There were many things Anthony J. Crowley expected out of his life, but to end up living in a sleepy, tiny country-side village? Hardly one of those.
And yet, here he was. Standing in the middle of the unkempt pathway leading up to his new home-to-be, with too many boxes still waiting for him in the small truck he rented for the move and his shirt sticking to his back, drenched in sweat.
He wasn’t taking his jacket off, though. He had an image to uphold, damn it.
And there was a kid openly staring at him from the other side of the fence. They seemed to like him, kids, even if Crowley found the idea confusing. It apparently had something to do with the fact that he spoke to them like they were, you know, people and not idiots.
“Do you need some help, mister?” the kid asked after seven solid seconds of the staring contest they seemed to have engaged in.
Crowley’s pride immediately rose to protest in the back of his head, but his aching muscles protested louder.
“I could use some, yes,” Crowley admitted, sentence coming out a bit more breathless than he liked. The kid smiled at him as he strolled into the wildly growing garden, followed by an adorable black and white jack russell.
“Dog, here. Sit,” the kid ordered, the dog promptly obeying. Crowley rose an eyebrow.
“I couldn’t think of another name. Saves a lot of trouble, just calling him Dog.”
Crowley couldn’t help but bark a laugh. Funny one, this kid.
By the end of the afternoon Crowley had learnt a lot more things about the kid that named his dog Dog. Like the fact he wasn’t named ‘Boy’, but Adam —it had made Adam laugh, when Crowley amusedly asked him if his parents named things the same way he did—. And the fact that Adam had turned eleven just a couple of days prior, that he had three best friends, that they called their little group the ‘Them’ and that they had a rival gang. That he lived just down the street with his father and Dog, and he was an only son. No mention was made of his mother, and Crowley wisely decided not to ask.
Once all the boxes had been transported in the living room they sat on the floor, their backs against the wall, and drank some iced tea that wasn’t all that iced anymore, after sitting in Crowley’s rented truck for most of the day.
“Where will you sleep?” Adam asked with a small frown as he looked around his bare house, making Crowley chuckle.
“Going back to the city for the night, I have to drive the truck back and get my car. Furniture’s arriving tomorrow.”
“Where did you live before coming here?”
“I have been to London, a couple of times,” Adam declared in the airy way only kids seemed to possess. “I like the museum, but I don’t think I’d want to live there. It seems so noisy. I prefer walking in the woods with my friends.”
Crowley gave a non-committal hum. He’d lived in London pretty much his whole life, and he was used to the chaos, the traffic, the constant coming and going in the streets— The peaceful, silent countryside was probably going to be as alien-feeling to him as the city was to Adam.
Glasses emptied and put in the sink, Crowley tried to give a twenty pound bill to the boy who, much to his surprise, politely refused.
“Dad always says that kindness has a way to come back when one needs it the most,” he declared in front of Crowley’s tilted eyebrow.
“…Sounds nice,” Crowley replied, holding back a smirk. Who knew how many chores the guy made Adam do with that little excuse.
(Little did he know the man he would soon meet truly believed in those words, deeply.)
“I’ll come back with my friends, tomorrow, then!” Adam declared as he trotted away down the street with Dog, and turned a corner before Crowley could even think to ask ‘why’.
“It’s stupid,” the young, but clearly strong willed girl that introduced herself as Pepper with a surprisingly strong handshake declared, as she stood with her hands on her hips. “You spent the entire afternoon helping out your future neighbour and didn’t even ask him his name?”
“It just slipped my mind,” Adam muttered, and Crowley managed to hide an amused snort behind a cough.
“It’s Crowley. Anthony Crowley.”
“There, that wasn’t so hard, was it?” Pepper said in an almost snob-ish manner. “Now, what do we need to do?”
True to his words, Adam had come back the day after, his three friends -and Dog- in tow. Crowley still hadn’t been sure why, until that moment.
“Oh, no, no way,” he said, shaking his head. “Very kind of you, but really, I don’t—“
The kid called Wensleydale sniffed, glanced openly at the mountain of boxes now visible from the windows from behind his glasses that magnified his eyes, and then looked back at Crowley. Crowley groaned.
And that had been how he found himself getting helped by a gang of eleven year olds in assembling his brand new Ikea furniture. At least he had the foresight to grab some snacks as he drove back, that morning, remembering what Adam said about coming by with his friends. The sun was starting to set on the horizon by the time they were done and decided to just sit on the overgrown lawn outside, bags of crisps opened between them and munching loudly. Dog was whining around Adam’s feet, clearly hopeful, while Pepper, Brian and Wensleydale were bickering between loud crunches.
“Fire is super-effective against grass!”
“So Venusaur doesn’t hold a chance!”
“The sight isn’t bad,” Crowley commented, mostly to himself, as he watched the orange-tinted sky broken by the lines of the trees down the street. Adam grinned at him with a piece of potato lodged between his teeth.
“You’ll love it here,” he declared, self-assured.
“Mmh,” Crowley launched another handful of crisps in his mouth, before adding. “I’ll have to invite you and your families over, to say thanks, I’d imagine—“
“—Tepig is the best starter, anyway-“
“Tepig? Are you serious?”
“Mmmh, maybe it’d be easier if you come over for dinner,” Adam said, pensive, ignoring the heated debate at his side. “When he’s close to a deadline dad doesn’t leave the house if it isn’t strictly necessary.”
“What does he do?”
Crowley hissed sympathetically through his teeth. Adam laughed.
“So, yeah, you come over! I’ll show you my treasure chest and collection of dinosaur figurines—“
“If your father is busy—“
“He won’t mind, he just doesn’t like to go out in case he gets an idea and cannot reach his typewriter in time.”
It took a couple of seconds for the words to truly sink in.
“…He writes on a typewriter?”
Adam shrugged, cheeks full like a chipmunk. Crowley snorted, shaking his head lightly. The more he heard about Adam’s father, the more he had the impression that the man had to be some kind of next-level hipster.
“Alright, I’ll wait for your invitation, then,” he said, amused, making Adam grin again and accidentally lose some of his crisps-cheek-stash, causing Pepper to roll her eyes.
As life would have it, Crowley ended up meeting Mr. Hipster Writer only a couple of days later. He was finally done with unpacking everything and had wanted nothing more than a strong cup of coffee with enough sugar to make one’s teeth rot, except, he realized while slapping his own forehead with a groan, he’d totally forgot to buy sugar on the lighting-quick run to the store the prior afternoon. He supposed he could jump in the Bentley and go pick up some, except the steaming cup smelled of coffee so strongly, and he’d surely have to brew a fresh batch by the time he’d come back, this one having gone cold—
Well, he had neighbours, now. Real ones, not the sort that kept to themselves and glared at you if you ever met them on your way to your flat.
That’s how he found himself knocking at the door of the cottage down the road, causing a series of noises to go inside.
There was barking, and a muffled “Dog, no—!”, a crash, and more muffled, indistinct muttering before the door opened.
Crowley blinked, and the man blinked back. The man currently holding a slipping, squirming Dog, a drenched, light blue shirt sticking to his chest and soft middle, and silver-y blond curls dripping all over the place above a pair of the most steely-azure eyes Crowley had ever seen.
Dog seemed to recognize him, because he stopped squirming and started wagging his tail, that went thump-thump-thump against the increasingly flustered looking man’s upper arm.
“Hey, Mr. Crowley!” Adam greeted cheerily, popping from behind the man and leaning against the door frame with a cheeky hand-wave. “We were just giving Dog a bath. What’s up?”
“Ngk,” Crowley replied, his brain currently in the clutches of what Crowley intimately called his ‘Useless-Pan-lizard-brain’.
“Dad, this is Mr. Crowley, our new neighbour!” Adam continue cheerily, blessedly blind to Crowley’s current affliction. “Mr. Crowley, this is my dad, Aziraphale.”
That was enough to help Crowley shake himself out of his ‘ughu-pretty-man’ state.
“…That’s a— Name,” he said, feeling his tongue thickly in his mouth and then wishing to slap himself. Great way to make a first impression, pretty much insulting the guy—
But the pretty-man actually smiled, and then made a vague gesture, before putting Dog down, watching the furry menace immediately zoom away and roll himself on the grass with a deep sigh.
“I get that a lot,” he then said, back to smiling. He ran his fingers through his hair, slicking it back, and Crowley found himself blessing his sunglasses for the fact they hid the thirsty following of that gesture his eyes did of their own accord. “A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Crowley— Would you like to come in? I’ll just— go get changed, be ready in a jiffy—“
“I, ah— Just wanted to ask for a cup of sugar if you had some to spare,” Crowley rushed to say, because it was better than blurting ’no, don’t get changed!’ and keep staring at Aziraphale’s chest. “But I’d love to have you and Adam for dinner, later, if you’d like—“
And there he went, wishing to slap himself for the second time in about a minute. He knew Aziraphale would say no, Adam warned him already—
“Oh, I’ll accept gladly!” Aziraphale cut in his train of thought, and seemed flustered when Crowley owlishly blinked at him, surprised. “Very kind of you—“ he added in a rush.
