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The Lightness of You

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"My body burned like a barnful of feathers, nothing was on fire but fire was on everything."

-Kaveh Akbar (Calling a Wolf a Wolf)

 

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Crowley remembers Love quite well.  He remembers It being overrated. God’s Love, that is.  It was a fathomless, consuming Thing-- constantly present, yet unknowable.  Crowley’s existence was cut from that Love, no different than any other angel.  His sole purpose was to worship and remain in service to his Creator. She spoke Love into the void, and Crowley became.  

Others found it so easy to bathe in the light of God’s Love, but Crowley found himself growing--well not resentful, precisely-- perhaps disillusioned by the complacency of his peers.  He loved God so completely, so immensely, to the point of crushing loneliness.  Did they not tire of this cosmic preoccupation? Eternity spent in worshipful service?  Was there truly nothing else to behold? If God had not made the universe so vast, and Her design so damned ineffable, then maybe existence would not feel so dreadfully limited and pointless at times.  Perhaps then, Crowley would not have had a mind full of questions. God made him after all, doesn’t seem right he should have been punished for the glitch of curiosity.

Then She went and created humans and gave them free will, just proving Crowley’s point that some sense of more was required to make this whole existence thing worthwhile.

Even as Crowley fell, he still loved God.  Must still do, in a way--in the same sense that some children permanently estranged from their parents might reflect on their creators with a degree of nostalgic affection for the good times.  So yes, Crowley recalls that Love, rigid and inscrutable, and giving no quarter-- no quarter at all.

He also remembers the sudden, brutal severing where that Love had once been, and the soul-deep emptiness left behind.  Love was all he had ever known until he touched the equally fathomless depths of evil and decided it wasn’t necessarily his cup of tea either.  Demonic love was a gnarled thing, reserved only for their Master, sycophantic and dysfunctional-- and Crowley accepted early on that love, for him, was over.  

Maybe this is why Crowley doesn’t understand the thing that cracks open a tiny bit in his tattered soul and defies definition, when Aziraphale stands there at the gate of Eden, wringing his empty hands, and fearing for the safety of the humans Crowley just beguiled out of paradise.  For a moment he feels quite guilty about it, oddly enough-- for the angel mind you, not the humans. (He can’t shake the idea that he helped more than hurt, there.) But the angel seems distraught and he’s given away his very nice flaming sword after all, but there’s really nothing to be done about it at this point.  First sin is one bell that can’t be unrung, and God is very final when She casts someone out of someplace.  Crowley would know. You can’t apologise to someone who isn’t listening.

Whatever it is that raises its head to take notice whenever Aziraphale glances sideways at Crowley, eyes tinted with trepidation, and nevertheless extending a great white wing to shelter Crowley from the oncoming storm-- well.  It’s easily ignored isn’t it?

 

As with all distractions, it is, until it isn’t.

 

---

 

“What are you doing down there, angel?” Crowley says, much louder than necessary. He smiles when Aziraphale jerks in surprise, hands coming up defensively before he realises it’s only a demon standing alongside him.  

“Oh, good morning.  Sorry, I didn’t notice you were..um..” he settles back down onto the reed grass at the river embankment, glances pensively over his shoulder back toward the village.  “That your doing back there?”

“What?” Crowley asks, momentarily distracted by the chamomile flower that’s broken from its stem and become wedged in the fuzzy mess of Aziraphale’s curls. He blinks, then remembers the current purge of newborn Hebrew baby boys happening over their shoulder and is immediately offended.  “Ugh, come on, you think I have something to do with that?   Told you child-death wasn’t really my style.”

“Of course, I’m sorry for assuming,” Aziraphale apologises, eyes flicking to the ground, back out to the Nile, awkwardly back to Crowley.  “Do you mind me asking why you are here, then?”

“Passing through.  Australia got dull.  Too many snakes-- not the me kind, what have you.  The venomous, bitey kind. Heard the Egyptians were an advanced bunch.  Aside from, well. You know. The crimes against humanity, and paganism I suppose.”

Aziraphale sighs and says, as if he’s trying to find the one good thing this side of the world to believe in right now, “They do make a lovely pomegranate wine.”  He chews the corner of his mouth a moment and gestures to a clay amphora, then the empty space alongside him. “Care for a drink?”

“Yeah, why not,” is out of Crowley’s mouth before any semblance of a logical train of thought seeds itself.

On some level Crowley knows it’s not a grand idea to drink with the enemy, but Crowley never went in for idealism.  Aziraphale has this irresistible quality about him, particularly when he smiles. Makes you want to do anything to keep it there. It’s going to be Crowley’s undoing, he’s sure of it.  It’s the same for humans and moths, he’s noticed, they so often find themselves gravitating toward sources of light-- uncaring if they’re reduced to ashes as soon as they reach out to touch it.  Aziraphale’s brand of grace is quiet, gentle, like a southern wind passing over long feather grass, warm and calming and tickling the hair at the nape of Crowley’s neck. He’s so very unlike the other angels who wield their righteousness like weapons, so unbearably smug in their holy countenance. Aziraphale seems such the odd one out-- a bit too idiosyncratic, a lot too kind.  What was God thinking giving this one to the humans? He’s charming.

No, he’s irritating .

He’s irritating in the sense that Crowley doesn’t find himself irritated in the slightest, and oh, it shouldn’t be that way, should it?  Aziraphale’s fingers brushing over Crowley’s as he takes an offered cup of wine shouldn’t feel like the first shock of dawn creeping over the horizon.

They drink in silence for a time, only speaking up on occasion to discuss the weather patterns and the finer points of perspective civilizations.  It’s all terribly normal, and for a moment Crowley forgets that they have much more than the simple space between their bodies separating them.  It never even occurs to Crowley that Aziraphale might rise up at any moment--radiant and wreathed in sanctified flame--to smite Crowley from the face of the planet.  He wonders if Aziraphale has this same awareness, and whether or not he’s afraid Crowley might try and do the same.

Crowley thinks about it, and finds the concept of Aziraphale meeting any abuse repellant.  Be a bit like slapping a lamb in the face, that. Crowley’s a demon, but he’s not a monster.  

“Oh lookit,” Crowley says loftily when something moves in the river and catches his eye, “guess one got out all right.”  He nods toward a woven basket floating down the Nile and the infant resting within.

Aziraphale’s gaze pulls toward the river.  Crowley frowns when his expression tenses with anxiety and the angel begins speaking in increasingly shrill tones.  “All right? I don’t suppose so, what’s a baby supposed to do against Nile crocodiles ? The hippopotamuses may look bumbling, but they’re terribly vicious! And how’s he supposed to eat ?  He doesn’t have a mother ! Anything could tip that basket! The guards will find him and-- Oh dear, poor thing!”

Crowley scans the bank, spots a woman a few metres away and reaches out with a push of suggestive power.  “Nah, he’ll be fine,” Crowley says, when he feels the suggestion take root.

“How can you say that?” Aziraphale asks, looking quite like he’s about to strip off his robes and wade into the water himself-- consequences be damned.  Crowley picks up a river stone and lets it sail high and far, before plunking down a few feet in front of the basket. Water ripples against the embankment, laps over the woman’s ankles.  She looks down into the river, then begins gesturing frantically to her handmaiden before wading out to retrieve the child.

“There you go, he’ll be fine,” Crowley repeats and goes back to sipping wine.  He can feel the weight of Aziraphale’s stare falling on him.

“Thank you,” he says quietly.  “That was very ki--”

“Don’t say it,” Crowley interrupts, “it’s just one tiny baby.  Doesn’t matter.”

“All the same,” Aziraphale murmurs, and Crowley can’t bear to look back at the angel. Can’t help the long-forgotten feeling of warmth threading into his chest when he catches the soft smile playing at the corners of Aziraphale’s mouth, knowing he’s responsible for it.

It hurts a little too, in an indefinable place.  Sometimes he misses performing blessings and miracles, misses and wants lots of things he knows he shouldn’t.

 

And really, how was Crowley supposed to know the child would grow up to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and become a prophet of God?  Just rotten luck, that.

 

---

 

He can’t fall in love with Aziraphale. Demons don’t do that.  It would be pathetic at best, treasonous at worst. This is the sort of thing that can get a demon unmade.  Impossible. It’s just an obsession.

No, shit, that’s a terrible word.  Obsession is the men who lurk at women’s shoulders, so very incapable of dragging their eyes above breast-level, who feel entitled to flesh that isn’t their own.  There’s a difference between what those men want to do to those women, and what Crowley wants to do with Aziraphale.

(Maybe just… hold his hand a little?  That would be enough.) What the fuck??

He’s seen it happen among humans, love that is, too many times now not to draw conclusions for himself.  Crowley wonders if either side thought of this before making them incarnate and assigning them permanent stations in reality.  Did they know humanity was infectious like this? They spread not only in the reproductive sense, but their habits and their neediness and their painful exposition of feeling spreads too.

Ah shit.  It isn’t a great thing to have gone and done.  

It’s love or something like it, and it has been, since the very start.  The further away he gets in distance from Aziraphale, the more grating the division between them becomes.  Crowley only ever feels settled when the angel is near, when Crowley knows he’s safe, and no matter where Aziraphale is within Her creation, Crowley is constantly aware of his presence.  Trouble has a way of finding Aziraphale, because trouble always seeks out tenderness, and Aziraphale is soft in all the places Heaven, and Hell, and Earth seek to exploit.  

