The Apocalypse has been averted, Heaven and Hell have been dealt with, and Aziraphale is in love. The love isn't new, of course, but the ability to do something about it is, and the awareness of it sits in the back of his head through the champagne course, and the entrées, and the crêpes Suzette. It's there now, as he eats Crowley's chocolate mousse and listens to him hold forth on the absurdity of koalas.
"And sometimes they just starve to death!" Crowley flings his arms wide, heedless of the newly-filled glass of port in his hand. "Because they're too stupid to eat the food in front of them!"
Aziraphale glances down at Crowley's dessert and then back up at Crowley.
Crowley misinterprets entirely. "Go ahead and finish it, angel," he says, interrupting his own lecture, sounding indulgent.
Aziraphale spoons some more mousse into his mouth instead of correcting him. Notes of hazelnut. Scrumptious, especially against the background glow of Crowley's regard.
Crowley goes right back to his diatribe. "And! And! They've all got chlamydia, you know!" He gestures again, even more wildly, the liquid in his glass promising to spill. "Not even my fault! Didn't have a single thing to do with it!"
Aziraphale savors the dark chocolate on his tongue, allows himself a delighted shiver, and puts his spoon down. "I should certainly hope not. Bit distasteful, even for you, my dear."
Crowley narrows his eyes. They're hidden by his sunglasses, but Aziraphale is the world's foremost expert in observing Crowley's expressions, and can tell. "Are you implying—? No."
"The infection is transmitted through...well." Aziraphale dabs at his lips with his napkin, hiding his smile. "I wouldn't put it past you, of course—you did take such pride in your work—so I'll admit it's a relief to hear you didn't."
Now Crowley's eyes widen, and there's delight lurking in the corner of his mouth, if you know where to look. (Aziraphale does.) Then he slams his drink on the table and says, in a voice meant to carry, "Oh, like you've never fucked a koala before!"
A wineglass shatters across the room in some banker-type's hand. The woman he's seated with actually appears to be actually clutching actual pearls.
Aziraphale reaches out and steals a sip of Crowley's port, and Crowley throws his head back and laughs. He's so clearly enjoying having caused this small bit of chaos, and Aziraphale's heart feels stuffed full, watching him. Crowley has caused a scene at the Ritz by accusing Aziraphale of bestiality, a scene that Aziraphale helped him cause, and Aziraphale regrets nothing, wouldn't wish himself anywhere else in the world. Crowley laughs and laughs and Aziraphale bathes in the sound. He has never tasted anything as good as this wine that Crowley's lips have touched. He finishes it all.
Crowley doesn't even notice until Aziraphale sets the empty glass on the table, at which point his mouth drops open in ludicrously exaggerated offense. "Really?"
Aziraphale taps the glass with his finger and it's full again. It's reckless, maybe, but everyone in the restaurant is still pointedly ignoring them. Crowley picks the glass up with one hand and leaves his other hand on the table between them. Everything feels bright and joyful and warm, and Aziraphale could touch that hand, could cover it with his own if he wanted. He wants and doesn't want. He wants to want. He wants to not feel his hands threatening to shake at the idea of reaching out. He could force himself through it, he knows, but he's had enough of that. He has time, now, to be gentle with himself. To be gentle with this thing between them.
He smiles at Crowley, and Crowley smiles back.
In the Bentley, Aziraphale is calm.
Being inside Crowley's car is almost like being surrounded by Crowley—it's loud and often annoying and reckless things tend to happen, but for all of that, Aziraphale feels safe.
He looks over at Crowley, and Crowley is looking back. Aziraphale tells him to watch the road, and Crowley repeats his words back at him sarcastically, and it's an exchange they've had a thousand times before but it feels different now, as they travel through London streets that are old and very new. Aziraphale remembers Londinium. Even if it isn't as obvious, he's changed, too.
He feels ready.
He reaches across the gearshift for Crowley's hand, and Crowley lets him take it, and the world doesn't end. Aziraphale's heart is racing but it's a good kind of fast. He doesn't feel scared. He feels alive.
Crowley's hand is warm, and dry, and the lines in his palm feel good nestled up against Aziraphale's. Aziraphale entwines their fingers and they stay like that the whole drive, Aziraphale trying to channel all the affection filling his body into the brush of his thumb against Crowley's, back and forth, as softly as he can.
