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arise, my darling, and go forth

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I feel like a part of my soul has loved you since the beginning of everything.
Maybe we’re from the same star.

(Emery Allen)

 


In the reality-blurring, bright warmth of the morning, Father Aziraphale Fell winces at his predicament. Outside, the summer has brought a burst of colors, glimmering against the ever-present green, clouds in the sky like spools of thread. A pity, a day so beautiful to get brushed lackluster by the news.

Not much he can do now. 

He glances through the stained-glass window at the car parked outside, all sleek and black-lacquered angles catching the light of the just-risen sun, and wonders what kind of priest can afford such a vehicle. A transgression, he thinks. Clearly a slice of the sin of pride, exposed for the world to see. 

He knows he's judging – add that to his stack of venial sins to discharge at the confessionary soon – but right now it’s more a coping mechanism of some sort. 

He blows out a long drawn-out breath. Aziraphale seems to have made an art of fidgeting. He’s currently intertwining his fingers and fussing with a button of his cassock in such a way that it’s a miracle the thing hasn't popped out of place. Now he pulls at his collar – stretch, stretch – and back to the buttons. A vicious cycle of frazzled nerves.

The clock of his office chimes nine. For a moment, a fleeting one, he regrets the growth of his congregation, wishes Tadfield hadn't become the residence of Mr. Dowling, the American Ambassador, and the entourage that followed him.

When Gabriel - the Archbishop Fell - had announced to him that soon there would be another priest joining him at the parish to avoid bination, Aziraphale had fretted. A stranger coming to disturb his peace, meddling in the haven that walled him from the world, breaking into the place where he had willingly penned himself in. Coming to show him clearly how out of tune he was, to extrapolate the sins of his too-lush meals, his too-soft body, his too-many books. 

Gluttonous, lazy, greedy creature that he was.

Aziraphale knows. For all the many flaws he can harbor within, lying to himself isn't one of the pits he purposely steps his foot in. His call to the ministry had always been a matter of convenience at best, of self-preservation at its core. He’s well aware of that. There are times when he still gets blindsided by the cloying sensation that smothers him, remembering when he’d had to decide. Following the clerical path was the only way he could see out of a family goading him to settle with a “ nice girl .” The irony doesn't escape Aziraphale, that the clergy became a refuge against the rampant homophobia of his own family. If only for that, he's grateful. That doesn’t mean he’s displeased with the life he's scrambled to haphazardly assemble in the last twenty years. It doesn’t mean that his devotion is any less. 

He is content. He has his faith. He has his books, the stories he dreams over, running longing fingers across the pages, grieving for what he wasn't allowed to have. He's made his peace with it. 

He has the Lord, and a string of self-indulgences he doesn’t want to renounce.

He casts about the room, taking in the sight of the rumpled corner of the rug, the pile of books left on the table next to his reading chair – in quite a precarious balance, if he's honest – and the general clutter of knick-knacks crowding the shelves all around. Perhaps he should've tidied up a bit. 

Oh, well. It's too late now. 

A soft knock on the mahogany door startles him out of his musings. 

"Father Fell?" Tracy, his secretary, calls.

He adjusts his collar, runs plump fingers through his curls hoping a last-minute taming will suffice, and sits behind his desk. "Come in."

Tracy trudges in with a sympathetic smile on her face, carries in the day’s correspondence and sets it on the desk. "Father Crowley arrived a few minutes ago, and he's asking if he could see you."

"Of course, my dear," Aziraphale says, clenching his jaw, a tug of nervousness rolling in his stomach. "Send him in. And perhaps you could arrange the table so we can share breakfast afterwards?" He mentally winces at the idea of having to cut back on his consumption of scones and cocoa, to try to maintain a facade of moderation. 

"I can do that."

"Marvellous." Aziraphale straightens his back, and tries to adopt a pious stance, "Now wish me luck, dear." 

"Oh, none of that," she scoffs. "I'm sure you two will get along just fine."

Aziraphale grunts something that can neither be interpreted as agreement or as disagreement. It’s impossible to answer, so Tracy shakes her head and strolls out, shutting the door behind her.

