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Eternities Still Unsaid

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Eternities Still Unsaid

 

Crowley surfaces from a dream with the sluggish reluctance of a bubble rising in black treacle. His body is muzzy and still-tired heavy, and when he cracks his uncooperative eyes open, there is Aziraphale, sort of hazy, soft-focused and warm in the dim light at the back of the bookshop. They’re on the couch, Crowley stretched out along its length, feet in Aziraphale’s lap. There’s a book balanced on his shins -- closed -- and Aziraphale’s reading glasses folded neatly on top of them. Aziraphale himself is sitting in an unusually undignified posture, hands linked across his belly, head tilted back to rest on the couch cushion behind him, and eyes closed, expression one of pained bliss as he listens to the music that spins from the gramophone in spits and pops. Bach, Crowley thinks. He forgets which one. Or, more precisely, he can’t think of anything right now beyond the sight of Aziraphale in front of him, because for a moment, several moments, an eternity, he is suffocated by emotion.

 

“My dear, are you quite all right?”

 

Crowley blinks and realises to his horror that he’s crying, tears slipping from the corners of his eyes and down his cheeks. Bewildered, he stares at Aziraphale, who is sitting up a little straighter now and giving him a very concerned look. 

 

“Dunno,” he croaks, wishing his sunglasses were within reach. “Think I was dreaming, and then I woke up and… ‘s like I was still in the dream.”

 

Aziraphale’s expression softens to one of delighted love. It’s the type of expression that Crowley usually feels duty-bound to roll his eyes at, the type of mushy, starry-eyed look Aziraphale gets around tiny babies (of any species) or when the contestants are especially nice to each other on The Great British Bake Off. But he’s woken up somehow unprepared for the world, and particularly defenseless against Aziraphale, and anyway he suspects that Aziraphale has got it absolutely horribly wrong even though he isn’t sure how, and so all he can do is stare, and cry quietly, and wonder at the deep ache that’s opened up within him, coming from nothing more substantial than a less than half-remembered dream.

 

Aziraphale’s expression fades to a slight frown.

 

“Come here,” he says, giving Crowley’s legs a gentle push off his lap.

 

Feeling like something jagged and misaligned, Crowley limps his way to reversing his position until he’s lying with his face pressed against the rich softness of Aziraphale’s waistcoat, the heavy fabric and warm body beneath the only solid things in the universe, the hand in his hair like the tenderness of God when Her creations were still new. He starts to drift off again with these unsettling thoughts in elliptical orbit about his conscious mind, coming and going, and coming again; out of sight by the time he wakes.

 

***

 

It happens again, some time later, as Crowley is idly haunting the bookshop’s newly restocked shelves. (Aziraphale had admitted, quite early on in their New Arrangement, that Crowley’s dark and mildly threatening presence helped scare away a certain type of customer, and so Crowley had taken that as an invitation to be there as often as he likes, and what he likes is almost constantly). He’s found a whole section on astronomy up on the mezzanine that he doesn’t think Aziraphale has noticed yet -- all glossy, modern-looking books with huge, crisp images of celestial objects. Prime coffee table material (Crowley should know, he’s responsible for coffee table books).

 

He’s always liked the night sky, the constellations, the nebulae. He doesn’t remember anything about before he Fell, not really, a few impressions maybe, but somehow he’s always known -- in the same way he knows that gravity pulls you inwards -- that he was involved in their creation. He looks at them and feels some kind of ownership, like an artist’s signature brush stroke, or perhaps the same type of feeling human parents get when they look at their children and notice their own features in their faces. 

 

It’s never been anything but a scattered sense before, though.

 

He looks now at the picture the book has fallen open to in his hands, seemingly of its own accord. It’s an image of the Whirlpool Galaxy: its graceful, glowing swirls, its bright center, its single spiral arm reaching out to touch its neighbor like something from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and he feels… he feels… something big, something more than familiarity.

 

He worries at it all day, knowing he’s being obvious about it -- too silent, too pensive -- and finds too many little excuses to touch Aziraphale, needing the reassurance. Of what, he doesn’t know, but in a very real, very metaphysical sense, he feels as though he’s being quietly rent apart.

 

***

 

It's almost like Aziraphale can sense it, too. Something has changed, now they no longer have that direct tie to Above and Below. There's movement within, the tectonic plates above their occult (and fine, okay, ethereal) mantles re-settling to some new configuration, though Crowley can't say it feels like a good thing. Or maybe it’s just the flux he doesn’t like. The angel listens to less whimsical, romantic Chopin, more devout, dramatic Handel. Less of the lilting bombast of Strauss, more of the measured passion of Vivaldi. Less frothy Sondheim, more stirring South African choral. He seems almost to be worrying at something, too. A feeling, maybe. But whenever Crowley brings it up (Baroque music again, angel?) Aziraphale seems at just as much of a loss as he is.

 

He’s gone all the way back to Thomas Tallis late one night and after a considerable amount of wine, when he turns to Crowley and asks, "Do you remember when composing was invented? The way the music soared in those cathedrals. I thought to myself, I've never heard anything so Divine." His face is… he is transported, breathtakingly beautiful, eyes huge and shining with that angelic light that does such things to Crowley’s insides. 

 

Crowley, who had scrapped his plans to bring down Canterbury Cathedral by slipping the stonemason a bad recipe for mortar at the mere sight of Aziraphale’s disappointed moue, certainly does remember. 

 

"Humans," he agrees. "Clever buggers."

 

"How could you…" Aziraphale’s eyes don't dim even as his voice cracks. "How could you want to end all that?"

