When all was said and done, summer was over.
It would be the last perfect summer Tadfield ever saw, though of course no one, knew that at the time.
It was a lovely day, full of golden light and comfortably warm sunlight, with fleecy clouds that skittered across the sky. The air was full and warm and an absolute knowledge had settled over the whole country that wheat had swelled in the fields, brambles were at their height, and the earth was just holding its breath until apple season fully came to be.
Aziraphale and Crowley had taken a day's holiday to come to Oxford. They had walked the ancient streets. Aziraphale had admired the old colleges, while Crowley passed the time by deflating student's bicycle wheels and rapidly walking in front of tourists trying to photograph Radcliffe Camera.
They had had a delightful pub lunch in town, somewhere that had exactly one window, which was covered at all times, and hadn't been redecorated since approximately 1855. Whoever that brave proprietor was, he had in his turn kept things looking reasonably 15th-century, or so Aziraphale assured Crowley, as they split a bottle of a serviceable red.
“Not sorry I skipped it the first time around,” Crowley decided, peering into the deepest shadows, were some dons (dating, approximately, to 1855 themselves) were also lunching.
“Shall we go punting later? It's a lovely day,” Aziraphale said, looking the menu over with an eye grown just a little suspicious of gastropubs. Such terrible sins had not penetrated into Oxfordshire, at least. Not as far as here, anyway; fully half of the puddings involved the word 'boiled', and every main was carefully designed to fuel a farmer for a full day's work/assist in a truly glorious afternoon nap.
“You're so predictable, angel,” Crowley told him. Which meant yes, which meant a beaming smile from Aziraphale. “You've got to take your share of the work too,” Crowley told him. “I won't be the only one pushing us along. Again.”
“Of course, my dear, of course.” Aziraphale beamed again, their little corner of the pub suddenly just a bit brighter than, perhaps, it ever had been. The walls didn't know what to do with themselves, being so exposed like this.
After a deeply enjoyed lunch and a short drive to the Cherwell boathouse, Crowley took first turn, dreaming a little of perhaps getting a short nap in on the way back, when for the first time in history, Aziraphale would take his turn at the pole. The river was only mildly busy, and they admired the scenery as Crowley skilfully piloted them along.
It wasn't clear that they really had to keep angel-ing and demon-ing, but they did rather like to keep a hand in things, so Crowley had select students drop their poles, while Aziraphale helpfully miracled up a spare at the bottom of their punt.
“You're spoiling them,” Crowley mentioned.
“You think not screaming at your plants is spoiling them,” Aziraphale pointed out.
“I have worked very hard to train them up to my expectations. They're always absolutely dreadful for at least a week after you've come to visit,” Crowley said. “You just don't have to deal with the aftermath of...of you.”
They settled back into the comfortable silence of six thousand years of running into one another, becoming friends despite themselves, the Agreement, and the Apoca-not. 
“Soon be autumn. Then winter,” Crowley commented.
“Evenings are drawing in,” Aziraphale agreed.
“Imagine London'll be as usual,” Crowley said, thinking Sunday evenings in November. Those were his lot. Not he himself, of course, but he knew Sulgraloth had gotten a promotion for them. The trick where the sun rose and set as usual, but you never actually felt like it had come up, and the drizzle somehow got inside of you – Crowley was green with envy, honestly.
“Expect so,” Aziraphale agreed. He thought of Christmastide in the city. Perhaps this year there would be a light dusting of snow, just enough to ice cathedrals over, and give the world a Dickensian air.
“You know,” Crowley said. “We don't have to --”
“Fancy a change of scenery?” Aziraphale asked at the same time. “Oh, pardon me.”
“No, no, I was going to say the same,” Crowley said. “Only it's--”
They had lived in London longer than anywhere else, but when you'd been around as long as they had, 'since the seventeenth century' wasn't particularly remarkable. Cities changed, neighbourhoods transformed, and an angel or demon got itchy feet.
“Where were you thinking?” Aziraphale asked. “Nowhere too cold, I hope. Only you do get all snakey and sleep through winter, when it's very cold.”
“I do not!” Crowley protested. “I did just fine that time we were in Svalbard.”
“Crowley, you spent four months when we were supposed to be cancelling each other out curled around my neck hibernating!”
“Eh, you handled it just fine,” Crowley said. He'd gotten a commendation, though he still wasn't sure what for. Possibly his paperwork having been completed neatly for the first time ever. “But no, not north,” he mused aloud.
“South, then,” Aziraphale said. “Marrakech? Casablanca?” He sighed happily, remembering. “Isle of Wight?”
“Not that far south,” Crowley said. “Rather want to keep an eye on this old island, you know.”
“Indeed,” Aziraphale said. “I've grown quite fond of England myself.”
“I didn't say that,” Crowley muttered, but it was all for form.
They paused briefly so that Crowley could pole around a particularly irritating specimen, who was showing off rather loudly to his very bored-looking passenger. Of course, as soon as Crowley was just past him, he lost his pole.
A loud splash followed a beat later, and Crowler lowered his sunglasses to fix Aziraphale with a look. “ Angel .”
“What? He was a dreadful bore! And he's not about to drown. He's hardly going to catch a chill, this sun is so warm,” Aziraphale protested, fanning himself a little to better make the point. Where he had produced a lovely little hand-painted Japanese fan from, Crowley was not going to ask.
Crowley grinned, struck by brilliance in a moment of re-realising what a complete asshole Aziraphale could be. “The South Downs.”
“Oh, yes! Please, Crowley, that would be wonderful.” Aziraphale smiled, utterly delighted. “I was last there – oh, let me see. Quite some time ago. There were some lovely folks down there – quite good at the ritual spaces, they were. Delightful ring fort, we'll have to look for something nearby.”
“As you say,” Crowley agreed. He spotted a rather nice weeping willow and aimed for it, all ready to swap places and enjoy the ride back home.
“Oh, my dear. That lunch was so heavy, and there's just the right amount of shade here.” Aziraphale smiled at him. “Please, may I just take a little nap before I bring us back?”
“Suits me,” Crowley said, bringing them into the shallows and settling down comfortably on his end of the boat. He dug out a bottle of hock and two glasses, and of course Aziraphale joined him for a little nightcap, before he settled down, somehow made himself comfortable, and proceeded to blend his snoring with the sounds of the wind in the willow tree, and the general quiet murmur of the river, and the considerably less-quiet murmur of the people upon it.
Crowley spent some time making paper airplanes to send zinging out through the willow branches, landing with little poinks in passing boats. He threw a peach pit at a nearby crow. (He had brought peaches, but Aziraphale had gone to sleep before he could offer one 'round, and so Crowley ate both, for the principle of the matter.)
And he watched Aziraphale sleep. His linen suit was rumpled, of course; he had taken his jacket off to use as a pillow, and there would have to be a miracle to return it to a state suitable for public consumption. The slow, golden sunlight trickled through the leaves of the willow and dappled across his face, played on the pattern of his waistcoat. His shirt was still fresh, fitted beautifully to his shoulders. His bowtie had little blue pinstripes. Crowley watched Aziraphale's chest rise and fall, watched the sun and shade play across his body, the way little breezes stirred his white curls, and he had thoughts unbecoming to a demon.
An hour passed, and Aziraphale showed no signs of waking. Theoretically, they had to return the punt by a certain time, though in reality neither of them felt particularly bound by such things. Of greater concern, they had a reservation for dinner in London. Someplace new, that promised the hot, dry chilis of true Szechuan cooking. Aziraphale, a devoted reader of the Guardian, had learned about it from Jay Rayner's column. Crowley, a devoted reader of only newspapers that carried pictures of the alien babies of Presidential candidates, was quite happy to tag along.
With a sigh, Crowley took up the pole, and set off for the boathouse, and the Bentley and then, lightly sunburned angel in tow, London.
1The exception being one Mrs. Edgar Whinton, who always expected the worst of the weather. She had spent eleven years being sorely disappointed, and had no idea what pleasures were in store for her in (rainy, chilly) days to come.[return to text]
2 Such familiarity made for excellent snits, and very efficient ones at that. Where once Aziraphale would have demanded Crowley let him off on the nearest river bank, and stomped off for at least a month, perhaps growing to a few years for a real argument, now he settled down comfortably, stretching his legs out before him, all of his pouting over and done with in a matter of minutes. It made planning for tea much easier, when you could be pretty sure you weren't one or both of you haring off to the other side of the world to prove a point.[return to text]
3 This was not the delightful scene that you would imagine. Having actually lived in Dickensian London, Aziraphale's thoughts did not immediately fly so much to plum puddings and top hats, or even to cheerful spirits. Mostly he remembered Bedlam, debtor's prisons, and the kind of horrifying, abject, deadly poverty that made the very, very rich sit up, take notice, and invent museums and public parks for the edification of the public.
Any comparison between Dickens' London and the modern London where our story is set may be left as an exercise to the reader.[return to text]
4Hell was, despite its reputation for bureaucracy, terrible at disseminating information properly. Crowley viewed his newspaper habits as merely keeping up with anything his employer might be up to. He was largely, but not entirely, totally wrong in this belief.[return to text]
There are a lot of nods to various things in this chapter (whole story, probably). A likely-incomplete list:
- The ring fort Aziraphale mentions is Chanctonbury Ring Fort. Also I've decided that they've been coming to Britain since it was actually Doggerland, it looks like. Crowley got on well with the Beaker people, or something.
- The scene of Aziraphale asleep in the punt is pretty well lifted from Dorothy L. Sayers' Gaudy Night. Crowley does not have a similar revelation to Harriet, though. He had that revelation six thousand years previously, thank you very much.
- There's a nonzero influence from Three Men in A Boat, too, probably.
- For their pub lunch in Oxford, it's patterned after one I swear I've been in but can't remember the name. Quite probably The Eagle and Child? I've left it fuzzy, though, as that felt like one literary reference too many.
-Jay Rayner's restaurant review column is a goddamn gift and we are lucky to be alive at the same time he is.
They started looking for a place first thing the following day. The bookshop was habitually closed Mondays, so it was quite easy for Aziraphale to stay locked up and instead slip into the passenger seat of the Bentley when Crowley came to pick him up. There was minimal conversation as they left London, as it was rather difficult to discuss much of anything when one of you was doing ninety through one of the busiest tourist spots in the world and the other of you was pretty nearly always braced for impact, closing his eyes in anticipation of impact, or otherwise emitting sounds of distress.
Crowley rather liked driving Aziraphale about, and watching him quietly try to not lose his mind was the best part of all. They would have to be sure to go on Sunday drives, once they were out in the country proper. Picnics, rambles, the whole lot. Aziraphale could dig out some plus fours and an Edwardian boiled shirt and call it his walking costume, and Crowley could fill hampers with pickles and cheeses and lovely bottles of wine. And cakes, of course. Couldn't have a picnic without cakes. Well-known fact, that.
After seeing Crowley's brutalist taste in living spaces, the demon had been politely but firmly banned from looking at estate agents' offerings. Instead, Aziraphale had spent the night trawling through various websites and finding potential spots for them, and arranging viewings.
Crowley couldn't help but notice though, as Aziraphale read descriptions from a neat stack of printed-out listings on his lap, that all of the houses they would look at had room for a garden outside, plenty of south-facing windows, and enough double-glazing, fireplaces, and modernized heating to keep a snakey demon warm and comfortable through the winter. Of course, they all had libraries or studies that he was sure Aziraphale would take as his own, but they intended to share, and it would be fair to them both. About half the houses only had one bedroom, but since Aziraphale slept rarely (and then tended to nap on a sofa, a book resting on his chest), that was hardly going to be a problem.
Of course, the fact that they would share a house was obvious to them both – there was no discussion needed. Besides, they had far more interesting things to argue over, like if there was time to stop by Chanctonbury Ring Fort so they could see how things were getting on there.
“Well, considering how you're driving, we'll have enough time to see it and build our own ring fort,” Aziraphale sniffed, as London rapidly faded away into the distance. At least on the motorway everyone else drove like a bat out of hell too.
“Aw, angel, you know there's always construction around New Malden,” Crowley complained. “It's been there a couple millennia, do you really want to see it now?”
“Yes,” Aziraphale said firmly. “I'm sure they've quite cleaned it up over the years, as people tend to. And it is such lovely countryside.”
Crowley, somehow, became the only being in existence, to slip past roadworks while actually increasing his speed.
“Please, Crowley, do let's go? We'll have plenty of time afterwards,” Aziraphale begged. “We don't even have our first appointment until 1 this afternoon.”
“Oh, all right,” Crowley sighed. “If you insist.”
“Thank you, my dear,” Aziraphale said, and he didn't even scream when Crowley took his eyes off the road to look over at him, grinning his most indulgent grin. He managed to keep smiling. He decided he was getting used to Crowley, and also trusted that they probably wouldn't be accidentally discorporated. Almost certainly.
Peace and quiet then reigned in the car until just a bit too soon after they passed Dorking.
“Oi! There's a town called Crawley! Fancy moving there, angel?” Crowley asked, grinning happily.
“Absolutely not,” Aziraphale said quickly.
“You're no fun at all,” Crowley noted.
“I am fun!” Aziraphale protested, looking properly shocked, especially since Crowley no longer had his eyes on the road again. “Besides, I already looked, and there's nothing suitable on the market.” He sniffed. “Also, they've gone Tory every election since 1953.”
“Bleah,” Crowley said, and they kept driving.
They had quickly been surrounded by the South Downs, nearly as soon as they left London. Little villages dotted the rolling hills, often speckled with sheep or grazing cattle. The sky was a perfect blue, and the Bentley hummed along, good as new. England, having survive the Apocalypse that wasn't, basked under sunlight.
Aziraphale gazed out at the passing countryside, admiring how lovely it all was. Regularly-spaced pubs promised that one need never go long without a bite to eat or something for a parched throat. There was even an old shepherd's hut on wheels at the brow of a particularly attractive rolling hill. It was the kind of scene that made William Blake go a bit dizzy, and perhaps it was having the same effect on Aziraphale.
He would always love London; he couldn't not. But it was time for a change, and it was natural that Crowley would make that change with him. You got used to a being after six thousand years, and even more so after you'd switched bodies. And stopped the Apocalypse.
(Well, tried to. They hadn't, Aziraphale suspected, strictly been needed in the end.)
Aziraphale breathed the balmy country air, and tried not to think of Hell. Yes, a little place in the country was just was Crowley deserved. Needed. Both of them. Yes.
Skillfully turning his brain away from dangerous things, Aziraphale began to plan what he might like for lunch.
They did, of course, make it to the ring fort with plenty of time to spare. It was a Sightseeing Destination now, with a carpark and everything. Aziraphale made sure to read every single edifying plaque as they stretched their legs with a little roam around the site. He was deeply touched and proud to see Crowley carefully reading them too, until he realized that Crowley also had an indelible pen and was making a number of edits.
“That's graffiti,” Aziraphale fretted. “You know these kinds of things are dear, and now they'll have to get new ones! And there's no funding for these little sites as it is!”
“I'm helping them out! Look, this is just blatantly wrong,” Crowley protested, pointing to an offending paragraph. “I'm just correcting things!”
“Yes. Well.” Aziraphale had noticed that there were...several inaccuracies. Well, poor things, they were doing the best they could. Prehistory and all, and archaeology only took you so far.
When Crowley was finished, Aziraphale sighed and snapped his fingers. Crowley's corrections now looked as though they'd always been there, so at least no one would feel the need to replace the expensive plaques. Not to mention that they were now quite correct, if not 100% written in the original faintly lecturing style of lonely information boards everywhere.
They explored a little further until it truly was time for lunch and, anyway, even Aziraphale had had his fill of British prehistory for the day. They set off once more, Crowley driving at almost an acceptable speed as they headed for the nearest town that seemed likely to have a decent place to eat.
The afternoon was the most fun Aziraphale had had in quite some time. They were chivvied about the countryside by a stream of lightly confused estate agents, who could have sworn they didn't have an appointment on this day, or this time, or that it was for, well. Someone other than that nice couple and wasn't it lovely that you could be open about such things now, not like the old days, oh, Kenneth Williams had been so funny but there had been laws and wasn't it good, now, that two men in love could get a place together without anyone looking at them sideways?
