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1843

“Angel! You in?” Crowley blows into the bookshop like a winter storm. “Thought we were due to meet at St. James’s Park today?”

“Oh!” Aziraphale jumps, guiltily slamming his book shut. “I’m sorry, dear boy, I have to admit I entirely forgot.”

“Hey, no trouble for me. You’re the one who asked for a meeting.” Crowley grins knowingly. “Good book?”

“Very good. Dickens’ latest.”

Crowley groans loudly. “Not that dreck!”

“You know it?”

“Who doesn’t?” Crowley shrugs. “It’s inordinately popular. Sold out almost everywhere by now, I hear. But it looks like this one bookshop still has a copy…”

Aziraphale clutches the book protectively to himself. “Not for sale.”

“That’s what I thought.” Crowley chuckles. “Nah, I have my own copy, don’t worry about me.”

“Wait — you’ve read it?” Crowley has told him, time and again, that he doesn’t read. Evidently, there are exceptions.

“Yeah. Figured I’d see what all the fuss was about. Thought maybe I could sell it to Hell as a successful temptation, but no such luck.”

“Can’t imagine why.”

“Yeah. Definitely your lot’s kind of thing, innit? What with the wholesome message and all.” Crowley wrinkles his nose. “Maybe not the ghosts, but nobody’s perfect.”

“Ah, yes, the ghosts.” Aziraphale smiles. “Something you’d like, I’d have thought.”

“They would be, if they weren’t delivering a terribly hamfisted ‘be good, or else’ message. Waste of a perfectly good spooky element, that. Not like in Hamlet.”

“You didn’t like Hamlet either, though,” Aziraphale says, pointedly.

“Eh. The ghost was good.”

“But you still prefer the funny ones.”

“But I still prefer the funny ones,” Crowley agrees. “Now. Why’d you want to meet? Not to discuss literature, surely.”

“Ah, no. I’m to go to Inverness over New Year’s, do a few blessings.”

Crowley purses his lips in thought. “I do have a few temptations in the area. Not in Inverness proper, but near enough that I could drop by and sort out yours as well, if you wanted.”

I thought we might go together, Aziraphale doesn’t say. It’s a foolish thought, a foolish expectation; there is no reason why they might’ve gone together, and thus, no reason why he should be disappointed. “That would be very kind of you.”

“‘S nothing. Wanted to get out of London for a bit, anyway.” Crowley waves a hand, vaguely. “I’ll send you a note once I’m back, yeah? Let you know how I got on, if there’s anything you need to put in a report.”

“Jolly good. Safe journey, then, and —” Aziraphale holds his hand out for Crowley to shake. They don’t really do this — they don’t really touch at all, under normal circumstances — but he finds himself wanting to. He can use the holiday season as an excuse. “Merry Christmas.”

Crowley’s eyebrows arch high over the dark glasses he always wears, and he smiles. “Merry Christmas, angel,” he says, very softly; and then he clasps Aziraphale’s hand in his, and bends to kiss it, just the merest brush of his lips over the back of it.

Aziraphale can feel himself blushing, and draws his hand back as if scalded. Crowley just shakes his head, still smiling; and turns on his heel, and walks out of the bookshop.

Two weeks later, a boy delivers a letter and a small parcel from Crowley to the bookshop. The letter is what Aziraphale expected — a note that the blessings went as they should have, with enough detail to make writing a report easy. The parcel is a set of gold cufflinks — tiny winged harps. There is an additional note scrawled on the paper they were wrapped in. It says, in Crowley’s familiar handwriting:

Saw these, thought of you. — C.

It occurs to him then, dawns on him in a sudden rush —

He loves Crowley.

He loves Crowley, and he cannot remember a time when he did not. Perhaps he always has, ever since that very first day, on the wall of Eden, when everything was still bright and new.

He loves Crowley, and — what can he do about it? Nothing at all. They are an angel and a demon. Even if Crowley loved him back, even if the commonly-held belief that demons are incapable of love were entirely wrong — even then, they couldn’t —

Well. Best not to think on it. Best not to hope.

Aziraphale burns both the letter and the note, as usual.

He wears the cufflinks every day.

He does not see or hear from Crowley again for close to twenty years.

1862

Aziraphale reads the note again and again, hoping against hope that doing so might change things. It doesn’t; those two simple, horrifying words — holy water — are still there, stark black ink against the cream paper. “Out of the question,” he manages to say.

“Why not?” Crowley looks calm, almost emotionless; and with the dark spectacles in the way, Aziraphale cannot read his expression. He is so different from twenty years ago, nothing of warmth in him, and Aziraphale can’t stand it.

“It would destroy you. I’m not bringing you a suicide pill, Crowley.”

“That’s not what I want it for,” Crowley says, still with that bone-chilling calm. “Just insurance.”

Aziraphale really wishes he could believe him; but he can’t. “I’m not an idiot, Crowley. You know I’m happy to help you whenever I can, but this is too far. Don’t ask me this. I can’t.”

“Are you really?”

“Am I really — happy to help? Of course I am, I’ve told you.”

“Really.” Crowley’s voice is still flat, but Aziraphale can tell he’s getting agitated. “I’ve helped you out so many times, and yet the one time I ask for something —”

“— a suicide pill, Crowley!” Normally, Aziraphale would back down at this point, and do what Crowley asked just to keep the peace; but this is not even remotely a normal situation.

“I told you, that’s not what I want it for!” Crowley is almost shouting, now. Humans would doubtlessly be staring at them, if they didn’t have a miracle in place to make them unnoticeable. “Why won’t you believe me?”

