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The Sharper The Knife

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"Is there not," Crowley asked, profoundly drunk, "a single....DAMNED...take-away menu?"

"Now, Crowley," Aziraphale said. "That's not entirely fair. They keep them all on the computer these days."

The world hadn't ended that afternoon. Admittedly this was very stressful. It wasn't really that the world hadn't ended, but that it had nearly ended and then hadn't. Being at the near-ending of the world was a lot. Perhaps the children -- Adam and the Them -- were more adaptable, but Aziraphale was a bit set in his ways, as was Crowley, and it was bound to be a shock.

They'd shared a bottle of wine, waiting for the bus to Oxford (London). Then they'd shared a further bottle of wine on the bus. Which Aziraphale had been pretty sure was Crowley's idea, and also Crowley's bottle of wine.

Then, because that was where the bus left them, they'd shared a bottle of wine in Crowley's flat. It wasn't a comfortable flat, Aziraphale felt. It was all cement and ninety degree angles. But the room they were in, with a sketch of the Mona Lisa and a few plants dotted about, was actually somewhat nice. Crowley had a lot of bird statues, and Aziraphale recognized some of them as old friends.

Crowley looked at Aziraphale as if he were to blame for the lack of take-away.

"Don't be angry with me, it's not my flat," Aziraphale pointed out.

"Do you know how much time I have spent," Crowley said. "Do you know. How much effort. I put into inventing mass mailings?"

"Yes," Aziraphale said somberly. "I do."

"Everyone in the entire world that didn't end," Crowley continued, "has an entire drawer full of take-away menus, even today. And do I have one?"

"No?" Aziraphale ventured. He was still a bit giddy with surviving the apocalypse and not having to deal with That Sword for another (probably) few thousand years.

"NO!" Crowley agreed triumphantly.

Aziraphale considered this.

"What do you want take-away for anyway?" he asked. "We don't need to eat, Crowley."

"Angel, the world didn't end, did it?" Crowley said. "World didn't end. We caught a bus. Got drunk. And now I want...I want some..." he thought really hard about it, Aziraphale could tell. "I want some gravlax," he said, at last. "The really thinly sliced stuff. On crostini. With cucumber."

Aziraphale considered this.

"Well, I agree. I want that too. But I don't know if you can get that delivered," he ventured at last.

"I'd settle for some curry, wouldn't I? I want gravlax, but I'd murder a curry. And yet. And yet I have NO TAKE-AWAY MENUS."

"Look, I tell you what," Aziraphale said, trying to sit up a little more neatly in his chair, which was difficult, because it was a demonic chair, designed for lounging. "I tell you what. Do you have a kitchen in this weird planter box of a flat?"

Crowley looked vaguely insulted. "Of course I have a kitchen. It's full of...snacks and...appliances and things."

"Well, I'll....I will make us some gravlax crostini."

***

Crowley's kitchen was luxurious, designed to be used by personal chefs catering a soiree (possibly an orgy; personal chefs weren't picky as long as the cheque got signed) and it had all the mod cons. When Aziraphale opened a drawer and pulled out a roll of chef's knives, he said, "Ooh."

Crowley wasn't aware he'd acquired chef's knives specifically to make Aziraphale say "Ooh," but it turned out he had. Funny old world.

"Gravlax," he commanded, sitting at the kitchen bar. Aziraphale, still looking at the knives, nodded.

Crowley watched as he went to the fridge and produced gravlax and a cucumber from it. These things had not been there a moment before and were, essentially, made of nonsense. He could have just produced the finished product with no other preparation. But the form was the important thing. Aziraphale also found a box of crostini in a cupboard and dumped its contents casually onto a serving platter. Crowley settled on a stool on the other side of the kitchen island, sunglasses off, staring in fascination.

The cucumber came first. Aziraphale selected a knife, considered the blade, and then wiped it once, carefully, to take the thin sheen of dust off it. Crowley watched him pick up the cucumber and then peel the rind away with long even strokes, before paring what remained into a small stack of wet, translucent slices. Even with a lot of alcohol under his metaphorical belt, he seemed to move with a precision that was both deadly and incredibly erotic.

"How," Crowley asked, enunciating carefully, "did you learn how to do that?"

