Chapter 1: Hybrid
Professor Fell returned to Oxford after very intense 40 years. Of his 50 years of life the first ten were peaceful only because he couldn't really do what he wanted which was music in all aspects and forms. At home he could listen, play piano, enrage his siblings with his incessant practicing and get admiring gazes from his parents. After his eleventh birthday his father finally gave up trying to interest his youngest son in anything other than music and just went wild. All of a sudden Ezra had three tutors, days worth of studying music, playing music and finally composing music. School hid itself somewhere in his schedule and once a week, usually on Sundays, when Shabbat was over but the weekend was still very much going, Ezra was sat with Gabriel and Michael, who learned to accept their weird, soft brother, and practically did his homework for him.
Gabriel and Michael were dashing, strict and decidedly dark-haired and brown-eyed, their brother was a soft-spoken, overall soft blond with blue eyes and quiet voice. Gabriel and Michael were twins, always did what they perceived they had to do, and had never been dissuaded by their many failures to understand what had to be done. They were the letter of any law, while Ezra was the spirit. They grew up to become silks and were famous for their knowledge. Nobody actually liked them, but they were respected and sometimes feared. Ezra was universally loved.
By sixteen he was in Oxford, by eighteen he moved to Paris to study composition, and then unexpectedly decided to stay in Paris. To his parents and siblings he said it was about the crepes. Gabriel thought Ezra was getting fat, Michael went to visit her brother, returned full of pride and immediately smacked Gabriel on the head, to the utter delight of their parents.
Ezra founded his first orchestra and abandoned his own music for twenty years. He reasoned he couldn't be as good as Vivaldi or Bach (all of them), so he dedicated all his time to performing the baroque music on period instruments. His orchestra worshipped him, and he apologized each time he had to correct someone. When he received standing ovations he would always look behind to find who was causing all that happiness and elation. He usually dressed in shades of beige and white, with spots of blue and a tartan detail finding its way to all of his outfits. Tartan scarves and bow ties quickly became the answer to the question "what should we give Ezra for his birthday this year".
Vivaldi, all of the Bachs, Telemann, Couperin, Lully et cetera received most of Ezra's attention, but sometimes he just couldn't help it, he sat down and wrote his own music. He didn't want to ever hear it anywhere but in his head, he didn't consider himself capable of a worthy contribution to the world of music, and actually the whole world was music, an endless symphony, which people would often interrupt with some new atrocity. Looking through the papers, Ezra would grimly walk to any park, usually Jardin des plantes and watch things (plants, children, students, ducks) grow and flourish.
By forty he was famous, respected and utterly oblivious about it. When he was invited to teach in Oxford, he thought it had been a mistake. Invited for the second time, he was offended that anyone might have considered he'd be able to leave his orchestra. Invited for the third time, he began to ponder. He was 48, last two years had been exhausting and he was sick for months. It took him another two years to accept his failing health, a need for a period of calm work and besides, teaching composition implied he could be… composing more. He did feel like a traitor, but not for long. His orchestra was of course upset, but no one could stay upset about something concerning Ezra. They parted their ways lovingly and actually the musicians were confident that he'd return to them. Ezra was too embarrassed to even think of something like that.
So here he was, back in Oxford, a professor, sitting in a dark small pub called Crow and Snake. The bartender noticed him while serving someone else, and someone else was trying to flirt with the bartender, which Ezra couldn't really blame them for. Or maybe he could. He was considering whether he had done the right thing, again, and he had a drink to choose, and…
"Well, that went down like a lead balloon," said the bartender, now standing in front of Ezra.
"I'm sorry, what?"
"I said that went down like a lead balloon," the bartender nodded towards a young man who was visibly upset.
"You are a slut, Crowley," the man said.
"Yes, you've mentioned it, twice," answered Crowley with a shrug. "See?" And he smiled at Ezra.
However dark the place was, Ezra could see that the man uncannily resembled both a crow and a snake. He was lean, his limbs though graceful and deft seemed to enjoy a life of their own, his flaming red short hair pointed in every possible direction and he had sunglasses on his beak of a nose and wore black. In short, someone had been trying to turn him into either a crow or a snake and gave it up midway to go and grab a beer.
"So, what would you like to drink?"
"Ehm… I don't know… you see, I spent many years in France and… sorry, I'm… just really need someone to talk to, so, anything I can talk to."
"Scotch," concluded Crowley and returned a minute later with a tumbler and a bottle.
"Glen Deveron, my personal favourite, on the house."
"Slut, Crowley," complained the man.
"Alright, sweetling, will you kindly fuck off on your own or should Beelz take care of you?"
A short, black-haired person appeared at Crowley's side as if summoned.
The man went so pale he could illuminate the pub and scurried away.
"Thanks, Beelz, you are a treasure," said Crowley.
"Don't mention it," they answered but sounded quite menacing.
"Wanna take a break?"
"Yeah," they went away.
"What… what upset him so much?" asked Ezra taking a sip of his drink.
"We went out once, he doesn't like Oscar Wilde and called baroque music boring. I considered either taking him to a concert or beating him to a pulp. I opted for never going out with him again. I don't like dilemmas."
"What can he do at Oxford if he doesn't like Wilde?" Ezra was scandalised.
"You see, that's my point! Cheers," Crowley raised his tumbler. "How do you like it?"
"Strong… I'm not sure."
"Oh, let it flow. It's like… like that aria from "Peter Grimes", the one the porter sings, that kinda goes up and down, I don't actually know the terms."
Ezra gaped. Then gaped some more.
"Sorry… you strike me as someone who might like Britten."
"Good. If you know the terms, don't share them with me, please. What's your name?"
"Oh… the… the… composer?"
"No, no, no, I remember you. You had your premiere here some thirty two years ago, didn't you? Yes, it was you. I came with my mom, she would always drag me to students' concerts. I was… I was twelve, I think."
"And you remember my music?"
"Of course I bloody remember your music, it was wonderful. What was it called… don't remind me… oh stupid me, it was called "Eden". Yes."
"Pompous of me."
"A bit. You were ridiculously young though."
"What… what did you study?"
"The name is Crowley, by the way," the bartender laughed. "I studied botany, got my degree and decided to just keep working here. I began during my second year I guess. The owner left me the place when she died, so I couldn't leave even if I wanted to. Seems unfair."
"Nice meeting you, gotta pretend I'm working. See you around."
He sauntered away and began another chat with another patron.
Chapter 2: Und ist so wunderlich als wie am ersten Tag
Chapter title is from Goethe's Faust, the words are spoken by Mephisto. He says that humans are "as whimsical/playful/wondrous as on the first day".
"So, how is it, Ezra? I can't say the place has changed much, but we never really do, of course, and now that you can enjoy life's guilty pleasures, I must recommend you to frequent Crow and Snake. It's been here forever, miraculously always found an owner who'd keep it afloat and just as precious. The current owner is a very intelligent young man, and a picture to look at…"
Dr Uriel kept chatting and paid no attention to anything but her voice, just how Ezra remembered her. She hated his guts, prophesied him many a terrible future and now was more bitter than absinthe. When Ezra dreamed of music and couldn't bear the thought of being compared to Britten, because people who made such a comparison must have been too kind or voluntarily deaf, Dr Uriel was quite sure that she was Nadia Boulanger. She ended up doing exclusively research, and no one in their right mind would let a student near her, but she managed to publish a few half-decent books. It was much easier for everyone involved to just let her have her way and therefore avoid greater damage.
"I've been there," answered Ezra. "A very nice place indeed."
"And the owner is delicious," Dr Uriel made a playful face that looked just as playful as Death's attempts at kind-hearted humour.
Dr Device, Ezra's new colleague with an inhuman ability to sense trouble snatched him out of Dr Uriel's grasp and led him down the hall.
"You're one of her victims, aren't you? She was still allowed to teach when you were here, if I'm not mistaken."
"Yes. Unfortunately… she scares me."
"Scares everyone. But Crow and Snake is a magical place," said Dr Device seriously. "Nobody has ever left it with less to think, which kills the purpose of a pub, but Crowley is too smart for his own good and far too curious for everybody's good. Shall we head there? You look to be in dire need of a drink."
What Ezra was in dire need of was some quiet time. His students instantly loved him, his new colleagues wanted to be of help, and he was ashamed to want to go back to his flat, where most of his possessions still remained in their boxes, and a grand piano and a harpsichord looked abandoned and betrayed by being used as anything but musical instruments. Mostly as writing tables, but Ezra was prone to forget a cup of cocoa (on a coaster of course) here and there.
Crowley noticed Ezra before Ezra could notice a thing and a glass of wine appeared in front of him.
"Châteauneuf du Pape, 2016, seems decent. And the name was Hobson, he was a carrier," Crowley smiled. Dr Device didn't seem surprised.
"Usual, Anathema?" Crowley turned to her.
"Yes, sure. Professor Fell needs some help, I doubt wine can be of help."
"You offend me," said Crowley cooly and Anathema seemed far less confident all of a sudden. She ended up sitting with a group of her friends, enjoying the food. Ezra refused her invitation and dove into the second glass of wine.
"Everything sucks at first, I think." Crowley returned to Ezra and leaned on the bar.
"I hardly know what I'm doing here, to be honest."
"Yes, that's why everything sucks at first. Even love."
"But you must have read. All those telltale symptoms of love might as well be those of a nasty cold, you are just happier about it than about a cold. I'm trying and failing to be funny. Sorry."
He left and only came back once to refill his glass, without a single attempt at a conversation. He moved lightly, he was pleasant with everyone, although it occurred to Ezra that Crowley wasn't trying to impress anyone, even those rare patrons who were new. He could talk about anything, but never showed off. Ezra didn't get that impression from their two small conversations.
It was getting late, and in the end, everyone seemed to have left. Ezra remained in his place, writing something on napkins of which there had already formed a significant pile.
Ezra looked up and saw Crowley and a plate of sandwiches, cream cheese and smoked salmon.
"You've finished a bottle, alone, and you don't look like someone who avoids food, so let's take care of this case of acute ennui and stuff you with something delicious. Open up!"
Crowley fed him half a sandwich before he could conclude that Eli would continue on his own.
"That was very kind of you."
"Shut up." Crowley swallowed his smile, but it was stubborn and was crawling back on his thin lips.
Ezra absent-mindedly looked around, saw that the place was empty, his gaze skipped the menu on the blackboard and couldn't find cream cheese and smoked salmon sandwiches there.
"Is it something for tomorrow?" he asked.
"What?" Crowley was reading and eating a sandwich, a few inches down from Ezra.
"Sandwiches. They are not on the menu."
"Do you have to be so observant?" Crowley blushed and turned a page furiously.
"Did… did you cook it for me?"
"Oi, get off your high horse, it's my dinner, I smoked that salmon, and I just wanted to see if it's poisonous, Hastur told me that it might be, but he's just afraid of competition… I hope."
Another furiously turned page.
Another page, but softer.
"I met someone today who I have to admit I hoped would be dead and forgotten. She scared me."
"Dr Uriel? Yes, she does that. She's much better after two shots of vodka. Not that lost, isn't she, if nobody knows that?"
Ezra heard himself laugh.
"Tell me when you are done, I'll walk you home."
"Oh, you don't have to…"
Crowley looked up, his face open and sharp. No sunglasses. Two furious eyes, the colour of the setting sun in the Mediterranean, with differently sized pupils bore into Ezra's face.
"I really want to," said Crowley finally. "If you don't mind."
"No, no, I don't mind at all. Thank you…"
Ezra resumed his late dinner, and Crowley resumed his dinner and reading.
"What… what are you reading?"
"Brendel. He is killing me."
"He does that, yes."
"I feel like a fool. But being a fool I don't know when to quit."
"How about now, my dear?"
"I am, quite. I'd very much like it if you could bring me the check."
"And I wouldn't like it at all. I closed everything. But thanks for rescuing me from Brendel."
"What do you usually read?" asked Ezra after several steps.
"Usually I read Goethe. Then I read anything that mentions Goethe, that's how I got to Steiner and evolutionary biology and chaos theory, among others."
"My dear, what are you doing in that pub?"
"Enjoying myself, professor, hopefully just as you are."
They spent the rest of their walk in silence, although it wasn't a long enough walk for the silence to become uncomfortable.
"Here I am," said Ezra.
"Indeed," Crowley smiled. "You smoke?"
"Don't mind, if I do. I'd invite you in, but it's… chaos theory."
"Chaos theory is very neat. Chaotic systems can even synchronize… this is my very smug way of inviting myself in. Is it working?" Crowley handed him a cigarette and began rolling one for himself.
"It is. But not now."
"I'm sorry." Crowley lit his cigarette.
"You don't have anything to apologise for."
"Then… see you around."
"Wait, Crowley, let's smoke together."
"You don't have to…"
"Of course I don't. But I'd love it if you stay for a few more minutes."
Crowley disappeared behind a cloud of smoke for a few seconds and then stood sharply and solidly in the street light, beautiful as the first day of Creation.
Chapter 3: Invention of love
"You are welcome and never call me that."
"Anthony?" asked Ezra from his usual place.
"You don't like it?" Crowley obviously wasn't sure himself.
"No, I didn't say that. I don't think I need to get used to it, since you don't like being called that."
"Well, I'm touched."
"Well, I'd never dare to touch you without permission." Ezra shouldn't have ordered another whiskey, it made him unnecessarily bold. Crowley raised his eyebrows and appeared very interested indeed.
"Which music do you associate with love?" Asked Ezra looking out of the window. Autumn had stopped being glorious about a week ago and now everything was just melancholic.
Lectures, Ezra had to admit, could sometimes turn out quite well, he enjoyed them, they reminded him of conducting. Workshops, on the other hand, were trickier. He liked listening to his students, listening to their ideas and music, but engaging in conversations had never been his particular forte.
"Name me a piece of music that you associate with love," he specified.
"Max Richter, November," came one answer.
"Schubert, trio in E flat," came another.
"Laïla Djân, traditional, Afghanistan," came the third.
"Monteverdi, anything really," came the fourth.
"What about you, professor?"
"It's rather impolite to answer a question with a question," Ezra smiled. "Yet I'd say it's Bach's concerto for 2 harpsichords, violin and oboe. I don't remember the number in BMV."
"But it's not about love, per se, is it?"
"It isn't. But to me it sounds like love. This is how I imagined love or rather, to this music I first began to think about love. Goethe considered music absolute, it transpires meanings, and if Goethe could think so about music, why can't we? Whatever Bach meant when he wrote that concerto, I give it my own meaning, and each of you might give it another. Nevertheless, let's try and think about what you'd want to… put into a composition which you'd consider a representation of love? Or you'd rather write out of your ineffable emotions and accept that it can never be taken only as an expression of love?"
"Words certainly help."
"They do, but how many of you do understand what is said in Monteverdi's madrigals? Take Goethe. How many versions of Gretchen's song may we find? There's Schubert, there's Zelter, and there surely are other versions as well. In a way, words are absolute too. What one intends as a mockery, another might find sincere. Come on, we'll restrict ourselves only to the instrument, because we do have a piano here. Let's improvise and see."
"How is your chaos theory going?" Crowley put two tumblers in front of them and poured them both generous portions. "Cheers. To the most cheerless weather this side of the equator."
"Why did you stop sitting there, at the bar?"
"I didn't stop. It's the first time."
"Dare I ask you not to make a habit of it? Your angelic image makes me look less like a demon and I feel better about encouraging alcoholism."
Crowley left his tumbler on Ezra's table and went back to the bar. Ezra sighed, took both tumblers and sat on his usual chair.
"What music do you associate with love?"
"Ehm… let me think."
He returned after a few minutes, Beelzebub took his place at the bar, so Crowley could have some time for Ezra only.
"I think that Bach's concerto for 2 harpsichords, violin and oboe, especially the third movement. What about you, angel?" Crowley drawled the word "angel" with sarcasm.
"You can't be serious. You're mocking me."
"Why would I? You asked me, I answered, and… have I offended you?"
"I asked my students today that very question."
"Don't play idiot, Crowley."
"I honestly don't understand what's happening."
"They asked me back, I gave them the answer you've just given me."
"Well, God plays dice, according to several authorities."
"And according to several, God doesn't, therefore there are no coincidences. This is cruel. Good evening." Ezra dropped the money on the counter and abruptly left. He felt old, he felt ridiculous, and of course he should have known better than to chat with everyone's favourite bartender every blessed day. He should have known there would be talks and laughs, just as there were twenty two years ago.
