Aziraphale doesn’t even notice it, at first.
They’re doing anything, any of the things they do so much more often now that the apocalypse has been sorted. Having lunch, or dinner. Walking in St. James’s Park. Driving through the city at tremendous speeds, he suspects for the sole purpose of Crowley being able to enjoy his reactions. Sitting in the bookshop, drinking, talking.
“No, but lissen, Azir’phale,” Crowley mumbles around several glasses of wine. “Makes sense, see, because... ‘cause...”
“Wombats?” Aziraphale guesses.
“Wha? Wha’s wombats got t’do with anything?”
“Oh, er.” Aziraphale looks for an answer in his own glass, but he seems to have drunk them all already. “They’re jus’... wombats, aren’t they?”
“Well, they are, but. See. Th’ thing is...”
Whatever comes after one of Crowley’s drunken “the thing is”-es, it’s usually fascinating to a drunken Aziraphale, and he leans forward expectantly, glass dangling from one plump hand, for the latest bout of wisdom. But he’s disappointed this time.
“Thing is, I really, really just want to...”
Crowley stops. Swallows the words with an expression that doesn’t belong on his face when they’ve been having such a lovely evening like this. Then he groans as his glass (and several bottles) miraculously refill. “Never mind. Forgot what I was going to say.”
His words are steady now, if oddly flat. Aziraphale sobers up too.
“‘S getting late. I should head back to my place.”
“Crowley?” Aziraphale puts his wine down, stands up and takes one hesitant step toward the sofa. “You don’t have to leave just yet, if you —”
Crowley’s sunglasses look up at him. “Nah, I won’t take up your couch any longer. Or your time. Got things I should be doing anyway.” He rises, and walks past Aziraphale, far enough away that there’s no chance of their shoulders brushing, or their arms. “Thanks for the wine, Aziraphale. G’night.”
Aziraphale stands alone in the back room, fingers drumming thoughtfully against his wide belly. He reviews the evening. Nothing unusual, he doesn’t think, nothing he can remember saying or doing that might have upset Crowley.
Wait. Nothing Aziraphale said, no. But Crowley hadn’t...
Aziraphale’s fingers stop their drumming.
Crowley hadn’t called him “angel” once all day.
Now that the idea has formed, it won’t go away.
Aziraphale thinks back and can’t recall when Crowley had last called him by that name. It’s been a part of their conversational landscape for so long that it’s almost become invisible. For a little while it had thrilled him, when he’d thought it might perhaps have been meant as something, that it might... But, no. It’s just a name. Just a habit of Crowley’s, probably, left over from long and long ago when they hadn’t entirely been on a first-name basis. Or only-name, as it were.
Now the nickname is missing. Suddenly it’s “hello Aziraphale, sold any books today?”. It’s “come on, Aziraphale, lunch is on me.” All four syllables weighing down every sentence they’re in, and how has he not noticed until now?
Aziraphale knows that “angel” doesn’t mean anything, never has. It certainly doesn’t mean that Crowley feels anything like — that he shares Aziraphale’s —
Well. Call it what it is. It isn’t like Crowley is in love with him.
But Aziraphale is a creature of habit, of routine. Once he notices this routine’s disruption, he can’t help but look out for more.
“Well, I didn’t expect them to run with it like this. It was supposed to just be good wholesome sloth! All the entertainment you could want, straight to your computer. Didn’t expect it to turn into a bunch of, of pricey walled gardens.” Crowley reaches into the bag of peas which rests between them on the bench. “Humans,” he mutters, tossing the peas in the general direction of the pond.
Aziraphale allows himself a smug wiggle. “You appear to have forgotten the human propensity for greed, my dear fellow. It’s not —”
Crowley stops sprawling next to him on the bench. Crowley actually sits up nearly straight, elbows on knees, head lowered.
“Nh. Sorry. I have to go.” He stands, shoves his hands in his pockets. Doesn’t look at Aziraphale. “Call you later.”
He slinks off before Aziraphale can find his voice. As if the endearment, even as mild as it is — softened with the added noun, disguised as “my fellow” instead of “my dear, my dearest, my only one” — is unwanted. Distasteful.
Aziraphale has been calling Crowley his dear fellow since the sixth century. Apparently this is another routine to be abandoned, post-apocalypse.
Their time together starts growing shorter again. Crowley doesn’t turn down any of Aziraphale’s invitations, but he stops offering as many of his own. Even when they do meet, he’s... quiet, somehow. He’ll respond to questions, but mostly he just listens to Aziraphale. Leaning toward him across the table, on the bench, wherever they are, as though he doesn’t want to miss a single word.
But never close enough to risk touching. Even when they pass things back and forth (a bottle, a glass, a dessert Crowley has plainly only ordered for the moment he hands it over to Aziraphale), there is not the slightest brush of fingers.
