not just. It’s not even just affection.
He loves Crowley. He has loved him, possibly for a very long time now. And it’s taken a bag of books, miraculously saved, for him to realize it. It’s foolish, of course; Crowley has just saved his life, or at least saved him from a very inconvenient period of discorporation, and here Aziraphale is, caught up on the books.
They are very rare books. First editions. He’s quite proud of them, and he would never actually sell them or be otherwise convinced to part with them. He was reluctant to even take them out of the shop, but, well, bringing down a group of Nazi spies was supposed to have been worth it.
“Coming?” Crowley calls. He’s far off now, standing by a boxy black car which sits intact on the ruined street.
“Yes, quite,” Aziraphale calls back, and hurries over.
Why would Crowley save the books?
Because he cares about you, Aziraphale’s smitten mind supplies. And he knows you care about the books. He really is so kind, even if he doesn’t like to admit it. He’s always looking out for you, and oh…
It’s been seventy-nine long years since the last time they’ve seen each other, seventy-nine long years since Crowley asked Aziraphale for a favor he couldn’t fulfill. When Aziraphale had refused Crowley’s request, he hadn’t meant to end their friendship. Still, as the years ticked by without seeing each other, Aziraphale would sometimes think to himself, well, if this is what it’s come to, if Crowley feels like he needs insurance, then Aziraphale would rather not associate with him at all, if that’s what it would take to keep Crowley safe from punishment from Hell.
More importantly, he would add to himself, guiltily, Crowley was the Enemy. Aziraphale shouldn’t keep his company in the first place. So things were fine as they were, now.
Oh, but he’s missed him.
“Bit outdated, isn’t it?” Aziraphale says of the car, desperate to make some conversation.
He doesn’t, of course, keep up with cars and such things, but Crowley does. And Aziraphale does live in a bustling city; he’s seen the sleek recent models that look more like they would suit Crowley’s always-with-the-trend style.
Crowley snorts. “Oh, you’re one to talk.” He flicks his wrist at Aziraphale. “That coat of yours, must be coming up on one hundred now, isn’t it?”
“Passed it a few years back,” Aziraphale mumbles, adjusting his lapels. “I’m quite fond of it.”
“Yeah, well, I’m quite fond of this.” Crowley pats the hood of his car. “I’ve had her from new. Twelve years now and still a beauty.”
So he does get attached to things, Aziraphale thinks. That relieves him, for some reason he is not keen on inspecting further at the moment.
“Yes, it—er, she is very lovely,” Aziraphale says.
He’s fairly sure Crowley is rolling his eyes at him behind his sunglasses.
Then Crowley crosses over to open the passenger door for Aziraphale, and Aziraphale’s attention is drawn to Crowley’s uneven gait, the light, too-quick steps and the rocking back and forth on his heels as he holds the door open and waits for Aziraphale to get in.
“Oh, Crowley,” Aziraphale says, heart sinking, “your feet.”
Crowley’s response comes out muffled through clenched teeth. “What about them.”
“Why, walking on consecrated ground like that, they must be hurting terribly.”
“I’ll live. Get in the car.”
Aziraphale does, if only so Crowley will follow and therefore get off his feet. He does hope driving won’t prove to be too painful.
“Right,” Crowley says as the engine rumbles to life. “Bookshop?”
“No,” Aziraphale says.
Crowley turns to him, brows arching to the brim of his hat. “No?”
“No,” Aziraphale repeats, firmly. “You need to go home and get off your feet. And—I’d like to take a look, and help, if I can.”
Crowley’s face, usually expressive in his cheeks and mouth and brows, is inscrutable right now. Aziraphale wishes he would take the sunglasses off. Maybe he could find some clue as to how Crowley’s feeling in his eyes.
“Yeah, no, I’m fine,” Crowley says. “I’ll drop you home.”
Aziraphale wouldn’t say he’s ever manipulated Crowley—manipulating is such a demonic activity, after all—but he has, over the millennia, learned ways to suggest that Crowley do something that Aziraphale would like him to do. Unimportant things, usually, like foisting a trip he rather wouldn’t make onto Crowley as part of the Arrangement, or cajoling him into joining Aziraphale at a nice restaurant.
