It was a sunset on the banks of the Seine, in the year 1793 if you must know, that Aziraphale the angel and the demon Crowley shared their first meal.
There had been times, of course, that the two had eaten near each other, or had eaten at the same time as each other - a bunch of grapes on the dusty floor of the Globe comes to mind - but that moment, with a plate of crepes spread out on Aziraphale’s lap, that they truly and fully shared a meal together.
Before we get into the details of what transpired on the banks of the Seine, with the sun spreading its titian arms across the river, threading it with its sinking beams and catching on what appeared to be the floating conflagrations of mankind, it might be worth noting some variations of what it means to partake in a meal.
The act of sharing a meal
eat and drink sumptuously
give (someone) a plentiful and delicious meal.
There is of course, most auspiciously, another synonym that could be put forth to provide understanding of sharing a meal:
an act or instance of sharing
If one were to get bogged down in the semantics of it all, they might point out that the complete and entire definition of the last synonym for sharing a meal is most wholly understood to be “ the sharing or exchanging of intimate thoughts and feelings, especially when the exchange is on a mental or spiritual level ,” but one does try to not get bogged down in semantics when there are crepes to be eaten and meals to be shared.
As it was said in the beginning, Crowley the demon and the angel Aziraphale first shared a meal on the banks of the Seine. It was 1793, and it was far from the beginning; and yet, it was not anywhere near approaching the end.
“I see why you almost discorporated for these.” Crowley took another sugared bite of his pastry and sank back with a satisfied groan on the bench they had claimed some quarters of an hour prior.
“I wouldn’t discorporate for just anything,” Aziraphale chided, fumbling with the utensils he’d insisted on procuring (ignoring, of course, Crowley’s pointed comment that summoning a tea set of silverware might be one of those frivolous miracles Gabriel was always harping on about. (Ah! Angels! Harping! Excellent. Very good!)), and cutting off a small piece of the delicacy.
He placed the tines of the fork in his mouth just so and sighed, with slightly less wickedness than Crowley, around the piece of crepe while it melted against his tongue. “They are quite good, aren’t they?”
Aziraphale was not quite sure why he was so eager to hear Crowley’s opinion on the matter: he loved crepes and was, as previously demonstrated, more than willing to die for the frivolous little things. But something about the prospect of Crowley enjoying them as well threatened to turn the sugar on his tongue into something even sweeter.
It boggled the mind. Truly.
“Yes, angel.” Crowley stretched his gangly, ridiculous limbs out, like a spider of epic proportions; his thumb brushed Aziraphale’s shoulder. It burned, oddly, and Aziraphale blinked his eyes twice until the burning went away. “Makes up for having to look at you in that ridiculous get-up.”
“The red is terribly obvious, isn’t it?” Aziraphale sighed and glared down at his revolutionary uniform. A thought occurred to him, one that had been simply pushed away by the presence of pastry. “Do you think they realized that man was not part of the bourgeoisie?’
“Who cares?” Crowley leaned his head back, seeming to bask in the dying rays of the sun, catching the excess warmth. Aziraphale pursed his lips and let him have the moment of reptilian joy to himself; he understood better than most that old habits died hard.
For a moment, Aziraphale wondered why Crowley still wore the strange, darkening frames over his eyes, if there were no humans nearby to see the snake-like irises of his … companion. With the sun about to vanish from the sky for the night, it was a wonder why he bothered with the shades at all.
The moment passed, and Aziraphale sighed with intensified effect. “ I care, Crowley.”
“Why’s that, angel?”
He’d developed the most irritating habit of calling Aziraphale angel; it was impossible to detect any attempt at censure or mockery in the title, the title Crowley insisted upon using. It was not as though Aziraphale walked around calling Crowley demon all day, as he was sure the epithet could never sound anything but cruel from anyone’s lips. Still, it oddly stung to hear Crowley remind him, frequently, of the differences in their stations. An angel. And a demon.
