“You should have done this a hundred years ago,” Aziraphale said, rather sharply. “You’ll get no sympathy from me.”
The thing about Aziraphale, of course, was that there were things he said and things he meant, and they often weren’t the same. You could usually tell by his eyes how he really felt, and right now, the angel’s gaze on Crowley was gentle, and full of the fondness that Crowley had come to take for granted millennia ago.
Everything in the pre-surgery room looked artificially bleached out under its harsh lights, but Aziraphale, of course, maintained his natural angelic radiance, a hint of rose-gold under his skin, a faint ethereal glow to his white curls. Not that this surprised Crowley at all. He’d learned long ago that this particular angel had apparently been created to look unfailingly lovely.
But Crowley didn’t need Aziraphale’s sympathy, verbal or otherwise. He’d survived the attack by Heaven and Hell, after all. This was just—this was just a man with a sharp instrument having access to Crowley while he was unconscious.
“It’s not my fault,” Crowley protested, trying in vain to find a comfortable way to sit in an uncomfortable chair. “Hell cursing demons to have tooth problems that can’t be miracled away—that’s a low blow.”
“It’s wisdom teeth, dear,” Aziraphale said patiently, “not a heart transplant. Humans have their teeth out every day and I’m certain that they don’t fuss this much.”
“I’m not fussing!”
Aziraphale raised an eyebrow, but Crowley could see the concern in his eyes.
The other point about Aziraphale with his saying one thing and showing another was that the practice had led Crowley into a kind of helpless hope that there might actually be a third layer of feeling in the angel. That maybe there was something Aziraphale kept locked so tightly away that it never even showed in his eyes. That perhaps someday when Heaven and Hell could no longer threaten them, that Aziraphale would let those feelings show and speak and live.
But Aziraphale had revealed no secrets in the few weeks since the Abotchalypse. His eyes only showed the same sympathy and affection he’d always given the demon. There was no lockbox in Aziraphale’s heart. No hidden treasure.
Didn’t matter, of course, Crowley reminded himself for the millionth time. He and Aziraphale were together now, in their own way, and if all Crowley was ever going to get from him was sharp words and fond looks, well, he had accepted that for millennia. He could accept it for the rest of eternity.
“When it’s done, you’ll be able to eat again,” the angel reminded him.
“I don’t need to eat.”
“Well, you’ll be out of pain,” Aziraphale said, with considerably less patience.
Crowley almost laughed. That was a low blow itself, although, of course, the angel didn’t know it. Obviously, there were things that Crowley himself kept locked away. He’d tried to say them, a couple of times, cautiously and maybe not plainly enough. I’ll take you anywhere you like. We can go off together.
Aziraphale had looked at him with kindness in his eyes and had said No . And had meant No.
Crowley shifted fruitlessly in the chair. This was ridiculous. Surely if he could put up with the pain of never having Aziraphale any closer to him than a shared bottle of wine or a walk in the park, he could put up with an ache in his mouth. He was an old hand at pain, wasn’t he? Pool of boiling sulfur, and all. He knew the pain would be better than lying vulnerable in a chair while some human carved him up.
Crowley swung his legs toward the floor, and immediately found himself pinned back into the chair, staring up into disapproving blue eyes with the kind of spark to them that reminded you that you were dealing with an angel who could wield a flaming sword.
Aziraphale spoke calmly. “Crowley, I will not see you suffer any longer. Do you understand me?”
Aziraphale’s hands slid down Crowley’s arms until the angel clasped both of Crowley’s hands in his own. He was warm, as always, Aziraphale was unfailingly warm, no matter the weather or season, and Crowley’s hands were so cold.
“Can you stay?” Crowley asked. “Angel, please don’t leave.”
Aziraphale gave him a beautiful smile. “Nothing will happen to you on my watch, my dear. I know this is hard for you. But if you can, just put your trust in me.”
Crowley, of course, didn’t tell him that there had never in his life been a single other person he had trusted. It might have shown in his eyes, though.
When the nurse came in with the needles, Crowley laid back without protest, and when he let the quiet darkness take him over, Aziraphale was still there, holding his hand.
