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carol of the bells

Chapter Text

[Prompt: Mistletoe]

 


 

A bookshop in Soho, London
2019

 

"What are you doing?" Crowley gestures wildly with his glass, collapsing against the overstuffed sofa.

"Hmm?" Aziraphale asks, standing in the doorway to the shop, reaching upward and frowning. "Well, what does it look like, my dear?"

It looks like you're hanging mistletoe. It looks like you've got a sprig of green-leaved and white-berried mistletoe and that you're using a miracle to pin it up to your shop door, to tie there with a gold ribbon. 

Crowley swallows. He presses his back further into the sofa, taking comfort in the usual bad habits. A glass of port in his hand, lazy at his fingertips. His other hand dragging through his hair, long again and wild. It's easy to be a stereotype, to play to expectations, so Crowley shrugs and says nothing. Arches his brow over his dark glasses, curls his mouth into a sardonic smile. (He cannot do what he likes with his mouth. A kiss, a press of lips to a wrist, the back of a hand, so he does this instead.) 

It could be a blameless kiss. He could get up, ten minutes from now, (the mistletoe theoretically forgotten) mention something about getting back to water his plants. Needing to run an errand. He could say oh I've left my coat, can you hand it to me? Aziraphale would bring it over. Crowley could tilt his head up, pretend to stretch or yawn, his eyes could catch the mistletoe. Rules are rules, angel, Crowley could murmur, leaning in to kiss Aziraphale. A bare press of mouth to mouth, lip tucked into lip. (He could part his mouth slightly, leave it open to interpretation and invitation. Come in, angel, come on in.

Yes, it could be blameless. He would not have to admit to his heart, the scribble of his heartbeat in his veins, sounding out a confession in the quiet moments. The unspoken moments. Crowley is afraid of the quiet, of the dullness. He cannot stop talking, cannot stop moving. If I stop talking, you might get bored. If I stop talking, you'll look away, lose interest. Heaven isn't breathing down your back, you have the whole world now and everything too. (I might not be enough.) 

Crowley never stops talking. 

"Yeah, okay, it's mistletoe. I know that. But why?"

"It's the holidays. That's what you do," Aziraphale pauses. "Well, it's what the humans do."

"So, you’re just gonna kiss any ol' bugger that strolls in, then? Oh yeah, sure," Crowley rambles on, pitching his voice to imitate Aziraphale. "The Kafkas are over here, don't you dare think about buying anything. Oh, and by the way, let me plant one on ya?"

Aziraphale stands back from the door, his hands settled in front of him. Head tilted back and pale hair glinting in the lamplight. A satisfied smile on his mouth, a gleam of something in his river-blue eyes. He brushes his hands then, shaking the miracle from his fingers. He turns to Crowley, tilting his head slightly, raising a bookdust-pale eyebrow.

"Not any 'old bugger', I should think," Aziraphale says, smiling. "But we'll simply have to see what the season brings now, won't we?"

Crowley licks his lower lip, his pinball heart scattering across his chest, lighting him up. His eyes flicker up to the mistletoe again, smugly set in the bookshop's doorway. 

It could be blameless. (I could kiss you and it wouldn't have to mean a thing.) 

If he stops his mouth to kiss Aziraphale, he’d have to be quiet. He would have to stop moving, stop talking. It could be dangerous. You see, one of these days, Crowley's going to make a mistake. He knows his heart is a stretched-out rubber band, ready to snap. One of these days, his finger will slip, his mouth will falter. One of these days, he'll miss and miscalculate. 

One of these days, (these uncountable, ineffable days) he'll kiss an angel under a spring of snow-berried mistletoe and then forget to walk away.

Chapter Text

[Prompt: Snow]

 


 

A bookshop in Soho
2019

 

This is how it goes. 

It is snowing. Get the shovel, get the salt. Crowley could miracle the bookshop’s steps clean if he chose. He could skip the bother with the sling of the shovel, could slither back inside, somewhere safe. Somewhere warm. 

But then he’d have to speak. He’d have to stop moving. 

Snow has strange properties. The white lays like a blanket over the earth, covering it with insulation and silence too. The carols call it silent night. Even the birds do not sing. There are no cars out in the snow, there are no engines braking. Nothing backfires (only Crowley). 

London doesn’t move. London doesn’t speak. It’s quiet enough to hear his nervous heartbeat. (Like a carol, yes, like church bells too.)

Aziraphale stands near the window, his shadow interrupting the gold Tungsten lamplight. His shadow a steady comfort thrown out across the snow. Crowley stops, leaning against the shovel. God, he wishes he had a cigarette. He’s not quite certain why he’d quit smoking, (as a supernatural occult being he’s generally unconcerned with his lungs), yet Aziraphale had fussed and Crowley had quit all the same. 

See Aziraphale with his nose in a book. That gentle upturn of his nose, the way he pulls the book close to him. The unnecessary silver reading glasses. The undone wilds of his hair (never on Earth to be tamed). 

I’m going to tell you a story. This may not be the story you think it is, this may not be the story you expect. It is December 2nd and there is a snowstorm in Soho. There is mistletoe hanging in a bookshop doorway. Crowley is out in the snow, dark-wrapped blame against the falling white. 

Aziraphale looks out at Crowley, seeing where he leans on the shovel, his red hair an affront to the quiet. Offers a smile too. It sits soft on the curve of his mouth. Aziraphale gestures to the glasses on the table, the unopened bottle of port wine ready to be shared. 

Crowley nods. Give me a minute. Be right in, angel. Nearly done. 

Candles gleam in each window. Garlands wrap the columns. 

It’s December. It’s time to come in from the cold. How do you shake the snow off? How do you shovel the walk, salt your blood, get the chill out? How do you unfreeze the words you’ve kept on ice for so long?

(It takes time to warm up. It takes time to thaw.)

He swallows. 

I love you clangs in his heart. Unspoken, unsaid. It is not unheard. We speak volumes without words, without touch. Crowley shovels the walk, clattering the galvanized steel on the concrete to drown out the noise of himself. His heart making sounds. Someday the night will stretch out into a blanket of silence. Someday the snow will triumph. 

Silent night (there will be nothing to hear but Crowley’s unstuck blood). 

He shakes the last of the snow out. Brushes the white flakes from cabernet hair. His long fingers curl around the doorknob, open to him. Always unlocked (for him, like a beloved thing). How am I supposed to say this? How do you just stroll up and have that conversation? Thanks for the wine, by the way, I love you? (I have since the beginning of the world.) How do I just kiss you? How do you start?

(There is mistletoe, Crowley. Don’t forget. It could be blameless. Keep that in your back pocket. Your Get Out of Jail Free card. You know you’d try to turn, try to hide your red face, your creeping embarrassment. You know there’d be a hand on your tie, pulling you back in, you know you’d be caught in open arms.)

Around him, the snow comes down. It’s the end of the world again, just the two of them and the quiet too. 

Get yourself together, Crowley hisses at his bones. 

I am not telling you of broken glass. Not here, not now.

This is the carol of the bells.

Chapter Text

[Prompt: Nutcracker]

 


 

There is a trunk pulled out, open at Aziraphale’s feet. His hands reach in and out, forward and back again. Smells waft up from within. There is a hint of dust, marking out the count of years. There are pinecones with cinnamon oil and dried fir tree needles. Something of clove and something of ambergris. Aziraphale pulls out the bag of red ornament bulbs, setting them to the side. 

“You’re gonna take ten years to get through all that,” Crowley says, leaning against the nearby column, a cup of cocoa in his skinnytwist hands. He sets it down on the occasional table nearby, pushing it toward Aziraphale. A new set of scents is added to the roster. Chocolate and sugar. (Something too of hot metal and apples, of vetiver and wool. Aziraphale knows Crowley’s smell by heart, how to pick out the notes of him. The top notes and the quiet ones too. He’s never tucked his nose into Crowley’s neck, taken a deep breath of it. Never pulled enough in, gotten everything he’s wanted.) 

“Half the pleasure of decorating for the holiday is going through all the memories.” He looks up at the lithe demon, the half-drunk smile on his lips, lazy and simple. The sunglasses are nowhere to be seen. His eyes are as yellow as a wise man’s cloak, his eyes are as gold as myrrh. 

“Yeah? What kinda memories, angel?”

Reach in. Tell me what your box looks like, the one where you pack away your memories for another year. It’s cold now, it’s snowing. What does it look like when you dress the world up in ribbons and light? What does it look like when you string berries and garlands over your staircases, when you tuck gold into unexpected places? Tell me how you make your world beautiful. Tell me what you keep, tucked away, year after year.

In the bottom of the trunk, there is a nutcracker. 

You know the one. Aziraphale’s is tall, shaped like a soldier and dressed in green. The beard is half peeling off, the black paint on the eyes is worn and chipped. Over the years, the wood base has warped. It never sits quite right on the mantle, always wobbling if you touch it. I could miracle it perhaps. But that doesn’t seem quite right, does it? Not in the spirit of things. It’s better to remember. 

“Well, my dear,” Aziraphale says, turning and holding the nutcracker in his two careful curator’s hands. “Do you remember this?”

Crowley’s eyes widen. 

“You still have that?”

“Of course, I wouldn’t dream of getting rid of it.”

“For Hel - Heav - Someone’s sake, it’s falling apart. Give it over, I can miracle - ”

“Don’t you dare,” Aziraphale says, holding the nutcracker tight against himself. (Tucking the face of the soldier into his waistcoat, against his chest. In the absence of Crowley, the nutcracker will do.) “You got this for me.”

Crowley flushes. He looks away. Hands shoved in his dark denim pockets, fussing with his beltloops. “S'not a big deal. Just a thing.”

It had been a simple thing. Remember it now, December 1941. London ached under the weight of war, trying to find their footing like Atlas had, to bear the Blitz on their shoulders. On their backs. Lift with your knees, they remember. It’s never a question of not bearing up, only a question of bearing up best. The air attacks had ceased in May but the relentless grey bore on. You could see it in the eyes, you could see it in the grim mouths. 

Crowley had dropped by the bookshop one day, hat slung on his Brylcreemed hair. His suit black as spiders’ legs and clean-pressed. The long box held behind his back. The ribbon as red as his hair and trimmed in gold. 

“What is it?” Aziraphale had asked.

“Nothing special,” Crowley had said, shifting awkwardly and handing it over. “Just a thing. Not a big thing. Brighten the place up a bit, you know?”

Between wide hands and his square fingers, Aziraphale had undone the bow (carefully, setting it aside). He had undone the wrapping paper (carefully, folding it up again like a letter). Under white tissue paper, the nutcracker had shone in glossy paint and promise too. Unbombed and undestroyed, the spirit of something unnamed. 

“Oh, my dear,” Aziraphale had breathed.

“Yeah, told ya, it’s nothing really. S'kinda stupid. You don’t have to keep it or anything.”

“It’s perfect,” he had said. His eyes had felt very hot. “Thank you.”

