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'best friend' doesn't quite cut it

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The first time he says it, it goes like this.

Somewhere in Mesopotamia, when there have been rather more than seven days and several more than two humans wandering the earth, an angel taps a demon on the shoulder and says, “Crawly?”

The demon starts badly, nearly dropping the armful of jugs he’d been carrying. Water sloshes onto the cracked dirt.

“Sorry, sorry!” the angel says, wringing his hands. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

“Itssss—“ Crawly snaps his mouth shut with a click . He clears his throat and tries again, enunciating carefully. “It’s alright.”

The thing is, he’s still not altogether used to having a human mouth. Humans, unlike snakes and demons, have things like molars and lips and big, clunky tongues that are far too easy to bite by accident. He’s gotten better at forming his thoughts into physical words, but the tendency to hiss clings to him like ivy, and try as he might, he can’t shake it, at least not without concentration and no small amount of effort.

“Whatever are you doing here?” Aziraphale asks curiously. He tilts his head to the side in a way that Crawly almost thinks is endearing before he catches himself and forcefully remembers that Aziraphale is, in fact, the Enemy. He is not endearing . He is to be loathed at all times.

“Oh, you know,” he drawls. “Tempting, wiling. The usual.”

“What sort of temptations are you carrying out with those jugs of water, then?” Aziraphale asks, nodding to the three jugs still cradled in Crawly’s arms. His eyes are blue as the sky and completely guileless, simply curious, not accusing in the slightest. Crawly’s own eyes, yellow and slitted and serpentine, flit down to the jugs he’s carrying as he suddenly realizes that he’s going to need to formulate a very quick lie.

“Oh, well, er,” Crawly says, ever eloquent, and attempts to very hurriedly come up with something much more dastardly than the truth, which is that the water is for his garden. He’d taken up gardening as a way to pass the time between temptations, as something to do when he’s not on the clock. He’s not sure if he likes it, and it’s definitely not very old-school demonic of him, but his sense of satisfaction when the flowers bloom is basically pride, so Downstairs can’t have too much of an issue with it. 

“Yes?” Aziraphale prompts when an answer begins to seem unlikely. 

“I’m going to throw water on someone,” Crawly says eventually, and mentally gives himself a very swift kick to the ankle. Stupid.

“Oh!” Aziraphale sounds surprised, if not delighted, before he quickly schools his expression into one of Angelic Disapproval. “And who, pray tell, is the target of this attack?”

“The… priest,” Crawly says slowly, wincing at his own sheer idiocy. 

Unexpectedly, Aziraphale’s eyes light up. “Oh, lovely!”

“Uh. What?” Crawly blinks. That’s new, too. He’d finally gotten around to learning how to blink within the past decade, and he’s still not sure if he likes it, though the eyelids do wonders for keeping sand out of his eyes. 

“Well, it's just that the priest in the village is extremely corrupt, and my head office sent me to have a few words with him. If your side is sending you to make trouble for him, he must be worth saving!” Aziraphale explains. He’s delighted, eyes shining and smile wide, and Crawly experiences a peculiar swooping sensation in the pit of his stomach. He chalks it up to having been standing out in the heat for so long, and resolves to go find someplace cool at once.

“Well, we best get on then. Follow me, Azsss—“ He cuts off, clears his throat, and reroutes to the first thing he can think of. “Angel.”

The angel follows.

The next time it happens, they’re both roaring drunk. Crawly (though he’s thinking of changing it, Crawly isn’t really him ) has been drinking steadily for the past three hours. Aziraphale, who had stumbled upon him halfway through his fourth drink, is equally far gone.

“You’ve never said why we’re drinking,” Aziraphale accuses. He peers contemplatively into his empty mug and it refills obediently. 

Crawly mutters something incomprehensible into his hands. His face is buried in them, elbows on the table, fingers digging into his forehead. Behind his palms, his eyes are squinted shut. 

“You’ll have to speak up,” Aziraphale prompts.

“I ssssaid,” Crawly repeats, removing his hands from his face to stare at Aziraphale wretchedly. “I sssaid that I was almost dissscorporated today.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Aziraphale says, suddenly out of his depth. He motions for the innkeeper to bring over another batch of whatever swill they’re imbibing. It tastes like poison and settles like fire in the stomach, but it’s certainly getting the job done; “the job” being getting the both of them absolutely, wholeheartedly, and potentially fatally plastered. 

