Aziraphale sat down heavily on the empty bench seat on the Underground. He placed his shopping bag on the floor between his feet and exhaled. Leaning back on the bench, he shut his eyes lightly. He was exhausted. Since coming back to London he felt he had scarcely a moment to breath. Perhaps though, that was for the best. He didn’t want to give himself a chance to start cultivating regrets.
He had loved his quiet life in Cornwall. His congregation had been dedicated, but dwindling over the past several years. If Aziraphale hadn’t initiated the move, he was certain it would have come along anyway, and the church would have been shuttered. But it wasn’t the smaller number of congregants sitting in the pews before him Sunday after Sunday that had spurred him west. It was God.
God had spoken to him, as He had done twenty-five years ago when Aziraphale was young, when he had gotten the call to ministry. God had spurred him forward into this life, and there was nothing else he could have done. He could only be God’s servant. And so it had been three months ago, locking the front doors to St. Peter’s Church on a late Sunday afternoon in July, sun warming his back, that God had spoken to him and explained what he must do.
If Aziraphale had to explain it, he would say that it wasn’t like listening to someone speak, it was just knowing, but the knowing hadn’t come from him. The knowing was divine. Aziraphale knew without a shadow of a doubt that he had to leave the comfort of his small village, his neighbours he had known for nearly two decades, the streets he could have navigated blind, and go to London. He was to serve those who needed a kind hand, word, heart the most.
Aziraphale loved his loyal pensioners who showed up week after week, who brought him their baking and extended endless invitations to their tables, but they were not who needed him. They would be fine, and eventually they would merge with another church in the next village over, or if things got particularly dire, in town.
“Do not think,” Aziraphale had started, looking out at his congregation, “- do not think that I do not love you.” His voice had faltered as he caught 90-year-old Mary Dayton in the front pew with tears in her eyes. “But it is time for me to serve elsewhere.”
And here he was. On the underground with a bag full of cleaning supplies for his new home, St. Sebastian’s in Newham. The church had ostensibly had a vicar before Aziraphale but you couldn’t tell by the amount of filth that lined every surface of the sanctuary. The bishop had stressed to Aziraphale that St. Sebastian’s was not a “regular Sunday service and bake sale kind of church” but instead one that focused on serving the local community, whether or not they called the church home. This meant hot meals for the homeless, out of the cold programs in the colder months, and actively seeking out opportunities to do more.
Rocking gently as the train hurtled down the track, Aziraphale sighed. In his most secret heart, he was not excited for this assignment. He had become very accustomed to what he had. Life in Cornwall had not been challenging, nor was it uncomfortable. But it wasn’t like he had a choice. God had sent him here, and he was merely a servant.
Aziraphale opened his eyes and was startled to see a man across from him where moments before there had been no one. He hadn’t heard him sit down or pass him, he had been so lost in his own thoughts.
Aziraphale’s breath hitched slightly as his eyes drifted over the man’s form. Everything about the man was sleek. Dressed all in black, with sharp elegant angles. He was tall, and reaching out his arms across the back of the bench, took up space with an ease that Aziraphale was unfamiliar with. His hair was a dramatic shade of red, and strangely, for being on the train after ten at night, he was wearing sunglasses. There was something about the man that made Aziraphale’s heart rise towards his throat. He was struck by a strong sense of familiarity. Did he know this man?
The man’s face turned slightly towards Aziraphale and he gasped shallowly and looked at his lap, rubbing his palms down his thighs. He hoped the man hadn’t caught him openly staring. He gripped the fabric of his trousers and released it. He couldn’t shake the feeling that the man was known to him. Releasing the fabric, he swallowed, and allowed his eyes to drift up to the man’s face.
The problem with sunglasses was you could never actually tell where someone was looking, or if they were looking anywhere at all. The man’s face was turned towards Aziraphale, but he made no move that indicated he noticed the other man glancing his way. Aziraphale allowed his eyes to drift again, taking in the man’s long legs in dark jeans that stretched out into the aisle. His feet, in stylish black laced boots, were mere inches from Aziraphale’s feet in well-worn brown oxfords. Aziraphale’s eyes traveled up the man’s body and lingered on his chest, the lines and ridges visible under his tight black T-shirt. It was then the man cleared his throat.
The man’s face, which had moments ago seemed to not register anything happening around him, now displayed a thin smirk. He had seen.
Aziraphale felt his face flush violently as his gaze immediately returned to his lap. How deeply, deeply embarrassing. It had been so long since he had allowed himself to look at someone like that. To catalogue their details with such intense focus, with reverence. The pleasure of it, to look upon another person without expectation, he had forgotten how it felt after so long in a small and familiar place. He had lost himself however briefly, and now this man though he was a lech, or a pervert.
It was then the train announced his stop. Aziraphale grabbed the shopping bag between his feet and muttered “Thank God” to himself as he stood. It did feel like divine intervention, to get off the train then. As he stood by the door waiting to exit, he could feel the man’s eyes burning holes in his back. He daren’t look and check. At a minimum, he was sure his face was still red with mortification. The train slid to a stop, the doors opened, and Aziraphale nearly launched himself through them, walking as quickly as he could without seeming conspicuous. He also doubted he could have ran as far and fast as he wanted if he tried. Best to avoid adding insult to injury.
As he reached the station exit he exhaled. He was not far from the church now. He would drop the supplies off, walk to his spartan flat, and wallow in humiliation for the remainder of the evening. As he opened the door to leave he instinctively checked behind him. Aziraphale always held the door for others.
Taking long strides across the station foyer, was the man from the train. Still smiling slightly, but not acknowledging Aziraphale further. Feeling almost lightheaded, Aziraphale stared at the ground, but dutifully held the door. It almost felt as if it were the least he could do, after his episode.
The man in dark glasses passed by him, mere centimetres between them. Aziraphale could swear he felt heat coming from the man, emanating from his very core. Or maybe he was just blushing again. Exiting and pulling out a package of cigarettes from his jacket, the man turned his head back to Aziraphale. “Cheers, mate.” He said, placing a cigarette between his lips and lighting it in a smooth single motion.
Aziraphale made a noise in response. Was it a hum? No, more than that. A voiced, but wordless acknowledgment, that was higher pitched than he’d have preferred. Good Lord, he was pathetic.
He watched the man’s back as he walked away, mercifully in the opposite direction of St. Sebastian’s. The light from his cigarette occasionally flickered into view, and then the man turned a corner and out of sight.
Letting out the breath he had been holding for what felt like several minutes, Aziraphale started his walk to the church. It was dark now, and autumn had settled over the city. He had always loved the autumn, for if nothing else it meant Advent would soon be upon him, and that was his favourite time of year. (He knew it was supposed to be Easter, as every vicar claimed theirs was, but he liked Advent and he knew God was fine with it.) But autumn in the city was not autumn in Cornwall. He felt unsettled, in part he knew due to the gawking he had just been caught out on, but he just wasn’t sure how he felt about the city yet. He had grown up on the city’s outskirts, but that felt so long ago now. Everything in London was new and unfamiliar and busy, and so, so loud. It was a city full of distractions, some more significant than others, and he knew that meant his job here would be more difficult than ever.
Aziraphale turned down a side street and saw the small, urban church of St. Sebastian’s emerge ahead of him, cast yellow by the dirty streetlights. The sidewalks were deserted. He felt himself unclench. The church wasn’t much, but it was a church. He would stay for awhile, he decided. He would pray, meditate. Try to ground himself. Try to commune with God. He would never see that man again. Not in a city this size. He just needed to refocus, and to move on.
He climbed the few stairs to the front door the church and pulled his keys from his jacket pocket. He stared at his key chain for a moment. When did he get so many keys? He used to have one for his home, and one for St. Peter’s. Now he had two for his flat, one for the front door to St. Sebastian’s, the back door, his office, the petty cash box, and the list went on. Had he any foresight whatso-ever he would have marked them in some way because in this dark light it was imposs-
“What’s in the bag?”
Aziraphale froze at the unfamiliar voice. It was aggressive, testy. He closed his hands around his keys and turned, to see two men at the bottom of the steps. Not men, really. Aziraphale nearly laughed. They were boys. Fifteen years old, maybe. Fourteen was more likely. They had beanies pulled over their ears, and glared at him in a way he understood was supposed to be intimidating. He smiled at the boys, hoping they would see him as reassuring, friendly, and held the bag out. “Good evening, boys. What’s in the bag is washing up liquid, household cleaners. Nothing terribly exciting, I’m afraid.”
The boys seemed momentarily lost for words. The taller one in the front looked back at his shorter companion, who shrugged, unsure. The tall one looked back to Aziraphale. Aziraphale watched the boy think, and as he watched the boy smiled menacingly and puffed out his chest. “What about your fucking wallet? What’s in that?”
“Nothing for you.” Aziraphale replied, his smile dropping. This was not the way he had wanted this to play out. “You should go home.”
The boy was bold now and he reached his hand into his pocket, producing a small knife. He encroached on Aziraphale, backing him against the large wooden church doors. Aziraphale had lost his sensible train of thought now. He didn’t truly think the boy would hurt him, would he? He was so young. This close Aziraphale could really see how young he really was. “Don’t…” he started. Don’t what? He couldn’t think of how to finish the sentence.
“Just give me your wallet, you fat fu-”
“Excuse me? Hi! Hello!” Both Aziraphale and the boy snapped their attention to the male voice down the street. A man stood about fifty feet down, silhouetted by the porch light behind him.
“Fuck off!” Yelled the boy clutching the knife.
“Yeah, fuck off!” Yelled the second one, but with no bravado backing it.
The man approached, slowly, almost leisurely, as if Aziraphale and the boy were having a casual chat and the boy hadn’t just clearly threatened to cut him for the scant forty quid in his wallet. “No, I don’t think I will, thanks.” The man moved into the light of the nearest streetlamp, and it was only then that Aziraphale realized it was the man from the train. He leapt from feeling relieved, to deeply anxious, to more embarrassed than he could remember feeling in recent memory.
“All right lads. How about you leave this gentleman be and you run along home to your mum. Probably wondering where you are. Don’t you think?” There was a sinister underpinning to the man’s voice, even though he had delivered the suggestion smiling. He still wore the dark glasses from before. Aziraphale couldn’t see his eyes, yet he knew somehow they were hard.
The boys looked to one another, suddenly scared. Suddenly very scared. The tall boy turned and walked down the stairs, and the two of them together began to back away. “Yeah. All right. Sorry.”
The man walked closer to Aziraphale and the church as the boys slowly backed away. “Don’t say sorry to me.” He gestured with his head towards Aziraphale, the intention unspoken.
The tall boy turned his face to Aziraphale, his eyes wide with anxiety. “We’re sorry.”
“That’s okay.” Aziraphale said automatically. And then he thought. “I forgive you.”
The red haired man next to him scoffed, but not meanly. “Better man than I would be,” he said almost to himself, looking at the ground in front of him. He then returned his gaze to the boys. “Get out of here. Go home. Don’t come here again.”
Nodding, the boys turned and launched into a full out run. Aziraphale and the man watched in silence as the boys cantered away, and eventually turned a corner. They stood for a moment after the boys disappeared in quiet, not looking to one another.
“I’m… I don’t… thank you.” Aziraphale couldn’t figure out what to say, how to say it. He held his arm in front of him and opened his hand. He had been clutching the keys all this time. The imprint of the teeth left jagged red ridges across the soft flesh at the base of his thumb.
“Don’t worry about it.” The man turned towards him now, and Aziraphale forced himself to look up into the man’s face. As he did, the man smiled broadly, displaying white, straight teeth. “You must be new to the neighbourhood.” He voice was kind, but there was something layered beneath is. Was it teasing? If it was, it wasn’t the kind meant to injure.
Aziraphale gave a self-deprecating chuckle. He shoved his keys back into his pocket and ran his hand through his short, white blond hair. “Is it very obvious?” He found it hard to look at the man for more than a second at a time. He had now embarrassed himself twice over, and he could barely stand it. He didn’t think the man had saved his life per se, but he had gotten him out of a sticky situation. He had to be grateful, but what he wanted at this exact moment, was to sink into the concrete and to never be seen by any living person ever again.
“Yeah,” the man replied, smiling and scrunching up his nose in a way Aziraphale would describe as cute. “Pretty much. Always have to keep your eyes open here at night. Not a really bad spot, but you’ve got to keep your head out of the clouds.”
“Duly noted,” Aziraphale replied quickly, hoping the faint light from the street lamp wasn’t revealing his flushed cheeks. “You should go. I’m sorry to have-”
The man extended his hand and interrupted Aziraphale’s stuttering. “Crowley.”
Aziraphale rubbed his hand on the leg of his trousers quickly, hoping it wasn’t sweaty, and took Crowley’s hand. He wasn’t sure he had succeeded, but Crowley’s hand was dry and cool, not hot like Aziraphale had anticipated. His long fingers wrapped around Aziraphale’s hand tightly, and he was briefly lost for words.
“And you are?” Crowley asked, the smile never leaving his face. Aziraphale shook his head and looked up from their clasped hands.
“Oh, dear, I am sorry. Aziraphale. I’m Aziraphale. I’m the new reverend, here.” He gestured toward the church with his free hand, still holding the bag of cleaning supplies.
“A man of God. You do have a bit of an aura, don’t you? Noticed it back on the train.”
With that, Aziraphale wanted to cover his face in shame. Why couldn’t he have just pretended that that hadn’t happened. Instead, he released his hand from Crowley’s grip and attempted to bid farewell. “I am so very thankful, Mr. Crowley, for your intervention. I’ll be fine now. Good night.” He turned towards the door and grasped for the keys in his pocket, finally getting a hold of them. He could feel Crowley watching him just feet away, as he found the one for the church door and slid it into the lock.
Before he could open it, Crowley’s hand came from behind him and held the door closed. “How about we do this?” He started, his tone matter of fact, and not one that welcomed argument. “You do whatever you need to do in there, and I’ll wait for you and get you home once you’ve finished.”
Aziraphale swallowed, casting his eyes to the side to look at the man’s wrist, taut against the door, slim and pale and dusted with hair where it emerged from his black leather jacket. He couldn’t think of an excuse, and inside himself, in the most honest part, he knew he didn’t want to find one. “Yes, that’s fine.”
Crowley pulled back from the door wordlessly, and Aziraphale opened it and placed the bag gingerly just inside. He would deal with it in the morning. As he closed the door and turned the lock, Crowley spoke from behind him. “That’s all?”
“Yes,” he replied, pulling his key out. “That’s all.” He turned to face Crowley who looked up at him expectantly. “Oh, um, I’m not far from here. Just down on Walton Road.”
Crowley extended his arm in the direction of the street. “Lead the way,” he offered, eyebrows raised high above his dark glasses.
The two men walked in silence. Aziraphale wracked his mind for things to say, but nothing emerged that wouldn’t serve to humiliate him further. He was hyper aware of the taller man next to him, who moved through space with such enviable ease. Crowley appeared so very comfortable in the dark, unbothered. Aziraphale snuck glances in Crowley’s direction, then coughed in embarrassment the final time when Crowley was looking straight back.
As they reached the terrace of the squat, brick row house that contained his flat, Aziraphle couldn’t determine if he was disappointed or relieved. Perhaps it was both. He turned to Crowley looking at the man’s feet, the stylish boots he had first observed on the train. “Thank you, Mr. Crowley. You have been exceptionally kind.”
“Anything for the good Reverend.” Crowley responded.
Aziraphale hazarded a look up, and Crowley gazed down on him, smiling so slightly it was barely there. Goodness, he was tall. Maybe six inches taller than Aziraphale.
“Do you have a phone?”
Aziraphale shook his head so slightly, as to discard his previous thoughts. “Pardon me?”
“A mobile. A phone.”
Aziraphale reached into his back pocket to produce an older model smartphone. Immediately, before Aziraphale could react or protest, Crowley had taken the phone, and started opening apps.
“You don’t lock your phone! Confident man.”
Aziraphale stood dumbfounded, hand outstretched and unmoving from the position it had been when Crowley took his mobile. Before he could speak, Crowley had put the phone back in his hand. The screen showed a new contact.
“You shouldn’t have to worry anymore. About the church. Getting around. But if something comes up and you need -” He paused, looking right into Aziraphale’s eyes, “- assistance. You can text me. Call me. Whatever.”
Aziraphale’s fingers closed around the phone. “I should hope that won’t be necessary. But thank you again.” He didn’t know if he could bear to see Crowley again. The offer felt genuine, but he didn’t want to be seen as needing this virtual stranger. This incredibly handsome stranger who made him hot in the pit of his stomach.
“Right. Goodnight then.” Crowley waited a beat, then turned on his heel and walked back in the direction of the High Street.
Aziraphale made to turn for his door when he realized he had one question he needed answered. “Mr. Crowley,” he called just loud enough to maybe be heard, not wanting to disturb the neighbours. Crowley turned immediately, almost as if he had expected Aziraphale to call for him. “Did you know those boys? They seemed to know you.” They had known him, and they had been scared.
“Yeah, they knew me. I didn’t know them.” He smiled down towards the ground and looked up, over the sunglasses. If Aziraphale had been closer, he might have caught the colour of his eyes. “Sleep tight, Aziraphale.”
Crowley turned again and continued his walk into the night. Aziraphale stared after him, feeling as if that response had muddied things rather than provided a modicum of clarity. He sighed, and wrapped his arms around himself, suddenly aware of the crisp chill in the air. He turned towards the door to the house and let himself in. He needed to pray. He needed to speak to God. He needed to cast Crowley out of his mind if he ever wanted to sleep. He thanked the heavens that in all likelihood he would never see Crowley again.
He saw Crowley next the following week.
It’s been about sixteen years since I last wrote fan fiction (hi, I am an old person), but everything seems to come full circle. Full disclosure, I’ve never read the book Good Omens, just watched the television series. I was so taken with these characters, just as I am with the concepts of desire, and service, and devotion, especially as they relate back to religion.
I read some absolutely inspiring work here and it spurred me to action. Thank you to the wonderful creators who unknowingly moved me forward. I’ve got the second chapter nearly ready and I’m thinking about what’s next.
Aziraphale had worked tirelessly alongside two congregants to clean every inch of the sanctuary. He couldn’t remember working that hard in recent memory. At St. Peter’s, a volunteer team had shown up week after week without his intervention, the only evidence of their work a faint lemon smell that hung in the air when he opened up the church on Sunday morning. But St. Sebastian’s was not St. Peter’s. For instance, he had never been held up by a teenager with a knife outside of St. Peter’s.
He had never had to be rescued by a tall, red-haired man whose image had since made a home in Aziraphale’s mind, either.
Aziraphale was grateful for the work, even if he had never before found solace in cleaning. Physical labour had never been his forte. He washed window after window, reaching his hand deep into the bucket of soapy water and bringing it to the stained glass. As he wiped away what felt like decades of grime, he silently prayed.
Lord, I love the house where you live,
the place where all your glory dwells.
I lead a blameless life;
deliver me and be merciful to me.
He did not, had not lead a blameless life, but he could try.
The notes and instructions from the previous reverend had been sparse and barely useful. Aziraphale had thrown them out in a pique of frustration, only keeping a list of contacts. He knew that the next Sunday, at the end of his first full week with the church he would need to not only deliver a sermon, but serve Sunday tea for the underserved. Thankfully the young, American woman who answered his call at the partner shelter offered to shoulder the burden of the tea for at least the first week. Holding the phone to his ear, Aziraphale could have wept with relief. He felt wildly out of his depth.
On Sunday morning, after the cleaning and the phone calls and the sleepless nights, he almost felt as if the earlier altercation with the boys had been exorcised. Leaving the church the previous evening after ensuring all was in place for the service, he realized it was the first time in days he hadn’t looked over his shoulder for them. There were no sinister fourteen-year-olds lurking. He wondered if Crowley’s efforts were having a lingering effect, or if it were a case of lightning not striking the same place twice. While he hadn’t looked for the boys, a very small, private part of him remained alert for Crowley, but the man hadn’t appeared, last night or any night.
Aziraphale looked in the mirror above the sink in his bathroom. The iridescent lights made him look even more pale that he actually was (a feat) and there were dark circles etched below his eyes. He turned on the tap a moment to splash his face with warm water, mindful not to wet his shirt as well. As he looked to his reflection again, his eyes were drawn to his collar. He touched it lightly, adjusting where no adjustment was needed. It would do. He would have to do.
His first sermon had gone over well, in that it hadn’t been a complete flop. There were notably fewer congregants than he expected, hoped, but a few children. There had been no children at St. Peter’s and without their absence harkened to an end. While he found children to have a sort of chaotic energy he didn’t always know how to address, he trusted that God would guide him along the right way.
The congregants were cooler too, than his St. Peter’s crowd. Not as eager to chat or spend time with one another. Sunday service was less social for them, and more of a private reflection, a meditation. He would adjust. He had to.
The free lunch had been a considerably more popular affair. Many of the attendees clearly knew each other, suggesting the lunch would be a weekly ritual. There were whole families there, as well as individuals who seemed to be carrying their whole lives on their backs. Some looked more hard done by than others but their presence meant their options were limited. The atmosphere in the room was friendly, but frenzied. Voices yelled out to be heard, minor skirmishes between attendees were mediated by social workers and those who had been there before. Aziraphle hung back, observing, not wanting to dive in until he knew for sure he would be able to tread water.
In the kitchen, the shelter workers and a bevy of volunteers moved like a well oiled machine. They were headed by a striking young woman with dark hair and glasses who knew patrons by name and where everything was in the cabinets, down to the last utensil. She had made Aziraphale completely useless, and for that he was grateful. He observed her lead with quiet focus and warmth. She was exceptional, and he’d have to tell her so.
Moving through the room as the attendees ate, Aziraphale made efforts to learn names, ask questions. He had shed his vestments following the service, and had thrown on a tan knitted sweater, though his collar remained conspicuously visible. A skinny woman wearing an oversized skiing jacket who had eaten little but had grabbed four separate cups of tea reached out and grabbed his sleeve as he passed. “I have a question for you!” She had declared, coughing a little.
Aziraphale sat on the bench beside her, his body facing out towards the aisle while she remained angled towards her plate and collection of mismatched mugs. She paused for a moment, studying him. He wondered what she would ask. A logistical question about the lunch, or maybe about the Bible, Christ’s love, forgiveness? “Do you dye your hair?” If he had been drinking something, he would have spat it out. Seeing his shock, the woman smiled, her eyes bright. She was teasing him.
“No, I don’t.” He said, laughter lifting his words. He gestured with his hand to his hair. “It did this all on its own.”
“It looks like a halo. Like an angel. I guess that’s why you’re the priest.”
Aziraphale smiled down at his lap and clasped his hands together. “That must be it.” They chatted a little while longer. The woman’s name with Dahlia and she stressed that she came every single week that tea was served. She apologized for not attending the morning service, and Aziraphale had assured her that it was perfectly all right. When he asked where she lived, Dahlia deferred, changing the subject to the local football team. Homeless, maybe. He’d try to find out later.
“I’m going to help tidy up, Dahlia my dear. But it was lovely getting to know you, and I look forward to seeing you again very soon.” Aziraphale rose and joined the volunteers gathering plates and cups, wiping surfaces. As the patron’s filed out, he heard Dahlia yell to the dark haired woman in the kitchen.
“Bye, Anathema! I’ll see you later.”
Volunteers cleaned and slowly cleared out, Anathema dismissing them and thanking them each by name. There was a presence to her that Aziraphale found deeply impressive, and just ever so slightly intimidating. There was a smoothness to her movements, a certainty to every move she made. Aziraphale watched her for a moment, then cleared his throat. “You’re really, very good at this.” It wasn’t quite what he had meant to say. It certainly didn’t encompass the ever increasing respect building in him for her, but it was a start.
She turned from her place at the sink, pulling her dripping, gloved hands out. “Thanks.” She replied. An American. The woman from the phone. Of course. She pulled off the sudsy yellow gloves and left them on the counter, then wiped her hands on her long skirt for good measure. Extending her small hand towards him, she spoke again. “You must be the new vicar.”
He reached out to take her hand, delicately boned and soft in spite of the work she had been doing. “You can call me Aziraphale, please.”
She actually snorted in response, her other hand raising to her lips in a way that Aziraphale found very charming. “Aziraphale and Anathema. Our parents had unique senses of humour.” She giggled, pushing her glasses up on her nose. She really was remarkable looking creature. Large eyes and smooth brown skin. It made him like her more that she was here in a church basement and not modeling bathing suits somewhere on the French Riviera. She wasn’t his type, of course, but he was far from immune to beauty. In truth he craved it, almost constantly, and her face served as a sight for sore eyes in a corner of the city that had seemed to him at times relentlessly drab.
Aziraphale shrugged shyly. “Yes. Quite the names. We’re quite the pair, you and I.” Anathema took back her hand, and he perceived a momentary wariness run through her. Oh, dear. She had thought… she misinterpreted… “What I mean is -” He could feel himself stumbling over his words before he had even said them. “Just the names. Nothing else. I’m not… Oh dear. I hope I didn’t make you uncomfortable.”
She watched him placidly make a fool of himself, then smiled. She placed a hand on his arm lightly. “No harm done.” She knew. He exhaled. He didn’t know how in the mess of words she had heard what he meant to say, that he was not a threat, that he would never put her in an uncomfortable position, that she could feel safe with him alone down in this cinder block walled, windowless basement. “Did you enjoy yourself today? I know it’s a lot. Some of our guests can seem a little unpredictable.”
“It was perfectly fine! Lovely chatting. I hope I can be of more help next time.”
Anathema moved back to the sink, slipping on the gloves and picking up where she left off with the remaining dishes. Aziraphale approached, grabbing a nearby tea towel and began to dry the dishes she had finished. “You were a great help. I find most of our guests just want someone to talk to half the time. That’s why they come. And I suspect you have some experience hearing people’s problems.”
“That I do.”
They completed the last of the dishes in a companionable silence. As he locked the outside door to the church, Aziraphale asked over his shoulder, “Would you be at all interested in joining me for dinner tonight? I’m afraid in the run up to the weekend I’ve been a bit neglectful of sundries to make myself dinner and I was going to go to the pub up the way. The Three Roses, or something to that effect.”
“I can’t.” He turned to look at her, and she seemed genuinely disappointed which he found encouraging. “Some things to finish up at the shelter. It’s gotten so busy with the weather turning.” As she spoke, she wrapped her arms around herself almost in demonstration. It had been getting unseasonably cold as of late. “But, it was really nice meeting you tonight, and I hope we can get a chance to talk some more. The last minister, reverend, whatever, he wasn’t… he wasn’t fit for it.”
“What do you mean?”
She looked up, searching for words. “He never would have sat and spoken to Dahlia like you did tonight. He mostly just wanted everyone to say Grace and then he split. I can tell you’re different, that this is what you’re supposed to be doing.”
His heart caught in his throat a bit. He hadn’t realized how much he had needed someone else’s certainty since coming here. “Anathema, dear. Thank you so very much. Your faith is so reassuring to me.”
They bade farewell and moved in opposite directions, she towards the shelter, he to the pub. Even though Anathema was not with him, it was the first time since coming to London he had not felt so relentlessly alone.
The Three Roses was warm and inviting inside, with a fire lit in a corner fireplace and several booths, the banquets lined with leather, soft from years of use. Aziraphale hadn’t been here yet, but he instantly felt like maybe this could be a place for him, besides St. Sebastian’s. That is, if the food was any good.
He ordered the Sunday roast and a glass of red wine at the bar and chose a secluded table in the corner, near to the fire. Wishing suddenly he had brought a book with him, he searched around him for a newspaper, The Times of London, preferably, but he would take a Daily Mail if things felt particularly dire, when he froze.
There, at a table on the opposite side of the pub, was Crowley, and despite the sunglasses he was still mysteriously wearing, Aziraphale knew he was staring right at him.
For a moment, neither of them moved. Aziraphale didn’t think he was breathing. Over the past week he had tried to stop his mind from creating circumstances where the two would cross paths again, with little success. He had looked at the contact number for Crowley in his phone several times, and at one point had made a move to delete it, but something held him back. And now here Crowley was in front of him in the most mundane and obvious way, at the local pub.
From his table, Crowley smiled, and drawing his legs in, he picked up his glass, rose, and walked directly over to Aziraphale. Aziraphale had to remind himself to breathe.
Crowley was in all black again. If Aziraphale hadn’t catalogued his appearance so thoroughly the first time they had met he might have made the mistake of thinking he was wearing the same thing. But it was different now. A button-up shirt instead of a soft cotton t-shirt, a suit jacket instead of the leather motorcycle jacket. Aziraphale was gawking and he didn’t want to be.
“No trouble then?” Crowley stood across the table from him, holding his pint and smiling down at Aziraphale.
“I haven’t heard from you, so my guess is you’ve kept yourself out of trouble.”
Aziraphale felt the heat rise in his face, made worse by the fact that he knew the nearby fire had nothing to do with it. “No, no. No trouble for me.” He glanced up at Crowley, feeling discomfited yet eager in his presence.
Crowley reached down and touched the back of the chair across from the reverend. “Can I join you?”
Aziraphale sat up straight, and reached out to pull in his glass of wine, making space at the table. “Please.” The response was too quick, and Crowley smirked in response, but it wasn’t unkind. He pulled out the chair and sat down. Crowley leaned his elbows on the table, arms crossed, still looking, always looking towards Aziraphale.
“Do you live around here?” Aziraphale asked, hoping it wasn’t too intrusive a question.
“No. I’ve just had some business in the area.”
“And what is it you do, Mr. Crowley?”
“Just Crowley.” He said, taking a drink. Crowley didn’t respond to Aziraphale right away, but his face gave nothing away. “I’m in security,” he finally answered, in a tone that didn’t invite interrogation.
It was then that the server approached and laid down Aziraphale’s meal. Both men leaned back to make space. As the server left them, Aziraphale studied the empty space in front of Crowley. “Have you eaten? Are you eating?” He asked, the concern in his voice more obvious than he would have preferred.
“I don’t eat much. Don’t let me keep you.”
Aziraphale glanced down on his plate, self-consciousness getting the better of him. He was not used to being the only person eating at the table, not when he wasn’t by himself. And he certainly wasn’t accustomed to someone watching him eat. He had a brisk internal debate over whether it would be more awkward to eat or not, and he landed on deciding to eat. He would take small, deliberate bites. Only to appear measured, he told himself. It had nothing to do with wanting to stretch this encounter out as long as possible.
What was it about Crowley that resonated in him? The way he looked was of course part of it. Crowley was exactly the type of man that had always caught his eye: tall, lean, sharp featured. So different from himself. But it was more than that. Crowley left Aziraphale in a state of nostalgia, a longing for something that was. He felt drawn to him, compelled. Every thought of the man, every imagined scenario left Aziraphale with a dull, deep ache. That Crowley could even possibly feel something similar was impossible to Aziraphale. He was merely a familiar face. The good reverend pitifully eating alone at the local pub. Crowley was doing him a kindness, just as he had done before.
“So what’s your story then?” Crowley asked casually, leaning back in his seat, and looking towards the door, almost as if waiting for someone. “Why set up base in sunny Newham?”
Aziraphale gave what he hoped was an annotated version of the past several months, while leaving out some details - the bit about hearing God speak directly to him, for instance. He knew the way that sort of thing put people off, non-church goers at any rate, and Crowley didn’t strike him as a church goer. “It is a very big change, but I’m looking forward to it. A new and welcome challenge.”
“Brave man, uprooting your entire life to help an ungrateful populace.”
“Not entirely ungrateful. Not in my experience.”
Crowley picked up his pint glass, realizing with a slight start that it was empty. “I’m going to get another. Can I…” As he rose he reached over and touched the rim of Aziraphale’s empty wine class, extending his offer to the man seated across from him.