 

Crowley doesn't say anything; the question isn't directed at him. But later, as the sun is rising and Crowley has been able to tempt Aziraphale forward in time to some Vaughan Williams, Crowley takes Aziraphale's face in his hands and kisses him.

 

“I love you,” Crowley tells him fervently. “I love our life here. I don’t have any regrets.”

 

“None?”

 

“Not a single one.”

 

Aziraphale melts into him, going all warm and soft and lovely against him, eyes shining. “No, me either. No regrets. Just…”

 

“Questions,” Crowley says knowingly, when Aziraphale can’t finish.

 

“I suppose you know what that’s like,” Aziraphale says, a little breathless now as Crowley has moved down to his neck.

 

“It’s what I am, angel,” he murmurs, before falling to his knees. Aziraphale’s response is lost to a moan when Crowley rubs his cheek against Aziraphale’s erection, reaching for his trouser buttons.

 

***

 

“Angel,” Crowley asks one day as they’re walking along the banks of the Thames, making their slow, meandering way home from lunch. “Do you think we’re different now?”

 

“Different?” Aziraphale asks, as though the thought hadn’t ever occurred to him. “Different how?”

 

“You know, fired from our respective agencies, living like humans different. I mean, what happens now if we discorporate?”

 

“Hmm, that could lead to a sticky situation,” Aziraphale agrees. “Of course, I don’t think they’d want either of us hanging around any more than they did during our, ah, trials, but it’s probably best not to test the theory if we can help it.”

 

Crowley finds himself squinting behind his sunglasses. No, wincing. He’s wincing. Because he doesn’t want to ask but he knows he’s going to anyway.

 

“You don’t think we’d die?”

 

“Like humans do, you mean?” Aziraphale looks very taken aback, and then something in his face tightens and he glances at Crowley with an assessing quality that makes him twitch. “Whyever would you think that?”

 

“Well,” Crowley says, shrugging expansively. “No reason, really. ‘S just, wondering, you know. Existential crisis and all that. Comes of being cut off, I s’pose.”

 

“Existential crisis?” Aziraphale says shrewdly. Right, of course he didn’t miss that part.

 

"Yeeeaaaahh…" Crowley squints harder, and says it quickly to get it over with. “I think I’ve been dreaming about dying. At least, that’s what it feels like.”

 

It takes him a moment to realise Aziraphale has stopped walking. When he does, he’s forced to turn and face him, which is a nuisance, because this was really not a conversation he wanted to have face to face.

 

Aziraphale is looking at him like he’s just, metaphorically, started ticking.

 

"What… happens? In your dreams?" he asks.

 

That look in his eyes -- that, that compassionate alarm. It’s too much. Crowley scowls and squints off to the side.

 

"A light goes dark, and everything hurts,” he says. "It's the most terrifying thing I've ever felt."

 

“Oh, Crowley,” Aziraphale breathes, stepping closer, though Crowley still can’t look at him. Very gently, almost tentatively, Aziraphale slides his hand into Crowley’s. 

 

Crowley holds on.

 

***

 

That night, Aziraphale is especially gentle with him. Crowley wants to be indignant about the archivist’s gloves treatment, but he’s so… bloody… fractured by this thing he still can’t name, he doesn’t have it in him to protest. Instead, when Aziraphale pushes him carefully back onto the bed, laying him out and lovingly removing each bit of clothing by hand, piece by piece, Crowley goes quietly, and barely even tries not to rise into every touch, every caress, every outward sign that Aziraphale wants him.

 

“Dear one,” Aziraphale murmurs as he nuzzles softly down Crowley’s neck. “You are so beautiful. You are so very loved,” he says as he bites tenderly into the flesh over Crowley’s aching heart. “You are not going to die, I won’t stand for it,” he kisses into the quivering skin of Crowley’s stomach. “I love you so very, very much.”

 

When he takes the head of Crowley’s cock into his mouth and can no longer speak, he somehow manages to continue anyway, lavishing Crowley with sweetness and urgent affection that he’s helpless to respond to in any way other than to arch into it and hold on as best he can.

 

“Oh, God! ” he cries out when he comes, and doesn’t even notice that it isn’t profanity.

 

Afterwards, wrapped up together naked and under the lulling weight of the goose down duvet, Crowley dreams of spiraling colours and sparkling eyes, fire and ecstasy. He dreams of passion and purpose, the swooping delight of his body (not exactly a body) as he spins across unimaginable lengths of space leaving light in his wake, kissing stars into flaring life and placing them each with infinitesimal care, like pearls on a string, uncountable, each one a message of love and praise for Her glory. He dreams of the furious incandescent dedication to making something beautiful, beautiful enough, of being (loved) and doing, exercising his Will and Intention, and marvelling at this thing called Creation. And he dreams of longing for something there isn’t a word for yet. He dreams of the look of illuminated rapture on Aziraphale’s face when he allows himself to spread his wings (not so dissimilar to the look on his face when he comes) and the great sin of inspiration. And always, always, an animating voice like fire at his core, marvellous, wondrous, TERRIBLE

 

***

 

Crowley wakes feeling febrile and a bit mad, like gravity has turned a couple of degrees to the left and he can’t quite catch his balance. Scrambling out of bed, half-panicked, he absently pulls his pants on before stumbling downstairs to the books. The Bibles hurt to touch, but there has to be something, somewhere in them….

 

He doesn’t register that he’s cold -- that he’s shaking -- until he feels Aziraphale’s warm hand on his bare shoulder. Doesn’t register it’s day until he looks up, bleary-eyed from frantically scanning the tiny print.

 

“Darling, what are you doing?” Aziraphale asks, staring in shock for a second before his brain seems to catch up with what his eyes are seeing, and he snatches the book away. “Crowley, your hands!”

