Chapter 1: If you admire me, hire me
1921, Biarritz, South of France
Aziraphale lifted the glass of gin and champagne cocktail, breathed in the scent, let it flower across his senses as his eyes closed. Then he parted his lips and let it pass them, still inhaling the scent, the burn just touching his lips and tongue, like the faintest bloom of—
"You know, it's almost obscene watching you do that. I'm sure it's a sin."
"Crowley!" Aziraphale tried not to let too much pleasure show, but he was not particularly good at hiding his expression. He beamed. "I wasn't expecting to see you here."
The demon laughed and swung up onto a stool next to him, legs swinging in long black trousers, auburn waves plastered back with brilliantine, white tie immaculate, face clean-shaven. "Why not? It's a nice hotel. More my kind of scene than yours, I should've thought. I'm here every night, in fact, at twenty francs a dance."
Aziraphale snorted. "I've seen you dance. You're overcharging."
"The humans don't seem to think so. I play tennis too, rather well. White suits me more than you'd think. Does that drink thing taste any good?"
"Delicious, my dear fellow." He sighed as Crowley took the cocktail from his hand and sipped appreciatively. "But really, why the gigolo act? You can't possibly be short of money."
"Of course not, but some of these people have far too much, and it's an easy source of trouble. I hang around acting like a four-flusher and letting the ladies buy me nice things, they get discontented, their mothers get worried, menfolk get jealous, everyone's drinking or on pills, all kinds of interesting things happen. Usually starting with calling me a cake eater, which just goes to show they haven't met you yet. So, what are you doing on this side of the Channel? Do you have something godly in mind?" He drained Aziraphale's drink. Aziraphale frowned at the glass, and it refilled.
"A young lady is going to read her poetry to her friends tonight. I've heard it's awfully good. If she's going to publish it, I'd like a first copy." He took the glass back and sipped again, rather less leisurely than before, before Crowley could steal it again.
Crowley's brows drew together over his dark glasses. "Girl by name of Joan, going by Sunday for some reason? Permanently waved blonde hair? Horn rimmed spectacles?"
"I was dancing with her lady aunt earlier. Sorry to disappoint, angel, but I'm not sure she'll be in a state to read anything."
"Why, what did you do to her?" Aziraphale asked sharply.
"Me? I did nothing." Crowley shook his head innocently. "She just seems rather interested in the flower vases."
"Whatever do you mean?" Aziraphale blinked at the elaborate arrangements of extremely expensive pink roses and extremely green ferns, which were making the air fragrant at great cost.
Crowley slung an arm over his shoulder. "Watch," he hissed in Aziraphale's ear, leaning close. His warm weight pressed against Aziraphale. "But don't show you're looking."
"Easier said than done," said Aziraphale, a bit flustered by the contact. Crowley usually slinked all around him, not over him. He could smell Crowley's scent, a mix of sharp green scent and soft leather that Aziraphale vaguely associated with flappers. Not a masculine scent at all. “ I’m not wearing dark glasses."
"Then look at me. Be fascinated by my conversation and just watch with your peripheral vision. I am a fascinating conversationalist, you know. The guests here tell me that frequently."
"They probably want to fool themselves they got their money's worth."
"Oh, they always get their money's worth, darling," Crowley murmured. His face was very close, his breath hot on Aziraphale's mouth.
"But surely they are, you know, ladies," Aziraphale protested, trying to watch the flower vases through the crowds and not be overly distracted by a demon's face uncomfortably near his. "Won't they think this strange?"
"Aziraphale, no one would think you were here for the ladies." Crowley grinned, toothily. "And I don't usually dance with the gentlemen, but I am available for tennis, country drives, as a golf partner—and for conversation. No one will think it strange."
"I'm not paying to talk to you, Crowley," Aziraphale said testily. A young woman was drifting over to the flowers, lifting a rose in her hand and inhaling. Perfectly innocent. Whatever nonsense Crowley intended.
"Not with money, perhaps."
That was suspicious. Aziraphale frowned at him, but was distracted as the girl reached into her evening bag, glanced quickly around, and then brought something to the vase. She stuffed it back in her bag, but Aziraphale caught the glint of glass.
"Heroin, I think," Crowley said vaguely. "Sunday will be in no state to recite if she keeps that up."
"Oh dear. Did you...?"
"No, they figured that out trick for themselves. Aziraphale, this is not your kind of place at all." His voice was simultaneously stern and gentle.
"Oh, the silly young people."
"Bright young people, they prefer. Oh, don't look unhappy. It's their free will at play. And what have they got in their futures, anyway? Dwindling chances of marriage and children, thanks to... all that mess."
"I should do something."
"Nothing you can do. Look, don't trouble yourself with it. Try one of these instead." Arm still looped over Aziraphale's shoulders, Crowley hailed down a waiter with his free hand and relieved him of an entire tray of canapés. "There, you'll like this, it's lobster." He popped one in Aziraphale's mouth.
It really was delicious. Aziraphale raised an eyebrow as he chewed and swallowed, and Crowley grinned at him.
"Good? That's right, angel, you like that," he cooed encouraging. "Try this one. Anchovy paste and chopped eggs, looks vile, you will love it." He flourished a tiny bit of toast in front of Aziraphale's lips.
"Crowley, you are extremely drunk," Aziraphale said reprovingly.
"Am I? I suppose I am. Spifflicated, in fact. Spifflicated enough to tell you how much I’ve missed watching you enjoy yourself. Come on, don't pout over a silly human."
The toast was still waving wildly. Aziraphale gave up and bit into it. It was good, the saltiness of the anchovy against the mildness of the egg, the balance of textures. And Crowley lit up when he ate it, as if he had rewarded some good behaviour.
"Excuse me, Tony." A woman wearing "Egyptian" jewellery that looked nothing like what Aziraphale actually remembered from Ancient Egypt tapped Crowley on the shoulder. "Are you free for the next dance?"
"No, I think I'm booked up all night, Penny darling," drawled Crowley. "Aren't I, angel?"
"Oh." The woman looked sharply between them, and at the hand draped over the angel's shoulders. Aziraphale sat up, obliging and unwilling to disappoint.
"My dear lady, if you--"
"I think Cissy was looking for you, Penelope," Crowley said. "Why don't you dance with her?"
The woman giggled and turned pink under her powder, somehow looking a lot younger and sweeter despite her sharply plucked brows. "Oh, I couldn't. It would be scandalous."
"Dancing with the daughter of a Duchess? Yes, indeed." He leaned back against Aziraphale and said, speculatively, "I shouldn't do it after all. Probably make all the gossip rags. I think I saw a Society photographer over there."
Penelope looked thoughtful for a minute. "I think--ah, thanks, Tony." She leaned in and pecked him on the cheek, and then ran off, the frills on her skirt bouncing around thin silk-clad calves.
"Do you ever let up corrupting for a moment?"
"Says you. I was just doing the human a favour. She gets in the papers, Cissy has her night made." Crowley jerked his head towards a young woman in trousers and a monocle, who was now talking very earnestly to Penelope. "Spreading love in the world--ugh, I have to make up for that later." He shuddered theatrically.
Aziraphale hummed under his breath, unconvinced.
“Ah, devilled oysters. I love devilled oysters. Can blame you for that one, darling." Crowley picked up another bit of toast, bit it in half, and offered the other half to Aziraphale.
Aziraphale accepted it. “Why all the darlings all of a sudden?"
"Oh, you know. Have to fit in with the times," Crowley said vaguely. "Spot me one of those cocktails."
“You seem to have had quite had enough to drink."
Crowley sighed, and a full glass appeared in his hand. “Never tastes the same if I have to make it myself."
“So why don’t you order one?"
“Have to keep up my image, darling. Can’t be seen paying for my own drinks. Not with a punter wearing clothes like yours and dripping with sinful affluence. Grinding down the poor and clambering on their backs working out for you, lately?” He tipped back his head and swallowed his drink.
“The rare book trade is doing well, if that’s what you mean. And grinding down the poor is more something your side does. Whatever has got into you, Crowley?”
“Absolutely nothing.” Aziraphale waited patiently, nibbling on another canapé. If he knew one thing, it was that Crowley could rarely resist talking for long. “Fifty one bloody years without a word! And then you smile at me as if I’d nipped out for a smoke for five minutes. Condescending to fraternise now, angel?” His hand tightened on Aziraphale’s shoulder.
Ah. There it was. “I was under the impression that you don’t need me.” The fingers dug into his shoulder.
“Huh,” Crowley said, eventually. “Well, admittedly I napped most of the last century, but even so. You could have woken me up to say hello.” His bitterness seemed to fade a bit, his hand more gentle, but still holding on, almost possessively. “Back on subject, I thought we were discussing payment."
“We were most certainly not."
“Don’t you want to know the price of my company?"
“Don’t leer like that,” said Aziraphale, trying not to blush. “I’m not playing this game, not with a demon. No deals with Satanic forces."
“Like you haven’t done it before. Aren’t you even curious about the price?” He waggled an eyebrow, and Aziraphale tried not to smirk.
Curiosity was imprudent, but one of the many reasons Aziraphale was guiltily aware he wasn’t a perfect angel was that he tended towards imprudence around Crowley. “What price?” he asked cautiously.
“Just a dance.” There were far too many teeth in his smile.
“Isn’t that the wrong way around?"
Crowley shrugged, his shoulder rising and falling on Aziraphale’s. “Maybe I want to be the punter this time. Tired of being led around by my patrons, want to be the one in charge this time. Can’t think of anyone’s services I’d rather purchase."
“You’re being ridiculous.” Aziraphale snorted, expecting Crowley to stop teasing and drop the subject. He took another sip of his drink, and glanced up. To his surprise, Crowley was still paying him close attention, one eyebrow still raised.
“My dear boy.” He was becoming flustered, and tried to reign it in. Why was Crowley’s face so damnably close, anyway? “These are British people, and you have no idea how rigid they have become over the last century or so. Two men dancing together just won’t fly."
“Even with wings?” Crowley grinned and leaned back, his arm sliding off Aziraphale’s shoulder. “Look, this lot here aren’t as rigid as all that, trust me. Should see them at the casinos and the private parties. Seeing their pet gigolo whirling around with an older man in his arms will just give them a delicious thrill."
“Your mortal form does not look that much younger than mine,” Aziraphale snapped.
“If you say so. Look, angel, be a sport. We can go dance on the balcony if you want. There’s no one to pay attention to your clumsy dance moves."
“I’m sure there’s some courting couples out there."
“Not any more,” said Crowley, as some pairs of well dressed humans trickled back in to the room, possessed by a sudden need for drink refills.
“Why are you so set on this?"
Crowley frowned and looked away. “Don’t know. Don’t like giving in, I suppose. Well, what if I said that the drugs in those vases have been harmless for quite a while now, and Sunday will be performing her reading after all? I didn’t want to see you disappointed."
Aziraphale sighed, trying to hide his pleasure, and stood up. “I suppose I shouldn’t be obdurate. One dance, Crowley."
“One dance,” Crowley said with suspicious meekness.
As they passed out of the chandelier sparkled light into the relative darkness of the balcony, Aziraphale felt a cool hand on the small of his back, and was aware of Crowley’s perfume mingling with the sea breeze. For some reason he couldn’t define, it smelled like change, and he wasn’t sure how he felt about it.
He hoped he could pick up this modern dancing quickly.
Chapter 2: Paid for every dance
An angel and a demon dancing in the moonlight. What could possibly go wrong?
As the glass doors swung shut behind them, much of the laugher and conversation was dimmed. The jazz band music still drifted lightly through, discernible above the crashing of waves on the beach below. Lights sparkled above the cliffs, and the moon was huge and yellow.
Crowley looked around as if checking for something, then gave a satisfied nod, lips pressed together in a slight smile, as if some difficult and important task had just been ticked off a list. “This will do nicely."
“Do for what?” Aziraphale was feeling unsettled, and it came out in snappishness.
“Just in general.” Crowley smiled in a way Aziraphale suspected was deliberately infuriating. He held out a hand invitingly. “Come here, darling."
Aziraphale hesitated, shifting weight from foot to a foot. It was just a hand hold. Perfectly necessary for dancing, and not at all intimidating. If only Crowley would wipe that sinister grin off his face. Aziraphale suspected he was being deliberately demonic, and that this was some kind of a trap in a way he hadn’t anticipated. The darlings were still making him nervous, although of course Crowley was right, these young people called everyone darling. It didn’t mean anything.
“You’re leading?” Aziraphale put his hands behind his back.
“What, afraid of being led around by a demon?"
“Not at all,” Aziraphale lied.
“Of course I’m leading. I’m the one who knows what to do. You can’t tell me you’ve danced since Gilbert & Sullivan was in vogue."
“I’d like to inform you that the Savoy operas are still very popular, and the gavotte is a very fine dance."
“Whatever you say, angel. Why don’t you come to the theatre more often anyway? You used to love the music halls. I keep expecting to see you around. Lots of chorus girls on the verge of falling into iniquity for you to rescue."
“And you prodding them towards it, I suppose,” Aziraphale sniffed.
“Naturally. You should come do some thwarting some time, and then come out for supper. Now stop trying to distract me,” Crowley said, quite unfairly, Aziraphale thought. “We made a deal."
“I don’t recognise the music,” he procrastinated. “It’s quite pleasant."
“It’s called Shimmy with Me. From rather a lovely little show called Cabaret Girl. It’s written by Plum Wodehouse, you’d like him, he writes books and he’s irritatingly virtuous. Adopts stray animals. I can introduce you some time. Let's dance.”
“My kind of books?"
“How the heaven would I know? Not theological tracts or books of prophecy, anyway. Come here, Aziraphale. I’m beginning to feel ridiculous with my hand stuck out like this."
“Only beginning?” Aziraphale said archly, and Crowley glowered at him and dropped his hand. “What on God’s earth is a shimmy?"
“Well, you move close to each other, very close, and you move your lower body as usual, and your shoulders do this .” Crowley did something utterly fascinating and shimmery and boneless with his upper body that Aziraphale was fairly certain only someone of serpentine heritage could manage. He could feel his cheeks burn, and was glad for the relative darkness. He looked away.
“Impossible. I couldn’t possibly move that way."
“You could if you took that stick out of your spine.” Crowley stepped closer, his smile softer and more snakelike, and he extended his hand again. “Come on, darling, let me help."
Aziraphale took a step backwards. “Oh, the song ended, what a pity. I was beginning to look forward to learning this shimmy thing."
“Angel. ” Crowley opened his mouth, paused, and suddenly brightened in a way Aziraphale felt was alarming. “Actually, this is even better.” His tongue flickered for a moment, serpentine, as if tasting the air. “Ever tangoed, darling? No, of course you haven’t, why am I even asking?"
“Isn’t the tango frightfully complicated?"
“Not if you’re not an exhibition dancer. It’s more of an excuse to—never mind. Come here.” Crowley reached and took Aziraphale’s hand, flinching slightly as he did so. Aziraphale narrowed his eyes in curiosity, but was distracted as Crowley stepped close, very close indeed, and settled a hand in the small of Aziraphale’s back, pulling him against his right shoulder as he raised their cradled hands. Something seemed to spark and go off behind Aziraphale’s eyes.
“Is this—is this strictly necessary?” he stammered, wondering why he said it even as it passed his lips. So little of what Crowley did was strictly necessary.
“Don’t worry, angel,” Crowley purred. His face was very close again. “Do you know that men tango together all the time in Argentina? It’s the only way to impress partners at social events. I spent simply ages learning with some rather nice young labourers."
“I don’t have ages to learn. One dance!” Crowley’s hand was smooth and soft and tender as snakeskin. It was distracting.
“Which you’re wasting. Don’t worry, it’s nice and slow. Hand on my arm or shoulder, you’ll be more comfortable."
Aziraphale debated internally a bit, but curling his arm up around Crowley’s shoulder really was more comfortable. He knew he was being silly. He knew a dance was nothing and if it made Crowley happy after his feelings had apparently been hurt it wasn’t much to ask, but—it was the demon. He had the literally infernal talent to make even the simplest, least dubious things feel like a temptation. Aziraphale knew it was Crowley's nature, and not strictly saying his fault, but it did sometimes make things feel complicated.
“Like this?” he asked anxiously.
“Just like this,” Crowley murmured. “Very nice.” His lips were only inches from Aziraphale’s, which was no reason for Aziraphale to feel like his face was on fire. Hellish heat, perhaps? But Crowley, pressing even closer, was so nice and cool. So much nicer than the heat in that crowded hotel.
“Now, follow my feet. Slowly. One step, step, step.” Aziraphale dutifully tried to follow. He found going backwards like this rather nerve-racking, but Crowley was cradling his hand firmly, his grasp on his ways reassuringly tight, and it wasn’t so bad after all. “That’s it, trust me."
“Of course I don’t trust you,” said Aziraphale, and relaxed. It was easier than he had expected, or at least Crowley was good at steering him where he wanted him to go without seeming to do so. Probably a useful talent for a demon. Still, he didn’t understand how ladies could do this in those shoes.
“Step, step, pause… step. Now…"
Three things happened in quick succession. Firstly, Crowley inserted a snakeskin foot neatly between Aziraphale’s, his thigh pressing between Aziraphale’s own. Secondly, Aziraphale, taken by surprise, lost his balance. Thirdly, the balcony behind him gave out, and they tumbled down towards the cliffs to the beach below.
Aziraphale’s wings swept out instinctively, and he was already holding Crowley’s hand and shoulder, so he managed to twist them into a safe position as they fell. Still, they landed in a tumble of feathers and limbs and Aziraphale struck his head quite sharply on the sand.
“Oof. I do hope no one saw.” Aziraphale tried to retract his wings, but one was under Crowley. “If you don’t mind, my dear.” Crowley rolled off, and Aziraphale retracted the wing. He sat up to examine the damage to his tails coat.
“They’ll probably blame it on drink or drugs if they did.” Crowley drew a hand over where the wings had torn through the jacket, and the wool healed itself. “I probably shouldn’t fix that thing, anyway. Beyond time you switched to a tuxedo jacket."
“I have no wish to be vulgar,” Aziraphale said, firmly. “Ah—not that I mean... I mean to say, thank you."
“Thank you.” Crowley, in his own dinner jacket, sat beside him on the sand. They sat in silence, staring out over the black water, the lights of the establishments along the beach. Aziraphale could feel a certain unpleasant dampness creep from the beach up into his posterior region. For some reason, he didn’t want to move anyway. The crash of the waves on the beach, the air that was so fresh and clear away from the smoky hotel, the glimmering stars in the sky, the demon with his head flung back shaking with laughter next to him--
“What’s so funny?"
“Oh, Aziraphale. You have no idea how differently that all worked out in my head. Absolutely no idea.” Crowley’s glasses had fallen off and his yellow eyes were glinting, his grin was softer and more friendly than it had been all night, almost fond, and Aziraphale gathered that for some reason he had been forgiven. Not that it wasn’t ridiculous to be forgiven by a demon. Entirely the wrong way around. He felt warm and glowing anyway.
"What were you planning, dear boy?"
"Mmph," said Crowley, unhelpfully. He stood up and extended a hand again. “Come on. The young lady will be reading her terrible poetry soon, and you didn’t want to miss it."
“I’m sure it won’t be terrible.” Aziraphale took his hand, and let himself be pulled to his feet.
"Hmph. I’ll let you have my review afterwards."
“You’re coming to listen with me?” Aziraphale could hear the hopefulness in his voice, and flushed a little.
“Why not? You kept your end of the bargain. And, afterwards,” Crowley added, as they drifted gently back up the cliff, hand in hand, “you’re coming to a casino with me."
“Why would I do that? They are places of sin and—oh, all right,” he said, as Crowley’s eyes sparkled. “I suppose I need to cancel your influence out."
“There’s a sport.” Crowley released his hand, and Aziraphale’s felt oddly empty. The demon made a movement, and their clothes were crisp and pristine once more. Crowley solicitously adjusted the lie of Aziraphale’s jacket over his waistcoat. “You’ll have fun. They have champagne. And, angel?"
“Hmm?” He manifested another pair of dark glasses, and offered them to Crowley.
“No more vanishing for fifty years."
It was an odd thing to say. They had gone centuries without speaking in the past, and picked up again as if they had never parted. Still, the world seemed to be moving faster this century. Everything seemed to be moving faster, including Crowley.
Sometimes, Aziraphale wondered if he would ever catch up.
1) Up a bit later than I intended, because I wasted far too much time researching early 1920s dance for this. Anyway, the social European tango at the time was less Gomez and Morticia and more walking around using it an excuse to get really close.
2) What Crowley envisioned was pretty much what I envisioned when I first came up with the plot bunny and intended it to be a one shot.
3) I fudged the dates a bit. Caberet Girl came out a year later. I just couldn't get the perfect juxtaposition between this scene and the next chapter, so I pushed both a few months off.
3) Typora has won as my AO3 text editor of choice because I like writing in "what you see is what you mean" markdown and then using "copy as HTML", also it's minimalist and pretty, but it does seem to insert random spaces around italics. I hope I've caught them all. Or I could exercise more restraint in my use of italics... Yeah, nah.
Chapter 3: Every night some heart betraying
Casinos and musical theatre and a contrary demon.
“You can’t possibly marry her."
“Why not? Seemed like a nice girl.” Crowley smiled, slow and satisfied, as they walked towards Aziraphale’s hotel. Dawn was pinking the horizon, although a few stars still burned faintly. “What’s her name again? I suppose I should know my fiancee’s name. Might be awkward otherwise."
