How long does it take for a demon to fall, he wondered. Is the descent immediate? Six seconds—impact. No, no, too fast. Six minutes? Six hundred minutes? Six hundred years? Six thousand?
Crowley watched Aziraphale from across the table, pale eyelids fluttering closed as the angel’s mouth did the same around a hum of contentment. The fork, gentled to the plate with a soft ting—a soft exhale, a soft wiggle of satisfaction disturbing the still pond of champagne in their flutes.
The sudden swoop in Crowley’s stomach when Aziraphale lifted his gaze, affection warming the smile curling into his cheeks, reaffirmed in Crowley that, no. Descent is not so immediate. Six thousand years in the making, and it seemed he still had a ways to go.
“It’s nice,” Aziraphale commented. Idly, he lifted his champagne for a sip; Crowley watched skin press to rim, watched the slight crinkle of his nose. You prefer wine, Crowley thought—helplessly, hopelessly fond. You hate the bubbles, and yet. And yet.
A long swallow; a long bob of the Adams apple; a long sigh—Aziraphale gestured between the two of them with his glass. “Being like this,” he finished.
Crowley quirked a brow, a question and question mark in its own right. Silence speaks volumes, he knew, and were he to open his mouth at this moment—with this warmth in his stomach, this ache in his chest, this empty cavern between his fingers—he was sure whatever spilled from inside the very hollows of him would put the silence to shame.
I begged you to run away with me and I would have let this world burn without you and I would have burned with this rock, nestled myself in the smoldering remains as you had burned, as your shop had burned, as I thought you had burned.
Let me stay here, I’ll go slow, I’ll stand still; I’ll crawl on my belly beside you. Stay here with me—I have been in a world without you in it, and it is not a world I can bear.
Flush swept across Aziraphale’s skin, the apples of his cheeks—a wave of rose pallor, cresting the bridge of his nose even as he rolled his eyes. “You know what I mean,” he huffed. “Just being here, together. Not having to worry, or look over our shoulders. Just getting to—"
“Enjoy each other,” Crowley murmured, absentmindedly. Absentminded in the sense that he was rather drawn by the way the blush flirted with the edge of a cream collar, darkening at the base of Aziraphale’s throat. Crowley knew this blush well; has known the well-traveled path of that flush for over six thousand years, watched it ebb and flow after a pointed comment or two, after the wine poured into glass upon glass, after tempers raised and righteousness raged. An old friend, a complete stranger.
I know you well, Crowley mused, watching the color deepen, and yet I do not know nearly enough. And yet. And yet.
The silence that fell over the table cut through his awareness, and Crowley realized that Aziraphale had not finished his sentence. Crowley cleared his throat, the taste of his comment coating his tongue, the echo of his own voice lingering in his ears. His gaze flickered behind his glasses, from reddened skin to blue eyes, caught. Too fast, too fast too—
Aziraphale watched him—eyes soft at the corners, mouth soft at the edges, hands soft on the table. “Yes,” Aziraphale said, tone soft around the consonants. “Enjoying each other.”
Crowley breathed, eyeing those hands, his own clenching beneath the cover of the table, clenching around the empty spaces. How is it possible? How is it possible to want so much and to want for nothing at all?
Is this happiness? I’ve never been happier than when I’ve been with you. Did you know that? Through you, through loving you, I’ve learned how to let myself be happy.
And yet. And yet.
Crowley grunted, straightening in his chair so much as his serpentine spine would allow, tugging his already perfectly rumbled blazer into place—give these empty hands something to hold on to—and flagged the waiter down for the check. The heavy weight of Aziraphale’s eyes on the side of his face, the vivacious presence at his side, the warmth radiating off of the angel in waves. A heat that was not so much heavenly, but simply Aziraphale.
I felt warm for the first time, standing with you on that wall in Eden. I knew warmth, and resented that you had so carelessly stolen my ignorance from me.
If there is a snake cold in the garden, and his angel is not around—was he ever warm in the first place?
“Well. What do you say to ‘enjoying’ a bottle of wine in celebration?” Crowley signed the check with a flourish, and turned away from Aziraphale’s gaze, away from the light. “The day is still young, and we have not had nearly enough alcohol after the week we’ve had.”
Was it irony? That he was the demon, and yet there had never been such a temptation as the angel sitting across from him.
Aziraphale beamed. “That sounds splendid, my dear. We could return to your flat?”
Crowley thought of Aziraphale the night before, looking tired and small in ways that were inherently wrong, looking lost the dark entryway. The way something in his expression shifted when he caught sight of the lectern at the end of the hall, something pensive, something transfixed; the way that something had shifted into utter delight as his gaze landed on Crowley’s very own Eden.
The sound of his voice from the other room as Crowley rummaged through the kitchen to put the previously non-existent kettle on, appearing in Crowley’s cupboard because that is where he expected it to be, and where the kettle would be if it knew what was good for it. “Look at you,” Aziraphale had praised, echoing through the ascetic halls. “So beautiful and vibrant, how wonderful you all are.”
“You’ll spoil them, angel,” Crowley had croaked, throat tight as Aziraphale’s shuffling steps padded along the concrete floor behind him. “They’ll get soft.”
