Crowley should have known something was going on. Aziraphale did a double take when they ran into each other at the market, and kept shooting him odd looks as they walked and, later, ate. Crowley thought nothing of it. Aziraphale usually seemed nervous, and he assumed this was just another symptom of that. Perhaps he was just surprised to see Crowley, or was suspicious about some recent event he thought the demon might be responsible for. Naturally, Aziraphale waited a matter of hours, until they were both tipsy from wine, to bring it up. “So,” he said conversationally, “Tell me about this person you’re in love with.”
Crowley, who had unfortunately chosen that moment to take a sip of wine, sprayed it all over the table. Some of it went up his nose, and he coughed to get it out of his lungs. “What the buggering heaven,” he said when he finally stopped coughing, “gave you the idea—”
“Oh, come now, there’s no need to be embarrassed.” Aziraphale’s self-satisfied smirk that suggested the opposite. The droplets of wine had miraculously dodged his pristine white toga, because of course they had. “You must have known you wouldn’t be able to hide it from an angel.”
“My dear, you are quite full up of love,” said Aziraphale, waving at him as if he were talking about an obvious, brightly-colored garment and not an invisible emotion. “I can see it plain as day. Can we move on to the interesting part of the conversation?”
“I’m not,” Crowley sputtered. “I—I don’t know what you mean, I didn’t even know our kind could fall in love—”
Aziraphale shrugged. “Well, you do care for this person quite a lot.”
“It’s not a difference of—of magnitude, angel. I’m not even sure what it means, ‘in love.’ And I’m not.”
Aziraphale rolled his eyes. “Fine, then. You love someone very much. Is that better?”
“No!” Crowley’s mind raced. What could the angel be picking up on? There wasn’t anyone he’d really even consider a friend, except—
He stared at Aziraphale, the heat rising in his face. The angel’s amused smile turned into a look of surprise. “Oh, goodness—Did you not know?”
To avoid replying, Crowley hurriedly filled his mouth with wine. He eventually ran out, set down his cup, and muttered something derogatory.
“I was only curious,” said Aziraphale.
“Nosy, more like.”
“It’s just that I didn’t even think demons could love.”
It was news to Crowley as well. He groaned and put his head down on the table.
“It’s nothing to be ashamed of,” said Aziraphale. “Love is a beautiful thing. I’m actually very glad you get to experience it.”
“Whoopee,” Crowley said flatly into the table.
“So who is it?” Aziraphale asked. “Do you know?”
“Really, you don’t have a single idea?” Aziraphale sounded disappointed. “I wonder what sort of person a demon would love. I’d imagine it would be someone quite cunning and suave like yourself.”
“I don’t—You think I’m suave?” Crowley raised his head a little.
“Well, you clearly put a lot of effort into giving off that impression,” said Aziraphale, which made Crowley scowl. “Do you know anyone like that? Anyone you’re close to?”
Crowley looked over the prim, fussy angel, who nobody in all of creation would ever describe as suave. “No,” he said. “Look, you sensed wrong. There’s no one in my life. I’m leaving.”
“No one?” Aziraphale frowned. “That sounds quite sad, Crowley.”
“I’m a demon.”
“At least, it would,” Aziraphale called, just as he reached the door, “if I believed it for a second.”
Crowley glared at him and tried to think of a comeback, but all he could come up with was “Mneh.”
It was ridiculous, he told himself as he stalked away. He liked Aziraphale a normal amount, that was all. It was nice to talk to someone about work besides his coworkers, who he couldn’t really tell anything. He and Aziraphale just got along. But a few glasses of wine and a decent conversation wasn’t love. Not even when he went out of his way to intentionally seek out said conversation. Or when he kept the angel out of his reports, in case his bosses might want to use Crowley to tempt him to fall or something. Or that time he had misdirected Hastur and Ligur to keep them away from the part of town where Aziraphale was staying, even though he ended up delaying his assignment and got an earful from Beelzebub about it later. That was all just normal, acquaintance stuff.
He came to a bridge, stopped, and leaned against the railing. Okay, maybe he did love Aziraphale just a tiny bit. Barely. A smidge.
It wasn’t his fault, though. Like he said, Aziraphale gave him the only decent conversation he ever had with another celestial being, and he actually treated Crowley like he was more than just a pawn to be yelled at when things didn’t go as planned. The humans talked to him like a person, sure, but only when they didn’t know he was a demon. Aziraphale just knew him better than a lot of people, which was partially Crowley’s fault for opening up a little bit around him. Actually, it wasn’t his fault at all, it was Aziraphale’s for being so easy to open up to. And, damn it all, Crowley had never really gotten over the thing with the flaming sword.
