Actions

Work Header

Slow Show

Chapter Text

 

SLOW SHOW

 

Sure,

I sink the boat of love, but that comes

later. And yes, I swallow

 

glass, but that comes later.

 

And the part

where I push you

 

flush against the wall and every part of your

body rubs against the bricks,

 

shut up

 

I’m getting to it.

 

“Litany in Which Certain Things are Crossed Out”

- Richard Siken

 

1. 

“What happened to your coat?”

Crowley hadn’t meant to start out like that.  Had meant to say something really bloody clever, cool even. But those were the first words out of his mouth, dropping like pennies in a well, and fucked if he can take them back now.

Avery Fell looks over at him. He’s got a darting-rabbit sort of gaze, and his blue eyes quickly return to his champagne. Fine, whatever. Most people at the cocktail party have been avoiding Crowley like the Black Death, certain he’s contagious. He’s had a couple of drinks (booze was never his problem) and he’s sure he’s not imagining the disapproving glances that’s earning him as well. Oh no, don’t let Crowley near the punchbowl, he might - trash a set and shag your husband and strangle your kitten and - and -

Do all the wrong things. That’s what he does, right, that’s what all these bastards are waiting for? For him to fuck it all up again and prove once and for all that he doesn’t belong here. 

(If he’s being honest with himself, if he’s cutting through to the deep-dark-ugly-truthful heart of things, he probably doesn’t belong here. It’s been ages since he’s been invited to one of these fancy premiere do’s, and he feels overdressed and underdressed and likely to scratch his suit jacket right off  his clammy skin if he doesn’t get a cigarette soon. He doesn’t belong with the beautiful people any more. Lantern-jawed and surly and all black elbows and ribs - he probably never did.)

Oh, right.  He came over here with a purpose: making nice with the cringing vanilla so-and-so to his left. That’s clearly going down like a lead bloody balloon.

“Your coat? Brown leather one -“

“Coat? I - no, I -“ 

“I’m sure you were wearing one. I was eyeing it up on the carpet like anything.” That much is true. The coat had a very nice cut to it, and despite a ridiculous bit of tartan peeking out of the sleeves, he kind of wanted to touch it. 

It looked rather soft. 

“Lost it on your way in, did you? One of the paps wrestle it off you to sell online?”

Fell gives him a tight little smile, a please go bother someone else smile, an expression like someone politely snacking on glass. And this, this man is going to be Crowley’s co-star. Crowley’s first real job in nearly fifteen years (the second chance he never thought he’d get, a longshot at redemption) and this is the man he’s going to have to share it with.  Jesus Christ on Toast. Fell can barely look at him. 

He’s probably just trying to protect his pretty little image, and Crowley gets it. He’s the ‘wrong sort’ of person to be seen with. Avery Fell stays well out of the press - never involved in any sort of scandal, never getting the bad kind of attention. He only pops up now and then when his latest film is winning an award or when he and his partner are donating huge sums to charity. He’s clearly too good for this world and all the nasty, regular people in it (people like Crowley).  Clearly some sort of flawless bloody angel. 

“Look, this will go a lot easier if you pretend you can stand me.” Crowley tosses back the rest of his lager, considers another one. Considers how it would look, whether Beez would hear about it tomorrow (he should have dragged them out to this, spread the misery around.) “I get it, I do. Can’t be seen fraternizing. People might get the wrong idea, right? And I’m sure you’re worried about the series, whether I’ll light the whole thing on fire and bring you down with me, fuck it all up, but -”

“Not at all.” Fell’s wide blue eyes are suddenly intent on Crowley’s face. “And I’d rather you didn’t put words in my mouth.”

Crowley is - staggered. Bowled over. Knocked on his arse (those eyes are really - hellishly blue. He’d thought it was something special effects did.) 

Fell’s voice sounds different as well.  Crowley realizes that he hasn’t actually spoken to the man in person before. There was that recent, awkward conference call when the two of them were offered their roles in Warlock (they muttered “congratulations” to each other like aliens learning what words meant) but that was the extent of it. 

When he’s not on-screen, Fell’s voice is more musical.  At least Crowley thinks he can hear music. There’s something vibrating around him, some uncanny harmony pressing up against his skin.

“I have every faith in your talent,” Fell continues.  The corner of his mouth curls in a shy grin, and that’s hellish as well.  “Was quite the fan of your - erm, previous work.”

“You - you were?” 

Christ, Crowley hopes he isn’t glowing as brightly as he feels, they’ll see him from space. He’s such a fucking idiot - give him a scrap of kindness and he’ll follow you home with his tongue hanging out (and these days, no one ever says much about his previous work. Mostly they ask him if he’s okay. How is he doing? Is he doing okay? Has he tried yoga? How’s yoga going? Is it going okay?)

“Oh, absolutely. That Hanake film - I must have seen it three times in theatres at least. And the Irish co-production, where you played the musician - what was it called? Strings? The ending was simply -“ There is a sudden flood of delight in Fell’s eyes, crinkles forming at the corners. That is a look that Crowley recognizes from the man’s films (the happy films anyway. The nice ones.) Turns out Fell can do that look in real life as well.  

Crowley’s glad his drink is empty because - fuck.

“Well. That’s really - nice.” Nice? Like this man just brought him a casserole - bloody hell, Crowley’s supposed to be cool, what’s wrong with him?

“It’s the truth.” Fell is still looking at him with those soft-lit eyes, so Crowley finally looks away, hoping it will help his sanity.  He isn’t quite so happy anymore about his empty glass. “I saw you on stage once at Stratford, as well.  Ages ago. You were so talented.”

Crowley doesn’t miss the were in that sentence. Of course it’s were, it’s always were - you were so talented.  You were a star once (it was a long time ago.) 

Ages. Lifetimes. 

Before he fell.

(“You can’t talk to me like that on my set.  Hey! You fucking primadonna, I don’t care who your parents are, I  should never have -“

“Then you should watch your fucking mouth, maybe -”

“You’ve got some problem with the way I talk? I’ll say whatever I damn well please, if I want to call someone a fucking queer then - “

“Then you better call me that as well. All right? I’m a fucking queer, Hastur, so now what do you have to say -“

“That you’re a bloody mess, Crowley. Jesus Christ - are you high right now? Take your glasses off.”

“Fuck you!”

“Unbelieveable, he’s fucking high right now, get him the fuck off set. Security -” 

“No, don’t you - touch me, get your fucking hands off -”)

Ha, good times. Great memories. 

It isn’t every day you get your heart broken, shoot up in your trailer, come out to the world in the stupidest way possible, trash a set, get arrested, lose your job, get blacklisted in the industry you love - all in the space of a few hours. 

Really, if it wasn’t so life-ruining, it might be kind of impressive (Crowley bites into the meat of his cheek, bites harder and harder, testing the limits of his skin.)

“Are so talented,” Fell amends softly. “Is what I meant,” 

It takes Crowley a minute. He slowly unlocks his jaw.  “What?”

“Just - misspoke there. Didn’t want you to think -”

“Hiya, love!” A woman’s voice interrupts them, and Crowley realizes that his pulse is beating dangerously fast, the nattering of a snare drum at the start of a march. He’s glad for the distraction.

“Thank heavens, you made it just in time.” Fell steps forward to give the red-headed newcomer a peck on the cheek.

“Crowley, I don’t believe you’ve officially met my partner, Tracy. Tracy, of course, this is -”

“Anthony Crowley!” Tracy shakes his hand enthusiastically. “I’m a fan, a massive fan. Almost didn’t recognize you without your glasses.” 

Tracy’s an overly made-up woman about Fell’s age, with jingling bracelets on each of her wrists, a silk dress that looks more like a dressing gown, and an accent that’s a bit - common. Crowley’s seen her before, but only in the very rare photos of Fell at social events. 

Tracy’s louder in person. Shabbier ‘round the edges.

Crowley likes her immediately.

“Such exciting news, the two of you working together. This one won’t shut his mouth about it!” Tracy gestures toward Fell, who presses his lips together. Goes a bit - pink maybe? Nah, probably just the light.  “I’m going to pop to the bar, get myself a G&T before the film starts. I’ll see you gents in - Az, I thought you were wearing that leather jacket tonight. The nice one - did you change your mind?”

“Er, yes.  Bit - warm for it.”

“Warm? Give over. Just getting out of the car, I was freezing my ti-“ She stops talking suddenly, purses her pink-smeared lips. “Um, you know, I’ll just get that drink.”

She heads off to the bar, and Crowley stares at Fell. Silently. After a moment more of that, he raises an eyebrow (it usually does the trick.)

Igaveitaway.”

It takes Crowley’s temporal lobe a few extra seconds to make that into something sensical. 

“You - what?”

“My coat. There was a - the girl outside the theatre. On the corner, with the cardboard sign? Don’t look at me like that - it’s cold out, it’s just going to get colder -“

“You gave your coat away.” How had Crowley not noticed this? “To a - a tramp?”

“Shhhh,” Fell waves his un-cocktailed hand urgently. “Please keep it down. I don’t want anyone to - hear.”

“You - don’t?” This may be the biggest shock of all.

“Then everyone might - talk about it and I - let’s just leave it. Tracy already thinks I’m too soft, and it - doesn’t matter. Please don’t say anything.”

Crowley feels like he can’t get enough air, like maybe he tied his scarf too tightly around his throat. He tugs at it, and Fell looks over in concern.

“My dear, are you all right?”

My dear. 

When was the last time anyone called him something so gentle? When was the last time he had a pet name, when - No. Anthony Crowley, stop whatever the fuck you’re doing this absolute second. Stop what you’re thinking as well. 

Definitely stop looking at him.

But Crowley does not stop looking. Not that Fell is an astonishing beauty - maybe in a cherubic, middle-aged sort of way, all tight blond curls and flushed cheeks, but he’s more like the idea of person than an actual one. 

And he’s not Crowley’s type, not at all.

Fussy as anything.  Straight(ish, let’s be honest, it’s the Arts.)  Taken.

It’s  - ridiculous.

There’s a five minute warning announced over the speakers, and Fell gives Crowley a smile that’s - warmer this time. Still weighed-down with pockets full of stones, but a bit more real. Crowley wonders (a whiskey-sharp thought that has no place in his brain) what it would take for Avery Fell to let his guard down, even for a moment. How much booze, how much time, how little sleep - what could get him to smile at Crowley in an open-book sort of way, spine cracked, pages ruffled. 

That’s when Crowley’s jostled by the latest BBC ingenue, well on her way to pissed and wobbling in her stilettos.

“Haha, oh nooo...” the poor thing whimpers as sub-par red wine spills down the front of Crowley’s shirt. “Sssshhhh, okay? Just - I’m so ssssorry.  It’s okay, right?” She wiggles her fingers, pulls up the tiny straps of her dress, and then promptly pisses off with what’s left of her Merlot.

“The fuck,” Crowley hisses to himself, as Fell takes a step toward him.

“Oh, what a disaster.”

“Don’t worry about it. I’m all in black, can’t see it -”

“But you’ll be damp for the entire film, hardly pleasant - here, just let me -“ And suddenly Golden-Globe winner Avery Fell has a handkerchief in his hand, and is pressing it to Crowley’s chest, soaking up the worst of it. 

Crowley - swallows.  He doesn’t move.

“There you go,” the goddamn angel says softly, “It’s no trouble. We’ll have you fixed right up.”

“Right.” It’s a wonder Crowley can speak. What the fuck is happening? His skin is cold from the air and damp from red wine, but every now and then he can feel the heat of Fell’s palm through the fabric of his shirt. 

(You poor, pathetic, touch-starved bastard. Pick up someone at a club and quickly; you’re clearly losing your mind. Again.)

“Better,” Fell says, pulling back. The handkerchief in his hand is now stained purple, like a fistful of violets. Fell’s hand is as well. Crowley wonders (and then immediately wants to lobotomize himself) if the man’s thick fingers would taste like sub-par Merlot.  “I suppose you’ll want to go into the theatre. I’ll wait for Tracy. And - um - we’ll see each other in three months, won’t we?”

“Um. Yep.”

“Expect we’ll be seeing a lot of each other.”

“Ha, yeah.”

“I’m so glad we had a chance to chat properly. I was always hoping you’d – well.” Fell stops and - looks away. Swallows. Crowley watches the bob of his throat. “I look forward to working with you.”

Crowley manages a weird, unbalanced smirk (he can feel it tilting on his face, knows what he looks like). He mumbles something unintelligible,  and slinks away. He doesn’t know if he quite gets the ‘slink’ down but he’s feeling a bit off balance (never good for any sort of swagger.)

He finds his seat for the film, and curses himself for getting so caught up in their conversation that he forgot to piss off for a smoke. Now he has to sit through a whole film thinking about it. Damn Fell for - distracting him.

The man in question is currently coming down the row a few in front of Crowley’s, a bit closer to the screen.  His hair catches the light like a halo, making him look more of an angel than ever. Even in the darkness, he seems to notice Crowley staring at him (staring for fuck’s sake) and gives him a precious little wave.

Crowley grimaces, doesn’t wave back (but his hand clenches on the armrest in one desperate spasm, wanting to, wanting to.)

This could be a problem, Crowley thinks, and then thinks better of it. Absolutely bloody not.   He’s being an idiot  (and if he calls Beez later while nursing a tumbler of whiskey and tearing out his hair, “Ringlets, Beez, bloody ringlets –just murder me - I’m not allowed to feel like this about someone with ringlets –” well, he’s an actor. He’s allowed a bit of drama now and then.)

It won’t be a problem, Crowley thinks to himself as the lights go down and the opening credits start (three rows ahead of him and seven seats down, Fell laughs.)

Fuck.

It could be.

Chapter Text

 

 

Three years later.

 

Golden Globes, February 9th, 2020 (Red Carpet Transcript)

Hollywood Life: Avery - Avery! Do you have a second for Hollywood Life ?

A. Fell: Oh, hello. Yes, of course. 

Hollywood Life: Look at that suit! That bowtie. Very dapper. 

A. Fell: Thank you very much.

Hollywood Life: Going solo this evening?

A. Fell: Yes, unfortunately my partner is back in London with a family matter, so it’s just - myself tonight, I’m afraid. The rest of the cast is extremely disappointed. Tracy’s much more fun than I.

Hollywood Life: How are you feeling about tonight’s ceremony? Nervous? Excited? With Warlock up for Best TV Series -

A. Fell: Yes. It’s truly incredible, I’m so honoured, we all are.

Hollywood Life: What do you think of your chances?

A. Fell: I - don’t know. I thought this first season was something truly original, and it's such a pleasure to be part of it. And of course the award would be nice, but it doesn’t really matter. We’re just so grateful to be making something that - the audience is connecting with, all of us -

Hollywood Life: Now for anyone who hasn’t seen the show - not that I imagine there are many of them left -

A. Fell: Oh, bless. That’s extremely kind of you.

Hollywood Life: - do you want to tell us a little bit about Warlock? How would you describe it? Because it’s kind of - between genres?

A. Fell: You know I’ve heard that before and I think it’s rather accurate. Um, I’d say that Warlock is a historical sort of - fantasy? There’s the clear Game of Thrones comparison but I think we tell that sort of epic story on a smaller, more personal scale. It’s more about the ordinary people living in this chaotic world. And then you have my character, a priest who’s lived a very quiet, um - scholarly life, and finds himself at the centre of things, forced to work with this, um, charlatan, snake-oil salesman type character - of course, played by the great Anthony Crowley -

Hollywood Life: What is it like working together? It seems like the two of you -

A. Fell: Yes?

Hollywood Life: Have a - great - you know. That rapport that you bring to the roles, you can’t - oh, there he - Anthony! Can you come talk to us for a minute?

A. Crowley: Hiya angel. Nice - uh, bowtie.

A. Fell: Hello dear.

Hollywood Life: So clearly the two of you have a good working relationship.

A. Crowley: Nah, can’t stand each other.

A. Fell: We certainly - complement each other. I think. Our characters on the show are extremely different, of course, and our real personalities are - rather different as well.

A. Crowley: For example, I dress like someone from this century.

A. Fell: And I’m someone with manners and taste, whereas this one -

Hollywood Life: (laughter) Anthony, the success of Warlock must be even more exciting for you as it kind of - symbolizes your comeback to the entertainment industry. What has that been like for you?

A. Crowley: That’s um - ha, it’s complicated  -

Hollywood Life: Has it been hard to give up your ‘bad boy’ lifestyle?

A. Crowley: My - what? I don’t -

Hollywood Life: You’ve had some run-ins with the law in the past. Has that been a challenge while filming? In terms of traveling to different countries, different locations -

A. Fell: I’m sorry my dear, we really must be moving along. Thank you very much. Have a good evening.

*

Az takes Crowley’s arm and pulls him down the red carpet like there are wolves at their heels.  If his hands are tight on Crowley’s bicep, if they’re warm and strong and Crowley leans into the touch just a bit more than he should -

Well. He’s fucking earned it, after that bloody gauntlet.

“You should have shut that down immediately,” Az natters under his breath (Tracy’s nickname for him has stuck and stuck hard.) “What sort of soundbite was that woman even expecting? We have two minutes and she wants to get into -”

“You’re just intimidated by my ‘bad boy’ lifestyle,” Crowley says, smirking behind his sunglasses. Smirking is easy, much easier than talking about the way his heartbeat is still racing, the black spots flashing in front of his eyes ( they know, they know, they fucking know you don’t belong here - )

“Yes, you’re ever so intimidating.”

Yes, you’re ever so intimidating.”

Az drops his arm at that - but that’s all right. It had to happen eventually.  They couldn’t just go around holding hands all through the Emmys, people would get - the wrong idea.

Or the right idea, in Crowley’s case.  But he’s learned to second-guess his first impulses; they’re never good ones. Best replay them over and over again and then do nothing. That’s the ticket.

“I quite like that jacket on you. Navy blue instead of black, darling? You’ve clearly lost control.”

Call me darling again, Crowley wants to say, even though it’s unnecessary: Az always does. The pet names have only increased in the years they’ve been working together, but they still feel new every time Crowley hears them. He could live off the ‘dears’ and ‘darlings,’ wouldn’t need food or booze or even cigarettes (all right, he might still need cigarettes. Harder to quit than heroin.  As they say.)

Call me darling again. Crowley holds the thought anyway, sloshes around in it like bathwater. That particular word from Avery Fell’s mouth feels like slowly having your bones warmed through with blankets out of the dryer. Feels like having the pain rubbed out of your aching shoulders with soft, strong hands. 

Feels like coming home.

(Yeah, yeah, Crowley’s fucked, but he could’ve told you that three years ago. And Christ - has it really been three years? Can’t believe it. Feels some days like he’s known this man for six thousand.)

Crowley came from a film family, he’s been surrounded by people who loved his parents (and loved him through osmosis or some shite) all his life.  People treated him like he hung the bloody stars, handled him with kid gloves until he drove his life off a cliff; then they were all too quick to scatter. But even his closest friends back then had nothing on whatever he and Az have - something stupid and messy and real. Three bloody years, and he and Az spend more time together than he did with his first boyfriend. More time than he ever spent with Luke (nothing to see here, move along, let’s avoid those memories right bloody quick.)

“Do you want some champagne?”

“Nah, I’m all right.” Crowley doesn’t usually like drinking in these sorts of places. He’s already anxious, and that makes the champagne disappear a bit too quickly, and then the whole bloody world has to weigh in the next day on social media (“ Anthony Crowley’s wild night out !”) 

Instead, Crowley watches Az take a glass from the offered tray, sip delicately at it. His mouth is a perfect pink cupid’s bow, the kind of mouth that a Victorian maiden should have, the kind of mouth that makes Crowley want to -

Anyway . Moving on.

“Hmm.” Az smacks his lips, consideringly. “Too sweet for my taste.”

“That’s the first time those words have ever left your mouth.”

“Oh, stop.”

“I may drop dead from shock.”

“I have a very sophisticated palate, I’ll have you know.”

Crowley is extremely thankful for his dark sunglasses. “No doubt.”

It’s hard for him sometimes (most of the time) not to stare like an open flame at this poncy blond git. The glasses have always been his trademark, and never hurt when it came to hiding how dilated his pupils were, but now - several stints in rehab later - he’s covering his eyes for completely different reasons. 

Don’t ever ever ever let him see the way you look at him.

Some nights when Crowley can’t sleep, and cigarettes and yoga and Tension-Tamer-Tea (TM) won’t help, he has conversations with himself. One of those conversations goes like this: Crowley you miserable bastard - yeah I’m talking to you, the only one who can hear this voice in their head. Listen the fuck up. 

One of these days you’re going to get really drunk. You’ve been really drunk, you know how it goes, but one day you will be drunker. And you will be laughing and you will be looking at your co-star (possibly in his damnable office with the shelves so crowded it feels like an old bookshop) and you might think to yourself, ‘SELF, I should just. Fucking. Tell. Him.’ 

Are you paying attention? Good, this is the tricky bit.

You might think ‘this love is like a shovel in my throat, it’s going to choke me if I don’t say something, and if he tells me off at least I’ll be able to breathe for a few blessed minutes.’ You might think ‘he’s smiling at me and he’s sitting close enough on this sofa to touch; I could just lean over and kiss him, lean over and whisper into his hair: ‘I’m a disaster over you, I’ll do anything you want if you let me, use me, tell me what you like, I don’t even fucking care as long as I get to touch you, we can pretend it didn’t happen in the morning, please angel my God I -‘

Bad idea. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Crowley, when that moment comes, you must shut your mouth and drink a glass of water and get the hell out.  Call a cab, book a Lyft - no - don’t interrupt me. Trust me on this. It won’t end well, and it can’t end well, and you must do everything you can to avoid tanking this friendship like you tanked your career.

Repeat after me: ‘Getting late. Really should be heading off. Call you tomorrow, angel, all right?’

Repeat after me: “Shite, I’ve had enough. Better leave while I’m still upright. Let’s do brunch on Sunday, yeah?”

Once more with feeling: ‘Az, I’ve got to go. Early day tomorrow. Give my love to Trace. Don’t look at me like that. Don’t smile at me like that. Don’t get that hurt crease in your eyebrows as I get my coat on, don’t make me want to open my mouth and stay, stay -

(Okay, forget that last bit. But keep the rest on the tip of your tongue, ready to spit it out when you need it.)

Crowley doesn’t particularly like these conversations with himself, but in those fraught, silent evening hours, there isn’t anyone else around to talk to about this. He gave up talking to Beez after that first night of whiskey-soaked panic (if they weren’t his manager, he’d probably give up talking to them about most things.) He occasionally talks to his therapist about it (Pepper’s an all right sort of girl, even if she looks too young to drink, let alone have a Master’s in Counselling Psychology. She mostly just lets him prattle on at her about anything, throwing in the odd life-destroying comment that Crowley tries to dodge like a dart. He’s pretty good at it by now; it’s all in the hips.)

He and Az are escorted to their seats with the rest of the cast and crew that managed invites. Anathema raises an eyebrow when the two of them come in together, and Crowley bares his teeth at her, like some sort of animal. It just makes her laugh, which is un-bloody-fair. Crowley was an intimidating person once, he’s sure of it. Now he just feels like a wobbly snake with hair and an affinity for black leather.

“The two of you came together?” Anathema whispers as Crowley moves down the row past her. “Fans will be pleased.”

“Shut it.” 

The woman’s a brilliant actor, but she has - as the kids say - no bloody ‘chill’ at all.  

Crowley knows there are people watching the show who have some strong, surprisingly erotic opinions about his character and Avery’s. Viewers who light up the - what? Chatrooms? Is that still a thing? - whenever Az calls him ‘dear’ in an interview. Or when the damn word ‘angel’ slips from his mouth (he got into the habit of using it on-set, and he hasn’t gotten out of it. The first time it happened was on Graham fucking Norton, but Az was a guest too, and just smoothly followed it up with “yes darling?” and it got a good laugh.) Ha very ha. Bloody hilarious that anyone would ever think there was any possibility that some like Avery would ever -

Anyway. The whole fan thing is charming, but it makes Crowley panic a bit, sweat through the collars of his shirts. Like - is there something in the way he looks at Az, is there something he’s revealing even when he’s trying not to - some wet, rank secret rising up through his floorboards and growing black mould in his cellar, up his staircase, through his entire fucking house -

But no. 

There can’t be. 

That’s the end of it (cut that ribbon and curl the edges of it.)

“Thank heavens, we’re sitting together.” Az darts that rabbity glance at him, the one that stopped being offensive years ago, and is now incredibly, revoltingly endearing. “Are you all right?”

“Yeah, m’fine.” Crowley drops into his seat like his strings were cut, crossing his spidery black legs at the knee. He lowers his sunglasses to the bridge of his nose so he can actually see what’s going on around him; the lights are dim, and there are limits to his powers.

“Stop being so twitchy, you’ll get me started.” Az taps him lightly on the arm.

Crowley contemplates snarking back at him, but doesn’t have the energy for it.

“Sorry. You know how I get  -”

“I do.” Az’s tap turns into a squeeze, his hand strong and tight on the bones of Crowley’s shoulder. His eyes are so achingly gently that it hurts a little. Crowley feels that burn in the back of his throat, and right below his collarbone, cauterizing a wound. “You needn’t worry, though. You’re doing marvelously.”

And Crowley - has no response to that. 

He chews at the corner of his mouth. Tries to remember how the absolute fuck he ended up here.

It clearly started the first day they met, that blasted premier screening and Az’s missing leather coat. There wasn’t a strike of lightning or anything, more like - a crack slowly spreading through a dam, growing imperceptibly larger until one day Crowley looked across the set at Az (getting mic’d up, chatting and smiling with the sound girl) and thought holy shit, I’m already underwater. 

Oh my God, I’ve been drowning for months and I didn’t even know it and now I’m so far gone that I can’t even see the surface.

Looked across the set and thought, Ah fuck me. I’m in love with him.

(“No, no, no-” Crowley stutters over Az’s body, pressing his hands to his chest. A blossom of red starts to unfurl like petals against the man’s white shirt.

Az is lying on the forest floor, face dove-grey. His fingers are digging into the pine-needled earth, and his eyes are wide and intent on Crowley’s.

“It’s fine,” Az says quietly and Crowley’s longing hands swim with blood. “I’m all right.”

“All - all right,” Crowley murmurs back to him, the word rattling like a bullet between his teeth.

“Am I bleeding?”

“Just - a bit. It’s okay. Hey, keep your eyes open, yeah?”

“Your hand - don’t move it.” Az lifts one of his and lets it drop heavily over Crowley’s. “Just there. It’s - warm. You’re warm.”

“Hang on, all right? Don’t -”

Az’s eyes flicker closed but he is smiling. “Just there.”

“Don’t - I can’t -“ Tears are making it difficult to see. Crowley lets one spill down his cheek, bites at the corner of his mouth. His hands, his hands are winedark, and he can’t breathe, can’t move, can’t possibly stop trying to hold Avery’s ruined chest together -

Cut !” Michael shouts from behind the camera. “Oh my God. The two of you -“

Az lets out a shallow breath beneath Crowley’s shaking palms. 

“I’m tearing up over here,” Michael continues. “Hold for stills, okay? Just a sec.”

Crowley does not lift his hands from Az’s chest, feels the soft thumping of his heartbeat beneath the damp shirt. Az opens his eyes (at last, at last, let me look at you) and Crowley grins down at him as the photographer and makeup and wardrobe people circle like sharks, cameras clicking.

“You’re meant to be dying,” Crowley says through tight lips.

“Bit difficult with you dripping all over my face.”

“It’s called acting. These are real tears, angel.  This is my Oscar-reel moment right here.”

“My apologies. I clearly meant to say how impressive you are.”

“Eh, I cry easy these days. Ducks, babies - that terrible sweater you had on last week.”

“Yes, I seem to remember wailing, gnashing of teeth, rending of clothing -“

“That’s your weekend you’re remembering.”

Az lets out a startled laugh, the tips of his ears going pink. Crowley’s smile spreads slow as a fire through wet leaves.

“Foul fiend.”

“You love it.”

“Stop flirting,” Anathema mutters as she walks past them to her mark. “I’m telling Tracy.”

“Can’t two hot-blooded heterosexual men lie on the forest floor together covered in each other’s blood and tears without getting accused of flirting these days?” Crowley calls back to her, which makes the 1st A.D. choke on her laughter.

Az does not laugh, however.. He’s closed his eyes again, mouth going flat and still.  Getting back into character, probably, consummate professional that he is. 

Good for him. Crowley is not so professional. Crowley is a hungry, bone-starved thing. He takes the two seconds he thinks he can get away with it to study Az’s eyelids. The skin would be so soft there, lined gently with veins the colour of lilacs. Given the chance, Crowley would press his lips to them. Maybe. If it was something Az liked. He’d kiss one first, then the other. Slow, grasping kisses that would wake Az from even the loveliest of dreams, have him opening his eyes and his mouth, smiling -

“Okay, we’re good. Thank you.” Michael interrupts that completely appropriate and platonic moment. “We’re going to block the next scene now, then - Avery - you can get changed.”

“Help up?” Crowley offers, pulling his wet hands back from his co-star’s soft chest.

There’s a hint of trouble in Avery’s eyes as he opens them again, a crumpled paper sort of look.

“Thank you, dear.”

When their hands touch, they’re both wet with fake blood - food colouring and syrup, profanely sweet. Crowley has a sudden, stupid wish that the red of it will never wash off. That he’ll carry Avery Fell around on his palms forever.)

So Crowley’s in love.

Doesn’t matter. It’s fine.

He hasn’t been in love all that much before, to be honest. Had been going through a bit of a dry spell, a forty-years-in-the-desert stretch before he met Az. Crowley’d given up on feeling anything like that again, thought that his heart had grown a shell around it like a beetle’s. Thought he’d gotten older, gotten better, maybe possibly learned from his mistakes. 

That’d be a fine thing. Learning something, what a thought. Turns out, his heart had been storing it up - all that ragged-edged, burnt-fingered longing- just to bring it back full force. Like pulling on an elastic- you keep pulling and pulling and the longer it goes without snapping, you think ‘ah maybe it’ll never snap.’ But no, you idiot - the longer it takes, the sharper the eventual sting is going to be.

Crowley wasn’t ready for it. He’s old and tired, can’t manage the weight of this longing. Leave it to the young; he isn’t a bloody teenager (though some days he still feels like one, feels those pinpricks of electricity under his skin, like his blood is trying to boil out of his pores. He remembers that sensation from his early days of acting, a feeling that drove him out late late late, scratching at his arms, tongue down the throat of anyone that would have him, tattoos from strangers in dodgy back rooms, booze at first and then things a bit harder, sharper, anything to make him feel still for a bloody second. Anything to make his skin stop singing, to feed that liquorice and shark-toothed mouth that lived below his breastbone and was always, always starving.

Pepper says that’s called anxiety and depression, possibly undiagnosed ADHD. She wants to talk about his parents and his self-esteem and how yoga is going.  Yeah, hard pass on all of that.)

Warlock doesn’t win best series. 

Well. Just an honour to be nominated, isn’t that what you’re supposed to say? There’s an afterparty that HBO puts on at the Plaza, and Az gives Crowley a lift there and when they get to the valet parking they just - look at each other. Don’t move.

There’s a stream of people milling about at the entrance. Crowley can see lights and flashes going off, and all the beautiful people waiting to cast their clear-glass judgments on him, and a chorus of NO’s rise up in his bloodstream and -

“Would you rather - I don’t know, come back to mine?” Az asks. Crowley can feel the other man’s breath against his jawline.

“Thank God, yes. Yes. "

So that’s what they do.

Az owns a place in town for when he’s filming, a two bedroom midcentury out in Silver Lake. Crowley has been there before, even stayed there once or twice by himself when Az was off doing some other project between seasons. It’s nothing like Az’s London place, which is cluttered and cozy and smells like him (the scent of old paper and Earl Grey tea and sandalwood, all muddled together and poured over ice.)

The L.A. place doesn’t smell like that. It smells like fucking lemon Pledge. It’s a damn sight cleaner (Az’s terrible manager Gabriel is a bit obsessive about that sort of thing, has housekeepers in weekly even when no one is staying there. Gabriel furnished the place as well, picked out all the clean-lined furniture, the West Elm metal lamps, the wood-framed sofa. Everything shines with polish and Crowley absolutely hates it.)

He also has a key to the front door. There’s something - a bit unsettling there. Az gave it to him the first time Crowley flew out to L.A. by himself, said “no one’s there, plenty of room, may as well make some use of it.” They had just wrapped the first season, still on edge about what the show would look like in the end, whether anyone would give a damn (and Crowley has never been good with anticipation; started chain-smoking and biting his nails and fidgeting so much he was getting blurry around the edges.) Beez booked him into a week-long meditation retreat - more punishment than anything else - and he came back from L.A. at least a little bit less blurry, and Az told him to keep the key.

“You’re welcome any time, dear.” (What a fucking thing to say.) 

Sometimes Crowley keeps that key in his pocket, rubs it like a worry-stone between his thumb and ring finger. He’s probably wearing parts of it down smooth but - whatever. He likes the weight of it in his hand. Likes knowing that someone like Avery Fell thinks he’s “welcome any time.”

“What would you like to drink?” Az is rummaging behind the fully stocked bar, jacket off and shirt sleeves rolled up to the elbows. “Wine? Something stronger? I have that Yoichi Single Malt you seemed to enjoy before.”

“Whatever you want, angel.” Crowley sits on the leather sofa and tries not to get too dry-mouthed over Az’s forearms, the slight curvature of the muscle, the dusting of gold hair -

“Hmm. Malbec?” 

“Uh - yeah. Sure.”

Az pour them both a glass of it, and hands one to Crowley. “I’ll just ring up Tracy, see how her mum made out. She’ll be up already, I think. Won’t be a minute.”

He touches Crowley’s shoulder with one warm hand as he heads off into the bedroom.

“Tell her hi from me,” Crowley calls after him, and when the bedroom door closes, he drinks half his glass of wine without pausing for breath. Tell her hi from me. Tell her all the terrible things I want to do to her husband (not technically her husband, but close enough.) Tell her all the obscenities I want to bite like a plum against your bloody forearms.

Crowley drums his fingers on his wine glass, can’t stay still. Thinks about finishing the rest in one swallow, topping it up before Az gets back. Forces himself to wait on it.

In the bedroom, he can hear Az’s muffled voice, the sound of laughter stuffed with cotton-balls. Christ, in the near dark the L.A. house gives Crowley the creeps. It’s cold and impersonal, and he always feels a bit like a stranger here. There’s the soft hum of traffic from whatever freeway’s nearest, and Crowley keeps waiting for Charles Manson to kick down the door and murder him.

The only presence of Az in this space at all is the stack of expensive writing paper on the teak coffee table, a couple blots of ink marking their clean white surfaces. There’s a few words written down as well, crossed out dramatically. Crowley contemplates getting off the couch, going over there to snoop, but that would be a bad bloody look (Az writes letters, surprising no one. Such a cliché that sometimes Crowley thinks he must have made it up in a fever dream, or just assumed it and forgotten that it was never confirmed. But no, Az possesses sheafs of thick, Clairefontaine writing paper and several custom Pilot pens worth more than Crowley’s life. After the first season of Warlock wrapped, Crowley arrived back home in London to find a wax-sealed envelope waiting for him. He didn’t open it for a good few hours, convinced it would be a threat or something, some blood pact he agreed to whilst high out of his tree that was coming to claim his firstborn.

But no. It was just a fussy actor with beautiful, curlicue hand-writing inviting him to dinner. 

They were already spending most of their evenings together while they were filming. After that letter, they started spending their evenings in London together too. Sometimes Tracy would be there, but mostly it was just the two of them, drinking their way through both of their winecellars and being absolute idiots together. It didn’t make a bit of sense, how quickly Az became an indispensable figure in his life. It was something that Crowley couldn’t suss out, could barely put into words. It was just - ineffable.)

“There, all done.” Az comes out of the bedroom, tucking his phone away and sitting in the chair opposite Crowley.

“How’s she doing?”

“Well enough. Her mum’s out of surgery, did well. Tracy’s mostly upset she wasn’t able to come and meet Trevor Noah. You know how she is about him.”

Crowley smirks. He does.

“She sends her love, of course,” Az continues with a fond roll of his eyes.

“Sure she does. Maybe to Trevor Noah.”

“Well, to him, certainly. You’re an afterthought, I’m afraid. But still a thought.”

“How generous of her.”

“How’s the Malbec?” Avery eyes Crowley’s half-empty glass. “You clearly detest it.”

“Clearly. You have the worst taste, I swear.”

They pass a couple of hours this way - as they always do - talking about nothing and finishing a couple of Az’s best bottles of red (white gives Crowley a headache, always has.) There’s a strange urgency tonight, though, and Crowley can guess why. He’s back to London after this, and Az is staying in the States to do some voice-over work, and then who knows when they’ll see each other again? (They will, though, they always do. Their paths always seem to twine back around and through and into each others’. Once they accidentally met in St. James’s Park while Crowley was jogging (Christ, he hates jogging) and Az was feeding the ducks (of course he was feeding the ducks.) Once they ran into each other in an Oyster bar in Brooklyn - Grand Army , great cocktails - when neither even knew the other was in the city. “Let me tempt you,” Az had started, stopped, blushed - and Crowley hadn’t needed to be asked twice.)

Some awful part of Crowley’s brain could call this fate, if he wanted to. But he doesn’t. 

Like he said, he’s not a teenager.

“Dolphins have brains the size of, well, bloody big brains. And whales? Brain city, whales!” What the fuck is Crowley even talking about? God, he’s an absolute mess when he’s drunk and in love.

Az is less of a mess. His wine glass is empty and the smile on his mouth is some sort of deadly geometry, an equation meant to cut Crowley’s throat while he’s sleeping (and let’s not even talk about the crease between his eyebrows, don’t go there.)

Crowley realizes he’s really drunk. He’s been really drunk before. But tonight he’s drunker.

And with a punch to his chest like a kickdrum beat, he thinks: SELF. I should just. Fucking. Tell. Him.

(What could it hurt? Az is a great bloke, wonderful friend, he would never be cruel, he would let Crowley down gently, he would wince and stammer and apologize and it all would be fine. In the end, it would be fine. And Crowley could build a ladder from that kindness and climb the hell out of this hole, this pit, could start to move on, could recover, could get the fuck over this -)

“Better head out,” he says, getting to his feet like a sailor still finding his legs. “Better - yeah. ‘S late.”

“Are you - certain? You’re staying downtown, aren’t you?”

“It’s fine.” Crowley tells himself it’s fine. He fishes his phone out of his (maybe a bit too tight) trouser pockets, tries to clumsily text for a cab. How did his thumbs get so big? “Not a problem.”

“As long as you’re - sure.”

There’s a guest room in the flat, of course. But Crowley would never take it. And Az has never offered it to him. They don’t have to speak about it, don’t have to sweep the dishes off the table and lay out the wretched cards that illustrate why it would be a terrible idea.

They both already know.

(“ Anthony Crowley, unrepentant homosexual, seen leaving Avery Fell’s L.A. home this morning after cozy night in!”)

I’ll see you tomorrow, though?” Az asks, getting up from the chair and brushing at the non-existent wrinkles on his trousers.

“I dunno. I’ve got a pretty early flight. Too early for the likes of you.”

“I’m a very early riser.”

“Don’t even start. It was like pulling teeth in Belfast to get you there for call-time.”

“Those were some - late nights. I was still recovering.”

In the uncanny yellow light, Crowley watches him. Avery looks tired, tilted vaguely downwards. Crowley wants to dig his fingers into the meat of his thigh and push his legs apart and kneel there -

“All right then. I believe you.” It gets easier, the not telling. The not speaking of it, the never speaking of it. “Ring me when you’re back in London. If you like.” Crowley barely notices the ache of the silence anymore. It’s like nerve pain. It only flares up now and then (and when it does it’s bloody brutal but when it’s gone you can kind of - put it to the side. Bury it in the back garden, let it rot there like a dead bird.)

“All right,” Az repeats quietly. He sees Crowley to the door, like a proper gentleman. Az is nothing if not proper, and Crowley is anything but a gentleman. 

In the back seat of the taxi, Crowley thumbs through photos from the awards show, trying not to look too long at any of the ones of him and Az. Trying not to study the way Az smiles at him, that ridiculous Christmas-morning look he gets sometimes when the two of them are talking together. It’s embarrassing, is what it is, and it - means nothing. Crowley scans a couple of the photos Beez has already emailed him, and gnashes his teeth together. Tells himself not to read into it, calls himself all kinds of the worst names, but there , that look right there - surely that isn’t the way a completely straight person would look at his co-star -

“Fuck right off,” he hisses, and then winces when the cabbie turns around. “No, not you. Sorry. Been a - long night.”

The hotel room is another disaster, but one that Crowley’s prepared for.  (He knew what was coming, particularly after the second bottle of wine was opened.)

He’s tried to - put some limits around these thoughts in his own private spaces, in his London flat where Az and Tracy have both been, had supper with him, played cards. He can’t do this sort of thing there, it’s - disrespectful or something. But hotels are liminal spaces where nothing really exists and no one ever has to know or admit to anything, and therefore Crowley is allowed to - work some things out. So to speak.

“You fucking - yes -“ he says as he fucks his fist and tries to think of anyone other than his straight(ish) co-star. Nah, it’s a lost cause. Just like Crowley, entirely lost.

(Would you look at me with those patient eyes, patient mouth, would you touch me with those soft soft hands, all smoothed with cocoa butter because you’re such a fussy bastard - no, forget that last part, I don’t mind, I want you fussy and smooth-fingered with expensive lotions, I want you pretentious and telling me about your vintage French poetry books, I want you anxious and rattling around a cup of Earl Grey tea, I want you in every way it is possible to want someone who doesn’t want you back -)

“Fucking, please you - gorgeous - please, let me -“

He imagines getting on his knees for Avery, sucking him off so sweetly that he’d never be satisfied with any other person’s red wet mouth, never again. He imagines Avery compliant and wanting beneath him, undoing buttons, spreading his legs, ‘please fuck me, please, as soon as you can-’ 

Or maybe it wouldn’t be like that at all - that’s fine, he’d take Avery snappish and unsure (even a bit bitchy), telling Crowley what to do oh fuck , forcing his face down, bending him over, hissing against the back of his neck “you’re mine, aren’t you, and I’ll do what I like with you -“

Shit. Fuck. He’s going to come.

“Angel,” Crowley gasps, as he spurts over his knuckles, mortified with pleasure, “Yes, oh God yes -“

It all goes quiet for a bit after that. Crowley’s skin stops singing. Not for long enough but. A bit.

Later on, he forces himself out of bed. Forces himself to shower, scrubs himself raw with the water as hot as it will go and the appropriate amount of self-loathing.

It gets easier, the not telling. The not speaking of it, the never speaking of it (Crowley swears this to himself over and over and over a-bloody-gain, and hopes someday it will be true.)

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Three years earlier.

“It’s fine, it’s fine, it’s fine.” Crowley hisses to himself, raking his hands through his hair (already damp with sweat, Christ. Disgusting.)

He just has to - go out there and - it’s a bloody table read, it’s not going to kill him. He’s looked the script over hundreds of times, he’s got the lines down, he’s filmed himself, played it back, he just needs to -

“Fuck fuck fuck.” He grinds his teeth together, pacing around his trailer. His own trailer, and how many years has that been? He almost had a panic attack when they opened it up for him, all the lights and chrome and the granite counter-tops in the kitchen - like he’s going to start living there permanently. Maybe he should. Maybe he should lock the door and refuse to come out. 

(This is your chance, your last fucking chance, and you’re ruining it. You’re ruining everything, in five minutes you’re going to be late,  you’re fucked, you’re fucked, you’re -)

Water, Crowley needs water. Ten cigarettes. Ativan - or - or other things, things he’s not allowed to have, things he’s not going to have (even though his silver fillings ring with the want of it.)

He thinks about calling Beez just to hear a voice other than his own. They’d scream at him maybe, tell him to get his head out of his arse. Threats, obscenities. God love them, at least they’re predictable.

There’s a knock on the door.

“Just a minute,” he says but his voice is like lace, barely audible. Fuck, he just needs a bit more time - like a couple of hours, maybe. Another day at the absolute most.

The knock comes again.

“I’m having a moment here!” he snarls, and then immediately tells himself off. Way to prove that you’re ready to get back to work - chewing out the P.A. or whoever’s coming to check up on you. Real classy behaviour, asshole. Crowley wipes his face with his hands and pulls open the door to apologize.

But there’s no P.A. waiting outside his door. Instead, all soft and rumpled in a cardigan and sweater-vest, stands his co-star. 

Avery bloody Fell.

“I’m sorry to interrupt, my dear, might I come in?”

“Uh.” Crowley’s very aware of what he looks like. Of how blotchy his face is, the state of his hair. He isn’t even wearing his glasses and feels basically naked without them, certain his eyes are wide and bloodshot. “Uh sure. If you want.”

Avery comes up the steps, peers inside the trailer. He’s holding a tartan-patterned thermos that matches the plaid on his stuffy little bowtie. Good God.  Surely this is wardrobe’s doing, surely real people do not dress like this.

“Oh, this is very nice. What a lovely kitchen you have.”

“Sure, yeah.” What is he doing here? Crowley much prefers to have his mental collapses in solitude, it’s less messy that way. 

“You get a fair amount of light, don’t you - and what a charming sofa. I dare say -“ Avery’s eyes keep roving, and it makes Crowley nervous ( what is he looking for, what will he find, how will I ultimately let this new person down -)

“Did you want - something -“

“Yes, of course - listen to me, going on. I brought you some tea.” He offers the thermos. Crowley accepts it automatically, still a few steps behind in this interaction.

Then he catches up. 

And he stares.

“It’s lemon balm. Do you like that?” Avery is clearly expecting some sort of response. “I should have asked.”

“I - if I wanted tea -“ Crowley gestures clumsily toward the kitchen.

“Of course. I only thought - sometimes it’s nice to have someone make it for you.”

 Crowley stares.

“I hope it isn’t too strong. Didn’t know you took it.”

All the noise on the lot around them seems to fade to a dull hum, a hives of bees or a charm of hummingbirds.  Avery gives a fragile smile, as guarded as the first time they met, but not cold. Not at all.

“Thanks,” Crowley says. His voice is like sawdust and his mouth is the woodshed floor.

Avery accepts the gratitude awkwardly, does a little shuffle like he can side-step away from it. “Well. No trouble. I’ll see you out there in - goodness, in two minutes? I’d better leave you to it, hadn’t I?”

He leaves in a harried sort of way, and the scent of him lingers in Crowley’s trailer (which is bloody disturbing. He shouldn’t know how his co-star smells. Not on Day One, anyway.)

Crowley unscrews the thermos lid, inhales the blossom of rising steam. He isn’t much one for herbal tea, likes black coffee when he can get it (and this is America, he can get it anywhere, can wake up already drowning in the stuff.)  It’s not the best for his nerves but - you know - whatever does the trick. 

And yet the smell of Avery Fell’s tea in his fancy little thermos - makes Crowley feel like he can breathe again. 

Must be drugged.

Now that’s a lovely thought. Maybe there are PRNs ground up and mixed in. Whatever it is, Crowley hasn’t even taken a sip and it’s already working (this has nothing to do with the other scent that still lingers in the air - that tweedy libraries and lamplight smell.  And it has nothing to do with eyes the colour of sunlight on a lake at the end of a long summer, or the “sometimes it’s nice to have someone make it for you.” It’s none of those things. The tea’s clearly drugged.)

But Crowley takes the thermos with him to the table read anyway. Nurses the tea while they go round with introductions, and when it’s time to start reading he finds Avery’s eye across the table. Manages a grin, an awkward grin, one that feels carved on his face like a pumpkin but - it’s something.

And Avery smiles back, just a hint of sharp-edges and humour in his eyes, and then they read their first lines together and the whole damn world catches fire.

*

After the Golden Globes and the sad L.A. flat, Crowley goes back to London. He kind of kicks around, waiting for Az to get back from the States to join him. That sounds pathetic (it is rather pathetic) but Crowley’s friends are thin on the ground these days. Some of his old ones have gotten back in touch since Warlock became a thing, but they aren’t exactly the kind of people he wants around. Sure, they were good for a laugh, a fine group to go out and fuck up your life with, but he doesn’t know what they’d talk about now. 

So he spends time in London, mostly alone, remembering how to fall in love with it. He couldn’t live there for almost ten years, it brought back too many memories he needed to - not repress exactly (Pepper has Some Thoughts about repressing things) but not wallow in, either. The city didn’t feel safe, and he knew too many places he could score all manner of terrible, lovely things, but now -

Now. 

It’s starting to feel like home again (a feeling-of-home Crowley has to work at, rebuild like a torn muscle, but that’s all right. He’s got time to do the work.)

So he forces himself to go out exploring. He visits the little hidden restaurants and cocktail bars that rise and fall like waves, he finds the best place to look for secondhand records, he feeds the ducks (frozen peas, right? That’s apparently the thing. The ducks could really give a damn about it; they mostly ignore him, or when they do acknowledge his presence it’s with a stare that’s essentially duck-ish for “where the fuck’s the bread?”) 

Sometimes he goes to groups. Not often. It was easier before Warlock; now people recognize him again, get all awkward and quiet or else want to be best mates. It’s fine, groups haven’t ever been his thing (only when he got really desperate, only when that shark-toothed mouth in his chest started singing .)

Crowley does better on his own. So he says. 

With a few notable exceptions.

“What are you doing?” He’s holding his phone in one hand, trying to open a bottle of wine with the other.

“Just got back from the gym.”

Crowley has a brief vision of Az all golden with sweat in the California sunshine, coming through the door in - what? Shorts? Calves covered with pale blond hair, muscles aching (Crowley almost drops the wine bottle, holy fuck.)

“The - the gym?” He ignores how broken his voice sounds. “You?” 

“You needn’t sound quite so staggered by it. Gabriel suggested it.”

“Wait - why ?” He’s instantly got his hackles up. He’s only met Az’s manager a few times, but Gabriel makes him want to break his own teeth. The way he talks to Avery, like he’s doing Avery a favour by making money off him, like Avery isn’t that guy’s fucking bread and butter - 

“He thought - may I ask why I’m being interrogated? You do your whole wellness - yoga - jogging thing -”

“That’s because I’m a nightmare, a literal nightmare, when I don’t. But you - you’re -” Fuck, this conversation is heading into the rocky shallows, get it back to open water -

“I’m what?”

( Perfect. Ridiculous and impossible and perfect. Don’t change a hair on your head, don’t iron out a wrinkle on your cardigan sleeve.)

“A nightmare either way, I’m sure.” Damn it to hell, will this wine bottle ever open? Crowley tucks the phone against his shoulder, tries to bully the corkscrew.  

“Well, if you must know - Gabriel did make a few - pointed comments. He thinks I’m getting -soft. Round the - you know.”

“That miserable goddamned useless piece of -“ Crowley’s going to choke Gabriel with his precious Marc Jacobs scarf the next time he sees him. He clenches his teeth together so hard it’s a miracle his molars don’t crack. “He’s got some fucking nerve, I swear -“

“Oh, stop. He makes a fair point, and there’s - continuity to think of. I have been rather enjoying myself -“

“You’re allowed to enjoy yourself!” The cork pops free at last, buoyed by the power of Crowley’s righteous anger (at least his righteous anger is good for something.)

“I didn’t expect this to be a problem for you - let’s forget about it. Talk about something else, something interesting.”

“Fine, whatever. Just -“ Crowley pours himself a generous glass of Grenache to take the edge off his hatred. He stretches out on his sofa, balancing the glass on his knee and looking out at the city. “Just don’t let that prick -“

“What? Manage me? It’s his job, dear.”

“You’re - fine as you are,” Crowley mutters (self-preservation or not, there are some things worth taking a stand for, and Crowley will die on the battlefield of Avery Fell’s loveliness. Just stick him full of spears or swords or whatever; he’ll bleed out beautifully and regret nothing.)

“Fine as I am.” Az lets out a sandpapery laugh.“Yes, thank you so much for that ringing and enthusiastic endorsement.”

Crowley forces himself to laugh too, even though it tastes like pine needles. If Avery wants ringing enthusiasm, there is a whole prayerbook of things Crowley could say to him. 

Crowley could absolutely do enthusiastic, if that’s what Az wants. Crowley could do bloody poetic as well (he’s been reading a lot of Ishiguro, trying to work on his attention span; instead, he’s just become all introspective and moodier than ever, don’t even talk to him about Never Let Me Go, it’s a whole fucking thing.) 

But if Az wanted poetry, he could have poetry. If Az wanted fields of violets, if he wanted hymns and lighthouses and origami hearts folded and offered up in trembling, willing palms, on bended knee, if Az wanted begging -

Anyway, in short: Crowley could scorch this earth and salt it and he’d still have things to say about the man breathing gently on the phone with him (or maybe not things to say - fuck saying things. Things to feel. To feel bad about, definitely. Things to - want .)

“Can’t let you get too full of yourself,” he manages.

“Of course not.” Az is rustling around doing something, and Crowley aches at the quiet domesticity of his life on the other side of an ocean. The other side of the world.

“How’s London?” Az asks, moving things along.

“Noisy. Hot. How’s L.A.?”

“Noisy. Hot.”

“Heard from Tracy?”

“Still in Iceland with the ladies.” Az and Tracy have been together seemingly forever, but the two live quite separate lives. Maybe that’s the reason they haven’t split up yet, like all the other celeb couples. When Az is filming, Tracy is usually off somewhere with a pack of ladies - traveling, taking photos with enormous glasses of white wine. Crowley sometimes sees her when she’s in the city, but those times are few and far between. 

“She loves it, of course. Sends me terrible photographs constantly. She’s gotten rather into black and white; fancies herself the next Ansel Adams.”

“How could you take terrible photos of Iceland?”

“Oh my dear - Tracy can take terrible photos of anything. It’s a gift.”

Az’s voice is so full of affection that it’s blinding, even from five thousand miles away.

“So what have you been up to lately? When you aren’t berating me for the grievous sin of taking care of my physical health?”

“Not much other than that, to be honest.” Crowley sips his wine, stares out the windows of his apartment. He’s on the tenth floor, can see the lights of the city coming on around him. It makes him feel that odd combination of contentment and loneliness, all tied up with ribbon like a wedding present.

“You should find a better hobby.”

“But I enjoy this one so much. Plus I’ve got the plants. Talk to them, don’t I?” (He accidentally mentioned that to Az once and the man found it completely ‘charming.’ If he knew the real nature of the conversations Crowley and his ferns have, he would have second thoughts. Best not get into it.)

“Forgive me for not thinking that’s an appropriate comparison.” 

What is that sound in the background? Is Az - hell on earth, is he getting changed? Getting ready to shower after the gym - is he toeing off his shoes, trying to get his kit off one-handed -

“You need a night out, dear. See a show, hear some music. You know there’s this charming little bistro that Tracy and I visited -”

Is he standing in the bathroom, goosebumps rising over his shoulders - is there one clear drop of sweat traveling slowly down his spine the way Crowley might travel with his tongue -

“Crowley?”

“What? Oh, yeah. Out. Yeah, maybe.” Crowley takes a quick swig of wine to get the taste of Avery’s skin out of his mouth. He only chokes a little. Brilliant recovery. You should have been a spy, mate, worked for MI6. “Maybe I will.”

“Well then. Be sure to let me know how it goes.” There is amusement in Az’s voice, a gentle sort of laughter that Crowley wouldn’t tolerate from anyone else. But from Avery it’s like music, like the low sweet line of a bass guitar, wrapping its dark arms around Crowley’s shoulders. “Oh, did you read the new scripts yet? The whole Bible was delivered yesterday, I don’t know if -“

Shit, the Season Three scripts are out? Maybe Beez has his. “I haven’t seen ‘em. How are they?”

“I’m going to settle in tonight to have a look. Let me know when you get them - assuming they haven’t written you out of the show entirely.”

“Oh, nice. Fine. If that’s how you’re going to be, I’ll go solo. Have a spin-off series all about my roguish adventures.”

“What roguish adventures are those?”

“I don’t know. Some sort of monster-of-the-week set-up. Maybe a bit of time travel. With sexy results.”

“Naturally.”

“You’ve got to have sexy results these days. On account of - millennials, or something. Probably.”

“Makes perfect - oh, Gabriel is calling. Will you ring me later?” There is a pause like the space between stars, the time between heartbeats. “I mean - if you like.”

“Might do.” Crowley’s attempt at sounding casual is the least casual he’s ever sounded in his life.

“All right. Have a good evening, dear.”

“You too, angel.”

Crowley puts his phone down. He sits there, looking out at London. 

Mates do this sort of thing, right? Call each other up, talk about nothing, say ‘dear’ and ‘darling’ (Az) and stare moon-eyed and yearning and half-smouldering (Crowley) at each other. 

It’s a totally normal thing that friends do. It’s nothing.

(“It’s nothing,” he told Pepper a couple of days ago, sitting in her overly-welcoming office, walls covered with photographs that are probably supposed to be full of deeper meaning: close-ups of leaves, two entwined hands, a tree silhouetted against a sunset. Where does she even get this stuff? Did Tracy take them?

“Nothing?”

“It’s probably nothing. Nothing’s the matter.” He chews on his thumbnail, can’t stop.  It’s unattractive but he gets anxious in these sessions, feels like he’s got to give the right kind of answer or she’s going to call the press or something. “It’s fine. He’s a - friend, that’s all.”

“Hmph.” Pepper always makes that sound when she’s about to say something Crowley isn’t going to like. “Do you think part of you is drawn to him because he’s off-limits?”

“Uh, no. Why would I want to get all fucked up over someone like that?”

“Because if he were available you might have to think about pursuing him.”

“So?” 

“If you pursued him, you might have to consider yourself worthy of love.”

Huh. 

Well.  

So, Pepper’s fired.)

Fuck it, Crowley picks his phone back up. Maybe Az was right, maybe he needs a night out. It’s either that or stay in and finish reading When We Were Orphans (not going to end well) or plan out how he’s going to fire Pepper (also not going to end well. It hasn’t happened yet, clearly, but maybe the next appointment. Or the one after that. Maybe.)

For all his wandering around London, he doesn’t usually go to bars alone. He’s never much been one for the scene, is way too old to fuck around at XXL or Heaven (was thrown out of there once, back in his younger days.) 

But music is another matter entirely, and when he checks the 100 Club’s website, finds out that The Orchids are playing, well - it’s worth a shot. It’s been ages since he’s thought of that band and - fuck, their music takes him back. He gets his leather coat, fusses a bit with his hair, leaves the sunglasses at home - sometimes he’s less recognizable without them, what a thing. Cabs it to the venue, leans against the bar in the back, in the darkness, remembering what it felt like to be young and dangerous. Remembering when none of his choices mattered because they were all the right ones, back when he was a lighter full of white flame, and he’d never burn out.

Avery isn’t so much into music like this - but he’d probably like The Orchids. Bit on the softer side. Crowley should take him out when he’s back in London, make him go to one of the underground clubs Crowley used to love. He’d bring earplugs that Az could wear if it got too loud. They wouldn’t have to stay if he didn’t like it, but Crowley thinks he’d like it. He can imagine it already - see Avery limned in stagelight, glancing over at him and pulling a face. Or maybe smiling. He smiles at Crowley a lot, furtive smiles that Crowley peels away and saves for later, presses them like flowers in books (and if the petals stain the pages - he’s not bothered.)

“What you drinking?”