“Marie. She’s a very nice girl. Good solid American Episcopal. My dear fellow, she’d want to get married in a church. You’d—you’d explode."
“Look, be grateful. I was just getting your head off the chopping block. She and her mother would have had you signed and sealed by the end of the night. How would that look on your record, seducing innocent young humans into marriage? You know how Upstairs felt about the Nephelim."
“Seduce—Oh, Crowley, don’t be so irritating. You know I was doing nothing of the sort."
“You can’t turn up to a marital hunting ground, looking like that , and not expect to get engaged, darling. It’s not fair on the humans."
“Like what?” Aziraphale demanded, outraged.
Crowley was oddly silent, and his swagger faded. Aziraphale turned his head to give him a look. Under what remained of the moonlight, Crowley was looking thoughtful, and a little uneasy. “You know,” he said at last. “Well-heeled. Cultured. Indulgent. Kind.” He said the last word as if it was a curse. “It’s just inviting trouble."
“Nothing of the sort,” Aziraphale snorted. “Of course I was kind, she’d just lost all her stake. I was just giving her some cheering advice and making her understand the ills of gambling. And you’re a fine one to talk about inviting trouble. That poor girl."
“Oh, don’t you worry about her. The moment Mama finds out that charming Anthony is not, as she thought, a wealthy scion of the aristocracy but a notorious gigolo, Marie won’t be allowed out of the hotel until I’m gone. And she’ll have learned a useful lesson about trusting strangers. I practically did a good deed, despite myself. Turned her towards virtue. Ugh, that is not going in my report. Besides, I lost money too, and you didn’t melt with sympathy and pat my hand consolingly over my losses."
“You only lost because I wouldn’t let you use magic to cheat."
Their steps trailed to a stop outside the hotel. “You going in?” Crowley asked at last.
“Naturally.” Aziraphale didn’t move. There was some air of anticipation around them that he didn’t quite understand. Crowley was standing very close again, and looked like there was something he wanted to—say? Do? Amazing how expectant a pair of dark glasses could look. Maybe it was the mobile mouth beneath them, the hint of a forked tongue.
“I don’t know why you bother with a hotel room, angel. It’s not like you sleep."
“It’s nice to have some space to myself to read. Besides, the people there would think it odd if I have no place to go. How about you?"
“I’ve got used to sleeping."
“For years, apparently."
“It’s enjoyable. You should try it. You like other human pleasures—well, most of them.” The desultory conversation tailed off. “I’m staying further down. Well, au revoir."
“It had better be, too. No disappearing again. Well.” Crowley turned and walked in direction they had just come from. So, they had passed his hotel. Rather nice of him to walk Aziraphale home. And look at the way he moved, half strut, half serpentine slide. Aziraphale could recognise that walk in a crowd of thousands. He had learned, at some point, to look for it.
There was something lonely about the dark figure under the moonlight. Of course, it must be lonely, being a fallen angel. Cut off from Grace, and nothing in common with other demons. Of course, humans were all right, but--
Crowley turned, and Aziraphale realised he had called out without knowing quite what he meant to say. He reached for the first thing he could think of.
“We were talking about musical theatre."
“We were?” Crowley shifted from foot to foot.
“There’s an operetta I’ve been meaning to catch in Paris before it finishes. Set in Ancient Greece. I thought, well, it would be nice to have company who remembers what it all was really like. And there’s a divine little restaurant near the theatre."
Crowley’s teeth flashed in the moonlight. “It’s a date, angel."
Aziraphale smiled back, his heart feeling oddly light, the beat increasing in speed. Odd. He turned to enter the hotel, and then paused and called out again. “Crowley?"
Crowley spun on his heel, quite fast. “Aziraphale?"
“For goodness’ sake, wear tails.”
“Well,” Aziraphale said dubiously, as the angel and the demon left the Théâtre des Bouffes-Parisiens, “that doesn’t really match my memories of Ancient Greece at all. No philosophy, no erudite discussions, no devotion to the perfection of the human form. Just, well, silly humans with one thing on their minds."
“I don’t know. Most of my memories are about people trying to get each other’s spouses onto the couch."
“I’m sure they are.” Aziraphale clicked his tongue.
“I’ll give you the perfection of the human form, though. Anyway, what do you want? The whole play was about art and the beauty of the human form."
“In a way, I suppose. I did enjoy the music,” Aziraphale conceded.
“Welcome to the Jazz Age, darling.” Crowley stretched luxuriously as they strolled down the Passage des Paranormas, his shoulders moving bonelessly. “Indoor heating, what a glorious human invention. Where do you want to go for supper? I wouldn’t mind taking you to an intimate dining salon in Lapérouse."
“What an extraordinary idea,” Aziraphale said, unsure if he was joking. Surely Crowley didn’t think he frequented courtesans. Sometimes he thought Crowley spent far too much mental energy on being provocative. Still, he'd missed it. Eggs without salt. “I can’t think of any good reason to go there. Or virtuous reason, at least."
“Pity. You’d love the pigeon. And it used to be a convent out the back, couldn’t get much more holy than that. Ssure I can’t tempt you?” A hiss crept into his voice. “I brought diamonds, just in case."
Aziraphale gave him a sharp look, then let it drop. He was feeling oddly buoyed up by a feeling of well being. There was something special about being the only two beings in the audience who could match Phi-Phi up against reality. Something special, too, about being the only immortal beings who would go see it in the first place. It gave Aziraphale a sense that he and Crowley were set apart, in their own little iridescent bubble. He didn’t want to quarrel, at least not seriously. “I was planning on eating right here. I do enjoy the honeyed duck."
“That sounds truly disgusting, angel. Lead me to it. And make sure there’s lots of alcohol."
“Naturally, dear boy."
They were comfortably ensconced in the warmth soon afterwards. Crowley didn’t eat much, honeyed duck apparently being too sweet for his taste, but he did indeed drink copious amounts of alcohol, sprawled back in his chair in a most ungentlemanly manner, sipping wine and contemplatively watching Aziraphale eat. Had he always stared at Aziraphale’s mouth so much? Was it a snake thing? Aziraphale could feel his cheeks flushing pink for some reason. He tried to remember about snakes and eating.
“Are you in France long?” Crowley asked eventually.
“Only in passing. Had a blessing to deliver, and there’s a rather promising little wine I was thinking of picking up. The bookshop doesn’t run itself, you know."
“And you can’t hire an assistant, because they might accidentally sell a book, and then you’d ruin your perfect record by committing the cardinal sin of murder,” Crowley agreed.
“That’s a base calumny. You?"
“I was thinking of trickling on to Berlin. Lots of amusing stuff going on there at the moment. But, I don’t know, maybe I’ll head back to London after all. Considering.” Crowley drew a finger slowly around the rim of his glass.
“Considering what?” Aziraphale felt a small, absurd hope bloom in his heart. Not that he was sure he’d know quite what to reply if Crowley said it was because they had renewed their… acquaintance.
“I wore tails for you,” Crowley said softly, with far more significance than Aziraphale felt it deserved.
“You wore them for yourself, dear. Self respect is important."
Crowley ignored him. “You can come see a Wodehouse musical comedy for me in exchange."
“Is that all?” Aziraphale laughed, relieved and warmed. “Well, why not?"
“Why not indeed?” There was a soft smile playing about Crowley’s lips. “What harm could come of it?"
1) You can watch Phi-Phi on Youtube. If you can get through the whole thing, congratulations, your tolerance for "naughty" Jazz Age French operetta is higher than mine.
2) Lapérouse was available for discreet romantic liaisons as well as meeting courtesans. You judge which Crowley had in mind. Also you can find 1920s menus for it on Pinterest because the Internet is bloody wonderful. See note 1)
3) Chapter titles still from "Just a gigolo."
Chapter 4: Show a laughing face
English skies were unpleasantly dull and grey after the South of France, the air damp, but a certain Soho bookshop was always in a perfect summer microclimate. the atmosphere the exact crisp dryness to preserve his precious books and scrolls without the risk of mould. Crowley lolled in Aziraphale’s favourite armchair in blissful ease, basking in the temperature.
“Sssso warm,” he sighed. Aziraphale handed him some hot spiced mead. “So good. What did you think of the show?"
“A little gauche musically, but well-meaning. The moral basis was quite good. A girl’s worth depends not in her class and station, but on her—on her--"
“Legs,” Crowley said. He sipped the drink, and sighed again with pleasure at the rich warmth.
“Yes. I mean, no. Not in the sense you mean. On her hard work and virtuous qualities."
“Which she proves by marrying into cold, hard cash, and don’t tell me she would have managed that with perfect virtue and without a pretty face and good legs. He wouldn’t have noticed her in the cabaret in the first place. Or that she’d find the young man as charming without the mansion. Excellent lesson for the humans, almost as excellent as this mead.” He took a long sip. "I can always count on you to have the good stuff, you dissolute old sensualist. How old exactly is this? Left behind in Viking raids?"
Aziraphale pouted sternly at him, but didn’t argue. He was feeling as content as a cat by the fire. He had enjoyed the show, enjoyed an excellent supper, and now Crowley was sprawled out in the back room as if he belonged there. For the first time in sixty centuries, Aziraphale was feeling conscious of a perplexingly human sense of domesticity. He always had the impulse to help people, that was an unquestioned part of his nature. Now, watching the demon look far happier and cosier than anyone doomed to eternal hellfire should rightly look, he felt a strange urge to cosset him as well. He wanted to pet the demon, and spoil him, and keep that sleepy smile softening the sharp angles of his face.
He pressed his lips together, disapproving of himself. If Michael knew he was tempted to put a lap blanket on a drowsy demon and tuck it around his thighs...
“Why the sudden frown, darling? Am I being more annoying than usual? Am I getting in the way of your work? You can tell me to slope off, if you like. You never had any problem shooing me off before.” Crowley's smile had gone, in any case, and his yellow eyes reflected nothing but firelight.
“Quite the opposite, really.” Aziraphale sipped pensively at his drink, the rich honeyed spiciness setting off pleasure messages in his corporeal brain. “I missed the Arrangement."
“It probably meant more work for you, without the Arrangement in place.” Crowley’s voice was suddenly cool.
“Not at all, seeing you were out of commission. I had practically a free hand."
“How nice for you.” Crowley’s voice had passed from cool to positively icy.
“Now, don’t be like that, dear boy."
“Did you miss the excuse to do temptations? Get a little soot on your white wings?"
“Don’t be silly. I don’t enjoy tempting those poor humans for you any more than you enjoy turning them to the hard and straight road for me. It’s just sensible."
There was nothing sleepy at all about Crowley now, if there ever had been. He was leaning forward, face intent and unreadable. “What exactly did you miss?”
“Oh, my dear.” Aziraphale pressed his fingertips together in agitation. Why did Crowley always have to push things? “You can’t expect me to say it."
“No, I suppose I can’t expect that at all.” There was a distinctly nasty note to Crowley’s voice.
Aziraphale was miserably conscious of having spoiled the lovely evening, and at the same time felt guilty for caring so much. He was an angel. His idea of a lovely evening should be helping the wandering sheep back to the fold, not spending it in the company of a demon watching chorus girls kick their admittedly pretty legs. He supposed he had lost his own way somewhere, and the worst of it was that he wasn’t sure he wanted to find his way back. The immediate desire to have Crowley smile again was a much stronger impulse and that, surely, was all wrong. Heaven frowned at Hell’s delight, and vice versa. That was the proper way of things.
He drained his glass so that he didn’t have to look directly at Crowley.
Crowley apparently had other ideas. He was out of his chair and across the room so fast that it felt like he hadn’t taken a step but had struck across like a cobra, his face thrust close to Aziraphale’s, voice hissing. “What are you thinking right now, angel?"
Aziraphale felt a twinge of fear, and was disgusted with himself for it. Crowley wouldn’t hurt him, he was sure of it. This was just bluster. Even if he tried, Aziraphale was more than a match for any demon, with or without his sword. “I wasn’t thinking anything."
“Oh, you were. You’re always thinking. You think, and you look, and you talk, oh youprattle, you chatter on endlessly, but you rarely actually say what you are thinking, do you? And I’m no good at guessing an angel’s mind. I never was as good of an angel as you are.” Crowley’s mouth twisted bitterly, then he stepped back, seeming more like his usual self, less alarmingly serpentine. “And you thwart even without intending.” He turned away and picked up his dark glasses from where he’d discarded them. “I suppose I’d better go."
“You don’t have to go,” Aziraphale said, through his hurt and confusion.
“Really?” Crowley’s eyes were masked by black circles once more. “I can stay. If you want me to. But you have to ask. Those are the rules, and you know that as well as I do."
“I know nothing of the sort. I wish—I wish you’d stop playing these games. I don’t know what the rules are.” Aziraphale blinked hard.
“Fuck. You really don’t, do you?” Crowley passed a hand over his brilliantined hair, messing it up. It made him look younger, which was ridiculous for such an ancient being. “I thought I’d got off lightly, you know,” he said, almost dreamily. “I mean, Falling wasn’t so bad after all. After the Rebellion I got to stay on Earth instead of in Hell. I got a body and all kinds of enjoyable things to do with it. I was stupid enough to think that maybe She hadn’t judged me too harshly, that I was okay really, I just deserved a slap on the wrist and then I could get on with things and have some fun. I should have known She was just saving up special hellfire for me."
“Crowley.” Aziraphale stepped forward and reached out a tentative hand. He let his fingers just cover Crowley’s, noticing the flinch, and also the way Crowley’s hand tilted and gripped tight, as if he didn’t want to let go. It made his heart ache. “If I can help you in any way… Perhaps put in a word Higher Up..."
Crowley laughed, joylessly. “Ask me to stay. Say please."
Aziraphale bit down the plea even as it rose to his lip. “I don’t think that would be wise—"
“I know. I’m sorry.” Crowley’s voice was oddly gentle. “No redemption for the Fallen. It’s all right, angel. I’m not such a heartless bastard as I try to be, at least not with—never mind. At least you put up with my company.”
He released Aziraphale’s hand. “Good night, angel,” he said, as brightly as if nothing had happened. “I’ll pick you up in a cab tomorrow, so don’t get too ossified."
“Tomorrow?” Aziraphale couldn’t find his mental feet. Everything seemed to hurt, as if the mead had been poisoned.
“I did hear that some very interesting works were going up for sale privately. And that some potential buyers were considering forging them. It would be terrible if they fell into the wrong hands.“
“Considering, or being tempted?” His voice was automatically stern, falling back into old patterns, even as his mind whirled desperately.
“I couldn’t say, darling. Anyway, I have an invitation to the sale, and I thought I’d bring along a guest. Try to dress like it’s the twentieth century. And, Aziraphale?"
“I never actually give up on batting a sticky wicket. Major character flaw."
Then Aziraphale was alone with his books and his tumbled feelings, and Crowley was gone.
1) We're back at "The Cabaret Girl". The theme is just too perfect. Marilynn is a cabaret girl and doesn't want to give up her improper life, Jim needs to live up to his trustees' expectations, their lives don't gel at all, but they both want to be married because true love. Crowley is too cynical.
2) No promises to keep up these lightning fast updates, but right now this story is living in my head.
3) Thanks again for all the support. It really does mean a lot to me. <3
4) Title is from "Schöner Gigolo, armer Gigolo" because I ran out of suitable lines from the English version. Poor gigolo Crowley indeed.
Chapter 5: Kiss and dance like no other
Aziraphale is an angel, but he also worships books.
The book sale was held neither in Sotheby’s, where Aziraphale was accustomed to pursue the kind of manuscript that left his beautifully soft palms sweaty, nor in some smoky public house that he vaguely felt forgers would frequent. Instead, they delivered their cards—Crowley adroitly managing to present his without Aziraphale seeing what he listed as his name and occupation—at an elegant townhouse in Belgravia. The footman looked at the cards as if both names were expected, and ushered them into a surprisingly uncluttered and modern drawing room.
Aziraphale waited to be introduced, but a rather glamorous old lady in autumnal greys cried out “Anthony, darling!” Crowley kissed her cheek and established himself on the settee with his hand in hers, and Aziraphale found himself unceremoniously abandoned and feeling a little lost.
He looked around at the fashionable people sipping tea and sherry, wondering if the whole thing was some kind of terrible joke. He relaxed a little when his eye fell on an old acquaintance from the trade, a portly man in an expensive suit and hair almost as beautifully brilliantined as that of the demon.
“Surprised to find you here, Fell,” the man said cheerfully, hailing a maid who was trailing around with drinks. Aziraphale strove for his name. Green? “Here, a sherry for my friend Mr Fell. I didn’t think it was your scene—but, actually, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised after all,” he corrected himself, shrewd blue eyes sizing him up. “No one could amass a collection like yours and still be on the up and up."
“I have no idea what you mean,” Aziraphale said firmly, although he was beginning to have suspicions. Crowley was leaning considerately towards his companion, but Aziraphale was sure he detected a malicious tilt upwards to his lips. He was certain Crowley was listening to every word.
“I’m not saying anything. Discretion, that’s the keyword. I suppose you are here for the palimpsest and not the pornography?"
Crowley’s lips were definitely twitching.
“Certainly not for the—not in my line at all, my dear fellow!"
“I did wonder for a moment. Please tell me you didn’t turn up with the Duchess’s dago and just met at the door."
“Dago?” Aziraphale said vaguely. He had always liked Green well enough, with the indulgent and distant affection he felt for humans who didn’t get in his way and were interested in important things like books. He seemed rather less endearing now. Aziraphale wondered if it would be too cutting to stop calling him dear.
“The greasy kept poodle in the fancy glasses. Maybe not a dago, but you can’t tell me he’s from England. Something odd about that one."
“Oh, no, Crowley's not from England,” Aziraphale said firmly.
“So you do know him?” Green looked speculatively at him, taking in the immaculate suit, the plump manicured hands, the exquisite buttonhole. “Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised after all. Oh, well, no harm. You’re a good book man, I’ve always said that, whatever else you are. But I’m not letting you get hold of these codexes."
Codexes. Palimpsests. Through his discomfort at this glimpse into Crowley’s twentieth century world, Aziraphale’s ruling passion held true.
‘’To be precise, Mr Green, I haven’t had the opportunity to learn much about this sale. It seems most irregular—most irregular indeed."
“Well, of course it is irregular.” Green seemed a little surprised. “I mean, they couldn’t really come out on the open market, now could they? Bit of explaining to do."
Aziraphale took a deep breath. “My friend, tell me exactly what is going on here, and—well. I might have a second copy of the Buggre All This Bible that has suddenly come up for sale."
Green’s eyes blazed. “You might? Well, I really don’t know if I should say…” He leaned over and whispered in Aziraphale’s ear, for quite a while, while Aziraphale turned first white, then red.
“Which codexes are under the newer text?” He could feel sweat trickle down his spine, his hands shaking with the most pure and overwhelming bibliophilic lust. To get hold of them, decipher them, read their delicious heretical...
Green confirmed it.
“But surely, surely they were…” He let the word die on his lips. Stolen. Green nodded, winking.
Crowley wasn’t even pretending to listen to the Duchess anymore. His face was fixed on Aziraphale’s—knowing, triumphant, and with something else in it that Aziraphale couldn’t read.
Aziraphale supposed he should feel angry, but instead he felt like he was plummeting from the Heavens. This, this was too much. Some unsaid line had not just been stepped over, it had been scuffed into the dust beyond betrayal. Of course Crowley tempted, trying to wheedle Aziraphale further and further in the other direction. It was his nature, and a kind of game, when he knew Aziraphale’s little weaknesses so well. But this. This wasn’t small temptations, delicious alcohol and food and little lies back to Upstairs and a bit of demonic work.
This was serious. This was a betrayal. This was books.
He turned his back on Crowley. Right as he turned, he thought he caught a slight hint of fear on Crowley’s face.
On the way back to the bookshop, Aziraphale cradled the precious manuscripts on his lap, carefully wrapped and protected. Genuine. He could tell they were genuine. He didn’t even need to analyse them. The knowledge of their realness throbbed through him, clear and real. Every urge of every cell in his mortal body told him to get them home, get some gloves on, and explore.
Crowley say beside him, radiating—Aziraphale wasn’t sure. Some dark, gloating energy. But his fingers were digging into his own thighs a little. Anxiety, Aziraphale thought bitterly. Guilt? Did demons, even Crowley, feel guilt?
“Well, the bookshop trade must be doing well. Or did you miracle all that money into existence?"
Aziraphale ignored him. Crowley’s fingers twitched, but his voice was still drawling. “I know you’re dying to delve deep into them, but don’t forget me entirely in your reading, darling. I’ll be by to pick you up for supper."
“That won’t be necessary."
“Come on now, angel. I know you want to read, but you owe me for this."
“I won’t be reading. I will be establishing the original owners and returning them immediately."
“Of course you will—wait. You’re serious.”
The cab stopped, and Aziraphale thanked the driver nicely, and descended. He didn’t even bother to pet the horse as he headed for the shop door, most unangelically pushing past a customer who was waiting in the vain hope that the shop might open some time this week.
“Wait, angel!” Crowley tossed some money at the driver and lunged after him. “Are you really—"
“I have no intention of discussing this on the street.” The potential customers were a bit bewildered to see the door unlock itself, and even more so to have it slammed in their face and lock again. To add to their confusion, the man in dark glasses then threw open the locked door and followed nice Mr Fell inside, the door locking again behind him.
Da—darn. He should have sealed it miraculously.
“Angel. I thought you’d be thrilled."
