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The Elephant

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“Ah, there’s a bit of a… thing. In the flat. Um.”

Crowley hadn’t slept on the bus, though he was so tired he imagined he could feel the drag of gravity on his eyelids. He’d been thinking about Heaven and Hell’s all-but-guaranteed retribution, sure. He’d been thinking about the warm length of Aziraphale’s thigh against his; the seats on the bus were close and you could end up pressed against your seatmate, but you didn’t have to. It was either a social gaffe or a romantic overture, and Crowley had his fingers crossed for the latter.

But a sizable portion of his mind, the part that worried at inconsequential things like littering when the end of the world was looming and his- his Aziraphale was gone… that part had been trying to come up with an explanation for Ligur. Or, failing that, a way to get the mess cleaned up before the angel saw it. But you couldn’t un-holy holy water (he knew, he’d googled it), and the stuff was splashed across half the flat. He’d felt the radiant, threatening warmth from the drops on the walls and the floor when he’d fled, a handful of hours and a lifetime ago.

So… fuck. There was really nothing for it. He sighed. “I have to ask you for a favour.”

 

After hearing the story, Aziraphale had insisted that Crowley stay safely in the hallway. No amount of casual hand-waving or nonchalant shoulder shrugging had put a dent in his fussing, so now Crowley was letting the wall hold him up and listening to the sound of silence on the other side of his closed door. He expected to feel the shivery ripple of metaphorical wind that accompanied a miracle, but none came.

After five minutes, he was ready to crawl out of his skin. Aziraphale hadn’t been round to his before, but Crowley was sure it was safe. There wasn’t anything in there that could harm an angel… he didn’t think. Was there? It was the home of an infernal creature, after all- Shelob’s den, Dracula’s castle, the lair of the white worm. What if some evil steeped into the very walls was sapping the angel’s grace? What if the houseplants, cowed and held in check by Crowley’s malice up to now, decided to stage a rebellion? What if- oh hell- what if Beelzebub showed up on the flatscreen?

Shit. Crowley whirled and raised his fist to start pounding on the door at the same moment it opened. There stood Aziraphale- pink-cheeked, looking a little out of sorts, but whole and safe. At the sight of Crowley, he dropped his eyes with a little smile, looking- of all things- coquettish? He glanced up again through his lashes and put a shy hand on Crowley’s chest. “Oh Crowley,” he said. “Yes.” Then he leaned up and pressed his lips to the corner of Crowley’s mouth.

Crowley’s higher mental processes ground to a halt. Somewhere in the pink clouds of his consciousness he was wondering if he’d left a lust spell open in the loo or something, but that felt far away and unimportant. His world was the warm weight of Aziraphale’s hand, the scent of his cologne (how had the antichrist restored him with the same cologne? It boggled the mind), the papery, smooth brush of his lips, the tickle of his breath against Crowley’s cheek.

For a long moment he simply stood frozen, long enough for Aziraphale to step back and meet the gaze of his sunglasses. The delighted, hopeful expression on his face started to dim, and Crowley couldn’t have that, but he also had to figure out what on earth had just happened. A little thigh-to-thigh contact and linked pinkie fingers on a bus did not a love confession make, particularly for a being as exhausted and vulnerable as Aziraphale was right now. Crowley hadn’t planned on bringing it up; they had bigger fish to pull out of the frying pan.

He took a step backwards, softening the gesture by putting his hands on the angel’s shoulders. He cleared his throat. “Yes- yes what?” His voice was the squeak of a human adolescent. Great.

“Oh- my, my dear boy, forgive me, I’m sorry. I just thought- well, I know it’s not always easy for you to put what you’re feeling into words, and then you sent me in first, and I saw… well, anyway, I figured the only explanation was that you wanted to tell me… oh, but that’s not it at all, is it? Have I gotten it wrong?” Aziraphale was babbling, pulling his warm hand away, tucking his emotions back inside like an heiress might lock her finest jewels away in a safe, and Crowley reached for him blindly, pulled him closer.

“No! No, it’s not- I mean, it is- I mean- um, well. What happened to Ligur?” Crowley made a gesture meant to symbolize the expected puddle of demon on the floor, the holy water blast radius, and the general disaster of the office.

Aziraphale frowned. “I couldn’t say. There’s no sign of him, and no holy water anywhere in the flat besides your safe. I could sense it behind the portrait, and I couldn’t say for certain, but my guess is that it’s contained.”

Crowley stared at him, open-mouthed. Aziraphale rubbed his forehead with two fingers, starting to look faintly mortified. “You… weren’t expecting that.”

