“Wait,” Crowley said, putting a hand on Aziraphale’s arm to stop him from stepping into the lobby of Crowley’s building. Crowley looked up towards the penthouse. His fingers dug into Aziraphale’s arm.
“Ah,” Aziraphale said, putting two and two together and coming up with an imaginary number. “Do you have someone up there, waiting for you? It’s no trouble, my dear, I can certainly find somewhere—if your friend—”
Crowley’s grip tightened. “Don’t be ridiculous,” he muttered. “You know I haven’t made other friends since 1020. No, what’s up there now is a mess.”
“A dangerous mess,” Crowley clarified, looking at Aziraphale sidelong. “I may have used your gift, angel. There might be drips of holy water up there.” His mouth pursed. “Or drips of demon.”
“Drips… of demon,” Aziraphale said weakly. “In your flat?”
“Could be.” Crowley nodded. “Might very well be. Floor, walls, ceiling—maybe all of it.”
“Well, you shouldn’t go up there until I’ve miracled it all away,” Aziraphale said, patting Crowley’s hand. “Stay right here. I’ll call you when it’s done.”
“I think we’ll both need to go up there,” Crowley sighed. He reached around Aziraphale for the door. “I’ll handle the demon bits if you do the holy ones.”
“Least I can do, since you’ve so kindly—erm, generously—” Crowley’s face grew darker by the word. Mindful of the security guard manning the black, high-tech desk in the middle of the lobby, Aziraphale opted not to start a fight. “Well, since you’ve allowed me to stay the night.”
Crowley pressed the call button for the elevator. “Ssstay as long as you need,” he said, “‘sss not like I’m using all of the space. Could play polo in my hallways. I’d barely even notice you.”
The elevator doors dinged open, and they stepped inside, standing shoulder to shoulder. Aziraphale started to speak a few times as they travelled up and up—so quickly, Aziraphale fretted. That was life around Crowley, though. He described himself as sauntering, but he’d Fallen as fast as the rest: just another golden comet arcing from High Above, exploding in a shower of fiery sparks Far Below.
Crowley’s flat was the only residence on his floor. He was out of the elevator as soon as it zipped to a stop. Aziraphale followed more slowly, nose wrinkling.
“Smells like a warthog ate a vulture and died of dysentery up here,” Crowley said, displeased. “I shouldn’t be surprised—that was Ligur’s favorite meal—but should the smell linger like this?”
“Discorporated demonic entities did always leave a bit of an aroma,” Aziraphale acknowledged. “It doesn’t miracle out. Maybe, erm. Since you’re made of the same stock, perhaps—”
Crowley shot him an indignant look. “Are you saying I smell like a warthog ate a vulture and died of dysentery?”
“No, not at all! I’m saying that perhaps a demonic miracle will be able to handle the sm—”
“Because I haven’t eaten warthog in at least five hundred years.”
Aziraphale stopped in his tracks. He blinked. Crowley looked over his shoulder—one hand tentatively on his door knob—and blinked back.
“You wicked thing,” Aziraphale said. “I almost believed you!”
“’s good if you braise it long enough,” Crowley drawled, eyebrow raised. Then he pushed his front door open.
They both reeled back from the smell, but that was the worst of it. Aziraphale could feel a few drops of holy water around the door frame, but nothing a quick wipe couldn’t handle. Ligur’s clothing had essentially been steamed in the stuff, so Crowley certainly couldn’t touch any of it—but it had evaporated Ligur’s flesh and blood, so it would be safe enough for Aziraphale to throw away.
“Not so bad,” he said sturdily. He marched into Crowley’s kitchen for cleaning supplies. Crowley kept a few under the sink, he soon found, but only the very basics.
“Got a company for all that,” the demon said. He went away while Aziraphale was organizing his tools, and came back with iron tongs. He also had a pair of welding gloves. He stared, expectant, until Aziraphale put them on. Then he filled a plant mister at the sink.
Aziraphale followed him back into the hall. He hitched up his trousers and crouched on the floor next to the remains of Ligur, using Crowley’s metal tongs to pick them up and put them in a bin bag, which he put inside another bin bag, and so on. Then he took a sponge and began to scrub around the door.
Crowley, behind him, murmured threats to his house plants as he watered them.
“I don’t know why you keep the poor things just to speak to them like that,” Aziraphale said, straightening with a grunt. He could have sworn his knees hadn’t used to need persuading.
“Same reason you never sell a book, angel,” Crowley said. “It’s nice to have company.”
“I sold a book six weeks ago,” Aziraphale said virtuously. “I might sell another—well.”
The bin bags rustled in his hands when he picked them up, stinking of murdered demon. Crowley hissed a little, leaning away. Aziraphale tucked the bags behind his back. “This mess should be all right for humans to handle—have you got a rubbish chute?”
Crowley grabbed the smallest, least verdant of his plants. “Quite a large one,” he said. He looked over his sunglasses at the rest of his garden. “Here. Take this with you. Refuses to thrive. They all know what that means.”
Aziraphale sighed and went, demon remains in one hand, houseplant in the other.
“He’s really not so bad,” he told the houseplant as he put the bag in the chute. Then he looked between the two and shrugged. “Well, not so bad to the good things of the world,” he said reassuringly, and binned Ligur’s remains.
“You were meant to toss that,” Crowley complained when Aziraphale came back with the houseplant still in his hand. “They won’t take me seriously anymore if you’re too bloody kind to them.”
