His name is Crawley. Aziraphale knows because he asks a girl standing by the fence about the auburn haired goat herder, who sticks out like a single thorn on a rose bush.
“That’s just Crawley,” she sneers. That’s not his real name, she explains, but it’s what everyone calls him. He’s been sulking against a large rock for a while now, since Noah came and took two of his goats. Aziraphale moves toward him, cautiously. The rest of the village seems to orbit widely around him.
“Crawley,” he says.
“Not my name.”
“What is your name, then?”
“Chaim.” He looks Aziraphale up and down. “You can call me Crawley, though. It’s fine. They all do.”
“Ah. Well. I will, then.” Aziraphale moves to sit by him, and Crawley shifts. “Your goats are lovely.”
“Only one of mine is left,” he says, pointing to the smallest one, as ruddy as his own hair. “Rest I saved. Everyone’s up in arms over the boat. Seems to think it’s a sign.”
Aziraphale presses his lips together and looks up at the steadily darkening sky.
He is struck by the urge to rescue this man, to usher him safely onto the boat, ruddy goat, too. The Almighty would disapprove, of course. These people are...well they’re…
The Almighty is...tetchy. Best not to push the limits.
Aziraphale stands. “I’m sorry,” he says.
Crawley looks at him curiously. “What for?”
Aziraphale can’t answer him. He is struck by the color of Crawley’s eyes — a honey-golden color, one that probably marked him as different from the moment he was born, and has relegated him to the position of goat watcher, waiting out the great flood by a lonely boulder.
They’re beautiful, he thinks, before walking away.
When they crucify the Son of God, there’s a elderly woman standing beside Mary Magdalene with Crawley’s auburn locks, laced with silver. She looks deeply concerned for the entirety of the day, fidgeting with her sleeves, toying with the hood that obscures her face.
Aziraphale reaches out, recognizes her aura right away. Reincarnation isn’t a...common practice. He knows very few souls given the chance. Why in Heaven Crawley would be one of them, Aziraphale couldn’t say.
It would be inappropriate for them to speak. She is comforting Mary when she spots Aziraphale out of the corner of her eye. He sights her golden eyes, and wonders if she recognizes him, but it’s doubtful. One soul glimmers in the heat, and Aziraphale turns away from the sight they’ve all come here to behold.
He already knows what happens next.
8 Years Later (41 AD)
Rome is very hot, a sticky-warm that leaves his mouth dry. Aziraphale attempts to slake his thirst with wine, but that only makes it worse. As he settles at the bar, he spots a young man with auburn hair and golden eyes a few seats down, counting coin from a small bag and passing it to the barmaid.
“That’s quite a haul,” Aziraphale says.
The man glances over, brow raised. “It might be.”
“What do you do here, in the city?”
The man shrugs. Pauses. “Why?” he asks.
“Oh, no specific reason.” Aziraphale feels as parched as before.
There’s a shifting sound. When he looks over, the man is closer to him.
“You can call me Crowley,” he says. “What’re you drinking?”
Not Crawley anymore, Aziraphale thinks. “Whatever’s drinkable.”
“Nothing’s drinkable here. No offense, Beata.” The girl behind the bar doesn’t seem bothered. Crowley turns to Aziraphale. “I’m an artist,” he explains. “A sculptor. I was supposed to do another one of the emperor, but then he went and got—” Crowley makes a gagging noise. Aziraphale snorts into his goblet. Crowley leans on an elbow and looks him up. “You’ve got nice form,” he says. “What’s your name?”
Aziraphale manages not to choke a second time. He also manages, in record time, to come up with a name. “Az — Azirus.”
“Azirus. That’s funny.”
“Yes, well.” Crowley drains his goblet. “I’ve got a spare hunk of marble at home and no one to put in it. Would you, my new friend Azirus, be so kind as to allow me to sculpt you?”
Aziraphale has no idea how to answer. He should say no. He’ll be in a terrible amount of trouble if his face winds up famous. With Gabriel especially. Some angels just aren’t meant to be remembered is one of his favorite things to say.
But Crowley has beautiful hands, beautiful fingers, and beautiful eyes.
So Aziraphale says yes.
Crowley pays for his drink and leads him through winding Roman streets to a small home a bit isolated from the bustle of the city center. There’s a quaint bit of a studio there, and Aziraphale steps over marble and other bits of stone.
“You sit here,” Crowley says, gesturing to a wooden stool. He pulls one of his own closer as Aziraphale settles down, and leans in.
“Sorry.” Crowley moves back, though he doesn’t sound sorry. “Just...need to get an idea of what you really look like. You know, I’ve usually got like a mask or something to work with. No one ever sits for me.”
“...So I’d be your first.”
Crowley smiles. “Yeah,” he says. “You’d be my first.”
Aziraphale submits to the torture of Crowley’s clever hands, allowing them to trace his brow and the point of his cheekbones, the line of his jaw that eases back to his ears.
“Told you back there,” Crowley murmurs. “You’ve got really good form.”
“Have I now?” Aziraphale says, rather breathlessly, considering he doesn’t need to breathe.
“Yeah.” He drags one thumb slowly along Aziraphale’s bottom lip before resting his fingers on his cheek.
The kiss is not a surprise, but it is surprising how it steals Aziraphale’s voice, the one he’d use to protest such an action. Crowley gets off his stool and stands, stooping over Aziraphale and cupping his face in his hands, kissing him deeply. Aziraphale grips the front of Crowley’s toga, a rich, dark fabric that falls away easily once the cord that holds it together is pulled.