There’s a guy standing next to him. Handsome in a way, with a scrappy Irish musician thing going on: long hair, plaid shirt, artfully unshaven. He’s a bit younger than Crowley, but not much - probably (Crowley’s a shit judge of people’s ages.)  

“This? I think it’s the Dead Pony -”

“I mean what’ll you have?”

Oh. Crowley takes a second look. The bloke’s not unattractive, whoever he is. He’s got - nice eyebrows.

“I’m not particular,” Crowley lies, like a liar.

The scrappy musician goes with tequila shots which is - fine. Tequila is a young man’s game but whatever; Crowley fucking put on his leather jacket for this. He licks the salt off his hand, sucks on a slice of lime as this guy goes on about his song-writing process.  He’s got guitar-playing hands, broad-palmed and long-fingered and calloused when they brush against Crowley’s wrist.  The shots disappear, and more follow them, and - well, it’s been a long time. Judging from the way Avery’s forearms made Crowley want to stuff his whole fist in his mouth - it’s been a really, really long time.

The band is singing “Something for the Longing” which of course is killing Crowley faster than his cigarettes are. ( Oh won’t you hold on to me baby? Won’t you hold on to me girl?

Three years. Three years he’s been fucked up over Avery Fell. Count the days, the hours, number them on your match-stick fingers and then light yourself on fire. 

“Another round?”

“Sure, all right.”

After a couple more shots of tequila they’re snogging like teenagers in the toilets and Crowley is asking him back to his place. 

( Didn’t I ask for some loving, something for the longing? )

They have a nice enough time when they get there - Christ, any physical contact that isn’t his own hand feels like a fucking luxury right now - and maybe Crowley thinks briefly of Avery’s soft pink mouth as Matt? Mark? drags his lips over Crowley’s stomach, rubs his stubbled cheek against Crowley’s inner-thigh - 

Maybe Crowley imagines pale curls clenched tight in his fist - swallows down a name that fits so easily in his mouth, chokes back the “ fuck yes, I love it, I love -“

“You’re so fit,” Matt/Mark hisses from somewhere in the dark, and it feels so fucking good to be wanted, so fucking good to be touched. “Can I fuck you? Do you want that?”

“W-whatever you like, angel -“

(“What is he doing ?” 

Just past the edge of the set, Avery has a couple of the kiddo extras gathered around him in a circle, and is waving a handkerchief rather viciously in the air above his head. It looks like some sort of performance art, and Crowley feels hot with second-hand embarrassment.

“Hasn’t he shown you yet?” The makeup girl laughs, finishes brushing powder over his face. “He fancies himself a magician.”

“He does not.” Crowley can’t believe that people yet exist who ‘fancy themselves magicians.’ Particularly not fussy British actors who carry around handkerchiefs. It’s too - good, too much.

“I worked with him on the The Last Carnival. He said it was to keep the kids entertained.”

“Ha! You think?”

“Nah. He’s definitely more entertained than anyone else is.”

Seems about right - the kids in question are slowly shuffling away, or turning back to their iPhones. Avery seems unbothered by their disinterest. In fact -

In fact he looks ridiculously pleased.

There’s a little smile on his face that Crowley feels the mad urge to touch with the pad of his thumb. Wants to stride across the set and reach out and - no . No touching. Where the fuck did that thought come from? They’ve only been shooting a couple of days; surely Crowley can keep it together longer than that.

“We good?” he asks make-up, “I’ve got to see this.”

“Go for it. Tell him he’s got five minutes before I need him for touch-ups.”

Crowley crosses the floor and waves the lingering children away, earning a few grateful glances as they scatter.

“Heard there were all sorts of Dark Magicks going on over here.”

“Crowley!” Another thing about Avery that’s so damned unusual is how delighted he always is to see Crowley. Like, they’re filming a series together, couldn’t get away from each other if they wanted to, and yet Avery lights up when Crowley joins him for lunch. It makes something warm shift in the pit of Crowley’s stomach. He’s not used to being so - welcome. “Hello, dear. Oh - it’s basic stuff, I’m afraid. Just a few things I picked up.”

“Randomly picked up some magic tricks, eh? On your travels ?”

“Something like that. It’s - well - nothing extraordinary. But I’ve always thought that the most extraordinary thing of all was the power -“ Avery producers a red carnation from the palm of his closed hand (clearly hiding up his sleeve) “- of our IMAGINATION !”

Crowley gives him a dubious look - which is difficult, since Avery is clearly so bloody pleased with himself. It’s hard not to want to ruffle his hair, tell him how splendid he is, just to keep that lovely expression going a bit longer.

“Oho, I see we have a skeptic on our hands.”

We - there’s no one else watching -“

“Let’s see if we can’t have you convinced! Look here.” From his pocket, Avery produces an oversized gold coin, some sort of pirate doubloon from a costume shop. He swishes it around in front of Crowley’s face, and Crowley regrettably feels the corner of his mouth pulling into a smile. (No, no, you bastard - you’re supposed to be cool. You are not supposed to be this easily amused. Bite down on it, quickly.)

“But what if -“ Avery snaps his fingers and the coin ‘disappears.’ The man’s look of wide-eyed shock and innocence makes Crowley bite down even harder (his smile wants to bloom like golden algae in a lake, kill all the wretched fish.)“Ahhh. You see?”

“Where could it have gone?” Crowley forces himself to keep his tone flat, to not be as charmed as he is.

“Well! I think perhaps it might be -“ Avery reaches forward quickly, hand brushing against Crowley’s neck, his cheek, his hair -)

His memory is a bit patchy the next morning. There are a lot of missing pieces. For example:

He legitimately can’t remember if it’s Matt or Mark, and at this point it seems pretty bad form to ask. 

He vaguely remembers the ‘angel’ slip up, though he blames alcohol for that (and Matt/Mark didn’t comment on it, thank Christ.)

And after Matt/Mark finally leaves (and Crowley realizes he has several missed calls and four texts from Beez) he tries to remember if he noticed all the flashes going off last night as he snogged his way out of the bar.

Because clearly - based on the number of pictures of him with Matt/Mark’s tongue down his throat - there were enough flashes that someone should have noticed. 

Someone who wasn’t too many shots of tequila down the road to ruin. Maybe someone with a thimble’s worth of self-preservation.

“Mothering buggering shit -“

“Are you done?” Beez asks, voice weary with disappointment. “If you aren’t, you might call back. Or at least get a bit more creative with your language.”

“Shit,” Crowley says again anyway. God, he looks like a wobbly, lecherous spider in these photos. Is he trying to fit Matt/Mark’s entire head in his mouth?

“It’s not as bad as it could be. It’s not like the world has forgotten how gay you are.”

“You see?” Crowley says weakly. “Some, ha, benefits of - of - coming out publicly and unintentionally while high as bloody fuck. Got the whole mess out of the way.”

“Yes, and we’ve only been trying to rehab your image for the past fifteen years as a result.”

Shit, shit, shit. “Well, fuck my image. Everyone else gets to have sloppy nights out, doesn’t seem fair that -“

“It isn’t fair,” Beez interrupts. “You know that. Leo can go out with his revolting wolf-pack and wreck whatever club he wants, but you have to be an absolute monk or everyone is going to think -“

“Then bugger what they think. It was nothing, meant nothing.  It wasn’t like -“

“You’re not helping your cause here. I was hoping you’d at least know this one’s name.” When Crowley doesn’t say anything, Beez buzzes like an angry fly. “Crowley -“

“I know his name.”

“What is it then?”

“It’s confidential.”

“You miserable - listen I’ve been on the phone all morning assuring everyone you haven’t fallen off the wagon entirely, that you aren’t back to your old -“

Another call is coming in and Crowley pulls away briefly to check it. 

Oh fuck. Oh God no. 

How are they even up at this hour? 

“Beez, I’m sorry. I have to take this.”

“You had better call me back immediately. We’re going to need a plan, you can’t just -“

He doesn’t find out what he can’t just do (though he’s certain the list is long and colourful and peppered with invective.) But he can’t afford to wait; he’s already squeezing his eyes shut and getting up off the couch to pace. He answers the incoming call like he’s biting into a cyanide capsule.

Shit shit shit.

“Hello mum.”

There is a pointed silence on the other end of the phone.

Then. “Anthony.”

(“Hello, what’s this?” Avery touches the space behind Crowley’s ear, where the skin is so soft and sensitive. Goosebumps spring up all over Crowley’s shoulders and neck, and he doesn’t lean into the touch, he doesn’t, but God how he wants to.

Avery pulls back, and there is a gold coin in his hand. 

And he’s looking Crowley dead in the eyes, and his smile is a key in a lock that Crowley swore was permanently rusted shut -)

“Calling to say hi? Catch up? So nice of you. Haven’t heard from -“

“A reporter from the The Mirror contacted your father this morning. Asking about you.”

“Yeah? Brilliant. Warlock’s doing pretty well I guess -“

“Their questions were more to do with certain photographs of yourself and another - person. Taken yesterday evening. You are, of course, aware of these?”

“Yep.” Crowley pops the ‘p’ sharply in irritation. That’ll show her (these are the acts of rebellion he is reduced to.)

“This reporter was quite curious as to whether your father and I had concerns over your physical and mental health currently. Any past tendencies that may -“

“Oh, I see.  All right. You want another drug test, is that it? I’m clean, it’s under control -“

“It did not look like you were under control in those photographs. It looked like you could barely walk.”

“That’s - just the way I walk.”

“And your, ahem, friend in the picture. Is that someone we should be aware of?”

Crowley wonders how shatter-proof the glass on his apartment windows really is. 

“No.”

“Ah.” He can feel the heat of his mother’s judgement through the phone line. “You might - in future - consider the way these ‘nights out’ affect public perception of your family, not just yourself.  You might remember who it was that supported you the first time this sort of thing happened, and where you ended up -”

( Breathe in, breathe out. Focus on the gold of the coin in Avery’s hand, how his fingers brushed the shell of your ear and his eyes lit up as he looked at you, like you were the thing that was golden. Like you had disappeared, but he brought you back. Magic. )

“And you might remember that I’m nearly a fifty year old man who is not - committing any crimes here. If people have nothing better to be interested in than who I get off with -“

“Is that sort of language really -“

“I have to go now, my manager’s calling.”

“And you have your priorities. I see. Well, go on then. But if there are more photographs in future -“

“There won’t be.” God and Satan and all the rest - Crowley’s going to live like a monk and a hermit for the rest of his life. He’s going to find a cave on an island or something, build a brick wall around it, take a vow of silence and a vow of celibacy and die silently. There. Is that better?

He’ll give up anything that makes him a living breathing person with pores and tastebuds and all that revolting stuff. Completely distasteful. Can you even imagine?

(“I can’t imagine what it was like,” Avery told him once. They were halfway through Season Two, out for dinner in that pub in Ireland that never seemed to have anyone else there, even though the food was pretty good. Avery had already polished off a bowl of beef stew and was taking his time with some treacly pudding situation that he clearly enjoyed a bit too much.

Crowley was watching him eat. It was a - thing he did sometimes (don’t think about it.) And because he was relaxed, a couple pints in, and stupidly happy, he’d let his guard down. Let the conversation somehow find its way to the topic of ‘parents.’

“Coming from that sort of family. Surrounded by artists. Did you watch their films growing up? Did they watch yours?”

“Not bloody likely.” Crowley steadies his rattling hand by holding onto the edge of the table. “They - anything I made wasn’t that impressive to them. It was all - soft stuff, you know? Not like their serious art.”

“Serious art? My dear, you certainly -”

“Anyway. Doesn’t matter. What were your folks like?”

Az gives him a look that could cut glass. “I - they were -”

Crowley already knows. As if he hasn’t googled Avery Fell, as if he hasn’t looked him up on IMDB. He knows that Az came from a working class sort of family (son of a hairdresser and a mill worker) knows that the arts weren’t an option for him until he got a scholarship to Old Vic. Knows that all these affectations - the bowties and cravats and posh bloody manners - are probably attempts to cover up a childhood that was anything but posh.

Whereas Crowley came from money. It’s why he spent his twenties in ripped jeans and safety pins, waking up in gutters, trying to choke his privilege down like wine that had gone off weeks ago. Embarrassed by his soft life, and what he’d done with it. Jesus, what a prat he was. 

Is.

“They weren’t exactly - supportive. At first. My mother died before I really started getting work which - well. But my father is still alive, still living in the same house. He let me fix it up a bit but wouldn’t hear of moving. Has his pride, doesn’t he?” Az’s accent has gone a bit Northern suddenly, just the mention of his father bringing it back (Crowley has to steady his other hand on the table as well.)

“Mine are in Florida now, have a place in Palm Beach. Still together even, for better or worse. Mostly for worse. Mum does a bit of acting now and then -”

“Yes, I know! She was in that film two years ago - it was nominated for an Oscar -”

“Probably. Sounds like her.” Crowley knows exactly the film Az is talking about, a terrible Alzheimer’s movie called Offerings that he sobbed through basically from start to finish. He’ll never admit that to anyone, of course, least of all his mother. “I’m sorry your mum didn’t get to see you. You know. Make it big. Bet she would have been proud.”

“You don’t have to say that,” Az looks away, glances down. Blushes a bit at the tips of his ears. 

He’s got a shadow of stubble on his jaw (there’s been a lot of tromping around the wilderness this season so both of them are looking rather grizzled.) Crowley thinks it’s not a bad look on Az, surprising no one. He wants to touch it with his hand or with his mouth. Wants to rub his face against it like a cat might. He can’t imagine it would be anything but soft.

“I’m sure your parents are very proud as well,” Az says.

“Oh yeah,” Crowley says with a smile that makes his teeth hurt. “Proud as all get out. Absolutely chuffed.”)

“We do worry about you,” his mum says as an afterthought. “Of course we do. We only want to ensure you are making the best choices for everyone in your life.”

“Yesss, I get that.”

“We don’t want you to forget where you were ten years ago.”

“Not much chance of that, is there? Not when I can’t put a toe out of line without The Mirror ringing you -”

“I don’t appreciate your tone of voice. I had hoped you’d be feeling suitably ashamed of your behaviour -”

Crowley sighs, wonders if it’s possible to asphyxiate himself by sighing deeply enough. That’d be a good trick.

“Gotta go, mum, lots of love.”

“Anthony -”

Well. The folks are always a pleasure (how many more times can he apologize, how much longer does he crawl on his belly like a snake, how many more years does he live with ashes in his mouth, how many -)

At least a few more, right? Right.

He doesn’t call Beez back. It’ll hurt more later, but he’s still going to put that conversation off for as long as he possibly can. They’ve got things under control, probably. Possibly. Don’t need Crowley in their ear, mucking it all up.

He goes for a jog instead (ugh, jogging is the worst, but it quiets down his head some, so it’s a necessary evil today.) The sky is grey and muddy and overcast, absolutely the sort of sky he deserves today. Crowley stretches in the park and then flops dramatically onto the lawn and sends the bloody text he should have sent hours ago.

Hey its Anthony from last night. Don’t know if you saw the photos but I hope you’re ok. Wasn’t something I wanted to happen. Sorry if this is kind of a mess. If you need to talk about it let me know.

A reply comes almost instantly.

Hi!! I’m glad u texted. It’s all good, I’m good. Pretty shit photos but Ive had worse ones on instagram ;) Had a nice time with u Let me know if u want ever want to do it again

Crowley is kind of shite with texts so he just sends you too back and considers his job done. Pat on the shoulder, gold star. One human interaction you didn’t completely poison today.

He smokes two cigarettes (as a reward) before jogging home. He showers, puts on something black and soft, and then just - waits. Thinks about what time it is in L.A. Thinks about what Avery might feel when he sees photos of Crowley getting his face sucked right off.

He’ll think you’re a revolting drunk, the devil on his shoulder tells him. He’ll think you’re a mess and he’ll not want anything to do with you.

Nah, he won’t give a shit, the other devil says (yeah, Crowley knows there’s supposed to be an angel on one, but he’s just got two demons, one of them a bit uglier than the other.) Avery doesn’t care what you do. He isn’t bothered, he certainly won’t be jealous, you could kiss all of London in front of him and he wouldn’t feel a thing -

“Fuck off,” Crowley tells both of them, heading into the kitchen to drink three glasses of water in a row while holding his breath. That’ll shut them up for a bit.

While he’s halfway through the second glass, his phone rings. And it’s Avery. 

 Great. Brilliant. Get it out of the way, spread the trauma around like jam on toast.

“Hello?” 

“Have you seen it? The scripts - have you read them?”

The greeting throws Crowley - he hasn’t even thought of the scripts since they spoke yesterday. “Um. No, I - forgot to ask Beez. Everything okay? I thought you were calling about the photos.”

“What photos?”

“Oh, it’s - have you been online at all?”

“I’ve been reading Season Three all morning. And you haven’t - you don’t know -”

“Know what?” His hand tightens around his glass. Oh shit, they’re killing him off.  They’re killing him off and this is how he’s going to find out about it. 

“Gabriel called me yesterday about it, that’s why I - but I wanted to read them first before we discussed anything. It was just a bit surprising -“

“What is it? Am I dying? Are they killing me?”

“No, you -“

“I can take it, just tell -“

“I’m falling in love with you.”

Crowley very carefully puts his waterglass back on the counter before sinking slowly to the floor. He lives there now, his legs will never work again. He must have misheard, he has to have -

“I - I-” How is he making words right now? How is he not bleeding out, lying in a pool on the marble tiles, turning wet and red? “Sorry, you - Avery. Avery - what?”

“In Season Three. Can you believe it?

Oh. 

“Last season it was a crisis of faith... now it’s a crisis of sexuality. One crisis after another -”

Oh.

“I think it’s done - fairly well. On my first read, I’m sure a lot will change - it always does, doesn’t it?”

Oh.

“I wanted to talk to you about it though - make sure you thought - ”

Crowley fists one of his hands against his forehead, shuts his eyes tightly. Breathes out through his nose, a long slow stream of air. 

Okay.

So.

Az is going to spend this season falling in love with him.

That’s - that's completely -

Crowley slides the rest of the way down to the floor, lets his head thunk against the tiles.

Maybe he won’t fire Pepper just yet.

Chapter Text

 

 

(Remember that oyster bar in Brooklyn? The unexpected reunion, the “let me tempt you,”  the slow, hot candle of Crowley’s regard across the narrow table? 

There’s more to that story. Let’s finish it.)

Az is in the city visiting friends, and Crowley is there hanging off the Lower East Side like a shadow (after he left rehab for the last time, he promised himself that if he gave up the hard stuff, he got to disappear inside New York at least once a year. So far he’s kept both of his promises.) 

He and Az eat oysters (mostly Az does, while Crowley watches him. Not in a creepy way. Or - maybe just a little bit in a creepy way, but hopefully that’s part of his dubious charms.) 

When they’re finished, and Crowley’s head is swimming slightly with mezcal, Avery asks, “Would you like to see a show?”

The answer is really - no, Crowley wouldn’t. He’d rather take Az for coffee and dessert somewhere, buy him something sweet, hassle him gently when he dabs his mouth like some sort of Victorian dandy (God help him, when did this become Crowley’s thing? When did a smack of Avery’s lips and a single shy glance turn into the equivalent of foreplay? Maybe Crowley sustained a head injury he isn’t aware of, frontal lobe damage that left him permanently in this sunburnt state of longing.)  

Anyway. 

The answer is no, no, Crowley clearly doesn’t want to go to some underground, off Broadway modern-day Hamlet reimagining in a converted warehouse. But when Avery Fell pins you in that cornflower-blue stare of his, bites down on a smile that has wings on it - how are you going to say no? Why in God’s name would you ever want to?

(“Sure, whatever,” Crowley tells him, and the resulting expression on Avery’s face could power the whole of New York City.)

So they go to the play.  It’s good enough. Crowley’s seen a lot of Hamlet over the years (never played him, that’s a pity) but the actor gives a hell of an effort. Their Hamlet has a bit of a swagger, bit of a sideways grin, and it shouldn’t work (Hamlet shouldn’t be so charming) but somehow it does. Crowley’s an admitted snob about Shakespeare, likes it serious and straightforward, but the cast are enthusiastic and energetic and it’s a bit of fun. More transfixing than anything onstage are the shifting emotions on Avery’s face: the delight, the pain, that moment during Ophelia’s soliloquy where Avery reaches over and briefly touches Crowley’s arm (the bloke who plays Ophelia is also very good, an otherworldly sort of look to him, but it’s tough for Crowley to keep his eyes on the stage after that arm-touch. It’s tough not to tilt his head slightly towards Avery, not to drink up every expression the man makes and let them burn like whiskey down his parched throat.)

Avery is the first on his feet when the curtains close (Crowley reluctantly joins him, betting every cent he has that Az is the kind of person who gives every show a standing ovation. He seems absolutely the type.) Az leans close enough to be heard over the sound of the applause, murmurs directly in Crowley’s ear, “ wonderful .”

And Crowley nods, and thinks about how bright Avery’s eyes are, even in the darkness.

After the play, they find some late-night dessert place, and it all goes according to plan: Crowley drinks black coffee and hassles Az gently. Az eats a slice of blueberry lavender cheesecake and dabs his lips with his napkin, full-on Victorian dandy ( and God, don’t ever let him see the way you look at him, you’ll send him into cardiac arrest.)   

After Avery makes a particularly obscene noise of appreciation for the blueberry compote, Crowley decides this was maybe the best play he’s seen in his life. He’s ready to commit to any underground show Az likes, scour the theatre section of the Times for the absolute worst reviews, if it means he gets to end the evening like this. It’s worth it, worth every second of it.

“Too bad about the turn-out,” Avery is lamenting on the other side of his napkin. Crowley tries to pay attention. “Half the seats were empty. I saw it last night as well, and attendance was about the same. They really are doing such interesting things with the characters, don’t you think?”

Crowley ignores the fact that Az saw the bloody play yesterday as well , and says, “yeah, I liked it.” And what he means is I liked the outline of your face under the stagelights, liked the way you laughed, the audible gasp you made when Polonius was killed -

“Such a young, exciting theatre company.  I’d hate to see them go under because of this show.”

“A real shame.” Theatre companies go under all the time, that’s the business of it. But Crowley doesn’t say that, wouldn’t dare, not when Avery is looking at him with a smudge of blueberry cheesecake at the corner of his mouth. Crowley can nearly taste the sugar on his tongue.

“You’ve got - something -” He gestures vaguely at Avery’s face.

“Oh! Yes, thank you, my dear.” More napkin-dabbing. Crowley feels like a snake on a sun-warmed rock, and that’s the only reason for the idiocy that comes next.

“Let me see what I can do. About your precious Hamlet .”

Az freezes, fork of cheesecake halfway to his mouth. “Really?”

“I’ve got a few people I can talk to. Theatre sorts,” he offers too casually, and Avery - damn him - looks at Crowley like he hung the fucking moon in the dark sky, scattered diamonds across it and called it good. 

Damn it all if Crowley wouldn’t walk through hellfire to see that expression again.

“Crowley! Will you really? Thank you, that’s splendid of you.”

Is he going to regret this? Possibly. But that’s future Crowley’s problem, and fuck that guy.

When he gets back to his hotel that night, he showers and paces and when he can’t put it off any longer he sends a text to Charles bloody Isherwood.

Remember a few years back you wanted to do that “Out in Hollywood” story? I’ve changed my mind, I’ll do it.  Ask me anything.

The bastard theatre critic responds immediately, time of night be damned.

Why? 

Crowley winces to himself, trying not to throw his phone across the room. He likes to keep his personal life as private as possible, has been avoiding doing interviews like this for most of his career - and certainly since his “comeback” or whatever, if we’re calling it that (Avery’s hand is on his arm, overcome with Ophelia’s low, sad voice: And I, of ladies most deject and wretched, That suck'd the honey of his music vows -

Crowley does not throw his phone across the room.

You have to see a play first.

The Incredibly Queer Adventures of Hamlet is a surprising underground hit. It’s written up in the Times , gets a couple think-pieces about gender and art on Medium. Crowley does what he promised and answers some stupid questions about his romantic life (none to speak of) and what it’s like to be a gay man working in the industry and who his ‘celebrity crush’ is (he says ‘Postman Pat. Good steady job. Nice cat. Obvious choice, really.’) and it’s fine. He survives. It’s worth it.

Because Az texts him the day the Times article comes out ( did you do this??? ). And even though Crowley can’t see his face, he can imagine that smile, spreading like sunlight over his neck and jawline, making him want to tilt his head back and just bask .

It’s worth it. 

*

 

Two years later.

 

They’re sitting around a fire somewhere in North Clare, middle of the bloody Irish woods. 

Eerie amber firelight licks against the planes of Avery’s face.  He looks like a Caravaggio painting, or - whoever the one with the dramatic light was. Maybe there was more than one. Probably was. Anyway. He’s lovely, is the point here.

Anathema is with them, wrapped in her threadbare cloak, so worn you can almost see through it. The air is cold, their breathing coming in gusts of damp cotton-candy. Crowley’s whole body is frozen except for the warmth against his side where the bloody three-year-old clings like a limpet.  For fuck’s sake - Adam doesn’t even need any direction, never has; he’s always climbing all over Crowley, tugging at his sleeve, trying to hold hands. Right now he might actually be asleep beneath Crowley’s arm, unbothered by the lights and the director’s shouting.

 How come kids always find the one person that’s most useless with them to glom on to? They’re like cats.

“If we stay here, they’ll find him,” Anathema says with a glance at the scruffy thing snoring against Crowley’s ribs.

“Be a lot less trouble for us if they did.” His voice is tight, and he’s fooling no one.

“We could go north,” Avery says quietly, and his eyes lift from the fire to find Crowley’s face. Their gazes hold for a moment before Avery swallows. Looks away.

Crowley’s trying to get used to being looked at like that. It’s an adjustment. The way you might adjust to a stab wound.

“It’s just going to get colder. And how long do we keep running, eh? Forever?”

“If we must.” Avery glances up at him again, glances down at his hands. There’s a hint of pink in his cheeks, and it isn’t from the fire.

“Go again!” the director calls out, “Avery, just pull the longing back a little bit. Can you try that? It’s all out there, in the open. Naked. Look at him like - like - you can’t let him see the way you look at him.”

Az nods, says nothing. Crowley can almost hear the wheels grinding in his head, the performance slotting into place. That talented bastard. Yes, please, just keep on with these half-hidden looks of restrained longing, it’s not going to kill Crowley or anything. 

They take it twice more until Michael’s happy with it. Crowley gets to meet Avery’s eyes across the fire twice more, see the shy desire hidden there, see the conflict, the doubt, the ghost of want that doesn’t know it’s want yet.  Each take is its own unique sort of intolerable. (Do I look like that at him? Crowley wonders. Has Az seen this expression mirrored in my eyes? Would my sunglasses ever be enough to hide that moon-bright yearning, or does the whole sky light up like colourful gunpowder, the fourth of fucking July, when he’s within sight?) 

After they wrap for the night, Adam’s mum comes and lifts the sleeping kid from Crowley’s arms, gives him a smile that’s as warm as the fire. 

“He’s mad about you,” she says, and Crowley scoffs, rolls his eyes, all the things he likes to do to shrug off kindness. “You’re lovely with him.”

“Ah - well, he’s a - yeah, a good kid.” He inexplicably clears his throat, just to seem as uncomfortable as possible.

“You ever think about having one?” she asks, shifting Adam to her hip, and Crowley clears his throat a few more times for good measure.

 Anathema is yawning, stretching her arms up over her head, and Avery comes round to offer Crowley a hand up. Crowley takes it, trying not to look too much at Avery’s face.  He needs a bit of time after filming, a bit of distance, or he sees echoes there - watercolour copies of the scenes they were just in. It’s Crowley’s imagination and he knows it, but that doesn’t lessen the sting.

“Your hands are freezing,” he says as Avery pulls him to his feet.

“Yes, well - we’ve only been on the run in the woods for the past three weeks.”

“Perhaps Anathema can magic you up a pair of wooly mittens next episode. I’ll speak to Michael about it.”

“Oh, would you?” Az gives him a look of fond exasperation, but Crowley will take any look that starts with ‘fond.’ “I’d appreciate it ever so. Ask her for a muffler as well. See if we can stumble upon a hot-spring.”

“With sexy results?” Crowley waggles his eyebrows. (Christ, waggles? Really?) “Second thought, I might not suggest the hot-spring. Or the sexy results. The Horsemen would be too into it, change the whole tone of the show.”

The four producers - known around set (in whispers) as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse - like to pop by now and then and talk about ratings (ask whether Anathema needs to go bathing in a rockpool now and again - or whether there could be a barmaid added to that inn scene - and maybe one thing leads to another and she shows up in Crowley’s room? Character development, that!)

Luckily, Michael has enough friends in high places that she’s able to shut down most of these suggestions (“Bathing in a rockpool? In the middle of fucking winter ?”) but Crowley certainly won’t be mentioning any hot-springs in the future. The producers would be entirely too likely to listen.

A shuttle is waiting to drive them back to the hotel in Lisdoon, and Crowley slops into the van like a dead man, ready for a hot shower and a decent night’s sleep before their call time tomorrow. Avery is quiet and still beside him as they drive back, and Anathema falls asleep pretty much instantly (Adam and his parents have their own vehicle, all kitted up with kid stuff.)

“You okay?” Crowley nudges Avery after the quiet goes on a bit long. There’s not a lot of light out on these rural roads, but the nav of the van is lit up pale blue, and it highlights all the lines around Avery’s eyes, the furrow between his eyebrows.

“Just - tired. A bit chilled.”

“Poor soft git,” Crowley says with a quirk of his mouth, rubbing one hand briskly over Az’s arm. They’ve got blankets in the van and the heat is blasting, but Az is still frozen to the touch. “We’ll be back at your posh hotel soon. You can have a soak in a tub full of rose petals.”

Az rolls his eyes at him, but doesn’t reply. He shifts slightly, and his shoulder presses up against Crowley’s. If he notices, he doesn’t mention it.

They’re silent for awhile, though Crowley can hear his heartbeat pounding anxiously in his skull, right up underneath his forehead. Can feel the heat of Az’s arm against his, wants to - pull him close, put an arm around him, rub some warmth back into his skin. Instead, he stares out the window, watching the dark nothingness roll past. The heartbeat in his skull keeps time with Az’s steady breathing. 

A little while later, he realizes Avery’s head is slumped forward. The man’s fallen asleep, chin nearly touching his chest, pale hair illuminated by the van’s interior lights.

“Poor soft git,” Crowley murmurs again, like he’s saying three entirely different words. He barely chokes on each of them.

When they get to the hotel, Avery gives him an exhausted wave of goodnight, and Crowley stumbles off to his room, shoulder still smelling like Avery’s posh shampoo and posher cologne. There’s been a lot of these nights lately, polite goodbyes in doorways, both of them too weary to make conversation (even over excellent Scotch, which Avery certainly has squirreled away in that room of his. Crowley toasted him with it the first night in Lisdoon.) This season’s been more physical - they’ve been climbing up hills and picking over stone paths. There’ve been a couple action sequences, and while it’s mostly the stand-ins that get to have the real fun, Crowley’s probably in better shape right now than he’s ever been. 

And Avery is tired. That much is clear just from looking at him. It works on the show, the weariness that’s in his shoulders sometimes - not that he can’t shrug it off at a moment’s notice, put everything aside for the camera. 

But when the cameras stop rolling, Az sinks into himself, gets smaller and quieter than he used to. He gives his regrets when Crowley asks him to dinner, declines the late night glasses of wine or cups of tea. On their most recent shared day off, Crowley had been all set to drag Az out exploring the woods around Lisdoon (not his style at all but he thought Az would like it.) He’d made a thermos of that revolting oversweet cocoa and bought a couple pastries from that shop in town Az loves -  only to be told that his co-star was going to spend the day “catching up on my reading, apologies my dear.” (The prat did take the pastries though, because he hasn’t changed that much.) 

Crowley was so put out that he went hiking by himself (Hiking!) spent a day in stupid bloody nature, over-thinking anything he might have done or said to make Az tired of him, and freezing his arse off in his black leather jacket (but looking extremely cool while doing so.) He even stumbled upon a few ducks in his travels, and didn’t feed them out of spite .

He actually rings Tracy about it, on their second week back. “Is Az sick?” he asks, right out the gate like a madman. 

“Oh, pigeon...” Tracy sounds more conflicted than the simple question warrants. “No, he’s - it’s - you know, been a tough season on ‘im. Never fret, he’ll be back to his old self soon enough.”

Now they’re three weeks in, ready to wrap on this location, and Az is certainly not back to his old self. Sometimes he gets a grim look on his face right before a scene begins, like he’s being led into battle and not onto a set to do the job he loves. Sometimes he rolls his shoulders, rolls his neck, pinches the bridge of his nose like someone whose entire body is made of cracked porcelain.

Crowley wants to touch him.

He always does, right, but now he wants to touch him in other ways as well.  He wants to put his thumbs on either side of Az’s spine, dig deep into the muscles (where the angst lives, it’s basic science) and rub the exhaustion away.  He wants to run his fingers through Avery’s hair and up the bristles on the back of his neck, wants to make the bastard purr.

When Avery ducks his head and turns silently into his hotel room at the end of a long day, Crowley wants to stop him with a hand on his sleeve. Wants to say “wait a minute, don’t leave yet. Let me - let me fix this. Let me buy you something sweet . Let me find you something shiny. Let me be a magpie for you, distract you with treasures and coloured glass and bits of bone. Let me tell you stories, I have so many stories for you - did I ever tell you about the time I met Julie Andrews at my parents’ dinner-party? Did I tell you the one where I was driving the Bentley, so stoned I didn’t realize it was on fire until I was pulled over? Let me tell you all the disastrous things I’ve done until you smile and roll your eyes and forget whatever is hanging off your shoulders.”

“Goodnight,” is what Crowley says instead. Very polite, very appropriate of him. Then he goes back to his room and does not sleep. Sometimes he’ll try to meditate, and sometimes he’ll try to read, and sometimes he’ll have a series of unbearable conversations with himself (“ Crowley you bastard, are you still listening? I don’t care how soft and tired he looks, keep your eyes and hands to your fucking self. ”) 

When he ultimately gives up on all of that, he’ll turn back to the Season 3 scripts.

Because - as it happens - there’s a kiss.

Of course there is. There’s no interventionist God worth Her salt that wouldn’t put a kiss in this fucking season, wouldn’t try to test Crowley to the point of destruction. 

The kiss is in a dream sequence -  it is the 16th century, no one’s snogging anyone after only one season of pining. Gotta draw it out, earn those ratings. Then kill off one of them (probably) and get hauled across the coals for queer-baiting (most likely. Michael holds the plot points pretty close to her chest, but there have been a couple - seeds, this season, that hint at something brewing between Anathema and Crowley. And what is she - like, twenty years younger? At least? Yeah, seems about right.)

Anyway, there’s a kiss. 

Crowley has read the scene too many times to be entirely healthy.

Avery is dreaming - he’s in the woods and alone and it’s just approaching nightfall.  Then a vision comes creeping like gnarled roots out of the darkness between trees - Crowley, clean-shaven and soft-skinned, Crowley reaching out, touching Avery’s jaw, kissing his mouth, shoving him against a tree, sinking to his knees... 

The scene is supposed to make Avery think he’s being tempted.  That his feelings for Crowley are a test, that something demonic has planted them there and is waiting for them to blossom. It’s supposed to motivate Avery to hate himself even more, make him put some distance between their characters.

And they’ve never talked about it.

(“We should probably talk about it.  The, you know, the photos. You’ve seen ‘em, yeah?”

Az has just gotten back to London, skin still a bit golden from the kiss of L.A. sunlight. He’s gone round to Crowley’s for dinner, has been nattering gentle things at the plants all night, and Crowley can’t stop looking at him. 

He doesn’t know why he brings up the photos - just feels like he has to be the one to address it before Avery does. Get ahead of the damage. Control the story or the spin or whatever Beez might shriek at him from across their desk or over the phone.

“The uh - which photographs are those?”

Crowley rolls his eyes heavenwards. “The ones of me and that - bloke outside the club. You must have seen them. Beez has been tearing me to shreds for lo these many weeks.”

“Ah yes. Those.” Az isn’t looking at him.  He’s studying his plate instead, apparently fascinated with a bit of roasted cauliflower (Crowley made a vegetable lasagna, and it’s passable. He doesn’t cook much for himself, and he’s no great artist, but he enjoys making an effort now and again. Besides, he and Weeknights with Giada have an understanding.)

“I wanted to make sure you weren’t - worried about it.” Crowley forges ahead, since clearly Avery knows what he’s talking about. “It’s not a problem. Did a drug test even -”

“You did?” Avery’s mouth is a line of white ink across his face, tense and unhappy.

“Yeah, of course. To stop the Horsemen from going mental. I volunteered, you don’t have to look like -”

“You shouldn’t have had to. Volunteer, I mean. It’s - invasive, it’s - demeaning -”

“Nah,” Crowley shakes his head, wishing viciously he wasn’t the type of person who could casually discuss drug-testing over lasagna. Wishing he was a respectable sort, a proper actor, the kind of person someone like Avery Fell would - would - 

But there’s no use wishing for any of that. What’s the Ishiguro line he had to write down (shortly after flinging his book across the room in anguish?) There is another life that I might have had. But I am having this one. 

No more books, Crowley decides. They only make him thoughtful, and he’s fucking insufferable when he’s thoughtful.

“Anyway, doesn’t matter.” He stares at the stem of his wine glass, afraid of what he might see across the table. ”Once you’ve done ‘em enough, it’s like any other old test. I don’t mind. And they’re within their rights, I’m sure. If you knew me back then -”

“I know you now.

Crowley snaps his eyes up to Avery’s face. 

It happens without thinking. Avery is watching him the way that Crowley never could - open, and unashamed, clear-eyed with certainty. It only lasts a moment (before Az goes pink, gives a rueful little smile and looks back at his half-eaten lasagna) but that moment is enough. Crowley will keep it, with all the others he’s been storing up for the winter. When he inevitably sends this all to hell, when Az gets tired of his bullshit and stops speaking to him, Crowley will have that lovely dragon’s hoard to curl around.

“This is divine, by the way,” Az says. “Perfect béchamel.”

Even an inane compliment over sub-par lasagna feels like a lot right now. Crowley mutters his thanks, heart raw and ragged and in his bloody throat. 

“The - uh, gentleman in the picture with you.” Az swallows. The sound of forks and knives scraping over stoneware suddenly seems very loud.  “He seemed very - are the two of you -”

NOPE. 

“Seconds? More wine? Would you like - I’ll just go get the bottle. Back in a tick.”

He gets up from the table so quickly he almost knocks his chair over, and is off to the kitchen before Az can say another word.

Any mention of Crowley being in a ‘relationship’ can only go down two paths: One, Avery is a bit too delighted - “been on your own for so long, wonderful news, well done you, glory glory hallelujah” etc. That would be like a knife to the carotid artery, no bloody thank you. 

The other (more unlikely) option is that Avery will be upset. Possibly some shade of jealous. Or he’ll be indifferent - and Crowley will read that indifference as something else (he’s always grasping with starving hands at any hint of affection). And then he’ll start talking and he won’t be able to stop, will start assuring Az that it’s nothing, the man in the photographs means nothing (“no, God no, it’s you , you’re the only one -”)

So. Crowley gets the wine and pours them both another glass, and they don’t say anything more about the photographs. Thank God for that.)

Pepper skypes Crowley at the hotel for weekly sessions, checks up to see how he’s doing looking into the mirror of his own poisonous desire almost every fucking day on set. The answer: not great. The first few scenes were the worst. Az is such a brilliant actor, it was startling to see how he could pull all that longing to the surface of his skin, could glow with it like a lantern across a lake when he turns his gaze toward Crowley. Crowley’s seen that expression on Avery’s face in his dreams, seen snatches of it in tipsy fantasties where Avery looks at him just like that (“oh my dear - you’re so good at this, so lovely - yes, perfect, perfect, there. Can you feel how I want you? Do you know? I want you so much, so much, darling, more than anything -”)

But after nearly three weeks of this, Crowley’s almost gotten used to it. Or no, not used to it (he’ll never get used to it, never) but he starts to - expect it. Dangerous thing, that. Sometimes between takes he catches Avery looking at him blankly and thinks, “What’s wrong? What have I done to - oh. Oh. Right.” (You don’t love me.)

Fuck’s sake, when this season’s finally wrapped, Crowley is going to look over at Avery and see the indifference in his eyes and turn into a slab of bloody marble.

But until then, they won’t talk about it. 

When Az is shooting scenes by himself, Crowley wanders around the lovely little spa town, peering into shops and occasionally going for runs, doing yoga in the privacy of his hotel room and lounging in cafés with a paperback and dark glasses (he knows he’s a cliché, all right? He knows. But he’s invested a lot of years in it, can lounge with a paperback in his sleep these days, and he refuses to apologize for style .) 

When they have days off together - rare enough but it happens - Avery keeps to himself. Sometimes they’ll have breakfast together, grab a coffee, but more often than not, the knocks on Az’s hotel room door go unanswered.  Crowley vacillates wildly between deep concern and flayed-open self-loathing, but - he’s a professional. Or at least he’s trying . He can love Avery with blackened fingertips from a cringing distance, and they can exchange looks of hopeless longing on set, and they can kiss on camera (Crowley’s counting down the scenes left before they film it. Michael’s saving it for the last day because she’s a fucking sadist.) 

And they can never talk about it. 

Until the night they do.

It’s their second last evening in Lisdoon, and it ends like any other.  Az says goodnight with a shrug and a tired smile, Crowley watches him walk away while pretending he isn’t. He goes back to his room, tells himself that things will be better after this episode is done. They get a week off before the studio pieces; Az can rest up, get some sleep, get back to his old self. If Crowley’s done something wrong, he’ll find out what it is and he’ll fix it. Maybe he’ll invite Avery to that Italian place he discovered near his apartment (pasta always does the trick when it comes to lifting Avery’s spirits) or maybe he’ll convince him to see a rock show at one of those clubs - if he likes. No pressure.. Just - might be a thing to try. Might be fun. ( Whatever you want, angel.)  

So Crowley isn’t sleeping, he’s ruminating (never a good look). He has just gotten out of the shower and is contemplating a guided meditation when there’s a knock on the door.

He’s in sweats and a jumper, feeling altogether too soft and vulnerable to deal with anyone right now (he contemplates throwing his leather jacket overtop but then thinks that might be - odd.)  He peers into the hallway to see Avery, holding a bottle of that lovely Scotch. 

“Can I come in?” he asks (and of course, of fucking course he can.)

Avery’s hair is wet - so is Crowley’s. Crowley imagines that their skin both tastes of the same hotel soap. Az pours them drinks and then downs his quickly, tops it up.  He doesn’t sit, but paces around the room cagily, gesturing with the glass in his hand. 

“We’re almost finished, then,” Az is muttering brightly, almost to himself.  “Won’t that be nice. Some time to - recover.”

“Expect Trace will be glad to have you back.”

“Of course, yes.” Az nods once, then nods a bit more. Crowley watches him from the armchair, drumming his fingers on his glass and his knees and any other surface within reach. (Christ, both of them are radiating anxiety, it’s a wonder they aren’t bringing down satellites.) “Just have to get through tomorrow, and then - home free. For a week, at least. Wonderful.”

“Ha, yeah. That’ll be a - um, good.”

“Yes. Very good.”

“Yep -”

“I think we should kiss.”

Crowley almost spits out his Scotch. “You - what?”

“Because - because tomorrow.” Avery takes another swallow of his drink, winces, and then sets the glass down on the dresser.  “It should look natural. You’re a fantasy, you’re supposed to be - well-practiced.”

“What makes you think I’m not?” Crowley’s a little bit offended, but mostly terrified.

“I didn’t mean - just - the two of us together. You know how first kisses are. Sometimes. At least - perhaps that’s just me.”

Fuck. Fuck’s sake.

Avery’s pacing has taken him over to the door and he stands there, staring at Crowley as if there’s any chance Crowley would say no to this (Crowlery imagines saying ‘no.’ Imagines what the word would feel like in his mouth. Would it be enough to save him, save them both? Or would it just be delaying the inevitable fall - the kiss in the script that swings over both of their heads?)

“Yeah, all right.”

Az’s mouth wobbles, a million different expressions across his face all at once.

“Really?”

“Sure, angel, what- whatever.” The sound of Crowley’s heartbeat is shaking the floorboards, rattling the shingles on the roof. “If it makes you feel better tomorrow, let’s - get it out of the way.”

“Okay. Okay. Just - here?”

“Suits me.” Crowley stands up. His mouth has gone dry so he takes a swig of Scotch before walking toward his co-star. There must be some spidery menace in the wave he moves, because Avery backs up a bit.  

It doesn’t hurt. Not at all. Crowley gets that he can be - alarming.

“I - I have kissed people on-screen before,” Az says quickly as Crowley takes another step closer.

“So’ve I.” Not for nearly fifteen years, though. And it’s never been romantic - there are always too many people milling about for there to be a sense of romance or drama. And Crowley was always kissing women anyway, which - as it turns out - not really his thing (his thing is soft, fussy blonds with lovely manners and lovelier eyes. Whoever would have thought?)

“Never anyone I knew as - well as you. Of course,” Az continues.

“Know me well, do you?” Crowley takes another step closer, feeling like he’s prowling, like he’s a great ungainly jungle cat. Az must find him terrifying or completely bloody ridiculous.

“I like to think so. Should make it easier. To - to -” Avery’s eyes dart back and forth over Crowley’s face. 

“Are you - this was your idea, we don’t have to -”

“No, I - of course. Just. I drank that glass rather quickly, probably shouldn’t have. But er, bit of liquid courage, haha. Let’s just -”

Crowley doesn’t realize how close together they’ve gotten until his chest nearly bumps Avery’s. He puts a hand on Avery’s shoulder, steadying them both.

Fuck, this is really happening. This could happen. Crowley isn’t ready, hasn’t done the right amounts of meditative breathing, hasn’t had enough time (there isn’t time enough in the world to be ready for this.)

“So you’ll stalk in from the woods,” Az murmurs, wetting his lips. Crowley can’t help but follow the movements of his tongue. But he’s allowed to do that. Right now and only right now, he can look at Avery however he wants (right now and never again.) Because he’s supposed to be lascivious and wanting, he’s supposed to be leaning towards Avery and staring at his mouth with eyes blown black as jasper -

“I’ll stalk in from the woods.” His hand is still on Avery’s shoulder. Fuck. He should move it but he doesn’t think he can.

“And I’ll be - afraid, probably. But - willing - willingly unwilling. Like - this -”

And Avery does this look (damn it, the man can fucking act) like a maiden waiting to be ravished. He tilts his chin up defensively, exposing his throat at the same time. It’s a whole character study in a few tiny movements - the angle of his jaw, the pull of his eyebrows, a thesaurus of words for love pooling in Crowley’s mouth.

“And then you’ll - t-touch -“ Avery’s voice breaks as Crowley drags his free hand over Avery’s chest, sliding up his throat to his jaw. Crowley knows the lines, knows the actions. Could have them tattooed on his wrist at this point, has horrible feverish dreams about them -

“All alone in the woods, priesssst.” His voice is barely more than a whisper, the sibilant curl of pale fingers (beckoning in the dark, come and see .)

“And then I’ll -“ Az gasps, looks startled and repulsed and yet transfixed by Crowley’s face. ( He’s acting, he’s an actor, don’t for a moment think that he actually wants to look at you like this - ) “And then - then you’ll -“

Crowley leans closer, then closer, and the cigarette ash of his heart glows red under his skin. Avery Fell is one raw nerve beneath Crowley’s sweating hands, his eyes wide, lips parted - 

“Like this,” he breathes again Avery’s mouth, the moment before their lips touch. 

It’s a dry leaf of a kiss, barely there.

Crowley pulls back a fraction, stares at Avery’s mouth (can’t look him in the eye, couldn’t possibly.)

“No, that’s too -“ That’s not how a demonic temptation kisses anyone, no matter how brutally in love they are. “More like -“ He leans in again.  This time he opens his mouth a bit, letting the dampness of his lower lip slide against Avery’s and then - oh God -

“Like this,” Avery murmurs back and then Crowley is leaning in again, chasing his tongue into his mouth, and then their mouths are open and scalding against each other’s. They’re kissing, they’re fucking kissing and Crowley can feel the edge of Avery’s teeth against his tongue, has the burning wish that Avery will bite down, draw blood, fill Crowley’s mouth with it. He brings both hands up to keep Avery’s face exactly where he wants it, tilts him a bit to the left so they can slot together like they’ve always been meant to. A powerful, terrible, perfect fit, an entire lost continent rising out of the sea -

“Like - like that,” Avery whispers and then “ Oh -” 

Crowley is crowding him back against the door, and Avery’s hands are grabbing at Crowley’s shirt, pulling him closer in fistfuls. Their mouths are hot-vicious and wet with spit and longing, and - Avery freezes.

Leans back as far as he can with the door flush against hm. He  meets Crowley’s wide eyes with his own.

“I wouldn’t be so -” Painfully slowly, Avery pulls both of his hands away. Unclenches his fingers from Crowley’s shirt. “You’d - you’d have to -”

Crowley doesn’t have the ability to make any sort of protest before Avery is pressing both of his hands flat against the door.  Looking at Crowley like - like -

“Like - this?” Crowley pins Avery’s hands in place, watching for Avery’s gasping-mouthed nod of ‘yes’ before leaning back in, kissing him again. Fuck, this is better than anything that’s ever happened to Crowley in his life. Avery tastes like Scotch and smoke and he’s started moaning into the kisses, and now that Crowley’s pinning his hands, their bodies are forced into closer contact, chests pressed together, hips -

“Like this -”

Because Crowley was hard from the first moment their lips touched, and he’s basically staggered by it now. And he can feel - against him - the outline of Avery in his trousers, the branding heat of him and they’re not acting, this isn’t acting, please Jesus tell me this isn’t acting -

He realizes that their fingers are laced against the door - no one’s holding anyone down, their hands are locked together. The knowledge of that is a killing sort of bliss, makes Crowley bite down at the edge of Avery’s jaw, and Avery keens (he likes that) head knocking against the door, shuddering, and then -

He doesn’t say ‘stop’. 

Doesn’t say ‘no’ (and he could have, could have at any point, Crowley would have dropped his hands like they were on fire.)

Instead, there’s an odd hitch in Avery’s breathing, and Crowley - knows him, knows him too well not to recognize it for panic. In one fluid motion he’s let go of Avery’s wrists, pulled back, stepped away.

There’s two feet of distance between them before Avery says, “Wait.”

They both stand there. Crowley is staring at Avery and Avery is staring at some fixed point on the wall, just off enough to avoid Crowley’s gaze. His eyes are shining and his lips are purple and Crowley might be sick.

I’m going to apologize, he realizes immediately, doesn’t even question it. ( This was me, right? It had to have been me. Fix it, fix it, fix it while there’s time.)

But Avery speaks before he can.

“That should do, I think.” Every word is like a stone being thrown.  “We should be fine. For tomorrow.”

“Avery -”

“Good thing we - got it out of the way.” Avery’s hand is rattling against the doorknob as he tries to get it open. Crowley watches him struggle, and awkwardly steps forward to help just as Az manages it.

“Well done,” Az says. “Um - that’s - good night.” He leaves immediately, closing the door behind him, not even glancing over his shoulder.

Crowley stands in one place, and stares at the door. 

His mouth tastes like Avery Fell’s mouth. His hands smell like Avery Fell’s face. Crowley wanted to touch the man, and he did, and now he’s utterly, completely, permanently fucked.

He stares at the door, willing Az to walk back through it. Waiting for the knock to come again, waiting for the gentle question ( can I come in? Can I tell you it’s fine, or it will be? Can I fix this for you, for both of us? )  

Crowley waits for the rest of the night.

*

They kiss on camera. 

They kiss over and over again.  It’s odd and stilted and Avery keeps apologizing and Michael makes them re-take it until mouths lose all meaning.

After the shoot, Crowley’s lips are swollen and Avery won’t look at him.

“Nice work, gentlemen,” Michael says (unconvincingly) and the two of them are loaded into the shuttle. 

Az sits in the back seat, away from Crowley. Alone.

“Enough of a temptation?” Crowley asks, because he can’t shut his mouth to save his life. Be cool, be flippant, be a flash fucking bastard until Az forgets that you ever sucked his tongue into your mouth.“What do you think?”

“Sufficiently - wiley.” Az’s tone is light but his attention is elsewhere. He’s on his phone texting (clumsily, as always, but Crowley is still entranced by the movement of his thumbs.)

“Yeah, you know me and my wiles.”

The rest of that episode (for them, anyway) is going to be shot in studio, so they can have all those lovely CGI effects added after the fact. Before then, they’ve got that fabled, long-awaited week off. Avery’s going back to London to see Tracy. Crowley’s going back to London to see - London. Maybe Pepper - scratch that, definitely Pepper.

They’re on the same flight back, but their seats aren’t together so they basically say their goodbyes at the gate. Tracy hugs them both when they arrive in Gatwick and Avery still won’t look at him.

“Good flight?” Crowley asks.

“Afraid I drowsed off rather quickly. Ah, there’s my suitcase.” Az promptly walks away, wriggling through the crowd like a desperate minnow. 

“You’ll have to come to ours for dinner before you’re back in Belfast,” Tracy tells him as they wait for the rest of the luggage to show up.

“Yeah, of course.” Crowley runs his hands through his disastrous airplane hair, sighing deeply. 

“You all right, love?”

“Brilliant,” Crowley says, with a smile that feels like a knife. He’s just fucking peachy.

They wait in the queue for a taxi, and Avery won’t look at him. Then their driver is loading Az’s bags into the boot of the car, and Az is opening the door for Tracy, getting in beside her -

And just before he pulls the door closed, he looks at Crowley.

It’s a look Crowley has seen dozens of times, hundreds of times maybe - around campfires and in forests and on the sides of rocky cliffs. It’s a look like an open grave, a look like desire tempered with grief, the look of someone who can never never never let you see the way they look at you-

“Wait -” Crowley says, the word faltering and dying in the noisy car park, and like that - the moment is over. Avery looks away and the door slams shut, and the taxi drives off in a perfume of exhaust.

(“He’s an actor,” Crowley tells Pepper two days later, still feeling that look screaming in his nervous system. “It’s what he does. Must’ve slipped somehow. It happens when you’re on a show long enough. You forget when you’re a character and when you’re yourself.”

Pepper considers this, a dubious expression on her face. “Is that what you truly believe?”

“Yes, of course that’s -”

“And it’s not just the comfortable narrative you’re used to?”

Crowley rubs his face with his hands. He hasn’t had nearly enough coffee or cigarettes for this conversation.

“We did the scene. The kissing scene,” he offers, certain something juicy like that will distract her from his devastating self-esteem issues.

“And how was that experience for you? Was it difficult enacting that intimacy in such a public setting?”

“Not at all. It was -” ( “I wouldn’t be so - you’d have to -” Avery pressing his hands against the door, baring his throat to Crowley’s teeth -) “It was nothing.  Just acting, right? It’s what we do.”)

Dinner doesn’t happen.  Crowley talks to Avery on the phone, but the man is run ragged with visits to his sister (she’s got a pack of bloody kids, Crowley’s seen the pictures and they always seem sticky with jam for some reason) and Az gets a bit sick with a cold and eventually Crowley just says “all right, well, I’ll see you in Belfast.”

“Yes, of course. Have a good flight, dear.”

Crowley wants to ask - but he doesn’t really want to know the answer. “Is everything - you okay?”

“Sorry?” Az gives an unsteady laugh. “Perfectly. Tip top. Tickety boo. Mind how you go.” He basically hangs up immediately, and Crowley feels like he’s been slapped by a wet glove. 

“Well.” There’s no one around to hear him but his plants, and that’s good enough. “That was a thing.” 

He hates himself enough to go running, and when he ends up back at home, he has a text from a number he hasn’t thought of in ages.

Hey it’s Matt. What are you up to??

Crowley’s going to ignore it.  He really is. Then he thinks - ah, fuck it. 

Not much. Just back in London a few days. How do young people do this? Every word seems vaguely creepy, full of silent expectation. 

Want some company? Matt asks.

“Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck,” Crowley hisses at his poor ficus tree. This is - not a good idea. Pepper would think it wasn’t a good idea.

Or would she? Would she say it was progress - Crowley trying to ‘expand his support network.’ Isn’t she always on about that?

Also he’s lonely. Don’t ever tell anyone he said that (maybe he should get a damn cat or something. A nice black and white one.)

Ok, he texts Matt.

The man shows up forty minutes later with a bottle of gin, and Crowley isn’t lonely for the rest of the night.



Chapter Text

Babe we both had dry spells

hard times in bad lands

I’m a good man 

for ya, 

I’m a good man.

- Josh Ritter,  “Good Man”

 

(Hard Times: An Interlude)

 

1978, Hartlepool 

(9 years old)

Avery has almost made it to the docks (where he will stow away on a ship to North America and make his fortune in the West and never be seen in stupid Hartlepool again and then they’ll all be sorry ) when a heavy hand lands on his shoulder.

“Where you think you’re going?”

Avery knows his dad’s voice, but he knows the weight of his dad’s hand even more, knows the smell of oil and sweat and lager. He’d know who found him before the man said a word.

“What the hell you doing out here alone, eh? Know what time it is? Know how worried your mum is?”

“Let me go!”Avery jerks away, but his dad hauls him back.

“Look at the state of you - what’s that? What’ve you got -”

One end of the scarf is already in his dad’s hands, and Avery struggles to unwind from it so that his dad doesn’t choke him by accident (or on purpose.)

“What’s this? This your mum’s bleeding scarf? Nicked it, did you?”

“I wanted to look like Cary Grant!” Avery snarls as his dad pulls the rest of it off, the pretty yellow silk stained and ruined now, and it’s not Avery’s fault, it’s not -

“Cary Grant? Who the - there’s mud all over this! Or is that -”

Avery turns his head away quickly, while his dad steps closer, looming over him like one of those huge trees in California. Avery’s seen pictures of them, seen ‘em in books. He’s going to go there someday, see them in real life, whatever the boys in school say.

“What’s going on? You fighting with the Garrity lad? That it? I’ll have a word with his father, so help me -“

“No!” Avery says, hot with pain and anger.

“Go on, turn your face. Let me see.”

Avery lifts one hand to his cheekbone where he can feel the bruise swelling to life. It was the only rock that actually managed to hit him - Evan and his stupid gang have terrible aim.

“Let me see, I said.”

Sighing dramatically (and he knows when he’s being dramatic, Miss Davies tells him nearly every class) Avery drops his hand, turns his face toward his dad. 

His dad is silent for a moment. Then he whistles low between his teeth.

“That from one of those bloody Garritys?”

Avery doesn’t answer. If his dad talks to Evan’s, it will just make everything worse.

“Could’ve got your eye,” his dad continues, shaking his head. “I’ve a mind to go ‘round theirs -“

“Don’t,” Avery says, “please, don’t.”

His dad folds his arms, looks at Avery like he’s an alien or something, someone from outer-space that doesn’t know anything about the world they live in, has to be told how to eat and breathe and tie his shoes. Avery hates when his dad looks at him like that.

