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Rising Panic

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The heavy blanket of sleep filled with dreams of a dancing Angel carrying a tray piled high with cakes receded with an abruptness that was as characteristic as it was confusing. His feet, stuck outside the blankets, were abruptly too cold, and his arms, still covered, were too warm.

‘Buh-?’ said Crowley, a question that was a stand-in for Is it July yet?

When the answer came, however, it wasn’t from the trill of his alarm, it was from a tinny rendition of the opening bars of Pale Blue Eyes that was Aziraphale’s custom ringtone - thus chosen because even if Aziraphale had for some reason called him while he was standing there, there was no chance the Angel would recognise the blasted thing anyway.

Crowley groped desperately for his phone, but the windmilling of his arms was enough to send it flying away from his bedside table and onto the floor.

Cursing, he threw himself from his bed, blankets and all, rolled over on his floor, stretched out desperately as those opening bars began yet another infernal repeat.

‘Don’t hang up don’t hang up don’t hang up don’t hang- Aziraphale, hi, how’s it going?’ He propped his chin up on his free hand. ‘Busy day?’ He attempted to kick his legs free of the blankets but discovered that he was wrapped up like a blessed burrito, and reflected that this would be a lot easier as a snake, were it not for the fact that he wouldn’t be able to hold the phone.

‘Oh! Crowley!’ Aziraphale sounded faintly surprised, his voice round and warm. Crowley let it wash over him for a moment. ‘I wasn’t sure if you’d already be asleep.’

‘Nah,’ said Crowley. ‘I might, you know, soon. Once I’ve finished watching Riverdale.’

‘I’m not interrupting anything important, am I?’

‘Aziraphale, I’ve got all the time in the damned world and you know it,’ growled Crowley. He rolled over onto his back, which seemed to loosen the blankets about his legs, so he rolled a couple more times.

‘Ah, good,’ said Aziraphale. Crowley shut his eyes and pictured the Angel’s pleased smile, and then kept picturing it, because it was a good one. He wanted to see it properly. He wanted to just… be in the same room as it and bask.

No. Too fast.

It hadn’t even been a year, after all. Some habits took longer to break out of, and asking an actual Angel to break the laws during a country-wide quarantine was too much.

‘What are you up to, anyway, angel?’ he asked. ‘Done any more baking?’

‘Well,’ said Aziraphale, and the smile in his voice had abruptly vanished. ‘I, um, called because I’m in a bit of a pickle, actually.’

Crowley’s body was suddenly filled with ice. ‘You what?’

‘I didn’t like to bother you,’ continued Aziraphale, sounding worried of all things. Maybe he was chewing on his lip. Maybe he was shifting on his feet, or pacing, or fiddling with his ring - no, he couldn’t do that because he was holding his phone. But he must be fidgeting in some way because that was what he did. Or, no, worse, he was hiding. Still and quiet and hiding. ‘Only I’m having a bit of an emergency-’

‘I’ll be there in three minutes.’

Crowley heard Aziraphale shout something as he hung up, but he was already on his feet and running, bedding vanished. His heart thumped uselessly in his chest. As his door remembered to slam itself shut after him, he waved a hand over himself to turn pyjamas into clothes and make sunglasses appear on his nose. The stairs he took ten to each single leap. At the bottom he ran into one of his neighbours who lurched backwards from him, but he had no idea if that was his general Demonly aura, or simply the order to stay two metres apart.

The Bentley waited, doors open and engine running, already in gear, and he took the journey at a running start, only remembering to pull the door shut once he’d already hit forty miles an hour.

The journey from Mayfair to Soho was one that was, for Crowley, often made in times of sub-five-minutes, due to miraculously empty roads, so he didn’t think twice of that. The corner of A Z Fell being empty of all but 2 people - and those two were avoiding each other, carrying shopping bags - was more surreal, but Crowley didn’t have time to wonder.

When he shut his eyes and pictured the bookshop, sometimes these days he still saw flames, but today there were none. There was no sign of forced entry from the outside, and no sulphuric smell of Demonly intervention, nor the crisp, clean gold of Angelic visitors. This, Crowley took in in an instant as he pressed his entire body weight onto the brakes, too practised from centuries of watching and guarding to need any longer. The Bentley gritted to a halt. He could feel its irritation at his treatment but for once he didn’t care, throwing open the door and leaping out and around, and into the door of the bookshop, which burst open before he even touched it.

