Celestial beings don’t experience the human sensation known and referred to as hunger. That’s why Aziraphale was surprised when he started getting a mild pressure on his upper abdominal area. It wasn’t sharp enough to be labelled as pain, but it wasn’t particularly pleasant either. After some reading and a short but productive chat with Adam, he concluded that it could be no other thing than hunger, which he found amusing. He didn’t technically have to eat, but it was possible that his body had grown accustomed to having food periodically, and he had gone a few days without eating due to the whole apocalypse thing.
At first he had thought that it could be one of Crowley’s tricks or pranks, but it wasn’t his style. Truth is, the demon was hanging out around him so much more than he had before, which is what made him suspicious in the first place. Sure, they used to see each other often, but now Crowley was practically living in the bookshop, and he didn’t have much to do other than distract him from his work.
He did that in various ways, some of which were obvious, like moving books around to confuse him. Other seemed to be unconscious, like the way he walked around in front of Aziraphale looking so damn-
The door opened and some clients entered the shop, forcing Aziraphale to tear his gaze from the demon still parading around the counter.
And there it was. While he started talking to the customers about the virtues of his first editions (that, unfortunately, were not for sale), that fluttery feeling settled on his belly again. He looked at the clock. It was almost lunchtime. Aziraphale smiled at the thought that after 6000 years on Earth his body could still surprise him with new habits. But if his physical form needed food then food he would give it.
He closed the shop right after the clients left and decided on a nice Italian place two corners down the street.
‘Why the rush, angel?’ asked Crowley, who was following him a couple steps behind, looking amused.
‘You mean you want to eat?’ he asked. The angel wasn’t looking at him but could tell by his tone that he was raising an eyebrow.
‘No, I mean I’m hungry.’ Aziraphale said, speeding up his pace to the restaurant.
‘But that’s impossible.’ followed Crowley once they were both already at the table. ‘Our bodies aren’t human, we don’t actually need food, so we shouldn’t feel hunger.’
‘So I thought, my dear, but it appears to be the only plausible explanation.’ Aziraphale then tried to explain the strange sensation that had been bothering him lately.
‘Is it like a hollow feeling? Does it go away after eating?’ Even though Aziraphale had assured him that it was nothing, Crowley was clearly worried.
‘Not really, no. It comes and goes, sometimes stays after I eat.’ Aziraphale answered, endeared by the demon’s concern. ‘But don’t get preoccupied, my dear, I’m sure it is of no importance.’
‘If you say so.’ Said Crowley, still not looking fully convinced.
Three antipasti, a plate of fettuccine and two desserts after that, Aziraphale’s stomach had calmed down. He took a deep sigh, both in contentment for the meal and relief that it wasn’t something more serious. Crowley was eyeing a bottle of Amaro on a table nearby.
‘Should we order…?’ he started, making Aziraphale roll his eyes fondly at his predictability.
‘If you must.’
They ordered an entire bottle, despite the waiter’s obvious question of their life choices, because they were old enough to know their own limits, thank you very much.
And half a bottle of Italian liquor was not enough to get an immortal being drunk, but it definitely helped on loosen up its tongue. It was amazing, wasn’t it, thought or maybe said Aziraphale, how after six millennia they hadn’t yet run out of conversation with each other. Not even then, despite the fact that Crowley hadn’t left him for a spare second those last few days. And about that…
‘I have a question.’ He told the demon.
Careful not to make it look like a complaint, because it wasn’t. Oh, it was so not a complaint. If anything, it was the opposite of a-
Oh, right. The question.
‘I’ve noticed that you’ve been hanging out at the bookshop more often lately.’ That was putting it lightly. He had been spending more hours at the bookshop, yes. But also at the park when Aziraphale took his morning walks, and at every lunch he had out. One time he even slept on his sofa, and it wasn’t even a big sofa. ‘And I was wondering if there’s a reason for it.’
Crowley was looking out the window, gaze impossible to meet behind his sunglasses. He took a long sip of his drink.
‘There is a reason, yeah.’
There was a second before Aziraphale realized that he wasn’t getting any more answers without insisting.
‘May I ask what it is?’
Crowley turned to look at him, slowly. It was hard to tell, but it almost looked as if he was avoiding Aziraphale’s eyes and…was that a hint of blushing on his cheeks? No, it couldn’t be. Demons don’t get shy, and they definitely don’t blush.
‘Last week was stressful.’ He sighed. ‘When the shop burned I-.’ He stopped, looked away.
‘You know you can tell me anything, right Crowley?’
‘I know.’ The demon smiled softly and made a brief pause. ‘It’s just… You weren’t there, and everything was in flames. You know I-I thought that you…I thought I had lost you. And it wasn’t easy.’
Crowley looked down with a sad expression on his face. It had pain in it, and something else that Aziraphale couldn’t quite read.
‘Oh, Crowley. I know, and I’m so sorry I scared you.’ Said the angel with a sudden wave of affection spreading through him. And then there it was. His belly turned and fluttered and, to be honest, almost ached.
‘It wasn’t your fault.’ Crowley was back in his usual relaxed pose, any trace of vulnerability long gone from his gestures.