The flat smelled better already. Aziraphale set the plant back down in its spot on the table furthest from the windows. It was a fiddle leaf fig, if he wasn’t mistaken: fashionable, high maintenance, lovely, perfectly suited to Crowley. He stroked a shivering leaf. It bent toward him the same yearning way it bent toward the sun.
Crowley hoisted his plant mister. “Oi, mind your manners,” he said to the fiddle leaf, or to the angel, or both. He spritzed them.
Aziraphale ignored him. The fiddle leaf—which had been particularly close to the little cutting so recently disposed of—quaked. Aziraphale saw its fear and told it, “Oh, don’t be afraid of old Crowley.” He glanced sidelong at the demon, smiling. “His hiss is worse than his bite.”
Crowley mimed biting, but his spirit wasn’t in it. He spritzed Aziraphale again, then spun away to sulk against the window. It was fully dark outside, and as quiet as it ever got in the city.
“He only moved your friend to the kitchen, dear heart,” Aziraphale said to the leaf, truthfully. He’d seen it on the counter when he got the cleaning supplies. The only change was a new, larger pot. “There, there. Stand brave now.”
Crowley sighed and ran his hand through his hair, red strands sparking in the light. “I begin to regret my invitation, angel,” he said through gritted teeth. He put away the new plant mister and slunk down the hall. “Come with me. We’re going to sleep before you do any more blasted good around here.”
The rest of the plants could use some reassuring as well, but Aziraphale could feel them communicating with each other—his brave leaf friend transmitting the message to the rest via stem and root and rustle. He patted its pot approvingly.
The demon leaned on his elbow in a distant doorway, ankles crossed, a light on behind him. His silhouette was tall and slim-hipped. His long shadow snaked down the hall.
Aziraphale stood on his toes to peek over Crowley’s shoulder. The demon’s bedroom contained only three items: two floor lamps, and Crowley’s bed.
The lamps were steel with black metal shades, modern and gleaming. There were no lightbulbs in their sockets, and their cords curled unplugged around their bases. They put out a cool, soft light anyway, because Crowley expected it of them.
The bed stood very tall, with a deep, plush mattress. A duvet was piled thick on top, pewter and navy blue. The headboard arched at the top of the bed and a footboard echoed it at the bottom—metal, bent in swirls and loops and unexpected jagged spikes, like another of Crowley’s terrible pieces of modern art.
There were also too many pillows, stacked so deep that the ones at the bottom were quite flattened by the weight above.
Among these pillows were two small, useless, round, amber ones, placed dead center and up front. Crowley had learned about accent colors from a very, very intimidated interior designer in the 1990s, and had selected those pillows with special care. It had not escaped his notice that they matched his eyes. It had not escaped the designer’s notice, either. The man hadn’t worked with amber in his color palettes ever since.
The effect was somehow both cold and hedonistic, as intended. Any human brought in to see Crowley’s bedroom would have thought it was either directly lifted from a showroom—which it practically was—or that it was the bedroom of a serial killer—which, despite everything, it was not.
Aziraphale raised his eyebrows at the demon. Crowley had been watching him, amber eyes intent. Aziraphale shook his head and pursed his lips over being sent to bed like a human child. “You know I’m not in the habit of sleeping.”
Crowley bared his teeth. “You’ll learn, angel,” he said, and stepped back into his bedroom. Aziraphale followed.
“I certainly wouldn’t choose to sleep in—in a pile of metal shavings.” Aziraphale had turned back the corner of the striped duvet to find a gunmetal gray blanket underneath it, and silver sheets underneath that.
He put his hands on his hips. “Honestly, Crowley. Don’t you feel like you’re inside one of their little beep-boop robot friends?”
“‘Beep-boop robot friends,’” Crowley muttered. “No, Aziraphale. It’s a bed. It’s a very nice bed. Try it and see.”
“I don’t have anything to wear. There are generally special clothes for this sort of thing, are there not?” Aziraphale picked up one of the amber pillows and squeezed it. It felt like a velvet-wrapped brick in his hands. How was this supposed to be comfortable?
“Easssily sssolved,” Crowley hissed. He snapped his fingers and then held out his hand, dangling a pair of silk pyjama bottoms in celestial blue.
“Where’s the rest?” Aziraphale asked. Crowley sighed, and grumbled, and rolled his eyes, but snapped his fingers again. A pyjama top appeared in his other hand. It was the same shade of blue as the bottoms, with pearl buttons dotted down the front like little clouds.
Crowley looked at the pyjamas he was holding. “And what,” he asked, incredulous. “And do you want another set to layer on top? And I should tell you that these are made by happy girls in Venice, from the silk of organic, free-range, consenting silkworms? And what, angel?”
“Socks,” Aziraphale said.
Crowley looked at him.
“My feet will get cold,” Aziraphale said, with tremendous dignity.
“Oh, for the love of—Someone,” Crowley grumbled, but he manifested some socks: pearly white, made of thick, soft wool, with little pockets for each individual toe.
“Do be a dear, Crowley,” Aziraphale said, disapproving. Crowley grunted irritably, but the socks lost their little toe pockets.
Aziraphale reached out and collected the pyjamas. They were soft in his hands. They smelled like dust and old books and good whiskey. They also smelled a bit like evil: anise and ambergris. It was a familiar smell, like the bookshop after Crowley had spent enough time there to leave his mark.