Aziraphale was blissfully ignorant of all of this, simply agreeing that wasn't that John Barrowman a handsome chap and asking after the state of the water heater. Crowley trailed along behind, bemused and rather delighted himself to watch Aziraphale in his element, i.e. a rumpled, middle-aged man who cared very, very deeply about double glazing and built-in shelving, and who was a devoted listener to Gardener's Question Time.
The houses were all nice enough; Aziraphale had been very thoughtful in finding things that appealed to both of them, and they looked at lovely Edwardian houses with too many bedrooms, little cottages that still had an old outdoor toilet, and nearly the winner, a sixteen-century house with a thatched roof and not a single straight line or flat surface in the place.
Crowley stood carefully under the exposed beams, cautiously pleased that the doorways were nearly tall enough for him. There was an expansive garden, a good distance between them and the neighbours, and a warren of little rooms.
“We could always add a conservatory, I s'pose,” Crowley mused. “But it's good light, angel.”
“Indeed,” Aziraphale agreed, reaching out to drift his hand over the mantel of the vast fireplace. “Always did like this century.”
“Mmmm, yes. Rather busy, your lot? The Reformation and all that?” Crowley asked. He dropped a ball bearing, and watched it do a dance worthy of Martha Graham, courtesy the warped floors. He wondered if they were both, well, organic enough for this house. Perhaps it would be a lot, to go from their London life to...this.
Aziraphale sighed. “Oh, that . Uff.”
“Well, it wasn't one of ours,” Crowley pointed out, dropping his sunglasses to fix Aziraphale with a look.
“No, no, you're right, it was one of ours. It was just...very dull. And dreadful. Those Calvinists!” Aziraphale shuddered and closed his eyes. “No joy to be found. I want to eat an oyster and drink champagne just thinking about them.”
“I'll take you to Bentley's for dinner,” Crowley promised absently, and spared an indulgent grin for a gloating angel. “Is there anywhere else on your list?” he asked idly. If Aziraphale loved this place, well, he liked it well enough. But it wasn't quite...them.
“Oh! Yes, one more.” Aziraphale turned to the current estate agent. “Thank you so much for letting us look around, but I don't think it's quite right for us, ta!” He turned, took Crowley's hand, and cheerfully dragged him out to the Bentley, leaving the lightly confused woman in their wake.
“Just one more?” Crowley asked as he backed the Bentley up and headed northwest as Aziraphale directed, near to where they'd started the day.
“Yes, I'm afraid so. It's – well, it's my favourite, really,” Aziraphale admitted. “I do hope you like it, Crowley. I think you will.”
“I've liked everything you found, angel,” Crowley said quietly. “It's just not been...right.”
“I think this one will be,” Aziraphale said, and made a little oo! sound when Crowley picked up speed. There were more digits showing on the speedometer than on the posted limits. “We have an appointment! It wouldn't make any sense to get there too early!”
“Yes, but angel, it's so fun!,” Crowley roared, and laughed with the joy of the day, the last days of summer in England, in a world that still existed, that still held his best friend, and his car, and a road to go too fast on.
5The bookshop had no habits. But it was open rarely enough that being closed on Monday was about as close to a habit as its proprietor could get.[return to text]
6Crowley had tried to transform into a bat once. It had left his ears ringing and a distinct taste of apples in his mouth for several days afterwards. Since then, he had quietly but thoroughly despised bats, and was loudly offended when Aziraphale used the 'bat out of hell' phrase on him. This generally led to Aziraphale finding multiple excuses to use said phrase in Crowley's hearing. After the last scene, though, he tried to keep it to private moments.[return to text]
7With the exception of the music, of course, which proved to be Chopin's 2 nd Piano Concerto in E-Minor, soloist F. Mercury. Aziraphale just sighed and tried to enjoy the bath house song motif. Even if it wasn't the motif he'd been hoping for.[return to text]
8It was raining in Wales, of course.[return to text]
9It was.[return to text]
10There had been something of a fight over lunch about who would deal with the necessary paperwork-holders. Aziraphale had pointed out that he was a man of the world, a businessman , of course he could handle an estate agent or six. Crowley noted, rather loudly too, that he was plenty good with the public and exactly how many books had Aziraphale sold that year? Give or take?
Aziraphale had put his nose up into the air and loftily informed Crowley that he'd sold plenty , and they had shared an icy silence until the dessert menu arrived. About five minutes later.
Aziraphale would win by virtue of being the only one of either of them who could even slightly hit a deadline or plan anything in advance.[return to text]
- Chanctonbury Ring Fort is quite real, though I've not been there, and am only guessing at the edifying plaques. Or the veracity thereof. But if they're anything like other historical spots I've been to, well.
- If you are wondering if that was Granny Aching's shepherd's hut, it is.
- There really is a town called Crawley in the South Downs. I have no idea of their political history, and most abjectly apologize if they are, in reality, a Labour stronghold.
- Gardener's Question Time is the raunchiest show on BBC Radio 4. I am right about this. (Also I will be on my deathbed and still remember the lady who asked why her buddleia wasn't thriving and how she could get it to grow. She was much marveled at, and also told to maybe try neglecting it some?)
- The timeline for the legalization of homosexuality in the United Kingdom is...fuzzy? The passage of the Sexual Offences Act in 1967 sort of legalized it. In my own living memory, the repeal of Section 28 (which dictated that local authorities "shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality" or "promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship") in 2000 was a major step forward in equality.
- Also, Fantabulosa! is a strange, odd, wonderful little film. It goes without saying that Michael Sheen is breathtakingly good in it.
They arrived early, thanks to Crowley's driving, but not shockingly so, and thus had time for a little putter around the village, including a stop for a shared pot of tea and some cake. This, as Crowley had hoped, suitably smoothed any angelic ruffled feathers, and soon Aziraphale was happily exclaiming over the duck pond, and pausing to carefully read the First World War memorial.
“Oh, I'd hoped it wouldn't be twee,” Aziraphale sighed, as they settled in a park bench to watch the village go by. “I do like it here, Crowley.”
“It suits you,” Crowley admitted, and grinned. “Suits me, too.”
“I'm so glad,” Aziraphale said, and patted his hand. “Not too far to London, when you need a bit of city.”
“Not too far to London, when you're craving sushi,” Crowley teased him. The village was truly lovely. Quiet, but with a buzzing high street, and they'd already passed a few places he wanted to bring Aziraphale and just turn him loose on the menu.
“Will you keep your flat?” Aziraphale asked quietly. “I think I'll keep the bookshop. Not open, of course. But...there.”
“Of course,” Crowley agreed. He thought of real estate prices in SoHo, and a good-sized building eternally closed, refusing to sell, and smiled. He really was so proud of Aziraphale, even when he didn't intend to be a thorn in the side of every London developer. “I don't want to keep my place. No reason, really.”
“You can always stay with me, if we stay late in London some night,” Aziraphale offered.
“Do you...have a bedroom?” Crowley hazarded. There was a flat above the shop, but it was largely overflow storage.
“I do!” Aziraphale said, quite indignantly too.
“Really? Because I've been all over your flat, and...angel, it's not technically a bedroom if it doesn't have a bed in it.”
“...I'm sure I have a bed somewhere.” Aziraphale gave himself a little shake. “Besides, you don't need to sleep.”
“But it's so much fun,” Crowley whined.
“Well, you can make do. And you'll have the bedroom in our house here anyway,” Aziraphale placated him.
Companionable bickering done and their appointment time reached, Aziraphale led them through the winding streets past terraces of pretty houses, whitewashed and windowboxed. As they moved farther from the centre of the village, the houses became detached, mostly brick, set in gardens glowing with flowers and amidst trees that had settled in. The whole place felt steady, old, and comfortable. Like home, Aziraphale thought.
Their cottage – it was already their cottage, somehow – was at the end of a road, close enough to be neighbourly, but set just a little more apart than the others. The front garden was a bit overgrown, but there was the promise of lilies underneath the bay window.
Crowley noticed, as they walked into the house, that a few of the climbing roses that grew near the doorway bloomed as Aziraphale walked past, and he smiled, and opted to not fuck with the estate agent too much. This was their place.
Aziraphale exclaimed over the glass-fronted bookshelves in the library and the wonderful light in the sitting room while Crowley approved of the conservatory that ran the full width of the house and extended into the back garden. The cottage's garden backed onto fields, and there were even apple trees, heavy with fruit already.
Aziraphale asked all the expected questions about onward chains and recent roof repairs and the hot water heater. Crowley orbited around him, mostly keeping his mouth shut and thinking about where they would find furniture and which plants would be threatened with being left behind to slowly die of neglect in London. He paced out the conservatory, and asked if the sink had a garbage disposal, while Aziraphale glared at him, but otherwise was quiet, watching and thinking and planning.
“Well, what did you think?” Aziraphale asked, practically vibrating as they got in the Bentley to head back to London.
“I think it's meant for us,” Crowley said. No jokes, no pretending otherwise – that was their house. “The roses bloomed when you walked in, angel.”
“Oh, Crowley.” Aziraphale was quiet, for a little bit. “We're doing the right thing, aren't we?”
“You know what I think about you and doing the right thing,” Crowley pointed out, glancing over with a grin. “Although I'm still not sure about that sword...”
Aziraphale huffed. “I don't always do the right thing, and you know it.”
“Name one time when you didn't,” Crowley challenged. The sun was setting over the hills as he sped towards London, the light bathing everything red and gold.
“When I told you I didn't even like you. I lied.”
It was a near thing, and only because Crowley didn't want to discorporate them both on the eve of a well-deserved semiretirement, that the Bentley stayed on the road, and pointing in the correct direction.
“Angel, that doesn't count,” he said, maybe a little too fast. “I knew you didn't mean it.”
“I still said it! And it was cruel. And you didn't deserve it. And I'm sorry.” Aziraphale shuffled a little in his seat, and turned to look out the window. “You were so much cleverer than I was,” he said. “You knew they wouldn't stop the war, that they wanted to fight. And I was so...so thick. And I was cruel to you, my best friend!”
Aziraphale's voice cracked a little, and without thinking, Crowley reached over and took his hand, sliding their fingers together. “Angel, stop . No harm done. I can tell when you're lying. You were afraid, it's all right.”
“I shouldn't have been,” Aziraphale said, but he didn't pull his hand away and he didn't sound quite so ready to weep. “I should have been braver. But I'm not.” He sighed softly. “I forgot, demons, you must be able to sense when I lie.”
“Well, yeah, but also you're just really, really bad at it,” Crowley admitted. The gearshift miraculously did what it needed to do, since there wasn't the slightest chance that Crowley was going to let go of Aziraphale's hand, not when he was still a little wobbly.
Besides. His hand felt nice in Crowley's. Square and strong, and it wasn't like Aziraphale was about to let go either.
Aziraphale managed a soft snort. “Yes, I suppose I am. Always have been.” He sighed, and shifted just a hair closer to Crowley. “I am sorry,” he said quietly.
“I know, angel,” Crowley told him, as they sped on towards London, the sun setting over the ancient chalk hills.
11In addition to Crowley's general nosiness, he quickly learned that Aziraphale could get lost in a book like no one else he'd ever met, and he would have to make his own fun, usually via exploration of everything Aziraphale owned. In turn, Aziraphale accepted that he would often have to go hunting for a demon or possibly a snake when he started to get a bit hungry. It is probably a good thing that privacy is not really a concept in either Heaven or Hell.[return to text]
Not terribly many references in this one. If you're curious, I roughly picked out Steyning as the village they move to, but this has no real bearing on the story, and will likely never be mentioned by name. It is, really, any smallish English village.
I also feel like Aziraphale has a very hard time forgiving himself.
They moved in on the last day of August. It was pouring rain of course, and Aziraphale fretted over his boxes of books, though they were fully packed by a specialty removals company and draped with plastic for their short journey from truck to house. New furniture, carefully selected from chic bespoke workshops and venerable auction houseswas still being delivered, but they had enough to keep body and soul together, and so Aziraphale swapped out his bookstore's sign for one reading 'By Appointment Only', and they journeyed south in the Bentley.
“Did any of your plants make the cut?” he asked. Aziraphale was always slightly astonished by Crowley's houseplant care techniques, and the fact that they worked.
“Oh, the top ninety percent,” Crowley said airily.
“...And the rest?”
Crowley grinned. “I've got a bag of the finest mulch you've ever seen in the boot, angel.”
Aziraphale sighed. Well, at least one of their gardens wouldn't be completely traumatized. They had decided that Crowley could care for any plant indoors, and could claim the front garden. Aziraphale would have domain over the climbing roses, and the back garden. They would attempt to take care of the apple trees together, as that seemed...appropriate.
The first few days were rather a whirlwind – Aziraphale all but disappeared into his library, setting things up just as he liked them. Crowley didn't have time to miss him, though, busy with his own unpacking and settling in. He installed his plants in the conservatory with a serious pep talk, accompanied by a demonstration with the garbage disposal and a small pothos that had taken a bit sickly on the journey out of London.
Whichever of them was closest to the door greeted a small but steady stream of neighbours bearing lemon drizzle cakes, pots of home-made piccalilli, and insatiable curiosity. Both angel and demon became adept at chatting for the exact correct amount of time over the gate, then finding something that needed their attention immediately , occasionally assisted by the other by calling from a handy window.
A few days of frantic unpacking found them fairly well set up, enough so that they could turn to other interests, like Crowley running out to the nearest chip shop while Aziraphale tried to find a certain case of champagne he was absolutely certain he had left right over there.
“Angel! They were out of battered sausage so I got you cod!” Crowley called as soon as he was inside their front door. He noticed that it was sticking a bit and glared at it. The door promptly unstuck itself, and Crowley and wondered what all the fuss was about home maintenance. It was easy, really.
Aziraphale finished lighting the candles just as Crowley came in. He looked up to greet his friend, and felt not a bit stunned at what he saw, for all that it was so quotidian. Just Crowley, in the doorway, a fragrant bag in one hand.
Crowley looked comfortable , Aziraphale realized. Like he belonged. Like he was getting the peace and the time and the beauty he deserved. It was perfectly right that they were here in their little cottage not too far from the sea, the sun setting in the fields and flooding the kitchen with the last of the summer light. It was perfectly right that they were here, together, after the end of the world.
Aziraphale broke his own spell with a little shake, and he came over to hand Crowley a glass of champagne, and take the bag from him. “Thank you. I thought we could have a little celebration. Our first meal here together.”
Crowley blinked, but still seemed slightly awestruck, a little like he was getting his brain back in gear. Perhaps, Aziraphale thought, he had seen the same thing. Just from the other direction, so to speak. “Of course. Of course, angel, anything you like.”
“Only – it's very nice, isn't it?” Aziraphale tried to explain. “That we...have this. All of this.” He cleared his throat. “Together.”
“Yeah,” Crowley said, his voice gentler, a little easier now. “It's perfect, Aziraphale.” He slid into his chair with the usual grace, or so he hoped. To come into the kitchen, lit with sunlight, his angel glowing – Aziraphale's hair took the light and danced in it. He had spent six thousand years looking not unlike a heavenly dandelion, and Crowley quietly, desperately, hoped for six thousand more. At least.
They sat down at their small table (French, rustic, dated to approx. 1912) and shared out the food while the candles flickered in the summer breeze.
Aziraphale held up his glass. “To the world?”
“To the world,” Crowley agreed, and watched Aziraphale smile, glowing with love and happiness, and he felt a little glowy himself, bubbles from the champagne dancing on his tongue.
The spell didn't break as they ate, just changed. The sun dipped lower in the sky and Aziraphale laughed and chatted about the knitting circle someone had told him about, and he broke off bits of his fried cod and entreated Crowley (who was a fiend for fried pakora) to taste it, to share the food with him.
And so they ate the same meal, and drank from the same bottle of champagne, fingers quickly greasy and salty. Crowley licked his fingers clean with abandon while Aziraphale pointed out the napkins he'd put right there and finally, after all of Crowley's demonic temptation, licked one fingertip clean.
“Now, isn't that better?” Crowley challenged.
