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St. Beryl’s Catholic School was the most renowned parochial academy in Hackney, partially due to the fact that it was the only decent secondary school in the city. Its students consisted of children from devout families, a couple of agnostics, and every type of deviant known to man. St. Beryl’s was also known for its rather loquacious debate club. The school itself looked wholly unremarkable from the outside. A red-brick building with the name emblazoned on the front in large, plain letters. The windows were dark and tinted, the school garden empty and cold in the winter air. Aziraphale remembered being younger, a child, and reading about the saints in his textbook. St. Beryl of Krakow, the patron saint of ceaseless chatter and incessant talking.

How odd of them to name a high school after her.

He stumbled into the building, the door swinging shut behind him. He was panting slightly from having to run the last few yards to make it inside.

The hallways were packed with students milling around before class.

“Oh, come on,” Carmine Zuigiber was saying to her circle of friends. “That lad definitely has the whole tall, dark and handsome vibe going and you know it. His name even sounds hot. Anthony Crowley.”

Speaking of ceaseless chatter, Aziraphale thought to himself.

He knows he shouldn’t judge. He was human and fragile, after all, and it wasn’t his job to place judgment. Sometimes it was difficult, however, when it came to people like Carmine Zuigiber.

Anthony Crowley. The name sounded familiar, though he was unable to put a face to it. Perhaps it was that young chap in Year 10 who often snapped back at the teachers. Or maybe it was the old boy in Aziraphale’s grade level, who was always trying to glue a quarter to the floor, or pull off some other asinine trick.

Shrugging off his thoughts, Aziraphale opened his locker and unzipped his backpack, stuffing his books and binders inside.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

They met in fourth-hour English class.

Thus far, the majority of Aziraphale’s school day had consisted of him trudging on from class to class, his arms constantly burdened with stacks full of papers and textbooks. He had always been passionate about gaining an education, but Year 12 was something that even he hadn’t been prepared for. Work loads doubled, and free time dissipated.

With an internalized groan, Aziraphale dropped the bundle onto his wooden desk, relieved at the thought of going home in a spell. Fourth-hour was the last period of the day, and the one he had most been looking forward to. English had always been his strong suit, and that was not only due to the fact that his father was a Theological Literature professor himself. Aziraphale’s passion for pursuing literary works was considered impressive by some, and obsessive by others. He didn’t simply “read” books, he worshipped them. They were packed with knowledge, passed on from century to century, and the mere thought of holding all that art in his pudgy little hands made him a tad dizzy.

He almost didn’t notice the distinct slam of a heavy binder being placed on the table next to his, and a slender body sliding into the desk.

Aziraphale jumped, startled out of his thoughts. He turned his head to the side, in the direction of the noise, in order to have a look at the person who had caused it.

He was met with a pale face that was staring back at him, or at least Aziraphale assumed it was staring at him, because the dark sunglasses on the lad’s face were successful in covering his eyes. A lock of his tousled black hair fell over his eyes, and Aziraphale felt the unconscious need to reach over and straighten it out.

He shook the thought away.

The boy had a foreign look to him, and though it was kind of hard to tell with his eyes covered, Aziraphale guessed that he was from the Middle East, or somewhere off the Arabian Peninsula. It took him a split second to realize that this was, in fact, the same boy who he had seen attempting to pull the fire alarms on many occasions. It also took him a split second to realize that this was the boy who Carmine Zuigiber had been gossiping about. He fit the description perfectly. Tall, dark and —

“Crowley.”

Aziraphale jumped again, startled out of his thoughts. He realized that it was Anthony who had spoken.

“What?”

“My name, you dimwit. It’s Crowley.”

“Oh.” Was it a trend to be called by your last name nowadays? My, Aziraphale couldn’t imagine how frazzled he’d be if people started calling him "Ainsley”“ all the time. And, hold up a minute, since when was Anthony in this class? Aziraphale was positive that he hadn’t heard his name being called out during attendance or class discussions. “I... I was under the impression that your name was Anthony, dear boy. Or was that a misconception of some sort?”

‘Anthony’ stared blankly at him for a few seconds, making Aziraphale feel a tad bit uncomfortable. Then, he spoke, slightly leaning closer to the blonde boy beside him. “The only person who calls me Anthony is my nan. By the way you talk, though, I can hardly tell the difference.”

Aziraphale frowned. “Are you trying to say that I sound like a granny?”

The already present smirk on Crowley’s face grew wider. “Oh, yes.” He leaned back in his chair, raising an eyebrow. “And those little spectacles of yours certainly add to the image.”

Aziraphale glared at the other boy, his eyes narrowing behind his so-called spectacles. He’d always thought that his gold-rimmed ones were rather stylish. He huffed, “And who are you to judge? Everyone knows that only- only foolish blokes who try to look cool wear sunglasses indoors.”

Crowley gave him another long stare, before breaking into rather high-pitched laughter. Aziraphale watched him giggle with a slightly put-off expression on his face, until the other boy paused to catch his breath and wipe his eyes beneath the lenses of his shades. “Oh, man. That was harsh. I didn’t know you had it in ya, Ainsley.”

“You know my name?” How in the world did Crowley know who he was? They had never interacted, let alone spoken to each other, before now. Not to mention, Aziraphale wasn’t exactly the most popular chap in school, either, so the chances of Crowley hearing about him from others was little to none.

The boy in question seemed to flush a little bit, rubbing the back of his neck and trying to come off as cool and collected. It didn’t work. “I, er, um,” Crowley’s gaze dropped down to the small pocket on Aziraphale’s blazer, where his school-required identification badge was pinned. “...saw it on your ID.”

Aziraphale raised an eyebrow.

Crowley cleared his throat.

Neither of them realized that the tardy bell had rung two minutes ago.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

English carried on as usual.

It was later revealed to Aziraphale, and the rest of his class, that Crowley was a transfer student, having switched out from Sister Tracy’s fourth-hour Language class. Upon learning this, Brother Pulsifer had encouraged the boy to get up and introduce himself to his fellow students. With a thick scowl set upon his face, Crowley had done so, albeit begrudgingly.

He dragged himself towards the front of the class, his back facing the chalkboard. For a few moments, the room was filled with an uncomfortable sort of silence, and Crowley let his gaze stray towards Brother Pulsifer. He shrugged his shoulders slightly, as if to say, what do you want me to do?

“Why don’t you tell the class your name, son?”

“Crowley. Just Crowley.”

Brother Pulsifer beamed, his frizzy hair and thick, round glasses making him appear slightly off his rocker. “Well, Just Crowley, it’s a pleasure to welcome you to our class. Why don’t you go ahead and find a seat?”

As Crowley started moving through the aisle of desks, a group of over-perfumed girls in the far end of the room began giggling, trying to wave him over and get his attention, but failed miserably.

Crowley pointedly ignored them, and trudged back to his seat next to Aziraphale.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

By the time school was over, it was drizzling outside. Students were rushing to get into their cars or pop open their umbrellas. In Hackney, a light drizzle could turn into a raging thunderstorm in mere seconds, and the grey clouds inching closer in the sky were a telltale sign.

Aziraphale bit back a groan and wrapped his coat tighter around himself, knowing fully well that he’d get drenched on the walk home. His neighbourhood district was a mile’s walk from St. Beryl’s, and he, being the clumsy dolt he’d always been, had forgotten his own umbrella. Sighing, Aziraphale tucked his chin into his collar and attempted to shield himself from the cold, ever growing raindrops.

It’d be a long walk home.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

He was about twenty minutes into his trip when he heard the unmistakable growl of a powerful engine behind him. He stopped, half nervous, half curious. To his surprise, Crowley sat behind the wheel of the vintage Bentley, and he was waving for him.

“Hey! What’re you doing out here? It’s rainin’ sideways.”

“Walking home, I’m afraid.”

“In this weather?” Before Aziraphale could respond, Crowley sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. He mumbled something under his breath, and then turned his head back to Aziraphale. “Well,” Crowley’s face twisted a bit, and he grimaced, as if he was severely constipated. “C’mere, then. I’ll drive you.”

Aziraphale hesitated, and then thought better of it, walking over to the Bentley.

Crowley put the car in park and got out. He went around to the trunk and came back with a fluffy towel. “Can’t have you gettin’ my seats wet,” he mumbled, placing the towel over the passenger side upholstery, and then motioning for Aziraphale to get in.

Aziraphale gracefully sat in. “Thank you,” he started, his voice heartfelt. He’d never experienced such kindness from anyone, and Crowley was the last person he’d expected to receive it from. “This really means a lot, dear boy.”

“‘S no problem.” Aziraphale hummed, taking a look at the interior of the car as Crowley started the engine. Though he wasn’t much of a critique, he could tell that it was a very nice one. The seats were composed of smooth black leather, not a single tear or scratch visible. Overall, the vehicle had a sort of unlived-in look to it, which was surprising, considering the fact that it seemed like a vintage.

“So where am I takin’ you?”

Aziraphale told him his address, and Crowley nodded in agreement. The drive was fairly quiet, and the only audible sound was the faint hum of what Aziraphale recognized as Queen, as well as the noise of Crowley’s fingers drumming on the steering wheel. Neither boy took initiative to start a conversation. Somehow, Aziraphale thought, the silence wasn’t awkward. In fact, it seemed like anything but.

“Thank you so, so much, Crowley.” Aziraphale prattled once they reached the front of his townhouse, grabbing his rucksack from the floor of the car and hastily unfastening his seatbelt. “If there’s ever any way I can repay you...”

“Don’t mention it. I’ll be cashing in my favor sooner or later.”

Aziraphale only smiled, giving him one last praise of thanks before gently closing the door of the Bentley. He watched as the engine rumbled to life once again, and the car disappeared over the kerb of the street.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Father glanced up from a sheaf of papers and frowned. “You’re late.”

Aziraphale eyed the clock in the back of his father’s office and pointed out, “Only by two minutes.”

“Late is late,” Father groused. “How do you think ‘only two minutes’ would look in a job interview?”

“But this isn’t a job interview.”

“Don’t sass me, boy!” Father snapped. He swiveled around in his chair and stuffed the papers into a drawer, then stood up from the desk. He looked Aziraphale for a moment, then sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Go get ready for dinner,” he commanded, pointing towards the stairs.

As they did every Wednesday, they would meet Gabriel for supper at a fancy restaurant. Gabriel was Aziraphale’s oldest brother, eleven years his senior, and a successful lawyer. Father thought Gabriel was perfect.

But Father despised Raphael. At twenty-two, Raphael had a bachelor’s in art history and a job at a fish n’ chips joint in London. Father disapproved of Raphael’s “lifestyle.” He was openly bisexual, which apparently meant he was going to hell. Aziraphale was permitted to visit him every other weekend if he was “good”. He could never ascertain what “good” meant. Not annoying Father, perhaps, but sometimes it was hard to know what would annoy him.

Aziraphale, in comparison to his brothers, was anything but perfect. Father had told him multiple times that he was too short and too pudgy around the stomach, and that he ought to work out more if he ever wanted a chance at having a woman in his life. He was quiet, and awkward, and perhaps he loved books a bit too much than he ought to. Not to mention, unlike Gabriel, he wasn’t stunningly handsome either, although he had inherited his mother’s blue eyes.

Mother had left them ten years ago. One night she was there, and the next morning she was gone. Aziraphale didn’t blame her for wanting to escape Father, but he wished she had taken him and Raphael with her.

Aziraphale threw on a pair of neatly pressed corduroys and a white button-down shirt. He finished the ensemble with a tartan tie. He reverted to his classic look when he didn’t feel like thinking about what to wear.

Aziraphale!” Father thundered.

He finished tying his shoes and rushed into the living room, where Father was tapping his foot impatiently. “Yes, Father?”

“What took you so long?” Aziraphale attempted to look contrite. “Don’t give me that innocent look,” Father scoffed. He squinted at his son and smoothed down a rogue lock of his curly hair. After several attempts, he sighed. “Why does your hair always resist being tamed?” He clapped Aziraphale on the back. “Okay. Let’s go.”

Ten minutes later, Father pulled into the parking lot of Lomonte’s, an Italian restaurant. Gabriel had already been seated, and the hostess directed them to his table. As always, Gabriel’s blond hair, unlike Aziraphale’s, was immaculately flat and styled “properly.” Gabriel stood up and hugged Father first, then him. Aziraphale disliked Gabriel’s hugs; they contained not an ounce of sincerity. Father snagged the seat beside Gabriel, and Aziraphale sat opposite from them. He picked up the menu and scanned it.

“I don’t know why you always look at that,” Gabriel remarked. “As often as we come here, you should have the menu memorized.”

“I do not.”

“You always order the carbonara anyway.”

Aziraphale spoke without looking up from the menu. “I want to try something different. I need to know what else is available.”

Gabriel cuffed the back of his head, and Aziraphale looked up, miffed. “Mind your manners, little brother. Look at the person you’re addressing. No wonder you have no friends. You lack basic social skills.”

“I keep telling him to try talking to that nice girl,” Father inserted. “Carmine Zuigiber.”

“I don’t like Carmine.” Aziraphale declared.

“That’s because you don’t know her.”

“No.” Like Aziraphale, Carmine was in the top ten of their class. Unlike Aziraphale, Carmine had many friends, but she was rotten to the core. She knew how to brownnose the teachers, but was ruthless toward those she didn’t like. Fortunately, she ignored him, as did the whole school. But he had heard a rumor about her doing something horrid to Chalky White during the school formal last year. He had been in only one class with the boy, but from what little he knew, Chalky was a gentle soul. He didn’t deserve to be the target of Carmine’s antics.

“Why don’t you give her a chance?” Father inquired.

“Has it occurred to you that maybe I don’t want friends?” Father and Gabriel gawked at him.

“You have to have friends, Aziraphale,” Gabriel opined. “You know who doesn’t have friends? Creepy blokes. Criminals. School shooters.—”

“I would never plan a school shooting,” Aziraphale bristled. Just because he didn’t want friends didn’t mean he wished to harm anyone.

Actually, he did want friends, but he had never really been socially competent. If he was being honest to himself, he’d admit that his exchange with Crowley today was the most eventful interaction he’d had with any of his school peers, ever. In his defense, he was in his first year of 6th Form, anyway, and soon he’d be off to uni. People with his interests were bound to exist at a place like Oxford or Cambridge.

“If nothing else, friends are useful. You can call on them for a favor,” Gabriel finished. Lord, Gabriel irked him so much sometimes. He wouldn’t want to befriend someone just to use them.

The waitress appeared, and they ordered. Father and Gabriel requested wine with their meals, and Aziraphale asked for water. He ordered chicken fettuccini alfredo, and not just to spite Gabriel (though that was definitely a bonus).

“So, Father. How was work?”

“Hellish. The students were incompetent fools, as usual. You would’ve thought that university would make them a little bit more mature. I hate having to be so tough, but sometimes you’ve just gotta do what it takes to keep them in line.” Gabriel nodded in agreement, and Aziraphale restrained the urge to roll his eyes. After all, he didn't want to be subjected to one of Father’s lectures when they returned home.

“How about you, Aziraphale?” Gabriel queried. “How was your day?”

“Fine, same as always.”

The waitress returned, plopping a dish in front of each Ainsley. Aziraphale picked up his fork and shoveled the pasta into his mouth. It was good. He might have to forsake carbonara and make this dish his new regular choice. He ignored Father and Gabriel’s conversation while he ate. Doing so allowed him to enjoy his food in peace, and he didn’t want to hear what they were discussing, anyway. They often said things he disagreed with, which meant he would struggle not to argue. If he did object to their words, Father often lost his temper. But sometimes he could not help inserting a comment. Like now, when they were taking jabs at Raphael.—

“Sometimes I’m afraid he will do nothing but make fish and chips for the rest of his life,” Father lamented.

“We both know he will never make anything of himself, Father. If I were you, I would forbid Aziraphale from seeing him again. Before he corrupts my little brother.”

“Raphael is not corrupting me,” Aziraphale snarled. “Why don’t you two leave him alone? He’ll figure out things on his own, at his own pace. He’s content, and isn’t that the most important thing?” Father and Gabriel stared back at him as if he’d just uttered something barbaric.

“Oh, Aziraphale,” Father sighed. “You know there’s more to life than that.”

Yes, Father.” He excused himself and rushed to the bathroom, where he covered his face with his hands. Tears dripped between his fingers onto the polished black floor. Yes, he knew that very well. Hence why he told himself friends didn’t matter. He would make the grades, be at the top here, at the top in university, and become just like Gabriel. Successful, yet empty.

Sometimes, he wished he could be Raphael.

Chapter Text

The design of the cafeteria had been more in the hands of the bean counters than the architects, that much was obvious. It was functional to the point of depression, which was ironic considering that was pretty much all the lunch ladies served. Every item was so saggy, so bland, it was depression served cold with a limp sneer. To make it even more special, the plates were washed so heavily in bleach that it contaminated the food. On a good day, it was the lesser of the flavour. On a bad day, it was all the students could taste.

In his own little corner of the lunch hall, sat Aziraphale, his nose buried deep in a copy of The Double Helix. He was idly helping himself to some pretzels as he read the story of how Watson and Crick had discovered the components of DNA. Next, he planned to read Rosalind Franklin: DNA by Ann Sayre. Apparently, Franklin’s contribution to the project had not been recognized initially, and Aziraphale was curious.

As he flipped the page, his serene reading was interrupted a smooth, yet somewhat awkward voice.

“Your hair looks nice.”

 

Aziraphale looked up towards the owner of said voice, who had diverted his attention from Watson, and was met with a familiar face staring back at him through tinted glasses.

“I beg your pardon?”

Crowley let out a noise that could easily be mistaken as a hiss. “I said, your hair looks nice. You- you should keep it that way.”

It had been rather chilly out today, but considering the fact that winter in England was an epitome of hell, this was not unexpected. Aziraphale, in his rush to get to school on time, had forgotten his knitted beanie at home. Thus, his hair had beared the brunt of Hackney’s harsh winds, and was now a disheveled, windswept mess of golden curls.

“I- I mean, it makes you seem less uptight, y’know? Used to look like you‘d a stick up your arse.” Aziraphale was certain that he’d seen a light blush dusting Crowley’s sharp cheekbones, but quickly dismissed the thought. Perhaps it was just the lighting.

“I-" He felt at a loss for words. What was he supposed to say? No one, save for Raphael, had ever complimented him before. “Thank you?”

