Crowley – his body compressed as in a tin of herrings against two other people – realised – excuse me, pardon, I get off at the next one, thank you thank you thanks thanks thanks – what his problem – din din din din, woman on speaker, mind the gap between the train and the platform – was: taking the Tube during peak hour.
Taking the Tube in London. Taking the Tube in London during peak hour. Taking the bloody Tube in general. There was no time, and definitely no space, to think. Or to breathe, for that matter.
Crushed and shaking like a coffee bean in a grinder, his mouth in the way of a gentle breeze of onion smell and a whiff of fresh hair, Crowley was boiling in anger. He had, however, one method to keep himself from sending souls down below in the most straightforward of manners: he used to take a deep breath, glance up and read the ads on the side above his head.
Organisation – if you have it, you know!
I’ts a Matter of Mattress. Trust your sleep.
Are you beach body ready?
One in particular had caught his attention. The unbelievably clever ‘Organisation – if you have it, you know!’ That poor guy working in advertising barely deserved his wage, let alone some kind of commendation for outstanding job. However, that ad had gotten Crowley thinking.
The previous weeks had been amazing due to the feeling of resignation that the world was going to end and no one could really do anything about it. He had done a series of cathartic actions that, at a certain point in life, you look forward to doing: he had discontinued electricity in his flat, said goodbye to the lunacy of British Gas, had shut down his bank account forever and… and then Armageddon didn’t come about.
Now Crowley found himself with something in his hands he had never quite appreciated: having to ask himself ‘what’s next?’
As Crowley was elbowing his way outside of the subway station, the answer to that question was just half a mile away, lying on his desk, in a voice trapped in his ansaphone.
‘Hello? Er, Crowley, I was looking for you but I assume you are not home yet. Oh, it’s me, Aziraphale – I nearly forgot to announce myself. I wonder what you meant when you said you had a surprise. Did you mean they misplaced my mail and sent it to your flat again? Well, that would hardly be any surprise. Call me back when you can. Seeyoulater!’
Crowley had often wondered if being direct with Aziraphale sorted any effect at all. After a couple of centuries, he had given up. For his own sake.
‘Yes?’ The signal on the phone wasn’t the best.
‘It’s me. No rush, but I’m downstairs waiting.’
‘Will we be taking the bus? I would have to wear my walking shoes otherwise.’
‘Er, I don’t think.’ Crowley’s fingers were angry at the radio. Come on, blasted thing.
There’s nothing to be angry about when you try to install a CD player on a nearly-a-century-old Bentley. Rather, surprise is the feeling you might want to adopt. If the experiment ever works, of course.
Were they going to take the bus? On a Saturday night? In central London?
And then an idle thought flashed in Crowley’s mind: buses in the countryside were way better. They were less crowded, to begin with (even during peak hours), and you rarely ended up sitting next to someone who had decided fish and chips at ten a.m. was a great idea. In fact, Crowley decided he preferred buses in the countryside. Buses to and from Oxfordshire, for example.
It had been on one of those buses that, some weeks in the past, he and Aziraphale had been sitting, their spirits high because of the wine they had been gulping at the Tadfield stop.
‘You know that thing – that place in London, the one where you look down…’
‘The one where you look down’ Crowley had echoed ‘…Like down on the rails of the tube? Wonderful lan’scape, really’ he let out a quiet burp, ‘lots of rats’.
‘No, you silly. The one up high…’ Aziraphale stopped, his hand darting to his mouth as the bus halted abruptly.
‘Up high…’ Crowley’s fingers were massaging his temples as he struggled to solve Aziraphale’s puzzle.
‘It is such a marvellous place. You are up an’… an’ you look down.’ The angel stressed the two words, accompanying them with a clumsy gesturing ‘up’ and ‘down’ with his finger.
‘Y’mean a skyscraper?’