“I won't answer that,” Aziraphale said, and gave him a sly look. “Too early to tell.” And, in the most gentlemanly manner imaginable, he licked his fingers clean, just as Crowley had done, finishing with a look of such victory and challenge that Crowley laughed and snorted a little champagne, and there was a brief pause in celebration for some offended sneezing and eye-watering.
After dinner had been cleared away and the champagne finished, Aziraphale gave a little groan and stretched. “Will you sleep tonight?” he asked. There was a bedroom that was Crowley's, but it was Aziraphale who'd found the bed, a beautiful thing of walnut and delicate carving, and who had proudly given it to his friend as a housewarming present.
“Maybe. It's been a few days.” Crowley frowned as he watched Aziraphale try to stretch something that wouldn't quite go. “Everything all right, angel?”
Aziraphale sighed. “Yes, of course. I do apologize. I think I'm starting to moult.”
Crowley made a little noise of consolation. It only came 'round every century or so, for angels. He was of the private belief that if Aziraphale maybe took care of his wings once in awhile, or once in an ever, his moults wouldn't be so uncomfortable, but there you were. “Come into the conservatory, and let your wings out. I'll see if I can groom them a bit for you.”
“Oh, would you? That would be very kind,” Aziraphale said, with the precise tone and warm smile he used when he'd got Crowley to do some favour Aziraphale wanted. Crowley couldn't even be put out – Aziraphale always asked so sweetly, and was so pleased with even the tiniest of gifts or gestures, and anyway, it was no chore to pluck a few feathers.
Or so he thought, until Aziraphale settled on a large floor-cushion and spread his wings with a sigh.
“Angel! What the heaven, this isn't the start of a moult!” Crowley knelt behind him, stroking a hand along a bedraggled, messy wing that was still gently shedding down. “You've just been putting up with this? You're mad.”
He could feel Aziraphale smile, his jammy angel. “Oh, it's not so bad really.”
“It is, actually.” Crowley shook his head and made himself comfortable. This was going to take awhile. He paused to put on some music – Tallis, to be kind to an uncomfortable angel – and settled to his work, smoothing ruffled feathers and freeing the ones that were loose but couldn't fall.
It was a beautiful view from the conservatory, Aziraphale thought. The relief of his wings being tended to mingled with the last of the champagne, and he watched the sun set over the golden fields. The back garden wasn't much to speak of at the moment – a small patio, straggly grass, the trees at the foot of the garden. But he'd make it bloom and fill it with bees and fruit and flowers, little paths and a bench under their shared trees.
Aziraphale couldn't help but make a soft sound of relief when Crowley eased a particularly tricky part of his wing, and the new feathers found themselves with enough space, and the infernal itch ceased.
“Angel, you really ought to take care of yourself,” Crowley scolded gently. “This is terrible.”
“I know,” Aziraphale admitted. “I'm impossible, you must forgive me.” He hesitated; he'd never told Crowley this before. “Angels – we're supposed to help each other. With wing care. It's a thing...friends do.”
“Oh?” Crowley asked, his voice light and noncommittal.
“Yes,” Aziraphale said. “It's just – ah – easier. Better that way. Only, of course, well. You've seen how I get on with the rest of the heavenly host.”
Crowley, who would never forget the look on Gabriel's face as he ordered Aziraphale to shut up and die already, paused. He knew angels were wankers – present company excepted – but that had been cruel . He rested a hand on Aziraphale's shoulder, and didn't think about the solid strength underneath the softness there. The softness – that was the important part. Always would be. “I'm your friend.”
“I didn't want to presume...”
Crowley squeezed his shoulder, gentle though, always gentle when they were like this. They were walking on the edge of something, not quite ready to go over it. Not yet. “Angel. Ask . It's never any trouble.”
Aziraphale closed his eyes tightly, glad Crowley couldn't see. His wings shivered, and were still. “Thank you, my dear” he said, quietly and simply. “And you must ask, if I can ever help you.”
“Of course.” Crowley thought for a moment of what it would be like to have Aziraphale stroking and soothing his wings, and firmly planted that thought in the back of his mind for another day. Better to turn back to his work, the pile of white feathers around them still growing, but Aziraphale's back easing as Crowley soothed the discomfort away.
12 Crowley's contribution, of course. He had even promised no concrete.[return to text]
13 Aziraphale loved the idea of auctions, and could just about be trusted to handle bidding himself at very small events. Very small. For anything larger than what was essentially a church fundraiser, he retained a small firm of excellent agents, and thus managed to actually not lose money and/or utterly embarrass himself. The small firm did not ask why they had been retained by the same man for several hundred years, or how they often managed to get choice manuscripts with a bidding war that was just difficult enough to be entertaining without causing undue stress. The accompanying reputation was worth not being too curious.[return to text]
14 “You usually include a phone number to call to make the appointment,” Crowley had pointed out. “Oh, do you?” Aziraphale asked, as he locked the shop up. “How interesting.” [return to text]
15 It's not well-known, but there are wines that pair well with a battered sausage and a pile of greasy, salty, vinegar-y chips the size of one's head. Aziraphale kept a few bottles on hand at all times, in case of emergency. He and Crowley had tasted a lager once, out of curiosity and in the spirit of exploration and adventure. It didn't go well.[return to text]
I know I just put up a chapter, but we're getting to the good part, I couldn't resist!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Summer turned to autumn, golden and full. Aziraphale laid stone paths in the garden and gave the straggly grasses and invasive species an honourable death. The battered soil underneath was given a good hoeing in preparation for next spring's planting, and a few pots of chrysanthemums appeared, just to give the yard a little cheer. The roses bloomed unusually late that summer, adding colour to their cottage well into October, and the air was still perfumed as Aziraphale read in the front garden, keeping Crowley company while he worked.
The lilies beneath the bow window had been beaten into submission, and still bloomed bright and blowsy (if trembling). Aziraphale tried to be kind to them when he had the chance, but this was not his garden so mostly he cheered them quietly when Crowley wouldn't catch him. The rest of the front garden was tidy, hedges trimmed and any weed that tried to come up through the paving stones was quickly removed.
Crowley was putting in some bulbs, speaking to them in an intense, low voice about his expectations. It was a pleasant wordless murmur that Aziraphale could tune out into a kind of background radiation of Crowley-ness while he enjoyed James' endless sentences in his annual autumn re-read of The Turn of the Screw . He munched happily on an apple from their trees, which seemed to have thrived on neglect.
They had installed a sturdy bench beneath the trees and often sat there. It wasn't the great parks of London, but then it wasn't meant to be. It was their own place and their own home, the green rolling hills with chalk just beneath them, and the distant smell of the sea if the wind came just right. Aziraphale was happier than he could ever remember being, and he thought Crowley might be too. He thought perhaps that they had been ready, after the end of the world that wasn't, for the gentler things in life.
Of course, London wasn't so very far away. They regularly visited together for the day, or the weekend, to try some new restaurant or catch a show, or just to be in London. Occasionally Crowley would go by himself for the day, taking off in the Bentley early in the morning when there was still mist on the fields.
This was the first time Aziraphale had been drawn to going back on his own, but there was a collector he wanted to meet with, and he thought it might be good to check on his shop and air the bedding in his little flat. (They would surely want to come back for Christmas, to do some shopping or simply take in the sights and feel of the city.) And there was a performance of some of Handel's cantatas in St. Bride's Church he dearly wanted to go to.
Crowley drove him to the nearest train station without Aziraphale even asking.
“You're welcome to come along, my dear,” he said, and touched Crowley's arm as they waited for his train. “Though I imagine the concert might not be much of a draw for you.”
Crowley waved him off. “Nah, enjoy your weekend in the city. There's a plant sale down by Portchester I want to go to, they're going to have some interesting philodendrons, might have just the thing for the kitchen window. And I promised the lads I'd keep score for the darts tournament at the Red Lion tomorrow night.”
“Look at you, the country squire,” Aziraphale said admiringly. “Mind you don't cause any havoc. They do things with Stilton I'd hate to be banned from.”
Crowley laughed. “You're going be miles away! They won't ban you .”
“Well, it's no fun going there without you, so see that you'll still be welcome,” Aziraphale said, as his train started to pull in. “Right, that's me.”
“Let me know when you're on the train home and I'll come get you!” Crowley called after him. Aziraphale turned and smiled at him, satchel in one hand, and waved a happy goodbye before turning back and heading for the platform.
Crowley's arm was warm where Aziraphale had touched it. And the things his angel had said, about it not being any fun without Crowley – those made him warm too.
He turned back towards their village, but kept going past it, driving aimlessly through countryside, no real destination. Just driving to drive, and to think.
Of course they loved each other. This was no revelation. Angels were literally made to love. And Aziraphale was...who he was. And Crowley, in turn, loved him.
But something was changing. The still centre of the world was tipping on its axis. Aziraphale was Crowley's best friend, his adversary, his convenient counterpart. He was and always would be all of things they'd been to each other over eternity. To add one more thing to that list – well, perhaps.
Crowley didn't like to plan too much. Seat of his pants kind of demon, he was. And Aziraphale was so brilliant, so clever , and also so stupid about some things. Aziraphale was still an unknown. He had thought they were on different sides for so long, Crowley remembered ruefully. Perhaps this was the thaw of something new, or perhaps it was Aziraphale being a little careless, a little thoughtless. He did that sometimes. Without meanness and with sincere, abject apology when he learned he'd mis-stepped, but it meant one couldn't be absolutely sure that things were what they looked like.
But then, there were those soft touches, the affectionate 'my dear', the increasing time they spent together. The way Aziraphale seemed to always be nearby, just when Crowley wanted a bit of angelic company. Perhaps. Crowley didn't like to hope, but he could think 'perhaps'.
He drove a little longer for the pleasure of it. The breath of winter was on the wind, and Crowley aimed to enjoy what might be the last of his autumn drives until next year, before he turned back home.
The weather did turn after that; it was pouring a freezing rain when Crowley went to pick Aziraphale up, enough so that he actually met him on the platform with an umbrella.
“Really now, I'm not made of sugar,” Aziraphale said, but with a small, very satisfied smile as they left the safety of the platform and rain pounded down.
“I know that, wasn't sure you did. Besides, you'll stain your coat,” Crowley said. “And you know you hate that.”
“Of course,” Aziraphale said innocently. Crowley delivered him safely to the passenger-side door and hurried around to his own side to get them home. Their tea was waiting at home, a curry he'd picked up earlier and kept warm in the oven, with fragrant garlicky naan to go with it and a bottle of heavy red wine to fight off winter's first chill.
Aziraphale was delighted, of course, and Crowley couldn't hide a little glow of pride – well, it was a sin after all, why hide it! The curry was spicy and good, and the wine was even better in their warm little kitchen, a ball of golden light against the rainy darkness of the fields at night.
After dinner, Aziraphale lit the fireplace in their front room, and pulled some blankets out of a storage closet.
“It's getting chilly out – are you warm enough?” Aziraphale asked him, fretting a little. “Go settle by the fire, Crowley, I'll bring the wine in.”
“I'm fine, angel,” Crowley said softly, but let himself be ushered over to the easy chair that was nearest the fire. It was chilly, yes, but their house was snug and he was warm with food and good company. And the tartan blanket Aziraphale tucked around him.
He was so startled he didn't even bitch about the tartan part, and accepted his wine glass silently.
“Oh, don't look so shocked,” Aziraphale said. “I can spoil you as much as you indulge me.”
Crowley opened his mouth, waited for something clever to come out, and closed it again.
“Well, I can,” Aziraphale said, taking his seat in the matching easy chair just across from Crowley.
“Yeah,” Crowley managed, and sipped his wine. “Of course, angel.”
It was well into December when Crowley came home with the shopping, and a question.
Aziraphale looked up from the auction catalog he was poring over, and quickly got up to help Crowley put away the groceries.
“Funny thing, angel,” Crowley said as they wove around each other in their kitchen. “D'you know, everyone in the village thinks we're a couple?”
“Hm?” Aziraphale examined the bottle of red Crowley had picked up. It was from a country not previously known for its grape-growing capabilities. Well, spirit of exploration and trying new things! Speaking of. “Oh, yes. Well, we rather are, aren't we?”
Crowley just about managed to not drop the beets. “We...are?” he asked.
Aziraphale added the bottle to their collection, and stood up. “Well, really. Think about it, my dear. Share a house. Pet names. Know everything about each other.”
“I. Huh.” Crowley paused, definitely thinking about it. “Well, you're not wrong.”
“Of course I'm not. Not about this.” Aziraphale looked at him, measuring something in his heart. “May I try something?”
Right. Crowley trusted him. Somehow, some way, Aziraphale's need to go slow, all his mistakes and every time he'd hurt Crowley – it had never broken this. Hurt it badly; they'd both made mistakes. But never broken this.
He gathered his courage. Crowley had stopped time because Aziraphale had asked him to, and had threatened to never speak to him again. Crowley had saved his life. Crowley had saved his books . Aziraphale could be brave for once in his long life, and he took a deep breath and walked up to Crowley and kissed him.
Crowley dropped the beets.
But that was okay because his arms came around Aziraphale, held him closer, drew him in and kissed him back.
“Oh,” Aziraphale said, when the kiss ended. “I thought so.”
“You thought – you didn't know –“ Crowley's laugh was very slightly hysterical.
“I'm sorry,” Aziraphale said, gaze dropping. “I didn't – I've disappointed you again, haven't I?”
“No.” Crowley was there again, arms tight around him, pressing kisses to his cheeks, and Aziraphale's heart just kind of gave up under the assault. This was too much, even though he'd known, of course he had known, but he'd been so afraid. They were supposed to be enemies.
“Oh, angel,” Crowley said, gentle as he'd been when he had told Aziraphale about the bookshop. “You haven't disappointed me. Not at all.”
“Oh. Good.” Aziraphale smiled weakly. “May I kiss you again?”
Crowley leaned in, stopped by a hand on his chest. “No,” Aziraphale said. “ I want to kiss you . You deserve to be kissed.”
“Bwah?” was what Crowley came up with, and Aziraphale took advantage to go for his kiss.
He raised his hands, cupping Crowley's face. With a blink he vanished the sunglasses, just his sweetheart's eyes now, true and unhide-able. And he smiled, and leaned in, and kissed Crowley, slow and careful, their mouths moving against each other while Aziraphale brushed his thumbs over Crowley's cheekbones, finally touching as much as he liked.
The kiss ended and he drew back with a smile. “All right?”
“Oh, angel.” Crowley shook his head, and smiled. “Where'd you learn to kiss like that?”
“Oh, here and there.” Aziraphale kissed him again, short and sweet, the kind of kiss he'd give Crowley to thank him for a cup of tea, or a small favour. He liked that idea a lot, and resolved to give kisses in thanks whenever he could.
“Here and there?” Crowley spluttered when he could next speak, and Aziraphale just grinned at him, hands shifting to rest Crowley's shoulders.
“I've done a lot of things you don't know about,” he said. It had worked. He'd been brave, he had kissed Crowley, and it had been all right. Crowley had kissed back. Crowley was still here, still held Aziraphale carefully. They were still friends, and better, they had kissed.
Crowley shook his head and smiled. “So have I,” he said, and gathered Aziraphale close, and gave him the kiss of his life thus far.
“I'm so sorry,” Aziraphale said after his knees gave out and Crowley caught him.
“No you're not,” Crowley said.
“No, I'm not.” Aziraphale agreed, and took a few deep breaths until he could stand on his own again.
“So,” Crowley said.
“So,” Aziraphale agreed.
“The entire village worked it out before we did,” Crowley mused.
“Well, we'd both worked it out for ourselves,” Aziraphale pointed out. He started putting the shopping away again. “Pick up the beets? There's a dear. Oh, we should pickle some of those, I have just the recipe.”
Aziraphale was as English as they came, and it was catching, Crowley decided. That was why he could do chores after he'd just got his heart's truest desire. Aziraphale had kissed him, and he had kissed Aziraphale back. And they would probably do it again. It was only the angel's influence that kept him from...from pulling his shirt over his head and running around the village green, arms flailing, screeching his joy to the world.
“When did you work it out?” Crowley asked, weeding through their vegetable bin to make space. Spinach was not supposed to be liquid, he was almost certain.
