Sunlight streams through the bookshop windows, highlighting the dust motes that drift serenely through the air like dancing fairy lights. The early autumn air is warm enough that Aziraphale has switched on an oscillating pedestal fan that he’d had to drag out from somewhere in the back. It hums steadily in the background, while Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3 in G, K.216: II. Adagio spins lazily on the record player atop the front desk.
In the back of the shop, a drawer slams with a sound like a small explosion, its contents rattling within.
This is followed by an even louder, “Fuck!”
Crowley glares at the offending cabinet. More specifically, at the drawer that had dared to pop back open after his (admittedly rather violent) attempt to close it. He hisses before giving it a second attempt, this time pushing it closed much more gently with the back of his hand.
“Where in the hell is it?” he shouts.
The way he flops down in the nearby armchair - the one pulled in front of Aziraphale’s ancient, boxy desktop monitor - is not at all petulant. And neither is the way he crosses his arms.
“Don’t worry, my dear, I’m sure we’ll find it,” Aziraphale calls from the front, much calmer than he has any right to be. “But please. Mind the books?”
Mind the books , Crowley mouths to himself, mockingly. Then he huffs out a long, loud breath, dragging his hands down his face as he sinks deeper into his seat.
It’s not Aziraphale’s fault. After all, Crowley was the one who had decided to settle in for a nap for nearly a century and leave one of his most important possessions in the angel’s care. He hadn’t even spared a thought for the lockbox - or, rather, what he had once put inside the lockbox - for decades. Not until recently. The only reason he’d even brought it up in the first place was because of copious amounts of alcohol. It had been a passing comment, really, one he certainly hadn’t expected anything to come of.
But, no. Aziraphale had lit up like a beacon, smiling that stupid, glowing smile of his.
“Of course I held onto it!” he’d said, practically bouncing in his seat with excitement, equally inebriated. “Oh, but I’m not sure I know exactly where it’s gotten to. I do know it’s in the shop, though! Somewhere.”
And, just like that, Crowley had felt the faintest itching of hope somewhere deep in his chest. A feeling that he hadn’t had for a very, very long time.
Now they’re here. They’ve been flipping the bookshop upside down all morning. All the while, Crowley’s impatience has been growing steadily alongside his desperation and he’s cursing himself for having ever dared to get his hopes up. He hadn’t even expected Aziraphale to still have the blessed thing in the first place. He would certainly have had no reason to hold onto it at all, nonetheless keep track of it.
He breathes in, dropping his hands from his face. It’s not as if it’s anything important. It’s sentimental, foolishly so, and any self-respecting demon would be ashamed to admit to getting so worked up about it. Ah, well. Maybe it’s a sign. Maybe he should just forget-
His head lolls to one side, and he freezes. While he’d been making a mess of things, a number of items - books, and papers, and trinkets - had, unsurprisingly, found their way to the ground. But what catches his attention now, after apparently having been kicked under the edge of the desk in the flurry, is nothing like that.
Nose scrunching up above his frown of concentration, Crowley sits up just enough that he can bend over, nudging the curious object closer with the toe of his boot before picking it up.
It’s unquestionably a jewelry box. Taller than it is wide and covered with a fine black velvet that’s soft under his fingers as he strokes them over the top. He twists it in his hands, looking for any indication of its origin or purpose. It’s impossible to tell how old it is, although it’s clearly been well taken care of. Unlike many other objects in the bookshop, there’s not a trace of dust anywhere on it.
Aziraphale having jewelry isn’t a surprise in itself. Hell knows they’d both worn plenty, when that had been more in fashion. Chains and rings and polished stones and the like. In fact, he still wears that one gold band around his right pinky finger. But, for him to feel the need to hide it, especially when it’s apparently been so well looked after? That’s a cause for curiosity, indeed.
Crowley turns it over in his hands, thinking of the possibilities. A trinket from a long gone friend, much like the DaVinci sketch hanging on his own wall? Perhaps a token of sorts from someone who was… more ?