“They threw rocks at me,” he spits, “and pushed me in the mud. Called me - names.” He can’t repeat them, it might make him sick to say it out loud. He shouldn’t have gotten caught alone after school - but it had been that sort of autumn day that you want to linger in, and Avery had brought that book of T.S. Eliot from the library and couldn’t stop reading it (out loud but in whispers, just to hear the words singing in the air: “what seas what shores what grey rocks and what islands…”)

That book was stomped on and ground into the mud now. He didn’t even have the chance to go back for it. Mrs. Poole is going to be so angry, she’ll probably ban Avery from the library for a month! And he didn’t even do anything!

“It’s not fair - I leave them alone, I don’t hurt anyone. Why’ve they got to be so awful to me?” Tears are pricking at his eyes, and it’s unbearable. His dad hates crying, and Avery tries to blink the tears back, swallow around the lump in his throat. He waits for his dad to yell at him, waits for the cuff to the back of his skull.

But instead, his dad just shakes his head. Runs a hand through his thinning blond hair.

“You know - me and your mum think -” His dad coughs a bit, looks slightly queasy. “We think the world of you. All right?”

Avery holds his breath and hopes this moment is over soon. He never knows how to bear kindness when it comes from his quiet, quick-tempered father.

“You’re too bright for the likes of us by far - with your books and that. Things you read - don’t think I've read anything half that smart.” He nudges Avery with his elbow, gently. Avery flinches away. “We know you’ll be all right, in the end. But just - maybe for now - you could try a bit harder. To be like the other kids.”

Avery’s mouth opens in protest. “I don’t want to be like them! They’re bullies and they’re god-damned liars and -“

“Oi!” The cuff to the head comes now. “Don’t ever let your mam hear you swearing, she’ll beat that out of you quick enough. Then she’ll come after me for being a rotten influence.”

Avery rubs the back of his head, scowling at the unfairness of the whole ugly world where kids can throw rocks at him but he isn’t even allowed to swear.

“What do you reckon?” His dad’s voice softens again. “Think of it like - you’re acting. Like you’re one of those posh blokes in the films you like so much.”

Now that's an interesting idea. Avery hasn’t thought about it that way before. He likes acting, loves movies even more than his books. He’s seen Death on the Nile three times at the cinema, went ‘round doing odd jobs for the neighbours until he could earn the 45p it cost.

“Like Peter Ustinov?” he asks, thinking it over. His dad pulls a face.

“Yeah, maybe. Which one’s that?”

“He’s Poirot!” 

“Fine, like your Poirot. What do you think?”

Avery thinks - that it doesn’t seem right. Why should he have to pretend to be someone different while Evan and Jack and Will get to carry on being awful? He tries to put himself in Evan’s piggy-little mind. Imagines seeing the world through eyes squinting narrow with hatred. It feels awful, feels like everything’s gotten smaller around him. But the bruise on his cheek feels awful too, throbbing sharply in time to his heartbeat.

“The role of a lifetime, eh? Fitting in with the rest of ‘em.”

Maybe it will be a good challenge. A test. Avery wants to be an actor one day, wants to look like Cary Grant and kiss - and kiss, um - kiss Katherine Hepburn, right, and wear silk scarves and cream-coloured coats and arrest anyone who throws his books in the mud.

“You give it a try, and we’ll just - find a new scarf for your mum, all right? I’ll get rid of this old thing, she won’t even notice it’s gone. Or we’ll say the dog got at it.” 

“Okay.” Avery would try. Try fitting in. Try being just like the rest of the boys in his class. If he wants to be an actor, this is a way to start.

“Good lad. Come on then. Your mam’s doing chips for tea. Might not be any left by the time we get there.” His dad throws an awkward arm around Avery’s shoulder, pulls him close in a rare display of physical affection. “And we’ll get something on that face of yours, Jesus wept. Social services is going to be after us, they see you in that state.”

Behind him, the setting sun is just hitting the horizon of the ocean, turning the whole world molten copper. For some reason Avery likes the colour, likes the warm gold of it. The eyes of a snake, holding him safe in its gaze.

Avery lets himself get tugged along home.

 

1986, Newcastle Upon Tyne 

(17 years old)

“What do you fancy?” Daniel asks him, looking at the posters lined up outside the theatre. “Have you seen Highlander yet ? Sid and Nancy ?”

“That’s going to be dark, mate. You know how it ends.”

“Maybe the ending will be different this time, you don’t know.” Daniel grins at him, clearly having made his mind up. “Come on… Sex Pistols… Gary Oldman…”

“Fine, all right. But I’m starving, I’m getting popcorn or Monster Munch or something.”

“You poor thing. I can see right through you.”

“Piss off.”

“Wasting away, you are!” Daniel smacks Avery’s stomach, an absolute prat, and still the only boy in the entire Sixth Form worth half a damn.

Not that Avery will ever let anyone know that. He’s on friendly terms with everybody now, though he keeps mostly to himself. He buries his head in books, gets his work done, doesn’t get involved in theatre or music, doesn’t call out in class. He fits it. Even sometimes kicks the ball around after school with the Garrity brothers, doesn’t mention the time they almost took his eye out with stones.

It’s exhausting some days, fitting in. Avery comes home from school feeling like he’s been running a marathon, and hasn’t stopped running for almost ten years.

But around Daniel, it’s not like that. It’s different, somehow. Daniel loves films too, almost as much as Avery does, and they save their money when they can, get tickets to whatever’s playing in Hartlepool (it’s never much.) For his birthday last year, Daniel bought him a book of the Best Film Speeches and Monologues , and Avery memorized them in secret (fitting in, right?), recited them in front of his mirror with the perfect RP accent (he’s got a whole host of accents under his belt, but is still working on his American. It gets a bit nasally, sounds like he’s trying too hard.) 

Being around Daniel is easy.  Most of the time. There are times when it’s not easy at all.  Times when Avery sees Daniel across the footy pitch and something hot and ugly starts rising up in his throat. Like he might bite something or sick up on himself.  There’s this hunger in him, and he doesn’t know what it’s a hunger for, but sometimes he wants to eat the entire world, swallow it whole.

“I think Harrison Ford’s going to win Best Actor this year,” Daniel says as they wait in line for tickets.

“You think?”

“Bet you anything.” They both loved Witness , even though the ending made Avery cry. “Maybe that’ll be you someday.”

“Han bloody Solo -” Avery shakes his head. “Don’t be an ass.”

“It’s true. You should move to Hollywood after school. Or to London! Audition for one of those posh theatre schools.”

“Right. With all the money I’ve made sweeping up at mum’s salon? Yeah, that’ll happen.”

“I’m sure they’ve got scholarships and that. For wretched unfortunates like us.” Daniel raises his hand to his forehead dramatically. “Alms for the poor, guv’nah!”

“Stop it!” Avery says, trying not to laugh, “People are going to think you’re an escaped lunatic.”

“I escaped from Hartlepool so it’s near enough.” 

Daniel’s mum is strict as anything, but sometimes she’s all right with the two of them catching a train into Newcastle, seeing a matinee, mucking about in town. (Avery had tried to do some homework on the ride up, but Daniel kept throwing tiny rolled up bits of paper at him, and then Avery started throwing them back and by the end, their train car looked like there had been a blizzard in it.)

They get their tickets and Avery gets popcorn and a pack of Spangles and they disappear into the darkness of the cinema.  This is another reason Avery likes the movies. The sense of being hidden away somewhere cool and dark and undiscovered. He’s just another face in a sea of faces, lit up briefly by the screen. Fitting in so well he’s invisible.

They sit way off to one side (the theatre’s pretty empty but Daniel’s a bit of a chatterer - especially when the film is a bad one - and Avery gets so emotionally invested in the stories that his face does stupid things. Best keep a bit of distance between the two of them and the well-mannered world.)

“Would you like some of this?”Avery offers the popcorn, and Daniel shrugs him away.

“Nah. Look at your nasty hands, they’re all sticky.”

Avery licks his fingers into his mouth, and Daniel immediately looks away. Goes quiet. The lights are starting to dim, so Avery focuses on the screen.

At some point during the film - not long into it - their arms end up sharing the armrest between them. Avery’s not so much into the Sex Pistols, and he finds himself distracted by Daniel’s hand in the flickering light.  He has big hands, not like Avery’s. ‘Girl’s hands’ his dad used to say, and Avery would clench his hands into fists and shove them in his pockets. 

Daniel’s hands are square almost - broad-palmed, blunt fingertipped. There’s a bit of dark hair on the back of each knuckle.

When it happens, Avery thinks the brush of contact is accidental. He shifts his hand back slightly so that it’s not taking up as much space. But then - but then Daniel moves his hand again, so the edge of his palm just rests against Avery’s.  His skin is so hot it’s going to leave a mark, a black ripple of skin that won’t heal right, that will stay on Avery’s hand until he dies. People will ask him what happened, and he won’t know what to say (someone touched me with skin as hot as a newly filled kettle, a lit burner on the stove, a branding iron.)

Avery should move his hand then - but he doesn’t. If he yanks his hand away in panic, Daniel might feel - weird about it.  Avery looks away, doesn’t want to embarrass him; Daniel probably hasn’t even noticed.

Then Daniel curls his ring finger. The tip of it brushes over Avery’s skin and Avery looks over immediately. He watches their hands there in the blue light of the theatre. Watches Daniel’s ring finger straighten and curl again. Feels it like a match being struck on his skin.

Daniel is staring straight ahead, face completely blank. But his chest is rising and falling, Avery thinks, like he’s breathing hard, as hard as Avery is breathing right now. As hard as the heartbeat that’s pounding in Avery’s narrow chest, like a punch to the breastbone every time. There are going to be bruises on his ribs if his heart keeps beating like this.

Then Daniel looks over at him, and Avery feels like he could swallow the world.  There’s a wolf at the base of his spine, at his throat, great foaming jaws opening wide ( I’ll eat you whole -)

Avery tears his hand away.

“What are you - don’t touch me,” he spits, and he gets up out of his seat, and he’s gone, he’s gone. Never sees the ending of Sid and Nancy , doesn’t know whether they both die or ride off in a flying car - Avery’s out the door of the theatre, walking walking and then running and behind him he can hear Daniel’s voice “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, please don’t tell anyone, Avery -”

Avery never rides the train to Newcastle again.  Never throws tiny rolled-up scraps of paper across a train compartment on his way to see a movie. 

And he never tells anyone.

 

1991, Bristol

(22 years old)

There’s a rap on the door to the gents’ where Avery is bawling his eyes out. Hands over his face, snot dripping from his nose, he’s a pitiful cliché of heartache. Something you’d see in a bad film, late night television. 

“Everything all right in there?” a woman’s voice calls through the door.

Avery takes a shuddering breath. Another. 

“Just - a moment.”

He wipes his face, swallows down the rest of the tears, and straightens up in front of the dingy sink. Looks at himself in the mirror. It’s worse than he imagined, but just as predictable: our heartbroken protagonist stares at his reflection and sees a man he doesn’t recognize. Who am I? he asks in a dramatic fashion, eyes swollen and red as fists. What have I become? (Then he probably breaks the mirror with his hand or something, but Avery isn’t so far gone that he’s lost his manners.)

“Sorry if you’re feeling poorly, love, only I’m supposed to be mopping up in there,” the woman’s voice continues.  “Almost closing time now.”

Avery splashes water on his face, fully giving in to the drama. His dark-brown hair makes his skin look even paler (he dyed it before he started at Old Vic, has been keeping it up these past few years. Thought it would make him stand out a bit, look less like floor-to-ceiling beige wallpaper. It’s a shoddy job he’s done of it, though, dye staining the tips of his ears.) 

Avery thinks he looks like a picture a child tried to colour - black ears, red eyes, crayon smudged and going outside the lines.

“The - uh - gentleman you came in with is gone, if that helps.” The voice is extremely gentle, almost painfully so. Avery gives in and opens the door.

Standing outside it is a woman a bit older than him - or perhaps a bit younger? It’s difficult to tell with the amount of makeup she’s wearing. She’s got white-blonde hair and pale blue eyeshadow, and a colourful dress that’s hanging off one shoulder.  She’s leaning on a mop and bucket like she might fall asleep there. (Avery thinks she might have been behind the bar, pulling pints, earlier. He wasn’t really paying attention, too busy fighting with his - date. Or whatever Harry was to him. Emphasis on the ‘was.’)

“Oh! You’re alive, well done.” The woman gives him a once over, and tuts. It’s an extremely motherly sound for someone her age. “But look at the state of you.”

“Yes, well.” Avery breathes, tries to laugh off the despair. He’s a fucking actor, a good one, or Old Vic wouldn’t have taken him. “It’s fine. I’m fine. I’ll - be on my way”

The woman just raises an eyebrow at him, then turns and shouts over her shoulder. “Mags, will you lock up?” She turns back to Avery, looks at him like he’s a baby duckling. “I’ll put the kettle on.”

He ends up spending the rest of the night sitting at the bar drinking tea with a mad woman. Turns out, it’s a mad woman he’s met before.

“You’re one of those theatre kids! I knew it! I knew I recognized you!” She poses with her arms up over her head, an exaggerated look of delight in her eyes. “Remember? Like so? Tadaaaaaaa...”

Avery shakes his head, only a little frightened.

“That stag do your friend had! What was his name - I came out of a cake! Vanilla fondant, I think, lovely. No?”

Avery shakes his head again, though - something’s coming back to him. Some horrible blurry evening when he first started at school, and was trying, was really trying - he had had a bit much to drink, and had been dragged out with a couple classmates and - he seems to remember a giant cake more than anything...

“Well, I remember you, you were the one in the corner having a breakdown. Never seen anyone look so uncomfortable.” She laughs, pats him on the shoulder like they’re best friends. “Felt sorry for you, poor thing.”

“Yes, uh - quite.” Each word he says feels like blown glass. “So you work here - and there - and -”

“I draw aside the veil every Thursday afternoon.” (Avery does not know what that means.) “And offer the occasional bit of intimate personal relaxation and stress relief for the discerning gentleman.” The woman winks (Avery does not know what that means either.) “All sorts, whatever I have to. I’m getting out of Bristol, aren’t I,  moving to London one day. Going to make something of me’self.”

“Oh, me too .” London is something Avery can talk about, London haunts his dreams at night.  “I mean - I want to go to London. When school’s done.”

“I’m sure you could manage it. Must be well posh, going to a fancy school like that.”

“Not - really, um.” That’s the other thing he doesn’t talk about, the thing he hasn’t told any of his classmates. But this strange woman is so warm and shameless, it almost makes him feel less ashamed as well. “I’m on scholarship. Otherwise there would be no possible way. It’s a stroke of - luck I’m going to school at all, let alone -”

“So you’re a smart one?” She clicks her teacup against his. “Folks must be proud.”

Avery thinks of his dad, still quiet and quick-tempered and working in the mill.  Thinks of his mum - fingers curled like strips of birch bark (early onset arthritis), and thinner and thinner and thinner every time he sees her -

“It’s - really nothing. Not that exciting.”

“Come off it. ‘Course it’s something. Look at you.” She traces her manicured nails over the rim of her teacup, stares into the steam like she’s reading tea leaves. “You know, I think I’ve seen you since that party as well. Been round here a time or two, haven’t you? And always with some new fella.”

Avery can feel the colour (what little he has) drain out of his face. The woman immediately reaches out, puts a hand on his.

“Hey, hey, don’t look like that. I ain’t bothered, it’s all right. I only brought it up because -”

“I should probably - just -”

“- because I hate to see anyone wastin’ time on people that treat them badly.” She squeezes his hand, and Avery resists the urge to pull away from her, flail like a panicked (slightly drunk) bird. “Why d’you let them?”

“Let them - I don’t - you really -”

(Since moving to Bristol, Avery has had a series of - not relationships (flings? Hook-ups?) with the cruelest, most closted, self-hating men he can find. 

No one has ever asked him about it before. Because no one knows. He doesn’t take them back to his flat, he doesn’t even meet them in his part of town. He frequents dodgy, out of the way pubs - like this one - where no one recognizes either of them, and he lets the men do what they like with him in bathrooms and alleyways, lets them kiss their contempt against his throat.  They’re generally pretty awful to him afterwards, so they fight and part ways, and Avery hates himself for a few weeks - then he does the whole thing over again. Consistency. That’s important.)

“Why does it matter?” he manages at last, once panic has stopped stealing his words from him. He knows what he is. What he wants. And he knows it can’t happen.

“Shouldn’t it?” 

“It’s not like - it’s nothing that’s going to go anywhere, nothing that means - anything. Who cares how they treat me?”

I do.”

“You don’t even know my name.”

“What’s your name then? So I can care.” The woman reaches up, takes off her long blonde wig, followed by a wig cap. She ruffles out a head full of matted red curls. “There, that’s better. I’m Tracy. And you are?”

When Avery doesn’t say anything, she holds out her hand to be shaken. “Go on, then. Took off my wig, didn’t I?”

Avery’s so shocked that he laughs (tears in his eyes and thorns in his throat.)  He takes her hand. Shakes it.

“Avery. Avery Fell.”

“Ooh, just like Bond, James Bond.” Tracy flutters her eyelashes at him. “Fancy.”

The sun is coming up by this point, peeking between the shutters that - Mags? pulled down at Tracy’s barked request. Avery is more exhausted than he has possibly been in his life, but he’s also had about eight cups of tea in the past five hours and won’t be falling asleep any time soon.

“You want some breakfast?” Tracy asks. “The café down the road does a good fry-up. Cheap as chips.”

What day is it? He can’t quite recall. The room is getting fuzzy around its edges, like an old photograph.  “I - may have class in a few hours.” 

“Well. Got to have that brain food, I’m sure.” She pats his shoulder again, and this time Avery doesn’t fight the urge to flinch and run away from it. Casual, friendly touch is - not something he’s had all that much experience with. Perhaps he needs practice.

“Come on then,” Tracy says. “I’ll treat you, shall I? Seeing as you’re a starving artist.”

And Avery doesn’t have it in him to say no to breakfast twice.  

So he says yes. 

 

1998, London

(29 years old)

The headlines are awful. And everywhere. 

“Anthony Crowley’s Homosexual Scandal!”  

“Drugs, Violence, Men: Anthony Crowley’s downhill spiral.”

“Out of Control: Anthony Crowley’s parents grieve troubled son!”

“The Falling Star Keeps Falling! Anthony Crowley arrested outside notorious gay bar in Soho.”

Avery doesn’t know the man,  but of course he knows of him. They’ve never met. Though - if we’re being completely honest - Avery would have moved heaven and earth to have gotten the chance.

He… may have watched most of Anthony’s films at some point in his twenties. Even the early ones, the awful romantic comedies. Avery might still have a soft spot for the man’s oddly jagged profile. The slant of his mouth. The soft lick of carnelian hair that falls into his eyes.

Bit of a celebrity crush. Fine, everyone has them. And really, it was Anthony’s talent that was the most compelling thing - Avery could certainly claim that the admiration was purely professional. Whatever darkness the man has buried just below the surface of his skin gets dredged up when he acts and it’s - transformative. Most of his roles (even the awful romantic comedies) shine with just a hint of that pain, and Avery respects that, and Avery’s fascinated by it, and Avery finds him awfully, shockingly watchable.

And now this.

What a waste.

“Anthony Crowley checks into celebrity rehab facility.”

“A secret life: the illicit affairs Anthony Crowley kept from his family and his fans.”

The illicit bloody affairs… God in Heaven. Like the man’s required to report who he’s sleeping with and when, keep a regular charted schedule so everyone can weigh in, stamp their approval.

It’s awful, a bit like watching a car crash. Avery’s been thinking about it ever since the story broke. No matter how much things seem to change - well, this is a reminder that he is doing the right thing. Living his life the right way. 

He only hopes that Crowley gets the help he needs, puts this whole mess behind him someday.

“What are you doing? I can hear you sighing away in here.” Tracy comes into the kitchen, throwing her handbag over her shoulder and fussing with her hair. “Ugh, The Sun ? Nothing good comes of reading that. Don’t believe a word of it.”

“Yes, well.” Avery sighs again, can’t help the exhaustion the wells out of him like blood. He knows, he’s always known the media felt like this about - people who - who want -

Anyway , it’s one thing to know it theoretically, and it’s another to have it right there in front of you, punching your teeth out. “Where are you off to? Seeing that - what was his name - again?”

“What’s-his-name should be so lucky. No, just meeting up with some of the girls. Sworn off men. This time I mean it.”

“Just like last time.”

“I’m serious. Need to focus properly on Tracy, do some - you know. Self-reflection. Might even consult the Cards.” 

“Let me know what they say.”

Tracy puts an arm around his shoulder, kisses the side of his head. They’ve been roommates for five years, ever since they moved to London. Tracy’s working at a handful of pubs, doing the odd psychic reading here and there. Avery’s been getting work as well - not a lot, but enough to pay the rent and then some. He’s done a couple plays, a few independent co-pros, and he’s getting his name out there. More and more, people are noticing him. Which is - its own sort of terrifying.

“Before you go - I meant to ask.” ( The illicit affairs Anthony Crowley kept from his family and fans!) “Would you like to come to the screening next week? I’ve two tickets to the premiere.”

“Of course I would! Most exciting thing that’s happened since my divorce. Better dust off one of the dresses from my Madam Tracy days, eh?”

“Ha, yes, well - whatever you like.” Avery’s heart is racing. This might be a massive mistake. Or it might be a stroke of genius. He can never really suss out the difference. “Thing is, I was hoping you would come as - um - my date. My date for the evening.”

Tracy looks at him blankly.  “Of course. Isn’t that what you just asked?”

( Drugs! Violence! Men!) “Are you - are you reading the papers? Following the entertainment news?”

“You mean all the drama around Anthony Crowley? Poor bloke, looks like he’s absolutely falling to pieces, what with - everything.” She frowns. Then she sits down at the kitchen table, right across from him. She might give off a rather flighty impression, but Tracy isn’t a fool. Not at all.

“What are you asking me, Az?”

His heart beats and beats, refuses to give out. Sometimes Avery wonders if that would be easier for all parties involved. 

“That perhaps - if you were asked - you might say that we’ve, um, come together.”

Tracy says nothing. She purses her bright red lips, and does not move her gaze from his face.

“There seems to be some - er - buzz around the film,” Avery continues quickly. “Not that I have any expectations but - reading the way the press is treating Anthony -“ (He can still feel a bruise-dark swelling on his cheekbone, the ghost of pain where a stone hit him, so many years ago.) “If you came with me, if you told them - we already live together, perhaps we could -”

“For how long?”

“What - what do you mean?”

“You want me to lie to - your co-workers? Friends? How long? How long are you going to pretend?”

Avery laughs. Or at least, he thinks it’s a laugh - some sound claws its way out of his throat, and he’s almost smiling so it must be a laugh, it can’t be anything else.

“Forever, of course. I’ll never -”

Tracy looks like she might start crying, and Avery quickly takes her hand, rubbing it gently. 

“Oh, my dear - it’s not so bad as all that. Don’t listen to me. I’m sure that some day I might find - well. Or things might change. Who knows? And I love this more, don’t you see? Acting is what I love, I’m far better at it than being in relationships.”

“But it’s so - sad -”

I’m not sad,” Avery insists, and - and he isn’t. He is making the right choice. Every day he makes the same choice and every day it is the right one.  “And it’s no one’s business. This way - if you say that we’re together - no one will even think to ask the question. Of course, if you meet someone - we’ll break it off right away. I’d never stand between you and -”

“Meet someone? Aren’t you feeling charitable. Told you I was swearing off men, didn’t I?”

“Well, I wouldn’t presume it was a lifelong vow.”

“Good Lord, no.” Tracy still has an odd look on her face, but the knot of her mouth has softened slightly. “I’ll think on it. All right?”

“Thank you so much. You would be helping me immensely. Helping the two of us, really -”

“But you have to promise me  - under no circumstance are you allowed to fall arse over tits in love with me.” 

Avery’s eyes go wide, and Tracy cracks a smile. “I’ve seen the films, Az, I know how it ends! Only you have to resist my charms. Promise me. I’m not marrying another gay man, I don’t care how adorable you are.”

“You’re a wonder.”

“I haven’t said yes yet. I’m going to consult the Cards.”

Apparently the Cards are in Az’s favour later that evening. And two weeks later, he walks into his first premiere screening with his best friend on his arm.

 

2018, Victoria

They’ve almost made it to the docks when Crowley points out the second-hand bookshop.

Usually, Avery has a sixth sense about those places but he’s distracted by the ocean (it happens to him anytime he’s around open water, takes him back to his childhood with a panicky sort of nostalgia.) Crowley, however, is perpetually on guard for - something. He prowls rather than walks, gaze constantly darting. Avery found it alarming at first, but now he just finds it charming.

They’re in Canada for a convention, right after the release of Warlock Season 1. The panel was yesterday, and Avery shook hands and took photos with people dressed as his character, or some approximation - it was all quite wonderful. Flattering and surprising and - wonderful. Avery hasn’t done a lot of genre film or television before, doesn’t have experience with fans like this.  What an incredible thing.

They’ve one day off before they’re flying (together) to Austin for another convention, and they’ve decided to have lunch by the water. Or - Avery decided that. Crowley’s just humouring him, following along with his hands wedged into his pockets and his molten-red hair pulled halfway up and out of his face. He’s all dark colours and contrasts and Avery sometimes feels shabby in comparison. His bland skin and hair and wardrobe look like dishwater next to Crowley’s black and red sharp-edged elegance.

“You want to go in?” Crowley asks, gesturing at the two-story shop on the corner.

Of course Avery wants to go into a bookshop. Avery always wants that.

“All right, why not?”

He browses the shelves a bit while Crowley fidgets, looks at notebooks, pretends to be interested in the new arrivals section. Now and then he glances up at Avery with a fond amusement that Avery can feel even when his gaze is turned, focused on the rows of embossed spines in front of him. Crowley humours him, Avery knows it, but it’s - kind nonetheless. (Sometimes he wants to stop the man doing something, stop him with a touch in the middle of a scene or over dinner or while they’re walking side by side and say “ I knew you were talented. I always knew you were cool. I didn’t know you’d be kind. ” 

Of course he won’t. Crowley would think he was ridiculous. But the words are still there, burning the roof of Avery’s mouth sometimes. He drinks cold water, tries to ignore them.)

There’s nothing much for antique books, but he’s stumbled into the poetry section when he sees a familiar yellow spine: T.S. Eliot Collected Poems. It makes a little shock run through him, and his face must do something because Crowley is at his side in a moment.

“What is it?”

“Oh, it’s - a book I once had. Borrowed from a library, actually.”

“Of course you're the type to remember every book you’ve ever borrowed, I shouldn’t be surprised -“

“I don’t, there’ve been far too many -“

Crowley snorts.

“Only this one was - memorable,” Avery continues. The last time he saw it it was covered in mud, pages crumpled and torn. “I was young and I - liked it. Rather a lot.”

“You want it?”

“I -” He does. But he also doesn’t want the memory of that book, that day, sitting on his shelf and gathering dust. Like it was something ordinary. Something acceptable. 

Ah well, ancient history now. Right? Doesn’t matter.

“What’s one more for the stacks, eh?” Crowley takes it gently from Avery’s hand (that’s another thing Avery didn’t expect about him, the gentleness.) “Allow me.”

“No, my dear, you shouldn’t -”

But Crowley is already walking over to the till, putting the book down next to a couple of bars of fancy dark chocolate he also laid away when Avery wasn’t looking. 

“Thank you,” Avery says, after the whole transaction is finished. Crowley hands him back the book. 

“No trouble, angel. You can buy lunch.” He grins behind his sunglasses, and Avery feels a bit light-headed. 

He should have brought sunglasses himself, maybe. It’s sunnier than he thought it would be.

They pick up a couple of grilled flatbreads and a carton of strawberries (Crowley refuses to let Avery pay for any of it, despite his previous assurances) and sit down by the water’s edge. Avery eats his sandwich and then half of Crowley’s, and they watch the boats in the harbour weaving around each other like porpoises, like tangled nets, like hands. 

“What seas what shores what grey rocks and what islands,” Avery reads out loud, quietly (just to hear the words in the air. It’s okay, Crowley asked him to. He doesn’t have to be embarrassed.) “What water lapping the bow.”

Crowley has his head resting on the back of the bench they’re sharing, the jagged melody of his throat and adam’s apple bared to the sky. His fingers are stained a bit pink from the strawberries. Avery feels - something light up in his chest. If it was nighttime, you’d see the spaces between his ribs shining like bolts of lightning.

“And scent of - of pine and the woodthrush singing through the fog,” Avery says. At the stumble, Crowley looks over at him. The corner of his mouth curls, not quite a smile. 

“You grew up on water, didn’t you?” he asks. “Much of a sailor?”

“Oh heavens, no.” Avery shakes his head, strangely pleased and flustered by the question. That Crowley would ever look at someone like him and imagine he could navigate by starlight and hoist the mainsail. Find True North even in the dark. “The most sailing I ever did was in - one of those.”

Avery gestures toward the paddle-boats and canoes on the calm expanse of green in front of them. There’s a rental place just down the beach, they passed it on their walk, and families and couples are all packed into boats together. 

It’s been awhile since Avery’s been on the water. Even if he’s no sailor.

“Would you like to take one out?” he asks Crowley, raising an eyebrow.

“That question was not supposed to be an invitation to - activity. ” Crowley says the word like it’s petrol, shudders a bit.

But now the idea has taken root, and Avery can’t dig it out. “We should! It’s a lovely day for it. Be good to get out on the open sea -”

“Good Lord -”

“The wind in our hair, and at our backs. The smell of - brine -” Avery’s nautical vocabulary is drying up, but at least he’s making Crowley laugh. Making Crowley laugh is a bit like receiving a weak electric shock. Doesn’t happen that often (more than not Avery gets a smirk of reluctant amusement) but when it does happen -

The hairs on his arms stand on end. He feels like he could spit sparks.

“Come on. Humour me, my dear.”

They rent a boat - a canoe, lifejackets (safety first) and they paddle around the harbour eating dark chocolate (Avery) and complaining (Crowley) until the afternoon sun starts to fade and there are fewer and fewer boats in the water. The light is turning the anxious pink of dusk, and Avery is distracted by a tangle of red hair that keeps getting caught in Crowley’s mouth and they’re just starting to head back to shore when -

When.

A harbour police boat speeds by. Apparently it’s a thing they have even in Canada - anyway, the wake it kicks up is immense, and Avery sees it coming before Crowley does, only has enough time to grip the sides of the canoe before it’s rocked violently, and they lean to the same side to try to balance it out and oh hell they’re tipping over.

The water is a violent kind of cold. But Avery grew up on the edge of the North Sea; he adjusts to the cold (and to violence) rather quickly.

“Fuck!” Crowley emerges a moment after Avery, hissing like a wet cat. 

“Are you all right?” Avery asks at the exact same time that Crowley does, and then they both nod wetly at each other. 

The water’s only shoulder deep, they’re not in any danger, and they’re close enough to shore that pulling the boat is the same amount of effort as trying to climb back into it. It’s only a few minutes’ work, but as they haul the boat onto the sand, Crowley suddenly turns around.

“Ah, shit -“ He’s running back into the water, tearing off his lifejacket, splashing around like a madman. 

“Stop - what are you -” Avery calls, panicked, contemplates going after him. When Crowley plunges below the surface suddenly, Avery does.  He takes a few running steps back into the water, convinced that the other man has actually lost his mind.

Crowley resurfaces, then dives again. Avery shouts at him, “Anthony!” (a name that feels molten in his mouth). Crowley surfaces, then dives. And when his hand finally shoots up out of the water, he’s holding something bright yellow -

Avery stops running towards him. Stands knee-deep in the freezing ocean.

“The book,” Crowley says, sloshing back to the shoreline. His hair is a knotted mess of red kelp. He’s soaked to the skin (hasn’t lost his sunglasses somehow) and he’s carrying a book of T.S. Eliot poetry.

Avery can’t speak.

“The book!” Crowley shouts again, coming closer. “After you made such a fuss over it -”

“You -” Something is happening. Inside Avery’s bones, in the marrow of them - “you didn’t have to -”

“Can’t imagine the fuss you’d make if it was lost .” 

Crowely reaches him, hands it over. Their fingers - just touch. Slightly. Barely noticeable, really.  And they have touched before, so many times - have had their arms around each other’s shoulders in press photos, have shoved each other away during scenes, have helped adjust each other’s microphones, or cloaks, or hair -

They’ve touched before. But it hasn’t felt like this.

“Dry it out standing, should be okay -“

“Yes, I know how to dry out a book.”

Crowley smirks (“Of course you do.”) and Avery suddenly feels - starving. 

Like he could eat the whole world.

(Resign my life for this life, my speech for that unspoken)

“Come on then, I don’t care what you say, I’m calling us a cab. I’m not walking back in this state. Oh bugger me, my mobile -”

(The awakened, lips parted, the hope, the new ships.)

By the time they get themselves sorted, get a cab, get back to the hotel, the setting sun is just hitting the horizon of the ocean. 

(And woodthrush calling through the fog.)

There is a wet book of poetry in Avery’s hands, rescued from the muddy ocean floor.

The sky behind him is wholly golden.

 

2020, London

(It’s been a long time.  I promise, we’re nearly there.)

 

He opens his eyes to the ring of his mobile.

Oh Christ, oh fuck, oh God in heaven, it’s Gabriel.

Avery isn’t ready to speak to him just now. Isn’t ready to speak to anyone. But he’s unfailingly polite (at least he tries to be) and he never really feels like he has a choice where his manager’s concerned.

“Were you still asleep?” Gabriel sounds incredulous right from go. “I thought you were on this new fitness kick, when does that start?” He laughs, loudly. Avery’s mouth twitches.

“Yes, I - didn’t sleep well last night.” He’d been thinking about his last conversation with Crowley, his utter desperation to get off the phone before he said something he couldn’t take back. Tickety-boo? Mind how you go? Sometimes these words just rattle loose from his skull and there’s no stopping himself (all Crowley wanted was to see you for dinner, and you wanted that too, you wanted that too, you absolute coward.)

“Well. I need to give you a heads up about some - er - photos.”

Oh God. 

Oh God.

Avery’s lungs collapse like rotten fruit.

Did someone see - that night in the hotel room - 

Was there was a photographer lurking outside the window, peering between curtains - how had Avery not thought to check ? Could he say it had been a rehearsal - because it was , it was rehearsing, that’s all it was. Christ, the photos will be everywhere by now, his dad will have seen them, how long does he have before - before -

“Gabriel, I’m - what photos are you talking about?” Avery tries to keep the terror out of his voice. Maybe there’s a chance that he can save this, fix it, explain it away.

“Calm down,” Gabriel says, tone light and amused. “Honestly. It’s not that -”

“What photos, Gabriel?”

Gabriel sighs. “Your pal Anthony. He and his boytoy got back together, I don’t know the details.”

It takes a moment for Avery’s mind to wrap around this, to understand the words in the order they’ve been strung together. 

His first thought is: oh thank God, it wasn’t the kiss, no one knows, no one knows -

His second thought is: Crowley hasn’t got a boytoy . What the hell is Gabriel on about?

“Maybe it’s serious this time, mazel tov, who cares? Thought you should know in case you get a call from anyone. The tabloids go crazy over his love life, don’t know why.”

“The - photos -” Avery repeats like an idiot.

“Keep up, sunshine,” Gabriel chuckles dryly. “Yeah, they’re all over the internet. Nothing graphic, just that same guy from the other photos. Anyway, not much more to it than that. I’ve got another call in four minutes so I’ll check in with you before you fly out. Okay? Okay.”

“All - right.”

“And you know what helps with sleep? Exer-”

Avery ends the call before Gabriel can finish, not really hearing or caring about the rest of it. Like some sort of pathetic teenager, he googles “Anthony Crowley” on his phone and waits for the inevitable.

It is the same man from before, the one outside the club with the lovely hair. They're kissing in Crowley's apartment window. They're kissing outside his flat at well. He’s strong looking, angular, broad-shouldered.

Not soft at all. 

Well done, Crowley, Avery thinks to himself. A real catch.  

Good for him. 

Avery would hate to think that his co-star was lonely. He deserves to be happy, to find love. He  deserves someone who will kiss him in doorways and windows and not care who sees it. 

Someone like that.

( Not someone like - me .)

This is good. Great news. Maybe it’s serious.  Wouldn’t that be - lovely.

On his bedside table, Avery has a warped book of poetry that he reads sometimes when he can’t sleep. It’s water-damaged, but it dried up well enough. There were some bad memories circling it like sharks for a time, but then Crowley went and changed them to good ones. Took the stones and made them shine golden.

Avery looks over at that book, and cannot bring himself to touch it.

This is good. 

For a little while longer, he studies the photograph of Crowley’s face, pressed against the neck of this handsome other man.  

Avery could never look like that. No matter how much work costume and makeup put into him, he’s still beige and shapeless. He’s not a walking bite-mark like his co-star. His jawline will never murder anyone. Neither will his mouth. 

Perhaps this will make it easier. If he knows that Crowley is otherwise engaged, there’s less to lose by loving him. Less to regret by not ever speaking of it.

Avery can put these feelings away, like he’s always done. He can go back to the way he used to be.

He can fit in. It’s like acting, right? He’s exceedingly good at it by this point. He has to be.

(And that about brings us to today.)

 



Chapter Text

 

Two years earlier.

There’s a wrap party at the end of Season 1.

It’s at a pretty swank club in London, and Crowley goes because he has to and ignores the canapés and mostly holds up the bar, sipping a tumbler of whiskey (his only one of the night so he’s making it count) and being anti-social. He can’t help it.  Or he could , but he’s not going to. He still has trust issues about film people, and for all the smiles and laughs and handshakes from the cast and crew, he knows that it could all dissolve in a moment. Knows that he’s still a trail of gunpowder as far as everyone’s concerned, and they’re just waiting for him to find a match. It’s hard to relax with that knowledge biting your fingertips. 

It’s hard to relax in general, really.

“Enjoying yourself?” Anathema leans beside him. She looks gorgeous as always in a drapey black number, and she’s clearly a bit pissed from champagne, otherwise she’d never waste her time asking that question.

“I’m all right. This music though.” He pulls a face that makes Anathema laugh. The DJ is apparently a fan of classic soft rock. Crowley’s dad might appreciate it, but it’s making Crowley cringe with second-hand embarrassment. 

“Not a fan of - whoever this is?”

“Jesus - it’s The Eagles you child.

“So you are a fan.”

“Just because I have ears and a basic knowledge of music history, does not mean -“

“You want to dance?” 

“To The Eagles? No, absolutely not.”

“Come on. Or wait - can you dance?”

Crowley can dance. Despite the wobbly-snake-in-leather thing he’s got going on lately, he was a teenager in the late bloody eighties, he knows how to dance. Most of the time he was just throwing himself around the dancefloor like a complete arse, but he’s got - not to brag or anything - moves.  

Thing is, he requires a lot more, um, chemical motivation to get to a place where he’s halfway comfortable turning his brain off for a bit, letting his body take over. This single glass of whiskey over the course of two hours is not going to do the trick.

“I can dance,” he says, and Anathema rolls her eyes.

“Prove it.” When Crowley says nothing, she pouts at him. “Come on… I don’t want to dance by myself and the grips are fucking handsy bastards. Just one? The music is admittedly shit, but -"

“Expect you’d prefer - Ed Sheeran or something?”

“You’re an ass.” She folds her arms, scans the room. “I’ll go ask your boyfriend then, see if he’s more of a gentleman.”

Avery is certainly more of a gentleman. He’s off talking to Michael and a couple other crew members, animatedly gesturing at something that makes Michael laugh. Good Christ, is the man doing magic? If not, it’s a matter of time.

Anathema looks from Crowley’s face to Avery and then back again. She smiles, and she's terrifying.

“He looks nice tonight, doesn’t he?”

“You think?” Crowley purposefully keeps his tone flat. Avery always looks nice, albeit in a ridiculous way. Like someone’s grandpa was turned into a wizard and sent back in time. Like someone read a bunch of E.M. Forster novels and then made a lot of rash purchases at second-hand stores. 

Tonight he’s wearing a bloody waistcoat.

“He’s committed to an - aesthetic, I’ll give him that.” The Eagles fade out and the opening chords of Queen’s “Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy” start up.  Anathema’s eyes widen. “Still a no? Even to Queen?”

“Absolutely not.”

“You’re no fun. All right, enjoy your sulk. I’ll leave you alone with it.”

She crosses the dancefloor, strides with a confidence that Crowley will never have (sober) to the other side where Avery’s standing. Crowley watches the exchange dubiously. Avery is no kind of dancer; the man himself has admitted it several times. He learned the gavotte for a show once (was convinced to do a few steps one night when they had both had a couple glasses of wine. It was a stumbling mess, and Crowley laughed until he choked on his wine and then Avery tossed a book at him. Just a paperback, though, so you know his heart wasn’t in it.)

He studies Avery now, from across the room. His eyes widening, shake of his head, polite demurral. The flutter of his hands, a laugh catching at the corner of his mouth that Crowley would reach out and taste like it was honey -

And then, to the great amusement of the bystanders, Anathema takes Avery’s hand and leads him onto the dancefloor. 

And it’s ridiculous. Az is as fussy as he ever is, spinning Anathema around like they’re an old couple learning to fox trot. He’s got no sense of rhythm and no sense of timing, and a few seconds in Anathema is laughing so hard she’s almost doubling over.

Avery is laughing too. It’s funny how buttoned up he can be at times, but how a switch seems to flip when he’s doing something he loves. Acting, or terrible magic tricks, and now apparently - dancing. Attempting to dance. To Queen, of all possible options.

I will pay the bill, you taste the wine.”

Crowley’s charmed. By Avery’s smile, by his shuffling feet, by his overwrought mouthing along to the lyrics. 

“Just take me back to yours, that will be fine.”

When the dance is over, Anathema hugs Az, whispers something in his ear. The two of them part ways, and Avery shuffles off into the crowd somewhere and Crowley - bites down on his tongue. Sips his whiskey and tells himself it burns nicely, that it doesn’t taste acrid at the back of his throat. That he’s ‘cool.’ Aloof. Doing just fine in the dark, holding up the bar and watching Avery Fell dance with someone else. (Crowley’s heart is a damned cockroach. No matter how many times he tries to crush it under his boot, the bloody thing survives.)

“Not a dancer?” Speak of the devil. Or something.  Az sidles up beside him, eyebrows arched, and looking rather pleased with himself.

“We have that in common, it seems.”

“Oh, I like that very much -”

“You dance like you’re a French fucking courtier.”

“Well. You walk like a newborn foal.”

“It’s called swagger, angel.”

“Is that what it’s called? I did wonder if there was an official diagnosis.”

Crowley laughs, despite himself. Then he gives in (because he has terrible self-control, and could fill the English Channel with his longing): “You want to get out of here? Come ‘round to mine?”

“Heaven on earth, yes .” Az answers so quickly that Crowley doesn’t even have time to start worrying about - coming on too strong, sounding pathetic, being too much. Az says ‘yes’ like Crowley’s handing him a gift, tied up in brown paper and ribbon. “I was hoping you’d ask me ages ago. The music this evening! I shall never understand be-bop.”

“Please stop talking, I - there is so much wrong with what you just said -“

“You can tell me all about it on the drive.”

So Az gets his jacket, and they go back to Crowley’s and Crowley does his damnedest to get a bit more gavotte-ing (gavotte-ing?) out of the precious angel. It doesn’t happen, but the attempt makes Avery smile (open book, ruffled pages) and that’s worth it.  

“Anathema said you turned her down,” Az says at one point.

“Hmm?” Crowley was distracted by a curl of hair right against Avery’s temple that the man keeps fussing with. 

“Tonight. Said you wouldn’t dance with her.”

“Yeah, well. Not in the mood for it.” 

“Are you ever? I can’t imagine.” Az sips his wine. “What would you require for sufficient motivation?”

Are you asking? Crowley wants to say, but doesn’t. Won’t. 

“Better music than that,” he mumbles instead.

“Yes, I gathered. Anything else?”

The Velvet Underground and Nico is spinning on Crowley’s record player. Az has referred to this album as “be-bop” in the past (bless him) so Crowley doubts his opinion has shifted.

“Dunno,” he says instead. “I’ll let you know when you find it.”

Avery smiles, and Crowley’s cockroach-heart survives and survives again. Been around since the dinosaurs right? There’s no getting rid of it now.

It will take an asteroid to wipe out this love. 

It will take the end of the fucking world.

*

(Now.  Where were we?)

Crowley flies to Belfast alone. He bounces his knee on the plane until the woman sitting beside him gives him a concerned look, and then he starts drumming his fingers (hey, congratulations on not growing up with anxiety, must have been a carefree fucking childhood, well done you.) 

There’s a car waiting to take him to his flat - Beez has come through (for once) and rented him a house for the week. Beats staying in a hotel. Now he can cook for himself (and for Avery, if Avery’s speaking to him again) and actually settle in a bit. The place is nice, if small. Two floors, big bathtub, a piano, and a couple succulents that are clearly being over-watered; Crowley will set them straight.

That night he wanders the neighbourhood, picks up a couple good bottles of wine and a nice single malt from “The Friend at Hand” (local distillery, he always stops by when he’s in Belfast.) He visits a few food shops to get a bit of this and that, and ends up going overboard with things he knows Az likes. 

Just in case. 

Just in case the man comes round. Crowley can make out like the fridge was already stocked, can pretend that he didn’t stand in a bakery second-guessing whether Az would prefer the passionfruit tart or the hazelnut-chocolate trianon . That he didn’t take too long deciding between Emmentaler Swiss or Welsh cheddar or the French Mimolette  - and then eventually just buying all three. 

That he didn’t go a bit overboard with pears.

Crowley wonders if Az is even in town. Is he somewhere across the old stone city, looking out a window? Fussing with his cardigan, paging gently through a book? Crowley’s own call-time is early the next morning, but Avery isn’t on the sheets until the day after.  He wonders where Avery’s staying, if he’ll be close by ( text him text him text him, hisses a voice somewhere in his ugly lizard brain. That same voice used to make demands that were a lot more dangerous, had appetites that tasted like blood and cut Crowley’s tongue. He’s been working on ignoring it.)

He doesn’t text Avery.

He texts Matt instead. Matt responds immediately with some pretty - um, racy photographs that Crowley will not be reciprocating, but appreciates nonetheless.  Then he bashes around on the piano for a good hour (can’t play worth a damn but bashing around is fun) and unpacks a bit and drinks too much chamomile (Jesus fuck, he’s a renegade. Lock up your husbands.)

The studio shoot is mostly in a village set. They’ve built it on the lot, and they use it as a stand-in for almost every village that the characters pass through. You’d be surprised how many ways you can arrange a few shacks to make it look like an entirely different place. Movie magic, right? Once you’ve seen the strings, it takes some of the magic away.

There are a bunch of extras in this episode, mostly milling around the craft table trying to make off with free paninis. Crowley’s running through blocking before he has to go sit down with makeup, when - across the set, Avery Fell comes into view. He’s pale-haired and pale-skinned, bundled up in a woolen coat and a tartan scarf, and Crowley forgets everything he’s supposed to say and do and think.

“Missed that one, Anthony. Can you go back, make sure you hit the mark.”

“Oh, yeah - just - yeah.”

When he next has a moment to himself (Michael is talking to this new kid named Newt? First real role, and he’s rattling, poor bugger) Crowley looks for Az again. Az is still waiting there, standing by the faded facade of the village inn, watching Crowley. The sight of him is staggering, same as it ever is, but something feels different this morning. They’ve been apart for longer stretches of time than this. They’ve gone more days without talking, texting. But when Crowley lifts his hand at Az, and Az lifts his in return, it’s like there’s a chasm between them. 

How did it get there? (Crowley knows, he knows how it got there. He put it there when he put his hands on Avery’s throat and pressed their mouths together like two halves of a prayerbook.)

I’m going to apologize, Crowley thinks for the hundredth time. I’ll fix this. I will. (His life may be one disaster after another but if there’s anything in the muddy schoolyard of his existence worth fighting for, it’s Az.)

As soon as he’s set loose, he finds Avery waiting for him at the craft service tables, sipping a cup of tea (it will be milky and oversweet, just the way he likes it. Crowley knows how the man takes his tea. Crowley knows how his lips would taste if he were to lean down, take the mug from his hands, and lick into Avery’s warm mouth.)

Fuck, this is not helpful.

“Hiya angel.”

Avery’s lip does a little wobble that could hold a pillow over Crowley’s face and he’d thank it.

“Hello dear.” 

Crowley slumps into the seat across from him, places his hands as close to Avery’s on the flat surface of the table as he dares.

“What are you doing here? You aren’t on until tomorrow, yeah?”

“Thought I’d drop by. Brought along coffee for the crew. That awful black American stuff you love so much.”

“Well, if you just didn’t become my favourite person ever.” Crowley keeps the rusted edge in his voice, like haha, what a joke. All it took was coffee, right, that’s the key to my affections. Nothing to do with you at all. It’s not like I’ve had my wasted heart held out in my fist for nearly three years, begging you to bite it. Can you imagine? Hilarious.

“Knew it was an early call-time for you. I thought - the coffee truck’s just outside the lot. They’ll make you anything you like."

“You going to stick around today? Or just dropping by with caffeine?” Stay, Crowley wants to say, stay where I can see you. I’m a better actor when you’re around, I’m a better man. You want to sit in my trailer drinking your sugary tea? There are books there (you left them last time) and I’ll order food for you and you can snipe at me while I take off my makeup, while I get mic’d up, while I only panic a little before filming.

“I - um,” Avery darts his gaze around, “might wander the city a bit. What time are you wrapped this evening?”

“It’s supposed to be 6 pm. But Christ knows it always goes late. We’re already pushing lunch.” Crowley swallows. Keep talking, keep him here a little while longer. “Where are you staying? Beez got me a flat of my own, has a piano even. You ever play? I can’t remember.”

“No, I - a rather appalling lack of talent in that field.”

“You’ll have to come by some time. Try it out.”

“Did I not just tell you I’m dreadful at it?”

“You did. Made me want to hear you more, to be honest. Far more entertaining.” Keep talking.

Az shakes his head, irritated in a delicious sort of way. Crowley wants to bite his earlobe.

“You know, I seem to recall a pub near my hotel that looked rather promising -“

“Have dinner with me,” Crowley says in a rush.

Avery’s eyes snap to his, like a pale blue punch to the jaw. (He’s going to say no. You’ve ruined this and he’s going to -)

“All right.”

Wait - what? 

“Okay.” Crowley makes words happen through sheer force of habit. “I’m - I’ll just text you when I’m off. Then. Shall I?”

“All right.”

“I can meet you near your hotel, or at the pub. Anywhere you like.”

“Yes.” Avery swallows. “All right.”

So they have dinner. And it’s a bit - dunno, stilted at first, but by the end of the night they’re almost back to the way things were. Almost (and thank fucking God for that.) Az is an absolute prat, and Crowley stares at him across the table, hoping that the hearts in his eyes are somewhat obscured by his dark sunglasses. There are no after-dinner drinks in Az’s hotel room, but that’s probably the best for Crowley’s remaining braincells. Instead, they say goodnight. Crowley goes home alone. It’s fine.

For a couple days, it goes along like this. They go out for dinner, and they meet up for breakfast and they drink tea in Crowley’s trailer. They don’t talk about the kiss.  They don’t talk about Az avoiding Crowley for a week (or about the new pictures of Crowley in the paper. Hell and heaven both, Crowley’s sick of it - even though Matt’s being quite a good sport.)

After feeling like he’d fucked it all up permanently, Crowley knows this is more than he deserves. If Avery can put the awkwardness behind him, then - then - Crowley can try to put the rest of it away as well.

But then two things happen (hard to say which is worse. Or maybe not, scratch that last bit.)

They’re four days into filming when the guest director (fucking David Nutter) changes up the script.

“It needs more,” he tells them, “I think - you should hug him.”

In this scene, Crowley has just returned from a bit of a side quest (scouting out news in another village where a morally dubious former associate still lives) only to find the parish where Avery and Adam were staying has been razed to the ground. They haven’t shot the latter scene yet (Crowley falling to his knees, choking back his grief in the charred wood and rubble. They’re saving that for the last day because they’re actually going to burn the church down, the most expensive stunt of the episode.) 

Today, though, they’re filming the reunion. Crowley is messy with alcohol and tears over a tankard of ale in the local tavern when Az comes in. Then there’s Crowley's shock, his gratitude, his stumbling, half-drunk tug on the priest's sleeve ( there is a string connecting my hand to yours ), pulling him outside where they’re alone. There’s the frantic conversation, the questions, the fragile and wounded relief.

“Let’s try it, I think. He’s going to lose control a bit, right?” David is talking to Az, and Crowley swallows around the panic. “He never thought he’d see you again. So I want him to grab you, and hold you - which is what you want, right - he barely touches you, and you just had that dream about him. So he’ll hug you and it will go on a bit and then as you pull away -“

“Got it,” Avery says dully. 

“I want it all on your face, okay? Everything you can’t say.”

“Right.”

“Good to go, Anthony?”

Crowley nods. He hasn’t touched Avery since they filmed the kiss. Not even a pat on the back on set, hand on the shoulder at dinner. He’s dreamt about Avery’s skin (dreamt about the warmth of him on Crowley’s hands, the smell of him on Crowley’s jacket sleeve) but the dreams don’t count. If the dreams counted, they’d be married and honeymooning on the Amalfi Coast by now, and also Crowley would be naked and have no teeth.

“All right, back to ones. Take it again, same set-up,” the first A.D. calls out. “Roll film.”

“Rolling!”

“Sound speeding.”

“Action.”

“I thought you were - I couldn’t find you.” The scene is a little too easy to act, Crowley can taste the fear in his molars. He already thought he’d lost Avery, still thinks it’s a matter of time. The feeling floods him, crashes up against his shorelines.

“It’s all right, I’m right here -“

“The boy -“

“He’s safe.”

“Are you hurt? Are you -“

“I said I’m -“

Crowley pulls him into an embrace. He holds him tight, tighter than he needs to, breathes in the scent of him. Even if I can never have you, even if this is all I get, it’s enough for me (lies, lies, it will never be enough, Avery could give Crowley the sea of himself and Crowley would still want more, would be dying of thirst with a belly full of salt water.)

Then they pull apart (Crowley realizes what he’s doing, immediately drops his hands) and Avery looks up at him like he’s something holy -

“Anthony - don’t meet his eyes like that, it looks like it’s a lead-in to a kiss. It’s got to be a one-sided thing.”

Crowley’s heart stops.

Avery’s face turns to stone. 

And then - bastard that he is - he raises a single eyebrow.

“Do try to contain yourself, dear.”

“Piss off,” Crowley hisses at him, and Avery’s mouth twitches.

“Still rolling,” the first A.D. calls out.

“Go again,” David says, “from where you touch him -” and oh hell, Crowley is pulling Az against him (letting himself imagine a world where this would be okay, where this was allowed ( a world where I could reach for you whenever I wanted. The warmth of you within a distance I could close any time I liked. Not this sea-width between us, the colour of spring, uncrossable even by boat.)

They separate slowly. Az is looking at him the way he did through the window of a taxicab and Crowley is almost dizzy with longing. Avery is an undertow he’ll never get free from, will struggle against until his muscles give out and he lets himself drown.

“Cut. Good work, guys. Hold for stills.”

“You want to get dinner tonight?” Crowley asks.

Avery’s mouth twitches, the tell that means he’s secretly pleased but trying to pretend he isn’t. “Yes, all right.”

“Come to mine. You haven’t been.” (And there’s a fridge full of your favourite foods going to waste, but I’ll die before I tell you that.) “I’ll cook something for you.”

“Brought Giada to Belfast, did you?”

“There is such a thing as the internet, angel. You should try it some time. Can find all loads of things on it, some are even about food. You’d like it.”

“If you say so.”

“Around seven okay?”

Az nods. “I’ll see you then.”

After they wrap for the day, and Crowley gets a lift home, he’s too wound up to do anything. He’s got to shower (there are tape marks on his chest from the mic and he smells like hairspray) but he can’t focus enough to get up the stairs and make it happen. He’s got to figure out what he’s making for dinner and see if needs to nip out for ingredients and - and probably wash all the teacups he’s been trailing behind himself like petals. Tidy up a bit. 

Just. Give him a minute.

Az held him today, looked at Crowley like he wanted him. How do you put the genie back in the bottle, eh? How do you forget what that felt like, that razorblade of longing carving lightly over your skin, not quite enough to draw blood?

Crowley can’t. Fuck. He thought a week away would help, but it hasn’t (he stands in someone else’s kitchen, barely holding himself up, and dreams of heat. Avery’s solid body up against his, arms around him. It makes Crowley’s hands knot into fists, makes every muscle in his stomach ache -)

There’s a knock on the door.

He panics briefly before he glances at the clock. Can’t be Avery, it’s not even six yet. Hoping it isn’t a member of the press or some crazed fan (not that he’s got many of those) Crowley forces himself out of the kitchen to the front door.

To find Beez standing on his porch.

“Ah, shit.”

(He met them in rehab. 

Second time through. Beez (then Beatrix) was a few years younger than Crowley, sullen and vicious and he kind of admired that. He’s always been a bit soft for folks that are crabby bastards generally - not to him , can’t stand those sorts, but the folks who are crabby right across the board. To everyone. Reminds him of a dog he had once, still has the scar on his forearm.

Couples years later, after Crowley’s third and final bloody stint at the facility, he ran into Beez again. Turns out when you’re an ex-meth addict with a bit of a genderqueer thing going on (not to mention an utter prick) it can be hard to find gainful employment.

So Beez became his new manager (Crowley’s previous two having thrown their hands up in despair that he’d ever get his life back together.) Beez was just as much of a disaster as him, so at least there was never any judgement. Or no more than anyone else got; Beez liked to share the judgement around.

They’re surprisingly good at their job, not that Crowley would ever tell them as much. Everything Beez does for him is done through clenched teeth with the maximum amount of reluctance and spite, so Crowley’s not sure how praise would be received. Beez would probably take it in the exact opposite way.)

“Crowley, the traitor,” Beez says flatly, tromping into the house like they own it. Well - Crowley supposes they are the one footing the bill.

“Thought you were in London.” A bit more polite than why the hell are you here? which is what Crowley wants to say - or more accurately, shriek

“Do I look like I’m in London?” 

“You do not.” His ears catch up with his brain.“Wait - the traitor? What’ve I done this time?”

“It’s more like what you haven’t done. And that’s pick a boyfriend using some modicum of self-preservation.”

“Yeah, never been much for self-preservat -” The rest of Beez’s sentence makes an impact. “Is this about those photos? I wasn’t falling down drunk this time, and if the world can’t handle seeing two grown men kiss - it wasn’t like -”

“A musician , Crowley. Pay attention.” Beez doesn’t sit down, paces the hallway in their muddy black army boots. Crowley will have to mop up before Az comes over. “A musician. Someone that would never have any desire for a bit of extra media attention, right? Someone who would never take advantage of a hookup with an aging celebrity -”

Oh. 

Shit. 

“A bit less emphasis on the ‘aging,’ thanks.” His heart is pounding sickly, but he’s trying to keep his tone calm.

“He called the media,” Beez snarls. “Both times. He has a friend -”

Crowley swallows the acid in his throat. He’s not going to panic, or collapse like a dead star. He’s not.

“- works at Vice. And he just released a bloody single.”

Crowley’s not going to panic. “Any - any good?” 

Beez passes their phone to Crowley. There’s an image on it that must be the cover art for Matt’s single. It’s a photograph of Matt holding an acoustic guitar and looking moodily at the sea, dark hair blowing across his face. A flowery script reads: The Winsome Mariner.