‘Aziraphale!’

‘Crowley?’

‘What’s the-? Where’s the-?’

Aziraphale appeared from the back and Crowley sagged with relief. It was the work of another moment to take in the scene, and at that, finally, Crowley’s adrenaline began to ebb away. Aziraphale was not only alive, but he looked well. Not just well, but absolutely, positively fine. Except that he was wearing- he was wearing-

Well, most importantly was what he was not wearing. He was not wearing his jacket.

Nor was he wearing his waistcoat.

And he had rolled up his shirt sleeves.

And over the top of his shirt, he was wearing a cream apron, discoloured with age and frayed around the bottom. It had a faded blue and white gingham patch in the lower left corner. The patch did not manage to obscure the fact that the apron read - in large, jolly letters - Kiss The Cook!

And he was covered in white dust that was probably flour.

‘Ngerhhh,’ managed Crowley.

‘Oh,’ said Aziraphale. ‘That was quick.’ He was practically glowing, for fuck’s sake.

‘Emergency?’ said Crowley faintly. His voice was cracked and dry, as if he’d just run the distance instead of driven it.

‘What? Oh, yes. Of course.’ Aziraphale gestured with his head for Crowley to follow him into the back.

Crowley’s limbs followed at his bidding before Crowley’s brain had had anything to say about the matter. Not that Crowley’s brain would have told them anything different. It was just-

Not exactly dignified, was it?

Crowley attempted a sort of appropriately Demonly scowl as he and Aziraphale emerged into Aziraphale’s kitchenette.

Or they emerged into the room that had been Aziraphale’s kitchenette, anyway.

The book shop had always tended to broadly obey the laws of physics. Certainly, it had a sort of eldritch air to it, and lots of pokey corners and shelves that vanished into nothing, and bits of corridor that seemed to lead right back around to the exit, but that was just what second hand book shops were like. Aziraphale had never actually played around with the dimensions of it that much, before now.

Now, the kitchen was about eight times bigger than it had been. It was light, and airy, with an aga stove, a huge, gleaming fridge-freezer. The surfaces were covered in mixing bowls and whisks and spoons and pots of jam and chopping boards and piping bags and a set of scales that still measured in pounds and ounces using a balancing system. A large wooden table seemed to make up Aziraphale’s workbench, and on it a book was resting on a stand in and amongst the other accoutrements. Everything was covered in flour, and some of it was covered in jam. A second large wooden table, this distanced from the horrific mess and therefore having escaped some of the dusting, was covered in the labours of Aziraphale’s baking. Given the chaos, they were surprisingly well ordered: cakes and muffins and bread piled high, gleaming and beautiful.

‘Er,’ said Crowley.

Aziraphale looked pleased with himself. ‘Yes, it’s been going rather well,’ he said. He had flour on his nose too, Crowley realised, and his hand twitched. He thought about reaching forward and wiping it off.

‘E… mergency?’ he asked, for the second time, his words having not yet returned to him. He hadn’t seen another person in so long, not properly. He seemed to have forgotten how to communicate.

Aziraphale frowned, his brows beetling in that way that Crowley treasured. ‘It’s simply terrible!’ he said. ‘You can’t imagine what a complete fool I’ve been! And everything was going so well!’

Crowley was beginning to get the sense that this was, perhaps, not an emergency of apocalyptic proportions, and he gestured for Aziraphale to continue.

Aziraphale stepped behind his work desk and from amongst the morass of mess pulled out a large jar. Inside of it was a beige… goop. Crowley skirted the table with extreme caution, trying to avoid getting flour, jam, or other mess on his person. He stood beside Aziraphale and looked down at the beige goop in the jar.

‘Is that… meant to be… bread?’ he asked doubtfully.

‘No,’ huffed Aziraphale. ‘It’s my sourdough starter. And I’ve killed it!’

Crowley blinked. ‘You’ve… what?’

‘I’ve been nourishing it for weeks,’ said Aziraphale miserably, in that way he did that he had to know would perfectly pluck at Crowley’s heartstrings. ‘It was only flour and water, but then it all came to life, and I’ve been feeding it and looking after it and now it’s dead.’

Crowley pinched his nose. On the one hand, this emergency was absolutely not worth the panic attack he’d nearly had on his drive over. On the other, he was now standing next to Aziraphale for the first time in weeks, and he could almost smell his cologne under all of the general breadiness in the air. ‘How… did it die?’ he said at last.