“If you’re in danger somehow, if — if other demons are after you, just — just tell me,” Aziraphale insists. “I can deal with them. But holy water is too dangerous. It won’t just kill your body, it would destroy you completely!” And then Crowley would be gone, and the universe would be all the poorer for the loss of him; and it would be entirely Aziraphale’s fault.

“You’re assuming I won’t be careful,” Crowley growls. “And even if — why do you even care? I’m a demon, any other angel would be glad if —”

“I love you,” Aziraphale blurts out.

For a moment, for a few heartbeats, there is silence, of a sort. The world goes on, heedless, as if nothing has changed; but between the two of them, everything has.

“You — what?” Crowley manages, eventually, half-strangled.

Well. No way through but forward. “I love you,” Aziraphale repeats, quiet but firm. “I think I always have; I know I always will. So you’ll have to forgive if I’m not —” He swallows, tightly. “Not amenable to putting you in mortal danger, in any way.”

“You love me,” Crowley says, his voice cracking in the middle of the sentence.

“I do. I know you probably don’t feel the same, and that’s —” Aziraphale swallows again, pushing back the heartbreak he feels at the mere thought. “That’s fine. We’re friends. I’d like that to continue.” It’ll be enough. It’s always been enough before. Just as long as Crowley doesn’t object, doesn’t disappear or worse.

“You —” Crowley cuts himself off, his lips tightening in a long, flat line. He’s looking at Aziraphale with a frown, his expression still mostly unreadable but oddly intent. “No. No, you know what? This isn’t going to work.”

Aziraphale does his best to keep his expression calm, his voice steady, even as he feels his heart crack in two. “My dear fellow —”

But Crowley’s reached over, grabbed his wrist with a long-fingered hand; and the world blurs around them, and between one blink and the next, they are in Aziraphale’s bookshop.

If he were any sort of good angel, Aziraphale thinks, he should be worried at how easily Crowley can get through his wards; but then, if he were any sort of good angel, he wouldn’t be in this situation to begin with. Crowley has always, always been welcome, in Aziraphale’s home, in Aziraphale’s heart. Always.

“Really, Crowley —”

And that’s all he manages to get out, because Crowley has spun him around, pinned him to a bookshelf, and is very firmly kissing him.

Oh.

The kiss is awkward for a moment, before they find the right angle. Aziraphale cups Crowley’s cheek with a hand, and his fingers catch on the glasses. He hesitates briefly; Crowley groans low in his throat, pulling off his glasses and tossing them away in a single, smooth motion, and parts his lips, deepening the kiss. Aziraphale feels dampness on his fingers, and realises, with some astonishment, that Crowley must be crying.

He’s never seen Crowley cry before; and it drives him to hold him tight, to gentle the kiss, to try and bring some measure of comfort. I’m here. I love you. They can’t; they shouldn’t; they mustn’t; and yet, Aziraphale finds himself powerless to stop it. It’s only when Crowley breaks away to press a line of soft kisses all along his jaw that he manages to find his words again. “Crowley. My dear. We can’t.”

“I know.” Crowley kisses Aziraphale again, briefly, then gives a long, shuddering sigh, leaning his forehead against Aziraphale’s. “I love you,” he says, very softly, unhesitating, his eyes shining. “Always have. Always will. And I — I just wanted to have done that, at least once, before reality got in the way.”

“I love you,” Aziraphale says, yet again. He must; he will not have the courage to carry on, otherwise. This is everything he wants, and nothing he can ever have. “But we must continue exactly as we did before. Even being friends — even just that, even having the Arrangement, is dangerous enough. We could not be more, not without too much risk.”

“That’s why I wanted the holy water. I swear to you, that’s all it was. Hastur and Ligur have been poking around, and I —” Crowley shakes his head, with a bitter smile, stroking Aziraphale’s cheekbone with a thumb. “I’m not strong enough to fight them, not face to face. I wanted something I could use to keep us safe. Keep you safe.”

“I will get you some,” Aziraphale says, shakily. “Not immediately; it’ll take a few years, at least. But I will. Only — oh, love. Be careful.”

“I swear,” Crowley says, fiercely. “And you as well. There will be a day — I have to believe it — there will be a day when we can have this. When nothing will stand in our way. Stay safe until then.”

Aziraphale wishes he could believe that. Of the two of them, it’s Crowley who has ever been the optimist. “I will,” he says, nevertheless. “I will.”

Crowley nods and pulls away from Aziraphale, slowly, regret writ plain on his face. “I should leave. I’ll stay away a while, probably a few decades, at least. Just to make sure nobody suspects anything.”

“Wait a moment, before you go.” Aziraphale crosses over to his desk; pulls open the top drawer. It’s foolish, it’s reckless, and yet… he wants Crowley to have something of him. “Here.” He pulls a small, paper-wrapped parcel from the drawer and hands it to Crowley.

“Oh, angel,” Crowley says, very softly, when he’s unwrapped the parcel, holding the silver snake cufflinks that were within it.

Aziraphale smiles wistfully. “I saw them a few years ago, and thought of you.”

Crowley’s lips curl into an answering, sorrowful smile. “I did notice you’re wearing the ones I got you.”

“How could I not? They were from you.”

Crowley pulls him into a fierce, brief kiss. “I love you,” he says, again, closing his eyes briefly as if in pain. Aziraphale rather knows how he feels. “So much.”

“I love you.” They are saying it now; they likely never will again. And they’ve already lingered on this too long. “Go.”

“Right.” Crowley clasps one of Aziraphale’s hands in his, and kisses it — not like a gentleman would, but like a lover, back, wrist, palm, every fingertip. “Be safe,” he whispers, pressing one last kiss to Aziraphale’s knuckles; and vanishes.

It is only then that Aziraphale allows himself to cry.