“Ah.” Crowley hands the phone back.

“Are you going to see him again? If so, we need to make a plan. I’ve got NDA’s that he’ll have to sign - something you should have taken care of from the start -“

“Absolutely bloody not.”

“That wasn’t a question.”

“The first bit was. Am I going to - no, I’m not going to see him. I’ll go back to being a proper eunuch and you won’t have to worry your head about me and all the sex I'm having."

“It’s not the sex that worries me,” Beez says sharply. “As you well know. It’s the rest of it.”

“What rest of it?”

“I -“ Something troubling crosses Beez’s face. It’s quickly smoothed away, hidden behind contempt. “I’m your manager, not your therapist. I should know, she sends the invoices to me.”

“Does she? I thought it was covered by the NHS.”

“This is why you need to be managed.”

Crowley inhales through his nose, counts to five before exhaling. Combat breathing, they call it. Used by soldiers and swat teams and fragile bloody actors with hearts that won’t stop bleeding.

“All right, well, lovely to see you Beez. Drop by anytime you want to devastate me emotionally again.”

Beez replies with a whole-body cringe, which feels about right. Given their relationship.

“Place okay?” they say after a pause, and Crowley nods, and that’s the end of that (he waits until Beez is gone to have a meltdown. Gotta keep what shreds of dignity he has left.)

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

(The night before Luke left, Crowley threw a beer bottle against the wall, and Luke smacked him in the face. 

They had both been drinking, and Luke had done a lot of shitty things before, but he’d never hit Crowley. After it happened, they both stared at each other in shock, and then Luke started laughing, almost hysterical - wheezing with it, shaking until he started crying. He was probably high as well as pissed, and Crowley was afraid to touch him. 

He had a swollen lip on set the next day. By then, Luke was gone, had packed his bags and gone back to his ex-wife.

Crowley’s never talked about it. Not to Pepper. Not to anyone. But he remembers the force of that smack, blunt and ugly, the certainty that love would always feel like this. Would only be worth anything if it hurt.)

Avery finds him on the front steps an hour later.

Crowley’s been smoking mostly, as well as getting rained on. Sad old drama queen that he is, he sat down and couldn’t find the energy to get back up, even when the storm started. Worst thing is, he’s not all that broken up about Matt. The man’s got a right to try to get ahead, and it’s not like Crowley wasn’t using him as well. It’s just - a good reminder of the kind of life he’s got to live. The kind of risk he takes by getting involved with anyone (and thank Christ he didn’t send the man any photos, God knows where they would have ended up. Not that Crowley would have done that, Jesus, no. His body is the type best - covered up. Wrap him in black leather and he looks halfway human. Strip him naked and it’s all spines and ribs and right angles. No one’s cup of tea.)

“What’s happened?” Avery’s face coming up the drive is terrified. “Oh, my dear - you’re soaking wet. Are you all right?”

Crowley isn’t about to make the pair of them stand outside in the rain, so he takes his pity party indoors. Avery’s face goes through a strange transformation as Crowley fills him in on the latest drama.

“I am so sorry. Would you like me to - what do you need?”

“Alcohol,” Crowley says, shrugging off his dripping coat, “Quite extraordinary amounts of alcohol.”

Az doesn’t look pleased with this answer, so Crowley keeps talking, hoping he’ll get it right.

“You want whiskey? I’ve got whiskey. Also I’m going to get bloody staggered on cheese, no better cure for heartache, eh? I should show you around. Not a bad place. You want to see the kitchen?”

“Crowley -“

“Look at this - the piano. Fancy tickling the ivories, angel? Go ahead, if you want.”

“My dear -“

“Sorry, I should have picked up a bit - Beez left things in a state, gimme a sec, I’ll grab a mop and take care of  -”

“Anthony, stop.” Az puts a hand on his shoulder, and the contact is so shocking that Crowley actually - does. Stop. He flinches (because he wasn’t expecting it, not because the touch is unwelcome, but Az doesn’t know that. He drops his hand immediately and Crowley hates that lonesome patch of skin now more than ever.) 

“What do you need?” 

“I already told you, I’m going to get absolutely -”

“It’s freezing in here,” Az interrupts him.  “I’ll start a fire.”

“You -” It feels like Crowley used all his words up, and is scraping the bottom of the pot for anything left. 

“Do you have a tub? Perhaps you should have a soak.”

“Az - I invited you for dinner.”

“I’ll fix something. Or we can order in.  I’ll put the kettle on as well.”

“I -“

“You’re wet through and smell like an ashtray.”

“Oh, I like that. In my time of need and you come after me for my - musk?”

“Muskox, more like.”

Crowley suddenly feels the cold in his bones, as if it were only being held off by adrenaline and spite. He can sense himself deflating, shoulders rolling forward, and Avery’s gaze is so gentle it hurts a bit (like love, right? The only type that’s worth something.)

“It was nothing, really. I’m not that broken up about it. I’m fine. It’s fine. It’s just bad manners on his part, and you don’t have to give me that look.”

Avery’s eyes have gotten wider and wider with every word that Crowley said. At the sudden silence, he blinks.

“Er, yes - um. Quite.”

“You okay?” 

“Yes, perfectly. You should - go upstairs. Just. Take a moment. I’ll take care of things down here.” 

“You don’t need to fuss over me.”

“Someone has to,” Az says quietly. Crowley - has never been great with kindness. Old news, right, but - he can’t look at Az right now, needs to look at something less beautiful before his knees give out. 

So. He does what he’s told, for once. He goes upstairs, draws a bath, scrubs the day off his skin. Washes his hair (it’s going to be even curlier now, always dries in tighter waves than he likes.) Watches the milky water ebb and flow over his stomach, his chest, the regrettable tattoos from his wasted youth.

He feels better after. When he goes back downstairs, the house is warm and softly lit, and Az is fussing in the kitchen over several takeaway curries.

He almost drops one when Crowley comes in quietly.

“Oh - good Lord.” Avery’s eyes rake over Crowley from head to toe. He must look rather shabby, with his hair down and still damp, and clothes he’d never be caught dead leaving the house in (faded jeans several sizes too large and an old The Cure vest that’s worn sheer in places, has a couple holes in the neck.) 

It’s all right. Az has seen him looking worse. He doesn’t have to feel embarrassed.

“You ordered in,” he says stupidly.

“Yes, I - rather a lot, I’m afraid. I didn’t know what you’d be in the mood for.” Az has started rummaging through cupboards, putting out spoons and plates. “You liked the lamb last time, I hope this one isn’t too spicy.” 

Avery knocks a fork off the counter, almost hits his head bending to pick it up. He’s even more fluttery than normal. Crowley notices the opened bottle of wine on the counter, the empty glass by Avery’s right hand.

“Have you been down here getting trashed without me?”

“Trashed? I have no idea what you’re talking about. Here, help yourself. I don’t suppose they remembered raita?”

For a little while, the only sound is the scrape of forks and spoons against plates. Crowley picks at his dinner, vulture that he is, and Az pays more attention to his wine than the food.  That’s not like him at all. Crowley can’t tell if the man’s well and truly pissed, or just having a bit of a mental breakdown. On behalf of Crowley’s broken heart? Who knows. When their eyes meet across the table, Az is always quick to look away, and Crowley wants to tear out his wet hair in frustration. They are not allowed to be back to this murderous politeness again. Not when things were finally getting better.

When they’re finished, they fight a bit over the washing up. Crowley wins and sends Avery out to the living room with the languishing bottle of wine.

He joins him not long after. Az is sitting on the couch and has left a space beside him that - Crowley cannot possibly take. Crowley sits on the piano bench instead, sprawling as much as he can (it’s a fucking bench) and balancing a glass of whiskey precariously beside him.

“What a fucking night, eh?” All in all - it could have been a lot worse. If Avery hadn’t been there, if he hadn’t known what Crowley needed and also what he didn’t need.

“I am so very sorry.” Az’s pale eyebrows pull together, and Christ, Crowley loves the movements of his face. What a thing to love, he feels soppy and stupid just thinking it - but it’s true. The little chin wobble, the curl of his upper lip, the way he does this completely over-the-top dramatic as fuck blink - usually when he’s pissed - 

Shit, Crowley’s staring. Has gone silent and probably has a dumb little smile on his face. That’s gotta be some kind of red flag.

“It’s all right. I mean, it’s not all right, but. Should have put it together myself, maybe.”

Avery’s eyes are the colour of a long winter. “Really? Has this happened before? Er - dating someone only to find out -“

“We weren’t dating,” Crowley says quickly. “Hell, it was never - that.”

Oh .” It comes out strangled, and Az clears his throat. 

“Just a bit of fun.” Crowley feels sick immediately after he says it, wishes he could take it back. Not that Matt wasn’t fun, and not that he’s ashamed of anything they did - it’s just the way the words come out of his mouth. 

He sounds - careless. 

And Crowley is careless about his health and safety and emotional wellbeing and financial stability, but he’s never ever careless with hearts (other people’s, that is. He keeps throwing his own at the wall, over and over, wincing at the stain it leaves behind.)

“A bit - a bit of fun,” Avery repeats quietly.  The tone of his voice makes Crowley want to drink a lot of whiskey quickly, but he just wets his lips with it. The sound of his throat moving is obscenely loud in the quiet. He should have put a record on. He should have thrown the windows open, let the rain in. “Is that what you - do you do that -”

Crowley must give him an odd look, because Az takes a breath. It seems a significant sort of breath, not just the regular life-giving sort. Az takes a breath like he’s preparing himself to be punched in the stomach. 

“I mean. I mean. I’ve never been the sort to - the casual thing - what do you enjoy about it?”

“What do I - enjoy?” Crowley’s face is hot from the fire. Definitely from the fire. “Ah. The uh - usual stuff. You know.” 

When Az doesn’t say anything, Crowley cracks a smirk (that feels more like a crack. Something jagged and ugly, snaking across his face.)

“What, you need me to spell it out for you?”

“Do you - want to?”  Avery is looking down, studying his glass in a very - studious way. There is perspiration shining on his upper lip, and his chin might be trembling slightly. Crowley doesn’t know how he hasn’t already crossed the floor, taken the man’s face in his hands, held him steady, told him -

Told him what?  

What is Avery asking?

“He was a good time. Nice guy, I guess. Or I thought, anyway.” Crowley takes another swig of whiskey and sinks lower on the bench. He watches the amber in his glass dance against the ice. “The sex was worth the candle. What else do you want to know?”

“What did he - um -” Avery shakes his head, tosses back the rest of his wine. He picks up the bottle on the floor by his feet, pours himself another glass. “What - did you like about him?” 

“I liked - I dunno. It was nice to snog someone now and then. Liked his hands.”

“What about them?” Az asks too quickly. 

Crowley’s mouth is suddenly dry. He realizes that his hands have clenched into fists at his sides, hungry for something to touch.

The fire snaps. The delicate moment tilts in its saucer, spills over.

“I’m sorry,” Avery sputters, “I - I’ve clearly had too much to drink, what a question - I’m making you uncomfortable, and after the day you’ve had - I don’t know what - I’m sorry.”

“The size of them.” 

As Crowley’s career and personal history can attest, he’s never been good at resisting temptation. Why would he think it’d be any different now?

“He had large hands. Strong.  I liked the way he -” He has to stop here, swallow. “Az, are you -”

“Will you show me?” Avery looks up then, gaze stuck on Crowley’s throat. Crowley stutters out a sound that he’s never made before, that he previously thought only whales could make. This isn’t - Avery Fell can’t be asking - no. No. There’s no possible -

God , I’m so terribly sorry - what am I even - don’t listen to me, I’m clearly -”

Crowley gets to his feet.

Avery stops talking.

(This is not a good idea. This is a terrible idea.  But Crowley is on the other side of rational, and also fucked up, and also stupidly in love. In love with bad decisions, sure - the first great love of his life - but more than that, with the man sitting across from him, and he has been for three fucking years. Jesus wept. Three years of his life.

Don’t tell anybody.  A love like this, you have to keep close to the chest. Cards face down on the table.)

He takes two steps across the room. Not close enough for Avery to touch, but close enough to see the rise and fall of his chest a bit clearer, the pink of his tongue as he licks his upper lip.

“He was rough.”

This can’t really be happening. This is not how it’s supposed to happen. This is not how he imagined it (and he has imagined it, too many times to be healthy. Most of those fantasies start off sharp and filthy and take a turn for the sickeningly soft - Crowley on his knees in front of Az, trailing his lips up the back of his calf. Crowley pressing him down into soft sheets, kissing the trail of hair below his navel. Avery carding his fingers against Crowley’s scalp, telling him terrible, life-ruining things - “I want you just like this, you’re so good to me, my darling, I love -“)

“How,” Avery’s hand is shaking on the stem of his wine glass, “um, exactly?”

Crowley is jolted from the fantasy of softness. He’s not in bed, there’s no sun-dappled sheets and waves crashing on the shore. He’s here in a stranger’s house.

“Like- he’d take charge. Do what he wanted.” Crowley hesitates a moment, but his hands have been possessed, thumbing open the button of his jeans (there is something demonic going on.) The zipper whines as he undoes it, too loud in the quiet. The only other sound in the room is the snap of the fire, the rain on the pavement outside, and Crowley’s heart trying desperately to hammer its way out of his chest, flee before the inevitable thirteen-story drop to its death.

“Is that what you like?” Az asks. “Do you look for that - that sort of -”

“Sometimes.” What do you like? What do you look for? I’ll do that. 

“What else would, would he -”

“He’d touch me. Like- “ Fuck’s sake, Crowley’s jeans are undone and low on his hips, and his black underwear isn’t leaving much to the imagination. But there’s a cliff’s edge here, and Crowley has no idea if he can step over it, if he’s even supposed to, when he’ll just fucking fall. “I don’t -” 

“Please.”

And that’s what fucking does it. 

Avery Fell saying please in that crumbling ruins way, each word an artifact that Crowley would catalogue with his mouth.

(Anything, angel. Anything you like.)

He pushes his underwear down his hips, revealing the muscles of his stomach and a thatch of hair more copper than red. He’s hard and aching, and he can’t take his eyes off Avery’s face. 

“He would- like this.” Crowley slides one hand down his hip bone, and when Avery gasps, he starts to stroke himself, shuddering at the first rasp of contact.  Crowley feels like he’s being flayed alive, stripped down to the muscles, the nerves, the bones and the rotten, wanting core beneath it. 

“Did you like it? When he -” The spectre of this other man hangs in the room with them, hangs off Avery’s mouth - as if that somehow makes it okay. As if they aren’t in this together, as if Avery isn’t sitting watching Crowley fuck his own fist, a look on his face of beautiful devastation.

“Christ, shit - yes, I -”  Crowley speeds up, roughens his touch (hard and fast is always easier for him, not as gutting. It’s tenderness that ruins him. It’s softness that makes him ache.) 

“Are you thinking about him now?”

That makes Crowley’s hand falter, just briefly. His eyes drop to Avery’s mouth, the spitshine of it. He drops his gaze lower, between Avery’s gently spread thighs. He’s hard, Crowley thinks, can see the outline of him in his trousers. It makes his mouth water, makes him want to abandon himself and crawl on hands and knees across the hardwood.

“No,” he hisses.

“Then - then what -”

Crowley’s wet in his palm, and the fire is warm at his back, and he thinks he might die if he draws this out much longer (Avery’s face in the firelight, the ragged touch of his own hand, the slick of him, the pain like a nail in his heart -)

“You.” His cock is dripping, and every twist of his palm feels like an electric shock.  He’s going to come, can feel it building - “ You , you, fuck fuck -”

Avery gasps when Crowley comes, trembling wildly, hips jerking into his fist as he strokes himself through it.

“Oh God,” he hisses, “oh God -”

(This is not how it’s supposed to happen. There’s rain, fine, and firelight, okay. But there should be soft blankets and sheepskin on the floor, and Crowley should be stripping off Avery’s clothing, piece by piece. 

“Let me look at you,” he’d murmur, “let me touch you.”

“Oh my darling -”

“Here,” Crowley would whisper, kissing his way down Avery’s chest, “here. Let me -”

“You’re so gorgeous.”

“You’re so lovely.”

Maybe their fingers would be laced, pressed up over Avery’s head. Crowley’s mouth on Avery’s neck, Avery’s legs wrapped around his waist, everything wet and slow and limned in firelight.

“Come for me, darling,” Avery would murmur with damp lips against his neck, “I want you to, I want you, like this always -”)

Crowley closes his eyes. 

When he regains control he looks immediately at Avery. The man’s face is red, and his mouth is open, and Crowley wants to bury himself there. The shivers of pleasure subside, leaving him with nothing but a pounding heart and a mess on his hand.

Anthony - ” 

Avery is staring and Crowley can’t be stared at, not now. He isn’t coordinated enough to do up his trousers, can’t do anything but wipe his hand on his hip before sinking to his knees, crawling across the floor until he’s between Avery’s legs. 

Avery is shaking. His thigh muscles riot as Crowley puts his hands on them, slides gently upwards.

“Please let me -“ His voice is fucking wrecked, broken. He’s made entirely of shattered glass.

“You don’t - you don’t have to -"

“God, I’ll do anything, anything you like -“

“Yes.” The word sounds like it’s been excised from Avery’s skin, but it’s a yes, and it means Crowley’s hands can go to his belt, his trousers, can - touch him -

“Oh,” Avery breathes as Crowley circles his cock, gently, finding the warmth and weight of him. “I - I don’t -“

“Can I?” Crowley’s going to keep asking because - because Avery is still shaking and everything feels tentative and if Crowley ruins this he may actually stop breathing.

“If you - yes -”

And Crowley bends forward, wet-mouthed and starving, to swallow Avery down. Avery lets out a noise that sounds like a sob, tangles his fingers in Crowley’s hair. And Christ, that’s something Crowley didn’t expect to like as much as he does ( pull it, Jesus - yes, sharper ). He keeps that song in his head, sucks Avery off like he’s starving.

Because he is.

He pulls back slightly and Az makes a soft, injured sound so Crowley lowers his mouth again, He swallows and swallows around him, and when Avery makes a shallow thrust up into his mouth, Crowley moans with gratitude ( yes, yes, want me, want this). It feels like mere moments before Avery is squeezing his shoulder, thighs trembling, making tiny bitten-off cries deep in the back of his throat -

“I’m - you don’t - I - I oh -

Crowley’s mouth is flooded with heat and salt (if he hadn’t come already, this would do it for him, absolutely. He’d be done for.) When he finally pulls off and looks up, Avery’s face is wet with tears; his eyes are shining too, and Crowley doesn’t know - what to say. How to take that. How to do anything but kneel at his feet.

“Will you - I’m sorry, will you kiss me?”

Fuck right off (Crowley does not say, though his heart almost stops with the effort of holding it back.) Instead he clambers like an animal into Avery’s lap and then they’re kissing, oh holy fuck, oh hell, oh heaven, they’re kissing. It’s real this time, it’s not for a show, it’s not practice. Crowley’s mouth tastes like come and tears, and his tongue is an ocean between Avery’s lips, all seaweed and lost ships.

He could get hard again just from kissing Az like this. His hands are on Avery’s throat at first, then they slide up into his soft hair (duckling down and dandelion fluff, and oh God , the warmth of him in Crowley’s arms.) Their jaws rub together, a slide of stubble made sticky with tears, and Crowley sucks Avery’s bottom lip into his mouth, bites gently.

Az gasps at that, and Crowley pulls back, presses their foreheads together. The contact between their skin is intoxicating, and he can feel Avery’s clenched hands in the fabric of his shirt, tilts his head to lick into his mouth again -

“I have to go.” 

(Crowley could have placed bets against himself over the first words Avery was going to say, and which would hurt him most. This was a mistake was up there, a definite contender. I have to go wasn’t even on the list, but hindsight is - you know, whatever they say it is. A kick to the teeth, or something.)

Slowly, he pulls back. In inches, in increments, he lets go of Avery’s hair.  Slides off Avery’s lap.

From his knees, on the ground, he looks up and meets Avery’s eyes. The moment is one he won’t forget, probably not ever. It's tattooed on his ribcage - the shine of tears on Avery’s face, the redness of his eyes, his swollen mouth -

“Don’t.” Crowley’s voice is rough, throat tight from being used. “Don’t go.”

“I - I should. I have to.” Avery's eyes are closed, and his hands are shaking too much to be useful. Crowley tucks him in, buttons him up. He keeps his head pressed against Avery’s thigh because he can’t bear to look at his face anymore.

When Avery stands, it’s with a slow stroke through Crowley’s hair that feels almost obscene. Crowley’s spine arches against his will.

“I -” Avery’s moving like he’s in a trance. He almost runs into the coffee table, nearly trips over the rug. “I’ll - tomorrow.”

“Can I call you a -”

“No, I’ll walk. Walk a bit.” Az sways, steadies himself against the walls. Crowley forces himself to get off his knees.

“I don’t know if you should -”

Please .” 

And that’s the word, right? That’s the beginning and end of it. Because Crowley can’t think of a thing he’d say no to, if Az asked him like that. And even if he didn’t ask him like that.

“All right.”

Avery struggles into his coat, winds his ridiculous scarf around his neck. Transforms back into a character from a Dickens novel (Crowley’s mouth still tastes like his come and his tears, a salt that’s scalding.)

The rain is pounding like a wall outside, falling harder than Crowley thought rain could fall. Az opens the door, steps into the downpour without a hood or an umbrella or a thought.

(Don’t tell anybody. Keep it close to the chest. Keep your cards face down. Anthony Crowley, don't you fucking -)

“I’m in love with you,” Crowley says.

Avery looks like he’s just been shot in his stomach. Like he’s about to start bleeding out and doesn’t understand why. 

“I’m sorry,” he says quietly, raindrops clinging to his blond hair, and turning it ash grey. 

Crowley feels like there’s something stuck in his chest that he can’t cough up or breathe around. There’s fluid in his lungs, he’s drowning, he must be.

“Not your fault, angel,” he manages around the shovel in his throat. 

Avery makes an aborted sort of nod. It seems for a moment like he’s about to say something, but he doesn't. Instead he walks off into the rain like the worst sort of movie clichés. And Crowley watches him go.

And Crowley closes the door behind him. 



Chapter Text

 

Three months later.

There’s a wrap party at the end of Season 3. 

It’s at another posh London club and Crowley goes because he has to and ignores the canapés (again) and holds up the bar. He’s drinking bourbon this time, straight, but he’s as antisocial as always (and there’s a restless energy beneath his skin tonight that isn’t rooted in anxiety  That isn’t tangled up in judgment or shame like a snarl of green yarn. Tonight he’s restless for an entirely different reason.) 

“Enjoying yourself?” Anathema appears beside him, nearly giving him a heart attack.

“Fuck’s sake,” Crowley manages, when he can speak again. “Going to have to put a bell on you.”

“Lost in thought, were we?”

“Bold of you to assume I have thoughts.”

“My mistake. But I can’t say you don’t look - lost...” She gives him a once over, and then finishes her glass of wine. “Why is that?”

Crowley stops scanning the crowd for a silvery head of hair while pretending that he isn’t. “I see they hired the same DJ. Classic. Why mess with perfection, eh?”

“I think he’s Michael’s cousin. Nephew? Some sort of family member.”

Fucking figures. “Teenage Wasteland” by The Who is blasting through the speakers, so loud it’s approaching distortion. Crowley can feel the bass in his teeth, and he gnashes them together.

“You want to dance?” Anathema asks. Clearly the wine is affecting her memory and judgment. “Don’t look at me like that. It was worth a try.”

“Why do you bother when you know what I’m going to say?”

“Maybe I just like talking to you. This gives me an excuse.”

“That’s a bloody lie.”

“Yeah, probably. You’re not that interesting.” She touches his shoulder, more gently than Crowley expected. “Where’s your friend tonight?”

“Which one? I have so many, they all run together.”  When Anathema says nothing, Crowley gives up the ghost of his dignity. Begone shade, go haunt some other bastard. “Dunno. Around here somewhere. Why?  Are you that set on dancing?”

“Somebody to Love” by Queen starts playing, a simple piano line that feels like fingers tightening around Crowley’s throat. He might be cool and disaffected and all that good stuff, but this is still a bloody great song. It - resonates (shut up, don’t look at him for a minute.)  

“Maybe.” Anathema raises an eyebrow. “Unless you’ve changed your mind?”

“Not likely.”

“Well. I’ll see if I can track him down.”

“Best of luck with that.” Crowley snorts. “Somewhere around the food, I’d imagine.”

He watches her walk away, and thinks about tomorrow. Thinks about tonight. He should have had his laundry sent off a few days ago, what does he even have that’s halfway decent and also clean? Not that it really matters; he’s not going to need a suit or anything. But he doesn’t want to look a complete pillock, no matter where they are, and he’s pretty sure the has-been rock star look isn’t the one he should lead with - not that Az hasn’t grown used to it by now. Not that he -

“Not dancing then?” Az walks quietly up beside him, hands folding and unfolding. “Anathema is still looking for a partner.”

For some reason the sudden presence of Avery isn’t as startling as Anathema’s was. Sometimes Crowley thinks he feels the other man before he sees him, like a sudden change in temperature, a warmth where there used to be the metallic ice of air-conditioning. A quiet, where there used to be intermittent static, or white noise, or traffic.

“You turned her down?” he asks, when he can stop looking at Az’s interlocked fingers.

“Yes, regrettably. I suggested she try - what’s his name? Newton. The new chap. He’s been tearing napkins apart all evening, he needs something better to do with his hands.” Avery’s tone is intentionally light, but Crowley can hear all the fault lines in it. Can see the purple fingerprints beneath Avery’s eyes, the sheen of sweat on his forehead.

“Besides, I may call it an evening,” Az says softly. “I am supposed to catch an early train tomorrow.”

“Are you? Going anywhere exciting?”

“The - country, as it happens. Getting away from it all.”

“I’ll walk you out, maybe. To say goodnight.”

“All -” Az’s lips part. “All right. I’ll just - get my coat.”

“This isn’t a coat?”

Az is affronted in the way that only Az can be about vintage fucking frock coats. “This is an authentic Edwardian duster. I wouldn’t wear it - outside .” When Crowley just blinks at him, Az lets the corner of his mouth twitch. “How very dare you.”

“Oh, a thousand apologies, m’lord. Can you ever forgive me for such a grievous error?”

“If it means that much,” Az’s twitch turns into a sad sort of smile, the kind that tastes like lemon on a split lip. “Fine. I forgive you.”

They look at each other. Crowley wants to sing the scorched heart of himself out of his body. Like a phoenix rising out of his throat, turning to ashes in the cool air. 

He wants to reach out and undo every button on that damned Edwardian duster with his teeth.

“Very generous, I’m sure,” he murmurs. 

Then he follows Az to get his actual coat, and then he follows Az to his car, and then he gets into the passenger seat beside him and closes the door.

They sit in silence. Both of them look straight ahead, studying the honeyed slant of streetlights around them. Every beat of Crowley’s pulse is like a clock winding down ( how much time do we have, how much time can I ask for - )

Az clears his throat. “So.  I’ll see you there. Then. If that’s - if you still -“

And Crowley can’t stand this shit for a moment longer, is going to dissolve from stress and longing if he doesn’t reach over and take Avery’s hand.

So he takes Avery’s hand.

“I still,” he says, voice broken. “I fucking still .”

Az’s breathing hitches. He glances down at Crowley’s fingers laced through his, and nods - that shaky little panic-nod that Crowley adores. Adores , that’s the word for it. It feels somehow stronger, shinier than just saying ‘love’ (although he loves that little panic-nod as well.)

“All right. Well. Yes, that’s - you’re driving?” 

“Yeah.” Despite certain unfortunate decisions made in the past, Crowley still loves driving. It relaxes him in a way that yoga doesn’t - makes him feel adrift, at sea, with nothing but the horizon stretched out in front of him. He doesn’t need to drive all that often, but given the chance to get on the motorway, he’ll do it in a heartbeat. (Shame about the Bentley, though, shan’t see its like again.) “Sure I can’t give you a lift?”

“Better - better not.” Az swallows, loudly. His fingers curl tentatively against Crowley’s palm. “Knowing the way you drive. Be - be a shame if Warlock lost both its leads.”  

Crowley fucking adores him. 

“How tinted are these windows?” he asks too quickly, too desperately, not ‘cool’ at all. “Can I - can I kiss you?”

Oh - would you?”

Much as Crowley wants to launch himself over the gearshift and into Az’s lap, he has a feeling the man might bolt. So he moves slowly, tracing his fingers up Az’s neck, over the soft jawline, against his cheek. Az mouths a breathy “oh,”  before Crowley leans forward (slowly, don’t go too fast) and nudges his lips against Avery’s. Avery’s mouth opens with a gasp and they kiss gently, no tongues involved, just sharing air, really. Their lips sip from each other like they’re glasses of champagne. Everything feels golden, swimming in lamplight, and Crowley sighs at the first tentative touch of Avery’s hand in his hair. He pulls away a bit, nuzzling (yeah, never thought of himself as a nuzzler, but there’s no other word for it) the space below Avery’s earlobe, the side of his neck, almost singing when Az gasps and pulls him closer, one hand in his hair and the other fisted in his jacket.

“You’re - you’re so -”

Crowley doesn’t know how Az is going to end that sentence. A part of him doesn’t want to. There are too many ways to fall from that ledge -

“- lovely, ” Az breathes against his mouth.

Something short-circuits in Crowley’s brain at that word. He has to go somewhere else for a moment, somewhere less heavy, where he doesn’t have to hold so much feeling. Fuck’s sake, when will his heart stop doing this? He thought he’d beaten all these feelings out of it, burnt all the serotonin and dopamine out of his brain through years of neglect and abuse. When will he be too old for this shit, when will this aching stop (never. Love never learns, that’s the trouble. Tell yourself differently, it will be a lie.)

Crowley pulls back, ends the kiss himself because that hurts less. He can’t think about the feeling of Az moving slowly away from him; it’ll twist the knife in his ribs too deep, he can’t bear it. Better that he pulls away first. Better that he sits in the passenger seat, trying to slow his breathing, trying to swallow down every awful word he wants to say.

“Safe - safe travels,”Az murmurs. He is flushed pink, breathing just as hard as Crowley. 

“You too. I’ll see you there.” All right. Okay. Go before he asks you to leave, before you stay too long. Crowley has his hand on the door when Az’s voice stops him.

“Yes. Um - before you go, would you -“ When Crowley turns back, Az lurches forward, sucking the air from Crowley’s mouth with a final kiss. It’s brief, too brief (Az pulls back quickly and turns away - as if he’s embarrassed by the momentary lapse in self-control. Christ, Crowley’s been there - but now is not the time or place to have that conversation in any sort of depth.)

“See you there,” he repeats stupidly, and Az nods again (but does not ask him for another kiss, even though Crowley is drawing on his Powers of Visualization to manifest that outcome. There you go: irrefutable proof that visualization is bullshit. No more vision boards, no matter what Pepper says.)

He has a cigarette before he heads back into the party, giving it time so his lips aren’t quite so swollen. He’d rather leave directly, but doesn’t want it to look like he and Az left together (even though they always leave together. Or they used to.) Crowley only stays for another half hour before fucking off home. He’s still got packing to do (and he’s utter shit at it. Probably comes as no surprise to anyone, but he either brings everything he owns or three black music t-shirts and absolutely nothing else.) 

Crowley spends the rest of the night fretting and staring out the window, and throwing random socks into his suitcase when he thinks of it (his cockroach-heart survives and survives. Fuck that bastard. There will be no living with it now.)

Tomorrow. Tomorrow he will drive two hours and meet Avery and - and they’ll talk. 

After that, it’s anyone’s guess.

*

Three months earlier.

Somehow Crowley makes it through the night. 

He isn’t quite sure how it happens. It’s a slow, headache-coloured shift from darkness to dawn, one that Crowley spends in various locations around the house; he blinks and he’s sitting on the stairs, blinks again and he’s back on the piano bench, opens his eyes and he’s lying on his back, staring at the ceiling on the second floor landing. 

He’s got ‘coping strategies,’ right but - none that he can bring himself to actually use right now. He could be listening to music or meditating or whatever the fuck, but instead he just goes into a strange sort of shut down, curled in on himself like an injured animal. He decides he’s allowed a lapse, this one time. We can’t all be bloody paragons of self-care at every moment of our lives. And being shut down is better than - some alternatives Crowley could list (he knows people in Belfast. Or - knew people. Places. He could make a call, easy, like it was nothing -)

But he doesn’t. Won’t. So. Well done, Crowley, have a fucking cookie for doing the absolute bare minimum.

His fugue state goes on until the morning, at which point Crowley thinks: OH SHIT TRACY and then starts to properly panic.

No wonder Avery ran off like a thief after a heist - he has a partner . A lovely partner, Crowley adores her, and he didn’t even think of her once last night (when he was on his knees, trying to suck Avery’s heart out through his cock). Az must be feeling like some sort of monster, and Crowley feels about the same (he tugs brutally at his hair, oh you fucking madman, you told him you loved him and you weren’t even drunk, you were just an idiot, a complete moron, and he’s practically married what were you thinking?)

And now - now he’s got to go film scenes with Avery and pretend that none of this happened, pretend that he doesn’t know the taste of his sweat, the texture of his jaw. ( Let’s see how talented of an actor you really are. You should win an award for this, if you can pull it off.  If you can make it through the rest of this shoot without collapsing on set in a simmering pool of lust and mortification .)

He manages to pull himself into something resembling a human shape before the studio driver gets there.  On set, he runs through blocking in a trance. It’s a wonder he’s still standing let alone remembering lines or hitting marks. He grabs an unholy amount of coffee on the way to his trailer, because that’s the only way he’s going to get through this day, and when he slinks through the door like a guilty housecat, he finds - Az.

Az is waiting for him. In Crowley’s bloody trailer. Sitting on his sofa with a book and a cup of tea as if it’s any other day.

Crowley actually drops his coffee. Like. He didn’t realize that was a thing that could happen in real life, but apparently it can. His hands stop working, the travel mug falls heavily to the ground.

Avery is on his feet immediately, and Crowley swears - vicious and clumsy and loud - as soon as he realizes what he’s just done.

“I’m so sorry, I didn’t want to startle you -“

“It’s fine, it’s - “ The mug’s lid kept most of the sweet precious elixir of life from spilling, so the mess is minimal. Crowley kneels down to clean it up while Avery hurries into the kitchen to grab a tea-towel. When he passes it to Crowley, Crowley tilts his head up to say thanks, and realizes that he’s on his knees at Avery’s feet again.

It’s a view he will remember until the day his neurons stop firing. Until he doesn’t remember his own name (Az must have a similar memory, because his face goes pink. He immediately steps backwards.)

“One of the P.A.’s let me in. I am sorry - they assumed that I would be welcome -“

“You are.” Crowley’s answer comes quickly, too quickly. “Just a - surprise.”

Az sits stiffly down on the sofa while Crowley wipes up the coffee, chucks the towel somewhere to deal with later. He can’t possibly sit right now, is so wired from caffeine and sleeplessness that he could spin like a drill through the floor.

“Made it home okay?” he asks (like an idiot) at the exact same moment Avery says, “ Ihavetoapologize .” 

All one word, a rush of ice water.

Crowley flinches. He doesn’t know if he can survive Avery apologizing for something Crowley bloody well begged him for. 

“No, I need to.” He starts talking before Avery can, fix this, fix this . “It shouldn’t have happened. And Tracy - Christ, I can’t stop thinking about her. I feel fucking ill about it.”

Avery’s face is grey, like he’s seasick. “My dear -”

“I shouldn’t have even - I’ll never say a word to her, believe me, I won’t. But you can - of course. Whatever you want, I’ll understand -”

“She - she knows.”

It’s like a gutpunch. Crowley actually takes a step back, winded.

“Oh God. Jesus fuck, I’m so -“

“Stop apologizing, please you - I’m the one who has to -“

“Is she all right? Do you want me to call her or -“

“Crowley.” Avery stands up again. It’s one of those moments that makes Crowley remember that they’re nearly the same height. “Please.”

(And there it is, right? The silver bullet, the key to the attic room, the pears and cheese and ‘let me make some calls about Hamlet.’   The anything, anything you like.)

“We haven’t much time. You must let me get through this or I’ll - I’ll lose my nerve.” Avery is taking very slow, deep breaths. He’s shaking, almost as badly as Crowley is. There’s a leaping pulse in his throat, and Crowley wants to kiss him exactly there. Feel that fluttering against his mouth. “ I’m the one who has to apologize, not you. Last night I - over-indulged. Clearly. And what we did -"

“Right, right, you were drunk, it was a mistake, I get it -” 

“That’s not what I’m apologizing for.” Az gets a flinty sort of look in his eyes all of a sudden. It reminds Crowley of a film Az was in where he played a general or sergeant or something, some American Revolution thing.  Az was the reluctant anti-hero (it was a Yank film, so the British were mostly conniving bastards. Crowley maybe watched it more than a couple times last summer - didn’t know he had a thing for uniforms but it turns out he has A Thing for Uniforms.) 

Anyway. Focus up. 

Point is, when Az looks like that, Crowley can see something of a soldier still in him, in the set of his jaw, the angle of his shoulders. Even as he’s apparently shaking himself to pieces. 

“I. After that. When I - I left last night. I couldn’t bring myself to speak of it. And I - I am trying to.”

He sways a bit, reaching out a hand to steady himself on the side table.

“You - Christ, are you -” Crowley didn’t expect this conversation to actually kill the man he’s in love with. “Are you okay?”

“Tracy and I are.” Avery swallows. “Not. In fact. To-together.”

Crowley stares at him. “But. That’s -“

“Please don’t tell anyone,” Az says quickly. “Although - of course I understand you may wish to as - as - recompense for my dishonesty. I only hope that our friendship is worth enough to convince you that -"

“Stop. Wait - I’m falling behind.  Since when?”

“Since when - what?”

“Since when are you not together? Is this a recent - you could’ve told me -"

“No.  No, it’s not.”

“It’s not… recent?”

Emotion trembles on Avery’s face. Crowley reads it like an old, sad story he’s never heard before. A story that Avery has never told him.

“No.” Az’s voice comes out in a whisper. “I am trying to tell you.” 

(Crowley gets the wrong idea a lot of the time. He knows himself, knows how easily wrong-footed he gets, especially where Avery Fell is concerned. But he doesn’t exactly need a hand-drawn diagram illustrating the potential reasons that a man he’s kissed on more than one occasion might have a partner that - isn’t his partner.)

“So.” Fuck’s sake, does this mean- “Are - are you…”

“Please don’t.” Az cuts him off. “Not here.”

“Where?” 

“I don’t know.” Avery winces. “That’s what I’m trying to say, I - would - if you would -”

“Angel -” The word comes out like a clod of earth, black between Crowley’s teeth.

“Wait. Until after this season is finished. And then we can - discuss things. Properly. Right now, I’m just - a bit in pieces. I'm sorry, and I don’t want to ruin everything -”

“Nah, that’s my job.” Crowley is not joking. “So. So let me wrap my head around this. You are in a fake long-term relationship, and we aren’t to discuss it, or anything else, until - until we’re done filming this show in three months?”

His face must do something awful, because Az looks staggered. “Oh - I mean. I can’t lose focus. Neither of us can. And if anyone - found out we’d been fraternizing -”

“Fraternizing.” Crowley repeats the word, can’t help it. It tastes so fucking ugly. 

“Please, please don’t look so disappointed with me. Perhaps, when this is all over - we could. I don’t know. Go for a picnic." Az takes a shuddering breath, forces a smile on his face. "Dine at the Ritz.”

Crowley just keeps staring at him. He wishes he had his sunglasses on, but he doesn’t, and his whole wasted heart is shining out of his eyes.

“Or go on a trip, maybe. Get away. Talk.”

“Right.”

“And that thing - that you said - I know it wasn’t -”

There’s a sudden knock on the door. Crowley almost hits his head on the roof with alarm, but Az calls “Come in!” immediately. Like he’s afraid to  hesitate a moment, afraid of what it will look like.

Mi Lin, from makeup, peeks her head in.

“Oh, hello. Should have known the two of you would be together. I’m going to be ready for you in about ten minutes, Anthony. That okay?”

“Sure, yeah.”

She shuts the door quietly behind her as she leaves, but Crowley’s ears are ringing. He feels like someone shot a gun right beside his head.

“I have to go to makeup.” Wow, yep, brilliant conversationalist you are.

“All right.”

“You can - stay or leave or - whatever you like.” Crowley’s mostly speaking to himself at this point, trying desperately to make sense of what's happening. “And I guess I’ll - not talk to you now? Is that what we're doing?”

“No, I didn’t mean that. I don’t want that.”

“Got plenty of other people to fraternize with, if that’s what you want to call it.”

Az stutters out a wounded noise. “I’m sure you do.” He doesn’t make a move to leave, though, and Crowley - needs air. Needs to get out of this trailer, needs to walk. 

“I’ll see you - later. Around. I’ll - yeah, bye.”

He turns towards the door, and just before his hand touches the knob, he risks one last look over his shoulder. It’s a mistake, a fucking mistake because Az has this look on his face - this defeated, hopeless expression that cracks Crowley’s heart right down the middle, and he can’t help but make some injured sound in response. As soon as he makes that noise, Avery’s eyes meet his, and then it’s like a car accident (the slow motion moment where you can see it coming but you can’t do anything to stop it.) Crowley is crossing the trailer in two spidery strides and putting his hands on either side of Az’s face and kissing him. Az tilts his head back, welcomes him into his open mouth, even though his hands are shaking on Crowley’s shoulders. It’s a brutal kiss, more wolf than lamb, but it still feels - clean. Az’s mouth tastes like mint tea, not sex and sadness like the night before. 

Crowley pulls away while that taste is still in his mouth. He’s going to quit drinking coffee, give up smoking, just so that taste will be there all day.

"Bye," he says again, and  leaves without looking back. As he walks, he licks the mint tea off of his lips, hard in his trousers and sick to his stomach. He doesn’t have a full-blown weeping meltdown when Mi Lin runs her hands through his hair, trying to get it to behave - but he wants to (softness destroys him, all right? And he’s feeling particularly destroyable this morning.)

When Anathema sees him, she tells him he “looks like shit,” which is probably her way of asking if he’s okay, but Crowley ignores her until the cameras are rolling. He can still act, even if he looks like shit. Call it his special talent. He’s had enough practice at it.

He doesn’t have any scenes with Az today, which is lucky. The man is off filming something in the sound studio while Crowley kicks around the village with Anathema, and it gives him some time to think. And the more he thinks, the more tangled up his memories of last night become. And the conversation this morning. And the story of Avery Fell, the one he’s never been told (what had Crowley thought about him, before they met? That he was bland and perfect, boring and blameless. That he was a talented bastard, sure, but nothing all that interesting. Crowley was wrong about that, completely. What else has he been wrong about? What else doesn’t he know?)

After he wraps, he heads immediately to Az’s trailer (it’s fine, they used to do this all the time, get together for a glass of wine or cup of tea after shooting was over. It doesn’t look weird, suggestive. Does it look suggestive? Would anyone suspect that Crowley was arse over tits in love? Would anyone even fathom there’s a part of his heart that isn’t scorched fucking earth?) 

Crowley knocks on Az’s door. At the soft voice from inside, he goes in.

Az is sitting at his table, looking over tomorrow’s call-sheet. His eyes immediately go wide - but not in surprise. Not in fear. 

“Crowley?”

“Is anyone else here?” 

“No,” Az says quickly. 

“All right. All right.” Crowley shuts the door behind him. “Just so we’re clear. You want me to wait. Okay. I can wait. I can wait three months.”

He swallows, wonders if the next sentence will give him a brain-bleed just in the uttering. “I can - I can wait longer.”

The look of disbelief on Avery’s face is painful in a way that Crowley doesn’t quite understand. He looks like Crowley is offering him the whole world, shining around its edges.

“But that thing I said.” Crowley swallows, tries to keep his voice steady. Tries not to start coughing up the wet sand of this love, leaving a mess all over the floor. “That thing - you know. I wasn’t apologizing for that. This morning. I won’t.”

Az nods. He doesn’t fucking say ‘sorry’ again, which is - really, thank God. That might have been the end of Crowley. He’s on his eighth life as it is.

“So we’re - we’re clear,” Crowley repeats, and Az nods again.

“Yes. Anthony, I - I can’t -”

“All right. I’m going to go wash all this filth off me. Life of a medieval peasant, eh?” Keep talking, change the subject, distract him before he says he can’t love you back. “See you tomorrow, angel.”

Crowley spends that night working his way through the fancy bloody cheeses in his fridge, and sitting on the stoop, studying the ember at the tip of his cigarette, thinking about how things burn.

 (When he was eleven years old he used to do this thing where he’d light a piece of paper on fire and hold it for as long as he could. He’d start the flame on one edge, and tilt it, tilt it away from his hand, wait until the fire started licking his knuckles like a cat. He’d wait as long as he could, and his pain tolerance was surprisingly high; he ended up with blisters on his palm once. It wasn’t a test of strength or endurance or anything. He didn’t give a damn about how far he could push his body, how much it could bend until it broke. No, it was more of an - aesthetic fascination. He was eleven, and bored, and couldn’t sit still, but he liked the slow blackening edges, like dead lace. He liked the liquid way that the fire moved. He liked the moment that he dropped it, set it down on the grass to smoulder and dissolve into ashes.)

The church does not burn the way paper does. The way cigarettes do. 

It burns like a beast (splintering wood in place of teeth, a great gasping mouth that’s always hungry, never full -)

“Bastards!” Crowley chokes out from where he’s collapsed on the ground. He feels like he’s waking up in an unfamiliar place, his whole body heavy with panic.  “All of you.”

They’re going to add a bunch of CGI flame in post, can’t have Crowley getting too close to it. His stuntman did most of the live fire work, but there’s still a fire crew standing by, just off set, in case they’re needed. 

Crowley screams the scorched heart of himself out of his body. Screams out three years of ashes. Screams out a night spent wide awake and drunk with grief, screams out all the words he can’t take back ( “I can’t find you, I can’t find you -”)

“Cut. Holy shit, Anthony. Brilliant stuff.” 

“That’s an episode wrap on Anthony!” the first A.D. calls out. Crowley accepts a hand off his knees, accepts a pat on the back from Michael as the fire crew rushes forward with extinguishers, putting out the remaining flames.

As Crowley leaves the half-standing church, he realizes that a bunch of the cast and crew have gathered around to watch. People that don’t even need to be on set right now - Newton and Anathema, hair and makeup, a handful of P.A.s. They start to clap as he comes toward them,  Crowley cringes away from the praise just a bit (gotta keep that personal narrative intact, right? Don’t let anything challenge your comfortable and familiar self-hatred - oh shit, that sounds an awful lot like Pepper. Is she actually in his head now? Definitely fired.)

“Killed it,” Anathema says as he passes by, “I have goosebumps.”

“That was - was really - er,  well done.” Newton only stammers a little, he’s getting better.

“You were wonderful,” Avery says - and fuck’s sake , Avery is here. Crowley almost missed him in the crowd.

“Thank you.” He comes to a halt in front of him. He’s still a bit raw, which is the only excuse he can think of for being an absolute fool.  “You want to grab a drink tonight? Dinner?”

“I - better not.  Quite a lot of packing up to do.”

“Got it. I’ll -”

“I’ll have a drink with you,” Anathema cuts in, eavesdropping like a fucking professional. “Or dinner. Newt and I would love to. Wouldn’t we?”

“Uh, sure, yes - that’s. Yes.” Newton is staring at her so affectionately that little cartoon hearts may as well be floating around his head.

This was not what Crowley had in mind for the evening. If he couldn’t be staring moonily at Az over a dinner table, he thought he’d at least be moonily drinking tea and bashing around on a piano. Not - socializing . Good Christ.

“Can’t wrap an episode without marking the occasion,” Anathema insists.

“I -”

“You pick the place, and text me. Good talk. Great plan.”

Crowley looks helplessly at Avery, but the man is already looking away, heading back to his trailer. His shoulders are hunched, as if a great wind is trying to knock him off his feet.

Right, then.

Anathema feels the need to invite some of the crew out for drinks as well, so Crowley spends the night trying to make small talk with a couple electrics (actually have pretty good taste in music, so it could be worse). Every so often he catches Anathema smiling at him like a proud dog-owner, which makes him scowl at her, which makes her smile more. All in all, it’s - not a bad time. It’s less awful than he expected. So that’s something.

He flies out of Belfast the next day, spends a couple days in London before the next episode starts filming, and somehow - three months go by. 

Crowley mostly keeps to himself (when he can avoid Anathema’s sporadic attempts to get him to spend time amongst the living.) He stays in hotel rooms, he flies back and forth between Ireland and London (and Iceland, for a couple days.) He Skypes with Pepper and thinks about firing her. He stares at Az on set and off set, and in his hotel room at night he gets off to the thought of Avery’s shoulders in his tweed coat, the thought of his soft thighs in his trousers, how they felt beneath Crowley’s hands, how they’d feel wrapped around his waist.

Once - never let anyone know this bit, least of all Pepper - Crowley gets so caught up in the throws of his fantasy that he whispers, “I love you,” as he comes into his fist, over his knuckles, spine arching off the bed (“I love you, I love you, Jesus fuck - ”)

They talk on set and occasionally off, but there are no late nights or dinners out. It’s back to the way it was in Lisdoon with Az very carefully avoiding him, and Crowley very carefully giving him space. And if sometimes he catches Az watching him between takes - and if sometimes Az looks up to see Crowley staring at him like some pathetic, salivating creature - well. They don’t speak of it. They can’t. 

Crowley said he’d wait.

The last scene of the season is one they film together. Crowley’s just had a run in with the Grand Inquisitor (guest spot by Benedict Cumberbatch, and wasn’t that a fucking thing. Crowley was a bit starstruck the whole time, could hardly put a sentence together. They’ve met before, of course, but Crowley always goes a bit mental over the man’s voice.) 

The Inquisitor lets Crowley leave unharmed, with a message for the priest. 

He has arrested Avery’s caustic, unusual sister (guest spot by Josie Lawrence, which is bloody unfair; Crowley was more starstruck meeting her than Cumberbatch.) It’s her life for Adam’s.

“But I don’t understand,” Az tells Crowley, whispering. “We just saw her, she was fine. I - don’t believe you.”

“Why would I lie about this? Why would he ?”

They’re filming in a tiny room meant to be above an inn. It has played the role of numerous inn rooms throughout the three seasons, break-out star of the show. Anathema and Adam are sleeping in the narrow bed nearest the fire (just stand-ins lying there now) so the conversation is hushed, tight-lipped and much too close together.

“I don’t believe it.” Az is doing a great job with the conflicted panic and denial. Crowley shakes his head at him, frustrated despite himself. “And why would he think this is my decision to make? What about - your friends, family - anyone he knows you loved. We need to warn them -"

“We really don’t.”

“Of course we do! How could you say such a thing? He’ll find them, like he found Agnes - where -”

“They’re in this room,” Crowley spits, voice getting a bit too loud. “Everyone I love. They’re in this room.”

Az’s expression should win the man another BAFTA. It’s a look of despair and longing and hope, braided together into a rope that may as well be a noose. It’s a knife engraved with: I love you too but in the worst sort of way. I love you too and it will be used against me. I love you too (this love is a shovel, and I’ve been burying myself alive.)

“He can’t - he can’t have the boy,” Az says.

“I know.” There’s no point in pretending that they have any choice in the matter. “So I guess we’ve got to take the easy way out, and rescue your bloody sister.”

Their gazes catch and hold. 

“Cut!” says Michael. “Everyone - that is a wrap on Season Three! We are wrapped! I will see you all at the Emmy’s when we sweep it.”

There are applause and cheers from the crew, and Az blushes, shyly pleased, but doesn’t break eye contact with Crowley. Last season, Crowley would have reached out and touched him (innocently enough, clap on the shoulder, pat on the back sorta thing) but now he doesn’t dare. 

Az looks at him, and Crowley looks back.

They don’t say a word as they walk back towards the trailers. They end up at Crowley’s first and Avery follows him inside and then (Crowley doesn’t know what he expects but it isn’t this) Az hugs him.

Pulls him into the circle of his arms, breathes against his neck. The scent of him, the warmth is so gorgeous that Crowley doesn’t bother thinking about What This Means or What He Should Do - he just hugs Az back. 

“Thank you,” Az says against the edge of Crowley’s jaw.

“What for?”

“For - waiting.” Az pulls away a bit, drags his hands slowly down Crowley’s arms. He’s shaking again; Crowley feels the urge to wrap him in a blanket and lay him down by a fireplace and never let him go.

“I don’t want to - stop touching you.” Az laces both of their hands together, stares at them. Crowley studies the top of his head, the pale hair against his pink scalp. 

“So don’t.”

“After the wrap party, will - would you -”

“Yes,” Crowley answers. 

“You don’t know what I was going to ask,” Az says with a weak smile. “It could be something awful.”

“Don’t care. Yes.”

“You are -” Az lets out a sigh that Crowley feels on his knuckles, “entirely too kind to me.”

( Who made you fucking think that? Crowley wants to ask. And then he wants to find that person and tear their throat out. Who told you that kindness was something you didn’t deserve, something you had to earn, and not just the bare minimum someone could show you?

They lied. They lied to you. They were wrong.)

“I’m really not.”

Az swallows, clear his throat. “You - would you like to go - to go somewhere? Perhaps. With me.”

“Yes.” Yes, to all of it.

“You - would?” Avery’s gaze keeps moving from Crowley’s face and back to their hands. “I haven’t anywhere particular in mind, but I did say that we could -”

“Let me sort something out.” (Let Beez sort it out, more like.) “I’ll take care of it.”

Az nods. Doesn’t let go of Crowley’s hands. 

“I suppose I’ll - see you in London, then.”

“All right.”

“My dear - I don’t want you to think -” Az’s hands clench reflexively on Crowley’s. Then Az lifts Crowley’s hand to his mouth, turns it gently, so he can press a kiss to the inside of Crowley’s wrist.

(Something short-circuits in Crowley’s brain at that. He has to go somewhere else for a moment, somewhere less heavy, where he doesn’t have to hold so much.)

Az immediately drops his hands, steps back. He’s blushing more than Crowley’s ever seen him, and he can barely look at Crowley as he backs toward the door.

“I’ll - all right, well. Safe travels and. Let me know what you - if there’s anything I can -” Az bumps into a standing lamp, almost knocking it over. “I’ll see you - soon.”

After he leaves, Crowley stares at the door for a bit. Then he stares at his wrist, surprised it isn’t glowing golden where Avery’s lips touched his pulsepoint.

Then he goes home (his home in Belfast, anyway) and calls Beez.

“I need you to book a place. For after the wrap party. A cottage or something.”

Beez sighs, as if he’s just asked for some sort of blood sacrifice. “How long?”

“I don’t know.” How long would they be allowed? How long could they press ‘pause’ on the rest of the world? “A week? Two weeks? “Somewhere quiet, by the water maybe. And it can’t be close to anywhere. It’s got to be private -”

“Jesus fuck, ” Beez suddenly spits into the receiver. “No. No, this is not happening.”

“What are you -“

“A lovely romantic country get-away for one? Is that what I’m expected to believe?”

“I’m not seeing Matt again if that’s what -“

“Oh, I know you’re not seeing Matt.” Beez lets that hang there for a second. “This is worse. Jesus fuck, Crowley - what are you thinking?”

“I -“ How the hell do they know? They don’t know. They don’t know anything. “Have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“This is going to hurt you . You do realize that? This is not -”

“I thought you weren’t my therapist.”

“I’m not -”

“So don’t tell me what will hurt me. I know what hurts.”

He didn’t expect to say any of that last bit, kinda comes as a surprise to both of them - but it shuts Beez up well enough. They don’t hang up on him, but he can tell from the angry buzzing on the line that it’s a near thing.

“I’ll text you the details and mind my own business, shall I?”

“If you would.” He pauses, feels a bit guilty. He’s not mad at Beez, he’s not mad at anyone but his bloody useless heart. “Thanks, Beez.”

“Don’t thank me for this.”  Then they do hang up.

They text him the details that evening, and he texts them to Avery. Two weeks in the South Downs, near some little place called Ditchling? The pictures are gorgeous; Beez has outdone themself, no matter how much they might disapprove of Crowley in general (and in particular.)

And Az says yes. Yes to all of it.

Crowley doesn’t see him on his flight back to London but they text constantly, back and forth about the weather down south, travel plans, the train versus Crowley’s driving (of which there has been - frankly - a lot of misinformation and malicious rumour. Crowley’s definitely not as bad as they say. Or - he’s pretty sure he could be worse.)

A couple of days pass and Crowley’s thinking about packing but mostly screaming at his plants and getting ready for the Season 3 wrap party. No reason to get all worked up about it. It’s not like he hasn’t been to a dozen. As long as the music is better than the last two parties (and it’d be hard for it to be any worse)  Crowley will be fine.

He’ll probably see Az, but who knows if the man will even talk to him. Maybe it’ll be all cloak and dagger so that no one suspects they’ve ever met or worked together or are running off to the country tomorrow morning. (Crowley’s an actor, he can pull it off. “Why sir! I believe you’ve mistaken me for someone else!” He’ll say it like a plant for some traveling road-show. “No, we’ve never met before in my life! Yes, this elixir gave me back my hair and my virility!”)

It’ll be fine. Nothing will happen. There’s no reason to get all worked up it.

(But Crowley wears his leather jacket to the party. You know. 

Just in case.)



Chapter Text

 

 

The drive from London to Ditchling is about two hours. That means that Crowley can listen to Transformer three and a half times. That means he can replay the kiss in Az’s car the night before about thirteen times, depending on which parts he slows down and whether he skips over the stupider things he said. That means he can chew the nails on his right hand down almost to the quick while rattling with want of a cigarette (he doesn’t smoke in the car, he’s not an animal. )

It means he can worry constantly if he’s making a mistake.

(Just a perfect day

You made me forget myself)

Crowley’s shite at directions, glad for a nav system when he has to leave London, and it only leads him wrong once. He considers the speed limit as more of a suggestion, like a wine pairing, and so even though he heads out later in the day (wants to give Az a chance to taxi from the station and settle in) and the traffic is fairly steady, he makes excellent time. 

(I thought I was

someone else, someone good)

Sussex is needlessly pretty in the autumn, and Ditchling is quaint as anything.  Beez had food delivered to the cottage (or so they said) and Crowley brought a couple things from home, so he doesn’t need to stop anywhere. But he does stop, just the same. Pulls the car over at the edge of town, smokes until the cigarette is burning the tips of his fingers. 

Frets. 

Maybe he’ll come back, explore the village a bit later.  Seems a nice enough place. Passed some sort of museum, might be - something to see. In case the cottage gets claustrophobic, in case Az needs a break from him. Christ knows, Crowley needs a break from himself often enough.

Or maybe Az would want to come with him. 

Crowley doesn’t know if - that’s allowed.  If Az has stopped being all right with the two of them going out in public together, outside of filming. There’s a lot Crowley doesn’t know yet, doesn’t know the rules; hence this two weeks in the country to figure it out (and two fucking weeks! He can’t remember the last time he shared space with someone for that long. Christ, would it have been Luke? Fifteen years ago? That’s pathetic.) 