"Drop you off at the bookshop?" Crowley has to clear his throat before he asks, which makes Aziraphale want to run home immediately to swoon and at the same time ask him to drive them around forever.
"Yes," Aziraphale says. He reminds himself that he can have this. They can have this. "But only if you come in and have a drink."
One drink turns into two turns into Crowley yawning on Aziraphale's couch, four bottles of first growth Bordeaux later.
"Should probably get home," Crowley says, sounding reluctant but already halfway to drowsing, his head tilted back, his eyes closed.
Aziraphale doesn't want Crowley to go. If he's honest, that's understating it, the kind of comedic understatement that calls a mortal wound a paper cut. Aziraphale wonders if he didn't leave a part of himself behind when they switched their bodies back, but no—he's always felt this way. He’s just allowed to feel it, now.
"Stay," he says, "please," and Crowley lifts his head to look at him with his eyes half-lidded, a look Aziraphale can feel, a look like a blanket, and then nods.
After a series of small miracles, Crowley is ensconced in a canopy bed on the floor above the bookshop, black silk pajamas stark against the pale tartan duvet.
Aziraphale stands just outside the diaphanous bed curtains, resisting the urge to reach in and smooth down the covers. "Will that do?"
"It's very you," Crowley says, and then flings several pillows off of the bed. "Nobody needs this many pillows, though."
Aziraphale snaps his fingers, and they disappear. "I wouldn't know, would I? You know I don't go in for all that sleeping business."
Crowley waves his hand, and one pillow reappears on the empty side of the bed. "You could give it a try."
"I did try once," Aziraphale says. "I suppose I never told you. It was—well, it's a bit embarrassing, but it was during those decades you were asleep, and, well. Not that I spent the whole time moping! I made quite a few friends."
"Yeah, 'course you did." Crowley turns away. His shoulders don't slump so much as melt into a slouch that aggressively yells its indifference. The pillow disappears again. "Night."
"Oh! Oh no, I didn't mean—I only meant—" Aziraphale takes a deep breath and tries again. "I only meant that I'm unlikely to fall asleep, but if you don't mind if I sit up and read, then I'd be—oh, Crowley, you have to know it would be my absolute pleasure to join you."
Crowley wriggles under the covers without looking back at Aziraphale, but the pillow reappears once more and a corner of the duvet folds itself over. "Get in, then,” he grumbles.
"Give me a moment," Aziraphale says, walking to his closet. "I should still have that nightshirt in here somewhere—"
"A nightshirt?" There's a rustle from the bed as Crowley sits up. "Please just miracle yourself some pajamas."
Aziraphale looks through his wardrobe—toga, breeches, that lovely frock coat—and says, "You know I hate miracled clothing. It never feels as nice."
"Then come to bed in your underwear! Don't subject me to a nightshirt."
"As you shall be asleep," Aziraphale says, still searching, "I don't see how it matters to you what I'm wearing. Ah, here it is!"
"Haunt my dreams," Crowley mutters, and then makes an impressive racket lying back down and rolling over. "I'm closing my eyes so I don't have to look at you!"
Aziraphale removes his jacket and hangs it in the closet, and then takes the rest of his day clothing off and puts it aside. The nightshirt is a beautiful cream, made of the softest lawn Aziraphale’s tailor could find, and the gauzy fabric feels delightful against his skin when he slips it on. "Oh, this is very comfortable! I think I might make a habit of changing into it at night."
Crowley lifts his head to stare, wide-eyed, at Aziraphale. "Changing? You were actually—? Ngk." His hair, from its brief acquaintance with the pillow, already resembles a cartoon explosion.
Aziraphale feels terribly, terribly fond.
"I suppose I should thank you for preserving my modesty."
"You should not," Crowley says, offended. "If I'd known you were actually taking your clothes off, I'd have—" He makes a series of hand gestures that imply something rather implausible, but are probably, in Crowley's mind, appropriately demonically lecherous.
Crowley drops his head back onto the pillow with a thump. "Ugh, fine, no. But still, I—" The faintest wash of pink paints itself across his cheeks. "Might have liked to see anyway."