“That’s— Perfect. Nice,” Crowley babbled, and glanced at his wristwatch. If he went to the store right away he should have the time to pick up the necessary and make his famous version of pasta bolognese— “Does seven work for you?”
“We’ll be there,” Aziraphale replied with a brief smile, running his hand through his hair again. “Adam, go get a cup of sugar for Mr. Crowley, will you? I— I’ll go— Get something dry on me.” he added, voice trailing off to almost a mutter as he disappeared back inside and behind a door. Adam, who had been suspiciously silent during the whole exchange, just strolled in the corridor with a skip to his steps, followed by a now green-tinted Dog, reappearing a minute later with a breakfast bowl full of sugar.
“Here you go!” he said, very, very cheerful. “See you later, then!”
Adam just so happened to walk by his father’s bedroom on the way to the bathroom, so he could attempt to wash Dog again. He just so happened to glance in as Aziraphale got changed while muttering to himself in a low-voiced, but intense, rant.
“…Lose the handle on your cognitive capabilities whenever you see a handsome man, and where does that lead you?” he asked himself as he forced his messy head out the collar of a dry, white polo shirt. “Nowhere good. He’s just your new neighbour, get a grip—“
Adam kept walking, grinning to himself. Dog, who seemed to have perceived the magnitude of the shift that was silently happening in the air, stayed quietly put in his young owner’s arms.
Crowley had the time to make his famous spaghetti bolognese and an apple tart. After all, Adam gave him way too much sugar, and the apples from the tree in his new garden were actually rather delicious, so why not—
At seven precisely his doorbell went off, followed by excited barking. Crowley hurriedly ran a hand to reign back stray tufts of red hair and glanced at his reflection fleetingly, made sure there was no stray tomato sauce on his face, before opening the door. This time around he had an easier time holding back his useless pan-lizard-brain, but just barely. Aziraphale was now wearing a soft polo shirt that did not accentuate the curves of his torso like the wet one did earlier that afternoon, and his hair had been clearly combed, but he was still very, very attractive. He was also smiling, and holding a bottle of wine between both hands. Crowley smiled back.
“Welcome to Tadfield, I’m sorry I couldn’t come around to also lend a hand,” he said as Crowley guided them into the kitchen.
“That’s quite alright. I didn’t really expect any help in the first place, to be honest— And Adam and his friends were more than enough, weren’t you?”
Adam flashed a toothy smile, clearly pleased with himself, before dutifully obeying when his father asked him to go wash his hands. Crowley waited for the boy to turn the corner, adding in a low, amused voice.
“Although I think I would’ve finished on the furniture faster had I been on my own.”
Aziraphale laughed, throwing his head back just slightly. Crowley allowed himself a second to drink into the sound, starting to prepare the plates.
“But it was very kind of him, to help out. He’s a nice boy,” he said honestly, getting the plates stolen from his hands, Aziraphale clearly hell bent in wanting to help.
“He is,” he agreed with a soft smile. “I’m very lucky.”
‘You should probably be proud of yourself,’ Crowley wanted to reply, but held his tongue back. He barely met this small family, so he did not want to risk making some faux pas by assuming anything with what little information he had. The topic was clearly dropped as Adam got back into the kitchen with freshly washed hands and they sat down to eat, the boy immediately launching himself into a passionate speech about the best places to take walks in the nearby woods, with the energy that only a young boy who must spend hours into nature could possess.
“And there’s, like, this super cool fallen tree we use to cross the stream—“
“That’s funny,” Aziraphale interjected, taking a small sip of wine. “I was under the impression you never actually crossed that stream, as you were told…”
Adam grimaced, and Crowley hid a smile behind a hand. There had hardly been any real bite in Aziraphale’s voice, and Adam knew as well, because he immediately whipped out a ‘you’re-not-angry-are-you’ smile.
“It happened just a couple of times, I swear! The Jhonsonites were daring us to, we couldn’t chicken out!”
“So if young Jhonson were to dare you to jump off a cliff would you?”
“Daaaaad—“ Adam whined, clearly exasperated by an argument they must’ve had many times. “C’mon— It’s just a stream, the water barely reaches my knees! The way you talk about it, it’s like it’s some kind of super dangerous rapids like the ones shown in movies.”
“Never underestimate nature, young man.”
Adam huffed, and then turned on his seating to face Crowley.
“Dad worries too much, don’t you think so too, Mr. Crowley?”
Crowley managed not to surprisedly choke on his last bite of pasta, and took a fast glance toward Aziraphale, who was watching with a vague smile, clearly waiting for an answer.
“Well,” Crowley started, slowly. “A bit of adventure and rule breaking is always fun— But your father does have a point, about— Never underestimating nature, and all that.”
Adam huffed, falling backwards against his seating with a groan, while Aziraphale let out a small chuckle.
“Very well played,” he commented, eyes crinkling in amusement. “Do you have a career in politics, by any chance?”
“Ah, no, wouldn’t ever tangle myself in that headache,” Crowley replied with a wolfish grin. “I did tangle myself in something almost worse, though. Used to have my own record company. Adam told me you’re in the— Creative area, so to speak, so I’m sure you understand my suffering.”
Aziraphale gave out a little, sympathetic ‘oof’ noise. “Do I ever,” he sighed, launching a quick, tired look at the ceiling. “Was used to?” he then asked, delicately, clearly giving room for Crowley not to reply if he didn’t wish to.
“Decided to sell it and retire,” Crowley said with a shrug. He skimmed over the fact he may have had a bit of a nervous breakdown and was urged by his therapist to get away from the unhealthy circle he’d gotten himself into, get out the city and somewhere peaceful, to put himself back together. A bit TMI, for a first dinner with an eleven year old sitting at the table. Aziraphale nodded his understanding, eyebrow knitting vaguely.
“I’m fighting with my publishers, this is the third time they send back my draft with the same request,” he then said, with the air of someone who really needed to unload something off his shoulders. “they want me to change the gender of one of the characters— It’s bloody 2019, I can’t believe we still have to fight just to have a gay couple in a novel!“
Crowley blinked, not missing the quick glance launched in his direction. He belatedly realized this must be some kind of test, and almost grinned, before catching himself and huffing sympathetically.
“Makes you think some people lives in the 1800s, does it not?” he asked, and also did not miss the way Aziraphale’s shoulders relaxed just slightly. “That sucks, mate. I hope you won’t risk to get dropped—“
“I can afford to pull a bit of weight,” Aziraphale replied, sounding smug. “I did make them quite a lot of money, after all. I’ll have it my way, it’s just a matter of pushing in the right direction at the right time.”
“Is that so? I’m not big on books, if I have to be honest, so don’t be offended if I haven’t heard of you, before—“
“Ah, I write under a pen-name. And I hardly expect people to know of my novels— Don’t worry about it—“
“Dad is shy,” Adam suddenly interjected, making the both of them jump. He’d been so quiet they almost forgot he even was in the room. “He wrote the Guardians of the spires series.”
Crowley’s eyes went a bit wide behind the lenses of his sunglasses.
“…The series that was turned into a movie trilogy?”
“Huh-huh,” Adam confirmed, while Aziraphale seemingly decided to try his best imitation of a tomato, hiding his face behind both hands. “Don’t say it around, he doesn’t want the fame.”
“I just like to write,” Aziraphale muttered, muffled, from behind his palms. Crowley whistled softly.
“Well, I can see what you mean with ‘I can afford to pull a bit of weight’,” he said, amused. Aziraphale gave out a groan but re-emerged, launching a vaguely pout-y glare to his son.
“He’d have found out either way!” Adam justified himself, clearly not anywhere near sorry. Crowley decided not to inquire as to why he would’ve ever known, if he hadn’t been told.
“Yes, well— As Adam said, do keep the secret, please,” Aziraphale sighed, nervously rolling his empty glass between both hands. “I’ve never gotten into this career for the fame, and I do quite enjoy the peace and quiet.”
“Oh, I understand that perfectly,” Crowley replied with passion. He’d only had the peace and quiet given by life in Tadfield for three days, and he already felt like he could possibly go insane without it. “Your secret is safe with me.”
Aziraphale smiled gratefully at him, not a trace of doubt or mistrust in his eyes, and Crowley tried to imagine this man thrusted into the kind of life Crowley himself had been living in barely some months prior— Dancing around celebrity drama and gossip and the backstage vicious secrets of fame—
No, Aziraphale was much better off living hidden under his pen-name, for sure.