Of course he’s hooked up with people since then, but never stayed with any of them for a great length of time. Never - lived together. Barely even slept in the same bed unless he was basically passed out (he’s a bit - er - clingy? Handsy? When he sleeps. Ends up twined around his partner like a great bloody snake, trying to soak up all the warmth in the world. Luke was constantly on at him about it, said it was too much, said he could never get a decent sleep with Crowley in the bed, and - you know what, let’s not think about Luke right now.)

Crowley forces himself back into the car, sets out on the road that leads from the village and into the woods. He takes his time (full of resentment but mindful of the windshield) winding through birch trees and only feeling a little like he’s in the opening credits of a horror film. 

The satnav beeps at him that he’s reached his destination just as a gorgeous lakeside cottage comes into view around a bend.  

 

(Jesus Christ, what has he gotten himself into? Oh fuck, what has he done?)

The cottage is right at the edge of a lake, surrounded by poplar, and silverbirch, and pine trees. It’s not even five yet but the sun is starting to drop low on the horizon, and the sky is all paintbrush-coloured and there’s a mist kicking off the lake into the evening air.  Crowley parks the car and takes a deep breath. Tells himself to calm the fuck down. Screams at himself the way he would a particularly sensitive orchid (“You can’t sit in the car all night you absolute nightmare, get it together, he’s going to come out of that cottage any minute and see you, see you for the wreck that you are -”)

For the first time in his life, Crowley feels a bit bad for his plants.

He gets up, hoists his duffel bag out of the backseat, and gets on with it.

Fuck’s sake, the place is pretty. There’s a massive bloody deck round the back, overlooking the water, and Crowley walks across it, admiring the view while working up the strength to go inside. There’s a canoe tethered at the shoreline (no chance he’s getting in one of those again, not after last time) and a couple of ducks floating idly in the shallows. The air smells - like wet earth and cedar bark. A couple breaths in, and Crowley feels almost high on it; there’s entirely too much oxygen out here, he needs to add some exhaust fumes to the mix.

Az must have heard the car door slam, because next thing Crowley knows there’s a creak and then footsteps behind him. Crowley forces himself not to flinch as Az walks over, hands shoved deep in his pockets.  The man is bundled up in - is that two layers of cardigans? Cardigans all the way down (he looks entirely too soft, and God, Crowley is in so much trouble, ) 

“Hello there.” Az smiles, but it’s tentative. Crowley feels about the same. Like if he relaxes even a fraction, he’s going to start bubbling over, steam leaking from his eyes and mouth.

“Good trip?” he asks, shifting his bag to his other shoulder, grateful it gives him something to fidget with.

“Oh, yes. Beautiful countryside. I did enjoy the train, always do. Gave me a chance to do some reading.”

“This is - quite the place, isn’t it?” Crowley scans the calm water, the occasional leaf floating gently on the surface. “Nice and - woodsy.”

“Is it all right? Do you like it?”

“Sure, yeah.” Crowley shifts his bag again, like a very casual and natural human person. “Big woodsy fan, me.”

Az darts a gaze at him, there and gone in an instant. There’s an odd silence between them, and there’s - never an odd silence. 

Well. 

Maybe recently. 

“I’m sorry, I should have offered to take your bag -”

“You should bloody not have. What are you, the concierge? Let’s go inside, you can give me the tour.”

He follows Az into the cottage (has to take off his glasses which promptly steam up, fuck his life.) Az has clearly been making himself at home, which is a - thought. There are a couple of lamps lit, and candles flickering on the kitchen table. The first floor is all one room - open concept kitchen and dining room, two armchairs and a small sofa which Az has already haphazardly covered in books and sheafs of writing paper. 

“What do you think? It isn’t too small for you, is it? I don’t want you to feel like I’m - under foot.”

“Nah, it’s fine. And we’ve had closer quarters than this. Remember that BnB from Season One?”

Az laughs weakly. “Don’t let’s bring it up. I get leg cramps just thinking about it.” 

There’s a fire going in the grate, throwing off the kind of warmth you want to curl up in, bask like a lizard on a rock. Crowley hangs up his leather jacket by the door, watches Az take off cardigan-the-first, and cardigan-the-second, hooks them both carefully on the rack, and then -

Crowley blinks. Feels unsteady on his feet. 

Az is wearing a vee-neck t-shirt.  Just a t-shirt, in pale green, and nothing else. The material looks soft and a bit worn, clings to the muscles in his shoulders and the slight swell of his stomach. There’s - there’s no cravat or waistcoat or any other bloody thing, and at the lowest point of the neckline, Crowley can see a tiny curl of silver hair. 

He has never in his life seen the man in less clothing. Who the fuck told him that this was allowed? The blond hair running up Az’s forearms makes Crowley feel like he just drank petrol and swallowed a pack of matches.

“The - uh - the kitchen seems serviceable. There’s food enough to feed an army -”

“So - so -” Get it together, fuckwit. “So there should be enough for you then.”

“Oh, shut it. Besides. I’m on holiday. I shall do what I like.” Az gives him a look that Crowley feels down to the soles of his feet. The two of them stare at each other and then both look away awkwardly. Crowley’s face is warm, and he wants to go dunk his head in the lake until he calms down.

“The sofa folds out -” Az continues, trying to sweep the awkwardness away like ashes in the grate. “And there’s a pantry, wine cellar through that door there.”

“Right.”

“Shall I - um, show you upstairs?”

Crowley tries not to answer that by dropping dead. He nods, because if he doesn’t at least nod then he’s going to try to speak. And speaking is out of the question right now, is not going to go well for either of them.

So Crowley nods, and follows Az up the stairs.

The top floor is almost entirely taken up by the - the bedroom. Mostly the, er, bed. There’s a whole wall of windows, and it’s sparsely furnished, all piles of white linens and pillows. 

There’s also an enormous clawfoot bath-tub in the corner, overlooking the lake.

Ngk ,” says Crowley.

Suddenly this whole trip seems like a terrible bloody idea. At least one that will be impossible to survive, one that is already wrapping its bony fingers around Crowley’s throat, pressing its thumbs against his windpipe.  Crowley was all ‘oh let me book us a holiday to sort our shit out’ and then apparently had no qualms with Beez renting them a fucking Honeymoon Sex Cottage.

(Keep fucking breathing.)

“There’s a washroom through there, but the bathtub is - um. As you see.” Az is shuffling from one foot to the other, tugging at the hem of his t-shirt.

“Yeah, huh, very - uh, fancy. Look at that, can just - nice windows, bet they’re double-glazed - you know I might call Beez, let them know we’re here and - that it’s just - tip-top or - yeah, I’ll call them. Should I call them? I’ll call them.”

“I’ll leave you to it,” Az says quickly, and he almost trips in his haste to get back down the stairs.

Crowley watches him go. Then he doesn’t call Beez. Certainly not - what, so they can shout at him? Instead, he looks at the very fluffy, very soft, very large bed. He looks at the bath tub. He walks to the windows and stares down at the lake, before pressing his forehead to the glass.

(“Uh - no, not that one -“ Crowley reaches over, trying to steal the remote from Az.

“Whyever not? The Thing About Roses - it looks utterly charming.”

It certainly does fucking not look charming. The image on the screen is a room full of pink and white roses, with twenty-something Crowley (shitting Christ, look at his hair. What a prick.) making eyes at Emily Mortimer.

“It’s fluff is what it is. That much sugar’ll rot your teeth.” Crowley makes another lunge for the remote, but Az yanks it out of his grip.

“I like a bit of fluff. And look at the volume on those curls - no, I think we simply must watch this one -”

When are we? Was this mid-Season One? Or Season Two? What hotel was it, what sofa, what month, what bottle of wine? Was Crowley already hideously in love but hadn’t yet known the word for it? Or was he thinking that word in his head already, tracing its outline on his palm, biting it into the meat of his cheek at night when he should have been sleeping? Was he already lost in the woods, looking desperately for a North Star to lead him out again? Or was he following that flickering light deeper and deeper between the pine trees, certain that rescue would be just around the corner -

“Trust me, you don’t want to watch it. It’s a bunch of romantic nonsense, the worst sort of clichés.”

“You’re just saying that because you’re in it. And you know I love a good third-act chase to the airport. A grand romantic gesture.”

“You’re so full of it,” Crowley shakes his head.

“Public love confessions -”

“Shut up. It’s absolute drivel -”

“Rose petals on sheets, slow-dancing in the kitchen -”

“That sort of nonsense never happens in -” Something twinges in Crowley’s memory. “Wait - have you already seen this film?”

Az blinks at him. “No.” His face has gone absolutely blank. “Haha, no. I’m just - just listing the worst sort of clichés. Why? Is there actual kitchen slow-dancing? Recorded footage of Anthony Crowley swaying to soft rock? My dear - I must insist that we watch it now.”

“If you press ‘play’ I won’t be responsible for my actions.”

“Why?” Az looks at him, and his face isn’t blank anymore. It’s soft, and slightly pink (the colour of rose petals, and that’s the thing about roses -) “What will you do?”

“I will ensure that everyone on set gets the vimeo link to a certain ‘karaoke scene’ from a certain early 2000s indie sex-romp.”

“You wouldn’t dare.“

“Try me, angel.”)

When Crowley pulls his head back from the window, there’s a smudge on the glass from his greasy skull. Great. Good start. 

Leave a mess all over the glass, leave your grimy fingerprints all over Az Fell, and see what happens. ( See how long it takes you to ruin something beautiful .)

For the first time in a long time, Crowley contemplates calling Pepper. Just to - check in. He’s got a meeting scheduled with her when he gets back from this - holiday, or whatever they’re calling it - but he wonders if he should have talked to someone other than Beez beforehand. Made some sort of heartbreak gameplan. A flowchart with eventualities and all the ways that they would ruin him. 

Well. Hindsight is that thing they say that it is, right? Crowley takes a few deep breaths, and goes back downstairs. 

The light and warmth of the kitchen compared to the cool shadows of the bedroom is a jarring contrast. Az has somehow managed to find a place to sit on the cluttered couch, but he stands up immediately when he sees Crowley.

“At ease,” Crowley snorts, and Az blushes a bit. Or maybe it’s just the fire.

“How were they?”

“Who?”

“Beez?” 

Crowley wants to smack himself in the head. “Oh yeah, fine. Just - doing fine. Aha, good ol’ Beez.”

“Right.” Az doesn’t look convinced. He closes whatever centuries-old book he’s been reading  and adds it to the precarious stacks beside him. “Shall we have dinner? Would you like - something to drink? Or -” He has no cuffs to fuss with, so he fusses with the hem of his t-shirt again. “There’s a boat -”

“Hard pass on the boat,” Crowley interrupts. “Given our nautical history.”

It might be Crowley’s imagination, but he thinks that Az glances toward the pile of books on the couch. 

" The man who has experienced shipwreck shudders even at the calm sea, " Az says very seriously. “Ovid said that, I think. I apologize for bringing up such a painful memory.”

“Yes, well. Good.”

“I’m sure just the sight of the canoe was enough to cause flashbacks.”

“You’re a lovely person, you know that? Real considerate. Nothing like laughing at his trauma to make a man feel at home.” There’s no bite to Crowley’s tone - or maybe just a nibble - and he takes a step towards Avery without thinking.

“Poor darling. Do you need to have a lie down? After using the word ‘nautical?’ I’d understand if you do.” Az takes a step toward Crowley, and there’s a tilt to his mouth that almost makes Crowley’s knees give out. “Heavens, the water was almost up to our shoulders as I recall.”

“I think you’re remembering it wrong. We were lost at sea for days. Barely escaped with our lives.” Crowley moves closer, a planet that can’t help but orbit around this particularly lovely star.

“You’re right, I must have - repressed things.” 

“Given the trauma,” Crowley says. Then he realizes how close to each other they’re standing, and every remaining hint of banter dries up in his mouth. “You -”

“Glass of wine, then?” Az asks brightly, flinching off toward the kitchen like he’s been struck by a few hundred volts of electricity. “What are you in the mood for? I brought a couple bottles of that Penfolds you liked, should have been letting one breathe.”

“All - right.”

They’re going to talk, Crowley reminds himself. They will. It won’t be nervous chatter about wine and the sea for two weeks. There’s got to be a point where the anxiety burns off like the brandy in one of Az’s fancy desserts. They’ll get there.

“Or would you prefer the Priorat?” Az calls from the kitchen.

“Whatever you like.”

They’re going to talk, and they’ve got two weeks. Crowley doesn’t have to pull the words out with his teeth like they were itchy stitches. He can wait. He can.

Az pours them each a glass of wine and they go out to the deck, watch the light fade over the lake. It’s quiet again - bit of woodlark song, bit of water against rocks, but Az seems mostly content to sip at his wine and let out soft, contented sighs every now and then (Crowley may well go mad at the sound of them. Can imagine them in a - completely different context. Look, he’s not proud of himself. When is he ever?)

He’s wearing his sunglasses again so he thinks he can get away with staring at Az instead of staring at the water. But Az seems to sense it somehow, because he looks over at Crowley and smiles (fuck, Crowley’s still lost in the woods, isn’t he? Never found his way out, ate a bunch of poisonous mushrooms, went fully feral. Will probably be lost forever.)

“This is a lovely place,” Az says. “I’m glad you’re here.”

What’s that word for when you feel too much but can’t bear to say it out loud because you’ll choke on your own heart? 

Oh, yeah:

“Likewise,” Crowley says.

(What he wants to say is ‘kiss me. I’m glad you’re here too. I’d be glad to be with you anywhere, we could be at the bottom of a mine and I’d still stare at you just like this. Can I kiss you? Or maybe - would it be all right if I held your hand? I’ve done it before, remember, and there’s no one around to see it. Only the ducks. Could I tell you I love you again? I’ve done it before, remember, and it was the wrong time but maybe here, right now - maybe this is the right time. There’s no one around to hear it - except the ducks, again. Ducks can hear right? They aren’t like, listening with their tongues or feathers or anything, they’ve got ears. Do ducks have ears? Must do. Not that they’d care about - anyway.)

Instead, Crowley takes a sip of wine and stares at Az from behind his glasses, committing this moment to memory. He’s got a lot of memories that left burn marks in his brain, but this. This. This will be one of the good ones.

They go inside after the glasses run dry, and Crowley explores what’s in the kitchen while Az fusses with the fire. He can make a bastardized cacio e pepe without any help from Giada and there are radishes and garlic and a handful of brussel sprouts in the ice box to spice it up a bit. He tucks his hair up into a bun, ties on an apron (serious business, cooking.) Soon he’s got garlic softening in butter and fresh fettuccine bubbling in the pot.  Az sets the table, pours more wine. Leans close to the back of Crowley’s neck (“That smells heavenly.”)

Crowley shivers but tries to pretend he didn’t. He looks at Az over his shoulder, that stupid soft t-shirt and his stupid gorgeous chest hair (completely un-bloody-fair, how is Crowley expected to keep his hands off him? This is a test, it’s got to be.)

“You stay back. I don’t trust you in my kitchen.”

Your kitchen?”

“While I am the chef, it is my kitchen. When you make - burnt toast tomorrow, or whatever, then it will be your kitchen.”

“How dare you, I can certainly -”

Then they’re kissing, and Crowley isn’t sure who moved first, or who leaned in, or who grabbed the other, but they’re kissing in Crowley’s kitchen. The air smells like garlic and butter and firewood, and Az’s soft soft shirt is clenched in Crowley’s hands and Crowley staggers forward, sucking Az’s tongue into his mouth (finally, fucking finally, he’s exactly where he wants to be.)

“Oh please, please -” Az murmurs against his mouth, and Crowley kisses his throat, his collarbones, licks the salt from his chest. His skin smells like sweat and some sort of cologne and also something burning -

Wait.

“Garlic.” Crowley pulls away to turn the heat down. His heart is racing and his hand shakes as he stirs the frying pan, the taste of Az’s mouth the only thing he can think about. “You - you see -”

“See what?” Az looks bloody staggered, lips parted.

“I knew I couldn’t trust you. Distracting, you are.”

Az breathes out a laugh and Crowley focuses on the meal and not the tapdance of his pulse. Nothing gets lit on fire, so that’s - a plus. He dishes it all out, and they eat at the table together, and they talk about nothing, and finish the wine. And Crowley doesn’t think about the wide white bed upstairs, or the fucking bath tub. 

He doesn’t think about why he’s here, or what will happen tonight. He just stares at Az’s face in the firelight, and throws his heart against the wall one last time. Hopes that it will stick. Or at least leave a mark.

When the fire is starting to die down and the second bottle of wine is nearly gone, Az looks purposefully at his watch.

He gets to his feet, and Crowley panics.

“I can take the - sofa. I don’t have any expectations, all right? It’s whatever -“

“You don’t have any expectations? That’s a shame because I -“ Az’s voice hitches slightly. “I do. Not that you can’t - of course you’re free to - but if -  if you wanted - what I mean is -” 

He shakes his head in frustration, words clearly failing him.

Then he holds out his hand. 

Crowley looks at it, palm open, welcoming and warm. It can’t be for him. It’s not for him.

“Come to bed with me,” Az says quietly. “If you like.”

And Crowley takes his hand.

(Look, it’s not always tearing clothing, pulling hair, leaving bite marks against throats. It’s not always frantic or up against a wall, you don’t always break a lamp with the viciousness of your wanting.

It’s not always “I can’t wait anymore,”  or “now, now, I need you, fuck -” 

Sometimes it is like that. Later, it will be.

But when Crowley imagined it, it was soft. 

And it is. 

This time, at least, it is.)

They don’t turn on any lights.

The moon is shining over the lake, and its light is just kind enough to fall upon the bed in silvered waves. They stand at the foot of it, staring at each other. 

How do people do this when they’re not blind drunk? Crowley should have - had a couple shots of whiskey or opened another bottle of wine, he can’t stop thinking, and he’s going to ruin this -

“Anthony.” Az must notice something going on beneath Crowley’s wretched skin, because he steps forward. Puts a hand on the side of Crowley’s face. “Is - is this what you want?”

And Crowley’s ugly when he’s in love (he can’t help the way he falls, the grease he leaves on the glass -)

“I’m going to fuck it up.” All the blood in Crowley’s body is gone, replaced by lust and panic. “I know, I know I’m -”

“Sit down.” Az says it quickly, the look of a soldier on his face. “Sit down on the bed.”

Crowley does. He fists his hands on his knees, tries not to dissolve as Az leans forward, leans down. Rests their foreheads together.

“My darling,” he says, “Can I kiss you?” 

Crowley nods, will never say no to that, he’d cut his own tongue out first. As soon as their mouths touch, the nerves start to fall away. Not entirely - Crowley’s prickly with nerves at the best of times - but soon the taste of wine and garlic on Az’s tongue, the plush softness of his bottom lip takes up more room than Crowley’s nasty inner-monologue. Az’s hands wind into his hair, and it’s better than good, it’s better than anything, Crowley had no fucking idea hands in his hair could feel like that. 

“Can I touch you?” Az asks.

“Yes, fuck -“

Az undoes the button of Crowley’s (tight, extremely tight, what the fuck was he thinking) jeans, undoes the zipper, pushes them low on his hips. He reaches inside, pushing past a layer of cotton until Crowley is hot in his palm, and fuck, Jesus, that’s - Crowley makes a mortifying mewling sound, thrusts helplessly up into Az’s grasp.

“You gorgeous thing,” Az murmurs, lips wet against Crowley’s jaw. “I’m - I’m going to undress. You just - stay there. Touch yourself, if you like. I’ll -”

Az backs up, pulls his t-shirt one-handed over his head. Crowley is confronted with the reality of Avery’s naked torso. The softness of it. The smattering of silvery-blonde hair (not much, just down the breastbone and then below the naval. His mouth bloody waters at the sight of it.)

“Stop that,” Az says a bit sharply (Az’s sharpness works for Crowley in a way he should probably examine when Pepper’s around.) “You look at me like -”

“Like what?” Crowley can’t stop moving his hands, tracing gentle patterns on his hip, his pubic bone, his inner thigh. He’s holding off, barely holding off from giving in, giving his cock exactly what it wants, jerking himself off to the sight of Az’s body.

“Like I’m -“ Az looks briefly pained, confronted with something impossible and longed for. Crowley wants to hear him say it, but instead Az shakes his head. 

“Should we close the - the curtains?” Az asks, waving a hand toward the window. “The light and - this -” He gestures toward his stomach, and that’s what makes Crowley stop being nervous entirely. He stands up, takes three steps forward until Az is in his arms, and then keeps walking, presses the man against the wall.

“If you think I can survive this without looking at you -” His mouth on Az’s neck is vicious. He needs to feel skin between his teeth, needs to feel the thump of a pulse beating against his tongue. “If you think every part of your body isn’t perfect, doesn’t make me fucking weak -”

Az makes some sort of garbled, inarticulate sound, tilting his head back so that Crowley can lick his throat properly. And Crowley may be a tangle of anxiety and wire coat-hangers in a leather jacket, but he jogs almost every day, does yoga most evenings, has a weight routine when he’s on the road and feeling twitchy. So what he’s saying - not to brag or anything - is that he’s got a bit of strength to him.

“Oh!” Az gasps as Crowley shifts him into his arms, lifting him off the ground. “You -“

“Wrap your legs round me,” Crowley growls against Az’s jaw, pinning him to the wall. “What do you want? I’ll do anything.” He shoves his mouth against Az’s, and their tongues slot together like a lock and a key. “What do you want? Do you want it like this? You want me to have you like this? You want me to suck you off again?  I’d do it this second if you wanted, drop to my knees right here, I’d love that. Do you want to fuck my throat? Do you want me to -“

Please -”

“Tell me and I’ll do it, tell me -”

Az kisses him, kisses him like it’s the first time in that hotel room (“like this, like - oh -this”) and Crowley wants to die. Pleasure always fills him with terror a bit, and he knows there will be no coming back from this, knows that every moment after this one will be a different colour palette - that he’ll be marking his life in lines of longitude, taking it apart like segments of an orange, all the Before and all the After. After this. After Avery.

“I’d quite like you - inside me,” Az says, flushing.  “And I’d like to be in bed. And I’d like you to be naked, if - if those jeans of yours even come off.”

Crowley laughs against Az’s throat (you can laugh during sex? Is that sort of thing all right, is it okay?) and feels Az’s arms wrap tight around him. His lips brush against Crowley’s temple, and Crowley lowers him back to the ground, steps away. 

The skinny jean process isn’t going to be pretty, but it’s his shirt that’s more concerning. He pulls the hoodie off anyway, and the t-shirt underneath it, holding Az’s eyes as he does so.

Avery looks at him like he’s beautiful, and Crowley doesn’t believe it (he knows what he looks like.) 

Ribs and hipbones and a whole stupid history of tattoos that he’s lucky he didn’t catch something from. A handful of stick-and-pokes done in filthy backrooms, an illustrated map of Crowley’s bad decisions (he knows, he knows what he looks like.)

“Oh,” Az breathes, and Crowley looks away, turns his attention toward his jeans, shimmying out as gracefully as he can (how do people do this when they aren’t high out of their tree? It’s impossible, completely mad, those people are sociopaths, all of them.) 

A moment later, Crowley realizes that he’s naked in front of another person for the first time in over a decade.

Fucking hell. 

He forces himself to look back at Az who is - naked as well. And soft and smooth-skinned and golden and -

- and the man he’s in love with. He loves him. He doesn’t have to be embarrassed.

At least they didn’t turn any lights on.

“I didn’t know,” Az says. “About -” 

Crowley clenches his hands into fists, but doesn’t let himself hide. “Yeah, got a bit of - um, ink done. It’s nothing pretty -”

“You are .”

Crowley stares at him. He’s overthinking things again, has been standing still for too long.

“I like them,” Az continues, and when Crowley shakes his head and runs his hand through his hair and looks away, Az steps forward to pet him. His hands trace Crowley’s thighs,  his flat stomach. Crowley lets himself be touched, which can be rough sometimes - but not this time. He lets Az bend and flick his tongue over one of Crowley’s nipples, lets Az lick a path over his collarbones and into his mouth again. They kiss, standing up, until Crowley is dizzy with it. His hands might never leave Az’s hair, ever again. 

Az is the one who pulls away first, and whatever he sees in Crowley’s face makes him come to some sort of decision.

“Get on the bed. Against the headboard.”

Fuck, is it ever good to be told what to do, to have someone take control so that he doesn’t have to. Crowley climbs onto the bed, stretches out his legs, holds onto the headboard so he doesn’t touch himself.  He watches Az rummaging around in his suitcase. 

This is happening. It’s happening and it’s okay.

“This is okay,” Az whispers (as if he’s reading Crowley’s thoughts, as if he’s trying to convince the both of them). He climbs onto Crowley’s lap, writhing against him, and the two of them let out matching moans. “This is - good.”

“Fuck yes, this is good.” Crowley pulls him closer, grinding their hips together, pressing kisses against Az’s throat. 

Az pulls back, bringing Crowley’s fingers to his mouth and sucking on them, laving them with his tongue. It makes the world go briefly white. 

“Please, would you -”

Everything gets a bit foggy after Az has tasted his fingertips (there will be no coming back from this, his mouth has burned Crowley’s fingerprints clean off.)

Somehow Az is straddling him, slicking Crowley’s hand with spit and lube.

Somehow Az is above him, looking down as he guides Crowley’s fingers inside him, searching, searching -

OH - yes, that’s-”

- there.

There’s a condom, and more lube, and then Az’s hands are in Crowley’s hair and he’s looking down at him like he’s not a rotten junkie covered with scars and shitty tattoos - like he’s something beautiful and touchable and holy -

“It’s been a long time,” Az says. His voice is trembling as much as his hands are.

“You have -“ Crowley isn’t sure what he’s allowed to ask. “- done this before?”

“I’m nearly fifty - do I look like a blushing virgin to you?” Az defeats himself by blushing as he asks, and Crowley kisses both of his cheekbones.

“Yes,” Az continues. “I have.  But - never with someone like you.”

“Like me?” His mouth goes dry at the question. God knows, there’s enough people out there with opinions about ‘someone like him,’ and what has Az heard, can’t be anything good, maybe he -

“Someone that I - liked.” 

Crowley takes a couple beats to process that. Takes a couple more. When he can breathe around the jagged bits and pieces of his heart, he leans up and kisses Az’s throat.

“Look at me, can you?” Az’s voice trembles. “Is that okay?”

It is.

And Crowley does.  

He could look forever. He loves the rose-petal flush that’s blotchy across Az’s neck and chest. He loves the curls of blond chest hair, the pink of his nipples. He loves the mole on his left collar bone, the softness of his shoulders.

Az nods, getting up on his knees a bit, reaching back to adjust. As he lowers himself, he closes his eyes, but Crowley can’t. Won’t. He’s not even going to blink for the two weeks they’re here.

“Oh fuck,” Az breathes, the curse sounding strangely proper from his lips. Heat surrounds the head of Crowley’s cock, and it takes every lesson in mindfulness and self-restraint he’s ever learned not to just mindlessly thrust upwards, not to take and take and fuck and fuck  -

“You’re - you’re so -“ Az is adjusting, breathing, sinking down on him inch by inch. 

“Is it good?” Crowley asks, “Please, is it -“

“Yes, yes, darling, it’s good it’s good it’s -“ Az takes the rest of him, bottoms out, moans like he’s been punched. “Oh my God, oh my -“

The sounds he makes are going to be the end of Crowley’s life. Az is frantic, barely moving but already falling apart. Crowley tries desperately to keep breathing.

“I’m going to - are you all right? Is this -“ Az’s hands are trembling on Crowley’s shoulders, his cock impossibly hard and leaking against his stomach.  Crowley’s flexible enough - he thinks if Az leaned back a bit, he could probably suck him off at the same time -

“Sssss perfect, angel.”

Then Avery moves, a slight shift upwards that sends Crowley’s vision spiraling. 

“Oh fuck, oh -“ Az sucks in a breath as he sinks back down, tilting his head to look at the ceiling. “This is -”

“It is,” Crowley gasps, thrusting his hips up just enough to make Az cry out. “There you go. It’s good, right? It’s good, you -”

“Love it.” Az’s eyes are closed as his movements increase, steadily, riding Crowley in earnest now. “I love it, it’s so -”

“God, Christ, like that. Fuck me, angel, just - do what you like.”

“I like this .” Az rises and falls on top of him, muscles of his thighs tensing beneath Crowley’s starving hands. Crowley wishes briefly that he could finger Az at the same time, or get Az’s cock in his mouth, or lick him where Crowley’s cock is fucking into him, or bite the back of his neck, or - Christ, he’ll never get enough of this, will he? It’s too good, too good, and he’s racing toward orgasm already, with every noise Az makes low in his white throat.

“You gorgeous bloody thing,” Crowley hisses, “Fuck yourself on me, get yourself off -”

Az cries out, fingers clenching on Crowley’s shoulders.

“Yes, just like that -” (So Az likes a bit of chatter, eh? Thank God that chattering mindlessly is Crowley’s specialty.) “Like that, like that, I want to see you come.”

“Oh you - I will, I will -”

“Come all over me,” Crowley says, hoping faintly that he can last that long. His mind runs scattershot over too many memories, too many fantasies of this moment, none of which hold up to the real thing. In his fantasies, Az was never this soft-skinned, never this wet or hot around him. In his fantasies, Az never whimpered “fuck” when Crowley rocked his hips up, never dug his nails into Crowley’s shoulder as he hiccoughed in surprise, dropping his hand to stroke his own cock.

“I can’t, I can’t, I’m going to - sorry, love, I -”

( Love, he said love) and Crowley grabs Az’s hips, slams them down on his cock, wanting to make it good, wanting to make Az want him, want him ( want me like this - )

“I love you,” Crowley says, the mortifying words falling from his mortifying mouth. “I love you, please -”

Az twists one hand into Crowley’s hair, tilting his head back and kissing him. It’s the hair and the kiss that does it. Crowley loses any control he ever had, shivers out an orgasm that doesn’t stop, can’t stop, goes on and on and fucking on, fuck’s sake -  

He has enough reason left to cover Az’s hand with his own, the two of them stroking Az through his own release, shocked speechless but still keening against Crowley’s lips, his jaw, his throat, in time to the restless rock of his hips.

“Yes, you gorgeous - fuck yes,” Crowley murmurs, hand growing slick, mind going silent and heart glowing neon pink as Az goes limp in his arms.

After.

And there is an after (the rest of Crowley’s life is going to be an ‘After’), they talk in the dark. Maybe that’s easier. Maybe it’s easier for Az to piece it all together when Crowley isn’t staring at him with his chin in his hand, saturated with happiness.

“Tell me about this one,” Az says, mouth against the snake tattoo on Crowley’s hip.

“Cottonmouth.  I don’t know what the fuck I was thinking. I was - they’re poisonous. Thought I was too.”

Az kisses it, drags his lips up over Crowley’s ribs to the Ace of Spades.

“Stick and poke,” Crowley says before Az can ask. “A - friend was getting one. Wanted both of us to do it.”

“Does it mean something?”

“It means I was a wanker.” 

There’s an anchor as well. A diamond. A traditional swallow overtop a skull. Az kisses them all, laughing against his skin, and Crowley glows so brightly that he lights up the room.

“Is that a - pear?” Az pushes Crowley’s shoulder forward so he can see it better.

“Uh - yeah.” Best not go into too many details here. “I was not - my best. They really should have kicked me out of the shop, though I probably kept throwing money at them. Think I woke up with it.”

Az kisses that tattoo as well. “I like pears,” he sighs, and Crowley decides that he loves all his tattoos now, the whole ugly mess of his body, every inch of skin Az has touched.

“What about those?” Az rubs a thumb across the three round scars on Crowley’s breastbone.

“Um.” Fuck fuck fuck. “Burn marks.” The first time he relapsed. Disgusted with himself, disgusted with the world, and high as a fucking kite.  “Did - um - those myself.” 

He waits for Az to tell him he’s a nightmare. Waits for Az to say (kindly, of course) that he’s too broken to touch without getting your fingertips cut. He waits for Az to get up out of the bed and call for help or flee into the night or - something.

But instead of that - Az’s eyebrows pull together. He winces. Then he kisses those three scars, one after another, with just a hint of tongue (Crowley is going to faint. He can’t hold this much kindness in his body, he feels it at the back of his throat. Bile. Blood. Spit. It’s all too much, all brimming underneath his skin.)

“Real - real fucking drama queen, right?” Crowley hopes that he can distract Az from the tremour in his voice if he’s flippant enough. Self-harm, who cares, what a laugh. “You have any? Scars? Tattoos? Ex’s names I should be aware of?”

Az lifts a hand to his cheekbone, almost without thinking. Crowley watches the man run his thumb over it, tracing something invisible in the dim light.

“There’s - a small one there. I don’t know if you can see.” Az lowers his hand, tilts his head. Crowley doesn’t notice anything.

“What happened?” 

“My dear - this is terribly embarrassing but - could I hold you? For a moment?”

Oh fuck right off. (Crowley doesn’t say it, but Az can bloody well hold him for the rest of his life if he likes, never has to ask, never.) He rolls onto his side, and Az spoons up behind him, wraps his arms around Crowley’s waist, tugs him close.

Then he tells him a story.

It’s a story Crowley has never heard before. 

It’s not a nice story. Not a happy one.

Tracy’s in it, and she’s lovely as ever. Other people are in it too, people Crowley wants to find immediately and grind into the pavement.

When Az stops telling this story, he’s shaking, and Crowley’s hands are clenched around his, all their fingers interwoven and pressed flat on Crowley’s chest.

“Your whole - life.” There’s something in Crowley’s throat. It might be a shovel.

“My - yes. My whole life.” 

Az lets out a long, unsteady breath, and Crowley feels it against the back of his neck, between his shoulder blades. 

“And I don’t. Know.” Az laughs like breaking glass. “How to - I think it might be rather - too late for me.”

“It’s not,” Crowley replies immediately. He’s trying to keep his voice calm, trying to keep any trace of anger or grief out of it.

“Perhaps not. But I - An-Anthony. I don’t know if I can -” There are damp lips against the back of Crowley’s neck, every word Az is speaking burned directly onto his skin. He knows he’ll have other scars by the time this trip is over (some more superficial than others.) “I don’t know if I can ever -“

“Hey, angel, just -” Crowley rolls over, has to look at Avery’s face right now. In the moonlight, his hair is pale and his eyes are huge and he’s lost for a moment - until he meets Crowley’s gaze. Crowley might feel an ache like an ulcer in the pit of his stomach, and he might know a whole awful history, but this man in his bed is still so familiar. 

I know you, Crowley wants to say, but doesn’t. I know you.

This man gave a leather jacket away on the night they first met. He brought Crowley tea when he was mid-spectacular-breakdown, he held Crowley together through one long shoot and into another. The man in his bed looked at Crowley like he wasn’t marked or scarred or broken, like he’d never fallen (this man kissed him, kissed him -)

Crowley leans forward. Presses his lips to whatever invisible mark Az thinks he has on his cheekbone. 

“I’ll take whatever you want to give me.” (‘This is going to hurt you,’ Beez is buzzing around in his brain, but Crowley bats them away.) “It’s your choice. But this week -“ He swallows. “Maybe we could - just. Be together. However you like.”

“Even if -“ Az searches Crowley’s face, and Crowley pushes his hands through the man’s pale hair, dragging his bitten nails slightly against Az’s scalp. “Even if I -”

“Even if - anything, angel.” He says it, and means it, and it does hurt. Just a bit, not enough to cause any concern. He has put lit cigarettes out on his skin; this is absolutely nothing in comparison.

“Why would you - why are you so kind?”

Crowley gives Az a look he’s probably given him hundreds of times by now - an ‘are you actually being serious?’ look. This time, instead of making Az roll his eyes and ignore Crowley entirely, it draws him in for a kiss. There are whole paragraphs of unsaid words in that kiss, there are pages of a book that Crowley will never write, never read aloud with Az’s head in his lap. 

But he can kiss him. Tonight.

They fall asleep there, wrapped around each other, and Az doesn’t say anything about Crowley being clingy or too much. Az holds him close, and snores against his neck, and whatever Beez said - this bit doesn’t hurt.

( Oh it’s such a perfect day

I’m glad I spent it with you.)

It’s not often that Crowley wakes early - he could sleep and sleep and sleep, could pass whole centuries in bed. But that first morning together, he wakes up before Az does, the two of them twined around each other like handsy vines.

It’s barely light out. Crowley watches Az sleep for a bit (not in a creepy way. Or maybe it’s a bit creepy, Crowley’s creepiness-meter is off lately.) He likes how calm Az’s face looks when he’s sleeping, the gold of his eyelashes against his cheeks. He likes the softly parted lips, wants to lick his way between them and then kiss his way down Az’s chest and take him in his mouth, suck him to hardness, choke on his cock until Az is stuttering out an orgasm beneath him -

Wow, okay. Good morning.

Anyway, Crowley isn’t going to do that because the man’s asleep. Can’t be waking him up with oral sex, not without establishing some parameters around that sort of thing. However delicious it might be in Crowley’s head (he’s going slow. If he’s going to fuck it up - and he will - he’ll at least try to delay it for as long as possible.)

Instead, Crowley gently unwinds from the gorgeous warmth of Az’s skin. He dresses silently, pulls on a few layers because the air is brisk and clear, the sort of autumn morning you dream about in the dead heat of summer. He creeps down the stairs in wool socks, steps into his boots but doesn’t lace them. Tromps outside (as quietly as he can tromp) to have a cigarette.

He sits on one of the deck chairs, even though the wood is freezing against his skintight denim and he wishes he had brought a blanket. He smokes and watches the ducks, and gets helplessly, revoltingly thoughtful.

Az might never want anything more than this. 

Might want a week away here and there with Crowley, and then nothing else. Might want dinners and drinks together, but no hands touching over the table, no pecks to the cheek on the way to the car, no - promises. Or he might not want any of that either, might want these two weeks and then decide to put an end to it.

But Christ - that’s like any relationship, isn’t it? Crowley’s got no right to be making any kind of plans, having any sort of expectations, because it’s new. It’s all new, and who knows where it will end up? Just slow the fuck down, get it together - doesn’t matter how in love you are (and he’s never been one for self-control. Huge surprise, right? Don’t fall off your deck chair or anything.)

After the cigarette, Crowley goes back into the cottage and starts the fire, tries to warm the place up a bit. He boils a kettle; there’s a French press, and he makes a pot of tea for Az and a pot of coffee for himself.  Az comes downstairs at the smell of it, wearing a fuzzy robe and slippers, looking so bloody adorable that Crowley is briefly speechless. 

“Good morning.” Az puts his arms around Crowley’s waist, kisses his neck. It’s so heartbreakingly domestic that Crowley thinks he might go into cardiac arrest. But instead he says, “Good morning,” and it is, it is .

(For nearly two weeks it goes like this.)

Az spends an afternoon reading and Crowley drowses beside him. There’s sun shining in the windows, and Crowley wakes up to find himself sprawled across the sofa, his head in Az’s lap, and Az’s free hand petting idly through his hair. Nothing has ever felt this good, and Crowley bloody purrs as he slowly surfaces out of sleep. 

“M’sorry,” he slurs, embarrassed. “M’all over you -“

“It’s quite all right, dear,” Az laughs gently. “You’re lovely like this. Sleep as long as you like.”

And Crowley closes his eyes and drifts back to sleep, and dreams of a world where he is lovely.

(It goes like this.)

They take the canoe out on the lake. 

Crowley isn’t thrilled about it, but their only company is the ducks, and Crowley doubts that they’ll kick up enough of a wake to tip the canoe over. Az wants to wait until it’s dusk, and they bring a bottle of wine with them, then float, lazily, watching the stars appear between patches of cloud. Crowley makes a wish on every one, and the wish is always the same.

The sky shifts from violet to midnight blue, and the two of them drift on the water as if they have nowhere else better to be in the whole world. And for Crowley, at least, it’s true.

(Like this.)

They sit on the sofa, Az’s laptop propped up on the coffee table, watching the new Ava DuVernay film.  Crowley keeps losing the plot, getting distracted by Az’s hand resting on the cushion between them, like an invitation. Like a question. He puts his own hand down a few inches away from it, as casually as possible. Uses his powers of visualization (whatever, he’s fickle and he’ll try anything) to will Az to take it. 

Az doesn’t, but he does glance over at Crowley, smile tightly, and look away. Sod this, then. Crowley reaches across the distance, traces his thumb over the back of Az’s hand. Az flinches - a bigger reaction than such a simple touch should probably warrant - but he does not pull his hand back. Instead, he laces their fingers together, brings Crowley’s hand to his mouth, kisses the back of his knuckles.

(Also - they have a lot of sex.

In case you thought it was all dried roses and hand-holding now. 

In case you thought that this evening on the couch doesn’t end with Crowley climbing into Avery’s lap, the two of them making out like teenagers, Az’s hands under Crowley’s shirt and scratching up his spine, their hips grinding and grinding until Crowley swears and blushes and comes in his fucking pants, Jesus Christ -

In case you thought the night in the canoe doesn’t dissolve into kissing and laughing as they try to keep from tipping over while still getting their trousers undone. Doesn’t result in a desperate, hurried trip back to shore, and then a series of hot, stumbling kisses on the shoreline, and then Az pressed against the cottage door, cuffs of his trousers wet - “I need you now, please God, now -”

“You’re going to fucking kill me, angel -” Crowley dropping to his knees, sucking him off right there with one of Az’s delicious thighs draped over his shoulder, Az’s hands in his hair, and the ducks bloody traumatized for life.

In case you think they don’t wake up together, and have slow, half-asleep morning sex, Az still opened up and slick from the night before, and Crowley nudging up behind him, mouth on his shoulder and hands gentle on his soft stomach, barely thrusting, just rocking against Az until they both reach a quivering, quietly devastating climax that Crowley feels in his fucking teeth -)

The ugly real world creeps in from time to time, can’t help itself. Can’t help but remind them what’s at stake here. Of what’s waiting for them once the two weeks are over.

On the fourth day, Crowley thinks he might go to town, and asks Az if he wants to come with. 

Az’s eyes go wide for a moment, then he shakes his head, a fluttery, nervous gesture.

“I don’t believe I - will. Might wander a bit around here or - books, you know, have lots of - reading to - do enjoy yourself though.”

And that’s fine. It’s fine.

So Crowley wanders around Ditchling, visits the museum, picks up some more wine, grabs the most expensive chocolates he can find at the gift shop. He stops in briefly at a second-hand bookstore before realizing that - that he doesn’t particularly care about second-hand bookstores. He’s only doing it because it’s the sort of thing he’d do if Az were here. If they were here together.

Which they aren’t. 

Which is fine.

Fine as it all is, he has to go for a run when he gets back to the cottage, just to get the hell out of his head. For about an hour he jogs through the woods, letting the world dissolve into white noise. It starts raining about halfway through his route, but the trees block the worst of it. He maybe jogs a bit longer than he should (even though everything is fine, it’s fine) and when he gets back to the cottage, the rain is falling harder and his muscles are screaming at him. 

Fuck, if he’s completely locked up for the rest of the trip, he’s going to be pissed off.

Az is still on the sofa, reading and drinking a mug of cocoa when Crowley comes in the door. He watches as Crowley drinks a whole pint glass of water, and stretches, and complains about his hamstrings until Az finally says, “Perhaps a - a soak would help you.”

“A - soak.”

“We - I mean, they have a bath tub.”

“Hmph.” Crowley considers it. He’s pretty wet through, shivering and sore and maybe Az has a point. They haven’t used the tub yet, and it’s kind of a - feature. “Yeah. I’ll just - have a bath then.”

“All right.” Az turns his attention back to his book, and Crowley tells himself he’s imagining the flush of colour on his face.

He runs the water as hot as it will go (likes it so warm it hurts a little), adds a couple bubbly this-and-thats, and strips off his wet clothes. He doesn’t hear Az’s footsteps on the stairs until he’s completely submerged, head resting on the back of the tub, breathing in the lavender-scented air and pretending he isn’t writhing with nerves beneath the milky surface.

“Feel better?” Az asks, and Crowley sighs. He doesn’t open his eyes until there’s a touch on his head, the feeling of his hair tie sliding out of place.

“Is this okay?” Az strokes soft hands through Crowley’s damp hair, and he can’t help the mortifying moan that escapes his mouth. “I see .”

“Shut it.” There that’s better, get yourself under control.

Az has pulled a stool over to the edge of the tub, and he sits there, playing with Crowley’s hair while Crowley bites down on anything louder than a sigh and melts into fragrant steam.

“Are you - plaiting it?”

“Don’t sound so surprised. I do have a younger sister.” Az tugs at a loose curl, pulls it tight but not so tight that it feels anything other than lovely. “Is this all right? You have such beautiful hair. I’m so glad you’re wearing it long.” 

Sometimes Crowley thinks his long hair is more trouble than it’s worth, but fuck it - he’ll wear it long forever. Grow it out past his waist, be some mad old ginger hippy, if it means that Az will pet it and untangle it and braid it back.

When Az is finished, and Crowley’s hair is out of the water and out of his eyes, Az’s hands move to Crowley’s neck. His shoulders. He presses his thumbs into the muscles there, rubbing the ache out of them, and fucking hell, Crowley can’t bite down on these sorts of moans. It makes Az chuckle, and makes Crowley glow an electric red, but there’s no helping it. It feels too good for him to be embarrassed. 

And after about ten minutes of this, it starts to feel good in an entirely different way. 

Az presses a kiss to the side of his neck, and Crowley reaches up one wet hand, stops him before he can pull away.

“If you don’t get your kit off and get into this tub with me -”

“You’ll what,” Az says, hint of a smirk on his mouth. But his hands are already undoing the buttons of his shirt.

“I don’t know. It’ll be something really devious.”

“Oh?” Az slips the shirt off his shoulders, peels off the vest underneath.

“Yeah.” Crowley can’t banter right now, doesn’t have two brain cells to rub together at the sight of Az getting naked.  It’s a bright autumn afternoon, sunlight bleaching the walls around them, and Crowley takes advantage of it to do a fair bit of objectifying. 

He loves the soft curves of Az’s torso, the strength of his arms, his thick thighs. The silvery-blonde smattering of hair that Crowley always wants to touch, to taste. 

“Fuck me ,” Crowley murmurs, helplessly, and Az raises an eyebrow.

“All right. But perhaps on dry land, dear.”

He gets into the tub, hissing a bit at the temperature, submerging himself in increments only. Crowley watches this too, studies the goosebumps that prickle over Az’s skin, the way his nipples tighten. As soon as Az is waist deep, he crawls forward between Crowley’s spread thighs, and slides slick against his skin.

“Is that for me?” Az asks, fingers running over the length of Crowley’s cock, hard since Az started playing with his hair (it’s fine, don’t read too much into it.)

“What do you think?” Crowley kisses the side of Az’s face, his jaw, his neck, already damp with steam.

“I think it is.” Az starts to move his hand, very slowly, thumb caressing the tip with every stroke. “You’ve been lying here in this tub, getting all worked up over me.”

“Christ -”

“You’ve been thinking about me doing this -”

Avery -”

“You’ve been - wanting me -”

Crowley has, he has , and his hips thrust into Az’s grip. He wants this all the time, every minute. It doesn’t have to involve sex, no one even has to come, if Crowley’s skin can be pressed against Avery’s, if they can be close enough for Az’s heartbeat to rattle in Crowley’s chest.

He twists, tries to reach for Az, but Az lifts his hips back, out of reach. 

“My dear.” He bites a kiss against Crowley’s gasping mouth. “My darling. Just let me. Let me do this, let me take care of you.”

“Bloody - you’re going to kill me -”

“I’ll take care of you.” Az sucks on Crowley’s throat. “Always, I will. Will you come for me, you’re so beautiful like this, come in my hand, I want you to -”

“Jesus Christ, fucking f ucking hell - I’m -”

It’s too much, too good, and Crowley comes with Avery’s collarbone between his teeth, bubbles and bathwater sloshing up the sides of the tub and the world going white, white, white -

(It goes like this.)

Crowley is in the kitchen, cooking beef bourguinon with his phone in one hand, fretting over every step (all right, he may have overestimated his culinary talents but it’s kinda like a stew, isn’t it? And he’s made stew before, this can’t be - that much different. And okay, he’s trying to be a bit flash as the holiday winds down, trying to show Az that he can make him posh Julia Child fare whenever he fancies it.) 

There’s - a fair bit of red wine in it, and the longer it simmers, the better it will taste (so far it tastes fucking fantastic if he does say so himself.) Az has gone outside to replenish their firewood, and there is no record player in the cottage ( aggrieved hipster sigh ) so Crowley’s got some internet playlist going on his laptop, thanking whatever Gods deal with this sort of thing for the two weak bars of wi-fi.

There’s music playing, and the light is fading across the sky, and Crowley is stirring the beef bourguinon when he hears the door shut.

“I’m back,” Az calls out merrily, “That smells divine, you are entirely too good to me.”

“Not at all,” Crowley says without turning around. He likes the sounds of Az fussing behind him, likes to see if he can imagine exactly what the other man is doing. He hears shoes being taken off and a coat hung up, hears wood clattering down in a pile by the fireplace.

A new song comes on the playlist, some soft bluegrass thing, and Crowley sways briefly to it, filling the sink with hot water (clean as you cook, right? Giada would probably like that.)

Then Az’s hand is on his shoulder, turning him around.

“Hey -”

Then one of Az’s hands is sliding onto his waist and the other is taking his hand and they’re -

Dancing.

It takes Crowley a moment to process it. Takes him a moment to separate the edges of his body from the music that’s reaching from the bluetooth speakers to touch his aching skin.

“Romantic - nonsense,” he manages, ignoring whatever the hell his vocal chords are doing. Ignoring the heat that’s stinging his eyes.

“The worst sort of cliché,” Az responds. They sway together, in time with the rhythm of the song. 

Crowley loops his arm around Az’s shoulder, presses them as close together as he can. A moment later, he rests his cheek against Az’s, gives up any thought of being awkward or embarrassed. 

“Still.” Az’s lips are close to Crowley’s ear, and each word sends shivers down his spine. He can feel a pulse beating against the side of his face, and doesn’t know if it’s his or Az’s or if it even matters. “I thought it might be something to try.”

Crowley nods. Can’t speak for a minute. Dances with Az in the kitchen, hands around his shoulders and then sliding down to rest on his hips and then clutching handfuls of his shirt. 

Clutching, at least, is something Crowley’s good at.

(Does it all run together? Do the days blend into one?

They don’t.

When Anthony Crowley is an old man (and he does live to be an old man. Surprising no one more than himself, he lives past an age he didn’t think he’d even reach) he’ll sometimes look back on this trip as if each day is a photograph in an album. He will peel each one from the page, hold it to the light, and return to that moment. Sweet as a slice of apple on his tongue.)

It’s the tenth day. There are only four days left.

There are also sun-dappled sheets and waves lapping at the shore.

There are Az’s hands on Crowley’s hips, and Az’s sweat-damp forehead between Crowley’s shoulder-blades.

And it is morning.

“Oh, you’re so good, you - you take me so well, dearest -”

Crowley lets out a moan that he immediately tries to muffle with his forearm.

“Do you - like that?” Az asks, “When I - when I tell you -“

“God, fuck, angel, I like - I -”

“When I tell you you’re good  -” Az punctuates this with a thrust of his hips, and Crowley gasps out a snarled yarn of curses. 

“Please, Az -“

“Relax a bit for me, just - oh yes, just like that, oh my darling -”

“Fuck-fucking hell,” Crowley stutters and his hips jerk.

“Don’t rush, just - like this.” Az refuses to quicken his pace, keeps Crowley right on the edge of madness with each slow, deep thrust. It’s too much  - Crowley has to gulp lungfuls of air, has to focus on the feeling of sheets clenched in his fists, or it will all be over. And it can’t be over yet, he needs to - needs to make this last. 

“Harder, please, fuck -

“Not yet,” Az murmurs, a beautiful monster who somehow knows preternaturally what will leave Crowley in ruins. He even slows down a fraction, and it makes Crowley wail, all shreds of his dignity forgotten.

“Angel, angel - I can’t - I can’t -”

“Hush, darling. You can. I know you can.”

It’s been too long like this, on this precipice of pleasure. Sometimes Crowley thinks he’s been here for the last ten days, gasping and begging and so hard it hurts.

“I want to look at you. Please, please, can I look at you? I want to -”

“All right,” Az breathes against his skin like he’s doing Crowley an immense kindness (and he is.) He pulls out slowly, and it leaves Crowley gasping, so empty he feels hollow. It’s worth it, though, to roll onto his back, worth it to look into Avery’s eyes as he grasps Crowley’s thighs and thrusts home again -)

F-fuck - ” Crowley cries out, and he’s ridiculous, and he’d be embarrassed if he wasn’t moments away from coming all over his chest. 

“Like that,” Avery murmurs and it takes Crowley back to their first kiss, the hotel room door and his hands nothing but burns on Avery’s skin. “Oh God, like -“

Sometimes Crowley thinks he’s been here for the last ten days, on his back in this bed. Surely ten days should be time enough to get used to this feeling, the panicky bliss of having access to Az’s skin, his hair, the plum-bite of his mouth?

“I can feel you darling, you’re so close.” Avery pins Crowley’s hands above his head. “Please -”

“I don’t - oh fuck me - want it to end -” The slowness is too much; there’s more to feel, more time to feel it. Crowley thought it might be easier but - it isn’t. It’s so much worse. “Leave a mark on me. Bite my neck, my shoulder, God, fuck, quickly before I -”

Az leans forward, sucks a bitemark on Crowley’s shoulder that makes his spine arch, that makes all the pleasure draw together and punch out of him. It’s an orgasm with teeth and tears in it, and Az pulls his mouth away from Crowley’s shoulder, kisses him through the rest of it as Az shudders and comes inside him.

Crowley doesn’t say ‘I love you.’ But he thinks it, and he feels it with every beat of the pulse that stings his shoulder.

When he can focus again, he tilts his head down to study the purple mark Az’s teeth have left there. A violet against his skin. He presses a hand to it, and kisses Az’s forehead, and never wants to leave this moment.

But that’s not how it works. The moment dies, and then the next one falls into the grave on top of it.

They make out a bit after they’ve both caught their breath, until their mouths get dry and they have to separate to drink some water.

“I’ll put the kettle on,” Crowley says, and Az kisses the palm of his hand.

“You’re so good.”

With wobbly legs, knees that have never locked in their life, Crowley throws on some joggers and a t-shirt, makes his way downstairs for the first cigarette of the day (okay, it’s an addiction but it’s also an easy out for when his emotions run too ragged and he needs a bit of space. To collect himself.)  He sits on one of the deck chairs, idly tracing the mark on his shoulder like it’s a fucking badge of honour.

After a couple of puffs, he looks at the cigarette in his hand.

He stubs it out. Sticks it in the can. Goes back inside to brush his teeth, so he can kiss Az properly.

But Az is waiting for him at the foot of the stairs. 

His face is absolutely sheet white, and he’s dressed in the rumpled clothes he was wearing yesterday. 

And his cellphone is in his hand.

Oh God. 

“What’s happened?”

“I had it on silent,” Az says, breathing heavily, “so that - we could - but my sister.”

“Is she okay?”

“She texted. I had missed several calls so I -” 

“Az, what -” Crowley reaches out to touch his shoulder -

- and Az flinches (the man Crowley loves flinches.)

Flinches away from him. Then he stares at Crowley in shock and splitting grief as the two of them realize what’s just happened. What’s just changed. (Crowley’s hand hangs in the air for a moment before he drops it.)

“My father’s in the hospital,” Az says, voice thick. “He’s - he’s had a heart attack. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.  I have to go.”

“Oh. Yes, course you do.”

“I -” Az is gathering up his books on the sofa, too many to carry all at once. “He’s in the hospital back home. It’s about five hours to drive - but maybe I should catch a flight from - I’d have to get to Gatwick -”

“Az. By the time you get a flight and get back to London -”

Az keeps picking up books and dropping them, and Crowley stops him with a hand on his arm. This time Az does not flinch away, just trembles under Crowley’s palm.

“Leave this,” Crowley says. “We’ve got the place for four more days. I’ll have Beez send someone ‘round to pack up.”

“Oh - would you?” 

And Crowley knows a good deal about pain, and all the shades of it. So he says the worst thing he can think of.

“Let me go with you.” Crowley waits for the ‘no’, the ‘better not’ (keep talking, keep talking. Look, whatever we are now, we were friends, right? We’re still friends. Let me take care of this, take care of you. ) “I’ve got the car. We can leave right now. Let me come with you.”

Avery stares at him hopelessly, then glances around as if looking for an answer in the cottage somewhere.

Crowley doesn’t know if Az finds it, but after a moment, Az puts his hand on top of Crowley’s. 

And he nods.



Chapter Text

 

 

Is it enough to have some love

small enough to slip inside a book

small enough to cover with your hand

because everyone around you wants to look.

- Amanda Palmer, “Astronaut”

 

(The first person Crowley loved had hair as black as crow feathers, and skin like polished mahogany. He was funny and mean and he wore his tie too low around his throat, was always getting demerits for it. He smoked pot with Crowley out the window of their posh boarding school, and was sharp-edged as shattered crockery (long fingers, soft skin, hard jawline.) He kissed Crowley for the first time on a warm day in June, and there were apple blossoms in the trees and on the ground, crushed into the mud beneath Crowley’s Doc Martens.

He was fifteen.

The first person Crowley loved knew a lot about vinyl, listened to the Ramones, and told Crowley that their broken edges fit together, and it was beautiful, and Crowley was too.

The first person Crowley loved was a liar.)

*

During the drive north, Az is mostly on his phone. Not talking much, usually listening. Asking the occasional “But when -” before being cut off by his sister (Sarah, right? Pretty sure it’s Sarah.) Crowley can’t hear what she’s saying, just the soft murmur of her voice coming out of Az’s cellphone. It’s like white-noise, like static.

Az calls Tracy as well, and his voice gets lighter when he talks to her. Crowley listens to the shift of it, like Avery’s coming up from the bottom of a dark ocean and gasping a breath of air. It makes him want to reach across the gearshift and take Az’s hand (so he does. He does. Their palms and fingers still fit together like puzzle pieces. As if they were cut with a jigsaw, as if they were meant to fit .) 

They only stop once on the way, pick up sandwiches and coffee and water, and Az doesn’t complain when Crowley pushes the speed limit a bit further than he should (or when he takes Az’s hand again the moment they’re back in the car.) It’s about five hours to make the trip, which means Crowley can replay every time Az kissed him, or the weight of Az’s body against his own in the bathtub, or that morning in bed together (Crowley still feels wrung out from that orgasm, can’t believe it was just a few hours ago. A few hours ago his back was damp against Az’s chest, and they were moving together deep and slow and Crowley felt so good, so beautifully unhinged he thought he’d die from it.)

But that was a few hours ago. Now: Hartlepool. 

Az gets more and more tense the closer they get to it. When they reach the edge of the city, his hand slides out of Crowley’s.  

That’s all right, it isn’t a surprise. Crowley really should have been ready for it, had hours to prepare, but it still sneaks up on him (the blade in the dark that you never see coming.)

This is where you’re from, Crowley thinks, taking in the buildings, the streets, the colour of the sky. This is where you lived. This is where you grew up.

They reach the hospital and park, but as soon as the car is turned off neither of them move. Az’s face is paler than usual. After a moment he murmurs, “How tinted are these windows?”

So Crowley kisses him.

