If someone had asked Crowley who his best friend was eleven years ago, his answer would have depended on the day. Bowie, he’d have said instantly if it were a Friday and the humans around him had just done something clever. Freddie, he’d have declared on a Sunday afternoon. There’d also been Julia, Mary, Shu, Yuna, and if someone had asked at just the right hour he’d have said “You know, Shem was my kind of guy.”
Now, Crowley knows, staring across the table at the Ritz, the answer is Aziraphale.
It always could have been, maybe. The truth of it is, they’d never spent enough time together before to make that leap. It’s always been — in Crowley’s mind, at least — that the angel was a co-worker, a counterpart, and sometimes a friend.
Okay, always a friend, but that is his own fault because he moves too fast. He has no idea what the angel really thinks of him. No, fine, alright, he knows —’counterpart’ is probably the nicest way of saying it, ‘pain in my ass’ is more likely, with ‘that weird demon who won’t leave me alone’ a close runner up — but he doesn’t like to think about that. It makes the time he does get to spend with the angel too bittersweet. Better to enjoy the run, really, take from it what he can, and then bugger off.
On that note…
Aziraphale is savouring the last spoonful of his dessert. This is Crowley’s cue to leave. He looks up and catches the eye of their waitress. She nods and hurries off to get the cheque.
“Absolutely delicious,” Aziraphale says, putting his spoon down and leaning back in his chair. He has a beatific smile on his face. You can take the angel out of Heaven… Crowley thinks, not for the first or the fifth or the fifth-hundred time. “The lime coconut confection was positively inspired.”
Crowley grins back reflexively before tamping down on the expression. He clears his throat and looks away, and oh good, there’s their waitress. “I’ll take it,” he says, raising his hand.
“Oh, Crowley,” Aziraphale pouts, as if Crowley doesn’t do this every time, as if Aziraphale doesn’t let him.
Crowley grins at him, carefully more of a quirk than a smile, and signs his name on the line under the exact price of their meal. He tosses the ledger to Aziraphale so he can add the tip — also a tradition — and stands up from the table. “I’ll get our coats.”
It wouldn’t do for a demon to see the sheer size of the tip Aziraphale always leaves. Practically the cost of the meal, sometimes double, when the humans have done something particularly clever with dessert. No, Crowley’s much happier crossing the floor of the dining room, retrieving their things from the man at the door, and taking the time while Aziraphale finishes thanking everyone for their meal to get his feelings under control.
He’s well practiced at it. Doesn’t take longer than a minute most days. Shove it all down into a box, lock the box and tap the nails, push the box to the back of the closet in his mind and shut the door. Today, though…
Aziraphale finishes his routine before Crowley’s finished. Thankfully, he has a few words to say to the doorman. Crowley looks away and slips his arms through the sleeves of his coat. It may be August but it’s edging towards September, and there’s a nip in the air. This is London, after all. His mental box is still protesting so Crowley throws a blanket over what he hasn’t managed to shove inside and forces the door closed while he holds Aziraphale coat and reminds the Bentley that it should be waiting for them outside the Ritz, no matter that Aziraphale had left it in Mayfair that morning.
That morning, when they’d been wearing each other’s bodies, before Heaven had tried to —
The box in his closet rattles.
“Thank you, my dear, that’s a good idea. It looks as though the wind’s picked up, hasn’t it?”
Crowley shakes himself back into the moment and holds out Aziraphale’s coat. “Sure has,” he says. He clears his throat. “I mean, here.”
He expects the angel to take his coat. That’s what he usually does. He smiles and doesn’t say thank you because he knows Crowley doesn’t like that, slips on his coat and does up the buttons. Not today, though. Today he merely turns as though he fully expects Crowley to hold his coat open for him and help him into it. Crowley blinks. That’s new.
He’s not going to be rude about it, though. He’s a demon, not a bastard. That’s Aziraphale’s thing. “Right,” he says instead. Aziraphale slips both arms into his coat and then pulls it up around his shoulders. Crowley jerks his fingers back before they can brush the angel’s neck. “Come on.”
The London air has cooled down. Crowley glances at the sky and sees that they’ve spent longer in the Ritz than he’d thought. It’s long past lunchtime and is ticking closer towards dinner. They’ve just eaten, but maybe Aziraphale could be persuaded to —
Nope. That’s the week they’ve had talking. That’s the problem with working closely together for eleven years. They don’t do back-to-back meals. The closet in the back of Crowley’s mind rattles again and Crowley growls at it. Fuck. He’s going to need a century, at least, to recover from this. Maybe two.
Best to get on with it then. The Bentley waits just where Crowley knew it would be. He brushes one hand along the passenger side door in what is not a caress — this is just what humans do with their cars; there is nothing special about this at all — and pops the lock. “Where can I take you?” Crowley asks. He turns to smile friendly-like at Aziraphale. It isn’t hard. Best friend back to friend back to counterpart back to that-guy-I-see-occasionally-once-in-a-while is an old hat to him. It isn’t his first time round the rodeo.
“Oh,” Aziraphale says, his face falling slightly which also isn’t part of the script. He rallies a second later though, smile coming up to match Crowley’s. “Oh, it’s quite alright, my dear. Not too nippy for me after all. I think I’ll walk back to the bookshop from here.”