Aziraphale allowed his eyes to rest momentarily on Crowley’s hand, then continued up his arm until he had reached his face. Meeting Crowley’s eyes, he nodded once. He would have another. Indulge.
He watched Crowley walk to the bar and place the empty glasses down. He spoke briefly with the bartender, and if Aziraphale wasn’t mistaken, the older woman behind the war seemed almost nervous of Crowley, not friendly and engaged as she had been when Aziraphale had ordered. Did Crowley have a reputation here? The man had approached Aziraphale’s table tonight but had barely offered any information about himself, except that he worked in “security,” and what in the world did that really mean? And why, for God’s sake did he wear those sunglasses indoors? Everything about this man was maddeningly opaque. Working with congregants, Aziraphale wasn’t a stranger to drawing information out of them, or if he were bring less generous with himself, prying. But in spite of how familiar Crowley seemed to him, he was too new. The last thing he wanted to do was scare Crowley away.
Crowley returned to the table with two full glasses, sliding the red wine over to Aziraphale. Neither man spoke immediately. Crowley turned himself towards the fireplace. The flames cast flecks of light and shadow across the defined plains of his face. For a moment, Aziraphale allowed himself to receive this image without judgement. Something settled inside of him, and when he spoke next, he did so without thinking.
"You seem very familiar to me. I can’t say why that is." As Aziraphale spoke, Crowley turned away from the fire, and Aziraphale was momentarily concerned that the brief spell had been broken, that he had crossed some invisible line. But Crowley smiled and brought his beer to his lips.
"Maybe we met in a past life. Does your lot believe in that?"
Aziraphale smiled into his wine. He was sure Crowley was poking fun, ever so slightly, but he liked it. "Not strictly speaking. No."
Crowley shrugged, taking another long sip of his beer. “A mystery then."
They had finished their drinks making small talk, discussing the football team (an unsurprisingly popular topic in these parts), the price of housing (ridiculous, so expensive), and the quality of local take-away spots (middling to poor, across the board).
When they left together, Aziraphale’s mind felt fuzzy around the edges, drunk more on light conversation with a man he found attractive than the two glasses of wine. It had been such a long time. Aziraphale had almost forgotten what it felt like.
“Well, good night, Crowley. Thank you for keeping me company.” Aziraphale could feel himself smiling, and tried to draw it back, even a little.
Crowley reached out to him, and for a moment, Aziraphale wondered if he was going to hug him. He said a swift and silent prayer that he would not, as he thought he might implode if the other man touched his body to his. Instead, to his great relief, Crowley grabbed Aziraphale’s shoulder and gave it a small, quick squeeze. He then backed up a few steps and raised his hand in farewell. “I’ll see you around.”
Aziraphale raised his hand in response, bringing it down slowly as he watched Crowley walk away. He forced himself to turn and walk back towards the direction of his flat. Under his jacket and sweater, the place where Crowley’s palm had applied pressure burned. I’ll see you around. It had sounded like a promise.
A bit of an establishing chapter here. Slowgoing, I know. But this is tagged “Slow Burn.”
I enjoyed writing this bit for the opportunity it gave me to wax poetic about how staggeringly lovely Adria Arjona as Anathema Device is to look at. Her character here isn’t a perfect representation, but she has a role to play.
Thank you for your lovely comments on my first chapter. It is so encouraging to hear from you. I’m extremely keen on feedback and comments are always appreciated.
Aziraphale's prayer is a modified version of Psalm 26 (NIV).
Aziraphale was getting the hang of this. As he watched the last of the guests leave Sunday lunch, he sighed with satisfaction. It was getting easier. Not easy, but easier.
He was learning who was who, which guests liked a chat, and which preferred to be left to their own devices. He was learning how to anticipate issues by catching sharp changes in tone of voice over the din of scraped plates and dinner conversation. He was listening so much better than before.
Before she had left tonight, Dahlia had hugged him, quickly and when he wasn’t paying much attention. Aziraphale watched her bolt up the stairs after, chuckling to himself. Anathema had been right, that what people wanted most was for someone to talk to.
After the lunch hall had cleared out, Aziraphale and Anathema lingered in the kitchen, tossing ideas back and forth about how the church could do more, beyond the Sunday lunch.
“I think you’re on the money with a day program.” Anathema said. “The shelter is closed during the day and lots of people won’t want to ride the subway for hours. It wouldn’t even have to run every day. Not to start.” Aziraphale admired her enthusiasm.
Since he began coming to St. Sebastian’s everyday a month ago, he had noticed that the church was empty throughout the week. The administrative assistant was part-time and there didn’t seem to be any established clubs or groups using the space. Surely they could be doing more. It was a shame in a city like this to have an empty, warm space when others had nowhere to go.
Over each week they worked together, Anathema had only grown in Aziraphale’s esteem. She had established herself as a trusted colleague and collaborator, and slowly, Aziraphale hoped to also call her a friend. Each week following lunch, she offered Aziraphale personal artifacts as they cleaned, stories from her past, most shockingly how she had grown up surrounded by wealth on the sunny American west coast, and he would do his best to reciprocate. He told her how his now-deceased parents were never keen on his entry into ministry, and would ask every visit if maybe he’d consider going back to school (right through his thirties). How he hadn’t yet gotten a proper book shelf for his flat, but he couldn’t resist bringing more books in, and the haphazard piles continued to grow. How he was struggling to find things to love about London.
She had sympathized with him on that point. “This city can swallow you whole if you’re not careful.”
They left together, as they had been since the Sunday they had met. When they emerged to the street, the night seemed nearly upon them, even though it was really only mid-afternoon. Winter was rapidly approaching.
“What are your plans for the even-” Before Anathema could finish her sentence, a car horn sounded twice, from very close by. The pair turned and looked towards a sleek sedan with dark tinted windows parked a stone’s throw away from the church entrance. As they watched, the driver’s side door opened and Crowley stepped out onto the sidewalk.
Azirphale hadn’t seen Crowley in weeks, but he had heard from him sporadically via text. The messages were brief - no one is giving you trouble, i trust? - and largely impersonal. Aziraphale had noticed that Crowley never capitalized anything, not the beginning of sentences or names. He initially found it irritating, but as he read back over the messages (which he had now done more times than he would admit) he had come to find it charming. The last message had come in Monday of that week.
plans for next sunday? after work? The message had thrilled Aziraphale. He made himself wait twenty minutes to respond, as to not appear too eager.
None. What about you? But Crowley hadn’t responded after that, and Aziraphale’s excitement had dampened considerably. By Thursday he forced himself to stop looking at his phone every five minutes just in case he had missed a response. By Friday, he told himself that he’d probably never see Crowley again, just to manage his own expectations.
But here he was, in front of him. Aziraphale couldn’t feel his own face.
“Sorry I didn’t follow up. You didn’t make plans, did you?”
Aziraphale was momentarily lost for words, and his mouth hung slightly open. He turned to Anathema, the spark of delight plain behind her eyes as she took in the scene in front of her. In an effort to move the moment forward she stepped in for the reverend. “You didn’t make plans. You have no plans.” Angling her body away from Crowley, she reached out and gripped Aziraphale’s arm. Making what Aziraphale took to be Very Meaningful Eye Contact, she mouthed, Oh my God!
“Fancy a drive?” Crowley called out. The pair turned back to the red haired man in unison.
Aziraphale swallowed dryly. “That sounds lovely.”
“That’s my cue to say goodnight. Gentlemen!” Anathema gave a small wave and began walking away, occasionally looking back over her shoulder, her face bright with a wide smile.
Crowley slipped back into the car. Aziraphale approached slowly, looking over the vehicle. Black, sleek, expensive-looking. Quite a lot like its driver. He reached the passenger side door and the tell-tale clunk of a car door unlocking sounded out. Aziraphale steadied himself, and with a deep breath opened the door and got into the car.
The car was immaculately kept. Aziraphale had no real interest in cars and had only kept his license active for the occasional ministry based errand when he lived out in Cornwall. He considered one of the few benefits of moving to London to have been the ability to get around without needing to drive. But even in his disinterest he could acknowledge the interior of Crowley’s car was very well taken care of, indeed.
The dark red leather on the seats was soft and thick, and as he peered across the dashboard there was not a single speck of dust to be seen. Aziraphale wondered what this suggested about Crowley’s home. In all the spare moments he had thought about Crowley, imagined him since their first meeting, he realized that it had never occurred to him to imagine where Crowley lived. Would it be perfectly designed and dark like this? Would Aziraphale ever see it? He didn’t think he could stand to imagine the latter thought in Crowley’s presence. Not now. He filed it away for later.
Crowley was looking at his phone. He shut the screen off and tossed it into the console between them. As he looked up at Aziraphale he smiled, and here in the privacy of the car, Aziraphale felt he was seeing Crowley for the first time. The smile was inviting, natural without airs or masks. And it was just for Aziraphale. There was no one else here, just them.
“Where are we going?” Aziraphale asked, voice quiet, as if speaking at a normal volume might break him out of his small reverie.
Crowley grinned and turned his attention to the wheel, shifting the car into gear. “Do you like surprises?”
Not particularly, if Aziraphale was being entirely honest, and the more practical part of his brain questioned whether he should go to an undisclosed location with a man who, in truth, he barely knew.
Not waiting for Aziraphale’s response, Crowley continued. “Nowhere spooky. I promise.”
“Well, as long as it isn’t spooky.”
Crowley released a genuine and unaffected laugh at Aziraphale’s reply, and Aziraphale was in turn elated to have elicited it. He couldn’t hide the intensity of smile, so he turned his face towards the window as the car pulled out onto the street.
As they drove, Aziraphale watched unfamiliar sites pass by. He hadn’t done much exploring since coming to London, choosing to stick close to St. Sebastian’s and his flat for the most part, trying to foster the same sense of community he’d had back in Cornwall. They passed market streets and other churches, schools and parks.
At a corner, Aziraphale looked out and noticed a young couple waiting for the light to turn. They were holding hands in a way that suggested that this was not a new practice. They were seasoned hand-holders. There was nothing remarkable about the couple, they were entirely average in every way. He, watching the crosswalk light intently. She, adjusting her coat, fiddling with her lapel. But their image inspired a question in Aziraphale that he wasn’t immediately able to answer: was this a date?
He looked over to Crowley, weaving expertly through the busy streets of London. Was it? He didn’t even know what Crowley’s preferences were, though he had his suspicions. Aziraphale wished he were more perceptive when it came to this sort of thing. He used to be, but he was so out of practice. It had been how many years? Aziraphale didn’t want to do the math. He had gotten comfortable - no, not comfortable - accustomed to his single life in Cornwall, and after a while, had stopped making any efforts to change it.
Crowley took an exit ramp to the circular road, quiet, content to leave Aziraphale to his thoughts.
Now that he had started on this train of thinking, it was like he couldn’t stop. Five years. It had been five years since his last romantic encounter. At a conference in Cardiff. It had been a younger man. New to ministry. Darren, maybe? Dylan. His name was Dylan. They had chatted in the hotel bar having recognized each other from the day’s events. Aziraphale knew, of course, immediately. Knew the second he shook his hand. Dylan had known too. The ninety minute conversation they had over their drinks was just preamble.
In Dylan’s room the younger man had been almost frantic, unpredictable. He moved at a pace that had left Aziraphale wanting. Aziraphale was deliberate, thoughtful. This was neither. Dylan had pulled Aziraphale’s hair a little too hard, spat words in his ear that felt out of place and clumsy. But they didn’t stop.
After they had finished, Aziraphale laid under the sheets in the dark, pushing away the scratchy, polyester bedspread ubiquitous to this type of mid-tier hotel. He listened to the sound of water hitting the tiles in the bathroom as Dylan showered. He felt disconnected from himself, unfulfilled. As he got up and pulled on his clothes, Dylan had emerged, wrapped in a towel.
“Are you going?” There was no emotion to his voice. No disappointment, no longing, no eagerness even. Just a question.
“Afraid so, dear. Early morning.”
They had kissed goodbye chastly. There was no attempt to pretend that they would see each other again, keep in touch. Nothing of the kind. Aziraphale returned to his room, showered and fell swiftly into a dreamless sleep. When they saw each other in the morning in the lobby, they didn’t say hello.
Aziraphale emerged from the memory, suddenly realized just how very, very fast they were moving.
“You drive…” Aziraphale stuttered, his anxiety spiking. “... quickly.”
Crowley glanced his way, smirking. “I like driving.” As if to demonstrate, he changed lanes into the far right quickly, slipping smoothly between two cars in a fashion no reasonable driver would have attempted.
Aziraphale involuntarily braced himself on the dashboard with one hand for an impact that never arrived.
Crowley kept his eyes on the traffic ahead of the, smirk still playing on his lips. “I’m also a very good driver. Don’t worry. We’re nearly there.”
He wasn’t lying. Within minutes, Crowley had taken an exit and entered into a neighbourhood of low-rise post-war apartment blocks and townhouses.
With an abrupt and uneasy realization, Aziraphale knew where they were. He had grown up here. He had walked these streets countless times as a boy with his parents, then with friends as he had gotten older. There was nothing distinctive about this place. The streets were identical to countless other developments that had come up all over the country at the same time. But he knew this was where he was from. He said nothing to Crowley, simply staring out the window, watching scenes from his younger years play out in his mind’s eye.
Finally, Crowley pulled up outside a primary school, the exact primary school Aziraphale had attended as a child.
“I… I went here.” Aziraphale stammed, confused. What in heaven’s name was this about?
“So did I.”
Aziraphale shut his mouth and studied Crowley’s face.
Crowley turned the car off, leaving the keys in the ignition. “When I saw you a few weeks ago in the pub, you said I seemed familiar.”
Aziraphale made a small noise of acknowledgment, and brought a hand to his lips. He wrapped his other arm around his own chest. A protective gesture. He felt he had just been plunged very deep in the known unknown.
“You did to me, too. But it didn’t hit me until later. We went to school here together. When we were boys, very young.”
Both men turned to look out on the schoolyard. The equipment had clearly been updated over the years. No more metal slide that burned the backs of your legs on sunny days. No more metal monkey bars that reached a height unreasonable for any child to attempt to cross. But the school was largely the same.
“Were we friends?” Aziraphale asked. His mind ached with the effort of searching for Crowley in his memory.
“No. I don’t think we were.”
Aziraphale turned back to Crowley now, who still stared towards the school, deep in thought. Aziraphale said nothing. He wanted to see where Crowley was going, and he was starting to think the best thing would to be quiet. No questions, no prying, just quiet.
“But you helped me once. In an accident.”
And there it was. The memory came to Aziraphale immediately and fully formed, like a slap across the face.
Without thinking, Aziraphale reaching out and lightly encircled Crowley’s forearm with his fingers. “You fell.”
He could hear it, the sound of a busy school playground at midday. The creak of metal equipment, children laughing and yelling out. It was spring. He had shed his jacket along with his classmates, ignoring the damp chill that remained in the air, celebrating that going without a jacket was even possible. In his memory, Crowley was almost entirely in silhouette, rays of sun curling around the edges of his body, a shadow of a boy. Crowley stood on the very top of the monkey bars, balancing, looking out. In an instant he lost his balance. Unable to catch himself, he went head over feet onto the pavement below.
The cacophony of childrens’ voices ceased. The school yard grew quiet as they looked over, shocked. No one moved until Aziraphale did. He ran to Crowley, kneeling beside the still boy laid out on his back.
“He’s dead!” An anonymous girl’s voice called.
As if summoned, the boy Crowley let out a quiet whimper.
“He’s not!” Aziraphale cried out. “Someone get the teacher! Someone get a teacher!” He was vaguely aware of some classmates taking off towards the school. He turned his attention back to Crowley. The boy’s eyes opened, looking straight up to Aziraphale. They were rimmed with tears. He made a move as if to speak, but didn’t. Couldn’t.
Aziraphale remembered feeling so overwhelmed, so confused, wanting so badly for a grown-up to tell him what to do. He took the other boy’s hand gently, holding it in both of his. “Don’t move until the teacher gets here, okay? I think you’ve really hurt yourself.” He paused. “You’re not supposed to stand on top.” Even as a child he had felt silly bringing up the rules. The damage had been done.
The two boys had looked at one another, for what felt like an age. Slowly breathing, unaware of the children closing in around them.
From the school came the headmaster, a teacher, running. The teacher, a sturdy woman in cat eye glasses knelt beside Aziraphale. She took his hands and gently unwrapped his fingers. “That’s a good boy, Aziraphale. So kind of you to stay with your friend. Now back up please, sweetheart. That’s good. Thank you.” He backed up, swallowed into the crowd of students who now encircled them.
The memory ended there. The ambulance must have come, but he didn’t remember.
Aziraphale returned to the present. He looked to the school, back to Crowley, and then landed on his hand, still holding on to the other man. He withdrew it, slowly. “When did you remember?”
Crowley turned his face to Aziraphale, a small smile playing on his lips. “After the pub. I should have realized the second I heard your name. Not like there’s a bunch of Aziraphales running about. The hair too. Uncommon.”
Aziraphale chuckled softly, and brought one of his hands up behind his head, fingering the hair at the nape of his neck. “I was a boy. I don’t know if I really helped you.”
“You did.” Crowley’s reply was quick, certain.
For a moment they just looked at one another. Both, it seemed, uncertain in this new territory where they had known each other for years and years, in a way.
“I don’t remember you after,” said Aziraphale, searching his mind for any other instance of interaction, playing, talking. Anything.
“I had a very bad concussion. They kept me out of school for the rest of the year, and then we moved.”
“But you recovered.” It was both a question and a statement.
Crowley smiled, and his tone changed suddenly, as if to shift gears, take them out of the past and into the present. “Very nearly. Let’s go for a walk.” Without waiting for Aziraphale’s answer Crowley opened the door and swung his long legs out of the car and onto the asphalt. Aziraphale followed.
They walked past the school and into the townhouse development that came up against its edge, Crowley leading the way and Aziraphale trailing a few steps behind. Crowley pointed out the house he had lived in, though admitted he couldn’t remember much about the years he spent there.
Something felt reduced in Crowley now. In his reveal, for a spare few moments, Aziraphale had felt something open up between them. By resurrecting the memory of that small, slight boy, lying prone in the school yard, Crowley had opened himself to Aziraphale, but had closed the door almost immediately. Had he wanted more from Aziraphale? A bigger reaction? Aziraphale retreated into himself, playing the conversation over and over as they walked.
Before he knew it, they were back at the car. Aziraphale had barely been paying attention. The two men got back in.
“We’ll drive back thought the city this time. No motorways. Don’t think your nerves could take it again.” Crowley smiled as he leaned over to Aziraphale, but there was still something restricted in him.
“How perceptive of you.” Aziraphale said, more clipped than he had intended or even really meant.
For the first half of the drive back, they travelled in an uneasy quiet. Perhaps Crowley had felt over exposed, returning to what must have been a traumatic moment, especially for a young child. Aziraphale considered this. Crowley had given him back this memory and he had done it for a reason. What was that reason?
Aziraphale inhaled sharply, and broke the silence between them. “I’m so grateful Crowley, that you brought me back. Thank you for reminding me how we met. I’m so sorry I didn’t get there on my own.”
Crowley shifted in the driver’s seat. “Don’t apologize. It was, what, bloody odd forty years ago or something.”
“But I remember it now! Everything about you.” There was a plea lacing Aziraphale’s voice that he himself was unfamiliar with. The quietest desperation. He wanted that broken open moment back. He wanted unrestricted access to the man sitting next to him. “And it feels so wonderful to know someone who knew me, then. Crowley, I don’t have anyone else like that.” It was true. He had moved back to London knowing no one, and had kept in touch with no one from before. He felt like a man without a trace, a history, until right now.
Crowley turned his face towards Aziraphale quickly, before turning back to the road. “I don’t either.”
“Well, then.” Aziraphale clasped his hands in front of him, preemptively feeling silly for what he was going to say next. “We should be friends.”
Crowley let out a short bark of a laugh and a smile broke across his face. “I thought we already were.”
Aziraphale felt his lips match Crowley’s smile. He glanced in the driver’s direction, and caught Crowley’s gaze. Aziraphale felt a rush of affection for him, more than the attraction he felt since their meeting a few weeks ago. Or was it their reintroduction? The timeline had changed. In recovering the memory to which Crowley had led him, Aziraphale felt he had seen a secret side of him.
The streets outside became more familiar. Aziraphale noticed the underground station he had used before, the shops he visited. “Now that we’re friends,” he started, going against his instinct to let Crowley come to things and share them with Aziraphale on his own, “you should tell me what your very mysterious security job entails.” Crowley’s opaqueness regarding his job had left remaining questions for Aziraphale, especially now that he had seen the car. What kind of east end security job let a man buy a car like this?
It was then he realized that Crowley had pulled up beside Aziraphale’s home. He had remembered.
“Bit of a long story. Boring too. But next time.” Crowley put the car into park. “I’ll tell you next time.”
Next time. Aziraphale could feel his heart rate pick up. Next time, next time.
“Thank you for today. And again, for reminding me. This meeting again… it’s been a happy accident.” Aziraphale got out of the car before Crowley could respond. Before closing the door behind him, he leaned over and studied the other man still in the car. “I’ll see you soon?”
“Yeah.” Crowley made a small gesture of farewell. “Soon.”
Aziraphale closed the door and stepped back, and Crowley drove away.
As Aziraphale lay in bed that night, courting sleep, he replayed all the moments he had earlier shared with Crowley. Something was settling on him, and it was the idea that their reconnecting was not a happy accident at all. There was nothing accidental about it. It felt, to Aziraphale, preordained. This had been planned, but not by them.
Hours later, Aziraphale woke with a start, the last facades of a dream slipping away. An adult Crowley laid out on the pavement, having fallen from a great height, looking up at Aziraphale with scared, golden yellow eyes. The dream slipped away from Aziraphale as it had never been, and he settled back into sleep for the rest of the night.
To everyone that has read and commented so far: you have been so encouraging, and I am so grateful. Thank you for your kind words. Getting back into writing has been a real gift, and I feel lucky to be sharing it with you. I'm moving towards some chapters I'm excited about, and I hope you will be too.
Italicized text in block quotes represents a text conversation.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
CROWLEY: busy tomorrow?
AZIRAPHALE: It’s Sunday!
AZIRAPHALE: I’m working?
AZIRAPHALE: Not busy.
CROWLY: meet me at barbican station 1930h?
AZIRAPHALE: OK, why not?
“Have you been here before?”
Aziraphale had found Crowley smoking outside the tube station, an aubergine scarf wrapped tightly around his neck. He greeted Aziraphale with a nod, turning his head to blow out the smoke, careful not to let it drift in Aziraphale’s direction. He had gestured to the concrete apartment block behind him.
“The Barbican? No.” The tower ahead of them was an imposing, brutal slash on the London skyline. A mistake of post-war architecture, if Aziraphale had anything to say about it.
Smiling at the hesitant look at Aziraphale’s face, Crowley turned and began to walk in the direction of the overwhelmingly gray building complex.
As the two men wandered the pathways, Crowley rattled off stories of the buildings, their history and construction.
“Do you live here?” Aziraphale asked hopefully. Was this perhaps an introduction to Crowley’s inner sanctum?
Crowley snorted out a laugh. “No. Bloody fucking expensive. Would sell my soul for one of these flats though. This place is brilliant.”
“You can barely find your way around!” Aziraphale stopped and turned, examining their surroundings. The open corridor they were in looked exactly like the open corridor they had been in several minutes ago. “Are we going in circles?”
“Come on. Down here.”
Crowley was already halfway down a flight of stairs and Aziraphale jogged to catch up. Attempting to conceal his slightly laboured breathing, Aziraphale continued his earlier train of questioning. “Where do you live, if not here?”
“West of here. Now, see this?”
Aziraphale meant to be annoyed with Crowley for providing what could barely be considered an answer, but he couldn’t, because in the courtyard as the sky settled into a dark sapphire blue above them and the lights turned on in the flats in the buildings on all sides, he suddenly understood. He could hear water running, a fountain was nearby perhaps. The courtyard seemed strangely insulated from the city noise outside. Dead in the middle of the city, and it felt quiet.
“Oh, Crowley.” Aziraphale stepped forward, turned slowly, taking in the space. He could see his breath turn to smoke in front of him, but in here, protected from the wind, the cold was more than bearable.
Crowley lit another cigarette, inhaled, and said nothing, content to watch Aziraphale in wonder.
AZIRAPHALE: I have an extra ticket to Handel’s Messiah at the Symphony. Are you interested? It’s this Friday.
CROWLEY: very festive
CROWLEY: not much for the classics really
AZIRAPHALE: Not to worry. I can ask someone else.
CROWLEY: i didn’t say no
“Did you enjoy that?” Aziraphale asked as they emerged from the theatre. If he was being honest with himself he could barely say he enjoyed it himself. He had spent a large portion of the performance attempting to watch Crowley without being noticed. Aziraphale had half expected him to be on his phone the whole time, bored. But to his surprise Crowley had listened intently.
Crowley let the door he had been holding close behind Aziraphale. “Not bad, really. Not my usual fare. But not bad.”
“Well, I’m glad it wasn’t a total waste of your night.” Aziraphale smiled, pulling his scarf tighter around his neck.
Crowley turned towards him sharply. “Of course it wasn’t.”
They paused on a street corner, facing one another. The crowds leaving the auditorium swept past them, two islands in a river. Crowley looked - Aziraphale took a moment to place the expression - annoyed? Aziraphale felt like he was always learning this man’s face.
“Don’t do that.”
Aziraphale took the slightest step back, surprised, confused. “Do what?”
Crowley pushed his hands deep in his pockets. “Make it sound like I’m doing you a favour. I wouldn’t have come if I didn’t want to.”
“Oh.” Aziraphale nodded. “Right.” He felt his heart open in his chest. Aziraphale was not an oblivious man. He was observant. When you were a man who realized that you loved other men in the ‘80s, well, one had to be observant. In his experience, these things had never been explicit. You just had to know. And he knew, now, that there was something between them, something beyond a casual friendship.
The knowing steadied him, eased any lingering anxiousness that coloured his time with Crowley. There was still so much to learn about him, and they had time.
Aziraphale did not want to rush into things. In truth, the anticipation had always been the best part. He loved the knowledge that something was possible, before anything had time to fall to pieces. The in-between one thing and the other, a place ripe with potential. They were in the in-between now.
And maybe, just maybe, he loved the in-between because he wasn’t ready for what was next. It had been a very long time, and this was very nice. Why spoil it?
“Let’s get a drink. No need to end the evening now, eh?” Without waiting for Aziraphale’s answer, Crowley brushed past him, their shoulders touching. “I know a place near here. Bit of a dive but it’ll do.”
Aziraphale smiled, turning and following a few paces behind. Crowley wasn’t ready either.
CROWLEY: have u been to brighton?
AZIRAPHALE: When I was a boy, but not in a very long time. Why?
CROWLEY: want to go saturday? you’re not working
AZIRAPHALE: It’s November!
CROWLEY: no tourists though
CROWLEY: i’ll pick u up at 10
The two men walked along the deserted beach, looking out at a grey and angry sea. Crowley was right. There were no tourists. No locals either. The wind weaved between them, prompting them both to wrap their jackets closer around their bodies. It was not what anyone would have described as a nice day.
“Would you be at all interested -” Aziraphale started loudly, concerned Crowley wouldn’t be able to hear him over the wind and surf. “- in grabbing a cocoa? Or a tea? Something to that effect.”
Crowley grimaced at the waves crashing on the sand. “Yeah, tea’d be good.”
The pair trudged into the town, finding many of the beachfront stores and restaurants closed for the season. At their fourth failed location Crowley shrugged. “So maybe there’s a reason people come here in the summer.”
Finally, they came across a small pub. They ambled in, and Aziraphale directed Crowley to sit, while he ordered. When Aziraphale joined the other man, he was momentarily thrown off balance when he realized Crowley had taken his sunglasses off. He held the dark, stylish glasses in one hand and rubbed his closed eyes with the other. As Aziraphale watched, Crowley placed the glasses back on his eyes. Aziraphale put down the tea and slid into his seat.
He turned over the cups and checked the teapot to see if the tea had steeped. “Crowley. May I ask you something?” Aziraphale had been doing a fairly good job recently of not asking Crowley much at all, choosing to let him direct conversations, choose the topic. He wanted to draw him out organically. That felt right, he told himself. Not to force it. But this quiet moment, after they had spent several hours together companionably, felt as good a time as any to ask just one question.
Crowley sat up straight, the look on his face reading minutely apprehensive. “Yeah, alright.”
Aziraphale looked up towards Crowley’s eyes. “The sunglasses. You wear them all the time.”
Crowley seemed to sag with relief, the tension immediately leaving his face, his body. “I thought you would’ve asked about that ages ago.” He was relaxed, one of his arms extending along the back of the bench.
Aziraphale exhaled, pleased that it didn’t seem to be a sore subject. “Well, one doesn’t want to be rude.” He poured two cups of tea, sliding one across the table.
“No, of course you wouldn’t.” Crowley’s smile across the table was soft, unaffected. Aziraphale suddenly found it difficult to hold Crowley’s gaze. The man unarmed him with so little effort. “My eyes are very sensitive to the light. The glasses help. The light coming off the ocean today, brighter than I expected.”
Aziraphale nodded. “Has it always been like that?”
“No, actually. Started after the accident.”
After the fall. “Oh. Oh dear.”
“But I get to look very mysterious, so it’s worth it.”
Aziraphale snorted into his tea. “Well, they suit you.”
“Thanks.” That smile again. It would undo him.
AZIRAPHALE: Do you have some time this week? Doesn’t matter when.
CROWLEY: yes why?
AZIRAPHALE: Would you mind terribly giving me a lift to Croydon?
CROWLEY: tuesday. anywhere u want to go, Aziraphale
AZIRAPHALE: Thank you! :)
“You have got to be frigging kidding me.” Crowley pulled into a parking space, and turned to Aziraphale, eyebrows raised. “Costco? We could go anywhere and you’ve chosen a Costco.”
“I need things for the church! Busy time of year.” Aziraphale could barely conceal his grin. He had deliberately not told Crowley their final destination, calling it a surprise. He couldn’t guess what Crowley had anticipated, but he knew it hadn’t been a wholesaler. Surprised at himself, Aziraphale enjoyed Crowley’s protest. He knew the man could occasionally be mercurial and contrary - personality quirks he usually found grating, but enjoyed when they came from him.
“I’m not going in. I’ll stay in the car. I’ll wait for you.” Crowley plucked his phone from the centre console and began skimming his thumb across, not looking in Aziraphale’s direction.
“Come in. It’ll be fun!” Aziraphale turned in his seat, leaning his face towards Crowley.
“Fun?!” Crowley responded as if Aziraphale had suggested he set his car aflame.
“Everyone likes Costco. Let’s go.” Aziraphale exited the car and started walking towards the windowless, gray building. From behind him he heard the driver’s side door open and close, and Crowley muttering under his breath.
They navigated through the aisles, Aziraphale expertly avoiding other carts and countless children cut loose from their parents. He tossed disposable plates and cutlery into the cart, followed by boxes of Christmas lights. “I can’t believe you’ve never been here before.” He looked back at Crowley, who crossed his arms and looked up the tall shelves of bulk goods with a look on his face as if he smelled something awful.
“Do I really look like a man who goes to Costco?”
“Well, my dear, seeing as you’re here…” Aziraphale let the sentence trail off, pleased beyond compare that Crowley was now actively fighting a smile.
At the end of the aisle, the men emerged on a busy sample counter. A tray of cheese cubes, pierced with toothpicks stood at the end. Aziraphale reached over and grabbed two, quickly biting down on one. Gouda, he thought. A completely passable gouda. Tossing his empty toothpick in the bin he held the second sample out to Crowley.