Crowley looked into the water and wondered what he should do, if anything. He wasn’t supposed to be friends with an angel, either, and that hadn’t bothered him much. This couldn’t be that different, right? I mean, he hadn’t even noticed it himself.
But Aziraphale had.
He hissed out a curse. He didn’t fancy the idea of admitting the truth to Aziraphale, particularly after the angel had made such a big deal out of it. There was no telling how he would react, and the last thing Crowley wanted to do was scare him off and lose his only friend. Well, Aziraphale already thought it was someone else, right? Maybe Crowley could keep that ruse up. Just until he could manage to dial it back a little.
They ran into each other again some twenty-odd years later. Crowley had been walking past a lakefront on his way to sow discord between a few of shepherds when he spotted Aziraphale down by the docks, talking with some of the fishermen. He smiled a little to himself and went down to say hello.
Aziraphale turned when he heard his name, and then his eyes widened and he did that same double take as he had last time. “Oh, my. Still?” he said, before even a hello.
Crowley had managed to almost forget that humiliating conversation, but now it all came back and he had an uncomfortable feeling he knew where this was going. He tried to change the subject. “You, uh, hear about this new Otho guy? Think he’ll last any longer than the last emperor?”
As he had expected, Aziraphale didn’t take the bait. “I’d be almost impressed if he didn’t. But Crowley, I have to ask—Is it still the same person?”
“Don’t know what you mean,” Crowley lied.
“I mean the person you lo—”
He cleared his throat loudly so he wouldn't have to hear that word.
Aziraphale shot him an irritated glance, looked around, and tugged at Crowley’s elbow to signal him to walk with Aziraphale back to the other end of the dock. “You haven’t answered the question.”
Under his sunglasses, Crowley rubbed his eyes. He had hoped that it would have been long enough for the thing Aziraphale was sensing to wear off, but apparently it didn’t work like that. It didn’t look like he’d be able to distract the stubborn angel and avoid the question, either. “Fine. Same person, alright?”
“Oh.” Aziraphale gave one of those sappy smiles that made his eyes twinkle. “That’s lovely.”
Crowley made a sound that did not resemble any word in any language, and then said, “Not.”
“It’s very sweet,” said Aziraphale. “Do they know?”
Crowley stared at him. He really wasn’t going to drop this, was he? “No.”
“Then you should tell them,” said Aziraphale, nudging him. “What are you waiting for?”
“Oh.” Crowley’s stomach compressed into a little ball. “I. Um. I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
To begin with, Aziraphale was an angel, and Crowley was a demon, and that wasn’t how it was supposed to work. He shook his head and mumbled, “Wouldn’t go over well.”
“You never know how much time you could have with them,” Aziraphale pointed out. “Better seize the day while it’s here.”
Crowley would have quite a lot of time with him, actually, seeing as they were both immortal, though that time might be cut short if he said something rash and drive him away. Aziraphale was not helping his case here. “Don’t tell me what to do, angel.”
“Angels are beings of love, you know. I think I’d know more about these matters than you.”
“Oh yeah? How many people have you…megh…cared a lot about?” Crowley asked. “I’ll need a list of names, in chronological order, with dates and accompanying notes. Make a table. I’m talking multiple columns.”
“Oh, honestly, Crowley—”
“Then stop bloody asking me about it!” he burst out.
Aziraphale rolled his eyes, but finally let the matter drop. “Actually,” he said after a few seconds, “I don’t know if I have ever loved anyone.”
Crowley glanced at him, surprised. “Thought angels were supposed to love everyone.”
“The way that you do, I mean,” he clarified. “Though I’m not entirely sure what way that is.”
Crowley wasn’t sure either. He had seen how humans acted when they were “in love,” and it wasn’t really like that. He didn’t have any interest in the physical activities that humans found so captivating, nor did he feel compelled to write volumes of terrible poetry about Aziraphale’s eyes (not that there was anything wrong with his eyes. They were fine. Actually, they were nice—that wasn’t the point). So, probably not the sort of love the humans wrote ballads about. But he didn’t know if he could call it simple friendship, either, when he couldn’t imagine his life without Aziraphale, even though they only ran into each other once every few decades or centuries.
“What does it feel like?” Aziraphale asked, almost awed.
They had reached the end of the dock and started walking along the edge of the lake. Crowley looked down at the grass at his feet and shrugged. “I just like being around him, is all. Seeing him makes my day a little bit better. I like it when he’s happy.”
He couldn’t think of anything else to say, and made the mistake of looking up. Aziraphale was giving him that soft smile again. “Stop that,” he snapped. “Don’t look at me like that.”
Aziraphale’s smile widened. “I never knew you were such a romantic.”
“Crowley, you’ve loved the same person for twenty years.”
“So? Lots of people do that. They built a whole social unit around it.”
