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Foolish Principality

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The cottage landline phone rang, and a few moments later, Aziraphale bustled through their new parlour, winding between boxes and old tea crates they had not yet unpacked.

"I'm so sorry, my dear! Anathema's just rung, and it's simply terrible---"

"Newt get hold of that fancy new till?"

Aziraphale glared. It deepened as Crowley grinned.

"I'll have you know, they've completely mucked up my organization system, and now they can't finish their... what is it?"

"Inventory?"

"Hmph! Barbaric process." Aziraphale plucked a driving scarf and goggles from Crowley's ultra-modern and entirely nonsensical hat tree by the door. "I'm taking Auto von Bismarck, and I shall return tomorrow. Or the next day. Or... oh, dear, I never ought to have let you talk me into any of this!"

Crowley slumped on the horrible tartan couch Aziraphale insisted upon keeping. "The cottage was your idea, angel."

"And leaving the shop in their hands was yours! Hmph!" Aziraphale threw open the door and marched to Auto, his third-hand Mini Cooper (which Crowley had got him in order to save the Bentley from the sheer terror and irregularity that made up Aziraphale's attempts at driving).

"You're not taking your things?" Crowley called as he leaned out the door.

"You think I didn't leave a bag at the shop?"

Crowley snorted as Aziraphale slammed his ridiculous little car's door. He waited until Aziraphale got through his 20-point safety check and puttered out of the drive. Crowley shut the door with a deep sigh.

"Completely mad, angel," he said to himself. It felt lonely in the really rather enormous cottage, and he nearly miracled away the upset at the bookshop, just to get his housemate back. Still, a few days alone was a few days alone, and there were plenty of things left to do. Crowley tossed his specs onto a small side-table and looked for something to unpack.

Something a bit fun to unpack, in any case.

Fifteen minutes with a pocket knife and a prybar proved a handful of things:

  1. Crowley owned even fewer things than he had previously thought.
  2. If you really wanted to terrify an aspidistra, a prybar was just the thing.
  3. Prybars hurt.
  4. No-one could find anything at the bookshop because Aziraphale had scarpered off with half the stock.

After the fifteenth box of mouldering books, Crowley was ready to curse Auto von Bismarck so it could drive no slower than 30 miles per hour. Given the screams that echoed down their quiet country lane when he stomped the pedal and Auto shot forth at a truly dizzying 15, he doubted Aziraphale would ever drive again in such a case.

Then again, he might simply try the Bentley instead. Crowley shuddered at the thought and miracled the book crate upstairs for Aziraphale to sort.

Soon enough, there was enough space in the parlour that Crowley could sit back and watch telly, if he so wished. However, he wanted to have his hands entirely clean if Anathema and Newt came looking for the pilfered books, so he cracked open an especially heavy crate--one no doubt filled with ridiculous things, like vampire hunter biographies or original clay tablets of Mesopotamian cookery.

The nails were stuck, and Crowley remembered that the crate was one of very few that Aziraphale insisted be shipped rather than miracled. He finally sent the sealed crate, minus its contents, to the middle of Siberia, and found in its place a safe. A large, black safe, no doubt miraculously sealed against entry. He banged it with the prybar. The combination dial vanished.

"Bugger," he said, and simply miracled the whole thing into Aziraphale's study upstairs.

A pile of hand-bound books crashed to the floor where the safe had been a moment before.

"You've got to be joking," Crowley said. The books remained, and he slumped to the floor. "You've got to be joking, angel!"

Now, you must understand that Crowley had faced Aziraphale's upset and wrath more than once. While kind and forgiving, Aziraphale was still an angel, and that meant he was very, very, very, very good at vengeance. Avenging, even. Crowley did not enjoy those times when Aziraphale became an avenging angel. The handful of times he had avenged himself at Crowley's expense (or at least the expense of Crowley's trousers), Crowley had somehow interfered with one of a handful of Aziraphale's things.

The first had been a cup of tea, or what passed for tea at the time, back in Mesopotamia.

The rest had all been his books.

No matter how Crowley tried, even going so far as to carry the books upstairs and beg the safe to take them back, the safe remained in one spot, and the books firmly in another.

Crowley sat back against one of the crates of books. It was the end. He was dead. Neither Heaven nor Hell had managed to destroy him, but Aziraphale? Crowley only hoped it was quick and painless, and didn't involve Aziraphale sprouting wings or extra eyes.