Without speaking, Crowley reached out and instead of taking the sample from Aziraphale’s hand, he wrapped his fingers around the reverend’s wrist, and brought the hand up to his lips. He studied the cheese for a moment, and then smoothly removed it from the toothpick with his straight, white teeth.
Aziraphale’s eyebrows rose, and a warmth spread through his body, spreading from the place Crowley’s fingertips were grazing the inside of his wrist.
“Mm. Good cheese.” Crowley dropped Aziraphale’s hand and walked toward the next aisle, leaving the reverend gaping in his wake, holding a toothpick.
CROWLEY: short notice but dinner?
AZIRAPHALE: Yes, but let me finish up at work first.
CROWLEY: can i pick u up?
AZIRAPHALE: Please, if you don’t mind. From the church. Call me when you get here.
Aziraphale wasn’t sure why Crowley asked him to dinner when he didn’t actually want to eat anything. Crowley pushed the salad he’d ordered around the plate, barely touching it, preferring instead to drink several glasses of wine and wax philosophical about the current state of the world. His point of view could be described as sardonic, though when Crowley was being particularly grim, Aziraphale wondered if he was just trying to rile him up.
Midway through their meal together, at a French restaurant in North London that had left Aziraphale pleasantly surprised at the quality of the dishes, Crowley had suggested that the only role of the church in London was to give a place for tourists to visit, and Aziraphale had mounted a spirited and serious defense. “And one final thing - there are no tourists at St. Sebastian’s.”
Crowley had smirked warmly from behind his sunglasses, and Aziraphale had glared at him reproachfully over the tart he had ordered for dessert. Picking up his fourth glass of wine, Crowley had touched the glass to his lips and chuckled. “You should get angry more often. Gives you a little colour.”
Aziraphale wondered what colour he had gone, then.
Crowley was drunk. Aziraphale was drunk too, in spite of his earlier protest that he hadn’t wanted too much to drink. “I’m at work every day. It’s so busy.”
Crowley had shushed him, pouring him another glass. “It’s Christmas. Celebrate, Aziraphale.”
Crowley didn’t say his name near as much as Aziraphale said his. When he did, it made the hairs on the back of Aziraphale’s hands stand on end and something twist deep in the pit of his stomach. Tonight, nearly a bottle of wine deep, he wished he could hear Crowley whisper his name into the shell of his ear, lips pressed against his skin, hot breath down his neck.
If he was being reasonable, if he were fully in control of his faculties, he would have reminded himself that there was so much he still didn’t know about Crowley. He had no idea where he lived, who his family was, what he did with most of his time, what the hell security meant as a profession. There were so many pieces missing, red flags in their place. But Aziraphale was not being reasonable, and he did not feel in control. Crowley had completely unmoored him.
They left the restaurant laughing, leaning into one another.
Aziraphale felt light-headed, almost silly. He hadn’t drank that much in… he couldn’t remember. A very long time ago, at any rate. He wasn’t built for it anymore.
Crowley’s car was parked at the curb, a parking spot having opened up in front of the restaurant just as they arrived. Looking at the car, then back to Crowley, Aziraphale was struck with a sober thought. “You can’t drive.”
“No, I can’t.”
Well, at least that wasn’t a fight.
“I’ll call a taxi?”
One taxi. One. Aziraphale caught Crowley’s eyes. There was no question. No hesitation. They were still in the in-between, but rapidly reaching its edge.
Breathlessly, Aziraphale responded. “Okay.”
Something moved between them them, swayed, thick and heavy. An invisible rope pulling them closer together. Crowley withdrew his phone from his pocket and took a step closer to Aziraphale. Aziraphale’s fingers itched. He imagined what it would be like to run his fingers through Crowley’s hair, to touch his chest, hold his hips firmly against him.
“Shit. Bloody bugger shit.”
Crowley’s demeanor had entirely changed.
Crowley turned away, staring at his phone screen, typing wildly.
Looking up at the sky, Crowley groaned. “I’m so sorry, Aziraphale. It’s… it’s work.”
Aziraphale shook his head. “You’re in no state to go to work.”
“Doesn’t fucking matter, unfortunately.” Crowley turned, looking back to Aziraphale. His face twisted into near agony.
The two men held each other’s gaze for a long moment.
“I’ll call you a taxi. I’m sorry.”
“Yes, thank you. It’s all right.” Aziraphale plunged head first into a well of disappointment. They had been so close.
Crowley waited with Aziraphale for the taxi. They said nothing, both pacing on the sidewalk out of step with one another. When the taxi arrived, Crowley opened the door for Aziraphale and ushered him in.
“Text me when you get home, will you?”
“I will. Good night.”
Crowley sighed loudly, smiling sadly at Aziraphale. “Night.”
He closed the door, and the taxi pulled away.
AZIRAPHALE: I’m home.
CROWLEY: i’m sorry
CROWLEY: sorry sorry
CROWLEY: have a good sleep
This weekend I wrote a chapter, sat with it awhile, and decided it wasn't time for it. I wrote this instead. A new style for me, but it was fun to do.
Is this the first Good Omens fan fiction that has our ineffable pair visiting a Costco? If it's not, I don't want to know. Please let me have this.
Anathema stood in the kitchen, looking out over the serving counter to the Sunday lunch crowd before her, eyebrows furrowed. She was a serious woman, Aziraphale knew, but the look on her face was new to him.
He moved in beside her, trying to follow her gaze, but nothing was out of the ordinary. Guests ate, chatted, asked for second helpings. “Anathema, my dear,” he said to her in a hushed voice. “Are you quite all right?”
She tilted her head in his direction, expression unchanging. “Something isn’t right.” Her lips pressed together into a thin, unhappy line. “I don’t know what it is.”
An uneasiness abruptly settled on Aziraphale. He trusted Anathema. Her judgement up until this point had been unimpeachable. If she said something was wrong… He left the kitchen then, moving between the tables, studying faces. Was there anyone unfamiliar? Anyone doing something they shouldn’t?
Then, a calamity in the stairwell. A voice yelled down, frantic, near hysterical. “There’s a fight outside! They’re fighting!”
Aziraphale’s light blue eyes flew to Anathema and she looked back at him. They held contact for only a fraction of a second, but an electric frisson moved between them that set the hair on the back of Aziraphale’s neck on end. He watched the young woman throw down the utensils in her hand and they clattered onto the floor. She was out of the kitchen and up the stairs to the ground level in a flash, her long plaid skirt flowing behind her.
Aziraphale followed in her wake, moving faster than he could ever remember moving. He passed another shelter worker, Anathema’s right-hand-man, a tall lad with round glasses and a bad haircut. “Keep everyone down here! Don’t let anyone up!” He yelled to the younger man as he ran past. The man moved to protest but Aziraphale was gone, taking the stairs two at a time, an energy coursing through him that made him want to shout, or vomit.
He caught the wooden door as it was falling shut behind Anathema and flung it open.
She stood ahead of him on the steps. The scene in front of them was chaos.
A group of young men engaged in a ugly street fight. Were there twelve or fourteen of them? It was impossible to count, they moved so quickly and weaved between each others’ bodies as if in a brutal dance. They grabbed at jackets, fists meeting faces, growling and yelping. The air was permeated with a frenzied rage, an unrestrained toxic masculinity, as they tried in earnest to rip each other into pieces.
Aziraphale sensed rather than watched Anathema start to descend the church steps, and he reached out to hold her back, the tips of his fingers skimming the fabric of her blouse. She was too quick, too motivated. “Anathema, don’t!”
She stopped short of the whirling brawl, hands up and arms wide. The winter wind whipped her hair to the side and her skirt blew around her. “Stop!” Aziraphale was awed by her composure, her lack of fear. “Stop, please!”
At her plea, one man halted and shoved his adversary off of him. With a glance at Anathema, he took off down the street. In realizing one of their own was abandoning the skirmish, other men followed, the two factions running in opposite directions.
Aziraphale stood, astonished and slack jawed. How had she compelled them? Her mere presence had urged them outward and away from the church. She was miraculous.
She turned her attention to the last man, trailing the others. His run slowed to a jog, then a walk, then he collapsed onto his hands and knees, back heaving with effort. He had been left behind. The other men were out of sight now, God knows where.
Aziraphale’s body urged him forward, his mind not entirely in control. The cold wind bit into his skin but he could barely feel it. He ran to where the man had collapsed, Anathema on his heels. His arms reached out to the man, and as he crouched beside him - still not controlling his own movements, still spurred by something completely outside of himself - the man reached out to Aziraphale, and his hand fisted in the reverend’s sweater.
Aziraphale reached his hands underneath the man, turning him, revealing his face.
With a snap, he was back in his own body. The weight of the young man leaned into him, desperately clawing. The expression on his face was pure, unadulterated fear. But it wasn’t a man at all. It was a boy. The same bold boy that had threatened him on the church steps so many weeks ago.
The boy was heavy in Aziraphale's arms, chest heaving. He gasped for air violently. And then Aziraphale saw it, the bloom of red blood rising from his abdomen. “Mary, Mother of Mercy.” He whispered, his heart rising to his throat. Immediately Aziraphale pressed his palm to the place the stain originated, hoping to stop the flow, to slow it, anything. “Anathema, call an ambulance.” His eyes never left the boy, and his voice was legions calmer that he hurricane swirling inside of him.
“I need your phone.” Her slim hand reached into Aziraphale’s pocket, taking his mobile out.
Aziraphale knew she was calling, but the universe closed in on him, to just him and this terrified boy. Everything else was white noise. He gently applied more pressure and the boy groaned. “I am sorry, child. I know it hurts. But I want to stop the bleeding. Breathe. I will not let anything happen to you. You are safe.” The boy’s eyes closed and he whimpered pitifully. Silently, Aziraphale bargained with God.
Dear Lord, in your goodness and all knowing, I beg of you to cover this boy and protect him. Hold him in your arms, dear Lord. Heal him, please.
There were more people around him now. Being broken from his prayer felt like being woken up mid dream. It took Aziraphale a moment to realize what was happening, where he was. The ambulance was there, the paramedics. He hadn’t heard the sirens, the truck, the voices until now.
“What’s happened?” A paramedic knelt down beside Aziraphale. He couldn’t speak.
“There was a fight. We think he’s been stabbed. We don’t know him.” Thank God for Anathema Device.
The paramedic nodded, no nonsense and focused. “Right. You’ll need to let me in there, Reverend. We’ve got this, move back please.” Another paramedic swooped in beside Aziraphale, and he found himself pushed away. As he came to standing his hand grabbed the front of his shirt in worry.
“Take it easy there, son. Alright? We’re going to take you to the hospital. You’ll be there soon,” the second paramedic said to the boy.
Aziraphale and Anathema watched them treat the boy, load him onto a stretcher. “I’ll go with you.” Aziraphale turned to Anathema as she approached the back of the ambulance. She handed Aziraphale’s phone back to him. “I’ll call you, okay?” She climbed in and the paramedic closed the door behind her. Aziraphale’s heart rate began to slow. As the ambulance pulled away, a police car pulled up.
Guests from dinner were now spilling onto the street. Aziraphale supposed that they could only be held down in the dining hall so long. He turned towards the police car, but found himself looking past it, down the street. A black sedan was parked at the curb.
Aziraphale took one step forward, and as he did the car’s headlights snapped on, and it pulled away from the curb in a hasty U-turn. It drove out of sight, well over the speed limit. Watching the taillights fade into the creeping evening light, Aziraphale was immediately plunged into discomfort.
The police officer who approached him had questions. Of course he did. Aziraphale steadied himself, and turned to tell the officer what he knew.
After the guests had gone and the volunteers cleared out, Aziraphale didn’t go home. He couldn’t. He had washed the boy’s blood off his hands hours ago, but it still felt like it was there, coating his fingers. He kept looking at his palms, watched them tremor slightly, surprised each time to find them clean.
As darkness settled, and it became night, the reverend sat in the sanctuary, facing the altar. It was the second Sunday of Advent.
He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart...
It should have been one of the most joyful times of the year. But with the events of the afternoon he felt bereft. Is this why God had sent him here, to hold onto boys as they bled out on the pavement? He had known that this neighbourhood had been somewhat troubled, but this? He had been naive. God had not prepared him.
And beyond the boy, beyond Aziraphale feeling his terror and violent uncertainty and holding it in his very own hands, there was the question of Crowley.
When the image of Crowley’s car peeling away arose in his mind, Aziraphale tried to convince himself he had been seeing things. That he had been confused, or traumatized even. That would be a lie, though. Aziraphale’s senses had been so focused then. He had been hyper aware of his surroundings, the technicolour world around him.
It had been Crowley’s car. He knew it well, now.
Why had Crowley been there? Why had he left so quickly? Something hot, heavy settled in Aziraphale’s chest. He wanted to pray, but as he bowed his head and clasped his still shaking hands in his lap all he could conjure were all the moments he should have asked Crowley questions and he hadn’t. He cursed his complacency, his own selfish desire.
He couldn’t sit with it any longer. In the dark sanctuary, the only light spilling in from the open door to the lobby several rows back, Aziraphale took out his phone, and called Crowley.
He spun around in the pew, and dropped the phone from his ear. Crowley stood in the doorway, holding his phone in his hand.
“How’s that for timing?”
Aziraphale cancelled the call and placed the phone down beside him. He looked down at his lap. If he looked at Crowley now, he might lose his nerve. “You’ve never come in here before.”
“The church? It’s not really my scene.” Crowley approached, walking down the centre aisle. Aziraphale could tell his tone was aiming for levity, but it was strained, hesitant, as if he could sense Aziraphale’s internal disquiet.
In the silent church, Aziraphale could feel Crowley next to him now, could hear the gentle slip of him taking off his gloves. He turned his face towards the opposite wall. “Was that you, earlier? In your car, when the police came?” Crowley didn’t answer immediately and in those empty seconds, Aziraphale found himself immediately impatient. “Please don’t lie to me.”
“Oh, you think I’d lie to you?” Aziraphale could hear the offence lace Crowley’s reply.
He inhaled and exhaled slowly, suppressing his own anger. “I don’t know what you’d do, Crowley. I’m starting to realize that I may not know you very well at all.” With that he looked up at the man standing next to him and found himself soften involuntarily. What was it about Crowley that affected him so? A mere look on his face and the fury that had fueled Aziraphale until this very moment began to slip through his fingers. There was so much he wanted to know. How much had Crowley seen? Why had he left when Aziraphale saw him? He didn’t know where to start.
As if he could sense Aziraphale deflating, Crowley began to move into the pew. “Move over, would you?”
Aziraphale acquiesced. When Crowley finally sat, it was as close to Aziraphale as he had ever been. Their thighs a mere inch apart. Crowley leaned back, stretching his arm along the back of the pew behind Aziraphale, and Aziraphale leaned forward, not wanting to touch him in this moment. The feeling of the taller man’s arm across his back might undo him entirely. He hated this push and pull. In any other moment, he would have taken the arm across the back of his chair as an invitation. Now he was left questioning Crowley’s motive.
“That was me, earlier. And that was my car.”
Aziraphale groaned quietly, placing his face in his hands, elbows balancing on his knees. He was painfully confused. What was happening? “Why did you leave?”
Again, Crowley didn’t speak, allowing Aziraphale to fill the silence with his own conclusions. He had known about the fight, somehow. He had known where it was. And he didn’t care enough about Aziraphale to intervene in any way.
“The people I work for.” Aziraphale could almost hear Crowley searching for words. “They like me to know what’s going on. But I can’t get involved.”
The infuriating murkiness of it all. “What does that mean, Crowley?” He had intended his question to come out expressionless, measured. Instead he sounded strangled, in agony.
“The less you know about this, the better.”
The fury that had left Aziraphale before came storming back, filling him, fueling him. He sat up with force, bumping into Crowley’s arm. Absorbed in his realization, he barely noticed. “What is it then? Are you some kind of bloody gangster?”
Crowley grimaced. “Aziraphale.”
That was all the confirmation he needed. Aziraphale launched himself out of the pew, bumping into Crowley's knees as he went. “ Security . I should have known it.” He talked to himself now, pacing in the aisle, one hand on his hip, the other rubbing his face in frustration.
“Brought it right to my doorstep. Fraternising with a member some crime fam-”
Aziraphale turned to Crowley, who stood now, arms open, pained look plain across his face. He opened his mouth to speak and closed it. Then in a voice so low Aziraphale could barely hear him, he offered, “I’m not a gangster.”
“Then what are you!?” Aziraphale’s question came out as a yell. His voice echoed in the sanctuary, the silence otherwise smothering. “Help me to understand, Crowley.” He took a step towards the man as he came down off another wave of anger. He was caught in a storm of his own making. “Please.”
Crowley took a deep breath through his nose and looked at the floor. “I don’t want to lie to you. I’m sorry. But it’s better for both of us if you don’t know. I just can’t tell you. Can you not just have a little faith in me?”
Faith. Aziraphale extended a hand behind him. Finding the edge of a pew, he leaned back, putting all his weight into it. He felt as if he were wilting. What could Crowley do that was so awful he refused to tell Aziraphale? Or was it that he trusted Aziraphale so little… Both possibilities gnawed at Aziraphale’s rapidly breaking heart.
The silence was heavy, thick between them, neither one wanting to speak first, to continue the conversation neither one of them had wanted to have. Aziraphale felt as if something had ended, though in truth nothing had really happened between them. He mourned it all the same. He had allowed himself to want so much, to imagine that maybe… no. He couldn’t let himself look back.
“That boy today,” Aziraphale touched his fingers to the bloodstain that remained on his sweater from earlier, “He wasn’t one of mine, but he could have been.” As Aziraphale gestured around the sanctuary with his other hand, Crowley began to speak.
“I wouldn’t let-”
“No, no. You’re going to have to let me finish my de-. Crowley.” Aziraphale cringed at his slip-up. “If there was a greater than zero chance that something, someone, that I had been close to could harm a single hair on any one of these people’s heads… Unless you tell me what you’re up to...” He closed his eyes and brought his hands to his lips, as if praying, a security blanket of a gesture. “I cannot risk it.”
It was quiet for a moment before Crowley spoke. “Yeah. Alright then.”
Neither of them moved. Aziraphale could hear his heart beat in his ears.
“I’d better get going.” Aziraphale opened his eyes and watched Crowley grit his teeth, the angles of his jaw set into a hard line.
So, that was it. Done. End of conversation. Aziraphale brought himself to standing. His legs shook. He felt hollow. “I’ll walk you out.”
The two men walked towards the lobby, towards the light. Aziraphale was keenly aware of how wretched he must look, but couldn’t bring himself to care. As they moved towards the front door, Aziraphale allowed himself to drink Crowley’s image in one last time.
The jacket he wore was immaculately tailored, made of a rich black, smooth wool. The silver buttons on the double breasted front gleamed. His slim legs in black trousers. The long slip of his nose. His tousled hair. His lips, that Aziraphale would never get to know in the way he had so wanted.
Aziraphale extended his hand. “Goodbye, Crowley. Drive safe.”
Crowley stared at Aziraphale’s hand for a moment. The stony expression on his face faltered. He reached out and took the shorter man’s hand and pulled Aziraphale to him, wrapping his other arm around Aziraphale's shoulders. With Aziraphale's face pressed into the crook of Crowley's neck, Crowley buried his face into Aziraphale’s curls.
Aziraphale's free hand floated in space, itching to touch Crowley, to run his fingers through his hair, to trace his cheekbones. He wanted to memorize the lines of Crowley's body, but he froze. He made a noise, a stilted moan that nearly became a sob before Aziraphale caught it. The weight of the entire day crashed down on him at once. The fight, the boy, Crowley. Leaving. The mere memory of this may kill him.
Crowley broke the embrace, turned quickly, and without saying anything more, left.
The cold air from outside rushed into the lobby, surrounding Aziraphale. But the cold he felt now wasn't from the December evening, but the acute absence of a man who had had only been so close the once, and never would be again.
Aziraphale’s phone let out a shrill ring, and the screen lit up in the dark. From his seat at his kitchen table where he had sat for several hours in silence, he glanced over. Worried it might be Crowley. Hoping desperately it might be Crowley. The phone number on the screen was unfamiliar to him. Tentatively, he answered it.
“Aziraphale? It’s me. I’m just leaving the hospital. The boy’s okay. He’ll be fine... I can’t believe you’re still awake.”
Anathema. “My dear girl. I have your things at home with me.” He had collected them after Crowley left. Her purse, her coat.
“Can I come get them?”
“Of course, of course.”
In twenty minutes, shortly after two in the morning, she was at his threshold. As he opened the door to her, Anathema’s reaction was immediate. “Aziraphale! You look…. You’ve got blood all over your sweater.”
His hand absentmindedly drifted to his front. “Oh. Yes.” He couldn’t look at her concerned brown eyes. He would break right in two.
“Aziraphale…” He closed his eyes, and felt her slight arms wrap around him. “Let’s go inside.” He let her turn him around, lead him into his own home, grateful and embarrassed all at once.
I'm afraid to say this chapter does not answer any of the questions you've been asking. It may have very well made things worse! But I assure you there is a plan.
Thank you for reading. Every one of your comments and kudos brightens my day, so much.
The italicized bible text is from Isaiah 40:11 (NIV).
The madness of Advent and Christmas proved an efficient distraction for Aziraphale. More services, more congregants, more interest. Everyone liked a nativity play.
He spent long hours at St. Sebastian’s, arriving shortly after seven each morning. Leaving late into the night. The fewer hours he spent in his flat by himself with fewer distractractions, the better. He wanted to fill every moment, keep him mind constantly working.
Back in Cornwall, Aziraphale’s home had been his sanctuary. He had spent nearly two decades cultivating a space where he felt his inner self had been manifest. Floor to ceiling bookshelves, comfortable arm chairs, a collection of afghan blankets knitted by loyal parishioners. He had loved how settled he felt. How very at home .
He had dismantled that home when he sold nearly everything he owned and moved to London. The bookshelves, the lovely, cozy chairs. The blankets had been donated. He had only brought strictly what he needed. Except for the books. He couldn’t bear to part with a single book. It was part of God’s plan, he knew, for him to have less, to want less. But an underfurnished flat that still felt like it belonged to a stranger was not an escape for Aziraphale. Without things to make him feel at home, he had started to rely on people, which had a significantly more painful outcome.
In those first few nights after he and Crowley had parted for the final time, he had tried to lose himself in his books. He picked up novels and biographies and his well-thumbed copy of his bible, to no avail. Nothing could keep his attention. Within minutes he would find himself thinking how empty his quiet little life felt without Crowley’s presence. The potential, the possibility of Crowley had made him full-hearted and light. It had been such a long time since that sensation had lived inside him, making him feel almost impossibly young.
Without it now the contrast was stark. Aziraphale was proceeding through life in the way he knew he was meant to, but it brought him no joy or excitement. Everything felt incredibly mundane. He knew these things took time, healing, as it were. But this was different somehow, from anyone else he had seen and stopped seeing. Crowley and he had been drawn together. They shouldn’t have made sense, but something did. And now the angular man with his sunglasses and red hair and playful smirk was written on Aziraphale’s skin.
That night, when Anathema had come by to get her things, he had found himself profoundly destabilized. The events of the day had taken their toll, and in that pain he thought (knowing it was not a reasonable thought) that he might never sleep again.
Anathema carefully moved around him, gently suggesting he might shower and change, which he did, eventually. He never asked her to stay, would never have dreamt it. But stay she did, until the middle of the day, dozing on the couch and making countless cups of tea. He was used to being alone, could have managed it, but he was soothed by her presence, her unflappability, her encouragement that maybe he could try lying down and sleeping, just for awhile.
He revealed what had happened to her in pieces, but left the picture incomplete. Crowley had been secretive about several things, and in the end, that was incompatible with what Aziraphale did, and who he was.
“It’s not like anything had ever really happened. We were acquaintances really. And now we are not. Better off, perhaps.”
Anathema had given Aziraphale a skeptical look then, but had nodded and patted his hand across the table, feeling correctly that perhaps this was not the best time to challenge that assertion.
He didn’t want to be home. The church was safer ground. God, the safer companion.
Aziraphale couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful Christmas Eve. Outside, the sky was clear, and even through London’s bright city lights you could make out a star or two. The wind had subsided in favour of a more peaceful scene.
The pews at St. Sebastian’s were full. Some visitors stood in the back for the evening service. Aziraphale wasn’t surprised. This was the way it always was. Those who had left faith long ago slipped back in for one day a year, to be soothed by the miracle of a child being born in an unkind place, in an unkind time, who would grow up to embody kindness, and give himself back to the world. For some it was just tradition of course - they came to church to hear a story because they always had, or because mum wanted to, or because it just seemed the thing to do. That didn’t mean they were any less deserving of wonder, of the beauty this night could inspire.
The choir sang, and the congregation did too. They held candles, and passed peace to one another. Smiled at strangers. Aziraphale watched them, allowed his gaze to linger on their magnificent faces, to drink them in. He loved each and every one of them, and in spite of the melancholy he had lived in for the past few weeks, he was warmed through by the quiet promise of this night.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. ”
Aziraphale closed the Bible in front of him, ran his fingers over the embossed text on the cover. It was perhaps the thing he knew best, but he didn’t need more readings tonight. And neither did they. Standing beside the altar, he cleared his throat.
“You have come to us tonight to share in the grace of this joyous night with your family, your friends, your neighbours. We have all come together to experience a moment of peace and hope in what can feel like a chaotic and fractured world. To experience just some of what this night promised us so many years ago. I am certain that some of you with us tonight are skeptical of what’s been said, of what I’m saying. I want you to know that that is perfectly fine. It is more than fair to be skeptical of promises of peace in a world that does not seem to deliver. I also suspect that if you are here and you are skeptical, that you were brought here by someone who loves you dearly.
“God’s gift to us on this night is not just his only son. God’s gift to us is one another. It can be difficult, when we are distracted by the requirements of getting by in a life that demands so much of us to recognize that love. If you are here tonight, and you do not feel that you are loved, then know that I love you.
“I will not deign to tell you that everything that is happening - poverty, catastrophe, sickness, death, heartache - is part of God’s plan, because I don’t know it. God’s plan is unknowable, ineffable. But I can tell you that God loves you too, exactly as you are. He sent his only son to you at Christmas, because he loves you.
“Open your doors, my friends. Allow love to enter. Give and receive with generous hearts.”
Aziraphale’s voice cracked. He hoped he had managed to convey even a fraction of the enormity of love he felt at that moment, the gratitude for their willing ears. “My final prayer for you, is that you leave here tonight and make your gift to each other a daring and a tender love. Goodnight, and happy, happy Christmas.”
The organ sounded, parishioners and guests began to slip on their coats and chat with their neighbours. The din of the chatter was peaceful, and for the first time in weeks Aziraphale felt at ease.
“That was just lovely, Reverend.” A tiny hand grabbed his. Dahlia, with a group of other regulars from Sunday lunch. She continued, “A very nice Christmas service.”
Aziraphale smiled softly and took both her hands in his. “I am so glad you came to spend your evening with me, my dear. Absolutely chuffed to bits.” He hugged her gently, arm around her shoulders, then greeted the rest of the familiar faces, spending a dedicated moment with each of them. At the end of the line, he was greeted by Anathema, who he knew was working at the shelter tonight. A week ago he had asked her with no expectation if she might join him for Christmas Day lunch, and to his surprise she had extended the invitation to Aziraphale instead, insisting he join her and her boyfriend at her flat. After ascertaining he wouldn’t be playing third wheel, he had accepted.
“Merry Christmas, Aziraphale,” she whispered as she embraced him. Pulling back, she studied his face. “We’re having a smaller dinner tonight at the shelter. A more intimate setting.” She laughed lightly at her description. “We’d be happy to have you join us.”
Oh, Anathema. She didn’t want him to be alone. But at this moment, his pain had been pushed to the side and a tranquility had settled upon him. Was he healing? Was that what this was? Only time and solitude would reveal the truth. “Thank you, my girl. But not tonight, I think.”
She grasped his arm as she moved to follow her group out. “Okay. But if you change your mind…”
He nodded. “I’ll be in touch. Good night, Anathema.”
She waved over her shoulder, and filed out.
It wasn’t long before the church was empty. People wanted to get home to put children to bed, indulge in the less spiritual festive traditions. That was fine by him. He moved between the pews, straightening the bibles and hymn books, picking up small pieces of rubbish that had been left behind.
The contentment he felt now was a combination of several things: the knowledge of a job well done; the very fact that it was Christmas; and the feeling that this was now his church. This building and community now belonged to him, and he to them. It was the only gift he needed.
He walked home, enjoying the quiet that had settled like a blanket on the city. He loved this part, when everything, everyone slowed down, came to a stop for a single day. In all the madness in the lead up, he was grateful to know that stillness was still possible, even in London.
In the front windows of homes, he could see Christmas trees bright with electric lights, people moving about in silhouette behind curtains. It was all impossibly cozy. Aziraphale hadn’t bothered with a tree himself this year, settling instead on a wreath for the front door. The tree had seemed too much an effort when he was barely home to enjoy looking at it. Observing the trees in his neighbours' homes, he conceded to himself that maybe he should have at least tried with something small. It would be lovely, inspire tidings and joy and all those things. Next year he would. Next year.
Aziraphale looked up. He was in front of his flat now, had been so lost in thought his feet had carried him here without his even meaning to. And there in front of his door was Crowley. He was dressed as he always was, dark clothes, the sunglasses. He was clutching a brown paper bag.
“Crowley?” He had tried to not let himself imagine this, Crowley’s reappearance. In those moments of weakness when he had, he cast himself as strong, vigilant, determined. Crowley was to stay away, leave him alone. But he had also imagined Crowley begging, assuring him that it was all some horrible understanding, that he would do anything, absolutely anything to make it up to Aziraphale. And then Aziraphale would let him.
The flash of that fantasy made Aziraphale’s cheeks burn, and he hoped Crowley couldn’t see, that he hadn’t given himself away immediately.
“I’m… I’m sorry. I just wanted to…” Crowley stumbled over his words, trailing off. He looked up towards the sky (for divine inspiration, perhaps), then back to Aziraphale. He walked to him, and offered Aziraphale the bag he was holding. “I just wanted… for Christmas.”
Aziraphale looked from Crowley’s face to the bag in front of him. He gingerly took it from Crowley and looked inside. A plant. “What is it?” Asked Aziraphale, thankful to have an object to talk about, rather than address the situation at hand. “I mean, what kind of plant?”
“Oh, um. It’s a hedera. Common ivy. I remember you said you didn’t have much of a green thumb but these things are dead easy. Couldn’t kill it if you tried. And you said your flat was pretty bare so… so… maybe it’ll make it a bit more homey. Plants do that, I think.” He was babbling. “I guess, I don’t know. It’s a Christmas gift, alright?”
Aziraphale looked back down into the bag. An ivy. He searched within himself for the anger he had felt when he last saw Crowley, and found nothing. Was he that easily won over? He knew that nothing had changed or been fixed. He was in the exact same place with Crowley as when they had last spoken, when they had said goodbye.
Perhaps it was the day he had just had, or maybe he had taken his own words about going forth with a daring love to heart, but he didn’t want to send Crowley away. Not now. Perhaps not ever.
“I’ll leave, I’m sorry. Happy Christmas.” Crowley began to move past him and through the gate. How long had Aziraphale been lost in silent thought?
“Crowley, wait!” Aziraphale called after him, and Crowley stopped, not turning around at first, waiting for what Aziraphale would say next. “It’s Christmas. Come in for a drink.”
Crowley turned, a hesitant smile gracing his lips. “You sure?”
“I am.” Aziraphale clenched his jaw to suppress his own smile. Don’t be too eager. Don’t be too obvious. All has not been mended. All was not well. But it was Christmas Eve, and just maybe he could put aside the issue at hand for just a few hours. God would surely grant him that.