He spent the rest of the evening clearing his apartment and taking the gentlest care of his instruments and reading Schoenberg.
Ezra would always get up early. There was a sweet promise of a good day in the morning darkness. Here in Oxford he enjoyed going for a long walk as early as he could, the town silent and full of stories and histories. In the mornings he could still idealise Oxford like he used to when he was eighteen.
He locked the door, turned around and saw Crowley leaning on a lamppost, too pale even for a ginger.
"Could you listen to me for a minute? Please?"
"I really don't know what you can say, actually."
"For a start, that you are a paranoid, gorgeous idiot! Look, I know my jeans are too tight and yes, I don't strike as a very trustworthy person, and when we met I was called a slut right in front of you. I talked to Anathema and I put Beelzebub in front of the computer for two hours to watch through all the surveillance, because I too have surveillance cameras, huh! So, none of your students talked to me tomorrow. And I didn't need to torture Beelzebub to know it, because each of your students bends my ear with endless praises of you. I'd have remembered. But you don't seem to believe me, so I don't know what else I can say. I wouldn't play with you, I wouldn't mock you. I actually don't mock that much. You are wonderful, beautiful, talented beyond fucking measure and overall awesome. Now, when I was seventeen, I read that novella by Zweig, "Confusion", and I cried for hours, and then I went to my mom and came out, and she told me she had known and hugged me. She put the music on, and it was that damned concerto, which will always mean any love to me, maternal, divine, sensual, sexual, romantic, you name it. Now, please, stop being an idiot and have a great day!" Crowley turned on his heels and walked away, like a crow with a snake's tail and a pair of human legs.
For a week Ezra avoided Crow and Snake. Then he went there and found Beelzebub at the bar. The next day he gingerly asked about Crowley.
"Oh, he's sulking," they said and shrugged. "Or as he calls it "I like doing my own accounting". Are you the paranoid android with self-esteem issues the size of… damn big self-esteem issues who I had to watch the full fucking documentary of a business day for?"
"I think I am."
"Congratulations. I was told to serve you Glen Deveron on the house for a month. Also, he is sulking upstairs in his flat."
"Does he do that often?"
"Not really. Actually he has never done it. Satan, I really don't know what he sees in you."
"You're very kind."
"I am very kind. I'm also damn busy." They smiled and rolled their eyes, both amused and frustrated. "Here, drown your sorrows."
Ezra had to pull a few strings, and for once it felt good and even a bit wicked. He still couldn't find Crowley at work, so Beelzebub rolled their eyes again, but without smiling and showed him the way to Crowley's apartment. Crowley opened the door so harshly, it must have taken a real miracle for it not to fall off.
"What?" He roared and stopped, short for breath.
"Hello. I… I've come with a peace offering."
"No need to. I'm really busy."
"I know, and I'm sorry to disturb. I gave you a minute, could you give me one too?"
"Could give you two. Come in."
"No need to. Not now. Here, take it, have a look." Ezra handed Crowley an envelope. "Tell me what you think."
Crowley opened the envelope and pulled out two tickets.
"It's Martha Argerich, she's playing in Oviedo with Kremer, I mean with his orchestra. It's in a week, and I… I'd love it if I could come with you, but it's a peace offering and absolutely no… strings attached."
"Of course I want to go with you. It's… I'm… thank you, Ezra. Want to… order plane tickets now?"
"Oh, I'd love to. Did you eat? Because by the looks of it you survived on coffee and cigarettes."
"Hastur force fed me. At least they were salads… I hate salads."
"I bet they hate you too, my dear."
"I try not to engage in conversations with my food. It's too cat-like… Thank you, angel. It… I'm… soft."
"And angular. A walking, talking paradox. Wilde would have been so proud."
Chapter 4: Chopin, Ravel, Bach
"Oh, thank you. But… where's my date's drink?"
"We only serve patrons when they are comfortable enough and certainly present for their drink." Beelzebub gave the young man a toothy grin.
"But… what… I'd never!"
"You're not the only human in the world, are you? And the fact that your thoughts went in that direction worries me to no end."
Beelzebub left the table and went to Crowley.
"So, traitor. Packed everything?"
"It's not a nice word," answered Crowley zipping his neatly packed backpack.
"Others are not better. Loser, softie, idiot…"
"You've made your point. Hey?" Beelzebub pulled Crowley's face down forcing him to look at them.
"You are going to have a good time, listen to some morbidly boring music and spend about ten hours in the company of your paranoid android."
"Don't call him that."
"Sorry. Have a nice trip. Hastur and I have it all under control, and Ligur is the best waiter we've had in years."
"I've no doubt you have it all under control. I don't."
"Well, as I said, Crowley, loser, softie… whatever. I'll see you tomorrow. Crowley?"
"You know it's the funniest part, not having it all under control, right? That's why it sucks to be as intelligent as you are - you begin to think you know enough to control things."
"Why, thank you for the compliment and I'm in awe of your ability to insult me by complimenting me."
"That's me, Crowley. Your guardian demon."
"Did you eat?" Asked Crowley on the train, opening his backpack and looking at Ezra expectantly. Or so Ezra thought, Crowley's eyes were covered.
"No, I didn't. You told me I looked like someone who likes food, and my brother told me several times…"
"Ezra, you look like someone who likes food, and I'm apparently an absolute disaster, if you took it as fat-shaming. First, you are not fat, I think I mentioned that you are beautiful. Second, and no offense, but your brother sounds like a stupid wanker."
"Oh, how much I wanted to call him that!"
"Well, you are very welcome. Here." He handed Ezra a linen bag that smelled delicious and had small crows painted on it. "Don't worry, Hastur made it, must be more than edible."
"Thank you… it's… gravlax… in dill sauce?"
"Yes. You don't like it?"
"It's scrumptious. My favourite, actually. Mom always makes gravlax for Pesach back home."
"Don't mention it to Hastur. He'll find your mom and will try to get the recipe."
"I'm so scared."
"You should be. He can be very scary."
Ezra was eating and judging by his delighted face and obscene moans, enjoying it .
"Now I know my smoked salmon could hold no candle to Hastur's gravlax. You didn't moan even once eating my sandwich."
"Am I moaning?" Ezra blushed.
"Oh, keep going…" Crowley took a bite of his sandwich and didn't feel any taste whatsoever. "I have some tea too… want some?" Crowley fished a slick thermos out of his bag.
"Do you have a bed there as well, Ms Poppins?"
"You offend me, Ezra. But I might have something of the sort… one can never know what a trip might turn into…"
"I take it you don't like traveling, my dear?"
"I love it when you call me that." Crowley answered without a thought, and he didn't actually think he had to consider his answer.
"I should do it more often then. I'm afraid, I call a lot of people "my dear", regardless of how dear they are. Awful habit, if you think about it."
Crowley laughed. What is it about you, he thought, that seems to draw me? What is it that you possess? The soft and witty face? Blue eyes? The air of… of something that would have drawn me to you even if I were a tree. Are you a star? Are you light? Are you a cloud of hydrogen, an angel, a speck of the original dust? Are you made of the first music, of the Almighty's tender humming the universe into existence, lulling it so that it would wake up with a bang and rejoice in its particles? What are you that I can't take my eyes off of you and don't even consider it necessary to hide it? What is it?
"Must be hydrogen…" said Crowley looking at Ezra as he accepted a cup of tea from Crowley's long fingers.
"Beg your pardon?"
"I mean, hydrogen is the most common element in the universe. And you have hydrogen too. I'm so fucking eloquent!"
"Is it… is it like… I tend to see everything as music. I never say as much, it's too trivial and stupid, but everything is music, even noise and suchlike. Yes, music might be hydrogen too. Or hydrogen is music. Its structure is simple, as are the dots on paper that make music possible…"
"Ezra, and we are not even remotely drunk. You are a cloud of hydrogen, I think."
"I think, angels are made of hydrogen, you know?" Ezra took a sip of his tea. "This is very good. Thank you, my dear. I don't think I've ever had a train ride as pleasant as this one."
"So, you are an angel, Ezra, aren't you?"
"That explains my paranoia and pettiness. Doesn't explain my fondness for food."
"You are a good angel, you cherish the elements the Almighty brought into existence in each and every combination, unless it leads to destruction."
"It does sound a lot like music… when I saw you, I thought you preferred jazz."
"My mom likes jazz," Crowley smiled. "I remember being three and being confident that Ella Fitzgerald was my grandmother."
"This is sweet, my dear. What does your mother do?"
"She is a professor of applied mathematics at Cambridge."
"So… does she consider you a black sheep?"
"No, she doesn't. She loves me and just wants me healthy and busy."
"But not happy, my dear?"
"Happiness is a combination of elements, individual for everyone, while health and occupation are the means for the search."
"You are so philosophical, Crowley."
"I think Hastur poured something into my tea. Fucking bastard."
"I like airports," said Ezra at the airport. "I like everything that holds a promise. Mornings, evenings, unopened wine bottles, the sound of instruments before the concert begins. Airports, train stations, bus stops…"
"I like you, and it's embarrassing how much," replied Crowley and pulled a book out of his magical backpack.
"What are you reading?"
"Goethe's letters. There are a shitload of those, you know, yet the one that broke my heart was I don't remember to whom but it closed with "it was only to say "good night". I find it so endearing that he said "good night" too, and it must have taken more than a night for the letter to reach its recipient."
Oviedo was cold and windy. Crowley perched his nose on the collar of his parka and looked like a very annoyed crow at the sight of a pigeon stealing a particularly greasy chip. The cold and the wind pushed them closer together, and the closeness resided in their postures all through the evening.
Chopin, Ravel and Bach were of course glorious, especially Bach, if you asked Crowley and Ezra, but the music between their elbows appeared to be much more exciting. It had nothing romantic about it, but that sad and knowing joy of Monteverdi's music, the serenity and humour of Haydn. In short both men heard what the universe was playing in the space between them rather than anything else. They spoke again only on the train back to Oxford.
By that time they were both cold and sleepy. Crowley fished in his backpack and pulled out two open ponchos. He threw one around Ezra and wrapped himself in the second.
"Brought them from Ecuador. I taught English there and studied the plants as a cover up… no, must have been vice versa. Anyway, if it doesn't keep you warm, nothing will."
"Read to me," asked Ezra sleepily, failing to notice as his head fell on Crowley's shoulder.
"Alright… So… "Be sure to send me from time to time some of your compositions for they give me great pleasure…"
Chapter 5: For you are sullen-hearted still
Some misunderstandings, flirting, mischief, idiocy and feeeels
Title is from D. H. Lawrence poem "Seven seals".
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
"Wait! Wait a minute, please… or are you too sleepy?"
"I'm just fine, my dear. Could you please roll me a cigarette?"
Crowley smiled, happy and excited, and Ezra couldn't stop looking at him. He took his sunglasses off back in Oviedo, and his mismatched eyes shone in the streetlight. Dark eyelashes brushed against pale freckles as he was looking down at his hands rolling the cigarette. He put it into his mouth, made another one and lighting both handed one to Ezra.
"Thank you, my dear. Now I'm properly waiting. What am I waiting for?"
Crowley was hastily searching for something in his phone.
"Here, in a month Christina Pluhar is in London."
"Oh, I absolutely adore her! What will she be playing?"
"Monteverdi. Should we… should we go? I mean, would you like to go..?"
"Together. Yes, I'd love it."
"Then I'm getting the tickets."
"Why, thank you. I had a really pleasant evening, my dear. Thank you."
"You are the one who made it happen, so your gratitude is quite misplaced, angel."
"I can't thank myself, though."
"I am thanking you. Very, very grateful." Crowley returned the phone back into his pocket, let out a cloud of smoke and looked up at Ezra.
"Good night, then, my dear."
"Good night, angel." He waved his cigarette in the air, and the wicked, tempting streetlight highlighted his long, long fingers.
"Why are you still here?" Ezra asked seeing that Crowley didn't make a single move to go.
"I'm still smoking, and I'm not in a hurry."
"Neither am I."
Ezra didn't smile, couldn't smile. Instead he put the cigarette down and walked into the house. He didn't see how Crowley frowned, puzzled and worried, and slowly walked backwards, after several steps finally turning around.
As Ezra stood in front of the mirror in his hall, he noticed that Crowley's poncho was still draped around him.
When Crowley woke up, he felt stuck between two echoes, one calling, yearning, pulling and another, refusing, repulsed, pushing. Still half-asleep, he tried to remember what voice, what memory had born each echo, and then he was fully awake. There was silence and music and the exploding space of the trip to Oviedo and back, and an old, tired universe collapsing within itself, a frightful contraction of space-time when Ezra himself, the angel, a cloud of hydrogen took that universe and rolled it back like a red carpet after an event.
What was that?
He stood up, noticed he hadn't changed (and implicitly, hadn't showered) and rushed to the bathroom. Beelzebub was sending him suggestive and lewd messages "to maintain my own image, loser", so Crowley turned off his phone. His reflection looked at him from a small mirror, puzzled, lost a bit, frustrated.
If music be the food of love… If love is the gravity in the universe where everything bears that music… what was wrong with the music, what was wrong with the gravity, what the fuck was so fucking wrong? He hadn't moved for a kiss, hadn't even considered it. He hadn't tried to invite himself in and had fought the urge to invite Ezra for a nightcap. What had he done? What had he failed to notice? They could be friends, friends went to concerts together and could fall asleep on each other's shoulders… What was it that separated friendship from love? Intellectual attraction from an all-encompassing attraction of love? Who the fuck had invented all that bloody watlzing? Like you, need you, want you, want more of you, what was wrong with it?
For all his cool, for all his swaying, smiling and suchlike, Crowley hadn't dated much, hadn't felt comfortable with practically anyone, and with shy, confusing, maddeningly beautiful Ezra he felt absolutely comfortable. Bloody hell, he needed a shower, a few very busy working days and probably an explanation, not that he was owned one.
The poncho was rolled carefully and packed into Ezra's shoulder bag. He went for a usual morning walk, a bit disappointed that Crowley wasn't standing there, by his door, beneath his window, leaning on the lamppost, sleepless and worried. He went to work, he gave a tremendously good lecture on the theory of composition using very little Shoenberg and quite a lot of Bernstein, had a brilliant workshop on baroque music, much Gardiner, even more Lully, oh, who could compare to Lully? Had an even more brilliant workshop on improvisation, his personal favourite, and managed to avoid smiling entirely. Dr Device looked at him in awe, Dr Uriel gave him a hateful glance, the students were happy and overall enchanted. That was what his usual day had to be like.
Ezra's feet and the rolled poncho disagreed most passionately and brought him to Crow and Snake. He walked to the counter, smiled too politely and put the poncho on the counter.
Only then Ezra noticed how many colours had been woven into it, how perfectly those colours rhymed.
"Oh, thanks." Crowley served Ezra his drink and took the poncho, throwing it somewhere without a thought.
How dare you, thought Ezra. I was warm, happy, cared for in this thing, and you… Oh, but Crowley had draped it over Ezra's shoulders. Crowley had had him in mind packing his magical backpack. Crowley wordlessly brought him a glass of wine, as Ezra had intended to order, before Ezra could have ordered. Crowley was leaning on the counter, talking to someone.
Alright, I might be a selfish coward, thought Ezra, but I very much doubt he'll keep you warm or read Goethe's letters to you. He won't go to London for a marvelous concert in a month, with you, no, he'll go with me.
"Is something the matter, angel?" Crowley returned to him with a bottle and refilled his glass.
"Just… lost in vicious planning, that's it."
"Care to share?"
Ezra's tongue was a very well trained organ, but it appeared to have rebelled and so the answer was that:
"I was thinking how your patrons flirt with you and smile at you and like you, and yet none of them will go to London for some very well performed Monteverdi."
"Oh… I wonder… if you are possessive, does it mean that I possessed you, or that you possessed me? Here is the question for you. I'll be waiting for an answer."
To make matters worse, Crowley pushed a plate of gravlax towards Ezra and said that Hastur had sent his regards. Then Crowley took a slice with a toothpick and muttered:
"Checking if it's poisoned… Hmmm… if it is, then it will be a glorious death."
He sauntered away again, a careful, half-secret smile twisting his mouth. Beelzebub got stuck on his way, so they swayed together before finding a way around each other. Dr Device came, tired and quite sad. Crowley served her the usual very dry martini and she asked for Gershwin. Crow and Snake didn't have music most of the time, but sometimes Crowley would put on some jazz or, if he was feeling particularly playful, Led Zeppelin.
