Recently, Aziraphale has noticed that people have gotten into the habit of referring to Crowley as his boyfriend.
Here is a summary (not succinct) of how Aziraphale understands this phenomenon:
Prior to That Time The World Nearly Ended And Ended Up Beginning Anew In Its Own Way, it had happened a few times— in the wake of a particularly heartfelt public altercation, or in a passing comment from their server after the two of them polished off a bottle of wine at lunch and were feeling particularly warm and loose and companionable. Aziraphale had mostly brushed it off, attributing it to the ambiguity of translation, the evolution of language, or an honest misunderstanding about what might be occurring between two men who appear to be of equal age stealing some public privacy in the middle of the day. Any clearly social intimate interaction between two people, when it is not obviously familial, tends to read as something romantic.
This is a human assumption, and Aziraphale understands it thoroughly.
See, there are things that Aziraphale and Crowley—and probably the rest of heaven and hell, though Aziraphale is not in a position to check—experience differently from humans. Aziraphale thinks he would be concerned about things like achievement and greatness, if he had to fear death; he’s always related to artists at the start of their careers, searching and exploring and creating for the sake of it, but he tends to lose touch with them by the end, when the pressure to make something of note begins to define their pursuits. It’s simply a matter of circumstance: when you know you’ll always remain, you don’t have to worry about what you’ll leave behind. The luxury of knowing you’ll outlive whatever reputation you build cannot, in Aziraphale’s opinion, be overstated.
However, Aziraphale thinks that mortality has been vastly overused as the singular trait that defines humanity. Aziraphale may not be wholly human, but he certainly lives as one, and has seen them grow, live, and die many times over. While it is true and undeniable that mortality is an issue that has a profound effect on the way humans live their lives, Aziraphale has observed that most people, most of the time, aren’t spending every waking minute terrified that they might die. In fact, being in a state of living to survive tends to traumatize most of them, which is reasonable.
Crowley wholeheartedly agrees with Aziraphale on this.
So the other fundamentally human things are things that one may, if they live among humans for roughly six thousand years, begin to internalize; these things aren’t fundamental to being an angel or a demon, but simply facts of being the kind of being which has the capacity to cooperate and communicate with other beings. These things make themselves most apparent among humans, who are rather aimless when compared to the average ethereal (or, of course, occult) being. Without aim comes boredom and luxury, each of which is both a blessing and a curse, and both of which have manifested marvelously on earth.
This is all supposed to lead into Aziraphale’s main point, which is that humans are as defined by curiosity and congeniality as they are anxiety. He’s not sure if the reasons are biological or existential, but regardless, people are undeniably social, and living among them has made Aziraphale and Crowley far more aware of the benefits of companionship than either of them could have anticipated.
So, before The World Nearly Ended and all the rest of it, Aziraphale already thought of Crowley as a sort of partner— kept at arm’s length, because of the whole demon bit, but still, the only other person who understood what it was like to exist among humans and not be granted full access to the romance and excitement of humanity. Crowley, for all his flaws, kept loneliness at bay, and that was something Aziraphale valued higher than the abstract cause of heavenly victory. To pass the days with humans, one can’t really focus beyond a relatively near future, and it’s more enjoyable that way, anyhow.
Aziraphale enjoys living in the present. He enjoys good food and music and clothing, and that makes him a rather bad angel, but most of the time, no one is worse off from his giving into temptation.
Crowley looks amused whenever Aziraphale declares that he has the right to harmless enjoyment, and Aziraphale enjoys that, too.
Now that Armageddon has passed and Aziraphale is no longer worrying about divine retribution, he’s feeling quite pleased with Crowley. It feels nice to have made a choice; it feels nice to finally be able to have a proper friendship. Not a perfect friendship, but a proper one nonetheless, one which bridges the distance between heaven and hell, and perseveres through their virtually incompatible music tastes.
(As an aside: Crowley claims to have invented disco. He cites ‘A Fifth Of Beethoven’ as evidence that Aziraphale was on his mind when he did. Aziraphale has long since given up on trying to figure out whether or not he can trust that Crowley is telling the truth when it comes to tales like that; large parts of his demonic success can be attributed to subtle influences on culture for which he received full credit. At the very least, Crowley remembered that he liked Beethoven, which is pretty thoughtful, in Aziraphale’s opinion.)
Objectively speaking, Aziraphale and Crowley’s relationship is uniquely intimate, but people can hardly go around asking about the man with whom you share an ineffable and increasingly affectionate bond, so they call him his boyfriend instead.
“Humans are so funny about words,” Aziraphale says one day, in an inexplicable rush of bravery.
Crowley, who is currently splayed across three chairs at once, raises an eyebrow at him. “What do you mean?”
“They spent so long trying to come up with them—you know, creating language, and so on—and now they’re starting to shorten those words back into letters. Which is really— quite amusing, right? It’s like they want to use so many words in such little space that they’re just squeezing them in any way they can.”
“Well, yes, but that’s not exactly new,” Crowley says.
“I know, but today I was reading an article—” It had been three days ago, conversational stories don’t require an accurate timeline, “—and it used an abbreviation, ‘DTR’. As in, the letter D, the letter T—”
“The letter R, yes, that’s how abbreviations usually work,” Crowley says. “What does that stand for?”
“Well— it means— uh, it stands for define the relationship.”
“That needed its own abbreviation,” Crowley says flatly.
“Apparently,” Aziraphale says. He’s no longer feeling as brave as he did when he first brought this topic up. “People are getting into very confusing relationships, apparently, and the English language doesn’t have all the proper words to convey them succinctly, so they instead decided to abbreviate the concept of defining a relationship instead of coming up with, you know, new definitions.”
“Sounds like one of the more sensible things they’ve done,” Crowley says, and he wrinkles his nose. This is how Aziraphale knows he means it; Crowley may experience the entire spectrum of human emotion, but he only ever shows one feeling this fully, and it is genuine disgust. Apparently, you can take the demon out of hell, but you can never strip him of his aversion toward humanity’s steps in the right direction.
“I suppose it is,” Aziraphale says. “It’s also quite funny, though. They still love to attach a single word to it, it’s just a matter of which word.”
“Sounds like politics.”
Crowley and Aziraphale have, historically, never agreed on politics.
“I suppose, in a sense, yes, but it also is quite different.”
“Whatever you say, angel,” Crowley says.
“Angel,” Aziraphale echoes. “That’s another funny word.”
Crowley gives Aziraphale a look over his sunglasses, one that says, I must keep up appearances of skepticism and irritation, but I would like to see where you are going with this.
“I’ve never been able to piece together what exactly you mean when you call me that,” Aziraphale continues.
“Well,” Crowley says. “It’s got a lot to do with the fact that you’re an angel.”
“Yes, yes, of course, but— is it meant to be a title? A nickname? If you were to write it, would you capitalize the A?”
“Do you really think I keep track of capitalization?” Crowley says.
“I’m just asking. Hypothetically, of course.”
Crowley sighs. Aziraphale thinks he might be genuinely done with the conversation. “I doubt I’ve ever been consistent with it, but I really can’t be bothered to check my diary right now.”
“I didn’t know you kept a diary,” Aziraphale says, furrowing his brow.
