It begins, as everything has honestly, with The End.
Or rather the fact that The End doesn't.
He's spent centuries telling himself that he doesn't deserve what he wants, that he should count himself blessed above all others to have as much as Crowley allows him.
He whiled away decades dissecting the smallest smile or fond exasperated sigh, searching for any hint that perhaps he could wish for a bit more, a little more...only to find himself consistently left behind.
Until one night, when he's staring down the barrel of more paperwork than he wants to deal with...Crowley comes to get him.
He is so startled by the fact that the demon is walking on consecrated ground that he forgets to be antagonistic, and then he passes startled into shocked hopefulness when Crowley hands him the satchel of books. Completely whole and unscathed, unlike his heart which is near beating itself to pieces against his rib cage.
He realizes sometime in the sixties that he is waiting for words Crowley will never say. Maybe because he can't or, more likely and hurtful, doesn't want to. Because why would a demon love an angel? A being who is every thing they were ripped from in The Fall. A constant reminder of what they no longer have. But that is when he is lying to himself.
When he is honest Aziraphale knows it is because he has stood by and let humans, who he and his fellow angels were admonished to love as they loved The LORD, die in horrible ways that he is almost certain God had no hand in. He doesn’t remember Her being cruel, distant perhaps and harried as humans became more and more populous...but no one has seen Her in so long.
Sometimes he wonders if the Higher Ups in Heaven are still following Her Ineffable Plan, and then he has to force himself to stand very still and empty his mind because there’s no telling who might decide to check in and read his thoughts.
Then his fumbling words are turned to acid in Crowley’s mouth ‘fraternizing’ sounding like ‘blackmail’ or ‘extortion’. His desire to keep the demon safe twisted into something supercilious and patronizing. They don’t speak afterwards. For a century he turns the encounter over and over in his head. What could he have said better? What should he have offered instead of Holy Water? How could he have better controlled his temper to try and get Crowley to actually explain what he wanted the blasted water for ?!
He keeps half his attention on the buzz of Crowley’s aura, noting his movements even as he keeps out of the demon’s way. He knows a heist when he sees one, he’s led a few in his time. But this is different, it’s Crowley in danger, especially from the Archangels who treat Holy Water as their own personal gift to humans they deem ‘faithful’. If Crowley ever drew their attention it would be the end of his only friend, the one being that makes him feel like he still has a purpose.
(The fact that they haven’t made an effort to Smite the serpent for his role in Eden simply makes Aziraphale wonder if perhaps they’d been hoping the Humans would be banished from the garden all along. )
So he swallows his love and his concern and goes to Heaven. He fills out forms and stands in line, wondering if the fact that he's lying is writing itself along his face as he puts ink to paper.
Requisition: Holy Water, 24 ounces.
Reason: Protection from demons.
Estimated length of holding: _______
He doesn't know when...IF, Crowley will use it.
Estimated length of holding: Indefinite.
Then he waits.
It is embarrassingly easy to manifest himself in Crowely's car, a lovely thing really, for all he abhors how recklessly the demon drives the beautiful machine. He wonders if Crowley is leaving himself open on purpose, perhaps he should warn him to be more careful...but how can he do that when he's handing over what is basically liquid oblivion?
"Should I say thank you?"
His gut twists and he can feel the icy chill along the back of his neck, as the images come to mind unbidden. Crowley leaving him alone with 'Thank you' and one of those little real smiles, not like his big showy grins, as the blessed water destroys him. It makes Aziraphale nauseous.
"Better not." He wants to cry, to beg Crowley not to leave him alone. He smiles instead, a weak short-lived thing but it does it's job.
"I'll give you a lift, anywhere you wanna go."
Why can't they stay here? Stay the way they are? Together, close, safe. Why does Crowley always have to rush ahead and leave him stumbling behind?