Crowley is admittedly territorial when it comes to other forces of darkness encroaching on Aziraphale.   I was here first , Crowley tells himself, it’s been his job for millennia to thwart this heavenly foe-- when the reality is closer to the fact that Crowley feels, very much, like Aziraphale is his to protect.  It’s distinctly non-demonic in nature. It’s depressingly Victorian at times, watching Aziraphale from afar, for the sake of seeing his dumb-very-clever head, with its ridiculous white-blonde wisps of curls that he’s had for thousands of years and still doesn’t seem to know what to do with.  It’s Crowley saying teasing things, and acting out for attention, just so Aziraphale will look at him with eyes full of hope for a hopeless creature, and on and on they go round’ like this. On and on and on and--

 

Crowley is in Belfast working a spot a mischief.  He likes the Irish, they’re a charming group, full of songs and stories and irrepressible mirth.  Course’ they were even more interesting--politically speaking--when they were a bunch of polytheistic druids.  Catholicism ruins everything with its guilt-mongering and insidious silence, and Crowley has a lot of feelings about the oppressive nature of organized religion. The Protestants aren't much better.  At least the druids were forthright about all their human sacrifices. Crowley hasn’t had to awkwardly turn down an invite to a wicker man burning in centuries, and while such spectacles weren’t to his taste, he appreciated the craftsmanship effort.  Takes a lot of work, weaving all those sticks together.

Anyways, none of these workers are getting paid a proper wage, and the level of hubris going into building the Titanic is terribly obnoxious.  Crowley can’t help but capitalize on the contractors’ greed.  This gaudy hunk of metal will rust through within a year because they’d rather pocket the few extra pounds they might have spent for better steel and rivets.  Strange, the things men will sacrifice in the pursuit of wealth accumulation.

(He will feel quite badly about the boat later on though, and as usual it’s the poorest among them that will suffer the most.  But who the hell would have anticipated a bloody iceberg to the hull? Why would God put that there? He still takes credit for it of course, but it does leave an awful taste in his mouth.)

Crowley’s in the middle of walking to his flat in sailortown when he feels that Aziraphale-shaped-spot in his mind burn suddenly bright with anxiety.  His steps stutter along the path, Crowley waits to see if the sense abates. It doesn’t, and Crowley doesn’t even think-- not about the consequences, or what excuse he’ll use later if this gets on the demonic radar and Crowley ends up audited-- he spreads his wings right there in the shadows lining the docks of  Harland and Wolff shipyard, and soars upward into the night.

Demons can, in a way, bend space and time around themselves if the occasion calls, but it takes a level of commitment and concentration that most demons--to be honest--simply can’t be bothered to harness.  At the heart of it, angels and demons are beings that don’t strictly adhere to the rules of reality, but some things take effort to negotiate while wearing a corporeal form. Making the trip from Belfast to London in ten seconds, instead of ten hours, is one of those negotiations.  

Crowley gets the destination right, doesn’t even end up on top of mount Nannapurna unlike last time he tried this.  But he does get discombobulated and ends up plummeting arse over tit through the roof of Aziraphale’s bookshop-- lands right in his little upstairs bedroom next to a signed copy of The Celestial Omnibus by E.M. Forster, and a half-drunk cup of cocoa.  Black feathers litter the bed, and Crowley resists the impulse to sniff Aziraphale’s pillow.

He can barely hear anything through the ringing in his ears from the pressure pop, his suit is all sullied and ripped in spots, his glasses are nowhere to be seen, but he’s aware enough to pick up the register of Aziraphale’s voice-- how it grows more strident with every word, the way it does when he’s quite upset over something.  It’s enough to get Crowley out of the bed, shake away the residual disorientation, and go thundering downstairs like a mad man. Frankly, he doesn’t understand how anyone harassing the angel hasn’t already heard him coming, what with the new hole through the ceiling.

Two men are stuffing their bags with books from the glass case which houses Aziraphale’s most prized editions.  The last fellow has a knife pointing back and forth between Aziraphale’s lovely head, and the till-- which Crowley knows from personal experience is mostly filled with outdated coinage, Peach Blossom sweets that never grow sticky or stale despite the London humidity, and an odd assortment of colorful buttons that Aziraphale can’t seem to part with.  This appears to be precisely what Aziraphale is trying to explain and can’t comprehend why this ill-mannered thief won’t just believe him.  

The man makes the extreme misstep of snatching a hand into Aziraphale’s collar, half-dragging him over the countertop, and then Crowley has to summon hellfire into the palms of his hands.  Crowley has to go all frayed at the nerves when Aziraphale’s eyes go wide and he emits a surprised sound when the knife’s blade is set low against his throat.

“Open the till daffy, s’your final warning!”

“Seriously?” Crowley mutters indignantly, then, “Oi, mate!” Crowley says, much louder this time, now deeply and personally offended, “Hands off the angel!”

Aziraphale is the first to look, expression switching quickly between confusion, to fondness, to confusion again-- which is fair seeing as how Crowley is standing at the landing with wings at full extension, fists wreathed in fire, and inexplicably covered in building materials.

“Crowley!” Aziraphale says, and Crowley’s name sounds like sunlight in his mouth, makes something in Crowley’s chest ache to hear it again.  Aziraphale appears suddenly unconcerned with the way he’s bent over the table with a knife to his jugular, “What are you doing here, I thought you were taking Belfast this time.”

“Finished early. I was in the neighborhood,” Crowley lies, “thought I’d pay my oldest adversary a visit.  Looks exactly the right time for it, too. Thought I told you to keep the doors locked after hours.”

“Pardon?” Aziraphale asks, then glances across the table at his would-be-robbers, their jaws dropped open and gaping in fear at the demonic vision before them.  One man appears to be shaking, the others look like they’d topple over if Crowley as much as breathed in their direction.

“Oh, I haven’t asked their names.”  He raises a brow and half-whispers to Crowley, “They’re rather rude customers, actually.”

“Cust-- no, Aziraphale, these idiots are here to rob and murder you.”  How is it that Aziraphale is a trained soldier, been on Earth this long, and still not making these important distinctions?  Crowley was in celestial design, about as artsy-fartsy as you can get, and still knows a gobshite at first glance . Perhaps there is something about imagination that creates an awareness of every hidden angle.  Soldiers are made to follow orders, and artists are inherently insurrectionist.

This is.. This is really beside the point.

“Just look at what they’re doing to my original Sappho volume and--” Aziraphale’s eyes travel down the length of Crowley’s body, “Why are you covered in plaster?”

“S’nothing,” Crowley says, shaking his wings out a bit and grimacing when he accidentally knocks over some bits and bobs set atop a desk, and sends them smashing to the floor. “Crashed through your roof, is all.”

“Through my roof?”

Crowley throws his hands in the air, fire sizzling past his ears as he lets them fall heavily back to his sides in exasperation.  “Yes, well, I was coming to keep you from getting discorporated by a bunch of amateurs!”

“You said you were just coming in for a visit.”

“I’m a liar!” Crowley shouts back, “you know this about me!” and hopes a temper tantrum will keep Crowley from having to say out loud that he always senses Aziraphale, and this is why he so often is conspicuously present in situations such as these.  

“Can s-s-ssomeone,” the man holding the knife stutters out, “t-t-tell me what the h-h- hell is going on!” He is beginning to look like someone on the verge of a mental spiral, blinking repetitively as if hoping to open his eyes one of these times and find a regular man in front of him.

Crowley says, “Shut up,” at the same time Aziraphale says, “Ex cuse me, we are talking ,” then, “actually if you three wouldn’t mind unhanding, er, everything, and--”

“LEAVE,” Crowley finishes dramatically, flourishing the word with a touch of demonic bass so that the command rattles the hinges, and sends the men screaming out the door.

“Oh dear, that might have been a bit much,” Aziraphale murmurs, catching his balance and straightening his silly bow-tie. “I hope they don’t tell anyone about.. Well..  ” he winces as Crowley shakes his hands at his sides to extinguish the fire cradled in his palms. “I’d hate for the police to get involved, or worse, the Evangelicals.  It’d be like 1693 all over again.”

“Right, and what exactly would they say?  ‘We were out for a bit of a robbery you see, when a very handsome demon with black wings and fire-hands came in and yelled at us until we ran off,’” Crowley mimics in an impeccable Essex accent.  He clears his throat and points upstairs. “The roof was an accident though.”

“That’s all right,” Aziraphale says, the fondness in voice returning, “you saved me a miracle by chasing the scoundrels away.”  He snaps his fingers, and Crowley fights off a shiver as holy energy courses past him. “There, that ought to mend it.”

He walks over and tilts his head curiously at Crowley’s wings, “Haven’t seen those in awhile.  They always did catch in the light,” he says, and to Crowley’s dismay, reaches out to stroke the length of a tertiary.  Crowley has to grit his teeth, tries to come up with something witty and obnoxious to say, because really..   Does he need to trace the vein of a feather like the spine of one of his books?

Instead, what comes out, is, “ Hhhh,” in a mortifying exhale that doesn’t sound remotely close to anything resembling exasperation.