“I've always been very fond of you, of course,” Aziraphale said. “Since we first met, even though I know I didn't show it. But love you?” He was quiet a moment. “When you saved my books. During the War. That's when I knew I loved you.”
“That?” Crowley asked. “Angel, that was nothing--”
“It was everything,” Aziraphale said, in a voice like nothing Crowley had ever heard before. “You saved me. I was so stupid, and you saved me. Again,” he added, in a small voice. “You knew I'd been...been double-crossed. And you saved me and stopped the Nazis and you never needed to, no one else would have thought to, but you saved my books.” Aziraphale paused, and wiped the back of his hand across his eyes. “You came into a church. I know what that did to your poor feet, but you came anyway. You've saved me so many times. And my side...well. Not my side anymore, are they?” He smiled bravely. “Never were. None of them ever cared what happened to me.”
“We're our side,” Crowley said quietly, and fuck the vegetables fuck everything. Aziraphale was wiping away tears, and Crowley crossed the room and gathered him close again, one hand on the back of his head, protective. “I'm your side, and you're mine. That's what being us means.”
Aziraphale nodded, and didn't move away. “That was when I knew for sure,” he said, and looked up at Crowley. “What about you?”
Crowley swallowed hard. This was going to hurt Aziraphale, but he didn't lie to him, not ever. “When you told me you gave your flaming sword away. That's when I knew.”
Aziraphale's jaw dropped. “Crowley. Dear boy. Oh.” He cupped one hand against Crowley's face. “All those years?”
“More or less,” Crowley said, and smiled. “But that was the moment. That's when I knew we were going to be us.”
Aziraphale nodded seriously. “Well. Thank you for telling me.” He gently pulled away, straightened his waistcoat, shot his cuffs, and attempted to tame his hair.
“Angel?” Crowley asked, bereft.
“I have about six thousand years of being loved by you to match,” Aziraphale told him. “Best start as I mean to go on.” And he wrapped one arm around Crowley, dramatically dipped him, and kissed him with all the love he could muster up for the being in his arms.
Every circuit south of the M4 blew a fuse, and Aziraphale wasn't sorry in the least .
16Bin, not compost pile. He felt bad, but not that bad. Best not to tempt fate and all, and invasive species did rather find a way to cling on and come back.[return to text]
17 Compost pile. They were all too ashamed to do anything but incinerate in the heat. Going to seed was unthinkable.[return to text]
18They were trying to cook for themselves from time to time. It was going.[return to text]
19 Crowley had been great at the 1966 World Cup and aftermath. One of his finest moments, at least he was pretty sure. There were some compromising photos, but his memory got fuzzy until he woke up in Benidorm a week later. [return to text]
20 Attempted being the operative word. For all the angel was neat and clean and tailored to the point of fussiness, he never had worked out his hair. There was a reason he'd kept it cropped short, often unfashionably, through history.[return to text]
Thank you everyone for your amazing comments, by the way! They're incredibly encouraging, and I'm so happy this story is striking a chord!
A couple notes:
-St Bride's is my favorite church in London. It's small and delightful and worth a visit.
- "The still centre of the world was tipping on its axis." is shamelessly pastiched/stolen from Harriet's half of the sonnet in Gaudy Night.
- Countless metas! So much awesome dialogue and headcanons and teasing out little bits of story here and there! It makes me so happy.
And go on he did. After they'd found the fusebox and flipped the necessary switches and put away the last of the groceries, Aziraphale cornered Crowley again for an extended snog up against the side of the Welsh dresser that took up half the hallway.
“Oh gosh,” he said, when it was his turn to catch Crowley, after Crowley's knees went out.
“Sofa,” Crowley said. “Please.”
“You just want to get revenge,” Aziraphale said. He kept an arm tight around Crowley's waist, though, and was relieved that Crowley was holding onto him in turn. Between the two of them and a small miracle, they could just about make it to their front room and settle on the big sofa.
“I should build a fire,” Aziraphale said.
“You're stalling,” Crowley said. “I'll keep you warm, angel.” He laughed at his own terrible line and pulled them down, tangled together. Aziraphale still somehow managed to have perfect posture.
“Isn't it the other way 'round?” Aziraphale tilted Crowley's face so he could kiss him a bit better. “I love you. I love you. I don't want to stop saying it.”
Crowley pressed a long kiss to Aziraphale's cheek. “Say it all you like, angel. I won't stop you.” Another kiss, lower, closer to his jaw. “Long as you know I love you back.”
“I think I've always known,” Aziraphale said softly. “I just had to – go slow. I'm sorry.”
“Shhh. No apologies.” A kiss. “I go too fast for you.”
“You went at your speed, I went at mine,” Aziraphale said. “Now we're caught up to each other. And I'm never – never letting you out of sight again. Uh. Metaphorically.”
Crowley laughed and nuzzled his face into the curve of Aziraphale's neck. The collar of his shirt was stiff and smelled like starch and cotton and cologne. He could stay here forever.
He very nearly did – no one in the village saw much of either of them for the next month, beyond Crowley's excursions to find pastries and wine and little treats for Aziraphale, and Aziraphale's quick bus journey to a nearby town for wool. A jumper was just the thing Crowley needed against the winter, he had decided, and he picked up a pretty little houseplant at the same time, figuring it would do well as a love-token.
When you got down to it, nothing changed that much. It was more that they went from sharing a house to sharing a house and living in each other' pockets every waking hour. Aziraphale would read in the conservatory while Crowley tended the plants, or Crowley would loll around and make rude comments while Aziraphale re-re-re-organized his books. Where Aziraphale had taken strolls along the river path alone, Crowley stopped declaring that he didn't understand nature and came along, and they walked hand-in-hand in the low light that skimmed the river surface. Winter settled full on the village, with short grey days that encouraged them to mostly stay home, and to mostly stay wrapped around each other.
It was on the shortest day of the year that Crowley finally convinced Aziraphale to try sleeping. “You do sleep,” he pointed out. “I've caught you napping plenty of times.”
“That is different,” Aziraphale said, but could not expand upon why exactly it was different. At a loss for argument, and drawn in by the thought of spending all night curled up with Crowley, he agreed to give it a go. A set of new pyjamas, gift-wrapped and everything, sweetened the deal considerably.
They got changed for bed together, moving around each other easily. Aziraphale, in this as so much else, showed a propensity to putter about, but Crowley held the duvet up and he came eagerly to bed in good time, gliding into Crowley's arms.
“I love you,” he said, because he did and he tried to say that a lot. “Oh, this is wonderfully cozy, my dear.”
Crowley smiled, pleased to see his angel indulged, and pulled the duvet up a little more. “Warm enough?”
“Of course, darling.” Aziraphale squirmed a little, getting perfectly comfortable in Crowley's arms. “Oh, the light –“
A snap of the fingers took care of that, and Crowley found Aziraphale's mouth in the dark, sipping kisses from it like the wine they'd shared over dinner.
“I thought we were supposed to sleep,” Aziraphale said.
“Got to kiss you goodnight. Very important, that bit,” Crowley said.
Aziraphale thought of all the times Crowley had fallen asleep with no one to kiss him goodnight, and heartily agreed. And set about making up for all those times. He'd done some calculations, and thought he could, perhaps, catch up on everything Crowley deserved in a thousand years' time without arousing too much suspicion.
He kissed Crowley softly, because that was how Crowley kissed him, and because he liked soft things, and the chance to be gentle. “I love you,” he murmured. He did so like saying that, and it made Crowley shake a little, and settle closer every time Aziraphale said it.
“We're all kissed goodnight,” Aziraphale said, when they truly were kissed out – for the moment, at least. “What next?”
Crowley laughed softly, and stroked the side of Azirphale's hip. They lay on their sides, arms entwined about each other. “Close your eyes, angel. Relax. Do you have enough pillows?”
“Yes, my dear,” Aziraphale murmured. “I'm so comfortable.”
“Good. Now it's like a nap, except you don't have your glasses about to fall off your nose, and you're in a proper bed, with a proper duvet and pillows and things.”
“And my proper love,” Aziraphale mumbled, and sighed a little, going even heavier as sleep crept up on him.
“And that,” Crowley whispered. “Shhh. No more talking.” He smiled, and kissed Aziraphale's forehead. And, where no one but Aziraphale would ever hear, hummed a quiet lullaby, until his angel was fast asleep.
He only indulged in watching Aziraphale sleep for a little bit, revelling in feeling his body warm and heavy in his arms. Hardly any time at all. He didn't need to sleep, but thought he might need to watch how Aziraphale's eyelashes trembled as he dreamed, and he definitely needed to listen to him breathing.
Anyway, fair was fair – he woke up late the next morning and caught Aziraphale staring at him, lovestruck and dopey, and got him to admit he'd been awake since dawn, but hadn't moved an inch, entranced by watching Crowley sleep.
Crowley couldn't say he was terribly surprised when Aziraphale changed into his pyjamas the next night, climbed into bed, and looked at Crowley very expectantly.
“You don't do things halfway, do you angel?” he asked.
“I would hope not.” Aziraphale held out his arms, and Crowley crawled into them, very, very thankful that Aziraphale had definitely never heard of nor practiced subtlety. It was pretty early yet, even for an old retired couple in the countryside, and he looked forward to finding fun ways to pass the time.
They kissed each other at their ease, no rush about it. Aziraphale in particular decided to see how much he could kiss Crowley's face until he laughed and wriggled away.
He got Crowley to laugh plenty, but he never wriggled away, and, indeed, returned kiss for kiss.
“It's coming up Christmas,” Aziraphale said, when they took a breather.
“Mmm. Do you want to go to London?” Crowley kissed the corner of his mouth. “Or someplace else? When was the last time you were in Istanbul, angel?”
“Too long,” Aziraphale sighed. “London is tempting. Only – Crowley, would you be sad if we stayed here?”
“I wouldn't be sad anywhere I was with you,” Crowley said without thinking.
“Oh!” Aziraphale wrapped around him and rolled them over, and kissed him soundly. “Flatterer.”
“Well, yes,” Crowley said, once he'd caught his breath. “Pretty much in the job description.” He tangled his fingers in Aziraphale's hair and smiled down at him. “But I meant it, too,” he said.
“I know,” Aziraphale said. “You have never lied to me, Crowley.” He smiled fondly. “I want to go to London, and Istanbul, and Berlin and anywhere else you want to. But this is our first Christmas together. I want to be here, in our home. I want to wake up Christmas morning and open gifts with you, and love you and make you coffee in our kitchen.”
Crowley swallowed hard, hoping it would clear the lump in his throat. It didn't. “I want that too,” he managed, and rested his forehead on Aziraphale's chest. “Please.”
“All that and more,” Aziraphale murmured, stroking Crowley's hair. “We're together now. We're on our side, and no one will ever part us, dear one.”
Crowley wrapped his arms tight around Aziraphale until he stopped trembling. He didn't particularly like that this was his response to being truly happy, but Aziraphale only ever held him back, absorbed the shaking into his solid strength, and kept holding him a little longer, just to be on the safe side.
Christmas that year dawned icy cold, and Crowley burrowed even deeper under the duvet, hardly waking up until Aziraphale had got up, made a pot of coffee, turned up the heating, and come back to bed with a tray of said coffee and sweet buns and honeyed butter.
He lowered the duvet enough to peek out suspiciously at the world, and watch Aziraphale take his first bite of breakfast, eyes closed in bliss. They had ventured out two days before to go to the really good bakery and pick up victuals for the coming holidays.
“It's absolutely roasting out here, Crowley,” Aziraphale said, and held a gently-steaming mug by the small entrance to Duvet Caverns that Crowley was peering out of. “I made you the good coffee.”
Crowley sniffed suspiciously. It smelled very good. So did the buns and the honey butter. So did Aziraphale.
With immense reluctance, he emerged a little further, going so far as to sit up. He immediately all but crawled into Aziraphale's lap, of course, heat-seeking creature that he was.
“Poor snake,” Aziraphale said, one hand coming to rest on Crowley's back. He handed the mug of coffee over and resumed eating with his free hand.
“Yes,” Crowley decided. “I am.”
“Just terrible, the life you lead,” Aziraphale agreed. “In a cold, drafty house, hardly a blanket for your bed. Nothing to keep out the cold.”
“Mmph.” Aziraphale was teasing, and it wasn't his fault that he'd hit on some bad memories. Hell was dank and cold, and honestly, so had most of human history above a certain latitude been. Not always a good time or place for a demon with cold blood. Crowley firmly told all those times he had been cold and miserable to go jump in a lake, and instead laid his head on Aziraphale's shoulder, gazing up at him. When had the angel last been goofy? This was to be encouraged.
“It's utterly dreadful,” he agreed instead. “Unbearable. Can't imagine how you don't feel the biting cold, angel. I'm about to hibernate myself.”
Aziraphale grinned, and fed him the last bite of the bun he'd been eating, rich and dripping with sweet butter. Crowley licked a fallen dribble of butter from Aziraphale's hand, and made a show of licking his lips afterwards.
“Well, there's nothing for it,” Aziraphale decided. “We'll have to stay in bed where it's warm and read books and eat and kiss all day.”
“Isn't that rather slothful?” Crowley pointed out, suddenly extremely interested in learning if he could get Aziraphale to keep hand-feeding him. That had been – he hadn't expected to feel like that.
“Not in the least,” Aziraphale said. “That's demons all over for you, always going for the worst possible explanation. I'm being quite virtuous, you know. It's prudent to stay where it's warmest; no need to keep boiling water for pots of tea and such.”
“You're being pretty courageous about eating in bed, wouldn't want to stain our sheets,” Crowley said, even though he was the one who most consistently dribbled food on things, and most consistently miracled them away before Aziraphale could even notice.
Aziraphale popped another mouthful of sweet into Crowley's mouth, more or less as he'd hoped for. “Hush, you. I am being virtuous.”
Crowley snorted, ate his morsel, and kissed Aziraphale soundly. “Is that what they're calling it these days?”
“I'll prove it,” Aziraphale said, and cupped Crowley's jaw in his hand, leaning in to kiss him back, with rather more feeling than was usual for first thing in the morning. “But the greatest of these is love,” he murmured, and only a miracle caught Crowley's coffee as he ignored everything but wrapping himself around his angel and kissing him silly as Christmas Day dawned about them.
They did stay in bed until lunchtime, when Aziraphale started to make noises about how a few buns and butter and coffee did not a day's meal make, and even Crowley was getting a little restless. Their house was certainly warm enough that he was quite comfortable, which didn't stop him from shuffling around with their duvet around his shoulders like a cape while they got dressed.
Their local did a bang-up Christmas lunch, luckily, and they got a small table right by a crackling fire. Neighbors dropped in and out, and Aziraphale was first runner-up in a game of halfpenny shove while Crowley and the widow down the road compared notes on growing roses.
“You've got to have a firm hand with them, is what I always say,” she told him, before taking a healthy swig of her pint. “Can't have them getting ideas.”
“Absolutely,” Crowley said, dizzy with new love. Here was the lady for him. Aziraphale might have to learn to share. “I find leaving cut-off blooms about reminds them who's boss, myself.”
“Pour encourager les autres,” she agreed. “Shall I get the next round?”
“Please,” Crowley said, “Let me.”
“Picking up the ladies of the village?” Aziraphale asked with a smirk, joining him at the bar to pick up his own round. “And oh, how generous of you!”
“Shut up,” Crowley said. “I'm in love. And discouraging temperance.”
“Yes, dear,” Aziraphale said, and kissed his cheek, right over his snake tattoo. Somehow, he carried four pints and two glasses of wine over to their table, where a crowd of twitchers had formed to compare notes on the birds they'd seen that winter thus far.
Aziraphale was not the sharing type, Crowley sadly decided, and took his lovelorn heart back to discussing roses and the intimidation thereof . He'd make the angel make it up to him later.