Aziraphale bites his lip. He doesn’t know if it will work this time. Is this kind of push and pull still allowed between them? But Aziraphale needs, in a way he’s never needed before, to go with Crowley now.
And, well, Crowley showed up tonight, didn’t he?
“Very well, then. I can make my own way back home,” Aziraphale says. “I’d really rather you didn’t drive more than you need to.”
He turns, angling his body away more than is strictly necessary to reach for the door handle.
“Wait,” Crowley says.
Aziraphale schools the smile off his face before turning back.
Crowley is scowling deeply, but somehow Aziraphale can tell he’s not truly upset with him.
“Satan’s sake—fine, you can come to my flat.” He pulls the car from the curb and grumbles, “Can’t leave you alone to get yourself discorporated after all the trouble I just went through.”
“Oh, thank you,” Aziraphale says. He folds his hands in his lap and smiles, and doesn’t even comment on how Crowley’s horrifically fast driving is more likely to get them discorporated than anything Aziraphale can get up to on his own.
Aziraphale has never been to Crowley’s flat. Actually, he realizes, he’s never been anywhere Crowley has lived before. He’s never even known where Crowley’s lived, besides “London.” He thinks at first that maybe Crowley didn’t want Aziraphale knowing where he lived, but now he considers, guiltily, that maybe it’s that he’s never cared to ask.
It’s just that he’s never needed to know where Crowley lived. They’ve always simply run into each other, or Crowley comes to see him at the bookshop.
Aziraphale has no idea what to expect when Crowley opens the door to his flat. What he gets is somehow both expected and not. It’s sleek and modern and matches the aesthetic Crowley presents, but a part of Aziraphale was hoping to see more evidence of—well, attachment. Things he’s kept just because he likes them, like the car. Aziraphale doubts Crowley entertains many guests at home; he shouldn’t need to work so hard to keep up appearances here.
He tries to be discreet as he looks around for personal effects, but Crowley actually isn’t paying him much mind. Crowley moves quickly through to the lounge, tosses his hat on the coffee table, and collapses onto the middle of the long leather sofa, splaying his limbs out in any which direction.
Aziraphale follows and frowns down at him. Crowley’s brows are pinched, his lips thin, and sweat beads on his forehead.
And he said he was fine. Honestly.
Aziraphale tsks and kneels on the ground in front of Crowley. He’s barely begun to reach a hand out when Crowley’s leg twitches.
“Oh. Is it alright if I—” Aziraphale starts, making an abortive gesture at Crowley’s feet.
“Yes, yes, get on with it.” Crowley’s tone is snappish, but he wouldn’t have given permission if he really didn’t want Aziraphale touching him, and Aziraphale can only assume he’s in much more pain than he let on.
Crowley’s shoes are perfectly intact. Aziraphale unlaces one and lifts Crowley’s foot carefully by the ankle, cups the heel of the shoe and slips it off. He does the same with the other. Crowley’s socks, black and long, are also unscathed. Aziraphale rolls Crowley’s trousers up his calf, then hooks his fingers into the first sock and slowly peels it off, knuckles dragging along Crowley’s skin. Crowley is practically vibrating beneath him, poor dear. Aziraphale murmurs an apology.
“I was so caught up in everything, I really should have insisted you exit the church right away, I didn’t even think about the damage it would cause you—”
“It’s fine,” Crowley grits out.
“It most certainly isn’t,” Aziraphale says, for he’s finished removing the first sock and is now taking in the full horror of Crowley’s raw red sole. “Oh, dear…”
Crowley endured this. For him.
Aziraphale pulls down the other sock. He realizes now that he could just remove it with a miracle, but some not-so-small part of him is guiltily enjoying being able to handle Crowley with such reverent care. Here is a being whom he loves—whom he is in love with, as it turns out—and whom needs tending to. Aziraphale is going to tend to him.