Aziraphale’s gaze flicks up to Crowley’s face, bewildered at the sound.

“Crowley..” he says softly.

“It isn’t what you think!” Crowley blurts, and dies.

“What? No, it’s just--”  he chews the corner of his mouth a moment before reaching up with the same finger to press a sore spot along his hairline.  “You’re bleeding, Crowley,” he murmurs, and the gentle touch is enough to fuel Crowley, easily, for another century.

Aziraphale looks over his shoulder, purses his lips, and it’s all Crowley can do to keep himself from leaning into it when the angel cups a hand over Crowley’s cheek to steady him, as his thumb caresses a path over broken flesh.

Only Crowley does lean in, just a little bit, because he’s an idiot-- there at the end when he feels the warm pulse of Aziraphale’s divinity stitching cells back together.  He can’t help it, there’s something terribly intimate and taboo about the act that neither of them can afford to examine.  Crowley’s a demon, this sort of angelic intervention shouldn’t even function on him because one has to be receptive in order for it to happen.  It ought to be like two same poles of magnets meeting, one repelling the other.  

Whatever it is, Aziraphale must feel it too, because his breath catches.  His touch lingers on Crowley. “I didn’t think that would work,” he whispers, swallowing, slowly lowering his hands.  He forces a laugh, balls his hands into fists. “So easily damaged, these bodies.”

For a moment neither one of them move, and that moment stretches, becomes charged-- or perhaps it’s only Crowley projecting, because Aziraphale blinks and says brightly, “I was gifted a few bottles of ouzo from Cyprian monks a few centuries ago, you don’t reckon it’s turned do you?”

“I-- djsskpff,” Crowley hates himself for the false start, but recovers.  “Who cares, let’s pour it and see,” Crowley says, and Please just love me, Crowley thinks.

Aziraphale smiles and Crowley wants to grab Aziraphale’s hands and press them back into place.  Crowley wants to tear the angel apart. He wants to drag Aziraphale into the shadows where he absolutely does not belong, and Crowley wants to be drawn out into the light where he simply isn’t allowed.  Every desire is desperately intertwined.

 

---

 

For a moment he thinks Aziraphale wants to say something that might make Crowley implode. He sees the words catch, just there, between his throat and his mouth and the tip of his tongue.  Crowley braces for it, whatever it is, because ever since he opened his car door to find Aziraphale in his passenger seat, clutching a thermos of the most caustic Holy Water-- he’s felt like part of this conversation has been happening in subtext.

He offers Aziraphale a ride home, a ride anywhere, only partly out of politeness, mostly out of liking the idea of sitting next to Aziraphale for extended periods of time.  They’ll disagree over music, and Aziraphale might even fumble a hand over to Crowley’s shoulder when he takes a corner too sharply and--

Aziraphale says in the most loaded way possible, “You go too fast for me, Crowley,”  and Crowley’s brain screeches to a halt.

It doesn’t start again until several hours later. He’s back at his flat, in the middle of thoughtlessly tending his fledgling Cannabis Indica that he bought from a man in a very colorful shirt in a Brunel alley which smelled vaguely of piss, when Aziraphale’s ambiguous implication roars onto the scene.  

The mister falls from Crowley’s hand and onto the floor, little droplets spread across the laquer, and he shouts to the empty--sans plantlife--room, “WHAT IN HEAVEN DOES THAT MEAN?!  Just-- what!” He picks up a pot of African violets and they begin shuddering, “Too fast?”  Crowley asks them, shaking them up the same way he, himself, always feels shaken up around Aziraphale.

“We’ve known each other 6,000 years, too fast for what?  Eye-contact?”   He goes through a few odd vocalizations, consonants and vowels that don’t blend, don’t make sense, and never land on the right word.  “Does that--” he starts, makes eye-contact with little yellow stamens whispers conspiratorially, “Does that mean he likes me, you think?  I mean, sure it’s complicated. I’m still trying to figure it all out myself, but…   Look, I’m making an effort here, and you’re just sitting there quivering at me.”

“You really are shit at this,” he grumbles judgmentally to the violets, but also to himself.

The violets only shrink and offer no answer.

 

---

 

The new millennium is upon them, and the humans have gotten better at ringing in the new year over the centuries.  They’ve all sorts of concerts and pyrotechnics, and drinking-- mostly just a lot of drinking--planned. A few of them will sleep with someone inappropriate and experience an existential crisis in the morning that will lead them to a life of enlightenment.  And the rest will get alcohol poisoning, lose a shoe, and accidentally step in front of a bus. Something along that ratio. But that’s par for the course with humans. Not one of them were around for the other millennia, so it always seems rather novel to them all.  

Crowley has plans as well.  He watched all the Terminator movies a few years ago and became fixated on the premise for a stretch of time.  Not so much the apocalyptic part-- that will come later, some day, a few more millennia from now hopefully--but the whole using computers to bring down society bit.  That’d be a fun change of pace, rather than using computers to build games which pose as thinly veiled metaphors for the trials of life (Crowley never did beat The Oregon Trail) and also to look at highly disturbing pornographic content, which is really why this is something they’ve earned.

Some subsects of humans really do deserve to be oppressed for some of the stuff they come up with, and a growing number of them are strange men, with bad moisturizing routines, who hide behind computer screens.  In fact, Crowley had panicked and melted his computer the first time he got curious, and never made the mistake again-- which is saying a lot because Crowley was there during Caligula, and humans are just messed up in the head, sometimes.  About sex. Specifically. Perhaps it’s because their lifespans are so brief, and their minds so mercurial, that they don’t have time to really digest the scope of intimacy.  Crowley sometimes wishes his own desire was as inconstant. Gets so tiring, all the yearning he does for Aziraphale.

That’s beside the point, and no one's fucking business thank you very much.  

Downstairs has been less than subtle about reaping discord from another big project since Crowley’s stroke of genius with the M25 orbital.  He’s honestly been riding on that since ‘86 so he figures he owes Hell something decent enough to propel him through the next couple decades.  

He spreads a rumor about a little thing he calls the Y2K bug, and how it’s going to result in society-ending computer glitches, formatting errors whatever the fuck.  He doesn’t even know what formatting means for a computer, actually, but the rumor gains traction. Paranoia ferments. As usual, there’s an entire group of science-denying-morons with the numbers to be loud and obnoxious enough to keep the conspiracy moving.  

Course Crowley doesn’t intend to bring down the grid, that would mess up Crowley’s plans later in the week.  The Y2K bug isn’t even a bug, really, not in the way they mean when smart people say it. Crowley sort of just planned on… jumping on in there and scrambling a few things up. Make enough of a mess to get eyes off of him, so he can get back to his nefarious-adjacent ways and that’s the plan.

It’s the plan until his phone rings.

“Hello?”

“Crowley,” Aziraphale says, “is that you?”

“No, it’s Britney Spears,” Crowley snarks, flopping backward onto the sofa and twisting a piece of hair around a finger.

“Oh, sorry to disturb you Miss Spears, but could you put Crowley on the phone, I--”

“Of course it’s me you nutter, what do you want?  Is there something wrong?”

“Wrong? No, no.  I was just wondering if you had plans for new year?”

“Yeah, for sure,” Crowley says, “loads of plans. Loads and loads.”

“Ah, I see,” and Crowley immediately picks up Aziraphale’s tone of disappointment, so before he can think about it, he’s saying--

“But it’s nothing I can’t cancel.  For… you know. Something better,” he finishes lamely.

“Well, I’m not sure if it’s better.  But I’ve closed shop for the night, and SoHo gets so loud during new year, and I’d bring the champagne if you wanted to..”   He trails off, and Crowley smiles up at the ceiling.

“So, let me get this straight.  You rung me up, to ask me if I would ask you over for New Years Eve?”

“Oh dear, is that rude?”

Aziraphale knows it’s rude, he also knows that Crowley knows that Aziraphale knows it’s rude, and he knows that Crowley simply will not call him out on it.  He really is God’s greatest creation.

“Angel,” Crowley says, saying it slow enough that it comes out just the right amount of put-upon, “would you like to come over to mine, and watch the ball drop for new year?”

“Yes, I’ll bring the champagne.”

“I’ll order thai,” Crowley offers.

“Fantastic! See you later, alligator,”  Aziraphale says.

“Please never say that again,” Crowley says back.

“No, no, you’re not doing it right. You’re supposed to reply ‘After while cr--”

Crowey does actually have to hang up on him for it.

 

He feels Aziraphale’s presence before he actually sees the angel-- a quickening that starts in his chest and works its way into the tips of his fingers, a not-unpleasant prickle of static at the back of his neck.  Aziraphale has this scent that clings to him, something coded into the divine energy harnessed within his corporeal form. There isn’t really an earthly equivalent to it, a sensory evocation more than a fragrance, something reminiscent of the first waft of air when opening the door to a quaint little bakery that you’ve found off the beaten path.  That’s what joy smells like, and that’s what Aziraphale smells like, and the two are one and the same for Crowley.

This is also why Crowley has to reign in the compulsion to lean down and stick his nose in the crook of Aziraphale’s neck to inhale all the inherent goodness of him, when he opens the door.