He obliged, and added an extra away to his walk when "My one and only" began to play.
"No, Led Zeppelin." Anathema put down her empty glass, Crowley instantly served her another and oh my. It was Kashmir, and as the thunderous riff poured out into the pub, Crowley's swaying went absolutely shameless, and he was now barely pretending to walk dancing instead. Beelzebub couldn't help joining him and laughed morbidly all of a sudden. They whispered something to Crowley. Crowley replied with a laugh of his own, not morbid, not bitter, but devilish all the same. He was fire, he moved like fire, he danced like fire, he served liquid fire and unashamedly relished in the stunned and infatuated looks he was getting. Anathema chuckled. Dr Uriel got her two shots of vodka and a curt, short chat. A few of Ezra's students laughed loudly. Some botanics professor called Crowley for a serious scientific discussion and managed to turn Crowley into a decent inhuman being for a few long moments.
Kashmir was followed by Bron-Y-Aur Stomp, and just as it began Crowley came back to refill Ezra's glass and said-sang:
"Aaaaah, caught you smiling at me, that's the way it should be, like a leaf is to a tree, so fine."
Ezra was indeed caught, nay, captured.
"What's your answer, then? Who possesses whom?"
As he didn't get his answer, he swayed away, so Ezra frantically thought what he'd answer. He was being played, and he wasn't a violin or a cello, or a piano for that matter, no, no, no, he was shamelessly blown like a naughty jazz clarinet or a drunk and infatuated bassoon, for he himself felt like a buffoon. He began this evening thinking he was the master of the situation, serene, strict, untouchable, and now he was leaning heavily on the counter, messing up his pure white curls and yearning to be played more. He had been naughty and bitchy, and the red-haired bartender turned the tables with a flick of his wrist as he poured more, as he mephistopheled around Ezra knowing oh too well that he might lose and not giving a damn about it. Ezra was being played, but Crowley looked possessed. Crowley wouldn't dance like that and smile like that and talk like that had it not been for Ezra's sinful pleasure.
Ezra really had to start carrying a notebook around. Writing music on napkins was both impractical and uncomfortable, so on his way back to Ezra, Crowley pulled from under the counter a musician's notebook, slapped it in front of Ezra and walked away again.
"What's your answer?" Crowley interrupted Ezra's composing standing there, in front of him, smiling, holding a tumbler with bourbon.
Ezra hated being interrupted. God, he had never been so happy about being interrupted. There, in the mismatched eyes, in the mischievous, flirtatious grin was the music worthy of Britten and Mozart. It turned Haydn's irony on itself, ruined the wig, the crispy white collar, the composure of the composer.
"I possess you."
"Nah, angel, I possess you and you don't want me to leave. You came here for me, I've been here all along."
This careless phrase was like a light touch on a house of cards, the magic, the easiness, the effortless mischief, all fell to the ground. Ezra downed his wine, put money on the counter and left.
"Well, as you like to put it, that went down like a lead balloon." Beelzebub was gloating. "Told ya, I can't see what you find in him. He is a righteous ass, very tight, I'm sure, but too prim and proper for you, Crowley. Loser, you are a sore loser."
As always, thanks for reading. Christina Pluhar is amazing.
Chapter 6: And the hexameter's beat gently tapped out on his back
Title is from Goethe's Erotica Romana, VII. I changed "her" to "his", Goethe wouldn't mind.
Some mild hate-speech punished on sight
A bottle of tequila, a concerto and a week later, Ezra walked into Crow and Snake and took his usual place by the bar. Crowley served him tequila before Ezra could open his mouth, and slithered away to talk to someone else.
Why won't you talk to me? Why? Why? You were playful and sinful and mischievous and flirting, I was just watching you, and oh, you were right, you possess me and I don't want you to leave. I can't tell you any of this too. I can't show you how much I need you. I can't let everyone see how I want you, because everyone wants you and I want you to be mine. Mine. Mine. Mine. Breathe into my mouth, scream into my mouth, moan into my mouth, should it all be so oral? Be mine, just know that I want you to be mine and wait for me by my door and know when I'm ready to invite you in. You understand everyone without a word, so why are you asking me to speak? I don't want to speak, I want you to come to me, to crawl to me, to want me like I do. What is the point of dreaming of you and daydreaming of you and coming here, if you fail to see how much I want anything you'd give me? Stop talking to them, stop being nice and attentive to them, see me, see me in my utter lack of glory, in my neediness and come to me. Come to me. To my door, to my bedroom, to my bed. You've invaded my dreams, just one more step and you'll claim my life as yours and toss it under the counter. Slut. Beloved. My madness, music, Monteverdi's operas, madrigals and vespers, Bach's secular music, Mozart's piano sonatas, come, come, come, claim me, for heaven's sake.
"There is that Chinese legend," said Crowley leaning on the counter.
"Which one, my dear?"
It takes two, I'll play you too, I'll make believe that nothing happened, that you haven't ruined everything again by your mindless comments. You go too fast for me, Crowley. I don't want you to stop, my dear, faster, harder.
"The one, oh… shit… the one with the empty town and a siege around it. Where the strategist stands on the highest tower, and the army laying siege thinks that if he can afford such reckless behavior, then his army must be invincible. So they leave."
"And who am I, my dear?"
"I don't know, angel. Sometimes I feel like the strategist standing there in the open. Sometimes like the whole army shaking in fear of an invisible army behind the walls."
"Empty fort strategy", isn't it? I had a suite about it. Never performed." Ezra licked the salt, drank tequila and bit the lemon.
"Really? Oh my… Ezra, you can't do such things to me. Can't just reference "Romance of the Three Kingdoms" and expect me to not spontaneously combust on the spot."
"I didn't take you for a Chinese literature lover, my dear. Although it's my bad. You like everything and anything your patrons bring to you."
Crowley looked at him, hidden behind the shades, and walked away. He returned angry a few minutes later.
"I read it when I was fucking fifteen. It was my mother's favourite book, so I didn't have much choice. You are such a bastard, angel, such an arrogant bastard."
He never came back, Beelzebub replaced him, and he replaced them and waitered the tables, kind and thoughtful, attentive to everyone. He sat with someone every now and then, talked, listened, smiled, laughed, showed his eyes, his beautiful, honey coloured mismatched eyes. Wrote down a few book titles on his wrist and ordered the books during a few minutes of quiet standing next to Beelzebub and instructing them not to serve the new tequila and stick to the old one.
"What are you buying again?" Beelzebub looked over Crowley's shoulder.
"Chaos theory. Some new books. Professor Eden told me about them, and she's the best, you know…"
"I don't. You are a loser, and chaos theory can't help you."
"Can help me forget, my guardian demon." Crowley gently kissed Beelzebub's forehead and they did their best to hide how touched they were.
Somewhere around the closing time an old woman with messy gray hair, as short as Crowley's red, sat next to Ezra, one drink too many and a fond look on her face behind huge glasses.
"He's brilliant, you know," she said to no one in particular. "Smart, clever, so many questions… I couldn't understand why he had taken my course. Goethe studied everything, and Crowley showed me how separated we all are, how far the disciplines that literally depend on each other, are from each other… never wanted an academic career, never wanted to use his knowledge, this playful, curious demon. How I want him to find someone to love him. Nobody loves him the way he deserves, he's a miracle, and he serves us our poison…"
A glass of water was put in front of her.
"Professor Eden, Crowley told me to force it down your throat, if you refuse to drink it," said Beelzebub serenely.
"Oh, my lovely boy… I should call his mother. Tell her how loved he is. He deserves more, deserves someone to worship him, but hey, it's chaos theory…"
She obligingly drank her water, tried paying…
"No, the boss said it's on the house." Beelzebub pushed the money back to the woman. "He called you a cab. It's waiting for you outside, and he told me to say that he had paid for it, and recommended you to stop." Beelzebub looked so serene, they might as well have been sick.
"Send him my regards."
The woman got up and went out.
Crowley called Ezra two days before their scheduled trip to London.
"I'm sorry, Ezra, I had to ask Anathema for your number… do you still want to go with me?"
"It's Monteverdi. I'd go with the devil."
I want you I need you I'd go anywhere with you
"Alright… fine… so, I'll pick you up tomorrow at noon?"
"Yes, sure… My dear, why did you refuse to continue your academic career?"
"Really? Well, if you must know, I realised that to be a Renaissance man, I had to take myself out of the equation. See you tomorrow."
"What's your favourite song?" Dr Device interrupted Crowley and a young anthropology professor Newt Pulsifer, or rather she interrupted their game of go. "So sorry, Newt, but you have defeated him, so I can't be blamed."
"I'm proceeding my failure, Anathema, and it's a tricky question. Just a moment." Crowley moved down the counter to put a wine glass in front of Ezra who had just walked in, and filled it with Chardonnay.
"Petit Chablis. Thought you'd like something dry and white. You're early. Excuse me." He returned to Anathema. Newt was packing the game and barely breathing.
"So, my favourite song… Any Monteverdi song, really, ehm… Led Zeppelin, all of it as well. Sometimes I like something naughty and mischievous…"
"Could be a lot of Led Zeppelin, you'd have to be more specific."
"'Sexy naughty bitchy me' may steal my decency."
"Crowley, I demand to see you in a skirt."
Ezra stopped himself before he could add that he'd love that too. He couldn't know that had he told that, Crowley would have blushed and felt warm and fuzzy. With Anathema he just glared.
"Besides, you don't have a naughty or a bitchy bone in your boneless body."
As she was speaking, Dr Uriel perched herself by the counter and smiled, and if Beelzebub could be morbid and relished in it, Dr Uriel was oblivious to the fact and thought she was sweet, which made her more morbid than Beelzebub could have dreamed of.
"Watch me," said Crowley and turned to his newest patron. "Dr Uriel, you have insulted a dear friend to my very face yesterday, and I told you there would be consequences."
"Didn't know that soft ridiculous Jewish boy was your dear friend. Come on, Crowley, you have a business to run. Throwing away customers for voicing their opinions isn't good for business."
"Oh, my business can go and fuck itself. Besides, I reserve my right to not serve anti-Semites, fat-shamers, and power-abusers."
Anathema shook her head. "Crowley, it's not naughty or bitchy, this is just basic decency."
"You, girl, better keep your mouth shut." Dr Uriel growled.
"And now you've insulted another dear friend. I think I should call Beelzebub."
Dr Uriel almost fell off her chair, but Beelzebub was standing right behind her and grinned, morbidly.
"Oh, this abomination…"
"Third friend. Seems about enough, right?" Crowley looked at Beelzebub. They seemed unperturbed but Crowley knew better. Beelzebub breathed in, and before they breathed out, Dr Uriel was gone.
"Such a nasty thing," they said.
"No, I'm good. I'm very good." Beelzebub grinned again.
"I filmed it." Newt raised his phone. "I filmed what happened yesterday too."
"And you are also good," approved Beelzebub.
"I think it's time to go," said Ezra louder than usual.
"And now you can claim your prize, you loser," Beelzebub laughed, "and go and listen to some music."
"If I'm a loser, how can I claim my prize?"
"I'm not a prize." They spoke at the same time.
"What are you going to listen to?" Anathema looked at Beelzebub with affection usually reserved for theorbo.
"Monteverdi." Crowley put his parka on, thought better, rushed away, returned wearing the softest black cashmere sweater Ezra had ever seen and put his parka on again.
"I don't like music one can't fuck to," remarked Beelzebub throwing their arm around Crowley's shoulders. "Satan, you are sharp, unembraceable you."
"On the contrary," replied Ezra buttoning his camel coat, "one can have a night of passion to his Vespers and a lazy morning love-making session to "Zefiro torna". What? One absolutely could." Ezra shrugged and walked to the door.
"I've underestimated him," concluded Beelzebub.
"Yeah, me too," answered Crowley with a grin.
"What's Vespers? In two words."
"Church music," supplied Anathema.
"Oh, I'd love me a night of passion to "church music". Crowley, have a good evening."
"That was very kind of you," said Ezra after ten full minutes of silent walk.
"It was. I wanted to see her like that. Of course she must have her reasons to be so… insufferable, but I'm grateful that I won't have to suffer through her presence at your place again. Was she talking about me?"
"Thank you, my dear. I'm very sorry about the other night."
"Don't mention it. I was unhinged and it was uncalled for."
"I doubt that. I can't flirt with you and get angry with you when you notice and flirt back."
"No, angel, you can flirt and get angry when I flirt back tastelessly and carelessly. And I'm sorry about it."
"How do you always know what I want to drink? What anyone wants to drink."
"Don't know. It rhymes." Crowley offered no further explanation.
They spent the train ride reading, no, Crowley was reading and Ezra was watching him, just like Crowley would be watching Ezra eating.
"What are you reading, my dear?"
"Ehm… chaos theory."
"I've sorted mine by the way. Fancy a nightcap after the concert?"
"I'd love to. I promise not to flirt."
Ezra smiled. Crowley buried himself in his book.
The thing about Monteverdi (and Vivaldi) is that apparently the man didn't write bad or boring music. He might look a bit boring and far too stern on his portrait but his music was anything but. The cocktail of elements that produced life on Earth is not so difficult to recreate, and the process would begin in the lab conditions, of which Carl Sagan writes in the second chapter of his "Cosmos". To return to Monteverdi, his music was life, and the perfect life, thoughtful, serene and then playful, and one can't help wondering how the man who ended his life a priest, wrote his last opera about Nero being capable of love.
Ezra and Crowley found themselves emerged into that life-producing (not imitating) cocktail, and it slipped through the cracks and fireworks between their elbows, their shoulders, where a new universe was doing its best to move slower, although this time Ezra was eager for it to expand and get to star-building and Crowley was taking his time, micromanaging each particle.
"Did you bring the ponchos this time, my dear?"
"No, I didn't… Should I have?"
"Do you… want a next time?"
"I do, very much."
"But you'd go with the devil?"
"You are far from the devil, Crowley."
"You seem to be thinking quite the opposite."
Ezra hummed and rested his head on Crowley's shoulder.
"They are wrong, you know?"
"Beelzebub. I love your shoulders."
Ezra had a wonderful vision of Crowley's naked body, his ribs showing and Ezra wanted to use his ribcage as stave although 24 couldn't be divided by five, but just one more line could be added… would he even like that? Would he allow for something like that? "You cannot play upon me", but Crowley was no prince, and even if he had been… Ezra didn't want to play upon him, but to learn and touch and compose off of his voice, his noises, his silences.
"Do you play, my dear?" Ezra brought wine from the kitchen and found Crowley admiring the harpsichord.
"No, never had patience for it. Or desire, to be honest."
"I'd play for you, if you like."
Crowley's face shot up.
"I'd love to see you play, angel."
Ezra poured a glass for Crowley, then for himself.
"Harpsichord or piano, my dear?"
"Whichever you want. Could you play something yours? If it's not too much to ask… maybe, maybe "The Empty Fort"?"
Ezra considered it for a long moment. That was the face of the last shame before absolute, wrecking pleasure, before getting undressed in front of someone, and Ezra was beautiful in it all. He chose the piano, and Crowley sat on the sofa.
"I'm afraid to think what I'd sound like after Monteverdi."
"Like a dessert, angel."
"How very decadent… I do want to play it for you, you know?"
"Play it for me, then."
Chapter 7: Lover, come back to me
Title from Leonard Cohen's "Lover, lover, lover". Thank you for being here. Sorry for typos. You all are so precious to me.
Indecent, indulgent, naughty, bitchy, shy, confusing angel, light of my eyes. Terrifying, terrific, awful, awesome, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, my angel. Too much white in this world, and it had always enjoyed too much privilege and I've been justified by a whole chapter of Moby Dick in my detest of it, but you, Ezra, you are the original white, the light, the proud light Mephistopheles speaks of introducing himself. The light born out of darkness, the light that defeated it. As of now and as for me, any other light may leave and go home, but I won't see a thing without you… Were I but allowed to tell you all this, watch you blush, the pink of the morning, the rosy-fingered Dawn of Homer, but I consider myself lucky enough being allowed to serve you drinks and take you to concerts.
I possess you or you possess me, I'm just as possessive as you may sound. Nobody heard this music, but I am listening to it, and it's clever, it's clear, it's complex, it's compelling.
