From the Top (Say Your Lines Once More)
“Most people believe the mind to be a mirror, more or less accurately reflecting the world outside them, not realizing on the contrary that the mind is itself the principal element of creation.”
From the Beginning of Time
“Let your life lightly dance on the edges of time like dew on the tip of a leaf.”
Aziraphale, in the beginning, loves Crowley in the way one loves a stranger after meeting him several times on the train. Familiar, like the tear on a weathered vest, but not indispensable. They’re Angels and Demons and they almost fall in love, but not quite.
Crowley’s not sure how it happens, but when he goes to sleep one day, he wakes up human. He’s in New York City, and Aziraphale’s store does not exist.
Crowley counts out thirty years of his second life before seeing Aziraphale again.
They're both human, and Aziraphale has brown hair. Still curly, but in a different color. It's him all the same.
He doesn’t recognize Crowley.
But Crowley remembers. He knows how Aziraphale likes his tea and how he’s always had an underlying love of sweets. Aziraphale is pleasantly surprised, and a short conversation earns Crowley a date and a promise.
In three more years they live in a house with a patio and a yard out back and a little dog that yaps at raccoons. Crowley cooks, Aziraphale works, and some days it is the other way around.
Crowley’s not used to human life, but he has the memories, and it makes it okay, somehow.
So they live, and they die.
And Crowley wakes up and Aziraphale's hair is red.
They're in school and Aziraphale shies away from crowds and stays in libraries, but Crowley remembers and will always watch him. They’re from different states, and they have different friends, so Crowley hasn’t the heart to approach Aziraphale out of the blue.
This Aziraphale is a total bookworm, but Crowley knows that after school, he would go behind the gym building and pull out a cigarette. Once every week (Crowley starts to count after seeing Aziraphale there for a few times).
(He remembers the last life, and when this Aziraphale’s eyes turn on him, he can just hear a voice telling him to walk the dog and bring back groceries.
It hurts. But only a little.)
But he falls in love again and watches Aziraphale leave for college, and he doesn't see him anymore.
Crowley lives out the rest of his life among books and his own cigarette smoke.
He dies, and wakes up.
He's a freelance artist and draws portraits for a living.
He's awfully fond of painting a young man with curly hair.
He doesn't color in the hair.
He never meets Aziraphale, but he knows, and he draws so he won't forget. Sometimes he draws wings in the background, and there are times he doesn’t remember why.
The next time Aziraphale is alive and Crowley is able to chance upon him, and he's in the shape of a young, blond haired boy that reminds Crowley of the Antichrist. He can’t explain to Aziraphale why that is so funny when the boy demands an answer.
Crowley plays guitar, and Aziraphale wears headphones and listens to obscure bands with names like Taped-Up Hearts.
It's a fucked up world, but they're neighbors and they manage.
Aziraphale climbs over the railings to Crowley's apartment, occasionally, but never stays for long. He's less angelic and less bent on morals and smiles in glee at Crowley's antics (which doesn’t seem to fade away after two or three lifetimes). He likes Crowley’s bad ideas. He likes Crowley. Immensely.
They kiss the third night Aziraphale jumps over the railing to Crowley’s patio. He doesn’t go home that night.
But they're bad ideas. Aziraphale realizes this when he grows up, and Crowley realizes that when Aziraphale dies in his lap with a gunshot wound in his side.
In his next life Crowley meets Aziraphale at a dance.
Crowley's holding a bunch of flowers and Aziraphale is a girl. They're in period clothing and Crowley nearly bursts out laughing at Aziraphale's bouncy dress. He sends out a letter of apology to Aziraphale (Elizabeth Fell, he reminds himself) later, and is almost beside himself with relief when Aziraphale replies the following day.
They marry in that one and Crowley can't remember a time when he's happier. They have three children and they watch each one leave and marry and come back with grandchildren in a tow.
They die of old age, hands clasped and dreaming.
And Crowley wakes up again. And again and again and again.
In apartments where they are American, where they celebrate Valentine’s Day with balloons and coffee and cream, and where Crowley is the co-pilot and Aziraphale undresses him in the cabin, pressing him against a window, thousands of feet in the air. Where they meet in a zoo or are models and photographers, where Crowley is homeless and Aziraphale picks him up, where Aziraphale is an addict and Crowley saves him. Where Aziraphale drowns and Crowley never forgives himself, or where Crowley kills himself and Aziraphale forgives him.
Round and round they go, it’s the same song everywhere, anywhere, and every single time.
Sometimes Aziraphale doesn't exist. Sometimes he dies before they meet. Sometimes they meet for a fraction of a second, the brush of a shoulder on the last train of the day.
Sometimes Aziraphale's not human, and Crowley shoots him through the heart with an arrow after a long chase. Or they’re from different countries, and Aziraphale swipes at him in the chest with a sword.
Sometimes Aziraphale doesn’t love him, and will never love him. But they meet time after time.
When they're princes and knights or ladies and actresses and singers, when they're boys and then men, girls and then women, and Crowley will always wonder if this is the last time.
He meets Aziraphale when there are gods and meets him again when there is God. When there is science and logic and literature and when there are only tapestries and songs to map out history. When he has the fizzle of the desk lamp to illuminate Aziraphale’s hair or when he’s only got candlelight by the bed as Aziraphale bites at his neck.
He’s there when Aziraphale hangs for kissing him and when he’s allowed to grab Aziraphale at work and plant a messy kiss on the side of his cheek on his birthday to the thunderous applause of his friends and co-workers. He stops counting the times he dies for Aziraphale or the times Aziraphale dies for him, stops thinking death as an inconvenient discorporation, but as something final and unchangeable.
He also wonders if Aziraphale's perfectly happy already, without him. He comes across this scenario more often than not, and it gives him a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.
He wonders if he's too late, and how many times he's too late, as Aziraphale stands on the edge of the window and falls backwards from the tip of the 33rd hospital floor, or a ship, or a skyscraper.
He sees Aziraphale in suits and in skirts and in pajamas and headphones, in a wedding tuxedo standing next to a pretty young bride. He sees the flash of a camera and Aziraphale behind the bright lights; he sees Aziraphale as a teacher and Aziraphale with kids and smiles all around. He sees it all, and he's had to remind Aziraphale over a million times of who they had been and for how long he's been following him. That is, until he begins to forget himself.
He lives out circumstances during war trenches, or ones where he must wait for Aziraphale to come home from wars, from business trips, from the grocery store two blocks away.
But he knows that Aziraphale will always come back.
So he waits. He’s human and powerless but he’s gone through enough lives to have free will and stubbornness to spare.
And so despite everything, he still believes that he must wait a million lifetimes before he can look up and see Aziraphale, his Aziraphale—wings spread and sporting that insufferable, ineffable tartan sweater vest—coming back from the very beginning of it all to bring him back.
It’s the Same Song, Again and Again
“You smiled and talked to me of nothing and I felt that for this I had been waiting long.”
Crowley doesn’t know if his kind can dream, but he does. His eyes open up to sandy grey ceilings and light falling through the drapes, vision taking time to adjust to the dimness.
He turns on his side and says to Aziraphale, Hi.
And Aziraphale murmurs something and drifts back into sleep, retreats into his mind.
Crowley can’t follow him there.
Their conversations are simple. They argue what to have for dinner, where to go on holidays, where to buy furniture. But when Crowley brings up dolphins, Aziraphale gives him a blank smile. What about them? he says politely. Crowley can’t bring himself to explain, so he listens to Aziraphale talk about vacation plans and other normal, human things.
Aziraphale is young, thirty-two and a professor at the university teaching archeology. He’s got three hundred students total and at least fifty of them send him Christmas cards. Crowley laughs when Aziraphale says he feels ancient.