He can't keep up and it breaks his heart. He wants to change, to speed up, but he’s selfish and afraid. If he Falls he will be a worthless demon, as much as he is a terrible angel. And he knows that Hell doesn't just shove them in a corner to look busy. And then he'd lose Crowley anyway. He would never have made the Arrangement with Aziraphale if he weren't an angel...but because he is an angel Crowley will never love him.
"You go too fast for me, Crowley."
He buries himself in his books, his bookshop, anything to put himself back together.
It's a shoddy patch job, but it serves. By the time they fall back into each other’s orbit he’s almost convinced he’s back to his old self. Before Eden. When things were simpler.
The Antichrist complicates things of course, but that’s hardly the boy’s fault. One can’t help how they come into the world after all, only the mark they leave upon it before they are recalled. He is rather fond of Warlock actually, and it’s a bit of a relief to find he’s not the son of the Morningstar, simply the spoiled son of a powerful man and his clever determined wife.
Aziraphale knows he is cracking, struggling to get the Archangels to listen. He knows War, has walked ahead of her at their behest, and in her shadow to try and save as many as he could. They aren’t listening. They actively silence him, but they cannot silence God. Humans are Her creation, surely She will do something .
The Archangels say She won’t.
Crowley says She won’t.
He begins to doubt, clinging to his tattered faith even as his demon rails at the unfairness of it all, threatening to leave him again, leave him forever as the Earth ends. It nearly shatters him.
But he holds his course, until a boy makes a choice and Aziraphale decides that even if he will never receive the love he wants so desperately, he will give it freely and without reserve. There have been too many words unspoken for too long. He may not deserve Crowley’s love but he will give the compassionate serpent all that he has held back.
He begins after their respective trials. Crowley walks him back to the bookshop.
"I'm gonna sleep for a week."
"Well as long as it's not another century before you manage to rouse yourself I will be content." He smirks as the demon throws up his hands, admiring the way the setting sun caresses the lovely pale skin on the inside of his wrists.
"I already apologized for that, and it's not like you couldn't have taken a vacation too."
"I suppose. Goodnight my dear, I love you." It is freeing to finally say the words after so long, feeling the way they roll out into the air, bright with emotion.
"Yeah yeah, goodnight." Crowley gives him a jaunty wave and saunters back to his car. It is a familiar sight but now Aziraphale allows himself to look, to enjoy the sinuous way Crowley slides behind the wheel. He watches the Bently drive off, snorting softly as a shocked double decker finds itself in the wrong lane. Crowley just can't help himself sometimes.
He tells the demon his truth every time they meet after that.
"My dear your new jacket suits you, I love how it brings out your eyes."
Crowley preens a bit, then offers to buy him ice cream, he declines, but only because he wants to treat the demon to his favorite bakery’s cream puffs.
"Drive safe, I love you."
“What do you want me to pick up for you?”
“Nothing dear, I’ve got a new misprint to read, that will occupy me for a few days.” He doesn’t understand why Crowley stares at him for a long moment before finally leaving.
"You know Crowley you really are gorgeous in the candlelight." He blinks as Crowley leans in.
“Angel, you know I don’t have many morals.”
“Now that’s patently untrue, you’re one of the most principled beings I know.” He snorts softly, sipping his wine. “In certain areas anyway.”
“I’m just saying, that I’m easy to convince when it comes down to it.” He can feel Crowley’s searching gaze, but he has no idea what those lovely eyes are looking for.
“As you say dearest…”
For a month he is jubilant. At last he can tell the truth, he can revel in his feelings instead of smothering them with Heavenly Judgement.
That comes to a rather abrupt end.
The door to his shop slams open, nearly causing him to drop a carefully preserved vellum of what little remains of the history of Carthage, and Crowley stalks in, looking almost murderous.
"I don't know what kind of game you think you're playing, but it stops now."
"What are you talking about?" He sets the pages gently aside, turning his focus onto the absolutely furious demon in front of him. "What happened dearest?"