Crowley let out a hum, and after a second, swiftly placed his lunch tray on the empty spot in front of Aziraphale’s book. Then, he slid into the stool that accompanied it, as if he belonged there, and started to prod at his lunch with a disgusted expression on his face. “Stuff that passes for food here is right shit, innit?”

“Why are you sitting here, Crowley?”

The boy in question scowled. “Am I not allowed to?”

Aziraphale swallowed. “No, no, it’s just,” It’s just the fact that no one’s ever sat down next to me during lunch, so why start now? It’s just the fact that I’m a loser, and far too pathetic for the likes of you. It’s just the fact that I thought you’d be sitting next to Carmine, or maybe Hastur'n'Ligur, or someone else that’s got a decent reputation in this sorry excuse for a school. “I- It’s nothing. I’m sorry, dear.”

The next few moments were of an awkward silence, which mostly consisted of Aziraphale continuing his reading and pretending not to feel Crowley’s “subtle” gaze on him.

After a few minutes, it was interrupted by Crowley clearing his throat, and then saying, in a voice that was not so much flirtatious as it was maladroit, “So, d’you come here often?”

Aziraphale, yet again, found himself staring at the other boy, completely dumbfounded.

Crowley spoke quickly, stumbling over his words. He sounded nothing like the cool, suave boy who had been sitting next to him in English just two days ago. “I, I mean, do you come here often? As in, to the lunch hall? I didn’t see you here yesterday- “

Crowley was looking for him?

“- and I know some people like to eat out in the courtyard, so I thought...”

“It’s winter, Crowley. I think that it’s hardly sensible for one to sit out by the courtyard in this weather, don’t you agree?"

“Yeah, er. Some people, though, y’know, warm-blooded, and all.” Crowley's voice seemed to fade out in the end, getting smaller. He hung his head a bit, and there was a thick grimace set upon his face. For some reason, he seemed almost angry at himself.

Aziraphale pitied the poor boy a tad, and felt it upon himself to save them from this awkward situation.

He marked his page and gently shut the book, placing it on top of his binder. Then, he turned his full attention towards Crowley. “So, what was that you were saying about the food earlier?”

Crowley’s head snapped up from where he had lowered it, and a recognizable grin stretched across his lips. "Don't even get me started on that shit, Ainsley."

It was safe to say that, for the remainder of lunch, not a single moment of silence was shared between the two.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

During fourth-hour English, Aziraphale received yet another surprise.

Most of the other students were staring at the clock, hoping they could somehow shove the minute hand to the twelve by sheer force of will.

Brother Pulsifer handed a stack of papers to a student in the front row and instructed her to pass them around. “Alrighty, class,” he declared. “This is your first major project for the winter semester.” Collective groans answered him, including one from Crowley, who was seated next to Aziraphale.

“Come, now. This’ll be fun!” Everyone gave him disbelieving looks, save for Aziraphale, who had a delighted expression on his face. “The instructions are going around. The assignment is due two weeks from this coming Monday. You’ll need to find a partner, and you two will choose an American author from the list. You’ll do research on their life and what literary critics generally say about their work. You’ll also choose one of their works to read and analyze critically. Be sure to explain whether or not you agree with the critics and provide evidence from the text. You’ll write a paper together that should be a minimum of four pages.” Several students sighed. “You and your partner will also present your findings to the class. The handout has more details.”

Aziraphale received the stack of handouts, took one, and passed it to Crowley. “I’ll give you a minute to find your partners and decide which author you want. No two pairs will get the same author; I want you to learn from each other’s presentations.”

Crowley elbowed Aziraphale. “Hey. Wanna be partners?”

Aziraphale narrowed his eyes at the other boy. So, this was his gambit, the reason for his friendliness. He’d heard of Aziraphale’s academic success, and he thought that he could use him. He probably wanted Aziraphale to do the project for both of them. “I’m not doing all the work,” he said sharply.

Crowley appeared taken aback. After a minute, he hissed, “Good."

That had not been the response Aziraphale was expecting. But what did he have to lose? He needed a partner, and almost everyone else would undoubtedly force Aziraphale to work alone. Crowley, on the other hand, was an unknown variable. He might be lying right now, but he could be telling the truth. Aziraphale didn’t know him well enough to be sure.

 

“Alright,” Aziraphale replied. “I‘ll be your partner.”

“Great.” He paused, then added, “I‘m not doing all the work, either.”

Aziraphale detected an attempt at humor, so he smiled and repeated Crowley’s answer, “Good.” Crowley grinned back at him.

Together, they vacillated, eyes scanning over the list, and before Aziraphale knew it, Brother Pulsifer was calling on them. “Anthony, Aziraphale. You’re the only ones left. That makes you partners.”

“Yeah,” Crowley replied, the scowl making a reappearance on his face. Aziraphale noticed that he seemed to be angry quite often.

“Two options are left. Cotton Mather and Walt Whitman. Which one would you like?”

“Cotton Mather,” Aziraphale answered.

At the same time, Crowley said, “Walt Whitman.”

A few classmates snickered. Aziraphale glanced at Crowley, then said, “Walt Whitman.”

Brother Pulsifer crossed out a name on his list. “Walt Whitman it is.” The bell rang, and students leapt out of their chairs. “Have a good weekend! Don’t get in too much trouble.”

They grabbed their stuff and headed out of the classroom. As they walked, Crowley slung an arm around Aziraphale’s shoulders, and said, “Hey. So, I was thinking that maybe we could meet up sometime this weekend? To work on the project, of course. I figured you probably won’t be busy or anything, considering—“

Aziraphale glared at him. “That I have no friends?”

Precisely.”

Aziraphale shrugged his arm off. “I am busy this weekend, Anthony, for your information."

“Ooh, bringin’ out the big guns, eh? The first name. I’m so scared.”

Aziraphale wrinkled his nose, lightly shoving Crowley away from himself as they approached his locker. “You’re so weird.

“Look who’s talking.”

With a huff, Aziraphale entered the combination and started stuffing his books inside his bag.

“So, like I was saying, before I was so very rudely interrupted-

Aziraphale snorted, rather sardonically, shutting his locker with a slam.

“- I was thinking that you and I could, maybe, hit Tiffany’s some time, talk about the project, get a drink or two,” At Aziraphale’s look, he quickly added, “non-alcoholic, of course! And I’ll pay, too, so you’ve nothing to worry your pretty little head about.”

“I- I don’t know, Crowley...” Aziraphale started, his voice hesitant. Father would never approve of him spending time with someone he didn’t know of, let alone at a coffee shop that was notorious for catering to hoods.

“Come on, Aziraphale! Don’t be such a fuddy-duddy.” Crowley clapped him on the back, and Aziraphale jumped, startled. “Live a little!”

Crowley continued his wheedling as they strolled towards the exit gate of St. Beryl’s, and as the time approached for them to head in separate directions, he stopped walking and turned to face Aziraphale. “So, what say you? Monday, after fourth-hour? I’ll even drive you, if that’s what it takes.”

Aziraphale sighed, a tired expression settling over his face. “Why are you so incessant about this matter, Crowley?”

“I’m not! I just wanna get a good chance at going over the course material, start coming up with ideas and such. You know me, a right stickler for education.”

Aziraphale raised his eyebrows. “This is coming from the same person who I’ve caught sleeping in fourth-hour twice now. And we’ve only known each other for two days, Crowley! Two days! For all I know, you could be a serial killer! Trying to lure me into your grasp!”

“Oh, Az, trust me,” Crowley sported a most indecent smile, all sharp teeth, smug as a snake. “if I was a serial killer of any sort, you’d be long gone by now.”

And with that last statement, Crowley vanished, disappearing around the corner of St. Beryl’s quicker than the eyes could register.

Dear God, Aziraphale thought, as he pulled his scarf tighter around his neck, that boy really is quite slithery.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

After dinner that day, Father dropped Aziraphale off at Raphael’s apartment in Soho.

Raphael answered the door clad in only a pair of boxers, and goodness, Aziraphale did not need to see that much of his brother’s skin. As soon as he entered the apartment, Raphael disappeared into his bedroom.

Aziraphale wrinkled his nose at the stale smell and perched on the couch. He surveyed the horrendous state of the living room, the clothes piled all over the floor and furniture, the empty pizza box on the coffee table, the dirty plates littering the table and couch, the overflowing stack of mail near the front door. He twitched with the urge to clean.

He jumped when an Indian woman suddenly rushed past him in a blur. She gave Aziraphale a startled look before throwing open the front door and dashing out of the apartment. Dressed in decent clothing, Raphael returned to the living room and ruffled his hair. “Evenin’, Azi.”

Aziraphale frowned. “I told you not to call me that.”

“Ugh. Don’t be such a grump, baby brother.”

Raphael and Gabriel were polar opposites in every way, but they did have one thing in common: their tendency to address Aziraphale by referencing the vast age difference between them. He had been born five years after Raphael. Mother used to say that Aziraphale was a “happy accident.” He remembered her intoning the words as she tucked him in and kissed his temple with a whispered “I love you.”

Thinking of Mother made him morose. If she had truly cared for him, how could she have run off just like that, leaving him behind? Had she been lying to him all along? Why did he sometimes long for her, as he did now, when she obviously must not have loved him?

Aziraphale bit his lower lip to prevent himself from crying. “Do you ever miss Mother?”

Raphael pushed some of the dishes to the other side of the couch and sat down beside Aziraphale. “All the time, kiddo.”

“Do you ever hate her?”

Warm brown eyes settled on him. “All the time.”

Mother’s departure must have been worse for Raphael and Gabriel. Since they were older, they had become more accustomed to the idea of her always being there.

Sometimes Aziraphale wondered whether he had caused Mother to leave. She had left a note explaining why she could no longer live with Father, but perhaps she had left out some things.

Raphael patted him on the arm. “Don’t dwell on it, Azi.”

“Hmm.” Aziraphale tried to put Mother out of his mind. He remembered the young woman he’d seen earlier. “Who‘s your latest one-night stand?”

“She’s not just a one-night stand.”

“No? What is she, a two-night stand?”

“No,” Raphael snapped, irked.

“What? Are you actually serious about this one?”

Raphael blushed. “Hush.”

Aziraphale stared at him. He’d never thought he’d see the day when Raphael actually developed feelings for someone. He leaned back against the armrest and drew his knees up to his chin. “You are.

His brother waved a dismissive hand at him. “Yeah, yeah.” Raphael lowered his voice so that Aziraphale could barely hear him. “Her name is Parvati.”

“Like the goddess?”

“She's a goddess, all right,” Raphael leered.

Unbidden, an image of Raphael and Parvati making love entered his head. Gross. He did not want to think about that. He cleared his mind and teased, “Raphael and Parvati sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G. First comes love, then comes marriage—”

“What are you, five?”

“Then comes a baby in a baby carriage!” Aziraphale laughed.

“Nice. Real mature.”

Aziraphale remembered the past week’s events and grew serious. He still wasn’t sure why Crowley had given him a ride on Wednesday, why he had wanted to sit next to him in English and then later, in lunch, or why he had invited Aziraphale for a study date. It must have been some sort of elaborate ruse. For what, he didn’t know, but that was the only explanation he could think of.

But oh, he wanted it to be real so badly. Maybe he could ask Raphael. He was more socially savvy than Aziraphale. “Raphael, how do you know if someone is setting you up for a prank?”

“Why, did someone do something to you?”

“No.” Aziraphale frowned. “It’s just that something happened, and I don’t understand it.”

Raphael raised an eyebrow. “Oh, something novel in your life, eh? Hell must’ve frozen over.” He waited several minutes, but when Aziraphale said nothing, he prodded, “Spill, Azi!”

“There’s this boy at school. Crowley. Well, his real name is Anthony, but he doesn't like it when you call him that. He- he drove me home when it was raining on Wednesday, and then sat next to me during lunch today, and then he wanted to be partners for English...”

“Someone wants to spend time with you? Hell really has frozen over!” Aziraphale glowered at him. Raphael held up his hands. “Fine, fine. I don’t see what you’re getting at. What’s the problem?”

“The problem is that I don’t know what I’m supposed to think. Why would anyone want to be friends with me?”

“Excellent point.”

“I’m serious, Raphael! For my entire life, no one, and I mean no one, has desired my friendship.”

“Maybe this Crowley lad’s got a screw loose in his head.”

Raphael.”

“Okay. Jeez.” In a surprisingly somber tone, he asked, “How do you know?”

“What?”

“How do you know no one has ever wanted to be your friend?”

“They just . . . haven’t!”

Raphael tapped him on the shoulder. “Don’t overthink it, sweetheart. I’d take him at his word. Now.” Raphael exclaimed the next words with exaggerated wonder, as if speaking to a gaggle of toddlers. “How about we go get some ice cream!”

Aziraphale rolled his eyes. “I am not a small child.”

“Fine. I’ll go by myself.” He proceeded to the front door and turned the knob.

Aziraphale scrambled after him. “Wait for me!”

The rest of the weekend was a much needed respite from Father.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

On the following Monday morning, Aziraphale stood in front of his mirror, staring at his reflection doubtfully. He didn’t think he looked much different than usual, but nevertheless, he decided to try out the new hairstyle.

When he crossed paths with Father on his way towards the front door, he was met with a strange look. “Did you forget to brush your hair?”

Aziraphale attempted to sound self-assured. “No, Father. I’m wearing my hair like this today.”

“What, like a hooligan?” Aziraphale didn’t reply, and Father emitted a long-suffering sigh.

Aziraphale felt ridiculous, though. Perhaps Crowley’s suggestion had been a joke? But then, on his way to his first-hour class, he heard a girl say, “When did Ainsley get cute?

He felt a little better after that.

Chapter Text

Aziraphale had a friend. 

He had someone to sit next to in English, and in lunch. He had someone to walk with in the halls, to work with on projects, to laugh with at stupid jokes. 

It felt so surreal that he would occasionally bang his head on his bedroom wall in an attempt to wake himself up. Which was stupid and painful. Why question a good thing?

Then Aziraphale would remember what he’d heard about Carmine and Chalky and prom, and it was as if he’d bathed in a vat of ice cold fear. What if Crowley was setting him up for something similar? How else could one explain his reason for talking to Aziraphale? 

But Crowley was so nice

Aziraphale found himself thinking that, even if this was all some clever ruse, he didn’t want it to end. 

He jumped when someone clapped a hand on his shoulder, startled. “Hey, Az,” Crowley called from behind him.

“Crowley,” Aziraphale echoed.

Crowley continued to grip Aziraphale’s shoulder as if they were two macho men who played on the same American football team. “So, answer me this. Why do clubs meet during school hours?”

In addition to after-school gatherings, every Monday, club meetings took place between second and third hour, in three rotations. For each rotation, students could choose a club to attend. For example, Aziraphale went to National Honor Society during first rotation, Science Club during second rotation, and the FCS during third rotation. (The last only because his father sponsored the organization. He would definitely prefer belonging to a club that did not feature Carmine as its president.)

“I think the original idea was to give students a chance to get involved in extracurricular activities,” Aziraphale answered. “In the event that they had other commitments after school.”

“Yes, but the clubs do shit outside of school hours anyway.”

“Indeed.”

“Not that I’m complaining, mind. Anything to get out of class is fine by me.”

They arrived at the auditorium, where the National Honor Society was gathering today, and Crowley followed Aziraphale inside. Aziraphale gave him a bewildered look.

“What?” Crowley muttered as he plopped into a chair next to Aziraphale and propped his snakeskin shoes up on top of the seat in front of him. Aziraphale winced at his boorish demeanor. “I can’t belong to this thing? I may have got in by the skin of my teeth, but I’m still in.” Aziraphale studied Crowley. Yes, he was surprised. Crowley may have chosen to attend Sixth Form, but he’d struck Aziraphale as not terribly bright. It was in the way he held and comported himself. The same reason Aziraphale had initially seen him as a stoner type.

Crowley continued to defy Aziraphale’s expectations. In his seventeen years on this earth, he had observed many individuals. He had amassed a great deal of knowledge about human nature, but so far, Crowley was flouting Aziraphale’s attempts to pinpoint him.

“I’m not entirely daft,” He murmured so only Aziraphale could hear.

“Okay.” Aziraphale assumed that Crowley was glaring at him. He was on the verge of saying something when a loud squeak from the microphone interrupted him. 

On the stage, Anathema Device tapped the microphone and began, “It is my pleasure to welcome you to a new winter semester.” No one seemed to have heard her save for Aziraphale and Crowley. She cleared her throat and yelled, “Hey! Silence!” A hush abruptly fell in the auditorium. She grinned. “That’s better. Now, as president, it is my duty to remind you of the requirements. Remember that you must complete another eight hours of community service this semester.” Groans erupted from the audience. “Oh, come on. It’s not that bad.”

“And you’re helping your community,” Carmine chimed in from the left side of the stage. She was the club’s vice president, and Aziraphale didn’t understand how Anathema could work with her. The girl was generally well-liked, but didn’t belong to Carmine’s clan. She was kind-hearted, too, unlike Carmine, who simpered sweetly on stage and pretended like she gave a damn about the community when she couldn’t care less.

“Yes,” Anathema echoed. “The first volunteer opportunity is next week. The school needs people to help parents find their way around during Parent Conferences next Tuesday. If you help out, you’ll earn two service hours. Does anyone want to volunteer? Raise your hand.”

Aziraphale’s hand shot up, and Crowley hissed, “What’re you doing?”

Wasn’t it obvious? “Volunteering.” He wanted to ensure he acquired a sufficient number of hours.

Crowley raised his hand, and Aziraphale tilted his head, squinting at him. “What are you doing?”

“What’s it look like?” Crowley huffed.

“Okay, I’ve got you down, Aziraphale,” Anathema announced. She eyed Crowley. “What’s your name?”

“Anthony Crowley.”

“All right, Anthony.” She examined the crowd and began taking names, scribbling on her notepad all the while.

“Put me down, too,” Carmine called.

“Shit,” Crowley muttered. Aziraphale quite agreed.

“Right. Okay. Anyone else?” Anathema inquired. Silence greeted her. “All right then. You can sign up through Tuesday afternoon. Just get in touch with me if you’d like to help out.”

She ended by reminding everyone who the officers were. Herself and Carmine, of course. Raven Sable, one of Carmine’s cronies, was treasurer. Newton Pulsifer, who also happened to be Brother Pulsifer’s son, was secretary.

All the while, though, Aziraphale couldn’t fathom why Crowley would wish to volunteer with him.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Crowley decided that there were too many apples in his order today.

