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The Book of Aziraphale

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It all started when a young woman walked into his bookstore and muddled an otherwise lovely day. He watched her step over a messy pile of old travelogues he'd started keeping on the floor as a tripping hazard in late 2019. Going toward one stack, she then thought better of it and turned toward another. That didn't do either, it seemed, because she stopped dead center in the middle of the shop, looking around like she'd lost her way in a foreign city.

"Hello?" she said to him, not meaning hello but can you help me?, which Aziraphale would rather not have done, unless she was looking for directions to another bookstore or maybe recommendations on where to do lunch.

"Hello," he said back, and he smiled warmly because she seemed upset, which he didn't like, even if he didn't want her in the store. She smiled back, and took a step toward him. "I was hoping you might have a book I'm looking for." Aziraphale felt his face slip, unable to help it. “I forgot my anniversary,” she explained with a laugh, although her eyes were panicked, “Or else I just would have bought it online—or, er, well,” she stammered. Aziraphale would have rathered she bought it online as well, but he didn’t say as much. He just waited patiently as she fumbled through her purse, unable to find the slip of paper with the title, and so asked, “Do you have the book of... As He Fell?”

“Sounds American,” said Aziraphale unhelpfully. Truthfully, he couldn’t think of a novel by that name, although if it was something popular online, it would make sense for him to have never heard of it.

“Oh, no!” she assured him. “It’s a poetry compilation.”

“Well, either way, I have nothing by that name,” he said. She looked stricken, and any other bookseller would have recommended her an alternative gift. Aziraphale smiled brightly and walked around her to hold open the door. "Good day."

(It actually all started in Sumer, thousands of years before any of the nonsense in the bookshop. The educated started to write things down: their burnings, their intimates, their various "Bridegroom, dear to my heart, goodly is your beauty, honeysweet" type notions. Certainly, he’d heard poems like that before. But to be able to jot down and keep those notions privately had struck Aziraphale as a jolly nice idea. And what could it hurt to express himself like that too? After all, he'd a chest with a heart inside that had proven, on occasion, to burn.)

Crowley and he had rushed into the diner to hide from a sudden burst of rain, Crowley immediately ordering two coffees and the Pie of the Day, which turned out to be a fine strawberry rhubarb. Aziraphale took the seat with his back facing the mounted TV, because Crowley liked to glance at it during breaks from his careful study of Aziraphale's taste experience. It was on some morning news program anyway, and the news, no matter how fluffy, was Aziraphale's least favorite thing to watch.

Before they'd ducked in, Aziraphale had been telling him about the lady customer. The coffee and pie in front of them, he went on about how he hoped her anniversary wasn't totally ruined but it wasn't really his fault because he didn't have the book she wanted anyway. Crowley's eyebrows suddenly drew tight and thoughtful, and Aziraphale couldn't be sure if it was something on his face or the TV.

Crowley took a breath and read slowly, "All I want to be is the ground you step upon... the wind that caresses your cheek... the water in which you put your body... and the fire in your mouth."

His heart stopped, which wasn't really a problem but was uncomfortable. "What—" Aziraphale started, his head pounding.

"It's a little overdone, don't you think?" Crowley's gaze was clearly back on Aziraphale as he judged the poetry. "It's simple, which is nice. But it's not very gripping."

"Huh?" Aziraphale thought he might pass out.

"I guess the last bit is all right—oh, sorry. It's on the TV. Some poetry thing that's Mandy is highlighting for her Good Friday Reads segment. Figured you'd already know it."

Aziraphale whipped around in his seat just to see the words Crowley had read flash off the screen to a smart-dressed blonde, some former journalist and now the host of Good Morningtime!, and a professor-type, who was young and therefore overcompensating by looking particularly stuffy. The volume was down, so the subtitles lagged, and Aziraphale read the words again: All I want to be...

"Do you know what they're talking about?" Aziraphale nearly shouted in his frantic state, looking back at Crowley. Crowley was somewhere between amused and absolutely baffled.

"It's just some poetry thing." Crowley resaid. He leaned in, asking a conspiratorial, "Did you know the poet?"

"No." Aziraphale swallowed. He might have been sweating. "Stop watching that. Let's settle up." He looked for their waitress.

