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Da Capo al Fine

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 It began, as it often does, with a melody.

A string of notes, no words, no obvious tie to any existing piece—just a lilting cadence of chords and harmonies strung out across the ivories. It was a changeable piece, starting ponderously slow and morose, then shifting dynamically and assuming a buoyant and utterly alive gait, the notes galloping off of the piano to circle the dining room and then retreat backwards into a haltingly despairing plea. 

Seated as he was in the far corner of the Ritz, Aziraphale could not in fact see the pianist and had to settle instead for his imagination, picturing eyes gliding all but sightlessly across the music as those hands danced by muscle memory across the keys.

Music had been a guilty pleasure of his since its inevitable origins in the very early days of civilization, and his greatest delight was in observing musicians as they performed. It was an act of beauty to watch their hands flit across the keys or strings, to observe their eyes studiously fixed on their pages at hand, to follow the movement of a vocalist’s mouth and see every word formed before it passed seamlessly across the vocal cords and into the air.

Music was a language of its own, and one he spoke and inherently understood more thoroughly than perhaps any other on the planet. It went back to the harmonies of Heaven, of course, but if he were to be honest with himself the deceptively simple beauty of a musical work reached even deeper and resonated within the innermost chords of his existence.

He sighed, sinking back in his chair and folding his hands demurely on the table, allowing his eyes to flicker closed and the music to wash over him.

For a long moment, he simply listened, letting the music flow around him and catch him up in its current, bearing him away from his lonely little table and into a great, churning void of sound and the imagery it evinced. Unbidden tears arose in his eyes as the pianist struck a particularly compelling chord, settling into a minor key that cried out in a most singular form of rejection and despair.

It seemed fitting to be there in the Ritz dining room this afternoon, alone but for the melody that curled and twined about him like a lonely cat reuniting with its master. Melancholy surged and flared up around him, scrabbling for a handhold within his core. Scowling, he beat it back down, digging deep within himself to summon that unyielding love and effervescence that had served him so well these last six thousand years, his shield against the more uncomfortable and unpleasant emotions that all too often battered their way through his well-worn defenses.

If he were being honest with himself, he could pinpoint exactly the moment his current bleak mood had set in—a good three hours ago, when he had phoned Crowley to ask him for lunch and had reached only the demon’s voicemail, with no indication of his pending whereabouts.

It had been a week since the averted Apocalypse, and up until that particular afternoon Aziraphale and Crowley had spent the majority of each day afterward in one another’s company, nary a second of separation in between.

Aziraphale had not expected this day to be any different.

Now, sitting alone and bereft of Crowley’s company, he was left to ponder each of those uncomfortable truths he had been diligently avoiding since Adam had foiled Armageddon.

All of the ‘whys’ and ‘wherefores’ that had dogged his choices these last six millennia, all of the ups and downs and miracles and temptations—they all came back to one, singular focal point that had Aziraphale caught firmly within its orbit.

Crowley.

A black hole, he once believed, an insatiable, ravenous, devious being that sucked in anything within range—particularly Aziraphale—holding him close, refusing to relinquish, always there and always tempting.

Time, and an inherent understanding of Crowley’s deeper nature, had altered that initial impression—Crowley was a nebula, brilliant and incomprehensible, Aziraphale caught up within and among and around him, willingly, willfully, without hesitation or pause.

Compassion and empathy (and love) had no standing in the divide between angels and demons.

But as they are so often wont to do, circumstances had long worked against them.

Allegiances had prevented anything more than a few fleeting moments interspersed throughout the centuries. Fear of repercussions—not for himself, never for himself—kept him from acknowledging any sort of change in his regard for the demon.

Grade-A, undeniable, willful obstinance had prevented the vocalization of the Very Obvious Truth that had long since dogged both of their footsteps.

Foolishly, Aziraphale had entertained the notion that, in the wake of the failed Apocalypse, his own unique circumstances might magically sort themselves out without any additional intervention on his own part.

He might have known it would never be so easy.

Keys jangled out a jarring sequence of notes as the pianist shifted gears, the tranquil tone of the music assuming a much more melancholic air—a perfect mirror to Aziraphale’s current forlorn state. His breath caught in his throat as a sudden swell of emotions swept up and out of their carefully-constructed restraints, the melody leeching him dry. He curled shaking fingers around the base of his wineglass and raised it to his lips, draining the remainder of the red liquid in a single gulp, swallowing heavily and shuttering his eyes closed at the achingly lonely timber of the melody echoing lowly through the room.

The glass refilled with a flick of his fingers.

As the afternoon wore on, the dining room gradually began to empty, the music interminable, continuing on and on in one endless story. The threat (promise?) of imminent change hovered over Aziraphale, a massive, invisible humid cloud that threatened to cut loose at any moment. It had been such for the last seven days, eased only by Crowley’s near-constant presence. Without it, he could feel the line tip inward, the dam crack as it came closer and closer to breaking, the weight of forever breaking heavily across his shoulders.