Crowley was perched on the edge of the sofa, legs crossed, the right elbow on the left knee, the left one on the left thigh, the left hand hanging like a strange molten form, chin on the right hand, such an unnatural, twisted posture, looking at Ezra, lips hidden behind the loose fist, entangled, enchanted, possessed, lost.
Ezra had stopped playing a minute or two ago and Crowley hadn't moved.
Oh crawl, hop, come to me, darling. No audience could have ever given me that, no critic could have made me happier than this Möbius strip of your strange body, the entranced look of your eyes.
Ezra allowed himself a content and knowing smile.
"Do I have to say anything?"
"You seem quite… impressed. That's quite enough."
"Ah, thank you… Thank you for playing for me."
"My pleasure. Should we go to sleep now?"
"Will you be able to sleep, angel?"
"I don't know. Might as well try."
Part of him wanted to smugly turn and go to his bedroom. Yet, another wanted to invite Crowley to come with him.
It was all so cliche! Played some music, and here, smitten and horny bartender is all whipped… Ezra bit his lip at such a thought. He was indeed arrogant, he expected only arrogance from everyone else, after all, when it concerned his music. Dr Uriel was to blame, and Crowley defeated that Grendel without a blink. Ezra heard himself speak.
"Dr Uriel… she told me my music was… simplistic. Too technical. Heartless. I remember it all…"
"So that's what happened… Angel." Crowley stood up and walked to Ezra. He kneeled in front of him and took Ezra's hands in his. "It's bullshit, angel."
"And you know that how?"
Crowley kissed tips of Ezra's fingers. "I just know it. I can hear it. No student deserves to be talked to like that." He kissed Ezra's palms and wrists.
"Stop it. I don't want pity. I don't know why I told you this…"
"Ezra, then why have I been thinking about "Eden" since I was twelve? Why am I fucking transfixed now?"
"Because you are an idiot? Because you understand nothing? Because I know without Dr Uriel that my music could never compare to…"
"It transfixed me. You transfixed me. Am I so worthless that it means nothing to you?"
"She was glad I stopped composing. I know she was."
"And she'll never be glad again, not on my watch. You are beautiful," a kiss to his wrists, "you are music," a kiss to his knuckles, "you are sexy, naughty and bitchy." Crowley looked up holding Ezra's hands close to his lips, speaking against the clever fingers. "She has no power of you anymore. She never really had." Crowley put Ezra's hand on his cheek and held it there, his eyes fixed on Ezra's.
"I thought I buried it long ago. I thought it didn't matter anymore, and now you are looking at me like this, and I don't deserve it."
"Hush, angel. You do. To me, you do…"
"I don't know… I think I want you to leave. I'm sorry."
"Nothing to be sorry about. I have inadvertently reminded you of something unpleasant, to say the least. It's alright, I'll go." Crowley let go off of Ezra's hands and stood up. "Before I ruined everything, as I do, we had a very good evening, didn't we?"
"We did, my dear. Thank you."
"I hope to see you soon. And… no, another time. Have a good night, angel."
"Good night, Crowley."
In the morning, as Ezra was locking his door to go for a walk, he heard a quiet shuffling behind him. He turned around, almost scared, and saw Crowley, leaning on the lamppost, sleepy, hair a perfect metaphor for chaos theory.
"Morning, Ezra. Mind if I join you?"
"Don't you have a pub to open?"
"I do, but it's five in the morning, I have plenty of time and Beelzebub. But if you don't want…"
"I want. Could you roll me a cigarette?"
"Sure. Here, take this," and Crowley handed him a thermocup. "It's tea with milk and spices. Waking potion, if you like… And here is your cigarette."
"What about you?"
"I'll roll one for me."
"No, the tea."
"Oh, yes," he pulled another, smaller thermocup out of his parka. "Here is mine. Same as yours. Come on, try it."
Ezra took a careful sip, although he needn't have had to be careful, the tea was just the right temperature.
"Did you sleep well, angel?"
"Didn't sleep a wink. You?"
"Same," Crowley laughed. "I'd like to say that I told you so, but that would be too righteous. Where to?"
"I just walk aimlessly."
"Alright. Lead the way, or rather lack thereof."
They walked quietly, smoking and sipping their tea. Crowley was done with his in a few minutes, so Ezra offered to share his. It was still dark and rather cold, and Crowley pulled his scarf to cover his nose as soon as he finished his cigarette and only lowered it when it was his turn to drink.
"Is that a tartan scarf, my dear?"
"It totally is… Reminded me of you, I'm sorry. Fuck. Shit. Idiot." He hastily took the scarf off and shoved it down his pocket.
"That's unnecessary. Now you are cold."
"In this weather I'm always cold. Nothing special."
Ezra was feeling brave, he put his arm around Crowley's waist and pulled him closer. Crowley hummed, puzzled and pleased, and slithered his arm around Ezra's shoulders.
"Better, my dear?"
"Much. You have no idea. You really don't."
"I've never been that thin, Crowley, so I have no idea indeed."
"Not my fault."
"I like it that you are thin." Ezra could say anything, he was rosy pink all the same because of the wind.
"Thank you, Ezra… May I… ok… no… please, can you… no, not right… fuck! You asked why I had left the academy, well here it is! I think out loud in minced sentences."
Ezra laughed and held Crowley closer. The fingers on his shoulder returned the sentiment.
"How about we go back to mine, I mean my place. I want to show you my greenhouse and my frozen garden and cook you breakfast."
"Sounds… sounds really tempting, my dear."
"Is that a… what is it?"
"Yes, let's do it."
By the time they reached Crowley's place they were both so cold that no amount of hugging could help, or shouldn't have helped, because while Crowley was barely conscious with cold, Ezra was happy, so easily, calmly, comfortably happy.
Crowley shimmied out of his parka and sweater, put the poncho on and threw the other, the one of many rhyming colours, at Ezra. He was glad to see it as if it had been a long lost friend. He smoothed the fabric and raised his eyes to see Crowley by the stove, and had Crowley cared to look around (he cared, he just wanted to give Ezra some space), he'd have seen the look of such admiration and joy, he'd have been warm in no time. Crowley instead took off his Blundstones with his feet and revealed to the world that the cool, dark bartender had fluffy socks, although still black as a raven's wing.
"Alright, so, no bacon, right?" Asked Crowley.
"No bacon. No cheese, if you use something that might be meat."
"Is salmon meat?"
"Then I'll use salmon. And mushrooms. You just… make yourself at home, angel, get warm."
Ezra went to Crowley and held him from behind, his cheek on Crowley's back.
"I am warm. You are freezing, my dear."
"I am… not."
"Of course you are not. But you told me to get warm, so… I have no intention of letting go of you."
"Wouldn't dream of it. It's a nightmare, if you do. We'll have to dance to the fridge, though, for salmon and mushrooms."
"Crowley?" Ezra buried his face in Crowley's hair.
"Could you… specify? Just so I could do it again, you know."
They danced to the fridge and then back, ridiculous and very serious.
"Thank you for leaving yesterday. Thank you for coming today."
"Oh… could do it every day, if you like. And… want to keep the poncho? Really brings your eyes…"
"I'll keep the one you're wearing. Smells of you."
"Shit, should have washed it more often. This is embarrassing."
"I'd like to wear your colours… I'm sorry, I…"
"Angel, everything you are doing is absolutely fine. I'm almost done."
"Pity. I'll have to let go."
"We'll figure something out. Anything you want."
"My dear… could you do something for me?"
"It's selfish and awful."
"All ears. Very intrigued."
"Can there be something that might set me apart from the rest of the people you talk to? I know, I have no right to ask for…"
Crowley's finger was on his lips, he somehow managed to turn around in Ezra's arms and walk him back a few steps.
"I said, anything. Sorry." The finger left Ezra's lips before he could even think of kissing it. Instead Crowley put his hands on Ezra's shoulders. "Am I that slutty?"
"You are not. But you possess me, and I'm possessive."
"Call me by my name, my first name. It might even sound decent and Vivaldian when you say it. Give it a go."
"Did you turn the stove off?"
"I did. So?"
Crowley moaned, caught himself and asked for more, his eyes shut, his fingers digging into Ezra's shoulders.
"Anthony. Anthony, Anthony, Anthony, Anthony."
"If I come, you'll have to do the laundry. Kidding, I'll do all the laundry. Sorry."
"Anthony. Anthony. My Anthony. Mine."
"Yours. You have the music to tame me."
"I don't need to tame you."
"You don't… oh, angel, you don't. I will be tamer than an old dog."
They ate together and in haze. Probably the cold was to blame, probably the fact that they sat very close. Ezra finished his and Crowley's scrambled eggs and held him close afterwards.
"I have to go, my dear."
"Of course, angel."
"You are holding me."
"Oh, right, sorry about that."
"You shouldn't be. I will be difficult, though, you should know that."
"I looked up, you know, the concerts…"
"My former orchestra is in Oxford in spring. I'd love you to hear them."
"And… before that?"
"Before that, my dear, how about that nightcap?"
"I shouldn't ask for more of your music, right?"
"You may ask. I'm not sure I will oblige, I'm not sure I won't ask you to leave, if I oblige."
"I see… alright. Whatever you say, angel. You know… I… I haven't felt more comfortable than when I am with you, you know? You are not difficult, Ezra, you are precious. You have no idea how much I love listening to your students."
"When you are listening to them, what do you think?"
"I think of the time we are alone, together, and you are glorious and… and with me."
"That's what I try to think of when I see you talking to others. When they flirt with you."
"I don't flirt with them. I don't know what they say about me…"
"I won't share it. It's rubbish. You are mine, you possess me and you can't possess two people at once, can you, my dear?"
"Can't. Wouldn't want to."
In the evening, after a fiery triumph of a day, with a very good lecture, two of those actually, and two workshops that Dr Device swore to attend religiously, Ezra came to Crow and Snake. Crowley was serving the drinks, playing go with Newt and talking to everyone, keeping up with quite a few conversations just perfectly.
Ezra sat down, tired and happy.
Crowley noticed him and swiftly put a tumbler with Glen Deveron in front of him.
"How was your day, angel?"
"Absolutely wonderful, Anthony."
Someone overheard them.
"Oh, finally, so, Anthony, may I have…"
Crowley didn't even turn his head, took his sunglasses off and was looking only at Ezra.
"Yes, how may I help you?" The glasses were back and he, presumably, looked at the person calling him.
"I thought you finally began to answer to your name."
"No, whatever could have given you that impression?"
"Ehm… that man…"
"That man is professor Ezra Fell, and he is my partner, so he can call me anything, and I'll know he is calling me."
"Whipped," said Beelzebub and failed to hide their smile.
"Beelzebub, would you mind taking over for a few minutes?"
"Sure, Crowley, if you are so… smitten."
Crowley smiled and looked at Ezra.
"May I kiss you, angel?" He asked quietly.
"Oh, sorry. Fuck."
"I mean on the cheek." Ezra laughed and abruptly stopped when Anthony's lips that belonged only to him touched his cheek.
"So, darling, angel, Ezra, tell me more about your day."
Chapter 8: Zefiro torna
Fluff, just fluff
"So, angel… have you been waiting for me?"
"Of course, my dear. I promised you a nightcap."
"I am, absolutely. Kiss me again, like you did."
Crowley bent over the counter and kissed Ezra on his right cheek, then on the left.
"I'm going to need more."
"You'll have everything you need, angel."
"Waiting for you. Right here, my dear."
"Give me a minute more, ok? I promise, it won't take longer…"
"Oh, just out, you two! You lower the cool of the entire street." Beelzebub was whining and smiling, morbidly and somehow still happily. "Look, you made me all sentimental. Out!"
They were sitting on Ezra's bed. It had been decided when they entered his apartment, that they would sleep together. As of the moment, Ezra couldn't get enough of Crowley's chaste kisses.
"What do you want, angel? Tell me… Anything you want, anywhere you want to go, as far as you want to go."
"Are you mine?"
"Yours, absolutely, entirely yours."
"Thank you. What you did today, when someone tried calling you Anthony, it was wonderful. Made me feel special. Made me warm and calm. I loved that you called me your partner."
"I was worried you'd be angry with me for it."
Ezra shook his head.
"Let me mark you, my dear, let me mark you for everyone to see."
Crowley looked at Ezra a bit stunned.
"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said that, I have no right…"
Crowley took his black jumper off, offering himself to Ezra with the generous ease of a betrothed. Ezra launched forwards and latched onto Crowley's neck, biting, nipping, sucking on the sensitive skin.
"Yes, angel, yes, just like… just like that, Ezra. Yes… More."
Ezra hummed in approval and pushed Crowley back, to the soft pillows. Before long Crowley's pants were undone and lowered past his hips, his hands pressed into the mattress as Ezra devoured him, marked him, rejoiced in their closeness, their strange intimacy - strange because it felt like something long forgotten.
"Angel… may I undress you? Or myself? Or anything really, but let me do something."
"What do you want, my dear? What would you like, darling? Anthony… Anthony… Anthony…"
"I want less clothes, on both of us."
"Right. So… undress."
Ezra sat back and watched as Crowley took his clothes off, all of them, in a few shimmying movements, and there he was, thin, lean, vulnerable, open, like he hadn't been with anyone of those who dared flirting with him when he had only ever belonged to Ezra.
"Good Lord… you are beautiful, Anthony. So fucking beautiful."
"Yours." He sat up, cupping Ezra's face with his long hands bringing him closer for an open-mouthed, wet, messy kiss.
"Want me?" Ezra asked pushing him back down, pressing his sharp hips into the bed.
"Of course I want you, you idiot… you sweet, shy, confusing angel. Want you."
Ezra traced a long, slow path up from Crowley's navel to his neck with his tongue.
"Ezra…" Crowley wailed, so scared, so indeed whipped.
"Yes, darling, right here." Another path, this time down, from Crowley's jaw to his navel and then a bit farther.
"Tell me! Tell me what you want! Who do you want?"
"I want you, angel, undress, sit on my shoulders, let me take you."
"Oh darling… No, I can't. I'm sorry, I really can't do that, it's too fast."
"It's fine, angel, it's alright. Forget about it. Just lie down with me, alright? Let me hold you."
"I'll be back in a minute."
Ezra got up and went into the bathroom locking the door behind him. While he was there, Crowley took his pyjamas out of his bag and hastily dressed. When Ezra returned, he found Crowley under the blanket, dressed and reading.
"What is it, my dear?" Ezra asked guiltily.
"It's Goethe. I'm re-reading Elective affinities. "
"Will you read to me?"
"If you want. Come here."
Ezra obligingly laid down and Crowley immediately took his hand, brought it to his lips and rested their joined hands on his chest.
"Maybe someday you could make an opera out of it, angel."
"If you write me the libretto, I will."
"That's better than marriage proposal, just so you know, angel."
"And would you like to? I mean, being married to me?"
"I belong to you to do whatever you wish."
"That's not an answer."
"That's my answer for tonight, angel. Shall I read to you?"
"I told you I would be difficult," said Ezra first thing in the morning.
"And I'm not complaining." Crowley yawned and messed up his hair, although it had already been a mess. "On an unrelated note, good morning, Ezra. You look lovely."
"Morning, Anthony. I'm sorry…"
"Do I look good enough to deserve a kiss?"
"You'll have to be more… specific."
"The way you kissed me tomorrow for the first time."
"Wonderful!" Crowley moved closer and gently held Ezra kissing his cheeks. He was humming something and when Ezra recognised it he burst out laughing, the delightful move, because it brought his lips against Crowley's.
"Why are you laughing, angel?"
"You are singing Zefiro torna ."
"I am, sure. I'm trying to fulfill your fantasies. Or am I wrong?"
"No, you are… you are kind."
"Don't tell Beelzebub. How about we go back to mine and have breakfast there?"
"Are you together?" Anathema shut the door of Ezra's office and looked at him with some judgement in her eyes.
"Who?" Ezra wasn't going down that easily.
"You and Crowley. Are you together?"
"It matters because..?"
"It matters because there's a group of people, myself included, who want to make a surprise for his birthday, which he celebrates with a night of free drinks for everyone, and we've been planning it for some time, for several years actually. Beelzebub refused to participate because they can't keep their mouth shut. Their words. So if you are together, I want information."
"His favourite instrument?"
"Not a clue."
"Are you together?"
"I guess we are."
"And you don't know his favourite instrument… Ezra, you are sweet and overall tremendous. But you are a shitty boyfriend."