Aziraphale hummed; Crowley had resolutely kept his eyes fixed on the tea steeping in front of him. A ghost of heat at his right shoulder—a hand? A forehead, dipping down, too weary to rest? Gone, in an instant, and Aziraphale at his side, peering into the mug.
Wishful thinking, of course. Always wanting more.
“Soft,” Aziraphale had mused, something nearly hesitant in his voice. Crowley kept his gaze fixed on the granite counter tops; Aziraphale’s hand crept into view, gently stilling Crowley’s where it continued to stir the tea into a whirlpool. “I think, my dear, there are worse things to be.”
Crowley now shook his head, thought, soft. Of course. “Best not,” he told Aziraphale, keeping his tone carelessly light. “I know you’re probably gnawing at the bit to get back to the shop and take stock.” He grinned at Aziraphale’s affronted huff. “Probably as much as I was to get back to the Bentley.”
Aziraphale’s stern frown was lessened by the upward twitch of his lips. He stood from his chair, adjusting his waistcoat, fussing with the cuffs of his sleeve. “I don’t think anyone could compete with the level of co-dependency you have with your car,” he sniffed, eyes twinkling beneath his lashes with good humor.
You utter bastard. Crowley smirked at Aziraphale, letting his eyebrows rise over the top of his glasses sardonically. You wonderful, ridiculous, magnificent bastard.
Crowley pushed himself back from his own chair, gesturing Aziraphale in front of him. The Bentley’s keys looped around his finger, a familiar placeholder in his palms. “If anyone could give me a run for my money, it would be you and your bookshop, angel.”
“My bookshop is a staple to the community—"
“When it’s open, you mean?”
“—and is a priceless treasure, the heart and soul of humanity’s history—"
“Careful there, that sounds an awful lot like pride.”
“It’s not pride, it is an expression of admiration for humanity’s imagination,” Aziraphale protested, nodding briefly in thanks as Crowley open the door leading out of the Ritz, following closely behind the angel.
Crowley snorted. “You wouldn’t feel nearly so admiring if it were anyone else’s. It’s pride when it’s your own shop that’s reaping all of the ‘admiration’, and you know it. Better not let your side hear any of that, angel.”
The humor tucked into the corner of Aziraphale’s voice melted away as he said, “Don’t you mean, ‘our side’?” He glanced up at Crowley, steps slowing on the sidewalk. He was close enough that Crowley could feel that radiant heat of him, warming him from shoulder to heel. Crowley inhaled steadily through his mouth.
Our side. Six thousand years in the making, isn’t this what he had always wanted? An even playing field, an acknowledgment, an invitation.
And yet, and yet.
Crowley swallowed. What is the pace here, angel? How slow do you need me to go? How still do you need me to be—where are my lines, what should I say?
How many questions are too many? How many questions before the fall stops?
“Right,” he muttered, and it came out with more breath than he had meant it to. He firmed his tone, nodded once. “Our side, right.”
“Crowley—“A hand in his cold, dark, empty flat, filling empty spaces he hadn’t known existed. A hand on a sun-warmed park bench, a laugh of relief, of joy—you make me happy—and the clench of a fist to hold on to that warmth as long as possible.
A hand on the sidewalk outside of the Ritz, on the very first day of the rest of their lives, slipping in to his and pulling him to a stop. Fingers, linking between his own, keys in locks.
A pale brow, furrowed in concern, peering up at him. Blonde curls shining under the mid-day sun, blue eyes shining with fondness, bright—an Eastern Gate, a garden wall, the absence of cold.
It burns to look at you, Crowley thought. But I can’t stand the freeze. It’s too much, and yet. And yet.
The heart and soul of humanity—can that be found in a book? Can a heart be printed in ink on paper, can a heart bleed onto a page? What can contain a soul?
When does a demon stop falling? Over six thousand years later, and he still can’t find the ground beneath his feet.
Our side. The side of humanity—is this what it means to be human? This cavern of contradictions, this endless, hopeless, helpless mess? Does the human make the heart and soul, or does the heart and soul make the human?
What came first—the demon’s heart, or the demon’s angel?
“Crowley,” Reverence. The inflection of the gentle exhale on the tail end—had he ever heard his name spoken with such care? Crowley’s name, cradled gently between strong, pale hands, glass fit to break at the slightest touch—Crowley’s palms, cradled in shaking, pale hands, yearning to soothe with the slightest touch.
“I—" cracked voice, croaked with wanting in his kitchen—can you love a broken thing? Is it okay that I am soft? Please, let me be soft with you—the fault line of uncertainty. Three inches, two inches, too fast "—Aziraphale, I can’t—"
Don’t let me hit the ground.
Is this what it is to be human? To blindly leap, to reach out, to take the fall never knowing where you might land?
Six thousand years, and this is our side. You, and me, together. I’ve been falling for six thousand years, and I don’t think I’ll stop anytime soon. I have wrapped myself so completely in you, my humanity, my heart, my soul—what else could it be?
What else could be more human than nourishing the bloom of a love in a garden that was never meant to grow?
What came first—the demon’s heart, or the demon’s soul?
A sigh against his lips; the curl of warmth around his back, pressing to his front; radiance, and heat, and heart; fingers clasped in his, a pounding bass against his chest to keep tempo with the whispered prayer into his mouth of “Crowley, Crowley, my love, Crowley.”
I’ll catch you.