Aziraphale wiped the blade again carelessly. "Well, the Divine doesn't give you a sword and ask you to learn how to be good at it, you know," he said. "She makes you good at something and then gives it to you as a reason for being."

"What?" Crowley mumbled.

Aziraphale sighed. "I went to a sushi restaurant for the first time in the 1970s and it was so delicious I asked if they'd teach me how," he said.

"Oh."

Aziraphale began deftly laying out coins of peeled cucumber on the crostini, using the knife to flip them apart. Crowley just watched, entranced, until a thick slab of pink salmon interrupted the show. Aziraphale considered the dill-encrusted gravlax thoughtfully.

"I had a sushi teacher who said that carving a cut of meat was like carving a diamond," he announced, setting the blade he'd been using in the sink and returning to the roll of knives that, for all Crowley knew, had come with the kitchen as a housewarming gift. He picked out a slightly larger blade and examined it, then looked at Crowley speculatively.

"What?" Crowley asked, just slightly too drunk to be alarmed.

"Hold out your hand," Aziraphale commanded. Crowley held out his left hand, palm up.

Fast as a -- quick as a -- speedy as any old thing, the blade darted out and sliced open the ball of Crowley's thumb. He yelped in outrage, but realized it didn't actually hurt; a little blood welled up as he pulled it back, but even that subsided quickly.

"The sharper the knife, the less it hurts," Aziraphale told him.

"That sounds like a lie humans tell each other," Crowley said, cradling his hand against his chest and then shoving the wound into his mouth. It didn't even hurt when he wrapped his tongue around it, but he made a wounded face anyway.

"It does, doesn't it?" Aziraphale wiped a single bright drop of blood off the blade and then applied the knife to the gravlax in a long, smooth motion that took a paper-thin strip off the fillet. He held it up, draped over his fingers, and Crowley could see the curves of the angel's manicured fingernails through the translucent tissue. Aziraphale flicked it onto one of the crostini, where it draped artistically across the cucumber. The angel plucked the whole thing up, offering it across the kitchen island, cradled between thumb and forefinger.

The closeness of it tricked Crowley, it must have tricked him, because instead of reaching up to take it in his hand, he leaned forward and caught the little delight between his teeth, tongue securing the outer edge of the crostini and wetting Aziraphale's fingers. He pulled it into his mouth and crunched it up, the rich smoke of the salmon and sharp, watery bite of the cucumber dominating.

Unaccountably, Aziraphale looked pleased.

"Needs a little something though, doesn't it?" he asked as Crowley swallowed. "Bit of fat, maybe. Do you remember the olive oils of old Rome?" he asked, a dreamy expression crossing his face. "Beautiful golden oils, morning, noon, and night. Not like the industrial stuff you get today. Still..."

The world had almost ended that afternoon. The king of Heaven alone knew what the future held in store for a rogue angel and a defiant demon, and She wasn't saying. And yet here Aziraphale was, sketching a sigil in the air to summon an unlabeled earthenware bottle of olive oil from a century Crowley had nearly forgotten.

He didn't even have the decency to use the bottle. Crowley watched as he poured a pool of oil into his palm and then used his fingers to flick droplets of it onto the cucumber slices before shaking his hands clean and picking up the too-sharp knife again.

"Did you really study how to make sushi?" Crowley asked.

"It's amazing the things you can learn when you aren't distracted by disco," Aziraphale told him, flipping each thin filament of salmon onto the serving platter as he sliced it.

"But disco was wonderful," Crowley breathed.

"No doubt. All that gyrating," Aziraphale said. "I suppose I was still a bit bitter about the gavotte going out of fashion, that's all."

"I've seen a gavotte. It's properly horrible. I could bring back the gavotte if you wanted. I suppose there's no end of wretched folk dancers who'd help."

Aziraphale continued to slice the salmon almost impossibly thin, the knife flashing in and out of the block of meat. "That's very sweet, but it wouldn't be the same. Go on," he added, offering another slice of crostini. Crowley eyed it, just slightly too far away for him to lean forward and take it. Aziraphale, after a pause, extended his arm, and this time Crowley's lips closed briefly around his index finger.

"At any rate, the future is very uncertain," Aziraphale said, as Crowley crunched the food up delightedly. "If the bookshop really is gone...perhaps I'll give up books. Open a sushi restaurant."