He didn't usually mind drink names, no matter how long or how pretentious they sounded. As long as he tasted the caffeine in the blend, the drink could be named either Special Holiday Pumpkin Spice Unicorn Concoction Mocha Latte or Overpriced Piece of Caffeinated Shit, for all he cared. However, the barista at Tiffany's had convinced him to try the Cinnamon Apple Cider Latte today instead of his usual long black, and Crowley had absentmindedly paired it with caramelized apples and almond brittle.

He realized too late that the taste of apple had overwhelmed the overall palate of his order, but he was grateful for the hint of cinnamon and cider in the drink. And the caffeine. He was thankful most of all for the caffeine.

Because the caffeine positively stopped his eyes from wandering toward Aziraphale, who was sitting in front of him. And, when the blonde boy had stood up earlier to get his order of Jamaican Hibiscus Iced Tea, the caffeine definitely prevented Crowley's eyes from lingering on his arse for a second or five.

(Who was he kidding?)

Aziraphale was reading intently, pouring all his attention out on the books in front of him, and occasionally, on the Jamaican Hibiscus Iced Tea that he had ordered today. He was giving special attention to the straw of said iced tea.

Crowley noticed in excruciating slow motion how Aziraphale's tongue darted out first, before his mouth engulfed the straw between his lips, and he noticed the way his mouth nibbled on the straw, trapping the plastic between his teeth and sipping on it every now and then.

Crowley had never been so jealous of a straw before.

Damn it.

Stowing away all thoughts of a certain pudgy, blonde boy and his infuriatingly plump lips, Crowley cleared his throat and lowered his head, pretending to be immersed in a copy of Leaves of Grass. It wasn't like he hadn't read any of it since they'd arrived at Tiffany's, no, Crowley just had a short attention span when it came to dull things like reading.

"Y'know, from what I've been reading in the copy you gave me, a lot of these poems are actually pretty dirty."

Aziraphale looked up from his book, and pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. "Instead of the more common symbolic poetry of his time, Walt Whitman was one of the first poets to celebrate the body and the material world." 

"I'll say: Or, if you will, thrusting me beneath your clothing, where I may feel the throbs of your heart, or rest upon your hip."

"Whitman lost his government job when the collection was first published because his superiors found it offensive."

Crowley flipped a few pages in the book and frowned. "I don't quite think he's talking about women in here, Az."

"No," Aziraphale started, and his voice seemed slightly clouded over with something that Crowley couldn't recognize, "he's not. Those particular poems are referred to as the Calamus sequence, thought to be the most overt references to Whitman's homosexuality."

"Homosexuality, huh?"

"Yes."

Crowley opened his mouth, but just as his perfectly planned, perfectly salacious comment was about to escape, he witnessed Aziraphale's eyes widen like saucers, and his lips part, as if he had seen a ghost. And then, with a small sound, the blonde propped his menu up, hiding his pale face from view. 

"Aziraphale? What-?"

"Shut up!" 

Quite confused, Crowley complied and turned his head around, searching for anything that could've caused Aziraphale to react in such a way. He found nothing, save for the cafe's usual patrons,  along with the drunkard who was performing a half-arsed rendition of the Spice Girls'  "Wannabe" on the karaoke stage. 

After a few moments of tense silence, Aziraphale's head popped into view, his eyes darting around manically. Then, hesitantly, he lowered the menu, taking in a deep sigh of relief. 

"What was that about?"

Aziraphale blushed, rubbing the back of his neck, looking quite sheepish. "I- I'm sorry, it's nothing."

"Bullshit."

"Crowley..."

"Did you see something? Hear something?" Was it something I said?

"No. Well, yes, but," Aziraphale groaned, holding his head in his hands.

Crowley felt an unusual sense of guilt wash over him. Perhaps he was pushing too much? It was probably some sort of personal issue, and here he was, trying to pressure it out of Aziraphale, despite the fact that they hadn't even known each other for long. Oh, goddammit, he'd gone off and ruined things now (like always). For all he knew, Aziraphale probably hated him at the moment, for crossing his boundaries, for sticking his nose into everything, for being so-

"My father," Aziraphale started, his voice quiet, hands coming off his face. His cheeks were dusted with a light blush, and his hand seemed to be trembling as he ran it through his golden curls. In the back of his mind, Crowley noticed that Aziraphale had indeed taken his advice about the hairstyle, and he felt a distinct feeling of something bubble up in his chest. "My father is, er, quite strict. When it comes to spending time with people he's unaware of, and-" 

He quickly covered his face with his hands once more, taking in a deep breath, and Crowley watched, eyes following every movement. 

"He has, I guess you could call them, connections? All over Hackney, like a circle of friends, and in very high places. I'm afraid to go out much because if I... if I even step an inch out of line, and one of his associates happen to see me, he'll find out. That's why I had to hide, dear," Aziraphale's eyes were downcast, and Crowley felt the unconscious need to reach over and tilt his chin up. "I thought I saw one of his friends. You see, if Father found out that I was here, with you, at Tiffany's, of all places... things would not end very well for me."

He looked as if he were about to cry, and Crowley swallowed, unsure how to respond. He didn't know what to say, what to do. Comfort had never been his line of expertise. So instead, he asked, "And where does he think you're at now?"

Aziraphale looked up at him, and the blush returned to his face. A few strands of curly blonde hair fell onto his eyes, and fuck, that shouldn't have been as endearing as it was. "I told him I was at an 'ill-timed Science Club meeting'. Brother Pulsifer's vouching for me, too, in case Father decides to call and check."

Crowley let out a whistle. "You little rebel."

"I had to!" Aziraphale whined, and Crowley noticed that he seemed to lax a bit, his stiff posture loosening up, his face regaining a bit of its natural colour. 

"Mm." And then, it hit him with a crushing force, the realization that Aziraphale could've ended up in big trouble, all because of a little study date that Crowley had pressured him into. "Az, if I had known about your father, I never would have insisted-"

"No!" Aziraphale exclaimed, and then suddenly seemed to realize that he'd spoken quite loudly. He flushed with embarrassment. "No."

"But-"

"Crowley, you're- you're my friend. I know it's only been a while, a few days since we met, but... I'm glad we did. I'm so glad."

Crowley felt something hot and red creep up his cheeks, and tried desperately to rub it off. Damn it, he didn't blush, and he sure as hell wasn't going to start now. But shit, Aziraphale was staring at him with those eyes, those fucking angelic blue eyes that he hadn't been able to get off his mind since Year 8 and-

"I'm glad, too." 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

"...Meanwhile I ask you to be my Clementine. You say you will if you could but you can't..."

Crowley hummed along absentmindedly, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel, matching the beat of the rain against the window. For once the weather man had gotten it right, fifty millimetres by evening.

"...I love you madly, let my imagination run away with you gladly-"

Crowley reached over and flicked off the stereo, ignoring Aziraphale's sound of protest.

"I was listening to that!"

"Ngk. Not really feeling Queen at the moment."

"Really, dear?" Aziraphale huffed, crossing his arms. Crowley could imagine his lower lip sticking out in an adorable pout, his cheeks colouring with a delightful blush. He karate-chopped the thought away. "You must have some other cassettes in this car of yours, no?"

Crowley murmured something unintelligible. 

He was only half aware that Aziraphale's pudgy hand was reaching over for the small compartment in front of the passenger seat. He became fully aware when he remembered exactly what said compartment contained.

Crowley snapped his head to the side, a most horrified expression on his face. His arm outstretched towards Aziraphale's, and a rushed protest escaped his lips. "Az, no, don't open that-"

But it was too late.

The compartment had been opened, and his secret had been revealed. It was over. Aziraphale would never look him in the eyes again.

A tense silence filled the Bentley, only the sound of Aziraphale's light breathing audible.

Crowley felt his insides turn to ice, shrivel up, and wither away simultaneously.  He gulped, posture stiff, and tightened his grip on the steering wheel, knuckles going white with uneasiness. He couldn't bear to look at Aziraphale right now, to see that expression on his face. 

Meanwhile, Aziraphale himself had gone quiet, unsure of what to say. He gripped the offending object in his hands tightly, almost cracking its plastic case. Then, slowly, he turned his towards the boy beside him. 

"Crowley," he started, his voice cautious. "Crowley, dear, do you..."

Crowley winced.

"...like Taylor Swift?"

He could practically sense the smirk on Aziraphale's face, the little shit. 

"Shut up."

"Oh, Crowley, it's nothing to be ashamed of! I just-"

"Aziraphale..."

"- didn't expect someone of your, er, variety to enjoy her music-"

"I swear, one more word out of you and I'll stop the car right here and now, Az."

Aziraphale covered his mouth with his hand, and he seemed to be trembling a bit. For a split second, Crowley was afraid he'd made him cry, until he realized that the bastard was laughing.

 "Damn you!" 

"I- I'm sorry," Aziraphale managed between suppressed giggles, not sounding apologetic at all. "It's just..." His voice was terribly off-key as he began to sing, "She wears short skirts, I wear-"

"I'm officially revoking our friendship. We're done."

"She's cheer captain and I'm on the bleachers-"

"You're really a right bastard, you know that?"

"Been here all along, so why can't you see-"

Crowley groaned and slammed his head on the wheel, before quickly raising it once he realized that he was still driving. 

Aziraphale let the last of his giggles fade away, and wiped at the tears which had fallen out of his eyes. The thought of Crowley, dressed in his usual dark clothing and black sunglasses, bopping his head along to Taylor Swift was just too delightful.

Eventually, though, he felt sympathetic for the poor boy. Who was he to judge, anyway?

"You know, Crowley, there's nothing wrong with liking Taylor's music. There's no need to hide it!"

"I- I hardly even listen to those, anyway."

Aziraphale raised an eyebrow, and then glanced at the ten, sparkly cassettes sitting in the compartment in front of him. Crowley groaned.

"Oh, shut up."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Crowley frowned as Aziraphale stepped out of the Bentley, shutting the door with a slam. He rolled down his window. "You sure you don't want me to drop you off directly? Your house is a block away from here."

Aziraphale smiled at him, and he looked absolutely illuminating in the darkness of the night. "Oh, it's fine, Crowley. I don't wish for Father to see your car."

"Ah," Crowley watched as Aziraphale turned around and started walking toward the direction of his house, but then abruptly stopped, turned around in the other direction, and jogged back to the Bentley. He approached the driver's side, Crowley's side, and then leaned forward so that his face was in the window. "Aziraphale? What's up?"

"I, uh, forgot to say thank you," The blonde mumbled, blushing in that way Crowley found he adored so much. "so here I am." A pause, and then, "Thank you, dear boy, for tonight. For the drink, and the ride, and-" Aziraphale's eyes darted down for a moment, and then shot back up. He gazed at Crowley from beneath those utterly long eyelashes of his, a shaky smile stretched across his lips. "thank you for being my friend, Crowley." 

And then, Aziraphale leaned in closer, planted a feather-light kiss on Crowley's cheek, and scurried away. 

Chapter Text

"It's as preposterous as saying that, that whales are mammals, or something."

“Whales are mammals. Marine mammals. Cetaceans, actually, if you’d like to get technical.” 

“You little spod,” Crowley teased, leaning back in his stool. Aziraphale sent him a withering Look. “Okay, alright, calm down! No need to get all killer-librarian on me.”

“I do not look like a librarian.” Aziraphale huffed, rather primly. “I have more style.”

Crowley stuck his carrot stick in his mouth and nibbled absentmindedly. He pointedly raked his eyes down at Aziraphale’s outfit and raised an eyebrow. “I dunno, Az, that tartan jumper you’re wearing seems to say otherwise.” 

“Excuse me? Tartan is stylish.” 

“Hmm. The 18th century called, they want their clothes back.”

“Shut up!”

Crowley laughed, a loud and harmonious sound, which caused a few heads around the lunch hall to turn their way. 

Aziraphale scowled at him, and in the back of his mind, Crowley thought it was a rather adorable look on him. Then again, every look was adorable on Aziraphale. “You know, you’re a fine one to talk, Crowley, considering the fact that your own fashion sense is less than spectacular.” 

“Oi! The hell d’you mean?”

“You wear black, and only black. Black clothes, black shoes, black sunglasses. Not a single pop of colour.” Crowley opened his mouth to defend himself, but Aziraphale cut him off. “That’s the most goth thing I’ve ever heard.” 

“For your information, I happen to-“

“Even your car is black!”

He glared at Aziraphale through his slandered sunglasses, a carrot stick held up to his lips like a fake cigarette. “Don’t you dare bring my Bentley into this.” 

“I just did.” 

Crowley let out a sharp, over-exaggerated gasp, and covered his mouth with his hand. “You wound me, Aziraphale. Me and my pride.”

Aziraphale rolled his eyes, but couldn’t keep the smile from spreading across his lips. “How’d we get to this subject, anyway?” 

“Well, I distinctly remember discussing the fact that I was your first kiss-“

“Crowley, I told you! It was a kiss on the cheek! An innocent, harmless peck!”

“Mhm, keep telling yourself that.”

Aziraphale groaned, holding his head in his hands, hoping it would hide the pinkness of his cheeks. He noticed that he was blushing a lot more than usual lately, for some reason. 

“Anyway, so we were talking about your little moment of passion, and then I said it was ridiculous that you’d never been kissed before-“

“I never had the occasion!”

Crowley arched an eyebrow. “In all- how old are you?” 

“Seventeen. And a half.”

“In all seventeen and a half years of your life, you’ve never had the occasion?”

Aziraphale sniffed. “No.” 

“So, I took your kissginity.” 

“What?”

“Your kissginity. ‘S like virginity, but with kissing and stuff.”  

“And you call me a dweeb?”

“Oh, shut up. The point is, your lips made physical contact with my skin. That’s a kiss, as far as I‘m told.” 

“Well, you’re told wrong. A kiss is direct contact between two pairs of lips, actually. And as far as I remember, your lips were not involved at all yesterday.” 

Crowley’s skin had turned a most interesting shade of pink. “Half a kiss, then.” 

“Honestly, if it’ll get you to end this inane conversation, then yes! Half a kiss.” 

“Good. Glad we’ve established that.” Crowley took a swig from his water bottle, downing it in one go. He hoped it would cool him off, maybe get rid of the awful blush that had crawled up his cheeks. As he screwed the lid back on, he opened his mouth to initiate the beginning of yet another conversation, but found himself being cut off by the bell. 

Like clockwork, students started grabbing their belongings and dumping their lunch trays, milling about the cafeteria before heading out to third-hour classes.

Crowley dumped out his own tray at a nearby bin, then walked back over to his and Aziraphale’s table, where the blonde was also gathering up his own binders. “I’ll see you in fourth, yeah?” he asked, his voice a low mumble. 

Aziraphale beamed at him, a dopey smile on his face as he held his books close to his chest. “Of course, dear.” 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

It was Wednesday, and Aziraphale was half-heartedly combing his fork through an enchilada. His father and Gabriel adored this restaurant, but he had always found it mediocre. 

He found himself desperately craving some sushi, perhaps a maki roll, or one of those Californian ones. Unfortunately, he was seldom given the chance to pick a restaurant to dine at. That was usually a reserved right for Gabriel and his father.

“Aziraphale,” Father said, as if reading his mind, and Aziraphale started. Hadn’t he been embroiled in a long conversation with Gabriel? “I hear that you’ve been eating lunch with Anthony Crowley. Is that true?”

Aziraphale felt a little chill run down his spine. He'd known that Father would find out about their friendship sooner or later, that much was inevitable. He'd also known that Father wouldn't exactly approve of their association, but for some odd reason, he found that he didn't care. Aziraphale enjoyed spending time with Crowley. "Yes, Father.”  

“Don’t you know what a degenerate he is?"

Aziraphale glanced up at him through his lashes, the epitome of innocence. In all honesty, he'd no idea what Father was talking about. Sure, Crowley may have been a bit roguish, a bit rough around the edges, but 'degenerative'? “No, Father. What ever do you mean?”

Father smacked his hand, which caused the metal handle of his fork to dig into his palm. Aziraphale winced. “You know damn well what I mean.”

“Father,” Gabriel interrupted, brown eyes curious. “Who's Anthony Crowley?”

“A runaway. A reckless hoodlum.”

Aziraphale felt his eyes widen involuntarily. Crowley was a runaway? He had always assumed that his friend had come from a wealthy family, taking his classy car and designer clothing into consideration.

Did that mean Crowley lived alone? 

Meanwhile, Gabriel raised an eyebrow. “And Aziraphale is friends with him?”

“Apparently.”

Gabriel sipped at his wine, then declared, “I don’t know. I think it’s all right.”

“What?!”

“His life choices are abominable, of course. But haven’t we always wanted our Aziraphale to make friends?” 'Our Aziraphale.' He hated that Father and Gabriel called him that, as if he was an object that belonged to them.

“But not with the wrong people.”

“No. But baby steps, Father. Baby steps. Eventually, he’ll outgrow this lad and find someone more suitable.”

“Alright. But, Aziraphale." Father sent him a forbidding look, full of barely contained hostility. "Do not adopt his beliefs. Do not fall under his influence. They will only send you to hell. And if you do, I will speed up your journey toward damnation. Do you understand me?”

“Yes, Father,” Aziraphale replied. He didn’t dare look at Gabriel, not wanting to see the smug agreement on his face.

Aziraphale would pay lip service to Father, but he was wrong. Oh, how he was wrong. He wouldn't ever give up his friend, not unless Crowley grew tired of him.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

All in all, Crowley's Friday was going pretty well, until now.

He'd managed to get a perfect score on his English exam, and not just to spite Aziraphale, despite the fact that he spent most of the class sleeping. He'd also managed to pull the fire alarm during third-hour, without getting caught, and had shortened his least favorite class by at least 25 minutes. And, to top it all off, it was his philodendron's fifth birthday.

So, yes, he was a tad pissed when a pair of certain arseholes decided to ruin his day.  

“Thought you could get away, didn’t you, Crawly?” Hastur’s breath was wet and warm and absolutely disgusting. It reeked of a malodorous odor which made the hairs at the back of Crowley’s neck tingle, and not in a good way.

The taste of his own blood was fresh in his mouth, metallic and salty. He'd been caught off guard when Hastur had shoved him against a locker, and his lip had taken a bit of a blow. He had no doubt that it was split. He'd attempted to twist away from Hastur's grip, but it was no use. He was completely immobile, and even turning his head was a difficult feat.