Aziraphale almost looked like his lip was going to wobble, which Crowley thought had to be put upon. ‘I got a bit distracted,’ he admitted, ‘and I accidentally fed it some tap water.’

Crowley looked down at the beige goop. ‘Is that… a bad thing?’

‘It’s far too chlorinated,’ said Aziraphale, in the tone of one who thought Crowley ought to know the ins and outs of cultivating sourdough starters.

‘Right,’ said Crowley. ‘Does that mean it’s you who’s been panic buying all the Evian, angel?’ he added, with a grin.

‘No it has not!’ snapped Aziraphale. He scowled at Crowley, another facial expression Crowley had dearly missed. ‘I’ve been using tap water and ice and distilling it in the saucepan to keep up my supply. Only I used the wrong cup, and it’s all gone a bit wrong, and I was going to make some new bread dough today and now I can’t.’

He was practically batting his eyelashes at Crowley now.

Crowley had, at last, figured out what game they were playing. He didn’t have to give in right away, after all.

‘Can’t you just, you know-?’ He gestured with his fingers, as if to perform a miracle, but stopped short of actually snapping.

‘That’s cheating!’ said Aziraphale, again with that pout. ‘I’d be able to taste it, you know, in the bread. If I were the one who did it, that is.’ He looked at Crowley again, still with the eyelash flutter.

Crowley snapped his fingers.

Immediately, the sourdough starter bubbled into life.

Aziraphale beamed.

For a moment, they stood in silence, the stupid bloody yeast between them.

‘Right then,’ said Crowley. ‘I suppose I’d better-’ He gestured to the door, then turned, then-

‘Where are you going?’ demanded Aziraphale, rather bossily, Crowley felt.

‘Uh. Home. It’s- lockdown. You know.’

‘But you can’t go out there! It’s a non-essential trip!’

A sudden lurch hit Crowley’s stomach, and he pivoted back until he was facing Aziraphale once more. Aziraphale was now fretting his ring.

‘I mean,’ continued Aziraphale, ‘it’s one thing you coming over here - it was an emergency, after all. But you going back? For no reason! Who knows how many humans might see? And how much of a bad example you’ll be setting? I can’t allow it. You’ll have to- you’ll have to stay. It’s the law. I won’t have you breaking it. Just because you’re a Demon it doesn’t mean you should be-’

‘I’ll stay,’ cut in Crowley. His voice sounded surprisingly coherent to his ears, but also indecently high pitched. ‘Yeah. Fine. All right. Just in case you have any more. Bread related… emergencies.’

‘Right,’ said Aziraphale. ‘Good.’ He nodded firmly. He chewed on his lower lip.

They looked at each other in silence for another long moment.

Crowley swallowed. He could feel himself at a crossroads. He could, of course, suggest tea or wine and gossip, and they’d have a wonderful afternoon, which would turn into a wonderful evening and thereafter a wonderful lockdown. That would be more than anything he’d ever hoped for, ever even imagined. To want or expect something else, after so little time since the Apocalypse had failed, was too much too soon, risking something. But then…what was he but someone who always pushed, just a little too far.

‘You know you can just say “yes”, next time, right, angel?’ he said. ‘Then I’d’ve had time to pack some wine.’

He’d expected Aziraphale’s eyes to widen, or nerves to show. Instead his gaze snapped to Crowley’s. ‘Well if someone had picked up on my suggestions maybe I wouldn’t have had to,’ he said, with a sniff.

Crowley blinked. ‘Your what?’

‘Demon? Going out and about bothering people? Is this ringing any bells to you?’

Crowley stared at him.

‘Oh, honestly,’ muttered Aziraphale crossly.

‘You- I- what?’

Aziraphale sniffed again and turned back to his sourdough starter and pretended to read his recipe book, all while Crowley’s throat made a bunch of noises, quite without any direction from him.

Eventually Crowley said, somewhat waspishly, ‘Are there any other subtle hints I’ve managed to miss, then?’

Aziraphale turned and looked at him, eyes twinkling, and Crowley’s knees went suddenly a bit weak. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘I don’t know about “subtle”...’

Crowley waited, hovering, useless.

Aziraphale sighed. ‘Oh, honestly, getting you to actually read anything-’ He gestured towards his apron.

Crowley’s eyes reread the phrase about eight times before the meaning of human English words returned to him and the phrase Kiss the Cook! jumped through his head.

‘Argh,’ he mumbled.

