How the Bonfires Burn - TicketyBoo_Delaney (2024)

  • Skip header

Actions

  • Chapter by Chapter
  • Comments
  • Download
    • AZW3
    • EPUB
    • MOBI
    • PDF
    • HTML

Work Header

Rating:
  • Mature
Archive Warning:
  • No Archive Warnings Apply
Category:
  • M/M
Fandoms:
  • Good Omens (TV)
Relationships:
  • Aziraphale/Crowley (Good Omens)
Characters:
  • Aziraphale (Good Omens)
  • Crowley (Good Omens)
  • Maggie (Good Omens)
  • Nina (Good Omens)
  • Anathema Device
  • Madame Tracy (Good Omens)
  • Gabriel (Good Omens)
Additional Tags:
  • Alternate Universe - Human
  • Ineffable Husbands (Good Omens)
  • Alternate Universe - Summer Camp
  • Summer Romance
  • Mutual Pining
  • Fluff
  • Fluff and Angst
  • Flirting
  • Fluff and Smut
  • Compulsory Heterosexuality
  • Coming Out
  • Crowley Loves Aziraphale (Good Omens)
  • Aziraphale Loves Crowley (Good Omens)
  • Aziraphale Has a Penis (Good Omens)
  • Crowley Has a Penis (Good Omens)
  • Aziraphale is a Virgin
  • Crowley Loves the Houseplants (Good Omens)
  • Nurse Aziraphale (Good Omens)
  • Gardener Crowley (Good Omens)
  • Childhood Trauma
  • Implied/Referenced Child Abuse
  • Hurt/Comfort
  • Past Drug Use
  • Experienced Crowley (Good Omens)
  • Inexperienced Aziraphale (Good Omens)
  • Eventual Happy Ending
Language:
English
Stats:
Published:
2024-06-08
Updated:
2024-06-29
Words:
35,122
Chapters:
7/11
Comments:
59
Kudos:
54
Bookmarks:
14
Hits:
1,271

How the Bonfires Burn

TicketyBoo_Delaney

Summary:

Still reeling from a difficult few years, Aziraphale takes a position at the idyllic Camp Eden where he meets Crowley, who seems oddly familiar.

Chapter 1: Camp

Notes:

summer camp vibes and accompanying playlist here

AMAZING art by @usedtobeHMC

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

How the Bonfires Burn - TicketyBoo_Delaney (1)

“Order for Aziraphale!”

The barista pushed a mug across the counter that contained a steaming, unearthly purple liquid that was topped with a high peak of whipped cream and dusted with blue and pink glitter. Aziraphale blinked at the ghastly beverage, which was decidedly not the Earl Grey tea he had ordered. It was a simple mistake that nevertheless sent panic sparking through his nerve endings like an electric current.

The barista noticed his hesitation, “Is everything alright, sir?”

Aziraphale started to wring his hands in an attempt to jumpstart whatever part of his mind was responsible for rational thinking, “Um, I just wanted to make sure this was the order for ‘Aziraphale’?”

Pulling the mug closer, the barista checked the ticket, “Yes, it says ‘Aziraphale’. Is that what you ordered?”

He paused for a moment as he nervously looked around at the other patrons as they waited for their drinks. The past year had been a difficult one, to say the least. As much as Aziraphale tried not to think about it, the evidence of the seismic changes constantly bubbled up around him. For one, his brain started to register small inconveniences as life-threatening situations. Just last week he’d had a panic attack after forgetting to buy milk at the grocery store. Another time he started hyperventilating after a handsome stranger had tried to strike up a conversation with him on the tube. It’s not that he didn’t find the man attractive or that he didn’t want a companion, it’s just that he felt pliable and raw and he couldn’t understand why anyone would look at him and find anything worthwhile.

And the very last thing he wanted to do was inconvenience someone else. Since the line for the counter stretched all the way back to the door, he arranged his face into a reassuring smile and reached gingerly for the drink, “Oh y-yes! It’s perfect. Thank you, my dear.”

Carrying the drink back to the table, Aziraphale drew air into his lungs to stave off the residual unease of the whole exchange. Focused breathing was often the only thing that helped him feel grounded and kept him feeling like he was in control of his own body. By the time he re-joined Anathema, he no longer felt like he was falling from a great height.

“That’s not your usual,” Anathema noted, pointing to the ridiculous concoction in his hand.

Aziraphale sighed, “I’m afraid they must have misheard my order. I suppose I’ll be trying something new today.”

“You could just tell them they got your order wrong.”

“No no no,” Aziraphale waved his hands, his chest clenching uncomfortably at the thought, “It’s quite alright my darling, it’s no trouble.”

Anathema shrugged, her gaze one of patience with a touch of concern, “Suit yourself, maybe you’ll love it.”

“Perhaps I will,” he chuckled weakly.

Aziraphale hadn’t seen Anathema since she’d left for university, although he’d been a friend of her family for years. He’d been close with her mother when they both worked in the pediatric wing of St. Joseph’s Hospital. The Device family often invited Aziraphale over for dinners and birthdays, their warmth and generosity in stark juxtaposition to the cold indifference of his own family. Aziraphale always cherished his time with Anathema, who possessed the brilliance and mindfulness of someone much older. She was an excellent listener, at moments her eyes would twinkle with familiarity and perception that Aziraphale was never able to explain rationally.

That metaphysical glimmer was present today, as they spent the better part of an hour catching up. Against all odds, the mysterious drink Aziraphale received turned out to be delightful, he sipped it enthusiastically as Anathema talked about college, her partner Newt, and her recent promotion to director at Camp Eden.

When it came time for Aziraphale to discuss what he’d been up to he expertly maneuvered around the fault lines of trauma from the past year, making vague references to things without providing elaboration. From the way that Anathema gazed at him with her sage brown eyes, Aziraphale suspected that she already knew.

“So,” Anathema inhaled after a natural pause in their conversation, “I’m here with a secret agenda.”

Aziraphale raised his eyebrows, bringing his mug to his lips to polish off what he deduced must have been a lavender hot chocolate, “Oh, a secret now? Well go on, do enlighten me.”

“I want to offer you a job.”

Aziraphale didn’t move. Comprehension evaded him, slipping through his grasp like sand through his fingers, “I’m sorry, what?”

A confident smile spread to Anathema’s lips, “We need a nurse onsite to work with the campers this summer. I’m offering the position to you.”

Now that he understood what was being asked, a new confusion flooded him, “I-I-I don’t– Me? You want me to work there?”

“Of course, who better?”

An incredulous laugh escaped him, “There must be others who’d be better suited for–”

“Nope,” Anathema shook her head once, her tone even and certain, “You’re an amazing nurse. I’m reaching out because you are my ideal candidate.”

The compliments floated around Aziraphale for a moment but dissipated when he refused to accept them, “My dear, I-I-I’m flattered by the offer, truly I am. But I still have my job at St. Joseph’s. I’ve been there for so many years now. I’m–”

Happy here.

The words were right there, queued in his mind. Aziraphale opened and closed his mouth, trying to will them forth.

He furrowed his brow as he tried again, “I think it’s wonderful you’ve thought about me for this, but things have been fine. London is my home and I-I-I really am, um, I really am–”

The moisture in his mouth dried up, the words retreating hastily before they made it to his tongue.

Anathema regarded him calmly, “I understand, Aziraphale. I wouldn’t ask you to make a decision as big as this one immediately.”

Aziraphale grasped for something to say something– to politely decline, to dismiss the offer outright. With no words or pleasantries within his reach, he swallowed around the barbs in his throat and nodded instead.

Sensing his discomfort, Anathema leaned onto her elbows smiling warmly, “Can I share something with you from my own experience?”

There was relief in knowing that the spotlight was no longer on him. Aziraphale felt the muscles in his shoulders relax, “Yes, of course you can.”

“When I finished my senior year of college, I had it all planned out: graduate school, career, where I was going to live, when I was getting married, what my kids' names were going to be. All of it was laid out on this iron-clad timeline I made for myself. I worked tirelessly on my grad school application to Oxford because that’s where I was always going to go. I waited and waited to hear back, and on the day before graduation I got my rejection letter.”

“After that,” she leaned back with a sigh, “I basically gave up. My parents let me have my time to grieve, and there were days when I didn’t even leave my room. It felt like all my hard work and planning were for nothing. I was so sure that I was supposed to be at Oxford that I foolishly hadn’t applied anywhere else. Then one day, I’m huddled in my room and doom-scrolling online, and I see this job posting. I was incredibly tempted to ignore it– but something told me to give it a second glance. The listing was for a camp counselor position at this summer camp in the middle of nowhere. When I read through the job posting, I felt this sense of calm wash over me. The job wasn’t anything I had thought of doing before, but there was this indescribable pull to it as if I was meant to go there. So I applied, and it turned out to be the best decision I could have made. Nothing about it was according to plan, yet everything fell into place.”

Anathema clasped her hands together, “My point in telling you all this is that bad things happen all the time, and it hurts like hell. Sometimes, though, the universe will send you a different path. That’s our chance to start over. I don’t claim to know everything about what you’re going through, but I think it could be a good change of pace. If it feels right for you.”

Aziraphale cleared his throat, “Thank you, Anathema, for sharing that with me. I’m sorry you had to go through such a difficult time, but it’s wonderful that it led you to an environment and career that are fulfilling for you. As far as the offer I-I-”

He hesitated. On one hand, he was deterred by the thought of more change. The foundation of his existence had caved in, and he was still reeling from the aftermath. When it came to making choices, he was a man who needed considerable time to process and weigh all his options. For one of this caliber, he could fret about it for weeks, maybe months, if given the opportunity.

On the other hand, he’d been stepping cautiously over the debris of his life for months now. It required constant vigilance, and god was it draining . It was a type of exhaustion that sat heavy in his soul, the type that sleep did little to alleviate. Not even his books could fully assuage the anxiety that haunted him from the moment he opened his eyes in the morning.

If the volatility of the past year had taught him anything it was that he could no longer live a life that wasn’t meant for him. The stories he read each night, the ones he hung onto like a life raft, were all about life happening for other people. Existing had become so difficult in the present that he’d inadvertently shrunk back – become a spectator to his own life.

No longer.

“I-I- yes. I could probably use a change,” There it was, out in the open. Energy pulsed throughout his body. It was the risk and excitement that went along with not knowing exactly what was coming next, what was behind the corner.

That knowing glint in her eye sparked briefly as Anathema grinned widely.

He was falling, he was flying.

“I’d like to know more about the position if you have the time to tell me about it. I’m interested.”

“Of course, I can,” Anathema readjusted in her seat excitedly. “Ready?”

Aziraphale held up a finger as he fished in his satchel for scratch paper and a pen. Once retrieved, he smiled impishly, “I’m ready.”

—-

Towering pines lined the gravel road as the taxi lurched down the gravel path. The driver had gotten lost twice in her attempt to find the place, but Aziraphale thought that the seclusion was part of its charm. ‘CAMP EDEN’ was engraved on an enormous wooden sign that hung between two dark wooden posts.

The gravel road entrance led to a wide clearing. A prominent log structure sat squarely in the middle, it must have been what Anathema had referred to as the ‘lodge’. The front was decorated with patches of native grasses and accented by flowers.

Aziraphale rolled down his window as the taxi slowed. He shut his eyes and inhaled deeply, savoring the aroma of pine trees and freshly cut grass. When the fresh air permeated his lungs, a deep-seated tension inside his chest eased slightly.

Since accepting the ‘camp nurse’ position three months ago, Aziraphale’s existence in London occupied a liminal space; he was within and without. Each day he would dutifully complete all the tasks needed to survive as a shadow continued to cling to his heels and trail behind him. The difference this time, however, was the faint light at the end of the tunnel, a promise of a new start ahead. For the next few weeks, he’d kept his eyes set on the dull glow and pushed forward against the manacles that shackled him to the life that no longer suited him.

A high-pitched squeak issued from the brakes as the taxi slowed to a stop in front of the lodge. Aziraphale stepped out and crossed the threshold into his new start, into the unknown.

The tranquility of his arrival was followed by a rush of introductions. Anathema first led him into the lodge, which was grand in scale and whose walls were made of dark wooden logs. Inside he met Eric and Muriel, both camp counselors. Eric had a firm handshake and a wide elfish grin, he mentioned offhandedly that he had a habit of getting injured and that he may be stopping by to see Aziraphale often during the summer season. Muriel was cherubic and delightfully sweet, she discussed that she was in charge of the younger kids. Before Aziraphale was whisked away to view more of the lodge, they graciously offered to deliver his bags to his cabin.

Once in the main office, he met the secretary, Tracy. She was an older woman with dyed hair and elaborately painted nails. Her voice was soothing, her demeanor eccentric and mysterious. Aziraphale took a liking to her immediately.

Connected to the main office was the nurse’s quarters, a small room that contained the required staples: a cot, cabinets filled with supplies, and shelves lined with sunscreens and ointments. The best feature was the large window that faced the campgrounds behind the lodge. Anathema pointed out a locked cabinet where the camper's medication and inhalers were stored as well as a drawer where the confidential files were kept.

“After our tour and once you’ve had a chance to settle into your cabin,” Anathema started, “I’ll have you do an inventory for anything you might need to start the summer. We have a lot on hand but there may have been things that expired that will need to be replaced. I believe Crowley, our groundskeeper, is going to town later this afternoon. You could carpool with him to get any of the supplies you’ll need.”

Aziraphale nodded and vocalized an affirmative as he perused the office, pleased to have an area of his own to work. He scrunched his brow at the name Anathema had mentioned, which set off a distant bell from the recesses of his brain. Unable to place it, he waved the thought away.

Continuing the tour, Anathema led him through a large gymnasium with a built-in stage at one end. They made their way to the opposite end of the lodge which housed the cafeteria. The high-ceiling room was lined with dozens of long wooden tables. Once they reached the kitchen, Aziraphale was introduced to Nina and Maggie. Maggie was the remaining camp counselor, her presence was warm and particularly kind as she welcomed Aziraphale to the ‘Eden family’. Nina, on the other hand, seemed more guarded. She exchanged a few pleasantries but remained focused on a pot boiling on the stove. They said their goodbyes and Aziraphale was ushered away.

Once outside, Aziraphale entered another realm entirely. Behind the lodge was a wide grass clearing surrounded by giant trees. Under the shade of the copious tapestry of leaves was the playground. Its slides, jungle gyms, and swings were interconnected over top of deep brown mulch. Further to his left were several rows of garden beds, each containing various types of vegetation. Small wooden markers poked up from the earth crookedly with labels such as ‘turnips’, ‘strawberries’, and ‘mint’. Dotted further behind the grass clearing were the student cabins, each made from the same dark wood as the lodge.

Aziraphale’s mouth hung agape, none of the parks in London could remotely compare to the majesty of the land before him. Naturally empathetic, he could often read the emotional energy of people and environments – it was a helpful tool when he worked with his patients. Often he wondered if the skill was innate, or if it had been learned as a survival tactic for navigating a rigid family. Either way, he noticed an aura from the moment he’d arrived at the camp. Love. The whole area was saturated with it. The staff and the children must really love this place.

“Anathema,” he breathed, “Oh this is, this is heavenly .”

“Eden’s a fitting name then, huh?”

Aziraphale clasped his hands to his chest, “It certainly is.”

Anathema beamed, “I’ve been working with our counselors and groundskeeper to integrate nature into our programming. These gardens are going to be here for our kids to tend to the herbs, vegetables, and flowers we’ve planted. You can’t see it from here but on the other side is the peace garden. It’s a shaded quiet space for the campers who get overstimulated. And that path between the middle cabins takes you to the lake.”

“Well, it’s simply breathtaking, and I think you’ve done an excellent job.”

Anathema hugged the clipboard to her chest, “Thank you, Aziraphale.”

Aziraphale noticed a small path that veered off to the left and into the trees, “And where does that path go?”

“Oh! That leads to the staff cabins which are detached from the main campground. We are going there next actually so you can see where you’ll be staying.”

They set off onto the narrow path while Anathema discussed the camp schedule for the first week. Distant, rhythmic ‘ thunks’ ’ could be heard as they neared their destination. After a few minutes, the trees parted to reveal a small clearing with five tiny cabins. The middle cabin had Aziraphale’s bags neatly set in front of the door. Except for the cabin on the far left, which had a few potted plants lining the steps, most of the other cabins looked empty.

“Not many people are staying in the staff cabins currently,” Anathema commented. “Newt and I stay in the apartment above the lodge, the counselors have rooms connected to the camper’s cabins. Everyone else commutes in from town.”

As they walked further into the clearing, the source of the ‘ thunk ’-ing was revealed. In the distance was a tall, thin figure standing next to a large stump. The man was shirtless, holding an axe in one hand and wiping his forehead with the back of the other. Heat rose to Aziraphale’s cheeks, which he dismissively blamed on the blinding sunshine that had begun to peak through the clouds overhead.

They continued toward the man when Anathema brought her hands to her mouth and called, “Crowley!”

There it was again, that name. It resonated dimly but fell short of true recognition.

The man, Crowley, looked up, his chest heaving from exertion. He let the axe drop next to him and reached to pick up a water bottle that was set off to the side. “Hey, witch girl.”

Morning sunbeams illuminated the gardener's red hair that was gathered in a loose bun atop his head. The sunshine flashed on the tattoo of a snake that started at his left shoulder and wound down to his wrist. His features were angular, freckles scattered across the edge of his chiseled cheekbones.

The nurse felt eclipsed being in the presence of such rugged, untamable beauty. A creation sculpted by the gods, one which grew wild in the refuge of the forest. Azirahpale thought of fae folk, and how willingly he could be lured into the dark thickets of a strange wooded area if Crowley were the one beckoning him. Follow me, yes come closer…

Aziraphale watched as the gardener brought the bottle to his lips. The sight sent a jolt of something primal and wanting through him. He attempted to swallow it down, the torrent of feelings bubbling to the surface. Instead, he cast his eyes to the earth and allowed the familiar ache of shame to ease into him, but even it couldn’t calm the fluttering of his pulse.

That fiery hair, why did the sight of his hair further rattle a memory from long ago? The inability to connect the dots made him feel feverish.

The rapid palpitation of his heartbeat was thunderous in his ears when Anathema sidestepped and gestured toward him, “I want you to meet Aziraphale. He’s filling the nurse position this summer.”

Crowley raised an eyebrow over the rim of his sunglasses and pulled the water bottle away from his lips, his breathing still heavy.

“Hi.”

It took Aziraphale a monumental amount of willpower to not watch the beads of perspiration lazily move down the gardener's chest. His eyes widened when he noticed the line of copper hair that trailed from his belly button to the top button of his tight black jeans–

Oh lord, he had to stop.

Aziraphale desperately hoped that the redhead’s stylish black sunglasses obscured the sinful direction of his gaze.

Forcing himself back into the moment, Aziraphale gave a smile and held out his hand, “Hello! It’s lovely to meet you, Crowley.”

Crowley lowered his head to examine his free hand, “I’m uh….” Sheepishly, he held it up, waving it slightly to accentuate the splotches of dirt.

Aziraphale brought his hand back, clasping it awkwardly in front of him, “Oh! That’s quite alright.”

Anathema tilted her head towards Aziraphale, “Crowley started the same year I joined as a camp counselor. He worked with me to add in the gardens and all the native plants this year. An incredible help, even though he can be a pain in my ass at times."

“You know for a second there it sounded like you were going to pay me a compliment,” Crowley teased.

“Not a chance, can’t have it going to your head,” Anathema shot back smiling. “Anyway, Aziraphale will be your only neighbor this summer. Nina’s officially decided she’s commuting.”

“Really? No Nina? That’s too bad,” Crowley mumbled, removing his sunglasses. “Well,” he continued with a centering sigh. His eyes, deep pools of amber and honey, met Aziraphale’s. “Neighbors then.”

Recognition hit him heavily, the puzzle piece turning and snapping into place.

“I’m sorry, um, b-but, is your first name Anthony? ” Aziraphale asked tentatively.

Crowley stiffened.

Notes:

say hi on twitter!

so much in store for these two... thank you for reading

(chapters posted weekly on Saturdays)

Chapter 2: Drive

Notes:

accompanying playlist here

AMAZING art by @usedtobeHMC

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

–32 years ago–

When you have four older brothers, alone time is a luxury commodity. Crowley discovered that by skipping 3rd-period Algebra he could reclaim some time for himself. Most often he and Hastur smoked under the bleachers. Crowley thought cigarettes disgusting at first, but started to like the way the smoke filled his lungs– the burn made him feel dangerous. One time he snuck out of class with a group of guys and one of them brought a p*rno magazine to look at. Crowley took one look at the sultry, bare woman on the front and realized he had no interest in that particular endeavor.

Which, in hindsight, should have been a sign.

There was no one here to skip class with him today, which was upsetting because he really needed some to blow off steam. Crowley hid in one of the stalls in the 2nd-floor bathroom until the bell rang for class. He waited until the sound of footsteps stopped before pulling out a pen from his pocket.

Ever since puberty, Crowley was always a little angry. Mostly in a punk rock, anti-establishment sort of way. He was secretly delighted when his parents yelled at him to turn his music down or when the nuns fussed over his untucked shirt and gelled hair. Little acts of rebellion made him feel alive.

But today was different. Today wasn’t the low-grade anger that propelled Crowley to draw anarchy symbols in his notebooks. Today he was furious. He couldn’t even make it through the morning prayer without rage kindling inside him. It was with sharp bitterness that Crowley realized his prayers were going unanswered, even the ones he fervently whispered before falling asleep. If God was listening, then why had his father started emptying glass after glass of whiskey each night? Why had he become loud and tumultuous when anyone tried to approach him? If God was listening, then why had the doctors stopped checking up on his mum? Why had they left her to her bed? Every day her breathing slowed and her skin paled as if the life was being leached out of her.

Today Crowley was beyond angry. He hated that his father was drinking. He hated that his mom was sick. And most of all, he hated the God who demanded his praise but fell silent in response to his desperate pleas.

Hatred surged through his veins as he began to write on the bathroom wall. He started with the ‘F’ and was particularly proud of how it looked. When he went to start the ‘U’, however, the tip of the pen broke off, foiling his attempt at vandalism. Crowley groaned and threw the pen to the floor. He clenched his fists and felt hot tears well in his eyes.

At home he couldn’t cry, not around his brothers. But there was nothing to stop him here. He sank back against the stall door and covered his face with his hands. A few moments into his sobbing he heard the door creak open.

“Um, hello,” a soft voice called. “Are you, um, okay in there?”

Crowley sniffed and wiped his eyes roughly with the back of his hand.

“Piss off.”

It was all he could manage, although his voice didn’t sound very intimidating at the moment.

“Ah, s-sorry.”

