The thing is, Crowley is not a fool.
He’s played the part, sure. He’s done some downright stupid things in his day. It’s hardly worth mentioning how many truly ridiculous drunken escapades were painstakingly arranged entirely for the purpose of tricking Aziraphale out of some slump or another.
But just because it walks like a duck and talks like a duck doesn’t mean it’s not still a lovesick crow angling for a smile from an angel.
So— foolish is as foolish does, or something like that, but truly, Crowley knows better.
When his angel stretches out a hand, cupid’s bow mouth curved into a familiar smile, Crowley knows better.
When he’s led to his own bedroom, pushed down amidst the silk sheets and hastily miracled pillows and a sinful duvet, when Aziraphale leans over him and the whole world seems to hang right there in his eyes, Crowley knows that this is not his to keep.
It’s not for him to have this.
“Crowley,” Aziraphale murmurs, muffled against the hollow of his throat. He tastes like the wine. “My Crowley. You’re lovely, sweetheart, oh, you’re perfect.”
Crowley knows better, but it still melts through the rough armor of his hollowed-out heart like something molten, like the plasma in stars that burns hotter than fire, as easy as breathing.
Aziraphale’s hands are past warm; they’re hot, searing against Crowley’s skin as if with divine light, as if there’s a chance he might be scorched by this, by this act of love with a Holy One, by this proximity of his soulrot to something so pure.
Let it burn, he thinks, head thrown back, let me burn. Whatever it takes, whatever it costs, only let me—
A kiss, the scrape of teeth, and Crowley cries out in a voice he wouldn’t recognize as his own.
“Oh,” Aziraphale gasps like it was punched out of him. His hands tighten on Crowley’s hips, hold him impossibly closer, as though there’s any chance Crowley might decide to fling himself away. “My darling, my only.”
Don’t, Crowley wants to beg of him. Take whatever you want, give me only what you can spare, but don’t say things like that. I’ll remember them, I’ll want them again, I’ll want to keep you.
As if hearing his silent pleas and disregarding them altogether, Aziraphale keeps on.
“I dreamed of this,” he whispers, fragile and aching, in a voice as soft as spun sugar and every bit as sweet. “I dreamed of you.”
“Angel, pleasse— “
“‘How far away the stars seem,’” Aziraphale recites with reverence, drawing lips from Crowley’s mouth to his forehead, his temple, the lid of his eye. “‘And how far is our first kiss— and, ah— how old my heart.’”
Poetry, of course. Of bloody course.
He reaches into this secret core of Crowley effortlessly, as easily as he might reach into a box of his favorite chocolates; sure of where to put his hands, his mouth, for all that this is the very first time. Shining a light on all those shadowed corners. Knowing him, down to the atoms and the seams and the soul, knowing him, knowing him.
“Look at me,” the angel says, freeing a hand to cup Crowley’s face. “Let me see.”
He kisses away the tears he finds, never complaining about the salt where he only deserves sweetness, and Crowley doesn’t know how to be handled so carefully, doesn’t know how Aziraphale expects him to be able to lie here beneath him and take him inside and look him in the eye—
“Precious boy,” Aziraphale murmurs, “beautiful boy, look at me.”
Trembling and unmade, soft underbelly exposed to a creature with teeth, Crowley peels his eyes open. Focuses first on the corner of Aziraphale’s face, where it’s safe, the roundness that hides an angular soldier’s cheekbone lost to the pages of history with the human invention of dessert. Aziraphale waits, unmoving, until Crowley can convince his beastly eyes to move those last fatal few inches, looking into the wide blue-gray-gold-colorless windows of a holy soul.
He’s rewarded immediately with a kiss, with a push, and he’s lost for it, utterly, fallen too far to ever hope to fly again, clutching at the sweat-slick planes of Aziraphale’s back with desperate, greedy hands.
Let me burn, he thinks, delirious with want, let me burn, let me burn, only let me keep you.
“There you are,” Aziraphale says somewhere above him. “My love, there you are.”
It doesn’t last forever, as things rarely do, but Aziraphale is still here even when they’re finished. Miracles everything clean and dry, draws Crowley in against his chest, and presses a kiss to his forehead that lingers there.
Crowley, for his part, clings like the coils of a snake.
