It's 1975, and one angel and one demon have no idea what will begin in just a few short years. They're living in blissful ignorance, only slightly less than blissful, because they're living the same way they have for the past six millennia. They're certainly living in ignorance.
When Queen releases “You’re My Best Friend,” Crowley is quite taken, and he makes Aziraphale listen to it; he doesn’t say anything about it, except: “It’s a fun little song, a bit reminiscent of Cole Porter.” It’s a massive stretch and he knows it, but he wants Aziraphale to hear it, he needs Aziraphale to hear it. He won’t say why, even to himself, but he’ll make sure Aziraphale listens to the song, he can do that much.
He plays it in the Bentley, not while they’re driving anywhere, just sitting in the Bentley. He makes Aziraphale come out and sit with him in the Bentley so he can play this song for him. And he plays it, and Aziraphale doesn’t say anything the whole time, thank Someone, and then the song ends and Aziraphale still doesn’t say anything.
And Crowley says, “What do you think? It seemed like something you’d enjoy.”
And Aziraphale says, “Of course, my dear boy. Thank you for sharing it.”
Crowley agonizes over that reaction for weeks, months, wonders if Aziraphale picked up on the message Crowley deliberately wasn’t sending, wonders if his voice was as stilted as he remembers it being, wonders – wonders oh, so much. Aziraphale’s always been a fan of music, his Liszt and his Strauss and his Sondheim, and he’s never been shy about expressing his enthusiasm.
Best case scenario, Crowley thinks, is that Aziraphale simply didn’t like the song, that he lied to be polite. Although, that isn’t really Aziraphale’s style, he reminds himself. Aziraphale doesn’t hold back to spare Crowley’s feelings, not when it comes to the things he enjoys: he turns his nose up at the fashion of the 1970s, he grimaces at the dimly lit hole-in-the-wall restaurants Crowley takes him to. He doesn’t pretend to like things, not for Crowley.
So, worst case scenario, then. Aziraphale heard the meaning behind the song loud and clear, and he doesn’t feel the same, and he’s disgusted and insulted, and he never wants to speak to Crowley again. That’s not likely, either, because they’ve spoken several times since then, and Aziraphale has seemed… well, when Crowley tries to look at it rationally, he realizes that the angel has been acting completely normal. But it feels different, somehow, it feels like every silence is scornful and every good-natured debate is an argument.
It takes a while, longer than Crowley would prefer, but he eventually works up the courage to ask him about it. He’s talked himself out of it so very many times over the past few months, telling himself he’s imagining things, it isn’t important, Aziraphale probably doesn’t even remember the song, but he has to know. He has to ask, or he’ll never stop worrying about it. He does it over lunch one day, casual as you please.
“Do you remember,” – he clears his throat awkwardly, making sure he has the angel’s attention – “Do you remember that song I showed you a while back?”
Aziraphale hesitates. Licks his lips, which is – well, it’s something, but Crowley doesn’t quite know what. “Oh, yes,” he says, sounding bright and genuine, perking up as if he just had to think about it a moment but now he remembers. “The, erm. The Queens song?”
“Queen, singular,” Crowley corrects him, but he smiles. “Yeah, that one.”
Aziraphale gives him a thoughtful nod, internalizing the information to forget later that day. “What about it?”
Crowley bites his lip. “Did you… like it?”
“I liked it well enough,” Aziraphale says, furrowing his brow. “I said I did, didn’t I?”
“Yeah, you did,” Crowley replies quickly. “I just wasn’t sure if you, you know. Actually liked it.”
“Did you think I was lying?” Aziraphale doesn’t sound offended at the possibility; he sounds amused. Positively tickled, in fact. “What a silly thing that would be to lie about.”
Shaking his head, Crowley shifts into overdrive, defensive and anxious. “No, no, not lying,” he assures the angel. “I know you wouldn’t lie, I know. I just thought maybe you didn’t like it so much. Maybe you exaggerated, a bit.”