"Would you be happy?" Crowley asked. "Giving up books for good?"

"Oh, Crowley," Aziraphale said, and his eyes were fathomlessly old. "Happy isn't a consideration. Well, wasn't. Now, who knows?"

"What do you mean, happy wasn't a consideration?"

Aziraphale gave a little shrug. "It's nice to be happy, of course. But it's not what I was meant for when I was made."

Crowley licked olive oil from his lips. "What were you meant for, angel?"

Aziraphale, his carving done, set the knife down.

"I was meant to guard the eastern gate," he said softly. "I was meant to wield a blade, to drive humanity with it if necessary. To do Her work on Earth until She determined the end had come, and then to carry a sword into battle against...against you. Universal you," he added, when Crowley blinked. "I was meant to win a war, my dear. And the thing is..."

He looked down at the knife, at the little pink-and-gold rounds of crostini and salmon and cucumber, the ancient jar of oil.

"It would be lovely, to be put on this Earth to be happy," he finished. "The books were a hobby, a joy to be sure, but...if they are gone, maybe I ought to let go of them. Learn what it's like to be meant to be happy. I'd rather mourn them and find something new."

"Like sushi," Crowley offered.

"Perhaps." Aziraphale offered him a wan smile. "Tonight, I don't mind pleasing myself. Might even make a habit of it."

He popped a crostini into his mouth, eyes closing. Once he'd chewed and swallowed, he said, "Yes, that's good."

"Yes it is," Crowley agreed.

"Better than take-away curry."

Crowley grinned. His proud Aziraphale. "Yes, angel. Better than take-away curry."

"Vanity, I suppose, but it isn't every day one saves the world," Aziraphale said, offering Crowley another bite. Crowley sat there and took the little tastes from his hand, one by one; Aziraphale alternated between eating them himself and offering them to Crowley, the flavor of the angel mingling with the food. When it was done, Aziraphale carefully wiped down the knives and put them away.

"Now, what will we do about Heaven and Hell?" he asked, and Crowley had a few ideas about that.

***

When they met in the park, minutes before Heaven took Crowley and Hell took Aziraphale, the angel tried to be casual when he asked how the bookshop was. They'd agreed that Aziraphale-as-Crowley would stay in the flat until their appointed morning meeting in St. James' Park, which is what Crowley would have done, and that Crowley-as-Aziraphale would most logically go to the bookshop to see if anything could be salvaged. And it would only be natural, as a friend, to inquire after the state of it.

But when Crowley, wearing Aziraphale's face, told him -- not a smudge, not a book burnt -- it was all he could do to remember who he was meant to be, to keep his expression from betraying what he felt. He'd hoped -- when he'd seen the renewed Bentley parked outside Crowley's building, he had hoped. He'd felt it was Adam's work. But Adam didn't even know about the bookshop.

Then again, for a few minutes at least, there had been precious little Adam Young didn't know.

It was easier to face Hell -- and easier to stay calm about Crowley being prisoner in Heaven -- knowing his bookshop was waiting for him. He'd been sure that just as soon as he got out of Hell he'd go running back to Soho, burst through the door of his own beloved home, and lock himself inside for a week just to tell each and every book how much he loved them.

But then he'd risen up from Hell into the park, and he'd seen Crowley descend from Heaven in a bolt of light. And he'd felt like all of this offered...perspective.

The bookshop, while certainly important, was no longer vital.

So they lunched at the Ritz, and a nightingale sang in Berkeley Square. Even if nobody heard it, Aziraphale knew.

"No sushi restaurant for you, then?" Crowley asked, as they strolled out of the Ritz. "No gravlax crostini for the masses?"

"Never say never," Aziraphale replied, feeling full and only slightly drunk, and at peace with the world. Replete, that was the word. He felt replete. "But there's no rush, is there?"

"None at all," Crowley agreed amiably.

And in that moment, in that hour of liminal space, Aziraphale made a decision.

"I still have a bottle of really good red," he told Crowley. "Probably more, now that the bookshop's been restored. Come and finish it with me."

"I thought temptation was my job," Crowley said.

"It's a brave new world," Aziraphale replied. He'd learned that phrase from Will Shakespeare, even if he didn't know he'd been saving it up.

