Chapter 1: Garden of Eden, 4004BC
The first time Crawley meets the angel, the celestial being is twisting its shining white robe in its fingers and looking wretched. It hardly spares him a glance as he shifts from snake to human, and Crawley is a touch put-out. It’s taken some practice to be able to do it so fluidly.
‘Well that went down like a lead balloon,’ Crawley mutters.
‘Sorry?’ The angel doesn’t look at him, and Crawley takes advantage of its distraction to study it.
The very first heavenly hosts had been neither male nor female, but ever since God made her new favoured creations – her humans, beloved above all else – there has been a gradual shift among some of the angels towards one sex or the other. The demons, of course, adopted the new forms immediately, revelling in their potential for sin, and twisted them to a mockery of what God intended them to be. This angel has chosen to be male, albeit a slightly plump and unassuming specimen. Nothing like some of the visions of divine perfection striding around up Above.
The angel is surprising in more ways than the physical, as Crawley discovers when asking about the sword. And when the rain starts, then it – he – spreads a wing over Crawley without hesitation.
All Crawley can offer in reciprocation is to fish in the depths of his robes and pull out an apple. He hadn’t been lying when he told the woman he had eaten of the tree’s fruit.
He holds it out to the angel, all glossy red skin and tantalising scent. ‘Give you first bite?’
The angel looks at him in shocked disapproval, and Crawley grins and crunches sharp white teeth into the apple’s crisp flesh.
Chapter 2: Mesopotamia, 3650BC
A few hundred years later he knows the angel’s name: Aziraphale. They’ve both been sent to live among the humans, to guide them variously to the paths of righteousness or dissipation. And so far it’s fascinating.
Crawley strolls through the market, taking in the sights and smells, the noise, as he eats. He’s lunching on skewers of goat, roasted over a wood fire and dripping with fat, and a flatbread still warm from the clay oven, and he licks a drop of juice from his palm and savours it.
At the far end of the market a pale flicker catches his eye and he turns his head sharply. The crowd is thick – so many humans in such a short time, it hardly seems that long ago that he knew them all by name – but he cranes his neck until the crowd parts and he sees it again. That flash of white-blond hair, the creamy pale skin, the white robe that the dust of the market somehow fails to cling to.
Crawley catches him up easily.
‘Aziraphale, isn’t it?’
The angel turns, his expression shuttering into wariness at the sight of Crawley, but not before Crawley glimpses the angel’s unalloyed delight.
He knows exactly what’s caused it.
‘Marvellous, aren’t they?’ He gestures with his bread, taking in the lively bustle of the market. ‘So inventive. Seems only yesterday they were just starting out.’
‘Yes.’ Aziraphale looks around and his face lights up again, almost fond. ‘Yes indeed.’
Looking back at Crawley, Aziraphale glimpses the skewer in Crawley’s other hand and looks shocked. ‘Are you… eating?’
Crawley shrugs, waves his hand so that the rich smell of roast meat will reach the angel’s nose.
‘But… but you don’t need to eat,’ Aziraphale says, still faintly scandalised. ‘I don’t need to eat.’ He looks prim. ‘We are celestial beings, and we do not need to sully the temples of our bodies with gross earthly matter.’
Crawley only shrugs again, the movement rippling fluidly down his long spine and recalling his form at their first meeting. ‘It’s fun, though.’
‘Fun?’ The angel makes it sound an utterly alien concept. Perhaps, up Above, it is; Crawley doesn’t remember. ‘We’re not here to have fun.’
Aziraphale draws breath, looking set to carry on in this vein, and Crawley wraps the last scrap of bread around the last piece of goat, pulls it off the skewer, and pops it into the angel’s open mouth.
‘Mmf.’ Aziraphale shuts up, his hand flying to his mouth and his eyes wide. ‘What did you do?’
The words are thick around the meat and bread but just about intelligible and Crawley grins, all sharp white teeth.
‘This is entirely unnecessary,’ Aziraphale says with some difficulty, his hand still modestly covering his mouth.
‘Spit it out, then,’ Crawley suggests cheerfully.
He watches with amusement as, instead of spitting it into his hand, Aziraphale carefully chews for some time and finally swallows. There’s an odd expression on his face. His lower lip is shiny with grease and, furtively, his pink tongue slips out to lick it clean.
‘There’s no harm in it,’ Crawley says at last, when Aziraphale still doesn’t speak.
‘You’re a demon,’ Aziraphale protests. He swallows again. ‘Of course you’d say that.’
‘Well, do you feel damned for all eternity?’ Aziraphale doesn’t reply, and Crawley persists. ‘Look inside. You’d know, wouldn’t you?’
Still no reply, and Crawley leans in closer. Despite the heat of the day, the dust and sweat and dirt of their surroundings, the angel manages to smell fresh and cool as a long drink of water from a deep well.
‘Don’t forget you’ve got to fit in,’ Crawley hisses, into the angel’s pale ear. ‘Do you think the humans won’t eventually notice how that nice–’ his tongue turns the word into the basest of insults, ‘–Mr Aziraphale never eats or drinks?’
‘Well…’ The angel is weakening, and Crawley thrills with it. Just as angels are attuned to feelings of love and the cardinal virtues, demons can sense corruption and the deadly sins. And Aziraphale isn’t about to Fall, isn’t remotely close to it. But his shining purity has taken on the faintest, the merest suggestion of a tinge of a hint of pale grey. The first tentative steps along a path that could lead to gluttony.
Gabriel or Michael would have banished him by now, afire with holy certainty and righteous indignation. But this one… Crawley has seen him give away his flaming sword and then fret over whether he did the right thing. Deep in his heart this angel lacks conviction, and so Crawley stands behind him, watching Aziraphale watch the humans, and hisses, ‘And don’t forget the local economy. You’d think, with all that money in your pouch–’ a discreet flutter of fingers, and Aziraphale flinches minutely at the new weight on his belt but doesn’t tear it off, ‘–you’d want to give some of it to them. All those people struggling to earn their daily bread, for themselves and their children.’
He pauses to let that sink in, before adding deliberately, ‘That would be the kind, the compassionate thing to do.’
‘But I could just give it to them,’ the angel protests weakly. Crawley rolls his eyes and, unseen, waves a hand. ‘I don’t have to actually consume–’
He shuts up abruptly as a wicked little breeze wafts them the smell of meat sizzling over a wood fire. Crawley’s own mouth waters, even though he’s just eaten, and he murmurs, ‘See you around, angel.’
Tucking his robe more securely around him Crawley saunters off and, just before he leaves the main street, he looks back. The angel is approaching one of the stalls, his money pouch clutched tight in both hands and his cheeks as pink as though he’s contemplating something unspeakably dirty, and Crawley grins, his tongue flickering in triumph.
For it’s not just the successful temptation of one of the warriors of God. The angel is an innocent, a holy fool – even the humans, short-lived and blind as they are, have learned by now that accepting food from a demon is a bad idea, that it will bind you to them. And the angel has eaten out of Crawley’s own hand and now, if Crawley concentrates, he can sense where the angel is. It’s faint, but unmistakably there; certainly enough to let him find the angel again, should he wish to, and Crawley hisses to himself in satisfaction. They’re hereditary enemies, after all; the last thing Crawley wants is to be tripping over divine inspiration when he’s trying to tempt the humans to sin.
Chapter 3: Rome, 41AD
The first time Crowley truly stops thinking of the angel as just ‘the angel’ and starts thinking of him by his name is the first time the angel comes to him, as opposed to Crowley turning up unannounced at Aziraphale’s elbow. Admittedly it’s only a few steps across a tavern floor, but it still counts and Crowley watches Aziraphale laugh nervously and pull a bar stool closer.
And then Aziraphale does something even more unexpected and invites him for dinner, and Crowley actually turns to give the angel his full, surprised attention.
‘Alright then,’ he says to Aziraphale’s hopeful expression.
Oysters are apparently salty, fishy lumps, served in their shells with various options of lemon, vinegar, or shallots. They’re insubstantial – one bite and they’re gone, leaving only an aftertaste of the sea – yet oddly enjoyable and Crowley reaches for a second, and then a third, and a fourth.
‘You see?’ Aziraphale takes his fifth. The angel has been more than matching him mouthful for mouthful, and Crowley smirks into his cup of wine as Aziraphale licks his fingers and says, ‘They’re rather good.’
‘Yes.’ Crowley tears off a piece of bread to mop up the briny juices, and behind his smoked glasses he arches an eyebrow. ‘I mean obviously I’d heard of them, though.’
Aziraphale looks ever so slightly confused. ‘You’d heard of them?’
‘Yes. You know. I mean I’d heard what the humans say about them.’
‘Oh?’ Face alight with benevolent interest, Aziraphale leans in. ‘What do they say?’
Crowley smirks in unholy delight and tells him.
‘Oh!’ Aziraphale drops his oyster onto his plate, clattering all the empty shells.
Crowley’s smile is pure devilry. ‘Quite.’
‘Oh that’s… I mean, I didn’t know. I hadn’t any intention of… of…’
‘Offering a demon a meal of aphrodisiacs?’ Crowley suggests.
Aziraphale’s face is red and Crowley grins, flickering his tongue between his teeth, and picks the rejected oyster off Aziraphale’s plate.
‘Are you sure you ought to… to…’ Aziraphale won’t look at him.
‘I’m a demon.’ Crowley gulps it off the shell and licks his lips. ‘They don’t have any effect on me. You’d best not take any chances though, angel.’
He reaches for another from the shared platter, very nearly the last one, and Aziraphale’s hand twitches towards the plate.
‘We are of the same original stock, though,’ Aziraphale says slowly, as though arguing with someone. ‘And the rest of the customers hardly look as though they’re…well…’
‘On the verge of starting an orgy,’ Crowley supplies helpfully.
Aziraphale blushes again. ‘Crowley, really.’
‘Well, I’d know, wouldn’t I? Demon. Inciting lust. It’s in the job description.’ Aziraphale is looking at his plate, the table, the wall, anywhere but at Crowley, although that doesn’t stop him stealing the last oyster out from under Crowley’s reaching fingers. Crowley tops up both their cups of wine, and props an elbow on the table to watch Aziraphale. ‘So you’ve not tried anything else, then.’
‘Yes indeed.’ Aziraphale is intent on preparing his final oyster. ‘Olives, and figs, and dates, and there’s a seller in the market who does the most exquisite roast lamb–’
‘No, I mean any of the other human things,’ Crowley interrupts.
‘No. It seems… well, wasteful. You know. Sloth.’ Aziraphale finally looks at Crowley. ‘Is it… nice?’
Seems, Crowley notes. Not is. The angel is less certain than he once was.
‘Oh, it’s wonderful.’ Crowley watches Aziraphale clean his plate with a crust of bread and stretches slightly, recalling the soft new bed he ordered for his villa just last month. ‘I love it.’
Aziraphale pops the bread into his mouth and looks nervous, as though it were possible to catch sloth by talking about it.
‘Their lives are so short.’ Aziraphale looks around the restaurant, his face soft with heavenly compassion. ‘They have such a little span. And yet they spend so much of it asleep. Or eating.’
Crowley grunts agreement, reaching for the wine jug and finding it empty. ‘Or pursuing sex.’
Aziraphale almost drops his cup. ‘Crowley!’
‘Don’t look at me like that, you know it’s true.’ Aziraphale isn’t looking at him at all, he’s toying with a dish of olives, and Crowley presses, ‘How else do you think I know about the orgies? And don’t even get me started on what Caligula’s up to–’
‘If you carry on like this I’m leaving,’ Aziraphale tells the olives, warningly.
Teasing the angel is fun, but Crowley hasn’t had a decent conversation in centuries; it’s impossible with the humans, with their perspective of a few short decades, and he isn’t ready to give up Aziraphale’s company yet. He relents.
‘Do you know they have a thing called theatre?’ Crowley says instead. He waves a hand, trying to convey the idea. ‘They get up and... and tell stories by acting them out.’
‘Really?’ Aziraphale looks surprised, and then pleased. ‘What will they think of next, I wonder.’
He picks out an olive and Crowley makes some meaningless reply, most of his attention on Aziraphale currently absorbed in the entirely earthly pleasure of food. Idly, the thought occurs to him that seducing an angel with distinct tendencies to hedonism could be an amusing challenge to while away the next thousand years. Below would love it, of course: the corruption of one of God’s holy messengers would be a real feather in his wing, he’d be able to have his choice of assignments after that. And the angel isn’t unattractive, in his way; it would hardly be a chore for Crowley to get under that pristine white toga.
Unseen by Aziraphale Crowley smiles wickedly. He picks up the jug, discreetly miracles it full again, and leans solicitously across the table. ‘More wine, angel?’
Chapter 4: Wessex, 537AD
When one is living in a tent there’s a limit to how fierce it’s possible to make a fire without setting the whole thing alight, and Crowley piles the brazier as high as he dares and drags his chair close to it while he huddles under a fur-lined cloak.
Armour is wretched stuff to wear: heavy and uncomfortable and cold, so very cold. He’s damp and chilled right down to his bones, and he grumbles and miracles up another cloak. And the worst of it is that he’s not even accomplishing anything here. He should have guessed that the sudden outbreak of peace and equality across the south of England was something to do with the angel, that’s just his style.
Crowley shivers. Bless this wretched place. He’s cold and tired and sick of his own company, and his mind circles back to the conversation with Aziraphale.
‘I’m here spreading foment.’
‘What’s that – some kind of porridge?’
Crowley stands it as long as he can but the mistake niggles at him (‘I’m here spreading foment.’), like an itch he can’t scratch (‘What’s that – some kind of porridge?’), repeating and repeating in his brain. If it were another demon Crowley would say they made the mistake just to needle him but Aziraphale has no concept of subtlety or tiny malicious annoyances, and at last Crowley growls under his breath, miracles up a bowl, and steps out of his tent and into the night while concentrating hard on his sense of Aziraphale’s location.
The tent is pure white – miraculously so, one might say, for a knight who spends his time travelling about the muddy English countryside – and stands out like a beacon in the night. A light touch to the sentry’s mind tells him that Crowley is nothing to worry about, and soon Crowley is stepping through the flap of Aziraphale’s tent to find him bent studiously over a small writing desk, a fur-lined cloak drawn tight about his shoulders.
‘Frumenty,’ Crowley says, without preamble.
‘Crowley!’ Aziraphale startles, knocking over his inkwell. ‘Oh bother.’
Four and a half thousand years among humans and he still won’t indulge in swearing, even the mildest and most non-blasphemous sort, and Crowley rolls his eyes and waits while Aziraphale miracles away the flood of black ink from the vellum.
‘How did you know where to find me?’ Aziraphale asks.
‘Please,’ Crowley scoffs. ‘I always know where to find you. And you could find me too, if you wanted.’
Aziraphale looks down but doesn’t deny it, by now they’ve offered each other so many meals that the link between them has strengthened. And goes both ways.
‘Anyway.’ Crowley holds up the bowl. ‘Frumenty.’
‘Yes, you said.’ Aziraphale frowns. ‘What on earth are you talking about?’
‘Earlier,’ Crowley says, ‘when you were babbling about porridge. It’s frumenty you’re thinking of, not foment.’
‘Oh! Oh, I see.’ Aziraphale’s smile lights up his whole face. ‘Yes, you’re quite right.’
He looks down into the bowl and Crowley tightens his hold and uses a touch of hellfire to heat it slightly, enough to let the scents of sugared milk and exotic spices, creamy almonds and plump raisins, mingle and rise to the angel’s nose.
‘I’ve never tried it, you know,’ Aziraphale murmurs, and has to pause to swallow. ‘It’s supposed to be very nice.’
‘Well, go on then.’ Crowley pushes the bowl at him. ‘It’s for you.’
Aziraphale reaches for it but hesitates at the last moment, faintly suspicious.
‘For hell’s sake, angel,’ Crowley growls, ‘if I wanted to tempt you with visions of unspeakably earthly pleasure then I wouldn’t do it with a bowl of tepid slop.’
Not true: the secret to temptation, Crowley knows by now, is whatever the victim wants most in that moment, and over the centuries there isn’t much that Crowley hasn’t dangled in front of the humans. Jewels, power, the love of beautiful women – or of beautiful men… It has ceased to amaze him, the things that humans will sell their souls for.
And what this angel wants, right at this moment, is respite from the cold, and damp, and his solitude – for the company of humans, with their little mayfly lifespans, hardly counts.
‘Well then, take a seat.’ Aziraphale draws two chairs over to the small brazier making a feeble effort to drive the dampness out of the air, and Crowley uses a touch of power to get a decent blaze going. Above and Below have decreed that this is where they both have to be, but he’ll be blessed if he doesn’t long for the heat of the desert where it all began.
Aziraphale pours them each a cup of wine. It’s hot and heavily spiced to disguise the poor quality and that’s another thing Crowley misses. At least the Romans had known how to brew something drinkable, and he miracles it into a vintage from the southern slopes of Aventine hill.
Aziraphale waits for Crowley to eat first. Manners, or lingering suspicion perhaps, but once Aziraphale has seen Crowley eat from the bowl on the table between them he picks up his spoon and Crowley sets his down. He prefers to drink rather than eat, and he curls deeper into the furs lining his chair, drinks his wine, and listens to Aziraphale talk about how much he misses Seneca’s plays.
Since making his decision in Rome Crowley has been wearing the angel down bit by bit, bringing him food and wine and engineering accidental meetings between them. And each time, to Crowley’s private delight, Aziraphale accepts it. Each time it’s easier.
Soon, then. Crowley burrows deeper into the furs in his chair, watches Aziraphale’s expressive face as he speaks, and thinks to himself Not yet. But soon.
Chapter 5: Winchester, 920AD
The first time Crowley brings Aziraphale an orange is in 920.