"You haven't finished, angel." Crowley's pleasure at his discomfort had morphed into concern. "We just sat down."

Aziraphale looked down at his plate, still half full of pie, and cream—the good, thick, homemade kind—, and so he started carelessly shoveling bites into his mouth, all while trying to attract their waitress away from her phone. He was almost about to use a miracle to get her, maybe drain her phone of power or some else drastic, when Crowley laid a finger on his clenched fist and caught his attention.

Crowley, bless him, took his hand back the second Aziraphale's eyes focused on him. His mouth was a tight line, but he said, "I'll get it," and stood. "Chew your food," he added, which was good because it helped Aziraphale not feel so fucking touched at the gesture. All I want, he thought, and broke the thought before it could finish, swallowing it down.

Aziraphale had left the poems with an order of Franciscans in Italy. The thing was, he hadn't actually meant to leave them and then felt too embarrassed to inquire over the state of them once he'd realized his mistake. Franciscans, as much as Aziraphale adored them, weren't the most understanding of matters concerning art or sensuality.

And then it had been a century, and the pain of losing the poems he'd worked so hard on dulled. He'd realized that reading and rereading the poems so often had only made the ache he felt more painful, deepened his loneliness, and encouraged him to write more poetry, which was perhaps the most terrible part. He had little skill for it, wasn't good at meter or rhyme, and his "muse" didn't go in for that kind of stuff anyway. His "muse" shouldn't have been his "muse" anyway.

If someone had found that poem, then it must have been because the Franciscans saved it, even if they later lost or gave it away. Aziraphale told himself that he'd sort of been hoping his work had been destroyed. Even deeper, from a place of emotion which he tried to ignore, he felt so hopeful; if one of his poems had been found, maybe there were more. Maybe he could find another, or several others. All that work, all that evidence, might still be out there.

Still, Aziraphale needed to get ahead of this, and he didn't have a number for the old friary, which meant he'd need some other way of getting information, which likely meant the Internet. And that would have been fine, except apparently the Internet cafe he went to had closed and become a bubble tea shop. Standing in line for a tea of his own, he counted the years since he'd last actually visited the cafe and, yes, it had been a while.

Armed with his drink, he found a payphone and called Crowley. "Do you have a computer?" he asked.

"Hey, Aziraphale" Crowley said. "Yeah."

"That's wonderful!" Aziraphale had already known he did, but it was nice to have a natural transition. "Would it be too much trouble for me to borrow it for a few minutes?"

"Uhh, yeah..." he said, slowly, like he was still thinking about it even after the words had left his mouth. "Let me just delete my—yeah, no problem. Come over, angel," he told him, and so Aziraphale caught a cab.

To keep Crowley from hovering, Aziraphale asked him to boil some water for tea, reminding him it was customary to offer a guest something. Crowley reminded him that he'd already done him two favors, letting him borrow the computer and throwing away the empty bubble tea cup—"You didn't even think to get me one!" he moaned, although he wouldn't have wanted it anyway.

Crowley left to stomp around his kitchen regardless of however many favors he'd already handed out that afternoon, and Aziraphale started to hunt and peck the keyboard, typing in "Franciscan monastery." He was trying to remember what specific region of the Italian countryside it was in when the website automatically supplied a search term.

Franciscan monastery Book of Aziraphale

That wasn't good, in terms of how his name was popping up and it shouldn't have been. But, it was obviously what he was looking for, and so he clicked on it, and then clicked on the first article which popped up.

New Owners of Defunct Franciscan Monastery Find Poetic Treasure

They were calling it The Book of Aziraphale because the monks had kept the collection in their records, labeled "Aziraphale." None of the poems were signed but some were dated, and they couldn't have been authored by the same person because some were placed as far back as the Yellow Emperor and the poems had been written in over 50 different languages. Aziraphale had been interpreted as a word for a love which was both erotic and spiritual, situated between eros and agape, because the only thing the poems had uniting them was the theme of consuming, contemplative love. The poems had all been translated into English, grouped chronologically, and bound into an anthology which was now available to purchase at all major bookstores. They had two poems on the website to sample: the same Crowley had recited from the morning program and one using an ox metaphor.

