Bless the feet that take you to and fro.
Bless the eyes and the listening ears.
Bless the tongue, the marvel of taste.
-Mary Oliver, The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac
“I’ve been thinking,” Aziraphale said.
“Oh no,” said Crowley, spearing a forkful of spiced cabbage. “Is it serious?”
“Be quiet. The thing is…” Aziraphale hesitated, trying the words out in his head before he said them out loud. “Well, I might try and lose some weight. What do you think? Should I?”
Crowley put down his cutlery, folded his arms, and just looked at him.
Aziraphale forged ahead. “I’ve been considering it for a while, you see, and it seems to be the done thing now to go on these new diets, the Atkins and the Paleo and so on and so forth, and in light of everything it just seemed as though – ”
“Fine,” said Crowley.
Aziraphale, thrown off-script, floundered momentarily. “Fine?”
“Yeah. ‘S fine. If that’s what you want to do.”
“It is,” said Aziraphale, with a determination that he wasn’t sure he felt.
Crowley shrugged. He picked at a scrap of salad on the edge of his plate. “Suppose this means no more dinner dates, then?”
“Oh, no,” Aziraphale said, hastily, “we can still do those. That is to say – I wouldn’t miss them for the world, you know that, I just might be a little more discerning in what I actually eat. From now on. Cut down on the cream cakes and such.”
Crowley nodded, slowly. His sunglasses showed twin views of the street outside: people hurrying to and fro, dark reflected shadows. “You don’t seem happy,” Aziraphale ventured, when the silence began to take on an oppressive quality.
“I’m not unhappy. It’s your body. You can do what you like with it.” Crowley stabbed the offending piece of salad with his fork. It screeched horribly against the plate. Aziraphale winced. “I just can’t believe that I got you on board with the whole save-the-world plan by promising you gravlax in dill sauce, and now you’ve decided you’re just going to stop eating it anyway. Unbelievable. Next thing you’ll be saying ‘Do you know, I don’t believe that books are really my scene any more’, and buggering off to Glasgow to sell toasted Mars Bars.”
Aziraphale went rigid in horror at the idea.
“That,” Crowley said, “was a joke. Really, though. Who are you, and what have you done with Aziraphale?”
Aziraphale said, “I do wish you’d stop acting as though it’s such an unprecedented idea. It isn’t as though you haven’t made quips to that effect in the past. Slimming aids and suchlike.”
“The key word here is ‘quips’. I wouldn’t do it if I thought you actually minded. Where’s this coming from, anyway? Did someone say something?”
“No,” said Aziraphale, untruthfully. “It’s just been on my mind, of late.”
Crowley eyed him for a moment more, then shrugged. “Fair enough. Well, if you’re not having dessert, we might as well be off.”
He caught the eye of a passing waiter and made a scribbling motion in mid-air, the universal gesture for ‘let’s have the bill’. Aziraphale reached across and pulled his arm down. “Don’t do that, darling, it’s not polite.”
“I should hope not,” said Crowley. “Me, polite? Perish the thought. Anyway, it worked, look, he’s coming over.” The waiter was indeed coming over, wearing a spotless white shirt and an irritated expression.
“Bill, please,” Crowley said to him, with a smile that could charitably have been described as insincere, and put his elbows on the table. They went halves on it – leaving (at Aziraphale’s insistence) an extra tenner for a tip – and departed, arm in arm.
They were quiet on the car ride home. The radio played a song that had just reached an unsettling halfway point between Play the Game and Capriccio Italien, the strings and timpani meshing discordantly with Freddy Mercury’s vocals. By the time they reached the bookshop Tchaikovsky had faded into obscurity, replaced entirely by Queen. “There goes another one,” said Crowley with a sigh, opening the door on Aziraphale’s side. He offered him a hand up. “Hoped it’d last a bit longer than that, but never mind. How are we for milk?”
“Running low, I think.” Aziraphale took the hand and stood, fumbling for his keys.
“Remind me and I’ll get some more. The usual kind?”
“Hm. Perhaps. Now that you mention it, I might give soya milk a try.”
Crowley’s eyebrows arched. "You're not serious?"
“Nothing wrong with a little change now and again,” said Aziraphale, and thought how odd it was, the way that some conversations weren’t really about what they were about.
“Right. Soya it is, then,” said Crowley eventually, still eyeing him as if he’d done something weird and socially unacceptable like taking all his clothes off in public, and they went inside.
The key to Aziraphale was this: he liked things to be genuine.
Miracles, illusions, glamours: it was all well and good, in the right context. He certainly couldn’t have done without it. But when it came to the practical aspects of living – the food, the clothes, the everyday comforts of real life – he would settle for nothing but authenticity. He’d given up smoking in 2005, and it had been a terrible time, filled with nicotine patches and prescription medication, and Crowley had grown frustrated with the whole business by the third week. “It doesn’t have to be this hard!” he’d railed, while Aziraphale sat at his desk, sucking miserably on a boiled sweet. “You don’t need to do all this. Just reach in there, find the bit of your brain that connects “SMOKING” to “PLEASURE CENTRE”, and snip it out! Why take the long way round?”
“I’m doing it properly,” Aziraphale had said around the sweet.
“You’re being an idiot, is what you’re doing.”
“Some of us like to actually commit to these things, you know.”
Crowley looked at the ceiling as if hoping for divine intervention and said, “Fine. Torture yourself if that’s what you want. I’ll be upstairs.” And off he went.
Then there was the matter of clothes. Crowley darted about on the surface of human fashion like a pond skipper, dipping a toe in here, a toe in there. His clothes weren’t not real: they looked, to a casual observer, like any other outfits that you’d find at a high-end shop or a designer clothing website. They didn’t need ironing. They didn’t stain, or if they did Crowley made the stain disappear so quickly that you’d never notice it was there in the first place. There was a brief Gothic period, expressed mainly through inverted crucifix necklaces, fingerless gloves, and eyeliner that was really just there to make a point, since no one could actually see it under the glasses. A punk phase, which they both tried to pretend hadn’t happened. Countless trends, coming and going. Never settling. Not for long.
Aziraphale, on the other hand. Aziraphale had a pair of trousers that he’d bought in 1762: hand-tailored, hand-sewn. He had a selection of shirts – each similar, but with subtle variations in collar and cuffs – purchased from a selection of eminent menswear shops, which had softened over time to fit the shape of his body. A coat that had been a gift from an old friend at the Athenaeum, the silk lining patched to cover a multitude of rips. Over the years, all of them had been carefully dry-cleaned, washed, pressed, softened and ironed to within an inch of their lives. New elbow patches had been stitched on. Holes had been darned.