"Come and see," he heard Crowley mutter, but the demon shoved his hands in his pockets and slouched along next to him, smiling faintly at the world around them. Aziraphale hoped it was because he was pleased with their handiwork.

***

Crowley knew that Aziraphale loved his books, of course. There was even an ascendancy, like the circles of Heaven, to exactly how Aziraphale loved his books. Old but not particularly valuable books in the lowest circle, then first editions, then biblical errata, then books of prophecy. As an actual being and not a book, Crowley felt he could aspire to rise only so high in the angel's esteem.

But when they arrived at the bookshop, all of that seemed to be taken for granted. The books, metaphorically crowding around their master, barely got a look. Aziraphale shed his coat and went straight to the back room, but he didn't stop to examine the new rack of wine, either. As Crowley took off his coat and sunglasses and settled in, the angel crossed to a small glass case in the corner and unlocked it. Crowley had never paid the case any attention before, didn't know what was in it.

Aziraphale took out a bundle of waxed canvas edged in leather and picked at the knotted laces that held it closed. He unrolled it on the table between them and revealed a set of knives.

Crowley stared at them. They had a high, bright shine, even in the dimness of the shop, but the shine spoke of work rather than newness -- he could see little dents and nicks in the pale-blond wood handles, curves in the base of the blades where they'd been sharpened enough that they were thinner than they'd begun. They were tools, clearly tools that had been put to use. There were a couple of larger blades, even a thick, square cleaver, but most of them were --

"...fillet knives. Mind you," Aziraphale was saying, and Crowley realized he'd missed the thread at some point, and also that it was entirely unimportant that he had, "they take a lot more maintenance than books. Especially the older books with the good rag paper. A newspaper from 1850 might as well have come from yesterday. You don't get quality like that anymore. But decorative alloys go dull if you look at them funny. I really should get a set of ceramic."

"Eh?" Crowley asked intelligently.

"Oh, I thought you'd be interested," Aziraphale said, looking a little disappointed. "If you really wanted a good knife set."

"Not uninterested, just confused," Crowley said. "Why do you have them in your shop?"

"Oh, well, I had to have a set for cooking with, you know, when I was learning, and I amassed a little collection after a while. Like I did with the snuffboxes. All antique, all finest craftsmanship," Aziraphale said. Crowley could see now, in the glass case, a few more bundles of varying sizes. "These are the best, though."

"They're beautiful," Crowley said, and then wondered why he had. He'd been going for some sort of conversation filler but hadn't been aiming for one quite so honest.

"Thank you," Aziraphale replied. He took out a boning knife with a finely curved point, studying it, then put it back and picked out one of the fillet knives.

Aziraphale flicked the handle between his fingers and the little blade flashed. Crowley knew he shouldn't do it, he knew on an instinctive level that it was too close to the flame even for a demon, but he leaned forward and offered his hand, palm up, thumb extended. The cut from yesterday was already healed, helped along by his quick dip in the Hellfire.

Aziraphale gave him the kind of small smile he reserved for when Crowley did something truly surprising. His hand darted out and the blade flashed again, and blood welled up from Crowley's thumb.

"Did it hurt?" he asked.

Crowley, hand still outstretched, flexed his thumb. "No," he said. "Sharp enough, then."

He put his thumb to his mouth to lick away the drop of blood, and Aziraphale's eyes followed it.

All of it seemed to crash down on them like a building collapsing, everything at once -- all the things they'd said to each other when the world was ending, all the fear and doubt, the long-delayed spiritual adrenaline crash of armageddon, the burning of their past and its miraculous restoration. Their too-close brushes with what the other would have suffered if Agnes hadn't warned them, and six thousand years of meetings and partings. Here, in this close, dark, safe little room, the walls fell like they'd heard the horn of Jericho.

Aziraphale surged forward, bumping the table between them in his haste, and Crowley leaned back, grabbing him by the worn hem of his waistcoat and pulling him into his lap, the other hand catching the angel's shoulder to balance them even as he lifted his head to kiss him. Aziraphale kissed desperately, like he was trying to breathe underwater, and Crowley let go of his waistcoat to move both hands to his neck, trying to calm him. Aziraphale was holding onto Crowley's shirt, fist twisted in the fabric, a shocking amount of strength pinning them together. His right arm was thrown over Crowley's shoulder, knife still held between his fingers.

