red velvet cake
They were at Anathema’s house - or just Jasmine Cottage as she kept calling it, skirting around the idea that this was her real, actual House now - when she brought it up.
“So… how did you two meet?”
She asked it like she asked them a lot of things: with the incredulous air of someone who was thinking how on Earth did I get into this situation . Which, Crowley knew, was fair. Having a quiet afternoon tea with an angel and a demon months after the world was supposed to end was probably not how Anathema expected to spend a lazy Tuesday.
Crowley and Aziraphale looked at each other.
“ Well ,” Aziraphale said, and Crowley cut him off with: “Eden.”
“E...den. Eden ,” Anathema said. “Like-”
“I was the snake,” Crowley said, and grinned. Let his tongue flick through his teeth, making it particularly more forked than usual.
“So… Aziraphale tried to thwart you?”
“Nah,” Crowley said. “Not that time, anyway. We just had a chat.”
Anathema stared. She took a very long sip of her tea. It was berry-adjacent, it had never seen an actual pomegranate or raspberry or whatever it was masquerading to be, but it had the flavouring, so close enough.
“Right,” she said. “I’d expect there to be some thwarting.”
She looked to Aziraphale. “Aren’t you an angel? If I was an angel and the snake - Eden’s snake - slithered up to me - wait, did you know it was him?”
“Oh, yes,” Aziraphale said.
“So why didn’t you thwart?”
Crowley’s mouth twitched. After so long, he found something funny about the word. It’d passed out of serious use, after all, so everyone who said it always did it with an air of irony. Also he might have some fond connotations linked with it. Some of his best memories had come out of Aziraphale thwarting him, even if the attempts had gotten more and more half-hearted over the millennia.
“Oh, I just-” Aziraphale paused, took a sip of his tea. Early grey. Very sensible. “Well, he was just doing as he was told. It had to happen. It was the Ineffable Plan. And Crowley - or Crawly, as we called him then - didn’t come up at me swinging, so I didn’t want to be rude by trying to - to smite him.”
“And you just… went from there?”
“Well,” Aziraphale said. “We kept running into each other, you see. Eventually we decided we should try to schedule the times we ran into each other. And then there was the Arrangement-”
“Yes, where we-” Aziraphale stuttered to a halt. “Um.” He glanced over at Crowley with help in his gaze.
Crowley rolled his eyes. “Sometimes we couldn’t be bothered hopping a country over to do work for the higher-ups, so we got the other one to do it for us.”
“Wh…” Anathema’s eyes widened. She put her tea down on the table, because she didn’t have a saucer. Americans. “You mean-”
She pointed at Crowley and Aziraphale in turn. “ You did the blessings and you did the - temptings? Damnings?”
“Temptings,” Aziraphale said, grimacing. “Damnings is so-”
“Accurate.” Crowley grinned.
“Oh, hush,” Aziraphale said.
Anathema stared at them both for a while. She kept hovering on the edge of speech, then pulling back.
“How’s Newton,” Aziraphale said.
“What? Uh, he seems fine. Last I heard he was doing well at his new job. He’s very excited about it.” Her mouth did something complicated and twitchy against the cup she was sipping from. She looked up at Crowley. “He’s also been experimenting with baking, if you want to get in touch and talk about that.”
“I’ll pass,” Crowley said, as Aziraphale sat up excitedly in his chair.
“The lemon drizzle! We almost forgot. Anathema, Crowley wanted to thank you-”
“-for giving him the idea, and the recipe. It was heavenly .”
Heavenly , Anathema mouthed, with some very judging eyes. Out loud, she said, “Always happy to help a demon come up with baking ideas. Speaking of, Adam-”
The back door banged open.
“Fuck,” Crowley said under his breath, “We summoned him-”
Aziraphale nudged him in the ribs. Crowley nudged back.
Adam came tearing into the kitchen, bouncing to a stop at the table they were sitting at. He had a twig in his hair, dirt smudged down his face and a dog at his heels that ran around his feet in excited, happy circles, barking madly.
“Hey!” Adam beamed at them. “You guys are here!”
“Yeah, we did say we would be,” Crowley said. He gave a little wave and Adam returned it with gusto.
Crowley snorted. Human incarnate. They could’ve done worse, Antichrist-wise.