“Not as many as you’d think,” said Aziraphale. “I’m serious, Crowley, what you have is not commonplace. You shouldn’t let it pass you by.”
“I’m not bloody telling him,” said Crowley. “It’s not like that, Aziraphale. I’m not, y’know, expecting anything.”
“Tell him that, then,” said Aziraphale stubbornly. “People like to know when they’re loved.”
Crowley glanced at him sidelong behind his glasses. That might be true, but Aziraphale was an angel. He didn’t need anyone to tell him he was loved. It was Crowley who’d had that ripped away from him when he Fell. “If I say I’ll think about it, will you drop the matter?”
Aziraphale’s brow furrowed in annoyance. “I know that just means you won’t. But fine.”
Finally. Crowley looked out over the lake and appreciated the sound of not being interrogated about his personal life. He needed to volunteer a new topic of conversation soon, though, or Aziraphale was going to come up with some other angle of attack. “What were you up to with those fishermen? Settling disputes, spreading peace and harmony?”
“No, I was, ah…trying to negotiate a price, actually.”
Crowley’s eyebrows shot up. “What?”
Aziraphale only looked a little bit embarrassed. “Well, the trout are really superb this time of year, and the surest way to get a fresh catch is to go to the source,” he explained.
Crowley burst out laughing. He should have expected something like that.
“I wouldn’t expect you to understand,” Azirpahale said with a huff. “You couldn’t even appreciate first-class oysters. Some of us have a more sophisticated palate than a…”
“Than a what?” Crowley prompted. “No, really. What’s this scathing insult you’re working on? I want to hear it.”
Aziraphale clucked his tongue and shook his head. “Demons, he muttered.
“You got me there.”
“What about you?” Aziraphale asked. “Where were you headed?”
“You know me,” said Crowley. “Off to spread wickedness throughout the land.”
The angel gave him a disapproving look. “You do realize that, now that you’ve told me, I am duty-bound to stop you?”
“Sure,” said Crowley. “But then you wouldn’t get your fresh fish, would you?”
Aziraphale blinked. He glanced back at the docks, then at Crowley, looking torn. “You’re not planning on hurting anyone, are you?”
“Nah,” said Crowley. “Just going to piss them off a little. Enjoy the fish.”
“I will, thank you,” he said happily. “Good day, then, Crowley. Give my best to your beloved!”
Crowley made an unusual sound and tried to ignore the warmth in his face. “Don’t call him that.”
“Your sweetheart, then? Your dearest love?”
“Goodbye, Aziraphale.” He walked away, shaking his head. The angel could be absolutely insufferable. Why did Crowley even like him?
He found himself wishing, several minutes later, that he had stayed and talked with him a little longer. Well, it was Aziraphale’s own fault for running him off this time. He’d known exactly what he was doing. He always liked to get on Crowley’s nerves, and knew exactly how to do it.
Maybe Crowley would find him later. He couldn’t be staying too far away.
It was nearly a century until the next time they saw each other. Aziraphale didn’t bring up Crowley’s “beloved” immediately, so he assumed the feeling had faded, and relaxed. He should have known the angel was only waiting for the right moment to pounce.
“By the way,” the angel said, completely at random, when they had exhausted the current topic of conversation (which had been mosquitos, and why. Just, why). “I’m glad to see you’ve found someone new.”
It took a moment for Crowley to realize what he meant. “You’re not still on about this, are you?”
“I’m not going to pry,” Aziraphale said, holding up his hands. “You’ve made it quite clear you do not wish to discuss your personal life. I just wanted to say I’m happy for you.”
Oh. Well. If that was all.
“I had worried a little, I must confess,” Aziraphale said. “Humans have such short lives. But you seem to have moved on.”
“Yep,” said Crowley, through his teeth. Definitely moved on. Not stuck on the same angel for a century, and possibly more. “Never been better.”
Aziraphale smiled. “That’s wonderful. And have you told this new one how you feel?”
“Thought you weren’t going to pry.”
“That’s a no, I take it,” said Aziraphale with a frown. “You know, it’s fine to love someone from afar, but it’s a much better thing when shared.”
“Oh! Speaking from experience, are you?”
“Well, er.” He glanced away. “From what I’ve seen other people experience.”
“That’s what I thought. Mind your own business.” He aggressively changed the subject until Aziraphale finally gave up.
“You really do fall in love easily, don’t you?”
Years of practice were the only thing that kept Crowley from inhaling his ale. Why did the blasted angel always have to wait until the moment when he least suspected it— “Stop calling it that,” he hissed.
“Very well,” said Aziraphale, with a smirk. “Would you prefer, ‘saunter vaguely downwards’?”
“You know that’s not what I mean.” Crowley hoped the dim light in the tavern hid his blush. “What the heaven are you on about this time?”