The pair moved indoors, past the shared foyer, and into Aziraphale’s ground floor home. Aziraphale closed the door behind him, and gently removed the ivy from the bag, placing it by the front window. He admired it for a moment, a splash of green in space otherwise dominated by dull yellow, brown, and blue tones.
Crowley chuckled quietly behind him. “Yeah, you could use a plant.” Aziraphale turned to look at him. “You’ve barely anything in here. Your books are on the floor.” He gestured to the space along the wall where Aziraphale had started, but failed to complete unpacking his boxes.
“Well, I’m not here much. I have what I need.” Aziraphale let his gaze linger on Crowley for a moment. Crowley. In his home. After thinking he would never see him again. “Allow me to take your coat.”
Aziraphale was briefly mesmerized, as Crowley’s long fingers undid his jacket buttons with deliberate care. After he slipped the coat off, he unwound his scarf, revealing his slim, pale neck. Aziraphale took them from Crowley, could feel their fingers touch his as he collected them. His breath caught at that simple graze. He turned his back to Crowley as he hung up the taller man’s things on the hook beside the door, memorizing the feel of the luxurious fabric on his fingers. He took off his own jacket, and hung it on top.
Aziraphale looked over his shoulder, cast his eyes side long at Crowley. “I’ll make some tea, then. Or, something else?”
“No, no. Tea’s good.”
He knew Crowley was smiling. Even with his back turned to the other man, he could sense him radiating. Not heat, but something just like it. Was it want? Was it anything like the desire that was coming back to life in Aziraphale right this moment? Every action, word, felt thick was need. Here they were again. Christmas Eve, and possibility had returned.
They walked together to Aziraphale’s small, unadorned kitchen. The small table was littered with books and a few days worth of newspapers, and Aziraphale was struck by a touch of embarrassment. He reached towards the books to rearrange them, to toss the newspapers in the bin. “I’m sorry, Crowley. I wasn’t expecting company.”
“Stop, you don’t have to do that.” Crowley’s fingers came down on the top of his hand, applying the gentlest pressure. "Not on my account, anyway."
This cautious, purposeful touch sent shock waves through Aziraphale. The beating of his heart thrummed in his ears. He suddenly felt a bit strangled, and his hand wandered to his throat to loosen his clerical collar, without success. Aziraphale pulled his other hand away from Crowley reluctantly, raising both to his neck to finally remove the stubborn collar and toss it on the table.
After all he had wanted, dreamed of, how could he be overwhelmed at a touch?
He moved to the counter and filled the kettle with water, taking slow, steady breaths. This was fine. Everything was fine. Get it together. Flicking the switch on the kettle he turned to confirm with Crowley how he liked his tea (as if he didn’t remember - two sugar, no milk).
It was then he discovered that when his back was turned, Crowley had come up behind him. Aziraphale inhaled sharply, a gasp. But it wasn’t just the sheer nearness of Crowley. In the dim light of the kitchen, he had removed his glasses. They lay abandoned on the kitchen table next to Aziraphale’s white collar.
“Crowley…” Aziraphale said, beneath his breath. His eyes were the colour of honey, golden and warm. Aziraphale had never seen anything like them before in his life, not anywhere. He reached up tentatively, like he was reaching to touch a wild animal, even though he knew Crowley would not budge or move away. His hand met Crowley’s cheek, his skin cool and smooth against Aziraphale’s palm. He swept his thumb in delicate, soft motions just below the hollow of Crowley’s eye. A sound escaped the taller man’s mouth, a moan born in his chest, creating rich vibrations that Aziraphale could feel in the fingertips that stroked Crowley’s hairline, the skin beneath his ear.
Crowley lowered his face to Aziraphale’s, touching their foreheads together. His thin hands came up to cup the back of Aziraphale’s head, his thumbs stroking the reverend’s jaw. They stayed there, in that moment of aching tenderness for several breaths, both of them savouring it, committing it to memory. For these weighty seconds, nothing was wrong. There was no one else, not in this kitchen, this flat, this entire city. Nothing else in the world mattered.
“Has anyone ever told you,” Crowley started, voice husky and unfamiliar, “that you look like a fucking angel.”
Aziraphale almost laughed in delight. Instead, he brought his hand around to the back of Crowley’s head, running his fingers through his soft hair, and closed the gap between them. Their lips met for the first time.
They moved in tandem, their mouths opened almost immediately as if to receive one another. Aziraphale felt the hot wetness of Crowley’s tongue move across his bottom lip and something exploded inside of him. He released a thick moan into Crowley’s mouth, with no thought to volume, how he sounded. Crowley tasted divine, like tobacco and nighttime and whiskey. Aziraphale wanted to drink it in.
He hooked two of the fingers on his free hand through Crowley’s belt loop, pulling Crowley’s hips to his. Crowley took this as an invitation and backed Aziraphale into the counter, pushing into him.
This was ecstasy. The taste of Crowley, the feel of him under his fingers. Aziraphale allowed his hands to drift across Crowley’s chest, to outline the muscles beneath his shirt that had made him so weak when he had seen him on the train. Crowley was sinew and rope. No softness at all, not like Aziraphale. He loved it. There had been nothing else like it his whole goddamned life. How could he have told himself the in-between would be enough? Why had he wasted so much time, and not kissed Crowley in the first moment he thought it might be possible?
Crowley pulled back his face, breaking the kiss. They were both breathing hard. Aziraphale felt like his whole self was vibrating. Crowley let his thumb drift across Aziraphale’s swollen lips. He looked at the shorter man like he was something precious, perfect.
Aziraphale gasped as Crowley pressed his hips into his, hard. He could feel Crowley’s length firm against his leg and he all but keened in want. Looking into Crowley’s eyes, feeling his hunger and knowing it was shared, it felt beyond belief.
“I will tell you everything.” Crowley muttered hoarsely, still leaning into Aziraphale so that the edge of the counter cut into his back.
Aziraphale said nothing, momentarily knocked off kilter by the reintroduction of spoken language. He thought maybe he had forgotten how to talk.
“I couldn’t be away from you. Not for another fucking minute. If you need me to tell you what l do, I will. It won’t be tonight. I’m still figuring it out. But I will tell you. I promise. Do you understand?”
Aziraphale nodded, and let his hands slip down to Crowley’s hips. His fingers explored the sharp definition of Crowley’s hip bones above the waist of his jeans. He didn’t want to think about what Crowley did, nor did he want to think about their argument. All he wanted was to stay in this moment.
“I have thought about you every bloody minute since I left you in that church.”
There was nothing Aziraphale could possibly say to explain what he was feeling, how heavy with desire he was. Instead he kissed Crowley’s thumb as it traced his lips again, then took that hand in his and kissed the centre of Crowley’s palm. “My darling,” he whispered into it, the words immediately settling in both of them. It was the only thing Aziraphale wanted to speak aloud again.
Crowley pressed a hot kiss to Aziraphale’s temple. “We’re not done yet, angel.”
Let me never be done with you , prayed Aziraphale.
With a palpable unwillingness, Crowley took a step back from the man pressed against the countertop. Something had shifted in him. Seeing Aziraphale’s face move from contentment to concern, he took a deep breath. “I need to go.”
Aziraphale felt like something cherished was being wrenched from his hands. “What?”
“I will be back. Soon. And next time you see me I will tell you everything.”
Aziraphale looked toward Crowley, two choices revealing themselves inside of him. On the one hand, it could be said that nothing had changed. Crowley had taken him right to the brink of something, and then withdrawn again, shrouding himself in secrecy. On the other, there was trust.
Something had passed between them that night. More than a kiss. An admission. An expression of raw longing. It wasn’t just physical, certainly not for Aziraphale, and clearly not for Crowley as well. They needed one another.
“Promise me you’ll come back.”
Crowley moved back to Aziraphale, embraced him, pressed his lips to Aziraphale’s ear. “I promise I will come back. I will hang around constantly and you will get absolutely bloody sick of me and want to kick me out. I promise.”
Aziraphale let out a single, hesitant chuckle, and drew Crowley’s face back. He kissed him once, lightly, then studied the man’s face. He drank in Crowley’s eyes, still shocked by their colour, their expressiveness. There was fire behind them, and they made Aziraphale’s heart feel as if it were in a vice. He would need to see them again.
He allowed Crowley then to put on his sunglasses, to move towards the door, retrieve his coat and scarf.
“Do I need to be worried for you?” Aziraphale asked, watching him closely.
Crowley shrugged nonchalantly. “Nah. I can take care of myself.” He turned to face Aziraphale head on, and placed his hand on the back of Aziraphale’s neck. “Happy Christmas, angel.” Crowley leaned down to kiss Aziraphale again, deeply, nipping at his bottom lip with his teeth. He dragged lips onto Aziraphale’s cheek, leaving a kiss there as well.
“Happy Christmas, my darling.”
Crowley broke away from Aziraphale, and as if afraid he wouldn’t actually leave, propelled himself towards the door, and let himself out.
Aziraphale exhaled and collapsed onto the couch.
He had never even made the tea.
If you are reading this, I love you.
Bible reading from Isaiah 9:6, NIV.
At times, he felt exceptionally stupid. But they were fleeting moments. He had chosen, more or less, to have faith. Aziraphale checked his phone each morning for word from Crowley. More often than not he was met with nothing, but every few days he would receive a short text message: “still here,” “will see u soon,” and the longest one, “taking longer than expected. not disappearing. promise.”
He resisted the practical and realistic sides of his mind when reading these messages. The parts of him that would tell him that Crowley was unreliable and maybe a liar and most possibly sort of dangerous. But truth be told, Aziraphale was not a practical or realistic man. He was a vicar, for God’s sake. He moved through the world each day with a devout certainty that there was something larger than himself at play, that life was more than the operation of pure chance, dumb luck. Anything else was simply inconceivable.
Life could be, had been cruel. He saw it every day, when parishioners sat down across from him in his office and laid out their great and painful dramas for him. The role that had been chosen for him was one that eased those pains, looked for solutions, offered comfort. It had been chosen for him. He had no say in the matter and never had. Faith, to have it, to offer it, was his vocation. God was in those moments whenever he gave someone just the mere possibility of peace, when he reached out to heal their heart and they, eager, reached back. God had been in his kitchen with Crowley when he had asked to be let back in, and Aziraphale had said yes.
That didn’t mean that he was at peace with Crowley’s absence. Crowley was always on the edge of his thoughts, both concerns for his safety, and memories of their last touch. In the hours that followed Crowley leaving him on Christmas Eve, the weight of the man’s need had settled on Aziraphale like a warm quilt. He had come back to Aziraphale because he needed him. He would come back again. To that end, he had replied to all of Crowley’s text messages with some variation of “I know.”
Aziraphale’s office at the church was small, but entirely adequate. Lined with filing cabinets and bookshelves, with papers littering every surface. It was in this space that he was exposed as an untidy man. On occasion, when his administrative assistant Jean was feeling bold, she would pass by his office and tut quietly, “I don’t know how you find anything in there.”
“I find everything just fine, thank you.” Aziraphale would reply, curtly. Aziraphale was a patient man, but she tried him.
He was reviewing budget information and sorting through receipts from the Sunday School when he heard light knock on his door. He prepared himself to turn and ask Jean, again, if she could please not interrupt him for the next half hour, but instead he was presented with the slim figure of Anathema, bundled in a plaid wool coat, a dark beret pulled down over her ears.
Just the sight of her, cheeks and nose pink from the cold January air, lifted his heart and dissipated the annoyance he had felt just seconds earlier. “Do you have a minute?” She asked, in a nervous way that was out of character for her.
Aziraphale stood. “Of course, my dear. Always for you. Is everything alright?” The anxious energy radiating off of her was not something Aziraphale was accustomed to with her. She was always so certain.
Anathema took off her hat and delicately closed the door behind her. “It’s kind of a sensitive thing.” The worry became increasingly transparent on her face.
Aziraphale gestured to one of the chairs across the desk from where he usually sat. As Anathema folded into it, unbuttoning her coat but not removing it, Aziraphale took the chair beside her. He sometimes found that sitting beside a person rather than across from them made them more comfortable, elicited a more fulsome admission, though he admittedly couldn’t imagine what Anathema was here to talk about. She always seemed to him to have her head firmly planted on her shoulders. She was not a woman who needed advice.
“I have a favour to ask you.” She looked up to him, watching him for clues.
“Ask, Anathema. God knows you’ve done enough for me.” Running the kitchen during Sunday lunch week after week. Taking control of chaotic situations. Having him for Christmas. Listening to him recount in altogether too much detail Crowley’s Christmas Eve return and subsequent disappearing act. And that was the shortlist.
She took a deep breath, and began. “I’m part of a group that helps asylum seekers. Ones that the government is trying to send back to where they’re from, even if it means that person is in danger. We have someone right now. A family, actually. And we need to get them through London until we can find a more permanent place. I know this is a lot to ask, but I trust you and -”
“They can stay here.”
Anathema’s eyes widened. For a moment she searched for what to say. “Really?”
“Yes. What do you need from me?”
I was a stranger and you invited me in.
Isn’t this what this building is for, thought Aziraphale. To cover, to protect those who needed it? There was the question of legality, in that this was illegal, but he found himself wholly unconcerned with that concept. There was what was legal, and there was what was right.
They talked in hushed tones, working out the logistics. Aziraphale would cut Anathema a set of keys to the church, and on the days the church would be occupied with her guests, Jean would be given the days off. “Beyond that,” finished Aziraphale, “I don’t think I need to know any more. May be better if I’m a bit in the dark.”
Anathema reached over and grabbed Aziraphale’s hand, gripping it surprisingly tightly. “I’m so… it means a lot… thank you.”
He squeezed her hand back, impressed with her all over again. “Thank you , my dear.” In coming to London, he had never expected an ally like Anathema.
Aziraphale’s phone rang, jolting him out of sleep. He had gotten in to what he considered the very bad habit of sleeping with it right next to him, just in case, well, just in case. It vibrated against the pillow, and the screen lit up, the caller ID displaying the words “Unknown caller.” It was 3:30am.
He slid his palm across the sheets, reaching for the phone, pausing for a moment, rubbing his hand across his face before answering. He mused for a moment that if it were a telemarketer that he’d have a stern word with them, as if he had ever had a stern word with a telemarketer in his life. Voice laced with sleep, he answered. “Yes? Hello?”
Crowley. Hearing his voice through the phone felt like crashing through a wave in the cold sea. Aziraphale was immediately awake. He pushed himself up in bed, leaning on his free arm. “You.” Aziraphale was aware of how breathless he sounded. He couldn’t help it. It had been more than a month since he had heard Crowley’s roguish voice.
“Don’t suppose you could let me in?”
He was outside. Aziraphale threw off his bedsheets and duvet, letting them land on the floor, and swung his legs off the bed. “One moment.” He hung up the phone and tossed it back onto the mattress. As he slipped into the main room he grabbed a t-shirt from the chair by the bedroom door, and put it on, pairing it with his boxers. He didn’t feel it was quite the moment for Crowley to see him nearly undressed.
Aziraphale quietly unlocked the door to his flat then moved to the door to the outside. He flung it open to the tall, lean man in the shadows, leaning against the house.
There was a moment of hesitation between them, where neither one spoke. Crowley seemed to be breathing heavily, steam rising into the bitter winter air, but Aziraphale couldn’t make out his features in the dark. There was something discontented in the scene, something off. Crowley was lacking something, somehow.
“Are you… what’s wrong?” Aziraphale asked, tentatively reaching out to Crowley.
“I think I just need to sit down.” Crowley reached out and grabbed Aziraphale’s outstretched arm at the elbow. He braced himself on the shorter man, and as he came forward, the yellow, mottled light from the streetlamp cast across Crowley’s face.
Aziraphale’s eyes widened, and a cry rose in his throat before he tamped it back down. “Get inside,” he whispered in a hiss. He pulled Crowley to him, let him lean on him, wrapped his arms around the slender man’s waist to support him. As he did, Crowley let out the slightest whimper, and Aziraphale felt his heart crack open.
Even in the dim light on the street, Aziraphale could see the bruises and marks that marred Crowley’s lovely, sharp face. Across one cheek the violent slash of a still-bleeding cut. His lip was swollen and split, and a dark purple bruise was blooming around the edge of his sunglasses. The lens on one side was broken.
Aziraphale brought Crowley in, sitting him on the love seat beside the front window.
“Close the curtains.” Crowley said quietly, settling back on the couch, letting his head drop onto the back of it, and grimacing.
Aziraphale complied, feeling as if his chest was in a vice. He had spent countless hours since he had met Crowley invoking his face in his mind’s eye. Remembering how it had looked as they had kissed in the kitchen, imagining how it would look beneath him. He could have never pictured this. Crowley’s brutalized face felt like an insult, and attack on his heart. He jumped from fear to confusion to an intense rage with which he was unfamiliar. Who had done this, and why?
He attempted to shake the anger off as he approached the prone man, leaning over him. “Oh, my darling. What happened?” He reached out, and ever so gently removed the glasses from Crowley’s face. He hadn’t turned on the lights, and with the curtains softening the glow from the streetlamps, he could just make out Crowley’s outline in front of him.
Crowley inhaled shallowly, and shook his head. “I can’t…” he croaked out, apparently unsure of how to finish.
The strain of his voice, the way it had cracked as he had stopped, brought Aziraphale to his knees. He knelt in front of Crowley, the scratchy area rug pressing into his shins. He was suddenly conscious of not putting more pressure on Crowley, of not making the other man grapple with Aziraphale’s concern, confusion, anger. It wouldn’t help either of them at this juncture to force Crowley to explain what had happened, how he had come to be in such a state and on Aziraphale’s doorstep in the wee hours of the morning. Aziraphale ran his hands up Crowley’s splayed thighs, a gesture he hoped was interpreted as comforting. He focused, trying to make his voice neutral, supportive. “It doesn’t matter. We’ll talk about it later. You’re here now and that’s what matters. Let’s get you cleaned up.”
As Aziraphale made to stand, Crowley lurched forward, wrapping his arms around Aziraphale’s neck. Caught off guard, it took Aziraphale a moment to respond, but in time he did. Remembering Crowley’s obvious pain when he had earlier gripped him around the waist, Aziraphale let his hands rub gentle circles onto Crowley’s back, feeling the outlines of his shoulder blades, the rise of his spine. Crowley said nothing, but Aziraphale could feel his intention with every hot breath that traveled down his neck - I’m sorry, I missed you, thank you.
After a moment, Aziraphale took charge. “You need a warm shower. I’ll get it started and then collect you in a moment.”
In the bathroom he tested the water, letting it warm against his hand. He frowned at the bright overhead light. It wouldn’t do. From the hall closet he grabbed a candle and matches he kept in case of power outages, and lit it, placing it on the counter. It was a more suggestive ambiance than Aziraphale had intended, but it was dark enough for Crowley, he thought.
He led Crowley to the shower, feeling the weight of his exhaustion. What happened next felt perfectly natural. Beside the steaming shower, Aziraphale began to undress Crowley, gingerly, mindful of his hurt. He slipped the dark jacket off of Crowley’s shoulders, and Crowley let him. He lifted the long sleeved top over Crowley’s head, and Crowley lifted his arms and bent at the knees to aid him.
The candlelight softly illuminated Crowley’s chest, and Aziraphale bit back a gasp. Bruises, all over. One shaped conspicuously like a boot print. His fingers traced it, barely grazing Crowley’s skin. “Oh,” he breathed out, sadness etched onto his face, “my darling boy.” Aziraphale longed to kiss him where the purple and blue rose under Crowley’s skin, wished his lips could heal him. He suppressed another wave of anger, wanting to stay calm, needing to stay calm for Crowley.
His hands fell to Crowley’s belt buckle. Aziraphale hesitated. “Is this o-”
Crowley cut him off, the first time he had spoken since the living room. “Yeah. Yes.”
As Aziraphale undid his belt, Crowley placed his hands on the shorter man’s shoulders, leaned into him, used him for balance as Aziraphale undid his tight jeans and slid them down around his ankles. Crowley stepped out of his pants, and Aziraphale hooked his finger around Crowley’s socks, pulling them off as he did. Now Crowley stood in front of him, clad only in dark boxer briefs, his body broken and bruised, obvious even in the ever-moving dim light from the single small flame of the candle.
This feeling was new in Aziraphale, this wanting to care for Crowley, address his every need, a supplicant to his flame haired object of desire. His eyes resting on Crowley’s battered chest, he again fought back the anger nipping at his heels. There would be time for it, but it wasn’t now.
“There’s a towel here, and a shirt. A clean one.” Aziraphale offered, gesturing to the small pile by the sink. “Do you need anything else?”
Crowley shook his head, no. “Thanks.”
Leaving the bathroom and closing the door was physically painful for Aziraphale. He stayed right on the other side, listening to Crowley shuffle around. The patter of water against the tiles in the shower shifted, and Aziraphale knew he had gotten in. Ten minutes passed, twenty, thirty. Plenty of time for Aziraphale to picture the fists colliding with Crowley’s beautiful cheek, the boot connecting with Crowley’s taut stomach. How had he gotten away? How had he gotten here? Nothing about this was straightforward or easy or made any sort of sense to Aziraphale. For the briefest moment, he felt self-pity for his own circumstances. Why couldn’t this have been easy? Why couldn’t a less complicated man have set his heart on fire? But there couldn’t have been anyone. He wanted no one else. He needed no one else.
The bathroom door opened. Lost in thought, Aziraphale hadn’t heard the shower turn off. Crowley emerged, very nearly a changed man. He stood straighter, wet hair pushed back from his forehead. Along with his boxers, Crowley had donned Aziraphale’s t-shirt, and in spite of his height it swam on him, fabric loose around his sides and arms. He met Aziraphale’s eyes and put on a smirk, attempting to shift his injuries from focus. “How do I look?”
Spurred by his upturned lips, Aziraphale wanted to smile but couldn’t bring himself to it. He was distracted by the swelling around Crowley’s perfect, golden eye. “Like you’ve had the shit kicked out of you.” He responded tenderly, but without humour.
The smirk faltered on Crowley’s face, and surprise flickered across his features. “That's the first I've heard you talk like that.”
“This is the first I’ve seen you look like this.”
Aziraphale reached out and took Crowley’s hand in his, ran his thumb over the knuckles, counted the hairs dusting the back of it. “Let’s get you to bed, shall we?” Let’s get you better, healing, anything but this.
Crowley allowed himself to be led into the bedroom, directed to sit on the mattress.
“Do you want anything for the pain, to help you sleep? Ibuprofen.”
Crowley considered this. “Do you have anything stronger?”
Aziraphale smiled, nodded, and headed to the kitchen.
He returned after a few moments with a glass of whiskey, a generous pour, and handed it off to Crowley as he sat down beside him on the bed. The mattress shifted beneath his weight, bringing Crowley’s thigh in line with his. Skin on skin. He watched Crowley drink, finishing the whiskey in three swallows. He coughed, and mugged for Aziraphale. “Not half bad, actually.”
“I’m surprised you could taste it at all, given how quickly you just drank it.” He took the glass from Crowley’s fingers, placed it on the bedside table. “But I suppose, there are times for savouring things.”
The two men looked at one another, side by side on the bed. This had been a very strange night. Aziraphale knew they were somewhere in the realm of five in the morning, but he didn’t turn to check the clock.
“I should let you sleep.” Aziraphale made to stand, and in an instant Crowley’s hand was around his wrist.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Crowley’s eyes were wide, his voice strangled.
“To the couch.” Said Aziraphale. A place he had no interest in going, but he needed Crowley to choose otherwise.
“Don’t be stupid.”
Aziraphale smiled. Don’t be stupid. There was softness under the harsh words, he knew. That could be Crowley’s way.
Crowley pushed himself backwards, groaning slightly, still in pain from before. He positioned himself on what was usually the side of the bed Aziraphale slept on. Aziraphale followed, slipping between the sheets on the stranger side, feeling like a guest in his own home. The room felt different from this side of the bed. The room felt like it was on another planet with Crowley’s body next to his.
In a shift of blankets and sheets, Crowley rolled over and pressed himself up against Aziraphale, his face settling into the hollow where Aziraphale’s neck met his shoulder. His long arm snaked around Aziraphale’s soft middle.
Aziraphale settled into the embrace, sighing contentedly, wrapping his arms around Crowley’s shoulder. He wanted to draw Crowley as close to him as possible, envelope him, protect him by never leaving this moment.
Crowley, from the first day, had been smooth and a bit snarky and had seemed beyond Aziraphale’s reach. But he wasn’t. Never had been, really. Aziraphale had seen him as vulnerable as he’d ever be. Stripped down, literally and otherwise. Crowley had, as Aziraphale had stated earlier, gotten the shit kicked out of him, and it was Aziraphale he had come to because he needed him. Aziraphale’s hand came up to Crowley’s hair and he fingered the wet strands.
“In the morning,” Crowley spoke into Aziraphale’s collarbone, “I’ll tell you everything.”
Aziraphale pressed a kiss into Crowley’s forehead, savoured this closeness. This was a time for savouring. “Shush now. Go to sleep, my dear.”
In the morning he’d sort things out.
I am so warmed by the responses to my last chapter. Writing this story has definitely felt like a class in how to write. There have been moments where it's completely run away with me, other times where it's like drawing blood from a stone. This chapter was a little of both.
I did some work over the weekend and plotted out where this story will go. I think we're looking at around 15 chapters, if everything stays on track. I hope you'll stick around.
If anyone is on tumblr I've started a GO only side blog, here. Would love to connect if you're hanging around there too.
As of this chapter, the rating has changed from Teen/Mature to Explicit. The last section is where things change, if you'd rather not read it.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The long and short of it is that I work for the police. Or, at least I thought I did. I don’t know anymore.
Five years ago they put me on this project. Organized crime surveillance. I’ve done undercover for years, but it was smaller stuff. Nothing like this. I’m good at it, right? I’ve got a knack for making myself as visible or invisible as I want to be. I can play the role. Nothing hard about a bit of playacting for a few weeks.
They want me to work to infiltrate a family. Drugs. But they are so slippery, so clean. We couldn’t get anywhere near them. They set me up, a few others too, they set me up so that I could find my way in. It was easier for me than anyone else. I didn’t have a family, no kids or anything. They told me it might be awhile, but that was fine. Not like I had plans.
It took me six months to even get in the door with these people. They are incredibly cautious. Suspicious. Slow to trust. But once you’re in? They love you. They are loyal as fuck. They would kill for you. They would’ve killed for me.
It was all surface level to start. I knew very little about their operations, just that they were moving drugs around. Getting them into the country, moving them into buyers hands. They were smart about it. And so was I. I was organized, smart. I could fix things for them, make things run more smoothly. They thought I was the best bloody thing that ever happened to them.
They told me, the police that is, they told me that once I could provide some intel they’d release me. I’d get out of the undercover game. Take early retirement. Just be in the world like a normal fucking person. But then they needed more. More information, more names, more whatever. And I have to be strategic about it, right? I couldn’t just give them everything, I couldn’t hand them something that would expose me.
And then it was years. Four fucking years later and I’m still living by a different name, living a life that isn’t mine. I’m losing my mind a bit. I’m so bloody sick of it. I’m feeling like maybe I am a criminal. Maybe I actually am the fixer.
Things start going sideways, or I’m realizing they’re going sideways. I find out they’re moving people around, trafficking. Girls. And it just fucking ruins me. I can’t watch it happen. It’s miserable. I say to the police, “this is when it’s happening, this is where it’s happening. Stop it. Get them out of there.” Then they don’t. They don’t do a fucking thing.
They’re not stopping it because they don’t want to stop it. The police, the family. They’re connected. I don’t know where one starts and the other ends. Who fucking infiltrated who, you know? I’m figuring it out. I’m putting the pieces together.
When I knew they would be moving people again, I tipped off another squad. Unconnected, right? Not people I’ve ever worked with. They stopped it, they did the thing they needed to do.
That’s what led to my little altercation. Not from the family though. It was just the cost of doing business for them. They cover their tracks, shrug their shoulders. “That’s a bother. We’ll figure it out next time.” No, I had it out with a few blokes who are supposed to be on my side. Claimed I was fucking up the investigation. But it’s been four years, Aziraphale. There’s no investigation.
I shouldn’t be telling you this. It’s a lot. It’s not fair to you. I’m really in the shit now, angel. Just fucking living in it.
I’m finished. I want out. I didn’t know how much I wanted out until… Until there felt like there was another option.
Crowley had slept for hours, rarely shifting, never removing his arm from around Aziraphale. The reverend had dozed fitfully, coming full awake whenever Crowley so much as sighed in his sleep. His body was on high alert, ready to respond to Crowley’s every need, but his only need at the moment was rest. He allowed himself the simple still pleasure of breathing in Crowley’s smell, feeling his skin under his fingers, the weight of his arm across him. To take time indulging in these divine sensations felt like a luxury. How long would it last, this peaceful circle?
At some point he had e-mailed Jean to say he wouldn’t be in, maybe for a few days. It appears I have the flu , he had written. A lie, and one he was happy to tell. For each minute he lay in quiet entwined with Crowley, he was less and less inclined to be apart from him again.
When Crowley finally stirred from sleep, it was nearly noon. He stretched out long arms and legs, feet dipping over the end of the bed. Aziraphale was sure he was stiff, sore, and as Crowley roused himself Aziraphale gently kneaded the back of Crowley’s neck with one hand. Crowley leaned into the comforting pressure. Aziraphale could imagine him purring.
In the dim room, Crowley tilted his face up to Aziraphale’s, eyes still heavy with sleep. Overnight, the bruises had settled onto the plane of Crowley’s face, pale skin dyed purple, blue, yellow. Aziraphale smiled, knowing the worry he felt would still be apparent in his face, his furrowed brow, his twitching lips. He wanted to speak - good morning, how are you feeling, et cetera, et cetera - but found he couldn’t. All he could do was study each inch of Crowley’s face, still lovely now in the violent aftermath. Never not lovely.
Aziraphale’s reverie was interrupted by Crowley clearing his throat. It rasped, sounded dry. Aziraphale was about to ask if he wanted some water when Crowley opened his mouth and began unburdening himself. He cut straight to the point. Aziraphale didn’t interrupt, didn’t move. He didn’t even make any small sounds of confirmation that he was listening. He barely allowed himself breath. He would give Crowley no reason to stop talking until he was absolutely done.
It made sense, what he was saying. Well, it did and it didn’t. The vague details Crowley provided him with felt more akin to a crime drama than to real life. But he had no doubt it was true. The agony in Crowley’s voice was not the kind to be faked, the kind to be playacted . He should be shocked, but he wasn’t. He had constructed the scenarios, some much worse than the one laid out in front of him. This wasn’t a relief, but he was grateful for the clarity.
“I’m finished. I want out. And I didn’t know how much I wanted out until… Until there felt like there was another option.” As he finished, Crowley looked to Aziraphale for a response.
Aziraphale was the other option, or rather the possibility of some sort of normal relationship was. It occurred to Aziraphale that once again Crowley was asking for permission to stay. That even after last night, he wasn’t sure where he stood.
Was this what Aziraphale wanted? Another layer of complication on a life in which he had only began to find footing? These questions, which would have been reasonable and prudent to ask, never came to light in Aziraphale’s mind. In the hours he had spent with Crowley in silence, he had come to know that Crowley was his only choice.
There was something between the two of them, something unspoken and unknowable. It was more than physical attraction, and more than simple compatibility. It wasn’t in the same arena. Crowley had shifted the ground beneath Aziraphale, an earthquake that had profoundly altered his landscape. You can’t reverse time. There was no going back.
Crowley was looking up at him with those treasure-golden eyes, his hair sticking every which way from sleeping on it wet. The vulnerability of him made a sound rise in Aziraphale’s chest, a sigh that ached to become a moan. He brought his hand to Crowley’s face and cupped his defined jaw, ran his thumb over the rise of Crowley’s chin, felt the shade of a beard breaking its way to the surface. He gently, ever so gently, brought Crowley’s face to his own, and kissed him. The kiss was light, mindful of the red gash that split Crowley’s lower lip. It was to do nothing but reassure, to tell Crowley I’m here. I’m here and I am not going anywhere.
