Eden Loft is a quiet little café just off Carnaby Street in Soho, all crumbling brick and choking vines on the outside. It looks almost abandoned, its wild exterior concealing a warm, cozy interior filled with small round tables, leather sofa, and worn armchairs. Potted plants line the bookshelves, the windowsills, and the countertop. The scent of warm scones and coffee fills the air, mixing with the verdant plant life to create an atmosphere both soothing and invigorating. It’s one of Anthony Crowley’s favorite places to stop for a caffeine fix.
This afternoon, however, he lingers outside on the pavement, reluctant to venture inside. With the afternoon sunshine filtering in through the expansive windows, it would be easy to glance inside and spot his date. The only thing stopping him is knowing the sight of whichever poor sod Anathema has guilted into this blind date will make him turn on his heel and leg it back home. He doesn’t even know why he’d agreed to this. The last time his friend had set him up on a date, Crowley had ended up spending an entire evening with some pillock who never touched his food and barely looked up from his mobile.
It’s just so difficult to meet people when he spends all his time working his arse off to make sure his club isn’t a complete failure. Even though The Serpent has been open for a few years now and even though it’s a packed house nearly every night, the nightclub still requires almost all of his time and attention. So Crowley isn’t asking for the love of his life or anything. He doubts such a person even exists. But a few months of shagging someone he can actually have a conversation with would be a nice change of pace.
And that’s what he’s doing loitering outside Eden Loft on a Sunday afternoon.
Crowley groans and reaches for the door.
He steps inside and the scent of fresh pastry and the rich aroma of expensive, organic coffee wafts over him. Tucking his sunglasses into the neck of his black t-shirt, he scans the crowded space for the man Anathema had described. Blond, she’d said. A bit old-fashioned. Crowley had taken that to mean no shagging until the third date but his eyes land on a man who looks like he just returned from tea in the Victorian era and he just knows he’s found his date. Ezra Fell.
Gritting his teeth, Crowley braces himself for another date from hell and saunters reluctantly across the café. The table where his date sits is beside the bookshelves on the back wall and it appears he’d plucked a novel from the shelf to keep himself occupied while he waited. He seems thoroughly engrossed in whatever it is, flipping through it as Crowley approaches, and doesn’t even look up until Crowley’s shadow falls over the page.
He lifts his head, a pleasant, absent-minded smile on his face. And Crowley’s breath catches painfully in his throat. He’s beautiful. His short blond curls look astonishingly soft and his blue eyes are bright and kind. Though his hands look manicured and soft as they rest against the crisp pages of his book, his chest is broad and sturdy and Crowley imagines he’s deceptively strong beneath that prim waistcoat. Pink-cheeked and full-lipped, Ezra Fell looks like something Michaelangelo might have painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. His clothes are utterly ridiculous, of course, and he isn’t at all Crowley’s usual type but nevertheless, he’s…beautiful.
“Anthony Crowley, I presume?”
Realizing he’s been standing in one spot staring at him like a simpleton for fuck knows how long, Crowley unclenches his jaw and forces himself to blink. “I - yeah. Ezra, is it?”
Ezra beams, the corners of his eyes crinkling as he gestures to the seat across from him. “Please, sit.”
Disarmed by that wide smile - Christ alive, Crowley could swear the room grows a few shades brighter - there is no other option but to sit. He sinks gracelessly into the chair across from Ezra, long limbs sprawling. Sitting closer does nothing to make Ezra less attractive, only gives Crowley a better view of his perfection. It’s ridiculous. He looks like he just stepped out of an Oscar Wilde novel. Why can’t he stop staring?
“I already ordered for you,” Ezra says, oblivious to Crowley’s internal struggle to regain use of his tongue as he gestures to the cup and plate across the table. “I hope you don’t mind. It just gets so terribly crowded in here on Sundays. I didn’t want you to have to wait.”
Ezra watches him hopefully, as if expecting Crowley might be annoyed. And fucking hell, speak. “No,” Crowley manages, relieved when his voice comes out relatively normal. “S’fine. You’ve uh, you’ve been here before then?”
