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Grace

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“I do not understand the mystery of grace -- only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.”

― Anne Lamott

 

They were arguing about Ron Weasley, of all things. Aziraphale had read the books, and Crowley had seen the movies, so when they’d strolled by the theatre on opening week of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, they were both pleased when two tickets were somehow (both denied responsibility) available.

But now they were waiting for Part Two of the show that evening, and one harmless comment had led to another, and before he knew it, Crowley was singing Ron Weasley’s praises for all of post-apocalyptic London to hear.

Crowley was outraged by Ron’s characterization in the first half. That’s not Ron, he’s a shell of himself, Crowley insisted. Aziraphale loved the whole thing and said Ron was always a little bit of a clown, I mean, the love potion was a little strange, perhaps, one must question the ethics of such a thing, but it’s all a bit of fun, and besides, it’s very different in the books.

Crowley had read the books. He knew full well the books only supported his argument, but he was hardly about to admit this to Aziraphale, he had a reputation to keep up after all, so instead he just glared, which had a disappointing effect from behind his sunglasses.

“What do we think of Scorpius, though?” Aziraphale asked, peering at the menu of the restaurant they’d decided on between the show. London was having a beautiful summer ― Adam’s doing, they’d supposed ― and they were on the patio with little umbrellas in their iced drinks.

Crowley toyed with umbrella. It was green. “More adorable than I was expecting, I suppose,” he said, dropping the Ron subject for now. Maybe later he’ll say he read the books after the show and finish his argument properly, because Aziraphale was so, so wrong, but for now he was content to let it drop and enjoy the afternoon sun with his ― very wrong ― friend.

“He is, isn’t he,” Aziraphale agreed. “What do you fancy? Are you eating, or just drinking?”

“Order whatever, angel, I’ll just pick off of yours.”

“Hmm,” Aziraphale said, which Crowley knew meant he agreed, and ordered the fajitas.

It was nice, being left alone. There’d not been a word from Heaven or Hell since Crowley and Aziraphale’d gone and embarrassed the lot of them at the End of Days two months ago. Since then it had been casual stroll this, and wine-soaked-evening-in-the-bookshop that, and one weekend in France because why the heaven not? There actually hadn’t been a day since the end of the world that they hadn’t seen each other, even when Aziraphale had nipped up to Scotland to find a rare first edition of something or other ― he’d still stopped by at Crowley’s flat just before midnight to have a cup of tea and brag about his find. Crowley, who hadn’t previously had the angel in his home, hastily miracled up a crate of tea and grinned from behind his teacup at Aziraphale’s excitement, and frankly, Aziraphale in his home in general.

So Crowley hadn’t even considered the possibility that when he asked if Aziraphale felt up to see Liverpool play the following evening, Aziraphale would say no.

“Oh?” Crowley said, polishing off the last of the guacamole. Maybe he’d admit responsibility for Helena Bonham Carter’s casting in the Potter movies and segue into his Ron argument from there, yes. “What would you rather do?”

Aziraphale delicately dabbed his napkin to his lips. “Oh, actually, I have a date.”

Time passed. Aziraphale could get very red indeed.

Crowley forced his mouth to close and finish chewing. “A date,” he repeated.

“Well, yes,” said Aziraphale, putting down his napkin and busying himself with pulling out his wallet while Crowley stared some more. Did … Aziraphale know what that word meant?

“A date with a human?” Crowley asked.

“Obviously.”

“In a … romantic―” he forced out the word– “sense or…?”

Aziraphale turned even redder. “Well, obviously we haven’t been out yet, I hardly know if it will be romantic at all, but the gentleman did seem quite nice, and―”

Crowley had stopped listening. A loud buzzing had filled his skull and he was worried he was having an out-of-body experience, which was made more concerning because Crowley hadn’t always had a body and should have been used to the idea of floating somewhere a few feet above their table looking down at Aziraphale babbling, flustered, and quite plainly in possession of the knowledge of what a date meant.

Gentleman.

Aziraphale, Guardian of the Eastern Gate, fussy bookshop owner, Crowley’s best friend … was going on a date with a human. A human man.

Aziraphale had finally finished talking, and was looking at Crowley nervously, evidently waiting for some kind of response.

Crowley could feel his eyes wide and stunned behind his sunglasses and prayed that Aziraphale couldn’t tell.

“That’s ― well.” Crowley gestured with his empty cocktail glass as he searched for words. “I didn’t know you wanted … that.” That.

“Oh, well, I mean, of course I do, lots of people do.”

“You’re hardly people.”

Aziraphale went red again. “I just thought it might be nice” ― there was that word again ― “to have certain experiences. Now that we’re essentially unemployed, we can spend more time on ourselves, I thought a romance might be nice, someone to spend time with, and I would like a partner for that tandem bicycle, and oh, I hoped you would understand.”

Crowley could have been struck harder than if Aziraphale had actually reached across the table and whacked him in the head. Time on ourselves … someone to spend time with … hoped you would understand.