“I’ll get in the bed, but I won’t sleep,” Aziraphale said primly, hugging his pyjamas to his chest. “And if I get bored, I’ll get back out again.”
“If you get bored?” Crowley crooked a finger and his dark clothing morphed into a pair of silk shorts, which weren’t black, as Aziraphale had expected, but dark red, like the hair on his head and his suddenly-bare chest. Aziraphale, flustered, wondered when he’d developed expectations about the sight of Crowley in his pyjamas.
Crowley raised an eyebrow. “If you get bored, angel, just wake me up,” he murmured. “I’ll find a way to entertain you.”
“You’re a wily old serpent,” Aziraphale chided, but he had known that all along, hadn’t he? It was nothing surprising or new. Crowley wiled, and Aziraphale was wiled: so it had been for six thousand years, and so it might be for six thousand more.
Aziraphale waved a hand over himself and, abruptly wearing the pyjamas Crowley had conjured for him, climbed into the bed.
“You’re on my side,” Crowley said, crossing his arms over his chest and cocking his hip.
Aziraphale leaned back against the million pillows. The ones on the bottom cried out, too far down to ever be heard. “I thought you said there was only our side.”
Crowley considered this, then beamed at Aziraphale and uncrossed his arms. “True enough,” he said, smug, and slid between the sheets. He lay down, his hands tucked under his cheek. Aziraphale mimicked him, fidgeted himself into a comfortable position, curled his knees up. The silk of his pyjamas slid easily against the silk of the sheets. His feet were warm in their fine woolen socks.
The demon’s amber eyes met his. There was already something different about Crowley’s face: something softer, something relaxed. Aziraphale had to admit, to himself at least, that he was fascinated by the sight. He’d only ever seen Crowley look this way at just the right moment of a drunken binge, the peak before everything started to go to—well. Perhaps sleep served the same purpose as wine, for Crowley, with fewer embarrassing side effects.
“You just close your eyes?” Aziraphale asked doubtfully. It seemed too easy. “And, what, let go of consciousness somehow? I’m afraid I won’t be able to manage it, Crowley. I just don’t see the point.”
“Make an effort,” Crowley said. He yawned, tongue flickering. His eyes were heavy-lidded, gleaming amber hidden behind dark lashes. “Clears the mind. You must be tired, angel. It was a very long doomsday.”
A crook of Crowley’s long fingers, and the lamps clicked off. His bedroom had two tall, wide windows, but they had been cowed into submission years ago, demonically miracled so that the room would be dark even in the daytime. At night, the darkness was almost total.
A human would have felt like they had been dropped, blindfolded, into the void. But Aziraphale could still see. Being of angel stock, he could find a little light in almost any darkness.
He watched Crowley yawn again. Then Crowley’s hand moved towards him, until his palm rested on Aziraphale‘s cheek. His skin was warm and dry, faintly scaly. Crowley’s thumb brushed over Aziraphale’s eyelid, urging it closed. “Sssleep,” Crowley said. Comfortable and tired—and, yes, tempted by the promise of something new—Aziraphale did.
He had not seen the faces of God in a very long time: six thousand years, plus a few hundred thousand more, give or take. When he spun in a circle, exploring his dream landscape of serene green hills under the summer sun, he spotted Her only a second before She turned to him. He ducked his head down and dithered, almost afraid—entirely afraid—to look upon Her.
That was how you Fell, they said. They being the angels who professed to have seen such things without Falling themselves, of course.
Crowley would never discuss it. Aziraphale had tried to give him space to do so, and the demon had only ever turned away, thin lips pressed together. Once, he’d disappeared for almost a hundred years.
“Took a snooze,” he’d said coldly when they met again. But considering that he’d shown back up to help rescue Aziraphale from a group of discontented villagers with torches, who had misunderstood his dear, erm, friendship with their priest, Aziraphale couldn’t take his tone too much to heart.
So, Gabriel had told him that She called you forth when she knew you were going to Fall. She told you how disappointed She was in you. She plucked a vital feather from your wings, which hurt. And then your remaining feathers burned and turned black while you screamed your agony into a void that opened underneath you, and you threw yourself into the pit.
Aziraphale should have known better than to fall asleep in a demon’s bed. He was immediately certain that had done for him. Of course She would be angry—worse, disappointed. Of course, despite all his recent efforts to save Her humans, he would Fall for his sins: sloth, and—and the rest.
“Oh, I knew You wouldn’t like it if I stayed with him,” he fretted. He cringed away from Her outstretched hand, pulling his wings in right behind him.
“Poor Aziraphale,” She said, beckoning him closer. Her voice rang softly in his ears. “Come here. I haven’t called you here to pluck your wings. Spread them out. They must feel so cramped, hidden away all the time.”
Aziraphale went shivering to his God. He believed Her, but it was difficult to let go of six thousand years of worry about what She would think of his time on Earth.
He had been afraid for millennia that She would find out what he had done: that he had given Adam and Eve advice and a sword; that he had consorted with a demon; that he had done the demon’s work; that he had been tempted; that he had been wickedly proud and told himself he could resist temptation—bring a Fallen angel closer to the light. But if She bid him to come closer, he would go.
Her faces flickered constantly. If Aziraphale gazed upon Her long enough, he might recognize someone—an image of Herself that She had used already, shaping them into the people that he had met on Earth—and the many unfamiliar faces of future generations. But it was difficult to look at Her for too long. Even angelic eyes got tired. Even angels got a little dizzy.
