Aziraphale’s eyes fluttered open and he found he was in his bed. He normally did not sleep, and the pounding in his head reminded him as to why he hardly partook in the activity.
He rubbed one of his eyes and then stretched. His hand brushed against warm skin and he turned his head to see that Crowley was fast asleep on his side, facing him.
A sudden cold swept over him, and he looked under the sheet. Their naked bodies confirmed his fears.
“Oh...oh, no…” he sighed, his heart beating faster. “We didn’t...we couldn’t have, but...oh, dear, I don’t...I remember a bit of kissing but then…”
He came to a realization and he glared at the still sleeping Crowley.
“He wouldn’t...” he whispered to himself. “He knows what can happen. Unless…”
Crowley stirred and brought the sheet over his shoulders. He slowly opened one golden eye and, upon seeing Aziraphale, he grinned.
“Good morning, my angel,” he said sweetly.
“Crowley,” Aziraphale said, “what happened last night?”
“You’re even more radiant when you wake up, you know?”
“What happened? ”
A satisfied hum came from him. “Hmm, what didn’t happen?”
“I’m being serious.”
Crowley noticed the stoney expression he held, and he opened both eyes and shifted up to rest on his elbow. “It’s obvious, isn’t it?”
Aziraphale licked his lips, not wanting to answer what he knew to be true.
Crowley reached out and stroked his cheek with his thumb.
“We made love, angel.”
His eyes widened and he shook his head. “No...we can’t do that.”
“Haha, well...we did...all night.”
“No! We can’t , Crowley! It’s not allowed!”
“Angel, calm yourself.”
Aziraphale shot out of bed and rushed into the lavatory.
He grunted as he slid out of bed and put on his black jeans. He followed Aziraphale only to have him slam the door in his face.
“Darling!” Crowley said, grasping the door handle to find it locked. “Angel, it’s alright. You did nothing wrong.”
The door was thrown open and Aziraphale’s blue eyes were wide.
“No, I didn’t, did I?” he growled. “It was you. It was all you! You did something to me last night!”
Crowley smirked to lighten the mood. “I did a lot of things to you last night.”
He could see that Aziraphale was actually panicking, and he could see the growing dread on his beautiful face.
“Angel...are you suggesting that I coerced you? That I forced you?”
“You did something, for sure!” he shrieked. “I wouldn’t even venture to do this sober!”
Crowley gave him an incredulous look. “Is that so?” he asked.
“Do you realize what you’ve done to me? To yourself?” Aziraphale pushed past him and went to his wardrobe. He took out his dressing gown and threw it on.
“Calm down! All we did, angel,” Crowley said, frowning as he turned to him, “was make love! There was no hidden agenda with me, if that’s what you’re implying!”
“Make love ...” Aziraphale sneered. “We didn’t make love, no, it was more vulgar than that. More garish. You’re a demon; you have no concept of love.”
Crowley’s frown grew deeper, but he didn’t interrupt. He continued to glare at his angel--
No... this angel. This wasn’t Aziraphale. Something new was stirring, something Crowley had never seen in him before, and it made his fists clench and his stomach churn.
Hatred. That’s what it was. A growing hatred towards him. Crowley didn’t think angels were capable, but he felt it in Aziraphale at that moment, and wanted to shrink.
“You may think you know,” the angel continued, staring back at him, his eyes becoming wet. “You may know how to say it, how to insert it into a sentence to get what you want, but you’ll never understand it.”
Aziraphale paused to sniff back his tears. He didn’t like feeling this way toward his constant companion, but he felt deceived.
“You don’t feel love, Crowley,” he muttered, snapping the sash of his dressing gown into a tight knot and stepped closer. “Because it’s of no use to you.”
One of Crowley’s nails pierced his palm, but the pain didn’t compare to what he just heard.
“No concept, eh?” he said. “Then you tell me why I’ve been by your side all these millenia. You tell me why I have dinner with you every night; why I drink with you, meander in the fucking park with you. You really think I do it to pass the time? Do you think I do it because of some sinister plot that you’ve suddenly invented to keep the culpability away from you ? Then, why do you let me hang about?
“You’re a creature of love, eh?” he continued, putting his hands on his hips. “If you’re the least bit empathic whilst surrounded by humans, surely , you can feel love absolutely resonating off a demon that supposedly has never felt it!”
Aziraphale sighed and a tear fell down his cheek.
“You couldn’t stand being the only one of us fallen,” he said, his voice straining. “You wanted to take me there with you, you disgusting wretch!”
“That’s not true, angel! You know it isn’t! Why are you talking like this?”
“It is true, Crowley! It took you a few thousand years, but you’ve finally succeeded. You properly tempted an angel, you foul fiend!
“I did not---”
“You filled me with wine and spirits and while I was out of my wits, you seduced me with sweet whispers and tender caresses, and then you had your way with me! You’ve ruined me, you...you vile, disgraced monster!”
Crowley stepped closer. He didn’t want to lose his temper. Not with Aziraphale.
“You willingly took me upstairs.”
“Shut up…” Aziraphale muttered and turned away from him.
“ You took me to your bed,” Crowley continued, stepping even closer. “You undressed the both of us…”
“ You laid me down and you made love to me !”
“Exactly according to your plan!”
“There is no plan, angel! It just happened, and quite frankly, it was wonderful. Can you even admit that? And you’re still here!”
“Yes,” Aziraphale said, turning to face him again. “For now.”
There was a cold silence between them as they stared at one another.
Aziraphale swallowed the growing lump in his throat. “You want me to fall.”
Crowley’s heart sank. “Angel...no, I don't.”
“This is more than just the first time we kissed. We’ve been lucky, haven’t we? How convenient.” He seemed to be talking to himself now as he hugged his arms to him. “But no, Crowley...this is...this is unforgivable. And you knew that!”
“No one will find out.” He heard the words come out of his own mouth, but he doubted them all the same.
Aziraphale raised his bright eyes to him. He suddenly unfolded his arms and straightened his back.
“I trusted you.”
Crowley reached out to touch his face. “Angel--”
“No!” Aziraphale screamed. “How could you? For 6000 years, I actually trusted you. I’m an angel, Crowley! You’re right: I am a being of love...and you took advantage of that to fulfill some sick, perverted plan to make me fall! That’s what you’ve always wanted, isn’t it? Because love means nothing to you, you charlatan, you lowly imp, you.... demon! ”
The wardrobe suddenly fell forward with a loud bang , and Crowley’s eyes glowed as he scowled at him.
He knew what he was, but to have Aziraphale remind him with such ire in his voice was too much for him to bear. He could have struck him down if he wanted to, and a part of his brutish instincts told him it was the right thing.
Aziraphale gave him a knowing grin. “Caught,” he said, haughtily. “And now you’re going to show me who you really are. I’m ready.” Another tear fell down his cheek and his chin shook. “Do your worst, demon.”
The loathing from him seared into Crowley’s being, but he would not bring himself to harm him.
So he took out his anger on Aziraphale’s furniture.
The dresser drawers violently opened and shut, the bedsheets ripped in half, the sink faucet in the lavatory exploded and stuck itself into the ceiling, and a bookcase downstairs in the shoppe collapsed, spilling first editions onto the dusty floor and breaking their spines.
Tears were steadily streaming down Aziraphale’s cheeks as the calamity surrounded them. He kept his posture strong as he stared at the demon in front of him, half-dressed with his long hair still tousled from last night’s mistake.
When the bedlam ended, Crowley took a deep breath and his eyes returned to a dull gold.
“Everything that I am,” he said, his voice low and tired, “is telling me to hurt you right now...to prove how powerful I can be over you...but I won’t succumb to it.”
