"Absolutely not!" Aziraphale said.
Crowley felt fury and a little desperation start to well inside his chest as the angel looked up from the note, shock and horror in his eyes. "What do you mean absolutely not?"
"I'm not going to aid you in your ridiculously dangerous ventures! For heaven's sake, it's practically handing you a suicide pill, Crowley!" Aziraphale told him. "And anyway, do you know what trouble I'd get into if they knew I had been…fraternizing? It's completely out of the question."
"Fraternizing?" Crowley demanded, taking offense to the term for what he had thought was a friendship. Perhaps he had been wrong.
"Whatever you wish to call it," Aziraphale said, looking around as if angels might appear out of nowhere.
"I thought we were, you know…friends?" Crowley hesitantly queried. "I never would have asked otherwise."
Aziraphale huffed a short breath, but didn't meet Crowley's eyes, instead looking out at the pond in front of them, watching the ducks. "We're an angel and a demon, Crowley," he said quietly. "We can't…" he shut his mouth before he spoke the words, but Crowley already knew what he was going to say and it still hurt. More than he would care to admit, really.
Crowley drew himself up. "You know, I have lots of other people to fraternize with, angel. I don't need you."
Aziraphale glanced up, the paper clutched tightly, crumpled in his hand in a way that was quite out of character for Aziraphale, who was usually so careful with everything. "Well, the feeling is mutual, obviously."
"Obviously," Crowley snapped in return.
And as if to prove the point, Aziraphale turned and threw the paper with the request Crowley had passed to him into the pond. Then he spun on his heel and hurried away.
Crowley watched the paper float down to land on the water where it soon sank because it was easier than watching his, well, not his friend, walk away.
In the end, it was really the same thing.
Aziraphale felt terrible even as he left St. James Park. He hailed a cab and made his way back to Soho where his new shop sat.
When he got inside and peeled off his gloves, he found his hands were shaking.
He hadn't truly meant to imply to Crowley that they weren't friends—or even that they couldn't be friends. It was just…sometimes he wondered if the demon really appreciated how dangerous their little Arrangement was. For both of them! Aziraphale was just as worried about Crowley being found out by Hell as he was of being found out by Heaven. Neither would be good, but he felt that perhaps Crowley might have it worse, considering he did work for Hell and the Devil himself. Neither of which were very forgiving. Not that Heaven was either.
But on top of that, the demon's request worried him. Did Crowley truly want to kill himself? Or was it just a precaution like the demon had claimed? Aziraphale couldn't take that chance, he couldn't stand the thought of Crowley alone and cornered, using holy water of all things on himself to escape—what? Something worse?
Especially since Aziraphale felt that probably whatever worse would ultimately be a result of their friendship.
No, it was best this way. And though it was like a dagger to the heart, Aziraphale had to admit it was probably best that they didn't see each other again. They had gotten far too comfortable in each other's company and running errands for each other, and that could only lead to being too lax. If they continued like that they would be found out eventually.
No, even though it might be one of the hardest things he had ever done, Aziraphale decided that he had seen the last of Crowley.
It was for the best, he kept telling himself. It was for the best.
Crowley found it rather ridiculous that you rarely missed something so much unless you no longer had it. He hadn't realized friends were like that too, but then, he'd only ever had one and this was the first time he'd ever actually lost Aziraphale.
And he didn't know why but he felt like this time he actually had lost the angel. Somehow when they had parted in the past there was always that certainty that they would stumble across each other again, even if they weren't seeking the other out. Now, however, Crowley felt like something had been broken. An invisible tie.
Their friendship, he realized.
It would have been one thing if they had just had a falling out, but Aziraphale had implied that it was because Crowley was a demon. That he wasn't actually worthy to be friends with an angel. That hurt more than anything.