Wait until you hit a millennium, Crowley says. It won’t be so funny then.
I’m afraid I’d be shriveled up by then, Aziraphale says. And you’ll have to wheel me around.
That’s fine, Crowley agrees. He’s not up for an argument. It’s never really the same. I’ll do it.
Aziraphale continues, I would only want to live one lifetime. It’s enough with you here.
Crowley’s fingers dig into Aziraphale’s wrist.
Remember when we were in grade school? Crowley says into Aziraphale’s shoulder. This one has auburn hair and is a preschool teacher in Arizona. He’s older than Crowley in human years and a few inches taller. Crowley has to look up to face him. You used to play the cello. He closes his eyes. You were good.
Aziraphale shifts underneath the sheets. I met you at the bookstore, he corrects gently. I didn’t play the cello.
Crowley doesn’t reply immediately. But he burrows closer before he adds, If you played cello, I’m sure you would be good.
That’s kind of you.
No, Crowley insists, muffling everything into the fabric of the pajama top. His voice is thick. I know it. I’ve known it. I just never told you. So I’m telling you now. Because I wish I could’ve told you that before you left and— He tapers off.
Okay, Aziraphale sighs back.
I don’t want you to leave, Crowley says.
I’m not going anywhere.
Stay, Crowley says. Even when I wake up.
I will. Go to sleep.
Twenty-year-old Aziraphale drapes his body against Crowley’s back and rests his chin on his right shoulder. Did something happen? he ventures. Are you alright?
Yes. A lot of interviews. Too many résumés to look at.
I’m sure they’re all good people, Aziraphale says, slinking his arms around Crowley’s waist. Crowley catches the boy’s hand and rubs a thumb against his palm.
Tell me what’s on your mind, Aziraphale says, smelling of hotel soaps and champagne. I’m sure that can’t be it.
That’s it, honest.
No, it’s not, Aziraphale says. He unravels his arms and repositions himself so that he sits on the edge of the bed with Crowley. Something’s different. Tell me. I’m here. I’m always here.
No, Crowley says, but he doesn’t let go of Aziraphale’s hand. Not really.
There’s someone else, Aziraphale screams, her hands balled into fists. Her eyes are red but she’s stubborn and bites her lips. There has to be. You’ve been missing everything we’ve scheduled and staying in your room until I step out of the house. Who is she?
Nobody, Crowley answers truthfully.
Who the fuck is she?
I don’t know what you want to hear.
Aziraphale’s face breaks and she bursts into painful, hiccupping cries. Don’t give me that, she says again. I told you to be honest with me. Who is Erza Fell? Why do you keep calling me that?
Crowley falters. Nobody, he says, but he’s shaped it into a question. He reaches out to her, and she flinches.
I know, she says, slowly. I know that I’m not what you wanted and I know I’m the one who pushed for this, but I really thought— She takes a deep breath. I really thought I was enough. I thought you meant it when you said I was enough.
Seventeen lives and counting, and it always comes down to this, in voices hushed by pillows or sharply and accusingly, like the shards of a mirror. He doesn’t say anything.
Don’t yell anymore. Don’t cry. Don’t leave.
Don’t, he manages. It’s half of everything he wanted, but Aziraphale has always met him halfway.
But this Aziraphale—Elle—had fallen in love with Crowley the same time she fell in love with the big cities of New York. She’s from a little town in the Midwest and is easily excitable, easily convinced to love.
Don’t you know? she says. That’s why I married you. I’ve never met anyone who’s known so much about me while I know so little about them.
She’s no longer twenty-five and simple. She feels with caution and hates to get hurt, so she never gets attached, but she can’t help it. She had trusted that Crowley would be the only thing constant in her life. But she is too similar. She is the closest to the Angel of the Eastern Gates out of all other versions of Aziraphale out there, the way she handles the spine of old, yellowed books, and the absurd amount of sugar she adds in her tea. Hard to rouse into action, loves with an emotion so near to her heart she’s bound to get hurt every single time, saves fury for the days when she is deeply hurt.
She’s deeply hurt, right now, and very, very human.
Don’t come here, she warns, shuddering. I don’t want to be here.
I’m in love with you, he attempts.
Well, I’m not.
She has Aziraphale’s blue eyes but they’re puffy and glaring and Aziraphale’s probably never cried a day in his life, at least not that Crowley knows of.
He watches her pack and leave the apartment a week later in a taxi that carries the scent of her perfume to the airport, back to North Springs, Iowa.
He can’t keep Aziraphale. He can’t keep any of them.
Twenty-eight lifetimes later, Aziraphale slips under a coma after a car accident. Crowley had been the one driving that night.
He sits by the hospital bed, and holds Aziraphale’s hand the whole night, and onto the next week. He thinks about how it seems unreal and overdramatic in soap operas and other terrible TV shows that Aziraphale loves, but in reality every wrenching cry from his co-actress crashes into Crowley’s head, every stupid scene he’s acted out in his movie replays in his mind, and every beep from the heart monitor means every damn thing in the world that could possibly be of any importance.
He remembers being someone else and healing a little bird that had been underneath Aziraphale’s sleeves with a wave of his hand. Or maybe it was a duck. He’s not sure anymore.
He wishes he could do the same thing now.
Aziraphale wakes up a week later, and the first words he says to Crowley is I won’t leave you.
It’s 1942 in Amsterdam and Crowley is in the attic with Irzal, a quiet, scholarly Polish Jew whom he’s agreed to harbor for the time being. The attic had been sealed in the 30s, after his grandmother died, but Crowley had managed to find the hidden latch and use the extra space for book storage and old furniture. And now, Irzal, with his broken Dutch and scent of foreign cigars and peppermint.
They pore over books in the morning, and Crowley visits Irzal at night to whisper to him in the dark about the latest news from the Allies and the bank he works in, and Irzal tells him of his old life as a teacher, and how he’s eager to go back to it once the war ends. The birds were quiet today, Irzal will say, and Crowley will reply, They’ve probably been shot down by the Nazis. And then fried to a crisp to feed the soldiers. And Irzal will take this chance and continue the ongoing conversation that reminds Crowley of age-old philosophy and something that is so distinctively Irzal himself.
No, he will assert. They’ve just flown away for the season. They’ll come back.
He knows he’s in love before he realizes Irzal must be Aziraphale, and it comes as a start, because this means everything. It means that he loves Aziraphale not because he’s supposed to, in these ongoing lives of his, but for the sake of it. It makes him a little nervous.
This is some Anne Frank shit, Crowley declares, as loudly as one can in hiding, after retelling what Churchill had announced over on the radio. They’re both sitting on the ground, arms brushing to reassure each other of their existence. I can’t believe this is happening to me.
Because living through World War II once is enough, but this time he has to do it as a human.
He can’t see Irzal in the dark, but he can feel the inquisitive expression.
Too soon? Crowley asks lamely.
I don’t understand, Irzal says. Then tentatively, as if ashamed, he adds, I’m very grateful that you are doing this for me, Anthony, I wouldn’t—I’m putting you at risk, and I understand if you don’t want me here—
Oh, I’ll have none of that, Crowley hisses. No more. You’re here with me because I want you to be, and that’s it. The first step you take outside this house you’ll get pumped full of lead, and I’ll die before I let that happen.
Irzal considers. Crowley feels a confident hand covering his own. Sometimes I think you have known me for decades, and not just a year.
What are friends for, Crowley says in a hollow voice. He turns his hand upwards so that Aziraphale’s palm rested in his.
Anthony, Irzal says. I am— He pauses, counting the seconds out silently like a prayer. I am very taken with you.
Crowley teases softly, Why, are you saying you’re in love with me? Golly, that’s awful forward of you. I’m not that kind of girl, mister.
