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The Ineffable Art of Gift-giving and Confessing Your Love by Anthony J. Crowley

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Crowley stared at his reflection in the mirror, frowning at the tartan bowtie around his neck.

"How 'bout this one? I think the colour goes well with your hair, sir." The salesperson held out another bowtie, this one dark blue, green and black, with thin lines of red running through the pattern.

"It's not for me, it's-" before Crowley could finish, the salesperson was already untying the bowtie around his neck and switching it for the darker one, paying no mind to the demon's attempts at an explanation.

Moments later Crowley emerged from the shop, empty-handed and tartan bowtieless, the frown still firmly etched on his face. He mentally crossed "bowtie" off of his "potential gifts" list, a list which had grown to ten pages long in Crowley's mind. The important day was a week away and Crowley felt like God had catapulted him back in time to when Armageddon was looming. Only this was so much worse than the world ending and bursting into a firework display of death and destruction.

This was picking a Valentine's Day gift for Aziraphale.

Months had passed since Armageddon't, and without the possibility of the world ceasing to exist and the pressure of horrible bosses, Crowley and Aziraphale had been living blissfully on earth like never before. Without the constant influx of tempting or blessing assignments from the head offices, Crowley had been able to enjoy Aziraphale's company without worrying about "fraternizing" with the enemy, as the angel once called it. They returned to their regular lunches at the Ritz, their drunken discussions, their walks and their duck feeding at St James', as if Armageddon had never happened in the first place, back to the way it used to be.

That was what frustrated Crowley.

His relationship with the angel hadn't changed much. This wasn't necessarily a bad thing, but Crowley wished there was something more. The interlacing of fingers, the gentle nudging, the feeling of another's warmth, the closeness, the intimacy…...Crowley wanted it, yearned for it even, and the approach of Valentine's Day felt like God had answered his pleas for once. She had given the demon a chance to finally act on a millennia of bottled up emotions, feelings that had constantly threatened to leak out from the bottomless well inside him.

Although, this was beginning to feel like another one of her twisted games, for Crowley, as he swaggered down the high streets of London, still could not decide on a perfect gift for Aziraphale. He thought of getting the angel a new coat at first (Aziraphale was too attached to his current one so nope), then a waistcoat (refer to the previous point), then a record player (again refer to the previous point), and just a few moments ago, a new tartan bowtie (again, too attached to the current one so a big whopping no to that). Perhaps he could just give him some chocolates and flowers, just like he did when the angel had first opened his bookshop. Something simple, something easy, something he knew the angel would enjoy.

“Ngk.” Crowley made a noise. He didn’t want to settle for something simple and easy. This was the first time they would be celebrating Valentine’s (well Crowley wasn’t exactly sure if Aziraphale knew or intended to celebrate it but that was beside the point), so it had to be something special and memorable.

But Aziraphale was an angel (both literally and figuratively, to Crowley anyways), who could miracle anything he desired. He was also the owner and collector of possibly every book in existence, every special first edition, leather-bound and signed and gifted to him personally by the authors. What could Crowley possibly give him that he couldn’t simply magic out of thin air?

It was at that moment when Crowley walked past a bookshop window and something caught his eye, big bold font embossed in gold that said:

GREATEST LOVE POEMS EVER WRITTEN
edited by Jennifer Greene, with foreword by Adrian Cummings

Crowley’s mental “potential gifts” list was immediately crumpled up, thrown into the bin and set aflame within the demon’s mind, as a new idea began to take shape amongst the ashes of his rejected gifts.

He could write for Aziraphale, put his feelings down on paper, maybe even turn them into a proper physical book that only Aziraphale could have. It would be one of its kind, the only one in the known universe (that WOULD be something special, thought Crowley). Aziraphale had read to him on occasion, some of which were love poems, from Barrett Browning to Tennyson, the angel’s voice music against the demon’s ears. Crowley was no poet like them, but surely he could write down how he felt about Aziraphale, turn 6000 years worth of thoughts and feelings into words on paper. How hard could it be?

 

 

It was 9am the next morning, and Crowley had been staring at a blank piece of paper for 15 hours. His computer, brand new, never used and never plugged in, sitting next to him.

All the emotions that had been stored and kept under lock and key within Crowley that had been begging to be released were now silent. Crowley’s mind was a complete and utter blank. Every few minutes a flash of love would hit him, but hesitation and a sudden pang of fear would overtake him, stopping him from committing them to paper, as if giving them physical form would weaken them somehow, make them no longer his.

