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In Every Brushstroke

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Crowley kept all of his flat exceptionally clean and minimalistic except for one room. This room was an exception partially because it would be incredibly difficult to keep clean, and partially because nobody but Crowley himself was ever allowed inside. The room had only been a cupboard when Crowley moved in but with the help of some slight demonic miracles, he had turned it into a studio. This addition to the flat didn’t make any sense and had in fact been physically impossible, but Crowley saw no reason to care about what was physically possible. He wanted a studio, so he had a studio. Crowley had learned to paint… well, he couldn’t quite remember when, actually. Let’s just say that his earliest works, well-perserved as they were, could’ve made an archeologist or art historian’s day. However, since Crowley himself wasn’t an art historian, he couldn’t use the style or method of his first pieces to figure out how long he’d been doing this for. He also didn’t particularly care. When he’d started wasn’t important, the important thing was why, and he could never forget that.

Crowley had been locked inside his studio for hours, maybe days, on end. It was hard to tell, as the studio was never supposed to exist and therefore had no windows. It didn’t help that Crowley always removed his (very expensive) watch before he started painting. Nearly everything in the studio was covered in several layers of splattered paint – the art supplies, the furniture, even the walls and the floor – and it was difficult to tell what colour things had been before Crowley started using them. The air was so heavy with paint fumes that any human would’ve had a hard time breathing, but Crowley didn’t notice. The painting currently occupying his worn easel was one he’d attempted to make many times, but could never get quite right. No matter how many times he tried, there was always something missing. In the beginning it had just been a lack of skill. Crowley didn’t actually have any natural talent for painting whatsoever, but you can get good at anything if you spend a few centuries trying. (When it comes to painting it also helps to have people like Leonardo Da Vinci and Rembrandt give you personal lessons, but I digress.) Once his paintings had become what you’d consider good, it became harder for the demon to put his finger on the issue. There wasn’t anything really wrong with the paintings, he just didn't think they conveyed the right feeling. Truth be told, he couldn’t quite decide what feeling he was trying to convey. It was all very complicated.

He stared at the painting and allowed his mind to wander to a place it rarely strayed far away from. When he was painting it barely counted as wandering, as he needed to at least be in the area to get his motifs anyway.

Like many things, it all started in the Garden of Eden. Crowley’s only instruction when sent to Earth had been to “make some trouble” and regardless of his many, many lies and his tendency to take credit for things he didn't do, no one could claim he didn’t make trouble. The only issue was that a lot of the trouble he made mostly affected himself. One brilliant example of this was his decision to approach the angel that had been stationed in Eden to do the exact opposite. (Unlike Crowley, the angel tried very hard to do his job but usually ended causing trouble anyway.) He wasn’t entirely sure what his intention had been in doing this, but it soon became evident to him that this decision was not going to earn him any sort of praise in hell. Prior to his first interaction with Aziraphale, Crowley had no idea that demons were capable of love. While the realisation that falling from heaven hadn’t turned him into a cold-hearted monster was reassuring, he also understood immediately that this was not going to be fun for him.

He was more right than he could ever have predicted.

Many humans will claim to know what yearning is. Many humans do. They do experience it. They long, they pine, they ache… they know what it feels like, but if you told one to imagine feeling it for six thousand years, not one of them could. Very few would even want to try, because they know how much it hurts. Crowley didn’t have to imagine. He did spend a lot of time hoping that this unfortunate feelings would pass if he refused to act on them for long enough, but he started losing hope after a century or so. He’d fallen in love with an angel and there was nothing he could do about it.

In Crowley’s mind, expressing his love was never an option. He was lucky enough to get to spend any time at all with Aziraphale, and ruining their unlikely friendship would just be counterproductive. He got quite good at pretending his feelings weren’t there, but the thing about hiding feelings is that it doesn’t actually make it any easier to deal with them. In fact, having no emotional outlets can make it harder. At some point after spending many centuries silently suffering, Crowley came to the conclusion that if he couldn’t tell the angel about them, he was going to need to find some way to express his feelings. And so, the demon started painting. It took a while for him to get good enough to make his paintings really look like anyone but as soon as he knew how, he started painting Aziraphale – and then he never stopped. He poured all the love he couldn’t let himself show in any other way onto canvases and papers until he had so many portraits of Aziraphale that he could’ve filled an art gallery. Even when he wasn’t painting Aziraphale, he was still painting Aziraphale. The paintings and drawings that weren’t portraits of the angel were of his bookshop, his clothes, his wing shielding Crowley from the rain, their hands interlocking… it was all Aziraphale. It was all love.

