Crowley awoke slowly. He felt disjointed- both physically and mentally. He took inventory. Fuzzy head. Tetchy stomach. Had he forgotten to sober up? Slanted, pink sunlight. Was it dawn or dusk? A heavy, dull pain in his left ankle. Sharp little warnings twinging in his back and hips, shoulders and jaw. He was in for a bad pain day. (Or night, if the light outside was dusk.)
Where the heaven was he? This wasn't his bed, or the bookshop sofa. He pulled himself off a silk brocade pillow and rolled over in segments, grunting and wincing. He was in a high-ceilinged room, subtly rococo, unsubtly posh. When he finally slid over onto his back, he found himself looking up at gilded molding and a chandelier. He squinted, puzzled.
Was he… in a room at the Ritz?
Funny, he'd never slept at the Ritz before. You'd think he would have, sometime in their 112 years in business. He'd dined downstairs dozens of times. Usually with-
The weekend ran through Crowley's head like a VHS tape on fast-forward. All the way up to the snogging, and then…
Shit! Shit, shit, shit!
Panting, he pulled himself up by the bedpost and scanned the room. The angel wasn't here.
Where had he gone? Why had he gone? Gone and left Crowley sleeping, alone and injured, in an unfamiliar place? Sure, he was probably embarrassed about getting carried away last night. (Crowley certainly was.) But that was no reason to leave Crowley a sitting duck.
He wouldn't leave me now, Crowley thought. At least- not of his own volition…
He stood and tested his left ankle. As long as he didn't move the joint, the pain was just about tolerable. He hobbled forth, treating his left foot like an inert crutch. It only took a few steps for his knees and hips to start complaining about his un-suave new gait. But he kept moving, hissing through clenched teeth, white-knuckling first the bedposts and then the nearest chair. He couldn't give up. His mind's eye was consumed with memories of flame…
He'd nearly reached the suite's door when it began to open from the other side. He braced himself, determined to at least go down fighting, but then…
"Crowley!" Aziraphale chided. "What in heaven's name are you doing?"
"What'm-? Wh-? Me? You-! Where have you been?"
Crowley slumped against the wall. Aziraphale sidled past him into the suite and placed a stack of printouts on the sideboard. The top page had a diagram of the Beighton Scale.
"You've been reading," Crowley accused.
"I didn't know what else to do!"
"Oh I dunno, ssstand guard, maybe? Not leave me here defenssseless and at the top of both sssides' defecation rostersss?" Crowley snapped.
His slump began to turn into a downward slide. He didn't have the strength to push himself upright. Aziraphale ducked beneath his arm, gathered him up, and carried him back across the room. Crowley deflated. All the fight went out of him, leaving him exhausted and embarrassed. Relieved- but still hurt.
"Thought I'd lost you again," he croaked. "Like when the bookshop burned down… I went in, you know. Looking for you."
"Oh," Aziraphale gasped. "Crowley, I'm so sorry…"
The angel stood before the bed and began to lower him down. Crowley pictured himself fighting past the muscle cramps again, struggling to find a decent position. He couldn't help but whimper.
"Hurts to lie down," Crowley confessed.
"Goodness. I should have asked," Aziraphale fretted. "Would you rather sit up, then?"
"Can't. Hotel chairs are no good," said Crowley. And it's not like you can carry me in your arms all day. Well- it's not like you'd want to…
"How about this?" Aziraphale asked.
He turned around. A wheelchair had appeared out of nowhere. The seat, back and headrest were covered in flat, sturdy foam. It had shocks and an electric motor. The trim was crimson, and the dark grey frame had the matte sheen of titanium alloy. Crowley raised an eyebrow, impressed in spite of himself. This was a personal-use wheelchair- and not the kind you'd get on the NHS.
Aziraphale helped Crowley into the chair. Then he held open the French doors to the balcony. Crowley maneuvered himself outside. The chair moved smooth and easy. Once he found a good spot, he reclined the chair with a flick of a switch. Soon his back and hips were the most relaxed they'd been since he'd gotten out of bed.
Well done, angel, he thought.
Usually when Crowley was this badly out of sorts, he'd lie in bed- sleeping or not- until he healed. It could take days- even weeks. But now that both 'sides' were after them, he couldn't spend weeks just lying around. And besides, it was nice to get up and rejoin the land of the awake, without having to support his body weight.