It had been a simple enough request and now Crowley felt stupid for asking and a little desperate. He had thought that Aziraphale would understand, but well, maybe it was best their friendship had ended after all. If the angel didn't immediately understand why he needed the Holy Water, then maybe it was for the best he hadn't given it to him. Thinking Crowley wanted a suicide pill—ridiculous! As if Crowley had a death wish.
No, he wanted protection. Things were getting dangerous out there, and he was afraid that some day Hell would come for him. Whether it was because of Aziraphale or not.
Now he was desperate because he didn't have what he needed, and now he didn't even have the only friend he'd ever known.
Crowley felt suddenly, irreparably, alone.
It was not easy and it was not the same. Crowley wandered around Europe, feeling the tension build until the Great War happened. It was terrible. Crowley hated war and he was beginning to realize he also hated being alone.
He watched as men changed, coming home different. They called it 'shell shock' but it was so much more than that. He got a commendation of course, though he hadn't started the war, and didn't want to claim it. Who would want to be responsible for this?
And the whole time, Crowley watched and waited. He was certain that at some point Aziraphale would show up. He always had, after all, and it had been years. Perhaps he had forgotten all about their little tiff. Perhaps he would show up, they'd do a job and have a drink together like nothing had ever happened and then things would go back to normal.
But it was 1917, the war was over for the most part, and Crowley hadn't seen the angel once.
He went back to England, just as numb as all the soldiers, realizing that it must truly be over and it was probably safe to say that he would never see Aziraphale again.
Aziraphale hadn't realized how much he would miss Crowley until he failed to see him. Yes, they'd gone years in the past without coming across each other, but the thing was that, eventually, they always had come across each other. It seemed inevitable.
And perhaps he tried a little harder to avoid anything that made him think of Crowley, any influence he was certain had the demon's name on it, but each time, it was like a knife to the heart. Oh how he missed his friend, though he also realized the reasons behind their mutual parting. In reality, it was a lot safer for both of them. This is what he tried to tell himself whenever he poured himself a glass of wine and realized it didn't taste nearly as good without someone to share it with.
And after the Great War, he still hadn't seen Crowley, which did rather surprise him, but also gave him a little relief. He had thought that perhaps Crowley was regretting his decision as well, but if he hadn't sought out Aziraphale by now, then he probably wouldn't later. Crowley must have moved on. It was time for Aziraphale to do the same, he supposed.
Even though it hurt more than he cared to admit.
Crowley needed out of England, the place was honestly a mess right now, a political hotspot in the fallout of the war, refugees from multiple countries, political parties popping up out of nowhere, gangs, union strikes, communism…honestly the humans didn't need Crowley to sway them right now. He'd already been given commendations for so many things that he'd had nothing to do with and couldn't care less.
So he left England and went to Switzerland where it was apparently more peaceful. Crowley wanted some peace for a while.
He ended up in the countryside in some little place called Veyras, and found the first pub there where he proceeded to drink himself into a stupor, that, if he was lucky, would keep him out for a week. Or more. He'd slept through most of the 19th century, and decided he wanted to do the same with the 20th if he at all could help it.
He hadn't intended to eavesdrop on anyone's conversation, but the man who sat in the booth behind Crowley's dark corner littered with bottles that made the bartender give him a pinched expression, caught his ear with his mumbling.
At first, Crowley couldn't make sense of it, but then realized the man was writing something, scratching out words with a rough-tipped pen before scribbling them out again. A sigh of frustration was heard before the scratching started up again.
"Who, if I cried out would hear me among the angelic orders… ah, is that good? Where do I go from here?"
The words hit Crowley hard and he straightened up, forcing himself to sober up a bit before straining to hear more of the man's words. If he cried out, who would hear him among the angelic orders? It reminded him of when he had fallen, the simultaneous freedom and pain of knowing he had been cut off and there was no going back.
It wasn't all that different from now, when he had lost his angelic friend. Before, he had known that Aziraphale would come if he were to call him. He had before. But now? Now, Crowley wasn't so sure. Especially if Aziraphale no longer had interest in being friends with a demon.