Superficially, Crowley would argue, there was no real difference between a shirt that had been carefully maintained by practical means and a shirt that had been miracled to look brand new. He had a point, but Aziraphale was many things, and superficial wasn’t one of them.
All that considered, it made sense that he’d do dieting the proper way, too. He could, of course, have simply adjusted his corporation to look a few pounds lighter. Drawn on his power to make himself look – not slender, exactly, but shapely. Trim. But whenever the thought presented itself a quiet voice in the back of his brain went That’s cheating, you know, and he couldn’t even argue with it, because it was right.
Not only that, but it was common knowledge that his superiors were aware of every miracle that he performed: when it happened, what it consisted of, where it had taken place, and so on. Frivolous miracles were frowned upon. What counted as frivolous varied depending on how lenient Gabriel was feeling that day, but Aziraphale was fairly certain that altering one’s own body to fit a more desirable cultural standard was well outside the bounds of acceptability. The idea of Gabriel sitting Upstairs reading through some automatically-generated memo (“13:26 p.m., August 6, 2018. 19 Greek Street. Miracle employed to remove 20lbs and 5oz of weight from current corporation”) was an even more compelling reason not to cut corners.
He’d probably show the memo to his co-workers, too. It would be just like him.
It was odd, mused Aziraphale, digging a spoon into a pot of yoghurt that promised to be entirely free of sugars, fats, flavourings, proteins, dairy, and indeed anything that a dietitian might have mistaken for 'nutritious', that Gabriel made such a point of his own corporation’s fitness. He was normally so against the idea of engaging with human trends. Aziraphale thought of his body like a practical winter coat. Not necessarily pretty, but reliable. Good at keeping out the cold. Gabriel, on the other hand, treated his like a cheap fold-away umbrella – something you’d hastily purchase during an unseasonal rainstorm, with every intention of throwing it out once the weather cleared up. There was no reason for him to focus on aesthetics. And yet.
Maybe it was an ideological thing, Aziraphale thought. Something to do with discipline, frugality, routine. Or maybe he just did it to make everybody else feel guilty. Both options seemed equality possible. He had another spoonful of yoghurt and choked on it when Crowley appeared next to him.
“Hello,” he said, coughing and blinking his watering eyes. “I’m terribly sorry, I didn’t hear you come down. You know me – head in the clouds.”
“Mm. Quite.” Crowley leaned against the desk, eyeing the half-empty yoghurt pot. “Still at it? Frankly, I’d have expected you to have given up by now. That looks disgusting.”
“I’ve told you before,” Aziraphale said. “I like to commit to these things.” The yoghurt was somehow both thick and watery at the same time. It didn’t really taste of anything. He swallowed, which took more effort than it should have done, and put both elbows defiantly on the table, glaring up at Crowley.
“Are you ever going to tell me why you’re doing this?” Crowley said, staring back.
“I have told you. There’s a particular body type in vogue right now, and this isn’t it.”
Crowley let out a hoot of laughter. “Oh, bullshit!”
“What?” Aziraphale said, affronted. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Since when have you ever cared about what’s in vogue?” Crowley said, still giggling. “Try harder than that, angel. You’re wearing a tweed waistcoat, for Someone’s sake.”
“It’s vintage, and you’re missing the point.”
“No, no, no. There’s vintage, and then there’s that. Seriously. Come on. You can tell me what’s actually up, you know you can, we’re partners. So? Let’s hear it.”
“Nothing,” said Aziraphale, enunciating very slowly and clearly, “is up. I wanted to lose some weight, and that is what I am doing. And to be perfectly honest, I don’t see how it’s any of your business. So if you’d just step off and leave me to it, that would be thoroughly appreciated.”
Crowley’s face went through several different emotions before finally settling on a smile. It was a peculiar smile, though. Sort of brittle and cracking at the edges, like something that got left out in the sun for too long. “Right,” he said. “Well, that’s me told, isn’t it?”
The guilt was already starting to clot, like a scab forming over a wound. Aziraphale bit the inside of his cheek, and said stiffly, “Apologies. I didn’t mean it like that.”
“No, no,” Crowley said, still in that horribly bright voice, “it’s fine. I know how you meant it. Well, I’ll just leave you to your… whatever it is you’re doing, shall I? Ciao. Enjoy the diet.”
Aziraphale opened his mouth to say something (what, he didn’t know), but Crowley was already on the move, weaving through the narrow gap between two over-stacked bookshelves. Moments later, Aziraphale heard the jingle of the shop bell. The door slammed shut.
He stared down at the half-empty yoghurt pot. It looked even less appetising than before. “I want it to be known,” he said to it, “that I blame you for this entirely.”
He dropped the pot into the bin under the desk and seriously considered, for the first time, taking the easy route out. Miracling it all away. Then he thought of Gabriel and Michael and Sandolphon and Uriel all gathered around the piece of paper, snickering at his efforts, and went cold. No. If he was going to do this, he’d do it the human way. No shortcuts.
As the days drew on, though, Aziraphale found himself caught in a kind of Morton’s fork. Indulging in earthly pleasures, he was well aware, constituted Gluttony. Hyper-fixation on one’s physical appearance veered dangerously close to Vanity. Whichever way he went he was condemning himself. He kept track of his weight – which diminished, though at a depressingly slow pace – using a set of ancient bathroom scales with a quivering red needle. There was only one mirror in the flat, hung above the stairs, and soon he found it easier all round to simply avoid looking at it. He would have turned it to face the wall, but the way in which it hung did not accommodate such a thing. Just as well. Crowley would have seen that, and then there would have been questions.
Thou shalt not, he thought, poring over a copy of Codex Mendoza. An associate at the Bodleian had entrusted it to him, offering to pay handsomely for a transcription, but he found his mind was occupied with other things.
Thou shalt not. What a terribly uncompromising phrase.
He might have tried to talk it over with Crowley, but the demon hadn’t made an appearance since he’d slammed out of the shop the previous week. Which was fine, obviously, except that they were essentially living together at this point, and Crowley had left quite a few of his plants behind on various windowsills and tables, and Aziraphale wasn’t sure how to look after them properly and was worried he’d kill them by giving them too much unaccustomed kindness, and also it was weirdly quiet, and he hadn’t slept for the past five days because the bed felt empty, and all right, it wasn’t fine, it was terrible and he hated it. But he was damned, pardon his French, if he was going to phone Crowley up and ask him to come back. It wasn’t like Aziraphale had done anything wrong. He’d just asked Crowley to please stop interfering and simply let him eat (or not eat) as he so desired. That wasn’t an unreasonable request, now was it? He was setting a boundary. That was all.