‘I’m here and I’m better than ever.’ He smiled at Crowley, and reached over the table to give his hand a little reassuring squeeze. ‘And you can stay all you want. You know that, right?’
Crowley smiled at him, bright and wide and way too sweet for a creature of hell. The angel’s stomach made another flinch.
‘I know, angel. I know.’
Maybe it wasn’t hunger what he was feeling after all.
Still, he had to talk to another human. Putting it in perspective, maybe asking Adam wasn’t the wisest thing he had done. He should ask someone older, he decided. Shadwell was out of the question for many reasons. Madame Tracy was nice but could be a bit…eccentric. Aziraphale settled on asking Anathema. She was a human, and she was a witch.
Surely, she would know about this kind of things.
‘Of course, come in! I was just making some tea.’ The woman welcomed him into her cottage, which she had decided to keep a while longer.
Aziraphale thanked her for the warm cup of Earl Gray and sat on one of her cosy faux leather armchairs.
‘So’ she said, falling into the armchair in front of his ‘what did you want to ask me?’
Aziraphale explained the situation as well as he could. He described the sensation in his stomach and began to list the moments in which it happened.
‘Last Monday, for instance. It was mid morning and I hadn’t eaten anything yet. But then Crowley came in the shop and gave me some fresh baked cookies from the bakery down his street. They were so good, and I hadn’t realized I was hungry before, but when he gave them to me I started feeling funny.’
‘Did it go away after eating them?’ asked Anathema, who was smiling knowingly.
‘It didn’t. But it went away a while after.’
‘And is it possible by any means that it stopped when Crowley left the shop?’
‘It could be, but why are you asking that?’
Anathema looked like she was about to burst out laughing.
‘No reason. But please tell me more.’
‘Right… The following day there was another incident. It was in the evening, at the park. I was-‘
‘With Crowley?’ interrupted Anathema, a wide grin spreading from behind her mug.
‘Yes, I was with him. I had eaten that day, but it was almost time for dinner. It all started when he materialized some boneless grapes to feed the ducks with, because I had heard that giving them bread is bad for their health.’
‘How thoughtful of him.’
‘That’s what I thought! He really doesn’t see the good in himself.’ Aziraphale sighed. ‘Anyways, I believe seeing the grapes must have made me hungry because my stomach started fluttering again. And even though Crowley materialized some more grapes for me, it only got worse!’
Aziraphale took a long sip of his tea.
‘I was afraid you’d say that. Should I be worried then?’
‘Not at all.’ She put her cup on the small table between them and took his hand on hers. ‘Aziraphale, I think you’re having feelings.’
He stared at her blankly.
Of course he had emotions, he thought. He was an angel, for heaven’s sake! It was part of his job to love everything and everyone. But that didn’t explain why he suddenly felt like a hummingbird was making its nest inside him.
‘Is it? Humans usually feel like that when we are nervous. It can mean lots of different things. It happens when we’re about to do an exam, talk in public…or when we see someone we fancy.’ She said softly. ‘Bodies can realise this stuff even before we do sometimes.’
Aziraphale wasn’t stupid. He knew what she was insinuating. He knew why she kept asking about the demon. He didn’t know if she was right.
Except that maybe he did. Maybe he had known all along.
Aziraphale thought of his friend. He thought of a stack of books, once saved and now safely guarded on a special shelf. He thought of all the little things over the years and the way his chest tightened when he looked into the demon’s eyes. He had known for a while and felt it for even a longer time.
‘I-‘ he started. He had been quiet for a long time. Anathema was still smiling.
‘Your auras glow around each other. Sometimes even intertwine at the edges.’
The angel smiled back at her. ‘Thank you, Anathema, you’ve been of so much help. But I’m afraid I have to go now.’
‘Yeah,’ she said, ‘I think you do.’
Turns out public transportation takes long. At least longer than miraculously altered public transportation, and much, much longer than a demonic Bentley. Aziraphale sighed, resting his head against the cold window. The pure, sharp energy he had gotten from the self-revelation was slowly decaying. He was still excited, but it was already dark outside and the last houses of Tadfield were still visible through the bus rear window. They could wait, he decided. After all, what difference could one day make after six thousand years?
After a while, the bus stopped in front of his bookshop, which, okay, might not have been part of the original route, but he was tired. Still, the driver would find a dog identical to his childhood one waiting for him at home. Besides, the angel reminded himself, he didn’t have anyone to respond to now. He was free. He let the word weigh on his mouth. Free. After all this time. It was a scary, beautiful concept.
It was late, and all the lights were off, as expected. That’s why Aziraphale jumped at the sight of something -or rather, someone- occupying his sofa.
Crowley was lying on the tiny sofa, folded into what seemed a deeply uncomfortable mess of limbs. Aziraphale couldn’t help a smile to form back on his face when he saw him. What the demon was doing still there he didn’t know, but it was a certainly endearing view.
Aziraphale took two slow steps towards his friend, trying to be quiet, and stopped in front of him to get a better look. Crowley didn’t seem comfortable, and he was frowning. As if to confirm that, he tossed in his sleep. Aziraphale doubted a moment before gently stroking his arm to wake him up.