He throws a last, long-suffering glance at Saint Sebastian, up there on his wall, to gather his courage, then shakes his own head. Ridiculous. 

A minute later, a knock, harder than before.

A resigned sag of his shoulders, "Come in, please."

The door swings open, and Father Crowley strolls in. Something inside Aziraphale shifts, in that traitorous place that always lurks behind his chest. A small, imperceptible sigh leaves his lips, barely a tremor under the dark cloth of his vestment. 

"Uh, hello?" Father Crowley says, after some dithering at the threshold. A shock of red hair catches every speck of attention. Long, slender fingers adjust a pair of sunglasses. "I'm Father Anthony Crowley."

Aziraphale blinks, a nervous fluttering of pale lashes. "Y-yes, I'm very glad to see you made it here." He signals to the chair in front of him, "Please."

"Thanks."

Father Crowley slinks – no, no, sashays – towards the chair, and Aziraphale clamps his teeth together watching the sinuous line of long, long , legs bending, the narrow width of his hips swaying, as he sprawls into the chair. 

A pulse arrows through Aziraphale, heat rising across the back of his neck, heart pounding. His fingers wind around the beads of the rosary ensconced in his pocket, all of their own accord. 

"I hope you had an uneventful journey?" He finally asks, herding his thoughts over to a safer path, his eyes back up to the handsome face, breaking the pause before it balloons into something awkward.  

"Can't complain, really," Father Crowley says. His shades stay safely perched on the sharp line of his nose, and Aziraphale finds himself wondering about the colour of his eyes. "'Twas alright."

"Clear roads?"

"Yep. Lots of sheep, though," Father Crowley says. "Truly an English countryside experience."

Aziraphale chuckles at that, "Oh yes, and wait until you get acquainted with the town fair and the scone-baking contests."

There’s a peal of clear laughter and the long slope of a throat thrown back. The flush Aziraphale feels mottling from his cheeks down his neck is certainly inappropriate, and he thanks the Lord the high collar swallows it under the holiness of the cassock. 

He rolls a silent prayer on his tongue, his stomach flipping uncomfortably.  

"I've been told by the Bishop that you requested this position," he says, trying to regain his footing. "May I ask why?"

"'Course," Father Crowley says. Aziraphale can’t help noticing a bit of pink stealing under the pale skin of his cheeks, a tight clench in the line of his shoulders. "I really like the, uh, the greenery. Bit of a horticulturist, me. And London can be hard for that, you know? It's more treacly smog than air." Aziraphale doesn’t know how, but Father Crowley angles his body into something truly absurd, still managing to remain seated. “When the opportunity popped up to come out to the country, I just seized it.”.

“Oh, that’s nice," Aziraphale says, considering, realizing things are probably veering in a hopeful direction. At least Father Crowley doesn’t seem religiously belligerent, isn’t trying to gain a moral upper hand.

Father Crowley’s shoulders slither into a dismissive shrug, some kind of noise falling from his mouth. “ Ngk. Mphf .”

"We have a small vivarium at the back of the presbytery you might find interesting."

"Ah, that's- that’s good to know." 

Aziraphale allows himself a smile, taking in Father Crowley's honest grin. "And what about the masses?"

"What about them?"

"Do you have any preferences? Morning or evening?"

"Whatever accommodates you better," he shrugs. 

"Would it be alright if perhaps, for today, I could celebrate the evening mass to inform our parishioners of your arrival? And then, perhaps, we could switch at leisure?"

"Sounds good to me."

"Jolly good, then," Aziraphale says, relaxing a bit. This is proving to be a far better scenario than the dreadful ideas he’d envisioned earlier. It bears a promise of smooth sailing, if he can quench this thing inside him, file off the sharp point that’s skewering him. "May I ask another question?"

Father Crowley nods, "Sure. Ask away."

"Are those sunglasses… "

"Medically prescribed. Yep. Have a bit of an aversion to light."

"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that."

"Nah. 'S good. It isn't as big a deal as it seems,” Father Crowley says, with a smile that might be crinkling the corners of his eyes, perhaps drawing out a sharp depth in them. 