“You’re taller,” Aziraphale said.
“I am?” Adam looked down himself. “Cool. Anyway, we made this really cool treehouse out in the woods, you guys want to come see?”
“-after we make something, of course,” Adam finished.
“...Right,” Crowley said. He looked over to Anathema. “Make something?”
“Yeah - Dog, cut it out.” Adam bent down and scooped Dog into his arms. Dog gave his face a lick before settling comfortably against Adam’s chest.
Crowley watched, face twisting. He’d waked past that Hellhound’s cage countless times over the years. When Dog looked his way, Crowley had to stop himself from ducking his head.
“We’ve been making all sorts,” Adam said. “And since you’ve been learning to bake, too-”
He nodded towards Crowley, who cursed his choice to ever get Snapchat.
“-we thought it’d be cool,” Adam finished. “So? Can we?”
All eyes went to Crowley, who felt that someone, above or below, had to be laughing at him right now. He opened his mouth and wavered for a second, going from Adam to Anathema and then, lastly, to Aziraphale. It was the angel, of course, that was the straw that broke the demon’s back: those blue eyes would be Crowley’s weakness until the end of him.
“I suppose,” he said, and was immediately cut off by Adam’s whoop.
“Great! Anathema, can we do something now or-”
“Give them a second,” Anathema said, but Crowley was already getting up and rolling up his sleeves. Best to get this over with.
Aziraphale stayed seated. At Crowley’s questioning look, he said, “Am I invited?”
“‘Course you are,” Crowley said. “Why wouldn’t you be?”
“You seemed to like to cook alone.”
“I,” Crowley said, and floundered again. He glanced around the room - okay, this would be his first time actually making food with other people. Hadn’t thought of that. “I wouldn’t mind not being alone.”
Fuck, could’ve said that differently, he thought as Aziraphale’s face did something smiley and weird and Crowley fought to keep his own face casually blank.
“Well then,” Aziraphale said, standing. “In that case, I’d be honoured.”
Crowley made a noise in the back of his throat that might’ve passed for a okay then and high-tailed it to the kitchen.
What the fuck .
They decided on red velvet cake.
Or, Crowley decided on it by yelling it over Adam’s many, many suggestions that got increasingly complex, all of which Anathema egged on - at first jokingly, then thoughtfully, then seriously as she considered that having supernatural beings around would make it easier to get strange ingredients. Not so much a calming influence as Crowley had hoped.
“Red velvet cake works,” Anathema said when she caught Crowley’s expression. “Yum.”
“I haven’t had that,” Adam said. “Do you have to light anything on fire to make it? When you make creme bru-lee you gotta-”
“Nothing’s getting set on fire,” Crowley said.
“Except the inside of the oven,” Aziraphale added.
Crowley pointed at him. “‘Zactly. Anyway, do we have a-”
“Already have it pulled up,” Anathema said, waving her phone.
“Great.” Crowley stalked over and looked at it, then at Anathema. “We are not doing cream cheese icing.”
Aziraphale started saying, “Oh, it’s actually very good,” as Anathema said something of the same and Adam pulled the same face Crowley was pulling.
“We can figure it out when the cake’s in the oven,” Anathema said. She tried to clap and then seemed to remember she was holding her phone at the last second and stopped. “Okay! Adam, to the cupboard.”
“To the cupboard,” Adam repeated with the dedication of a military man being given an order, and raced for it with much less grace than one.
Crowley came to stand next to Aziraphale as Adam loaded the ingredients onto the counter.
“Might want to roll up your sleeves, angel.”
“Hm? Oh, yes.” Aziraphale paused, then shed his jacket, draping it neatly over a nearby chair. Then he unbuttoned the tiny buttons at the ends of his sleeves and pushed them up to his elbows.
Crowley blinked. When was the last time he’d seen this much of Aziraphale’s bare arms? He kept things so buttoned up, quite literally - the most skin Crowley glimpsed was usually when Aziraphale took off his bowtie and undid one, maybe two buttons on his shirt, and that was usually only when he was three glasses into a bottle of wine.
“What,” Crowley said absently. He raised his gaze to Aziraphale’s face, which was doing some strange twitchy thing that struck him as familiar. “What?”