He finds a thin clawed finger pressing against his cardigan.
He looks down to see what about his outfit is so offensive and Crowley snarls at him.
"Don't play dumb with me angel , you know what this is about." There is venom in that word that hasn't been since the Great Inundation.
"I really don't have the slightest idea, you'll have to enlighten me my love." He looks up at Crowley's face, whatever he's done wrong now he will fix. He’s not Heaven’s perfect little tin soldier now, he can better himself, better accommodate his demon.
"That! Either tell me what you want or stop doing it!”
"Looking at you?"
"Ssstop flattering me!”
The way Crowley says ‘flattering’ it sounds like ‘fraternizing’. It feels like his whole corporeal form has been dunked in ice water.
"Dearest I haven't spoken a single untruth!” His honesty pricks him. “In the past four and a half weeks at least.”
"Then tell me what you want me to do." The demon looks like he’s ready to climb the walls. “It’s making me jittery, I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop every time, waiting for you to ask for some favor that might, I don’t know, discorporate me or something.”
“I don’t want you to do anything.”
“Then stop pulling that fawning act, it’s enough to make me heave.”
“It’s not…it’s not fawning my dear. I love you.” It is his truth, Aziraphale knows it the same way he knows that he has wings. Both are simply there, and part of him.
"Stop ssSAYING that!" The lights flicker in concern. He never thought his feelings would back Crowley into a corner. He had only wanted them to be happy together. He swallows hard and hopes that his voice won't tremble.
"As you wish." He can see the tension bleed out of the taller being's shoulders.
"Okay. Good." Long fingers run through the sunset tangle of the demon's hair. "Just...so we're on the same page."
"Of course." He turns back to the vellum, feeling empty. "Was there anything else you needed, Crowley?" If the demon notices the pause before his name he ignores it.
"No. I'll…see you around."
The bell over the door doesn't ring as Crowley leaves. Aziraphale stares unseeing at the list of soldiers lost to Rome, reliving every time he has watched his demon walk away in silence.
The rush of sudden self loathing and frustration catches him by surprise, his shop too, as suddenly the shelves he'd arranged with such care are flung around into walls, and each other.
He sits among the wreckage and wishes it had made him feel better. He snaps his fingers and everything is back in its proper place. His books on their shelves, his shelves in their place, Crowley out in the world, and him left behind.
He doesn't set foot outside his shop until around Christmas, popping down to Tadfield to deliver gifts to The Them, Madame Tracy and Shadwell, Anathema and Newt.
Crowley has not been to see him since their... confrontation. He's so sure he's hidden his pain, smoothed over it like plaster until warm green eyes look right through him.
"Oh, you're looking rather peaked my dear." Madame Tracy places her hand on his shoulder. "Come in and have a cuppa."
"Oh, no, I couldn't impose."
"Nonsense! You're practically family, come in."
She is warm and kind and so very human that he finds himself ensconced on a pink armchair that would make Crowley shudder, telling her everything.
"I think, perhaps, and this is just a thought dear...but perhaps your love languages are simply different." She watches him sympathetically as he tries to understand.
"Love languages, how you feel and express love. For example I, well, I tend to use food to show my affection and it certainly gives me the warm fuzzies when Shadwell brings me a little treat or cooks me a lovely meal. It seems you use words. You need to say it and want to hear it said back, but perhaps your young man speaks through actions, or gifts, maybe touches?"
He feels like a monumental fool. Of course they would prioritize different ways of showing love. How can a demon trust words when they know how easily they can be lies? Crowley's rage makes so much more sense framed that way.
"Oh...how do I figure out his language?"
"Well how does he show you he cares?"
There were the meals, the lunches...but Crowley didn't eat more than a few bites of anything. There had been the rescues, but with them both out of work as it were he hardly has the opportunity, and he's not about to manufacture instances of peril for Crowley. If the demon was injured he'd never forgive himself. "Perhaps...gifts?" There had been books, 'found' while out on business, used as trades for favors or as repayment for drinking Aziraphale's wine...and saved in a ruined church.