Aziraphale slammed the laptop shut and stood, marching himself into the kitchen, trying to look normal. It was so much worse than he'd thought. All of the poems were just out there, and with his name on them! He looked at the subject of his writings as the subject glared at the slowly-heating teakettle on the stove top.

"I've rethought tea," Aziraphale declared. "Would you be interested in something stronger?"

Crowley looked at him and grinned, and Aziraphale's heart tweaked, words giving voice to the feeling once again. Crowley flicked the stove off with one, elegant, long finger, and he slithered away to the liquor cabinet for the nice glasses and the Armagnac.

He had to talk to Crowley and get things straight, he decided. But then when Crowley came back in the kitchen with two glasses and that damned smile still on his face, Aziraphale thought he could also just not mention it and see if it blew over. And as Crowley sat them at the table, taking care to sit across from him, Aziraphale thought that was the safest choice.

After all, it wasn't like Crowley read.

Crowley read: magazines, tabloids, Harlequin novels when Aziraphale was looking—mostly the ones about cowboys. He'd read subtitles for movies, although he usually didn't need to. Aziraphale was fairly sure he'd read texts even more sordid than The Cowboy's Wife, but they didn't talk about that. Aziraphale knew that he'd read poetry, back when there wasn't much else to do in the afternoon besides nap or bear-baiting—a sport for which neither of them had ever had much stomach. With television and long, fast drives as entertainment options, Aziraphale couldn't imagine Crowley had much time for poetry any longer.

Which is why he choked so terribly on his Vinho Verde when Crowley casually said, "I am the ox; my love, the yoke."

"Oh, no," he said piteously, which just made Crowley's grin sharper, his hiss hissier.

"It is his job to move me."

"Crowley, come now."

"It is mine to tend the fields."

Aziraphale buried his face in his hands. "How did you even find it?"

"You know, when you close a laptop, the site doesn't just go away. The Book of Aziraphale: aziraphale meaning a type of erotic and spiritual love, forgotten by the ages. Honestly, it's a compliment, if anything."

Moaning, Aziraphale rubbed his eyes.

"So what? You wrote some love poems here and there and gave them to some monks. We've all written love poetry. The thing that confuses me the most is the choice of Franciscans. You'd think Jesuits would be the obvious pick."

"I didn't mean to lose them," Aziraphale mumbled. "I forgot them when I was packing after a visit. I didn't want other people to see them, ever." He snuck a glance at Crowley, who wasn't smiling as much but also didn't look sympathetic.

"I'm not gonna read it," Crowley assured him, "and neither are the people you were writing about. I mean, they'd all be dead now, wouldn't they?"

"Ah-ha, yes. Everyone from that time is dead." Aziraphale agreed, unable to meet his eye as he downed his glass.

"Just out of curiosity," Crowley said lightly, "Who were you writing about? I'd guess Oscar Wilde," he said, with some disdain, as he'd never liked the man for some reason (they'd never even met!), "But the article said the latest poems were even before his time."

Aziraphale sat still for a minute, desperately trying to think of anyone else he'd ever met. At least Crowley wasn't jumping to any conclusions. He blew out his lips. "Who can remember so far back?"

"I can remember who I wrote love poetry for," Crowley told him, which seemed to be an opening for Aziraphale to ask about that, and he absolutely did not want to know.

"Let's have another bottle of this," he said quickly, looking for their waiter. "Or perhaps move on to the bookstore for a drink there?" Crowley shrugged and sat back, looking away to watch another table. Aziraphale ordered another bottle, fidgeting with the napkin on his lap.

It only got worse from there.

Aziraphale had two more would-be customers come in and ask if he had The Book of Aziraphale—one even going as far as to suggest that he order it in, as some blog had listed it as one of their top book recommends entering the gift-giving season.

"It's September," Aziraphale had told him icily.

He went to the nearby chain bookseller and walked straight up to the customer service desk, inquiring if they had copies of his the book.

"They can't print the bastards fast enough," a manager said, more to her clerk than him. "My daughter even asked for one, but of course I said no. She's only 13—far too young to be reading that kind of smut." The clerk nodded in earnest. "Has your Bobby asked for a copy?" the manager asked.

"Oh, yes," the clerk said, "but, you know, he's 14—and he had his appendix out last spring, so we thought he was mature enough."