In Crowley’s bed, Aziraphale takes the man’s cock in his mouth and brings him desperately close to the edge before drawing back. He miracles one of his fingers quite slick, a trick Crowley doesn’t notice with his head tossed back and a cry caught in his throat as Aziraphale presses him open, eventually making him loose enough so Aziraphale can slide his cock with some effort into his hole. Crowley bucks against him, digging blunt nails into Aziraphale’s shoulders and dragging them down. Red lines mark him, red lines Aziraphale will revel in later.
He is not, has never been, could never be faulted for partaking in the pleasures of the flesh. He was made for this, for the decadent fruit of the garden that he protected, until the day he didn’t; for the sweet meats and crude cheeses of the last centuries, and for slick oysters that slide down his throat as easily as he slides into Crowley.
Later, he sneaks away, but not with any kind of malice. Crowley seems to understand when they see one another over the next few years.
In time, his sculpture is a moderate hit. Gabriel sends a very sternly worded note.
Word eventually reaches Aziraphale that Crowley has passed. He’d taken to using Azirus around the city, and so he isn’t very to find in the coming days.
“It was noted that this should be given to you,” a young man says, setting a crate in the center of Aziraphale’s little home. Aziraphale gives him a few coins before closing the door and sitting on the ground beside the crate. He yanks off the lid, revealing his sculpture. It is not an exact license. Crowley had taken some artistic liberties with Aziraphale’s curls, and perhaps the plumpness of his cheeks. It would be easy to mistake the face for someone else’s, if one were to not pay too much attention.
But Aziraphale realizes, in looking at his form made solid in stone, that this isn’t meant to be an exact version of himself.
It is how Crowley saw him, how Crowley remembered him. And when Aziraphale closes his eyes, he remembers a curiously arched brow, a wicked smile, and gorgeous hands.
Aziraphale had spotted him the year before, some time after Arthur had first formed his table. The membership tended to shift. Men grew tired of the way Arthur did things, or simply vanished. Some died, some married and started families.
Sir Crowley arrives with little fanfare, accepted at the table as he swears the usual oath. Aziraphale recognizes golden eyes and red red locks from afar, but remains aloof. He hasn’t felt Crowley’s soul since Rome, not sure where it might have gone, what it might have been doing or may have been called. When Aziraphale meets him at Arthur’s table, he is called Crowley, and he is very much the same.
He is beautiful, he is wicked, and he is an artist.
(Aziraphale wonders if Crawley was an artist. He wonders if the old woman who comforted Mary Magdalene was an artist — he wishes he knew them better.)
For a few months, they don’t speak much. Aziraphale is quite busy trying to make sure things stay good for Arthur, but Arthur makes that very difficult. He has a very...rough personality, and has recently left to expand his empire. Aziraphale had tried to go with him, but heaven forbid him from toying with Arthur’s plans. With Arthur’s destiny.
He and Crowley are drinking together one afternoon, leaning against a wall with a very large tapestry. This is the most time they’ve spent together in a year, but Crowley has spent the last hour watching his six week prank of watering down Tristan’s ale finally pay off. The knight is careening, drunk, into the walls, after finally getting his hands on the real stuff.
“Was that necessary?” Aziraphale asks. Crowley shrugs. Aziraphale sighs and looks at the tapestry on the wall. “Aren’t you making one of those?”
“Might be. Might not.” He sips from his cup. “Will you go with me tomorrow, toward the southern border? He wanted to make sure the villages were doing well while he was gone.”
“Good. Won’t have to waste my time out there alone.”
Aziraphale turns to him. “Do you not believe in the oath? In the ideals you swore to uphold?”
Crowley shrugs. “Seems a bit performative if you ask me.”
“Then why on earth are you here?”
“...Dunno. Felt like I was supposed to be here. Nothing left for me at home. Not much for me to really do.” He doesn’t seem like he’s really being truthful. Crowley having a liar’s tongue deeply sours Aziraphale’s image of the naive artist that sculpted him four hundred years ago, and he retires early, troubled by the thought. Perhaps tomorrow, on the ride south, he’ll be able to get something honest out of him.
Crowley rides a black gelding he brought with him from home that some of the other knights tease him over. Doesn’t bother him. He and Aziraphale ride southward for an hour, stopping at a handful of villages to make sure their walls are secure, that soldiers have been placed there.
They make camp in the evening just a short ride west of one of the villages. Aziraphale isn’t expecting to be attacked, but truth be told, he’s let his guard down. Crowley's hair is curly, goes just past his ears, and his gold eyes seem to hold the flame they use to warm their hands. The first arrow lands in the ground at Aziraphale’s feet, and the second —
Well the second would have most certainly hit him square in the chest, and how on earth would he have explained to Gabriel that he, a bloody knight of the bloody round table, with plate armor and a helmet and a sword and everything — got discorporated by a raider’s arrow?
He doesn’t have to, though. The arrow has gone clean through Crowley’s back.
Crowley coughs, collapses onto the wet earth beneath them. The raiders appear from the dark and Aziraphale doesn’t have the time to deal with them one on one. He snaps his fingers, hoping they don’t wind up in a bog, and turns his attention to Crowley.
“Just one,” Aziraphale assures him. “And he’s run off.”
Crowley coughs and spits blood onto Aziraphale’s tunic. “Coward,” he manages before falling to his side. Aziraphale could remove the arrow, could make sure Crowley lives on — but he has never done that to a single soul before, beyond a poor rabbit or dog here and there. No, he must ease Crowley’s suffering, as much as he can, and hope beyond hope he sees him again.