Aziraphale appeared to be waiting.

Crowley screwed his eyes shut. He pinched his nose. He debated putting his head between his knees before deciding he had just about too much dignity for that. He was suddenly pretty sure he was, after all, still asleep and dreaming, but just because he was, that didn’t mean he had to lose his blessed mind. He opened his eyes, reached up and pulled his sunglasses off, not because he wanted to - in fact it was bloody terrifying and he immediately wanted to put them back on - but because he thought Aziraphale might prefer it.

Aziraphale’s eyes softened immeasurably, and his cheeks had gone a dusty pink. ‘If- you’d like, anyway,’ he mumbled at last, and Crowley realised he hadn’t responded.

‘If I’d- If I’d like-!’ His voice rose hysterically.

Then, before he could really think about it any further, he grabbed Aziraphale and crashed their faces together with about as much speed and finesse as he normally put into driving. This probably wasn’t the best idea, since both Aziraphale and he made a soft grunt of surprise as their noses bumped painfully, but before he could break off and apologise, he was being grabbed and held onto, lips still pressed together, and that was that. Limbs flailed and rearranged and furniture was shoved and finally they made themselves comfortable against a wall, still locked together in an embrace.

Time passed.

When they emerged, he was dimly aware it was dark out, but that didn’t mean anything. It could have been an hour. It could have been several days. It could have been several years. He didn’t really care either way.

‘Uh. Hi,’ he said at last. His voice sounded far away.

‘Hello,’ said Aziraphale. He was smiling. It was the most beautiful smile Crowley had ever seen on his face in the entire history of the world.

‘Good, uh, suggestion,’ said Crowley. ‘Best one yet. Sod social distancing.’

‘Oh, Crowley,’ said Aziraphale, and his voice had somehow never sounded warmer. Crowley tried to bathe in the sound of it.

Then he caught Aziraphale’s eyes flickering downwards, alight with some amusement, and he looked down at himself. His beautiful black clothes were practically grey with flour. He ran his hand through his hair, and then too came away dusty. Aziraphale was not even remotely trying to repress a case of the giggles.

‘Aziraphale, no wonder there’s a sodding nationwide flour shortage,’ he hissed, ‘it’s all on the floor and walls of your bloody kitchen, isn’t it?’

‘It’s not that bad,’ said Aziraphale. ‘It’s quite fetching, really.’

‘Like Hell it is,’ muttered Crowley.

Then Aziraphale let out a little gasp. ‘My starter!’

The jar of goop had been one of the casualties of their urgent maneuvering through the mess of the kitchen, and it had fallen from the table and crashed onto the floor. Sighing deeply, putting as much aggravation into it as he possibly could after having had the living daylights kissed out of him, Crowley stepped forward to inspect the damage and, for the second time that day, snapped his fingers. This time the glass reassembled completed with a happy, bubbling pile of goo inside. He picked it up and put it on the workbench once again.

When he turned back to Aziraphale, however, the Angel was, instead of beaming in gratitude, blushing faintly and violently suppressing another giggle, his hand to his mouth.

‘What?’ demanded Crowley.

‘Oh. Um. You…’

‘Aziraphale, I swear to someone, we are cleaning your kitchen tomorrow.’

‘It’s just. Um. You’ve got. Quite a clear handprint. Of flour. On your backside.’ Aziraphale bit his lip but allowed his smile to widen, looking quite pleased with himself. ‘I think it improves your look, dear. Anyway, now that you’re all covered in flour, you might as well help me make the dough, don’t you think? Now that Lazarus here is ready to do his duty for us.’ He patted the jar of goop.

Crowley looked at Aziraphale. ‘You’re not calling the yeast Lazarus,’ he said.

‘I think you’ll find I am.’

‘You’re not! It’s- it’s- ridiculous. You’re- No- You’re not- I forbid it.’

‘You forbid it?’

‘It’s basically my yeast now. I brought it back. Twice.’

‘I’ve been feeding him for weeks-’

‘Our yeast then. If we’re coparenting yeast, I get naming veto rights, and Lazarus is out.’

Aziraphale looked like he was hunkering down for a bickering match, so Crowley did the same, unable to stop himself grinning as he did. Aziraphale grinned back, and then started ordering him to measure out flour even as he kept making the case for Lazarus.

Perhaps this isolation thing wasn’t so bad after all, as long as you had someone to be isolated with - and some yeast to coparent.