 

Stupidly, Crowley holds his hands up to inspect them. The skin is cracked red and painful-looking, the pad of each finger blistered. It doesn’t register at all. He lowers his hands again and stares desperately at Aziraphale.

 

“I remember,” he says.

 

***

 

Approximately 1,000 years before, Crowley slammed his tankard of ale down on the inn's table, propped his chin on his hand, and gazed soppily at Aziraphale. They were both very drunk (it wasn't known as the dark ages for nothing; sometimes alcohol was the only solution) and in the first tentative flush of their Arrangement, and quite frankly Crowley was starting to realise that he could stand to have the angel appear in his life a little more regularly.

 

"Have we met before?" he slurred, grinning at his own audacity.

 

"Whatever do you-- Have we-- Of course we bloody have! How much of that have you had to drink?"

 

"No, no, no. No, no. Not 'n Earth." Crowley waved a hand in a vague upwards gesture. "Before. You seem familiar. Always thought so."

 

"I doubt it. ‘S not like I would’ve ever run in your sort of circles." The fact that the angel could look so prim while also sounding like his tongue had gone numb was, Crowley decided, delightful.

 

"The way your eyes sparkle like that," he said. "In the firelight. 'S like the stars."

 

"Oh, good heavens," Aziraphale tutted, but in fact he looked quite pleased.

 

***

 

There is a cup of tea in front of him. It’s been there for some time, steaming away patiently, but Crowley has only just been able to narrow down his focus enough to deal with its existence. 

 

Tea.

 

It's such a strange, small thing, in the face of bloody Everything. And yet what it symbolizes -- the very humanness of it, the fact that Aziraphale made it for him to give him comfort -- seems somehow beyond words. I love you, he thinks helplessly, but it doesn’t seem big enough. In fact, he’s struggling with words in general. Luckily, Aziraphale is being very patient. Crowley thinks, somewhat hysterically, that maybe after 6,000 years, he’s earned it.

 

They’re sitting in the small corner at the back of the bookshop that Aziraphale optimistically refers to as his kitchen -- actually just a couple of feet of book-free tabletop where he keeps his microwave, kettle, box of tea bags, biscuit tin, and a small fridge he only uses for milk (never having realised that he should plug it in, the milk nevertheless stays chilled and fresh). Aziraphale is still in his pyjamas, a striped cotton buttons-and-piping affair. Crowley is only dimly aware of his own half-dressed state, and that he’s wrapped in a tartan blanket that scratches a little against his bare skin. He wants nothing more than to lead Aziraphale to the comfy chair and curl up in his lap, the angel’s arms around him, and stay there until he feels better, maybe in another hundred years or so. 

 

Bewildered, wounded, he stays where he is.

 

“May I see your hands?” Aziraphale asks. They’re sitting at the small kitchen table in two rickety wooden chairs that creak and wobble with every tiny movement. Their knees touch. Laid out on the table is a first aid kit that looks several decades old at least. “I don’t know if I can heal this kind of wound,” he explains. “I don’t want to risk making it worse.”

 

“Makes sense,” Crowley agrees distantly.

 

Aziraphale wets a ball of cotton wool in a shallow dish of water and takes one of Crowley’s hands tenderly in his own before, wincing in apology, he begins to dab at the cracks and burns in Crowley's skin. “Sorry,” he says preemptively; Crowley hasn’t even twitched.

 

“You know I once took a million lightyear nosedive right off of the edge of Heaven,” he says, more out of a sense of momentum than any real incredulity. “You do remember that?”

 

Aziraphale pauses, glancing up. He looks confused, a little. “And if I had been there, I would have tended you just the same as I am now.”

 

You wouldn’t have, Crowley thinks. You were one of the ones who helped kick us out. But somehow, he can’t picture it. Even at the Beginning, there on the walls of Eden, Aziraphale had lifted his wing, seemingly without thought, to shelter Crowley from the rain. 

 

“Can you talk about it?” Aziraphale prods, as he wraps a clean white bandage around the palm of Crowley’s hand, and plasters around his fingers. “You said you remembered.”

 

“Not my Fall,” Crowley says. “I never forgot that.”

 

“Then...?”

 

“Before.”

 

“Oh,” Aziraphale says, pausing in his ministrations again to stare outright. Carefully, deliberately, he picks up Crowley’s other hand, and returns to work. “I suppose… I suppose that would be very difficult.”

 

“Do you remember me, angel?” Crowley asks softly. The question cracks his ribcage open.

 

“In Heaven?” Aziraphale looks genuinely shocked. “No, I… I didn’t get around much. Wasn’t much of anybody, you know. Lowly principality and all. And there were so many of us, then.”

 

“No, well.” Crowley reaches into the wound and drags the words out. “I remember you.”

 

What?"

 

“Wh-- m-- I was there, when She spoke you into existence. Not there there, I wasn’t just standing about watching. But I saw it. You.”

 

It isn’t often Aziraphale is brought to speechlessness, but Crowley seems to have managed it. His own words are falling out in bleeding coils now, and he lets it happen.

 

“I remember the way you-- looked.” It isn’t quite the right word, since they hadn’t had human-like forms in those days, but it’s the closest he can come. “I'd seen hundreds of angels, thousands, brought into being. It was always, you know, a sight to behold, all that. But you, you spread your wings with this look on your face, and then you opened your eyes and I felt--” he fumbles. “Changed. I went out and tried to make something that would reflect even a tiny fraction of your… youness.”

 

“No, Crowley, you…” Aziraphale has finished bandaging his hands, and now holds them, palms up, in his own. “Why?"