"Yeah, heh," Ligur, who was equally matched with Hastur in all things save for height and build, was standing a few metres away from his friend, acting as a lookout in case any teachers decided to stay late today, or interfere. "you really thought you could get away, doofus." 

Good Lord, someone teach this boy how to insult, Crowley thought bemusedly. Just as he opened his mouth to voice his opinion, Hastur cut him off. 

“You thought wrong. Lying isn't gonna save your slimy arse this time.” He emphasized his words by tightening his grip on Crowley's lapels.

"Watch it! This suit costs more than your entire wardrobe-"

"Shut up!" Hastur grabbed his collar, pulled him forward, and slammed him back into the locker with more force. Crowley wheezed, face going red, and found himself desperately wishing he had gone through the front door of St. Beryl's instead of the back. In his defense, he hadn't expected to be attacked by Hastur and Ligur on his way out, not today. "Ligur and I, we're gonna teach you a lesson, ain't we? About repaying debts."

Ligur giggled somewhat manically, yellow teeth glinting under the hallway's dim lights. Then, he reached into his back pocket and brought out a small object. It was too tiny for Crowley to see, especially with him being pinned as he was, but he had a horrible suspicion toward its identity. Ligur tossed the object toward Hastur, who caught it with a small stumble, letting go of Crowley's jacket for a split second.

He should've slipped away. He had an open window, an opportunity to escape Hastur and Ligur and make a run for it, an opportunity to be in the safety of his Bentley once more. But he was paralyzed. Crowley was frozen in fear, too stiff to move, too frightened, dammit. And so, before he knew it, Hastur's tight grip on his lapels was renewed. 

He had missed his chance. 

"Now, Crawly," Hastur grinned, very much looking like the Devil incarnate. Behind him, Ligur cackled. "I can’t promise you that this won’t hurt, because then I’d be lying. Like you.” In a swift motion, he flicked the object open, and Crowley’s suspicions were confirmed. 

It was a switchblade. 

Crowley let out a nervous laugh upon seeing the weapon, trying to come off as calm and collected, but his eyes were burning with the effort to hold back tears. “Come, now," he heard himself say, "there’s no need to get violent, boys. Just- just put down the knife.” 

Hastur seemed to notice his discomfort, and his grin widened. He gave the blade a slow lick, eyes burning with malicious glee. Crowley felt a chill run down his spine.

This was it. He was a goner.

Hastur angled the wet knife to Crowley's cheek, merely a centimetre away, but just as the sharp steel was about to pierce skin, a posh voice rang out through the hall:

Unhand him!"

Hastur froze, and his grip on Crowley's collars loosened a tad. His face was pale, and he slowly cocked his head toward Ligur, who was looking rather haunted himself. "I thought you were on guard," he hissed, his voice low enough to not be heard by anyone other than Crowley and Ligur. 

"I- I didn't see! He showed up out of nowhere!" The shorter boy let out a series of pathetic whimpers and half-arsed excuses, withering under his friend's look. They began to argue, though it was quite one-sided.

Meanwhile, Crowley cautiously turned his head toward the direction of the voice, to get a glance at his savior. What he saw made his breath catch in his throat. 

There, looking as disheveled and drenched as ever, was Aziraphale.

The blonde was absolutely soaked, his clothes sticking to his body and his hair a damp mess. His rucksack was slung over one shoulder, and he was clutching a thick book to his chest with both arms, as if he were protecting it. His glasses also seemed to be fogged over a bit, but he didn't seem to care. Aziraphale was trembling, too, and whether that was from coldness or fear was unclear to Crowley.

He looked terrifyingly beautiful. 

However, Crowley wasn't the only one who had noticed Aziraphale standing there. Hastur had stopped whisper-yelling at Ligur, and was now staring at Aziraphale instead. The expression on his face made Crowley's skin crawl, and a distinct feeling of protectiveness swelled up inside of him. 

"Well," Hastur started, his voice holding a mocking tonality to it. "lookit who we've got here."

Aziraphale ignored him. "I said, unhand him. Right this instant, please." 

"You really expect me to listen to you?"

"I sincerely hope you do, for your own sake." 

"Are you threatening me?" Hastur turned his head toward Ligur, who was trying to keep a straight face, and failing miserably at it. "Is he threatening me?"

Crowley mustered up the minimal courage inside himself, and found himself hissing, "Damn right he is." 

Hastur stared at him for a moment, and Crowley felt as if the other boy could see straight through the lenses of his Ray Bans. Then, he said, "Alright. Alright. If your poncy little boyfriend wants to get involved so bad, we'll involve him, won't we, Ligur?"

"Fuck, yeah!" Ligur crowed, with barely concealed excitement. 

"Go, get the bitch. I'll take care of this one, yeah?" The end of his statement was directed toward Crowley, and said with a malevolent grin. 

And then, Ligur was gone, stomping toward Aziraphale in a pathetically non-threatening way.

"Mm, your sweetheart's dead meat, now," Hastur mumbled, slamming Crowley against the locker once more, with renewed force. "Don't worry, though. You'll be joining him, soon."

"Shut the fuck up." Crowley hissed in response, holding back a groan. "For once in your pathetic life, Hastur, just shut up."

A bony fist collided with his nose, quite painfully, and this time, Crowley did groan. 

"I don't think you understand what's happening here, Crawly," Hastur spat, and Crowley winced at the spurts of saliva which escaped his lips. "I've the upper hand. I've got control of the situation. I've," he waved the switchblade in front of Crowley's eyes, eerily close. "this little thing here. So, if I were you, I'd shut my mouth."

"And if I were you, I'd leave him alone."

Hastur abruptly spun around at the sound of Aziraphale's voice, and Crowley quickly took advantage of the situation. He bounced his back off the locker, still clutching his bleeding nose, and hurried toward Aziraphale's side.

"You- " Hastur gaped at him, and then at Aziraphale, and Crowley found himself enjoying this very much. "But, Ligur- " His eyes strayed toward the direction Ligur had stomped off to earlier, and he found his friend curled up on the floor, looking quite pitiful. 

While the boywas distracted, Aziraphale took his chance. He bent down quietly, ignoring Crowley's confused look, and grabbed the fat, ancient book he had been clutching to his chest earlier from its place on the floor.

As soon as Hastur jerked his head back around to face them, Aziraphale let out a most ferocious cry and smacked him with it, square on the jaw. 

"Ow, shit! Fuck!" The boy shrieked, clutching his face and falling over, quite pathetically. "You little ponce! Agh!"  

While Hastur writhed on the floor, Crowley gawked at Aziraphale, feeling half proud, and half scared. The blonde noticed his gaze and turned to face him, an innocent expression on his face.

"What?"

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~* 

Later, at around six, they were sitting in the Bentley, driving through the near-flooded streets of Hackney, when Aziraphale asked, “Crowley?”

“Yeah?”

“Why were they after you? Hastur and Ligur?”

“I dunno.”

Crowley...

For a while, Crowley stayed silent, staring straight ahead. His grip on the steering wheel tightened considerably. The only sound was the heavy beat of rain on the car’s hood, and an occasional roll of thunder. Then, he said, “Some old grudge they’re holding. Not really important.” 

“Oh.” Aziraphale doubted the fact that it wasn’t important, but chose to say nothing. Maybe he wasn’t ready to open up about it yet. So instead, he queried, “Are you okay?” 

Crowley glanced at him, and then nodded his head stiffly. “Yeah." He cleared his throat. "Thanks to you, Az.”

Aziraphale felt himself blush a bit. “Oh, it’s nothing, dear boy.”

“Nothing? C’mon, you were great! That part when you snuck up on him like ‘If I were you...’? Fuckin' awesome.” 

“Ooh, and the bit when I hit him with a Jane Eyre!”

“Like I said, awesome,” Crowley grinned at him this time, though something about it was a bit off. Maybe it was due to his nose being covered in dry blood, or his lip being split open, or his seemingly expensive sunglasses having several small cracks on the lenses. Aziraphale smiled back, anyway.

And then, he remembered what he’d heard earlier, about Crowley being a runaway, and the smile instantly dissipated. If Crowley had ran away from home, that meant there was no one waiting for him at home, was there? No one to stitch his lip back together? No one to give him and ice pack and pay attention to that nasty bruise on his cheek? No one to make sure that Hastur and Ligur didn’t come back for more, to make sure that Crowley made it home safely? People could die from nose bleeds, couldn’t they? And what if Crowley was so occupied with stopping the blood that his car slipped on a wet road and crashed into a tree somewhere? 

Something about letting a wounded Crowley drive himself home, in the midst of a thunderstorm, felt so wrong.

“You know,” he started, before he could stop himself. “I think you should spend the night at my house, today. I've a spare room." 

“What? No.” Crowley turned to look at Aziraphale for a split second, his expression unreadable, before turning his gaze back on the road. “ I told you, ‘m fine.”

“You’re a bloody mess, Crowley.” The boy opened his mouth to argue, but Aziraphale cut him off, “I- It doesn’t feel right, you know? I can’t let you go home like this. In this weather, in this condition.” 

“Aren’t you worried about what my parents’ll say? If I stay over at a friend’s house who I’ve only known for a week?” 

Aziraphale swallowed, and the noise was somewhat audible. How was he supposed to say this? “Dear, I- I heard about what happened with your-“ 

“Isn’t your dad gonna get upset? Thought you said he didn’t approve, or something. I don’t want you gettin' into trouble because of me, Aziraphale.” 

Aziraphale chose to ignore the interruption, and instead focused on how true Crowley’s statement was. If he showed up at home with a roughed-up Crowley, there was no doubt that Father would be... upset.

And that was an understatement. 

“Oh, he’ll be fine with it,” Aziraphale lied, though his heart rate was jumping through the roof and spinning in circles. 

For some odd, odd reason, he found himself thinking that he’d rather take a beating from Father than let his only friend put himself in danger. 

 

Chapter Text

"This it?"

"Yes," Aziraphale sighed, as his house came into view. It was a small, Victorian-style building, squeezed between houses of a similar stature. They were all identical, with their small upper windows and tiny, narrow porches. Some still showed the tell-tale signs of multiple occupation: disheveled lawns, peeling paint and drawn, secretive curtains. "This is it." 

Crowley pulled up at the kerb, his Bentley sandwiched neatly between two other cars (one of which was Father's red Mercedes). They both received a small jolt when the brakes were yanked abruptly. "Sorry," Crowley muttered sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck absently. "Quite a tight spot you've got here, innit?"

Aziraphale hummed in agreement. The street truly was crowded, mismatched cars parked in a parallel fashion. He watched as Crowley's hand reached for the door handle, and in a moment of quick thinking, reached his own hand out to stop it. Crowley sent him a confused look, his split lips twisting into a frown. 

Aziraphale reached into his coat pocket and pulled out some napkins. He held them up to Crowley's lip. “Here. It’s still bleeding.”

“Dammit.”

He wiped the blood from Crowley's chin and pressed the napkin against his lip again. “Hold it there. The pressure should stop it.”

Crowley reached up to take hold of the napkins, his fingers brushing Aziraphale's as he did so. When he had a firm grip on the napkins, Aziraphale removed his hand.

“Thanks, Az,” Crowley mumbled softly.

“You're very welcome, dear.”

Once Crowley's lip stopped bleeding, they exited the Bentley together and headed toward Aziraphale's house. Aziraphale unlocked the front door with a small key, and they entered the living room.

Father looked up from his news program. "You're late." Then, his gaze headed toward Crowley's direction. "Who's this?"

“I- I was held back by Brother Pulsifer. Extra credit,” Aziraphale replied, stuttering over the lie. “And this is Crowley. He's spending the night here.” Father’s face reddened. “Crowley, why don’t you set up the air mattress? It’s in the spare closet across from my bedroom, which is the first door on the right.”

“Okay.” Crowley hesitantly left the room, with one last glance at Aziraphale.

Once he was out of sight, Father stormed over to Aziraphale. He pinched his son's ear, pulled him in close, and hissed, “How dare you invite someone over without asking first? How dare you tell me what will happen in my own house?"

"I-"

"You’ll be paying for this tomorrow, understand?”

“Yes, Father.” He had expected Father to be angry, but that was strangely inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.

Once his (now reddened) ear was released and a dismissal was snapped, Aziraphale stumbled toward his bedroom in a rush. 

Crowley had the air mattress all set up. Aziraphale grabbed sheets, a blanket, and a pillow from the spare closet. “Here,” he said, tossing the items onto the air mattress. “You can use these.”

“Thanks.”

As Crowley drew the sheets over the air mattress, Aziraphale perched on the edge of his bed and contemplated the situation. From what he'd heard, Hastur and Ligur were rumored to have been involved in some... dangerous stuff, to the say the least. In fact, he had no doubt that they had blood on their hands. It was quite unbelievable that they hadn't been caught or fined or even arrested yet, but he assumed that was partially due to Ligur's father being a high sheriff.

None of that explained Crowley's involvement, though. He had obviously done something to piss them off, but it was unclear what that something was. Larceny? Motor-vehicle theft, perhaps? Surely, it couldn't have been that bad. Suddenly, Aziraphale recalled Father labeling Crowley as a 'reckless hoodlum', but that had just been a generalization, right? There was no way that Crowley was capable of something like murder, right? And, more importantly, there was absolutely no way Hastur and Ligur would try to kill him for it, right?

Right?

“Crowley,” Aziraphale started.

Crowley looked up at him. “Yeah?”

"Do they know where you live?" At Crowley's blank look, he added, "Hastur and Ligur, I mean."

Crowley sighed, shrugging off his wet suit jacket. "Yeah, we were old mates." 

"'Old mates'?"

"Listen, Az, I'd really prefer to not go into it-"

"And I'm not asking you to, dear boy. I'm just- just concerned." Crowley's face went red, and Aziraphale found himself fretting again. Did the poor dear catch a fever from the cold or something?  "I want you to know that, in case you ever fall into trouble with them again, my door is always open."

Crowley raised a skeptical eyebrow. "And your dad's okay with that?"

“Yes.” It was a lie, but Crowley deserved a safe space, because his own home didn't seem to suffice. And anyway, Father would not dare do anything in their presence for fear that others might learn of it.

“Cool. All right. Sure.” They grinned at each other.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 "Don't you have a telly or something?"

Aziraphale blushed in embarrassment. "We don’t have the Internet at home, there's only the one television in the living room. Father doesn’t approve, anyway. He believes it's a 'corrupting influence'.”

Crowley cackled. “The day you look at porn is the day I’ll eat my hat.” 

"Crowley!" Aziraphale gasped, affronted. 

"Oh, c'mon, you're not as innocent as you let on, Ainsley." Crowley was sitting on the end of Aziraphale's bed for now, facing him, a packet of crisps in his lap. He was clad in one of Aziraphale's pyjama sets, for his own clothes were far too drenched. However, Aziraphale's clothes looked rather odd on him. They were too loose, and the pants only reached Crowley's lower calves, ending at his soleus. 

"Well, I do have a sense of dignity, dear."

"My, Aziraphale," Crowley placed a hand on his heart, his voice mildly offended in an exaggerated way. "Are you implying that I don't?" 

Aziraphale glanced at him over the edge of his book, innocently. "I'm not implying anything, Crowley." 

"Ouch."

Aziraphale shook his head fondly, and returned his attention to the book in his lap. Unfortunately, Crowley seemed hell-bent on diverting it. 

"What're you reading?"

He kept his eyes firmly on the page. "An autobiography of Walt Whitman." He could practically sense Crowley's disdain. 

"It's a bloody Friday, Aziraphale."

"I know."

"So? You're really gonna waste your life away like this? By reading?" Crowley's disapproval was evident.

"Reading is never a waste, Crowley."

"Yes, alright, but we could- we could work on the project some other time! There's still a week left, you know."  There was a shift in Crowley's tone. "You could be doing something much more entertaining, Az."

Aziraphale sighed, giving into Crowley's wiles. He marked his page and placed his book on his nightstand. Then, he turned to face Crowley, who was clearly satisfied. "What do you suggest, old boy?"

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

“What type of question is that!?” 

“A fun one. Now, come on, tell me.” 

“I refuse to talk about this, Crowley,” Aziraphale said, voice snooty, but quiet. It was nearly twelve in the morning, and Father had retired to bed a while ago. It was not in Aziraphale’s best interests to wake him up, not when Father was already so angry at him. “Least of all with you.” 

Ouch. So, you give up, then?” 

“Yes,” He grounded out, glaring at his friend over the rims of his glasses, coming off as quite terrifying. “This was your evil plan all along, wasn’t it? Ask me the most- most embarrassing questions possible, so you can get all my points.” 

They were playing some twisted version of 'Truth or Dare', per Crowley’s request. Aziraphale was truly frightened to ask for a dare when he was playing the game with someone like Crowley, so he stuck to choosing truth. However, the utter shamelessness of Crowley’s questions was successful in making him regret that decision. 

“Are you accusing me of cheating?”  

“Don’t act like you aren’t, Crowley. It’s quite unbecoming, you know.” 

Crowley snorted unappealingly, and made a face. “Since when have I ever been 'becoming'?” 

“Good point.”

“So, you’re sure you wanna pass on this one? You’re five points away from losin', Az.”

“I’ll pass, thank you. I’d rather not share the details of my love life with you, Crowley.” He failed to mention that it was nonexistent. 

“What love life?” Crowley snickered, under his breath, but it was not lost on Aziraphale. 

“Excuse me! I heard that!” At Crowley’s grin, he added, “You’ve no right to judge me! Not when your own is less than stellar.” 

Crowley raised an eyebrow. “And what gave you that ridiculous idea?” 

“You barely speak to anyone but me, let alone a girlfriend. And you’re always alone in the halls, anyway.” 

“Oh, you would know, wouldn't you?” Crowley grinned impishly, showcasing his sharp teeth and split lips. 

Aziraphale felt himself blush. “No! I mean, of course, I see you in the halls sometimes, but I don’t watch you.”

“Oh, sure.”

“I’m serious, Crowley!”

“You don’t have to be afraid of admitting it, Az!" Crowley ran a hand down his body salaciously, leering at Aziraphale with a face that was meant to be seductive but came off as quite the opposite.  "Not even the holiest can resist a piece of this fine arse.” He pulled his bruised lips into an over-exaggerated duck face, and despite himself, Aziraphale started laughing. 

He didn’t know why he broke into giggles, because there was something so very wrong about this whole situation.