(The second person Crowley loved had short spiky hair the colour of sweet key limes, and skin like copper pennies. She was funny and mean and wore her tights ripped and her arms covered with strips of leather. She did shots of tequila at the bar with Crowley on the night they met, kissed him with salt on her tongue, and was sharp-edged as a razor pressed up against his throat (small hands, long neck, high cheekbones.) She kissed Crowley for the first time in an alleyway that smelled of piss and bleach. It was the middle of winter, and the ground was wet with rain, and Crowley’s mouth was wet with spit and lipgloss.

He was nineteen.

The second person Crowley loved got him his first tattoo, listened to Miriam Makeba and told Crowley that their broken edges fit together, and it was beautiful, and Crowley was beautiful too.

And for awhile, he believed her.)

“Oh, thank God.” 

In the waiting room, a sturdy woman with a head of blonde curls makes a run for them. She throws her arms around Avery (Sarah, then.).

“Dad’s out of surgery - they think he did all right but he’s hasn’t come out of sedation yet.”

“Is that - normal?”

“They aren’t concerned about it. I spoke to the surgeon, he’s going to come back and talk to us about what’s next.”

Crowley lingers at the edge of the conversation, feeling like he always feels: out of place (that’s not entirely true, though, is it? He didn’t feel out of place for the past ten days. For ten days he felt like he belonged somewhere. Like he’d come home.)

Az’s sister is staring at him when Crowley gets back from that little dissociative episode. 

“Apologies, um,” Az stutters, “Sarah, this is -”

“Anthony Crowley. The - the actor.” Sarah looks at her brother with wide eyes. “You’ve brought - you’ve brought Anthony Crowley here.”

Crowley tries out a smile. He can feel the ‘nasty bastard junkie bad boy bender scandal silver spoon criminal’ dripping out the corners of it.

“Where’s Tracy?” Sarah asks.

They’re only two small words, but they still make Crowley’s teeth ache.

“She’s on her way. Coming from London. Anthony and I were on a -” Az cuts his eyes toward Crowley. “A publicity tour.” ( A publicity tour .) “Down south. He drove me up as soon as you called.”

“Oh!” There’s a little bit of Az in the way Sarah says it, a brushstroke of gentle and unexpected gratitude. It makes Crowley’s heart suddenly warm. Makes him like her more than he had planned. “That’s so good of you, Anthony. Can I call you Anthony? Do you prefer Mr. Crowley?” 

“Anthony’s fi-“ is as much as Crowley gets out before he’s pulled into a hug. It’s entirely too tight and goes on for entirely too long. 

“Sarah -” Az interrupts.

Crowley tries to control his breathing so he doesn’t flinch away from it, go clammy and rigid and fish-skin pale. It’s nothing personal, it’s just - you know.

“I’m sorry!” Sarah finally lets go. “I should have asked. Oh my God, I’m sorry - I hugged the nurse, earlier, I’ve lost it completely. And I’m - such a fan of yours -”

“Sarah.”

“Right. Kids !” Her volume increases three-hundred percent. “Kids, come say hello to your uncle!”

Three rather sticky-looking children, each of them staring at an iPhone, unfold from a row of chairs and shuffle towards Sarah. Crowley recognizes them from pictures. He hopes they don’t all immediately go for a hug as well (he’s got nothing against hugging, just - he’s got to be in the right headspace for it. And know the other person pretty well. And - unless he’s staggering in love with them - he needs a fair bit of notice. 

Platonic touch is a whole - thing .)

The three kids dutifully say hello to Avery, barely glancing up from their screens. Az is so happy to see them that it melts Crowley’s heart (whatever, he’s cool, don’t look at him) but before too much small talk can happen, a dark-haired man with a stethoscope around his collar interrupts the reunion.

“Hello again, Sarah. Would you like to have a word about the surgery? Your father’s regained consciousness, and you can see him if -”

Daniel ?” The way Az says his name knocks Crowley back a half-step. 

The surgeon smiles, lines crinkling at the corners of his eyes. “Hello.”

For a moment, no one says anything. Crowley - takes another step back.

“Sarah said you were on your way.” The surgeon keeps smiling. Has he got no bloody respect? Az’s father is ill.

“I didn’t know you worked - here. That’s - what a surprise. That’s wonderful.”

Crowley checks the surgeon’s hand for a wedding ring. Not like he has any reason to, just - out of curiosity. There’s nothing on either hand but - would a surgeon have to take it off to do the whole surgery thing? Is that standard procedure? Crowley will google it later.

“You think? It’s hardly as exciting as what you’ve been doing with yourself.  But please, both of you, come into my office. I’m sure you’ve got questions, and then you can see your father if you like. And you’re welcome to bring your -” The surgeon glances at Crowley, and his smile drops. “Oh. You’re - you’re Anthony Crowley.”

“Yeah, hi.” Why does his voice sound so prickly all of a sudden? Crowley doesn’t even know this bloke, has no reason to get all spiny and arch-backed about it. (But Az clearly knows him, that’s the thing. Az looks at him with history in his blue eyes, and it curdles like milk in Crowley’s mouth.)

After some brief negotiations, Sarah and Az head off with Daniel the fucking heart surgeon, how wonderful and Crowley is left behind (voluntarily) in the waiting room, sticky children on either side of him.  He’s already forgotten their names, and he can feel the littlest one (a girl, blonde as her mother) staring at him in his peripheral vision.

“You were in that wizard film,” the oldest says, not looking up from his screen. His hair is shaggy and dark, with blue streaks dyed in it.

Oh shite, yeah, the wizard film.  One of the last films Crowley ever made before it all went pear-shaped. He practically spent it falling over on set, missing lines and passing out in his trailer. Leaning against things so he didn’t slide to the floor and calling it a character choice.

“Yeah - I did that one.”

“Are you a real wizard?” the youngest asks, tugging on his sleeve. 

“There’s no such thing as wizards,” the middlest sneers before Crowley can think of an answer that isn’t too childhood-ruining.

“There is too! What about Harry Potter?”

“He’s just from a book. He’s made up.”

“He’s not, he’s real!” 

“No he’s not, and Hogwarts isn’t real either, and you’re not going to wizard school.”

“Leave her alone, Emily,” the oldest says, but the youngest one has already started crying. Crowley wants to bolt out the doors and find somewhere, anywhere that he’s allowed to have a cigarette. Instead, he uses all the bloody mindfulness techniques Pepper ever tried to hammer through his skull.

“Hey - um - it’s all right. Probably. I mean.” He gives a comforting pat to the back of the kid’s iPhone. “I’m sorry, your sister is right. There’s no such thing as wizards.”

The middlest says “ha!” and turns back to some game involving quite a lot of gunfire. The moment she looks away, Crowley gives the youngest a very mysterious wink. 

When no reaction is forthcoming, he taps the side of his nose. That means something, right? He raises a single eyebrow, just to be sure the point is getting across (the point being magic! And all that.)

A slow smile spreads across the littlest one’s face. She taps the side of her nose, nods slowly. Excellent, Crowley’s crazy is catching. Spreading to the next generation, God help them all.

The kids are mostly quiet and zombie-eyed after that, and the afternoon is a long grey slog (aside from the fact that the littlest one keeps trying to hold his hand.)

Crowley hates hospitals (he thinks that like it’s interesting - is there someone who doesn’t hate them? Someone who likes to be around the fear and grief and loneliness, all wiped down with antiseptic?) When Tracy shows up it’s a godsend, and the kids clearly love her - or they put their phones down anyway, which seems like a pretty clear sign of devotion.

“That awful man left you alone with the three wee hellions?” Tracy asks, bending down to kiss Crowley’s cheek.

“What’s a hellion?” the youngest child asks, and Tracy ruffles her hair. She also, bless her heart, has brought Crowley a coffee, and tags off with him so he can have a frantic cigarette in the car park outside. 

When Az returns from his conversation with the surgeon, Crowley understands how sailors feel at the distant shimmer of dry land (how Noah must have felt at that first sight of the returning dove.)

They talk in whispers at the edge of the waiting room. Crowley can’t stop looking at Az’s wrists when his shirtsleeves slide against them. At the worry lines etched across his forehead. 

At his - upper lip. The pink of it.

“You may as well - head off. I don’t know how long I’ll be here.”

It makes sense, but Crowley is reluctant to leave Az alone. He nods anyway. He really doesn’t need to stay, and he shouldn’t. Not now that Tracy’s here. 

“Will you go back to the cottage or -“

“Nah.” Crowley doesn’t want to be there by himself, even if they’ve still got it booked for four more days. He doesn’t want to see the ghost of Az everywhere, the bedroom like a ruined city, all crumbling walls and impressions of former life. Something an archaeologist might explore (“this is where they might have eaten, this is where they might have slept, oh! Now see here, it’s the impression of knees where perhaps someone’s heart was fucked completely out of his body -”)

“All right. Well.” They’re in the middle of a hospital. There’s no possible way Crowley can take Az’s hand, no possible way he can step forward and kiss him goodbye. They may as well be on different sides of the world. “Safe travels.”

“Give me a call, let me know how your dad’s doing.”

“Of course.”

“Okay. Guess I’ll - see you later.”

Az knots his hands together, like a man made out of macramé. Crowley feels like throwing up, feels an ache like a vise around his chest, but - Christ, come on, the man’s dad is in the hospital. ( It’s not about you, mate. Leave it alone .)

“Goodbye, my dear.”

“Good -“ Swallow, speak, leave. Come on, it’s not rocket science, Crowley’s done it before. Crowley’s said goodbye to him a hundred times, should be used to it by now. “Goodbye.”

He nods and nods and keeps nodding as he walks back to the car. Says “goodbye” over and over again in his head, changing up the inflection so it doesn’t sound quite so much like he’s been shot in the throat. Then he drives back to London.

(The third person Crowley loved had hair the indigo of ink, and skin like sand on a beach. He was funny and mean and he wore silk neckties and shirts with starched cuffs and he did a lot of cocaine. A lot a lot of cocaine. They met at a film party, and he was sharp-edged as a credit card (narrow smile, narrow shoulders, narrow waist.) He kissed Crowley for the first time in a bathroom where Crowley would later blackout, and they fucked in that bathroom too, and everything felt too hot and too hard simultaneously. But in a good way. 

In a really fucking good way (Crowley was twenty-two.)

The third person Crowley loved had money, too much of it, and listened to Pulp, and told Crowley that their broken edges fit together, and it was beautiful, and Crowley was too.

Crowley should have been smarter this time. He really should have been.)

Az stays in Hartlepool for almost two weeks. 

Crowley knows this because Az texts him with updates, and calls him when he has a chance (which isn’t often, what with his whole family kicking around.) 

Az gets back to London around eight on a Tuesday night. 

Crowley knows this because the man shows up at his door (Crowley’s been wasting time watching pastry videos on youtube while - all right, while moping. Just a bit of moping, in a really casual way, just enough to still seem cool. It’s a delicate science, a bit like the pastry videos he’s watching.) 

Crowley’s never been one for desserts, not much of a sweet tooth, but he’s thinking of giving the whole thing a try just to see if he can. To see if he can get the butter and sugar just right, see if he can get Az to smack his lips, close his eyes, murmur, “Oh my dear. That’s delicious,” before Crowley licks the icing sugar from his mouth -

When there’s a knock on the door, Crowley stops moping immediately. 

Waiting outside is the impossibly exhausted man of his dreams. 

“Can I come in?”

“Yes.” Crowley wishes he didn’t look quite so rough around the edges - wishes he had shaved this morning and put on a less ratty t-shirt — but it’s too late for that now. “God, of course. Come in.”

Az glances around the flat like he’s never seen it before, like it’s new. “I dropped my bags off first, but then came straight here. I hope I’m not imposing. I should have rung you.” He doesn’t sit down, doesn’t even take off his coat. “Dad’s back at home, been home a couple days now. He’s doing so much better.”

“That’s - uh - good. Glad to hear it. Do you want -“ Crowley doesn’t have much in the way of food, but he’s got a few bottles of tolerable wine. “I could make you something? Or order in? Whatever you’d like.”

“I’d like you to close your blinds.”

Crowley’s mouth goes dry. His heart might stop (but in a really casual, cool way.) “Right.” 

“It has been two weeks of hospitals,” Az murmurs (while Crowley tries not to close the blinds so quickly he tears them off the wall.) “I want to feel anything, anything other than -”

That’s a far as he gets before Crowley (done with the bloody blinds at last) is swooping Az into his arms, slotting their mouths together, murmuring, “fuck, fuck, fuck,” into a feverish kiss.

“I want your shirt off,” Az says against Crowley’s neck.

“Yeah, okay.” Crowley tries to lean back to pull the t-shirt over his head, but Az keeps him in place, mouth sliding against his jaw.

“And I want you in a bed.”

“Just full of demands, aren’t you-”

“Yes,” Az gasps as Crowley insinuates his thigh between Az’s legs, grinding against the rigid outline of his cock ( I made you like this, it’s because of me, because you want me -) “Yes, I am.”

They make it to the bed - barely.

Crowley has Az on his back at the edge of the mattress, and fucks him with both feet still planted on the floor, bent over Az with sweat dripping off his forehead and one of Az’s legs resting high on his shoulder.  God, Satan , whoever the fuck is listening - Az is lovely like this, eyes wide and shining blue as cobalt. Crowley licks kisses over his collarbones and up his throat ( don’t leave a mark on him, not ever ) until he reaches Az’s perfect pink lips, and then they kiss for so long Crowley basically forgets they’re having sex, forgets about anything other than his tongue in Avery’s mouth.

“Um - darling, if you don’t move -”

“Shit, yeah, right -”

It goes on like this for awhile. The stop and start of it. Crowley’s ravenous hands and starving mouth and his utter inability to decide what he wants more of. It’s as slow as honey dripping from a spoon, and when Crowley finally comes (Az’s face held tight between his hands) it feels like it won’t stop, like it can’t stop, like he’ll stay hard and keep fucking Az through it, get him off again and again and fuck yes like that you GORGEOUS come for me come for me please -

But it does stop. Human physiology and that. 

Once the condom’s been dealt with (once Crowley had licked Az open and clean until the other man moaned and said “that’s enough, dear,”) they somehow manage to climb up the bed, sprawl in it together. Crowley’s head rests damp and heavy on Az’s chest and Az runs his hands through Crowley’s hair (the sort of knife that’s so sharp it can slip between your ribs without you ever noticing. Az knows all his weaknesses at this point. He’s entirely too dangerous.)

Crowley doesn’t want to ask it, but the question burns his mouth. 

“What do we do now?” ( How long can I keep you? How much time do I have? )

Az keeps petting his hair, hands steady and gentle. “I - don’t know. I didn’t think this was something I’d have to plan for. I never -”

He trails off. Crowley practices – being present. Staying in the moment. Focuses on the blunt fingernails scraping against his scalp, the quiet heartbeat underneath his ear. That old exercise Pepper taught him: how many things can you see, can you hear, can you smell (besides skin skin skin.) How many things can you feel? How many pieces can your heart split into and still be visible to the naked eye? 

What’s smaller, a shard or a splinter?

“Where are you off to next?” Crowley asks instead.

“I’m here until Christmas. Doing that benefit play, the one at the National. A bit of the talk-show circuit. And then - a couple functions for the foundation, you know.” Az breathes slowly. It ruffles Crowley’s hair. “Where are you?

“Here for a bit, then some conventions in Europe.” Crowley has an extremely stupid thought, regrets it before it’s even out of his mouth. “Should I share my calendar with you? Then you could - if you -”

“Would you?”

“Sure. I mean -” Cool, casual, not a big deal by any measure. “If you want.”

The petting continues, and it’s hypnotic.  Crowley could be lulled to sleep, feels like he’s on the ocean. Drifting in a canoe over gentle waves, green water writhing with jellyfish, a hand tucked warm against his own.

“This won’t be enough for you,” Az says suddenly (his hand stills. The boat fucking rocks.)

“It will be.” Crowley doesn’t know how he manages to make those words happen, but they happen immediately. They’re in his chest and then his throat and then spilling off the tip of his tongue like he’s had them ready to go for decades. 

This is enough. You’re enough. I’ll take your scraps, I’ll take your crumbs, I’ll take whatever you can give me (fuck, he should probably talk to Pepper.)

“How could it?”

When Crowley lifts his head, Az’s face is grey.

Because it’s you. (Crowley doesn’t say that bit, reels it in.  He needs someone to direct his life maybe. ‘Pull back the longing, Anthony, it’s spilling everywhere.’) 

“Look, we don’t have to – figure everything out. Any sort of thing like this –  any relationship will be hard, right? With our schedules and everything. So why don’t we just take it as it comes. Figure it out as we go.”

(This is going to hurt you -   Shut the fuck up, Beez, no one asked for you to weigh in on this.)

“We can take things slow. You’ve got your rules – you don’t want it to be public. Okay, we’ll be careful. We – we can still carry on as we have been. We’ll just be careful.”

“And you’d – do that?” 

As if Az even needs to ask. Crowley kisses him once, and then a second time. He’s got an addictive personality. 

“I – didn’t have a choice when I - you know. Came out, or whatever. Although - nobody had a gun to my head. I was just too fucking stupid not to bugger it up completely. Spectacularly, I might add.” 

“Anthony, I won’t let you just–”

“Nah, stop. I know it’s true. And I’m trying to tell you - I wouldn’t ever take that choice from you. Not ever. This is in your hands, angel.”

That’s something true as well. Crowley wouldn’t take control away from Az, he’d die first. But that’s easier said than done, right, like most of the shit Crowley says. 

Like most of the shit Crowley does.

“As long as Tracy's still involved, I don’t think anyone will suspect anything.”

“Yeah.” That’s a whole other thing Crowley is going to have to wrap his head around, fuck his life. But he meant what he said before. This, these stolen moments - they’ll be enough.

“We’ll be careful.” Az leans over, kisses him so gently it’s more like a puff of air. It makes Crowley’s face flush with colour. His wrung-out cock twitches just slightly, making a valiant and futile effort. “Is it really gone two? Oh, drat. I suppose -”

Please don’t say it.

“-I suppose I’d better head off. Before - it wouldn’t do to have someone see me leaving your building, would it? Thinking - things.”

Something is wrong with Crowley’s mouth, like he’s having an allergic reaction. Everything feels tight, stings slightly. “All right.”

“Brunch tomorrow? Or - would you like to see a film? Or -”

“Sure, angel.” It’s getting harder to speak and Crowley doesn’t know why. “Ring me up, then.  Let me know.”

Az pulls himself out of bed, and all the warmth in the world goes with him.

(The fourth person Crowley loved had hair like a stormcloud and skin like ironed linen. He was funny and mean and an artist - so Crowley was fucked up pretty much from the beginning. He made sculptures out of clay and wire, had a trust-fund the length of Tower Bridge, and was sharp-edged as an eyetooth dragging against an ulnar artery (lined eyes, strong hands, quick temper.) He kissed Crowley for the first time during a lightning storm,  some sort of Bohemian cliché, and his mouth tasted like electricity and magnetic north. 

Their first date lasted seventy-two hours.

Crowley was twenty-eight (Luke was thirty-two.)

And Christ, sometimes they fought like street dogs and sometimes they got off on all the surfaces of Crowley’s house and sometimes they didn’t sleep for days - strung out and in love and staccato with the joy of it. 

The fourth person Crowley loved introduced him to people, introduced him to music, introduced him to feelings, experiences (risks) he’d never taken before. The fourth person Crowley loved trailed hearts behind him like rose petals, and talked shit just because he could, and had a history of altercations with the law, and fancied himself as much of a mad, bad, Lord Byron type as you could be in skinny jeans and studded boots. He listened to French and German bands that Crowley had never heard before, and he knew underground artists and walked straight into all the best parties, and he told Crowley that their broken edges fit together, and it was beautiful. And Crowley was too (for a while, a while, he was.)

And Crowley loved him. Would have cut his whole heart out and offered it up in a blood-filled teacup. And Crowley knew nothing would ever feel like this again, nothing would hurt this bad and this beautifully, nothing would hold a candle to it. 

For years and years and years, nothing did.)

The publicity ramps up as autumn shifts into winter. 

Crowley goes to Berlin, goes to Edinburgh, goes to Madrid. He does an interview in GQ , gets a cover photo where he’s dressed in leather pants and black sunglasses with the headline: “Prodigal Son” (ugh, Mum and Dad are going to be well pleased about that one.)  Crowley starts getting stopped on the street now and then, gets people asking for his autograph on the tube. 

In October he flies to New York to meet up with Az and Anathema and does a photoshoot for Vanity fucking Fair . He hasn’t seen Az for three weeks, and they get to lark about in a misty field with Annie Liebowitz and then go back to his hotel room and have dangerously frantic shower-sex: their feet sliding in the tub, Az’s hands sliding against the slick tile wall as Crowley fucks him, gasping three weeks of distance into his shoulder blades.

“Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh my fucking -”

The heat and the steam and the ache in Crowley’s chest - he almost faints when he comes.

I want to wake up with you, he thinks hours later, as he watches Avery button up his shirt, fix his hair, call for a taxi. I don’t want you sneaking out in the middle of the night. I want to hold your hand across the table in a restaurant, let the bloody paps take all the pictures they like. 

I want to wake up with you and have nowhere to be but our bed. I want to make you breakfast, put the kettle on, look out the kitchen window in silence while you’re sleeping.

When Az kisses him goodbye, Crowley’s hands still smell like his come and his skin ( I want to wake up with you. )

Crowley’s off to conventions in Dayton and then Louisville and Memphis after that.  He signs autographs, poses for photographs with fans, answers questions on panels. He talks about the upcoming season. Talks about his co-stars. Talks a lot about Avery Fell.

(“Yeah, I’m aware of the stories about the two of us. It’s - real flattering stuff. Well, I assume it’s flattering. Haven’t read any myself, but you’ve gotta hope that if someone is writing sexy stories about you, they’ll at least have you know what you’re doing.”

“Does it make you uncomfortable?” the girl at the microphone asks.

“Not if everyone involved is having a good time. Ha, I mean I’m not going to seek them out or anything but - if it brings people together to make art - that’s a hell of a thing. It’s a good thing. I’m not bothered. And it’s fiction, right? Clearly Avery’s - got his lovely partner, and I’ve got - a Netflix queue of romantic comedies and a couple pints of icecream. And we’re colleagues. Friends. At the end of the day, well - he should be so lucky.”

That gets a laugh. Crowley goes back to the hotel that evening and holds a pillow over his face so he can scream as loud as he wants to without alarming his neighbours.

When he calls Az that night and the man asks how he’s doing, Crowley says, “Fine. Exhausted, but fine.” 

He does not say ‘my heart is breaking. Why is my heart breaking? I have you now, I get to touch you sometimes, I get to tell you I love you when I can bear to say the words. Why doesn’t this feel like a happy ending?’

“I miss you,” Az says quietly. “Ten days until London.”

“Ten days,” Crowley repeats, and there’s a shovel in his throat.)

The Christmas season barrels down on them, fairy lights strung up on windows and wound around streetlights. Everything shines with rain, and Crowley’s always been a cold-blooded reptilian sort of creature, wears ten layers every time he has to leave his flat. 

Hard to look cool in a check shirt. But he’s giving it the old college try.

No matter where he goes there’s some sort of Christmas music playing. He feels like he might be cursed (except when it’s The Pogues. Quality fucking song, Fairytale of New York. Just pump that shit straight into his veins.)

“What are you doing for the holidays?” he asks Az over the phone. He’s back in London, lying in bed, mug of tea cooling on the nightstand beside him. Az has fucked off to Wales for some charity thing, but at least Crowley doesn’t have to deal with time-zones.  

He asks about the holidays out of pure curiosity, not really expecting much of an answer. He certainly doesn’t think Az is going to spend the holidays with him and it will all melt into a treacly Christmas Hallmark film. He just wants to - know. The where’s and when’s of the other man’s existence. His life without Crowley.

“We’re all going back home, spending it with dad. It’s Sarah’s idea. It’s going to be - if I’m being honest - absolute mayhem. A complete nightmare.”

“Don’t hold back, tell me what you really think.”

“Don’t tempt me. You’ll never speak to me again.”

Crowley chuckles. “Don’t know about that. You’re rather charming when you’re furious.”

Az sighs. “There’s nothing charming about it. Sarah’s husband and my father aren’t - exactly the best of friends. They’ll both be in the hospital - or in jail - before the week’s out.”

“Christ, that sounds - like a lot.”

“It certainly will be. At least Trace is coming, she’s an excellent mediator.” Az goes quiet briefly. Somewhere in the distance, Crowley can hear a bit of Fairytale of New York. Or maybe that song is  just permanently in his head at this point. “I did wonder - will you be around for New Year’s?”

Crowley tastes blood in his mouth. It might be his imagination, or he might have just bitten the tip of his tongue off.

“New Year’s,” he repeats like a moron.

“Yes. I’ll be back in London by then. We could have a drink, dinner. I don’t have any plans yet, and Tracy’s going to New York with the girls. What do you think?”

Crowley hasn’t done much for New Year’s for - the past decade, really. There’s something about that day - the excess, the rush of it, the panic that a year’s gone by and you’re still the same twat you ever were - it’s caused a bit of trouble for Crowley in the past. Mentally. 

Chemically as well.

But - the thought of having Avery Fell by his side - even if he can’t touch him until all the blinds are drawn and the doors are locked -

“Sure, yeah.” Crowley is casual and cool and not at all a collapsing star in a vaguely human shape. “Sounds good.”

“Lovely.” 

And it is, it is.

(“I think you are consciously making choices that don’t disrupt your toxic self-image.”

Jesus fuck, Pepper, don’t hold back. Tell me what you really think.

Pepper doesn’t wait for Crowley to say a bloody word, just starts listing his many failings on her fingertips. “You fall in love with a man who is - at least initially - unavailable. Then you enter a relationship where all the rules are being set by another person, and you tell yourself that’s more than you deserve.”

“Yeah. And?”

“And it reinforces this narrative of unworthiness.” Pepper taps her pen three times against her notebook. “And if it ever ends you can just tell yourself you weren’t good enough to keep him. How does this sound to you?”

“It sounds -” Christ, how many more appointments does Crowley have to go to? Surely if Pepper was worth the exorbitant fee Beez is doling out, she’d have fixed him by now. Doesn’t she have a magic wand she can wave over his dented head? “It sounds about right.”

“That’s what you think you deserve?”

“Well. I mean. I’ve done some - things. Made some pretty rotten choices back in the - shit, you know me. You know what I’ve done.”

“And you have to flagellate yourself for that for - how long? How many years of this before you’ll feel like you’re forgivable?”

“It’s not like that.” Crowley has to clear his throat. “Unforgivable, right? Unforgivable. That’s what I am.”)

Anyway, so Pepper doesn’t like it. But when does she like anything Crowley does, any of the choices he makes?

The unfortunate thing is, Crowley’s getting slower and slower at dodging some of her sharper comments.

Sometimes after an appointment, he has to replay the entire conversation in his head while he goes running.

Sometimes he has to lie down on the couch and try to repress the last hour of his life. 

But more often than not - he thinks about it. Never, ever a good idea.

With Pepper’s words echoing around in his empty skull, Crowley initially plans on spending Christmas alone. But then - he gets a bit thoughtful. The holidays don’t mean all that much to him, and it’s not like his parents would want him to come for a visit but -

But it’s almost Christmas. And he’s in love. The twisted paths of his twisted thoughts don’t really bear discussing but long story short, he goes absolutely mental and invites Beez. 

And even though they are less than enthusiastic (frankly a bit hostile) about the invite - they accept. 

Crowley watches a few youtube videos (sorry Giada) and actually does a proper roast, with gravy and parsnips and Brussel sprouts and Yorkshire puddings. It isn’t the first time Beez has been to his flat, but it’s the first time he’s ever invited them over for anything other than business. They stare at him at him as he brings the roast out of the oven, scowling like he’s threatened the life of their nan.

“Since when do you think you’re Gordon bloody Ramsay?”

Crowley just about hits the ceiling.

“Don’t say his name in this house ever again. We love One Chef in this house and that sadistic Little-Lord-Fauntleroy-looking motherfucker is not the One Chef we love.”

“Um -” Beez is almost speechless, for once. Clearly they did not know the depths of Crowley’s feelings about Gordon Ramsay. “Yes, er - chef.”

At least the roast is good.

And the conversation is - interesting.

“There’s some buzz, you know.” Supper is finished, the plates have been cleared, and Beez is staring sullenly into a glass of sparkling apple juice.

“Some buzz , Beez ?”

Beez would murder him with telekinesis if they could. “Do you want to hear about it or not? Yes, some buzz. About the last season. About - you, if you must know.”

That’s a bit of a smack (the good kind, though, to a fun place.) “About - me? But -”

“Not that your co-star didn’t get rave reviews and that. Only I’ve heard - talk. With awards season coming up, thought I’d give you some time to prepare.”

“Prepare -” Crowley still can’t make these words relate in any way to himself.

“Prepare for a nomination.”

“The show’s been nominated before, it’s not -”

“For you, you idiot.”

Again, Crowley can’t piece the words and meaning together. Like - there must be something here, some trick or - some joke at his expense. Beez is absolutely the type.

“For me.”

“Nevermind. I wish I hadn’t brought it up. Should’ve had flashcards ready, puppets maybe. To make things easier for you.”

“You think I might be nominated for something?” Here we go, wheels are turning, things are happening. “For Warlock ? Me?”

Beez gives him a scathing look. “No, an aardvark. Who else would I be talking about?”

Crowley’s - never been nominated before. For anything. The kind of films he did in the past were more popular than critically-acclaimed (and his parents never let him forget it.) There was a bit of Oscar hype around Strings but it came out at a tricky time of year so everyone sort of forgot about it, and from that point onwards Crowley was mostly just taking the gigs that paid the most money (so he could put that money to bad ends.)

Shit, he might cry.

“Do you really think -”

“I’m not going to answer that again. I regret everything. Now pour me more juice or whatever and let’s talk shit about your competition.”

Miraculously, Crowley survives Christmas dinner with Beez (New Year’s is a different story. We’ll get there. Just - hold onto something.)

Az comes back to London. Comes over to Crowley’s. Crowley has the blinds pulled tight and snug and safe, and Az is crowding Crowley up against the door the moment after it shuts. They kiss and they kiss and they kiss; Crowley has his hands under Az’s shirt, mouth latched onto Az’s throat, their hips rock together until things get too close for comfort and they have to quickly find a soft, flat surface.

Afterwards, after they’ve cleaned up and redressed and let their heartbeats slow a fraction, Az gives him a Christmas present. Or - er - another one.

It’s an extremely fucking rare Velvet Underground LP box set (that complete git, it has Another View ? Where the hell did he find this?). Crowley has various and sudden regrets about the quality of his own Christmas gift for Az. He’ll have to do better next year (oh no. Fuck’s sake, rip that thought out by the roots, you lovesick bastard.)

“You got me -” Az tears off the wrapping paper. “ The Thing About Roses?

“On DVD.” Crowley smiles like an absolute monster. “See there? I signed it.”

“You absolute monster.” (Oh good, Crowley got his point across.)

“I could tell you were a huge fan.”

“Yes, thank you ever so much. A collector’s item, I’m sure.”

“Genuine Anthony Crowley memorabilia.”

“I’ll add it to the shrine, shall I?”

“You’d better.” Crowley could do this forever, could trade idiotic comments back and forth with Az all night. It’s the next best thing to touching him, kissing him, making him laugh, watching him enjoy something decadent and sweet. Speaking of: “You want to grab dinner somewhere?” 

Az does. So they do. 

They take the long way there (a tapas place Az keeps wanting to try, where Crowley watches him eat patatas bravas with increasing pangs of longing.) They share a bottle of wine and Crowley’s tolerance is shit these days (he’s been cutting back a lot) so the tiny restaurant goes beautifully soft and light around its edges. Crowley feels like he’s made of warm water, held in cupped hands and brimming.

“Stop that.” Az muffles the words behind his napkin, dabbing at his lips.

“Stop what?”

“That look on your face. It’s -”

“Yesss?” Crowley raises an eyebrow.

“Suggestive.”

“Is it? Any particular suggestions that come to mind?”

Az rolls his eyes at him, but it’s so bloody fond that Crowley feels it in his spine. He loves this man. He fucking loves him. He wants to say it out loud, not just in whispers against Az’s skin in the dead of night.

“I’ll tell you later. If I think of it.”

“See what I can do about jogging your memory.”

The waitress asks them both for their autographs (in a sweet, shy way, so that’s all right.) They’ve gone out for meals before, it’s nothing unusual. Nothing - untoward. When the wine is finished and Az’s plates have been scraped clean, they decide to walk back to Crowley’s flat.  They take the long way again. 

The world is shiny with rain, but the sky is clear and dark and starlit as salt scattered on a tablecloth. The streets aren’t too busy yet (though it’s only gone ten, and the same neighbourhood will be a mess after all the parties let out.) Crowley tries not to look too obviously at the man walking beside him, tries not to bleed affection out of the corners of his eyes with every glance. 

He clearly does, though, because Az nudges him, grinning, and Crowley nudges him back, and there are still lights strung up from Christmas and Crowley’s heart shines brighter than all of them.

They cut through an alleyway to get to one of the main streets. It’s dark and quiet and they’re completely alone. 

Az nudges him again. “You,” he says. The only other sound is the smack of their shoes on the wet pavement.  

“What?”

“You look at me like -”

Crowley stops walking. Looks at Az in the darkness. “Like what?”

“Like you -” Az licks his lips, and Crowley has to stare at them, can’t help himself. “Like you want to -”

Crowley pushes him up against the bricks, and Az gasps out a breath, tugs Crowley forward by the hair until they’re kissing (stupid, stupid, so fucking stupid.)

Because a door opens. 

Of course. Of course a door opens.

A slice of light cuts through the darkness.

“Sorry to break up an intimate moment, but -” A restaurant worker of some sort comes out, carrying a bin bag. And in a panic, Crowley (stupid, stupid again) jerks his head towards her. “Shit, you’re Anthony Crowley.”

(Should’ve hunched his shoulders, taken off in the opposite bloody direction. Should’ve never cut through the alley, should’ve never put his hands on Az’s soft tweed coat -)

“You watchyer fuckin’ mouth, mate,” Crowley shoves Az back against the wall, playing up the slur in his voice and hoping it will drown out the panic. 

“Crowley -”

“Insufferable prick. And you - you mind yer business - hey!”

The woman has her phone out, and Crowley immediately steps in front of Az, taking the flash full in the face. The only way out is through, so Crowley weaves toward her, doing his best to look drunk as fuck and absolutely unhinged (at least one of those things are true right now.)

“You delete that fuckin’ picture or you’ll hear from m’lawyer -”

“You touch me and I’ll call the police, tell ‘em you just assaulted your friend back there.” The woman stands her ground, but peers over Crowley’s shoulder. “You all right?”

“The pair of you can - can fuck off.” Crowley storms away, and keeps storming, and walks and walks and walks - probably passes his apartment, he doesn’t know. He doesn’t know how much time passes before he stops walking, has to hold his hand out and lean against whatever building is closest.

Parties are letting out. People are running into the streets, counting down from ten, kissing each other. Music is playing and there’s light and glitter and Crowley feels like the world has never been darker, and his heart will never stop beating (Christ, that’s maybe the worst thing of all.)

He must make it home. He must. Somehow he ends up at his doorway, in his bed. 

And he doesn’t sleep, but he doesn’t answer his phone either. And the next morning he has four missed calls from Beez and two from his mum and eight from Az (‘Angel’ in his contacts.)

The leading story on TMZ is: “Anthony Crowley’s Wild New Year’s Eve: celebrity bad boy goes on bender, assaults Warlock co-star!”

Thank fucking fuck. 

That’s the story. The story isn’t the taste of Tempranillo on Az’s lips, or the wet brick against his back, or the blinding light of Crowley’s senseless devotion. 

The story is Crowley being a fucking mess, as per fucking usual (he’s ready to find religion and light every candle with gratitude to whatever God gives a shit about this sort of thing, whoever kept Az’s name out of the headlines.)

He and Az meet in Victoria Park (Az calls him and calls him, and Crowley finally answers.)

There’s a bandstand in the middle of it, and it’s early on New Years Day, and there’s basically no one around. Az is waiting for him there when Crowley arrives, half-sick with sleeplessness and longing.

“Why didn’t you answer me?” Az asks immediately. His eyes are lined with purple, like there are bruises beneath them. “My phone calls? Last night -”

Crowley shrugs. He thought he was ready for this conversation, but at the sight of Az’s face, his throat has gotten too tight to speak.

“I - I saw the headlines,” Az continues. “Gabriel got in touch with me immediately. We’re going to - release a statement.”

Crowley exhales through his nostrils, tries to imagine the worst thing Az could say next.

“We’ll say that you and I had a disagreement - that we had both been drinking - and that no one was assaulted ! Good Lord. I’m not in the photograph, there’s nothing to see -”

“Oh.” Crowley nods. “That kind of a statement.”

“Yes - that kind. Crowley, you can’t just - do that sort of thing. Just - throw yourself in harm’s way for me, without a thought to your career. Just - just think of how it looks.”

“I don’t give a fuck how it looks.” Crowley’s jaw is so tight it’s going to snap like a violin string. 

“I know that’s not true.”

“It is true. I’m done with it.”

“But the press -”

“For the record,” Crowley takes a deep breath, sees scarlet fireworks behind his eyelids. “Great pustulent mangled bollocks to the press. They can say what they like about me, I don’t bloody care.”

“You do care. You do, because you know what it was like. Whatever you say, you were like me once.”

“That was a long time ago.”

The wooden boards of the bandstand feel hollow beneath Crowley’s feet. Any second now he might take a wrong step and just go crashing through them.

“Last night,” Az tries again. “I shouldn’t have - done that. I should have known better. I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t you dare apologize,” Crowley grits between his teeth. “You did nothing -”

“But it’s my fault, I’m the reason we were almost -”

“And I’m saying I don’t fucking care.” There are tears in Crowley’s eyes, genuinely now, and he can’t repress them away. “If this all goes down in flames, if it all falls apart - we can go off together.”

“Go off together? Listen to yourself.” Az shakes his head. “You don’t just abandon everything you’ve worked for, don’t give up your career for a - a -”

“For a - what?”

A fling? A fuck ? Crowley can’t answer that question, and he hopes to hell that Az can’t answer it either. 

“This is ridiculous. I’m ridiculous. I don’t know what I was thinking - I should have known better, should have known you wouldn’t understand. We’re different people -”

“We’re the same, ” Crowley hisses, and wants desperately to believe it. 

“We’re not.” Az closes his eyes. It feels like there’s an impossible distance between them, and even still, Crowley can see the violet-coloured veins in the other man’s eyelids. 

And Crowley loves them. 

And Crowley loves him

Maybe now, now at the ruined edge of everything, Crowley always will. 

“Not anymore.” Az licks his lips. Crowley still wants to kiss him, even as he’s bleeding to death in Victoria Park.  “It’s over. I’m - I’m so sorry.”

“Right.”  Crowley twitches as he says it. He can’t help it. He can’t help it, he’s got to - keep moving or he’ll stop breathing. “Well. All right. Have a nice - whatever.” 

Az’s chin wobbles, but he won’t look at him. And Crowley knew it was coming, knew it would happen. Even Pepper warned him, and still he wasn’t ready.

He twitches and trips and yet somehow manages to walk away without falling over. Then he walks and he walks and he walks clean off the edge of the earth - 

Or he would. If that was an option. 

As it is:

(The last person Crowley loved had hair like expensive writing paper, and skin as soft as petals.

He was fussy and he was kind. He wore cravats and waistcoats and looked like a Victorian dandy who had rolled around in a bunch of second-hand books. 

They met at a film premiere.

The last person Crowlety loved wasn’t sharp at all - he was soft. He was soft and round-edged and gentle-fingered. He was something Crowley didn’t think he’d ever want until he didn’t want anything else.

They kissed for the first time for a television scene, and Crowley pinned him up against a hotel door and let his wasted heart burn itself black beneath his ribcage. 

He was forty-six. Too old to feel like this.

But some days he felt a lot older.

The last person Crowley loved was a spark in a bed of straw. A headlight at the end of a long road. A lighthouse on the coast - a lighthouse that called the Velvet Underground “bebop” and loved dark chocolate and rare meat and told Crowley - nothing. He never really put it into words, did he?

Though once, once, he called Crowley “love.”

Oh.

And this soft heartache was somehow the sharpest of them all.)

Chapter Text

 

(Soft Landing: An Interlude)

 

(Here we are again. 

But where exactly is that?)

 

September, Hartlepool

Avery stays in the hospital for most of the day. Most of the night as well. His dad has been in and out of consciousness pretty consistently, isn’t in any state to recognize visitors, but Avery finds himself unable to leave his bedside. Unable to look away from the stilted rise and fall of his dad’s chest, or the heart monitor spiking gently. As it’s supposed to. 

His dad is alive. 

He looks so much smaller in the hospital bed than Avery remembers. Wasn’t this man a giant? Hadn’t he picked Avery up and put him on his shoulders once?  Hadn’t he been a mountain, stomping around the living room, terrifying the life out of everyone that got into his rocky path? 

How could he have managed it, when he’s so narrow-boned and fragile, all fed through with tubes and wires?

Avery lets his head fall backwards, resting it against the wall behind the extremely uncomfortable chair he’s folded himself into. He closes his eyes, tries to remember the smell of trees. Trees and fresh air and soapy bathwater (and something else underneath it, the smell of Crowley’s skin, and Avery couldn’t stop staring at him, couldn’t stop touching him, wanted him wanted him -)

He tries to remember these things - but the background is still a chorus of beeping machines. There’s nowhere he can be but here. 

Sarah has gone back to Dad’s house with the kids, and Tracy went with her. She’s going to stay there so that Sarah can come back to the hospital and God - Avery doesn’t deserve Tracy. Never has. 

He thinks about calling Crowley (he always thinks about calling Crowley). His voice alone would be enough to give Avery a few more hours of energy. He’d be all kind and sarcastic, and maybe Avery would make him laugh (that’s like a volt of electricity to Avery’s heart every time).

His thumb traces over the screen of his phone. It would be a simple thing to dial the number - ask how his trip home was. Ask what he was doing: unpacking, or fussing with his plants, or listening to music or about to - go out, maybe. Go out and surround himself with people much more interesting and available than Avery. Better people, certainly.

But Avery doesn’t call. Instead, he goes down to the cafeteria, slumps over a table with a cup of tea and a stale scone. He’s not hungry, but he knows he should eat something (there’s a little voice in his head that pushes him forward even when he doesn’t want to be pushed, some mosquito-whine of survival that’s been with him for decades. Was probably responsible for keeping him alive during his twenties. Sometimes he likes to imagine it’s his mum.)

This is where Daniel finds him.

At the sight of the man, Avery panics, nearly falls out of his chair. “Is dad - has something -”

“God no - sorry! He’s fine. Everything’s fine. I’m just -“ Daniel gestures with his thermos.  “On a break.”

“Oh.” Avery sags a bit, with relief and exhaustion both. “I’m sorry, here I am panicking -”

“Don’t worry, it’s the reaction I usually get. The reaction I expect these days.” Daniel sits down across from him. “If people don’t stare at me in terror I feel completely put off.”

Avery manages some sort of laugh. He rests his chin in his palm, gaze sliding up to study Daniel’s face.  Daniel looks good. Bit soft at the jaw and middle, lovely laugh lines around his eyes and mouth. Avery cannot believe they were children once. Best friends, even. That there was a time when the sight of Daniel’s face would have - well, it doesn’t matter. Lifetimes ago.

“So you’ve been doing well for yourself,” Daniel says.

“I - suppose. Better than I ever expected.”

“I’m glad. Knew you had it in you, even back then.”

“Oh - well. That’s very kind.” Avery can feel himself blushing, his body wringing out one last drop of idiocy. “But look at you - a surgeon. Did you stay here then?”

“Try not to sound so happy for me,” Daniel laughs. “No. I was all over the place for a while. Went to Edinburgh for university. Was in the States a few years. I’ve been back here for almost eight now? It’s good, it’s good. Cheaper, right? And I’ve got kids, so that sort of thing matters. We can’t all be rich and famous.”

“Kids?” Avery’s heart twists a bit. Not that he ever really wanted kids - though he loves Sarah’s and has quite a way with them (a couple magic tricks and they eat right out of the palm of your hand.) 

But still - roads not taken, and other fun middle-aged spirals.

“Yes, a boy and a girl. Twins, both of them fifteen in December.” Daniel’s eyes light up when he talks about them. “Here, I’ve got to show you photos. We went to Majorca for the summer hols.”

Daniel pulls out his phone, taps around on it for a bit. When he holds it toward Avery, there’s a photo of a beautiful family in the ocean. Daniel is sunburnt and smiling, waves up to his shoulders. He’s got his arm around two freckled, ginger-haired children (a boy who’s beaming at the camera, and a girl who’s rolling her eyes, looking away.) Leaning in from the side of photo is a man with dark brown skin and curly, shoulder-length hair. There is sunblock on his nose.

“That’s my husband, Ram. And that’s Stella and Toby.  We adopted them when they were - three? Jesus. Can’t believe they were ever that young.”

“They’re - absolutely lovely.”

“You think so? They’ve got you fooled.” Daniel smiles, puts the phone away. “Bloody terrors most of the time but - teenagers, right? What about you? You’re married?”

“Not as - such, no. Practically.”

“That’s nice. Seen pictures of the two of you in magazines and that. Seems like there’s never a dull moment. But you’re - happy?”

( “I’m in love with you.” Crowley is standing in a doorway and Avery is standing in the rain, and he’s drowning.

“I’m sorry.”)

Are you happy?  

That is the - the bloody question.

When was the last time someone asked Avery that? When was the last time he asked himself?

For some reason, the words feel like something cold and sharp against his breastbone. Just enough pressure to be worrisome.

“Of course!” he says in a rush. “I’m absolutely - over the moon. Never thought I’d be lucky enough to make a career out of doing what I loved.”

It’s an interview answer, a soundbite. Both of them know it. Daniel gives him a nod and Avery looks away.

Are you happy?

Of course he is. He’s got everything he could want.

(“How tinted are these windows? Can I - can I kiss you?”)

He couldn’t ask for more.

He can’t.

“I hope this isn’t awkward - but.” Daniel scratches the back of his neck. “Can I ask you something?”

“Of course.” 

Avery doesn’t mean ‘of course.’ He means ‘oh fuck.’ If this is about the last time they saw each other - but it won’t be, that was years ago, and Avery should have processed it by now and yet he hasn’t and now he’s sat here in front of the man in question and -

“Could you - sign this?” Daniel pulls out a piece of paper and a pen. “For Ram? He’s a huge fan of Warlock. When he found out I was in school with you, he just about died.”

Oh.

“Yes. Certainly. My pleasure.”

“Wish I had something better than a piece of paper - we own the box set of Season One, but it isn’t the sort of thing I carry around at work.”

“Haha, suppose not. Well, tell him I’m glad he likes the show. It’s - lovely to hear.” Soundbites, soundbites. That’s fine. He’ll just keep them coming, spit them out like pistachio shells.

He’s fine. He’s absolutely tickety-boo.

He’s happy.

Avery writes a brief message to Daniel’s husband, and the pair of them shake hands before Daniel has to go get back to his shift. 

Avery checks on his dad, and meets up with Sarah, and walks around the hospital until visiting hours end and he’s too weary to put one foot in front of another (almost trips and falls on his way to Sarah’s car).

Back at his dad’s house, he sits up drinking tea with Tracy, and avoiding subjects he should not be avoiding. 

Eventually, he gives in and sends a text message.

Dad’s doing fine, home for the night.

He considers, and feels wretched, and sends another one.

Thank you for coming today.

All right.  Deep breath. One more.

I miss you.

There. It didn’t hurt as much as he thought it would.

His fingertips sting, but that sort of pain is background noise to Avery these days.  A song on the radio that he can just ignore while he drives.

The important thing is to keep moving.

Avery is happy.

 

November, London 

“I swear, if I have to see another ‘sexy version’ of my character, I’ll throw myself off the balcony.”

Avery is home on the sofa, and well into his second glass of wine. He was in rehearsals for The Christmas Carol all day, and has been on the phone with Crowley for the better part of the evening. It’s nearly midnight in London, and Avery’s dead tired, but he’d stay awake all night if it meant he could hear Crowley grumbling on the phone. 

“Yes, I’m sure it’s quite the hardship for you. Surrounded by all those nubile young creatures -”

“Good Christ - nubile? I’m calling the police.”

“Is it making you want to talk to wardrobe? I’ll support you, darling, if you want to show a bit more skin. The Horsemen would love it.”

“My skin is not the skin they want to show.”

“I’m not sure about that.” Avery takes a mouthful of red, leans back. “It’s lovely skin, after all.”

There’s a pause on the other end. “Is it?”

It makes Avery flush. He said the last without thinking because - yes, it’s lovely skin. Tattoos and scars and all, Avery could spend hours looking at it, petting it, dragging his nails against it. 

He’s always known he was a sensualist, but thought it was more about food and fabric and that sort of thing. Not about - touch. Bodies. He thought it was the way he was wired, that some of the senses didn’t appeal to him as much as others.

He didn’t realize it was just a matter of taste.

Because now that he’s found someone to his - er, taste - it turns out that he’s just as bad about Crowley as he is with everything else.

“Where are you right now?” Avery asks instead of answering Crowley’s last question. “What time is it there?”

“Only half-ten. But I’m bloody knackered. Felt like this day would never end. I was supposed to grab drinks with some folks, but I slithered out of it. Collapsed into bed the moment the door was kicked shut, and I’m not moving.”

“Ah. You’ve certainly earned it.”

“What about you? Up to no good?”

“How very dare you.”

“Up to good, then? Lots of - good deeds?”

“Of course.” The smile on Avery’s mouth is a helpless one. “No rest for the - the good, I suppose.”

Crowley gives a throaty laugh in response to that rather clumsy comment, but Avery doesn’t mind. He likes Crowley’s laugh rather a lot. It’s indulgent, and smoky, and always kind. Making Crowley laugh is the highlight of - yes, most of Avery’s days. He squirrels those moments away like food for the winter; something to nourish him during the long, long cold.

“Well, don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

“That’s a rather short list, dear.”

“True enough.” There’s a brief, pointed silence. Avery hears Crowley swallow. “You - uh. Miss me?”

Yes yes God yes .

“I might,” Avery says, with painful nonchalance. 

What he wants to say is ‘ don’t find someone else. Not yet. You and your black leather and your cut-glass profile: you’re gorgeous and God knows other people want you. God knows I do too, and I’d never try to stop you, I wouldn’t - but if you would only stay a little longer. Wait just a little longer, before you meet someone else. Before you fall for someone better .’

Of course he doesn’t say those things - but he thinks them. Every day he thinks them, every time they talk, every brief text that somehow means way too much and absolutely nothing at all. 

Avery feels the distance between them like it’s been cut into his skin - maps and straight lines and flight numbers and time zones. It’s the nature of the job, of course, and Avery is a professional. He’s experienced with distance.

The hunger is something new.

“Yeah?” The way Crowley says it sounds almost surprised.

It makes something unfurl in Avery’s stomach, like a fist slowly opening, beckoning thin white fingers into the electric air.

“You know I do.”

“Like to hear you say it.” Crowley has the kind of voice you can taste. Avery wishes he could taste him now. “I’ve been thinking about you all day.”

“Have you?”

“Can imagine you sitting there, all buttoned up to the throat. Bowtie. Waistcoat. Probably in cufflinks even.”

“Only my - casual cufflinks.”

“Ha, knew it.” Crowley lets out a sigh that Avery feels against his tongue. “I’m back in two weeks. Will you be here?”

“I’m in Wales unfortunately. Just for a short trip - a few school things. Gabriel’s flying in for it.”

“Ah.”

Avery hates this, suddenly and with teeth. They aren’t even shooting Warlock right now, they should be able to take some time for themselves. He wants to have his hands in the collar of Crowley’s shirt, tugging the fabric down and pressing his lips to each inch of skin that’s revealed.

“Two ships passing in the night,” he says quietly.  Then he takes a swallow of wine, lets it roll down his throat. “If you were here -” 

There is silence. A stop and a start.

“If I were there,” Crowley says, and Avery finds it impossible to sort out any other words. There are too many of them, and they’ve all piled up, clogged up his throat.

“I -” he manages one syllable at least. 

“Something on your mind, angel?”

“Crowley, you -”

“If I were there - wait, where are you?”

“In my living room.”

“Is anyone else -”

“No. Tracy’s gone out.”

“If I were there,” Crowley clears his throat, “I’d be in your lap.” 

Avery has to put his wine glass down before he drops it.

“I’d be in your lap and I’d be - undoing that bloody bowtie with my teeth.”

Avery isn’t actually wearing a bowtie, but the visual is nice. Works extremely well for him (if he closes his eyes, he can almost smell Crowley’s cologne, feel the weight of him against his hips.)

“I’d be at your buttons next. Want you out of that shirt. Think I’d get you completely naked. Wouldn’t lose a stitch of clothing myself, just have you all soft and bare underneath me.”

“Anthony -” Avery gasps, not quite as scandalized as he sounds. Some part of him suspects that Crowley likes to shock him, likes to feel shocking. And if that’s what the man likes…

“Then - what would I do next? Anything I like, I imagine.”

“Would you kiss me?” Avery wants that, maybe more than anything. The fantasy is all well and good, but there’s nothing that compares to Crowley’s tongue in his mouth, the wet and heat of their lips together.

“Fuck yes. That what you want?”

“Yes, I -” Avery’s never done this before, this sort of - thing. On the phone. He tries not to let his nerves show through. “I always want that.”

“What else do you want?” There’s an edge of desperation in Crowley’s tone, and it makes Avery shine like molten gold. 

“I want to - to undo your trousers.” Just say it, say what you’re thinking. “And I you to - get up on your knees and I want you to fuck my mouth.”

There’s another beat of silence. 

Avery’s certain this face is glowing so bright and red that the neighbours will think there’s a fire in the house. 

After a moment, he hears Crowley clear his throat again.

“You’d like that?”

“Yes.” Avery would. He’s been thinking about it - what it would be like to just let this gorgeous man take him, do what he wants. “Would  -would you?”

“Fucking - fucking christ, angel - yes, I want everything.”

God -”

“Are you - will you touch yourself? Can I? I miss you so fucking much, want to hear your voice when you come -”

“Please, yes -” Avery’s nearly there already, hands shaking on the buttons of his fly, seeing Crowley behind his eyes as he takes himself in hand (hard and wet and aching.)

“Think about me,” Crowley’s voice is ragged with desire. “I’m thinking about you, you’re the only one I ever - ever - fuck me , I -”

And there are miles between them, lines on a map that can’t be crossed, even with the furious weight of Avery’s wasted heart. 

But in this moment, they’re together (Avery’s lips sting with the rasp of stubble from Crowley’s jaw, and his mouth tastes like salt, and he’s coming into his fist while Crowley shudders and moans above him, hips thrusting, hands clenched in Avery’s hair.)

“Yes,” Avery gasps, phone pressed against his ear, “God yes, yes -” and it’s enough.

It’s enough (Avery’s happy, he’s so happy he could die with it.)

It’s enough.

 

January, London

New Year’s Eve comes back in bits and pieces.

( Crowley leaves him there, pressed against the wet brick wall. 

Crowley leaves him there

Crowley steps between Avery and a camera, and then leaves him. )

So far there hasn’t been too much in the press, but the headlines Avery’s seen ( “Warlock’ s stars at war!”) haven’t been flattering. And he can’t go to Crowley’s, and Crowley can’t come to his; the press might be waiting to pounce on the pair of them. Avery considers a hotel or a restaurant, but both of those places seem sodden with meaning. 

A neutral place, then, somewhere quiet. It’s the only option.

When Avery reaches the bandstand in Victoria Park, he doesn’t even know what he’s going to say. Hasn’t made a plan, doesn’t know what’s going to happen. He feels like he might start bleeding from his mouth if he so much as opens it.

( His back is jarred from the sudden shove, and his mouth still tastes like Crowley’s mouth, and that woman with her bin bags and her phone is still standing there, looking at him in the darkness.

“You all right?” she asks again and Avery -

- is not. 

Is not all right. )

Avery can barely remember how he got home. He must have taken a cab, he can remember a bit of that. He thinks he called Tracy. He knows he called Crowley multiple times with no answer. Which was - not unexpected.

Gabriel phoned him first thing in the morning, and had already heard from Michael, who had already heard from the producers. There is a conference call set up for later that afternoon, if Avery is still alive then.

( “Stop the car, please,” Avery says quietly in the back of the taxi, mouth filling with bile and panic.

“Why?”

“Please stop the car.” 

The driver barely makes it to the curb before Avery’s leaning out, throwing up in the street -)

It’s cold out, but not raining. The sun is actually shining, or at least struggling to, and the sky is clear with patches of blue between the clouds.

It’s a beautiful day. That doesn’t seem fair.

How can Avery’s heart be breaking on such a beautiful day?

When he finally sees Crowley, coming toward him across the grass like a black bolt of lightning, Avery has to steady himself against the railing. He thinks he might fall. 

Even with the railing underneath his hand, he still might.

(Categorize yourself, Avery Fell. Take stock and tell us what you find:

An unremarkable face, worry-soft and pale. Lined eyes and a double-chin. A weak face. Hair like watery hollandaise, a body with the weight of years on it. A spine that slopes slightly, thighs that spread. Fastidiously groomed fingernails, ironed shirts, polished shoes. 

A fussy, silly, soft man.  A fussy, silly, soft heart. 

And fear. Fear like an ulcer. Fear like a wound that won’t heal. Fear like a cancer and not the kind that can be cut out. 

The kind that lingers.)

“Crowley, you can’t just - do that sort of thing. Just - throw yourself in harm’s way for me, without a thought to your career.” It’s too much, Avery thinks, too much and he doesn’t deserve it. 

This sort of sacrificial love is nothing that he’s ever known before. He can’t hold it. Not when he’s holding so much back already. He can’t be the person that kicks Crowley into the ashes again. He can’t hurt him like this, and Avery’s going to hurt him - he already has. “Just - just think of how it looks.”

“I don’t give a fuck how it looks.” But he’s lying, and they both know it. “If this all goes down in flames, if it all falls apart - we can go off together.”

“Go off together? Listen to yourself.” Avery’s heart is racing, he feels dizzy with it. The worst part of it all is that he is listening. He can see it, see the two of them packing their bags, running away, doing what they like. There could be long slow mornings in bed, there could be cups of tea and glasses of wine and kisses before their teeth had been brushed. Avery’s got enough money, they both do.

It would be - wonderful. 

But that’s a dream. This is the real world that they live in, however much they pretend otherwise.

“You don’t just abandon everything you’ve worked for, don’t give up your career for a - a -” 

He doesn’t know how to finish that. (He can’t say for me. He won’t say it. Crowley is brilliant and beautiful and deserves better. He doesn’t need Avery and his issues hanging like a chain around his neck. He deserves someone like - like Daniel. Deserves to be loved in the daylight. In the ocean. With waves up over his shoulders.)

At some point, Avery says “it’s over.” The words feel like falling, like the flinch of wakefulness just as you are drifting off to sleep. 

Avery knows as he says them that nothing will ever hurt as much (“it’s over.”). That he’ll have a ten on the pain scale to compare with for however long he lives.

At some point, Crowley walks away. Leaves Avery alone, alone again.