“Not your fault,” Crawly grumbles.

“May I ask what transpired?” Aziraphale prompts.

Crawly lets out a sigh, suddenly very interested in the rough wooden tabletop. “It’s my ssstupid eyes.”

“Your eyes?”

“My eyes,” Crawly confirms. A prickly feeling that might be shame or might be alcohol poisoning starts to creep its way into his ribcage. He plucks a splinter from the table and flicks it to the ground, unwilling to look up and meet Aziraphale’s eyes. The angel’s eyes are blue and clear and bright. They’re not wrong

“But your eyes are lovely,” Aziraphale says, indignant, but when Crawly snaps his head up to meet the angel’s gaze there’s not even a hint of deception there. For whatever reason, Aziraphale is telling the truth.

Crawly fights back tears that he blames completely on the alcohol.

“Thanksss, Azsss—“ He lets out a strangled noise and places his forehead onto the table with a thunk. “I give up.”

“You give up?” Aziraphale repeats. Crawly glares at the table and wonders, not for the first time and certainly not the last, if Falling was really worth it, in the end. Sure, he’s out from under the thumb of an apathetic creator who can’t even be bothered to put in an appearance once in awhile, but now he’s got these stupid fucking eyes and his stupid fucking hiss.  

“I fucking give up!” Crawly declares. “I don’t pass for human good enough! I’m better off turning back into a snake and sunning myself for the rest of time!”

“Oh, but then who would I thwart?” Aziraphale counters. 

“They’d send someone else,” Crawly grumbles. “Someone with eyes that don’t say ‘Hey, I’m a demon, beat me to death!’ Someone who doesn’t fucking hiss every time he opens his mouth.”

“You didn’t hiss once during that rant,” Aziraphale points out, not unkindly. He raises an eyebrow and takes a delicate sip out of his cup, only gagging slightly when the alcohol hits his tongue. There’s something cheeky about the way he’s holding his head, the way he’s smiling as though he’s just said something profound, and not for the first time Crawly wanders what it might be like to reach out and touch him.

He squashes that thought back into its box in the darkest corners of his subconscious and says, “Thanksss, angel. Hand me more of this shit. It’s disgusting.”

“Quite.” But he passes the jug anyway, and the angel and the demon begin to, for the first time in either of their existences, venture into a tentative friendship.

“Was this you?” Crawly demands, furious, and he knows there are tears on his face but he just doesn’t fucking care. There are people dead. Human people, good people, who didn’t deserve to die like this.

“Not my side,” Aziraphale answers. While Crawly is kneeling in the dirt, Aziraphale stands tall, staring at the now-deserted village with a stony expression. Around them, bodies litter the street.

“So the humans just up and decided to start killing each other,” Crawly says wretchedly. He laughs, a hollow, terrifying sound. “Brilliant.”

“Well, my side thought it was your lot,” the angel says distantly.

Fury curls in Crawly’s chest. He stands, back straight and shoulders rigid, and points a shaking finger at Aziraphale. The normally rather human fingernail has spontaneously grown itself out into a razor sharp claw, and Crawly knows without opening his mouth that his teeth have sharpened themselves into fine serrated points.

“Don’t you ever, ” he growls, low and full of all of the rage and fear and hurt that’s building in his throat, “ ever think I would do something like thisss.”

“I would never,” Aziraphale reassures him. 

“Good,” Crawly fires back, or at least he tries to. Instead it comes out as a soft exhalation, a relieved breath that forces all of the air, however unnecessary, from his lungs. He sags, all the fight going out of him at once. Humans are dead all around him, and he is so tired.

“Let’s get out of here, yes?” Aziraphale prompts when Crawly continues to stand there uselessly. The wind blows through the empty town and it is a hollow sound. 

“Yesss, pleassse,” Crawly hisses. He doesn’t even try to hide it. He doubts he could, right now.

“I hear the next town over has a lovely fish market,” Aziraphale offers. He places a hand on Crawly’s shoulder and squeezes comfortingly. The touch sends off a round of fireworks in Crawly’s stomach and he leans into it, desperate for the comfort, desperate for something to put his mind at ease.

“Come on then, angel,” he says, using the epithet not only to hide the hiss, but because he wants to. He thinks, for a fraction of a second, that perhaps his fondness for the angel is something to be worried over, but he crams that thought back into its box in favor of taking a few shaking steps toward the setting sun. 