“Really? Is that all you thought?” Aziraphale could never remember feeling so empty, and beneath it, a terrible agonising sense of loss. Crowley . He’d thought he could—no, that was stupid. That was impossibly, unforgivably stupid. Demons, by their very natures, could not be trusted. How could he possibly have forgotten that, just because one was a charming dinner companion and at least pretended not to do anything really bad? He had spent centuries—millennia—looking for a demon and smiling when he heard his voice. It was like some kind of cosmic joke had just reached the punchline.
He opened his vault and reverently laid the scrolls in it. Only when they were secure did he say, in a voice that was much smaller than he wanted, “Crowley, do you actually want me to Fall?"
“No—oh, yes—I mean— Fuck. ” Crowley flung himself in a chair, throwing his glasses to the floor, staring at the ceiling with yellow eyes. “Of course I do."
“No angel has fallen for millennia. You’d get more than a commendation.” Was that really his own voice? So small, so hard—like a bullet was small and hard.
“That’s not the blessed point. This isn’t about souls for the Master. Aziraphale, I’d never do anything to hurt you, you know that."
“Do you think I would enjoy Hell?” Aziraphale asked bitterly. “Which Circle do you think would fit me best?"
“What? No. You wouldn’t stay in Hell.” Crowley turned a face to him that looked genuinely bewildered, his yellow eyes wide. “You’d be up here. With me. Nothing would really change, only we’d be on the same side, and you wouldn’t have to try so hard all the time."
“Crowley, I have thought you were many things, but I never thought you were this stupid."
“Angel.” Crowley said the word blankly, as if he couldn’t find anything else to say.
“Please leave, Crowley, and don’t ever come back. The Arrangement is over.” The words were lacerating his throat. He swallowed hard, with the horrible illusion that he was swallowing blood.
“No!” Crowley was on his feet. “I won’t accept it. Not without talking."
“I can make you leave, you know. I am still in Grace, despite your best attempts, and this is my ground. I still, for whatever reason, don’t want to hurt you."
“Just talk! You’re so kind, you can talk. Aziraphale—“ He reached out, and Aziraphale instinctively stepped back. Crowley’s pleading expression was wiped blank in a moment. “No,” he said quietly. “No. I pushed too far, but you don’t need to look so afraid of me, angel. Please."
“I’m not afraid of you. I could destroy you."
“You’re not the smiting kind, Aziraphale. Talk to me, please. Or let me talk. Just ten minutes, after sixty centuries, that’s not much to ask, is it?
Aziraphale felt, looking at that blank, serpentine face, that ten minutes could be more dangerous than all six thousand years. After all, you weren’t really unsafe when you were running towards that cliff. It was the last second, as the ground crumbled beneath your feet—
Were those actually unshed tears in Crowley’s eyes? “Ten minutes."
Crowley squeezed his eyes shut. “Thank G—S—someone— you . Sssit down, angel. We’ll both sit down. I can’t bear this, standing at each other as if we were going have have fisticuffs. Please sit. Sit down.” His voice was gentle, soothing—was this how he tempted humans? That tender voice reassuring them there was nothing to fear?
Aziraphale sat anyway. He couldn’t think of a reason to refuse.
“That’s right, that’s right dar—“ He caught Aziraphale’s expression. “Aziraphale. Now we can talk.” He immediately fell into silence, though, staring at his hands clenching and unclenching on his lap.
“Do you know why I Fell?"
“You’ve told me many times. You asked questions, you spent time with the wrong angels, you didn’t mean to, none of it was your fault in the least.” Aziraphale’s voice was heavy with sarcasm, and Crowley winced.
“No, I mean—the real reason I was never going to fit in with Heaven.” His fists curled and uncurled. “I didn’t need anyone. Not the other angels, not God, not even Prince Lucifer. I resented the whole idea of needing them. I only needed me, B-B-Botis.” He forced the name out through his teeth, as if it hurt.
“I haven’t heard that name in a very long time."
“You’ve had no reason to. It’s not me anymore, hasn’t been for a long time. I’m Crowley.” He glanced quickly at Aziraphale, as if waiting—hoping—to be teased about being called Crawly, or Tony, or anything else, but Aziraphale was beyond that. "I prided myself on not needing anyone, anyone at all. I thought the Almighty had messed up with me, left out the capacity to love and need others. And you know how She likes to be loved and needed. It was never going to work out. I didn’t need anyone , do you understand, Aziraphale?"
“I understand,” Aziraphale said coldly. His heart hurt.
“No, you don’t! Sixty centuries, Aziraphale, sixty centuries, and then you don’t speak to me for less than sixty years and I just can’t endure it. I hate needing you so much.” Crowley moved across the room, viper fast, and he was bending across Aziraphale, arms going around his shoulders against the back of the chair, and before Aziraphale could react, before he could work out if this was an attack, Crowley’s mouth was on his. Fierce. Desperate.
Aziraphale’s body responded before his mind did. His hands came up and wound themselves in hair that was somehow still soft despite the brilliantine, his lips parted, and Crowley made some sound that was both strange and familiar and pressed his tongue against Aziraphale’s, sending shots of pure gold fire down Aziraphale, the demon’s lips clinging and tugging as if he was trying to devour Aziraphale’s very soul--
Aziraphale broke the kiss. He felt like he was surfacing from some thermally heated whirlpool, but Crowley was still there, still holding him, pressed down against him.
“Oh, Aziraphale,” Crowley whispered, and his voice was as ragged and sharp as the edge of a saw. He pressed kisses down the side of Aziraphale’s face. “Yes, at last. My angel, my darling, my love. Mine. Don’t worry, I’ll take care of everything, my darling, my Aziraphale, mine, mine, mine.” He punctuated his claims with possessive kisses.
“Get out,” Aziraphale managed to say, although everything in him was screaming to pull Crowley even closer, forget everything else, revel in this glorious affection and desire and need...
“Aziraphale?” Crowley looked bewildered and shattered.
Aziraphale managed to unwind his hands from Crowley’s hair somehow. He wants to make me Fall.
“Leave, and don’t come back."
Crowley left, the door slamming behind him.
1) Palimpsests are documents (usually parchments) that have been reused by erasing, or partially erasing, text and writing over it. Heretical texts were written over not only to save the expensive parchment, but symbolically, to replace the words with "truth". As a result, some texts only survive as written-over fragments on palimpsests.
2) In demonology, Count Botis is a relatively friendly demon (and I assume in GO world, fallen angel) who has the ability to reconcile friends and foes, and appears initially as a viper. Seemed suitable. On the other hand, Botis commands 60 legions of demons, and the thought of Crowley as a commander of legions is kind of hilarious. "So, uh, you see, guys, if you don't mind attacking... Yeah."
3) Title from the same song, because when I arbitrarily commit to something, I commit to to it. See also trying to find my 118th flower name for a Pokémon.
4) Thanks as always, and see you soon! Need to untangle my stupid boys from their stupid mess.
Chapter 6: Every night in the same cafe he shows up
The closer the temptation, the harder to resist
Aziraphale sat at his desk, head in his hands, and tried to deal with the problem of the stolen palimpsest. Of course he could just drop it into the police. That would raise questions about how he came by it, and he would be dropping Crowley’s friends into it, and—well, all roads led back to Crowley, the very last thing Aziraphale wanted to think about.
As if he could help it.
Meanwhile, every cell in his body suggested that he was stressed, he was tired, he was heartbroken, he should just go read the parchments already. It wouldn’t hurt them. He’d be very careful. Of course, they were stolen goods, and it would be wrong to enjoy them, but they were just there, waiting, and it would feel so comforting to give into temptation.
Just like he knew perfectly well where Crowley lived, and that all he had to do was cross the river and find the flat, and Crowley would be so very happy to see him, he loved it when Crowley was happy and trying to hide it and be nonchalant, and of course he would kiss him again and… Every pornographic and erotic detail that Aziraphale had read or observed in his long life and had assumed was nothing to do with him was coming back into his mind with inconvenient, and very explicit, clarity.
There was a piece of paper in front of him. On it, in the spiky lettering of someone who had learned to write back when he was scratching messages onto clay and hadn’t practiced enough with pens to develop any refinements, were the words, I’m sorry, angel.
Aziraphale stared blankly for a moment, as it curled up and flared away into ash. He was almost sure he hadn’t done that. He took a handkerchief and carefully wiped the ash away.
He could remember very clearly what happened to the the Watchers who consorted with humans. Just humans, not even demons, and especially not the very same demon who personally caused the fall of humanity. It was something that was difficult to forget. Aziraphale had quite liked Shamsiel, and had been relieved to leave the guarding of the Garden to him. Shamsiel had seemed to like and cherish the humans the same way he did, and of course that had been if anything too true. Uriel had seemed fond of Shamsiel too, but that hadn’t stopped her chaining him under the Earth until Judgement Day.
Aziraphale still remembered Crowley’s arms about him, the desperate touch of a snake like tongue against his, the overwhelming sense of being wanted, needed, so much . It hadn’t felt like temptation. It had felt perfect, like love and Grace was pouring into his human shaped body. Was that what Shamsiel had felt, the first time he kissed his human woman? Did he, even now, think it was worth it? Throw away eternity for a few short years of being needed?
The human woman probably hadn’t known Shamsiel would Fall. That was something Aziraphale couldn’t afford to forget, even if he could forgive. Crowley wasn’t some naive young human. A demon was a dangerous friend. Aziraphale had managed to put that out of his mind over the centuries.
Another note where the other had been. Just talk to me.
He watched it blaze. This time, he didn’t bother to clean up the mess. He sat, waiting, every part of his soul hurting.
Aziraphale, come out of the shop. I can’t come into an angel’s territory without permission, you know that.
He hadn’t, actually. This was apparently one of the rules that he was supposed to know about. Perhaps he hadn’t been paying attention at the correct time? He was pretty sure no one had actually sat him down and explained to him the rules for consorting with demons, probably because no one had imagined he would wish to do so.
Flame, ash. Reform.
I’ll wait for you in the champagne bar at Kettner’s. They have delicious bouillabaisse and almond tarts. I won’t bother you with anything uncomfortable again, it will be the same as always. The writing was larger and more ragged.
Aziraphale got up, left the desk, and began to look through his records for the last known owners of the palimpsest. He saved and filed every newspaper article about rare manuscripts that he came across. He could hear the note on the table flaming, and noticed there was another. It stayed there. Apparently they would only disintegrate when he looked at them, which meant Crowley knew he had read them. A predictably manipulative trick.
Well, that one could stay there.
He had sorted through the clippings for a while when he realised that Crowley would know he hadn’t read the note, and might think it was because he had already headed to the restaurant. He might be hoping, might be hurt and angry when Aziraphale didn’t turn up. It was ridiculous that the thought of Crowley’s disappointment made Aziraphale’s throat ache, after all the demon had done. He just couldn’t bear the idea of causing Crowley more pain. Crowley had been a very bad demon indeed, but he had probably meant it out of love.
No. That line of thinking was a trap.
Aziraphale eventually got things sorted out to his satisfaction. The palimpsest would miraculously appear back in the collection of the owner, and they could sort out the paperwork. And their temptation would be removed. That was the thing to do with temptations, remove them, even if it made one feel sick to the soul.
He sank down in a chair wishing, for once, that he had learned to sleep. Crowley seemed to enjoy it Aziraphale’s treacherous imagination conjured up a picture of Crowley, sleepy and sated, curled trustingly up in his arms and practically purring off to sleep, and with the right to relish his orneryAdversary's vulnerability, kiss his fragile eyelids, stroke his wavy hair. And that was worse, far more dangerous than imagining what went before, because even Aziraphale could not deceive himself that was he was imagining was anything but longing for the right to love. Physical temptations were one thing. To long for the right to dote on and caress and adore the same being who was trying to drag you down into an eternity of damnation, that was beyond idiocy.
The note was still on the desk. He glanced at the clock. It had been four hours.
Despite himself, he walked across and read it.
Forgive me, angel.
Oh, no, that brought hot tears to his eyes, as the note crumbled away. A demon, begging for forgiveness, against his rebellious nature. Perhaps he was being unnecessarily cruel, unnecessarily wary. Crowley really could be unexpectedly humble and sweet at times. Perhaps he wasn’t beyond repentance. Perhaps Aziraphale could even save him. If love couldn’t save him, what would? Crowley could be so dear ...
The next note formed, and Aziraphale picked it up tenderly.
God damn your blood and wounds, I’m on my eighth bottle. Are you coming or not, you winged bastard?
Ah. Right then. Remove the temptation. The problem was that he knew exactly where Crowley was, and Crowley knew exactly where to send his notes. As long as Aziraphale stayed within reach, his feet were trembling at the edge of the cliff, and he no longer trusted his wings.
Where to start a life without an Adversary? France was out, Germany was out. Possibly New Zealand? Aziraphale carefully wrote out a sign saying the bookshop was closed until further notice, and hung it in the window.
If he was going to be alone for the rest of eternity, he might as well start now.
Salta, Argentina, 1926
Aziraphale accepted the gourd offered to him with a grateful smile, and sipped the mate through the silver straw, savouring the astringency. Almost as good as a second flush Darjeeling. He drained the gourd and returned it to the cebador, his eyes still less on his companions at the table as on the two young men on the street corner.
The pair had little language in common, but they were managing to communicate quite well with a mixture of Arabic, Chorote and Spanish. They were laughing and practicing the tango, feet moving fluidly to the music from the nearby bar, dark eyes sparkling. Mesmerising in their youth and joy in life. It made him feel very ancient, and very alone.
“You never did give me a chance to teach you to tango properly, angel,” drawled a voice in his left ear.
As the mestizo dancer pulled the young immigrant into a tango hesitation, Aziraphale felt like his own heart was hesitating in his corporeal form.
Crowley accepted the gourd from the cebador with a wink, and pulled the mate into his mouth through the straw, until it the straw gurgled against the yerba. “Bitter,” the demon commented flatly, so quietly Aziraphale was sure only he could hear. He returned the gourd it to the cebador, who refilled it with hot water and offered it to Aziraphale again.
Aziraphale took it, and regarded the silver straw. The straw that had just been in Crowley’s mouth. Of course, it had been in the mouth of every man at the table, and that hadn’t bothered him at all. On the other hand, the closest the mouths of his other companions had ever been to his own was lightly pecking his cheek.
“Gracias,” he said firmly, and passed the gourd to his right, untasted.
Crowley flinched. “Can’t even share some of this nasty tea? At least you’re still sitting here and not fluttering off. That’s a start."
“It’s delicious,” Aziraphale said defensively. “I’d just had enough."
“And talking. Thank you."
Aziraphale looked sideways at him. Crowley’s eyes would have been shadowed by the brim of his hat even without his dark glasses, but he could feel the yellow gaze centred intently on him, as unblinkingly as a snake mesmerising his prey. He hurriedly looked back at the tango dancers, but they were laughing and separating, going their different ways. Perhaps it had only been a momentary encounter. After all, what could they have in common, beside the dance?
“i don’t really know why I’m talking to you,” he said, even though his heart was moving again, hammering as if trying to escape his chest. He had known, he supposed, that this moment would come. It was just the time and place he had been unprepared for, the humidity wrapping around them, the music...
The overwhelming sense of relief. He should feel fear, of Crowley, of himself. Instead, all he felt was like some terrible hole was being filled. Maybe with boiling water, maybe it was scalding him and not completely comfortable, but at least it was being filled, by the familiar shape by his side, and perhaps the pain was better than the emptiness.
“But you are talking to me.” Unlike the intensity of his gaze, Crowley’s voice was soft, gentle, as if trying not to startle away a nervous woodland creature. “What brings you to Salta la Linda, Aziraphale?"
“The ladies here have just obtained suffrage. I like to think I was of some help,” Aziraphale said primly.
“I was hoping it was because you had some nostalgia for the tango. That’s why I’m in Argentina. Couldn’t stop thinking about it, for some reason."
Aziraphale swallowed hard, wondering if he imagined the tone in the voice. There was a sudden crack of thunder, light splitting the sky. “I knew the weather was too heavy,” Aziraphale muttered as the rain drops began to fall, reminding him of that first rain, long ago.
“Come on,” Crowley said, with sudden energy. “I hate the rain, and you don’t want to ruin that jacket. That bar gives good shelter and, I’ve heard, last year’s Torrontés is an excellent vintage and best drunk young.” He leapt lithely to his feet, a gloved hand extended. “Aziraphale. It’s been four years. And you promised, no more disappearing for sixty years—Arrangement or not. An angel can’t break his promise."
Aziraphale was almost certain he had never actually promised anything of the kind, despite Crowlye’s demands. I’m a stupid angel, Aziraphale thought. He’s still a demon, no less dangerous than he was four years ago. Just because I’m lonely doesn’t mean that he’s safe.
It was far more difficult to refuse a temptation when it was standing right in front of him, hand out, a carefully insouciant pose belied by a faint tremble to his mouth.
He grasped Crowley’s hand, and allowed himself to be pulled to his feet. “One bottle,” Aziraphale said. "I hear it has notes of peach and apricot."
“You always did like fruit,” Crowley said mildly, although his face was blazing so brightly that for a moment it didn’t seem difficult at all to remember that he was of angelic stock. “One bottle."
1) In angelology, Shamsiel is one of Uriel's chief aides, and was set as a Watcher over Earth, guarding Eden after Adam and Eve left. He was one of the angels who Fell by marrying mortal women and having giant children, the Nephelim. He was chained under the Earth to await judgement.
2) The cebador serves the mate, refills the shared gourd with water, and passes it around the group.
3) I was going to end this chapter at the end of the first scene, but I couldn't just leave the poor idiots in that state for too long, had to start them on the steps to a happy ending. Thanks for sticking with me through the apocalypse of the last chapter, and I hope to see you all next chapter!
Chapter 7: Beautiful world
In which a deal of kind (or kindness?) is made
The Torrontés was indeed delicious, almost Heavenly in its lightness and fruity aromas. The one bottle became two, then three. Crowley didn’t say much, keeping their glasses filled as music and dancing and conversation in five languages went on around them, the noises confused with the rain pounding on the roof, the clink of glasses, the occasional rumble of thunder. Aziraphale could feel the hidden eyes fixed on him behind their shields, but Crowley appeared content to drink and let a faint smile play on his lips while he devoured the angel with his eyes.
It was nerve wracking. All the times Aziraphale had imagined the reunion, had imagined the thousand ways the conversation could go and how strong he would have to be. Instead the contrary demon seemed perfectly happy just looking at him. Aziraphale felt like his inner world was shattering into rainbow shards of glass, and didn’t know if they were more beautiful or lacerating. All he knew was that he was in shreds from it.
Crowley looked, if anything, thinner than Aziraphale remembered. It was ridiculous to find that pathetic. While Aziraphale had seen humans abstain from food out of grief, Crowley didn’t actually require mortal sustenance any more than he did. Maybe Aziraphale was imagining it. Maybe he secretly wanted Crowley to look thinner. Maybe he wanted a reason to pity Crowley, and forgive him, and make it all better. Take him in his arms, chastely of course, and kiss him in forgiveness, and…
His thoughts were going in precisely the wrong direction for safety. He blushed, fingers fidgeting nervously with his waistcoat button.
Actually, when he looked again, Crowley looked absolutely fine. As Aziraphale’s gaze fluttered away again, he almost thought Crowley was radiating joy. How could he have thought he looked sad and lost only a moment ago? And by what infernal powers did a demon manage to glow like that?
In the end, Aziraphale couldn’t stand it any more. “You wanted to talk?"
“Not here. Too many humans, too loud.” Crowley frowned briefly. “That’s the problem with being out of our usual haunts, no rendezvous points set up. Suppose you won’t come to my room for a chat?” Aziraphale’s hand, reaching out for his glass, froze. “Just to chat,” Crowley said patiently.
“I’m supposed to trust a demon?"
“I don’t know. Do you trust yourself?” Aziraphale’s hand shook. “Interesting reaction,” Crowley said, a little more cheerfully than Aziraphale liked, making him feel uncomfortably like he had lost a point in some kind of game. “I won’t try to seduce you into wicked perversion, deal? Unless you ask me to."
“That’s not very likely."
Crowley smiled with his teeth. “Then you have nothing to worry about. Come on, angel, let’s go upstairs."
Crowley’s room was as sumptuous as could be expected from a tavern like this. He gestured to the one chair and, while Aziraphale primly perched in it, hands folded on his lap, Crowley flung himself on the bed, arms and legs sprawled wide. Aziraphale gave him a suspicious look, and met his own image reflected in black glasses in return. Sitting tight, shoulders rigid, arms and legs held in close. Defensive. He tried to relax, to look less at a disadvantage, but he could never relax like Crowley. Crowley relaxed with intent.
The rain was loud, and no one could hear what they were saying. That helped.
Crowley spoke first. “I’m sorry, angel, I truly am. The last thing I wanted was to end up like this. I forgot the first rule of temptation. Don’t push it, just create awareness of the beautiful possibilities of this world."
“You shouldn’t have been tempting me at all.” Outraged tears pricked Aziraphale’s eyes. He had spent years mulling it over in his head.
“That’s really not fair of you. I’m a demon, darling. I haven’t pretended otherwise, not since the Garden. I was sent up to tempt in the first place.” Crowley sighed, casting his glasses off and closing his eyes. “Do you know how many seduction plans I made in between naps last century? If dancing in my arms in moonlight failed to get you to kiss me, I had so many other things to move onto. I was sure one would work, the way you look at me sometimes.” Aziraphale started automatically to object, but Crowley held up a hand. “I’m trying to be brutally honest here. I thought it was going to be fun. And I didn’t get to try any of my wonderful plans, because I was too impatient and fucked everything up. I’d do anything to start over, angel."