Time is a tricky business when you’re dying slowly; it skips like a flat stone on a quiet lake.  One moment Avery is staring at Crowley’s retreating back, his beloved ink-dark shoulders and shambling walk, and the next moment Avery is home. He’s wet with rain, and leaving a dishwater puddle in his doorway. When did it start raining? How had he gotten soaked to the bone with it?

He can’t possibly call Crowley, and is too ashamed to talk to Tracy, so he calls Beez (he has their number, thank God. Gabriel asked for it once, just after Season Two, said he needed to coordinate something around accommodations. Crowley passed it on to Avery, and it’s still in his contacts.)

“What do you want?” is the greeting Avery receives, and honestly - the greeting he expects.

“Yes, hello, it’s um - this is Avery Fell, I don’t know if you -”

“Are you about to ask if I remember you? I swear -”

“Silly question, of course. I was hoping -”

“If you’re looking for a favour, you’ll have a tough sell of it. I don’t feel much inclined to help you out right now. Don’t feel like talking to you either.”

“I know. I know. But I wanted to tell you that I will fix this.”

Beez makes a disgusted sound on the other line. “You can’t fix this.”

“His image, at least. I’m releasing a statement - he knows about it. But I’ll email it to you first, in case you have feedback.  I won’t let this hurt him.”

“You won’t let this -” Beez laughs harshly. Az has never heard them laugh before, and wishes he had been spared the privilege. Beez’s laugh is a rusted nail to the arch of a foot. “Send me your statement then.” They hang up.

Some time after that, Avery has a conference call with Michael and the producers and several lawyers (and Gabriel, of course). They all draft a press release that is about as sincere as a plastic bag. It’s sent off to Beez and then Avery lies on his hardwood floor and stares at nothing for probably two hours.

He realizes that this is the first time he’s going to be in the press for something other than a film or charity work. 

His first proper scandal. He almost laughs, pressing his fist against his mouth until his teeth cut into his knuckles (“Avery Fell wants to assure the viewers of Warlock that he and Anthony Crowley are on excellent terms, and there are no allegations of violence or assault on either of their parts. It is unfortunate that a bystander would mistake a moment of friendly disagreement for something malicious, and invade their privacy in such a misleading way. Anthony Crowley continues to maintain his healthy lifestyle choices and has the confidence and trust of the entire team at Warlock - ”)

Yes, clearly. After he does another drug test, maybe.

Avery isn’t really sure how he gets through the next few days. He lives in some odd, liminal space - the headache-coloured quiet of a plane before it takes off. The wobble of a wine glass just before it tilts, falls, hits the tiled floor.

He checks up on his dad, and checks up on his sister, but with Tracy out of the country, his days are fairly quiet. Even Gabriel leaves him alone for once, though it’s awards season and the nominations are coming out. He keeps Avery up-to-date with emails and texts, but he’s decided that the best course of action is for Avery to just disappear for awhile until everyone forgets any of the New Year’s Eve theatrics. And since Avery is a shipwreck at this point - well. He rather agrees.

Warlock gets a nod for Best Series from the Golden Globes. No acting nominations, which is too bad - Avery had no expectations for himself, but there had been some whispering about Crowley’s performance last season. 

A few days later, the press release for the National Television Awards comes out. Gabriel emails him with the message: Maybe next year and a crying emoji. 

Warlock ’s up for Best Drama, though, so that’s exciting. Avery scans through the other categories - yes, well done Suranne Jones, she’s on fire these days - before his eyes get caught on a name. 

A name that is familiar and lovely. A name that Avery would know the shape of in his sleep if someone traced it against his skin.

Best Drama Performance: Anthony J. Crowley (a smile that Avery hasn’t felt on his mouth since December 31st breaks from him like a green wave.)

He wants to call Crowley immediately, is almost dialing his number when he stops. Remembers. 

Avery has no right to his victories. No right to any part of his life, not anymore.

But surely - surely he’s allowed just this much. Just one message, just so Crowley knows that - that he’s happy for him. That Avery is so happy.

Congratulations. You absolutely deserve this.

He considers, and feels wretched, and sends another one.

I hope you are well.

(I miss you I miss you I miss you.)

There. That didn’t hurt as much as he thought it would.

There’s no response, but Avery doesn’t expect one. Doesn’t deserve one. It’s enough that Crowley knows Avery’s proud of him. Proud of him and proud of the show. 

That this is excellent news.

He’s happy.

 

February, London

Warlock doesn’t win a Golden Globe. 

Avery can’t attend the ceremony in Beverly Hills, but Crowley does. Avery looks at photographs the next day, tells himself he isn’t pathetic - he’s just working through some things. He stares with vicious eyes at the outline of Crowley alone on the red carpet in a three-piece suit: black on black on black, ember hair knotted at the nape of his neck. 

The sight makes Avery’s mouth water. But that’s - that’s the end of that.

The National Television Awards are at the end of the month, and Avery attends with Tracy. Gabriel worked with a designer to fit Avery with a pale blue suit and a gold tartan bow tie, almost the colour of his hair. 

He looks like an icecream man, and feels like a child. Nothing to write home about. Certainly no one worth pressing against a brick wall in a rainy alleyway.

Crowley’s taken Beez to the event, so there’s someone on his arm for once. He and Avery don’t speak before the ceremony (they haven’t spoken in weeks) except for Avery’s text of Good luck tonight.  

When Avery sees Crowley on the red carpet, it feels like the sudden remembrance of a lovely dream. Crowley’s all in black as usual, but instead of polished dress shoes, he’s in studded army boots that make Avery want to drop to his knees immediately.

But that’s - the end of that (this time, he promises.)

Beez is dressed in a suit so flash it rivals Crowley’s, and any time Avery catches their eye, they look murderous. He smiles anyway.  Crowley smiles stiffly back behind his dark sunglasses, with a sea of blood red carpeting between them.  

They don’t sit together, though they’re in the row with all of the Warlock crew. David Walliams is the host for the second year in a row, and Avery tries to laugh and smile and be prepared for the moments when the camera finds his face and he’s supposed to look like his kindly, inoffensive self. 

Tries to make sure that the cameras never catch him glancing to his left, trying to admire a man in black sunglasses out of the corner of his eye.

Warlock doesn’t win a Television Award either.

But Crowley - Crowley does.

Dominic West presents the award for Best Drama Performance. They play the clip from Season Two where Crowley thinks Avery is dying, blood all over his hands and all over the forest floor (“hang on, all right? Don’t - I can’t -”)

Watching the scene takes Avery back a bit. He can remember the salt of tears on his face. Can remember the warmth of Crowley’s palms on his chest. Can remember the ache of looking at him, the ache of touching him, before he really understood what it meant -

“And the award goes to: Anthony Crowley for Warlock.

Anthony - Anthony Crowley for -

There’s a wave of applause. 

Avery’s up on his feet before the name even sinks in. Down the row, Crowley isn’t moving. He doesn’t move until Beez pushes him (“That’s you, idiot.”) and then he has to walk past all of his castmates to get to the aisle. Anathema is crying already and Crowley kisses her, hugs her, hugs Tracy as well, and when he reaches Avery -

He’s shaking. 

He’s shaking and Avery can’t see his eyes behind his sunglasses, but he can feel the heat of Crowley’s stare. There are cameras on them, they can’t act like strangers, and they can’t do what Avery wants ( kiss me, kiss me before I bleed to death in the forest.)

So Avery touches Crowley’s shoulder. Squeezes it - a friendly, platonic touch between - mates or something. And Crowley touches his shoulder as well, and it’s too much, too sharp;  Avery pulls him into a hug. 

He can feel Crowley’s heartbeat against his chest, and it takes everything in his power not to turn his face slightly inward, inhale the scent of Crowley’s neck and hair, press a kiss there, tell him -

“Congratulations,” Avery says, pulling back. It’s brief, too brief, and Crowley is already looking away, already moving down the row.

He slinks toward the stage, that gorgeous and ridiculous strut of his earning a swell of applause, and Avery feels so warm with adoration he might get heatstroke. The theme music for Warlock is playing, and Crowley hugs bloody Dominic West, shakes a bit more. 

Then he stands at the microphone and - stares.

“I -“ Crowley swallows. On the screen, Avery recognizes the slow, delicious bob of the man’s throat. 

Come on, darling. You can do this.

“I - can’t - fucking believe -  shit, I’m not supposed to swear, am I? Fuck -“

The audience laughs, and Crowley lowers his glasses to casually wipe his eyes. Tracy has taken Avery’s hand, is squeezing it tight enough to cut the circulation off.  Her gel nails are digging into his skin, leaving half-moon imprints there.  

“I can’t even tell you - what this means.” He’s taking deep breaths, all the mindful tells that Avery’s seen him practice before. “I have to thank Michael - Michael, you took a chance on me after I didn’t think anyone else would. Maybe ever again. This entire mad and brilliant experience has been because of you. And I’ve gotta thank the cast and crew - Newton, Anathema, Adam - who I think is asleep somewhere in the fifth row there. And um - my mum and dad who are not watching this, thank Christ. They’d be horrified by my language. And my agent, and my manager - Beez, you terrible wonderful human - if you thought I was an obnoxious prick before…”

The audience laughs again. Even from this distance, Avery can see the tremble in Crowley’s jaw. 

“And - of course. Of course. Can’t accept this without thanking my brilliant co-star. Avery Fell.” Crowley looks up, scans the crowd until his gaze lands on Avery (not that Avery can really tell, with the glasses, but he feels that gaze, feels it like a live wire wrapped around his throat.) “You trusted me with this role. You taught me - more about acting, more about kindness - I can’t thank you enough, a -” 

Crowley’s voice sticks. Avery has the sudden, horrible certainty that Crowley is going to say angel. 

The knowledge tastes like dread. But also like - hope. A reckless part of Avery wants Crowley to say it, just say it. (Call me angel in front of all these people, pull the bandage off, take a bit of my hair and skin with it.)

Avery, ” Crowley finishes. “I know there’ve been some - hard times. That’s - that is what it is. But for me - it’s been a privilege. A dream. So.” He nods and nods and nods again. “Thank you.”

Crowley gets clapped on the back by Dominic, ushered off the stage to another wave of applause. Avery’s pulse won’t stop racing, and he feels tears in his eyes. Everyone from Warlock is crying - what is wrong with them? They should be happy, this should be something to celebrate.

Avery glances over at Tracy, tries to give her a self-deprecating smile about his own ridiculousness.

But she doesn’t smile back. And her face is bone-white.

“Tracy - my dear, are you all right?” 

She hugs him, and kisses his cheek, but won’t answer the question (he really should have seen this coming.)

Crowley doesn’t make it back before the end of the show. He’s probably been whisked off to the interview circuit, poor fellow. The O2 Arena is monstrous, and the after-party is held there as well, so Avery and Tracy make their way to the ballroom (after bidding a quick goodnight to Adam and his parents.)

Gabriel managed an invite, unbeknownst to Avery, and he pops up at his shoulder when Avery least expects it.

“Look at you. Love the suit. Fits well. Pretty well.” Gabriel pats Avery on the stomach, because of course he does. “Congratulations to your buddy. That must have been quite the shock.”

“Not really. His performance was -” That’s as far as Avery gets, because Beez has come to stand beside them, and it’s like a bomb’s gone off. Gabriel is suddenly a twitchy, fluttery, stammering mess.

“Wha - didn’t know you’d be - hello again.”

“You two know each other?” Tracy asks.

“Dunno -” Beez says at the same time that Gabriel says, “We’ve met. At the Season 2 party.”

“Oh. Yeah.”

“And the Emmy’s party, that time in L.A.” Gabriel smiles broader still, perfect teeth looking uncomfortable in his mouth. “You, uh, didn’t call.”

“No, I didn’t.” Beez is looking anywhere other than Gabriel.

“I - um - had a good time,” Gabriel says quietly, and Avery wishes he hadn’t heard that.

“I’m so happy for you.”

Thankfully Crowley chooses that moment to make an entrance, and Beez leaves for his side without even making their excuses. Avery - admires that. Wishes he was the type of person who could just walk away from Gabriel and say ‘fuck it’ to propriety.

“Do you know if they’re seeing anyone?” Gabriel asks after a moment, and then Tracy decides she needs a drink.

When they get home later that night, Avery is still humming with nerves, with hours of looking at Crowley from across a room and not being able to speak to him. He feels older than he’s ever been, and he supposes that’s true.

“I’ll put the kettle on.” He throws his jacket on the coat-rack, rolls his shoulders and starts to head toward the kitchen - but Tracy stops him.

There’s something about the way she touches his arm that makes Avery’s stomach drop. 

It’s the gentleness of the touch that does it. It’s not the playful smack or squeeze he’d usually expect.

When he turns to look at her, her eyes are filled with tears. It feels like the last twenty years have been leading to this moment.

“Avery Fell. This whole time.

“What?” He’s exhausted, and heart-broken, and he doesn’t understand what he’s done to make Tracy look at him like he’s choking her. 

“This whole time - you let me go on thinking I was helping you.”  Tears run down her face, black with mascara. 

“My dear -“

“But I wasn’t. I was hurting you. This whole time, Az.”  She shakes her head, wiping frantically at tears that won’t stop falling. “ He loves you .”

“I -“ Avery wishes he could turn into stone. The syllable stutters out of his throat. “I know.”

“You love him.”

“I -“ Even the thought of those words is too painful. “I can’t.”

“I’m leaving you.”  

The words ring in the air like a gunshot. Avery takes a step back, reaching out for something to lean on. 

“Tracy -”

“You’re my best friend.” Tracy wipes her black-streaked face, then reaches out for Avery’s hands. Thank God for that. At least someone will keep him upright. “I absolutely bloody adore you. I have since that first night in that shitty pub, even with your terrible dye-job. God, you looked a mess.”

“Um - ”

“But I can’t do this to you any more.”

“You haven’t done anything -”

“I’ve been a mask, Az. And I agreed to it from the start, and I never minded - I loved it. I loved our life together. But I was stupid, so stupid to think that this wouldn’t - catch up with you. With us.  And you can do what you want, and I’ll love you either way, but I can’t be your mask anymore. Not now that I know -” Tracy squeezes his hands, searches his face with eyes that are impossibly gentle. “Love. What are you afraid of?” 

And that is another one of those decimating questions (how much time does Tracy have, what length of chapter is she prepared to read? )

Avery is afraid of not fitting in. Of doing the wrong thing. Of being seen and judged and belittled, of rocks thrown at his eyes and heads shaken in disapproval.

But more than that:

He’s afraid of finding out that all this time - he was doing the wrong thing anyway . That his whole life was spent building walls against a threat that wasn’t even there. What do you do with that? How do you justify a life spent in hiding? How do you come out of the bomb shelter and not fall to your knees at the sight of blue sky and green fields and clean water?

And more than that, more than any of that, more than anything:

He’s afraid that Anthony Crowley will never talk to him again.

Avery bursts into tears. 

No - maybe ‘bursts’ is the wrong word - brings to mind a champagne cork popping and bubbles sparkling out of it. 

What happens to Avery is something buried, something underground. The sob comes from deep in his chest, so deep it’s like it tunnelled there. He tries to cover his mouth to keep it inside but he can’t. He tries to cover his eyes, tries to hide his face, tries to not let anyone see the wreck of him  but the mess is so great that it’s impossible. Great handfuls of earth are spilling out of him, and the noise, the noise -

“Oh, you darling.” Tracy puts her arms around him, squeezes him so tightly that his bones creak. He gets dirt all over her lovely dress, clutches at the fabric and tries without success to stop making this horrible, grave-digging sound.

“I’m sorry, I’m -”

“You don’t have to say you’re sorry, not to me. Az -”

“I’m too old,” he chokes against her shoulder. “I’m too old to be - to be doing this. To be figuring this out. It’s too -”

“Avery fucking Fell.” Tracy pulls back so she can look into his hideous, swollen face. “You say that again and I’ll kick your teeth in.”

Avery lets out a shocked laugh, and Tracy pushes the hair off his forehead, holds his face between her hands.

“You’re never too old for this. Never.  If you’re too old for this, what must you think of me? Don’t answer that, I’ll kick the rest of your teeth in.”

Avery laughs again, attempts some grotesque version of a smile. Tracy kisses him on the cheek.

“You could be happy.”

Avery tries to say ‘I am happy.’ He tries over and over again. 

But the words don’t come.

Tracy starts packing her things the next morning.

 

March , Hartlepool

(Let’s go back again. Just one more time.)

“I tell you that fancy private nurse doesn’t give me a moment’s peace. You should get rid of her, save yourself the money.”

“It won’t be forever, just the next couple of months. Sarah’s got the kids, I’ll be off filming. What if you need something?”

“Get it myself, can’t I. I’m not an invalid.” His dad is sitting on the sofa, blanket tucked up around his knees while Avery putters around in the kitchen. “You’ve got your own life to worry about, besides. Now that Trace has left you.”

“She hasn’t left me,” Avery mutters, getting the teabags out (his dad swears by PG Tips and any attempt at substitution would result in the next Cold War.) “It was amicable. Mutual. We both decided -”

“Oh, aye, amicable. That’s what they say now, isn’t it. You know where you’re going to live yet? Or are you out on your ear?”

Is it possible his father is even more unbearable since the hospital? Did Daniel leave some sort of spiky judgmental metallic thing in Dad’s chest during surgery? (One more day. One more day before he heads back to London. He can last one more day.)

“We’re figuring it out.” They are, they are figuring it out. Avery’s only told his family, hasn’t released any sort of statement yet, but he will. Soon. In the meantime, the two of them are gathering up their things, getting ready to possibly sell the house. It’s all right - maybe Avery will leave London, go somewhere quieter. Tracy’s got all these plans to live abroad, has penpals (or something of that ilk) all over the world. Right now her focus seems to be on Tokyo, and Avery is happy for her. 

He’s happy.

“You want something to eat? Something to read?”

“Nah, just bring me the remote for the telly. Did you know your sister set up the Netflix for me? Do you have that? The Netflix?”

One more day. One more day in Hartlepool and then he’s home and then he’s off to Belfast for episode one. Avery got the scripts a few weeks ago, but they’re holding things close to their chests this season. Michael and their new head-writer (Uriel is her name, comes with dozens of awards under her thick leather belt) have only given out bits and pieces of each episode. So something’s going to happen, surely, some sort of twist. Avery only hopes that he and Crowley will both live through it.

“Yes,” Avery says distractedly. The kettle’s boiled, so he leaves the tea to brew and goes to search for the remote control, hiding somewhere amidst his father’s (quite alarming) number of crocheted doilies. 

“There’s this one show I’ve been watching with Nurse Clara,” his dad continues, largely to the room. “This American thing. These five men go ‘round fixing up other people’s lives - their clothes and houses and that - and all of ‘em queer as anything. Have you seen this?”

Wonderful. His dad is learning about homosexuality from the world’s most reputable source: reality television.

“I’m not sure.” (This is, of course, a lie. Avery has watched every episode of Queer Eye . The first three seasons were seen mostly in hotel rooms with Crowley - all the while pretending not to notice his co-star wiping away tears.) 

“There’s this one, John - Jonathan? He does hair or summat. Reminds me of your mam, real spitfire. Don’t understand half of what comes out his mouth, but you can tell he’s a good lad.”

“Is that - so.” The remote is not on the doily draped over the radio, and not on the doily on the small side table, or the empty plant stand, or in the drawer below the television where there are - in fact - more doilies.  

“Why - if I may ask - do you have so many of these?” Avery grinds his teeth together, holds up one that’s alternating patterns of pink and white.

“Your mam made those, didn’t she?”

“Did she?” Avery has to look at them again. He didn’t know that. Knew his mum was crafty and always busy working at something, but he didn’t connect her to the constant lacey placemats found strewn about his childhood home.

Now that he has - the things take on a bit more significance. Avery clenches the doily in his hand, as if he can still feel his mum there. Feel the movements of her fingers, industrious and delicate as Ariadne’s weaving.

“Plus they brighten up the place some,” his dad says gruffly, reminding Avery that he isn’t, in fact, alone in the room. “Did you know she named you? After some jazz musician from America. Avery. Avery. Wasn’t sure about it, but now look at you.”

At last, at bloody last, Avery’s eyes catch on the remote control. The tea must have steeped enough so he puts the remote in his dad’s hand and flees to the kitchen before his heart gives out (er - bad analogy there. Bit insensitive.)

“The fellas down the Working Men’s Club, they took the piss a bit at first, but she didn’t care what anyone thought. She never did.”

Avery knows what his dad takes in his tea, gives him way too much milk and half a bag of sugar before searching the cupboard for biscuits.

“I was thinking, you know, that Jonathan. He must have folks that are well proud of ‘im.”

His father lets that hang there. 

Avery gives up on the biscuits. He tries to speak and can’t, so he moves instead. He brings his dad’s tea out to the living room, leans down to put it on the tray in front of him.

“Think your mam would be proud of you and all.”

Avery looks up quickly. His dad isn’t looking at him, has turned his attention toward “The Netflix” at last. But the man’s mouth is pressed in a thin, anxious line, and his shoulders are extremely stiff. 

Avery reaches out. Places a hand on his dad’s bony shoulder, just for a moment.

“Now if you’re moving, you should really think about coming back here. Doesn’t make financial sense buying a new place in London, not when you can get a flat three times the size of where you’re living now - how many square feet is it? There’s a place just down the road from me -”

The afternoon continues in this vein, as most afternoons with his father do. They order takeaway, and his dad watches television, and Avery mentally prepares for Season Four.

Mentally prepares for being that close to Crowley again, and not being allowed to touch him.

He can’t sleep the night before he leaves, but he barely does when he’s home. Or - the place he used to call home (he’s really got to stop thinking of this house like that. He hasn’t lived here for thirty years, what sort of home is he waiting to find?)

The next morning, after he hugs his dad goodbye and sets out on the road, he finds himself distracted by the colour of the sky. The sun is just rising, and the world is turning pink, and Avery feels forty years younger.

He also feels the urge to pull his car onto a side street, park, and make a phone call. So he does.

“Do you know what time it -”

“Gabriel. Yes, I’m certainly - sorry to wake you. I thought that you should know. Tracy and I are separating.”

There’s a beat of silence. Avery doesn’t know why he thought he should do this now, only that he couldn’t wait a moment longer.

“She left you?”

“Um.” Second thought, this was a terrible idea. This was a completely terrible idea. “No. It was - mutual.”

“Okay, okay, okay, so we -” Gabriel’s voice is getting more tense with each word. “So we - just have to find someone new.”

“Someone - what?”

“We can’t have the press getting wind of this. You know the sort of things they’d say.”

“Do I?” Avery thought that there’d be a bit of polite interest, but nothing sordid. Hasn’t his life been spotless? Hasn’t he done everything he’s been told? Hasn’t he always always tried to fit in?

“After all the time you spend with Crowley - after News Year’s Eve - clearly they’ll have things to say. It’s fine, it’s fine, I have a new client that might be a good fit.  She’s younger - only twenty years, but that never hurts, right? Model, actress. How soon can you be in L.A.? I know you’re filming next week - could you fly down between episodes? We should get some photos of the pair of you out for lunch.”

“But -” Of all the reactions he thought Gabriel would have, this is not one of them. “Tracy and I have just made it official - we’re still living together. Wouldn’t that be -”

“A bit fast? The faster the better, if you ask me. Then there’s less time for speculation.”

“I don’t think -”

“Look, sunshine, you’ve got your career riding on this. If it looks like you’ve left Tracy for a younger model, that’s forgivable. Understandable, even.  But if it looks like - something else-” 

“Something else?”

“Do you need it spelled out for you? Thought you were smarter than this.  I’ll send you Jennica’s headshot so you can think about it. And just let me write something for the press, don’t talk to anyone until we leak the photos -”

“Gabriel, I’m gay.” 

It just happens.

He just says it.

And the world doesn’t end. Nothing explodes, nothing collapses into rubble. The seas don’t rise, there’s no Armageddon.  There’s just - ringing silence on the phone. 

There’s just Avery’s soft heartbeat, filling up the car like a metronome. Keeping time to the music.

Avery takes a breath (a mindful one. He should probably ask Crowley for the name of his therapist.)

“And you’re fired.”

The sun is still rising when Avery gets out of the car, closes the door behind him. Though some of the roads have changed, his feet still know the way down to the docks of his youth. He was never a sailor, but the shoreline is familiar as a childhood sweetheart, as a long lost love. 

He remembers his great plan to hitch a ride on a ship, and leave Hartlepool forever. He remembers the sting of rocks, and the sliver of a scar he can just see on his cheekbone when the light is right.

(The Garrity boys, and books stomped into the dirt, and think of it like you’re acting. )

When Avery reaches the water, he half expects his dad’s hand to come thumping down on his shoulder.

But it doesn’t.

He’s alone, and he’s nearly fifty years old. He could get on a ship, he could throw himself into the sea. There’s no one holding him back anymore. 

The sun breaks past the horizon, reflecting into the water below it, turning the world wholly golden.

Avery - isn’t happy.

He’s in love (he almost laughs out loud at the sound of the words in his head, the ring of them like church bells.)

He’s in love.

And he knows.  He knows. 

He knows.



Chapter Text

 

“And the award goes to: Anthony Crowley for Warlock .”

Crowley didn’t write anything down.  

Didn’t even consider writing something down. There were contenders in this category, Brenda Blethyn was in this category. Crowley wouldn’t have even stood up if it wasn’t for Beez pulling on his arm, sneering vitriol at him (thank God for Beez).

He gives his acceptance speech on pure adrenaline, his hands and neck still smelling like Avery Fell.  Reeling from the warmth of Az’s body, the sudden unexpected contact, Crowley makes up a bunch of nonsense on the spot and almost Fucking. Calls. Him. Angel.  

Right there on the stage, the word snags like a cough in his throat. Hell on earth - wouldn’t that be the worst thing ever? Wouldn’t that be the end of the world? He can just imagine Avery’s shuddered look of horror, the most brutal sort of betrayal.

Avery, ” he says instead, just barely managing to keep his voice from breaking. “I know there’ve been some - hard times.” ( I’m in love with you, I’m still in love with you, you gorgeous thing. It’s been three weeks and I’m still dreaming about your hands, about the salt of your fingertips against my tongue.) “That’s - that is what it is. But for me - it’s been a privilege. A dream. So.” He nods and nods and nods again, the only thing he seems capable of doing at this point. Right. Move along, Crowley. It’s done. “Thank you.”

He gets clapped on the back by Dominic West (almost knocked off his feet, Dom’s a beast of a man) and is escorted off the stage.

“Brilliant work, mate,” Dominic’s saying to him, but there’s blood rushing in Crowley’s ears, he can barely hear anything else. “You deserved it. Well done.”

He’s ushered into a greenroom to wait for a bit, and then he’s brought into another room where his photo is taken over and over again with the trophy, and then he’s brought into a writhing den of reporters, placed behind a microphone and blinded by flashbulbs.

“Number 121,” the press wrangler says into her own microphone, and an invisible reporter speaks up from somewhere in the crush.

“Anthony - congratulations, first off. How does it feel to win your first major award?”

Crowley searches for whoever is speaking in the crowd. “Um. A little less emphasis on the first, if you would.”

The gathered reporters laugh and Crowley relaxes a fraction. He can do this. He’s good at being laughed at. 

“It feels smashing. Still a bit unreal. Because this is the one that the people vote on, the fans, and I never thought I’d get a chance to – you know, claw my way back into their esteem. To have the audience say ‘yeah, we know you’ve got history, and yeah, you’re an openly queer cock-up, but Warlock is a good show and you’re good by osmosis.’ That means – everything. Really. Makes me feel just – lucky, so lucky.”

“Number 82.”

“Hi, congratulations again,” a voice calls from the crowd. Crowley scans the sea of faces until he finds a blonde-haired and fabulous-lashed young woman. “Coming into tonight, what did you think about your chances of winning?”

“What did I think about my chances? Not much.”

It earns him another laugh, which makes the corner of his mouth twitch in ‘almost’ satisfaction.

“Seriously, not much. I didn’t write a speech, I didn’t think at all about what I was gonna say. Couldn’t picture myself up on that stage – not that I didn’t love my character’s growth last season, and not that I wasn’t proud as hell of the show.  I just couldn’t imagine it - this - happening. So – big surprise.  I’m still shaking.”

“Number 29.”

“Hi, Anthony. You were in the paper last week for an altercation between yourself and your co-star Avery Fell.”

Crowley’s heart plummets. Not much, just enough to chip a couple of ribs on its way down.

“Some headlines even alleged that you assaulted him? I’m wondering if you’d like to tell your side of the story.”

“Huh.” Crowley wets his lips.  “I – wouldn’t really. Like to. Avery released a statement, don’t think there’s much more to be said about it.”

There’s a silence that hangs after his words. When it’s clear he isn’t going to add anything else, the wrangler calls for the next reporter.

“Number 72.”

“Hello Anthony.” It’s a young person with a half-shaved head and ears full of rings. Crowley smiles at them, already in favour of their vibes. “You’re probably well aware of the fan-following that Warlock has – particularly the relationship between your character and Avery’s.”

Crowley bites the edge of his tongue. “Yeah, I’d say I’m aware.”

“What would you say to those fans who are hoping the New Year’s Eve incident was some kind of lovers’ spat?”

Crowley hopes that the bob of his throat isn’t audible against the microphone.

“Are there really people saying that? Jesus. Um – well, I’d say to them that they’re wrong – of course. It wasn’t anything as dramatic as that. You know actors, touchy so-and-so’s, get a couple drinks in us and there’s bound to be drama. Sorry to disappoint.”

“Number 108.”

“How’s your relationship with your co-star now? Judging from your speech it sounds like you’re on good terms again.”

This is better. This is a question Crowley is practiced in answering, lowering a plexiglass wall between his feelings and his words.

“Absolutely. Me and Az are good. We’re great. It’s been a real pleasure working with him, and half of this award is his by rights.” Perfectly bland, perfectly polite. If a couple blood vessels have burst behind his eyelids, no one will notice at that distance.

“Okay, last question. Number 35.”

“Hi Anthony, congratulations again.” 

“Thanks.” Crowley recognizes this reporter, he thinks. A woman with short pale hair and bright red lipstick. She’s with - The Guardian? Maybe? 

“You’ve been pretty open about your orientation and your history –”

“Openly queer cock-up, like I said.”

The crowd laughs, but Red Lipstick does not. “I’m wondering if you have any messages for young fans of your show who have struggled or are struggling with the same things – their sexuality, addiction, trouble with the law –”

“You’ve been reading my resume.”

There’s laughter again, but the reporter just watches him, a look on her face that isn’t amused in the slightest. Fuck, deflecting with humour is all he’s got, the only trick up his sleeve. What’s he supposed to do now? 

“I’d  - huh.  I’d tell them. Okay, first off, I’d tell them don’t listen to any of the last things I said. You aren’t a cock-up, I reserve that title for myself alone. And secondly –”

Here it is. Crowley is over-tired and over-caffeinated and must be starting to unravel a bit,  because there’s a moment -

- there’s a moment where he swears he sees a young idiot in black standing in the crowd. Red hair gelled up into spikes, black t-shirt full of holes and safety pins. A young man who has no idea how much he’s about to lose.

But also - also a young man who doesn’t know things aren’t always lost forever.

(Crowley blinks and he’s gone.)

“You know, I can’t answer that in any sort of decent way right now. That’s a hell of a question, and I’m running on fumes, and I think you deserve a better answer than I’d give you. Can I get back to you? You got a card?”

“I’ll get one for you,” the press wrangler says, and Red Lipstick laughs at last.

“I’ll take your answer off the air,” she says.

Crowley waves at everyone and fucks off with his trophy, heads down to the ballroom to make hideous small talk and stare at Avery Fell (with his heart between his teeth) for the rest of the bloody night.

And he’s still fucking here.

*

Three Weeks Earlier

Here’s the thing: the human body is pretty hard-wired for survival. 

Crowley should know, he’s done enough damage to his own. Things that probably should have killed him, or at least left some permanent marks. Nose-bleeding, stomach-pumping sort of things. 

But he’s still here. 

You can go three weeks without food, three bloody weeks. And wasn’t there that flight attendant who fell out of a plane and lived? Probably was nothing but pulp at the end of it but fuck it, she survived. People have lived through arrows to the head, so it makes sense that Crowley would survive an arrow to the heart. Even if he’s bleeding everywhere, even if the arrow-shaft is still sticking out of him.

Crowley leaves Victoria Park on New Year’s Day, and is still alive. That’s a hell of a thing. He walks away with a heart that’s still beating, and he doesn’t realize where he’s walking until he’s on the tube and he’s on the wrong line, the wrong fucking line, the line he used to take -

He gets off at the next stop, the moment that he can. 

Then he gets the fuck above ground and he calls Beez (oh great, they’re his emotional-support-asshole now. That’s healthy.)

“Where are you?” is their first question, and Crowley realizes he hasn’t spoken a word since he said good- (the word blackens like it’s been seared in oil) -bye. To Avery.

“I think I should go to a meeting,” he says, throat so tight he wishes he was crying. 

He hears the immediate clicking of keys in the background, Beez probably on their laptop looking up the nearest UKNA soirée.

“There’s one in Chelsea, starts in thirty minutes. Think you can get there?”

“Yes.”

“Are you safe?” Beez asks.

Crowley wants to hang up. He wants to hang up and get back on the tube. He’s got money, it’d be nothing at all to him, and it’d just be the one time, just tonight, just so he could feel anything other than this. He’d be on the straight and narrow again tomorrow, promise. Just the once wouldn’t kill him, and surely it’d be better for his body than carrying this heartache around, surely he deserves to not feel things for a few hours, it wouldn’t be so bad, it would be easy - 

(If he closes his eyes, Avery Fell is holding a gold coin to the light. Looking at him like he’s gold as well.)

Crowley breathes. 

Mindfully.

“I’m safe. But could I - stay on the phone with you?” 

There’s a slight pause before Beez speaks again. “God, fuck, you’re needy. Yes, fine.”

So he goes to the meeting in Chelsea, and sits in a circle with the other sad bastards and when he gets home Beez is waiting outside the door for him. 

“Don’t read too much into this,” they say immediately, hoisting a paper bag on their hip. “You’re my meal ticket, it’s in my best interest to keep you from fucking up your life.”

“No one else would hire you,” Crowley says seriously, and then fumbles his keys as he’s trying to unlock the door. “He left me.”

There, he said it out loud (and he’s still alive. The pain hasn’t choked him to death, hasn’t shut down his internal organs. Fuck his stupid, tenacious heart - he’s going to have to live with this, isn’t he?)

“I brought you cheese,” Beez says, and Crowley starts crying. But he gets the door open just the same. And he eats cheese and watches shite telly, and Beez doesn’t once say they told him so, for which he’s profoundly fucking grateful.

He makes it through the night. 

For the next few days, he lets his stupid body do what it needs to do to keep himself upright. Lets it feed him, and put him to bed, and take him on long punishing two hour jogs through London (ugh, running. So it’s come to this.)

For a few days he’s a machine, the sole purpose of which is keeping Anthony Crowley alive, and out of fucking jail (they should really pay him better for it. It’s a tedious bloody business.) He unplugs from most of the outside world: talks to Pepper over the phone and hates it, reads Love in the Time of Cholera and hates it, does yoga and hates it, and only watches one of Az’s films on Netflix.

Just one.

It’s the Regency romance one ( Gretna Green) and Az isn’t even the main character, just a stuffy potential suitor for the leading lady. He doesn’t get the girl in the end, but the cut of his coat is extremely nice, and there’s a scene where he goes riding and his thighs -

Shit, this was a bad bad idea.

Crowley’s in the middle of a half-weeping and hideously depressing wank (film still playing in the background) when Beez calls to tell him he’s nominated for a Television Award. 

Couldn’t have timed it better. 

(Christ, that’s the one viewers vote for. Fans. And there’s no chance he’s going to win it, absolutely no way, not with his history. But - the fact that his name is even on that list -)

“Is - is anyone else -” 

“Are you asking if he ’s nominated for anything?” Beez sounds disgusted. “He’s not. Now I’ll leave you to - whatever the fuck you’ve been doing - crying or wanking off or whatever.”

“You’re a treasure,” Crowley says and means it. Because at least some things don’t change. At least Beez will never treat him as anything other than contemptible. 

There’s a text from Az later that night, and his name on Crowley’s phone makes him feel like jumping off a cliff. ( You soft bloody angel, Crowley thinks, shaking his head, hatefully affectionate. Can’t deal with a little bit of crushing homophobia and trauma, eh? Just turn it inwards, it always worked for me. Just dissociate through your twenties, you’ll be fine .)

He doesn’t reply to Az’s text. And he doesn’t go online at all, won’t risk seeing any headlines about New Year’s Eve. And he doesn’t see Avery (aside from maybe one repeat watch of Gretna Green, whatever, shut up) until the red carpet outside of the O2.

Their gazes meet over a sea of people. Crowley’s glad for his glasses, hopes Az can’t see how wide his eyes have gone behind them.

The other man looks - good. He always looks good. He’s wearing a suit that’s nearly the exact blue of his eyes, and Crowley thanks God there’s distance between them or he’d probably be brought to his knees by the brightness. There’s something about Az when he’s all buttoned up (which is most of the time.) It makes Crowley twitchy, hungry to ruffle Az’s hair, mess up his bowtie, untuck his shirt and get hands on his skin.

“You’re staring,” Beez says quietly in his ear, and Crowley remembers. 

He’s not allowed to be in love with that man anymore. Wasn’t ever, really. Not in daylight, not in public. Not where anyone could see ( keep this love in the palm of your hand, and close it in your fist when it gets too bright . Use your other hand too if you need to. Keep it hidden. )

Crowley wonders if he hit himself hard in the chest, would it be enough to beat some sense into his heart (if he hit himself hard enough in the head, could he knock loose the memory of Az’s lips on his tattoos, scars, fingers, ribs, mouth…)

So he wins a Television Award (only cries a bit). So he hugs Avery on his way up to the stage, and can’t stop himself from shaking. So he answers questions from reporters and avoids Avery’s beautiful face at the afterparty and goes home alone. 

Lying in bed that night, back arched and fucking his fist (the scent of Az’s skin still in his mouth) Crowley realizes it’s been over a week.

And he’s still alive.

The last time he had an injury like this, he was in jail the next day.

It makes a rather hysterical laugh well out of his throat. Anthony fucking Crowley. You are still alive. 

He starts counting by weeks after that (it’s been two weeks and the ache hasn’t killed you. Let’s try for one more.)

Then he counts by months (it’s been a month and you haven’t dropped off the edge of the world. See if you can make it to Season Four . )

Fuck’s sake it’s a lot of effort, this staying alive business. But inch by inch, hour by hour – Crowley does. Might not deserve to (he certainly doesn’t feel like it some days) but he does.

And he meets up with Anathema when she’s in town, lets himself get dragged to weird crystals-and-granola cafés where they drink tea that tastes like compost and Anathema talks about whales. And he goes to a couple shows by himself, and doesn’t bring anyone home with him (doesn’t have the energy to pull anyone right now, and he’s such a mess that it’s all the better.) He even goes to the odd meeting, has tea afterwards with this lovely mom named Vespers who used to be big into the punk rock scene. They make plans to go to a concert some time. 

A week before he has to fly to Belfast and start filming the first episode, the BAFTA nominations come out.

And Crowley - Crowley’s name. It’s - he’s on the - the -

He can’t read the nominees without panicking.

“Beez -” he says desperately, needing someone to tell him he’s just hallucinating.

“I’ll be looking for a pay raise if you win this one.”

Fuck fuck fuck fuck - a BAFTA? “This is mad.”

“I’ve had a call from The Guardian and a call from The Telegraph and a few dozen emails from sites that already want interviews with you. Breathe into a paper bag and call me back. I’ll take a look at your schedule.”

“But - this is - like. The BAFTAs, that’s - that’s a real thing, that’s like - my dad has a BAFTA. Judi Dench has a BAFTA.”

“Yes, I’m aware. And in a month’s time, you will as well.”

“Fuck off.” Crowley thinks he might throw up. His phone buzzes with an incoming text, and he pulls it back from his ear to look at it.

It’s from Avery. It’s from Avery, and Crowley still hasn’t responded to anything the man sent since New Year’s (because he can’t, right? If he does, it will be a matter of time before he’s asking him for dinner, asking him how he’s doing, telling him he misses him like he would miss both kidneys.)

I’m so happy for you. Congratulations on the nomination. 

Crowley stares at the message. While he’s staring, Az sends another one.

I’m sure you’re busy but if you have a chance to call me, I’d really like to speak with you.

“Crowley?” Beez is shouting on the phone at him.

Crowley thumps himself once in the chest (get that heart beating properly again) and lifts the phone back to his ear.

He’s nominated for a BAFTA.

And somehow, against all odds, he’s still alive. 

*

“If there’s trouble –” Az glances between his script and Crowley’s face. The rest of the cast is silent, watching them with tightly-wound attention. Crowley feels a dozen pairs of eyes on his face.

“Get a message to me,” he reads, “Wherever you are, I’ll come to you.”

He meets Az’s eyes across the table and wishes he had his sunglasses on.  “I’ll find you. You believe me?”

“I do.”

Crowley snorts, but it’s fond. “ You do . Simple as that, eh? Thought you were losing faith, priest.”

“Not in you.”

On the other side of the room, he hears Anathema let out an exaggeratedly dreamy sigh. He rolls his eyes at her and she rolls her eyes back.

“We’ll have a bit of a look between you then, before Az leaves,” Michael’s saying. “You know the look. Good work. Anyone have questions?”

“When are we going to get the rest of the season’s scripts?” Newt asks.

Michael glances at Uriel. The new head writer is sitting in the back corner of the room, listening to the reading with her head tilted back and her eyes closed. 

“Before each episode,” she says. “As needed.”

“As needed?” Newt repeats.

“As needed. Okay, Anathema, you’re up.” Michael moves onto the next scene, and Crowley stops looking at Az. Mostly. He doesn’t have to make intense, longing eye contact with him when they aren’t bloody acting. Crowley can limit himself to the occasional sidelong glance when they’re not on-set. Can be satisfied with the brief study of Az’s head as it’s bent over his script, the pale pink scalp against blond-white hair. Hair that’s impossibly soft. Hair that Crowley clenched in his fingers while they kissed.

Az looks up at him, and Crowley drops his eyes to his script. They haven’t said a word to each other yet - besides a polite ‘good morning’ before the table-reads. Crowley wants to claw his own face off (“it’s over,” remember that. The man said “it’s over,” so back the fuck off.)

When they finally break for the day, Crowley finds Avery waiting for him outside the conference room after everyone else has left. 

It’s a - bit of a shock. Crowley’s body is a machine made for keeping him alive, and now it’s all for nothing, because here is Avery Fell, standing right in front of him.  Here he bloody is, just a few feet away from Crowley (and Crowley’s open mouth and Crowley’s starving hands. He could just reach out and have the man in his arms, it would be easy, no effort at all -)

“How are you?” Az asks, swallowing around the last word as his voice goes all froggy.

“I’m - good. Yeah. I’m - yep.” Surely talking has never been this difficult before. Crowley gets paid to do it, he should be used to it by now.  “Good. How are you?”

“I’m well.” Az runs a hand through his hair, and Crowley wishes he was the man’s head or at least the tips of his fingers. “Congratulations again. I haven’t had the chance to say it personally.”

“No worries. Got your texts.” Crowley fidgets with the fringe on his scarf, shifts from one foot to the other. 

“I was hoping I might - talk to you. There’s something -”

“Sure, go ahead.” Crowley hates himself even as he says it. (Self-preservation, he repeats in a voice that sounds like Pepper’s. You get this man alone, you pour some wine, you watch him eat something delicious, lick his lips, and it’s curtains, curtains for you.)

Something flickers across Az’s face. Crowley’s never seen that expression before, so he has no idea what it means. “All right. Um. Tracy and I are - separating.”

That’s not - at all what Crowley was expecting to hear.

Have separated,” Az amends. “I wanted to tell you but -” (But Crowley wouldn’t talk to him.) “There wasn’t a chance.”

“Oh. I’m - I’m sorry.” Keep talking, say something. “I’ve been so busy.”

“Yes. Well. We’re releasing an official statement this week, but I wanted you to know first.”

Why? Crowley wants to ask. Why the fuck should I know first? “Is Trace okay?”

“Yes, she is - she’s doing very well -”

“I’ll give her a call when I get home, let her know I’m thinking about her.”

“Yes, but - Anthony -” 

“Maybe the two of you can work it out, who knows?” His voice sounds ugly, cold, like a stranger speaking through his throat. “One day. Never say never.”

The look on Az’s face shifts to a wretched - blankness. He nods. “Yes. Of course.”

Crowley smiles at him. It feels like dry ice against his lips, like any second they’re going to start smoking.

"Well. You take care of yourself.  I’ll - see you tomorrow." He takes his obliterated heart in his hand, and lays it gently down on the ground by Avery’s feet. There. Take it.

"All right,” Az says softly.

Crowley tries to ignore the soft, injured expression on the other man’s face as he turns away. Tries to ignore the why why why that still leaks like blood from his pores: why did she leave? Or why did you leave her? Was it mutual, why was it mutual, what made this happen now of all times, when it’s too late, too late -

(“I’m proud of you,” Pepper tells him on the phone that night. 

“Oh yeah?” Crowley’s only half listening to her, puttering around the kitchen of his rental suite, trying to force himself to eat something.

“It’s been three months, and look at you. Drawing on healthy coping skills, asking for help when you need it -”

“Wow, and it only took me - what - nearly fifty years? To figure out how to be a semi-functional adult person?”

“You may not believe this, but it takes many people longer than fifty years to reach that point. If they ever do.”

“I feel so much better now.”

“I realize you use sarcasm when you are uncomfortable, but Anthony - you’re allowed to be proud of yourself.”

Crowley is silent.

“What do you think would happen,” Pepper asks, “if you acknowledged that you’d done something well?”

“I - “ Fuck this entire conversation, thank you so much. Crowley was distracted by the contents of his fridge, should never have let things get this far. “I don’t know.”

“You must. There must be some reason you’re so terrified of it.”

“He and Trace have split.” There, that’s a juicy piece of something, that ought to get Pepper on a different track. 

“Ah.” Pepper pauses, a pause that goes much too long and is probably intentionally meant to make Crowley go insane. “How do you feel about that?”

“I feel - I dunno. Something bad. All in my chest and neck and -“ Crowley holds out his hands, searches them for trembling. “Hands,” he finishes.

“Can you give it a name? Best guess.”

“Maybe - panic.”

“That’s what I thought you’d say.”

Oh great, she’s psychic now and all. “Why’s that?”

“Because there are no barriers anymore, are there? Besides the ones you put up yourself.”

Crowly gives up looking for food and tries to pull out all his hair instead. “But that’s - that should be a good thing. Why in the name of fuck would I -” 

“What’s more frightening than having a choice?”

Huh. 

So. 

Pepper’s - probably fired. For real this time. This time, Crowley means it.)

*

“If there’s trouble -” Az’s voice is soft and hesitant.

“Get a message to me.”

It’s one thing to read a scene like this in a brightly lit conference room.

It’s another to read it in the forest, lantern-lit and close together, breath coming in frozen gusts.

It’s another to act it out when you’re standing near enough to touch.

“Wherever you are, I’ll come to you.”

Gorgeous Avery Fell in his shabby woolen cloak gives a slight nod. It’s a halting sort of thing, like a bird leaving its nest. It makes Crowley want to reach out and take Az’s chin in his hand, hold his face steady, stop his teeth from chattering, make him see -

So he does.

(Bloody buggering fuck, this is not in the script, this is not in the script .)

But it’s too late. The cameras are still rolling, and Crowley is still touching Az’s face. 

“I’ll find you. You believe me?”

“I do.”

You do . Simple as that, eh?” Michael will call cut, any second now. She has to. “Thought you were losing faith, priest.”

“Not -” Az stutters the line. Swallows. “Not in you.”

Crowley nods then. Drops his hand, still burning with the heat of Az’s skin. It’ll be okay, it will be. They’ll just take the scene again. It’s fine.

The cameras keep rolling, so Crowley hoists his pack of supplies on his shoulder, looks at Avery like he’s seeing him for the last time. Because he might be. Who knows what’s happening in the scripts - this might be their last scene together this season, might be their last scene together period. Both of their characters might die of the plague, they’ve got no way of knowing. 

Az must be thinking the same thing, because his eyes are shining ( real tears? In Episode One? That bastard.) 

“Cut!” Michael calls at last.

“Sorry, Mike.” Crowley immediately looks away from his co-star, searches for Michael beneath the bright lights. “Don’t know what I was thinking with that, I shouldn’t have -”

“I loved it. Brilliant. We’ll go again for coverage but I want you to do that same thing, okay? The touch to the face. Thanks guys.”

Az is wiping at his eyes, and the make-up bloke rushes over to powder his face dry. Crowley waits until Avery has his eyes closed before staring at him. He used to be better at hiding this, he knows it. But after everything that’s happened, his body feels like one exposed wire, and his self-control is basically done for. He’s never going to touch Avery again (unless cameras are rolling in the vicinity) so at least he can look. Steal glances. 

Love the other man in sips of whiskey, in bites of glass.

When Az opens his eyes again, Crowley’s already looking away.  He calls it self-preservation when it feels a good deal less healthy than that.

The third season starts to air midway through the filming of Season Four and the cast gets booked for watch-parties when it doesn’t conflict with shooting. The Horsemen insisted on it (gotta keep that good publicity going). Crowley and Anathema go together to the premiere in Belfast, and they answer questions about filming during the ad breaks and Crowley feels more like a celebrity than he ever has. The first seasons were fairly popular, but it wasn’t like this; the bar is packed and people are in costume, cheering during fight scenes, gasping during a particularly dramatic turn (the first appearance of Cumberbatch gets a wave of applause that’s thunderous). For all his anti-social tendencies, Crowley has a pretty decent time. 

Afterwards, an older fellow comes up to him, tells him that Crowley inspired him to finally come out at sixty-seven years old. Crowley hugs him, and signs his t-shirt, and swears that the tightness in his throat is from shouting too much on camera. Couldn’t possibly be from anything else.

He’s busy during the airing of the next episode (off filming in Iceland) but he’s free for the one after that. And, as it happens, so is Avery.

That’s fine. It is. They can be adults about this, they - still work together. 

Crowley doesn’t even think about it until he’s sat at the bar and the show has started playing. It’s Episode Three.

It’s the fucking kiss.

The audience loves it, and Crowley grins and winks at them and tries not to notice the way Az’s face goes very still and very pink.

When there’s an ad break, the first audience question is from a bloke who’s clearly had a bit too much to drink, weaving as he asks it. 

“So Avery, is that scene the reason you’re single now?”

The audience goes silent, as well they fucking should. Crowley wants to bite out something extremely vulgar, ask this prick what the hell business it is of his -

But then he realizes that Az isn’t saying anything. He’s opened his mouth but no words are coming out and he’s flushed (and lovely and - not the point, focus up, Anthony -) and any second now the silence will have gone on too long to be laughed off and fuck, fuck -

“What can I say?” Crowley leans into his mic, raising his eyebrows. “One kiss from me, and you’re ruined for life. Ladies, lock up your husbands.”

He grins at Az like he isn’t a fucking nightmare of love for him, like he doesn’t want to bleed out on the floor and draw hearts in the mess he leaves. 

Finally, finally - Az smiles back.

“He’s right.” The audience laughs. Haha, what a brilliant fucking joke. “I was a changed man after that scene.”

Crowley has perfected the art of biting down on his cheek as hard as he can while grinning. His mouth could be filling with blood right now, and no one would have a clue.

“Sorry, angel. Should’ve warned you about my powers.”

Az nods in agreement. “Yes, you should have. But it’s too late now. Everything else is just - a pale imitation.”

The awkward moment passes, and the episode resumes and Avery doesn’t speak to him for the rest of the evening. They take separate cars back to the hotel, and the next day Crowley flies into London (with Anathema and Michael and assorted others) to get ready for the BAFTAS.

The next two days are a blur. Clichéd as it might sound, it’s true. He was fitted for a suit before he went off to film and it fits him (thank Christ) and it’s got the loveliest dark blue satin lining. He does black on black on black (as usual) but with a silvery scarf around his neck and wing tip shoes polished so brightly they shine with the flash of each camera. He takes Beez as his date again, poor thing, and poses on the red carpet (poses! Him!) and feels thirty years younger.

You were a star once. Do you remember? Did you think there was any hope of getting back into that black sky, of being welcomed into your old, familiar constellation? Did you think that anyone would ever call your name and want your picture again ?

“Are you crying?” Beez asks, horrified.

“No. Shut up.”

Avery’s filming in Ireland with a guest director, and that’s maybe for the best. He’s here with Crowley anyway - a perpetual ghost kissing the back of Crowley’s neck. As Crowley navigates the reporters and photographers, he wonders what would have happened if he had chosen to live Az’s kind of life. If he hadn’t fallen the way he did (so far and so fast) all those years ago. He could be in the exact same place as his co-star. Terrified of putting a toe out of line for fear the industry would turn on him. And he likes to think he would have just burned the world to ashes with the power of his love, would have said fuck everyone, I choose you – but who knows. 

Things could have been different.

( There is another life I could have had, but I am having this one .)

So with a ghost pressed up against his back, arms wound around his shoulders like a shawl, Crowley walks the red carpet. He tries not to stare too much at Olivia Coleman (a spectacular failure, he’s a rabid fan) and he tries not to fall in love with Idris Elba (another failure, there is not a more perfect looking human) and when they play the nominees’ clips later in the show, it’s like he’s watching someone else. He doesn’t recognize that man (he does, though, he does. Recognizes the longing that hits right at the lip of him, almost spilling over but not enough that he can’t play it off as great acting. Which is bullshit, frankly. The best acting of his life he’s doing right now, and no one even cares. No one even notices.)

“And the BAFTA goes to – Anthony J. Crowley, for Warlock .”

It’s even more of a blur after that. Anathema and Newton and Michael have their arms all over him, and Beez even gives him an uncharacteristic kiss on the cheek. Later, he’ll think of the walk from his seat to the stage and be amazed that he wasn’t floating halfway to the ceiling or slithering across the floor. He has no idea where his edges are, no concept of his limbs, might just be held together by sweat and spite and very tight trousers.

Later, he’ll watch back the speech he makes like he’s watching footage of a newly-found planet.

Then it’s the green room, then it’s photographs and Benedict Cumberbatch shaking his hand and a glass of champagne and the media circus, all over again.

(“What do you think your dad will have to say about your win? Did he offer any advice before the ceremony?”

Ha! That’d be a fine thing.  His dad had said a gruff, “Expect you’re feeling pleased with yourself,” after the nominations came out but that was the extent of it. His mum had more of an opinion about the Television Award: “Voted on by fans is it? Not anyone in the industry? A sort of - mass appeal thing, then. Ah .”

Crowley smiles so tightly it might snap.

“I think they’ll be glad that I’m finally putting all their tuition money to good use. But seriously, I was so lucky to grow up in a creative family. Such a big part of this award is down to them, and I can’t tell you what it means to be carrying on their legacy.” There, use a bunch of words to say absolutely nothing. It’s an art form.)

The after-party is at the Savoy. Everyone keeps patting Crowley’s back and handing him champagne. Maybe he has one too many. Or maybe he should have eaten something more than coffee today. Or maybe it’s the ghost at the back of his neck, or maybe it’s the mix of sleeplessness and adrenaline (and champagne) and the perfect smiles of the people around him - some of ‘em who probably remember when no one would hire him. Who probably called him all sorts of lovely slurs when not in polite company. Who knows if there’s an exact cause; all Crowley knows is that things get a bit foggy and when his driver drops him at home, he stumbles into his apartment and makes a stupid, stupid fucking phone call.

His one saving grace is that there’s no answer.  Or maybe that’s actually worse - if Az had picked up he might have taken pity on Crowley, ended the call, told him to ring back the next morning when he was sober. But there’s no reasoning with voicemail. 

(“Number 39.”

“Congratulations Anthony. I know you’ve brought your manager as your date tonight. I’m wondering what your love life’s like?”

There’s a bit of laughter. “Oh. I see.”

“Only there were some photos about a year ago of yourself and the musician Matt Noble, wondering if the two of you’ve kept in touch at all? Or if any of our readers still have a shot?”

Crowley barks out a laugh against his will. “While that’s extremely flattering - I regret to inform your readers that I’ve given up on romance and am committing myself fully to my craft. Also juicing. Just got a Magic Bullet, life-changing stuff. I don’t have time for much else. And no, Matt and I are not still in touch. Expect he’s gone and run off with Harry Styles or something.”)

“Hiya... ’S me… You’re - probably asleep. Should be asleep, shouldn’t be callin’ you. Won a BAFTA, don’t know if you heard. Doesn’t matter. I mean - it matters but -” Crowley’s halfway falling off the sofa, phone pressed his ear, one shoe still on. “M’sorry I didn’t say goodbye to you after the show at the bar. M’sorry for everything, all of it, whatever I did - I love you. So stupid, I know, and I’m - sorry, I still love you and I’m tryin’ to stop and I will I just - needed to tell you that. I’ll be fine. You’ll be fine. Just miss you.” (He won’t remember all of this message. Just bits and pieces of it the next morning, when Az calls him and calls him and Crowley doesn’t answer.)

The phone drops from his hand then, or maybe he hangs up, or maybe he falls off the couch and lies on the floor until he falls asleep. Whatever happens, Crowley wakes up the next morning with a twisted neck and a bad taste in his mouth, and a slowly creeping horror that he made a phone-call he shouldn’t have.

Whatever happens, he and Avery don’t see each other for almost two months.

(“Number 20.”

“Congratulations, Anthony.” It’s Red Lipstick again. Crowley makes an apologetic face. “Ah, you remember me. Wondering if you’ve had any thoughts about my last question.”

“Er - jog my memory, would you?”

“Any words of advice for fans of yours who relate to some of your struggles?”

Crowley breathes out slowly. He still has her card, still intends to answer her. But some answers matter, right? It can’t all be ‘using a bunch of words to say absolutely nothing.’

“Can I have one more free pass? The last one, I swear. I’m going to write something up, make it properly thoughtful.”

The reporters laugh, and Red Lipstick raises an eyebrow.

“Well. As long as it’s ‘properly thoughtful.’”)

For two months, Crowley films scenes without Avery. For two months, he’s given scraps of the script - the pieces that only involve him directly, nothing of the rest of the world. Christ, he has no idea where Az is, and no idea whether they’ll act opposite each other ever again. (He didn’t actually think it would be the last time they acted together in that forest, not actually.) 

Whatever happens in Warlock, there will be premieres and awards shows and publicity to do. It’s not like he won’t see Az again. But if Uriel kills one of them off - that would be it for most of their time together.

Which is fine. Crowley has to believe that. Crowley has to tell himself that, despite certain drunken voicemails, he’s getting better. Healing by inches.

Az doesn’t call him, and Crowley doesn’t call either -tries not to even think about the night of the BAFTAs. What a fucking mistake, and he’d been doing so well, too. He’d been Processing and Practicing Self-Care and using Healthy Coping Strategies or whatever the hell Pepper would say. Then suddenly there’s a bit of champagne and exhaustion in him, and he has to vomit his useless longing all over Avery’s spotless shoes. 

(“Do you want to go to New York?” Beez asks, on the phone from London.

Crowley always wants to go to New York. He particularly wants to go when he’s freezing his arse off in Iceland. “Why?”

“For the season finale watch-along. I’ve booked the flights already. Michael wants you there.”