No wonder some Fell.
He cast quick glances at Her as he sidled closer, until he stood before Her. He took a deep, unnecessary breath, and spread out his wings.
The Almighty bent forward—She was very tall—and ran Her fingers through his hair. The power of Her touch closed his eyes and relaxed all his muscles. He swayed and She laughed a little, catching him with Her fingers at the back of his neck.
“Small, frightened angel,” She said, indulgently, as he had spoken to Crowley’s plants. “Tell me, Aziraphale, what is there to be so afraid of?”
Aziraphale frowned but didn’t open his eyes. “Well. Armageddon, for one thing,” he said, ticking it off on his fingers. “The Great Plan. The Ineffable Plan. Er, the intersection of the Great and Ineffable Plans, and how—begging pardon for my pride, my Lord—how that intersection seems to run right through—well, me.”
He coughed. “Also the gluttony. I do worry you’ll be angry about the gluttony.”
“Hmm.” The Almighty stroked her hand down his back to the roots of his wings, then up one, and then the other. “I’m afraid I can’t tell you much more about my Plans than you already know, Aziraphale. They will unfold as they should. But I can tell you that I’m not worried about the gluttony. You should tell me about their, hmm. What do they call it? The cold stuff that melts down their hands, with the candy in it?”
“Ice cream,” Aziraphale sighed.
“Ice cream. That’s the stuff. Of course, I’m also quite curious about lasagna,” She said. “And daal. Oh, and barbecue—I don’t suppose?—well, that’s all right. We’ve both got something to look forward to, then.”
“Do I have much to look forward to?” he asked Her, hesitantly, as She combed Her long fingers through his primary feathers. “I only ask because I haven’t been brought to an audience with You in, well. Quite some time. Ah, I have heard—through the grapevine, as they say—that an audience with You might be a sign of Your displeasure.” He hurried on. “Oh, not that I think You’re going to take my wings, now that You’ve said otherwise—not doubting Your word, not at all!—but Gabriel was quite certain—”
“Gabriel is a faithful servant, but not infallible.”
Aziraphale peeked up at Her faces. They spun almost too fast for him to comprehend, but their expression was peaceful. Her gentle hands moved on to his secondary feathers. He spread his wings wider to oblige Her.
“You’re here because I have a question for you. About your flaming sword.”
The blasted flaming sword. Aziraphale flinched. If he had known the trouble it would cause, he never would have given it to Eve—he’d have kept it, and used it, and—and probably discorporated Crowley with it, and—
He sighed. God might as well have given the sword directly to Adam and Eve Herself, and spared everyone the bother.
“Not that sword,” She said, amused. “I know ever so much about that one. No, Aziraphale. The other one.”
The other flaming sword? Aziraphale patted his pockets. Had he missed a second flaming sword—was that possible? He turned the question over and over in his mind. There had just been the one, he was certain. The quartermaster had given it to him so that he could help guard the Eastern Gate, as per Her directive: a special assignment at which he must not fail.
Much success he’d had with that, of course—
“Guard it from who?” Crawly asked with great interest. He sidled closer to Aziraphale, huddling under his wing as the rain beat down. His red hair and bright, curious amber eyes were almost the only spots of color in sight: the Garden hidden behind them, the stone wall underneath them, the sand stretching out far ahead. They watched as Adam used the sword to cook lion meat, fire blazing bright despite the storm.
Crawly brushed a raindrop out of his hair and gestured to the desert. The demon’s movements were loose and seemingly jointless; he wasn’t quite comfortable with human anatomy. Eventually he’d get better at the arms. He never really could be bothered about the hips.
He scanned the horizon with his bright snake eyes. “Who else is out there?”
“Well.” Aziraphale coughed. “Your, erm, your boss, of course.”
Crawly looked him up and down. “No offense, angel, but you against Her great Adversary is not exactly fair odds. Are you meant to be a sacrifice, do you think, or—no, you’d certainly die if you faced Him, all alone—well, not entirely alone. I’d stay with you.”
Aziraphale cast him a startled glance. “Ah. Well. That’s very kind of you, Crawly. Much appreciated.”
“Hardly kind. I’d mostly just watch, of course,” the demon mused. “But I suppose I’d throw in a supportive word or two, when I thought He couldn’t hear me.”
“I’ll—take that in the spirit I think it’s meant,” Aziraphale decided. “But even if you’re right, it’s all part of Her Ineffable Plan.” His confidence that quivered around the edges. He didn’t want to be a sacrifice to the Adversary any more than he wanted to Fall. Now that Crawly had asked the question, though, it was difficult to see himself as anything else.
“And I was meant to guard the Tree as well,” he fretted. “Only they looked like they were having such a lovely day. I didn’t want to intrude, and what good was the sword against two innocent humans?” he asked Crawly.
The demon shrugged. “Perhaps you were supposed to use it against me.”
Aziraphale cast him a helpless glance. “Oh blast—that seems likely, doesn’t it? Instead, here we are, and there they are, and the sword, and—”
He caught himself again. “It’s probably all a part of Her Plan, and you are very wicked to make me doubt Her. I suppose that for some ineffable reason, She didn’t want me to smite you, and She wanted the humans to have the sword. I expect this will all work out perfectly right in the end.”
“Whose end, I wonder,” Crawly asked.