It is all new, and horrible.
Eventually Aziraphale grows a bit desperate. Their old ways seem to be breaking down around him, a little at a time. What happens when there is nothing left? Will he lose the most important thing in his long life, the one he had faced the end of the world to save?
“Something new, then,” he blurts into the phone handset, one hand twisting in the cord. “Or new to me, at least. That pub you’ve mentioned a few times — could we go there? Have a few rounds, watch, ah... whatever sporting event is on this time of year?”
Crowley’s voice is touched with familiar exasperation. “Cricket. It’d be cricket, a — Aziraphale.”
The start of some other name is almost imperceptible. Aziraphale, however, has been listening for that name for weeks. It had never been “dear”, not “darling”, not “love”, but it had been something.
“And it’s not really your scene.”
“Hmph. Too rough-and-tumble for me, then? Bunch of hooligan friends of yours, falling readily to your demonic wiles?”
Brief laughter floats down the line like a precious gift. “I’m off the clock when I’m there. Well, I’m off the clock permanently, really. Walked off the job. Or was I more sacked?”
Aziraphale listens with his eyes closed, letting the banter wash over him. He’s missed it more than he can say. “Can we, Crowley?”
The hum of an open line. “Yeah, sure,” Crowley says eventually. “Tomorrow sevenish?”
“Yes.” Aziraphale wipes his eyes. “Yes.”
It is not Aziraphale’s... “scene”.
The lighting is poor, the booth seats are ripped, and the floor is vaguely sticky. It isn’t as loud as he’d expected, but the music is the most awful bebop he’s ever heard. And the few other patrons look as if they’ve never cracked open an original Dumas in their lives.
The liquor is decent, though, and Crowley is something like himself again. Aziraphale will spend all night sticking to the floor if he can hold on to that taste of normalcy. He’ll spend days.
“Hang on,” Crowley says, interrupting himself. “This story is gonna call for some stronger alcohol. Be right back.”
He leaves their table to talk to the bartender, beginning a conversation which involves a great number of animated hand gestures. Aziraphale realizes that he is smiling, watching Crowley, and decides he does not care. Nobody is watching. It’s perfectly safe to love Crowley. To hope, for the first time in weeks, that Crowley might someday love him.
There is a cough to his right.
Aziraphale turns his head, and realizes someone is watching after all. Not Heaven nor Hell, no, but it’s still an alarming situation — the fellow seated on a nearby barstool, eyes narrowed at him, looks rough. About as broad as Aziraphale, although built very differently, with none of Aziraphale’s curving softness. The man could perhaps lift the Bentley one-handed if he got the notion.
“Scuse me,” he says, in a voice which is much gentler than expected. “You a friend of Tony’s, then?”
Aziraphale gapes for a moment — Tony? — then nods. “Ah. Yes. We’re... very old friends, actually.” His mouth twitches itself downward. “One might have said best friends.”
“Oh?” Something in the man’s face opens. “You’re ‘angel’, aren’t you.”
“Nnh —” Aziraphale has never been this lost for words in his life.
“When he stopped talking about you, we figured there’d been some kind of row. You made up, then?”
“When he — stopped?”
The man looks away. “Tony! You bring your angel here and don’t even introduce him?”
Aziraphale follows the man’s gaze, and there is Crowley. Halfway back to the table, holding two large glasses of something. He just stands there with his eyebrows halfway up his forehead.
At last he clears his throat. “Ev. You’re in early.”
“Husband threw me out for the evening. Baking for his club tomorrow. Said I was underfoot.” The man — Ev — taps idle fingers against the bar. “So?”
Crowley takes the last few steps to the table, putting one glass in front of Aziraphale and sitting down with the other. “Ev, Aziraphale. Aziraphale, Ev.”
“Charmed,” Aziraphale says automatically. Ev tips a salute.
Crowley looks uneasy again now, no longer as relaxed as he’d been before going up to the bar. He actually jumps a little when Ev speaks.
“I’ll let you two talk, then.”
Ev moves to the other end of the bar, which leaves Crowley and Aziraphale quite alone. Crowley might be staring at his drink, behind the glasses.
There are a number of things Aziraphale wants to say, wants to ask. He starts with what he hopes will be an easy one. “Crowley. Why did that man know who I was?”
“He didn’t. Had to introduce you, didn’t I?”
“But.” Aziraphale fiddles with his empty glass from the last round. “He called me your angel.”
“Humans,” Crowley mumbles. “Get weird ideas sometimes. Very imaginative, humans.”
“He said you stopped talking about me.”
Crowley doesn’t respond, which is unfortunate, because now there are only difficult questions left.
“What would you... say about me? Before?”
No answer except a twitch in Crowley’s jaw.
“...why did you stop?”
Silence. No reaction.
Then Crowley takes off his glasses to rub his eyes.