Crowley (he’d changed it a while back) is in the Mediterranean for the summer. It’s a lovely place, he thinks, if a bit confusing with their whole pantheons of gods and goddesses. And the philosophy. For the life of him, Crowley cannot wrap his head around philosophy, despite being an entity about which most philosophers have dedicated no small amount of effort and thought. 

But the wine is good and the fashion is interesting, so he figures he’ll stick around.

“Crawly? Er, Crowley, sorry, is that you?” says an endlessly familiar voice, and Crowley turns in his seat.

It’s Aziraphale. Of course it is. No one else would say his name with that sort of delight, that kind of reverence that makes it sound as if Crowley is someone to be excited over. 

“Angel!” Crowley says loudly. Over the years he’s managed to nearly squash the hiss into oblivion, but the nickname has remained. It’s fitting, he thinks. Even if Aziraphale were not an actual angel, he would certainly be someone any human would deem angelic. He’s all warmth and smiles and goodwill. The clear blue of his eyes is never clouded over. His hands are always open, giving and soothing and calming, and Crowley has to curl his own hands into fists to stop the itch in his palms that cries out for him to lace his fingers with the angel’s and never let go.

(He tells himself it’s only lust. He is lying, but he’s a demon. Lying is in his nature.)

“What brings you here?” Aziraphale asks. He leans against the counter and Crowley, protected by dark lenses, lets his eyes linger on his smile.

The Great Plan is a cruel one indeed, to have engineered a world in which the only being to ever smile at Crowley like that is also the only being he is contractually obliged to loathe.

“The usual,” Crowley says simply.

“Tempting? Wiling?” Aziraphale suggests. He raises a hand for the barmaid to bring him a drink. Crowley would bet just about anything that Aziraphale will immediately become enamored by the wine the humans have started to perfect.

“You know it,” Crowley says around a devilish grin. He knocks his cup against Aziraphale’s and watches the angel take a sip. They give each other twin nods of mutual appreciation for the drink and lapse into companionable silence.

After a bit, Crowley says, “What are you doing in Cyprus, then?”

“The usual,” Aziraphale replies. 

“Thwarting?” Crowley offers. The angel nods, a glint of amusement in his eyes. 

“Where there are wiles, there must certainly be thwarting,” he says primly. 

“Well then,” Crowley drawls. “If I were to, say, plan to do some wiling down by the docks, you’d certainly have to come and thwart me, wouldn’t you, angel?”

Aziraphale beams, and the sight of it is as close to heavenly as anything Crowley has ever seen. It’s divine, the way Aziraphale smiles at him, the way he laughs at Crowley’s jokes, the way he gently rests a hand on Crowley’s shoulder as he stands and says, “Lead the way, then.”

Outside, the evening air is cool and salty. A breeze whips around them and Crowley tries not to read too much into the way Aziraphale tucks himself close by Crowley’s side. Surely it’s for warmth. Surely. 

“Lovely night,” Aziraphale observes softly. The setting sun paints him in blues and golds, soft shadows and gentle lines to hug the curves of his face. His blue eyes seem brighter in the fading light, and the last traces of sun catch on his eyelashes when he blinks. His lips are quirked into a contented smile and Crowley would give anything, anything at all, to press a kiss there. 

“Breathtaking,” he murmurs, and then realizes that he is supposed to be commenting on the evening, and not on his companion. “Er, the sunset, I mean. It’s a good one.”

“Do you remember the first sunset?” Aziraphale asks distantly. He stares wistfully at the setting sun and Crowley stares, equally wistful, at him.

“Nah, I wasn’t up here just yet,” Crowley says. “I do remember the first sunset I ever saw, though. Nothing compares.”

Nothing except for you , he doesn’t say.

They reach the shore then. It’s a pebble beach, and the water laps gently at the land as though it is an insistent lover, playfully prodding and poking for attention. Along the shoreline couples and children walk and sit to take in the fading sunlight. Crowley takes off his sandals and walks at the very edge of the water, splashing slightly. Aziraphale stays where it is dry.

“Oh, look! Someone is selling pastries!” Aziraphale says delightedly, pointing to a woman with a basket who is handing a wrapped bundle to a group of children. 