Now, decades and decades later, Aziraphale pulls the nutcracker out from his box of memories and ornaments. His box of bright things, his ways to make the world bright. This nutcracker kept through wars and holy water too, through the end of the entire world. Through the dawn of it again. 

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.

He sets it on the mantle, there against pine garlands and holly, against gold and red velvet. There in a place of pride, peeling beard and chipped paint on full display. Aziraphale breathes in, satisfied and warm. He turns to move near Crowley, picking up the mug of cocoa, looking over the fireplace. 

“It’s my favorite piece, you know.”

“You’ve got terrible taste.”

He smiles into his cocoa. “Oh, I’m afraid I have to disagree, my dear.”

Aziraphale turns and kisses Crowley on the cheek. Fire under that pale skin, under his lips too. When he pulls back to move back to the trunk, to other memories and other years, Crowley is watching him with wide-open eyes. With a flush like that of a painted nutcracker, given once wrapped up in red red ribbon.

Chapter Text

[Prompt: Cranberry]

 


 

A bookshop in Soho
2019

 

Shh. Watch Crowley’s hands. Pay attention. 

Angel, look, I’m shit with words. Real fuckin’ shit with ‘em. Just, hey, are you listening? Go with me on this, you know what I’m trying to say.

This is a love song that begins with two cups of flour and one cup of oats. The flour sticks under his bitten fingernails, leaves the hands of ghosts on his black jeans. Add a tablespoon of baking powder. A half of that for baking soda too. Pinch of salt. (Salt is in everything, salt brings out the flavor. Salt is one of the building blocks of life, keeping our blood steady, our pressure perfect. Crowley, like all living things, is a creature of salt.) 

A song plays in the background. You might know it. (Sing it if you do.) “So for once in my life let me get what I want. Lord knows it would be the first time.”

The box of brown sugar has dried up, solid as a brick. Crowley glares the moisture out of it, intimidates the sugar into shivering and scattering apart. His fingers shake too. “That’s better,” he hisses, adding a half-cup of the brown sugar to the dry mix.

Mix it together. Shake it up and let’s begin. Get the butter from the fridge. European and yellow. Eighty-two percent butterfat. Keep it cold, keep it firm. Like his heart, kept on ice like a severed finger waiting to be reattached. A heart waiting to be restarted. You can be the jumper cables. If you like. He cuts it in with his hands, getting himself dirty. This is worth getting dirty for. (He cannot say what he wants with his words, with his tongue. They dry up like a riverbed. Useless as a prayer in Hell. Yes, he cannot speak it, so Crowley gets the best butter, the finest-milled flour. Crowley does this by hand.) 

“Please please please.”

It’s time for a cup of dried cranberries. It’s time for a cup of diced pecans. Add it together. Stir it in. Wet the mix with a bit of buttermilk (three-quarters of a cup, perhaps). Fold the heart in too. Dice it up, chop it small. It’s red and dry from disuse. You won’t see it among the cranberries. You won’t notice it at all, not if you’re not looking. 

Crowley bites his tongue as he works. The kitchen is painted with the sun growing long in the windows, gleaming against his black granite and stainless steel. There are no sounds here but him and the work of the oven, the sounds of the dough worked into discs and laid out on a baking sheet. His hair catches the sunset and he catches his own reflection, startled by the gleam of fire. (It’s not flame. It’s only him, hell-haired still.) 

Bake at 190 Celsius. At twenty minutes, Crowley sinks a toothpick into the center. It comes out dry. The tops of the scones are golden. It’s time.

Crowley doesn’t take the front door to the shop. No, instead he miracles himself in, quickly passing by the treacherous mistletoe, carrying the box of cranberry scones in his long-fingered hands and open palms. 

“Got you something, angel,” Crowley says, dropping the box on Aziraphale’s desk and pointedly walking away to scare up the wine. A cabernet would do. A syrah in a pinch. 

“Are these - Christmas scones?”

“You said you wanted 'em and I didn’t wanna listen to you bellyache all night.”

Aziraphale raises his brow, smiling. The box lid lifted as well. 

“You made these.”

“Nah,” Crowley panics. He ducks his face.

“You have flour under your fingernails, my dear.”

Crowley flushes. “Don’t be a bastard. Just eat the damn things.” Don’t make a big deal out of it. I love you. It doesn’t really matter. I won’t if you don’t want me to. Well, I won’t tell you. (Is that okay? This? I’ll leave if you want. Is this too fast? Is it too much? Should I go?) 

Aziraphale lifts a scone up and bites in. His eyes shut, his throat levered and swallowing. (Please please please.) “Oh, that’s wonderful.”

“Yeah?” Tell me that again, tell me you know what I’m trying to say. You’ve got my heart in your throat, you’ve got me between your teeth.

“Bring the wine? Come sit with me.”

Crowley nods. The wine’s on the rack, as it always is. The opener is in the drawer, as it always is. These familiar places, these familiar habits. Nothing’s different, nothing’s changed. There is the sound of music from Aziraphale’s sitting area. A choir of song, the sound of silver bells. 

(Said the night wind to the little lamb. Do you see what I see? Way up in the sky, little lamb. Do you see what I see? A star, a star, dancing in the night.)

He walks back out to the sitting room, two glasses held in his narrow fingers, the wine tight in his other fist. His brows raise high as a star in the night. Aziraphale is on the sofa, as he never is. Nodding to the space next to him, as he never does. 

“Come here,” Aziraphale says, reaching out for the bottle. 

Here, I gave you my heart. Baked it into a scone. Do you hear what I hear? (Let me bring you silver and gold.)

Chapter Text

[Prompt: Fire]

 


A bookshop in Soho
2019

 

It’s hard to look directly at a fire. Directly at the sun. It burns too brightly, damages our retinas, leaves us scarred in the wake. It’s better to be indirect. Look only at sunrise or sunset, keep your sunglasses on. Poke a pin through a box, keep your eyes on the shadows instead. 

You are facing the wall of the cave. (Don’t turn around, don’t look at the fire. It’s not quite yet time. Keep your eye on the shadows. Let’s play a guessing game. What do you think is behind you, what do you think you’ll find?) 

Aziraphale lights another candle. A cream-colored taper. He sets it in the window. When he steps back, breathing in the smell of warmth, of wax and firelick, he sets his coat to rights. Pulls the sleeves down, brushes invisible dust from the curve of his front. 

It’s tradition, candlelighting. I wasn’t going to this year, not after everything. I don’t know what you still see when you walk in here. I don’t know if you still check for smoke, if you wake up in a world sometimes where nothing was set back. I didn’t want to alarm you. (I never want to alarm you. I’ll be careful, my dear. I swear.) 

Fire goes back with us. We’re old friends, we’re old enemies. There’s no world for us without fire, without a hearth to build a home around. Come here, we whisper, budging over on our seats and making room, we can share the fire. It’s warm. You and I, thrown out into a cold and dark stretch of space, given our little lanterns and little torches to light the way. Aziraphale lights candles in the bookshop for the same reason they have always been lit. To light the way, to call the wanderers home. 

Come in. Come in, before you get cold.

A knock sounds on the door. Aziraphale frowns. 

It’s Crowley. 

“You’ve never knocked a day in your life,” Aziraphale says, furrowing a brow. 

“Does it look like I have hands?” Crowley asks. Well, his voice does. The rest of him is buried under a pine tree. Six feet tall, evenly rounded and perfectly shaped.

All I see are hands, my dear.”

“Shut up. Help me bring this rot in.”

“You could miracle it.”

Crowley pauses and leans over. A very arched eyebrow and the glint of sunglasses appears from the side of the tree. “That’s just not how you do it, angel. This stuff.”

Of course, Aziraphale thinks, biting back a smile. (Crowley is, as Aziraphale knows, secretly a soft touch for the holidays. For doing it right, for doing it the human way.)

The tree is tall and Crowley tilts it to bring it in. Aziraphale guides the start. (Six feet, just enough to nudge Aziraphale out from under the mistletoe before Crowley sets foot in the bookshop. Don’t think I don’t notice.) They lean it against a wall, breathing in the sharp scent of pine and sap. Freshly cut wood. Winter too. 

Crowley’s eyes flicker over to the candles. Aziraphale holds his breath. “Is that alright?” he finally asks, “I can put them out if you prefer.” He watches Crowley’s body language carefully. He cannot ask directly. Not yet. Not quite. Look at the curve of the slitherspine, pressed into the wall. Look at the shove of hands into pockets, the set of the shovel-jaw, the shoulders set to a shrug. 

Look for the shadows. Not at the fire. Keep going, see what you find. 

Crowley looks over at him. Licks his lip. Something passes over his face. (What was it? Aziraphale cannot tell. Perhaps it was only a shadow.) 

“Yeah, they’re alright." 

"I miracled them - only the wicks can catch - ”

“It’s good, angel,” Crowley says, looking away. “We’re good.” There’s color in his face. (It cannot be from the cold, it hadn’t been there a moment ago.) “You wanna help me set this bugger up?”

“Oh yes. What do we need first? A stand, I suppose.”

“Nah,” Crowley laughs, pushing off from the wall, turning around to face Aziraphale and the lit candles too. “First, we need wine.”

I’ve lit candles for you. Set them in every window. Turn around and look, take a good look and know the truth. (I’ve lit them so you’ll find your way home.)

Chapter Text

[Prompt: Sleigh Bells]

 


 

A bookshop in Soho
2019

 

Picture this. Two supernatural entities kicking back on a sofa, licking the Ritz from their lips. Picture this, a bottle of chianti left open, half-splashed into two wineglasses. (Thin-rimmed and long-stemmed. Crowley had invented stemless wine glasses a few decades prior and had regretted it at every party ever since.) 

Aziraphale has a gramophone. (He has never actually purchased a record for it, you must understand. Like all other things, he simply expects it to play and thus it always does and with perfect sound.) A song is falling softly from the flaring horn. Crowley tries not to pay it any mind. No, he tries to ignore the way Bing Crosby’s voice makes his heart feel drowsy, the way the wine has faded out the edges of where they belong. They keep crossing over the line, drawn here in the snow. If we keep it up, there’s not gonna be a line anymore. (I won’t know where to stop. Where to put myself. I’ll spill over, won’t know where your boundaries are. Where you don’t want me to be.) 

Crowley, go on then, look at you. A storm warning in a black coat and hopeful jeans. You never know where to stop, so you try to be nothing at all. I should go soon. Don’t wanna overstay my welcome. (If you tell me to go, I’ll shatter apart. A dropped bulb, a knocked-over ornament. You’ll get glass all over the floor. It’ll stick between the boards. Sorry about the mess.) 

“This is one of my favorite songs,” Aziraphale murmurs, looking over at him. The candles have the audacity to reflect off of his pale eyes, as blue as the Virgin Mary’s cloak. Crowley swallows. Aziraphale is on the sofa next to him. He has taken recently to sitting here instead of in the wingback armchair. There are six inches between them. Crowley is intensely aware of that space.

(Sleigh bells ring, are you listening?) 

“S'a good one,” he murmurs, more into the wine than anything else. 