"Well that's perfect! Tis the season after all."
It is, and that gives the angel an idea.
It is the work of a whole afternoon to find twelve different florists, and research exactly what he plans to say and how. This will be his last overture, if Crowley refuses it he will control himself and work to ensure they remain friends at the very least.
He can feel the faint tingle of Crowley's aura, he is still in London, which means he will likely return to his flat.
Friday the 13th is the first delivery. He nearly jumps out of his skin as the mobile he'd fumbled through purchasing after his return from Tadfield beeps at him, a text informing him his order has been delivered.
He remembers the little arbutus shrub with its delicate white flowers and the promise of round red fruit. He hopes Crowley likes it and crosses a day off the calendar.
Thee only do I love
His store phone rings that night and he picks it up, resigned to perhaps another drunk human hurling abuse at him under the mistaken belief that this is their ex's number.
"We open tomorrow at-"
"I know when you open Aziraphale."
"Crowley…" He licks his lips and clears his throat, aware of how surprised and desperately happy he sounds. "It's been a while. I hope you're doing well."
"Yeah…" The rumbling voice is soft, hesitant. "How's business?"
"Oh absolutely atrocious my...my boy. People keep rushing in to try and make purchases for their office parties, as if any of my books were meant to be traded in such a tawdry way." He bites his lip praying that Crowley won't be angry at his near misstep. Perhaps it's selfish of him to pray to a God whose plans he's ruined, but he can't help it.
Instead the demon chuckles and Aziraphale braces himself on the table at the wave of sheer relief and joy he feels upon hearing that sound.
"Well I'm not going to apologize for White Elephant exchanges."
"You should, they're always so terribly awkward."
They talk as if they had never stopped, as if it hasn't been months since they've met at the park or dined at the Ritz.
The 14th dawns gray and chill, and he hopes the large broad green leaves of the Pulmonaria will brighten the day of those who see it. The violet flowers won't bloom for a while, unless Crowley manages to frighten them out.
He spends the day shooing away customers that only want his books for the prestige they carry, carefully wrapping a fourth edition poetry collection for an aging man to read to his partner.
He wonders; if he and Crowley were human, would the demon let him sit and read poetry to him in the twilight years of their lives?
Thou art my life
The 15th is madness. Aziraphale cannot understand why people expect him to be open on the Sabbath. And yet there is a steady stream of people peering through his windows, and rattling the door despite the very obvious 'closed' sign. He hides in his back room burying himself in old theologians.
He almost forgets, until the mobile beeps at him, order complete. He can't help the smile, but it vanishes instantly as the cell phone rings. It shouldn't, he specifically stated text updates only. He lets it ring, squinting at the number. Recognition hits at the same moment the phone goes to vox mail...or whatever it's called.
Crowley had called. Why? Did he not like Camellias? Aziraphale knew the demon had definite Opinions about bouquets, he'd made sure all his purchases were full plants. He’d debated for hours over whether to send red or white. He’d thought the ‘flame in my heart’ might be seen as him pointing out the demon’s position in Hell, rather than the strength of his passions, but white might’ve been too ‘angelic’. Eventually he’d decided the meaning made up for any perceived snobbery, and it would be a match with the arbutus.
You are adorable, perfected loveliness .
The shop phone shakes him out of his thoughts and he stands up, padding over to answer it on the third ring.
“A.Z Fell’s boo-”
“Come to dinner with me.” Crowley’s voice is unmistakable.
“What?” To say he’s startled by the invitation is an understatement. They’ve only just begun speaking again, and thanks to the reading he’s been doing since his talk with Madame Tracy he knows he has more to do to earn Crowley’s forgiveness; for his thoughtless prejudice before the Antichrist’s coming of age, and then his unthinking pushiness afterwards. It’s amazing humans manage all the emotions they have as well as most of them do.