 

"I wanted to get it right," he says, softly, softly, because it hurts. "If She could make something as beautiful as you, I needed to-- so I asked-- I said, how does this work, then? I needed to know so I could, Her glory, you know? And then, one question led to another, and before I knew it…"

 

Aziraphale, who is so very expressive usually, looks utterly blank. Crowley can sympathize. Unfortunately, his own numbness is starting to wear off and something far darker is trickling in. He stares at his neatly bandaged hands and wonders if he'll ever stop shaking.

 

Eventually, Aziraphale clears his throat, squeezing Crowley's hands lightly before speaking. When he does, he sounds scraped raw.

 

"What were you looking for, in that Bible?”

 

Crowley tries to remember how to breathe. “My name.”

 

“And did you find it?” 

 

If there was ever, ever a moment he regrets not having his sunglasses on, well, there'd been a whole string of them in the last half an hour or so, but this right here, this is the worst.

 

“Didn’t you ever wonder," he rasps, "why there are only three archangels now?”

 

"Ah, yes, there used to be four, I sort of remember, but it's been some time and I really wasn't ever in those circles. I always just assumed--” Understanding hits him like a rain of tuna. “Good Lord. You?" Aziraphale whispers, like he barely dares say it. "You were Raphael?”

 

Hearing it out loud, Crowley feels like his strings have been cut. He tumbles forward onto the table, forehead landing haphazardly on one forearm, and gives in to the hollowness inside.

 

"I've never felt obssscene before."

 

"No, oh no, Crowley," Aziraphale murmurs, closer than he was before, but that's the last he hears, ears buzzing as his body just -- gives up.

 

***

 

“But don’t you think,” he asked Michael, once, “it’d be better to know? I’d definitely rather know. Got to be better than guessing, it stands to reason. Case in point, should I put a black hole at the center here, or leave it out? Does it make a difference? This gravity thing’s all a bit weird.”

 

“This galaxy you’re making,” Michael said, not looking up from the pulsar she was idly spinning into life between her hands.

 

“The Whirlpool Galaxy.”

 

“The Whirlpool Galaxy, right. The Almighty didn’t exactly give you instructions for this one, did She?”

 

“Well no, but--”

 

“Didn’t get the paperwork signed off, did you? Requisitions weren’t properly assigned.”

 

“Actually, I’m making it myself out of raw firmament.”

 

“Yes, well, raw firmament doesn’t grow on trees.”

 

“What’s a tree?”

 

Michael took a breath and blew the pulsar from between her hands into place, where it sat, rotating smugly.

 

“I’m going to have to report this, you know,” she said.

 

“Why?”

 

“You know why.” 

 

He didn’t. 

 

He touched his chest, the place where he felt Her presence, and frowned. “I can’t see what’s so bad about a little knowledge.”

 

“I know,” Michael said, and her words were edged with thunder and zeal. “That’s the problem."

 

***

 

When he comes to, he’s tucked up back in their bed above the shop, and for a blissful moment he entertains the idea that it was all just a nightmare of truly biblical proportions. Then a rustle of fabric draws his attention, and there is Aziraphale sitting in the chair by the bed, still in his pyjamas, barefoot and rumpled, and radiating concern in the way only an angel can.

 

“How do you feel?”

 

Like I just remembered what it was like to have Her love, in the full knowledge I’ll never have it again, he thinks. Like maybe forgetting it in the first place was more of a mercy than a punishment.

 

...Like you’re so much more a part of me than even I knew, that I understand myself a little better, now.

 

“Fine,” he mutters testily. “I'm fine. What are you doing up here? Don’t you have, ehh, customers to frown at?”

 

Aziraphale draws himself up, all ruffled-feathers and indignantly pursed lips. Crowley sighs a little, soothed. Surely a sign of his perversity if ever there was one, that he enjoys riling an angel to shows of protective irritation. “It’s early still, I haven’t opened the shop yet, and really why wouldn’t I be where you are, after all that downstairs?”

 

“Playing guardian angel, angel?”

 

The barest hint of amusement flicks up the corner of Aziraphale’s mouth. “I’m a principality, Crowley. I was made to protect. I am, quite literally, a guardian angel. No one ever said I couldn’t be yours.” 

 

“Oh, well,” he says weakly, unbearably brittle all of a sudden. “In that case.”

 

Movement, and the bed dips, then a tender kiss to his forehead. Gasping, Crowley rolls over into Aziraphale’s body, clinging to him as he weeps.

 

Time passes. The sun moves across the sky (behind the clouds, of course, this still being England, Crowley’s internal upheaval having changed nothing in that regard). Eventually, he calms. Aziraphale holds him, stroking his hair in comforting silence. Through the ancient single-glazing of the window, the sounds of cars and people drift in, reassuringly alive. The clock on the mantel says just after noon when Aziraphale speaks again.

 

“Crowley,” he asks, hand never stilling its path through his hair, though his voice is hesitant. “I’m-- I’m sorry to bring it up again, but there’s something I’ve got to ask you.”

 

Crowley just hums in question, drowsing and almost pleasantly mindless. He’s considering the merits of a good, long nap, right here against Aziraphale’s chest.

 

“Was it me? Who caused you to…?”

 

Well that’s done it, he’s well and truly awake now. “No, Aziraphale,” he says. “Just, no.”

 

“But you said--”

 

“I saw you, yes. And it woke something in me. That’s me, angel, not you.”

 

“Ah,” is all Aziraphale says to that.

 

“It was like,” he waves vaguely, needing to explain, “the start of a circle. Really, big, damn big circle, took me a long way down, away from you, but it came back round in the end. Can’t really be upset about that, can you?”

 

“Oh, I can,” Aziraphale says with genteel menace. “But I suppose I shall choose not to be, just at this moment.”