Are you listening? Hear the bells. Once upon a time, in another sort of winter wonderland, they had been tied up to the horses, set upon their reins. The sleighs and carriages came down the paths and over the hills and the bells rang out hear me, hear me. I’m coming directly toward you. Take care, step aside. Get out of the way. 

Aziraphale leans in closer. The room is bathed in the orange light of warm electric lamps and the soft candles set in the windows. The tree sits proud in its stand in the center of the room, strung with lights but yet undecorated still. They’ll get there, Crowley knows. Perhaps tomorrow. He isn’t sure. He can wait. The scent of pine needles fills the room. He keeps the tannic wine close to his nose, trying to hold on to something.

You’re right there. You’re turning toward me. Leaning in. Can I do the same? Is that okay? (I can’t bear it if I’ve made a mistake, if I’ve fucked this up. If you pull away, I want you to pull the threads with you. Go on, unravel it all. All of me, lay out my veins and my arteries. Unmake me until I won’t remember a thing. I can’t bear it. Don’t let me fuck this up.)

Crowley’s heart clangs in his chest, silver and gold knocking against his ribcage. Hear me, hear me, get out of the way. Don’t let me smash into you. Take cover, beware. This is your last warning. 

“We should decorate tomorrow,” Aziraphale says. “Put the ornaments on, don’t you think? Perhaps after dinner. Seven, isn’t it?" 

"Yeah, angel.” Yes, they have reservations at seven. 

(Later on, we’ll conspire. As we dream by the fire.) 

He keeps his spider-long arms folded in, close by his sides. Keeps an eye on his fingers so that they don’t wander off on pilgrimages across the back of the couch. So that they don’t bury themselves into the pale cloud of Aziraphale’s curls, just there, so fucking close. 

His hands have a curfew. He should be getting them home. (Don’t presume. Don’t overstay. Don’t fuck this up.) The bells ring loudly in his blood, trying to get Aziraphale’s attention. Pay attention, they say, hear me coming. Please, I’m warning you. Get out of the way if you can. I can’t turn this love around. Hear me, hear me, hear me please. This is your last chance. 

(Sleigh bells ring, are you listening?) 

The bookshop is so warm. He doesn’t want to leave. Crowley closes his yellow-bellied eyes behind his lenses. Kept secret and kept safe. Don’t look too closely at me. 

Something warmer still surprises him. He blinks, startling a little. The wine chases up the sides of the jostled glass. (It doesn’t spill. Comes close. A danger, narrowly avoided.) Crowley looks down at his hand, left carelessly on the sofa cushion between them. Left artlessly and half-drunk, without intent. Aziraphale’s own hand has covered it, his oven-warm palm laid across the top of Crowley’s long hand like a blanket. Like a snowfall. Blanketing and soft. 

Aziraphale doesn’t say anything. Just sips his wine, smiling into the white lights of the undecorated tree. He squeezes Crowley’s hand slightly, one thumb moving across the skinny tendons, the hills and valleys of his middle-aged body, imperfect and apologetic. The thumb runs through the dark hair on his hand, on his knuckles, over his narrow wrist. 

The bells sound louder. Aziraphale holds firm, covering him steadily. 

Like a snowfall in a winter wonderland.

Chapter Text

[Prompt: Silent night.]

 


 

A bookshop in Soho
2019

 

Listen. What do you hear?

Bells. The sound of sleigh bells, silver bells. The carol of the bells singing out hear me, hear me (get out of the way). 

“Pass me the ornament hooks, dear.”

“Sure,” Crowley says, turning to fetch the packet from the table. He hands them over and then places another golden bulb on the tree. “What d'ya think? Here?” He quirks a doubtful brow. “It’s kinda bare on the other side.”

“Oh!” Aziraphale says. He reaches for another box, tucked under a table and easily missed. “There are more." 

Crowley stares, open-mouthed. "You’re bloody mad. How many blasted ornaments do you have?

“As many as we need,” Aziraphale says, a smirk curling his lip, a self-satisfied flourish to the latest bulb finding a home. 

“We’re gonna be here all night,” Crowley groans, exaggerating himself as he often does. He lets his shoulders fall in a dramatic huff.

Aziraphale catches his eyes. Holds them there. Gold cupped in his open palms, two burnished eyes glittering with white lights and reflections from blown-glass bulbs and shining ribbon. Aziraphale feels very warm. “We might be,” he says, a quietness in his tone.

Please don’t make it a joke. We both know what this is. Where we’re going. I’ve loved you since the dawn of time. Please, let us do this right. Don’t push me away. 

Watch how the shadows stroke Crowley’s throat, how the paintbrushed light travels along his cheekbones, the tip of his aquiline nose. Gleams off his too-expensive watch, his snakeskin shoes (presumably). Bounces off the silver-threaded necklace at his throat. Aziraphale cannot look away. 

“Okay,” Crowley says, the hush carrying over to his voice. “Well, kick me out when you’re ready, otherwise I’m just gonna be here, you know, fucking up your cushions and drinking up all your good scotch. But yeah, don’t - let me interrupt - ”

“Interrupt?” Aziraphale asks. His heart is strange and scattered, light and unmoored. A wind has taken up space in his chest, threatening to take him with it. 

Crowley waves his hand, his long fingers gesturing out. He tries to fix his sunglasses and (clearly realizing at the last moment that he is not wearing any) adjusts to run his hands through his copper-wire hair. “You know, with your stuff. What you’ve got, er, going on.”

It’s you. You must know that. You’re what I “have going on”. To interrupt would be to leave. Don’t, please don’t. Not yet. Stay.

Crowley,” Aziraphale says, stepping forward. He still has ribbon and ornaments in his hands. Breathe in. “You’re never an interruption.” He clears his throat, looks away. See this bookshop. His warm-hearted home. Every surface is covered with a memory of Crowley. If he dusted this shelf, there would be a memory of Crowley leaning against it. Should he polish that lamp, Aziraphale would remember remarking on it as they had once passed by a shop. Crowley had turned up with it later that same week, claiming that he’d received it as a gift and can’t bear having the thing clash with his flat and look, angel, you’d be doing me a favor, just take it.

“I would, well, I would like it if you stayed. Of course, please don’t feel obligated on my account.” Aziraphale looks up again at Crowley. The wide eyes haven’t shifted, haven’t slithered. The only movement is the barest shaking of those pointed pupils. His sheer focus betrayed. “You could stay, if you like.”

(You can stay at my place, if you like.)

“You want me to stay,” Crowley says. His brow arches, yes, but his attention doesn’t shift. Doesn’t scatter. Doesn’t shatter on the floor, desperate to find something else to talk about. No, he stays very still, one hand on the table, his cocked-gun hips leaning in too. 

“Well,” Aziraphale says, flushing. (He hopes that it can be blamed on the wine, blamed on the lighting.) “It can’t be good to be cooped up all day simply reading. You’re a wonderful diversion, my dear.” Please. Divert me. He tries for light humor. “Think of it this way, Crowley, you’d be doing me a favor.”

Crowley nods. Swallows. He does look away then, dropping his eyelids like dropping a curtain. “Well, I mean. Yeah, if you want a diversion. I’m good at that. The best.” His own nose and sharp cheekbones have gone as flushed as Aziraphale’s own. “Anyway, come on, angel. Break that damn box open, let’s see how long we’re in for.”

Aziraphale laughs. 

Hours later, Aziraphale makes himself a cup of cocoa. The fire has burnt low. Embers don’t make a sound. The tree is decorated, there’s no tinkle of glass. The record has played and played out, stopped now.

He settles in, there on the sofa, tucked in between the arm and one sleeping demon, flung out across the cushions like stars. Like paint splatter. His ribbon-red hair spilling across the fabric, his breathing deep and even. Silence lays steadily. Gentle quiet in every corner, every memory looking on as another is added to their number. Crowley’s dark boots are kicked off, his feet tucked up now against Aziraphale’s thigh.

Listen. What do you hear? (Do you hear what I hear?)

Nothing. No bells ring, nothing clamors. No, there is nothing but earthly peace. The night stretches on, hour by hour. Crowley doesn’t leave, doesn’t fuss. Curled up there in the light of a tree, topped with a white star (it reminds me of you, you hung them in the sky to cover us all with light). Aziraphale’s wide thumb running over his skinnyboned ankle.

No bells ring of warning. Not tonight, this silent night. 

All is calm. All is bright.

 

Chapter Text

[Prompt: Choir]

 


 

York Minster
2019

 

There are secrets we keep in our back pockets. Yes, small talismans and little treasures. Things we don’t tell anyone, things we never dare to say. They’re too obvious, too much. As if we might be rolling over in the dirt and exposing our soft undersides. To give these secrets up is to give a knife over and mark the spot, to say go on then, cut me here.

Aziraphale is in a church. 

He walks it slowly. Carefully, this bit of one foot in front of the other, the heels of his leather brogues clicking on the stone floor. His eyes rise up along the pews, along the walls, the columns of white stone and the flying buttresses to the arched vault of the ceiling. His hat in his wide hands, his thumbs worrying the brim. 

Why is he here? Keep going. 

Down the nave, yes. The procession along, at once familiar and strange. It is his first time entering one since the Apocalypse (he is hesitant and slow-moving, aware of the unburnt soles of his feet). Light comes through the stained glass of the medieval windows, painting his face in interruptions of blue and red. A hint of garden green. He presses on, further still, past statues and screens. Past the carved Norman face of William the Conqueror, past saints and unknown angels. Past pamphlets and displays. Up and up and up, until he is standing in the very choir of the Minster. The tiles laid out white and black beneath his feet, the smell of church dust in the air. 

He does not think of Heaven.

Bells chime. Aziraphale looks up not at the hanging cross but at the organ, dark and ornate. It looms over the choir with the promise of song. He fiddles with his sleeve, ducks his chin, and turns around. The bells chime on. See how the sunlight comes through the Great West Window. Watch how Aziraphale is stilled and quiet, listening to the sound of the bells marking out the time. Yes, he is soundless. He does not sing, he does not speak. His hat in his hands, a ghost of another life prickling the back of his neck. 

Hello there. Can You hear me? I suppose it’s a bit of an odd question, that. You could certainly hear me if You choose. It’s just that, well, we haven’t spoken much since that whole flaming sword thing. 

I did lose it, You know. Gave it away. Well, of course, You know all that already. Bit foolish, isn’t it, telling You what You already know?

The bells ring and he studies the window with wide pond-colored eyes. His hair catches the gold, catches the light bouncing off the white stone. He had expected it to ache, had expected his heart to feel soaked and heavy as he looks upon this church like walking through an empty house for the last time, never to see it again. Never to call it home again.

No, there is nothing heavy. His shoulders bear up. See all this light? Through the windows, through the glass? There’s more out there, past the doors. You can have it all.

Was this all Your doing? Was this Your plan? You haven’t spoken to anyone in millennia. Are You still watching? Is this as far as You’d thought? Is this ours now? This Earth to inherit? (Should I say thank you?)

He closes his eyes. Let me give thanks. Yes, let me. 