A beat, and then Aziraphale narrows his eyes. “I don’t recall being particularly zealous about my enjoyment of the song,” he says quietly, apprehensively, “and I don’t see why it’s so important to you, all of a sudden.”
Crowley freezes, his eyes wide behind his dark sunglasses, and he knows, he knows that Aziraphale can see through them, it’s an angelic superpower or something, and he’s always hated it. It was easier, in the beginning, because he didn’t have so much to hide yet. He knew even back then that he loved Aziraphale, but now it’s so much darker, so much rawer, so much harder to carry, and every time the angel looks in his eyes, looks straight through his only layer of defense and sees into him, it feels like he’s burning.
He’s frozen and burning simultaneously, now, unable to move and unable to speak and unable to feel anything other than the pain of being seen. It takes a long time for him to thaw, to relax his muscles enough to respond to Aziraphale, and he hardly even remembers what he’s responding to, and the angel is giving him such an odd look. He realizes it’s probably because he’s been silent and still for an uncomfortable length of time, but it feels like something deeper than that.
“It’s – it’s not – it’s not important,” he stammers, shaking his head clear of the frost. “It’s not, it’s not,” he mumbles, and it sounds like an excuse, and it sounds like a lie, and it sounds like an apology.
Aziraphale tilts his head at an angle, studying him, seeming somehow tender and detached at the same time. “You like the song, don’t you?” he says, oh so softly. “You like it an awful lot. It’s played several times in the car, since you first shared it with me.”
Oh. Well. That’s embarrassing, isn’t it, a bit. Crowley doesn’t really control what the Bentley plays, she has a mind of her own, and she likes to fuck with him, sometimes. For a while, before Queen dropped onto the scene, she would only play Etta James; that was a harrowing time in Crowley’s life. Now, he thinks back on the drives they’ve taken over the past few months, and he tries to remember if the Bentley has played that particular song an inordinate amount.
He can’t recall. When he’s driving with Aziraphale, he doesn’t worry about the music, really. He talks to the angel, he listens to the angel, and sometimes he watches the road, at the angel’s behest, but he usually doesn’t pay attention to the music. Apparently, Aziraphale pays attention.
“Has it?” Crowley mutters, affecting a tone of casual interest. “I haven’t been listening too closely, I guess.”
“Yes, it has,” the angel replies matter-of-factly. “And you smile when it’s playing.”
Crowley feels his chest squeeze hard, at that. “I didn’t know…” he stops and swallows thickly, looking down at the table before him. “I didn’t know you noticed things like that.”
“I always notice when you’re smiling,” Aziraphale murmurs, and there’s something indecipherable in his tone, a lightness of sorts, but Crowley can’t tell what it is without looking up, and he won’t look up. “It doesn’t happen often enough,” the angel continues, “so I like to see it, when it does.”
“I smile,” Crowley says, without missing a beat, defensive. “I smile plenty.”
“You really don’t,” Aziraphale insists sadly, and then he reaches across the table and places his warm hand over Crowley’s like a blanket, and waits for the demon to look up at him again. “You so often seem like you’re somewhere else, when we’re together.”
That’s a blow, for Crowley. He tenses up, pulling his hand back, and sets his jaw. He’s not upset with Aziraphale for saying it; he’s upset with himself because it’s true. But he can’t tell Aziraphale that, not without telling him more, not without saying I’m always tucked away in my mind, angel, because in there, you love me. Not without saying When I’m with you, it hurts. It hurts how much I need you.
“I’m not,” he says, quiet and unsure. “I’m not somewhere else, I’m here.”
Aziraphale’s lips curl up in the tiniest, saddest smile, and he shakes his head slowly. “Do you want to be here, though? Would you rather be somewhere else? Because – you can do what you want, Crowley, you’re not – you’re not – tethered to me.”
Crowley’s insides twist unpleasantly, and he thinks I am, I am, I am. I am irrevocably tethered to you, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. He can’t say that. There are always so many things he can’t say. “I don’t know what you mean,” he tells Aziraphale, and it’s almost not a lie. “Do you mean here, at this table? Here in London? Here on Earth?”