“Go on then, angel. Bring me one too,” Crowley says. Aziraphale goes off and Crowley watches him go with a feeling in his chest that takes a moment to identify. When he can finally put a name to it, he realizes that it is Love. Plain and simple, pure and sweet. It sits in his chest and warms him from the inside out and he doesn’t know when it started, exactly, but he can’t remember a time without it. He doesn’t think he wants to.

While Crowley is reeling from that bit of introspection, a child in a dirty dress approaches him.

“Excuse me, mister?” she asks. 

“Yeah,” Crowley says flatly, still staring at Aziraphale. The angel is laughing at something the pastry woman has said. His smile is the prettiest thing Crowley has seen since Creation itself, and he wonders how exactly he managed to get himself this deep in love with the Enemy.

“Did you call that man ‘angel?’” the child says. She raises one eyebrow. Her little face is freckled, or perhaps simply dirty, or likely both.

“Um. Yes?” The last thing Crowley wants right now is to be in the middle of this conversation.

“That’s very cute,” says the child in her reedy voice. “That’s what my dad calls my mom when he thinks she’s pretty.”

Crowley chokes on his own tongue. 

What ,” he demands. 

“It’s his favorite pet name,” the girl confides, giggling, and runs off to rejoin her parents. They’re standing hand in hand. 

Okay. So Crowley might have invented pet names as a way to work around a speech impediment. No big deal, right?

No, that can’t be it. Humans came up with that one on their own. Right? Surely it didn’t have anything to do with the man running all over creation using it to refer to his best friend, his only friend, the only creature he’s ever really cared for. Certainly not. Definitely not. Right?

Aziraphale returns then, handing Crowley a sticky bun and yanking him forcefully from his downward spiral.

“Are you quite all right, my dear?” the angel asks. He raises an eyebrow. In the fresh dusk, he is beautiful.

“Peachy!” Crowley lies. His throat is dry as tinder and he thinks he might actually burst into flames with the sheer amount of feeling writhing in his chest. “Sorry, I have to go.”

“So soon?” Aziraphale frowns, put out. 

“I uh. Er. I forgot something. And I have to go,” Crowley says. He drags a hand through his hair and sucks in a deep breath, lets it out again. Aziraphale is frowning at him, little lines between his eyes and at the corners of his mouth, and even in his disappointment and suspicion he is the most resplendent creature Crowley has ever laid eyes on. The thought only adds another gallon to the sea of panic welling up inside him.

“Well, I do hope to see you again soon,” he says.

“Yeah. Sorry. Uh, bye, angel,” Crowley babbles, and makes his escape.

The thing is, Crowley really didn’t ever mean to fall. Oh, he didn’t mean to Fall either, but that at least he knew was coming. The instant he shrugged and said yeah, sure, I’ll join your rebellion he knew his fate was sealed, even though he hadn’t really wanted it, had only done it in a desperate grab for understanding, for a sense of freedom. That Fall was the cool curl of dread at the bottom of his stomach and pain, during and for a long while afterwards, nothing but pain and smoke and ash and soot that he still coughs up sometimes when he’s not paying attention. His first Fall had been sudden and whip-quick, and for all that he definitely did Saunter Vaguely Downwards, it was not a slow saunter in the slightest.

This second fall, lowercase f, is a softer thing. It’s been building since the moment he slithered across the verdant grass of the only green place on Earth and bumped into a frumpy angel whose hands twitched with the recent memory of a flaming sword. It had its beginnings in every shared glance, every mutual complaint against their respective head offices, every thwarted wile and every tempted saint. It’s a gentle thing that lives curled up in the place where Crowley’s heart would be, if he had one. 

So Crowley started calling Aziraphale ‘angel’ because it was what he was. So he used it as an escape from a sound his freshly human mouth couldn’t quite manage without mangling it almost beyond recognition. So he meant nothing by it, at first.

That’s changed, and the terrifying, exhilarating thing of it is: he doesn’t know when.

Now, when he looks softly at Aziraphale and says, “Hello, angel,” he means “Hello, beautiful,” he means “Hello, lovely,” and he means “Hello, light of my life, stars in my sky, earth beneath my feet and wind in my sails.”

This is a Problem.

Aziraphale cannot love him back. Well, he could, but only in the way in which angels love all living things, and since an argument could be made that Crowley is not exactly living , the point is moot. Aziraphale is an angel. Crowley is a demon. The issues are obvious. 

Crowley, dejected and more than a little bitter, kicks a brick wall and commands his bones not to shatter under the impact. It still hurts. He regrets it.