Crowley breathes out. Right, okay, back on schedule. That’s Aziraphale’s cue that he’s going to hole up for a few years, five or fifty. It’s always been difficult for Crowley to tell. “Right,” he says. “Okay, then, I’ll see you when I see you.” He walks around the car to the driver’s side.
“Wait!” Aziraphale says which — goddamnit — where’s his script book? He’s off it again. “Will you come by tomorrow?” Aziraphale’s hands flutter slightly in front of his coat before lacing together over his chest. “I, er, want to check out those new books you said Adam left me. You could show me which ones.”
Crowley stares. As if you don’t know the shop better than I do , he should say. Or, it’s not like they’re that hard to find . But when he opens his mouth what actually comes out is, “Sure. After lunch, maybe?”
Aziraphale smiles and it’s a radiant smile, nothing tamped down at all. “Wonderful. I’ll see you then.”
Crowley nods and slips into his car. He turns over the engine and doesn’t think doesn’t think doesn’t think all the way back to Mayfair. Driving fast is a great way to keep his mind occupied, and London is the greatest city in the world to drive.
The only problem with driving fast is it gets him to his destination before he’s ready. Crowley hasn’t put nearly enough of humanity between himself and Aziraphale by the time he parks his car. Crowley likes humanity. The box he’s stuffed at the back of his mind is in a closet he fills with other things, like clothes and cars and alcohol — wonderful human invention, alcohol — and poker and dice and TV. Crowley usually loses himself in those pleasures whenever the box starts to rumble with the strength of the feelings he’s locked away. It helps.
It helps, too, to nail the box closed. Crowley has used various nails over the years, all echoes of Aziraphale’s disappointment. There was you’re a demon; that’s what you do, and we can’t question the Almighty. He’s used this is your demonic work? and, oh, his personal favourite , you go too fast for me.
Humanity helps too, though. Crowley parks in his usual spot and spends an hour going over his car. He shines the bumper and oils the leather and doesn’t think about how glad he is there’s no soot, or smell, or brimstone.
It’s something. He goes to a theater after — not the one he’d been in when Haster had come to call, but another, a busier one, not so artsy — and sees a cartoon about a talking dog. After that it’s a quick stop at a bar. He wants one pint and that’s it and watches the telly with other men who complain about sports.
He feels more settled by the time he finally walks back to his building. He’s even whistling as he gets off the elevator and notices without spending a lot of time looking at it that the box is silent again which is a good thing — stupid box — as he puts his key in the lock. Except then he opens his door and the smell reaches him.
The entire flat smells like Holy Water. It reeks of it. It satures the carpet and spills out from the study. There’s a particular tang to it that reminds him of Ligur, a wet-squishy-amphibian reek. Ghah.
Crowley staggers back out of the flat, wrenches the door shut behind him, and practically throws himself into the elevator. He spends the night on the sofa in the lobby, lying across it with a half dozen London papers in his hand, circling a red pen over advertisements. He’ll have to move, obviously. There’ll be no getting that out of the carpet.
London real estate is complicated enough that flipping through possibilities takes him the rest of the night and a good chunk of the next morning. It keeps him distracted enough to hardly notice when the clock ticks over to the noontime hour. Crowley glances outside and sees that the sun is high in the sky and remembers that he’d said he’d go over to the bookshop today. Crowley swallows and folds the most promising of the papers under his arm. He’ll need the distraction.
Aziraphale is actually at the counter when Crowley arrives, which he almost never is. It would give humans the impression that he actually wants them to buy things, and his head pops up the moment the door opens. “Crowley!” he says, smiling widely, a particularly attractive set of laugh lines deepening around his eyes. “How good to see you, my dear.”
Crowley swallows. There’s a weight on his chest, a pounding in the back of his mind, and it takes conscious effort to step over the threshold into Aziraphale’s shop. He should go, he knows. He should make his excuses and leave. But Aziraphale is smiling at him and Crowley is weak weak weak.
“You saw me just yesterday, angel,” Crowley forces himself to say. His answering grin is wobbly — too fond? Too distant? Bless it all to Heaven and back — but he walks into the shop. He still has the paper folded under his arm. He throws it onto the table and lays himself down in the backroom. He can pretend he’s still in the lobby in Mayfair. No reason for his heart to pound at all.
“Yes, well, it was quite a day, wasn’t it?” Aziraphale asks, bustling about the counter with nervous hands until he finally puts the kettle on and joins Crowley in the backroom. “Understandable to be jumpy today, I think.”
“Right,” Crowley says, relaxing. The angel’s right, of course. It is understandable. Maybe he should give himself a break. He shoots Aziraphale a smile that’s more genuine than it had been before. “What kind of tea you making?”
“Oolong, I think,” Aziraphale says, distractedly, “though I can make something else if you prefer. My dear, what’s that?”
Crowley looks up with a puzzled frown and sees Aziraphale pointing to the paper. He scowls. “Oh, this. Nothing. Just thinking about moving again.”
“Moving? Why?” Aziraphale’s hands do the fluttering thing again before catching on his chest. “I mean, whereabouts are you thinking?”
