Aziraphale has not shut up in thirty-four minutes. Crowley’s been counting.
He wonders if Aziraphale even remembers what it was they had been talking about when he started, which had been whether reality television really belonged to either side, or if it were just a thing humans had done all on their own. Crowley hadn’t been per se responsible for it, but he had taken credit for it in one of his reports; Aziraphale had then launched into a lengthy and surprisingly intense diatribe about its heavenly origins, which had not been especially persuasive considering that Aziraphale obviously does not have a very clear picture as to what television, reality or otherwise, actually is.
Now he is talking about bees something-or-other. Crowley has stopped listening.
He’s just watching. He’s warm and cosy and distracted, and he’s more than satisfied to just be watching.
Aziraphale’s animated like this, his hands flying, his eyes bright, his mouth somehow naturally drawn into a smile as he goes on and on. He occasionally runs out of breath, and he occasionally tries to say too many words at one time; he drinks an obsessive amount of tea, even though when they’d started his cup had been a wine glass and his earl grey had been a rather nice cabernet sauvignon.
There’s just something captivating in his enthusiasm, Crowley thinks, as if he’s still so downright enchanted by the world they’ve landed on. Maybe that ought to be expected in someone like Aziraphale—delighted appreciation and earnest sentiment being rather the designated wheelhouse of the ethereal—but it’s not actually like Aziraphale himself, who is more inclined to fuss grumpily over the quality of petit fours at high tea and who is not above scrambling a few human memories for the sake of protecting his books.
Crowley suspects that Aziraphale is like this all the time, though, deep down, and that he just prefers not to show it. It’s the self-preservation of an angel in a world that constantly demands he be something just a bit different than what he really is, and every time Crowley gets a glimpse beyond the curtain, he falls a little more in love.
The thought catches Crowley totally off-guard, and he nearly falls from his perch on the arm of Aziraphale’s beat-up old sofa. In love?
Aziraphale doesn’t notice, thank Whomever—he’s too busy raving about whether declining bee populations will cause the actual apocalypse—and Crowley swallows heavily, trying to calm the surge of anxiety prickling through his skin.
What a phenomenally rude realisation. In love! With Aziraphale! Without even asking his own permission! In love with an angel, and his dusty shop and his worn waistcoat and the way he actually has to crowd his voice around a giggle to keep on talking about how honeybees dance in order to communicate with one another, and his rose-patterned teacup he materialised out of a wine glass and his tweed jacket and his tartan bow tie, and Crowley suddenly reaches up and snaps his sunglasses off with one hand because Aziraphale is sitting right there and Crowley wants to see him properly if he’s going to bloody well be in love with him.
Aziraphale, for the first time in nearly three-quarters of an hour, stutters to a stop. “Crowley?”
Crowley blinks, taking an unnecessarily deep breath. “Aziraphale,” he answers, and oh, it sounds different now, it feels different now, with all that realisation crowding up behind it. Aziraphale-I-love-you, all huddled into one word.
“Are you quite all right?” Aziraphale asks. “You look like you’ve seen God herself.”
“No,” Crowley chokes out, because God would have nothing on this, on Aziraphale’s blue eyes and his slightly flushed cheeks and his gentle hands, drumming his fingers uncertainly on the arms of his chair as if he wants to reach out but he’s stopping himself. “No, I just—” he takes another breath, trying to find the thread of a thought. “I just. Bees, you know. Who knew?”
Aziraphale looks at him, his scepticism plain. “Ye-es,” he agrees cautiously. “That’s what I was saying. It’s called a waggle dance, if you can believe that. Bees use it to—”
“It’s just,” Crowley interrupts, before he even realises he’s going to. “Do you have any idea how long you’ve been talking?”
It comes out wrong, of course, and Aziraphale huffs, closing himself up, walling himself off. It’s astonishingly painful to watch, like watching him tuck away his brilliant white wings, cramping them uncomfortably out of existence—like he’s hiding, almost self-consciously, covering over the dazzling, shining proof of what makes Aziraphale Aziraphale.
What makes Aziraphale extraordinary.
Crowley is on his feet in the next instant. “No,” he says, gesturing vaguely. “That’s not what I meant, I meant—” but he couldn’t actually say what he meant, could he? not exactly polite evening conversation between an angel and a demon— “I just mean, you know, it’s just really, well—” he flounders, flopping about for something to say like a fish on the deck of the Pequod, out of place and utterly underwhelming, and settles, inexplicably, on— “Charming.”
Aziraphale’s eyebrows fly up to somewhere near his hairline. “Charming?”
Crowley tries again. “Well, what I mean is that, you know. You’re you.”