The past few decades have been quiet and he has a powerful desire to see this world that the humans have been colonising, so he returns to the hot sunshine of the Mediterranean, letting it soak deep into his bones, and then he turns his face to the dawn and begins to travel east. He crosses mountain ranges and rivers, through thick forests and parched deserts that leave him pleasure-drunk with heat. He sees wonders, and eats every strange thing under the sun, and when he finds a fruit that looks like the sun and tastes like a summer day he smiles wickedly, gathers an armful, and uses his power to send himself halfway around the world to Aziraphale’s door.
Aziraphale opens at his knock, and blinks to see Crowley.
‘Come in, come in.’ Aziraphale holds the door wide and Crowley enters and sits as close to the fire as he can manage without setting light to his clothes. ‘What is it?’
In reply Crowley holds out an orange. The best of the armful, its skin plump and flawless, the weight of it heavy with juice. He digs a sharp fingernail into the rind, releasing a burst of zest as he hands it over, and Aziraphale breathes it in, his lips parting.
‘What is it?’
‘They call it an orange.’ Crowley savours the new word.
Aziraphale turns it over in his hands, marvelling. ‘Where did it come from?’
‘A country far to the east.’ Crowley watches Aziraphale looking at the new fruit, the like of which has never yet been seen in Europe. ‘Farther than you’ve ever travelled.’
‘An orange,’ Aziraphale echoes. ‘Do you think the humans will bring them here?’
‘Of course they will,’ Crowley answers, without a second’s hesitation.
Aziraphale is living in a small country manor with thick tapestries on the walls, pure white beeswax candles in the wall sconces, and richly tooled leather-bound books on the shelf. A table between them holds goblets of wine and a plate of pastries swirled with honey and nuts, a fragrant fire of applewood scents the air, and Crowley flings his arms wide, encompassing it all.
‘Just look at what they’ve achieved.’ He looks at Aziraphale. ‘A few thousand years ago they were still herding goats and trying to work out how to make bread.’
‘True,’ Aziraphale murmurs. He brings the orange to his face and inhales deeply, his eyes closing.
‘Aren’t you going to eat it?’ Crowley demands, patience exhausted. He’s never been good at delayed gratification; that’s the prerogative of the other lot.
Aziraphale looks at it and brings it to his mouth, hesitant, and Crowley plucks it out of his hand. ‘No, you have to remove the rind.’
He’s already tearing it open as he speaks, and he peels off a segment and holds it up.
Aziraphale is long past the point of suspicion; after all these years he now greets Crowley’s gifts with delight. But even so Crowley can barely believe his luck when Aziraphale leans in to eat the fruit straight from his fingers.
‘Oh!’ Aziraphale raises a hand to his mouth as he chews, staring at Crowley, and Crowley licks a stray drop of juice from his thumb and marvels again at the taste: life and sunlight and sweetness.
‘Oh, that’s wonderful,’ Aziraphale murmurs.
In reply Crowley tears off another segment, and when Aziraphale takes it from him their fingers brush.
For a moment, Crowley nearly does it. Aziraphale is unguarded in this moment, soft with pleasure in this marvellous new thing Crowley has brought for him, and Crowley very nearly leans over to taste the sweet juice from Aziraphale’s lips, but something stops him.
The angel isn’t quite ready to be tipped into his Fall yet. He’s nearly there but there’s something not quite right, a touch of deeply buried wariness that even Aziraphale himself may be unaware of, and some sixth sense makes Crowley sit back in his chair and sip from his wine. He’s been travelling for a very long time, he’s cold and tired, and right now a comfortable chair and an attentive listener for his tales of strange lands are very appealing. And then, since he has no lodgings in England any more, perhaps he’ll commandeer the bed the angel never uses and have a long, deep sleep.
So he begins to peel another orange for Aziraphale, and curls his legs up into his chair. He can afford to wait a little longer, he has time.
‘Tell me about your travels.’ Aziraphale looks at Crowley curled tightly against the winter cold, and then leans forward to stir up the fire and put on another log. ‘I want to hear everything.’
The flames dance deliciously hot and bright as Crowley stretches his legs towards the fire, looks into the angel’s bright eyes, and begins to speak.
Chapter 6: Runnymede, 10th June 1215AD
It takes Crowley another hundred years to wear Aziraphale down, but the Agreement is finally Agreed upon in 1020, after a trip for Aziraphale to the north coast of Scotland that had involved a week on the road, five changes of horse, and an attack by bandits. Aziraphale had arrived wet, cold, sore, and at the sight of Crowley curled up in a nest of furs in front of a roaring log fire, drinking mead and listening to a bard, the angel had looked closer to swearing than any point in their acquaintance to date.
‘Well I could have done that for you,’ Crowley pointed out, in his most reasonable tone, after listening to Aziraphale’s tale of woe. He poured Aziraphale a cup of mead and piled another fur on him. ‘I’ve been up here since yesterday, tidying up a couple of temptations. There was no need for you to come all the way up just for that.’
And the next time Crowley had sought Aziraphale out, on a freezing January morning thick with sleet, and said innocently that he was popping across to Wales, and did Aziraphale need anything while he was over there, the angel had weakened and finally given in.
Of course the Arrangement is a fiercely guarded secret, but nonetheless something about it ties them even more closely to each other, for Crowley finds that these days he not only knows where Aziraphale is, but can even get a sense of when he feels some strong emotion.
So, in 1215, when a fierce surge of joy catches him right in the chest during a seduction, he gasps sharply.
‘What?’ asks the young man, his hand down Crowley’s breeches and his clever fingers curling and pressing just so. ‘What is it?’
‘Nothing,’ Crowley grits out, against the angelic bliss surging through him. He tangles his fingers in the man’s dark hair and kisses him deeply.
This man was intended for the church; his father had wanted him to join the household of the local lord but the lad was adamant that he had a vocation. Below had ordered Crowley to turn him away from it, leaving the method to his discretion; Crowley had taken one look at the young man – slim, dark hair, a wry twist to his mouth – and decided to mix business and pleasure.
He had intended to take his time with this one but his curiosity is gnawing at him, and there needs to be a change of plan. So as soon as he’s dealt with the human he steps out of the barn and takes a moment to breathe. His own desire is still unsatisfied but no matter, and he closes his eyes and concentrates hard on wherever in England Aziraphale is.
‘Oh bollocks,’ are the first words out of his mouth, when he arrives and immediately finds himself up to his ankles in mud and horseshit.
‘Crowley.’ Aziraphale looks pleased. No, he looks delighted, and Crowley peers suspiciously at the scene in front of them. There’s a large tent, with its sides tied back so the scene in the interior is entirely visible: a large oak table, with richly dressed men all taking turns to sign a document. The sun is shining brightly, very brightly indeed, and Crowley takes in Aziraphale’s joy and then squints suspiciously up at the sky.
‘How nice to see you,’ Aziraphale beams at him. ‘What are you doing here?’
‘I’ve come to see what’s got you so delighted.’ Crowley looks back into the tent. ‘Bound to be bad news for my lot, whatever it is.’
‘Justice.’ Aziraphale is almost glowing. ‘Justice and equal treatment for all, without fear or favour. The barons have persuaded the king to sign an accord. They’re calling it–’ Aziraphale almost visibly swells with pride, ‘–a Great Charter.’
‘Huh. One of yours, is it?’
‘No, that’s what’s so marvellous. The humans came up with it all by themselves.’
Crowley scans the crowd. It’s not hard to pick out the king: he’s the man with the circlet of gold on his bare head, and the face like thunder.
‘It’ll never last,’ Crowley predicts, not even needing to look into the man’s heart to read his intentions.
‘Oh hush,’ Aziraphale says, his brightness not dimmed one fraction. ‘You’ll see.’ He turns to Crowley and seems to notice for the first time that Crowley’s shirt is untucked and unlaced halfway down his chest, his hair pulled out of its tie. ‘What on earth were you doing when you decided to drop in, dear boy?’
‘Sword practice,’ Crowley lies, because if Aziraphale can’t smell the lust pouring off him then Crowley isn’t going to enlighten him. A breeze carries Aziraphale’s scent to him – all new parchment and fresh linen sheets and lavender water – and slides cool fingers along Crowley’s skin, and he rubs his hands together and folds his arms across his chest.
Demons and angels technically don’t need to feel the cold if they don’t want to. But Above and Below had never reckoned on the weather of this wretched country when they made that decree.
‘Look, do you think we might go somewhere for a drink? Celebrate your Great Charter.’ Crowley tries to sneer the words but his heart’s not in it, especially when Aziraphale swings his own cloak off his shoulders and drapes it around Crowley’s.
‘Of course. My tent is just over there.’ With a last fond glance at the humans, Aziraphale stands back with an odd little bow. ‘After you.’
No need to ask which tent is his: how no-one has noticed that it’s several shades cleaner than even the king’s must be taking a few miracles all on its own. In fact…
Crowley looks harder at the tent, and asks, ‘Is that still the same one you were using in Wessex?’
‘I look after things,’ Aziraphale sniffs.
Inside the tent there is a large wooden chair made soft with thick furs. There is wine, that’s grown significantly better over the last few hundred years, and Crowley curls himself deep into the chair and doesn’t offer to return Aziraphale’s cloak and listens to Aziraphale speak proudly about all the clauses of the Charter.
Over the years Crowley has been finding excuses to drop in on the angel, and Aziraphale has long since accepted Crowley’s comings and goings. He even looks quietly pleased to see him these days, and Crowley understands that very well. Celestial beings aren’t supposed to know loneliness. Yet they’re inhabiting human bodies and, astonishingly, they turn out to have a will of their own at times. Like breathing, for instance: technically Crowley doesn’t need to, but the body wants to and he has to make a concentrated effort to stop it. And it’s hard not to feel a pull towards the only other familiar face who’s been around since the Beginning. And Aziraphale is an enjoyable conversationalist, even if he does go on rather too much about ineffability.
So Crowley lets Aziraphale speak about the new charter. And Crowley – who sees the darkness in humans in ways the angel cannot – knows the king will break his promise within the year, but he says nothing of this to Aziraphale as Aziraphale flushes with wine and warmth, and his conversation meanders off the point. Instead Crowley sits and watches and listens, and basks silently in the success of his most recent temptation. There’s nothing like the rush of successfully leading someone astray, causing them to question the Lord’s divine will. It’s better than any drug Crowley has tried over the centuries, better than sex. He’s never said as much to Aziraphale, but perhaps this is how blessings feel to him.
His own unslaked lust still curls hotly in his blood. The young man had been a handsome one, the temptation almost as much pleasure as duty, and the dalliance had been his first one in over a century. He had been more than ready for it before the angel unwittingly pulled him away, and behind his glasses Crowley stares unblinking at Aziraphale’s soft mouth and fair hair, just barely long enough for fingers to grip.
And when the angel rises unsteadily and turns away to open a seventh bottle – it takes a truly heroic amount of alcohol, they’ve discovered, to get celestial beings drunk – Crowley rises silently from his chair.
‘Don’t you–’ Aziraphale blinks owlishly at him when Crowley lifts the bottle from his hand and sets it aside, ‘–don’t you want more?’
‘You could say that.’ Crowley smiles and touches Aziraphale’s face, resting his thumb on Aziraphale’s chin close to his lovely pink lips.
Aziraphale sucks in a breath, his eyes going wide as he stares at Crowley, and Crowley summons a touch of power to lean subtly on the angel’s will.
‘We could continue the celebrations elsewhere,’ he suggests, when Aziraphale’s gaze shifts to his mouth and a shiver of something flickers in the air between them. Victory is already singing through his blood at the way Aziraphale is standing compliant in his hold. Like a lamb to slaughter, and Crowley’s wings slide into being and mantle around them both, closing out the world as he tilts his head to kiss Aziraphale’s soft, shocked mouth.
The rush is dizzying, better than the capitulation of any mere weak human will, and Crowley thumbs Aziraphale’s mouth open to dip his tongue inside and listens with dark satisfaction to Aziraphale’s gasp.
‘Come now,’ he whispers, his breath tickling Aziraphale’s damp lips and his arm settling lightly around Aziraphale’s waist, ‘I’ll look after you. Just let me,’ and for a few heartbeats Aziraphale seems to yield and lean into him.
A flash of light blinds him, and a blow to his chest sends him flying across the tent to sprawl on the thick rug, and Crowley gasps for breath and looks over to see Aziraphale ablaze with holy fury.
‘Let you?’ echoes Aziraphale. His wings have manifested, enormous and brilliant white, and for the first time in four and a half thousand years Crowley sees why this unassuming being was nevertheless set to guard the eastern gate.
‘Did you just sssmite me?’ Crowley struggles to his knees, all the strength knocked out of him. Aziraphale’s anger burns with an icy ferocity, like air over high mountains, and it sucks all the warmth out of the tent.
‘I can’t believe you would try to… to–’
‘I’m a demon,’ Crowley snarls, defensive, furious at himself. His one chance at this, and he had gone blundering in too early and blown it, no better than a clumsy imp from the first circle. His glasses are lost somewhere and his eyes blaze yellow; his wings have vanished and when he tries to manifest them again he fails. ‘Tempting isss what I do, angel.’
‘But I thought we were… oh, how stupid of me.’ Aziraphale turns away. ‘Get out.’
Friends. Crowley hears it plain as though Aziraphale had spoken it aloud. I thought we were friends.
He crawls over to the foot of the bed – unused, of course, he knows this as he knows so much else about the angel these days – and uses the wooden frame to push himself to his feet. Aziraphale’s blow has left him weak as a kitten, his heart pounding and the wine sloshing queasily in his stomach.
Aziraphale is standing by the brazier, lit despite the June day outside because he knows that Crowley is permanently cold in this blessed country. The firelight shining through his wings limns them in gold, and Crowley shivers as he stares at them.
‘Azssiraphale,’ Crowley says, the z sliding into a hiss as his hold on this form weakens. He cuts himself off, biting his tongue until the growing fork seals itself whole.
‘Leave. Now.’ Aziraphale’s voice trembles. ‘Or I’ll kill– I’ll discorporate you, and you can explain to Below why you need a new body.’
The possibility that Aziraphale would do it – right now he certainly looks furious enough – is enough to make Crowley use the last of his strength to return himself to his lodgings. He clutches the edge of his workbench until the room stops spinning, and then staggers over to his bed to curl into the nest of furs.
Chapter 7: Wessex, 1270AD
For the following month Crowley is unable to concentrate. He nearly mucks up a perfectly simple temptation to theft because of it; every time he tries to focus on Aziraphale he almost drowns in the angel’s outrage. The whole thing gives him a headache and at last, after six months, he clears his schedule and then goes to bed for thirty years.
He wakes in 1246 and, when he reaches out, find that Aziraphale is still angry, but at least its mere anger, no longer the sort of righteous heavenly fury that can level mountains or destroy whole cities. He hangs around London to stir up some civil unrest, travels north to encourage the locals to rise up at the new lord’s higher taxes, and after a couple more decades he finally stops waiting for Aziraphale to calm down and turns up on his doorstep.
The world will be tedious if Aziraphale isn’t speaking to him, to say nothing of the Arrangement, and Crowley takes the precaution of arming himself with a basket of oranges, and dates, and figs, and grapes – all the soft, sweet things Aziraphale loves and that the humans haven’t brought to this country yet. He holds it up when Aziraphale opens the door: a bright, fragrant peace offering.
But Aziraphale doesn’t look at it, and nor does he let Crowley speak.
‘I thought we were friends,’ Aziraphale says, his usual expression of gentle benevolence replaced by thunder.
‘Angel.’ Crowley slouches, trying to make himself small and unthreatening. ‘We are friends–’
‘But now I see I was foolish. All this time, all you wanted was for me to… to…’
To Fall. But he can’t say the word and Crowley, oddly, finds he doesn’t want him to.
‘You were planning it all along,’ Aziraphale says, and there’s disappointment among the anger.
‘No!’ Crowley lies unhesitatingly. ‘I was drunk, and it seemed like a good idea at the time.’
‘You want to drag me down to your level.’
‘No.’ Crowley lies as easily as he tempts, silver-tongued serpent that he is. ‘I came to say–’ demons don’t apologise and Crowley grits his teeth, the words stinging his mouth, ‘–I’m sorry. Forgive me.’ He lifts the basket. ‘An apology. And I’ll do your next ten good deeds. Anywhere in the world, anything you want, just say it.’
He could probably go as high as fifteen before there’s any danger of Below noticing, but Aziraphale doesn’t haggle, and doesn’t take the fruit. Doesn’t even look at it.
‘Just go away.’ Aziraphale makes to shut the door but Crowley jams his foot in it.
‘Aziraphale come on, we’re friends–’
‘We’re not friends!’ Aziraphale hisses, rounding on him and startling him enough that Crowley steps back. ‘You’re a demon! I’m an angel! We’re on opposite sides!’
And while Crowley is still reeling from the venom in Aziraphale’s voice, the door slams in his face.
Crowley goes home, banishes his gift with a wave of his hand, and consults his orders for the next century. There’s sod-all happening. One damnation in 1315, and not much else.
‘Well fuck it,’ he says, and goes to bed.
Chapter 8: Mainz, 1454AD
Most of the fourteenth century passes him by. He wakes several times – in 1337 to incite a riot, and 1382 with a fierce craving for a jug of cold cider – but otherwise he plunges himself into deep, dreamless sleep.
He wakes eventually and rolls onto his back, stretches hugely, and then lies there scratching his chest and considering. The year is 1428, he knows this in the same indefinable way he knows that Aziraphale is still in England, that it’s a Thursday, and that the moon is a waning crescent. What he doesn’t know, however, is what’s been happening in Europe during his long sleep, and so he goes to find out.
Well now. He certainly didn’t miss anything in the 1300s but this century is rather more interesting than the previous one and he’s kept busy until 1450, at which point he sits down in the middle of the Black Forest and miracles himself a jug of wine and a platter of smoked meats.
He squirms, stretches out a black wing, and picks idly at his pinion feathers as he considers.