He let go of the shirt long enough to catch Crowley's wrist and kiss the new cut on his thumb, and Crowley felt it close over and scar up. Then he let go and kissed Crowley again, as if he could heal some larger wound.

"Angel, angel," Crowley murmured when he could, flattening his palms down over Aziraphale's shoulders, the muscles where his wings would flex. Aziraphale slumped into him, eyes closing. Crowley kissed him as a reward, trying to reach his mouth, but Aziraphale was nosing down his neck, burying his face in the skin there.

"I wonder, would you let me," he murmured, and Crowley cut him off.

"Anything," he assured him.

Aziraphale kissed his neck and then leaned back. Crowley undid his bow tie carefully, then curled a finger in the lapel of his waistcoat, right where the two halves met, and pulled straight down.

The waistcoat was old, the nap worn away where the angel nervously tugged on it and also, crucially, where the buttons were done up. The buttonholes ripped apart almost noiselessly and Crowley pushed the waistcoat open.

"Do you know how hard it is to find a velvet waistcoat these days?" Aziraphale asked, just before Crowley ripped the buttonholes on the equally worn shirt. "Crowley!"

"I'll buy you new. Bespoke if I have to," Crowley said, pulling him down by the ripped edges of his shirt to press his face into the soft dip between his collarbones. He flicked his tongue out, looking for the taste he'd had the night before, when Aziraphale had sliced salmon so thin you could see through it and then fed it to him as if it were ordinary, like shaking hands or pouring out wine.

Aziraphale's knuckles pressed gently under Crowley's chin, tipping his face up to kiss him properly again --

Crowley felt the metal, a cold pinprick against the skin of his belly, and then Aziraphale's arm moved in a quick, sharp motion.

Crowley fell back against the cushions, breath catching, eyes wide. Aziraphale admired his handiwork, the neat slice in Crowley's shirt from hem to collar.

"See how you like it," Aziraphale said triumphantly, pulling the little rope scarf off over Crowley's head.

"I like it," Crowley blurted. "I like it, I like it."

Aziraphale gave him a fond look, which was infuriating. To be stripped so bare -- metaphorically speaking; he'd like to be stripped a little more physically -- and then to have the angel look at him like a favored pet. And to enjoy that....

He gripped Aziraphale's thighs and pulled him in closer, his own hips rolling up, throwing Aziraphale's balance off for a moment. The angel practically tumbled forward, arms going around Crowley's shoulders, and Crowley kissed the dumb smile off his face, tongue flicking into his mouth. Aziraphale relaxed and opened his lips obediently, and Crowley could taste the over-sweetened coffee he'd had with dessert. Really, just one more pleasure of the flesh -- he should have known Aziraphale would be a hedonist in this, too.

It felt good to be here, amazing really, to hold Aziraphale's weight in his lap and undulate up against him, to kiss him slower and less desperately now, to press his hand into the angel's chest and feel the body's heartbeat quicken. He was like a rock you could build a whole civilization on, solid and immovable (and very stubborn), but Crowley could feel Aziraphale's pulse jump, and knew there were ways under the rock. Which was where you often got snakes, anyway.

"Daft old serpent," Aziraphale murmured, as if he'd heard him think it. "I've a bed upstairs, you know."

Crowley nodded against his forehead and gripped Aziraphale's legs, standing abruptly. The angel's thighs tightened around his hips, arms around his neck. It wasn't that they flew upwards, exactly, so much as the world moved downward around them, and when the movement stopped they were standing in a cluttered, dusty little flat, just at the foot of the bed.

"We could have walked," Aziraphale told him, cautiously leaning back.

Crowley, grinning, said, "Where's the fun in that?" and then let himself fall backwards. Aziraphale yelped in alarm, but they landed on the bed just fine. Aziraphale sat up, the shredded shirt and waistcoat still a very good look on him, and scowled.

"Fiend!"

"Yesss," Crowley hissed, wriggling out of his own ruined shirt entirely. "What of it?"