"Oh, this is hopeless, I'll never finish these," the man moaned behind him and Crowley heard the crumpling of paper.
But an idea was forming. This was something he'd never done before, and it was a bit ridiculous, but perhaps it would help him. Poetry was for voicing your pains and sorrows, right? Maybe if he helped this man pen his poems about angels, give him a few inside pointers, he could find a way to release some of his own pent up feelings that were burning a hole through his black soul.
He'd never been a muse before, but there was a first time for everything.
Rilke sat in the throes of a creator's agony. He'd taken this vacation to try and clear his head and still nothing seemed to be working. It was just cold in Switzerland this time of year, and no matter how hard he tried, he still couldn't get the war out of his head. He feared it may have ruined his ability to write.
He sat with his head in his hands. He had been working on the Elegies for so long and had hardly gotten anywhere. He knew what he wanted out of them and yet couldn't seem to find the right words.
"Oh, this is hopeless," he finally said in a fit of despondency. "I'll never finish these!" He took up the papers he had been scratching away on and crumpled them in his hands.
He was about to get up and leave the pub and his futile efforts, when he was confronted by a man.
Or, well, the figure seemed to be that of a man. But Rilke couldn't help, odd as it was, but notice that there was something of an otherworldly quality about him that made him stop and sit there, eyes wide as he stared at this stranger.
The man stood next to his table. He was tall and very thin, long-legged, but not rangy, he instead slouched as if comfortable in his skin. He wore all black in some indistinguishable style. What was even more strange was that his hair was the bright copper color of the setting sun, and hung nearly to his shoulders in a way that was far out of fashion. Tinted glasses perched on his nose hid his eyes and framed the pale face and delicate cheekbones.
Rilke was completely stunned by this man's appearance and couldn't rightly say why. He just held an air about him that was…well, not entirely human. Something like the fae of legend.
"It's not hopeless," the man said and reached out to pluck the crumpled paper from Rilke's hand and straighten it out before smoothing it against the table. "This line in particular is very good."
Rilke closed his mouth finally and swallowed to wet his palate enough to speak. "Er, well, thank you, but, you see, I just don't think it will work. I've been working on these about ten years now and have only penned a few spare lines. I don't feel as if I have the creativity anymore."
"You need help, some…guidance," the man said with a nod. "That's why I'm here to help you."
Rilke stared at him again. "Um…I …don't understand. Who are you?" He was tempted to say what but at this point, he didn't really want to curse this seemingly fortuitous meeting. And really, he didn't want to break the spell. If this man was—as ridiculous as it might seem—his muse then the last thing he wanted to do was un-invoke him by speaking toward his true nature.
"You can call me Crowley," the man said and without invitation slid into the other side of the booth.
Rilke did not question it, he simply picked up his pen and pulled out a fresh piece of paper.
"Okay, Crowley," he said. "What did you have in mind?"
Thus followed many fevered days penning lines, discarding some, and reworking others. They sat either in the pub or the rooms Rilke was renting, and he was shocked by how deeply thoughtful Crowley's suggestions were.
"How about this?" he asked, bending over Rilke's desk and pointing to his page with a long, pale finger. "Many a star must have been there for you so you might feel it. A wave lifted towards you out of the past, or, as you walked past an open window, a violin gave of itself."
"Beautiful," Rilke murmured as he reworked the words he had written down.
"The stars hold many memories," Crowley said distantly as if to himself. "I like to think…" he paused and Rilke looked up at him swiftly, trying to read the expression on his otherworldly features. He always had a hard time seeing what the man was thinking. He never took off those glasses. Rilke often wondered what hid underneath that Crowley was determined to hide.
The man—the muse—shook himself and straightened. "Your poems are about loneliness. Stars are often a symbol of that in poems, yes?" Crowley asked.
Rilke tilted his head. "I suppose."
"I see them the exact opposite," Crowley told him. "As here, they are often there for those we cannot be near."