 

His hand has fallen still while he ponders this, and Crowley nudges into him hopefully, eyes falling closed again as Aziraphale gets the message. It feels so good to be… well, it just feels good. He still has a bottomless fissure running down the very middle of his being, but at least it isn’t actively vomiting up his innards right now.

 

“Do you know,” he asks, leaning into the fragility, “how much I love you?”

 

“I thought I did,” Aziraphale says wistfully. “I rather think I underestimated you.”

 

For some reason, this makes something inside of Crowley glow. Not the hot lava red of pain-horror-betrayal, but silvery soft and yearningly beautiful.

 

Aziraphale continues: “When you’re ready, I’d like to see, well--” Crowley can practically hear the blush in his voice-- “Whatever it was you made, that I inspired.”

 

And that’s it, Crowley has to kiss him.

 

It’s not much of a kiss, all things considered. Crowley uncurls his spine to reach up to where Aziraphale is sitting, propped up against the pillows, and the angle is a little awkward, a soft brush of lips all he can manage before he has to reposition himself more securely. Aziraphale’s hand never leaves his hair, the other one stroking warmly down his shoulder and back as Crowley slides up his body. Then, when he’s in range, properly this time, Aziraphale tightens his grip and hauls him in.

 

Things get surprisingly passionate. There’s a desperation in the way Aziraphale holds him tightly, kisses him deeply, that Crowley answers in form. His bandaged hands burn with how hard he’s holding on, fingers knotted in Aziraphale’s pyjamas, until something in him breaks and he has to let go to fumble the buttons open with shaking hands, certain he hears something tearing in his haste to get at skin. Then, he collapses back down, plastering his own bare chest to Aziraphale’s, desperate for contact, for love, just desperate.

 

They kiss like they’ve never done it before, little finesse and lots of hunger. It isn’t so much about desire, although straddling Aziraphale’s lap as he is, Crowley can feel that there’s plenty of that to go about. No, it’s something much deeper, that soul-hungry ache that nearly ate them alive in the days after the failed Apocalypse, that need to be as close as possible, to show what they hadn’t been able to show before. Only now, there’s a sharp edge of suffering to add into the mix.

 

“Trousers, trousers,” Aziraphale is muttering between gasps and kisses, and Crowley realises belatedly that Aziraphale is trying to divest him of his jeans. Before he can do anything to help, however, he’s flat on his back amid the bedding, Aziraphale kneeling by his ankles as he gets both of them all the way naked.

 

“Nnnng,” Crowley protests at the loss of contact, but it’s of blesse-- thankfully short duration. Then Aziraphale is back, hands skimming sweetly all the way up Crowley’s body to his face, which he cradles and kisses tenderly all over as he settles atop him. That’s good, that’s really good, the way Aziraphale is pressing him down into the mattress, surrounding him, but he can’t help the need that can’t seem to find an outlet, that hunger for closeness, for intimacy.

 

“Can you--? That thing--” he does his best to ask, because he’s panting, and because asking for things he wants is desperately hard. “In my head.”

 

Luckily, they’ve been at this long enough that Aziraphale doesn’t need a detailed explanation.

 

“Anything,” Aziraphale promises, voice low in that toe-curling way he only uses in bed. “Anything you want. Come here.”

 

Aziraphale rolls off him to the side, pulling Crowley with him so that they’re facing. Crowley wriggles in closer, aching not to lose touch even for a moment, until he’s within the circle of Aziraphale’s arms once more, one around his back and one sliding up into his hair again. Crowley kisses him hard, overflowing with -- everything. Every bloody thing. He’s an overflowing bucket of feelings right now, and he needs, he needs --

 

Aziraphale’s nails scrape Crowley’s scalp and he arches back in pleasure. His erection drags sweetly against Aziraphale’s hip, but it’s barely noticeable beside the fireworks going off in his brain. A cool, glittery sensation flows along his synapses and down his spine, spreading along his nerve endings like a thousand little licks, a thousand little whispers, and he is lost to earthly sensation as Aziraphale ignites his pleasure centers.

 

In Heaven, when angels make love, they merge their essences. Crowley isn’t sure exactly how that works -- he’d had a feeling he’d never tried it before, and now he knows for certain. Aziraphale, too, has apparently leant more towards Earthly pleasures than Heavenly. So neither of them knows precisely how it’s supposed to go, but on Earth, in human bodies, they have found their own version together. Aziraphale runs his nails along Crowley’s scalp again and again, finding a rhythm between kisses, stroking the full force of his love, and longing, and tenderness into him, and Crowley moans artlessly, panting, gritting his teeth against the sheer power of the tidal swell. 

 

“Let me, let me,” Crowley gasps, reaching for Aziraphale, trying to make his own connection. He doesn’t have anything so pure to offer in return, but he knows the wanton abandon Aziraphale experiences at Crowley’s hand is utterly gratifying for him, even unburdening.

 

“No,” Aziraphale says roughly. “Let me focus on you this time, Crowley. Please, let me give you this.”

 

Crowley groans as another wave crashes over him.

 

“Yes,” Aziraphale breathes against his lips. “That’s it, let go, my love. You are so beautiful. I want you to feel it.”

 

“I’m not,” Crowley hisses, trying to fight it. He doesn’t even know why; he asked for this. “I’m nothing, I’m profane, I’m--”

 

Aziraphale pushes back, hard, and yes, oh Satan yes.

 

“You are not,” Aziraphale says, voice gone hoarse as he sends pulses of adoration through Crowley so intense it’s all he can focus on. “You are loved.” Aziraphale thrusts the feelings into him again. “You are cherished.” Again. “You are exquisite.” Again.