Crowley gives Aziraphale his signature smirk. It is, as usual, far too subtle and incredibly effective. “I’m sure there’s plenty you don’t know about me, angel.”
Aziraphale is sure Crowley thinks there are plenty of things Aziraphale doesn’t know about him. Crowley thinks Aziraphale is naive.
It seemed prudent, once upon a time, to pretend that he couldn’t recognize Crowley when he changed his form in some way or another. At first, they had been clear adversaries, and since the morality of an angel having adversaries in the first place is a bit muddled, Aziraphale hadn’t considered it misbehavior; it gave him the upper hand on his opponent, in a very tangible, practical way. Over time, Aziraphale had become too embarrassed to set things straight, and eventually Crowley stopped putting on disguises without letting Aziraphale know, but there had been a few instances—
Well, firstly, Aziraphale should clarify that in the early days of The Arrangement, Crowley had offered something Aziraphale would have called ‘companionship’ or ‘temptation’ back then—as was common at the time—but that he would now just call sex.
Aziraphale had been scandalized, of course. He can’t imagine Crowley had expected any other sort of reaction.
“I can look any way you want,” Crowley had said, a little lecherous.
“Do you really think that’s my objection?”
Crowley shrugged, and Aziraphale remained a shade of red for the rest of the conversation.
He’d continued to offer, and it had faded into the background of their banter with the rest of their disagreements, and at some point he stopped altogether, probably because it wasn’t worth discussing if it no longer got a rise out of Aziraphale, and as far as Crowley knows, that had been the end of that conversation.
Really, it’s just a footnote in their shared history, just another demon attempting to tempt an angel.
But the thing is, sex itself, much like food and music, isn’t inherently amoral or impure; done well, it is one of those remarkably human institutions by which goodness is created out of nothing but a desire to feel good. While it is undoubtedly bad to neglect all else in pursuit of a short-lived pleasure, and while people can easily be tempted into evil by the promise of such a short-lived pleasure, Aziraphale thinks that the blame should not be placed on the pleasure itself. Pleasure is, by its very definition, a positive sensation.
Crowley had simply made an incorrect guess about Aziraphale’s attitudes towards intimacy, is all. Aziraphale actually likes it quite a bit, when the opportunity arises organically. He just has no interest in it as a form of currency— that’s a human tendency that Aziraphale does not particularly approve of or enjoy.
There had been four occasions on which the opportunity arose organically, for Crowley and Aziraphale.
Crowley had been unaware of the organic nature of these interactions; Aziraphale supposes he had thought he was being sneaky, disguising himself as a random human companion who happened to know all the ways to make Aziraphale feel most at ease. But Aziraphale had gone along with it, because he knew to keep his friends close, his enemies closer, and demons with which he’d ended up inextricably linked closest of all.
He’d had no reason to believe Crowley had any ill intent, of course. This was another reason he’d gone along with it.
Any shame Aziraphale feels from the encounters has everything to do with the ineffable nature of what it is that Crowley wants from him. The amount of shame varies from day to day, and it is a very different flavor of shame than the mild moral itch to which he’s grown accustomed. It’s less clear, quite a bit sharper, and unpleasant in a much deeper, more human way.
Since the non-apocalypse, Aziraphale has found himself with an embarrassment of time on his hands, so he has decided to follow the grand human tradition of taking time for oneself.
He’s discovered so far that reflecting on his past is… unpleasant, as it’s very hard to make sense of things without dredging them up and bringing them into his present, and anyway, the most significant memories from his past all involve Crowley. Every time he tries to sit down and reflect—with the embarrassingly romantic hope that he may be inspired to write a few lines about it—he invariably finds that he’d done things and made choices and waited for whatever task he’d been assigned to be completed, and the only parts that stand out are the parts where Crowley interrupts.
If Aziraphale were a better writer, maybe he could say something about it— there must be something to say about his mundane journey through great moments in history being made more exciting by the one consistent presence in his life. Perhaps Aziraphale’s entire existence is profoundly ironic. More likely, Aziraphale himself is just fundamentally dull.
Aziraphale has a sneaking suspicion that Crowley would have a lot to say on that topic, if Aziraphale could find a way to explain the context without running the risk of inflating Crowley’s ego.
Regardless of any judgments which might be cast upon it, the end result is undeniably that the very nature of Crowley and Aziraphale’s relationship has transformed into something quite human.
Aziraphale has long used immortality as a sort of crutch, a simple justification for his refusal to apply any human construct or definition to their particular connection. Where ineffability has failed him, immortality has stepped up to take its place, though it has recently become abundantly clear that immortality will not provide any comfortable distance from humanity in this case.
And yes, Aziraphale has wondered if the nature of his relationship with Crowley is simply ineffable; regardless of whether it is or is not, Aziraphale finds himself unable to be satisfied with not knowing, so the point is moot.
This is rather annoying. Aziraphale prefers simple questions with simple answers, and tends to sputter in the face of complexity.
Perhaps Aziraphale shouldn’t have tried to understand himself at all. The realization that understanding himself is so closely linked to understanding Crowley is alarming on a number of levels.
Aziraphale quickly switches from introspection to origami.
His reasoning is:
- Aziraphale owns a bookstore, and paper folding is not unrelated to bookbinding.
- Origami will keep his hands busy.
- Aziraphale has a sinking feeling that, if he were to take up knitting, he would end up making Crowley a scarf, and that thought strikes fear in his heart.
Origami lies at a very nice intersection of muscle memory and mental occupation. Aziraphale gets to think productive, temporary thoughts about this fold, the next one, and the one after it. Occasionally, with a very complex fold, Aziraphale will have to put all his mild thoughts on hold to focus on the tricky bit, but he never finds himself so bored that his mind wanders over to the Crowley question.
It’s not that he’s trying to distract himself from Crowley entirely. He would just prefer that Crowley not be such a problem for him, especially when nothing with Crowley is any different than it was before.
“Is this part of your magic show?” a voice behind him says.
Aziraphale startles. “Dear lord,” he says, turning around to give Crowley his best glare-scowl, “Do you have to sneak up on me like that?”
Crowley smirks, and Aziraphale has to turn away. “You make it so easy, though.”
“I shouldn’t have to be on alert in the privacy of my own bookshop, especially when it’s not even shopping hours,” Aziraphale says.
“We’ve known each other long enough, I think my behavior is precedented.”
As much as it may be, Aziraphale doesn’t particularly enjoy it, nor does he particularly enjoy the way Crowley makes himself right at home, putting his feet on one chair as he takes up more space on the couch than the couch has to offer. He may enjoy the stretch of Crowley’s jeans over his thighs, but he certainly doesn’t enjoy enjoying it.
“So, what brings you here? Fighting with the plants again?” he asks.
Crowley huffs. “I don’t fight with my plants. I just give them a stern talking to every now and then.”
“And occasionally storm out.”
“You can’t storm out when no one’s talking back to you.”
“That’s true for most people,” Aziraphale corrects. “You manage it, somehow.”
“I‘m not a person, I’m a demon,” Crowley says.
“You still haven’t told me why you’re folding paper.”
Aziraphale glances down at the half-folded duck on his desk. “Because it’s fun.”
“No it’s not.”
“Well, you’re entitled to your opinion—”
“Not what I meant,” Crowley says. “I know what you look like when you’re having fun. I’ve seen your magic act. I’ve watched you gavotte.”
