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Of burnt books and courting Crowley

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Chapter 1 : Startling news

 

It was Newt’s and Anathema’s engagement party. Naturally, Aziraphale had been delighted to receive an invite- whilst they had hit the poor girl with Crowley’s car and driven her home, and then they had stood against the end of the world together, they really hadn’t spoken much. Nevertheless, it was not common to be able to interact with humans without having to pretend to be human himself. He would gladly take the opportunity to get to know the pair better, perhaps finally make some mortal friends without having to drop out of their lives as soon as it became apparent he did not age.

He rang up Crowley as soon as he had received the letter.

‘I presume you have been invited to the engagement festivities, as well?’ he asked.

‘What?’ Crowley asked, a bit distractedly. ‘Whose?’

‘Oh- dear. Uh, the lovely couple, Newt and Anathema- the witchfinder and the witch, so to say. Of the end times?’

‘Already?’ Crowley asked. ‘They’re sure moving at the speed of light. Uh, nah, no, I didn’t get one.’

That was a bit of an exaggeration, it had been well over a year since the end times. ‘Oh,’ Aziraphale said, awkwardly. ‘Perhaps they’ve- it may have gotten lost?’

‘Lost in the post?’ Crowley drawled.

‘Yes, quite! Surely, they would not just invite me, that would be rather rude.’

‘Well, they’d want their union blessed, nor damned, I s’ppose,’ Crowley mused. He did not sound like he minded much, but Aziraphale felt very awkward about the whole situation.

‘Now, don’t be silly, dear boy,’ he said. ‘You haven’t damned anyone in a long while- you saved the world, mind!’

‘Hey, I damn – people! Things! Used to, anyways, but I’m retired. Anyways, I’m just playing with you,’ Crowley said, with a chuckle. ‘I got the invite.’

‘Oh! Now, why must you always do that,’ Aziraphale huffed, but he felt relieved. He’d been seeing a good deal more of Crowley since the Not-Apocalypse, of Armageddon’t, as Crowley called it, and would feel rather disappointed if he would have to attend such an event by himself.  

‘It’s fun. S’ppose you’d like a ride there?’

‘Well, if we’re both heading there,’ Aziraphale said.

‘You only have to ask, angel,’ Crowley said. ‘I’ll pick you up ‘round eight.’

‘It starts at eight!’ Aziraphale protested.

‘We’d be fashionably late. That’s probably one of mine,’ Crowley said. ‘But turning up exactly at the starting time is as demonic as turning up an hour late, in my book.’

‘Let’s compromise, then,’ Aziraphale said reasonably. And perhaps he turned on his Pout (as Crowley called it) a bit, which was always quite effective on his demonic friend. Even over the phone.

Sure enough- ‘Alriiight,’ the demon sighed. ‘I’ll pick you up at seven fifteen. Ciao.’

The line went dead promptly. Aziraphale wasn’t worried- Crowley always wanted to avoid being thanked or complimented on doing something nice. Even now, after he could technically drop the pretense that he was a mean wily demon, he held on to that self-image. But at least Crowley had never pretended they weren’t friends, as Aziraphale had done, so he let it go.

 

. . .

 

With Crowley’s driving style, they got there rather promptly, still. Aziraphale fretted a bit, for the form of things, but he was rather pleased not to be too late. Still, better not to let Crowley know, or he’d be unbearably smug, and would never stop driving like a maniac.

The party wasn’t too busy, but there were some people. Aziraphale and Crowley rather stood out amongst the crowd. As result, they were greeted quickly.

‘Crowley!’ Anathema greeted as if they were quite close. Crowley grinned easily at her, lifting a hand. Newt hovered a bit awkwardly, and gave a half wave back.

‘And Aziraphale,’ Anathema said, a bit more formally, but still smiling widely. ‘Nice of you to come!’

‘Oh, it’s my pleasure!’ Aziraphale ensured.

‘Hit anyone on the way here, Crowley?’ Anathema asked, gesturing for them to come further.

‘Nah,’ Crowley said, easily, taking a glass of champagne and passing one on to Aziraphale, seemingly without thinking about it. ‘I only do that when it’s Fated, apparently.’

‘You do have a habit of meeting people as result of unfortunate car mishaps,’ Newt said, to Anathema.

‘Yes, well, thank-‘ she glanced at the angel and demon- ‘thank whoever for that.’

At that point, new guests arrived. ‘Just a second,’ Anathema smiled at them, and tugged Newt along to greet them. A cacophony of standard polite greetings ensued.

‘Oh, dear, I hadn’t even congratulated them, or given my gift!’ Aziraphale fretted.