 

“Oh, go--aaagh,” Crowley sobs. “Please, Aziraphale -- fuck -- show me. Please!

 

Show him: they haven’t done this yet, deliberately so, but Aziraphale had promised anything. With a final, penetrating rush of devotion, Crowley feels Aziraphale agreeing, and then the angel-- lets go.

 

Humans -- old humans, who had actually met angels, before that sort of thing became frowned on -- often described them with the whole heavenly flame and multitude of eyes thing. That isn't strictly true. Aziraphale doesn't, on releasing himself from the constraints of a human form, suddenly sprout eyeballs like soap bubbles all over his person. But Crowley can empathise with that graspingly inadequate description, because it is something like how he makes you feel: so bloody well perceived that your body tries to crack itself open and offer up its internal organs too, just for good measure. Humans don't really have the words for it.

 

He has never been so naked, or so seen.

 

The air moves with the swish of Aziraphale’s wings, and a being of light and pure perception bends forwards to tenderly kiss his lover’s neck. Somewhere in the distance, Crowley’s body is writhing and coming, and coming again, his throat raw from the ecstasy. Aziraphale is before him, yes, but also inside of him, part of him, and Crowley can feel -- can feel -- the depth of his love, the certainty of his devotion. He sees himself the way Aziraphale sees him, a tangle of temptation and zest and chaos and fun; shadows and pain, longing and patience; comfort, affection, recognition. That last is a deep well of feeling, 6,000 years in the making, of not just knowing, but understanding, and loving anyway. Loving because. Aziraphale’s love isn’t unconditional, and it isn’t divine, but it has been earned through laughter and kindness and unexpected kinship, and is unshakable.

 

Do you see?

 

The angel talks directly to his mind, now.

 

“Yes,” he cries out, his body falling into euphoric release again, skirting the edge of what he can handle. 

 

And then, in swirling pieces, it’s over. Of course it is; in this state, Aziraphale can read him as easily as one of his rare first editions, and Crowley is wrecked. But it’s over gently, gradually, the angel pulling slowly back into himself until all that’s left is his wings and a sweet, tingling pleasure wherever he touches Crowley’s skin.

 

Pliant and utterly spent, Crowley allows himself to be gathered up, caressed and quietly fussed over, all the while sheltered from the world under a canopy of white.

 

“Dear one,” Aziraphale murmurs, nosing gently at his temple. “Are you all right?”

 

Treasured, safe, Crowley says, “No.”

 

“That’s okay,” Aziraphale promises, cradling him more tightly, stroking his hair. “I’m not going anywhere.”

 

Like a long, slow exhale, Crowley believes him.

 

***

 

It’s a cold winter morning some weeks later, and Crowley is standing by the duck pond in St. James’s Park, hands in the pockets of his wool coat and trying absently to disappear into his scarf, when Aziraphale joins him.

 

At first, he doesn’t say anything, simply standing beside Crowley at a safe distance, throwing handfuls of oats to the ducks. It’s so like old times that for a moment Crowley feels frozen in place, unable to push through the wall of Aziraphale’s polite reserve, just as he had been for the previous 6,000 years. And then, Aziraphale looks over at him, smiles warmly enough to heat Crowley’s frozen fingers, and steps close to greet him with a kiss to the cheek.

 

“You’re brooding, my dear,” he says.

 

“Yes,” Crowley agrees, feeling unaccountably flustered and doing his best to hide it. “But I'm doing it with style.”

 

“Oh, undoubtedly.” Aziraphale gestures, and they turn and amble together down the gravel path. “Is this all right? I appreciated the note regarding your whereabouts, but I wasn’t sure whether you wanted company.” 

 

Crowley shrugs. “Doesn’t matter, I’m glad you’re here now.”

 

Aziraphale gives him a pleased little smile, still somehow shy after their months together, and slips his hand into Crowley’s pocket to entwine their fingers.

 

“Is there something particular on your mind, or did you just want to take in the air?”

 

“Just thinking,” Crowley admits, “about the thing.” There’s only one thing he means, and thankfully Aziraphale knows that.

 

“It’s a lot to take in,” he says gravely, as he has done many times since That Day. “It’s hardly surprising you need some time.” Crowley makes a noise, probably of agreement. Aziraphale’s expression becomes pained and he squeezes Crowley’s hand tightly. “I desperately-- I wish-- You didn’t deserve-- but She’s God, for God’s sake. She’s the very definition of goodness. And yet it still doesn’t feel... right.”

 

It’s reassuring, in a way, that he’s not the only one grappling with something. Aziraphale has returned, rather comfortingly, to his more regular listening material, but Crowley still catches him on occasion selecting a Mozart mass in place of an opera. 

 

“She’s not,” Crowley says.

 

“Not what?”

 

“The definition. Ineffable, remember?”

 

“But it’s not fair.

 

“Fairness doesn’t come into it, angel. You can’t apply dualistic morality here, doesn’t work. Good, bad, She’s outside all that." He looks over and says, very gently, “Thought you’d have realised that, by now.”

 

Aziraphale sighs expressively, a sound of frustration at his own inability to process this fact. “Ineffable.”

 

Crowley squeezes his hand. "Exactly."

 

In some ways, this whole thing has been harder for Aziraphale than it has for Crowley. To accept, whether he wants to or not, that he’s sitting in judgement of God and finding her wanting, is a very difficult, not to mention dangerous, thing for an angel. Probably why he spent so long skirting the issue, Crowley reflects. Which is not to say that Crowley isn’t still reeling with fury and hurt, but he’s been that way since he Fell; he’s had time to adjust. 