Aziraphale gestured at him as if it was obvious. “Well, you’re always full of love every time I see you. I assume that means there’s not much time between…er…”
“You think I just go hopping from person to person, is that it?”
Aziraphale’s eyes widened. “Oh, no, Crowley,” he backpedaled. “I don’t mean to—to cheapen it, of course. I can tell you always care for the person a great deal. In fact, I find it admirable that you have so much love to give.”
Crowley looked at him for a moment, trying to decide whether or not to address that last part and deciding to simply pretend he hadn’t heard it. “But you do think I go hopping from person to person.”
Aziraphale looked like he didn’t know how to answer. “I—yes? It can’t have been the same person all this time. Their lifespans aren’t that long, unless…” His eyes widened. “Oh, of course, I should have realized—It’s another demon, isn’t it?”
“Have you met other demons? I like to think I have some taste,” Crowley said, his voice strangely high. Aziraphale was coming uncomfortably close to guessing the truth. Actually, maybe he should have pretended it was another demon. He could have invented a specific demon with an elaborate backstory, just to keep his cover. The demon’s name was “Not Aziraphale” and he could be a real pain in the arse.
“Perhaps it could be a thing, and not a person,” Aziraphale mused. “Though those feelings are rarely so strong. Do you know, Crowley, I actually sense it more and more every time I see you?”
“Nghk.” Crowley hid behind his mug.
Aziraphale smiled a little smugly. “No, I think you really are just a terrible romantic.”
“You’re lucky I don’t smite you,” Crowley snapped. “Or whatever my side’s equivalent of smiting is. Not sure if there’s a word for it.”
“Empty threats.” Aziraphale took another drink. Crowley braced himself for the next question. “Have you told this one, then?”
The answer was always no, and then Aziraphale would give him the usual lecture. Crowley was getting tired of that. “Yeah,” he tried.
Aziraphale’s eyebrows shot up. “Really? That’s wonderful!” He beamed. “How did it go?”
“Stellar,” said Crowley. “We’re planning to settle down in a nice cottage in the hills. The wedding’s in May. I’ll send you an invitation.”
Aziraphale blinked, and then his face fell. “You still haven’t told them, have you?”
“I’m a demon, Aziraphale,” said Crowley, gesturing at himself pointedly. “That won’t end well. Stop asking.”
Aziraphale looked at him in disapproval, but he finally did stop with that particular question.
Aziraphale flinched as another knight was unseated from his horse and crashed to the ground. “That looked like it hurt,” he muttered. “Crowley, why did you invite me here?”
Crowley had thought, with all the excitement leading up to the tournament, that it would be more fun than this. It had looked festive enough at the beginning, with all the bright banners and the excited buzz of the crowd, but it got old watching faceless knights knock each other onto the ground over and over again. He’d mostly planned the rendezvous so he could drop a few more hints about the Arrangement, and maybe he also wanted to enjoy Aziraphale’s company a little, and thought the angel might enjoy himself more with some other distraction there besides Crowley. Judging from the way Aziraphale cringed at the end of each match, he had made a mistake. “Thought it’d be a good place to blend in.”
“Are you expecting someone to come looking for us?”
“Well, y’know. Angel, demon. Never hurts to be careful.”
Aziraphale looked away thoughtfully for a moment. “I suppose you’re right.”
Perfect, now he had reminded Aziraphale why he shouldn’t be around Crowley. Why did he have to say anything? Between this, and the dreaded Arrangement he was currently trying to hammer into a more agreeable shape, he’d probably end up running the angel off for good.
Aziraphale winced as another knight fell off his horse in a cloud of dust. “I hope they aren’t hurting themselves too badly.”
“You could always just…” Crowley wiggled his fingers toward the jousters to mime blessing them.
“You can use miracles, too, you know,” Aziraphale pointed out. “And you don’t seem to be enjoying watching this either.”
“Yeah, uh.” Crowley leaned forward, crossing is arms over the railing in front of him. “Hell’s been keeping a close eye on my miracle receipts lately. Can’t be seen to be doing anything too good for a bit.”
“Is that why you asked me to come?” Aziraphale asked, amused. “So you can bum a few blessings off your angel contact?”
Crowley glanced at him. He was trying to suggest something, but Crowley couldn’t tell what, which made him uneasy.
“I think I understand,” said Aziraphale. “Where are they, then?”
“Your beloved. I assume they’re here?”
Of course that was his conclusion. Crowley looked fixedly ahead at the jousters and almost denied it, but then realized that Aziraphale had handed him a much better explanation for why he’d needled the angel into coming here with him. “…Yeah. Yep.”
“You should have just said so,” said Aziraphale. “I’d be delighted to bless them for you. Just point them out, if you please. I don’t suppose you’d introduce me after the tournament?”
“Nice try, angel.”