21 It became the only plant in the household that Crowley didn't endlessly berate. A birds-nest fern became so confused and distraught it attempted to fling itself out of a window and into the bitter cold, only to be rescued by Aziraphale who carried it off to his library. When Crowley saw the plant there, he opened his mouth, only to close it when Aziraphale glared at him. The fern was left to live out its days in peace, thriving on neglect on Aziraphale's desk.[return to text]
22 He felt it was important to perhaps rein in some of Crowley's crueller threats, and maybe provide a little encouragement to the poor things. Sadly, mostly he got absorbed in what he was reading, tuned Crowley out using centuries of practice, and the plants were more terrorized than ever.[return to text]
23As they had not thought to coordinate stories beforehand, everyone who talked to Crowley just got a blank stare and a mumble about ducks, followed by something nearby promptly lighting on fire. Everyone who talked to Aziraphale got a panicked stare, something about the flu and wasn't it just dreadful this year, followed by a strange invasion of doves, eagerly pointed out to them by that nice Mr Fell. After comparing notes, there was a universal agreement to just ignore it all and assume they'd gone on a passionate vacation, which was pretty much the truth anyway. Really it's a very good thing that English villages still have an infinite capacity for your common or garden eccentric.[return to text]
Thank you for reading! Those of you in disgustingly hot climes, hope you enjoyed a little bit of winter!fic :)
Aziraphale and Crowley both change their gender presentation at points throughout the chapter. I've changed their pronouns to match, but rather like their genders, it's fuzzy around the edges.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The cold stayed, damp and biting with an added chill sea wind that couldn't even get up the strength to howl around the house – it just seeped in. Aziraphale knit as fast as he could, but he couldn't really blame Crowley when he woke one morning, poked his head out from under the duvet, gave the world a disgusted look, and transformed into a snake.
“Poor you,” Aziraphale said, and petted his snakey little head. He didn't miss Crowley when he was a snake – he was right there after all, and form didn't mean that much to either of them – but he did start to miss two-sided conversations. And he now wondered if he would miss hugs and kisses and arms coming around his tummy from behind, a sharp chin resting on his shoulder while Crowley bitched about something into his ear.
Well, maybe not the bitching part.
The snake, a good six feet long, slithered over the duvet and wound around Aziraphale's waist, over his shoulders, draping across his chest and finishing with a little tongue-flick on his ear.
“Of course I'm comfortable like this, dear,” Aziraphale said as he went back to his book. “You stay close, all right? This cold snap shouldn't last much longer anyway.” He petted the smooth scales and went about his day as ever, with the minor addition of a very large snake wrapped around him.
Crowley mostly dozed, basking in the heat of Aziraphale's body. A neighbour came to call, and Aziraphale gave him a little poke when the front door bell went. “Smaller, please, my dear. We mustn't arouse suspicion.”
Crowley took immense joy in figuring out how to side-eye Aziraphale, and was so put out that the angel didn't even notice , he shrank down to garter-snake size, curled up in Aziraphale's breast pocket, and went to sleep.
Well, first he opted to be nosy, but the neighbour was just returning some books he'd borrowed and dropping off a lovely loaf of cranberry bread. Crowley had just begun to drop off into snakey dreams when he heard Aziraphale tell the man that Crowley was away visiting his sisters and his cousins and his aunts.
Crowley was so utterly disgusted by this, he fell fast asleep for hours . It served Aziraphale right, making antiquated comic opera – the worst sort of opera – jokes.
He was rudely awakened that night when Aziraphale scooped him out of his (warm, cozy, right-next-to-Aziraphale's-heart and wasn't that the mushiest thought he'd had in some time?) pocket and settled him on a pillow.
“Oh, hush, I even made sure it was warm for you,” Aziraphale said when Crowley's tongue made a tentative taste of the air.
There was, somehow, a pregnant pause. Even though only one party in the conversation could speak, and he wasn't the one pausing.
“With a hot water bottle,” Aziraphale ground out. “Good heavens, next time you can just wait in my shirt for the laundry.”
Crowley hissed a laugh, and waited for Aziraphale to come to bed, curled up happily on his warm little pillow.
Aziraphale merely took his jacket off and put his slippers on, and settled into an easy chair, plucking the top volume off of a stack of books.
There was a strange sucking sound in the air, as a snake very quickly turned into a man.
“You're not coming to bed?” Crowley asked sadly. He was still curled on the pillow somehow, and of course was in heavy silk pyjamas. He wiggled his toes, and slippers appeared. Much better.
“Well, I thought you were staying a snake.” Aziraphale came over to the bed and kissed Crowley hello, just as if he'd been out for the day.
“So I don't need to sleep. Neither do you, actually.” Aziraphale gave him an odd look. “Why would I bother with it, without you?”
“Oh,” Crowley said, and uncurled, and reached for Aziraphale's hand. Crowley rubbed his thumb over Aziraphale's knuckles, touched his signet ring, and raised his hand to kiss the palm. “Do you want to stay up and read? I can change back to sleep. As a snake, I mean.” He thought a little about sleeping away the night in Aziraphale's lap, warm and safe in snake-dreams.
“I can read tomorrow, too.” Aziraphale turned his palm and rested it on Crowley's cheek, leaning in to kiss his brow. “I would very much like to share a bed with you tonight,” he said.
And it was this quiet statement that did Crowley in. Usually Aziraphale would look winsome and make pointed statements that were so bloody obvious you could see them from space. He cajoled, occasionally whined, and in general was extremely obvious about what he wanted from Crowley. But this softness, this hesitation , feeling out this part of who they were now, that's what wound up with them both under the duvet, Aziraphale magically in white silk pyjamas that matched Crowley's. There were even candles by their bedside, lighting the room more softly than any electrical light could.
“Oh my dear,” Aziraphale said. “You old romantic.”
“Shut up,” Crowley advised, and kissed his angel, who made a face and drew back. “Oh, sorry. I might not taste so good.” He hadn't even eaten as a snake, but some things lingered.
“No no, I just...need to get used to it.” Aziraphale laughed and kissed him back. “I do love you, Crowley. It was nice having you right there all day, just in my pocket.”
“It was nice being there.” Crowley yawned, sleepy and warm. “How long's this cold snap s'posed to last?”
“A few more days.” Aziraphale started to stroke his back, easing him to sleep. “Poor demon. Maybe we should have moved somewhere warm...”
“No,” Crowley mumbled. “Like this too much. 'S perfect for you. 'n you don't mind if 'm a snake.”
“Oh, my dear. Never. That's how I first met you, after all. There now, stop fighting it, you want to sleep so badly. I'll be right here,” he murmured. “Always right here, Crowley.”
Crowley, by then, was fast asleep.
The cold lingered a few more days, and Crowley obstinately stayed a snake, and mostly asleep at that. Days, he draped himself over Aziraphale, and Aziraphale obligingly stayed mostly before a fire, or in some other warm corner of their house. At night they went up to their bedroom where Aziraphale read in an easy chair and Crowley curled up in a snake-pancake on his lap and dreamed through the winter days. Often, there was a hand on him, stroking scales along his spine or on the top of his head and, from time to time, a soft kiss laid just between his eyes. He tried to wake up those times, and dart a tongue out to touch Aziraphale, but he knew he didn't always manage it. Well, more excuses to touch and hold and taste when he was human again.
The cold broke with a sunny day that suggested that perhaps, maybe, somewhere, summer might exist again. Crowley celebrated by slithering onto the bed, stretching out, and transforming right there.
“Breakfast, angel?” he asked, when Aziraphale hadn't looked up for his book in whole seconds.
“Hmm? Oh, yes. Oh, Crowley!” Aziraphale smiled at him. “How beautiful you are, darling.”
Crowley stretched, arching her body on the neat duvet, and grinned over at Aziraphale. She wore a very short skirt and a very tight top, and very warm tights that made her legs look very long.
Aziraphale came over and sat by the side of bed, leaning in for a kiss. “Do you want to stay here?” he asked indulgently. “I can run ahead and light the fire downstairs for you.”
Crowley shook her head and sat up, snuggling easily into Aziraphale's arms. “No, it's warm again. Warmer, at least. And I want to be in the kitchen with you.”
“Then you shall, of course,” Aziraphale said, and kissed her sweetly. “Welcome back to a human body, love.”
The endearment sent a thrill all through Crowley's body, and she thought she might revert back to snake for a moment, all out of self-defense. Possibly she started to – there was definitely a shudder in the universe, and Aziraphale's arms tightened around her.
“Crowley, are you all right?”
“You called me love,” Crowley said, and swallowed. “Sorry, sorry. It's nothing, let's go get breakfast, yeah?”
“It is not nothing,” Aziraphale said firmly, and he slipped his arms around Crowley's waist, pulling her in for another kiss, softer this time. “I love you. That's quite a big thing.”
Crowley batted at him. “You know what I meant,” she grumped. “ Love .” Huh, see how the angel liked it.
The angel liked it by getting a little teary-eyed, and taking Crowley's hands, and kissing the palms, then the wrists, lips lingering over pulse points for long breaths, until they both had calmed down a little.
“You're a very bad influence,” Aziraphale said. “Breakfast. Now. I'm absolutely famished.” He pulled Crowley up and they went downstairs hand-in-hand, the stairway obligingly rearranging itself to be wide enough for both of them.
They flirted over a pot of coffee and a bowl of muesli, then repaired to the living room to flirt some more. Crowley stretched out, head in Aziraphale's lap, and grinned winsomely up at him.
“Cute,” Aziraphale declared, and tapped Crowley's nose.
“Four-letter words again, angel. You know how I feel about those,” Crowley said, attempting to be demonic and threatening, just like she'd been back at Tadfield Hall. She didn't have the same advantages as she had then, but Crowley-then hadn't gotten kisses and warm mugs of coffee and cream, so maybe it all worked out.
“Yes, dear,” Aziraphale said, and got Crowley shifted so that she was still in his lap, but they could curl up together a little better. Crowley was so put out at having to sit upright that she traced every line of Aziraphale's face with soft fingertips, and kissed his eyes, and whispered soft words in his ear that were only for the two of them.
“Crowley, tell me true,” Aziraphale said, sometime later. “May I call you my love?”
Crowley gave a full-body shiver, and a cloud passed over the sun. She glared out of the front window, and it hurried past, bathing the room in sunlight again. “I. I – want you to.” She buried her face a moment in Aziraphale's shoulder. “I shouldn't...fall apart, when you say nice things to me.”
“Why?” Aziraphale asked. “I fall apart when you say nice things to me.” He smiled weakly when Crowley pulled back to glare at him, narrowing her eyes. “I'm just better at hiding it. That can't possibly be a surprise to you. That I can...lie to us both.”
Crowley sighed, cupped his face in her hands, and kissed him. “No wonder it took us six thousand years. We're both unbearable.”
Aziraphale laughed and hugged her tight. “Well, yes. I'll try to be gentle with you, Crowley. I promise.”
Eventually, Crowley went to check on her plants to see how badly Aziraphale had spoiled them, while Aziraphale worked away at Crowley's jumper, nearly done now but for finishing off a sleeve.
She came back having whipped a fiddle-leaf fig into shape and bearing a cup of tea for each of them. Aziraphale took his with sincere thanks, and some admiration for Crowley's experimentation with secondary sex characteristics. “Very beautiful,” he assured her, kissing the swell of her breast. “You do do gender so well, my dear.”
“Thank you,” Crowley said, all but purring under Aziraphale's attentions. “I try.” She kicked back on the other sofa, stretched her legs out, and admired the effect of her body against the dark velvet. She didn't really have to work to tempt Aziraphale, but it was nice to keep in practice. “Have you ever gone over lady-ish, angel?”
“Rarely,” Aziraphale said, and Crowley felt something in the universe shift. She sat up, truly curious now.
Aziraphale was still neatly dressed in his usual antiques. But now they fitted to her waist and flared out around lush hips and bust, turning slightly frumpy into dapper. Aziraphale's face was all but unchanged, beautiful from her hazel eyes to a wide mouth made for smiling, though her platinum hair was longer, pulled back in shining braids looped around her head.
“Whaargarbl,” Crowley managed. “Oh, blimey, angel. Don't do that too often, you'll break all the humans.”
Aziraphale laughed. “Stop it, demon.”
“I mean it! Satan's balls, Zira, you're beautiful.”
Aziraphale laughed harder, but let herself be kissed by the sudden demon in her lap, and kissed back eagerly, the two of them pressed together.
“It's not my thing, really,” Aziraphale said, even as she blushed, and smiled at Crowley. “Stop it, you're making me self-conscious.”
“I'm sorry,” Crowley said. “It's just – I've never seen you like this before.”
“Do you like it better? Than my usual?”
“Of course not, you dockle,” Crowley said. “I can feel you getting itchy, having to have a gender. But thank you. This is a beautiful gift.”
Aziraphale smiled and kissed her, and Crowley felt her change, just a little, back into comfortable old Aziraphale.
“Ahh,” he sighed, and stretched a little, and cracked his neck.
“My southern pansy,” Crowley said fondly, and made sure Aziraphale knew full well just how pretty Crowley thought he was in any form.
24 Well, it tried to. A simple meteorological event shouldn't be able to feel shame, but the thin stream of damp, cold air that had found a crack in the conservatory and was doing its best to kill a vast calathea Crowley had reared from a cutting learned, to its dismay, that it definitely felt shame when faced down by a very annoyed angel. One with weatherstripping in one hand and a Basics of Home Repair manual in the other.[return to text]
25 Crowley pointed out that it tasted like birdseed, and basically was birdseed. Aziraphale couldn't entirely disagree, but it had been his gift from his knitting circle's Secret Santa, and anyway, anything with that much fiber had to be good for you, even if you were an ethereal being.[return to text]
Thank you for reading! I'm trying to get an informal fund drive off the ground, in honor of Michael Sheen's work with the Homeless World Cup. Please check it out, donate if you can, and signal-boost: https://dietraumerei.tumblr.com/post/186641006003/wing-up
- Writing them as femme is my favourite thing I've written in some time, possibly ever. I love that passage.
- I noted this on Tumblr, but 'accidentally writing deeply romantic femslash' is probably not a problem Joan Didion has. In counterpoint, Joan Didion has probably never googled 'michael sheen bright young things' to get some reference images for how to best describe his face but femme. So I'mma call this a draw.
- 'his sisters and his cousins and his aunts' is an HMS Pinafore reference: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bLIyWcxPlEU because OF COURSE Aziraphale loves Gilbert & Sullivan.
- thank you for your comments and kudos!
As winter turned to spring, Aziraphale got Ideas. Inevitably.
He had just gotten out of the bath, and felt pink and warm and new-made as the dawn. And, apparently, quite sentimental. He made sure to land hard when he flopped on their bed, giving the mattress a little extra bounce to wake Crowley up.
“Gnrrr,” Crowley said, and rolled over.
Aziraphale chased him, in an entirely new definition of 'chase' which was to roll over himself and mold his body to Crowley's skinny back, one leg thrown over his hips and an arm coming around to rest his palm over Crowley's heart. There, now Crowley was little spoon, he'd like that.
“Hmmm,” Crowley said happily, snuggling into Aziraphale's body. “Y'r nice.”
“I am not, I'm bribing you,” Aziraphale said.
“I'll make you coffee in a minute, gimme...gimme...time,” Crowley yawned, and did not move one solitary inch.
“Oh, not for coffee,” Aziraphale assured him. “I already made a pot.” He nuzzled the back of Crowley's neck, kissing where hair faded into pale skin. “I want to have sex.”
“What?” Crowley said, waking up in record time.
“Oh, with you, my dear,” Aziraphale assured him. He'd left that bit out, silly old thing that he was sometimes.
“Yes, angel, I'd guessed that part!” Crowley rubbed his eyes and blinked, craning his neck around to actually look Aziraphale in the face.
Aziraphale noticed that his yellow irises stayed wide, gold as the dawn, and he smiled and kissed right between Crowley's eyes. “I love you.”
“I need...” Crowley went through a mental checklist that started with 'coffee', took a quick journey through their liquor cabinet, and then got quite entirely lost. “A moment,” he said finally. “Just...give me a moment, angel. Waking up and all.”
“Of course,” Aziraphale said cheerfully. “I didn't mean have sex right this moment. Just, soon. If you want,” he added.
Crowley took his moment, and then a little more. When he felt like he could maybe face the world again, he opened his eyes, rolled over, and finally noticed that Aziraphale had exactly no clothes on.
“You sure you didn't mean right now?” he teased, resting one hand on his angel's hip. “You're gorgeous, by the way. You should wear nothing more often.”