Yes, Irzal states. I am in love with you. The hand Crowley is holding curls a little with fear, as if attempting to wrench away at the slightest implication of disgust, of rejection and hate. I have always been in love with you.
I’m sorry. This isn’t the best time, but I think that there won’t ever be a good time. I ought to say it before—before I die, I just thought.
You won’t die. I’m not letting you die.
Stop saying something will happen. Crowley links their fingers together and stares into nothing. He wishes he can miracle them away elsewhere. To another country. Another island. Anywhere. I won’t allow it.
He feels Irzal’s arm brushing against his shirt, coming up to lie across his back and cocoon him in an ancient sweater and safety. Crowley tucks his head on Irzal’s shoulder wordlessly, and Irzal presses his lips to Crowley’s temple. They wait as the thundering from overhead planes travel over the town, the foundations of the house trembling from winter snow and anticipation.
Do you think, Irzal says at long last, the low rumble from his throat close to Crowley’s heart, that Heaven or Hell exists?
No, Crowley replies, I don’t. There’s you, and there’s me, and that’s all there will be.
He closes his eyes.
Crowley is out jogging and he literally closes his eyes for a split second when he trips over someone’s dog leash and almost lands on his face. His arm is suddenly jerked forward and the earbuds from the iPod he’d been holding onto violently pull themselves out of his ears.
Oh, damn! Though he’s avoided the broken nose, he does manage to skin his knee and elbow. The dog whose leash he’s stumbled on comes to him, whining apologetically. He pats the puppy on the head hesitantly. Um, hello.
Kathy! Oh dear, what have you done now? The owner hurries over from the park, hair askew and coat all out of sorts, and notices Crowley on the ground with the dog. Oh my, I’m so sorry—here, let me—
I got it. Crowley pushes himself upright and leans on his good leg when he gets up. I’m okay.
Your knee is dripping blood, how are you okay?
Well, I wasn’t going to mention it.
Come with me, I’ll patch you up at my apartment, he says to Crowley, taking his arm. He whistles for Kathy to follow, and the dog perks up, grinning toothily. I’m sorry about Kathy. I’ve just come back from a trip, she’s…she’s excited. Insisted on being walked, you can say.
Great to know I’m being led by a dog whisperer and not an asylum escapee, Crowley grumbles.
Maybe I’m both.
Okay, that’s it, I’m limping back to my house—
I’m only joking. I own the bookstore down the street, it’s three minutes from here. Besides, I am very sorry about this.
So I’ve heard. Crowley sidesteps to avoid tripping over Kathy again, but she’s circling Crowley’s foot like it’s the most interesting fire hydrant in the world. I’m Cro—er—Anthony.
Nice to meet you. I’m Azra.
Crowley cocks his head to the side.
They’re closing in, Aziraphale says. I’ve word that the second front has just fallen. We either go out and face them or surrender.
We die either way, Crowley says. The candlelight flickers and outlines his grim expression. But I’m not worried.
You’re not thinking of the kingdom, Aziraphale says lowly. We have women and children waiting for their families to come home from war. You promised them a victory.
I promise many things, Advisor.
Have some humanity, my liege, Aziraphale says, biting out the title flatly. His sleeves make a soft noise as he wavers around; he’s exasperated, he’s tired of men dying and patching stringy bandages on soldiers too physically and mentally broken to be puzzled back together. End this war, or win it for your people.
Would you rather I win it for you? Or will you forgo the robes and find yourself a shield and sword? Fight and die in my honor. Crowley’s eyes glimmer. Advisor, is not my bed a more preferable place compared to the battlefields?
Aziraphale retracts, but only briefly. I am speaking of lives.
Tedious details. He circles Aziraphale and is vaguely impressed when Aziraphale hardly flinches when Crowley’s hands come to lie at his neck, at a purple mark from a night ago.
You play with a thousand souls. Aziraphale keeps a squeak out of his voice when Crowley descends and mouths along the bruise. Are you not afraid that the gods will strike you down for arrogance?
I am the only God out there. We have forever, and then some.
I am not in the mood for jests.
Neither am I. Crowley relinquishes his hold and grimaces. Tell the general to send out his men to the Western Border. We’ll take Summer’s Fort before the end of the season.
I’ll tell him straightaway—
Won’t you come to me tonight?
We have an eternity, but only one life in this body, and perhaps one more day after this. I would rather spend it with you than dying alone.
Aziraphale shuffles. Do you fear being alone, my liege?
I fear being unloved. Be with me tonight. And the next, if we live.
Aziraphale deliberates, then fixes Crowley a steely gaze.
Anthony, you are not unloved, he says. But if you only deign call upon me when you see fit, I remind you that there are whorehouses that can serve your purposes much better than I can.
He leaves and the stone corridors echo his footsteps.
You can’t marry her, Crowley says, clutching to Aziraphale’s suit lapels. You can’t—you hardly know her—and she doesn’t love you, not really.
I’ll be the judge of that, Aziraphale snaps. If it’s about having to find a new roommate, then I’m sorry to break it to you: that’s a stupid and utterly selfish reason to convince me to stay—
Yes, it’s selfish, Crowley roars, frustrated. Yes, I’ve been selfish all my life, I’m selfish because I love you, that’s why, alright? I don’t want you to go, you can’t, Aziraphale, I don’t know what to do—
Crowley, Aziraphale says to the carpet. You can’t tell me that. Not on my wedding day.
You’ll take me home, won’t you? Aziraphale asks, looking at the bright, flashing house of streamers and partying collegers apprehensively, like this was the last place he wanted to be. I’m not sure about this.
Don’t worry, Crowley coaxes. You need to get out more often. Have some fun. Come on, go on. I forgot the booze, I’ll go back and pick it up. He waves at a few girls with tiny, tiny shirts and throws them a lascivious smirk. Don’t say I never did anything for you.
Promise you’ll wait for me, Aziraphale says. Promise you’ll take me home.
Yeah, twelve o’clock, on the dot. I promise. Now get out there!
Aziraphale does, looking awkward and small as the girls from earlier come and drag him into the house.
The beer is in Crowley’s room, under his bed. He ponders, and decides to toss them into the mini-fridge before he leaves. He ends up falling asleep on his bed waiting for the pack to chill.
He’s awoken by his cell phone, which whines out the most annoying song known to man, which he can’t figure out how to change back ever since his roommate practically programmed it on, the little dick. He rubs his eyes and answers blearily, Hello, Crowley is unable to receive your call right now, but if you would leave—
Hey man, it’s me. Listen, there’s some trouble—
Did you forget to buy condoms or something? I told you—
Crowley’s heart just about stops. His friend rambles on, nearly incoherent, At least, we think it’s Aziraphale. Kid’s got on a sweater, blond hair—
Yes, yes, that’s him. Crowley sits up, pressing the phone to his ear. What happened? Where is he?
Some psycho brought a gun, man— The… The voice on the other end gulps, sounding tinny and far away. The police wanted to identify the bodies—Crowley? Crowley, are you there?
The phone disconnects with a beep, and the default screen flashes the time—1:38 A.M.
Oh my God, he whispers, and it’s lost in the room. Oh my God.
Elizabeth Fell shyly extends her gloved arm for Crowley, who accepts it and places the smallest of kisses on the back of her hand. She murmurs, I’m very pleased to finally meet you, Mr. Crowley. My father’s told me so much about you.
The drunken laughter from the rest of the party drowns out the sudden flashes of Aziraphale that bombards Crowley with until all that’s left is music and Elizabeth’s puzzled smile, pretty as a picture.
Make the Clocks Go Backwards
“I seem to have loved you in numberless forms, numberless times. In life after life, in age after age, forever.”