“Am I supposed to be flattered?” Aziraphale said, even though the thought of Crowley spending a century planning to seduce him did strange things to the pit of his stomach. “That’s all our friendship meant to you, another really big temptation on your record?"
“Oh, no, you were never just that,” Crowley said, a little hoarsely. He turned his head and opened his eyes. “How could you even think that?"
Heat lanced through Aziraphale like—well, like molten honey, which was the exact thing Crowley’s eyes were reminding of him right now. His limbs felt weak, his heart was hammering. He hadn't felt loved like that, precious and singular and irreplaceable and wanted like that, since he was first called into being, before the Almighty had withdrawn from them into whatever ineffable things She had going on. Crowley was looking at him as if he was the only thing that mattered in the universe, and all he had to do was let go, let him drown himself in the hot sweetness.
Aziraphale tried to hang on to his remnants of reason, to the arguments he had been fighting over in his head for four years. "What about the rules of the Arrangement? The Arrangement you wanted, and insisted on, and tempted me into. Don’t get in each other’s way. Actively manipulating me to Fall counts as getting in my way, surely."
Crowley broke the intense gaze and returned his attention to the celling. Aziraphale felt relieved and bereft all at once. “I was stupid. I didn’t think you’d mind,” Crowley said in a small voice.
“You didn’t think I’d mind Falling?” It was so outrageously unreasonable that Aziraphale’s voice almost failed him. “Being cast from Heaven--"
“You can’t stand Heaven. You can’t even sing in harmony, and strong light makes your head ache."
“—losing Grace, and condemned to an eternity of torture—"
“Well, for an eternity of torture, it wasn’t too bad. Until the last few centuries. And the century itself is all right.”
“—shut off from Heavenly love. Alone."
“You wouldn’t be alone!” Crowley pushed himself up into a sitting position, eyes blazing as if the hellfire which had burned away his angelic nature was still caught in them. “You’d be with me, that’s the whole point! Why are you so afraid? I’ll take care of you, you can enjoy everything this glorious world has no offer with no guilt. I can be enough for you, I swear it."
“How can you act like it would be all lovely? No angel has Fallen for millennia. Upstairs wouldn’t go oh, well, Aziraphale, we see you’ve found a nice young man, good luck, carry on as usual. You were the one who brought up what happened to the fallen Watchers. How could you pretend to care about me and still risk subjecting me to that?” And there it was, the core of it. If Crowley cared, if Crowley really cared at all, he wouldn’t be able to bear the thought of that any more than Aziraphale could bear the thought of Crowley being punished by Hell.
Crowley blinked at him as thunder crashed. “That was a joke. Aziraphale, that lot were trying to breed a race of giants that would take over the planet and eat the humans. Great rebellion, A+ for style, if you’re going to go you might as well go big. But when I kissed you, did you really think that was what I had in mind? I swear, all I was thinking about was you."
Aziraphale blinked. “No. No, that’s not right. They just fell in love with humans and were punished for it,” he said, a little uncertainly. "Of course, the poor Nephelim were a bit… unfortunate…"
“Really, Aziraphale? I’m the first to say Uriel is a bit over the top with the smiting, but just occasionally she has a point. Besides, I’d make a terrible father to a monster. I refuse to get Nephelim baby vomit on my jacket. All those half digested body parts are a nightmare to wash out."
"That’s not funny. Besides, Shamsiel at least wasn’t like that. He was nice."
“My sweet trusting angel, I suspect I know him better than you, both in Hell and—before. Shamshiel was, and is, just like that. Always found him a bit uncomfortable company, to be frank. Never understood why I Fell before he did.” Crowley passed his hand over his forehead. “You are so determined to see only the best in everyone. Except me."
“I think my problem is always that I refused to see anything but the best in you."
“Well, you’re certainly making up for that now,” Crowley said, his mouth twisting bitterly. “Look, no ulterior motives. I want one thing, and one thing only. You.” He breathed the last word, and it sent a jolt through Aziraphale. Suddenly he felt dizzy, and his shoulders ached where his wings should be. Perhaps the Torrontés was stronger than he had thought. “On any terms. I’ll defy Heaven and Hell and the whole bloody lot of them if you will be mine, and if not, then I will settle for a chat and booze every now and then as long as sometimes you look at me the way you did a moment ago. So there it is. I’m in your hands, angel.” He sighed and fell back on the bed, vertical pupils fixed on the ceiling. “I await your verdict."
“You would be happy with that?” Aziraphale’s voice trembled. “The Arrangement, and being friends again?"
“Happy is a lot to ask, angel. But I can’t stand to be without you, and and I can't stand to see you this lonely and scared so, yes, it will have to be enough, for as long as that’s all you can give me.” Crowley sat up again, back against the headboard, and patted the cover beside him. “Come here."
Aziraphale stared at the bed, suspicion dawning again. Crowley sighed.
“Look, it’s no good if you are constantly suspecting me of being about to entrap you. Although for Hell’s sake, if you keep turning pink and blinking adorably like that… Just come here. Please. You’re too far away."
Aziraphale took a deep breath, and moved to gingerly sit on the edge of the bed. Crowley moved in a serpentine slither, lying curled along the bed, his head on Aziraphale’s lap, arm hooked around his waist. Aziraphale tensed then, when Crowley made no further move, slowly relaxed his muscles.
“I missed you, angel.” Crowley’s voice was choked.
“I know.” Aziraphale reached down and let his hands slip through soft hair, feeling the texture of each strand against his fingers and palm.
“Tell me you missed me. It's more fun having an Adversary, right?"
“I missed you, dear boy.” It came out warmer and stronger than he expected. He tugged gently on a tangle with his fingers, and Crowley made a sound between a sigh and a hiss.
“That’s nice, keep doing that. And Aziraphale, before you decide you can’t talk to me about it again, you kissed me back. You did."
“I did.” He meant to add that it was a mistake, but he didn’t want to disturb this suddenly gentle atmosphere. He worked his fingers down and massaged the nape of Crowley’s neck, and the demon hissed again.
“You really are a bastard, angel."
“Sorry.” Aziraphale stilled his hand.
“Don’t be.” Crowley’s head seemed to move, a very slight turn to the side, and there was a soft sound, and the he’d turned back. Aziraphale couldn’t be sure, at least not enough to object, but he had the distinct sensation that a soft kiss had been dropped on his trousered thigh. “I have to go to back up to London. There’s this guy there with this new invention—television. Looks awfully promising for my work. This is a fantastic century, they are making everything so easy for me."
“It’s a long way away,” Aziraphale said quietly.
“Yes, it is a long way. I’m going by liner. Dangerous trip. Something might happen to me. I might happen to someone. You wouldn’t want me to happen to someone, would you? Not without a good angel there to put things right, balance it out."
“I shouldn’t be letting you run around unopposed,” Aziraphale said thoughtfully.
“Your bookshop is still there. I wouldn’t let anything happen to it in case--for when you came back. I’m sure your books miss you. Do books miss people? I’m sure yours do. They couldn’t help missing you. Nothing or no one could."
“Really, my dear."
“Say you’ll come?"
“I’m an idiot who never learns his lessons, but, yes.” He sighed. “I ought to get a nautical outfit."
Aziraphale brightened up a bit. “Something jaunty in blue and white. Some of those nice patent leather shoes."
“A hat with a blue striped ribbon. And perhaps one of those little naval moustaches."
“And I’ll have to be seen with you. Are you trying to kill me? This is revenge, isn’t it? That’s what it is, you’re getting your own back at me. All angels are sadists at base.” Crowley’s arm tightened around Aziraphale’s waist.
The angel wasn’t sure what he was feeling. There was fear, still. Crowley made everything sound so easy, he always did, and it never was, it was just that Crowley preferred to pretend consequences for his actions never would eventuate, and if they did, it was totally unexpected and unfair. Aziraphale wondered why he always found it so hard to argue with him. The resentment was gone, though, and there was this deep, sweet sense of wellbeing and longing. He wasn’t going to give into the longing. He wanted things to go back to normal—no, he didn’t. Because having a serpent snuggled on his lap felt surprisingly natural and warm, despite Crowley’s cool body. And the fingers curling and uncurling on his thigh.
“You’re still not giving up, are you, dear boy?” Aziraphale said reproachfully.
“Not in the least,” Crowley said happily. “It’s been sixty centuries, sweetheart, none of which you had kissed me back in or let me cuddle up like this, I should mention. What do you expect, I’m an optimist. But no tempting into evil. No Falling. As for the rest, no one need ever know, any more than they know about the Arrangement. And this time you will kiss me first."
Sweetheart. He caught himself playing the word back over in his mind, tasting it. “I won’t,” he managed to say.
“You will. I can be awfully kissable when I want."
“Hhmph,” Aziraphale said doubtfully. He knew that, even though he couldn’t see Crowley’s mouth like this, it was a particularly kissable mouth. The problem was making himself stop once he started kissing, and he had no intention of getting in that position again. “Crowley?"
“It occurs to me there are a lot of countries in the world, and a lot of cafes in Argentina. A lot of hotels in France. A lot of taverns in Rome. So why, wherever I go, do you always seem to be there?"
He could feel the smirk. “Must be ineffable fate."
Crowley muttered something, drowned out in crash of thunder.
“What was that, dear?”
Only a soft snore replied. Poor demon, he really seemed exhausted. Aziraphale conjured some deep fluffy pillows behind his back, settled more comfortably, and produced a book from the ether. He fancied it seemed slightly surprised to have been pulled from one of his stacks in London, and wondered if his books really did miss him. On the other hand, Crowley’s judgement wasn’t to be trusted on the subject of sentience, he thought trees had ears.
He certainly couldn’t wake Crowley up to ask him if he had really said “Or love."
It wasn’t really the kind of word demons said.
1) In the last chapter, Aziraphale may have invented leaving messages on delivered/read, but I bet Crowley eventually claimed credit for it.
2) Love to all you my readers, thank you for your patience with my angst and references and obsession with the 1920s, and see you next chapter! Have faith in the serpent, he's stubborn and single-minded to the point of mad stupidity.
3) Title is from Schöner Gigolo etc etc
Chapter 8: He fought many moons
Out in the middle of the ocean, an angel has a decision to make.
“I don’t see how you can get seasick, my dear boy,” Aziraphale said in exasperation, patting gently at Crowley’s forehead with a damp towel as he sat on the edge of the bed. “You’re a demon."
“Ever seen a snake on a ship?"
“I suppose not. But can’t you just miracle the nausea away?"
“I don’t feel well enough to do magic,” Crowley said pathetically. He clung to Aziraphale’s arm as the ship crested a wave and plummeted again. “The rising bits are almost the worst,” he whined, “because they feel okay, and then I’m just waiting to drop again… Do you think you could heal me?"
“Have you gone quite mad? I have no idea what would happen if I blessed you. I might set you on fire, my dear."
Aziraphale looked suspiciously at him, but Crowley was looking not so much innocent, as very, very ill, which he supposed was the same thing. His skin was even paler than usual, with a worrying grey tinge, and not all the wetness on his forehead was from the towel. Aziraphale was stricken by compunction. Maybe he was being too sharp. He used his free hand, the one on the arm Crowley wasn’t clinging to like a miserable limpet, to gently stroke hair back from Crowley’s forehead.
“That’s more like proper sympathy. People do die of seasickness, you know.” Crowley wrapped both arms around Aziraphale’s and buried his face against his sleeve. “Would you miss me?"
“Don’t be so melodramatic. You are not actually capable of becoming dehydrated, let alone discorporating from it. Do you want some brandy? I think that’s a traditional remedy."
“Yes.” Crowley brightened a little at the thought of alcohol, and released his death grip. Aziraphale poured him a double shot of what had been barley water until he poured it, and then some for himself for good measure. It had been a bit of a shock that the liner had been registered in the Unites States, and was therefore under Prohibition law. Aziraphale reassured himself that the healing properties of brandy outweighed a tiny sin like breaking the law.
“There you go, dear,” he said with more tenderness than he meant to admit to, holding the aromatic liquid to Crowley’s lips. He put his free arm around Crowley’s shoulder, holding him into a sitting position, and allowing the demon to lean into the embrace.“Try to hold it down, I rather like this berth, and I don’t fancy telling Gabriel I needed to miracle away demonic vomit from my bed."
Crowley snickered, and gave Aziraphale such an unabashedly warm look that Aziraphale’s suspicions transformed into certainty.
“Crowley. You are deliberately making yourself sick so I will fuss over you, aren’t you?"
The side of Crowley’s mouth slid up.
“My dear fellow! That is really not playing fair.” Aziraphale removed the encircling arm.
“Neither is spending half your time in the ship’s chapel dispensing godly advice, darling. You know I can’t follow you in there without causing a scene.” Crowley sat straight, his colour returning, and took the glass himself. His eyes sparkled over the rim. “This is quite literally heavenly stuff. Effected a miraculous cure."
“I am so glad,” Aziraphale said coldly. “Now, I believe Miss Violet and Miss Magda reserved my company for a game of quoits on the upper deck. I’m late."
“Can I play?"
“No. You can stay here and reflect on the error of your ways."
“I’m a demon. My ways are supposed to be in error. How about you? You didn’t even attempt to kiss me better, you ten minute egg. So much for angelic kindness."
“Crowley, really,” Aziraphale sighed, but he was afraid that there was an undignified goofy smile on his face as he shut the door. The fear was still there, deep down, but there was a pervasive sense of wellbeing floating over it. He felt like he should be afraid of that happiness, but he was currently no more capable of it than he was capable of turning off pleasure while trying the delicacies in the dining room.
He was hailed by two fashionable American ladies on deck. While they played, he sympathised and advised about their love lives while being completely incapable of keeping his mind off his own. Because, he admitted to himself, that’s where he had managed to end up, or would, unless he was very careful. At no time in their long acquaintance had he and Crowley stared a first class suite, or spent quite so much time together, or touched so much, or indeed at all. And the more they did it, the easier and more natural it seemed to be together, to indulge in little touches and closeness. Pretending that they were just resuming the Arrangement was too thin a lie even to be a delusion.
He suspected that the bout of seasickness was just the first of Crowley’s resurrected seduction schemes, and that they would continue and become even more ridiculous until he told him firmly to stop, risking the fragile new state of their friendship, or… Gave in. Aziraphale felt like he was plummeting from Heaven at the thought, and yet there was a fierce fiery joy.
“Dear Mr Fell, do you have a headache?” Miss Violet asked solicitously, after he failed to answer a comment for the second time. “The glare is very bright. Perhaps you should get some dark glasses, like your handsome friend."
“He is handsome,” Aziraphale agreed vaguely. The sisters looked at each other and giggled. He was quite aware of the implication, and plucked anxiously at his scarf, which made them giggle even more.
“Darling Ezra,” said Miss Magda. “I feel so safe telling you my secrets. Sit down, and I’ll have you brought some tea.” The girls deposited him in a deck chair, and sat beside him, chattering gaily to each other and he sipped his tea and watched the sparkling water.
He knew he didn’t actually want to stop Crowley flirting and tricking and finding excuses to get close. It was a game, and Aziraphale secretly rather liked games. Such a delightful human invention. But this game was for very high stakes, and the worst of it was that he couldn’t be sure. even now, what the stakes were.
For the first time in what was probably too long, Aziraphale closed his eyes and prayed. He reached out for the presence of the Almighty, and it was there, Her love, Her regard—but so far away, now. No answers, no clues. It had been so long since She had talked to any of her angels directly. She had set them loose in Heaven, and he still didn’t understand why.
He had always stoutly believed, despite everything, that all was for the possible best in the long term. Yes, some unfortunate things happened along the way, but in the end Judgement Day would happen and everything would all get sorted out and everyone would be happy, even the more unpleasant among the Fallen. His loyalty had buoyed him up through a hundred philosophical arguments with Crowley. Now, with the memory of a demon arm looped around his waist, a soft burning yellow gaze, a boyish grin—if Crowley was damned for eternity, as he believed, how did any of it make sense?
Would She even answer if he went and begged her?
Aziraphale was having Doubts.
He opened his eyes, looking around at the luxurious appointments, the laughing passengers, the staff flitting among them. Talking, playing, falling in love, working, committing little sins and little virtues, with no idea they were tokens in some great cosmic war.
“This was a hospital ship during the War,” he said suddenly. “It’s much more charming now."
The girls stopped talking and exchanged glances. “Were you on it, Mr Fell?” Violet asked, her young face gentle with sympathy, but without much understanding. So few years had passed, yet these human children were already forgetting, focusing on their bright new lives and loves.
“Not this one. I did help out and do what I could on another. This was a German ship, of course, until it was seized in reparations."
“But Britain was on America’s side, surely,” Magda said, which Aziraphale thought was an interesting way of putting it.
“I don’t know if I had a side in that war, precisely. I’m on the side of anyone hurt and scared and alone, anyone who needs help.” He thought of Crowley, and his heart ached. “Perhaps it doesn’t matter what side they are on, or what they’ve done wrong, only that they need love."
“You’re so good, darling,” Violet said admiringly. “Practically an angel."
“Am I? I’m not so sure, anymore."
“I’m sure not anything you could do would be wrong,” Violet said. She exchanged glances with her sister. “I mean, not really wrong, not if you think of it in a modern fashion. I like Noel Coward. Even if he's not very old fashioned or conventional."
“Oh, I’m very old fashioned."
“Your friend is very charming,” Magda said inconsequently.
Aziraphale patted her hand. “He’s been suffering sea sickness. I should take a peek at him and see if he is sleeping soundly.” Their giggles rang out again as he left.
Crowley, however, had vanished. Probably gone to join the amusements, tempt someone into spending too much, indulging too much, pursuing the wrong person. Perhaps it was for the best. There were certain rituals that it was best not to let a demon observe. He drew some chalk from his pocket.
The suite door opened just as Aziraphale finished preparations.
“What are you doing?” Crowley’s voice was sharp.
“Just reporting in to Head Office."
“Aziraphale, no. Aziraphale, don’t.” Crowley’s face was whiter than it had been in his bout of seasickness. He stepped forward, but the chalked lines were in his way. “Please stop. Please talk to me first. I thought—"
Aziraphale nodded firmly at him and stepped into the circle.
The lines flared, and Aziraphale dropped back onto the ship.
Crowley sprung up from the chair where he had been waiting. “You came back to me.” He hovered uncertainly at the brink of the circle. “I was afraid you wouldn’t."
Aziraphale managed, somehow, to scuff a hole in the circle, and close the connection. Then he fell to his knees, and shook, tears flooding uncontrollably from his eyes, shaking in every inch.
“Aziraphale!” Crowley leapt over the broken lines and bent over him arms wrapping tightly around him. “Oh, Aziraphale, what did they do? It’s all right, darling, it’s all right, I’m here, my love, my sweetheart. It will be okay, I’m here with you.” Aziraphale was dimly conscious of a ripping sound, and then black wings surrounding them, curving around him, holding him tight in a private little world where there was just him, and the arms around him, the cool body pressed against his, the soft incoherent babble in his ears, the forgiving darkness. “Aziraphale, you’ll get through it, love, I’m here, I’m here, we’re together."
Aziraphale turned his head and kissed him.
1) And in the next instalment, "what happened in Heaven." Thanks for taking this trip with me.
Chapter 9: Even when it breaks your heart
Michael was apparently the only one from his team available for his report. Aziraphale was glad it was Michael. In her serene, collected presence everything seemed simpler. Her cordial regard, her steadfast love—she could be a stickler, and he could never afford to be entirely honest with her, but of them all she made him feel most angelic, least like he didn’t fit in Heaven. Michael, first angelic creation of the Almighty, reminded him most of Her, and that, he told himself, was what he needed. It was too much to hope for an audience with God Herself, these days.
He let her know about Argentina, and she applauded elegantly. “Well done as always, my dear. We’re aware of the troubles in the region, and we feel that women’s voices will be a force for good."
“I didn’t actually do anything much,” he said honestly. “The humans did it all themselves, especially the women. I just leant some moral support and a listening ear."
“As is proper.” Michael smiled like the sun. “And the demon Crowley?"
And there it was. He kept his smile on his face. “Still hasn’t been active, as far as I can tell."
“It’s been a long time,” she said thoughtfully. “Over six decades. Perhaps he has been recalled."
“Oh, I don’t think so. He’s been there from the beginning, like me. Perhaps he’s napping."
“What a strange idea,” Michael said. Aziraphale tensed a little, but the archangel shook her head, looking bemused. “Demons are incomprehensible creatures."
“But they were once among us. Our siblings."
“Yes.” Michael’s smile had faded, but Aziraphale gathered his courage and pushed on.
“Michael, do you remember Botis? Before he became, ah, Crowley?"
The smile was entirely gone now. “Ah. Your paths didn’t cross before the Fall, did you? He was one of the worst and vilest of the traitors, even before he corrupted the first humans. You have my sincere admiration for keeping him in check as an Adversary."
Apprehension choked him. He covered it with a nervous smile. “Why—why one of the worst, exactly?"
She contemplated him. “Aziraphale, beloved, is this really worth speculating about? Why the interest? Your job is to watch and thwart him and lead the humans away from him, not to dwell on the unfortunate past."
“It might help me. If he becomes active again. To—to counteract him.”