"Might have something to do with the fact that I'm not a boy, I think."
"Find out! Otherwise he's getting your favourite music for his birthday and however sweet it is…"
"His is the same."
"Alright… still, I'd like something more special. You are still new here, Ezra, you don't know how many people love him, how many students bring him their papers before handing them to their professors. How many professors show him their papers before peer reviews. He means a lot to this place. We want it to be special as fuck."
Ezra nodded and got lost in thought for a moment.
"You know, I might have an idea. Just don't ask questions, ok? He is going to love it. When is his birthday?"
"Terrible boyfriend. A catastrophe. In a week from today. I'm listening."
After an hour of fruitful planning (scheming really) Ezra asked:
"Bring him papers. You said…"
"Any students. Or professors for that matter. He is really good at questions, someone tried to nickname him Socrates… was a dreadful evening for everyone."
"Your boyfriend is here, Crowley."
"Why, thank you, Beelzebub, and here I thought I was blind!"
"I can see you melting through your glasses. Come on, have a drink with him."
"Since when are you so generous?"
"Since now. I might not hold my need for mischief for much longer. Get a go."
"Evening, angel." A kiss to Ezra's cheek. "How was your day?" Ezra risked a glance and was stunned rather than pleased to see a few jealous looks.
"Like what you see, angel? I'm enjoying it immensely! They all have to accept that I am yours. That you are mine."
"Oh, yours, my dear. Anthony…" A kiss on Crowley's forehead, a gasp in response. "My day was marvelous. You make me clever, make me interesting."
"You are clever and interesting, angel. I'm so happy to see you. Care to stay at my place tonight? My bed is bigger than yours."
"Should I be jealous, darling?"
"Jealous? I use more blankets than a family with six children during a winter in Iceland, of course I need a bigger bed!"
Crowley brought him scotch, Glen Deveron, per usual, and went on with his evening. When Newt came in, Ezra had been talking to Anathema, and the anthropologist didn't know what to do - he wanted to play go with Crowley and join Ezra's and Anathema's conversation. Crowley, the experienced demon that he was, swiftly moved the board over to Ezra, kissed him again and said:
"You must know how to play go, right?"
"Of course, my dear, but according to the Chinese rules."
"Same shirt. Well, almost the same shit. Play for me, will you? I'm quite tired of losing."
Ezra was good at go regardless, but now he was just slaying poor Newt, making Anathema root for him (she was very protective of the losers) and Crowley admire him from afar.
"You look hotter than usual being the slaying intellectual, angel. I'm awfully distracted."
"Oh my dear, that's the whole point of my being a slaying intellectual. It's my patented technique of seduction. Does it work?"
"Anything works for you, angel, anything."
Ezra could properly think about it only when Crowley fell asleep in the nest of blankets, where Ezra felt too hot for comfort. His naked, sated, happy lover was clinging to him like a snake he was, and Ezra couldn't escape the heat of the blankets. He decided he didn't want to. He felt elated. He felt delirious. He felt validated, set apart from the rest, marked (and Crowley had marked him thoroughly). He felt he belonged here, however hot and uncomfortable he was. The lack of comfort was comforting surprisingly, it was all part of getting used to Crowley, getting closer to him. His entire body pleasantly ached with Crowley's love, and Ezra found he loved the mess they laid in. Loved the smells, the touches, the soft breath of Crowley's sleep.
He felt possessive. He had to introduce Crowley to his parents.
Chapter 9: Two houses, both alike in dignity
Beelzebub kicks some serious butt.
"Darling, I was thinking…"
"Aren't you always, angel?"
"May I finish my sentence?"
"Nah, don't think so."
"You are irritating, Anthony, and I'm in love with you."
"Wh… what… what?!"
"I was thinking…"
"No, the other part."
"You are irritating."
"Yes, sure, and?"
"And I'm in love with you. Don't look at me like you didn't know. I think I've been rather obvious."
"Alright, angel, if this is what you meant when you said you were difficult, then I finally have to agree with you. You can't just drop things like that on me!"
"I'll drop a piano on you if you don't let me finish my sentence!"
"I love you too, angel."
"I want my parents to come and visit me. Want them to meet you. What do you think?"
"I'm going to be nervous, scared and difficult. I might spend the whole evening holding your hand and cuddling with you, publicly."
"I wholeheartedly agree to it."
"What if they don't like me? Disapprove of me?"
Crowley looked so scared, Ezra regretted bringing it up, regretted being such an old-fashioned idiot. He couldn't care less for his parents' approval or lack thereof. He still found it hard to believe that Anthony would somehow indulge him at every turn just to make him feel better. He couldn't believe that someone like Anthony would look at him with such confident love, such open adoration.
"Darling… Anthony, I just want them to meet you, because if I have it my way, they'll have to meet you every time they come to visit."
"What do you mean, have it your way?" Crowley hid himself in the blankets and Ezra had to look for him, peeling a blanket after blanket off his lover.
"I mean, that if… if we stay together."
"Why wouldn't we?"
Ezra finally found Crowley and held him or rather positioned himself so that Crowley could hold him.
"I don't know. Look at you."
"Don't want to. You scared me, angel. Now I'm scared."
"You are incorrigible. I love you with all my heart, I want to stay with you."
"I don't think I'm letting you go… I mean, if you want to go, I'm letting you go, but I have no wish for you to go."
"I'm not going anywhere. Well, I have to go to work as you do, but other than that, no. You are stuck with me."
Ezra suggested meeting Crowley's mother as a rather complex attempt to calm his partner's nerves. Crowley's mother couldn't understand what all the fuss was about, her son was quite capable to decide for himself who he wanted to live with, or sleep with, or whatever. She was quite touched by Ezra's insistence to present himself to her, and for once Ezra was the less anxious one of the two.
Ms Crowley was a very calm, rather strict and slightly distracted woman. She considered she had done quite a good job of raising her son a decent human being, accepted everything he did as the only possible way of doing anything and in general didn't want to socialize with her son's friends, not that he had many or ever wanted to bring them to her. Ezra feared she'd hate him from the moment they entered the house. She went to hold Crowley, looked at Ezra and then at Crowley.
"Boy, want to do the introduction?"
"Oh, yes, sure. Mom, this is Ezra, Ezra, this is my mom."
"Charmed. The name is Ela. How do you do?"
"Nice to meet you…"
"Call me Ms Crowley and I'll cut you in half."
"Nice to meet you, Ela."
"Alright, I've met you. Now what? How can I help?"
"Ezra wanted to meet you, because…"
"Because you are my partner's mother, and I thought it would be appropriate…"
"Ezra, I appreciate the gesture, but if boy finds you good enough for him, then you may come to visit when he visits, and official introductions are necessary only if or when you have children. Or have spent a decade or so together."
"That's… very… cool of you, Ela."
"I'm cool, no doubt. What is it you do, Ezra?"
Seeing that his mother made no effort of hospitality, Crowley led both her and Ezra to the kitchen and set on making tea.
"I'm… I teach at Oxford, I'm a…"
"Spit it out, Ezra." Ela was encouraging.
"I'm a composer. Crowley heard my first composition when you as he put it, dragged him to a conc…"
"You are Ezra Fell? The Ezra Fell? Alright, I want your signature on your complete discography, so while boy is cooking, come with me."
An hour or so later, as Crowley and Ezra were leaving, Ela stopped Ezra and said with a mischievous smirk:
"If you are ever stupid enough to even consider asking me for boy's hand in marriage, then you should know that I won't give my consent unless you record some of your music. Kidding. Do whatever you want. You are lovely. Break boy's heart, and I'll burn your entire discography. And probably spoil your reputation in Cambridge."
Ela, as Crowley had explained on their way to Cambridge, was her college's God, Lord and Master. She was oblivious to it, since anything she wanted to happen, just happened and she'd never think it had something to do with her formidable intelligence. Therefore while she thought her threat just friendly banter, Ezra knew better. He nodded and followed Crowley out.
"Alright. That was less stressful than I thought," concluded Ezra.
"Ah, mom is kind."
"You should put it on a t-shirt, Anthony."
"Sassy Ezra! Wait until I stick to you like an old gum when we meet your parents."
"Your mom told me she'd destroy my reputation in Cambridge, if I break your heart."
"Shit! I have to talk to her. She can do it. She can ruin you without a thought. She's divine that way… I'm so sorry."
"I'm not. I'm going to take a very good care of your heart."
"Out of fear, angel?"
"Yes, out of the fear of losing you."
"Angel… stop dropping such declarations out of the blue! I'm going to die of acute happiness."
Ezra's family descended upon Oxford in a cloud of mixed emotions. Ezra's parents were genuinely happy for their son and looked forward to meeting his partner. Michael was sickeningly touched that Ezra found someone who was allegedly as smitten with him as anyone blessed with Ezra's attention should have been. And Gabriel couldn't accept that Ezra was dating "a bartender, some gold-digger, some common ignoramus". They were sitting in Crow and Snake, Ezra with them and waited for Crowley to come. Crowley was talking to Beelzebub.
"No dignity. No manners. Who does he think he is?" Gabriel fumed like a microwave used to boil an egg.
"Gabriel, you are obnoxious and an arsehole!" Michael looked and in fact was furious.
"What she said, totally," agreed Ezra's father and got a look from Ezra's mother. "Love, I'm sorry, but as you can see, our eldest child is a…"
"An insufferable prick, I can see that. But tonight we are here for Ezra and I will not tolerate such conduct from any of you!" Ezra's mother glared at her family and then looked at Ezra with the softest affection.
Crowley dropped on the chair next to Ezra, sprawling as he was prone to, and grabbed Ezra's hand. He was smiling, his eyes were safely hidden, and Ezra could feel that he was shaking.
"Hi," he drawled.
"This is my partner, Crowley."
"What, went to Eton that we need to call you by your last name? Or your mother tried to make you look fancy?" Asked Gabriel disdainfully.
"I'm sorry, Anthony, this is my brother Gabriel, as you can see. My mother, father and my sister, Michael."
"We are so sorry, love. Gabriel is a snob. We are delighted to meet you," said Ezra's father.
"My mom is a professor of applied mathematics in Cambridge, Fields medal winner, and only Ezra can call me by my first name."
"Impressive," muttered Ezra's mother, very impressed.
"I myself studied botany…"
"Crowley, hi, so sorry, I heard it must be important to you, this meeting, and Beelzebub swore to kill me, but could you look at it?" A very nervous man, gray hair, small glasses, interrupted their gathering and dropped a pile of papers in front of Crowley.
"Sure, professor. Honoured."
"So sorry again. Have a lovely evening."
Ezra smiled to himself and proudly kissed Crowley, squeezing his hand tighter.
"So, botany. Yes… excuse me," Crowley got up and ran after the gray-haired man.
"What's happening?" Asked Ezra's mother worriedly.
"He's… I think it would be right to say that he's a proper Renaissance man. He studied everything he wanted, which was a lot, and he has… a reputation. Many people bring their papers to him for an independent evaluation."
"Aha!" Gabriel made a face of indescribable disgust. "Ezra, you are an idiot. Found yourself a sugar baby and, well, can't blame you, who would want a soft cream puff that you are?"
Michael was about to kick Gabriel, his parents were so shocked they barely breathed and behind Gabriel's back appeared a short black figure with a morbid smile.
"Keep on talking like that, sugar, I'll kick you out so hard you'll roll all the way to Australia. Through the Earth's core with a charming stop at hell."
Ezra smiled at Beelzebub, and they managed a genuine smile in his direction.
"Thank you. I wanted to say and do something of the kind my entire life."
"Ezra, you whipped my boss. It's the least I can do for you."
Gabriel stared at Beelzebub as if he had just seen a star up close.
"Stop staring, nothing for you here."
Crowley returned, sans sunglasses, and looked at Beelzebub questioningly.
"He insulted you," they pointed at Gabriel. "And Ezra. And Dr Stein. And this place."
"I'm ready to testify." Michael raised her hand.
"See, got a witness."
"Could you actually… kick him?" Asked Ezra's mother somewhat gingerly. Gabriel seemed to be delighted by the idea.
"With pleasure. The next time he opens his mouth. Gotta go, Crowley."
"Thank you, you are a treasure."
"What shall I bring?" They asked looking exclusively at Crowley.
"Let's see… a bottle of Chardonnay…" Michael beamed. "A martini with an extra olive." Ezra's mother beamed harder. "The darkest ale we have." Ezra's father choked on his tongue. "And a bottle of Glen Deveron. I'll help." He got up again and returned a minute later with everything, Beelzebub carrying only a bottle of Glen Deveron and cradling it tenderly. Gabriel still looked quite paralyzed.
"Nothing for you here," hissed Beelzebub with the most morbid smile and left. Gabriel remained silent for the rest of the evening, while his whole family cooed over Crowley and complained about the state of him ("Too skinny, Ezra, you should take care of him, he's such a sweetheart.") and planned the next visit. They ate dinner at Crow and Snake, and then said their goodbyes. Ezra breathed out and held Crowley.
"I'm sorry, my love. I didn't know he had become even more of a wanker."
The wanker returned.
"Look, sorry, could you tell me about that girl with black hair… What?"
Ezra and Crowley were looking behind Gabriel's back, and as he turned around he was faced with Beelzebub yet again and smiled like a loon.
"Not a girl, moron."
"Oh… sorry. Boy then…"
"Not a boy. Not a girl. I'm Beelzebub and my preferred pronoun is singular they. You are to leave this place and if you consider coming back, you'll crawl here, and I'll make sure you'll get that trip to Australia. Promise."
"Ehm… sorry… I was just…" Gabriel tried looking to his brother for support, but his brother and his angular love had left.
"Just you know… How about… we get a drink sometime?" Gabriel's knees were leaving him too.
"A drink? You are repulsive, I can't stand looking at you, I'll throw up before we even order something. I told you. Nothing for you here."
"Oh… pity… you are beautiful."
"You are repulsive. Get out."
Gabriel walked away. He was experiencing something entirely new to him - he was humbled. Beelzebub looked at him with such open disgust, such obvious repulsion, and it stung like nothing else ever could.
Chapter 10: Lord of flies
Mostly and unexpectedly Gabriel and Beelzebub
With all the excitement and worry of meeting each other's families, Ezra had forgotten about Crowley's birthday, to Anathema's fury. In his defense, he booked a studio and he arranged everything. It wasn't his fault that they had to wait.
"Oh, Dr Device, you've been scheming for a few years, and Crowley is definitely suspecting something. It might just as well wait for another year."
Crowley hated his birthday for all the wrong reasons. He liked having a night of free drinks, but he hated the thought of being celebrated. Besides, as of late, Ezra was celebrating him every night, and Crowley made it very clear that he didn't want to be celebrated any other way or less often. Birthdays didn't allow any of it.
"And, Dr Device?"
"Why would we even celebrate someone who doesn't want to be celebrated?"
"Because he means a lot! It's not only for him."
"Then I'm glad I managed to persuade you to make it more private. Had I failed, I would have told Crowley everything immediately."
"Are you… threatening me, Ezra?" Anathema looked both amused and shocked.
"Sort of. Also, you told me I was a shitty boyfriend and I'm trying to be better. How is it going?"
"Pretty awful, still. I could admire your protective instincts. I definitely admire you don't like having secrets from him."
"Well, to be completely honest, I told him that you want to… honour him, but I promised him that my participation will ensure that it's more to his tastes. Now he is excited."
"You are a marvelous schemer, Ezra. Can I borrow your Bernstein's Harvard lectures?"
Crowley moved in his usual fire dance, Manuel de Falla incarnate, fire incarnate, except for dangerous and burning aspects. He was easy-going and charming with everyone, and Ezra learned to know that it was his way to be polite. He couldn't say he was glad to see someone without smiling, he was genuinely interested in things his patrons chose to share with him, but that easiness turned into something more intimate, more natural when he spoke with Ezra, so Ezra became more relaxed. He loved watching him, he loved sitting by the counter, writing or reading or indeed only watching Crowley burn around, warming the space. Ezra felt calm and confident enough to get rid of his bow ties for good, after all it gave Crowley easier access to him once they were alone. Ezra even went as far as growing a beard, and a quite messy one, although he suspected that with his unruly curls he couldn't have any other kind of beard. He in general became a bit messier, a bit looser, softer in his behaviour. As if Crowley's nature had been contagious, Ezra caught it and was on fire himself. There were people considering hanging from the ceiling just to attend his lectures, and he felt nothing but joy sharing his vast knowledge, his experience, his love for what he did. He was happy.
