The realization comes, truth be told, quite unexpectedly.
One minute, Aziraphale is cataloguing some of his first editions, just to make sure that Adam did in fact bring them all back safe and sound, and the next one, he’s leaning against the bookshelf with one hand because he feels like the breath he doesn’t necessarily need (but is nonetheless used to taking) has just been knocked out of him in a very rude and also incredibly powerful gut-punch.
He does not need to hold back his feelings for Crowley anymore. He does not need to hide his feelings for Crowley anymore. They’re on their own side now.
It seems ridiculous to just come to terms with it now, but in Aziraphale’s defense, he spent centuries denying to himself he had any sort of unbecoming feelings for his supposedly hereditary enemy, and then he spent the last eighty years denying to himself that those feelings were, contrary to what he had originally believed, actually reciprocated. He thinks it’s only fair that it took him a few days to finally accept it as an unequivocal truth rather than a wishful thought.
(Besides, there was Armageddon to deal with, and then the aftermath of a failed Armageddon, and then the freedom that came with it. All in all, it’s been… an interesting week and a half. Rather, it’s been an interesting eleven years and a week and a half.)
He does not have to hold back. At long last, he can finally be blessedly honest and open about his love for Crowley, oh, how he loves him, and there is no need for him to hide it and pretend otherwise any longer!
Aziraphale turns from the bookshelf to look at Crowley, sprawled over his favorite couch while he plays some game on his phone, his other hand between his head and the armrest. He’s so beautiful, even in the dimness of the backroom of the bookshop (perhaps even more so here, where it’s only them in their own little world), and Aziraphale can’t stop staring at him; at his loose posture, at his lithe and marvelous frame, at his relaxed features, at his beautiful golden eyes, clear and bright without his sunglasses, and he feels, to his surprise, as though his human heart had skipped a beat.
He never thought he could be so utterly, stupidly, ineffably in love, and yet here he is.
Crowley must feel Aziraphale watching him, because he looks up at Aziraphale for a moment and smirks in acknowledgement before returning to his phone.
“Like what you see, angel?” he teases, and the thing is that, a month ago, Aziraphale would have believed that Crowley was tempting him, that he meant to fluster him with a question like that, poking at Aziraphale’s boundaries without crossing them.
But now Aziraphale realizes that there is no temptation in Crowley’s tone, only good-natured teasing at having caught the angel staring. And Aziraphale does like what he sees, like he’ll ever not like seeing Crowley in any way, shape, or form, like Crowley hasn’t been his favorite sight to look at since the first time he laid eyes on him on the wall of Eden.
He’s suddenly so overcome with love, so full of it, that he feels unable to contain it within his corporation. Why should he? What’s stopping him from simply letting his love spill out of him? Nothing, that’s what!
So he crosses the distance to the couch in a few strides just as Crowley feels the love radiating off him reach him, sitting up so quickly that his phone nearly slips from his fingers.
“Angel—” he starts to say, but Aziraphale is already sat beside him, his hands cupping Crowley’s face to pull him forward and kiss him, because he wants to and now he can, and Crowley…
Crowley freezes for a moment, completely still.
He’s frozen for such an agonizingly long moment that Aziraphale begins to panic, is about to start pulling back—but then Crowley whines and goes pliant in his hands and pulls him even closer by his nape, and Aziraphale sighs and caresses Crowley’s cheeks and strokes his hair and kisses him and kisses him and kisses him.
He kisses him for all the times he longed to and was never able to in the past.
“Oh, Crowley,” Aziraphale gasps when he breaks away, his mouth still brushing Crowley’s. He can’t bear to part from him all that much, so he doesn’t. “Oh, my dear,” he says, relishing the little shiver that courses through Crowley, the soft puff of his breath against his lips. There’s a slight thud as Crowley’s phone falls to the couch, his now free hand joining his other one and curling around the back of Aziraphale’s neck.