When Crowley came around, he squeezed Aziraphale’s hand even before he opened his eyes. It was slightly disappointing for Aziraphale, in a way, to have Crowley wake, because that meant that the angel would have to actually read the book in his hand, instead of taking the rare opportunity to simply gaze at Crowley’s peaceful face. Rememorizing him, almost, although certainly Aziraphale didn’t need to do that. Whenever Crowley wasn’t around for Aziraphale to look at, Aziraphale could choose one of a thousand memories to revisit. Scarlet hair, golden eyes, and a sharply handsome face were never so far away that Aziraphale could feel completely lonely.
Speaking of eyes, as Crowley stirred, Aziraphale made sure his miracle was still in place, the one that kept humans from noticing the true color of them, the mark of Crowley’s serpentine nature. Aziraphale couldn’t fix Crowley’s tooth pain, but he could still help, in a way.
He could hold Crowley’s hand, at the demon’s own request. Which was odd and endearing and somewhat painful to the angel, because they touched so rarely. Aziraphale only had a few hundred memories of touch to recall, and of course, they weren’t the nicest memories to dwell on, really, because while you could recreate the image of someone in your mind and it was almost like seeing him in person, you couldn’t really recreate touch. But here Aziraphale was, holding Crowley’s hand, having held it for a very long time now, before he’d gone to surgery and again as soon as they’d wheeled him into recovery. Aziraphale had wanted to hold it in the operating room too, but he’d made himself stay out of the way. The humans hadn’t been able to see the angel standing beside them during the surgery, but if they’d bumped into Aziraphale, they would definitely have noticed.
Crowley made some noise a few minutes later. It was hard to understand him, because he had gauze in his mouth, but Aziraphale could make out a few words.
"What was that, dear?"
“Cloud.” Crowley tugged on Aziraphale’s hand, seeming a little distressed that his speech wasn’t making it through. Aziraphale lowered his book. He’d already made an examination of the demon’s wounds, testing one small spot in his mouth to see if an angelic miracle would work now that it wasn’t strictly tooth pain anymore. To his relief, it had gone well, and the angel had given Crowley’s healing a large boost, fixing as much as he dared without tipping off the surgeon and nurses too much. He’d finish healing Crowley as soon as he got him home. For now, though, the gauze wasn’t necessary and Aziraphale waved a hand to remove it.
Crowley gave him a goofy, loopy smile, looking far more in the sauce than Aziraphale had ever seen him, even after a few bottles of wine. "S’like a cloud.” Crowley pointed at Aziraphale. “Big fluffy bit of Heaven's basement, right there on top of your head."
Aziraphale tried to muffle a snort of laughter into his book. "Ah. Well, thank you, dear."
A couple of minutes later, Crowley pulled on his hand again, and said, “Blue.”
“Mmm?” Aziraphale asked absently.
“Lagoon. No, ocean. No, like the bay, the cove, Zack. Zack and his toast.”
Aziraphale turned the page, trying to keep the amusement out of his voice. “Do you mean Zakynthos? The island? We were there—oh, when was that, a couple of hundred years ago, I think.”
“Yes! No! The beach. The cove. That’s—that’s it. Exact color, only place I’ve ever seen it. ‘Cept for on you, ‘course.”
“What’s on me, dear?”
“Your eyes. That blue. As the cove. Exact color.”
Aziraphale lowered his book slowly. “Oh. Ah, thank you,” the angel repeated.
Crowley smiled at him fondly, squeezed his hand, and said, “Almost kissed you that day.”
The book hit the floor.
“Mmm-hmm,” said the demon, closing his eyes for a second in what looked for all the world like happy remembrance. “Wasn’t m’fault. You had on those shoes. Didn’t want to get them sandy, did you? Took them off.” Crowley waved his free hand about, a little less gracefully than usual. He made one of his odd vocal noises. “Ehhhhh...no shoes, might as well go wading, yeah?”
His voice rose higher. “Crowley, don’t go out so far!”
And much lower, “What, you can’t walk on water, angel?”
And back to his normal voice, looking at Aziraphale earnestly. “Thought you might, you know. Walk on water. Can you? Dunno. But you went in the surf with me instead, hanging around a demon, terrible angel, you are. Got your feet wet then, didn’t you? Got your trousers wet, all the knees you—all the knees you had got wet, and you slipped. Caught you.” He squeezed Aziraphale’s hand again. “I caught you, angel. Wanted to kiss you. Your stupid mouth with salt on it from the spray, your mouth saying stupid things.”