Crowley scrunches up his nose. “Not sure. Lots of possibilities round London these days. Course,” he realizes, thinking as he speaks, “there’s no reason to stick around here, is there? No more antichrist to look after or anything. Could go to France, I suppose. Or America. Haven’t done New York in a long time.”
“Er, yes, quite,” Aziraphale says. He swallows twice, heavily, loud enough for Crowley to hear. “But, ah, what’s wrong with your flat? I thought it was, well, rather lovely, really. Very you.”
Crowley forces himself to shrug. “Nothing much,” he says lightly, “just got a melted demon in a puddle of Holy Water in the study. Saturated into the carpet. Can’t stand the smell.”
Surprisingly, Aziraphale’s face crumples. “Oh dear,” he says, “did I not get it out, then? I tried and tried for hours, I promise. I washed everything — by hand, no miracles — though I did an exorcism I found in a book from thirteen ninety nine.”
Crowley frowns. “You scrubbed at my floors, angel? Whatever for?”
“To try and get the Holy Water out, of course,” Aziraphale says. “I thought it rather — ” his eyes dart as he looks around and Crowley feels the pulse of a minor miracle as he checks to make sure there’s no one Listening “ — might be dangerous. Wouldn’t want you to step in it.”
“Right,” Crowley says, as though the idea of Aziraphale worrying over him isn’t new and strange. “Well, thanks for that, I guess, but, uh, it didn’t work. Whole place reeks. Gonna have to move for sure.”
“Oh,” Aziraphale says. He sounds disappointed. “That’s too bad.”
Crowley rolls his eyes. “Come off it, angel, you never liked the flat. Yesterday was the first time you were in it for more than half a minute.”
“Yes, well, perhaps if you had — ” he snaps his mouth shut. “No, of course, I’m sorry, that wasn’t fair.”
Crowley stares at him. He’s confused. “What?”
“Nothing,” Aziraphale says hurriedly, and stands. “Oh, look, I think the tea’s ready.”
Crowley watches Aziraphale bustle over to kettle. He shakes his head and turns his attention back to the papers. Strange angel.
Unfortunately for Crowley, the strangeness doesn’t stop there. After tea Aziraphale suggests they get an early dinner and takes him to sushi, and then won’t hear of him going back to spend the night on the sofa in his lobby and offers him the use of his backroom. Crowley tries desperately to think of a way to decline — politely, if he can manage it, because satan-curse-it Aziraphale’s chin is actually wobbling and what? What even? — and can’t, so he mumbles his ascent. Aziraphale’s smile is incandescent as he putters around the shop.
It isn’t actually a bad night. That’s the terrible thing, the reason Crowley keeps falling back into these destructive patterns, why he can’t keep co-worker from becoming colleague from becoming friend. Bless it forever, he likes Aziraphale, genuinely likes him, and it’s too easy to open a bottle of wine, to let it become three, to allow the paper to fall from his grip as the conversation turns to constellations and how they’ve changed over the years.
In the morning Crowley fully intends to pick an advert and get out of there. Moving will be a job. It’ll take him a week at least. He’ll have to hold his breath every time he enters the flat, and no he doesn’t need to breathe but he’s gotten into the habit, bless it. Then he’ll have to pick out new furniture and get everything kitted out. The plants will have to be terrorized into being grateful he’s taking them along at all. That’ll be enough time for him to re-lock the box in his mind. Maybe he’ll be able to come by the bookshop in less than a hundred years after all.
“Ooo, let’s go for breakfast,” Aziraphale says happily, shattering his plans. “There’s a new place around the corner that just opened up.”
Crowley swallows and agrees. He’s so weak. He forces himself to buy a new paper along the way, at least, and spends the meal tapping a pen against the counter as he looks over the advertisements, trying not to stare too obviously as Aziraphale moans over his food. Apparently they’ve braised the cinnamon over high heat and added whole nutmeg cloves before sifting the entire thing over french toast, and Satan curse it, how is anyone supposed to concentrate with an angel making sounds like that?
In self defense, he circles four adverts without even looking at them and clears his throat as Aziraphale starts on his second plate. “I think I’ll pop off for a bit. Got a few places to check out before it gets too late.”
“Oh,” Aziraphale says, bright-eyed, and puts down his fork. “Really? Would you mind very much if I came with you?”
Crowley stares at him. “What?”
“Well, it’s been awhile since we walked around London,” Aziraphale says, as if he’s talking sense. “Might be nice to see the old girl. Take the time to really appreciate that she’s still here, you know.”
“Er, yes, right,” Crowley says. He tries to calm his stupid heart. Of course, Aziraphale’s still reeling from the effects of the last week. He does like to walk around London sometimes, note the things that have changed. “Ah, course, if you want to, that is.”
“I would, and it’d be interesting to see what’s up for renting this time of year, or do you prefer to buy, my dear? I suppose it doesn’t matter to us.”
“Buy,” Crowley says. His mouth appears to be moving on its own, funny that. “Condos, mostly. Demonic invention, condos. One of mine, of course.”
“Naturally,” Aziraphale agrees, and G— Sa— Manchester, his eyes are actually twinkling. Crowley scowls at him until he stops. Blesséd angels.