“Any of it,” Aziraphale answers earnestly. “All of it.”
“I want all of it,” Crowley replies, unhesitating, unwavering. “I know I have the freedom to go where I choose, and I choose to be here. Are you really worried about this?”
“Not worried. Just… concerned,” the angel says lamely.
Crowley arches a sharp eyebrow at him. “What’s the difference?”
“There isn’t one,” Aziraphale admits, deflating. “I just – I don’t want you to feel like you have to – to stick around, or anything. You don’t owe me anything. I don’t want you to grow to resent me.”
“Angel, I could never.” The look in Crowley’s eyes could melt steel, if he wanted it to. Right now, he just wants it to get a point across, to show the angel how sincere he’s being, a rare occurrence.
Aziraphale’s face crumples, and that’s the opposite of what Crowley intended. It takes the angel a few tries to say the words he wants to say, opening and closing his mouth, pressing his lips together, taking a breath, opening and closing his mouth again. When he speaks, his voice is small and wretched. “Then why aren’t you happy?”
Silence stretches on between them, like taffy pulled thin, so thin it’s translucent, pulled and pulled until it reaches the breaking point and snaps. The silence takes forever to snap. That’s the thing about silence, Crowley thinks, is that it isn’t like taffy at all; it’s something that doesn’t break on its own.
“I’ve never been happier than I am here, with you.” Crowley hangs the words delicately, gently in the empty air, hoping beyond hope that Aziraphale will capture them where they sway back and forth above his head.
“Never been happier,” Aziraphale repeats, a hollow echo. “But that doesn’t mean you’re happy.”
“No, it doesn’t,” Crowley says bluntly.
Aziraphale blinks at him. “I want you to be happy, Crowley.” He studies the demon’s face with a meaningful gaze, but doesn’t wait for him to reply. “That’s why I watch you when you’re smiling,” he explains, his voice a broken, vulnerable thing. “Because I want to figure out what makes you happy. Because I want to give that to you.”
Crowley frowns, a little wrinkle popping up between his brows. He doesn’t know if he’s confused or surprised or ashamed of himself, and he doesn’t know what to say. How could he put any of it into words? You’re the only thing that matters, he thinks. I don’t remember what it’s like to be happy without this open, aching sadness alongside it, he thinks. It’s you that makes me smile, he thinks, it’s you.
“But I just can’t pin it down,” the angel continues, filling the void where Crowley’s voice should be. “You smile when I say something ridiculous. You smile at the ducks, sometimes. You smile at horribly tasteless cartoon depictions of demons.” He pauses, takes a breath, watches Crowley intently. “It’s just – it’s that blasted song that gets me every time, lately. I can’t fathom what it is about it that makes you so – so – so happy.”
“The song.” Crowley speaks in a level tone, exercising all his effort to suppress the quiver in his voice. “You don’t get… the song.”
“I don’t,” Aziraphale admits shamefully.
And Crowley laughs. Crowley laughs with unbridled, childlike joy. He laughs with such unrestrained abandon that Aziraphale’s eyes light up, even through his utter confusion, and he can’t resist a shining smile in return, a delighted little thing, watching Crowley for these few seconds.
“Have you got ideas?” Crowley asks suddenly, cutting off his laughter but still smiling, his wide grin taking on a mischievous edge. “What do you think it could be?”
Aziraphale furrows his brow, purses his lips. “I’ve thought about it a lot, for months now, but I wish you’d just tell me.” He levels a halfhearted glare at the demon, realizing he isn’t going to let it go until Aziraphale answers the question. “Is it just that catchy?”
Crowley breaths another little laugh out through his nose. “Afraid not,” he says.
“Is it about you?” Aziraphale asks.
“Don’t think so,” Crowley answers.
The angel’s voice is a bit desperate, now. “Did you – did you write it?”
“Gosh,” the demon mutters, “I wish.”
