When Aziraphale steps into Crowley’s apartment for the first time, he’s both surprised and distressed by how bleak it is.
Crowley is a demon with a taste for the finer things, the Bentley being a prime example. This concrete brutalism is - well, it’s telling, Aziraphale thinks, putting a finger to the wall and feeling the slightly rough texture against his skin. It’s also probably why he’s never invited Aziraphale here before. Showing someone this place is like tearing out his own still-beating heart and offering it to up to them.
The plain grey walls and the wide windows are like a corrupted version of Heaven. In the next room Aziraphale spies a verdant green oasis that reminds him instantly of Eden. Twisted hints of Crowley before the Fall.
Some things belong to the Crowley that Aziraphale knows, from the sketch of the Mona Lisa to the ultramodern television. Even the e-reader on the table that makes Aziraphale wrinkle his nose. Really, Crowley.
Then there are the things that suggest Crowley as he thinks demons should be. The throne, for a start, Aziraphale thinks. A bit outre, amidst all this - well, it’s too bleak to be called minimalism, really. The throne doesn’t fit in with everything else, because it doesn’t belong here. It’s not Crowley and it never has been.
Everything is a violent clash of Crowley as he sees himself, or wishes he was - one way or the other - and seeing it laid bare makes Aziraphale’s chest hurt.
Crowley’s lean body is tense as a wire as he shows Aziraphale around. He leads him into the room with the plants and sweeps his arm to show them off.
“Best plants in London,” he says. “If they know what’s good for them.”
“They’re lovely,” Aziraphale says, and thinks, Eden; thinks of Crowley, newly Fallen, jaw tight and eyes wide and smile vicious. Aziraphale’s chest hurts a little more.
Out of the plant room and along the corridor, a statue sits where the hallway forks. The statue has two winged creatures - men, for lack of a better word - who are naked, with limbs entwined.
Aziraphale raises an eyebrow at it and looks at Crowley.
“It’s about the fight of good against evil,” Crowley says, waving a hand at it. “With evil triumphing, obviously.”
“Really?” Aziraphale says, tapping a finger against his lips as he looks Crowley in the eye. “Are you sure they’re fighting?”
Crowley stares at him, and then a smile grows slowly, crooked and wide. “That's not very angelic of you, angel.”
Aziraphale chuckles and ducks his head, but when he glances back up at Crowley both their smiles have faded.
There’s this thing they’re doing. It’s a dance, of sorts. They’ve been doing it for six thousand years but they’re still not very good at it. They tread on each other’s toes, crash into each other, then back away and don’t return for decades. It doesn’t help that while they’re dancing to the same song, they’re each listening at different speeds, and by the time one has caught up to the other the tempo has shifted again. Aziraphale thinks that this may be the closest that they’ve ever been to the same beat, with Heaven and Hell not watching and all their concentration on the dance.
“The kitchen is behind you,” Crowley says, voice strained and strange. “And behind me… Bedroom.”
Aziraphale swallows, wanting to step forward and run away in equal amounts, the opposing forces keeping him exactly where he is.
“I see,” is all he manages.
When he returns to the bookshop that night, he’s still thinking about Crowley’s apartment. About bare walls and bare floors and about how he’s found a word for what it felt like: penance. The almost-empty apartment was bursting at the seams with the bleakest and rawest parts of Crowley’s soul, and it made Aziraphale ache with the need to make it better. Luckily, making things better is what being an angel is all about.
Perhaps, Aziraphale thinks, the best place to start with making it better would be to make it feel like a home.
Sitting at his desk and picking up a pen, he begins to plan.
It starts with the gift of a new plant, one with pretty yellow flowers. Crowley raises his eyebrow and takes it, carefully finding it a place amongst the others while muttering threats to it the same way someone who isn’t a demon might croon lullabies to a newborn.
Next comes a rug: a black one, soft and plush and luxurious. This causes the eyebrow to raise even higher, but Crowley still accepts with something almost like grace, and even helps Aziraphale put it in place in the middle of the living room.
The next phase of Aziraphale’s plan is a sofa, but choosing the right one is hard. He keeps getting hung up on cream ones with elegant legs. This is supposed to be for Crowley - this is meant to make Crowley’s apartment feel like home to him, and having Aziraphale’s style bandied all over the place isn’t going to help with that. Aziraphale gathers as many catalogues as he can get his hands on, and spends hours looking at black and grey sofas, at leather and velvet, at square sectionals and boudoir-esque chaise longues, but he can’t decide which Crowley would like best.
In the end he thrusts a catalogue at him and tells him to choose.
“Excuse me?” Crowley asks, staring at it, then at Aziraphale.
“If I’m going to be spending more time here, I need somewhere to sit.”
“Then just miracle something up.”
Aziraphale sighs. “Don’t be gauche, Crowley.” He’s trying to lay low with the miracles as much as possible, not wanting to draw attention from Above, and besides, there’s a permanence to real things, a solidity that would do this apartment a world of good.
