There were three things of which Aziraphale was absolutely certain:
- As an angel, he was contractually obligated to love all of God’s creatures, and that included demons.
- He loved Crowley far beyond what could, even generously, be termed general, all-encompassing angelic love.
- Crowley, being a demon, would never, and could never, love him back.
And that was fine. Or, not fine exactly, but over the course of several thousand years, it became fine, or at least fine-adjacent. Pining wasn’t, strictly speaking, very angelic, but sacrifice was the main component of most of the major virtues, and anyway, the Ten Commandments didn’t say anything about it, so Aziraphale figured he was probably in the clear. Even if the line between pining and coveting was, at best, extremely blurry.
Anyway, love couldn’t be a sin, no matter what those Calvinists thought. There was something deeply poetic about nobly continuing to love someone you weren’t supposed to. It did usually end in tragedy, which was something Aziraphale was well aware of, being at both the initial production of Romeo and Juliet as well as Oscar Wilde’s gross-indecency trial, but, well, denial, too, was a component of several virtues, and Aziraphale had rather a lot of practice stubbornly pretending things were not the way they actually were.
So it was fine. Even if Crowley couldn’t love him, he clearly liked him well enough, and that was almost the same thing.
It no doubt would have continued to be fine, or at least fine-adjacent, were it not for a narrowly averted apocalypse and several bottles of a really quite nice Riesling Aziraphale had found in the back room of his newly restored bookshop.
Lunch at the Ritz had, as it often tended to, slid seamlessly into drinks at Aziraphale’s place, and they spent a few hours cheerfully cataloging Adam’s go at restoring his liquor cabinet. Aziraphale was quite sure that if he looked up the usual selling price for these new bottles, the numbers would be quite high indeed, but human oenophiles lacked the experience for proper wine evaluation, so that was hardly an accurate marker of quality.
There was something to be said for quantity though, especially when one could improve a given vintage with a thought. There were, by this point, a number of bottles scattered across the back room’s table and a few on the floor besides, and Crowley was attempting to pry the cork out of another bottle of the aforementioned Riesling. This could normally be accomplished with two fingers and a blink, but Crowley’s coordination had taken a considerably wine-soaked tumble in the last few hours.
Aziraphale leaned back against the worn tartan sofa and watched Crowley struggle with the bottle. The tip of Crowley’s tongue poked out of the corner of his mouth in concentration, sunglasses slid low enough on his nose that Aziraphale could see his eyes. Aziraphale couldn’t help his fond smile, affection blooming warm within him.
He’d always loved Crowley’s eyes. He shouldn’t have, considering they were the one unavoidable reminder that Crowley was not just a demon, but the Serpent of Eden and the Architect of Original Sin, but, well, that was part of what Aziraphale loved about them. They were uniquely Crowley’s. Even other demons (not that Aziraphale kept company with any) tended to go for human standard while on Earth. He did wonder sometimes what Crowley’s eyes had looked like before he Fell, if they’d been that same burnished gold hue. Nothing else seemed to suit him half as well.
Crowley finally got the wine open with a triumphant cry. He tipped it in the general direction of his glass, missed wildly, and took a healthy swallow directly from the bottle instead. The spilled wine obligingly vanished, and Crowley handed the bottle to Aziraphale.
“Now where was I?” Crowley said, frowning a little. The action made his glasses slip even lower until they were just barely dangling from the tip of his nose, and Aziraphale longed to sweep them off his face entirely. He understood the practical reason Crowley wore them of course, humans being so easily startled, but he wished Crowley would dispense with them when it was just the two of them. He wanted to see all of Crowley, eyes, wings, the little patch of scales that ran down his spine…
Aziraphale abruptly decided he was not nearly drunk enough for this line of thought.
“Oh, right,” Crowley continued, apparently unfazed by Aziraphale’s extremely tentative grasp on self control. “You like musicals, and you even like this musical, so I don’t understand --”
“It’s not the same!” Aziraphale cried, picking up the familiar thread of a well-trod argument. This, at least, was safer ground; he could always count on Crowley to be irritatingly preachy about the things he thought Aziraphale ought to try. “There are acoustics to consider. I don’t care how expensive your all around sound is, it can’t replicate a stage performance.”
Crowley reached for the wine bottle and took a swig. “It’s called surround sound,” he said, “and it isn’t meant to.”