‘There’ll be time for that, angel,’ Crowley ensured. He was leaning against one of those tall tables that were designed especially for these sort of garden parties, to pretend there was no need to invest in chairs. He hadn’t dressed up specifically for the occasion, but then, nor had Aziraphale, who was always in formal attire. Still, he looked quite dashing in the light of the fairy lights which were spread across the garden.

‘You seemed rather chummy with her,’ the angel noted, suddenly.

Crowley shrugged, seemingly casual but a bit self-consciously under that, as ever when he had done something particularly undemonic. ‘We’ve kept in touch, after Armageddon’t.’

‘Really!’

‘Well, uh- it’s- I’ve never spoken plainly with humans about- well, anything significant,’ Crowley said, a tad awkwardly. ‘I was curious what it’d be like with one that knows about it all. Besides, I wanted to know if the prophecies had anything else in store for u- me.’

Aziraphale hummed. Crowley always knew how to surprise him. ‘And the boy too?’

‘Newt? No, he’s rather dull.’

‘Crowley, now, really,’ Aziraphale tutted.

Crowley grinned at him, waving an arm and sloshing the champagne in its glass. ‘He is! You’d agree with me, you know.’

‘I would not!’ Aziraphale said, indignantly. ‘He seems like he’s a very nice boy.’

‘Alright, I suppose you’d know,’ Crowley drawled, still grinning and giving one of his winks, sounding not at all like he was conceding the point.

Still Aziraphale nodded contently. He would know.

‘He convinced Anathema to burn part two of Agnes Nutter’s prophecies,’ Crowley said, casually, glancing across the garden as he said so.

The next thing Aziraphale knew was that his hand and sleeve were thoroughly wetted and sticky with champagne and blood, as he’d promptly squeezed his glass a little too hard. It stung quite annoyingly.

‘Oh, dear,’ he said, faintly. All eyes in the garden were on him.

‘Oh,’ Crowley said, not at all teasingly anymore. ‘Oh, idiot,’ he hissed, taking Aziraphale’s hand in his own and inspecting it for leftover glass shards, the tenderness of his touch a sharp contrast with his words.

Anathema was at their side rather quickly. ‘What happened?’ she asked worriedly.

‘Oh, my dear girl, I am so sorry,’ Aziraphale said. ‘I hadn’t meant to cause a scene- I am not sure what happened!’

‘We’ve got to get you cleaned up, and bandage that,’ Anathema said.

‘Oh, but your guests! Surely, I can manage, if you point me to your bathroom.’

‘I’ll do it,’ Crowley said, waving Anathema off. He tugged Aziraphale inside, very gently, still holding his hand. He made his way to the kitchen easily, which made it quite apparent he’d been there before. Aziraphale followed a bit dumbstruck- whether it was by the startling information, or Crowley’s soft and tender touch, he wasn’t sure. He was suddenly painfully aware that in 6000 years, they had never touched very much at all.

In the kitchen Crowley moved his hand over Aziraphale’s slowly, healing the skin instantly.

‘Oh, but the guests will have seen -’

Crowley shushed him and grabbed a first aid kit from a cabinet.

‘How’d you know-?’ Aziraphale started, but was shushed again. Crowley quietly bandaged Aziraphale’s already healed hand.

Then he looked up, looking serious. ‘Sorry,’ he said. ‘I didn’t think you’d do that.’

‘Well- nor did I.’ Then Aziraphale remembered why he’d done so. ‘Did you lie, then? You did, didn’t you! It was a prank!’

‘No,’ Crowley said, regrettably. ‘Well, I told you to make you regret sticking up for him when I knew you’d resent him for that, but it’s true.’

‘She burned the only version of unpublished, completely accurate prophecies! Oh- how foolish! Where on earth had he gotten that idea?’

Crowley lifted his hands in defense, thereby finally letting go of Aziraphale’s, who was distinctly aware of the loss of touch. ‘Wasn’t me, angel. I’m not too pleased about it, either.’

Aziraphale started pacing the kitchen. ‘I can’t even imagine- why? Why?’

He looked at Crowley, who was shifting guiltily. His friend truly hadn’t meant to upset him so.

‘Why did she do it?’ he asked, suspecting that if Crowley and she had apparently been in touch, he’d know.

‘Uh, she’d been living her life dictated by the prophecies. With Armageddon’t, she thought she’d be free to fill in her own life, and then she got even more prophecies. She didn’t want to be a descendant, forever.’

‘Well, but! She didn’t have to burn it! She could’ve given them to me!’

The kitchen rattled a bit with the agitated energy that was rolling of Aziraphale. Crowley lifted his hands again, as if Aziraphale’s indignation was aimed at him.

‘Surely,’ Aziraphale said. ‘Something can be done. She will have, she will have seen that Anathema would burn the book, would she not? Surely, another version must exist.’