“Nothing,” Aziraphale said. His face smoothed into a smile. He nodded past them towards the cupboard. “Perhaps we should - grease a pan. Be helpful.”
“Right,” Crowley said. “Pan. Grease.”
“Cupboard,” Aziraphale said.
“Cupboard,” Crowley agreed, and started for it.
They only ended up miracling some buttermilk. Other than that they were fully stocked, and honestly, Crowley and Aziraphale didn’t end up doing much.
“We’re offering moral support,” Aziraphale mentioned when they found themselves waiting near the oven with a newly-greased pan.
Crowley laughed and then tried not to let it get too loose.
There were a few detours as they put ingredients back where they came from, but other than that they stood near the oven and googled icing recipes and gave the occasional ‘good job’ to Anathema and Adam, who were having an Experience. Adam kept trying to put in ‘new and exciting’ things like tabasco sauce or macha and Anathema had to talk him out of it and every time it turned into a weird, tangential conversation about customs of other cultures or politics or Ripleys’ Believe It Or Not books.
“There isn’t a time limit on the mix, right,” Crowley asked Aziraphale as they watched a witch and the Antichrist argue over the coolest kind of body modification. “That happens, right? With… baking soda?”
“They haven’t put it in yet,” Aziraphale said.
Adam dumped in the teaspoon of baking soda and started to stir, then stopped to yell something about split tongues.
Crowley sighed. “Hey, Adam.”
Crowley made his tongue forked and stuck it through his teeth.
Adam had a shitfit . After that Aziraphale had to step in, do the last of the mixing and pour the result into the pan, because Adam kept jumping around asking Crowley if he could manifest some piercings or some under-the-skin implants that made it look like he had horns and wait did he have horns and what did he mean he didn’t have actual horns, he was a demon -
Crowley ended up turning into a snake just to shut him up. He balked when Adam immediately scooped him up in his arms.
“Oh, no, he doesn’t like that very much,” Aziraphale said, pausing in the middle of putting the pan in the oven.
“Sorry,” Adam said, first to Aziraphale, then to Crowley, before bending down and putting him back on the floor. “It’s just so cool . Can you turn into other stuff?”
Crowley shook his head.
“What kind of snake are you?”
Crowley looked towards Aziraphale. Anathema was also looking at Aziraphale, but only because she was holding the oven door open for the cake and Aziraphale kept making like he was going to put it in but kept getting distracted.
“He’s Crowley,” Aziraphale said.
“We’re letting the heat out,” Anathema said.
“Hm? Oh.” Aziraphale slid the cake into the oven.
Crowley flexed his body against the smooth kitchen floor. He usually only turned into this form when he was stressed out and needed some good snake time. Being a snake always made him want to curl up on a sunny rock.
Adam made a disappointed noise when Crowley started forming back into a man.
“Aw,” he said.
“You’ll live,” Crowley told him. “Okay, me and Aziraphale looked up icings, because all of the websites say we should do a cream cheese one but we’re not doing that.”
Anathema started, “If the websites say-”
“It’s cream cheese. There are a million other kinds of icing that isn’t cream cheese .”
“I hate cream cheese,” Adam said.
“There we go,” Crowley said. “ So . Lemon icing, anyone?”
Everyone had a lot of opinions on that.
Anathema and Aziraphale ended up in a heated debate over fruit-based icing over cheese based icing, which Crowley would assume was a no-brainer but apparently had a lot to work through, so he went to sit out in the garden. The snake brain was still at the forefront as he sat back against a bench and closed his eyes against the sun.
He opened them again when someone joined him.
“Hi,” Crowley said. “They’re still at it, then?”
“They’ve narrowed it down to a few choices,” Adam said as he hopped up beside Crowley. “We have ages, though, since we only have to put the icing on once the cake’s cooled.”
“Huh,” Crowley said. “Grand.”
He tilted his head back and let the sun touch his neck. He should’ve turned into a snake a while back, blown off some steam, but he’d been putting it off. Soon, though -
“You should tell him,” Adam said.
Crowley looked over. “Tell who what?”
Adam opened his mouth, then looked over his shoulder before turning back.
Danger, Will Robinson .
“Tell him what,” Crowley said slowly.
“You know ,” Adam said.
“I really don’t.”
