Actions

Work Header

after loneness long

Work Text:

I. Theognis

The noblest thing is justice; the most advantageous, health;
But what gives greatest delight is to gain the object of one's desire.

 

He was not Aziraphale’s first lover, but he was the first who was a poet. His name was Theognis, and while he cried out the name Kyrnos in the throes, he otherwise treated Aziraphale well. He was melancholic, perhaps, and regarded the lower classes in a manner which reminded Aziraphale of his fellow angels looking down at humanity, but he was not the worst companion Aziraphale has had.

They met while traveling -- well, Theognis was traveling; Aziraphale had been in Eretria for some time working on a particularly convoluted series of miracles, and had just been ready to wrap it all up when he, spur of the moment, decided to visit the theater, and there caught Theognis’ eye.

“What were the miracles?” Crowley asks.

“Hm?” Aziraphale hums.

“The convoluted series of miracles. What were they?”

“Oh.” Aziraphale looks at the ceiling and ponders for a moment. “I can’t recall. It seemed awfully important at the time. Why do you ask?”

“No reason.” Crowley sips his wine. “Only I had a job in Chalcis around that time. Thought they might be related.”

“Well,” Aziraphale says.

Theognis had been lonely, obviously, and missing his dear Kyrnos. Aziraphale had offered to cheer him up and they proceeded to drown themselves in Euboean wine and one thing had led to another and -- of course, you know what happens next.

“Tell me,” Crowley says.

Aziraphale blushes and takes a fortifying gulp of wine.

Pilfered olive oil eased the way as Theognis drove in, in, in, stealing Aziraphale’s breath as well. He was not gentle in his pursuit of oblivion; Aziraphale shuddered and writhed and ignored the muttered Kyrnos, Kyrnos .

When all was done, they parted ways with hardly a word.

“That’s all?”

“You know what they say about Euboea’s vineyards, dear.”

Crowley merely cocks an eyebrow and swirls his glass.

 

II. Michelangelo

With your fair eyes a charming light I see,
For which my own blind eyes would peer in vain;
Stayed by your feet, the burden I sustain
Which my lame feet find all too strong for me;
Wingless upon your pinions forth I fly;
Heavenward your spirit stirreth me to strain;
E'en as you will, I blush and blanch again,
Freeze in the sun, burn 'neath a frosty sky.
Your will includes and is the lord of mine;
Life to my thoughts within your heart is given;
My words begin to breathe upon your breath:
Like to the moon am I, that cannot shine
Alone; for lo! our eyes see nought in heaven
Save what the living sun illumineth.

 

Michelangelo’s reputation preceded him. Michelangelo’s reputation did not prepare Aziraphale for the reality. However fine his works of art, the man himself was unkempt and perpetually on the verge of starvation (not for lack of food -- no, that would be entirely understandable -- but for lack of motivation; he seemed to forget he would die if he did not eat). The concept of food as pleasurable appeared entirely alien to him.

Of course, Aziraphale took that as a challenge.

Man’s nature, however, is not so easily diverted. Michelangelo humored Aziraphale all his wines and pastries, and by the end of the night found perfect peace in his fair face -- and body -- instead.

“What, he didn’t paint you?” Crowley interrupts.

“Let me finish!”

The next morning, Aziraphale posed, nude, in the studio. It was merely a sketch, but decades -- centuries -- later, when he entered the Sistine Chapel for the first time, he spotted a familiar figure in the fresco and smiled.

“Wh--” Crowley’s eyes go wide of the rim of his wine glass. “You--”

Aziraphale looks smug.

“You mean to say that you’re on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel?”

“My likeness, yes.” Aziraphale takes a slow sip from his glass.

Where?

They find a high-resolution image of the ceiling on Aziraphale’s old desktop computer (which, technically, shouldn’t be able to connect to the Internet) and, once they’ve figured out how to zoom in, Aziraphale points and says, “There I am!”

“Which one?” Crowley squints.

“There, sitting and sort of leaning in the border just next to the apple tree. Oh! Next to you, I suppose. There you are.” He points to the serpent coiled around the tree.

“Oh,” Crowley says. “I’d have guessed you were one of the weird little cherubs in the columns.”

Aziraphale smacks his arm lightly.

 

III. William

O! never say that I was false of heart,
Though absence seemed my flame to qualify.
As easy might I from myself depart
As from my soul, which in thy breast doth lie:
That is my home of love; if I have ranged,
Like him that travels, I return again,
Just to the time, not with the time exchanged,
So that myself bring water for my stain.
Never believe, though in my nature reigned
All frailties that besiege all kinds of blood,
That it could so preposterously be stained,
To leave for nothing all thy sum of good;
For nothing this wide universe I call,
Save thou, my rose; in it thou art my all.