His voice rose high again and Aziraphale realized that this was Crowley imitating him. “Crowley, this is so much fun, never had so much fun.”
And then his voice got much lower for some illogical reason as Crowley imitated himself, “Angel, there’s more fun than this in the world— ”
Aziraphale whispered the last of it with him. “ ...just let it happen.”
Crowley gave him a delighted look. “You remember!”
And then Crowley suddenly dropped Aziraphale’s hand, his expression fading into a frown. He clasped his own hands together, without Aziraphale. “Didn’t though, did you? Let it happen. Oh, not your fault, angel, I know. Angel, demon. Probably explode.” He shook his head, looking horrified. “Can’t have that, ugh! Awful mess.”
Aziraphale found enough voice to say, “Crowley—”
The door to the recovery room suddenly banged open, but the nurse immediately found herself back in the hallway, convinced she’d checked on Mr. Anthony Crowley and that he was recovering nicely, but definitely not ready to go home yet.
“Now San Francisco,” Crowley went on, waving his hands about. “Nearly kissed you there, too. Oh, and Tokyo, Tokyo twice. Lots of—in Venice, Paris, North Dakota. And in the Garden, of course, well, yeah. That rainstorm, you were all wet.” He pointed at Aziraphale. “Had your knees wet, but I wasn’t, you put up your umbrell—feath—umbrella feathers, kept me dry. Wondered, I did. What it would be like to get all wet with you, that’s why—Zakynthos. Wanted to kiss you.”
His expression grew serious. “Can’t, though. Take you swimming. Take you anywhere, Alpha Centauri, take you—take you anywhere. Too fast, you said, but it’s not too fast, I know. Dead-end road’s what it is. Goes nowhere. Loved you so long, I thought maybe, someday, but—I know. S’ok, angel, s’ok,” he said softly. “Just—just wanted to kiss you, was all.”
Crowley’s wavering hands came back to rest on his chest and his eyes fluttered closed. Aziraphale wasn’t sure how long after that the nurse came back in to give them discharge instructions. Aziraphale’s voice sounded so loud in the room when he finally spoke. “Do people normally, ah—do they say things, when they come out of surgery?”
The nurse rolled her eyes. “Oh, yes. Babble on like anything, talk nonsense.”
“Oh. It’s nonsense, then?” Aziraphale’s voice had a terrible trembling in it.
The nurse got a knowing look on her face. “Confess to cheating on you, did he? Bastard.”
“Oh, uh, no, we aren’t—”
She frowned at him. “I’d believe that one if I were you, love. Probably something he had to get off his chest, couldn’t do it any other way. Sometimes people do that in here. Confess to things they would never say otherwise.” She put a hand on his shoulder. “I’m sorry.”
Aziraphale had been acting strangely for two days. Crowley’s surgery had gone fine. Aziraphale had been able to heal him well enough that Crowley was already back to normal, eating and drinking what he liked, which was more drinking than eating, of course. But nothing else was normal. Aziraphale had been largely silent since the operation. The angel would hardly look at him.
It was late in the evening, and Crowley didn’t want to leave the bookshop and go home to his empty flat, but it was time for that. He said as much, minus the part about not wanting to leave, of course. He grabbed for his jacket on the back of the couch, but it was suddenly yanked out of his reach by Aziraphale, who sat there now with Crowley’s jacket on his lap and his blue eyes wide.
Crowley said, “Um.”
“Don’t go,” the angel ordered quietly, in a pained sort of voice that Crowley really did not like hearing. “I have to tell you something.”
Crowley dropped back down in the chair across from the angel, a cold fear stealing into him. “You heard from them? Upstairs?”
Aziraphale blinked at him. “What? No! Oh, no, Crowley, this is—”
“This is what, then?” Crowley tried to force a laugh, to sound like he was kidding. “Something I did?”
“No,” Aziraphale answered, but then he said, “Yes. Oh, damnation.” The angel suddenly had a glass of scotch in his hand, and he downed the whole thing.
Crowley decided he could probably use a little scotch too, and followed suit.
Aziraphale gave him a brave look, as determined as Crowley had ever seen him. “When—when you were in hospital, after your surgery, do you remember any of that?”
Crowley tried to answer casually, calmly, around his growing dread. “Eh, not really. I remember being here in the bookshop, you healing me. Don’t really recall the hospital after they put me under.”