Aziraphale, without looking away from him, threw the knife. It landed in the headboard with a dull thunk and stuck there. Crowley turned his head to stare at it briefly, fingers flexing on Aziraphale's thighs where they pinned his waist to the bed. Aziraphale leaned down and blocked his view, pulling him back around with a kiss.

"When you said 'anything'," he began.

"Anything," Crowley replied fervently.

"Delightful," Aziraphale breathed, in the same tone of voice he might use to describe a good meal. He reached for Crowley's belt buckle and Crowley had to immediately put a hand on his to stop him, wincing.

"Those don't come off," he said.

Aziraphale blinked at him. "I beg your pardon."

"Well, I mean. Obviously the trousers come off, they will, but you can't take them off." Crowley sighed. "They're too tight. You've got to..."

"Crowley," Aziraphale said, looking appalled. "Do you magic your trousers on in the morning?"

"Isn't it nice after six thousand years we're still learning new things about each other?" Crowley asked with a grin.

"The knife's right there, I'm sure it would do the trick," Aziraphale said. Crowley rolled his eyes and waved a hand, and the trousers dissolved into nothingness. For style purposes, he lost the snakeskin boots too (those weren't even proper clothes but it was probably better for his feet to look like feet right now). Aziraphale slid backwards, admiring Crowley as he went, and climbed off the bed to take off his own trousers.

"Let me -- "

"No, I like these trousers and they're nearly new," Aziraphale told him. Crowley snapped his fingers and they disappeared under Aziraphale's hands, along with everything else he'd been wearing. "Bless it, Crowley!"

"It's fine, they're only over there," Crowley said, indicating an antique clothing rack in the corner. Aziraphale's hands twitched as if he wanted to tug on his waistcoat and didn't know what to do without one.

Everyone looks silly naked, Crowley knew, some private joke of Hers, but there was something profound to the angel's body. The muscles of his shoulders and chest were thick, the result of his hidden wings. The padding on them, the curve of his waist and hips, were part of what had charmed Crowley for so long. Unlike any other angel and even most demons, Aziraphale not only had appetites but wore them on his skin. It was beautiful, such honesty.

Crowley slid up the bed a little, propping himself on his elbows.

"Angel," he said. Aziraphale's hands twitched again. "Come here."

Aziraphale climbed back onto the bed, but before Crowley could reach for him he'd hooked his hands under Crowley's knees and spread them, and Crowley obediently wrapped his thighs around the angel's hips. His skin was warm, and Crowley pushed into it everywhere he could.

Aziraphale was a little overwhelming like this, body-to-body, without three layers of clothing and the distance from Heaven to Hell in between. Crowley bucked up against him and Aziraphale caught his breath. Angels might be sexless unless they really made the effort, but these were mostly human bodies with all the appropriate equipment, and Aziraphale did seem to be making the effort.

"Makes divine ecstasies seem a little tedious, doesn't it?" Crowley asked, digging his fingers into the solid bands of muscle in Aziraphale's shoulders again. "Nicer to work for it, wouldn't you say?"

"Do you know, Crowley," Aziraphale said, kissing him, "really the last thing I want to hear about right now is divine anything?"

"Point taken," Crowley agreed, rocking his hips, falling into an easy rhythm. Aziraphale groaned and thrust against him, but then his hands clamped down on Crowley's arms and pressed down, separating them a little, pressing Crowley's biceps into the counterpane. Crowley hissed and writhed, because it was fun, but he couldn't get much leverage.

"Be good," Aziraphale ordered.

"I have never," Crowley answered, offended.

"I suppose not," Aziraphale sighed, and let go of one arm to --

To pull the knife out of the headboard. Crowley went very still.

It didn't draw blood, but it did add a cold tingle to the skin as the angel pulled it, too lightly to cut the skin, down from Crowley's throat to his chest, then lower, past his pectorals. It was as deft and deliberate as anything else he'd done with the knife, and Crowley twitched as Aziraphale dug the point in and twisted it gently, enough to nick the skin. There was nearly no pain, but he could feel the -- the intrusion of it, the clear promise of what could happen if he weren't...

Careful. He wasn't good. But he could be careful.

Aziraphale kissed the cut, set the knife on the little side table, and leaned back. He cast a brief warning look at Crowley before arranging their bodies together, pulling Crowley's hips up high.