In all his long life, he’s never once felt guilt. He doesn’t regret his Fall, although he has no desire to relive the experience, and he has never felt shamed by it, by wanting to think for himself. He had wanted to know. He hadn’t been content with blindly following orders, he had wanted to know why the Divine Plan had been so ordained. When they said ‘It is written,’ he had asked ‘Where?’. He had sought knowledge, had wanted to choose for himself, and the result had been God’s divine love torn away to leave him flayed raw, and a plunge into a lake of boiling sulphur; after a small infinity he had managed to crawl out and lie choking on the shore, his skin cracked and blistered, his questioning tongue split and bleeding, and his beautiful white wings burned black. His bright eyes, that had seen the first sunrise of the world and taken on all its colours, were turned to a hideous caricature of what they had been, and the space inside him that had been full of heavenly love and serenity and peace was filled with other things. Rage. Hatred. Envy.
But never regret. Even when coughing up blood in his agony, his body healing by painful degrees, he has never once repented of his desire for wisdom.
And now… Crowley ought to feel triumphant. He had so nearly succeeded; if he hadn’t lost his patience and instead had just waited until after one or two more bottles when Aziraphale would have been drunk and loose and pliant, then the bed might have been put to use that night after all.
He thinks on it in more detail. The commendations from Below, that would secure him a liberty to spend the rest of eternity doing whatever he pleased. The angel’s face after the act, as he realised what he had done. In the garden, all those centuries ago, he had seen the woman’s face change after she ate the apple – he had watched in pride as a new self-awareness bloomed across her features, chasing away forever the vapid expression of unthinking acceptance.
Crowley smiles, but it sits oddly on his face. He laughs to himself, but it lacks real mirth; somehow the daydream of the angel’s Fall doesn’t bring him the same enjoyment as it used to. Somewhere along the way, during the past 1200 years, when he wasn’t paying attention, his plan has stopped being as amusing as it used to be.
And when Crowley remembers Aziraphale’s white wings curled around him, hiding his face as the firelight limned them with gold, the thought of those shining wings stained black with sin, and Aziraphale crying out in agony as his Grace is torn from him, makes something acutely uncomfortable burn in his chest.
Crowley rubs the heel of his hand over his sternum, his wings twisting a little at the new sensation. It’s not hunger, or thirst. And it can’t be tiredness, not after the sleep he’s just had. All the same, he folds his wings away and goes in search of the nearest tavern.
A month later, a month of sating every human appetite possible, wallowing in depravity, Crowley stirs where he’s sprawled across the bed. He flexes his shoulders and arches his back until something in his spine pops, and then he delicately lifts a hair from the tip of his tongue, purely to bring a blush to the cheeks of the young man stretched along his side.
‘Pass me some wine,’ he orders, running a lazy hand over the man’s smooth hip, and the fellow sits up and leans over to rummage among the collection of jugs by the bed until he finds one they’ve not yet drained.
He passes the jug over and Crowley gulps thirstily and wipes his wrist across his mouth.
‘Can you not stay longer?’ the young man asks, his dark eyes full of longing, skating a hand gently across the base of Crowley’s stomach. The man’s shoulders and hips all bear the marks of Crowley’s enjoyment: faint bruises in the shape of his splayed hands, his mouth. Crowley’s own skin bears similar marks, but only because he currently wishes them to be there.
Crowley kisses him briefly, but pulls back when the man tries to deepen it into something more.
‘No.’ He stands and stretches, preening a little in pride at the covetous slide of the man’s gaze across his chest, his thighs. ‘He’ll keep you company, though.’
Crowley nods towards the bed’s third occupant, stretched out on his front and still sleeping, as he steps into his breeches and begins to lace them. He subtly sends a little pulse of lust towards the pair of them, and they’re just beginning another round when Crowley lets himself out, his presence already forgotten by both of them absorbed in each other.
That ought to do it. That really ought to have fixed things and rid him of this peculiar discomfort, and Crowley snarls to himself when he sits in a tavern, orders a jug of wine, and finds that the nebulous ache under his ribs is still there. He presses his knuckles to the spot and, idly, reaches out towards his sense of the angel.
Aziraphale is in London, that much he can tell. And when Crowley closes his eyes and concentrates harder he finds that Aziraphale isn’t angry, not any more. If Crowley didn’t know better, if Aziraphale wasn’t a celestial being meant to endure in splendid isolation for all eternity, he would say that Aziraphale feels almost… lonely.
Well if he is then it’s his own fault; Crowley has already apologised and he can hardly do more. He mutters a curse on all stubborn, stiff-necked, prideful angels, and opens his eyes to see a young man has pulled up the bar stool next to him.
‘So stubborn,’ the man says. He stares moodily down into his mug of ale. ‘Sometimes people are too thick-headed to see a good idea when it’s in front of them.’
Crowley grunts. He’s hardly in the mood for conversation.
‘And all for a measly bag of guilders to invest.’ The man sighs, scrubs his hand through his hair. ‘I’d give anything for my own money. To not have to crawl begging for it.’
Sleekly Crowley turns on his chair to face him. ‘Would you now?’
He bites his tongue to stop it flickering in pleasure. It’s rare that so easy a temptation falls into his lap.
He signals to the barman to top up the man’s mug, and asks, ‘What exactly would you be prepared to do, Mr…?’
The question hangs and the man is already holding out his hand to shake Crowley’s. ‘Gutenberg. Johannes Gutenberg.’
The outcome isn’t exactly all Crowley had hoped for. In fact when he drops by the workshop and sees just what the entrepreneur has chosen to print as his first book he almost hisses in disgust.
‘I thought you were going to print treatises. Mathematics. The natural sciences. The movements of the planets.’ Crowley taps his cane impatiently on the floor. ‘The dissemination of knowledge.’
‘Oh yes.’ Gutenberg has a smear of ink on his cheek from some new mixture he’s trying out, but his eyes shine like stars. ‘But first, what could be better than to use my work for the glory of God?’
A great many things, in Crowley’s opinion, but he swallows his response and looks at the book. It’s a marvel. Lines of crisp black type, clear and well-spaced and immediately legible, and Crowley is musing over the possibilities. He’s so absorbed in how this will change the humans, how it will spread the knowledge that the Church is working so hard to suppress, that he doesn’t move quickly enough when Gutenberg says, shyly, ‘And as my patron, of course, I want you to have the first, the very first copy.’
He takes Crowley’s wrist and sets the book into his hand.
The pain is immediate, searing, and Crowley cries out, dropping the book and his cane on the floor and gripping the wrist of his maimed hand tightly. As the blisters rise on his palm and fingers, he grits his teeth against the pain of it and looks up to find Gutenberg wide-eyed in shock.
Crowley’s glasses have slipped crooked on his face, and Gutenberg stares into Crowley’s slitted eyes, glances down at his reddened, blistered hand, and pales. He swiftly crosses himself. ‘Jesu preserve me.’
He begins to pray, his voice shaking and the words stumbling over themselves in his haste. It has no effect on Crowley other than to make him itch furiously, and he snaps his blistered fingers in front of the man’s face, swallowing a hoarse noise of pain, and orders, ‘Forget.’
Gutenberg’s face goes serenely, blankly calm, and Crowley sighs.
There’s nothing further for him here. The idea has taken root and is flourishing, and all that remains is for him to sit back and watch it play out over the coming century. He’s about to turn on his heel and leave when he pauses, looking down at the book splayed face-down on the floor.
He knows an angel who worships books to an almost unholy degree.
‘And I accept your gift,’ Crowley says, turning back to Gutenberg. ‘Most kind. Now please wrap it, it wouldn’t do for it to get damaged.’
Gutenberg does so, his face still unnaturally calm, while Crowley examines his burnt hand. He tries to heal it but it stays resolutely scorched, and he scowls. Divine injuries have to heal at mortal speed, and he miracles up a black bandage around the hand and tucks it protectively in his pocket.
‘And string,’ he adds curtly, watching Gutenberg wrap the book in layer after layer of cloth and paper.
When Crowley leaves it’s with the book dangling from a length of string looped over his wrist. Like this it bumps against his legs and stings, but at least it doesn’t burn, and he returns to his lodgings. He gathers his things and prepares to leave, and then closes his eyes and steps forward, concentrating hard on London.
But his foot comes down not onto cobblestones but onto wooden floorboards, and Crowley opens his eyes. This is new.
He tries again, twice, before it occurs to him to look down at the book. He snarls under his breath. The parcel is glowing dangerously warm even through all its cloth and paper wrappings, and Crowley flings it onto his table in a high temper and goes off to see about purchasing a horse. Preferably a stupid one, too stupid to see past illusions and realise what it really carries on its back.
A month later, by the time Crowley sets foot ashore at Dover, he’s seasick, cold, sore, and a breath away from giving up the whole idea. But he’s carried the rotten thing this far, he may as well see it through.
He finds Aziraphale living quietly just outside of London and, encouragingly, this time he doesn’t shut the door in Crowley’s face.
‘Crowley,’ he says, guardedly.
‘Look, angel, I’ve already said I’m sorry.’ Crowley shifts his weight. If he never has to look at another horse it’ll be too soon; the humans, so clever in other fields, are remarkably slow at inventing better ways to travel. ‘But I’ll say it again: I’m sorry. I was pissed, and you were there, and–’ he shrugs expansively, ‘–it seemed like a good idea at the time.’
A corner of Aziraphale’s mouth twitches. It’s a good sign.
‘Bad ideas are my lot’s speciality, anyway, just like resisting base impulses is your lot’s, you know that.’ Crowley waves a hand, encompassing Aziraphale in his soft, clean woollen robe, drinking a cup of mulled wine and surrounded by even more books than he had last time. ‘You’re the sensible one.’
The angel has been around humans just long enough that flattery works to soothe his ruffled feathers, for when he sniffs, ‘Silver-tongued serpent,’ there’s no bitterness in it.
‘Please say you’re talking to me again,’ Crowley says, not caring that he’s so obviously pleading. ‘It’s been so boring without you.’
‘Well…’ A guilty look flashes across Aziraphale’s face. ‘Likewise, I have to say.’
‘Good.’ Crowley smiles, and remembers. ‘And look. I brought you something.’
He holds up the parcel, dangling it from a finger by its string.
‘Open it and find out.’
Aziraphale takes it, gently, and Crowley rubs his hands together briskly, glad to be rid of it. It’s been like carrying a block of burning ice with him, one that dampens his powers and leaves him weak and useless and mortal. He has an urge to manifest his wings or incinerate something, just because he can.
‘It’s certainly well-wrapped,’ Aziraphale murmurs, neatly unfolding the layers, and when he pulls back the final paper he looks confused. ‘A bible?’ He’s too well-mannered to look at his bookshelves but Crowley does, and sees the various copies Aziraphale already owns. ‘Well. Er, thank you.’
‘It’s not just any bible,’ Crowley says, already shaking his head impatiently. ‘News hasn’t reached England yet, but it will. The humans have invented a new thing.’ Now isn’t the moment to share the news of his financial support. ‘A… a sort of device. A printing press, they’re calling it. It’s going to let them mass-produce books, and in a fraction of the time it takes to copy them by hand.’
Aziraphale nods; he may be naïve, compared to a demon, but he’s far from stupid, and he already looks awe-struck. ‘They’ll revolutionise the spread of knowledge.’
‘Exactly. And this is the first – the very first – copy of the first book from the device.’ Crowley comes to stand by Aziraphale as he pages through the book, careful not to let his hand brush it. He looks down at it but the text hurts his eyes and he has to look away. ‘I thought you might like it.’
Aziraphale says nothing, his head bowed as he turns the pages reverently, until his gaze flicks to Crowley’s hand. It’s healed nicely and the burned skin has dried and begun to flake away; Crowley says nothing but turns his wrist sharply so it’s concealed. It’s rather too like shedding his snakeskin for him to be comfortable with the angel seeing it.
‘So are we friends again, then?’ he asks.
Aziraphale takes the book to his writing desk, not looking at Crowley.
‘I forgive you,’ he says primly. ‘I forgave you the very next day, you know.’
This is a flagrant lie, since Crowley felt his wrath for years afterwards, but he lets it pass and merely snorts. ‘Well of course you forgive me, you’re an angel. But are we friends?’
And Aziraphale slants him a little smile. ‘I suppose we must be.’
Crowley sighs, and the pain under his ribs that he’s carried for two hundred years dissolves away into nothing.
Chapter 9: London, 1601AD
Things return to normal – or as normal as they can be between two supposed enemies who enjoy each other’s company so much that they forget this fact more often than they remember it. The Arrangement resumes as though it had never paused, and Crowley once again takes to dropping in on Aziraphale and being sure of his welcome.
The friendship between them returns to normal even faster than Crowley might have expected. It’s hardly surprising for Aziraphale – a being of love and forgiveness is hardly going to hold a grudge – but somewhere around 1507 Crowley takes a moment to sit up on Highgate Hill, look down over London, and wonder at himself.
Aziraphale may be the only other familiar face since the Beginning, but Crowley has seized on the resumption of their friendship with an undemonic fervour. In his heart of hearts, perhaps his plan had stopped being fun even before that night in 1215, when it had become apparent how likeable Aziraphale was. He doesn’t regret pursuing it, though. How else is a demon going to amuse himself, with eternity on his hands and a theoretically incorruptible adversary in front of him? It’s like setting a cat loose in a room overrun with mice, and expecting it not to pounce.
But Crowley dislikes thinking too much about their argument. It makes him itchy and uncomfortable in ways he can’t quite name and so, usually, he doesn’t. Introspection and self-analysis aren’t notable strengths of Below anyway.
Instead he takes to visiting Aziraphale more frequently, bringing him wine and new books – he hadn’t been wrong about how Gutenberg’s press would change books in Europe – and food. Sugared nuts, and spiced marchpane, and gilded sweet pastries, and dates stuffed with almonds and drizzled with honey; Crowley still doesn’t have much of an appetite for human food, even after all these years, but it’s a greater pleasure to watch Aziraphale try new things and murmur with pleasure. Sometimes, if Crowley is lucky and gets it just right, his hand flutters up to cover his mouth and his eyes close, as though he’s doing something indecent, and Crowley lounges in his chair and preens in satisfaction.
Every time he sees Aziraphale the angel is in love with some new thing the humans have invented. At the end of the sixteenth century a young playwright, William Shakespeare, appears on the London scene; Crowley attends one of his plays and then goes straight to Aziraphale’s lodgings.
‘No,’ Aziraphale says, when Crowley demands to know if Aziraphale has been giving out divine inspiration without telling Crowley. ‘No, he’s come up with it all by himself.’ He beams at Crowley, almost shining with joy. ‘Oh my dear, aren’t the humans wonderful?’
From that point Aziraphale drags Crowley to a performance whenever they meet, he says they’re more amusing in the company of a friend. Crowley tries refusing, once, just to see what Aziraphale will say, and all that happens is that Aziraphale’s face falls, his happiness dimming, and Crowley snarls under his breath and concedes. At some point, over the past two hundred years, he’s grown unable to bear the angel’s disappointment.
The history plays and the tragedies are frankly tedious, and when he can get away with it Crowley parks himself at the back of the stalls to lean against the wall and doze through it. Surely this Shakespeare chap will see soon enough that no-one likes his gloomy ones, it’s far better to stick to comedy.
Even so, when they’re at a nearly deserted performance of Hamlet – the actor declaiming mournfully about the pangs of despised love – and when Aziraphale turns to him, so hopeful, Crowley sighs and doesn’t even bother to pretend he’s not going to give Aziraphale what he wants. ‘Yes, alright. My treat.’
Aziraphale’s face breaks into a smile so wide and unfeigned that, startlingly, Crowley’s own mouth twitches in response, a warm contentment blooming deep in his chest at Aziraphale’s happiness, and he has to leave before he ruins his own reputation as a Satanic agent of Hell.
Two days later, after Aziraphale has left for Edinburgh, Crowley leaves his lodgings before dawn and makes his way to east London.
Influencing one human takes barely anything at all, a mere word in their ear will do it. But an entire city requires rather more effort and it helps to have a focal point through which to channel his energy, and Crowley walks until he reaches the London stone.
The base is muddy and Crowley makes a face – this pair of hose is nearly new, and in the latest fashion – and miracles a cushion to sit on. He folds to sit cross-legged, closes his eyes, and concentrates.
But it’s difficult to muster focus to convince an entire city of people of something which Crowley himself doesn’t believe: that this dreadful play is worth even five minutes of their time. Aziraphale never listens when Crowley says it, but people’s lives are hard enough already and what they want are comedies, distractions. But it’s easy for the angel to enjoy a tragic play: after all, what has he ever truly known of loss, or misery, or pain? It would be the simplest thing in the world to point this out to him: the reason why he loves the tragic plays, yet why the average Londoner – and Crowley – shies away from them. But Crowley hasn’t yet, and finds himself oddly reluctant to do so.
Crowley sighs and leans back against the stone as his mind wanders. Aziraphale had been so delighted when Crowley had agreed to do this and Crowley smiles faintly, remembering. The angel is so easily pleased: he welcomes even the humblest of Crowley’s offerings as though they were priceless treasures, and Crowley’s excuses to spend time with him have been growing increasingly thin. With such unfeigned joy at his presence, it’s difficult to come up with reasons why he shouldn’t.
And it would please the angel so much if this play was a success. Crowley softens as he thinks of him: the downy vee of blond hair at his nape that he hasn’t changed in five thousand years, the worried crumple of his mouth as he fretted about what Below would do to Crowley should they ever hear of the Arrangement, the light in his blue eyes when Crowley agreed to help. If Crowley manages this then Aziraphale might smile at him like that again; he would invite Crowley to see Hamlet, this time playing to a packed house, and Crowley would insist on getting seats at the back of the stalls – he’s not bloody standing all the way through three hours of boredom – and Crowley could prop his feet on the bench in front and doze, with Aziraphale’s delight a steady warmth all down his left-hand side and Aziraphale’s faintly reproving murmurs in his ear. And afterwards, if the play was a success and Aziraphale sufficiently pleased, they could get drunk together. Aziraphale has a streak of decidedly unangelic mischief and sarcasm in him that only emerges after a few bottles of wine, and Crowley is reluctantly charmed by it.
