Crowley has been talking for approximately four and a half minutes about something or other when Aziraphale says, rather suddenly, “You were talking about me.”
“I -- what? No, I’m talking about reality television, about how I -- how could you possibly think I was talking about you?”
Aziraphale is looking at him like -- well, like he has just realized that for the past few centuries Crowley has been wearing a fruit basket on his head, or as if he had just now fully grasped the fact that two weeks ago the world failed to end, or as if he had finally gotten the punchline of that dirty joke Crowley had told him in 1783.
“You said you had lost your best friend. You were talking about me.”
Here’s the thing. When you are an immortal being, things stop surprising you. When you have lived throughout the whole of human history, things stop catching you off guard. So the invention of the wheel might have been a surprise, but the smartphone was not. Cain murdering his brother in cold blood may have been a shock, but the other creative ways humans have come up with to hurt each other are almost to be expected, once you’ve seen two of the four people alive on earth end up in a murder plot. Humans have always craved knowledge and acknowledgement. It made being a demon a relatively easy job.
The point is, it’s hard to surprise someone when they had been present the first time someone had looked at a cow and thought, ‘I’m going to tug on those.’ The last time Crowley had been surprised had been when Aziraphale called the Velvet Underground ‘be-bop,’ but before that it was hard to remember the last time he had been truly and utterly dumbfounded.
But dumbfounded he now was. More than dumbfounded. He was completely flabbergasted. Crowley had never been flabbergasted in his very long life. He had never even said the damn word. But here he was, the very definition of flabbergasted.
Crowley had seen the rise and fall of Rome. He had seen the invention of the guillotine. He had seen the Beatles’ final performance. He had seen the first time a human being said the word ‘bodacious.’ But nothing he had ever seen was more surprising than Aziraphale standing in front of him and telling him that he hadn’t realized that Crowley had meant him when he had said, drunk and distraught, that he had lost his best friend.
“Who did you think I meant?”
“Well, I don’t know! But you seemed so upset and I was okay, I was right there --”
“You were not! I thought you had been burned away by demon fire!”
“Well,” Aziraphale said primly. “I was a little preoccupied.”
“Who else do I even talk to?”
“It’s not as if I spent every waking moment with you! For all I know you could have a very… booming nightlife and a. Large circle of friends?”
“I don’t! I have one friend, you idiot angel!” He threw himself onto the couch and threw an arm over his face. “I can’t believe you.”
“I had a lot on my mind,” Azirphale says defensively. “The world was ending, if you remember. I had just recently been discorporated. I was trying to find the Anti-Christ. And I…” He trails off.
Crowley removes his arm to look at Aziraphale, who is looking at his hands and blushing.
“I -- well. I didn’t think you felt so strongly about me!”
Crowley couldn’t remember the last time he had been surprised twice in one day. He was so completely surprised that he let out a short, bark of a laugh. “Amazing,” he says. “You are absolutely incredible.”
“Oh, well, thank you.”
“That wasn’t a compliment. Six thousand years. Six thousand years, and you thought there was someone else?”
“Aziraphale.” His voice is low, gravelly and serious. “There has never been anyone else.”
Aziraphale opens and closes his mouth a few times and starts multiple sentences, but none of them came close to accurately express what is going through his head, which can best be described as multiple exclamation marks flashing through his brain.
“I didn’t think,” the angel says quietly. Crowley snorts.
“Yes, that much has become clear.”
“You, uh. You thought it was demon fire?”
“What was I supposed to think?” Crowley’s voice had lost its bite, too busy remembering the way it had felt to rush into that burning bookshop and realize Aziraphale was gone. “Something awful had to have happened. You never would have let the shop burn.”
“I’m sorry,” Aziraphale says quietly. “I hadn’t realized what it must have been like.”
It had been like watching his demonic heart burn away, Crowley thinks bitterly to himself. It was like Falling all over again.
“Thank you,” Aziraphale says. Crowley put his arm over his face again. The room was too hot, suddenly. Aziraphale’s voice sounded reverent. The space between them was like heaven and hell, unbridgeable. He had never felt so damned as he had sitting in a burning bookshop and realizing there was nothing he could do. He had said best friend and he had meant they took the world from me . Words were not enough.