A loud ring from the telephone brought Crowley back to the real world, and he hurried out of his studio to find that it was morning. It had been morning when he entered the studio as well, but it had been later in the morning which meant he’d spent at least one day in there. He miracled the paint stains off himself and went to answer the phone.

Eleven years passed before Crowley got a chance to enter his studio again. He was kind of busy initiating and then averting armageddon, and had more important things to do than paint. (Though he did make some sketches of Aziraphale in various sketchbooks while he was raising Warlock. Raising a child with someone you’re secretly in love with is a lot to handle if you have no emotional outlet.) He did return to his flat a few times in the final days of Earth's planned existence, but he didn't feel like that was an appropriate time to be painting, and so his studio remained untouched.

When Crowley finally returned to his flat after what would’ve been armageddon, he was not alone. Upon realising that he was now both homeless and on heaven’s bad side, Aziraphale had agreed to stay with the demon overnight. Wishing he’d taken the time to tidy it up a bit, Crowley let Aziraphale into his flat.

“I- um… I know that we don’t need to sleep, but after everything we’ve been through these past days…”, Crowley said, failing to finish his sentence.
“It would be relaxing, yes”, Aziraphale filled in. Crowley tried his best not to blush, but not even demons can control that.
“Well I only have one bed… it’s king sized but if it bothers you I could sleep on the couch or the floor or just not sleep-“
“It’s okay.”
Crowley was quite focused on pretending he wasn’t flustered by the idea of sharing a bed with Aziraphale, but he still thought he noticed a slight colour change in the angel’s cheeks.

They both fell asleep as soon as their heads hit the pillow (or in Crowley’s case, his own arm). Some things are just that exhausting, even for supernatural beings.

Aziraphale woke up at dawn to find the bedroom flooded with pale light. Moving very carefully as to not wake Crowley up, he sat up and rested his back against the bed frame. There was pretty much nothing in the room apart from the bed and some beautiful potted plants. He hadn’t expected Crowley’s place to be so minimalistic, but he wasn’t sure he’d expected anything. When he thought of Crowley he usually thought of the two of them together, and they’d never been together in the flat before. He preferred the homely feeling his bookshop used to have, but right now, completely silent and bathed in soft morning sunlight, the flat had its charm. Aziraphale turned his attention away from the houseplants and looked at Crowley, who showed no signs of waking up. He looked different when he was asleep. Softer, more relaxed, and… pretty. Aziraphale let out a short sigh and got out of bed. Sitting there staring at Crowley wasn’t going to do him any good, he might as well explore the rest of the flat.

Due to Crowley’s minimalistic design choices, the rest of the flat turned out to be very similar to the bedroom. The most interesting things Aziraphale found were a book on astronomy with several pages ripped out and even more gorgeous houseplants. Aziraphale considered getting some for the bookshop and convincing Crowley to come take care of them, but then remembered that the bookshop was no more. Hoping to distract himself, Aziraphale continued his journey through the mostly empty flat.

The cupboard door was so plain it was barely noticeable, and Aziraphale nearly walked past it on his way back to the bedroom. The door had a lock, but it opened when he pushed the handle down. The room inside was bigger than Aziraphale had expected, bigger than what made sense for its placement, and messier than any other part of the flat. There were stains of different-coloured paint all over, and various art supplies were scattered around the room. Despite getting the feeling that Crowley had probably meant for this door to be locked, Aziraphale stepped through it.
There was a visibly old easel in the middle of the room, and a painting was mounted on it.
“Let there be light”, Aziraphale mumbled, and found himself looking into his own eyes. Though unfinished, the painting on the easel clearly depicted him. He stepped closer. It was an oil painting, a mostly realistic portrait of himself wearing a white robe, looking somewhat concerned. He was surrounded by beautifully painted leaves and flowers, and the sky behind him was as blue as it gets. Aziraphale stared at the portrait in awe. It looked just like him, but there was something so beautiful about it. He managed to tear his eyes from it and noticed that the desk at the end of the room was completely covered in piles and piles of paintings. He picked the top one from the closest pile and looked at it. It was another portrait of him, but this one was him in his bookshop, wearing his normal clothes. The next one was him as well, but his side profile this time. All of them had the same beauty as the one on the easel. They were painted with such care, such passion, and it showed in every brushstroke. Aziraphale kept looking through the piles, and every painting was of him. Had Crowley painted these?

