Aziraphale prides himself on being Extremely Good at ignoring emotional demands in the service of the Ineffable Plan. Books and food and dancing—those are all matters easily explained away, the not- really -sins, the momentary lapses he excuses in the name of understanding humanity, his charge. Humans are remarkable, after all, as She created them. Partaking in earthly delights venerates Her, sort of. So Aziraphale loves all these things, both the humans and their inventions, albeit carefully.
If he wasn’t quite so skilled in compartmentalizing, perhaps Aziraphale would’ve put the pieces together sooner. Instead, he’s standing miraculously unscathed in the ruins of a church in the middle of London, a bag of precious books clutched in his hand, having a series of uncomfortable epiphanies as his eternal enemy—his friend—his Crowley sways off toward an elegant black car.
His emotions are demanding now, indeed, and the song sounds akin to damnation. Orchestral, swelling, melodic damnation. 1
Not once over the course of thousands of years has Aziraphale permitted self-reflection regarding his...well, his regards of his demonic counterpart. He’s loathe to regard those regarding regards still, but there’s a nervous warmth in Aziraphale’s chest that demands it. The places where Crowley’s hand brushed his when Aziraphale took the bag yearn for more touch. Most loudly, the ozone is tingling with radiant love like he’s never felt before.
Uncorrupted. Incorruptible. Complete.
Aziraphale rattles through the loves he’s defined, the classifications he keeps meaning to write down, or to pass on to someone better with words. 2 One for empathy, and for friendship, and for the unconditional love of God. Three was the number of divinity. It was perfection inherent.
Yet here is the church, and there is Crowley, and Aziraphale has discovered a fourth love: longing.
It rolls off of Crowley in unbridled waves, as though he couldn’t stop loving if he tried. Aziraphale has felt it before, though not so unadulterated; he’d assumed what he sensed was whatever the demonic equivalent of love might be. Hadn’t the feeling grown stronger and more intense the longer Crowley’s been on earth? Since the garden?
Oh, Aziraphale’s been such a fool.
He runs toward Crowley, promptly tripping over crumbled bricks and lands face-first in the rubble.
“Angel!” and there’s no reason for Crowley’s voice to sound so urgent, Aziraphale thinks. It isn’t as though he’ll discorporate from a broken nose, or a bruised eye, or being so stunned as to be limp as Crowley eases him up to sit. “Forgot how feet work?” he asks, prying the bag from Aziraphale’s hands and setting it on the ground beside them.
Aziraphale looks up at him. “Yes,” he murmurs, awestruck. How can a demon love, let alone Crowley, let alone me? “Yes, I rather suppose I did.”
Crowley’s hand flaps awkwardly near Aziraphale’s face. He makes a series of stumbling syllables, words as clumsy as Aziraphale. His face contorts, like Crowley’s brain is travelling faster than the rest of him, which is impossible. Crowley has always been too fast.
Just as Aziraphale has always been too slow.
His heart is catching up quickly though, speeding as it never has before. 3 Previous conversations with Crowley replay all at once, over top of each other, desperate for analyzation. Aziraphale sees every Crowley at once, reflected at him in the impenetrable glasses Crowley wears.
Regardless, “I feel you,” he says, his hand wavering in kind toward Crowley’s face. Aziraphale lands his hand first, and Crowley’s own fingers drop instantly, Crowley gasping and recoiling from him. “I feel you,” repeats Aziraphale, even as Crowley scampers backward on his hands and feet, wincing at the drag of masonry against his body as he goes.
More near-untranslatable noises. “Whatdoyoumeanyousssee?”
Aziraphale beams—it’s been so long since Crowley was moved enough to hiss! “Your love. I can feel it.”
“Demonsss don’t love. Imposssss—’s’not a thing.”
“Evil!” Crowley throws his arms in the air. “Evil ssstuff. My favorite! Everything evil!”
Aziraphale crawls forward, closing the two meters between them. “You can’t admit it. I know. I understand.” His voice cracks. “More than you think, my dear.”
Crowley stills. “How long?”
Aziraphale adjusts to sit on his knees. “Me?”
“Me. You. Abou—about me.”