Crowley has a very inconvenient habit of saying very intimate things in the middle of casual conversation. It’s one of the bigger problems in Aziraphale’s life.
“What do I look like now, then?” Aziraphale asks.
He means it mostly rhetorically, except Crowley’s face turns strangely thoughtful. Then, before Aziraphale really knows what’s happening, Crowley’s got a finger under his chin and is turning his face up, examining it.
Aziraphale feels like he’s on fire, which has nothing to do with Crowley being a demon and everything to do with Aziraphale being a very bad angel.
“Tired, mostly,” Crowley says. “You should try sleeping.”
Aziraphale blinks. “We don’t need sleep.”
“Well, sure, but that doesn’t mean a nap won’t do you some good,” Crowley says.
Aziraphale is pretty smart most of the time, but Crowley is both touching him and using double negatives, so he’s processing things at half-speed. “I’m not sure I follow.”
“If you need to clear your head, try lying down and closing your eyes,” Crowley says.
“When did I say I needed to clear my head?”
“You’ve been worrying for the last sixty centuries,” Crowley says. “Have you even tried sleeping?”
Aziraphale swallows. “I don’t have a bed, so no, not really.”
“You have a couch,” Crowley points out.
“It’s not very comfortable,” Aziraphale says. “I don’t like the idea of sleeping. What if someone walks into the shop?”
“You can lock the shop.”
“But what if they break in?”
“How’s that any different from when you just lock the place up and leave?”
“Because I’m at least around, then,” Aziraphale says, even though that doesn’t really make much sense. “It’s different. If I’m asleep, then I’m— you know. Asleep.”
“If you’re that worried, I can watch over the bookstore for a couple of hours,” Crowley says.
Aziraphale glances at the sofa, with its worn-through fabric and book-shaped lumps, and frowns at it for a few moments.
“You can just miracle up a better couch, if you’re worried about your back,” Crowley says.
“How did you know I was thinking about my back?”
“S’where you carry your tension,” Crowley says, rolling his eyes when Aziraphale looks bewildered at that. “What? I took some acupuncture classes a few decades ago. Some things stuck around.”
“Isn’t acupuncture about healing?”
“Well, obviously Hell and I didn’t know that,” Crowley says. “It was still a worthwhile investigation. Any demon worth his salt who sees humans poking humans with needles should be asking a few questions.”
“Acupuncture’s been around for more than a few decades, if I recall correctly.”
Crowley shrugs. “There was a student discount on massages at my usual place, and I figured, better late than never, right?”
“I suppose,” Aziraphale says. He idly wonders if Crowley is—was?—a much better demon than he was ever given credit for. “You know, I’ve always wanted to try acupuncture.”
“I’d offer, but I didn’t finish the course,” Crowley says.
Aziraphale looks around the back room of the bookstore. “I don’t know if there’s room here to miracle in a new sofa.”
Crowley groans “Oh, god, are you doing that thing again?”
“You know, the— the thing where— that— your thing,” Crowley says, gesturing vaguely in Aziraphale’s direction. “The thing where you’re trying to ask for something, but you don’t ask for it, for some reason.”
Aziraphale blushes. “I’m just thinking, it would be absurd to miracle up furniture that you already have. I haven’t even purchased a couch in years, and—”
“Are you asking me if you can come over to my flat for a nap?”
“If it wouldn’t be too much of a bother, I would appreciate it.”
A familiar look of disgust flashes across Crowley’s face. “If it wouldn’t be too much of a bother,” he says. “Don’t be an arse, of course it’s not.”
“Alright, then,” Aziraphale says, and he tries not to feel too pleased as he follows Crowley out of the shop, abandoning the half-folded duck altogether. It’s a lot easier to not think about Crowley when Crowley is here; Aziraphale idly wonders if the distractions were necessary in the first place.
Aziraphale has become something of a regular at Crowley’s flat since the establishment of their life together post-near-Armageddon. He enjoys giving the houseplants emotional support when Crowley’s not looking.
Crowley’s flat, much like Crowley himself, is conspicuously modern and smells vaguely of smoke and coffee. Aziraphale has been slowly making the windows wider by inches each time he’s come over, because he enjoys sunlight. Crowley also enjoys sunlight, actually; he just seems to be under the impression that he’s not allowed to make himself feel at home in the place he spends at least a few hours a day. Some of his furniture is so stiff that it makes Aziraphale’s cash register look worn in.
“So,” Aziraphale says, looking around, “How do I do this, then?”
Crowley lowers his sunglasses. “Do what?”
“Nap,” Aziraphale says. He shifts his weight from one foot to the other. “Do I just— recline?”
“Well, obviously not on the floor,” Crowley says. “You can take the bed, if you like.”
Aziraphale has never actually been in Crowley’s bedroom. He hasn’t actually been in a bed in a long time, though he assumes they’ve gotten more comfortable.
“Alright,” Aziraphale says, following Crowley into the bedroom.
The sheets are tucked impeccably tight, is the first thing Aziraphale notices. The second is that the pillows look quite firm. The third is that there are two distinct sides to the bed, which is a convention of bed sizing, but makes Aziraphale feel a little lonely on Crowley’s behalf.
“So… yeah,” Crowley says. “Get to it, then.”
Aziraphale starts to sit down on the bed.
“W— no, you’ve still got shoes on,” Crowley says.
“Should I… not have shoes on?”
“Not if you’re about to sleep, no,” Crowley says. “Just— slip ‘em off. And your jacket too. You should get… you know. Comfortable.”
“Comfortable,” Aziraphale echoes. It’s not that he doesn’t understand comfort as a concept; he’s just never experienced it in the context of clothing. He tends to handle any ill fits or itchy fabrics with a minor miracle, and goes about his days perfectly content with the state of his outfit.
He just likes to wear the right thing for any given occasion, is all. He’s not sure what the fashion is for napping— he knows that people have pajamas, but he’s never actually owned a pair. He has some vague notion of robes and fuzzy shoes. Sometimes they have animals on the toes. He’s always found that rather disturbing, but humans (and, he suspects, Crowley) think they’re cute.
“Think cotton,” Crowley says. “Just one layer. A shirt with no buttons, pants with nothing over them.”
“That seems rather bare,” Aziraphale says, frowning.
Crowley just shrugs. “It’s the style these days.”
“I like layers.”
“I can tell,” Crowley says, trailing his eyes down the length of Aziraphale’s body before bringing them up to his face again, eyebrows raised. Aziraphale adjusts his bow tie out of habit, but there’s something about the situation that’s making him want to strip down, all of a sudden. He should’ve figured that he couldn’t avoid temptation in a demon’s bedroom.
Not that he’s particularly inclined to avoid this temptation, of course.
In any event, he unties the bow tie.
“Where can I—” Aziraphale says, and Crowley wordlessly holds out a hand, takes the bow tie, and gingerly rests it over the back of a chair. Aziraphale starts in on the buttons of his shirt, before he realizes that it’s probably futile until he removes his jacket and waistcoat.
Crowley’s hands find his shoulders at that exact moment, and Aziraphale barely registers it as something new or interesting as Crowley helps slide his jacket off his shoulders. On the four occasions about which Aziraphale Does Not Think, Crowley’s touch had felt easy and natural. That doesn’t mean that Aziraphale’s chest doesn’t tighten and sort of ache at the sensation and memory, but it does mean he’s expecting it when it happens.
