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dreaming out loud

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It was a cool summer night, and the quiet was punctuated by laughter, the soft strains of Debussy playing from a car radio, and the occasional rustle of leaves as a gentle breeze blew through. Crowley and Angel sprawled out on the hood of the black car, happily drunk and bathing in moonlight. The former studied the night sky critically, pretending he could pick out actual constellations, and attempted to describe them to his companion, who chose to humor him.

“Angel, Angel, Angel, check it out.” Crowley had one eye closed, lining up his vision with his friend’s, and he attempted to trace a distant shape with one finger. “That’s the constellation Aziraphale.”

“It is not,” was the fond reply. Angel had long since gotten past wincing when he heard his given name, especially from Crowley’s mouth. It wasn’t something he heard often, and when it was his best friend saying it, he almost always had a good reason. Like, for instance, an irrepressible urge to wax intellectual about the stars.

Crowley smiled a crooked, lazy grin and shifted closer, the leather of his shoes squeaking against the metal of the car. “It is, really,” he insisted, pointing to the cluster of stars more emphatically. “He’s got wings, and a halo, see? There’s a wonderful story to go with it, too.”

Angel smiled back at him, helpless to resist the spark in his deep brown eyes, the childlike excitement in his voice. “Let’s hear it, then.”

“The Greeks said,” Crowley began, in the tones of a fairytale, “that there was once an angel. A most beautiful, radiant, effervescent, positively magnificent angel. He was called Aziraphale, but most everyone just knew him as Angel, because he was the only one worth mentioning.”

A soft snort from beside him encouraged his dramatics, and he reached for his friend’s hand, twining their fingers together. Angel’s skin was soft and warm, and he gave Crowley’s hand a little squeeze.

“Legend has it,” Crowley continued, “that Angel was the fairest in all the worlds, like Narcissus but more humble, Aphrodite but more modest, Persephone but… taller.”

“Taller, you say?” Angel tried and failed to keep the laughter out of his voice. He enjoyed hearing Crowley’s somewhat nonsensical ramblings, didn’t want to tease him too hard. Crowley didn’t mind.

“Just a bit taller. She was quite statuesque. That’s not the point.” Crowley reached across the hood of the car, grabbing the bottle of Malbec and taking a hearty swig.

Running his free hand through his messy curls, Angel chuckled softly. “Then what is the point, pray tell?”

Crowley frowned, set the bottle down gently so as not to scratch the paint on the car, and furrowed his brow deeply. His sharp features softened by the moonlight, he looked almost pitiable, lost in thought as he was. “I don’t know,” he said at last, “I forgot. You know the story, though, don’t you?”

He turned to see blue eyes blinking back at him, wide and shining, before his friend spoke. “The fake Greek myth you were making up off the top of your head? No, I’m afraid I don’t know that one.”

“It’s about you,” Crowley said, a hint of a whine in his voice.

“I’m not an angel,” said Angel, his voice honeyed and soothing. “It’s just my name.”

Crowley smiled and rested his head somewhat awkwardly on his friend’s shoulder. “Yeah, but I named you that because you are one.”

Angel shook his head, tutting softly, but he leaned into Crowley’s touch. “I’m pretty sure you named me that because you couldn’t pronounce my actual name.”

“Yeah, well, you needed a new one, anyway,” Crowley said, before adding as an afterthought, “and I was three years old.”

“I know, you’re right,” Angel conceded, then flashed a mischievous smile. “Glad you gave me this name, though, else I might’ve had to go by my surname my whole life, like a cop or something.”

“A cop? Ouch,” Crowley said, clutching his chest dramatically. “I thought you had some respect for the sanctity of our friendship.”

Angel made a sweeping gesture at the open sky above them, the field around them, the trees in the distance. “We’re out in the wilderness, Anthony,” he explained, “there are no rules.”

Crowley pondered this statement, looking out at the grass and the trees, and then he smiled. He propped himself up on one elbow, looking down at his friend with a sense of fresh excitement. “Let’s play a game,” he said brightly.

Angel held out a hand wordlessly for the bottle of wine, and Crowley handed it to him immediately. He sat up and took a long drink, draining the last of the bottle, before responding. “What sort of game?”