He shakes his head, futilely hoping to rid himself of the clenching in his gut. He almost puts the box right back down on the desk. But that would be the right thing to do. And besides, he’s had a long, frustrating morning, and, more importantly, his curiosity gets the better of him.
So, with a last thought along the lines of fuck it , he opens the box.
What he finds inside isn’t a necklace. In fact, it’s not jewelry at all. It’s a long, sleek, black feather, stark against the white cushion that it’s pinned carefully to inside the box. He recognizes it immediately.
This is far too large to have come from any creature of Earth, and it radiates a not insignificant amount of clearly inhuman energy. No, this is a feather from an angel. Or, rather, a fallen angel.
For a moment, just sitting and staring at it, Crowley doesn’t understand. And then, it hits him. He sucks in a sharp, painful breath.
“Crowley? Ah, there you are! It had gone quiet back here and I thought you might-” Aziraphale’s voice from the doorway trails off, and Crowley can picture the frown on his face before he even turns around to see it. “What is it, dear?”
Before he can even think about it, Crowley stands up so fast he knocks the chair back into the desk. He’s still clutching the necklace box in his hands, only vaguely aware that they’re trembling. As soon as Aziraphale glances down and sees it in Crowley’s hands, his eyes go impossibly wide and he gasps out the tiniest exclamation.
“Wh-Where did you find that?” he asks, gaze not leaving the box.
Instead of answering, Crowley turns the box around, as if he really needed to see what was inside in order to know. Aziraphale flinches.
“What is this?” Crowley asks. He loathes the way he chokes on the words.
Aziraphale’s whole face turns a shade of red that, under normal circumstances, Crowley would find terribly fetching. Right now, however, he’s just staring, waiting, reliant on his all-too human body to remember for itself how to breathe.
“Crowley.” It’s just above a whisper. Aziraphale clears his throat, wringing his hands in front of him. “I-I can explain. Oh, I should have told you-”
“Aziraphale,” he croaks. It doesn’t come out nearly as snappish as he’d meant it.
There are a million things he wants to say. When? Are there any more? You should have said something. You should have left.
What does make it through, above the noise of his roaring thoughts, is, “I-I’m so sorry.”
He glances down at the box that’s still in his hands and feels suddenly like he can’t hold onto it for another second. He snaps the lid shut, making them both jump, and drops it down onto the desk like it burns.
The crooning of Mozart’s melodic violins fills the dead space between them.
“I-I can’t- I have to go.”
Without waiting for an answer, Crowley flees out the door, having to brush past Aziraphale as he passes. He feels fingers graze his arm, but they don’t latch on. Aziraphale is calling after him before he’s even made it halfway to the door.
“Crowley, dearest, please -”
“Don’t.” He throws the word back over his shoulder without slowing down, a token protest. A plea.
The Bentley is parked in the spot on the curb that is always conveniently open when he needs it, just where it always is. He throws the doors to the bookshop open and beelines for it. Seconds later, he’s peeling down the road, never once looking back.
“Shit shit shit shit! ” Crowley hisses ten minutes later, while he’s flying down the M25 with I Want to Break Free blasting from the Bentley’s speakers in the background. It’s the first thing he’s said since he left Aziraphale standing alone in his bookshop. He’d been silent while he’d swerved through the main streets of London, head pounding too loudly for him to think around the din.
It’s only once he’s got the open stretch of road in front of him, pushing 130 (far faster than the Bentley, a car with a top speed of around 90 miles per hour, should have been able to go) that the drumbeat in his skull subsides enough for the panic to set in.
He slams his hands down on the steering wheel with every exclamation. Pain is somewhat of an abstract concept; it’s something his corporeal form registers, but, with the exception of injuries inflicted by holy instruments, he is only aware of it happening without so much feeling it. All this to say he’s not ignorant of the stinging in his palms caused by his actions.
His breath is coming fast and shallow and he has to take a moment to remind himself he doesn’t actually need to breathe before his body forgets and passes out. One hand squeezes around the steering wheel until his knuckles go bone white while the other vigorously ruffles the hair on the back of his head.