Aziraphale pouted. “Are you never going to let me meet any of them?”
“Nope. Never.” Crowley waved at the canopy over their heads. “Just, I dunno, bless the whole stadium if you want. Or not at all.”
“Seems like rather more work for me than is necessary,” Aziraphale muttered.
“You love blessing humans. You said your boss told you to dial it back once, and it’s literally most of your job description.”
“I would like to keep them from getting hurt,” he agreed, watching another knight topple into the dirt. “But why are you being so secretive?”
“Well.” Crowley looked around, settled on a story that was not quite a lie, and lowered his voice. “Could be a bit of a scandal, actually, if word got out. People could get hurt.”
The angel’s eyes widened and he nodded. “I wouldn’t breathe of word of it.”
“Well, y’know, plausible deniability,” said Crowley. “The fewer people know, the better.”
Aziraphale nodded. “I understand. I wouldn’t want to endanger them, of course.” He waved his hand, and the next knight who was unseated landed, impossibly, on his feet. “Someday, though, I would like a full account of this forbidden romance.”
Crowley was certain that he turned the exact shade of crimson as the banner on the railing in front of him. “Aziraphale.”
The angel snickered. Crowley grumbled something about respect for privacy and turned back to watch the next match. He doubted Aziraphale would be so amused if he knew what he was laughing about.
They started seeing quite a bit more of each other once Crowley finally wore the angel down and got him to agree to an amended version of the Arrangement. Unfortunately, they still both had to do work, but Crowley at least had a little more free time when they managed to consolidate their trips into one. He commented, once, on how nice it was to have a little more time in the quaint little town where he had been staying, to try to get Aziraphale to admit to the benefits of the Arrangement. Instead, the angel winked at him and said, “Yes, I’m sure you appreciate more time at home.” Crowley hadn’t been sure what exactly he meant by that, but he had a vague idea of what it had to do with, and sputtered and scowled at him anyway.
Aziraphale finally seemed to have gotten the memo that Crowley didn’t want to talk about the person he loved, and stopped asking him for details. That wasn’t to say he stopped mentioning it. “How have you been, Crowley? And how is your beloved?” became his customary greeting, though most of the time Crowley managed to cut him off with “They’re fine, thanks,” before he finished the last word. He also didn’t stop teasing Crowley about it whenever he saw an opening. “Crowley, look,” he said once during a production of As You Like it, as an infatuated Frederick papered the forest with love poems. “It’s you.”
Crowley didn’t even know what to say, he just stared blankly at Aziraphale for most of the rest of the play. When it ended, and Aziraphale asked him what he thought about it, he asked, “What did I ever do, in all the time we’ve known each other, to make you think I write poems like that?”
It took a moment for Aziraphale to understand what he was referring to. “Well, maybe you should,” he said. “You certainly don’t lack for material.”
Crowley rubbed his eyes and changed the subject.
“…I got peckish,” Aziraphale admitted sheepishly.
Somehow, Crowley was not even a little bit surprised. “Peckish?”
“Well, if you must know, it was the crepes.”
Every cell of Crowley’s brain screamed Why do I even like you. This idiot. This absolute buffoon. Crowley hoped he’d never change.
“What’s it actually mean,” Crowley asked once, slouched over the sofa in the back of the angel’s new bookshop. “‘In love.’ Versus, y’know. Just ‘love.’”
Aziraphale opened his mouth to answer, then closed it, his brow furrowing. “You know, I’m not sure,” he admitted. “The former is a subset of the latter, of course, but I couldn’t say where the lines are. You’d probably have a better idea of that than I would.”
“Hmf,” Crowley grunted. “I haven’t got a good idea of much of anything.”
“Really? But you have so much experience with it.”
Crowley laughed. Experience with what? Getting attached to an angel against his better judgement? Cooking up increasingly transparent excuses to spend time with him? Going all the way to bloody France to keep him out of trouble because the idiot listened to his stomach over his sense?
“What’s so funny?”
“You.” Crowley was too drunk to come up with a better explanation.
Aziraphale looked confused for a moment, then gave a huff of exasperation. “Is this about the crepes again?”
“S’always about the crepes.”
He huffed indignantly. “It’s been over thirty years.”
“You have to realize how absurd you are.”
“Well, I’m not the one who…” Aziraphale waved at him, ran out of words, and gave up.
“What’s wrong?” Crowley asked. “Can’t think of anything more embarrassing than the crepes?”
Aziraphale turned pink. “Well, they were very good crepes, once I got around to them. Let’s go back to, um…What were we talking about before?”
Some slightly more sober part of Crowley’s brain recognized that he didn’t want to go back to what they had been talking about before. “Austen.” He snapped his fingers, remembering an earlier part of the conversation. “You were telling me ‘bout that Austen book.”