Aziraphale laughed and blushed, so easily pleased with a compliment that Crowley made a mental note to up his rate of flattery. He couldn't even lie to himself about encouraging sin; Aziraphale was just so...himself, about it all.
“I'm sure I didn't mean right now,” he said. “I've not even made an Effort, darling. Also, we should have a good breakfast. Set us up for the day and all.”
Crowley snuggled himself up to his very favourite body in the whole world. It wasn't that Aziraphale was particularly ashamed of being nude, or anything strange and human like that, he just...wasn't. Not nearly enough, anyway. “After breakfast then?”
“So you don't mind? I mean, you want to?” Aziraphale asked. “Only – have you done it before? Had sex, I mean.”
“No, but how hard can it be?” Crowley asked sensibly. “And humans seem to bloody love it. We should at least give it a try.”
“Exactly.” Aziraphale gave a final stretch, then got up and put on a robe, much to Crowley's verbal despair. “Oh, hush, it's still chilly downstairs.”
Crowley emitted a whine, but let Aziraphale extract him from the bed and drag him down to their kitchen.
Everything was fine, even a bit exciting, until the last bit of toast had been buttered and eaten, and all was crumbs, bits of egg stuck to forks, and uncertainty.
“Well.” Aziraphale fiddled with the edge of his robe.
“Huh. Hm.” Crowley fidgeted with his coffee cup.
“I guess...we...go to bed?” Aziraphale hazarded.
“Bed! Yes! Beds are very important for sex!” Crowley was getting the sinking feeling that he might be the household expert on human sexual relations, which was completely horrifying any way you looked at it. “Comfortable. Big. Bouncy. Kind of thing.”
Aziraphale nodded, desperate for anything that got them a little closer to actual experimentation with actual sex. “After you, my dear,” he said, and so Crowley preceded him up the stairs.
Aziraphale racked his brains as they went to their bedroom. There should be...more? He thought?
“Roses!” he said suddenly, stopping mid-climb.
“Roses?” Crowley asked over his shoulder.
“For you. I should. Give you flowers. Roses. 's tradition?” Aziraphale offered weakly.
Crowley scrubbed at his hair. “It's...March?” he said. “The ones out front won't be in bloom for months.”
Aziraphale rolled his eyes, and pulled a bouquet of blood-red and white roses out of the air. “You're the one that always goes on about how I don't do real magic.”
“Oh.” Crowley accepted the bouquet. “Oh. I. Thank you?”
Aziraphale cleared his throat. “Maybe I should have waited until we got to the bedroom.” They were, after all, still only halfway up the stairs.
“Bedroom. Right. Bed.” Crowley started up, roses clutched in one hand. This time, they made it to the bedroom, and even all the way to sitting on the bed.
Aziraphale gave Crowley a desperate look. “I have no idea what to do.”
Crowley blinked. “Well. Uh. None ?”
“Well, I know the mechanics,” Aziraphale said waspishly. “I've lived with animals before.” He paused and thought a moment. “And a number of uninhibited humans, for that matter.” He groaned, and flopped onto his back. “Roses. All I can come up with is bloody roses.”
“And they're beautiful,” Crowley offered, gently setting them to the side. “No one's given me flowers before, angel. Thank you.” He moved to sprawl on his side next to Aziraphale, and rested one hand over Aziraphale's heart. “I don't think there's one way,” he said. “I know there isn't. So we'll just do it our way.”
Aziraphale gave him a tentative smile. “Our way. All right. I like that. Come closer, I want to kiss you, love.”
Crowley's arms gave out at the endearment as Aziraphale had hoped, and he caught his demon lover easily, capturing Crowley's mouth in a kiss. This was familiar ground, at least.
They kissed a long time, tasting each other, getting comfortable. Pressing kisses to familiar skin, whispering love-words, building up courage for the unknown. Finding comfort in each other, in being in this together.
“Really, you've never?” Aziraphale asked. “I thought that was kind of demons' thing.”
Crowley shrugged. “It can be? I always had more fun with other temptations.” He grinned. “Like cake.”
Aziraphale pinched him. “Well, you're the one that's got the fruit of those temptations before you.”
“I know,” Crowley said gleefully, and dipped down to kiss Aziraphale's tummy. “I love you.”
“I love you too,” Aziraphale said, stroking Crowley's hair. “Oh, I s'pose I ought to make an effort.”
“It does make things easier,” Crowley agreed, and held his angel while he took a moment. “May I undress you?”
“If I can undress you,” Aziraphale said, and they set about getting in each others' way but eventually, finally, winding up naked on their sleep-mussed duvet.
“Oh,” Crowley whispered, and rested his brow against Aziraphale's chest. He'd touched Aziraphale. In places he'd never paid much attention to before, but it had been such a careful thing, to untie his robe. To slip it off of his shoulders, pulling the heavy silk away from his waist and to see his angel in full sunlight, kiss-pinked lips and all. “Oh, I didn't know. That you were so. Angel, you're so beautiful.”
“Then I must be a mirror, reflecting your beauty back to you,” Aziraphale murmured, his hands flat and wide against Crowley's back, tracing the bumps of his spine. Why had they always worn clothes? Clothes were terrible, they hid sharp lines and planes of a beloved body, and they covered skin that needed to be caressed and kissed and held gently. “My darling, I can't – you're mine. Truly? Am I this lucky?”
Crowley laughed and kissed Aziraphale's chest, all his to map. “Luck, my arse. 'm yours though, like you're mine.”
Aziraphale made a small noise at that, and his legs moved, tightened around Crowley's. “Let me see you again, my dear. All of you.”
They parted, a little shy, and smiled at one another.
“Oh good,” Aziraphale said happily. “I did want to do it this way first.”
Crowley reached between Aziraphale's legs and smiled at what was there. “When you bother to have a sex, you do do it well, Zira.”
Aziraphale laughed, and put his hand on Crowley's Effort, feeling very bold and...sexy. It was a new feeling. “Thank you, my dear. I wanted to start with – well, the word means sheath. I should very much like to hold you, be your scabbard.”
“The cup and the rod,” Crowley murmured, leaning in for a kiss. “Those Golden Dawn types were weird, but maybe they were on to something...”
Aziraphale gave a little gasp as Crowley's clever fingers twitched in just the right place. He lay back, not breaking the kiss, and spread his legs, grateful for his lover's slim hips. This would be harder on Crowley when they swapped – he'd have to remember that, to be gentle and easy with him. Aziraphale thought it might be the easiest thing he'd ever done.
“Oh my dear,” Aziraphale purred, when they'd both finished the first of what he was pretty sure were a series of experiments. “That was delicious.”
“You're delicious,” Crowley said, and it wasn't a metaphor. He kissed Aziraphale and they laughed, tasting new things in his mouth.
“I love you so,” Aziraphale said, cuddling his lover – his lover! – close. “Swapsies?”
“The romance is killing me here,” Crowley said dryly, but he also changed the particular type of Effort he was making.
Aziraphale laughed and tumbled him over, diving between his legs, gob already open and ready. He knew very well what Freud would have thought of him, and didn't care a jot. Not when Crowley was already making those noises.
It was only by pure force of will that Crowley held off the screaming from the first warm touch there . Good Go- Sa- anyone , it was a miracle the humans had ever done anything other than this. Then again, a tongue that had spent six thousand years finding every delicious edible on Earth and eating it soon after was a tongue of very special talent, he thought. And then he couldn't think at all.
They played the day away like that, changing their Efforts to try new things. Aziraphale proved to be very creative, as Crowley learned when they sorted themselves out for yet another round.
“Greedy angel,” Crowley observed, hand resting on the curve of Aziraphale's tummy. “Honestly. 'I'll have one of everything' not just for the dessert cart anymore?”
“Certainly not,” Aziraphale said, very proud of himself.
Crowley heaved a sigh and clambered over Aziraphale's thighs, sinking down very, very slowly and ignoring how his legs trembled. They'd really been at this for quite some time, not that he was complaining.
Quite the opposite.
When imagination was sated, not to mention it was time for dinner, they lay close in the centre of the bed, facing one another. Crowley had magicked up a box of chocolates and was greatly enjoying feeding them to Aziraphale, pressing each sweet to his lips. When he was very lucky, he got his fingertips licked clean.
“Oh, what a nice day,” Aziraphale sighed. “You're a wonderful lover, my dear.”
“So're you,” Crowley assured him, and leaned in for a kiss. “I had a lot of fun.”
“Me too.” Aziraphale stretched luxuriously, giggling when Crowley ran an admiring hand up his side and it tickled. “I don't quite get the human urge to start wars over it, mind. But I suppose that's them and we're us.”
Crowley nodded. “It's a nice way to pass a rainy afternoon and all.”
“Mmm. Anything with you is a nice way to pass any kind of afternoon,” Aziraphale said.
“You're drunk on orgasms,” Crowley said, and picked up the next chocolate. “Here, this one's got champagne in it.”
Aziraphale giggled and ate his chocolate. “I am not drunk. I'm just happy. And I meant it. I like you, Crowley. I mean, I like to do things with you. Let's go for a drive tomorrow? Anywhere you want. I promise I won't scream too much.”
“You're going to spoil me, angel,” Crowley said, like he wasn't already full up with gifts he didn't deserve. He had his very own Aziraphale, who loved him so completely.
Crowley was filled with the urge to tell the whole world 'neener'. He'd have to plot a bit to figure that one out, but in the meantime, he'd get to drive as far and fast as he liked, Aziraphale by his side. Crowley'd have to make sure he screamed a little – else what was the fun? Besides, the grumpy kisses when he got them home safely were some of his favourites.
For what it's worth, I headcanon them as being asexual and sex-positive. Or at least curious and up for a rainy-day past time that doesn't require getting out of bed.
Thank you for reading!
Oh gosh, it's so nice that they've retired to a quiet life and nothing worrisome will ever happen to them again, isn't it??
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The first truly warm day of spring found Crowley and Aziraphale in their garden, sat on the bench under the apple trees. Well, Aziraphale was sitting; Crowley had kind of draped himself over both the bench and Aziraphale.
They were resting after their work in the garden. The apple trees had blossomed with huge, fragrant blooms that covered the trees and promised a rich harvest that autumn. Aziraphale had spent the winter bent over seed catalogues and a map of the back garden, drawn very carefully to scale. There had been muttering and biting of pencils, circled heirloom varieties and anxious discussions with various more-or-less terrifyingly competent members of the Garden Club over whether they would have too much shade.
The one who'd suggested cutting down an apple tree had been shown the door so swiftly, he still didn't know what had hit him. Also, squirrels had eaten every single bulb he'd planted last autumn. Just dug them up and taken a hearty bite out of them. Damnedest thing.
Seeds and seedlings were selected, started and planted, and the garden held a promise for the coming year. Everything was coming along nicely, and Aziraphale petted and stroked Crowley's hair with one hand, reading aloud to him from Mother Shipton.
He had just read the passage predicting the coming of the 'haeric star', and they reminisced a little about Guillaume le Batard. They had both been there, of course.
“The fens were beautiful, in their own way,” Aziraphale mused. He'd set up shop in a surprisingly, one might even say miraculously, cozy little house, and ministered to those who came through. There were fewer and fewer of those, as Guillaume's men carried out his cruel commands. The forest had been eerily silent, and he shivered a little at the memory, and buried his fingers in Crowley's hair. Better to admire the way it caught the sunlight, then to remember those stark years. “But it was good to come back to London.”
“Always good to go there,” Crowley agreed. “I was with them, of course. The Normans.”
Aziraphale nodded. “I always wondered why you never showed up at my door, though.”
“Was in a different part, I guess,” Crowley said. He swallowed hard. “They were nasty ones. Didn't want 'em to find you.”
“Thank you, my dear,” Aziraphale murmured.
“Anyway, I ditched 'em pretty soon. Beat you back down south,” Crowley muttered. Telling Aziraphale his whole heart was new, and sometimes awfully hard.
He had forgotten, somehow, that Aziraphale could read between the lines. That he knew Crowley would have been disgusted by the killing, the way lands were seized and farm burned. They had killed kids, and everyone else too.
Aziraphale read all of this in a few muttered words, and set his book aside. “Sit up, I want to kiss you.” He helped Crowley to shift upwards a bit, and immediately leaned in, one hand cupping his jaw, and kissed him.
Crowley's arms came around him and they pulled a little closer together, took their time, kissed lazy and sweet in the dappled shade of new leaves.
“I love you,” Aziraphale murmured, pulling Crowley closer. Making sure they were both very firmly in the present, where birds were singing and their garden was planted, and they would be here for the harvest.
“Love you, angel,” Crowley said, nuzzling Aziraphale's curls, kissing his temple. “Zira.”
“Shhh, I've got you,” Aziraphale said, being just as there as he possibly could, as much himself. Poor thing – sometimes the past got a little close.
He held Crowley and kissed him and was kissed in return until they were both smiling again, the little storm over, and Crowley was back in his lap, all but purring as Aziraphale scritched his scalp.
“Growing your hair out?” Aziraphale asked. Hints of curls were starting to appear, and the longest locks were below Crowley's ears.
“Mmmhmm. You like?”
“I love,” Aziraphale assured him, and he did. “Grow it very long, please? I want to braid it for you. And it's so beautiful when you get curls in.”
“I'll grow it long,” Crowley promised. He had planned to stop around shoulder-length, or maybe play with different cuts, but now he wondered just how quickly he could get away with growing it down his back without arousing suspicion. Well, the neighbours were pretty polite, and he'd worn a hat most of the winter. He added another inch, just to hurry things along.
Aziraphale made a delighted sound, kissed his fingertips, and drifted them across Crowley's lips. “You spoil me.”
“Are you just figuring that out?” Crowley asked, blinking up at him. His sunglasses rested on the arm of the bench, just within reach if anyone chanced by, but he liked the way Aziraphale's face softened when he could meet Crowley's eyes.
“Of course not. I know I'm spoilt rotten. Just observing,” Aziraphale said cheerfully. He couldn't wait to recreate some of the more intricate braids he'd learned from Athenian noblewomen on Crowley. Or a single plait at night, to sleep in. Or – anything. They had all the possibilities in the world, after all.
It was a clear night, and they walked to their local under starry skies. A little chilly, perhaps, but that was why Crowley had his jumper.
The pub's owner had been slightly surprised to find the quality of his vintages in stock noticeably improve over the past few months, but he shrugged and put it down to the general chaos of the world, and was always happy to sell that nice couple a bottle when they came in.
There was a retired professor of Romano-British history already settled in by the fireplace, and Aziraphale made a beeline for him. They had a warm, growing friendship built entirely on vicious disagreement. Crowley had once had to separate them and carry Aziraphale out into the night slung over one shoulder. After that they had promised to keep their tones civil, at least when indoors, and so were permitted by respective partners and management to keep at their favoured past time.
Crowley, glass in hand, made sure Aziraphale was well-watered (so to speak) and turned to his usual past times, namely wandering about from conversation to conversation, occasionally joining in on a game of darts, and generally not creating too much trouble. Wouldn't do to be banned from here; it would be like being banned from the village itself.
After all, they were settling in. Belonging. Different than how they'd belonged to London for all these centuries. It was interesting.
Above all else, of course, they belonged to each other. They orbited one another like twin stars, mostly each doing their own thing, but connecting regularly. Crowley refilled his glass from the bottle, or Aziraphale drifted over to touch his arm, simply to be beside him. And then the dance of the night took them apart again, until it was time for home.
They walked home together arm in arm, first seeing the retired professor to his bungalow, and then setting off for their own little cottage. The night was chilly, and Crowley pressed close to Aziraphale's heat, hand tucked into the crook of his arm.
“It'll be warmer from tonight,” Aziraphale comforted, patting his hand.
“Mmm. That's nice.” Crowley considered this in his sleepy brain. Cool weather meant snuggling up to his angel in all his forms. Warm weather...probably meant the same, actually. Just he'd be more awake to enjoy it, and less likely to turn into a snake without really meaning to. The thought brightened him the last few steps home.
Aziraphale got him inside and upstairs, and even undressed him the old-fashioned way. He got Crowley under the covers, and kissed his forehead. “I'll be right back, darling. Just going to make up a hot water bottle for you.”
