Aziraphale had been told that angels could sense love. He’d been told a lot of things, and he knew now that some of them had been false. But sorting out Heaven’s lies was difficult, especially at the pace things had been flowing as they neared the end of the world. Aziraphale was a patient angel. It would have been nice to have had the time to look over all of Heaven’s teachings like one of his misprint Bibles, going through the verses one by one. Oh, ha ha. No, John the Baptist never said that. A mistake.
Oh, angels can’t really sense love. Who wrote that in here? How silly.
But there had been no time for that. And yes, the world was back now, restored by Adam. But Aziraphale’s mind was not so easily cleared.
Aziraphale had not seen the bookshop burn. He’d not faced fire at all. This morning, Aziraphale had gone down to Hell, where he’d been met with a tub of holy water, and that was what it felt like, inside his head. Like his mind had been flooded and was now a sodden mess of things strewn about the floor. Aziraphale was picking through it, piece by piece, and every so often he’d find something he’d been told that wasn’t true. Washed clean by water, you could see that it was full of holes.
If Aziraphale had ever allowed such a possibility into his mind before— Heaven can be wrong about things— this notion that angels could sense love would have stuck out immediately. Because Aziraphale was in love. And Gabriel didn’t know. Sandalphon and Uriel didn’t know. They teased him about Crowley, but they didn’t realize it was love, and they never had.
That wasn’t even the important part. Aziraphale could not have cared less at this point whether Gabriel could sense his own left foot. The thing was, it meant that Aziraphale could not sense love. Which was actually, probably the best news of his life.
Crowley was sitting next to Aziraphale at the Ritz, rather than across the table— on their own side, Aziraphale thought, giddily— and Crowley looked happy. He was so rarely happy, and it suited him the way the golden hour did in the evening, when the weakened sunlight glowed all the brighter in his scarlet hair and gave his pale skin a blush.
Aziraphale had been in love with Crowley for millennia, and he knew how Crowley looked in every kind of light from every place they’d been to. Those were stolen moments, and Aziraphale had hid them inside himself, little pieces of forbidden happiness, even though they were broken and sharp. Broken, because Crowley did not love him back. If he did, Aziraphale would have sensed it.
But angels can’t sense love.
The world had been restored to its old self, but now, this afternoon at the Ritz, something completely different was starting. It was like a new kind of light shining on Crowley’s face, on his happy smile. Because he looked, didn’t he, like a man in love? He acted, didn’t he, like Aziraphale was his whole world, like he didn’t care if the rest of it was destroyed, like he’d have run off to the stars, but only if Aziraphale came with him?
Aziraphale had realized that he was in love with Crowley a few times over the millennia. He’d loved him nearly from the beginning, of course, this beautiful, smooth-talking demon who hid his questions behind other questions and threw himself at the world rather than believe he could nurture patience. But being in love with Crowley— that was more problematic for an angel. Aziraphale was supposed to love everyone: generously, but not closely. An angel falling in love, especially with a demon, was as silly as John the Baptist surviving on pizza delivery rather than locusts. A pleasant thing, perhaps, but unnecessary. Indulgent. Wrong.
Aziraphale had fallen in love with Crowley anyway. He couldn’t help it. What he did was to try to forget about it, to shelve it in the back of his mind in darkened stacks. But there were times that he’d found the truth wide open on the desk in front of him. In 1941, in the ruined church, Crowley had handed Aziraphale back his books, and Aziraphale had fallen in love, again.
But why had Crowley saved the books? Why was he in the church at all? The truth was suddenly so obvious in Aziraphale’s hands, washed clean, under golden lights. Crowley loved him. And he had for a very long time.
The walk back to the bookshop from the Ritz was too short and too long, too warm, too cold, too much, not enough, and perfect. Because there was another truth that Aziraphale was learning, and this one had been a lie of omission. Angels needed to be loved. No one had ever told Aziraphale that. Perhaps it had been for the best, because of course, Aziraphale had never sensed love toward himself from anyone. If Heaven had pointed out that he ought to be suffering because of it, the hurt would have been deeper.
It had hurt, of course. But Aziraphale was only now realizing how much, because this new feeling, being loved, was changing everything. It was like flying with your feet on the ground, never wishing for the sun or sky or wind, because they were within you all the time. It was like living in that golden hour when even the ordinary things glowed. It was like not having so many missing pieces.
When they entered the bookshop, Crowley hung back. He probably thought Aziraphale would want to look around to see what had been restored and changed. But Aziraphale was only interested in something that he knew now had existed for millennia.
Crowley was just enough taller that Aziraphale had to lift up to kiss him. It wasn’t like Aziraphale hadn’t imagined kissing Crowley, but this was the kind of detail that made Aziraphale’s entire body hum, because it was proof that this was not a daydream or a wish. This was real, his heels stretching up off the floor just that last inch.
Crowley’s lips were soft and warm, and Aziraphale kissed him lightly. He counted three heartbeats and pulled back.
Crowley had not moved since the kiss had started. Aziraphale wasn’t sure he’d taken a breath, not that they needed to breathe.
With most of him still frozen, Crowley raised a shaking hand toward his face. His fingers fumbled inefficiently at his dark glasses until they managed to hook them, and then he made a sort of half-hearted, one-handed attempt to fold them and put them in a pocket that ended up with them being flung onto the floor.
Crowley’s eyes met Aziraphale’s, uncovered. They were fully golden, with pupils slitted black. There was no human disguise, no remnant of the angel he’d been, just Crowley’s pure demonic self, the damaged soul that he liked to pretend had been lost long before. And he definitely was not breathing. He was just looking at Aziraphale with a kind of hopeful dread.
Crowley surged forward, caught Aziraphale’s face between his hands, and kissed him.
This love was a wild thing that had never been let out before, and for a little while, there was nothing in the kiss but desperation. What if this was all there was? What if this was a trick? What if they only had a moment— they’d never even had that before, so how could they expect something endless?
But gradually, the kiss began to slow, attempting to say something beyond I need you. Crowley held Aziraphale less fiercely but with more devotion. Like perhaps Aziraphale was something Heavenly that Crowley would be only too happy to worship, given the chance. Crowley’s hands cradled Aziraphale’s face, and they kissed like it was a conversation, a comment and its response, a give-and-take, wandering off together on some tangent.
After that, things grew soft, as if they might be sitting in silence together, peaceful and perhaps a bit drunk, content to be exactly where they were, with present company. Hearing the world go by outside and being removed from it.
Aziraphale kissed his beautiful demon through the golden hour of that day, and it wasn’t until the golden hour of the next day arrived that he realized how long the kiss had lasted. But he didn’t put a stop to it. Angels, he was learning, needed to love someone.