“Thank you for telling me,” Aziraphale whispered into Crowley’s mouth. “I can’t imagine what it’s been like, for you.”
Any tension in Crowley’s body seemed to flow out of him, and Aziraphale felt Crowley collapse into him, a heavy, comfortable weight. He pulled his face back from Aziraphale’s. “I’m working on an exit strategy,” he said with a hint of irony. “But the details, I haven’t quite…” Crowley trailed off, his eyes searching the room for what to say.
Aziraphale smiled. “No rush, darling. Not today. We’ll get to it.”
Eventually they got up. Aziraphale insisted Crowley stay in bed, but he said he wanted to stretch his legs. Aziraphale headed to the kitchen to see if he had anything to eat. It was the day he would normally do his shopping, and the cupboards were near empty. He opened the fridge, as if he didn’t already know what would find. Not much. He’d need to go out later. He turned on the kettle for tea and started the stove. He knew what he could do with what he had left.
After several minutes Crowley joined him, broken glasses back on. He knew Crowley needed them, but Aziraphale couldn’t help the fleeting disappointment that passed over him at being deprived of Crowley’s eyes.
“Will you be alright, with the lens a mess like that?” He asked, back to Crowley who had taken a seat, legs outstretched at Aziraphale’s kitchen table.
“Yeah, for now.”
The last time they had been in this kitchen together had been Christmas Eve, a decidedly more tense scene, in contrast to the domesticity that they played out now. It felt almost normal, as if it had been a normal sleepover and Crowley hadn’t shown up unexpectedly in need of minor medical attention. Aziraphale felt his lips curl into a smile. The absurdity of it. It was also absurd how empty of anxiety he was, how unbothered. This was not the type of situation to inspire serenity, but his most significant concern at the moment was that he didn’t over boil the eggs. His comfort was a gift.
He laid a plate in front of Crowley. “There you are, my dear. Not much, but it should hold you over until I can pick up more provisions.”
Crowley looked down at his plate and then up to Aziraphale, his expression blank. “Egg and soldiers?”
Aziraphale placed two cups of tea on the table. “Don’t tell me you don’t like egg and soldiers.” He sat diagonal from Crowley, and crossed his legs, ankle resting on the opposite knee. He brought his tea to his lips, eyes bright, teasing just the slightest.
Crowley scoffed. “I’m an adult. You didn’t need to cut the toast up.”
Aziraphale suppressed a laugh. He slid his hand across the table and began to slowly pull the plate away. “If you’re that offended you don’t have to eat it.”
“No, no. Leave it. I’ll eat it.”
Aziraphale drank his tea and watched Crowley eat. Crowley’s barbs and arguments had ceased to have any bite behind them. Just a bit of contrariness now, which Aziraphale would only ever find charming in Crowley. Crowley leaned over his plate, elbows on the table, legs splayed. Nothing about him was tucked in, uptight. Aziraphale allowed himself a moment, in spite of the circumstances, to take in Crowley’s form.
His eyes traveled the length of his arms, his fine wrists, long-fingered hands, elegant even as they were calloused and rough. Aziraphale traced the outline of Crowley’s biceps, remembering the strength of those arms around him. A shiver ran up his spine and he forced himself to stillness. His focus shifted to Crowley’s thighs with their well defined muscles. Aziraphale fought the urge to run his hand up it, to feel Crowley’s flesh under his palm, to caress the place where his hips folded in, to press kisses onto the soft skin of Crowley’s inner thigh.
Crowley cleared his throat, he had finished eating. He met Aziraphale’s eyes with a satisfied smirk, and the reverend was transported back to when he had seen Crowley on the subway. That they could have gotten here from there, from calm, cool, in-control Crowley to a grown man in an oversized shirt eating egg and soldiers in Aziraphale’s kitchen. From the mad panic and embarrassment that had chased Aziraphale to allowing himself to freely indulge in the simple pleasure of looking upon Crowley. He would have never guessed.
“I’m going to head out to the shop. Get some things for dinner. Stop by the chemists. See if I can’t get something for those cuts.” Aziraphale pulled on a pair of trousers, vaguely discontented to put on real clothes for the first time that day.
Crowley was back to lying in Aziraphale’s bed, ice pack covering his eye, a move they agreed would have been more effective had they thought about it the night before. At Aziraphale’s words he sat up, and made to stand. “You’re going out?” There was an anxiety in Crowley’s voice that Aziraphale hadn’t heard before.
“Not for long. Just around the corner. We’re low on supplies.” Aziraphale made efforts to sound lighthearted, to ease whatever small panic was rising in Crowley.
Crowley followed Aziraphale out into the sitting room. “Why don’t we order in?” His voice was a string tightly pulled. Even when he had arrived last night, fresh off a battering, he had sounded smooth and sure. Not now. Far from it.
“Can’t order in from the chemists. I won’t be long, Crowley.” He slipped on his winter coat. His scarf. He watched Crowley pace about, drawn tight with nervous energy. “I’ll hurry. You’ll be fine.” He wasn’t used to Crowley so wound up. It unnerved him.
“Yeah. Sure. Of course.” He turned, and began to meander around Aziraphale’s flat, touching the furniture, the books. Aziraphale watched him, pale blue eyes trailing the man’s actions. He’d have to figure this out when he got back. Best to hurry now.
He locked the door behind him.
When he returned, just over an hour later, he found Crowley lying in the bedroom in the dark, breathing heavily. Sleeping. Aziraphale put the groceries away in the kitchen, then slipped back into the bedroom, bag from the chemist in his hand. He settled on the bed beside Crowley, who came out of sleep immediately and clear-eyed, as if he had only blinked.
“You’re back.” He said. Aziraphale could hear the relief under his words. A rush of fondness for Crowley washed over him.
“I am. Nothing to worry about.” Aziraphale placed his hand on Crowley’s arm, letting his thumb drift back and forth. “Are you alright?”
They both knew what he was asking. Crowley grimaced slightly, not in physical pain, but in embarrassment. “Yeah. Right as rain. Just didn’t like the idea of being here by myself, I suppose. Something like that.”
Aziraphale drew his hand down to Crowley’s, entwined their fingers, gave a gentle squeeze. “Something like that.” He brought the back of Crowley’s hands to his lips, kissed it. He reveled in the ease in which he could do this, without hesitation and second guessing. He let his eyes close, breathed Crowley in. It took him some time to remember he had a mission when he had come back to bed. He placed Crowley’s hand back on the covers and pulled the plastic bag up into his lap. “I bought something for your bruises. Arnica cream.”
Crowley’s eyebrows raised and he scoffed dismissively. “Can’t imagine it’ll do anything.”
“Perhaps not. But let’s give it a try, shall we? It won’t make it worse.” Crowley looked at him skeptically. “Sit up. Take your shirt off.”
A small smile crept onto Crowley’s lips and he propped himself on the bed. “You’re just trying to get my clothes off.”
“Yes, I’m a real lech. Do as you’re told.” Aziraphale had meant it as a light suggestion, but it came out as a firm direction. Without meaning to he set off a frisson between them. The air in the room took on a charged quality. The smile had disappeared from Crowley’s face, and his eyes had seemed to glaze over, almost. He did as he was told.
Reaching behind his head he pulled the t-shirt off in one fluid motion. Aziraphale could see the bruises screaming from his pale skin. They were worse than he remembered and a pang of sympathy pulled at his heart. “Sit on the edge of the bed. I’ll put it on for you.” This was not, Aziraphale admitted to himself, strictly necessary, but he wanted to do it. He wanted to touch Crowley with healing hands.
Crowley adjusted his position, planting his feet firmly on the floor beside the bed. Gentle not to disrupt what they were weaving between them, Aziraphale moved into place behind Crowley, his chest against the taller man’s back, his legs bracketing Crowley’s. Aziraphale could feel Crowley’s breathing, the very life of him, against his chest. “Thank you,” he said quietly, and Crowley let out a small wordless hum of affirmation.
He opened the tube of cream efficiently, putting a small amount on his fingers. He applied the barest pressure on the bruise that stretched across Crowley’s ribs and up under his arm, and began to massage the cream in. Feeling the skip in Crowley’s breath, he whispered, “Tell me if it hurts, if you want me to stop.”
The response came on top of Aziraphale’s words. “Don’t stop.”
Aziraphale couldn’t stop the smile coming unbidden to his lips. Crowley wanted this, wanted him.
He continued with his gentle ministrations, directing Crowley with his finger tips, raising his arms, turning him at the waist to reach the large bruises that stained his front. When he thought he had reached them all, he placed the cap back on the cream, and placed it to the side. He could tell Crowley to put his shirt back on now, to rest while Aziraphale made them something for dinner. But there was want in the air, so thick between them Aziraphale could breath it in. They could stay here a bit longer.
Aziraphale pressed his lips to each small rise of Crowley’s spine, starting right below his hairline, moving down, down to the space between his sharp shoulder blades, where the dark shadows of bruises lived. He pulled back, studied the marks that still marred Crowley’s skin. Allowing his sigh to transform into a contented hum, he ran the palms of his hands lazily up the expanse of Crowley’s back, then continued them down the taller man’s biceps.
He could feel Crowley shiver under his touch, hear the hitch in his breathing. Crowley leaned back into Aziraphale’s chest, and Aziraphale wrapped his arms around him, tucked his nose into the hollow where Crowley’s jaw met his neck. Let his lips drift across his skin, just feeling him, tasting the dry smoothness of it.
Yes, this was exactly how a body was supposed to be.
The flat of his palm slid across Crowley’s tight stomach, and the muscles twitched under Aziraphale’s touch. He loved this, he loved it so bloody much, feeling what he could do to Crowley, just like this. Aziraphale let his hand drift lower, traced Crowley’s shallow navel, the trail of hair, a map drawing Aziraphale further.
Crowley shifted as Aziraphale’s fingers met with the waist of his briefs. Both men froze. Was this the moment? Was this it? Aziraphale was standing at the door of his desire. “I need you, my darling, I need you to tell me that you want this.” Aziraphale whispered his request, hot into Crowley’s ear. It was a plea. It was a prayer.
A shudder cascaded through Crowley’s body, and he pressed back into Aziraphale’s arms. The first noise he made wasn’t a word, but a small keen that left his mouth and made Aziraphale’s heart constrict. “I want this. I want you.”
The air evaporated in Aziraphale’s lungs, and he released it in an almost sob, a gasp. He pressed a hard kiss to the side of Crowley’s neck, tasting the salt, feeling the heat of him on his tongue. With more haste than he had intended, he slipped his hand into Crowley’s briefs. He was hard already.
As Aziraphale wrapped his fingers around Crowley’s rigid length, they both moaned, near overwhelmed with what had taken so very long. Aziraphale felt Crowley’s hands grip his thighs, fingers digging into Aziraphale’s flesh. He began, slowly, surely, with a tempered, even rhythm, to stroke Crowley’s cock. From his vantage point, he couldn’t even see what he was doing, but the skin felt wonderfully smooth, the tip swollen and desperate. He swept his thumb over the slit, could feel Crowley leaking.
“Oh, fuck, Angel. Fuck.” Crowley bit the words as they escaped, fingers pressing harder, harder into Aziraphale’s legs.
“Yes, my darling. Is this what you want?” Aziraphale sounded hoarse, as if he had been screaming, calling out for hours. Crowley moaned again, no words forming. Aziraphale insisted, “Tell me, my love.”
“Yes, angel. Yes. I want this.”
Intoxicated, that was what Aziraphale was. He had never felt in control like this. It has always been Crowley in the driver’s seat, figuratively, literally. He had always pictured himself on the other end of this, Crowley calling the shots with a smirking coolness, Aziraphale a dog at his feet, begging for his attention.
But no. It was Crowley melting into him, wanting more. Doing what Aziraphale asked of him. How beautiful and unexpected.
Aziraphale moved faster now, could feel Crowley buck his hips up to meet his hand. Crowley was hungry for release. With his other hand, Aziraphale slipped Crowley’s briefs down, exposing him, then pressed down on his hips, steadying the taller man’s movements. “There, darling. Just relax. Let me take care of you.”
Crowley released a soft, open-mouthed cry, and muttered incoherently, but he settled back into Aziraphale, allowing the reverend to direct him.
With Crowley pressed against him, Aziraphale could sense his impatience, could feel the palpable build of pressure. He would not deprive him any longer. He quickened his strokes, turned his wrist nearly imperceptibly, but knowing Crowley could feel it by the gulp of air he swallowed. “Can you come for me, my darling boy? Please, come for me.”
Aziraphale need not have asked twice. In an instant, Crowley had released, coating Aziraphale’s fingers, Crowley’s stomach in a hot mess. He called out Aziraphale’s name, an unrestrained and desperate benediction. Aziraphale wanted to weep, but instead he dug his teeth into Crowley’s shoulder, wanting to consume him, wanting to never not touch him again.
He was undone. Coming complete apart at the seams. He knew, with a sudden and sure intensity, that he was in love with Crowley. That he would do anything, absolutely fucking anything.
Aziraphale would walk into hell if Crowley asked him to.
This fic is rated Explicit now. Sorry!
I won’t be updating this weekend as I’m taking a much needed trip away to a place with no internet access. I hope to return with more of these lovely two early next week.
Italicized text in block quotes represents a text conversation.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
ANATHEMA: The family will be at the church starting Thursday. We plan on having them out of there by Saturday night. Will Jean be there?
AZIRAPHALE: No. I’ll send her home. Thank you for telling me.
ANATHEMA: np. Are you ok? Jean says you’ve been out sick. We missed you on Sunday.
AZIRAPHALE: I’m fine. It’s a long story.
ANATHEMA: I have time. Can I call you?
AZIRAPHALE: In five minutes.
It had been four days. Aziraphale had barely left his flat, popping out for thirty minutes at a time to grab groceries, the paper. Crowley hadn’t left at all, choosing instead to linger quietly in whatever space Aziraphale was in. Occasionally he would send a flurry of text messages on his phone - a different model than Aziraphale was familiar with. (“A burner,” Crowley had said, clarifying after seeing Aziraphale’s confused face.) Otherwise they ate together and tidied up after meals, and Aziraphale would read on the couch with Crowley’s long legs sprawled across his lap.
In this position, with his fingers tracing designs on Crowley’s skin, Aziraphale often lost his place, found himself reading the same page over and over, not absorbing any of it. When that happened he would put his book down and pull Crowley to him in some way. Sometimes he’d ease Crowley’s knee up to press his lips to it. Other times, Aziraphale would hoist the other man up so Crowley was very nearly in Aziraphale’s lap, and he’d lay lingering kisses on Crowley’s neck and face. Crowley was pliant, seemed more than willing to be manipulated to Aziraphale’s whims, resting into whatever position he was placed in.
Most of these times were quiet. Minimal conversation exchanged. The universe they had briefly created within the walls of Aziraphale’s flat felt perfect, but delicate. The wrong words might disturb its bounds, and both men were careful not to test it.
While Aziraphale wasn’t in any hurry for Crowley to go - far from it, the complete opposite, really - he had started to wonder what the next steps were. He knew Crowley was ruminating on his own solution. Crowley remained uneasy whenever Aziraphale left to run an errand, and simply staying home and avoiding work indefinitely wasn’t a sustainable plan. He had to go back, ensure the next few days went smoothly.
Anathema’s phone call had brought him back to reality. There was a life going on outside his flat and he had to get back to it in some capacity. The asylum seekers would be at the church soon. He needed to make sure that all the important tracks were covered.
He told Anathema that he had company, and she understood immediately, though he purposefully neglected to mention the state in which Crowley had arrived. “I would appreciate, my dear,” Aziraphale had said into the phone, attempting to sound lighthearted, “if you did not mention my situation to anyone else.”
She laughed and he could practically hear her roll her eyes on the other end of the line. “No, I will not tell anyone that the parish priest has been playing hooky to have a week-long date with his new boyfriend.”
“It’s not quite been a week.” Aziraphale responded automatically, smiling. Boyfriend? He wasn’t sure, but that seemed an inconsequential discussion to be held at another time.
Gossip aside, the mere act of speaking with someone else reminded him of the e-mails he likely had building up, the meetings that needed to be rescheduled. He was already being irresponsible. It was going to turn into negligence. He couldn’t spare another day.
Aziraphale watched Crowley go through the motions of getting ready for bed. This too had become a ritual between them, an understated dance. He loved to watch Crowley undress, pull the shirt over his head, the muscles in his back moving beneath his skin. The bruises changed daily, transitioning from purple to blue to grey, their change marking the passage of time. Aziraphale had continued to put the arnica cream on night after night, not really knowing if it made a difference, not caring if it did. It was the act itself they wanted to repeat.
And as they had the first time, Aziraphale had brought Crowley to climax each subsequent night. Aziraphale whispering hotly into Crowley’s ear, Crowley never releasing until Aziraphale granted him permission. For reasons neither of them could articulate, they hadn’t gone beyond that. They touched, kissed throughout the day. Whenever they were in proximity to one another it seemed impossible not to, but nothing else.
“I think tomorrow I need to go into work for the day.”
Crowley turned abruptly, looking over at the man still standing in the bedroom doorway. A wounded look moved across his face before he drew it back into himself, clearly aiming for some level of neutrality. “S’about time. Slacking off.” Crowley turned his back to Aziraphale and began to pull down the bedsheets.
Aziraphale smiled sadly and looked down at the floor. He knew Crowley used these offhand comments as a shield. It would take some work, but he’d bring it back down. “I suppose I have been.” He entered the room, coming up beside Crowley, and ran his hand down Crowley’s back, feeling the rise and fall of his spine. “You know you can stay here as long as you need, don’t you?” He felt Crowley tense under his palm. They had never discussed it, never said it aloud.
“Right,” Crowley muttered. He strained away from Aziraphale, still messing with the sheets, moving them around without any real purpose.
Aziraphale sighed. He had expected Crowley to be a bit put off, but now that it was actually happening he needed to recalibrate. “Crowley, my dear. Sit down, won’t you?” Crowley hesitated in his fussing with the sheets. “Sit down and look at me, please.”
Crowley inhaled sharply but turned and sat on the bed in front of Aziraphale. He rubbed his face and grimaced, bearing his bright teeth. His emotions shifted rapidly, his face never landing on one for more than a second. Anxiety, annoyance, fear? Aziraphale came close in front of him, easing Crowley’s legs apart with his own, and stood between them. He brought his hands up to cradle the seated man’s chin, to trace the outline of his jaw. He tipped Crowley’s face up to look at him. “Tomorrow I will go to work. You’ll stay here. I’ll come home, make dinner. Just like we have been, yes?”
Crowley’s golden eyes stared up at him, the weight of his chin heavy in Aziraphale’s hands. This face he had memorized. The pain lurking behind it made him ache. Irrationally, Aziraphale wanted to promise that he wouldn’t ever leave, to forget all he said, they’d just stay here as long as Crowley wanted. Anything Crowley wanted.
“Would you come with me, if I left?”
Aziraphale drew back at the non sequitur, knocked off balance. For a second he gaped, and struggled to regain his equilibrium. “Pardon me? Leave where?”
“London. No, I mean the country.”
Aziraphale laughed nervously. “And go where, my darling?”
Crowley was deadly serious. “France? The Azores? Anywhere. Not here. Away from here. Would you come with me?”
Was this a hypothetical or was this a real request? Was it a test? Regardless, it wasn’t the kind of question one could ignore. But how could he say it all? How did he say that it would be hard, and he had just started here, and God himself had spoken to Aziraphale to tell him that this was where he was supposed to be? He couldn’t just take off and leave the church and his congregants and and and.
How did he say that Crowley asking something of him made him more unsure of God than he’d ever been? God had been the one constant, and Crowley had interrupted that connection, broke up the line.
“I…” He started. Stopped. It seemed so very big.
Crowley closed his eyes. Pursed his lips. “Nevermind.”
“I would go. I think I would go.” A stammered admission, spat out before he knew what he was saying. But it was true, wasn’t it? He would go where Crowley asked of him. And maybe it would be just a tremendous mistake, but how could anything with Crowley be a mistake?
Crowley looked at Aziraphale dumbstruck. There was a silence between them, then the faintest smile played on his lips. “I’ll take it.” Crowley’s eyes glowed bright in the dark room.
They stayed in that tableau, breathing in sync with one another. I would go was an admission, wasn’t it? Of their connection, of the lengths that Aziraphale would go. Of love.
Aziraphale had never considered himself stingy when it came to love, believing there were few limits to the spectrum of love which lived inside of him. He had loved every man he had ever so much as considered touching. He loved complaining, never happy parishioners. He loved, adored, admired Anathema Device, with her striking beauty and intensity. But Crowley, he was so much more. Aziraphale had loved Crowley since he had seen him. Loved the boy who had fallen and needed to be saved. That love was not begrudging or based in admiration or related to a sense of duty towards him. It was pure, and sprang from the core of him, the very centre of who he was. It was the kind of love that accompanied the knowledge down to the very marrow in his bones, that he would be utterly devoted to Crowley until death came to collect them.
He opened his mouth to try to explain, but Crowley cut him off by running his hands up Aziraphale’s legs, and hooking his fingers over Aziraphale’s belt. His smile had melted into a look of pining intensity. Not breaking eye contact, staring fairly unblinking into Aziraphale’s sky blue eyes, Crowley’s fingers began to pull at Aziraphale’s buckle.
Words got stuck in Aziraphale’s throat. He didn’t know what he meant to say anyway. All there was, was Crowley and his shock of red hair and his nimble fingers making quick work of the buckle, button and zipper that held Aziraphale in. “My…” he managed. My dear. My darling. My beloved.
Crowley paused a moment, then with the fervour of a supplicant pressed his face to the front of Aziraphale’s trousers. A delicate moan escaped him, and Aziraphale could feel the hum of it against his thigh, against his rapidly stiffening cock.
Aziraphale ran his fingers through Crowley’s hair, cupped the back of his head. Reveling in the sensation, he pulled very gently on Crowley’s hair, bringing him back to meet his eyes.
“Want you in my mouth.” Crowley said quickly, and Aziraphale felt faint, lightheaded.
“Yes, darling,” he replied. “Whatever you want.” Absolutely anything.
There was no hesitation then, no coyness, no carefully timed seduction. Just Crowley yanking down his trousers, exposing Aziraphale, revealing just how much he was anticipating Crowley’s hot mouth on him.
Crowley wrapped his fingers around Aziraphale’s length, and licked his bottom lip almost imperceptibly. Then he was upon him, pushing Aziraphale deep into his throat, Crowley’s nose buried in the blond hair at the base.
Aziraphale called out, the sound broken in two by surprise. His fingers gripped Crowley’s hair rather more tightly than he had intended, but Crowley moaned directly onto him, and the rich vibrations made Aziraphale feel as if he might go blind. It felt a shock after so long, a wonderful shock.
Crowley pulled back, and looked up at Aziraphale, eyes heavily lidded with desire. Knowing he had the reverend’s attention, he returned to his task, faster now, slick tongue flicking the tip whenever he came to it.
It was obscene, thought Aziraphale. Obscene and beautiful and perfect.
“I want to be inside of you.” Aziraphale choked out in a desperate admission. His earliest fantasies had featured Crowley behind him, on hands and knees. Crowley’s long fingers gripping at the flesh at Aziraphale’s hips, furious and sweat-covered and almost violent. But what he wanted right now was Crowley beneath him, his eyes revealed, the tremble in his lips on full display. He wanted to fill Crowley, be buried inside of him.
Crowley made a noise of pleasure, and took his time bringing his worship to an end, lips lingering. He looked up at Aziraphale, not quite ready to release him, waiting for direction.
Aziraphale wondered, for a small moment, if he was mad for ending this part so quickly, but he was overcome with what would come next. “Lie back, my darling. With your head on the pillow.”
As Crowley reluctantly removed his hands from Aziraphale and adjusted his position, Aziraphale finished the process of undressing himself, removing the trousers that sagged around his knees, peeling his sweater off and folding it, placing it on the nightstand. Next time, he thought, unbuttoning his shirt, Crowley would undress him. But there wasn’t time for that now.
Aziraphale moved onto the bed, his knees on either side of Crowley’s hips, and his hands pressed into the mattress by Crowley’s shoulders. Save Crowley’s boxer briefs, they were both now more exposed than they’ve ever been to one another, breathing shallowly. All pretenses were gone. Crowley’s amber eyes looked up to him with a naked, desperate need. Aziraphale returned his gaze with a focused reverence.
Crowley’s hand grasped the back of Aziraphale’s neck, his long fingers playing with the blonde curls at the nape. His palm was cool, dry. He pulled himself up to Aziraphale and pressed their lips together, once, twice. As Crowley’s teeth lightly bit Aziraphale’s bottom lip, Aziraphale inhaled sharply, his hand coming up to clutch Crowley’s forearm.
“Did I hurt you?” Crowley asked quietly, the concern evident in his voice.
“Yes, but it was perfect. Do it again.”
Crowley bit harder this time and Aziraphale felt like he could see stars behind his eyes. The sensation of the sharp teeth against the tender flesh inside his lip made his toes curl. Aziraphale moved his hand from Crowley’s forearm to his face, and guided his head back to the pillow. His thumb traced the man’s sharp cheekbone, made all the more defined by how little he had been eating. Aziraphale sighed, momentarily distracted by memories of the man’s recovery. He would make it better. Tonight and tomorrow. Beyond that.
Aziraphale’s fingers made a study of the curves of Crowley’s ear, his hairline. The pad of his thumb ran down the bridge of Crowley’s striking nose, each contact of his fingertips translating awe onto Crowley’s skin. He wanted to know Crowley with every part of him. He wanted this man burned into his skin, to live with the scars.
An unselfconscious grin broke across Aziraphale’s face when he heard Crowley say his name. He wanted to hear him say it again and again and again. His fingertips drifted to Crowley’s lips and he gently hushed his partner. “I’m here my darling, my dear boy.” He pressed his thumb into the soft pad of Crowley’s lips. “Let me take care of you. Can you do that?”
Aziraphale could feel Crowley moan before he heard it. The vibrations made his fingertips buzz.
“Yes.” Crowley’s answer came without hesitation and was so quiet Aziraphale could barely hear him, but it flicked a switch inside of him that he hadn’t known was there. He had not known he wanted this. To care for Crowley, to serve him, to lay hands on every inch of his person was the reward Aziraphale had prayed for. He pulsed with want. Aziraphale felt drunk, uninhibited. Bold. He let his hands drift down Crowley’s sides, gingerly stroking the places where bruises lingered. His palms hovered over Crowley’s skin. He suddenly seemed precious, breakable. Aziraphale’s eyes moved over Crowley’s torso, counted his ribs, examined every freckle. He was mesmerized by the rise and fall of the prone man’s chest.
He could feel Crowley’s fingers lightly dancing on his thighs. “I have been waiting for you, for so long.” Aziraphale muttered, barely loud enough to be heard. His hands skimmed the waistband of Crowley’s briefs. “May I?” Crowley’s nod came at once. Aziraphale slid back on the bed to remove them, gasping quietly as Crowley’s cock was revealed, hard against his stomach.
Pulling the briefs past Crowley’s feet, he was swept away by the sight of the man before him, on a mess of sheets, in need. This had to be his reward. Crowley’s long legs, his thin hips, his skin and face and his heart had to be part of the plan.
He moved up again to kiss Crowley, to press the weight of his want upon him. Their bare chests pressing together felt like an electric shock. Aziraphale moaned into Crowley’s mouth, overwhelmed with the sheer sensation of him. Nothing had ever felt like this. No man had ever set Aziraphale’s skin on fire like this. It was almost too much to bear.
He kissed Crowley once more, softly this time, slowly, wishing he could break the action down into each of its component parts and memorize them, write them on his mind. Stretch them out into hours and days and years.
Moving to the hollow space under the edge of Crowley’s jaw where his neck began, Aziraphale’s tongue darted out to taste him. His skin salty, delicious. The only thing he wanted to taste again. He could see Crowley’s pulse fluttering under his skin, and he kissed him softly there, feeling his lover’s heart beat in his lips. He sent a silent prayer to God. Let this be it. Let him belong to me, please.
“Open your mouth, my dear.” Aziraphale brought his fingers to Crowley’s willing lips, and slipped three fingers into his mouth, feeling the sharp edge of Crowley’s teeth. Crowley closed his mouth and sucked, eyes closing. “You are the most perfect creature,” Aziraphale whispered into his ear. Kissing Crowley’s cheekbone, he withdrew his fingers once they were well and truly wet, smiled at Crowley’s disappointed mhpf .
Aziraphale brought his fingers, slick with spit down between Crowley’s legs, touched one tentative finger to his rim, applied the slightest pressure. A “yes” escaped unbidden from Crowley’s lips and he wrapped his arms around Aziraphale’s shoulders, nails scraping at his skin. Aziraphale pushed forward, entering Crowley with one finger. He allowed himself an open mouthed moan as Crowley hissed in pleasure. The whole world was in their breathing.
“Yes, my darling. You are doing so well.” He moved slowly, steadily, until Crowley felt pliant and ready, bucking gently onto Aziraphale’s hand. He began to push a second finger in. “You must tell me if it hurts or you want me to stop.” Aziraphale said, watching the flickers of pleasure cross Crowley’s face like lightning.
For a moment it almost looked as if he might laugh. “I am not going to ask you to stop.”
Aziraphale grinned and nuzzled Crowley’s neck. This exquisite man, his holy body. Made just for him.
His third finger teased Crowley’s edge, his eyes glued to the tiny changes in his face. As he eased it inside, he watched Crowley’s lips move, silent, begging. Aziraphale kissed the corner of his mouth. “I wish I could tell you how you feel, my love.” The words did not exist.
He was startled by Crowley’s voice. “Yes, darling?”
“I need you to fuck me.”
He loved to be needed. “Of course.” He withdrew his fingers and relished the noise Crowley made when he was left empty.
Aziraphale brought himself above Crowley, and positioned himself at Crowley’s edge. Aziraphale teased him briefly, pushing against him then pulling back. He loved Crowley’s near silent whines of want. He didn’t want to rush this. Crowley’s hands gripped his shoulders, his soft upper arms, waiting.
“Please,” Crowley whispered.
He could not deny him. Finally, Aziraphale entered Crowley, achingly slow. How was he so tight still? How was he the perfect fit, made for him like no one else was? His heart raged against his chest as he pushed deeper, until he was all inside. There. Perfect, sweet, brutal, soft. Everything, absolutely everything all at once.
I love you I love you I love you he wanted to say but he didn’t trust his tongue. He forced one of his arms under Crowley, and pulled him to his chest, wanting to feel full against him, feel his whole body.
Aziraphale kissed Crowley’s awestruck, swollen lips then, sealing the circle. In their kiss he could feel the buzzing energy of everything that was between them, all the potential for what could be, the next hour, the rest of their lives. Aziraphale began to fuck Crowley in earnest and was rewarded by Crowley’s legs hooking over his hips, moving with him, urging him deeper, asking to be fucked harder, harder.
Crowley muttered into his mouth - “Christ, Angel. Jesus Christ” - and Aziraphale swallowed the frantic plea, let it settle in his stomach. Let them become part of him, his blood and bones and beating heart.
Aziraphale could feel himself building, the friction taking its toll, guiding him to the moment. “Crowley,” he started, “Crowley, I…” He pulled his face back to see him, his patron saint, his lost soul, this missing limb he had not known he needed. Crowley’s tawny, moonlight eyes looked back.
“Angel,” he cried, full voice, no whispering now.
And that was it. The dam broke.