The stone is burning hot at his back and Crowley leans forward abruptly, coming back to himself with a start and breaking the connection. He twists to rest his palm against it and blesses under his breath. Well, that should do it, and he gets to his feet, banishing the cushion with a wave. He might have overdone it a bit but it’s difficult to tell, really, and he shrugs. History will have to be the judge.
Chapter 10: Paris, 1793AD
The French Revolution is violent, bloody, and riddled with petty injustices, and Crowley walks among it and marvels yet again at how creative the humans can be without even the slightest interference from Below. He’s watching a speaker haranguing the crowd in the Marché des Halles, exhorting bloody death to les aristos, when there’s a sudden twist of worry, almost fear, under his ribs. He presses a palm to his side, shocked at his own weakness, until he realises that it’s not coming from him.
Over the years the connection between them has strengthened; Crowley doesn’t necessarily feel it each time Aziraphale loses a book, or spills coffee on a favourite waistcoat he’s had since 1710 – and just as well, or he’d never get anything else done – but this is a spike of real distress and Crowley doesn’t think, he simply closes his eyes and opens them at Aziraphale’s side.
The dungeon is damp and stinking, to both Crowley’s human and occult noses, of piss and damp and mortal terror, and the relieved delight on Aziraphale’s face when he turns to Crowley makes Crowley feel ready to face down Gabriel himself.
The angel is all bitten lips and guilty looks, and as Crowley listens to his explanation unfold something in his chest melts warm and soft. Ridiculous creature. Coming across to revolutionary France, dressed in his finest silks, all manicured hands and well-spoken ways, simply because he had a sweet tooth and a weakness for their food.
Crowley has never particularly cared for crepes, but he lets Aziraphale take them to a tiny restaurant and listens to news of Aziraphale’s bookshop. And when their desserts arrive, Crowley takes two bites before setting down his knife and fork.
‘I’m full,’ he lies, when Aziraphale looks at him questioningly.
‘Oh?’ Aziraphale’s fork twitches and Crowley pushes the plate towards him, as he had known he would even before he ordered.
‘Finish it, if you like.’
There’s more pleasure in watching Aziraphale savour the crepes than there is in eating them himself, and Crowley drinks his wine and contributes just enough to keep the conversation going, to keep Aziraphale talking while Crowley basks in his company and feels more relaxed than he has in decades.
It’s the departure that does it.
They’ve paid the bill and finished the last drops of wine, and Crowley is watching Aziraphale straighten his jacket when he realises he’s not ready to give up Aziraphale’s company just yet. In fact he doesn’t ever want to give it up; he wants to follow Aziraphale home to London, and claim a corner of Aziraphale’s new bookshop for himself, and watch to see what surprising – and likely ill-advised – venture this fussy, soft, prim, enchanting being is going to do next. The revelation feels like the earth shifting beneath his feet.
This is it. This is why he brings a steady stream of gifts to Aziraphale’s door, why he sits through tedious plays and chamber music concerts, why he orders desserts he has no desire to eat; this is why he overshot himself, all those years ago, and bloody Hamlet has never been out of print since its first publication. Why he dragged a sodding bible halfway across Europe on horseback, simply because he couldn’t bear Aziraphale being disappointed by him.
‘Crowley?’ Aziraphale grasps his arm, shakes it gently. ‘Are you alright?’
Crowley comes back to himself, abruptly conscious he’s halted in the doorway to the restaurant and has been staring at Aziraphale like a moonstruck calf, and he steps out into the street.
‘Well,’ Aziraphale says, fishing out his pocket watch, ‘I suppose I ought to–’
‘Coffee,’ Crowley blurts, the first thing that comes to mind. His hands flex with the urge to grab Aziraphale’s sleeve and anchor them together. ‘I need a coffee. After all that food. Have a coffee with me?’
He’s eaten barely half of what Aziraphale did, but thankfully Aziraphale doesn’t argue, merely puts his watch away and smiles. ‘Of course. Lead on.’
Coffee turns into another drink, and another, and each time Aziraphale’s hand stirs towards his waistcoat pocket and his watch Crowley asks another question or comes up with a compelling distraction or orders another bottle of wine, until they’ve finished several bottles between them and Aziraphale’s upright posture has deteriorated into something approaching a sprawl.
Throughout it all Crowley stares hungrily at him, his dark glasses concealing a world of indiscretions.
Is this what the humans feel, then? Is this what’s behind all their poetry, their plays and songs and art? This curious feeling that there’s a thread tied somewhere deep in his chest to a matching place in the angel’s, that resonates in sympathy with each of Aziraphale’s smiles, his worries, his sighs? The inarticulate yet very definite feeling that it’s this being he needs at his side, with all his quirks and inconsistencies, this one and no other?
‘The worst part is that it’s not going to achieve anything,’ says Crowley, when he’s been staring at Aziraphale in silence for too long, and Aziraphale has started to look puzzled. ‘Nothing’s going to change; there’ll still be a ruling class in charge.’
He’s been doing his best not to think about it, about how all this blood and death is ultimately for nothing, but if he’s not careful then he’s going to say something unwise about how very soft and kissable Aziraphale’s mouth looks.
When he looks down into his wine Aziraphale leans forward and rests a hand on his bare wrist and Crowley closes his eyes dizzily.
‘My dear.’ Aziraphale’s frown is anxious and lovely, and Crowley’s fingers itch to cover the gentle hand on his wrist, to keep the angel exactly there for the rest of the night, and all the nights after that. ‘You mustn’t blame yourself,’ Aziraphale says earnestly. ‘You know that. You’ve seen what they’re like, quite without our interference.’
‘Yes.’ Crowley searches for more to say, more that will keep Aziraphale there, but the angel is sitting back. His hand slides off Crowley’s wrist and Crowley’s fingers twitch briefly towards it before he catches himself.
‘We ought to sober up,’ Aziraphale mutters, virtuously. ‘It’s not good to think about these things when you’re drunk, dear boy, you know that. It just makes you maudlin.’
Aziraphale should know; he was the one who ran Crowley to earth, all those years ago, when Crowley had seen what the Spanish Inquisition had been doing. He had been the one to listen to Crowley, letting him pour out his heart, and when Crowley had dissolved into incoherence he had been the one to clean Crowley up, take him home, and put him to bed.
‘No, let’s not.’ Aziraphale is enchanting like this, all soft and blurry and looking at Crowley with something like affection, and Crowley wants to keep him just exactly as he is. He reaches out to touch Aziraphale’s hand, something thrilling low in his stomach when Aziraphale doesn’t pull away but only turns his hand over to curl his fingers around Crowley’s. ‘Let’s go for a walk instead. It’s a nice evening.’
‘A walk?’ Aziraphale hardly sounds enthusiastic, but he lets Crowley tighten his hand and pull him out of his seat and out of the tavern.
They walk by the Seine. The sun is setting and the western horizon is streaked pink and gold while in the east the first velvety blue is rising, and they walk towards the night. Aziraphale is drunk and imprecise, not quite tripping over his own feet but not far from it, and when he loops his arm through Crowley’s then Crowley makes no protest even as warmth flushes hot over his chest and throat.
The city is riotous with people drinking, and more than once they have to skirt around a knot of revellers.
‘Celebrating the death of that poor woman,’ Aziraphale mutters unhappily. ‘It’s dreadful.’
There’s nothing he can say to that, and Crowley settles Aziraphale’s arm more firmly through his and steers them both towards the quieter streets. They walk without a destination in mind, but Aziraphale is so forlorn that it’s perhaps no surprise when Crowley looks up to see their idle ramblings have brought them to the cathedral of Notre Dame.
Except it’s not a cathedral any more: the delicately carved statues on the façade have been decapitated, the building looted of its treasures and artworks, and at his side Aziraphale makes an unhappy noise, and says, ‘The world’s turned upside down.’
For once, Crowley holds his tongue. Usually nothing would delight him more than the humans overthrowing the Church and questioning the established order of things, but Aziraphale looks so sad that, quite uncharacteristically, Crowley finds himself offering, ‘They can still find their way back.’
‘Do you think so?’
Aziraphale looks at him, hope in his eyes as though Crowley has turned up to get him out of the Bastille a second time, and Crowley’s human heart trips over its beat.
Affecting disinterest, he shrugs. ‘Anything’s possible.’
After all, it’s possible for an angel, all unknowing, to carry a demon’s blackened heart in his pocket. What’s a transient human government compared to that?
They walk out onto the bridge. The moon has risen, its light reflected in the river, and Aziraphale murmurs a little. He doesn’t remove his arm from Crowley’s, and Crowley pauses in the middle of the bridge to watch the flow of the river. He turns his back to Notre Dame, and thinks that the sunset seems to be lingering on late this evening before he blinks and realises.
There are fires burning in the Place de la Revolution. People brought their children along today, to watch the killing of a woman who – while not innocent – had committed no worse crime than being silly and naïve. And now they’ve lit fires and they’re celebrating, right next to the cobblestones still stained with her blood.
He shivers, suddenly.
‘You’re cold,’ Aziraphale says, tightening his arm through Crowley’s.
‘I’m always cold in this blessed country,’ Crowley says sourly.
It’s an old complaint, and one that Aziraphale has heard many times before, and he unlinks his arm from Crowley’s. Its loss makes the night air that much cooler and Crowley hunches his shoulders, staring determinedly at the horizon. Now is the moment where Aziraphale will regretfully say they ought to be getting to their separate homes. He’s had so much of the angel’s company today and yet he’s a demon, incapable of being satisfied without asking for more.
Instead of Aziraphale’s goodnight, however, there’s only a whisper of cloth and then softness touches Crowley’s neck. He startles briefly, and Aziraphale murmurs, ‘Stay still, my dear, or I’ll end up dropping this in the river.’
He’s rarely been more thankful for his dark glasses, for they allow him to stare at Aziraphale’s face as he winds his own scarf around Crowley’s neck. The cloth smells faintly of Aziraphale’s cologne, his fingers brush Crowley’s skin as he works, and by the time he’s finished Crowley’s heart is pounding fit to burst. His stomach churns and he feels elated and nauseous by turns; he’s not sure whether he’s about to manifest his wings and fly, or throw up into the river.
Aziraphale looks at him with an utter lack of guile, and Crowley touches the scarf with delicate fingertips and nods silently.
‘Good,’ Aziraphale says. He leans against Crowley’s side, a block of solid warmth.
Crowley stares at the orange glow on the horizon. ‘Do you believe in redemption? Forgiveness?’
‘Oh my dear.’ Aziraphale’s voice is gentle. ‘Of course I do.’
Crowley sneers, waves a hand towards the fires. ‘Even after all this?’
There’s an audible swallow next to him, but Aziraphale’s voice trembles only a little as he says, staunchly, ‘Nothing is unpardonable. All sins can be forgiven.’
The words strike a chord, and for a brief moment Crowley knows the purest hatred for the humans. All he had done was ask questions, seek knowledge, and it had been enough to strip his Grace from him and condemn him to a life of torment among the damned. And yet there the humans were, committing atrocities more appalling than anything Hell could dream up, confident in God’s love.
And Crowley is tired, so very tired. Of Earth, of watching the humans be their worst selves, of temptations and sins and pettiness. He wants something good, just for once in his long life, and he turns to Aziraphale.
Aziraphale’s smile is a faint, sad thing, and he lifts his hand to tuck the trailing end of the scarf more securely into Crowley’s collar. ‘There you go.’
When he’s finished Crowley catches hold of his hand and, his silver tongue struck speechless, holds it to his face. ‘Angel…’
Aziraphale hasn’t shared his bed with anyone. He can’t have done, because if he has then Crowley is going to hunt down that mortal – in this world or the next – and enact something creatively and comprehensively bloody upon them. Possibly involving methods from the Spanish Inquisition, that have scabbed over in Crowley’s memory and that he shies away from picking at.
‘Crowley?’ Aziraphale purses his lips, frowning slightly. ‘Don’t despair. It’s not your fault.’
‘No. I…’ Crowley can’t say it. His heart is being slowly squeezed in his chest, Aziraphale’s hand in his feels like the only warm, good thing left on this benighted earth; Crowley wants to drop to his knees and swear undying loyalty, he’s spent eighteen centuries using all his honey-tongued eloquence to tempt and coax and promise, and yet he can’t damn well say it.
Perhaps actions will speak for him and so, drawing a breath, he leans in to kiss Aziraphale.
It’s nothing like the previous time. There’s no lust – or at least not much; Crowley may be lovestruck but he’s not blind to the angel’s charms. Instead he offers all his longing and yearning, raising his other hand to curl his fingers against Aziraphale’s soft, pale hair, cradling his head as though he’s something unbearably lovely.
He pulls back just enough to press his mouth to Aziraphale’s cheek. ‘Angel…’ Come with me, he wants to say. Let me take you away from this nightmare. Back to London, or anywhere you want to go, just stay with me.
But before he can say any of this Aziraphale recoils – ‘Crowley!’ – and something in Crowley turns cold.
And then it gets worse, for Aziraphale turns his head and drags his sleeve across his mouth, scrubbing away the taste of Crowley’s kiss as though it’s the vilest poison, and Crowley’s stomach clenches.
‘Stop it,’ Aziraphale snaps, irritated. ‘Stop your nonsense.’
‘My nonsense,’ Crowley repeats, breathless. There’s a cold lump in his throat and he swallows convulsively once, twice, but it won’t budge.
‘I don’t know why it is that every time we get drunk you feel you need to try to…’ Aziraphale waves an inarticulate hand at Crowley. ‘You know. Although you are a demon. One of the Fallen. Such wickedness must simply be in your nature, I suppose.’
‘It must,’ Crowley agrees, through numb lips. The world is tilting dizzily around him, breaking and reforming itself, and he grips the bridge parapet with white knuckles.
‘I’m going back,’ Aziraphale says, twitching his coat straight and fussing with his cuffs. ‘I’ve frittered away quite enough time here already.’
Because time is such a precious consideration for two immortal beings. Crowley stares down into the water and doesn’t reply.
‘I’ll… well, I’m sure we’ll see each other around,’ Aziraphale says, primly. ‘Back in London.’
There’s nothing further to say and Crowley keeps silent as Aziraphale’s footsteps retreat. The Seine runs below the bridge, cold and deep and dark, and his immortal ears can hear the voices of all those who’ve chosen it as their exit from the world and been sent straight Below for their trouble. Suicide is still a deadly sin, after all.
After a while he tears the scarf from his neck and hurls it over the parapet; a snap of his fingers and it’s burnt to ash before it even touches the water. He turns away, and doesn’t visit Paris again for a long, long time.
Chapter 11: London, 1862AD
Every now and then, Below have a reorganisation. It’s the sort of thing they love: spreading uncertainty among all the demons, raising hopes for some that they’re about to get a promotion, creating worry for others that they’re about to get demoted – and demotion in Hell involves more than just a rude comment on your performance appraisal. Crowley has always felt safe from them, secure in the mischief and discord he sows on Earth, and accepts them as an inevitable part of life Below.
But this time is different. They’re still unaware of the Arrangement, of that he’s sure. But they question him for a long time, unsatisfied with the answers he gives, until real fear starts to gnaw at him. Perhaps, in the 1700s, he did spend rather too much time accompanying Aziraphale to the theatre, and rare book auctions, and pickpocketing dandies for their snuffboxes, and not enough time spreading discord. Perhaps his partiality for the angel, that he’s tried unsuccessfully to drown in quarts and gallons of wine, lingers too close to the surface of his skin.
He keeps his calm, and his position on Earth, but when he gets home his hands tremble and the bottle of wine chatters against the glass as he pours. He takes the glass to the large windows and looks out over London as he drinks. He looks down at the humans on the street, talking, laughing, strolling arm in arm, and feels very alone.
‘Right,’ he mutters, and goes back inside to plan.
Realistically, there’s only one option available to him. He’s an immortal; he heals from most injuries that would kill humans, and anything that could kill his human body won’t extinguish him, it will only send him Below for them to enact whatever torments they please on him.
There’s only one thing that would guarantee his extinction. And it’s the one thing in the world that he has no way of obtaining and so, reluctantly, he grits his teeth and sends a note to Aziraphale.
As Aziraphale walks off, Crowley is furious. It’s like the immediate aftermath of his Fall, this huge, all-encompassing anger; he has rage enough to set the whole of London ablaze but he grits his teeth and restrains himself to merely igniting the scrap of paper with a sharp twist of his fingers.
Because he’s been trying, over the past sixty-nine years. He’s been trying so very hard. Of course he couldn’t possibly hope that an angel would welcome the caress of a demon, and if he hadn’t been under the influence of wine and moonlight and the lulling patter of the Seine then he would have known it was useless before he even tried. He’s been accused of many things over the years, but never such blind, foolish optimism, and the humiliation of his own stupidity burned more harshly than the knowledge that an angel could never possibly want the same things of a demon.
Crowley had sulked and licked his wounds until 1798, when he gathered his dignity and went to Aziraphale’s door. He had brought an enamelled snuffbox, the sort of silly frivolous trinket Aziraphale loved, but he couldn’t bring himself to apologise. If it had been remotely possible he would have wiped the memory of the entire evening from Aziraphale’s mind, but small chance of that.
Instead he had informed the angel, coldly, that he was going to Land’s End the following week, and did Aziraphale have anything he needed done while Crowley was there, because they’d had a perfectly decent Arrangement going and Crowley would be blessed if he’d sacrifice it for the sake of a moment’s idiocy.
Aziraphale had been stiff and awkward, addressing all his replies to the bookcase behind Crowley’s left shoulder. But when Crowley had returned to confirm all had been done, Aziraphale’s good manners got the better of him and he unbent so far as to invite Crowley in for a cup of tea.
Crowley turns on his heel and strides away from the pond, back in the direction of his lodgings.