“Don’t go,” he blurts.
Be here with me, is his impossible wish. Stay here. Don’t ever go away. You’ve ruined me for anything else, angel.
“Of course,” comes the reply, murmured against his hairline, as Aziraphale pulls the duvet up over them both. “Will you be able to sleep?”
Kind of him not to mention the nightmares by name. Truth be told, they’re the furthest thing from Crowley’s waking mind at the moment, but his subconscious is a right bastard most of the time. He wonders what new twist on an old classic tonight will bring— wonders what new ways he’ll dream of losing his angel, now that he’s had him like this.
Crowley curls closer, and the arm around his bare waist tightens.
“Then just in case,” Aziraphale says affectionately. “You’ll wake up having dreamed about whatever you like best.”
The blessing touches him like cool water, when rightly it should have burned. Crowley relaxes despite himself, heart settling, tired body soothed.
He knows better— truly, he does— but there’s a kernel of hope in the pit of his chest anyway. A seed, splitting to throw down fragile roots, sprouting uncertainly in this starved earth it’s found itself in.
Maybe, he finds himself thinking, a yearning that has followed him for six thousand years. He can trace it all the way back. Not quite to Eden, but certainly to the floodwaters, all those centuries ago. An anxious angel helped a demon smuggle children into the ark, fretting over what was the right thing and what was the Right Thing even as he miracled fresh bread and warm milk and honey to make things sweet while the rest of the world became a dark and frightening place, and Crowley’s heart took a dazed step toward him.
“‘My chest is your garden,’” Crowley mumbles before he can think better of it, half-asleep already.
And he’s almost certainly dreaming now, because then his angel says, “You mean the world to me, you know,” and Crowley thinks it familiar.
He’s had this one before.
When Crowley wakes up in the morning, he wakes up alone.
part 2 will be up soon !
(credit for the poetry in this chapter goes to william butler yeats and e.e.cummings)
Consciousness moves in slowly, in unhurried and unharried pieces.
It’s morning. The curtain at the window is drawn, letting in long golden bars of sunlight that fall over the bed. The blanket is snug up to his shoulder and the pillow smells like Aziraphale. The scent of him is touching everything, actually, lingering above the bed like a ghost or a cloud of cologne. The dream he was having parts from him slowly, gently, as though it’s reluctant to go.
“You mean the world to me.” An old favorite, from as far back as the nineteenth century. Its work finally done, the blessing dissipates with a pleasant little chill, and Crowley rolls to one side, unthinking, the lizard half of his brain seeking warmth.
But the silk sheets on the other half of the bed are cool to the touch. He frowns, fingers questing, and grudgingly peels his eyes open.
And consciousness decides to kick the door down and make itself at home.
Aziraphale runs hot. He packs heat like a furnace, and some days— oh, those bitter gray winter days especially— it was a Herculean task for Crowley to keep himself from crawling into the angel’s lap and soaking it up like a sun-starved thing.
I could be small and quiet, he’d argue to himself on those days, only not shivering out of pride as his fashionable coat failed him yet again, trying not to gaze too longingly at Aziraphale and his roundness and fullness and warmth. I won’t take up much space as a snake, he’d hardly know I was there at all. What could it hurt, if I was small and quiet?
The bed is cold beside him, as though it’s been empty for awhile, and Crowley knows now, he knows what it could hurt. Greedy demon and his human-shaped wanting, taking up too much room, making too much noise, needing and asking and talking and taking.
Shooting upright causes the room to spin. (Crowley’s human body wouldn’t dare plague him with a migraine, but it does helpfully remind him that it ingested more than enough wine last night to be significantly dehydrated now.) He scrabbles to get out from under the blankets, finding himself in a pajama set he’s entirely certain he didn’t own a few hours ago, and lurches for the hall like it makes any difference, like there’s even a chance Aziraphale is still puttering about his cavernous, loveless flat when he could be anywhere else.
And he’s not. Of course he’s not.
The open layout mocks Crowley, spreading each empty room out like a magician revealing his trick, so there can be no mistake. He can see the emptiness right away. There’s no one here in this bleak artificial Eden but himself and a dozen worried houseplants and an omnipresent God who must be laughing Herself sick.
“Fuck,” he says. Then, louder, “Fuck.”