This is where Crowley would summon the waiter with a flick of his wrist (as it by magic), offer to tempt Aziraphale to dessert, procure a glass of dessert wine, something, anything—

Aziraphale’s unnecessary heart gave a dull pang at the reminder of the demon’s absence, feeling it more strongly now that he was halfway into his wine bottle. He had thought there was an understanding now, unspoken, entirely implicit, but there. They were on their own side, partners, and, Aziraphale dared to hope, potentially something more if he could ever muster his resolve and turn their carefully-constructed status quo on its head.

 

But that’s not how it worked.

 

That's not how it had ever worked, how it would ever work if he didn't pull his head out of his arse and stop being so angelic. It was his own fault, and he knew it. Century after century of carefully-constructed distance between them could not be erased with the dissolution of an eleven-year-in-the-making non-Apocalypse. There was still that chasm, that sense of careening out of control down a winding slope, no brakes and unable to stop—“you go too fast for me, Crowley”-- 

the sudden crash of the music in the background jolted him out of his thoughts, a harsh cacophony of noise as the pianist all but slammed her (his?) hands against the keys, a jarring, jolting, abrasive resolution to a chaotic series of chords. Utter chaos, but somehow it fit the piece, settling back down into a solemn, regretful progression of notes that did nothing to ease the ache in Aziraphale’s chest.

Sighing, he drank again, resolving to finish this glass and then go on his way. He had thought today might be the day, the day he finally mustered his resolve and did something—did anything—but Crowley’s notable absence had ruined any plans to perhaps take that final, terrifying step forward. Now, on top of his own doldrums he also found himself plagued by an incessant worry for the demon that the idea of their supposed newfound “freedom” could not wholly ease.

He raised his hand to summon his server. “I’ll take the check, if you please,” he requested softly.

The woman smiled, tilting her head to stare down at him. “It’s already been taken care of, sir,” she replied, eyes cutting discreetly to where the pianist sat hidden in the corner, obscured by several tables, the few remaining patrons, and one rather impressive ficus.

Aziraphale’s eyebrows shot skywards, eyes narrowing. Surely not... “If you will excuse me,” he murmured, rising and sliding his seat back in place under the table, barely hearing her “Of course, sir,” as she whisked away his empty wine glass and bottle.

Utterly bemused, he picked his way across the dining room to the baby grand piano. The only benefit to an early-turned-mid-afternoon bottle of wine was that most of the tables had emptied while he stared into his Malbec, which mercifully meant fewer feet and chairs to function as tripping hazards—a particularly fortuitous turn of events as he staggered to an ungainly halt once he reached the piano and realized just exactly who it was playing the melody that had held him so enraptured.

“Crowley?” he squawked incredulously. “What—you—when on earth did you take up playing the piano?”

Not taking his hands from the keys, the demon offered a too-casual shrug of his shoulders, face carefully blank. “Oh, I was good friends with old Beethoven back in the day,” he supplied, and oh how Aziraphale damned those glasses for hiding his eyes. “Picked it up as a way to get in with his crowds, make a few temptations, and it…stuck…a bit.”

“I’d say it did more than a bit that that,” Aziraphale offered weakly, caught completely wrong-footed. He took a deep breath, eyes closing, letting that melody catch him up in its grasp, unfurling and wrapping itself around him in a cascade of notes. He knew, in the way he knew the man two tables down was newly a grandfather and the woman three tables down to the left had just gotten engaged, that the piece was not something that existed anywhere within the repertoire of published music. “You wrote this,” he murmured, slipping between the slight gap between the edge of the piano and the wall to hover behind Crowley at the bench. “Oh, my dear.”

Crowley coughed lightly, tilting his head just enough so that he could cast a side glance back at the angel. “Still writing, actually,” he confessed resignedly, a dull pink flush touching his cheeks. “Might be in the process of a bit of reckless improvisation.”

And wasn’t that a bolt straight to the heart?

Aziraphale was entranced, watching Crowley’s lean fingers dance across the keys, caressing white and then black in a glorious, contrasting harmony as he sounded out a refrain that bypassed Aziraphale’s ears to cut straight to his soul. It was more than a simple song, more than just a piece composed on a whim one day on a random Saturday afternoon at the Ritz.

 

It was a love story.

Their love story.

 

Shaking, the angel lowered himself to sit beside Crowley, the seat cushion giving slightly as he settled into place. “May I?” he asked softly, setting one hand on Crowley’s wrist in a silent plea, feeling the tendons in his hand jump with the movement of his fingers. 

And this, this was so unlike Aziraphale, so spontaneous, so terribly out of character and almost reckless by his standards, to dive in unknowingly, without a script or rules or any guidance whatsoever—

“Of course,” Crowley answered, and just like that his hands were slipping off the keys and Aziraphale’s were sliding into their place, fitting comfortably over the ivories and shifting the piece into a softer, slower style as he sought to channel everything turning over and over within his head into the music.

He could feel Crowley beside him, feel that lean frame taut with ill-repressed tension, just the hint of inquiry hovering on the edge of his awareness. “Mozart,” Aziraphale offered, interpreting Crowley’s silent question. “Might have had a bit of a hand in the composition of his Requiem.” His hands danced, slipping up to a higher octave, tracing the black keys as he sought that minor harmony to let his apology and uncertainty ring true. “Dearest, if it wouldn’t be too much trouble…” He offered a small smile in Crowley’s general direction. “Take off your glasses?”