Promising himself he’d have to pick up the books and read them —he only watched the movies and liked them plenty, so now he was rather curious to experience a familiar story under a different light— Crowley stood to get the apple tart out of the oven and bring it to the table.
“Goodness, that looks delicious, but I think I might explode if I get another bite,” Aziraphale said, leaning back against his seat with a small sigh. “Dinner was absolutely scrumptious, by the way, dear.”
“Yeah! Dad can only wish he could make spaghetti half as good as that!”
Chuckling, Crowley proceeded to still cut some slices. “Can’t I tempt you anyway?”
“…Oh, well, I suppose I still have some space left.”
Crowley grinned to himself, more than a bit warmly satisfied by the accomplished temptation and the fact that a single dinner already allowed him to be called ‘dear’.
August came to an end, and September rapidly rolled into October and then November, as Crowley started to settle himself into his new life more comfortably. All his unpacked stuff had found a way somewhere in the house, the overgrown garden was wrangled into a sort of order, and he even started to dip his toe in the idea of gardening, made a little vegetable patch in the back, planted some flowers— His therapist did tell him he needed a hobby, so why not? It seemed like the kind of thing one did when living in the countryside.
He managed to convince both Aziraphale and Adam to call him Crowley rather than Anthony. He never went into details, never explained why he did not like his given name very much, but Aziraphale looked at him with a piercing, understanding gaze and just rolled with using Crowley, bless his soul.
He met more of the locals, tried the bakeries, the few restaurants and pubs. He met the feared Jhonsonites Adam had warned him about and witnessed the heated rivalry between gangs of pre-teens with amusement. He made sure to park his Bentley behind the cottage, away from prying eyes, because the coming and going of teenagers and young adults drooling over his precious baby soon grown to be a bit irritating. He read more books in those few months than he had read in the last ten years, in between the ones about gardening he borrowed from the tiny local library, and the ones written by Aziraphale, which he actually bought. He found himself surprised in discovering that the Guardians of the spires series were hardly the only books the man had written under the pen name of A.Z. Fell, and that he quite enjoyed reading his works. Even putting aside the kinda embarrassing crush he was harbouring for Aziraphale, Crowley had to admit that reading his books was easy. They were gripping, usually sucking Crowley right into the narrative, making him forget who even wrote those words until he reached the back cover. And then he’d blink and find himself thinking, ‘Wow. He wrote this.’
He also quickly learned not to share those feelings with Aziraphale. He accepted compliments graciously enough, and was more than happy to discuss his characters in a way that suggested the guy considered his own creations almost like living creatures who developed on their own, but if Crowley ever hinted about being impressed by Aziraphale’s creativity, Aziraphale would immediately retreat in his shell. And he learned this so quickly because he spent an inordinate amount of time with his new neighbour.
It mostly started with Adam inviting him over for lunch, or tea, or dinner, for the rest of August. And by the time school started and Adam spent most of the day away, they had gotten into the habit of seeing each other almost daily. And Crowley didn’t mind cooking for the little family of two when he had the chance, especially since he was a brand new retiree with a lot of time between his hands, while Aziraphale wrangled the writing of two different books along the ongoing fight with his publishers, Crowley had discovered.
“I don’t know how I’ve managed without you, so far,” Aziraphale would sigh gratefully when emerging from his studio with his hair sticking all over the place, suggesting he must’ve pulled at it multiple times, finding a plate ready on the table for both him and his son.
And Adam— Well, he seemed very pleased by the situation. Crowley had the distinct impression the boy had some kind of plan, although he wasn’t quite sure why.
“You know, my dad hasn’t had a date since— My whole life, pretty much,” he’d say. “Have I ever told you that he likes sushi?” he’d ask. “He’d probably love some chocolate and flowers for his birthday,” he’d declare. “He could some days off,” he’d ponder aloud.
And, really, considering— This, and the kind of inclusivity Aziraphale had going in his novels, it was clear that Adam had been raised to be a nice, open-minded boy by a nice, open-minded man. And Aziraphale wasn’t blind, sometimes Crowley wouldn’t be fast enough in looking away, and Aziraphale would give him a brief smile, and never seemed to be put-off by Crowley’s obvious crush.
But he also did not seem to reciprocate in any way.
And it was all very sweet, really, the way Adam was trying to push this— Thing. But Crowley couldn’t figure out why. The boy seemed to have missed the memo about the fact that Aziraphale had taken the time to have a son at some point eleven years prior. Granted, neither of them spoke at all about Adam’s mother, and Crowley had caught only a glimpse of her in the single picture that included her present in their home, but still—
He, wisely, in his own opinion, decided to let those comments slide and not engage, replying with vague hums of acknowledgment and not much else. Still, the boy seemed unable to let go of this particular bone, much like Dog did with the sticks that were thrown for him; but even with that, Crowley couldn’t help but do the neighbourl-y thing and stop by for tea, bring something to nibble, chat for minutes on end while standing on the other side of the fence, help Adam out with his homework— It was worth the slaloming between Adam’s clumsy attempts to play match-maker, if it meant spending more time with this little family Crowley had rapidly grown fond of.
Coming December Aziraphale asked him what his plans for Christmas were almost casually, and didn’t seem taken aback when Crowley airily replied he had none, immediately extending an invitation. That was how Crowley found himself on the receiving end of a bombshell, unaware it would ever drop until it was right on his head.
“Everyone keeps saying me and Pepper will get married when we grow up, I don’t get it,” Adam grumbled as he and Crowley made snowmen outside, golden light from the kitchen where Aziraphale was busying himself with the preparation of the Christmas Eve dinner pouring over them. Crowley had accepted to go outside and play both to stop Adam from trying to steal bites of the ingredients and ruin his appetite, and because he never really had the chance to properly enjoy snow. It never really stuck, in London, the rare times snow happened rapidly turning into grey, wet sludges under the unrelenting rain.
Talking with Adam was like riding on a bunny on steroids, jumping from topic to topic at the drop of a hat. It was entertaining, and Crowley had no idea how they ended up on the topic of relationships with an eleven year old, but there they were. He had the strong suspicion this was soon going to turn into one more of Adam’s attempt to make Crowley date his father.
“Ah, people just… Say things like that, don’t pay it any mind.”
“It’s just heteronormativity bull. That’s what Pepper says, at least,” Crowley snorted a laugh, but Adam kept going. “I’m not quite sure I get what she means, but— I also kinda get it? I mean, I don’t even know yet if I like girls or boys.”
“You can like both, too, you know,” Crowley interjected, struggling with a pebble that refused to stick and play its part as the eye of the snowman.
“Or both, right,” Adam nodded wisely, and then dropped it. The bombshell. “I don’t like people assuming things like that, I mean— It’s pretty much one of the reasons my dad didn’t stay with my mom.”
“Huh?” Crowley couldn’t hold back that questioning sound, surprised.
“Yeah, like,” Adam replied, airily. “Dad’s parents pretty much forced him to get married, but dad likes boys, so they separated, in the end.”
“Oh,” Crowley wheezed, very faint. “Does he, now?”
Adam gave an affirming hum, and Crowley was saved by the panicked need of filling the suddenly electric silence by Aziraphale himself, popping his head out of the window.
“Dinner’s ready!” he called, cheerful, and then retread with a shiver and an empathic ‘brrr.’
Adam immediately zoomed back in, carelessly throwing his coat and heavy gloves on the hanger by the entrance, followed by a dazed Crowley.
If Aziraphale noticed anything amiss during the dinner, he was kind enough to not mention it.
Crowley thought he ought to be proud of himself, being able to hold his burning curiosity after Adam’s revelation— But he was reaching a rapidly sloshed status, and that burning curiosity was more burning than ever.
He hadn’t expected the night to turn out this way. It had seemed like a fairly tranquil New Year’s celebration, with Adam’s friends and their families coming over to Aziraphale’s place, the adults drinking some wine, the kids, overexcited about being allowed to stay up so late, crushing not long after midnight. Families had taken their leave with more good wishes for the new year and their sleeping kids, Aziraphale had put Adam to bed, and Crowley was just about to leave as well when Aziraphale whipped out a bottle of excellently aged single malt scotch in a wordless invitation.
“The fourth time!” Aziraphale moaned, having been ranting about his still ongoing battle with his publishers, followed by a little hiccup. There was an intense flush extending on his cheeks and nose, on the tip of his ears. Crowley distantly thought that maybe they ought to stop drinking, but Aziraphale was topping his glass once more, and the scotch really was very nice. “But I’m not giving up, not at all—“
“Can I read the draft?” Crowley asked, a bit slurred, having ran out of officially published works and rather ravenous at the idea of enjoying Aziraphale’s new book before the general public. Aziraphale sniffed and squinted at him.