“Begone, demon,” Aziraphale said wretchedly, but he left his wing outstretched. Together they watched Adam and Eve light a damp, smoky campfire with his sword, and muddle through their first night outside the Garden.
“Yes, that’s the sword I mean,” the Almighty said, looking down at the angel expectantly.
“I know right where it is.” Aziraphale wrung his hands. God sighed as he poured forth an anxious stream of words: “War had it, but a small girl named Pepper—and then the other Horsemen—well, and in the end, we had them all. A very nice delivery man took the sword away in a box with the other tools of Doomsday—I do wish I had known my sword would be one of the tools of Doomsday,” he said.
“I had thought you would guess.” She sounded amused. When Aziraphale risked a glance up, Her many faces were smiling. “Considering that you gave it away at the Fall of Man. Sort of a landmark event. Didn’t you think that might be important later?"
“Right, right, yes,” Aziraphale said. He hadn’t guessed at all, of course. Crowley had always been the one with imagination, not him.
“But I’m not interested in that sword—not now. It should remain in that box for a good, long while. Perhaps I can help you see what I mean.”
She stepped back and took Her hands off his wings. Aziraphale relaxed even as he missed the warmth of Her hands, and the work they had done to tidy his feathers. The manifestation of God’s Love came with a hint of God’s Fury, and it wasn’t entirely comfortable to be groomed by Her.
She held Her hand, palm up, in front of his face. Images began to play there and Aziraphale leaned closer, trying to make them out as they flashed backwards through time, faster and faster:
The sword in his hand as he threatened Crowley with an eternity of the silent treatment, and Crowley screamed up at the sky.
The Bentley racing up to the airfield base, engulfed in flames. Crowley stepping through them, unharmed.
The bookstore burning and Crowley shouting “I can’t find you,” voice raw as the air filled with smoke.
Crowley asking him to come away to Alpha Centauri, casting aside his pride to do it.
Crowley asking him to just come away, wild and irritable with distress.
Crowley mincing down the aisle of a cathedral while bombs dropped around them—risking death on consecrated ground—to prevent Aziraphale from being discorporated, and then saving his books besides.
Onward, back through time, incidents and accidents and inconveniences, all thwarted...by Crowley.
Until the Garden. Until Aziraphale was given, by the servants of the Almighty, a great, flaming sword—
And a dark snake wandered up from the depths of Hell through a conveniently unguarded gate, and took on the form of a tall, lean human-shaped being with amber eyes and dark red hair—
And God Herself watched it all from above as it happened, just as Aziraphale watched, in Her own hand, as Her work was done. The image of Her looked up and smiled at Aziraphale, who startled backwards, and looked up at Her in his dream—
To find that She was still smiling.
“That’s the one,” She said. “The demon Crowley. A fiery sword you were given to defend you, and to help you save the human world.”
“Oh… my Goodness,” Aziraphale said as six thousand years of his life rearranged themselves in his mind. He wasn’t alone at the intersection of the Great and Ineffable Plans. Crowley’s presence there, with him, was not the result of a confidence scheme he’d been shamefully pulling off for years. She had been expecting this all along.
For the first time, he wondered just how many Plans She had in motion—dancing around each other like planets orbiting stars—and what roles he and Crowley were meant to play in them.
Aziraphale had, without thinking about it much, come to assume that he had more free will than the rest of angel-stock. He’d never thought that She retained any influence over the Fallen. He wanted, suddenly and desperately, to sit down in his armchair and have a long think. He wanted a pipe. He hadn’t ever smoked a pipe before, but if there was ever a time to start, this must be it.
God watched him keenly. “What’s wrong? You haven’t lost that one, have you? Know just where it is, do you?”
Aziraphale pinched his lips together and shook his head. “You know I do,” he said quietly.
Her smile didn’t change. “Just one of My little jokes.” She snapped Her fingers and the image on Her palm turned to Crowley’s bedroom. The demon slept, still lying on his side, blankets drawn up to his shoulder. His hair—red as anything—gleamed against the pillows, shining with its own dark light.
Aziraphale slept too. He frowned, looking down at himself; the other version of him frowned in his sleep.
“This seemed the easiest way to approach you tonight,” She said. “Better to leave the Metatron out of it. If he knew what I had to tell you, he’d never stop being scandalized. But you can be awfully stubborn for an angel, Aziraphale. I thought you’d never let that body get some rest.”
“He insisted,” Aziraphale said defensively. “I didn’t want to succumb to sloth.”
“It’s all right.” She put Her hand on his shoulder, and together they watched him and Crowley sleep.
“I’ve never visited an angel in his dreams before,” God said. “I quite like it, actually. It’s more peaceful than visiting the humans.”
“Humans dream of you? I thought their only contact with you was—you know, signs and portents, burning bushes, and such.”
“They dream of Me. And daydream, and have nightmares, and meditate, and ignore me. Most of them choose to forget most of what I show them, but it changes them nonetheless.”
Aziraphale tipped his chin up and pursed his lips, looking into Her eyes with as much determination as he could. “And me? Will You be changing me? Because it’s just that I’d rather—"
She said, “Of all my angels, Aziraphale, you were the closest to Falling during the War. Did you know?”
In his secret heart of hearts: “Yes.”
“Because you were capable of changing yourself,” She said. “Of choosing to be something different. Something new. You were perhaps less inclined to ask a clever question than Crowley was, but just as capable of becoming… something more than an angel.”