Aziraphale thrills. "Tomorrow, perhaps," he says, and parts the curtains and climbs into the bed.
Crowley falls asleep almost immediately. Aziraphale has a book in his hands, miracled from downstairs, but he has no idea what it is. He's been turning pages without looking, to every fourth breath Crowley takes.
Crowley doesn't look more innocent or unburdened or anything books have led Aziraphale to expect. He just looks like Crowley, only tired and quiet and still. Aziraphale's hand lifts and hovers over Crowley's hair, not quite touching.
Last night, after they'd stepped over the puddle of dissolved demon (and Aziraphale deliberately did not think about Crowley and holy water) and planned how to handle Heaven and Hell, Crowley retired to his bedroom. Aziraphale didn't follow him then, even though he wanted to. He sat in Crowley's ridiculous throne chair and looked through Crowley's books of astronomy and thought about Alpha Centauri. There was still time for them to run.
But he was done with being afraid. He wanted to have faith in something worth it: in this, in them, faith that they'd survive the coming retribution and still have each other at the end of it.
And here they are. Here Crowley sleeps, in the bed Aziraphale made for him.
Aziraphale knows Crowley like he knows his own soul, deep enough to fool all of Hell. How does he not know the way Crowley's hair feels under his hands? He is done with not knowing. He is done with being afraid. Gently, so gently, he rests his fingertips on the crown of Crowley's head.
Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, Aziraphale thinks, remembering a tub filled with holy water, for love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave.
He loves. He is loved. Love strong enough to save them both. Its fires of desire are as ardent flames, a most intense flame. He strokes his fingers through the short strands of Crowley's hair, softer than it looks. Many waters cannot quench love, he thinks, a little proudly, neither can floods drown it.
"Can hear you thinking scripture," Crowley grumbles. "Makes the air all—bells."
"I'm sorry, my dear," Aziraphale says. "I didn’t mean to wake you. It's only Song of Songs, if that helps." Crowley hasn't told him to take his hand away, so he leaves it. He resumes his petting, and Crowley leans into the touch, his still-closed eyelids fluttering. His eyelashes look like the wings of some small, delicate creature.
"Fine," Crowley says. "But if you start quoting love is patient at me, we're going to have words."
Oh, but you were so patient, Aziraphale wants to say.
But Crowley is already slipping back into sleep. He scrunches his nose and turns his head into his pillow and his breaths hiss out even and slow. Aziraphale will tell him in the morning.
The next day, they have a picnic.
They situate themselves near a path, so Crowley can watch people try and fail to pick up the £2 coin he superglued to the pavement. Aziraphale is enjoying a carton of fresh strawberries and feasting his eyes on Crowley, who is propped up on one elbow and lounging like a Titian nude.
"What," says Crowley, when he notices. "Do I have something on my face?"
Aziraphale smiles and shakes his head. He says, "I've always thought you looked beautiful in the sunlight." Crowley's hair is glowing like a bonfire on a cold night in the desert. His mouth is red. A bit of skin on the bridge of his nose is promising to freckle, and Aziraphale hopes he gets to see the freckles before Crowley miracles them away. He vows to himself that if he does, he'll kiss them all.
Crowley looks quietly pleased, tucking one foot behind the other and making himself even more thoroughly resemble the Venus of Urbino. Vanity has always been one of his favorite sins.
Above them, the sky is a clear, perfect blue. Heaven could be watching, and Aziraphale doesn't care. He lets himself keep looking at Crowley. He says what he really means. "I love you."
Crowley's elbow slips, his head hits the picnic blanket, and he stares up at Aziraphale with his sunglasses askew, eyes as round and yellow as the sun.
Aziraphale says it again. "I love you. I've loved you for a very long time."
Crowley's expression jumps between smug and embarrassed and sweetly delighted before he coughs and looks away. He nudges his sunglasses back into place and folds his arms behind his head, already pretending that being flat on his back was on purpose. "Tell the whole blessed world, why don't you."
He immediately ruins his attempted nonchalance by reaching up, still looking away, to tangle his fingers with Aziraphale's. The tips of his ears are red.
"You know," Aziraphale says, considering, "I think I will."
He just needs to see about getting a ring.