“Expecting- no! Last I knew, there were demon bits all over the place in there. He-” Crowley winced. “-splashed.”

“Oh. Adam, then. Adam must have done something. When he changed things.” Aziraphale was using his “I’m working it out” voice. “I thought perhaps you’d just wanted me to go in first. To see…”

“See… what?” Crowley felt he was missing something fairly significant.

Aziraphale was blushing fiercely. “Fine. Fine, maybe I jumped to a conclusion I shouldn’t have. I confess I’m not at my best tonight, but Crowley, what was I supposed to think?”

“About what?” Crowley felt like screaming. He’d miracled the soot off his clothes and out of his hair, but his eyes still felt lightly poached in their sockets, and his head ached. He didn’t have the capacity at the moment to untangle a riddle, and wished he’d just kissed Aziraphale back first and asked questions later.

Aziraphale looked at him carefully, lips pursed, then turned and walked into the flat without a word. Crowley followed him. Path of least resistance. The lights were still on, doors flung open, shades up though only the occasional reflection of car headlamps on the ceiling showed through them now. Aziraphale strode purposefully into the office and stood in front of the desk, which should have been dotted with demon pieces, but appeared pristine. Everything was as it should be- chair, desk, throne, falcon statue. Ansaphone and television screen, both mercifully silent. Clean floor. Of Ligur and the holy water, there was no sign. Still, he couldn’t see what had gotten Azirapahle in such a state-

Aziraphale flung his arms out with more than a touch of drama. “Well?”

“Well?” Perfect, he was bloody Echo now.

“Crowley. It’s been a long day and I’m very tired. I know I’m occasionally… challenged, when it comes to being direct-”

Crowley barked a short, incredulous laugh. “Angel, you need a transatlantic flight to get into the same time zone as ‘direct’, most of the time. You haven’t been in the same room as ‘direct’ since before you gave away your sword.”

“All right, point taken. I may struggle with saying what’s on my mind, but I’m not bloody blind, Crowley!” He made what he probably thought was a deeply explanatory gesture around the flat.

Crowley flung out his arms. “You’re going to have to say it, Aziraphale! I’ve spent half of today on fire. Please,” this last from between clenched teeth, “have mercy.”

Aziraphale’s irritated expression softened a little. “You really don’t know.”

“Angel-”

“All right.” He held up one finger, like the pedant he was. “One. Statue of angel and demon, there. Engaged in a bout of naked- sport.”

“They’re wrestling! The Greeks used to wrestle-”

“Yes, quite. Like Achillies and Patroclus.”

Crowley opened his mouth, then shut it. In truth, it had been years since he’d really looked at the statue, faded by the familiarity of long acquaintance, but sure, maybe when he’d bought it he’d been thinking-

“Two. Mona Lisa sketch.” Aziraphale smiled softly. “The companion piece to the portrait he made of us, if I’m not mistaken. I saw that drawing in his studio when we sat for it.”

Crowley remembered the smell of paint and wood chips, the dust hanging in the air, and the angel- resplendently starched in velvet and lace, shooting him glances out of the corner of his eye as they sat. His laughter when Leo had handed them Ombra E Luce.

“Three.” Aziraphale paused, and then pointed to the lounge. “That.”

“Oh.”

“Crowley.”

“Um.”

Aziraphale laughed softly, shaking his head. “How could you imagine in a thousand years that I could walk into your flat and not know what that meant?”

Crowley coughed. “S’just a. Thing. I like souvenirs, is all. I un-consecrated a church, so. Souvenier,” oh Satan, what was he saying.

“If you can look me in the eye right now- glasses off- and tell me that eagle lectern is a memento from the time you destroyed a church and has nothing to do with us at all- then I’ll let the whole thing go, Crowley.” Aziraphale’s eyes were deep gray pools. Crowley was falling into them, and wasn’t that every kind of terrible cliche? “I won’t say another word about it. We’ve got plenty to be getting on with, after all.”

Now was his chance, to say, to finally say- “Well, what about you?” Crowley snapped. His rational mind put a metaphorical hand to its metaphorical forehead with a sigh.

Aziraphale looked affronted. “What about me?”

“Well- well I didn’t bloody say anything, did I? Let you keep your dignity, but honestly. You’ve been more obvious than a lighthouse on a mountain, beaming away with your “I’m interested” signals, then denying it when I bring it up!”

“Well! I certainly don’t think-”

“No, no. If we’re doing this, then we’re both going down. Right at the beginning- your wing! Over my head! I almost had a heart attack! Would have been the first one.”

“I was being friendly!”