“Fuck,” he swears, followed with a sigh. “This is all my fault. What am I gonna do? I-I can’t-”
He chews on his bottom lip and pushes his foot harder against the pedal. He should have known better. He’d been so stupid . Of course, after all these years…
“I should never have gotten involved! I should have left him be,” he tells the Bentley. Which, predictably, doesn’t answer. “I tried to be careful, I really did. But it wasn’t enough. I-I mean, I am a demon, for Hell- Heav- for- for Adam’s sake! And now he’s- he’s-”
Even though he can’t bring himself to say it out loud, the word still leaves a bitter taste across Crowley’s tongue. The taste of soot, and flame, and air rushing through his lungs, his nostrils, all around him. The fire is everywhere and everything hurts-
Crowley shudders, blinking through the windshield at the seemingly endless stretch of pavement out in front of him. He presses his back flush against the seat behind him, drags his fingers across the subtle leathery texture of the steering wheel, feels the accelerator give under his foot. He’s not sure when the music changed. The familiar melody of Heaven for Everyone reaches his ears and he grumbles, jabbing his finger into the skip button. It takes two tries.
“Maybe it’s fine,” Crowley reasons, voice too high to his own ears. “It was just the one feather.”
Unless it wasn’t , his mind counters, ever-traitorous. Aziraphale had kept the one, for whatever reason. As-As what? A reminder? A warning? To hold over Crowley when he’d finally had enough of him? Whatever the case, he hadn’t mentioned anything about it to Crowley, so he certainly wouldn’t have said anything about any others, either.
Crowley wracks his brain, trying to think back to the last time he even saw Aziraphale’s wings. They don’t make a habit of showing them off, even to each other. It would have been during the apocalypse. Or, well, what they’d thought would be the apocalypse. On the tarmac of the Tadfield Airbase, in the minute that Crowley had frozen time for just the two of them and Adam, right before they’d faced down Satan himself.
Given he’d been a little preoccupied with other things at the moment, he hadn’t noticed anything off about them then. As far as he’d been able to see, Aziraphale’s wings had still been the same as ever. Glorious, if not a little rumpled, and ethereally white down to the last coverts.
Even so, that was months ago. Before Aziraphale had severed every last connection he had to Heaven. Before he’d been inside Crowley’s body. (In a very literal sense; not in the sense that Crowley had let himself imagine more times than he cares to admit.) Hell knows what damage that could have done.
It occurs to Crowley in a manner similar to being socked directly in the stomach that he’d never actually bothered to follow up on that after they’d switched back. They’d won . Their deception had worked, and they’d gotten away with everything. He’d felt fine. Cocky. Stupid.
“Stupid! Six thousand years and I was stupid enough to think I hadn’t had any effect on him?” he splutters, forehead bouncing off the steering wheel.
His head comes up just in time to see the white Vauxhall Corsa that’s moving at a snail’s pace in front of him, but the Bentley is already veering safely around it without his input. None of this deters his rambling.
“H-He’s just so good! It shouldn’t be possible, should it? That I corrupted him. Of all things.” His voice breaks and he huffs in frustration.
Not even bothering to try anymore, he tilts his head back towards the ceiling and covers his face with his hands, a drawn-out, garbled groan escaping his lips.
“What am I saying? Of course I did!” he shouts, bolting straight up again. “Who else would have done? Alright, that’s it! I’ve got to do what I should have done long ago.”
The track playing through the speakers changes very suddenly and unexpectedly, as if skipping a scratch on the CD. The familiar opening crescendo of I Was Born to Love You starts up and Crowley’s expression sours. He aims his glare at the dashboard over the rim of his sunglasses.
“ No ,” he snaps. “Shut up.”
The music grows just a step or two louder.
“I meant leaving .”
Despite having said it himself, the suggestion makes Crowley inhale sharply, as if trying to suck the words right back out of the air. His pesky human heart hammers painfully against his fragile ribs. The rolling notes of Queen continue to play.