“Perfect weather for fireworks,” Aziraphale says and smiles-- one of those closed-lipped things that turns his mouth into the shape of a small, pink heart, and makes Crowley want to scream with the unfairness of it all. “Happy almost new year, by the way.”

“Get in before someone sees you,” Crowley stands aside so Aziraphale can pass.  

He’s clutching a bottle of PERRIER-JOUËT BLASON ROSÉ in front of himself, and Crowley nods him toward the kitchen so he can make a plate and put the champagne on ice.  

“It’s a nice flat,” Aziraphale says, sort of non-committal about it.

“Nice?”

“Well, it is a bit… sparse.”

“It’s minimalist,” Crowley explains, and doesn’t go into the living arrangements in Hell-- how dark and claustrophobic it is.  How it’s never feeling alone, but in the worst way possible. Every demon shoulder to shoulder, loud and pushing and in each other’s way, and the floor is always damp.  

“Now these are lovely!” Aziraphale exclaims, as they pass through the greenroom.  “Aren’t you simply luscious!”

“Are you mad? Don’t let them hear you say things like that, they’ll come to expect it!”

But Aziraphale is already examining the leaves of a fiddle leaf fig and cooing at it, “So green, you’re doing such a wonderful job, darling.  Keep up the good work, all of you.” The plants all seem to be straining and turning toward Aziraphale like each of them are sunflowers starved for light.  The jasmine vine actually tries brushing up against Aziraphale’s cheek and he blushes, says, “Oh, you,” all indulgent and sweet-like.  It leaves a fragrant white blossom behind his ear.

Thank you,” Aziraphale says sincerely, and Crowley glares openly at the traitors.  “That’s very kind of you.” His smile really is a beacon of otherworldly radiance.  An orchid blooms on the spot, the epiphyte whore.

Crowley finds himself growing profoundly jealous of his own house plants.

He grabs Aziraphale by the elbow and points down the hall, “Stick that on ice, will you,” he directs, and as soon as his back is turned, Crowley points a finger right at the jasmine vine, and threatens, “We will have words later.”

It’s nearly midnight, and they certainly didn’t wait on the toast to start drinking.  They’re both definitely sloshed, Crowley’s S’s are beginning to go on too long, Aziraphale’s posture has finally loosened and he’s sunk down against Crowley’s Very Expensive Sofa, flushed at the tips of his ears.  Occasionally, his knee bumps up against Crowley’s knee which shouldn’t feel exciting, but it does. It would be beyond a catastrophe if Hell rung him right now.  It’s rare that Aziraphale takes up space in Crowley’s territory. The Forces of Hell are naturally predisposed to suspicion and mistrust, they run a greater risk of being discovered here.

But later, Crowley will be able to bury his nose in the throw pillow that Aziraphale is hugging to his chest and pretend, for a moment, that he has everything he wants.

He's too drunk to be having these thoughts.  Crowley gets emotional when he drinks. He’ll need to watch himself.

First it was scotch, then it was something Aziraphale insisted on mixing up that definitely tasted far too sweet and not at all to Crowley’s liking.  He drank it anyway, of course, then lied about liking it because it made Aziraphale happy. And Crowley would do pretty much anything for Aziraphale to smile at him.  Even if it means drinking something called a Ruby Relaxer that Aziraphale originally experienced at a Ruby Tuesday’s in Pensacola in 1994.  There was a lack of finer dining, and Crowley was the one who insisted on pulling over to watch the World Cup finals.  (Horrible entrees. Decent salad bar, though, if you’re into a sort of trough experience.)

“Oh, it’s started!” Aziraphale says when the countdown begins, hurriedly reaching for the champagne flutes and passing one to Crowley.  Crowley downs it like a shot, and pours another glass before they’ve reached the seven second mark. Aziraphale watches the telly, and Crowley watches Aziraphale and the way his mouth moves around the numbers.

“Six… five… four..” Aziraphale counts, eyes bright and glassy from the alcohol, excited for something so mundane, and making Crowley want, very much, to be under his hands.  “Three.. two… one… Happy New Year!” Aziraphale exalts.

“Happyblahblahblah,” Crowley grumbles, “Cheers, angel, welcome to another millennia,” and goes to clink their glasses together.

Only Aziraphale doesn’t have a glass in his hand anymore, he has the front of Crowley’s shirt, and Crowley has all of half a second to brace himself before Aziraphale presses their mouths together.

For a moment:  Shock. Neither of them move-- Crowley doesn’t even have the wherewithal to shut his eyes, or kiss back, or take advantage of the moment in all the ways he’s dreamed of.  Aziraphale’s lips are unmoving, puckered ever so slightly, and some distant part of Crowley registers the taste of peach schnapps.  

Aziraphale huffs through his nose, lets loose a tipsy giggle that buzzes against Crowley’s lips, and it’s all very.. well.. innocent, really.  Aside from the way Crowley’s heart has begun ratcheting away inside his chest. That lasts for all of three beats of unnerving silence, then whether by accident or not, Aziraphale changes something-- the angle or the pressure, and the kiss becomes much more of a kiss, and much less than whatever it started as.

This time Crowley responds when Aziraphale’s lips part, ever so slightly-- and Aziraphale’s mouth is warm, ever so soft, softer than anything Crowley’s ever known. His grip on Crowley’s shirt turns less rigid, he starts crowding Crowley up against the arm of the sofa, pushing in and pulling toward almost imperceptibly, like he can’t quite settle and there’s an argument going on inside of his head that Crowley isn’t privy to.  

Crowley is painfully aware that this probably wouldn’t be happening if they weren’t both three sheets to the wind, but then he feels a hint of Aziraphale’s tongue graze his bottom lip and--

He drops the champagne.  The glass shatters to bits, the same way Crowley, right now, is shattering to bits when Aziraphale jerks backward, away, blinking rapidly.

“What,” Crowley is panting, and has no idea when that happened, “wasss that for?”

Aziraphale seems to be at a loss for words, expression unreadable like it never is. He licks his bottom lip, gestures vaguely at the telly were Auld Lang Syne is being blasted through a saxophone and couples are cheering and kissing one another.

“It-- it’s tradition.  Back in the Renaissance they thought it was a way of purifying one another from evil.  Clean slate and all that. Um.”

“Purifying evil,” Crowley says in monotone.

Aziraphale shrugs, “Did it work?”

“No Aziraphale,” Crowley says, voice gone shrill, “No, of course not,” and he’s frantically considering the merits of either jumping off the balcony or jumping on top of Aziraphale-- though he’s sure neither will get him the desired outcome, and both will end in Crowley exposing his own vulnerability.  And really, can there be anything worse? Vulnerability, that is, and having it seen.

“Sorry,” Aziraphale murmurs, sounding more sober than a moment ago. “It was terribly rude.  I didn’t even ask.”

“Don’t apologise,” Crowley says, then tries to smooth it over with a smirk and a lie, “hardly the most depraved thing I’ve been subjected to.”

This earns him a sharp look, a questioning eye, as Aziraphale reaches the wrong conclusion.

“Sorry,” he says again, hiccups, and appears to have no idea whatsoever that he’s completely life-ruining in this moment.  All ruffled hair, and rumpled clothes, and pink lips that Crowley is cursed forever now with the knowledge of how they feel parted, and gentled, and pressed against his own.

 

---

 

It isn’t the thought of the world ending, and heaven triumphing over evil, or the thought of his own destruction that upsets Crowley.  He was here before the world, before reality, and if he’s banished into oblivion, well, he wouldn’t care would he? That’s sort of the point of oblivion.  Course there’s no guarantee that would happen, he could just get locked away in Hell for all eternity.

And there it is, isn’t it?  The crux of it all. As awful as the idea of an endless existence in a crowded room seems, it’s nothing compared to the idea of being separated, permanently, from Aziraphale.  Oblivion would be better, he thinks, at least then he wouldn’t have to live with regret.

He thinks of the emptiness when he fell, and the great hole left behind when he realised he no longer could feel God’s Love. As excruciating as that had been, Crowley still managed to grow from it.  Losing Aziraphale would be nothing like that at all. Crowley could no more rend the fabric of his soul--as messy and as gnarled as it is--than endure being exiled from Aziraphale’s love.

Aziraphale does love him, in his own way.  The same way he loves books, and beetles, and chocolate trifle, and the way blades of grass sometimes grow through the cracks in the pavement.  He loves the image of the sea crashing over rocks, and he loves the man who runs the kebab shop on Drummond who always gives him extra portions.  He can’t help it, the angel is made from Love. Crowley’s feelings just happen to deviate in a very specific way, but he’s grown to accept it. It’s enough to be near him.   And this is why the world can’t end.

But they really do cock-up the whole antichrist bit. Not that Crowley intends on taking much blame for that either, it was the nuns who distributed the wrong babies.  Which is why they are here at the old convent that Crowley passed through not far back, and he’s just stressed out and frustrated and he doesn’t feel nice, not at all, and he loses himself a bit when Aziraphale actually calls him nice out loud.