“We’ll ask each other questions,” Crowley said, “and we have to be completely honest when we answer.”

Angel furrowed his brow in confusion. “Isn’t that just a conversation?”

“No,” Crowley said with a scoff, sounding almost incredulous. “You can’t be trying to imply that you’re always honest with me.”

After thinking on this for a moment, Angel shook his head. “No, I suppose I’m not,” he said sheepishly.

Crowley moved past the admission without a second thought; it wasn’t news to him. “Do you want to play the game?”

“Yeah,” Angel murmured, “why not.” He took a deep breath and turned to his companion expectantly. “You go first.”

Crowley twisted his body around to grab another bottle of wine from the roof of the car, a Pinot Grigio that he had nicked from his roommate five years ago. He’d been saving it for a special occasion, and tonight was special enough, even if the only occasion was the urge to drink a lot of wine. Fishing out his pocket knife, he worked the cork out and lay back down on the car’s hood, face to the stars. He took a sip and handed the bottle to Angel, who drank while Crowley spoke. “Do you believe in God?”

Angel thought for a long time about that. Unlike Crowley, who tended to hem and haw and correct himself mid-sentence, Angel preferred to know what he was going to say before he said it. Crowley knew this, and he respected it, and he sat in silence while his friend mulled over the question. “I think so,” Angel said finally, his words slow and purposeful. “Not in the… traditional sense, I don’t think. I mean, I don’t trust him, but I think he exists in some form or another. I just think… we can’t be all there is.”

“You don’t think we’re enough?” Crowley used his free hand to make a broad gesture to indicate their whole setup: the car, the wine, their bodies pressed close, their fingers entangled.

“No, it’s not that,” Angel said with a soft laugh. “If the whole universe was just us, just this, nobody would need a God.” He took a deep breath and held it for a moment before exhaling. “Just – it’s presumptuous, I think, to assume we know everything, or that we can know everything. That everything is observable and has been observed.”

“Wow, Angel,” Crowley breathed, “you’re so smart.”

“Oh, I don’t know about all that.” Though the light was too low to see Angel’s skin redden, his voice gave away his embarrassment. He was not usually prone to humility, but the sincerity of the compliment coming from Crowley was something different from the general flatteries he tended to receive.

“No, you are, you are,” Crowley assured him soundly. “Okay, your turn. Ask me a question.”

Trying to come up with a good question, Angel found himself distracted, his gaze sweeping down the long lines of Crowley’s body, his willowy limbs woefully underdressed for the chill of the night. “Are you cold?”

Crowley blinked. “I guess, a little. That was a lame question.”

Angel ignored him, was already busy shimmying out of his jacket, an outdated, camel-colored thing that Crowley positively hated. He laid it on top of Crowley and placated his protests with firm scolding. “Here – no, I know, I know you think it’s ugly, but it’s just us out here, and you’re shivering. Please take the jacket.”

Crowley glowered a little and then sniffed, turning his nose up at the coat even as he curled himself under it like a blanket. “Only because you asked so nicely,” he muttered.

“Thank you. Now give me another question.”

Taking a deep inhale, closing his eyes, Crowley spoke softly. “What do you think the point is?”

“The point?” Angel’s tone was genuinely confused. This was abnormal for him; he had a tendency to understand even the most convoluted of Crowley’s ramblings, but the alcohol in his system had other ideas.

“Yeah,” Crowley breathed, “the point of everything. All of it. Life, Earth, whatever.”

Angel huffed out all the air in his lungs. “That’s heavy. I don’t know. I think…” He paused, moving marginally closer to Crowley as he processed his thoughts on the subject. “I think the point is that we don’t get to know what the point is. The point is… to figure out what the point is.” Hearing Crowley’s small hum of acknowledgement, he turned to his friend. “What do you think?”

“I think the point is love,” Crowley answered without hesitation. It wasn’t the type of rehearsed answer that comes of having considered a subject at length before arriving at a conclusion; no, this answer came from the very depths of Crowley’s soul. He didn’t know he was going to say it until he said it, and only then did he realize how true it was.

“Love?” Angel raised an eyebrow, not judgmentally.

“Yeah,” Crowley said, quiet but firm. “Just… to share love and give love and spread love.”