Given the situation, though, he decided he needed to see what was so bloody important that he would probably die for it. He snatched one of the ten or so numbered books and opened it to the middle, and he read:

 

18 March, 1987

Divinity be not the truest end

Whereupon the foolish angel lies;

Upon the love of holiness he fends

But to the flames below where now he flies.

Yet full he burns, still Heavenly below.

A Godly pearl within his crackèd shell.

Inside the angel's heart his soul doth glow

Arising far above his lowly Hell.

Devil be, but foul field he be not.

Friend, aside his enemy he sits

To stoke mine flame, my eyes, my heart, my thought.

My Fallen angel within my heart fits.

Divinity be not upon his wings.

But through his form, his blessèd wisdom sings.

 

Crowley could recognize Aziraphale's pristine, old-fashioned handwriting anywhere. He wrote like an Elizabethan noblewoman, all pointy and full of flourishes. (More than once, Crowley had tried not to read into that, nor Aziraphale's friendship with a certain playwright.) Beyond that, though....

"What in Hell are you doing writing sonnets about demons, angel?" It wasn't as though he knew more than one. As far as Crowley knew. Then, maybe he had two or three fallen friends. It wasn't as though Crowley was with him every second.

Perturbed, Crowley reached for the first book of the bunch and flipped through. Every single poem was dated between 1941 and 1946. In fact, the first was dated the night he had saved Aziraphale's corpus from a cowardice of Nazis.

 

21 March, 1941

Kiss me

Like the tender apple's juice

Sweet upon my lips

And I shall drink your venom

The poison in your heart

And leave you whole.

 

It took Crowley a few moments to realize he was staring. The poem. It was....

It was really, really bad.

Mind, it was also written in a hurry. Aziraphale's handwriting looked frantic--possibly a result of Crowley driving him home for the first time that night--and more than a little wobbly. Crowley read it again, and wondered just how much of the poem was the congealed giddiness that came with surviving utter catastrophe. Crowley was more than a little familiar with that giddiness; without it, Hell and its scorched denizens would never have risen from their own ashes to become a superpower to rival Heaven.

But demons didn't write poetry. They screamed and raged and licked the walls, and they sought power. So did most angels, come to think. They didn't write poetry. They didn't write--he sifted through the pages--oh! Erotic poetry. Especially not limericks.

 

4 April, 1945

There once was an angel who Fell

Whose nethers as any could tell

Would rise in a flash

And off he would dash

So quickly he ended in Hell.

 

Again, terrible, but amusing enough. It wasn't how he fell, but Aziraphale had always been prone to the odd flight of fancy. It was how he tried food for the first time, or so he said. Really, he was the only other creature like Crowley who had any sort of imagination.

Speaking of imagination, as Crowley looked at the books--every single one hand-bound, likely by Aziraphale himself--he felt an odd fluttering in his chest. All told, eight decades of poetry sounded like one hell of a confession, or even a gift....

Crowley stood up, went downstairs for a bottle of scotch, and spent the next hour screaming at trees. To his satisfaction, the small orchard in their back garden began setting out blooms before he even finished the bottle.

#

He picked up on the second ring, flat out sober on the couch, the third book of poetry in his hand. "'Lo, angel.

"I'm terribly sorry, my dear." Aziraphale sighed on the other end of the line. "I'd have rung hours ago, but--oh, it's dreadful! Utter madness! There are at least 2,000 books missing from the shop---"

"You packed them."

A pause. Aziraphale swallowed with a noise like he had an angry raven in his throat. "Don't poke fun. I only took a few---"

"There are currently nineteen antique tea crates full of books in your study, including the ones you put up there yourself."

"... Oh."

"Yup."

"So you're saying---"

"You embezzled your own stock."

"Crowley!" Aziraphale set to pacing, if the steady tap-tap-tap of his shoes meant anything. "Oh, drat!"

Crowley grinned, though it faded as he eyed the clearly private poetry books scattered around the parlour floor. "You want me to send them over."

A sigh, and Aziraphale said, "Yes." An old set of bedsprings creaked, and Crowley realized Aziraphale was in the tiny guest bedroom above the shop. "I suppose I'll be here until we confirm everything."

Crowley snapped his fingers. "All yours, angel."