"Perfectly understandable," the manager nodded.

Aziraphale had just wanted to see what the cover art was. "It's not really smut, is it?"

The clerk gave him a sympathetic smile while her manager launched into a recap of what the ladies at her salon had told her.

"We can order a copy and put it on hold for you, if you'd like?" the clerk cut in, just as the other woman was beginning to share her censored interpretation of the ox poem.

"No, that's quite all right." He gave them a tight-mouthed smile and hurried along.

"If you're interested in the book," the clerk said, grabbing a printout and handing it over the counter, "The editor is going to do a lecture later this week. It's free admittance, space allowing, and we'll have more copies of Aziraphale by then." The manager smiled and nodded beside her, clearly seeing this as some clever upselling.

Aziraphale took the brochure and looked at the picture. It was the professor-type from Good Morningtime! He was positioned in front of some book stacks, one foot raised on a stool, looking quite scholarly in his tweed and thick rims and scruff. He was displaying the book, a hard copy with a white cover, The Book of Aziraphale printed in clean, golden script. Aziraphale tried not to feel disappointed that the cover was so plain.

"Thank you," he said, after he realized the manager and clerk were waiting for some kind of a response. He carefully folded the paper and put it in his pocket, leaving to walk back to his own shop.

That Thursday, at two pm, Aziraphale wandered over to that bookstore again, assuring himself he'd just pop in to see what it was all about. Crowley already had plans that afternoon, and Aziraphale had nothing else to do but open the store, which he figured he'd done enough of that week. There was no reason to not go. It might be a laugh.

There was a screen and a projector set up and a table with a mountain of copies of the book. Most discomforting was just how packed the room was. All the seats were taken, so people stood along the wall—although a nice young man got the idea all on his own to give Aziraphale his seat, meaning he got a prime spot in the second row.

The professor-type sauntered to the podium and woke up the connected laptop with a tap on the touchpad. He gave the crowd a tight-lipped smile as his PowerPoint flashed on: The Secrets of Aziraphale. Reading that, Aziraphale couldn't help but sink into his chair.

"Wow, there are a lot of you," The professor-type said into the mic, pulling at little at his collar. "Are you sure you're all here for this?" he asked. There were a few huffs in the crowd, laughs as nervous as he was. "My name is Dr. Arvid Levine-Jones, and I am the editor for The Book of Aziraphale. Thank you for coming." Looking down a moment, he straightened the papers in front of him, cleared his throat, and began to read.

"In the summer of 2015, I had the unique opportunity to be a member of a team doing inventory on a recently disbanded Franciscan friary, The Brothers of St. Francis, located in Northern Italy. I was completing my thesis on the poet, Catullus, in Verona," and he said Verona with a particular lilt that indicated his Italian was awkward. Regardless, the older man sitting next to Aziraphale nodded. "When I received my invite, it's safe to say that I needed a break from my immersion in 1st Century BCE Latin!" He paused a moment, like that might have been a joke. No one laughed, so Dr. Levine-Jones clicked to the next slide, showing a picture of the monastery, looking much worse for the wear than Aziraphale remembered it. It had never been anything ostentatious—Franciscans rarely were—but at least there hadn't been a hole in the roof when Aziraphale had been their guest.

"I was there to evaluate the small library. It was mostly religious texts and a few diaries of the different monks who had lived there. However, tucked into the end of the bookshelf were two large, bound books, each with almost 250 sheets stuffed into them." He clicked to the next slide, showing a picture of whatever the monks had decided to cram his poems into. The first said "Le poesie di Aziraphale," the second, in sloppier scrawl, "di angelo." The scholar read the titles in his terrible accent and then translated: "The Poems of Aziraphale." "of the Angel."

Aziraphale felt a little nauseated. Had he really written so many poems? In the scheme of his life, that wasn't too impressive—but when laid all beside each other, it felt overwhelming. Obsessive.

(Aziraphale distantly remembered moments—long ago, certainly not anything recent—when he'd felt so lonely he'd wanted to suffocate himself. He'd wanted to stop existing, just blip out until he could wake up in a place which had some kind of space for him besides shady clubs and his own bookstore. Heaven wasn't welcoming, and the world had never once been created for him. While Crowley made it better, and writing after Crowley helped some, there were times when the distance between them too was unlivable.