Crowley spits out, “Listen—”
“No, my dear boy. You must rest.”
“No. You...you have t-to—” He coughs again. “Mordred.”
Crowley grips Aziraphale’s shirt. “He’s going...he’s—” Another cough. Aziraphale waits. “He’s going to betray Arthur. S’why I’m here. Part of the plan, yeah?”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“D-dunno. Feels like...like I know you.” Crowley’s head tips back and he cries out in pain. It rattles Aziraphale’s bones. When he looks back, his eyes are blown wide. “...You’ve got wings,” he murmurs, before finally slipping away.
Aziraphale cradles him for a long while, cupping his cheek and kissing his forehead.
“You wicked thing,” he says, before getting up to build a pyre.
Aziraphale has realized something about Crowley’s incarnations.
They are really not Good People.
Crowley had started as an actor in one of Shakespeare’s plays a couple of years before, but he’d been fired for nicking the profits. Not much has changed, and Aziraphale catches him after a performance of Hamlet one night, pickpocketing the wealthier members of the audience as they stumble home drunk.
“What are you playing at?” Aziraphale asks, grabbing him by the arm and pulling him away. Crowley’s also an artist, as he always is, and not doing particularly well at it.
“I’m buying you a drink.”
Aziraphale wants to argue. He wants to fight. But he had found Crowley after the end of one performance of Julius Caesar, had gotten very drunk with him, kissed him in an alleyway behind the tavern, and had been the reluctant angel on his shoulder ever since. According to Crowley.
“Come on, angel.” He only uses the nickname when he’s trying to goad Aziraphale into something he probably shouldn’t.
Aziraphale sighs. “Yes, alright.” He lets Crowley pull him into their favorite tavern. He shouldn’t get as drunk as he is most certainly about to — it makes him do stupid things, like play the lookout to Crowley’s cat burglar. Very poor behavior for an angel.
“You need to lighten up,” Crowley slurs. “Lighten up a lot.”
“Crowley, my dear, if you knew why I couldn’t you’d laugh in my face.”
“S’because you’re some secret noble, is that it?”
Crowley nods. “Knew it. Knew you had to be some rich bastard.” He grins and reaches for his coin pouch. “Out of money.”
“Then you’re done drinking.”
“Yeah, here. But I know someone who keeps a very excellent vintage in his little flat above the bookshop.”
Aziraphale sighs. He does rent the room above an old bookshop that he has every intention of taking over when Mr. Chamberlain passes away. And he does have some wine there. Of course, if they go back to the flat, then they’ll go to bed together. Crowley knows this. It’s why he’s looking at Aziraphale the way he’s looking at him, the way he has been looking at him for the past five thousand years.
“Come on then,” Aziraphale says, and drags Crowley out of the tavern.
That night, he lays out on his bed while Crowley rides him, his back bowed as he takes Aziraphale’s cock with incredible skill. Crowley bends down and they kiss. He grasps Aziraphale’s hands in his own, threading their fingers together and clinging to him for dear life. For two years they have done this, and so Aziraphale is not surprised when Crowley pulls back, their lips still touching, and says, “I love you.”
It’s a suckerpunch to the gut. Aziraphale surges up, crushes their mouths together, and clasps Crowley close to him. He feels him come with a deep shudder and Aziraphale isn’t far off, spilling into him with a long sigh.
Aziraphale loves humanity, he loves the earth. But it is a love instilled in him, gifted to him by the Almighty.
The love he feels for Crowley he forged himself. He found it on his own. It was chiseled into marble and sparked in a funeral pyre, and now it lives here, in the valley between Crowley’s shoulders where Aziraphale presses his lips when Crowley has fallen asleep, his long auburn curls pulled away from the back of his neck.
He is a curious thing, this human who finds him over and over. Who is born again and again. He is strange and beautiful and Aziraphale loves him. Loves him to breaking. It will be hard, this time around, to say goodbye. To lose him some way.
And it is. Aziraphale eventually arranges to travel to German for a while. He returns after some years and discovers Crowley has passed. Nothing was left to him this time around. He finds out Crowley’s paintings were sold in a large auction and tracks them down, storing them with the other things of his he has collected over the years.
There is one painting, of a pale haired man asleep with his chin in his hand, goblet of wine in the other. Aziraphale smiles.
He may eventually tire of seeing how Crowley chooses to see him, but not just yet.
Not in this lifetime.
“Crepes? You want crepes?”
Crowley leans forward and looks at Aziraphale like he’s mad.
“Where in London are we going to get crepes?”
“Nowhere,” Aziraphale snaps. “Paris is the only decent place in Europe for them.”
“You’re not going to Paris.”
Aziraphale glances at him. “...No,” he says. “Of course not.”
Crowley is tipsy. He doesn’t hear the disappointment in Aziraphale’s voice.
He was absolutely going to miracle himself to Paris and get some crepes. The idea that he might be discorporated and leave Crowley here distresses him to no end, however, so he remains where he is. He has no idea what’s really happening in Paris, other than the reports he’s gotten from heaven. They suspected demons were behind it, but Aziraphale has discovered over the years that humans are quite capable of evil without demonic influence.
Crowley sighs and looks at this pocket watch. “Right. I’ve gotta run.”
“Oh, I wish you wouldn’t.” Aziraphale gets up as Crowley does, stopping him with a hand on his chest. “I know what you’re going to go do.”
“Mmhm. And how, exactly, do you plan to stop me, angel?”
Aziraphale melts when Crowley calls him angel. Winged cufflinks, harp on his ring — what's with the heavenly aesthetic, hmm?