She sighed, linking her fingers together. “He offered to act as a liaison, in the beginning. That was one of the roles for which She created Botis, you know. To create harmony among the stars and, we thought, among humans, among us. We were frightened, we didn’t understand why we were about to lose angels, why anyone would want to rebel against our Mother. Botis was dearly loved by us, and also by Lucifer and Belial. We seized on his offer to make peace. We trusted him. And instead, he lied to us and them and dragged as many angels down with him as he could. He tempted so many of us to destruction, and all as part of a deal with Satan so he could live on Earth with the humans. For fun."
Aziraphale closed his eyes. He couldn’t bear Michael to see the expression in them. “How could he do that? We’re all creatures of love, aren’t we? How could he take angels who loved him, and betray and destroy?” Michael was silent. “Michael, please tell me. You were the only Watcher who wasn’t corrupted. You must understand how angels Fall"
Michael sighed. “I was the First, you know. I had Her love all to myself. I didn’t mind sharing. Even when the humans came, and they were best loved. I decided to love them too—just like you do. No one, I think, loves them as sincerely as you do, our most precious Principality. You are an inspiration to us all. But not everyone felt that way.” Michael wasn’t particularly touchy-feely, but she stepped forward and wrapped her arms around him, wrapped him in comfort that somehow wasn’t comforting at all. “Don’t speculate too much, my friend. It’s better not to think about it. The last Falls were a very long time ago."
“I talked to Crowley once, you know. I think he didn’t realise I was on Earth for long, and was interested in the chance for a chat with an angel. He said the Almighty had made him wrong, had made him incapable of love. That he was a mistake."
“The Creator doesn’t make mistakes, Aziraphale. She gives choices. Botis was made of love, as we all are. He chose to twist that love and become the demon Crowley. Aziraphale, you made a mistake. Don’t talk to the serpent again. His talent is to sniff out your desires and corrupt your feelings with his words, and we can’t risk losing one more of our lambs.” She paused, and her voice was like iron. “Or triggering another Exodus from Heaven."
Don’t talk to him. It had always been assumed, but this was the first direct order. Don’t talk to him, certainly don’t let him rest his head in your lap, or stroke his hair, or kiss him...
“If we are are all creatures of love, can’t the Fallen be saved?” he asked, desperately. “If we reach out to them—"
“We’ve had this discussion before, over Ninevah, over the Flood, over the Egyptians, so many times. There is no point to choices without consequences. Crowley and the others serve their divine purpose in testing humans. But in the end, they will be defeated, they will be judged, and they will burn in a lake of fire for all eternity. And the worst of it is that they plot to be joined by as many of us, humans and angels, as they can manage. That, not even rebelling against God, is the true scope of their evil."
She must have felt him shudder in her arms, because her voice was more like steel than iron now, although wrapped in fur. “Perhaps it has been an error leaving you down there alone so long. No other Principality has been there since the beginning. It must be lonely, with no one to bear you up and remind you of what is important. You have done sterling service on Earth, Aziraphale, but there are other roles you can fulfil."
Panic cut through the pain. “There’s still so much for me to do down there."
“Then would you like a partner, a confidante? I was discussing the possibility with Gabriel."
I already have one. The answer nearly made it to his lips, but that was sheer stupidity. Crowley—Crowley was going to burn in the fire, and had already admitted to trying to bring him with him. Crowley was trying to condemn and destroy him, like he had he others who loved and trusted him.
“I’ll think about it. I have to go, now, or the humans will noice I’m missing. I’m on an ocean liner, not really anywhere to plausibly go, you know.” His words ran on as he left the embrace. All he could really think about was that he needed to get out of there, before he broke down, before he agreed to anything, before Michael realised… She was watching him carefully with blue eyes that only reflected himself, one perfect eyebrow arched questioningly.
“An ocean liner must be an interesting experience,” she said politely. “That’s a really big boat, if I’m correct?"
“Yes, quite big. Thank you, Michael, for taking my report and for your—advice. I will be in touch soon.” He let the magic drag him downwards, and only let the pain and fear hit him as he arrived back on the boat.
The first thing he saw was Crowley, pale and full of anxiety and relief and surely—surely that was love. Surely…
His talent is to twist your words and feelings.
He could still go back. He could escape. He could choose not to trust. He could put his heart back with the other angels. The demon couldn’t cross the circle, couldn’t harm him, couldn’t betray him, if he just went back, and put his faith fully in Michael and the Almighty. Confessed and was forgiven. Kept away from Crowley and temptation. For eternity.
Aziraphale scuffed out one of the lines and closed the connection to Heaven.
Aziraphale could feel a moment of hesitation, then Crowley’s mouth crushed back against his, fierce and adoring, as if kissing alone could drown out everything else, all the pain and confusion. Aziraphale’s body seemed to move of its own accord, twisting around in Crowley’s arms until they were lying chest to chest, Crowley above him, arms tightly wound around each other, dark wings sheltering him, kisses drowning him. If he could just stay, stay like this and feel and not think ever again.
“Angel,” Crowley murmured against his mouth, pressing more kisses on his lips, “you’re the good one. Stop this now."
“I thought this was what you wanted.” Aziraphale pushed himself up against the incontrovertible proof of this, and Crowley arched and shuddered as if he’d been burned.
“I want you. But not like this.” Crowley kissed him again anyway, snakelike tongue flickering deep, and Aziraphale moaned and clutched him closer, needing to cling to the feeling of being wanted and safe. “Oh, my love, not like this, not while you’re crying. It was supposed—it was supposed to be fun."
“Fun?” The word cut sharply through Aziraphale’s emotions.
“Oh, please don’t look like at me that.” Crowley kissed his wet lashes, forcing his eyes to close. "Maybe fun is the wrong word, but what do you expect? I’m a demon. You can’t expect me to use words like blissful and joyous. It's not supposed to be like this, anyway, when you’re out of your right mind and don’t know what you’re doing."
“It’s a strange time to suddenly decide to be righteous.” Aziraphale felt half desperate, as if all the comfort was slipping away. Why wouldn’t Crowley kiss him properly again? The soft lips on his face were sweet, but he needed something… his mind sought for a word, and settled on louder… to compete with his fear of betrayal.
“Please, darling, not righteous.” Crowley kissed his ear, sending jolts up Aziraphale. And somehow, somehow the teasing tone was more reassuring than any passionate protestations would be. "Selfish, as always. If we do this now, and you regret it and hate me and leave me again, then it will destroy me."
“I won’t leave you.” Pits of fire for eternity. He said it anyway.
Crowley’s eyes blazed. “Then we have time. Wait.” Aziraphale pressed up again and kissed him, and Crowley kissed back hard for a moment and then pulled himself away. “If you knew what it was to have everything you wanted so close and have to say no—have some mercy, you blessed angel. Let’s get you sorted. It’s enough to have spoiled my suit, and much as I want to make this monstrosity you are wearing vanish forever, let’s do it the boring way.” Aziraphale could tell Crowley was keeping his voice light, trying to return to normal, but the expression in his eyes was still unguarded, and hell itself couldn't have blazed more brightly.
A little confused as to why Crowley was undressing him after all his protests, Aziraphale submitted to being unbuttoned, his scarf removed, jacket and vest and shirt pushed off his shoulders.
Crowley sat back on his heels and pulled him to a siting position as well. “That’s right, beautiful,” he said, low and soothing, cool hands running down Aziraphale’s chest as if his corporeal form was something to be cherished. “Wings out, darling."
Aziraphale obediently let them come out and stretch and unfold behind him. They sat, face to face, dark wings unfolded behind the demon--
“There you are. Pearly white still. You’re all right.” Aziraphale couldn’t tell from Crowley’s voice if he was relieved or disappointed, and couldn’t see his face any longer, because Crowley had wrapped his arms back around his bare back again, and pulled him close, stroking his wings, running his fingers down through his flight feathers, ruffling them and stroking them back into place, sending little quivers of sensation down Aziraphale's wings..
“You thought I’d Fallen."
“I wasn’t sure."
“Oughtn’t you to be glad if I had?” He was glad Crowley couldn’t see his face.
“Not like that.” Hands ran down the wings, and up again, soothing, as relief surged through Aziraphale. “It’s supposed to be—"
They sat there for a while, Aziraphale settling into the embrace and the caresses. How could a demon be so protective, so attentive, so seemingly trustworthy? Michael’s words hammered against the feeling of security, but couldn’t break it. Aziraphale’s anguish was receding, replaced with a warmth that seemed strange coming from such a cool body. Perhaps it was the encircling wings. Demon wings. It was so confusing, and he was weary of being confused. Better to sit and not think.
He was tired, so tired, and oddly cosy now the violent emotions were receding, and Crowley wasn’t asking any difficult questions or making any demands, just holding and stroking and now and then murmuring endearments and reassurances so softly that they were on the edge of his hearing. Aziraphale’s eyes felt heavy, and he felt oddly dreamlike. Was that what sleepiness was like? It was strangely attractive. Sleep was meant to be healing for humans.
“All right, angel, let’s get you to the bed. Put away your wings sweetheart, you’ve no idea how in the way they can get."
He was too drowsy to notice which bedroom he was guided into, just that he was helped under the covers and, when he held his arms out, Crowley slid into the bed and pulled him close. He was dimly aware of a kiss on the top of his head as, for the first time since being called into creation, an unFallen angel went to sleep.
1) I'd like to remind you all that this was originally going to be a one shot.
2) It is EATING MY BRAIN. But in a good way.
3) Thank you so much, as always, for all the lovely comments and support. Love you guys.
4) Yes, for those of you who speculated, Crowley's desperate fear was because he had a pretty good idea of what was going to happen--that Aziraphale would ask about his past.
Chapter 10: All the hearts flew to him
Morning and confessions and--well, this one is just pretty shamelessly sappy. Enjoy.
Aziraphale woke to his steward placing tea on the bedside table, the curtains to the porthole already drawn. He blinked, confused. He was alone in the bed. Someone had put a nightshirt on him, so he was modest enough not to offend the steward’s sensibilities. Someone. Crowley could be oddly considerate at times. And it had been his own bedroom after all. He felt warm and refreshed and half drowned in syrup, his senses rested but deliciously sluggish, his eyes heavy. Was that was what sleeping did to you? No wonder Crowley liked it so much. All his problems were still there, but they felt cushioned by drowsiness.
“Morning, Mr Fell. Not like you to be still in bed. You’re usually up and about with your books before I come in, and the bed made for us. We joke that you don’t even sleep at all."
“Good morning, Charles,” Aziraphale said, trying to clear his head. The very normality of the conversation was confusing him. “I suppose I read too late last night. Thank you, my dear, that’s lovely.” He took the tea.
The steward gave him a conspiratorial glance out of big dark eyes. “Your valet’s still got his door closed. Always a bit nerve wracking, waking that one. Somehow I’m always afraid he’ll bite me."
“Oh, Crowley’s not so bad,” Aziraphale said, a tiny bit of his brain delightedly storing “your valet” for later use. “Keeps his fangs sheathed most of the time. Leave his tea in the living room, if you prefer."
“Thanks, sir. I mean, he’s not a bad valet, I suppose. Always keeps your things beautiful,” Charles said, giving an admiring glance at Aziraphale’s nautical outfit, which had somehow moved from the living room floor to being set out neatly for dressing. “But we are all a bit nervy around Mr Greasepot—if you don’t mind me calling him that."
“Oh, I don’t mind at all.” Aziraphale sipped his tea and beamed at the steward. “He makes me nervous sometimes too,” he confided.
“Well, it takes all sorts. For example, you know Daniel, I was telling you how he wouldn’t leave my Maisie alone, despite her and me—"
Aziraphale realised with a kind of panic that Charles was settling himself in for one of his lengthy confidences about his trouble-ridden courtship of one of the maids. Although he usually had every sympathy and enjoyed their morning chats, he really didn’t think it was the best idea to leave Crowley shut up in his room while he gossiped right now.
As if in answer to a silent prayer, the door to the other bedroom flung open, and Crowley flounced into the room. He glared at the innocent human. “Get out,” he suggested.
Charles got out, so fast he left his trolley behind him.
“Oh dear,” Aziraphale said. “I hope he doesn’t get scolded. I hear the upper steward can be a real martinet." Aziraphale hesitated, then decided one frivolous miracle in the service of good wouldn't matter, and magicked the trolley outside the door.
“Valet! Last time I trust you to defend my honour.” Crowley drew his lips back in a hiss. “As if a valet dressed like me."
“Some of them are very stylish,” Aziraphale said reasonably. “I wouldn’t take it as an insult—Mr Greasepot,” he added quietly.
“Shut up. I’m going to make him suffer for that.”
“You will not. He’s a very pleasant and hardworking young man. Sending money to his mother back home."
“Some of which he lifts from passengers' side tables. Just a little bit. They have so much, it doesn’t hurt. They don’t even notice it."
“He does not—“ Crowley grinned at him and Aziraphale pouted. “Well, if he does, who put the idea into his head?"
“I have absolutely no idea." Crowley moved up and on to and up the bed in a kind of slithering rush, so that he was half sitting and half lying, hands on Aziraphale’s shoulders, looking into his face. Aziraphale reached up and removed his dark glasses, to see his questioningly arched eyebrow. “Doesn’t take yours anyway, it would be like stealing from a fluffy sheep. Do all the humans insist on telling you their life stories?"
“I think it’s rather endearing. And useful in my work. Are you jealous?” He had meant jealous of the human’s attention, of how easily he led them towards good while the demon tried to lead them towards temptation, and after all he rather resented the remark about fluffy sheep. Crowley’s gaze, however, unexpectedly darkened.
“Yes. Horribly. Why do you let them take up so much of your time when I want you?"
“You don’t need to be jealous,” Aziraphale said, delicately tracing one sharp cheekbone with a manicured finger. Crowley’s expression cleared and lit up as if the storm had never hit. He wriggled even closer.
"Is it all right to kiss you good morning?"
“Yes, please,” Aziraphale said, feeling oddly shy considering he was lying in bed practically sharing the same breath, and considering what had happened the night before.
Crowley leaned a fraction forward and pressed his lips against his, so tenderly that Aziraphale was taken by surprise, and utterly disarmed. “Angel, why are you so blessedly sweet?” Crowley mumbled against his mouth.
“I suppose it’s part of my inherent nature,” he said lightly, as his insides turned to something like hot marshmallow.
“You act like I’ve never met any other angels before,” Crowley said. Aziraphale flinched. “Ah All right. That was clearly the wrong thing to say. Sorry.” He twisted around, so he was lying half in Aziraphale’s lap, entwining their fingers loosely together. “Want to talk about it?"
“I don’t know,” Aziraphale said honestly. “I was invited to stay. I came back."
The fingers linked with his tightened so hard they hurt, and Crowley lifted Aziraphale’s hand to his lips for a moment. “Thanks."
“You’re welcome,” Aziraphale said, aware of how utterly inadequate both of what they were saying was. “I talked to Michael,” he said, carefully.
Did he imagine that some tension immediately drained away from the dark shoulders? “Ah, Michael, was it? Michael. Right. Well, there’s an old chum I haven’t seen for a while.” There was a cheerful note in Crowley's voice, almost as if he had been relieved of a major worry. Aziraphale hated feeling so suspicious, and hated himself for hating himself for suspecting a demon, and then decided to let go of it all and just focus on the way his hand felt like it was blossoming pink where Crowley had pressed his kiss.
“I’m not sure Michael would call you an old chum."
Crowley snorted. “You’re telling me. One more statue of her stabbing a serpent, and I’m filing a letter of complaint with Head Office."
Somehow his easy disgust was the most comforting thing possible, better than any impassioned protests. Aziraphale wound his free arm around Crowley’s chest, pulling him close, burying his face in his hair. He still hadn’t put that brilliantine in it, so Mr Greasepot was a rather unfair name. It smelled clean, like lavender soap, with a hint of soot. Crowley was so very ordinary, this morning. No wings, no dramatics, no demands, just the single incredible difference of kisses and touches that somehow didn’t feel out of place at all. He considered asking Crowley, while they were in this safe embrace, about what Michael said about Botis. So many questions, so many they hurt and pounded at him, and he didn’t want them to hurt, because—
It’s not me any more, hasn’t been for a long time. I’m Crowley.
Right. He could choose to trust this demon, whatever Botis had done. He clutched Crowley tighter. “I don’t want you to spend eternity in a pit of fire."
“Well, neither do I, if it comes to it. Where did that come from, darling? Oh—Michael.” Crowley sighed. “In her dreams. Look, Aziraphale, the whole holy war isn’t going to happen until our side are bloody sure we’re going to win, and the way things are going, that’s never going to happen. Lord Satan is allergic to putting actually competent leaders in place in case they follow his example and rebel, and everyone is too busy biting and pulling each other down to co operate anyway. I shouldn’t be telling you this, but you have no idea what a mess things are in Down There. Couldn’t even get the ceiling repaired."
“And if your side does win? What happens to the angels, then?"
Crowley’s voice was hard. “It won’t come to that, but it it does, my lot owe me. You’ll be fine, I promise. I’ll make sure of it.”
“A special place in Hell for me?” Aziraphale asked, trying not to think about why Hell might owe Crowley. Over, all of that was over.
“If you like. Better than the kind of ineffable mercy I’d get. Baby, don’t worry your precious head about it. It’s not going to happen. Billions of years left in this planet, and if things go boom, we’ll manage. Go somewhere together. I’m not losing you now you came back."
It was stupid and childish and madly optimistic, and Aziraphale decided he didn’t care. Was he supposed to be happy in Heaven while Crowley—while anyone, but particularly this fallen angel folded up inhumanly gracefully half on his lap right now—suffered in a pit of fire for eternity? It wasn’t to be considered. What needed to be considered was—
Crowley slid around again—for someone so good at relaxing, he certainly moved a lot, in the most enticing way—slid his arms around his neck and grinned at him. “You seemed to like darling, so I thought I’d try another fashionable endearment out on you. I think it suits you."
“How could it possibly suit me? I’ve never even been a baby. In what possible sense do I resemble a baby?"
“Mmphrh,” Crowley said evasively, and kissed him again, which Aziraphale suspected was an unfair way of avoiding the question. It was, he realised breathlessly, rather effective, especially when the demon’s tongue pushing at his seemed to fork into two. He was dimly aware of the teacup being knocked over and spared part of his mind to clean it up, while Crowley seemed to be writhing, wriggling with serpentine grace around him, arms and legs twisting around him like a different kind of snake entirely, holding his prey still. He knotted his fingers in Crowley’s hair and was aware he’d allow any ridiculous name Crowley chose to call him, to feel as wanted as this.
“Oh, my,” he managed vaguely, as Crowley withdrew his mouth and that tongue, surely forked, slid up his neck. “That feels very nice indeed."
“Just nice?” Crowley bit his earlobe. “I need to try harder, then.” The tongue flickered into Aziraphale’s ear, making him squirm against the weight pinning him down. "Thank you for coming back to me, darling,” Crowley breathed against his ear. "Heaven and hell, I love you so much.” The grip of Aziraphale’s hands relaxed in shock, and Crowley stopped doing tantalising things and pushed himself back up. “Don’t tell me that still comes as a surprise. Oh, angel,” he said with exasperation.
“Well, you never said,” Aziraphale said feebly.
“No, just pursued you like a lost puppy for six thousand years all across the world when I want to discorporate with boredom by the end of a four hour opera. And all that embarrassing babbling and begging and clinging that I can’t believe I’m even bringing up. Aziraphale. What on Earth do you even do with all that massive brainpower you were granted?"
“You never said,” Aziraphale repeated stubbornly, even though there were explosions of light going off somewhere in the back of his head. “And you’re a demon."
“Which means I don’t go around making declarations of love very frequently."
“Well, yeah. Only once. Just now.” He could swear Crowley was blushing.
“Really only once? You mean, that was it?"
“We’ll see how you behave yourself over the next millennia, baby, to see how often you get told.” Crowley bit his ear again, harder and more painfully. It felt at least partly out of temper, but it also felt strangely affectionate. Aziraphale quite liked it.
“I always behave."
“Yeah, I can tell. You are a paragon of reticence. That’s why you’re in bed with a demon and letting him sweet talk and kiss you. You’re not really looking out for your virtue with proper self-denial, are you?. You’re a hedonist, pure and simple, and I worship you for it.” He pressed fleeting kisses down Aziraphale’s neck, a part of the body the angel had never really considered very interesting, and was rapidly reassessing as the cool lips plucked demandingly at his skin. “You have no idea of all the very badly behaved things I want to do to you right now."
“I think I do,” Aziraphale said breathlessly, and, “Please."
Crowley hummed under his breath, making Aziraphale jump, and slid his hands down over his hips, skimming lightly down their sides, then down his thighs, down and away.
“No,” Crowley said smugly. He sat back and chuckled, eyes glinting wickedly. “Oh, if you knew how utterly adorable you look when you’re all indignant and flustered and worked up like that—but still no.” He reached out and caressed Aziraphale’s lips with one fingertip, and shuddered when Aziraphale sucked it into his mouth. “No, you can’t get around me that way either,” he added, although his voice was a bit strangled. Aziraphale was aware of a strange sense of power. He swiped his tongue over the fingertip, and looked innocently up. Crowley pulled his finger away, and Aziraphale let his teeth lightly rake it as it left. Crowley hissed. “Aziraphale, no angel should know—stop. Tempting is my area of expertise, and we still have work to do."