Crowley had just narrowly escaped a bloody death, and he had the gall to sit there and play 'Truth or Dare' as if nothing had ever happened? To act all light-hearted and at-ease when even Aziraphale himself was shaken up? 

He felt very tired, all of a sudden. 

“Let’s retire for the night, shall we?” 

“Sure,” Crowley nimbly bounded back to his air mattress, and Aziraphale headed toward the loo. At the same time, a roll of heavy thunder sounded out. “Really coming down out there.” 

Aziraphale turned from the sink, toothbrush buzzing in his mouth, and nodded his agreement. 

“You scared of it? Thunder?” 

Aziraphale shook his head, and then shrugged his shoulders, as if to say ‘You?’

For a second, Crowley’s face twisted, as if he was about to come up with some snarky retort, or snap at Aziraphale for even suggesting that he was afraid of something like thunderstorms. But then, it went lax, and he mumbled, “Course not.”  

The blonde rinsed his mouth and flicked the bathroom lights off, heading toward his bed. “I won’t laugh if you are, Crowley, I swear.” 

“I told you, I’m not.”

“Alright.” It was quiet for a few minutes as Aziraphale stood in front of his mirror, brushing his hair, pretending not to notice Crowley's gaze on him. When he was done, he placed the comb on his dresser and approached his bed. Crowley was still silent.

As he reached to flick off the lamp, Crowley's voice interrupted him.

“I’m not- not scared, or anything, like I don’t cry or hide or whatever, it just-,” Aziraphale’s hand froze on the lamp switch, and he listened intently. “It reminds me of something- a feeling. A memory. It’s hard to...” Crowley’s voice took on a desperate tone, one that was new to Aziraphale. “I can’t explain, Az. I’m sorry.”

“Can’t,” Aziraphale started, his voice quiet. “or won’t?”  

Both. Neither.” Crowley groaned. “I’d rather not go into it...” 

“Of course, of course. I shouldn’t have.” This time, Aziraphale’s hand darted out toward the shade, and he pulled the string. Soon, the room was engulfed in darkness, only illuminated by the small amount of light peeking through Aziraphale’s windows. 

“I want you to know, though,” he stifled a yawn. “That I’d never laugh at you for being afraid of something.” 

Crowley’s breath seemed to hitch, though he stayed quiet.

Taking this as a sign of dismissal, Aziraphale tugged the covers closer to his chin, and murmured, “Good night, dear.” 

As he succumbed to the throes of slumber, he thought he heard a tired voice whisper back,

“Night, angel.” 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Crowley awoke to the heavenly smell of an English breakfast. He rolled off of the air mattress and noticed that Aziraphale’s bed was empty.

Crowley stood up and yawned, grimacing  when his lip pulled. He’d have to take care of that when he got back home, somehow. 

He grabbed his (now dry) clothes from where they were hanging on a rack, and headed toward Aziraphale’s loo. 

Once he was presentable, he strolled into the kitchen, where Aziraphale, still clad in tartan pajama pants (which he definitely didn't find adorable, no, they were hideous.) and a white shirt, was standing in front of the stove. 

“Good morning.” Aziraphale jumped, and Crowley chuckled. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to scare you.”

Aziraphale glanced at him over his shoulder. “It’s all right, dear.”

“I see you’re making breakfast.”

“Yes. Bacon, eggs, toast. The full English.”

Neat.”

“You can pour yourself a drink, if you wish.”

Crowley raided the fridge and found some orange juice. He poured it into a glass and settled at the kitchen table. “Where’s your dad? Doesn’t he want breakfast?”

“I don’t know,” Aziraphale replied uncertainly. “He’s usually demanding his food by now.”

“Demanding his food? You make breakfast every Saturday?”

“Every weekend.” That was kind of messed up. Did Mr. Ainsley think that Aziraphale was his personal slave? It wasn’t just that. The way Aziraphale had said it, it was like he’d been fucking trained by Mr. Ainsley. Like a dog or something. 

Aziraphale heaped food onto two plates and left the remainder on a third plate by the stove. He placed one plate in front of Crowley and the other in front of the seat beside him. Aziraphale poured himself a cup of tea and joined Crowley at the table. “I suppose it‘s just us.”

Crowley tossed a piece of bacon into his mouth and just about moaned in delight. “Christ, Az. Where’d you learn to cook? It’s bloody great.”

Aziraphale reddened. “Thank you. I'm self-taught.”

After they finished eating, Crowley checked his watch and winced. “It’s almost eleven. Dammit, I’ve gotta water my plants.” 

“The door’s out to your left. Drive safe.” 

“Thanks,” Crowley started, as he headed toward the given direction. “Thanks for everything. It was great, Aziraphale, really.” 

“Anytime, Crowley.” The blonde watched him with fond eyes, and Crowley mentally kicked himself for squirming under that gaze. 

“Y-yeah. I’ll see you on Monday?” 

Aziraphale sent him that smile again, the one that was just so genuinely sweet that it made Crowley sick. It was in the way his lips lifted upward. The way his dimples crinkled. The way his teeth were perfectly aligned. The warm glow his happiness gave.

His smile was a ray of sunshine, and dammit, Crowley was a sunburn.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

After putting away the last of the dishes, Aziraphale turned to face Father. 

He held a switch in his hands. 

Aziraphale, as much as he hated it, knew what was coming. Discipline.

“This is how it’s going to be, Aziraphale,” Father said. Aziraphale’s mind latched onto the snap snap of Father tapping the tip against one hand. He felt dizzy. Father looked more irate than he had for some time. “You've been naughty. First, you invite a boy here without asking for my permission. In fact, you tell me he is going to stay here, as if you are the parent and I am the child.” He tsked. “Overthrowing the natural order of things. You shall receive ten lashes for this offense.

“Then there’s the matter of this morning’s unsatisfactory breakfast. All the food was stone cold.”

“I prepared it at the time you normally eat on Saturdays,” Aziraphale objected, inwardly cringing at his audacity. “If you’d eaten with Crowley and me, the food would have been hot.”

Father slapped the switch against the table, and Aziraphale flinched. “You think I want to eat with that thug?” Aziraphale opened his mouth to protest, but Father’s anger kept him silent. “You shall receive two lashes for your insolence and five for the breakfast. Is that understood?”

“Yes, Father,” Aziraphale replied through trembling lips.

Father touched the tabletop with the switch. “Come here. You know what to do.”

Indeed he did. He hated this, both the humiliation and the pain. He approached Father and leaned his stomach against the table. He undid his pants, and they sank to his ankles; then, in barely concealed shame, he dropped his boxers. Aziraphale closed his eyes and attempted to steel himself. He gripped the edge of the table.

“Count aloud,” Father commanded.

The lashes fell against Aziraphale’s arse and thighs. He felt blood oozing from the wounds. He was determined not to weep, to remain stoic, but by the ninth stroke, his voice began to waver. Tears streamed down his cheeks, but he did not sob. At least he could prevent Father from having that satisfaction. Because he knew Father received joy from this, “disciplining” his children for perceived wrongs. Giving them their “penance” and “teaching them a lesson.” He had studied Father as he disciplined Raphael time and time again, seen that gleam of excitement in his eyes. That was when he knew Father’s punishments were wrong, for he used them to gain some sort of twisted pleasure.

Father’s discipline had bestowed extreme personalities on his brothers. Gabriel had believed all the propaganda Father had spouted, while Raphael had rejected everything, determined to do whatever upset Father.

Aziraphale would become like Gabriel, he knew. Because even though he didn’t believe everything Father said, he still wished to make Father proud, simply because he was his father.

Chapter Text

It was Tuesday, and the NHS met in front of the school thirty minutes before Parent Conferences were scheduled to start. Anathema took roll and announced, “Okay. Try to look approachable so parents aren’t afraid to ask you questions. If someone looks lost, offer to help. We’ll work in pairs. Newt will be with me.”

“I’ll take Aziraphale,” Crowley called. He observed the flash of happiness in Aziraphale’s eyes, and it warmed him just a little.

The few other volunteers broke up into pairs, and Anathema scribbled in her notebook as they partnered. 

“Okay,” she said. “That leaves Carmine and Chalky together.”

“I swear,” Carmine muttered under her breath, as the pale-haired boy dreadfully approached her. “I don’t know why I volunteered to work with you losers.”

Crowley knew. She was the worst kind of bitch imaginable, the one who pretended to be perfect while feeding the nastiness underneath. She wanted to win the National Honor Society’s Most Service Hours Award so she could have something else to brag about.

Anathema assigned everyone their spots, and he and Aziraphale headed for the walkway between B wing and C wing. For a while, they were busy with directing confused parents to their destinations. Then all was quiet, but it would pick up once the parents moved on to their children’s next classes.

Five minutes after the rush ended, a couple approached them. “We’re looking for Carmine’s first hour,” the woman said to Crowley. “Chemistry with Mrs. Dowling. Do you know where that is?”

Crowley smirked. “Sure.” This would be good for a laugh. “Just turn there into the C wing, and it’ll be the third door on the left.”

“Thank you.”

Crowley chuckled to himself as they moved on, but then he noticed that Aziraphale was gazing at him, disapprovingly. “What is it?”

“That‘s Brother Shadwell’s room.”

Crowley grinned. “I know.”

A minute later, Mr. and Mrs. Zuigiber scurried out of C wing and glared at Crowley. “That was the wrong room, lad,” Mr. Zuigiber complained.

“You, where’s Mrs. Dowling’s room?” Mrs. Zuigiber asked Aziraphale. He directed them to the third door on the left in the B wing. The woman turned to Crowley angrily.

He shrugged. “What can I say? Guess I got confused.”

“That is the most foul-mouthed man—I swear—the headmaster will be hearing about this!” she exclaimed before stalking away with her husband. Crowley laughed once they were out of earshot, and heard Aziraphale trying to stifle his own giggles beside him. He’d heard of Brother Shadwell’s abrasive personality, and he’d known that the Sergeant’s manner might appall people like the Zuigibers.

“That was very immature of you,” Aziraphale reprimanded, though it didn’t have the desired effect, due to the fact that he was still laughing. “Brother Shadwell could get in trouble, for all we know.” 

“Eh, I doubt it. Think he’s pretty close with the principal, if you know what I mean,” He wiggled his eyebrows, and Aziraphale gasped. 

“Oh, dear! Crowley!” 

After parents shuffled to second hour, Aziraphale pulled a book out from somewhere and leaned his shoulder against a pole, head bowed over the pages. Strands of curly golden hair flew in the breeze, and Crowley felt the undeniable need to reach out and card a hand through them. “Leaves of Grass or Calamus?” he asked.

Aziraphale closed the book, leaving an index finger inside to mark his place. “Neither. It’s another biography. I thought I’d do as much research as possible this week, presentations start on Friday.” 

Crowley found himself uttering a sentence that he never thought would escape his lips. Ever. “Let’s head to the library, then.” He checked his Bremont. “We’ve got a couple hours before closing time.” 

“After this?”

“Yeah. Sure.” 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

After Parent Conferences were over, and Aziraphale had obtained permission from Father (which proved to be most difficult, but not impossible), they settled into the Bentley and headed toward Charing Cross. 

“It’s close to the city,” Aziraphale remarked, once they were out of the town’s limits. “Why can’t we go to the one in Hackney?” 

“Cause that one’s horrid,” Crowley muttered back. “And if we’re gonna go to a library, we’re going to one with some style.” 

“Oh, it’s not that bad.”

It was. Aziraphale was not one to shame interiors, especially not those of libraries, but even he had to draw a line somewhere. Hackney’s only library was located on Mare Street, wedged between a beauty parlor and a gentleman’s club. It was absolutely hideous on the inside, a sure-fire way to insult all bibliophiles, including Aziraphale himself. Unfortunately, Father was rarely in the mood to drop him off at a decent library, the closest being twenty-five minutes away, so he usually ended up going to Hackney’s piss-poor excuse of one. “Do you go to the city-side often?”

Crowley pulled up at the toll booth, and searched around for his wallet. It was thin and sleek and dark, like him. As he dug around for some cash, Aziraphale felt a pang of guilt swell up in his chest. He opened his mouth to suggest that they split the toll fee, but Crowley cut him off. “Sometimes, yeah. It’s nice to get out of Hackney.” He payed the collector a couple quid extra, and the woman smiled at the generous tip. 

Aziraphale tilted his head. “You don’t like it?” 

Crowley snorted. “Do you?” 

“Well, it’s not ideal, but...”

“It’s a shithole, that’s what it is. Shitty place with shittier folks. Soon as the sixth is over, I’m out.” 

“You’re not gonna go to university?”

“C’mon, Az,” Crowley glanced at him, streetlights hitting the lenses of his shades. “Do I look like a uni-dweller to you?” 

“Hm. So you’re done with education? After Year 13?” 

“Yeah,” Crowley stopped at a red light, and before Aziraphale could say anything else, asked, “you?” 

Aziraphale scoffed. “No. Father wants me to get a full-degree at some prestigious school. Oxford, Cambridge, maybe.” 

Crowley glanced at him again. “Do you want to?” 

He sent Crowley a rather sad smile. “Honestly? I’d rather get out of Hackney, too. Settle down somewhere nicer.” 

“Then why don’t you?” 

Aziraphale laughed, the sound bitter and off-kilter. Crowley didn’t like it. “Father would absolutely murder me, old boy.” 

“He’s that strict, huh?” 

“I’m afraid so,” Aziraphale sighed. 

Sensing his discomfort, Crowley attempted to change the subject. “So, does your dad take you to the city often?” 

“Y-yes, he does. Raphael lives in Soho. Father drops me there- every other weekend.” There was a little shift in Aziraphale’s tone, though Crowley wasn’t sure if it was a good one. 

Aziraphale had mentioned his two brothers before, Raphael and Gabriel. He’d talked about how their personalities clashed terribly, and Crowley remembered that Raphael had sounded like the cool one. 

“You’re going this weekend, aren’t you? To his place?”

After a few moments, when he received no response, Crowley turned his head toward Aziraphale. The blonde was facing the window, and if he wasn’t mistaken, seemed to be shaking a bit. Shit. “Aziraphale?” 

“No,” Aziraphale croaked, wiping at his eyes. “I’m not. N-not this weekend, I’m afraid.” 

Shitshitshit. Crowley felt a horrible feeling crawl up his chest.

It was because of him, wasn’t it? Because he had chosen to stay over on Friday? Aziraphale’s father had seemed terribly frigid about Crowley’s abrupt visit, and holy shit, that made sense. Aziraphale was probably getting grounded or something, right? No doubt his dad was pissed at him, dammit. Prohibiting him from seeing his brother was most likely some form of punishment. 

i.e, Aziraphale was heartbroken, and it was all his fault. 

He hesitantly took a hand off the wheel, and placed it on Aziraphale’s shoulder. “I’m sorry, Az,” he started, trying to keep his voice steady. “it’s all my fault, innit? Because of Friday, right? Fuck.” 

“Oh, Crowley, no,” Aziraphale finally turned to face him, cheeks wet and eyes shining, like always. Even through the lenses of Crowley’s sunglasses (newly bought, due to Friday’s incident), he could see the spark in them. “It’s not your fault at all, dear boy.” 

“You don’t have to lie to me, Aziraphale.” 

“I'm not! It’s not your fault, Crowley.” And then, Aziraphale’s voice took on an icy tone, one that Crowley had never heard before. He was familiar with sassy, and he’d heard rritated, but this was foreign. “Father isn’t letting me go because he’s just- just a big, big-” 

“Big what?” Crowley found himself crowing, self-condemnation temporarily pushed aside in favor of hopefully hearing an enraged Aziraphale curse for the first time. “Big what, Az?” 

“A- a big sod! A big, bloody sod!” 

And then, he burst into tears. 

What the fuck?

Crowley gawped at his friend, who was crying rather loudly, now. His heart rate jumped up a tad, and he suddenly felt at a loss for words. Wasn’t he just... he was fine, a second ago! “I- Aziraphale!” 

The blonde was sobbing into his delicately manicured hands, and Crowley had to grip the steering wheel extra tightly, in order to stop himself from reaching out and doing something stupid, like wiping those tears away, or, God forbid, hugging him.

“Aziraphale! Do I need to pull over? Aziraphale!” 

“No! N-no, I- I’m sorry!” Aziraphale gasped, yanking his glasses off and tossing them into his cup-holder. He covered his face with his hands again, and Crowley felt dazed. 

“It’s nothing to apologize for, Az,” he managed to stutter out. “What’s wrong? Did I say something?” 

“It’s nothing, oh, it’s nothing at all.” 

“Aziraphale,” Crowley winced at the severity of his own voice, and noticed Aziraphale do the same. He attempted to soften it. “Aziraphale. What’s up?”

“It’s nothing.” 

“Oh, please. Something’s clearly wrong, Az. Spill.” 

“I said, it’s nothing.” 

Bullshit-”

That icy tone was back when he snapped, “Will you drop it, Crowley? I never pressure you to talk about your problems, so please, leave me alone.” 

Crowley felt his face go red, and this time, it wasn’t due to some cute little thing Aziraphale had done. He was agitated, because Aziraphale had a point, but he didn’t wanna let this go that easy. “You- you were fine a second ago, and then you just start- start fucking crying for no apparent reason, and you expect me to drop it? Tell me, Az.” 

“I told you, it’s nothing. I just- just thought about something, and got a bit emotional, that’s it.” Aziraphale heaved in a breath. “I’m sorry if it scared you or- or whatever. I didn’t mean to.” 

Crowley held back a frustrated growl, and instead tightened his grip on the steering wheel, until his knuckles went white. This was so wrong, so very wrong. He couldn’t just sit there and watch his friend (his only friend, god damn) cry himself stupid. His fists aches with the need to punch something (preferably something with Mr. Ainsley’s picture on it). 

Because he could tell that it was Aziraphale’s father who was behind this. He could tell, ever since he’d seen the bloke’s ugly mug, that holier-than-thou expression on his face when they’d first met. He could tell that Mr. Ainsley was more than capable of doing shit that got to Aziraphale, because his friend may have been a stronger bastard than Crowley ever was, but he was sensitive, too. 

So, as they drove toward Charing Cross, Crowley inserted a sparkly Speak Now cassette into the stereo, and tried to ignore Aziraphale’s sniffling. 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The building was red-brick, Victorian, sitting self-importantly at the top of a hill in Inner London. It consisted of multiple rows of neatly lined-up books with their spines facing outward, colour coded with dots, arranged by genre. Comfortable leather armchairs were littered about, set aside small tables, decked with computers. The carpets were substandard, and a tacky checkerboard design enclosed the tiles. The library was filled with a muffled stillness, hushed atmosphere punctured occasionally by a child’s laugh. 