"Yes!" Rilke said with realization. "That's perfect!"
Crowley gave a small smile. "Now, let's go back to this next line…"
Rilke wrote and felt the fever of creativity overtaking him as he penned his lines under the watchful guidance of his flame-haired muse.
Crowley read over the lines at night when Rilke slept. They were good. They were powerful. The poet's themes fit right into what Crowley was thinking of a lot lately, without having realized it. Existence in general, contemplating death, life, angels, and above all loneliness. Of course, Rilke's angels were probably meant to be symbolic and his narrative was also meant to be romantic, and themes of everlasting love wove their way through, but the main point was missing someone you cared about deeply. It was these lines, these sentiments, that Crowley had poured out of his own heart to be put down more prettily by the poet.
He read again, one of his favorites they had penned that day. Rilke had actually cut it from the Elegies, thinking it would fit better somewhere else, but Crowley still liked it nonetheless.
"MUSIC: Take me by the hand;
it's so easy for you, Angel,
for you are the road
even while being immobile.
You see, I'm scared no one
here will look for me again;
I couldn't make use of
whatever was given,
so they abandoned me.
At first the solitude
charmed me like a prelude,
but so much music wounded me."
This one had been mostly Crowley's. It incorporated all his feelings toward his friendship with Aziraphale and how it felt to lose that. He was genuinely scared no one would look for him again, he felt abandoned by the only friend he had ever had, and this fed into his fears that Aziraphale would not come if he called him.
It was like that first line he had heard Rilke speak, "Who, if I cried, would hear me among the angelic orders." Crowley wasn't even sure there would be one now who would hear him.
Something about putting his feelings out there onto paper, especially anonymously, helped him make sense of what he was feeling. It wasn't really his work, so he had that buffer, and yet, it was and he could be happy that only he knew the secret.
If no one else even understood the true meaning between the lines, it would never matter.
Crowley flipped through the pages and read another passage, feeling his melancholy seep through him. Not as sharp as before, but more like a dull ache, that he was sure would never truly leave.
"Angel, even if I were, you'd never come. For my call
is always full of 'Away!' Against such a powerful
current you cannot advance. Like an outstretched
arm is my call. And its clutching, upwardly
open hand is always before you
as open for warding and warning, aloft there,
And another line that Crowley had penned, thinking of the familiarity he felt around Aziraphale, the comfort he often took in the light of his halo. In those moments when he considered the fact that he must not be so damned as to be completely unworthy to be touched with angelic light.
"And he himself as he lay there in such relief,
mingling, under his drowsy eyelids, the sweetness
of your light shaping with the foretaste of coming sleep,
seemed to be under protection . . . Within, though: who could avert, divert, the floods of origin flowing within him?"
Sometimes he thought that perhaps he was no longer worthy of even being around Aziraphale's light, but he liked to think of its protective power, especially on the nights when the loneliness beat at him like ceaseless stormy waves against a poor doomed ship.
"And we, who have always thought
of happiness climbing, would feel
the emotion that almost startles
when happiness falls."
Rilke penned the last few words of the final eulogy and sat back, setting his pen down.
"I think that's done it," he said, turning to Crowley.
The muse was lounging on the couch, long legs pulled up, face buried in the manuscript, his hair falling over his eyes and concealing most of his features from Rilke for the moment.
"It's good, it's very good," Crowley told him, almost reluctantly putting the pages aside.
"I'm hoping to publish it," Rilke told him. "I'm sending it to my editor soon."
Crowley didn't say anything, simply flipped through of the pages once again.
Rilke frowned. "I suppose this is it then?"
Crowley turned to him, one brow raised over the curious glasses. "Hm?"
"Our… partnership," Rilke said. "I've finished my project. I just assumed that…"
"Oh, er, right," Crowley said and stood up. "I will need to be going."
Rilke felt a sudden melancholy wash over him at that. The thought of losing his mysterious muse hurt more than he imagined. "Can I…pay you for your help?"