Angel laughed, nudging Crowley’s ribs gently with his elbow. “That’s Rent,” he teased. “You’re just quoting Rent.”

“So I am,” replied Crowley in a dreamy voice, pondering the fact, as he actually hadn’t noticed that he was reciting the lyrics to Seasons of Love. “Jonathan Larson knew what he was talking about. Measure your life in love, Angel.”

Rolling his eyes, giving Crowley a fond smile, Angel answered drily, “The Angel in that show died.”

“But what a life,” Crowley sighed, “so much love. Can you imagine that much love?”

“Of course I can.” The reply was quick and matter-of-fact, as if Angel were surprised Crowley would even ask. “Don’t have to imagine it, actually,” he added.

Crowley turned to look at his companion’s face, wrinkling his brow. “What do you mean?”

“Well, I’ve got you.” Angel curled in closer to Crowley’s side, sharing his warmth, slinging an arm across his chest protectively. Almost possessively, but not quite.

Crowley pressed his face into Angel’s shoulder to hide the giddy smile that brought out of him. “You have got me,” he agreed, but he was still thinking, analyzing his life as it compared to a movie. “You think it’s the same? The same as that big musical theatre love?”

Angel shook his head, making a small noise of dissent in his throat. “I think it’s more,” he explained. “It’s better, because it’s real.”

Crowley frowned. “Is it?”

“Real?” Angel laughed. “Of course it is.”

“Obviously it’s real,” Crowley said with a small laugh in return, poking Angel lightly in the chest, as if to prove his corporeality. “Just – does that make it better? Real is scary. Real is hard.”

There was a long beat of silence as Angel contemplated Crowley’s words. When he spoke, his voice was soft, but his tone bordered on accusatory. “How long have we been friends?”

“Twenty-three years and change,” Crowley answered immediately, “why?”

Angel fixed an intense gaze on Crowley’s face, searching his eyes for something unsaid. “Do you know how many times you could watch Rent in twenty-three years?”

“No,” Crowley said. He thought for a moment, and added, “Neither do you.”

“No, I don’t,” Angel agreed. “But what I’m getting at is… it’s a lot. Whatever kind of love they could fit into a few hours of a rock musical, we’ve got it beat by a long shot, believe me.”

Crowley didn’t say anything, just tightened his grip on Angel’s hand and buried his head further in the crook of his neck. He knew it was true, knew that the connection between the two of them was more significant than any fiction could recreate, but he had never been able to articulate it. All he could do was hold on to it.

“For what it’s worth,” Angel murmured after a short silence, “I don’t think this is scary, or hard.”

Crowley raised his eyebrows, unseen by his companion. “No?”

“No. And I think – well, real is better than a movie, because – because you can change it.” Angel took a deep breath, the movement of his chest shuffling Crowley’s position slightly, and tightened his arm around Crowley. “You’ve got control over it, sort of. I mean, you can’t change what other people do, but you can decide what you do. And when it’s a movie… well. Angel’s going to die every time you watch it, isn’t she?”

Crowley thought on that for a long time, and nodded his head slowly. “Yeah,” he said quietly, “I suppose so.” He hesitated before continuing, apprehensive, “Do you – do you want to change… something?”

“I didn’t say that,” Angel answered hastily. “I just… I like having control. I like having the option.”

“I know you do,” said Crowley. He did know. He knew his friend better than anyone, and he knew that holding the reins made him feel safe, and he knew that he didn’t like being subject to other people’s whims. It was one of the things Crowley admired most about him. “And I… I like knowing how things are going to end.”

Angel hummed a few bars of Arabesque No. 1 along with the tune floating out from the car windows, nodding his understanding, rubbing a reassuring hand along Crowley’s arm. “And what about us?”

“What about us?” Crowley asked, and Angel was immediately endeared by the innocent confusion in his voice.

“How do you think this is going to end?”

Crowley sucked in a breath, shuddered, and heaved a pitiful sigh. “I hope it doesn’t,” he murmured.

“Everything ends,” Angel said in what he hoped was a soothing tone, trying to get in front of Crowley’s tendency toward fits of anxiety when presented with concepts like mortality, or the inescapable passage of time. “You think we just keep going like this forever?”