She leaned closer. “An angel who eats, and sleeps, and loves, and dreams. An angel who chooses. An angel who is one degree away from being a human. Too sullied with free will for Heaven. Too good for Hell. Fit only to serve on Earth, really.”
He winced, but couldn’t deny She was entirely correct. “And Crowley?”
“Oh, your inverse, of course. Too much good will for Hell. Too naughty for Heaven.”
“Fit only to serve on Earth,” Aziraphale murmured, looking down at the sleeping Crowley in Her hand.
“Precisely,” She said. Her fingers curled up, hiding the vision of Crowley’s bedroom from Aziraphale. “Now. If you were Crowley, you’d be asking why I show you this. What purpose does it serve? Could it serve another, less obvious purpose too?”
“He’s good at that sort of thing,” Aziraphale agreed.
“Hmm. So I’ll tell you, and you’re to pass the message along. You received the prophecy?”
The prophecy. Aziraphale nodded. “‘When all is said and all is done, you must choose your faces wisely, for soon enough you will be playing with fire.’ Agnes Nutter—from her book, you see—”
“I know,” God said.
“Ah, of course,” Aziraphale stuttered. “My apologies—I won’t make that mistake again, my Lord.”
“All the forces of Heaven and Hell will be coming for you and Crowley, Aziraphale,” She said, ignoring him. “I have made for you a flaming sword. Use it.”
Aziraphale reeled backwards a step. “I won’t sacrifice him.”
“I don’t intend it to be a sacrifice. I have made for him a sheath.” She raised Her eyebrow. “Do you understand?”
“Well,” he said, blushing; he’d been around for the invention of Latin, after all. “There’s no, erm. I can’t say if he will be. Receptive.”
God sighed. “Sharper than a serpent’s tooth, as they say. I know what I have made, Aziraphale.”
“Oh, I did it again,” he said, burying his face in his hands. “I’m so very sorry. I understand what you mean, really, and I’m certainly not ungrateful. It’s just that he seemed so opposed when it was Madame Tracy and I, earlier today—of course you know that. Please, forgive me.”
“I mean many things by what I’ve said.” He felt Her hand pass over his wings again, smoothing the last of his ruffled feathers. “And Aziraphale?”
“Remember that I will always forgive you.”
He dragged in a deep breath and—thinking of Crowley’s fiddle leaf fig—took his face out of his hands, shook out his wings. He stood brave and tall before the Almighty, his Creator. “I’ll remember,” he said determinedly. “I will do my very best.”
“I know you will.”
And if the Almighty said that She knew you’d do something, well: it was as good as done.
Still, Aziraphale fidgeted for a moment. “My Lord? Not that I’m doubting You, or that I’m—but—er, I do have one more question. About Crowley.”
“What You showed me, just now. How did he. How does he always know? He just appears whenever I’m having a spot of complicated bother, and I never thought to wonder why!”
She didn’t smile again, but Her eyes crinkled up at the corners. “Good question, Aziraphale. I could tell you. But… I think I’ll let him.”
God raised Her hand and put Her thumb on the bridge of Aziraphale’s nose; he went cross-eyed looking up at it. “See you later, alligator,” She said, and gently pushed him back into his corporeal form.
Aziraphale woke up in the demon’s bed. He’d dreamed—what had he dreamed? Bits and pieces of it were already fading from his memory. But a key point remained: he had solved the mystery of Agnes Nutter’s last prophecy.
He’d flopped over on his belly in the night, limbs akimbo. He gathered himself and elbowed his way to Crowley’s side—the demon had remained curled up like a cat in his sleep, eyes closed. His hair flickered out against his pillow. He wasn’t breathing, but of course that wasn’t necessary. His eyelids fluttered.
Aziraphale wondered if he was dreaming, too, and if so, what he dreamed of. Was it possible for an angel and a demon to share dreams? Well, he’d soon be finding out what else it was possible for them to share. Maybe that could be their next experiment, assuming they lived long enough for next experiments.
“Crowley,” he said. There was no response. “Crowley. Do wake up.”
“Well.” Aziraphale pressed his lips together and thought. There had to be a way to wake him. Aziraphale knew he was capable of sleeping for decades, but he’d promised to be entertaining if Aziraphale got bored. What was it that the humans did when someone was determinedly asleep? He’d seen a film once where this problem was resolved, he remembered, and gently pressed his lips against the demon’s.
For a moment, it seemed to be working. Crowley’s lips softened under his, and Crowley took a breath. He mumbled something—it started with a soft, sibilant Z—and Aziraphale congratulated himself for his adeptness, his knack for human culture.
In the very next instant, he found himself flat on his back, a demon’s full weight on his torso, and a demon’s hands wrapped tight around his wrists.
Amber eyes flashed. The lamps winked on. Aziraphale winced at the sudden brightness, but it didn’t seem to bother Crowley at all. The demon just reared up over him like a cobra ready to strike. He looked down with perhaps the greatest look of consternation Aziraphale had ever seen on his thin, angular face.
“What the de—the lor—what the fuck were you doing?” Crowley said. His hands squeezed Aziraphale’s wrists.
“You said I could wake you! I don’t know how else you’re supposed to handle a sleeping demon,” Aziraphale said indignantly. He tugged at his wrists, to no avail.