Crowley smiled slightly and shook his head, tucking his hands into his pockets. "Your words are my payment."
Rilke felt a thrill go through him, his theory that this man was not entirely human only solidifying in his mind. "Will I…see you again?" he asked almost hesitantly.
Crowley shrugged. "Perhaps. If you get stuck again."
He cast one last glance at the papers and then as Rilke turned to his desk to find a second copy, thinking perhaps Crowley might like to take one, he found that when he turned back around, Crowley was gone. He hadn't even heard the door close.
And just like that, his fiery-haired mused had disappeared just as quickly as he had appeared.
Aziraphale unloaded a box of new books onto one of the tables in his shop. Typically, he didn't carry a lot of contemporary writers, but people seemed to expect it of him, and really, he would rather sell those than his precious collectables. And it also allowed him to see all the new books being published and get a chance to read them.
Frankly, he wasn't entirely fond of this decade's fiction. It was either too sensational, or too literary for him. He did love a good swashbuckler as much as the next person, of course, but one could only read so many of those before you wanted something with a little more tooth.
Today's shipment had several volumes of poetry, which could also be hit or miss. While some of the post-war stuff was rather good, it was quite melancholy. He longed for the romantic era of Byron or even Poe.
There was one though that caught his eye as he flipped through it. Something by an Austrian author, Rilke. Aziraphale had read some of his things before, a rather nice collection of poems, but this seemed different.
He tucked a copy away for further inspection when he got a moment.
Later he sat down with a cup of tea to read through Rilke's Duino Elegies.
At first glance it just seemed like a rather pretty, yet somewhat dark romantic piece, but as he read further he realized there was so much more to it.
Some of the lines were truly about utter loneliness and Aziraphale felt them clutch at his heart in a rather strange, knowing way that surprised him.
"Angel, even if I were, you'd never come. For my call
is always full of 'Away!' Against such a powerful
current you cannot advance…"
That passage caused a lump to rise unbidden in Aziraphale's throat. How terrible it would be to try calling for someone and knowing they would not answer. Almost fearing to call for perhaps the deeper fear of being ignored. It was a terrible thought.
He read further, stopping at another passage that particularly struck him:
"O smile: where?
O upward gaze:
new, warm, vanishing wave of the heart - :
oh, we are that.
Does the cosmic space,
we dissolve into, taste of us then?
Do the Angels really only
take back what is theirs,
what has streamed out of them,
or is there sometimes,
as if by an oversight,
something of our being, as well?"
A curious thought process to be sure. Aziraphale found himself wondering exactly what the author meant by that. Something about the human soul, he assumed, but felt there might be a deeper meaning there.
It was not until he read this line that Aziraphale began to feel a prick of something he had tried to put away for a long time:
"Was it not miracle?
O, be astonished, Angel,
since we are this,
O tell them, O great one,
that we could achieve this:
my breath is too slight for this praising.
So, after all, we have not failed
to make use of these spaces,
these generous ones, our spaces.
(How frighteningly vast they must be,
when they are not overfull of our feelings,
after thousands of years.)
But a tower was great, was it not?
O Angel, it was though –
even compared to you?"
Why, Aziraphale wondered, did these lines remind him of his dear friend? Or rather former friend, he supposed. He had tried not to think of Crowley as the thought of his absence hurt more than he was willing to admit. And yet something about the loneliness in Rilke's poems, the passages about loss and desperation to be heard by angels and Heaven, made Aziraphale feel like he was missing Crowley all over again.
He flipped back to the first Elegy and read again this line:
"Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the Angelic
Orders? And even if one were to suddenly
take me to its heart, I would vanish into its
stronger existence. For beauty is nothing but
the beginning of terror, that we are still able to bear,
and we revere it so, because it calmly disdains
to destroy us. Every Angel is terror.
And so I hold myself back and swallow the cry
of a darkened sobbing. Ah, who then can
we make use of? Not Angels: not men,
and the resourceful creatures see clearly
that we are not really at home
in the interpreted world."