“Not that I’m complaining,” Crowley mutters, his voice low and breathless and a tad guttural and absolutely wrecked and all the more wonderful because of it, “but what… what brought this on?”
“I love you,” Aziraphale says, and he’s smiling, he’s grinning, he’s laughing, so overwhelmed with the love he feels for the demon in his arms and with the chance to finally say it without fear. “Darling, dearest, I love you.”
Crowley shudders against him and lunges forward to kiss him again, one hand moving to tug on Aziraphale’s curls, to tilt his head just so and groan his satisfaction into Aziraphale’s mouth.
“Angel,” he nearly sobs, never pulling away from Aziraphale completely, either, and isn’t that something. “I… Like I haven’t— like there’s ever been any blessed day where I— where I’ve not—”
Aziraphale peppers his face with kisses. He runs his thumbs across the skin of Crowley’s cheeks to soothe him and presses their mouths together until Crowley’s breathing slows back down.
“I know,” he says, because of course he does. How could he not know that Crowley loves him, how much Crowley loves him, after everything they have been through? “My dear, I know.”
“I love you,” Crowley says anyway, his lips so close to Aziraphale’s that he feels as though he were the one speaking, as though the words were coming out of him instead. “Aziraphale, angel, I love you.”
A small, distant, ever-present aching in Aziraphale’s chest loosens its grip on him. Crowley’s voice replaces it with a kind of familiar warmth that seeps through Aziraphale’s bones. It’s the kind of warmth you feel when you step inside after walking through a blizzard; the kind you feel when you take a long shower after a rough day; the kind you feel when you hug someone you love as tightly as you can.
It’s the kind of warmth you feel when you return to a place so dear to you after having been gone for a long time and think to yourself, This is what it feels like to come home.
“And I love you, Crowley,” Aziraphale repeats. Now that he’s said it out loud, put his feelings out in the world to be heard, it’s like he can’t stop, like his body is demanding him to say those three words for every single time they got stuck in his throat, for every single time they were on the tip of his tongue and Aziraphale bit them back.
So he does.
“Oh, I love you so much,” Aziraphale breathes into the space between their mouths, before he kisses Crowley again and said space disappears. He loops his arms around Crowley’s neck to pull him closer, closer, closer, as close as it is possible in their current forms. A single inch between them feels, all of a sudden, unbearable, and Aziraphale doesn’t even want to entertain the thought, not when Crowley’s arms snake from his back to his shoulders, trapping him in his embrace like he also wants no distance between them at all. It’s absolutely magnificent.
“Crowley, Crowley, I love you,” Aziraphale says, nearly every word punctuated with another kiss.
Crowley shivers against him again, but then Aziraphale hears him hiccup, hears the small sob that escapes from his lips, and he immediately pulls away.
“Crowley?” he asks, confused and pained at the tears welling in Crowley’s yellow eyes.
“Ngk,” Crowley mumbles, pushing his head into Aziraphale’s shoulder and tightening his hold on him. Aziraphale watches him—feels him—take a deep, shaky breath, exhaling it as deeply and shakily. He’s about to ask what’s wrong, what he did wrong, if Crowley wants him to leave him for a moment, but Crowley seems to know what he’s thinking, because his hands cling even more tightly to Aziraphale’s shoulders, keeping him in place.
“’m fine,” he mutters. “’m fine, just—Christ, angel, gimme a second…”
Aziraphale moves his hands to the small of Crowley’s back, barely resting there, and holds him.
It never occurred to him that letting his love pour out of him would be so overwhelming for Crowley. It’s unsurprising, really, given what Aziraphale is, but he still feels slightly foolish. Perhaps centuries, millennia of holding his feelings back made him rush in too quickly, too suddenly—
“I’m sorry,” he says. “My dear, I never meant to—”
“Don’t,” Crowley snarls, though it sounds considerably less venomous than it usually would thanks to his wobbly tone. “Aziraphale, don’t you dare. This—this is—”
He lifts himself from Aziraphale’s shoulder to cup his hands around the angel’s neck, his thumbs gently caressing his jaw. Despite his sniffling and snarling, he’s smiling, a soft, genuine smile that Aziraphale has only ever seen once or twice on him. His eyes, contrary to what the tears still welling on them might suggest, seem to be sparkling with joy.