There was silence, and then he heard soft hesitant footsteps make their way to the stall on the other side of the room. Once the stall door closed Crowley got up and left, he’d find somewhere else to hide out for now.

As he stepped outside of the bathroom door a passing Nun spotted him.

“Anthony J. Crowley,” the shrill voice froze him in place, “Do you have a pass to be out of class?”

Sister Theresa approached, her face pinched and her posture imposing. Scowling, she crossed her arms reproachfully.

f*cking hell, Crowley thought. He sighed, looking down at his feet in response.

“What has gotten into you boy?” She spoke in a fierce whisper. “This is the third time you’ve been caught skipping class this semester, and it’s only September. We are going to talk with Father Jim about this at once because I’ve had enough of—”

“Um, e-excuse me, Sister Theresa?” A soft voice came from behind him.

The Nun looked past Crowley's shoulder. “Don’t interrupt, Aziraphale, I was just–”

Aziraphale stepped forward to stand beside Crowley and wordlessly held up a pink slip of paper.

Sister Theresa narrowed her eyes and grabbed the slip from him. She scanned it as Crowley flashed the boy next to him a look. He recognized Aziraphale from some of his classes. He always sat toward the front with his nose in a book, a real teacher’s pet. Standing together like this was like holding up mismatched socks. Where twelve-year-old Crowley was tall and lanky, Aziraphale was shorter and round. Where Crowley’s complexion was a smattering of freckles, Aziraphale’s was clear and rosy. Crowley’s coiffed red hair starkly contrasted with Aziraphale’s curls, which were so blonde they were almost white.

Aziraphale kept his eyes on Sister Theresa, his posture tall and rigid. “The pass was for both of us. We were just on our way back to class.” He nudged Crowley with his elbow.

“Um, yeah-yes,” Crowley added, “Sister Grace was busy so she sent us both with the same pass.”

Sister Theresa eyed them both carefully. Her jaw set as she handed the slip back to Aziraphale. “On your way then. Quickly now.”

The two boys needed no further direction, they set off quickly for the side corridor. Aziraphale wrung his hands nervously as they turned the corner, out of the sight of Sister Theresa. The rage and fear from the exchange flooded Crowley as he turned quickly and grabbed Aziraphale by the lapels, pushing him back against the wall.

“Why the hell did you do that?!” he growled through clenched teeth.

Aziraphale squeezed his eyes shut and held up his hands, “I-I-I didn’t want to see you getting into trouble!”

“Oh please!” Crowley dropped his hands, keeping his face close. ”You’ve never so much as set a toe out of line, and here you are lying to a Nun to cover for me? You hardly even know me!”

“Well, I h-heard you-”

Panic rose in Crowley’s chest. “Don’t,” he snarled, “You heard nothing.”

“I’m-I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to–” Aziraphale’s voice quivered as he opened his eyes, they were filled with worry and sincerity and novas of blue. “I’m so sorry.”

Crowley held his classmate’s gaze, transfixed by the hue of his eyes and their hypnotic draw. He opened his mouth, ready to argue and say something inflammatory but closed his mouth when nothing came to mind. Aziraphale noticed the hesitation, his expression softening into concern. Crowley dropped his hands, took a step backward, shot his eyes downward embarrassed. What right did this boy have to look at him like that? Like he mattered. As if he actually cared about–

Crowley attempted to swallow after a sudden dryness spread to his throat. He kept his head down and took a few deep breaths, letting the air wind its way into his lungs and cool off his simmering temper. When it felt like he was no longer overheating, he let out a sigh, “f*ck.

How the Bonfires Burn - TicketyBoo_Delaney (2)

The word came out shakey, unsure of itself. Aziraphale visibly relaxed, but at no point did he take his eyes off Crowley.

“I’m– real sorry. Shouldn’t have done that,” Crowley murmured, “It’s just that– things aren’t going well. Mom’s been sick, and I’ve been um, having–”

He ran a tremoring his hand through his hair as he looked up at Aziraphale in desperation. He searched for a sign that his classmate made some sense of his incoherent ramblings. Mercifully, Aziraphale nodded as he adjusted his lapels and softly brushed the front of his shirt.

“It’s alright. You don’t have to talk about it, if you don’t want. I’m, um, sorry to hear about–” Aziraphale looked away as he trailed off.

Crowley ignored the tightness in his chest and the pressure behind his eyes that warned of more tears. Instead, he cleared his throat and nodded. They stood awkwardly for a moment, neither looking at the other. Crowley readjusted and gestured with his thumb down the hall, “Should probably…”

“Yes,” Aziraphale agreed, “Let's.”

They walked in silence the rest of the way. Crowley shoved his hands in his pockets and kept his eyes trained on his feet. If his gaze wandered to his left to take in more glimpses of Aziraphale, he refused to acknowledge it. Once outside the classroom, Crowley paused before pulling the door open.

“Um. Thank you for that. Back there,” he murmured sheepishly.

A warm smile spread to Aziraphale’s lips as his eyes made contact with Crowley’s. “Of course, that’s what friends are for.”

His eyes were the color of an unclouded sky, endless and welcoming. Crowley could spend hours, days perhaps, lost in their rich pools of cornflower blue. Somehow he managed to shake free, nodding in response as he opened the door.

After that, Crowley had difficulty attending to the lecture. Sister Grace's mouth emitted syllables and sounds that spun uselessly around him. Instead he watched the boy with the platinum curls at the front of the classroom as he fidgeted with his pencil and raised his hand to answer questions.

That’s what friends are for.

Crowley wracked his brain, and he couldn’t recall if he saw Aziraphale spending time with many other people. He usually lounged in the courtyard during recess, his nose in a book. During lunch, he sat at the end of a table away from most of the other kids. It made no sense to Crowley why he would consider them friends, but maybe Aziraphale didn’t have any friends.

And that seemed– well, lonely.

Crowley had friends, Hastur and Beez. They were the type that were good for a laugh or a smoke. But they weren’t ones you could discuss something as mortifying as feelings with. The same was true with his brothers, who communicated more with wrestling and punches than with actual words.

Crowley was surrounded by people, surrounded by noise, and he too felt lonely.

The sharp metallic ring of the dismissal bell sounded, waking Crowley from his daydream. As Aziraphale stood up and collected his things from his desk, he paused to look back at Crowley. He raised his hand to wave shyly, a pink hue blossoming at the apples of his cheeks. The redhead waved back, the corner of his mouth pulling into a smile.

When Crowley arrived home after school, his mom had taken a turn for the worse. His father’s face was hauntingly ashen as he gathered them around her bed. They took turns talking to her and watching the shallow rise and fall of her chest until a doctor arrived and ushered them out. The next morning his mother’s bed was empty, and Crowley’s father downed glass after glass of amber liquid while on the phone, his words slurred.

The next two days were a blur of people stopping by the house with casserole dishes and hollow platitudes. The funeral was both beautiful and horrific in a way that only funerals can be. Upon arriving home, Crowley’s father declared that they were moving and needed to pack their bags.

Within a week, Crowley’s life was completely uprooted. He sat in the back of his father’s Bentley on his way out of London with his head pressed solidly against the cold glass of the window. He thought mostly about his mom, sometimes about God, and every so often about the boy in the hallway with stunningly blue eyes.

They moved into a weathered bungalow in a sleepy town somewhere in the countryside. Despite putting some distance from the city, things in Crowley’s life never quieted. His brothers continued their lives, playing sports and getting into trouble. So too did his father carry on, finding a job and holding the household together. Most nights after a few drinks, another man arrived and settled into his father’s skin. Loud and unpredictable, the man sulked around the house. Crowley and his brothers learned to walk on eggshells and to stay quiet and hidden. There were many times were Crowley couldn’t escape his wrath and, as he grew more rebellious and bitter, times he’d even tried to provoke it. Burned into his memory was the feeling of the man clutching the front of his shirt. He could smell the whiskey on his breath, and could never forget the low gargling way he screamed his name: “ANTHONY!”

–Present Day–

“I’m sorry… but, is your first name Anthony?

Crowley stiffened, wincing at the sensory memories brought back by hearing his first name unexpectedly. He put his sunglasses back on, a layer of protection, “Yeah. Go by Crowley now, though.”

“Oh! My apologies, I didn’t realize,” Aziraphale shifted uncomfortably.

“It’s fine, don’t worry about it.”

“Um, I thought I recognized you though. I’m not sure if you remember, but we went to school together at St. Michael’s when we were younger.”

Realization connected the wires from the dusty recesses of Crowley’s brain. That explained why Anathema’s introduction had rung with a vague sense of familiarity, why the sight of the man sparked something tucked away.

Aziraphale– the boy from the hallway.

“Yes,” Crowley responded, “It’s- been a long time but yes, I remember you.”

Since he’d been exhausted and distracted during their initial introduction, Crowley allowed himself a moment to take in the man before him. Aziraphale wore a plaid shirt, neatly pressed cargo shorts, and fresh-out-of-the-box hiking shoes. His figure was round and the considerable muscles of his arms flexed slightly as he fiddled with his hands. The features of his face were cherubic, the ridge of his nose slopped and his clear skin accentuated by rosy cheeks. He smiled, the thin lines of age crinkled at the corners of his vibrant, world-ending blue eyes. Aziraphale’s head was topped with gleamingly bright blonde hair, made even brighter by the direct rays of the sun. He was practically glowing as if he’d been plucked from a Renaissance painting and forced to wear something modern.

Simply put, Aziraphale was absolutely beautiful. It left Crowley without words, his head reeling as if the air around him had started to thin. He crossed his arms in front of him, self-conscious of his bare chest and the thin veneer of sweat and dirt he was covered in.

“Wait a minute,” Anathema clasped a hand over her mouth. “So you two know each other? What are the odds?”

Crowley ran a hand through his hair and looked down, sheepishly. “Small world.”

Anathema turned to Aziraphale with wide eyes, “You need to tell me all about little Crowley!”

Aziraphale chuckled, “Now, Anathema, I couldn’t possibly divulge such privileged information.”

Heat rose to Crowley’s cheeks as he sucked air in through his teeth, “Yeah, I was a bit of a bastard back then.”

“Well, the nuns certainly didn’t take it easy on us that’s for sure.”

Crowley shuddered slightly, “Ngk. Don’t need to remember Sister Doris pinching me to sit up straight.”

Aziraphale nodded empathetically, “Almost as bad as the bell Sister Harriet would ring if you talked out of turn.”

Crowley guffawed, “Hell, I got the bell a few times. I heard she rang herself deaf though. Karma’s a tough one to outrun.”

“Oh, well,” Aziraphale giggled. “Now, I couldn’t possibly agree.”

The sound of his laughter made something unfamiliar racket strangely in Crowley’s chest.

Anathema’s head pivoted between them both, her brow scrunched in concentration. After a moment she cleared her throat.

“So,” she enunciated exaggeratedly. “That concludes the tour. Aziraphale, we are so excited to have you here. You have my number right? In case you need anything today?”

Aziraphale turned toward her, “Y-yes, I’ll be sure to text you if anything comes up.”

Anathema nodded her head once, “Great. Crowley, you’re still going into town this afternoon, right? Could Aziraphale tag along? He needs more supplies from the store.”

The thought of spending time in close proximity to Aziraphale was equal parts thrilling and terrifying. Crowley pushed the conflicting emotions from the spotlight and let cooler reasoning prevail. “Um, yeah, that’s fine. Planning on leaving at one if that works for you.”

Aziraphale checked his watch, the straps a worn mahogany leather, “Yes, I think that will give me plenty of time to get some of my bags unpacked and get a headstart on reviewing the files.”

“Perfect. Well, I’ll leave you two then,” Anathema checked something off her clipboard and winked at Crowley. “Lots to do before the first day tomorrow.”

They watched as she started down the path and disappeared into the trees. A peaceable quiet settled around them filled only with the sporadic calls of unseen birds.

Aziraphale adjusted the collar of his shirt. “So, um. It’s been great to see you again, Crowley. I appreciate the ride into town.”

“Course, course. Going that way anyway.”

A smile sat cozily on Aziraphale’s lips as he tilted his head toward his cabin, “I should probably get started then. I’ll leave you to your-your um, sharp cutty thing,” he tilted his eyes upward in thought, “Oh, axe! Goodness gracious, busy morning. I apologize.”

The gardener eased into a crooked grin, “No worries. We’ll see each other later then.”

He watched captivated as Aziraphale retreated and disappeared into his cabin.

“Huh,” he muttered to himself, “What are the odds.”

—-----

By eleven thirty, Crowley had finished his morning to-do list of chopping firewood and weeding the flower beds. Although he was bone tired it was a satisfied exhaustion, one in which you could sit back and appreciate your handiwork. There was something about working with his hands, digging in the earth, that soothed the rush of his fractured thoughts. A quiet nobility in tending to the earth that was equally as nurturing to parts of himself that had been neglected a majority of his life.

He savored the warmth of the shower and dressed quickly before grabbing the keys to the Bentley. His father hadn’t left him and his siblings much when he passed. His older brothers received the house and what little money lingered in a savings account. When it came to his inheritance, Crowley was given the Bentley. Previously an outdoorsman, his father spent most of his time after the move either drinking or working on the car under the dim overhead light of the garage. During most circ*mstances, Crowley kept his distance, but he would edge closer when his father craned over the engine. Although he’d never been a conversationalist, his father would point out different parts and explain what he was repairing. It was one of the few things they shared before Crowley left home for good.

Checking the time, Crowley made his way to the lodge for coffee. He also wanted to catch up with Nina, who, as he’d just learned from Anathema, was no longer staying in the staff cabin.

“Oi, Nina!” Crowley called as he rounded the corner into the kitchen.

“Hello to you too, Crowley,” she replied, distracted as her fingers ran across a spice shelf.

“You’re not staying in the staff cabins? What’s that about?”

Nina grabbed a spice bottle and turned to face him with a sigh, “Maggie and I adopted a cat, remember? Can’t leave Simone by herself all summer.”

Crowley groaned, “f*ck.”

“Sorry, mate.” She shook the jar over a large simmering pot, “We can still do Tuesday lunches together and pop into town to get a drink.”

“Yeah, I know. Still, though, it’ll be different without you there.”

Nina nodded as she reached for a wooden spoon. “I’m still here all summer though, so you’re not escaping me that easily.”

Crowley poured himself a cup of coffee and leaned against the metallic countertop. “Certainly not.” He savored the bitterness and warmth of his initial sip. “How’ve you been? Haven’t properly talked since… last Wednesday?”

A waft of cinnamon and clove emanated from the simmering pot as Nina started to stir, “Good, things have been good. Maggie’s been working non-stop prepping for the kids to arrive. I finally finished installing the new bathroom sink, so we can stop running to the kitchen to wash our hands like savages. Simone’s been tearing up every toy we get her but at least she’s stopped destroying our couch.”

Crowley gave an amused hum, “That’s good then. If she kept going at the rate she was, you'd have no couch left.”

“She’s a lively one.” Nina let out a dramatic sigh, shaking her head with the hint of an affectionate smile playing at her lips “And you? How are you doing?”

Crowley sipped his coffee. “Fine.”

“Mhm… and how are you really doing?”

“Ugh,” Crowley let his head sag to the side in annoyance. “Fine. I’m fine.”

Nina kept her eyes fixed on the pot in front of her, “And there’ve been no visits to…?”

“No.”

“None since, when was that, six weeks – seven weeks ago?”

“Nope,” Crowley replied. He leaned back, trying to look nonchalant. “Haven’t heard from him. Deleted the app. It’s been only solo, sad wanks for me.”

Nina scrunched her nose, “Better than whatever his name was.”

Crowley’s phone dinged. Speak of the devil. He pulled it from his pocket and visibly winced when he saw the name on display. How had he not remembered to block his number? Nina’s eyes flashed at him, but she went back to cooking.

Crowley quickly set his phone down on the counter and started to take a sip of his coffee when his phone dinged again. He tensed and shot it a glare. Traitor.

Nina stopped stirring and closed her eyes in frustration. “That better not be who I think it is.”

f*ck me,” Crowley grabbed his phone and shoved it in his pocket. “No, no, it’s— well, yes it’s him. No, I’m not answering.”

Nina crossed her arms. “Oh really? Because I’ve noticed the pattern now.”

“Pattern?”

“Yes, pattern. When you meet these guys online or through an app or whatever, you immediately bugger each other. Which is fine, great, it’s a free country you can do whatever and whoever you want. But these men that you meet don’t want anything more than that. But you do, Crowley. You start to get attached and develop feelings and as soon as you recommend something more than sleeping together, they weasel away. Although some of them,” she indicated with her eyes to the phone in his pocket, “like to keep you available for when it’s convenient from them, not the other way around.

Crowley let out a guttural groan in annoyance. He knew though, deep down that she was right, of course. “Can we not talk about this now.”

Nina sighed, “I know the dating scene is hard– “

“Easy for you to say,” Crowley cut in, “You have Maggie.”

“Yes, and I found Maggie after I realized I was worth a damn and broke myself out of a loop of abusive partners,” Nina countered, “And I’m tired of watching you waste your time on arseholes.”

Crowley lowered his head, wishing vaguely that the floor would rip open and swallow him whole so he could escape this conversation. “Right,” he murmured.

“Look,” Nina’s usual firm tone softened, “You’re a grown man and you can make your own decisions. I’m not going to stop you from meeting whatever-the-f*ck-his-name-was. But you are a sweet, talented, gentle man who deserves someone who thinks you’re the whole bloody package. Someone who,” she waved her arm in the air, trying to will the words to her, “who thinks you hung all the stars in the damn sky.”

Compliments usually sat uneasily on his shoulders until he was able to shrug them off. But this one stuck a little, despite his protective layering. He nodded, looking up but avoided eye contact. “Thanks, Nina.”

“Yeah well, you can thank me by thinking before answering those messages and by getting this cup of tea to Tracy. Forgot to run her one earlier.”

Crowley stood up and gave a two-finger salute, “Yes ma'am.”

Crowley downed his remaining coffee as Nina busied herself in the cabinets locating a mug and spooning some loose-leaf into a strainer. Tea in hand, he walked to the office to find Tracy on the phone when he arrived. He held up her tea and gave the mug a little wiggle, which perked her up considerably. She mouthed a theatric ‘thank you’ when he set it down at her desk. Crowley noticed the light was on in the nurse's office in the corner. He checked his watch, close enough to one. He made his way to the entrance and knocked on the doorframe.

A bespectacled Aziraphale looked up from a manila folder.

“Ah, Crowley! Is it that time already?” he asked brightly. Aziraphale took off his thin wire glasses and smiled at him with the sincerity one would reserve for close friends.

“I’m a little early,” Crowley replied, pushing down the internal stirring that such a look caused inside of his stomach. “I can come back if you–”

“No, no,” Aziraphale cut in as he put the files back into a drawer. “That won’t be necessary, I’m ready now.”

Crowley dared to make eye contact once again, and seeing the nurse’s expression was like was looking directly at the sun. It conveyed so much kindness and warmth that Crowley had to look away.

What could he say? His eyes were adjusted to the dark.

“Right,” Crowley gestured behind him with his thumb. “Follow me then.”

—---

Music spilled from the speakers as Aziraphale & Crowley made their way out of the deeper forest. Crowley had put on a random playlist from his phone as a way to cut down the tension of sitting next to someone else in a quiet car.

“Thank you for letting me tag along,” Aziraphale expressed, his eyes half-glazed in awe as he stared out the window.

Crowley couldn’t blame him, it was beautiful out here. “‘Course, don’t mention it.”

His Bentley barreled skillfully down the gravel road. Crowley watched Aziraphale from his peripherals at his hands fidgeting passively in his lap. The distraction caused him to veer off the road slightly and hit a pothole. sh*t, sh*t, sh*t.

“Sorry, missed that one,” Crowley murmured, embarrassed.

“N--no worries!” Aziraphale responded, voice polite but slightly shaky. “A-a-a sturdy car you have.”

Crowley ran his hand over the steering wheel slightly. “Yeah, she’s a good one.”

A few minutes passed in relative silence. Crowley was thankful for the music, it was familiar and put him at ease. Aziraphale seemed to enjoy it as well, at one point he started tapping his foot.

“I’ve never heard this one before, it’s nice,” Aziraphale commented.

“One of my favorites.”

“Do you, um, is this the genre of music you like?” Aziraphale asked.

He readjusted in his seat, “Yeah, ‘spose so. I go through phases though. It’s bluegrass, folk rock right now. Count yourself lucky you weren’t in my car for my punk phase. Don’t imagine you’d like those songs as much.”

Aziraphale nodded briskly, “You’re probably right about that.”

Crowley appreciated that Aziraphale found more ease in carrying the conversation. He wasn’t the best at it, even though he did want to keep talking. Not wanting to fall back into silence, he pushed a half-formulated question out of his lips.

“What, uh, what do you like? Um… music that is.”

“Hmm…” Aziraphale pondered. “Well, I love jazz. Billie Holiday and Miles Davis are some of my favorites.”

Crowley smiled slightly, “I have a few jazz records actually. Good for rainy days.”

Aziraphale clasped a hand to his chest. “Oh, and for dancing! There was a lovely jazz piano bar in Soho where I used to go dancing. My, um–” a cloud cast across his face, changing his expression “Um, my ex-fiance. Well, she didn’t find the same enjoyment in it I’m afraid. So it’s been a while since I’ve been.”

Ex-fiance? Crowley’s mind sparked briefly in curiosity.

“Love dancing, me,” Crowley responded, pulling himself back to the present moment. “Afraid I’m not much of a dancer though. M’ all elbows, I knock people over.”

A surprised laugh escaped Aziraphale, “I’m sure that’s not true!”

“Well pray you never have to see it,” Crowley responded, grinning despite himself.

“Oh, but I’m afraid I must,” Aziraphale pressed.

“Nope, not a chance.”

Aziraphale chuckled, the sound lilted through the air. The joy was infectious, it permeated Crowley’s chest in an unfamiliar, warming way.

“So is this where you moved to? After St. Michael’s?” Aziraphale asked.

The warm feeling vanished as quickly as it had arrived, slipping through his fingers like water.

Crowley shifted uneasily in his seat, “Um, no. We moved up north to Grafham. Once I was old enough to leave I went back to London for a bit. I liked London well enough, it was just the people. I just um, hung around the wrong people.”

The icy grip of panic seized him. Why was he saying all of this? He was in a car for 10 minutes with Aziraphale and already he was sharing bits of his story that he had taken careful measures to guard. Only his close friends like Nina knew anything about his past. It was easier that way.

But Aziraphale didn’t look phased, his eyes regarding him carefully as he listened.

“So um, I moved to Tadfield about 16 years ago. Got my life together, opened a landscaping business shortly after. Started working here in the summer once I had enough staff to cover me.”