Aziraphale came with a sob, released from the very pit of him, wild and raw and unfamiliar. His fingertips dug into Crowley’s skin, trying to ground himself in some way. He could feel Crowley’s muscles tense, and the electric spark that followed. Crowley yelled out, legs clinging tightly to Aziraphale’s sides as his own climax followed, hot and thick between them.
His heart was so full, so present. Aziraphale found himself grinning, almost laughing with each deep, quick breath. Crowley’s thumb swept across his cheek and with a start he realized that tears had escaped his eyes. “I’m afraid I’m a touch sentimental,” he said with mild chagrin, too mired in bliss to be sincerely embarrassed.
“Big surprise, that.”
They laughed thickly, pulling into one another, kissing wherever lips met skin. What a gift. What a reward.
Aziraphale awoke the next morning, tangled in sheets. He pushed his face into the pillow. What time was it? It was dark in the room, no light squeezed through the curtains. Early still. Must be. As he rolled onto his back the memory of the previous evening came upon him like a wave. Crowley’s body, beneath him. Skin to skin. That sublime release.
He smiled unselfconsciously, and reached out his hand on the bed next to him, wanting badly to feel Crowley again. Aziraphale’s smile slipped away when he realized the bed was empty. He pushed himself up, suddenly unsettled. “Crowley?” He said to the dark room. His voice was hoarse. There was no reply.
Reaching over, he turned on the bedside lamp and gathered his clothes. He dressed quickly, and when he opened the door to the sitting room he was struck by how cold it was. He could see his breath, like the radiator had gone out in the night. Someone coughed. Aziraphale’s anxious face turned to the back door to the yard. The door was open, and Crowley leaned out the doorway, facing towards the night, smoking.
Relief washed over Aziraphale. It wasn’t that he had thought Crowley was gone, really, he hadn’t let himself get that far. But being apart from him felt like a sudden shock, even though they had only woken up together for a handful of days.
He approached Crowley from behind, and wrapped his arms around the slender man’s waist. Crowley didn’t startle, simply leaned back into Aziraphale as if he had been expecting him. Aziraphale pressed a kiss into Crowley’s shoulder, the taller man clad again in one of Aziraphale’s undershirts. It smelled like the bedroom.
“You know,” Aziraphale started, “you can smoke inside. I don’t mind. It’s very cold out here.”
Crowley took a drag of his nearly finished cigarette, his face onto the yard pensive. He sniffed, and put the cigarette out in a tin on the windowsill. Aziraphale hadn’t noticed it before. Crowley must have put it there for this very reason. “Nah. This is your home.” His voice was nonchalant in a way that Aziraphale felt was out of place.
This was just a space, Aziraphale wanted to say. Do whatever you will with it. You are my home. You are the favourite part of my body. But he didn’t. Why he held back he couldn’t say exactly. Just hours before they had opened up their whole selves to one another. There had been no pretense, no facade. It felt like Crowley had taken a step back, but he wouldn’t push him, Aziraphale decided. Maybe he just needed time.
He drew Crowley back inside, closed the door. His eyes flicked to the clock on the mantle. 5:52. Not much point in going back to bed now, not for Aziraphale if he wanted to go to work. “Why don’t you go warm up in bed? I’ll make something for breakfast.”
“No.” The response was immediate. “I’ll stay with you.” Crowley slung his arm around Aziraphale’s neck, kissed the tuft of white blond hair at the reverend’s temple.
Oh, this. This was what he had expected, wanted when he woke up. This intimate closeness, this warmth. His eyes closed for a moment, capturing the feeling of Crowley’s lips upon him. He wanted it to always be that way.
For the rest of the morning, Crowley shadowed Aziraphale, finding reasons to touch him. He smoothed Aziraphale’s collar, let their fingers brush as Crowley handed Aziraphale his work bag. Aziraphale could see the worry in Crowley’s brows, longed to rub it out with his thumb, but Crowley was making such an effort to seem relaxed about Aziraphale’s leaving that he thought he should let it go.
After doing up his coat, Aziraphale stood by the door, hesitating. He didn’t want to go. If Crowley asked him to stay, put up a fight, maybe he would. “Alright then. I’m off,” he said, tentatively.
Crowley approached him, lightly took the lapels of Aziraphale’s jacket between his fingers, touched their foreheads together. “Back to reality, eh?” His voice was quiet. He didn’t sound nervous anymore, but sad, disappointed.
“I’m afraid so, my love.”
Crowley exhaled, and kissed Aziraphale. Softly at first, but deepening quickly, his long arms snaking around the shorter man’s shoulders, embracing him firmly.
There was something frantic in the kiss, something desperate that Aziraphale couldn’t identify. When they broke apart, Aziraphale cupped Crowley’s chin in his hand. “Will you be okay?” He studied Crowley’s face, tried to pin down what he was feeling.
Crowley smiled then, in a way that didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Yeah. Right as rain.”
It didn’t ring true, didn’t even sound like something Crowley would say, but he shouldn’t linger longer. Crowley was a grown man, and everything would be fine. It had to be.
Aziraphale left for work, glancing back behind him, something sick settling in his stomach.
There were e-mails upon e-mails and a mountain of paperwork to sort through at church. He morosely wondered what the point of Jean even was if she didn’t even bother to try to manage any of this. Aziraphale caught himself in that thought. He wasn’t usually that uncharitable. He was just on edge, constantly distracted by the thought of Crowley alone back at the flat. He had briefly thought about calling him, but realized that Crowley was using the burner now, and he didn’t have the number for that. He hadn’t needed it. They hadn’t left each others side for more than an hour over the past several days
Aziraphale tried to focus but couldn’t. He was absolutely useless. Work had always been a wonderful escape for him, his calling. But the paradigm had shifted. Nothing felt the same.
He told Jean not to come in for the rest of the week, a reward for “steering the ship” in his absence. She didn’t question it, thank goodness. The building would be free now for Anathema’s group.
For the rest of the day he puttered about, making inconsequential dents in the backlog of work before him. He would get back on track eventually. He just needed to adjust to the new normal. All would be fine.
Aziraphale watched the clock eagerly for it to change to the earliest time he could reasonably leave. As soon as it struck 4:00, Aziraphale threw on his coat, locked up the church, and marched quickly home.
He unlocked his front door, letting himself in and pulling off his gloves. “Crowley?” He wasn’t in the main sitting room. In bed, maybe? There was no response. The flat was silent.
A creeping fear grabbed Aziraphale by the throat. Without shedding his coat or shoes, he walked back, stuck his head into the kitchen. Empty. Spotlessly clean. The dishes from breakfast lay in the rack beside the sink. The usual mess of papers and books on the table, neatly stacked. He moved to the bedroom, flung open the door. The bed was made. Had the sheets been changed? It smelled like nothing.
“No.” Aziraphale heard himself speak, unaware he had even done it until the word was released into the empty air. The bathroom was empty, the yard was empty. The back door was unlocked. There was no one else there.
Don’t panic , Aziraphale told himself, panicking. He could hear his heart beat roaring in his ears, drowning out all other sound. There must be some mistake, some misunderstanding. He wouldn’t just leave me. He wouldn’t just go without a word. “Crowley?” He asked the lonely space again, just in case. Just in case.
“I was supposed to go with you…”
Apologies for the delay on this - I hope you've stuck around. It was the first time I've written something like this (ie. doing it), so I wanted to try to make it right.
Thanks, as always, for reading and for your feedback.
Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. You stupid, bloody bastard. You absolute goddamned wretch of a man. Didn’t even leave a fucking note. He will never forgive you. You’re done.
Crowley had been riding on the Underground for hours, transferring stations at random. He wasn’t normally paranoid that he was being followed. But now he kept his eyes open, looking over his shoulder. There was no one following, no one watching. But just in case. He wouldn’t take another risk.
He took a seat on another train. Heading west, he thought. He didn’t know. He barely cared. He was a fucking disaster. A dangerous creature. Behind the dark glasses with the split lens, he cursed his brief sojourn into naive optimism. For a moment in time he had imagined a much different life, living in the light for once, instead of skulking around in the darkness. Waking up each morning to snow-blond curls on the neighbouring pillow, the sunshine warmth of Aziraphale within arm’s reach. Crowley had always run cold, but not lately, not with Aziraphale near.
Crowley felt nauseated. He tried to dash Aziraphale from his mind. The vision of waking up next to him brought Crowley to the memory of watching Aziraphale leave that morning, which then brought him to the sinking knowledge that Aziraphale would come home to an empty flat with almost no sign that Crowley had ever even been there. (Excepting the fact that it was a hair tidier than when Crowley first arrived.) That was almost too much to bear. He didn’t want to picture Aziraphale confused, angry. Sad? He hoped he’d be angry instead, but that didn’t seem his way, did it?
Crowley had been so bloody reckless. He had forgotten who he was with Aziraphale, and that was too dangerous. If anything happened to Aziraphale… Christ… he didn’t want to think about it. If anything happened to Aziraphale he’d fling himself into the fucking ocean, and let the waves dash his body against the rocks. He’d deserve nothing less.
A man sat across from Crowley, and suddenly his first meeting with Aziraphale burst forth from inside him. Or had it been a reunion? There had been recognition in that encounter on the train. Not of everything, no. Not all at once, but a small voice that had emerged from the back of his mind: I know you . Then Aziraphale had looked at him in that way, like the way Crowley imagined a dedicated collector examines a piece of fine art. It had been flattering, obviously, but it had been more than that. It had stirred something in him that he wasn’t used to. Aziraphale’s eyes had that effect on him. Something about his gaze made Crowley want to kneel in front of him, offer him everything. That stirring had changed his path that first night, had sent him in the familiar blond man’s direction, just in time to intervene in the would be mugging.
The boys attempting to relieve Aziraphale of his wallet had been low-level street dealers for the family. Inconsequential. Couple of fifteen-year-old kiddies who wanted to feel tough. He had seen them before, when money was exchanged, goods. He hadn’t done the handover. He kept clear of that. It had been Hastur, the slimy git. A competent enough criminal, but not enough for the family. They had asked Crowley to supervise him, to ensure Hastur was kept on track, could be trusted. Funny, that. Trusting the cop instead of the zealot. It had suited Crowley fine. Hastur was loose lipped and had a swelled head, would brag about any dumb thing the family had given him to do. Crowley had collected these little pieces of information now for a year, hadn’t handed it all over to the police. He was thankful for that now.
They couldn’t be trusted. Crowley couldn’t trust anyone, except for...
But that was done. The only thing Crowley could offer Aziraphale was the safety of not being near him.
Unable to sit still any further, wanting to exorcise the sick heaviness that had taken up residence inside of him, Crowley alighted at the next stop. At street level he climbed into a black taxi, gave the cabbie an address. It was not where he wanted to go.
Aziraphale had gone back to work. Of course he had. What did Crowley expect, that he’d play house with him forever? Abandon his job? Crowley hated when he left. It made him stew and brood, which hadn’t always been his way. Truthfully, everything felt different now.
He wouldn’t have been so bold to claim he had never been in love. He had been. Twice maybe. Not including this time, which was so infernally different. Crowley had never been unmade by someone in the way that Aziraphale unmade him, without even meaning to. He had gotten good at being unattached. The job made it too hard. There hadn’t been room for anyone else. He’d indulged in the occasional temptation with the idea that it would be temporary, and it always was. Crowley had never put himself under that kind of delusion with Aziraphale. It was never temporary to him. He never wanted to leave it to chance.
He lay on Aziraphale’s couch, considering his next steps. He had to get in touch with work. It wasn’t unheard of for Crowley to go incommunicado for weeks between checking in, letting them know his most recent activities. But that was before he undercut, well, whatever the hell was happening. Before he undermined whatever relationship the police and the family had. Crowley was confident his cover hadn’t been blown with the family, he had been careful with that. The police on the other hand…
He didn’t want to salvage the relationship. He didn’t want to beg those corrupt shitheels for forgiveness, to bring him back into the fold. But cutting and running now, with no plan, would be moronic. What could he do? Crowley searched the corners of his mind for an answer, some brilliant idea that would solve the problem in one fell swoop, but came up wanting.
Procrastinating, he moved about the flatt, wiping dust off surfaces, sorting things into piles. He even found where the sheets were kept, changed the bed over. Once he was done the flat looked like a cleaning service had gone through it, and Crowley ran out of things to keep him from the task at hand. Picking up his burner, he dialed a number he had been calling regularly for nearly five years.
The line rang once, then a feminine, authoritative voice on the other end. “Who is this?”
“It’s me.” Silence on the other end. Crowley could hear the click of a door closing, voices in the background fading away. She was going into her office.
“What the fuck do you think you’re playing at?” Barked the voice in the phone.
Crowley shoved down the impulse to throw his phone across the room, to crush its screen with his heel. He couldn’t hide the bitterness in his voice. “After my little dust-up last week I thought I might lay low for a few days.”
She laughed sarcastically. Crowley felt his nostrils flaring with anger.
“Uriel and Sandalphon beat the shit out of me. But you already knew that, didn’t you? And they weren’t elegant about it either. My face is a fucking mess. What kind of story was I supposed to tell my contacts, eh? ‘Oh, yeah, this black eye? I purposefully fucked up your business deal and the fucking police were mad about it.’”
“You would have figured out something to tell them. You’re good at that.” The voice was cool, unkind. “Where are you, anyway?”
“At my flat. Haven’t left.” He lied.
“Don’t lie to me, Crowley. Where are you?”
Crowley paused. They were keeping tabs on him. Maybe not closely enough to know his exact whereabouts, but enough to know he wasn’t in his flat in Hammersmith. He shouldn’t have been surprised, but for years they had allowed him to operate with almost no oversight. When had this changed? What had shifted?
“Are you with your boyfriend, then?”
“What?” Fuck. How did they know?
“The reverend. The one you’ve been chauffeuring around.” Crowley mentally reviewed his calendar. When had he first taken Aziraphale in the car? Months ago now. The voice interrupted Crowley’s calculations. “I wouldn’t have pegged doughy, middle-aged vicars as your type.”
“Fuck you, Michael!” His fury had been swift, and he immediately regretted it. He had shown his cards, something he had been careful never to do with Michael in all their years of working together. He had never fully trusted her, and now he didn’t trust her in the slightest. But he had never exploded like that, he had never even raised his voice at her. In doing so he had all but confirmed his relationship to Aziraphale. He had made himself vulnerable, and worst of all, he had made Aziraphale vulnerable.
“Oh, I’ve hit a nerve.” He could sense the sick pleasure under her voice, of having provoked him. “You barely take a day off in four years and then suddenly you’re off the radar on the weekends. It was terribly obvious. How much does he know, Crowley?”
His blood was boiling, heat rushed into his face. “Keep him out of it.” He tried to make it sound like a directive, rather than the pleading it was.
“I didn’t bring him into it. You did.” The line was silent between them. She was right. She was fucking right, and he hated himself. “Don’t act like you don’t know how the job works. Just think about it. If we know about Father So-and-so, what could they know?” She meant the family. Fuck. “This isn’t Mickey Mouse shit, Crowley. You don’t get to check out of this. You’ve been reckless. And worst of all you’ve undermined the investigation on your own crusade -”
“There were kids, did you know that? The family is trafficking kids.” That’s what had gotten him into this mess. “I wasn’t about to sit by and let that -”
“That is not your decision!” Now it was Michael’s turn to lose her composure. She hissed in anger into the phone. “It was not your call! You think you’re so fucking important. That you’re a fucking martyr to the cause. Everyone thinks you’re so good at this. Calling you the Shapeshifter , getting the job done. But I know, I know since October you’ve gotten sloppy. And you’ve jeopardized yourself, and us and the whole fucking thing.
“Get it together, you dipshit. Or you’re finished. You’re done.”
A threat. Crowley didn’t dare to speak. Since he had started to suspect that something was rotten in the state of Denmark, he had wondered if Michael was a part of it. The words she was saying could be - if you didn’t know her, if you didn’t understand her like Crowley did - on their face, a defense of their work, of the seriousness of the investigation. But in her explosion he could sense something else: fear. Fear was new. Fear suggested she had more to lose than her reputation. If this thing went pear-shaped, what did that mean for her?
“Did you hear me?” There was desperation behind the bravado.
“Yeah. Heard you.”
“You’re done. I will ruin you. I will ruin everything you love. Every one . Do you understand?”
Crowley froze, closed his eyes tight. He felt as if he were going to vomit up each of his vital organs. He spat his next words out between clenched teeth. “I understand.”
“Good.” He could hear her breathing slowing. He could picture her at her desk, straightening her clothing, pushing a stray hair back from her face. Composing herself. “Glad we’re on the same page, Crowley. Be a friend and check in tomorrow, won’t you? I want to know that you’re back on track.”
“Yep.” He ended the call.
A sick weight knocked about in his chest, building, growing. He clutched at his shirt, no, Aziraphale’s shirt. He clutched the soft, worn cotton in his fist, brought it to his nose. With his eyes closed, Crowley gasped in the scent, laundry detergent and tea. Dust too, if he was being honest. But it was Aziraphale. And in Crowley’s selfishness, in his pathetic desire to be held and taken care of and treated like something very good-hearted, he had put the man he had fallen so recklessly in love with in danger.
Tears burned hot behind his eyes. He had asked Aziraphale to trust him, time and time again. Had refused to listen when Aziraphale had rightly, rightly , insisted that Crowley’s secret activities were incompatible with the type of life Aziraphale led. He had pretended he had been careful but there was no careful in what he was doing. He was feckless, foolhardy.
He needed to get out. Now.
He rose from the couch, retrieved his clothes from the dresser drawer where Aziraphale had carefully folded them after washing them that first night after he arrived. He began dressing quickly.
As Crowley began to take Aziraphale’s shirt off to replace it with his own, the fabric brushed his face and he froze. He couldn’t bear to take it off. No. No, he would keep this. He would keep this small piece of Aziraphale next to his skin, let his strangled heart beat against it. Crowley reversed his action, pulling the too large shirt back on, the faded blue strange on a body that only wore nighttime colours.
He opened a random drawer and shoved his own black, long-sleeved shirt into it, hoping that eventually Aziraphale would find it, and that he’d know, somehow. That in that shirt he would find Crowley’s love woven through.
He fetched his coat, his shoes, the rubbish sunglasses. He didn’t have a key. He’d leave through the back door. It would have to be unlocked, but no one would come in.
Turning to take in the room, he felt as if his chest may cave in on itself. He had never in his life fucked something up so badly as this, not anything he had actually really cared about, anyway. Before he had time to second guess himself, to let his heart get the better of him, he left, choking on his own decisions.
The taxi pulled up in front of the condo building he had lived in for the past several years. He was rarely here, though, always on some mission, some project. He had taken to sleeping in boarding houses, cheap hotels since being on this assignment. The nights in Aziraphale’s bed had given him the best sleep he’d had in, oh, five years.
It was with bitterness he let himself in. He would’ve happily never come back to this place again if he meant that he could be with Aziraphale, and that they could be safe.
The flat smelled stale, unused. The first thing he did was switch out his glasses, throwing the broken pair in the bin, removing an older pair from a drawer in his kitchen. As Crowley put them on, grateful at least to have unobstructed vision, he caught a glimpse of the ticket stub stuck to the fridge. Handel’s Messiah.
He had given himself up to Aziraphale that night. Both of them had known it. There on that windy street corner. I wouldn’t have come if I didn’t want to. Something had lit up behind Aziraphale’s eyes, an understanding that what Crowley was really saying was I am here because to be in your presence is the only thing I want, the only thing that makes me feel like a human person. Aziraphale could’ve invited him to watch paint dry and Crowley would have gone, would’ve loved it. I mean, he had gone to Costco for him. (He had actually quite enjoyed that, though he would never admit to it.)
When had he fallen in love with Aziraphale? Was it when Crowley had shown up in the middle of the night and Aziraphale had sheltered him, treated him with a level of kindness that Crowley had forgotten existed? Was it when they had kissed on Christmas Eve in his kitchen, their lips meeting for the first time, melting into one another? Was it when he had watched Aziraphale look up in wonder in the Barbican courtyard, so quickly and readily finding beauty in a place where it wasn’t obvious, embracing a thing that Crowley loved?
No. It had been a quieter moment. In the beginning, there on the church steps, when with a stoic grace Aziraphale had turned to the boy who seconds earlier had threatened him with a knife and forgave him. Forgave him even though the boy probably wasn’t very sorry, even though he probably would try to pull the same stunt later on (albeit, not with the same reverend). His heart had been open and ready and willing. And Crowley had been sunk.
Aziraphale had made Crowley feel, with his light touches, and his easy devotion, and his my dear my darling my boy , had made Crowley feel like someone who could be good, who could be loved. Aziraphale had been his anchor to a better world, his safe harbour.
And Aziraphale had wanted him. Fuck, had wanted him so badly. Was wounded when Crowley didn’t act in the same way but was always so bloody patient with him. Waiting, easing him out, like you would a small, scared creature backed into a corner. Aziraphale had seen past the charade so quickly. Had known him in an instant.
It felt cosmic, what had lived between them. Vast and unknowable. Bigger than he could comprehend. Aziraphale had opened up galaxies to him, reams of stars and other worlds. And at the same time he had never felt more grounded, had never felt more of this earth, as when Aziraphale had been inside him.
Crowley took the ticket stub from the fridge. Placed it in his wallet.
He went into his bedroom closet and pulled out black leather messenger bag. From behind it, he unearthed a heavy gym bag, dragging it out into the room. Unzipping the top of this bag revealed cash. Crowley had been taking it out of the bank for years. Storing it in places around his apartment. Paranoid? Yes. But he was thankful for the paranoia now. He began to fill the smaller bag with money. He wanted to be untraceable for awhile, that much he knew, and he didn’t know when he’d be back here again.
When he was done, he left the flat locking the door behind him. But what next?
Alcohol. Quite extraordinary amounts of alcohol.
Crowley had traipsed around the city, buying multiple burners in different neighbourhoods. He felt cagey, on edge. Aziraphale was constantly in his mind, and he wondered if it would always be that way now, if he’d never escape it.
He didn’t want to escape it, not really. He deserved to be haunted. He wasn’t entitled to the peace that Aziraphale had laid upon him, so briefly.
Crowley set up shop in a near empty pub on the edge of some suburb, a fair walk from the nearest train station. It was obscure with no detail of note. He could be anonymous here. He had only learned this place had existed, and so no one would look for him.
The bartender eyed Crowley warily. He had been drinking continuously since he arrived and claimed a secluded table in the back, starting with beer and moving on to scotch. “You sure you don’t want something to soak that up, love? You’re going to have one hell of a headache in the morning.” She had asked as she placed another drink in front of him. “Chips or something?”
Crowley shook his head, failing to look up. He pulled the glass in front of him, and watched the bartender’s feet move away as she returned to her post.
He swirled the liquid in the glass, listened to the ice clink. As he drank, something ugly was being born in his throat. He recalled Michael’s voice on the phone. You’re finished. You’re done. He swallowed down the bitter liquid and it burned as it went down. Good. Good. It was fuel for the anger. He had given the best years of his life to the bloody police force, on some misguided notion that he was helping people, that he was doing good somehow. He had lived with criminals, had basically become one, under the guise of it being for some better purpose. Instead, he had inadvertently aided some sort of corrupt cover-up - had been doing it for years.
He had never done good, he thought. Aziraphale did good, and that pretty girl who worked the lunch whose praises the reverend couldn’t keep from singing. They did the good things. Crowley was a chump. They had made a fool of him.
In his mind, the very seedling of an idea was taking shape. Not quite fully formed. It was in need of some development and time. But it was something. It was better than nothing.
How dare they, the rotten bastards? How dare they threaten him? That they would steal the only thing from him that even meant anything anymore...
They had taken so much from him. They couldn’t have this. This was the one thing he wanted. A new, strange confidence revealed itself to him, strong enough that he was sure it wasn’t just the booze talking. Michael had been right about one thing this morning, everyone thought he was really good at this . It’s because he was. The idea began to blossom. He smiled for the first time since the morning, downing the remainder of the scotch. It wasn’t fully realized yet. Still a bit sloppy. He’d need to finesse it when he sobered up.
Leaving notes on the bar top (including a hefty tip for the bartender’s trouble), Crowley exited the pub. He slipped into the first alley he saw, between two businesses. Dark, secluded, but the whole neighbourhood was like that, late like this on a weeknight. He pulled out one of the burners he had activated earlier. He hadn’t used it yet, and now this phone would have a single purpose.
Before he dialed the number, he closed his eyes and made a silent plea (to God, he supposed. Aziraphale had rubbed off on him). Let him pick up. Let him not hate me. Please, please let him forgive me. Also, thank you to that bartender for letting me get pissed enough to do this.
He dialed the number he had memorized, and waited on tenterhooks.
“Angel? It’s me. I am so fucking sorry.”
Sorry about that last chapter, pals. Hope this helps!
When he saw “Unknown number” flash across his caller ID, he knew who it was. He stopped pacing, which he had been doing non-stop for the past several hours, unable to sit still, unable to stop imagining every awful thing that could have led to Crowley leaving. In the scant seconds between guessing who was calling and answering the phone, he wondered if Crowley would actually be transparent, or if he would obfuscate again, claiming it was for Aziraphale’s own good.
He was feeling sick of it, this up and down, push and pull. Crowley’s moodiness and disappearing acts. And yet, not answering was not ever an option. Cutting ties was never an option. He loved Crowley, all the broken bits of him. He would accept this ghastly time if there were even the slightest possibility of something better on the horizon.
“Angel? It’s me. I am so fucking sorry.”
Aziraphale ended the call. He stared at the phone in his hand a moment, watched the screen fade, and eventually turn off. The room was quiet and he was still, the external in contrast to the storm raging inside of him.
The phone call with Crowley had been difficult, tense in different ways all the way through. But the worst had not happened. Crowley had not abandoned him. Crowley had been uncharacteristically forthright, a likely result of the amount of alcohol he had almost certainly consumed immediately prior. Although he stumbled over his words, took his time searching for the right one, it seemed his mind was very clear.
He told Aziraphale of the threat made against them, and shared that he suspected that Michael was bluffing, as far as Aziraphale was concerned. Still, Crowley wanted Aziraphale to be alert, cautious. And for the sake of safety, Crowley couldn’t go back to Aziraphale’s little flat in Newham, not for some time.
Aziraphale had forgiven Crowley for his disappearing act. Of course he had, he was incapable of withholding forgiveness especially in the context of anything having to do with Crowley. In the hours, though, between returning home and the phone call, Aziraphale’s emotions had careened between agony and frustration. His short but intense relationship with Crowley was characterized by these build ups and let downs, Crowley taking off when it suited him with limited explanation. Aziraphale knew there were external circumstances. That perhaps if Crowley were, oh, an accountant that he would never do these things. But then he wouldn’t be Crowley at all, would he?
How much was Aziraphale expected the bear? He would, all of it, he knew. But he hoped there was another option.
“Crowley,” he said into the phone, during a quiet break in the conversation, “It has been difficult for me, to have you come and go unannounced like you’ve been. God knows that if the alternative was that I didn’t get to see you then I will live with it, I will. But, ideally I would like to know. I need to know how to get in touch with you, to know where you are.”
“Angel…” The interjection was reproachful, strangled all at once.
“Just let me finish please, I’m almost done. You’ve been very forthcoming tonight, and I thank you for it. It must continue. Truth brings light into the darkness. Please work in the light with me. I know you are trying to protect me, but I’m well aware of what I’m into at this point and I can make my own decisions. So let me call you, my darling. Let me see you, even. At the very least you must let me help you.”
A pause, then, “I don’t want anything to happen to you.”
“And I, you.”
Crowley hadn’t acquiesced entirely. He had given Aziraphale a number to use (“for emergencies”) and stressed that he didn’t want to burden Aziraphale while he sorted out a plan of action. No amount of arguing that Crowley was not a burden to him would move him. He was set, certain.
Aziraphale wondered how long he would have to wait now, for Crowley’s plan, to see him again.
She had asked him to come. Aziraphale had originally wanted to stay away from Anathema’s secret project, her asylum seekers. He used to be fine with living in ignorance, thought it was better. It wasn’t. He needed to know everything, to see with his own eyes how it worked. Aziraphale was pleased Anathema had asked, insisted.
He followed her down the dark stairwell into the basement, the sound of their feet on the linoleum stairs ringing out in the silence. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dark space, no sunlight creeping through the high windows. He could just make out the figures sitting on cots on the far side of the room, frozen with their eyes focused on the entrance.
“It’s just me, and I brought a friend,” Anathema said, her voice soothing and calm.
Four of them. A man, a woman, two little girls. They visibly relaxed at the sight of Anathema, familiar and comfortable in her presence. One of the little girls waved from her place on the floor, only distracted from the colouring book in her lap for a second. The man and woman stood as Anathema and Aziraphale approached. Dark haired and dark, dark eyes. All four of them. The agitation that had taken up residence in Aziraphale over the last few days was replaced with a startling glow. They were just beautiful. Aziraphale touched his hand to his chest, his heart warming him down to the tips of his fingers. This was God’s work, right in front of him.
Anathema embraced the woman, nodded at the man, and angled her body towards Aziraphale. “This is Tara, and this is Bijan,” she said, gesturing respectively to the woman and the man. She turned back to the couple. “This is Reverend Aziraphale. He’s the priest for the church. He made it safe here.”
Oh, Anathema. “You give me too much credit, my dear.” He smiled at the couple, unsure how to greet them. His hands gestured lightly into the air with no real direction. “Welcome, Tara. Bijan. I’m so happy you’re here. And your daughters?”
Tara spoke first. “Yes! Mina is five years old. Donya is three.” Her english was sharp and clear. She reached out to Aziraphale with steady hands and clasped his, stilling them. “We are very happy to be here. Thank you Father, for this shelter.”
Aziraphale brought her hands to his chest. He felt that his heart might just beat out from between his ribs, their open faces a balm to a soul that had been so sore and battered in recent days. “I am so grateful that you came to us. I hope you’ve been comfortable.” He extended his hand to Bijan, who took it graciously.
Bijan smiled and placed his free hand on his partner’s shoulder. “My english, not great. She talks for us. Much better than me!” They both laughed, clearly so fond of one another, so at ease. Aziraphale wanted to hold their goodness in the palm of his hand. He knew so little about them, but he loved them.
The four adults sat down at the table set up beside the cots, and spoke about the journey into London, their flight in the early hours of the morning from their home country, their hopes for what might come next. At one point Aziraphale felt a tug at his sleeve and the older girl, Mina, slipped a folded slip of paper from her colouring book into his palm, shy and avoiding eye contact. He opened it to reveal a picture of an owl, bright with a rainbow of crayon marks. “Isn’t this wonderful, you lovely girl.” Aziraphale said quietly, watching the girl circle the table. Mina slipped a picture to Anathema as well, then retreated to her father, pressing her little face into his shoulder, eyes peeking up to glance at Aziraphale. “Thank you,” he said, so full of sweetness he felt he might spill over.
Later in his office, he listened to Anathema tell him the family’s story. “They’re both journalists. They were covering corruption. Made some enemies. Someone tried to burn their house down. They want to go to Canada eventually, they have family there, but it’s not been straightforward. Obviously.”
They sat in silence, Aziraphale considered everything he had just been told. His head was heavy with all he’d learned in the last few days, all he’d had to process. More than he’d ever dealt with in his life, all coming at once.
Aziraphale was startled from his thoughts. He inhaled and tried to focus on the woman sitting across from him. “Yes, dear.”
“What do you mean?” His brows knit together.
Anathema glared at him incredulously. “With your guy.”
Ah, that. She had always been perceptive, and he shouldn't have been surprised that she had picked up in the change in his demeanor. Aziraphale drew back in his chair, began to fidget with things on his desk. What to say, how to say it.
“Is he jerking you around?” She leaned back, crossed her arms. He’d not seen her stern like this before.