Crowley lowered himself until they were nose to nose. His eyes were huge from such a short distance. The pupils widened until Aziraphale could see his own reflection: his cheeks flushed, his hair tousled, his pyjama shirt askew. One clavicle had been bared by the way the shirt fell. Aziraphale tried to wiggle to freedom, but wiggling was really Crowley’s area of expertise, and he quickly found himself trapped further as Crowley straddled his legs.
“Kissing me awake was your idea,” he said. His gaze shifted between Aziraphale’s eyes and mouth. “Remember that if you want to complain about how I think we should entertain ourssselves.”
Aziraphale huffed out a breath. “But I didn’t wake you for sport. I have important business to discuss with you!”
“Businessssssss?” Crowley hissed. “Mouth business?”
“Well, mouths—and prophecies, and Heaven, and Hell—and all the rest of it, yes,” Aziraphale said, nodding.
Crowley’s pupils widened even more. “The ressst of it?” he said, and Aziraphale was still nodding away—yes! The rest of it! Hair, and cheeks, and knees, and elbows, and their entire corporeal forms: he’d figured out how to protect themselves from what he was sure was doomed to come!—when Crowley lowered himself infinitesimally more, and kissed him.
Aziraphale had been kissed a few times in his long life on Earth. One could hardly get through without it. It had mostly been startling. Sometimes he had been irritated; once or twice, he had been sad to disappoint the human who had kissed him; occasionally he’d made the effort to engage in intercourse with them, out of curiosity or affection. But he had never been kissed by a demon before. Or an angel, for that matter.
He had certainly never been kissed by Crowley.
Did the manner of their creation explain the difference between kissing another being of angel stock, and kissing a human? Was that why his spirit was quick to rise to Crowley’s, in a way it didn’t otherwise?
Or was it six thousand years of—of knowledge. That old temptation. Crowley had held an apple for six thousand years, fresh with comradery and slow friendship, ever-ripening with potential sins of the flesh. Come and know me, temptation whispered, but Aziraphale had pretended not to hear it, chalking it up to the nature of demons.
Now, at last, the sweetness of it filled his senses. He kissed Crowley back, accepting his fate, and felt Crowley’s tension ratchet up.
“Should I apologize, angel?” Crowley murmured, drawing back. There was a wrinkle between his brows that Aziraphale wanted to smooth out. He imagined putting his thumb there, and a little more of his dream came back to him.
“No apologies necessary, my dear. I believe this is all part of the prophecy. Agnes did say we’d be playing with fire,” Aziraphale said briskly. “Well. All that is required is minor contact—holding hands would do, I suppose, if necessary—but this should work just as well. We only need to will it, after all.”
“Exssssplain,” Crowley said, tilting his head.
“Oh, it’s a long story. And quite an old one,” Aziraphale said. “Perhaps the oldest.” He wrapped his arms around Crowley’s shoulders, drew him down. “It ends with us sharing our bodies,” he said, looking up into the demon’s eyes. “If you’re amenable, of course.”
Crowley licked his lips. “Try me and sssee.”
Sex with Crowley was a rather involved process. First, there was the matter of sorting out which genitals were called for—fortunately their preferences were similar—and then the topic of whose went where threatened to devolve into a hair-pulling wrestling match.
But Aziraphale had an intuition, left over from his dream. He held steady, and soon found himself propped half on his stomach and half on his side, a pile of pillows under his stomach, one leg pulled up to give Crowley room to—
“Ohh,” the angel sighed. To do that. Slick fingers slid inside him, and a hot mouth buried itself in the crook of his neck, teeth worrying the skin. Aziraphale tipped his head even as he said, “Do be careful about leaving bruises, Crowley.”
“It’s nothing a stupid bow tie won’t cover,” Crowley growled. “Assuming you’re not feeling up to something more fashionable. A cravat.” His fingers twisted and Aziraphale clutched the pillows with a breathless gasp.
“Well, and you could wear a fez and no pants to Hell without garnering any sort of comment, but you don’t see me—oh, Crowley!” The demon had slid inside him. Aziraphale dug his fingertips into the pillows, then the sheets, rolling further onto his stomach, Crowley rolling with him.
Aziraphale drew in a gasping breath, mostly because he enjoyed the way the sound added to the atmosphere—very warm and decadent, he thought, equal parts pleased with himself and embarrassed—in contrast to the cold beauty of Crowley’s bedroom.
“All right, angel?” Crowley murmured. He let his weight rest on Aziraphale’s back as he adjusted himself, fingertips brushing where they joined.
Aziraphale settled himself even more comfortably into the mattress and pillows. “Quite,” he said, contented, and then: “Oh, my dear,” as Crowley moved against him, loose-hipped and gloriously sinful.
“You promised to hold on as long as I wanted, if we went about it this way, but look at you now. Going too fast,” Crowley chided him, smug and self-satisfied. He dropped a biting kiss on Aziraphale’s back, right under where his wing would arch.
He had to know what that would do to an angel, Aziraphale thought dazedly. The sweet burn left him feeling quite justified in assuring Crowley, “I’ll come when I please,” which only made the demon hiss and redouble his efforts.
The swap tingled pleasantly. It didn’t feel anything like the orgasm Aziraphale had when Crowley stopped holding back, clutched Aziraphale’s hips tightly, and dragged him into a series of long, perfect thrusts. Nothing Aziraphale had ever felt before was quite like that. But it did add to the pleasantness of the aftermath, like drinking champagne with dessert.