Aziraphale smiled. “Well, owning your own business? That’s impressive! And what a place for it, it’s simply stunning out here.”

Crowley took his eyes off the road to watch Aziraphale for a moment. His head was angled toward the window again, the sunshine played delicately across his face. An expression of dreamlike wonder effortlessly painted on his features.

“Yeah, it is,” Crowley murmured.

—----

Crowley loaded the last few bags of mulch into his car. He checked his phone, no message from Aziraphale yet. They’d swapped numbers before they split to do their separate shopping.

Crowley eased into the driver's seat and sighed. He pulled up his phone again, going to the messages he received when he was with Nina earlier. They read: Hey, are you around? And Come over.

Typical.

With a few taps, he deleted the conversation thread and blocked the number. God, he wished he had a cigarette. He sucked the summer air in through his nose slowly, held it momentarily, and exhaled through his mouth, a grounding technique a counselor had taught him once.

Nina was right of course. Crowley was an optimist, and he gave away his heart too willingly, too fast. With this rose-colored naivety, he repeatedly chose the wrong sort of people to hand over his affections. Each rejection was a crippling blow that left him feeling wrung out and hollow. It was a lesson that he was slow to learn. Recently the pain of it all had begun to seep deeper through the scarred tissue around his heart. He wasn’t sure how much more he could take until it sliced through entirely, leaving him flayed, bleeding, and fragile.

A figure appeared next to his window and startled him out of the darkening fog of his thoughts. The shock caused him to lurch in his seat, heart racing. The figure, Aziraphale, gave an apologetic smile from the other side of the glass. Crowley’s fight or flight was still activated when he lowered the window.

“You could have given me a warning! Texted or said something!”

Color rose to the nurse's cheeks as he looked away. “I-I’m sorry. I was going to text you but once I finished at the till and got my bags my hands were full. And I thought about knocking on the window but again, I’m holding too much.” He frowned at his shoes, “I should have said something, I-I-I apologize for startling you.”

Crowley exhaled, letting the air filter through his lungs and settle his activated nerves, “No, I’m sorry. Spooked me is all. Let me give you a hand with those.”

“I’d be most grateful,” Aziraphale replied warmly.

They made quick work of loading the bags into the back seat. As Crowley closed the side door he noticed Aziraphale was distracted, looking off behind them.

“Go ahead and start the car,” Aziraphale held up his hand. “I’ll just be one moment.”

Crowley raised an eyebrow in confusion. “Uh, okay.”

He turned as Aziraphale hurried past him. Behind them was an elderly woman as she attempted to carry two large grocery bags. Aziraphale’s pace slowed slightly as he approached her. Crowley couldn’t make out what was said, but he saw Aziraphale’s expression light up as the woman handed over her bags and pointed toward her car.

Crowley blinked in disbelief as his gaze followed the nurse and the woman. There goes Aziraphale, positively glowing in the summer sunshine, proof of goodness in the world, a living and breathing angel.

A fluttering affection stirred inside of him, his wretched heart swelling against the hard line of his ribs. It strained against the cartilage in a desperate call: him, you want him. Crowley gritted his teeth but could do nothing to stop it.

Not again, it’s too much.

The familiar pull in his chest elicited latent panic, a learned response from times before. Crowley slid back into the driver’s seat and attempted to put the key into the ignition with shaking hands. Unsuccessful, he lowered his head to rest against the steering wheel, feeling lightheaded.

He breathed in. He breathed out.

Checking himself in the rearview mirror, he hurriedly put on his sunglasses. Sweaty palms gripped his knees as he audibly exhaled. Get it together. Swallowing down the bile in his throat, he turned the car on and adjusted himself into an upright position. He continued to focus on his breathing, letting his chest rise and fall evenly. Despite everything, his ridiculous heart refused to be tethered to the ground. It flipped exuberantly at the thought of Aziraphale’s return. Always optimistic, always willing, always going too damn fast.

Notes:

say hi on twitter!

the song they were listening to? Lake Missoula by Richy Mitch and the Coal Miners

this lovely story has been brewing in my head for about 9 months, so let me know what you think so far! (I'm obsessed with my besotted ineffable idiots)

(chapters posted weekly on Saturdays)

Chapter 3: Dreams

Notes:

accompanying playlist here

AMAZING art by @usedtobeHMC

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Aziraphale was utterly, hopelessly lost.

All he could remember was walking down a long hallway. The area itself was unremarkable, a narrow stretch of black tile floor with plain white walls on either side. After several long minutes of walking, he discovered two identical doors made of textured grey wood.

He paused to consider his options. Having nothing to go off of, he eventually selected the one on the left. Upon stepping through the frame, he realized that he was back where he’d started- the end of the long hallway. Unsettled, he turned to look through the door he had entered. Behind him only a vast expanse of blackness. Aziraphale felt his heartbeat quicken as he stared into the abyss. Something out there was making noise, out of the emptiness came whispers.

Unintelligible at first, the voices slowly morphed into ones that he recognized. Gabrielle, his family, his priest– their susurrations began to increase in volume and clarity:

…such a disappointment…

…stuttering through the lord's prayer…

…letting himself go...

Aziraphale’s throat tightened painfully as he tried to swallow. He flexed his hands, the cold sweat of panic began to bead across his forehead. The hushed voices overlapped each other, competing to get through. Brief phrases managed to cut through the clamor:

…choosing a lifestyle of depravity…

…breaking Gabrielle’s heart…

…breaking your mother’s heart…

…falling to sin…

The pace of his pulse quickened, the air leaving his lungs in shaky audible gasps. The voices began to swirl around him, coming from all directions.

“N-n-no, please. S-stop it.”

Aziraphale hands clamped over his ears, in response the voices increased their volume.

….NO SON OF MINE…

…A STUTTERING FOOL…

…GOING TO HELL…

…PATH OF DAMNATION…

…FILTHY SINNER…

A desperate wail escaped from the pit of his stomach as Aziraphale turned sharply to sprint down the expansive hallway. His attempt to escape the disembodied voices and their accusations proved in vain, as they trailed after him like a shadow. After several minutes of running, he began to taste the iron of exertion on his tongue. Finally, he approached the end of the hallway where two doors sat in wait. This time, he pulled open the door on the right. Without looking, he stepped through the threshold and–

Falling

He fell through the air, the nothingness– the colorless void devouring him. Air slipped through his grasp as he tried hopelessly to grab onto something, anything to slow his fall. The volume of the voices was deafening, his teeth chattered with the tremor of their tirade. Aziraphale’s jaw wrenched open to scream—

BRING BRING BRING

The familiar trill of a phone alarm sounded, jolting him awake. Aziraphale snapped his eyes open, his body quivering as he drew in the air in uneven breaths. White knuckles gripped the sheets surrounding him which were damp with his sweat. He forced himself to swallow around the dryness in his throat.

I’m safe. Aziraphale pushed the declaration to the forefront of his mind, orienting himself to reality as he silenced his alarm. I’m lying in bed and it was only a dream. He inhaled through his nose, the musk of the wood log interior grounding him. It can’t hurt me. Just a dream.

The hammering beat of his pulse slowed slightly as he studied the branching wooden veins in the ceiling above him. Ever since he dared pull at loose threads and unravel his own life, the dream came to him a least a few times a week, sometimes more when he was particularly stressed. It was always the same, each time he was lost in the infinite hallways being haunted by the ghostly choir of voices that wore against him like a wire brush on raw skin.

They welcomed in shame, his constant companion, allowing it to ease so comfortably under his skin.

The nightmare was never easy to bear no matter the number of nights it stalked him. Aziraphale allowed himself a few moments to recover as he sank back against his pillow and adjusted to the reality of his surroundings. A flock of starlings sounded in the distance, their muffled chirps heralding the new dawn. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d awoken to hear birds and not the sound of traffic, sirens, and car horns. The novelty of it was enough to rouse him from his previous dream-induced panic.

Aziraphale roughly rubbed his eyes, scrubbing the last of his night terror from his vision. Slowly he got up out of bed and opened the window next to his front door. Through the screen wafted the smell of grass carried in by the cool air. The vibrant colors of the morning painted the horizon and peaked above the forest line. Aziraphale gave himself over for a moment, to the safety of the ground underneath his feet as he marveled at the morning as it stole across the sky.

Although he would have liked to, he couldn’t allow himself to dwell in the peaceful refuge of his cabin all morning. Since it was the first official day of camp, he had an incredibly busy day mapped out for himself. The spark of excitement crackled through him as Aziraphale went through his routine of showering and dressing.

Before leaving the cabin, he took a moment to glance at himself in the mirror. He attempted to shape his curls to a more pleasing arrangement but watched as they bounced back to the shape they preferred. Sighing in resignation, Aziraphale made eye contact with his reflection. On the whole, he didn’t think he was bad to look at. He likened his look and general appeal to an overstuffed reading chair: welcoming, comfortable, and familiar. Words like ‘sexy’ and ‘alluring’ were not ones he could claim for himself.

A memory flashed through his consciousness, dragging with it the ache of embarrassment. Aziraphale squeezed his eyes shut as he unwillingly recalled his disastrous stint with a dating app he’d tried once. The men on the app, with their sultry and dramatic poses, were so incongruous with his own profile picture, smiling in his favorite bow tie, that he quickly deleted his account. Unsure of how to navigate the dating scene, especially a queer one, Aziraphale hunkered down and let the vibrant bustle of London skirt around him, worried that his fear and inexperience were a detriment to anything good that might otherwise come his way.

A chubby, 44 year old virgin. What am I to expect?

Aziraphale turned away from the mirror and bit the lining of his cheek, the sharp pain staving off the unwanted thoughts. Enough, that’s quite enough.

He decided to leave before he had the opportunity to ruminate on anything else that was eating him. Grabbing his keys, he stepped out of his cabin and into the morning sunshine.

Shortly after he locked the door behind him, he heard the sound of a phone alarm going off. It was faint, but he heard a muffled “f*ck off” coming from the direction of Crowley’s cabin. The alarm stopped seconds after.

An amused smile pulled at the corners of his mouth. He gazed at Crowley’s cabin for a moment before setting off in the direction of the lodge.

—--

When Aziraphale entered the cafeteria, the smell of something baking hit him immediately. He gravitated toward the long table closest to the kitchen where Maggie, Eric, and Muriel were already gathered and engaged in an energetic conversation.

“You did not!” Muriel giggled as she stared at Eric wide-eyed in disbelief.

“Oh I most definitely did,” Eric replied. “Look!” He pulled up his sleeve to reveal two small rounded abrasions.

Muriel covered her mouth and squealed.

“Oh for goodness sake, Eric,” Maggie scolded, an amused smile on her face. “You know we aren’t supposed to swim there!”

“I jumped in for like 3 minutes,” Eric whined. “Didn’t think leeches could get to me in 3 minutes!”

“Morning!” Aziraphale greeted as he approached the table. “I hear my services may be required?”

Eric looked sheepishly towards him. “Yeah… well the thing is I might have gotten a few leech bites this morning. Went for a dip in Willow Pond after a run, right? And when I got out, there were these two leeches on my arm. I was able to get them off and wrapped up my arm to stop the bleeding.”

Aziraphale pulled the chair out next to Eric and sat down. “May I take a look?”

“Sure. Appreciate it, man.”

As Aziraphale started to inspect Eric’s arm, Anathema walked into the cafeteria with Newt by her side.

“Hello, hello everyone!” she called. There was a chorus of ‘mornings’ called back in reply.

Aziraphale scanned the abrasions. “These don’t look to be infected, which is a great sign. Nevertheless, we should still go to my office so I can clean these properly.”

Anathema approached the table, she looked toward the two men and raised an eyebrow. “Are you alright there, Eric?”

Eric blushed and mumbled, “Just, uh, you know. Leech bites.”

“We are going to pop to my office to get them cleaned, but he will be just fine,” Aziraphale chimed in.

Anathema crossed her arms. “How on earth did you get leech bites? There are no leeches in the lake.”

Eric cleared his throat, “It was in, um, Willow Pond.”

Anathema sighed, “Yup, that’s the reason we don’t let people swim there. Thanks for patching him up, Aziraphale.”

“Of course, it’s no trouble,” Aziraphale replied.

It took no time at all for Aziraphale to clean and patch up Eric’s arm. He recalled Eric’s warning on his first day that he would be in his office frequently. He didn’t mind though, Eric seemed like a kind fellow.

When they returned to the cafeteria, there were a few plates of scones, two carafes, and several mugs in the middle of the table. Maggie, Muriel, Anathema, and Newt were now joined by Nina and Tracy.

Eric took his seat next to Muriel who looked at him, beaming. “All better?” she asked.

“All better. It’s gonna take more than a few leeches to knock me down, love,” he smiled widely at her.

She blushed, turning her face to the mug in her hands.

“Earl Grey in the silver one, coffee in the black one,” Nina announced. “And spiced walnut scones with browned butter glaze.”

Aziraphale’s eyes lit up, his hands clasped excitedly in front of him.

“These look delightful, Nina, thank you.” Aziraphale poured himself a cup of tea and set two scones onto a small plate. He took a seat across from the others.

As Aziraphale sipped his tea his attention kept slipping from the conversation to the entrance of the cafeteria, wondering when Crowley would arrive. It wasn’t like he had any right to worry about a grown man who didn’t need anyone fretting over him.

To distract himself, Aziraphale plucked a scone from his plate and took an indulgent bite. He closed his eyes and was met with flavors so heavenly that he inadvertently made a small sound. His eyes snapped open quickly realizing the noise he just made. To his relief, the only person who noticed was Maggie, who smiled, raised her own scone, and mouthed an empathetic: ‘I know right?’ Aziraphale nodded enthusiastically in response.

Anathema checked her watch and stood up from her spot at the end of the table. “Well, I should probably get started. First of all, happy first day! Thank you all for meeting here so early. The first day and last day are the only days we will meet this early, I promise.” She picked up her clipboard, “The first–”

The door to the cafeteria opened abruptly, the sound of the hinges echoing through the room. Through the doors jogged an out of breath Crowley.

“M’ sorry I’m late,” he called, quickly approaching the table. He slid into the seat next to Nina, who wordlessly passed him a cup of coffee.

“No worries, glad you’re here. Lucky for you we were just starting,” Anathema replied.

He smirked and leaned his head towards Nina to whisper conspiratorially, “Lucky bastard, me.”

Nina snorted and elbowed him in the side playfully which caused coffee to slosh over the side of his mug. Crowley chuckled under his breath and snatched a napkin from the middle of the table.

Anathema started going over staff expectations for the first day, her voice slowly faded into the background as Aziraphale’s train of thought derailed.

All of his surroundings dissolved as he gazed longingly at the redhead from his peripheral vision.

Crowley wore black tight jeans and a dark grey t-shirt whose logo was so faded it was indecipherable. His auburn hair was still wet and hung in waves framing the defined edges of his face. A rouge desire to run his fingers through it was quickly pushed away.

There was no denying the fierce attraction that crackled and stirred within him whenever he stole a glance at the gardener. Aziraphale felt drawn to him, pulled in like a ship changing course to venture closer to the unearthly beautiful sirens as they lounged on the rocks.

Anathema’s lips moved, and thankfully some part of his mind followed along. Words ‘protocol’ and ‘summer interns’ floated in and out of his consciousness, milkweed seeds floating on a breeze. Most of the nurse’s processing power was focused on other matters entirely.

Crowley leaned back in his chair, crossing his lean, muscular arms with his eyes fixed forward. Not only was he incredibly attractive, Aziraphale reasoned, but he was also cool in an effortless way that couldn’t be taught. He was just as cool back when they were in elementary school together. Young Crowley had spiked hair, an untucked shirt, and the attitude of someone who didn’t care what others thought of him.

This sat juxtaposed to Aziraphale’s experience, who spent most of his life living by other people’s standards. Those of his family required designer clothing and social ladder climbing that Aziraphale never cared for. At school he was a star student, heavily investing himself in his studies and gaining the approval of the nuns. Even at church, which for years he’d attended at the behest of his family, he’d sang the hymnals, recited the lord's prayer, and kneeled in reverence twice a week. Aziraphale didn’t care to tally up the number of years he’d lived for other people, the pieces of himself he gave away to stay included and safe.

But even with the safety of it, it had still been stifling. The humidity of it suffocated him even as a boy, clouding his vision and blocking his throat.

And then there had been rebellious and carefree Crowley, his classmate with constellation freckles and wit as fiery as his hair. Aziraphale remembered listening to him laugh with his friends and stealing glances at him over the top of his books. All those years ago he’d wanted to approach him, but at the time it seemed like they spoke two different languages. That was until Aziraphale heard him crying in the bathroom. In that moment he felt he knew Crowley well, as if maybe he wasn’t as carefree as he let on. Perhaps the parts of themselves they kept hidden were congruent, unlike their outward appearances were.

It was quite joyous now, to see the man Crowley had become. Still cool, still living unapologetically as himself. Perhaps his authenticity was the reason for the unexplained magnetism.

Anathema hummed in concentration for a moment. “I think that covers it. Oh, wait!” She snapped her fingers. “Aziraphale, are you still good to do the safety presentation for all the campers at two? We should be able to have it in the gym so you can use the projector.”

Pulled from his daydreaming, a jolt of anxiety shot through his chest.

Aziraphale had stuttered from a young age. It had mortified his parents, who dragged him to numerous speech-language pathologists to try and ‘cure’ his ailment. The professionals gave him strategies and tips to ease his disfluencies but, to his parent's dismay, none of them fully eradicated his errors. One speech therapist Aziraphale worked with integrated acceptance and commitment techniques into therapy once his stuttering had become milder. This approach enraged his parents, who accused the therapist of ‘teaching their son to give up’. Professionally and bluntly, the speech therapist pointed out that their strict and unrealistic expectations of their son’s speech were causing him distress and, in turn, could cause more disfluencies. Following that meeting, his parents stopped dragging him to outpatient clinics and said nothing regarding his occasional errors.

To this day, Aziraphale still stuttered on occasion. It was something that he’d come to terms with, accepting it as a part of himself as you would a scar or birthmark. During moments of stress, however, his disfluencies became more pronounced. He’d been initially eager about the presentation when Anathema had pitched it. Now that it was quickly approaching, the insidious ache of apprehension was starting to creep in.

Aziraphale nodded with as much confidence as he could muster, “Um, yes, everything is tickety-boo.”

Anathema smiled at him. “Wonderful, thank you.” She consulted her clipboard and made a few checks before setting it down. “I think that covers everything I planned to go over. Does anyone have any questions, comments, or anything they want to share before we scatter to the wind?”

There were a few remaining questions that Aziraphale tried to attend to, but he was preoccupied with the warmth starting to rise to his skin. Perhaps his blush was the reason why Crowley’s eyes had settled on him. His soft gaze did nothing to quell Aziraphale’s nervousness, but it did stir up something fluttery and foreign inside his chest.

—-

The arrival of campers was an exuberant burst of chaos punctuated by hugs and tears of both the happy and sad variety. Aziraphale was called to assist with one child’s sore tummy that manifested once their dad’s car drove away. While walking the child to his office, they stopped when they recognized their friends playing on the playground. They informed the nurse that their stomach was all better actually, and skipped over to join their mates on the monkey bars.

After check-in, Aziraphale spent the time leading up to his presentation by organizing and documenting all the medications, inhalers, and EpiPens that the campers had brought with them. Before he knew it, the clock on the office wall read 1:30pm. He collected his wits and notes before marching toward the gym.

The volume rose steeply as the campers funneled in. Aziraphale stood at the front near the projector screen, clutching his notes and watching the pandemonium of 86 children housed in a confined space. Anathema, the camp counselors, and the interns were intermixed among the children, answering questions, putting out fires, and keeping things together as much as possible. The other staff, Tracy, Newt, and Crowley, stood off to the side as extra support to help with the group. Anathema waved at Aziraphale and gave him the thumbs up to start.

Anxiety buzzed indiscriminately through Aziraphale as he stepped forward to speak. He cleared his throat assertively, “Um. Hello everyone!”

A few heads turned toward him, but his message didn’t capture the attention of most of the crowd.

He tried again louder, “Hello there campers. Can I have your attention please?”

There was some shushing as the camp counselors tried to direct the camper’s attention toward the front of the room.

Aziraphale swallowed, wondering vaguely if clapping his hands would help draw eyes to him. As he pondered this, a shrill dog whistle sounded from the side of the room. Aziraphale winced at the sudden noise and few students covered their ears in surprise.

“Oi!” Crowley called, taking his fingers away from his lips. “Who here is excited to go hiking?”

There was a boisterous chorus of ‘me!’ from the onlooking children.

“Right,” Crowley answered. “And who here is ready to go swimming in the lake?”

The question was met with a louder response and a few cheers.

“I thought so,” Crowley nodded, amused. “Well, before you get to do any of that, Nurse Aziraphale is going to go over some very important information with you all. So I need everyone to turn toward him and listen up, yeah?”

And with that, the room was silent and all eyes were on him.

“Take it away Aziraphale, they’re all yours.”

Gripping his notes with sweaty palms, Aziraphale nodded diffidently toward the gardener. Crowley winked in response, a crooked smile playing at his lips.

The subtle gesture sparked an excitement in his brain, an emotion he was quick to push aside. A wild seed, quickly covered by damp soil.

Despite the initial false start, the presentation went surprisingly well. Aziraphale managed to get through it easily and clearly, and the campers didn’t appear bored to pieces by it. He congratulated himself after with a celebratory oolong tea in his office. In the afternoon he dispensed medications and bandaged one scraped knee from a particularly chipper boy from Muriel’s group. His office hours ended at 6 PM, but he was required to keep his radio on him at all times in case of emergencies. Typically Aziraphale would eat dinner with the staff at 6:30, but feeling exhausted after a long day, he asked Nina to package his up to-go. He appreciated the interaction and enjoyed spending time with people, but he needed his time to recharge.

Aziraphale spent his evening reading in his cabin. It was a cooler night, so he kept one of the windows open. At about 8:30, he set his book down and went to sit on the front step. The sounds of the insects buzzing in the night air lulled him into a sense of ease. He craned his neck to look at the stars as they eased into focus with the dimming light of the sun. So caught up in his star gazing, he jumped slightly at seeing the gardener enter the clearing.

“Evening, Crowley!” he called.

“Hiya,” Crowley responded, making his way toward Aziraphale’s cabin. He paused about 20 feet away and stuffed his hands in his pockets, “Um, successful first day?”

Aziraphale nodded, “Yes, it went rather well. The kids are wonderful so far, I’m liking it a lot. And you?”

Crowley audibly exhaled, “Good, good. Just busy. Exhausting, really.”

“I agree with you completely, it was quite the day.”