“D’you know,” he says, his voice gentle. “D’you know how many times I’ve dreamt about thisss? How long I’ve wanted thisss?”
“Crowley—” Aziraphale begins, but Crowley doesn’t let him get far with it before kissing him with an urgency that answers both questions, an urgency that tells Aziraphale he needs not apologize, Crowley knows, he knows, he understands why it’s only now that they’ve gotten here, and that’s all he cares about. Aziraphale’s hands on Crowley’s back bring their bodies yet closer together.
“’sss everything I never thought I’d get to have.” Crowley pushes his forehead to Aziraphale’s, his breath ghosting over his mouth. “Jussst…” He shakes his head a little to himself, probably to get his hissing under control. Aziraphale wishes he wouldn’t. He finds it incredibly endearing. “Just gonna take me some time to get used to it.”
The aching in Aziraphale’s chest lets go of him completely. “As much as you need, love.”
Crowley groans and rolls his eyes, but his own smile remains.
“Angel,” he whines. He lets his head drop back down to Aziraphale’s shoulder, and the angel takes the chance to pet his hair with one of his hands, the other one still on Crowley’s spine as his fingers thread through the fiery, silky locks. “You can’t just ssssssay thingsss like that and expect me not to dissscorporate.”
“Au contraire, dearest,” Aziraphale replies, and he doesn’t miss the way Crowley’s entire body shivers at the endearment, nor the gasp Crowley attempts to silence. “I have waited such a long time to tell you how much I love you, and now that I don’t need to keep it to myself any longer, I fully expect you not to discorporate on me whenever I do.”
“Ngk.” Somehow, Crowley manages to wrap both legs around Aziraphale’s waist, the wily old serpent, all four of his limbs coiling around the angel like he wants to fuse their bodies into one single corporation, into one single entity completely made up of their unrestrained love for each other. Oh, that does sound rather lovely, to be entwined with Crowley in every possible way, doesn’t it?
Aziraphale squeezes Crowley more tightly and kisses his temple, letting his mouth linger on his skin.
I love you, he thinks. I love you, I love you, Crowley, my Crowley, I love you.
Crowley sighs and allows himself to melt against Aziraphale, though his grip does not lessen. Aziraphale finds himself trying, and rightfully failing, to hold back a smile.
Crowley starts spending more and more time at the bookshop, and being so close to him at nearly any given moment brings another realization for Aziraphale: touching Crowley, he discovers, quickly becomes quite addicting.
Brushing the back of their palms together, running a gentle thumb across Crowley’s jaw, softly scratching the nape of his neck with his nails… Aziraphale can’t seem to get enough of just touching Crowley in some way.
It truly is as though his body is making up for the lost time, for every single occasion in the last eighty years in which Aziraphale longed to reach out and touch him and yet forced himself to hold back.
Then again, a small part of him reminds him that he has wanted to touch Crowley for much longer than eighty years—it was only then that he was able to name the reason for his longing. Perhaps that is why now his body demands the contact so fiercely, why it refuses to go unheard. Aziraphale does not mind in the slightest, and, to his pleasure, neither does Crowley.
He finds that he really likes holding hands with him. He likes feeling the weight of Crowley’s hand on his, the way their palms fit together, the way hands in general are made to be held around someone else’s. What’s even more wonderful, though, is how perfectly his fingers click into the spaces between Crowley’s, how perfectly Crowley’s fingers click into the spaces between his own.
Besides, holding Crowley’s hand gives Aziraphale the excuse to pull it towards him and kiss his knuckles, because he also finds that he loves kissing Crowley’s knuckles. And because Crowley always sputters for a few seconds before simply huffing out an indignant scoff, but he never pulls his hand away, and sometimes Aziraphale catches him leaning his cheek on his other hand or turning his head to the other side to hide an adorable blush.