Crowley let out a shaky breath. “Because I love y---”
“Don’t!” Aziraphale commanded with gritted teeth. He put his finger in Crowley’s face. “Don’t you dare ...”
“Angel…” Crowley reached out to him again.
Aziraphale did not recoil at first. He wanted to feel his touch, but the deception he felt was beyond painful, and he feared if Crowley touched him, he would certainly ignite.
He stepped back, out of his reach.
Crowley looked down at his empty hand and sighed.
“Get out…” Aziraphale demanded, his voice cold.
“I said, get out.” His voice was trembling and his eyes were turning red with more tears. “Leave me alone...don’t ever come back.”
Crowley’s eyes started to burn. “Azir--”
“Get out !” he shouted. “I never want to see you again! Don’t you dare let my name cross your mind or leave your lips! You have wasted enough of my time with your lies!”
“Angel, I never once--!”
A sudden force pushed him toward the bedroom door and he stumbled backward.
He gave Aziraphale a look of shock, but the angel’s countenance did not change.
Crowley accepted defeat and nodded. In a flash, he was fully dressed and, without a last look back, he descended the stairs and opened the bookshoppe door.
Aziraphale heard the Bentley roar to life and its tires peal on the pavement, and suddenly his legs were weak.
He dropped to the floor and wept.
Chapter 2: Chapter 2
Time passes. Crowley tries to cope with being alone, while Aziraphale has a potential suitor.
As soon as the door to Crowley’s flat slammed shut, the Weeping Fig tree in the corner of the den shivered.
He stomped inside, and some of the tree’s leaves shook loose, but the ficus’s transgression was ignored.
Crowley moved to his bedroom and ripped off his black blazer and let it fall to the floor, and then he took off his sunglasses and threw them into the wall, making the lenses split.
His throat ached from screaming curses over Queen’s “Hammer to Fall” in his Bentley as it sped away from the book shoppe.
It wasn’t all his doing. Aziraphale had to have known that. Why was he putting all the blame onto him?
As far as he understood, Crowley had followed his angel’s requests to the letter until last night, but it was mutual! If he was to blame, then Aziraphale had to take a share of it, as well.
But he couldn’t bring himself to blame him for anything. Crowley loved him; he had decided long ago that’s what it was. The fact that he felt love should have forced him back into Hell, but nothing happened.
And his love was for an angel.
Last night, to Crowley, was...glorious . He’d be lying if he said he had never thought about making love to Aziraphale, and he finally did, but at what cost?
Crowley suddenly felt alone. He wished the ground would open up already. It would be better than existing in this world with no one to share it with him.
He sat on the end of the bed and wrung fingers in his hair. The burning in his eyes blinding him with tears, but he denied them release.
Crowley inhaled and slowly sighed when he caught sight of the pink begonia plant on his dresser, the one that never stopped blooming, no matter the season.
It had been a gift from Aziraphale, his amusing attempt at ironic humor since the name of this particular flowering begonia was called Angel Wing.
One of the flowers was wilting. Was it slowly dying from its master’s energy or had there been celestial magic in it this whole time?
With the disaster of that morning and the pain of Aziraphale’s accusations still reeling in his head, Crowley watched as the plant gave up its flowers, one by one, and its green waxen leaves curled under and turned brown.
When the last flower fell, so finally did Crowley’s tears, and he curled up onto his bed and slept for three days.
Aziraphale had no trouble tidying up his flat, but he took time to clear up the wreckage of his shoppe.
He did so slowly, carefully lifting the large bookcase with a small miracle that also fixed its broken shelves.
Many of the first editions were unharmed and Aziraphale was relieved to find that none of his Wildes were destroyed (a rather endearing move on the demon’s part), but he couldn’t help but mourn over the ones that were snapped in half.
He could easily fix them with a trick or two, but he took great care of his rare books and usually resorted to maintenance by hand. It was more intimate that way, he had once told Crowley, and--
Aziraphale shook the demon’s name out his head and sat on the floor, still clothed in his dressing gown.
“You poor things,” he muttered as he cradled a book. “You didn’t deserve this.”
He picked up another book and its pages fell onto the floor at his side.
He let it drop and hid his face in his hands.
Two Weeks Later
Crowley sat on a bench in St. James park watching people pass by with their children or their dogs. He ignored the couples holding hands or exchanging quick kisses, and he couldn’t bring himself to look toward the ice cream trolley.
It had been hard, getting out of the habit of driving to Aziraphale’s. He would get into the Bentley and as soon as its engine came to life, Crowley would grasp the wheel to stop it from pulling forward.
“We’re…” Crowley paused and cleared his throat. “We’re not going there anymore. Just drive.”
And it did. In and out and around London the Bentley would take him and then it would end their motorized constitutional every day at the park, where Crowley would sit alone.
He would have hopes of catching a glimpse of Aziraphale, perhaps seeing him approach and deciding to sit next to him for a chat, an explanation, and a chance for Crowley to apologize for...well, whatever he had done.
They had made an agreement concerning intercourse, and Crowley was more than willing to make it null and void, but he would never force Aziraphale to do so.
He may have been a demon, but when it came to his angel, consent was no joke. He would rather remain celibate with him than alienate him.
But then again, it was Aziraphale who had become more intimate with him over time, sitting closer, a hand on Crowley’s thigh as he read one of his books, or a casual pat on the cheek when it was clear that the angel had won another debate or when Crowley cracked a joke.
Crowley never protested, nor did he reciprocate the innocent caresses.
That is, until one night, one year ago...
It had occurred after a discussion of platonic versus romantic acts. They both agreed that hugging an old friend was commonplace, and that many countries still greeted the ones they held dear with a kiss on each cheek.
“They should bring the custom back to London, if you ask me,” Aziraphale said.
“We should all be repressed Victorians again, then?” Crowley smiled and then let out a throaty giggle when the angel huffed.
“I certainly wasn’t repressed! Besides, you were asleep, my dear, so your opinion about the Victorian Era is invalid.”
Crowley sniffed, not particularly fond of getting into another discussion about gentlemen’s clubs.
“Well...perhaps we can initiate a comeback.”
He grinned when Aziraphale’s cheeks began to flush.
He coughed. “Well…” he began. “It would make sense. After all, we’ve been close acquaintances for many centuries now.”
“And, like you mentioned, as you always so fondly do, I slept through this passionate period.” He paused and shrugged. “What harm could it do?”
“You should leave that to our superiors, dear.”
Crowley laughed. “Oh, angel. You act as if Heaven were watching all the time when they’re clearly not. And my side is too busy trying to one-up Heaven. An innocent kiss on the cheek between old acquaintances isn’t going to throw a wrench into their plans.”
And so it went, a bit awkward at first, with both of them not sure which cheek to kiss and accidently bumping their foreheads together. It was a good laugh, and Crowley actually loved the attention they would get from curious customers in the shoppe.
Months passed by and then, one night, after Crowley slithered in from the cold, he changed into his human form to properly greet Aziraphale, but when he leaned into his left cheek, the angel stopped him.
Aziraphale’s eyes were a radiant blue as he looked at him, and he lightly cupped Crowley’s jaw and pressed his lips to his.
Crowley thought his legs would buckle from the chasteness of his kiss, but the angel had an arm around his waist.
When they pulled apart, Crowley grinned and licked his lips. He rubbed the back of his neck, saying, “That was...unexpected.”
“I’m sorry, dear,” he whispered. “I supposed I should have asked before I--”
“No, no, angel.” Crowley caressed his cheek. “I...well, I quite like this greeting better. But, I will admit: it’s a bit surprising.”
“I’ve been thinking,” Aziraphale explained with a coy grin, “with the way we’ve been greeting one another lately, our sides haven’t said a word so far. And I concluded, what’s the harm?”