Aziraphale's throat tightened again at reading this with a new light. Crowley had rarely talked about his fall, but Aziraphale could only imagine how it hurt, and is this how he would feel now that even Aziraphale had abandoned him? Had mistakenly told him that they shouldn't be friends because they were on opposite sides?
"Do you really suppose your gentle approach could have so
convulsed him, you, that wander like morning-breezes?
You terrified his heart, indeed; but more ancient terrors
rushed into him in that instant of shattering contact.
Call him . . . you can't quite call him away from those sombre
Truly, he tries to, he does escape them; disburdenedly settles
into your intimate heart, receives and begins himself there.
Did he ever begin himself, though?"
He shook his head and quickly flipped through to another page. What was done was done, and he couldn't change that. Perhaps someday he would meet up with Crowley again and all would be forgotten. There was no need to dwell on it.
His eyes fell on another line:
"Many a star must have been there
for you so you might feel it.
A wave lifted towards you out of the past,
or, as you walked past an open window,
a violin gave of itself."
Aziraphale rather liked this line, it felt comforting in a way; an old friend reaching out to one even though it had been a long time, and they were far away. He set the book aside, deciding that he could read no more of it right now.
But he found himself returning to the book, especially on the days he particularly missed his friend. He still didn't know why this book made him think of Crowley but it did. And even though some of the passages were painful to equate, he found them comforting, and truly wished that he could see his friend again.
Aziraphale was still trying to get over the fact that it was Crowley standing there in the destroyed church, when the demon, still skipping gingerly on the floor said, "Give you a lift home?"
Aziraphale clutched the bag of books he had thought he had lost moments before, only to realize they had been spared by the demon who had once been his friend. And…perhaps, after everything, still was. Crowley had come to his rescue after all and it was almost as if the near century between the last time they had seen each other hadn't happened.
"Angel?" Crowley asked, voice slightly tight as he continued to shift uncomfortably from one foot to the other, like he was trying not to make it look as frantic as he wanted to. "Any day now."
"Crowley, well, it's you," Aziraphale said lamely, unable to help the small smile that was spreading over his face.
"Yes, it's me, now come on, angel, I can't stay here much longer."
Feeling suddenly terrible, Aziraphale hurried out of the church with Crowley who limped even after they got off of the holy ground. He stumbled slightly and Aziraphale instinctively reached out to grab his elbow.
"Are you quite all right?"
Crowley stiffened slightly at his touch, but didn't shake him off so much as he simply straightened and pulled away.
"I'm fine," Crowley replied stiffly and made his way to a Bentley that was parked a little ways down the road. Smoke from the bomb was clouding the street. Several others had hit during the strafing run, and left further scars on London. At least the people were mostly still hidden safely away.
"Still have the shop in Soho?" Crowley asked as he opened the door to the Bentley, leaning against the roof to take pressure off his feet.
"Yes, of course," Aziraphale said and opened the passenger door before sliding into the car, holding his carpet bag of books on his lap as Crowley slid behind the wheel and started the engine with a snap of his fingers.
They drove in silence. Aziraphale didn't quite know what to say, but every moment he felt was one that was slipping away. Seconds ticking to the time when Crowley would leave again.
And the only thing he could think of was that it had been his fault that they hadn't seen each other in almost one hundred years.
They'd spent that much time apart before, of course, but at first anyway, they hadn't really been friends. And then, well, they were always sure they would end up in the same place eventually as they had the uncanny ability to do just that. When you were pretty much the only operatives from Heaven and Hell on earth chances were that your jobs would coincide more often than not.
This time, it felt more like they were purposefully avoiding each other, and because of that, Aziraphale was even more surprised to see Crowley here now. It seemed surreal to be riding in this car, that might not even be his. Perhaps he had just stolen it.
"So," Aziraphale cleared his throat and finally spoke. "What are you doing in London exactly?"
