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Unbraiding in the Sun

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It’s a sneaky feeling, love.

It creeps up behind you when you least expect it. When you swear off all things painful and dangerous, say sobriety is my only friend and toss your tobacco in the gutter. You decide to focus on yourself, rejuvenate your skin, drink more water. Let’s get it right this time, let’s do the work before the deadline. One eye on the clock, another on the future. You forget to look at what’s right in front of you, then forget to turn around.

Love is sneaky, roguish in the dark. It does not wield a weapon, no sword or mace, but rather tickles in all the wrong places, squeezes the air from your lungs. Rinses words from your tongue. Leaves you all hot and flustered, face bright red and eyes burning regardless of who’s watching.

Love is a bitch.

But you wouldn’t have it any other way, would you? What is worse than all this madness, all this clamouring up your throat and down your spine? Worrying he’ll change his mind. You’ve asked too much this time. Sleep the years away, then, if you dare. Pretend you’re somewhere else, not in this drowned city, great arteries rich with life beyond your reach. That’ll teach him. (Won’t it?)

 

Aziraphale has to remind himself that he is deeply upset and tremendously angry. Crowley’s mussed hair, poking up between the sheets, is ridiculous, but ridiculously cute at that. Like burnished wheat, red in dying sunlight, swaying in a daisy-dotted meadow. Aziraphale sits beside the sleeping figure, bundled beneath the duvet.

“I miss you, you sly thing,” he says to the top of Crowley’s forehead. “You’ve got to get up soon. I’m terribly bored on my own, even when picking up all your odd jobs.”

His words are thick with syrup, too sweet for the argument left unresolved. Crowley’s forehead stays smooth, uncreased in his slumber. Aziraphale takes it as a sign of forgiveness.

He starts filling in the paperwork, a quill appearing in his hand as a portable writing desk settles on his lap, inkwell attached. Hell’s vellum is warm to the touch, but after more than two decades it is no longer too unpleasant to bear. He smooths out the parchment and sets to work mimicking Crowley’s looping scrawl.

Annual report: specify the sin quotas you have fulfilled below (and try not to get fecal matter on the envelope).

“Righty-o, this year’s been a breeze,” Aziraphale hums and tries not to feel too guilty.

Avarice, check. Gluttony, check. Sloth - Crowley lets out a quiet snore beside him - check.

 

In this dream, there is a glass tumbler of port and an angel’s laughter, rich and spiced like mulled wine.

In this one, you stroll through a park, arm in arm, holding onto the wind and the sunshine. Tightly now, don’t let them fade away. You thread them through silver-blonde curls, tattoo this smile onto the back of your heart. There is a little door behind your ribs. Keep it all there! Don’t let go! When the sun rises, unravelling this fiction, remember his words and his soft, broad hands.

In another, it is cold. You take him home and share the heat.

You don’t want to wake up just yet.

 

“It’s Christmas, Crowley!” Aziraphale sings. The wind howls along, like a dog inspired by the piano. The resulting tune is not good, per se, but perhaps a little charming.

Aziraphale has been decorating the room over the past week, placing a candle here and there, a wreath and a bunch of holly. Crowley still lies under layers of cotton and down, motionless but for the slight rise and fall of his breathing. It would most likely go unnoticed if one were not looking exceptionally close. (Where Crowley is concerned, Aziraphale is always looking close.)

Snow falls. London sighs. Aziraphale eats a mince pie and gets crumbs on Crowley’s quilt.

“Whoops,” he says through a mouthful, “sorry, my dear.”

He brushes powdered sugar off his fingers and then brushes Crowley’s hair back from his forehead.

“Where are you now, I wonder? Last century, surely. Oh, those years were a wonder for us, weren’t they?” The wine, the art, the parties. Aziraphale thinks of the world about them now, so polite and uptight, Victoria’s stiff-upper lip immobilising half the country. “Maybe it’s a good thing you’re napping. You’d most likely be bored to death anyhow.”

He exhales slowly. He doesn’t really mean it.

“Do come back to me, Crowley. I miss you something terrible.”