Surely Crowley would have noticed him at some point. He’d have looked up from his mobile one morning and saw him across the café, standing in line waiting for his tea or sitting at a table like this one reading another book. He’d have noticed a man like Ezra if they’d ever been in the same room together before. He may not have approached him but he’d have stared just as he is now - probably from behind his sunglasses and over the top of a newspaper he wasn’t actually reading - and been just as charmed by his quiet grace and sunny smile.
“Oh, quite often.” Ezra shuts his book and folds his hands primly over the cover. “But only on Sundays, I’m afraid.”
Ah, that explains how they’ve never run into each other. Sunday mornings are usually when Crowley is lounging about in bed, nursing a hangover after kicking out whoever he’d brought home with him the night before. Crowley’s usual type isn’t the sort to stay for breakfast anyway.
Ezra cuts off a bite of his pastry with a knife and fork, focusing on the task with an intensity Crowley has never seen given to food before. “The rest of the week, I usually get my tea from the museum’s café. Though it isn’t nearly as good as it is here.” He brings the bite of pastry to his mouth and sighs as he chews, his eyes fluttering a bit and a low hum in his throat. He even wiggles a bit in his seat.
Captivated, Crowley rests his chin in the palm of his hand and watches him eat. “Right,” he says, forcing at least a small portion of his brain into focusing on the conversation. “You work at the British Museum. How’s that?”
“Oh, lovely.” Ezra dabs neatly at the corners of his mouth with a napkin. “I oversee the archival department, preserving and maintaining all of our historical documents.”
It sounds utterly dull to Crowley but the way Ezra lights up as he talks about his job is far from boring. He smiles and gestures as he talks, regaling Crowley with a tale about a shipment of letters the museum had received earlier that week. They’d been uncovered in the attic of some ancestor of one of Hemingway’s secret lovers and apparently, they’re going to rock the literary world on its axis. Ezra talks about the contents of these letters like someone else might relay a bit of scandalous gossip and Crowley finds himself listening intently. He doesn’t even think about touching his food or his coffee, chin in hand as he gazes across the table and watches Ezra gesture as he talks and take delicate little bites of his pastry.
“And Anathema tells me you own a nightclub?” Ezra sips at his tea, watching Crowley with that same focus he'd given his food. It’s startling enough to make Crowley straighten from his slouch and wipe his suddenly sweaty palms on his jeans. “It sounds terribly exciting.”
Looking at him, Crowley doubts the man has ever set foot on the same street as a nightclub but he rather loves that he’d bothered asking about it. The Serpent may be an exhausting, soul-sucking venture but it also happens to be Crowley’s baby. He tells Ezra a bit about the club, detailing how quickly it has grown and how much work it takes to keep it at the top of everyone’s list. He talks about the type of people who frequent the place, the live music they have every night, and how much he loves being his own boss.
Ezra listens to every word, asks questions in all the right places, and never once tries to interrupt and make the conversation about himself again. “It must keep you quite busy,” he says after Crowley tells him about his upcoming open interviews to hire staff for the busy season. He eyes Crowley with concern, as though trying to decide if he eats enough or gets enough sleep. It’s such a quiet, protective glance that Crowley feels something warm and foreign bloom inside his chest.
He shrugs, glancing away with his heart in his throat. “I don’t mind,” he says. “I like keeping busy.”
“Yes, I understand. My work is very important to me. But I must admit I’ve found myself craving a bit of companionship recently.” Ezra glances down into his teacup, then looks at Crowley through his lashes. Crowley stares again, helplessly charmed. “I can’t imagine you have similar difficulties finding pleasing company.”
Fucking hell. The man out of time is flirting with him.
“May I ask why you agreed to this setup?” Ezra presses, glancing away again. “Surely you have plenty of opportunities to meet people in your line of work. I, however, am confined to the back rooms of a museum all day.”
Meeting people, yes. Loads of them. In the past three months, Crowley has brought home a lead guitarist, one of the Serpent’s bouncers, a grad school student in leather trousers, a barrister looking for a cheap thrill, and one of his bartenders. Not one of them has managed to hold his attention the way Ezra Fell seems to so effortlessly. Crowley wants to know everything about him. Why did he choose archival work? Why does he dress like a bloody regency dandy? Why are his eyes so kind and blue? Why is he so interested in every word Crowley says? Why did he choose that particular book from the shelf? How does he take his tea? What is it about him that makes that pastry look so much more tempting when it’s sliding between his soft pink lips?