“Well, I could—” He stops, already being kissed. Crowley puts a gentle hand on Aziraphale’s jaw, slides his tongue inside his mouth. Aziraphale moans.
“Was that your plan?”
“You wicked thing.”
Crowley grins. “I’m sorry, angel. But a job’s a job.” One last kiss and he pulls on his long black coat and disappears into the night. Aziraphale watches him go from the bookshop window.
They found one another four months ago, when Crowley broke into the bookshop and Aziraphale knocked him out with a very large book of etiquette. He’d known it was him as soon as he spotted those golden eyes, and Crowley had seemed to understand something, right from the beginning.
I know you, you know me, we should stay together.
Aziraphale doesn’t like that Crowley runs a petty crime ring, but he has seemed, over the years, to migrate to less than savory actions. Aziraphale has grown tired of trying to talk him out of it over the last few lifetimes.
He decides not to think about what might happen to Crowley when his soul stops all this reincarnating business. He can’t help him get to heaven, the man is impossible to sway.
Aziraphale can’t decide what is worse: knowing Crowley will live in torment for all eternity, or that it will be eternal torment to, eventually, live without him.
When Crowley comes back from his jobs, he never talks about them. Sometimes he is bleeding, so Aziraphale patches him up. Sometimes he is just passed out on the sofa, so Aziraphale covers him with a blanket and keeps the doors locked. If he has used a miracle or two in order to keep Crowley out of trouble here and there, no one seems to have noticed.
They spend six years this way. It is their longest run yet. Aziraphale starts to wonder if he could miracle himself to look older, perhaps they could just...age this incarnation out together. Michael would give him trouble over it, but it would be so worth it, to make it through to the end.
And then the flu hits.
It is not a proper epidemic. Nothing like the illness that ravaged the city in the 1770’s, but it takes out a few hundred people on its own in just a few weeks. Aziraphale tells Crowley to be careful, be cautious — for some reason Aziraphale feels like this has been engineered to take Crowley from him. Like it didn’t come from just anywhere.
When Crowley falls over with sickness, he’s certain he’s not being paranoid.
It would be so easy to usher it all away. He does his best to bring down Crowley’s fever, to keep him drinking water and resting. Crowley tries to keep Aziraphale out of the room where he is dying, but doesn’t have the strength. At night, Aziraphale considers discorporating as Crowley leaves this world, so that he might get a new position, save them both this heartache.
Next time, he thinks. I’ll stay away.
Next time, he thinks, as Crowley wastes away, wastes away, wastes away — I’ll leave you be.
Next time, he thinks, I will spare us both.
When Aziraphale tries to explain what Crowley might be to the archangel Zaphkiel, he is asked to leave his office.
Zaphkiel is a collector of knowledge. He knows things. Understands things.
When Aziraphale comes to him with something he can’t figure out, it’s embarrassing. Aziraphale is asked to leave and not come back. Gabriel is very upset with him.
A good admonishment from heaven warrants something sweet to nibble on in St. James Park. Aziraphale walks around and eats a danish, pouting about the scolding, but pleased with his pastry.
That is, of course, when he sees him. Aziraphale had set out to avoid Crowley if he happened upon him again, and had spent the last several decades in absolute agony, his heartache almost too much to bear. He had not considered what he would actually do about that heartache if he did find him. And right now, the urge to go to him, to introduce himself and start it all over again — it could discorporate him where he stands.
Crowley is younger than last time, sitting under a tree with another young man as they pass charcoals back and forth to one another. Aziraphale seeks out his aura, senses a letter from a young French artist in his pocket — Please send along some of your sketches next time. Your friend, Claude — and hears them talking about a gallery opening that night.
They are young and poor and talented and happy.
And then Crowley looks up and sees him.
Something in Aziraphale’s being is hooked on Crowley’s soul. He can see the parts of himself that have been left there — teeth marks and bruises and love bites and kisses. For a moment, he thinks Crowley can see the marks he has left on Aziraphale —
Remember me, he thinks, even as he moves faster. Even as he reminds himself that he made them both a promise. That he would not do this again. That he was done.
The moment passes. Crowley’s friend is showing him something in his sketchbook, and Aziraphale is walking past him.
I’ll leave you be. I’ll spare us both.
I’ll stay away.
But maybe it’s the way they linger on one another. Maybe it’s the parts of himself he sees on Crowley — that's why he’s knocking on the bookshop door at ten o’clock.
“We are not open,” Aziraphale snaps, not even bothering to sense who is there — he freezes. “...Hello.”
Crowley stands in the doorway, breathing heavy, hands shaking. “I saw you in the park,” he says. “I followed you here and then I went home and I found this, I found all these—” He pushes Aziraphale back and slams a handful of sketches onto an end table. “I drew these. I drew them months ago and I can hardly remember. But I’ve been looking for you for over a year and then you...then you waltz by in the park, with a bloody danish in your hand—”
Aziraphale goes to the table and inspects one of the drawings.
It is certainly his likeness.
“I don’t understand,” he murmurs.
Crowley shakes his head. “Neither do I.”
Aziraphale sets the sketch down, and they meet like a train wreck in the middle of the room. Crowley digs his hands into Aziraphale’s hair and kisses him until Aziraphale tastes blood and realizes one of them has bitten the other. Doesn’t matter, neither cares. He shoves and Crowley goes, crashing into the desk and pushing everything off of it.