“Very well spotted,” Aziraphale says, a little snippily. The teacup in his hand, sensing what’s good for itself, leaps back into a wine glass, even going so far as to improve the cab sauv’s vintage by several years. “You haven’t even heard a word I’ve been saying, have you? Well, it’s all well and good for you, I suppose, but if you don’t want to be here, Crowley, you need only say—”
“I’m saying,” Crowley says loudly, trying very quickly to find anything to say at all that will put a stop to the rant he can see building in the line above Aziraphale’s nose, reaching for anything, stumbling head-first over his own brain like stepping into a surprise roller-skate, half-falling, half-flying down a flight of stairs, landing hard at the bottom and spitting out the truth, “that you’re perfect.”
The bookshop is suddenly very quiet.
“I beg your pardon?” Aziraphale manages, after a moment. The cab sauv alternates very quickly between a better cab sauv, a vodka, and a brandy, before settling on a rather strong whisky.
And here, Crowley has to make a Decision. Possibly one of the biggest Decisions he has ever had to make, barring that whole apocalypse thing. And looking at Aziraphale as Aziraphale looks back at him, he knows, in an instant, that whatever he Decides in the next ten seconds, he’s going to have to live with it for the rest of time.
He can either dodge, or he can lean in.
It’s a risk. He thinks about whether he even really believes himself, in this moment, on the tails of this new little self-awareness. He thinks about whether Aziraphale will believe him, if Aziraphale could believe him, or if he will only laugh and keep talking about honeybees. He thinks about heaven and hell, about ramifications and consequences, about arrangements and agreements. He thinks about humans, and how they tend to rush head-long into everything, and he thinks about all the things he lost when he fell and all the things he gained, and he thinks about whether love is worth losing everything he has left.
He thinks about whether he trusts Aziraphale with this confession: a confession that would give Aziraphale the power to destroy him far more completely than a little discorporation might do.
But he also thinks that maybe, sometimes, on occasion, he’s been happy, somewhat, these last six thousand years.
He thinks that maybe, sometimes, on occasion, he’s been the happiest here: with Aziraphale.
Aziraphale sits before him, eyes wide, his mouth open in shock. The whisky in its glass trembles and shakes, almost imperceptibly, and Crowley gets the sense that if he were to dodge now, if he were to take the step back, to take the step away, he would never see that dazzling, shining, gorgeous ramble of dust and fuss that makes Aziraphale so important ever again.
Crowley swallows. His palms, for the first time in six thousand years, have the audacity to begin sweating. “I said,” he repeats, “that you’re perfect.”
“I thought that was what you said,” Aziraphale says faintly, and he tips back the entire glass of whisky all at once.
The silence in the little backroom stretches on. Crowley wonders when it was that Aziraphale got such an incredibly loud clock, and then, as it suddenly hushes up, he realises that it’s just his own nerves that’s making it tick like that.
Aziraphale clears his throat. “So what you mean to say,” he begins, puzzling through his thoughts with every twitch of his face, “is that you think . . . that I am. Just the right amount of chatty?”
Crowley can’t help it; he laughs, a bit hysterically. “No. Well, yes, but that’s not what I mean. It’s—” and here he has to stop for a moment and Decide that leaning in will never do; he’s going to have to fling himself off the cliff, entirely, wholesale— “It’s the way you talk. Not just that you do talk, though you are more or less the only person I could even have a decent conversation with these days, but that you just. You care about these things. And you tell me about it, and then I care about them, and I just. And it’s just. Nice to be around, I suppose.”
There’s another long almost-silence, and then a grandfather clock previously stationed happily in the stacks of books suddenly finds itself in the middle of an Indian jungle. The silence after that is a little more absolute.
It’s that, of course, that seems to finally tip Aziraphale out of his somewhat stunned, confused gaping and into some action. He frowns. He squints at Crowley, and he frowns a little bit deeper.
Crowley sighs, and a very surprised, shaken tick-tock begins again somewhere in the shop, though now just as muted as it usually is.
“Thank you,” Aziraphale says primly. “I like that clock.”
“Are you going to say anything else?” Crowley asks.
“I haven’t decided yet,” Aziraphale answers, and then he goes right on, saying quite a bit else. “The problem, you know, is that I don’t think you’ve said nearly as much as you think you have. Of course it’s never been said before, but given the number of conversations we’ve had over the years, it’s not exactly a secret that we like talking with one another, and it’s really got nothing to do almost at all with this perfection business. In fact,” he says, gaining steam with a self-satisfied little wriggle, like a barrister who has just discovered the lynch-pin clause in a contract dispute in the middle of open court, “no one is perfect, as proven by the failure of any ineffable planning by any ethereal beings, and so what you’ve said is actually so absurdly vague and ambiguous as to be meaningless and therefore it’s utter nonsense, unlike the extremely important communicative waggle dance of honeybees, stop smiling at me like that, it’s unnerving.”