We may have both started off as angels, but you are Fallen…
Well, that’s hardly something he can forget, not when every glance in a reflective surface shows him his own bulging, slitted eyes, and his hair burnt red as hellfire. But it’s never mattered to Aziraphale before, not since they made up in 1454. Or at least it hadn’t seemed to matter to him; clearly Crowley has been mistaken about that.
St James’ Park is busy on such a pleasant afternoon, but miraculously no-one steps into Crowley’s path as he marches quickly away from it all, almost running. He snarls to himself under his breath and, behind him, a chilly breeze picks up.
Fraternising. Fraternising. As though all Crowley’s efforts – for he hadn’t stopped at the snuffbox, instead he’s been worming his way steadily back into Aziraphale’s good graces with old books and opera tickets and chocolates over the years, on his best behaviour and never once betraying that Paris was anything more than too much wine. A momentary impulse borne of drunkenness and his own mischievous, trickster nature.
But all his efforts have meant nothing, apparently. Since fraternising is all they’ve been doing.
Heavy grey clouds race over west London as Crowley strides through the streets. Behind him, dogs cower away from him and horses shy skittishly, unsettled as the air pressure drops like a stone. He crosses Berkley Square without looking, causing a cab to pull up so sharply that the horse almost sits back on its haunches.
Well if that’s how Aziraphale feels then fine. Crowley has better things to do than trail after someone who, it turns out, tolerates his presence only on sufferance. Or, perish the thought, pity. Let Aziraphale take the moral high ground, Crowley is more than content to wallow in the company of humans, with all their foibles and petty sins and lusts. He’s a Fallen angel, after all. It’s his purpose here.
The first fat raindrops are beginning to fall, and Crowley rips his silk cravat off and glares at the water spots on the fabric until they disappear. He jogs up the steps to his house, and the resounding slam of his front door is echoed by a crack of thunder that makes the ground tremble, and a fork of lightning that tears the sky in two.
Chapter 12: The Old Bailey, 25th May 1895AD
They don’t speak for thirty-three years. The Arrangement still holds, but their negotiations are conducted through letters of rigid and exacting courtesy, a politeness so cold that it could make Hell itself freeze over.
In 1895, though, when a wild surge of grief knocks the breath out of him, Crowley doesn’t think twice before halting in his subtle encouragement of a speaker in a coffee house who’s trying to raise a rebellion. He turns away, one hand tight against his chest, dizzy and fighting for air. He doesn’t even need his connection to Aziraphale to know where the angel is; Crowley may not read books but he does read the newspapers.
A full demonic manifestation in front of a crowd would definitely raise questions, from both the humans and Below, and so Crowley has to flag down a hansom cab and drum his fingers irritably on the windowsill until it arrives at the Old Bailey. He overpays the driver and doesn’t wait for change before leaping down and shouldering his way through knots of green-carnationed young men.
Aziraphale’s shoulders are bowed, his hand at his face, and when Crowley steps close and grips his elbow Aziraphale turns to him blindly.
‘Oh Crowley.’ He can hardly speak, his voice choked. ‘Two years…it will be the death of him.’
‘Come away from here,’ Crowley mutters. ‘There’s nothing more you can do.’
A woman is standing nearby, all middle-class gentility in her fussy hat and starched blouse, her mouth pursed in satisfied triumph. She wears an enamelled pin prominently on her coat lapel, the shield of the Society for the Suppression of Vice, and her eyes gleam with malicious pleasure. She looks at the pair of them; Crowley doesn’t need to read her mind to know what she’s thinking, particularly when her gaze runs over Aziraphale, in his elegant coat and silk cravat and his lavender boutonniere. And his nascent tears.
Over Aziraphale’s bowed head, Crowley lets his glasses slide an inch down his nose and glares at her, baring his teeth, and she visibly pales and steps back. She won’t tell anyone, Crowley knows. After all, who would believe her? And, he decides maliciously, when she gets home she’ll be far too distracted at the discovery that the drawing room window has swung open in the breeze and broken her favourite vase.
Crowley firms his grip on Aziraphale’s elbow and drags him through the crowd. The street at the side of the building has a small alley that’s currently empty, and Crowley steps into it and takes them both the first place he can think of: St James’ Park.
A touch of power ensures that no-one notices the two men standing half-hidden beneath the trailing branches of a weeping willow, but even so Crowley calls his wings into being and mantles them around the pair of them, giving Aziraphale privacy while he pulls himself together.
‘Don’t.’ Crowley snaps his fingers and a maroon silk handkerchief appears in them. ‘Don’t cry, angel.’
Aziraphale is dashing his fingers across his eyes, staining his best pair of cream kidskin gloves. He’ll fuss over the marks later, and Crowley awkwardly lifts the handkerchief to Aziraphale’s face and hesitates. The last time Aziraphale allowed Crowley to get this close to him was on a bridge over the Seine in 1793; since then he’s been diligent not to let Crowley too far inside his personal space, and Crowley has just as diligent in pretending not to notice.
He couldn’t bear it if Aziraphale were to flinch from him now, of all times, and Crowley very gently touches the handkerchief to Aziraphale’s cheek until Aziraphale sniffs and takes it from him.
‘He wrote such beautiful stories, Crowley.’ Aziraphale’s voice trembles and Crowley flexes his empty hands uselessly. ‘Did you ever…’
The sight of Aziraphale’s grief is like having his own ribs slowly levered apart, and Crowley shakes his head, unable to draw a full breath, his mind running in useless circles for a solution. Anything to make this stop. ‘I don’t read books, you know that.’
‘No.’ Perversely this makes Aziraphale’s expression crumple again and Crowley blurts out, ‘But perhaps I’ll read his. You must have copies you can lend me.’
The tulips are out in the flower beds, fat cups of gold and white and scarlet, and the ducks on the pond are fussing over their young, but Aziraphale notices none of it and Crowley hates it, hates all of it with a vicious passion.
‘Yes,’ Aziraphale says, wiping the handkerchief quickly, almost furtively, across his eyes. ‘You should start with–’
He cuts himself off, his mouth crumpling, and Crowley’s wings flex and curl more tightly around Aziraphale before he can make them relax. Does this mortal – this dull, pedestrian, humdrum little mortal – have the faintest idea that his fate has made an angel weep for him?
‘Alcohol,’ Crowley says, the first remedy he can think of, short of razing Newgate Prison to its foundations. ‘We need a very large drink. Several of them.’
He steps closer, his wings tightening again and all but folding Aziraphale against his chest as Aziraphale struggles to reply. Struggles, even now, to be polite, to be good, and Crowley tugs off his glove and cups Aziraphale’s elbow in his bare hand.
‘Don’t speak,’ he murmurs, the ache in his own chest twisting tighter at Aziraphale’s shaky noise, and with a blink he takes them to the back room of Aziraphale’s bookshop, where the angel’s grief can remain Crowley’s alone.
And later – much later, when the floor is covered with empty bottles and Aziraphale has passed out drunk on his sofa, frowning miserably even in his sleep – Crowley draws a blanket over him and miracles a cushion under his head, and lets himself out of the bookshop. He gets home as dawn is breaking, and sits by his cold fireside for a long time, smoking cigarette after cigarette, staring at nothing and thinking bitterly about the love that dare not speak its name, and wondering what business a mortal had knowing so much about it.
Chapter 13: Mayfair, 1926AD
In 1926 their situations are reversed, and it’s Aziraphale who appears at Crowley’s side when Crowley is gloating with pride of new ownership.
‘Really, my dear,’ Aziraphale murmurs at Crowley’s elbow.
‘Oh hullo.’ For all that Aziraphale welcomes Crowley’s arrival, he doesn’t often seek Crowley out. ‘What brings you here?’
‘I realised that the divine ecstasy I was feeling–’ Aziraphale touches his palm to his chest, ‘–wasn’t entirely due to the Byron first edition.’
Below got Byron years ago, but Crowley doesn’t comment on Aziraphale’s fondness for one of the most notoriously randy poets of the nineteenth century. Instead he sleeks a hand along the car’s glossy bonnet.
‘What on earth have you found?’
Aziraphale peers at the car with an air of mild bewilderment that doesn’t fool Crowley for a moment. The angel lives in the same world he does, however much he might like to pretend time – and fashion – stopped in 1890.
‘It’s a Bentley. It goes fast, and it’s all black, and best of all, angel, it’s not a sodding horse–’ and really, Crowley would adore it for that alone, even if it weren’t sleek and shiny and desperately sexy, ‘–and it’s mine.’
‘I can feel that.’ Aziraphale sounds amused. ‘And I also felt…’
His words trail off and Crowley, now sitting in the car and having silent raptures while stroking the silky soft leather interior, looks up and arches an eyebrow at him. ‘You felt?’
‘Well, I felt a great surge of… of love.’
In a heartbeat Crowley is out of the car and standing close to Aziraphale; far too close, towering over him and glaring.
‘You must be mistaken, angel.’ Crowley lets his glasses slide down his nose, just enough to force Aziraphale to look into his slitted eyes. ‘I’m a demon. We don’t feel love, only covetousness, and pride, and envy. And lussst.’
He lets his tongue flicker out on the last word, hisses it, but Aziraphale doesn’t recoil or turn away.
‘We’re beings of darkness and hate,’ Crowley insists, when Aziraphale continues to look at Crowley with that maddening little smile. ‘We’re not capable of–’ he spits the word scornfully, ‘–love.’
‘If you say so, my dear.’ Aziraphale lifts a bottle. ‘But all the same, I brought champagne.’
Crowley steps back, surprised enough that he actually blinks.
Aziraphale shrugs. ‘Whatever it was that had you so happy, I thought it would be something to celebrate.’
They sit on the top of the Royal Opera House: a compromise, since Crowley had wanted the Stock Exchange and Aziraphale St Paul’s Cathedral. They get drunk, passing the bottle back and forth, looking out over their city as the champagne’s fizz sparkles and dances in the sunset and Crowley feels full to the brim with delight.
‘How did you know,’ Crowley demands, at the end of the third bottle, ‘that you would like whatever I was happy about? It might have been something dreadful.’
But Aziraphale doesn’t reply, only stretches and reaches for Crowley’s hand and takes them both to the Ritz for cocktails; fussy, brightly coloured cocktails, with half a dozen ingredients and ridiculous froufrou little umbrellas, and Crowley is so distracted by mocking the angel’s choice of drinks that the question is forgotten.
Aziraphale is good company, particularly after a few drinks, and their table becomes crowded with empty glasses of all shapes and sizes as Aziraphale’s face flushes and his hand gestures get more expansive and his conversation rambles.
If this is all Crowley is to be allowed then he’ll take it; perhaps Aziraphale won’t grant kisses or even feel the same pleasure in his company, but Crowley drinks and watches Aziraphale talk and doesn’t realise the turn his thoughts are taking until Aziraphale sways in his seat, pressing the heel of his hand to his breastbone.
‘Oh.’ He blinks, dazed, before looking at Crowley. ‘Oh my dear. Oh, that’s… you…’
His expression, previously so open and benevolent, shutters. He sits up straighter, and Crowley curses himself, the alcohol circulating in his veins that has made thoughts surface that are usually buried deep.
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ Crowley snaps, tossing back the last of his martini and waving an unsteady hand at the waiter for another round. ‘You’re drunk, angel.’
‘Yes. Yes, I suppose I must be.’
And Aziraphale sips his fresh cocktail and begins to speak about his bookshop, but he doesn’t meet Crowley’s eyes again and, after another round, Crowley makes his excuses and leaves.
Chapter 14: Soho, 1941AD
The drive home from the ruined church is silent. It suits Crowley just fine: London is in the grip of the blackout, the air raid sirens wailing overhead, and the streets are nearly empty but it still takes demonic eyesight to navigate the pitch blackness and Crowley even goes so far as to remove his sunglasses.
Only as they turn into Soho does Crowley look over at Aziraphale. The angel can’t still be fretting about the destruction of a church, can he? It had been all Crowley could think of at such short notice, but he slows as he approaches Aziraphale’s bookshop and offers, ‘Do you… want to get dinner somewhere?’
‘What?’ Aziraphale blinks, looking around himself, and seems to realise where they are as Crowley parks neatly outside.
Crowley had almost been expecting an invitation from Aziraphale. He usually does, when Crowley helps him out of a fix, but Aziraphale says sadly, ‘No. Rationing, and all that.’
As though that’s the slightest impediment to the pair of them. But a glass of wine isn’t out of the question, and Crowley gets out of the car in anticipation. The night is cool, but someone has their window open and a record playing, quiet enough to be inaudible to any but celestial ears.
That certain night… The singer’s voice is slow, and soft. The night we met… there was magic abroad in the air…
Crowley steps forward but halts when Aziraphale walks around the front of the car and comes to stand in front of him, blocking his path, and says, ‘And I really ought to get these books back on their shelves.’
He hugs the satchel to himself, protectively, and Crowley’s instinctive protest of, ‘That’s hardly going to take all night,’ dies on his lips. If Aziraphale doesn’t want his company then he’s not going to insist.
‘Yeah, right,’ he mutters. ‘Of course.’
…and a nightingale sang in Berkeley Square…
But Aziraphale steps closer and Crowley swallows. The scent of Aziraphale’s cologne tickles his nose, and Crowley bites his tongue against the urge to taste it on the air. Aziraphale changes it often; he has done since the Renaissance, delighting in the humans’ endless creativity in the intangible world of scent.
‘I know I shouldn’t,’ Aziraphale says quietly, looking down, ‘but thank you again.’
In the darkness Aziraphale’s pale hair and suit stand out like beacons. More than they should, in fact, and Crowley blinks and sees the faintest outline of divine Grace trembling around him.
‘And for the books,’ Aziraphale adds. ‘That really was most terribly–’
‘Yes, yes.’ Crowley shifts uncomfortably. ‘No need to tell the whole blessed world.’
And then Aziraphale reaches out and takes Crowley’s hand, and Crowley freezes. Aziraphale’s hand is warm, his skin soft and his manicured fingers gripping Crowley’s securely. Crowley returns the clasp automatically and looks down at the angel’s bowed head. He feels abruptly, oddly, dizzy.
Over the road, the gramophone continues to play: The moon that lingered over London town…poor puzzled moon, he wore a frown…
‘Are you… alright?’ Crowley asks, as Aziraphale’s fingers flutter and tighten around his.
‘No,’ Aziraphale says, and then twitches. ‘I mean, yes. Of course. Perfectly fine.’
Crowley squints at him in the gloom. Despite Crowley’s efforts Aziraphale has a dreadful poker face; Crowley has given up trying to play with him because it’s no fun when, even without cheating, Aziraphale’s fidgeting and biting his lip tells Crowley he’s holding nothing more than a pair of sixes.
And now Aziraphale’s face and body are telling Crowley that something is wrong, as clearly as if Aziraphale had spoken it aloud. But he’s safe, and even his precious books are safe, and what else could possibly be wrong that he won’t confide in Crowley about?
‘If you’re sure,’ Crowley says, puzzled. It’s not like Aziraphale to be reticent; in fact he usually errs rather too much the other way, with all his joys and worries spilling over at the slightest nudge.
‘Yes. But perhaps lunch next week.’ Aziraphale hesitates, then adds, ‘Anthony.’
‘No,’ Crowley says, almost before he realises he’s going to speak.
‘No?’ Aziraphale finally raises his head and looks into Crowley’s face. ‘But you said you changed it–’
‘For the humans,’ Crowley explains. ‘Not you.’
‘What am I to call you, then?’
Standing so close, Aziraphale is slightly shorter than him, and Crowley burns with the sudden longing to tuck him under his wing and spirit them both away. Away from Europe, with its freezing winters and miserable wars and humans doing endlessly, inventively cruel things to each other. He wants to lie on a beach somewhere, with wine at his elbow and blazing heat soaking into him, and with Aziraphale next to him reading one of his thick and stultifying old books.
Aziraphale is still holding his hand, and Crowley ventures to brush his thumb into Aziraphale’s palm.
The streets of town were paved with stars, it was such a romantic affair…
‘I want you to call me Crowley,’ he says. His human frame trembles with longing, and lust, and all the complicated messy human desires that Aziraphale has made it clear are unwelcome. ‘Just as you always have.’
‘Very well then. Crowley.’
Aziraphale smiles at him, a smile of such sad sweetness that Crowley thrums with the impulse to lean down and kiss Aziraphale, and very nearly sways forwards until Aziraphale squeezes his hand and lets it slide free.
‘Goodnight,’ Crowley echoes, and watches as Aziraphale crosses the road and lets himself into his shop.
In the night a woman sings about a world turned upside down, and Crowley gets back into the Bentley and briefly leans forward to rest his forehead on the steering wheel before sitting upright and digging out his packet of cigarettes.
It takes him two tries to light one, his hands trembling, and he exhales a long stream of smoke and tries to calm himself before the helpless, hopeless longing under his skin causes him to step out of the car and cross the road to Aziraphale’s bookshop and do something unpardonably foolish. He tips his head back to look up at the night sky, speckled with the stars that he had helped to hang, back when the world was new and shining.
The Fallen angels had received no divine mercy. No possibility of doing penance for their rebellion. Even if they had then Crowley wouldn’t have taken it, not if it meant sacrificing his curiosity, his thirst for knowledge. But perhaps, in some huge, cosmic, ineffable joke, this is his penance: condemned to spend eternity wanting the one single thing, in all the universe, he can’t have.
And he hasn’t even the comfort of being able to imagine the possibility that, one day, when the planets align in some hitherto unforeseen fashion, it might be his, for he’s kissed Aziraphale twice now and each time Aziraphale has made it quite clear what he thinks of that. For a moment Crowley knows bitterest regret at his own impulsive foolishness.
As he finishes his cigarette the record is still playing, and he listens.
The dawn came stealing up, all gold and blue, to interrupt our rendez-vous…
Dimly, through the crack in the blackout curtains, there are two figures dancing together. Barely dancing, really; little more than an excuse to hold each other close and sway gently, and Crowley sneers and raises a hand. A snap of his fingers would send the needle skittering across the record, scratching it beyond repair, and he’s poised to do it.