He takes extra care with this sock, stretching the fabric out around Crowley’s foot so that it hopefully doesn’t make any more direct contact with the damaged tissue as he eases it off.
Once both socks are off, Aziraphale realizes he doesn’t actually know what to do next. Crowley is a demon and the burns are divine. Neither of them will be able to fix it with a miracle.
“Hm.” Aziraphale frowns.
“Don’t know what you were expecting to do,” Crowley says. It doesn’t come out sounding half as mean as he probably intended it to.
“Well, there must be something,” Aziraphale says. “Perhaps we should give human remedies a try.”
He sets a hand on Crowley’s knee as he looks up at him, earnest.
Crowley locks up, and Aziraphale yanks his hand back, feeling as if his heart has dropped straight from his chest to his stomach.
Crowley has never minded Aziraphale touching him before. Has he? Well, how often has Aziraphale touched him before? He’s never paid it any special mind until now. Crowley never really touches him, Aziraphale doesn’t think, and perhaps he’s never really been physical with Crowley before, either. Perhaps Crowley doesn’t like being touched.
Perhaps Crowley doesn’t like being touched by Aziraphale.
Aziraphale swallows. Perhaps he should have miracled the shoes and socks off after all.
Crowley stares at him for a long moment—still inscrutable, and Aziraphale does so wish he would take his sunglasses off—then makes a show of shrugging and sinking back into the sofa. “Do it, then.”
Do what, exactly, Aziraphale isn’t sure. He suspects neither of them are familiar with the specifics of human medical practices. Still, washing Crowley’s feet under cool water seems like a reasonable treatment for a burn.
Aziraphale miracles up a plastic tub full of water—absolutely not holy—a soft white towel, and some bandages. “May I?”
“Yes, yes, stop asking,” Crowley says. “You can do… whatever, all right?”
“Right,” Aziraphale says. “Yes.”
He draws a fortifying breath. He wraps his fingers around Crowley’s bare calf—Crowley twitches a little, but otherwise doesn’t react—and draws his foot into the tub. He does the same with the other foot. He should let them soak for a few minutes now. And he should—probably he should stop touching Crowley, but he can’t help it; he keeps his hand around anchored on his lower leg. After a moment, he begins to soothingly rub Crowley’s shin and becomes enchanted by the soft prickle of leg hairs under his thumb.
Aziraphale clears his throat when he realizes he’s probably been knelt there for a good few minutes just stroking Crowley’s leg. “Er, is the water helping?”
Crowley’s exhale sounds a bit wheezy, and his voice is strangled when he says, “S’alright.”
He certainly doesn’t sound alright, but when Aziraphale looks up, Crowley waves him off impatiently. “It’s fine, angel.”
Oh. Crowley has called him ‘angel’ before, but Aziraphale’s stomach has never fluttered over it like it is right now. Which is silly, because he is an angel, and surely that’s what Crowley means, only it doesn’t sound like it when Crowley says it.
It sounds like—well, like a pet name.
“Alright,” Aziraphale says, a bit breathless himself.
He looks back down and lifts one of Crowley’s feet from the tub with one hand and fetches the towel with the other. And then he blushes as it occurs to him quite belatedly that kneeling before Crowley and washing his feet like this feels rather like ablution.
Aziraphale cannot imagine any good reaction out of Crowley were he to bring that up. Besides, no matter how it looks, this isn’t ablution. Aziraphale isn’t purifying Crowley. And, he realizes, startling himself, he doesn’t want to be.
Oh, he’s entertained the idea of somehow returning Crowley to the Host. If Crowley were an angel, being friends would be so much easier. But then Crowley would likely not be stationed on Earth—they don’t need two angels down here full-time. Not to mention, Hell would just send some other demon up to replace Crowley, and surely they wouldn’t be nearly as pleasant to spend time with.
Secretly, Aziraphale has also wondered if becoming an angel again would make Crowley less… well, Crowley. Because Aziraphale quite likes Crowley the way he is.
Loves him, in fact.