Aziraphale opened Codex Mendoza and began to transcribe it again, although his pace was somewhat slower than usual. It was growing late. The lamp on his desk flickered, and the shadows grew longer by degrees, until the corners of the shop were entirely lost in darkness.
Crowley showed up less than a week later. It was only to be expected – he never stayed away long, these days – but Aziraphale found himself almost giddy with relief, overcompensating for his rudeness with fluttery welcomes and compulsive tea-making.
Crowley, for his part, behaved as if nothing had happened at all. He kissed Aziraphale’s cheek as usual, hung his coat on the hook next to the door, and settled himself at the table with a copy of Time Out. “Says here there’s a new gallery opening up on the Southbank,” he said, taking an abstract sip of the fourth cup of tea Aziraphale had made. “Fancy a trip?”
“What kind of art?” Aziraphale said. He felt strangely edgy. His hands kept twitching. He laced them together and concentrated on looking still, composed.
“Not sure. Modern stuff, it looks like.” Crowley turned a page. “If it’s terrible we can always try the Tate instead, how about that? And coffee after.”
It wasn’t quite an apology, but Aziraphale knew him well enough that he could read between the lines. “That sounds lovely,” he said, and tried to make it sound like an apology too, but rather thought he’d failed.
The gallery turned out to be a sleek modern building, all stark white ceilings and unexpected angles. Crowley wandered around taking pictures that he wasn’t supposed to take, while Aziraphale followed him and tried to make sense of the dribs and drabs of paint on canvas, the twisted statues worked from paper and plaster and steel.
“Thoughts?” Crowley said archly, pausing in front of a sculpture that looked as if someone had dismembered a Rodin sculpture and scattered the pieces across a sheet of corrugated iron. He had a spiral-bound notebook under one arm, and a pen behind his ear. It made his hair stick out at a funny angle that Aziraphale refused to admit he found endearing.
“It’s interesting enough, I suppose,” Aziraphale allowed. “Not quite my style, I will admit, but certainly creative. What do you suppose it means?”
They both looked for a plaque, but there wasn’t one. Or rather there was, but it didn’t have a description attached – only the artist’s name and the title of the sculpture, which was DIS. “Disintegration,” Crowley said, brainstorming out loud. “Dismemberment, discorporation. Various other things beginning with dis. All the Dadaist stuff’s a bit lost on me, to be honest. I prefer the paintings.” He noted the artist down anyway, pen scratching.
“Disturbance,” Aziraphale volunteered, attempting to be helpful.
Crowley gave him the look of someone who had just been challenged and did not intend to lose under any circumstances, and said, “Disarticulation.”
“Ooh, good one. Disarm.”
“Dysmorphia. Though technically that’s dee why ess, not dee i ess, but I still say it counts.”
“What does that mean?” Aziraphale asked, momentarily side-tracked.
“Yes. I can’t say I’ve heard the word before.”
Crowley tapped his pen against his teeth, considering. “Not sure how to put it,” he said finally. “It’s… Well, it’s when you see something wrong about you that no one else sees, or you think you look different from how you actually look. Sort of like with you and that stupid diet.”
“It is not stupid,” Aziraphale said.
“Come on. It is a bit stupid.”
“It isn’t. And we’re not discussing this again.”
Crowley held up his hands. “All right, all right. I’m just saying, angel, absolutely no one thinks there’s a problem here except for you. You might want to ask yourself why that is.”
“Plenty of people think there’s a problem.”
“Oh yeah? Like who?”
“Never you mind,” said Aziraphale. He hunted for something else to comment on, hoping to turn the conversation in another direction, and found it. “What’s the notebook for?”
The distraction worked; Crowley jumped, then tried to look noncommittal. He answered faux-casually, “Just writing down some of the ones I like. You never know. Might want to buy one in the future, hey?”
“If you do, they’ll have to go in your flat,” Aziraphale said. “We haven’t the space for any more paintings. You know that.”
“Not right now, we don’t,” Crowley said. “But maybe…” He broke off, as if he’d said too much. “Anyway. Just a thought. I’m off to the gift shop – meet you on the way out.” And he was off, moving at a pace that was too slow to be a run and too brisk to be a walk.
Aziraphale stared after him, feeling torn. They hadn’t talked much about future prospects, but both of them were aware – on some kind of unspoken, quasi-telepathic level – that moving was on the cards. London had been their base of operations for nearly three hundred years now, and although Aziraphale would have been content to stay longer, he could sense that Crowley was growing restless. He would be happier (they would both be happier) somewhere quieter, somewhere that didn’t hold quite so many associations. Somewhere they could start afresh.
But it was such a big step. It made things real. They hadn’t done anything this official since the start of the Arrangement, and even that had been in existence for a good few centuries before Aziraphale had got used to the idea. It wasn’t that he didn’t want things to be official. He wanted it more than anything in the world. But once they moved away from London – moved in together – the whole thing became rather permanent. And Crowley was so inconstant. He’d get bored, and Aziraphale would get anxious, and the whole set-up would fall apart and there would be no going back…
His eyes prickled, and he realised he’d been staring for a good few minutes at the DIS sculpture without remembering to blink. “Buck up,” he told himself quietly, and made his way towards the exit.
The gift shop was tiny, populated by glass cases of expensive jewellery and glossy books of photography. Aziraphale bought a set of postcards that he thought Crowley might like, guessing wildly at his taste, and a fridge magnet. Then, with nothing else to occupy him, he wandered outside again.
A light rain had begun to fall. Crowley was outside, leaning against a wall in a way that looked far too practised to be as cool as he probably meant it to be. “How’s my peace lily doing?” he said by way of greeting.
“Flourishing,” said Aziraphale. He opened his umbrella, and Crowley slunk over to shelter beneath it. “Though its leaves have started to look a bit yellow, these past few days. I think it’s missing you.” He liked the way they looked together: one tall and thin and angular, with dark glasses and a long dark coat; the other small and soft, all pale hair and pale face and pale clothes. Perfect opposites. Like photo negatives. Except they weren’t, really, were they? That was just it. That was the whole point. They weren’t opposites at all.