It’s easier to wait as a human. Things happen in a definite amount of time, and everything has to end at one point. Crowley sits at the edge of the building, fifty-two stories above the bustling street of New York in midday, and considers whether to balance on the railing.
Seventy-nine lifetimes and counting, and Aziraphale has always died before him. Crowley is young here, twenty-five for the eightieth time, and is the heir to his deceased father’s oil company. He could give it to his sister, who reminds him of Hastur (unfortunately), and wander off to see where his angel had wound up in. Sweden, maybe, or even more remote places in Europe. Or a village in South America. Or a street in Saudi Arabia.
He could find out, or he could avoid it before he watches Aziraphale go for the eightieth time.
He swings his legs over the edge, and decides to go.
Sometimes he imagines wings to unfurl behind him, large and carded through neatly with gentle hands. And then he would fly. He stands up on the edge and thinks of a few lifetime back, but he can’t seem to go beyond the smoke trappings and bottles being passed around in college.
He sticks one foot out and steps down into air.
He still expects wings to carry him up.
He sinks down and his sunglasses fly up, and suddenly he’s suspended. Hundreds of feet of empty space between him and cement.
He looks up and sees blond hair, blue eyes, and an expression he’s seen pasted on seventy-nine different people in his many lifetimes. He sees a lunatic who’d dashed to the figure in black to grab onto the collar of a stranger he doesn’t realize he’s known for centuries.
So when Crowley looks up at Aziraphale, recycled, reborn, remolded into a new man, literally struggling to hold on to the string of his life, he stares and stares but can’t bring himself to cry. Bitterly and clenching his teeth at a lover who’d left him without even realizing it, though nothing comes out. At the best day of his life, at his wedding day, at his worst memory, at someone who wants him to live and had run to him like he is the only one that matters.
He’s pulling Aziraphale down.
Let go, he screams. Let me go, you idiot—
Like hell I will, Aziraphale yells back, and Crowley’s too shocked to say anything more.
When Aziraphale lugs him up like a sack of beans—and Crowley has no idea how—Crowley bites his lips so hard he starts to bleed, and he shrieks out everything he’s regretted into Aziraphale’s shoulder. They slump to the ground slowly, Aziraphale and his good, good heart, and Crowley as selfish as he’s ever been.
He got what he wanted, at all the wrong times.
Aziraphale takes him home that night. Just takes him away with no questions, past the two curious employers who see their future boss looking worse for wear, to the back exit. Takes him home like Crowley’s lived with him all his life, and dusts his black hair free of snowflakes and shoves him underneath a blanket. Goes off to make tea or coffee and rummage for something sweet.
No, no, Crowley repeats under his breath. I’m okay. I can stay. I have to stay. You should go back.
Aziraphale says, I’m here, I won’t leave, don’t you worry. The department can wait. I won’t leave even if you make me.
And Crowley grabs on to Aziraphale for leverage because he can’t count how many times he’s heard that. Aziraphale thinks him to be another employee, someone stupid enough to join the corporation without knowing what to expect.
Crowley’s shaking uncontrollably, and buries his nose into the mug Aziraphale gives him and inhales the steam. Aziraphale sits opposite of him, maintains a safe distance like Crowley’s a wild, injured animal.
Never imagined I would be doing this today, Aziraphale comments. Wrestling people from jumping off the roof of where I worked.
Do you do this often? Crowley, at long last, says.
God, I hope not, Aziraphale says. But this company, it can really get you if you aren’t watching. But I’m sure there’s nothing tea and time can’t fix.
I should go back, Crowley protests.
Aziraphale makes him sit back down. I can call and take a day off for you. I mean, I’m not going to go back, not today, and not like this. Crowley notices his rumpled shirt, and Aziraphale adds hurriedly, No, it’s fine, that’s not what I meant. I want to stay with you. We can get help, when you’re a bit calmer. I’ll go with you.
Crowley can hardly see past the blur. Aziraphale has always been a good, good person with everyone. He hates being human. He hates not being able to snap his fingers and sober up and clean up the mess he’s made. I’m sorry, he says, and it’s funny how easily the words roll out now, I’m sorry.
No one blames you.
No, Crowley says. No, Aziraphale, you don’t understand. I’m sorry for not waiting. I promised you and you promised, but I couldn’t—Aziraphale, I can’t. I’m bad at this. I hate that you don’t remember and that I have to remember enough for both of us. But I’m human now, and I can’t do it by myself. I’ve never said this, but everything’s different now. You’re different every time, and I always have to meet you again, and it turns out I can only meet you so many times before I—
What did you call me?
Crowley stops. Aziraphale looks so similar to his angel. What did you say? he insists.
You called me my nickname. No one knows that besides my family. How do you know who I am?
Crowley studies Aziraphale, and he’s reminded that whatever he says none of the Aziraphale he meets will remember it to their next life. It’s the way things are. But God, he’ll try, he’ll try a thousand times before he stops.
Because you told me. Because you said you loved me and I believed you. Because I waited for seventy-nine lifetimes and saw you die in every single one and come back knowing nothing, and I was afraid. The word tastes dreadfully alien on his tongue. Oh God, I was afraid. I didn’t want to see you and leave again.
Aziraphale has on the strangest expression, like he’s trying so hard to remember Crowley but nothing’s happening.
What else do you know?
Crowley continues like a trainwreck, I don’t know why your nickname is Aziraphale, but I know we existed at the beginning and I Fell and you just happened to be there because you’ve always been fond of humanity. You had a bookstore and I would visit and we had these wings, great, stupid bird wings that got in the way, but they were what saved you from Falling, and—and you were what saved me from really Falling. You kept me grounded, in every life. You saved me when I was drowning and you forgave me when I couldn’t wait anymore, but you would never know. I woke up one day, after six thousand human years, and you…I guess you followed me.
Crowley waited for Aziraphale to stand and call the police on him, because any normal person would evaluate Crowley out to be a raving madman—Hell, even Crowley thinks he’s losing it right now— but Aziraphale reached out and felt Crowley’s cheek, like he is a child.
Do you think I would do that? Do you still think I’ll leave you?
Crowley’s breathing hitches. Aziraphale?
I don’t know, the man before him says. I get flashes, sometimes. That’s why I knew to go up to the top floor today. I knew someone was waiting, but that they’re about to leave. It’s a feeling. I’ve always had it. That’s why I’m nicknamed after an angel. My mother—she was religious. She thought it meant something.
I wish you understood. And Crowley says brokenly, Angel, I don’t know what’s happening anymore. I don’t know if I’ll see you, I don’t know if you’ll be here for me when I fall again, or if I’ll be there when you go. He swallows. You must think I’m insane. I probably am. But I remember, and that’s all I can say. That’s all I have to show for anything.
I don’t think you’re lying. I’m just— Aziraphale smiles sadly. I’m just trying to think—if this is real—how I can forget you so many times and still have you waiting every time.
I promised you.
And you said so did I. But I couldn’t keep that promise.
You can’t help it.
Aziraphale stoops to the ground so that he’s looking up at Crowley’s stricken face. I can’t promise that I won’t leave, but I’ll try to find you every time, if you promise to not leave me before I can do that. But I want you to live out these lives you have, with or without me. Don’t stop to wait for me. I—I hardly know you, but the last thing I want is for you to fling yourself off of some roof because of old reasons.
Live for yourself, and learn to be happy. Don’t live for me, never do that. I’m just one person.
But you’re not, Crowley wants to say, but what comes out is simply, Yes. He rubs a palm at his eyes. They’re brown and not yellow and he’s ever so sorry about that loss. I’m—I think I want to go back.
Do you work part-time at the company?
I—no. Crowley looks down. I own the company. Or at least, I will.
You—? You’re A.J. Crowley?
As I am in every lifetime.
I—wow. I never imagined—
It’s funny how things work out. You used to call it ineffable.