“I have to!” Crowley insists. He’s not sure if he’s arguing with himself or the car. “He doesn’t deserve to- to fall just because he’s spent too much time with me .”
I just hung around the wrong people , he remembers himself saying. If there’s one thing in all the worlds he doesn’t want, it’s for Aziraphale to share his fate.
“Stupid, bloody angel he is, he’s clearly too nice to cut me off, even though he- he- must know what it’s doing to him.”
That gives Crowley pause. It’s true, Aziraphale really must know. So why has he stuck around? Some deep-seated self-hatred that Crowley has never managed to uncover? Pity? He swallows that thought down right through the knot his throat has tied around itself.
“Doesn’t matter. I’ll just go. As far as I can,” he growls, throwing both hands up in the air. “ Farther than Alpha Centauri! There’s a- There’s a whole universe out there.”
It takes him a moment to notice the car has gone silent. Strange. That’s something that never-
“Oh, no ,” he groans, burying his face in his hands against the steering wheel. The silence ends. It’s been only seconds, and already another new song has started up. One that is all-too familiar to Crowley’s ears after having listened to it a countless number of times across the years, most of which had been just after leaving the bookshop.
Oh, you’re the best friend that I’ve ever had. I’ve been with you such a long time.
“For hell’s sake, knock it off!” Crowley barks, jerking his head up to glare at the CD player. “You’re not going to make me feel guilty! It won’t work!”
And it doesn’t.
What it does make him feel is tragically, overwhelmingly depressed. Leaving Earth would be hard enough. But, leaving Aziraphale ? Once, not nearly long enough ago, he’d been willing to burn everything to the ground - humanity, Heaven, Hell, God Herself, all of it - just so he wouldn’t have to do that exact thing. And, in the end, they’d risked everything, pulled a con they hadn’t the faintest idea would actually work, all for the slimmest sliver of a chance to stay together.
And then, it makes him feel guilty as well.
Crowley hisses, a long, loud continuous note that eventually tapers off. He jerks the steering wheel to one side, and the Bentley follows, careening recklessly across several lanes of traffic towards the nearest exit off the M25.
“Fine. Fine!” he snaps. “You win! I’ll go talk to him! I hope you’re happy with yourself.”
The Bentley’s engine rumbles just a little louder, just for a second.
Crowley is pacing the length of the bookshop’s front room, mumbling to himself. It is dark, and he is alone.
It’s already been more than half an hour since the Bentley came tearing up the street just to land in its usual parking spot. It had barely been put and park and turned off before Crowley had jumped out, running across to the front doors and pulling at the knob. When that hadn’t worked, strategy two had been to pound his fist as hard into the wood as he could, shouting, “Angel!” at full volume.
Strategy three had been to miracle the lock and wave the doors open with a flick of his wrist, letting them slam against the entryway walls and rattle the floorboards with the force of the impact. He’d continued to call for Aziraphale, even as all hopes of finding him had exponentially dropped with every step into the building. He’d gotten no answer, even from the back, and sure enough, he’d found no signs of his presence there either.
Really? Where the hell could he have gone at a time like this?
He’d snapped his fingers to turn on the lone lamp in the front room and sat down hard on one of the plush reading chairs. Only to hop back up again a minute later when his knee hadn’t stopped jiggling and he’d felt that sitting still for one more second would have him vibrating apart into little pieces.
So, pacing. That’s what he’s been doing ever since. It hadn’t escaped his notice that the shop was still just as disorderly as it had been when he’d left it a couple of hours ago, if not more so. And if a few books have since flown back into their correct places, well, it's only because they'd been getting in his way.
He eyes the chair he'd previously sat in with contempt and the buttons on the back cushions seem to be looking back mockingly. Even so, he's considering trying to sit down again before he burns a line through the floor (Aziraphale would be furious) when the front doors slam open a second time, with much the same potency as Crowley had opened them some minutes ago.
He jumps at the sound and spins to face the only being who could have just entered.
Aziraphale quite literally brings all of the light rushing back into the room with him, since he actually bothers to flip the switch on his way in. He's marching forward with intent, the doors still swinging behind him, and his face is warped into an expression that Crowley has only ever seen him wear a handful of times across all the millennia they've known each other.