Aziraphale huffs out a frustrated breath. “You can’t expect me to keep guessing forever.”
Crowley shakes his head, fond and tired and sad. His smile has faded almost completely by now, the reality rapidly becoming clear, that he will have to spell this out. “No, I don’t expect that,” he assures the angel gently. “I just hoped you might drop the subject before you ran out of guesses.”
“Well, I won’t,” Aziraphale declares, and Crowley sees the commitment solidify in his eyes, and he knows he’s done for.
He takes a deep breath – deeper, even, than his lungs should theoretically allow, but that doesn’t concern him at the moment. Inhaling is easier than talking, so he drags it out as long as he can, and then he exhales in the same manner, and then he rubs his temples with the tips of his fingers. “Angel, angel, angel,” he murmurs, the word infused with all the feeling in him, all six thousand years of it, coming out of him like a confession.
Aziraphale just looks at him and oh, his eyes shouldn’t be able to do that, should they? Crowley thinks it should be physically impossible, or illegal, or at the very least it should be considered against common rules of etiquette.
“It’s you,” he says eventually, dropping the truth like a lead weight. “The song makes me smile because it reminds me of you.”
“Oh.” It sounds something close to afraid, a breathless almost-gasp from the angel.
“See, I knew – I knew I shouldn’t have said anything,” Crowley laments, dropping his head into his hands, defeated. “It’s just, I can’t stand the thought of you worrying that I don’t want to be here, because I do. But it doesn’t – it doesn’t have to be anything else.”
Aziraphale takes a shaky breath, lets it out, looks at Crowley and his eyes are pleading, are begging the demon for something and he doesn’t know what, but he’ll do it, he’ll do anything. The angel bites his lip. “I don’t understand,” he groans, “I don’t understand, I don’t understand. You’re making this all so much more confusing.”
“I’m sorry.” Crowley’s whisper is hoarse and broken, and he wants to kick himself for being so stupid, so reckless with his feelings, so damned malleable under Aziraphale’s hands that he let slip the one thing he always swore he’d keep to himself, and now it’s ruined everything. “I’m so sorry, angel, I fucked it all up.”
“You didn’t,” Aziraphale assures him without a second thought, though he’s more lost by the second. “At least, I’m fairly positive you didn’t. I just don’t get – I don’t understand…” He trails off, sounding small and uncertain.
Crowley blinks, and there are tears in his eyes, and that’s just what he needs right now, is to cry in front of Aziraphale. “What don’t you understand?”
The angel looks as if he’s trying to solve a difficult math problem in his head, only if the math problem was also incredibly upsetting for personal reasons beyond it being a math problem. “If the song makes you smile because it makes you think of me,” he begins slowly, like working out the grammatical structure of a new language, “then why aren’t you that happy just being with me?” His breath hitches, and he forges on, “Am I… I mean, is there something wrong with me? That the song and the thought and the memory is enough to make you happy, but I’m not?”
Fuck, Crowley thinks, and then he gathers his senses and says it out loud: “Fuck,” he says, shaking his head vigorously, shaking a few tears loose, and he catches them with the back of his hand before they can fall too far and give him away. “Fuck, angel. You cut right down to the core of it, don’t you, without even trying. Fuck.”
“Crowley, please,” Aziraphale whimpers, an admonishment for the demon’s language and a beseeching call for clarity wrapped up in one.
“You’re enough.” Crowley makes the statement firmly and leaves no room for argument. “You’re enough, angel, you’re more than enough to make me happy. I wouldn’t even know what happiness is, if it weren’t for you. You’re the sun, you are, and I am beyond lucky just to be in your orbit.”
He can feel his voice about to crack, and he clears his throat, rubs his eyes aggressively, swallows hard and tries to burn a hole in the table with his stare. “But see, that’s the trouble, is that you’re the sun. And I want – I want to orbit closer, Aziraphale. I want to let go completely and let your gravity pull me in, but I can’t, because it burns. It’s not – it’s not that there’s anything wrong with you, it’s just hard to be happy when I’m so afraid to lose you that I can’t think straight, sometimes.”