Crowley wants to bring him home and study him, take him apart under his hands until he understands what makes him tick, and then tenderly put him back together again. He wants to stroke his blond hair and nuzzle his throat and call him all sorts of endearments he’s never used before on anyone. He wants Ezra, in all the ways he never expected to want anyone after a lifetime of being alone and convincing himself he liked it better that way when all along, he was just afraid no one would want him back.
Outwardly, he only shrugs again, his eyes lingering meaningfully on Ezra as he says, “Suppose I’ve been meeting the wrong people.”
They linger over their tea, discussing everything from politics to what they studied at university to their childhoods. Crowley tells Ezra about being an orphan churned out of the system by the age of seventeen and Ezra confides in him about his conservative Catholic upbringing and his ongoing struggle to overcome the subsequent stain of guilt religion left behind long after he shed its chains.
When the tea has grown cold and the pastries have been eaten, Crowley insists on paying the bill. And suddenly they’re standing outside on the pavement, the afternoon sun gone soft and hazy. It slants gently across Ezra’s blond curls like a halo and Crowley stares at him longingly. Angel, he thinks, and his heart skips several beats.
“I do appreciate you meeting with me, you know. I’m aware I can’t be what you were hoping for.” Ezra wrings his hands and Crowley has the sudden wild urge to clasp them between his own. “I told Anathema you couldn’t possibly-”
“You’re perfect,” Crowley blurts, before he can stop himself.
Fuck. Very smooth.
That sort of line would get him laughed at by just about anyone else but Ezra stills, gazing up at him wonderingly. As if Crowley had just reached up and plucked a star out of the sky just for him and handed it over on a silver platter. “I-” He squares his shoulders, meeting Crowley’s gaze. “I do hope I’m not being too forward but… I would like to see you again, Anthony. If you’re amenable.”
Christ, he even talks like he belongs in an Austen novel. Crowley is utterly gone on him already.
Looming over him, Crowley peers into sweet, hopeful blue eyes and swallows roughly. “I’m amenable,” he murmurs. “Very.”
“Oh.” Ezra breathes out a relieved little noise and sways toward him, his smile breathtaking. Literally. Crowley cannot breathe. “Good.”
Reaching for him with a shaking hand, Crowley cups his pink cheek and watches Ezra’s eyes widen. “This all right?”
“Yes,” comes the immediate reply. Ezra licks his lips and Crowley nearly hisses. “Quite.”
With permission, Crowley closes the gap between them and captures that enticing mouth with his own. He tastes exactly like raspberries and flaky pastry and tea. Crowley usually takes his tea without any sugar at all but Ezra tastes like five lumps of sugar and a dash of milk. His mouth opens eagerly and Crowley groans. He presses closer, leaning against Ezra’s broad chest and burying his hands in soft blond curls.
It should be impossible to taste this warm and sweet and absolutely fucking perfect but Crowley knows with sudden certainty that kissing Ezra Fell is like drinking directly from the sun itself. He loses himself in the slick, hot slide of their mouths and their grasping hands. Everything around him blurs and time loses all meaning. He isn’t aware of where they’re standing on the pavement in front of Eden Loft, he doesn’t notice the disgruntled people passing them by or the warm late afternoon breeze ruffling his hair. There is only Ezra clutching at his t-shirt and making those delightful little noises, wriggling adorably under Crowley’s wandering hands.
When they finally break apart, panting, the world feels different. As though an entire solar system has rearranged itself, orienting now around Ezra Fell. Crowley noses at his cheek, struggling to find his voice as Ezra keeps one hand curled tightly at his waist. Clearing his throat, he rasps, “Anathema told me you were old-fashioned.”
Ezra makes a soft, contrary noise and turns his head to press his lips to the corner of Crowley’s mouth. “Only in dress,” he murmurs, somehow managing to sound prim despite the arousal Crowley can feel pressing into his hip. “I assure you.”
Swallowing laughter, Crowley pulls back just enough to look into his eyes. “My place then?”
As Crowley lifts a hand to stroke his cheek, Ezra smiles. “After you.”