He has to wait until Aziraphale’s finishes his breakfast. He stirs himself a second cup of coffee and glares at the other patrons who have the gall to be present while Aziraphale enjoys his food. He throws money down on the table when the angel’s done and stomps out of the restaurant, and of course they’re walking because he left the Bentley parked outside of the bookshop and “Oh, look, the first one you’ve circled isn’t far.”
The afternoon is a disaster. Aziraphale smiles at everyone and frequently at Crowley. He has opinions, cheerfully announced, about every flat and Crowley finds himself arguing, laughing, and agreeing with him in turn. They see five places before Aziraphale declares himself knackered and takes them both back to the bookshop. He opens another bottle of wine before Crowley can come up with an excuse not to drink and pours before Crowley can tell him to stop. By that point, it’s easier to sit down and start on the wine than it is to think of a way to leave.
The box in the back of his mind is rattling savagely again by morning. Crowley avails himself of Aziraphale’s shower — in the flat that has only on-and-off existed since Aziraphale opened the shop — and furiously constructs a set of new and potent nails . We aren’t friends get slammed into one corner and I forgive you into another. He digs around for you go to fast for me but finds it rusted, so fashions we’re an angel and a demon out of his memories and adds we’re hereditary enemies for good measure.
There, Crowley thinks, glaring at the box. That’s better.
Aziraphale suggests a walk around St James’s Park if he’s up for it. Crowley eyes the weather and shrugs on his jacket and feels settled enough to say “Sure, if you like.” He walks over to his car.
“No, let the Bentley rest, my dear. It’s had a hard week too,” Aziraphale says. He tucks his arm into Crowley’s instead. “Let’s walk. The sun’s out, for once.”
Crowley stands, frozen in shock, until a tug at his elbow makes him move. “Right,” he says, shaking himself. He tosses Aziraphale a lightheaded smile. “Forgotten your centuries again, angel? It’s not 1820, you know.”
“I know,” Aziraphale says, and hums a little before leading them off to the park. He stops them on the way to pick up some bread — “Yes, I know it’s not good for them, but they’ll hardly get sick off our bread, now will they?” — and hands Crowley a loaf as they cross to their usual bench.
Crowley wants nothing more than to sit for half an hour and regain his equilibrium but Aziraphale tugs him to his feet to stand at the water’s edge. It makes Crowley unbalanced enough to blurt, “Maybe I will look in France, actually. Doesn’t seem to be that much in London.”
Aziraphale pauses in the act of bread-throwing to swallow. “Oh,” he says. He looks down at his loaf. “I wouldn’t say that. Plenty of places to look at still, I’m sure.”
Crowley forces himself to shrug and throw a chunk at a duck. It’s too big for him alone, and it quickly starts a fight. “Maybe. Didn’t seem to be much for yesterday.”
“Yes, but that was only the first pickings,” Aziraphale says, tearing one corner of his bread into shreds. “We haven’t explored everything around Soho, or, or Mayfair, even. There’s the West End, too, and Holborn.”
“Nah,” Crowley says. His heart is pounding in his chest. Why why why won’t Aziraphale let this be easy for him? “It’s probably best to get away.”
“You know you don’t have to go very far at all,” Aziraphale says quickly. He turns to Crowley and his eyes are wide. His hands are clenched around what’s left of his bread. “I was thinking, I could turn the roof of the bookshop into a sort of terrace. People have them all over the place these days. Rooftop gardens, I think they’re called, like back in Medea. Do you recall?”
“London is hardly Medea, angel,” Crowley says. “Why would you ever — ?”
“It’d be nice for your plants!” Aziraphale says hurriedly. “Don’t worry about the weather. You know we can affect that. I’d set up a nice little microcurrent, hardly any breeze at all, and you could have sun for them all day — ”
“Stop!” Crowley drops his bread and puts his hands up in self defense. “Stop it, angel, just stop. What — ” Crowley has to close his eyes and push his fingers into his sockets because what? What even? “What are you saying?”
“I’m saying that I’d like you to move in with me,” Aziraphale says. He swallows and Crowley stares at him. Aziraphale bites his lip and looks back. “I’d-I’d like you to consider it, at least. I mean, I’d like to offer. The bookshop.” He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath before opening them again. “I’m saying I’d like you to consider moving into the bookshop with me.”
Crowley’s throat works but no words come out. He wonders briefly what they would have been.
“You don’t have to say yes or no at this time, of course,” Aziraphale goes on. His hands twist together again. “I don’t need an answer. I’d just like you to consider it as an alternative to moving, especially so far away.”
Okay, okay, there it is. That’s what this is about. Crowley lets out a long breath and lowers his hand. “Aziraphale,” he says, and bless it all, his voice is hoarse. He clears his throat. “I know a lot has happened and you’ve got to be scared to be on your own. But I’m not leaving forever, you know that. You can get a hold of me at any time.”
“I’m not frightened of that,” Aziraphale frets. “If you move you’ll change your number and what if I lose it? Or you drop your phone? Or it breaks? I’ve just gotten the other finally in my head.”
Crowley forces himself to chuckle and turn away. “I’ll keep the same number, angel. I’ll — it’s not too hard to do that these days.”
“Yes, but — ”
“You can get a mobile yourself, if you like.”
“It’s not the same.”