Crowley tilted his head, intrigued. “My dear angel, this kind of greeting is visceral. More personal, more...trusted.”
Aziraphale thought for a moment and then smirked as he squeezed Crowley’s waist. “All the more reason,” he said, and then kissed him again.
They spent hours that night on the sofa chatting, teasing, drinking, and eventually their chaste kisses became hotter and heavier, with their hands roaming all over and unbuttoning certain articles of clothing and tangling fingers into hair.
Aziraphale stopped and lifted himself off Crowley’s body to sit on his knees.
“Wait...wait a moment, dear.”
Crowley sat up and smoothed his disheveled hair. “Uh huh?” he sighed as he relished in a delightful trance.
“We need to slow down a bit, I think.”
Crowley pressed his lips to his neck. “What, wait another 6000 years?”
“Love, I’m serious. There are certain lines that shouldn’t be crossed. As long as we try not to get carried away, and keep our actions covert and inconspicuous, we should be fine.”
“You really have thought about this.” Crowley reached over and traced a finger over Aziraphale’s ear lobe. “No hand holding, then?”
“Not--well, not in public, no.”
“So, absolutely no public displays of affection?”
Aziraphale caught his grin. “Not by your standards, anyway.”
“Well, what about...you know…”
Crowley raised a mischievous eyebrow. “You know.”
Aziraphale bit his lip. “I think you know the answer to that.”
“I mean...if you wanted to...you know...eventually. Couldn’t we keep that a secret, as well?”
“Surely, something like that would sound the alarm.”
Crowley had to giggle at the sudden image of sirens and bells going off in Heaven and Hell as they reached coitus.
“Please don’t laugh.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, angel,” Crowley smiled. “I’m not laughing at you, it’s just…” He leaned in and kissed his rosy cheek. “Okay, no crossing lines. I can do that.”
“ We can do that,” his angel agreed, resting his head on his shoulder.
A nudge on Crowley’s boot brought him out of his thoughts and he looked down to see five yellow and brown ducklings with their mother. The mallard had softly pecked him to get his attention as this was the bench where they were always fed.
Crowley looked down at the ducks and the hopefulness in their eyes, but he just shrugged and showed them his empty hands.
Aziraphale usually brought the bread. Day-old bread that was marked down at the bakery nearby.
The mallard gave him one more look and then let out a loud quack. The ducklings turned away from him and followed their mother to the pond.
Crowley left the bench and wiped his eyes as he walked to the Bentley.
One month later
Although he had told Crowley to stay away, Aziraphale would still look toward the door when its bell would ring.
It would be just another customer come to browse the rare books that they will never care for, and Aziraphale would return to his cup of cocoa and try his best to continue reading.
He kept thinking back to that night, where the forbidden had happened, and there was no surprise visit from Gabriel or even a Duke of Hell to come drag him downward.
The memory of what happened came back to him in just a few days, but he didn’t dare contact Crowley right now. It was still too fresh and he had said awful things to him.
He had let the shock of it all blind him and he felt nothing but ire toward him. He didn’t even know he was capable of feeling like that, especially to someone he cared for.
Aziraphale could be quite proud, but he wasn’t sure how Crowley would react to an apology. He admitted to himself that he had beat him while he was down, no doubt leaving him confused and broken.
He knew Crowley didn’t start anything; it had been mutual, but Aziraphale didn’t want to confess that he was just as culpable in his actions.
And there was consent. He finally remembered that.
He wanted to make love to him.
A few months had gone by and they gained more confidence in their sensuality toward each other, and each time more buttons would loosen and hips would grind against trousers.
They both ensured that they were properly sober before the heavy petting began, and that night began with Crowley pressing Aziraphale against one of his bookcases.
The shoppe had long since closed for the evening, and it was dark all around them.
Crowley allowed him to unbutton his dress shirt and he sighed as he drew his thumbs across his nipples.
He gasped when Aziraphale leaned in and gently sucked one of them.
“Yessss, angel,” he purred into his ear. “Darling…”
“You are...exquisite,” Aziraphale whispered against his skin. “Such a beauty.” He lowered one his hands to grasp Crowley’s arse.
Crowley giggled. “Cheeky.”
Aziraphale pressed his lips to his and kissed him deeply, making him moan as he grinded his erection into his leg.
“Dear…” He took his hand and guided it to his own erection and Crowley gasped.
“Angel!” He grinned as he felt along his length. “Oh...oh, my.”
“Crowley, please.” Aziraphale had his hands on his shoulders and was gently pressing them.
“Are you sure?” he asked.
“But...what about not getting carried away?”
Aziraphale paused and smirked. “It’ll be my fault, then.”
Crowley’s eyes widened. “What kind of talk is that?”
“Darling,” he cupped his angel’s face, “I will only do it if you absolutely want it. There’s nothing wrong with wanting it.”
Aziraphale closed his eyes and kissed the palm of Crowley’s hand. “I don’t want it.”
Crowley stroked his face.
The angel cupped his neck with his warm hands. “I want you.”
Crowley grinned and lightly kissed his lips. “Are you sober?”
He giggled. “Yes, dear, I am.”
Crowley kissed him again before kneeling and said, “It’s okay to change your mind. I will stop anytime you want me to.”
Aziraphale smiled and caressed his face. “I know.”
The shoppe bell jingled again and Aziraphale noticed a customer had left and he was alone.
He looked at his pocket watch to find the time close to five in the evening, and he made the decision to close early.
He moved from the counter to lock the door when it almost knocked him backward.
“Oh!” came a voice from the other side. “I do apologize, Mr. Fell.”
It was Mr. Graves, another rare book dealer who would come to sell his wares to Aziraphale, that is if he had anything that piqued his interest.
He was in practically every week with something new he had found at an estate sale or an auction, but today he was empty-handed and dressed not in his usual blazer and slacks, but instead a green t-shirt with blue jeans.
He was just past middle-age, but with an athletic build that wasn’t too imposing. He carried some slight weight around his middle, but he still had handsome features with brown eyes and slight greying about his temples.
“Oh, it’s no bother, Mr. Graves,” Aziraphale told him. “I was just closing for the night.”
The gentleman frowned. “So early?” he asked as Aziraphale let him inside. “You feeling alright, then?”
Aziraphale proceeded with locking up the register and covering it with a plastic tarp. “It’s been a rough time for me lately, I’m afraid.”
“I see. Sorry to hear that.” Mr. Graves looked around the shoppe. “Say, I, uh...I haven’t seen that shady bloke in here lately.”
“Yeah, the ginger with the dark glasses and ponytail.”
“Ah...you mean Anthony…” His voice choked as he said his name. “He’s, um...away.”
“I see…” repeated Mr. Graves. “Don’t suppose you’d like to go for a drink?”
Aziraphale blinked. He hadn’t had a drink with anyone else in so long.
“Oh, I can’t. I have--”
“Just one drink; my treat.”
On the other hand, he did feel isolated lately, and he knew it would do him some good to get out of the shoppe for a moment.
He nodded and grinned. “I shall get my coat.”
After a few rounds, Mr. Graves walked Aziraphale back to the shoppe.
“Look here, I…” the gentleman started then paused, rubbing his hands. “Um...I don’t know if you’d be interested, but…”
Azirphale gave him a curious look. “Yes?”
“Well...at the risk of looking like a fool...I’d like to ask you to dinner.”
“We just went to a pub.”
“No, Mr. Fell...I mean a proper dinner. Just you and me.”
The angel’s eyes widened. He had never had dinner with anyone else in a while, either.
“Oh, w-well, you see--” Aziraphale sputtered.
“I’m a hell of a cook,” Mr. Graves explained, “and I’d like to treat you to my mushroom risotto.”