Aziraphale scolds himself back into focus. He brings the towel to Crowley’s foot and begins to lightly dab it dry. He’s focused and careful with the sole, which is still an angry red, and with the spaces between Crowley’s toes. He relaxes a little when he gets to the unburned top of Crowley’s foot and his ankle, but that’s when he notices the odd rhythm to Crowley’s breaths.
Aziraphale looks up in concern. “Crowley, are you okay? Am I hurting you?”
Crowley is tense. His jaw is clenched and his fingers dig into the sofa cushions. His legs are trembling, ever so slightly.
“No,” Crowley says. “You’re perfect.”
He hisses, perhaps in pain, and Aziraphale looks between Crowley’s foot and face in distress. He can’t…
Aziraphale closes his eyes and tries a little miracle, not to heal the damage, but to at least alleviate the pain a bit.
A soft sigh darts out from Crowley’s lips.
Pleased, Aziraphale pats the rest of Crowley’s foot dry, then sets the towel aside. For a moment, Aziraphale has a terribly embarrassing urge to lean forward and press a tender kiss to the top of Crowley’s foot. He tries very hard not to think about that as he fumbles for a bandage. He starts to wrap it around Crowley’s foot, then pauses.
“Do you suppose we ought to put any ointment on it?”
“Ehhh.” Crowley is probably going for dismissive, but his voice is tight. His hands, though no longer digging into the sofa, are curled into fists. “S’probably fine. Don’t know why you’re making such a fuss over it in the first place.”
“You’re hurt,” Aziraphale says. “And on my account, no less.”
It feels too big to really accept, somehow. For me, he keeps thinking. He did this for me.
“Don’t make such a big deal of it,” Crowley says.
How can he not? Crowley didn’t just happen by; he had time to learn the full situation and to arrange countermeasures. The soul-warming feeling of being cared about, cared for, is impossible to shake.
But he knows Crowley will resist if he pushes the point. Shut up, I’m a demon, I hate thank yous, just didn’t want to get bored with you discorporated…
Never mind the fact that they hadn’t spoken in decades until tonight.
Aziraphale sighs and pulls his attention back to Crowley’s injured feet. It’s not as though he has any idea what sort of ointment they would even use, should they need any. He makes a mental note to take stock of all the medical texts in his collection, and possibly look into adding more. Most, if not all of them, are likely to be outdated, and while he is quite fond of his vintage books, he also has to acknowledge that acquiring a more contemporary medical textbook might be a good idea.
For now, the bandage will surely suffice. Aziraphale carefully resumes wrapping Crowley’s foot. When he finishes, he brushes a finger over the now-covered arch, featherlight.
“Alright?” he asks quietly.
“Y...yeah,” Crowley stutters.
Aziraphale chances a glance at him. Crowley’s cheeks are tinged red, and his sunglasses have slipped a bit down his nose. His eyes, from what Aziraphale can see, are wide and staring. Crowley pushes the glasses back up, a little roughly, and Aziraphale quickly looks back down.
Crowley is probably embarrassed, Aziraphale realizes. He always likes to look like he’s got it all together, so being injured and vulnerable in front of Aziraphale like this can’t be easy. He wants to thank Crowley for bringing him back here (even though he’d needed some… gentle pushing into it), but that would just serve to embarrass Crowley further. Best not to mention it at all.
Instead, he lifts Crowley’s leg up and settles it on the sofa. Then he draws Crowley’s other foot from the tub. Again, he is gentle and careful as he dries the burned sole, and when he slips the towel in the spaces between Crowley’s toes. He murmurs assurances as he goes, because Crowley is trembling again despite the miracle to ease his pain.
“Almost done, dear,” Aziraphale soothes. “Just hang in there a moment longer, you’re okay…”
He wipes down the uninjured rest of his foot, replaces the towel in his hand with another bandage, and sets about wrapping that one.
“There we are,” he says when he finishes. He settles the leg beside Crowley’s other up on the sofa.
Crowley looks at his feet and wiggles his toes.