“Got any plans for later, by the way?” Crowley’s arm had snaked around his back, hand finding its way into Aziraphale’s coat pocket. “I’ve left the evening free.”
He squeezed Aziraphale’s hand lightly. Aziraphale squeezed back out of habit. “I’m afraid not,” he said. “I’ve, er…I’m… Well, I have to do my tax returns.”
“Oh? I could help you with those.”
“Don’t talk nonsense. You know perfectly well I won’t get anything done with you there.”
Crowley laughed, although there was something uneasy about the sound. “You say that like it’s a bad thing.”
His gaze turned towards the murky grey banks of the Thames, hair falling about his face in damp curls. One corner of his collar was sticking up. Aziraphale looked over at him and felt a rush of affection so strong that it actually hurt, deep down below his ribs. He took a deep, slow breath, waiting for the feeling to pass.
Back home, Aziraphale booted up his computer, which Crowley had forced him to replace with a slightly newer model in 2009. (The emphasis here was on slightly; he would rather have bitten off his own leg than own one of those terrifying machines that Crowley seemed to favour, equipped with all kinds of features that sounded dystopian at best.) He opened Google and typed dysmorphia, then clicked on the first link that came up.
Dysmorphia: a mental health condition where a person spends a lot of time worrying about flaws in their appearance. These flaws are often unnoticeable to others.
Aziraphale read these two sentences several times. Then he closed the page and shut down the computer. He sat there in the empty shop for a while, eerily silent in the absence of the computer’s low hum. A few dust motes circled lazily in the afternoon light.
It was all thoroughly ridiculous.
For one thing, he wasn’t mentally ill. For another, the flaws clearly were noticeable, and he knew that because they had been noticed and pointed out to him by several people whose intentions ranged from well-meaning to spiteful. Not that comments on his appearance had ever bothered him before. Humans had strange ideas about what was and wasn’t acceptable – dresses and lipstick on men, facial hair on women, too much or not enough body fat, certain configurations of genitalia and secondary sex characteristics, et cetera – and if you tried to pay attention to all of them you just ended up with a headache.
But this time it hadn’t been a human, it had been Gabriel, his superior, and the others had thought so too, he’d seen that clearly enough in their faces, and if they could see that something was wrong maybe everyone could, and maybe 'everyone' included –
It didn’t matter. It didn’t. He was getting paranoid now, Crowley would laugh at him if he knew. It wasn’t important, anyway, what other people thought; he was doing this on his own. He was doing it for himself. Aziraphale repeated this several times inside his head, trying and failing to make it sound true.
Outside it was getting dark, and he thought of the flat upstairs – dated and pre-furnished, left virtually empty until Crowley had started hanging out there and leaving his clothes on the dated wooden chairs and his wash-things in the bathroom cupboard. They livened it up a little, but not enough. Aziraphale remembered that he had switched the lights off before leaving for the gallery. It would be dark now. Cold, too, unless he managed to muster up the energy to fiddle with the terminally erratic boiler.
He picked up the phone and spun the dial with fingers that were only slightly sweatier than normal, and said, “Can you come over?”
There was a pause. Then Crowley’s voice buzzed out of the speaker, faintly sardonic. “Thought you had to do tax returns?”
“They didn’t take as long as I thought they would,” said Aziraphale.
Another pause, so long that Aziraphale found himself clenching his fist in his jacket, crumpling the material. Finally, Crowley said, “I’ll be there in ten.”
Aziraphale wanted to say several things – thank you, I love you, I don’t know what I would have done if you’d said no – but what came out instead was, “I’ve been led to believe that it’s a half-hour drive from Mayfair.”
“Only if you obey the speed limit,” said Crowley smugly, and hung up. The line went dead.
Aziraphale paced back and forth in the gloom. A strange jitteriness was taking him over, making his heart beat irregularly, making him want to be anywhere other than where he currently was. He walked into the back room. No. That was no better. Out into the shop again. The feeling persisted. “Come on,” he muttered under his breath, “hurry up, hurry up.” His skin was itching. He wanted to be touched and didn’t. “Hurry up,” he said again to the empty room, which hung around him impassively and did not reply.
He was on his fifteenth circuit of the room when the bell jingled. The sound was incongruous. Crowley’s dark silhouette appeared at the door, scraping its boots clean on the welcome mat, and as he stepped inside Aziraphale saw him take off his coat and glance around. His brow furrowed as he took in the unlit shop.
Aziraphale walked out from behind the bookshelves. “Good,” he said, taking the discarded coat and folding it carefully. He laid it to one side. “You’re here.”
“Apparently,” said Crowley. “What’s the – ” and that was all he got out before Aziraphale was on him.
The startled sound he made was lost in Aziraphale’s mouth, and then it turned into another kind of sound altogether. He was driven backwards as Aziraphale advanced, almost tripping in an attempt to match his pace. Aziraphale broke the kiss for just long enough to take off his sunglasses and fling them sideways so they skittered across the floor, ignoring Crowley’s noise of protest. As his back hit the wall he surfaced, wide-eyed, and said, “Now, hang on just one second – ”
“Be quiet,” said Aziraphale, shoving him against the nearest wall by the shoulders in a neat reversal of what had happened at Tadfield Manor. “Just be quiet, be quiet.” His voice sounded shredded, desperate. He kissed Crowley again, harder than before, licking into his mouth, and slid a hand up to knot tightly into his hair, angling him to fit their mouths together better.
Crowley was already shuddering under his hands. “Be quiet,” Aziraphale said again – nonsensically, since Crowley wasn’t saying much of anything at the moment – and dropped his head so that his mouth was on Crowley’s neck. There – there was the perfect spot, right above where his pulse was trip-hammering away. The skin was cool and taut. Aziraphale bit down, earning a choked, high-pitched moan that sent a jolt of heat straight to his groin. Crowley’s hand found its way to Aziraphale’s forearm, which was still braced against the wall, and gripped it so tightly that his nails dug in.
The brief shock of pain grounded him. Kept him calm, kept him level. Losing control now would be antithetical. He took the arm that Crowley didn’t already have in a death-grip and insinuated it between shirt and skin, fingers fanning out across defined ribs. Then slid his palm down, past Crowley’s sternum, over the shallow bowl between hipbones. He felt around, found what he was looking for. Pressed down. Managed to get half a grip on Crowley, and twisted his hand just enough to elicit another of those sounds.