Crowley'd had sex with humans and as a human before, or anyway while pretending to be one; with and as every gender and any gender, sometimes coupling and sometimes tripling or more. It wasn't exactly that he'd fucked his way through history, it was just when you live six thousand years and don't technically need to sleep, you come across a lot of willing humans. Some of it wasn't even temptation. It was just sort of the...spirit of the moment.

So he knew how humans had sex like this and he craved it sharply, the deeper penetration, the way sex could feel like a claim, and he didn't want to wait. He drew both his hands up from the blanket, summoning a little magic to ease the way, and Aziraphale gave him a pleased look.

"You know," Crowley said, quiet, certain.

"My dear, do you think it's my first time?" Aziraphale asked. He pulled Crowley's thighs a little further apart. "Why do you think I asked if you'd let me? Some fellows won't. Better to be sure."

"All the liberties I've offered you and this is the only one you want?" Crowley asked.

"Well." Aziraphale smiled and hiked Crowley's hips up another few inches. "The only one I want right now."

It didn't hurt any more than the knife had, but there was a similar sense of shock, of looking at Aziraphale and their joined bodies and knowing that this was happening, immediately, this was real and it mattered. Crowley let him push inside, groaned when Aziraphale stopped, head bowed, lips moving -- probably a prayer but possibly a blasphemy.

Aziraphale leaned forward and pressed his forehead to Crowley's chest, hips jerking, strong enough to keep Crowley off-balance every time he tried to find stability. Eventually he gripped the angel tightly with his knees, curved one arm around his shoulders, grabbed his waist with the other, and did his best to meet him halfway.

Aziraphale was saying Crowley's name, low and covetous, when Crowley bucked up on a sharp thrust and his eyes flew open and he hissed. He could taste sex and the remnants of Aziraphale's cologne, intensely familiar, in the air.

And if he didn't see Aziraphale's broad wings spread above their bodies, he heard the feathers rustle and felt an instinctive draw, like to like, before whole galaxies burst in his head and something much more profound and direct than orgasm rolled over him like a tide.

He'd barely caught his breath when he realized Aziraphale was struggling to do the same, collapsed heavily on top of him now, nose to chest.

"Was that you?" he asked, and Aziraphale pushed himself up enough for Crowley to see his eyes, dazed and pleased.

"Was what me?" Aziraphale asked.

"The fireworks," Crowley said. He blew air through his lips, puffing his cheeks. "Pfewww."

"Oh. Ah yes. That was nice, wasn't it?" Aziraphale asked, and then added in a sort of satisfied afterthought, "Gosh."

"Gosh," Crowley muttered, laughing, and twisted a leg around one of Aziraphale's thighs so he wouldn't go anywhere. "Gosh."

***

Crowley ended up, as Aziraphale half-expected he would, crossways on the bed and curled into a ball. His head was resting on Aziraphale's stomach, one hand on his chest, eyes closed. Aziraphale petted his hair, enjoying the feel of it -- it was fine but stiff, like fletching on a feather, something a little inhuman about it. Aziraphale let his head tip back, staring up at the hole the knife had left in his headboard.

He'd been meant to wield a sword in the end times, and he supposed he had, but not in the way anyone had intended. Jury was still out on whether She meant for Adam's defiance to happen. And would be out forever, theoretically. Ineffable.

And so here he was, not quite fallen, but certainly fallen into bed, and after Crowley's fire-breathing act in Heaven, not likely to be back home anytime soon. Not that he'd miss Heaven overmuch, but one liked to have the option.

Was saving the Earth weak-willed? Probably, given part of his motivation was sushi. Clearly giving in to impulses he'd been aware of since 1941, and probably had secretly locked away since much earlier, was weak-willed. But in the end no more so than any other appetite he'd satisfied.

"Soft," he said, mostly to himself, remembering his last conversation with Gabriel before the end.

"I use a very expensive conditioner," Crowley said.

"Not you. Well, yes, also that, but that wasn't what I was thinking of."

Crowley squirmed around and inched his way upwards until the point of his chin rested on Aziraphale's chest. "What, then?" he asked, voice vibrating against Aziraphale's sternum.

"Just something Gabriel said to me."

"Did that milk-washed eye-thief coward call you soft?" Crowley asked, propping himself up. "He hid in Heaven while you and I looked Lucifer in his actual horrible face."