“Y'r my hot water bottle,” Crowley whined, reaching out with sudden strength and pulling Aziraphale down onto himself.
“Well, then, a hot water bottle for me,” Aziraphale said, and kissed him again. “Won't be a minute, there's my love.” He was okay with playing dirty with endearments when A) he was telling Crowley how loved he was and B) it got him his way. As it did just then.
Puttering around their kitchen, Aziraphale boiled a kettle and carefully poured it into the hot water bottle. The season really was turning; it would be months again before he could perform this little ritual. Before he would get into bed and Crowley would immediately curl around him, a very skinny lump under the duvet. Best enjoy every moment of it.
Aziraphale took off his dressing-gown and hung it by his side of the bed. He slid the warm bottle in first, a peace offering, and Crowley of course hugged it to his chest.
“Aziraphale,” he demanded, one eye cracking open.
“Oh, well, if you insist,” Aziraphale said primly. He slipped under the covers and gathered Crowley close, urging him to rest his head on Aziraphale's chest. It didn't take much urging.
“Do love you,” he whispered. He didn't much feel like sleeping, but it would be a sweet night, to lie here and daydream a little, and watch Crowley sleep.
“Love you, angel,” Crowley murmured, shuffling around so he was comfortably wrapped around Aziraphale. “Don't leave me.”
“Oh, dear heart.” Aziraphale swallowed hard. Crowley must be talking about just this night. Surely he knew...yes, he must just be asking Aziraphale to stay in bed, to not go to his books. He must know that there was no need to ask this of Aziraphale. The wine – the last of the wine was going to his head. “Of course not. Hush now, go to sleep. I'll always be right here.”
Crowley sighed, and went heavy and limp, and Aziraphale set about memorizing every sensation, every tiny detail of Crowley asleep on him.
He concentrated so thoroughly on this, he didn't even hear the letter that was pushed through their mail slot in the wee hours of the morning.
26 Not a metaphor. Poetic parallels gave Crowley indigestion.[return to text]
27They did both enjoy a spot of fiction, and Aziraphale's collection was still second to none in the world.[return to text]
28 Aziraphale pulled Crowley over to a small circle of women from the WI about as soon as they got in, to proudly show off his finishing technique. Crowley was very polite, and very amused as a farmer's wife pawed him over and Aziraphale...didn't loom, exactly. He was not the looming type. But he definitely disapproved.
Crowley was so charmed in fact, and also impressed by her cheek, he kissed the back of her hand and got a smack on the arse from Aziraphale. It was their best night out in weeks . [return to text]
29 Aziraphale was banned from playing darts, for reasons not worth mentioning. At least, if you asked him . [return to text]
(Sorry this one is a bit short! It just...set everything up really well.)
The 'haeric star' is taken from Paul Kingsnorth's The Wake. It's 'hairy star' in the shadow tongue he developed; a comet. (Pretty much all of that passage about the fens and the coming of the Normans is from The Wake. It is an extraordinary book.)
Crowley was the one who saw the letter first, on his way out to explain to the lilies how they had disappointed him over the winter. Aziraphale was reading in the little window seat that looked out over said lilies, trying to buck them up a bit. “He's an old softy, really,” he had whispered, taking his place. Admittedly, not to members of the kingdom Plantae, but still.
“Huh, what's this?” Crowley asked, bending down and reaching for the small letter.
Aziraphale looked up, frowning, and his face transformed as he sensed –
“Crowley, no, don't touch it!”
Too late, though; Crowley had picked up the letter, though not for long. His fingertips burned with holy fire and holy pain, and he couldn't stop a short, sharp scream as he dropped Heaven's missive.
Aziraphale was by his side in moments, taking Crowley's burned hand in his. It was terrible to look at, so he didn't, instead closing his hands around Crowley's, kissing the very tips of his burned fingers, healing as fast as he was able.
“Oh, darling,” he breathed, and pulled the still-shaking demon to him, holding him while they both took a moment.
“Bloody hell, you'd think they could put some clue on it,” Crowley muttered. “Ow.”
“They did, but you can't feel it,” Aziraphale said grimly. “Bastards. Let me see your hand, my dear.” He examined it carefully, but of course his healing had done a thorough job. He kissed Crowley's palm anyway, just because. “Does it still hurt?” he asked, making doubly sure.
“No, of course not. But, angel, what the hell did they send? Doesn't seem like Heaven to enter friendly correspondence.”
“I don't know, you should see Gabriel's Christmas letter,” Aziraphale said grimly. He finally, reluctantly, released Crowley and picked up the letter himself.
Aziraphale broke the seal and read the angelic words, not sparing an eye-roll for the uncalled-for level of drama.
Crowley peeked over his shoulder, but the flaming letters gave him an instant headache, and he couldn't read the language of the angels anymore anyway.
Aziraphale looked up and batted him away. “Will you stop?” he scolded, and held a fingertip to Crowley's temple, soothing the headache away. “Go and sit, I'll tell you what it is. I promise.”
Crowley threw himself down on the windowseat, ready for a very good sulk, while Aziraphale read.
“Ugh, just greeting me is half the bloody thing,” he grumped. “To the honoured principality yes yes I know who I am, get on with it.” He quickly fell silent, though, his face settling into a stony expression. It was so foreign on him that that, more than the whole angelic letter burning skin headache thing, made Crowley's blood run cold.
Aziraphale got to the end, hissed, and snapped his fingers. The whole letter went up in flames, a bright flash that didn't even leave ashes. “ Bastards .”
“What is it?” Crowley demanded. “What do they want? What do we need to do, angel?”
Aziraphale stalked over to Crowley, grabbed his face in his hands, and gave him a searing kiss.
“We get those pansies into the windowboxes,” Aziraphale said grimly. “I have to go and tell Michael where she can get off. Thinking she can recall me. No one recalls me, not anymore, and certainly not her.”
Crowley was frozen in place, processing the kiss and the words. Aziraphale was already away and packing a weekend bag when Crowley stalked into their bedroom.
“First, that was dirty play,” he said. “Don't do that again. Second, we are going. Not you, not by your bloody lonesome.”
“Crowley, don't be silly. Besides, the pansies...”
“The hell with the pansies,” Crowley said. He pulled Aziraphale away, took his hands, made him look Crowley in the eyes. “I'll plant you window boxes-full every spring for the rest of our lives. I'll grow you a field of them. But don't shut me out, angel. Don't go off on your own. Don't...leave me.”
Aziraphale's jaw worked. “Crowley, I have to go to Heaven for this. I can use the circle in my bookshop.”
“Then let me come with you as far as I can,” Crowley said. “Please. Please, angel. At least – look. I can make sure nothing gets burned down. Again.” I can catch you if you Fall, he very much did not say.
Aziraphale wavered. “But you're safe here.”
“Really? From heaven? From Her?” Crowley shook his head. “Safe's a lie. And it's no good. What's the use of being safe, without you? Bollocks to that. We do this together, or we run off to Alpha Centauri. Your choice.”
Aziraphale's hands shook. “No running away,” he managed, and he went into Crowley's arms. “I can't keep you safe. Love, I can't keep you safe . Not until – this will. I think. If I do it right.”
Crowley managed to not turn into a snake or fall over. Now was not the time . “I'll keep me safe,” he said. “I promise. When you come back, I'll be right there. Drinking your wine and not reading your books.”
Aziraphale managed a smile, face pressed into Crowley's shoulder. “I love you. I don't want to do this without you. I never did. Any of it. But both our sides would have destroyed you.” He laughed, a sad and ugly sound. “Also I was a coward.”
“Pretty sure you're not s'posed to be mean to angels. Must be some Bible verse against it,” Crowley said gently. “So stop.”
“Crowley, you're mean to angels all the time. Gabriel, for a start.”
“Well, he deserves it. You don't.” Crowley tilted Aziraphale's face up and kissed him, just a brush of lips. “All right, to be fair, sometimes you do,” he amended, and Aziraphale smiled.
“If I've told you once, I've told you a hundred times, if you wanted to save that cannoli for yourself, you should have left a note,” he said.
“When you come back, I'll buy you a cannoli, I'll buy you a dozen cannoli,” Crowley said. “Just come back.”
“Oh, my dear. There's never been any question of that.” Aziraphale said, and he didn't look pleasant. “Michael's clever, but I'm cleverer. And, as you're so fond of reminding me, a bit of a bastard.”
“It's why I love you,” Crowley agreed. “When do you have to--?”
“We should drive up today,” Aziraphale said. “After we get the pansies in, please. We can have a night on the town, eat at the Ritz, everything we like best. And then, tomorrow. Dawn.”
Crowley nodded. “All right. I'll take care of the garden, you pack. Everything else will keep until Monday.” When they would both be back. Anything else was unendurable.
Crowley faintly hoped that gardening would help steady him. The pansies in their windowboxes were, obviously, an extended bad joke. But they were beautiful, jewel tones and soft colours, and they made Aziraphale happy. Which made Crowley happy. He didn't even bully them too much, as he transplanted them in the warm spring sunshine. Their little corner of the world was waking up after a long winter, but in that moment Crowley was immune to the cool soil between his fingers, the first fragrant breezes that carried distant smells of forest and chalk and sea.
He was a practical demon. He didn't have any holy water, and obviously couldn't ask for any now; Aziraphale would never . The first time had been bad enough, nearly a century of stony silence. And he believed in Aziraphale, he truly did. But he also believed in fleeting pleasures, in things he loved being taken away. He had evidence for both of these things.
Crowley wouldn't find a church, wouldn't find holy water. But if anything happened, he decided – he'd make a go of it. See if he could love the world without Aziraphale. And if he couldn't, he'd throw himself across the stars, discorporate, go up into the firmament. There he'd live out eternity, in the cold and the dark, the ever-cooling universe.
Crowley patted the last of the soil around the flowers. “I'll be back in a few days,” he hissed. “ Grow , you bastards. Grow beautiful for him.”
A nervous pansy opened a bud, and there was another flare of deep purple against the white of their windows.
Crowley narrowed his eyes. “C-minus,” he decided. “Just about acceptable.”
Intimidation done, he went back into the house to chivvy Aziraphale along, only to find him ready to go, an old Gladstone back sitting beside him.
“Will you want anything?” he asked Crowley.
“No,” Crowley said, and drew his angel into an embrace. “We'll be back in a few days at most.”
“Yes,” Aziraphale agreed, his eyes flinty in a way Crowley had never seen before. “We will.” He kissed Crowley sweetly on the cheek, and led the way out to the Bentley.
Things were almost normal as they drove back to London. Crowley went fast and Aziraphale mostly kept his eyes closed, and screamed quietly. They didn't listen to any music, neither of them being much in the mood for Queen.
London welcomed them as ever, with a traffic jam and major streets clogged with tourists. It had been like that since about 55 AD, and Aziraphale was even smiling as Crowley hunched over the steering wheel, muttering at everyone and everything around them. They were going sixty, and it was nearly relaxing.
The shop stood as it always had (minus several hours that one time a few months ago), and Aziraphale let them in, inhaling the rich, vinegar-y scent of old books and dust and a dead plant he'd forgotten about.
He allowed Crowley to take care of the dead plant, because it did make him so happy to bully them, while he went upstairs to change the bedlinens and see if they needed to run out for tea. Not that they would sleep. Or drink tea, for that matter. But he liked the ritual of it all.
Crowley found him in the bedroom just as he was finishing up, and helped him fluff and settle the duvet. He sat on the edge of the bed and tugged Aziraphale over to stand between his knees.
Aziraphale went easily, of course, smiling at Crowley's wiry arms around his hips, and encouraged him to rest his head on Aziraphale's belly. Crowley loved it when they held each other like this; Aziraphale thought it was funny, and sweet, and just generally loved being held so it was all to the good. He finger-combed Crowley's hair, admiring the deep colour, the waves that were starting to emerge as his hair grew longer.
“Do love you,” Aziraphale murmured. “I wish we didn't have to do this. But I will win.” His voice shook a little, but there was flint in the bones of the words.
Crowley nodded, and looked up. “I don't doubt you,” he said. “But --”
“I know. I feel the same way,” Aziraphale comforted him. “Budge over.” He sat beside Crowley and pulled him into a proper embrace, hands wide on his back, feeling his sharp bones and the suggestion of wings hidden away. “Crowley – I might...come back injured.” He paused, held Crowley while he trembled. “If I am, keep me here. There's...” He sighed. “I wish you could feel it, dear heart. I've loved this place for so long. It will keep me safe, help me heal.”
“I can feel it,” Crowley said in a wretched voice. “Not as good as you. But – in the way humans can, I think. I'll keep you here, love, and look after you. That bakery with the cinnamon rolls is still there, and we've plenty of tea and cocoa.”
“And you,” Aziraphale said. “I will need you, Crowley.” He smiled. “Though I guess that's not news to you. When was the first time you saved my life?”
Crowley laughed, because he was meant to, and this was better than planning for Aziraphale hurt, maybe badly, maybe near death...
He turned his mind away from future to past. “Well, there was the incident with the lion, when was that?”
“Oh, that big softy wasn't going to hurt me at all,” Aziraphale scoffed.
“Zira, he was about to bite your head off,” Crowley said.
“He was just playing.”
“Yes! And you were the catnip toy!” Crowley insisted, and was pleased when he got Aziraphale to laugh. “Honestly.”
“I don't know why you put up with me,” Aziraphale said, smiling so widely that Crowley knew he was being playful. He wasn't always, when he said things like that.
“Neither do I,” Crowley said, and leaned in for a kiss.
Aziraphale made a happy sound when Crowley's hand came up, sliding through his hair and mussing his curls.
“I love you,” Crowley said. “Come on, angel. London's out there, just waiting for us.”
“Lead on, my dear,” Aziraphale said, letting Crowley draw him up off of the bed, and pausing him for one more kiss, the both of them caught in a ray of sunlight. He let himself feel – the decades of love built into the shop and this little flat, the millennia of people making their home in this old city around a river, even more millennia of Crowley loving him.
“You can really feel how loved this place is?” he whispered.
“I can. I promise. Why d'you think we were always here?” Crowley murmured back. “Your place always felt good.”
Aziraphale nodded. “I hope you know I love you more than anything,” he said quietly. “Whatever you can feel for this place – make it infinite.”
Crowley's belly did a thing, or maybe it was his heart. “Oh, angel. Of course I know. Of course I feel that .” He kissed the tip of Aziraphale's nose. “You're acting daft. Come on, I'll buy you some cake.”
Crowley laughed, and led his angel downstairs and out into the swirl of the city. They had hours still to do whatever they liked best.
Aziraphale had two slices of cake with his coffee – minus a few bites Crowley had taken before he pushed his plate across the table, as was their usual way. They walked to the British Museum, enjoying the spring weather, and wandered their favourite galleries. Crowley used his demon wiles to get them right up in front of the Rosetta Stone so Aziraphale could read whichever language he liked best that day; he knew them all, of course. Crowley kept a hand at the small of his angel's back, and they ruined at least six tourists' photos. It was wonderful.
Of course, they dined at the Ritz. They cut a swathe through that venerable institution's even more venerable wine cellar, and Aziraphale had another slice of cake for pudding. They toasted the world, and laughed and talked of many things. They breathed in the night, and London, felt the old city down to her bones.
Aziraphale made tea when they got back to the bookshop, and Crowley put on a record, opting for Chopin, to be kind. They kissed, and talked some more, and kissed even more as the hours trickled by and it was the secret, magic time of the night.
They wound up their ongoing argument about Merce Cunningham and which side got him just before dawn. Aziraphale stood and cleared the tray with teapot and cups away, and took Crowley's hands in his.
“You'd better go up to the bedroom, darling, or go for a walk,” he said. “I don't like to think what a portal to heaven might do to you.”
Crowley looked like he'd tasted something nasty. “Walk,” he said reluctantly. “A short one. I'll come back as soon as it's safe and wait for you here.”
“I shan't be long – probably,” Aziraphale amended. He set his mouth, determined to be brave. “We can go to lunch together.”
“As you say,” Crowley said, and swallowed hard. He cupped Aziraphale's face in his hands, and just gazed at him, for a long time. “I love you. I will always love you.”