 

If anything, he’s been able to… not forgive himself, not yet, but maybe see his way to doing it, one day. I can’t see what’s so bad about knowing the difference between good and evil, anyway. He still isn’t sure, seems like maybe he wasn't ever, and he wonders if he wasn’t just made this way, which, given who made him… Ineffable. Right. Well, for now, She can ineff right off.

 

“Look,” he tells Aziraphale. “All those other angels, they’re so--” he waves a hand, incoherent with their them-ness. “I knew you were different the day I met you, I just didn’t know why I knew. They don’t love, I mean, not love love. They Love with a capital L, Glory to God in the Highest, blah blah blah, but actually loving another person? I saw your execution, Aziraphale, there was no love there. And I used to be one of them! I could’ve been there, standing beside Gabriel and Uriel and that wanker Michael, ordering you to walk meekly to your own destruction. Instead, here I am, and if you think I would ever -- ever -- give this up, then you can start miracling your own lunch bills away, and I’m serious about that.”

 

“I can see that,” Aziraphale says with a faint, sideways smile. Then, more sincerely, “Thank you, Crowley.”

 

Later, warmed up, well fed, and lounging about comfortably in the pleasantly snockered phase of drinking together in the back of the bookshop, Crowley wonders aloud, “I mean though, I mean, ‘s not like demons are any better at the whole -- love thing.”

 

“Hmm,” Aziraphale agrees. “‘S a very human thing, loving a-- a nindid-- a nindividual.”

 

“Think we’re jusss, you know, bit different? Or think we learned it from them? Humans.”

 

Aziraphale purses his lips theatrically. “Bit of both, I reckon. Human by association, and all that.”

 

Crowley gives that some thought. It’s not a bad thing to be, all things considered. “Human by association,” he repeats. “I’ll drink to that.”

 

Aziraphale leans over and clinks his glass against Crowley’s, and gives him that look, the one that sends his heart into orbit. “Long may it last.”

 

An eternity, Crowley thinks, and the understanding is renewed with the softness of a falling feather (and all the richer, all the rounder, for his regained knowledge) that what he has right here, this world, this little specific part of it, this angel -- it isn’t the start of anything, or even the end, it’s the very beating heart right at the centre of him, and it’s better than Heaven.

 

Epilogue

 

“It’s getting rather late for a picnic, don’t you think?” Aziraphale frets as they race along an A road that’s far too winding for the speeds Crowley is maintaining.

 

“Do you think so?” Crowley asks lightly.

 

“It’s almost sunset, Crowley,” Aziraphale says peevishly. “Where exactly are we going? We’ve been driving for nearly an hour.”

 

“Almost there,” Crowley tells him, turning off the main road onto a narrow lane with a screech of tires and a distinct lack of indicators (old habits die hard). Aziraphale clutches the picnic basket Crowley had told him to pack like it’s the only thing between him and fiery road-side discorporation.

 

A few more minutes (and increasingly pointed comments from Aziraphale) later, Crowley finally pulls over to park on the grass verge and unfolds himself into the cool summer evening. “What’s wrong with a bit of romance?” he asks over the Bentley’s roof as Aziraphale goes through his prissy little ritual of straightening every single piece of clothing, out of place or not. “Nice drive in the countryside, special location. You could show a bit of gratitude.”

 

“Oh, forgive me,” Aziraphale shoots back, “the sheer terror of being in a car with you must have overwhelmed my romantic sensibilities.”

 

“You love the way I drive.” 

 

“I do not!” 

 

“You do. Gets you all hot and bothered.”

 

“Well,” Aziraphale concedes. “Actually, that’s just you.”

 

Crowley grins happily, bending down to grab a discreet black package from the backseat before sauntering off towards a stile. “Come on, then.”

 

It’s a short walk to their destination. Crowley doesn’t have the right shoes for walking across a field that is, despite it being summer, still somewhat squishy, but mysteriously, neither he nor Aziraphale acquire the kind of mucky outer coating that might at some point ruin the mood. 

 

The sun is setting by the time the angel, huffing and puffing his way up the hill, comes to stand by Crowley’s side.

 

“The view is spectacular,” he acknowledges, as they watch a quivering orange sun sink to kiss the horizon over rolling hills and scattered trees. “I’ve always loved the South Downs. But really, shouldn’t we have come a little earlier in the day?”

 

“No,” Crowley says, smiling very slightly, enjoying Aziraphale’s confusion. “No, this is just right. Shall we?”

 

They spread the blanket and unpack the cheeses, fresh bread, cured meats, pâté and wine. Aziraphale sits watching the sky change colour, munching happily on this and that, while Crowley lounges on his side, head propped on a hand, and watches him. He’d thought he was going to feel nervous, and he does, a little, but mostly what he feels is lucky. That, and very much in love.

 

"So are you going to tell me what's in there?" Aziraphale asks, nodding to the black package, once the sun has slipped fully below the line of the Earth, and the sky is a disgustingly pretty swath of pastels.

 

"Oh, this?" Crowley is quite pleased with his own studied nonchalance. "You can take a look if you like."

 

Eyeing first him then the item with curiosity, Aziraphale reaches over and unzips the fastening of the thick canvas bag.

 

"I say," he exclaims, on revealing its contents. "A spyglass!"

 

Crowley rolls his eyes. "It's a telescope, angel. I'm actually in pain here."

 

"Oh," Aziraphale says, his expression one of delighted wonder. "Now?"

 

The sky is darkening quickly. "It's a good night for it," Crowley shrugs.

 

"Then by all means."

 

Rolling to his feet, he sets the telescope up with practised ease, and spends a little time getting it pointed in the right direction as the stars begin to twinkle in a miraculously cloudless and moonless sky.