 

Aziraphale’s relationship with William was largely intellectual. Aziraphale admired William’s wit, and William admired Aziraphale’s admiration for his wit. In all honesty, they only slept together twice.

The first time was slow, curious, halting; they learned each other gently and comprehensively. They did not speak of feelings. They knew each other, had known each other, and that was enough.

The second time was frantic, fueled by William’s nerves: a great terror that this most fair creature will be lost to him, hidden haphazardly away under the anxiety that what should be his next great tragedy will be condemned to obscurity. William need not have voiced his doubts for Aziraphale to know, and to understand. Though he did not know it yet, it was the day before Aziraphale left for Edinburgh; it was the day before Crowley arrived.

And when Crowley in all his lascivious grace sauntered into the Globe and they spoke of temptations and blessings, Aziraphale caught William watching, somber and knowing.

Crowley is silent a moment. When he finally speaks, he says, “He loved you.”

Aziraphale nods. “I think so.”

“If I’d known how you two were, I’d have gone to Edinburgh.” He keeps his eyes on his swirling wine while Aziraphale stares at him.

Aziraphale shakes his head. “It’s better it ended when it did. It couldn’t have lasted.” He takes a small sip from his glass. “He had a wife in the country, you know. Never felt right.”

Crowley downs the last of his wine and refills it from the bottle sitting atop the coffee table.

“And,” Aziraphale continues, “you did a superb job with Hamlet. I hardly think I could’ve done better.”

Crowley groans and throws his head back over the armrest, kicking his bare feet across the sofa until his toes are trapped under Aziraphale’s thighs.

 

IV. Edward

So thin a veil divides
Us from such joy, past words,
Walking in daily life--the business of the hour, each detail seen to;
Yet carried, rapt away, on what sweet floods of other Being:
Swift streams of music flowing, light far back through all Creation shining,
Loved faces looking--
Ah! from the true, mortal self
So thin a veil divides!

 

They met at, of all things, a socialist rally.

“I know that’s not one of ours.” Crowley speaks into his glass. “Yours, then?”

“Neither yours nor ours, I think. Er, that is, not from either of our old ‘sides,’ as it were.”

“‘Course.”

“No, I think the humans came up with that all on their own,” Aziraphale says.

“Ah.” Crowley stretches his arms up. “Good for them.”

Edward was neither young nor idealistic. Aziraphale preferred this; he knew Edward would not expect much from him. It was April, month of Nymphs and Fauns and Cupids, and they went to bed together riding high on the crest of liberation.

They saw each other again, a few times, whenever Aziraphale was in the area, until finally Edward had resolved to travel to India and they’d agreed to break cleanly. There were no hard feelings because there were hardly any feelings involved to begin with.

“Oh,” Crowley says. If he has anything else on his mind, he doesn’t speak it.

“What, ‘oh’?”

“Nothing, really.” Crowley’s teeth are bared, but he doesn’t seem to notice that. “Just didn’t realize you’d had a boyfriend before.”

“I-- No!” Aziraphale goes very red very quickly. “Angels,” he stammers, “do not have boyfriends.”

“Oh?”

“No.”

“Well, seems to me--” Crowley tops up his glass. “Seems to me angels don’t dance, either, yet here you are.” He takes a long sip, maintaining eye contact.

One ,” Aziraphale states, holding up a finger. “One dance, is all I learned!”

“And one boyfriend!” Crowley imitates his finger.

“Well.” Aziraphale adjusts his waistcoat, then waves a hand dismissively. “Whatever you want to call it, he went on to live out his days with a very nice young man, and. Here I am.”

“Yeah.” Crowley tops up Aziraphale’s glass.

 

V. Oscar

To drift with every passion till my soul
Is a stringed lute on which all winds can play,
Is it for this that I have given away
Mine ancient wisdom, and austere control?
Methinks my life is a twice-written scroll
Scrawled over on some boyish holiday
With idle songs for pipe and virelay,
Which do but marr the secret of the whole.
Surely there was a time I might have trod
The sunlit heights, and from life's dissonance
Struck one clear chord to reach the ears of God:
Is that time dead? lo! with a little rod
I did but touch the honey of romance--
And must I lose a soul's inheritance?

 

Oscar did not understand la douleur exquise, try as he might.

“The what?

“It’s-- er. The exquisite pain?”

Angel .” Crowley looks gleefully scandalized.

“Not like that! It’s sort of, um.” He fiddles with his watch fob. “The feeling when you love someone but they’re -- for whatever reason -- unattainable.”

Crowley, amusement lost like a leaf on the wind, shifts his gaze quickly away.

When Oscar desired someone, he pursued them; if they did not desire him in return, he moved on to the next.

Aziraphale desired him in return.