“Thank you,” he says, slowly.
“I’m the one who must thank you,” Aziraphale says. “I never expected you to show up tonight.”
Crowley makes a noncommittal noise.
“Really,” Aziraphale says, but what he truly wants to say is, I’m sorry. I’m sorry for the last seventy-nine years. I didn’t mean to push you away.
When Crowley heard about Aziraphale’s botched play against the Nazis—however he’d heard—he would have been well within his rights to leave Aziraphale to get discorporated, pay the price for his mistake. But he didn’t.
“Thank you,” Aziraphale says.
Crowley hums, low in his throat. “You can stay here tonight, you know,” he says. “Probably dangerous to wander about and all.” He hesitates. “I know you don’t sleep, but I’ve got books and things.”
Aziraphale shouldn’t stay, really. They shouldn’t spend too much time together. He opens his mouth to say as much, but what comes out is, “Where are your books?”
“Office, down there to the right.” Crowley points.
And Aziraphale goes.
There’s not much in the office—a desk, bare but for a telephone, a chair, and a bookcase. There is a framed Mona Lisa sketch on the wall that draws his attention. Aziraphale thinks at first that it’s a skillful reproduction, but then he notices the inscription on the bottom. When he moves closer and reads that the sketch is a gift from Leo to his friend Antonio, a smile overtakes his face.
He grabs a book mostly at random. To be truthful, Aziraphale will read anything. Humans are so wonderfully creative, forever trying to convey all the abstract wonder of life within the concrete bounds of art. And the written word is Aziraphale’s favorite of their chosen mediums; even if it turns out to not be his taste, he’ll give any book or poem a chance.
Anyway, it’s possible that Aziraphale is currently less concerned about picking a good book and more excited about asking Crowley about the sketch and his apparent friendship with Leonardo da Vinci.
When he returns to the lounge, though, Crowley is lying stretched out on the sofa, one arm folded over his stomach, the other dangling over the edge of the cushion. He’s taken his blazer off and tossed it on the coffee table beside his hat, though he’s kept his sunglasses on.
“Crowley?” Aziraphale says quietly.
“Shhh,” Crowley says. “I’m sleeping.”
“Ah,” Aziraphale says.
The sofa is long enough that Crowley can stretch out on it completely and still have room for Aziraphale to sit and read. So that’s what they do. At least, that’s what Aziraphale tries to do, but he finds himself having a hard time concentrating on the words in front of him when Crowley is lying beside him, the tuft of his hair bunched against Aziraphale’s thigh, his breathing slow and even.
“Crowley?” Aziraphale whispers again, after some minutes have passed and Aziraphale has yet to progress even a page in his book.
Crowley doesn’t respond.
Aziraphale closes the book and sets it on his lap. Carefully, he plucks the sunglasses from Crowley’s face. Crowley’s eyes are closed, his face slack with sleep, pink lips parted ever so slightly.
The moment feels like a precious, fragile thing. Aziraphale scarce dares to breathe as he folds the glasses and leans forward to set them down. The light tap of them hitting the coffee table is impossibly loud to Aziraphale in the silence, but Crowley doesn’t stir.
Aziraphale studies Crowley’s face, the familiar lines of him, and wonders how he has gone so long without realizing the depth of his feelings. Now that he knows, he’s drowning in it. Aziraphale adores him, he really does. Kind, beautiful Crowley. Aziraphale can’t help but imagine scooting just a few inches over, pulling Crowley’s head into his lap and carding his fingers through his hair.
He doesn’t do that, though. He doesn’t move. He doesn’t touch.
He just watches.
It must be hours before Crowley shifts and begins to stir. Daylight is streaming through the windows of the lounge, and Aziraphale hasn’t moved at all. He snatches up the book on his lap and randomly opens it to the middle, but his gaze is transfixed on Crowley.
Crowley wakes up in slow stages. The rhythm of his breathing changes, first. His shoulders rise and fall. He moves as if to crick his neck, then stills as the top of his skull brushes Aziraphale’s thigh.