What were they playing at, anyway?
“I am an angel,” Aziraphale said stiffly, turning to frown at the Seine. He couldn’t help but flick his gaze over to Crowley, who’d sat up somewhat and was frowning at him now. Eyes back to the river. Safer there. “I care because a man might have died--”
“So?” Crowley leaned all the way forward and dropped his elbows onto his knees with a hearty scowl. “He was willing to let you die, Aziraphale. You heard it from him -- almost a thousand people, dead at his hands. His death isn’t a tragedy.”
“So he is dead, then?” It settled like an uncomfortable weight, like maybe that of a blade, around Aziraphale’s neck.
“Yes,” Crowley hissed, drawing out the s with irritating sibilance. Unlike in the early years of the Arrangement, Aziraphale refused to flinch at it. “And if they hadn’t cut his head off, I would have done it myself.”
“Would you have?” Aziraphale turned with a full frown to Crowley. “I thought outright violence was not in the interest of … of your kind.”
Crowley stared at him for an indeterminable amount of time, long enough that the edge of the sun caught in his dark glasses and reflected back onto Aziraphale, glaring in his own eyes like holy fire. He refused to blink, for he did not have the luxury of hiding behind glasses.
“We can be incited to many terrible things,” Crowley murmured after a moment, slouching back on the bench, but only slightly. “All of us can. Not just my kind. Humans, too. And angels. Trust me, I remember.”
“What was it like?” Aziraphale asked quietly. “The war.”
It was not a commonly acknowledged fact between them, the millennia that separated them. Crowley was there at the Real Beginning, when the universe began and the war raged -- he was there the day God decided to play a little game with the universe and create the mess of contradictions known as the Earth; he had created nebulae and set the constellations, had witnessed the many great and awful decisions of the Almighty, and had been cast out for asking too many questions.
Aziraphale had been Created to guard Eden, the Eastern Wall (there were a few holes in personnel that needed to be filled after The War), and hadn’t done a very good job of it. But, as angels were running thin on the ground at that point, and God had many better things to do with Her time in those days, as the demons were still roiling and the humans had started to rebel in their own way, and a few aliens had started a rip-roaring match of Fire-Skull across the galaxy, She’d been a little too distracted to play the mildly entertaining carnival game of follow-the-flaming-sword.
Crowley did not answer him until the western edge of the world had completely swallowed the sun, and not a single light glimmered in his dark glasses. His mouth opened, and no sound came out; Aziraphale leaned in closer, as though he might be able to catch a syllable or two in response to his question.
(For all his indulgences in food and spirits, there was no greater indulgence than asking Crowley questions -- the only person in the universe, it seemed, whom it was safe to do so with)
“It was …” Crowley closed his mouth again and cleared his throat, a peculiar expression on his face, one Aziraphale couldn’t begin to comprehend. Again, Crowley stared at him, and although he could not see the yellow of his eyes, Aziraphale understood that he wasn’t blinking. “Every day, I thank whoever it is that got stuck listening to demons that you weren’t there.”
“I’m not much of a fighter,” Aziraphale agreed with a huff of a laugh, fiddling his hands around his dirtied utensils. His eyes darted to the Seine, but then back to Crowley, as metal is drawn to a magnet.
“That’s not what I meant, angel,” Crowley said softly, still staring. Aziraphale wanted to blink, and found that he couldn’t. “You know it isn’t.”
“Thanks for the crepes.” Crowley stood, unfolding from the bench, his long limbs straightening as he tugged on the front of his coat. “Be seeing you.”
Aziraphale thought the crepes sat oddly in his stomach after that.
It would be almost seventy years before he shared a meal with another soul again.
The next meal they shared would be a cone of roasted nuts while they strolled through St. James’ Park. Crowley even brought a small parcel of breadcrumbs, and Aziraphale swore that he saw his companion smile from the corner of his eye as the angel leaned forward and threw handfuls to the ducks.