 

The thing is, the thing is, when you’ve spent all your time on Earth trailing after one person, they sort of become your entire world. When you’ve seen everything, been everywhere, things become a little warped.

It’s time to wake up now.

 

It’s January.

“W... w-”

“Crowley! What? What is it, dear? Everything okay? What’s the matter? Are you sleep-talking? Oh dear, you are awake, yes?”

“...water.”

“Oh! Right. Yes. Er.”

Aziraphale pushes himself off the bed and bustles out of the room like a housewife on a mission. He’s awake. Finally.

And he needs some water.

When the angel returns, glass in hand, Crowley’s raised himself into somewhat of a seated position, reclined against a mountain of pillows with the duvet tucked up against his chest. But his head and arms are visible, the long line of his neck, the pale insides of his wrists. He’s got his hands laid out on the blanket, palms towards the ceiling, flexing his fingers with an absurd look of concentration on his face. Sweat-stained shirt and greasy hair. He looks utterly divine.

“Angel,” he croaks, eyes squinting in the candle-lit room.

It’s late, midnight or so, and Aziraphale had arrived a couple of hours before to painstakingly remove the strings of cranberries and popped corn, the hangings of dried clementines punctured with cloves, the branches of pine still fresh and green. He had hummed to himself and glanced over at the bed and wondered what on Earth he was doing there.

And then Crowley had woken up.

“Crowley,” he says now, lifting the cup to the lips of a demon who trusts his steady hand and hurriedly drinks. He clenches his shaking fists and Aziraphale watches his eyes flutter shut. “Better?”

“Mmm.” Crowley pulls away after draining the glass. “Much.”

They sit in a gentle silence for a moment. Aziraphale places the glass on the floor.

“What year is it?”

“Oh. Um. 1886.”

Wonderful,” Crowley says and his eyes flash gold as he opens them, the candlelight reflected in a warm haze. Aziraphale feels his throat fill with riches, the silver-copper burn of it like that hair and smirk and those sharp teeth. “You were in my dreams, y’know.”

Aziraphale scoffs but his cheeks flush. But… wonderful. It rings in his ears but loses the sheen: the pearl of the ‘o’ falls flat, the ‘d’ hits hard and fast. Wonderful? To be left alone for twenty-four years?

He gets up, leaves the glass on the floor.

“I should be heading off.”

“But-”

“Affairs at the bookshop, you see. Couldn’t dare stay any longer.”

“This late?” Crowley angles his head to the unshuttered window, eyes the sky darkened by night and pollution.

“Goodbye now, Crowley.”

Love is a weight that sits heavy in the creases of Aziraphale’s palm. Sometimes it feels it may be easier to just let go. Aziraphale pauses halfway out of the bedroom, hands shaking as he reaches for the brass doorknob, ready to close this behind him, ready to settle in his flat above his bookshop with a warm cup of cocoa and a book that will most assuredly not be a romance, ready to while away the hours without thoughts of a demon, without the accompanying tightness of breath, without the sharp cut that zeros at the bone.

“Aziraphale?”

His hand falls heavy, palm against the brass.

“Yes?”

Angels do not have free will. This love is not a choice.

“Don’t leave.”

(Even if he could, he wouldn’t let go.)

“I’m sorry,” Crowley says, “for making you wait.” He is tucked under the blankets, mussed hair, gold eyes, hands pressed into the mattress as if burdened by something but desperately unwilling to watch it slip away.

There is a moment in which something grows quiet in Aziraphale’s chest, then all at once large and shining, like the ripples of a lake expanding from a single drop, circling towards the shore. Water has an edge to it; its history has a bite. The molecules aligned in fearsome ranks, or tumbling over each other in haste, light and free and crisp as a whip’s crack.

Pale skin and burnished-wheat hair and instead of eyes, two starbright wishes above that angle of a nose. This is what he has to lose. A narrow fellow, he is, but a good one all the same.

Aziraphale steps through the doorway, back into the demon’s lair, and settles himself on the bed beside him.

“My dear,” he breathes, and his hand finds Crowley’s, shares the weight, “it’s good to have you back.”