Crowley rubs his eyes. “I know it’s not a landline. That’s not — ”
“No, I mean, calling you on the phone,” Aziraphale frets. “It’s not the same.”
Crowley swallows. “You know I can get to you through the phone line, angel. If anyone bothers you, or comes after you, or-or threatens you or anything. I can be there in an instant to help you out.”
“And what about helping you out?” Aziraphale demands. “What about if you’re gallivanting about playing darts in Bombay and don’t watch your back? What if something happens to you?” His voice breaks. He sounds terrifyingly close to tears. “I’d never know, Crowley. I’d think you were just doing what you always do when I’ve hurt you, running away, and I wouldn’t know if I should call you or come after you and I’d wait a year or a hundred years or two and finally I’d go looking and I wouldn’t be able to find you because you’d be gone and I — !”
His voice breaks finally. Crowley moves towards him before he can even consciously think of what to do, while he’s still reeling from when I’ve hurt you and running away. “Hey, hey, hey,” he says, holding Aziraphale close and rubbing his back. “I’ll be okay, you know me. I always am.”
“But you almost weren’t,” Aziraphale says, and bless fucking everything, he’s crying. “You almost weren’t. They almost got you.”
“But they didn’t,” Crowley says, holding himself in check. He’s lost. He’s so lost. The box in the back of his mind bounces through his closet and rattles at the door. “Doesn’t matter anyway. You’d be fine without me. You always are.”
“Not this time I wouldn’t be,” Aziraphale says. He sucks in a noisy breath through his nose.
“Why not this time?” Crowley asks, even though the smarter, more rational part of himself — the part that is the hammer that pounds the nails, that fashioned the lock and threw away the key — begs him not to answer. “What’s changed?”
Aziraphale pulls back slightly and looks up at him. Tears hang from his eyelashes. He’s the most beautiful thing Crowley has ever seen. “Because I’ve realized now that I’m in love with you.”
“I’m sorry, “Aziraphale says. “This isn’t how I wanted to tell you.”
Crowley’s really glad he doesn’t need to breathe. He doesn’t — this isn’t — he’s having a hallucinatory break. What did they used to call it back in the day? Hysteria? Yeah, that’s it. He’s having a moment of hysteria. He’s just imagined — he’s just pretended — that Aziraphale —
“I had a whole speech planned out, of course,” hallucination-Aziraphale says, “though I kept revising it. I’m not sure when it would have been ready, actually.”
Crowley realizes abruptly that the angel is still in his arms. He drops them. He steps back. He should distance himself from the hallucination in front of him. That’s what they do in the films. Yeah, that’s a good idea. Crowley should —
“Please, my dear,” Aziraphale says, looking up at him. “Say something?”
“You’ve had a long day,” is what Crowley hears come out of his mouth. His feet have stopped moving. Why have his feet stopped moving? “A long week, really. A long eleven years, if we’re being precise. Let’s get you back to the bookshop, okay? You probably need to rest. Have you slept at all since the Apocalypse?”
Aziraphale — who's a remarkably persistent hallucination. Hysteria. Whatever — rolls his eyes. “You know I don’t care for sleeping.”
“That’s alright, you’ll get the hang of it,” Crowley says. Remarkable how his mouth keeps moving. “Let’s go.”
“And you’ll — ” Aziraphale’s lower lip wobbles “ — you’ll come with me?”
“Course I will,” Crowley’s mouth says. “Wouldn’t leave you when you’re having a hard time, you know that.”
Hallucination-Aziraphale doesn’t argue when Crowley puts his hand on his elbow and turns him back in the direction of the shop. He threads their arms together though, when they cross the gate at St James’s Park. Crowley lets him. He thinks with some distant part of himself that one should be kind to hallucinations. It’s not their fault, is it? They make the walk back in silence.
Once at the bookshop, Aziraphale unlocks the door and ushers them both in. He’s been sending worried looks up at Crowley as they walked, though he thankfully hasn’t said anything, and steps away for a moment to make tea. Crowley lets him, but the moment he comes back, he bustles him onto the sofa and gets him laying down.
“Legs out, there you go, and head down. That’s the position for sleeping, alright? Put your hands together on your chest if you like, sure. Yeah, that’s good.”
“No, wait. If we’re going to do this than you should sleep too,” Aziraphale says. He gets up and maneuvers Crowley so that he’s sitting behind him on the sofa. “Now you stretch your legs out my dear, and I’ll — here you see — I’ll just tuck in there beside you. Wonderful. Now the two of us can have a nice lie down, don’t you think?”
Crowley blinks. He’s lying on the sofa with Aziraphale in his arms, snuggled in close to his chest, and he feels — the angel feels too real to be a hallucination.
Do hysteria’s have weight? What about vapours?
“I suppose we close our eyes now, do we?” Aziraphale asks. He hums a little and lets his eyes flutter closed. He’s so close, Crowley can count every individual eyelash. “Like that?”
“Yeah,” Crowley croaks. He’s — he’s — he doesn’t know what he’s doing. “Just like that.”
Aziraphale hums again. “It’s quite comfortable, I suppose.” He wiggles a little. He sighs, happy-like, and actually seems to settle. “You know, I might just nap after all.”