Maybe he shouldn’t be doing this. Maybe it still wasn’t the right time. Maybe these feelings weren’t ready to be let loose.

“You go too fast for me, Crowley.” Aziraphale’s voice from way back in 1967 rang in his head and began to loop like a scratched record. The hesitance in the angel’s voice had haunted Crowley ever since, and the tinge of fear in the angel’s eyes that night had bore through his sunglasses and into his serpentine eyes like a drill.

Maybe he was going too fast. Maybe wanting to celebrate Valentine’s was a ridiculous notion to begin with. Maybe-

Crowley’s antique answering machine interrupted him with a beep. The Aziraphale from 1967 was replaced with the angel of the present day.

“Crowley, I’ve just found the most exquisite bakery near Foyles on Charring Cross. I’ve heard they serve the fluffiest cakes and have a lovely ambiance. A table for two has just opened up!” Aziraphale’s voice danced into Crowley’s ears, the way his voice perked up with the mention of cakes sending the serpent’s heart aflutter. The writer’s block can wait.

“Be there in five, angel.”

 

 

Aziraphale was right, the place really was lovely. Lots of greenery, which comforted Crowley. The pair had ordered angel cake and devil’s food cake, the former for the demon and the latter for the angel. As delicious as the angel cake was, Crowley was still thinking about his unwritten gift, whilst absentmindedly shoving fluffy mouthfuls of sponge cake into his mouth.

He looked across the table to Aziraphale, who was savoring every bite of his chocolate cake. Icing dotted the angel’s lips, which curled up into a contented smile. The corners of Aziraphale’s eyes crinkled when he smiled, the warmth and utter delight in his face making him as bright as the sun outside. Crowley unconsciously stared longingly (though you wouldn’t be able to tell because of the sunglasses) at the way the angel wiggled and bobbed occasionally in his chair, the way he hummed to himself as he ate.

Crowley loved Aziraphale, he really did. He wanted to say it, to scream it into the face of every diner here with a megaphone, right here in this fancy bakery. He wanted to envelop the angel’s hands with his and declare everything, every single loving thought that had ever crossed his mind, since they had met at the Garden of Eden, since the angel had kindly shielded him from the first ever rainfall, showing him compassion and mirth that he never thought he’d have the luxury of having. He just wanted to tell him the words that were always caught on the tip of his tongue, the words that stuck to the back of his throat and refused to come out.

“Is something the matter, Crowley? You seem a little under the weather, my dear.”

“It’s...it’s nothing, angel.” Crowley cleared his throat, pushing his unfinished food across the table to Aziraphale. “More cake?”

The angel beamed.

 

 

Crowley returned to his apartment with renewed determination (and a lingering tinge of hesitance and doubt thrown into the mix). Fuck it, he needed to stop overthinking and beating around the apple tree and just write down what he wanted to say. No point in waiting for 6000 more years only to worry about if he was going too fast again. Crowley had waited long enough.

 

 

Valentine’s Day, Doomsday 2.0.

It was a sunny Friday afternoon, and Crowley was having tea with Aziraphale at the Ritz. They had a lovely meal of sandwiches, cake and champagne.

“That was delightful, as usual.” Aziraphale delicately dabbed the corners of his mouth with a napkin. “So, wine at my place?”

“Actually, I was thinking maybe we could go for that picnic you talked about, back in um...1967?”

“What brought this on?”

“Nothing really, just thought we could use a change of pace.” Crowley leaned forward, his chin resting on his palm as he propped his elbow on the table. He tried to maintain a composed guise but internally he was screaming.

 

 

Crowley had driven them to Primrose Hill, as the sun began to set over Central London, the blue sky now a purple-pink hue. The two of them hiked up to the top, Crowley carrying a picnic basket and Aziraphale a rolled-up picnic blanket.

So far so good, thought Crowley, as he reached into his jacket to check that his gift was there. He had spent the whole of last week wracking his head over metaphors and similes, trying to make his feelings sound coherent and not an incomprehensible mess. He had gotten his small collection of love poems bound into a little booklet, with a tartan cover that matched the pattern on Aziraphale’s bowtie. The tartan cover might have been too much, Crowley thought, but there was no point in overthinking everything again, not when the moment he had been anticipating (and dreading, in equal measure) for the past week was happening right now.