How pathetic can you be? Six thousand years of gentle letdowns and firm refusals and cold shoulders and dropped calls, you’d think he’d fucking learn. He goes too fast. He’s gone so fast for so long that he’s entered orbit, they’re not on the same planet anymore, let alone the same page. But no, there’s still that stupid hope lurking in his soul, there’s still that unquenchable maybe he can’t fucking shake.
For Somebody’s sake, he thought Aziraphale would still be there in the morning?
Last night was more than he’d ever dreamed he could have, and still he woke up wanting. Wanting the way he’s always wanted, like something starving, like something that never claimed any shred of sense.
“If you’ve ruined it,” he hisses, senselessly, clawing hands through his hair. “If you’ve ruined it, damn you— “
Let it all go back to normal, let it be another thing they don’t talk about, let it sink under the ancient ocean of their shared history the way so many other encounters have. Let it result in one awkward afternoon, one strained conversation, and then melt into familiarity again. Let Crowley not have lost him.
He’s pacing, gripped by dread, and when his foot catches on the leg of the coffee table, he kicks it so hard it goes over. It hurts, and the wine bottle breaks and the crystal glasses shatter and the gray carpet is stained within seconds, but it’s like a revelation.
The TV goes next, landing with a crunch face-down on the floor. Then the lamp, and then the side table it stood on, and then all the impersonal bric-a-brac on all the shelves, until there’s no room left on the floor to walk without cutting his feet, until Crowley is standing in the middle of the mess he’s made with nowhere to go.
And in the middle of feeling well and truly miserable, there comes a tug at the space behind his breastbone. An unobtrusive little pull, just enough to get his attention, a feeling he’s followed across the world a hundred times. Angel, it means. He’s close, or he’s gone too far, or he needs me.
Crowley stands in the wreckage of his living room, a hand pressed to his chest in not inconsiderable confusion, and that is when the front door opens.
In comes Aziraphale, shoulders dusted with snow, nose pink with cold, Crowley’s red scarf bundled around his neck. He’s holding a cardboard drink tray in one hand, and a brown paper bag from their favorite cafe in the other, and he closes the door behind him with a little wiggle of relief.
“Oh!” he says, when he turns to see Crowley. The whole of him brightens, like the sun coming out after a storm. “Good morning, my dear. I thought you’d sleep for hours yet. I just popped out to get us some…“
It’s an awful thing, the way his voice fades and his smile disappears. Crowley realizes, in the seconds after that stretch into silence, that he might have fucked up.
Aziraphale is standing very still. Breakfast is sent to the kitchen with a vague turn of his hand. He says, slowly, “Crowley? What’s happened?”
“Nothing,” Crowley says, too quick. “I just— nothing, angel.”
But Aziraphale is clever, and Crowley can see the pieces coming together for him, the quiet devastation that moves into his eyes when he realizes what he’s looking at.
It makes Crowley feel lower than his Fall ever has. A snap of the fingers to set everything to rights only vanishes most of the furniture in his living room— but the carpet isn’t stained if it doesn’t exist anymore, so that’s still an improvement. His hands are trembling without his permission, so he shoves them deep into the pockets of his lounge pants. He tries to arrange his expression into something not absolutely panic-stricken.
He must not do a passable job, because Aziraphale is pulling off scarf and overcoat and dumping them where the coat rack used to be, crossing the room to him in swift, sharp strides.
Crowley backpedals until his shoulders crash into the built-in shelves and there’s no retreat left to be made.
“Don’t— “ The living room is bare, nothing to distract him from the hurt on his friend’s face, but his eyes dart away regardless. “I got it wrong, that’ss all. We don’t have to— it doesn’t have to be a thing.”
Aziraphale stands where he is, hands clasped in front of him so tightly that his knuckles stand out like a string of pearls. In the ether, his great wings are spread and mantled, an iron wall of white.
“I think it does,” he says in a terrible voice. “I think we should talk about what you were thinking just now, while I was gone. I want to know what you think last night meant to me.”
If he needed to breathe, Crowley probably would have choked. Worse than waking up alone and fearing the ruin of his most precious relationship is the idea of talking about it. Crowley so much can’t that he feels his skin springing to scale, thoughts losing all cohesion and dashing toward escape.