"Thank you, dear." Aziraphale's breath hitched. "You only found books?"

"There was some sort of safe. I left it be."

Aziraphale sighed, though it came out nearly as a moan. "Oh, thank God. I mean, the contents are very delicate. Very rare. Sole copies, absolutely priceless."

"Should I send it---"

"No! No. Erm, no, my dear boy, it's all right. Only, erm, they'll, I, erm, I mean it, it should be fine."

"What you got in there?" Crowley eyed the book in his hands. "A sea mine?"

"None of your business, that's what!"

Crowley dropped the book on the floor. He had bollocksed up good and thorough. "Fuck," he said under his breath."

"What was that?"

"Nothing, angel. Just glad I didn't touch it, that's all."

"Yes, well, don't. The contents are safeguarded against miracles."

Crowley nodded, and let his eyes linger on the terrible strip of patterned wallpaper along the top edges of the walls. Cherubim. Came with the house. Crowley burnt horns and tails onto half of them with a thought, just to keep from screaming. It would give Aziraphale something to remember him by, once Crowley was living in his Bentley and trying to get his flat back.

He was a dead, dead demon.

"You sound tired, angel. Go get some rest."

"Crowley, I don't need any sleep. I'm fine."

"Cocoa, then. Doesn't that little kebab shop up the road have sweeties, too?"

"Hmm. That's a fair point. I do love Gamze's baklava."

"Eat up, then. You've got a long couple of days ahead."

"All right, dear. I wish you were here. I can't bear the thought of you home alone and bored."

Crowley smiled. "I'll find something."

"Very well. Good night, Crowley, my dear."

"G'night, angel. Eat a piece for me."

Aziraphale chuckled, and hung up. Crowley sighed, looked at his phone, and set it aside in order to read. He had been damned once already, after all. If it was going to happen again, he would make sure to earn it.

 

16 December, 1952

(Curse you, Allen. This is as Beat as anything you've written. I'll show you yet!)

Swan dive

What a way to make an angel thrive

What a way to make him feel alive

Nothing better than a swan dive

 

Crowley fetched a bottle of wine. For this one, he needed it.

 

Gone 'round

Leave an angel breathless with a sound

Scream his name and make him look around

 

Gulp. Gulp. Pour. Gulp.

 

'Til he knows his place is gone 'round

Foolish principality sitting by a tree

Exiled to Earth 'tween sky and sea

When he looks up what's he see

 

Oh, screaming Christ, no. Crowley drained his second glass and went for the bottle instead.

 

ARCHANGELS LAUGHING AT HIM 1 2 3

FOUR

GABRIEL SANDALPHON URIEL MICHAEL

Wicked little smiles like the bullies in a churchyard

You fail

Drop me here in Heaven's gaol

As if it's off to Hell I sail

You fail

Think now I'm here I'll never wail

Think that I'll aught ever fail

Down here

But you fail

You fail

YOU FAIL

YOU FAIL YOU FAIL I'M HAPPY HERE

HAPPY HERE HAPPY HERE

AZIRAPHALE

 

Crowley stared at the page for a long moment, and finally lifted the bottle to chug it dry. With a flick of his hand, he sent the bottle into the neighbor's recycling bin four doors down, and he scrubbed at his eyes with both hands.

"Bloody Heaven, angel, you trying to end me with this bollocks?"

Aziraphale, being elsewhere, gave no answer.

Crowley took a moment to check on his plants. The ones indoors, not the trees in the back. Five minutes and some threats later, some of them calling up holy water and Ligur's fate, Crowley returned to the volume that had horrified him so. He read slowly, impressed at the sheer variety of styles therein. What Aziraphale lacked in skill, he made up for in passion and variety, examples from the 1950s alone included:

A Japanese dodoitsu:

 

February 13, 1954

Take that rapture on your wife

and please run it out the door.

My envy knows no limits.

(My friend's oblivious.)

 

(Which rather made Crowley smile.)

 

And a very sweet French dizain:

 

14 June, 1955

If I were a cat who lived in the street

with my fur matted from years of neglect

you would take me in, give me aught to eat,

and bundle me by the fire. I suspect

for every wound I bore, you would inspect

my skin, salving me and calling me good.

I'd behave as a proper kitten should

and make my shelter in your gentle hands.