He doesn’t think he regrets falling for the angel, though. He’s just going to have to live with it. For the rest of his life, which very well might last Forever.

Oh well. At least he has his friendship.

The fourteenth century is hellish. It’s dreadfully dull in most places. And then there’s the plague.

Crowley doesn’t catch it, per se. He doesn’t get any of the other typical nasty human symptoms, but a fever settles itself behind his temples and starts a pounding in his head that just won’t end. He's a demon; his system is built to survive the endless array of diseases and plagues that run rampant in the crowded bowels of Hell, but he’s definitely still sick. 

So Crowley stumbles his way around downtown London, waiting for the fevered haze over his vision to fade away, wishing more than anything that his head didn’t hurt quite so badly. He wants almost nothing more than to go back to his dark, quiet flat and wait the illness out, but that’s just not on the cards for the day.

The letter from Aziraphale had said to meet him in a particular place at a particular time, and Crowley will be damned (again) if he doesn’t make good on his promise to show up. 

He stumbles into the park, head swimming, and does his best to stand up straight as he approaches the bench that sits directly across from the duck pond. Aziraphale is already there, early as always. He sits primly with his hands in his lap. At his side, an ornate walking stick leans against the bench.

“Good morning,” he says stiffly when Crowley approaches. Crowley grunts a response and somehow manages to sit down without falling flat on his face. He has to blink a few times and concentrate rather hard to keep his mind on the task at hand. While he’s not human and is in no danger of actually dying or passing on the disease, his body is built to resemble humanity, and even a cheap knockoff tends to get a few of the key functions right. It’s just that one of humanity’s key functions is the ability to run a fever so high that their brains boil.

“Yeah, morning, sure,” Crowley says. 

Aziraphale sighs and opens his mouth as though to say something, but shuts it again with a click. The set of his shoulders means that he’s pissed off about something, and the way he balls his hands into fists in his lap says that he’s also deeply upset about it. After six thousand years, Crowley knows the angel’s body language better than he knows even his own.

“What’s wrong, angel?” Crowley asks. He blinks blearily and stares at Aziraphale through his dark sunglasses, trying to determine what, exactly, had transpired.

“As if you don’t know,” Aziraphale says waspishly, and Crowley waves a hand in the universal gesture for please, continue. Aziraphale sighs again. “The plague , dear.”

The pet name is a fairly new development. The first time the word had passed Aziraphale’s lips, Crowley had forgotten, albeit briefly, to have nerve endings, and thus had gone completely numb except for a blinding feeling of pure bliss. Every time he hears it, a shiver traces its way up his spine, and he wants very desperately to grab the angel by the shoulders, haul him in, and plant firm kisses to every inch of his beautiful face.

“Right. The plague. Um. What about the plague, exactly?” Crowley is having trouble following the conversation. Crowley is having trouble experiencing coherent thought.

“Well, I assume you’ve had something to do with it,” Aziraphale says, looking down his nose at Crowley, and Crowley makes a derisive noise in the back of his throat.

“You think I started the plague? The Black Death. Which is extremely messy and disgusting and not at all fashionable or cool. You think I did that,” he says flatly. 

The wind goes out of Aziraphale’s sails all at once. “No, I don’t. But my side wanted me to check and be certain anyway, just in case.”

“Believe me when I say that I probably wouldn’t actively have the plague right now if I was the one that started it,” Crowley mutters. His head hurts.

“You what, ” Aziraphale half-shouts, standing abruptly. Crowley frowns up at him. 

“I, uh, I’m a little bit. Sick?” Crowley tries again. It’s hard to put words together. He briefly entertains the thought of turning into a snake, just to see if snakes are capable of experiencing such extreme unpleasantness. 

“Why didn’t you start with that?” Aziraphale accuses, and reaches down. When he takes a firm hold of Crowley’s upper arm, the touch burns, somehow hot through layers of clothing. The angel pulls, and Crowley stumbles to his feet. He stands there, completely at a loss, mouth agape, trying desperately to remain calm while Aziraphale continues to hold onto him.

“Angel, what—“ Crowley starts, but Aziraphale shushes him.

“Come here,” he says. His tone is the verbal equivalent of an eye roll.

Crowley lets himself be dragged out of the park and into a side street. It’s empty, a dead end, with only a pile of garbage in the furthest back corner. When Aziraphale lets go of his arm, he nearly collapses. He’s not sure if he’s been remembering to breathe, and his lungs, which have long since grown used to the act, are protesting.