“Because,” he mumbles into his hands. “I gave up.”
Aziraphale leans across the table, reaching a hand along the scarred surface. Not sure what he intends to do, just wanting to offer something, even if it’s only his concern, his sympathy —
Crowley looks at him, his own hands folded into fists against his bony chin. Snake eyes wounded, and weary, and bare. “Gave up on there ever being anything to talk about.”
“Because there isn’t, is there? Not with us.” Crowley spits out a laugh. “There is no ‘us’.”
A new idea is forming in Aziraphale’s head, a new understanding of Crowley’s pulling away these last weeks. Of all this recent unease, and the unwillingness to get too close... to use old endearments...
“My dear fellow,” he says.
That earns him a wince, and Crowley presses his palms against the edge of the table, as though ready to bolt. “Don’t say things like that,” he chokes.
“My dear,” Aziraphale insists. It seems he can move again, finally, because his hand is completing its journey across the table.
It covers one of Crowley’s. Crowley utters a sort of tiny squeak.
“My dearest.” All the words are lining up, now, they’ve waited so patiently to be spoken, and Aziraphale lets them tumble out through smiling lips. “My darling. My heart, my life, my only one. My love.”
Crowley takes a shuddering breath. “You don’t.”
For the span of five heartbeats, Crowley only stares at him, unblinking.
Then he yanks back his hand from under Aziraphale’s, snapping his fingers in the same movement, but he’s not pulling away — he’s actually climbing up on the table, slithering across to Aziraphale’s side, empty and full glasses should all be flying everywhere except by some miracle they’re not —
He drops into the booth next to Aziraphale, flings his arms around Aziraphale’s belly, and buries his head against Aziraphale’s chest.
“Angel,” he mumbles.
Aziraphale slips his own arms about the thin shoulders. “My Crowley,” he murmurs back. “Why didn’t you say anything?”
“Why didn’t you?”, Crowley shoots right back, although it’s somewhat less of a snappy answer when it’s muffled by Aziraphale’s coat. “Nev’mind. Don’t want to talk about that now.”
“Then let’s not.” Aziraphale decides that it would be very nice to stroke that lovely red hair. “What do you want to do?”
Crowley relaxes against him, melting into the touch of Aziraphale’s hand in his hair, and at first Aziraphale thinks that he isn’t going to reply. At last he does, though, moving his head just enough that his words come out clearly, not lost in Aziraphale’s chest. “The thing is...”
“Gnh.” A pause. “The thing is. I really want to kiss you, angel.”
“Oh.” Aziraphale’s hand stutters for just a moment. “Oh. Well, you... you certainly may.”
Now Crowley lifts his head entirely, looking at Aziraphale with eyes that are wide and yellow and absolutely shocked. “In this dump?! You think after six thousand years of waiting, I’m going to kiss you here?!”
“Six... six thou —”
Crowley unwinds from him, slipping out of his arms and standing up again. “Come on. We’ll drive to, to, I dunno. Somewhere nice. The Ritz. The park. Out to the country until you tell me to stop.” He holds out a hand. “Somewhere the floors aren’t sticky.”
Aziraphale blinks at the hand.
“Somewhere that’s worth you. Not some grotty pub surrounded by drunk humans.”
“Humans,” Aziraphale repeats. He remembers, suddenly, that there are humans in the room. Who must have been watching when Crowley started climbing on the furniture, who are probably still watching now —
He looks around, though, and they’re all stopped. Frozen in time.
“Thought we might want a minute to ourselves.” Crowley is smirking, but then the expression fades into a soft smile. “Come on, then. Let’s go.”
Aziraphale takes the offered hand. Lets Crowley help him to his feet. As soon as they are both standing, Crowley puts one arm around his waist, hand finding a perch on the side of his belly and then squeezing for just a moment, so gently that it’s a wonder Aziraphale doesn’t discorporate on the spot.
He risks a look up, and something in his chest flips over at Crowley’s expression of absolute bliss.
Crowley starts them toward the door, snapping the fingers of his free hand as he does so. The other patrons start moving again. “Catch you later, Ev,” Crowley calls over his shoulder. “My angel and I are outta here.”
Ev gives some kind of answer, but Aziraphale doesn’t hear it. His ears are too full of “my angel”, “my angel”, and he’s already thinking about where they will go, out in the country, perhaps, like Crowley said. It won’t be a picnic, not yet, but it will be a chance to look at the stars, to whisper their names, and then Crowley will kiss him —
Crowley walks Aziraphale to the Bentley, opening the door for him and giving him another squeeze before letting go. Aziraphale all but collapses into the passenger seat, what with his legs gone so wobbly. But he’s at least somewhat collected, seatbelt securely fastened, by the time Crowley gets behind the wheel.
“Right, then.” Crowley turns toward him, grinning, and his golden eyes shine. “Where to, angel?”