Worse, there were moments of pathetic wanting. Of desiring the yoke. Of believing he needed more than just a reprieve from loneliness. It had made him lewd and mean and disgusting—and now he was sitting there, just about to casually reacquaint himself with the rotten thing that had allowed him to express himself, had given him an outlet, had allowed him to exacerbate his terrible and selfish yearning.)

He'd missed some of the lecture.

Dr. Levine-Jones had clicked to a new slide, a picture of an ancient scrap of paper Aziraphale recognized and its translation beside it.

"Now, my ancient Chinese is a little rusty," Dr. Levine-Jones said, getting some laughs this time, "As is my Akkadian, my Latin, my Greek, my Old English—there are over 50 languages and dialects between the 464 poems we found. Under each poem, in this presentation and in the book, we've included the scholar who translated.

"This poem would have been written between 2698-2598 BCE," he further explained. And then he read the poem aloud.

The emperor tells me
to understand the head,
I must investigate the tail.

I believe I could spend ten thousand years
wrapped around your tail
and still not get it right.

I put aside high ambitions
yesterday, when the empress told me
that wisdom comes from love.

I would settle to touch your lips this morning
or the next—

"The emperor here would be the Yellow Emperor of China, also known as The Yellow God, The Yellow Lord, or Huangdi. He's reported to have lived 113 years, having four wives, which is why the poem is difficult to place. But we can imagine that whoever wrote this would have had access to not only the writing of the emperor, who famously said 'To understand the head, investigate as well the tail,' but also had the opportunity to converse with the empress. This suggests a relation or an adviser, or maybe even the empress's handmaiden." There was a murmur in the crowd, as the mention of a handmaiden usually implied something scandalous: lesbianism or infidelity. Aziraphale rolled his eyes to try and get himself under control.

The truth was, though, that Crowley had spent a stint in their court as her foreign handmaiden, hoping to tempt the empress into influencing her husband toward nefarious means, mostly in the terms of some minor scandals. Crowley—well, Crawly then—had actually seemed more interested in the clothes, in the silk which the previous empress had tamed worms to help create. Crawly's hair had been kept long, done up all traditional and intricate, and she'd worn the best silk in the kingdom, second only to the empress. Aziraphale hadn't had a choice but to pose as a foreign dignitary and Crawly's cousin, staying with them a few evening just to ensure his adversary wasn't creating too much mayhem.

"Much like the infamous ox poem—" there were titters throughout the room, "—which was written in Akkadian and dated at about 3000 BCE, these and other early poems were transcribed onto paper in about 2nd Century CE, when paper would have been more available. It's certainly easier to transport than tablets and scrolls. However, the fact that the remnants are in such pristine condition is a miracle."

He clicked to another slide, and Aziraphale wished he'd brought a fan. He wondered if they had the heat on, because he was certain it couldn't all just be him.

Last night, the summer sky burned like your yellow gaze.
I watched a bead of sweat
slide from below your earlobe
down between your breasts
with envy.

Your robe had parted as you leaned forward to whisper a joke
a mouth as nice as yours should never have formed.
How unfair that I must sin
while you simply live
unneeding of me.

Aziraphale was waiting for some kind of laughter, some murmur of how pathetic. Instead the doctor continued talking, and talking, and clicking to the next one: something he'd written in the early 5th Century, in Roman Britain

You had just bathed—
I remember because your hair was more than damp
and I had never seen wet fire before.

The thrill of the sight—
how could I be so important
that you came to me before you dried?
What else was wet?

The man next to him made a slight exhale, a sharp hmpf!—in appreciation or derision, Aziraphale couldn't tell.

And then the French poem, which Dr. Levine-Jones insisted had to have been written by someone uneducated or a child due to the unsophisticated, clumsy French. And then his attempt at a sonnet, which had been cut off when he couldn't find a rhyme and caused no small amount of laughter at the poem's trailing off in frustration. "Aziraphale poems are typified by their sensuality and their spirituality," Dr. Levine-Jones was saying again. "You can see the interplay between devotion to the beloved and a sense of spiritual loss. And the eroticism is hard to ignore, which is why we've been having trouble with a few Parent's Leagues throughout the U.S." he laughed.