He is instantaneously and vividly reminded of everything he has ever read or seen regarding the concept of righteous fury. All of it pales in comparison to the real thing.
"Where the hell have you been?" Aziraphale shouts, loud enough that Crowley winces against his every will.
“L-Listen, angel, I-”
“I went to your apartment. After you ran out . You weren’t there! You- You weren’t anywhere , and I thought- I didn’t know what to think.” Crowley is horrified to notice the way Aziraphale’s eyes are glistening, and he takes a jerky step forward with one hand outstretched just to be stopped short when Aziraphale continues. “I couldn’t find you, Crowley. I didn’t know if you’d left, or-or gone and done something stupid -”
He cuts himself off with a little sniffle and swipes an angry hand across his eyes. And then, all at once, his shoulders slump as if he just can’t physically hold them up anymore. The wrath bleeds out of his expression and leaves exhaustion in its place. Then he huffs, frown deepening, and his eyes narrow with a distinct determination.
“I found it.”
“What?” Crowley asks stupidly.
Aziraphale pats at the pockets of his overcoat before reaching into the left one and pulling something out of it with a flair of triumph. He brandishes the object in front of him and Crowley visibly startles when he recognizes it.
It’s a lockbox. The style marks it as an antique, even though its pristine condition would make it seem otherwise. It’s small, although it still should have been too large to fit in Aziraphale’s pocket- all black metal with a silver keyhole on the front.
It’s his lockbox.
Crowley continues to stare for a minute, barely daring to breathe. And then, he slowly shakes his head.
“Forget the lockbox.”
“What?” Aziraphale’s eyebrows twitch together, the line of his mouth tight in familiar annoyance.
Before he can work himself up again, Crowley steps forward, suddenly reckless, and grabs the box from his hands. If he were thinking straight, he would absolutely not do what he’s about to do and he will kick himself later for ever even considering it. But right now, he’s working on desperation, and so he tosses it to the ground, not even flinching when it clatters horribly to the floor with the kind of sound only something that’s just broken can make. And then he kicks it aside so that it goes skidding across the rug.
Aziraphale gapes at him, glancing at where the box has landed some feet away, back to him, and then back and forth once more.
“Forget the lockbox,” Crowley repeats. “We need to talk about the- the other thing .”
He curses himself silently for being too much of a coward to say it out loud, but it’s not nearly as bad as the way he recoils when Aziraphale says, “The feather.”
“Yes,” Crowley hisses. “That.”
Aziraphale straightens up, tugging at the lapels of his coat. All he needs is a flaming sword in hand and he’d be ready to go into battle. He nods once.
“Right. I didn’t know you’d be so upset, but you’re right of course. I shouldn’t have it.”
“No, you shouldn’t!” Crowley says, voice cracking on a bitter laugh. Aziraphale looks stricken, and his eyes drop to the floor. “W-When did you find it? How long have you been keeping this from me?”
“Oh, um. Hard to say, really. I think it was sometime around the 17th century.”
Crowley feels as if he’s going to be sick.
“That long?” he breathes. Aziraphale nods, still not meeting his eyes. Crowley takes a step closer, reaching out but stopping before making contact. He presses his closed fist against his mouth instead. “You should have said something. Aziraphale, I’m so sorry .”
“You have no reason to be. I’m the one who’s been foolish-”
“But this is- This is all my fault!” Crowley insists, brushing his hair back repeatedly with both hands. “Idiot that I am! I tricked myself into thinking everything would be fine, even though I knew better. I thought, no. It may have happened to me, but it couldn’t happen to you .”
Aziraphale’s head snaps back up. He frowns as his eyebrows knit together.
“I have to leave, angel. It might be too late, but you should at least have a chance -”
“Crowley!” Aziraphale’s voice overpowers his own, and his jaw clacks shut. “What are you talking about?”