The redhead nodded, kicking at the pebbles near his boot. A warm breeze picked up, the rustle of branches and leaves intermixed with the hazy chirping of crickets. The clearing suddenly felt like its own corner of the world, cut off from society, from the camp. It was just him and Crowley nestled amid the forest and the cabins and the unending twinkling of the stars above. The intimate proximity of it washed over Aziraphale, whose heart seized up in panic. Despite the fear, he let his eyes flash toward Crowley, whose toe continued to scuff at the exposed rock. The cornstalk leanness of him looked tense, his body poised to leave although his feet held firmly in place.

Perhaps he doesn’t want to leave.

Aziraphale broke the silence, clearing his throat out of nervousness, “Thank you, by the way.”

The gardener tilted his head, his brow scrunched, “For what?”

“For getting the camper's attention for me this afternoon. I was having a difficult time, um, starting out.”

“Oh, that. Yeah, don’t mention it.”

The darkening sky and the 20-feet of distance made it difficult to make out Crowley’s features with any certainty, but the nurse spied a slight change of color on the softness of the gardener's cheeks. With a hint of bravery, Aziraphale looked back up towards the night sky, “The stars are beautiful out here.”

Crowley turned his gaze upwards, “Aren’t they just? A clear night for it.”

“Just marvelous.”

“Um,” Crowley looked back towards him, he shifted slightly before managing to finish his thought, “Mind if I sit?”

The question was a match strike, sparking dueling trepidation and want within the lining of his chest. Aziraphale could feel the boundaries of the clearing close in further, cocooning them in this moment of gentle flame.

The unusual courage persisted, and the nurse wet his lips, “Y-yes, go right ahead.”

Aziraphale adjusted himself on the step to make room. Crowley hesitantly approached and eased next to him, his hands still pocketed, his body still tense. He ran a hand through his hair, keeping his eyes fixed above. The blonde drew his eyes upward as well, the two of them sharing a moment of contemplation of the heavens above. Precious moments spun by, the symphony of the forest somehow drowned out by the breathing of the man beside him.

Crowley tugged on his ear before pointing a slender finger toward the night sky “Do you see that cluster of four stars that leads to a windy bit, right there?”

Aziraphale squinted in the direction Crowley was pointing. “I’m afraid I don’t. Is it that bunch,” he indicated skyward, “just over there?”

“Not quite, it’s,” Crowley scooted closer, his arm grazing Aziraphale’s own. He gestured to the sky once more “Just there, can you see it now?”

Aziraphale followed the direction of his point, craning his next and scanning the stars. “Is-is that it?”

A triumphant smile played at Crowley’s lips as he nodded, “Yeah! That’s the head of Draco. It’s a dragon constellation.”

Aziraphale’s eyebrows furrowed, as he indicated upward, “That’s a dragon? That cluster of four?”

“Well, it’s not just those. There’s a line of stars that make up the rest of it.”

Aziraphale narrowed his eyes in concentration toward where his finger was pointed. He chewed on his lip, slightly frustrated he wasn’t seeing it. His breath hitched when his fingers brushed against his skin. Crowley’s hand sat gently on his forearm.

“Look, just there,” the gardener pulled his arm softly to the right, “There’s the next few, it makes the arch of his back.”

Adjusting to the touch was easy, sugar cubes dissolving in a teacup. Aziraphale dared not turn his head, his heart racketed against his ribcage as he followed his finger and watched as the dragon started to form.

“And these next few,” Crowley led Aziraphale's arm slightly downward. “make up a curve of his tail,”

“Those,” Crowley murmured quietly, “right there, are the end of it.”

“Wow,” Aziraphale could visualize it, the dragon made of glimmering starlight. “I see it now, it’s-it’s beautiful.”

How the Bonfires Burn - TicketyBoo_Delaney (3)

The nurse relaxed the muscles of his hands and let his arm return to his side. Despite this movement, Crowley’s hand remained tenderly cradling his forearm. The gardener was too preoccupied with the vastness above to notice, his eyes mirroring the twinkling of the distant suns.

Aziraphale carefully regarded the way the moonlight illuminated the fine details of Crowley’s face. The sharpness of his cheekbones was accentuated while the lovely freckles that dotted his skin shimmered in the darkness. His eyes lingered on the gardener’s lips, pink and slightly parted in wonder. Dizzy with fascination the nurse imagined how they’d taste, perhaps butter soft and honeysuckle sweet. Crowley must have felt the heat of Aziraphale’s gaze, his head turned and their eyes met. The moment hung between them amid the summer air.

The moment ended like the abrupt snap of a twig underfoot.

“It’s um,” Crowley removed his hand and adjusted himself, putting painful inches between them. The loss of contact and proximity hollowed out Aziraphale’s chest, leaving it barren and empty.

“Yeah, it’s um,” the redhead returned his hands to his pockets and cast his eyes down toward his feet. “It’s a good one.”

“Well, I-I-I-I’d never seen anything like that before,” Aziraphale stammered quickly. “We can’t see the stars in London.”

Crowley nodded, his eyes closed as he leaned his head back and sighed, “Lots out here London doesn’t have.”

“Indeed.”

They remained sitting, neither of them looking at the stars, neither of them looking at each other. Aziraphale started to wring his hands and tap his foot nervously against the concrete step.

“Um,” Aziraphale gestured to his cabin behind him. “I-I-I should probably– It’s just that it’s been such a full day and all.”

Crowley stood up and took a few steps away. “Yeah, right, right. Sorry. Um. I’ll let you get going.”

“No, no need to apologize,” Aziraphale stood, stepping back toward the door of his cabin. “Just wanted to get some reading done before bed. I’m afraid I’m not one for staying up late.”

“I understand,” Crowley replied. “I’ve got emails from work I should probably, um, should probably go over.”

Aziraphale nodded in affirmation, “Yes, I’m sure you’re busy with,” he gesticulated with his hands, “all of that.”

Crowley rubbed his shoulder, looking self-conscious. “Yeah, um. Have a good night, then.”

“Yes, and a good night to you as well, Crowley.”

Aziraphale wrenched open the door, retreating quickly to the sanctuary of his cabin. He fell back against the door, sliding down until he was seated on the floor. Covering his face in his hands, he tried to keep his breathing even despite the ice rime of unease that had formed around his lungs when Crowley pulled his hand away.

The sleepy sounds of dragonflies funneled through the open window. Aziraphale grasped his forearm where the gardener had touched him; invisible fingerprints singed against his skin. Through bittersweet tears, he mourned the loss of contact and crumpled with the stark reminder that he was terribly alone.

—--

Once again, Aziraphale found that he was lost.

All he could remember was walking down a long hallway. After several long minutes, he discovered two identical doors made of textured grey wood. He selected the one on the left and stepped through. He was back where he’d started- the end of the long hallway. Behind him only a vast expanse of blackness. Aziraphale felt his heartbeat quicken as he stared into the abyss. Something out there was making noise, out of the emptiness came whispers.

Oh god, he thought, please not this again.

The disembodied voices started their tirade as Aziraphale sprinted down the hallway. He finally reached the end where two doors sat waiting for him. He pulled open the door on the right, stepped through the threshold and–

Fall–

“Ah!”

The blonde’s forward moment was suddenly arrested, the fabric of his sweater tugging him backward. Chest heaving, Aziraphale stumbled onto solid ground. There were hands on his shoulders, holding him steady as he clutched his arms shaking.

This dream had previously ended the same way every time: falling into the abyss. Aziraphale braced himself to turn around, to face whatever had stopped him from his fall, to endure whatever new torment his mind had decided to conjure.

He spun hesitantly on his heels, his face coming within inches of a man with amber eyes and hair the color of Prometheus fire.

Heart seizing, he let out an audible gasp.

“Shhh,” Crowley gently set a slender finger against Aziraphale’s lips. “It’s okay, you’re safe now.”

There was nothing Aziraphale could say in response, he was transfixed by the redhead’s eyes and the ghost of his breath against his lips.

“You’re safe now,” he repeated as he tenderly grasped Azirahpale’s chin between his thumb and forefinger. Crowley’s eyes flicked hungrily to the blonde’s mouth as he leaned closer. “I’ve got you, angel.”

Aziraphale’s gaze softened, his eyes fluttering shut in anticipation.

BRING BRING BRING

Aziraphale wacked at his nightstand indiscriminately until he hit the off button on his phone. Adjusting himself in bed, he could feel the wet fabric of his underwear clinging to his painful erection. He rubbed the heel of his palm into his eyes and let out an audible groan.

“Oh… f*ck.”

Notes:

say hi on twitter!

Aziraphale is having an awakening of sorts...

(chapters posted weekly on Saturdays)

Chapter 4: Show

Notes:

accompanying playlist here

AMAZING art by @usedtobeHMC

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

The first week of summer camp was over, and already Crowley was profoundly f*cked .

The night he’d spent with Aziraphale looking at the stars was carved into his mind like splintered initials dug into the wood of a picnic table. Crowley couldn’t help himself that night, sitting next to his neighbor, scooting closer, guiding his arm. It wasn’t until he ripped his eyes away from the heavens that he noticed he hadn’t removed his hand and that Aziraphale’s water-blue eyes were fixed on him. They’d looked at each other for a moment, and Crowley shrunk away with the dual realization that he wanted to kiss this man and, if he did, he’d f*ck everything up.

Too fast, always too fast.

Their proximity had lulled him into a trance, and he had been unable to stop himself from approaching, for prolonging their moment together. Then had come the gardener’s fatal mistake of touching him, the sin of letting his fingers run over the silk expanse of Aziraphale’s arm as he pointed out the constellations. Afterward, as he lay awake cursing himself, his fingers hummed for hours, nerve endings sparking with a strange exhilaration.

Despite his proclivity for optimism, Crowley kept his brain on the tight leash of a simple truth: he didn’t even know if Aziraphale was single, let alone if he was attracted to men . All he knew conclusively was that there was an ex-fiance that used ‘she’ pronouns. Believing that Aziraphale was taken or straight was easier than letting his brain play out hideously romantic scenarios between the two of them. Thoughts of Aziraphale whizzed past him like mosquitos, annoyingly persistent.

For the rest of the week, he tried to keep his focus on the usual business: tending to the gardens and maintaining the grounds. He completed his tasks on his own, chatting with coworkers when they passed by and engaging with campers who would approach him with questions about plants.

But whenever he got the opportunity, he also talked with Aziraphale.

Their discussions weren’t about anything substantial, but Crowley was endlessly amused by Aziraphale’s wit. Sometimes in the evenings after the staff ate dinner, they would walk back to their cabins together, the trail crunching underfoot as the blonde’s lilting laugh echoed in the vast forest around them. The past few nights, the gardener found they were walking slower, standing in the clearing long, trying to prolong their time together even when they’d run out of things to say.

Crowley also had the chance on several occasions to watch Aziraphale as he worked. It filled him with adoration, seeing the nurse turn tears into laughter by using sleight-of-hand magic to pull a bandaid out of a child’s ear. Crowley saw panic attacks eased with the nurse’s patient presence and soothing words. The sunlight illuminated the man’s platinum curls as a homesick camper threw their arms around him, his returning embrace gentle and steadying.

On the nights when they didn’t walk back together, Crowley would try to catch a glimpse of Aziraphale through his window, although he could usually make out his silhouette holding a book or bringing a mug to his lips. Crowley wondered what it would be like to be invited inside, to share a glass of wine and while away the night in each other's company. Would his hands feel soft against the calloused pads of his own fingers? Would he taste deliciously sweet, when Crowley traced his tongue along the pink edges of his lips?

All Crowley could do was squeeze his eyes shut and force those impossible, traitorous thoughts into the recesses of his mind. It was often an exhausting and pointless endeavor as they continued to spring up unannounced, pushing through the soil with their roots already firmly anchored below.

His daydreaming was so pervasive that on Wednesday morning of the second week, Crowley had a literal run-in with the man. He blindly turned a corner, causing them to collide head-on.

“Oh!”

“Fu-”

Stacks of files slipped from Aziraphale’s grasp, scattering on the floor around them. A flash of feverish heat crossed Crowley’s face, he wished he could wither away to save himself from the embarrassment.

“sh*t- I mean, shoot. I’m sorry. Are you okay?”

“Yes, yes, just a tad startled.” Aziraphale chuckled bashfully. “And you, my dear? Are you alright?”

“Yeah, m’ fine. Just um, wasn’t looking I guess.” Crowley dropped to his knees to sweep the papers strewn on the ground into a makeshift pile and to avoid the nurse’s gaze that held so much concern and fondness. Aziraphale bent down and joined him.

“No no, it’s quite alright. I’m afraid I wasn’t paying much attention to where I was going either.”

For a few moments, there was only the sound of pages rustling as they worked, Crowley worried that the tremor of his heart would be audible in the relative quiet. As he reached for a file folder to his left, his fingers brushed against the smooth skin of Aziraphale’s hand.

“S-sorry,” the blonde breathed. He scooped up a makeshift stack of papers and stood up.

Crowley mumbled something in reply, the mortification overwhelming in its intensity as he stood and tried to straighten the jumbled documents. “Here. I’m– damn it, I’m so sorry. It’ll take ages to sort these outlets, I'd imagine.”

“Well, the good thing is these were all heading to the shredder. So no harm done.”

Fifty pounds of pressure lifted from Crowley’s shoulders as he sighed, “Good, that’s–that’s– well, good. I’m glad I didn’t ruin your day then.”

Aziraphale shook his head, his platinum curls jostling lightly at the movement. “Oh Crowley, you could never ruin my day.”

He smiled as he said it, the draw of his gaze hypnotic as all else around Crowley blurred around the edges. The gardener felt his skin warm as if the rays of the sun were caressing his skin. How long he could live here, basking in the warmth of Aziraphale’s presence? The moment tilted and spilled from its overfilled saucer as Crowley looked down, breaking their eye contact.

“Well, um. I’m just on my way to see Anathema for the check-in thing. So I should probably–” Crowley motioned towards the office.

“Oh yes! I wouldn’t want you to be late. She has some updates for everyone, so I wish you the best.”

Crowley put his hands in his pockets, “Okay, right. Well, thanks Aziraphale. I’ll see you later then, I ‘spose?”

“Yes, I suppose so.” Aziraphale grinned again, “Have a good rest of your day, Crowley.”

Aziraphale walked past him and turned the corner. Crowley stood in the hallway for a moment and tried to remember how to breathe.

—-

Anathema didn’t notice Crowley leaning against the door frame to her office, her brow was furrowed in concentration as her eyes scanned her computer screen. Crowley knocked on the door to grab her attention. Her eyes shot to him.

“Hey, sorry I didn’t see you. Come on in and shut the door behind you.”

These bi-weekly check-ins were new, something Anathema put into place after taking over as director. Crowley was mostly a status quo kind of guy when it came to work. In his business, he hired reliable people and trusted them enough to get their work done independently. Most of the time it ran like a well-oiled machine, so he hardly ever needed to micromanage. When Anathema was promoted at the camp she shook up a lot of things. The changes were a slight annoyance at first, but he had to admit that things were going more smoothly this summer than they ever had before.

Crowley obeyed Anathema’s instructions and took a seat in one of the chairs across from her desk. “Seems a bit formal, all of this.”

She shrugged, “Maybe. But I thought it would be good to have regular check-ins with staff, at least in my first year. The door’s closed though, so you can code-switch back to being your lovely uncensored self.”

Crowley relaxed into his seat and sighed dramatically, “f*ck, that’s better.”

“There he is,” Anathema laughed, “that’s my Crowley.”

They eased into talking about the day-to-day operations and teasing each other. After a few minutes, Anathema leaned back in her chair and raised an eyebrow inquisitively.

“How are you feeling, by the way?”

This question again. Crowley shifted in his seat, “I’m good, nice to be back out in nature again. I do miss spending time with Nina in the evenings.”

“Well, have you and Aziraphale spent any time together?”

“Um, a little.”

“Oh?”

Crowley furrowed his brow, “Is there something you’re trying to insinuate?”

Anathema held up her hands, “No, no! Nothing at all. Just wanted to see how you were getting along with your neighbor, that’s all.”

“Mhm.”

“And your aura looks different.”

Crowley groaned, “Ugh, that witchy sh*t.”

Anathema smirked, “Witchy sh*t or not, I’m just looking out for you. You know you can always come talk to me if you need to, right?”

“Right, right. I know.”

“Good,” she asserted with a soft smile. “Getting us back on track then, the last thing I wanted to tell you about was the plan for the rest of this week.”

Crowley was relieved he was out of the hot seat.

“I’ve been keeping an eye on the weather and starting this afternoon it’s going to be stormy the rest of the week. So our plan for taking the students to camp at Jasmine Point isn’t going to happen.”

“That’s too bad.”

“I know, it’s a bummer. So we will most likely have to keep the campers inside for the next few days. But, I had a wonderful idea,” Anathema’s eyes widened in excitement.

“Oh?” Crowley vaguely remembered Aziraphale mentioning something about ‘big updates’.

“Two words,” Anathema leaned closer. “Talent. Show.”

Crowley raised an eyebrow and nodded, “Campers will like that.”

“I know right?” Anathema clasped her hands together. “So it will be on Sunday. I already talked with the camp counselors about it, and they’re going to coordinate with the kiddos to come up with the acts and make decorations. Nina is going to make popcorn and punch for refreshments, Tracy has offered to work backstage to help with the line-up, and Aziraphale is going to be the Emcee.”

Crowley whistled, “I’m impressed, that’s going to be quite the event. Anything you need my help with?”

“If you’d be free, could you help out in the gym on the night of the talent show? Just there as an extra set of hands if needed.”

The gardener gave a two-finger salute, “That I can do.”

“Thank you, I do really appreciate all your help.”

“Ah,” Crowley scoffed, “Now don’t you go getting soft on me.”

Anathema grinned, “Guess you’re gonna have to deal with it. Now get out of here.”

Crowley guffawed, “Right away, madam Director.”

—----

Sunday

Crowley strained as he reached under his bed to retrieve his guitar. God, I’m getting old. He didn’t play often anymore, but he liked having it nearby for when the mood struck him. He was quite good at playing, although he could never really stand the sound of his singing voice. In an emergency, however, he could carry a tune without scaring people away. He needed it today because Nina had recruited him to play the background music for one of Maggie’s talent show groups and he just so happened to owe Nina several favors.

The weight guitar felt comfortable in his hands, and he lightly strummed a familiar chord. The tips of his fingers were perpetually calloused from the hundreds of hours they spent pressed against the strings. Crowley winced when the chord came out sour. Setting his guitar to the side, he fished in an external pocket of the case for his tuner. His fingers brushed something unfamiliar, and he pulled it from the pocket out of curiosity. To his surprise and amusem*nt, it was a tube of eyeliner.

Several years ago, more years than he would care to admit, Crowley was in a punk band in London. They wrote some original songs, but mostly they played covers at small venues and dive bars. Playing music had been fun enough, everything else about the band was a bit of a trainwreck. It was a time when he’d been young and careless with a group of other young and careless people. For a few years, it was an endless cycle of late nights, drinking, drugs, and strangers' beds. Burned into his mind was a morning he woke up feeling particularly wretched.

Crowley’s hand closed around the eyeliner, remembering.

[16 YEARS AGO:

Crowley grit his teeth and squeezed his eyes shut against the sunlight that streamed in from the window. He gripped the edge of the bedsheet, attempting to cover his face from the light. The sheet wouldn’t budge, weighed down by the person lying next to him who groaned at the movement. Crowley pushed upward on his elbows, realizing through the fog in his brain that nothing about this room looked familiar. He squinted to look at the clock next to the bed: 11:29 AM August 9th.

August 9th? No that’s not possible, he thought to himself. Wasn’t it just the other day he’d called his brother Ezekiel on their birthday, although they hung up when Crowley couldn’t stop slurring to get out a clear sentence, and that was on July 6th. No, no, no, the clock had to be wrong.

His breathing quickened as he looked around for his mobile. In the corner of the room, he spotted his black pants in a crumpled heap next to his other clothes. Moving out of the bed took effort and triggered a significant wave of nausea but he was able to manage it, propelled by the panic coursing through his veins. After fishing his phone out of his pants pocket, it confirmed what he’d feared- the date read August 9th. A quick search revealed he’d ignored several missed calls from his brothers, but he’d made several calls to his bandmates. There were messages sent to odd numbers asking about pick-up times and locations. Fragments of memory started to come back to him as cold sweat beaded across his skin.

He’d been high or drunk for the better part of month

He’d lost an entire month

He, oh god, he was–

He was going to be sick.

Luckily the bathroom was attached to the bedroom he was in, otherwise he wouldn’t have made it. With the contents of his stomach emptied, he stayed on the floor for a bit before he felt steady enough to stand back up. Shakily, he rose to the sink.

A pale and dangerously thin specter with bloodshot eyes greeted him from the mirror. He blinked, and so did the phantom. With trembling hands Crowley touched his face, the ghost mimicked his movements, his fingers touching the hollows of his cheeks and pressing into against his paper-like skin.

He’d become unrecognizable, living as a shadow in himself. For a month he’d hovered above the ground unable to perceive sensations besides the intense highs associated with living a dangerous, hedonistic life. The demon’s face– his face– twisted as he wiped at the tears flowing down his cheeks.

Crowley splashed cold water on his face, and brought water to his lips, rinsing the acrid taste from his mouth. A small voice, the one Crowley worked so actively to drown out, spoke to him as he studied the stranger in the mirror. It wasn’t a kind voice, but it spoke a simple, harsh truth: he was not going to survive much longer like this. There must have been an ounce of self-preservation left in him because on this occasion he listened.]

Crowley loosened his grip on the eyeliner, watching it as it rolled slightly in his palm. After that morning he’d left London and didn’t look back. He did all the monotonous, dreadful things you do to get clean and keep your body alive. He went to meetings, talked with counselors, drank water, and ate actual food. It wasn’t until he started digging in the earth that he felt connected to his body again, no longer hovering outside of himself. Growing things, smelling the fresh air, and being outside– all physical sensations that were worth the occasional pain and hurt. Something worth living for.

A deep sigh escaped his lips as he toyed with the idea of tossing the old makeup in the bin. Ultimately he decided to return it to the pocket of his guitar case. If he’d learned anything from counseling, and god did it take him ages to learn, it was that the past could never truly be buried or thrown away. The only option he had was to acknowledge, make peace, and move on. He would keep eyeliner as a reminder of where he’d been—a reminder of where he never wanted to end up again.

—-

Crowley had planned on heading straight to the lodge, but Tracy sent him a message asking if he’d seen Aziraphale. So he stepped out of his cabin with his guitar and umbrella as he tried to ignore the fluttering inside his stomach. From his front step, he could hear faint jazz playing over the sound of downpouring rain as he approached the nurse’s cabin. Setting his guitar down, Crowley paused before he knocked to straighten his jacket and fix his hair.

With an exhale, he gave three solid taps on the door.