But his heart isn’t in it, somehow, and instead he sits for a long time before, with a sigh, winding his window up and driving home to his solitary bed.
Chapter 15: Soho, 1967AD
Crowley loves the nineteen-sixties. He loves the music, the fashions, the films, and most of all he loves the newly liberal attitudes to sex. The humans have never been easier to tempt, in fact it almost feels unsporting when it takes so little to tip them into the path of vice.
And London is at the centre of it all, and at the centre of London: Soho.
‘I work in Soho,’ Aziraphale says, staring fixedly ahead through the Bentley’s windscreen, his mouth pursed up in that familiar, faintly disapproving way of his, ‘and I hear things.’
Crowley has to bite the inside of his cheek to keep his face from displaying his thoughts.
What has he heard, then? Has he heard that, among certain men-only clubs, there’s a red-haired man who goes by Tony and who has been cutting a swathe through the regular clientele, and who has a weakness for fair-haired, well-mannered, soft-spoken young men?
It’s the sort of thing Below loves: the temptation and corruption of innocent virgins, and Crowley smiles and bows and accepts the commendations, and doesn’t dream of telling them that, although some of them had been virgins, none of them had been innocent.
For Aziraphale hasn’t seemed to have any time for him for the past twenty years and Crowley has had too much time on his hands, and Soho in the sixties is proving a rather marvellous playground. The best part is that Crowley had barely had to do anything at all towards its creation. Or at least he hasn’t consciously done anything; occasionally, when he’s drunk, he has wondered slightly hysterically whether his mental library of filthy fantasies about the angel are responsible for the sudden profusion of sex shops and striptease clubs surrounding a certain bookshop.
But then Aziraphale astonishes him by producing the thing Crowley most wants in all the world and handing it over to him. In deliberate defiance of his own principles on the matter, and of Above.
The flask is heavy, its contents burning Crowley’s palms even through the container, and he touches it gingerly. There are a hundred things he wants to say, and Aziraphale wants to hear precisely none of them, and instead Crowley offers, ‘Can I drop you anywhere?’
He has plans to meet a certain lad, at a certain club; the young man would have been a priest before Crowley began dedicatedly introducing him to the pleasures of the flesh. But it’s been too long since he saw Aziraphale and Crowley doesn’t hesitate. He would have suggested dinner, but Aziraphale looks uncomfortable enough already and Crowley doesn’t think his luck will stretch that far.
His luck doesn’t stretch very far at all, apparently, for Aziraphale shakes his head.
‘A lift then,’ Crowley presses. ‘Come on. Anywhere you want to go.’
I miss you, he wants to say.
Back in 1953 he had gritted his teeth and tried apologising in a general, non-specific way, in case Aziraphale’s sudden reserve was due to something he had done, but Aziraphale had only looked shocked, and then guilty, and then had waved away Crowley’s apology, leaving Crowley more confused than before.
But Aziraphale refuses, again, and Crowley’s mood sours.
‘Don’t look so disappointed,’ Aziraphale tells him. ‘Perhaps next week we can have a picnic somewhere.’ His smile doesn’t quite reach his eyes. ‘Dine at the Ritz.’
They haven’t been to the Ritz at all this year. Odd, since the angel seemed to love it so; at the start of the twentieth century they used to go at least twice a month.
Crowley says nothing. A picnic, then. They could go to the Tuscan hills in Italy; Crowley could bask in the hot sunshine and drink Sangiovese, and watch Aziraphale eat soft creamy mozzarella and cherry tomatoes bursting from their skins and shiny black olives, dipping pieces of bread in a golden pool of olive oil, and they could bicker about modern music.
‘You go too fast for me, Crowley.’ Aziraphale closes his mouth on the end of the sentence, cutting himself off, and gets out of the car before Crowley can ask what on earth he means by that, or even say goodnight.
Crowley watches the angel walk away, his shoulders bowed and the neon lights of the nightclubs and sex shows tinging his pale hair pink, then blue, then red. He looks small and forlorn, a man from a softer, slower world suddenly thrust into a loud and flashy one. Crowley fishes his cigarettes out of his jacket, lights one with a wisp of hellfire, and has a sudden desperate longing to turn back the clock by two hundred years. Before the wars, before Oscar Wilde, before Paris. Before it all got so complicated.
Chapter 16: Tadfield, 2019AD
The bus ride to Oxford, and then onwards to London, is quiet, with Aziraphale not even chastising Crowley for sending the poor driver all the way to London and so far from his home. Crowley attempts to raise a couple of topics of conversation but Aziraphale gives monosyllabic replies, the bare minimum for courtesy, and at last Crowley leaves him to stare out of the window in peace. It’s not as though six millennia haven’t taught them how to be comfortable with each other's silence.
But then, twenty minutes into their journey, Aziraphale reaches over and takes his hand, and Crowley nearly falls off his seat in shock. ‘Angel?’
Aziraphale doesn’t answer. He doesn’t even look at Crowley, focussed instead on the dark countryside flickering past outside the window. Almost as though he’s entirely ignorant of what his hand is doing.
Crowley looks down. Aziraphale has the soft, manicured hands of a scholar; he’s very warm, and Crowley carefully folds his own fingers around Aziraphale’s, nervous in case too tight a grip will cause Aziraphale to come back to himself and pull away.
They sit like that all the way to Mayfair.
Perhaps it’s the loss of the bookshop and all his treasured books, his Wilde first editions, and when the bus pulls up outside Crowley’s flat then Crowley is careful to be very gentle as he suggests, ‘You may as well come up. Just for tonight.’ He tries a small smile. ‘There’s bound to be something to drink.’
Aziraphale looks at him for a long, silent moment, long enough for Crowley’s skin to prickle with unaccountable nerves, but at last gives a little smile of his own.
‘Yes,’ he says. ‘Please.’
In the flat Crowley makes straight for the kitchen, but from the hallway he hears an exclamation. He pokes his head out and sees Aziraphale standing at the door to his study; difficult to tell if he’s more horrified at the greasy black puddle that used to be Ligur, or the disembowelled book with its pages strewn across the room.
‘Oh yeah.’ Crowley leaves the kitchen. ‘Meant to clear that up. Here, I’ll just–’
‘Don’t touch it,’ Aziraphale says sharply, and he plants a hand on Crowley’s chest. ‘Get away from it.’
He goes so far as to give Crowley a little shove back towards the kitchen, and Crowley very nearly makes a sarcastic remark but thinks better of it at Aziraphale’s expression. Trial and error has taught him it’s best not to get in Aziraphale’s way when he gets like this.
The kitchen is pristine, his appliances unused and his cupboards as empty as the day Crowley brought them into being from raw firmament. The oven is used to store wine, and he’s crouched down in front of it, debating between a Châteauneuf-du-Pape or a Montrachet when Aziraphale approaches.
‘So, we’ve a choice.’ Crowley stands, showing Aziraphale the two bottles. ‘Or we could start with one, and move onto the other.’
But Aziraphale, unusually, doesn’t express a preference. He doesn’t even look at the bottles, instead he takes them both from Crowley and sets them down on the counter.
‘Crowley.’ Aziraphale takes a deep breath, and falters. ‘I. That is.’
They’ve just averted the Apocalypse and faced down Satan himself; after all that then there’s really nothing that ought to make Aziraphale lose his nerve now, and Crowley raises his eyebrows, trying to look encouraging.
When Aziraphale opens his mouth, hesitates, and closes it again, Crowley shifts his weight. ‘Come on, angel, spit it out. Do you want white instead of red, is that it?’
Aziraphale gives Crowley a look, a complicated expression that seems to contain affection and regret and fear; Crowley feels momentarily, utterly stupid in the face of such complexity, before Aziraphale leans in to press his mouth ineptly to Crowley’s.
His lips are soft, and almost at once Crowley twists his face away, fear lurching in his chest. ‘Aziraphale, no.’
Aziraphale’s mouth drags across his cheek and up to the tiny black tattoo by his ear; his hand touches Crowley’s face and Crowley snatches it away and holds it tightly between them.
‘Don’t,’ he says quickly, his words tumbling over themselves in fear. ‘Angel, don’t, you can’t, or you’ll–’ Aziraphale’s nose is warm against Crowley’s ear, and Crowley chokes, ‘You stupid angel, you’ll–’
Crowley can’t bring himself to say it, afraid that this one kiss, willingly given, is already too much and that any moment now Aziraphale will double over in searing pain, his immaculate white wings will stain black, and his eyes will darken from their serene sky-blue.
‘I don’t care if I do.’ Aziraphale lets Crowley keep possession of his hand but puts his other arm around Crowley’s waist.
‘You should care.’ Crowley tries to step forward, away from Aziraphale’s arm around his waist, but this only brings him closer to Aziraphale’s chest. He rubs his thumb in feverish, frantic circles in Aziraphale’s palm. ‘I care. And if you weren’t such an idiot then you would too.’
At this Aziraphale’s face lights up in a smile of such beatific happiness that Crowley has to look away.
Demons remember nothing of Heaven; nothing of the beauty and harmony and peace. In private moments over the centuries Crowley has plumbed the depths of his memory, searching for the tiniest fragment, but all he finds are the memories of his Fall, each agonising detail seared into his mind as fresh as though it happened yesterday.
Just the thought of Aziraphale experiencing it makes his stomach turn, and he tries again.
‘Just this,’ Crowley says, even as Aziraphale’s hand on his back rubs tentatively at his spine. ‘We’re friends. Best friends. That’s alright, isn’t it? That’s enough.’
Aziraphale actually looks regretful. ‘I thought so. But this past week… You kept asking me to leave with you. For us to run away together.’
Crowley stays silent. Of course he had; the world was ending, and his only thought had been to gather up his most precious thing and keep it safe at his side.
‘And I realised,’ Aziraphale says quietly, his hand sleeking up to rest over Crowley’s shoulder blades, ‘that all I wanted to do was go away with you. More than I wanted to obey Heaven. And that terrified me. But since the world has ended… and yet we’re still here…’
Aziraphale kisses him again, his hand sliding up to grip Crowley’s nape, and leans into him until Crowley is pressed back against the kitchen bench. He can’t help himself: he wraps his arms around Aziraphale’s waist and kisses Aziraphale back for a few delirious moments before pulling away, gasping, and trying again.
‘Angel, for Go–… for Sa–… look, for… for someone’s sake, stop it, you’ll Fall.’
Aziraphale sighs, manifests a wing, and stretches it out. It’s nearly the width of Crowley’s kitchen, and so white it almost glows.
‘I would have Fallen already, if I were going to,’ he says.
Gently, Aziraphale’s fingers curl and drag through the short hair at Crowley’s nape and Crowley shivers, his lips parting and his eyes closing.
‘I would have Fallen at the first kiss,’ Aziraphale continues, his voice kind, ‘or when I thought about doing it.’
‘Thoughts don’t count,’ Crowley manages, even as he sinks his hands into Aziraphale’s hair and discovers it’s even softer than he had imagined. ‘Everyone is allowed sinful thoughts. It’s deeds that do it, and you… you–’
‘Hush,’ Aziraphale tells him with infinite compassion, and draws him into more kisses.
His mouth is warm, and gentle, and Crowley is lost in the sensation of it all. He cups Aziraphale’s face in his hands, and strokes his back, and pushes his jacket open to palm his waist. Aziraphale’s wing curls about Crowley, enormous and blazing white, and Crowley, unthinking, reaches out to touch.
This is permitted, it even raises a smile against his mouth, and Crowley strokes his palm over white softness. Aziraphale sighs a little at this, his mouth lush and pliant, and Crowley bends lower to kiss his throat as he curls his fingers and drags them through thick white feathers.
Aziraphale makes a sharp noise, his knees nearly folding, and Crowley rears back in panic. This is it, this is the moment he’s going to have to watch the ruin of his best friend, but Aziraphale is already shaking his head at Crowley.
‘I’m fine, I’m perfectly fine.’
‘I only. Well.’ Aziraphale looks down. He’s rather pink across the bridge of his nose. ‘You might do that again.’
And Crowley wraps his arms around Aziraphale, drags his fingers roughly through Aziraphale’s feathers, and watches him gasp, his wings shivering.
A stroke of Crowley’s thumb down Aziraphale’s waistcoat makes all the buttons lay themselves open for him, and he pulls Aziraphale’s shirt out of his trousers to get his hand underneath to touch the warm, bare skin of his waist.
‘Hmm.’ It’s the same noise of pleasure Aziraphale makes when he’s just deciphered a particularly tricky crossword clue, and before Crowley can move there’s a hand pushing up under his shirt to splay across his stomach.
He loses track of time, after that. So much half-bared skin to look at, to touch and kiss and stroke, and he’s mouthing devoted, obsessive kisses into the gap of Aziraphale’s collar when he grows aware of Aziraphale speaking.
‘I suppose,’ the angel is saying. ‘That is, I’m sure you’ve… what with one thing and another… over the years–’
‘What,’ Crowley growls. He’s just found the most perfect spot halfway up Aziraphale’s throat, where the angel’s pulse beats steady against his lips and his nose tucks into the hollow of Aziraphale’s jaw where he smells so good, and oh, Crowley wants to live here, wants to spend the next week doing nothing else but kissing it.
‘I suppose you’ve… done this sort of thing before, then,’ Aziraphale says, one hand cradling Crowley’s head and holding him close. ‘A few times. Over the centuries. More than a few, I dare say.’
Crowley grunts agreement, reluctant to move from his current spot. ‘Course I have. ‘m a demon. Inciting lust and corruption is in the job description.’
‘Yes.’ This close Crowley can feel it when Aziraphale swallows. ‘Yes, of course you have.’
Aziraphale’s fingers move against Crowley’s bare stomach, stroking gently, and Crowley closes his eyes and shudders with lust. He lifts his face blindly, catching Aziraphale’s mouth in a kiss, and Aziraphale moans softly and his hand slides around to the small of Crowley’s back, pressing them together.
At last Aziraphale pulls his mouth away, refusing to let Crowley kiss him again and Crowley growls his displeasure as Aziraphale stutters, ‘O-only I. Well. It’s historically been rather frowned upon, you see. Especially–’ Aziraphale gives a nervous laugh, ‘–gracious me, especially after the Nephilim, i–in fact, you see, there was an edict from Above, and so… and of course there’s just been so much else to do over the years, that I somehow just never did quite get round to–’
‘Angel,’ Crowley interrupts, before Aziraphale gets stuck in this vein for what remains of the night. ‘Are you telling me you’ve never had sex?’
Aziraphale swallows, and Crowley is momentarily distracted by the flex of his throat, so nicely on display in his open shirt collar. ‘No.’
‘What, never?’ Crowley is mildly shocked.
He knows Aziraphale doesn’t care for sleeping, but that he’s at least tried it; he knows that Aziraphale enjoys wine but is more fond of good food; he knows that there’s nothing stopping a human succeeding where a demon has failed.
‘What about that gentlemen’s club in the 1800s?’ Crowley asks.
‘They taught the gavotte,’ Aziraphale says. He’s rather pink, although that could be the effect of Crowley’s hand creeping down from his waist to settle on his hip. ‘I did tell you.’
‘What, really the gavotte?’
‘I thought that was a euphemism.’ Crowley rubs a thumb along the bare skin next to the waistband of Aziraphale’s trousers.
‘Oh, Crowley.’ Aziraphale squirms, biting briefly at his lip, and Crowley runs his fingers around to tuck them lightly behind Aziraphale’s belt buckle. ‘So all I’m saying is that… well, this might not be–’
‘Oh shut up, angel.’ Crowley was never overly given to patience, and he presses closer to ghost his fingertips across the front of Aziraphale’s trousers and listen to his breath catch. ‘You’re supposed to be the clever one.’
Over recent centuries Crowley has spent some time – rather a lot of time, truthfully – wondering what Aziraphale would be like if anyone ever managed to wheedle their way into his bed. He spent a lot of the twentieth century thinking about it before realising that way lay madness and, reluctantly, distracting himself with humans.
Now, at last, he knows. He knows that Aziraphale removes his clothes the proper, human way, and hangs them up. He knows that Aziraphale very much likes the expensive memory foam mattress on Crowley’s king-size bed. Aziraphale is just a little plump, from his weakness for fine food, and the scent of him is strongest in the crooks of his elbows, the hollow of his throat, and at the join of thigh to hip. He knows that Aziraphale likes Crowley’s kisses on all those places on his body, but when Crowley finally cups a hand between his thighs Aziraphale moans and drags Crowley up to kiss his mouth, his hands trembling and his heart pounding so hard that Crowley feels it through his ribcage. It feels like a wild thing struggling to tear itself free.
Aziraphale is shy, at first, and a little clumsy. Worried about doing something wrong even as Crowley wraps himself around the angel, hooks an arm under his neck, and hisses in his ear, menacing him with what he’ll do to the angel if Aziraphale stops what he’s doing for even a second, adoration disguised as threats. But by the time he’s close to his finish Aziraphale forgets to be nervous, instead his hands turn greedy and grip Crowley hard enough to bruise as he moans his pleasure and his body tilts shamelessly into Crowley’s hands.
It must take an impossible amount of courage to reach for the thing your heart desires while knowing that it might cost you everything. Crowley is humbled in the face of such boldness, even as he rolls Aziraphale onto his back and kisses his throat, his chest, searching out all the places that make Aziraphale squirm and catch his breath. If this is to be the end of them both – for if Aziraphale is extinguished for this, then Crowley will travel to Rome with one thought in his heart and not long outlive him – then Crowley is determined to make it worth it.
That night Crowley learns that, while the humans curse and call out to God when they have sex, Aziraphale is mostly silent, save for wordless moans of pleasure or Crowley’s own name, repeated in tones that are soft, shocked, breathless, and finally pleading, and Crowley kisses Aziraphale’s ear and mutters filthy encouragement, one thigh pressed firmly between Aziraphale’s.