It isn’t necessary to grab Aziraphale up and pin him to the wall, and it’s certainly unnecessary to go flush against him.  Their noses touch, Crowley holds him still with his hands and his hips, and nice is a four letter word, but so is love, and kiss, which is precisely what Crowley wants to do the instant Aziraphale’s eyes track down to Crowley’s mouth.  Why the fuck would he do that. He wants to hold Aziraphale here indefinitely, wants Aziraphale to say more nice things about him so he has an excuse to keep touching him.   It’d be easy, it’d be so easy to close the distance and it isn’t going to happen because--- SERIOUSLY,  THIS SAME NUN? This is a horrible day.

Later, in the Bentley, Crowley mutters, “Sorry I, er... pushed you.”

“That’s all right. Sorry I called you nice.”

“That’s all right.”

Aziraphale looks over at Crowley with his big, expressive eyes and says quietly, “Promise me we’ll save it.”

“You know I can’t.”

“I know,” Aziraphale says, “say it anyways.”  It isn’t easy for Aziraphale, he’s meant to be unconditionally obedient, but Crowley has seen the weight of uncertainty grow in his mind over the years.  Aziraphale knows what his defiance might cost in the end, and Crowley couldn’t bear to see him removed from God’s love.

“Yeah I promise,” Crowley mutters, meaning I promise I won’t let anything happen to you.

“Oh Crowley,” Aziraphale sighs like he heard it out loud anyways, and Crowley doesn’t know what that means . Aziraphale doesn’t explain, simply leans his head against the window, blonde wisps are smashed flat against the glass and he closes his eyes.  Bentley keeps trying to turn on Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car because it’s stuck in Crowley’s head, and he can’t deal with this too, right now. The sun passing through the Sussex trees cast shadows that belt greedily over Aziraphale’s body in great black slurs.  It’s all Crowley can do to keep from reaching over in a futile attempt to wipe them away.

 

---

 

He feels it the second Aziraphale’s light goes out.  There and gone, just like that, and Crowley doubles over as it rips through him.

“No,” Crowley says to no one, voice strange and unfamiliar, “I don’t believe it.  I don’t. He can’t be--” he throws on his jacket, digs around frantically for his keys, cursing God the entire time.  “You fuck-- you glob of omnipotent SLUDGE! I know you can hear me, you hear everything. I swear to You, if they’ve destroyed him, I’ll--I’ll.  Oh, You won’t like it! How could You let this happen!  I promised--”   this goes on all the way to SoHo.  Once he’s started, he can’t seem to stop yelling at God.  

“You have really BAD ideas, you know that?  Complete shite. Kangaroos. Florida.  Putting perfectly good angels on Earth, and letting me-- oh! You saw this coming, didn’t You!  Six thousand years, and You’re still not finished punishing me, yet?  Is that SMOKE?” Crowley screams as he turns toward the bookshop, “That better not be smoke You ineffable bitch-- I don’t mean that in the misogynistic way,” Crowley qualifies, because there’s really no excuse for it, “I mean it in the way that you’re absolutely horrible, right?  Goddamnit, will you look at that, the place is on fire.  You’ve taken all his books!  Is nothing sacred? You’re just going to take all of it then-- the Earth, and Your children, and everything that’s kind and decent and just burn it to the ground.  Some Mother you are.  Y’know, at least Satan doesn’t try and pretend like he isn’t an arsehole.

He keeps screaming once he’s made it inside the inferno of Aziraphale’s bookshop, keeps at it until it feels like the rage has hollowed him out, and left only the grief.  Everything that meant anything has been ripped out from underneath his feet, and left him freefalling into nothingness. Crowley didn’t even get to say good-bye. Things Were Said, things Crowley didn’t mean, not at all. He only really liked the world because it had Aziraphale in it, and without him, Crowley’s world is gone.  

He doesn’t care anymore, he’s done .  Let it all end, see if he gives a toss.  Crowley isn’t going to raise a finger to help any of them.  He starts drinking to see if that’ll help push out the intrusive thoughts that won’t stop flooding his brain.  He knows Heaven doesn’t simply cast out their traitors anymore, they burn them in hellfire. Destroys them, the same way Crowley destroyed Ligur, and was Aziraphale frightened?  He must have been so scared, it must have hurt, surrounded only by hostility and no one there that loved him.

Crowley puts his head in his hands and starts crying.  He should have just kidnapped Aziraphale and taken him to Alpha Centauri.  Sure he would have hated Crowley for it for the rest of eternity, but at least he’d still exist, and damn it!  That’s just SO like Aziraphale.  Why did he have to be so damn stubborn, why did he have to go and leave Crowley all alone?   What’s Crowley supposed to do with all of… all of this?   All of this leftover love-- where’s he supposed to put it now?  

He’s in the middle of wondering this, in the middle of feeling more sorry for himself than Crowley’s ever felt, when, against all odds-- the world starts again.

 

---

 

The bus ride back to Crowley’s flat is mostly silent, which really seems appropriate, Crowley supposes.  It’s been a long day, full of fear, and grief, beloved cars burning, beloved bookshops burning, whiplashing right back into relief and hope-- then confusion with a tint of dread.  Crowley stopped time for a moment and set them in a pocket dimension because Aziraphale really is the best at ultimatums, and that sort of thing takes the wind out of you.

They did see literal Satan himself burst out of a tarmac, not exactly a common occurrence.  Very large, and red, and half naked in front of a bunch of kids. Bit skeevy, that. And by morning they’ll need to figure out how to save each other from the agents of Heaven and Hell, for their part in fucking up the apocalypse.  And also for the none-too-small matter of Crowley’s and Aziraphale’s forbidden alliance with one another. There’s a lot to unpack.

Crowley really will never understand how God can allow such absurd drama, then behave as if everything is entirely disposable.  What’s the point in that?

Aziraphale dozes off on the ride home, his head resting heavily on Crowley’s shoulder, every once in awhile he twitches or lets out a quiet snore and Crowley’s heart threatens to give out each time.  He looks so peaceful like that, snuffled down, his hair tickling underneath Crowley’s chin. Crowley almost has the bus operator take another lap around London, but thinks better of it. They still have to figure out how to stay alive tomorrow, and Aziraphale is the clever one, even if Crowley is beginning to suspect they might both be very, very dumb about some things.

“Wake up, angel,” Crowley murmurs, patting Aziraphale’s thigh, “we’re here.”

Aziraphale blinks drowsily, and says, inexplicably, “Yes, I believe I am.”

He follows closely behind Crowley up the stairs, keeps the hem of Crowley’s suit jacket pinched between his fingers. He’s still silent for the most part, enough to worry Crowley.  Aziraphale is usually such a chatterbox. Bit maddening, really, Crowley can feel him breathing down the back of his neck, making it hard to think straight.

They finally make it upstairs, and Crowley makes a mental note to steer Aziraphale away from the office until he has enough time to flat mop Ligur off the floor.  Melted demon isn’t really a part of the aesthetic he’s worked so hard to cultivate. Crowley closes and locks the door.

“Home, sweet home,” he looks over at Aziraphale who has gone tense beside him, his typically prim and pleasant expression turned deeply contemplative, determined--perhaps a bit hungry. For what, exactly, Crowley isn’t certain. Maybe they should have stopped for a kebab or something?  Aziraphale is always happier after a meal. Or.. no. There’s something in his eyes that Crowley can’t quite parse, has only ever caught it in fleeting glimpses that Aziraphale schooled away as soon as he was aware he was being watched.

“Angel?” Crowley shifts and averts his eyes, at a loss. “Have I done something wrong?”

Aziraphale’s eyes soften immediately, and he murmurs, “No, no it’s just..” and then he’s exhaling harshly, grabbing Crowley by the hips, and pushing his back into the door with a bump.  Aziraphale goes up on his toes, and a split second before it happens, it registers in Crowley’s brain what exactly Aziraphale is about to do-- and then they’re kissing.  

Crowley’s eyes shut helplessly.  He follows Aziraphale down as he goes back to flat feet, their lips never parting.  For a moment it’s just that, Aziraphale’s verygoodsoftmouth against Crowley’s, the sweet smell of him intoxicatingly present in Crowley’s nostrils, frozen together.  

Aziraphale’s fingers tighten over Crowley’s hip bones, and finally he moves, thankfully, because Crowley is too afraid to move.  Afraid if he allows even the barest margin between them, that Aziraphale will come to his senses, this moment will end, and there may never be another like it.  Better to be stuck like this forever, operating on some plane that may or may not be reality--Crowley hasn’t figured it out yet.

“I know you want to, Crowley,” Aziraphale whispers against his lips, “You want this. I can feel it.”

He nudges his nose against Crowley’s, kisses his mouth open and tentatively licks in.  At the first touch of their tongues together, Crowley’s brain abruptly catches up with his body, one crashing into the other and shitshitshitholyshitthisishappening!

Aziraphale gasps something that might have been Crowley’s name, but he’ll never know, because right now Crowley has to kiss Aziraphale back.  Right now, Crowley has to groan into this long-awaited, much desired kiss, and then it’s open palms and fingers and touching-- Crowley tangling with Aziraphale as they try cup the other’s face, ribs, back up to face, groping blindly for any tender spot in which empty hands can find purchase.

They end up taking turns after Aziraphale says, “Wait-- just let me--” all breathless and gorgeous.  “Need you to take these damn things off,” he mutters, touching the arm of Crowley’s sunglasses, then just pulls them off himself.  Aziraphale throws them somewhere, doesn’t matter where, and gets his hands tangled up in Crowley’s hair.