I would be loyal; you'd be understood,

'til I was old and lost the strength to stand.

 

Crowley considered writing that one down to keep. He could all too easily picture Aziraphale as a white cat, maybe a dilute brown tabby, abandoned by some heartless owner and crying in the street.

He had taken in a cat once, though decided not to do so again after it died. It was too hard. He couldn't bear to keep a creature so short-lived and eager to please. After Faust the former stray, he took up with his plants. They could live for ages if they deserved it, and it was easy enough to send one to the sewers via his sink. Cats needed love and tenderness and attention and affection, and he had poured so much of his affection for Aziraphale into Faust--especially after that damning little "you go too fast" incident. One couldn't be too fast with a cat, especially where food was concerned.

Crowley caught himself smiling, thinking about Faust and how much Aziraphale would have loved the furry little berk. He looked around the parlour and wondered how much kitty furniture they could fit. Aziraphale liked cats. He fed strays outside his shop, in the alleys nearby. Maybe Crowley ought to go and get them one---

No. No. He had a mess to clean up, and a bunch of poems to pretend he hadn't read. Maybe if Aziraphale forgave him, a few millennia or so from now, they could talk about a cat. Maybe. Assuming cats hadn't evolved opposable thumbs and overtaken the world by then.

With a pain in his chest at the thought of losing Aziraphale for any length of time, Crowley took up the book again.

#

Just after half one in the morning, Aziraphale rang again.

"Newt got hold of my computer," he said straight off.

Crowley winced. "Anything salvageable?"

"Anathema is taking it to a specialist come morning. I tried everything, including opening a line to the Metatron. Apparently, nearly all the computer specialists are in Hell. Something about the apple, I think. I could hardly follow."

"Sorry, angel. Need me to drive up there?"

A pause--Crowley could all but hear Aziraphale smile.

"We'll be all right, my dear. As much as I'd love you with me right now, there's enough going on at home. But do tell me, how are you faring there?"

"Well enough. Doing things."

"Interesting things?"

Crowley glanced at the third volume of poems, nearly read through and closed on his finger. He smiled. "Fairly, yeah."

"Good. Though if you run out of things, you could always pick up a book. There's some poetry on my shelves upstairs you might enjoy. It's rather gloomy stuff."

"Nah, I think I'll be good."

"All right, then, dear. Good night."

"G'night, angel." Crowley tensed. "Angel...."

"Hmm?"

"Erm." He looked at the book again, with its simple binding and unexpected content. "Be happy, angel."

"My dear, how could I not with you in the world?"

Crowley grinned. He kept grinning even after Aziraphale hung up, and he reread what he had just finished when the phone rang.

 

4 October, 1961

We've been here six thousand years.

Marriages all come and go.

Always I will love you so.

 

Death's clutches we needn't fear,

Discorporation or no.

We've been here six thousand years.

Marriages all come and go.

 

When I have shed all my tears,

You'll still make my smiles grow,

Knead my heart like rising dough.

We've been here six thousand years.

Marriages all come and go.

Always I will love you so.

 

It was the tears that got him. Aziraphale, as deeply as he cared about the world, never really cried, at least not where Crowley could see. He was the heart of a planet full of delights, and demonstrated it in a thousand little ways each day. The thought of him in tears made Crowley want to strangle whatever had hurt him. As for Crowley being the direct cause of his angel's misery... well. For the first time since 1967, he fully changed form and slithered under the sofa, facing the baseboard along the wall.

The thing about forbidden knowledge was that it hurt. All too often, it hurt everyone involved. Aziraphale had proved that quite true without even knowing.

Crowley stayed there until the first birds of morning chirped outside. He slithered out, got up, and went to make some coffee the colour of his soul. He held Aziraphale's winged cup, letting the coffee inside go cold and vile, as he watched the world awaken through the kitchen window.

Not even in Heaven had he been terribly demonstrative, save maybe to the stars he helped to create. He held back. Kept his heart closer than a hand of cards. Could only remember crying twice, and that was when Faust died, and later when Aziraphale sort of went with him. He had learned from Faust just how much it hurt to lose someone. He didn't want to do it again. He couldn't lose his angel. Even though he had just by opening the first volume of poems.

All he could do was read the rest and carry them with until Aziraphale forgave him, if he ever did.

Crowley dumped his coffee down the sink and went back to the parlour to read.