“Go ahead,” Crowley says. His own eyes fall close. What — ? What — ? “I’m sure it’ll all make more sense when we wake up.”
Aziraphale doesn’t say anything. His breathing has evened out into sleep. A moment of studied non-thinking later, Crowley joins him.
When Crowley wakes up, the first thing he’s aware of is that there’s an angel in his arms. He shifts and blinks, looking around. They’re in the bookshop on the sofa in the backroom, and everything looks completely normal except Aziraphale is snuggled in close to his chest. He’s asleep, snoring slightly.
Crowley stares at him and has a moment to think What wine did we drink last night? before the memory of what Aziraphale had said slams into his brain and he jerks.
The movement startles Aziraphale. He groans, smacking his lips slightly as he shifts. “Wha—?” he starts, and then, “Oh.” He blinks his eyes open and turns to look up at Crowley. His mouth creases into a smile. “Hello. How long were we asleep then?”
Crowley stares at him.
Aziraphale waits a polite moment and then, when it’s clear to both of them that Crowley’s not going to say anything, shifts so he can take Crowley’s forearm. He raises Crowley’s wrist to his eyes and peers at his watch. “Oh my, three days, well. I suppose we were tired after all.” He puts Crowley’s hand back down and shifts slightly. He doesn’t get up, though, like Crowley had expected. Instead he turns to smile down at the demon. “Did you sleep well, my dear?”
Crowley has to move then. He shifts to dislodge the angel perched incongruously on his chest and sits up, pushing the heels of his palms into the burning fire of his eyes, realizing only then that he’d take his sunglasses off. Fuck. What did Aziraphale see in his face when he looked at him just now? Fuck.
“I’m sorry,” Aziraphale says. He sounds hesitant. He reaches over with one hand and lays it carefully on Crowley’s back. His touch feels like fire. “Was I squashing you? I know I must be quite heavy. Did I wake you? I’m sorry.”
“No,” Crowley says. His voice is a wreck, too high and reedy, but the words come unbidden. “Course you’re not, and you didn’t. It’s fine.”
“Alright,” Aziraphale says, drawing the word out. “Can I ask what’s the matter, then?”
“What’s the — ?” Crowley turns to him in shock. The box is rattling in the back of his mind. “Angel, you told me yesterday that you love me.”
“Yes, I did,” Aziraphale says. He pinks slightly. He doesn’t, however, run away or start to deny it. “Not exactly how I planned the confession to come out, but that’s love you for, I guess.”
“That’s — ?” No. Crowley pushes himself to his feet and takes two steps away from the couch before stopping and spinning back around. “Angel,” he tries. He doesn’t know what to say. Can angels get delusional? Do they have fevers? “Are you feeling alright?”
“Am I — ? Yes, my dear,” Aziraphale says. His expression shifts from soft into mildly cross. “Why do you ask? Of course I feel fine.”
“There’s no ‘of course,’ about it,” Crowley says stiffly. A thermometer, there’s got to be a thermometer around here somewhere. He’s never owned one but Aziraphale’s an angel. Maybe he keeps one for customers or something. “You’re clearly not well. Maybe it was the Holy Water? It’d had a demon dunked in it first, you said, maybe it — ” He spins around to face Aziraphale. “Did you swallow any?” That must be it. “You said you splashed around. Maybe some got on your — ”
“Crowley, Crowley,” Aziraphale says. He’s sitting up on the sofa now with both hands raised in the air. “I’m not sick. I didn’t get any melted demon inside my mouth, I’m fine.” He stares at Crowley. “I can say that I love you without being delusional, you know.”
Crowley’s mouth opens automatically. “No, you can’t.”
Something complicated passes across Aziraphale’s face. His teeth catch on his bottom lip and he looks down. “I don’t expect you to love me back, of course,” he says. “That isn’t — that’s not why I told you. I simply wanted you to understand my feelings. It’s okay if you don’t feel the same.”
The box bounces twice. One nail slides lose. Crowley stares at Aziraphale and doesn’t know what to do. “If I don’t — ?” he says. “Angel, you can’t be serious right now.”
“I’m perfectly serious,” Aziraphale says stiffly. He draws himself up until he’s sitting straighter than the Queen. “I don’t expect you to love me back, Crowley.”
The box rattles. “That isn’t — ” Crowley starts. The closet shakes. “You don’t — ” he says louder. The doorknob turns. “You IDIOT,” Crowley finally roars. “OF COURSE I LOVE YOU!”
The closet flies open. The box explodes. All the messy, horrible, vile stuff that he’s been suppressing for millenia comes flying out.
Shit, Crowley thinks. Fuck fuck damn damn damn. Bless. BLESS the entirely fucking WORLD.
There are feathers everywhere. Big black messy ugly horrible feathers floating all around the bookshop and Crowley thinks for a moment that their manifestations of his unconscious until he feels a weight at his back and realizes that his wings are out. He wraps them quickly around himself and collapses into a ball, clutching his knees to his chest and thinking longingly of small, dark, shadowy places where he can hide. He wishes he had the concentration for a miracle. He wants very badly to disappear.