Buttons come undone, vests peeled off and thrown on the floor as Aziraphale grabs at Crowley and pushes him over the desk, yanking down his breeches and pushing up his shirt to press wet, open-mouthed kisses to his spine.
“I know you,” Crowley says, with a long moan at the end as Aziraphale bites his hip. “I know you.”
“Yes,” Aziraphale says. “You do.”
“Tell me. Tell me, or I’ll go mad. Angel.”
That socks Aziraphale in the jaw. Bruises his voice. Tears open his aura and essence until it threatens to spill into Crowley who would not survive it.
“That’s all it is,” Aziraphale murmurs. He massages his hands over Crowley’s hips, willing him to be slick and open for him. He snaps his fingers and his clothes are gone, his cock is against Crowley’s hole, and with a groan his pushes in, sheathing himself inside. “Crowley—”
“Yes, yes you know me. You’ve known me so many times now. Can you feel this?”
“I feel it. Angel, I feel it—”
“I love you. I have loved you for thousands of years, but you slip away from me. I don’t know what you are, I don’t know why you do this to me, but you escape me. Pesky, wicked human.”
“Please, please, give me everything. Let me have this.”
Memories, Aziraphale thinks. He wants the memories. They are dangerously close to bubbling to the surface. To possessing them both. Aziraphale moves faster, harder. The desk rattles and wood creaks dangerously beneath them. Crowley howls, pushes back to get more, and they come together, impossibly together —
And Aziraphale realizes he has made a terrible mistake.
“Angel,” Crowley says, reaching for him. “Please, let me—”
Aziraphale pulls out with a gasp and covers his face with one hand.
Shame is such a human emotion, but it floods through him with a vengeance, until he cannot bear to hear the sound of Crowley’s voice.
“Aziraphale—” Crowley moves to his back.
As Crowley reaches for him, Aziraphale touches his chest and whispers, “Sleep.” He collapses, naked, onto the floor.
It is easy to miracle him dressed. If anyone asks, he’ll find a reason for it all. Lying to Michael is so easy these days. Aziraphale has no energy to care. He dresses himself and waves a hand to clean up the mess they’ve made, moving Crowley to a chair. He’ll come up with something for this, too. A quick lie, once the memories have been drawn out of him.
Careful, careful, he thinks, extracting the last twenty minutes, the moment their eyes met in the park today.
As he goes to get some water, he spots the sketches, his likeness in a flurry of dark lines, later in watercolor. He snaps his fingers, summoning the rest from wherever Crowley lives in the city, not caring if they happen to be in the hands of a friend.
The sketches become more defined, done in more permanent mediums. Aziraphale picks them up and takes them to the back room, stashing them away with the sculpture and the paintings Crowley did years ago.
Back in the shop, he rouses Crowley with a shake and a miracle. He needs to get him out of here, but he can’t just dump him on the street. Crowley groans and shakes his head, covering his face with his hands.
“Are you alright there, my boy?”
“You collapsed just outside my shop. All skin and bones, you are. I called for help, but it was very late, so I brought you in here. Wasn’t sure when you’d wake.”
Crowley looks around. “This is a bookshop.”
“Yes. It’s mine. Here, take this water—”
“Why did I—”
Aziraphale pushes the glass against his lips and forces him to drink. When it’s gone, he says, “Are you well enough to get home? I can help orient you—”
“No, I...I know the city. I’ll be fine.” He gets up slowly. “...Who are you?”
“Mr. Fell. I own this shop.”
Crowley nods. “Right. Well, I’ll...I’ll just, um. Thank you. I guess.”
“It was nothing, my boy.” Aziraphale helps him to the door. “Please, get home safe.”
Crowley stands on the sidewalk outside the shop for a moment, looking around. “Just...don’t know why I’d be down here.” He glances at Aziraphale. “Doesn’t matter, I guess. Thank you, again. I’ll leave you be, sir.”
Aziraphale swallows thickly. What a strange creature he is, here. Timid and forgetful in the late hours of the night. Aziraphale hopes he hasn’t made another mistake. He hopes he hasn’t scrambled the boy’s brain.
(He hasn’t. Aziraphale runs into Crowley at a gallery opening three months later, and he remembers him. “This is Mr. Fell,” he says. “He lent a hand one evening, helped me get back on my feet. He’s got a bookshop, you know.”)
Aziraphale doesn’t discover Crowley has died on purpose, he reads about it in the paper. A fire, in the building where he has been living. It takes only a few well placed questions to find out where he’ll be buried — nowhere special, nothing marked with any sort of fanfare. The boy was too poor for much else. Aziraphale and two people he met at the gallery opening are the only ones in attendance.
“You’re Mr. Fell, aren’t you?”
“Could have sworn he painted you, once. Before we knew you.”
Tell me, or I’ll go mad.
“Life’s funny that way,” Aziraphale says, and turns away.
“I’m your counter intelligence liaison. Anthony Crowley.”
Aziraphale stands in the doorway of the bookshop, ready to discorporate himself on the spot.
You have got to be fucking joking, he thinks, as he smiles and says, “Well please come in, Mr. Crowley,” and moves aside.
Hitler wants books of prophecy. Aziraphale has books of prophecy. Being approached to play provider to the Nazis and then pull the rug out from under them brought him no small amount of joy. Aziraphale had been told a few days ago, “Anthony will be by on Sunday. You’ll love him. We picked him up for art theft a while back, now he works for us.”
Anthony in question is looking at a very nice painting on Aziraphale’s wall. One of his own paintings, actually. The ridiculousness of the situation does not escape Aziraphale.
“If you even think about it, you’ll find yourself biting off far more than you can chew.”
