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all the ashes in my wake

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A muscle twitched in Crowley's jaw for the eleventh time. 

He had been steadfastly ignoring it for seventeen minutes. 

(he kept count.) 

It shouldn't be twitching. He had control of his corporation. He had control of himself. 

It twitched. He ignored it. It was nothing. It was fine. He was fine. 

(twelve times. 

eighteen minutes. 

he kept count.) 

He bore his teeth down, crushed the molars together and tried to settle the nerve. 

He felt exposed, unsettled. His body begged for movement. He sank deeper into the couch, and let the evening set on him instead. 

He tilted his head back to bare his neck, tried to tip back the words that clawed at his throat. He bore down harder, chunks of cheek caught and torn. He felt like his mouth was filling with blood. He wanted it to. He wanted to drown the vowels, flood the consonants, wash them all away so they'd never see the light of day. 

If he opened his mouth he'd spill blood and words all over the floor, coagulate them on the rug. He'd ruin everything. 

Why was it still like this? Why was he still like this? He was happy. He was happy. He was happy. 

(was this what happiness tasted like - iron and bile and adrenaline? 

stay still. be still. it was fine. 

you don't ask for help in hell. 

he swallowed.) 

The day had been waning gently for an hour, no rush to it. The shop had been closed all day. Everything around him felt slow. 

His body begged for movement. 

The sole source of unnatural illumination was pouring over Aziraphale's latest undertaking. He watched as the angel adjusted his fussy little glasses, perched on the end of his nose. 

Aziraphale took out the gloves he used for handling broken bodies of work. Crowley watched him lay them silently on the desk as he considered the battered bindings, the loosened leaves. 

He watched Aziraphale put the gloves on - unblemished white cotton - obvious delight in the project dancing across his features. Putting things back together, the angel liked that. 

Crowley rolled his shoulder, shook out his wrist. He felt misshapen. 

(fourteen times. 

twenty one minutes.) 

Aziraphale lifted the cover and turned the pages slowly, delicately, spread the book open on the desk. He tugged a glove more firmly into place. 

"You're ridiculous." Crowley spoke softly, around his nervous jaw, around imagined blood. The words felt awkward, clotted. 

The muscle contracted again. 

Aziraphale kept turning pages, no rush to his movements. "I beg your pardon?" 

"You don't need those gloves - or the glasses." 

Aziraphale faltered - a page mid-air - and he regretted speaking, regretted the words trilling off his tongue to lay heavy and useless on the floor between them. 

(what was he doing. 

he needed to move.) 

"It's...terribly vain of me, I suppose. Not very angelic." Aziraphale released the book - inspection on hold. 

(what had he done?) 

"Very you, though. I love it." The coppery taste of concern coated his tongue. 

The angel smiled, a small but wondrous thing. "You're biased." 

He was probably right. Crowley was a lot of things where Aziraphale was concerned. 

Biased. 

Enamoured. 

Besotted. 

Terrified. 

(the problem was the gaps. the space between atoms where doubt still crept in. where molecular vibrations and anxiety moved the same way, indistinguishable. 

he was constantly vibrating. 

he needed to move. 

he was always moving. 

he was going to shake apart. leave his pieces all over the bookshop floor. 

what a mess he was going to make.) 

Aziraphale turned towards him, a slow survey of his form. He pushed himself back further into the couch. 

The book closed. 

(nineteen times. 

twenty six minutes.) 

"Go upstairs, darling." 

"What, why?" But he had already stood up, compelled forward by the angel's gentle command. 

Aziraphale reached out to catch his wrist, thumb against the back of his hand while two fingers compressed the artery and took stock against a pulse point that didn't need to exist. 

(it raced. 

he needed to move. 

he was shaking apart.) 

Aziraphale squeezed, gently, carefully. His pulse slowed - barely. The frequency of his body reduced - slightly. Aziraphale smiled softly, with infinite care. 

He felt grounded. He needed to move - less. 

"That's why." 

Oh. Aziraphale knew. Aziraphale always knew. 

"Banishing me to the attic then?" Make a joke. Deflect deflect deflect. 

Aziraphale rolled his eyes. "Hardly. Let me put this away and then I'll be up." 

He could have cried with relief. He didn't. Hardly demonic. It wouldn't have been right. 

( he wasn't right. 

twenty two times. 

twenty eight minutes.) 

The angel fussed and tidied and stalled a moment with the tip of a glove pinched between his fingers - the question caught him at the stairs - "Crowley - on, or off?" 

He breathed deeply, let it swell his chest, let is stretch the skin out tight and painful, felt his rib cage scream, his atoms shake. 

"On." 

He didn't say please. But it was there, in the empty space. His bones rattled against it. 

Please. Still me. 

Please. Choose me. 

Please. Don't touch me. 

Three, five, eight times since the first - in the car, full of fear and disbelief, and enough hope for it to be dangerous. He didn't remember all of it. 

(he did he did he did. it was a lie he has told himself over and over - that he didn't remember every second, that it wouldn't matter when it was ruined and wrecked, when he inevitably bled so much worry that aziraphale would never be rid of it’s stains. 

that an angel's love had limits and that he'd hit all of them at full and frightening speed. 

he was a demon with a hollowed-out chest where the memory of Grace still echoed when he moved. 

he needed to move.) 

***

He sat on the edge of the bed and waited. A tremor shot through his spine, down his leg. He stretched his left foot around a spasm in the arch. The bed creaked. 

(twenty six times. 

thirty two minutes.) 

Crowley leaned forward to rest his elbows on his thighs, pushed the bones hard into the muscle. He took off his glasses and threw them on the bed, put his head into his hands and pressed the heels into his sockets. 

Pressure. 

