A cottage in the South Downs
Crowley is filthy. There’s dirt under his fingernails, there’s sweat in his hair. The sun is bearing down and he’s still not quite done with viciously pruning the wisteria, threatening to pull a bloom out of it with hell-sharp shears. He scowls at the roses, daring them to argue with him. Lifts his broomstick-skinny arm and swipes the damp from his face.
“You’re a sight, aren’t you?” A warm voice comes, wrapped up in strong arms there about his middle. Perfectly matched. Arms with swells and rich with skin and sinew to slot into Crowley’s sharp and empty spaces, to fill him back up with ballast. Center him, set him right. Aziraphale leaves a kiss on the side of his face, right there on his sweat-damp tattoo.
“Angel, careful. Look, I’m gonna get dirt and stuff all over you.” (He protests but there’s no force in it. There’s laughter, there’s warmth. This is an old dance. They’ve done it for millennia. Careful, I’ll stain you, says one voice. And the echo comes, stain me, I don’t care .)
“That’s what miracles are for,” Aziraphale murmurs. “The garden’s looking lovely, dear. You’ve done a wonderful job.”
“Eh, just you know, showin’ the hedges who’s boss,” Crowley says, turning to move that kiss to his mouth. He knows his welcome here. A decade later in a shared cottage with a single bedroom and a big brass bed. Aziraphale’s arms and mouth always open to him now as the bookshop had always been. (Aziraphale has always let him in wherever he could. Now, much later, Crowley knows he has a key to everything. A key to the kingdom, here at hand.)
“Can I?” Aziraphale whispers, reaching up and gesturing to Crowley’s half-ruined ponytail.
“‘Course, angel,” he says, leaving a soft press of his mouth on Aziraphale’s temple, feeling the steady beat of life there against his lips. “Anything you like."
Aziraphale pulls at the tie, pulls his red-tangle hair down around them. A curtain of red anemones and red aster, smelling like dirt and salt. Like this, two heartbeats holding each other and this red fall of hair to block out the world, it is easy to forget that anything else exists. That anything else has ever existed.
It doesn’t matter. It’s just them. It always has been.
“I love you,” Crowley says, soft and gentle. There’s nothing of ache in it, nothing of tension and ruin. It’s different now. The I love you of a long-time lover. The I love you said like a pulse, like a heartbeat. Steady and counted on, said simply because it exists. Given with no demand. Crowley has always wanted to get here, to move past the valleys and mountains of falling in love into the soft expanse of love itself.
“I love you, my dear,” Aziraphale says, wrapping it up in arms around Crowley’s neck, wrapping it up in a kiss.
How did they get here? Let me tell you a love story. As a wise writer once said: " The first sentence of every novel should be: 'Trust me, this will take time but there is order here, very faint, very human.'"