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the repeated image of a lover destroyed

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Sorry about the bony elbows, sorry we
lived here, sorry about the scene at the bottom of the stairwell
                                   and how I ruined everything by saying it out loud.
           Especially that, but I should have known.
You see, I take the parts that I remember and stitch them back together
           to make a creature that will do what I say
or love me back.
                 I’m not really sure why I do it, but in this version you are not
feeding yourself to a bad man
                                               against a black sky prickled with small lights.
           I take it back.
The wooden halls like caskets. These terms from the lower depths.
                                               I take them back.

Here is the repeated image of the lover destroyed.

                                                                                           Crossed out.

—Richard Siken, Litany in Which Certain Things are Crossed Out


 

 

The year is 41. The year is 1967. The year is 1862. Does it matter?

There is a demon, and he sleeps at night, and he doesn’t think he can dream—as a direct result of being a demon, of course. Let’s say he can’t dream: in the closest approximation, he dreams of an angel at night.

The year, now, is 2019, and the demon Crowley is waking up from a restless night of sleeping. Covers are tangled around his feet and he’s cold. The window was open last night, and he’s not sure why he did that.

The apocalypse-that-never-was ripened and aged before heaven or hell could swallow them all whole. They watched as a demon and an angel transcended the normal laws of the universe, as defined by their conveniently absent Almighty God. Two angels—an angel and a demon, Crowley reminds himself, with a sour and acidic taste on his tongue—dined at the Ritz.

He’s cold, and the universe is saved, and his bed feels vast and empty. Crowley has never been one for expanses.

He considered trekking across a desert once, because it would waste a lot of pointless and heavy time, and it would be a riot to tell Aziraphale that he had trekked across a desert without even mentioning it beforehand.1 But the absolute enormity and the emptiness, the expanse, of a desert made him feel things he didn’t have human words for.2

 

 

 

Crowley has spent countless sleepy nights at a certain bookshop recently. The couch in the back is always unoccupied, except by the thin but soft blanket folded and draped over the back. It has become a home away from home even more than it was before. Still, walking in the front door makes him tense, and he feels the ghost of a flame licking away at the framework.

Adam restored everything to the way it was before. He warped reality like it was clay. But it was a bit like Aziraphale and stains on his jacket: Crowley could still feel it, underneath.

Ouch.

He doesn’t like calling the angel’s name in the front of the shop anymore. It doesn’t matter. It’s almost instinctual, now. The angel comes to the door at the sound of the bell giving a quiet and reserved jingle, a warning jingle— Do not so much as think about buying one of his books , the bell on top of the door whispers, and Crowley feels the corners of his lips twisting upwards at the thought. He can almost hear its desperate shouts when a customer happens to ignore its sirens, when they dare ask the price.

Oh, the horror! He only wishes he’d said this out loud. He thinks he could go for a hand on his nonexistent, fluttering heart like a sweet Southern Belle might do. There’s a shelf right behind him where he could lean back and fan himself, and chuckle dryly when Aziraphale rolled his eyes.

Aziraphale motions for Crowley to come to the backroom, and instinctively he flips the “OPEN” sign around so they’re alone. It’s not like Aziraphale would be making any sales now, anyway. Crowley has his suspicions that he actively plants seeds in the humans of London that make their eyes jump over the bookshop dismissively.3

“I was just making tea,” Aziraphale tells him, chipper and practically skipping to his backroom.

Crowley is well-adjusted to life as a cold-blooded creature. He slides through life with a shiver on his skin and he has no heart to pump blood. Back here with Aziraphale, the warmth is so tangible he smells it like firewood.

“Dear?”

Aziraphale leans into his line of sight with a white mug held up in question. It has little white wings and Crowley can’t help but grin; he always has when he saw it. He got it for him. He felt the kickstart of a heart he’s not so sure isn’t missing when he first noticed it was in use.

“Sure.” He blows at the cup when he takes it, although he holds it close to his chest as he settles down on his couch.

Aziraphale clutches his mug like he’s cold, too, and settles into the armchair across from him. He has freckles on his cheeks that a lot of humans wouldn’t notice. They’re shaped like the constellations he helped to build.

“I spoke with Anathema this morning,” Aziraphale says as he contemplates a sip of the still-steaming cup. “She’s well.”

“Oh!” Crowley nearly leaps out of his seat. He sets his mug down and runs out to his car without saying a word as to why.

When he turns around, Aziraphale is at the door, and he watches Crowley pull something small and brown and rectangular out of the passenger seat.