"Don't you think its odd that the handwriting is the same in all of them?" the gentleman next to him asked lowly. Aziraphale looked from him to the scholar, eyes bulging. Had he heard? A part of him thought they all might then and there find him out, but he knew—he knew, he did—that was ridiculous.

"That's a great question!" Dr. Levine-Jones said. "Normally, I'd ask you to keep your questions til the end, but it bears bringing up now. Of course with the early transcriptions onto paper, we can assume that the same person did those." His voice was more animated when he wasn't following his notes. "We puzzled over the later pieces for a long time, but our current theory is that the Common Era poets were attempting to copy the style in both form and content! This could very well be why the handwriting is so similar."

"That doesn't make any sense," the old man beside him grumbled.

"Oh, no, that's as good an explanation as any," Aziraphale assured him. If he got up now, he'd only draw attention to himself, unless he could miracle some sort of accident up at the podium, some kind of electrical outage, or—

Dr. Levine-Jones clicked onto the next slide, and Aziraphale nearly cried out like he'd been struck. The poem was terrible, and cruel, and no one should have seen it. It should have been destroyed.

"It is safe to assume, considering the dialect and the type of paper used, that this poet was a Jew in Muslim Spain during the 10th or 11th Century. However, the invective nature of the poem is something seen in quite a bit of the aziraphale poetry we found. Much like Catullus's odi et amo—"I hate and I love"—there is a sense of torment that is not self-inflected but caused by the beloved."

You have made me a blasphemer, wicked fiend!
In the morning, I think of you
and what is between your legs
before I praise the name of the Lord.

Wretched thing that I have become,
I desire your flippant touch
even more than I have ever wanted
to hear Her silent, pounding voice.

In my love
I have offended both the Almighty and you—
and yet I seek your forgiveness
before I seek that of Heaven's.

"Part of the poem's power is its naked emotionality. It's not hard to imagine that the speaker in some way feels betrayed by the force of his own love, and therefore by the beloved as well. You can't help but feel a little sorry for him."

"Actually," Aziraphale said before meaning to. Everyone looked at him, more shocked than when the old gentleman to his side had decided to share his thoughts. Oh, well, too late. "Don't you think think it's an ugly, rotten way to show love? It hardly counts as a love poem."

"Excuse me?" Dr. Levine-Jones sputtered.

"I'm sorry to interrupt, but there's no indication that the beloved did anything to warrant this—this abuse. It's a vile and crude poem and not one which should deserve attention, much less sympathy."

The other members of the audience had something to say to their neighbor about that while the scholar looked on with his mouth hanging open.

"I just mean," Aziraphale tried to explain, although he seemed to remember some idiom about digging oneself in deeper. "It seems a perfectly awful thing to say about someone you love."

"Really, now!" the old gentleman cawed. "I say, where do you get this?"

"I suppose you have a point," the doctor cleaned his glasses, looking much younger with them off. "It's not a very kind poem—but it speaks to something that poets have been addressing for thousands of years: the pain of love. The speaker does not stop loving at any moment during the poem; they just express love through frustration." He reset his frames and looked right at Aziraphale. "This is a part of what classifies poems as aziraphale: there is a deep, singular, often obsessive longing. It eclipses other needs, moving toward a devout mania almost."

"Mania!" Aziraphale choked.

"What is your problem?" the man beside him asked.

Aziraphale stood right up and turned on his heel, prepared to storm off without another word. His gaze found red hair and sunglasses, unhidden by an upturned collar in the back row. Crowley tried to duck down too late, and Aziraphale was absolutely too angry to say anything to him. He pushed his way out of the bookstore and stomped away.

Aziraphale was livid, although stomping all the way back to his shop had helped. It was hard to remain energetically upset when tired out. Aziraphale kicked himself; he should have known that Crowley promising not to read the book only meant that he wouldn't look between the covers. Crowley would have to have realized who the poems were written for by then: yellow gaze and wet fire—ugh!—and all those awful words like fiend and sin.

Just as Aziraphale had thrown himself against the couch, vowing to never go out again, there was a banging on the door.

"Go away, we're closed," Aziraphale muffled into a cushion. The door dinged open, and Aziraphale pushed up to give the intruder a real talking to. When he saw it was Crowley, he groaned in total agony, flopping back into the couch. "Leave me alone!"