"Not exactly, no. But he made me think I was. And maybe I am."

"What, for this?" Crowley looked down at him, big gold eyes flicking over his face. "No, angel."

"Why not? It's another...indulgence."

Crowley grinned. "Well, I like being an indulgence."

"You would."

Crowley tapped his fingers against the counterpane, clearly thoughtful.

"I wish you could see how I see you," he said at last.

"Sort of a comfortable sofa, I suppose," Aziraphale said. Crowley laughed and collapsed sideways, lolling his head on Aziraphale's chest again.

"No. I'm a demon and you're an angel, and that's never been comfortable. Anyway, I didn't mean human eyes. Or, well, these," he said, indicating his very much not-human eyes. "I mean...the way we saw before Earth. The way we see what humans can't see and survive. Haven't you ever snuck a peek?"

"At you? No. I shouldn't -- that wouldn't be...decorous," Aziraphale said.

"Afraid of what you'd find?"

Aziraphale held up his thumb and forefinger, very close together. "But you have?" he asked.

"Sure. I didn't figure I needed to worry, and also I've never been decorous even before I fell," Crowley declared.

"Then what do you see?" Aziraphale asked, trying to sound as if he was indulging a whim, not treading dangerous ground.

"A column of fire," Crowley said. "Not like Hellfire or Biblical fire, not some nitwit new age white light nonsense. Blue fire. The very hottest. So even and controlled and balanced it looks like water unless you look closely."

"Fire that looks like water? Oh, nonsense."

"You might have been given a sword, but you gave the humans fire, and it lights you up from the inside," Crowley insisted. "And the last thing you are is soft."

Aziraphale considered this. His hand found Crowley's hair again, ruffling it wrong-ways.

"I shouldn't actually mind being soft, if this is where it lands me," he finally decided. Crowley snorted into his skin.

"Weakness is not what got us here. It was bloody hard work, saving the world and then ourselves. And it's not exactly a luxury holiday being an outcast of two realms now," Crowley added.

"Yes, I shall have to run to catch up with you, in that regard. I've only been booted from the one," Aziraphale said thoughtfully.

"Well, I wasn't suggesting we keep score." Crowley gave him an inquisitive look. "But you aren't fallen, are you? Not properly fallen. I'd know if you were."

"No, just cast out. Or perhaps even just ignored."

"Gabriel's afraid of you," Crowley said. "I saw it in his eyes when I was there. I think he wanted you to die because he's afraid of you."

"Perhaps some day that will be an advantage," Aziraphale said. "But I don't think we need to talk about Gabriel anymore."

Crowley reached up to catch the hand that was ruffling his hair, bringing it down so he could flick his tongue around Aziraphale's fingertips.

"If I asked you to come away with me to Alpha Centauri now," he started.

"I should say no," Aziraphale told him primly. Crowley looked just a little crushed, which given his usual self-control probably meant whole worlds were falling apart inside him, so Aziraphale elaborated. "I'd simply say you must stay with me in the bookshop, which is much nicer than Alpha Centauri. I'm sure we could make room for your silly plants."

Crowley's smile was like one of creation's better sunrises. "No quirky old bookshops in Alpha Centauri."

"The entire system hasn't got a single good dessert wine," Aziraphale agreed.

"Yeah, that one's probably my fault," Crowley said. "In my defense, grapes were still in R&D back then."

"Well, I suppose you're forgiven for that."

"I am not, how dare you."

Aziraphale laughed. He let it spool outward; angels laugh very rarely, but when they do, whole planets sing. For a second, the crystal tones of a solar system reverberated in his laugh. He watched as Crowley relaxed, muscle by muscle and bone by bone, until he was a limp puddle draped over top of him, the snake visible but not unwelcome in the curves of his body.

"The Great Plan is done," he said, in the kind of voice that could have proclaimed a messiah. And then, in a much more normal voice, "So I'm not meant for anything anymore, and neither are you. I, for one, plan to chart my own course."

"As long as I can follow," Crowley replied, eyes closed, tongue flicking out.

"Oh my dear," Aziraphale murmured, spreading a hand over Crowley's head and dropping him into a wonderful, dreamless sleep. "You're the compass, you know."