‘Crowley, wake up.’ He said softly.
Crowley opened his eyes and blinked slowly.
‘What are you doing here, dear? It’s very late.’
‘I was…uh-I was checking on your books.’ He sat up and reached for his glasses on the table, but Aziraphale stopped him with his hand and sat by his side on the little sofa.
‘Oh thank you, were they well behaved?’ He asked with a grin.
‘Okay, I was waiting for you. I thought maybe you would like to have dinner after you arrived. Didn’t expect you to take this long.’
‘I’m terribly sorry, my dear. I was talking to Anathema about my… stomach ache.’
Crowley gave him a side-eyed look and opened his mouth.
‘But tell me, why didn’t you enlarge the sofa? You barely fit in it.’ Aziraphale went on before he could ask anything.
‘It’s your sofa. And I like it like this too, you know.’ They both looked at the rusty old leather cushions, hard and flattened. It was the same sofa in which they had planned their strategy to save the world. In which they had drunk and laughed and loved. Now that Aziraphale could see it, it was everywhere from the old sofa to the books, filling the space around and between them. Love. As eternal and omnipresent as any deity of heaven or hell. And it had been there all along.
Oh, what a fool he had been to miss it.
‘I think I should get going.’ said Crowley. He picked his glasses and put them on before walking to the door.
‘Don’t go.’ Aziraphale stood up to see him freeze, not even halfway through the room.
‘Why?’ he asked, quiet and, if Aziraphale wasn’t reading it wrong, somewhat hopeful.
‘Because it wasn’t hunger, what I felt. It had never been.’ he said, chuckling a bit to himself.
‘Oh Go-Sat-Hell, are you okay?’
‘I am perfectly fine.’ He smiled and stepped towards Crowley. ‘It’s just…well’ His gaze fell to the floor and then went back up at Crowley. ‘I am, as humans say, in love. I’ve been for a while now.’
Crowley didn’t say anything. His shoulders dropped and he took his glasses off, slowly. His yellow snake eyes were confused and…pained?
‘What do you mean who?’
‘Who’ Crowley said, louder than Aziraphale expected, and probably even than Crowley himself expected, because he followed in a much lower tone, one that the angel could barely hear ‘are you in love with?’
Aziraphale smiled widely. So it was that.
‘With you, dear.’ He giggled. ‘Who else would I be in love with?’
Crowley’s expression went from one of sheer confusion to a happier one. A grin was growing on him as the information kicked in.
It was too adorable for Aziraphale’s heart.
‘But you said I go too fast.’ Crowley whispered.
‘You said I go too fast for you. 60 years ago. In my car.’
‘Oh. I did, didn’t I?’ Aziraphale remembered that day. He had been so afraid of what Crowley could do with the holy water, so scared to lose him. ‘I did say so, yes.’
‘And what?’ He asked, even though he knew what Crowley had meant.
‘Do you still believe that?’ the demon asked softly, snake pupils dilating with anticipation.
‘No.’ he said simply, and knew it was true. He wasn’t afraid anymore. ‘I don’t.’
‘Good.’ Said Crowley, still smiling ‘Because I might want to kiss you now if that’s okay.’
‘It’s more than okay, dearest.’
And there, just some seconds before the inevitable and definitive collision of the forces of Heaven and Hell, was the fluttery stomach again. Aziraphale smiled and welcomed the sensation with a newfound tenderness for it. If it was a part of that, if it was what Crowley was making him feel, then he didn’t want it any other way.
The angel’s eyes were lost deep into Crowley’s golden gaze. The only way to describe the way the demon looked back at him was love. Love, as pure and true as any being on haven or earth could manage to produce. He was not supposed to. They were not supposed to. And yet there they were, loving each other despite everything, loving each other more than anything else. Aziraphale realised it had always been like this. It had to be. It was, as you say, ineffable.
He took a step forward as Crowley did the same and they found each other once again, 6000 years and one Not-Apocalypse later. Aziraphale gently put his hands on Crowley’s cheeks, but let him be the one who finally closed the distance.
Aziraphale felt the feeling in his belly spread all over his body and dissolve into a completely different thing. It was a warm and bright and safe thing. Was that how kissing a demon felt like? Aziraphale had the feeling that it wasn’t. That it was only what kissing this particular demon felt like. I wish I had done this sooner, he thought.
And then Crowley slightly parted his lips and suddenly his hands were on the back of Aziraphale’s neck and the angel thought of nothing at all. Nothing except for the slow and steady movements of their mouths, the electricity charging the air and the intoxicating smell of Crowley, closer to him than he could ever have imagined.
Celestial beings don’t experience the need to breathe, but for the first time Aziraphale felt like he would drown if he didn’t stop to catch his breath. He pulled back, slowly enough to feel the beginning of Crowley’s smile forming against his own.
‘Well…’ Started Aziraphale but stopped himself before following. There were a million questions that weren’t relevant in that moment. They had a lot to talk about, yes, but also a whole eternity to do it. There was only one question that mattered right then.
‘…will you stay the night, Crowley?’
‘Of course I will, angel. Of course I will.’