Crowley’s mouth works for a moment, but then he nods, and looks through the catalogue. He chooses a long sofa in slate grey, one that Aziraphale had been considering, which pleases him.
When it gets delivered they sit together on it, enjoying a celebratory glass of wine.
“Why are you doing this?” Crowley asks, and Aziraphale blinks.
“Because I want you to be happy,” he says, startled into honesty.
Crowley stares at him, then refills their glasses without another word.
The last step - for now - is a bookcase, and books to go with it.
“I told you, Aziraphale,” Crowley says, folding his arms and looking at the black bookcase housing titles that Aziraphale thought that he would enjoy. He restrained from including a copy of the Bible, even though Crowley had a starring role in the first act. “I don’t read books.”
Aziraphale throws a withering look at the e-reader still on the table. It’s in a different position, and Aziraphale suspects Crowley has actually been using it, which is a far greater sin than merely owning the thing.
“Well, you know the saying - if you go to someone’s home and they don’t have any books, don’t be their friend.”
There’s a long pause, and Crowley’s lips quirk. “That’s not the saying, angel.”
Aziraphale frowns. “It isn’t?”
Another quirk. “Not quite.”
“What is it then?”
Crowley has a very specific look that he gets when they’re dancing their dance, when Aziraphale is fairly certain he wants to pull him in close or possibly dip him - something tango-ish and racy. He has that look now, and Aziraphale can’t begin to imagine why.
“The saying is: If you go home with someone and they have books… don’t fuck them.”
Aziraphale stares. “It is not!”
“Oh, but it is.”
Aziraphale looks at the books, at the rug and the sofa. Then he looks over Crowley’s shoulder, past the terrified plants to the statue at the end of the hallway. He thinks about the room to the right, with the bed in it. He thinks about what people do in beds, what he and Crowley could do, with a bit of effort and a bit of imagination. It would surprise most people - perhaps Crowley most of all - to know that Aziraphale has, on rare occasion, exercised his imagination in that particular direction.
Aziraphale clears his throat. “It’s still good advice,” he says, not able to look Crowley directly into the eyes. “If someone doesn’t have books, don’t - don’t sleep with them.”
There’s a beat of silence, and Aziraphale dares a glimpse at Crowley. He’s staring at him, then at the books, then back to Aziraphale. A smile appears, but it wavers uncertainly. “So, now that I have books…? Surely this hasn’t this all been a ploy to get me into bed, angel.”
This thing between them has always been about infinitely more than sex, but it’s good shorthand, Aziraphale thinks. This huge and nameless thing is something neither of them should want with the other. Deeper than friendship, though that’s part of it, the strong bones that everything else is slowly, slowly, slowly being built upon. Six thousand years of building and now, maybe...
“Maybe,” he says, very softly, and lifting his gaze to meet Crowley’s is one of the bravest things he’s ever done. Crowley stares at him, and Aziraphale reaches up to pull off the sunglasses so that he can look at him properly.
“Maybe,” Aziraphale says again, and steps forward, heart hammering unnecessarily in his chest. He puts a hand against Crowley’s chest, and feels his heart racing too. They’re finally dancing to the same tempo. “Do you…?”
“Maybe,” Crowley says, and he steps forward as well.
They’re close now, their chests touching as they breathe. They’re on a precipice, Aziraphale knows. After this has happened, there’ll be no taking it back. It could change everything, but also: it could change everything. Aziraphale wants more, wants so much more that he doesn’t think any human language has words for it.
Looking into Crowley’s eyes, he knows he wants the same. Aziraphale isn’t sure if that’s more terrifying or less. Crowley’s eyes close and he leans forward, ever so slightly, but leaves a wafer thin gap between them, letting Aziraphale make the final choice.
Aziraphale takes a breath and chooses to step off the precipice.
Closing the gap, he brushes Crowley’s lips with his own. It’s nice. It’s very nice.
It gets nicer when Crowley kisses back, as it becomes less a doing to and more of a doing with. Like a dance, Aziraphale thinks, and smiles.
Such a human thing, a kiss, but the two of them are more human than any angel or any demon have ever been. Aziraphale has often been concerned about that, but here, now, with Crowley’s warm body against him, his arms around him, Aziraphale finds that he’s perfectly happy with human. He thinks he’d be happy with most things, as long as Crowley was with him, and hopes that’s not blasphemous.
“Well,” Crowley croaks when they break apart. “That was - something.”
Aziraphale frowns. “You - didn’t think it was nice?”
“It was so far beyond nice that I don’t-“ He shakes his head, smiling, and lifts a hand to Aziraphale’s cheek, thumb stroking along his cheekbone. His eyes are fond, but they often are around Aziraphale. “I don’t have words, angel.”
“Perhaps we should try it again,” Aziraphale says. “It might help us find the words.”
Crowley snorts, then tugs on Aziraphale’s hand, leading him to the sofa.
They stay there for a long time, kissing and talking and dancing their own, old dance.
It’s nice, and so much more than nice.
They don’t find the words they were looking for that night, in the apartment that is no longer so bleak, but they do find each other.
And that means so much more.