“Then why would I--”
“Because it’s different. It’s like sushi, angel, I’m trying to broaden your horizons.”
“My horizons are just fine where they’re at,” Aziraphale said haughtily, and then he wrenched the bottle back from Crowley.
“That’s what you said about sushi.” Crowley tugged the bottle back before Aziraphale could take so much as a sip and gestured at him with the mouth of it. “And Shakespeare and tequila--”
“And I didn’t like tequila!”
“--and Vera Lynn and honeyed dormice and --”
“Alright, I get the picture.” Aziraphale scowled at him and took the wine back. None of it had slopped out of the bottle despite the rather vigorous tug of war, which came as something of a surprise to the wine and even more so to the stainless sofa.
“The point is,” Crowley said, jabbing a wavering finger towards Aziraphale, “the point is, I’m right and you should listen to me.”
As temptations went, it was not one of Crowley’s best. Aziraphale stopped drinking long enough to give it the skeptical look it deserved, which was, by coincidence, the exact amount of time needed for Crowley to steal the bottle back. “I wasn’t done!” Aziraphale protested.
Crowley gave him a grin so wide there had to be some sort of spatial distortion involved to fit it all on his face. “But I have the bottle now, so you must have been, since I’m always right.”
“If by ‘always’ you mean ‘hardly ever’.”
“Sushi, jazz music, West End musicals --”
“And tequila, so definitely not ‘always’!”
Crowley responded to this entirely accurate criticism by taking a long drink of wine, an action he somehow managed to imbue with more than the usual amount of smugness. There was barely a swallow or two left in the bottle when he handed it back to Aziraphale, but Aziraphale frowned at it, and it suddenly found itself half full again.
“I was right about musicals though,” Crowley said. He turned toward Aziraphale on the sofa so his legs were tucked up under him and his cheek was pressed against the back cushion. “I knew I would be; you’re such a stereotype sometimes, angel.” There were several comments Aziraphale could make about overly tight trousers, snakeskin shoes, and pots talking to kettles, but he magnanimously elected to keep them to himself.
They continued to pass the wine back and forth, more agreeably now that there had ceased to be a limited amount of it. It would have been just as easy to open a second bottle, or to miracle the wine into glasses, but their hands sometimes brushed in transit, and Aziraphale was loathe to cut himself off from even that brief contact. Neither of them had ever been particularly tactile unless social custom required it, but the warmth of Crowley’s hand in his lingered in his memory. It was far more than Aziraphale usually permitted himself, more than Crowley generally allowed, but there had been something comforting in knowing that if his immortal life was going to end, it would end beside Crowley.
It occurred to Aziraphale then, in the way that profound thoughts occur to the profoundly inebriated, just how close they’d come to the end. But for the whims of the extremely human son of Satan, the final battle would even now still be raging, and Aziraphale himself nothing but firmament. And even if he did, somehow, manage to evade obliteration at the hands of Lucifer himself, he’d be forced to take up arms for Heaven. One side or other would win, and that would be the end of the Earth, the end of the Arrangement, the end of --
The end of Crowley.
Aziraphale knew he was rapidly approaching the point that alcohol loosened one’s tongue enough to regret later. It would have been wise to sober up at this point, or at least stop drinking, but if Aziraphale had learned anything in his six thousand years on Earth, it was that people rarely did anything while intoxicated that they didn’t secretly want to do while sober.
In the end, it just slipped out, easy as breathing. Crowley was badly mangling the plot of a film he thought they ought to see, gesturing so expansively that the empty bottles on the table had to hop out of the way to avoid being knocked to the floor. He was beautiful and ridiculous and alive, seated on the sofa beside Aziraphale on an Earth that didn’t end.
“Do you know, my dear,” Aziraphale said, only vaguely aware that he was interrupting Crowley mid-sentence, “I love you very much.”
Crowley rolled his eyes. It was not exactly the reaction Aziraphale had been hoping for. “You’re a sappy drunk, angel.”
“I do,” Aziraphale insisted. Even if Crowley couldn’t love him, couldn’t feel how much Aziraphale burned with it, he deserved to know that he was loved. That he deserved to be loved.
“Yeah, yeah,” Crowley said, flapping a hand vaguely at him. “You love everything; it comes with the territory.” He sipped at the dregs of the wine.