“Yes, that...that’s rather generous.”
“It’s just...well, I figure you and I have a lot in common what with rare books and all, but I’d like to know what’s behind that...well, to be blunt...that silent and dapper exterior.”
“Oh?” Aziraphale was silent, thinking on this rather odd expression, until it finally clicked.
“Oh! You...okay--um, dinner….sounds...nice.” His voice kept getting caught in his throat and he cleared it once more. “But...in a few days, perhaps?” He quickly turned to his door to unlock it.
“That sounds great,” Mr. Graves said, smiling. “I’ll call on you in a few days and we can wine and dine, yeah?”
Aziraphale laughed, just a bit too loud. “Ha! Yes! Th-thank you. Good evening!”
He shut the door and locked it behind him, and noticed that his cheeks were warm.
Crowley was in the Bentley driving slowly through Soho when he spotted something familiar while passing a pub.
He immediately pulled into the curb and got out of the car to make sure his eyes didn’t deceive him.
His heart pounded in his ears as he saw that book dealing bastard that always made eyes at Aziraphale bring his angel a glass of white wine, setting it beside an empty glass that sat in front of him.
Crowley frowned as he watched them talk, this cad making Aziraphale smile at something he said. No doubt they were discussing books because the angel’s eyes were lit up in that lovely way that they do when talking about such things.
He had no interest in old books, but Crowley didn’t mind if Aziraphale talk about them, if only to watch his beautiful face glow with excitement.
The gentleman suddenly patted Aziraphale’s hand, and Crowley turned away to go back to his car, his eyes shining behind his dark glasses.
Later that night, Aziraphale had a closed book in his lap and was staring ahead at the empty sofa across from him.
He refused to sit on it. He had spread the green tartan blanket across it a few times, where Crowley usually napped while he read, just for something to take up space.
He set his book on the side table and turned off his lamp, after which he went up to his flat and put the kettle on the range for a soothing cup of tea.
His mind kept going back to that night, when he led Crowley up the stairs and into his bedroom.
Aziraphale sighed, remembering just how yielding he was, how he wrapped himself around him, and just how warm he was as he clinged to him.
“Yes! Angel…” Crowley sighed as Aziraphale slowly thrust into him. “Oh...oh, Aziraphale...yes, love!”
He was on his back in the middle of the bed, Aziraphale between his legs and rutting into him.
“Oh...Crowley,” he moaned, leaning into his neck and nipping his skin.
One of Crowley’s arms was wrapped around his torso while his other hand was held fast to the mattress, Aziraphale’s fingers laced with his.
“You feel so good,” Crowley whispered. “Ah...I’ve waited for this…”
“So have I, my darling,” Aziraphale said between kisses. “For far too long…”
“More, angel.” Crowley squeezed his hips with his legs. “Please, love, I want more of you.”
Aziraphale squeezed Crowley’s hand and thrust harder, making him throw his head back and groan.
“Yes! That’s it...right there...keep going!”
“I’m almost there, dearest,” Aziraphale whimpered as Crowley’s nails dug into his back.
“Come for me, my angel! Please...please! Ah...AH!!”
Their climax synced and they sank into one another.
The sky did not open nor did the earth crumble.
So they made love again.
And then they fell asleep in each other’s arms.
You don't know what you've got till it's gone.
Three Months Later
Mr. Graves’ Ford Sierra was parked in front of A.Z. Fell and Co.’s book shoppe just out of the light from the street lamp.
He and the owner of said shoppe were softly kissing just inside by the register.
Aziraphale felt stiff and awkward, not accustomed to not having to crane his neck to kiss. He wasn’t sure what to do with his hands, so he laid them on his chest.
He pulled away and grinned. “Thank you for a wonderful evening.”
“Thank you, Ezra,” he whispered and kissed him again, hungrier this time.
Aziraphale grunted and gently pushed away again. “Well, I’ll say good night then.”
Mr. Graves cupped his jaw, but Aziraphale stopped him.
The gentleman sighed. “I’m sorry. I can’t help it, Ezra.”
“Yes you can; you’re a grown man.”
“You know what I mean,” he said. “I just find you very interesting. Your stories and your philosophies. You’re different, Ezra. I’ve never met anyone like you.”
“Nor will you ever,” Aziraphale confirmed. “But, I really need to get to bed.”
“That’s another thing.”
The angel shut his eyes and took a deep breath.
“Why have you never invited me upstairs?”
Aziraphale cleared his throat. “I just choose not to.”
“Am I not attractive?”
“What does that have to do with anything?” Aziraphale tried to keep his voice civil, but he was quite tired from a night of drinks and rich food at the local jazz bar, Mr. Graves’ favorite haunt.
Aziraphale had suggested they find another place, telling him that jazz really wasn’t his music of choice. Of course, that had been a lie. The sultry and sleepy sounds just reminded him of Crowley falling asleep on his sofa while old club tunes played softly on the wireless.
He sighed. “Sterling, I like you. I like having a night out with you because you’re good company. However, please understand that I am a creature of habit that enjoys spending the final hours of their evening in quiet solitude. Please do not be offended.”
Mr. Graves smirked and put his hands in his pocket. “Not even a nightcap?”
“I suspect we’ve had enough to drink.”
He walked to the door and then stopped to turn to him again. “Do I get a kiss good night?”
“You’ve had plenty.” Aziraphale was beginning to lose his patience.
Mr. Graves huffed. “I never expected you to be such a tease.” His tone was not light.
“I do not tease,” Aziraphale stated in a firm voice.
“You don't offer me a drink, you tense up when we kiss; you even brush me off when I'm trying to be romantic. Like I'm some sort of simpleton.”
“Maybe you're not as romantic as you think.”
“Wow, thanks for the vote of confidence.”
Aziraphale opened the door. “Sterling, if you’re going to be like this after our dates, then I think we shouldn’t pursue this further.”
“Wait, Ezra,” Mr. Graves told him. “Look, I’m not used to moving slowly, but I do like you very much, and...I apologize for trying to outpace you, as it were.”
Aziraphale nodded. “Thank you.”
“Is it alright if I come by later this week? Bring you a coffee? Maybe take a walk in the park.”
“Coffee is fine,” Aziraphale replied, shortly. “I don’t care for the park.”
“He’s after your Wildes, you know?”
They were standing on either side of the register drinking coffee.
“Mr. Graves?” Aziraphale asked.
The gentleman in question was standing in front of the angel’s treasured Oscar Wilde collection, gently stroking the spines of the books, and carefully taking them off the shelf and opening them.
“I still think you should keep those under lock and key,” Crowley stated, “if they’re that precious to you.”
“I am not the only fan of Oscar’s, dear, and there’s clearly a sign stating that they are not for sale.”
“No bother to someone like him, angel. He’ll just keep coming in, offering a ridiculous sum he could never really pay to you.”
“Even if he did have the money, they are not for sale. I leave them out to be admired.”
“Speaking of admiration,” Crowley said in a low voice as he turned to him. “I don’t like the way he looks at you.”
Aziraphale felt a hint of jealousy and couldn’t help but grin. “And how does he look at me, my dear?”
“He looks at you like he’s interested in getting to know you.”
“Why shouldn’t he be? I’m a charming fellow.”
Crowley raised an eyebrow at him, making him laugh.
“Oh, love,” he assured him, “you know where my interests lie.”
Crowley leaned onto the counter and stroked the top of his hand. “I do, and he stalks one of your interests every time he comes in. Either he’s bad at taking hints or you’re too nice to put your foot down.” He gulped the rest of his coffee and set down the mug. “I can do that for you, if you’d like.”
“And what would you do? Set up some kind of booby trap?”
“Yes, I would.”
“I was being sarcastic.”