Aziraphale may have just erased centuries of demonic apprehension towards wheelchairs- all with one well-timed miracle.
The angel pulled up a wrought iron chair. Crowley flopped his head sideways on his headrest, smiling wanly.
"So. Did you find out what EDS stands for? Besides Evil Demon Snake?"
Aziraphale smiled. It was that adorable, bashful smile of his where he tucked in his chin and looked up at Crowley. "Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. And I am truly sorry for leaving you. I just wanted to understand what you're going through, without pelting you with questions."
"Yeah, I know," said Crowley. "But I told you: you've already helped me, without even knowing. And you can always ask me questions. Or at least leave me a note the next time you run off?"
"Oh I will," Aziraphale said earnestly. "We're on our own side, now more than ever. I won't ever leave again without warning you. After all, that's… that's not really a nice way to treat someone you love."
"Okay, okay. You're forgiven," Crowley teased.
He scanned the view before them with heavy-lidded eyes. The sunrise scaled the buildings east of Berkeley Square, and gold light spilled into the little park. The pretty chaos of birdsong intensified, scarcely dampened by the light, early-morning traffic.
Crowley thought they were basking in comfortable silence, as old friends are wont to do- until he glanced over at Aziraphale. The angel was frowning down at his wringing hands.
"I love you, Crowley," Aziraphale blurted.
Crowley gaped momentarily. Sure, now that their occult pink slips had come in, they finally could say it out loud. But he hadn't expected Aziraphale to be so forward, so soon. If he was honest, he thought that he would beat Aziraphale to the punch.
But then, he liked how the angel could still surprise him, after all this time. And he said he loved him, that was the important thing. Crowley swallowed his pride and smiled.
"I… I love you too, angel."
"You don't seem surprised," the angel pouted.
"Should I be?"
"Well." Aziraphale looked down at his hands again. "I know you can't sense love."
"Not like you can," Crowley admitted. "But there's sensing things, and there's having a sense of things. We've been flirting with each other, what, since Rome at least. And I'd say we've moved well beyond that in the past two centuries or so."
"Two centuries…" Aziraphale paused. Crowley could see him doing the mental math. "…Are you counting from the Bastille?"
Crowley shrugged. "Bastille works, too. Actually, I was thinking of when you opened the bookshop- and I tricked Gabriel into letting you stay on earth. 'S not just that I didn't want to deal with Michael… I really would've missed you."
"I would have missed you too."
Aziraphale smiled, but his hands were still tight, his eyes nervous. Crowley offered a hand towards him, loose and tired. Aziraphale reached out and took it.
"But if you already knew," said the angel, "then I've made a fuss over nothing, haven't I?"
"No," Crowley said softly. He ran his thumb along Aziraphale's hand. "Only if you think love is nothing."
They got moving before they could get too soppy. Crowley popped a few Motrin and retrieved his sunglasses from the bedside table. Aziraphale packed the remaining first aid supplies into a black leather messenger bag that had appeared on the wheelchair's handlebars.
He went to put the printouts in the bag too, but there wasn't enough room. Papers spilled over the carpet, onto the bedspread, into Crowley's lap. Crowley picked up a page, and zeroed in on Aziraphale's handwriting in the margins.
1. Bentley "moment"
3. St. James
"What about the bookshop?" Aziraphale asked.
"That's the other time I fell. When I went in looking for you. Fire humans got me with the hose."
Aziraphale leaned down, running his hands gently over the demon's slender chest. All Crowley had to do was look up, and he caught him in a kiss. It was all so easy now.
"I think we ought to stick together, for awhile," said Aziraphale. "In case either of our sides comes after us. And- well… I'd rather like to stay with you, even if we didn't have to."
"Yeah, I'd like that, too," said Crowley. He nuzzled Aziraphale's cheek. "So. Your place or mine? I vote yours. 'S more fun."
"I would have to carry you upstairs," Aziraphale warned.
"Fine by me," Crowley grinned.
Aziraphale shook his head in mock disapproval. You shameless serpent, you. Crowley kissed him again. Just because he could now. After centuries of never saying it, never showing it too directly, perhaps now they could make up for lost time. This could be fun to get used to.
"I love you, angel."
"I love you too, Crowley."