Have you always been so flustered and lovely? How could I ignore you for so long?
“Millennia,” says Aziraphale softly. “I only never understood what it was until approximately one hundred and thirteen seconds ago.”
Crowley’s mouth opens, but he says nothing.
Aziraphale waits as long as he’s able. “You love me.”
“I do not!” His nose twitches into a sneer. “Nope. Don’t love anything, not even myssself.”
My poor darling. “You love me.”
“You do, Crowley! So much I can practically taste it!”
Crowley scuttles back a bit farther. “How?”
“Angels can sense love,” says Aziraphale. “Had you forgotten?”
“‘S been a while.” Crowley aims for a shrug as his body deflates. “Could’ve changed, besides.”
“Like dust,” Aziraphale continues, “like the way a civilization falls. Like something that once was holy, settling, beautifully burnt.”
“Marvellous,” says Crowley, snorting. “I have a natural ambience of burnt ssstroopwaffel.”
Aziraphale ignores his words the same way he’s ignored Crowley’s feelings since the beginning of the world. “It’s like—like light outside a glass, flickering, contained. Filtered through water, essential and clear.”
Crowley gulps; his foot taps rapidly. “Going all in on the poetry, aren’t you?”
“You love me.” The more Aziraphale says it, the more certain he’s heard the truth. “The sound of scratching quills. Feathers out of place.”
As Aziraphale inches closer, Crowley’s anxious movements ripple through his body, up his legs and through his arms. Even Crowley’s fingers quiver. Sitting on his heels between the vee of Crowley’s thighs, Aziraphale reaches for him again. Aziraphale’s palm makes contact with his cheek, and Crowley lets out a quiet sob.
“I can’t,” Crowley insists, shaking his head. “I can’t; I can’t; we can’t.”
His hands frame Crowley’s face, thumbs brushing against damp cheekbones. “I love you.”
“Don’t.” Aziraphale lands on his arse as Crowley pushes him away. “Jussst leave it alone. Forget it.”
“You coming or not?” Crowley dusts off his trousers as he gets up, then turns and starts walking toward his car again.
Whiplash in Aziraphale’s skull; a tight pain in his chest; a sourness in his stomach. Crowley’s tears still cling to the pad of his thumb, but Aziraphale can’t bring himself to cry, at all. And why would Crowley? What had upset him? Was Aziraphale’s touch so unwelcome? So abhorrent?
The Bentley purrs to life across the street, but the echoes of Aziraphale’s feelings unreturned are far louder.
This is heartbreak, Aziraphale realizes, shoulders slumped. And he’d only just discovered what his new love felt like.
“Come on, angel!”
He pushes himself up off the ground, grabs his bag, and picks his way around the pieces of former church, following Crowley, mind as unsteady as his feet.
The drive is maddeningly quiet. Aziraphale hangs on for dear eternal life and stares straight ahead. Occasionally, he takes a glance over at Crowley; his hands are white-knuckled, clenched around the steering wheel. There’s something inscrutable about his face, about his utter concentration on the road.
They pull up in front of Aziraphale’s shop faster than he expected, and he’s equal parts thankful and saddened. Crowley has been absent for decades; Aziraphale isn’t ready to let him disappear again.
“Invite me in?” Crowley mumbles, scarcely audible as he parks and turns off the car.
“Bit of liquid comfort for you?”
Crowley doesn’t answer beyond opening his door, undulating out of his seat, practically slithering. Rubbing a hand over his face, Aziraphale does the same, though far less serpentine, and certainly not graceful. 4 He sets down the bag long enough to unlock the doors. Before Aziraphale can motion him inside, Crowley barges ahead, standing just inside the doorway, hands twitching anxiously at his sides. Back to the room, Aziraphale locks the doors behind him.
As soon as he turns, before he can even repocket the key, Crowley crowds Aziraphale against the wood and glass, hands gripped on the lapels of Aziraphale’s coat.
“Sssay it again,” he asks. There’s an air of almost-pleading to his voice.
Aziraphale frowns. “Which part?”
“Any of them. All of them.” Crowley’s grasp grows tighter; if not for his smart hat, they’d be touching foreheads. This close, Crowely’s smells of a well-lit wood stove, fire blazing—homey, Aziraphale decides, doing his utmost not to stare at Crowley’s mouth.