“No. Well, yes, but there’s a good reason for it.” She cocked an elegant, shaped eyebrow. He sighed. “It’s complicated.” Anathema said nothing, merely widened her eyes expectantly. (He recognized this method. He had used it with her before.) “Well, so…”
He told her everything. (What could he do? The method worked.)
It was swiftly becoming the coldest February London had seen in ages. As Aziraphale lifted his jacket collar to protect his face from the wind, he resolved to start working to make St. Sebastian’s an emergency cold weather shelter, after Tara and her family had left. It was no kind of night for anyone to be out on the street.
Except Aziraphale was. Shoulders tight around his ears, attempting to block the steel bite of the wind. His gloved hands were shoved deep within his pockets. He didn’t relish the idea of how long it would take him to warm up later. This English cold snuck through seams and settled onto skin, made its way onto his very bones, damp and lingering.
He was worried at first, that he wouldn’t be able to find his way. The first time he had come he was led, simply followed along in Crowley’s sted. Why he had felt the impulse, an irresistible urge to come here tonight remained a mystery to him, and a frustrating one at that. In weather like this he hadn’t wanted to go anywhere, but he couldn’t sit still. He was drawn here. He needed to see it. But Aziraphale needn’t be worried. His feet were confident and he barely needed his conscious memory to guide him.
The Barbican courtyard was sheltered from the worst of the winter winds, but it was nowhere near an oasis. The air alone made him feel brittle. His breath turned to fog in the air, as he recalled simpler moments, before he knew everything he did now. When everything was a possibility. Crowley had brought him here, and this was his place. Aziraphale tried to sense his presence as he remembered that night.
The reverend walked down a small set of stairs and sat on a bench. Leaning back, he observed the lit up windows in the apartment buildings around him, muted yellow and blue from television screens. In some he could see bodies moving, engaging in their nightly routines, cozied up indoors. He wondered idly if any of them could see him down in the courtyard, an odd man alone on a bench in the dark. What would they think of him? It didn’t matter.
His eyes trailed along balconies, up to one of the jagged, concrete towers, grey against the cloudy sky that reflected back the city light. A strange building. In London’s historic centre, it felt like a mistake. A craggy, modern shard in a gilded, aged city. Strange and out of place. A sad laugh escaped Aziraphale's throat and dissolved into the night. It was so much like Crowley, wasn’t it? Sharp lines, stark beauty in a place of faded grace. Or perhaps it was just that he saw Crowley in everything. That seemed just as likely.
With Crowley at the forefront of his mind’s eye, he fought the urge to sigh. He had been doing a lot of that lately. The agony and uncertainty would be easier to bear if Crowley were nearer, if Aziraphale had any sense of timeline, if he could just have Crowley in his bed next to him, one more time.
“You wouldn’t lead me astray, would you?” He asked quietly, tipping his head back to look up. In his recent preoccupation, it had been awhile since he had dedicated himself to this kind of one-sided conversation. “You would tell me if this wasn’t to be.” A statement, a question, a prayer. “I have always been your servant, God. I have served you in the only way that I know.” His voice cracked, and Aziraphale closed his eyes, cold tears pricking at the inner corner. He had done as he was told for so long, gone where he was led. It had been right, it had to be right.
And suddenly it gripped at his lungs, warm and rich. A certain, steady weight.
The knowing .
Fully formed and without question. The picture, the story, the fucking plan. His heart beat hard against the cage of his ribs in a furor, breath heaving as if he had climbed a mountain. He was moved and moving.
Forgetting where he was, the audience in the flats on every side of him, Aziraphale slipped from the bench to his knees. He couldn’t feel the cold of the pavement seeping through the fabric of his trousers. He could barely feel anything. All that was there was the knowing.
He pressed his palms together and brought the steeple of his fingers to his lips.
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” Aziraphale whispered into his hands, into the night, into the guiding light of his life. Thank you for this knowing.
Aziraphale had begged Crowley to meet him - “It’s urgent, darling. I must see you. Non-negotiable.” - and Crowley had finally agreed. Reluctantly, Crowley had designated a crummy airport hotel near Gatwick at their rendezvous place, a spot for transients and stranded travellers, a place no one would ever choose to go, and had texted him the room number.
The reverend arrived by taxi, the fare an ungodly amount of money but he had needed to arrive as soon as possible. He could not delay it a second longer. He moved through the tidy and non-descript lobby and straight to the elevator. He was near vibrating in anticipation. He found the door, knocked. There was shifting on the other side of the door, and Crowley opened it, pulling Aziraphale in.
Crowley shut the door behind him, locking the deadbolt for good measure. He turned sharply to Aziraphale and placed his hands on either side of Aziraphale’s face. “Now what’s this about?” He could tell that Crowley was trying to sound serious, neutral, and there was concern under his voice, but when they locked eyes the room around them disappeared.
Aziraphale had been prepared for Crowley to be distracted or annoyed. He had anticipated his own frustration spilling forth, and for an awkward tension to settle between them, a result of the uneven waves their relationship had existed in. He had, for a time, been cross with Crowley, had resented his secret life. He had wondered if they might have it out.
But when they were there, together. When they were so close, mere inches to bridge to touch one another, the griping and groaning was inconsequential. It wasn’t ignoring the issues, no. It was embracing the true priority of the moment. What mattered most right now.
“He’s spoken to me,” Aziraphale said, his hands moving to Crowley’s hips, gripping him softly. His thumbs traced the waistband of Crowley’s pants, curved over the rise of his hip bones. A twinge of desire stirred within him, familiar now, as it always made its presence known whenever his palms were flush against Crowley’s body. He swallowed it down for the moment. There were things they needed to discuss.
A look of confusion and anxiety rose in Crowley. “Who, angel? Who has?”
Crowley’s skeptical brows inched up his forehead. “God?”
“Don’t act so surprised, my darling. You know my line of work.” It occured to Aziraphale that he had never really elaborated on his relationship with God to Crowley. In fact, his personal relationship with God was discussed with others very little. Other vicars sometimes, people in the industry as it were. But civilians, even church-going ones, tended to regard this type of divine communication as an oddity. Aziraphale wondered if he shouldn’t brace himself for Crowley to tease or roll his eyes in derision.
“Yeah, suppose I do. Just…” Crowley paused, shaking his head a little in mild bewilderment, “... didn’t realize you had a direct line.” There was no mockery lacing his words, no cynicism. If anything, Aziraphale thought he looked awed. Crowley stroked Aziraphale’s cheek with a muted reverence.
For a moment, Aziraphale was nearly lost. He had to focus, bring himself back to message. “It doesn’t work quite that way, but what I mean to tell you is, I think I may have an idea.”
They moved to the edge of the bed, Aziraphale talking quietly in rapid fire, hands striking the air animatedly. Crowley listened, hunched over, elbows perched on spindly, splayed knees, his face resting in his upturned hand. He listed to Aziraphale without comment, his only response a sharp intake of breath to a point he seemed to find objectionable. Only when he seemed sure that Aziraphale had finished, did he speak.
“I don’t know about this, Aziraphale.” He rubbed at his face in a troubled way as he spoke. “I don’t like you being involved. You know that.”
Aziraphale reached out, took Crowley’s nervous hands between his. “I am involved already. I will never not be involved. You must see that, don’t you?” He brought Crowley’s fingertips to his lips, kissed them, let his lips linger. “I’m on your side.”
A sigh escaped Crowley’s lungs, a release of pressure, seeming to give in at least for the moment. He leaned forward, and touched his forehead to Aziraphale’s, lingering with his eyes closed. Aziraphale grasped the back of Crowley’s neck with one hand, stroking the ends of Crowley’s hair. It was getting long.
“I’ll think about it,” Crowley said. “I don’t want anything to happen to you.”
Aziraphale smiled, brought his hand around to Crowley’s chin and tilted his face up so their eyes met, sand and sky. “It won’t,” he said, and kissed him. Slow at first, slow and patient and soft. Aziraphale cradling Crowley’s face in the palm of his hand, guiding him, pacing him.
“You don’t know that,” Crowley said between kisses, voice husky with need.
“Trust me,” Aziraphale insisted into his mouth, pushing his tongue past Crowley’s teeth.
Both men laid back onto the bed, shifting themselves until Aziraphale found himself under Crowley, his legs bent and bracketing Crowley’s hips, which rubbed up against him with a subdued urgency, as if Crowley was holding himself back. Aziraphale’s fingers carded through Crowley’s hair, gripped his shirt between his shoulder blades. He hadn’t come here for this. It hadn’t been the point to this meeting, but it felt inevitable, to fall into one another in this fashion. They were both in need and wanting.
Aziraphale pulled Crowley’s shirt off over his head and tossed it aside. He dragged his palms down the plains of Crowley’s back, and the feel of his skin soothed him. He could never know it enough. Aziraphale broke the kiss and propped himself up on his elbows. An old idea had taken hold. “Will you undress me, my dear?”
Crowley didn’t answer, just smiled in a soft way that made Aziraphale’s heart swell with fondness. He slid off Aziraphale and the bed, and came to standing. Crowley reached his long arm out to the reverend, proffering his hand. Aziraphale took it, and felt himself pulled up, watched the muscles of Crowley’s bicep moving under the skin.
His long, elegant fingers came to Aziraphale’s throat, lingered on the collar of his shirt. Plain white today, no collar. He had wanted to seem inconspicuous, unmemorable to anyone. He would never forget this though, his buttons being slowly and deliberately undone by a man he loved so much that it had changed him. He tipped his face up to capture Crowley’s lips with his own. Was it stupid to feel lucky, in the midst of this mess? He did. It wasn’t every day you stumbled across someone who God built just for you. The baggage was nothing. It was just noise.
Crowley pushed the shirt off of Aziraphale’s shoulders, and held it in his hands. After a beat, he carefully folded and laid it on a chair next to the bed. The thoughtfulness of the movement, this tender act, made Aziraphale’s face break into another smile.
His belt came next, trousers. Undershirt. All placed gently on the chair. Crowley’s fingers reached out to remove Aziraphale’s boxers, but Aziraphale intercepted, taking Crowley’s hands in his own. “No, my love. You first.”
Aziraphale removed the last of Crowley’s clothing, putting it aside with the same care Crowley had afforded him. He took a step back, holding Crowley at arm’s length. “Let me look at you,” Aziraphale said, mostly to himself. He drank in Crowley’s naked form, taking the time that he had not allowed himself in any previous interaction, letting his eyes lazily trail the lines of the taller man’s body. The pronounced dip of his collar bones. His hard pink nipples. The slim curve of his hips into his thighs. The hollow where his arms bent. Aziraphale kissed these places, to impress upon Crowley just how much he needed him. “You are just perfect,” he whispered into Crowley’s skin between kisses. “My beautiful, darling boy.” He could feel Crowley melt into these words, could sense his breath hitching.
He moved Crowley back onto the bed, no longer surprised how easily he could be led, wanted to be, really. “Hands and knees, my dear. Thank you.” Crowley complied, and Aziraphale moved up behind him on his knees, placing his hands on Crowley’s hips, and pulled him back into his still clothed lap.
Both men were hard, standing to attention, and this pressure drew moans of pleasure from both of them. Aziraphale spit into his hand, slicked his fingers, and without warning, slipped a finger into of Crowley, drawing a sharp gasp from the man in front of him, the softest “Oh, fuck.” His free hand Aziraphale reached around Crowley, and wrapped around Crowley’s cock, stroking firmly, slowly.
“Fuck, Angel. Fuck, fuck.” Crowley croaked, pushing his face into a pillow, and rutting back against Aziraphale’s finger stretching him.
The feel of Crowley writhing under his ministrations was perhaps the single most satisfying this that had ever happened to Aziraphale. To know he was affecting Crowley so, there was no other reward on earth he could possibly want. He knew he had done good works, because otherwise this simply wouldn’t be possible. He wouldn’t have been given the gift of this body, of this submission.
He pressed forward with a second finger, then a third, all the while Crowley bucking back into him, begging now. A litany of please please please tumbled from his lips like a waterfall, unceasing, unstoppable. Aziraphale wanted to drown in them, his thirst was never ending.
“Ask me,” Aziraphale said, leaning forward over Crowley’s back. He kissed the wing of Crowley’s shoulder blade. “Ask me, Crowley.”
Crowley turned his head, looking back over his shoulder at Aziraphale’s unruly blond curls. His voice was thick. “If you are not inside me within the next thirty seconds, I will bloody well lose my mind. So please, angel, I beg of you. Fuck me.”
That would do. He quickly removed his boxers, revealing his own straining erection, and positioned the tip against Crowley’s rim, his other hand steadying Crowley’s hips, stopping him from pushing back onto Aziraphale. He took a deep breath, and as he exhaled, Aziraphale slid full into Crowley, smooth and slow until he was completely buried inside. He moaned, open mouthed and heady towards the ceiling. Crowley answered him with whimpers, grateful to have been given what he wanted.
His hands gripped Crowley’s hips hard. He loved the way it looked, the indents his fingertips left in Crowley’s flesh, smooth and perfect like marble. He loved the curve of Crowley’s spine, his broad shoulders, the small hollow spaces above his ass. This perfect body.
He lost himself in fucking Crowley, pushing as deep into him as he could go. He could feel the taller man tighten around him, hear Crowley crying out into the pillow. Crowley’s hand moved underneath him to stroke his own cock. “Oh, God,” said Aziraphale, strangled and high pitched. He could feel the sweat on his forehead, his back. He was close. He was very close.
Aziraphale slipped one of his arms around Crowley’s waist, pressing his chest to Crowley’s back, and pulled him up, off the pillow, off of his hands and into Aziraphale’s lap. Crowley yelled out, full of and heavy on Aziraphale’s cock. He fucked his fist with one hand, brought the other down onto Aziraphale’s thick thigh, gripping it hard.
Aziraphale could see the outline of Crowley’s jaw, the corner of his mouth. He pressed his lips into the side of Crowley’s neck, felt his fervent pulse in that kiss. Crowley panted and pushed into him and Aziraphale was astonished. That he could still feel broke open like this, that he could be so consumed by this epiphany of brutal and shocking love, it was a miracle. Crowley was the only miracle he had known, could ever know.
“I love you,” he said, the admission born in his belly and spilling out on the hot skin of Crowley’s neck.
Crowley released a sob, raw and wet, and dug his nails into Aziraphale’s skin. “Again, angel. Please.”
Aziraphale brought a hand up to Crowley’s hair, getting a hold of it, pulling the taller man’s head back. “I love you. I love you, my perfect darling.”
“Ahh, ah, Aziraphale!” Crowley came, hard. A mess on his hand and on the bedspread in front of him, leaning back into Aziraphale’s soft front. Aziraphale followed, the sound of his name yelled in such desperation spurring him forward.
Aziraphale panted into Crowley’s skin, wrapped his arms tight around Crowley’s torso, loving the weight of him in his lap. They didn’t move from there for some time.
They showered together, constantly touching, laughing at how the shower head was positioned so low that Crowley had to bend his knees to get under it. It felt normal, as if Crowley wasn’t living in the shadows, as if after this they knew when they would see one another again. They dressed slowly, drawing their time together out as long as they could.
Finally, Aziraphale picked up his coat, slipped it on. Crowley reached out to adjust the collar, laying it flat. They gazed at one another, this simple act of service suspended between them.
“I’ll see you soon, I hope,” Aziraphale said, softly smiling. Crowley’s golden eyes bore into him. “Get this all sorted and squared away. Just tickety-boo.”
“I love you.” Crowley spat out, as if he couldn’t contain it a second longer. He grasped the lapels of Aziraphale’s coat, and pulled them together. Crowley kissed him hard, determined. Aziraphale had known, of course, that Crowley loved him, but to hear it was better, best. “I love you, so fucking much.”
Aziraphale placed his hands on Crowley’s wrists, his thumbs rubbing small circles into them. “And I love you. After this is done you will never leave my side again. Is that a deal?”
Crowley smiled, and kissed Aziraphale’s cheek. “Deal. All in.”
“Think about what I told you.”
They parted, sure of only one thing.
Bible verse is Deuteronomy 31:6 NIV.
As we get closer to the end here, I'm taking a bit more time with these chapters. Also (cough, cough) I was writing quite a lot of this at work (not the filthy bits) and now my quiet season is over and I'm back to being quite busy! We're nearly there though. Thanks for holding on with me.
What was it like to hear the call? To change the course of your life because one day you just woke up knowing that what you were doing was no longer viable, that the path you had been on must be abandoned. Was it difficult, or was it the easiest thing you’ve ever done?
Aziraphale’s family hadn’t been religious. His parents had no grand designs for him to enter ministry. When he was in a particularly grim mood and ruminating on his past, he noted that for parents of an only child, they seemed to have no designs for him at all, and barely any meaningful interest in him beyond keeping him fed and clothed. He tried not to take it personally, chalking it up to a generational blind spot. Showing him love was keeping him alive, to do more would have been excessive.
In spite of this, or perhaps more likely because of it, Aziraphale became well acquainted with love in all its varied forms. First as a child, eager for friendship with other children of all stripes, and later as a young man. He sought love out, became a divining rod for the warmth and beauty that came with it. It wasn’t always reciprocated, but that wasn’t what he was after, not really. To just feel that he was in its presence and to inspire it in himself had been enough for a time.
At university, he surrounded himself with classmates who spoke of tenderness, clutched ancient love stories to their chests, wrote halting and precocious poetry about their perceived star-crossed romances. He enjoyed their company immensely, playing a supporting role in the drama that was their lives. On rare occasions he was elevated from confidant to lover. Again, enjoyable, but something about these dalliances didn’t land for him, didn’t satisfy him in the way he wanted to be satisfied.
These interactions and relationships weren’t superficial, exactly. There was love in them, but something crucial was missing for him. He couldn’t have said what it was, then. He just knew that he lived with this thrumming undercurrent, this what if what if what if . What if what? He didn’t know how to finish the question. He didn’t know what he was looking for, longing for.
It found him, rather than him finding it.
Aziraphale had attended a church service with a friend, a flighty and well bred girl who rolled her eyes and whinged at being asked to accompany her parents. “Come with me, please Aziraphale! It will be slightly less terrible if you are there too,” she had said, draping herself over his shoulders at the local pub on a Friday evening. She was tedious, but he had loved her at the time. He agreed to go with her, chuffed that anyone would want him to go anywhere with them.
At the service, they were offered communion. While she snickered and made comments which he knew he was supposed to find funny, Aziraphale found himself transported. It was not that he believed that the bread and the wine were the actual body and blood of Christ (he thought the Catholics a little macabre, overall), but he was profoundly moved by this ancient sharing ritual. This coming together, this breaking bread. This asking others to be with you, to eat with you, to be your family. The bread tasted like the love for which he had been searching. The small sip of wine felt like home on his tongue.
He was electrified as he left the church that day. His skin itched with the want of more. More knowledge, more grace. Until then, he had never so much as owned a bible.
Aziraphale did what he did best after that. Read. The bible first, of course, then religious philosophers, both old and new. Newspaper columnists and academics. He devoured them, seeking out every instance of this new and radical love he had felt. And then, after falling asleep late one evening surrounded by treatises and kindness manifestos, he woke up in a cold sweat, heart pounding behind his ribs. He sat up in bed and found himself laughing, joy spilling out onto the bed in front of him. This was it. The answer. He had gotten the call.
Maybe it had been inevitable, his arrival at this threshold. Nothing had ever felt so right. His fervour stunned his friends, his parents. None of them could understand that that was the way that he was meant to channel all the love that he was made of. They didn’t understand that he had come to know God, and God had shown him that his gift to the world would be the love, care, and guidance of others. Ministry would be his divine mission.
He had not been perfect, along the way. He had made missteps. He was only human, after all. But he had found peace in giving love in gentle ways to so many. He baptized the tiniest infants, whose delicate hands wrapped around his finger, who made him feel as if he held the world in his arms. He comforted those convening with death in their final moments, telling them with surety, you have loved, you have been loved .
He had done the work. Love had been the work.
Aziraphale had known that the move to London would force him to love in different ways. It would not be as comfortable as Cornwall had become, but he had always told others that we grow in discomfort. It was time for him to grow as well. He had anticipated the challenges. Yet nothing could have prepared him for Crowley.
Crowley’s attention and devotion, his sarcastic comments. The way he slouched his arm over Aziraphale’s shoulder and shot him side-long glances past his sunglasses. His lips, his honey gold eyes. Elegant hands with beautiful fingers. His rabbit scared heart.
We are in this world for so little time, for twenty minutes. A nothing moment in the grand scope of all that has been, all that ever will be. Aziraphale had lived with this knowledge, embraced it, understood that part of this role he had been given was to stand beside others and hold their hand as they came into this life and left it. And suddenly, it wasn’t enough.
Aziraphale wanted to live one thousand lives at Crowley’s side, doing not a thing but loving him. There was no creature of this world that he loved more, would give more of himself to. The love before had been work, a mere assignment in preparation for his magnum opus. God had made the two of them, all of their component parts, to love one another. God had shown him. He knew.
I love you. I love you, my perfect darling.
How could such a love be reckless when it was what you were designed to do?
February became March became April. The bitter winds and biting cold gave way to damp, rainy days, the suggestion of spring flowers. London remained as relentlessly gray as it had been since he arrived. Aziraphale wondered idly what summer would be like in the city. A heat wave, perhaps? Or more of the same. It didn’t matter.
The weeks and months that had passed had been trying. He had heard from Crowley so little, and hadn’t laid eyes on him since that night in the hotel. He assured himself it would be fine. God had told him it would be and there was simply no other option.
Aziraphale had found himself becoming braver in these recent months, retiring his previously timid nature. When the city had turned frigid in the darkness of winter, he had opened up St. Sebastian’s as a warming centre, neglecting to ask anyone in presbytery leadership for the go-ahead. “Forgiveness over permission,” he had said to Anathema as they set up the basement for guests, laying out cots and setting up tables. “If I had gone through regular channels it would have been next year before I could expect to receive a response, and I am tired of waiting. I do enough of it these days.”
The warming centre had been inundated from the first day, highlighting the lack of suitable places in the city. Its immediate popularity drew Aziraphale a sharp rebuke from leadership. E-mails and phone calls from the bishop asking Aziraphale exactly what he thought he was playing at. In the past the reverend may have let himself be cowed by this. Not now, though. He would do the right thing, even if it made him a thorn in the side to the organization. He was no longer interested in being beholden to bureaucracy.
Aziraphale couldn’t remember a time when he was as oriented to action as he was now. He made lists of to-dos and crossed items off at a furious pace. He barely slept at night, opting for short dozes bent over his office desk. He could not stop moving. He could not still himself. He was at St. Sebastian’s every day, the mission there the only thing that distracted him from a constant film reel of memories of Crowley.
In all this time he had taken only two days off at the end of March. He was exhausted, everyone told him so. He left the office on a Tuesday afternoon, telling Jean as he left he’d be away for a couple of days. She looked relieved.
Returning on Friday, she asked what he’d been up to.
“Sleeping.” He had said.
“Er, Reverend, there are people here to see you.”
Aziraphale looked up from his computer screen to Jean, hovering in the doorway of his office. “Do they have an appointment?” He asked, turning back to the computer to look at his calendar.
“No, no. They’re, em…” Jean lowered her voice, leaning her body into the office but keeping her feet outside. “They’re the police.”
Aziraphale turned sharply back to her. Jean looked timid and kept shooting glances over her shoulder, likely in the direction of the uninvited guests. The police. He had not expected this, or rather, he had not wanted it. “Did they say what it was about?”
“No. No, just said they needed to speak with you?” She said it like a question, even though it wasn’t.
He looked over at Jean’s anxious movements, felt them land on him as if they were contagious. His heart picked up pace. “Send them in, then. Please.”
He prayed it was nothing. Perhaps they were new to the area, wanted to introduce themselves as a result of the uptick in traffic outside the church. Or maybe it was a noise complaint from neighbours. Something mundane, something an apology and an offer of tea and a biscuit would fix.
They entered with seasoned confidence. Two of them, dressed in well tailored suits. Detectives, perhaps. These were not street cops. The woman was tall with dark cropped hair, expression serious and unmoving. The second was a shorter man, bald, smiling slightly. Aziraphale wondered coldly if the were playing up a good cop-bad cop dynamic or if this was the way they naturally were, visual opposites of one another. The room felt colder as they entered, as if a window had been left open.
“May I?” The man asked, palm on the handle of Aziraphale’s office door, cooly polite.
“Oh, yes, of course. Go ahead, and do have a seat.” Aziraphale worked to steady his breathing as the man closed the door, and the pair slid into the chairs across from him, their postures rigidly straight. He hoped the expression he was portraying was mild bemusement, rather than allowing the chaotic fear that was storming around in his belly to creep through.
“I’m Detective Uriel, and this is my colleague, Detective Sandalphon. We’re with the London Metropolitan Police. And you are Reverend… Aziraphale?” The woman, Detective Uriel, sounded out each syllable of Aziraphale’s name, sounding unsure. It was the only unsure thing about her authoritative and emotionless delivery.
“Yes. And it’s a pleasure, but do you mind me asking why you’ve decided to visit us today?” He folded his hands in his lap to steady them. Calm now, Aziraphale. Deep breaths, he thought. It could be nothing. It was very likely not nothing, but that little internal lie was the only thing that calmed the turmoil that threatened to come to the surface.
The detectives glanced at one another, and Sandalphon produced a large manilla envelope that Aziraphale hadn’t noticed he’d been carrying. “Yes, let’s hop right to it, shall we?” He placed the envelope on Aziraphale’s desk, on the piles of papers and books that littered the surface that he would have normally cleared for any welcome visitor. Aziraphale made no move to touch it, but let his eyes linger on it, consider the contents. “Can you tell us about your relationship with Anthony Crowley?”
His eyes shot back up to Sandalphon. Aziraphale tried to repress a reaction, and though mostly successful, he could feel his face contract ever so slightly, his eyebrows knit together. Little movements that the detectives would know to look for. “Ah. Yes, he’s an old friend. We went to school together. Is something the matter?” Play stupid, play very stupid.
The detectives exchanged glances again. Uriel rolled her eyes almost imperceptibly, but Aziraphale could look closely at faces too, had done so for years. “Old friends. Right. Okay, then. How well would you say you know him?”
“Oh, dear, well. Fairly well, relatively, I suppose.” He stumbled over his words, the waver obvious in his voice. They knew, of course, but he wouldn’t give them everything. Let them think he was embarrassed, closeted, whatever they wanted to see.
“So, you could recognize his clothes?” Sandalphon spoke now, in a gentler tone that he had obviously cultivated, practiced in front of the mirror at home or with a counsellor who specialized in sensitivity training. There wasn’t an ounce of genuine kindness behind it at all.
“Perhaps? I would say it would depend.” As if he didn’t have a mental catalogue of each item of clothing that had ever touched Crowley’s skin. Socks and scarves and sunglasses. Tight black jeans and well-crafted leather boots. “I’m sorry, detectives. You’ll have to excuse me but this is a very strange conversation. Could you perhaps enlighten me as to why you’re asking?” It was bold, a gamble on his part, but in line with how he had been growing, changing. Asking questions, forging ahead without permission.
Uriel reached out and pressed her fingertips to the envelope, pushed it closer to Aziraphale. “Why don’t you open that up for us and take a look.” Her eyes bore into his, unblinking. There was barely veiled aggression in the request. It sounded like what she really wanted to say was: stop fucking with us and play the game we’re here to play.
Aziraphale flicked his eyes towards Sandalphon, who was smiling as serenely as someone with a shit-eating grin could. Was that a gold tooth? Good Lord. These two. Aziraphale picked up the envelope. It was light, sturdy. He slid his fingers into it, and pulled out several eight by ten glossy photographs. In the first picture, laid out on a white background, was Crowley’s black motorcycle jacket.
His eyes lingered on it, the zippers and soft leather. It was the jacket Crowley had been wearing the first time they had met, as adults, anyway. He has seen it since, was tempted to call it his favourite, but then anything Crowley wore was his favourite. He felt a smile creep unbidden towards his lips and he vanquished it. Not now.
“Look familiar to you?” Uriel asked.
“It certainly looks like something he might wear.”
“Take a closer look.”
Aziraphale resented the demand, wanted them out of his office. But he needed to see where this was going. He turned on the reading light beside his computer, held the picture underneath it. Narrowing his eyes, he searched the picture closely. Was that water damage?
“We found it on the beach in Brighton.” Uriel said, sternly.
“Brighton?” Aziraphale looked up, surprise apparent in his features.
Sandalphon leaned forward, and took the picture of the jacket away, revealing the one underneath. “Why don’t you take a look at the rest?”
The next picture was a waterlogged passport, opened to the picture of Crowley’s face. The small, blurry passport photo showed him squinting. The next picture was a pair of Crowley’s sunglasses. Then a wallet. Aziraphale held the pictures in front of him, eyes moving across them, never settling in one place. “What is all this?” He asked, voice muted.
“It was all on the beach, in a neat little pile.” If Aziraphale wasn’t mistaken, Uriel looked as if she were smirking. “Found a note too, in the wallet. Maybe you’d like to see it.” She reached into her coat pocket, extracted a zip-locked bag with a note inside. She offered it to Aziraphale.
The reverend took the bag gingerly between his finger tips. Between the plastic, was a single sheet of lined paper with a short message in sparse handwriting. Crowley’s handwriting.
I only ever asked questions.
This was the only way.
I’m so sorry.
Aziraphale’s breath caught in his throat. “Oh. Oh dear.” The beating of his heart was pounding in his ears, the blood rushing through his veins, made him feel like he was burning. He couldn’t speak. Couldn’t figure out what to say.
The three sat in Aziraphale’s office in silence for thirty seconds, a minute. Aziraphale put the letter down on his desk and angled his chair away from the detectives. Tears held fast behind his eyes. He bit his lower lip to keep it from quivering.
Sandalphon broke the silence. “Looks like he walked into the ocean. Haven’t found a body yet, mind you. But I’m sure it will wash up eventually.” The bastard sounded downright cheery.
“He didn’t say anything to you about this? About why he’d off himself?” Uriel had dropped all pretense of professionalism, now.
“No,” hissed Aziraphale, through clenched teeth. He spun his chair to face them, his hands gripped the edge of his desk “He did not. I surely would’ve stopped… I would’ve done something had he mentioned to me that he was going to drown himself in the Channel.”
Sandalphon and Uriel both suddenly looked uncomfortable, shifting in their chairs. They had clearly expected Aziraphale to fall apart, not react in anger.
“And what’s the meaning of this? With the pictures? What exactly are you trying to do here?”
“Reverend…” Sandalphon started.
“It seems you know of my relationship to Crowley, so I cannot possibly imagine why the two of you would come here, to my place of work, to a house of worship no less and tell me that my lover had killed himself in this fashion. We are in very different lines of work and I should presume not to tell you how to do your job, but this does not strike me as an optimal way to inform someone that their loved one might be dead. ” His voice had raised throughout this speech and he had brought himself to standing. As his volume raised he felt as if he were losing control. On his final word, on dead , his voice cracked and he knew the tears were right there, and he was fighting a losing battle in holding them back.
Uriel and Sandalphon had the decency to look shocked.
“I must ask you to leave. Leave my church. Do not come back. Please send a more thoughtful and professional colleague should you have more questions, but I assure you, there is nothing else for me to tell you.”
The detectives sat, frozen to their seats.
“I said, leave.”
They finally stood. Uriel picked up the photos and slid them back into the envelope. Sandalphon picked up the evidence bag with the note, placed it in the breast pocket of his coat. They said nothing as they left.
Aziraphale pressed his fingers into the desk. Tears moved down his cheeks in tidy streams.
“Reverend…” Jean stood in the door, diminished, unsure of how to act. “Are you alright? There was yelling. They left in a hurry.”