"Aziraphale, come on." Crowley's voice was soft. He stayed where he was, in the doorway.

Wiping his face surreptitiously, Aziraphale sat up, knowing he was red-eyed and flushed and just ugly. "I suppose it's only fair that you get to have your say. You can just—just have at me! I don't know if you want to laugh or yell at me—"

Crowley looked absolutely horrified. "I wouldn't do that. How could you say that?"

"Because you heard it! Me! You head me and all of the awful things I've thought. You're perfectly entitled to be angry or disgusted or—or anything!"

He spanned the distance to the couch in a few strides, Crowley's face open and earnest about something. His sunglasses were off, his hair tugged messy, his eyes in stark contrast to his thin, black pupils. Aziraphale, mouth parted and breath stopped, looked up at him. He was beautiful. He was so beautiful, and Aziraphale had messed it all up and made him look so sad.

"Aziraphale," he said, his face flushed, his breathing agitated. "Stop feeling sorry for yourself and listen to me." Aziraphale sniffed at the words but kept quiet. Crowley sat beside him, leaving a little space. "It's unfortunate that you saw me there. I'm not sorry I went," Crowley told him, "But I didn't go to bother you. I was just curious because you were so cagey about the whole thing."

Unsure if he could say something yet, Aziraphale made a soft noise in his throat. Luckily, he wasn't sure what he wanted to say anyway, which made abstaining easier.

"I wanted to know what you thought about. Who you thought about."

Aziraphale looked away sharply, his chin trembling again, because now he knew, he knew it all now, and he was being so kind to talk to him like it was all right.

"Hey," Crowley said, ducking his head to try and catch Aziraphale's eye. "Why are you upset?"

"Because we can't be friends until it goes away." Aziraphale was not crying by an inch. "Even if you think we can. Now you know, and I can't bear having you know and ignore it. It's worse than before." Aziraphale set his jaw tight, worried he'd let too much more go if he didn't lock himself down.

"Angel," Crowley moved in a little closer. His knee brushed against Aziraphale's knee, so Aziraphale shifted way. "We can still be friends."

"No, we can't." Aziraphale stated, refusing to look at him.

"Yes, we can." Crowley put his hand atop Aziraphale's. "I'm telling you we can. We don't have to stop."

"I already explained this." Aziraphale rounded to glare at him for not listening. Crowley was leaning into him, much closer than Aziraphale had realized. "Oh," he squeaked. "I won't be pitied either," he said, staying stock-still while Crowley reached up with his other hand to cup his cheek, tickling fingertips against his throat.

"It's not pity," Crowley said, closing the gap between them, closing his eyes, opening his mouth just enough.

Crowley smelled like the earth, and his mouth felt like perfumed oil, wet and soft and slick as Aziraphale rubbed his lips against it. It wasn't a kiss. Aziraphale couldn't have kissed him just yet, too overwhelmed to engage his body with any sort of precision. Still, he caught Crowley's tongue in his mouth and let him lick the interior, and then let him lick his own tongue.

"Just out of further curiosity," Crowley breathed against his mouth.


"Just how many of the poems are about me?"

Aziraphale opened his eyes, embarrassment shifting when he saw that Crowley wasn't smiling, wasn't teasing, was actually listening. "All of them," he said back, and he finally allowed himself to kiss.

Crowley had asked him to meet in the little diner where they'd first heard about the book, which was now celebrating its third month on various bestseller lists. It was strange to go alone, because Crowley usually liked to pick him up and escort him wherever they were going. But Crowley had also said he'd had business, and Aziraphale had no interest in getting involved in any of that.

He took the seat facing the TV to spite him, though.

As the waitress was bringing him his coffee and the Pie of the Day (pumpkin), Good Morningtime! came back from commercial break. Aziraphale nearly dropped his fork as flicked his hand to bring the TV volume up.

"We're here with Anthony J. Crowley III, son of maverick investor and grandson of the notorious gangster. Good morningtime, Anthony."

Crowley, sunglasses shining, hair styled, and the makeup making him look a little tanner than he usually did, was sprawled across the small seat, a hard copy book in hand. "Good morningtime, Mandy." He smiled, and any sense of irony was lost on the host. "Thanks for having me on the show. Huge fan."