Crowley, hands deep in his pockets, turns to him and grins. “Is that so, Mr. Fell? Seems like a challenge.”
“How about we move on to the challenge at hand?” Aziraphale goes to his desk and shows Crowley the books that were requested. “Unfortunately, I have never been able to get my hands on a copy of The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter.”
Crowley raises a brow. “I heard you could get your hands on just about anything.”
“Well, tragically the unsold copies were destroyed. And the book never sold a single copy. There’s a ledger around here somewhere I’ll dig up. It has one of them scrawled on the side, I’ll bring that with me.”
“You know, you don’t have to do this, Mr. Fell. We’ve got plenty of other operatives. Actual spies.”
Aziraphale sighs. “I’m quite capable of handling myself, Anthony.” He moves past him. “Ah. Nearly forgot Mother Shipton,” he says, and lifts the copy of her book from its sacred place on the shelf. He pauses. “...How will I get them back?”
“Someone will return them within the next few days. Once we have what we need from the idiots you’ll be talking to tonight.”
“Will I see you there?”
Crowley shakes his head. “Nah. I’m going to be running retrieval up ahead. Myself or someone else will return these to you.” He puts a hand on Aziraphale’s arm. “They’ll be safe with us.”
“Yes, I’m sure they will.” Aziraphale smiles and begins placing the other books in a leather bag.
That night, the exchange goes off without a hitch. Well, mostly. Aziraphale has to miracle himself out of a double-cross, but besides that, he’s able to see the Nazi agents duck into a small black car and take off down the road. Someone tells him that his work is done, that he doesn’t need to be a part of what happens next, which really kills the secret agent energy Aziraphale’s been cultivated all evening.
He goes home, makes himself a cup of cocoa, and falls asleep reading Leaves of Grass.
He is awoken by an uneven banging on the door at three AM.
“What on earth—”
Aziraphale opens the door. Crowley falls face first into his chest.
“Hrmph,” he manages, and drops the bag of books on the floor.
“My God,” Aziraphale says, and drags him inside, laying him out on the sofa. “What ever did you do, I wasn’t expecting these back for...for…” Aziraphale swallows. His fingers are warm and slick, and red red red. “Crowley.”
“Things, ah. Things went south. Had to improvise.” He groans, panting and trying to focus.”You love these. I can...I can tell. You looked at Mother Shipton the way I looked at the Sistine for the first time. I cried, you know that? Sat down and cried.” He winces.
Aziraphale mutters, “Michaelangelo was a prat.”
“Wouldn’t sur-surprise me,” Crowley manages. Blood blooms on his shirt. Aziraphale waves a hand over it to ease some of the pain. “How’d you do that?”
“Hush.” He presses his thumb to Crowley’s lips. “You were very brave tonight.”
“Says the man who walked into a church and chatted up some Nazis. Handed over his most prized possessions. They’ll never ask for you again,” he adds. “Made sure of that.”
Aziraphale reaches out and cups Crowley’s cheek. “Every time you go, I miss you more.”
“Don’t know what that means. D-do we...do I—”
“Nothing to dwell on.” Aziraphale pushes the red hair from Crowley’s forehead, and looks into golden eyes. “Did you need to get shot? Did you need to die?”
Crowley shrugs. “Does anyone need to die? I mean besides Hitler.” His breathing is evening out, heart beating slower and slower. “We all die, Mr. Fell. Eventually,” he murmurs, and looks up at the ceiling with a smile. “Some of us just...more spectacularly than every...everyone else.”
Aziraphale holds his hand until he is gone. He phones his contact and tells her what’s happened. Within twenty minutes, Crowley’s body is gone. Crowley is gone. There is a blood stain on his sofa for the next week, a stark reminder of war and pain and the creature Aziraphale did not go looking for —
But who seemed to find him anyway.
“I wouldn’t leave with that, if I were you.” Aziraphale flips on the light switch, the bookshop is illuminated.
At this point, he isn’t even surprised at who he finds there.
“No?” Crowley asks, holding the painting — his painting — out with both hands. “Why’s that?”
“That’s quite special to me. I went through a lot of trouble to get it.”
“Worth something to you then?”
“Very much so.”
Crowley looks at Aziraphale. “They said you’d be an easy target, you know. Said you wouldn’t be any trouble.”
Aziraphale raises a brow. “You’ve no idea what kind of trouble I can be, my dear boy.” He crosses the room and takes the painting. “Now that’s quite enough of that,” he says, before replacing it on the wall and turning to look this iteration of Crowley up and down.
Same hair, same eyes, same gorgeous hands. He looks like a Beatle, only more smug, if that were possible. He’s taking in the shop, the stacks and stacks of books around them.
“Any of these worth something?”
“They all have worth,” Aziraphale says. “Would you like wine or scotch?”
“Uh—” This throws him off. Crowley glances toward the back door where he broke in. “I’m not—”
“Wine it is,” Aziraphale says, and goes to get a bottle. He half expects Crowley to have vanished when he comes back, but he’s still standing very awkwardly in the room, looking through a stack. “Here.” Aziraphale pours a glass and hands it to him.
“So you’re not calling the police.” The glass hangs between them.
“I am not.”
“...Well alright then.” Crowley takes it. “Cheers.”
It is nearly midnight, but they drink together until nearly three. After their last time together, Aziraphale understands that Crowley cannot be avoiding. That they are always meant to find one another, in whatever form he might take. These last years, Aziraphale has been watching for him, waiting to see what might happen. He should have guessed that Crowley would be drawn to his own work, moth to flame.