Crowley was suddenly serious. “You still don’t trust me enough. It’s been my turn to stay awake all night thinking, angel. I don’t know what Michael said to you yesterday, but it damn nearly broke you. You still seem doubtful that I love you. So all right, I’ve waited this long, I can wait until I’m sure you’re as desperately in love with me as I am with you and there is no chance of you changing your mind and vanishing.” He pulled a hand through Aziraphale's pale curls suddenly, as if reassuring himself that the angel was still in reach. "Besides, you have no idea how enjoyable it has been having you be the one who is begging. So yeah, I'm playing the long game here, we have all the time in the world, and we have work to do.” He slid off the bed.
“What kind of work?” Aziraphale tried not to stare at the evidence that, despite his apparent casualness, Crowley was clearly working, ah, hard at self control. He was having similar difficulties. Crowley seemed entirely unembarrassed about it.
“Don’t worry. I’m not going to fuck this up. You’ll enjoy it.” Crowley tossed him a last grin—no, not grin. A smile of such incandescence that Aziraphale felt it radiating through him, filling him with joy. A demon. A demon could look at his Adversary with such naked and unabashed love and delight. It made no kind of sense, and Aziraphale didn’t care.
The door closed behind him. “I am madly in love with you,” Aziraphale whispered into the pillow. It was the only truth he was absolutely sure about.
1) Thanks as always for the support. This one has been a bit of a ride, I didn't really expect it to end up as angsty as it has, but I have enjoyed writing it so much. Should be wrapping up in a few chapters. If I have inadvertently missed replying to a comment, please forgive me. They all mean so much to me.
2) Probably will not update tomorrow, as we're taking out little boy to AVCon, his very first con. Kid never had a chance to grow up ungeeky.
3) But after that, I think it's time someone meets the other true love of his life. The one with an engine. Zira can't expect to have things all his own way.
Chapter 11: The world moves on
Work means different things to a demon.
“I don’t see how this can possibly qualify as work,” Aziraphale said a bit pettishly. The glare from the swimming pool was making his head hurt and he, at least, didn’t have dark glasses.
“You’d be surprised how much of my work consists of lounging around half dressed with drinks, angel.” Crowley was stretched across his lounge chair, a drink cradled in his hand, looking as blissful as if he was in his old body, sunning himself on a rock.
“I very much doubt I would be surprised at all. My work, however, tends to be more active."
“Usually better drinks, though,” said Crowley, ignoring him. "Last time I’m letting you choose the ship.” Crowley glared at the orange juice in his hand as if hostility alone could turn it alcoholic. His expression eased a bit after he sipped it, suggesting it had worked. It made Aziraphale wish he could justify doing the same to his own drink. Perhaps, if he took his headache into account, it could be justified as medicinal. “I hate Americans."
“I didn’t book our passage,” Aziraphale snapped. The strain of the last few days was getting to him, and he had expected—he didn’t know what he had expected. Not sitting around by a swimming pool while they talked about nothing in particular and a million questions and desires bombarded him and he was guiltily aware that he was disobeying a direct order and not even currently getting any signs of affection out of it. Besides, it wasn’t fair that Crowley had a proper drink and he didn’t. Aziraphale made a face as sour as his lemon and grenadine. “I would have booked two suites."
“And ruined another innocent family’s long planned trip to the Continent? I always knew you were heartless, baby."
“Stop calling me that,” said Aziraphale, despite the way it made warmth prickle at his cheeks. Perhaps he shouldn’t have wished for signs of affection.
Crowley gave him a lazy smile, and dipped his tongue into his juice, or what had been juice. It was clearly a human shaped tongue this time, but that didn’t help matters much. Aziraphale quickly looked away. “You’re cute when you’re in a snit."
“Cute? I thought you just said you hated Americans, my dear fellow.” He could feel heat crawl down his chest, and of course this swimming costume had no decent high collar to hide it.
And that was another thing. Crowley had produced the costumes from his trunk rather than from the ether, as if it had been planned, and they were terribly modern. Extravagantly expensive, the softest ribbed wool. Aziraphale's was blue, “to match your eyes” Crowley had said with elaborate casualness while staring very hard at a point two feet over Aziraphale’s shoulders. Crowley’s, on the other hand, was black with red edging, and it was cut away around the arms far more than the last time Aziraphale had paid much attention to bathing humans. For freedom of movement, he supposed, but it also exposed slim shoulders and surprisingly well muscled arms under the pale skin. There was a faint dusting of hair visible under the scooped neck, and the sides of pectoral muscles exposed by those ridiculous cut away sleeves. His rubber belt cinched the vest tightly around his waist, and there were long stretches of leg between the shorts and whatever Crowley’s rubber swimming shoes were covering in terms of human or snake skin.
Aziraphale kept his eyes resolutely on the other side of the pool. Miss Maisie was splashing playfully with one of her young men, and she looked extremely happy, hair hidden under a cap, her plain face lit up with a glow. He would have to ask her about it later.
“Americans have their points,” Crowley allowed. “A way with words. Some charming expressions. So which of us bought the ticket?"
“I think it was just kind of… there… when we reached the port, and they seemed to be expecting us,” Aziraphale admitted, and Crowley snorted with laughter.
“Do you ever feel guilty about the people whose lives you disrupt when they get in the way of what you want to do, angel?"
“I don’t know that it was me that caused it, and not you."
“Well, that’s the point. Who can say? And if you want work, try actually looking at me when you talk to me, there’s a dear fellow.” The last words were venomous, and Aziraphale looked at Crowley with startled penitence. “There, that’s better,” Crowley said, as sunnily as if the spat had never existed.
“Looking at you is not exactly unpleasant labour,” Aziraphale said, wondering at his own candour.
“Well.” Crowley coughed a little, as if his body ever had difficulty with drinking. “Then we need something else to do."
“There’s a French cafe on board,” Aziraphale began hopefully.
Crowley shook his head. “No. The whole point is that we do things we never really do together. No tea, no pastries, no watching plays or listening to music so we don’t need to talk, no getting drunk so we can pretend not to mean what we’re saying.” Aziraphale looked pointedly at the drink Crowley was draining. The demon shamelessly ignored him.
“I like sitting next to you in the theatre,” Aziraphale said. “Side by side."
“And no manipulating me into going easy on you by pretending to be hurt,” said Crowley, but the line of his mouth had mellowed, and he was looking pleased, almost smug. His free hand went out for just a twitching moment, as if it was trying to reach for Aziraphale’s, but then fell back, trailing again, which was an irritating reminder of just how public they were.
Aziraphale pulled down on his vest, uncomfortably, and then froze, because Crowley was sitting slightly up. “Angel, don’t tell me you’re afflicted by modesty."
“I’m not accustomed to wearing bathing costumes."
“No. I suppose not. But I’ve seen you wearing a blessed lot less, darling."
“I’ve seen you wear a blessed lot of nothing,” Crowley went on relentlessly. “in fact, I remember the baths being one of your favourite meeting places. Might as well keep your skin soft while thwarting, you said. Bit late to worry about wearing shorts when I’ve seen oil rubbed all over your naked body."
“But no one looked then.” He saw Crowley lift an eyebrow over the rim of his glasses, and flames flickered over him, burning his headache to ash. “Well, you weren’t supposed to!"
“When did I ever do what I was supposed to? I’m only—well, a demon, but the point rests, and I thought you were all for aesthetic appreciation. Besides, you always spent most of your time in the baths in the library or the reading room. I couldn’t really compete in interest with all that reading to do, could I?"
“Crowley—“ He wanted to ask how long, and since when, but there were too many emotions suddenly choking his voice. He sighed, looking around the pool.
Last time he had been on this ship, the pool had been drained, and the sense of pain and fear that hung over it was all consuming. He had done what he could, small miracles, comfort, messages home, but he couldn’t help them all, not without risking being recalled to Heaven and not being able to help anyone at al from there.
It was much more pleasant now. Happy humans, humans with leisure and money, making the most of their time on Earth. Guilt tugged at him. Should an angel really be enjoying all this restored luxury?
Aziraphale automatically started to lie, but Crowley clicked his tongue before the first word was out, as if he knew all too well what was coming. “Work, angel. Less chatter, less evasion, more actual talking."
“What did you do during the Great War, Crowley?"
“Not a lot. I slept, mostly. There wasn’t much call for me to do anything but nap and collect commendations. The humans were managing misery and sin very well all on their own.” There was a sudden rush of relief in Aziraphale, making him giddy. He drained his glass to hide it. He hadn’t realised he was holding the secret fear in his heart until it was released. “You were busy, though. Lots of angelic intervention on both sides, lots of small miracles and comfort. I can't imagine anyone else cared so much about humans left up to their free will. Reckless, really, but that’s not new."
“Thank you for paying attention,” Aziraphale said, trying to decipher something he saw on Crowley’s face. If it wasn’t for those damned glasses… “Thank you especially for,” he said very carefully, watching the demon with attention, “Mons."
Crowley’s face flamed guiltily, and Aziraphale knew he was right. That shell really should have exploded. “Someone had to look after you. Floating between the lines like that, begging to be discorporated. And you’re terrible at paperwork, I’ve seen your taxes,” Crowley said defensively. “You always fill out five times as much as necessary, and check it over and over as if it’s going to change on you."
“Thank you, my dear,” Aziraphale repeated, as tenderness flooded through him, wondering how many other near escapes there had been. Tears pricked his eyes. “If you were there, why didn’t you make yourself known to me?"
“It was hardly the time to bother you.” Crowley looked scared, now. So much anxiety held in that tight frame. For some reason that sent love cascading through Aziraphale.
“It’s always the time to bother me. I missed you,” he said.
They were quiet for a while, while Aziraphale gave up on everything else and just watched Crowley, took in the almost stunned expression on his face. Their drinks were refilled, and Crowley’s skin was turning a faint even pink that Aziraphale was worried wasn’t a blush. His own skin was prickling uncomfortably.
“Have we been here long enough, do you think?"
“You’re doing well, angel,” Crowley said quietly. “No book, no crosswords. No talking to other humans about their problems instead of to me. And asking me things you’re worried about instead of bottling them up inside and chattering. Still picking quarrels, but that’s habit at this point."
“You’re doing well too,” said Aziraphale. “No panicking, no babbling nonsense. Look at us, such hard workers. I think we deserve a reward."
The reward turned out to be mutually agreed without a word, and involved Crowley pressing him against the suite door, hands on each side of his head, kissing him with a breathless depth that would have been problematic if either of them needed to breathe, lips pulling, tongues seeking.
When their mouths finally parted, Crowley dropped his forehead against Aziraphale’s cheek, clinging. “I don’t think I’ll ever get used to being allowed to do that."
“You’ll have all the chances in the world to get used to it.” Aziraphale tried to turn his face back to his for more kisses, but Crowley just crushed closer, as if trying to break the boundaries between them completely, meld into him. Aziraphale had the odd fear that if he let go, Crowley would lose his balance. He tightened his grasp around his waist. He ached with love, and the words were on his lips, but the cautious, analytical part of his mind warned him against it. Not now. Not when Crowley could tell he was half out of his mind with desire, and before either of them could trust in his own decision to trust the demon as he was now, regardless of his past. Wait, make it count, because when he said it, it would be forever, and there would be Heaven to pay. Perhaps literally. He couldn’t waste the words when Crowley, so strangely vulnerable, might think it was about making it to the bedroom faster.
Would he Fall for Crowley's sake, if necessary? He still didn’t know. It was important to know.
“Lunch, dear?” he asked brightly.
Crowley shivered, as if recalled to himself. “Fine. Then more work.” He shook his head, energy returning a little, and pulled away. “I, ah, need a bit of time to take care of myself first."
Aziraphale turned hot and cold. “Me too,” he managed to choke out. “Crowley, are you sure we need to be alone?"
“No tempting, angel.” Crowley managed a strained grin. “Um. Work. There’s a Turkish Bath on board, for nostalgia’s sake—"
“I can’t be naked with you around other people right now,” Aziraphale said primly. “It would be indecent."
Crowley swallowed hard. “There could be a sudden lack of interest from the other passengers."
“Who’s tempting now?"
They smiled awkwardly at each other for a moment, or many. “Well,” Aziraphale said at last. “if you want things we haven’t done together before, the Reading and Writing room is charming."
“I don’t read for fun, and you're the only one I write to, darling. Except for the other kind of work."
“Then let me choose a book. I’ll read to you."
“That might get us thrown out,” Crowley protested weakly, but there was a look on his face of—longing? Aziraphale stared. How could that possibly be something Crowley had been wanting?
“Back here to read after lunch,” Aziraphale said, firmly. “Now, ah..."
It was amazing, and strange, how quickly his body had adapted to the human idea of desire, and stimulation. Just friction, really, yet it was incredible. He closed his eyes and thought of Crowley, just across the narrow passageway and doing the same, and let it happen.
They went to lunch together half shamefaced, and for once Aziraphale didn’t even finish eating Crowley’s dessert before ushering him back with an almost random collection of books and periodicals from the library. He glanced through them, and pulled out Villette as the best of an an unfortunately inappropriate lot. Not a happy choice, perhaps, but at least it was written by someone who understood about pining.
Somehow it seemed that the most comfortable way to read was on Crowley’s bed, the demon’s head pillowed on his chest, one of Aziraphale’s arms wrapped around him and the other holding the book. It meant he had to use magic to cheat and turn the pages, but it was worth it, feeling the weight pressing down on him. Crowley was mostly quiet, but the questions he asked were intelligent. He seemed fond of Ginevra and, surprisingly, Polly. The light had dimmed beyond the porthole when a slight snore suggested that Crowley had run out of attention for Lucy’s lovesick and self-doubting tribulations.
Might as well stay for the night and try sleeping again, Aziraphale thought. He put the book on the nightstand, and wriggled further down in the bed, remembering to instruct part of his brain to wake him before morning tea would arrive. Crowley sighed and turned even further into his arms, nuzzling against his neck, and Aziraphale closed his eyes and let the welcoming darkness rise up.
“Wake up! Wake up, angel!"
Aziraphale blinked awake, instantly afraid—but Crowley’s eyes were glowing, his face filled with joy, almost too bright to look at.
“My dear boy, whatever is it?"
“I was reading,” Crowley said proudly. He waved a newspaper in Aziraphale’s face.
“Whatever is it, dear?” he repeated, a little testily. The page was gyrating too wildly to focus on, and he wasn't used to sleep-blurred eyes.
Crowley took a deep breath, as if collecting himself. “You know horses have always hated me and I return the favour—well, look.” Aziraphale managed to focus on a drawing of some kind of black contraption, with smooth lines and wheels, demonically sleek. “It’s an automobile, angel," he added helpfully.
"Even I know that."
"Isn’t it the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen in all the history of the Earth?”
Aziraphale stared worriedly at him. He’d seen this expression on humans, of course he had. It was the kind of stare he went to great efforts to produce in them.
Crowley looked like he’d got religion.
1) Sorry for the delay! The con was amazing, by the way, and my laptop now has gorgeous Crowley and Aziraphale stickers.
2) The Battle of Mons is one of the most famous accounts of angelic protection in the Great War.
3) One of the central features of my home town is a huge double sided Art Deco War memorial to those lost in World War I. On one side, a male Angel of Duty summons two men and a woman to war, while on the other, a female Angel of Compassion bears a wounded soldier in her arms. Aziraphale is more of an Angel of Compassion, but after all, angels are technically genderless.
4) You knew there was a reason I set the time jump to 1926, didn't you?
5) I stayed up way too late to finish this chapter, but I couldn't manage to sleep without finishing. Apologies for more than usual typos. Good night, and I will answer comments tomorrow. Love you all.
Chapter 12: Think about the times
The Almighty and the Bentley.
Dreaming was new. Somehow, snuggled up in a bed that seemed full of articles about machines ripped out from periodicals and newspapers—Aziraphale would have to remember to heal them and return them to the reading room when Crowley wasn’t looking—and a snoring demon, Aziraphale dreamed about the Almighty, and his own Creation.
“Aziraphale,” She said, and suddenly Aziraphale was there, existing. As if he had always existed. “The Principality Aziraphale. My beloved child. Do you know what a Principality is created to do, Aziraphale?"
The word came easily, the first word he ever said. “Love.” It was easy, with Her love holding and cradling him. And then, “Guide."
She smiled. “That’s right. That's your special task as My soldier. There are new creations coming, Aziraphale. I’ve given you their form—with a few extras. It will be easier to walk among them if you look familiar. Love them, guide them. You have gentle hands and a gentle touch, and also—this."
The flaming sword appeared in his hands. Not gentle at all, he thought. But burningly new, held in Her love and regard, how could he question it? Guide with love towards goodness, and with sharp edges and flame away from evil. Heaven’s love, Hell’s punishment.
Crowley rolled over in his sleep and threw a heavy arm across his chest, waking Aziraphale, and that was both uncomfortable and pleasant. Aziraphale left it there, despite the discomfort. He might have even tilted his head just enough to kiss a shadowed cheek.
“I’m much better at the loving than the guiding,” he said quietly aloud. “I never really liked that abominable sword. That’s probably partly why I gave it away—I knew I could never bring myself to use it."
Did I tell you to use it, Aziraphale?
He froze. Millennia. It had been millennia. Not since he had lied to Her at the wall to Eden, knowing quite well it was impossible to deceive Her, the lie tripping off his tongue anyway, a second sin adding to his first. Of all he times it was now, with a demon’s hip pressed against his own in bed, that he heard Her voice again.
“Well, n-no, not precisely… I thought it was implied. You told me to guard the apple tree, and the gate."
I told you to watch them, Aziraphale, and to guide and love. I didn’t tell you where to guide them.
“Al—Almighty. About the demon Crowley. I mean the Seraph Botis. Um, him, right here. I’m sure You can recognise him without all the wings and the, er, extra eyes. Did You really make him incapable of love and then cast him out because of it? Why would You do such a thing to him?” He curled his hands protectively around the arm across his chest, and Crowley muttered something in his sleep and pressed closer. “To any of them?"
But the voice was gone, and in the morning, he decided it was just part of the dream. It had been a long time since the Almighty spoke directly to anyone, let alone a mere Principality. And She really didn't like accusing questions.
They finished Villette lying by the pool. Aziraphale wasn’t sure Crowley actually cared less about the story or if he was using it as an excuse to stay close and watch his mouth with that disturbingly intent stare while he read, but did it matter either way? Aziraphale had books, and he had Crowley. Unfortunately the ending made Crowley sulk silently for an hour before suddenly declaring it was time for dinner, and blatantly getting sozzled on what were supposed to be non alcoholic beverages.
Crowley, apart from the reading and the fit of sulks, was incredibly talkative, although not, to Aziraphale’s surprise, about any of the subjects they were both supposed to be trying not to avoid. He talked of racing and touring tires, and the advantages of aluminium pistons over cast iron, valves per cylinder, leather finishes and patina. None of it made any sense, but Aziraphale was, if anything, patient. It was ridiculously enjoyable to promenade the deck with that familiar slinking stalk closer beside him than ever before, an excited hand clutching his arm, that thin face lit up with inner radiance and stumbling and hissing over his words in his urgency to get them out, to make Aziraphale understand.
It didn’t matter that he didn’t actually understand, he told himself. What mattered was that what Crowley seemed to most want to do with his new joy was share it. Surely that was a sign of secret uncorrupted goodness. He had always pretended not to care about Aziraphale’s book shop, yet he had always managed to be there when Aziraphale made a particularly precious acquisition, sneering and teasing but also being surprisingly patient about being shown every little detail.
Until they had quarrelled over holy water.
“Do—did you like being read to?” Aziraphale asked uncertainly, after a really good dinner, because they couldn’t do everything differently just because they were trying new things. He wondered if it was blatantly obvious that he was looking for an excuse to hold Crowley in bed for a while, and perhaps accidentally drift off together again.
Crowley stared at him for a while, eyes unreadable beneath dark glasses that were really playing unfair when you thought about it. Of course, playing fair was an unreasonable expectation of a demon.
“No more sodding stupid endings.” Crowley looked away abruptly, and bit his lip with a tooth too sharp to be quite human.
“Don’t do that so carelessly, dear boy, you’ll poison yourself."
“I can’t poison myself, angel. Not venomous anyway, except when I want to be."
“You seem to manage it most of the time,” Aziraphale said a little nastily, because Crowley really did have a tongue on him in more ways than one, and actually a little spat right now might ease some of the tension that had come up for no clear reason.
Crowley didn’t take the bait, which meant he probably was really anxious about something. “I don’t want to spend an entire hour again trying to figure out why you chose that book and what you were trying to tell me."
“Oh!” He chuckled in relief, then saw that had been a mistake, too, and reached up to squeeze the hand on his arm instead. “No message. I was tactless, I’m sorry. I’m not going anywhere. Certainly not going and not coming back."
Crowley nodded sharply. “Good. Let’s find one with a happy ending.” He pulled Aziraphale back to the library.
Aziraphale picked up Jane Eyre, because Crowley had seemed to like Villette well enough until the ending, and he remembered that Jane had a happy ending, and was rather romantic and touching. There were some hypocritical Christian churchgoers and misguided cruel missionaries, too, if he recalled correctly. Crowley would like that, and he could allow Crowley to say lots of rude things about religious people as an apology for the last book.
He really wished he’d remembered some of the details.
“My future husband was becoming to me my whole world; and more than the world: almost my hope of heaven. He stood between me and every thought of religion, as an eclipse intervenes between man and the broad sun. I could not, in those days, see G— see God for His creature: of whom I had m-made an idol.” His voice faltered. “I think I’ve read enough.” Aziraphale closed the book and put it on the note table, wishing his hand wasn’t shaking so visibly. ‘’Do you want some tea?"