Crowley grinned. “Hm. A well situated rattlesnake would do, I think.”
“You will do nothing of the sort, do you understand?”
“Fine, angel. But I’m here for it, when you change your mind.”
Crowley looked at his watch and then took Aziraphale’s hand.
“Leaving so soon?”
“Ngk. In a bit. Duty calls, love.”
Aziraphale giggled and caressed Crowley’s palm with his fingertips. “Pull your glasses down a bit.”
“Please, dearest. I want to see your beautiful eyes before you leave.”
Crowley smiled and pulled his shades down the bridge of his nose and gazed at him from the top of them.
“There you are,” he beamed, squeezing his hand.
Crowley squeezed back. “If this place were empty,” he whispered, “I’d hop over this counter and give you a bloody good kiss and cuddle.”
“Dear…” Aziraphale chided as he blushed.
He glanced over and quickly released his hand.
“What is it?” Crowley asked, pushing his shades up.
“Mr. Graves saw us.”
“Oh?” Crowley grinned. “How’s he taking it?”
“The fact that the charming fellow buried in books isn’t up for grabs?”
He took his hand again and Aziraphale gasped.
“It’s your shoppe; you can do what you want.”
Aziraphale bit his lip. “Crowley?” he whispered. “I think you’re right. I feel something from him.”
“I feel it, too, angel. It’s envy.”
“Do you think he’s envious of you?”
He shrugged. “Who wouldn’t be? I do have the privilege of holding you every night.”
Aziraphale blushed again and before he could respond, Crowley brought his hand to his lips and pressed them hard against his skin, pulling away with a loud smack.
He looked over his shoulder at Mr. Graves who was now giving his full attention.
Crowley raised his eyebrows and gave him a smug grin.
“I’ll see you later, angel,” he told Aziraphale, just loud enough for the few customers to hear, especially one book dealing bastard.
Crowley didn’t care for Foyle’s. It may have been filled with new editions with bright, alluring covers, in any subject you could imagine, but it was too clean and certainly too big for its own good. One could get lost in this place and, depending on the individual, that could be a blessing or a curse.
He strolled along each aisle, occasionally picking up a book with a title that piqued his curiosity. He thumbed through the collection of periodicals, reading an article from Rolling Stone about Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page (who Crowley thought was an absolute arse back in the day), and even pausing to read a rather intriguing feature in Gardener’s World about keeping your house plants “happy.”
He had a good laugh at that one.
After perusing through the fantasy section, he soon found himself in Poetry.
He used to enjoy the sonnets, having first heard them from Will’s own lips, but really that was all there was at the time. Shakespeare everywhere. It became a complete burnout for him until Aziraphale took to writing his own.
A faint smile broke Crowley’s solemn face as he remembered the angel poring over his desk in a single candlelight, his quill flying across the desk as he wrote and crossed out and then wrote again until there was a pile of crumpled parchment at his feet.
Crowley sighed as he picked up an anthology of poems from the Romantics. This was the period where he made up his mind to sleep out the next one, when the wave of honey-drenched words and soppy crying over dead lovers gained popularity.
Worth it, he thought.
He never bothered to read much from the Romantic period after it had passed, so he opened the section on Shelley and flipped through its contents.
“Ozymandius” was just epic nonsense. “Adonais” had too much crying. “Verses on a Cat” was just...weird.
Then, Crowley stopped on a page with only two stanzas and he held his breath. He read the poem twice more and then sniffed as his eyes began to sting.
Suddenly, he boisterously cleared his throat and ripped out the page and quickly folded it into his coat pocket. Afterwards, he carefully placed the book against the back of the shelf, hiding it behind the other copies.
He left Foyle’s and took refuge in a tea room across the street where he sat the first empty table he saw.
Crowley glanced out of the window before pulling out the poem again.
It had been almost six months since he last saw Aziraphale, but it felt like eternity.
No, longer than that.
He missed the dusty old books, the creaky sofa in the back room, and the comforting sound of Aziraphale turning pages of his book as he rested in his lap.
He missed his angel.
Crowley pocketed the poem again and ordered a cream tea.
Two days later, an ebony garter snake slithered along the alleyway behind A.Z. Fell and Co.’s book shoppe.
He was relieved to find that the owner did not patch up the bottom corner of the back door. The corner had been sanded down to make room should the serpent ever need refuge, and the snake slid under it easily and slithered along the edge of the wall.
He stalked behind bookshelf after bookshelf until he found himself a nice hidden perch on top of a dusty Kipling where he could see into the back room.
Aziraphale was sitting in his usual armchair and, sitting across from him, on the sofa no less, was that Mr. Graves.
They were sipping the coffees he had brought and were remarking upon the weather that morning, how there may be a bit of sun later in the day.
The snake rested its head on its coiled body and watched the angel’s every movement, its little heart beating hard.
The light in Aziraphale’s blue eyes had dulled and it made the snake quite sad to think that he was the one that had stolen it. If he could bring back that light and make it even brighter, nothing would stop him, but for now, the snake stay coiled and still as he listened to their conversation.
“Look, I want to apologize again about the other night,” Mr. Graves said.
“No need, Sterling,” the angel said in a tired voice. “I...well, I haven’t done this sort of thing in a while. Dating or...what have you.”
“May I ask you something, then?”
Aziraphale crossed his legs. “Of course.”
“Were you and that shady bloke an item?”
The snake slightly cocked his head. Shady, eh?
“Anthony, you mean,” Aziraphale corrected him. “Well...yes, we were. For quite a long time.”
“Why didn’t you just say so, Ezra? I would have understood.”
“Frankly, it’s no one’s business.”
There was a pause as they both took a sip of coffee.
Mr. Graves sighed. “Do you still fancy him?”
Aziraphale looked at him, his lips parting.
The snake lifted his head a bit and stared at him, his heart beating faster.
He turned away to hide the sudden wetness in his eyes. “I...there are times that...I do miss him.”
I miss you too, my angel, the serpent mused.
“But, he’s gone away.”
“Did he do something?”
Aziraphale put his hand over his mouth to keep it from trembling. “Don’t concern yourself with him, please. I don’t want to talk about it.”
“I’m prying again,” Mr. Graves conceded. “I would just like to know if...I mean, is there anything possible...you know, with us? You and me?”
The snake’s tail twitched.
“I do like you, Sterling,” Aziraphale told him. “However...I think it would be better if we remained business associates and not paramours.”
Oh, angel… The snake’s coils loosened a bit.
Mr. Graves nodded and was about to respond until the bell of the front door sounded.
Aziraphale greeted the early morning customer with a plain voice. “Good morning, miss.”
“Good morning,” she greeted. “You’re Mr. Fell, I presume?”
“Why, yes,” he told her, standing from his armchair. “How can I be of service?”
“I called yesterday about Kipling’s letters?”
“Ah! Yes, of course! Right over here, dear. I have a few copies.”
He led her to the bookshelf where the snake Crowley was coiled.
He quickly slid off the book and onto the floor where he lay stock still.
“Oh, these are marvelous editions, Mr. Fell.”
“Why, thank you.”
The book that the snake had been coiled upon was pulled from the shelf.
The girl flipped to the table of contents of the book and smiled. “Oh, yes, this is the one I’ve been looking for! How much?”
“Hmm,” the angel thought a moment, “well, it’s not a very rare book. As you can see I have several editions, but that one, I could give it to you for fifty pounds.”
“Oh…” the girl hugged the book to her chest. “Well...I guess I could...you see, I’m doing a thesis on Kipling and--”
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Aziraphale said with a shake of his head.
The girl laughed. “You sound like my father. He’d rather I be a doctor. See...the thing is I don’t get my stipend until the end of the month and I really need this for my thesis and...well, do you think you could…?”