‘Bingo! That, a skyscraper. As I was saying, before being interrupted…-‘
‘Eh, there’s an awful lot of ‘em in the city. Okay, maybe not an awful lot, but there’s all that tall crap wherever you turn…’ Crowley realised from Aziraphale’s hesitant expression that he was not quite pleased. ‘Yeah, sorry angel. You go.’
‘Yes, Crowley. Precious insight in there. I was saying…-’ But Crowley had bursted out laughing.
‘V’you seen that strange woman down there? What’s she doing carrying around a trashbag in a wheeled box…thingie?’
‘Crowley, dear. I think you need some rest.’ He patted the demon’s shoulder softly, trying to stop him from pressing his nose against the window to peep at the strange woman. ‘You see, that’s a pushchair. With a baby in it.’
Crowley’s eyebrow arched as he pulled away from the glass. He nodded for a second. That explained a lot, for example why the trashbag was whining. He reclined on his seat, his temples still pulsating lightly. It had been, after all, quite an eventful day for both of them.
‘You were saying something about a place…in London.’
‘Yes, it was nothing special, you see. We have been living in London for quite some time now and, you know me, old silly…I tend to prefer things as they were, not as they will become.’ Aziraphale, his mind still slightly clearer than Crowley’s, was fidgeting idly with the buttons of his waistcoat. ‘Well, the point is, Armageddon got me thinking. If the whole blasted thing had happened, I would have missed so many things of modernity and of modern human life because I am sort of, so to speak, living in the past?’
Crowley – so blissfully abandoned on his seat he nearly drooled – found what Aziraphale had just said mildly adorable. Aziraphale would have seen his snakish eyes gleaming had it not been for the dark lenses.
‘Sorry, dear. I am afraid I am boring you with all my nonsense.’
Crowley remained silent and, unable to just project his own feelings about it / about him / in the conversation, he decided to slighlty divert it.
‘You know what’s modern and cool an’ something that you love?’ Some bone in his body protested as he attempted to straighten his back. ‘Sushi. Ah, now that we’ve sorted out this whole mess, you’re never gonna have to say goodbye to good ol’ raw fish on dark green stuff ever again.’
A tender smile, one of fondness and unacknowledged love, flashed on Aziraphale’s lips for a second. Then he couldn’t help laughing at Crowley’s minimalistic description of one of the most excellent and gourmet dishes in the world. But yeah, good ol’ raw fish on dark green stuff. Forever. That was a good perspective.
When they arrived at Crowley’s Mayfair flat in London, there was no need to sober up. God knows what was waiting for them the day after. While redemption was a hope, punishment was a realistic possibility. They had lied down, lost some clothes and spilled some glasses of whiskey in the process, then fell asleep. Crowley on a shabby armchair, Aziraphale on Crowley’s bed.
‘I love sleeping.’ He mumbled.
Aziraphale grinned against the greyish pillow, his eyes shut and his hands holding on to the soft sheets.
It goes without saying, that single sentence summarised what Crowley would have expressed as: I love sleeping. I love sleeping in my bed. I am comfortable there and nowhere else. I love my bed. I am giving you my bed. And the conclusion is pretty clear as it is.
‘Crowley?’ A muffled sound came from the pillow.
‘What now?’ Said Crowley softly, his eyes already shut and his lenses resting on the bedside table.
‘I have realised I am enamoured of the idea of trying new things.’ He took a deep breath, taking all of that typical (smoky and sour) Crowley smell in. ‘For example, I would love to be on top.’
Crowley’s eyes opened suddenly. ‘Aziraphale, are you alright-…’
‘Yes, quite so. I have been giving it a lot of thought. You know the skyscrapers I was telling you about during our bus ride? Indeed, that’s where I want to start. I would absolutely love to go on top of one of those.’
Aziraphale was smiling. Crowley knew that because he could hear that childish excitement in his voice. Nonetheless, that sentence had had all the potential to cause him a seizure.
That bastard’d better learn how to rephrase his shit.
After that peculiar wish, Crowley felt no need to stay awake any longer and just collapsed, ready to be let into Morpheus’ loving arms.