#

 

13 September, 1967 

"Ravished In the Bentley"

or

Auto Erotica

 

Oh, lay me down on finely grainéd seats,

While I look up to meet your lovely gaze.

Though space be scarce, you bend, so lips will meet

And leave me in a smoky-smelling haze.

My head is fuzzed and heated, and I gasp.

My clothing's off as quickly as you drive.

I long to feel your tongue's unbridled rasp

On all these parts that make you feel alive.

I know that I commit the sin of lust,

But I am not alone; your cheeks are red,

Your eyes are dark and deep, and your heat must

By definition strike all mortals dead.

Then ravish me, dear serpent, as you like;

I fear I cannot wait for you to strike.

 

Crowley remembered that night all too well. "You go too fast for me, Crowley," spoken with such heartbreaking tenderness. The tenderness of friendship; the tenderness of a bruise. Crowley, being Crowley, had kept his mouth shut, then gone home and given Faust--then an ancient thing, delicate as snow and ash--a long cuddle because they belonged to each other and no-one else, and had only each other at the end of the day. 

"Damn it, angel," he said under his breath. "Make up your fucking mind!"

Of course, what followed made him grip his hair and grind his teeth.

 

15 September, 1967

Hidden in the stacks,

I stand uncomfortably.

Why won't he just leave?

 

Like the idiot he was, Crowley had shown up at the bookshop after two days under the bed, hissing at himself. Aziraphale hardly looked at him. He spent the whole visit behind the stacks, and barely noticed the tin of high-end oolong Crowley brought as an apology gift. Crowley finally left it on a table and stayed away for six weeks. He sighed and turned the page.

 

19 September, 1967 

Your eyes alight on others, and I grieve

For deep affections that will never be.

But if I ever tell you, you will leave,

Disgusted at this damnéd jealousy.

 

"Bless it, angel! No, I won't!"

It took a moment for Crowley to realize he had shouted. His voice's echo finally rang into silence, save for his harsh breathing. With a whimper, Crowley pressed his face into his hands. His heart thrummed against his breastbone.

A long minute passed before he looked up. "Angel." He sighed and rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand, wishing he could throttle some sense into Aziraphale, and finally went back to reading.

 

I fear I cannot change the things I think,

The thoughts that come unbidden to my head

Of sunset eyes in which this angel sinks.

Oh, how I wish they'd fix on me instead.

 

"Are you bloody blind?" Crowley whispered at the page.

 

Therefore, I offer only as a friend

A listening ear, a place to lay your head.

I am no man, and will not, God forfend,

E'er push you for fair Cupid's love instead.

I'm not content to love you from afar;

Yet for your comfort, this is how things are.

 

Aziraphale was an idiot. A complete idiot. If he had only bloody said something---

Crowley jumped at the phone's ring. He fumbled for it and answered on the fourth ring.

"Hi, angel," he said.

A pause. "Are you all right, my dear?"

Crowley sighed. "Yeah. Was sleeping."

Aziraphale made a skeptical-sounding hrm, but said, "I should be home the day after tomorrow. We managed to recover all of my files, and--are you certain you're well, darling? You sound awfully froggy."

"I said I'm fine."

"Well. All right. Keep your secrets, you old serpent." There was an edge of a smile in his voice. "We've just come back from a lovely lunch. Newt has an old school chum who's just opened up the sweetest little tea room...."

Crowley listened, a painful, crooked smile stretching his mouth. He let Aziraphale go on about croissants, and vol-au-vents, and savory crêpes filled with mushrooms and herbs, and, "the most delightful passion fruit macarons." He even went on about the variety of teas served, a different one for each course.

"I do wish you had been there, dear."

"Yeah." Crowley's heart fluttered. "Me, too. Next time?"

"Next time." Aziraphale sighed. "Well, I really ought to get moving. I've still eight chests of books to sort---"

"I miss you, angel."

"My dear. Whatever brought this on?"

Crowley looked at the book open on his lap. "Nothing. It's just empty here. You know, since it's meant to be the both of us."

"Oh, my dear boy." Aziraphale sighed. "Perhaps we ought to adopt a cat."

Crowley laughed, though it came out more like a snort. "Sure, angel. Some stray moggy with a broken tail and chewed ears. Sounds right for me."