With the paper of the cone tucked away in Aziraphale’s pocket, they turned to each other, the grease and salt sitting pleasantly on the corners of Aziraphale’s mouth, on the rivulets and creases of his hands; Crowley had gotten off much neater than he had, but that wasn’t abnormal, as Crowley was generally more graceful than Aziraphale.
A demon, more graceful than an angel. He had to laugh at the thought.
Then, Crowley had to go and ruin everything asking for that.
Hours later, Aziraphale sat miserably amongst his books, puzzling out why it was that the thought of Crowley procuring holy water might be such an unpleasant idea after all. Wouldn’t one less demon be a positive thing? Wouldn’t it be better for the ineffable plan if Aziraphale’s main opposition didn’t exist?
Aziraphale sighed mightily, sifting through his books, attempting to find some kind of answer. None of the theologians had anything remotely helpful to say to my demonic partner in an unholy Arrangement might be suicidal, how should I approach the topic?, and neither did the philosophers, ancient or modern, and Aziraphale was sure Ms. Austen didn’t have many constructive things to say on the topic.
As he stood, twisting his hands together and fretting with an intensity never before felt, his elbow nudged a frayed copy of a novel off the desk and onto the ground.
“Sorry!’ Aziraphale hastened to pick it back up. “Sorry, dear.”
The book had, curiously enough, fallen open when it hit the ground, and the passage that caught Aziraphale’s eye had something burning, burning brighter than holy fire, brighter than the inferno, brighter than the creation of every last star:
If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger.
Aziraphale stared at the words for a long time, feeling a sort of judgment rolling off of them, a judgment his better instincts urged him to reject, a judgment that something in his gut -- and he’d always been so fond of his gut -- told him to accept.
He snapped the book shut when the agony of indecision grew too loud to bear.
“Oh, shut up Emily,” he scolded, tucking the book back into its proper place on the shelf.
It was several decades before he could stand the smell of roasted peanut.
“I can’t believe you saved the books.” Aziraphale sighed fondly, smiling at Crowley over the rim of his wineglass. The port they shared fell most excellently on his tongue, and the warmth it offered felt more than mortal.
“Seeing is believing, I thought,” Crowley said with a smirk, spreading his arms wide. He hummed to himself before leaning forward on the setee and snagging the bottle of wine. “Couldn’t let them burn, angel. Knew you’d be upset if I did.”
“It was so wonderful.” Aziraphale sighed happily, his cheek on the table, and cut lazily at the cheese in front of him. “Are you sure you don’t want--”
“I’m good, thanks, angel.”
You really are.
The words came unbidden to Aziraphale’s mind, and his ears reddened at the thought. If Crowley noticed the flush, he said nothing, or attributed it to the vast amounts of alcohol roaring through their systems, the mortal vessels so susceptible to outside influence. Aziraphale would never be able to say those words to Crowley - he simply couldn’t dare, not if he wished to avoid a thorough and accurate scolding by the demon.
A few more drinks into the evening, and a boldness seized Aziraphale.
He’d settled onto the table in front of Crowley, and he was howling with laughter as the demon shared a story of playing Hastur for a sucker.
“...and then, I turns to him, and I say, I thought that wasn’t your department ,” Crowley grinned happily, satisfied with Aziraphale’s mirth at Hastur’s expense.
“Oh, I should have liked to see that,” Aziraphale chortled, reaching for the bottle only to find it empty.
He fiddled with the stem of his wine glass for a moment, a strange and sudden thought hitting him.
“Hmm?” Crowley drained the last of his port and set it on the table next to Aziraphale, bringing them into sharply close quarters. He didn’t move away as fast as he should have, and neither did Aziraphale.
“I,” Aziraphale began, almost forgetting what he wanted to say.
“I was wondering,” he ducked his head but didn’t stop, “Why you’re wearing glasses?”
“I thought that was pretty obvious.” Crowley was frowning when he looked up. “My eyes.”