Crowley does not stop smiling like that. He can’t; it’s like he doesn’t have any control over his face. There’s something big inside his chest, swelling up under his ribcage like a very large balloon. He has the impression that maybe it should hurt, but it doesn’t.
This is Aziraphale, Crowley thinks. No, it doesn’t hurt.
“All right,” Crowley says. “Let me say it differently then. You talk when you’re nervous.” He takes a step forward. “And you talk when you’re drunk.” He takes another. “And you talk when you’re tired.”
He’s standing directly in front of Aziraphale now, close enough to touch; Aziraphale’s eyes are relentless, so open and so blue that Crowley can almost see how the ethereal glow that lingers behind them sometimes.
He clears his throat; the big, swelling-up thing in his chest is so big now that he almost thinks he can taste it on his tongue. “And beyond all of that,” he goes on, “when you talk, when you really talk, you’re—excited. You’re thrilled with this world, the same way I’m thrilled with this world, but you have figured out how to say it. And when you talk like that, it makes me—it makes me—”
“Happy,” Aziraphale finishes softly.
Crowley nods. “Yeah. Happy.”
“But you’re wrong, though,” Aziraphale says, his gaze finally darting away. The thing in Crowley’s chest shivers, shrinking back on itself a little, but Aziraphale must be able to tell by the look on Crowley’s face because he hurries on. “I mean—I am thrilled, I am excited, when I’m talking with you, but not for the reasons you think. Faulty attribution—not your fault really. The thing is, maybe I do talk a lot, but I haven’t figured out how to say what I’m meaning to say.”
The grandfather clock in the shop pauses again, holding its breath. “What do you mean to say, then?”
Aziraphale looks back up again. “It’s not that I’m thrilled with the world, Crowley,” he admits. “It’s that I’m thrilled to be talking about it with you.”
Crowley stares at him. Aziraphale stares back. The big, golden thing in Crowley’s chest shines, and it does hurt but in the best way, like getting a bit of a sunburn in an afternoon on the water, like hearing the violin crescendo into a desperate plea over a steady piano, like finding a copy of some rare, ancient book and imagining the look on Aziraphale’s face when Crowley hands it over. Crowley hasn’t felt anything like it in a very, very, very long time, in such a long time that he’d almost forgotten what it was like, to feel that, but he knows what it is. There’s simply no mistaking a feeling like that.
He says, “I think I’m in love with you.”
“I know,” Aziraphale answers, his cheeks flushing. There’s a smile starting at the corner of his mouth. “I can feel it, now. I couldn’t before, I think. Maybe because you just realised it, didn’t you? I wonder if that’s an element to it as a general thing, or if it’s just that you’re an occult thing and I’m an ethereal thing and—maybe we should gather up some humans and run some sort of test, that could be really interesting, you know—”
“Aziraphale,” Crowley cuts off. Aziraphale stops mid-word, looking a little sheepish, but his smile doesn’t falter, and Crowley feels himself smiling again too, unstoppable, undeniable. “What’s it feel like, then?”
Aziraphale reaches out and takes Crowley’s hand; his hand is warm, and a little dry, and Crowley turns his own hand into it, curls his hand around it. He lets Aziraphale pull him in a little closer, making him lean in a bit.
“It feels the same way I feel,” Aziraphale says, and he stretches himself up, and Crowley closes his eyes just as Aziraphale kisses him.
Aziraphale kisses him.
Aziraphale kisses him, with all the feeling an angel can feel, with all the fondness and affection of the last six thousand years, and it’s like a shower of light and sound and every secret they’ve ever told, every laugh they’ve ever shared, a pinwheel firework of brushing fingers and catching each other’s eyes from across a crowded world, the single wick glowing in wait and the roman candle exploding in celebration. It’s like every glass of champagne bubbling in his stomach, and every shiny green leaf of a new plant unfurling in his hands, and every convenient reservation at the Ritz, all happening all at once, from somewhere as safe and as comforting and as free as the sofa not four steps away, tucked into a back room that smells like dust with a blanket that always manages to be warm.
It’s like coming home.
“Is that what it feels like?” Crowley says breathlessly, mumbling against Aziraphale’s mouth, one hand tucked around the lapel of his faded waistcoat, the other holding onto Aziraphale’s for dear life. “Is that what it feels like all the time?”
“No,” Aziraphale says, leaning in again. “Only when I’m with you.”
There is, perhaps unsurprisingly, very little talking after that, and no one keeps count.
Not even the grandfather clock.