They shared wine and gossip. Oscar regaled him with a sordid tale involving Walt Whitman, that American poet Aziraphale had heard so much about yet never met . As the bottle ran dry so did their gossip, and they moved to the bedroom, Apollo standing over them. With wistful eyes, Aziraphale removed Oscar’s coat.

“It reminded me of your coat, actually. I remember that,” Aziraphale says thoughtfully.

Crowley picks at his lapel.

“Not that one; that one didn’t exist yet. I mean the one you wore that time when-- at St. James’ Park. When you made that...peculiar request.”

Crowley looks pained. Aziraphale feels it.

Atop splendid silk sheets Oscar took him apart, slowly at first then ruthlessly.

In the morning, they parted amicably. Oscar had an engagement at an art gallery to attend, and Aziraphale had a bookshop to tend to.

 

Epilogue (Crowley)

 

“So,” Crowley begins. “Oscar Wilde and Walt Whitman, eh?” He laughs.

Aziraphale smiles. “Yes, quite an interesting pair, I’m sure.”

“And Oscar Wilde and. You.” Crowley picks at the rim of his glass with his nail.

“Surely you aren’t surprised, my dear, not after I told you about the others.”

Crowley shrugs. “Explains a lot.” He shoots Aziraphale a half-hearted grin, gesturing widely at the expansive collection of Wilde sitting on the shelves around them.

“I assure you, I had admired his writing long before we met.” Aziraphale huffed, then took a sip of wine.

“And how did you two meet, exactly?”

“Well, a mutual friend introduced us, actually. I knew him through our gentleman’s club, and he knew Oscar through-- well, I’m not sure how they knew each other.”

Crowley throws his hands out in front of himself and, finally making eye contact again, says, “Wait, wait, wait. Gentleman’s club?”

“Oh, yes!” Aziraphale grins. “Sometime in the late 19th century, well, I hadn’t seen you in a long time and I got a bit...lonely.” His smile fades.

“So you decided to join a gentleman’s club?”

“It’s what was done when one wanted to be part of society!” Aziraphale cries out. “Of course, this club was somewhat more discreet than others, but--”

“Oh, great Dark Lord Satan Himself.” Crowley throws back the contents of his rather full glass.

“Honestly, where did you think I learned to dance?”

Crowley miracles the wine in his mouth back into his glass before he can spray it all over his legs, and the sofa, and Aziraphale. “You learned to dance at a discreet gentleman’s club?

Aziraphale sits up even more. “You say that like it’s something sordid.”

“You say that like it’s not!”

“I’ve just finished telling you about five different encounters I’ve had and you choose to fixate on the gentleman’s club?”

“You’re honestly telling me no funny business happened in that club?”

Aziraphale purses his lips and sips his wine.

“It’s like this, angel.” Crowley sets his wine glass on the table. “You told me about sleeping with poets. That happens to loads of people. Nasty lot, poets.”

Aziraphale is ready to protest, but Crowley plows on. “Fits your image though, really. I mean, you like poetry, so it works. What doesn’t fit your image, though, is joining what was, essentially, a sordid 19th-century gay club so you could get your rocks off with strangers.” Crowley picks up his glass and takes a sip.

“Why are you so judgmental, anyway?” Aziraphale stares, wounded, at Crowley.

“I’m not!” Crowley sets his glass down again and leans forward, grabbing Aziraphale’s unoccupied hand. “I’m honestly not judging you. Actually, I’m proud.”

Aziraphale rolls his eyes at that.

“Really! I have questions, sure.” Crowley laughs. “I mean, who wouldn’t?”

“If you’re going to ask them, I need more wine,” Aziraphale says.

Crowley reaches for the bottle and refills both their glasses, leaning back against the armrest once again.

“Well,” Aziraphale says after swallowing a mouthful of wine, “ask away.”

“It’s really only one question.” Crowley pulls at a loose thread on his jeans. “But, boy, is it a doozy.”

Aziraphale waits.

“It’s more a request for clarification than a real question,” Crowley stalls.

Aziraphale waits.

Crowley sits up, fidgeting. He curls his legs under himself, cradling his wine glass in both hands.

Aziraphale waits.

“Remember when you gave me that holy water?”

Aziraphale nods. “Nineteen-sixty...oh, what was it?”

“1967. The year’s not important. Something you said is, though. S’been nagging at me.” Crowley takes a bracing drink.

He continues, “It wasn’t nagging at me, before. But now you’ve told me all these stories and that’s when it started nagging at me.”

“Crowley,” Aziraphale says.

“Right, okay,” he says, rubbing his face with one hand. “‘You go too fast for me.’ That’s what you said.” He stares at his glass.

“Ah,” Aziraphale says, watching him carefully. “And your question?”

Crowley blows out a long burst of air. “I just wanted to know how, after six millennia, I’d been going too fast. And you’ve, well.” He waves his hand in reference to their conversation of the past couple of hours. “I know you weren’t talking about the car.”