To Aziraphale, it was heaven.  

They were sitting at a vacant table near the adult non-fiction section, facing each other. Crowley was half-heartedly flipping through a copy of Leaves of Grass, and Aziraphale was immersed in an annotated version of Drum-Tips.

They’d been reading for about an hour, before Crowley cut in. “How much longer?” 

“Shut up, please.” 

“Aziraphale-”

“What did I just tell you?” 

“That you’re bossy as all hell,” Crowley mumbled under his breath. 

Aziraphale kicked him under the table for that one, getting him right in the shin. Crowley groaned loudly, earning several glares across the library. He scowled right back.

Across from him, the blonde was fully engrossed in the book laying in front of him, some strands of gold-spun hair falling over his eyes. He was biting his lower lip, something Crowley had noticed was a habit (and he definitely hadn’t figured that out by staring at Aziraphale during lunch for long periods of time, oh no). His eyebrows were knitted in concentration, and his cheeks were wet, shining under the library’s pale light. 

The aftermath of all that crying, probably. 

This was successful in reminding Crowley of the, er, incident that had occurred in the Bentley earlier. He felt a fresh wave of guilt crash over him. Sure, a library may not be his most preferable place to hang, and it definitely wasn’t good for his lack of a reputation, but Crowley’d be damned if he forced Aziraphale to leave. Not after everything that had happened. 

So, he sighed, and turned his attention back to the poetry in front of him. As his eyes scanned the page, however, a certain passage caught his gaze. 

He snickered as he read it, and then attempted to catch Aziraphale’s attention. “Hey, Az.” 

Blue eyes darted up, curious. “Yes?”

“Listen to this:

'I mind how we lay such a transparent summer morning,

How you settled your head athwart my hips and gently turn’d over upon me,

And parted the shirt from my bosom-bone, and plunged your tongue to my bare-stript heart,

And reach’d till you felt my beard, and reach’d till you held my feet.'

Bloke’s basically getting stripped! How’d he get away with this in, what, the 1850s?”

“The first edition was published in 1855,” Aziraphale supplied. “And he didn’t. Get away with it, that is. The publication accrued much controversy.”

“Hmm.” Reading Song of Myself took him just about forever. He chose to read I Sing the Body Electric next, because the title sounded cool. As he began, he almost choked on his own breath. “Hey, Az. This one’s pretty dirty, too.

'The expression of the face balks account,

But the expression of a well-made man appears not only in his face,

It is in his limbs and joints also, it is curiously in the joints of his hips and wrists,

It is in his walk, the carriage of his neck, the flex of his waist and knees, dress does not hide him,

The strong sweet quality he has strikes through the cotton and broadcloth,

To see him pass conveys as much as the best poem, perhaps more,

You linger to see his back, and the back of his neck and shoulder-side.'

He’s checking someone out! And ‘dress does not hide him’? I think he’s imagining the guy naked. Now that definitely wouldn’t fly back in 1855.”

“No,” Aziraphale said. His eyes met Crowley’s shades. “But I don’t think he’s imagining the other man naked.”

“Sure he is.”

“No. He’s admiring how the man’s clothes hug his body.”

Made sense, what with the part about “cotton and broadcloth.” Crowley studied Aziraphale (in a totally scrutinizing, platonic way) as he contemplated the poem. He noted Aziraphale’s joints, his wrists. They were, unlike the rest of him, strangely slender. Delicate, but strong. Beautiful. Aziraphale probably had a gorgeous figure beneath the hideous clothes he favored. If his shirt clung to his back—

“Crowley? Are you all right?” Aziraphale asked, staring into his shades, light concern etched across his face.

“’Course,” he muttered. 

“I.. I think we should head out,” Aziraphale said, snapping his book shut and piling it on top of others. “It’s getting late. I have to be home by nine.” 

“Yeah, okay.” 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The ride back to Hackney was, in contrast to the previous, relatively quiet. 

Aziraphale stood in front his window, peering at him through his glasses. “I’ll see you tomorrow?” 

“Like always,” Crowley mumbled back, trying to ignore the flush creeping up his cheeks, the tingling on his skin, the terrible effect that Aziraphale’s proximity had on him. 

The blonde sent him a sunny smile, and Crowley’s insides melted. As Aziraphale turned toward his house, Crowley felt a protest rise up his throat, and heard himself call out, “Aziraphale!” 

“Yes?” Aziraphale asked, confused, but obliging when Crowley motioned for him to come closer. 

“Listen,” he started, clearing his throat. “tomorrow, I’ll pick you up, alright? For school.” 

Aziraphale was still gazing at him with that confused look, so he added, “And I’ll drive you back home. E-every day.” 

“Why?” the blonde asked after a moment, and then blushed. “I- I mean, you don’t have to!” 

“I can’t let you walk a fucking mile in the winter, Az. Your dad may be a heartless prat, but I’m-” 

“Not,” Aziraphale smiled at him again, in that stupid, sweet way of his. “You’re not heartless.” 

“Ngk.” Crowley scowled. “Don’t go around tellin’ everyone, now. I’ve a reputation to uphold.” 

Aziraphale just laughed, and then batted him on the shoulder. “I knew you were a sweet lad, Crowley, I always knew!” 

“Oh, shut up,” he grumbled, and then turned on the ignition. “and be ready by eight, yeah?”

Aziraphale beamed at him, and Crowley was strangely reminiscent of that one night when the blonde had kissed him on the cheek. He looked just as exquisite now as he had back then, shining under the pale moonlight. “Of course!” 

And so, a little Arrangement was made. 

Chapter Text

There were a million questions running through Crowley’s head as Aziraphale daintily took his seat on the passenger side and buckled in his belt.

They started with simple enquiries, like Hey, why is it that your dad can’t be bothered to get into that fancy Mercedes of his and drive you half a mile to school? and I can see his car in the driveway, so he's obviously not at work. The fuck is up with that?

And they usually ended with complex thoughts that Crowley himself was surprised upon thinking. Those sort of went something like, I really love the way your hair falls in lovely little waves, yet retains its own curliness; what shampoo do you use? and You look extra cute today, did you know that?

He was so lost in his Aziraphale-centric daydreaming that he was not aware of his friend looking at him, mild concern etched across his face, until the blonde gave him a light slap on the cheek.

“-owley? Dear? Are you alright?”

And woah, he definitely was not aware of their close proximity. Aziraphale was leaning over the gap between the driver and passenger sides, directly in his face, waving a hand across his sunglasses.

“Crowley! Are you malfunctioning? Do you need me to call an ambulance?”

That was enough to snap him out of it.

He fixed his gaze on Aziraphale. “W-what? Sorry, what were you saying?”

Aziraphale frowned, lips twisting downward. “I said, good morning.”

“Ah, well. Good morning to you, too,” For a bit, they just stared at each other, one embarrassed and the other confused. Crowley looked away first, and cleared his throat. He reached over and twisted a knob on the stereo, letting the hushed strums of Brian May’s guitar wash over them. “Let’s get going then, huh?”

“Yes...” Aziraphale was still watching him with that perplexed look on his face, and it drove Crowley a bit mad. “Are you sure you’re fine, dear boy?”

Crowley started the engine up again (when had that turned off?) and worked on slowly reversing the Bentley. Aziraphale’s father really made that a living hell, though. Who the fuck parked their car like that? “I’m fine, yeah. Just thinking.”

“About what?” Aziraphale enquired, and then, of his own accord, hurriedly added, “If you don’t mind me asking, that is.”

About how I’d really like to run a hand through that gold-spun hair of yours, and how your fucking smile rivals the sun, and damn, do you put lip gloss on or something, because there’s no way a guy’s lips can look that pink and be fully natural-

“I was just, just thinking about how presentations start in two days, and we haven’t even practiced yet.”

“Oh,” Aziraphale said, and then waved a hand inattentively. “that’s no big deal. We can get ready during lunch today. How about we eat at the library instead?”

“Yeah, sure,” Crowley replied, turning through Casterton. “but this is it with the libraries. You’re trying to convert me to nerdism, Az. It’s not good for my image.”

What image, my dear?” Aziraphale simpered, his voice sickeningly sweet. 

Crowley gasped indignantly, and it wasn’t a sham this time, because honestly, upon first meeting him, he’d assumed that Aziraphale was an innocent sweetheart incapable of harming a single soul. It turned out, however, that he was a bit like the ocean; sometimes calm, tranquil, waves lapping at the shore in soft easy measures. Other times, he roared, and crashed with the intensity of a typhoon: both equally appealing to Crowley, and both equally terrifying.

“You hurt my feelings, Ainsley,” he whined, though he’d vehemently deny it later. Aziraphale rolled his eyes.

Crowley smiled to himself, took a hand off the wheel and twisted the volume knob again, heightening the pitch of Mercury’s voice.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

St. Beryl’s library was a small room in the C wing, barely larger than any of the classrooms. It had a less-than-stellar collection of books, half of which were damaged and taped back together. Aziraphale had incessantly begged the librarian to order more, but the geezer had refused, claiming that the school wasn’t paying to stock a library that nobody really used in the first place.

They pulled the relevant papers out of their backpacks and spread them out over a table. After that, Crowley leapt onto a vacant table next to theirs (which was not hard to find, considering that the whole library was empty), gazed into the distance, and exclaimed, “O Captain! My Captain!”

Aziraphale released a startled cry. “What are you doing? What was that?”

“The beginning of our presentation.”

Aziraphale glanced at the scattered sheets on the floor. “You knocked our stuff down.”

Crowley shrugged. “I had to try it out.” He grinned.

“We can’t begin our presentation that way. I don’t wish to lose points.”

“Aw, c’mon, Az! It’s Dead Poets Society!”

Aziraphale scrunched his eyebrows. “What?”

“Dead Poets Society. It’s a movie.” Crowley hopped off the table, then jumped back on. “O Captain! My Captain!” He turned to Aziraphale. “You’re doing it, too.”

Aziraphale looked petrified. “Oh, no. I’m not doing that.”

“Sure you are.” He tugged at Aziraphale’s elbow.

“Crowley!” Aziraphale squawked. “Stop!”

“C’mon.” Aziraphale stopped struggling, and Crowley hauled him up to the table so that he was awkwardly sprawled on the other side. “Stand up.”

No. It’s stupid.”

“Oh, c’mon, you’ve gotta do it! And it’s not like you’ve got any reputation to lose in the first place.”

Aziraphale sent Crowley a vicious glare, but didn’t disagree. He hesitantly got to his feet and murmured, “O Captain, My Captain?”

“Not like that, Aziraphale. Give it some zest.” Crowley cleared his throat and boomed, “O Captain! My Captain!”

“I can’t do that, Crowley.”

“Sure you can.”

A self-conscious look descended upon Aziraphale’s face as he shouted, “O Captain! My Captain!” He still sounded hesitant.

“Better. But you gotta say it like you mean it.”

“O Captain! My Captain!”

Crowley whistled, impressed. Aziraphale's voice held so much praise and awe, it was like he was one of the students in the movie. “Much better!” He stepped off of the table. “Now. I’m gonna do it first; then you’re gonna jump up and say it after me, yeah?”

“Alright.”

“Get down here.”

Once Aziraphale clumsily hopped off the table, Crowley leapt up and shouted, “O Captain! My Captain!”

Right on cue, Aziraphale (slowly) hopped up and echoed him. “O Captain! My Captain!”

Crowley clapped. “Bravo!” He scanned the room as he thought. “Now. Whose desk are we gonna stand on?”

“We’re actually going to do that?” Aziraphale said, his voice climbing an octave higher.

Crowley rolled his eyes. “Duh. I’d love to see the look on Raven Sable's face if we used his. That’d be fun, huh?”

“I don’t know, Crowley. It’ll only make him angrier.”

“Fine. We’ll use the teacher’s.”

“Won’t he be mad?”

“Eh. Not as long as we don’t knock anything down.” He stared down at the mess of papers on the floor. “Who should we look at? Not the damn class.”

“Why do we need to look at anyone?”

“’Cause, that’s what they do in the movie. They’re honoring the teacher.” Crowley frowned. “I’m not sure if I’d want to say that to Pulsifer, though. Hmm.” Crowley contemplated the issue, and a minute later, he finally knew the answer. “I got it! I’ll look at you, and you’ll look at me.”

“What?”

“It’s either that or Brother Pulsifer.”

“Fine.”

They gathered the fallen papers and resumed their seats. “Right, so which poem should we talk about in the paper?” Crowley inquired.

“I asked Brother Pulsifer about it. He said we needed to pick a long one since everyone else was analyzing a novel.”

“All right. Which one?”

‘Song of Myself’?”

Crowley snorted. “That one’s a bit obvious, innit?”

“Then we can explain what makes it obvious.”

“Alright. Let’s crack on, huh?”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

It was Thursday, and the halls were empty after fourth-hour classes as Crowley strolled toward the front of St. Beryl’s. He’d lost track of Aziraphale a while ago, but there was no doubt that the blonde was outside, waiting by the Bentley. It had only been two days since their, er, arrangement, but they’d been easily accustomed with their new schedule.

His thoughtless trek was interrupted by a feminine voice calling out his name.

“Anthony?”

Crowley swirled around, and took a double take.

Standing in front of him was none other than Carmine Zuigiber.

She had a saccharine smile on her smarmy face, and her faux accent was chipping at the edges. Everyone knew that the Zuigibers were pure-blood Americans, who had moved to Britain some years ago and desperately tried to fit into Hackney’s extremely English community. Their accents were poorly overdone, and it showed.

He scowled at her, as she twirled some strands of scarlet hair around a manicured finger. Was she just gonna pretend that he didn’t know how big of a bitch she was? He made sure his voice was properly narked when he said, “What do you want? And it’s Crowley to you, please.”

For a second, the girl’s coquettish demeanor drooped, and some mild irritation replaced it. She quickly regained her image, though. “Crowley. There’s, um, something I’ve been meaning to ask you.”

“What?” He made a show of checking his Bremont. “Make it quick, I’ve places to be.” Aziraphale was waiting for him, and it’d be most impolite if he showed up late, held back by Carmine Zuigiber, of all people.

“I’m having a party,” Carmine rushed, grinning, and for a second, her American accent bled through. “and you’re invited.”

It took him a split second to respond. “No thanks,” Crowley snorted, brushing past her. She followed him.

“It’s the weekend after Valentine’s, and everyone who’s anybody is gonna be there.” She paused, for dramatic effect. “You could be, too.” Her voice was reeking with coyness, and it was strangely disgusting.

“Sorry, not really my thing,” He moved toward the front door, hoping she’d take the hint.

She didn’t. “C’mon now, Crowley, don’t be a bore.” One of her cold hands came to rest on his shoulder, and her long, red nails tapped on his jacket.

“Don’t touch me,” he hissed, shrugging Carmine’s hand off in record speed. Jesus, what was her angle here? “And leave me the fuck alone.”

That seemed to get to her, and she dropped her flirtatious attitude, replacing it with vexation. It was a bit frightening, how quickly she could change. “Fine. Fine. I was offering, but if you’re gonna be such a prat about it, you can forget I ever did.”

“Good.” Crowley shoved past her and approached the front door. He could see Aziraphale from here, waiting patiently by the Bentley, bundled up in his camel coat.

“There’s gonna be alcohol!”

Crowley froze.

Carmine sauntered over again, high heels clicking on the tiled floor. “There’s gonna be alcohol. And a beer keg.” She looked him in the face, and brought her voice down to a whisper. “And Raven’s bringing the good stuff.”

He frowned, confused.

She looked at him, dumbfounded. “Y’know, magic bullets. Rocks and Brown.” A lecherous grin crawled up her face. “Dope.”

That caught his attention. A chance to get utterly wasted and high? For free?

Who was he to refuse?

“Alright,” he mumbled, voice low. “We’ll think about it.”

Carmine’s smirk faded, and she faltered. “We?”

“Me and Aziraphale.”

So, sure, maybe Aziraphale wouldn’t approve of getting sloshed at their age, especially at a lame high school party, and most especially at Carmine Zuigiber’s lame high school party, but they’d cross that bridge when they came to it. For now, though, there was no chance in hell that he’d go to said party without Aziraphale, not at all.

It wouldn’t be as fun.

Meanwhile, Carmine gaped at him, quite comically. The shocked expression on the her face, though, was quickly subdued by rage. “No way.”

“Excuse me?”

No way you’re bringing that- that fucking geek with you! No way!”

Crowley sent her a vicious look. “Shut up.” When she opened her mouth to protest, he said, “It’s all or nothing. You can accept that, or sod off.”

Carmine spluttered, her outrage evident. “You can’t be serious.”

Deadly. Now, if you’ll get out of my way...”

He pushed her aside for the third time, and pulled the front door open. As he did, Crowley felt fresh concern crawl up his chest. Aziraphale was probably freezing out there, dammit.

“You can forget about it!” Carmine screamed after him, her voice fading as the distance between them grew. “You’re not invited! Not if that freak is coming with you!”

He blocked out her voice by slamming the door shut.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Finally,” Aziraphale huffed, breath coming out in little rings. “What took you?”

Crowley flipped through his keys and stuck the designated one in the Bentley. With a whine, the car rumbled to life, and they sat inside. Crowley reached for one of the knobs above the stereo and switched the second-rate heating system on. “Sorry to keep you waiting.”

“It’s alright,” Aziraphale replied immediately. “What took you?”

Crowley grunted. “Carmine.”

Aziraphale peered at him, curious. “Carmine Zuigiber? Whatever did she want?”

“Invitin’ me to her party. Thing for- uh, Valentine’s, I think.”

“Ooh,” the blonde mumbled, then enquired absently, “Are you going?”

“Hell, yeah. And you’re coming with me.”

Crowley could feel Aziraphale’s eyes bug out of their sockets. “Wh-what?”

“To her party. For Valentine’s. You’re coming, too.” He snickered, emphasizing every word.

“I- I don’t think so, Crowley...”

“Why not? It’ll be fun!” He turned to Aziraphale with a smirk. “We can get pissed, Az!”

“Oh, no. Absolutely not! That is- that is so irresponsible of you, dear!” Then, he hissed quietly, voice low, “We aren’t of age!”