"Oh, no, my dear. You would have the sleekest, shiniest of black cats. Something elegant, with a disdainful look and the most loving disposition."

Crowley's breath caught. He coughed before Aziraphale could say anything. "I think I'd rather go to a shelter, to be honest. Only seems right that Heaven and Hell's rejected sons should have a rejected cat or two."

Aziraphale laughed, and Crowley closed his eyes to take in the sweetness of it. "We'll talk when I get home, shall we?"

"Maybe." Crowley stared at nothing, remembering how it had felt to dig Faust's tiny grave beneath an oak tree, in the midnight darkness of St. James's Park. How tiny and cold his body had been. The stiffness beneath his fur. "It's a lot of work, a cat."

"We'll talk about it later. Oh, Anathema needs me. Take care of yourself, my dear."

"You too, angel.

Only when Aziraphale hung up did Crowley lower his phone and slump.

He missed his angel. He missed his cat.

Worse, if he started thinking about them, knowing what would happen when Aziraphale learned what had happened with his poetry, he knew he would cry. Demons didn't cry. Crowley especially didn't cry (whether or not it was the truth).

Instead, he got up to make some tea. And, maybe, find a little whiskey to put in it.

#

 

13 March, 1976

Should I a lover to my bosom take,

May his lips seek mine and mine alone.

My heart grows full of love for him; it spake,

"Come close, my dear, our senses we shall hone

"Upon the strength of pillow and of skin,

"Of great, soft bed, of breath and bodies tight,

"And with my love, our bodies, we shall sin.

"I'll drink of you, your devilish delight."

Yet I but watch your serpent's form a grace.

I sing my lust into my lowly hand.

Each time I yearn to kiss and stroke your face

And draw you close to soothe your own demand.

Again within my fantasies I spill

And long for you to take me as you will.

 

Crowley's eyebrows rose as he read, and he swallowed against a pleasant tightness in his throat. By the end, he found himself rubbing his thigh, and hurried to stuff his hand in his pocket. It was bad enough that he was reading Aziraphale's wank fantasies. Getting the pages wet would only see him discorporated in addition to kicked out of the cottage and Aziraphale's life.

He hurried back to the books.

#

By the time he passed the second millennium, Crowley had decided that Aziraphale would never improve as a poet, at least not without some harsh criticism. Some of his pieces were fairly good, but others... well....

 

27 December, 2001 

There once was an auburn-haired fellow

With eyes of unsettling yellow.

Although I did pray,

As Americans say,

He turned all my insides to Jello.

 

There would never be anything good to say about limericks.

Still, with the help of tea, coffee, and a large bottle of whiskey, he pushed his way to the final two books. One was full, every page graced with Aziraphale's handwriting. The other, not quite.

 

24 February, 2006

It's said the eyes are windows to the soul

Whereby one takes the measure of their peers.

Though eyes give but impressions, not the whole,

If souls desire, gazes lock and sear.

In truth, I find that faces often lack

True insight into what a soul may be.

The eye may stare and lips give forth attack,

But other parts provide a better key.

I look upon his hands and note their shape:

Their thinness makes them graceful as they fly.

Whene'er he reaches up to stroke his nape,

They pause, and nascent tenderness belie.

I long to take his hand and give him mine,

So that our souls and hearts will both entwine.

 

Clearly, it was lacking something, but Crowley could not quite find it within himself to care as he caressed the pages and traced Aziraphale's words. If he had the sense God gave an archangel, he would have assumed there was another snake demon in Aziraphale's life. However, he didn't, and so he wondered if he ought to send Auto von Bismarck to the bottom of the ocean, simply so they would have to go places together if one needed a car.

Assuming Aziraphale forgave him before the world managed to end.

 

2 June, 2010

His chariot of choice has sprung a tyre again,

And from his heart, he tells me his complaint.

The plums that I have found are much too sweet for him.

He eats them while he voices his complaint.

The drink swims in his veins; his eyes are paining him.

He lies upon my couch and gives complaint.

His glasses break. It's thanks to Warlock's carelessness.

Damn him, he says, his voice hot with complaint.

His plant won't grow--his favourite's disappointed him.

He shakes it hard and snarls out a complaint.

A customer just trod upon his wiggling tail

while browsing, and he hisses his complaint.

He'll kiss me not, and never will I pester him

for love--mere friendship is my sole complaint.