"Angel, I demand to know!"
"Lord, what have I done, my dear?"
"You are beaming. Why are you beaming?"
"You are beautiful, I love you, you made me happy, and I love making you happy too. I love seeing, as I'm watching you, that no one can make you smile the way I do."
"Dropped another piano on me, didn't you?"
"But very gently, Anthony."
"Still, it's a piano." Crowley leaned over the counter to kiss Ezra on the cheek.
This is it, thought Ezra, this is actually seeing, being able to finally notice the terrible, complicated, ineffable order of things, of the universe. Not everything made sense, but sitting here, feeling the warmth of Crowley's lips on his cheek, seeing Crowley sauntering away with a few pink blotches across his face, the world was right and full of joy.
You are my eyes, Ezra mused, my ears, my heart, my whole pudgy body you love so much, my soul, my breath…
He told Crowley as much, he did his best to behave himself according to it, and mostly he succeeded.
"Ehm… hi, Ezra."
Ezra turned to see his brother.
"Evening, Gabriel. What's up?" He sipped his Glen Deveron and found Crowley with his eyes to fix the world back into the joyous order.
"Is… are they here?"
"Who, exactly?" Ezra knew very well who. Gabriel had even called him several times. Crowley noticed Gabriel and sneered.
"Looking for me, arsehole?" Beelzebub smirked behind Gabriel's back, and somehow Gabriel looked pleased and not scared. Ezra raised an eyebrow and exchanged looks with Crowley.
"Yes… actually I…"
"How can I help you, Gabriel?" Crowley was using his most polite tone, the one that had hardly any emotions.
"Oh, hello, Crowley. I… I thought you knew exactly what everyone wants."
"Doesn't apply to arseholes, though." Beelzebub crossed their arms.
"Ezra, I don't like how I'm being treated here."
"Oh, Gabriel, since when do you need my protection?.."
Crowley put a tumbler with Glen Deveron in front of Gabriel and stood closer to Ezra. Beelzebub walked around the counter and stood next to Crowley, arms still crossed.
"May I… may I speak with you in private?" begged Gabriel.
"Nah, if it's decent, you can say in front of your brother and especially Crowley. He is my big bad brother. In arms."
"That's me!" Crowley looked very proud.
"I'm taking over, loser, have your five minutes of sickening sweetness with your lover. "
"How can you make "lover" a curse?" Ezra was quite intrigued.
"They are Beelzebub, it's the least they can do." Crowley winked.
"I… I just want to ask you out!" Gabriel begged louder, and Beelzebub smiled more morbidly.
"You know, arsehole, you can't always get what you want. I can't get people to use my pronouns correctly sometimes, and you are moping about a bloody drink. Here," they posed themselves in front of Gabriel holding their glass of wine. "You, me, drinking. Cheers." Gabriel raised his glass but Beelzebub raised their glass towards Crowley's and then Ezra's and only then Gabriel's.
"Everything you ever wanted?" They sneered.
"Yes, quite," admitted Gabriel rather sincerely.
"What do you want to talk about, arsehole?"
"I can assure you my anatomy is not limited to arsehole. You could call me urethra just as well." Gabriel was redder than Crowley's hair and seemed very bold.
"Proud of you, brother," muttered Ezra. Crowley was still in shock. Beelzebub looked mildly intrigued. Or irritated.
"If you insist. So, urethra, what do you want to talk about?"
"I'd like to know about you… which body part should I call you?" Gabriel dared looking Beelzebub in the eye. Beelzebub looked more intrigued than irritated. Crowley decided to return to work to avoid staring, and Ezra decided to keep staring. Beelzebub gave him a look that supposedly said "watch me", and Ezra knew better than to disobey Beelzebub.
"Ezra, could you maybe leave?.." Gabriel felt bolder than he had deserved the right to be, and Beelzebub answered before Ezra could open his mouth.
"Arsehole, your brother stays. It's his spot. Here he watches his lover sway his hips like a drunk crow he is. Besides, I like him. Ezra, want to come over the counter and join me?"
Ezra did his best to stay serious and obliged. Beelzebub put their head on his shoulder. Ezra felt so protective he began considering adoption.
"You can refer to me as "hairdo". I love the way it sounds." Beelzebub ran their hand through their thick black hair.
"Could you tell me about yourself, Beelzebub?" Gabriel was surprisingly unperturbed.
"Beelzebub, 26, been working here since school. Parents died. Never liked studying, so here I am. What about you, urethra?" Beelzebub moved their head on Ezra's shoulder a bit, getting cozier. Ezra definitely decided he needed to talk to Crowley about adoption. And marriage. But mostly adoption. And marriage as a means to adoption.
"I'm afraid I'm five years older than Ezra, lawyer, parents very much alive, Jewish, but not observant…"
"Pity, I am," interrupted Beelzebub.
"You work Saturdays," reminded Ezra.
"Your goy lover made me do it… alright, alright, don't look at me like that. I think of alleviating Saturday hangover as tikkun olam. Still go to shul though. What else, Gabriel?"
"I'm an arrogant bastard," admitted Gabriel. Crowley choked a few steps from them, and Ezra spit his drink and was frantically wiping his mouth.
"I must call mother. She won't believe me. Are you alright, Beelzebub, or should I stay?" Ezra looked at Beelzebub.
"Even I won't stand between a Jew and their mother. Might be dangerous."
"Definitely." Ezra stayed where he was, though, and opted for texting.
"Why aren't you married, Gabriel? Dashing as you are… No offense, Ezra, you are sweeter than cough syrup, but your brother, if he keeps his mouth shut, looks like a sex god."
"I'm… I…" Gabriel stuttered, looked into his empty glass (Crowley refilled it passing by), looked up at Ezra.
"What, been waiting for someone like me?" Asked Beelzebub smirking, but apparently they were at the end of their banter, because Gabriel suddenly looked at them and said with more honesty than Ezra had ever heard him:
"I suppose yes. That's… that's the best way to put it. Hairdo," and he smiled, for the first time in his life, like a smitten teenager.
"Ok, Ezra, you can go."
Ezra coughed to cover his laughter and surprise and returned to his place.
"Wanna finish now?" asked Crowley.
"No, I'm good. Finishing in two hours. Want to wait for me some more?"
"Yes, I'd love to." Gabriel kept smiling, and Crowley refilled his glass.
Gabriel spent the rest of the evening sitting next to his brother, silently. Ezra wasn't going to mock him or bother him or pull any more words out of him. Gabriel had it bad enough. Beelzebub could make it even worse, and that was something worth pondering over.
Having closed everything and after Crowley and Ezra had left back to Ezra's, Beelzebub stood in front of Gabriel, their arms crossed.
"No, not quite. Thank you."
"Want something else?"
"On the house. Crowley wouldn't mind. Spoils me rotten, that kind fucker. Must be your brother's influence. He had always been soft, but Ezra made him gooey as a browney."
"Do you love him?" Gabriel sounded jealous and Beelzebub smirked.
"Of course I do. Whomever you ask around here, everyone loves him. Arsehole."
"I'm sorry, I've forgotten myself."
"That you have. I'm not warmed up enough, arsehole, to allow you to be jealous. I'm never going to be warmed up enough to allow that."
"I'm sorry. It won't happen again."
"What do you want, Gabriel?"
"I want you, hairdo."
"Could be arranged. Anything else, urethra?"
"I want you every day, I can't stop thinking about you, and I…"
"What, had you way with me in your dreams?"
"No. In my dreams I want to walk in the park with you and talk to you and know everything you'll allow me to know about you. I'm not drunk. Promise."
"I know, Gabriel. Crowley is careful. So am I. How can I help with your… want?"
"Before I answer, could you tell me what you want?"
"I have everything I want. Love my job, love my life, my shul."
"Well then… could we go to dinner someday? Could I call or text you sometimes? Could I… bring you… things?"
"Yes to dinner, yes to texting. I don't like gifts."
"What do you like?"
"Sushi. Red wine. Gothic novels. Led Zeppelin. You?"
"None of what you've mentioned, Beelzebub."
"Pity." They sounded like an old seasoned warrior presented with a less than promising knight.
"But I like you."
"That we have in common, I guess. Come, I could help you with the carnal aspect of your want for now."
"Are you serious? What if I die on you?"
"I'll have to wake Crowley up in the middle of the night, and Ezra wouldn't approve of being separated from Crowley." Beelzebub shrugged.
"Can't allow that, I suppose."
"You absolutely can't. Come. It's a short walk."
Chapter 11: In the name of... Beelzebub
Mostly Beelzebub and Gabriel. It's surprisingly fluffy...
Ezra woke up because there was buzzing. Usually their mornings were quiet and peaceful, no buzzing whatsoever. Eyes still closed, Ezra tried searching for his phone. Crowley grumpily mumbled something and turned around thus depriving himself of Ezra's warmth and even more grumpily readjusted his long body.
"Gabriel, it's almost certainly very early in the morning, and unless you are in mortal danger, I see no reason to call me. Even if you are in mortal danger, what can your soft brother do?"
Ezra sat up, rubbing his eyes, or rather he tried sitting up and hit his head on the bottom of the harpsichord and loudly cursed. Crowley worriedly asked, "You alright, angel?" without waking up.
"Ezra, are you alright?" Gabriel sounded… peculiar.
"Yes, we fell asleep under the harpsichord and I hit my head… It's fine, Anthony… "
Gabriel heard shuffling, then another thump that made the lawyer wince in compassion, to his own surprise.
"What have you done to Beelzebub?" He heard Crowley's yelling.
"Nothing illegal," answered Gabriel absent-mindedly.
"Anthony, crawl from under the fucking harpsichord before I have to take you to the hospital!.. Gabriel, how may I help you, really? It's too early to die, be in danger or receive a biopsy."
"Ok, I probably deserved that… I need to talk to Crowley."
"You wanker! What do you need at this hour?" Crowley yelled much louder, apparently having taken the phone from Ezra.
"Do they like flowers? Chocolates? Regular stuff?"
Crowley growled. There was another thump.
"Darling, don't make me choose between you and my harpsichord! Get out of there." Ezra sounded rather affectionate for someone faced with an impossible (for Ezra, as far as Gabriel knew) choice between Crowley and the harpsichord.
"Have you tried asking Beelzebub themselves? Because you know, I've never considered dating them!"
"I asked them. They said they don't like gifts… I want to give them something anyway."
"Gabriel… You soft bastard." Crowley was genuinely touched. And angry.
"Listen, wanker… I mean, Gabriel. You'll have to figure this out for yourself. Not giving out any of their secrets. They'll kill me slowly, if I do."
"Did Gabriel call you at six in the morning?"
"He did, Beelzebub."
"Satan, I thought it was a particularly nasty nightmare. What did he want? And sorry for having any part in interrupting your sleep/morning sex/shameless cuddling."
"He wanted to know whether you liked flowers, chocolates and, I quote, "regular stuff". Said wanted to give you something. I didn't say a thing."
"Cross my heart. Actually, I'm an atheist, so no crossing. My word. Told him to figure it out."
"Hm… and why did I get a fucking pool of daffodils?"
Beelzebub was nuts about daffodils. Also, it was absolutely not the season for daffodils.
"You might have told him?.." Crowley was as surprised as Beelzebub.
"Nah, didn't do much talking. Well, I didn't. He couldn't shut his fucking mouth."
"Ehm… good for you, I guess? Listen, do you want me to roast him alive? I will, you know."
Beelzebub laughed, not at all morbidly, well, maybe a bit morbidly.
"No, Crowley, I could do it myself."
"I know. But if you only want to watch…"
"It's fine. Now, what am I supposed to do with two hundred daffodils?"
"Evening, baby," said Gabriel quietly. Beelzebub smirked and pecked him on the lips.
"Evening, Gabriel. Thanks for the flowers. Do it again, and I'm going to roast you. Alive."
"That's my darling!" Gabriel actually laughed. Ezra tried very hard to avoid doing the same.
"You are supposed to be scared, arsehole."
"I am, baby, I am. Just happy about it."
Beelzebub raised their eyebrows, shook their head and went on with their work.
"Don't look at me like that!" Gabriel was red as a rose.
"Oh, I'm not sure I won't go blind, brother. You are… glowing. Happy. Lord. What happened to you?"
Gabriel glared. Ezra didn't react.
"How… when you knew you loved Anthony, who did you talk to?" Gabriel sounded worryingly human.
"Ehm… mostly Anthony," admitted Ezra.
"Nobody calls me Anthony, wanker." Crowley served Gabriel his Glen Deveron.
"Sorry. I won't, I promise."
"Beelzebub, what have you done to my brother and where is he?" Ezra swallowed his smile and tried looking menacing, which meant he looked like a very angry muffin with strawberry frosting. Beelzebub shrugged.
"If you are asking for your mother, I don't think she wants to know what I've done to him."
Gabriel smiled like an idiot.
"That bad, huh?" Ezra was having the time of his life.
"Was wonderful," replied Gabriel dreamily. Beelzebub rolled their eyes.
Most of the patrons had left and Beelzebub was pushing Crowley and Ezra to do the same. When they finally did, this time going off to Crowley's flat, Beelzebub sat on the counter in front of Gabriel.
"I guessed your favourite flowers… I'm so glad. Did you like them?"
"Gabriel, if I allowed you to publicly call me "baby", it doesn't mean I'll let you do the whole courting thingy. I don't like it. You may spend a night at mine, but I'm too tired for anything."
"Don't need anything, baby. If I can sleep next to you, that's beyond great… Not drunk, swear."
"I know. But very… sappy. What is wrong with you?"
"Missed you, hairdo. Missed you, baby."
"Do you understand how creepy you sound calling me "baby"?"
"I do. Does it bother you, baby?"
"No, it doesn't. But I'm… well… unconventional. Unlike you."
"Fuck it all. You are fiercer than anything I've seen, and if I can call you "baby", then… then I'm fucking honoured."
"Alright… I might snog you. Hold your horses. Still tired."
Gabriel bathed them and rubbed their feet and cooked them dinner. Beelzebub eventually couldn't roll their eyes anymore and fell asleep on Gabriel's shoulder.
"How come you are not tired?" they asked sleepily.
"Oh, I'm holding you, baby, I don't need anything else to keep going."
"Ok, you are softer than a baby rabbit and you should sleep. I don't want you to lose any of your cases because of me."
"Evening, Gabriel. Look awful."
"I know, I'm sorry. My turn to be tired, I guess."
Ezra and Crowley didn't laugh anymore. Ezra was actually quite compassionate and did his best to hide any knowledge about Beelzebub from Gabriel. Crowley just doubled Gabriel's usual portion.
"I'll try to get rid of everybody as fast as possible, sweet. We can go home then."
"Thanks, baby. Looking forward to it."
"You shouldn't come every day, you know."
"I shouldn't, baby, I know. Can't help it."
"God, you are hopeless."
"I am," beamed Gabriel.
"Hey, Beelz, bitch, usual, huh?" The man was relatively new, had no idea of anyone's existence but his own and hadn't learned not to mess with Beelzebub. The pub went silent. The man remained stupid.
"Heard you got yourself a sugar daddy. How long do you have to suck him to be able to get off? I could please you much better, you know."
Beelzebub was as morbid as an abandoned morgue.
"Why would you want some old dick? A girl like you…"
Beelzebub grabbed the man's scarf and pulled him so hard, his smug face hit the counter.
"You know, they always tell girls not to wear scarves or their hair loose… you are so stupid!" Beelzebub pulled harder.
"Hey, bitch, what got you so worked up? Sugar daddy can't fuck you properly?" Beelzebub pulled yet harder. Crowley stood calmly and let Beelzebub handle it. He exchanged looks with Ezra and Gabriel, although Gabriel was too shocked to do anything.
"Gonna break every bone in your sorry body," hissed Beelzebub.
"Yes, jump my bones, bitch."
Gabriel took a deep breath and managed a look at Beelzebub. They ignored him.
"My beautiful baby, you don't deserve it. Nobody does," whispered Gabriel.
"Oh, so you are the sugar daddy!" The man was too drunk to care for his face being pressed to the counter or for the air leaving his lungs. Beelzebub let go of him.
"You are so underfucked, Beelz. You only need to ask… No, let's see what the police would say about you threatening a patron!"