Crowley was silent for a long moment, so long that Aziraphale thought he might have said something wrong, but then the demon seemed to shake himself and replied with a casual shrug. "Oh, you know. Stuff here and there. Apparently demonic miracles."
Aziraphale was not at all satisfied with that answer, but they had pulled up in front of his shop now, and that was it then. He would have to say goodbye to his dear friend after only just seeing him again.
"Thank you for the lift," Aziraphale said lamely, putting a hand on the car door, but not getting out.
Crowley stared at him for a long moment before he said, "Everything all right?"
Aziraphale's mouth sat open for a moment, unable to form words before he said. "Crowley…do come in. Just for a moment. We can have tea—or wine. I'll get you some ice for your feet. It will…" he hesitated before finally finishing. "It will be like old times."
He hoped his look conveyed everything he couldn't quite find words for. That he was sorry for the long absence.
Crowley, thankfully, seemed to see what he meant, because he turned to car off and set the brake. "Well, I suppose a few minutes couldn't hurt."
Relief washed over Aziraphale. Perhaps they were still friends after all.
Crowley stepped cautiously into the bookshop. He'd only been there a couple times before but it looked mostly the same, just with more books. He honestly didn't know why he had accepted the invitation in. His feet did hurt though and Aziraphale hurried toward the back of the shop for presumably some ice while Crowley tottered toward a couch and sat down on it.
Truthfully, he didn't even know what he was doing here. He shouldn't have rightly even been in London, except he had heard through his sources that there had been a lead on those Nazi bastards that had been terrorizing London and that an Agent Fell planned to meet with them.
Crowley was not at all surprised to find his old friend in the thick of things, Aziraphale always did have a habit of getting into the worst scrapes. But, like in the past, Crowley had gotten there in the nick of time to save him.
Just like old times indeed.
His feet smarted and he gingerly kicked his shoes off before leaning back on the couch, looking around.
The shop did suit Aziraphale. He found it felt like the angel as if some of his essence had rubbed off on it.
A small book sat on a side table and caught Crowley's eye, something about it familiar. He reached over and picked it up and nearly dropped it as he read the title.
How bizarre it was to find himself holding a copy of Rilke's Duino Elegies which he had helped pen. And in the possession of the being who had inspired his own contributions.
His hands shook slightly as he opened it, and found some of the pages marked, delicate pencil lines bracketing certain passages. Passages, Crowley was even more shocked to see, that he had particularly inspired.
"Not in the darkness, no, but within your far nearer presence
you placed the light, and it shone as though out of friendship. Nowhere a creak you could not explain with a smile,
as though you had long known when the floor would behave itself
thus. . .
And he listened to you and was soothed. So much it availed, gently, your coming; his tall cloaked destiny stepped
behind the chest of drawers, and his restless future,
that easily got out of place, conformed to the folds of the curtain.
And he himself as he lay there in such relief,
mingling, under his drowsy eyelids, the sweetness
of your light shaping with the foretaste of coming sleep,
seemed to be under protection…"
Crowley read those lines of comfort that he had penned on a less melancholy night, remembering what it felt like to have a friend, when Rilke was looking for inspiration on a child's innocence. He flipped through more of the book and they were all there, all the lines he had written with the poet, and so many marked as obvious favorites by the angel who had inadvertently inspired them.
He reached up and with a trembling hand took off his glasses, brushing his hair away from his forehead as he felt the unbidden tightness of emotion in his throat.
Aziraphale came back in then and stopped when he saw Crowley's obviously distressed state. "I got the ice…oh, my dear boy, whatever is the matter?"
"You read this?" Crowley asked in a quiet voice.
Aziraphale glanced down at the book he was holding with confusion. "What, Rilke? Of course. It's quite beautiful work, if a little melancholy. Have you read it?"
Crowley got up despite his pained feet, and began to pace slightly, still holding the book tightly.
"Crowley, what is the matter?" Aziraphale asked, sounding slightly alarmed at his actions.