“Just a moment!”

The music stopped and the door swung open. Aziraphale stood before him in a full black suit with a cream-colored vest and white bowtie. His platinum curls were coiffed elaborately and a thin stick-on mustache hung precariously on his top lip.

Aziraphale stepped aside and gestured with a flourish, “Enter!”

Crowley didn’t know what he was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t this. He cleared his throat, “Um, uh, th-thanks.”

He stepped inside awkwardly, wiping his feet on the mat. Azirahpale’s cabin was identical to his own but in the nurse’s dwelling, most of the surfaces were covered in books, quilts, and mugs.

“Didn’t mean to intrude, uh, but Tracy messaged me and asked me to check in on you.”

Aziraphale’s eyes widened slightly as he fished out his phone. “Oh! Yes, I missed her messages. I’ve been busy getting ready. Where did the time go?”

The nurse trotted over to the bed, pulling forward a large leather trunk. “Well, I do appreciate you relaying the message.” He opened the clasp, and a flurry of bright white feathers burst forth.

“Oh, this is marvelous ,” Aziraphale squealed as he pulled out a comically over-plush boa and swung it over his shoulders with dramatic flair. “How do I look?”

The whole ensemble was quite impressive, very flashy, and ‘showbiz’. Crowley mostly cycled through the same few articles of clothing, preferring comfort over anything elaborate. Aziraphale was positively glowing, somehow outshining the glamor of his outfit. The corner of his mustache peeled off as he grinned, and it still looked quintessentially ‘Aziraphale’. The redhead’s heart swelled affectionately. You’re beautiful, you’re stunning. I’ve never swooned in my life and yet…

“You look very nice, it suits you well,” Crowley blushed, “The mustache bit is coming off though.”

Aziraphale face fell as he let out a huff, “Oh, this darn thing,” he pressed the mustache into his top lip again.

“Did you just have this suit on hand? Can’t imagine this is the customary dress for nurses.”

Aziraphale chuckled, “Oh no, no. Once I heard we were having a talent show, I asked my neighbor to send me my box of things.” He gestured to the leather box laying opened on the bed.

Crowley inched closer to get a better view. Inside was littered with colorful items: decks of cards, feathers, bouquets of fake flowers, long stretches of handkerchiefs, metal rings, and knotted ropes.

“Magic stuff, yeah?”

“Well spotted!” the nurse clapped excitedly. “It’s a hobby of mine. I performed at a few of Anathema’s birthday parties when she was younger.”

“I’ve never seen a magic act, I don’t think.”

Aziraphale gasped audibly, “Oh, well you’ll see one tonight, my dear! Anathema was so kind to let me intersperse my tricks between the camper's acts. This suit is the newest addition, watch this!”

Aziraphale raised his right arm, wrist turning in a circular motion. On the last twirl, sparks shot out of his sleeve. Crowley’s eyes widened in genuine surprise.

“Wow, wasn’t expecting that.”

“Isn’t it marvelous? I’m going to open with that trick, I think it will set the stage perfectly.” The edge of Aziraphale’s mustache detached once more and hung limply above his lip.

“I’m at the end of my rope with this mustache I tell you,” he groaned, moving to the mirror.

“Maybe it would be easier if you didn’t wear it?” Crowley suggested.

“No, no, no, I’ve always worn a mustache. It’s part of the ensemble.” Aziraphale removed his hands from his face, and his mustache immediately fell again. The blonde started to look panicked, an expression that didn’t sit well with Crowley.

“Do you have another you can wear since this one isn’t working?”

Aziraphale shook his head, “Only this one I’m afraid.” He carefully reapplied it to his upper lip, but this time the entire accessory fell onto the floor. His face darkened in disappointment.

It physically pained Crowley to see Aziraphale in such a state, especially after he had been so joyful moments before. An idea flashed briefly through his head, “I, um- I might have something.”

Crowley lifted his guitar case onto the bed and reached into the external pocket. Aziraphale turned, watching him with interest. Once the gardener found the item he was looking for, he held it up, “We could draw one on.”

Aziraphale let out a breath, his features softening into a hopeful expression, “Yes, now that-that could work.”

Crowley stepped closer to hand it over, and Aziraphale looked at it uneasily. “I’m not sure I could, um. Do you think you could draw one? I’m not very practiced with um make-up or-or drawing. I would hate to m-make a mess of things.”

Crowley's chest clenched, but he shrugged as casually as he could manage, “I haven’t done one before either. But I could give it a shot though, if you want.”

Aziraphale nodded with eyes wide, his expression tender and hopeful, “I-I’d appreciate it.”

Anything, Crowley’s wretched heart called out, anything you want .

The moment was as delicate as glass. Crowley swallowed, his mouth suddenly dry as he inched forward, “Can I, um, touch your face? To make sure I don’t–”

“Yes.”

His fingertips gently took hold of the Aziraphale’s chin, tilting his head upwards. Aziraphale’s eyes scanned his face as a rose blush bloomed across his cheeks. Some deep and selfish part of Crowley relished the sight as he wondered what reaction he’d get by bringing both hands to cradle the blonde’s cherubic face. How might he respond to Crowley’s long fingers brushing the soft skin of his cheeks? How might Aziraphale’s expression change if Crowley let his lips brush against—

Crowley bit down on the inside of his cheek, the jolt of the pressure cutting off his amorous daydreaming. The sensation of pressure brought him back to the present moment and kept him tethered to the ground.

“Ready then?” he asked in a hushed voice.

Aziraphale nodded.

Crowley’s hand was unsteady as he brought the eyeliner to the top of Aziraphale’s lip. He started the black line at the ridge under the nurse’s nose, slowly and meticulously dragging it to the right. Aziraphale only breathed in gentle exhalations that brushed against the redhead’s fingertips, it set his heart at a rapid and percussive pace. Despite his worried tremors, Crowley managed a finish with a decent curl on the right side. Leaning back slightly, he examined his handiwork. Aziraphale’s eyes fluttered closed, the lines of worry on his forehead smoothed.

“Looks decent, I’m- Um- other side, now.”

“Mhm.” Aziraphale hummed lowly and sweet, honey dripping from a comb.

Adrenaline coursed through Crowley’s veins as eased the nurse’s head slightly to the left side. It took a monumental effort to ignore the proximity, the feeling of Aziraphale’s skin, the intoxicating smell of his cologne–amber and musk. He raised the liner once again, his eyes flicked back and forth from the left to right side, making sure things looked even. Once he shakily finished the curl, he tilted Aziraphale’s head to either side to get a full view.

“I-I think that should work.”

Aziraphale opened his eyes, his pupils expanding against piercing blue irises. Crowley’s breath caught painfully in his throat, he dared not remove his hand. For a brief moment, they stood incredibly still. Aziraphale parted his lips as if to say something, but no words came out. His gaze flicked down to Crowley’s mouth, then back to his eyes. Crowley felt untethered, and it took all of his willpower not to pull gently upward on Aziraphale’s chin, bringing him to his lips. To kiss this silly, passionate, beautiful man.

It was Crowley, though, who looked away first. He dropped his hand and shuffled back slightly.

“Um, why don’t you give it a look in the mirror? Tell me if I need to redo it.”

Aziraphale gave a hard blink and nodded. Once in front of the mirror, his expression shifted and lit up his entire face as he examined his upper lip. Crowley felt a trickle of relief.

“It’s excellent, I could never have managed something this precise on my own. I’m so thankful you were here to help.”

“Anytime,” Crowley replied, his heart beat quick and dizzying, “anything you want.”

How the Bonfires Burn - TicketyBoo_Delaney (4)

—--

Crowley held the umbrella as they made their way to the lodge. It was hard fitting both of them under, especially when Aziraphale was lugging his large magic trunk. They said little to each other on the way, letting the sound of the rain settle around them like a cloak. Once they arrived, they shook off their slightly damp clothes and stored their respective equipment behind the makeshift curtains of the stage.

“I, um,” Crowley looked at Aziraphale, the gym lighting making him luminous and grand. “I just want to wish you good lu-”

“Ah, Aziraphale!” Tracy scurried over with a clipboard. “So glad you’re here, lots to go over before the campers get here.”

“Oh, yes, good idea.” Aziraphale gave an apologetic smile as Tracy started prattling off the agenda.

Crowley gave a small wave before turning away. Shoving his hands into his pockets, he actively ignored the feelings bubbling to the surface. He swiftly decided that keeping busy would be the best way to keep his mind off things. Subsequently, he put himself to work helping the kitchen interns set out snacks. Following that he helped show campers to their seats and directed traffic as they arrived. Once the kids had arrived, he leaned against the wall to take it all in. He was thankful for the loud chatter of the kids and the anticipatory energy that worked to drown out what his brain and heart were trying to ruminate on. It was only partially successful, the image of being close to Aziraphale was seared into the back of his eyelids.

“Earth to Crowley,” came a voice directly next to him. He moved back slightly, surprised by the sudden noise. It was Nina, her head co*cked to the side. “I’ve been calling over to you, everything alright? You look glazed over.”

He sighed, “Think I’m just tired, is all.”

“Mhm,” she replied, gazing at him intently. He shifted uncomfortably and changed the topic.

“All of this looks great, huh?”

“Yep, really came together. Anathema wanted me to ask you to lower the lights so the show can start. You up for it?”

“Nope,” he attempted a sarcastic tone, but it came out stiff.

Nina crossed her arms, “Tea tomorrow, yeah? It’s about time we catch up.”

“Yeah, tomorrow works.”

She nodded and walked to her seat next to Maggie. Crowley dimmed the lights which elicited some cheering from the kids. The stage sat empty for a few moments, the campers began to whisper excitedly.

Out onto the stage stepped Aziraphale, the shockingly plush boa around his neck. He dramatically approached the microphone.

“Good evening ladies and gentlemen! It is so wonderful to be here with you. It is I, the Amazing Mr. Fell,” he bowed deeply with a flourish of his hands. “And I will be hosting tonight’s soiree. Now, my dear campers of Eden, answer me this: are we going to let a little rain spoil our fun tonight?”

A loud chorus of ‘No’s’ erupted from the audience.

Aziraphale clasped his hands together, “Exactly, no we are not! After all, what’s that lovely expression? April showers make,” a quick motion and a bouquet appeared in his hand, “May flowers!”

There was a bit of laughter, Aziraphale’s face brightened even more. Crowley crossed his arms, unable to hold back an affectionate smile.

“Oh thank you, thank you! You’re too kind. Now, our first act will be four campers from the Muriel’s Group doing a gymnastic routine. As they make their way to the stage, I want to remind everyone to clap loudly after each performance. There is so much talent in this room and tonight everyone is going to shine bright !”

On the word ‘bright’ Aziraphale raised his right arm and twirled his wrist. When nothing happened he looked at his sleeve, worry flashing across his face. Crowley realized he must be trying to do the sparkler trick he had been shown earlier.

The crowd was silent and Aziraphale laughed nervously, “Haha, well what I said was, that there is so much talent in this room and tonight everyone is going to shine bright !” He made the same exaggerated motion with his hand, and again nothing happened.

The gym was silent, a few campers looked at each other in confusion.

The realization hit Crowley then– the sparklers in Aziraphale’s sleeve had gotten damp when they walked through the rain. His stomach churned as Aziraphale gave another nervous laugh.

“Oh, you know how, um, fickle magic can be!” Even from the side of the gym, Crowley could see the sweat start to bead on Aziraphale’s forehead. “Sometimes it only works in three’s. So on our third attempt, I’m going to need help from all of you. When I say the word ‘bright’ I want you all to hold your arms up like this!”

Crowley covered his face with a single hand. Of course, Aziraphale was going to try again, he’d been so excited about performing with his new suit. Crowley shifted closer to the switches and leaned against the wall.

“Okay, I say again! Tonight everyone is going to shine bright ! On the word ‘bright’ Aziraphale once again twirled his wrist, and the campers and staff all raised their arms upwards.

And Crowley flicked the light switches.

Gasps and squeals echoed throughout the gym, and the younger campers jumped and wiggled excitedly. Even the older campers laughed and looked at each other in disbelief. Aziraphale looked confused as he stared at the lights. He cleared his throat and gave a wide grin as he wiped his brow with the back of his hand, “Ah, see, I knew the magic was working!”

Crowley let out a sigh of relief.

Following the introduction, Aziraphale brought the first group of campers on. In between each act he would say a joke or two and do tricks. Most of them went well, although he did drop the metal rings and the trick rose he attached to his shirt pocket sprayed himself instead of Newt. The kids liked that bit the best.

Maggie’s group that Crowley was playing for was scheduled to be towards the end. They made their way backstage after the performance directly before them started. As Crowley stood near Maggie and the kids, Aziraphale pulled him aside out of the view of the others.

“Was that you, the bit with the lights?” he whispered hurriedly.

Crowley shrugged, “A magician never reveals his secrets.”

Aziraphale stared at him incredulously.

Crowley relented, “After the second attempt, I realized your suit must have gotten wet. Thought I could lend a hand.”

“Ah,” Aziraphale slapped his forehead, “So that’s why it didn’t work. Why didn’t I think of that? Foiled by the rain. Oh, I just–”

Crowley was suddenly pulled against the magician in a crushing embrace.

“My dear, I can’t thank you enough.”

Their bodies pressed against each other, creating a magical, fearful symmetry. The hug was short, but for Crowley it went on endlessly. It pained him when Aziraphale pulled away, like prying bark off a tree. For a moment they were as close as they were earlier, and Aziraphale’s features were rounded and flushed and Crowley wanted nothing more than to whisk him away. The song playing over the speakers ended in a crescendo and applause started. Aziraphale looked to the stage, the moment severed.

“Ah-the show must go on! We can talk later, yes?”

“Um, yes-yes”

Aziraphale quickly made his way back to the sidestage and congratulated the campers leaving.

Head spinning, Crowley tried to breathe as he moved back to the group.

Maggie shuffled over to him, “Ready to go on, boss?”

Crowley nodded distractedly. He didn’t look toward Maggie, as he was transfixed by the man on stage. Aziraphale laughed heartily as he began to pull increasingly absurd objects out of a hat.

God, Aziraphale was beautiful. But until tonight, Crowley hadn’t realized that he was also magical .

“I’m ready.”

Notes:

say hi on twitter!

Magician Aziraphale my beloved

(chapters posted weekly on Saturdays)

Chapter 5: Wasps

Notes:

accompanying playlist here

AMAZING art by @usedtobeHMC

I can't thank you enough for all the love on this so far <3

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Aziraphale was quite good at a great many things. For example, he could polish off a novel in the span of a day and knew every lyric to the musical ‘Sunday in the Park with George’. Once he even managed a particularly delicious batch of chocolate croissants. At age 44, he liked to think that he could take an accurate inventory of his strengths and weaknesses.

Then along came Crowley, and Aziraphale realized that coping with a crush was a skill he’d never had a chance to develop and was therefore woefully unprepared.

It all made him feel incredibly young, the flips his stomach did whenever the man was around, the way he spent each day wishing he could run into him more frequently. They started to chat more often when they passed each other, and after the staff meal they walked back to the cabins together, both of them lingering after they’d run out of things to say. Even in dreams Aziraphale was unable to escape, his subconscious playing out a myriad of amorous fantasies that made him blush when he thought about them in the light of day.

But being forward was not one of his specialties either and, even though color rose to Crowley’s cheeks and his gorgeous amber eyes widened whenever they spoke, Aziraphale was too hesitant to give this evidence any credence. When Crowley had assisted him with his make-up before the talent show, Aziraphale had been flooded with a torrent of desire, and knew that his face must have been pathetically readable: lean in, kiss me, I’m here, please. But Crowley didn’t, even though there was a dizzying second when their breath ghosted each other's lips and the rest of the world faded away and he’d looked like he was going to– like he wanted to.

A logical and antagonistic part of Aziraphale’s brain would speak up whenever he tried to read into things: Maybe he’s not gay. He’s probably not. And even if he is, maybe he has a partner. He probably has a wife, kids even.

The possibility was enough to halt most of Aziraphale’s daydreams before they became more wistful and substantial. Although he was typically adept at making conversation, he wasn’t sure how to casually inquire about someone’s relationship status and, god forbid, their sexuality, so he remained unsure.

Despite the immense beauty of Camp Eden, despite the joy of working with the campers, and despite the ease with which he settled into his new start, the pull toward Crowley was becoming more encompassing.

Aziraphale found himself passively fretting about it one overcast afternoon as he made notes in a camper’s chart. Static cut through the tranquility of his corner office, he pulled his walkie from the clip on his belt expectantly.

“Nurse Aziraphale, are you in your office?” The intonation was light, bubbly, and characteristically Muriel.

“Yes, I’m here. How can I help?”

There was a bit of a pause before the response came through, “I’ll come to you. Stay there.”

This voice was distorted by static but it unmistakably belonged to Crowley.

Aziraphale quickly tidied up his desk which presently overflowed with stacks of files. With a glance in the mirror, he adjusted the collar of the flannel polo and wrangled his unkempt curls.

Seconds ticked by as he waited impatiently for Crowley to arrive, wringing his hands and checking his watch. He admonished himself for feeling excited, knowing that he was most likely bringing a sick or injured child to his office for care. Nevertheless, the butterflies persisted. When three knocks came from the frame of his door, his head turned sharply to their source.

“Crowley,” Aziraphale was surprised to see that he was here alone, “is everything alright?”

“Hi. Um, not really.” Crowley held his left forearm, keeping it tucked into his side. There was an angry red flush to his face and his eyes kept darting from Aziraphale to the floor.

The nurse stood up quickly as he worriedly scanned to see if he could locate the problem. “What’s wrong?”

Crowley gritted his teeth, “I was tilling the soil in one of the herb gardens and must have hit a yellow jacket’s nest. I got stung a few times on my arm.”

Aziraphale’s professionalism and years of nursing experience kicked in, overtaking his previous jitters. “Oh my, I’m so sorry to hear that. Have a seat and let me take a look.”

Crowley shut the door behind him and shuffled to the examination table, looking embarrassed. Aziraphale moved to the small sink in the corner and began to lather his hands.

“How many times do you think you were stung,” he asked over his shoulder.

“No f*cking clue, afraid to look.”

The crunch of paper towels cut through the quiet as Aziraphale dried his hands. He slid on his latex gloves before approaching the redhead, who looked uncharacteristically unguarded and vulnerable.

“May I see your arm, my dear?”

‘My dear’ was a hackneyed staple of Aziraphale’s vocabulary that he sprinkled in during most conversations and exchanges. This time, however, it appeared to have a particular effect on Crowley, whose deep marigold eyes raised to meet his own. He opened his mouth to say something, but nothing came out but a soft exhale. Resetting, he swallowed, nodded, and presented his arm to the nurse.

Aziraphale put on his glasses and examined the skin carefully before taking the appendage gently in his hands. Even though this was the arm with Crowley’s coiling snake tattoo, the stings were fairly pronounced, appearing as swollen welts peppered from his mid-forearm up to his shoulder.

“I spy about 6 stings in total.” Aziraphale shifted Crowley’s arm tenderly as if it were a piece of spun glass. “Typically I’d prescribe ibuprofen & ice but,” the nurse lifted Crowley’s arm and shook his head, unable to hide the glint of mischief in his eye, “Given that you have this intricate and lovely tattoo, I’m afraid the whole arm will have to come off.”

Crowley’s left eye raised and the corner of his mouth curled in amusem*nt, “Is that so? And here I thought I still had a few good years to spend with lefty.”

Aziraphale chuckled as he collected a sterile cloth and ran it under warm water. “No, no I’m afraid this must be done as soon as possible. I’ll give you time to say your goodbyes.”

Crowley’s grin widened, his body relaxing slightly as the nurse started to gently cleanse the skin of his arm. Aziraphale was thankful that he had something to focus on because if he allowed his eyes to meet Crowley’s he was afraid he’d get lost in them, sunlight reflecting off slow amber sap. There was relative silence in the tiny office for a few moments, the only sounds were of cloth against skin and the hypnotic, even pattern of Crowley’s breathing.

Eventually one of them broke the silence and they started discussing the chaos that was the upcoming parent weekend. Conversation flowed easily between them, a natural back and forth that Aziraphale couldn’t recall having with anyone else. Being close to Crowley always felt a bit like that – milkweed seeds carried lazily by a summer breeze.

How the Bonfires Burn - TicketyBoo_Delaney (5)

A hidden, selfish part of Aziraphale wished that he wasn’t wearing latex gloves so that he could more easily feel the heat of Crowley’s skin under his fingertips. Perhaps he could lovingly trace the tattoo on his arm, starting from the tender surface of his wrist and gradually making his way up to the smooth expanse of his shoulder. The nurse blinked hard, admonishing himself for getting carried away in such risque daydreaming.

He typically found great joy and fulfillment in being of service to others, but there was a curious swell in Aziraphale’s chest as he tended to Crowley that wasn’t the usual fluttering that he attributed to having a crush. No, this feeling was deeper and foreign, a wild seed taking root in the dark soil of the untilled earth.

As Aziraphale cleansed the skin of Crowley’s upper arm his focus honed in on the sight of a small scar. It was rounded and raised, cloaked by the ink of the tattoo. From the way that it was stretched slightly around the edges, it had been there awhile, possibly decades. The nurse had seen them before, but it never got any easier.

A cigarette burn.

Aziraphale paused only briefly, but it was enough that Crowley noticed. He responded by tensing and pulling his arm back slightly.

“S-sorry,” Aziraphale took a step back and held up his hands. Panic splintered through him as his eyes darted worriedly across the other man’s face.

“Ngk, it’s–” Crowley swallowed and readjusted himself on the table, “It’s just an old thing.”

Aziraphale nodded, suddenly aware of the hummingbird pace of his pulse. They stayed apart for a few seconds, both unspeaking as Crowley looked anywhere but his face.

“Are–”

“You can, um, keep going. It’s okay.”

The oxygen was sucked out of the room, the ground below them was eggshell-thin. Aziraphale let out a skittish exhale before closing the space between them. His hands tenderly finished cleansing Crowley’s upper arm and shoulder. His brain flashed warning signs that he’d overstepped somehow and that he’d ruined everything. In autopilot, he shakily discarded the wipe and began to open the mini fridge to retrieve an ice pack.

“It wasn’t easy being a queer teen.”

Azirahpale froze, his head turning sharply toward Crowley, whose fingers gripped the edge of the table tightly, the skin white from the pressure. His wide, golden eyes scanned the nurse’s face for his reaction, whatever emotion he saw there caused him to look away briefly. Aziraphale could hardly breathe, let alone speak. The redhead cleared his throat and continued.

“My uh, dad. He wasn’t too happy when I told him.”