Crowley made a very quiet and disquieting sound. Gabriel looked at Beelzebub and asked, "May I, baby?" "Fire away, sweet," answered Beelzebub and bit their lip.
Gabriel grabbed the man by the shoulder and roughly, moving his entire body, turned him to look him straight into the face. The motion made a lock of Gabriel's hair fall on his eyes and he fixed it without a care, which took Beelzebub's breath away.
"Ezra…" began Gabriel.
"Here. Whatever you need, brother."
Gabriel suddenly apologised to Crowley ("Be my guest," answered Crowley, worried and amused.) and hissed to the man:
"I'm a lawyer, boy, and you know, one phone call away are all the judges and lawyers of Oxfordshire, and if I mention to them that you found no pleasure in my eyes, or worse, that you offended my family…"
"Got it!" The man whimpered. Gabriel let him go and disgustedly wiped his hands on the man's scarf.
Ezra stood up and together with Gabriel saw the man out of the pub. Then Crowley raised his voice and said:
"If anyone filmed it, do Beelzebub a favour and delete it. They don't deserve any backlash. Neither does their partner."
There was a loud shuffling all through the pub.
"Not even as karma porn?" A question came.
"No. Memorise it," replied Crowley.
Beelzebub suddenly was behind Gabriel and took his hand and pulled him with them. Once they were in the backyard, they rolled a cigarette and put it in Gabriel's mouth.
"I liked that," they said lighting the cigarette.
"He was awful… I could kill him and plead insanity, I think."
"You let me handle it."
"You could handle it. I… like, I'd like to be your knight but… it's inappropriate with you. You are your own knight."
"Oh, you're welcome. My pleasure, I guess. Surely Crowley does the same for you."
"He does, of course. But he'd known me for ten years. You've barely known me for a month, and you knew that. I'm very grateful."
"I like chocolate with dill," confided Beelzebub and kissed Gabriel fully on the lips.
"Gonna get you all…"
"Don't be like that. I just want you to know, ok? Trust you with this information."
"Thank you, baby. You know, I don't even smoke."
"You've just smoked a whole cigarette, Gabriel, so it's too late. I'm gonna get back to work. Could give you the keys to my flat…"
"Unless you are there, baby, there's nothing I can do. I saw that Ezra supplied you with some of his favourites…"
"Arsehole, don't. Most of the books are Crowley's gifts through the years."
"I didn't mean to offend, baby. My brother does have quite an exquisite taste, and I'm no match for it."
"Indeed. Gabriel, don't make it hard for me to like you."
"And you know, I mean, it's so beautiful that most people this side of the equator are asleep or about to go to bed. There's such music to it, you know? Such order, it's totally divine… what? Give me your turtleneck, you don't pick a fight wearing a beige turtleneck."
"I think I love you," whispered Gabriel handing his turtleneck to Beelzebub.
"And the moon is made of green cheese. You are softer than Ezra."
"You are doing all the tough stuff, baby. I can only be soft. Although you should see me in court."
"Is this an invitation?" Beelzebub walked away to put the turtleneck into the washing machine.
"If you want, you always have one."
"Gabriel." Beelzebub returned and straddled Gabriel pushing him into the pillows. "Stop it. You don't need to be so talkative."
"Oh, but I want to be so talkative, baby."
"Whatever. You know, you looked so sexy fixing your hair." They brushed Gabriel's hair carefully.
"Beelzebub, baby, I love you, I want you."
"Yeah, I'm going to fix that." Beelzebub didn't sound all that confident.
"I don't want you to fix a thing. I want… I mean I'd love you to meet my co-workers, my partners. My parents."
"Stop it!" Beelzebub hissed and bit Gabriel's lip.
"Does it make you feel uncomfortable, baby?"
"Yes. Nobody talks to me like that and I'm not sure I like it."
"Lord, what do they tell you?"
"Gabriel, you are not going to melt me with your talking."
"I don't want to melt you. I want you to be happy, to enjoy yourself, to smile at me, to kiss me, to call me stupid names. Want you with me as often as you want me, want you with me each night…"
"I love you."
"Shut it! It's enough you didn't get mad seeing my genitalia."
"I love your genitalia, I don't care about anything else. You… only you."
Beelzebub hastily got up and looked down at Gabriel.
"Baby, what's wrong?" Gabriel sat up cradling their face.
"You… what are you doing?"
"I love you."
"I love how you say my name, how you look at me, how you smile morbidly, how tender and brave you are, how fierce, how fearsome… I love everything about you."
"Do shut up."
"As you say, baby, as you say."
Crowley woke up to buzzing. He made sure they hadn't fallen asleep under the harpsichord, remembered it was his flat, so no harpsichord was available and finally answered the phone.
"Yes, how can I help?" He rubbed at his eyes.
"He said he loves me."
"Oh, Beelzebub. Morning… it's two in the morning! Are you nuts?"
"He said he loves me."
"Ok… ehm, good?"
"I don't know what to do. I really don't."
"Do you love him?"
"Are you kidding? We've been dating for a little more than a month!"
"Doesn't answer my question."
"Have you seen him!?"
"Yeah, a mighty wanker and an arrogant ass. As fluffy as a flamingo when he's around you."
"Don't you dare talk about him like that!.. oh shit."
"Well… let's have a double date, huh? Us and you with Gabriel?"
"I'll talk to him."
"Good. Great. Anything else?"
"He said he wants me to meet his co-workers. Do you realise how terrible it would be? Sugar baby, sugar daddy… "
"His colleagues must be smarter than that."
"Crowley, you just want me to be your person-in-law."
"I'm not exactly married myself."
"Nah, it won't be long."
"What the fuck?" Ezra angrily and sleepily turned to hold Crowley closer.
"Your brother is messing with Beelzebub's heart."
"Nah, he can't mess. He's so… organised."
"Aha. And Beelzebub doesn't really know what to do with it."
"You know, Anthony, you should marry me and it will be so much easier for everyone involved."
"Angel, you can't propose half-asleep!"
"Watch me, love."
"Marry me. We'll adopt. It's gonna be fun."
"Alright, I'll marry you, and I was Beelzebub's legal guardian since they were sixteen, so…"
"See, you have experience with teenagers, let's do it."
"Fuck, angel, we'll have to talk in the morning."
"Sure, my love. For now, spoon me and go to sleep."
Chapter 12: Meister Floh
It goes down like a lead balloon
A lot of cursing, some slut shaming, punished on sight, and a... Cliffhanger. Of sorts.
Title is from Hoffman's novel, translates as master flea.
Ezra was happy, and against the better judgment of many an artist, happiness made Ezra active, inventive, adventurous and mischievous. Happiness was Tetragrammaton in golem's mouth. Happiness was fire. Since both golem and fire might be interpreted as signs of progress (golem was the first shot at practical robotechnics, but unfortunately without Azimov's laws, and fire was… well, fire was fire, and fire shouldn't be underestimated), Ezra was making progress. He wrote much more music than he ever had, except for his childhood endeavours which had been just that, childhood endeavours. Crowley read to him a lot, and about things Ezra wouldn't have thought of without Crowley. Like for example that trees had kindergartens, trees formed communities, trees would protect and fight and die ever so slowly and stay majestic all through the years. Like Goethe's idea of a prototypical plant put into a poem of all things. (When Crowley finished telling this to Ezra, he danced on the bed singing Sex Bomb. To Goethe. For a poem. Ezra absolutely had to write that opera. Or stop being jealous of a long dead man. Rather opera, though. Seemed more feasible.) In short, the universe gave up all pretense of playing quietly and pulled out crescendos like Beethoven on LCD. The author here is trying their best to cover for the lack of serious and grandiose idea, and discovers anew that Goethe was right, which brings the author joy. Oh, and what was he right about? He was right about poetry requiring less substance than prose. One can write beautiful poetry without much essence, but it's much more difficult to pull off with prose. One actually has to have an idea. Why have I been talking about it? To give an example of how Ezra would talk to Crowley and frustrate him to no end, and Crowley welcomed it like an old poet some youthful inspiration. Or as you like it.
Anyways, after some careful and rather drunk consideration Ezra decided that the double date had to be masqueraded as brotherly breakfast with brothers' significant others present. Ezra's reasoning was solid, especially while drunk. Beelzebub and Crowley couldn't really have taken an evening off. They relied on each other and couldn't leave Crow and Snake in Hastur's hands for longer than a few smoking minutes. Therefore, it had to be breakfast. Ezra had been feeling more affectionate to his brother, either because he was happy and the world had to be overall lovely for it, or because Gabriel had indeed become more tolerable and indeed pretty fluffy. Mockingly or genuinely, but Ezra wanted the double date to give him enough opportunities to laugh at Gabriel or commiserate with him. Crowley was too drunk and in love and drunk in love to deny Ezra anything, and Ezra knew he'd pay for it and couldn't wait for Crowley's sweet revenge. He was so excited that he spent ten lectures sauntering vaguely from his own syllabus to deliver a long and thorough overview of baroque music treatises with special attention to Leopold Mozart because he was feeling fatherly.
"Same. How are you?" Beelzebub served Gabriel martini and ignored Gabriel's questions. After a while and a long conversation with Ezra that made their teeth rot for the sheer amount of sweetness in it, Beelzebub returned and asked whether Ezra had already told Gabriel anything. Ezra shook his head and went out for a smoke with Crowley.
"They are snogging." Beelzebub was gloating.
"Are you envious, baby, or mocking?"
"I can be both, no?"
"You can be whatever you want, baby. May I tell you the thing?"
"I'd… alright, fire away."
"I love you, baby. I've missed you."
"I love you too… arsehole."
Gabriel choked on his martini. Beelzebub was morbidly happy.
"We are having breakfast, the four of us, this Sunday. Up here, in Crowley's flat."
"The four of us?"
"Yes, us and the Crowleys."
"The Crowleys? What, are they engaged or married or…"
"Gabriel, they will be married before you can say supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. Swear."
Sunday morning Beelzebub knocked on Crowley's door. They were wearing their pyjama pants and an oversized sweater. Gabriel wasn't wearing his tie and had two buttons of his shirt opened, which meant he was just as casual as Beelzebub.
Ezra opened the door and beamed, and Beelzebub was very glad to see their own morbid tones in his smile.
"Morning. Lovely to see you both. Come in."
The table had been served, or rather it had been doing its best to avoid collapsing under that much delicious food. Gravlax, scrambled eggs, a mountain of toasts, a selection of jams, several cheese plates, several salads and a very proud Crowley putting fresh scones between two cheese plates. Beelzebub appeared impressed. Gabriel discovered he could be as hungry as a normal human. For a while nobody spoke and everybody chewed most reverently.
"I was very surprised to hear that Anthony used to be your guardian. How had it happened?" Ezra looked at Crowley and then at Beelzebub.
"Ehm… he volunteered. My rabbi didn't mind."
"But he's not a Jew!" Ezra sounded scandalised, but not really.
"The rabbi said he was unconventional and kind and that was exactly what I might need."
"And Crowley impressed the whole shul with his knowledge of Talmud." Beelzebub knew how sweet revenge might be. Beelzebub grinned like Grinch.
"Oh my dear… what did you say?"
"That Talmud identifies eight genders." Crowley grinned too, and Ezra felt warm and a tiny bit aroused.
"Indeed," supplied Gabriel, but without his usual smugness.
"Love, you've never been hotter." Ezra kissed Crowley on the cheek. Crowley blushed.
"Hey, stupid, there are people in the room," reminded Beelzebub. Gabriel looked very envious.
"Didn't notice," replied Ezra looking at Crowley.
"So, how have you been?" Crowley wasn't blushing, he was just pink, it was his usual colour.
"I've been splendid," said Beelzebub.
"Me too, I guess." Gabriel risked a glance at Beelzebub and nodded. Beelzebub rolled their eyes and took Gabriel's hand, which was a wicked thing to do, because Gabriel turned pink too.
"I wanted us to talk…" Crowley politely coughed. "I wanted to say that if you break their heart, I'll kill you. Alive."
"That's how it works, dearest."
A few hours and pots of tea later, the proverbial shit hit the proverbial fan, and the double date became therapy, although there wasn't much healing.
"What do you want from me?!" yelled Beelzebub.
"I want you, baby!" Gabriel yelled back.
Ezra and Crowley at that point were just sipping their tea and silently rejoiced in their quiet happiness.
"What does it even mean? We fuck, we talk, we literally sleep together, what do you want?" Beelzebub absent-mindedly refilled Gabriel's cup. "You want to marry me? To live with me?"
"Yes!" Gabriel yelled again. Ezra frowned.
"We met when you insulted Crowley and fat-shamed your own brother!"
"And you got over it!"
"I didn't get over it, arsehole! You improved, that's it. I'm quite forgiving, you know."
"Are you, though? Haven't noticed!"
"How dare you?"
"No, baby, how dare you? I've never felt anything like what I feel for you, and sorry if you sleep around so much you can't tell the difference anymore!"
Ezra had never before seen Beelzebub hurt or disappointed. He witnessed both now.
"Get the fuck out of Crowley's flat," growled Beelzebub and stood up. They were terrifying and fearsome. Black hair could probably electrify anyone in the vicinity.
"Baby, I'm sorry, I didn't mean it…"
"Get. The fuck. Out. Of. My. Home." Beelzebub growled again and looked scarier than Gabriel's worst nightmare. Coincidentally, that was Gabriel's worst nightmare.
"I fucking trusted you, I fucking let you into my life, I fucking gave you a chance. You failed, arsehole."
"I failed? I failed!? You suggested we'd fuck!"
"I liked you. Now get out. You can't slut-shame me and claim to love me."
"Baby, I'm sorry, I'm older than you, I… I really don't know what I'm doing."
"You are older than me. You should know better. I once promised to kick you out. I will do it."
Ezra got to his feet and walked around the table to grab his brother's elbow and pull him to the exit.
"It's all your fault!"
Ezra realised his brother was openly crying.
"How is it my fault?"
"You… and this bloody breakfast. They can't trust me with you and that skinny shit of yours around."
"Only goes to show that they shouldn't." Ezra looked back at Crowley who was sitting next to Beelzebub.
Suddenly Ezra, soft, kind, quiet, patient Ezra, pressed his brother into the wall.
"You talk like that about him, about Crowley or Beelzebub or anyone I love, like that, and I swear, I won't need Beelzebub to kick you. I hoped you could be better, brother. I did. I'm so sorry for my stupidity. Fuck off."
Chapter 13: This is the end for which we twain are met
The chapter title is from Francois Villon, Swinburne's translation. It features sadly and prominently in the wonderful movie "Petrified Forest". It's not sad here.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Baby, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry.
Listen, I know I've hurt you, I know you can't take me back. I hope you might forgive me. Please, forgive me, baby, please. Just tell me that you might forgive me.
Beelzebub shut their phone.
Baby, I swear, it's my last message. I'm sorry. I love you. I wish you all the best. I don't think I'll ever forget you or get over you. Please, smile at it morbidly. Love you.
Beelzebub read it in the morning. There was that thing about intimacy, not physical intimacy, but the sort they had had with Gabriel, the one when they could gaze at each other stupidly and talk nonsense and lie down lazily and feel safe and comfortable with each other, each doing their own thing, each thinking their own thoughts and still together. That stupid, wonderful, vulnerable intimacy made it very difficult to be truly angry with Gabriel, but Beelzebub felt they didn't want to see Gabriel or talk to him. Also, they stupidly wanted to do all that. So they texted back.
I hate you. I hate your stupid remarks. I hate your toxic notions of what is wrong or right. I hate your arrogance. I hate it that you try insulting me instead of saying "Hey baby, I'm an old fuck, I belong to another century, I'm stupid and jealous of your life without me or before me or after me. I'm scared of losing you. I'm scared you won't want me or love me or stay with me".
Beelzebub pressed "send" and went on with their morning.
Baby, I'm an old fuck, I belong to another century, I'm stupid and jealous of your life without me or before me or after me. I'm scared of losing you. I'm scared you won't want me or love me or stay with me.
Beelzebub rolled their eyes. Remembered falling asleep next to Gabriel, his head on their shoulder, the utter shock in his eyes, the trembling hands when he undressed them and bathed them and touched them.
Had you said that, I would have said "Gabriel, I'm aware of your being a fucking dinosaur, and I quite like you all the same. I like being next to you, I think you are sexy, I love the way you touch me. We can have this good thing, enjoy each other, see how it goes. If it goes well, maybe we can stay together".