"I didn't read it. Not exactly." Crowley finally turned, pale, shaking, and held up the book. "Rilke had a creative partner," he said softly. "It…it was me."
Aziraphale stared at him as if unable to comprehend exactly what Crowley had just said.
"I—I'm sorry?" the angel finally managed.
"I helped him write the Elegies," Crowley told him, louder this time, waving the book. "I found him after the war and I wasn't in a good way, angel. I was…" he swallowed hard, embarrassed to admit any of this, but he couldn't seem to stop. "I suppose I was disappointed you didn't show up. I guess I finally realized we really weren't friends anymore."
"Crowley," Aziraphale whispered softly, pain filling his eyes.
"I didn't know what to do, but I heard some of Rilke's lines and…putting down some of my thoughts helped me with what I was feeling."
He slumped into a chair, the book limp in his hands.
Aziraphale crouched in front of him suddenly, taking the book from him. "You wrote this?" he asked, sounding a little in awe.
"Not all of it," Crowley replied. "Hardly any of it really. Some of my lines are still there. Some he made sound better."
"But Crowley the…the pain, and the loneliness," Aziraphale said softly, eyes looking suspiciously wet. "You really felt that way?"
Crowley ducked his head and wished for his glasses again, but he had left them out of reach.
"And because you didn't think we were still friends," Aziraphale managed to get out.
"No, angel, don't blame yourself," Crowley said quickly.
"But I am to blame!" Aziraphale moaned. "Crowley, I haven't stopped thinking about what I said since it happened. It's almost been a hundred years!" He stopped, choked up a little. "Why, sometimes, I would even read these poems and remember you. As if…as if I already knew you had a hand in penning some of them. Oh Crowley! I'm so sorry. Can you ever forgive me?"
The distress on the angel's face nearly rent Crowley's heart in two. He stood up and faced the angel directly.
"I've already forgiven you, Aziraphale," he said simply. "A long time ago."
"I'm sorry I couldn't do what you asked," Aziraphale said. "I just…"
"It's fine, it's in the past now," Crowley told him. "No longer a thing." Not quite true, but he had decided he would get his holy water another way. No need to worry Aziraphale about it anymore.
"And I never truly meant what I said, you know. About that fact we couldn't be friends because we're from opposite sides," Aziraphale continued. "I was just worried about what would happen if we were discovered."
"I understand. But I hope you can forgive me too," Crowley said softly. "For never coming to visit. Honestly it was rather childish. Holding on to grudges and worrying more about how uncomfortable it might be."
"You came when I really needed you," Aziraphale said with a small smile, one that lit up the room and began to repair the broken pieces of Crowley's heart. "And…you were here in these poems. They did truly help. I hope they helped you to write them."
"They did," Crowley said softly.
He found that he was suddenly exhausted. He sank back down onto the couch and Aziraphale sped into a flurry again.
"Oh, I'm sorry, your feet! Here, dear, here's the ice."
Crowley allowed Aziraphale to tuck packs of ice around his abused feet, which felt rather nice, then he leaned back against the back of the couch and closed his eyes.
"You should stay and rest," Aziraphale said.
Crowley blinked up at him. "I shouldn't," he protested.
"I refuse to let you go anywhere tonight," Aziraphale told him firmly. "Not until your feet heal. Rest, Crowley. You'll be safe here."
And Crowley realized that he truly was. Aziraphale smiled slightly as he watched the demon settle into the couch, and then picked a blanket off the back of a chair and draped it over him.
Crowley was too tired to protest and watched instead as Aziraphale settled into the chair next to the couch, giving the demon a small smile.
"Sleep for as long as you wish. I'll make sure to wake you if you try to sleep longer than a day," Aziraphale told him.
And Crowley did finally close his eyes, feeling a relief wash over him, as he fell asleep to the ambient light from Aziraphale's halo, lulling him into a sense of security brought on by their renewed friendship.