Silently, the demon removed the lenses, setting them beside him on the piano bench, his eyes fixated on Aziraphale’s hands and their gentle trip across the piano.

Aziraphale’s brow furrowed, his tempo increasing, notes rising to a crescendo as he reached the end of his apology, dying away in a sudden diminuendo as he settled into a slower, softer entreaty. It resonated with hope, offered up everything the angel was and thought he could be, left it raw and exposed and pulsing before Crowley’s bright eyes and discerning ear. 

The angel kept his head down, hands dancing, terrified of what he would find if he turned to meet Crowley’s liquid gaze.

With a nudge, Crowley shifted Aziraphale toward the upper octaves of the piano, settling his own hands toward the lower register, adding themes from his earlier melody to the angel’s.

“It’s always been you, you know,” he told Aziraphale over the chorus of the keys. “Six thousand years, and it’s only ever been you.”

A stutter in the music, a halting, staggering pause as Aziraphale floundered, mouth slightly agape and eyes blinking rapidly. “I—“ he croaked, and then swallowed, moistening dry lips, “my dear, dear Crowley, it is very much the same for me.” He stumbled back into the regular flow of music, rejoining Crowley in his waltz across the keys. Haltingly, his right hand bridged the gap between Crowley’s left, settling atop it and fitting over his fingers, following their movement. “I only wish I had been able…had the courage to tell you so very much sooner.”

Slowly, liltingly, the music slowed, growing tender and full of so much hope that Aziraphale ached with the force of it. Their hands finally came to rest, still settled against the keys, one of Aziraphale’s still fit snugly atop Crowley’s. The dining room was silent for the first time in hours.

“Oh, angel,” Crowley murmured, voice cracking, his hand flexing beneath Aziraphale’s, “you told me through your actions every day. I was just waiting for the rest of you to catch up.”

Aziraphale shifted on the piano bench until he was fully facing Crowley, hazel eyes bright. “Well,” he said, withdrawing his hand from Crowley’s and bringing it to his own lap, “here I am.” He gave the demon a rather helpless look. “I—“

Crowley gave him a crooked smile. “Oh, do shut up, Aziraphale,” he said fondly, and leaned down to bring their lips together. It was soft, almost tentative, at first, Crowley’s hands rising to cup Aziraphale’s cheeks, his eyes wide and dark. His lips were dry and chapped but smooth, sliding across Aziraphale’s in a gentle rasp as he traced the contours of the angel’s mouth.

“You don’t know how long I’ve been wanting to do that,” he croaked, withdrawing slightly to take an unneeded breath. His thumb rose to trace an errant, wispy curl that fell across the angel’s forehead. Leaning forward, he brought his own forehead to rest against Aziraphale’s, and for a long moment they simply sat, breathing the same air. Finally, Crowley dipped his head down once more, brushed his nose across Aziraphale’s, and kissed him again.

This time, it was not so hesitant.

This time, it was everything Crowley had been keeping contained for so long. 

The hand still at Aziraphale’s cheek curled around his jaw, tipping the angel’s head back. Crowley fed him everything he had put into their song, every long, lonely decade, every century spent fearing rejection, every agonizing, glorious second he had ever spent in Aziraphale’s company. It was a devouring kiss, a delicious slip and slide of skin as Crowley transcribed his song across a new medium. He scooted closer, as close as he could be without them being completely in each other’s laps, his free hand wrapping around Aziraphale’s back and smoothing intricate patterns across his shoulder blades, dipping into the aether to trace the base of his wings.

Aziraphale shuddered in his arms, breath going out of him in a gasp. His head fell to rest on Crowley’s shoulder, his eyelids fluttering, heart fluttering rapidly in his chest. “Oh Crowley,” he murmured. “I love you.” It was a relief, such a painful, wonderful relief, to finally speak the words that had been weighing on him so heavily for so very long. “I love you so much, my dear.”

Inhaling deeply, Crowley pressed his nose to Aziraphale’s hair, humming contentedly. Only the tremble in his hands as they enfolded Aziraphale in a desperate embrace gave away the severity of the emotion coursing through him. “I love you too, angel,” he whispered, so softly that a mortal being would never have heard. “You’ve always been the music in whatever little bit is left of my soul.”

Aziraphale opened his mouth as if to reply—

--and whatever bubble had been surrounding them had apparently popped, as sound and awareness came rushing back to them in a dull roar. Dimly, the angel and demon became aware of the sound of applause, and they reared up in tandem to peer wide-eyed at the dining room and their previously-unnoticed audience.

Shit,” Crowley swore under his breath. Apparently demonic miracles of obscurity only sustained for so long. He rose in one single, fluid motion, extending a hand to Aziraphale. “Time to go?” he asked, and Aziraphale clasped it warmly, letting himself be pulled to his feet and half into Crowley’s arms.

He gave the demon a blinding smile. “Anywhere you want, dearest,” he replied, “anywhere at all.”