Aziraphale could barely finish the thought before Crowley appeared in the doorframe.
“Aziraphale?”, he asked, despite already knowing he was there.
“Yes, Crowley?”

Crowley’s heart was beating out of his chest. He wasn’t ready for this. He might never have been ready for it, but he definitely wasn’t now. This wasn’t how it was supposed to happen. (It wasn’t supposed to happen at all, for one thing.) His body was frozen in place while his mind frantically tried to come up with anything to say that could explain this. He had to say something, but Aziraphale beat him to it.
“Did you paint all these?”, he asked.
There was no use in saying no. Aziraphale had found the paintings in his flat, one of them unfinished and mounted on an easel.
The silence was unbearable, but Crowley didn’t know what to say.
“There are so many… I didn’t even know you painted… and they’re all- they’re…“, Aziraphale mumbled. Crowley was still frozen in the doorframe. Another endless, unbearable silence passed.
“Why did you never tell me you painted?”, the angel asked. Crowley couldn't speak. He couldn’t move. He felt as if his world would fall apart if he let this conversation happen, but there was no way to escape it.
“Why?”, Aziraphale repeated.
“You would’ve asked to see a painting”, Crowley whispered.
“And I only ever painted you.”
Aziraphale’s head was spinning, and he had to grab the edge of the desk to steady himself. Crowley was standing there in the doorway in black silk pyjamas, the light from the sunrise turning his messy hair into a golden red halo, and he had a whole room full of carefully made paintings of Aziraphale. The angel swallowed and forced himself to speak again.
“But why? Why me?”
He suspected that he already knew the answer, but he couldn’t bring himself to think it.
Crowley’s eyes were nearly entirely yellow and all the colour had drained from his face. He opened his mouth but closed it again without saying anything. There was a lump in his throat that made it very hard to speak, but he realised when he opened his mouth that he did want to speak, no matter how terrifying it was. Dealing with the actual apocalypse puts things like having romantic feelings for your best friend and hereditary enemy in perspective, and knowing that both heaven and hell are out to get you makes your normally infinite life feel a lot more finite. These things, in combination with the fact that he’d have to work very hard to deny it at this point, pushed Crowley to do what he’d been dreading for six thousand years.

“Because I love you.”