‘So, that’s what you meant when you said walking shoes?’
‘They’re – er – a bit – er – not your usual thing?’
‘Isn’t it the best part, dear Crowley. Y.O.L.O. as the youths these days say.’
And Aziraphale started prancing towards the main entrance.
It’s not that Crowley disliked them, rather, he thought it a bold choice to pair up a suit and waistcoat (embalmed in essence of elegance for centuries) with a pair of Converse. Well, if the angel was so determined to embrace modernity, so be it.
‘So, I assume this is the surprise you were referring to.’
‘Your assumption’s correct, angel.’ Crowley grinned smugly. And ‘after you’ he murmured politely, holding the door for a speechless Aziraphale.
As they walked down the longest of corridors, Aziraphale slowly realised where they were going.
‘Crowley, I have a question.’ His voice, slightly affected by his undeniable emotion, trembled for a syllable or two.
‘Ask away.’ Crowley was a few steps ahead, strutting (as he did) as if he owned the place (he didn’t).
‘Is this a skyscraper?’ Aziraphale’s eyes glinted.
‘Er, depends on your definition of it. The dude at the reception said it’s…you know, just tall. I believe it ranks around 16…ish in the list of tallest buildings, even though some rando on the web…’ And then he kept rambling on about the place with a vibe the angel had seen in rare occasions. And Aziraphale’s eyes were gleaming and his heart was beating a little bit faster every step he took. By the time they were in the lift, half a metre of distance from one another, Aziraphale could swear all of Greater London could hear his heartbeat in that exact moment.
Then, Crowley’s arm stopped him from going out of the lift. ‘Now, hang on a sec.’
And he jumped out of the metal walls, his lanky figure reaching an area of light not too far from the dim hall in front of the lift. Aziraphale looked around, wondering how on earth Crowley had managed to place a reservation that included vacating the whole building. Then, in the middle of his thought process, he decided: best not to inquire too much.
‘Angel, now.’ Crowley’s voice guided Aziraphale out of the lift and into the semi-darkness of the hall. His steps echoed as he walked on until he reached the broadest glass door he had ever seen.
‘This way?’ He asked, his voice trembling slightly. But he didn’t need to ask twice. When he stepped out of the shadow, the most beautiful view he had ever seen presented right in front of his eyes.
There were a couple of pillows on the floor and a bucket with bottles in it. And there was Crowley on the side, his long fingers fighting with what looked like a radio with a CD player. That view was enough to make his head spin and his heart jump into his chest, but it wasn’t over. As he got closer to the glass balcony, the whole of London unfolded, piece by piece and light by light, beneath his feet. He could see the river, sweetly slithering, chasing the horizon; then Westminster, where he had once lost his bow-tie and found it the next week behind glass as a relic; he could see…
‘Crowley, look! That’s…that’s my bookshop!’ He shouted in excitement, his hand gesturing Crowley to come over. ‘And…that’s…The Ritz?’ He laughed. An utterly irrational, liberating, hearty laughter.
Crowley glanced at Aziraphale and smiled. Then, he glanced back at the radio, then back to Aziraphale – his cheeks hurt a bit – then glanced back to the radio, then kicked the blasted thing twice. He wondered if that was how happiness felt. Cheeks hurting, hands shaking, and kicking a radio.
‘Is that Leicester Square?’ Aziraphale’s fingers started darting up and down, left and right to every place he could make out. The rose, orange and blue lights of the twilight coated the London skyline in front of his eyes.
‘Ah, finally.’ Crowley whispered in background. A soft creak preceded the notes of a song Crowley had chosen well. Not only had he chosen it, he had also had to sacrifice his The Doors Best Of to put that one song in that CD.
Earth angel, earth angel, will you be mine?