“No,” said Crowley quietly. “Because I feel like if you walk into the living room right now, you won’t come back."
“D-don’t be absurd. I promised. I’m an angel, remember?"
“Aziraphale.” Crowley rolled and twisted in his boneless way and locked his arms behind Aziraphale’s neck. Aziraphale looked away. “Is the thought really so bad? Of seeing only me?"
“I’m made to love every being, Crowley. Not just you. It’s my nature. You said wanting only one being was your divine punishment. You said you hated needing me.” Why did saying these things hurt so much? It felt like he was cutting them both to bleeding with every word, and he didn’t want to hurt anyone, let alone this remarkably precious creature in his arms.
“Only because I had so little hope! Aziraphale, can you still not understand? As long as I have you—” It didn’t matter if he was looking away, because Crowley’s mouth was crushing his, and his eyes were closing despite himself, his hands moving to grasp a slender waist, the world closing down suddenly to the tongue in his mouth, the angular weight on him, the hands clutching his neck, the thigh thrust between his, pinning him down, while between them—
Crowley abruptly broke away and rolled up from the bed. "Best I sleep in my own room tonight.” He gave a brittle smile. We dock tomorrow. It’s been—an interesting journey, darling.” He swallowed. “I love you.” The door closed.
It was a very lonely night, and Aziraphale didn’t sleep, or dream, or get up and go to the other room and say everything that was in his heart. God, no matter how much he prayed, remained silent.
“I thought we were going to Soho first,” Aziraphale said, not as petulantly as he might.They had entered a first class carriage automatically together when they reached the train, and there was the new delight of hands slid discreetly between them and linked together under the disguise of coats, so he couldn’t muster as much petulance as he wanted to. Not with Crowley’s thumb slowly circling over the join between his own thumb and forefinger. Why did human-like bodies have so many oddly sensitive places? And did Crowley really know them all? “Why Cricklewood of all places?"
“Your book shop is fine, angel. I told you I wouldn’t let anything happen to it. Not a single thief will have succeeded in taking a single manuscript.” Crowley paused, staring at the roof. “You’d better give me permission to go in first, to clear up any bodies."
“Crowley.” Aziraphale let his nails bite into Crowley’s skin.
“Joking, joking. You really are vicious for an angel. I quite like it. But what would your barber say to you letting your nails grow so long? Poor devoted Pierre."
“Crowley,” Aziraphale repeated, in a different tone, and Crowley sniggered. “Wait, how do you know my barber’s name? I thought you were asleep for years."
“You deserve it, anyway, because you clearly don’t listen to me. We are going to Cricklewood, sweetheart, to purchase an automobile. And not just any automobile.” He smiled blissfully. “A Bentley."
“You’re going to love it. And it’s for you, too.”
“Besides, you always worry about me getting discorporated when I ride horses, don’t pretend you don’t.” The thumb circled again, disarming.
“That’s because you have no idea how to manage them! You can’t get them to behave by showing them horsehair hats and threatening them. You have to earn their love and trust.” Aziraphale sighed and forced himself to relax. “I suppose you’re right. I mean, you’ll be much safer in a horseless carriage. It’s not as if they can go very fast."
Crowley leaned back in his seat, and smiled like a demon.
“I’ve discorporated. That’s it, I’ve discorporated. And Fallen. And this is Hell.” Aziraphale clutched the window frame.
“Several poets would disagree with you, angel. English ones, anyway.” Crowley laughed exultantly. “Just look at that beautiful sea side scenery. Makes you glad to be on this gorgeous world. This gorgeous, gorgeous, wonderful world with brilliant inventions."
“I can’t look at the scenery. It’s going by too fast."
Crowley reached out a reassuring hand and patted his thigh, which wasn’t as comforting as it might be, especially as he also turned his head to look tenderly at Aziraphale.
“Put your hands back on the wheel and look at the road!"
“You have nice thighs, have I ever told you that? Sort of springy.” Crowley looked ahead again, but his lips were quirking, and his hand drifted.
“Crowley, if you don’t pay attention to what you’re doing, I’m getting out right here and flying home."
“Don't be so critical. I think I’m doing rather well for a first time out.” Crowley turned the Bentley on two wheels and plunged down a terrifyingly narrow lane. Hedges reached out, but scorched and crumbled before getting within half an inch of scratching the Bentley’s brand new surface. “Haven’t even squished a single hedgehog, though. I must work on my aim.” The car screeched around a hairpin bend. “That’s it, baby, my clever brave love,” he cooed.
“I’m not feeling particularly brave,” Aziraphale admitted.
“I was talking to the Bentley."
Aziraphale picked up Crowley’s hand, removed it from his thigh, and placed it back on the wheel.
He wasn’t sure what he felt about the twentieth century.
1) Seraphim are weird.
2) Quote from "Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Bronte, obviously.
3) I totally see Crowley as a Rochester type. Trying too hard to be cool, but a massive dork underneath. Manipulative and seductive, but also pining and desperate and insecure. Inclined to go way too far out of lovesickness and push the beloved away. Nanny Astoreth is exactly the kind of stuff Rochester pulls.
And, of course, inclined to fall hard for wary, lonely, slightly sharp tongued angels.
Chapter 13: I'll sing a sweet love song
A picnic, and an apple.
Aziraphale was usually pretty good at determining his position relative to the Earth. Some kind of, well, grounding instinct, probably to do with flying. Apparently, automobiles interfered with that. By the time the Bentley screeched into a market town and came to a sudden stop half mounted on the curb, all of his sense of location was gone and he had no idea where he was.
Perhaps that was why when Crowley leaned over and kissed him, not a desperate passionate kiss but an affectionate smack full on the mouth as if it was something he did casually all the time, the entire world seemed to spin around and reorientate itself with Crowley perfectly at the centre.
Crowley seemed completely unaware that anything of significance had happened. “Stay there and recover yourself, angel. Looks like you need it,” he said lightly. “I have things to buy.” He sprang out, giving the steering wheel an adoring pat on the way.
“Doesn’t the automobile get a kiss as well?” Aziraphale managed a certain mockery in his tone, although the world was still unstable around him and the only thing that seemed to matter was the figure still holding the door open and how much he loved him.
Crowley cast the Bentley a longing look. “No. That would be weird,” he said, with audible reluctance. “Pip-pip darling, don’t go anywhere.” Aziraphale wasn’t sure which of them the demon was addressing. He sat on the leather seats and tried to recover himself as Crowley headed for the stalls.
It was no good. How could he recover himself from the world changing like that? He watched Crowley instead, noticing how he walked like no human. Loose, rolling hips, but a tension in the shoulders, at one and the same time flexible and as high strung as a suspension bridge. Apparently taking ludicrous amounts of pleasure in bargaining like he was on his last penny for strawberries. No wonder he hadn’t been at home in Heaven, with its hierarchies and single-mindedness and lack of strawberries. No patience for awkward, beautiful oddities there. Not that Hell, as far as Aziraphale knew, was any better. The only place for a creature like that was...
Not of Heaven, and not truly of Hell. Not human, certainly not. But of the Earth. And once Aziraphale wrapped his mind around that, the obvious question was, but what of me? The answer was all too obvious. He never actually went to Heaven unless he had to report in, and never felt accepted there. He belonged here. With the only person who came close to understanding.
He closed his eyes, and tried to stay the hammering of his heart. I’d Fall for him. I’d rather burn in the fire for eternity than know he is burning and be supposed to be happy about it. The only reason left to fear Falling is that we might be separated.
He didn’t know what to do with the knowledge, but he was close. He could feel it.
Aziraphale opened his eyes and blinked at a small human child of undetermined sex staring in the window and munching on sweets. “Oh, hello there, my dear.” He looked at the grey coating of half consumed aniseed chew smeared over the child’s face and repressed a shudder. He assumed his most avuncular, jolly tone. “What can I do for you?"
The child regarded him levelly. “S’nice car. Can I sit in it?” Something in the child’s expression suggested terrible unspecified threats if the answer wasn’t yes.
Aziraphale was paralysed with terror. The child’s shirt was smeared with mud and grass, there were at least three colours of melted sweet on its hands, and it was clutching a bag of brightly coloured atrocities that even Aziraphale, with his sweet tooth, couldn’t contemplate without revulsion. He thought of sticky fingerprints on the Bentley’s flawless paint, brightly coloured sugar, grass and mud on the shining leather seats, and Crowley’s face.
Which was behind the child. “Hullo, kiddo.” Crowley was swinging a shopping basket which he definitely had not possessed ten minutes ago.
“Hullo. S’nice car. Can I sit in it?” The child was as single minded as a cherub.
“No.” Crowley leaned in, and hissed, “and if you touch it, I will melt your brains into a puddle of melted sludge, suck them out your eyes, and spread them over the nearest building for the crows to eat."
The child gave him an utterly delighted look and took off happily as Crowley cast his basket into the back and swung into his seat. “Nice kid,” he remarked.
Aziraphale tried to control his sudden lurch of adoration. It was easier because his stomach was also lurching as Crowley drove a good couple of lengths of the car with two wheels on the footpath before remembering it was better to have the whole car on the road.
“You like children, don’t you?” he asked, when he had a good hold on the window.
“Yeah. Well. They’re fun. Almost demonic sometimes. And they can have a really bad effect on adult tempers when they’re at their best. I mean worst. Cause a lot of wholesome fury.” The Bentley swooped back out into the countryside.
“But you don’t love them."
“Don’t be ridiculous.” A deer appeared on the road ahead, and Crowley swerved straight at it. It leapt safely off the road, possibly with a little miraculous push from an angel. “Bless. Well, it might have left a dent, anyway. And an awful mess. Anyway, you’re the one who goes around loving children."
“Of course I love them.” Aziraphale paused, and then admitted, “but I don’t like some of them much, some of the time. They’re loud and messy and they tear pages. They leak."
“You don’t say,” Crowley said, lips quirking in a way that made it obvious he knew quite well that Aziraphale did his best not to suffer the little children coming to him unless they were newly bathed, nicely groomed and on their best behaviour.
Of course, that was it. Crowley really liked humans. It must come in handy for his job, liking them, knowing all their little weak points and knowing which places to push. Aziraphale on the other hand loved humans, loved them with a protective tenderness that almost hurt, but—well. They could be violent, brutal, incomprehensible, unkempt and plain unpleasant. They kept harming each other and trying to buy his books. He truly loved every soul, in error or not, but as to liking every single corporeal human...
It was a hard job, being a Principality. But it was easier when you had your complement right there. Your Adversary. Push and pull, evil versus good, the eternal testing, and the humans usually decided on their own anyway. Almost pointless, but all part of the Plan.
The countryside rushed past. They must be going nearly thirty miles an hour, and Crowley drove as if he knew exactly where he was going. Aziraphale didn’t want to look out of the window, as it was a terrible reminder of how fast they were going, and watched Crowley instead. Much more pleasant. In fact, with Crowley’s attention on the driving, Aziraphale was safe to stop trying to control his expressions or show any dignity at all, and just dote on the clever hands working the wheel and mechanical contraption, the line of his neck, the sensitive lips, the burnished glow of hair that was, now he noticed it, much less shiny with brilliantine. He made a mental note to send a blessing the steward’s way.
There was a pink tinge creeping over Crowley’s face, and that odd radiance he sometimes showed was prickling at Aziraphale’s senses again. Perhaps not so safe after all. His heart still light and confused by its earlier reorientation, Aziraphale permitted himself to dote anyway.
“Here,” Crowley declared abruptly, and turned down a barely visible mud track. Aziraphale cut off the adoring gaze and focussed on not being shaken to discorporation. How many hours was he expected to sit in this infernal vehicle anyway?
And then the sea opened up before them, sparkling like cut glass, and there were green leaved trees he was almost sure were apple trees, and the yellow flame of gorse, and tiny flowers sparkling in the grass.
“Picnic time!” The Bentley stopped, and Crowley turned a face full of smug joy at Aziraphale, waiting to see his pleasure.
Aziraphale removed Crowley’s glasses and kissed him, long and sweet and tenderly. “Thank you,” he said softly, when he finally released him, caressing one thin cheek.
Crowley’s pupils were so wide they almost looked round, his eyes sheer glistening gold. “A-angel," he stuttered. “Ah. Um. Th-thank you."
Aziraphale beamed at him, his heart soaring. “You mentioned a picnic?"
“Yeah. Yeah, um, right.” Crowley pulled himself together with an effort. “Wait right there, I’ll get set up."
Aziraphale sat patiently and watched Crowley bustle around, setting out a rug, bread, fruit, cheese, potted meat, a golden cake flecked black with caraway seeds. He did it with a kind of sulkiness, as if daring Aziraphale to notice or comment on his consideration. Two bottles of what looked like quite decent wine, thank everything they were no longer on a Prohibition ship. Flowers—oh Heavens, he dear boy had actually bought red roses, and was setting them out in the middle of the blanket with a defiant glower. It made Aziraphale’s heart ache. How many times in the past had Crowley been so desperate to please, and he had barely noticed?
He set himself about making the picnic as pleasant as possible, making it clear without any embarrassing words how much he appreciated the place, the food, the view, the effort to treat him, and listening patiently to a list of the virtues of the car and how they could go anywhere they wanted now, without worrying about being caught with wings out. It seemed cruel to admit that he was secretly deciding to use every power in himself to avoid getting into that machine as often as possible. It was his turn to please, and the best way he could do that was by being happy, eating three quarters of the food while Crowley watched him with barely repressed complacency.
When there was nothing left but the last glasses of the second bottle, and they were lying on rug watching the clouds and sipping the last bits. Aziraphale suddenly set his glass down and pulled Crowley against him, back to chest, arms wrapped around his chest. He felt the demon tense, and then relax into the embrace. They watched the butterflies, listened to the sea, and the apples above them were still too small and green to be tempting, unless… Aziraphale looked at one, and without even consciously willing it, the apple swelled and turned rosy and dropped on the blanket in front of them. He stared at it.
“What will it feel like, if I Fall?"
“You don’t have to worry about that,” Crowley said, quick and fearful, the tension returning. “It won’t happen."
“I thought it was what you wanted?” Aziraphale was a bit discombobulated. Here he was, finally accepting of the most terrifying possibility, and Crowley seemed to have shifted sides.
“Not now.” Crowley put his own glass down, not seeming to notice when it feel over and sent red seeping into the rug. His arms came to cover Aziraphale’s, fingers gripping in tight. “You're too good, and I was stupid."
“You’re so sweet."
Crowley winced. “Don’t ever, ever say that again. Besides, I think if this was going to do it, it would have had already happened. We’ve done everything, well, but, and I don’t see that it would make much difference."
“Perhaps it has symbolic value,” Aziraphale mused. “But I think perhaps you’re right. I mean, She must know what is in my heart."
There was a long silence, and Aziraphale could almost feel Crowley not asking what that was, the tautness in the shoulders, the bobbing of the Adam’s apple. “It was almost a relief,” Crowley said in the end. “I mean, I was waiting for something to happen, for the penny to drop. I was asking too many questions, going back and forth, talking to the wrong guys. And I wasn’t alone. I mean, the others were asking the same questions, they were just as angry… I wasn’t the only weird discontented one. I didn’t have to pretend to be happy and full of glory all the time. You weren’t in the First Sphere, you have no idea about the bloody singing in my choir. Celestial harmonies all eon every eon, and you’re supposed to sing along with the choir and like it. I didn’t. I'd almost prefer to be a Chariot and be sat on by Cherubim."
“Michael said you were appointed negotiator.” He chose his words carefully. “Crowley, I don’t need you to tell me what happened, if you don’t want to. Because it doesn’t matter, going on.” Why was his voice not showing the significance of what he was saying? Whatever you’ve done, whatever terrible sins and betrayals you have committed, I trust you not to betray me from here on in. Say it, say it. His lips stayed dry and silent.
“Well, it was supposed to be my job, right, according to Her? Reconcile friends and enemies. Seemed funny, that, there were no enemies when I was created and I sort of ended up in star design by default. But then people started talking Rebellion, and Michael asked me to talk to both sides, but the more I tried to make them understand each other, well—" He laughed shortly. “Guess I was awfully good at making angels understand Lucifer’s point of view, at least. God did well there. And what do you know, my wings were coal black. I didn’t even notice at first. Why do you think I had to check yours? But the others saw, and I was cast out."
Relief flooded through Aziraphale, as sweet and cold as a holy spring. Bitterness, a bit of confusion, no sense of remembered fun. Somehow apart from the relief was the terrible, pitying thought, Oh, Michael. Michael, the last unFallen Watcher.
“Did it hurt? Being shut off from Heaven’s love?"
“I told you, I never even felt it to miss it. I was just pissed off. Until the bloody garden."
He thought of Michael again. “The Watchers?"
“Yeah, I feel bad about that. I was like, well, Samshiel and Semyaz really seemed to like those girls, and I was supposed to be causing trouble, yeah? And forbidden desire—okay. Well. I get that.” He stoked Aziraphale’s hand. "So I said look, guys, I’m sure you’re not the only ones, there’s safety in numbers, why don’t you get together and stick out for each other. Not me, I don’t fancy the humans and they’re scared of demons anyway, but you’ll manage. Swear an oath to all do it and not betray each other, why don’t you? They get the girls, I get some serious points Down There, enough to cruise on for decades. Didn’t know they were going to go all over the top, all two hundred of them, and breed cannibal monsters.” There was a pause. “I didn’t mean to help cause the Flood. I mean, who knew She’d completely lose it and decide to drown everyone? Even the kids?"
So that was it. That was all it was. All that worry, all that fear, all that heartbreak. Aziraphale should have just asked, but would he have believed? He wasn’t sure. Somehow, he thought he had to accept the thought of the worst and decide to love and trust unconditionally anyway, before he was ready to hear and believe the truth.
Aziraphale hugged Crowley very tight from behind. “I still don’t understand the Flood,” he said, and it was a relief to say it. He kissed Crowley’s cheek. “It’s not your fault. You were doing your divinely appointed job."
“Yeah, well.” They lay huddled together for a moment. “Any other questions?"
“One. Do you know how much I love you?” It came out simply and easily, as if it had never been difficult to say at all.
The body in his arms became rigid. The picnic blanket was soft over the grass, the air salty, the sun almost too warm for England. Crowley took a deep breath.
“Dear boy, if you are getting to ready to say of course I do, I’m an angel, I love everyone, or ask me in what way I love you, I am getting up right now.” Crowley made a sound between a laugh and a sob. “I’m good at loving. I forgot that was the most important thing I was created to do. Love all of Creation. I’m pretty sure I’m not supposed take myself stop just because I love one part of it more."
The pieces were falling into place. Not all there, not by any means, but the pattern was emerging. Once you found the corner pieces—and one piece had been a casual kiss on the lips in a parked car.
One made to love. One made to move between adversaries and friend and help them understand each other, and only capable of loving the guide. Aziraphale couldn’t be sure, not yet. He thought of some of the denizens of Hell he had met, and he couldn’t wrap his mind around loving them, understanding them, having them understand him, even if they, too, were of angelic stock. But did the Almighty ever make mistakes in Her creations, really, when it came right down to it?
He rolled onto his back, and Crowley swivelled above him to face him, and Aziraphale managed to spare one part of his mind to make their picnic secluded from human eyes because an arrest for indecency at this point would be embarrassing and completely spoil the mood.
As an angel and a demon kissed, the apple rolled off the blanket, delicious and unregarded.
1) One more chapter, and we're done. Thank you SO MUCH for coming along on this ride, which has gone places I never imagined when I started with "Crowley would be hilarious as a gigolo."
Chapter 14: What will they say about me?
Just as things begin with a thunderstorm, they end with one.
Oh, that's embarrassing. For all my protestations, looks like I couldn't tie it off in one more chapter after all.
Hope you enjoy!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Aziraphale might have been of Heaven, but that didn’t mean he had much control over the physical heavens. Things were going nicely, and with an encouraging lack of thought, when the fickle English weather betrayed them. They were soaked to the skin almost before they realised the skies had opened.
“Don’t care,” Crowley muttered. “It'ssss just water.” He appeared to be having trouble controlling his hissing. The dashing driving jacket he had acquired with the Bentley was now only attached to him due to one hand that had got stuck in a sleeve at some point when taking it off. Neither of them had been able to spare much concentration for sorting out unbuttoning the cuff that was now wedged inside out around his wrist, so Aziraphale’s shoulder was currently being clutched by a hand lost in a leather sleeve, jacket trailing from it. Crowley's half-buttoned shirt was rapidly turning transparent, revealing that, for all his expressed hatred of Americans, he had adopted their fashion of separate brief shorts and vest. His hair was plastered to his face with rain, which ran in rivulets down his face and neck. He looked as unstylish as it was possible for Crowley to look and, Aziraphale thought, more fetching than ever before.
On impulse Aziraphale reached up and caught a rivulet of water down Crowley’s neck with his tongue, and Crowley hissed louder. “Definitely don’t care,” he reaffirmed. “Do that again, angel."
A good part of what was currently passing for Aziraphale’s mind didn’t care either. But he could feel mud soak uncomfortably up into one of his favourite waistcoats as the blanket rapidly turned into a puddle. Also, Aziraphale had gone as native British in undergarments as in everything else, and the logistics of getting his underpinnings out of the way while crushed under a worked up demon were beginning to worry him. Chances were, if things proceeded as they were going, Crowley would get impatient and send the undergarments away somewhere. While that was an incredibly enticing thought, Aziraphale actually paid for his clothes and preferred quite expensive silk next to the skin.