“Oh, angel.” Crowley’s mouth twitches up in a mirthless smile, and he’s not sure if he’s holding back laughter or tears. “Surely you can’t be that ignorant-”
“Just- Just explain. Please? Tell me what you’re thinking.”
Crowley sucks in a slow, unsteady breath.
“Oh, wait.” Aziraphale’s voice is just as soft as his hands when he raises them to delicately lift Crowley’s sunglasses away from his eyes. He smiles, the corners of his eyes crinkling as his gaze flits across Crowley’s face. “There. That’s better.”
Absentmindedly, Crowley’s hand raises to take his glasses from Aziraphale, warmth shooting through him where their fingers brush. He settles them on top of his head, well out of the way.
Crowley takes a deep breath. His chest is roiling with nerves, and he’s not sure if he can even bring himself to say the words. He stands frozen, unsteady, trying to make his useless too-human body obey him and settle itself for just one minute. Aziraphale doesn’t move. He doesn’t say anything. Just waits for him expectantly. Patiently.
Finally, fingers still trembling at his sides against his will, Crowley lets out a last shaky sigh and says, “I fell because I hung around the wrong people.” He looks pointedly at Aziraphale. “I can’t let you do the same thing.”
“Oh, dearest,” Aziraphale sighs. And then he does possibly the last thing Crowley would have expected him to do, and raises his hand to Crowley’s cheek. His touch is gentle and his thumb strokes so gingerly over Crowley’s skin that he feels he might shatter. His smile widens. “You’ve got it all wrong, I’m afraid.”
Crowley can’t help it. He leans into Aziraphale’s hand; he doesn’t have enough energy left to keep himself from doing it.
“What in hell’s name are you talking about?” he huffs. There’s no real venom to it. “I know what I saw. You have an angel feather tucked away in a secret box. A-”
“A black feather,” Aziraphale finishes for him. His eyes turn intense. “Yes, I know. It’s not mine.”
Crowley splutters. He straightens and Aziraphale’s hand falls away from his face. He’s still looking at him searchingly. Almost expectantly.
“Not-? Then where would it have- Oh .”
His eyes go wide. Amusement lights Aziraphale’s face. Crowley has had plenty of exposure to fire in his existence, so he is rather confident about his accuracy in saying that his cheeks feel as though they have been set ablaze. He points silently at the center of his own chest. Aziraphale nods.
“It’s my feather?” he asks aloud after a second spent remembering how vocal cords function.
“You have one of my feathers? That you’ve kept for four hundred years?”
Now it’s Aziraphale’s turn to flush, a pretty pink glow settling high on his cheeks.
Crowley has so many questions he’s not entirely sure where to start; his mind is buzzing with them. His heart clenches around the tiniest first sprout of something he is too afraid to name. It feels a lot like hope, and yet somehow it’s even more potent.
The first question that shoves its way far enough forward in his mind to make itself heard is, “Why did you hide it?”
If the look on Aziraphale’s face is any indication, it’s not the one he’d been expecting. He blinks up at Crowley with wide, bright eyes.
“I, well. I thought you might be a bit off-put by the fact that I had it,” he says. He’s starting to fumble just a bit. His words aren’t quite so quick as they had been and he’s wringing his hands together in front of his chest. “Not that I had planned to keep it, of course. It’s just that- that you left it behind once. It was really a foolishly sentimental act of self-indulgence, honestly.”
“Is that all?” Crowley asks. His heartbeat feels like a hurricane against his eardrums.
“What do you mean?”
Aziraphale frowns, more in confusion than anything else. But something he sees in Crowley’s expression must give him some kind of answer.
“Oh,” he breathes. Clears his throat. Starts again. “Well, there’s also- I didn’t… I didn’t want you to ask why. Why I held onto it, I mean.”
His hands have stopped their movement; instead, his fingers are now woven together in front of him, trembling just enough for it to be barely visible. It appears as if he’s not currently bothering to breathe.
Crowley swallows. He can relate to the not breathing thing. He might have actually entirely forgotten how to.
“Why did you hold onto it?”