He reached Aziraphale on the glassed border, then felt no need to look at the view in front of them. Crowley’s head tilted to one side slightly and he stayed there, motionless, observing Aziraphale. Smiling at his every expression; some were odd, like when he misplaced parks, then frowned, then added a ‘silly me!’ and began to name the parks again; some others were of wild surprise, like when he realised how tall things were looked at from above; then, Crowley found he had lost at his own game. Because Aziraphale turned and he glanced back. And smiled back. And Crowley’s pain moved from his cheeks to his chest, then to his cheeks again until he could not place it anymore.
My darling dear, love you all the time…
‘This…This is marvellous, Crowley.’
Crowley remained silent for a second, convinced his lips could not reverse from that smile to the normal state.
‘Nowhere in the job description.’ He blurted in response. Then, he had to cough to clear his throat and try, at least, to play it cool. ‘Making angel’s wishes come true…yeah, t’was nowhere in my job description.’ And he smirked.
I'm just a fool, a fool in love with you.
Aziraphale, his lovely laughter filling the air, took advantage of Crowley’s position with his hands on his hips to get closer and grab his arm. ‘I love it in here, Crowley.’
None of them was looking at silly London there at their feet anymore. And, as the music played on, Aziraphale’s moment of recognition of the melody dawned all over his face.
Earth angel, earth angel, the one I adore…
‘Oh, my. You remembered… I adore this song.’
‘I bet you do, you thousand-year-old soppy angel.’ And Aziraphale laughed again before instinctively holding closer to him and giving him a little deserved vindicative shake. Their arms locking, their bodies in so close contact…Now, that was something new for both of them.
So new Crowley’s grin disappeared from his face for a split second, turning into a smile full of fright and performance anxiety. Once again, that question popped violently into his mind: ‘What’s next?’ But he didn’t even have the time to worry about it, because Aziraphale had understood the second he had glanced up to look at him in the eyes.
Without a word being said, the angel’s fingers lifted Crowley’s sunglasses from the bridge of his nose, then took a couple of steps towards the radio to put them upon it. When he came back, an open-mouthed Crowley was waiting for him.
‘I figured we wouldn’t really need them anymore.’ The angel whispered, then gently put his arm around Crowley’s hip. Crowley’s hand moved to his shoulder and rested there for a second, then travelled slowly downwards along his arm. When he reached Aziraphale’s hand, he held it tight. And, once again, their eyes locked.
They did not need to dance. But Crowley, who had been stuck in a state of trance for a solid minute, now felt an upsurge of fire in his bones and in his veins. It was happening. So, yes, Crowley. You need to dance. With this angel. Right now.
Love you forever, and ever more…
I'm just a fool, a fool in love with you.
Aziraphale’s body soon started following Crowley’s, arms surrounding the other’s waist, hands touching, eyes in eyes. All of that was new. Refreshingly new, Aziraphale thought. Beautifully new.
‘So, uhm, I have a question.’ The angel coughed lightly. He would have looked away, but Crowley’s yellow eyes were shining with the reflection of the twilight sky and it would have been a sin to miss all that beauty. Aziraphale’s hand travelled from the demon’s bony hip to his shoulder. He trusted him to conduct the game.
‘Yes, angel?’ Crowley purred, his arm surrounding Aziraphale’s waist. Step after step, their bodies were so close Crowley’s hand could peacefully settle on the angel’s soft hip, caressing the surface with the tip of his fingers.
I fell for you and I knew… The vision of your love, loveliness…
‘What…uhm, what are we doing?’ And that question deserved an answer. It had been there, in the back of both their minds, for quite some centuries now. In time, Crowley thought.
‘We’re dancing, that’s what we’re doing.’ Crowley grinned. And Aziraphale followed.
I hope and I pray that someday I'll be the vision of your happy, happiness…
Aziraphale hesitated for a second, then took a deep breath and leaned his head on Crowley’s chest, his velvety cheek against his collarbone.
‘Yes?’ He lifted his head up, his eyes travelling fast to Crowley’s blissful expression.
Then Crowley wet his lips and started mouthing the words of the song, whispering them softly as the song went on.