“Yes,” Aziraphale said, with a frown. “I thought not. Look, this is—this is—” He closed his eyes for a second, clearly about to say something he thought Crowley would not want to hear. “Crowley, you said some things, after the surgery. When you were on the painkillers.”
“Like what?” the demon demanded. When Aziraphale didn’t answer, Crowley coughed out, “Look, whatever I said, angel, I didn’t mean it, it was the drugs talking. You don’t have to—”
Aziraphale pressed ahead. “Yes, I—I know that you might not have meant it.” The angel looked up at him with saddened eyes. “I was going to tell you,” he said softly. “I was going to sit you down and tell you what you said, and ask you if any of it was—was real. But you see, you—you said things that I think you would never have said otherwise. If it hadn’t been for the medication. And so I—well, I thought it would only be fair, really, that first, you hear some things that I would never say otherwise.” He met Crowley’s eyes. “Because the truth is that even if you weren't in your right mind, even if you didn’t mean any of it, I need to say this. You need to know. It's far past time.” There was more scotch in the angel’s glass then and he downed it again.
Crowley wanted to shake him. “Aziraphale, will you please just tell me what I—”
“You have to understand,” the angel went on as if Crowley hadn’t spoken, “that I thought I would know. I did know that you wanted to be friends with me, close friends, that you wanted that almost from the beginning.” He gave Crowley a small smile. “I wanted that, too. But I thought if there were ever more to it for you that I would know. I don’t know, maybe you thought the same thing about me. I guess perhaps we got too good at hiding this from Heaven and Hell. Maybe we even hid it from each other.”
Aziraphale shook his head gently. “No. Listen. When I first met you, Crowley, I couldn’t understand it. You were a demon, but you were so kind. Every time I saw you, you were friendly and warm, and I know you say you’re not, but of course, we both know that’s not true, no one’s ever been kinder to me than you have. And the thing is, an angel tends to notice that sort of thing. Makes an impression. I—” Aziraphale broke off, looking frustrated. “Damn it, I don’t know how to explain this properly.”
The angel glanced out the bookshop windows to where they could just make out the end of the sunset, a faint rose glow behind the surrounding buildings. “You know, it’s like—it’s like that,” Aziraphale said, pointing. “When it’s dark. When you go into a dark room, before you turn the light on, you—you know that it’s dark, but you forget that there’s more to it than that, you forget that in the dark you can only see in black and gray. Right? So then when you turn the light on, it’s not just brighter, it’s—everything is suddenly in color again. Yes?”
Aziraphale looked at him earnestly. “Well, that’s what it’s like, seeing you. We would go long periods where we didn’t see each other, and without you, things would grow dark. I would forget over time that the world even had color in it until you would walk up to me and suddenly I could see again, I could see all of it, all of the magnificence of the world that I’d been missing."
There were tears glistening in Aziraphale’s eyelashes now. “When I first saw you on the Garden wall—oh, you were just the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. Your scales and your eyes and then your hair and your wings and the way you talked, how kind you sounded, how peaceful. You didn’t scare me or threaten me. And I thought, if this is the kind of thing that’s in this new world, if being on Earth means that I get to meet someone like you, then I think I might—I think I might be able to make a home here. The truth is, I—I don’t just love you, Crowley. I love the whole world just because you’re a part of it.”
“Aziraphale,” Crowley breathed. “What the hell did I say?”
The angel took a deep breath. “Well, you—”
“Never mind, sod it, I don’t care.” Crowley came down on his knees onto the floor and reached up to frame Aziraphale’s face in his hands, pulling him into a kiss. Finally pressing his mouth against Aziraphale's, for the first time ever, showing him something rather than trying to convey it with worthless words and longing looks.
Aziraphale gasped and opened his mouth, and he tasted like salt from the tears running over his lips. Crowley slid his fingers into the softness of Aziraphale’s hair at the nape of his neck. He could feel the warmth of the angel everywhere as he pulled him closer, enfolding Aziraphale into his arms on the floor, holding him, kissing him, crying with him, loving him.
Later, after all the secrets had been shared, and the truth given wings, they lay together in Aziraphale’s bed as dawn rose outside the windows, bringing color back into the world. Crowley whispered against Aziraphale’s cheek. “You were right, angel. Should have done this a hundred years ago.”