“That...that you love me?”
Crowley takes a shuddering breath. “The next bit.” His throat rasps as he adds, “Aziraphale, please.”
A small smile sets up shop on Aziraphale’s face. “I love you.”
The shop establishes itself as a reputable store. “I love you,” says Aziraphale, and his tongue warms every time he does so. “I love you, Crowley. I think for a very long time, indeed, though I was slow to realize.”
Crowley lets go of Aziraphale long enough to toss his hat across the room. “Again.” His hands rest on Aziraphale’s cheeks, fingers still trembling. “Pleassse, Aziraphale, agai—”
“I love you.” Aziraphale mirrors him, stroking the sides of Crowley’s face, more confidently than he had mere minutes ago in the churchyard. “Foul fiend though you may be.” Aziraphale’s smile expands its business. “My wily, darling demon.”
“Couldn’t let you say it,” Crowley tells him, “not back there where anyone could sssee. Wasssn’t safe, not for either of usss.” He swallows twice, grimaces, then struggles with removing his glasses with his upper arm. “Isn’t safe here, either.” The glasses finally clatter to the floor, and there are Crowley’s eyes, bright as Aziraphale’s ever seen, shining with unshed tears, a golden glow in the darkness. “Might never be.”
Aziraphale knows truth when he hears it. “I would take that risk.”
“You could Fall.”
“I would do so gladly.” Aziraphale knows truth when he allows himself to finally think it, too.
“I won’t let you do that.” Crowley closes his eyes; Aziraphale’s back to catching teardrops, little singed bits of rain. “I—this isn’t because I sssaved your books, is it? This isn’t a book thing? ‘My hero, however shall I repay you?’ Not that kind of bollocksss?”
Aziraphale thumbs the corners of Crowley’s eyes, urging them open. “No bollocks to be seen, my dear.”
Crowley nods as quickly as he drives. “Right. Good. But I won’t let you. Fall, that is. Can’t do it. Wouldn’t forgive myssself, not that I do that, anyway. Demon.”
“A kind one.”
“No, no. Not kind. None of those gratuitous four-letter wordsss that I can’t—” He gulps. “That I can’t sss —can’t say.”
“And yet.” Aziraphale pushes Crowley’s hat-smashed hair away from his brow. “Oh, how lovely it is to see your eyes!”
“Ugly,” says Crowley, sniffling.
Aziraphale corrects him. “Spectacular.”
“Iloveyoutoomuchtoletyouburn.” It comes out as more of a hiss than anything, and Crowley jerks and sways after the second word. He pants for breath, but recovers quickly. “You know we can’t.”
There’s a catch in Aziraphale’s throat. “I do, yes.”
“You’re still smiling?” Crowley traces a dimple with the tip of a finger.
“If this is what we have,” says Aziraphale, far braver than he feels, “then this must be enough.”
“I wish I could kiss you, but I’ll never be able to ssstop once I ssstart.”
Aziraphale’s lips feel branded by the idea alone. Heat floods his face, and now Crowley’s chasing rainfall, shushing him, running his hands through Aziraphale’s hair to cradle the back of his head.
Finally, his grin turned sad and sentimental, “I know,” and, “I wouldn’t be able to, either.”
They stand there, breathing each other in, committing the moment to memory, because it’s all it can ever be. Hands run along arms and shoulders, embracing; learning; tempting. Fingers clasp together between them, palm to palm, though Aziraphale doesn’t know who to pray to, who answers the impossible questions, should he even dare ask.
“I should go,” Crowley says for the eighteenth time. “There’s only so many meetings between usss I can excuse away under the guise of tempting you to Fall.”
“I never knew they monitored you so closely.”
“Paranoia, mostly.” He chuckles, a solemn sound. “They didn’t particularly like me sssaving you from the guillotine.”
Aziraphale crumples. “Why did you never tell me?”
“Demonic part and parcel, innit?” Crowley almost kisses his cheek, then catches himself in time. “I’d do it over again, anyway.”
“You already have!”