Oh earth angel, earth angel, please be mine…
My darling dear, love you all the time,
I'm just a fool, a fool in love with you…
Aziraphale curled his nose and his lips stretched in a smile. Then his hand abandoned Crowley’s slowly and reached the side of his neck. He started caressing his skin, cold and smooth, small signs of goosebumps caused by the chilly air that was embracing their bodies.
I fell for you and I knew, the vision of your loveliness,
I hope and pray that someday I'll be the vision of your happiness…
Crowley raised his hand to caress Aziraphale’s warm cheeks with his knuckles. Then, two of his fingers settled gently right beneath Aziraphale’s chin while his thumb touched, explored, tasted the angel’s lower lip in the lightest of caresses.
Aziraphale’s eyes closed under his touch. Crowley felt lost, for a second, for words and breath and everything conventionally important. In that moment, there was no way anything was more important than Aziraphale smiling with his eyes closed, his hands caressing his neck.
Aziraphale opened his eyes again, then moved Crowley’s hand away from his chin so that he could, finally, leap gently on his tiptoes… And then fireworks, maybe, but somewhere else in the sky above their heads. What Crowley felt when Aziraphale kissed him was fiercer than a thousand sparks. It was…something else completely. The angel’s warm lips had touched Crowley’s and wished they’d never part.
Earth angel, earth angel, please be mine,
My darling dear, love you all the time…
I'm just a fool, a fool in love with you.
Another note, another kiss. The second time, their noses had brushed against one another. It had made them both smile, then they had rejoined. They had breathed, lips against lips, and then Crowley’s arms had finally enveloped Aziraphale’s body in a tight embrace.
One, two, three kisses, then as many as the last notes, dying away slowly… until the very last one.
When silence was all around them, they had already parted from the closeness of that embrace. Crowley caressed the angel’s cheek with his cold knuckles and felt him shivering under his touch.
‘So, that was…well, new.’ Aziraphale grinned.
‘Three new things in a row. Wow, angel. Easy.’ Crowley parted from Aziraphale’s body, taking his hand and leading him towards the soft pillows placed on the floor. The angel didn’t even have time to sit, that Crowley was already opening the bottle of Champagne with his claws (and a bottle opener).
‘Well, yes.’ Pop. The cork shooting somewhere above their heads, he started pouring the bubbly in two glasses. ‘The Converse’ he pointed at the novelty at his feet, ‘the skyscraper’ he shrugged, with a proud smile on his face, ‘and me’, he finally purred, sitting next to him on one of the pillows.
‘You cheeky bastard.’ Aziraphale shook his head, then let out a soft giggle and had a sip from his glass.
They were sitting next to each other, cheering and drinking their Champagne, with all of London peeping curiously at them, at the way they looked at each other, at the way their eyes were demanding that contact once again.
They had so much they wanted and needed to tell each other. And all of those things were so many…that none of them really made it out of their lips. Aziraphale and Crowley kept talking about everything and nothing, miracling more Champagne than they should have and drinking idly from their glasses. They had better things to do than drinking. Crowley, for example, had a couple of good occasions to make fun of the angel and make him blush. And consequently found out that, yes, Aziraphale had some tricks up his sleeve to respond (luckily, for once, no magic involved). Then, God knows how and when, they found themselves walking – swaying, rather – to Crowley’s flat.
Crowley reached out to take Aziraphale’s hand. He was still smiling and, as a result, his cheeks were still protesting in pain.
‘How?’ Aziraphale blurted all of sudden. He looked at their hands and thought how funny Crowley’s nails were. They had been painted and repainted black since the early 2000s. He slowly let their fingers interlock.
‘Mhn?’ Crowley frowned confusedly.
‘How could you possibly remember about…you know, our conversation on the bus.’ The angel looked surprised, if somewhat amazed by Crowley’s care and attention for something so insignificant as a drunk conversation happened weeks ago.
‘How could I possibly forget it, when you started the whole thing saying you wanted to be on top-‘ And Crowley had received a light blow from Aziraphale’s elbow. He laughed.