Crowley saw that Aziraphale’s features were softening, something that rarely happened with customers that tried to barter.
“I mean, could you possibly take twenty pounds for it now, and then I can pay the rest when I get my stipend? I can leave something personal of mine here, too, as collateral.”
Mr. Graves huffed and shook his head.
Aziraphale grinned and gently took the book from her.
The young girl sighed, ready to accept the worst, but he led her to the register.
“I hate to see anyone in a bind,” he said. “It part of my nature, but how about I sell it to you at the student price?”
“Oh,” the girl smiled. “I didn’t know you had a student price.”
“It’s a one-day special, dear, but please...don’t tell your friends.”
She giggled, close to crying.
“Oh, please, no tears here, my darling. I can sell it to you for fifteen pounds. Kipling was never a favorite of mine anyhow.”
Now she was crying. “Oh, thank you, Mr. Fell! You really are too kind.”
“Shh,” he joked, “don’t tell the whole blessed world.”
This made the student laugh again and she got out her pocketbook. “Oh, here’s my student ID for the discount, sir.”
Aziraphale waved it away. “No need, love.”
Crowley had turned his attention away from Aziraphale’s good deed and glared at Mr. Graves as he quietly made his way to the Wildes.
The gentleman glanced over his shoulder to make sure the shopkeeper was preoccupied and then he pulled one of the books from the shelf.
He took it to the sofa and stuffed it into his book bag, clasping it tight.
Aziraphale walked the girl to the door and she gave him back his handkerchief that was now damp with her tears.
“I’m sorry for being so emotional, Mr. Fell,” she said, “but I’ve been searching for this book forever now. I appreciate your kindness very much.”
“Think nothing of it, my dear,” he smiled. “Good luck with your studies.”
He was taken aback by a sudden hug from the girl but he patted her shoulder.
She pulled away, smiling. “You’re an angel, you know that?”
He laughed. “Well, I…”
The girl left, and he was surprised to see Mr. Graves behind him, his book bag over his shoulder.
“I’m afraid I must be off, too, Ezra,” he said.
“Oh, right. Well, thank you for the coffee, Sterling.”
“You’re welcome. I’ll, uh...I’ll see you soon, I hope.”
Aziraphale smirked and nodded. “Naturally.”
The snake slithered along the wall and out the sawed off corner of the back door.
He transformed back to his human shape, and stomped to the edge of the alley.
He saw Mr. Graves get into his car and drive away, leaving Crowley glaring at the back of the vehicle.
It took every ounce of strength he had to not to will all the air out of his tires.
Oh, he could have, and then confronted him in the middle of the street, but Aziraphale would notice and possibly be even angrier.
No, he would wait. He would see him again soon.
The evening came and Aziraphale flipped the shoppe sign and locked the door. He turned off the lights and made his way to the back room until he noticed something out of place.
His heart pounded as he walked to his Wildes and noticed a clean, dust-free gap along the row.
His eyes burned with fresh tears. “Oh...oh, no, Oscar! Where are you?” He knew he couldn’t have moved the book; the Wildes stayed on that particular shelf and were rarely touched by anyone except for himself and--
Aziraphale clenched his jaw and marched to the back room where he slammed the door behind him.
He sat down at his desk and dragged the rotary phone from the corner of it, slamming it down in front of him.
He picked up the receiver and dialed.
Tears stood in his eyes as the call kept ringing until he heard a click. “Sterling,” he said, firmly, “I know you have my book and--”
Mr. Graves’ voice came on the line. “This is Sterling. Leave a message.” And then a loud beep sounded.
“Oh...sugar!” Aziraphale cursed. “I hate these things. Sterling, I’m not sure if you can hear me, but I know you have my Oscar Wilde. Please return it to me promptly or I will send the authorities after you--”
The machine clicked and there was silence.
“Sterling?” He pushed down the plungers on the phone base. “Sterling! How dare you steal from me! If this is about me and you, then I…”
He let the receiver drop onto the base and took a deep breath before picking it up again.
Aziraphale’s finger hovered above the wheel and he took another breath before dialing.
Four rings and then a click. “This is Anthony Crowley. Leave a message if you want...I might call back if I feel like it. Later.”
Aziraphale remembered Crowley had an Ansaphone, but this wasn’t the usual greeting. He could hear the flat, unsympathetic tone in his voice, and he almost dropped the receiver again.
He sniffed and swallowed hard. “Crowley?” he said, his voice weak.
A tear fell down his cheek. “Crowley, I...I don’t know if you can hear me...I wouldn’t blame you for ignoring me. But, something’s happened. Ster--Mr. Graves...you were right about him. I don’t know who else to turn to, and I...oh, Crowley...I’ve been such a naive fool.”
His tears fell down his cheeks. “About everything. Oh...dearest...I--”
The phone clicked and he let the receiver fall from his hand, and it hanged from its cord over the edge of the desk.
He laid his head down and sobbed.
Aziraphale sniffed and wiped his cheeks.
Had that really been Crowley’s voice on the other line or was he desperate enough to conjure it in his mind?
“Aziraphale...are you still there?”
He grasped the cord and pulled the receiver back to his ear.
“Hello, dear…” he replied.
“Oh...angel…” Crowley’s voice was strained. “It really is you.”
“I need your help. If you want...I would understand if you didn’t want anything to do with me anymore.”
“Angel...it’s been six months,” Crowley paused and Aziraphale could hear him sniff back tears. “And I’ve gone against your wishes.”
“What do you mean?”
Crowley sniffed again. “You told me not to think about you.”
“Oh...Crowley, love…” Azirphale cried harder.
“You’re all I’ve thought about since…”
“I’m sorry, darling.”
Crowley sighed. “Forget that now, angel.” His voice had become calmer now and he cleared his throat. “What’s that bastard done?”
He knew what he had done, but now was not the time to tell his angel that he had been a clandestine witness to the crime.
“My Oscar Wilde, I’m sure he…” Aziraphale paused and wiped his eyes with his handkerchief. “It’s The Ballad of Reading Gaol . One of the last pieces he wrote. It’s a first edition...Robbie had sent it to me...there’s an inscription in it...from Oscar…I tell customers that it’s addressed to an ancestor, but, Crowley...it’s for me...it was his final gift to me...” He heaved another sob and put his face in his handkerchief.
On the other line, Crowley was squeezing the phone’s receiver in his hand as he listened to his heartbroken angel.
“Darling,” he whispered.
Aziraphale sighed. “Yes, love?”
“Do you know where this arsehole lives?”
Mr. Graves entered his flat and walked into the kitchen, setting his book bag on the island. He carefully pulled out the stolen Wilde, and opened its dusty cover to read the inscription again.
Ezra told him that an ancestor of his had been a close friend of Wilde’s. A first edition of The Ballad of Reading Gaol was quite rare, and even more so, a first edition with a personal message from the author himself.
He had a friend who was an acquaintance with a Sotheby’s dealer and this friend had passed along a message to an auctioneer. He would have it auctioned through Sotheby’s and have enough to leave the country, with Christie at his side.
She had played her part well as the poor student. She distracted Ezra with a story about a thesis and a long-awaited stipend, and my, when she summoned those fake tears! And the grateful hug to the kindly bookshoppe owner was just the perfect cherry on top.
Mr. Graves could sell the Kipling book as well, although he wouldn’t get much off it, but a pound is a pound.
He shut the book and turned to check his answering machine. Its red light was blinking and he smirked, knowing who had rung him.
He pressed the Play button.
“Oh...sugar! I hate these things. Sterling, I’m not sure if you can hear me, but I know you have my Oscar Wilde. Please return it to me promptly or I will send the authorities after you--”
He giggled and deleted the message.