“You did say we would be sharing our bodies. More fool me for not realizing you meant it literally,” Crowley said in Aziraphale’s voice—in his body—sounding dazed. “Tell me it didn’t feel that good when you possessed Shadwell’s witch.”
Aziraphale gently pulled out of him. He dropped down next to Crowley on the silver sheets they’d thoroughly mussed. “Madame Tracy is her own witch,” he said, disapproving, his arm draped over Crowley’s side. “I apologize if I startled you, my dear. There’s a very good reason for it.”
“It’s all right. I just would have guessed that it would take us another six thousand years to accomplish this,” Crowley said. He turned his head to look at Aziraphale. “I was beginning to think it’d be more difficult to get you into bed than to—oh, say, save the world.”
“Call it divine intervention,” Aziraphale murmured. He kissed Crowley’s shoulder, and smiled.
“Now, I’ll need you to look for this list of books,” Aziraphale said, when the sun had risen on a beautiful new day. He fussed over to hand Crowley the list, but it was something of a challenge: he had allowed himself to be himself in Crowley’s body, since they hadn’t left the flat yet, but the body resisted. Aziraphale liked crisp gestures, a straight spine. Crowley’s body physically would not, please and thank you.
This explained some of his, er, slinkier movements, Aziraphale thought. He blushed, remembering.
Crowley looked up from his list and caught him at it. The demon grinned at Aziraphale with Aziraphale’s own face, the tip of his perfectly ordinary human tongue caught between his quite nice human teeth.
“Just this list?” he asked. “I saw for myself, with my own eyes, that everything was destroyed, but perhaps if you send me with a second list, I might be able to reverse time—”
“Just this list, if you please,” Aziraphale said. Then he leaned down and pressed a quick kiss to Crowley’s mouth—my mouth, Aziraphale thought; and what an interesting mix that was, lust and vanity combined—and picked up the mister.
The plants had spent the night basking in their newfound awareness of Crowley’s true nature, but the sight of the mister in Crowley’s hands had a Pavlovian impact. They began to tremble and doubt themselves.
“Poor things,” Aziraphale said, in Crowley’s voice. “All this fuss, when really you’d grow just as well with a bit of love, wouldn’t you?”
“Leave them, angel.” Crowley stood glaring in the doorway. Aziraphale’s body wasn’t much better at glaring than Crowley’s was at crisp movements, but he made an effort. “They’ll grow with whatever I want, if they know what’s good for them.”
“I’ll bring you a nice fertilizer later,” Aziraphale whispered. Then he followed Crowley—stepping carefully over the stain of Ligur, dark in the doorway—out into the fresh, new world.
It was going to be a good first day, he thought, discreetly brushing his hand against Crowley’s. Hellfire and holy water be dam—be bless—well.
“One question, Crowley,” he said, before they separated at the corner of his street. “It came to me in the night. Perhaps sleep does clear the mind.”
“Out with it, angel,” Crowley growled. Coming from Aziraphale’s throat, the growl lost some of its menace and became a charming little sound—but then, the demon had never particularly menaced Aziraphale, had he. Asked annoying questions, thwarted, wiled, tempted, teased, tossed against walls, certainly; but he’d never felt like a threat.
That seemed unlikely in hindsight. Aziraphale had been wary of the demon and the temptations he represented, but never too wary. A foolish attitude on the part of any respectable angel. Perhaps his obliviousness had all been an element of Her plan, too.
“How did you ever know?” he asked Crowley, facing him. “How did you know when I was in trouble and could use a spot of, hmm, otherworldly intervention?”
Crowley rolled his eyes. Aziraphale noted with interest that they were really quite pretty eyes, in the crisp late-summer light: clear and colorful, with lashes meant for fluttering. Had he ever fluttered them? Intentionally? In the demon’s direction? He would have to experiment with it as soon as he was himself again.
“You cast up distress signals like anything, angel,” Crowley grumbled. “Impossible to ignore. Lights a fire at the base of my skull—like pouring holy water down my spine. I have to go see what you’ve gotten yourself into, or I can’t get a moment’s rest.”
“A fire?” Aziraphale said. He frowned thoughtfully, wondering. “I dreamed of that. Didn’t I?”
“How would I know?” Crowley complained. “I haven’t exactly gone around sharing dreams with many angels, have I?”
“I should hope not.” Aziraphale focused on Crowley’s sulky face and reached out to pat his shoulder, hoping that the forces of Good and Evil were having enough of a lie-in to miss it. “But I must apologize, my dear—if you’ve cast up a distress signal, I’ve never noticed. You must think I’m a terrible friend.”
Crowley wriggled uncomfortably for a second, shoulders coming up around his ears. “No. There was always a reward. For being your friend. You have a—you know, an air—about you.” He gestured to himself, from the cream-colored curls on top of his head to his warm golden jumper and down to the neat brown shoes on his feet. “Like being wrapped in calm,” he said reluctantly. “Cools the demon bits. Warms the snake bits. One of the things that makes you worth the effort, almost.”
“Ah,” Aziraphale said. A slow smile spread over his face. “That would be the love, I think.”
“None of your four-letter words,” Crowley snapped. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some angels to terrify.” He spun around and marched away, then cast a quick glance over his shoulder. “See you on the other side, Aziraphale—if there is one.”
“There will be,” Aziraphale promised, and watched him go.
Up ahead, over the water, a patch of sunshine shone through fluffy white clouds. Aziraphale smiled in return, and prepared to slink joyfully into Hell.