“Yes, well,” Aziraphale laughed nervously, hoping that Crowley wouldn’t take the laughter as an offense. “I know what your eyes look like, so why do you wear the glasses when it’s … when it’s just the two of us?”
“I know my eyes aren’t easy to look at.” Crowley shrugged and sat back on the setee, suddenly looking much less comfortable. Were he more sober, Aziraphale would have found the capacity to stop asking questions. After all, one of the two of them had already been damned for doing precisely that. “Don’t want you to have to be…”
“Be reminded of what I am, every time you look at me.” Crowley was gripping his knees at this point, but Aziraphale didn’t notice.
“Ah.” With his inhibitions lowered drastically, thanks to the monks who had bottled the vintage they’d shared that night, Aziraphale reached out slowly; Crowley stiffened, time slowed to a standstill, and nightingales perched outside the windows of the bookshop seriously considered flight to Berkeley Park.
Before either of them could stop it, Aziraphale hooked his fingers around the arms of the glasses and pulled them away from Crowley’s face.
Wide, yellow eyes with slits stared back at him, and Aziraphale swallowed dryly, much more nervous than he’d been with the darkened barrier between him and those eyes.
“I rather like your eyes,” he said with a firmness he didn’t believe he was capable of.
“I have to go.” Crowley stood and swept out of the shop without another word, leaving Aziraphale with empty bottles and a pair of glasses he certainly didn’t need.
We can go on a picnic.
His own words echoed in his ears as soon as he said them, the feeble offer that had shredded his throat and heart in an effort to make peace with Crowley - not that he expected a war, but because he expected something that was certainly the opposite of war.
The air shifted between them when he gave the demon his holy water, and Aziraphale didn’t know what to make of it.
A promise to share a meal, that’s all it was, he told himself. It didn’t mean anything.
But it did.
It meant more. It always meant more where Crowley was concerned, no matter how fast he went, no matter what the angel said.
Aziraphale got out of the car in 1967, a promise left behind, a yawning chasm of something in his chest, something he couldn’t name and was afraid to name.
He got out of the car. He tried not to think he had lost something by offering all that -- the holy water, the dinner at the Ritz, the picnic.
He tried not to cry.
(He failed. He always failed).
In 1995, the angel and the demon managed to catch a play on the West End, a rare moment of peace and quiet as the world’s wickedness and goodness took a breath for once.
Aziraphale couldn’t tell you the name of the play. It hadn’t mattered much, in the end.
But he could tell you what they had for dinner:
Steak tartare for himself, with the most spectacular little amuse bouche. Chocolate mousse, for dessert.
Crowley had told the waiter to bring him whatever it was Aziraphale ordered, something that made him want to preen and shake out the feathers of the wings he’d hidden and hadn’t needed in millennia.
Later that night, in his book shop, Aziraphale listened to the albums Crowley had been trying to convince him to listen to for years.
Driving back in style, in my saloon will do quite nicely / Just take me back to yours that will be fine
He sat in his darkened bookshop in Soho, his stomach full and warm, and closed his eyes as the music wrapped around him, smiling in the sort of peace he’d assumed was only part of children’s stories.
“Yes, Warlock?” The harried mother peered over her Blackberry at her young son, who was picking at his sprouts with a look of consternation.
“Nanny Ashtoreth and the gardener are in love,” Warlock reported.
“Why do you think that, sweetie?” Mrs. Dowling blinked in confusion for a moment before deciding it didn’t really matter and going back to her email.
“Because I saw Brother Francis feeding Nanny the other day.” Warlock kicked his feet back and forth, brow furrowed as he recalled the memory.
“He what ?” Harriet set the Blackberry down fully now, her attention momentarily won.
“He gave her a piece of steak, like this,” Warlock speared the last of his chicken nuggets and demonstrated the way he’d seen the outlandish gardener delicately feed the stern and austere nanny. “And daddy feeds you like that sometimes, and you and daddy are in love.”