Crowley blinked, the shock still reverberating through him. Aziraphale’e eyes watched him, large and worried.

“‘Course I do, angel,” said Crowley, rising.

Aziraphale smiled, a weight seeming to lift from his shoulders, and rose to follow Crowley out of the restaurant.

“So do we think darling Scorpius is actually You-Know-Who’s son?” asked Aziraphale as they headed back to the theatre for Part Two.

“Who cares?” Crowley said, managing to fall back into the conversation somehow. “I want to know if Rose is actually Ron’s.”

Aziraphale spluttered. “Of course she is! Hermione would never―”

“How do you know?” Crowley snapped, patience run out at last. “Apparently no one’s acting how they should today.”

 

* ~ * ~ *

 

Crowley utterly failed to take in the rest of the play. After dropping Aziraphale off, Crowley went back to his flat and … did precisely nothing.

Half an hour had passed and he realized he was still standing in front of his door, having forgotten if he needed keys, or if he usually miracle it open. There were only three other flats on his floor, one unoccupied, so he rarely saw his neighbours ― a retired politician and a neighbour Crowley only knew as G.M. from the name on the mailbox ― and neither of them were around to witness his utter loss of mind that night. Eventually he tried the handle and expected it to open, so it did.

Then he stood in his front hallway for another hour until he remembered the brandy and proceeded to get methodically and atrociously drunk.

Most of the night didn’t bear thinking about. Crowley both tried to think about and tried to forget about what could have possessed the damn angel to want to go on a date with a human. With a human. Someone to spend time with as though Aziraphale had been wandering around the last two months alone. Crowley took a particularly large swig of brandy whenever that particular thought came to mind.

He thought to sober up around noon. By then the thoughts in his head had swirled around enough times that he thought they might be forming a half-baked course of action. As was always the case when Crowley was in such a state, he went to Aziraphale’s.

 

* ~ * ~ *

 

The bell tinkled happily when Crowley barged his way into the bookshop. There were no customers, of course, and while Crowley didn’t actually know when Aziraphale’s date was meant to start, he was still going to treat time preciously and waste none of it.

“Angel, get out here,” he called before the door had even swung closed behind him.

Sure as the sunrise, Aziraphale walked into the room, removing a totally superfluous pair of reading glasses. The irony of this thought missed Crowley entirely.

“Crowley,” said Aziraphale, smiling a little uncertainly, “what brings you by?”

Crowley walked in an agitated circle around the room, then stopped and threw out his hands. “What are you thinking?” he demanded.

“What do you ―”

“You know what I mean,” Crowley snapped. “It’s just ― have you thought this through?”

“Crowley ―”

“Do you even know what humans get up to in relationships these days? It’s not all tandem bikes and sunsets.”

“I imagine it’s what humans have always ―”

“Sex, angel,” Crowley blurted. “Romance. Love. I know you must love all of Her creatures and all that, but that’s not what humans―”

Crowley.

Crowley’s teeth clicked shut.

Aziraphale took a deep breath. “Crowley,” he said again, gentler, “I know.”

Crowley stared, processing this. “You know,” he repeated.

“Well, yes,” said Aziraphale. “I’m not completely out of touch with everything, despite your opinions on my taste in music. I know what humans often do and expect in relationships.”

“You do.”

“Crowley, yes,” said Aziraphale, seeming worried.

“And you … want to do all that with this human?”

Aziraphale coughed. “I mean, I don’t know him very well yet, Erik, by the way, but he came looking for a book for work that I didn’t have. Well, that is, I had it, but I happened to know of another bookseller who would have it for a better price, and he stopped by to thank me, and asked me for coffee. He seems intelligent and good-looking and I certainly wouldn’t rule out the possibility of sex, probably not on the first date for heaven’s sake, and of course I am not in love with the man, but … I would like to think that I … could be one day.”

And it hit Crowley then.

Before, Crowley had always thought that they’d been busy with work, or that angels just weren’t interested in all that messy human business of relationships, but now. Now he knew, and he knew that Aziraphale did in fact want that, want all of it, just not with him, and for the first time in 6000 years, Crowley realized why knowledge was actually so dangerous in the first place.

He realized that he’d never had a chance with Aziraphale at all.

“Crowley, are you ―” Aziraphale began when Crowley had only stood there, mouth just a little open.

“Fine,” said Crowley trying to sound bright, but having the dim sense that it came out rather choked. It was Alpha Centauri again, but somehow so much worse, because nothing was on the line this time, no great battles to fight, no honour in staying behind. There would be no dramatic parting, or giddy relief in the end, because this wasn’t the end. It was just another day in a string of mundane days that would continue their separate lives.

“Crowley, maybe I’d better cancel if you ―”

“No,” said Crowley, managing to get his voice just a little back under control. “No, I ― just. I just wanted to make sure you knew. But you do, so. Have fun.” And if that last part had started sounding a little choked again it didn’t matter, because Crowley turned and left the bookshop, the little bell tolling behind him like a knell.