“You really do,” Adam said. He tugged his legs up on the bench. “You’re as old as the Earth, right?”
“Whatever. I thought that meant you’d be smart.”
He said it with a steady look in Crowley’s direction that felt almost like a dare.
Come on, then , the look said.
“I have my moments,” Crowley said. He was considerably stiffer than he was thirty seconds ago, none of the ease that came with the aftermath of becoming a snake, all his limbs going liquid.
Adam sighed. “Alright then. Be dumb.”
He fell silent. Crowley let it happen for a good minute before he gathered up everything he’d buried since he met the guardian of the Eastern gate and learned that he gave the flaming sword away and said, “I don’t think he’d-”
It came so fast it almost gave Crowley whiplash.
“He… would,” Crowley said, very slow.
Crowley flexed his shoulders, wishing for a lack of shoulders and a big long body instead, one that he would twine into the trees, hang from branches.
“I don’t want to lose,” Crowley started, and then couldn’t finish it. “Even if I don’t lose him, I don’t want his - pity . And - and if he doesn’t - I mean, if he feels-”
It gagged him. Everything jumbled together and solidified into something he couldn’t choke out.
Adam seemed to get it anyway. He nodded, did that thing where he looked 11 and also a thousand years old - which never got less unnerving - and shifted his feet on the bench.
“Don’t worry about it,” Adam said.
Crowley swallowed. It took a few tries.
“Yeah,” Adam said.
Crowley took a second. “He would…”
“He would,” Adam nodded. He opened his mouth again, then paused. Frowned a little, like he didn’t know what to say, or how to phrase what he did want to say. Eventually he just said, “I’ll go see if they’ve chosen a good one. I’ll try not to let them make the cheese stuff,” and hopped off the bench, leaving Crowley to the clamouring storm of issues he’d been stamping down on for the last 6,000 years.
Crowley went snake again. There wasn’t anything else he could do.
He draped himself over and around the bench and let the sun fall against his scales. Being a snake was simpler, it dulled things down so they were manageable. It didn’t numb them exactly, just dumbed them down, made the hurts - and everything else - less sharp. It blunted all their edges.
Sometimes Crowley felt that he was made up of sharp edges.
It wasn’t long before Aziraphale found him. If Crowley was man-shaped he’d make a run for it or snap at him, but he was a snake, so he just lay there comfortably.
“Hello there,” Aziraphale said, surprised. “I haven’t seen you like this in a while. Well, except for back in the kitchen, but-”
He waved a hand, which could indicate any number of things. Then: “May I?”
Crowley didn’t have to think about it. He made enough space for Aziraphale to sit.
“Thank you,” Aziraphale said.
Crowley flickered his tongue in and out of his mouth. He waited for Aziraphale to say something about icing, but Aziraphale just sat there and looked around the garden.
It was a nice garden - trimmed but not too much, just the right amount of lush, untamed plants around. Crowley and Aziraphale always had the same taste in gardens - not too prim, not too wild. Just right. Like Goldilocks and her porridge.
“The cake’s cooling,” Aziraphale said after a few minutes.
Crowley didn’t respond. Couldn’t if he wanted to. He let the calmness of the snake mind wash over him with the sunshine.
He would , Adam had said. Crowley couldn’t begin to wrap his head around the possibilities of that, so he didn’t.
“We might want to head inside,” Aziraphale said after another few minutes.
Crowley wasn’t ready. He didn’t think he’d ever be - would it really be so bad, being a snake for the rest of whatever time he had left? He could stay in the garden. He could bask on rocks and slither up trees. He could stay here and not bother anyone, and - and -
Aziraphale was waiting for him.
Crowley sloughed back into his man-shape.
“Oh, good,” Aziraphale said. He sounded - not nervous, but not at ease. This wasn’t altogether new for Aziraphale. “It might be awkward trying to eat cake as a snake.”
Crowley forced a laugh. It sounded as dry as it felt, scraping up his throat.
He opened his mouth with no idea what he was going to say.
Adam’s words beat a tattoo in his mind. He would - he would - he WOULD -
“We didn’t meet in Eden,” was what came out.
Aziraphale blinked. “We met on the wall-”
“No, I mean we met before Eden happened.”
The implication sunk in. Aziraphale’s next breath came fast.