Here he is, giving thanks for red hair, giving thanks for eyes as yellow as myrrh. For narrow fingers and cliffside jaws. For hearts beating wildly and gilded cages left open. Aziraphale grips the hat tightly, six-thousand years stuck between his teeth. He has loved from behind bars for so long. He has loved from the other side of a window, he has loved from the choir too. From behind the organ, peeking out between the pipes. He has loved hopelessly, the choirboy and the pariah. He has loved always by looking down the nave, peeking out the door of the church, wondering about the sunlight. 

I love him. Surely You know that too. (At this point, I’m afraid the only person who doesn’t know is him. Or does he know? Can he tell? Perhaps I am too obvious. I should tell him, shouldn’t I? I hope it won’t seem strange. Or scare the poor boy off.)

I should tell him. I should. I shall.

Aziraphale breathes in very deeply. His shoulders rise, something strange and warm in his chest. He nods once to the window. Nods once to the empty choir and the organ too. His shoes click as he moves back down the nave, dropping miracles in every praying hand and bowed head along the way. (He is not done, no, there are miracles for those on the outside too. For those in the street, moving through the world never looking at the church. For those in other temples and other houses, Aziraphale blesses them all.) 

He is steady as he goes, walking directly for the door. He leaves the choir. He leaves the church. The ground even beneath his feet. (He doesn’t trip, doesn’t fall.)

The air outside is crisp and cold. Small snowflakes dust the ground, melting quickly on the pavement. They sit on noses and decorate eyelashes. A shadow slithers up behind him, unnoticed for a moment. "Hey, angel,“ the shadow says, humor in the voice. "Got ya something.”

Oh! My dear, you shouldn’t - ”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever. Here, take this,” Crowley says, pushing a tin into Aziraphale’s hands. It’s red and white, wrapped with a ribbon. He opens it to find the smell of chocolate and mint. Slabs of candy artfully shattered in the tin and set within striped tissue paper.

“Oh, this is lovely,” Aziraphale murmurs. He tries a piece of the peppermint bark. It melts easily on his tongue, a memory of mint left behind. “Thank you.”

“Don’t say I’ve never given you anything." 

Aziraphale looks up, smiling. “You’ve given me everything.”

Remember the sunlight? It glints off of Crowley’s dark glasses, it shines on his pale skin, the damp of his lower lip. His hair lit up, as red as a prayer book. The sun catches in the black wool of his winter coat, settling warm there. Aziraphale moves slowly, watching Crowley but certain of his welcome. He takes the spindle of the demon’s arm, right there at the elbow. (Is that a flush there on Crowley’s ears? You’d blame the cold, wouldn’t you? I know better, you ridiculous snake. I’ve known you forever.)

“Shut up,” Crowley drawls, something of warmth and embarrassment in his voice. “Anyway. Enough of that. Dinner?”

“Splendid. What are you thinking?”

“Saw there’s a French place up the road.” Crowley pauses, looking over. His dark brow arches over the black lenses, a smile curling on his rapscallion mouth. “Hear they’ve got oysters.”

Aziraphale squeezes his arm. (Something of red in his own ears now.) “Lead on, please.”

Not all carols need a choir. Some are meant for two.

Chapter Text

[Prompt: Chestnuts]

 


 

A bookshop in Soho
2019

 

“Crowley, what’s all this?”

Crowley looks up from behind the pile of bags he’s brought in. See the brown paper, the plastic sacks too. They tumble over Aziraphale’s kitchen table. Celery stalks spear through the top. There’s a promising slender bag, just big enough for a bottle of wine.

“We’re eating in tonight.”

Aziraphale quirks a brow, a twitch of the lip. “Are we now?”

“Yep, gonna make a thing,” Crowley says, a scoundrel-grin on his face.

“What sort of thing?” Aziraphale asks, mildly doubtful. He fusses with his pocketwatch, frowns slightly.

“Remember that pasta you had? In New York? Said it might discorporate you. It was paperwork-inducing.”

Aziraphale puts a hand on the counter, leaning in. He remembers a night in Manhattan. Glittering lights and black sky pierced by tall buildings. They had walked through Midtown, Crowley’s lazy hips like a swing, Aziraphale constantly conscious of Crowley’s elbow there, wrapped in a black coat. Empty and untaken. I wanted to take it. I loved you then. He remembers the dinner at Gramercy Tavern. See the large dining room, the cream walls and the hush of the perfect service. The napkins folded and laid on the plates. The shined silverware, the bouquets of flowers strung throughout the room.

Roses, yes. And aster too.

There had been a chestnut agnolotti. Handmade pockets of pasta dough, folded carefully with expert fingers around a mildly sweet chestnut puree. Set within a warm cream sauce of leeks and celeriac, celery salt and shaved black truffle. A bit of lemon juice at the finish, just to make it pop. 

Aziraphale remembers this. I wish I could have this every day, he had said. (He had meant the dish. The company too. Crowley leaning forward on his elbow, the fork of his fingers absently tracing his long throat. His eyes hidden behind the dark glasses. Impossible to tell in the low light. Aziraphale had watched the tines of his hand, those long fingers kept clean, kept off his plate. You can reach over. Take me, swallow me up. Order me every day, order me whenever you like.) 

“You’re making the agnolotti, my dear?” Aziraphale asks. He sounds breathless. He shouldn’t be so winded over pasta. (The idea of it. Crowley in his kitchen, oil on his hands. Four eggs in the center of the flour well. Kneading the dough together. The smell of chestnuts roasting in his oven. The light of the tree from the other room. Aziraphale would lean over the counter, wine on his lips, his dark red tongue. He’d nick a bit of chervil. Maybe a chestnut, still warm and slick with butter from the pan.) 

“No,” Crowley says, smirking. His hair gleams like a holiday, red and shining with light. I want to touch you, brush your hair back from your forehead. Wake up with you in the morning, see what it looks like then when you’re soft and sleep-mussed, lines from the pillow pressed on your face. 

“No?” Aziraphale blinks. Crowley is still smiling, pulling the eggs out of the bag. A bottle of wine, unsalted butter. Olive oil and cream. 

We’re making the agnolotti, angel,” Crowley arches his brow, his smile growing more devilish. Properly rakish, a demon in good humor. It’s Aziraphale’s favorite look on him, this beloved mischief.

“My dear, I can’t cook. You know that. You saw what happened to the kitchen last time. Dreadful thing, those poor cupboards.”

Crowley laughs. “I’m going to be here to put out any fires.” He pauses, “Literal and metaphorical there. Look, it’s gonna be fine. I’ll show you how.” He tilts his head, takes his sunglasses off. His coat too. After a moment, he pauses and kicks the boots off as well, leaving them near the kitchen door. Look at him, more slender without a jacket, his sleeves rolled up to the elbows. His bare feet on Aziraphale’s floor, his eyes like tinsel. One hand held out, red hair dusted over the knuckles, beckoning him over.

His heart feels very warm.

“Come here, angel,” Crowley says, taking Aziraphale by the hand and leading him up to the counter. Three cups of flour are measured out. Four eggs cracked in the well. “You add the salt now, yeah?” Crowley says, his voice at Aziraphale’s ear, just behind him. 

“How much?”

“A couple of pinches. Not too much. Just enough to keep it interesting.”

Add the salt, break the yolks. Things don’t have to stay as they are. The smell of chestnuts in the air, the waft of butter. Crowley takes his hands and shows Aziraphale how to slowly incorporate the flour into the eggs, how to bring it all together in a firm and kneaded dough. 

“Like that, yeah?” Crowley says, still behind him. Warm and steady, his fingers measured against Aziraphale’s own. Longer and thinner, a perfect counterbalance. Salt to keep things interesting. (A heartbeat like the swell of a song. Silver bells.) 

Yes, just like that.

Chapter Text

[Prompt: Silver and gold.]

 


 

The Metropolitan Opera, New York City
2019

 

The chimes sound. Do you hear them? Do you hear what I hear?

(They sound a little like bells.)

“You’d better hurry up and drink that fast, angel,” Crowley drawls, leaning over the railing of the balcony. “They’re about to start the show." 

Aziraphale raises a brow at him, mouth occupied by the slim flute of pale gold champagne. They are both dressed well. Aziraphale in cream and Crowley in a fitted dark suit. An oxblood pocket square tucked into the front pocket. His hands, as always, are collected in his pockets (where they can’t get in trouble). He’s even bothered to do something with his hair, slicking it up into something half-elegant with a bit of pomade. His night-black snakeskin boots sink into the thick red carpet. Out beyond them, hanging above the center of the opera house’s twin grand staircases, an immense silver and crystal chandelier glitters. 

The flute is held up, drained empty. "My dear, has that ever been a problem?”

Crowley grins, bringing his own devil brow high. “Wasn’t there a time when the conductor was mysteriously trapped by a bathroom stall door? For the exact length of time it took for you to get back to your seat?”

“I certainly haven’t the faintest of what you’re talking about,” Aziraphale huffs. (There’s a smile in it. Crowley doesn’t miss it. He misses none of Aziraphale’s smiles.) 

A door to the side leads to the hushed hallway behind the box seats. They move through it, the scattered lights of the theatre punching through from box to box. Crowley frowns at the tickets, comparing the printed numbers to the plaques on each box door. Aziraphale presses close behind him. Crowley is keenly aware of his presence, aware of the displacement of air when Aziraphale leans forward. Aware of the exact speed they are moving. 

If I slowed down, you would bump into me. 

He’s learned slowness. He’s learned to watch his own velocity. Once, in a car parked in Soho, their faces each bathed in orange light, he’d been asked to slow down. You go too fast for me, Crowley, Aziraphale had said while Crowley’s hands had cupped the angel-given thermos of holy water. That’s the thing about two beings moving at different speeds. He cannot go too fast. He’ll strip away, find himself lost and isolated, no angel on the same track. No one around to hear him. But if I slow down, if I go slow enough, then you might bump into me. You might find me there, bring me along. Invite me. I’d know you wanted me then. I wouldn’t question it. You’d start this and if you reached out for me, then I wouldn’t have to wonder if you were only being kind. (Don’t be kind to me. Not like that. I’ll be slow, reach for me. Please.) 

So Crowley moves hesitantly, dips each movement in slowness. Puts his heart on ice, dips his blood in liquid nitrogen. He tries not to think about it, tries to tell his heart to rest, to go to sleep for a little while. (He’ll wake it when they get there.) 

It never quite works. (You cannot tell a heart. It is a terrible thing to be loved so deeply by someone unfamiliar with love.)

There is a black velvet box in his jacket. It’s always there, unmoving. Waiting. Slow. (Always there except once, at Warlock’s birthday party. The white server jacket hadn’t had pockets large enough to fit the damn thing. He’d had to shift it to his pants pocket then. Crowley had cursed how it had looked, the way it’d ruined the aesthetic. Still, it couldn’t be helped.) 

“It’s this one,” Crowley says, pulling a curtain back into box 22. 