Crowley’s not going to argue with them, and definitely not about this. “Just me?”

“Uh. No.” And that answers Crowley’s next question as well.)

“Everyone I love. They’re in this room.”  

Crowley’s sitting on stage, off to the side of a giant projector screen. Az is in the seat next to him, close enough to touch. Close enough to smell, and fuck - that’s a problem (must be a new cologne. He never used to have this hint of vetiver about him.)

Crowley wants to look at him. He can’t, so he just inhales deeply.

When the episode ends, there’s a bit of a Q&A, some time to talk to fans who brought photos to sign. 

“Are you going to end up together?” a girl asks Crowley as he writes a heartfelt message on her Wizard School: The Movie poster. For a second, he almost passes out. Oh , right. He’s in a television show.

“Dunno. Wish I could tell you, but they barely let us read the scripts for the next episode. What do you think?”

“I hope you do, but.” The girl shrugs. “Probably not, right?”

“Maybe we’re both in for a surprise.”

She smiles shyly at him, and he smiles back. As he turns his head he sees Avery watching him, coming back to their table with another glass of wine. Crowley’s on lemonade just now; no alcohol for him when he’s 1) around Avery or 2) has potential access to a phone.

“You’re very good with them.”

“Who? Her?”

“Fans.” Avery’s voice is quiet, his gaze fluttering. It’s like he’s afraid that if he makes eye contact or speaks too loudly, Crowley might bolt (and you know, he bloody might).

“So are you.”

“That’s very kind of you, but - you make it seem easy. I rather like watching you.” Az takes a sharp breath in. “That is - that sounded rather awkward.”

“Nah, it’s. Fine.”

“What I meant was - you seem to enjoy yourself. For the most part. And they love - you.”

Crowley takes that compliment, tosses it from hand to hand, unable to let it settle anywhere. Unsure whether he wants it.

“Well. Thanks. They’re a good lot.”

“Would you like to share a taxi? After this is done?”

The studio booked them rooms in the same hotel - same floor even. Crowley’s been trying to repress that knowledge.

“Sure, angel,” he says without thinking, and pretends not to notice Avery flinch. 

So they do. They make uncomfortable small talk on the ride back to the hotel, while the backseat of the taxi swims in vetiver and orange blossom. Crowley knows his jacket is going to smell like Az for the rest of his life (he’s not washing it ever again).

“Are you - in the city long?” Az asks as they walk through the lobby, take the elevator up to the fifteenth floor.

“Two days, then I’m back in Belfast. You?”

“I have almost a week before they need me.”

“Lucky bastard.” Let’s have breakfast tomorrow. Let’s have lunch. Go to museum, go to a bookstore. You could tell me all the clever things you know as we walk around Central Park, I could make you laugh and buy you cheesecake. We could have a picnic. I could take your hand, trace your lifeline with my tongue like it was a river -

Stop it.

“Yes, I suppose I am.”

“Have fun while you can.”

They reach Avery’s room first, nod a tilting ‘goodnight’ at each other before Crowley continues down the hall. But he makes the mistake of looking back. 

There’s no excuse. He can tell himself all he likes that it was to make sure Az got into his room okay. He can tell himself these friendly little lies, but the truth is a hungry, feral thing.

 ( I just wanted to look at you. )

In the dark and open doorway, Avery’s looking back at him.

Crowley moves without thinking. Falls like a stagelight, glass everywhere. He walks forward and is kissing Az before the door has even been pulled shut.

“Yes, yes -” Az gasps, pulling him inside, slamming the door so he can push Crowley up against it. Their hands are frantic and Az tastes delicious and familiar and Crowley doesn’t ever want to stop kissing him.  

“Get this - off.” Az’s voice is broken against Crowley’s mouth, and he’s pulling Crowley’s shirt out of his trousers, fisting hands in the fabric. Crowley tugs at his blond hair, kissing him, kissing him -

“Fuck,” Avery stutters against the line of Crowley’s jaw. “Oh God I want you -“

“Yeah, so damn much, I can’t -”

“Please - let me -“ Az’s hands are at Crowley’s belt, yanking it open, fumbling with his zipper, shoving trousers and pants down his thighs before dropping to his knees.

“Oh - fucking Christ, angel, you -”

“Please, oh God.” Az’s mouth is vicious on Crowley’s stomach, on his hipbones, on the trail of hair below his navel. Crowley is hard and dripping already; just the thought of Avery’s mouth is almost enough to end this before it starts. If he so much as breathes on Crowley’s cock -

“I’ve been - thinking about this -” Az says between darts of his tongue against Crowley’s overheated skin. “About you. I can’t stop. I’ve wanted you so badly, it’s all I can think about.”

Fuck .” Crowley slides his hand into Az’s hair and it’s soft, so soft and -

( When he imagined it - and he did imagine it - it was always soft .)

“S-stop.” Crowley’s voice is almost inaudible. He pulls his hands out of Avery’s hair, and his palms scream at him.

“Stop -” he says louder.

Az stops immediately. He looks up, mouth open. Lips wet. 

His eyelashes are golden and Crowley is a wreck for him, has a curved spine from carrying around the weight of this love. 

But.

“What - what is it?” Az is breathing fast, a look of growing confusion on his face. His eyes are so wide and blue and foggy with lust that Crowley almost says ‘fuck it’ and takes him by the hair again.

But.

“You’re, uh - not. Sober.”

Az blinks. Then he huffs out a little laugh. “I’m fine.”

“Yeah, well. I’m - not. Fine.” Fuck, what is he fucking doing? You want him, he’s here, just reach the fuck out.  “I can’t.”

“You - can’t.”

“I can’t do this.”

Slowly, the meaning of the words seem to register. Avery drops his hands from Crowley’s hips. Shifts back on his knees, gets to his feet. Looks everywhere in the room but Crowley’s face.

“But your - your message -” Az says quietly.

“That was - you know what that was.” Crowley frantically dresses, zips, buckles his belt. Keep moving, keep moving. “A mistake.”

“A mistake-” 

“Not that bit about - how I feel. That’s - I’m working on it, yeah? But - I can’t -” This is going to hurt more than lit cigarettes, Crowley can already tell. “ Be with you. ” 

Az is absolutely frozen still, could be a lovely statue in a dark museum. And Crowley can’t stop twitching, shaking, moving so much he’s blurry.

“I can’t. Not like this. Not how it was.” 

“I - Anthony -

“I’d never ask you to change your life. Never. But I - I love you. And I can’t -  hide. It hurts too much.” Every word is a shovel-full of earth raining down on him. And all he wants in the world is to touch Az again, kiss him, make this okay. “I can’t pretend I’m not in love with you when you’re fucking me. I can’t watch you leave before it’s light out.”

“I’m so sorry.” The breath in Avery’s chest shatters out of him like a sob.

“You don’t have to be sorry.” Crowley takes a step forward, reaches out before he realizes what he’s doing. He pulls his hand back quickly. “You - you’re fucking wonderful. This would be so much easier if you weren’t.”

“What if I try -”

“I’m not going to push you, Az. I’d never do that. And I’d never take this choice from you, but-” Breathe mindfully, you absolute fuckwit. “I wouldn’t survive it. That way it was. I wouldn’t.”

Az doesn’t say anything. He clutches his shoulders, like he’s holding himself together. 

“I’m going to - go. Take care of yourself, all right?  I’ll - see you.” 

Az still doesn’t say anything, so Crowley leaves. And when he gets to his room he sinks to the floor beside his bed and covers his face with his hands and doesn’t move for a long, long time. And it’s another month before they see each other again.

The very last episode, the Season Four finale (hey look at that, they all made it!). It’s a battle scene – an entire village taking up arms against the Inquisition, pitchforks and shovels against swords and shields and arrows. It takes days to film, and Crowley’s only needed for the last half of it, just long enough to see Avery through the carnage, save his life and then immediately get shot through with arrows. Even though they’re filming, his first glimpse of Az in weeks feels like a victory. He can’t help the stupid expression on his face (which is exactly what Michael wants). 

They take the reunion scene over and over again. Crowley gets to stare into Avery’s eyes and soak up the shimmer of emotions – disbelief to surprise to gratitude to terror. Gets to fall forward into Avery’s arms, swoon like a romantic heroine, his face lined black with sweat and smoke and blood.

(He’s not dead, no worries there. He’ll be back for next season apparently, though he’s not got a clue how he survives this. Probably magic, right? Something like that.)

“And that’s a wrap on Season Four!” Michael shouts, and there’s a wave of applause - crew and cast and dozens of extras cheering. Crowley’s still held tight in Az’s arms, their chests pressed against each other. Even with the fake arrows sticking out of his back and his muscles aching from the week of shooting, Crowley is suddenly happy. He can’t help it. He smiles, smiles at Avery with the whole tangled yarn of their history trailing behind him (still wrapped around his throat but a bit looser now. Not cutting off the air quite so much.)

Az smiles back. As he does, tears spill down his face. They leave tracks in his grimy makeup, and Crowley can almost taste them in his mouth, the sea-salt of his skin.

“Soft bloody angel,” he murmurs.

Az nods, almost laughing and almost crying in equal measure. “Foul fiend.”

His hands clench compulsively on Crowley’s waist. The sky above them is wide and grey and clean, and the moment doesn’t want to end. Maybe there’s a world in which it doesn’t, where some great benevolent God presses ‘pause’ and lets Crowley linger in this warmth for a century or so. But in the world they live in, Wardrobe comes over to help Crowley with the arrows, and Michael’s shouting something at a P.A. and Az lets him go. Face shining, Az lets him go.  

They step away from each other, two people on opposite sides of a river - lighting and grips collecting gear, and extras trying to figure out where they’re supposed to go to get their cheques, and sound coming to take the microphones. People pass endlessly between them, swift as water.

But even on their distant shores, Crowley and Az don’t stop looking at each other.

It feels like an ending. Maybe it is one. Not a happy ending, but not a bad one either. It’s like dropping a match once it’s burned right down to your fingertips; you can only hold it for so long (Crowley feels the bright, blistering pain of it and wants to suck his fingers into his mouth. But how can you regret something that gave off so much light? You can’t.) 

Avery smiles at him, and Crowley doesn’t regret anything. 

And he goes out with Anathema and a few other crew members for drinks that night, laughs around the tightness in his chest, pretends there aren’t any ghosts pressing their lips to his bared throat.

And when he gets back to his hotel room that night, he sends an email.

(excerpt from Anthony Crowley: Out of the shadows, under the spotlight. 

By Amy Nicholson, The Guardian

I’d never met Anthony Crowley until he won a National Television Award. Of course I’d seen his films - growing up, he was all over my television screen (and I dare say my mum had a bit of a crush). Of course, now he’s Anthony Crowley: BAFTA winner, and no one will forget that any time soon. He’s charming as all hell in person, though the self-deprecation can feel a bit painful. You get the impression that he’s atoning for something; perhaps he thinks that downplaying his accomplishments is one of the roads toward forgiveness. But watching him answer questions, I had to ask: forgiveness for what? 

I happen to know many people with a deep, abiding appreciation for the work of Mr. Crowley. This appreciation stems from more than just his brilliant acting - and he is brilliant, there’s no denying that. But fans of his appreciate something else as well. They appreciate the chance to see themselves - with all their darkness, with all their weaknesses and strengths - reflected openly in a public figure.

Crowley references his time in rehab. Makes comments about his therapist, his sexuality, his trouble with the law. And while he often uses these experiences as skewers on which to roast himself, the sheer fact they’re being talked about by the lead in an immensely popular television series is remarkable.

I asked Crowley, the night of the Television Awards, what he would say to a young person who was experiencing some of the same challenges he did. With characteristic unpredictability, he asked if he could ‘get back to me.’ I asked him the same question after his win at the BAFTAs. I was given the same answer.

Well, true to his word, Crowley has gotten back to me. And this is what he wants to say. What he’d like you - any of you who might need these words - to hear:

“First off, I’m not a poet or anything. They give me the lines, I don’t write them. So this isn’t going to be profound or even all that smart. But you asked, and I said I’d answer.

It’s going to be hard, I’ll tell you that from the start. However hard you think it’s going to be, I promise you it’ll be worse. And you’re going to think you have to do it alone – but you don’t, and you can’t. People will want to help you. People will want to be there when you’re ready for them. You might not find them right away, but you’ll find them.

Wherever you are on that path, wherever you’re headed, just remember that you won’t be walking it forever. And those first steps - first loves, first heartaches, first mistakes, whatever - they don’t have to define all the years of your life. A day will come when you can let it go. You might not think so now, but that day will come. Doesn’t mean you don’t still carry a part of it with you, but you’re going to wake up one day and realize it’s lighter. That day will come, whatever you’re carrying. 

I’m mixing metaphors aren’t I. Like I said. Not a poet.

Anyway, whoever you are, I want you to know that I’m proud of you. If you’re queer and alive in this f-- king world (sorry, am I allowed to swear? You can edit this, whatever. I’m going to say f--k.) If you’re queer and alive in this f--king world, I’m proud of you.”

So there you have it. )

There’s a wrap party at the end of Season 4.

It’s at the same posh London club and Crowley goes because he has to and ignores the canapés and holds up the bar. Old habits die hard, and why mess with a good thing and all that. He’s brought a date this time, but Beez prefers to avoid his company when they can help it, and is hanging around the appetizers, getting their money’s worth. Crowley’s drinking soda water with lime, and he’s bored to tears by it, but there’s still a part of him that can’t be tipsy around Avery Fell. Still a part of himself that’s cringing and wretched and starving, a part that might creep out of the darkness and catch fire and say - stupid bullshit nonsense in Az’s direction.  

Might ask for another chance.

Might drop to his knees and beg.

So. Crowley is clinging to his self-respect like he’s hanging from the edge of a cliff by his fingernails, and he’s hiding in the darkness and being anti-social and waiting for the inevitable -

“Having fun?” Anathema asks, silently appearing beside him. 

“Loads.” Crowley gives her a flat look, and she smiles at him like he’s entertaining. Sweet , even. Un-bloody-believable.

“Would you -“

“Don’t.” Crowley cuts her off before she can finish, holds his palm up in self-defense (she promptly smacks it out of the way). 

“I wasn’t even going to ask , you prick. My fragile ego can’t handle another rejection. Though I know how much you love these sick beatz. Said ‘beatz’ with a ‘zed,’ don’t know if you caught that.”

“Um -“ Crowley’s briefly distracted and distraught by the opening strains of Wonderwall. “Good for you, well done.”

He scans the crowd for any sight of a beige silk coat and matching cravat. Az brought Tracy to the party, which only got a few raised eyebrows. It’s clear they’re still great friends, and Tracy cornered Crowley earlier in the evening for several overly-enthusiastic hugs (he didn’t mind so much, since it was Trace). Her bright red hair stands out like a beacon, even in the dim lighting, and she’s currently standing at the edge of the dance floor, talking to - fuck him, is that Shadwell ? The scruffy Scottish key grip cleans up nicely, to Crowley’s complete shock.

“What I was going to ask before you got all self-centred and defensive - was about your friend.” She nods her head toward Beez, a besuited smudge by the veggie tray.

“Beez? What about them?”

Anathema tosses her hair, tries to look extremely cool and disaffected. But Crowley has been trying to look cool and disaffected for longer than Anathema’s been alive, he can spot the cracks immediately. “If one were going to - say - buy them a drink -” 

“Why, Anathema Device ...” Crowley raises an eyebrow at her, and she raises one right back.

“What?”

“You sly devil.” This was unexpected. Crowley thought that maybe there was something happening with her and Newt, but apparently he was mistaken. 

“I have no idea what you’re implying. Thought they looked lonely standing over there.”

“I bet you did.”

“You’re awful and I don’t know why I talk to you.” She makes a big production out of turning away, starting to flounce off.

“Pineapple and soda water is their usual. No alcohol.”

That earns him at least a backwards glance. “Was that so hard?”

“Don’t break any hearts now, Device.”

“Worry about your own heart, Anthony.

“I haven’t got one. Don’t you read the papers?”

Anathema shakes her head. This time she really does walk away, but he’s almost certain he hears her mutter “Good thing you’re pretty,” as she goes.

He watches her for a bit, lets himself fade back into the darkness. It doesn’t feel as necessary as it used to, but it’s still his security blanket. He sips his drink, waits for Wonderwall to end, wondering what fresh hell the DJ has lined up for them next. It’s some soft bluegrass thing, as it turns out.

A slow song. One that’s - vaguely familiar.

“Would you like to dance?”

Crowley turns, almost in slow-motion, to see a beige-silk coat and cravat standing just to his left. A man who gave his jacket away and soaked up half a glass of wine from Crowley’s shirt the night they met. 

Crowley suddenly, like a cannon firing, recognizes the song that’s playing.

( “Romantic nonsense.” His body is warm, swaying against Avery’s in the kitchen.

“The worst sort of cliché.” )

“The thing is.” Avery takes a breath. “The thing is.” He’s shaking, hands clenched together. But he doesn’t drop his eyes. Doesn’t stop looking at Crowley. “I’m rather in - in love with you.”

Crowley tries to respond, tries to - laugh it off or deny it. Tries to say but you’re not, that’s not true -

But the words won’t come.

“I’m in love with you.” Avery’s eyes shine with tears (fuck, he’s so soft - and the voice in Crowley’s head wants to be derisive but is the absolute opposite.) “My darling.”

( “If you knew me back then -” Crowley starts, and Avery’s eyes are pale with anger.

“I know you now .” )

“I have loved you for so long. So stupidly, impossibly long. I love - your kindness, and I love your courage, and I’m so, so sorry that I couldn’t be as brave as you from the start. I’m so sorry that I made you feel -”

“Don’t apologize,” Crowley finds words at fucking last. “You haven’t -”

“I have . I made you feel like you weren’t enough. But you see - it was me. I wasn’t - ”

(Az is holding out his hand in a lamplit cottage, “Come to bed with me. If you like,” and oh, Crowley’s heart will not stop beating -)

“Avery -” Crowley tries to keep his voice down, but no one is looking at them, no one can hear what they’re saying. 

“But I am now,” Az says, lifting his chin. “I am.” 

(“Oho, I see we have a skeptic on our hands,” and warm fingers against Crowley’s neck, a gold coin in Avery’s palm, a shine like the new moon.)

“If I’m too late -” For the first time, Avery’s soft, affectionate expression shifts. His face goes grey, and Crowley feels the urge to comfort, to calm and pet and adore welling up in what’s left of his heart. “My dear, I understand. And I won’t be angry, and I won’t expect anything from you. If I’ve ruined this, if you can’t ever trust me again -”

“They’ll see us,” Crowely whispers, trying to pretend the shadows around him aren’t getting blurrier, water running down the canvas of his self-control. “Everyone will.”

“I know.”

(A thermos of tea, then. “Sometimes it’s nice to have someone make it for you,” and the first halting flight of Crowley’s heart from an eyrie.)

“You told me you wouldn’t take this choice from me. And you never did. You did everything you could to protect me.”

Not enough , Crowley wants to say, I never did enough. I fell the fuck in love with you, and I wanted you, and I pulled the whole thing apart at the stitches.

“But as it happens, I’m choosing you. If I still can. If you’ll - have me.”

Crowley can barely make out Avery’s face behind the shine of tears in his own eyes. He tries to say something but it comes out a garbled mess, and the sound makes Avery’s mouth tremble.

“I love you, Anthony. I love you.”

( “Everyone I love. They’re in this room.”)

I have loved you for - for ages and was too stupid and frightened to tell you.”

( “What happened to your coat?”)

“But I will tell you every day, every hour, if you like. If you let me. Would you dance with me?”

(“Igaveitaway.”)

“Yes,” Crowley says. 

Something wet is running down his face. Avery reaches out for his hand, and their palms fit together (like harmony, like a warm and perfect fifth. Even if both their hands are shaking, the music is steady.) 

Az tugs Crowley gently towards him, and then leads him out of the darkness and onto the dance floor, and there are lights, lights shining down on them.

That soft bluegrass song is still playing when they reach the centre of the floor, and if Crowley could see through the tears he’d see Anathema staring at them with both hands lifted to her heart, and he’d see Beez looking extremely red-faced and desperately blinking their eyes, and he’d see Tracy reaching out for Shadwell’s shoulder, and Newton grinning like an idiot, and Michael frozen with a drink halfway to her lips -

(But he can’t see any of this. He only sees Avery.)

Avery, who is trembling almost as much as Crowley is. There’s a wild moment where Crowley thinks the other man will call it off. Will realize the mistake he’s made and run. Will leave Crowley alone.

But instead.

Az puts a hand on Crowley’s waist. Then he slides it up Crowley’s back, rests it between his shoulder blades, and pulls him close. 

Their foreheads touch, and Crowley soaks up the contact like it’s medicine. There are eyes on him, he can feel each pair of them, but the man he loves is warm and strong and in his arms. 

They sway. 

It’s not much of a dance. Crowley’s not much of a dancer (when he’s sober). But he’s in love, and that buried, black-earth love of his crushes up against the wide grey sea of Avery Fell, and together - 

They’re a shoreline.

When the song ends, people might be clapping. Crowley isn’t certain, doesn’t trust any of his senses except his sense of touch (which tells him Az’s arms are still wrapped around his waist).

“Would you like to - go somewhere else?” Az asks, lips brushing against Crowley’s ear as he speaks.

“God, yes.”

So they do. And when they get to Crowley’s car, Az doesn’t even ask about the tint of the windows before kissing him. It’s a softer kiss, one that tastes of salt and stings all the more for it. And when their lips separate, Az runs a hand through Crowley’s hair, only stutters a bit when he says, “You can stay at my place. If you like.”

Fuck right off , Crowley does not say. He kisses Avery instead.

(How long have we been here? Crowley’s on his back in a bed and Az’s head is between his legs. He can’t stop looking at him, can’t stop touching his hair, rubbing his back against the pale blue sheets, biting his lip so he doesn’t thrust his hips too sharply.

“You can, you know.” Avery pulls off, lips shining. “I want you to.”

He takes Crowley back into the heat of his lovely mouth, as deep as he can go. It’s just on the side of too much, and when Az trails slick fingers up his thigh, Crowley helplessly spreads his legs (beyond shame, all hunger and gratification).

“If you - if you don’t -” What the fuck are words when Az is fingering him, just shallowly at the moment, which only makes Crowley want more and more and impossibly more. “I - ah, Az ! I’ll come -”

Avery drags his lips up Crowley’s cock, licks his tongue against the head (and it’s too much, it’s almost fucking over -)

“Good,” he breathes.

“But you - I want -”

“Don’t fret, my love. You’ll come again when I’m fucking you.”

And against all biological evidence and past experience, Crowley does. 

It’s the slow build that does it, Az sucking him off and then fingering him through it until he’s almost too sensitive. And when he can’t take another moment of stimulation, when his cock is wrung out and his breathing is too fast and his legs won’t spread any wider, Az hauls his thighs up over his shoulders and licks into him - wet and insistent and God fucking heaven on earth no one has ever done this before. He makes a hideous series of noises, basically starts keening with each movement of Avery’s tongue. Crowley swears he can feel the bastard smile so he uses his legs to pull Az in closer, and then is ready to forgive him anything.

Later, when it feels like he’s been on the edge for hours, might die with how good he feels, Az pulls back. Pulls away. The absence of his mouth makes another wretched noise escape Crowley’s throat, and he covers his face with his hands to try to muffle the sound. Christ, he’s not always so needy (he is, he is), he should have more self-control than this (he doesn’t).

Az is rolling on a condom, settling back against the headboard. With gentle hands he guides Crowley up onto knees, arranges his boneless limbs until he’s sitting in Avery’s lap, facing away from him.

“Fuck - oh fuck, oh -” Crowley gasps, weakly trying to lift himself up with trembling thighs, as Az presses kisses to his shoulder blades.

“Hush, darling. I’ve got you. I’ve got you.” Az gets a hand on Crowley’s waist, moving him where he wants him before pulling him down, sinking into him with one long, slow stroke.

“Oh f-fuck -” The air has been punched out of his lungs. There’s no way he’ll come again but he’s hard, he’s hard and he wants to, and Az’s hands are on his hips, Az’s mouth is against the back of his neck, Az is breathing obscenities into his spine while Crowley writhes and shudders on his cock.

“There you go, love. Like that.”

He lifts Crowley’s body in time to his thrusts, and it’s deep, so deep. It feels like it’s been years since Crowley’s been touched like this, and it’s Avery and he wants him, he loves him -

“Oh, you perfect, gorgeous bloody -” Az bites off a moan, and Crowley reaches behind him with both hands, steadies himself on Avery’s forearms, fucking him, fucking him -

“Can you come from this? I think you will. I think you can.” Lips press frantic kisses all over Crowley’s back. “I love you. I’ve missed you, and I love you, and I want you -”

“Yessss.” Crowley’s hips are jerking wildly, and Az is matching him thrust for thrust, and the bed frame is rattling underneath them.

When Crowley lifts a hand to touch himself, Az stops him. 

“Like this,” Avery says. “You can come like this.”

“I don’t - oh, oh Jesus -”

“You can.” He tangles one hand in Crowley’s hair, and Crowley drops his head forward, wailing because he will, he will, he can. Az is hot and huge inside him, all around him, and Crowley’s suddenly there, coming on his stomach, hips rocking frantically into the air and wishing it was a mouth. 

“So good, so good for me,” Az murmurs, “so good, darling,” and then he’s lifting himself up, moving Crowley forward onto his hands and knees. Avery fucks him like that until Crowley’s voice is hoarse from moaning and Az is coming inside him, hair damp and forehead pressed against Crowley’s back. “I love you, I love you.”

He says it again later, after the sweat has cooled, and he’s cleaned Crowley up - gently, with his tongue first and a warm cloth second.

“I love you too.”)

They fall asleep kissing.

Crowley wakes up beside him. 

There is sunlight streaming in the window, and the sky is clear, and it is morning.

He watches the slow flicker of awareness in Avery’s blue eyes. The curve of his mouth into a shade of smile that Crowley’s never seen before.

“Hello,” Az murmurs, and Crowley kisses him.

They go to breakfast together. Az asks him, and he says yes. Crowley gets to leave his house with him, sit with him in a restaurant, stare moonstruck at him from across the table. Avery’s lips are still a bit swollen and his neck is pink from the rasp of Crowley’s stubble. He looks desperately happy.

There’s a couple at a nearby table shooting them some looks, and Crowley flinches when he sees the telltale flash of a camera phone out of the corner of his eye. He looks quickly to Az for his reaction, but the other man only smiles.  Reaches across the white linen tablecloth to take Crowley’s hand in his.

“There’s - logistics to think of,” Crowley is muttering, filling up any and all space with nervous chatter. “We’ll have to talk to Michael.”

“Yes, I have done. Not about - you, exactly. I wouldn’t have. Just said that I was in love with someone and wasn’t going to hide it.”

“Well.” Crowley wasn’t prepared for that response. “I suppose - there’s Gabriel -”

“Oh, no, I let him go months ago. Always on about my weight, that one.”

“Who - I’m sorry, but who are you?”

“Forgotten my name already? How sordid. I’ll see if I can remind you of it when we get home.”

“Here you are, gentlemen.” The server drops off their coffee and tea just in time, because Crowley was about to choke.  

“Move in with me,” Crowley says in a rush, thinking of the word ‘home’ in Avery’s mouth. Thinking of what he wants it to mean, what he wants it to feel like. “Or I could move in with you, or we could - whatever you like. Or not, of course. I - I’m going too fast, I shouldn’t have -”

“Yes.” Az leans forward to blow on his tea before smiling up at Crowley. “I thought that would be obvious. My new flat is bigger but yours has such a lovely view. Hmm. We’ll have to think on it.”

Az squeezes his hand once before letting it go.

“We should have a toast.”

“Yeah?”

“Yes.” 

“And what exactly are we toasting? My health?”

Avery laughs and Crowley’s in love with him. And it’s broad daylight, open air, and he doesn’t have to pretend otherwise. Can stare as much as he likes, can stare until his eyesight goes and his shoulders hunch and his old bones crumble to besotted dust.

“I don’t know. It’s such a beautiful day, isn’t it? It feels like - a new world,” Avery says.

“Well then.” Crowley clicks his coffee mug against Avery’s tea cup. “To the world.”

Az smiles, warm and sweet as the tea in his mouth. 

“To the world.”



Chapter Text

 

 

   I kneel into a dream where I 

               am good & loved. I am   

                    good. I am loved. My hands have made 

some good mistakes. They can always 

                 

                                                            make better ones. 

Natalie Wee

“Least of All,” Our Bodies & Other Fine Machines

 

 

 

DEADLINE

home/business/breaking news

Warlock stars confirm romantic relationship

 

Updated, 7:14 PM

Ineffable Productions and showrunner Michael Ange have released an official statement regarding rumours that the lead actors of popular series Warlock have become romantically involved.

“We are aware that they are in a relationship and we wish them all the best,” Ange told reporters at a Thursday morning press conference in Los Angeles. “It will not affect the direction of the show, and neither Avery or Anthony want it to overshadow the story we’re trying to tell.”

The relationship between the two leads has long sparked speculation between fans, who suspected that on-screen chemistry may have been spilling over into the real world. While Anthony Crowley has previously been linked to celebrities such as enfant-terrible ceramics artist Luke van Doren and musician Matt Noble, Avery Fell recently ended a decades long relationship  - to the surprise of the British film community. 

“Neither man has ever behaved in anything but a professional manner. I will not comment on when the relationship started because it is none of my business. I would also like to take this opportunity to express our gratitude for Warlock’s Emmy nominations in Outstanding Drama Series, Lead Actor in a Drama Series and Supporting Actress in a Drama Series.” 

John Blacklow, Media Director for GLAAD, told DEADLINE: “This is unprecedented. Though we like to think times are changing, homophobia is still alive and rampant in the film and television industry. It’s taken tremendous courage for Mr. Fell to come out at this stage of his career, and the ripple effect can’t be understated.”

Neither Crowley nor Fell responded to requests for an interview at this time, though the manager of well-known actors Vera and Reginald Crowley released this statement to the press:

“My clients also met on set - while filming That’s Another Story nearly sixty years ago. They are proud of their son and wish he and Mr. Fell every happiness.” 

 

More as this progresses.

 

One year later.

(Let's finish this story.)

Crowley is throwing every piece of clothing he’s ever owned into a suitcase (he’s in that kind of packing mode, not a good sign) while texting Vespers about the upcoming Buzzcocks show and pretending to love the blurry photographs of Shadwell that Trace keeps messaging him from Prague. It’s a lot of work, this having friends business. Crowley’s out of practice.

Through the doorway into the living room, he can hear Az on the phone, moving around slowly, probably collecting a stack of books that he won’t actually have time to read. His suitcase was packed three days ago, clothing folded neatly and arranged by style and colour. 

The man is clearly unhinged. Crowley should have had this information before they moved in together.

(You don’t need the messy details, but it’s enough to say that the story doesn’t end after they slow dance to a love song in a crowded bar. 

The story doesn’t end after breakfast. 

Instead, they go back to Az’s house and Crowley is on the phone with Beez and Az is on the phone with Michael and then the Horsemen for a long, long time. Crowley watches him, doesn’t take his eyes off the other man. Crowley is a series of cigarette burns, and he still can't separate love from terror. He's still waiting for the inevitable fall.

“Yes. Yes, he’s right here,” Az is saying. “Yes.” 

 When he looks over at Crowley, who knows what he sees? Crowley has no barricades anymore, isn't even wearing his glasses. He can only imagine that he looks starving and naked and orbiting around Az like a planet. 

“Yes,” Az says into the phone, a soft smile on his mouth as he meets Crowley's gaze. No wonder Crowley circles him, the man is impossibly full of light. “Yes. I’m sure. I'm sure.”)

 

“So glad to hear it,” Az’s voice comes from the living room. “Not long – well. We’ll see, I suppose.”

Crowley can picture him now, his manicured nails, the curve of his shoulders, that pale green cardigan Crowley has taken to stealing in the mornings (or after Avery’s been wearing it. It’s warm, is the thing.)

“Oh. I – don’t know, I’ll have to ask him. Just a minute.”

Az peers into their bedroom, holding the phone against his chest. “Sarah wants to know about Christmas this year.” The man widens his eyes with a look of exaggerated horror. “Do you know your schedule yet? Whether you’ll be free to come to Dad’s?”

Crowley widens his eyes right back, shakes his head. “I think I’m - busy over the holidays. Traveling. For - uh. Work.”

(Of course there was some media nastiness, and Az has to delete his Twitter and Crowley has to be held back from single-handedly tracking down the entirety of Twitter one by one to twist his thumbs into their eyes. 

Pepper wasn’t a fan of that idea - or any of Crowley’s alternative plans for violent retribution.

Killjoy.

Crowley was used to the abuse by that point, learned how to take a punch to the jaw long ago. What he wasn’t used to was bringing someone else down with him, and jail would be a bloody blessing compared to seeing Az grey-faced and staring out windows, or that one time Crowley’s pretty sure the man was crying in the bathroom, trying to swallow down the sound so that Crowley didn’t notice (he clenches his hands into fists just thinking about it.)

But it didn’t last forever. And while there’s still a bit of bullshit now and then - because there is no shortage of bullshit to be had on the internet, is there? - it’s mostly died down. So they can get on with the proper business of domestic bliss i.e. avoiding visits from each other’s families.)

“Sorry, Sarah, he’s working,” Avery says, nodding gratefully at Crowley. “Yes, we’ll have to do something in the New Year. Or in December some time? Does she? Haha, all right.” He covers the phone again. “Darling, Penny wants to talk to you about Book Four. Is that all right? Or are you -”

Crowley is already kicking his suitcase as closed as it will go (there’s no way he’s going to need that fringed jacket, what is wrong with him?) and reaching out for the phone. Penny’s a good kid. Though it’s hard not to be just a bit suspicious of someone who shows you that much uncomplicated, genuine affection after knowing you for ten minutes. Even if they’re eight years old. (Christ how did she get to be eight? Wasn’t she six when he met her?)

Crowley’s hand touches Az’s as he takes the phone. It makes his heartbeat stutter just a little, makes a bit of colour come rushing to his face out of sheer habit. He’s going to get used to touching Az soon, he swears. They’ve only been officially together for about a year, it’s early days yet.

He’ll get used to it, he will (he'll never get used to it. Even with the wealth of years that line up in front of him, even when his hands are unrecognizable and shot through with thick blue veins, the touch of Avery's skin will always give off sparks. Of course, he doesn't know this yet. But he will.)

“Hello love,” Crowley says into the phone, swallowing as he looks away from the soft slope of Az’s throat. “What chapter are you on? Ah, okay. So his name’s been drawn from the Goblet then? Shit, that part was -”

Az smacks him on the arm, and Crowley winces out an apology. 

“Er, sorry. Forget that last bit.” 

Penny isn’t paying attention, too busy pledging passionate love for Fleur Delacour. Crowley is only half listening, staring at the blond-haired menace moving gently around the room. He watches Az nudge the exploding suitcase with his toe, then give it a dubious look. He peers inside and sees the fringed bloody coat, which makes him raise an eyebrow in Crowley’s direction.

Crowley shrugs in response.

“And Millie says that Hufflepuff is stupid but Cedric’s a Hufflepuff!”

“He is.” Crowley wonders how much time they have before they go. Wonders if he’ll have enough time to press Az up against their wardrobe, pin him there while he slowly undoes each button on that cardigan, pushes his hand up under his t-shirt to grab palm-fulls of warm skin -

“And he’s a Champion, isn’t he?”

“Uh, yeah,” Crowley forces himself to focus up. He stops looking at Az and listens to the bright run of chatter on the other line. “Yeah, no, I think Krum’s all right. I’m not going to tell you that, it’ll spoil the ending. Cheek! Do you want to talk to your uncle? Okay, I’ll tell him. You too.”

He hangs up, hands the phone back. “Penny wants you to know that she loves you and that you would be in Ravenclaw.”

“Oh, bless her.”

“She’s wrong of course.”

“She is?” Az hasn’t read the books - which is another bloody thing he should have told Crowley before they shacked up. “I thought those were the smart ones.”

“I -” Crowley pinches the bridge of his nose before stepping forward and forward and forward again to pin Az up against their wardrobe. “I don’t have the time to get into this right now. We’ve got places to be.” 

“Oh - of course,” Az says, a look of amused exasperation on his face. “Can’t risk being late for our holiday.”

Crowley is unbuttoning Avery’s cardigan by this point, one tortoiseshell button at a time, while Az slowly flushes pink. Crowley knows exactly how far that blush reaches down Az’s chest. He’s familiar with the edges of it by now, familiar with the things he can do to make Az glow a little brighter.

“I’ll just have to - explain it on the drive,” he says to Avery’s throat, searching for the flutter of his pulse.

“If you think two hours will - will be enough.” Az gasps at the end of it. Like punctuation. “I - Anthony -” 

“It’ll have to be.” Crowley drops to his knees. “There’s a lot of ground to cover.” 

He yanks Avery’s shirt out of his waistband, pressing his mouth to the hair above his navel. Az lets out a shuddering breath (“Darling, d-darling -”)

“Trust me, angel.” He gets to work on Az’s belt.  “I can do a lot in two hours.”

 

( Warlock Season 5, Episode 1. 

“You’re alive.”

Az is kneeling over him, hands clenched into both of Crowley’s shoulders. Crowley has fake blood in his mouth, on his chest, soaked through his clothes. He’s looking rough, even without the fake arrows in him.

“I saved you,” Az says in a rush. “I did. You’re alive.”

“What - how?”

“The boy.”

Crowley leans up onto his elbows. He’s supposed to be dizzy from blood loss, and weak with relief - but to be fair, he usually feels that way when he’s around Avery. When he searches Az’s eyes, he tries to keep the love out of the way - or at least, banked. Crowley thinks he’s mostly got it handled. He’s done it for four seasons at this point.

“The boy,” Az says again. “ He’s the plague.”

Crowley stares at him. Wants to lick his way inside his mouth, touch each of Avery’s teeth with his tongue and die gasping. 

“That’s why they’re so frightened.” Az lifts his hands, as if Crowley can read the truth of it in his palms. “I did it. I did what he can do.”

“I -”

“It spreads,” Az says, pushing Crowley’s sweat-damp hair from his forehead, placing his other hand against Crowley’s cheek. Their characters are both extremely touchy this season, and Crowley doesn't mind at all. “When you’re around him for long enough. It’s spreading.”

“What is?” 

“Magic.”

Az leans forward, pressing their foreheads together. Crowley makes a helpless little gasp at the contact.

“I thought you were gone. I thought I’d lost you.”

“You never could,” Crowley says around the syrupy blood in his teeth. “You never will.”

“You can’t promise that.”

“Can’t I? Thought you were magical now. Aren’t you gonna keep me safe?”

Avery huffs out a weak, heartbroken breath, and Crowley is close enough to taste it. Close enough to kiss.

“I will. If I can, I will.”

“Well then.” Crowley tucks a curl of pale hair behind Az’s ear. Tries not to go cross-eyed staring at his mouth. "Nothing to worry about."

Cut ,” Michael calls, and then makes a wounded sound. “Ugh. Everyone is going to die. We are going to murder half the viewing public. I hope you two will be pleased with yourselves.”

Az offers Crowley his hand, helps him off the ground. Last season they would’ve immediately let go of each other, but they don’t have to do that anymore. It feels unbelievable, feels mad and feverish. Crowley can let his fingers curl against Az’s palm, can watch him open as a flame, not caring who notices.

Az must feel the difference too, because he shakes his head fondly, eyes never leaving Crowley’s.

“The way you -” A pink tongue flicks out and wets his lips, “look at me.”

“Yeah?” Crowley looks at him, looks at him , because he can. “How’s that?”

“As if you don’t know," Avery snorts.

“Enlighten me.”

Az laughs, tugs Crowley a bit closer.

“Moving on!” the first A.D. calls out, “Up next, exterior inn, scene thirty-four.”

There’s movement and noise, a heartbeat pumping blood through the production. Az tightens his grip on Crowley’s hand before letting it go.

“Looks like we’ll have to wait on the enlightenment,” Az says with feigned nonchalance. “Perhaps over dinner tonight.”

“All right,” Crowley says, and keeps looking at Avery, doesn't ever want to stop. He soaks the other man up like he’s sunlight, until Crowley is so bright with love that he shines.)

 

The drive down to Ditchling is better than last year, because Az is by his side. Flinching a bit when Crowley takes a turn too fast, and elbowing him when the speed is higher than strictly legal, but also - just there.

Smelling like his cologne.

Fussing over a script about Tchaikovsky that Beez has been pressing Az to read (“you’re going to want this part,” they said, and with the last season of Warlock coming up, he just might.)

“It’s not bad. Rather - romantic.” Az wets his finger before turning the page. That’s bloody unfair, the man has to know the effect he has -

“Eyes on the road, darling,” Az says waspishly, not even glancing up from the script.

Crowley scowls, but looks back at the road anyway. 

“Do you think I could play Tchaikovsky? Or is this the road to typecasting?”

“Yeah, this is how it starts. Soon they’ll be asking you to play all the Russian composers.” 

“You’re so amusing,” Az huffs in supremely attractive irritation. “Eyes on the road , Crowley.”

Crowley loves him.

It’s still a bit of a shock to be able to think those words without the rush of guilt and nausea and self-pity. Crowley needs the occasional reminder (from himself, from Az and from Pepper) that he’s allowed to feel this.

That it’s good to feel this.

That this longing won’t destroy him, and won’t destroy Az either. It’s not a shovel for burying Crowley alive - it’s a spade for planting things.

Patting the earth down gently over fine, tangled roots. Waiting for something to blossom.

I love you , Crowley thinks. He isn’t used to this whole ‘getting what he wants’ thing. In what universe does he end up with Avery Fell?  In what universe does Avery choose him? There must be some mistake, Crowley clearly doesn’t deserve this sort of ending.

Az drops his hand onto Crowley’s knee (“What is this song? I rather like it.”)

The song is Pale Blue Eyes by the Velvet Underground. Crowley lets his hand rest briefly on top of Az’s, and stops thinking about what he deserves. Thinks about what he has, instead.

 

(“Do you want to put your hand on his shoulder?” Kris, the photographer from Variety , stares through her camera at them. Then she starts laughing. “Avery, relax a bit. It looks like the two of you are partners in a law firm.”

Az laughs as well but it’s fake, painfully anxious. Crowley is sitting in some sort of velvet thrown-type chair (he might actually have to buy one of these for the flat) and Az is meant to be leaning against him, or sitting on the arm of it, or some other ridiculous pose the photographer keeps wanting them to try. 

It’s their first photoshoot as a couple.

“Let’s put an arm around him - like -”

Crowley can’t remember the last time he saw the other man so nervous. Az leans forward to do as he's asked, but his entire body is stiff, his arm like a lead pipe pressing against Crowley’s back. The photographer makes a soft noise in her throat that sounds like polite dissatisfaction, and Avery flinches.

“Could we break for a cigarette?” Crowley asks suddenly. Even though he’s been smoking a lot less lately. And he doesn’t want to do this shoot reeking like smoke, and he doesn’t want a cigarette at all, actually.

What he wants is for Az to take a break. And to not have to ask for it.

“Yeah, absolutely.” Kris nods at the lighting guy, the makeup people waiting just outside the shot. 

An assistant comes forward asking if she can get them anything, but Az graciously declines, giving Crowley a tired smile before heading off to his dressing room.

“Is he okay?” Kris asks quietly, and Crowley nods, watching Az’s retreating back. “You can smoke just out that exit door down the hall -”

“Actually. Do you have a kitchen around here?”

Five minutes later, he’s standing outside Az’s dressing room with a mug of sweet tea in his hand. When Az opens the door, and sees what Crowley’s brought him, he frowns.

“I didn’t ask for -”

“It’s nice to have someone make it for you, right? Sometimes,” Crowley says softly, too much love in his throat and in his hands. It’s hard to breathe around it, especially when Avery is looking at him.

Avery is looking at him now. 

The expression on his face is that deadly combination of surprise and gratitude that makes Crowley get all twitchy around the eyes. Makes him want to do increasingly stupid, reckless things with his heart.

“I’m ruining this.” Az takes the cup of tea and gently ushers Crowley into the dressing room. “I can’t - I shouldn’t have agreed to it.”

“Hey, it’s not as bad as that -”

“It is! I can feel myself over-thinking everything, freezing up. And I can hear all those horrible, horrible things that people have said about us and - they’ll see this cover and they’ll say those things again, and I don’t think -”

“Az.” Crowley takes the tea away from him before he can spill it, puts it down on the side table. He leans against the lit-up mirror, folding his arms. “We can walk if you want. Beez will probably murder us both, but it’s a matter of time before they try to do that anyway. You want to shut it down, say the word. I’m with you.”

Az sits down in the chair right in front of him, chin trembling. Crowley has absolutely no choice but to lean forward and bite that chin. It makes Az gasp out a laugh, so Crowley kisses the laugh from his mouth as well, kisses his throat, sucks on the lobe of his ear.

Anthony -”

“Shit, sorry.” Crowley pulls back, “Got carried away. Don't wanna get you all - mussed.”

“Mussed?” Az raises an eyebrow. “I’ve never been mussed in my life.”

Crowley growls, low in his throat. “Don’t bloody tempt me -”

“No, that’s your job, isn’t it?”

“Gentlemen.” There’s a rap on the door, and Kris sticks her head in. “Sorry, are you about -”

She stops. Looks at the pair of them - Az sat in the chair and Crowley leaning toward him, almost falling over with longing.

“That'll work,” Kris says. “Yeah, just. Stay right here. Okay? I’m going to grab lighting.”

They finish the shoot in Az’s dressing room. Kris pulls a couple lights from the studio, but the finished photograph is warm. The colour of honey. Az is looking at the camera - a shy, sideways glance - and Crowley is looking down at him. It’s - intimate, is the word. A behind-closed-doors, liminal, lamplit sort of photograph.

It’s the highest-grossing cover story in Variety’s history.)

 

If I could make the world as pure

And strange as what I see

I'd put you in a mirror

I put in front of me

Az gets quieter the closer they get to the cottage. Maybe he’s thinking about the first time they were here, nearly two years ago. Maybe he’s thinking about his dad in the hospital, and everything that happened after (there’s a barbed-wire knot in Crowley’s throat when he thinks about it. But that’s done. That’s finished. They’re here now, and it’s a good place to be.)

When they pull up into the driveway, the cottage is just as Crowley remembers it. It’s almost dusk, the light fading into lilac and copper behind the treeline, ducks circling lazily on the lake. Crowley gets out and starts grabbing their bags - but Az doesn't move. Just - sits there.

“You okay?” Crowley asks, because clearly Az is not okay.

“Yes, fine. Sorry just - lost in thought.”

“Hmm.” (Don’t fucking panic. Just. It’s been a long day. It’s been a long couple of years.  Don't panic.) “You go on inside, then. Make us a cup of tea, I’ll unpack the car. What do you think?”

“You’re -” Az looks at him, then looks away. “- extremely kind.”

“Ah, shut it.”

Az is still taking his time, so Crowley hoists their suitcases onto the deck, waits for Az to follow him.

Then he realizes that there’s no sign of a key.

“Oh bugger this. I don’t see the lockbox.” Usually it’s snapped to one of the railings on the deck, but there’s nothing there now. He follows the railing all the way around with no luck.

“Didn’t they say it’d be in the lockbox again? Would they have put it somewhere else?” Crowley even checks under the doormat, as if the owners of the cottage would have just left it there for anyone to find.

Az follows him up onto the porch, tugging at the cuffs of his coat. 

“Do you have their number? I’m not driving back to London.” (Crowley will though, of course he will. Driving's never a hardship, and he’s not about to give up a weekend in the South Downs with the love of his fucking life because of a two hour drive. Though he’ll expect the rates to drop substantially.)

“Anthony –“

“What? Do you see it?”

“Er, no. But I have – um, this –”

Az is reaching into his coat pocket - and pulling out a ring box.

A ring box.

Crowley puts his hand onto the railing, leans on something so he doesn’t fall over (calls it a character choice.)

“What. What. ” Stop it, stop saying ‘what’ you prick. “Um. What –”

“This might be – too much. You can tell me if it is. You certainly don’t have to –”

“Az.  Avery –” This can’t be happening. This is not happening. In his softest, stupidest fantasies, Crowley hadn’t fathomed this possibility. He didn’t think about any of that – rings and paperwork and floral arch nonsense. A registrar-signed certificate (or whatever) doesn’t matter, wouldn't change anything. He can be madly and wildly in love with Avery Fell regardless; neither of them need to act so  straight about it.

But if Az asks – that would change things.

If Az was going to ask - if he wanted -

“Please.” Az presses the box into Crowley’s hand. Crowley (who can’t control his breathing, who is seeing all the stars and recorded constellations in the corners of his eyes) opens it.

There isn’t a ring inside. 

Instead. 

There’s a key.

“I thought – I approached the owners. Was a bit persuasive. Perhaps they just grew tired of all the money being thrown at them.”

Crowley is still staring at the open ring box. “You bought -“

“This cottage. For – for us.”  When Crowley can’t say anything Az continues in a rush. “I’m not suggesting we move out of the city. Not yet or – not ever, it's up to you. I know it’s out of the way, and if it was a terrible idea then you only need to tell me –”

“You bought a cottage for us.” Crowley is an animal being taught to speak through scraps of meat and electric shocks. “This cottage.”

“I - did.”

“Good - Christ, that’s. Come here.” He grabs Az, kisses him, kisses him, tries to make his heartbeat slow down. He laughs against Az’s neck, finally letting the panic and adrenaline hiss out of him like a deflating balloon. “You wonder. Thank you, thank you. Jesus -for a second I thought it was a ring.” 

He isn’t disappointed. Not one for marriage and rings and that. He never really thought he’d get married, doesn’t see the point. He doesn’t know what it would change to have someone like Avery getting down on one knee, saying words like forever -

“Sorry.” Az pulls back a fraction. “The ring is - um - in the other box.” 

 

( Warlock Season 6, Episode 10.

At the edges of the scene, Crowley can see some of the crew members furtively wiping away tears. He doesn’t let it distract him, focuses on the face of the man in front of him.

He’s cold. He’s cold and the woods are filled with pale orange light, and the ground is brittle and bitten with frost.

“What are you going to do now?” Az asks, wrapped in his cloak and thick scarf.

“Dunno. Could go north, I guess. South. West, bloody southwest. Could go anywhere. Doesn’t matter anymore, does it?”

Az reaches out, touches Crowley’s hands with his freezing fingers. They watch each other, light carving over the planes of their faces. Here they are at the end of it all: together in a soft-lit clearing, with no wolves on their heels.

Somehow they made it.

“I -” Crowley’s voice hitches. “I can’t ask you to come with me. But I want to ask. I do, I want to, you have to know -”  

“Of course I’m coming with you.” Az shakes his head. “You're -  clearly incapable of caring for yourself.”

Crowley rolls his eyes but is clearly just feigning irritation. Is clearly absolutely, uselessly besotted.

“Also I - I love you,” Az continues unsteadily. “And I know that you love me.”

Crowley chokes on a soft little sound of protest - but it ends there. He doesn’t have the strength to do much more than choke. Doesn’t have the strength to deny it.

“And I’m coming with you. Wherever you go. If you’ll let me.”

Crowley chokes again, but it’s more of a sob than anything else. He clutches at the fabric of Az’s cloak, pulls him close, holds him like he might dissolve and take all his lovely words with him.

“You love me,” Crowley stutters, a man seeing sunlight for the first time. 

“I do -”

Crowley interrupts by kissing him. They’ve kissed before in the series - while terrified, while drunk, while thinking it would be their last chance to touch ever again (Season Five was full of kissing. God bless Uriel and all her soft gay secret plans. That was Crowley’s favourite season.)

But they’ve never kissed like this. Like it’s a beginning. Like dawn is breaking over a new world and they’re both here to see it.

“You’re coming with me.” Crowley whispers it up against Az’s mouth like a wedding vow, and Az nods. 

And Warlock ends.

Or rather Michael calls “cut,” and the crew starts clapping, and Avery laughs and flushes pink and Crowley barely hears a word of it. He holds onto the man he loves, and he doesn’t let go.)

 

Crowley drops his hands from Avery’s waist. 

Puts one back on the railing.  Refuses to fall over, no matter how the ground is spinning.

Az reaches into his pocket and pulls out - another box.

“You’re - you’re joking.” Crowley has to voice the obvious, has to make sure that he’s in on it. Then they can both laugh, then it will stop hurting.  “This is a joke, right? You’re -”  

“I’m not.”

Crowley doesn’t answer, can only tremble and stare. His fingers are still rattling around the key in his hand.

“Darling. Let me - try this.” Avery’s eyes are as blue as the Atlantic Ocean, and he’s shaking just as much as Crowley is. “You - um. You made me realize how much I was capable of loving someone. Before we met, I had no idea it was so much. That I could hold so much. No idea whatsoever.”

Crowley is clutching the railing of the deck so tightly he can hear wood creaking.

“You have been so patient and so impossibly gentle with me,” Az continues, “and I cannot tell you what that has meant. What it still means. And you have to know -”

If Crowley moves suddenly he'll fall down. Or maybe he'll jolt awake in bed and realize that this is all just some ridiculous fantasy. He holds himself very still. He waits for the punchline.

“This doesn’t have to change anything between us, not really. You can say no, or - or  you can think about it, and you can think about it as long as you like. Or you can laugh at me and call this a romantic cliché and - we can forget about the whole thing and just - carry on as we are. Because I love the way we are. I love you .”

Crowley realizes that he isn’t breathing. He has to breathe, right, that’s one of the important ones. Like having a heartbeat and drinking water and that. Breathing’s up there.

He breathes.

And then Az drops to one knee, and Crowley gives up breathing forever.

“But if you wanted -” Fuck, there are tears in Avery’s eyes. “If you want. I’d like to call you my husband. I’d like to say ‘let me ask my husband,’ or ‘I brought my husband with me’ or ‘my husband won a BAFTA’.”

Crowley laughs at that, need for oxygen be damned. 

“My husband. The gorgeous, brilliant man who married me. Who said 'yes.' The man I am struck dumb with love for, and want to be with every day for the rest of my life.”

Az opens the ring box, hands shaking so much he almost drops it. 

“Blasted - sorry,” he mutters under his breath, and - yeah, that’s a ring all right. A narrow silver band, and Crowley’s too afraid to touch it, afraid that if he does it will slip from his hands and fall through the boards of the deck, or - it won’t fit his finger or Az will immediately change his mind.

“Are you - sure?” Crowley stammers ( be sure, be sure ) and then he can’t stop. “Are you - are you sure - are you -”

“Anthony James Crowley,” Az says, and Crowley has never loved the sound of his name the way he loves it in this man’s mouth. “Will you marry me?”

Crowley starts - coughing then. Coughing, almost choking, covering his mouth with the hand not currently holding him up. Az immediately gets to his feet, reaches out to make sure Crowley doesn’t tilt sideways and fall. 

“Are you all right?”

“Y-yeah,” Crowley says roughly, “it’s just - just a – hell of a speech, angel.” 

He can’t blink away the shine in his eyes, and he wipes his face with his sleeve.

“Do you want to think about it? You don’t have to answer -”

“No,” Crowley says quickly. “I mean - I mean yes. Yes, that. What you asked.”

He feels Az’s hands tighten around him, sees the tears brimming in his eyes.

“You -”

“I will,” Crowley says, looking at the last man he’ll ever love. “Yes. I will.”

Avery does not drop the ring as he slides it onto Crowley’s finger (it fits like it belongs there. And when Az wraps his arms around him, Crowley fits there too. 

Their broken edges match. And somehow, the light still shines through.)

*

Red Carpet Transcript: Golden Globes, February 12th, 2025

Hollywood Life: Avery - Avery! Do you have a second for Hollywood Life?

A. Fell: Oh, hello. Yes, of course. 

Hollywood Life: You must be excited about tonight’s ceremony. Warlock is up for Outstanding Drama Series, you’re up for Best Actor -

A. Fell: Yes. I’m rather - speechless about it. 

Hollywood Life: What do you think of your chances?

A. Fell: I hate to speculate. It really would be a tremendous honour but at the end of the day I already feel like this show has given me so much. I can’t ask for more than that. I’m too lucky as it is.

Hollywood Life: So the final season's wrapped, and is going to start airing in April. How are you feeling about the end of the era?

A. Fell: It’s bittersweet, certainly. But I think Michael had a very particular idea where the story was going to go, and I’d rather tell that sort of story than something that just continues on until you all get sick of us.

Hollywood Life: Any spoilers or hints that you can give us about this season?

A. Fell: Regrettably not. More than my life is worth.

Hollywood Life: I’m sure everyone will be waiting to see the progression of your character’s relationship with - oh, the man in question - hello - Anthony! 

A. Crowley: Hiya angel.

A. Fell: Hello dear.

(They kiss. There are applause from off-camera.)

Hollywood Life: Look at you! Almost didn’t recognize you without your glasses.

A. Fell: You look lovely.

A. Crowley: Oh, shut up.

Hollywood Life: Has anyone ever said you sound like an old married couple? Haha, oh wait.  

A. Crowley: Well, it’s not the thing a man wants to hear from his husband, is it? ‘Lovely.’

A. Fell: Apologies, darling.  What would you prefer?

A. Crowley: Like - something with a bit more teeth to it. You know, ‘bad-ass’.

A. Fell: (laughter) Bad-ass?

A. Crowley: Something cool. Something James Dean would want to hear.

A. Fell: So we’re James Dean now, are we?

A. Crowley: Well, we aren’t Julie bloody Andrews.

A. Fell: Let’s start over. You look extremely ‘bad-ass.' An absolute renegade. Sex on legs! Is that better?

A. Crowley: Somehow - it’s worse?

Hollywood Life: (laughter) So Anthony, we were just talking about the last season of Warlock. You’ve got an Emmy, a Television Award, and a BAFTA under your belt - what has this been like for you?

A. Crowley: A real hardship. Total nightmare.

A. Fell: Yes, all those awards must be such a burden. 

A. Crowley: I suppose you wouldn’t know.

A. Fell: Well! I like that .

A. Crowley: Until you’ve been laden down with ‘em, you can’t possibly understand the weight.

Hollywood Life: Tonight might be the night, though. Anthony, what do you think about your husband’s chances?

A. Crowley: If anyone worth half a damn was picking winners, he’s a sure thing.

A, Fell:  Oh, hush.

Hollywood Life: One last question before you run off: I know when the show first aired, there was a lot of discussion about how to label it. What the heart of it was, I guess? And now that you’ve wrapped the final season, how would you answer that?  

A. Fell: We’re the last word, are we?

Hollywood Life: The leading experts.

A. Fell: I think -

(pause)

A. Fell: I think it was a love story. At the end of it all. That’s what I think. 

(pause)

A. Crowley : Yeah. (clears throat) Yeah. You’re right, angel. It was a love story.

Hollywood Life: Good luck tonight, gentlemen.

A. Fell: Thank you, my dear.

End transcript.

 

(We'll end it here then, shall we?

A red carpet. Two hands that fit together, as if they were always waiting to be held by the other. As if they'd spent years just reaching out, counting down the hours until they could finally touch. 

Two people, side by side, in the light and open air.

When the camera flashes hit them, they glow like a gold coin, lost and then found again. Like a calm sky over a wide, amber sea.  Like a wedding band, cared for and well-worn.

When the light catches them both, they shine.

And so do you.

So do we.)