This one was breathy and helpless, and all the more wonderful for it. He returned his attention to Crowley’s mouth and opened it with his own. Let himself taste the press of teeth, the roof of his mouth, the slick heat of his tongue. At least I can still have this, he thought, and was surprised by the words, as they didn’t seem to make much sense. Forget about it. Doesn’t matter. Didn’t matter. Now wasn’t the time, he told himself, and tightened his grip a little, setting a deliberate rhythm.
“Wait! Ah, wait, just wait one moment, just. A moment. Right. Thank you.” Crowley let his head fall back against the wall, chest heaving. There was a hectic flush starting up on his cheekbones. “You – this – where did all this come from?”
“I should say it’s fairly obvious where it came from,” Aziraphale said, a touch snappishly. He started in on Crowley’s neck again, where a pansy-shaped bruise had already started to form. It was pink, edging towards dark purple in the centre. Tomorrow it would be darker still.
“Yeah, but you’re not usually so – fuck, that feelsss good – you’re not usually this. Intense. Um. S-spontaneous.” The effort it took not to hiss on the last word was painfully audible. “One minute we’re out looking at weird – hnn – modern art, and the next you’re doing…”
“This?” said Aziraphale, and did something clever with his hand.
When Crowley had recovered, he gasped out, “Yeah. That. Which, by the way, amazing, definitely keep doing it, but you keep avoiding the, the – ah-h, fuck. The question.” He was trembling, hair stuck to his forehead with sweat.
Aziraphale kept doing it. “What question would that be, then?” he asked with studied innocence.
Crowley was beyond speech by this point. He just whimpered. His hand, which had still been circling Aziraphale’s wrist like a too-tight bracelet, let go abruptly and flattened itself against the wall, scrabbling for purchase. The sight of it made the tightness in Aziraphale’s stomach intensify. He slid his now-free hand under Crowley’s shirt, and up to circle his nipple, pressing slightly in the way that he knew always got a response. Crowley’s knees nearly gave out. “Please,” he said, and Aziraphale felt a twist of pride – it was no small thing to make a demon beg. “I can’t – ”
“I can’t last,” Crowley managed to say, and made it sound like both a plea and an accusation.
“Then don’t,” said Aziraphale. He doubled his pace.
“Yes,” Crowley said, “yes, yes, please, yes,” and he kept saying it as Aziraphale removed the hand from his chest and pressed it against the column of his throat, the thumb digging in just enough to make Crowley’s breathing turn shallow and quick.
He gasped, “Wait. I’m going to – ” and then cut himself off abruptly with something that was almost a sob. His throat moved under Aziraphale’s thumb as he swallowed, breathing hard through his nose.
“Go on, then,” Aziraphale said, tightening his grip. “It’s all right. I’ve got you.”
Crowley twisted, mouth seeking out Aziraphale’s, and kissed him and kept on kissing him right until the moment he came, spilling into Aziraphale’s hand, his whole body convulsing. His head dropped to Aziraphale’s shoulder and he keened like he was in pain. Aziraphale held him up through it, one arm around his shoulders, another at his back, keeping him steady.
He found himself wondering at how strange it was that he of all people got to see such a thing – got to cause it, in fact – when nobody else did. It seemed indescribably rare and precious. Perhaps his wonder was tinged with narcissism; but if it was, then was that really a bad thing? There was a twisted logic behind it. It proved unequivocally that he was loved, that he was wanted. Proved, moreover, that he was not just some embarrassing tedious over-demanding creature fit only to stand in the shadows of those who mattered more. If he could do this, maybe it would be enough to convince Crowley that he was worth keeping. Yes. Maybe.
He waited for the aftershocks to die down, absently rubbing from the back of Crowley’s neck down to the smooth valley between shoulder-blades. His hand, and presumably Crowley’s underwear, were still messy; he imagined that they were clean, and they were. “There,” he said into Crowley’s hair. “How are you feeling?”
Crowley let out a faintly strangled laugh, and said, “I love that you have to ask that.” He sounded wrecked.
“Well,” Aziraphale said, “it’s always good to make sure, don’t you think?”
Crowley buried his face in Aziraphale’s shoulder, still twitching sporadically, like a dog dreaming about chasing rabbits. His breathing was hot and rapid. Aziraphale pressed a hand to the back of his head, stroking his hair. Crowley was still for a moment. And another. Then he moved, lifting his head.
“Let me,” he said, and his hands slipped under Aziraphale’s shirt, fingers unexpectedly cold against the warm flesh. His long lithe body pressed itself against Aziraphale’s softer one, close enough that Aziraphale could feel the rise and fall of his chest. “I can – ”
Aziraphale pulled away. Sharply.
Crowley, freed of the weight pinning him to the wall, stumbled and nearly fell. He regained his balance and looked up, yellow eyes confused. “What was that for?”
“I don’t,” said Aziraphale. “I don’t. Want that.” He was shivering suddenly. The pulsing heat he’d felt was still there, but now it felt heavy and sick, an unwanted pressure in his gut.
“Okay,” said Crowley. “That’s okay.” He paused, hands clenching and unclenching as if he couldn’t decide where to put them. “Is it… are you all right?” He sounded uncertain. His eyes darted from Aziraphale’s face to the rest of him, where the evidence of his desire was still painfully obvious.
“Fine. Yes. Absolutely nothing to worry about. It’s not you,” he added, because he felt like he should, and some of the tension visibly left Crowley’s shoulders upon hearing it. “I just don’t feel like it, at present.”
Crowley nodded. He stepped forwards.
“I said I don’t – ” Aziraphale started with a shade of irritation, but all Crowley did was wind his arms around his neck and cling tightly to him, there in the middle of the dark and empty shop, swaying almost imperceptibly back and forth. After a moment Aziraphale reached up and held him back. The horrible ache in his stomach started to recede. He breathed in Crowley’s smell (plants, air freshener, a hint of brimstone), and felt himself relax as thoroughly as if he’d just sunk into a warm bath.
“Can I stay over?” Crowley said into his neck, after several long seconds had passed. He paused, then hastily added, “Not to, you know, do anything. Not if you don’t want to. Just to stay, is all.”
“You don’t have to ask,” Aziraphale said.
Crowley laughed, the sound bouncing hotly off Aziraphale’s skin, and it sounded a little more normal than before. Still not quite there, though. “Mi casa es tu casa, hey?”
“Mm. Something like that.” Aziraphale tightened his hold briefly, then let go. “Come on, dearheart. Let’s go upstairs.”