The room suddenly became warmer, and then there was a faint sound, like that of a baby’s rattle.
Damn thermostat on the blink again, he thought. Need to have that fixed.
The sound grew louder, however, and he realized it was coming from behind him.
Mr. Graves turned back to the kitchen island and there, on top of the book, was a diamondback rattlesnake, staring into him with glowing yellow eyes. Its tail was straight up in the center of its thick, coiled body and was emitting the low rattle sound with fervor.
He inhaled and held his breath as he backed away to stand against the wall.
This was couldn’t be. A rattlesnake in London? Possibly escaped from a zoo, but still...how did it get in his flat?
He cautiously reached over to his cordless telephone, picked it up from the receiver, and backed out of the kitchen and into the den.
Mr. Graves frantically dialed a number and when it was answered, he whispered, “Hello, yes, I need...well, I need animal control or something...there’s a rattlesnake in my flat and I---yes! I said a rattlesnake! Well, I don’t know how it got in! It’s in my kitchen and--”
The cordless phone grew hot to the touch and he instantly dropped it, but instead of it breaking on the floor, it flew back into its receiver and the phone cord ripped out of the wall.
“Hello?” he called out over the growing volume of the rattle. “Show yourself...whoever is here, show yourself, you bastard!”
The noise ceased and around the corner came a tall, thin man with pale skin and ginger hair that was pulled back into a loose ponytail. His glasses were dark and his frown was deep.
Mr. Graves gasped. “You...I know you…”
With a wave of the man’s bony hand, Mr. Graves was thrown back onto his sofa where he couldn’t move his limbs.
He began to panic. “What the bloody hell is going on? What are you doing in my flat? How did you bloody know where I---”
Crowley sneered and pulled his fingers along his own mouth, as if pulling a zipper, and Mr. Graves’ lips were abruptly glued shut.
He tried to pull against his invisible restraints but he was stiff as a board, and he could only grunt and moan his pitiful protests against his sealed lips.
Crowley cleared his throat and sat in front of Mr. Graves on his antique carved mahogany coffee table.
“Sssso,” he began, in a low voice, “you think I’m shady.”
It wasn’t a question; just a mere acknowledgement, and Mr. Graves stopped grumbling and stared at his captor.
Crowley leaned forward and folded his hands. “Do you often steal rare bookssss from unsuspecting shopkeepers? Or is...Ezra...just extra special to you?”
He leaned in closer and sniffed.
“Funny...that’s not Ezra’s smell. I don’t remember him buying any Gloria Vanderbilt.” He sniffed again. “Ah! I have smelled that somewhere, quite recently...it was in the shoppe today...when your little actress came hopping around, looking for Kipling--no one looks for Kipling, mate!”
Crowley sat up and crossed his arms. “So who is this girl, anyway? The love of your life? So much so that you’re willing to stalk a naive shopkeeper until you have a chance to steal his rare books and stuff the money in a mattress so that you two can take off somewhere?
“Let me ask you something, Sssterling,” he growled. “Is this the first book you’ve taken from Ezra?”
Mr. Graves blinked hard but he didn’t move his head to affirm or deny.
“Here’s an easier one: do you even like men?”
The gentleman’s eyes suddenly cut away from him, making Crowley grunt.
“Ngk. You are despicable.”
He suddenly stood and Mr. Graves whimpered as Crowley plopped down next to him on the sofa, putting an arm around him.
“Then again...you’d do well where I come from. I’ll put in a good word.”
He propped his feet on Mr. Graves’ coffee table.
“Here’s the thing, though: you haven’t stolen just any book, and you haven’t stolen from just any old shopkeep either.”
He clutched a handful of Mr. Graves’ hair and leaned into his ear, making him shake.
“You’ve stolen a rare gift,” Crowley growled, “and you’ve ssstolen...from my angel . ”
Another whimper escaped Mr. Graves and he shut his eyes tight as Crowley gestured over his mouth, unzipping his lips.
He took a quick breath. “I’m sorry!” he declared. “I’ll give the book back, I swear!”
“I don’t trust you, Ssssssterling.” Crowley tutted and rolled his eyes. “Ssssterling…Sssssterling….Gravesssssssss. Is that even your real name?”
“Yes! I swear it! Please don’t hurt me!” He swallowed and found that his throat was dry. “Take the book and don’t hurt me, and please take the snake with you!”
Crowley cocked his head. “What snake?”
“The rattlesnake, for God’s sake! Get it out of my flat!”
“Ohhh,” the demon said, delighted. “Scared of snakes, are we?”
Mr. Graves slowly nodded as his heart pounded.
“Oh, well, you’ve nothing to worry about!” Crowley announced with a smile. “I happen to be quite the charmer...of snakes, mind you.”
Mr. Graves gasped as Crowley jumped off the sofa and glared down at him, his dark glasses staring into his own soul.
His heart beat faster as something slithered out of the far end of the sofa and he rolled his eyes in its direction.
It was a black snake with a grey belly and it oozed out from between the cushions and toward him. He whined and choked back a cry of fear as the snake slid onto his lap and looked up at him with deep black eyes.
It had to have been twice as long as he was tall, and it opened its mouth as it raised itself up to be face to face with him.
“Sssssterling,” Crowley hissed. “Meet the black mamba.”
Mr. Graves’ eyes grew wider as he stared into the snake’s pure black mouth.
“Oh, you’ve heard of her, eh?” Crowley smiled, crossing his arms. “She doesn’t just bite once, did you know that? Black mambas like to play with their prey, and within ten minutes, your blood will boil, your muscles will seize, and within mere hours you go into cardiac arrest.”
He gazed lovingly at the serpent. “Beautiful, isn’t she? One of the most venomous snakes in the world, aren’t you, my darling?”
He stroked the snake’s head and she closed her mouth. She slithered higher up onto Mr. Graves’ chest and over his shoulders where she made herself comfortable, curling the rest of her length tightly around his neck.
His cheeks were now moist with tears and Crowley’s smile disappeared, replaced by another frown.
Crowley leaned into him again, placing both hands on the either side of him to lean onto the sofa until they were nose to nose.
“But,” he whispered, “do you know what’s even deadlier than a black mamba, Sssterling?”
Mr. Graves carefully replied, his chin trembling. “T-two black mambas?”
If he could jump, he would, because Crowley’s sudden and sharp cackle frightened him.
“Oh, Ssssterling! You're a card! No...no, my good man...what’s deadlier than a black mamba…”
He brought a hand to his dark glasses and pulled them off his face.
Mr. Graves’ heart wanted to leap out of his chest as he stared back at glowing yellow eyes, the same he had seen on the rattlesnake.
Crowley gave him a broad smile, opening his mouth and unfolding long, needlelike fangs. A forked tongue leapt out of the smile and Mr. Graves couldn’t breathe.
“...is me. ”
The woman in the flat below heard shrieking, but she chalked it up to the feral tom cats that frequented the alley.
She took a drag from her cigarette and turned up the television.
Hours had gone by since Aziraphale reached out to Crowley over the telephone, and he was now sitting in his chair with a mug of hot cocoa cradled in his hands.
He had spent most of the evening pacing about the shoppe and casting glances at the front door, and before finally sitting down, he had conjured a special glass case with a lock and key and placed his remaining Wildes into it.
Aziraphale stood and took a sip of cocoa before walking from the back room again and into the shoppe to gaze at his now locked away treasures. The empty spot in between the books taunted him and his naivete.
“Oh, Oscar…” he whispered. “Maybe if I hadn’t panicked that night then...well, surely, Crowley could understand why I did. It was different in our day, wasn’t it, my dear? Discreteness was key and that’s---well, I guess that’s stuck with me, hasn’t it? In a way, it’s required in a position like mine.”
