It should be easy, Azirapahale tells himself, especially now that their ordeals are over and he and Crowley are left to their own devices. It should be easy for him, the angel, the Being Made Of Love™️. And he should be the one to say it first- he has to, for all the times in the past he’s kept Crowley at an arm’s length with the same old declarations: we’re on opposite sides, hereditary enemies, I don’t even like you, you go too fast for me.
But it’s hard.
Aziraphale is frustrated at how difficult it is for the words to come, when for the longest time all he has wanted was to say them and be heard. But back then, even acknowledging the thought was dangerous; the three little words that humans flung about without a second thought (sometimes without really meaning them, not the way Aziraphale did) would be as good as a death sentence, damning them both if anyone else heard. Painting Crowley a target for swift and ruthless destruction if any of Heaven’s forces saw fit to punish Aziraphale- and of course, vice versa.
But that feels like a million years ago. They’re out of the woods now, for the most part. It has been a few weeks of them...well, as good as dating now, spending time for sheer enjoyment of each other and the world they’d saved. So he can say it, right? He can breathe life into the small spark that’s been smouldering in his solar plexus for as long as he can remember, sit back and watch as he and Crowley are engulfed in the light. But Aziraphale has spent far too long training himself to remain silent, to say everything else except the words he truly means. And a six thousand year long habit is hard to break.
No more waiting, he thinks savagely over lunch. (A new Japanese fusion restaurant has just opened in Mayfair. Bookings are usually scarce, but the owner owes Crowley on this one after of incident involving a police raid, a timely distraction and several pounds of illicit whale meat.) The moment is perfect. Crowley is giving him one of those long, loving looks without realising what he’s doing, the kind that shines out even through the lenses of dark glasses, and Aziraphale notices his hand lying idly next to the soy sauce. He wills himself to grab it, press it to his heart and declare his undying love.
Then their urumaki tuna roll arrives, and Crowley reaches up eagerly to take it from the waiter.
Six thousand years. Aziraphale has denied himself for six thousand freaking years and he’s afraid that, even though there won’t be consequences anymore, even though he’s sure Crowley will not reject him, saying the words now won’t be enough.
He should have started sooner.
“Lovely weather,” remarks Crowley, going high-pitched in his excitement to be out in the warm sun. He sticks a hand out as one might check for raindrops and beams when only sunlight touches his skin. “We should get more of this, while it lasts.”
“That would be nice,” agrees Aziraphale, although he’s not sure what he’s agreeing to. These days he’ll go with whatever Crowley suggests. Behind them, the door to the restaurant slides shut. The streets around them are teeming with people, crossing zebra lines or darting in and out of doors.
Crowley glances at Aziraphale, like an actor in a play waiting to be prompted with a line. “Well, we could always go for a picnic,” he ventures. “Like you said before. All those years ago.”
Aziraphale can hardly believe what he’s hearing. He turns to face Crowley, eyes wide, and smiles. “You remember.”
“S’not the sort of thing you forget.”
There is a blush creeping up Crowley’s neck now, Aziraphale is close enough to notice it. There’s sunlight catching in the spikes of Crowley’s hair, highlighting it in burnished gold, and he looks so perfect and sleek with his hands in his pockets and his shoulders thrown back just so. Again the spark lights itself in Aziraphale’s core, urging him closer toward the one thing in the universe that he loves, selfishly, more than all the rest.
“I think about that a lot, and a great deal more now,” Aziraphale says quietly, and Crowley falls helplessly silent. “Crowley, you must know, I’ve said so many things I never actually meant. But I never said what I did mean.”
The words are making their way up his throat, twisting painfully. Crowley actually looks apprehensive and concerned, as if Aziraphale’s about to throw up a furball. Bless this damned creature, he doesn’t know. And that’s what makes this situation all the more wretched. He always should have known. He always should have been told the truth.
Aziraphale grimaces, and thinks if only there was a way Crowley already knew.
It occurs to him, like a light dawning, that there just might.
Aziraphale fixes the demon in his gentle gaze, Crowley waiting on him to say something, and he pulls off the biggest miracle he’s ever dared.
A snap of his fingers and their surroundings change. Though it’s not a matter of ‘where’, but ‘when’...and ‘when’ is mere weeks ago, at the park after they come back from Heaven and Hell, and they are sitting on the bench having just switched back into the right bodies—
It worked, Aziraphale realises with a jolt. He’s never attempted anything in this capacity before. Emboldened, he turns to Crowley, who by now he knows is just about to tempt him to lunch. Aziraphale takes a deep breath and blurts it out.
“Crowley, I-I love you.”
Crowley actually leans in at that, surprise lifting the parts of his face not concealed by dark glasses, and his voice is barely a whisper.
Aziraphale smiles and snaps his fingers.
He leaves Crowley and the bench and the park, and takes the memory of what just happened with him. It won’t spoil the next moment; the moment they stand up to leave for the Ritz, the moment they walk through the park together. That timeline moves forward without interference. Aziraphale keeps moving back.
He lands on that night they took the bus to London from Tadfield, right after Adam sent Satan away. They are sitting next to each other and clumsily, Aziraphale reaches for Crowley’s hand because that’s what he did then, when he thought he would have the courage to speak but lost it in a flash.
He doesn’t lose it now.
“I love you, Crowley,” he says. The demon looks at him, his round, dark lenses making him look more surprised than ever.
“Angel?” he says softly.