Aziraphale pulled the image of Crowley from his memory, the one with his untucked shirt and his constellation freckles, that young boy he’d heard crying in the bathroom all those years ago. It was painful to imagine that such violence had befallen him, the knowledge of it sent ripples of grief throughout his whole body.

Aziraphale’s hands moved over his heart, which had been reduced to a raw, tender thing. “Crowley, I-I-I-”

God, what can I say? He shook his head and started over.

“I’m-I’m so unbelievably sorry. I’m sorry that you weren’t accepted as you were. I’m sorry your parents didn’t keep you safe.”

Crowley’s eyes flicked ahead as he breathed in slowly and let out an audible sigh, “It’s- it’s okay. I mean, it’s not okay. But I’m okay now. Still alive and kicking, so you know. Lucky in that aspect.”

“You’re safe, with me, you know.” Aziraphale stepped forward carefully, “I-I-If you want to talk about it.”

Crowley shrugged, “Naaah, I’m fine for now. Got years of counseling under my belt. I do appreciate the offer though. ”

“Well, I’ll always be here to listen.”

A sad half-smile pulled at the corner of Crowley’s mouth, “Thanks, Aziraphale.”

What the nurse wanted to do was to reach out and pull him into an embrace and tell him how much he mattered, tell him how thankful he was that he was here. But that was such a large step, the jutted, crumbling edge or a cliff, and he was already feeling shaken from the gravity of it all.

“Well, I believe there is something I can still help you with.” Aziraphale turned to retrieve the ice pack he had been searching for. He held it up, waving it slightly.

The redhead gave a weak chuckle, “Yes, now that I do require assistance with.”

Aziraphale handed him the ice pack and went to the cabinets to retrieve the ibuprofen. There was an odd sensation tickling at the back of his throat as he withdrew a few tablets and placed them in a small plastic cup. As he moved to fill up a cup of water, his mouth began speaking without his brain’s careful review.

“My f-f-family wasn’t supportive,”

Oh god, what am I doing?

“When I came out, either.”

The nurse avoided Crowley’s gaze as he handed over the pills and water, although he could feel the warmth of the other man’s eyes on him.

Crowley didn’t take either cup.

“Aziraphale.”

His voice was gentle and hesitant, Aziraphale raised his eyes.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

Did he? He’d never really talked about it before to anyone. When anyone did ask questions, he tiptoed over it lightly, sidestepping rubble and debris from the fallout. When he’d met with Anathema at the cafe a few months ago, he’d had the sneaking suspicion that she somehow knew, although she never said anything outright. It was as if she knew better than to dredge it up, because she could sense that Aziraphale hadn’t been ready to talk about it then. That was then, however, what about now?

Crowley waited patiently as Aziraphale chewed uneasily on his lip.

“I haven’t really, um. I don’t want to take up your time.”

Crowley pondered this for a moment. “Well, I think my injury has earned me the rest of the afternoon off anyway. So how about this,” he reached over and took both small cups in hand. In a fluid motion, he threw back the pills, followed them with the water, and swallowed with an audible gulp.

“How about you fetch us something to drink and if you want to tell me about it, I’ll be here to listen. And if you don’t, we can always talk about something else. Whales, or um, gorillas or something.”

Aziraphale eased slightly, a faint smile spreading to his lips. “I think I’d be agreeable to that. You drink coffee, yes?”

Clutching the ice pack to his arm, Crowley smiled affectionately, “You got it. No sugar, black please.”

Azirahpale clipped his radio to the waistband of his pants, still reeling from the emotional rollercoaster of the past 15 minutes. “I’ll be back in a jiffy.”

Crowley gave a two-finger salute before he reclined back on the small table. “Thanks again, I’ll be here.”

—-

Aziraphale returned from the kitchen with a black coffee and an oolong tea. He’d spent the trip mulling over Crowley’s proposal and was still undecided when he arrived back to his office. The redhead stirred once the door opened, pushing himself up to a sitting position. When he saw the steam rising from the mugs in Aziraphale’s hands, he let out a grateful moan.

“You’re an angel.”

Angel.

Aziraphale had been called a great number of colorful things, but ‘angel’ had never been one of them. It sounded natural, though, rolling off of Crowley’s tongue in an almost devotional way. He could feel the heat of the fierce blush that spread across his skin as he briskly sipped his tea and avoided any and all emotions that the moniker unearthed.

They sat together in the tiny room in relative silence as they enjoyed the warmth from their drinks. Aziraphale appreciated that Crowley gave him the time to process and make a decision he was comfortable with, despite his apprehensiveness his lungs filled easily with summer air. Eventually, he cleared his throat, “Would, it be okay if-if I talked about it now?”

“Yes, of course.”

He let out a shaky sigh, “Well, I’d known I was gay for years and years but being Catholic and all, I was very much in denial. Firmly planted in the closet, as it were. My parents were always concerned about their image, and I supposed being single for so long was a bad look for them. So one day they set me up with a woman named Gabrielle. Her family were wealthy, and prominent members of the church, so our pairing was more strategic, I believe, than based on any connection or commonalities. We were together for a few years before I was pressured by my family to propose. They even, um, bought the ring and everything.”

Aziraphale chuckled weakly at this, but Crowley surveyed him carefully with a look of sincere concern.

“S-so one day it just hit me that I couldn’t keep living like this. Living a lie wasn’t fair to me or Gabrielle, even though she was-”

Azirahpale recalled that dour, pious woman who smiled so infrequently he wondered if she was capable of the expression. Some sort of smile did appear on her face when she was belittling him at social events, although it was dark and twisted in its construction.

“She was-”

He remembered how for months after their breakup he’d received text messages filled with hateful insults and bible verses about sin and damnation. Eventually he figured out how to block her number but since he was never any good with technology it went on much longer than it should have.

“She was, um, not very kind. Before or after the break-up I suppose.”

Crowley nodded attentively, giving Aziraphale the space to breathe and have a sip of tea before he kept going.

“When my family found out I’d ended the engagement they were obviously furious. For weeks and months after they were relentless in their questioning. I-I tried my best to give them reasons, but no answer seemed to satisfy them. So one day,” Aziraphale closed his eyes, bracing for the impact, the inevitable fall, “I told them I was gay. Just blurted it out at dinner.”

Crowley nodded, breathing evenly.

“And I’ve never seen my father get so red. He started yelling, just saying the worst things you could think of. My mother was despondent, she sat there saying nothing. Wouldn’t even look at me. I’ve never heard my father speak like that. The-the things he said.”

Aziraphale’s vision blurred as tears welled in the corner of his eyes. Quickly he swiped at them with the back of his hand. Crowley got up from the table and retrieved a box of tissues from a small side table before offering them over.

“Th-thank you.”

“Of course.”

Aziraphale pulled a few tissues from the box and dabbed them at his eyes. He sighed deeply, Crowley lingering by his side.

“Are you still feeling okay? You know you don’t have to tell me anything you aren’t comfortable with.”

Aziraphale sniffled, feeling a bit more grounded after having a second to collect himself. “Yes, yes I think I’ll be okay.”

Crowley looked him over carefully before moving back to the table. Aziraphale swallowed around the dryness in his throat.

“After that, I went back to my flat. It was owned by my family so I shouldn’t have been surprised when I received a letter a few days later telling me to vacate the premises. So I packed up everything I could and moved out. I didn’t really have anywhere to go, and I felt too ashamed at the time to even ask for help. So I stayed in a hotel for a while until I found my current apartment in Soho. That was about a year ago.”

“Have you talked with your family since that night?”

“No, they haven’t called. Neither have I.”

Crowley nodded slowly, “Aziraphale, I’m so f*cking sorry you had to go through that.”

Aziraphale sighed deeply, “It’s, well, as you said before. It isn’t okay, but I’m doing better. Especially after taking this job. I think I needed to get out of London, at least for a little while.”

“Yeah, definitely understand that. It’s comforting to know you’re doing better and I hope you know that I’m happy– well not just me really – I think everyone is happy you’re here.”

“Th-thank you, my dear. I really do appreciate you listening.”

“Always, anything you need.”

Crowley’s eyes were on him again, but this time his gaze held more than sincerity and concern. His expression melded together an affection and fondness, he looked at Aziraphale like he was something to marvel at. Typically Aziraphale would shy away from such attention, but he felt raw and Crowley was patient and kind and beautiful.

Radio static cut through their intimate moment like a sharpened knife.

“Nurse Aziraphale, could you bring a few bandaids to the playground?”

Crowley smiled crookedly, “Duty calls, eh?”

The nurse gave a dramatic sigh, “No rest for the, um, good.” He unclipped the radio from his waistband and pressed the side button. “This is Aziraphale, I’m on my way.”

As he stood and gathered a few bandaids and lollipops from a side cabinet, the gardener shifted off of the table, standing with the ice pack still firmly pressed into his arm.

“I should probably update Anathema on my arm situation. Would you like me to come back afterward?”

“You’re more than welcome to come back if you’d like, but there’s no obligation. I imagine that you might want some rest after incurring so many stings.”

“Yeah, I could go for a nap if I’m honest. Unless it’s 6 shots of espresso, coffee doesn’t have that much of an effect on me anymore.”

“If you drank 6 shots of espresso in front of me I’m afraid that I’d have to refer you to a doctor right away,” Aziraphale chuckled. “I should be off to the playground now but let me know if you need anything, alright? And, um, thanks again for listening.”

Crowley shrugged bashfully, “Well, as my classmate from my stuffy Catholic school once told me, that’s what friends are for.”

Any response Aziraphale had prepared was ripped sharply from his mind, stolen too was the air from his lungs. His astonishment didn’t appear to phase Crowley, who beamed at him with that uneven grin and a reverent glimmer in his gaze.

“I-I,” Aziraphale chuckled timidly, feeling inexplicably hot, as if his skin had been exposed to too much sunshine, “Yes, friends, absolutely. I, um, off to my bandaid delivery. I’ll see y-you later then?”

“See you later, Angel.”

—-

It had been a few days since he’d attended to the wasp stings that dotted Crowley’s right arm. Aziraphale had been sure to check in with him regularly, but thankfully the swelling went down and he was recovering nicely. The area with the wasp's nest was sectioned until Tracy’s pest control husband Shadwell arrived to deal with it.

Each day Aziraphale waited impatiently for the evenings when they would walk back to the cabins together. They continued to talk about a little bit of everything, the redhead endlessly amused with Aziraphale’s rants regarding Rodger & Hammerstein’s musicals. The sky would darken and the crickets would chirp lazily as they stalled outside their cabin doors, neither of them wanting the conversation to end. It was clear something had changed between them since that day in the office, it was as if the air between them had thickened in a dizzying, heady way. Aziraphale found it harder to cloak his obvious affection and, although he was painfully unpracticed with identifying this sort of thing, suspected that Crowley was as well.

It was a humid afternoon, and Aziraphale was daydreaming about Crowley in various hopelessly romantic scenarios while mindlessly dragging his tea bag in slow circles around the edge of his mug when a muted knocking came from his door frame.

As Aziraphale turned around, he was greeted with a colossal assortment of vibrantly colored flowers. Tucked among the allium, daisies, and phlox were dainty feverfew and fern leaves, all tied together with twine. He recognized the slender fingers holding the stems even before the face peaked out from behind the bouquet.

“Hi,” Crowley’’s expression was sheepish, the rose color of his cheeks an accent to the flowers in his hands.

“Oh, my heavens!” Aziraphale stood and scurried over to the arrangement, “What on earth? Did you- are these from the gardens?”

“Yep. I figured they might be a good way to um, thank you for the other day. For your help.”

Crowley held out the arrangement which Aziraphale graciously accepted. Their fingers grazed in the exchange, the simple touch enough to make golden ribbons lace around his heart and squeeze tightly.

“These are simply stunning, Crowley. You-you didn’t have to do all this for me!” Cradling the bunch carefully in his arm, Aziraphale raised the blooms to his nostrils, drawing in their sweet, earthy aroma.

The gardener shoved his hands in his pockets as he carefully studied the floor, “Well, glad you like them. Should have gotten you a vase, f*ck, sorry I didn’t even think of that.”

Aziraphale shook his head, “No, no, you’re just fine my dear! I think Tracy may have one somewhere in the office. I’ll check with her later. Do you, um, would you like to stay and chat for a bit? I could get us some tea and coffee?”

There must have been something fantastical about the pattern of the tiles because they still had Crowley’s full attention. “No, no, just um, should probably head back I think.”

Aziraphale attempted to hide the disappointment in his voice, “Alright, um of course. Well, these are just magnificent, thank you again, my dear. I’ll see you at dinner then?”

Crowley tore his gaze upward to glance at him briefly. He gave a single nod and mumbled something of a farewell before he turned to leave. After a few steps, his hand shot out and grabbed the door frame.

“Actually, I um. I did have something else to uh, ask you.”

Aziraphale tilted his head, “Oh?”

The white of Crowley’s teeth dug into his bottom lip and his hand moved upward to fuss with his hair, “Well the campers and counselors are hiking to Hogback woods and camping there the whole weekend right? And usually when the kids are out camping the rest of the staff does a little bonfire the first night they’re gone.”

“Ah, I think Tracy mentioned something about that the other day actually, that does ring a bell.”

“Good, okay so yeah. You’ve heard about it then.”

“Yes, I have,” Aziraphale wasn’t sure what else to say in response. Crowley’s nervousness was palpable, it pained him to see the man in this state.

“So what I was- this is just, you know a thought, not as if it’s a requirement or anything like that. But, um. Would you like to go, um, with me? To the uh, bonfire thing. It’s okay if not, I’m just– yeah just a thought.” Crowley squeezed his eyes shut and exhaled as if winded by the effort of getting his words out. When his eyes did reopen, they were just as golden and practically dripped with anxious anticipation.

Is he- is he asking what I think he’s asking? A sliver of shame jabbed into Aziraphale’s side at the fact that this was all so new, and it was difficult for him to comprehend and trust what he was hearing. His fingers flexed around the stems of the flowers, “Are-are you, asking me as a date?”

“Um, well, yeah. Um yes,” Crowley stuttered, “But only if you want! There’s no pressure or anything like that. We can just go as friends, otherwise. Or maybe as enemies, depending on how badly I’ve f*cked this up.”

Aziraphale was surprised by his own laugh, “No my dear, you haven’t messed anything up. I’m just not well practiced when it comes to-” he cleared his throat, “I-I asked simply for clarification, not out of an unwillingness to go.”

Crowley's expression was still taut and expectant, “Is, is that a- you would like to go with me then?”

It was puzzling that something Aziraphale had dreamed about for weeks was happening and yet he was still terrified. The idyllic refuge of the camp had lulled him into a sense of safety and groundedness and, even though this was not at all unwelcome, it was still unexpected. There was a quote that came to him then from a book whose title he could no longer remember: Nothing magical is safe, nothing safe is magical.

In books bravery was usually associated with self-sacrifice and heroism, but Aziraphale recognized that he was trying to summon all the bravery he could muster to disregard the protective layering he’d applied to his own heart.

“Yes,” he breathed, “I’d be delighted.”

Notes:

say hi on twitter!

(chapters posted weekly on Saturdays)

Chapter 6: Stars

Notes:

accompanying playlist here

AMAZING art by @usedtobeHMC (they f*cking killed it this week OMG)

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

“So, are you bringing your guitar tomorrow?”

Crowley groaned and shifted back in his chair, Nina.”

She held up her hands defensively, “One song is all I ask.”

“Playing my guitar always makes it seem like I’m some self-absorbed arsehole who's trying to be the center of attention!”

“Everyone knows you’re not like that!”

“Took a survey, did you?” Crowley chided before leaning back and drinking deeply from his mug.

Nina shot daggers his way before she shrugged assuredly, “Anyway, I still have favors to cash in.”

f*ck. “You do.”

“Well, I’m using one for this.”

Crowley sighed dramatically, “Can I pass on this one? I’m trying to keep things low-key and relaxed.”

Nina leaned forward with her elbows on the table, “Since when is fireside guitar music not low-key and relaxing? Look, if you’re really not up to it I’m not going to make you. I’m just confused because you’ve played at these bonfires plenty of times before.”

Typically skilled at avoidance, Crowley found it hard to come up with an excuse that would satisfy Nina’s curiosity. Ever since Aziraphale agreed to accompany him to the bonfire a few days ago, he hadn’t told anyone, preferring to keep the intimate joy of a fledgling relationship close to his chest. But Nina had an expert bullsh*t meter and was already suspicious of his improved mood over the past few days. Perhaps it was better to rip off the band-aid as it were.

Then again, it was just a month ago that she’d admonished him about taking things too fast with his previous partners, and Crowley was remiss to dredge up that topic again anytime soon. With her warning ringing in his ears, he’d made sure that each step forward with Aziraphale was thoughtful and careful, even when there were moments when he wanted to touch his hand or tell him how beautiful he was. It had been difficult holding back but he knew if he messed this up he’d probably stop breathing.

Besides, his connection with Aziraphale felt different from his previous relationships in a way he found difficult to comprehend. The sweetness and gentleness were not something he thought he’d want or even deserved until Aziraphale waltzed into his life and he realized that he would never want anything else.

Crowley leaned back in his chair, put on a nonchalant air, and summoned some courage, “Well, it’s just that… I’m bringing Aziraphale.”

“You’re bringing… Aziraphale,” Nina’s brow scrunched. “He’s staff, he’s already invited.”

Crowley sighed, frustrated that he had to explain it further. “I asked him to join me as, um, as a date.”

Nina’s let out an exasperated huff, “God damn it.”

Ouch. He could feel his defensive barriers going up.

“Glad to see you’re–”

Nina held up a finger to cut him off, pulled her phone out of her pocket, and began to type.

Confused, Crowley stirred in his seat, “What are you-”

The ping of a sent message interrupted him, followed by the smack of Nina’s phone meeting the table, “Well, that’s me out twenty quid then.”

Error messages spawned in Crowley’s brain, “I-I don’t… twenty quid?”

Nina rolled her eyes, “I had a bet with Anathema. I guessed you two would be together by the end of camp, but she said you’d be together before July. It’s July tomorrow, so she bloody won.”

Oh.

“You- you were placing bets on us? Was it really that obvious?”

Nina crossed her arms, her expression one of playful derision, “Let’s put it this way, I think you and Aziraphale were the last to know.”

A grumbled noise escaped Crowley’s throat as he laid his head on the table, “Brilliant. The whole camp knows. All over the news.”

“Oi, listen, jokes aside, this isn’t a bad thing! Aziraphale’s an incredibly kind, silly man who obviously fancies you.”

Crowley pushed back to an upright position, the heat from his skin undoubtedly leaving a bright blush across his cheeks, “I-I’m um, yeah. I like him, too. A lot.”

“Yeah, we could tell,” she teased. “Seriously though, I’m f*cking thrilled you’re happy. Maggie is too. We both think this is really healthy for you.”

Crowley never sought Nina’s opinion on his relationships before, mostly because he knew she’d never approve of them. Therefore he was surprised at how reassuring it felt to have a close friend accept and praise his choice of partner.

“Well, thanks, Nina.”

Nine interlaced her fingers and let her chin rest gently on top, “Which is why I think there is even more reason to play a song at the bonfire.”

Crowley laughed and shook his head in disbelief, “I can’t believe this, you’re incorrigible!”

“Now, wait, hear me out! This isn’t just for selfish reasons now. Has Aziraphale heard you play before?”

“I played for Maggie’s group at the talent show remember? He undoubtedly heard that.”

Nina rolled her eyes, “Yeah but that was with you off to the side while kids were doing cartwheels and somersaults. He’s never really heard you perform. And, at the risk of letting this go to your head, you’re actually pretty talented all things considered. It would be awkward for you to pull out a guitar on a first date with just the two of you, but at the bonfire, it’d be more of a natural setting.”

Crowley stared at her incredulously but nodded and allowed her to continue.

“So when you pull out your guitar with the bonfire mood lighting, it’s going to be impressive as hell.”

Now this certainly wasn’t something he’d considered. It seemed a bit flashy, but Crowley had spent most of his youth wearing make-up and performing on stages so he’d always been a bit of a flash bastard. It was a hobby he’d never really shared with anyone aside from the few times he was coaxed into playing for the odd talent show or bonfire. Maybe it would mean more, sharing it with Aziraphale.

And then again, maybe the whole thing would come off as a bit gauche. Nina flattered him, but the truth was he was a bit rusty, a bit out of practice. There was also the fact that he would also be expected to sing as well…

“It–” he chewed uneasily on the inside of his lip, “It could be.”

Nina shrugged, taking a sip of her tea, “It’s up to you though, honestly. Not my place to go meddling, but I couldn’t resist pointing out the opportunity.”

Crowley’s head lolled to the side as he exhaled audibly, “Tell you what, tonight I’ll practice a bit and see if there’s anything in my repertoire I’d feel comfortable performing. If there is and I don’t completely chicken out, I’ll play something. If not, I’ll play whatever you want at the end-of-the-year bonfire. Sound like a deal?”

A pleased smile played at the corner of Nina’s mouth, “Deal.”

—-------

The three knocks on Aziraphale’s door seemed to echo impossibly loud in the clearing, or perhaps the nervousness was playing tricks on Crowley’s senses.

He’d already spent an inordinate amount of time getting ready, digging through his typical work clothes until he found something unstained, unripped, and somewhat presentable. After a lengthy shower, his hair mercifully decided to hang across his shoulders in a manner that wasn’t aversive to the eyes. Following a long mirror pep talk (it had been a while since he’d done this sort of thing) and with a dash of cologne, he was finally on his way.

Through the cabin walls, he could make out the sound of hurried footsteps as they approached the door. It creaked on its hinges as it opened, “Hello, Crowley.”

Despite all of his previous mental preparation, Crowley’s eyes widened. Seeing Aziraphale was like seeing a sunset: it didn’t matter how many times you’ve seen it before, it was always captivatingly beautiful. Although there was nothing particularly out of the ordinary about his outfit – a red and green plaid shirt and khaki shorts – he still radiated an aura that Crowley could marvel at until the Earth stopped turning.

Crowley’s delayed response caused the blonde to smile bashfully, he clutched his hands in front of him as he scanned the red-head’s face expectantly.

“Yes, yes, sorry. Um, hello Angel.. You look- damn, you look great.”

Blush bloomed across Aziraphale’s cheeks, “Thank you, I could say the same about you as well.”

Crowley shifted and chuckled uncomfortably, “Well it’s the first time you’ve seen me that I haven’t been coated with seven layers of dirt.”

Aziraphale shook his head his platinum curls bouncing slightly, “Oh no my dear, you were beautiful then, too.”

If the initial compliment was an electric shock, this one felt like being struck by lighting. It sent Crowley reeling for a moment as if his soul had been knocked free and he was swimming through the air trying to return to his body. When he did come to his senses, he could feel the heat radiating off of his skin as if he’d been scorched by the sun.