“I— Yes, I guess. Maybe you can tell me if I’m being too forward with that subplot, if I can make it more subtle and shut up my editor, actually—“
Crowley grinned, returning the favor of topping up Aziraphale’s glass.
“I’m sure it’s not— Forward. It’s just that publishers can be a buncha ol’ conservative assholes.”
“That’s what I say, too!” Aziraphale cried, slumping backward in his armchair and taking a generous sip of his filled glass. “They refuse to accept change! It’s so maddening, having to constantly battle for even the tiniest scrap of representation. Can’t wait for the contract I signed with them to expire, so I can finally tell them to fuck off.”
Crowley roared a laugh, surprised. He hadn’t heard Aziraphale curse, not even once, ever since he’d meet him. It was a new, for sure.
“…It’s very important for you, isn’t it?” he found himself asking, unable to hold back. Aziraphale only gave an affirmative grunt.
And then what Adam said came back to him. ‘Forced him to get married… But dad likes boys, so they separated, in the end…’
“Can I ask you something?”
“What— What happened with Adam’s mother?”
Crowley immediately regretted his misstep the moment Aziraphale’s hand went still, half-way in the act of transporting the glass back to his mouth. He was just about to apologize and say ‘nevermind, don’t answer that—‘ when Aziraphale sighed deeply, taking a studious sip of his scotch.
“It’s a boring story, really,” he then muttered, but Crowley was leaning forward, elbows on his knees, all his attention focused on Aziraphale. Aziraphale glanced at him, shifting to sit a bit straighter. “If I tell it to you— Can I ask about your glasses?”
“Ah, that one’s easy,” Crowley shrugged, sliding his sunglasses off. Aziraphale didn’t seem to react with much more than a blink of mild interest, in front of his misshapen, broken pupils mixing with the brown of his irises. “It’s called polycoria. Pretty rare. It doesn’t affect my sight much, luckily, but it makes people nervous, so I find it easier to just—Skip the awkward phase of having to explain.”
“Mh. It looks astounding, though,” Aziraphale commented vaguely, staring into Crowley’s eyes with enough intensity to make him feel the one on the receiving end of nervousness caused by his eyes. “It’s as if— You have an unexplored planet in your eyes.”
“…Never heard it put that way,” Crowley muttered, embarrassed, more used to adjectives in the park of ‘freaky’ and ‘unnerving’. He put his sunglasses back on, more for himself rather than Aziraphale, and Aziraphale launched him a brief, warm smile, before downing the rest of his glass in one go.
“Alright. Boring story time, then,” he started, leaning back in a more slouched manner. “I’ll give you the cliff notes. Was born and raised in a religious family, grew up with a best friend, families came together and pushed for us to get married as soon as possible, went along with it, we realized it wasn’t really working, but Adam was already on the way. We divorced after he was born, and I got full custody. The end.”
Crowley blinked as Aziraphale poured himself just a tiny bit more of scotch and downed it in one go.
“So she’s— Ok?” Crowley asked, delicately. “I’ve never seen her around, I just— Assumed she might be— Not with us anymore?”
“Oh, no, she’s fine and kicking. Remarried, too,” Aziraphale shrugged.
“Does Adam ever— See her?”
Aziraphale rolled the empty glass between his palms, eyes pointed at nothing, before sighing softly.
“It was— It wasn’t a good marriage,” he started, far more slower than he had spoke while telling his ‘boring story’. “It was— Oh, dear, it was complicated. We were really good friends, cared for one another, but we weren’t meant to be, not like that. We married under pressure, we were naive— We both thought that things would just— Work out. Come together on their own. It’s what everyone said, you know? You do what you are supposed to, and things will work out. But they didn’t.“
“They didn’t work out. I couldn’t get myself to— To feel desire for her, and I could never understand why. The few times I forced myself to have sex with her always left me feel empty, wrong— And she sought comfort outside our marriage. Most people would say she cheated on me, but I don’t— I don’t consider it cheating, not really. Our hearts weren’t into that union from the start, we weren’t good for each other. She resented me for being absent, for chasing a silly dream, not being able to provide properly— I resented her for the lack of love between us, I pretended there had to be something wrong with her, for me not to want her. We both had our faults.”
“We forced ourselves together for so long… And everyone kept saying that we just had to take the next step, and all troubles would go away!” Aziraphale chuckled, mirthless and cold, shaking his head. “Just have a kid, that’s what will solve all problems! No matter the fact she was seeing other men, and I was slowly coming to terms with the fact I was attracted to men, too! No matter the fact we lived paycheck to paycheck, while I struggled to try get myself noticed by publishers and working dead-end jobs to keep us afloat— We were so stupid.”
“I’m not quite sure Adam really is my child, to this day— Well, not biologically, at least. He is my son, and I don’t regret him one bit.”
“You— Don’t know?” Crowley found himself asking, faint, interrupting the rapt silence he’d been listening with.
“I never cared to find out,” Aziraphale replied with a small shrug. “It doesn’t really matter. I know she was seeing other men during that time, and my heart wasn’t really into trying to conceive, for obvious reasons— But, as I said, it doesn’t matter, not to me. She turned pregnant, and became more miserable than ever. It all came crushing down a month before Adam’s birth, when she couldn’t hold herself back anymore, and admitted she didn’t want a child. She never did, but was pressured, yet again— We’ve made the same mistake, yet again, believing things would work themselves out. At that point it was too late to interrupt the pregnancy, so I just— Proposed to her to part ways amicably, and let me have full custody. She agreed easily. That night had probably be the first time in almost a decade we had been fully, completely honest with each other. The first night in ages I felt like I finally had my best friend back.”
“We divorced shortly after Adam’s birth. I got full custody, she got her bags, and hightailed out of there. She had been honest in admitting that she never wanted a child and felt nothing for him, but for a while I hoped that maybe, with time and distance, she’d find it in herself to care for her son— But it never happened. I don’t— I don’t resent her for it. It’s the way she feels, and I couldn’t force her to show a love she didn’t possess, even if I’d wanted to. It was hard, having to explain that to Adam, but— But he understood. It all worked out nicely enough, in the end, I’d imagine. We speak, from time to time, but it’s not much. Maybe under different circumstances— Maybe if we split before having a child we could’ve went back to being friends. But as things are right now, I think it’s better this way. Keeping our distance. Adam was never resentful about not having a mother— I’m very lucky to have a son as sympathetic and understanding as him.”
Crowley didn’t comment as Aziraphale fell into a contemplative silence. He had the distinct impression he might be the first person with which Aziraphale had shared this story fully, and it made something uncomfortable and yet warm writhe in his stomach.
It wasn’t a nice story, and it was awful for Adam, not having a mother, but… They seemed to live a rather content life out there, in that small, peaceful, sleepy village. Living in a quaint, homey cottage, being able to take walks in the woods and enjoy the slow-paced life in the country-side.
“And Adam grandparents?” Crowley wondered, his tongue way too loosened by alcohol. Aziraphale snorted sarcastically.
“My ex in-laws tried to fight back, but there was nothing they could do. Their daughter gave me full, legal custody. I was willing to let them have a relationship with him, at first, but they shown themselves to be horrible people, never helping and accusing me constantly of having caused our divorce, trying to egg on Adam to resent me behind my back— I wasn’t having any of that, cut them off the second I found out what they were doing. I’m lucky Adam was too young to remember the terrible things they were saying.”
“As for my family— Well, I decided to come out to them. I stupidly hoped to find some understanding and support— I was a freshly single and broke father, I wanted nothing more than to hear words of support and know I was loved despite my sexuality— What I got was to get disowned.”
“Deeply religious family, dear,” Aziraphale sighed with cold little smile. “I already had the gall to get divorced, instead of staying in an unhappy marriage like the good, obedient son I should’ve been. To tell them I was also gay was really the straw that broke the camel’s back—“
“It’s not all bad, though, you know? I think that was the last kick I needed to finally wake up to reality. It wasn’t easy, finding myself with an infant, zero savings and virtually no support whatsoever, but it steeled my resolve. I made it work, a way or the other. I finally managed to get a foot in the door, so to speak, and started to get published. I would’ve been content to have things stay that way, live a humble life, but then I wrote the Guardians of the spires, and the rest is good history. I have to admit it’s nice, not having to worry about paying the bills anymore— And I’m putting quite a bit aside for Adam’s future. So— You know, so he won’t have to worry, whatever he’ll choose to do once he’ll grow up. Won’t have to ever find himself in the same situation I was.”
The warm thing in Crowley’s stomach writhed more energetically.
“You always say that you’re lucky of having Adam— I wonder if you know how lucky he is to have you as a father.”
It all came out on its own, almost a whisper. Aziraphale stared at him, clearly taken aback. He then squirmed in his seat, eyes sliding away.