“I suppose I can finally thank you,” Aziraphale says.
Crowley, who’s resting the jacket over the back of a chair, tenses. “What for?”
“Nothing in particular,” Aziraphale says, picking open the buttons of his waistcoat. “But you used to get all fussy over the smallest display of gratitude.”
“Ah,” Crowley says. He clears his throat, though Aziraphale only notices because he’s used to observing Crowley quite closely. “Demons aren’t the best with that, I suppose.”
“By nature or by nurture?”
Crowley shrugs, then leans against the dresser; Aziraphale is working to unbutton his shirt while trying to ignore Crowley’s idle stare. It’s fairly casual, as far as stares go, but there’s a distinct weight to it that Aziraphale thinks he ought to be able to place.
“You always made it seem like you’d get in trouble if you were caught being helpful.” Aziraphale has long since trained himself to avoid words like ‘kind’ or ‘nice’ when describing Crowley’s behavior, unless he wants to see Crowley scowl and squirm. “But do you actually mind it, on a personal level?”
“Being thanked,” Aziraphale says, shrugging off his waistcoat before carefully removing his shirt. He feels a little embarrassed, being in nothing but a thin undershirt in front of Crowley, but then he feels silly for being embarrassed.
“I guess I don’t?” Crowley says. “I haven’t really thought about it much, to be honest.”
“I don’t think it requires all that much thinking to figure out,” Aziraphale says. “Just ask yourself whether it feels nice.”
Crowley frowns, then scrunches his face up in confusion for a few seconds. “I suppose it does.”
“Well,” Aziraphale says, sitting down on the bed to untie his shoes, “In that case, thank you.”
“For what, letting you take a nap here?”
Aziraphale kicks off his shoes. “Among other things.”
Crowley hesitates for a second, but then he smirks—not unkindly—and stands up straight. “In that case, you’re welcome,” he says. He makes his way toward the door. “Sleep tight, angel.”
He shuts the bedroom door behind him, and Aziraphale is left alone to remove one final piece of clothing—his trousers, which he carefully folds along the crease—and lie down on the bed.
His eyes fall shut, and he wonders if Crowley has any of those sleep masks lying around, to prevent any light from sneaking under his eyelids. It seems like the kind of thing Crowley would have. It’s the extreme version of sunglasses, more or less.
But this room, like most rooms in Crowley’s flat, isn’t particularly bright, so Aziraphale makes do.
Aziraphale is folding origami ducks.
He’s folding origami ducks by the duck pond in St. James’ Park, and then he is tossing them into the water. He very much wishes one of them would swim.
Then Crowley is there, telling him he should just miracle them into real ducks, because the ducks in the pond look lonely. Aziraphale is then explaining to him that he can’t just miracle up a duck without The Metatron appearing in the sky and disrupting this perfectly pleasant afternoon so he can reprimand Aziraphale.
Crowley looks furious, and then there is a new duck in the pond. Aziraphale is responsible for it.
Gabriel and Michael appear at his side, and Crowley is still here. Aziraphale is scared, so he leans into Crowley’s side as every angel he’s ever met appears to scold him.
Aziraphale says nothing in response. Crowley whispers something in his ear like, don’t mind them, and you’re better than all of them anyway, and my lot knows right from wrong better than yours. You know that, right?
Michael informs Crowley that she’s heard every word. Crowley informs Michael that he’s aware, but stands by it, doesn’t he, Aziraphale?
Aziraphale doesn’t know what he says next, but it’s apparently right, because Crowley looks victorious. Aziraphale mostly just feels small and foolish, but then there are a million origami ducks coming to life and hopping into the pond.
Aziraphale is in Crowley’s bed. His skin is hot, and his mouth tastes musty.
He’s familiar with dreams as a concept; he’s watched humanity deal with them for as long as he’s been on Earth, and he’d run in the same circles as Freud and the like, back in the day. The unconscious had been a fairly popular topic of conversation. Aziraphale hadn’t been able to relate, but that’s fairly standard, when you’re a principality among humans.
But he’s never actually experienced a dream before, so the whole ordeal leaves him quite shaken.
It just feels so real, even though Aziraphale knows it’s not. No part of him thinks that his dream was a prophecy, or a memory, or a vision of something real. It was a dream, cobbled together from relevant details floating around towards the front of his mind. The psychoanalysts would probably say that there’s some meaning behind it all, but Aziraphale isn’t a psychoanalyst. At most, he’s an enthusiast, and realistically, he’s simply not qualified.
He puts the whole thing in the back of his mind, and wanders out into Crowley’s kitchen.
“Oh,” he says, when he sees Crowley at the table, mug in hand. “You’re here.”
Crowley looks around. “Is this not my flat?”
“I just meant I didn’t think you were around,” Aziraphale says. “How long was I asleep?”
“A few hours.”
“Really,” Aziraphale says, surprised. “That long?”
“Time’s a lot faster when you don’t feel it passing, isn’t it,” Crowley says.
“I suppose it is.”
“That’s why people like it so much. They get bored so easily,” Crowley says.
“Yes, well,” Aziraphale says. He shifts from foot to foot, suddenly uncomfortable, but he can’t figure out why, so he decides he’s being ridiculous. “Have you ever had a dream?”
Crowley’s eyes snap up; Aziraphale suspects they’d been fixed on his calves before. “Like, aspirations?” he asks. “Probably.”
Aziraphale shakes his head. “The kind that happen while you’re asleep, I mean.”
“Oh,” Crowley says. “Nah. Tried a few times, but could never manage it, so I figured it wasn’t worth it.”
“How does someone try to have a dream?”
“I dunno, I’d just sort of… hope it would happen, but then it didn’t.”
Aziraphale is struck by an overwhelming suspicion that Crowley’s not telling him the truth about this. He’s not sure why Crowley would lie about it, or when he’d started assuming that Crowley wasn’t lying about things more often than not, but he notes those things and tucks them away for later consideration.
“They’re quite strange,” Aziraphale says. “It really felt like hardly any time had passed.”
“You had a dream, then?”
Aziraphale nods. “It was… off-putting.”
“Was it one of those— what’s it called. A scary one. Nightmare?”
“No,” Aziraphale says quickly, because Crowley seems a little on-edge at the thought of it being a full-fledged nightmare. And it wasn’t, really; it wasn’t even particularly scary. “It was mildly stressful, though.”
The genuine concern in his voice catches Aziraphale a little off-guard. “Yes, of course, I’m fine,” he says. “Just disarmed, for the moment.”
For some reason, Crowley’s face twists into wry fondness, and, after staring for a beat too long, Aziraphale clears his throat, then tears his eyes away.
“Right, well, I’m about to make some tea,” Crowley says. “If you’d like some, I can— you know.” He gestures towards the stovetop, a little awkward.
“Ah,” Aziraphale says. “Yes, I think tea would be helpful. Or, er— comforting. Nice.”
“I’m on it,” Crowley says, and Aziraphale isn’t sure why he feels slightly out of breath from the whole encounter, but he does desperately wish he hadn’t left his origami materials at the bookshop. He’d love to have something to do with his hands right now, but instead, he has to wait as Crowley saunters pointedly around the kitchen.
