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Running to Catch Up

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The angel and the demon fall into companionable silence as the bus to Oxford winds its way along narrow country lanes toward London. What is there to say, really?

Well.

There are many things that probably should be said, and still more that could be, and a few that must be, eventually, no matter how daunting the prospect seems at the moment. But Aziraphale is … tired. It’s a relatively new sensation; he’s an angel, after all, ever-vigilant against the forces of evil and so on.

His favorite force of evil is slouching in the window seat beside him, which isn’t unusual in itself — Aziraphale is used to Crowley sprawling his limbs at strange angles across whatever piece of furniture he’s occupying at the time. But Crowley’s sprawl seems less affected than usual, less calculated to look good. It’s the sort of sprawl that comes from not really caring where his limbs end up as long as he doesn’t have to put any effort into getting them there. He’s tired, too.

Aziraphale supposes that, all in all, averting the apocalypse is a good excuse for both of them to be somewhat run-down.

Crowley’s arm is stretched out across the back of the seats; Aziraphale can feel it against his shoulders when he determines that saving the world is good justification (or at least rationalization) for foregoing proper decorum at the moment, and lets himself lean back. He takes a deep breath. He doesn’t technically need to breathe at all, if he doesn’t feel like it, but he’d got into the habit somewhere along the way. And anyway, deep breaths are relaxing.

Inhale. Exhale.

This is the closest he’s come to slouching in centuries, and he tucks away the little glimmer of satisfaction he feels at his own daring. Crowley glances at him, the edge of a smile turning up the corner of his lips, but he says nothing and goes back to looking out the window at the trees and signposts and occasional fences that fly past in the darkness. Aziraphale thinks they must be somewhere in the Chiltern Hills by now.

Inhale. Exhale, long and slow.

Somehow, the Chiltern Hills are still here. Somehow, they are still here. After eleven years of concern culminating in a week of intense worry and slowly-mounting horror as it sunk in that no one from Above was going to help stop the war, it’s taking some time for the reality that they had actually managed to stop it to sink in.

Crowley shifts in his seat, something like a stretch, and when he settles again, his arm has come slightly forward onto Aziraphale’s shoulders.

The bus is air conditioned, the blowers running even in the cool of the night.
Aziraphale is an angel; he doesn’t get cold if he doesn’t want to.

He shivers anyway.

Crowley’s arm flexes, tightens around him, and Aziraphale lets his posture slip even further as Crowley straightens up a little, meeting him in the middle. He finds himself tucked up under Crowley’s arm, the two of them pressed together at shoulder and chest and hip and thigh and calf and even ankle, as Crowley’s foot hooks around his leg, just enough to stop them from drifting apart.

“Alright, angel?” Crowley asks in a quiet voice, uncharacteristically hesitant.

The long line of contact between them is a reassuring comfort. Aziraphale has a demon’s could-become-claws-at-any-moment fingers hovering mere inches from his throat, and yet in this moment he feels safer than he has in… well. The last eleven years, at least. How strange. How wonderful.

Inhale. Exhale.

His hesitation lasts a moment too long, and Crowley starts to pull his arm away, but at the first lessening of pressure around his shoulders, Aziraphale moves without thinking about it, bending his right arm at the elbow to capture Crowley’s hand with his own. Crowley stops moving away. Aziraphale tugs gently, pulling Crowley’s arm back to where it had been. He lets his grip slip off of Crowley’s hand only far enough to lace their fingers together.

“Perfectly alright, my dear,” Aziraphale finally replies, meeting Crowley’s dark-lensed gaze and smiling softly. He uses his free hand to pat Crowley’s knee twice. He leaves his hand there, when he’s done with the patting, even though he can feel a blush rising on his cheeks at the audacity of it.

He can’t help but think how strongly Above would disapprove of his behavior. He can’t help but think of how he finds himself no longer giving a fig what Above thinks about him, or about Crowley, or about him-and-Crowley, which is also a thing he can’t help but think about. If their stopping the Great Plan together was part of the Ineffable Plan then, logically, so is together, and the very idea of it removes a dark and heavy weight on his heart that he’d carried so long he’d nearly forgotten it hadn’t always been there.

“Ah,” Crowley says, sounding slightly strangled. He clears his throat. “Right. Good.” He licks his lips, just once, then turns his face back toward the window. His fingers gently squeeze Aziraphale’s between them.

Inhale. Exhale.

Aziraphale lets his eyes drift closed somewhere around Slough. He spends the rest of the ride to London held tightly against one particular force of evil, and is not vigilant in the slightest.

~*~

The slightly bewildered bus driver stops in front of Crowley’s building; one of those terribly upscale places that displays the wealth of its residents by staunchly eschewing any sign that a human being (or human-shaped entity) might possibly live there.

Aziraphale follows Crowley off the bus, taking a moment to thank the bus driver for his trouble while Crowley rolls his eyes. Aziraphale knows him well enough to know this, even though Crowley’s sunglasses entirely obscure the eyes in question. He also knows, somehow, that tonight the eye roll is far more fond than mocking. It could have something to do with the way that, after they stood up, Crowley had laced their fingers together again as soon as he was reasonably able to do so.

Crowley leads, and Aziraphale follows: into the building, through the stark and minimalist lobby, into the lift, into Crowley’s flat.