“I called her yesterday too. She didn’t really want her copy, so I thought I’d stop by her cottage to visit—” He holds out the only copy of The Nice and Accurate Prophecies , slightly singed, artfully illustrated on the first page, and Aziraphale launches himself from the doorway of the bookshop with wide eyes.

“Oh! Oh.” Aziraphale holds the book close to his chest even as he rifles through pages he’s already studied. He holds it like it’s something to be fucking worshiped . “Oh.” And he looks up at Crowley and it’s mortifying how the look in his eyes barely changes. “Crowley.”

The year is 2019.

 

 

 

It’s a month after the apocalypse-that-never-was and Crowley is feeling reckless. He drives a hundred through the streets of London and he slams on his breaks outside the bookshop. It feels like he lives his life out of the bookshop now.

Aziraphale pokes his head out into Crowley’s line of sight when the bell jingles, and this time it feels like a warning to Crowley.

Do not even think about it, demon

He crosses the distance in between them, hops over a couple of unorganized stacks of books that the angel must have gone through recently.

That’s what he’s been convincing himself of for an entire month now: Don’t think about it.

Crowley’s hands land on his waist and the side of his face, and his lips land on Aziraphale’s, and his eyes slide shut. He prays occasionally, but he doesn’t even know if that’s appropriate now. God has no business deciding whether or not the angel kisses him back. He wants Aziraphale to kiss him back. He wants Aziraphale to kiss him back.

And he does, he does—

Crowley’s heart is a whisper but it’s there—

 

 

 

The year is 41. There is a demon who travels the globe and wonders where he will rest his eyes. He has just walked down alleyways and eaten oysters with an angel, and he fears what it would be like to dream.

He has hoped for a long time that demons are physiologically incapable of loving. He thinks it would be easier and kinder, and if there is one thing God can afford him after all that She’s sentenced him to, he thinks it’s a sliver of cruel kindness. At least they would both win.

Crowley wants to listen to music and he rather wants to jump into the ocean and swim to a new continent.

Yesterday he was peacefully following orders, dutifully even, almost like an angel would. He tempted and thwarted and was ghastly as all get out when need be, and it was brilliant. It was almost fun, sometimes, when he was committing the nuisances and wasn’t forced to align himself with atrocities. Yesterday morning he found something to drink and he drank it because it would make him drunk, and tonight he’s wandering alone in Rome and he found something to drink and he drank it because it would make him numb.

He sobered up a few hours ago and now he’s left wondering if what he feels is love or if he will finish off his own damnation by saying the coveted words that only brushed at his fingertips.4

 

 

 

Aziraphale doesn’t answer his calls anymore. It’s been a week since they kissed in the bookshop and since they stumbled back inside. It felt like they were best friends again and like there was no longer anything weighing him down while he attempts to paddle through river water.

They laughed and they talked about going to Las Vegas and Crowley mentioned dancing. Aziraphale insists that he’s horrible at dancing—Crowley insists that he’s horrible at dancing. They turned on music like they were at a club in Vegas and they danced, and somehow the music became classical and instrumental and they swayed, and their chests were pressed against each other, hands on hips and shoulders and waists, hands in hair, hands on cheeks. They kissed until they were tired of it and Crowley slept on Aziraphale’s couch and Aziraphale read about birds for the rest of the night.

He went home the next morning after reading a note, Went after a book. xoxo

He’s found the bookshop locked a lot more often recently. When it’s not, Aziraphale doesn’t quite meet his eyes. Crowley offers to take him to a new restaurant that’s just opened up. They have some kind of sushi there that Aziraphale would describe as exquisite , and that Crowley would describe as worth the time spent with him . Aziraphale wonders aloud when they’re going to Las Vegas instead of answering, and foolishly Crowley laps it up despite his knowledge that it’s a subject-changer. But a trip with Aziraphale, and without the constraints of heaven or hell—

Crowley hears his home phone ringing in the other room and he lazily wonders how his blasted number got back on one of those automated call lists—he’ll terrify any poor, unassuming telemarketer who manages to break through his attempts at keeping them off—he’s not in the mood—he’s tired, if a demon can be such a thing.

He picks up the phone.

It’s Aziraphale. Oh.

He says, “Have you lost your phone again? I just bought you the new one, darling. I’m going to buy you a smartphone so you feel bad about losing it this time.”5

Aziraphale’s glare is palpable and Crowley laughs out loud, it’s so freeing to laugh, it’s so freeing to hear Aziraphale bitterly laughing along with him. “Hello to you too,” the angel mutters back at him, but it’s not so biting after he’s just finished laughing at himself. “I haven’t lost it this time, my dear. It’s broken.”