“Oh, thank you, my dear,” Aziraphale says, bright and flushed with excitement. He takes his seat, patting the one next to him. As Crowley takes his own, Aziraphale reaches his wide hand over and squeezes Crowley’s knee. “See? We didn’t miss it." 

"No thanks to you,” Crowley says. His voice faint with surprise, his every focus trained on the hand on his knee, the slight pressure of five fingertips. Breathe, just breathe. It’s just a hand. Just his hand. You’ve touched it before. Several times now. But Crowley’s eyes are wide behind his lenses, his breathing shallow. Aziraphale is warm against him, pooling fire in his vein and arteries. Where he touches Crowley, it feels like a chandelier looks. Glittering and bright. Silver and gold. 

A woman in the next pair of seats turns to them. “Do you and your husband need programs?" 

Crowley stares, openmouthed. Aziraphale leans over, reaching for the offered papers. "That would be terribly kind. Thank you.”

The word husband rings in his ears. It echoes in his skull and coats his tongue. It drops down his throat, fills him from the inside out. Crowley glances at Aziraphale, his hair like cotton fluff and his upturned nose buried in the program, silver reading glasses set upon it. The slight shadows of the theatre catch in the lines of his face and Crowley allows his bruise-yellow eyes to take it all in. Allows himself to memorize the entire moment with impossible fondness.

Don’t be kind to me. Not like that. (Tell me you love me. Are you reaching for me? Can I reach back?)

“Aziraphale - " 

"Shhh,” Aziraphale says. “It’s starting." 

Onstage, Figaro sings and Count Almaviva falls in love. There is a hand on his knee, steady and warm. Crowley takes a deep breath and rests his own hand over it, knotting their fingers together in a perfect fit. 

Maybe it’s almost time. Have I slowed down enough for you? Have you caught up with me? 

Crowley breathes out, deflating his narrow chest. He sinks like a confession into his chair. His hand twitches, his palms damp. Aziraphale squeezes his fingers, warming him up. 

You see, there is a black velvet box in Crowley’s jacket pocket. There is, as there always is with secret things and hidden boxes, a little bit of treasure. 

A ring. Made of silver, yes. 

And made of gold too.

Chapter Text

[Prompt: Pine]
This was written and is set to Trans-Siberian Orchestra's Christmas Canon (which makes use of the music mentioned here). 

 


 

A flat above a bookshop in Soho
2019


 

Come upstairs. Take my hand, follow the light. This is a bookshop in Soho, this is an angel in his rarely-used bedroom. Stacks of papers on the small table, an old-fashioned alarm clock. The room looks more like someone’s idea of a bedroom than anything of actual comfort. The sheets are always perfectly made, the quilt is always carefully folded. There are curtains of quiet muslin. Above the bed, in a wood frame, hangs a small Dürer watercolor of a young hare. Aziraphale studies the painting for a while, the rendering and shading of the soft fur, from dark to light and light to dark again. The pressed together feet, ready to spring at the smallest sound. 

A hare is a nervous thing. (Aziraphale ducks his chin, listening for any noise downstairs.)

At the end of the bed is a chest. A hope chest built of pine and lined with cedar. The lock is large and made of black iron. 

(This night we pray, our lives will show. This dream he had, each child still knows.)

Aziraphale breathes in. (Silence in the shop, silence in the room. Don’t worry, don’t panic. No one is watching. Not anymore. You can leave it unlocked this time. Go on then, fish out your key from your pocket. Unlock yourself.) He kneels next to the chest, his sable trousers pressed to the swept-clean hardwood floor. 

His heart rings in his ribs, clanging out the minutes. Sounding the hours. His blood like chimes in his ears. We must follow his wide and unsteady hands through the paperbacks and the folded sheet sets. Past Fanny Hill, past Venus In Furs too. Let’s sink deeper than Egyptian cotton and a pale blue chenille throw. 

Tell me what secrets you keep. What hidden things you bury in untouched drawers. Tell me what you hide in your chest, what you will never let go. (Pandora kept hope.)

Aziraphale doesn’t cough at the dust, he doesn’t let it sting his eyes. Look at him here on his knees, the twilight falling on his mirror-pale eyes and tangling up in his paperwhite hair. The shadows of the evening catch in the lines on his face. The years don’t collect for eternal things, the centuries never thin his skin. Still, he wears his age somehow. He has existed forever, he will live always. In all that time, his voice has never risen to say I love you. 

Angels love widely, yes. Yet Aziraphale has always been a strange angel. He loves Crowley with a fine-tipped nib, his heart is an arrowhead. I shall tell him. I made a promise. I will. 

He is looking for something in the hope chest. Aziraphale is a memory-maker. A shepherd of things. See his curator-touch on these books, his wings flung out over stories and literature, carrying scrolls and codices from century to century. See his fingerprints on these hundreds of winecorks, always stained red on one end. He lifts one recent cork to his nose and inhales. The sharp tannins race across him, the memory of a spike of laughter. The memory of a demon who is a summer thunderstorm in designer sunglasses. Dark and beloved, shattering everything he’s ever known. Please. Please let me run out into the storm. Let me tip my face up to you. Let me get wet, soaked. Let me be a mess of you. I want the light on my face to be yours.

The best secrets are kept in the bottoms of chests. At the bottoms of cereal boxes. Yes. We should flip them over, open from the underside. Get to the good stuff first. (We think about it and never do. Don’t forget to enjoy the walk, to remember the journey. It’s not always about the treasure, it’s about the reaching too.) 

There is a newspaper. There is a music box. 

“What’s this, my dear?” Aziraphale had asked, looking up at Crowley in surprise. The year was 1800 and the bookshop had been new. Crowley had gotten into the habit of weighing Aziraphale’s sofa down, making sure his wine never went to vinegar.

“It’s a gift. It’s Christmas, yeah?” Crowley had raised one eyebrow high over his lenses, a wry smirk on that broomstick-skinny mouth. “Isn’t that what you do?”

“We’ve never - ” Aziraphale had trailed off, blinking. A balloon had taken up residence in his chest. He’d looked up at Crowley then. At the black wool trousers clinging to his long limbs, the teacup-storm of him collapsed on Aziraphale’s sofa. His hair as red as holly, watching Aziraphale carefully from steady sunrise eyes. “I don’t have anything for you, I’m afraid. I didn’t realize - “

“S’not about that,” Crowley had said quietly, “Go on. Open it before I waste away into dust or something.” He’d twitched his shoulders in a sharp shrug. Movements like an electrical spark.

Aziraphale had brought his brows together in focus, the wine velvet in his veins. Even now, a hundred and fifty years later, he remembers how the red-wrapped box had been heavy in his hands in a strange way. Aziraphale had never known weight without expectation. This gift had come with no strings. No demands. A gift given freely. 

He had swallowed and opened it. Undone wrapping paper, shimmering in the lamps. 

Aziraphale holds it now in his wide hands, all these years later. Do you see it now? Wooden, the size of a snuff box. With one gnarl-knuckled hand on the well-worn lid, he listens again for the sound of anyone coming up the narrow stairs. There is only silence. Nerve-shot, he chuckles at himself, looking up at the hare. 

“I know, old boy. I suppose I am rather ridiculous, even after all these months." 

A sigh. He lifts the lid. Can you hear it? Music. Music spills from the small box. Called forth by pins and a revolving steel comb. A small drum and careful bells.

(Close your eyes, Aziraphale. Remember the rest.)

"It’s a music box,” Aziraphale had said, looking up at Crowley. The small lenses he had favored then, the cut of his dark coat. The buttons had gleamed in the light, his boots like an oilspill. 

“Yeah, you know. Just saw it. Thought you might like it. You know, in case you can’t scare me up for a symphony or something,” Crowley had shifted his rattlesnake-spine in his seat, given a strange wave of the hand as if to say look, it’s nothing. Shut up. Don’t make a big deal out of it. 

“Well, let’s hope it never comes to that,” Aziraphale had said. 

“Anyway. Enough of that. Where’s that port you were telling me about? The ruby one?” Crowley had craned his neck, looking for the promise of the bottle. 

Aziraphale had wanted to kiss him then. It hadn’t been the first time. (It wouldn’t be the last.)

Two centuries later, on his knees in front of a pine hope chest, Aziraphale lets the music box play. He knows the music well and his lungs swell with Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major. He closes his eyes, the music box picking out the notes and ringing the bells. He has brought the music box out hundreds of times now. The song had sung in the background of Crowley’s sleep. It had sat open on Aziraphale’s desk on a night in 1941, scotch in his hand and staring at a leather-strapped valise of miracle-safe books. It had played while he had run water from the tap in his kitchen into a tartan thermos, blessing it with his own hands.

And it plays now. Listen. Listen for the sound of a song playing against the silence. For the bells in quiet hearts, not always a warning. Some are strung up in our breath, our veins, our joy marked out by harmonies and melodies. Some bells are church bells, calling for worship. Some are bells of an opened door, ringing out our arrival. 

Some bells ring to call us home.

Tonight, Aziraphale feels warm. He collects the newspaper and the music box sings. Let us listen, let us hear the song now (on this night, on this night, on this Merry Christmas night).

Chapter Text

[Prompt: Caroling]

 


 

“Crowley?” Aziraphale asks. His words curled into a question mark, the cup of tea warm in his wide hands. There’s something strange in his stomach. It feels like a snowfall when he looks at Crowley on the sofa, his eyes heavy and half-closed. Remember this morning, how Crowley had also been half-lidded on the sofa, his copper-red hair sticking up wildly. Remember the red crosshatching on Crowley’s sharp face, shadowing the crags of his cheekbones where the cushions had pressed in and left a mark. 

He had stayed the night. The entire night. 

Aziraphale had watched. He had not moved once Crowley had fallen asleep. Aziraphale had kept to his wingback armchair, quietly turning the pages of his book. Don’t make too much noise, don’t wake him up. (Don’t make a sound.) There is something strange in his stomach. He can’t quite tell what it is.  He pauses and brushes crumbs from his toast away. The evening light is pale and forgiving, filtering through a snowfall. Gentle through sheer white curtains. 

Aziraphale doesn’t want him to leave the bookshop. There’s an odd spell over the place, a magic of Crowley’s presence. A wild thing gentled and coaxed out, settled to sleep. If Aziraphale moves, if he makes a sound, if he disrupts anything, he knows their snowglobe existence would shatter. You’d mutter something about temptations to accomplish, shuffle off. I wouldn’t see you again for three days. You slept here last night. You took my hand. If you leave, where would that set us back? Stay here. Stay here a little longer. Don’t run away.

“Hmm?”

“Do you want to stay in tonight?”

“Wait - “ Crowley frowns. He stretches, reaching upward and his carbon-black shirt rises with the movement. Aziraphale’s heartstrings sing like a harp well-plucked.  “You mean skip dinner. You’re tellin’ me you want to skip dinner?”

Aziraphale shrugs. “Just a thought. We could get takeaway perhaps. You could show me more of that baker’s program. It’s been quite lovely.”