Aziraphale raises his hand. Snap.
The bandstand. Crowley has his arms open wide and he wants Aziraphale to run away with him.
This time around, Aziraphale says yes.
“You will?” says Crowley, features softening as Aziraphale moves forward and takes both hands in his.
“I want to, I wanted to so badly,” says Aziraphale desperately. “I love you, Crowley. To Alpha Centauri and back. But this is the moment, I’m afraid, I have to break your heart.”
Somewhere behind him, ahead of him? Crowley is walking away from the bandstand, but right now he has Aziraphale pressed up against the wall at Tadfield Manor, seething rage at being called ‘nice’, and all Aziraphale can say in return is, “I love you.”
“What?” hisses Crowley, as Aziraphale raises his hand again.
The Dowling Estate, one of the rare moments that the boy and the gardener and the nanny are all together; Warlock playing on the steps of the sunken garden and Ashtoreth standing straight-backed nearby, watching, and Brother Francis touches her shoulder gently and whispers, “My dear, I love you.”
She flinches, and turns, a swirl of black skirts and auburn hair.
The night they got drunk after Crowley handed baby Adam over. “I love you,” whispers Aziraphale, and he sees Crowley’s beautiful face soften at the words. He takes the moment away as suddenly as he gives it.
“I’ll drop you off. Anywhere you want.” Crowley and his ridiculous hair, his ridiculous sunglasses, his ridiculous heist scheme. A thermos of holy water rests between them.
Aziraphale sighs. “Don’t you understand what this was?” he says with a small smile. “This was me saying that I loved you. And one day I’d be yours. You just had to be patient.”
Once again he’s gone and so are his words, and in that timeline Aziraphale ends up saying something else entirely; something that still hurts Crowley every time he thinks of it. Now Aziraphale is standing in the ruins of a church and Crowley is handing him the books, and this time he grabs the demon’s arm and spins him round. “And this is the moment I knew for certain.”
“Come again?” says Crowley, eager to be off.
“Anthony J Crowley,” Aziraphale says, eyes glistening, “I love you.”
Over and over and over. Taking Crowley’s note from him with gloved fingers as they stand at the edge of the duck pond, looking into his eyes. “I love you,” he says sternly.
Coming to stand next to him as they exit the Bastille, the promise of crepes before them. Aziraphale turns to his demon, his rescuer. “I love you.”
Crowley is sauntering out of the Globe Theater, and Aziraphale calls after him, “I love you!” He turns, but the moment is already changing.
Wessex. Rome. Golgotha. Mesopotamia. “I love you,” whispers Aziraphale helplessly, through the visor of his helmet, through a mouthful of oyster, in Crowley’s ear when they leave the Crucifixion, as they stand before the Ark under storm clouds.
Different storm clouds, now. The very first ones. Aziraphale turns to look at this mischievously beaming demon standing next to him on the wall of the Eastern Gate, and his heart swells near to bursting.
“I love you.”
Crowley- Crawly, then- stares at him. “You what?” He repeats.
“I love you,” Aziraphale says, “And I should have known the moment I saw you that I’d love you, more than anything in this world.”
“I don’t understand,” says Crawly, and he even looks frightened.
Aziraphale smiles sadly. “I know you don’t. But you will.”
And they’re back in front of the restaurant. Armageddon’s been thwarted. Lunch has been eaten. Crowley is standing in front of him and at first his memories of the past six thousand years do not include Aziraphale’s many, hasty, clumsy confessions, but Aziraphale snaps his fingers one last time and he sees the demon’s eyes light up with the recollection.
“Aziraphale,” Crowley whispers. “Did you- did you just-“
“You went back,” Crowley says, astonished, unable to believe it, “over and over, just to tell me- “
“Yes, my dear.”
“And you took the memory away just as soon as you made it?” says Crowley. He reaches out for the angel, despite himself, places hands on his waist, “Why?”
“It wouldn’t have been fair,” is all Aziraphale says. “Everything would have changed, and that’s not what I wanted. All I wanted was to tell you, at every moment I should have told you, even before I knew I loved you.” He chuckles, embarrassed, “And I’d be here and not have to say a thing, because now it’s like- well, you’ve always known.”
“Oh,” says Crowley, voice small. “Oh. That’s clever.”
Now he’s the one who snaps his fingers, and the world pauses around them; people frozen in mid-step, cars halted in the middle of the road.
“My turn,” says Crowley recklessly. “I love you, Angel. To Alpha Centauri- “ he pulls Aziraphale closer, “and back.”
“Oh,” sighs Aziraphale, unable to take his eyes off the demon for a second, “Do you? Do you really?”
“Yes, yes,” says Crowley, rolling his eyes, “only I can’t be fucked to go back through all that and tell you over and over, every time I knew I should have. Can I just kiss you? Because I think I’ve waited bloody long enough.”
All the breath seems to have been knocked out of Aziraphale’s body, not that he needs it. “Please,” he manages to say anyway, eliciting a genuinely elated grin from Crowley before he dips his head and their lips meet.
Around them, time remembers what it’s supposed to be doing and starts moving again; the pedestrians glide past, parting around them, and the cars keep rolling, and Crowley and Aziraphale simply become faces in the crowd, lovers kissing on the sidewalk, totally oblivious to their surroundings.
And for the all the world may sometimes seem callous and unfeeling, right now, it gives a little celebratory quiver, although non-celestial beings do not notice.
It took them long enough, but at least they got there.