Most of all Crowley, cold blooded serpent that he was, was shivering uncontrollably from something more than passion as the rain pounded down. He was determinedly ignoring it in a spirited attempt to discoverjust how much he could slither over Aziraphale in human form, but it shook his form. Concern and protectiveness warred with desire in Aziraphale’s heart for a moment, and won.
The next time their mouths parted, Aziraphale placed a hand between them. “Into the car, before we drown,” he said, as firmly as possible.
Crowley looked hunted. “The seats are quite spacious, but I’m not sure—"
“And back to London.”
The hunted expression turned to a desperate one. Crowley sat up, jacket still dangling uselessly from one arm, and glared at the sky, droplets bouncing off his face, pale with cold. “If this storm is Divine intervention, then I swear my first Rebellion is nothing compared to what I will do."
“It’s just English weather, my dear,” Aziraphale said gently, as another piece fell into place. “I’m not going to change my mind and run away back to Heaven if we stop for a moment, you know."
Even through the rain, Crowley was visibly flushing. “Sorry."
Aziraphale managed a soothing pat despite the quite deplorable physical and emotional state he was in himself. “Come on, best beloved. Back to the automobile."
Thunder rumbled and lightning cracked overhead as they reached the car, picnic things bundled up. Aziraphale hesitated over risking another small use of his powers when they slid into the Bentley. Crowley shot him a questioning look. “Scared of drawing attention?"
“No. I mean, yes. I’m going to have to face it at some point, and I am prepared for any consequences, whatever you think. Just, not right now, not when we haven’t even yet—well."
Crowley gave him a look that should have been justification for Falling all by itself, or at least Aziraphale’s reaction should have been, and snapped his fingers. The two of them were suddenly dry, and Crowley’s jacket was in its proper position, as heat blossomed through the car. “Not such a worry for me,” he said, elaborately casual, as he started the vehicle. “I can make an excellent case for long term corruption of an angel. Showing patient craftsmanship across centuries. I was in a worse position if they’d caught me doing blessings and miracles for you."
“Does that mean the Arrangement is off and you’ll actually have to do more of your own work?” It gave Aziraphale an oddly empty feeling, despite his churning feelings. At least the claim of corruption didn’t hurt, any more. He knew now, trusted, that it was not the point and never had been.
“Nah. I can argue that the blessings are to lull you into a false sense of security, and don’t outweigh the sinful deeds you do for me."
“I knew I was doing most of the heavy lifting,” Aziraphale said indignantly, and then was annoyed at himself by the way Crowley’s answering grin flipped his heart over.
“Can’t do London,” Crowley said abruptly. “Too far. Back to the nearest town, and we’ll take shelter from the storm in the closest establishment. Fair enough?” His tone was brittle, as if afraid of argument and rejection even now.
“Perfect,” Aziraphale said happily, both because he didn’t think he could stand to wait much longer either and because being in the car with a distracted demon driving on wet roads through darkening gloom and pounding rain was introducing him to entirely new forms of terror.
Still, the way Crowley’s face lit up made any terror worth while.
Despite Aziraphale’s firmly expressed wish that he concentrate on the road, Crowley, who seemed quite taken with being called best beloved and was certainly in a giddy, or possibly nervous, mood, beguiled the rest of the trip by trying out various endearments. Aziraphale had more or less accepted baby; sweetheart and my love made him melt inside; and honey was something he had heard in one form or another for centuries and approved of on principle. He felt he should really draw the line at poppet.
“Why? I really can’t think of any endearment that suits you any more perfectly, poppet.” Impossible now, to read his expression through the dark of the storm, especially with his mouth closed. “Old thing?"
“How many millennia old, dear? It could be taken as a tad insulting."
“That’s a point. All right. My dainty duck."
“Absolutely not. Of all the ridiculous modern endearments, that has to be the least dignified."
“You like ducks. You pout and get all prim when I sink them."
“I said no, dear. And there’s nothing dainty about me."
Crowley cast a sideways look at the perfectly manicured hands, and bit his lip. Aziraphale glared at him, daring him to comment. “Shakespeare used it,” Crowley said with a triumph that suggested Aziraphale had fallen into a perfectly baited trap. “Awfully good, isn’t he?"
“Nevertheless,” Aziraphale said firmly. “No ducks, dainty or otherwise."
“The bee’s roller-skates?"
“Now you’re just making them up."
Crowley laughed, reaching out for Aziraphale’s knee and turning to him, and lightning flashed all around them, blinding, and—
“Hello, Aziraphale,” an elegant voice said.
He swallowed. “Hello, Michael.” He didn’t turn his head to look at her on the back seat. After all, he knew she was there. Her soft glow filled the car.
They sat in the dark car, hung motionless on the road, Crowley’s face frozen mid laugh. Surrounded by Heaven’s light, the joy on it was unmistakable. Excitement, amusement, affection—triumph. It was the triumph that was most worrying Aziraphale. The last thing he wanted, right now, was for Michael to see triumph on the demon’s face. Bad enough that she could see the hand resting possessively on Aziraphale’s knee.
“I was interested by our little talk, and especially your interest in the past of the demon Crowley,” she said evenly. “It made me wonder if you had remained as hidden from your Adversary as you led us to believe."
He swallowed hard. “Michael, I know it looks bad—evil in fact—but I can explain."
“Really?” Her voice held only polite interest. Faced with the terror of it, every lie, every evasion drained away from his lips.
“Only not in any way you’re going to like,” he admitted.
“You have been consorting with demons long?” Still terribly, terrifyingly polite.
“Well. Only one. This one,” he added, and then realised that wasn’t really needed clarity in the circumstances. He took a deep breath. "About six thousand years, give or take."
“And continuing despite my warnings and direct orders.” She sighed. “How am I supposed not to believe you have fallen for Hell’s plots, if you are on such intimate terms with one of the great deceivers? Principality Aziraphale.” There was hurt in her voice, and anger. “I thought you, of all of us, loved humans too much to give your loyalty to Hell."
“I have no loyalty to Hell!” That, at least, came out out fervently and sincerely.
“Perhaps not yet,” Michael said coldly.
“Never. Michael, listen. Crowley is different. He always was."
“I am aware of that. Botis’ differences condemned many of our siblings to Hell. Has he told you he is repentant and wishes to be forgiven and returned to Grace?"
“N-no. Not precisely.” Not at all, Aziraphale admitted to himself.
“That surprises me. I should have thought lying came too naturally to the serpent to resist.” He wasn’t wrong. There was real hurt in her voice, and it wasn’t just for Aziraphale’s betrayal, it was for Crowley, too. Or Botis.
“Michael.” He could hear the pleading in his own tone. “I love him. Isn’t that what was always going to happen? Isn’t it inevitable—make me a creature of love and then give me one being to be my constant companion throughout the centuries?"
“You weren’t supposed to make a constant companion of him!” Her voice shook for the first time. “Aziraphale, of all the ridiculous, stupid—"
“The Reconciler,” he interrupted desperately.
“It’s his role. To Reconcile between the sides."
“Aziraphale, I told you exactly how that worked out. Were you so desperate to justify your infatuation to listen to me?"
“Perhaps it was too early.” To his astonishment, she was silent. Listening. He rushed on before she could change her mind. “Look, we don’t know why the Almighty made us capable of Falling. But we know our roles. His is to bring opposing sides together. And I know demons hate Heaven and angels, but, well—look at him. Really look.” Silence. He could only hope she was looking; he didn’t dare turn his head to check. “Does he look like he hates me?” he asked, very softly. He covered the hand on his knee with his own. “He’s not ready to go back to Heaven, but he is only partly of Hell. He’s also of Heaven and Earth. Like me."
“We’re not humans.” Aziraphale relaxed at the renewed gentleness, even though her voice was also full of sorrow. “We don’t have free will. Everything we do, like it or not, is part of the Ineffable Plan."
“Well—isn’t this part of that?” he said, urgently. “That’s what I decided, you know. Had to be put together, right at the Garden, for a reason. Had to be a reason that we are both what we are. You’re a much better angel than me. Can’t you trust in God more than I do?” He could feel her uncertainty. “Look, I’ll keep doing my job and reporting. I’ll let you or Gabriel check my wings, every single time. If they turn, well, I chose wrong. But I don’t think I have."
“This is very irregular,” Michael said, uncertainly. He seized on the uncertainty.
“Isn’t there anyone you still love among the Fallen? Don’t the Grigori weep for them even now? But the Almighty doesn't punish them for that.” He took a deep breath. “Don’t you want hope of Heaven made whole again, a third of our number returned?"
"You're delusional, and you're being seduced by Hell. I should recall you to Heaven, for your own sake, before it's too late."
"I wouldn't go."
"Do you realise what you are saying? You would Fall for this creature's sake?"
"I don't want to. But I would." He looked at the sensitive, sharp face, lit up by Michael's heavenly glow. "None of you need me as much as he does."
“Let me pray,” she said. She did so in silence, and Aziraphale prayed as well, in the most simple, universal way he knew. Please God, please, please please please…
“All right.” Michael said curtly, and he caught his lip between his teeth, making it bleed. “The Metatron thinks you may have a point. For now, Aziraphale, continue in your work, and we will turn a blind eye to your fraternisation as we continue in our preparations for the Holy War. See if you can find any actual good in one of the Fallen. We will watch you carefully. And, Aziraphale?"
The lightning finished its descent and zapped back up to the heavens, and Crowley’s laugh rang out as the Bentley raced through the darkness.
You have one chance. Don’t Fall.
Crowley’s laughter trailed off. “Darling, are you all right?"
“I like darling."
“Don’t change the subject. If this is going too fast, then I can slow down. It will kill me, but I can."
It was probably suicidal to kiss him, even on the cheek, under these driving circumstances, but Aziraphale decided it was worth the risk. “Hurry up and get me to bed,” he said firmly, and Crowley’s yellow eyes shone in a way that absolutely had to be angelic.
1) Thanks for Vintage Dancer for all the helpful notes on underwear in the 1920s.
2) So... I guess I will see you next chapter after all (I hope). Oops. The Day must finally come.
3) I am trying to make a Crowley Ken doll. Seriously.
Aziraphale, still feeling a little shell-shocked, let Crowley bundle him through the rain, through the door of the Quarry’s Arms, and into a chair. He sat there, hearing Crowley arrange for a room with a lit fire to dry off and change in, somehow finding banter about the weather, and arrange to come down for a hot meal and drinks afterward. All perfectly innocent sounding.
“The bath is down the hallway,” the patron explained helpfully.
Crowley looked down at his own dripping form, ruefully. “Thanks, it might come in handy. Truly infernal weather, coming out of nowhere like that. Coming, da—dear old thing?” He corrected it to something passably friendly just in time, but Aziraphale fancied they were given a suspicious look anyway.
“i’ll get you some towels while I have the fire in your room lit,” said the patron, whose suspicions clearly couldn’t hold up against the bank note Crowley had just pressed into his hand. “Annie, some whiskey to warm the gentlemen up. Take a seat by the fire."
It was rather cheap and nasty whiskey, and Aziraphale felt justified in improving it just a little, given it was a celebratory occasion of kinds and he didn’t want his throat… burned... oh dear. He felt a little panicky about the specifics of angel-demon interaction. It’s not as though Crowley’s form was any more than passably human in the first place. He hoped not too much sulphur was involved. He glanced up and saw that Crowley looked thoroughly terrified out of his mind, which was oddly comforting.
They sat in painful silence, no chance to trade ridiculous pet names in public like this. Aziraphale felt utterly exposed, and hoped desperately that when Michael said she would keep an eye on him, she didn’t mean that particularly literally.
“Right,” said Crowley, when they were told their room was ready. He tossed back the rest of his drink. “Let’s go warm up.” Aziraphale’s cheeks immediately warmed at the thought, if nothing else did.
They stood awkwardly facing each other inside the closed door, and Crowley said, “Right,” again, and actually it was ridiculous, so Aziraphale grasped his shoulders and pulled him into a kiss, tender and hungry and promising.
“Right,” Crowley said a third time, in a completely different tone of voice, and put his arms around Aziraphale’s solid hips. “Oh, angel. You’re absolutely sure this time?"
“More than anything. I want you more than anything.” He ran his hands down Crowley’s back and hesitated. “I don’t suppose you, ah—"
“Not as much as you’d expect,” said Crowley, which was evasive, Aziraphale thought. It could have meant anything from not even once to untold thousands of encounters. “Wait, I think I had better lock the door. It makes you all upset when I send people, and I can’t speak for my self control.”
He turned to lock it, and Aziraphale suddenly realised a way out of the awkwardness, a way to get exactly what he wanted, and show how he felt, as well. After all, Crowley might be more experienced, but Aziraphale was far better read. He wrapped his arms around Crowley from behind, and nuzzled his neck, still wet from the rain despite the towels.
“That feels unbearably good,” said Crowley, and tried to swivel back into a kissing position. Aziraphale held him firm. How slender he was, deceptively fragile looking and feeling in the damp clothes. Aziraphale distractedly dried them with a thought. That was better.
“Hold still,” he breathed against Crowley’s ear, and slid his hands up from the waist band under shirt and vest. Definitely a point to separate underpinnings, he thought, feeling the stomach suck in under his touch as he caressed bare skin. He slid one hand down and palmed Crowley, spreading his fingers.
“Damn, I mean bless I mean..fuck… oh, sorry, darling, I mean..."
“It’s all right,” Aziraphale whispered, kissing his neck. “You’re a demon, you can curse. I’m not unreasonable."
“Th—thanks. Even so…” Aziraphale rolled his hand slowly, letting firm pressure press from one side of his hand, then the heel, the other side, and then finally his fingertips, one by one. “Oh, damn..” He made a whining noise that was both undignified and completely, utterly beautiful.
Aziraphale fumbled at Crowley’s fly with his other hand. “If you don’t mind helping, dear."
“What do you expect?” The trousers fell open without intervention, and Crowley sprang free. Aziraphale decided to grasp the moment, as it were.
“Angel. Angel, let me turn around. Please."
“No. Let me have this, Crowley. I’ve longed for so long to look after you, to cherish you..."
“Oh, Satan.” Crowley put his hands against the door, leaning into it for support. “I love you. But…” He seemed to be choking words out with some difficulty, among other sounds. “What if my wings come out at this angle? I could really injure you. Don’t want to hurt your pretty eyes."
“Then you will have to control yourself to protect me,” said Aziraphale, the thought of Crowley holding himself under rigid control shooting pleasure through him. "Does that happen often?” Aziraphale nipped his shoulder through the shirt, his hands working. “It could be awkward with humans."
“Not—never in the ordinary way of my work. Only—only when—"
“Only when what?” He trailed kisses over the snake tattoo on Crowley’s cheek. Dear serpent, he thought confusedly.
“Only when I think of you,” Crowley gasped.
“Often?” Aziraphale asked in low tone, needing to know the answer, even though he thought he already knew it. He was dizzy with the wonder of things, of what he could do with a few controlled movements of his hand. One of Crowley’s legs kicked randomly and somewhat painfully at his. He should have known the demon would be inclined to writhe. Through the pain of a snakeskin shoe connecting hard with his shin, Aziraphale felt a rush of tenderness.
“Oh, so often. For—for thousands of years. But I never truly thought...”
“No other seductions, then. I love you too much and I’m too greedy,” Aziraphale whispered. Then, because Crowley was shuddering but seemed to need something more, “You’re mine."
Crowley hissed, and spent.
For a moment he stood, head bowed, propped against the door as Aziraphale gently released him and magicked away the mess. Then Crowley turned, and this time Aziraphale let him, needing to be folded up in his arms, and kissed.
“Yours. And you’re mine, angel?"
“Yours.” He pressed close as confirmation. “No doubts, nothing held back."
Crowley laughed unsteadily. “You have beautiful hands, darling. So beautiful. If you knew how often I’ve thought of them… And I should have known you wouldn’t shut up."
“Neither did you,” Aziraphale pointed out, and Crowley laughed and kissed him again, voraciously this time.
“We both talk too much."
“And rarely say anything,” Aziraphale admitted.
“I love you,” Crowley said fiercely. “I can say that at last. And it’s time we made use of that bed."
Aziraphale was a bit alarmed. “Won’t it look strange if we disrupt the sheets? Didn’t you say we were just drying off and changing?"
“Oh, poppet,” Crowley said, fierce and laughing all at once, and pulled him towards the bed.
“Wait. I need to undress properly."
Crowley tilted his glasses down and widened his eyes over them. This seemed to remind him he was still wearing them, and he took them off and put them carefully on the nightstand, then flung himself on the bed. “Be my guest. This should be fun."
“Oh, hush. You could get properly undressed, too,” said Aziraphale, who was finding Crowley’s current state of casual dishabille almost unbearable.
“Someone didn’t give me time,” Crowley said gleefully, and waved his hand. His clothes vanished, which was almost worse. Aziraphale swallowed and busied himself with carefully removing and folding his own clothes, starting with his shoes and socks. He could feel himself being watched with a combination of amusement, impatience and lust, and it was doing strange things to his sense of self. Still, he would not crease that waistcoat, even with a naked demon watching him with interest.
When he smoothed down his tie on the pile, Crowley sighed. “Angel. Here.” He held out his arms, and Aziraphale went nervously to them. Bare skin against bare skin was new, and beautiful. “Still sure, love?” Crowley stroked his arms.
“Still afraid?” Crowley kissed his eyelids, one by one. “I know that if Heaven finds out--"
“They know. All sorted,” Aziraphale said firmly.
“The thunderstorm was, as you suspected, a divine intervention. It’s all right now. Michael was surprisingly reasonable."
“What? Aziraphale, you can’t just lay this on me—"
“I’ve been quite patient and unselfish, you know,” Aziraphale said petulantly. “Or have you changed your mind?” He decided to take a skill from Crowley’s set, and squirmed against his bony body.
“Ack. Oh, you lovely, luscious creature.” Crowley dropped the subject and kissed him instead, as Aziraphale had hoped. He’d always been easily distracted.“You feel like—oh, everything. Like you. Better than I could ever imagine.” He kissed him again and again, until Aziraphale felt quite desperate.
“My pleasure.” Crowley grinned at him in his most snakelike fashion. “You know, you have beautiful hands, but I have quite a clever tongue.” He slid down without further warning, and there were no further words from him, just the most interesting noises, and Aziraphale lost his own ability to speak beyond repeating over and over, Crowley, Crowley...
And then he couldn’t breathe, and he was shoved forward into a sitting position so hard he knocked Crowley on the top of his head, as his wings flew out.
Crowley grinned up at him, more than a little smugly. “Told you. Wings out. How much self control do I have, by the way?"
“You’re a paragon of virtue.” Aziraphale reached down and drew him up, kissed him unhesitatingly, clasped him close. “They’re still white?"
“Yes.” Crowley wound his hands softly in the feathers. “Worried, sweetheart?"
“Not really. I’m doing nothing wrong. I’m just following my nature by loving you."
“I’m not sure your side would see it that way.” Crowley laid his head on Aziraphale’s shoulder, and Aziraphale curved his wings around him, as Crowley’s dark wings had curved protectively around him.
“They’re not so sure, but I am. I told you. There is nothing to fear. This—this is the way it’s supposed to be. The way She meant it."
“I don’t have your faith in Ineffability."
“I know.” Aziraphale kissed his head. “I have enough for both of us. All this is for a purpose, I know. There will come a day when this really, really matters.” He could see the future stretching away—blurring—changing. Taking a different path. A path that had changed when his precious, brave friend had asked him to dance. He tried to say something of this, mixing it up a bit with the story of Michael.
“I’m not as innocent as all that,” Crowley said at last.
“I know, dearest."
“It’s not by accident that I’m a demon."
“I know.” He stroked his back.
“And I can’t believe that this, that we, are that important to Her. Arrogance is a sin, sweetheart of mine, and you are trying to keep your wings cotton white."
“Really? We’ve changed the future before. When you tempted Eve, when I gave Adam the sword. How different would the world be without us? It’s not arrogance to trust She knows exactly what she’s doing."
Crowley made a noise that suggested he didn’t know or care what the Almighty thought about anything, as long as he had what he wanted, and Aziraphale let the subject drop. Crowley was cuddling even closer into his arms, as if trying to fit under his skin, and his breathing was changing.
“Don’t go to sleep, dear boy. We are expected downstairs for dinner—oh, dear.” Aziraphale sighed, and pulled up the covers, tucking them around the sleeping demon. His demon. He could let him have a few minutes, at least. And then food, drink, all the pleasures of this glorious world, but with love by his side.
The future was looking very different.
1) Look at me, I had to up the rating. Hope it was worth it.
2) Thank you so much for sticking with me through the angst, the twists and turns and Aziraphale's doubts. I have been overwhelmed by all the comments and engagement and support. You guys are the sweetest. I's been a bit of a hard week, to be honest, and all the notifications on my phone were like doses of happiness.
3) As promised, I don't believe in leaving gaps. In fact I have a fear of finishing, and can only finish one thing once I've started another. So in a few minutes the next story is going up, "Falling Heavenward". Not a sequel, a separate timeline. If Aziraphale has to face his fear of Falling, then it is only fair that Crowley face the consequences of potentially Rising...
4) For the few of you interested in my writing software adventures, this was entirely written in Typora, which is my AO3 editor of choice going forward. It seems copying as HTML, then switching tabs to rich text before posting solves the stray spaces after italics problem.
4) Thank you SO MUCH for spending your precious time reading this story.