It takes him a long time to calm down. The endless circlets of what did I just say what did I just say what did I just say???? wind achingly slowly down from burning embarrassment and terror into a more agonizing, lingering sort of hurt. The closet door has been blown off its hinges. Pieces of wood and shrapnel are strewn about his mental landscape and stabbed him through the heart. He’s bleeding out, has probably been bleeding out since this all started, has taken a mortal wound in the Garden and never ever recovered. It’s just taken him this long to notice.
He has no idea how much time passes. He doesn’t dare twitch to look down at his watch. He just waits, wrapped in his feathers, until every sound that filters in through his canopy has settled. Every creak of the floorboards, every chatter of humans beyond the windows outside, all of it settles, finally, into a peaceful sort of half-distant murmur that is the quietest London has been since the blitz.
Slowly, so very, terribly slowly, Crowley shifts two of his feathers so he can peer outside.
And promptly flings them shut again because fuck bless shit and goddamn it all to Hell and Heaven Aziraphale is sitting on the floor waiting for him.
Crowley hyperventilates for a very long time. He doesn’t bother wondering how long. He had thought for sure that the angel would have been long gone. Moved all his books, set up another shop in the West End — he does so love the theatre — but no. He’s here. He’s still here, and he’s waiting.
Crowley swallows and looks out again. The angel hasn’t moved.
What’s almost worse is that Aziraphale has got his wings out too. They’re white, an aching sort of blinding white that glows in the gloom of the bookshop. Crowley wonders how he hadn’t noticed it before since now that he’s looking for it, he can see the presence of it leaking around the edge of his black feathers. It’s hard to keep out that angelic glow.
Crowley tries with shaking hands to push everything back into his closet. None of it will go.
“Can you leave?” he asks finally. He wouldn’t have recognized his own voice if he heard it. It’s horrible. “Please?”
“No,” Aziraphale says, calm and collected as you please. He doesn’t shift his wings away, leaves them open to scatter feathers all through the shop, as if he won’t have to spend a week cleaning as it is.
Crowly sucks in a few quick breaths. “Why not?” he asks.
“Because I think we need to talk,” Aziraphale says evenly.
That horrible sentences makes Crowley retreat into his wings for another short eternity. Could be an hour or a day or year, it’s impossible to say. His heart pounds and his back aches and his eyes — traitorous things — dare to leak slightly at the corners. “I don’t want to,” he finally gasps.
“I know,” Aziraphale says in response. His voice is kind. It’s always kind, has been since the wall except when he crafted the nails that Crowley has used with words like you’re a demon and we aren’t friends.
“We’re not friends,” Crowley croaks back at him. He hears the angel suck in a breath and thinks, with some mean part of himself, good. “You said that we’re not. You don’t have to do this. I’ll be fine.”
“I shouldn’t have said that,” Aziraphale says. His voice isn’t quite so even now. “That was wrong of me and I’m sorry.”
“I’m not,” Crowley bites out. “Was a good reminder. I need those sometimes. Just leave, angel.” When Aziraphale’s gone he’ll put his wings away. He vanish into London and then beyond. Florence, maybe, except that isn’t quite far enough. Maybe he’ll see Alpha Centauri after all.
“I won’t,” Aziraphale tells him. Fuck it, his voice sounds stronger now. “I have to apologize.”
“Fine,” Crowley growls. He peels back the edge of one wing and glares at Aziraphale. “Say what you need to say and go. I’ll be gone before you come back. You’ll never have to see me again.”
“That’s exactly what I’m afraid of,” Aziraphale says, and this time his voice cracks. He blinks three times in quick succession. “I know that the moment I look away you’ll be gone, like you have so many times before, and it’ll be my fault again just like it was then. Only this time I don’t think you’ll come back to me, and that’ll be my fault, too.”
“It’s not your fault, angel,” Crowley says, and damn him, he sounds as exhausted as he feels. “It’s fine. It’s not you; it’s me. Just go.”
“It is me,” Aziraphale says kindly. “I know perfectly well that it is. I don’t need you to lie to protect my feelings, Crowley. I’ve been selfish and self-centered and I refused to see for far too long how much I was hurting you. I refused to be truthful with myself about the reasons for that as well, and the result was that I hurt you and myself more than I ever intended. I’m sorry. I’m more sorry than I can say.” He swallows heavily. “I’d like to spend a lot of time proving to you that I’m sorry if you’ll let me.”
Crowley can’t help but bend forward under the weight of those words until he’s resting his head in the palms of his hands. His wings flutter slightly though they thankfully don’t close. What can he even say to that? “I don’t understand.”
“I know,” Aziraphale says kindly. “I’m sorry, I — ” he clears his throat. “Crowley, would it be okay if I touched you right now?”
Crowley doesn’t dare look up from his hands. “Fine,” he says. He’s going to discorporate anyway. Might as well go out in the best way he can. “Knock yourself out.”
“I sincerely hope not, though I would ask you to mind your wings,” Aziraphale says as he scoots closer. There’s a thread of humour running through his voice, but he’s not laughing. Crowley doesn’t feel like laughing, either. He moves and Crowley tracks the progress of his shuffling through the noises he makes across the floor. He sticks out his tongue and tastes the tingle of an approaching angel. He shuts his mouth right quick.