Tension. 

Stay in place. 

The bed creaked. 

He heard Aziraphale come up the stairs, come to find him. He always did. 

"Oh, my dear boy." 

Cotton dressed fingertips slid beneath the collar of his shirt to brush along his spine. He lowered his head, curved up into it, stared at Aziraphale's perfectly polished shoes. 

"Ridiculous." The word dripped out onto the floor. 

(i'm ridiculous. 

i'm not safe. 

why don't i feel safe. 

he needed to move.) 

Aziraphale made no reply - just drew his fingers round to slip beneath Crowley's hands, to push them from his face, tip his head up. He glanced at Aziraphale, darted his gaze away. 

"No glasses?" 

"I can see you, Crowley." 

He squeezed his eyes shut. Don't look don't look don't look. He wasn't sure which of them he was begging. Maybe Someone else entirely. 

Aziraphale kissed him, cupped his jaw in his hand and pressed the treacherous muscle with his thumb. 

Aziraphale knew. Aziraphale always knew. 

Crowley opened his mouth beneath the angel's, tried to deepen the kiss, but was met with chasteness. Aziraphale drew back, took a step away. He pretended his body didn't chase after him. 

"Up, my dear." 

Crowley unspooled upwards. He flexed his hands. 

"How bad is it today?" 

(twenty nine. 

thirty four minutes.) 

"It's fine. I'm fine. Nothing to get in a knot about. Don't have to get all Guardian of the Gate about it." 

"Guardian of the - you are my -" Aziraphale cast around for an appropriate word "- partner?" A laugh escaped them both. The tension in the room dissipating slightly, how small a word, how human. The sentiment, though - immense, timeless. Equals. Together. "Caring for you isn't a chore. This isn't an obligation. We are together . Now - clothes?" 

Crowley stretched out his lungs again, forced the air in deep and held it. Counted it back out one two three four. 

"Off." 

Aziraphale helped him shed his clothes and discard them to the floor, a forgivable mess. He lay out on the bed. 

(it wasn't always like this. 

he needed to move. 

sometimes he fled outside and kept going and going and going. and aziraphale followed as quickly as 

he could. 

sometimes he drove so fast the bentley screamed, brakes forgotten, accelerator burning. and aziraphale clung to the door but made no complaint. 

sometimes he coiled and uncoiled and slithered and traversed the room. and aziraphale sat and 

watched. 

sometimes it was this. two bodies. together. his body in an angel's hands.) 

He closed his eyes and tried to set his bones in place, tried to still his agitated frame - and then - a hand rested on his chest, solid on his breastbone. The cotton was warm with Aziraphale's heat, soft. The hand drew down his chest, down an invisible line. 

His leg spasmed. 

Aziraphale placed a hand on his thigh and held it down, held him in place. 

He felt cared for. He had Aziraphale's full focus and attention. It was beautiful. It was awful. 

He couldn't open his eyes, couldn't look at Aziraphale. He couldn't look at a thousand eyes that he knew were gazing at him like he mattered. 

A thousand eyes. Unblinking. Without doubt. 

(he'd had doubts. questions. look where it had gotten him. it seeped into the apertures between his atoms, pushed them apart. 

it would push them apart if he let it. 

he didn't feel safe. 

he needed to move.) 

Aziraphale ran a finger across the raise of a hip bone, a cotton-clothed thumb ghosting his skin, he tried to breath. 

The bed creaked. 

He couldn't look at Aziraphale. 

Aziraphale's hand moved to between his legs, he keened into it. Arousal flooded deep in his belly. 

He told himself the gloves kept Aziraphale safe, away from the purulence trying to weep from him. 

Another lie. 

When it was like this, when it needed to be this, he couldn't have Aziraphale's hands directly on him. Skin to skin. It was too much. The stains were his. He didn't want to tarnish Aziraphale, he'd never forgive himself. 

Aziraphale touched him with such care. 

"Come up here." Crowley reached out for the angel, pulled him up and kissed him fiercely, licked into his mouth. Aziraphale met him with full reciprocation, tongue sliding against his, a hand still working between Crowley's legs, the roughness of the fabric, the friction of it, the heat. He was burning. 

He needed more. He needed to move. 

He grabbed at the angel's clothes, loosed and tugged and finally snapped and then snapped to solve the problem. The adrenaline surged in his ears. Aziraphale's arousal obvious and heavy against his stomach. A swift shove to push Aziraphale onto his back, as he climbed onto his lap. 

He lowered himself onto Aziraphale - no grace to it, no finesse. 

Aziraphale inside him, angelic hands on his thighs as he moved. He opened his eyes, stared the angel down - every last one of his beautiful eyes met with every vestige of hope he had. 

"I love you." It was true. It had always been true. 

"I know, love." Acceptance, always, every time. 

He grabbed Aziraphale's wrists and pulled frantically at the gloves, pulled them off his hands and threw them off the bed. "Touch me." Please. 

Unclothed hands held his hips, skimmed up his ribcage. Aziraphale's fingerprints all over him. Nails scraped lightly across his back. 

Crowley leaned forward and kissed him, tongue pushing into Aziraphale's welcoming mouth as he rode the angel through muscle contractions that he didn't need to count. His head filled with static. All the space between his atoms compressed and vanished - an instant, a moment, a thousand years, he couldn't tell. 

When he came back to himself, later, sprawled bodily across Aziraphale, a hand was in his hair stroking him back to the present. Soothing him. 

"Do you want to talk about it?" Aziraphale whispered it into his skin. 

The no sat heavy and awful in his mouth. 

He took a breath. 

He was still. 

He swallowed the no back down. 

His lips parted. "Yeah." 

He was still. 

(zero. 

zero.)