Needless to say, the conversation dies off until Aziraphale’s finished off the last of his tea.
The nap is, all-in-all, a refreshing experience.
That doesn’t make the consequences of it any easier to deal with.
Aziraphale is comfortable— genuinely cozy, for the first time in a while. He’s not sure how he’s spent so much time in clothing before, but now that he’s experienced loose fabrics, his day clothes feel stuffier, more constricting. Nice while he’s out and about, for sure, but the second he’s indoors, he’s suddenly compelled to remove his coat, even if the temperature is perfectly fine. In summer, indoors is usually colder than out, but he’d gotten used to wearing four layers regardless of temperature around the time it became fashionable. These days, he finds the sleeves of his coat too restricting, unless he’s fighting the wind from the outdoors.
The only natural conclusion to be drawn is that he’s become drastically more human. After 6000 years of stubbornness, one diverted world ending should not be enough to have Aziraphale—who is well aware that he experiences culture at one-fourth the speed of most people and skips entire decades—pulled from his ways so fast. No, it’s the nap, Aziraphale is sure; for the first time ever, he feels an instinct in his skin.
It starts with coats and comfort, and Aziraphale isn’t sure where it will take him next, but there’s a nagging thought in his mind— if he’s truly gone native, then he could eventually be mortal.
This thought plagues Aziraphale more than the rest of it.
If he is mortal, he ought to get his affairs in order. He’s seen enough death to know that, in addition to being messy and painful, it’s quite logistically complicated. The more he thinks about the realities of dying, the more paralyzed with fear he becomes, until one day—not long after his first nap and his subsequent uptick in humanity—he brings it up over lunch with Crowley.
“If I were dying,” Aziraphale says, “how would we go about handling that?”
Crowley’s sunglasses seem to grow as he considers it; by the time he speaks, he’s started to resemble a particularly bug-eyed Anna Wintour. “I suppose we’d just go on like normal until you— you know. Kicked the bucket.”
“Really,” Aziraphale says, raising his eyebrows. “That’s not what I expected you to say.”
“What? I don’t see why anything would need to change.” A pause. “I guess we’d have to deal with the legal bit of sorting out who would watch over the bookshop, but that seems like too much detail for a hypothetical.”
“So we would still… spend time together, then?” Aziraphale asks.
Crowley lowers his still-oversized sunglasses to give Aziraphale a look that is both concerned and confused. “Do you really think I’m gonna go to the effort of making new friends when I’ve still got one lying around?”
“That’s rather dark.”
“You’re the one who asked what we’d do if you died.”
They both eat in silence for a few beats, until Crowley breaks it.
“I suppose we could get married.”
Aziraphale doesn’t choke on his lunch, but only because Crowley is considerate enough to not say anything shocking while there’s food in Aziraphale’s mouth. He does, however, drop his fork, and is overtaken by a minor coughing fit.
“Excuse me?” he says, after a few difficult seconds.
“If you were gonna die,” Crowley says. “Unless there’s someone else you’d trust to look after the books, of course. If we were married, then I’d get your possessions. Less of a hassle that way.”
“Oh,” Aziraphale says, his face quite red. “Right, of course.”
“The lawyers wouldn’t look into—”
“Yes, yes, I understand the logic, thank you,” Aziraphale says, cutting him off. “Easy legal fix, that vow of everlasting love.”
“It does have its benefits,” Crowley says, ignoring Aziraphale’s sudden shift in disposition, if he notices it at all. “It used to disappoint me to no end.”
Aziraphale frowns. “You invented marriage?”
“It was some of my early experimental work,” Crowley says. “Humans aren’t really good with permanent things, so I figured it would be fun.”
“That’s—” he can’t figure out if it’s the most bafflingly uncharacteristic thing he’s ever heard, or exactly in line with his expectations. He also isn’t quite sure it’s true, though he’s not sure why Crowley would lie about this. “What did the higher ups think of that one?”
“They loved it, of course,” Crowley says. “By the time Henry VIII came around, even Hastur was impressed.”
Before the trial, Aziraphale used to assume that Hastur was the worst of the worst, based on the way Crowley talked about him, but he has since come to realize that the thing which really distinguishes Hastur from any other demon is that he and Crowley genuinely hate each other.
“I suppose it was the beheading?”
“Probably,” Crowley says. “And the general discord, I think. I dunno, I thought it was pretty boring as far as chaos goes.” He takes a sip of wine. “Anyway, why’re you so convinced you’re gonna die?”
“I never said I was convinced,” Aziraphale says defensively.
Crowley fixes him with a look.
“Well— I’m just saying, now that I’ve lost touch with head office, who knows what would happen if I were discorporated.”
“Then don’t get discorporated,” Crowley says.
“Obviously,” Aziraphale says. “But what if it happens by accident? Or what if they just— took it away?”
“Took what away?”
“My immortality,” Aziraphale says. “What if they’ve decided to rescind it?”
“I think you’re overestimating Gabriel,” Crowley says. “He was scared shitless when I was you.”
“But now that we’re down here, and I’m me— things feel strange.” He frowns. “I want… human things.”
Crowley’s face does something complicated and quick. “Really?”
“Yes,” Aziraphale says. “Like, I want to remove my coat, and I want to sleep.”
“That’s it?” Crowley says, in a strange tone Aziraphale doesn’t think he’s heard ever before in the 6000 years they’ve known each other.
“Well, yes,” Aziraphale says, a little embarrassed. “But what if that’s just the start?”
Crowley takes a second to think that over, then shakes his head. “I sincerely doubt that,” he says. “Obviously, I’m no expert, but I think you’re just worrying because it’s what you’re used to.”
“Well, I have plenty to worry about.”
“Sure,” Crowley says. “But less than you did before, right?”
“Well— I suppose,” Aziraphale says.
“My best guess is that you wanna sleep more because you’re settling in,” Crowley says.
“I’ve been here for 6000 years, I don’t think I need to settle any further.”
“You’ve been trying to get your head into the clouds for 6000 years,” Crowley corrects. “Now that you’re here for good, you can focus on things like… y’know. Feeling good, or whatever. Without all your angel guilt getting in the way. Think of it as retirement from a higher purpose. Now you can do something fun and human. Go skydiving. Fall in love. Write a book.”
“I’ve been skydiving before,” Aziraphale says. “And I don’t want to write a book.”
He pointedly ignores the other suggestion, and Crowley lets him. “Don’t all bookshop owners want to write a book?”
Aziraphale frowns. “I wouldn’t say that. Anyway, most bookshop owners want to sell books.”
“Point taken,” Crowley says. “Come on, you’ve got a million little hobbies, right? I’m sure you can make one of them the main one. Get really good at it, then replace it with something else in a century, and then you’ll stop worrying that you’re dying, or some other nonsense.”
It’s probably an alright suggestion, but the thing is— Aziraphale likes being just… okay at things. He even enjoys being downright bad at them. He could probably become successful at most things with a little bit of research and a lot of magic, but he likes that his life is a fairly small affair— just himself, his books, Crowley’s plants, and a still unfinished origami duck. He’s not interested in expanding that just for the sake of killing time.
“Perhaps,” Aziraphale says. “I think I want to try sleeping again.”