With a quirk of her lips that went thankfully unnoticed by her son, Mrs. Dowling picked up her Blackberry and resumed clacking away on the keys. “That certainly doesn’t mean people are in love.”
“Finish your Brussels sprouts, sweetie.”
With Satan coming to reap their souls and destroy the world for himself, Crowley collapsed in a heap at Aziraphale’s feet, his shoulders slumped in defeat. It was boggling to witness, and Aziraphale couldn’t accept it.
Crowley had given up? Aziraphale couldn’t fathom such an idea -- Crowley, his Crowley, giving up?
Who cared if the ground shook and roiled as the Dark Lord himself was ripping through the bowels of the earth to wreak his vengeance on him. If Crowley gave up, why, why --
“Come up with something or - or I’ll never talk to you again!” Aziraphale said, his heart breaking at the idea of not sharing another meal with his oldest, dearest friend, the only soul in the universe he felt any sort of loyalty to, the only being he had any sort of faith in.
Anthony J. Crowley was the only ineffable thing in the universe.
And he was going to save them all, damn it.
He wasn’t quite sure if drinking out of the bottle on a bench at the end of the end of the world counted as a meal, but Aziraphale was all too happy to sit at Crowley’s side in the eye of the storm.
Aziraphale’s recently re-corporated heart skipped several beats when Crowley offered to take him back to his home, as the bookshop had been destroyed; he didn’t think it was out of any kind of grief of the bookshop’s loss, as tragic as it was.
“I don’t think my side would like that,” he heard himself saying, putting off the inevitable a while longer. He knew it wouldn’t be long before he and Crowley embarked on a journey there was no turning back from.
Crowley gave him no such quarter.
“You don’t have a side anymore,” he reminded him, gently though, not cruelly or snidely, and Aziraphale felt that the space between them on the bench was a little too wide for his taste. “Neither of us do. We’re on our side. Like Agnes said, we’ll have to choose our faces wisely.”
Ah, yes. The prophecy. Aziraphale nodded, standing when Crowley did as the bus pulled up in front of them. They had to choose their faces and face their fates now.
The words that wanted to rush out of his mouth, that filled him up and pushed at his seams like the after effects of a sumptuous feast, could wait a little while longer.
With Heaven and Hell no longer a present threat, Crowley and Aziraphale settled into a fine dinner at the Ritz, with plenty of treats and spirits spread out before them to last well into the night. They traded a few genuine toasts, and Aziraphale couldn’t help the smile that spread across his face, dizzying and effervescent like the bubbles in the champagne they shared.
A happy ending: an indulgence he didn’t think they’d be afforded. And yet.
“Dining at the Ritz.” Crowley tilted his head back and smirked at Aziraphale knowingly. “Y’know, there’s a Queen number about that.”
“Is there?” Aziraphale pulled a plate of sweets towards him and smiled tentatively at Crowley.
“Yep.” The demon - former demon? - popped the p obnoxiously, a lazy yet shy smile stretching across his face. “Dining at the Ritz, meeting at nine,” Aziraphale hummed in confirmation that he’d heard, as though the blush deepening on his cheek and ears weren’t confirmation enough, “It’s called Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy, if you’d believe it.”
Aziraphale cut into a hearty slice of cake and smiled happily at the fondant.
“I had no idea,” He offered the cake on his fork to his friend. “Try this, my dear.”
Crowley leaned forward, never taking his eyes off of Aziraphale’s face, and cleaned the bit of cake off the tines; Aziraphale beamed at him, watching his expression for a sign of his favor.
“What do you think?”
“I love it,” Crowley declared with the sort of solemnity reserved for chapels and deathbeds, for knights and courtrooms, and Aziraphale’s face heated more than he’d ever thought possible.
“I …” He cleared his throat and took a bite for himself, smiling down at the lacy tablecloth like a fool, feeling Crowley’s intense gaze on his face, unwavering and constant as ever. “I love it too.”
He truly, wonderfully did.