Aziraphale cannot tear his gaze away as Crowley blinks languidly up at him. His eyes are beautiful, gold and glimmering. There’s a smile curling at the corner of his lips, sleep-soft and genuine. Aziraphale is struck by a tremendous urge to lean down and kiss him, to either chase out the remnants of sleep or ease him back into it, because he does look ever so relaxed, and Aziraphale doesn’t sleep but at the moment he thinks he could be very easily persuaded to cuddle.
“Hullo,” Crowley says. His voice is rough and soft at once. He sounds like how coffee tastes, which then leads Aziraphale to wonder what he would actually taste like, if he kissed him.
Aziraphale wills his traitorous heart to relax. “Good morning.”
Crowley tips his chin towards him, exposing the long line of his throat. “Good book?”
“Oh, yes,” Aziraphale says quickly. “Very much so. I’m enjoying it immensely.”
Aziraphale cannot for the life of him remember the title of the book in his hands, and he cannot for the life of him turn away from Crowley long enough to remind himself.
“You can have it. Er, borrow it.” Crowley sits up, back to Aziraphale because he still has his legs stretched out on the sofa, and cricks his neck. His shirt pulls tight and smooth across his shoulders. “Well, have it, whatever. I don’t read, they’re just for show.”
“Oh.” Aziraphale doesn’t point out that Crowley has definitely referenced literature in several conversations with him in the past, and not just literature Aziraphale has loudly praised in the hopes that Crowley might read it and discuss it with him. “Oh, well, thank you. Did you sleep well?”
“Mm,” Crowley says.
“And how are your feet feeling?”
“Hmm.” Crowley moves them around. “Not bad. Healing already.”
He turns and swings his legs over the sofa, though he doesn’t let his feet rest flat on the floor. They’re shoulder to shoulder now, despite the considerable unoccupied space on the sofa.
Aziraphale longs for—so much. To lean into Crowley, to turn his head and kiss him. To stay with him.
“Well then.” It’s an effort to stand. Effort more not to reach out for Crowley. “If everything’s alright, I suppose I ought to get going now.”
Crowley takes a minute to respond, a long minute in which Aziraphale has to battle excuse after excuse that he might stay longer.
“Suppose so,” Crowley says, finally. He curls toward the coffee table for his sunglasses and slides them onto his face.
Aziraphale dithers. He fidgets with his hands, walks halfway to the door, then circles back.
“Listen, I was thinking…”
“What?” Crowley says.
“I was thinking. Well. Perhaps you ought to give me your telephone number?” Aziraphale says.
This time when Crowley says, “What?” it sounds less encouraging and more disbelieving.
“Well, you’ve got the number for my shop, but what if I need to reach you?”
“You,” Crowley says, slow and unsure, “want to call me.”
“In the event that I need to,” Aziraphale hedges. Of course he wants to call Crowley. Is he allowed to call Crowley, just because he wants to?
“Okay,” Crowley says, still not sounding very certain. “Sure.”
He snaps his fingers and a memo pad and pen fall into his lap. He scribbles a number down and hands the sheaf to Aziraphale. Their index fingers brush in the exchange.
“Right,” Aziraphale says, staring down at the digits, throat feeling a bit dry.
No, he realizes. No, he can’t call Crowley just because. Because that would put Crowley in danger, and Aziraphale can’t do that to him. They have the Arrangement. Favors here and there. Spare just enough time for a pleasant conversation, maybe a quick spot of lunch, but don’t seek each other out unnecessarily. He’ll see Crowley when he can, but not too much. Not so often that Heaven or Hell will notice.
That has to be enough.
Aziraphale folds the note and tucks it into his pocket. He walks to the door and hesitates a moment longer.
Still unwilling to leave.
“So,” he says. “I’ll call you, then.”
“I’ll be waiting,” Crowley says, soft.
Something in his tone cuts slow and deep into Aziraphale’s chest. He gives Crowley a quivering sort of smile. Then he swallows, turns, and leaves.
The door clicks softly shut behind him.