Crowley jerked his head up, nearly colliding with his friend’s chin. He looked at Angel with a frantic sense of urgency, a fear in his eyes. “You think we don’t?”

“I don’t know what I think.” Angel closed his eyes, shook his head slowly. “But I… one of us could change something, and then… the ending would change.”

“Would it change for the better?” Crowley’s voice was small and unsure, and he lay his head back down, shifting to alleviate some of the awkwardness of the position.

“See, there’s the tricky part,” said Angel, and he cleared his throat before continuing. “It’s like I said – you can’t control the reaction. If I – if one of us did… something, then how it affects the ending... it would depend on the reaction.”

Crowley chewed on his lip, trying to parse the words for some sort of meaning. “I think I don’t know what we’re talking about anymore,” he said at last. “I’m too drunk for this.”

Laughing, Angel gave him a light swat on the arm. “You’re barely tipsy, get over yourself.”

“Okay, I’m not too drunk,” Crowley conceded, “but I’m too something. And you’re too vague. All these hypotheticals, it’s hurting my head. What are we talking about?”

Angel weighed several options in his head, considering the best way to move forward. He wanted to get this out in the open, he really did, but it was a difficult thing to say, and he hadn’t even thought about bringing it up until about two minutes ago, so he hadn’t had much time to work out a game plan. He trod on, slowly and carefully. “I guess I’m trying to say… you’re my best friend.”

“You picked a bloody stupid way to say it, then,” Crowley interrupted with a put-on annoyance.

“I’m not done, please shut up.” Steadying himself with a breath, Angel pressed on. “You’re my best friend, and if I did do something, to change something, I don’t know how you’d feel about it. I don’t know how I’d feel about it. And it’s just… it could go wrong, and I don’t want that.”

Crowley quirked one eyebrow up, cocked his head to look at his friend’s face. “How wrong could it possibly go?”

“Well, I don’t know. I don’t know,” Angel admitted. “That’s the thing, I don’t know what will happen. And... what we have right now, it’s good. If we could keep going like this forever, I’d be happy.”

“We can,” Crowley assured him, frowning. “We can, Angel, forever.”

Angel nodded his head, sighed wistfully. “But I’d always wonder, I think, what would happen if I…”

“If you what?” Crowley pressed, narrowing his eyes.

Biting back the urge to just say it already, the impulsive need to get it out, Angel looked away, slightly ashamed. “Crowley, do you know how important you are to me?”

“I think so,” Crowley replied, hardly hesitating at Angel’s sudden veering off course, but still speaking with caution. He wasn’t insecure about their friendship, he entertained no delusions of imbalance or inferiority. He was sure of very few things in the world, and Angel was at the top of the list. But he was not one to show his whole hand, even to his best friend, not one to easily open himself up to the possibility of disappointment. “I mean,” he added, “I hope as important as you are to me.”

Angel was too caught up in his own thoughts to reassure his friend, to confirm his belief. “Do you know how much I could never stand to lose you?” he asked, his voice quiet and fervent.

Crowley simply looked at him for a few long moments, studying his face, mulling over his question. In that time, seeing the uncertainty and anxiety in his friend’s expression, something snapped inside him, and he made a decision. “You are a hypocrite,” he said finally, his tone flippant, choosing not to elaborate without prompting.

Angel blinked, reeling from the unexpected statement. “What?”

“A hypocrite,” Crowley repeated, slower this time, maintaining deliberate eye contact. “All your hypotheticals and what-ifs, and you try to tell me you’re not scared? You’re not avoiding the truth because it’s easier than taking a risk? It’s just like me, hiding in a movie. It’s the same thing.”

“I’m not… I’m not avoiding the truth,” Angel spluttered, fumbling over his words, caught entirely off guard by Crowley’s calling him out. “I’m… getting there.”

Crowley barked out a short, bitter laugh. “You’re taking the scenic route.”

Huffing out a breath, Angel turned to him, rather put out. “Well, what would you prefer?”

Crowley used the momentum of his inexplicable, sudden confidence to continue speaking. Might as well go all the way, he thought, if he was halfway there already. “Angel,” he said quickly, before he could talk himself out of it, “I’d prefer it if you kissed me.”