Aziraphale stomps down the desperate desire to peel those sunglasses off. He fiddles, rearranging his notes to distract from what is clearly the impulse of a madman and an invasion of personal space. Scribbled papers with bits and pieces of yesterday’s sermon, sacred words that probably should be burning his fingers in a moment like this.   

“You must be starving,” he finally says. “Would you like to have breakfast with me? We could discuss parish work and the diocese's dealings over coffee, perhaps?”

“Of course.” Father Crowley’s smile widens, a sharp set of canines peeking over lips that shouldn’t look so soft. “Lead the way.” 

Aziraphale swallows. 

 


 

That evening, when the mass is truly and finally over, Aziraphale steps outside the silent church with the burn of incense stinging his nose – a blessing of a sort. 

He gazes at the sky as purples begins to fork out across the bleeding dusk like a slick of oil, stars glittering, winking at him in the growing darkness, while he ponders whether he could, perhaps, arrange half an excuse to avoid the invitation for dinner in two weeks that Harriet Dowling has graciously extended.

Aziraphale walks towards the presbytery, cassock billowing behind him and brushing his tired ankles. He hasn’t seen Father Crowley since noon, when they’d shared Aziraphale’s standard lunch, discussing tasks and ideas regarding the diocese. 

Unlike other times, Aziraphale had promptly realized he didn’t mind at all going over the taxes, expenses, and accounting books, while very much not watching the arresting figure of Father Crowley peering at him from across the insufficient expanse of the table. Aziraphale is very well aware where this is heading. He’s absolutely well aware of the thing blooming inside him.

It’s something he's dealt with before. 

Perhaps not in quite some decades – it's been long years since he has allowed himself to let his eyes drift. Take in. Revel . But things like this tend to flow along, following the same direction inside oneself, as would a river that has repeatedly licked the same shores, carving a path that has eventually become predictable. And thus, it will be preventable. 

It troubles him, but alarmingly less than he’s sure ought to, and he isn’t going to ponder the reasons why. And besides, he's probably tying himself in knots for nothing. He has eyes. Appreciates beauty. That is all.

It’s just admiration. 

He can admire from afar, and there's nothing wrong with that; like a fine meal, like a rare book bound in worn-out leather, like a gorgeous painting dominating a wall where the wallpaper has become yellow and tattered by use and age.

Stark colors over a washed-out backdrop. A welcome change. A bit of variety. 

The dark wind whistles about as Aziraphale makes his way along the road, gravel crunching beneath his loafers.

There's a sizzle coming from the kitchen when he steps into the small foyer, a rattle of metal and clinking of glass.

Aziraphale steps further inside, unsure. Today is Tracy's night off, and he has been considering preparing himself a small meal, if he didn't happen to find Father Crowley, and go to bed to catch up on his current book. 

When he steps across the kitchen’s threshold, he's surprised by the sight of Father Crowley, apron over his clerical shirt and trousers, serving plates of what smells like an exquisite tagliatelle Alfredo, a bottle of wine already open on the table.

"Uh, hello?"

"Oh, hey there." Father Crowley twirls toward him, rubbing his hands on the apron, a garish thing in orange and green that must belong to Tracy. "Tracy told me today was her day off, so I figured… well, I mean, given you were all so busy, I figured I could make us something to eat?"

An odd warmth squirms in Aziraphale's middle. "Oh!"

"Yeah. I mean," Father Crowley clears his throat and Aziraphale watches the tips of his ears go pink, "unless you were doing some sort of fasting thing I know nothing about?"

"Oh, good heavens, no!" Aziraphale blurts out. Which perhaps isn't the most appropriate answer, given his line of work. "I just… wasn't expecting it."

"Nnngh. Yeah," Father Crowley says. "Hope you don't mind. I asked Tracy which was your favourite, because…," he clears his throat again. 

The poor dear , Aziraphale thinks, he must have spent a good deal of time breathing the smoke of the kitchen. It has him all discombobulated. 

"Because," Father Crowley follows, "well. Some kind of ‘hey, sorry for intruding’ thing."

Aziraphale feels his face melting into a smile so bright and heartfelt that it instantly makes him realize he hasn't smiled like that in decades. When had been the last, pitiful time he'd been anything other than a problem-solver, a peace-giver, without any kind of personal depth for someone else? 