“I suppose,” he muttered, clearly unconvinced. “Ah, I really did put a damper on the mood, didn’t I? I’m sorry—“
“Well, I asked,” Crowley interrupted him, not unkindly. “I’m glad you told me. You didn’t put a damper on any mood, don’t you worry.”
Aziraphale hummed, clearly still unconvinced, and despite Crowley’s words the silence that followed felt slightly tense. Clearing his throat slightly, Crowley allowed his mouth to run on its own yet again—
“You know, it’s funny, I think Adam is trying to play match-maker and make us date—“
—And promptly wished to smack his head against the closest corner. Why was that the first thing that his brain suggested to say?! No doubt Aziraphale was going to laugh and joke about it, as if the idea was ludicrous…
Except Aziraphale’s flush had increased, eyes slightly wide. “What?” he asked, faint. Crowley worked his throat, letting out a terse laugh.
“Keep dropping these hints in what he must think is a subtle way,” he explained, almost jumbling his words in his haste to find a way and change the topic. “Kids, right? I had a younger cousin who—“
He immediately trailed off, when Aziraphale groaned and leaned on his knees, hiding his face in his palms.
“I’m so sorry,” he said, muffled, ears intensely red. “I’ll— I’ll have a word with him about it, so he won’t harass you anymore—“
“He wasn’t harassing me!” Crowley protested, frowning. “He wasn’t, really. I think it’s cute. He just wants to see his father happy.”
“D… Do you?” Aziraphale almost shyly asked, looking up from behind his fingers with a small frown.
“Yeah, it’s nice. He’s not a bother, I promise. It’s good that he cares so much, I think.”
With another small groan, Aziraphale shifted his hand away, and sighed.
“Still, I’ll speak to him. I don’t think he ought to… To meddle in my love life,” he said, looking on a side. “…Or lack thereof,” he added in a lower mutter.
Crowley smiled, lopsided. “Don’t I know something about the lack of that,” he huffed in a laugh, self-deprecating. Aziraphale chuckled, too, which Crowley counted as a win. “Don’t be too harsh on him, alright? He meant good.”
“I won’t,” Aziraphale agreed, an amused smile pulling at his mouth. “I think— We probably better call it a night. I’m afraid we’ll both have to deal with a hangover, tomorrow morning, so we better get some sleep in—“
Crowley hissed through his teeth, making Aziraphale chuckle again as he rose and collected both empty glasses to put in the sink. Without another word he briefly helped Aziraphale tidy up whatever cutlery was left strewn about after the small party, and wished him good night on the door.
As he walked back he told himself he only imagined the warmth that felt more than friendly in Aziraphale’s voice, when he wished a good night back.
Crowley had, admittedly, forgot how unpleasant a hangover could be. It had been months since the last time he experienced one, and even if he had been used to drink that much multiple times a week it had been easy, forgetting. Thankfully he hadn’t forgot his personal best ways to fight it, and coming late afternoon of the first day of a new year he was feeling, if not healthy, at least human again.
He also couldn’t stop thinking about what Aziraphale said the night prior. He said his story was going to be boring, except Crowley found it everything but. If only, it had made him respect Aziraphale even more, and possibly turned his crush into something different— Which was silly. Crowley was needlessly toeing a dangerous line, going and catching feelings like that. Aziraphale’s reaction to being told his own son was trying to set them up together had been telling, after all.
(He didn’t laugh it off, though, a small voice in his brain whispered. He just said he would tell Adam to stop. That’s not necessarily rejecting the idea, is it?)
Speaking of which— When his doorbell rang Crowley already had half an idea of who could possibly be, and was less than surprised to find himself in front of the boy, once the door opened.
“You,” Adam declared, stepping in without the need of an invitation and starting to get his coat off. “Are a snitch.”
Crowley snorted a laugh. There hadn’t been any real reproach in the boy’s voice. He actually sounded more like someone who was caught with a hand in the proverbial cookie jar and felt no remorse whatsoever, knowing they would do it again, and get away with it again.
“Dad sent me over to apologize,” he added, and nothing else followed. Crowley grinned, crossing his arms in wait. “Alright, fine, I’m sorry. Now, are you going to ask my dad out on a date or not?”
“…You are very hell-bent on this, aren’t you?”
Adam scoffed. “It’s just because you grown-ups always have to make things needlessly complicated! You like him and he likes you, what else do you need?”
Ah, to be a child again, Crowley thought wistfully, ignoring the little somersault his heart did when Adam pronounced the words ‘he likes you’. He was just a kid, Crowley couldn’t pretend what he said was necessarily true and not just a child’s wishful thinking.
“Why do you think I like your dad like that?”
What he received in response was just a sarcastically tilted eyebrow. Crowley went for a different approach.
“And why would you want me to date him, specifically? Wouldn’t it be weird, for you?”
“Because my dad likes you!” Adam replied clearly exasperated, in a very ‘DUH!’ tone. “And why would it be weird? I’ll have two cool dads, it would be great!”
“The world surely could learn something from your attitude,” Crowley replied airily, equal ways touched and amused. He gave Adam an energetic shoulder pat. “C’mon, I still got some leftover cake from last night. I’ll give you a slice, you get that back to your father and tell him your apology was accepted and that you’ll drop the matter.”
That seemed to be the wrong thing to say. Adam looked crestfallen as he followed, and Crowley eyed him as he put a generous slice of chocolate cake in a tupperware container, handing it over.
“…I’ll think about it, alright?” he offered, tentative, and Adam immediately lightened up, grinning all teeth.
You really know how to pull our strings, don’t you? Crowley thought to himself, with impressed mirth, as he replied, “Promise.”
As promised, Crowley thought about it. At lengths. And sometimes a tad inappropriately.
The season rolled into spring, the cold and the snow leaving place to newborn green. Also as promised Adam stopped with the hinting, but seemed to have picked up a new habit: finding ways to leave Crowley and his father alone with every excuse he could find.
One day it was asking for Crowley to come over and help with his math homework, and going “Ooops I forgot I already done it, oh well, I’ll go out and play!”. The next it was “I tried to bake some cupcakes, want to try them out?”, and leaving Crowley to find only Aziraphale sitting at the kitchen table with his afternoon tea and cupcakes that had clearly been bought. Then it was the bathroom sink supposedly not working, Aziraphale needing some help with the laptop he finally decided to buy (that one turned out to be legit most of the time, to be fair), Dog getting stuck behind the closet (that also turned out to be true. One time.), or whatever other slew of excuses Adam could find.
He seemed to have learnt from his mistakes, though, because he was being far subtler about it. Letting time pass between an attempt and the other, always sounding so casual— And the days went, with Crowley often finding himself in Aziraphale’s company and hardly minding it. He got to read Aziraphale’s next book, promised him there was nothing wrong with the subplot he was fighting tooth and nail for, offering a receptive ear whenever Aziraphale needed to rant about it.
When the first real nice, warm days of spring arrived, Crowley thought nothing of Adam’s invitation to go have a picnic during the weekend. He hadn’t seen Aziraphale in days, the man too engrossed in finishing up a first draft of one of his other projects to ever come out his studio if not to feed himself and his son, so even if this what yet another ploy to get them alone— Well, Crowley wasn’t going to say no.
They were blessed with a sunny, pleasantly warm weather as they walked toward what Adam declared being the best spot ever for a picnic. And admittedly it was rather nice; a small clearing circled by a gurgling stream, freshly green grass soft under their feet.
“This looks like a great spot for stargazing,” Crowley commented distractedly, tipping his head up after they opened the blanket, putting down the proper picnic basket he hadn’t been surprised to discover Aziraphale owned. “Maybe I’ll get a telescope—“
“Ooh, if you do can I come watch the stars, too?”
“Sounds like a plan,” Aziraphale agreed with a small grin, as he kicked off the frankly hideous (well, Crowley never deluded himself into believing Aziraphale had any fashion sense, even if he really liked the guy) plastic monstrosities halfway between slippers and shoes going through an identity crisis that he insisted in wearing. Crowley was fairly sure he had multiple pairs in different colors.
Still, the fashion murder was immediately forgiven as he watched Aziraphale being adorable by curling his toes in the grass and then letting himself fall belly up on the blanket with a content sigh.
“Must be nice, breathing fresh air after— How long has it been since you actually got out the house?” Crowley asked with a little grin as he claimed a side of the blanket by Aziraphale’s left, Adam settling down on his right.
“I don’t know, a week?”
“Make it two,” Adam interjected mildly, dragging the basket to himself and fishing inside. “Sandwich?”
“Yes, thank you,” Aziraphale accepted graciously, not denying the two-weeks accusation. Crowley also grabbed the sandwich he was being handed, snickering.
It didn’t take long before most of the food had been demolished, with dog happily munching on some sandwiches crust while they lied down and soaked in the rarely present sun-rays.