“I didn’t do anything,” he says.
“You have always seen me for me,” Aziraphale says gently, and what Crowley thinks but does not say is I can see nothing else. “It is… refreshing.”
Crowley does not know what to say to this. That Aziraphale does not see what has always been in front of him is not particularly surprising. Aziraphale had not realized electricity had been invented until he looked up one day and realized there were lights on. It was Crowley’s greatest defense mechanism; even if he couldn’t hide the way he looked at the angel, Aziraphale would never recognize it.
“What do you see?” Is what he says. “When you look at me?” He’s not even sure if he really wants to know, but he has to say something to fill this stifling silence, even if he hears something he doesn’t want to.
Aziraphale scoffs. Crowley hadn’t been expecting that. Aziraphale usually reserved his scoffing for twelve dollar wine from the grocery store and mediocre sushi. “Oh my dear,” he says. “Surely you must know.”
Crowley removes his arm from over his eyes once again, stares at Aziraphale uncomprehendingly. “Surely I must know what?’
Aziraphale is staring at him with an expression Crowley can’t read, which is another surprise, as Crowley had an extensive mental catalogue of all of Aziraphale’s expressions, and had rather thought he had witnessed all of them. To have another one staring him in the face, both literally and figuratively, was a bit like realizing the aunt you’ve had all your life is not actually related to you. Like everything you thought you knew was wrong.
“Oh, goodness,” Aziraphale says softly. “You really don’t know, do you?”
Crowley really didn’t like being left out of the loop (unless the loop in question was a noose). “Aziraphale,” he says, sitting forward so his elbows are on his knees, his yellow eyes narrowed in complete focus on the angel in front of him. “What are you talking about?”
“Really, Crowley,” Aziraphale says, and he looks almost amused. “It’s been six thousand years.”
“Yes,” he says, completely unsure what, exactly, they were talking about but clutching onto that one, irrefutable fact. “It has.”
“Six thousand years and you’ve never seen it?”
“Seen what? For hell’s sake, Aziraphale, stop speaking in code.”
“The way I look at you, you silly snake,” he says kindly. “What else?”
Crowley swallows and blinks several times. He does not, strictly speaking, have to do either, but it gives him something to do. The way that Aziraphale says what else is throwing him for a loop, because he says it with such surety, as if there really was nothing else. As if everything Crowley has never let himself want has been right in front of him for millennia. He blinks again.
“Oh stop blinking, for heaven’s sake! It is extremely disconcerting.”
“What does that mean?”
“Er -- unsettled, you know --”
Crowley waves his hand. “I know what disconcerting means, you daft fool, I mean… how do you look at me?”
“You’re not going to make me say it, are you?”
Crowley grinned. For the first time in the conversation he felt somewhat in control. This was something he knew; pushing Aziraphale when he knew he needed to be pushed. “How am I supposed to know what you’re saying if you don’t say it?”
“Because you’ve known me for six thousand years!”
“Demons can’t read minds, you know.”
“Oh, I know you’re only doing this to be difficult,” Aziraphale says, sitting down on the couch beside Crowley and putting his face in his hands.
“It is quite literally my job.”
“You must know,” Aziraphale says desperately. Crowley moves the angel's hands away from his face.
“You didn’t,” he says. Aziraphale blows out air.
“Then we are both fools, I suppose.”
“I suppose you’re right.” He keeps his hand on Aziraphale’s wrist, fingers lightly looped around it.
“So then,” Aziraphale says, clearing his throat. “What do we do now?”
What did they do now? The world had seemed to open up in front of him. He would have to go back six thousand years and go over everything the angel had said or did with a fine tooth comb, try to understand what he’d missed. He’d have to go home and terrorize his plants to feel in control of himself again. He’d have to commit to memory the way Aziraphale looked right now, soft and serene and perfect.
“How about some lunch?” Is what he says, and Aziraphale smiles warmly.
“I think that sounds splendid,” he says, and after he locks up the shop Crowley slips his hand in Aziraphale’s, content with the knowledge that for all the years he had been looking, Aziraphale had been looking back.