In an instant, Aziraphale has crossed the last half of the room to him.
“Oh my darling,” he says, contrite, his hands coming up to frame Crowley’s face. “I'm sorry, I didn’t mean to corner you. Don’t go away just yet.”
He rubs at a small patch of scales beneath Crowley’s left eye with the pad of his thumb.
“You can be a snake in a little while,” Aziraphale goes on, just shy of pleading. “But I’d very much like to see your face for what I’m about to say. Just a few minutes, sweetheart.”
“Don’t beg me, Aziraphale, for hell’s sake,” Crowley snaps. He can’t make it sound angry, for all that he tries. The warmth of the angel’s hands is distracting. A little more reptile than he was just a moment ago, he can’t help leaning in. “You can have whatever you want.”
Because it’s always been that way. It’s never been a hardship, chasing his friend throughout history, getting him out of trouble, letting him talk Crowley into lunch dates and little favors. It was good, to be on their side. To be the one to do those things for Aziraphale, those little kindnesses he soaked up like parched earth. To see him light up when Crowley came around.
“What I want— the only thing I want— is for you to be certain of me,” Aziraphale says with unending care. He pauses, eyes closing, as though he needs a moment to gather his strength. When he opens them again, he’s found a smile. From this close, it’s devastating. Crowley is putty in his hands. “‘For the one I love most lay sleeping by me under the same cover in the cool night— ‘“
“Aziraphale,” Crowley hisses, aiming for annoyed and missing by a mile.
“‘In the stillness in the autumn moonbeams his face was inclined toward me,’” the angel goes on, not looking scolded in the least. His thumb comes to a rest at the corner of Crowley’s mouth. “‘And his arm lay lightly around my breast— and that night I was happy.’”
It’s so typical of him to quote poetry that Crowley feels his humanity inching back, the familiar and the routine soothing the sharp edges of his fear. He lifts his hands and dares to wrap them around Aziraphale’s wrists, exhilarated when it earns him a kiss.
“I want you to never doubt how much I adore you,” Aziraphale tells him, the playfulness fading away. “I want you to know that you are loved. And if you don’t know that— and I’m sure, now, that you don’t— then I want to show you. Six thousand years of uncertainty gave you quite the wrong idea, dearest, and who could blame you? Perhaps, if you’ll give me six thousand more, I’ll have time enough to make it right.”
And then he pulls Crowley forward, giving him a safe place to hide. He smells like binding glue and petrichor and the first breath of new, clean cotton that Crowley ever took. He’s everything familiar all at once, good and bad, old and new.
A rainy day in Vienna, too much scotch, and a public dare that ended in the years-too-early and delightfully scandalous inception of the Waltz; a wedding party in Nineveh, scooping up hearty soup with chunks of bread and laughing at the mess they made of themselves, the world still brand new and their mutual loneliness not yet grown into itself; a villa they shared in Stabiae for more than a year, with the vegetable garden that Aziraphale spoke gently to and the little pet birds that Crowley couldn’t bear to keep in cages.
He’s a thousand long-lost places, a thousand priceless moments, the only person alive who can tell the same stories that Crowley remembers.
“Poetry,” Crowley grouses, face tucked into Aziraphale’s collar. “Again.”
Aziraphale laughs breathlessly. His arms around Crowley tighten. “Forgive me. Though, I’m loathe to let you forget that you did quote a poem yourself last night— most charmingly!”
Crowley makes a show of his displeasure, but the strange, seasick sensation in his stomach is far from unpleasant. It’s anticipatory, almost like the first step before a plunge— safe in knowing the decision is yours to fall, and knowing what awaits you at the end.
His fingers clutch at Aziraphale’s coat; he clings, and like a coward doesn’t lift his head to say, “‘Will you give me yourself? Will you come travel with me? Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?’”
And then he’s lifting his head after all, guided again by Aziraphale’s hands, and the angel tells him, “My love. Yes.”
both poems in this chapter belong to walt whitman ! and the chapter titles are from "a drinking song" by william butler yeats
wine comes in at the mouth
and love comes in at the eye;
that's all we shall know for truth
before we grow old and die
i lift the glass to my mouth
i look at you, and i sigh
thank you so much for reading x