It’s only at the very end that Aziraphale’s courage falters and he turns his face away right at the crucial moment, burrowing into Crowley’s fat feather pillows and smothering his cry.
‘Don’t,’ Crowley curses savagely, using his free hand – the hand that isn’t stroking Aziraphale through every shiver and pulse – to tear the pillows away. ‘Don’t, why are you– what do you think you’re doing–’
He rips one of the pillows in his violence and a cloud of white feathers explodes out, but by the time the final one has been hurled to the floor it’s too late, it’s over and Aziraphale is flushed and loose-limbed and smiling at Crowley in a way that makes it suddenly difficult to breathe.
‘Come here,’ Aziraphale murmurs, pulling Crowley on top of him, and Crowley noses along Aziraphale’s throat and flickers his tongue out to taste his skin. He slides his cock through the warm, slick, thoroughly human mess on Aziraphale’s stomach, and leans into the strength of Aziraphale’s arms.
Bodies that don’t, strictly speaking, need to eat or sleep also have no need to rest in between rounds and, rather surprisingly, Aziraphale works this out before Crowley. In fairness, Crowley has only ever previously been to bed with humans, who seem to like a rest when it’s all over – assuming he didn’t just get up and leave straight after the act. But Aziraphale is fiercely intelligent, and the act of Crowley taking his pleasure against Aziraphale’s warm stomach arouses him all over again, until Aziraphale is hard and gasping into Crowley’s ear with each flex and curl of Crowley’s hips.
‘Again?’ Crowley pants, kissing Aziraphale’s throat as Aziraphale grips his shoulders.
‘Yes.’ Aziraphale shudders as Crowley gentles his thrusts to drag his cock slowly, firmly, against Aziraphale’s. ‘Yes, oh, just like that.’
Kissing and rubbing against each other is hardly the most exciting activity that’s ever been devised for sex. But this is Aziraphale, who Crowley has lusted after for centuries, and Aziraphale himself is moaning into Crowley’s ear, his hands hot and shaking and tight, so tight on Crowley’s upper arms, his back, as though Crowley is the most skilled incubus in all the nine circles.
Crowley has wanted sex before, of course. From humans, when a temptation or a sin was needed, or simply because he was in the mood for a night with one of them, but this is entirely different. He had no attachment to them – the very idea was laughable – and the experiences have in no way prepared him for this. The pleasure of it crackles over his skin as he braces his elbows and moves over the angel, and he watches Aziraphale’s face, alert to every flicker of pleasure. Until suddenly it’s too much, and he presses his forehead to Aziraphale’s collar bone, trembling with how close he is.
Aziraphale’s fingers wind into his hair, coaxing him to lift his head, and Crowley moans openly, almost choking on his desire. Unbidden, hellfire sparks at his fingertips and Aziraphale quickly covers Crowley’s hand, urging him to loosen his grip on the pillow, and gathering his hand close.
‘Come here,’ Aziraphale says, his arm tight around Crowley’s waist as Crowley shudders against him, wanting but afraid, afraid to fall, afraid that this will be the death of him. A mortal body surely isn’t capable of containing such strength of feeling. ‘Come here, my darling.’
The angel is hardly in any better state than Crowley, trembling and near his finish, but he holds Crowley’s hand tightly and reaches down to urge Crowley’s hips back into movement, and Crowley bites his noise into Aziraphale’s strong shoulder as he comes. His hand clutches Aziraphale’s, their palms slick with sweat, and a few moments later Aziraphale’s thighs tighten and his stomach tenses and this time Crowley is allowed to watch ecstasy blossom across his face.
Afterwards Crowley simply sprawls limp on Aziraphale’s chest and lets Aziraphale twine his fingers into Crowley’s hair. Because Aziraphale is solid, and very warm, and soft, and lying with his cheek over Aziraphale’s heart while Aziraphale gathers gently possessive fistfuls of his hair – pausing only to pick out stray white feathers – is the most perfect experience Crowley has ever had on this beautiful, hideous, dazzling, wretched earth.
‘It’s soft,’ Aziraphale says.
His voice rumbles deep in his chest, under Crowley’s cheek, and Crowley closes his eyes to better concentrate on the feeling. ‘Hmm?’
‘Your hair.’ A pause while Aziraphale picks another feather out of Crowley’s hair and flicks it away. Aziraphale had retrieved one of the pillows from the floor, but neither of them had much felt like pausing to repair the torn one. ‘Your hair is so soft. I always thought it might be coarse, but it’s not at all.’
Fingers smooth the damp hair at Crowley’s temple, and Aziraphale murmurs, ‘It’s lovely.’
His voice is hushed, and when Crowley looks up and meets his gaze Aziraphale is smiling. Crowley has to wriggle up the bed and kiss him for that, and then again when he feels Aziraphale’s foot brushing along his calf.
When he lifts his head Aziraphale has lost his smile and is looking at Crowley with a hunger that thrills Crowley down to his toes. He lowers his head but stops just short of kissing Aziraphale, letting their breath mingle and their noses brush, his own sharp one rubbing the tip of Aziraphale’s pert one.
‘Again?’ Crowley murmurs.
‘Oh my.’ Aziraphale is breathless. ‘Oh, yes. Yes please.’
He grips Crowley’s nape to pull him into a kiss, and that’s all that’s said until Crowley remembers he’s not yet used his mouth on Aziraphale. That Aziraphale, since he’s been leading the sort of monastic life that Crowley has spent much of history tempting real monks to abandon, has never felt anyone’s mouth on him, and he slithers down the bed.
‘What are you– oh. Really? Are you sure?’ Aziraphale gathers his elbows under himself and watches Crowley. There’s a little worried frown wrinkling his forehead but he’s game, willing to follow where Crowley leads and trust that he won’t come to harm, and Crowley bends to put his mouth on the inside of Aziraphale’s knee and begins to work his way up.
The first time is over quickly, with Aziraphale fisting his hands in the sheets and gulping huge, shocked breaths at each slow slide of Crowley’s mouth along his cock, but Crowley gives him time to recover and then starts again, more slowly this time, until Aziraphale has one knee over Crowley’s shoulder and is trying to smother his moans with fingers pressed tightly against his mouth, his other hand twined in Crowley’s hair and tugging just a little, whenever Crowley succeeds in making him forget his manners.
Aziraphale’s pleasure in it is so uninhibited that afterwards, before Aziraphale has fully caught his breath, Crowley ignores his own renewed arousal in order to pull Aziraphale over to lie on his chest and demand, ‘Show me your wings.’
‘What? Why?’ Aziraphale is rumpled and flushed and achingly beautiful. He looks no different, but all the same Crowley strokes a hand across Aziraphale’s bare shoulders and says quietly, ‘Please.’
Aziraphale closes his eyes and spreads his wings. They’re as snow-white as they’ve always been and Crowley is alert for the slightest hint of grey as he combs through the feathers; meanwhile Aziraphale hums in pleasure and shifts his hips against Crowley’s thigh.
‘But lust is a deadly sin,’ Crowley mutters, when he fails to find even the smallest covert that has darkened even a shade. ‘I don’t understand it.’
‘Oh my dear.’ Aziraphale opens his eyes and smiles down at him. ‘Don’t you know by now?’
‘That I love you. In all the ways it’s possible to love someone.’ Aziraphale kisses him very gently. ‘And there’s no sin in that.’
Crowley cups Aziraphale’s head, holding him close, and says despairingly, ‘Of course you do. You’re an angel, you love all of creation.’
‘Well…’ Aziraphale’s face clouds and he visibly struggles to refute this, and at last he brightens. ‘But I’m in love with you, my dear.’ He kisses Crowley again. ‘Only you. Desperately.’
‘And I–’ Crowley stops, choking slightly. Demons are beings of darkness, and misery, and hate. They don’t know how to love, or so Below has decreed; they can’t sense it and certainly can’t speak of it. Crowley may be an utterly terrible demon, but there are certain imperatives even he can’t wriggle around and even the first hint of the words burns the back of his tongue, warningly.
‘I know you do,’ Aziraphale breathes, his smile incandescent. He presses his palm to Crowley’s chest, over his heart. ‘I can feel it.’
‘I don’t,’ Crowley says. He sits up and rolls Aziraphale over, crushing his wings beneath him, and holds Aziraphale’s forearms with inhuman strength, with all the force of his despair. ‘I desire you. I worship you, angel, like a false idol. I want to kneel at your feet. I want to glut myself on you.’ He lets his tongue narrow and fork, just slightly, and leans down to glare into Aziraphale’s tranquil blue gaze with his treacherous serpent’s eyes. ‘I lussst after you. If anyone touches you, touches what’s mine, then I will flay the ssskin from their ssstill-living body. But I don’t love you. I can’t.’
‘Of course not.’ Throughout this Aziraphale lies quiescent under Crowley, making no move to free himself, and now he only squirms enough to extract his wings from beneath himself and spread them wide. ‘Of course you don’t, dear heart.’
There’s pressure against his back as Aziraphale’s wings fold around him, soft yet unyielding like the angel himself, and Crowley releases his hold on Aziraphale’s arms. He lets himself be pulled down into warmth, and whiteness, and an oceans-deep love to which he has always and will always, throughout all the years of his long, long life, be utterly numb.
For a long while Aziraphale strokes his back silently and Crowley basks in it. But eventually Aziraphale’s touch turns slower, more carnal, lingering in the small of Crowley’s back and on his hips where he’s lying between Aziraphale’s thighs. When Crowley drags his hand heavily down across Aziraphale’s waist then Aziraphale catches his breath, his hips tilting minutely under Crowley’s and signs of renewed interest pushing against Crowley’s stomach.
‘You want more from me?’ Crowley says, lifting himself onto his elbows to lean up and kiss Aziraphale’s cheeks where he’s starting to flush.
‘Oh my dear.’ Aziraphale turns his head to kiss Crowley’s mouth, his tongue just dipping between Crowley’s lips. ‘I want everything from you.’
His eyes have a particular hungry gleam to them that, to Crowley’s delight, he’s starting to recognise. And hopes to see a great deal more of in future.
There’s no question of Crowley denying him, particularly when Aziraphale’s eyes flutter closed and he sighs into Crowley’s kiss and his hands slide lower until they can’t really be said to still be resting on Crowley’s back. But, just because he can, he teases Aziraphale.
‘This is like sushi all over again.’
Aziraphale freezes beneath him. ‘I beg your pardon?’
‘I took you to Japan, back in 1986, for one meal, and then nothing would do but that you drag me all over London on our return–’
‘Oh now really–’
‘–trying every single restaurant, every blessed dish on the menu–’
‘–you’re exaggerating, my dear, that’s not how it–’
‘–ordering seconds on anything you particularly liked–’
Aziraphale’s kiss silences him effectively, and he grips Crowley’s nape and kisses him and slides greedy hands over his skin until Crowley is nuzzling at Aziraphale’s throat, his hips rolling and pushing slowly, filthily against Aziraphale’s. He’s ready to incinerate the sheets from pure lust, and he breathes deeply and bites lightly at Aziraphale’s earlobe and mutters, ‘Anything you want, angel. Tell me.’
‘I… I want…’ Aziraphale’s eyes are closed. His cock pushes hard against Crowley’s, his head tipped back to offer his throat up for more of Crowley’s kisses. ‘I…’
Their kisses have made Aziraphale’s thighs inch wider apart, his knees creeping up around Crowley’s hips; Crowley has a suspicion of what Aziraphale is thinking, but longs to hear him say it. ‘Tell me.’
‘That… thing… you have in your hallway. That statue.’ Aziraphale knots a fist in Crowley’s hair and pulls him up for Aziraphale to bite a kiss onto Crowley’s jaw, and Crowley fists his hands in the pillows so he doesn’t tear the angel apart from wanting him so. ‘The one that looks like they’re… you know. Perhaps we might.’
‘Ah.’ Crowley grins, lets his tongue flicker out to taste Aziraphale’s desire on the air. ‘So you know about that act, do you?’
‘Really, Crowley,’ Aziraphale sniffs, managing to sound prim even now. ‘I’m an angel, not an idiot.’ Crowley drags his fingernails lightly up the back of Aziraphale’s thigh, making Aziraphale moan and trail his fingers down Crowley’s spine. ‘Can we? Is it nice?’
‘Angel, I’ll make sure it is,’ Crowley growls, cupping the back of Aziraphale’s knee and lifting it higher about his waist as Aziraphale inhales sharply, and those are the last words spoken for some time.
Afterwards Crowley curls around Aziraphale, who’s lying with an arm flung across his face, and kisses Aziraphale’s forearm until Aziraphale stirs, lifting his arm enough to allow Crowley to get closer and kiss his hot face, his lips bitten into redness.
‘Show me,’ he says, his blissful post-coital satisfaction already congealing to cold dread because there’s no going back from what they’ve just done.
All their other kisses and touches tonight have been nothing compared to that, to Aziraphale trembling and convulsing around Crowley, crying out in bliss, his arms tight as steel bands around Crowley’s back, not hiding this time but letting Crowley see everything, every bit of his desire, and drink his helpless pleasure-noises straight from his mouth.
‘Crowley…’ Aziraphale sighs.
‘Please,’ Crowley bites out, not too proud to beg, not for this, and Aziraphale rolls onto his side, groaning, and stretches out a wing for Crowley to card his fingers through, searching for a flicker of grey.
‘There’s no sin in it,’ Aziraphale tells him, looking not at his own wings but instead watching Crowley’s face with a tenderness that makes Crowley ache. ‘I’m perfectly fine.’
‘But how?’ Crowley demands, almost snarling, because how can it be that Aziraphale has now well and truly lost any innocence he had and has remained untouched by it? In Crowley’s experience, Above is simply not that kind.
In reply Aziraphale kisses him, his thumb stroking Crowley’s cheekbone. ‘You know what the humans say, my dear. Amor vincit omnia.’
It’s a ridiculous, romantic notion, and there are hundreds of damned souls Below who disprove that, but before Crowley can argue Aziraphale neatly changes the subject. ‘You know there’ll be a reckoning for today.’
‘Yes.’ Unbidden, Crowley’s hand clenches on the carpal joint at the top of Aziraphale’s left wing, making him flinch and twist it gently out of Crowley’s hold.
‘And you know what we have to do. Agnes’ prophecy.’
Crowley picks up Aziraphale’s hand and kisses the palm. ‘I don’t want you down there, angel. It’s hell. It’s…’ Crowley searches for words. Aziraphale has never seen it, is likely not even capable of imagining it. ‘It’s misery, and torment, and I don’t want you anywhere near it.’ He grips Aziraphale’s hand but, discouragingly, Aziraphale isn’t agreeing. He’s merely watching Crowley with a sad smile, as though waiting for Crowley to catch up.
‘You’re so clever, angel,’ Crowley tries. Perhaps flattery will sway him. ‘Think of something else.’
But Aziraphale only twines his fingers with Crowley’s. ‘There isn’t anything else. And if I don’t go in your place then you’re condemning me to death by hellfire.’
‘But your lot have divine mercy. And anyway–’ Crowley seizes on the memory of their conversation in the pub, ‘–it’ll hurt you. An angel in a demon’s body? Can’t be done.’
‘Not for others, perhaps,’ says Aziraphale slowly, and Crowley is briefly very nearly distracted by the fact of Aziraphale wearing his serious academic look while lying naked in Crowley’s bed. ‘But it will work for us.’
Aziraphale smiles at him, and Crowley will be blessed if it doesn’t hold more than a hint of mischief. ‘Because we’ve lived among humans too long. We’ve gone native. I’m no longer entirely an angel, and you’re no longer entirely a demon.’ He licks his lips and says carefully. ‘“I sent my Soul through the Invisible, some letter of that Afterlife to spell: and by and by my Soul returned to me, and answered, ‘I Myself am Heaven and Hell.’”’ Aziraphale pauses to touch his lips to Crowley’s cheek, and murmurs, ‘“Heaven but the Vision of fulfilled Desire, and Hell the Shadow from a Soul on fire.”’
It’s from one of Aziraphale’s many poetry books; Crowley will be blessed if he knows which one but the words, and Aziraphale’s tone of utter calm certainty, are soothing and he closes his eyes, sighing deeply.
There’s a convincing argument that will sway Aziraphale from this mad plan, and a brilliant alternative, and Crowley will muster them in a moment. Perhaps a little more than a moment might be needed, because it’s three o’clock in the morning and he may not technically need to sleep but a centuries-old habit isn’t so easily set aside, not even for Aziraphale, and Crowley tries to smother a yawn.
‘Sleep, if you want,’ Aziraphale says, sliding an arm under Crowley’s neck to draw him close. ‘We have time.’
‘We have a lot of time,’ Crowley says firmly, settling his arm around Aziraphale’s waist to trace a finger along his spine. ‘Because we are not following this plan simply because some mad old prophetess says so.’
‘Hmm.’ Aziraphale snaps his fingers and the room goes dark. ‘And you have a better one, I suppose.’
‘Yes. And my plan is… my plan…’ The crook of Aziraphale’s neck is warm, and smells delicious, and Crowley tucks his nose against it and is still formulating his reply when sleep overtakes him.
Crowley hasn’t been warm – not properly warm – since he left the Mediterranean in 473AD, yet he wakes to blazing heat and he hisses softly in pleasure, basking.
A hand touches his cheek. ‘My dear.’
While Crowley has been asleep Aziraphale has settled Crowley half-across his chest and enfolded him first in the duvet and then in a thickly feathered wing, and the result is the sort of warmth he’d last felt on the slopes of Vesuvius on the 23rd October 79AD. Just before it all went so horribly wrong.
Crowley tucks his face against Aziraphale’s shoulder. ‘How long have I been asleep?’
‘Only an hour or so.’
Crowley lifts his head to look at Aziraphale. ‘During which time you’ve been…’
‘Watching over you.’ Aziraphale smiles at him, his fingers feathering through Crowley’s hair. ‘You know you’re really rather–’
He stops quickly when Crowley glares at him, just knowing that the next comment from Aziraphale is going to be about how charming he looks when he’s asleep. Crowley is a demon; he’s not nice, and he certainly isn’t charming.