 

Which would have been all the deeper, if not for the notes added beneath the final line: soul=sole, I am clever!, and a small, somewhat evil smiley face with uneven eyebrows.

"Oh, my someone, angel." Crowley groaned into the book. "You're not big, you're not clever, and nobody's impressed."

Which, admittedly, was something of a lie. Crowley was really rather impressed that Aziraphale had been so determined as to have written so many books of poetry. Different types of poetry, yes, but the vast majority were for Crowley. Even if he was never supposed to know they existed.

There had to be a way to get them back in the safe. He was a demon. He was sneaky. There had to be a way to get out of this unscathed.

Save maybe his heart, which would never be the same.

#

The dawn of his final day alone in the cottage rose and kept rising. He decided, after a sniff of his clothing, that he really ought to have a shower and some more coffee. The shower took longer than expected, thanks to Crowley's thoughts drifting back to some of the more salacious poems, and the coffee never happened, but he at least ended up clean and wearing fresh clothing. After all, when one's jeans clung as close as scales, they needed to go in the hamper after a few days of wearing them commando--effort or no.

He took up the final book, the one only partially filled, and hoped he could finish before Aziraphale returned.

 

20 July, 2018

Wherever he should go, all faces turn

his charm, his mien, his aura captivate

I watch him, and in solitude I yearn.

Behind dark glasses, fires hellish burn

but they are tempered by some part innate

wherever he should go, all faces turn.

He slithers and he sits; he has returned

to tell me all the reasons he's irate

I watch him, and in solitude I yearn.

To others, oft he's vexed, but seldom stern

a softness all his features permeates

wherever he may go, all faces turn.

For his demonic reasons, he will spurn

whate'er I offer, thinking it be hate

I watch him and in solitude I yearn.

If ever his affection I should earn,

I will not thank my Lady but my fate;

wherever he should go, all faces turn--

I watch him, and in solitude I yearn.

 

"Oh, angel." Crowley rested the book to his forehead. He could smell Aziraphale's cologne on the page, nearly feel his touch in the words. "You think too blessed much of me."

Still, he sat, the book held close, wishing Aziraphale would walk through the door and take its place. Love was in no way a demonic thing, but Crowley was in no way like other demons. Besides, he realized. If he had never Fallen, he and Aziraphale would never have had all of Creation to themselves. They never would have saved the world. They never would have fallen in---

His phone rang. He dropped the book and scrambled to answer it. "Roadkill Café, you kill 'em, we grill 'em."

On the other end, the phone hit the floor. Laughter, choked and wet, came through, and Crowley couldn't help joining in.

"You devil!" Aziraphale finally said. He gasped for breath. "Oh, you--you've been holding onto that!"

Crowley shook his head, still laughing. "I wasn't. I really wasn't. It just came out."

"Oh, goodness, I need to sit down! Oof!" Aziraphale laughed until he coughed and got himself under control. "I was calling to say, I'll be leaving for home after lunch. Say, four hours?"

"Four hours." Crowley grinned. "You know it's not a three-hour drive, right, angel?"

"You and your speeding! I want to arrive in one piece, thank you very much!"

Crowley shook his head. "Four hours it is."

He lay there for a moment after they hung up. Four hours. Four hours to finish reading, and make it look like he'd never been there. That was plenty of time.

He set back to his reading, hunched over the final book. The final pages of an affair he'd first had an inkling of only a couple of days before.

#

 

28 August, 2018

Dearest Demon,

I suppose my thoughts went too far,

all the way to the outside of my lips.

It was not a true mistake, given the circumstances.

How can one blame me for following behind,

watching you swagger and strut,

your bum a sweet peach,

and imagine kicking above licking.

(Or much of anything at all.)

I'm sure you could see my point if I said it aloud,

Which I shan't.

Yours,

Sincerely,

Much love,

Your Ridiculous Angel

who really is quite fond

of you

and those trousers you wear.

 

"For fuck's sake." Crowley chuckled, remembering the airfield the day the world was supposed to end. No wonder Aziraphale got his words mixed up, as thirsty as he seemed to be. Crowley wondered how much Aziraphale would like to his arse without any denim in the way. Then, he would be awfully suspicious if Crowley suddenly began going about trouser-less. There was always a kilt, he supposed. Or, in a perfect world, he could simply come to Aziraphale's room in his silk pyjamas, take his face, press their---

"Bloody Heaven." He shook his head. He had--he checked his watch--four hours and 47 minutes before Aziraphale caught him swooning over a trove of love poetry that wasn't supposed to exist. He hurried to read the rest, and only paused when he found the last one, written their last full day in London.