“Like this?”  he asks, kissing Crowley over and over.  “Is this the right way?”

“Ngh,” Crowley offers unintelligibly, “I don’t-- don’t know. Maybe. Keep going.” Because it seems impossible that something as simple as two mouths pressed together could make you feel this good. Not like this-- not like Crowley might shake apart at the seams and be re-made between one breath and the next.  Or maybe that’s what it’s like just kissing Aziraphale.

Crowley digs all ten fingers into Aziraphale’s coat to pull him closer, before thinking better of it and shoving the whole damn thing off his shoulders, down his wrists, onto the floor.  Aziraphale lets it happen, helps shrug it off while Crowley goes to work on the buttons of the waistcoat. He’ll make it better if it gets wrinkled, he will, just--wait a second.

“Angel,” Crowley manages, muffled between kisses, “please mmf… don’t tell me...you’re trying to-- ah! Purge the evil out of me again.”

“Nn--no,” Aziraphale answers, voice not much more than gravel, “No, I like you just the way you are.”

Crowley melts.  “Do you mean that?”

Aziraphale nods, resettles under Crowley’s jaw and nips down-- not enough to hurt, but enough to make Crowley emit some sound at a frequency only dolphins, and maybe bats can hear.  High and unfamiliar, and under any other circumstances it would be embarrassing, but it only seems to make Aziraphale peel away long enough to say, “What? Really?” as if he can’t believe he’s responsible for pulling such a noise from Crowley, before he leans in and does it again.

“You need--” Crowley says, “we should really,” he has no idea what he’s trying to suggest, every time their mouths come back together he loses his train of thought.  “BED! That’s it!” he shouts triumphantly, then forgets again the instant Aziraphale bullies him back up against the door.

They’re straining together, both hard and needy and they can’t stop moving against each other.  Aziraphale throws out his hands, grabs either side of the frame to steady them against Crowley’s constant writhing. He rather thought he might be more elegant about this, but it seems sincere enthusiasm does not exactly come with anything resembling nuance or technique.  

“Right, bed,” Aziraphale breathes out, tries to move away, but only makes it half a step before he’s got Crowley pinned six centimetres to the left from where they started.

Crowley,” he whines, “I can’t get close enough,” sounding a little panicked and desperate, hands smearing frenetic patterns against Crowley skin like he might merge them into oneness this way.

“Me neither,” Crowley admits.  If it were up to him, Crowley would have been spread across the nearest flat surface with Aziraphale inside him by now-slash-six millennia ago.

It is awful though, and he understands better than Aziraphale can imagine-- the sense of bone-deep yearning that never never never goes away.  It only grows deeper deeper deeper, becomes inextricable to the point of sickness. It’s a horrible thing, to be finite, and been created with the capacity to feel so much.  God should not have built them with such discrepancy, made them need for love, and long for wholeness, then left them to their own devices.

They make it to Crowley’s bedroom, somehow, leaving behind a mess of clothes and shoes and Crowley’s belt jingles as Aziraphale slides it through the loops and throws it away.  It skids across the coffee table and knocks the remote onto the floor. Aziraphale’s bow tie ends up tossed and draped over an ikea table lamp. He laughs nervously when Crowley attacks his shirt buttons with the single-minded focus of someone who has waited six thousand years to get anywhere resembling first base.  Aziraphale is soft everywhere Crowley touches, so very unlike himself-- made up of all unforgiving angles and sharp bones, but Aziraphale doesn’t seem concerned about that at all. His breath catches every time a new strip of skin is revealed, can’t seem to be able to tolerate pulling his hands off of Crowley for more than a moment in order to divest him of his shirt.  He puts his mouth against Crowley’s collarbone and inhales, fits his fingers into the ruts between his ribs, gathers them together chest to chest.

Once they get into the bedroom, Aziraphale topples Crowley flat on his back and climbs over him.  He makes room for Crowley’s hands as they shove at his trousers, holds himself up enough to wriggle out of them while Crowley does the same.  They’re so frantic and heedless about it, that it’s insanely shocking when their bodies, fully unclothed, make contact.  Aziraphale inhales sharply, Crowley’s breath shatters into an exhale, and they go still. Except for the shiver that travels over Crowley’s body, and the wild stuttering of their hearts, they do not move. Aziraphale stares down at Crowley like he’s witnessed the most incredible miracle, eyes wide and stunned, pupils blown black with only a barely visible outline of the softest blue-green.

Crowley has thought, over the years, about how it might happen if he and Aziraphale were ever to finally collide this way. He’s thought about it A Lot, staged it in his head.  In the privacy of his thoughts, bed, shower, the Bentley. (But that was only once , after Crowley had gotten roped into helping assemble a bookshelf.  He was forced to watch as Aziraphale undid his tie, the top two buttons of his shirt, and rolled up his sleeves as he sat on the floor staring in confusion at a set of hex keys-- and Crowley stood there transfixed by his bare forearms.  It had the effect of driving Crowley so dumb with lust that he had to retire to his car for a stern reprimand of his body’s faculties, and a period of deep contemplation about what constituted The Male Gaze. He’d gotten high with Laura Mulvey in 1975 and ended up in a five hour discussion on feminist driven critical theory, and was never quite the same afterward.)  

In his fantasies, Crowley was a lot more suave about the whole affair-- said the right things, teased just the right amount, and withheld enough of himself to remain safe from that wretched, wretched vulnerability.

But those were fantasies.  In reality, Crowley swallows thickly, and says, “I love you, you know,” guileless and defenseless against it, the way he’s always been.

“Yes, I know,” Aziraphale whispers, “I love you, too.”  The words come out so easily for him, but they would, wouldn’t they.  He breathes, he loves.

“In which way,” Crowley presses, because it needs clarifying.

“All of them,” Aziraphale says roughly, working a hand between them and wrapping it around where their cocks are blood hot and pressed together. “I suppose that’s one good thing about facing the Apocalypse; everything else seems manageable in comparison, really.”

Manageable, be still, my heart. I thought I was supposed to be the pragmatist, and you were the romantic,” Crowley teases, or tries to.  It’s difficult to sound unaffected in this position.

“Oh Crowley, if you wanted poetry all you had to do was say --”

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

“You make me ridiculous.” His mouth opens against Crowley’s throat, and he presses the words into his skin. “I am your friend. A soul for your soul. A place for your life. Home. Know this. Sun or water. Here or away. We are a lighthouse. We leave. And we stay.”

It’s not the longest bit of poetry Aziraphale has ever recited, not by a long shot, but it makes Crowley’s chest seize up with warmth.  

He sniffs. “Shaddup,” Crowley mumbles and feels Aziraphale smile against his pulse.

The hand bringing them into alignment moves, and Crowley groans, pulls Aziraphale down by the hair and kisses him until his lips feel bruised.  Aziraphale’s eyes are squeezed shut, he’s stopped kissing, and started panting. Crowley’s spine is beginning to arch, and he feels the thumb Aziraphale used to smear over the head of their cocks come away damp, and fuck.  Why are bodies always leaking?  They’re always leaking everywhere, it’s a terrible, terrible design flaw.

“Amazing,” Aziraphale says, when he twists his wrist and Crowley is just a dripping mess.  “I can’t believe I can make you do that. You’re brilliant, you’re so good.”

Nevermind, the leaking is fucking outstanding.

And it’s still not enough.  He aches for more and closer and Crowley feels like he might cry or scream or set something on fire, if he doesn’t get it.

The feeling must be mutual because Aziraphale breaks away, presses his forehead against Crowley’s.  His thumb strokes over the swell of Crowley’s bottom lip, and on impulse Crowley takes it into his mouth, sucks and bites tenderly against the pad.  Aziraphale shakes his head helplessly when Crowley releases it.

“That does something for me,” he admits.

This would be the perfect time for a vulgar comeback, but all Crowley can manage to blurt in the heat of the moment is, “Thanks.”

Aziraphale smiles his perfect sunlight smile and says, “You're welcome,” so earnestly, and opens his palm over the curve of Crowley’s neck, down his chest, slips his hand underneath his back to caress the space behind Crowley’s shoulder blade where a wing would be, traces down, down, down to the swell of his arse. His fingers rub, solicitous, implicative, against the inside crease of a thigh.  Crowley exhales unsteadily, spreads his legs a little father until his knees properly bracket Aziraphale’s hips.

Aziraphale presses up on his elbows, and starts to ask in a surprisingly calm tone of voice, “Would you mind if I--”

“Yes.”

“You don’t even know what you’re agreeing to,” Aziraphale says.  “I’m going to look very presumptuous if you’ve gotten it wrong.”

“Oh my G-- could you just get in me, already?”

He blushes and gives Crowley a considering once-over.  “Well I’ve never done this before, so it’s best to make sure all parties are enthusiastic. I read a book once that--”

“How long are you going to make me wait, Aziraphale ?” Crowley half-shouts, hands reaching up and firmly cupping either side of Aziraphale’s face until he has eye-contact.  “Must I beg for mercy first, because I--” He hears it in his own voice as it breaks off at the end, something so beyond impatience, something profoundly exposed at the middle, a sound that hurts too much to have been issued from him at all.  Aziraphale stares down at him, searches Crowley’s face, and Crowley has no idea what it must be saying to Aziraphale in this moment, what it is he must be reading there.