Aziraphale smiled coyly, his eyes flashing down to the guitar case, “Have you come to serenade me?”

Relief slightly thawed the tension in Crowley’s muscles as he chuckled, “It’s for the bonfire actually, Nina insisted on a song and I owe her too much to refuse. So it’s less of a romantic gesture as it is being chased onto the stage with a broom.”

“Well, I’m delighted to hear you play either way.”

Once again Crowley’s heart pattered madly in his chest, unsure of how to proceed and overall rusty when it came to dating like this. But as he observed Aziraphale with his tentative glances and the way his hands gripped together, his fear abated and a clear path forward solidified in his mind.

He held out his hand, “Shall we then?”

Aziraphale’s eyes widened as he regarded the gesture with nervous hesitation. Tenderly he reached out, the contact of the warm, silk skin of his fingers caused Crowley’s heart to swell. As their fingers interlinked, his eyes drew back to Crowley’s.

“Yes, let’s go.”

—--

They held onto each other's hands until they arrived at the bonfire where they both let go before approaching the group. Already gathered around a large, unlit pile of logs and kindling were Anathema and Newt, Tracy and Shadwell, as well as Nina and her two kitchen interns. They said their hello’s, and Crowley actively ignored the obvious stares of Nina and Anathema as they walked past. Once they took their seats next to each other, they relaxed into making conversation with the group. It was pleasant enough, although Crowley wished that he hadn’t picked an outing that required so much mingling with other people. He kicked himself for not coming up with something more intimate, something for just them.

After a few attempts to light the fire on his own, Newt eventually asked Shadwell for his lighter, and once procured, the flames quickly engulfed the wood and illuminated the entire circle.

Crowley stole glances at the blonde whenever he thought he could get away with it, and every so often was treated with the sight of Aziraphale looking back at him with those impossibly gorgeous blue eyes. Tracy was going into details about her new tarot card deck when Nina cleared her throat loudly.

“So Crowley brought his guitar tonight…”

Crowley sighed dramatically, “Yes, yes I did. I’m afraid I’ve only got one song though.”

Nina gestured to a large stump at the top of the circle, it had been avoided because it was likely more uncomfortable than the camp chairs they’d grabbed from storage. “Best seat in the house waiting for you.”

Aziraphale whispered a hurried “good luck” as Crowley reluctantly retrieved his guitar from his case and rose to leave, his palms suddenly feeling clammy.

As he sat on the wood stump and tuned his guitar, Anathema cupped her hands around her mouth, “What are you playing?”

“It’s a little song called: wouldn’t you like to know,” he quipped in response, eliciting laughter from the others around the circle.

Unable to delay it much longer, he plucked out the first few notes which harmoniously coalesced with the crackling of the fire. Crowley closed his eyes, knowing that it was better for his focus but also knowing that if he looked at Aziraphale now he’d likely lose his confidence.

Here goes nothing–

“So this is Mother Nature’s Son. It’s by a small band called the Beatles. You probably haven’t heard of them, they never went anywhere.”

There was more scattered chuckling as the chords started to take shape under his fingers, easing gently into the opening lyrics. Crowley cleared his throat and breathed, letting the summer night air rush into his lungs.

Born a poor young country boy, Mother Nature’s son…

He kept his eyes closed, surprised at how quickly the cobwebs were dusted off. It was coming back, the feeling of performing and sharing music with others.

All day long I’m sitting singing songs for everyone…

At this he opened his eyes, rolled his head toward Nina and raised an eyebrow at her in jest. She cackled along with a few others. It was going well so far, and there was energy in the night air that beckoned him onward.

The song didn’t have many lyrics, but it was a perfect one to play by the campfire. The familiar feeling of the stings beneath his fingers and the vibration from his chest as he sang lulled him into a bit of a trance. He eased into the music as he started to tap his foot, his body swaying in time.

Find me in my fields of grass, Mother Nature’s son. Swaying daisies, sing a lazy song beneath the sun…

He was so lost in the song that he’d forgotten to avoid looking at the man across from him. When his gaze reached Aziraphale, his heart seized euphorically and his vision blurred, everything else falling out of focus.

The light of the fire danced across Aziraphale’s face, illuminating his features with an ember-like glow. Amongst the golden hue of the flames, his eyes were still nebulas of blue and they sparkled with the stolen shine of the stars above. One of his hands rested against his chest, it rose and fell with the even movement of his breathing. The gentle brushstrokes of his expression revealed venerated wonder as if Crowley were a Renaissance fresco and not the lanky disaster puppy that he actually was. With his lips slightly parted, Aziraphale gazed at him with such magnetism that Crowley was certain he’d never be ever to look away.

And Crowley continued to sing because the song was for him now. All of them, every song he knew were all for Aziraphale if he wanted them.

Oh-ah, Mother Nature’s son…

He held out the last chord, unsure how he had continued to play and sing as if he wasn’t on a different plane of existence with his eyes firmly locked with Aziraphale’s.

As if he didn’t just fall completely, inexorably in love.

How the Bonfires Burn - TicketyBoo_Delaney (6)

When the clapping started it sounded distant and faint as if he was floating somewhere in the stratosphere. Aziraphale exhaled shakily and swiped at his eyes before joining the others in applause. It was enough to pull Crowley unwillingly back to Earth, where the grit of self-consciousness eased him back into his shoes. He studied the ground, the heat of a burgundy flush spreading across his cheeks.

“Thanks guys, you’re too kind.”

Gripping the neck of his guitar he moved back to his seat, he nodded at Nina who pushed his shoulder affectionately as he passed by. The nettles of worry clung to him once again as he returned his guitar back to its case, not sure what he would say to Aziraphale after something like that. Nina announced it was time for s’mores, which elicited some cheers and started the chatter and side conversations up again.

Easing back into his seat as casually as he could, Crowley tentatively looked sideways and met Aziraphale’s wide eyes with a sheepish smile.

“Crowley…”

“Mhm?” He took a long sip from his bottled water as his leg bounced nervously, he tried to actively ignore the swell of his heart in his throat.

There was a feeling of warmth and softness, Aziraphale’s hand sat gently on his forearm. “My dear, that was– you were wonderful.”

“I–” Crowley met his eyes, and the air rushed out of his lungs. The subtle drag as their fingers interlaced sent ripples throughout his body. Crowley’s smile was a sincere, fragile thing, whereas Aziraphale’s expression was powerful enough to topple entire civilizations.

“Sorry to break up an intimate moment, but will you two be wanting s’mores, then?”

Nina held out a tray overflowing with an assortment of different chocolates, graham crackers, and marshmallows.

Aziraphale turned, breaking the makeshift sanctuary of their proximity and audibly gasping when he saw the food, “Oh absolutely!”

He looked apologetic as their hands came apart, but Crowley understood and gave him a nod of approval. The readhead leaned on the arm of his chair, watching the delight on Aziraphale’s face as he selected the ingredients for his dessert.

It was odd, the way time was moving. On one hand, it was moving achingly, agonizingly slow as he reverently watched Aziraphale lick the melted chocolate off his fingertips. Seconds slowly ticked by as he waited for the moment when they could be alone, when he could hold his hand without distraction. It was a tad torturous, the waiting.

And on the other hand, time was also moving breathlessly fast amid the buzzing conversation and the crackling of the fire. If only he could bottle it, the vibrant energy of the evening and the irresistible way Aziraphale’s features were illuminated by the flames.

So with the competing paces of time, Crowley planted himself firmly in between, relishing the warmth of the fire, the melody of the boisterous laughter, and the unparalleled delight of being close to someone you love.

—-

“I don’t think I’ve ever had such delectable s’mores in my life. I can’t believe Nina made those marshmallows from scratch! I’m not sure what she added, but it was either vanilla bean or pure magic.”

The ground crunched mutedly underfoot as they arrived at the clearing. Crowley was a bit dizzy with emotion, he loved listening to Aziraphale, loved the warmth exchanged from their connected hands, and loved the way the moonlight caught in his platinum curls.

Loved him, every part of him.

“Yeah, she’s an excellent cook for sure.”

As they slowed to a stop, worry ebbed into his otherwise besotted state at the realization that their evening was drawing to a close. How should he proceed? At this point in his previous relationships, his partners would be pulling him into their flats with the taste of cigarette smoke and whiskey on their tongues.

No, wouldn’t be that way with Aziraphale.

“My dear,” Aziraphale turned to look at him, heartbreakingly bashful. “Thank you for asking me to accompany you tonight. I had such a wonderful time.” His free hand reached to take hold of Crowley’s. They stood parallel, connected by their intertwined fingers in the pale light of the moon.

“I did too.”

Internally Crowley’s head and heart engaged in a bitter civil war about what to do next. The pull to step closer, to reach out and touch the man next to him was becoming unignorable even with the desperate protests from his brain to slow down, to hold off for just a bit more.

“I really had no idea just how talented you were as a musician.”

Freckled cheeks aflame, Crowley had to look downward, the weight of Aziraphale’s gaze suddenly too heavy for him to bear. “I, um, well I had a good audience tonight. That helps.”

The silence that settled over them was woven with tangible anticipation and hesitation, the heat between their connected palms sparking a deeper want that Crowley struggled to extinguish. When he was able to look towards Aziraphale once more, the blonde’s eyes were scanning the sky, reflecting the light of the stars.

An angel.

“Oh! Just there, a shooting star!”

Aziraphale pointed upward, the loss of contact hurting more than Crowley would have anticipated. He tried his best not to show his disappointment as he gazed upward.

“Oh, you just missed it!” Aziraphale clutched his chest excitedly. “I’ve never seen one before. It was right there.”

The redhead craned his neck upward, “Must have been near Lyra. That’s the constellation that looks like a cabin – it even has a little chimney rising from it.”

Aziraphale shook his head, “I’m honestly so new to this. I knew nothing of the constellations until you. Who taught you about the stars and constellations?”

The question caught him off guard, he cast his eyes down for a moment, “My dad.”

Aziraphale blinked, noticing the change in Crowley’s demeanor, “I- I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bring up anything uncomfortable.”

“It’s okay,” He dug the toe of his shoe into the dirt, dislodging a pebble. “He used to take me and my brothers camping when I was younger.”

“Oh, really?”

“Yeah, he used to load me and my brothers in his car with all our camping gear and take us deep into the woods. He’d do the whole nine yards – cook over a fire, tell us gnarly ghost stories, but the best bit was on clear nights he’d point out the stars. Each one had a story attached, every constellation. When I look up now, I can hear them, even after all this time.”

Crowley paused, “We went every summer until my mom passed.”

The blonde nodded solemnly, “I-I heard about that. I never got the chance to say anything at the time, but I’m so very sorry.”

“She was in a lot of pain, at the end,” Crowley felt the lining of his heart unraveling, pulling on a loose string. He shoved his hands in his pockets, “I miss her.”

Aziraphale looked back to the sky, several moments passing over them before he spoke again, “That must have been difficult, growing up without a mother.”

He felt Aziraphale’s gaze on him. It made him feel exposed and raw in a way that he would normally fight to avoid. Crowley shut his eyes. “It was. My dad didn’t make matters easy, either. You’ve seen–”

When he drew his eyes back toward Aziraphale, the gentleness and sincerity that looked back at him felt like a punch in the gut.

“S-s-sorry.”

“No,” Aziraphale replied firmly, “Don’t be, you haven’t anything to apologize for.”

Crowley exhaled shakily, “Still, not really a first date conversation,”

Aziraphale moved closer, gripping Crowley’s hand and interlacing their fingers, “And yet here we are, on our first date talking about it anyway.” The corners of his mouth turned up in a weak smile, “We have time to catch up on the other things later, if you want to tell me your story now, that is.”

Swallowing hard, Crowley willed the tears queuing at the corners of his eyes away, “f*ck.”

Aziraphale’s thumb made slow circles on the back of Crowley’s freckled hand, waiting.

“I hated him.”

The admission was spat out venomously, “I didn’t talk to him for years and years. Then one day he calls me to tell me he’s sick and dying and wants to see me. Hearing his voice, it was like I was that scared kid again, but I still went. When I got to the hospital he was sitting in the bed, and he was so much smaller than he had been before. Shriveled and sunken. Nothing like the monster I remembered. And–”

Crowley’s throat tightened, it felt like he was choking. He looked to Aziraphale who was watching him intently with boundless concern and warmth. Crowley breathed shakily and raised his eyes back up to the sky. “And when I sat down with him. H-he he f*cking apologized.”

The tears he tried so hard to banish welled in his eyes, it dimmed the moonlight and blurred the edges of the treeline. “He apologized for it all. And he said-he said he was wrong. And that man, he said he loved me. I never heard him say that before in my entire life. But there he was in a hospital bed with IV tubes and a heart rate monitor hooked up to him, looking like he would crumble if you touched him. I was too shocked to say anything, and after a moment he looked at me and said that he didn’t expect me to forgive him, he just wanted me to know. And–”

His voice caught again, he swallowed it down. “I knew that I hated him. But in that moment, what could I do? How could I not forgive that monster who showed me the stars?”

The sob that escaped him echoed traitously in the night air. The stitches finally unraveled, his heart lying bloody and open under the night sky. Aziraphale exhaled deeply, his hand holding on solidly.

“Crowley, I-I’m so sorry.”

Crowley opened his eyes and forced himself to take a deep breath. The intake of cool night air and the warmth of Aziraphale’s hand managed to steady him slightly.

“Can I hug you? Only if you’d like that is…,” the blonde trailed off. Before he could decide against it, Crowley wrapped his arms solidly around Aziraphale, whose embrace was encompassing and solid.

Although his chest felt cracked open and tears still fell from the corners of his eyes, Crowley’s breathing deepend, mirroring the steady rise and fall of Aziraphale’s chest.

Aziraphale whispered assurances next to his ear, “It’s alright, my dear. I’ve got you, it’s alright.”

They stayed pressed against each other until Crowley’s body sagged and his breathing slowed. Aziraphale rubbed soft circles on his back and Crowley let the weight of his eyelids pull his eyes close. This openness was uncharted territory, and unease started to weasel its way into him. His brain quickly formulated a plan: he would pull away soon, thank Aziraphale, and walk back to his cabin.

But for a moment, he let himself breathe in the smell of pine and Aziraphale’s cologne intermingling. He let himself feel the fabric of the plaid shirt under his fingertips. He listened to the breeze and the way it complemented the soft inhalations and exhalations of Aziraphale’s breathing.

Eventually, he mumbled into the blonde’s shoulder.

“M’ sorry.”

“You have nothing to be sorry for, my darling.”

“I ruined it, the evening.”

Aziraphale clicked his tongue in dissent and pulled back to look at him, “Nonsense, you’ve ruined nothing, I promise. I had the most wonderful time. I’m still having a wonderful time.”

Crowley felt too emotionally wrung out to argue about it any longer, “Thanks for listening, for being here.”

“Always, anything you need.”

The blonde smiled gently, his features soft and achingly, unbearably beautiful. Crowley’s vulnerability had weakened his defenses, and this time when his wounded heart seized with affection and desire and unparalleled want, he knew he wouldn’t be able to put up a fight.

Aziraphale’s eyes flicked between Crowley’s eyes and lips.

Oh god.

The thunderous beating of his heart flooded his ears. Crowley didn’t dare breathe, as he took Aziraphale’s hand and brought it to his waist. His own fingers moved to carefully cradle the soft flesh of the blonde’s cheek.

Although Aziraphale’s eyes fluttered as he exhaled shakily, his gaze was unfaltering in its intensity.

“Aziraphale,” Crowley whispered, surprised by the faint quality of his voice. “Can I– mhm!

Aziraphale tilted upward, the sudden, gentle press of his lips effectively cutting off and responding to Crowley’s unfinished question.

He’d thought often about this moment, but not even his hideously romantic daydreams could not prepare him for the waterfall of sensory delight. The arrhythmic beat of his heart rattled his ribcage, as the velvet of Aziraphale’s lips slotted against his own, alining as if they were always meant to fit together. When he pulled closer, Aziraphale hummed in approval as his fingers gripped at the defined edges of Crowley’s hips.

God, yes.

He could have stayed here endlessly with their chests pressed together, savoring the vanilla and honeysuckle taste of Aziraphale’s lips. Crowley wasn’t normally one of desserts or sweets, but when it came to the taste of him, he found that he couldn’t quite get enough. Perhaps he did have a sweet tooth after all.

Amongst the chorus of nighttime crickets and the slight whisper of a breeze rustling through the treetops was the sound of their lips colliding and parting with each impassioned kiss.

At some point their pace slowed and Crowley pressed a final delicate kiss before resting his forehead against Aziraphale’s. They stayed there as they held each other and caught their breath.

“That was–”

“Okay?” Crowley squeezed his eyes shut, his muscles tensing in preparation.

Incredible.

The tension abated as Crowley pulled back slightly. He let his head hang back as he inhaled deeply the cooler night air, “f*ck that’s a relief. Afraid I was a bit out of practice.”

Something flashed across Aziraphale’s face, he looked away briefly before he looked back, “I’ve um, I’ve ne-”

He stopped suddenly and shook his head with a weak chuckle. “Um, sorry. I mean to say that I, too, am out of practice.”

Crowley felt like he was floating in that dreamlike state from earlier as he brushed his nose against the tip of Aziraphale’s.

“Could’ve fooled me.”

Aziraphale kissed him again, slowly and coated in honey before pulling him into an embrace. Crowley could feel the flutter of the blonde’s heartbeat held against him.

Amongst the closeness and the joy, a splintered and wretched thought entered Crowley’s atmosphere: When was the last time you were held?

Through gritted teeth he shooed it away, inhaling deeply the night air and the intoxicating smell of the man in his arms. He let his senses savor this gentle moment as the unyielding presence of the stars above bore witness.

Notes:

you may be wondering "where oh where is the angst?"

stay tuned for next week.....

say hi on twitter!

(chapters posted weekly on Saturdays)

Chapter 7: Never

Notes:

accompanying playlist here

AMAZING art by @usedtobeHMC

Red sky at night, sailors delight
Red sky at morning, sailors take warning...

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Aziraphale shut the cabin door behind him and pressed his back against the door. He lingered in an enchanted daze before he pressed his fingers against his lips, recalling the euphoric sensation of Crowley pressed against them.

His muscles and limbs felt oddly relaxed, juxtaposed to the pattering of his heart, which rapped against his ribs like someone tapping on a door. There was a clarity that cleared through the ever-persistent static of anxiety, like fitting the last puzzle piece into place that completed the entire image.

It was–

It was the thunderous release of kissing someone wonderful and feeling the dam of 44 years of compulsory heterosexuality break open and spill forth. Aziraphale smiled against his fingers, unable to contain his rapturous joy.

Admittedly, it wasn’t his first kiss, that would unfortunately always belong to Gabrielle. It had come unexpectedly when she grabbed his lapels after one of their morose dinners together. The kiss was a dry and mercifully short endeavor that made him feel sick to his stomach. Their subsequent attempts weren’t any better and Aziraphale had tried his best to avoid them at all costs, often defaulting to kissing the back of her hand.

But the first kiss that mattered, would always belong to Crowley.

At one point he almost confessed that he’d never kissed another man before, but he changed his mind halfway through the admission. His insecurities and shame still lurked under the surface, and even in the presence of a man he trusted, even after the rush of delight after their first kiss together, it was too big of a risk, a leap he didn’t dare take yet.

Collapsing on the bed, Aziraphale’s eyes fluttered shut as he replayed some of his favorite moments from the evening: how the firelight glow played across the freckles that scattered across Crowley’s cheeks indiscriminately like the stars above, the mesmerizing way those warm honey eyes held his gaze from across the bonfire as if the song being played was just for him. Aziraphale reminisced on the tender moments he held Crowley in his arms, swept away by his openness and bravery. He’d wished he’d been more courageous in that moment, that he would have cradled Crowley’s head and conveyed how immeasurably wonderful and loved he was.

Was he in love with Crowley?

Aziraphale exhaled and opened his eyes at the realization. Romantic love was more something he’d read about and understood from a logistical standpoint rather than something he’d ever experienced. He’d never come across clear guidelines on how one could recognize they were in love, since in stories that he enjoyed reading the characters typically figured it out after some formal dancing.

Although he could confidently label the fluttering he’d felt during his initial interactions with Crowley as a crush, the feeling had evolved into something radiating and passionate that was unlike anything he’d experienced before. While the logical part of his brain desperately reached for a concrete definition and searched for an organized list he could check to label the emotions bubbling within him, he quickly abandoned his mind’s search for an explanation and decided that love had to be something you felt rather than something you could logically parcel out and comprehend.

Aziraphale closed his eyes as he pressed his fingertips to his mouth once again. He sighed longingly as he recalled the smoky brown sugar taste of lips against his own, the vibrant copper hair illuminated in the moonlight, and the glimmering golden eyes of Crowley, the man he was falling in love with.

—-

“Here you are,” Aziraphale carefully placed the mug in front of Tracy, “Jasmine green tea.”

“You have no idea how much I’ve needed this today,” she blew over the top before taking a small sip, “I was falling asleep ordering arts and crafts supplies just a moment ago.”

Aziraphale chuckled, “Well this should help. It’s been rather a slow day for me, I think the kids must be exhausted from their camping trip, I haven’t had a single call all day.”

Tracy nodded emphatically, “Very true, it’s been quite quiet, hasn’t it?”

“Indeed, I won’t complain about that.”

After the second week of camp, Aziraphale and Tracy discovered they took their afternoon tea break at approximately the same time each day. Sharing their breaks together was something Aziraphale looked forward to each day, especially with such an endearing and eccentric friend like Tracy.

“Remember the tarot reading I did the other night,” Tracy leaned back in her seat. “The one that told me I was going to find something I’d lost?”

“Oh yes, I believe you mentioned that.”

“Well, this morning I was sweeping the kitchen and found this,” she flipped her left hand, adorned with jewelry and elaborately detailed nails, for presentation. “My sapphire ring! A gift from my Aunt Bertie that I’d been looking for for eons. Just turned up out of the blue.”

Aziraphale raised his eyebrows, “Wow, that’s– definitely unexpected.”

Tracy’s mouth curled into a smile, “Ah but my love, not unexpected at all! The cards predicted it days in advance.”

“Ah, I see. Foretold by the cards.”

“Precisely.” Tracy began to bring the cup to her lips before pausing, “Now are you going to tell me about your date with Crowley or am I going to have to weasel it out of you?”

“It was,” he paused, unable to repress the giddy smile that drew his mouth up at the corners, “Incredible.”

Tracy squealed, “You have to tell me everything! I was barely able to hang on this long without the news. I had half the mind to march into your office first thing this morning and shake you down for details.”

The skin of Aziraphale’s cheeks brightened to a pink hue, “Well, after the bonfire, we walked back together, and he opened up to me about some personal things in his past. He started to become emotional so I offered to hug him.”