Aziraphale doesn’t say anything, and Crowley doesn’t blame him, really, but he lifts an eye to gauge the angel’s reaction, only to find that he isn’t sitting in his seat. Crowley turns to his right, sensing a warmth, and Aziraphale is standing there – he must have used a miracle, the cheating bastard, to have moved so swift and silent – and holding his hand in midair, freezing as soon as Crowley sees him. The two stare at each other like twin deer caught in each other’s headlights.
“What are you doing?” Crowley asks.
Aziraphale bites his lip guiltily, lowering his hand by his side. “I just wondered – that is, if it’s not too forward – I hoped I might touch you?”
“Why would you do that?” The question isn’t angry or judging, only completely uncomprehending. The demon lifts his head fully and turns his entire body to face the angel.
“You’re upset,” Aziraphale says in answer, “and I want to help, if you’ll let me.”
“You can do that without touching me,” Crowley points out, and then he blesses himself internally. Stop talking him out of it, you utter pillock, let him touch you, let him touch you.
Aziraphale frowns. “I could,” he says pensively. “I won’t touch you, if you don’t want me to.”
“I want you to,” Crowley blurts out, almost before Aziraphale has even finished talking, and then the words keep coming. They come spilling out of him like water through a sieve, and he’s helpless to stop them, so he turns his face to the floor and speaks low and fast. “I want you to, I do, but not if you feel like you have to, not if you’re only doing what you think you should do. You don’t have to, it’s not your job to comfort me. I fucked up, and I said a lot of things I shouldn’t have said. I know how you feel, okay, and we can forget about it, or you can walk away and I wouldn’t blame you –,”
He’s cut off mid-sentence by a hand on the back of his neck, thumb tracing the nape and almost curling into his hair, and before he can even register that touch there’s another, an impossibly light pressure on the crown of his head. Crowley isn’t breathing, he’s fairly sure his blood has stopped pumping; he may, in fact, be so frozen in place that the Earth has actually stopped turning. He waits for the touch on his head to move away before he turns to look at the angel.
“What was that?” His voice is squeaky, and he winces when he hears it come out of his mouth.
Aziraphale smiles, his hand still on the demon’s neck, and does he tighten his grip a little, press his fingers deeper into Crowley’s skin, or is Crowley imagining it? He must be imagining it, he must be imagining all of this, he’s delusional now, isn’t that wonderful?
“A kiss,” the angel says, breezy and light, as if it’s nothing, as if it isn’t everything. And then he licks his lips casually, and it’s all so much worse, and then he keeps talking and Crowley is afraid he might explode, because what Aziraphale says next is, “You don’t know how I feel, by the way. You’ve made that much painfully obvious.”
Crowley opens his mouth to say something, anything, but all that comes out is a strained little croak. His lower lip is quivering, traitor that it is, and he searches Aziraphale’s face deeply, studying every line and every curve, trying to reconcile what he’s always known with what he won’t let himself believe.
Aziraphale lowers himself to a sort of squat, not kneeling on the floor, but his head is lower than Crowley’s now, and somehow it doesn’t help. He looks up at the demon and his face is so open, so clear, a cloudless blue sky. “I told you,” he says, with all the sweet patience in the world, “I want to make you happy. Would you let me do that?” Aziraphale places his hands on Crowley’s knees, the softest touch, rubs little circles into the boney flesh through the demon’s jeans. “I can’t possibly be the sun,” he murmurs, “because suns burn out, suns die, and I plan on staying here forever.”
A trembling hand, with those long, thin fingers, reaches out tentatively, and without Crowley’s permission, to touch the angel’s cheek. Crowley could swear he feels the space between the atoms of his skin and Aziraphale’s, smaller than microscopic, but to him, it’s a gulf, a gorge separating them. “I couldn’t ask that of you,” he says.