“So what? We’re young, Aziraphale. This is what normal teenagers do. They go to parties and get drunk and-“

“- get murdered! Or- or arrested!” Aziraphale’s tone went higher in pitch. “Or drugged and sold and impregnated! I've seen those films with Raphael!”

Crowley only laughed, but unfortunately, Aziraphale did not find it amusing.

Crowley ceased his laughter, absently wiping a tear from under his glasses. Then, he noticed the stormy expression on his friend’s face. “Oh, God. You’re serious, aren’t you?”

“Hmm.”

“I’m gonna be there with you! It’ll be fine.”

Hmm.”

“Alright, listen. I’ll give you a while to think about it, yeah? Think long and hard. Party’s in, what? Two weeks? That’s your deadline.”

Aziraphale stayed quiet, the expression on his face faltering a tad.

“And if this is about your dad...” Crowley started, voice going somber. “Don’t worry about it, Az. I don’t wanna- pressure or force you into anything. If you really can’t go, that’s fine. But if you want to, mind, and you're saying no because of him... we can find a way around that.”

Aziraphale sent Crowley a grateful smile, and his heart just about melted.

Good Lord, Crowley was too sweet.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The next day, Aziraphale slipped into English right before the bell rang, flushed and panting. He hurried into his seat, dumping his books carelessly.

“Az,” Crowley whispered. “we’re presenting today.”

“Yes. I know,” Aziraphale whispered back.

Crowley eyed him. “You’re looking a bit...”

“Bit what?” Aziraphale raised an eyebrow.

Knackered. What’s the rush?”

Aziraphale burrowed into his sweater. “I was at the nurse. She forgot to give me a pass, so I had to run. ”

“The nurse? Why were you at the nurse?”

“I, er, got a paper cut,” Aziraphale mumbled, embarrassed. “It’s-“

“Aziraphale, Anthony,” Brother Pulsifer called from behind his desk. Aziraphale and Crowley’s heads whipped around to face him. “Do you have something you’d wish to share with the rest of us?”

All the other students giggled. Prats. Crowley felt heat rushing to his ears, but he attempted to scowl. “No.”

“Is that so?” Crowley gulped and nodded. “Well, then. In that case, you wouldn’t mind giving your presentation first, would you?”

“No, sir,” Crowley mumbled. He and Aziraphale stood up. The blonde’s eyes shifted around the room nervously; it looked almost as if he was huddling into his sweater.

Crowley picked up the stack of papers lying on his desk and handed them to someone in the first row to pass around. “We’ve got handouts.”

Brother Pulsifer wheeled his chair off to the side. Perfect. He and Aziraphale proceeded behind the desk, and alarm dawned on Brother Pulsifer’s face. Crowley jumped onto the desk, turned to Aziraphale, and declared, “O Captain! My Captain!”

Aziraphale gracefully leapt up (or, as gracefully as possible, because he wasn’t exactly fit) right on cue and faced him. “O Captain! My Captain!” For a split second, they stared directly at each other. It felt like everything else in the room was blotted out and he and Aziraphale were alone. Crowley felt a little dizzy. Aziraphale had this dazzling smile on his face. Crowley would’ve sworn that nobody could smile that big, though he couldn’t help but grin back. Like him, Aziraphale struggled to hold in laughter.

Then, of course, some arsehole had to ruin it.

“Jesus,” Raven Sable snorted in disgust. “that’s the gayest thing I’ve ever seen in my life!”

“It’s Dead Poets Society, prat!” Crowley snarled back. Beside him, Aziraphale’s composure abruptly crumpled. For a second, Crowley thought he was gonna cry, but instead he assumed an emotionless expression.

Poofters!” Raven called back, an atrocious smirk on his gaunt face. Almost everyone else snickered.

Crowley hopped off of the desk and stalked toward Raven, bony fist at the ready. “I swear,” he hissed, “you fucking twit, I’ll—”

Raven smirked. “You’ll what?”

“Crowley! Sable!” Brother Pulsifer yelped. He looked a little frazzled, as if he feared the boys would turn on him. “Stop that this instant, or I will not hesitate to give you detention.”

Crowley dropped his fist and mumbled, “Sorry.” He returned to the front of the classroom. Raven’s smug grin continued to chase him.

He glanced up at Aziraphale, who was still up on the desk. Aziraphale blinked at Crowley; then realized he should come down. He tried to step off of the desk, but he wound up tripping over his shoelaces. He tumbled onto the ground with a squeak, sending Brother Pulsifer’s papers flying across the room. Half of the class, the utter wankers, laughed. Crowley was about to ask him if he was alright, but then Aziraphale stood up and rubbed at his temple. His mouth hung open in mortification. “I apologize,” Aziraphale said in a small voice. “I’ll clean it up.”

Aziraphale moved to pick up the papers, but Brother Pulsifer said, “Not now, Aziraphale. Get on with the presentation. You can do that after class.” There was some sympathy in his eyes as he looked at his most prized pupil.

“Yes, sir.”

Crowley cleared his throat. “Er, so, yeah. Walt Whitman.”

Crowley had been planning to discuss Dead Poets Society and how it related to Whitman’s themes and transition into the meat of the presentation from there. However, he was so flustered that he jumped straight into a biography of the poet. He and Aziraphale then alternated who spoke, reciting the information they’d gathered. Crowley heard the tremor in Aziraphale’s voice; no doubt his own matched it. At the end of the presentation, everyone dutifully clapped, except for Raven, who looked fucking delighted.

When the final bell rang, Aziraphale waited in his seat until the room had emptied out, leaving no one but him, Crowley, and Brother Pulsifer.

“Anthony,” Brother Pulsifer said, “you can go now.”

Crowley ignored him, and approached Aziraphale. He’d been the one who insisted on the 'O Captain! My Captain!' scene, so technically, this was his fault. “I’m helping.”

Aziraphale looked astonished. “You don’t have to, Crowley.”

Crowley bent down and grabbed the sheets of paper lying nearby. “I told you. I’m helping.”

Aziraphale began to pick up bits of paper as well. “Thank you.”

“No problem.”

By the time they’d reorganized Brother Pulsifer’s papers, half the school was empty.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

On the ride home, they idly talked about how awful the presentation had gone, and Aziraphale moaned in displeasure, blaming himself for being a klutz. Crowley reassured him, though, that if Raven Sable hadn’t stuck his arse in their business, they’d have done pretty good. After all, it was only after his insults that the both of them lost their composure.

Aziraphale mentioned how tempted he’d been to walk up to Raven and rip him a new one, right across his bony face. That ought to have taught him a lesson, he'd said.

And Crowley fully agreed, because he harbored no doubt that Aziraphale was capable of reducing Raven Sable to a crying mess on the floor, armed with nothing but a first edition.

It was in the midst of one of their rather interesting conversation, concerning the pros and cons of book burning, that the Bentley pulled up at Aziraphale’s house, in the same exact spot as always.

Crowley watched Aziraphale gather his stuff, and sling his bag over one shoulder. Strangely, a part of him wanted to keep Aziraphale with him, to ask him to stay, to not go back to his stupid house with his stupid father.

His voice spoke on its own accord, before he could stop it. “You’re not- not busy this weekend, are you?”

Aziraphale glanced at him, hand frozen on the door handle. A flash of sadness graced his eyes. “No, I’m afraid not. Why?”

“I was wondering- well, actually, I was thinking about how, maybe, if you’d like, thoughit’stotallyfineifyoudon’t, y’know- urgh.”

Crowley cleared his throat and felt his face grow hot. He tried again.

“You should come over, tomorrow. To my house, I mean. Or flat, er.” Dammit. Way to sound like a thirteen year-old girl inviting her BFF over for a playdate, Crowley. “It’ll be nice. We can watch Dead Poets Society. I’ve a flat screen telly.” Great, now you’re bragging.

Aziraphale, however, did not respond as Crowley had expected. There was no laughing, no anger, no rejection. The blonde only smiled at him, bright and sweet and a bit lopsided. “Oh, that sounds marvelous, dear. You can pick me up at ten!”

Crowley could only watch him, mouth hung a bit open, as Aziraphale slipped out of the Bentley and strolled toward his house.

He couldn’t wipe that fucking sappy smile off his face for the next few hours, even if he tried.

Chapter Text

Crowley pulled up at Aziraphale’s house at exactly ten o’clock, not a minute too late, not a minute too early.

There was stupid smile on his face, one that always surfaced when he was around Aziraphale, one that he couldn’t wipe off, no matter how hard he tried. Glaring at himself through the rear view mirror had been ineffective, and thinking the most ghastly thoughts was utterly useless. He just couldn’t help it. Something about Aziraphale, no matter how fucking dorky and stuffy the boy was, drew him in like a magnet.

That very magnet - one that he couldn’t name, would refuse to name - had been effective at capturing Crowley’s attention ever since they were fourteen, and was still equally as effective.

Unfortunately, Crowley was not able to wax poetic about Aziraphale for much longer, as the din of raised voices pierced straight through his thoughts, loud and unstirred.

They seemed to be coming from Aziraphale’s house.

He couldn’t exactly decipher what was being said, or who was shouting, but it was quite clear that their intentions were malicious, for the voices were audible from a distance (partially due to his windows being rolled down).

And then, as the voices continued to tear at each other, one deep and the other soft, some fear rippled through Crowley's spine. Jesus, it could be Aziraphale’s father, right? All things considered, it wouldn’t really be a surprise, though, would it? Fuck. Crowley unbuckled his seat belt with a fervor, ready to barge into the house, to find out what was happening. 

But, just as his hand grazed the door handle, it stopped. 

Aziraphale was storming out of his house, front door slamming behind him. He had a fiery expression on his face, and one of his hands was covering his left cheek. Every step he took was fueled by anger, and it showed. Somehow, though, as he got closer to the Bentley, some of that rage seemed to wither away.

Crowley only stared as Aziraphale slipped into his seat with a huff. It was a bit ridiculous, how it’d only been a month since they’d actually met, but felt like it’d been years. It was so natural, so fitting for Aziraphale to be sitting beside him, like the passenger seat had been made for him, specifically.

For a moment, it was quiet, and then Aziraphale ran a hand over his face. He sighed, and turned to face Crowley.

“Good morning!” His voice was cheerful, but a bit tired, a bit forced. “Sorry I’m late, old boy. I just-“ Crowley noted absently that, with his hand gone, Aziraphale’s left cheek appeared to be pink, a stark contrast to his pale skin. And it wasn’t his whole cheek, either, just a little splotch that was flushed. It looked like he’d been decked, or something. “-got a little held up.”

“It’s fine,” Crowley heard himself murmur in response, still staring at that spot- that bruise. He felt he had a creeping suspicion as to where it had come from. “Aziraphale.”

“Yes, dear?”

“You’ve a little something on your-“ Crowley gestured to his own cheek, and Aziraphale’s eyes widened a tad.

“Oh,” he gasped, and hurriedly covered the mark, fingers obscuring it. Crowley watched him, scrutinizing the way Aziraphale’s breath hitched and his eyes brightened.

He found himself asking, “What happened? I heard some yelling and...” although he meant to say, It was your dad, wasn’t it? Fucking bastard.

Aziraphale glanced at him, and stuttered when he replied, “Oh, oh it’s nothing. I just, just forgot to tell Father that you were picking me up today, and he got a bit, er. Upset.”

“Shit,” Crowley cursed softly, and a small chill of guilt crept up his chest, cold and shocking. “I’m sorry, Az-”

Aziraphale cut him off. “Oh, Crowley. I really wish you’d quit apologizing.” Crowley flushed, words forming in his mind but dissipating on his tongue. Aziraphale continued, mindless of his perturbation. “You’ve nothing to do with any of this.”

“He hit you because of me. I know a slap mark when I see one.” Aziraphale looked away, but didn’t argue. “If I hadn’t-”

“Hadn’t what? Invited me over?” There was a tinge of hurt in the blonde’s voice.

“No. No, I mean,” Crowley rushed on, and then let out a frustrated noise. Aziraphale gazed at him with some pity. “Dammit.”

“Dear boy,” Aziraphale started, voice filled with a certain kind of fondness that Crowley had never heard before. “It’s never your fault. You have to stop- stop blaming yourself for everything.”

“I- I’m not, it’s just, you- ugh, ” Crowley rattled on, somewhat pathetically.

Aziraphale seemed to take sympathy on him, and said, “Oh, hush.” Crowley did. “Now, I really wish we stopped talking about Father all the time. It’s not really my favorite subject, you know.” He had a point, there. Aziraphale’s dad was a bit of an attention-whore; he always had a way of worming into their conversations.

A part of Crowley, though, ached to refuse. Ached to argue, to question, to ask Aziraphale if this was a common thing, if his father had a tendency to get physical. But the other part of him flashed back to last Tuesday, when his friend had been the absolute epitome of desolateness, and had begged him to drop the subject. Crowley owed him that much, then, didn’t he? Aziraphale had never pushed him to talk about Hastur and Ligur, or his sunglasses, or his parents. What right did he have here, to breach a subject that his friend wasn’t comfortable with?

So, Crowley bit back his protests with a wince, and agreed. “Of course.”

Aziraphale beamed at him then, looking so strange with that blossoming bruise on his cheek, but no less beautiful. Crowley reached deep inside himself and mustered up some courage, sending his friend a wonky smile.

“Alright,” he started, clearing his throat, hand on the stick shift. “Let’s crack on, then, shall we?”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

“Well, it sure is quite... homey,” Aziraphale said, as he stood peering into the half light of Crowley’s flat.

Crowley rolled his eyes and stepped past him, flicking on the fixtures. He glanced around the spacious living room, making sure he hadn’t forgotten to eradicate any humiliating details. He smiled, and then yanked Aziraphale by the hand to his plush, white sofa and sat him down, patting his shoulder, “Wait here, and try to find a film from that basket. I’ll knock up some hors d’oeuvres.

Aziraphale laughed, and watched Crowley wander off to the kitchen. He turned his attention to the television before him - it was huge, flat, and stuck on the wall. Surrounding it were sleek white shelves with cassettes and DVDs - and significantly more potted plants than the average household. Aziraphale admired the utter size of it, and absently wondered how Crowley could live alone in a place this huge.

He looked around again. The interior was scanty and devoid of colour, often interrupted by sudden splashes of green. He got up, looking at a glamourous plant with glistening leaves on the windowsill. All the plants seemed to sit as if holding their breath, alert and terrified. He shrugged, and looked around the room again.

In the corner of the den, right next to the entrance, was a little table, barely bigger than a nightstand. It was the type of table people usually placed decorations and framework on, but Crowley’s seemed to be void.

Aziraphale strolled toward it, and soon realized that this was not true. A little picture frame was laying on the edge of the table, face down, as if forgotten. Curiosity bubbled up inside him, and Aziraphale quickly glanced toward the kitchen. The faint clanging of dishes and the light hum of a microwave was audible, so he utilized his time. He gently picked up the photo, like it was a fragile thing, and if he were on a soap, he‘d’ve gasped quite dramatically.

The glass of the frame was cracked, as if it had been tossed about, and the picture inside was not of good quality, either. Despite this, however, Aziraphale could make out the details perfectly.

It was, from what he could assume, a family portrait.

He saw the man first, who had a bit of a foreign look to him, and a bright smile pasted on his face. To Aziraphale, though, it looked a bit too bright. Almost superficial, if he dared. The gentleman was clad in a suit which Aziraphale would never be able to afford, with a handkerchief in the breast-pocket and a bow tie neatly pinned on. His perfectly combed and gelled hair, which was graying at the edges, only added to his wealthy image. Aziraphale noted how one of the man’s arms was wrapped around a lady’s shoulders, who happened to be leaning into the embrace.

The woman (his wife, perhaps?), looked equally as luxurious as the man, and equally as attractive, albeit a bit younger. Her hair was short and dark and curly, styled in a bob. She donned a drop-shoulder dress, which seemed to be some shade of red, inching closer to burgundy. A thin string of pearls graced her neck, and, combined with the state of her posture, she looked like the embodiment of elegance.

Her smile, however, seemed to be even more of a sham than her husband’s had been. Her eyes were dull and emotionless, her blood red lips curling upward, almost forcefully. One of her hands was resting on the shoulder of a well-dressed young boy, who was standing in between the couple.

It was a bit strange how the lad, in comparison to his parents, looked genuinely happy. He was gazing at the camera with a toothy grin, which, for some odd reason, looked suspiciously familiar. The pair of dark sunglasses which obscured the boy’s eyes from view only confirmed Aziraphale’s thoughts.

He knew exactly who this was. Crowl-

“Hey, Az! You want butter in your popcorn?”

Aziraphale started as Crowley’s voice flitted through the kitchen, and dropped the frame onto the table with a soft thud. “Er,” he quickly glanced at the kitchen door, and sent a quick prayer up above when he saw it was shut. Aziraphale stumbled back toward the sofa, making sure his footsteps were soft and inaudible. A rush of shame washed over him, weighing down every step he took. "Yes, please!"

What was he thinking? Invading Crowley’s privacy like that? Those people had clearly been his parents, and last he recalled, the subject made Crowley a tad uncomfortable. What right did he have to- to snoop around Crowley’s home, touch his belongings, delve into his business, when the boy wasn’t even around? What kind of friend was he? 

Aziraphale wasn’t able to dwell on his remorse for much longer, as the kitchen door swung open and Crowley slithered out, baring a tray full of food.

“Hope you have a sweet tooth,” Crowley started, a prominent smirk on his face. He placed the tray on a table, which was sandwiched between the sofa and the telly. “because it’s all you can eat today.”

“Goodness,” Aziraphale muttered, though it came out half nervous, half awed. The platform was stacked with a variety of snacks and sweets, many of which Father had prohibited him from laying an eye on. “this is- this is cavity-inducing, dear boy.”

Crowley rolled his eyes and tossed him a packet of crisps. “Live a little.”

“You always say that,” Aziraphale grumbled in response, but found himself tearing the bag open with a fervor. Who was he to refuse Corkers?

Crowley snickered at his enthusiasm, and flopped down next to Aziraphale. “You pick a film yet?”

Shoot.

“Erm,” He’d been so occupied (snooping around Crowley’s home), that he’d completely forgotten about the movies. “No, I- I couldn’t choose. They all looked interesting.” It was a bit frightening, how easily the lie rolled out.

“Ah, well. I’m more than happy to recommend, don’t you worry.” Crowley reached for the remote, which was sitting at a stand beside the sofa. “Just tell me the genre you want. Horror? Adventure? Drama, perhaps? Or, maybe...” Crowley grinned, snakelike, and wiggled his eyebrows. “Romance?”