“If you don’t want to-”
It’s his turn to cut Crowley off. “No! I’d love to...um, where would you like to go?” There’s a pause, he can hear Crowley running his hand through his hair, can almost see him sprawled in that throne he calls a chair.
“There’s a Thai place, across the river. Heard great things about their coconut rice dumplings.” That sounds delicious and the angel feels his stomach rumble in anticipation.
“That’s a wonderful idea, I’ll meet you there.” He doesn’t want to encroach on Crowley’s space and ask for a ride. A fond sigh brushes his ear through the line.
“You don’t know where it is angel, I’ll come get you.” Crowley has hung up before he can protest, which means he only has a few minutes to prepare. He hides the mobile up in the apartment above his bookshop, shoving it under the mattress. He catches sight of himself in the mirror and frowns.
He likes tartan, the lines crossing to form new patterns and colors, creativity even in the most staid of things. And beige makes him look human, non-threatening. But Crowley is making an effort...so should he. It’s the work of a thought to put himself in ecru dress slacks, and a tuscan turtleneck. He feels naked without his vest but he shrugs on his coat, his favorite that Crowley had miracled clean for him. He is...passable for a human but he reminds himself of Gabriel in a way.
He doesn’t like it.
He snaps and beams as a bright orange and blue tartan scarf wraps around his neck, the soft wool a comfort against his skin. Now he feels ready to face his demon.
He’s not ready, Aziraphale realizes as he watches the Bently pull up, Crowley sliding out of the driver’s side. The taller being is an absolute vision in his favorite tight pants and a red silk shirt.
“Crowley, you’ll catch a chill!” Aziraphale steps forward to miracle a coat for the silly serpent only to find that Crowley has stopped with his foot on the curb.
“What are you wearing?”
“I thought I would try to...get with the times as it were.” He frowns. “Honestly Crowley it’s not done to run about in December without a coat, especially when you’re susceptible.” He pulls a woolen peacoat, black with obsidian buttons, from the fabric of space and holds it out, waiting for Crowley to step into it.
“We don’t have to feel the cold you know.” But despite his sulky tone the demon slides into it. Aziraphale tucks the sparks that flicker in his chest when his fingers brush the lovely shirt away to enjoy later.
“Yes and we don’t have to taste or smell either however I know you enjoy those quite a bit.”
Dinner passes in a pleasant haze of marvelous food and flowing conversation, it’s been so long since Aziraphale has enjoyed his meals. It’s easier with Crowley, to savor the little things, to bask in shared company and experience. The drive back to the bookshop is made in companionable silence, the Bentley's engine a rumbling purr in the quiet.
“Aziraphale…” He looks up at the strange tone, Crowley is looking at him instead of the road, but he’s afraid if he chides him now he won’t hear the rest of the sentence. He can almost see the lovely golden eyes reflecting the street lights behind the ever present sunglasses.
A horn blares in front of them and Crowley jerks the wheel, blessing venomously. “-and the wombat your mother slept with!”
He never does get to hear what Crowley was going to say.
Mondays are usually peaceful at the bookshop and despite the fast encroaching holiday Aziraphale sits down to do his accounts, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons playing quietly in the background. He catalogues his three sales of the past year, calculates his bills and taxes, then writes a few cheques. They are perfectly normal, drawing from an account that has been accruing interest longer than the Bank itself has existed. He had expected Heaven to cut him off entirely, though he’s glad that doesn’t seem to be the case. Or perhaps they’re simply watching, waiting. He huffs and finishes addressing the envelopes, shaking the morose thoughts away. He is free now, to question and grow. To love and learn, as humans do.
