As a general rule of thumb, angels did not need to sleep—not in the same way humans did. But there was something restful about the ritual of a nightly routine which Aziraphale enjoyed greatly, donning his tartan flannel pajamas and brown comfortable slippers with all the reverence and solemnity of a monk preparing for midnight mass. If a midnight mass ever involved a hot cup of cocoa and a good book in front of a roaring fire. But there was something different about tonight, something that needled away under his skin like an itch that no amount of ritual familiarity could sooth. Not even his old flannel bathrobe and his favorite armchair—a measure he reserved only for the most fraught of occasions—was enough to quell the prickly chill working over his skin as the thought he’d been trying to avoid for some time came crawling to the forefront of his mind. Crawling being the operative word.
We can run away together, he’d said, Alpha Centauri, lots of space up there, no one would even notice us…
Aziraphale had assumed at the time it had been fear speaking, the looming threat of Armageddon and imminent discorporation at the hands of Hell’s ghastliest fiends driving the demon to seek allies wherever he could. But in the passing days since the end of the world had failed to happen, Crowley had failed to leave him for more than a minute, the demon hovering in his peripheral vision like a secondary shadow. Lurking.
He was good at lurking, most demons were. Crowley however had perfected the act of lurking and raised it to an art form, managing to convey both menace and boredom in the incline of his shoulders and the wayward tilt of his head, swaying between shadows like a wraith when it suited him, and striding boldly with an insolent swagger when it did not. It was not entirely unappealing to watch, something which Aziraphale had conceded to long ago. He derived the same satisfaction from it as he did an excellent wine or work of art when rendered at the hands of a master. There was appeal, in competency, and Crowley—though he’d bluster and buff his nails on the lapel of his jacket in false, flippant modesty—had it in spades.
And he hadn’t left Aziraphale’s side once… not since they were forced to swap forms and face their respective demons and angels, once and for all finally proving that there was no side left for either of them. Just their own. Just as Crowley had said all along.
It had sounded like a temptation at the time, something to be denied, denounced as a base longing sprung forth from mortal folly and too much time spent living among humanity. But as it would turn out, not all truths were stark and painful in the cold light of day. Some merely glimmered, in the soft glow of candlelight over dinner, and yellow, ochre eyes peering out of the darkness.
Not that Aziraphale minded him being there of course. In fact, he found he rather quite liked it. He always had, in a nerve-racking, fluttery sort of way that ruffled his feathers. But he needed to know. He’d been dealing with the ineffable for so long that just for once in his life he needed to know something with certainty.
“Crowley,” he asked, knowing that the demon was about, even if he couldn’t discern his shape through the rows upon rows of books that lined this floor of the bookshop, “did you mean it?”
“Mean what, Angel?” the demon drawled, materializing out of a nearby shadow, an open book held loosely in his slender hands. They were so long and thin compared to his own, elegant even, like the hands of a master pianist—or a thief. Something which Aziraphale had had further cause to remark upon this very morning when several rare books had miraculously manifested on his desk earlier in the day, along with, bizarrely, a potted red and white striped tulip—Semper Augustus—the likes of which hadn’t been seen since the 17th century. The book itself was a new one, not a new release, but an entirely new book, one that had manifested in the new world that had sprung up in the wake of all that had nearly been. And all that nearly hadn’t.
“Outside the bookshop that day. When you asked me to run away with you. Did… did you mean it?”
The book in Crowley’s hand snapped shut and he replaced it on the bookshelf—in the wrong section Aziraphale couldn’t help but note—and turned his demonic gaze toward the angel, a wiry eyebrow quirking up at him quizzically.
“I asked you first,” Aziraphale countered, feeling both churlish and childish and all too aware of his cheeks turning pink under Crowley’s unblinking stare, even behind those dark sunglasses. Sensing a weak spot, the demon’s mouth quirked up, taking on a rakish quality that Aziraphale had always considered to be damnably charming—as several persons had already found out to their eternal detriment.
The demon sauntered toward him, his hands shoved into his pockets like an errant schoolboy pulled up in front of the headmaster, harmless, disarming, and utterly deadly as his smile spread into a wicked grin. He couldn’t help it, it was just in his nature. “Why?”
“Because I want to know,” Aziraphale asserted, setting aside his rapidly cooling cocoa and clasping his hands neatly together in his lap to keep from fidgeting. “You asked me to run away with you, and I think I have a right to know why. Was it merely because you were frightened? Because I was useful? Because you… you…” he trailed off, unable to finish.
Crowley eyed him for a moment, the tip of his tongue flickering over his incisors—a self-conscious little tell the demon had never quite been able to shake. Seeing that he wasn’t going to get anywhere with his usual antics, he straightened up, clearing his throat noisily and smoothing down the line of his suit jacket. The one— Aziraphale couldn’t also help but notice—with the tartan collar.
“Oh I dunno,” the demon drawled out, his tone taking on a defensively acerbic note as he suddenly became intensely interested in the shelf of books over Aziraphale’s left shoulder, “I suppose so.”
“But why,” the angel persisted, the prickling sensation that had been crawling over his skin and clawing up from the pit of his stomach intensifying at Crowley’s refusal to give him a straight answer. “Why Alpha Centauri? Why me?”
There was a pause, which arguably lasted only a second or two, but in which several strata were born, died and were reborn again in the time it took for Crowley to slide back into the angel’s line of sight, the demon crouching down on his haunches in front of him.
“Oh, Angel,” the demon smiled, taking his glasses off and smiling up at Aziraphale as he took the angel’s hands in both of his own, the fires of hell long since banked in his shining eyes by the flame he’d been carrying in his heart for so long. “You should know by now it could only ever be you.”