"Thank you!" Mandy smiled back, uncrossing and recrossing her legs at him. "Your here promoting your book."

"That's right, Mandy." Crowley nodded, and his grin seemed even more electric, like he'd stuck a light bulb behind his teeth. "We'd been keeping ole grandpa's poems a secret, but now it's time to share them with the world."

"Would this have anything to do with the popularity of The Book of Aziraphale?"

"The what?"

Mandy laughed, but when Crowley didn't break she cleared her throat and asked, "Would you like to read one of the poems?"

"I would love to do that. This poem is called 'Angel,' so listen up," Crowley said to the camera before the screen flashed to the poem itself.

Let me
put my
dick in
you (please)

"Oh. I don't think you can say that on television," Mandy said, looking around for a producer or something.

"Ahh, lighten up, it's art." Crowley looked a little put out that she hadn't had a more positive response.

"Oh, Crowley," Aziraphale sighed. Crowley looked back at the camera and smiled. He gave a little wave. Aziraphale laughed.

Chapter Text

Akkadian (Mesopotamia) ca. 3000 BCE
I am the ox—
my love, the yoke.
It is his job to move me.
It is mine to tend the fields.

Chinese (Yellow Emperor's reign) 2698-2598 BCE
The emperor tells me
to understand the head,
I must investigate the tail.

I believe I could spend ten thousand years
wrapped around your tail
and still not get it right.

I put aside high ambitions
yesterday, when the empress told me
that wisdom comes from love.

I would settle to touch your lips this morning
or the next—

Latin (Italy) 1st Century
Last night, the summer sky burned like your yellow gaze.
I watched a bead of sweat
slide from below your earlobe
down between your breasts
with envy.

Your robe had parted as you leaned forward to whisper a joke
a mouth as nice as yours should never have formed.
How unfair that I must sin
while you simply live
unneeding of me.

Sub-Roman Britain 4th or 5th Century
You had just bathed—
I remember because your hair was more than damp
and I had never seen wet fire before.

The thrill of the sight—
how could I be so important
that you came to me before you dried?
What else was wet?

Greek (Constantinople) 550-600 CE
I nip my own fingers
and I abuse myself
and I commit one million sins daily
just to imagine your touch on my thigh.

If you were to find out
how ugly I am inside,
would you lie between my knees
or would you cast me out and damn me to myself?

Hebrew (Spain) 10th Century
You have made me a blasphemer, wicked fiend!
In the morning, I think of you
and what is between your legs
before I praise the name of the Lord.

Wretched thing that I have become,
I desire your flippant touch
even more than I have ever wanted
to hear Her silent, pounding voice.

In my love
I have offended both the Almighty and you—
and yet I seek your forgiveness
before I seek that of Heaven's.

Kannada (India) 12th Century
after supper, in the river
we bathed.

being in the dark, cool water
was relief.

if the sun had shone in that clear stream,
your cock would have been visible.

the very thought of it turned me to liquid—
my blush hid in midnight.

Persian (India) 13th Century
All I want to be is the ground you step upon,
the wind that caresses your cheek,
the water in which you put your body,
and the fire in your mouth.

French 15th Century
men flock about you
basking in your sun—I dream
I alone warm you

English Sonnet fragment 16th Century
My most unexalted of God's creatures
low to the ground though right next to my heart
all sharp and pale and lovely in features
God tell me when did my foolishness start.

Nothing within this ancient world compares
when put against your tiniest freckle
And yet you exist above talk and stares
Oh you have got to be kidding me nothing rhymes with freckle what an absolutely rubbish

English 17th Century
That wooden chest holds inside it your things
and sits without shame across from your bed.
It lives where it does, it lies as you like:
your touch brushes its handles and panels.

It opens for your twice daily, or more!
You pull out only as much as put in.
And while your gaze is cold upon its wood,
you cannot go a day without a peek.

Oh blessed dresser, you damned little chest,
What a wondrous life you've been given!
Dumb oaken creature, precious beloved box,
in a heartbeat, with you I'd trade my lot.

Italian 18th Century
I have loved you
and loved you
and love you
so terribly,
I am not myself
without loving you.