“You don’t have to,” Aziraphale replies simply. “I am asking you to let me stay.” He takes a breath, his eyes full of pity, and then he says, “The lovely thing about you, my dear, and you alone, is that you don’t burn in a flame. You can be as close to me as you wish, and you will never, ever burn. I’ll make sure of it.”
“Will you allow me to stay?” Crowley’s voice is timid, meek. “I – it’s just – I’ve never quite… done that, before. Stayed, I mean.”
“I know,” says the angel, sadness creeping in at the edges of his voice. “You like to wander.”
Crowley shakes his head, wishing he had a drink. “I don’t like it,” he mumbles. “Would always rather be here. But – well. Sometimes I realize I’m too dependent on you, and it scares me, because I know you don’t feel the same, so I go… somewhere else. I try to convince myself that it’s okay out there, wherever I go, that I’m okay without you, but I’m not. That’s why I always come back.”
“There you go again, telling me you know how I feel. You don’t,” Aziraphale insists emphatically. “You don’t know. I need you, Crowley, do you understand that? You make everything worth it.”
His eyes slipping closed, his jaw clenched, Crowley swallows back a flood of feeling. “You can’t mean that,” he says quietly. “What about – what about Heaven? What about the rules?”
When Aziraphale answers, he sounds marginally less sure of himself, his voice shaking a bit. “I – you see – the rules are vague. There’s not a rule that says I can’t be close to you. There’s not a rule that says I can’t love you. There’s some rules about – well, about certain activities, but that’s it.”
“Activities,” Crowley repeats, deadpan.
“Yes. Erm.” Aziraphale heaves a sigh. “I don’t know what you want from this, what you need to be happy, but I’ll give you everything I can. There’s just some things I – I can’t, and if that’s – if you need that, then –,”
“Aziraphale,” Crowley interrupts, slow and deliberate. “If you think for a second that all of this has been about sex – please tell me you don’t have such a low opinion of me. The only thing I have ever wanted from you is – is to be wanted by you.”
“You are,” the angel breathes. “Oh, you are, you are, you are so wanted, and so loved, always.”
“And so are you. That’s all that matters.”
Aziraphale speaks in a hoarse voice, a thing of pain and longing. “Kiss me,” he whispers, his eyes wide and pleading. “Just once, just – please. Just once.”
Crowley would like nothing more than to oblige him, literally, nothing more in the entire universe, but he hesitates, and Aziraphale catches the pause.
“I’m sorry,” the angel says, casting his gaze downward. “I’m sorry, it’s selfish, it’s cruel. I just thought – if I knew how it felt, to kiss you, it would make it easier in the future, to be so close and not be able to do it.”
And then Crowley surges forward, pulling Aziraphale up by his lapels until their faces are level, and presses their lips together with all the urgency and desperation in his soul. He doesn’t dare to use his tongue, he couldn’t do that, he would never be able to stop. He just feels the way that the angel’s lips are soft and warm and dry, and he breathes in as Aziraphale breathes out, and he pulls him in tight, as if he could close that subatomic gap between them, and he commits all of it to memory. When he pulls away, his head is spinning, a bit. He looks into the angel’s eyes, and they’re sparkling, and Crowley thought that only happened in books, but he should have known better, really, because Aziraphale can do anything.
“You’re my best friend,” Crowley whispers fervently.
“Could you ever be happy with that?” Aziraphale gnaws at his lip, and seeing it makes Crowley’s lips tingle. “With just – a friend?”
Crowley shakes his head with a sigh. “Not just a friend, Aziraphale. There’s no just. There’s no less or more.” He takes the angel’s hand in his own on an impulse, holding it tight. “You’re everything to me, and if that means we get one kiss to keep us going for eternity, if that means I can have lunch with you and go on drives with you and share my music with you, then it’s enough. Not just a friend, not a consolation prize; it’s enough, as long as I know you feel the same.”
“I do, I do,” Aziraphale assures him sincerely, desperately.
“Then I’m happy,” Crowley says, “truly.”