“Be healed,” Aziraphale murmurs, and it is a command. He places one of his endlessly warm hands on Crowley’s forehead. With a sensation like an electric current singing up his spine, the illness is expelled from his body. Crowley very nearly hits his knees on the dirty cobblestones. 

“Oh, that’sss much better,” he says, too caught up in the blissful relief to bother enunciating. His head no longer pounds. The blurry haze of fever is gone from his vision. He can now breathe and move freely without worrying about initiating a coughing fit, or overexerting his aching, swollen joints. 

“Don’t thank me,” Aziraphale cautions. “If my superiors ever find out about that little miracle, it’ll be both of our heads.”

“Won’t say a word,” Crowley promises. 

“Now that that’s cleared up, care for some lunch?” Aziraphale smiles at him, that little indulgent smirk of his, and Crowley gives him the same smile right back. The feeling of easy camaraderie settles into his shoulders like a familiar overcoat. 

“Absolutely,” Crowley says.

“Wait. Please,” says a new voice, and Crowley nearly jumps out of his own skin. He spins on a heel (relishing the way he can move without his head spinning violently) and blinks into the gloom at the back of the alley.

Next to what he had previously assumed was a pile of garbage is a man, sat on the ground, but struggling to get to his feet. His long hair is matted and unkempt. He wears a patchwork mess of dirty rags, and his bare arms are bone-thin. His sunken eyes are haunted and full of tears.

“Sir, please,” he begs. “It’s my wife.”

“Oh, no,” Crowley mutters. He knows where this is going.

“Your wife?” Aziraphale asks.

“She’s sick,” the man clarifies. “And I know you told him to keep it quiet about the healing, and I promise I won’t say a word to no one, but please, sir. She’s dying.”

“Oh, I’m terribly sorry,” Aziraphale starts, but the man cuts him off.

“I don’t know what I would do without her, sir. Please. I need her. She’s my angel,” he says, and Crowley can practically feel the switch in his mind flip. He makes a strangled noise of frustration and grits his teeth. 

“You just had to go and say that, didn’t you,” he growls, but he waves a hand through the air anyway. Somewhere, likely in a forgotten corner of London where the penniless go to die, a woman is healed. When she wakes up, she will find that more than enough money for two people to get back on their feet has appeared in her pocket. “There. She’ll live.”

“And you won’t remember a thing about this encounter,” Aziraphale informs the man, who promptly collapses into a heap on the ground. He snores lightly. 

“Lunch?” Crowley bites out before Aziraphale can speak. He absolutely could not handle Aziraphale asking questions right now. There’s no way any force in Heaven or Hell could manage to drag the explanation out of Crowley: that he’s got a soft spot for that pet name a mile wide, and an even softer spot for humans who have managed to go and get themselves head over heels in love.

Crowley invented both of those things. He’s allowed to like them.

“Oh, certainly,” Aziraphale says. He smiles again. Crowley loves him. 

“I'm going to say something, and I’d like for you to let me finish before you respond to it,” Crowley says. They’re in the dusty back room of Aziraphale’s bookshop, staring one another down across a tabletop strewn with playing cards. Neither of them really know how to play, but both are attempting to teach the other.

“That depends on what you plan to say,” Aziraphale replies, frowning down at his hand. Crowley can see the cards in the reflection of his tiny reading glasses. It’s a terrible hand. 

Today is the day. Crowley is going to get it all off his chest, so to speak. He’s going to lay his metaphorical cards all on the table to match these physical ones and really let Aziraphale know how he feels. He’s been working up to it for about two months now, and tonight, with the relaxed atmosphere and the soft glances they’ve been trading for the past hour, the time is right. 

He takes a deep breath. Opens his mouth. Starts to speak.

“The thing isss,” he says, and stops. His heart is pounding. His mouth won’t cooperate. 

“Yes?” Aziraphale prompts. He sets his cards down on the table and stares at Crowley with open, endlessly blue eyes. 

“Well,” Crowley starts again. “We’ve, eh, known each other for a long time, haven’t we?”

“All of human history. Nearly six thousand years,” Aziraphale replies. A soft, indulgent smile plays around the corners of his mouth. He stares at Crowley with an expression of pure contentment. He is beautiful.

“And we’ve been friends for most of it,” Crowley continues, fiddling with the cards in his hand. He’s holding five aces. They’re only playing with one deck. 