Beelzebub felt somehow older and smarter and infinitely kinder than Gabriel. Of course they were right. They were always right.
I wish I had been worthy of you, baby.
Beelzebub got angry.
You were! You just had to spoil it all, didn't you?
Gabriel took a deep breath and walked into Crow and Snake. Ezra glared at him, Crowley incinerated him by a mere turn of head.
"You need to be either really stupid or awfully fucked up."
"I'm afraid I'm both." Gabriel tried to smile and it turned out absolutely horrifying. Ezra avoided looking at him, his cheeks angrily red. Ezra was ashamed to be his brother, and it somehow hurt less than Crowley's disdain or Beelzebub's absence.
"They are not here, are they?" Asked Gabriel.
"They are not." Crowley turned around and left. Gabriel thought he had nowhere else to go, it seemed nobler to stay and let them relish in his embarrassment, his humiliation. He deserved it after all.
Crowley approached him again after a torturous hour. During that hour Ezra decided he'd stay, Crowley didn't deserve to be left with Gabriel.
"They said not to look for them in the botanical garden." Crowley looked reluctant.
"What?" Gabriel looked up from the counter the pattern of which he had memorised perfectly.
"Heard me, you sore loser." Crowley poured himself a glass of wine and sat in front of Ezra.
The garden was dark and most definitely closed, yet Gabriel could see Beelzebub's silhouette a few steps behind the gate.
"How… how did you get in?"
Beelzebub took a step back and Gabriel could feel rather than see their morbid smile. He sighed.
"I'm going to make a total mess of myself." Gabriel admitted it wistfully and set off to climb over the gate. He jumped down on the other side. Beelzebub took another step back. Gabriel remained where he had landed.
"I want to hurt you," Beelzebub confessed.
"I know, baby. I deserve it."
"If that's what you think, then I can't really hurt you."
"Whatever you choose, baby."
"I thought about what we had. About being together, about touching each other. We had easy intimacy. It felt right."
"And I didn't cherish it enough."
"Not enough to consider what you are saying."
"I apologised, baby, why did you call me here? To remind me how much of an arsehole I am?"
"Oh, you are getting angry again. I didn't call you. I set up a sort of trap. You willingly walked into it."
"That's what I want to ask you. Why did you come? What do you want?"
"I want you, baby."
"What, you thought we'd have a sappy romantic reunion here? Everything would be the same? We didn't argue about the dishes or laundry or another Marvel movie."
"I don't know. I wanted to see you, nothing else mattered."
"You know what's the fucking worst, arsehole? I miss you. I wish you had kept your fucking mouth shut. I wish we had stayed together. I wish I could still trust you, hold you, love that tiny fucking bit of you that wasn't an arrogant, holier-than-thou, stupid, prejudiced… if you dare kiss me now, I'll kill you, I swear."
Gabriel, who had been slowly walking to Beelzebub, stopped.
"You see, even in the dark, even after just a few weeks together I can tell what you are doing. It fucking hurts to know you, at least the parts of you I love, and know I can't have it! Fuck, I shouldn't have done any of it, I shouldn't have answered your fucking messages."
Beelzebub was pure rage, the sheer fury of hell, of divine punishment.
"Why did you then?"
"Because I fucking love you! Because I fucking miss your gorgeous stupid face! Because I fucking hate you!"
Beelzebub breathed in deeply.
"I sincerely apologise for this fucking bloody ridiculous meeting. It shouldn't have happened and it was childish of me to set it up." They hastily walked past Gabriel and unlocked the gate.
"Get the fuck out, Gabriel. I have no idea what to do."
"What should I do?"
"You have the nerve to ask me for advice?"
"Ezra wouldn't talk to me."
"The only reason I'm talking to you is to see whether you have any intention to harm Beelzebub."
"Crowley, I appreciate that."
"Gabriel, you really shouldn't. I won't tell you a thing. I don't know a thing."
"Angel, I'm so lucky to have you."
"But my love, I did my fair share of nasty remarks."
"Never like that. Never from a position of power, privilege, age… Never like that."
"Gabriel is a bigger brat than I am, I have to admit. Would you read to me?"
"Seems wrong to be happy when they are not."
"Beelzebub can handle it. They can handle anything."
Somehow, and Crowley didn't want to know how, Beelzebub did handle it so, that a few weeks later the Crowleys (they got married by a friend of Ezra's and were just waiting for the documents to arrive) and Beelzebub were having lunch at Ezra's parents' house. Crowley was still in the process of fully realising that the thing that he had always imagined to be the happiest moment of his life, was just a drunk friend saying some words, and there they were, married, as if it had mattered something when in fact absolutely nothing had changed. They were still fighting about whether they should move into Ezra's flat or Crowley's. They were still spending all their free time together. They were falling asleep together and were waking up together. They were easily, effortlessly happy. They knew each other's thoughts and managed to enjoy their arguments. In short they were everything Beelzebub and Gabriel wanted to be.
Speaking of Beelzebub and Gabriel, they sat so far from each other it looked forced and false, which had been Gabriel's fault, of course. Beelzebub just glared at him.
"Next week I'm going to bring my partner." Michael felt comfortable announcing it. After all, she had her baby brother on her left as happy as it could get, and her twin brother, sulking like Werther, on her right.
"Looking forward to meet them," said their father.
"Are they Jewish?" Their mother had only one expectation.
"They are not. He is not. He is not white, either."
"Who do you take us for, Michael?" Mother was furious. "And we have already accepted Crowley, so you must know it doesn't really matter. We have never insisted on you finding a Jewish partner, but I can ask, can't I?"
"Alright… He's a colleague. Well, an advisory, to be honest, but he's fun. Been studying my prayer book for a month."
"Good boy!" Mother looked pleased.
"Beelzebub is Jewish," said Gabriel out of nowhere.
"Oh, but you don't deserve them, Gabriel." Their father seemed crestfallen. "You are the shame of the family, you could never enchant someone like Beelzebub."
Beelzebub got into their raging mood immediately and couldn't see the look Gabriel's parents exchanged.
"Beelzebub is kind, smart, very well versed in Talmud. They are too good for you, Gabriel." Mother added.
Gabriel lowered his gaze and nodded.
And then Beelzebub spoke.
"How dare you? He is the way he is because of you! You raised him like that, you made him like that, and he is kind, he is gentle and tender and loving! All of it is also you, but the fact that he's an arrogant ass cannot be a choice for someone who is capable of such kindness, such fierce sense of truly right and wrong!"
Under the table Gabriel's parents shook hands. Above the table Ezra and Crowley raised their eyebrows. Michael just smirked and thought about her partner and how much her parents were going to like him.
"He might be a total fuck-up of a person, but you let him be so!" Beelzebub was so angry and so beautiful with it that Gabriel chose to think of fire-like whiskey back at Crow and Snake. He could use some now.
"Oh my dear, we are very ashamed of how he turned out, don't get us wrong. We are furious with him." Mother was barely hiding their absolutely shameless giggling.
"Yeah, so am I, but you can't treat him like that! You are his family."
"You are right, my dear. Gabriel, we are sorry." Father didn't look sorry, he looked gloating, but it didn't really matter, because the matter was dropped.
"And then they were like, "professor Fell, a moment of your time", and I turned around and said "that's professor Crowley for you", and I left them there open-mouthed. It really is their fault, they had no reason whatsoever to ogle Anthony like that in my presence." Ezra fondly looked at Crowley who had doubled over himself in laughter.
"Yeah, and then they came to me in the evening and were all flustered. "Beelzebub, is Crowley snatched?" So I said, "beg your fucking pardon, but I think the right word for it is "married", and he's fluffier than my hair on a rainy day." Beelzebub could barely finish their sentence before they doubled over laughing too.
"So I just sat there and watched them… burn!" Ezra tried a very poor impression of ill-will and joined Crowley and Beelzebub in their laughing fit. Ezra's parents and Michael laughed as well, and Gabriel was sulking but everyone had gotten used to it.
"And… and Ezra's friend was so drunk… he was…" Crowley wiped his eyes and tried to breathe. "He was all like, "by the powers some short-sighted idiot bestowed on me I pronounce you married, don't kiss in front of me, please".
Everyone laughed again, even Gabriel managed a smile.
The conversation shifted and Beelzebub walked up to Gabriel and sat next to him.
"You know, you shouldn't worry about what they said. You are a good person, if you make an effort, and it's not your fault that you are too lazy to make it." They smiled.
"Thank you, baby. Thank you for coming to my rescue."
"No problems, arsehole. Repaying the favour."
"I should have shaken my head and let my hair fall over my eyes, as you like it."
"Oh, yeah, it's awfully sexy when you fix it."
Unbeknownst to them, Gabriel's parents high-fived each other, to the surprised looks of the Crowleys and Michael.
Mother walked up to Beelzebub and Gabriel.
"I'm sorry I've made you uncomfortable, son. We love you, always, no matter how annoying you are."
"Welcome, honey." She turned to Beelzebub. "And you, my sweet, are a delightful person. Thank you for showing me how insensitive I was. I really appreciate that."
"Pleasure." Beelzebub drawled but seemed touched all the same.
"I'm so glad you joined us. Crowley is such a dear, and I'm glad he has two magnificent Jews around him."
"Yeah, I really need to make it three." Beelzebub didn't really think about their answer, and Gabriel's head shot up to look at them.
I took your name not in vain I took your name because I want your name I want all of you I want your grace your smile your eyes your voice want you to read to me want all of you for me I'm just as jealous as my G-d I'm just as forgiving I'll forgive you everything just stay with me my crow my snake my love my darling I love my insomnia now I can watch you I can see you wake up to the silence of my restlessness I love how you kiss my eyes and stroke my hair and caress my shoulders and aren't you a proper Greek deity of sleep I want to watch you for the rest of the night and I fall asleep as you touch me like that rest rest rest closed eyes when you slip your tongue in my mouth first thing in the morning closed eyes when I pin you down to the bed and straddle you I'd stay there forever the pink twilight of the morning your warm body against mine your absolute trust we are the first people in the world or maybe we are the last I want you for me Anthony I want you all the time I want to be better for you you were right nothing changed when we got married but soon I'll hold a document saying we belong together to each other I love you my darling my sweet my lover my husband my promised land, my divine revelation my time my space
"Angel, I've been thinking," began Crowley that same evening when they hastily returned to Oxford.
"Yes, Anthony, me too. My parents did try playing matchmakers, and it's both worrying and hilarious."
"Matchmaking!" Beelzebub appeared out of nowhere.
"Yes. Listen, I'm sorry, I don't know what possessed them." Ezra looked guilty and sweeter for that, so Crowley kissed him.
"Oi, go work, loser." Beelzebub stayed with Ezra. "They read me like a book, though."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean my protective instincts are easily triggered… interesting. Do you think Gabriel had a hand in it?"
"I doubt it. For all I know he told them he had wanted to bring you over to meet them, they were very excited but said that being with him could be an indication of stupidity. He got really angry, for your sake of course. That's what Michael told me. She wouldn't lie."
"So they saw that you are brilliant, saw Gabriel sulking and decided… to play. Don't know about God, but my parents definitely play some peculiar game here."
"They approve of me."
"Didn't know you cared about such things."
"I absolutely fucking don't!" Beelzebub snatched Ezra's empty glass and refilled it, angrily.
"You know, how about you talk to them?"
"Crowley!" Beelzebub yelled. "Need a break, bye." They took Ezra's phone straight from his pocket on their way out.
"You know, being their guardian for two years was easier than… whatever this is." Crowley drank Ezra's scotch. "Oh, shit, sorry, angel. I'll fix it. How about we go to Vienna for the weekend?"
"Opera or cake?"
"Both, of course. Britten, "Midsummer night's dream". Sounds good?"
"Sounds absolutely fantastic. Sounds like Britten with a bit of Purcell, sounds like another mind-bogglingly happy day with you, my love."
"Don't drop pianos on me, angel. Let's argue where to move in instead."
"Don't want to argue, Anthony. I'll move in with you and go back to mine only to work. Maybe we could squeeze the piano into your flat after all."
"Angel… oh, angel… "
"Go, darling. Everyone is looking at us."
"Ezra!" Ezra's mother's excitement was tangible even through the phone.
"It's Beelzebub. I want to talk."
"Oh my dear… sure… is Ezra alright?"
"Oh, sure, all gooey and sickeningly sweet with Crowley."
"Lovely! How can I help you? Is Gabriel bothering you? Should we disown him?"
"I'm having a very hard time hearing that."
"You are such a kind soul…"
"Did you try to provoke me into… I mean, did you try to get us back together?"
"Oh… you are so clever. I told father you'd see right through, but I couldn't resist the temptation. I've never seen Gabriel so smitten, serves him well."
"I don't know what to do. You know what happened?"
"Certainly! He told us everything in a particularly boring voice. Means he's losing it."
"So… you think I could just… forgive and forget?"
"That's only for you to decide, my dear."
"Tell me what to do, for fuck's sake!"
"What do you want, sweetheart?"
"Don't call me that."
"But you are a sweetheart, Beelzebub."
"I want to forget. Want to move on. Want him back with me because we had something good, something fucking tender and special. Then he'll insult me again, and I won't be able to forget again."
"He doesn't deserve you, my darling. You were right, we spoiled him, took his brattiness too lightly, have given him too many chances. Now he's getting old and is still a brat."
"You are not helping."
"I can't help, my dear. I'm not risking your happiness and sense of self-worth by giving you advice."
"Will you tell Gabriel?"
"Tell Gabriel?! Of course not. I promise."
"Ok, I'll believe you."
"Thank you, dear. Have a good evening."
Beelzebub stared into the darkness, and the darkness stared back as it's prone to do. They looked down at Ezra's phone in their hand.
"Right… I'm going to tell him that if he fucks it up again, I'll never think of him again. I can do it. Cool. Am I being ridiculous? Am I being a pining idiot like Crowley? Is it a family trait, to be inconsiderate from time to time just to turn into a pink cloud of love at the right moment? Why am I talking to myself like a lunatic? Fuck, shit, hell… right." They dialed Gabriel's number.
"Ezra? Is everything alright?"
"What is it about you that if Ezra calls you, you think something's wrong?" Beelzebub discovered they really needed an answer to that question.
"Baby… is Ezra alright?"
"He is. Sure. Your mother asked the same question."
"Did you… call her from Ezra's phone too?"
"Oh… oh… bloody hell."
"Why did you talk to my mother, if I may ask?"
"About you. Wanted to talk to her about you."
"I'm afraid to think about your conversation."
"Where are you now?"
"Is there anywhere you'd like me to be, baby?"
"Yes. I want you to come to my place. I should be done before you arrive. Can you do that?"
"Of course, baby. Sure… I'm on my way."
"If you insult me again, I'll forget about you."
They heard Gabriel swallow.
"Never, baby. I'll never offend or insult you again."
By Crowley's next birthday nothing had been finished, unsurprisingly, and Anathema finally gave up. She glared at Ezra's content smile and ordered another martini. Ezra had a gift of his own, it was waiting under Crowley's pillow. Its fulfilment would take place in a year.
Gabriel came to pick Beelzebub up, tame as a lamb, softer than a lamb and careful as a lamb. Beelzebub gave him a morbid smile, considered something for a second and gave him a kiss as well.
"Fluffy," gloated Ezra.
"Guilty," shrugged Beelzebub. Gabriel just looked at them hardly capable of believing his own luck.
Crowley of course failed to find Ezra's gift, so Ezra had to pull it out from under the pillow and hand it to Crowley. Ezra made sure to pout and appear very upset indeed, and it worked as usual, and Ezra got his fair share of kisses, sweet nothings, ridiculous oaths and promises and a very disturbed crow of his husband on his lap. Scrumptious.
"But look at it, my dear," reminded Ezra, both to Crowley and to himself. Pouting and its consequences were good, but the gift was serious, was important, far more serious and important than anything else.
Crowley opened the thick manila envelope and pulling its contents out gasped.
"You… you did it… angel."
"Turn the page."
Crowley obliged and then looked up at Ezra, tears in his eyes.
"I didn't write you the libretto."
"Well, you can't do everything, my love."
"I love you, angel."
"I sincerely hope so. I love you terribly."
(Ezra did write the opera for "Elective affinities". On the second page, right before the score began, it said "For Anthony, to Crowley".)
Thank you all for staying on, for you hits, your kudos and your comments. You all are so very special to me.