“Ah, I got something, actually,” Aziraphale declared apropos of nothing after long minutes of relaxed silence, sitting up to rummage in the messenger bag he also carried there, slung over his shoulder. He took a thick stack of paper stapled together out of it. “I finished the first draft of— Well, no title yet, It’ll come to me. I thought you’d like to read it.”
“Ooooh, hell yes!” Crowley agreed, springing up in a sitting position with an enthusiastic swing, making Aziraphale laugh. “Gimme!”
“It’s just a first draft so it’s not very polished, but—“
With another laugh, Aziraphale surrendered the stack of paper. Adam stood just as it changed hands.
“I’ll go play with Dog!” he declared, leaning down to grab the first stick at hand as he stepped away from the blanket. Dog barked happily at the sight, following suit. Of course he was going to take that chance as well, Crowley thought to himself, amused.
“Stay in sight, Adam!” Aziraphale called loudly after him as Adam ran down the gentle slope of the clearing. His voice lowered, as he turned slightly to face Crowley. “I decided to— Dip my toe in a different genre, this time, so don’t be surprised if it feels far from my usual fare.”
“Oh?” Crowley replied, interest clearly piqued. Aziraphale only smiled.
“I estimated that by the time I’d get this one finished proper my contract with my current publisher would’ve expired, so I thought I’d try my hand out with something different for my newfound freedom, and see if audiences are receptive.”
“Well, now you’re just making me want to go home and start reading right away—“
“Why wait? You can—“ Aziraphale replied as he fell back on the blanket belly up, pillowing his head with both hands. “Well, not the going home part, it’s such a nice day to be out— But you can start reading, if you want.”
Crowley blinked, surprised. Aziraphale always seemed so self conscious, so restrained in accepting compliments, that it felt like a surprise, and a very welcome one, to hear him make such a proposition.
It also made Crowley feel somewhat special— To sit there, holding a first a draft, and being trusted enough to just- Start reading it right away. He had to mentally slap himself into order, to make his traitorous heart stop cheering like a lovesick idiot.
“ ‘lright, don’t mind if I do,” he replied, hoping to play it cool, and Aziraphale only gave a soft chuckle in response, closing his eyes as they slipped into a relaxed silence.
He devoured the first chapter, intrigued. Aziraphale’s works had dabbed into sci-fi and fantasy alike, so far, so to see him set a story in modern-day, mundane reality was a new one, for sure. Crowley already couldn’t wait to find out where was the story going to lead, when a shadow was cast over him. When he looked up Adam was standing there, the sun behind him, and a proud Dog holding the stick in his mouth sitting and wagging his tail by his side.
“I don’t think he slept much the last few days, he really wanted to get the draft finished in time for today, so he could give it to you,” he declared in a low voice. Crowley blinked, the question ‘why are you whispering?’ on the tip of his tongue as he followed Adam’s line of sight, and understood. Aziraphale had fallen asleep, breathing deep and regular, clearly relaxed.
Crowley was washed by a wave of fondness so strong he found himself almost breathless, while Adam added, “I’m not quite sure why but he was very determined to have you read it as soon as possible,” he paused, and then his voice shifted from pensive to cheerful. “I told Pepper, Brian and Wensleydale I’d meet them at our secret base this afternoon, will you tell dad that when he wakes up?”
“…Sure,” Crowley agreed, familiar with the kids’ secret spot and sure Aziraphale would have given his permission as well. “You go, kiddo, I’ll take care of the rest.”
Adam gave him a quick grin, before trotting away happily, and Crowley found himself pondering if he’d been manipulated yet again. Somehow, he felt it hadn’t actually been intentional, not this time around. With a soft sigh he gingerly deposited the stack of paper on the blanket, leaning down on his side, elbow sinking in the soft grass under the cloth, and just— Watched.
There were lines of age etched in Aziraphale’s face, but Crowley wasn’t quite sure how old he really was, he hadn’t asked his age yet. It wasn’t hard to imagine the stress of his earlier life might’ve led Aziraphale to look older than he actually was, and the silver-blond of his hair seemed natural, rather than dictated by old age. His eyelashes were pale, too, fleetingly brushing against his soft cheeks as he dreamed—
“Aw, fuck,” Crowley muttered, self-consciously pushing a closed fist between his eyebrows, eyes scrunched. “I’m noticing eyelashes, now. I’ve got it bad, don’t I?”
With the kind of sigh only those who were surrendering to a truth they could not fight, Crowley sat back up, and resumed his reading, hoping it’ll take his mind off everything.
It was a successful ‘taking his mind off everything’ attempt. So much so, in fact, that Crowley did not notice the rapidly worsening weather until a fat, big drop of water landed right on the center of the page he was currently reading, making him snap his head up. Big, angrily gray clouds were fighting each other in the sky, and more drops were rapidly joining that first one. Crowley cursed as he hastily shed his jacket and used it to shield Aziraphale’s draft, simultaneously turning on his knees to shake Aziraphale’s shoulder.
“Wake up!” he cried, causing the man to jump awake with a confused, inarticulate noise. No explanation was needed as Aziraphale blinked repeatedly under the rain hitting his face and then hissed the second curse word Crowley had ever heard him say, the both of them hurrying to collect the basket and blanket and making a dash for the nearest tree.
“Where’s Adam?!” Aziraphale asked loudly over the noise of the rain coming down relentlessly, stopping suddenly to look around. Crowley grabbed his wrist, dragging him forward.
“Went to meet his friends a while ago, was going to his secret spot, he said!”
Aziraphale didn’t protest, clearly content enough with that answer and letting himself being dragged away. By the time they managed to find shelter, it had already been mostly too late. Crowley’s long hair stuck to his face uncomfortably, and Aziraphale’s own curls were drenched and droopy, his shirt sticking to him in a way not dissimilar from how he looked the first time they met.
At least Crowley had managed to keep the printed draft safe, by shielding it with own body along the jacket he rolled around it. He deposited it in a dry spot between them, as they sat with their backs against the solid trunk and glared at the traitorous weather.
“Well, that was to be expected, I suppose. At least the kids should be alright, there’s enough cover near their little base,” Aziraphale sighed, extending his legs forward. He was still barefooted, some leaves of grass sticking to his wet toes, which he wiggled woefully. “How long have I slept? Not that I meant to, mind you, sorry about that—”
“Don’t apologise,” Crowley huffed, rolling his eyes minutely and pretending he wasn’t feeling a second, almost suffocating wave of fondness at the ridiculous cuteness of that gesture. “I’m not quite sure, lost track of time. I read up to chapter seven, if that tells you anything?”
Aziraphale’s eyes went huge. “Already there?!” he spluttered a laugh. “I take in you are enjoying it, if I’m not being conceited—“
“Oh, I am. Took some notes on my phone, some typos I’ve found—“
“Oh, why, thank you! Shouldn’t have troubled yourself—“
“—I also feel a— Kinship with Christopher, if I can say.”
Aziraphale’s eyes glinted. “Right?” he exclaimed, clearly pleased. “He does resemble you a bit, does he not? It was all coincidental, though, I’m not out there stealing anyone’s likeness, I promise.”
“Well, you did start writing this before we met, so I’m not making any accusation,” Crowley replied with a wolfish grin, dragging his drenched hair backwards with a swift gesture. “Although the coincidences would be almost creepy, if it wasn’t for the fact I know they are merely coincidences.”
Crap, Crowley thought, realizing he just sort of cornered himself. Nice job, dumbass.
“Ah well, it’s silly,” Crowley started, forcedly casual, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees. “It’s just— When I was a kid I dreamt of becoming a musician. Had my own band formed in middle school, and all that—“
“Really, now,” Aziraphale replied, clearly interested.
“Yeah— We weren’t half bad— Well, no, we sucked ass, but we stuck with it, you know? Kept practicing and trying to make our own songs all through high school. By the time we all turned eighteen, we were decent. And we kept going, trying to strike gold— But well,” Crowley finished, feeling lame. “You can see by yourself that it didn’t work out.”
“…Why didn’t it work out?” Aziraphale asked, very delicately, and Crowley took a moment, before answering.
He could’ve said many things; ‘because the world is unfair’, ‘because we just weren’t all that good’, ‘because we weren’t lucky enough’.
“…It was because of me, mostly,” he admitted, feeling old shame and bitterness rise from the depth of his stomach. “Whichever producer or talent scout listened to us would say the same thing: we had potential, but we lacked the looks. What they wanted were boy bands to sell to a teenage audience and we— Weren’t that.”
Aziraphale let a handful of seconds pass, before replying, pensive, “That doesn’t sound as if it was your fault, though?”
“Yeah, well, tell that my old mates,” Crowley groaned. “They grew resentful because I looked so freaky, so in the end we dismantled.”