“Nearly all of it,” Aziraphale agrees. He raises an eyebrow. “My dear, where are you going with this?”

“Well, I was thinking, and maybe you’d thought too, but we’ve really known one another for a very long time and in all that time it would be impossible not to, I mean, not impossible but unlikely, since I am who I am and you are who you are, and I wanted to ssssay,” Crowley rambles. He mentally kicks himself, several times, rather hard, in a variety of tender places. 

“Spit it out, love,” Aziraphale laughs, and Crowley is pretty sure he fucking dies on the spot. 

“What did you sssay,” he says flatly. His heart, which had been hammering in his chest, falls silent. His hands are numb. He’s pretty sure his lips are going to start turning blue if he doesn’t pick back up breathing soon, but he absolutely cannot manage to pull air into his lungs in the face of what he’s almost certain he’s just heard.

“I said to spit it out?” Aziraphale repeats uncertainly.

“No, no, after that,” Crowley implores. “You said that, and then something else. What else did you say?”

“I’m quite sure that was all of it.” Aziraphale sets his cards down and leans forward, steeping his fingers and placing his mouth against them. He looks at Crowley with contemplative eyes, and Crowley abruptly feels all too seen. He wonders what would happen if he fled. “Are you sure you’re feeling alright, my dear?”

My dear. Crowley is back on familiar footing.

“Yeah, uh, just a bit tired, that’s all.” He heaves a sigh. Maybe tonight isn’t the night. Maybe he should leave it alone. Maybe he should try harder to pack up all his love and longing, and maybe he should throw that suitcase into a river, never to be heard from again. Maybe the angel doesn’t feel the same and never will.

But Crowley, for all that he is Fallen, is still a being of intense Hope.

Okay, so maybe he’s not going to get to bare his soul (or lack thereof) to Aziraphale tonight. Crowley just needs to regroup. The time will come, but only after he finds the words. He’s going to need a lot more practicing in the mirror if he’s going to confess a deep, endless love as old as time itself. Winging it clearly isn’t going to work out. 

“I’ll see you tomorrow, angel,” Crowley says eventually, after the strangeness of the almost-moment has passed, and takes his leave. He runs a hand along Aziraphale’s shoulders on his way out, and does not turn around to notice the way the angel shivers under his light touch.

Crowley doesn’t get a chance to confess his feelings. Instead, he get a baby in a basket and a deep sense of dread in the pit of his stomach and then, after, he gets drunk for a very long time.

The Apocalypse happens, and then it doesn’t happen, and then it un-happens, and Crowley and Aziraphale are left without orders, without sides, and without half a sense of direction between them.

“What now?” Aziraphale asks on the bus ride back. The driver is half asleep at the wheel and Crowley is entertaining himself by jolting her awake with intermittent minuscule demonic miracles. He prods her psychically and snickers when she nearly veers into oncoming traffic.

“I’m going to sleep for a week, and when I wake up, I’m not going to be sober until Christmas,” he says profoundly. “You’re welcome to join me.”

“Sounds lovely,” Aziraphale says, but there’s something underneath his outward expression that speaks to a deeper worry. He sighs, frowns, and stares down at his hands.

“Listen, angel,” Crowley says, “I’m sorry about the bookshop. I meant it when I said you could stay at mine. For as long as you like.”

“Yes, I rather think I will.” Aziraphale looks up, and his blue eyes are watery. 

“Oh, hey, none of that,” Crowley says desperately. He searches for something else to say, but comes up completely empty handed. It’s not that he’s never seen Aziraphale cry, far from it, but this is the first time he’s been at such a loss. In the past, the tears had never been shed over something as incomprehensibly huge and earth shattering as a jilted apocalypse and the loss of any sense of heavenly or hellish hierarchy. They’re adrift, with nothing but one another to hold onto.

An idea pops into Crowley’s head then, and he seizes it before his coward’s heart can back out. 

The angel’s hands are warm and soft when Crowley takes them in his own. Aziraphale blinks at him in confusion but does not take his hands back.

“I’ve been meaning to tell you something for a while,” Crowley starts. “And I suppose I’m going to do it now.”

“Okay,” is all Aziraphale says. 

Crowley sighs, searching for the right words. How do you look at someone and tell them you’ve been in love with them for as long as the sun has been in the sky? How do you convey, using simple human speech, the depth of that devotion? 