Aziraphale’s next, deep inhale is loud between them as it forces its way shakily through his throat.
“Oh, Crowley,” he says, voice so impossibly, miraculously soft.
“Aziraphale.” They are close - almost too close - and Crowley gravitates closer, leaning forward until their foreheads are nearly touching, drawn in as if by some force beyond his own power. His voice is no more than a pleading whisper, a prayer, when he says, “Say it.”
“I love you.” Aziraphale’s voice isn’t any louder than it was before, and yet it rips through Crowley’s gut in a burst of radiant white-hot light, blasting out his eardrums. The sincerity behind those words spills forth from Aziraphale in the lines around his eyes, in the curve of his smile, so thick Crowley could fill a glass with it. He feels like he’s soaring, weightless. He feels like he’s falling all over again. “Of course I do.”
His hands are shaking when he raises them to Aziraphale’s face. He hesitates, but Aziraphale doesn’t move, doesn’t disappear, doesn’t ignite in a pillar of searing hellfire, so he brings them to rest against his skin, sure he can feel the way Crowley is shaking through them.
Aziraphale is the one who takes the final leap. It takes so little for him to stretch up and close the distance. His lips connect with Crowley’s, coming to rest against them with the gentlest pressure. It’s a perfect fit. A small, helpless noise crawls its way out of Crowley’s throat.
Far too quickly, Aziraphale leans back. His cheeks are flushed an attractive, dusty pink, and his hands have found Crowley’s hips, thumbs stroking distractedly over his clothes. Crowley just stares, eyes flickering over every detail of Aziraphale’s face. Aziraphale clears his throat quietly.
“You don’t have to-”
“I love you,” Crowley croaks, voice hoarse and rattling like it hasn’t seen any use whatsoever for a millennia or two.
Aziraphale’s eyes widen, and his hands tighten around Crowley, going still. He licks his lips. The second time, it’s he, once again, who goes in for the kiss first.
This time, Crowley is more prepared. He surges forward to meet in the middle, so quickly that their faces smack together and it stings, just a little. He laughs into Aziraphale’s mouth and feels his smile stretch against his lips.
He thinks, possibly, that he could just keep doing this - kissing Aziraphale, holding him, basking in his warmth - for a decade or two without ever stopping. Maybe forever. At some point, his lets his hands fall so he can slink his arms around Aziraphale’s back, slotting them even closer together. It’s a wonderful feeling, and he’s absolutely dizzy with it. With Aziraphale . He is gentle and soft, and despite this all being new- fantastically, exhilaratingly new - everything about him is so familiar that it makes Crowley ache .
He’s wanted this for so long. He can’t even remember what it’s like. Not being in love with Aziraphale.
“Oh!” he cries, very suddenly jerking away from Aziraphale without letting him go. He’s just remembered. “The lockbox.”
Aziraphale is frowning, blinking up at him. He looks rather dazed, like a night creature who has just had the light from a torch shone directly into their eyes.
Grinning, Crowley grabs Azriaphale’s shoulders and smacks a loud kiss against his forehead before extricating himself. He practically skips in the direction he’d seen the lockbox land. It’s still there, on the floor just as it was, if not a little worse for wear. He picks it up, displacing a stack of books that had been propped against it (which had likely disrupted in the first place by Crowley’s kicking a lockbox into it) and sets it down on the nearby desk.
The key dangles from a thin chain that’s looped around the handle. It’s an easy matter for Crowley to grab it and yank until the chain snaps and he’s left with just the key in his palm.
“You really never opened this? Not even a peek?”
“Of course not!” The huff comes from closer than he’d expected, and Crowley glances over his shoulder to see Aziraphale has stopped just behind him, looking affronted. “You trusted me to keep it safe. I wasn’t going to- to snoop .”
Crowley stops with the key turned halfway in the lock and barks a laugh at the look on Aziraphale’s face, which only succeeds in making him more flustered. His cheeks ache from how much he’s smiling and, after a moment, Aziraphale smiles too.