“You don’t look freaky—“
“I look a bit freaky.”
“You don’t,” Aziraphale said, firm, a frown settling on his face. “It’s just a corrupt industry, valuing mere physical appearance over talent— It wasn’t your fault, Crowley.”
Crowley hummed, looking away, and willing his voice steady to hide how touched he really felt. “Yeah, well, that’s what I thought, too— That’s how I ended up founding my own record label, in a way. I started working for one, thinking it’d be a way to get a foot in the door, try to still chase that dream on my own— But in the end I gave that up, and started to think it’d be nice if I could be what others hadn’t been for me. If I could establish a company that— Valued talent over physical appearance, as you said. It was a balancing act, trying to make that work and not go bankrupt, and the years went by so fast—“
Crowley paused, the rain almost drowning the rest of his sentence. “But in the end, I had turned in exactly what I hated the most. And it made me hate myself even more. My therapist pretty much begged me to take a step back and distance myself from that life, before it could land the killing blow on me.”
Crowley bit down on his lower lip, and waited, looking at the drops hitting the grass in front of them. There were so many details he omitted, so much he did not say, in the way he almost clinically relayed his life story in such broad strokes— And yet he was sure Aziraphale would understand.
And right on cue, a gentle touch landed on his forearm. Crowley kept staring at the rain, not moving away.
“I’m sorry things went that way,” Aziraphale said, soft. “Thank you for— For telling me about yourself.”
A non-committal hum was all he could really give. When Aziraphale took his hand back —after surprisingly long second—, Crowley cleared his throat.
“How did we got to that, anyway?”
“You were commenting about Christopher’s being a bit like you.”
“Right!” Crowley slapped his forehead lightly, feeling on safe enough shores to lean back against the tree and face Aziraphale yet again. He had the distinct impression that the man was closer than he had been when they first sat under that tree. “So, do they end together?”
“Christopher and Andrew. Do they end together?”
Aziraphale flashed an almost wolfish little grin. “You’ll have to keep reading to find out, I’m afraid.”
“You tease—“ Crowley groaned, leaning in to bump his shoulder against Aziraphale’s, making him laugh. And then Aziraphale also leaned in, his temple against the curve of Crowley’s shoulder, and Crowley went very, very still.
“…It— Displeases me, when you refer to yourself as freaky, you know,” he said, voice low. “It’s not good to speak so dismissively about one self, it leads only to more negativity.”
“Really? That’s rich, coming from Mr. I-can-barely-take-a-compliment-without-hiding—“
“Gh—“ Aziraphale cleared his throat, pointedly. “Yeah well— We are not talking about me, right now! Just— Don’t talk about yourself like that, dear. I think you look quite handsome.”
Crowley felt his throat go tight, and he worked it, before replying with an almost strangled, “You do, huh?”
“Mh-mh… And— Well, I’ve been thinking about this for a while, but— If it doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable I would like it if you took your sunglasses off when you are with Adam and I. It can’t be healthy for you, to constantly wear those, can it?”
“… ‘Suppose not.”
Slowly, very slowly, Crowley rose a hand, pinching the temple of his glasses between two fingers. He slid them off, folding them and depositing them at his side, blinking to adjust his sight.
He was so used to wearing those he sometimes forgot how vibrant the world could look. Even despite the wretched weather, the green of the grass swaying under the relentless pelting of rain was so intense, and the sky looked like steel. When he turned to glance down at Aziraphale he found him looking back, and belatedly realized Aziraphale’s eyes were sprinkled with just a bit of green. He hadn’t noticed that in the semi-darkness of Aziraphale’s living room, the one and only time he’d met his eyes without the dark lenses, at the start of the new year.
Aziraphale’s eyes crinkled in a smile, and Crowley had another belated realization. They were very, very close. If he leaned down a bit, and Aziraphale tipped his chin up just so, it would be very easy—
And was it Crowley’s imagination, or was Aziraphale actually tilting his face toward him in a wordless invitation?
Not that he’d had the chance to find out. Thunder rumbled loudly in the sky, causing them to jump and shift away.
“Ah, blimey, this isn’t going to stop anytime soon, is it?” Aziraphale asked, sounding vaguely rough, as he leaned forward to peer at the sky. Their current refuge was starting to leak, and the rain indeed did not give a single sign of slowing down.
“Looks like it,” Crowley said, gruff. “Maybe— I could make a run for my place and come back with an umbrella—“
“Well, I could do that too—“
“Not without those monstrosities you call shoes, you don’t.”
“They are very comfortable!”
“Not denying that. Still monstrosities,” Crowley grinned, in front of Aziraphale’s pouting. “C’mon, just stay here, I’ll be right back.”
He didn’t even give him the time to reply, rising to his feet and dashing under the rain, almost revelling in the cold and the feeling of the water hitting him. It was… Grounding.
By the time he made it back to his cottage he was drenched down to his underwear, He rapidly abandoned the soaked clothing in his tub, throwing the first dry things he could find, and grabbed his biggest umbrella, ready to go face the elements once more.
Had he been a writer like Aziraphale, Crowley was sure he could find a sadly poetic way to describe how he felt as he stepped back into the clearing, and could see Aziraphale’s lightly-coloured figure patiently waiting under that tree, looking almost alight against the dark greens and browns behind him. He seemed so pensive, watching the sky, arms lazily circling the picnic basket in his lap. He must’ve put the blanket and Crowley’s jacket, still rolled around the printed draft, inside of it, along with the sunglasses Crowley left behind.
But he was no writer, so Crowley just smiled to himself, not pretending to even try and decipher the complexity of the feelings he could feel stir in his chest. He ventured down the soft slope of the clearing, first, in search for Aziraphale’s appalling shoes. There was water collected in them, and Crowley shook off as much of it as he could while he walked back up to the tree.
“Thank you,” Aziraphale simply said with a soft smile, slipping them back on without a complaint, even if it had to be uncomfortable. He let the basket hang from one arm as he rose on his feet and slipped under the umbrella, the rain pelting it with loud plip-plops.
And if Crowley circled his shoulders with an arm, to keep him closer and make sure he was properly sheltered under it as they walked back— Well, Aziraphale seemed to have nothing to complain about that, either.
The whatever that hadn’t happened between them, that afternoon, was still enough to cause a subtle shift in their relationship.
Crowley couldn’t help but feel almost— Electric whenever they got too close, and desperately wondered if Aziraphale felt the same way. The only thing he could be sure of was the fact that Aziraphale had gotten considerably more handsy. A touch to the arm to get his attention, a pat on his shoulder when Crowley made him laugh. A chair dragged just that bit closer so their knees would brush under the table. Leaning in just slightly as they sat side by side one the couch, watching a movie.
There were times Aziraphale deposited his hand over the table during an afternoon cup of tea, or after a shared meal, and leave it there, almost an invitation. And yet Crowley never picked it up, still unsure if things really were as they looked, or if he was imagining it, letting his wishful thinking cover his sight with rose-tinted glasses.
Crowley just managed to start resisting the temptation to wear his usual sunglasses more and more, now, he really didn’t need to wear a different pair, thank you very much.
As things were, he kept standing in his ‘maybe I will, but maybe not, I don’t know, I need time’ position, and Aziraphale seemed— Reticent to take a first step, if he actually wished to do so. Sometimes Crowley really wanted to adopt Adam’s simple view on the matter. If they liked each other, why not just— Meet in the middle? But neither of them tried to do that, and the days went by, much to Adam’s clear dismay at the lack of any dating actually happening.
Summer began, and with it came the first results of all the work Crowley had put into his garden. It wasn’t much, but as he stood over his fruitful plant of zucchini with hands browned by dirt and sweat collected on his eyebrows, he found himself feeling a sort of quiet, proud satisfaction.
He grew these. And, alright, he still didn’t know if they were any good, but still. Maybe he’ll try to grill them, with just a bit of oil and salt, nice and crunchy—
His cooking plans were interrupted by someone crashing into him and arms thrown around his neck. He would’ve considered it very rude, hadn’t the individual jumping him out of the blue been Aziraphale. An Aziraphale who looked overjoyed, practically glowing as he hung from Crowley’s neck, laughing and swaying lightly.
“The finally gave up!” he was saying. “And it’s only thanks to you! If you hadn’t given me the right push—“
Crowley managed to shut up the voice going ‘AAAAAAAAAAAH’ in the back of his head, babbling, “What?”
The seemed to make Aziraphale realize what he was doing, and he let go, taking a step back with a high-pitched little laugh.
“Sorry, got a bit carried away—“ he replied, breathless, fleetingly running both palms over his vaguely flushed cheeks. “I— They finally relented, they are going to publish the book as it is. I was more firm, like you suggested, and they gave up, in the end— Took me the entire morning on the phone, but it worked!”