He lit up, like he always did when he was talking about a new book. “Oh! That’s right—You really must read it, Crowley. She’s such a promising writer…”
Crowley let his head drop back onto the back of the sofa and smiled in a way that he only ever let himself do when drunk. This was all he needed, really. It was a pity they couldn’t do this more often. Every day, for instance.
“I have lots of people to fraternize with, angel.” He didn’t. Aziraphale was it. He was all Crowley had.
Aziraphale cast an indignant glance at Crowley, no doubt seeing the same thing in his heart that he had for nearly two millennia and misinterpreting it like he always had. “Well, of course you do.”
Crowley woke to a knock on the door and a deep-seated feeling that something was wrong. “Aziraphale.” He jumped out of bed and changed into his usual clothes with a snap. The last time he had felt this way, he’d barely managed to keep his angel from getting decapitated. It wasn’t as strong this time, but if that idiot had managed to get himself into trouble again—
He opened the door to find Aziraphale on his doorstep, but not the Aziraphale that Crowley remembered. His face lacked its usual color, and there was something off about his eyes. “Crowley,” he said, with a flickering attempt at a smile. His voice had an oddly thin quality to it, like a sheet of paper-thin glass that might shatter at any moment. “I—I’ve brought a bottle of scotch,” he said, holding it up. “I was in the neighborhood, and I thought…” He trailed off, and his face fell a little. “It’s late, isn’t it? I’m sorry, I don’t mean to intrude—”
“Come in,” Crowley interrupted, stepping aside. “Sit down.” He watched Aziraphale carefully as the angel came inside. Had he been hurt? Taken ill? What had happened?
Aziraphale sat down on the stylish-but-uncomfortable black sofa. “I-I brought scotch,” he said again.
“Thanks.” Crowley took the bottle from him and set it aside, feeling that now might not be the time for it. He got Aziraphale a glass of water instead. The angel seemed to need something to hold onto.
Aziraphale took the glass and didn’t drink from it. “I was…I was in the neighborhood,” he explained.
“So you’ve said.” There weren’t any other seating options in the room, so Crowley sat down on the opposite end of the sofa and stifled the urge to ask what was wrong. Aziraphale would tell him if and when he wanted to.
“It’s been a while,” Aziraphale said to the water glass. “I thought perhaps I’d drop in and see how…How are you, Crowley? And how is your…”
He trailed off and shut his eyes. His hands shook. Crowley took the glass of water and set it on the table before he spilled it.
“How do you do it?” Aziraphale asked.
“How do you…You care for them so much, and so deeply. How do you do it, when you know that they’ll…” His voice started to fall apart. “…That you’ll outlive them, and—”
“Oh, angel.” Crowley didn’t think, he just moved over and pulled Aziraphale towards him. It must have been a mark of what bad shape the angel was in that he didn’t protest or push away, he just sat there and cried into Crowley’s shirt. Crowley wrapped his arms around him, his heart breaking. He didn’t know if this was helping or not, but there was nothing he could say.
It was a long time, perhaps hours, before either of them spoke. “You must think me terribly weak,” said Aziraphale.
“No,” said Crowley softly. “Not at all.”
“You love so much,” said Aziraphale. “I didn’t know…I didn’t know how it would feel to lose him, I didn’t think…And you must have been through it so many times…”
“You’re not weak for hurting, Aziraphale.”
“I don’t know if I could go through this again. You make it look so easy, but I’m not like you, Crowley. Six thousand years and I’ve never gotten close to anyone like that, except—”
He broke off very suddenly. Crowley didn’t say anything, wondering how that sentence had been going to end, and if he was ever going to find out. Slowly, Aziraphale pulled away from him. “Well,” he said, with a wet, halfhearted smile. “Perhaps I ought to go.”
Crowley watched him get up, feeling torn. He didn’t think the angel should be alone right now. He also didn’t want to make him stay. “Will you be alright?”
“I suppose I must.” He straightened his waistcoat with a deep, shaky breath. “You always manage, don’t you? I suppose, time, is…that’s what I’ll need.”
Crowley got to his feet, picked up the scotch, and followed Aziraphale to the door.
“Oh,” he said, as Crowley tried to hand him the bottle. “No, keep it, Crowley. I’m not going to drink it alone.”
Crowley didn’t want to, either, and he had no one else to drink it with. “But—”
“A bottle like that should be shared,” said Aziraphale, with another flickery smile. “Drink it with your beloved. I hope they’re keeping well?”
Crowley swallowed the lump in his throat and nodded. “Take care of yourself, angel.”
“You as well, my dear.” He tried to smile one last time before he left. Crowley leaned against the wall and looked at the door after he had shut it, holding a bottle of scotch that he doubted he was ever going to open.
Neither of them ever mentioned that night again.