(Sometimes, Crowley will even kiss Aziraphale’s knuckles back, sometimes even trail kisses to his wrist, and Aziraphale will very nearly swoon where he stands. Or sits. Who knew hand and wrist kisses would make his knees shake! Crowley, apparently, the wily old serpent.)
(Perhaps, however, it is not so much the hand/wrist kiss as it is that it’s Crowley pressing these kisses onto his skin. It is that thought that makes Aziraphale’s knees shake. Oh, could he possibly be any more ridiculously in love?)
“Angel,” Crowley says, and Aziraphale blinks and pulls his thoughts back to the present, where they’ve been enjoying a quite pleasant, leisurely stroll down St. James’s Park. Crowley seems to have noticed that Aziraphale got a bit lost in his own head, because they’re standing still, with Crowley’s head questioningly cocked to the side and one of his eyebrows raised. “Everything okay?”
“Yes,” Aziraphale answers immediately. How could it not be? He loves and is in love with someone who happens to love and be in love with him in return, and there is nothing stopping him from shouting it at the top of his lungs or showing it any longer. Everything is wonderful. “Yes, of course, my dear.” He gives a little shake of his head, realizing that Crowley must have been in the middle of saying something. “Forgive me, I was just thinking.”
“A dangerous thing,” Crowley teases, the corner of his mouth curling into a smirk, and the only reason Aziraphale refrains from kissing him right then and there is because he believes, quite firmly, that he would not be able to stop once he started. Would it be too much to ask Crowley to stop time in order to kiss him for, say, an hour or so?
It might be. Or it might not. Aziraphale makes a mental note to himself.
“Penny for your thoughts?” Crowley asks, resuming their walk. Aziraphale immediately picks up the pace to remain by Crowley’s side.
“No penny needed, dearest,” he says and watches with a considerable amount of fondness as Crowley tilts his head away to hide the pinkness in his cheeks. “I was just thinking that, if I want to, and if you have no objections, of course, I can do this—”
Aziraphale takes a step closer to Crowley and reaches down to clasp his hand between both of his. Then he brings Crowley’s hand to his mouth and kisses the back of it, allowing himself exactly two seconds of lingering contact before regretfully pulling away, already missing the touch. He lets Crowley’s hand drop between them but keeps holding it with one of his own, their palms pressed together.
“—whenever I want,” Aziraphale finishes. “Isn’t that marvelous?”
How did he spend six thousand years without this? How was he ever able to contain all of his love for Crowley within his corporation?
Crowley has gone completely red, his mouth pressed into a thin line (oh, how Aziraphale wants to kiss it) and his eyes wide behind his sunglasses. Aziraphale can’t help thinking he sort of matches his lovely, beautiful hair, but he decides to keep that to himself. Crowley looks like he’s having enough trouble as it is, the poor thing.
“So.” Aziraphale is the one to pull them along this time, continuing their walk on this stunning, sunny afternoon, his fingers secured around Crowley’s hand. “What were you saying, my dear?”
Crowley takes a deep breath through his nose, the red of his face diminishing a bit.
“N-nice weather we’re having,” he mutters, sounding very much like a snake who accidentally swallowed his own tongue. Even though Aziraphale successfully bites back a startled giggle, he’s unable to do the same with the grin currently overtaking his mouth.
“Indeed,” he agrees, closing the small distance between them so their arms nearly brush together with every step they take.
After a moment, Crowley squeezes his hand and then shifts it just enough to let their fingers intertwine.
(The answer is yes, obviously. Aziraphale finds himself falling more and more in love with Crowley every single day, and, if he’s honest with himself, he would not have it any other way.)
Kisses, Aziraphale finds, are so unbelievably versatile. One can convey so much with them, with these wonderful little human inventions. They never cease to surprise Aziraphale, truly.