Aziraphale chuckles dazedly. If you talked with my friends I think you would find that I still do.
You don’t change, you’re too old and stubborn for that. Crowley looks down, and realizes Aziraphale’s still holding onto his hand. I...actually…do you think it’ll be alright if I stayed a little longer?
I had hoped I would have to physically chain you to the sofa to keep you here. You’ve disappointed me greatly.
That’s kinky, Crowley says half-heartedly, and hiccups. Thanks for…for finding me again. I wish I could say that to you every time.
I wish you would, too, Aziraphale says, and pats his hand.
They fall asleep on the couch.
Crowley wakes, fifty-five years later, and breathes anew for the eighty-first time.
Because these things, Crowley screams over the din, don’t happen to people. Mummies are dead people, and dead people don’t just wake up and think, ‘Hey, I’m going to get up for a stroll and kill five museum tourists!’
Aziraphale dodges a pothole in the ground and says breathlessly, But what if they aren’t dead? What if there’s some explanation why every mummy we’ve encountered suddenly came back to life? It’s like in the hieroglyphics, the prophecies—
Oh, shut up, just shut up, Crowley says, hopping over a couple of bricks. We’re running away from preserved bodies that move faster than preserved bodies are allowed to move in a desecrated Egyptian tomb. We also just witnessed our tour guide perform a goddamned ritual on a corpse. What part of that situation doesn’t seem right?
The bodies part?
The—of course, the bodies part! We’re going to get mauled by dead people. Why are you not more panicked about this?
Because it’s the most adventure I’ve had since I’d gotten out of that library job, Aziraphale says wildly. And because I can do this, since we’re all about to die a gruesome death anyways—
And with one fluid motion he barrels towards Crowley, pins him against the thousand year old tomb wall (built by ancient, dead people, ugh; Crowley has definitely had enough of deadness, people or otherwise) and kisses Crowley like he’s inhaling for air.
When he pulls back, he says cheekily, What have we got to lose?
Crowley shifts his fingers through his hair, scanning the sea of luggage for his bag. He should’ve known it would’ve happened; of all the things that could get lost on the trip from Australia to Italy, he should have expected to be the one to lose his camera and other twenty-thousand-dollar worth of equipment. He could feel his wallet shrieking in protest.
But no, Crowley had never been one to panic. He stands patiently in place until he spies the worn handle of his luggage flowing down from the baggage claim—at the moment he can just about cry from relief—and be snatched up by a man with glasses. Who happens to be moving incredibly fast towards the exit.
With his bag.
Hey! Crowley shuffles against the current of tourists and shady businessmen in the stranger’s direction. Hey, you! Wait! Er—scusi—
The man stops and turns to meet Crowley’s righteous fury coming at him like a storm. He stops and lets Crowley catch his breath
You—you’ve got— He points at the bag, all elementary Italian escaping him in his most crucial moment. My, damn it, my— He gestures around for a bit. Bagagli. That’s mine.
Is there something wrong? he says in perfect English.
Oh, you speak—shit, whatever. Yeah, I’ll say there’s a problem, Crowley pants out, and straightens. The man has a pleasant smile, blue eyes, short hair. You’ve got my luggage.
Oh! The man looks flustered, but checks the tag, confused. No, I haven’t. The piece of plastic bears the words: Azrael Hartley, Professor of Psychology, University of Edinburgh.
Crowley’s disappointment must have shown, because the man gives him a sympathetic nod. I can help you locate your bag, if you want, he offers politely. I seem to have gotten the times mixed up. My driver will be two hours late, so—
No, it’s fine. Sorry for taking up your time, uh—
Crowley raises an eyebrow. The Archangel of Death?
Azrael looks mildly impressed. Yes, and Patron Angel of the Clergy. How did you know?
I…it just came to me, I don’t really know. Is that your real name?
Unfortunately, no. It’s only to mess with my students. They’ve heard certain rumors about my exams, I thought it would be a good way to know who’s read up on their textbooks by mass producing business cards labeled Azrael. He points to the tag. Religious studies and theology links with psychology, you know, supernatural deities and the like.
It is, isn’t it? Azrael says excitedly. I have to give a lecture this week in Rome with this other fellow, theology professor. He’s a little, well, unstable, I suppose you can say. But you didn’t hear it from me, mind you. You should come by. He blinks, then corrects himself hastily. That is, if you want. My name is Mark, by the way.
Crowley, he says,and wonders if Mark will allow him to take a picture of his strangely familiar smile. I’ll stick with Azrael, I think.
Why? Mark is grinning.
Has a nicer ring to it.
And also, Crowley addresses the crowd, winking at a couple of girls in the front row who are doe-eyed and wearing t-shirts with his smirking face. I would like to thank you all for watching the show, the producers and directors, everyone, they did a superb job, and I’ll have to say I will miss fame and glory very much.
His audience laughs, a few brave ones shouting out, Don’t leave us, Anthony!
But, Crowley adds, when he sees Aziraphale hanging in the back of the room, I would also like to make another announcement. Because you guys all know I’m not leaving without a bang.
He throws one last look at Aziraphale, who suddenly tenses and stares at Crowley with a long-suffering, don’t-you-dare expression. Crowley could just make out the ring he’d given Aziraphale on the man’s left hand.
He turns to his adoring crowd and utters shamelessly, wiggling his fingers and displaying his own ring, Thanks for sticking with me ‘til the season finale, and sorry to all the lovely ladies out there, but I’m getting married to my boyfriend.
The crowd’s reaction and shrieks are so worth it, despite Aziraphale’s death glare.
Buildings are collapsing and raining bricks, and Crowley can feel the vibrations from her place on the subway rails, where she is huddled together with hundreds of civilian families. The letter from Harold is safe in her hands, and she crushes it until the Germans stop bombing, until the ground doesn’t feel like it will open up at any given moment and swallow her whole.
The letter dates back eight months ago, and starts off with To my dear angel and ends with Yours always. The endearment comforts her enough for her to start another day and hold up the sky, which is currently slicing into pieces above her.
The letter is from Italy, and Crowley hasn’t received another for a long time.
I used to have this dream, you know? I was going to be CEO of my very own company. I’ll call it Crowley Inc., Crowley gripes to his co-worker, who is currently fumbling with an order of five double-shot espressos for the overworked businessmen waiting in the corner.
Sally replies nonchalantly, as she does every day, You’re just being insufferable because your man decided to vacate the premises before you woke up and “forgot” to bring you, as you call it.
He’s a douche, Crowley affirms. Because at least his other one-night-stands had at least the decency to leave breakfast behind, come on.
You don’t even remember what he looks like.
Whatever. He must’ve been at least good-looking if I’d picked him up.
Right, Sally says, rolling her eyes, because you have such high standards. You know what, I’m glad he left this morning. I hated you two so much like you wouldn’t even believe.
Did we remind you of your sad, single life?
Sally shoves an order at him and Crowley grins, because her face had become absolutely red. Yes, and don’t remind me. You were the grossest thing ever that night at the bar, I could’ve smacked your gay ass right there and then and saved everyone’s eyes from burning.
You love my gay ass.
Weirdo, Sally scoffs fondly, then calls out the order to the two frowning businessmen.
Crowley puffs out a sigh at the order he’d been handed, Who the hell orders tea in a coffee shop?
Sally replies, Professor dude. Comes in here with books and shit and a pen behind his ear.
Crowley gives her a look. You think people with glasses are automatically professors.
No, this time, I’m pretty sure. Hey, I’ll bet you ten bucks that this guy’s a real professor.
Sure. And just because Crowley is feeling like an ass, and because the businessmen had vacated and the shop is practically empty, he shouts out, I have a tea thing for Professor Dude who may or may not be a professor. He laughs at Sally’s shocked face, adding, It’s okay, no one’s here—
That would be me, I think.