At three, Aziraphale helps him sober up and ushers him back onto the street.
“You could have really fucked me over,” Crowley says, pulling out a cigarette and lighting it, a flash in the dark. “Really.”
“Can’t see what good it would have done. You’ll only be back at it tomorrow.”
Crowley grins. “Well, I appreciate it all the same.” He blows smoke at the stars. “Will I see you around?” he asks.
“Oh, I’m quite sure you will.”
“Yeah. Yeah, probably. Small world, Soho. Isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Aziraphale says, watching him go. “Yes indeed.”
“I’m sorry, the world is what?”
“The world is ending, my dear boy. And I absolutely need your help. Grab that chair.”
Crowley does not grab the chair. He stares as Aziraphale carefully, reverently, opens the copy of The Nice and Accurate Prophecies and appears to try not to choke on his own tongue.
“Fine, fine!” He grabs a chair and moves closer. “You know this is insanity, angel. You get that, right?”
Aziraphale looks at him.
They have been friends, now, for twelve years. Aziraphale met him at an art gallery and, upon realizing most of the masterworks on display were fakes, figured out who was behind it. How else does an artist drive a vintage Bentley, or live the way he does, or dress as well as he always has. Aziraphale has been less and less astounded, these last five thousand years, to find Crowley with a penchant for petty wickedness. Stealing and forging and pickpocketing. Never setting foot in a church, never apologizing for anything.
For some reason, it has only ever made Aziraphale love him more.
“So you’re telling me that this book...it tells actual prophecies. Like. The real deal.”
“And that, somewhere along the line, the, uh. The Antichrist, son of Satan, slayer of kings or whatever. He got...lost.”
“Swapped. Very confusing. Evil has a way of doing that, you know. Winds up all twisted.”
Crowley sighs. “Dunno,” he says. “Seems like an ordinary fuck up if you ask me.”
Aziraphale glances at him, overwhelmed with love. “We’ll stop it,” he says. “If you’re worried.”
Crowley gives him an uneasy smile. “M’not worried,” he says. “Got you on the case, don’t we? Cleverest book trader in England.” He scrubs a hand over his face. “Okay, so what should we do now?”
They pour over the prophecies for hours. Crowley gets some paper and a pen and starts making notes. Everything, Aziraphale says, points to Tadfield. Tadfield is where things matter.
“Right, look here, in Revelations. ‘Here is wisdom. Let him that has understanding count the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is Six hundred, three score and six.’”
They look at one another. Then the phone.
Crowley narrows his eyes. “It’s not that easy,” he says. “It can’t be that easy.”
Apparently, it is.
Aziraphale is pacing frantically, trying to decide what to do, who to tell.
“I’ll just go to Gabriel and say we’ve found him, and we can call off the war right away!”
Crowley waves his hands. “Wait, hold on a minute. What war? Who is Gabriel? Aziraphale, what are you on about?”
Aziraphale looks at him. “Crowley,” he says. “Oh, my dear Crowley.” He goes to him, holding his face in his hands. “I need you to know things, but I am terrified of what might happen if you do. I need you to understand me, but I’m afraid you’ll leave.”
“We’ve been friends for years, Aziraphale. I’m pretty sure there’s nothing you could do that’d send me running.”
“Ah. I’m sure you’d find there are quite a few things I’m capable of that’d have you fleeing.” They are inching closer together. Aziraphale feels love, he feels so much love between them. Why hadn’t he been paying attention to Crowley’s heart before?
“End of the world’s coming,” Crowley says. “Where’s there to run now?”
“Yes. Yes, I suppose that’s right.” So close. So very close. “May I give you something?”
“Of course. Anything.”
“I don’t know what it will do to you. I don’t know what you will feel when you’re done, but you need to know. Especially if we don’t stop this all from happening. I need you to know everything. Absolutely everything.”
“Whatever you say,” Crowley murmurs.
Aziraphale kisses him. He kisses him, and into that kiss he pours the memories of a man and an angel, of lives lived over and over again, love had and lost, blood spilled and promises broken. It is earth shattering, world breaking, universe swallowing — it is their greatest kiss to date, and Aziraphale is broken hearted over the fact that it might be their very last one, but, should it be, he’ll know he gave Crowley everything now that he has always deserved.
Love. Love and truth.
And right when Aziraphale thinks, Look at me, look at how clever an idea that was, I’ve finally sorted it —
That’s when he starts getting feedback.
Crowley jerks away, pitches onto the ground, and howls. Aziraphale’s lips burn, his essence bleeds through for just a moment, he sees with ten thousand eyes, his heart is a spinning wheel, turning over and over again —
And black wings burst from Crowley, who is writhing at his feet, as he screams out, calls out to the heavens —
Aziraphale. Aziraphale. Aziraphale.
Across lifetimes, throughout eternity, on earth and in Hell
You are Crawley, but someday, you won’t be. You are Crawley, but before that, you were something else. She called you Samael, and when you grew angry with her, you punished her creations, gave them fruit and knowledge, and for your insolence you were cast out, cast into Hell below, into sulfur and brimstone, where your brother Lucifer bore you down in his open arms.
My brother, he said, and gave you your new name. Crawley.
Lucifer always was an asshole.
But you despise Hell. You despise it immediately. You want to be free, you want to be earthbound and smell the stars, drink ozone and sleep by a river. You made some of those stars, you helped carve rivers. You were there when the earth was nothing but hot, melted stone in the Almighty’s hands, and you do not deserve to be here.
You deserve moonlight, and you are going to get it.