“Bake Off,” Crowley murmurs. "Angel," (Crowley has his long fingers in the curtains and his nose in someone else's business.) He peers down the street, his endless legs in a barefoot pile on the sofa. "You did set the sign to closed, didn't you?"

"Oh, I'm not cer - "

The doorbell rings. Crowley's face twitches. "Carolers," he hisses. “Great. Tidings of good cheer and all that rot."

Aziraphale's face brightens, his grin spreading across as easily as a sunrise. "Well, that's just lovely, isn't it?"

Crowley just raises a dark eyebrow, sips slowly on his glass of wine. The doorbell rings again. When Aziraphale opens the front door, there’s a clutch of young carolers, all bundled up in dark, padded coats. Hats over their ears and gloves on their hands. The spirit of the holiday on their tongues, ready to sing. 

“Angels we have heard on high, sweetly singing o’er the plains.”

“One moment,” Aziraphale says, turning slightly. His apologies in this curve of his mouth, his bent brows. “Let me get my - my friend.” 

“M’ not comin’,” Crowley yells across the room. Aziraphale raises a still-sharper brow. The wine in Crowley’s hands suddenly drains out of his glass.  “Well, that’s just bloody savage,” Crowley mutters, a smile bitten back. 

“He’ll be right here,” Aziraphale says, turning back to the carolers. “Oh! Pardon me. Would you care for a cup of cocoa?”

The carolers decline and hover in the doorway.

Crowley slinks over, leaning against the wall. Mercifully quiet. Still barefoot in Aziraphale’s home, still half-bare without his jacket. The carolers sing and Aziraphale watches the curve of Crowley’s spine. Watches the flicker of his eyes behind the sunglasses, darting over constantly at Aziraphale’s presence as if seeking a touchstone. As if reaching out for something to steady himself. (Aziraphale understands. Let’s watch him, see his wide hands and the square fingers. The shallow nailbeds, perfectly trimmed and evenly manicured. Watch how he reaches for the gold pinky ring to run his hands over. He twists it around his finger, grounds himself through touch. We are always sparking wildly, reaching out to touch and center ourselves. To find something to take the too much of us.) 

Gloria, in excelsis Deo.

“Thank you,” Aziraphale murmurs, blessing the carolers as they go off into the falling snow and the lights of the Soho street. He shuts the door. Crowley still leans against the wall in the entry, his shoulders like a spade into the plaster wall. His brows as raised as a flying buttress. Don’t leave, Aziraphale thinks and does not say. (I should just talk to you. Just basic human communication. Words and sentences. Paragraphs and pages. I’m afraid you won’t like what I have to say. I’m afraid you won’t like the way I might say it. I have something to say to you, I don’t know how to begin.) 

“Well,” Crowley drawls in a sardonic tone. “That was cheery.” 

“Have a little holiday spirit, please.” 

“I have spirit!” Crowley spreads his arms wide. He’s laughing, it sounds like bells and chimes. “Look! I got you a damn tree, angel.” 

Watch how Crowley’s arm had flung out, wide into the space between them. Sweeping over and upward, drawing their attention suddenly to the holiday spirit decorating the entire shop. A tree, yes. And garlands and ornaments, lights and candles. 

And mistletoe.

Aziraphale and Crowley both glance upward. It has been there for nearly two weeks. Ever-present and evergreen, waiting patiently for someone to stumble under it. Crowley’s eyes widen behind his lenses, impossible to miss. Aziraphale’s heart is a velvet bag of marbles tipping over in his unsteady hand. His heartbeat tries to catch them all as they spill, breaking the silence by scattering over the floor. (He’ll never be able to find them all, will he? He’ll never be able to pull them all back together. I shouldn’t have pushed. )

Crowley swallows. (It takes ages for a swallow to move down that long neck. Years pass while Aziraphale watches from across the border. Out of bounds. Here be dragons. Aziraphale knows better. I hoped there might be something. I shouldn’t have assumed you were ready. I shouldn’t have assumed you waited, that you still wanted - that you ever wanted - ) 

There is something strange in his lungs.

“We don’t have to - “ Aziraphale starts, his voice a stretched rubber band. 

Angel - “ Crowley’s words spill out simultaneously. Their voices like two trains colliding on a single track. Something’s got to give. 

“It’s just a silly tradition, my dear, it’s not important. Please don’t leave. I’ll take it down, look -” A snap of the fingers and the mistletoe is in Aziraphale’s hands. Broad verdant leaves and ice-white berries. As pale as winter. As pale as Crowley’s face. (Aziraphale here, well beyond the pale. Hanging up mistletoe and daring to hope too loudly.) 

Fingers curl around the mistletoe in his hands. They are not his own. Long and slender, knife-like things. 

“You don’t want to?” Crowley asks, his voice very quiet. 

His tongue is dry in his mouth, sticking to himself. Aziraphale looks up. I don’t understand. You look terrified. You’re white as a snowstorm, your hands are as cold as the dead. You’re shaking. (Please, tell me what you mean. Tell me what the right answer is. I want to say the right thing. I don’t want you to run away.) 

“I didn’t say that.” (Please don’t go.)

“I know.” 

Aziraphale breathes in heavily. His own blood on ice, spinning out on the road. (There is something strange in his heart.) “Crowley,” he says.

“I’m listening, angel,” Crowley says. 

You see, the door is open. You’ve already knocked. There are so many songs to sing, so many ways to say it. Give joy to the world, hear the silver bells. Hark how the bells, those sweet silver bells. They’ve been ringing for six-thousand years, empty against the sky. Aziraphale knows the sound of the bells. How they ring in his sleep, how they sound at every dinner at the Ritz and every late night deep in wine. Crowley rings loudly and rings often. 

A carol, by definition, must have song. Someone must raise their voice. Someone must sing the first word.

Angel, go on then. Lift your voice up and accompany the bells. Go on.

Sing.

Chapter Text

[Prompt: Wrapping paper]

 


 

No, we’re not there yet. How many days are left? (You can’t unwrap it yet. Not yet. Be patient, it’s coming. Don’t peek. Let’s pick up another memory, unwrap that one. Shake it up, see what we might find.) 

 

Soho, London
1967

 

“Come on, lemme open them,” Crowley drawls, draped upside down on the couch like dry cleaning. His voice is thick with wine, his words rolling out like a red carpet, inviting Aziraphale in. Tell me a story, tell me something to keep me warm. (Let me tell you one too.)  Crowley tries not to reach out, tries not to put his sharp bones near the wrapped gifts under the tree. He’ll tear them all open with a razor hipbone, he’ll shred them all with his icepick ankles. No, Crowley never goes near the gifts, even the few with his name on them. (Written in a flowing, careful hand with a black pen. To Crowley, they say. He doesn’t even pick them up to shake them, to hear how they rattle around, to feel how much they weigh. No, he can be patient. He’ll wreck nothing. Not this time.) 

Aziraphale blinks, a brandy-warm smile on his wide mouth. “No. It’s not time yet, dear boy. Have some patience, will you?”

“It’s never time,” Crowley arches a brow, reaching blindly for the wine bottle. It’s somewhere on the table, somewhere near his booze-dipped hands. He’ll find it eventually. “You just want to torture me.”

“Well,” Aziraphale smirks, “That is an added bonus, yes.”

Crowley rolls his eyes and looks out over the backroom of the shop. Red ribbon wrapped around the columns and velvet bows strung up on tables. A carved reindeer sits on the small mantle. Tinsel glitters against the low lamps. In front of them, A Child’s Christmas in Wales is laid out, Dylan Thomas reminding Crowley of a nostalgia for a childhood he had never had. (Consider the curl of family, the warmth of an open door. A remembered name. Someone reaching out to you, beloved and warm, calling you across the cold December. Come in, come in, before you get cold .)

“S’nice though.” (Blame the wine. Blame his clumsy mouth. He should have wrapped his tongue up better, sealed himself off.) 

“Pardon?” Aziraphale looks doubtfully around, a puff of pride in his spine. His white brows draw together, digging a furrow between them. A ripple in the water, a wrinkle in a page. Crowley wants to reach out, smooth it away.

(He should know better. Don’t touch. Don’t tear. Don’t ruin things. Things stay wrapped for a reason.) 

Crowley clears his half-choked throat. Something feels caught in it. (Useless. He’s choking on something that isn’t even his.) “Just, you know, all this - stuff.”

“A little bit of Heaven on Earth,” Aziraphale murmurs, sipping his brandy. 

“Heaven? What the - “ Crowley scrambles up, righting himself. He leans forward, his elbows on his knees, a black-shadowed cliffside. Crowley, pale-skinned and not good enough, wrapped up in a black jacket. His red hair left long, tied back like a ribbon. Crowley, wrapped up and left over. The last gift at a white elephant party. Something wrapped up and regifted. Crowley knows that gift-giving is a reciprocal action. He doesn’t reach for the table, doesn’t try to ask for what he wants. (He’d have to give himself up. Wait to be picked. To be torn open. To be seen and found out.) Don’t open me. You won’t like what you find. 

Aziraphale watches him. The blue-copper eyes watching him, something shifting through them as quick as a river moves. Those square hands are tight on his snifter, the amber-colored brandy smooth in the glass, coating the sides as Aziraphale brings the glass to his mouth. Drinks and drinks. There is red on his cheeks, a confession of his own drunkenness. Crowley finds himself staring at the shift from cream shirt to tartan bowtie to his wheatfield skin. He finds himself inhaling the pale hair like an addict in a cloud of smoke. See the bone-white beard starting on the chin, the cheek, the jaw. If I kissed you, you’d rub my skin raw. I’d be red-faced after, I would feel it for hours. You’d burn where your skin was against mine. When I left you and left for my own home, my own bed, I would take you with me. You would tear my skin up, tear it open. I wouldn’t be the same. 

Look. There’s an eyelash on Aziraphale’s cheek. Crowley moves without checking in with himself first. His hands get there before his mind does, his narrow fingers reaching out to wipe the eyelash off. It sits on his index finger, long and obvious, pointed out between them. A dark eyelash. Nothing and too much. 

“Make a wish,” Crowley says. He tries to sound insouciant and teasing. The sardonic edge doesn’t quite show up on time. It stands him up in his own voice, leaving him to sound very naked. Make a wish. A Christmas wish. An anything wish. Make the world different, remake it as you like it. Anything you want.

Aziraphale swallows, not looking up. Trained on this piece of himself on Crowley’s hand, “I have,” he says quietly. Silence stretches between them.

“Oh,” Crowley swallows, his mouth dry and strange. What do you even say? Why did I say that? Why did I do that? What the fuck have I done? (I’m sorry I’m too much. I’m sorry I’m impatient. You told me to slow down and I’m always full throttle.)  He starts to pull his hand away. Aziraphale reaches around his wrist. An angel at the gate, holding him back. (Don’t leave.)

“Wait, I need to - “ he murmurs and then leans down, blowing the eyelash off of Crowley’s finger in an easy breath.

Crowley is very still. His spine like ice. “How’d it go?”

“We’ll have to wait, my dear,” Aziraphale says, looking up and catching Crowley’s own eyes. There is a smile, there is a slight dance at the Adam’s apple of his sturdy throat. “We’ll have to wait and see.”