Crowley turns around and he’s staring into the greenest, green eyes (shut the fuck up, he’s no literary genius) he’s ever seen. Also, no glasses.
Oh, shit, Crowley decides to say, out of a million other things he could’ve said, because he is very articulate. I mean, here’s your thin—tea. Your tea.
Crowley, Sally hisses in his ear, as the man readjusts the papers in his hands. Crowley, it’s him.
Yeah, I know, Crowley whispers back. The professor guy. Where the hell did he even come from? Also, don’t tell the manager I called him that, okay—
No, that’s him, Sally says urgently. That’s your one-night-stand guy who didn’t make you breakfast. I remember because I didn’t get hammered last night. And he was in the bathroom, FYI—
Oh, damn. He squints. Are you sure?
I swear to my dead, homophobic grandmother, it’s the guy.
Crowley manages a weak shrug. Well, he probably doesn’t remember anything. I didn’t remember shit. Crowley turns to get a better look at the guy, but he is still standing there, fumbling. Crowley clears his throat. Er, do you need anything—?
I— The man seems embarrassed. My name’s Aziraphale. I don’t know if you remember me—
So much for hoping. And what kind of a fuck name is “Aziraphale”? No wonder he didn’t remember it. It’s like the guy’s parents had been asking for their kid to get beat up at the playground with a name like that.
—but I wanted to apologize for leaving so abruptly this morning. I had a class to catch, I couldn’t miss it.
Crowley looks back at Sally, who’s making rude hand gestures and motioning that she had, in fact, won the ten dollars in their bet. Crowley’s not about to give up, however.
You teach a class? Crowley asks.
Oh, yes, at the local university.
You’re a bit young to be a professor, aren’t you? Oh Lord, what if he’d slept with some sixty-year-old creep who looks twenty-five? Do people like that even exist?
I’m thirty-six, Aziraphale says, though not unkindly. Anthony, is that right?
Er, yes. He’s not sure whether to be proud of Aziraphale and give him a pat on the back or something. Look, I’m at work right now, and it’s okay if you left early, I wasn’t expecting you to stay or anything. A blatant, outrageous lie, but Crowley’s got some pride left.
Oh! Aziraphale looks disappointed. I’m sorry. I was wondering if you wanted—it’s no problem, never mind. I didn’t expect to see you, that’s all.
I get off at four, though, is what comes out of Crowley’s mouth next. He wants to punch himself, but not when Aziraphale’s flashing that relieved smile at him. We can talk then, I guess.
That’s—that’s brilliant, that’s perfect. I’ll meet you here, alright?
He leaves with a flurry of papers and a nearly spilled cup of tea, and Crowley’s not sure which is more embarrassing: Sally’s overbearing guffaws or the wrinkled, five-hundred-year-old little lady who had somehow camouflaged in her place at the corner table and is giving him a toothy grin and two thumbs up.
Crowley’s fingers smoothes out the piano keys, croons out something low and soothing in the dim lights of Angel’s Pit, a bar where his university friend works. When the place closes and the doors are locked, his friend lets Crowley in to play a few songs as she cleans up the floor, puts chairs on top of tables.
Crowley’s friend wrings out a towel and stretches.
I’m going to the back to throw out the trash, she says. Can’t you play anything other than Queen? I mean, I love Queen, you know that, Queen for life, but have some variety, man.
Okay. Crowley shrugs, and starts to play Billy Joel.
Oh, she crows softly. My ex sang me this song on my birthday once. You’re just a little better than her.
Oh, no, I meant it in the best way. Really, Anthony, you should’ve played for the talent show in school, that competition thing. I’ll bet you would’ve won and raked in money for rent. She wiggles her eyebrows. And then maybe I can crash at your place permanently—
Don’t you have something you need to do?
Oh, yeah. And she picks up the trash and lugs it to the back. Keep playing until I get back, yeah?
He hums out an answer and murmurs out the rest of the lyrics: But then if you’re so smart tell me why you’re still so afraid—You got so much to do and only so many hours in a day.
That’s deep, Crowley’s friend says, the door clicking open for a moment as she hauls more trash to take out. Hella deep, Crowley. I never knew you to be a romantic.
Quiet from the peanut gallery! You’re making me lose my place. He fumbles for the right words and then starts up again: You can't be everything you want to be before your time—
The door clicks again, and Crowley sings louder, just to annoy her.
You got your passion you got your pride, but don't you know that only fools are satisfied? he belts out, playing more animatedly. Dream on but don't imagine they'll all come true. When will you realize—
He looks up gleefully from the keys, and stutters to a pause. There’s a brown haired man in the front table, hands clasped and listening.
Vienna waits for you, Crowley finishes, and lets his fingers slip back into pockets. I—hello.
Hello, the man says, with a British tilt to the ends of his words. I liked your playing.
Oh. Thanks, I guess. Crowley fidgets. I thought Hanna locked the door—
Oh, she did, the man says. I just unlocked it. I own this place, you see.
You— Crowley starts, and worries at his lip. As of now, he can easily get Hanna in trouble for sneaking friends in without permission. I’m sorry. I didn’t know—I’ll just go now, I’m very sorry—
No, stay, by all means—
Crowley sits immediately, and the man laughs.
I really did like your song, he explains. Do you suppose you can play it again for me, if you don’t mind?
Crowley does what he’s told. When Hanna comes back from the trash bins, she freezes at the sight of the man, but breathes out when Crowley gives a slight nod at her. She goes up to the man and says quietly, but not enough to be covered by the music: Mr. Walters, I didn’t know you were coming tonight.
Mr. Walters says, Your friend is very talented.
Hanna responds, That’s what I tell him everyday, but he’ll die if he plays in front of anyone but me.
You’re the peanut gallery, Crowley inserts in, mid-song. You don’t count.
Mr. Walters’s chuckle is warm and familiar, and Crowley has no idea why.
Come back anytime, Mr. Walters says to Crowley, as the latter bundles up and prepares to leave.
Thank you for your offer, Mr. Walters—
Aziraphale, the man says. Call me Aziraphale.
Crowley pauses, feeling as though he’d forgotten something, but he smiles back.
That’s a nice name.
What Comes and Goes
“The love of all man’s days both past and forever: universal joy, universal sorrow, universal life. The memories of all loves merging with this one love of ours—And the songs of every poet past and forever.”
Daddy! the voice screams from downstairs. Daddy, Meg isn’t sharing her cereal and you said it was my turn to pick and she’s taking all the marshmallows—
Crowley fixes his tie and steps downstairs. He ruffles the boy’s hair and fixes the bib on the toddler swiping cereal all over her plastic plate. He takes the box from insistent baby fingers and puts it next to the boy’s bowl. There you go, he says.
Dave, Meg gurgles. Daaave.
That’s right, Crowley says. That’s your brother.
It’s a suburban house, and it’s snowing outside and tomorrow he knows he’s promised Erza he would take the kids out to the park.
Erza is older than Crowley, and is around the same height. He grabs Crowley from behind and plants a great, sloppy kiss on Crowley’s lips before he goes out the door.
No breakfast in bed? Crowley complains. The love’s died.
I’ll be home before eight, Erza says from the car, grinning. Don’t go anywhere.
I don’t have anywhere to go, Crowley throws back. He jogs up to the car with his coffee and kisses Erza again when the window rolls down. It’s your fault for buying me this dinky little house in the middle of Bumfuck, Nowhere. If it snows any more the kids and I will be trapped and we’ll starve. I hope you’re happy.
You picked out this house. I like it, you know, Erza says evenly, and smiles. And I am happy.
Yeah, Crowley says. Me too.
And he leans in again.