Crowley perks up at that. “It really is best after a meal,” he says. “My place?”
“If you could,” Aziraphale says, ignoring the way Crowley’s enthusiasm prickles hot at the back of his neck.
This time, Aziraphale wakes up to find Crowley in bed with him.
He’s a little startled, though he has a hazy memory of Crowley attempting to wake him up to ask if he could join him; if he remembers correctly, he’d brushed him off and quickly gone back to sleep.
Aziraphale stares at Crowley, because he finds that he wants to.
There’s no novelty to it. It’s hard to be taken aback by someone’s physical appearance once you’ve occupied their body and bathed in holy water in front of half the underworld. He knows all about Crowley’s long limbs, the lean muscle of his arms and calves, the easy way his fingers rest on any surface. He’s been in control of those features, and even more, and yet—
There’s something quite intimate about the luxury of being able to stare, knowing that no one is watching.
Crowley’s fingers are quite good at touching skin, if Aziraphale remembers correctly. His hands have a distinct grip. His chest is—
Aziraphale is very probably in love with him.
There is a rabbit in Crowley’s living room when Aziraphale exits the bedroom.
“Harry?” Aziraphale says, mildly astounded, considering that he hasn’t seen the rabbit since he ran off during Warlock’s birthday party. He’s also pretty sure that Harry’s been receiving some secondhand immortality, considering that he’s been around since Aziraphale started up with magic, which would make him well over 100 years old.
Harry, of course, provides no explanation for his presence. He just twitches his nose, as rabbits do.
Aziraphale loves all living creatures, by nature, but that doesn’t mean he can’t love some more than others. Dogs, both small and large, are among his favorites; he also enjoys cats and reptiles, and respects their staunch disinterest in all things immensely. As a person with wings, he loves birds, and as a person with Animal Planet, he loves exotic insects and colorful fish.
His relationship with rabbits is slightly more complicated.
To be frank: they started it.
Rabbits have never liked him, for as long as he’s remembered. It’s not uncommon for an amateur magician to get a bite or two, but they seemed to attack him both viciously and constantly. Harry’s the only one who’s ever tolerated him, and it’s just because he loves the spotlight.
“What’s going— oh, shit,” Crowley says, stumbling out of the bedroom before he notices Harry. “What’re you doing out?”
Aziraphale is about to answer, except Crowley’s still in his underwear, so the words get caught in his throat, and it turns out, Crowley’s not actually talking to him.
It’s unclear whether Harry is twitching his nose in morse code, or Crowley can just speak to animals and had neglected to ever mention this to Aziraphale, but regardless, the two of them are certainly carrying on a conversation.
“He’s— that’s none of your business, go back to the plants,” Crowley says. He turns to Aziraphale. “Have you been talking to my plants?”
Aziraphale blinks. “Are you talking to a bunny rabbit?”
“Oh,” Crowley says, looking vaguely caught. He turns to Harry and says, “Alright, run along now,” then places him on the ground.
Harry does, in fact, run along.
Once he’s gone, Aziraphale says, “Why do you have the rabbit from my magic show?”
“Did you not know I kept him around?” Crowley says. “How do you think you always manage to find him when you need him for a trick?”
“Well, I never really thought about it,” Aziraphale says. “A miracle, I supposed.”
“Right,” Crowley says. “My miracle.”
Okay, that much makes sense.
“So you can talk to him because of— what, another miracle?” Aziraphale asks.
“Well— something like that, yeah,” Crowley says. “He and I have an understanding.”
“You and that rabbit have an understanding,” Aziraphale repeats.
“He’s a very bright guy,” Crowley says. He pauses. “Don’t tell him I said that.”
“I won’t, because I can’t talk to rabbits,” Aziraphale says. “Why can you talk to rabbits?”
“Oh, well, you know,” Crowley says, very obviously hemming and hawing. “It’s not a general skill, really. Just the one.”
“The one rabbit?”
“Yeah,” Crowley says. “He’s technically a gift from… the higher ups, you know. A— what’s it called, a— performance bonus.”
“They gave you a rabbit because they liked what you did with the Spanish Inquisition?”
“No, just, in general, they said that my job performance entitled me to an immortal demon animal companion. It’s not a big deal.”
“And you just let me borrow your immortal demon animal companion for my magic act,” Aziraphale says. “The magic act you vehemently opposed.”
“Well— it’s not like I was using him, was I? In any event, you kept getting those awful rabbit bites, and I don’t think they’d invented antibiotics yet, so I figured I might as well…” He does a spinning point-like gesture with his hand. “Get you a bunny that didn’t want to eat you, or whatever it was that the others took so much issue with.”
“So you already had the rabbit, then?”
“I mean, not exactly,” Crowley says, shrugging in some failed attempt to appear nonchalant. “I just knew I didn’t really want a pet.”
“But you got one.”
“For your magic act,” Crowley says. “And when you weren’t doing magic— I mean, I wasn’t going to put him out on the streets. Besides, he keeps the plants in line for me.”
“I— he—” Aziraphale shakes his head, trying to clear his thoughts. “So just to be clear, you got me a rabbit.”
“You don’t have to say it like that.”
“Like it was— like it’s something nice, or whatever,” Crowley says.
“But it is nice.”
“No, it’s a rabbit,” Crowley corrects.
Aziraphale doesn’t point out that those two things aren’t mutually exclusive. Crowley is acting strange already, and Aziraphale has a few more questions he wants to ask before Crowley decides to shut down this conversation.
“You could’ve told me, you know.”
“But then it would’ve been a whole thing,” Crowley says. “Back then, when we were still on opposite sides— I mean, I couldn’t have, because then you would’ve known, and that could’ve gotten dicey, with the higher-ups. It never ends well for me when they start asking questions about my intentions.”
“You make it sound like you had a habit of doing nice things for me behind my back,” Aziraphale says.
Crowley opens his mouth—presumably to protest—but then, oddly, his face turns a deep shade of red, and he focuses his gaze on his feet.
Aziraphale is very aware of how undressed he is, and then he blinks and is wearing his clothes again, coat and all. He rarely miracles his clothing on, but his need to leave Crowley’s apartment right this very second feels urgent.
“I should return to the shop,” he says.
“You better tend to the rabbit,” Aziraphale says. “Make sure he doesn’t get at the leaves.”
“Will do,” Crowley says. His outfit has also miraculously returned, Aziraphale notes.
“Thank you very much, for the nap and the bunny, I’ll—” Aziraphale doesn’t know what he’s going to say. Drop by later? Call? Finally figure out how texting works? He may very well do any one of those things, but honestly, he can’t quite picture doing any of them. He can’t quite picture doing anything period, right now— his heart is beating quite fast, and it’s all very complicated. “So long.”
“Catch you on the flip side, then,” Crowley says, which is probably the first and last time he will ever use that phrase in conversation with Aziraphale, but at the moment, Aziraphale doesn’t have the capacity to consider it all too carefully, as he’s fleeing Crowley’s apartment like it’s a crime scene and he’s trying not to get caught.
Aziraphale cannot remember how to make an origami duck, and there are too many varieties of origami rabbit. There are various levels of complexity, rabbits that stand up, rabbits that lie flat, rabbits that hop, rabbit faces, rabbit faces with teeth, rabbit-shaped baskets— it’s too many rabbits. Aziraphale doesn’t need infinite possibilities right now; he needs a simple sequential set of instructions. This should not be so difficult to find.