Oh, Aziraphale loves his flock. He positively adores their enthusiasm and their faith and their generosity, and the myriad cakes and biscuits left in tins at his front door. He knows their lives and he worries about them. But he's still The Father, removed from them out of necessity, separate.

Right here, right now, he's just a human being accepting a gift of consideration. And when his eyes settle on the angular lines of Father Crowley's handsome face, there's a beat of something stark against his ribs, a butterfly flying blindly, over and over, into a windowpane. Breathe.

"You're not intruding," he says wholeheartedly. "You were appointed here."

"Tomayto, tomahto."  

"Well, in any case, thank you, my dear ," he says around the knot in his throat. 

Father Crowley takes the apron off, a delightful blush spreading over his cheeks. "'S alright."

They sit at the table and, for a moment, Aziraphale's thoughts flounder. Then Father Crowley spreads his fingers, palm up, next to Aziraphale's. An offering. 

"Say Grace?" Father Crowley asks, softly, and perhaps the light of the kitchen is too bright, or playing tricks on Aziraphale's eyes, because against it, he swears he can almost see golden eyes behind those shades. Golden eyes tracking his face, earnestly.  

Aziraphale laces their fingers together and dips his head. The hand in his is warm and slightly rough, a gentle dusting of red hair over the forearm where the sleeve of the shirt has pulled a bit up. Aziraphale's throat feels like it's clicking, his heart skittering.

"Of course," Aziraphale says finally, closing his own treacherous eyes. "Bless us, O Lord, and these, Thy gifts, which we are about to receive from Thy bounty. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen."

A shuddering sigh, so soft Aziraphale isn't sure it’s truly there. "Amen."


 

Crowley is definitely feeling out of sorts. 

This is not what he had in mind when he accepted this position. This had already taken a 180-degree turn from what he was expecting, coming here.

For starters, he hadn't expected Father Fell to be so nice . Granted, he's a priest, like Crowley. But he has met quite a good number of clergymen, and knows the two aren’t always mutually inclusive. There are tossers aplenty dressed in cassocks and albs. In fact, it’s positively rampant in the church. From what he had gathered before coming here, Crowley had already decided Father Fell was going to be one of those fussy dinosaurs, clinging to the old ways. He had been thrilled, excitedly plotting the many ways he might make his life miserable. Yes, yes. It was petty, leaning toward truly sinful, but he has never really believed the Lord would write red marks in one's heavenly ledger for just larking about. 

But that's all out of the question, now.

And he had certainly not, absolutely not been expecting Father Fell to look like a bloody Angel of the Lord. To be so inconveniently breathtaking. Yeah. It was unreal. No human could have eyes so blue, hair so bright, a face so fair. 

It’s totally, absolutely unfair. Talking about forfeiting the upper hand! Still… he's still a priest. Christ . Crowley's still a priest, and he certainly shouldn't be entertaining these thoughts; pluck out your eyes and all that gory bit.

"Has London been the only place you have exercised your ministry?" Father Fell asks, derailing Crowley’s train of thought. 

"Ah, nope. Spent a good chunk of time in Suffolk," he answers smoothly, like a normal person might. A person not distracted by watching as Father Fell rolls his wrist in a complicated figure, tangling the tagliatelle in his fork. It's almost hypnotizing. "Um. Lots of folks there needing someone to lean on."

"I believe there's not a single place on Earth where you can't find people in dire need of that kind of help."

"Yeah, that's true. And hope, as well," Crowley says, taking a sip of the wine he's already poured… and almost choking on it the moment a lewd, unimaginably obscene moan emerges from Father Fell's lips.

God Almighty. A little bit of Mercy? Please? 

This was definitely going to be a briarpatch. 

"Oh, this is positively scrumptious!" Father Fell says, wiggling an honest-to-God wiggle in his chair. Crowley's stomach twists, tight, tight. 