“Blew up a church to thwart your thwarting. All harm, all foul.” Crowley cracks a smile of his own, beguiling. “You’re worth it. Sssave the whole world for you if you wanted it.”
“Please,” says Aziraphale, willing his hands to release Crowley, desperately wanting to fold his wings around him, instead, to surround him with every ounce of love and comfort he can give. “Crowley, please, be careful.”
He breathes in deeply before prying his own hands away. “Going to go back to my nap, I think. Give us some space. Keep it professional.”
Aziraphale hums his assent. His hands itch. “Arrangement-related business only. Yes. Of course.”
Crowley snaps his hat and glasses back on. “Maybe someday.”
The door to the shop closes behind Aziraphale. A handful of agonizing moments, and he hears the Bentley rumble to life.
“Yes,” Aziraphale tells his books, wringing his hands. “Someday.”
Aziraphale miracles his way into Crowley’s passenger seat. It’s the first time he’s been in the Bentley in over twenty years, never mind he hasn’t seen Crowley in those decades, either. He wonders if Crowley really did nap the whole time they were apart. Had Crowley only awoken in the forties to save Aziraphale? He wishes he’d asked.
Crowley’s hair is shaggy, unkempt, and unfortunately in fashion. He wears the same sort of glasses that Lennon fellow does, only dark, blocking his eyes from view. His jacket, black; his turtleneck, likewise. How Crowley manages to look like he’s arrived fresh from a meeting of 1950s Beat poets while staying simultaneously current, Aziraphale couldn’t say.
“What are you doing here?” Not hello. Crowley’s always been too dramatic for hellos. The look of surprise on his face is as gratifying as it is depressing, given how he and Aziraphale both feel.
Then again, Aziraphale can’t sense any love, at all. Nothing coming from Crowley in the slightest. He tries not to think too much into it.
“I needed a word with you.” And it’s a trial to even look at Crowley, to not lean over and take his silly glasses off his face and snog him even sillier, especially since Aziraphale knows what he’s actually here to do.
He clings to the thermos in his hands. It’s not too late to just pop off, to not give Crowley the key to his own destruction. Aziraphale can’t stand knowing the bottle of blessings between his palms could kill the only person he’s ever truly loved.
Still, it would be worse for Crowley to destroy himself needlessly when there’s no guarantee he won’t use the holy water on himself during one of the fits of despair he’s prone to. Keeping him from sailing overboard on the Ark to save an unlucky soul had been trying enough; Aziraphale’s loathe to provide Crowley with handy implements of his demise.
“I can’t have you risking your life,” Aziraphale tells him, and it’s like saying he’s in love with Crowley all over again, except twice as painful, especially when Crowley doesn’t react. “Don’t go unscrewing the cap.”
Please, please, don’t leave me here alone.
Crowley asks, “Should I say thank you?”
Aziraphale chokes, sweats, glances furtively about, whether for other angels or young Shadwell or even God Herself, he can’t say. The lights of Soho nightlife glare through the Bentley’s windows, and Aziraphale’s suddenly exhausted.
“Well can I...drop you anywhere?”
“No, thank you.” Aziraphale turns to take Crowley in, to drink every detail of him. For a moment, Aziraphale swears he can sense love, but it’s just as likely he’s pretending to see adoration written on Crowley’s face. “Oh, don’t look so disappointed.”
It gives me hope.
“Perhaps one day we could...I don’t know. Go for a picnic. Dine at the Ritz.”
“I’ll give you a lift,” Crowley offers again. “Anywhere you want to go,” as though he doesn’t know Aziraphale wants nothing more than to stay right here with him, to make a garden from the sidewalks and never seek out apples.
Crowley slept for twenty years, hidden away from Aziraphale, confessed love and then ran—out of necessity, Aziraphale knows, but they still could have met up for lunch, or in the park, have acted like friends if not lovers. It’s too painful to consider, how easily Crowley hibernated for years instead of being with Aziraphale. Even now, Crowley holds out an olive branch to take when what Aziraphale wants is a crudely-hewn oar to drag him out of the flooding depths.
It’s too much, too soon. It’s not enough.
“You go too fast for me, Crowley.” The words taste of sacrificial ash.