‘If that’s true, it’ll find us when we need it,’ Crowley said. ‘Agnes would know when and how to get it to us. Or to Anathema.’

‘And she’ll burn it again! No, we must try to find it ourselves.’

Crowley looked like he was going to argue, but then sighed. ‘Alright, angel.’

‘Really? You’ll help?’

‘Yeah, retirement has been boring, anyways,’ Crowley said, but Aziraphale knew that was a lie. Crowley was more glad than anyone to be relieved of his demonic duties- he’d never been very good at them, anyways, he was way too nice. He hadn’t stopped fooling himself about the latter part, however.  

‘Shouldn’t we go back to the party, first, though?’

‘Oh, right,’ Aziraphale said. ‘Yes, I suppose.’ He would feel quite resentful to the happy pair, if resentful was an emotion angels could feel. But he was an angel, so he did not feel resentful. No, not even a little. Perhaps a bit of righteous rage, but the Heavens had never blinked at rage were it Righteous, right?

Crowley grinned a bit at him, as if quite aware of Aziraphale’s inner turmoil.

‘Come on then, angel.’

They stepped back out, and Crowley got Aziraphale a new flute of champagne, with the promise not to startle him into destroying it anymore. Some guests came to see if Aziraphale was alright, and also probably to sniff out the story. Aziraphale realized he should have come up with a cover story. Now, he babbled out a weak ‘I don’t know my own strength, do I, dear?’ And Crowley had looked at him the way he had looked in the Golden Globe, when Aziraphale had cheered on Hamlet. It made him feel very warm, and slightly berated.

At some point, however, Newt made his way over to them, smiling, and Aziraphale felt himself fill with Righteous Rage once more.

‘Hey, guys,’ Newt said.

‘Witchfinder Private Newton Pulsifer,’ Crowley drawled.

‘Oh, don’t,’ he said, slightly embarrassed.

‘You found your witch, though,’ Crowley grinned.

He smiled again, very happily. ‘Yes, that I did.’ He looked over at Aziraphale and his very sudden icy demeanor, and his smile sank. ‘Are you alright?’ he asked, worriedly.

‘Hm? Oh, quite,’ Aziraphale said, stiffly. He looked at his bandaged hand. ‘It was nothing, and Crowley took care of it, in any case.’

He was distinctly aware of his short tone. Newt seemed to be too, looking nervous. Well, Aziraphale was holding himself back, anyhow. There were mafia mobsters who had visited his shop who could attest to that.

‘Ah, uh, yeah,’ Crowley said, probably very aware of the wrath of heaven. ‘Witchfinder, why don’t we find your witch? I have a minor demonic miracle of your choosing as gift for your, uh, betrothal.’

‘Oh, yes,’ Newt said, hastily. ‘Yes, come along!’

Crowley followed him, turning around while walking and mouthing ‘Calm! Down!’ before turning around again.

Aziraphale didn’t know whether he felt relieved or abandoned. Anyhow, it was apparent it was intended as a nice gesture by Crowley- but whether it was nice for Aziraphale or for Newton, he wasn’t so sure. Probably the latter, but quite undeservedly so.

Nevertheless- he always enjoyed chatting with humans, and went to do so now. When he had made a couple of rounds, he decided to go looking for Crowley, again. Just to check whether the demonic miracle wasn’t too demonic, he told himself. He wandered around a bit, spotted but avoided Newt, and wandered further into the quieter part of the garden.

There, he saw Anathema and Crowley on a bench, talking, their turned backs to him. He was about to call out an ‘Ah, there you are!’ when he heard his name mentioned.

‘All our relatives think you and Aziraphale are a lovely married couple,’ Anathema said, a smile in her voice.

Crowley shrugged. ‘We get that a lot.’

Did they? Aziraphale tried to recall instances of that. But he’d never been very in tune with these things, despite the fact that he was sure he was a lot more social than Crowley. Crowley had always been better in decoding hidden messages in the things people said, while Aziraphale tended to take things at face value.

‘Did you tell him yet?’

‘Course not,’ Crowley said, a bit shortly.

‘Crowley, if you see the way he looks at you! If you’d seen how he looked when you held his hand, just now!’

‘Oh, shut it. Listen, I can barely get him to admit we’re friends,’ Crowley said, a bit morosely. ‘I’ve known him for 6,000 years.’

Aziraphale was distinctly aware of his own beating heart. What kind of conversation was this? It couldn’t be what he was imagining, could it?

‘You could just try it?’

‘I’ve tried,’ Crowley said. ‘I have! I’ve thrown hints around like anything. I do anything he asks! I’ve asked him to run away with me- twice! He rejected me. And he told me I go to fast for him- that wasn’t about my driving, I know that much.’

‘Yes, because your driving is so great. Look, Aziraphale is the most oblivious person in the universe,’ Anathema said. ‘He may just have been missing all your hints.’