‘Silly.’ Aziraphale blushed.
‘You looked…so determined when you said that. Y’know, you had a point back then. You were afraid you had lost the possibility of the ‘new’ forever, then Armageddon didn’t happen and…well, fair enough. It was a second chance.’ Crowley shrugged, his eyes checking the street ahead briefly before turning to Aziraphale again.
‘I…I have no idea what to say.’ And the angel was smiling again, but it was something else now.
‘Er, don’t need to say anything.’
‘You treasured what I said weeks ago. While I was…ehm, inebriated. And on a bus somewhere in the contryside. And scared my life was going to end the following day.’
‘That’s why I treasured it, angel. The one talking was your most genuine self’ Crowley began, ‘and I am quite sure…-‘
‘I am quite sure’ Aziraphale interrupted him and stopped suddenly. ‘I am quite sure, Crowley, that I love you.’
Crowley stopped dead. ‘If you are cooking this thing up to make me faint or somethin’, angel, I swear…’
Aziraphale smiled, then bridged the gap that divided them and leapt on his toes again. He left a soft kiss on Crowley’s lower lip, then pulled his chin gently with his fingers. ‘I’m saying it because I am quite confident that I, a ‘thousand-year-old soppy angel’ am in love with you, Crowley.’
Crowley smiled, his frowned expression melting as a result of Aziraphale’s kiss. ‘You are a soppy angel.’ He murmured.
The next lamplight was ages away but still shed some light against that wall. Crowley had leaned against it and Aziraphale had followed his cue, laying his hands on Crowley’s bony hips. He looked into Crowley’s eyes for a moment, then leaned closer and their lips brushed idly against each other for a second. Then Aziraphale had pulled the demon’s lower lip down with his thumb and, before he himself could realise what he was about to do, he bridged the gap between them. The tip of his tongue traced the contour of Crowley’s lips before asking access to his mouth bravely. Crowley was less surprised and rooted on the spot than he had imagined. In fact, while Aziraphale had long professed being an ethereal creature and all that bollocks, he had felt fire boiling in his blood more times than he was ready to admit. Crowley accepted him, longingly, and his tongue followed Aziraphale’s in that slow dance, while the demon’s hands took part in that new-found intimacy and explored his shoulders and back, challenging every fold of his heavy suit in order to reach his flesh.
‘Crowley’, Aziraphale whispered against the demon’s lips, his hot breath against his semi-open mouth. ‘It was beautiful…being on top.’ He curled his nose in a malicious smile. ‘I wonder…-‘
Crowley’s lips parted from Aziraphale for a second as he tilted his head backwards, letting out a soft laughter.
‘Easy, tiger’, he purred, his hands descending slowly from his shoulders to his back, landing on his softest shapes. ‘As I did tonight, I shall do in the future. I will decide when you’ll be…on top.’ Crowley’s whisper, his wet lips now against his ear, was welcomed more than positively by the angel, who bit his lip and closed his eyes.
‘In the meantime’, Crowley added, a smug grin on his lips, ‘I thought you’d grow tired of staying on your tiptoes.’ And his hands grasped his round buttocks, savouring the warm flesh with his fingers. ‘Let me help.’
Aziraphale was blushing and a short moan left his lips, but he couldn’t hide how flattered he felt and how safe he felt in Crowley’s arms. They kissed again. This time, lips against lips and with a soft smack at the end. Crowley’s hand travelled through the angel’s light hair.
‘The days that will come, they’re all ours.’ He whispered. ‘And’, he had to look away, shake his head, smile and finally lean with his head against the wall. ‘I can’t believe you’re making me say this out loud’, he grumbled, and Aziraphale knew. He left another kiss on Crowley’s lips.
‘You don’t need to-…’
‘I love you, Aziraphale.’
And the whole of London turned and peeped again, for something so beautiful and true was a rare thing to witness. A rare thing indeed.