“You broke a Nokia?”

“It fell from a very high place.”

“You were in a high enough place that your Nokia broke?”

“Crowley, I was meaning to tell you this sooner, but I flew to America. There was something my head office wanted me to do. I thought it was safer to oblige than ask them to let me be.”

He’s quiet. If he speaks now it will be entirely undemonic how disappointed he sounds, and although he’s very happy being squarely in the middle of everything and not associated with the rest of his “side,” he’s not in the business of defying his entire nature just yet. It’s too terrifying, and the concept of his demonic core being terrified to this extent over one angel who he’s waited thousands of years for—it feels like blasphemy to a God and a Satan he doesn’t believe in, despite being a divine being himself.

“I can join you anytime. When you’re done, we’ll finally have an excuse to go to Las Vegas and dance again,” he says. He’s ashamed of how pleading his voice sounds. He knows he’s nothing.

“I rather think it’s the best idea that you stay at home. They could be watching.”

“They could always have been watching,” he says quietly, but Aziraphale keeps talking through him.

“I don’t want you to think I’m avoiding you, dear. It’s just easier if we breathe a little bit.” There’s a pause. “I’m not so sure I’m ready to confront a demon who can love. This is unknown to me. I need time.”

Crowley clears his throat. He nods, but Aziraphale can’t see him. “Weh- Augh. Er. I mean, yeah. No. I.” He stutters through a few more attempts at telling him it’s okay, he completely understands, they can’t just leap into things.

He has been falling from a leap since the year 41, though. Aziraphale hasn’t noticed.

“Enjoy your good deedsss,” he hisses, but with no venom to his voice. He’s just upset, and it’s hard not to let the word slide when it’s taking all of his energy not to hang up the phone and scream. “I’ll probably be in Las Vegas when you get back.”

 

 

 

Crowley has been drinking for days now. He floats between casinos and bars and clubs and this has never really been his scene, but the nightlife likes the way his clothes are dark and his hair is long and sometimes he wears eyeliner that gets smudged by the end of the night.

The year is 1967. The year is 2019.

 

 

 

Back at his apartment, there’s a note on the door, and for a moment he forgot how Aziraphale even knew where he lived. But then he remembers the night before their switcheroo, when the bed was warm, and he felt all night long like he was being heated underneath the hot sun. Eyes closed, blissful.

I’m sorry. xoxo

He looks at the note and it’s raining outside, so he opens a window and he lets it drift to the ground and get buried in the mud.

 

 

 

The year is 2020. Aziraphale is back on angelic duties and the angels keep mostly their distance, but the apocalypse-that-never-was may as well have never happened to him. Crowley does nothing for hell and nothing for the demons. He does what he likes and he hates what he does.

He calls Aziraphale at least once a week and they talk for hours and laugh, and he visits the bookshop sometimes and they drink, and he goes to dinner with him and can even be convinced to eat with him when Aziraphale is particularly excited about the restaurant.

They don’t touch at all anymore. Their fingers don’t collide. Their hands don’t find their way into each other like magnets. Their shoulders don’t brush. Crowley can’t kill the habit of glancing, every now and again, at Aziraphale’s lips.

He has stopped taking his glasses off in private. He fears his own eyes. If he paints them shut, were they ever really an indication of what he was at all? Were they ever really a boundary?

He has just hung up with Aziraphale now and he wonders what he’s going to do to fill the hours. He walks through his apartment and picks up a plant when he reaches their room.

He smashes the pot on the ground, in the middle of the floor, and he nearly vomits. The “shredded plants” of the past are planted in the back garden. This one is separated from its pot and its dirt and its home and it’s in a heap of roots and terracotta on the floor. He picks up a bigger potted plant and he smashes it against the wall. He picks up the biggest one and drops it repeatedly from a short distance, until the pot smashes.

When he’s done there aren’t any plants left potted in the room. He wonders if his plants could form a jungle and shut him in his own home and suffocate him until he is sent gasping back down to hell, the body of his corporeal self with one hand sticking up above the dirt, serpent eyes whispering away until they’re brown and Aziraphale finds him one day, in the future, when he’s curious, and it’s like a human lived a life in his place and the angel never really knew a demon at all.

He screamed as he killed every single living being in his home.

What a silly thought, Aziraphale might think. Knowing a demon.