 

"Here," he says, beckoning Aziraphale over with his eye still to the eyepiece, sunglasses propped on his head.

 

"And what will I be looking at?" Aziraphale asks when he straightens up. He looks almost nervous, which makes Crowley's heart swell.

 

"M51, the astronomy humans call it. But its name is the Whirlpool Galaxy."

 

A whole galaxy? Aziraphale mouths to himself, before bending to the eyepiece. Crowley bites his lip, grinning and waiting for the moment, the perfect moment when Aziraphale will be done with straining his eyes and try to say something nice like oh, it's lovely, my dear about the indistinct grey blur at the center of the viewing field. And when he senses it coming, Crowley clicks his fingers, pointing at M51, and Aziraphale gasps as details and colours fly towards him.

 

"Oh," he gasps. "Oh my."

 

Aziraphale is completely absorbed, examining and murmuring exclamations, and Crowley, watching him, loses track of time. He can count on his fingers the number of times he’s felt truly, utterly content (that is to say, he could, before the notapocalypse; things have been rather different since, but given how long he’s been alive, the sentiment holds) and all of them have involved Aziraphale. This moment, right here, on a hill in the South Downs with the most important person in the entire universe beside him -- this moment definitely adds to the count.

 

Too quickly, the Earth turns, and the galaxy slides off the side of the viewing field. Slowly, still looking starry-eyed and a bit dazzled, Aziraphale straightens and turns to him. The intensity of his expression has Crowley jittering in place.

 

“What did you think?” he asks when he can’t take it any longer.

 

Aziraphale’s face is alive with love. Crowley’s breath catches. It’s moments like these that he remembers the great big why of it all.

 

“Extraordinary,” Aziraphale whispers, eyes sparkling like the stars. “Incredible. Crowley, there simply aren’t words.” He reaches out and touches Crowley’s face. “Awe-inspiring. It’s quite the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”

 

There’s an iron age hill fort at the crest of the hill just behind them. Above them, the Milky Way stretches its infinite arm across the sky so brightly that the outline of the fort is cast in silhouette. Brightly enough to make out each other’s faces -- just -- and Crowley knows his eyes must be glowing, as they tend to, in the dark. He is laid bare. He’s doing it all himself, this time.

 

He knows Aziraphale’s last remark was not directed at his long-ago creation, and though it’s been a year of this, now, this assault of softness and openness and love from Aziraphale (and honestly, he really can’t be blamed, because a year is barely anything in the span of their existences), it’s still so hard sometimes not to lose limbs with these sorts of killing blows.

 

Clumsily he reaches for Aziraphale and buries his face in his neck, letting the agony of it wash through him. And Aziraphale, blessed (yes), beloved Aziraphale, stands firm and loves him and loves him.

 

“You were always the best part of God's creation,” Crowley rasps painfully.

 

“Oh my dear,” Aziraphale replies, sounding quite choked up himself. “I think the same thing about you.”

 

***

 

It takes a while, but eventually everyone calms down and they return to their picnic blanket, lying comfortably close and staring up at the sky and the glittering path of the Milky Way.

 

“I haven’t seen it so clearly in a century,” Aziraphale marvels. “Maybe two.”

 

“Comes of living in a city,” Crowley says, bookmarking a stray thought that perhaps they should get a holiday cottage out here for later consideration. 

 

“Did you help? With that too?”

 

Crowley shrugs. “Between us archangels, we hung the stars. It was our first purpose.”

 

“Hung the stars,” Aziraphale repeats. “When you put it like that. I knew there was a reason I couldn’t help gazing at you so.”

 

“Oh please,” Crowley splutters, outraged into laughing. 

 

“No no,” Aziraphale says, warming to his topic. “When anyone asks me in the future how I could possibly have ever fallen in love with such a reprobate, I will simply respond, why, he hung the very stars. It’s quite perfect, really.”

 

Crowley groans, and covers his face.

 

“If only,” Aziraphale adds, his tone becoming wistful. “I wish-- I wish I had something as lovely for you, in return.” 

 

Crowley lowers his hands and rolls to his side, head propped on his hand, to gaze down at Aziraphale. "You know it's just window dressing.”

 

“Hmm?”

 

He gestures to the sky, eyes still fixed on Aziraphale. “All that. Above, Below; angel, demon. We're not… we've left that behind. Human by association, you said, but not quite human all the same. It's just us, together."

 

"No, you're right. It's just, you have always given me so much, Crowley, and I know I wasn’t always... what you could have wished. Frankly, you humble me, and I wish I had something as meaningful to give back to you, but, well,” he holds out his hands in a self conscious kind of shrug.

 

“Do you love me?”

 

“Oh I do, my dear. Quite a stupendous amount.”

 

“Forever?”

 

“Until I am no more.”

 

“Well, then. That's... that's more than enough.”

 

Leaning down, Crowley places a soft kiss on his angel’s lips, lingering there for the sheer pleasure of it, until Aziraphale pushes him back with a hand on his chest, frowning up at him.

 

"Hold on, did you-- did you just--?"

 

"Just what?"

 

"Um."

 

"Just what, angel?"

 

"Ask me to marry you?”

 

“Uhhhh…” Crowley stares in unblinking shock, replaying his questions, Aziraphale's answers, the thousands of years of history piling up behind them, and the earlier unveiling of a roundish shiny object. “Really kind of looks that way, doesn’t it?” he says, stunned. Even more stunning: “You said yes.”

 

“Crowley, you idiot,” Aziraphale mutters fondly, pulling him back down with a warm hand on the nape of his neck, eyes shining with something even brighter than the stars. “Of course I did.”