Aziraphale did, in fact, love everything, because that was his job, but he could readily admit he loved some things more than others. And Crowley was so much more than misprint Bibles or cocoa with whipped cream or tartan sweaters. Maybe those things were how Crowley had convinced Aziraphale to save the world, but he hadn’t faced down Heaven and Hell both for Regency snuff boxes. He’d done it for more lunches at the Ritz, more walks through St James, more terrifying trips in Crowley’s discorporation-trap of a car. For Earth, sure, but if Aziraphale were really honest with himself (and he so rarely was), it had simply been for more Crowley.
“No, no, not like that,” Aziraphale said, leaning forward so he could grasp Crowley’s hands in his. He had to make Crowley understand that it wasn’t an obligation, that he loved Crowley even though he knew he shouldn’t. That it pushed everything else aside until his entire being hummed in time with Crowley’s, that it was irrevocable and reverent and blasphemous. “I love you, do you see? Not for work. I’m - I suppose you could say I’m in love with you, to use a human phrase.”
Crowley went very still. Aziraphale withdrew his hands and folded them primly in his lap, moving back to their more customary distance. “It’s quite alright that you don’t love me,” he hurried to add. “It doesn’t change anything. I just wanted you to know in case... Well, anything could still happen with our superiors, you know? Neither side is probably very pleased with us at the moment.”
Crowley stared at him over the rim of his sunglasses, looking rather stricken, and he was making an odd, creaky sound like a strong wind through a poorly-sealed window. The mostly-empty wine bottle he’d been holding slipped out of his loose grasp and clattered to the floor, wine drops spattering on the hardwood. “Aziraphale,” he said finally, voice ragged, “what the fuck are you talking about.”
Aziraphale wrinkled up his nose distastefully at the coarse language. “You said you didn’t think it was over. Adam seemed rather certain things would be alright, and there’s the ineffable plan and all, but--”
“Not that,” Crowley croaked. He reached out blindly toward the table, and the first empty bottle he touched found itself half full of an amber liquid that was definitely not wine. He drank from it long enough that Aziraphale considered being quite offended and then focused his attention back on Aziraphale. “What do you mean it’s alright that I don’t love you?”
“Oh you know,” Aziraphale said, drawing himself up imperiously. “Fallen angels can’t feel the virtues. I shouldn’t have to tell you what being a demon is like, considering you are one.”
Crowley’s face cycled through several emotions too quickly for Aziraphale to track in his wine-numbed state. He removed his sunglasses, folded them, and tucked them into his breast pocket. His golden eyes were clear when he met Aziraphale’s gaze, no longer clouded with alcohol. Very softly, he said, “You think I don’t love you?”
“You can’t,” Aziraphale said, and his throat was suddenly too tight. He blinked away the tears prickling at the corner of his eyes with an effort of angelic will and cleared his throat. “But I don’t blame you for it, my dear,” he continued, determined to get the conversation back onto a more even keel. “Your friendship is very important to me, and I wouldn’t change that for anything.”
“Friendship,” Crowley echoed flatly. “Angel --” He paused, grasping for words, and Aziraphale strongly considered finishing what was left of the liquor that Crowley had miracled. This was rapidly becoming a conversation he should probably not have while drunk, but he wanted even less to have it sober. Perhaps he’d played up the mortal enemies bit from time to time, exaggerated it to his superiors, but he had always considered Crowley a friend, practically all the way back to Eden.
“I just--” Crowley was saying, mostly to himself. He pushed a hand through his hair, ruffling it beyond his usual artfully coiffed devil-may-care mess. “How can you not - It’s so -” He looked up and met Aziraphale’s eyes, brows drawn together and almost pleading. “Aziraphale, of course I love you.”
And that was just cruel, even for Crowley. He may have been the original tempter, but Aziraphale had thought them long past those particular wiles. He’d always known his feelings for Crowley could never truly be returned, and he’d made his peace with it, but to dangle the possibility in front of him now… Aziraphale wanted it to be true, desperately, but there were certain immutable laws about the nature of angels and demons, and as Aziraphale knew, perhaps better than anyone, wanting something didn’t make it true.
“Stop it, Crowley,” he said, unable to keep the hurt out of his voice. He dropped his gaze to his lap; his eyes were starting to well up again. He’d probably have more control if he sobered up, but he was in no particular hurry to feel the full force of all the emotions currently being kept at bay by copious amounts of wine.