Aziraphale took a deep breath, tried to calm his wavering voice. “Please call Anathema Device. Tell her to meet me at my flat.” He wiped his face with the palm of his hand. “And could you close the door, please? I need a moment.”
Jean did as she was asked, without comment.
The tears slowed. Aziraphale sat.
And then he smiled.
It had worked. Who knew he had a flair for the dramatic?
He opened up his desk drawer and pulled out a cellphone. What had Crowley called it? A burner. He searched for the most recent text message. The only text message the phone had received.
That was all he needed.
Oh buds, we're really in it now. One chapter left, and then an epilogue.
A major inspiration for the first part of this chapter was Sara Miles' Take This Bread which is a profoundly moving memoir of faith. I have a complicated relationship with faith. I've been working it out a bit in writing this thing. The only thing I'm sure of is that if one's faith isn't fundamentally rooted in the principle of loving those who are difficult to be loved, then it's nothing.
As always, thank you for taking the time to read this.
1. The Arrangement
A phone call, nearly midnight. “Yes?”
“Angel.” Soft, warm. Aziraphale can hear the smile under the pet name, the suggestion of want.
It was late. Aziraphale wondered if Crowley has become nocturnal, or perhaps it was that he always had been. A creature of the night, shadows on street corners, and radio dead air. Texts and calls only came once the sun had set. Where was he spending his days? Aziraphale never asks. Any answer might’ve spurred him to beg Crowley to come back to his flat, and they both knew that was unwise.
Aziraphale purred into his phone. “My darling.” There was no immediate response but he could hear Crowley breathing, imagine the rise and fall of his chest. On the nights they shared together Aziraphale had watched him sleep, timed his even breathing. He wanted to be sure of him, to be certain of his existence, his closeness.
After a moment, Crowley speaks. “Been thinking about your divine plan.”
“Yeah, yeah.” More silence. Aziraphale knows Crowley is choosing his next words carefully. He cleared his throat. “I didn’t want you anywhere near this. Ever. I wanted to keep you from it.”
“I know, my love.”
That window between the time they had sat across from one another on the train, to the night in the sanctuary after the melee in the street had let them both engage in a considerable amount of magical thinking. They both pretended that the circumstances of their lives, Crowley’s in particular, would have no impact on the other. It was a time of suspended reality, both brought firmly to earth when Crowley arrived battered and bruised at Aziraphale’s door.
But that grounding only stitched them firmer together. To love someone in adversity was a test, and they had passed. The option to turn back no longer existed.
“I think we should do it.”
Aziraphale was surprised, in spite of knowing that it would always have come to this. “You do?”
“I haven’t come up with any better ideas.”
They both chuckled quietly, grasping for the only small bright light that existed for them in a bleak situation.
“I’ll need to make a call, then.” The cogs in Aziraphale’s mind were spinning now, connecting dots. He became very awake, alert. He reached for a pen on his bedside table, then thought better of it. He would write nothing down.
“Yeah, me too.”
Quiet, again. With Crowley on the other end of the line Aziraphale could pretend that they were in the same room, silent in the comfort of each others’ presence. He longed for it. Every beat of his heart delivered an aching spasm through his veins. He wanted Crowley near, but more than that, he needed him to be safe. The distance was part of the plan.
“I’ll call you tomorrow. Same time? We can go over the details once we speak to our, uh, our supporting players.”
Aziraphale smiled, the promise of another phone call enough to propel him forward into the next day. “Yes, my dear. That sounds like a plan.”
“It’s killing me to not see you.” Crowley’s admission came quickly, a heightened and desperate release. He was frustrated, sad.
Aziraphale laid back on the bed, keeping his feet on the floor. “Oh, Crowley.” There is was again, the vice in his chest. He briefly considered asking Crowley not to say those kinds of things, knowing how much it hurt the both of them, but he dashed the thought away. He needed Crowley to feel as if he could say anything to him, at any time. There were enough barriers for them now, and it wouldn’t suit to put up another so selfishly.
“I should’ve taken you to Calais instead of Brighton.” Crowley sounded wistful.
“Oh? Back before Christmas. Early on.” Aziraphale recalled that day, and the unfortunate weather. It probably would have been just as ugly in France.
“I should’ve taken you there and then kept going. We’d be in the Mediterranean by now. Or Turkey.”
Aziraphale allowed himself to imagine them both at the edge of a turquoise sea, sun beating down on their shoulders, sky blue as anything. He saw himself leaning back into Crowley, flush against his thin chest. Crowley’s long arms wrapped around Aziraphale’s front. He imagined the pair of them at peace for once. Relaxed, still, savouring. They would have a small home, a place to live that overlooked the water. They would never leave. “And when would you have let me in on this getaway plan?”
Crowley laughed quietly. “Somewhere ‘round Croatia, I expect.”
“I think one might call that a kidnapping,” Aziraphale responded, taking pleasure in embracing this momentary levity.
“Nah. I would’ve convinced you. I can be very persuasive, when I want something.”
Aziraphale could hear Crowley’s smile in his words, matched it with his own. “I dare say you can, my dear boy.”
“I have to go. But tomorrow, I’ll call you.” Crowley sighed.
The fantasy was over, for now. “I’ll be waiting. And Crowley?”
“I love you.” Aziraphale could hear the sharp intake of breath in his ear. To say it, to allow the universe to know he loved Crowley felt like the most natural thing in the world, and yet it was still very new, very fresh. They were words he had said to hundreds of people thousands of times, but for Crowley they were spring green.
“I love you, Aziraphale. Tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow.” Aziraphale let Crowley end the call, then pulling the phone back from his ear, he called one of the only other numbers he bothered with. The phone rang twice.
“Aziraphale? Is everything okay?” Anathema sounded tired, worried, but not annoyed or mad.
“I’m sorry, my dear. I know how late it is. I have a question of some urgency, and would appreciate your discretion.”
“Always. What’s happening?”
He took a deep breath. Closed his eyes. “Your group. The ones that get people into the country. Could they do the reverse, you think?”
A moment of confused silence. “What do you mean?”
He cursed himself for not being more explicit. He did not have to dance around this with her. “Could they get someone out? Could they get someone somewhere else without detection?”
“Oh, Aziraphale…” She understood now.
“Money isn’t an issue.”
“I can ask.”
He released the breath he had been holding. “Thank you, Anathema. I am in your debt.”
2. The Cross
It was all embarrassingly cliché. A parking garage at the edge of the city, wee hours of the morning. It was deserted and he watched the on-ramp to the level where he was parked intently from the front seat of his car. The fluorescent lights flickered menacingly overhead. He checked his watch. She wasn’t late, not yet.
As if on cue, a car pulled up the on-ramp and pulled into a space just down from Crowley. The driver flicked off the lights and opened the door. She emerged, dressed in a suit like she had only just come from work though it was well past 1:00am. Michael.
It had been a gamble, asking her to meet him. He didn’t actually think she’d have agreed given the circumstances. But she had given in, swayed by Crowley’s assurances that it was impossible for him to get back into it without having a full conversation with her.
He exited his car and approached her, slow, hands up. “Michael.”
She rolled her eyes and laughed unkindly. “Come off it. Crowley. I know you’re not going to shoot me. You’re not that daft. What do you want? What do you need to say that couldn’t be done on the phone?”
Crowley shoved his hands in his pockets, tried to relax his shoulders. “You shouldn’t have left me out of this, this scheme you’re running.”
She crossed her arms. “I’m not running anything.”
“Yeah, right, whatever. You should’ve let me in on it. I know more about the family than anyone. I could’ve actually helped.”
She laughed again. That stupid sarcastic laugh. Crowley clenched his jaw to keep from sneering at her. “A week ago you were cursing me out and willing to sacrifice your colleagues to have the moral high ground and now you’ve pulled me out here to some, where are we, some car park because you want to be in on it ? How stupid do you think I am?”
“I don’t think you’re stupid at all. That’s why I know you’re involved in this thing, whatever it is. And I know you can use me. You know how good I am, Michael. You pretend you don’t, but I’m the fucking best. Who else could be in with the family for four years without even the fucking suggestion of breaking cover? No one. No one has, except for me. I don’t know what it is you’re doing now, and what you’re getting out of it but I can tell you this: with me it’ll be better. You’ll get everything you want.”
She stared him down. Then in a flash she checked over her shoulders, taking a full scan of the space, looking for people, cameras. There were none. “You’re wearing a wire.”
He laughed and lifted his shirt, revealing bare skin. “I’m not wearing a fucking wire. How stupid do you think I am ?” He spat her delivery back at her.
“Why should I trust you?” There was the slightest waver of vulnerability on her normally stoic facade.
“Because I have something to lose now.” He let it hang in the air between them. Let the truth colour their conversation. He felt the threats she had made earlier against Aziraphale were empty, a scare tactic only. He hoped with every fibre of his being that he was right. That didn’t mean that he wasn’t scared for him, that this whole bloody caper didn’t make him so terrified that he thought he might shake out of his own skin. Let her see me scared, he thought, don’t let her know that you think she’s full of shit . “I’ll play your game because I know what you can do to him. I know I’m not in a position to be making requests here but to do this right, I need to know more. The less I know, the more likely I’m going to make the wrong move.”
The silence held between them. Crowley watched the small movements of Michael’s face, watched her think.
“Okay.” She said, after a long internal debate. “Okay. But if you fuck me over again, you remember what I said.”
“Yeah. I remember.”
She didn’t tell him everything then, but she told him enough. Her contacts in the family, how it started, where the money was going and how it got there. It was enough. There were threads there to be unravelled. Not by him maybe, but it was the start someone would need.
She drove away as he slipped back into his car. Before landing hard in the driver’s seat he pulled his phone out of his back pocket, turned off the recording. It had been in plain sight. He had wondered if this had been too bold a gambit, if the fact that everyone had a phone now would simply cancel out someone noticing one. It would have been obvious to any good investigator, but Michael had been behind a desk for years now. She had called him sloppy. She was sloppy.
Crowley smiled, turned the key in the ignition, and shifted the car into first gear.
“Sorry, are you…?”
Crowley looked up from his place on a park bench to the blonde, middle-aged woman wrapped in sky blue coat standing in front of him. “Uh, Marjorie. I mean, you’re Marjorie.” He recognized her from her picture beside her byline in the paper.
“You are Crowley, then.” Her voice was low. She took a seat beside him, watched the tourists pass them by.
She had suggested the meeting spot, and he had worried that St. James Park would be too conspicuous a meeting point, right in the middle of London. But he shouldn’t have been. Even in this wicked March weather there were still swarms of tourists to fade into. No one had looked at him twice.
Marjorie Potts was a veteran crime reporter, her name synonymous with blowing the cover off stories, scandals that brought down the powerful and mighty. She had a network of sources that rivaled the London public transit system and her word was her bond. Marjorie Potts would have sooner died than burned a source. And that’s why he had called her office line, dropping hints of what he knew, and setting up this rendezvous.
“What do you have for me?” All business, this one.
He reached into the breast pocket of his coat and unearthed a small flash drive. “It’s all here.” Crowley placed it on the bench between them, and with a small movement, she picked it up and slipped it in her pocket. He watched a tour group go by, chatting and laughing as they took pictures on their phones. “I’ve done some digging. There’s quite a bit on there. If you use any of it I’d like to know. I know you won’t identify me but there won’t be any question of who gave it to you, not to the police. Before it’s published, I want to leave town for a bit.”
“Understood. I can let you know that. I can’t tell you what I’ll write -”
Crowley cut her off. “Don’t worry, I know how it works. But if you could text me a publication date?”
There was nothing else to say. Crowley stood and sauntered away, not turning back.
Time to disappear.
CROWLEY: past security. all good.
AZIRAPHALE: Good. And your flight’s on time?
CROWLEY: ya. real question is customs on the other end, but should b ok
CROWLEY: they gave me a new name
AZIRAPHALE: Tell me.
CROWLEY: anthony j crawly
AZIRAPHALE: Lovely. What’s the J stand for?
AZIRAPHALE: That’s very efficient.
After Marjorie sent Crowley the publication date, things moved quickly. Aziraphale had wanted to see him before he left, wanted a stolen moment somewhere in some dingy cafe in a neighbourhood not worth remembering, but Crowley was adamant. As rumours of the news story to come spread through the police force, it couldn’t be risked. Instead, Anathema met Crowley in a car park outside an Ikea, passed over a new passport, ID, work permit. A new name for a new man.
Aziraphale paced nervously in his flat until he got the texts from Crowley that he was in the airport, then past the security checks, and then finally boarding the plane. Crowley had then left the phone in the airport, saying he’d get a new one on the other side. After receiving Crowley’s final text - i love you, Aziraphale. Soon - Aziraphale had found tears snaking their way down his cheeks. He had always been emotional of course, but Crowley had made a crier of him. He had never shed so many tears as in the last few months. The thought of Crowley boarding a plane to a place he’d never been with a name that was not his, all on his own, broke Aziraphale’s heart.
He was blowing his nose for the upteenth time when Anathema arrived, brandishing a package of digestive biscuits, and a small bag of items from Crowley.
“He told me to give you this,” she said, handing Aziraphale the bag and wrapping her arms around him tightly. He leaned into her, holding her small frame to him. He was so grateful he could hardly speak, his thankfulness for her presence welling up inside him. “He also told me to give you some other things too but I think he was joking.”
Aziraphale felt himself go quite pink. He pulled back to see her smirking face. “Oh dear. I hope it wasn’t too much information.”
Anathema brought her hand up and wiped the lingering wetness from Aziraphale’s cheeks. “Nothing I haven’t heard before. Why don’t I make tea?”
She wandered into the kitchen, leaving Aziraphale to fold into his couch. “You’re a saint,” he called after her.
“I’ve got a few miracles under my belt,” said her disembodied voice from the kitchen.
The tears returned, happier this time.
5. Choose your face wisely
Aziraphale drove Crowley’s car through the darkened Brighton streets. There were few people wandering about in the spitting rain. Everyone’s collars were turned up against the wind, hats and hoods pulled down over eyes. He might as well as been invisible. That was perfect.
He pulled the car in against the curb, double checking the address written out in Crowley’s hand on a small slip of paper.
Entering the dim, grungy lobby of the inn, he checked in with the distracted host, who was mercifully more focused on her word puzzle than the face of the man who gave his name as Crowley. He was dressed in black then, foreign to him, but at Crowley’s wise insistence.
He took his key and his bag to the small room. It was beige all over, with two twin beds pushed against either wall. No art, not a single thing to be remembered. It was a room for laying down one’s head at night, but Aziraphale wouldn’t be sleeping, no.
He pressed down on the mattress of the closest bed with his hands. The bed croaked ominously. What a place to stay. Aziraphale sat on the bed, cringed as it groaned beneath his weight. The red glare of the clock radio beamed out at him, the only bright colour in this muted space.
It would be a few more hours now. He hadn’t brought a book with him, but he couldn't read anything in this state, even if he had wanted to. His legs bounced restlessly, his hands and fingers drifted anxiously over the black jacket, the worn bedspread. This would have to be perfect, perfect. Over and over he replayed the steps, near identical to how they had first arrived to him on his knees in the Barbican courtyard.
The hours stretched out before him. It seemed a universal truth that time moved slowly, when you watched it. And it wasn’t that he had a specific time in mind. He would know when it was right.
The right time became 2:00, when he could sit no longer. At the door of the room, Aziraphale stopped himself, reminded himself who he was and why he was doing this. With a long inhale, he bowed his head and closed his eyes.
Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
you preserve my life.
You stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes;
with your right hand you save me.
Lord, he thought, please know that I have given you as much of me as I could allow. Please stay with me tonight. Guide me, so that I can protect the man that I love.
Clutching his bag, Aziraphale left the inn through the deserted lobby and walked steadily, head down, towards the water. He could hear it from several blocks away, the surf crashing about the beach. The sound of the rush caught in Aziraphale’s throat. He remembered Crowley on that beach, months ago. Windswept and sand battered. He would see him soon.
On the beach he moved down on the sand, next to the pier. He scanned the area surrounding him for late night stragglers, drunks coming home from the bar. No one. He was alone here, as he needed to be.
From the bag in his hand he extracted a leather jacket, Crowley’s leather jacket. He grasped the material in his hands, felt its weight and texture. Bringing it to his face he breathed in Crowley’s scent, which still lingered. What a waste , he thought, his eyes tightly closed, willing himself to never forget this smell. This was such a lovely coat. After a beat, he folded it best he could and laid it on the sand. Inside he tucked Crowley’s passport, and his wallet with identification. The false note.
Aziraphale observed it there, that package meant to deceive. Was it enough? He prayed it was.
Now for the final measure. Aziraphale slipped off his shoes and socks, felt the cold air on his feet as they sunk into the sand. He walked towards the water. In all likelihood, the bad weather would eliminate any footprints by morning, but he didn’t want to take any chances. He waded into the sea, pulling up his pant legs until the frigid water met him mid calf. “Jesus Christ,” he bit out through his teeth. He normally made efforts to avoid using His name in that way but it was bloody cold. For distraction as much as protection, Aziraphale recited prayers under his breath. He began to walk down the beach, still in the water, any indents in the sand he made washed away.
One hundred metres, two hundred. Three. That should be enough. His teeth were chattering now. The chill ran up his legs and he shivered as he moved back up towards the street, making some effort to obscure his footprints behind him. He cast his eyes up and down the beach. Mercifully, he remained the sole body upon it. He made a futile attempt at brushing the sand off his feet, giving up quickly and putting his socks and shoes back on. There was no warmth there now. Just bitter, awful cold.
In the quiet that only accompanies a time like three in the morning, Aziraphale walked through the town, towards the train station. His mind blank, his body weary. He took off the black coat, the hat, shoved them in a public rubbish bin without slowing. Finally, he reached the station. He checked his watch. The first train of the city would leave in under and hour. He paid his fare in cash.
On the train his body fell into a trance like state, near catatonic from lack of sleep and the adrenaline crash. He wanted to fall asleep but ran from it. He felt paranoid, had to restrain himself from staring into security cameras, shooting unreasonable glances at early morning commuters.
From the station in London he took transit home, using a newly purchased travel card, which he threw out upon exiting the station nearest home. Leave no trace. Leave nothing of yourself.
Aziraphale made it home, closed and locked the door behind him, and involuntarily collapsed into it. He had never felt this tired, not once in his life. His physical body felt weak, his emotions drained. Mentally he doubted he could construct a complete sentence. He slid to the floor and stayed there for some time. Perhaps he fell asleep, he didn’t know, he was long past caring about the concept of time.
Eventually, he pulled himself up and walked into his bathroom, turned on the water. He pulled off his sweater, his trousers. Everything else. Let them fall to the floor in untidy, careless piles. The sand from the beach was in every seam, spilling out onto the tiled floor. Turning towards the sink, Aziraphale caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror. Wretched, just wretched. He looked so much older than he had just a month ago, a day ago even. He felt he had aged ten years overnight.
The steam from the tub rose thickly into the air, and he stepped in. His skin immediately went pink in the near scalding water, but he could barely feel it. He lowered himself heavily into the bath, and watched passively as some of the water went over the edge of the tub. He slid in lower, trying to submerge all of himself, hoping that the warmth would somehow reach his stiff, cold bones.
He heard it, rather than felt it. Himself crying, that is. The sound of his own strangled, open mouthed sobs echoing off the shower tile, hollow in his own ears. His chest heaved with the effort, but he couldn’t stop. The well of anger, of sadness, of effort erupted inside him. He was tired, he was so Goddamned tired.
Why had God chosen him for this? Why had he been built to love Crowley and to be part of this twisted world he had wanted to escape from? Aziraphale was not a mastermind. He had never fantasized about a dramatic life full of capers and heists, stolen identities and double agents. He had wanted to serve God and be a part of his larger plan. He had thought the real challenge would be life in London, not faking Crowley’s death.
Aziraphale gave himself the gift of this release, not holding the tears in, allowing his lungs to contract, his voice to go hoarse.
I hate this. I love him. I hate this. I love him more than I have loved anyone, even You.
When the water went cool, and his tears came to a stop, Aziraphale silently lifted himself out of the tub. With the towel behind the door, he absentmindedly and half heartedly dried himself off. He walked into the bedroom, climbed between the sheets, still damp with bathwater, and fell asleep until late that evening.
6. End times
“I can’t believe this is happening. I feel like you just got here.” Anathema examined one of Aziraphale’s shirts from the wardrobe, held it out towards him. “Do you want this one?”
He looked up from his position, hunched over the suitcase laid open on the bed. Shook his head, no. She tossed it in a laundry basket full of others he had decided to give away. “I don’t think this was meant to be the end of the line for me. A transitional place, I suppose.” He was only taking one suitcase, his whole life in one suitcase.
“And you’re sure about this?” She took another shirt from the wardrobe, showed it to him, tossed it in the basket as he rejected it with a flick of his hand.
“Yes.” How could he explain this thing he was doing? This unreasonable, wild thing. “I’m not always comfortable with it.” He stood up and caught her brown eyes with his blue ones, wanting to transfer understanding. “I’m nervous sometimes. But it doesn’t cancel out the certainty. I know.”
“Okay,” she said, smiling sadly. She held up another shirt to him, slim cut, soft and black. “Oh, this is not yours.”
“It’s not but I need that one.”
A soft smile of realization reached her eyes. She tossed the shirt over to him and he caught it in the air, folded it, place it softly in the suitcase.
In the sitting room they sorted through books, with Anathema becoming increasingly alarmed as Aziraphale placed each one in a box for the charity shop. “Aziraphale, don’t you want any of these?”
“Of course I do, my dear. But one must be practical. One suitcase, and all that.”
“One suitcase,” she echoed, picking up a dog eared paperback, letting her eyes linger on the faded cover.
He eyes flitted over to see what she was holding. Plato’s Symposium, his copy from school. “Oh… oh I think I’ll keep that.” She handed it over to him, watched his face awash in nostalgia.
...so ancient is the desire of one another which is implanted in us, reuniting our original nature, making one of two, and healing the state of man.
“It looks well loved.” She said, her voice warm.
“It is well loved. Very well loved indeed.” He had always loved things well.
In the end, it was only the Symposium and his Bible that made it into the small bag he was taking as a carry-on.
The pair of them surveyed all that would be left behind. “You can take whatever you like, you know.” Aziraphale said, reaching out beside him and taking Anathema’s hand. “You could take it all, and none of it would be enough to repay you for all you have done for me.”
She gripped his fingers tightly. He daren’t look at her. “I’ll miss you.” She said, a tremble in her voice.
He felt as if he were holding back a tsunami. “I am so sorry to be leaving you like this. I only hope my replacement understands what a treasure they have in you.”
They turned to one other, could see the tears that lined both their eyes.
“Oh, my dear.” He embraced her, holding her tight against him, maybe a little too hard. Her hands came up around his back and she grasped at his sweater. They held each other there for longer than they ever had before, sniffing against the tears .
When they finally parted, Aziraphale held her chin with his hand, marveling at her beauty for what might be the last time. “That’s a good girl. We’ll both be fine. The world isn’t ending.”
She shook her head. No, it was just beginning. “Maybe I can come see you, one day, when everyone forgets.”
“There would be few greater pleasures, Anathema, than to see you again.” He kissed her forehead, memorized her heart.
I love you, my darling, he had said as she left. He watched her form retreat down the pavement away from him, leaving him with bittersweet ache.
7. We can go off together
As the last of the passengers boarded, the flight attendant wandered through the aisles, offering the days’ paper. Aziraphale received a copy of the Times, held it in front of him. Just there, above the fold, underneath the April 18 publication date: “Corruption at every level” - Metropolitan Police scramble at insider accusations that Organized Crime Unit has been compromised by Walker crime family.
Aziraphale didn’t read the article, which was now being reported on and dissected by radio and television programs throughout the country. If he had, he might have seen that the paper didn’t mention that its key source had gone missing, presumed dead in the past few weeks, though they almost certainly knew. Perhaps later on Marjorie Potts would train her award-winning journalist's eye on this incident, unable to settle the uneasiness within her. Perhaps she would find the records, review the evidence, and come to the conclusion that one Mr. Crowley was not dead at all. Perhaps she would do the thing she was best at, and track down the whereabouts of a Mr. A. J. Crawly in a small community across the ocean, and perhaps she would ultimately choose to say nothing to anyone about it.
He folded the paper and placed it in the seat pocket in front of him, satisfied. When he remembered how the detectives had come to him, had spoken to him, he still felt the burn of anger in his throat, the fire in his chest. He shied away from vengeance, but did not force himself to wish mercy on them. That was God’s job. Not his.
The plane was taxiing now, then taking off. Up to 20,000 feet in the air. Hurtling across the Atlantic. Away from everything he had ever known, into a world in which he had no experience.
He was almost home.
A connection in one city, then a short flight to his final destination. Customs. No hiccups. Not a thing out of the ordinary. Welcome to Halifax, Nova Scotia. The colonies. He hadn’t asked why this place had been chosen. It hadn't occurred to him at the time. As the plane approached for landing, he looked down at the endless lakes and forests, could see plainly his proximity to the ocean, and felt calm arrive within him.
There was an escalator down into the waiting area. His heart leapt in his chest, rattling his ribs, making his whole body vibrate with anticipation. He was just steps away now. Aziraphale paused, careful not to get in the way of travellers rushing down to greet their loved ones, like he would too in a moment. At the bottom of the escalator, a new world awaited.
This was it, the last in-between . How far he had come from what he knew. He had always been built for love, made for it and from it. But he had never thought he deserved this, a new start with no agenda other than to be by Crowley’s side. Was it fate or was it luck? Did it even matter? His whole self beat with the prospect of it.
There would be complications. Nothing that came to be in quite the way that this had come to be would be without speed bumps. But if they could do all they had done, if they could overcome these particular and peculiar adversities, then the rest was child’s play.
He fortified himself, and approached the escalator.
And there he was. There, just at the bottom, just as he ever had been, except…
Even at this distance, there was a radiance around Crowley, a halo of lightness and joy and desire that reached out and took Aziraphale inside of it. Aziraphale had never seen Crowley like this before. There had always been something in the way of it.
Their eyes met with a jolt, and any anxiety that still lived in Aziraphale was exorcised. Here was his beloved, his most perfect creature given to him by God. His reward. In his ecstasy, he began to laugh and Crowley responded in kind as they got closer and closer.
Aziraphale walked off the escalator and didn’t stop until he was firmly in Crowley’s arms, still laughing, projecting bliss from his very core. They held each other hard, delirious with the having gotten away with it, having gotten out alive and together and together and together.
“I can’t believe it. My clever, clever man. I can’t believe you’re here.” Crowley said, his voice full of wonder and fascination. “I love you. I love you so.”
“Oh, my love. I never would have been so bold to have prayed for you to be delivered to me.”
They kissed there, in the bright airport reception, families embracing around them, joining hearts and hands. They kissed like it was their first, their last. The end and the beginning.
All the hymns in every book in the back of every pew that existed could not have dared to inspire the full bodied and profound elation which would now be in constant accompaniment to their love.
You were brought here by someone who loves you dearly.
They went forth, with a daring and a tender love.
The bible verse in part 5 of this chapter is Psalm 138, NIV.
The text exchange in part 4 is lifted from an old Simpsons gag where Homer searches for what his middle initial stands for, and it turns out after series of goofs to just be “Jay.” I haven’t seen anyone reference this yet and it’s basically the only thing that comes to my mind whenever I remember the scene from the church on the show - “Just a ‘j’, really.”
Go forth, with a daring and a tender love, friends.
The kitchen in their cottage faced east, towards the sea. The morning light filled the space each day with an unearthly glow, warming the tabletop, the tile floor. Spring turned to summer turned to fall, and with little discussion they picked up each other’s daily patterns.
Crowley always rose first, made tea. Each morning Aziraphale would offer to do it, to put the fire on and warm the house if it was needed, and Crowley would insist. “Don’t you dare. I’ve got this.” He blossomed while performing these small acts. With the weight of the world off his shoulders, he existed in a state of joyous freedom. It made Aziraphale ache with happiness, if there even was such a thing.
Aziraphale would get up from bed eventually, and join Crowley in the kitchen. Taking his perfectly prepared cup of tea, he would approach the seated Crowley from behind and rake his fingers through the now long red hair, flecks of grey settling in at the temples. ( “I’ll cut it if you like.” “No, don’t. I love it. I love you.” ) Drawing Crowley’s face back Aziraphale would place a kiss on his forehead, let his hand caress Crowley’s neck, slip under his shirt to feel his bare chest. Every morning, this quiet vignette. They basked in each others warmth, unhindered.
It wasn’t all perfect. On occasion Aziraphale would hear Crowley sigh loudly from the kitchen, followed by the sound of cabinets snapping shut. “You never close these doors,” he would call out, annoyed. “One of these days I’m going to walk into one in the dark and break my nose and you’re going to feel terrible.” Aziraphale would stifle a laugh, yell out an apology from wherever he was in the house.
Similarly, more than once he had searched Crowley out, looking for some item or other that Crowley had put in a mystery location in a fit of tidying. “Really, my dear. I don’t know why you’re so obsessive about this. It’s not like we have company.”
But he had never had these before. These minor domestic tiffs. And as they happened, behind his vexation was a thrill. They could bicker because Crowley was his, belonged to him.
On an early evening, when the house was still empty but for the bare essentials, Crowley played a song from his phone as he cleaned up after dinner.
“What’s that?” Aziraphale called from the other room where he thumbed through a book picked up from the nearby thrift shop.
“Velvet Underground. Come here a sec’!” Crowley called back, drying his hands on a dishtowel, turning to face the former reverend as he wandered in. “Dance with me,” he said, arms outstretched.
Aziraphale blushed, shook his head. “Oh Crowley, I’ve never been much of a dancer.”
“Like hell you’re not.” Crowley slipped his arm around Aziraphale with confidence, took the shorter man’s hand in his and led.
Aziraphale pressed his face into Crowley’s shoulder, still flushing, as much from Crowley’s touch now as being pulled into a dance. They swayed to the tinny music emanating from the phone speaker, pressed together, breathless.
Crowley ghosted a kiss over Aziraphale’s ear, whispered, “Suppose we got married.”
Aziraphale didn’t flinch, didn’t break away. Just smiled into the soft fabric of Crowley’s shirt. “I didn’t think you were the type, my darling.”
“You’re my type.”
They pulled back to look at one another, coming to stillness. Aziraphale kissed Crowley, holding tight to him, lips searching for any sign of reluctance or second thoughts and finding none.
Years later, he will watch from the window as Crowley putters in the garden, hair tied back, dirt under his fingernails, and Aziraphale will ache in want of him. He is in wonder at the fact that after all this time that he still feels as certain as he does. That his love of Crowley feels like, has always felt like, this celestial thing, bigger than them and this cottage and this country. Expansive and endless.
Crowley will look up and see Aziraphale watching him. Will smile in a way that cracks open Aziraphale’s ribs as if for the first time.
Ah, there it is, Aziraphale thinks, as he does nearly every time he looks at his husband. The face of God.
The first chapter of this story came to me very early one morning at the end of June. The whole thing all at once. It rolled around in my mind all day, until I thought around 9:00 at night, “Maybe I should write this down.” I wrote the whole thing then, straight until 3:00am, delirious with want of sleep. I felt possessed, like I couldn’t stop until it was all outside of me, in print. I’d never experienced anything like that, and it was exhilarating.
To share this story was scary, but it ought not to have been. Without the comments and feedback I received here, this story would have never grown into what it is - something I am very proud of. You, dear reader, made it a better, more complex and interesting story. Some of you have reached out to me and shared your thoughts on the story, songs you think fit it. I am touched beyond measure.
These characters opened up something in me, and I know I’m not alone in saying so. Among many things, Good Omens shows us that the world is very complicated, but worth saving. A radical thing in very hard times.
Thank you for reading. It means the world to me.