Crowley goes downstairs for a cup of coffee and he realizes that he’s in a bookshop. He wonders if he’s hallucinating.
He turns a corner and comes face to face with his husband. It must be a dream, Crowley concludes, because this man looks nothing like his husband, even without asking. His now tartan-wearing, curly-haired, blond spouse, who is regarding him with absolute bewilderment.
Crowley. He sounds surprised. British accent, sounds exactly like a stereotypical professor in the movies; the word ‘ineffable’ comes to mind instantly. What are you doing here? You should have called first. Weren’t we going to meet at the Ritz at eleven?
The Ritz, Crowley repeats.
Yes, at eleven— He sneaks a glance at the clock. Crowley, what’s the matter?
Crowley raises his chin.
Who are you? he says, because he wants to know.
Crowley, you’re worrying me— The man breaks off. Crowley, your eyes.
Crowley’s hands fly up to his face and turns to the wall at the mirror he knows Aziraphale hangs there. They’re not serpentine, or even vaguely yellow. They are a nice shade of dark green, as they had been the night before. He’s stopped wearing sunglasses because he’s got nothing to hide anymore. He turns back to the man, who stays still, but Crowley can see the outlines of what looks to be wings threatening to become corporeal.
A name flares briefly in his head: Aziraphale.
I can’t remember, Crowley says, voice small and laced with uncertainty. I’m dreaming again, this usually doesn’t last this long. But I’m dreaming again. He counts to ten in his mind, and says, You’re not really there. You’re not real.
Crowley , what’s going on? Why are your eyes—that’s not the suit you normally wear—
Oh, forget the bloody suit, he interrupts, breathlessly. I want to wake up. I want to go back to Meg and Dave and Erza.
What are you talking about? Crowley, come sit down—
Crowley makes a violent move to avoid the hands. I know you, I know you now. And I’m telling you: I don’t want wake up and have to find you again, and I don’t want to leave. I’m… He looks down, at his shoes, at the dab of peanut butter from Meg’s fingers on the hems of his shirt. I’m happy, he says quietly. Right now. And you don’t know who I am or how that feels.
He looks up.
I’m happy. I’m glad that I’ve Meg and Dave and suburban you, and I’ve come to terms with it, in fucking seven hundred lifetimes. I’m doing what you’ve told me to do. I don’t need some dream to fuck with things again—
He notices Aziraphale eyeing the space behind his back, over his shoulder, searching.
Where are your wings, Crowley?
Seven hundred lives and deaths blast Crowley in the face and he sees each champagne glass clink, hears all the laughter and feels the tears and hate and adoration from every man and woman he’s met and grown into.
I— Crowley bleats, but Aziraphale’s face is slipping away.
Crowley opens his eyes, and he’s still faced with Erza—definitely wingless—sitting in the car and preparing to leave for work. He looks a little dazed.
Did you leave something? Crowley says. The pattern of Aziraphale’s tartan sweater is fading fast from his mind. Like the last time you went to a lecture without your briefcase?
Erza’s mouth drops open a bit.
It’s you, he says, like he’s found something. He steps out of the car. It’s you. It’s always you. In Alabama, in London, in Berlin, during the Great War. It’s always you.
I don’t know what you’re talking about.
He can’t remember. Nothing comes to mind, not when Erza mentions songs he has never sang, people he has never been. He takes a step back, unsteady, but Erza places both hands on his shoulder, keeping him grounded. He’s always kept him grounded.
It is, Erza asserts. I used to teach archeology. And I used to be your photographer. Your editor. God, I pulled you up from the edge of a damned building. You were always there, because you knew. You always asked me to stay, but I never did.
He pulls Crowley towards him and places a hand on the arch of his back, grabbing for something that isn’t there. Where are your wings, Crowley? he asks.
He can’t breathe.
When he wakes up he’s in an apartment, and he sits up when he realizes there is no one besides him.
But a few minutes later there are footsteps down the hall, and the lock turns and Aziraphale is there, and Crowley knows Aziraphale’s teleported to at least three locations based on the state of his wings, which are out and flapping aimlessly. His shirt is a bit rumpled and a little too much tartan, but it’s all Aziraphale, created at the beginning of time and insufferable and the exact being Crowley’s spent the last couple hundreds of lifetimes with.
I left it all with you, Crowley bursts out, before he forgets Meg and the little boy and the house in the snow. That’s why I keep finding you.
And in a split moment he’s enveloped by wings and an ancient sweater vest and layers and layers of all the Aziraphales he’s met, concentrated into one vessel.
I’ll stay, Aziraphale says in a tight voice, ten thousand promises compressed into two words.
He’s heard it spoken in the same exact way from each incarnation he’s met. But it’s enough for both of them, for what it’s worth.
I don’t want you to just stay, Crowley says, final. I want us to go home.
Crowley moves to slot his fingers in Aziraphale’s hand, but he’s grabbing at air.
The room is dark, and Aziraphale is nowhere to be found.
Buy a girl a drink, soldier? Crowley titters, crossing her legs and purposely letting her skirt hitch up higher than usual. You look like someone who knows how to treat a lady right.
The man hides the curve of his lips behind his cup, all blond hair and blue eyes and amicable despite the stiffly starched uniform.
I wouldn’t know about that, Miss, he says, but motions for the bartender.
Azrael— Crowley chokes back a scream, digs his face into Mark’s neck and ignores the burn on being shoved against the wall. Mark’s holding him half-up by a hand supporting his thigh, the other hand undoing Crowley’s buttons. I want—
He can’t articulate. Crowley pushes his fingers between Mark’s hair, aware of the blooming bruises on his collarbone and the thin, thin motel walls.
Percy, Elizabeth Fell calls to the running little boy. Come put on your coat and we’ll head home, it’s getting late. Your father is coming home early today, remember?
Yeah, I know, Percy says, coming to take his mother’s outreached hand. Because it’s your birthday today. I drew you a picture. I drew you with wings, like a butterfly.
How peculiar, Elizabeth says, to herself, when she sees the picture later. What an extraordinary child.
He’s playing Vienna again when Aziraphale comes up the stage and kisses him.
He’s not dead, Crowley screams to her father, the telegram from the War Office deposited in the trash. He can’t be dead. He promised he’ll come back. He said he’ll marry me, he said so, and take me to see Rome. I’m going to wait for him.
Angel, he’s not coming back—
He’s not dead. I won’t believe it. It must be a mistake, I’m sure of it.
Her lower lip trembles; the ratty letter from Italy from a year and a half ago is still tucked in her pocket.
He’s better than that, she says to herself. He won’t leave things like this.
Crowley’s face is buried in Aziraphale’s shoulder and they sway to Hanna’s voice coming from onstage. They can hear her smiling at them, as her mouth shapes the lyrics: Something always brings me back to you, it never takes too long, no matter what I say or do…
She’s not that bad, Crowley says. She never told me she could sing.
Do you think you can do better? Aziraphale chuckles in his ear.
Crowley’s eyes flutter shut as Hanna breathes out, Set me free, leave me be…Here I am and I stand so tall…
I don’t know, he says. It doesn’t matter.
He’s married and they’re dancing in half-darkness exactly nine years after the day they’d met in Angel’s Pit.
(And Hanna’s still singing, voice vibrating smoothly and richly, You loved me ‘cause I'm fragile, when I thought that I was strong…)
Is there any coffee left? Crowley lifts the empty pot and turns to Erza meaningfully. You drank it all and didn’t make a new pot. And it’s eight in the morning. You woke me up at asscrack o’clock with no coffee. I’ve decided: I’m moving out.
I’m sorry, Erza mumbles into the nape of Crowley’s neck, breath brushing over dark hair. I’ll make it right now. But first—
His arms snake around Crowley’s midsection and Erza presents him with two balled fists. Pick a hand, he prompts.