‘If he felt the way I feel, he wouldn’t, though,’ Crowley said. He sounded like he was sulking. ‘He’d get it if he was looking for it. He’s not dumb.’

‘You have been pining for 6,000 years,’ Anathema said. ‘It’s time to do something about it.’

‘Nah, no, no, I’m good,’ Crowley said. ‘I don’t actually mind this thing we’ve got now- we’ve been spending more time together since Armageddon’t. It’s nice. Besides, if I’m spending the next 6,000 years with him, I don’t want to make it awkward. Oh, and he’d be the worst at pity - ’ Crowley said the last word as if it were poisonous, ‘he’d be all nice about it. No, Anathema, I won’t do it.’

She slung an arm around his shoulder. Aziraphale felt quite certain he’d shake it off, but he didn’t.

‘Maybe Part Two of the prophecies would’ve contained some prophecy about the two of us,’ Crowley said, bitterly.

‘Make your own fate. Agnes’ prophecies only said I would sleep with Newt once, and now we’re engaged!’ Anathema said.

Crowley’s head snapped up. ‘You’re saying he told you to burn that book because he wanted to get laid?’

‘No! My point is -’

But it was too late, Crowley had begun laughing already. Aziraphale felt decidedly less amused.

Anathema hit Crowley on his head, softly, ignoring his ‘oi!’. ‘My point is, you shouldn’t rely on a prophecy to make your move. You should just do it.’

‘I haven’t for 6,000 years, and I’m not gonna, and that’s the end of that,’ Crowley said.

Anathema sighed. ‘Fine,’ she admitted.

Aziraphale felt he’d heard quite enough, and slunk back, wanting to think about everything first. The facts were clear. Crowley had feelings, for him, Aziraphale, and had done for as long as they had known one another. He was certain Aziraphale would not return these feelings, and would not mention them for this reason, apparently sure that things would get Awkward. Oh gosh.

The truth was, Aziraphale did not really know how he would have responded, had Crowley confessed his feelings to him. It was very likely he would have made things Awkward, in sheer shock.

How was it even possible, that a demon would develop feelings for an angel? Then again, they had developed a friendship, so perhaps it wasn’t too surprising...  And how had he not noticed? Crowley said he’d been throwing around hints- and sure, he had known that some of their conversations had held deeper meanings. He had known the significance of his comment that Crowley went too fast for him. But he hadn’t quite known how heartbreaking it must have been.

Damn it.

‘Angel?’

Damn it. Aziraphale hadn’t thought of a game plan yet.

‘What are you doing here by yourself?’ Crowley asked, approaching. Aziraphale looked around. Ah, he’d been standing by a bush with lovely roses, staring into space. Perfectly normal.

‘You’re not still moping about that book?’ Crowley sighed.

‘It is a travesty,’ Aziraphale took the excuse, hastily.

‘Yeah, yeah. Look, I figured you’d be too upset about it to do your gift, so I gave them a demonic and a regular miracle from the both of us. All good? Maybe we should head back soon. Maybe we can do a drink at the bookshop, huh?’

‘Oh, thank you! Uh. I am actually rather- rather tired. But yes, we ought to head back.’

Crowley squinted at him. ‘You don’t sleep.’

‘No,’ Aziraphale said, weakly. ‘Ah, I am just. That book, you see?’

‘... Right,’ Crowley said. ‘Off we go, then. You wanna say bye?’

‘Yes, I suppose I should. Just a moment.’ 

He approached Anathema and Newt. ‘Thank you for the invitation,’ he said. ‘And congratulations with your engagement.’

‘Oh, thanks, Aziraphale,’ Anathema said, friendly. ‘Have a good trip home.’

Somehow, Aziraphale felt quite resentful that Anathema knew more about Crowley and his feelings than he had.

‘Don’t burn anymore books,’ he said, sternly.

They both had the decency to look guilty. Aziraphale turned around with a good-bye, because he was not impolite. Crowley was waiting, looking amused.

‘You know they’re more scared of you than of me,’ he said, as they got into the Bentley.

‘Well, you are quite the, uh, ‘softie,’ Aziraphale said, still terse.

In revenge, Crowley drove completely madly until Aziraphale apologized. After that, it was rather quiet in the car, on their way back. Crowley made some attempts to conversation, but stopped when it became apparent Aziraphale was distracted.

When they stopped in front of the bookshop, he drummed his fingers on the wheel once. ‘Listen, angel, it’s gonna be okay, about that book.’

Aziraphale smiled a bit at Crowley. ‘Yes, well. I will see you later, then.’ He gave a half wave and turned around. He felt Crowley’s eyes on his back as he walked hastily to the shop, intending to think it all over.