 

21 June, 2020 

You huddled near, above our earthly home.

Both high and low, above our Garden home.

The rain, it fell for weeks above the earth;

It washed away what was our earthly home.

We met at scenes of death and heavy drink,

And spoke of tasks beyond our crumbled home.

A serpent through the years within my sight,

We each succumbed to false beliefs of home.

You struggled with your insolence to God;

Within Her, you had lost and gained your home.

Adversity would shackle you in place,

And yet you struggled fiercely to find home.

Great fires fell upon the city dark;

Within my books, my heart found you, my home.

Sharp greenery you carry as your child,

You kept them taut within your dreary home.

The world broke and reformed at our hands,

And I declared in silence, "Thou art Home."

My heart, you came to me alone, afraid,

And yet you know not who my soul calls home.

Sweet serpent, lost angel, thee I lift.

Give me your hand, and I shall be your home.

 

Home. Crowley looked around at the cottage, its angel-and-demon-edged walls, the mishmash of their furniture, a terrified caladium sitting next to the telly. He pressed deeper into the sofa and wrapped his arms around himself, imagining they were Aziraphale's.

Goodness, as Aziraphale would say.

Crowley looked at the books lined up along the tartan sofa. He snapped his fingers, and the safe appeared next to them. He needed to work out something, or else he would be back to London.

Once more, he looked at the books. The collection of poetry unlike any he had heard of. A lifetime of poetry. The thought of hiding it from the world again left an ache all throughout him, as though his insides were far away and terribly lost.

Crowley was many things, but a coward?

Yes. Very much a coward. But Aziraphale wasn't. Not anymore, anyhow.

From a small table's drawer, he took a pen. It was black. Sleek. Stylish. In ink as red as blood, he wrote something on the next blank page, just next to Aziraphale's final poem.

And then he went into the yard to shout at the trees for a while.

#

Crowley heard Auto von Bismarck before anything else. Still, he sat watching telly until the front door opened and Aziraphale called, "Crowley, dear, I'm---"

"Hullo, angel. How was the drive?"

Aziraphale dragged a crate of twenty or so books through the door. "Absolutely dreadful! Have people got anything better to do on the motorway than honk their hor--oh!"

He stared at the books and the sealed safe. Crowley felt his shoulders rise, as though he could protect himself. He stared at the floor.

A long moment of silence stretched between them. Finally, Crowley slunk towards the stairs, glad he had never bothered to unpack his things---

"I can explain."

Crowley froze. He looked back at Aziraphale, just as frozen and terrified as Crowley. "What, angel?"

Aziraphale pressed his hands to his face. "Oh, dear. I had meant to tell you before we came here, but I couldn't. It's too... I know you don't see me as anything more than a friend...."

"You're not booting me out?"

Aziraphale went so tense his wings popped out. "Of course not! What are you talking about?"

"I lied about the safe. I tried to miracle it. I read everything."

"Yes, that's all well and good, but I'm...."

Crowley sighed. He felt like a ghost, thin and insubstantial, as he went to the sofa and swooped up the final book. The correct page opened via some sort of miracle placed on the book, and he stepped back as Aziraphale took the thing and read aloud:

"Roses are red, violets are blue--Now, really, Crowley, this sounds like a joke---"

"Just read it."

Aziraphale shot him a dark look. "You could have put a little effort into it." Still, he read. "Roses are red, violets are blue. You silly angel." The corner of his mouth quirked. "You love me, too?"

"You could have asked."

Aziraphale watched him. His smile grew until it would have blinded a mortal. "You wily serpent."

Crowley grinned. He didn't do it very often, but it was a special occasion. He squeezed Aziraphale's hand and kissed his knuckle.

"By the way, angel," he said.

"Yes, dearest?"

"From now on, you're putting your books away yourself."

For a moment, Aziraphale stood stunned.

Then he tipped his head back and laughed.

It was the loveliest sound Crowley had ever heard. Though, he thought as he drew his foolish principality in for a hug, Aziraphale reading his poetry aloud to him just might top it.