His mobile phone chirps, the new sound much more pleasant. Fourth delivery complete. Aziraphale almost wishes he could see Crowley’s face, Peach blossoms on a small sapling are no small feat this time of year. Hopefully the old serpent will attribute them to human ingenuity and not divine interference. The last strains of Winter fade and he gets up to take the envelopes to the post box, yelping like a startled dog as suddenly Crowley is in front of him, usually immaculate clothes disheveled, his artfully rebellious hair downright riotous. His sunglasses are nowhere to be seen and he thrusts a pot towards Aziraphale.
“What the fuck is this?!”
The angel takes a moment to compose himself and looks. It’s the sapling he’d picked out, lovely pink petals proudly presented. He reaches to stroke one small branch, smiling softly as he feels the love it has been tended with. It is nice to know he’d placed his faith in the right humans.
“It’s a peach tree I believe.” The look Crowley gives him is likely meant to be scathing but it simply comes across as incredulous.
“I know what it is! I’m asking what it’s doing on my doorstep!” This is...not quite how he expected Crowley to ask him and he panics.
“Well if it was left then it was probably-”
“Aziraphale!” There is something in his demon’s voice that catches his heart and squeezes.
“It’s a gift…for you.” That is apparently not what Crowley was expecting. His arms lower and he stares at Aziraphale’s face, searching for...something. He’s not sure what and it makes the angel feel...tingly, embarrassed. He turns away clearing his throat. “There’s eight more, up until Christmas.”
“Why?” Crowley’s voice is soft, shaky. He risks a glance and finds himself caught by the vulnerability in the slit pupils of Crowley's eyes. He pulls up all the courage he has.
“Because I wanted to show you that I love you.” The words pour out of him in a rush, like the first rain onto the desert of creation, he can’t stop them. “Because I do love you, and I know you don’t like me to say it. So I thought perhaps if I tried speaking a different love language it might work out a bit better. And you always get me gifts, books and little nibbles. I love you Crowley, I want you to feel how much I adore and cherish you. I’ve spent so long making a hash of things because I was scared; of Heaven, of being left behind, but I can’t complain of being left if I never try to catch up can I?”
He’s wringing his hands so tightly his corporeal fingers might break but he keeps going, desperate to have it all out before Crowley leaves again.
“This is me, trying to catch up.” He points to the peach tree. “I am your captive, you are my life, my greatest love, adorable and perfect; and if you only give me your friendship it’s more than I deserve.” He can’t continue then, partially because he’s on the verge of nervous tears, but mostly because Crowley is kissing him. Long fingers tangle in his hair and tug him closer even as he has to stagger backwards, the demon pressing him against a shelf.
“Shut up. Don’t you dare say...you...you utter bastard. Why didn’t you tell me you were being honest?” He tries to respond but Crowley bites into his neck and it comes out as a moan instead. “I knew you loved me but I didn’t know…” He slides his hands under the demon’s shirt, dragging his nails along the lovely cool skin, reveling in how it makes Crowley’s teeth dig into his jaw again. “Angels love everything, shit...Aziraphale if I’d known...how can you say you don’t deserve my friendship? You sstupidly clever…” He pulls Crowley closer to steal another kiss and taste the lovely forked tongue.
“Crowley my dearest-” Aziraphale forces himself to move one hand just enough to snap, clutching the lithe body against him as they fall onto his mostly unused bed. There’s another snap, not his, and he gasps as he finally feels Crowley’s aura pressed into and against his own through their now bare skin. The demon’s fingers digging into his hips, and snaking around to his ass tease a whine from his kiss swollen lips that the demon drinks as if it were ambrosia.
“You’re always so damned beautiful...I’d do anything for you. Anything at all, just ask me angel.” Crowley is marking him, bite after stinging bite ringing his neck in a collar of love, another of his gifts.
“Stay with me, for eternity.” He runs his fingers along the sharp shoulder blades where he knows lovely obsidian wings hide in another plane of reality.
“Done and done.” Crowley presses into him and Aziraphale thinks that perhaps Babel had the right idea after all.