“No,” said Crowley. His voice was tight, like he was just barely resisting the urge to shout.“No! Is that what they tell you Up There? Jesus Christ, angel, America’s got nothing on Heaven for propaganda. Just because I can’t sense virtues doesn’t mean I can’t feel them. You’ve seen how I tip!”
That did, actually, make a bit of sense. Despite his very best efforts, there was something like hope flickering to life in Aziraphale’s chest. Crowley was a demon, and therefore a liar by trade, but he didn’t lie to Aziraphale, not about anything important. “But I’d know,” Aziraphale protested weakly. “I’d be able to sense it.” And he couldn’t - his bookshop felt exactly the same as it always had.
Crowley made a broad gesture of invitation. His eyes were looking a little wild now, and Aziraphale thought it best to humor him before there were more muttered hysterics. It was much easier to sense virtues when he wasn’t several bottles deep into a vice, so he sobered up a little and concentrated.
There was, as usual, a general glow of warmth around him, but it wasn’t any more than the usual baseline. There were so many humans in London and they had loved so many things for so long that it settled into the foundations, like a rock that had spent all day in the sun. The rock didn’t tell you anything about the air temperature, not really, only whether or not you could walk barefoot across blacktop.
“I don’t feel anything,” Aziraphale said.
Crowley stared at him. “That’s impossible.” He sounded a bit desperate now. “How can you not feel it? It’s - it’s technicolor and surround sound and IMAX! Hell can feel it!” Aziraphale was certain Crowley had made at least two of those things up on the spot, but then Crowley was clutching Aziraphale’s shoulders, refraining from shaking him only due to millennia of restraint. “You don’t feel anything?”
Aziraphale frowned at him. It wasn’t like Crowley to get physical. “Nothing that stands out, no.” Crowley looked confused at that, so Aziraphale explained. “I can feel a sort of… ambient level of love in this part of London. Anywhere people have been long enough tends to absorb it. It’s like… oh, a clock ticking. After a while, you just sort of tune it out.”
Crowley blinked at him. Considering he rarely bothered, it had to be a deliberate action. “You tune it out,” he repeated.
“Well, it’s there all the time.” Aziraphale wasn’t quite sure why he had to explain all this to Crowley - surely it worked the same way for demons and vices. Humans had been sinning for so long that the very bedrock had to bear some faint tarnish from it. “And it only gets stronger the more humans there are, so if I didn’t, I’d never be able to sense anything else.”
“How long?” Crowley said. He had not let go of Aziraphale’s shoulders. “How long have you been tuning out this… radio static?”
Aziraphale thought about it. He could scarcely remember a time when he hadn’t felt it. He hadn’t needed to tune it out until the population of humans really got going, but it had been there practically from the beginning. “Several thousand years, I should think.”
Crowley let out a theatrical sigh and released Aziraphale so he could pinch the bridge of his nose. “So theoretically,” he said, sounding very tired now, “if a very long lived creature, say, an immortal occult being, loved something or someone - I don’t know, say an immortal ethereal being - for a very, very long time, that love, to you, would be indistinguishable from background noise?”
It was Aziraphale’s turn to stare, and he did so unblinking for several long seconds. Crowley couldn’t possibly be implying what he seemed to be implying. Aziraphale had never sensed so much as a whiff of love from the demon before, or any other virtues for that matter. It was true that Crowley occasionally performed acts of charity in Aziraphale’s stead as per the Arrangement, but that was more out of the desire to do as little work as possible, which was to say sloth, rather than any real sense of the virtue.
Aziraphale considered the reverse. As an angel, he couldn’t sense vices in humans, but he was self-aware enough to recognize his own propensity for overindulgence, that stab of envy he’d felt when he’d discovered The Nice and Accurate Prophecies in Anathema Device’s possession, the glimmer of pride that drove him to keep his hands exquisitely manicured. Angels were supposed to be incapable of sin lest they Fall, and yet.
The flicker of hope in Aziraphale’s chest caught flame, and he couldn’t bring himself to smother it quite yet. He focused on that warm, ever-present glow again, feeling out the shape of it with his full attention. It was more like a sun, he realized, white hot and blazing. It drowned out everything else until it was all Aziraphale could feel, his whole being thrumming with it. It was so bright, incandescent and -
“Oh,” Aziraphale whispered. “Oh, Crowley.” How could he have ever believed something like this could be anything but divine? It didn’t matter that Crowley couldn’t feel the Host, couldn’t feel Him, because he’d reoriented himself to a new North a long time ago. As if short human lives, even the sum total of them, could ever be capable of this much love. “All this time?”