If there was any hesitancy in Aziraphale’s hands before, it’s snaps just like that.  The urgency to become wrapped up in one another, as closely as any two physical beings can be, is as present in Crowley’s hands in Aziraphale’s hair, as it is in Aziraphale’s teeth dug into Crowley’s shoulder.  

He collapses back onto Crowley, smears their bodies together, holds him down and kisses him hard and lovely and perfect.  Crowley knows he’s tapped into that well of arcane power, because he can feel the strange sting of it being channeled in proximity, flinches involuntarily when he feels the miracle land in a place miracles don’t typically land.  It’s not unpleasant, not any more than a quick go at a loose fuse can be unpleasant, but it’s enough to earn a double take from Aziraphale.  There’s something so addictive about being the center of his attention, in having all that formidable concern and stubborn focus directed at him.

“Sorry, m’sorry,” Aziraphale says, the words muffled against Crowley’s mouth in apology, “wasn’t sure what else to do.  I swear I’ll do this again properly, take my time, if we make it through tomorrow. I don’t want to hurt you.”

“Sss’fine,” Crowley breathes, “just a shock is all,” meaning both the miracle and the implicit understanding that the nature of their relationship has been irreversibly changed, and surely it can’t be this easy. But Aziraphale has always been one to commit completely to a course of action once he’s made up his mind.   A part of Crowley assumed he’d always be the one convincing Aziraphale that this was okay to want, if it happened at all.  And now that Crowley has everything, all he can imagine the ways he could fuck it up and lose it. Funny how that happens.

Crowley has seen sex in its many iterations and combinations, in its clumsiness and artistry, and  often in it’s horrifying, desperate intimacy. Seeing it, and receiving it, after such constant longing, are two separate entities. He understands it in the most visceral sense the moment Aziraphale gasps quietly against Crowley’s neck as he pushes inside him.  Crowley is glad for the flashes of discomfort when Aziraphale jerks forward a little too fast, the slick sound of invasion, their breaths growing ragged the deeper the penetration is felt. Crowley’s arms tighten over Aziraphale’s shoulders. Be here he tells himself, be here.   Because at any moment he feels he might lose his shape, collapse under the weight of his own love and need.

“You have no idea how good you--,” Aziraphale whispers, cuts himself off with small, tense noise, and scrapes his teeth over the column of Crowley’s throat.

“Oh,” Crowley says, voice small and honest, and it’s so hard, being both small and honest, after lifetimes of performative unaffectedness.  Demons can’t be honest, and angels can’t be weak, and it left no box into which Crowley could fit.

Aziraphale eases their lips together, brushes Crowley’s hair from his face. Gives him a brief, shy smile before Crowley has to blink and look away from the unbearable sweetness there.

“Don’t do that, darling,” Aziraphale says softly, “stay with me.”  And Crowley would give him anything he wanted, anything.

This is the Knowing, he thinks, when Aziraphale and his flesh and the insufferable beauty of him is sheathed fully within Crowley’s form.  He makes a broken sound, and Aziraphale’s hands hold tight onto Crowley like he’s holding so many precious things. He wonders if it’s like this for humans; the pleasure, of course, the feeling of friction and fullness and nerves coming alive-- but also the feeling of immenseness, of finding yourself suddenly so much greater than the sum of your parts.

Aziraphale’s hips move against him, the first few thrusts are shaky because Aziraphale is trembling, and something about that is more carnal than the actual literal fucking he’s doing.  Seems as if he’s trying, with great difficulty, to exercise restraint if his stilted breathing is anything to go by. Or maybe he’s nervous and overwhelmed too. Could be all of it. Crowley isn’t sure there’s ever been anyone in the span of the universe who has managed to work up as much history and tension as they have with each other, before finally doing something about it.  Neither of them can seem to get any words out to help direct one another, because it all feels so much. Aziraphale grabs for Crowley’s thigh, presses it up and out and holds it there.  He tips his head low onto Crowley’s chest, watches between them as he pulls away completely, and slides back in.

“Like this?” Aziraphale asks for the second time tonight, only this time it’s rhetorical because Aziraphale damn well knows he’s got it right now.  Why else would Crowley be pulling him in at the hips, and letting loose a series of abraded vowels. Why else would Aziraphale’s thrusts turn suddenly confident and fluid as they pick up in speed and intensity, enough to jostle Crowley up the bed.  Enough that Aziraphale’s lips pull back a little from his teeth as he fumbles a hand onto the moulded mahogany frame of the headboard, locks out his elbow to prevent himself from fucking Crowley into it.

Aziraphale seems to be hemorrhaging light, an ethereal glow pouring off of him and driving away the shadows clinging to the walls.  For a moment Crowley is worried he might discorporate them both, rend them into nonexistence in a blaze of righteous glory. But there is only that same wholesome warmth Aziraphale radiates, just magnified and swelling and wrapping around them both. This is the closest to God Crowley has ever felt, he thinks deliriously, since even before all the forsaking she did.  This love is tangible, knowable, Crowley understands why people go to war for this sort of love, write songs about it, die for it.

“This isn’t wrong,” Aziraphale murmurs roughly into Crowley’s ear, taking Crowley’s cock in hand and stroking it over and over.  “It can’t be. I’d feel it if it were.”

Crowley’s response to Aziraphale’s conviction is emphatic.  Aziraphale’s name is pulled from his throat, sounding so rubbed raw and frayed at the edges that the angel immediately wrenches his hand away for more neutral ground.  

He rubs soothingly over the length of Crowley’s thigh, asks, “All right?” His thrusts have slowed, but not stopped, and Crowley is quickly being reduced to all ache, and tremble, and the precarious nature of pressure right before it’s released.

“Oh,” Aziraphale says, when he understands what’s happening, and puts his hand back on Crowley’s stillfuckingleaking cock.  He pushes hard into Crowley, once, twice, again, and seems to be doing his best to make it happen.  

“Yes, come on, please Crowley,” and then, most egregiously to Crowley’s stamina, he mutters, “ fuck,” all overwhelmed and well, just... kind of just horny?   But also in love, and the combination of it all pulls that pressure taut. Crowley dangles between ecstasy and exquisite agony, every chemical and nerve ending becoming unstable.  For a moment all he hears is his own blood pounding in his ears, indistinguishable from Aziraphale’s laboured breaths, the rhythmic sound of their joining-- then it all just tips and oh, holy shit, that feels-- that feels.

Were they both not so limited in their skin, tethered by gravity, if Crowley weren’t a demon-- they would have risen up as beings of pure energy and Light, the cosmic particles of the universe endlessly dividing between them, and new stars would have been formed from such a joining.  

Crowley mourns what might have been if he had been able to think quietly, had he not been orphaned and cast aside, but there is nothing of God’s rejection to be found in Aziraphale’s embrace.  There is no cruelty or contempt, or their differences making the space between them impossibly great. There is only the love, the inviolable flaming heart of it, and loneliness is a distant memory.

Crowley’s aware he’s saying things involuntarily, maybe swearing or calling upon a Higher Authority, confessing his everlasting love and devotion to Aziraphale over and over.  His hands slip over the sheen of sweat down Aziraphale’s back, he can’t find anything to hold on to, is too dumb with pleasure to figure it out. Crowley’s entire body spasms, he’s vaguely aware of Aziraphale’s hands coming up to interlace with Crowley’s own, to pull them up over his head, still them from the flailing.   

Aziraphale makes a frantic sound when Crowley moans one last time, his muscles still contracting in aftershocks.  Thrusts turn short and erratic, Aziraphale has started shaking again. Crowley’s beginning to lose feeling in the tips of his fingers from how tightly Aziraphale is holding his hands.  Now that he knows how it happens for himself, Crowley can see it beginning to happen to Aziraphale too, how his body yearns for completion, and he tries tilting his tips a little, just so Aziraphale can lose himself that much deeper within his body.  

Aziraphale is almost quiet when he comes, he chokes out fractured vowels, Crowley’s name, and Crowley only panics a little when the radiance reaches peak brilliance and lights the room up like Griswold Family Christmas.  Crowley can’t see it happen, what with being blinded and all, but he hears the loud PHWOOMP! of wings being deployed. Hopefully no one is walking the street this time of night to see Aziraphale broadcasting his orgasm-- not for any other reason than this is everything and this is Crowley’s, he helped make that happen, and is just a little fucking proud of it.  God Herself could not emerge through the skylight this moment with Her Great Big Ineffable Foam Finger, point it at Crowley’s face, cheer Go Rangers!-- then claim to have done anything more remarkable, and more transcendentally beautiful, in all of existence.

Aziraphale, unaware of this internal narrative, and slowly dimming, releases his hold on Crowley’s hands and bites his lip when Crowley flexes his fingers to restore blood flow.

“Sorry, I might have, er… gotten carried away.”  His wings rise and fall gently in their low spread, bringing a little air circulation to the room which Crowley is grateful for.  It’s hard to think with Aziraphale’s scent lingering so compellingly in the air.

“Glowing,” Crowley says dumbly, holding up Aziraphale’s hand in front of his eyes in case Aziraphale hasn’t noticed.