He realizes, as he takes in the overwhelmingly grey space, with its straight edges and sharp shadows, that in all the time Crowley has had this flat — and it’s been decades now, at least — Aziraphale has never been inside. Crowley is such a regular presence at his bookshop — was such a regular presence; he has to remember that it’s burned down, though that doesn’t seem quite real, yet — that he found himself always leaving a bit of space on one of the tables clear, because it was Crowley’s favorite place to lean. But somehow, Aziraphale had never actually thought to visit Crowley’s home.

It isn’t what he would have expected, and he says as much.

“No? What did you expect, then?” Crowley asks, sounding bemused but also genuinely curious as he leads to way through to a sleek, modern kitchen that looks as if it’s never been used.

(This is incorrect. The kitchen has been used many times, but Crowley always felt honor-bound to hide any evidence of it. Aziraphale had even received a commendation from Above for The Great British Bake Off, after all, and Crowley had appearances to keep up.)

“I don’t know,” Aziraphale says absently as Crowley pulls two wine glasses and a bottle of an acceptable vintage out of the air and settles in to lean against the counter, his hip just brushing Aziraphale’s. “Something more comfortable than concrete, perhaps? You always were a hedonist.” He could sharpen his tongue on the word, but he doesn’t. It comes out rather fond, instead. “Your plants are lovely, though,” Aziraphale adds, raising his glass in the direction of the greenery that’s visible through a doorway down the hall.

Crowley groans. “Oh, don’t start. Do you know how much work I’ve had to put into them? You’re going to spoil them with your goodness and then it’ll be leaf spots everywhere.” He takes a long drink, swallowing half his glass in one go. “I suppose,” he says, glancing around the flat, “I wouldn’t really mind if you wanted to redecorate.”

Aziraphale blinks at him.

“I’m sure that’s not necessary. It’s only one night, after all,” he says, and to his mind quite reasonably, but Crowley goes absolutely still beside him, and his fingers turn white where he’s gripping his wine glass almost hard enough to shatter it. The moment passes, and Crowley relaxes into his perpetual slouch again.

“Right, yeah. Right,” Crowley says. “Right. Ha! Good point.”

There’s a tang of bitterness in the air, and abruptly, Aziraphale understands. He turns to fully face the demon, who seems to be avoiding meeting his eyes, though it’s hard to tell as he still hasn’t taken the sunglasses off. Aziraphale’s fingers itch to remove them himself, but he resists.

“Crowley,” he says deliberately, setting the wine glass down on the shiny black granite countertop but not quite letting go of it just yet. “When you said I could stay here. Did you mean... you wanted me to stay? Here?”

Crowley’s fingers tighten again, and this time the glass does shatter. There’s a flicker of something like relief on his face for an instant, which is just enough time for Aziraphale to miracle away the glass shards and liquid before most of it even had the chance to hit the floor and cause a distraction.

“No you don’t, you old serpent,” Aziraphale chides, releasing the last of his hold on his wine glass and taking hold one of Crowley’s hands instead. It’s trembling, just the faintest bit, and it’s suddenly imperative that the sunglasses come off. Crowley doesn’t resist when Aziraphale reaches for them; he even ducks his head a fraction, to help, but it takes another long moment for him to open his eyes and look at Aziraphale without the barrier between them.

Crowley’s eyes have always been striking, but what hits Aziraphale first is not their strange beauty, but the deep ache he can see within them. It stirs an echoing ache in his own heart, and something cracks, deep within, like a faultline in a dam bursting open from too much pressure. But what comes rushing out to fill him up isn’t a brutal, chilling flood; it’s warm and soothing and exciting all at once, like liquid sunshine.

Of course, Crowley can’t see that; can’t feel it. It’s all happening inside Aziraphale, while the outside of him is simply staring into Crowley’s eyes. He wonders what Crowley sees in his.

“I don’t mean to go too fast,” Crowley says at last, his voice soft and fraying at the edges, confession and apology in one. He doesn’t look away. Aziraphale sets the sunglasses on the countertop and finds Crowley’s other hand.

“I’m not going to forgive you,” Aziraphale says, and for a split second Crowley looks stricken before his expression closes off and he tries to wrench away. Aziraphale doesn’t let him. He squeezes Crowley’s hands instead. “How could I, when I’m the one who needs to be forgiven?”

“I’m terribly sorry, my dear,” Aziraphale continues, “that it has taken me so long to catch up with you.”

He offers Crowley a smile, and though he doesn’t get one in return, he is rewarded by the glint of something in Crowley’s reptilian eyes, which just might be called hope.

“And I would love to stay,” he says, watching that light grow brighter with each passing second, “for as long as you’ll have me.”

“That … could be a while,” Crowley warns, the corners of his mouth finally turning up into the grin that Aziraphale has known and treasured for some six thousand years.

“Do you know,” he says, smiling helplessly back, “I rather think we’ve got plenty of time.”

Crowley laughs and pulls him closer, and when his lips touch Aziraphale’s, Aziraphale kisses him back.

(Crowley’s flat is not entirely devoid of comforts. His bed is sturdy but soft, and more than big enough for two. And, it turns out, Crowley can do very interesting things with his tongue.)