Crowley went a little pink and shrugged. “Nearly.”
“Before the Arrangement?”
Aziraphale lifted his chin. He’d been remarkably stupid for a very, very long time, and the profound embarrassment of that realization had him itching to share around some of the blame. “You could have said something, you know,” he said, a tad huffily.
Crowley gave him a look, fond and exasperated. “Angel,” he said, and it was both an endearment and a reminder, “you can literally sense love. I didn’t think I had to.”
“Still,” Aziraphale insisted. As immortal beings, they did not generally worry too much about the passage of time, but oh, they had wasted so much of it. But then… perhaps they hadn’t at all. That was the thing about ineffability, wasn’t it, and who was Aziraphale to question His divine wisdom? It had been a desperate gamble when he’d thrown it to the Metatron in the face of the apocalypse, a last ditch effort he didn’t necessarily entirely believe, but then He did work in mysterious ways.
That didn’t mean he couldn’t tease Crowley about it, though. “All this time you’ve been, what, pining nobly like a Gothic heroine, convinced an angel couldn’t possibly deign to love a demon?”
“Something like that,” Crowley mumbled. The pink in his cheeks darked, and he hunched his shoulders, drawing in on himself. “I’m a demon; coveting’s in the bylaws.” After a beat, he looked up at Aziraphale again, and there was a familiar glimmer of mischief in his eyes. “Besides,” he said, “it’s not as if I can sense love.”
“Yes, alright,” Aziraphale said. He recognized the look Crowley wore. Angels couldn’t see the future, but Aziraphale was certain his involved a smart-mouthed demon who couldn’t let things go.
“Because if I could,” Crowley continued, grin spreading across his mouth, “I would definitely be able to sense a boatload of it right in front of my face.”
“And I’d definitely know the difference between human love and ethereal love.”
There was a very human way of shutting people up that Aziraphale had always rather wanted to try, and Crowley had given him the perfect opportunity. He grasped Crowley’s shirt and yanked him forward, kissing him soundly.
It was very effective.
1Aziraphale felt about Calvinists rather like Crowley felt about Satanists - they could be nice enough people individually, but they were frightfully eager to please using methods that were entirely of human invention, despite being done, allegedly, in the name of God.[return to text]
2Despite what various authorities claimed, heaven had very little to say on the subject of sodomy or homosexuality in general. Love was love, after all, but that’s what you got when you based a religion on a translation of a translation of a disputed translation.[return to text]
3It was no Chateau Lafite, but the 11-year-old antichrist could hardly be expected to know the difference..[return to text]
4Aziraphale was never quite sure whether Crowley had a choice in that particular aspect of his appearance, but he suspected it was just one of those things that tended to follow a being from mortal body to mortal body, like his own stubbornly halo-esque mane of curls.[return to text]
5The fact that he frequently turned out to be correct was, of course, besides the point.[return to text]
6 Or half empty, depending on your perspective.[return to text]
7 Aziraphale, who had somehow always managed to be extremely British, even long before there was such a place as Great Britain, was not overly fond of social customs that involved a lot of casual intimacy, especially in public, but he found he was usually willing to make an exception for Crowley.[return to text]
8There was a very tiny, very angelic part of Aziraphale that sometimes thought that if he loved Crowley enough, maybe Crowley would Rise out of Hell and return to the Host. But calling it a hope would be rather overstating it; Crowley wasn’t an angel, and that was exactly the point.[return to text]
9 It was somewhere in the neighborhood of “quite alright” rather than spot on. It shared the same post code, at any rate.[return to text]
10It had taken him considerably longer to admit that fact to himself, and it varied from day to day whether he’d admit it to Crowley, but admitting something was true was an entirely different thing from it actually being true.[return to text]
11 Crowley rarely paid for things, preferring instead to let people believe he’d paid, but he’d always had a soft spot for servers. He claimed he was merely encouraging low level tax fraud because he knew they wouldn’t report the income. Aziraphale had his doubts.[return to text]
12 For a little while, anyway.[return to text]