Crowley has to make himself look away before he finds himself permanently distracted from the task at hand. He finishes turning the key in the lock and gingerly flips open the lid of the box. He feels more than sees Aziraphale shifting closer.
There’s not much inside, just a handful of trinkets. A few papers - official-looking certificates, land deeds, contracts; unimportant stuff - along with some currency that hasn’t been accepted by any bank or store for a couple centuries now and one pearl necklace he doesn’t recall the origins of that’s been snapped in half, likely from him kicking the lockbox around. All of these get tossed on the floor. It’s a testament to Aziraphale’s curiosity that he doesn’t protest.
There at the bottom of it all, next to a couple loose gold escueda , is what Crowley had been looking for. The only thing that had made him want to search for this box in the first place.
It’s a pocket watch. Crowley scoops it into his hand with the utmost care. He turns away from Aziraphale and flips open both back panels of the gold consular case to reveal the watch’s delicate inner workings. Nothing looks out of place, although he’s not sure he would really know better if it was, and it’s only a matter of a tiny little miracle to wind it up. He breathes an audible sigh of relief when it comes to life in his hand, ticking daintily. He says a silent word of thanks to Her above and gives it once last cursory examination before turning back to face Aziraphale head on.
He looks like he’s practically bouncing in place, gaze set fixedly on the object in Crowley’s hand.
“That’s what you wanted to find the lockbox for?” he asks. “What is it?”
“Well,” Crowley says, voice just a touch too high. “It’s yours, actually.”
He thrusts the hand holding the watch forward without looking at it. He’s too busy watching every twitch of Aziraphale’s face.
“Mine?” he asks distractedly, accepting Crowley’s offering anyway.
“Well, I mean, not yours , yours,” Crowley fumbles. “I didn’t take it from you. It’s a gift. I had it commissioned, not that that’s important, really, but I wanted to give it to you in case a- a situation like this ever came up. You might need to adjust the time, it is old-”
“Oh!” Aziraphale gasps.
He’s just flipped it over and is staring wide-eyed at the back. Crowley knows exactly what he’s seeing, has had the image memorized for centuries. The front of the watch is nothing particularly special. It’s open-faced, black writing on white, the current time denoted in both Roman and Arabic numerals. The back, however, is nothing less than a work of art.
The outer dust cover is not unlike a window looking onto an intricate picture chased onto the back. It depicts a winged figure draped in robes standing in a lush garden full of flora and fauna. Rising just behind the figure in the background is a full, verdant apple tree ripe with fruit. The most impressive detail, however, might be the serpent. It hovers just above the picture, stark black against gold, inching along with every tick of the second hand, circling the garden in an endless loop.
Aziraphale’s thumb ghosts over the image. Crowley swallows.
“It’s exquisite,” Aziraphale says. In much the same way as a man who has just exited a seemingly endless desert might praise his chosen deity upon taking his first drink of water. Breathlessly. Reverent.
“Oh,” says Crowley. “Good.”
“You had this made? For me? ” Aziraphale stares at it for a moment longer. And then he sucks in a breath, blinking as if he’s just put something together, and his eyes find Crowley’s. “This is- This is a courting gift.”
Crowley splutters, feeling his face heat. He scoffs.
“What? I- No. ” He scoffs again. “No. That’s not- I wouldn’t say that .”
“It is!” Aziraphale grins. “You said it yourself.”
Crowley is still busy stuttering over excuses and spineless protests - so much so that he doesn’t notice when Aziraphale sets the watch down oh-so-carefully onto the desk next to them and takes a step forward. At least, not until Aziraphale’s arms are slinking around his shoulders and he’s leaning in. At which point, Crowley’s mouth shuts abruptly.
“I should have known.”
Crowley swallows. He can feel the rise and fall of Aziraphale’s chest as he breathes against him. His fingers brush through the short hairs at the nape of Crowley’s neck and an electric shiver courses through him.
“Known what?” Crowley grumbles, although he’s unable to hide the interest written all over his face.
“You’re really a romantic at heart.”
The way Crowley kisses the grin off Aziraphale’s face does nothing to prove him wrong.