“Oh— Oh!” Crowley replied, finding himself smiling back. Even if slightly embarrassed, Aziraphale was still grinning almost blindingly, and then he blinked, as he seemed to notice their surroundings and put the pieces together.
“Oh, dear, sorry if I interrupted your gardening— Look at these!” he exclaimed, cheerful, leaning in slightly to observe the zucchini. “They’ve grown marvellously! You’ve done such a good job!”
“ ’S nothing,” Crowley muttered. Said by anyone else, those words would’ve sounded so condescending— But he had no doubt Aziraphale meant them with complete sincerity. “Just a way to pass the time—“
“I don’t think it’s nothing. It’s not easy, doing gardening right,” Aziraphale replied, bending on his knees to gently brush the yellow flower on top of one of the zucchini. “I tried to grow some vegetables myself, the first couple of years after we moved here— All I achieved was to murder some poor plants,” he added with a little chuckle.
Crowley was almost getting used to those waves of fondness washing over him. He distractedly patted the dirt off of his hand as Aziraphale stood.
“Well, since you have to go and be a flatterer, you’ll be the first one trying my vegetables,” he said, satisfied when he gained a little chuckle. “What about dinner? You and Adam can come over, and we can celebrate the victorious end of the publishing war.”
Aziraphale chuckled again, but shook his head. “Adam is staying over the Wensleydales’. Sleepover,” he took a pause, and Crowley did not miss the very faint pink dusting his cheeks. “I was thinking— Maybe we could go stargazing? The weather should be nice, tonight—“
“Sure,” Crowley agreed immediately, because he was no idiot, and when life gave him lemons on a silver platter he’d make sure to make lemonade, lemon pie, and possibly melt the silver to make some jewellery while he was at it.
The walk to the now familiar picnic spot was quietly pleasing, only the singing of night bugs filling the air, and an endless sea of stars above their heads. The grass had grown taller since the first time they went to that particular clearing, making it even softer under them, when they opened the blanket and deposited the usual basket on it. Crowley had pondered about taking the telescope he bought, but he was still learning how to use it properly, and he had the feeling that when Aziraphale said ‘stargazing’ he mostly meant lying down on the blanket and look at the sky, while talking and drinking a bit.
He knew he hadn’t been wrong in this assumption when he saw Aziraphale take a wine bottle out of the basket, along with two glasses.
“Well, cheers,” he offered with a little grin Crowley could barely see under the silver light of the stars. It was very dark, out there, but the pollution-free sky offered enough brightness to make the flashlight they brought along unneeded. They clinked glasses, quietly drinking, and lied down once they had been emptied. For long minutes the only noise was the water running in the nearby stream, but it wasn’t a tense silence.
If he had to be honest, Crowley had never felt more relaxed in his entire life. To just be there, soft grass under him and a beautiful sky full of stars above, with the white noises of nature around… If only his past self had any idea of what he’d been missing out—
“You know, now that I can stop worrying about that whole ordeal, I need to start worrying about something else,” Aziraphale piped up, very softly, almost as if he was afraid to disturb.
“I need to find a title for my next book— It’s always the most difficult part!”
Crowley laughed, surprised. “Really?”
“Yes— Titles truly are the bane of my existence. Even my most successful series wasn’t actual named by me. It was my editor that proposed Guardians of the spires as a title.”
Crowley laughed again, shaking his head lightly. “Are you trying to ask me to find a title for you, Aziraphale?”
“Maybe,” Aziraphale said, and Crowley could hear the fond grin in his voice.
Is this flirting? This sounds suspiciously like flirting, Crowley thought to himself as he turned on a side, glancing at Aziraphale’s profile painted in soft strokes by starlight.
“And what do I get in exchange?” Crowley asked, tentatively testing the ground. Aziraphale seemed to notice he was being watched, glancing at him before turning slightly to better face Crowley.
“What would you like?” he replied, very very softly. Crowley blinked, and when he carefully shifted closer, Aziraphale did not move away.
“I think you know already,” Crowley said, voice coming out a bit more hoarse than he wanted. Still, Aziraphale did not look away, if not to fleetingly glance at his mouth, and that was as clear of an invitation as Crowley ever saw.
He still gave Aziraphale ample time to retreat, brushing his fingertips on the soft line of his jaw as he shifted his weight on one elbow to lean in closer. Aziraphale did not move away. Red hair escaped from behind Crowley’s ear, falling to tickle Aziraphale’s forehead, and still Aziraphale did not move away.
And then, when their lips were close, so close, nothing but a breath away from meeting, Aziraphale did move away. Stiffly, going tense as he leaned back, eyes going wide.
And that hurt.
“Shit, I misread that, didn’t I—“ Crowley muttered, and Aziraphale made a tiny, pained noise.
“No, I— Oh, dear,” he sighed, clearly strained, and shifted to sit up. Crowley frowned as he watched him drag both hands on his face. He moved slowly to match his position, keeping silent as Aziraphale clearly tried to compose himself. “I’m sorry. You didn’t misread anything. I know I’ve been— Sending mixed signals, to put it mildly—“
Crowley still kept silent, crickets filling the space between them until Aziraphale spoke again, voice lower.
“I like you, Crowley. I like you a lot— And I keep thinking that it’d be nice, if we…” he trailed off, biting down on his lower lip. “I would like it if— To— To build a relationship with you. But I’m— Scared. No, I’m terrified—“
At that, Aziraphale turned slightly to face him, gray-blue eyes vaguely teary.
“Adam likes you so much,” he started, almost a whisper. “And I can’t help but think— What if I ruin this, too? What if we— Take a next step, and we find out we aren’t good for each other, after all? What if I make a mess of things again? I already forced him to grow up without a mother— And now— If I were to ruin everything again, and chase you away— If I would be the cause of Adam losing yet another person important to him— I’d never forgive myself.”
Crowley blinked, feeling immensely dumb as Aziraphale sniffed slightly, turning away once more. It made sense, did it not? Adam did tell him that his father hadn't been with anyone else since he and Adam’s mother divorced, and that relationship had been such a mess— Of course Aziraphale still carried the wounds caused by that. Crowley should’ve thought about it, realize it on his own—
With a sigh he shifted forward, putting a careful arm around Aziraphale’s shoulders. When he wasn’t pushed away, he relaxed.
“Look… Well, I won’t tell you that— The things you fear couldn’t happen,” Crowley started, delicately. “I can’t see the future, but— I can at least promise you that if things don’t— Work out we won’t have to break it off in a messy way. We can just be— Adults about it, and go back to being friends. We could still do that, right?”
Aziraphale didn’t reply, just sniffed again. Crowley squeezed him closer.
“If you don’t feel ready or just— Don’t want to, I’d understand. I don’t want you to do anything that makes you uncomfortable. But if you wish to take this step, if this fear is what is holding you back, I can promise you I’ll never leave Adam behind, no matter what happens.”
“…Really?” Aziraphale asked back, voice tiny. “Would you really promise?”
“I would. I am,” Crowley replied, softly. “I care about Adam. I would never, ever leave him behind like he’s of no importance— I wouldn’t.”
Aziraphale sniffed again. He hadn’t spilled tears, even if his eyes were still dangerously watery, as he intensely looked at Crowley with a very serious expression. Crowley carefully raised his free hand, running his knuckles along Aziraphale’s jaw, down to his chin.
“And I think it’s time you think about yourself, too,” he added, sincere. “So, if this is what you want— You just have to say the word, and I’m yours.”
Aziraphale’s cheeks pinked intensely and, to Crowley’s surprise, he snorted a little, inelegant laugh.
“You know—“ he said, mirth in his voice and eyes. “That would make a pretty nice title.”
“Oh, you—“ Crowley groaned, but smiled when Aziraphale laughed again, his shoulders shaking under Crowley’s arm. “You’re terrible.”
“And still, you’re here,” Aziraphale replied, cheekily. He bumped his shoulder against Crowley’s ribs, gently, tilting his face on a side. “So, what is this word that I have to say?”
“Metaphor,” Crowley replied, winning yet one more laugh. And when he leaned in, and Aziraphale rose to meet him half-way, he could feel under his mouth that Aziraphale never stopped smiling.
Adam walked by the kitchen distractedly, after closing the door behind himself with the usual “I’m home!”, Dog trotting after him happily. It took him four steps, before his mind registered the concept that he thought he saw something, and he walked backwards to peer in the kitchen properly.
Both his father and Crowley were sitting at the table, side by side, with empty mugs and a plate with crumbs suggesting they had breakfast together.
They were also holding hands on top of the table, fingers entwined.
“Good morning!” Dad said, cheerful, a smile that could light up a room on his face. “We have something to tell you—“
“Oh, fucking finally!” Adam blurted, exasperated.
Crowley threw his head back, roaring a laugh.
It was a nice day.