Aziraphale gets the distinct feeling that this is an uncomfortable conversation. “I’m afraid I don’t quite understand,” he says.

Crowley lets out a soft, hissing breath. “I mean,” he says, leaning closer, “that while you’ve been getting your jollies with all these men, I’ve been quietly pining away for six thousand years.”

To say the least, Aziraphale is shocked. To say the most, Aziraphale feels as though his corporation has been flung into outer space and is currently being bombarded by billions of watts of solar radiation. And then like a middling-sized asteroid has come along and careened right into him, splattering him against its surface like a bug against a windshield.

Physically, though, he remains on Earth and therefore must respond to Crowley’s confession.

“Pining?” This is the way he chooses to respond. “For me?”

“No, for Leonardo da Vinci,” Crowley deadpans.

Aziraphale frowns.

“Yes, you!” Crowley throws his hands about, which ordinarily would have sloshed wine all over the sofa as well as the two of them, but Crowley tells it to stay right there in his glass, so it does.

“Oh,” Aziraphale breathes. His face lights up, a gleaming smile inching its way across. “Oh, my dear boy.” He grasps Crowley’s hand with his own.

“Huh?” Crowley looks nearly as shocked as Aziraphale had been a few moments earlier.

Aziraphale slips the wine glass out of Crowley’s hand and sets both glasses onto the table. “Oh, Crowley,” he says again, as he has found that he doesn’t have much more to say than that. Except, perhaps: “I had no idea,” which he says as he reaches up to brush Crowley’s cheek.

“Now you’ve really got to explain yourself, angel,” Crowley says ever-so-softly. “Because I’m very confused at the moment.”

Aziraphale says, “I was able to go so fast with those other people because, quite honestly, I didn’t much care for them.” He stops and shakes his head. “No, I cared for them, of course, because they were living beings who deserved that at the very least, but on a personal level I wasn’t very attached to them. They weren’t around long enough for me to form any real attachments.

“I said that to you,” Aziraphale continues, “because I was afraid.” Crowley tilts his head to the side and some hurt begins to show in his exposed eyes so Aziraphale rushes to clarify. “Not of you, dear boy. But of--” he glances pointedly heavenward. “Of what they might do if they found out. That I love you.” His voice cracks slightly and he smiles sheepishly. “And, of course, I imagine Hell wouldn’t be too happy with this either.

“Over the years you’ve proven that you don’t give a damn about the consequences, and I’m sorry I couldn’t do the same.” He squeezes Crowley’s hand. “I am truly sorry I allowed you to believe, all this time, that you weren’t loved.”

There are tears running down Crowley’s cheeks. Aziraphale wipes them away with his thumb. “I do love you,” he says -- whispers, really, just for them -- earnestly.

“Angel,” Crowley rasps brokenly, then leans forward and wraps his arm around Aziraphale’s shoulders, tucking his face into Aziraphale’s neck. “Aziraphale ,” he sobs.

Aziraphale runs his hands up and down Crowley’s back, one of them traveling up into his hair and Aziraphale presses a kiss to Crowley’s crown in its wake.

“M’sorry,” Crowley mumbles into Aziraphale’s damp shoulder. Aziraphale shushes him, but Crowley continues: “Kept it bottled up so long, guess it had to come out sooner or later.” He laughs once, wretchedly, and then pulls his head back so that the two are nearly nose-to-nose. His sharp intake of breath is almost imperceptible.

“It’s perfectly alright, my dear,” Aziraphale says, eyes exploring every square millimeter of Crowley’s face. He’s a bit of a mess, but Aziraphale doesn’t mind that at all. In fact, his own face is swimming in tears at the moment, too. Crowley’s hand comes up and brushes some away.

“So, now that we don’t have anyone peering over our shoulders constantly,” Crowley starts, hesitantly. A gleam of hope shines in his teary, serpentine eyes.

Aziraphale finds himself leaning forward without thinking. “May I?” he asks.

Crowley nods helplessly.

Their lips meet and a desperate sound emerges from Crowley’s throat and lodges itself deep in Aziraphale’s. Crowley shifts forward, getting his knees under himself and placing a hand on either side of Aziraphale’s jaw. If it were necessary for him to consume oxygen, Aziraphale would gasp, but he refrains from doing so in favor of keeping his mouth firmly attached to Crowley’s.

Crowley severs their connection at last, moving down to pepper kisses along Aziraphale’s jaw.

“Oh, Crowley,” Aziraphale murmurs, relaxing back into the sofa.

Crowley presses a final kiss to just under Aziraphale’s ear, eliciting a soft moan, before pushing his forehead into Aziraphale’s shoulder, panting. Aziraphale cards his fingers gently through Crowley’s hair. Limbs tangled, they rest.