There was a strange, distant look in Aziraphale’s eyes. He held the bag of books to his chest and stared off into the rubble, seemingly unaware of where he was.
“Aziraphale?” Crowley snapped his fingers. “You there?”
“Ah—” The angel shook himself. “What did you say?”
“D’you want a lift home? I have a car now,” he added, with a touch of pride. “You should see it.”
“Oh—Yes—Yes, that would—Thank you.”
Crowley watched him for a moment with a furrowed brow. “Everything alright?”
“Yes, quite. Tickety-boo.” Aziraphale picked his way across the rubble. He didn’t look alright. He looked a bit like something had just clocked him in the head, even though Crowley had personally seen to it that nothing had. “How have you been, these past few years?”
“Been fine,” said Crowley, opening the passenger-side door. “Not getting mixed-up in espionage like some of us I could mention, so I’ve got that going for me. Where should I take you? Same bookshop?”
“Yes, thank you.”
Crowley didn’t realize until much later that Aziraphale had not asked about his beloved for the first time in almost two thousand years.
He didn’t ask the next time they met, either, or the next time after that. Crowley didn’t know what it might mean. He didn’t ask. Aziraphale kept not mentioning it.
Crowley got up the courage to bring the bottle of scotch to the bookshop sometime in the fifties, and they drank it while Crowley tried to educate Aziraphale about this new genre of music that was so popular, and Aziraphale stubbornly refused to give it a chance. “I don’t understand why they need to make so much of it. It’s all the same formula.”
“Oh, like Mozart never used a formula,” Crowley countered. “You have to admit, it’s got a catchy beat.”
“Catchy beats are for dancing, and you know I don’t dance.” He sipped from his scotch and looked appreciatively into the glass. “This is very good, Crowley. Where did you get it?”
Something rippled through Crowley at the realization that Aziraphale didn’t recognize the bottle. Disappointment? Relief? He wasn’t sure. “Old friend gave it to me a while back.”
“They chose very well,” said Aziraphale. “Anyway, the new style of dancing is a whole other issue…”
Crowley looked down at the bottle on the table and wondered why he had thought this was a good idea.
“Did you go to Alpha Centuri?”
“Nahh. Stuff happened.” It took a lot of effort for Crowley to keep himself from just collapsing into a puddle of alcohol and emotion. So much had happened, he was so overwhelmed, and Aziraphale was here, somehow miraculously he was still here, and Crowley didn’t want to cry in front of him but he couldn’t help himself anymore. “I lost my best friend.”
Aziraphale looked at him for a moment. He had to know by now who Crowley meant. Crowley wasn’t trying to hide it anymore, in fact he hadn’t been trying to hide it for quite some time. Surely the angel had realized.
“I’m so sorry to hear it.”
Crowley put the Bentley in park, looked up at the bookshop, and his throat seized up. Flames leapt up in his mind’s eye. Less than a day ago he had seen the shop crumble around him, watched all the books Aziraphale cared so much about turn to ash, and known that, for the first time in a very long time, he really was alone—
“Crowley?” Beside him, Aziraphale laid a hand on his arm.
But he wasn’t alone. Crowley turned to look at him, got a handle on his racing heart, and swallowed. “You go ahead,” he said. “I’ve got to go take care of something. Be right back.”
Aziraphale looked mildly surprised. “Does it have to be right now?”
“Yes,” said Crowley. “I’ll only be a few minutes. You can get a head start cataloguing the wine.”
Aziraphale left, and Crowley pulled away from the curb. People like to know when they’re loved, the angel had told him, so long ago now. He hoped he was right. Crowley had come too close to losing him yesterday. He’d always assumed he would have eternity with Aziraphale, but it could all come crashing down any second, and there were things he didn’t want to leave unsaid anymore.
He rocketed around Soho until he found a florist, dashed inside, and bought a bouquet of roses before he could change his mind. He changed his mind almost as soon as he got back into the car. The flowers weren’t up to his standards at all, and roses were so cliché, although maybe that fit Aziraphale’s conception of him, and maybe he was wrong and this wasn’t the time for it…
When was the time for it? Was there one? He didn’t know, and if he stood around and dithered for too long he was never going to do it.
When he stepped inside the bookshop, what little resolve he had left fled. The paper around the roses crinkled too loudly in his sweaty hands. The flowers were a mistake. Too much, and also somehow not enough. A crutch. A stupid human gesture he had latched onto because he didn’t know what else to do. He should have at least gone with something more original than roses.
“That was very quick,” called Aziraphale’s voice. “Come on back, my dear. I’m afraid you’ll be rather disappointed by the selection Adam’s left us with.” He stepped into view and stopped when he saw the roses. “Oh—Those are lovely. What are they for?”