He shook his head, struggling to find the words, “Holding him felt like-like everything made sense. And I wish I had the vocabulary to describe how gorgeous he was at that moment, but I’m afraid whatever words I string together would fall woefully short. But as we were holding each other, I-I-I um, I kissed him.”

Tracy gasped, clutching her hands to her chest, “Oh my darling, congratulations!”

Aziraphale chuckled awkwardly, “Thank you.”

“Oh, I’m so chuffed for you both. Now, tell me,” her eyes swept the office before leaning forward conspiratorially, “Was he a good kisser?”

Aziraphale covered his mouth to hide his bashful grin, “I couldn’t possibly divulge that information now could I?”

“Ah, bless me, of course not,” she winked and waved her hands, “I’m just ridiculously happy for you two.”

“Thank you, Tracy.” He went to sip his tea, realizing that he hadn’t stopped smiling during their entire conversation.

“I do have one small question for you,” Tracy leaned back, a mystical shimmer in her eye. “Given that you are embarking on this new journey – this new stage in life – will you let me read your tea leaves?”

Aziraphale gazed at his Earl Grey tea and the small leaves that floated idly at the bottom of his cup. “I-I don’t see why not. I’m not sure you’ll be able to make anything out but you’re free to try.” He pushed his cup across the desk.

“Oh, I’ll be able to read them,” she reached gingerly for the cup. “You forget that I’ve had years of practice with this sort of thing.”

Tracy held the cup close to her face as she mumbled to herself, every so often turning it and co*cking her head to the side.

“Well, a-a-anything interesting?” A sudden worry gripped him, that perhaps she’d see something maleficent.

She scooted closer and held out the cup for Aziraphale to see, “Right at the top of the cup, I see a bouquet, which is not a surprise, since you are in a new, happy relationship. But see that little cluster of leaves on the other side? Now I think those look awfully like an axe to me. Axes usually refer to problems that will be overcome, although I’m not sure what sort of problems the leaves are indicating. Does an axe mean anything to you? I’ve never seen one before in a reading, but this one stands out.”

He scrunched his nose in concentration, “N-not that I can think of at the moment.”

“No worries then, it will all reveal itself in time. The last thing I see closer to the bottom is a crescent moon, a very good sign. Those stand for connectedness and happiness.”

Aziraphale could vaguely make out the images she mentioned, and was relieved that they didn’t indicate an early grave or something of the sort, “And you inferred all that, just from tea leaves? Very impressive indeed.”

Tracy pushed the cup back toward him, “Of course, I do so enjoy my forays into the metaphysical realm.”

“These, um ‘problems to overcome’, is there anything I can do to prepare or stop them from happening?”

Tracy shook her head, “Afraid not, my dove, they just have to happen.”

—-

Following their first date, Aziraphale and Crowley found more little moments during their day to spend time with each other. Aziraphale took periodic walks around the grounds in hopes of running into the gardener to strike up a conversation or, when he was particularly busy, just to catch a glimpse of him. Crowley started walking by the office on his coffee breaks in the hope that the nurse was free for a quick chat. The moment that Aziraphale most looked forward to each day was their walks back to the cabins, where they would sit on Aziraphale’s front steps for hours talking, looking at the stars, and holding each other under the expanse of the summer night sky.

Their parting kisses had started to get progressively more passionate with each passing evening. Aziraphale found himself flicking his tongue between Crowley’s lips, prompting him to open his mouth wider as those long slender fingers wound into his curls of platinum hair. It never went further than kissing, even though there were heavy, breathless moments after they parted that he wanted desperately to invite the redhead inside, to fall into bed with him, to share every part of himself. The barriers of his inexperience and insecurity continued to hold steady, and despite the scorching way Crowley pressed his lips against his own, he wasn’t able to work up the courage to take the next step.

One night as Crowley started to pepper kisses against the line of his jaw, he hesitated before pulling back, “I’ve been doing some thinking.”

Aziraphale had to pull himself from the clouds to respond, “Is that something new you’re trying?”

The jab elicited a wickedly handsomely crooked smile, “Ouch, Angel. Such harassment from you. And here I thought I was being good.” Crowley’s nose brushed against his own before he pulled Aziraphale close again, kissing him deeply.

A moan escaped Aziraphale’s lips when the redhead finally pulled away again, “You’re always so good, my darling.”

Crowley's eyes widened at this, “f*ck.

Aziraphale grinned, pleased at the response, and pressed his lips against a freckled cheek, “You were saying?”

Crowley shook his head as if trying to will his mind back online, “Right, um. Well, I was thinking, what about a picnic tomorrow evening? I was going into town anyway and thought I could pick up a few things. I know a place not far from here we could walk to if you’d like.” Those amber eyes were filled with beautiful anticipation as they scanned Aziraphale’s face, awaiting a response.

“That sounds wonderful, is there anything you’d like me to bring?”

“Nope, I’ve got it covered,” the back of Crowley’s fingers brushed across his cheek, “Just bring yourself, yeah?”

The touch sent a shiver through him that was out of proportion to the lightness of the touch, “Of course, my darling.”

—-

The next morning Aziraphale awoke to a dappled red and orange sky painted above the rugged tree line. As he showered & prepared for the day, his thoughts drifted into daydreams about his upcoming evening plans. Each of his senses felt heightened somehow, the waters of his shower particularly warming, the quilted fabric of his towel unusually plush.

Time seemed to move particularly slowly as Aziraphale watched the clouds lazily pass by his window as he sipped his afternoon tea. Tracy was swamped today so they’d canceled their usual afternoon tea together. The sluggish ticking of the wall-mounted clock marked the maddening pace of time.

A sharp ring of his office phone sliced through the quiet, Aziraphale grasped the receiver.

“Hello?”

“Hi there dearie,” the familiar intonation was unmistakably Tracy’s. “I have a call for you on line three.”

He suspected the call must be a parent, there were a few who called for updates every so often. “Thank you, Tracy, I’ll take it now.”

“Not a problem. Toodles.”

Aziraphale pressed the rounded three that blinked red, “Hello there, this is Nurse Aziraphale.”

An authoritative, sickly sweet voice responded, “It took me a while, but finally I tracked you down.”

The world tilted and slammed back into place, sending shockwaves in its aftermath.

“Or have you forgotten me already?”

Aziraphale’s mouth opened and closed, unable to produce any sound. He’d forgotten how terrified and tongue-tied he got around Gabrielle.

Swallowing around a dry tongue, Aziraphale effortfully pushed a response forward, “I-I-I, how did you- what are you–”

“Still struggling to get a word out, eh? Some things never change.”

The blood drained from his face, the taunts hauntingly familiar despite all of the time and distance he’d attempted to put between them.

“But then again, other things do. In fact, I heard through the grapevine that you’ve decided you’re gay now. Is that true?”

Aziraphale attempted to ignore the bile that rose in his throat, “I’m h-hanging up now.”

Gabrielle chuckled humorlessly, “Well in any case, it’s always a pleasure to chat. Good luck with your pathetic little existence, now that you’ll never love properly. Not that you ever di–”

The staccato slam of the phone hitting the receiver severed the connection, yet the hammering of his heart against his breastbone and a high-pitched ringing in his ears persisted. For several moments Aziraphale held still as he tried to calm his reeling mind and convince his body that he wasn’t under threat. His efforts had little effect and, not knowing what else to do, he clipped the radio to the waist of his pants and made his way outside.

Aziraphale tried to avoid the main paths as his feet carried him forward, but there were always campers nearby the lodge. A group of bright-eyed pre-teens brandishing pool noodles as makeshift swords acknowledged him with a small wave, but thankfully didn’t seem to notice the redness of his eyes. The trees and other flora he passed appeared to blur into a singular green mass either due to the speed of his pace or the tears welling in his eyes. Eventually, he slowed to a stop, his chest rising and falling as he attempted to catch his breath. Since he’d traveled here mostly on autopilot, he took a moment to look around, taking in the towering pine trees and the forest floor covered in greenery. With his awareness returned to him he lowered himself to a sitting position, gripped his arms, and let himself cry.

Mercifully, there were no calls on his radio when he had his moment in the forest. It was cleansing, in a way, to be able to emote in such a peaceful place as if the woods were listening – holding a space for him. When he finally arrived back at his office, his limbs felt heavy with exhaustion. Not wanting to spoil his plans with Crowley, he splashed some cold water on his face and procured a thermos of tea from the kitchen before leaving for the day.

As he changed clothes and freshened up, Gabrielle’s words weaved insidiously into his thoughts. Each time the memories crept up, he envisioned shoving them into a box, tying it up, and setting it aside for later. There would be plenty of time to fully process it later. By the time Crowley arrived at his door with a wicker basket in hand, smile crooked, and eyes glowing with infectious adoration, Aziraphale had successfully put the events of the afternoon behind him.

—-

“No, no, no–it’s gotta be whales,” Crowley gesticulated wildly, “Brain city whales!”

Aziraphale nearly choked on his lemonade from his surprised laughter, “My dear no! That doesn’t mean they are the smartest animal in the ocean, Elephants have bigger brains than humans do and yet they don’t possess the same level of intelligence as we do.”

Crowley shrugged defiantly as he popped a grape into his mouth, a fiendish glint in his eye, “Wouldn’t know – never spent much time around them. And besides, there are different types of intelligence, anyway. Humans have a tendency to be quite stupid.”

White curls bounced as Aziraphale shook his head, unable to suppress the amused smile that played at the corners of his mouth, “You’re simply impossible.”

“Aren’t I just,” the redhead winked playfully, the gesture stirring something deeper in the pit of Aziraphale’s stomach.

“Quite decidedly so,” Aziraphale polished off his last cracker topped with aged parmesan. Crowley managed a particularly impressive picnic for the two of them, which was surprising, given how little he’d seen him eat. The meal was complete with various cheeses, fruit, and mini chocolate cupcakes which Aziraphale had made quick work of. There hadn’t been wine, although that was due to the strict no alcohol on campgrounds policy. It didn’t matter though, each time Crowley leaned over to kiss him it left him feeling a bit tipsy in all the best ways.

A comfortable silence settled between them as they took in the scenery, a small clearing at the base of a sloping hillside that was covered with pink foxglove. Crowley had mentioned that he’d stumbled upon this place a few years ago and, although the trail was a bit overgrown, it was only about a 10-minute walk from the staff cabins.

Aziraphale glanced over at Crowley whose eyes were cast upwards, his features relaxed and dreamy. It had been overcast when they first arrived, but darker clouds in the distance had begun to move across the sky. The rumble of distant thunder echoed in the clearing.

“Unfortunately,” Crowley grumbled, “I don’t think the weather is going to hold out much longer. Think it might be best to pack up now before we get caught in the rain.”

The blonde cast his eyes down, “Yes, we probably should.”

Crowley paused, noticing the change in Aziraphale’s demeanor. He reached over to take Aziraphale’s hand before bringing it to his lips. “Everything okay, Angel?”

“Oh, yes-yes. I’m sorry, I’m just having such a good time and I’m not quite–”

His response was cut short by a large raindrop hitting the bridge of his nose, followed by several more as they started to fall with quickening regularity.

“W-we should definitely start to pack up, I think.”

They swiftly cleaned up their picnic, shoving the remnants into containers, and loading them into the basket. As they walked hand in hand on their way back to the cabins, Aziraphale found he couldn’t take his eyes off Crowley, the small details like the fiery waves of his hair or the definition of the muscles of his arms sent sparklers off inside of him. Every so often Crowley would catch him staring and his freckled skin would rise in color. Aziraphale found it impossible to hold back his amorous thoughts – the excitement of it pulsed through his veins.

Three-quarters of the way back to the cabins the rain started to pick up and, despite the overhead coverage of branches, their clothes started to get wet. Thunder echoed above them as a flash of a lightning strike illuminated their surroundings.

Aziraphale furrowed his brow, “We aren’t too far away now, I think, should we make a run for it?”

Crowley adjusted the basket on his shoulder and squeezed Aziraphale’s hand, a playful smile playing at his lips, “Think you can keep up with me?”

The blonde chortled at the proposed challenge, “Oh, I’ll have no trouble with that I assure you.”

Hands interconnected, the men took off down the expanse of trail with cool rain dampening their clothing, thunder continuing to boom throughout the sky and ridiculous grins painted on their faces.

Their pace slowed when they finally arrived at the steps of Aziraphale’s cabin and took shelter under the small canopy above the front door. For a moment they caught their breath as they watched the downpour they were mercifully no longer caught in.

Crowley shifted the picnic basket to his other shoulder, “Well, that went down like a lead balloon.”

Aziraphale nodded, the movement causing water droplets to fall from his weighted curls, “Yes, it did rather.”

Crowley set his hand gently on Aziraphale’s hip, “Thank you, for joining me this evening.” He placed a brief, delicate kiss on Aziraphale’s lips. “I had a great time. Sorry we got rained out.”

“It was a delightful time, rain and all.” The blonde cupped Crowley’s cheek, unable to fight the magnetism drawing him closer. “Thank you, Crowley.”

“Anything for you, Angel,” his voice no more than a whisper, his gaze affectionate and liquid gold.

Aziraphale pulled forward for another kiss, gentle as it had been moments before. As he moved back and their eyes met, the air between them changed, settling over them heavy and raw. It was Crowley who leaned in the second time, tilting his head and slotting their lips fully against each other with a breathless urgency. Aziraphale hummed in assent, both hands cradling Crowley’s jaw before they moved back to curl into his hair.

A muffled thump of the picnic basket hitting the ground was followed by slender fingers gripping Aziraphale’s hips, closing any space between them and creating friction between their damp clothes.

They’d kissed passionately before, but this– this was different.

The taste of Crowley's tongue kindled a carnal heat between Aziraphale’s legs that flooded through every nerve in his body. Hands still twisted in copper curls, Aziraphale shifted his body backward, and let Crowley crowd him against the door. The redhead's hands started to move up his chest when the sky brightened with light once again, a deafening thunderclap jolted them apart in surprise.

“I-” Crowley’s chest heaved, his eyes looked frantically everywhere except Aziraphale, “It’s getting– I should–”

“Don’t.”

Don’t leave, don’t stop kissing me, don’t take your hands off me for one moment more.

“Don’t go.”

Crowley’s gaze raised to his once more, his pupils wide with anticipation and his breath coming out in unsteady bursts, “Are you sure?” He looked like he wanted nothing more than to move forward, and yet he stood frozen in place. They were still close beneath the canopy while the torrents of rain fell all around them, and somehow the space between them was agonizingly far apart.

And for all his indecisiveness and worry, Aziraphale had never been more sure about anything in his entire life. “Please, Crowley,” he whispered.

Crowley closed the distance between them, capturing his mouth with a little indrawn breath of anticipation. Aziraphale wrapped his one arm around the redhead’s waist, while his other searched behind him for the door handle. When his fingers finally gripped the metal knob, he opened the door and pulled them both into the refuge of his cabin as a crash of thunder sounded above.

—-

They stumbled backward, their lips colliding desperately as their hands gripped at each other and they kicked off their shoes.

How the Bonfires Burn - TicketyBoo_Delaney (7)

The springs of the mattress creaked as they fell onto the bed, Crowley broke away to take off his shirt, his wet hair spilling across his shoulders after it pulled over his head.

Aziraphale’s eyes widened as he fussed with his buttons, “God, you’re beautiful.”

“I don’t come close,” Crowley pressed wet kisses against Aziraphale’s jaw, his hands moving to help rid Aziraphale of his shirt, “when compared to you.”

Aziraphale’s erection pressed painfully against his trousers as he finally pulled off his shirt, feeling a sudden urge to cover himself and hide away the newly exposed skin. Before he had the chance, Crowley’s hands ran reverently across his chest and down to his stomach.

The pupils of Crowley’s eyes were wide as he took in the sight of Aziraphale’s naked torso, “Just look at you,” the redhead leaned forward, his breath hot against his mouth, “You’re gorgeous.

It was almost too much, the combination of adoration and sensory pleasure, it was better than anything Aziraphale dared to fantasize. And yet here he was, entangled with an incredibly sexy, incredibly kind, and incredibly impossible man who looked at him as if he were sculpted by the gods. There wasn’t time for his anxiety to pick it apart, he was caught up in the intensity of it, dizzy with lust and hopelessly in love.

Aziraphale moved further back on the bed, pulling Crowley on top of him, the skin of their torsos hot against each other. Crowley smiled wickedly before gripping Aziraphale’s shoulders and rolling his hips, the feeling enough to send stars into his vision.

f*ck-

“Oh, yes…” Crowley moved again before he leaned back, fire in his eyes, “Haven’t heard you use language like that before.”

Aziraphale laughed breathlessly, “I think – oh God– perhaps you’re a bad influence.”

“Mmm,” Crowley’s fingers curled in his hair, his co*ck hard and pressing against the tight fabric of his pants as he dragged it against him again, “Wouldn’t want to corrupt an Angel…”

Aziraphale moaned and slid his hands to cup Crowley’s arse, perfectly tight and rounded, pressing them together as they rolled their hips in unison.

“Jesus f*ck, yes -- that’s it,” Crowley bit his lip before he buried his face in Aziraphale’s neck, kissing up to his ear. “How do you want me, Aziraphale?”

A gasp escaped his lips when Crowley’s hand reached between their bodies and worked to unfasten the button on his trousers.

“I-I want–”

Still struggling to get a word out, eh? Some things never change.

The memory was so unexpected and unwelcome that it sent ice through his veins. No, no, no, god no, Aziraphale squeezed his eyes shut, shooing away the thought with all the force he could muster, “I want--”

Crowley kissed the skin of his clavicle, his voice raspy and his touch scorching against his skin. “Yes, Angel, what do you want? I’ll give you anything.”

Good luck with your pathetic little existence.

Aziraphale’s stomach seized and twisted. With a grit of his teeth, he pulled his hands away. Crowley sensed the change, sitting upwards with a jolt.

“Aziraphale,” the redhead's eyes were clouded with desire, yet his gaze also held concern and his brow furrowed in worry.

“I-I-I I’ve never–” his voice caught off in the back of his throat as he sat upright. He should have done this earlier, laid out his shortcomings for Crowley to see, and let him leave before they both fell too far downward. It was selfish of him to hide something like this for so long, and now…

Now it was going to hurt.

Crowley didn’t move, he was still straddling Aziraphale’s hips as he scanned his face, looking for some sort of sign, waiting for Aziraphale to finish. It wasn’t of any use, Aziraphale felt like stone, unable to make a sound, unable to emote.

Eventually, the redhead spoke gently, tentatively, “You’ve never… with another man before?”

Now that you’ll never love properly.

The thought was the chisel to his marble facade, leaving him shattered. Aziraphale felt the corner of his mouth twitch, his eyes cast downward against the wetness that welled in the corners. The box that Aziraphale had so carefully tied up burst open, its contents spilling over the edge.

The emotion of it flooded his chest and he knew there was no turning back now. He could feel the tears stream down his flushed cheeks as he finally replied in a broken, small voice, “I’ve never with a-a-anybody.”

It was out now, rolled off his tongue, and left lingering in the space between them. Like squeezing ointment from a tube, there was no undoing what was done. All that was left was to brace for the fallout of his sins – his shameful inexperience.

Crowley’s face did something complicated and painful before he moved off of Aziraphale and shifted to the edge of the bed.

“Oh, God. Right, okay.”

The redhead’s chest started to rise and fall as his breathing quickened, his hands shook as he brought them to cover his face, “I’m…f*ck. I’m so sorry.”

Alarm bells sounded in Aziraphale’s mind as he tried to comprehend why Crowley was apologizing. The confusion was enough to propel him forward, “No, Crowley. No, it’s not – you didn’t –”

“I have to go.”

A gunshot would have hurt less.

He thought he was ready for it, he’d been braced for the worst: the anger behind a ‘How couldn’t you tell me’, or the disappointment of a ‘This isn’t what I wanted’. But Crowley didn’t look angry or disappointed, he looked wounded. It caused Aziraphale’s pulse to quicken with a feverish need to explain, to soothe the pain that was now painted on the redhead’s face. He swiped at the tears on his cheeks and set his hand on Crowley’s arm.

“My darling, please, just-”

The skin of his fingertips had barely made contact when Crowley flinched against the touch and stood up, “I’m sorry, Crowley, please– come back.”

Crowley turned, his face ashen as he hesitantly brought his gaze upward. Aziraphale wished he knew what he was doing with his face, what expression he was displaying, because whatever Crowley saw brought such self-recrimination that his body recoiled, his breath coming out in short bursts.

“I can’t –” his voice cracked, “Aziraphale, I’m sorry I can’t.”

It was like hitting the ground from such great heights, and yet it felt all too familiar. The rejection had lived here once, after all, knew the layout of Aziraphale’s heart well, dwelled in the nooks and crannies. It had taken a sabbatical, sure, but it had come back with tenacity.

Welcome home.

Tears continued their slow tracks down Aziraphale’s cheeks as he sat motionless on the edge of the bed, grasping his arms as he watched Crowley retrieve his shirt from the ground and step roughly into his shoes.

Losing him, losing everything.

“Wait, C-Crowley I –”

A rush of air came as the cabin door swung open and closed with an abrupt slam. Crowley was gone.

Notes:

yikes.

say hi on twitter!

(chapters posted weekly on Saturdays)

Actions

  • ↑ Top
  • Comments (59)

Kudos

MMisery, TalongniBenedict, LTeebs, ProphecyMunchingDoodles, Celia_2412, Wonderpyoupyou, beerok23, PattyannRancor, SerenityStargazer, Karensama13, sparksearcher, SingingSiren, catididnt, marvelfanficrecs, Helenahandbasket13, greenr717, stardust_randy, aac0577, ornitier, Ignasium, tickety_boo_22, midnightkirara93, rose44, Usedtobehmc, Breenay, MaryDeeley, Gypsi_Kat, CuriousScribe, Moroshka_go, Kovexeon, LittleQueerdo, Gogo_Smith, Omensfan, SlimePuppies, The_Nation, and softcrowleyas well as18 guestsleft kudos on this work!

Comments

How the Bonfires Burn - TicketyBoo_Delaney (2024)

References

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Corie Satterfield

Last Updated:

Views: 6110

Rating: 4.1 / 5 (62 voted)

Reviews: 93% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Corie Satterfield

Birthday: 1992-08-19

Address: 850 Benjamin Bridge, Dickinsonchester, CO 68572-0542

Phone: +26813599986666

Job: Sales Manager

Hobby: Table tennis, Soapmaking, Flower arranging, amateur radio, Rock climbing, scrapbook, Horseback riding

Introduction: My name is Corie Satterfield, I am a fancy, perfect, spotless, quaint, fantastic, funny, lucky person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.