Crowley snorts with annoyance and picks the right hand, and Erza waggles his fingers. Guess again, he says.
I will kill you if there is no coffee within the next three minutes. Crowley taps the other fist, and Erza opens it, revealing a small, silver ring.
Congratulations, Erza says, and Crowley can feel the smile printed on the back of his head. You’ve guessed correctly.
Who in their right mind orders tea at a coffee shop? Crowley mumbles into Aziraphale’s mouth, sated and dopey with sweets. It’s a coffee shop. You order coffee.
I do, Aziraphale says, and kisses him silent.
Aziraphale waves at him, once, and falls backwards into the ocean, arms spread and eyes closed as he plummets from the railings of the yacht.
Crowley lies motionless as Aziraphale screams at him to wake up, presses a hand over the gash on his stomach at a futile attempt to stop the bleeding.
Bombs explode overhead and machine guns rattle as orders are being shouted, and nothing matters to Aziraphale as much as the slowing beats in Crowley’s chest.
When Crowley wakes again, it’s for the last time, and he knows this because everything feels more real. Aziraphale’s living room smells like tea and old books, smells right; the couch is solid and antique as it had been when Aziraphale had purchased the wreck of a bookshop. He feels like he’d been dragged through dirt for a month, only to be thrown back to where he’d begun, in a body unused in several millennia.
He calls out, warily, “Aziraphale?”
The voice responds, “Yes, my dear?”
Aziraphale appears from the kitchen, and Crowley launches himself at the angel and clings on the way Aziraphale did when he had been dragging Crowley up from the roof of his own company. Every ugly stitch on Aziraphale’s sweater becomes less blurry as Crowley retraces on old memories, re-remembers the times when Aziraphale is neither younger nor older than him, moral nor immoral, indifferent nor compassionate to the point of suffocating. When Aziraphale is simply an Angel, and Crowley is a Demon, and they come together during what Crowley had imagined to be their only lifetime.
Already he’s having trouble recalling the design on Meg’s shirt or the color of Dave’s eyes; the tune he had sang in Angel’s Pit to Hanna; the euphoria and rushed high before he plummeted down to what would have been a messy death in the crowd of New York City.
“What’s the matter, Crowley?” Aziraphale says incredulously, that the same tone. He had just enough time to place his tea on the table before Crowley manages to knock it on the floor. “What’s gotten into you?”
There is so much to explain. Seven hundred and thirty eight stories and all of them untold.
“I think,” Crowley says, “I’ve been asleep for a very long time.”
“Not too long,” Aziraphale says. “It’s been only thirty minutes or so, I believe. Why—”
He kisses Aziraphale, who stiffens, but relaxes into it when Crowley doesn’t suddenly burst out with a joke. When Crowley pulls back, he leans his forehead against Aziraphale’s, and bleeds his lifetimes into the back of Aziraphale’s mind.
“It’s all I have to show for anything,” Crowley recites, and lets everything sink in. “You’re a right stubborn bastard, can’t even have a break from you in my own head.”
Aziraphale, Azrael, Irzal, Mark, Walters, Harold, and many more: one and the same and unchanged by time, who had kept retuning to wander into Crowley’s life like he’d never left. And every kiss, every gift they’d exchanged, every date or save-the-date they’d come to arrange, all file themselves neatly as fifty-thousand-year-old treasured trinkets from the past for an Angel and Demon to relive.
And maybe there is another Crowley, out there, who is waiting for Harold to come home, and a Crowley who is currently kissing Erza in the kitchen and will have two little children in the near future; an Elizabeth Fell whose husband takes her out dancing on their anniversaries; Crowleys and Aziraphales who are too old and too sad but meet each other at some point in their lives, and too many others who will die in wars, famine, drugs, or alcohol.
But right now, Crowley knows that there is him, and there is Aziraphale, who had met in the middle and are currently trying to fall in love in the section between Aziraphale’s kitchen and living room.
“I didn’t know you could play piano,” Aziraphale says, after a long while.
“I didn’t know you knew any band other than Queen, either.”
“I like Queen. Let’s get a piano. We can put it in the corner.” Crowley stays very still. “Aren’t you going to ask me how this happened?”
Aziraphale cups Crowley’s face, studies him with a look Crowley can’t read.
“Are you happy?” he says.
Crowley blinks yellow, slitted eyes, and lets Aziraphale kiss him again.
“I think I’ve always been happy.”
And that was that.
(And the Ones Who Stay)
“Once we dreamt that we were strangers. We wake up to find that we were dear to each other.”
Three years later, and he’s thinking that if he hadn’t so abruptly left, he would have been dressing Meg in a horrid little snowsuit his grandmother had sent over from Topeka, and watching Dave scream like a loon outside as he barrels himself into his snow fort.
“I could make it snow here,” Crowley decides, chasing a baby carrot on his plate with his fork. “Five or six inches.” He shrugs. “Maybe twenty.”
“You’ll give the people a heart attack, my dear.”
“It’ll be fun,” Crowley says, but he adds, when he catches Aziraphale’s inquiring look, “Nothing personal, you see. It can count as mischief. Or some form of temptation. We are still doing that, after all.”
“Yes,” Aziraphale nods idly, and sips at his cup. “Twenty inches of snowfall will prompt bank robbers to forage out in ski masks and snow boots.”
“Exactly! I’m glad we’re seeing eye to eye today, angel.”
“And perhaps,” Aziraphale says dryly, “I can drive around a sedan and get a proper human job or whatnot. And adopt two kids called Meg and Dave. And then we can have your snow day.”
Crowley’s face reddens, though he immediately diverts the attention away by hacking up a storm. A woman onstage, decked in pearls and striking makeup, starts up another song as the lull of piano weaves a slow, modern pace.
“Very funny, angel,” he coughs out, cutlery clattering to the table. “I have no idea what you are talking about. And for talking nonsense today you get to pay for dinner.”
(The woman speaks softly into the microphone, eyes lidded: Something always brings me back to you. It never takes too long.)
He sneers and calls a waitress over for the dessert menu. “I think we’ll have everything you’ve got,” Crowley announces, grinning at Aziraphale, “because my friend here has so graciously offered to cover the costs—”
“And that’s two of each, sir?” she says, sounding bored, as if normal people ordered sixteen items off the dessert menu everyday.
(You hold me without touch. You keep me without chains.)
“No, just—” He stops and faces the server, and he just barely catches himself stuttering. “Er—no, I mean, just—I take that back, we’ll just have—”
The girl nods slowly.
“Is there something wrong?” she says.
“You’re—” Crowley glances at Aziraphale, who appears equally surprised. “Is your name Sally?”
She taps her nametag.
“Yes,” she says, but her smile looks as though she wants to add in the word ‘weirdo’.
“Right. Right.” Crowley inclines his chin a fraction of a centimeter. “Um, we’ll have two coffees.”
(Her head sways, lipstick-painted lips forming the words with crisp precision and clarity: You loved me 'cause I'm fragile, when I thought that I was strong.)
“What are you thinking, Crowley?” Aziraphale asks when Sally leaves, raising an eyebrow.
Crowley stays frozen for a moment; he thinks of Meg and Dave, and Hanna and Sally and pianos in bars and professors and suburban houses in Detroit.
He raises his hand and snaps his fingers. The world goes rigid and then resounds with a sound like a bell for a moment.
“Snow day,” he says, as Londoners outside stop to gape in awe at thousands of snowflakes drifting down onto the traffic at night in the middle of summer.
Aziraphale covers Crowley’s hand—over the golden band on his finger—with his palm and hums into his cup.
And the woman on the stage sings, oblivious to the snowfall, or the Demon and his Angel, her expression perfectly content.