The bed was already made up. Crowley shed his clothes, loose-limbed, unselfconscious; Aziraphale simply engineered a switch between day-clothes and pyjamas, the change seamless. The last thing he wanted right now was to disrobe. He lay down, the mattress recalling his shape. Memory foam. Another one of Crowley’s bright ideas. One of many.
The room was already dim, illuminated by a dusty lamp on the bedside table. It wasn’t dim enough. “Come to bed,” he said, because Crowley was still hovering with one hand on the doorframe like a vampire waiting to be invited in.
Crowley obeyed. He squirmed under the blankets and rolled over to look at Aziraphale, eyes liquid and intent. The sharp curve of his shoulder shone gold in the lamplight.
“Get the light?” he said, almost shyly, and Aziraphale did. They lay there face to face, wrapped closely together, Crowley’s hand resting loosely on the soft curve of his side. Their noses touched. Any minute now, Aziraphale knew, the self-consciousness would return: this new crawling shame would take up residence again and tell him to throw off Crowley’s hand, to roll away to the far side of the bed, to draw into himself like a sea anemone.
He waited and waited, but somehow here, in the dark, under the covers, it wasn’t so bad. His imperfections weren’t visible. There was just darkness and warmth and skin, two bodies lying together as if they were one, tasting each other’s breath. Existing. He kissed Crowley once more, slow and chaste and lingering, and let himself sleep.
When Aziraphale woke it was already past ten, and the room was bright with morning sun. He turned his head, but the other side of the bed was empty. For an instant he felt a lurch of worry, but then he realised that what had woken him was noise from another room, clattering and footsteps, and he rolled out of bed and got his dressing gown from the back of the door. It was almost as old as the bookshop itself, made from soft striped flannel. He pulled it around himself, inserted his feet into his slippers and went downstairs.
Crowley was in the kitchen, already dressed. He stood in front of the stove, whisking something yellow and frothy in a bowl. The counter was strewn with half the contents of the cupboards: a chopping board, piles of sliced and grated vegetables, knives, egg-separators, a bottle of olive oil… “My dear, what on earth are you doing?” Aziraphale asked, stepping further inside.
“Cooking,” said Crowley. The eggs sizzled as soon as they hit the frying pan.
Aziraphale stood in the doorway, squinting in the daylight. He rubbed his eyes. Several thoughts seemed to be floating around happily in his head, occasionally colliding with each other, and making very little sense. He grabbed the nearest thought and said it aloud: “Cooking? You don’t cook. You never cook. In fact, I don’t believe you know how.”
“Shows how much you know,” said Crowley, now prodding the egg mixture in the pan. It hissed and spat, browning at the edges. “I’ve been told I make a very good Spanish omelette. Bit out of practise, but how hard can it be, really?”
Aziraphale stepped further into the kitchen. He had to admit, however reluctantly, that whatever Crowley was making smelled a lot less disastrous than he might have expected. Borderline good, even. The room was redolent of onions and herbs. Vegetables, eggs, spices: none of that was especially dangerous, was it? It wasn’t like he was going to dig into a four-course meal.
“It’ll be done in a minute,” Crowley said, tilting the pan so that the mixture ran from one side to the other. “Stop hovering.”
Aziraphale went to the table and sat. He fiddled with his hands, for want of something better to fiddle with. The smell was starting to get to him, making his mouth water and his hands shake.
Dangerous? Perhaps not, by itself. But hadn’t he spent the past two weeks insisting that it was important to do the thing properly? Temptation was a slippery slope. You said yes to one thing, you set a precedent. On and on it went. He had to stay firm. “Dear,” he said, trying for a placatory tone. “You know I can’t eat this.”
Crowley didn’t look round. “I’ve made it. You’re eating it.”
“No,” said Aziraphale.
For a moment, he was certain that Crowley was going to snap and simply walk out, like he had that day in the bookshop. From the tense shape of his back, it looked like he might. Then he took a very deep breath, held it, let it out slowly. “Okay,” he said, finally turning to face Aziraphale. “Look. Let’s make a deal.”
“What kind of deal?”
“You don’t have to eat that,” Crowley said. “You can just leave it, if that’s what you want. I’m not going to get angry. But in return I want you to be honest with me.”
“I have been honest – ”
“No. You really haven’t. You honestly think I believe you’re doing this for yourself? You’ve never given a shit about any of this before, you just go about looking like you’ve escaped from a historical re-enactment society with your bow tie and your stupid little waistcoat – ”
“Is this your way of trying to make me feel better?”
“ – and your hair and all right, I’ve probably given you grief for it in the past, but it’s never actually been serious, you know that. So tell me: why’s it suddenly started mattering? Is it something I said?”
“Not you,” said Aziraphale, and instantly wanted to bite his tongue.
Crowley was on it like a vulture spotting carrion. “Not me. Right. So someone did say something. Who?”
Aziraphale looked away, then up. The kitchen window needed cleaning, he noticed. It was spotted with the marks of dirty rain, and there was a cobweb strung across the top of it like a sail. Crowley tracked his gaze upwards. There was a moment when his face registered nothing but confusion; then understanding dawned all at one, like the morning sun breaking across a mountain-top.
“It was Gabriel, wasn’t it,” he said. “Oh, that bastard. I’m gonna fucking eviscerate him.”
“That’s a bit strong, isn’t it?” Aziraphale said, although a small part of him felt gratified. It was nice to feel so – defended.
Crowley said through gritted teeth, “He hurt you. In my books, that’s pretty decent grounds for evisceration.”
He dragged a kitchen chair out and sat in it, looking like he wanted to set fire to things with the power of his mind. He was probably angry enough to try it, too. Aziraphale moved a nearby copy of The Earth Compels out of the way, just in case. “It wasn’t really because of him,” he said. “It just made me realise, that’s all.”
Aziraphale swallowed. “That I’m not… quite as I should be. That you deserve better.” He lowered his head, feeling wretched. “That’s all. I’m sorry I didn’t say something from the start, but it seemed like a difficult sort of thing to bring up.”
Crowley’s face was indescribable.
“You thought I’d stop liking you because you’re not thin,” he said. His voice was utterly toneless. A muscle ticked in his jaw.
“Well, naturally when you say it like that it sounds – ”
“Seriously? After six thousand years of, of whatever you want to call this? After we literally saved the fucking world together?”
“That’s not – I mean, the humans did most of the actual saving bit – ”
“Fucking hell,” said Crowley. He put his head in his hands. His shoulders started to shake. Aziraphale couldn’t tell if he was laughing or crying; the latter seemed inconceivable, and the former inappropriate. “Fucking Jesus Christ on a tandem bicycle with Mary Magdalene.”