Aziraphale has halfway crossed the street when Crowley shouts after him, “How did you find me?”
The point, Aziraphale thinks, is that I had to go searching for you in the first place.
“I’ll see you again soon, I hope,” Aziraphale says, smiling as much as he can muster before turning back around and setting off to meet with his demon-finder, hoping that the fee will be enough to pay for the repairs of a Lieutenant Sideboard’s car. At this rate, Aziraphale might need the sergeant’s services again.
They meet up again in the seventies at a discotheque so Crowley can introduce him to something called a tequila sunrise that he tempted into existence in California. 5 After three too many drinks, Aziraphale tells him he hates his moustache because it hides his mouth. Crowley doesn’t call again for thirty years, and Aziraphale swears off tequila forever.
Crowley is just as lovely a woman as she was centuries ago, and Aziraphale marvels at how much he’s missed her femininity. Nanny Ashtoreth dotes on little Warlock constantly from what Aziraphale can tell, sneaking hidden glances of them in the garden whenever he can. Yes, her words are often laced with demonic wiles, but Nanny adores him, and it fills Aziraphale with wonder and, unfortunately, some not insignificant jealousy.
How he wants those smiles turned toward him, to be seen outside of his disguise as Brother Francis! Aziraphale aches for the warmth Nanny gives to a human boy, and the yearning never goes away. It’s stronger with each minute, every hour, week after week, so powerful Aziraphale worries it will consume him like hellfire.
Nanny bestows her love, yet Aziraphale feels nothing when the two of them manage to be alone. Some nights, Nanny visits him, still prim and proper in her dress, gorgeous red curls unpinned and skirting her shoulders. He watches her scold his plants to... encourage their growth, knowing full well Aziraphale will walk behind her and actually encourage them. Aziraphale and Nanny don’t have the Arrangement as much these days as they do an Arrangement, actively canceling each other out as a team—
But we aren’t a team, Aziraphale reminds himself. We’re on opposing sides. She is the enemy, and if we fail, we will have to fight each other.
His tea goes cold more nights than not, Aziraphale sitting in front of the fire in the gardener’s cottage, remembering Crowley’s unshielded eyes in the back room of the bookshop, praying as much as he dares that he’ll see them at least one more time.
Aziraphale’s back hits the wall in a hallway of what used to be a convent hospital. Crowley’s hands grip the lapels of his coat, and it doesn’t matter how Crowley snarls at Aziraphale’s slip-up and being told he is nice. All Aziraphale can think of is one night during the Blitz, and the words they’d exchanged, and how he’s never heard them since.
For one shining, brilliant instance, Aziraphale anticipates Crowley’s lips finally meeting his, but no kiss ever comes.
“It’s over, Crowley,” Aziraphale says, and he wants to discorporate on the spot.
“I lost my best friend,” Crowley tells him, and Aziraphale’s already discorporated and can’t do so twice.
The end of the world postpones itself, hopefully for the rest of time. All the humans go home, and he and Crowley sit on a bench in anticipation of the inevitable denouement, passing a bottle of Anathema’s wine back and forth, occult and celestial and nothing at once.
“You can stay at my place, if you like.”
Invite me in, hears Aziraphale. The inside of his ribcage instantaneously grows as hot as his face; Aziraphale can almost taste an emotion—an aura, he supposes, pleasant as a winter home. It slips in his mouth and down his throat and into his superfluous lungs.
“I don’t think my side would like that.”
“You don’t have a side anymore.” Crowley’s voice is gentle, and it doesn’t matter how much he’s sprawled out, how loose his limbs are, because his words themselves are a tight embrace. “Neither of us do,” Crowley continues. “We’re on our own side.”
The bus comes before Aziraphale can decide how to respond. He’s running on physical autopilot, preparing to walk past Crowley to a different seat.
And then Crowley grabs his hand. Aziraphale nearly falls when Crowley pulls him down to rest beside him.
“Sit with me, angel.” Crowley doesn’t turn from the window, but his fingers are a vice, a boa constrictor. “Ssstay with me. Please.”