See, it has come to Aziraphale’s attention recently that Crowley is displaying symptoms of potentially, to some degree and within a margin of error, being in some form of love with him.
And so Aziraphale would like to consider thinking about it, as opposed to just stewing, but he cannot begin the process of processing until he knows how to make an origami rabbit and can do so automatically, without instruction, and to reach that point, he must first find a set of instructions to then internalize. Then, he can begin to get a handle on this.
But his searches provide no clarity, and he is thinking about what would happen if he did become a great artist, and what it would mean if Crowley looked at his work with pride and adoration.
He is also thinking about those Four Times, and the way Crowley’s breath had felt hot on his collarbone, and he is hoping in a very secret way that Crowley had known all along that Aziraphale wouldn’t be fooled by his disguises.
He is also thinking about the nagging anxiety of not knowing what Crowley is to him in a human way, now that they are, for all intents and purposes, no longer an angel and a demon, but two immortal humans without the material inconveniences of humanity.
He is also thinking about Crowley getting him a rabbit and saying they could get married and how that makes every bit of sense and absolutely no sense at all.
“I miss the Gavotte,” he says, feeling absolutely lost.
Unfortunately, Crowley isn’t there with a snide comment to make Aziraphale whip his head around. It’s a shame there’s no distraction quite as effective as him.
Aziraphale has been on the verge of pulling his hair out for three straight days when the feeling of being stressed momentarily causes him to forget the reason for the stress, and that is the moment when Crowley decides to swoop into the bookshop like everything is normal and invite Aziraphale out for lunch. The whole thing is so typical that Aziraphale doesn’t even remember that there’s something sitting unresolved between them until he overhears the maître d’ refer to them as a couple.
It’s a blessing and a curse—as things for them tend to be—that leaves Aziraphale at a crossroads.
On the one hand, he could ignore it. They’ve been called a couple many, many times, and this shouldn’t be any different; on the other hand, the comment does cause Aziraphale to experience the most acute sense of panic he’s ever experienced in his 6000 years on earth.
In the end, he decides that saying nothing is no longer an option, which is a tangled mess of double negatives, but that’s the least of his concerns.
“I think we need to address some things,” Aziraphale says.
Crowley gives him a look that’s supposed to be vague confusion, but mostly just looks worried. “What kinds of things?”
“Many things,” Aziraphale says, “But I suppose— I mean, we should probably begin with— well, the fact that I, um.” He clears his throat. “The fact that I would like to spend the rest of eternity with you.”
Crowley’s sunglasses grow. “Well, that’s— good to hear,” he says, a fraction of a second too late, “considering that we’re kind of stuck with each other.”
“I suppose we are,” Aziraphale says. He takes a deep breath. “But you see— I don’t feel stuck.”
“It’s not that I’m stuck with you,” he says. “It’s more that I chose you. Eleven years ago, and long before then as well. The Arrangement— that was me choosing you over heaven, and I quite liked the choice I made, so I’ve kept making it.”
“That’s very nice of you to say,” Crowley says. “I’m not very good with sincere emotion, though.”
“Yes you are,” Aziraphale says, too stressed out to indulge that particular piece of Crowley’s ego. “Anyway, I know it seems easier to continue not discussing it, but I believe we would both benefit from the knowledge that whatever feelings we’re experiencing are—or are not—reciprocated.”
“Do you have to be so blasé about it?” Crowley asks. He sounds very slightly breathless.
“Yes,” Aziraphale says. “This is a difficult conversation, I’m doing what I need to in order to make it manageable.”
“It doesn’t have to be difficult,” Crowley says. “We can just keep not talking about it.”
Aziraphale shakes his head, keeping his eyes fixed firmly on his hands, which are folded neatly in his lap. If the balls of his fingers are pressing into his thighs, that’s his business. “A relationship is a mutual understanding. You can’t just act a certain way and hope the other person clues in.”
“That sounds rather pointed, angel.”
“Well, you did get me an immortal rabbit.”
“Was that really the first thing that tipped you off?”
Crowley frowns at him. “The fact that I’ve been— you know.”
Aziraphale raises his eyebrows. “I do not know, actually.”
“You really are a bastard, you know that?” Crowley says.
Aziraphale doesn’t take the bait.
Crowley sighs. “Tipped you off to the fact that I’m… devoted to you.”
“Devoted,” Aziraphale repeats. He considers the word. “I like that.”
“I’m so glad,” Crowley says flatly.
“It’s very descriptive,” Aziraphale continues. “Honest, too.”
“What can I say? Demons and poets have a special connection, so I’ve got a way with words.”
“You’re also quite good at deflecting,” Aziraphale says. “To answer your question, the rabbit did tip me off to something, yes.”
“You’re the one who’s being all coy,” Crowley says. “With all of these mysterious realizations, and whatnot.”
“At least I’m trying to steer us in the direction of talking about important things.”
“I’ve been trying to show you all those important things for thousands of years, because up until recently, you didn’t let me talk about it.”
“What does that mean?”
“You only let the whole thing happen at all with the caveat that you would pretend you had no idea,” Crowley says. “You flirt, but you’re sure to leave room for plausible deniability. You pout at me and bat your eyelashes to get me to do you a favor, but you never outright ask for what you want, so it’s up to me to figure out a way to make it look like an accident, or a coincidence, or something I just happened to be doing.”
He doesn’t sound angry, just sort of bitter and mostly tired, which is even more horrifying to Aziraphale. The idea of Crowley letting this anger burn low and deep for centuries, fueled by every moment of genuine joy they shared— that makes him sad, that those bits of happiness are tainted by something so overwhelmingly sad.
And Aziraphale almost says, I didn’t mean to, but then he catches himself. He can read Crowley’s subtext well enough to see that he doesn’t actually want to waste time fighting over what was whose fault.
Instead, he says, “You should know that I lied when I said I wouldn’t go to Alpha Centauri with you.”
“Oh?” Crowley says.
Aziraphale nods. “I should have told you that earlier, I suppose.”
“I don’t really see why that’s relevant.”
“Because I’m trying to be honest,” Aziraphale says. “With both you and myself.”
“So that’s the truth, then? That you were playing hardball about Alpha Centauri? If I’d known we were bartering, I could’ve chosen somewhere else—”
“I wasn’t objecting to the location, I just wasn’t ready to believe that the world was destined to end,” Aziraphale says. “The only reason I said I wouldn’t go was because it felt like admitting defeat, but if I had been truly hopeless— I would have run away with you in an instant.”
“You would have,” Crowley says flatly.
Aziraphale nods. “And if I’m being truly honest, when you said we could run away together… I didn’t think you were suggesting dodging Armageddon by hiding out on a star.”
“Well— what did you think, then?” Crowley sounds a little nervous now, letting something into his voice that’s been right underneath the surface this whole time.
“I thought you were… well, starting the conversation that’s been building for centuries,” Aziraphale says. “The one I’m trying to have now. And I wasn’t ready, and it was— terrifying, but still exciting, and frustratingly reckless. Or at least, I thought it was.”
“You lost me, angel,” Crowley says, but there’s no bite to it.