No, it is not time yet. Be patient, don’t try to open anything too early. 

All good things come in good time.



Chapter Text

[Prompt: Wish]
(This was written to and I think pairs well with Trans-Siberian Orchestra's Christmas/Sarajevo 12/24. Extensive references have been made to Dylan Thomas' A Child's Christmas In Wales.) 

 


 

A bookshop in Soho
2019

 

It's Christmas Eve, you didn't think I'd leave this here, did you? Don't you trust me by now? 

The tree is lit. The gifts are wrapped. Tonight, millions make pilgrimages to services. Some go always, some rarely. Some never. Crowley is a never-goer. There's no church for him to walk into. His feet blister, his soles turn black and scorched. The doors are barred, he is pushed out and cast aside. The wineglass lingers from his long fingers. He stares into the lights on the tree, half here. Half-somewhere else. Long ago. Far away. 

God help the outcasts. 

"Do you want to open one tonight?" Aziraphale asks, looking up from the dust-scented book in his hands. 

Maybe. Maybe not. I don't know. It's a complicated thing, the way the holiday sticks between his teeth. He wants to tear into everything. He doesn't want it to start. Not yet. What if you don't like what I got you? What if it's not what you wanted? I tried to pay attention. It seems obvious, doesn't it? Make a list and check it twice. What if what you said you wanted isn't what you really wanted? What if it's the wrong color? What if it's damaged? (What if I let you down?) 

"Up to you." 

Sleigh bells ring. (Are you listening?)

"Maybe just the one? Just a little thing?" Aziraphale moves to the tree, bending and fussing at the few scattered boxes. There's not much under. The longer you live, the smaller the gifts seem to be. It's not about the promise, it's about the delivery. There's a book-sized box for Aziraphale. ( Bet you can't imagine what that might be, Crowley thinks, half-amused.) There's a skinny bag tied with silver ribbon for Crowley. There are a few scattered other things, wrapped in silver and gold. There is a small box with no name on it. 

Crowley stares at the tree from his space on the sofa, his body like the collapsed Colosseum. His arms carefully arranged to look artless. His spine very still, perched to take flight. His heart a cacophony. It sounds like a xylophone, the way it sounds dragged across his ribs. 

"Maybe one."

"Did you make a wish?" Aziraphale asks and Crowley remembers a moment in 1967. This same sofa, this same tartan throw. These damn damnable lamps, piles of books that have not moved. An eyelash on a long finger, a gust of breath. A wish unspoken. Hoped for. 

Crowley puts the wine down. He's pale, all the blood rushing to his chest. "I can't do this." 

Aziraphale goes very still. "What do you mean?"

Watch how Crowley paces, how his fingers rake through this shipwreck of his hair. He had wanted it to look nice. (Useless.) Had wanted to keep a lid on it, keep his desperate mouth shut. (Failed.) He bites his lip, breathing in. Lifts his jaw to face the firing squad. 

"Just - " Crowley breathes, "I'm sorry. I should sober up."

Aziraphale stands up, his brow furrowed. A strange focus in his candlelit eyes. "No, Crowley. Not this time. Tell me."

Crowley closes his eyes and drops his head back. Are You listening? Are You up there? Give me a miracle. A Christmas miracle. I can stop time, I can't rewind. Can't take it back. Let me stop spinning out. Stop fucking up. There's no ice on the roads outside. It's all right here, in this bloody shop, and I'm spinning out. Gonna crash. Gonna fuck it up. Tell me You can fix it. I haven't asked for anything. Not in millennia. Not from You. (Don't make me beg. I will. Please.) 

Time does not stop. Crowley listens to the sound of his breath in the too-warm room. To the sound of his heartbeat, impossibly steady. Somewhere outside, past them, unconcerned with them, bells call for the midnight service. 

" Don't, Aziraphale."

Aziraphale moves closer, his jaw well set. "No, I want to know." 

The ceiling gives no answers, the lamps do nothing for his prayers. Crowley curses it all, everything in the room and God above too. "Fine," he gives in, dragging one hand across his face. "You want to wreck it all? After all this time? Sure, why not? It was a good go."

"Crowley."

"Look. I shouldn't. But you asked. Just remember that - I'm drunk. And I'm tired. And it's been six-thousand years, angel, I can't keep - I can't. Just remember that. It's been a long time." He swallows and watches the window. The night is out there, dark and promising. The snow is falling and still the bells ring, calling the shepherds and the lost home together. Indiscriminately. The bells ring for everyone. (Even him.) 

Aziraphale is silent. The weight of his eyes impossible. 

"No one told me that you were gonna be there. I knew I'd find an angel but you're not, look, you're not like them. Not like any of them. I've never met anyone like you. Before Eden or after. And you've been there this whole time. And yeah, this bloody wine, I'm just - " Crowley lets the words fall, they've been backed up for centuries. Let the cap off, let it spill out. His wretched hands in his wretched hair, fussing at his too-dry throat. He paces restlessly, back and forth across the floorboards.

"My dear."

"I fell in love with you the moment I saw you. Maybe that's not real, not for most. But it was for me. And I saw you and my mouth went dry and I wanted to hold your hand. I wanted to be close to you. My entire life is just trying to guess how long I can be near you before I drive you away. You could do anything you want to me, do you have any idea of that? I don't care, not if it's you. You're perfection, angel. Just the way you are. And you keep looking at me like I might be something good. It kills me sometimes, letting myself hope. You're an angel. An angel. Don't think I ever forget that. I wasn't good enough. M'not good enough for you. There's nothing I have to give to you and this is too much and yeah, I know you're gonna be nice for a few hours and I'll see you in a few days. Then a few weeks. Then months. I know how this will go. Don't think I haven't thought about it every single day of my entire fucking cursed life - "

"Crowley."

"And it's just that you were there at the beginning and I don't need anything. I don't know how I'll stop thinking about it, cause I do, but I'll try. I fucking promise that I'll try. I didn't want you to ever know. Not - any of this. I just - want you to be there at the end. Whatever kind of end you and I get to have. You make the days worth living. I didn't know what living was until you, angel. And I'm sorry - I'm so fucking sorry - "

"Crowley," Aziraphale insists, somewhere near his elbow. Crowley is in the night. In the dark. Hear his sleigh bell heart sounding out the inevitable crash. I'm coming near you, I'm getting close. Beware. Mind the impact. Get out of the way, I can't control the reins. I've tried. Oh, how I've fucking tried. 

His teeth sharp in his lip, the air cutting in his lungs, Crowley breathes in again. "You don't have to be kind. I'll just get out of -"

(Don't you trust me? Haven't you been listening?)

Hear the bells, hear how they sound in the night. They call across asphalt and snow, they pull on our heartstrings. On our memories. Bells again, never needing language. Bells ringing for you and me, for who we are underneath the wine and designer jackets. Underneath the bowties and the disapproving frowns and the names we wear from day to day. There are bells for warning, yes, but bells ring for many things. Bells call us home in the dark. Call us to worship on the longest nights of the year.

The bells ring and the snow falls. The days will get longer again. Someday it will be warm. Someday wishes will come true.

What did you wish for? Tell me on this night, of all the nights. This Christmas Eve night. Crowley turns sharply and looks at Aziraphale, his breath scattered across the floor. 

"My dear," Aziraphale whispers, his eyes incredibly wide (with nothing of fear in them). " Shut up. "

There's no mistletoe. Not here. Aziraphale crosses the few scarce feet and kisses Crowley. These sturdy arms wrapping around Crowley's skinny neck, a balm to his galloping heart. This mouth against his own, promising to be there at all of the beginnings and all the ends too. Aziraphale pulls Crowley in against his open mouth, an unexpected kiss. An always-familiar warmth. Crowley's eyes shut and crush tight. His arms wind with furious ache around Aziraphale's back, his stomach, his always-familiar arms.

It's Christmas Eve and the night is black and long. Look for the stars lighting the way, hear the bells calling you to sing. There's an echo of Milton somewhere in the back of Crowley's mind, long is the way and hard, that out of Hell leads up to light.

For a moment, this isn't a bookshop. For a moment, this is a wall of a Garden. For a moment, there's the promise of rain. For a moment, the world is turned backward and this is the beginning again. Crowley is standing at the beginning again, doing what he should have done six-thousand long (so fucking long) years ago, kissing an angel with all of his meager heart. They kiss, shadows in a gold-lit window, just another love story in on a street in London. The cars drive through smoke-colored snow. Someone laughs. Wine flows. Children crawl into bed, listening for the sound of footsteps and hooves. The stars are brightly shining through the steadily-falling night. Hark, hear the bells, the sweet silver bells. For you, and for me. For the angels and the outcasts alike. They ring just the same for us all through the close and holy darkness.

There is a kiss six-thousand years in the making somewhere. (Not for us to watch. Not for us to see. Let them have this. Just for tonight, yes, on this night. On this Merry Christmas night.)

Merry Christmas to all. And to all a good night. 



Chapter Text

[Prompt: Love]
(This was written to and I think pairs well with Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s O Come All Ye Faithful/O Holy Night.] 

 


 

A bookshop in Soho
2019

 

There is an angel in his lap. There are hands in his hair and Crowley is laughing. It’s Christmas Day and listen to the sky, listen for the ringing of the bells. O, come and see. O, come all ye faithful. 

The doors are open. The ground isn’t consecrated, not here. Come all ye faithful. And the faithless too. Come here, out of the dark and the light. 

“Sooooo, can I open them now?” Crowley asks with a well-kissed mouth. Sleep is optional so they have kissed for hours, laid out here on the sofa. Sometimes above and sometimes below, never seeking to push further. It has taken centuries to get here, why not take the time to savor every moment? His bruised, swollen lips, half-imagined. Half-drunk on touch and indulgence. Wine, yes, and completion too. I never thought we’d get here, never thought you’d want me like this. (I hoped. Dreamt of it, went to sleep every night with you on the backs of my eyelids and hope caught in my throat. You know what I am. All the scales of me and the fangs in my mouth. You know when I touch you, it will be with clawed hands. No monster is ever supposed to look upward. I think of you always. Always will.) 

“Yes,” Aziraphale says, pressing a smile into Crowley’s throat. His eyes ache, his face aches from this ridiculous smiling (he’ll be found out, realized as a rotten hopeful thing). 

Ridiculous thing, falling in love. Crowley buries his face in Aziraphale’s warm shoulder, in the strong arms wrapped around his skinny chest like ribbons. Yes, it is an absurd thing to fall in love. And he is an absurd creature. 

(Joyful and triumphant.)

You’re not supposed to see this part of me. You’re not supposed to make me feel like gold. I’m not supposed to glitter when you touch me. When you look at me. Across a room, across a party. Others pass by and they are simply noise. I have never not noticed you in a room. I have never not seen the way candlelight plays in your hair, in your eyes. I have never not wanted to take your hand under the table, to whisper that we can get out of here soon. 