“May you be forgiven,” Aziraphale said, automatically.
Crowley said into his palms, voice muffled, “You are such an idiot.”
He sounded very fervent.
“You see, this is why I didn’t tell you,” Aziraphale said, bristling. “I knew you’d be all sarcastic about it. It’s all right for you, everybody finds you attractive, you probably can’t even imagine what it’s like to – ”
Crowley lifted his head up. “What do you mean, everyone finds me attractive?”
Aziraphale rather wished that this wasn’t the part of the sentence Crowley had chosen to focus in on. “I just meant… Well, look at you,” he said, trying for ‘imperious’ and ending up with ‘desperate’. “All slender and pointy. That’s the style these days, isn’t it? Slim telephones, slim computers, slim televisions, slim people. I’m simply trying to keep up with the times.”
Crowley eyed him, then stood. He retrieved a spatula and used it to tip the omelette on to a plate. “You,” he said, sliding it in Aziraphale’s direction, “are being even more daft than usual, and frankly I didn’t even think that was possible. Eat up.”
“But you see my point!” Aziraphale could feel a flush spreading across his cheeks. He spoke rapidly, trying to spit the words out before he could think about them too much. “You don’t know what it’s like, to have something about your appearance that you hate and you can’t even do anything about it because – ”
He broke off.
Crowley was looking at him. He blinked, the action slow and deliberate, so that his first set of eyelids flicked across the slitted pupils and made them momentarily dilate. He did not say anything. He had a way of not-saying-anything that managed, somehow, to say quite a lot. “…Well,” Aziraphale faltered. “That’s different.”
“Is it. Explain how.”
Aziraphale fumbled for a decent argument and came up empty-handed. Crowley, still sitting in that insolent sprawl, gave him the smile of someone who knew he’d won and was feeling a bit too smug about it. “You see? We all have our crosses to – ” He paused, looking abashed. “Um. As it were.”
“Fine,” Aziraphale bit out, nettled by the lack of sympathy. “Let me put this another way. If you absolutely had to give an opinion – on me, I mean, on how I look – what would you say?”
Crowley’s hesitation made Aziraphale’s heart sink right down to his stomach. “What I think isn’t really important,” he answered, each word carefully measured.
“Hypothetically nothing! It shouldn’t matter.”
“But just if – ”
Crowley saw the desperation on his face, and caved with a sigh. “I think you look fine,” he said. “And if it were up to me” (here he gave Aziraphale a very pointed look) “ – which, by the way, it isn’t – I’d tell you not to change anything about how you look. Especially not because bloody Gabriel of all people said you should.” He chewed his lip for a second, then added, “Anyway, I don’t like seeing you all skinny and mopey. It feels wrong.”
Aziraphale glanced down, then up again. His heart was behaving badly again. “Really?” he said, hardly daring to hope. “But I’m…”
“Not what you normally go for,” said Aziraphale, weakly.
Crowley, who had just been about to start on the omelette, put his fork down and stared at him without blinking for about six seconds. Then he said, “Are you ill?”
Aziraphale blinked, lost for words.
“Think about it for a moment,” said Crowley. “Since I’ve never actually dated – or,” he amended, flush now spreading to the rest of his face, “or, well, done anything with anybody except for you, I’d say you’re pretty much the headline image for ‘what I normally go for’. Not that that’s saying much, since you’re the only entry in the category. You’re your own category. There is quite literally no precedent. Doesn’t that tell you something?”
“I,” began Aziraphale, and then forgot what he’d been going to say next. He was dangerously close to tearing up again.
“Right,” said Crowley. “Good. Glad we’ve got that sorted. Now, are you going to eat this bloody thing before it gets cold?” He indicated the omelette.
Mulishly, Aziraphale dug in. It tasted even better than it smelled. He wasn’t sure if that was because he’d only eaten fat-free yoghurt and tofu for the past three weeks, or because Crowley was really that good a cook, but either way he ate the whole thing in about five minutes, and enjoyed every single bite of it.
“So,” he tried, finishing off the last forkful and doing his level best not to feel guilty about the empty plate in front of him. “You – you really don’t mind, then?”
“I really, really don’t. Why would I? It’s just you.” Crowley hesitated again, before mumbling, “Actually, I quite like it.”
Even Crowley’s ears had turned pink. “You. Your body. It’s nice. It makes me feel… Look, this is getting embarrassing, can’t we just take it as a given and move on?”
“No,” said Aziraphale. Tiny points of mischief had started appearing from under the layers of confusion and misery, like grass poking through snow.
“Do I have to?”
He sighed. “You’re gorgeous, all right? There. Laugh if you want. It’s true.”
Aziraphale was laughing, although in a nervous, slightly high-pitched way that bordered on the hysterical. “I’m not laughing at you,” he explained to Crowley, trying valiantly to collect himself. “It’s just… You don’t mean that, surely?”
“’Course I meant it. I don’t just say these things, you know.” Crowley spun a fork between his fingers. His head was angled downwards, expression fighting to stay neutral. The silver flashed.
Aziraphale sighed. “This is all very well and good, but I’m afraid I still don’t understand. Why exactly are you so fixated on this?”
“I don’t know,” said Crowley, displaying a glimmer of annoyance for the first time, “why do you always turn cagey whenever I suggest moving house?”
Aziraphale stared at him.
“You’re actually not as subtle as you think you are,” Crowley said. “I bring it up, and you get all weird about it and start wittering about the first thing you can think of, which is usually books, but not always. It’s kind of obvious.”
The best Aziraphale could come up with was a feeble, “I don’t witter.”
“Yes, you do.”
“You do. Listen. We could spend the next year having this conversation, or you could just tell me the truth. Why don’t you want to move? Is it because of the shop? Is it because of me? Just tell me why. I want – I need to know.”
“Because it won’t last!” Aziraphale burst out.
Crowley stopped spinning the fork. His hand went still. Then he put it down very carefully on the plate with a clink, and said, “What.”
He said it in much the same way a guillotine might say ‘thud’ as it sliced off somebody’s head. Aziraphale tried to rein himself in. It was no good, though; once the tap had started running he couldn’t seem to switch it off, and the words spilled out without his control. “You’re you. You like – you like travelling, and new things, and new people and experiences and food and – That is to say,” he managed, swallowing at the expression on Crowley’s face, “you can’t seriously tell me that you want to spend the rest of eternity just with me, in some, some quiet little town in the middle of nowhere? That’s not really your style, is it now?”