“‘Friendly’ between an angel and a demon is not smiting me on sight. Keeping the rain off me like a suitor throwing a coat over his girl’s shoulders is downright romantic. And-” he pointed an admittedly dramatic finger at Aziraphale, pacing back and forth as Aziraphale stood, hands behind his back, doing his best “I’m above all this” face. “-and. You took me to lunch. Oysters. Bloody oysters! Eye contact city while you tongued the things out of their shells, and what am I supposed to think?”

Aziraphale drew in a quick breath. “Well, I-”

“Another lunch. Crepes in Paris. You left your frills on. After performing a miracle you’d told me just five minutes earlier you weren’t allowed to do.”

“It was different-”

“No it wasn’t! You- you prevaricator!” Crowley pounded his palm with his index finger. “What’s going to look more frivolous, hmm? Miracle number one: unlocking a set of handcuffs and a Bastille dungeon door to preserve my frilly, posh angelic hide; or Miracle number two: slipping into something more comfortable! Aziraphale!”

Aziraphale blushed and looked at the floor. “...thought you hadn’t caught that,” he said in a small voice.

Crowley stopped mid-pace, took a breath, and walked up to Aziraphale, daring to put a hand on his cheek. “If someone’s been looking at nothing but you, watching for any kind of a sign, for thousands of years, it’s hard to miss something like that,” he said gently. “But you didn’t say anything. So I didn’t either. Years went by, thought maybe it was all wishful thinking. Until.” He sighed. “The holy water.”

Aziraphale’s face was turned towards him, but his eyes were pointed away and down. They looked shinier than they should. Crowley pulled his sunglasses off with the hand not resting against Aziraphale’s cheek. “‘Go for a picnic,’ you said.”

“Dine at the Ritz,” murmured Aziraphale.

“Know I go too fast for you. But. Well, after that, I knew where we were heading, at any rate. There just wasn’t any other explanation.”

“Like your… souvenir.”

Crowley smiled. “Like my souvenir from the church. You’re not… you’re not wrong, angel.”

“I thought you were asking me-”

“I was! I am! I mean, I intend. I protest. I love thee.”

“Oh Crowley.” Aziraphale beamed at him, damply.

“S’just… I’ve been asking. Intending. Protesting. Didn’t really think you were listening. So…” Crowley felt a creeping chagrin that usually meant some sort of self-revelation was in the works. “Maybe I let it come out in the things I put in my flat, since I couldn’t say it to you. And it’s been so much a part of me that I didn’t even think how it’d look. When you walked in.”

“I’m glad, Crowley. I’m so glad.”

 

Some hours later, after thinking on the prophecy and making plans and exchanging notes… after they’d tangled up their lips and their limbs and explored some of the more exciting ways their corporations could fit against and inside one another… they lay in Crowley’s bed, Aziraphale’s head on Crowley’s shoulder, Crowley’s hand stroking mindlessly through his hair. He felt an amazed sense of familiarity, as if they’d been doing this for years- sharing a bed, sharing kisses and caresses and passing little endearments back and forth. It was like the last piece of a puzzle slotting into place, and pulling back… to see the picture that had been on the box all along. Not a surprise, but certainly a pleasure.

Crowley nosed Aziraphale’s temple. “So. When I go to the bookshop tomorrow- I’m to check all the rooms, yeah? Including the upstairs flat, where you never let me go?”

“Well! I’m not sure if you necessarily need-”

“What am I gonna find there, angel?”

Aziraphale huffed a laugh and turned his face fully into Crowley’s shoulder. “Fine,” he said, voice muffled. “The upstairs flat. If you must know- that sketch Leo did of us is on the wall-”

“I knew it! I knew you made off with it, you- you thief! ‘Lost’, you said-”

“There’s a- a pile of letters. On the desk.”

Crowley began to laugh.

“Do not read them!” Aziraphale cautioned, lifting his head, eyes wide. He looked mortified, but he was smiling.

“What else?”

“If you must know. A feather.”

No.

“In a vase- on the bedside table. Don’t say a word!” Aziraphale rolled away and hid his face in his hands, shoulders shaking with embarrassed laughter.

Crowley rolled with him, pulled him close so the delicious, smooth length of his back was against his stomach, rounded angel buttocks pressing into his lap. He pressed a kiss behind Aziraphale’s ear. “You love me. And you were never, ever gonna tell me.”

“It felt too big.”

“Bloody elephant in the room, was what it was.”

“Or possibly church lectern in the room.”

“Shut up.” Crowley rolled him over and kissed his mouth again, effectively silencing them both.