 

 

 

He goes to the bookshop the next day and he realizes he’s forgotten his sunglasses. His eyes are bare and Aziraphale notices it, and Crowley can tell by the way he greets him. Instead of the normal smile and wave, it’s a smile, a wave, and a stuttering, “Oh- Oh. Okay.”

“Right.” He shakes his head and he starts back toward the Bentley. He should grab them. It’s not fair of him to ask anyone to stare into his soul and find it smooth and bearable.

Aziraphale grabs his arm, their first contact in so long, and Crowley’s heart is like an old car spluttering to life once again. He turns to face him and finds himself irrationally angry at the touch. He brushes the angel’s hand off of him even as Aziraphale says, “Why are you hiding from me?”

Crowley laughs. It’s the nastiest sound he has ever made to his angel. “I’m hiding from you because I’m too much of a coward to kill you mercifully.”

Aziraphale just stares at him for a second and he throws his hands up in the air. Can he be dramatic outside of his own head for once?

“I’m a demon, Aziraphale. Doesn’t that mean I can’t love?” He moves toward him, quickly, and it’s against his very nature to not push him up against the bookshelf nearest to them, but he stops himself before he does that. Instead he just stands close to him, looking down at him. Being angry at him is more like being dreadfully sad with himself, and looking down into his star-speckled cheeks is like reminding himself why he can’t get mad at the cosmos for being brought about by God’s will. “Doesn’t that mean I can’t care for you? Doesn’t that mean I should hide it so we can pretend I can even be your friend?”

“My dear.” Aziraphale won’t give into him. Crowley knows what to say to make the angel angry but he can’t bring himself to say it.

“Why don’t you love me back, angel?”

Aziraphale looks ill. His eyes are wide and so beautiful, Crowley thinks he’d create a black hole on everything else he loved in the world to avoid the loss of something so beautiful and so close to him.

“Why don’t I? ” He shakes his head and reaches out and puts his hands on either side of Crowley’s face like it’s an act of instinct. Crowley is trapped in between them and he melts and he is in danger of hissing his s’s uncontrollably should he speak with something so distracting as this. “I have loved you for almost a hundred years now!”

A hundred years! He says it like it’s a long time, but Crowley lets it go.

“Then why have you acted like I’m a fucking disease?”

Aziraphale shakes his head and it almost seems like he could cry. “I don’t know. I don’t know!”

“You can’t ignore me and refuse to even look at me sometimes, or look at me like you’re afraid when you think I won’t notice, and say you don’t know why. You’re not that cheap.”

Aziraphale looks angry even though it was not even close to an insult. “You can’t barge into my bookshop and kiss me like you did, Crowley!” he howls back, and the hands on his face slip down to his chest and he is pushed back so he isn’t right up next to him, isn’t desperately and angrily peering down at him. “You make me blasphemous. You can’t do that to an angel!”

“I don’t. I do it to you, ” he hisses at him, and he doesn’t take a step closer. He thinks Aziraphale wants him to take a step closer, and close the gap between them again.

Aziraphale looks up at him, looks between his exposed eyes, and lunges at him until their lips are pressed together, arms around each other, desperate. Crowley would cry if he actually could, and they only pull away because Aziraphale realizes that his eyes are full of tears that he can’t allow to fall onto Crowley’s face.6

“I love you,” Crowley whispers, like he’s afraid anyone else will be allowed to hear it, and he wipes the tears away with his shirtsleeve.

Aziraphale nods and he presses their foreheads against each other.

 

 

 

The year is 41. The year is 2020. The catalyst is the same but the product has changed: There is a demon who is in love with an angel. Now, there is a bookshop with a bed in the back and it’s a warm bed, and there are no empty and cold expanses.

 

 

 

 

NOTES

1. [Yes, he was angry with the angel at the time. Maybe it had been some time around 1862. He couldn’t really be bothered to remember. ]

2. [Nor words of any other variety, for that matter.]

3. [He hasn’t been able to prove it. He thinks it would be more fun to needle away at it, rather than ask outright. He’s pretty sure he’d prove himself correct in less than a day if he tried any harder. He lets the mystery dangle, waiting for some evidence to appear to him instead.]

4. [Is there any damnation left to finish off? Is he done for already?]

5. [This was not the first time Aziraphale had struggled to use the mobile phones Crowley got for him, and it was certainly not the first time he’d lost one.]

6. [Little-known fact about angels and demons: angelic tears are something akin to holy water, and leave little whispering burns on demonic skin.]