He stumbles upon this discovery in the first place because, after that first kiss and the ones that followed, he kisses Crowley any chance he can, any time where his mouth is in perfect distance from any part of Crowley’s body to kiss him: his hair, his forehead, his temple, his cheek, his hand, his (lovely, delightful) mouth. And sometimes Crowley doesn’t even need to be all that close, Aziraphale has no qualms about going up to him to kiss him, or about reaching out to him when he walks by and pulling him close.
Crowley’s ears go all pink and cute, and he sighs a little, this soft, tiny sound of contentment that makes Aziraphale beam with unabashed joy and kiss him again, just to hear that little sigh again, to see how his ears get even more pink. He has such adorable ears, his Crowley.
Oh, that never fails to send a pleased shiver down Aziraphale’s spine.
This is how he finds that a kiss, as an expression of love in all of its forms, can also be used to express several different things.
Thank you for the tea, my dear, it’s exactly how I like it, he kisses against Crowley’s wrist, squeezing his hand for good measure.
Oh, you spoil me so, you absolutely marvelous fiend, he kisses upon Crowley’s eyelids while Crowley holds a box of pastries from one of Aziraphale’s favorite bakeries in his hand.
It’s late, love, you should rest, he kisses to the back of Crowley’s head when he notices Crowley, sprawled on his favorite couch of the bookshop, almost falling asleep.
Have a safe trip, darling, he kisses to the corner of Crowley’s mouth whenever Crowley goes back to his flat to tend to his plants, and then he kisses I’m so glad you're back, dearest to the underside of Crowley’s jaw when Crowley returns, wrapping his arms around him and holding him close before reluctantly letting go—if it were up to Aziraphale, he would never let Crowley go.
Actually… does he have to let Crowley go?
“Crowley,” Aziraphale starts before he loses his courage, his arms still around Crowley. “My dear, what do you think about living together?”
Crowley seems to freeze for a moment, the tips of his ears still slightly pink.
“Angel,” he says after a moment (how Aziraphale loves to hear that word from his beloved demon’s lips), “are you asking me to move in with you?”
“Only if you’d like, dear,” Aziraphale hurries to answer. “I know my bed is not as comfortable as your own, and there’s barely any space in my flat—” Which, honestly, only exists because it came with the bookshop and Aziraphale thought it might be useful as a storage space when the shop ran out of it. “—so I was thinking that perhaps it’d be worth looking into getting our own place? We’ve been in London for so long, and it’s not that the city isn’t lovely, of course, but wouldn’t a change of scenery be nice?”
Crowley opens his mouth to say something, but Aziraphale has just heard every word he spoke and realized how inconsiderate he’s being.
“Unless,” he continues without giving Crowley the chance nor the time to reply, “you’d rather we move into your flat? You do so love to torment your poor plants, and you must miss the comfort of your own bed, and we are so very used to London, aren’t we? Oh, it was preposterous of me not to consider that you’d much prefer to stay in the home you already have, do forgive me, my dear, please, I never intended to—”
Crowley, thankfully, has the mind to stop his embarrassing rambling by grabbing his face and kissing him. Or maybe he finds Aziraphale’s embarrassing rambling kind of amusing? Adorable? Whatever the case may be, he’s kissing Aziraphale, and Aziraphale has no complaints either way. He lets himself melt into it, into the slick slide of their mouths together, into Crowley’s sharp inhale when Aziraphale teasingly bites his lower lip and then soothes the sting with his tongue. Crowley’s fingers clutch the back of his neck, gently tilting his head to deepen the kiss, and Aziraphale’s push themselves a little harder into the dip of Crowley’s spine so that there is no space between them.
“Aziraphale,” Crowley murmurs, his mouth brushing Aziraphale’s, his voice so tender and filled with love that if Aziraphale’s arms weren’t wrapped around him, his wobbling knees would’ve dropped him to the ground. “My home is wherever you are. You are my home, angel.”