“My apologies,” Aziraphale says. “It’s hard to explain something when you’ve only just begun to understand it yourself.”
Crowley doesn’t interject, just waits silently while Aziraphale takes a deep breath, trying to scavenge bits of bravery from deep inside himself.
“I only recently became able to reckon with the fact that I am very much in love with you,” Aziraphale says, and then— he waits.
Crowley’s face betrays nothing.
This goes on for a while.
Eventually, Aziraphale goes back to eating, because he needs to do something with his hands, and Crowley’s not offering up an ounce of clarity. Weirdly enough, the buzzing in Aziraphale’s head is less insistent than he would have expected; maybe that’s what happens when you get something huge and terrifying off your chest.
“Alright, I’m gonna say something,” Crowley says, after an uncomfortably long time spent watching Aziraphale methodically transfer food from plate to fork to mouth.
Aziraphale doesn’t know what to make of that, so he just pauses, fork midair, and says, “Oh?”
“It’s something I’ve been wanting to say for a while now,” Crowley says. “So you can’t laugh.”
“And I need to preface this with— I get it, you’re the great principality Aziraphale, you were a great guardian who had a flaming sword, you’re not just some sort of… dweeby little angel, even though you usually look and act like a dweeby little angel.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard the word dweeby before,” Aziraphale says, feeling calm, in a mildly panicked sort of way. “Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”
“I dunno, it’s— it’s a you thing,” Crowley says. “Anyway, I realize that you’re kind of a badass, but I’ve just gotta say: you—” he points a spoon at Aziraphale, as if there was any room for confusion, “—are really fucking adorable sometimes.”
Aziraphale blinks. “Um.”
“It’s the worst thing about you, I think,” Crowley says. “You’d have made an excellent demon. Those eyes could get people to do some pretty nasty things.”
“Or good things,” Aziraphale says, mostly reflexively.
“You got me to do good things, for sure,” Crowley says. “I just wasn’t supposed to do them.”
“Well, those were the terms of our Arrangement.”
“It was also just because I liked you a disgusting amount,” Crowley says, standing up. “Alright, come on.”
Aziraphale follows suit, vaguely baffled. “Where are we headed?”
“The bookshop, I think,” Crowley says. “I’d like some privacy, and I’m pretty sure Harry and the plants have been gossiping.”
Aziraphale doesn’t really know what to make of the way Crowley has an arm slung over his shoulder the entire way to the bookshop, but he does know he enjoys the way his touch feels. It’s a warm day, but the added heat doesn’t bother him much. Plus, he’s fairly certain it’s a possessive gesture, and he very much enjoys that he’s brought that out in Crowley.
“You’re evil,” Crowley says, the second they’re inside the shop. He drags Aziraphale right to the back. “I know you’re an angel and all, but really— saying you’re in love with me for the first time in public? That’s practically satanic.”
“I’m not sure I take that as a compliment,” Aziraphale says, as Crowley lets go of him to unceremoniously slam the door behind them.
“It’s not meant to be one,” Crowley says. He turns around, takes off his glasses, and looks Aziraphale right in the eye. “Did you mean it?”
“Do you really love me?” Crowley asks. “I need you to look me in the eye and tell me the truth.”
Aziraphale finds Crowley’s snake eyes a little unsettling to look at, if he’s being honest, but he is in love with him, so he finds a charm in their uncanniness. That doesn’t make it any easier to maintain eye contact as he nods, but he does manage a shaky, “Yes.”
Though, come to think of it, that difficulty might have more to do with the weight of Crowley’s gaze than anything else.
“Because if you’re lying, or just being a good sport, or— or saying it for any reason besides the fact that it’s the truth, that would be the most terrible, horrific thing I’ve ever seen, and I’m a demon.”
“Why would I lie?”
“I don’t know,” Crowley says. “Are you, though?”
“You better mean it,” Crowley continues, not breaking eye contact. He’s standing so close that Aziraphale can smell the familiar sterile scent of Crowley’s shampoo, and even the remnants of vague ashiness of a road trip taken in a burning car that Crowley apparently can’t scrub out of his skin. “Because I’m really fucking in love with you too, and I’m going to say it back properly, which is going to be very romantic and extremely embarrassing, so you better not—”
Of course, Aziraphale chooses to cut him off with a kiss.
It’s only natural, really. Crowley’s mouth is right there, and Aziraphale is so desperate to get his hands on him that he feels like he might actually explode. They’re both a little off kilter, so the kiss bangs them against a few walls before their lips settle into a rhythm, but they manage to pull themselves together eventually. Kissing Crowley is a bit like staring at a flame, hot and soft and beautiful and hard to pull yourself away from; Aziraphale finds that it only takes a few seconds to get completely lost in it.
Then, Crowley pulls away. “You don’t know how long—”
“I do,” Aziraphale says hurriedly, pulling Crowley’s mouth back towards his own.
Crowley pulls away again. “Should we—”
“Keep this up, yes,” Aziraphale says, vaguely impatient, but Crowley only kisses him back for a second before his mouth is back to talking.
“We were having a conversation,” Crowley says. “It felt important.”
“Was it, though?” Which is maybe irresponsible, but Aziraphale stopped thinking the second Crowley said he loved him.
“I want to do this right,” Crowley says. “I need to make sure—”
“You don’t need to make sure of anything right this moment,” Aziraphale says. “And of course you’re doing it right.”
“You don’t know that.”
“You love me, don’t you?”
“Well— yes, but I would like to say it with a little more fanfare.”
“There’s really no need for that.”
“I didn’t say I needed to, I said I wanted to.”
“Alright,” Aziraphale says, taking a step back and crossing his arms. “Say it, then. With fanfare.”
“You really are a bastard, you know that?”
“Just enough of one, I thought.” Aziraphale feels himself glowing. Crowley makes it so easy, really— he’s got this fond fury he’s reserved specifically for Aziraphale, and Aziraphale has always secretly been a big fan.
Now, he supposes, he can openly be a big fan.
“You’re so smug,” Crowley says. “Unbearably smug, really.”
“You seem keen to bear it.”
“That’s true,” Crowley says. “I like how infuriating you are.”
“You have a very strange idea of fanfare,” Aziraphale says.
“We’re not at the fanfare yet,” Crowley says. “You’ve got to build to that sort of thing, and Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
“Yes, but this has been building for six thousand years’ worth of days. That’s enough time to build many Romes.”
“Call me dramatic, but I’d like to think that you and I are far more epic than the creation of an empire,” Crowley says. “Probably more epic than the creation of a thousand empires.”
Aziraphale is starting to feel a little less smug now. “We have outlasted them all, I suppose.”
“Aziraphale,” Crowley says, and Aziraphale is no longer at all smug, and is in fact absolutely powerless in the face of Crowley’s gaze. He wants to go back to kissing him just because it all feels like so much, but he’s unfortunately captivated by the conversation, now. “No two people will ever love each other the way I love you. I have literally spent thousands of years falling in love with you, and it has been the best and worst thing in the universe. Before we let this go any further, I need you to understand that.”
All the breath leaves Aziraphale’s lungs; he probably doesn’t need to breathe, technically speaking, but it’s one of the small human habits he’d picked up right at the start, like blinking, and sweating, and having a pulse.
Those things punctuate his humanity quite nicely, he thinks.