He placed his fingertips to the glass. “But it’s different today, mostly. I see couples in the park or out shopping and...I see them holding hands, some of them without fear. Every now and then, they steal a quick kiss while in a crowd. Sure, Crowley and I have been as clandestine as possible, and we’ve been quite fortunate, but, sometimes, I see those couples and I...well, I wish I had their courage.”
He paused and took another sip of cocoa. “I do wish you were still here, Oscar. I could use a witty jab at my nonsense.”
There was a soft knock at the back door and he gasped. He knew it was Crowley with his book, but he couldn’t get his feet to move.
Another knock, louder this time, but Aziraphale wouldn’t budge.
He closed his eyes and the door lock clicked. The door creaked opened and then shut softly, and footsteps slowly entered.
Aziraphale opened his eyes and gripped his warm mug. He cleared his throat.
“In here, dear.”
There was silence before the footsteps sounded again, and he turned away as Crowley’s form rounded the corner of the bookshelf.
He stopped at the end cap and took off his sunglasses. “I, uh...I took care of Graves. He won’t bother you anymore.”
Aziraphale licked his lips. “What did you do?”
“Just scared him a bit,” Crowley explained, “told him to get out of London, and to never deal in books again.”
“You think it worked?”
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure it worked.”
Aziraphale sighed. “Thank you.”
Crowley took a step closer, but then backed away. “I’ll just put it on the counter then.”
Aziraphale turned around. “No, wait. I’d like it in here, please.”
He motioned to the new glass case and Crowley joined him by his side.
“Finally taking my advice, I see,” he said with a small grin.
“Yes, well…” Aziraphale agreed, “it’s a good investment.”
He could feel the demon’s warmth beside him and his arms began to ache.
Crowley opened the glass door and carefully placed the book in its rightful place. After closing it, he finally turned to look at Azirpahale, and the angel’s bright eyes met his.
Crowley could see the redness in them, how distraught the lines in his face were, and he wondered how long he had had them.
Aziraphale wondered, too, when the last time Crowley had properly slept, as there were dark circles forming under his eyes. His human body was accustomed to sleeping regularly, but he could tell that he was denying himself that bit of respite.
“Would you like a drink?” Aziraphale managed to ask through his voice breaking.
Crowley smirked and put his hands in his pocket. “Yeah, alright.”
He followed Aziraphale to the back room, and while the angel was pouring his Scotch, he gazed down at the old sofa for a moment before finally sitting.
“Here you are, dear.”
Crowley took the drink and sipped it. “Mm, thanks.” He set it on the table in front of him and rubbed his hands together as Aziraphale returned to his chair.
They sat there with only thick silence between them until Aziraphale asked, “How’ve you been?”
Crowley couldn’t help but grin at Aziraphale ignoring the obvious, but that was his way.
“Fine, I guess.”
“Been keeping busy, or…”
There was another moment of awkward silence until Aziraphale put down his cocoa mug and stood. He hesitated and then crossed the room to stand in front of Crowley, who did not look up at him but continued to rub his hands.
Aziraphale’s breath hitched and the demon’s eyes began to burn with the start of tears.
“I...I’m sorry. This was all my fault.”
Crowley finally looked at him. “Angel, I don’t blame you for anything.”
“Well, you should!” Aziraphale declared, pulling his handkerchief from his pocket. “I’m such a damned, proud fool, and I don’t expect you to forgive me, but I can’t go on without…”
His voice trailed off and he wiped his eyes.
“Why do you think I wouldn’t forgive you, angel?”
Aziraphale grinned sheepishly. “Oh, well...I didn’t think demons were capable.”
“Just like they’re not capable of love?”
Aziraphale sniffed. “I was wrong, Crowley,” he admitted as he shook his head. “I know you can...I’ve felt it before...many times, from you and...I never knew what...how to handle it, even after all these centuries. Perhaps…”
He paused and wringed the handkerchief. “Perhaps I was so alarmed at my own actions, that...I wanted to make sure you felt it, too...oh, darling, I called you such horrible things!”
Crowley wiped at his left eye. “I know that now, angel,” he said. “I was alarmed, but only about how you reacted. You wanted to make love, Aziraphale; I would never force you into that.”
“I know, dear. I was being selfish.” Aziraphale gave him a sad grin. “Not very angelic of me.”
“I wouldn’t have you any other way, my love.”
He stood from the sofa and took a deep breath as he pulled a folded paper from his blazer pocket.
Aziraphale watched him in silence.
Crowley cleared his throat to stave his coming tears, and he gave a quick glance to his angel before reading:
“The fountains mingle with the river
And the rivers with the ocean,
The winds of heaven mix forever
With a sweet emotion;
Nothing in the world is single;
All things by a law divine
In one spirit meet and mingle.
Why not I with thine?—”
“Oh...Crowley…” Aziraphale wiped his eyes again as he continued:
“See the mountains kiss high heaven
And the waves clasp one another;
No sister-flower would be forgiven
If it disdained its brother;
And the sunlight clasps the earth
And the moonbeams kiss the sea:
What is all this sweet work worth
If thou kiss not me?”
Aziraphale let out a soft wail from behind his handkerchief, and Crowley put his arms around him, squeezing him close and cradling the back of his head.
They stood in silence embracing one another, finding relief in their long-awaited touch.
Crowley let the poem fall from his hand and to the floor so that he could pull Aziraphale closer.
“You say I don’t feel love,” he muttered, “but I went to that posh Foyle’s and ripped that out of one of their expensive books for you.”
Aziraphale suddenly laughed aloud against him and this made Crowley smile.
“I’ve missed you, my angel,” he whispered against his cheek.
Aziraphale squeezed him back. “I’m so sorry, love,” he cried. “I was so cruel to you! I didn’t know what I was saying.”
Crowley sighed. “I’m sorry I destroyed your flat.”
The angel grinned. “It was an easy fix, dear.”
“Not for me. A part of me wanted to hurt you, as well. But I couldn’t do it.”
“This is my fault,” Aziraphale said, “and, I put the blame on you…”
Crowley stroked his blonde hair. “Shh, darling.”
The angel sighed against his neck before pulling away and looking into his golden eyes.
Crowley grinned and took his handkerchief from him to wipe Aziraphale’s face.
“I do love you, my angel.”
Aziraphale smiled and cupped Crowley’s cheek.
“And I love you, too,” he told him, his voice trembling.
A tear fell from Crowley’s right eye, but Aziraphale’s thumb swiped it away.
He leaned into him and lightly kissed his lips.
Crowley caressed Aziraphale’s neck as he pulled away. “We can slow this down, if you’d like.”
Aziraphale hesitated, but then nodded. “Well, maybe a bit. Perhaps keep the...well, you know, our intimacy to a minimum. Not that I didn’t enjoy what we did, but...I think it’s best if we stay...near-celibate?”
Crowley smiled again. “I can do that, angel. I would do anything for you, you know?”
“I know for a fact you would, darling.” He took his hand and stroked it. “But...for now, I’d like for you to come upstairs with me.”
Crowley laughed. “Wait, weren’t we just talking about celibacy?”
“ Near -celibacy. And that’s not what I meant by coming upstairs--”
“Oh, angel, I really have missed you,” Crowley teased as he kissed his forehead.
“I just want to hold you.”
Crowley picked up his drink and took his hand. “Lead the way.”
They entered the bedroom and the sky emitted no thunder.
They got into bed and the earth did not split.
Aziraphale held Crowley as he pressed into his side, and their hands rested together on his chest.
The angel felt his light return, and the demon slept peacefully.
The poem by Crowley is called "Love's Philosophy" by Percy Bysshe Shelley.