Aziraphale hm’s mildly, as if this is of no consequence to him, picks a snow-white feather out of Crowley’s hair and devotes his attention to nudging Crowley onto his side.  He moulds himself against Crowley’s back, uses a wing to cover them. His fingers draw patterns up and down Crowley’s arm, his hip, he kisses the top notch of Crowley’s spine.

“You’re making me nervous,” he says quietly, “say something.”

Crowley swallows, muffles himself in a pillow, and humiliates himself by reciting poetry when the rest of him is speechless. If you gave me half a moon of a chance, I would kiss the incisors out of your mouth, clean and hold them in my own, like chippings from an old mug then pray my tongue into a bowl of holy water and ask god to never leave you thirsty.”

Stunned silence.

Aziraphale’s soft fingertips graze Crowley’s chin, turning and facing him seems impossible but Crowley manages to do it anyways--his scowl, to Aziraphale’s open adoration.

Don’t make it into a big deal,” Crowley says, getting in the first word before Aziraphale does anything else to make the exposition that much more unbearable.  He makes a gagging noise. “Oh my god, that’s really awkward, innit? How do you make it come out so natural?”

“You can quote that by heart?” Aziraphale asks, a little surprised. “You said you didn’t read.”

“Yeah well, shut up. You fuck like an incubus, but you don’t see me harping on about it.  We all do things out of character when oxytocin is involved.”

Aziraphale blinks.  Blinks again. His long eyelashes fluttering, and Crowley can see an epiphany lighting up behind his eyes.  “We do don’t we? Oh, Crowley, you’re a genius!

“And for the record I can read, I just don’t-- wait, I am?”

Aziraphale rolls back onto Crowley, wings a flapping disgraceful mess, brackets both hands over Crowley’s cheeks and kisses him hard.  “The prophecy, I know what we have to do!”

“Right, ‘kay,” Crowley says, lost.  “We… quote Warsan Shire until they leave us alone.  I don’t see how that’s helpful, honestly, unless we’re trying to expose them to the dangers of marginalisation?”

“What?  Nnn..no. I mean, maybe, that would solve a lot of problems, but.”  He seems to consider it a moment longer, then shakes his head and says, “Listen.”

 

---

 

Aziraphale is inside Crowley’s body again, but this time it’s weird because Crowley’s also inside of Aziraphale’s body and looking at Aziraphale inside of his body.  Seeing Aziraphale’s expressions pass across his own features is becoming a little surreal.  He isn’t sure he likes it. He’s accustomed to seeing his body with all its inherent inclinations and subjectivities, and now that Aziraphale is wearing it, it’s this visibly discernible shift from all the things that Crowley perceives in Aziraphale’s mannerisms, superimposed, and it’s really warping his brain right now.

Aziraphale wrings hands that aren’t his own in front of himself, shrugs self-consciously and says in Crowley’s voice, but at a higher register, “How do I look?”

“You look like you, but you’re me.”

“I know, odd isn’t it? Though I must admit, your scowl looks rather fetching on my face.”

Crowley points his finger at his body.  “ No , absolutely not, this is not allowed to awaken anything in you.”  Aziraphale sighs, takes a few steps toward him and Crowley cringes.  “For heaven’s sake angel, no one is going to believe you’re me walking about like you’ve got books stacked on your head.  Act better.”

“We could still die in a few hours, this plan might not work.”  He might be aiming for seductive, but it’s all wrong with Crowley’s eyes and the unassuming tone in which he says it.

Crowley laughs in disbelief and folds his-slash-Aziraphale’s arms in front of his chest.  “Really? That’s your angle?”

“You know,” Aziraphale says consideringly, “you’re a lot more vanilla than I thought you’d be.  It really is charming.”

Crowley sputters defiantly.  “You can’t-- you can’t just say things!  With my mouth!”

“It’s not your mouth right now, it’s my mouth. I can do whatever I want with it.”  He raises both eyebrows.

This is a threat, Crowley suspects, of some nefarious nature.

“Sorry, I take it back,” Crowley cuts in, before this escalates, “your acting is fine. You’ll definitely pass for a demon, Jesus , Aziraphale.  Does your Mother know you talk like that?”

Aziraphale grins brightly like that’s all he wanted to hear, and straightens the cuffs of his sleeves.

 

---

 

They stumble into Aziraphale’s bookshop, a little champagne tipsy from lunch, not so much so that anything is spinning.  Everything just feels nice-- his hands holding onto Aziraphale’s collar, keeping him close, the familiar maze of books and desks and shelves they navigate to get through to the stairs, Aziraphale’s laughter as he tries to take-over said navigation.  Crowley’s crashing them into everything-- the till, the old support beam, the desk littered with lose playbills that Aziraphale flattens Crowley against for one thrilling moment. Oklahoma! crumpling under Crowley’s hand, before fluttering with a whisper to the floor.

They make it there without anyone breaking their necks on the stairs.  Crowley hasn’t been in Aziraphale’s bedroom often, only occasionally to fetch something he’d left behind like an umbrella, the secret stash of Château Latour, once to help organize the truly bloody minded accumulation of paperwork he’d kept over the years.  The pitch-dark feathers Crowley left behind after crashing through his roof in 1912 sit on top of his bedside table, gathered in a cracked vase like a strange bouquet.  There are other parts of Crowley here as well-- an old pair of discarded sunglasses from the 70’s placed strategically onto an old Peking Opera mask, the DVD box set of Touched By An Angel he’d sent to Aziraphale on lark, just because it was hilarious.  A black leather glove that Crowley had forgotten on a park bench is draped over a picture frame containing no picture.

Aziraphale’s space is cluttered and unsystematic, but Crowley never feels claustrophobic here. It’s a nest of sorts, one feathered with bits of them both, recognizable, a shelter padded by history.  The bed is rumpled and unmade, creaks softly when Crowley is nudged back against it, and Aziraphale is everywhere that Crowley is-- kissing his neck, petting his hair, shushing him when Crowley can’t shut up.

“He really is an arsehole.”

“I know, I know.  Let it go.”

Crowley hasn’t stopped being mad about it.   “‘Shut up and die already,’” he mimics in Gabriel’s awful midland voice, “get fucked you purple-eyed knob.”

“Yes, well,” Aziraphale says distractedly, is currently kissing a path down Crowley’s chest.

“Pious prick,” Crowley mumbles, fingers scratching idly through Aziraphale’s hair, and he’s hard and has been aching for Aziraphale since dawn, but, “..hate that guy.”

Aziraphale stops sucking a bruise onto Crowley’s hipbone long enough to say, “Hate is a very strong word.”

“Right, exactly, I--” but then Crowley chokes on his next series of creative insults he reserves for anyone who harasses Aziraphale, because his pants are gone in a flash and his cock is in Aziraphale’s mouth, and suddenly the anger seems very insignificant.   “Okay, fuck you’re right, this is much-- this is much better.  I feel a lot better,” he babbles, fingers charting the topography of Aziraphale’s head.

It doesn’t take much, this part is still so new, and just because Crowley is an indeterminate amount of years old, it doesn’t mean he won’t act like a teenager getting their first blow job.  That’s for certain-- because it takes all of two minutes, looking down to check that he is in fact right, and he hasn’t hallucinated Aziraphale there between his legs, and the solid press of Aziraphale’s fingers on the outside of his thigh grounding him, before Crowley is arching and coming.

He’s thought about this before, their positions reversed, always assuming he’d be the one frantic and demonstrative, needing so much to make Aziraphale feel even a fraction of what it is that Crowley feels.  In these old fantasies, it never occurred to Crowley that Aziraphale would want the same things, that he would fully and completely allow himself to want it all. But Aziraphale is always surprising Crowley. Neither of them can be logical when it comes to the other, and that’s a terrifying thing, but it’s also a beautiful thing.

Within seconds Aziraphale is above him, glowing like anything again the great weirdo , exhaling quick, damp, breaths beneath Crowley’s collarbone.  Crowley comes out of his stupor about half a second too late to be of any real help in this endeavor, because he feels Aziraphale tense against him, feels the staccato movements of his fist low on his stomach, and only has enough time to jerk Aziraphale up by the hair for a kiss.  The kiss turns messy immediately, and Aziraphale moans quietly into Crowley’s mouth when he spills onto the concave of his stomach. That shouldn’t be appealing for any reason. Really shouldn’t.  

Still super is.  Hormones are mad. Even when being metabolized by beings who, at their core, are not precisely based in reality material.

Afterward Aziraphale looks just as debauched and wildly ethereal as the first time-- lips red, cheeks pink, a hazy look of disbelief in his eye that says he’s also surprised that last night wasn’t fluke, and it all still feels fucking phenomenal.

“You know,” Crowley pants, “one of these times, I’m going to pin you down to the bed and run the show.”  Aziraphale has the audacity to laugh, which is.. Well.  Fair.

He looks over to Crowley and takes his hand, places it over his chest where a heart that is, and is not his own, thrums away.  That’s a miracle too, and Crowley thinks how strange it is that love patterns bits of souls together until a new picture forms, taking scars and turning them into lessons over time.

 

Aziraphale smiles and the world is illuminated.  He asks, “What do you want to do today?”