“There we go,” Aziraphale says finally, and the tips of his fingers brush Crowley’s leg. Crowley lets out a cry he’ll deny ever making and collapses forward. Aziraphale shush’s him and pulls at his shoulders, guiding him forward until he’s pillowing Crowley’s head on his thighs. His hands are in Crowley’s hair threading through the fine stands and his wings overlap with Crowley’s, mingling white and black feathers together into a mishmashed, broken screen.
“I really do love you,” Aziraphale says quietly, and holds Crowley as he shudders. “I have, I know now, for a very long time. Since the Beginning, maybe, when you smiled at me and I felt something very different from Heavenly love stir in my breast. I pushed it away, though, and covered it with lamp shades and blankets no matter how bright it grew and tried to douse it in Holy Water more than once over the past six thousand years. It lived despite everything I threw at it and when we stood together on the airbase against both of our superiors, I realized that I’d never get rid of it and that I never wanted to because I loved you and I had since it started. I’m so sorry it took me this long to understand that. I’ll spend eternity making it up to you, if I can.”
Crowley doesn’t speak for a long time. When he finally finds himself able to move his mouth, it’s to lick his lips and say. “I’ve loved you since the Garden. I tried just as hard not to notice. You weren’t the only one who pushed his feelings away.”
“Yes, but I’m the one who pushed you away,” Aziraphale says gently, still brushing his hands through Crowley’s hair. “I’m the one who asked you to leave, or sent you out of the shop, or,” he swallows, “lied and told you we were no longer friends. I quite understand if you can never forgive me. I wasn’t lying when I said I never expected you to love me back.”
There’s a hollow sort of laugh in the back of Crowley’s throat. “If I couldn’t stop myself from loving you before now, nothing you say now is going to change that.”
“Then I’m glad,” Aziraphale says. His voice is quiet but achingly sincere. “It’s selfish to want your forgiveness after all that I’ve done, but I can’t help but be thankful.”
Crowley swallows again and sits up. Aziraphale lets him, but shifts so their legs and shoulders are still pressed together. “So, uh, what now?”
“Well,” Aziraphale says. He looks over at Crowley. “I had planned on asking you to move in with me in a much more organized way.”
Crowley can’t help but smile. “Did you now?”
“Hmm,” Aziraphale hums. He’s smiling, too. “The offer still stands. You could move in here, if you wanted. We’ll make enough room for your things. I have actually given a lot of thought towards a terrace garden.” He sounds nervous again. “I think it would look lovely.”
Crowley honestly thinks it over. “Are you sure you wouldn’t get tired of me? Underfoot all the time?”
Aziraphale reaches over to brush a lock of hair out of Crowley’s eyes. “I can honestly say that I don’t think that would ever happen. And if either of us are getting restless, we can always travel. I do love France, you know, and it has been a while since we’ve been to New York.”
Crowley squeezes his hands together. He wants this far, far too much. “We’ve never been to New York together.”
“No, we haven’t,” Aziraphale murmurs. He leans forward until their breaths mix. “There are a lot of things we haven’t done together. There are so many things I want to show you, times I had thought of you until I pushed the desire away. I want to take you to the places that reminded me of you. I want to take you back to the places we had visited together. I want to kiss you in every one.”
“And you’re sure — ” Crowley starts, before he has to clear his throat to go on, “ — and you’re sure you won’t change your mind about this tomorrow?” He’d never recover if that were that case, not if he lived for six thousand more years.
“I’m sure,” Aziraphale says, pressing one hand to Crowley’s cheek. “Are you?”
Crowley laughs wetly. “I’m sure,” he says. He’s never been more sure of anything in his entire life. Not even Falling. Especially not that. “If they come for us — ” he starts.
Aziraphale silences him by pressing his lips to Crowley’s ear. “Then they’ll come for us. I am of the opinion we should enjoy what time we have left.”
“Right,” Crowley says. He sucks in a shuddering breath. “I can’t promise you that I’ll wake up every day understanding this.” Or believing that it’s real, he thinks but doesn’t say.
Aziraphale seems to hear him anyway. He smiles at him kindly and — yes, there it is — with love. “That’s okay, my darling. I’m fully prepared to spend every day for the next hundred years reminding you.”
It doesn’t take a hundred years. It does take a long time though. When they do finally travel to Paris and Madrid and Beijing, Crowley jerks awake in whatever bed they’re sleeping with wide eyes and a racing pulse. He always looks incredulously towards Aziraphale and it takes him a soft look and a kiss or two to suck in a deep breath and remember. Aziraphale, true to his word, never admonishes him for it. Eventually it takes less and less until one day Crowley twitches in his sleep and Aziraphale reaches over and strokes his cheek and Crowley settles, his eyes still closed, back into bed.
Crowley tries to make up for it during the day. He doesn’t like apologies, hates them even more than thank yous, because it implies that Aziraphale deserves anything less than his complete devotion. He’s able to give his angel that, at least, and when they finally do leave for the stars — in a spaceship, this time, not the Bentley — it’s together with humanity pressed in all around them, a welcome hum of invention and life. They can enjoy it together now, not as a distraction, and when Aziraphale turns to press a kiss to his cheek, Crowley only sighs, and leans in closer, and looks forward to their next adventure, together, as they were always meant to be.
~ The End