Having found a spot near the hilltop which overlooked the city skyline, Aziraphale laid down the blanket. Crowley placed the picnic basket down and began setting out the food he had brought: a thermos of hot cocoa, containers with fresh strawberries, little portions of cheese and crackers, sandwiches. He had also brought a takeaway box containing a slice of the devil’s food cake from that bakery (this had made Aziraphale’s eyes light up, and Crowley’s cheeks to take on a rosy flush in response).

For the next few moments the pair indulged in the food and warm cocoa, admiring the sky which had now transformed into a panorama of blazing fiery red and orange. Aziraphale had been telling Crowley all about the latest customers that had visited his bookshop. From the university student who had begged to be allowed to stay the night so she could finish her essay that was due the morning after, to the elderly lady who called pest control because she was convinced she had seen a small black and red snake coiled around the angel a few days ago.

“It was fortunate that you weren’t there yesterday. I’m sure she would have caused an even bigger ruckus had you been there in snake form.”

“You could’ve told her I was just a scarf. A really scaly scarf mind you, but she probably would’ve accepted that as an excuse.”

“Well Crowley, that’s easy for you to say.” Aziraphale popped another strawberry into his mouth. “Mrs Perkins may be old, but she has eyes like a hawk, and would’ve stared at you so hard till you started sweating bullets.”

“Snakes don’t sweat, angel.”

“That was purely hypothetical.”

As they chatted and ate, Crowley was beginning to feel sick. Should he do it now? Is this the right time? Is this the moment he had been waiting for for 6000 years? The moment of truth, the moment of reckoning, the moment all those feelings bubbling up inside him could finally be set free.

The moment God decided to play a trick on poor old him.

“Crowley, what’s this?” Aziraphale innocently held up a small tartan booklet, the sight of which caused Crowley’s eyes to bulge out of their sockets. Shitshitshitshitshitshitshitshit, when did that fall out of his pocket!?

“ANGEL I-” Before Crowley could stop Aziraphale, the angel had already flipped open the book. Each page had a poem on it scrawled in Crowley’s handwriting, and while Crowley’s cheeks flared in embarrassment, Aziraphale began reading one of them:

I’m in love with an angel, whose eyes sparkled and who smiled like the sun.
I’m in love with an angel, who gave me kindness when I had none.

My eyes glowed a grotesque yellow, while his eyes glittered of blue and green.
My hair flared like scorching hellfire, while his was like the fluffiest clouds and the sweetest cotton candy.

We were supposed to be enemies, diametrically opposed in every conceivable way.
Yet somehow, by some strange twist of fate, we’ve been by each other’s side for millennia, even up against doomsday.

I don’t understand how lucky I am, to have him in my immortal existence.
Moments with him feel like a dream, what did I do to deserve bliss such as this?

I’m in love with an angel, but does he love me?
I’ll still cherish him regardless, and these shared moments so lovely.

I love you Aziraphale, angel of the Eastern Gate, protector of Eden.
Collector of books, lover of music, cakes and all things tartan.
This lowly serpent of Eden, this fallen figure, this being of Hell, loves you oh so much.

You are a being of love. You are my love. A love that overpowers me, a love that overrides my basic demonic instincts.
I love your everything, you’re my everything, what did a demon like me do to deserve perfection such as this? 

“Oh my...Crowley, this is lovely! I-” Aziraphale turned to Crowley only to find a small black and red snake curled up into a ball next to him on the picnic blanket. Crowley had melted into a little pool of embarrassed scales.

“I never knew you had such a way with words, my dear.” Gently, Aziraphale picked the silent but flustered serpent up and raised him till he was at eye-level with the angel.

“I love you too, dear, more than anything else in this whole wide world. Happy Valentine’s Day.” Aziraphale closed his eyes and kissed the snake on the head. When the angel opened his eyes again Crowley was there, his cheeks almost the same shade as his hair, his bottom lip wobbling and tears welling up in his eyes.

Before Crowley could muster the willpower to speak again, Aziraphale pulled the demon in for a kiss. The angel’s lips tasted of strawberries and chocolate, of love and reciprocation. All of the horrible feelings of uncertainty that had plagued Crowley washed away as soon as they had come.

Everything had worked out (somehow). Crowley, now in Aziraphale’s loving embrace, felt like time had stopped and the world had come to a standstill. It was just him and Aziraphale, his angel, atop of that hill with the star-filled sky above them.

Valentine’s Day ended up -fortunately- becoming another Armageddon’t. Maybe gift-giving and confessing your love to a several millennia-old angel weren’t so hard after all.