Crowley tried to swallow, but his throat was too dry. He wished he could burn the roses into nothing right there. “Y-you always used to say,” he started, his voice sounding too weak, “that I should tell him. So…” He trailed off and looked up to gauge his angel’s reaction before he went on.
Aziraphale smiled and gave an encouraging nod. Somehow, that was worse than anything else. Humiliation welling up in his throat, Crowley lowered the flowers and looked away. “How long have you known?”
Aziraphale blinked in surprise, and his smile faded. “I, er, began to suspect in the nineteen-fourties, I suppose. But I didn’t know for certain until yesterday.”
Of course. Yesterday. When Crowley had forgotten all his sense and asked Aziraphale to run away with him, twice, because he couldn’t get the refusal through his useless head the first time. And in the forties, when Crowley had saved his books…That must be why Aziraphale had stopped asking about it.
Aziraphale stood there, not seeming to know what to do with himself. “How, er…how long has it been me?”
Crowley looked fixedly at a point near the floor. “Always.”
He stood there for a moment, unsure if he should just leave, or stay and pretend nothing had happened. He opened his mouth to say that nothing needed to change, that he wasn’t asking for anything, he’d just wanted Aziraphale to know, when tissue paper crinkled and something tugged the bouquet out of his hand. He raised his head to see Aziraphale in front of him. “Thank you,” he said. “For the flowers. And for telling me. But I’m afraid, ah.” He gave another nervous laugh. “I’ve been a bit of a hypocrite in that respect. And you don’t have the benefit of being able to see it like I do.”
Crowley stood very still. Whatever he had expected, it wasn’t this. “Aziraphale?”
Aziraphale reached up, touched the frame of his sunglasses, and paused to make sure Crowley didn’t object before pulling them off. “I should have told you a long time ago, I think,” he said, meeting his eyes with a warm smile, “that you are the very dearest thing in the world to me.”
Crowley’s head felt light, and his heart was swelling so much it would crack his ribcage if it didn’t stop soon. In all this time, he had never even considered that he might be loved in return. Demons were supposed to be unlovable, not even their Mother loved them, and yet here was Aziraphale, looking into his inhuman yellow eyes and telling him this… “You—Really?”
Aziraphale’s face shone, and Crowley wondered how he hadn’t thought to notice it before. “Yes, my dear. My beloved Crowley. I’m sorry for not telling you sooner.”
There might have been tears in Aziraphale’s eyes. There might have been in Crowley’s, as well. Aziraphale switched the sunglasses to the same hand that was holding the flowers and offered the free one to Crowley. “I’m afraid Adam hasn’t left me any wine fit for the occasion, but perhaps we can make do. Shall we, my dear?”
“Y-yeah.” Crowley took his hand, even though it felt a little absurd for the twenty-second walk to the back room, but then Aziraphale didn’t let go of it. He sat down next to Crowley on the sofa, rather than in his usual armchair. Crowley looked at him in surprise.
Aziraphale glanced up, saw his expression, and said, “Well, we are on the same side now.”
Crowley blinked very slowly. “Of what, the room?”
Aziraphale didn’t say anything. He seemed to be suppressing a grin.
Crowley groaned, rolling his head back. “You’re not funny, angel.”
“Really? I seem to recall making you laugh on numerous occasions.”
“Yeah, ‘cause I laugh at you, not your jokes, you ridiculous—”
Aziraphale started to laugh, and his laughter was infectious. Crowley couldn’t help himself. He was so overwhelmed with relief and comfort and love that he couldn’t hold it in. He didn’t want to hold it in. It was all probably written right there on his face, and when Aziraphale looked up at him and his own smile softened with fondness, his suspicions were confirmed.
“You know,” said Aziraphale, “I’m not surprised you went with roses. You always were a hopeless romantic.”
“Ngk—Like you’re one to talk,” said Crowley. “Going all moony-eyed over a mess of a demon like me? Yeesh. Talk about embarrassing.”
“Well, if you want to talk about taste,” said Aziraphale. “I’m sorry to say I’m not terribly impressed with your beloved. I’m sure you could do much better.”
“Hey. That’s my angel you’re talking about.”
Aziraphale beamed. He looked happier than Crowley could ever remember seeing him. “I am,” he said, laying his head down on Crowley’s shoulder. “Yours.”
He was, wasn’t he? It still seemed incredible. Although actually, looking back, it wasn’t that surprising at all. It had always been the two of them. It couldn’t have been any other way. Crowley let go of his hand and stretched his arm around Aziraphale. “Guess you were right,” he told Aziraphale. “I should’ve told him all along.”
Aziraphale snickered. “I told you, my dear. It’s a much better thing when shared.”
“Mhm.” Crowley felt so warm and relaxed and comfortable. His insides were full of light. “It is.”