Crowley opens his mouth, fully intent on winging it, but Aziraphale gets to it before the first word can even form on his tongue. 

“You’re in love with me,” Aziraphale says, the expression of understanding dawning on his face like the most brilliant sunrise.

“Ngk,” Crowley says, wishing desperately that he could disappear. Perhaps he should throw himself out of the bus window. A short little tumble into the blacktop would be a tiny fall, in the grand scheme of things.

“You are!” Aziraphale affirms. “Oh, Crowley.

“How did you guess?” Crowley croaks. He doesn’t add and why didn’t you guess sooner onto the end of it, but he means it all the same. 

Aziraphale blushes a delicate shade of pink. “Well, I’d always wondered, but I had myself convinced that it was merely wishful thinking.”

“Wishful thinking,” Crowley parrots, and then again, “ Wishful thinking?

“Yes, I was rather certain that I was only sensing my own infatuation, reflected back at me,” Aziraphale explains, but this explanation is only serving to send Crowley deeper into his panicked, relieved spiral. 

“Angel, I—“

“Yes, I’d wondered about that as well.” Aziraphale gives a self conscious little laugh. “The humans use it as a pet name, you know. That’s what they call their lovers sometimes.”

“Yeah, I bloody well know,” Crowley half-shrieks. “I fucking invented that!”

Aziraphale blinks, mouth coming open to form a perfect little o . “Sorry, dear boy, you what?”

“It’s my fault they do that! I started it!” Crowley has always been prone to anxious rambling, and this is no exception. The words won’t stop coming now, now that they’ve been given permission to tumble out. “At first I just didn’t want to hiss when I said your actual name, but then I got better about it, but it felt weird to go back to using your name after so long? So I kept at it. And then somewhere along the lines it started to mean something, and I guess the humans picked up on it, and now here we are. On a bus. Together. And I’m in love with you.”

“You remarkable thing,” Aziraphale breathes. He’s staring at Crowley with absolute reverence, as though Crowley had personally put the stars in Aziraphale’s own individual sky, as though Crowley is something precious, something worth cherishing. It makes Crowley feel very vulnerable, but there are fireworks going off in his head and where his heart should be and in the pit of his stomach, so he thinks that he could live in this moment for the rest of their very long forever. 

“Aziraphale?” Crowley asks, voice hoarse, quiet and breathless in the dim light. 

“Yes, my dear?” 

“Can I kiss you?” Crowley says, and immediately the alarms go off in his head to tell him to backtrack, and quickly. “I mean, if you want me to. Just once. Just a little. I’m sssorry.”

Aziraphale laughs delightedly. “If you don’t kiss me right this instant, that whole unpleasantness with the Apocalypse will have been for nothing.”

Shaking like a leaf, Crowley leans in, bumps their noses together, and leans back out with a furious blush staining his entire face. Aziraphale is looking at him with nothing but care. 

“Sssorry,” Crowley says again. “Er. I’ll. Uh. Try again.”

The second time, he gets it right. Their lips slot together as though they were meant for it, as though they were designed with this singular purpose in mind. Aziraphale’s lips are warm and dry and soft against his own, and Crowley thinks that this feels exactly like Falling, except the end destination is a lot more pleasant, and not nearly so far down. 

When they part, Crowley’s sunglasses are smudged. He takes them off, eyes downcast, and hurries to clean them off against his shirt.

“I do love your eyes, my dear,” Aziraphale murmurs, and Crowley’s gaze snaps up to meet the angel’s. Aziraphale’s eyes are soft, little crinkles at the edges as he smiles, and Crowley shrinks back against the eye contact.

“You don’t have to humor me,” he says, jamming the sunglasses back onto his face hard enough to hurt. “I know they’re creepy.”

“I think they’re lovely,” Aziraphale says in consternation. “And the hiss is endearing, as well. After all, without it, humanity would be lacking in the pet names department.”

“Oh, come off it,” Crowley grumbles, but there’s no real heat behind it. 

Aziraphale shakes his head, insisting, “I think you are perfect just as you are.”

Crowley only manages to fight back another blush by furiously deleting all of his own red blood cells, and even then, it doesn’t quite work. 

“Yeah, well, I try,” he says eventually. 

“I think you succeed,” Aziraphale tells him.

“Thanksss, angel,” Crowley says. He kisses him again. He doesn’t think he’s ever going to stop.