You’ll burn away, Lucifer says. You won’t be who you are now. You will be lost and confused.
I don’t care, you tell him. Anything is better than this. Anything is better than what I’ve become.
If that’s how you feel, brother. Then do it. As many times as you require, as you desire. Make your way to them, but know that they will not love you like I do. They will not see you the way I see you. You cannot walk among them as the creature you are, should you choose to follow this path.
I only want to see the stars, you say, and start your long crawl to the surface.
Like a meteor, you burn upon reentry. Screaming and flailing you erupt onto earth and when you call yourself Crawley, the first human flees from you. You choose a different name. You call yourself Chaim. You get further and further away from Hell. You cannot remember your magic. They call you Crawley to put you down. Your eyes are a dangerous golden color, and you do very well with goats.
No one trusts you.
You can’t place why, but that seems to make sense.
A beautiful creature, a man with pale hair and kind, blue eyes, sits with you as the rains come. He is gentle, and good. You wish he wouldn’t leave. Eventually he does.
In Hell, you remember. In Hell, Lucifer asks if you’ve had your fill.
I haven’t, you say.
And then you do it again.
In present day, the angel kisses you, and you remember.
You remember Mary and Rome. You remember making love to a beautiful man you met at a bar and putting his face into marble. You remember round tables and betrayals, pickpockets and paintings. Oh the paintings! Your paintings. He kept them, didn’t he? He kept it all. He kept your sketches, he kept your sculpture, he kept your memory alive, and he doesn’t even know what you are, does he? Each time your body dies, you are flung back to Hell, and each time you climb back, punished by your brother, forced to forget everything about who you are.
Your eyes, golden eyes, barely a memory of eyes you now possess. Red hair, red like flames. Wicked deeds, you were always making terrible choices.
Couldn’t help yourself. Can’t help yourself.
And now the world is ending, the world is ending, the world is ending —
You are Crowley. You are a demon. You are in love with an angel.
And the world is ending.
Crowley screams, black wings erupt, and Aziraphale falls back into a shelf.
“Hnnn-ahh!” Crowley rolls to his stomach, letting his wings unfurl, gasping with the effort. He looks at Aziraphale, golden eyes now a rich yellow, one black slit down the middle.
Like a snake.
“Yeah,” he manages. “Me.”
“I...I met you. I met you six thousand years ago. You tempted them, you were the reason—”
“Never was very good at being an angel,” Crowley mutters, forcing himself onto his knees. “Turns out I’m a piss-poor demon, too.”
“After I met you, I kept...I kept trying to get back to you. But he’d burn me up, each time. Thought it was funny, I think. Thought that, eventually, I’d stop.” Crowley looks at him. “But I didn’t. I never could. Every time, I was only trying to get back to you. I was only trying to get back, hoping you’d...figure me out.”
“How could I not sense it? How did I not know—”
“Imagination’s a funny thing,” Crowley says quietly. “I believed I was human. I believed I was just...a man.”
“And so I believed it, too.”
“To be fair, I didn’t have access to my power, to my brothers. I didn’t have anything.” Crowley reaches for him. “I had you. And that’s all.”
“...And that was enough.”
Crowley nods. “Yeah. That was enough.”
They save the world.
Well, they are more like accessories to the savior of the world. Adam is a very bright young boy, he’s really going to go far, Aziraphale is certain.
And after, when they have sorted out Heaven, and sorted out Hell — they go to lunch.
“Are you going to keep up the business?”
Crowley sips his champagne, considers this. “You know, angel, I thought about giving it up. Thought about hanging up my brushes, letting you make a decent man of me—” Aziraphale snorts. “—but I don’t think so. Art’s in me, now. Think I’ll just keep pulling the wool over humanity’s eyes a bit longer.”
“I am,” Crowley says. “I really am.”
“But I think,” Aziraphale says, “that for me to find you, for me to love you, as I so very much do, then there must be a bit of good in you. Don’t you think?”
Crowley nods. “Oh I’m sure it’s in there somewhere.” He looks at Aziraphale. “I remember every moment of us, angel. And so you know that I already know—” He puts a hand on Aziraphale’s knee. “—that there’s a right bastard living inside you, worth knowing again and again.”
Aziraphale flushes. “You’re wicked.”
“I’d like to be more.”
In a flat above a bookshop, an angel makes love to a demon.
“Don’t you dare stop. Don’t you dare—”
The world does not end. It is not ending today or any time soon. They have years and years and years to know one another again, to fall deeper into love, and Aziraphale is quite certain that the heartache and the bloodshed has been worth it.
“I did all these,” Crowley murmurs, looking at the sketches. “God, I was really hung up on you. I remembered you, you know. Just barely. Clung to it, drew you as best I could and then...then you were gone. And I had all these drawings of you, scattered all over the place. I looked insane.” He kisses Aziraphale, clutching him close to his chest. “And then you walked past me in St. James Park, eating a bloody danish.”
Aziraphale laughs. “I missed you then. I said I’d leave you alone. When I lost you to the fever, it broke my heart.”
“And I said never again. But you...you found me.”
“Couldn’t stay away.”
Aziraphale takes the drawings from him. “I love you. I love you and I won’t ever be parted from you again. Do you understand that?”
Crowley runs thin, beautiful hands up Aziraphale’s back, finds the place where his wings live, and holds him there.
“May I paint you?” he asks. “I’m quite good, don’t know if you’ve heard.”
Aziraphale laughs, kissing him. “Later,” he murmurs. “Later, later, later.
“We’ve all the time in the world.”