“You seem to have a very strange idea of what I do and don’t want,” said Crowley.
“Well, what do you want, then?”
He spoke as if it was a basic fact of life, so obvious that it shouldn’t have needed saying. That ought to have been comforting. Instead, it made Aziraphale feel as if he was about to pass out. There was no way it was that easy. How could it be? How could anyone hold out a truth that heavy, that vital, as if it weighed nothing at all? He gulped. “But what if you don’t always want that?” he asked, and his voice cracked appallingly down the middle.
Crowley leaned back, hooking his arms over the back of the chair. Studying him. “So that’s what this is about,” he said. “I thought so.”
“This diet. It’s never actually been about weight, has it?”
This was nearly enough to irritate Aziraphale out of his fragile mood. “Oh, heavens, don’t tell me you’re starting in on that again? Darling, I have told you and told you, I don’t care in the slightest what – ”
“You’re good as you are,” Crowley said, and Aziraphale stopped talking. “You don’t have to keep trying to change things. Not for me, not for anyone. Especially not that – ” and here he called Gabriel a name that made Aziraphale feel slightly less holy just for having heard it. “What’s the saying again? ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ Well, you ain’t – aren’t – broken. You’re fine. So just… stop, all right?”
“I’m not – that isn’t what this is about,” Aziraphale said, but even to himself he sounded unconvincing. “You’re being ridiculous.”
“That makes two of us. Look.” Crowley drew in a breath, then exhaled noisily, making his glasses steam up. “If I thought you actually wanted to change your look, I’d be fine with it. I mean, I’d think you were a bit mad, because you’re great as is, but it’d still be your call. But I don’t think that’s why you’re stuck on this. So I want to be one hundred per cent clear when I say that I’ve been hanging around with you for six thousand years now, and I don’t see that changing any time soon, in fact I’d rather it didn’t change, and I really really hope the feeling’s mutual, because if it’s not then I’d rather you tell me now and just, you know, rip the plaster off, so to speak.” He stopped and took another deep breath.
It was strange, really. In many ways Crowley was the more emotional one out of the two of them, far more prone to fits of euphoria or melancholy, far more easily tipped from one extreme to another. It wasn’t until he actually tried to express them that the wires got crossed. Concern manifested itself as cool distance, terror as brittle frenetic energy, and insecurity as spikiness, all of it hopelessly backwards and muddled-up. Aziraphale became aware of the silence and realised that he was probably supposed to say something. “No,” he said, and then, “I mean, yes. I mean, it is mutual.”
“Great.” Crowley’s shoulders were up around his ears. “All right, then. Are we good? Was that enough of a Brokeback Mountain moment for you?”
“A what moment?”
“Never mind,” said Crowley. “Doesn’t matter.” He drummed his fingers on the table. To anyone else he might have looked agitated, or even annoyed. Aziraphale knew better. He reached over and rested his fingers lightly on Crowley’s face, tracing the sharp edge of his cheekbone with his thumb. Watched Crowley’s eyelids flutter, saw the way he turned subconsciously into it, seeking out the touch.
It was the little things. Always the little things. You had to keep an eye out for them, otherwise you missed them. “Thank you,” he said, voice soft, as if he was addressing a wild animal. “For all of that.”
His hand caught the minute shift of Crowley’s jaw as he answered tautly, “Don’t mention it.”
In the past, Aziraphale had sometimes wished he didn’t have to guess at what lay underneath all those prickly layers of defensiveness and fear. Things would be so much easier if he could have simply got inside Crowley’s head and seen it all for himself, laid out in neat little labelled boxes, possibly with a diagram or two to speed things along. He’d had some vision of just camping out in there until he got familiar with the layout. Inhabiting it, discovering new and exciting things. There were exciting things to discover, that much was clear; he was finding more of them every day, the way that you started hearing a new word everywhere once you’d learned what it meant. He wanted to see it all. Wanted to know everything.
As it turned out, though, time was an infinitely better teacher than boxes and diagrams – and so it was that the more Aziraphale had got to know Crowley, the easier the decoding process became. This particular contradiction presented no trouble at all. “Since you asked,” he said, taking his palm away and picking up Crowley’s hand instead, “I love you too. Very much.”
“I didn’t ask,” Crowley managed to say, staring down at their joined hands.
Aziraphale smiled at him. Beatifically.
“Oh, don’t give me that expression,” said Crowley, shuddering. He hunched his shoulders. “I hate that expression. No! You’re still doing it! Stop it!”
“I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about,” said Aziraphale. The sun felt warmer than it had ever been. “More coffee?”
“Please,” said Crowley with feeling.
Aziraphale filled the kettle and switched it on. Steam rose in curlicues, and over the hiss of boiling water he heard a crackling sound. He turned around. Crowley had just dug into the pot of Muller Crunch Corner that had been languishing at the back of Aziraphale’s fridge for the past two weeks, magically never reaching its sell-by. He looked up at Aziraphale’s scandalised noise and grinned, cheerfully unrepentant.
“I was saving that!” Aziraphale said.
“I’ll get you a new one,” Crowley offered. “Whole pack of ‘em, if you want. The shop round the corner’s open till late.”
“You aren’t allowed to be angry with me,” said Crowley, taking another spoonful and savouring it. “I made you an omelette. Nice of me, that was.”
“You did,” Aziraphale said with a sigh, giving up. “It was very nice. Thank you.”
Crowley shrugged, a sinuous motion that went from one shoulder to another and all the way back again. He licked the spoon clean before clearing his throat and saying, “You up for dinner tonight?”
The tone sounded casual, but his eyes flickered up briefly, checking Aziraphale’s reaction. He was holding himself just a little too still, waiting.
Aziraphale smiled. “Dinner sounds wonderful,” he said, and spotted the quickly-masked relief on Crowley’s face before he returned to his yoghurt. My yoghurt, Aziraphale thought, but without much heat. Sometimes love required sacrifices. “I read a wonderful article about a new restaurant on Carnaby Street,” he said, pouring out two cups and stirring, “that apparently does an excellent crème catalane. Bookings are optional.”
“They always are, for us,” Crowley said.
Aziraphale looked at him and thought with a joy so fierce that it was almost destructive, I’m keeping you; I am, I am, I am. The idea was terrifying and wonderful all at once. He wasn’t sure quite what to do with it, so instead he just said, “What an excellent point you make,” and tried the coffee. It was dark and sweet. It tasted like waking up.