Aziraphale coloured. “I- um. I don’t know...” Father never allowed him to watch films at home, save for those biblical animations that he’d seen numerous times. Raphael let him choose, occasionally, but they rarely wasted their little time together by watching pictures. “All of them?”

Crowley grinned again, and nodded his head in agreement. “Good choice.”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

The Conjuring:

“Is it over?”

He heard Crowley snicker. “Yup. You can look now.”

Aziraphale hesitantly uncovered his eyes, and upon doing so, was met with the ghastly face of Bathsheba (large and in high-definition, thanks to Crowley’s state-of-the-art telly). Aziraphale shrieked, and covered his eyes again. “Crowley!”

The other boy broke into a fit of laughter, finding the expression on Aziraphale’s face absolutely priceless.

For his good service, he was smacked in the face with a pillow, hard.

When they reached the last thirty minutes of the movie, however, neither of them could really stand it anymore.

“Change it! Change it!” Aziraphale cried, as blood splattered all over Carolyn’s hooded face, and her chair started levitating. “Change it!”

Crowley nodded hurriedly, his own heart racing. He stumbled off the couch and crawled toward the DVD player, slamming the eject button.

Titanic:

“I don’t know why you made me watch this stupid movie.”

“It looked good,” Aziraphale insisted, as the end credits rolled. "And it was."

“It was fucking sappy.”

Aziraphale sniffed. “I thought it was quite heart-touching, actually.”

He received no reply, except for a wet sniffle. Aziraphale peered at Crowley, and what he saw just about made his heart melt.

“Dear boy... are you crying?”

Another sniffle, and an angry, “No.”

Aziraphale resisted the urge to coo. “Oh, Crowley! It’s just a film!”

“Shut up.”

Superbad:

“You know,” Crowley mumbled, as Bill Hader and his police buddies crashed the party. “Carmine’s will be nothing like this. Way lamer, I bet.”

“Crowley,” Aziraphale groaned, as this had been the millionth time Crowley had brought up the upcoming party. “I said I’d think about it!”

“Alright, alright.” After the film was over, Crowley flew out of his seat and dashed toward the DVD box, and started rummaging through it. “We’ve time for one more.”

“The- the Dead Poets one, right?”

“Yup.” Crowley took it out and shoved the box back into a drawer, inserting the disc into the player. “This one’s got Robin Willams in it, too.”

“Who?”

Crowley slowly turned toward Aziraphale, and made a horrified face. “Robin Williams. One Hour Photo?” Aziraphale stared at him, blankly. “Good Will Hunting?” Still nothing. “Jesus Christ, the dog from Absolutely Anything!”

Aziraphale shrugged. “I’m sorry, the name doesn’t ring a bell.”

Jumanji? You’ve seen Jumanji, haven’t you?” His voice took on a beseeching tone. “Please, tell me you’ve seen Jumanji.”

“Er...”

Crowley groaned, and mumbled something under his breath, which sounded suspiciously like, 'Satan, save me.'

Aziraphale rolled his eyes and snatched the remote, pressing the play button.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

At 8:55, Crowley pulled into Aziraphale’s driveway, a few minutes before his father’s ridiculous curfew. They’d rushed through the ending of Dead Poets Society, and finished with about twenty minutes left, enough time for the fifteen minute drive.

He heard a sniffle. “Aziraphale. You all right?” The streetlight on the corner cast murky shadows over Aziraphale’s figure.

“No,” Aziraphale said. “I just. What happened to Neil because of his father.” His voice turned resolute. “I hate that- that motherfucker.”

Crowley was taken aback by the utterance. Aziraphale rarely cursed, but it wasn’t just that. The vehemence behind the declaration awed him.

“Yeah, he’s a right arsehole,” Crowley mumbled.

“No, he’s more than that. He killed Neil, as far as I’m concerned.” Aziraphale swiped at the corners of his eyes. “Crowley, it hurts my heart so much.”

He sounded so distressed that Crowley’s own heart hurt a little. “It’s just a movie, Az.” There. Maybe he’d be okay now.

“I know. But it- it probably happens in real life all the time, don’t you think?”

“Yeah, probably,” Crowley admitted. What a depressing thought.

Aziraphale stared at the front door. “I suppose I should go inside.”

“Yeah. Wait a minute.” Crowley dug around the glove compartment until he found some napkins. “Here.”

Aziraphale blew his nose. “Thank you, dear.”

“’Welcome.”

“Good night.”

“Night.” When Aziraphale stepped out of the car, the streetlamp cast a spotlight on him. Crowley winced at the sight of his red-rimmed eyes and splotchy face. He really had been deeply affected by the movie.

Aziraphale concentrated until he wore a neutral expression. Then he smiled at Crowley and waved. Crowley waved back before Aziraphale turned toward the house.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

On Sunday, Aziraphale listened to the pastor drone on about St. Valentine’s, his face void but his mind full.

Father nudged him in the ribs a couple of times, when the far-off look in his eyes got a little too prominent. In his defense, Aziraphale couldn’t quite help it, for his thoughts were loud and wild and couldn’t be restrained. 

For some very odd reason, throughout the service, he couldn’t stop thinking of dark sunglasses and wicked grins.

Chapter Text

“Bet you can’t get this one.” 

Aziraphale sighed, exasperated, and felt the sudden urge to bang his head against the table. “Crowley, for the last time, I don’t wish to hear your disgustingly inappropriate jokes. Please, let me read in peace!” 

The copy of Fahrenheit 451 that was sitting in front of him was one that he’d received as a birthday gift from Gabriel, and one that he’d read about ten times now, cover to cover. The book was worn and torn, yet perfectly intact, because Aziraphale was all but careless. 

Unfortunately, his mini invocation had been interrupted numerous times throughout the last twenty minutes by his friend, and some of his atrocious jokes.

Said friend scoffed indignantly. “They’re funny!” 

Aziraphale flipped a page, primly. “No, they’re not, dear boy. They’re rather crude and immodest, if I may.” 

Crowley rolled his eyes, and then realized that Aziraphale couldn’t see the gesture. He sighed, noisily. “You expect to hang around with someone like me and stay ‘modest’?” Then, he hummed, and stuck an unpalatable carrot stick into his mouth. It was disgusting, and probably expired, but there was really nothing he could do about it. To describe the school and the shit that passed for its food was like describing your favorite shade of graphite pencil. No matter what you preferred, you’d always end up with the same grey rubbish, served on a grey plate with a grey taste. “But hey, it’s not like you were really modest in the first place, though, is it?” 

Aziraphale sighed in response, eyes firmly planted on his book. “Don’t eat with your mouth open, dear. It’s most ill-mannered.”   

Crowley stuck another carrot into his mouth, defiant, willing to do anything in order to get on his friend’s nerves. He chewed loudly, and took delight in the way Aziraphale fumed. “Alright, alright. This is the last joke you’ll hear from me, and then I’ll give you some- some privacy with your darling little book.” 

A little vexation crept into Aziraphale’s voice. “I doubt that.” 

“Promise. Just- just hear me out, will you? This is a good one.” Crowley took Aziraphale’s dead silence as an answer, and grinned. He cleared his throat, somewhat dramatically, and began. “Okay, here I go.” His voice held some faint deliberation, and half-contained excitement. “What do a- a prick and a Rubik’s Cube have in common?” 

Aziraphale‘s tone quickly turned pissy. “I don’t think I‘d like to know.”  

Crowley, as usual, ignored him. “The more you play with it-

“Don’t you dare finish that sentence.” 

“- the harder it gets!” An obnoxious grin split across Crowley’s face, and he fell into a fit of loud, idiotic laughter. In fact, his tittering was so boisterous, that many other students around the lunch hall turned to stare at him. 

If Crowley noticed, he didn’t seem to care, lost in his seemingly hilarious joke.

Aziraphale, meanwhile, glared at him, revolted, and hissed, “Remind me again, why are we friends?”  

“Fuck, that was a good one.” Crowley  wiped his eyes from beneath his shades, wheezing out some annoying, residual giggles. After he was all laughed-out, the boy leered at Aziraphale, face red and lips curled. “And- and you choose to hang with me because I’m irresistibly charming.” 

Aziraphale’s tone bled with sardonicism.  “Oh, please. A sack of potatoes has more charm than you, dear boy.” 

Shit!” Crowley gasped, and pulled his lips into a pout. If he hadn’t been wearing sunglasses, he would’ve batted his eyelashes. “You don't mean that! Aren’t I pretty, Az?” 

Aziraphale snorted softly, eyes averted, but didn’t say anything else. His cheeks flushed a tad.

Crowley laughed at his reaction, and, before he could stop himself, mumbled, “You’re cute when you blush, you know that?” 

Aziraphale flushed harder, embarrassed, and this time, was not alone. 

Crowley choked out a cough, though the end came out distorted-like. Aziraphale pointedly turned his head back to his book, hair falling in his eyes.

The remainder of lunch passed by in silence, broken only by the occasional rustle of a page being flipped, or a short tune being hummed awkwardly. 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

On Tuesday, English went on as usual. 

Brother Pulsifer began by assigning different members of the class to read the speaking parts to the short scene before Hamlet's soliloquy. Aziraphale took notes on whatever Brother Pulsifer drew attention to, because he knew it would show up on quizzes. Crowley sat quietly next to him, paging through the book but not bothering to take notes. Then Brother Pulsifer took over during Hamlet's speech.

"Let's do a few lines at a time, okay?" he said, addressing everyone. "To be, or not to be, that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them. What do you think Hamlet is talking about and feeling here?"

Thirty blank faces stared back at him, until Aziraphale raised his hand.

"Does anyone else have an opinion?" He looked around. "No? Anybody? Alright, Aziraphale?"

"Hamlet's life has been torn apart. His mum has married his uncle, which he considers despicable, and he has learned that his father was murdered. He is inconsolable and distraught. Here he is looking at the moral implications of suicide -- to be or not to be, or, to live or to die. He is asking whether it is braver to suffer, or to do something within his own power to make the pain stop."

Crowley stopped flipping through his book and raised his head to pay attention after Aziraphale spoke.

"You bring up moral implications," Brother Pulsifer said. "Don't you think he's already made up his mind?"

"No," Aziraphale said, "because of the next lines in which he says, To die -- to sleep. To sleep -- perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub! For in that sleep of death what dreams may come... He is debating with himself over what may happen in the afterlife; that dying is more than merely sleeping."

"Is he frightened?"

"I believe so. I also believe that Hamlet, based on previous scenes, is a spiritual man. That may influence his decision more than the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to, as he says. He is uncertain that what may come after death is worse than what he must endure here."

"Interesting. You believe he fears death because of his spirituality?"

"Or religious beliefs, yes. The text is rife with spiritual overtones, such as the mentions of Heaven during Hamlet's conversation with his father's ghost, and especially during the scene in which Hamlet hesitates to kill Claudius while he's praying, because Hamlet fears he will send Claudius to Heaven."

"Mhm," Brother Pulsifer agreed, something shining in his eyes, "which happens in an act we haven't covered yet."

Aziraphale heard Crowley snicker under his breath, and blushed. "Perhaps I've read ahead," he admitted, sheepishly. 

"Perhaps," Brother Pulsifer said, in a tone Aziraphale knew meant he was more impressed than annoyed. Aziraphale ducked his head back down, and felt the gazes of his classmates boring through him, including Crowley’s.

The rest of the period seemed to pass by with a line-by-line dissection of the rest of Hamlet's soliloquy, and it was all quite nice, until there was a knock on the door. 

Brother Pulsifer strolled toward it, and once it was opened, a pair of students rushed in, carrying multiple little boxes. 

Every year, the NHS held a mini fundraiser during Valentine’s, in which they sold overpriced, heart-shaped candy grams to those who felt a need to anonymously impress their crushes and girlfriends. And, every year, Carmine Zuigiber received dozens of them, and did her very best to show them off. 

“Another one for me?” she asked, voice dripping with faux surprise when one of the members placed a chocolate box on her desk. “Oh, wow!” Her friends clapped for her, as another two boxes were presented. “Oh, my god!” 

Some of the braver souls around her (i.e, Crowley), rolled their eyes and scoffed. 

Aziraphale only shook his head, and sighed as Carmine squealed once more. 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

“I didn’t think it’d rain this hard today.” 

“Well, it’s February. Rains a lot this month, doesn’t it?” 

Aziraphale watched the drops of water combine with others, and form large streaks across the window. “I thought that was more in the summer. July, August?” 

“Probably just an occasion, then. Hey, you know what they say. Rain is just God’s sweat or something, innit? Must be working real hard up there.” 

Aziraphale said nothing for a while, deep in thought. The only audible sound was that of the Bentley’s windshield wipers. Then, he piped up, “Did you get that from Diary of a Wimpy Kid?” 

“What?” 

“Did you get that from Diary of a Wimpy Kid?” Aziraphale repeated, carefully enunciating each word. “I distinctly remember reading something along those lines back in primary school.” And he also remembered that, at the age of ten, he’d told Father about that particular line, and found that all of his Diary of a Wimpy Kid books disappeared the next day.

Crowley snorted, as if Aziraphale had just uttered the daftest thing in all of existence. “Haven’t the foggiest what you’re on about.” The truth was, he’d torn through Jeff Kinney’s books back in the beginning of secondary school, but was too abashed to admit it. 

“Hm,” Aziraphale turned his head away from the window and faced Crowley, who was looking straight ahead. “Now that I think about it, the protagonist reminds me of you, a bit.” 

Crowley bristled. He knew very well who the protagonist of those books was. He also knew about the lad’s reputation in those novels. “What do you mean?” 

“Oh, you know,” Aziraphale started, blaśe. “I forgot his name, but he was quite like you, in a way. Thought he was 'super cool'.” 

Crowley turned his head ever so slightly toward his friend, eyes still on the road. “Excuse me?”  

“Yes! He- he used to make fun of all the ‘lame kids’, but he was no better himself, I recall.” 

“Are you insulting me?” 

“Oh, no!” Aziraphale paused. “Well, a little, but-”

“You’re calling me a loser? You, of all people?” 

So sure, maybe Crowley wasn’t the most popular bloke in school, but that didn’t make him lame, right? People were only hesitant to talk to him because his sunglasses made him look weird, and he scowled a lot. People only thought he was arrogant, and spoiled, and didn’t count his blessings because he’d chosen to leave his wealthy parents behind. Some people, like Carmine, only took interest in him because he was a bit of a lucky bastard, and qualified as ‘attractive’, but that interest dissipated as soon as they had a single conversation with him. They expected him to be rogue and rebellious and bad, and he sort of was, in a way, but not the way people desired. His version of ‘bad’ included tripping students in hallways and pulling fire alarms. He’d tried the whole ‘skipping school, getting inked and smoking behind bleachers’ shtick for a while, though it just wasn’t him. 

But, he was still cool, right?

Every thought that flew through his head said otherwise. 

Crowley startled when Aziraphale laughed, and batted him on the shoulder. “Yes, I am. And, I fully well know what you’re implying, dear boy, to which I whole-heartedly agree.” He could feel Aziraphale’s gaze on him, could feel the intensity in those eyes. “I just happen to be a loser, myself, too.” 

He sounded so sure, so unwavering in labeling himself, so proud with his self-deprecation, that Crowley felt the urge to tell him otherwise. But, he wouldn’t really be telling the truth, now, would he? He’d be lying, because Aziraphale, in the gentlest way this could be said, was a loser, just like him. 

Aziraphale was awkward, and a tad shy, and too smart to be acceptable, and dressed like a gay, tartan-loving English professor from the 19th century. He read too much, babbled too much, ate too much. He was what all the grown-ups expected in a young adult, but wasn’t exactly ideal in the eyes of his own peers. He was the type of boy you asked to do your homework, and then never paid back. He was the type of boy who had genuine conversations with the teachers, not just to brownnose. He was the type of boy who people laughed about, and cursed out, for no reason.

He was a loser

And Crowley wouldn’t really want him any other way. 

“Well,” he swallowed, cringing at the hoarseness of his own voice, and casting Aziraphale a quick glance. “guess we can just be losers together then, eh?”

The glow of his friend’s grateful smile was enough to blind him, even through his sunglasses. 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

“I’ll see you tomorrow?” It was a bit of a routine now, for him to ask this. 

“Yes,” Aziraphale laughed in response, and then ducked his head into Crowley’s window, mindless of the rain, grinning like an idiot. “You know, I never said thanks for Saturday.” 

There was about a four centimetre distance between them (not that Crowley was counting, or anything), and their proximity made his heart race. He saw Aziraphale shiver, and said, “You can say your thanks later, Az. Go home, it’s fuckin’ pouring.” 

Aziraphale only smiled wider. “Well then, I mustn’t take long.” And then, he leaned in, close enough for Crowley to make out every fleck and shade of blue through Aziraphale’s wet glasses. “Saturday was... some of the most fun I’ve had in my life.” A pause, in which Crowley’s heart went from ‘racing’ to ‘jumping and spinning and running around in little circles.’ 

Then, almost as an afterthought, Aziraphale added, “I’m glad to have had it with you, my dear.” His hot breath brushed over Crowley’s cheek, and it should’ve been disgusting. But Aziraphale’s breath smelled like mint and, strangely, tea. Not the shitty kind you bought at cafes and made from tea bags, but actual tea leaves. It was nice, in a very Aziraphale-esque way. 

“Thanks,” Crowley managed to breathe out, eyes caught on a single tinge of mingled sapphire and cerulean. “It was, er. Same. Same for me, I mean.” 

“I hope we can do it again, sometime.” Aziraphale hummed, and then frowned, “But I’m not watching any horror movies.” 

Crowley snickered, though the noise was a bit weak. “Chicken.” 

Aziraphale squawked. “Excuse me? You were practically in my lap the whole time, Crowley, so you can’t talk!” 

No, I wasn’t.” The flush on his face said otherwise. In his defense, The Conjuring was a creepy movie. “Now, shoo! Go home, or you’ll catch something. Not that I’d really care, mind.” Again, the deep flush on his face said otherwise. “Would teach you right.” 

Aziraphale didn’t argue, only rolled his eyes, and reached through the window to tap his shoulder dismissively. “Alright, then. Good night, Crowley.” 

“G’night.” 

And with that, Aziraphale swiftly turned on his heel, dashing through the rain with his rucksack over his head, leaving his flustered friend behind.