“Oh.” Aziraphale almost cries, joyful tears burning behind his eyes. “Oh,” he repeats with a giddy, absolutely ridiculous grin. He can see that Crowley’s embarrassed by his confession, if the flushing of his cheeks and the nervous twitch of his mouth are any indication, but he does not pull his gaze away, letting Aziraphale bask in his beautiful golden eyes. He’s so brave, his Crowley, and Aziraphale loves him so much. “Oh, Crowley!”
“Don’t start,” Crowley groans, dropping his forehead to Aziraphale’s, probably knowing that Aziraphale is about to compliment him on how lovely and wonderful he is. Aziraphale mercifully obliges. “Tell me how long you’ve been thinking about getting our own place, hmm?”
For a very long while, and Aziraphale will gladly tell Crowley all about it while they sit together on the couch—about the little cottage he imagines them having, with just enough space for Aziraphale’s books and Crowley’s potted plants, or perhaps a garden big enough for Crowley to grow more plants to torment to his heart’s content, for them to take leisurely walks through and kiss beneath the shade of a tree, maybe with a front porch where they can sit and watch the sunset, with Crowley’s head on his shoulder or on his lap as Aziraphale cards his fingers through his hair and holds his hand—and Crowley will nod along and stare at him with naked adoration in his eyes, clearly only half-listening, and Aziraphale will kiss him again and tell him that he’s heard the South Downs are quite nice this time of year.
They move into their quaint little cottage near the coast of Eastbourne two weeks later, and to Aziraphale’s surprise, actually living together teaches him that kisses can express so many more things than he had already discovered.
Good morning, dear, he kisses against Crowley’s brow when Crowley stirs, awake but not wanting to get up just yet, his eyes closed as he furrows deeper into the covers.
Time to wake up, love, he kisses into the curve of Crowley’s cheekbone when he needs to leave their bed for whatever ridiculous reason. (Sometimes Crowley blindly throws an arm and somehow still manages to catch it around Aziraphale’s waist, leaving him no choice but to stay. How could he even think about leaving Crowley when he looks so peaceful and at ease? Aziraphale might be strong, but he’s not that strong.)
Don’t worry, I’ll take care of breakfast, he kisses to the side of Crowley’s nose after convincing himself that he should at least get him some coffee and some cocoa for himself, along with two of those scrumptious butter scones from the tiny bakery Crowley found a few blocks away just a couple of days ago.
You are a gift to this world, he kisses against Crowley’s forehead once he’s finished working in the garden for the day, wiping away the smudges of dirt on his skin.
You are the single most wondrous, perfect creature in all of Creation, he kisses to the back of Crowley’s neck, his arms tight around him, his hands pressed to Crowley’s chest so he can feel the thrumming and thumping of his heart beneath them.
I will continue to love and praise and worship you long after the universe ceases to exist, he kisses against Crowley’s temple, to the snake mark on his skin.
Oh, my dear, I love you, how I love you, he kisses into Crowley’s mouth, again and again, as they lie next to each other, every single inch of their bodies pressed together. I love you so much more than I ever thought I could love anyone, anything. I love you so deeply, fiercely, unfathomably, ineffably so.
“My love, I adore you,” he still says out loud to let everyone hear it, to let the humans on Earth and the angels in Heaven and the demons in Hell and God Herself hear him proclaim his truth to the universe and declare it as his reality. “My darling, my dearest heart, I love you.”
And Crowley sighs that little, soft, beautiful sound that drives Aziraphale crazy, and his adorable, cute ears go all pink, and he kisses Aziraphale harder, and Aziraphale feels his love in the pressure of Crowley’s lips, in the hitch of his breath, in the hand that tightens around his nape, in the fingers that curl on his hip, in the words that Crowley mumbles back against his mouth, in the way Crowley kisses him and kisses him and kisses him, like he’ll never tire of it. That’s good to know, because Aziraphale knows he’ll never tire of kissing Crowley, either.
Six thousand years is a really long time to make up for, but that’s all right. They’ve got the rest of their lives ahead of them now.