‘And besides, it’s not as though I’ve ever really needed to sleep. And there wasn’t anything else–’
Aziraphale cuts himself off quickly but it’s too late, and Crowley looks around his bedroom, seeing it anew through Aziraphale’s eyes. The dark walls, the lack of any ornamentation or furniture save the bed. Not a single book, no reading lamp, and no little table at his elbow to hold a teacup or a mug of cocoa. Nothing at all like the bright homeliness of his bookshop, and Crowley says, slowly, ‘You don’t like it here.’
‘Oh no,’ Aziraphale protests quickly, even as his cheeks flush incriminatingly. ‘I didn’t say that. I only meant–’
But Crowley has already raised himself up onto an elbow to glare at the walls until they slowly lighten to the dove-grey of a particular waistcoat Aziraphale has had since the 1880s. A bedside table draws itself up to the far side of the bed, made of pale wood with tiny coiled snakes for the drawer handles, and a reading lamp perches on top of it and casts a warm light over Aziraphale’s bare shoulder.
A bookcase takes shape in the corner of the room, and Crowley murmurs, ‘I’ll buy you more books, angel. First editions. Or new. Anything you want.’
‘My dear…’ Aziraphale looks at him as though Crowley is a marvel. ‘Thank you.’
Crowley isn’t finished; he tucks his face into Aziraphale’s throat and inhales the angel’s warm scent, dizzy with a sudden spark of lust. Blindly he snaps his fingers at the far wall and there’s a fwump as a tapestry unrolls down it. Aziraphale gasps, faintly shocked, his fingers twitching in Crowley’s hair, and Crowley lifts his head and looks.
The picture is of a lush garden, thronged with trees and bushes, flowers and fruits, with a flaming sword and an apple lying abandoned on the ground. Around the border are small angels and demons, locked together in combat. Or something reasonably like it.
It’s not Crowley’s fault. At least not entirely; perhaps he shouldn’t have tried to miracle it into being while lying naked in bed with Aziraphale. Aziraphale, whose bare thighs are resting between Crowley’s own, whose scent is filling Crowley’s nose, and with whom Crowley hasn’t even begun to exhaust his list of carnal possibilities.
‘Stop.’ Aziraphale catches his wrist. ‘Crowley, stop.’
In the lower right corner of the border there’s a pair entwined in a particularly complicated arrangement; Aziraphale follows Crowley’s gaze and blushes.
‘Oh my,’ he murmurs faintly, looking at the tangle of limbs, the expressions on the tiny faces that could be agony or ecstasy. ‘Yes indeed. Perhaps later we could… but Crowley.’ He tears his gaze away and looks down at Crowley. ‘I woke you because I need to go. It’s nearly dawn and I probably oughtn’t to look… you know. As though I’ve spent the night here.’
Crowley helps Aziraphale to dress, because it lets him steal touches and kisses of the angel’s bare skin even as he’s helping to cover it up, and because Aziraphale is so delightfully distracted by Crowley’s nakedness. At last, regretfully, Crowley calls up his own clothes with a snap of his fingers, and follows Aziraphale to the front door where he pulls Aziraphale’s hand away from the latch and tugs him close for a final searing kiss.
His wings spread wide, dark against Aziraphale’s fairness, and fold tightly around Aziraphale, and Aziraphale yields to his kisses and returns them enthusiastically.
‘My dear…’ Aziraphale says at last, speaking into Crowley’s ear since Crowley has his face buried against Aziraphale’s neck, tasting the skin beneath his collar. ‘You really are going to have to let me go.’
Reluctantly Crowley raises his head and removes his arms from Aziraphale’s waist. ‘My lot won’t hang about.’
‘No.’ Aziraphale is pale and, for the first time, sounds nervous. ‘Nor will mine.’
‘They’ll be coming for me. Most likely this morning. Maybe even first thing.’
Crowley takes a deep breath and tries to relax but his wings refuse to fold away, still mantled possessively around Aziraphale.
‘In that case,’ he says gently, ‘it’s you who’s going to have to let me go.’
‘What? Oh.’ Aziraphale blinks but catches on quickly. ‘Yes. Yes, of course.’
‘Right then.’ Crowley settles his hand on Aziraphale’s nape, resting their foreheads together.
The humans have a certain idea of how demonic possession takes place, and it involves a lot of screaming and agonised writhing around and general torment. But the reality, for both of them, is very different, and far softer: after six thousand years Crowley knows Aziraphale as well as he knows himself, his strengths and vulnerabilities in both mind and – after last night – body. Aziraphale is a gentle soul, soft and amiable but formidable when roused; Crowley would face all the torments of Below before he would hurt the angel and so he only closes his eyes, alert for Aziraphale’s slightest flinch. He consciously loosens the hold he has on this form and focuses instead on Aziraphale, warm and pliant in his arms.
There’s a brief moment of dizziness, a whisper of wings brushing past him, and then Crowley is blinking into his own yellow eyes.
‘There,’ he says, as Aziraphale rolls his shoulders and blinks. ‘Now then.’
Slowly Aziraphale folds away his wings, and Crowley steps out of his arms.
‘Meet me in the usual place, at ten,’ he says. ‘If I’m not there, you’ll know that… well.’
‘Yes,’ Aziraphale nods, face resolute. ‘Likewise.’
‘If they hurt you,’ Crowley says tightly. If he were in his own body he’d be hissing, but instead he merely takes a fold of Aziraphale’s black sleeve and grips it tightly. ‘If you don’t return, I’ll… I’ll find a barrel of holy water, I swear, and I’ll take it down there, and–’
‘They won’t.’ Aziraphale’s touch on his face is very gentle, and Crowley closes his eyes briefly to imprint it in his memory. ‘Don’t worry, my dear. It will be fine. Trust me.’
It’s a wrench to turn away from Aziraphale but Crowley opens his front door and stalks off, after a last reassuring squeeze of Aziraphale’s arm. It's been a very long time since he believed in anything, but whatever tattered fragments of faith still belong to him now reside entirely with the angel.
Chapter 17: The Ritz, The Very First Day Of The Rest Of Their Lives
After changing back on the park bench, they go to the Ritz and order an obscene amount of food: gravlax with dill sauce, and caviar, and filet mignon, accompanied by champagne and several bottles of their most expensive wines.
Crowley does his best with the various courses but he’s never had Aziraphale’s passion for food, and particularly now, when watching his new lover sigh with pleasure over a particular morsel is making him think of other earthly pleasures they could be pursuing. Crowley shifts restlessly in his seat but says nothing, and his patience is rewarded when, over coffee and petits fours, Aziraphale shyly slides his hand over to touch Crowley’s knuckles with gentle fingertips.
‘Finished?’ Crowley says. He licks the last drop of coffee from his lower lip, and a dark thrill shivers through him when Aziraphale’s eyes drop to his mouth.
‘Yes,’ Aziraphale murmurs. He swallows. ‘Crowley, I want…’
‘I told you, angel.’ Crowley turns Aziraphale’s hand over gently to slide his fingertips across Aziraphale’s palm and up the sensitive inside of his wrist. ‘You can have anything.’
Beneath the table, rather less subtly, Crowley uncrosses his legs and stretches them out, nudging his calf between Aziraphale’s and watching Aziraphale’s lips part.
‘Oh. Well, I… my dear, I was about to say that I want to see my bookshop.’
‘Oh.’ Crowley tenses, snubbed. Obviously an angel isn’t going to have the same strength of appetite as a demon.
‘With you.’ Aziraphale looks down at their hands. ‘Only if you want. But I’d like you to come.’
It’s hardly how Crowley had hoped to spend the afternoon, this first afternoon of the rest of their lives, and he sighs.
‘Please,’ Aziraphale asks, and Crowley is just about to give in to his pleading look when Aziraphale’s expression turns wicked. ‘There are some etchings I wanted to show you.’
It’s not often that Crowley finds himself knocked so thoroughly speechless and he stares at Aziraphale. The angel, bless him, gives Crowley a little smile that contains a spark of downright mischief, and gestures serenely for the bill.
This is a new side to Aziraphale, and Crowley trails in Aziraphale’s wake when he steps out of the Ritz and into a taxi. The ride is a torment; after not seeing each other for decades at a stretch, for the whole of the fourteenth century, the small distance between them is far too wide and Crowley fidgets.
He’s a demon: he isn’t nice, and he certainly doesn’t want to cosy up to his new lover like a billing, cooing dove. But when Aziraphale slides across the seat then Crowley settles an arm across his shoulders without looking and the tension vibrating in his chest eases.
Watching Aziraphale walk through his bookshop is an unexpected pleasure: he touches particular favourite volumes, exclaims in delight over the series of Richmal Crompton, and rests his hand on the stack of Oscar Wilde first editions with a faraway look in his eyes.
Leaning against the bookcase, Crowley knows he’s remembering that terrible May morning, but before he can think of a distraction, Aziraphale speaks. ‘I remember you came to me. We hadn’t spoken in thirty-three years, but I turned around and there you were. Just when I most needed you.’
Interesting that Aziraphale ranks it above being held in the Bastille, or on the verge of being shot by Nazis, but Crowley shrugs away Aziraphale’s soft look.
‘I thought it would be here, you know.’ Crowley pushes off from the bookcase and picks up a first edition of Milton. Walking over here, at dawn, there had been a ripple of something in the air and somehow he had been unsurprised to get to Soho and find Aziraphale’s shop standing pristine in the morning light.
‘You never said,’ says Aziraphale.
Crowley runs a finger along a shelf. ‘I could have been wrong. Didn’t want to get your hopes up.’
‘Crowley…’ Aziraphale smiles at him, so openly delighted that Crowley looks down at the book in his hands and reads a few lines – Of Mans First Disobedience, and the Fruit of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal taste brought Death into the World, and all our woe... – until there’s warmth on his left-hand side and a pair of angelically manicured hands are taking it from him, and turning him to press him back against the bookcase.
‘Do you realise,’ Aziraphale murmurs, looking down at his hands curling into Crowley’s shirt, ‘just how very tight your trousers are, my dear boy.’
Crowley grins, sliding his arms around Aziraphale. ‘Noticed when you were in my body, did you?’
‘Hmm.’ Aziraphale toys with the end of Crowley’s tie. ‘I think it would be more correct to say I first noticed back in 1983.’
It’s difficult to say whether it’s Crowley who leans in to kiss Aziraphale, or Aziraphale who pulls on the ends of Crowley’s tie to drag him close, but either way Crowley is thankful for the solidity of the bookcase at his back, holding them both up.
At last Aziraphale pulls away, flushed and a bit rumpled. ‘I wonder… would you like to help me check whether the flat has reappeared too?’
Crowley huffs a laugh into the warmth of Aziraphale’s neck. His hands have found their way under Aziraphale’s clothing to warm skin. ‘Are you trying to seduce me?’
‘Yes.’ When Crowley pulls back Aziraphale looks utterly guileless. ‘What do you think?’
‘Not bad for a first attempt,’ Crowley concedes, and Aziraphale smiles, catches his hand, and leads him to the stairs.
In the bedroom Crowley vanishes his own clothes with a snap of his fingers and advances on Aziraphale, who clutches at his jacket lapels protectively. ‘Don’t you dare! I’ve had this coat since 1890.’
And Crowley rolls his eyes but helps Aziraphale to shrug out of the wretched coat, and the rest of his clothes, and drops them onto a chair rather than banishing them into the firmament, and then pulls Aziraphale down into the bed.
They twine around each other, kissing and kissing; Crowley curls his fingers greedily, covetously, against Aziraphale’s pale skin, and shivers as Aziraphale drags his nails through Crowley’s hair and down his spine. He gorges himself on Aziraphale’s kisses, until Aziraphale rolls onto his back and cups his hands behind Crowley’s knees, and pulls Crowley to sit astride his hips.
‘Oh yes?’ Crowley thinks back to the tapestry in his bedroom that morning, the pair of figures that Aziraphale had such trouble tearing his gaze from. ‘Like that?’
‘If you want to,’ Aziraphale says, meekly, but his thumbs are pressing and stroking and teasing back and forth across Crowley’s hipbones.
It’s so feathery-soft, and so close to where he really wants Aziraphale’s hands, that Crowley says, light-headed with lust, ‘Yes, alright, anything you like.’
Sitting on Aziraphale’s hips it’s impossible to miss how much the idea arouses Aziraphale, but Aziraphale works his way inside with infinite patience and care, until Crowley is trembling and impatient and curled over to kiss Aziraphale, trying to goad him into haste.
‘Patience, my dear.’ Aziraphale’s hands are hot where they grip Crowley’s thighs, but steady as mountains. ‘Patience. Come here.’
Crowley is mustering a scathing retort when Aziraphale’s hands tighten and his hips lift, and Crowley’s reply vanishes into a moan, warmth unfurling through him and his thighs suddenly loose.
Crowley braces his hands on the pillows and lets Aziraphale do all the work, his body rocking as Aziraphale gasps and takes his pleasure beneath him, until Aziraphale releases his grip on Crowley’s hips to drag his nails down Crowley’s back and say, ‘Your wings.’
‘What?’ Crowley’s spine arches at Aziraphale’s touch, and when Aziraphale stops moving Crowley snarls, ‘Angel–’
‘Your wings, Crowley, show me.’
When Aziraphale gets that looks in his eye then it’s far easier just to give in, and Crowley spreads his wings wide. The next instant Aziraphale buries his hands in soft black feathers and thrusts upwards again, and the effect is so startling that Crowley moans, his elbows suddenly weak.
‘That’s–’ he chokes. ‘That–’
‘I know.’ Aziraphale drags his fingers roughly through the feathers and Crowley writhes, his mouth opening on a wordless noise.
Aziraphale hooks warm hands behind Crowley’s knees and pulls him forward. There’s strength hidden under his air of unassuming softness, and Crowley lets Aziraphale drag him around. Aziraphale graduates to pulling lightly at Crowley’s wings, while Crowley shivers and squirms and goes to pieces on top of him, until Aziraphale finally reaches down to let Crowley push into his slick fist and Crowley manages several shaky thrusts before curling forwards and coming, hissing through gritted teeth, his wings flexing wide and knocking over a corner table and its books with a resounding crash.
‘Oh,’ Aziraphale moans beneath him, while Crowley is still nosing the crook of his shoulder and waiting for the last tremors to die away, ‘oh my dear.’
Many people look at Aziraphale and see only the softness to him, but Crowley knows better. There’s muscle and strength there too, and he’s ready when Aziraphale grabs his hips and tilts him to the perfect angle that soon has Aziraphale tense and shaking beneath him.
Afterwards they lie together, Crowley sprawled on top of Aziraphale, effectively pinning him to the bed with Aziraphale’s chin resting on his head. His wings are still spread wide, hanging limply off the sides of the bed, and Aziraphale’s arms are tight around Crowley’s waist.
‘Oh.’ Aziraphale sighs and stretches luxuriously. ‘How on earth do the humans ever get anything else done?’
Crowley groans agreement into Aziraphale’s throat, and then groans again in sensual bliss when Aziraphale lifts a hand to massage his nape.
‘Don’t look at me,’ he mumbles. ‘Self-restraint, and moderation – that’s your lot’s area.’
There’s a pause, Aziraphale's hand stilling, before Aziraphale says softly, ‘I think you’re my lot now.’
‘Right, yeah.’ Crowley makes an effort and lifts his head.
Aziraphale hasn’t been concentrating on not sweating and so curls of hair are stuck damply to his temples. There are traces of regret lingering around his eyes and mouth and Crowley searches for words that will change it to a smile, something Aziraphale will like. ‘You and me, angel. Contra mundum.’
It works, Aziraphale’s expression softens and he smiles up at Crowley, still flushed pink and achingly lovely. ‘Oh no, dear heart. Not against the world. For it.’
‘Yes,’ Crowley says, tongue-tied and stupid with adoration, unable to express a fraction of what he feels.
And then he squirms, wincing. His knees are complaining, and he says, ‘When did you get this mattress?’
‘1910,’ says Aziraphale, rather primly. ‘Although it’s as good as new, since you know I don’t–’
‘I’m not surprised you don’t, with this slab of concrete on your bed.’ Crowley makes a face. ‘You need a new one.’
Aziraphale draws a breath; the next words out of his mouth are bound to be something about needless waste, and the value of making things last, and Crowley adds, ‘Unless you don’t actually want me to spend any of my nights here.’
Meekly, Aziraphale strokes Crowley’s spine. ‘Of course I’ll buy you a new mattress, darling.’
‘Oh no, I didn’t say buy,’ Crowley protests. ‘Just miracle one up. You’re an angel.’
‘But I want to do it properly,’ Aziraphale says.
Crowley is mustering a good argument when he pauses to consider. Trailing around some overheated department store in Aziraphale’s wake, subtly nudging the thermostat up and changing the ambient music to the most annoying tracks he can think of. Watching Aziraphale lie on mattress after mattress, the angel utterly delighted at doing things the human way and squirming around to get comfortable, while Crowley shamelessly ogles him and lets his own incendiary lust spill over to plant temptation in the minds of all the humans in the vicinity.
‘Alright then.’ Crowley puts his head back down on Aziraphale’s chest. ‘If you want.’
There’s a silence tinged with suspicion, and then Aziraphale says, ‘Really?’
‘What, just like that?’
‘You’re up to something.’
Crowley squirms up the bed to lie nose to nose with Aziraphale and kisses him. ‘Me? Never.’
‘You wily old serpent,’ Aziraphale says, carding Crowley’s hair back out of his face and smiling faintly.
‘Angel,’ says Crowley, and curls a sooty black wing possessively around him.
Buried deep among the down feathers, neither of them notice a tiny plume – no bigger than an angel’s fingernail – of purest white.
‘Long is the way and hard, that out of Hell leads up to the light.’
Paradise Lost, John Milton