Angel choked on an inhale, his mouth hanging open. “Oh,” he said lamely.

“I’d prefer it if you kissed me ten years ago, actually,” Crowley continued, hoping that his friend would say or do something soon, because he was at risk of beginning to ramble. He didn’t want to ramble, he could think of many things he would rather do than ramble to fill an awkward silence, but he could feel it coming on.

“Oh,” Angel said again.

Too much to hope for, then, that Angel would meet him halfway after he gave him a shock like that. Although, he thought, it shouldn’t have been such a shock, considering he was almost positive that had been where Angel was going with his vague and convoluted diatribe. And even if it wasn’t, in any case, he was glad to have it out in the open. Crowley sighed. “Does that clear things up for you?”

“Yes, quite,” Angel said, and he shuffled closer, his face inches from Crowley’s. He let his gaze roam his friend’s face, examining the line of his jaw, the curve of his lips, the way his eyelashes fanned out, almost inhumanly thick. “Thank you,” he added as an afterthought.

Crowley rolled his eyes, his lips quirking up in spite of himself. “Are you going to kiss me now?” he asked pointedly.

Angel whispered, “Yes, I do believe I am,” and closed the infinitesimal gap between them to press their lips together.

It was soft, and firm, and gentle, and chaste, and it made something shift inside Crowley, a door opening up and pouring warmth into every part of him. He sighed into the kiss, all the tension running out of him, melting against Angel’s broad chest. Crowley both heard and felt his friend’s breath catch as he pulled away, gave himself some distance to see Angel looking at him reverently with those big blue eyes.

Crowley had never consciously thought in any sort of detail about Angel’s eyes, but he found himself hypnotized by them now, staring deep into them in such close proximity. They were a solid sort of blue, not the watery light blue of the sky or the ocean or whatever else people compared blue eyes to. Angel’s eyes were blue like the threads of a rich robe, the gem in a gold ring. There was a sort of impenetrable depth to them, an opacity that promised secrets beyond reach, and Crowley wanted nothing more than to dive into that mystery. It occurred to him, faintly, in the back of his mind, that all he had to do was ask, that Angel would tell him anything if he asked. Nearly anything. And he would do the same in return.

“What are you thinking?” The question was tentative and nervous, a tone that ill suited Angel’s attitude, the way he carried himself normally. Crowley didn’t like the thought of his friend being scared to ask him anything.

“I’m thinking about you,” he said simply, not breaking the intense eye contact he had established.

Angel swallowed, licked his lips quickly. “Good things?”

“Always,” Crowley reassured him. “I’m thinking about how completely I belong to you.”

“Nonsense,” Angel said on a breath. “You don’t belong to anyone.”

“Oh, but I do, I do,” murmured Crowley. “I’ve always been yours, first and foremost.”

“Really?” Angel’s words were not even a whisper, hardly a breath. “I thought it was just me. Yours, entirely, forever.”

“Forever,” Crowley repeated, and then he was silent, cataloging every feature on his friend’s face, memorizing him as best he could.

The smallness in Angel’s voice had dissipated when he spoke next, not confident, but curious, as if he didn’t know the answer to his question, but he knew whatever Crowley said would please him. “Do you think this changes our ending?”

Crowley pressed his lips together in a line, smiled and shook his head. “No,” he said, as sure of himself as ever. “No, it was always going to be this.”

“It was always going to be this,” Angel echoed, then chuckled softly to himself.

“What?” Crowley’s smile widened at the sight of Angel’s joy. “What’s funny?”

Angel nodded his head toward the distant horizon, and took the opportunity to wrap himself around Crowley when he turned to look. He placed his chin on Crowley’s shoulder, his lips nearly grazing Crowley’s ear, and pulled him close to his chest. Inhaling the scent of grass and wine and whatever cosmetics Crowley thought he needed to survive, Angel closed his eyes and felt Crowley settle into his embrace.

He didn’t need to say anything, didn’t need to tell Crowley any more than he had been able to convey with a jerk of his head, but he felt the need to answer the question aloud, regardless. Something about completion, or closure, he thought, as he murmured: “The sun is rising.”