I have never not loved you (I was yours from the start). Long fingers brush the flaxen curls from Aziraphale’s damp forehead, trail down the upturned nose. There’s an unerasable smile on Crowley’s face, a fire in his spine. Long fingers on the soft cheeks and the open mouth. (We have called these fingers icepicks. We have called them spindles. Today, let us be kind and these are fingers like wands to cast magic. Like bridges to erase the gap, the empty space between them. Someone must reach out and Crowley has long pilgrim fingers like needles, there to sew them together. One again, and whole.) 

“What should I open?”

“Oh, I suppose - ” Aziraphale blinks, glancing over at the half-forgotten tree. The pale light of morning seeps in, bright and winter-soft. The sun is bold and bright today, glimmering on the ice and verglas still frozen on cars and lampposts. “Anything you like. Except the little one.”

“The little one?” Crowley arches a brow. He presses a kiss to Aziraphale’s ear, finally allowed to adore him. 

“In the red paper. Without a tag.”

“Well,” he smirks, “Now that’s the one I wanna open first.”

“Crowley, not yet - there are rules!

Crowley laughs, “Angel, c'mon, have you ever seen me and rules?” Their fingers thread together. The weight of Aziraphale is soothing, promising. A paperweight angel, holding him safe and in place. It doesn’t matter what storm bursts through the door, crowds up against the windows. No ice, no wind, nothing will matter. Aziraphale is steady and constant, their chests pressed together and soft hands wound up in a bow. No, Aziraphale is there, keeping him safe. 

It’s with warmth and a half-meant huff that Aziraphale rolls his eyes. They slip from the sofa to the floor to unwrap the gifts. Torn paper and untied bows. A book for Aziraphale and wine for Crowley. Yes, they can drink to that. They can stop for quiche and champagne. The skirt of the tree stripped bare as the wrapped gifts come undone, revealing all their little secrets. Promises. Things left unsaid (always waiting for the perfect moment). 

“Last one, angel.” Crowley nudges his glass toward the red box. 

Aziraphale sips his wine, leaning back against the sofa. His bowtie loosened and his cheeks holly-red. “Go on then, my dear." 

"Yeah?” Crowley asks. The moment feels different. His mouth is dry. He drinks more wine to wet it. (It doesn’t work.) 

“Yes.” And when Aziraphale looks at him, neither of them look away. There’s something charged and shining, something singing in exultation. I’ll never need choirs of angels. No, I just need you. You’re everything, every harmony in the world. 

“Right then." 

Good morning, what did you find? Unwrap what you’ve always wanted, find your love settled around you. Find joy and promise in every shining face, in every peal of a loved one’s laugh. Look to the winter sky, out there on the shortest nights of the year, and find fires lit to keep us bright and warm. 

There is a box. Open it, Crowley.

"Aziraphale,” he breathes. 

Crowley has long fingers and they are nothing of spiders’ legs. They are nothing of pins and nothing of broomsticks. Crowley has fingers like shooting stars and like marble columns made to hold up the sky. He has fingers as skinny as an ornament hook and they wrap as tightly as ribbons. Hands blank and open, waiting to cup the world someday. He has hands empty and unwritten, perfectly shaped for this quiet little box and this simple, unadorned ring. 

With pink ears, Aziraphale glances away. “I had it made once." 

O sing, choirs of angels. Crowley looks up from the box. "You did? When?”

“Bethlehem." 

"What? Wait - that long - you mean two-thousand years, angel - ”

“Well, give or take. Two-thousand and nineteen. Not to be pedantic, of course." 

Crowley stares at the simple circle in his very damp palm. It crosses over his lifeline and heartline too. Everything in focus. "Do you mean that you want -”

“Yes.” Aziraphale finally looks at him. His wineglass between his knees, his impossibly soft eyes. How could I have ever had a chance of not loving you? How can anyone ever see you and not adore you? Let me come and adore you. You are bright and beautiful and good and I will bring you cocoa while you read and tea while you work. I will find your favorite books, take you to your favorite places. Give me a dream and give me some time and I’ll work miracles for you. Anything you ask. Anything at all. 

(I love you comes the whisper, somewhere shared in their breath.)

Crowley kisses Aziraphale, one long and red-palmed hand cupping Aziraphale’s gentle jaw. One long and quietly-faithful hand wearing a simple gold band, learning something about making wishes (and having them answered). Come all ye faithful. Come all ye faithless. Come everyone, one and all, whoever you are that believes in wishing upon a star or two. 

Come everyone, come as you are. Let me tell you a story joyful and triumphant. 

Chapter Text

[Prompt: Auld Lang Syne]

 


 

A rooftop in London
2019

 

Somewhere there is singing. The ringing and clinking of champagne flutes (like bells, like chimes). This is a city in the deep of winter and winter sticks to the bottom of Crowley’s dark boots. Salt encrusts in the snakeskin, white on the back of his black jeans. There is white on him elsewhere too. See the snowflakes scattered in his hair, white as forgiveness against the red of him. See the white of the cream coat too, an arm linked within his own.

It is deep at night and it is the end of something. The end of a year, another pattern around the sun. The end of a chapter. The end of a story. 

The start, dear reader, of another. (We never run out of stories.) 

“Long year,” Crowley says, leaning against the balustrade of the rooftop. “Real long year." 

"Rather was, I’m afraid, wasn’t it?” Aziraphale nods, leaning his head over. They both face the river, black in the night. Bright with stars and streetlamps like fireflies. Like a world lit only by fire. Aziraphale’s head comes to rest on Crowley’s shoulder. Warm and easy, as if it were always meant to be there. “But we got there. Didn’t we?”

We did. Took awhile. Took a year. (Six-bloody-thousand of them.) Crowley takes Aziraphale’s hand, tying their fingers together. There in front of all of London. In front of the sky and the great below. Come and see. 

“Yeah,” he breathes. “Yeah, sure did, angel." 

"The city certainly does look beautiful right now." 

Crowley nods. There’s a thickness in his throat. He’s used to weight. To heaviness. To bearing dread on his shoulders, to carrying it in the lines of his face. An unswallowed pill, the measure of dread. This is heavy too but there’s nothing of dread. It’s the weight of a gift in your lap, something begged for. Something asked for. A box with promise. 

Promise is heavy and Crowley hesitates before unwrapping it. His fingers shake, wanting to tear into the paper and undo the bow. His fingers shake, there in the warm hold of Aziraphale’s steady own. 

"How long now?” Aziraphale asks.

“Any moment.”

“Oh, splendid.”

Crowley quirks a brow. “You’ve really never seen the fireworks?”

“Over the Thames?”

“Yes.”

“No, I always rather preferred to stay in. Well,” Aziraphale pauses, color in his cheeks. Color in his neck. “Until now. It’s quite different when it’s with you.”

The metal of the balustrade is ice beneath Crowley’s arms and the breeze up here knits red into his ears and nose. Below them, London drinks and revelers meander down streets of asphalt and cobblestone. Medieval houses lean across the roads, whispering secrets to each other and parties spill out like dropped wine. How many celebrations have they been to? How many Saturnalias in Rome? This one feels different. This one is different, heavy in the palm of Crowley’s hand. 

“I love you,” he says. 

The smile that covers Aziraphale’s face is bright and surprised. “I love you. What brought that on, darling?”

A shrug. A bit of nothing in his shoulders. Don’t look too close at me. (Keep looking.) “Didn’t tell you for a long time, yeah? Gonna just - say it sometimes.”

Can you see the glitter of the firmament? All these stars hung by careful hands? Crowley knows the names of all of them. Every star and constellation in the sky. They stand lit by the light of the stars hung by his own hands. Free and open hands now, carrying nothing in them. The stars light the way and Crowley simply holds onto Aziraphale’s hand. 

(Should old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind?) 

“I’d do it all again,” Aziraphale says then, looking up at Crowley with pale eyes. “If it brought us here.”

(Should old acquaintance be forgot and auld lang syne?) 

There is a thickness in Crowley’s throat, heavy as a gold piece. Wasn’t sure it would ever happen. But it did. It fucking did. I’d do it all over again, the whole fucking thing. As long as I’m here at the end of it. You and me, angel. I don’t remember a moment when you weren’t different, when I didn’t recognize something in you. Something in myself. I saw you standing on that wall in the Garden and I knew I’d love you then. I knew it wouldn’t be easy. You and I, these ropes and chains. How do you untangle them? One knot at a time. One link at a time. (I will always be patient. I will always be here.) 

“Got something.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah,” Crowley shifts, shoving a long-fingered hand into his tight pocket. “I mean, it’s not - well, kinda already talked about it but this - anyway, I’m shit with words. You know that. Just here." 

And then there is a box. This one is not a music box. (There is no need for singing, the city is singing with them. Below them. Around them. We’ll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne.) 

A black velvet box, scuffed at the edges. Carried for decades. The ring within is older still. Aziraphale looks at it there for a long time. His pale hair against the black night sky, blowing softly in the wind. The wind nips at his tartan scarf too, weaving into the fringe. He looks up at Crowley. 

"Have you -”

“Yeah, I’ve had that with me,” Crowley says in a low voice, hardly audible. His breath shows as ghosts against the cold air. “For centuries. Well, I got the box eighty or so years ago.”

“With you? Oh, my love.” Aziraphale licks his lower lip, studying Crowley very intently. His fingers brush against Crowley’s sharp cheek. He turns his red red face into that kind hand, closing his eyes. 

“Every day.”

“You are - ” Aziraphale laughs a little, his eyes impossibly bright (a star in a river, a bonfire in the night). He shakes his head. “You are the most wonderful." 

"Shut up. Put it on.”

It fits perfectly. As if it were meant to be there. Aziraphale’s other hand pulls Crowley’s red and laughing face toward his own, pulling him into a kiss. They fit together, mouth to mouth and heart to bellringing heart. It is the end of the year and it is the middle of the night. The middle of the winter. Look at the dark and long days and find your way by these fires we have lit by hand. To find our way home and to keep us warm along the way. There is a bottle of champagne on the table. There is the stroke of midnight. 

And the sky lights up. (We two have paddled in the stream, from morning sun till dine; but seas between us broad have roared since auld lang syne.)

“They’re starting!” Aziraphale gasps into Crowley’s mouth. “Oh, look at them.”

Crowley laughs as Aziraphale leans against the balustrade. He wraps two arms around Aziraphale from behind, his sharp chin finding Aziraphale’s gentle shoulder. Somewhere soft to land. 

“Happy new year, angel.”

There, in the darkest part of the year, the sky is dazzling and Crowley can see every part of Aziraphale’s face. Every line, every shadow. Snowflakes catch in his eyebrows. His eyelashes. He can see them melt on the upturned tip of his nose. And Crowley can see the love there, always tucked into blue kaleidoscope eyes. The year has come and gone again and here they lift champagne flutes to the incandescent sky, this time hand-in-hand. The end of a year and the end of a story too. 

Tomorrow the winter sun will rise again. Tomorrow we will write a new first line.

Hand in hand, carrying the same fire always, for auld lang syne.