“You mean we spoke before you…”
“Yes.” Crowley aimed a smile at him. It probably didn’t come across as very convincing, given the smile that Aziraphale sent back to him was as weak as how he liked his tea.
Aziraphale sighed. “I’m sorry, I don’t-”
“I know.” Crowley crossed his legs. Then crossed his arms. Considered going snake again and tying himself in one big knot to match his whirling mind. “It wasn’t exactly a conversation. We just talked in passing.”
“What did we talk about?”
“I don’t remember,” Crowey lied. He unknotted himself and started to say something like come on then, let’s head in when Aziraphale socked him in the chest with:
“I don’t think that God meant to condemn you.”
Crowley’s breath left him in a rush.
For a second he just stared. His mouth formed a few words, none of them very coherent, but he didn’t voice them.
“Or that she regets it now,” Aziraphale continued.
“ What ,” Crowley managed, finally. “Angel, that’s ridiculous .”
“Well, it’s what I think!” Aziraphale worried his hands together in his lap. “She must at least regret it.”
“Because by this point I’ve done much worse than you did as an angel and I still haven’t fallen!”
Crowley couldn’t come up with anything to say to that, but he definitely had something to say when Aziraphale started listing them: “Gluttony, absolutely. Pride-”
“Come on, angel, you’re not-”
“I rebelled against heaven,” Aziraphale said, dropping to a whisper. “If that isn’t condemnable…”
That sat in the air for a few heavy seconds.
“So I think She’s changed since She made you Fall. I think that if She did make you Fall on purpose-”
“How could it have been an accident? It’s God .”
“-and She works in mysterious ways, maybe some of them are-” Aziraphale cast a look skyward. “-mistakes. If She hasn’t condemned me, then She must forgive you, Crowley. All you did was ask questions and hang around with people you perhaps shouldn’t have.”
Crowley squeezed his eyes shut and wished for eyelids that closed sideways instead of the human up-and-down. Being a snake would make all of this so much easier . This conversation would’ve been intolerable at the best of times, much less after that trainwreck of a talk with Adam -
“You’re so,” Aziraphale started, and then paused. “You have such a good heart.”
“No, it is a good heart, Crowley. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t…”
Crowley imagined being strangled. He imagined being stamped in the chest with steel-tipped boots. He imagined being shoved underwater and held there. He imagined Aziraphale’s hands on his face, tracing the line of his cheek -
He said, “Wouldn’t?”
“I would never have been your friend,” Aziraphale said, with a smile that didn’t feel unlike a blessing, but Crowley was a demon. Blessings wouldn’t stick to him. He didn’t get blessed, because who would bless him anyway, and even if they did it’d probably just sting. The smile felt less like a sting and more like holy light, searing him to the bone and beyond, annihilating him until there wasn’t even ash left. Pure.
Aziraphale was waiting for him to speak, but he couldn’t. He just nodded. He looked at his hands, clenched them against his knees.
Good heart. What the fuck was he supposed to do with that?
Then Aziraphale said, “Crowley,” as soft and unsure as his smile, which was gone now, and Crowley closed his eyes. Holy light used to be healing, back when he was an angel. He’d bask under it like a snake in the sun. It felt right and true. It felt like he belonged, like he was right where he needed to be.
“Yeah,” he croaked. He cleared his throat. “Hey, we should - uh, we should head inside. Cake’s probably cool enough to ice. What’d you decide on, anyway?”
Aziraphale paused. There was something going on behind his eyes.
“Cream cheese,” he said, and Crowley couldn’t even bring himself to laugh.
“You’ll like it,” Aziraphale continued. “I promise.”
Crowley didn’t move. He hadn’t felt holy in a very long time, and he still didn’t, but he felt closer to it than he’d been in 6,000 years.
He would, Adam had said. Like it was obvious, like it was a rule of the universe. Gravity existed, Crowley could turn into a snake and Aziraphale would - he would, if Crowley finally told him, he’d- he’d -
Crowley didn’t let himself finish the thought. Instead he said “If you say so,” and got up, and waited for Aziraphale to do the same. He didn’t dare meet his eyes, just started for the house.
They headed into Jasmine Cottage side by side. If Crowley was in the frame of mind to notice these sort of things, he would've heard their steps falling in perfect sync.