He wrenches his eyes from the sight in front of him and pulls his gaze back to the safety of his plate, where his tagliatelle look back at him accusingly. "Ngh. Yeah. 'M a bit of a cook, me." He stuffs his mouth with pasta, just to have something to ground himself into, and chews as slowly as he can, wrestling his wayward thoughts into some sort of submission.

"Where did you learn, if I may ask?" 

Crowley swallows a gulp of wine. "Had to fend for myself when I was younger. My first life choices weren't what you might call stellar. More like a bit of a hot mess, if I'm honest."

"Oh. I'm sorry to hear that," Father Fell says. And, by the Grace of God, he looks as if he actually means it.

"Nah, it's fine now. Learning to cook helped me climb out of that. Water under the bridge, now, and all that." 

"Is that why you joined the clergy?"

"Could say so." Crowley takes another bite before following, "Just wanted to, you know, to give something back. Try to level the playing field a bit for the people who need it, like I did once."

Father Fell’s face softens, the lines easing into a smile. "It does feel rather nice to know you can have the power to help, and to exert it, doesn't it?"

"Yeah, it sure does." 

"And, pardon my curiosity but, well, was it in Suffolk or London that you got that car? The one at the entrance? I don't know much about cars, but yours does seem rather nice."

"Thanks," Crowley says with a grin. "It's a Bentley. And yeah, believe it or not, I got it as scraps years ago in London. Restored it myself, bit by bit. As a project. To take my mind off things."

"Oh, that sounds positively delightful."

For a moment, Crowley expects to hear the same tirade he has already listened to hundreds of times. He waits, but it doesn’t appear. "So," he finally asks, "aren't you going to tell me I shouldn't get attached to earthly things? Too much greed and what have you?"

"Oh, no, my dear," Aziraphale says, and Crowley's gut turns that little sumersault again. "It would be a bit like the pot calling the kettle black, I think. Not given how far I’ve gone out of my way, sometimes, to acquire some of my books."

Crowley's brows quirk, "Really?"

"Oh, yes, rather," Aziraphale says with a smile that looks sweetly self-indulgent, and perhaps more honest because of it. "I certainly don't see anything wrong with appreciating what life has to offer in a measured sort of way. What good does it do to pretend we aren't humans, as well as clergy? If anything, I believe it helps us understand our flock better, don't you think?" 

Crowley swallows, his innards doing something he can't quite understand. "Yeah. That's right," he says, finally. There's some clattering of forks before Crowley speaks again. "And what about you? What's the story behind Father Aziraphale Fell? Quite a mouthful that is," he says.

" Oh . Oh, please. I see no reason you can't just call me Aziraphale," Father- Aziraphale says. "If I'm quite honest, every time I hear ‘Father Fell,’ I instantly think of my brother."

"Your brother?"

"The Archbishop of York. Father Gabriel Fell."

Crowley's eyes widen behind his sunglasses. "Oh! I mean- I knew the name was familiar, but I didn't realize he was your brother. He looks…" 

"Yes, we look nothing alike," Aziraphale says, delicately preparing another bite. "Gabriel takes after our father, and I took after our mother. Polar opposites, one could say."

"Right," Crowley dabs his mouth with a napkin. "So the call just runs in your family, then?"

At this, Aziraphale's face pinches, his hand clenches a bit around the handle of the fork. Crowley knows enough of human nature to see that this is a sore subject. 

"Something like that," Aziraphale says, with just a thread of a voice, his mouth curling in a stilted smile, something sharp in his eyes. 

Crowley knows, right then and there, there's little he wouldn't do to not see that expression ever again. It's more a feeling, a thrumming in his veins, than an actual coherent thought.

Which is ridiculous. 

"Oh, goodness," Aziraphale says, suddenly. "It's rather late. You must be exhausted." He stands and takes his empty plate to the sink. "Why don't you go to bed? I'll tidy everything up here."

"Ah… yeah. Sure." Crowley follows with his plate, blinking. "And er, just so you know, you can call me Crowley."

Aziraphale's eyes sparkle – blue, blue, so blue, candy floss hair glowing like a halo. "Then good night, Crowley. Thank you for the lovely meal."

"Good night, Aziraphale."

Crowley edges around him on his way out, glances back from the blessed cover of the dark hallway.

Good night, angel.