Aziraphale blurts out, “Kiss me,” then immediately stares at the back of the bus driver’s head. “I mean, maybe lat—”
Crowley snaps his fingers and chuckles, melodic and sweet as fresh taffy. “He won’t notice.”
“But Hell woul—”
“Bugger ‘em.” He turns Aziraphale’s face to his, his glasses one last barrier. “We might die tomorrow.”
“And we need to plan our self-def—”
Crowley kisses him, a tentative wisp of a thing, barely lips brushing together, all soft and shy. A first kiss, not only theirs—Aziraphale can tell—inexpert but heady. Aziraphale almost wishes he’d saved his first for Crowley; right now, he can’t even kiss him back, too stunned and full of wonder and smothered in a Love he hasn’t felt since the Blitz.
“Don’t cry.” Crowley sounds plaintive and a touch surprised. “I can’t be that bad of a kisser.”
“No, darling,” says Aziraphale, sliding a hand between their faces to wipe his own cheeks. “No, you are perfect.”
“Fine, then. You’re perfect to me.” Aziraphale plants his hands on Crowley’s shoulders, pushing him back slightly. He touches the side of Crowley’s glasses, tentative. Crowley nods, just as careful, and Aziraphale slips them off. “Perfect,” he repeats, the glasses clacking against the metal floor in favor of letting his hands trace the moisture collecting beneath Crowley’s eyelashes. “Simply perfection. Oh heavens, but your love is overwhelming!”
Crowley’s hand fidgets on Aziraphale’s jaw. “Didn’t want to hide it. Wasn’t sssafe not to.” His shoulders rise and fall, his breathing heavy. “I love you,” and he doesn’t shiver when he says it this second-ever time. His eyes hold xanthic seas. “Aziraphale, love you ssso much, love y—”
Aziraphale takes the lead and Crowley lets him, sighing into his mouth and melting beneath his caress. He groans when Aziraphale pushes all the love he can into the kiss.
“I can feel it—your love, angel, never felt it like thisss, couldn’t sssense it, didn’t think I could, oh fuck.” He starts shaking, and Aziraphale shushes him, kisses him quiet again, keeps kissing him.
“Never, my love.” Crowley crumples in Aziraphale’s arms, a slight weight. “Never again. I’ll kiss you for days if you like.”
Another peck. Another. “Might not have any more after tonight.”
Aziraphale puts his hand on the back of Crowley’s head and chases the words from his tongue. His mouth is slick, kisses smoother, stronger, the two of them in tandem, a team. Lights from passing cars on the highway halo them—Aziraphale sees it, basks in its strange holiness when he pulls back with a parting nip and a swipe of his tongue to soothe it, his own lips aching. He can’t stop touching Crowley, fingers woven in his copper hair and the heels of his hands along the contours of his face.
Agnes wrote the road back to forever. Aziraphale believes it with every molecule of his soul. He can almost picture her, waking up from a prophetic dream, scurrying to her desk to jot it down for people she’ll never know.
For them. For the world.
“We’ll figure it out,” promises Aziraphale. “This wasn’t the end of anything.”
“I’ve hoped for this for ssso long.” 6
“As have I.”
The bus driver eases back into awareness. “Last stop,” he says. “We’re here.”
“Yes.” Aziraphale smiles, giddy with affection, watching Crowley’s face twitch into a smile of his own. “So we are.”
1 It’s the only kind of damnation worth knowing.
2 There’s an author named Clive, one of Aziraphale’s books of prophecy had foretold. Such an unfortunate first name, given the next two attached to it.
3 Joining a nice young prayer healer in a cave as he boiled little bitter berries, discovering the benefits of caffeination for the first time, hardly counts. Aziraphale doesn’t remember much of the following month, but did find himself inexplicably in Malta with a large jar full of miraculously hot Ethiopian coffee straight from the source.
4 Being an angel, Aziraphale is technically always full of grace. A gavotte is hardly practical at the moment, which leaves him to a strange sort of clambering out, like a mountain goat’s legs which have suddenly grown allergic to the ground.
5 Aziraphale decides not to tell Crowley about the nice chap in Phoenix who invented it for him in the 1930s. It wouldn’t be very sporting of him.
6The understatement of eternity.