This silence was worse than any of the previous ones, so Crowley filled it with all the things he’d been too terrified to even think of saying.
“Because I’m in love with you, because I have been in love with you for so long, because you’re the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen and because I couldn’t tell you these things because we’re hereditary enemies and just being friends is forbidden enough and I didn’t want to lose you, because I was sure you’d leave if I-”
While Crowley was rambling, Aziraphale had walked up to him.
“Crowley”, he interrupted. Crowley stopped talking abruptly. Aziraphale grabbed his hands and looked him in the eyes.
“I love you too.”
Crowley was fairly sure his heart actually stopped beating.
“You what?”
“I love you too.”
“Just to double check – you love me too?” Crowley asked. Aziraphale couldn’t resist smiling.
“Yes, Crowley. I love you.”
Crowley’s heart started again, and a grin spread across his face.
Aziraphale laughed.
“Yes, really! Are you going to need me to spend all day repeating it?”
“I just need to make sure that we’re on the same page here, ‘cause I’ve spent a lot of time worrying about it. You’re in love with me?”
An intense blush spread across the angel’s face.
Crowley looked at the angel standing there in his studio, only wearing underwear, a dress shirt, and socks, and he was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. Aziraphale looked at the demon, who was standing there with his messy hair and his silk pyjamas, grinning from ear to ear, and felt that if this relationship got him kicked out of heaven it would be worth it. He let go of Crowley’s hands and fell into his arms, like he’d wanted to for decades now. The demon caught him and pulled him close, showing no intentions of ever letting go. He smelled of smoke (probably from driving a burning car from London to Tadfield) and sweat (probably also from driving a burning car from London to Tadfield) and oddly enough, Aziraphale found himself wanting to keep inhaling the scent forever. He rested his head on Crowley’s shoulder, and Crowley, who was already overwhelmed by the physical contact, felt like he might faint.
“Crowley?”, Aziraphale mumbled into Crowley’s neck, unknowingly causing goosebumps all over his body.
“Yes, angel?”
“That painting… on the easel. You’ve painted it many times.”
Crowley turned to look, despite knowing which painting he meant.
“I have, yes”
“I can never get it right.”
“No, I mean… why that motif? What’s so important about that one?”
Crowley turned back to make eye contact with Aziraphale.
“That, angel, is the moment I fell in love with you.”
Aziraphale’s eyes widened and his cheeks flushed pink.
“Oh”, he breathed, and looked back at the painting.
“Oh. But… But Crowley, that’s- that’s Eden!”
Crowley gave an affirmative hum.
“But that’s… that’s six thousand years!”
“Yeah, I suppose it is”, Crowley said, failing to fake nonchalance.
“You’ve known all along?”
“Since you told me you gave your sword away.” Crowley’s face turned red (a shade that clashed awfully with his hair) but he refused to look away from the angel, who’s face nearly matched his anyway.
“Why, how long have you known?”
Aziraphale instinctively took a step back and suddenly seemed very interested in the floor (or maybe his socks or the paint stains or Crowley’s feet – basically anything except for Crowley’s eyes) and Crowley could almost feel the heat from his burning cheeks. He mumbled something unintelligible.
“Sorry angel, I didn’t quite catch that.” Aziraphale’s eyes remained glued to the floor.
“I’ve known since 1941.”
Crowley’s jaw dropped.
“You’ve known since 1941?”
“Yes. When you bombed a church for me but also made sure to save my books, it was rea-“
“1941, as in seventy-eight years ago?”, Crowley interrupted.
Aziraphale was still incapable of maintaining eye contact.
“Well, I felt it earlier, I was just kind of… in denial. Once I realised, I knew I’d felt it for a long-“
“No, I don’t care about that, I just mean… We could’ve been together for seventy-eight years by now if we weren’t so damn repressed!”
Aziraphale finally looked up, and the light in Crowley’s eyes showed that the demon genuinely didn’t mind that he’d caught up so slowly. They might have missed out on six thousand years, but they were here now.
“Yes”, Aziraphale smiled. “I suppose we could have.”
“We’ve missed out on so much”, Crowley exclaimed
“We have plenty of time to catch up”, Aziraphale assured him, grabbing one of his hands again.

There, in the room where Crowley had spent days on end embracing and expressing the pain of unrequited love, he found that said love had never truly been unrequited after all, and discovered that love didn’t need to hurt. Despite having asked for confirmation four times, he was having a hard time processing that the angel he’d yearned for and loved for the past six thousand years had confessed to loving him back. Could things like that really happen to him? Did he deserve them? It didn’t matter. Regardless of what Crowley thought he deserved, Aziraphale was standing there in the studio, holding his hand and assuring him they’d have a future together. The open door let in a stripe of morning sunlight which painted the angel’s eyes sky blue and made his hair glow, and Crowley couldn’t help stepping closer to him. Crowley couldn’t see the way his hair lit up like a halo of fire where the sunlight shone through it, or the way his eyes glittered when he looked at Aziraphale, or the part of his collarbone that peeked out from under his lazily buttoned pyjama shirt. Aziraphale couldn’t see anything else. Overcome by fondness, the angel draped his arm over Crowley’s shoulder and pulled his face down to his own. Their lips met, and the room disappeared.

Crowley noticed that Aziraphale’s lips were soft, and then he became incapable of forming coherent thoughts. He wasn’t in the flat anymore, he wasn’t even on earth, he wasn’t anywhere but in Aziraphale’s arms. The world smelled, tasted, and felt like Aziraphale, and Crowley felt like a supernova was exploding in his chest.

Aziraphale noticed that Crowley deepened the kiss, and then his mind went blank again. There was no fear, no shame, no guilt – instead there was a light inside of him, brighter than a thousand suns. And there was Crowley, and Aziraphale melted into him.

They pulled away a moment or an eternity later and the world was new, for it was now a world where angels and demons kissed. This didn’t even come close to being the most drastic change the world had gone through that day, but it certainly felt the most significant to Crowley and Aziraphale. Six thousand years of yearning, repression, and pain had finally come to an end.