Aziraphale had rested his hands on Crowley's waist. “And I you, dear heart. No more – please.” His face crumpled a little. Here, at the end of all things, he didn't have to pretend to be brave. “Crowley, I'm so afraid.”
“I know,” Crowley breathed, pulling him into a tight embrace. “I am too. But you can do this. No one's cleverer than my angel. You're smart.”
Aziraphale nodded. “Promise you'll laugh at me when we're having lunch together? That I'm your silly, over-anxious angel?”
“Well, of course, I thought that was understood,” Crowley said. He mentally moved their lunch date back a day, not entirely sure he would be ready to let Aziraphale out of arm's reach. “Vale, angel. I'll see you on the other side.”
“I'll see you on the other side,” Aziraphale promised, and kissed him. “Go. Or else you'll get a migraine.”
Crowley got, and Aziraphale set to work. He pulled back the rug, and lit the candles, and moved a few of the closer stacks of books out of the way, for all that Crowley would be back as soon as he knew the coast was clear. Adam would probably restore his bookshop again, but he didn't want to be a bore about such things.
He spoke the words, prepared his corporeal form, and stepped into the circle and walked with angels once again.
Crowley kept his head down, trudging through the dawn-dark streets. He didn't dare go far, just kept circling the block, waiting for the burning feeling on his skin to die down. To pass the time, he made sure that everyone within a mile of him would wake up to find they'd run out of milk without noticing. He scowled at some pigeons, and made another circuit. What if something had gone wrong? What if Aziraphale couldn't get to Heaven, or Michael had just taken him?
The itch faded, and he let himself back into the bookshop. The sigil on the floor pulled a bit at his eyeballs in a distinctly uncomfortable way, like sucking on a loose tooth. Crowley put the candles out, and then put them away, and managed to get the painted mark in the floor covered over without touching it.
Scowling at the rug, he settled down on the sofa, ready to wait.
The first one wasn't so bad. It made sense, that it wouldn't happen immediately , that Crowley would plunk down and Aziraphale appear a few minutes later, none the worse for wear. So one hour was all right.
Two hours meant he made two cups of tea.
Three hours meant he poured one of them down the sink, and had taken up pacing. The bookshop was a labyrinth of shelves, easy to get lost in. Except Crowley knew every book, every inch of the place, so he couldn't get lost if he tried.
Halfway to four hours, he pulled down a book and just...left it. Paged through it, found it dull, and left it on top of a small table. Just in case. Just – if Aziraphale was taking his time. Or needed to be summoned. Something. Leaving a book where Aziraphale hadn't carefully put it always did the trick.
At four hours, Crowley set out a bottle of rioja and two glasses. “I think we deserve a celebration, angel,” he said aloud. “Before we go to lunch.”
Five hours, then six.
“We'll have dinner, then,” Crowley said, drumming his fingers on the sofa. “Never did like lunch. Terrible invention. Dinner's much better. Best spread in town. I'll take you and watch you stuff your face. I promise. Anything you want, Aziraphale. Sushi, Thai, Italian, Korean, all-of-the-above fusion. Just say the word.”
There were no words at hour seven.
Crowley lay down on the sofa and tried to take a nap. It did not work.
Hour eight. Something was wrong . Nothing should take this long. Sure, heaven had a lot of bureaucracy, but it didn't take eight hours . Something was wrong. Aziraphale wasn't coming back.
“I'll sell the cottage,” Crowley said aloud at hour nine. “To a developer. They'll tear it down in favour of a lovely modern three-storey second home for someone with money and no regard for the local colour. So you've got to come back, Aziraphale, or I'll sell our cottage and you'll never sit in the windowseat again --”
He bit his own words off, and curled up on the sofa.
“Please,” Crowley said at the tenth hour since Aziraphale had left to fight the angel Michael. “Please, darling, love, come back. I miss you. I'm afraid. I know you'll win. I believe in you. But I'm afraid. Come back, angel. Come back to me, please.”
At the eleventh hour, he talked to Her. Not for very long, and not with many words, but still.
At the twelfth hour, he lay silent, curled up on the sofa. He'd wait here, he decided. Aziraphale would come back, and no matter how long it took, Crowley would wait. He closed his eyes, hugged himself, and waited.
Thirteen hours after he had gone to Heaven, give or take fifteen minutes, Aziraphale came back.
Crowley's eyes snapped open as the air tore. The moron was just going to appear ! What if he landed in a bookshelf, or only halfway made it or –
“Oh,” Crowley said. “Oh, shit.”
Aziraphale stood just in front of the door. They were ten feet tall, clothed in shimmering white robes. A golden collar, set with jewels, lay across their chest. Their wings were spread wide, and their eyes glowed lapis lazuli. Crowley, if he squinted, could see the halo, the disc of pure light above their head.
“Crowley,” Aziraphale said, and his voice sang like bells. They took a step forward, bare foot on the floor like a hammer striking hot iron. There were flames in their robe that didn't burn. “Crowley, I did it,” they said, taking another step. “I won. I'll be here forever.”
“Aziraphale,” Crowley breathed, getting up from the sofa. This was...not quite Aziraphale's true form. It was somewhere between that and his human form, though, and it was beautiful. It was so, so beautiful.
He took a step forward, a little tentative, but Aziraphale held out their arms, a blinding smile on their face. “Oh, my dear.” Their voice sounded like bells, but also like them.
It was a blessing, every word given weight, every word holy, and Crowley all but ran across the shop and into Aziraphale's arms.
They collapsed onto the floor together, Aziraphale's long limbs coming around him, cradling him close. The kiss they laid on his temple burned, but not painfully, and he sought Aziraphale's mouth to kiss them.
Spinning rings with eyes
wings of pale hues
thousands of eyes blinking, wings moving, darting, bright against the black of space
a snake entwined in the rings
the sound of singing
the feel of wing cutting through air
eyes of ocean and nebulae
yellow snake eyes and black wings
spinning forever in the firmament
a snake trapped in the rings
or the rings held by the snake
Crowley broke the kiss with a gasp, making sure he was still in his body and not dancing with Aziraphale in the firmament. “I'm home,” Aziraphale said in that voice of bells, while Crowley held onto the familiar soul in the unfamiliar body, hard and strong as steel against him. “Everything is all right now.”
They began to change, then, body easing back into human dimensions. Limbs grew soft, though no less strong, body more solid. Holy white samite became cotton and velvet and wool, and unearthly eyes became familiar, warm and kind and maybe just a tiny bit tearful.
“Aziraphale,” Crowley said, and kissed him desperately. “Aziraphale, I love you, I love you, I knew it. I knew you could do it.”
Aziraphale laughed, tired but bright-eyed. “That makes one of us.” He smiled and kissed Crowley's cheek. “You'd think they would expect me to be a devious cheater by now, but apparently not.”
Crowley threw his head back and laughed. “I'm a bad influence!”
“I do believe you are, with your temptations and your demonic workings,” Aziraphale said with a happy sigh. “How long was I gone?”
“Half a day or so,” Crowley said. “You've missed lunch, I'm afraid. Are you hungry? I can run out to the chippy, if you don't want to go out to dinner. Though we can do that too, of course. Anything you want.”
Aziraphale smiled and snuggled up to him, head on his shoulder. “I want you, darling. I'm not hungry, though. I think I'd just like a nice cup of tea and an early bedtime. Help me up?”
“Are you hurt?” Crowley asked, concerned. He ran a hand down Aziraphale's chest, rested on one thigh. “Do you need. Uh. Anything?” He was really not made for angelic healing. Or much for human healing either, when you came down to it.
“Not hurt,” Aziraphale assured him. “Tired. I don't like fighting, Crowley. It gives me a bad taste in my mouth.”
“Well, then, that's what the tea is for,” Crowley said, and grasped Aziraphale's elbow, and helped him up.
He guided Aziraphale over to the sofa and got him settled, as relaxed as he would ever get. Crowley bustled about, getting the kettle on and heating water. He'd already washed out Aziraphale's favourite mug, the one with the angel wings of course, and pretty soon he had a nice cup of sweet chamomile, and a small tin of biscuits to go with it.
“You spoil me. Thank you, love,” Aziraphale said, nibbling on a bourbon crème while he let his tea cool a bit.
“It's just tea,” Crowley said, and lay down with his head in Aziraphale's lap. There was no point in pretending he didn't need this.
“How did you spend the day, then?” Aziraphale asked, resting his free hand on Crowley's head.
“Oh, you know,” Crowley said. “A little bit of demoning. Stuff. Here and there.”
“You took a book from the shelves and didn't put it back,” Aziraphale observed.
“I thought it might summon you back,” Crowley muttered. “In case you needed it.”
“Oh, sweetheart,” Aziraphale said, his voice impossibly tender. “We've both had a day of it.” He sighed, and drank his tea, his hand heavy on Crowley's head, one thumb just barely caressing his temple. “I'll make it up to you, I promise.”
“No, no, you don't need to,” Crowley said, sitting up and kneeling right by Aziraphale. “You fought an Archangel. And you won. You don't – you need to rest. Not worry about me.”
“Too late,” Aziraphale said kindly, but he also wrapped his arm around Crowley, and pressed their bodies together. “I love you. Stay close, will you? For a day or two?”
“Really, really not a problem,” Crowley said.
When Aziraphale finished his tea, Crowley helped him upstairs, the angel's steps unsteady with exhaustion. With a snap of his fingers he got them both into pyjamas, and tucked Aziraphale into bed, pulling the duvet up over him. It was very early, but the angel fell asleep almost immediately.
Crowley watched him for long minutes. He hoped he wasn't being creepy, just – Aziraphale was home again. Unhurt, victorious, more beautiful than words. Crowley gazed his fill in the low lamplight, and then crawled in beside him, hitting the lights.
Even in his sleep, Aziraphale moved closer, and Crowley used his best snakey skills to weave their limbs together. He indulged himself by pillowing his head on Aziraphale's chest. This way he'd hear if anything was wrong right away, he told himself, and also he could breathe in Aziraphale's scent. It was safe to sleep, with his angel so protected, so he did.
30 For once.[return to text]
31 Sharp elbows.[return to text]
Thank you for reading, and for your comments and kudos! I am particularly proud of this chapter :)
Crowley woke early the next morning, but Aziraphale was still deeply asleep, so he tried not to move around too much. Wouldn't do to wake the angel; he'd decide he absolutely had to get up, sloth is a sin and all, and he'd be bustling around the shop and doing things , and not resting. Crowley had never seen him so tired, not even after the Apoca-not. A few hours' kip wasn't remotely enough, in his opinion.
He needn't have worried; it was well into the morning when Aziraphale finally stirred, groaned and rolled over to wiggle into Crowley's arms.
“Shhh,” Crowley murmured. “You don't have to get up, angel.”
“Not.” Aziraphale blinked his eyes open, and gave Crowley a tired smile. “Good morning. I love you.”
Crowley kissed him, gentle, always gentle. “Good morning. I love you too.”
Aziraphale smiled a little wider, and got his arms around Crowley, something like a hug. “I think I will spend today in bed, dear boy. If you don't mind?”
Crowley swallowed hard. This was bad – Aziraphale was truly exhausted, if he wasn't going to get up. This was also perfect – he'd be right where Crowley wanted him most, and could take care of him and spoil him and everything he wanted most in the world. “Of course not,” he said, trying to put into his voice how very much he did not mind, how Aziraphale could stay in bed for a week and Crowley would be just as happy to be with him. “Are you hungry? I can rustle us up something.”
“Just a cup of tea I think,” Aziraphale said, his head resting on Crowley's shoulder. “In a moment. I didn't get to enjoy falling asleep with you last night.”
Crowley smiled and petted Aziraphale's hair, easing a pillow into place to give him a little more support. “No, and it was very thoughtless of you, angel.”
Aziraphale chuckled, and Crowley glowed. He'd made his angel happy. He would be keeping this a trend. After all, it was incredibly demonic to keep encouraging sloth, and of course he'd tempt Aziraphale with little treats, that was gluttony, and oh, there were probably dozens of sins he couldn't remember right now.
When Aziraphale had got his fill of Crowley – for the moment – he settled back amidst the pillows and Crowley slipped away to make a pot of tea, and also convince their favourite patisserie that it now did deliveries. Very, very fast ones.
The tea was steeped just to perfection when the box of pastries and puddings arrived, carried by a slightly startled employee.
“Oh, Crowley!” Aziraphale laughed when he saw the loaded tray. “Is this what you think a cup of tea is?”
“Yes,” Crowley said smoothly, setting it down on a handy table that had appeared just in time. “Sit up, love, you know you get hungry in the morning.” And every other time of day.
Aziraphale blushed prettily at the endearment, but he did sit up. Crowley fussed with the pillows, making sure he could lie back against them and be well-supported, and tucked the duvet close around his hips before finally surrendering a cup of tea (cream, two sugars) and a still-warm croissant.
“You must share with me,” Aziraphale told him, and broke off a bit of pastry, holding it to Crowley's lips.
Crowley ate, of course, heart shivering at being hand-fed by Aziraphale. “That's why I got two,” Crowley assured him, and broke off a slightly bigger morsel to hold to his lips. Turnabout was fair play, and he did love to watch Aziraphale eat, and sigh with joy.
Thus began a day that Crowley would remember fondly, a particular jewel in his collection of days with Aziraphale. He made pots of tea on request and sometimes just in case. He fussed over their bed; no pillow was soft enough for his angel and no duvet thick enough. He tucked Aziraphale in when he took a little late-morning nap, and woke him up with the promise of a sausage roll, cut into bites so they could share it easily. Crowley ran back and forth between the bedroom and the kitchen and the shop to find a book he could read to Aziraphale, and the whole time his heart sang. His angel was home, he'd be right as rain in no time at all, they were together, and he could do for Aziraphale to his heart's content.
Every touch, every meal, every cup of tea was met by a wide smile. Gratitude just poured off of his angel, mixed with a little amazement that Crowley was indulging him so thoroughly. “Oh, thank you dear boy,” met even the tiniest kindness. Aziraphale was speechless after Crowley read aloud to him for an hour, doing all the funny voices and making him laugh until he cried, and then tucked him in again for an afternoon nap.
“There now, sleep as much as you like,” Crowley soothed, when Aziraphale tried to apologise. “You've earned it.”
Aziraphale couldn't do anything but smile, and let his eyes drift shut.
Crowley watched him fall asleep, and wondered. About how much angels could rely on one another. About how kind they were, when you got down to it. If anyone had ever hugged Aziraphale, or told him it was all right to rest, or soothed his worries. Considering Gabriel's whole personality, Crowley guessed probably not.
He hoped it had hurt, when Michael was defeated. Something to ask about another time, though, as he got up to draw the curtains against the sun, and take the latest tray back to the kitchen. He'd set everything up so he could brew tea when Aziraphale started to wake up, and have a nice fresh cuppa waiting for him.
They had a quiet evening, of course. Mostly they listened to Radio 4 while Aziraphale lay between Crowley's legs, using him as a kind of full-body pillow, head resting on his chest. Crowley passed the hours by touching each curl on Aziraphale's head, winding it around his fingertip, until messy ringlets were perfect. Normally he didn't have this kind of focus, or patience, but it was easy to lie under Aziraphale's weight in the dark bedroom, listening to soothing voices as evening stole in.
He got a bit of soup into Aziraphale for dinner, and another cup of tea before helping him settle for an early bedtime.
“You've been so good to me all day,” Aziraphale said warmly. His voice was stronger now than this morning, his eyes brighter, and he seemed more himself, much to Crowley's relief. “Thank you, my dear. I know you wanted lunch, and to play in London.”
“I want you,” Crowley said. “Lunch, and the rest of London, will still be there. I just want – you.”
“Oh, darling.” Aziraphale pushed himself up, his usual ease of movement back, and he pulled Crowley into an embrace. “Let's go back home tomorrow? I feel so much better already.”
“Are you sure you're well enough?” Crowley asked, concerned.
“Crowley. It's three hours in the Bentley. I think I'll survive it.” Aziraphale pulled back and kissed Crowley between his eyes. “Besides, your plants will need watering.”
“Not if they know what's good for them,” Crowley said darkly. “But all right. If you still want to go in the morning, we'll go.”
Aziraphale slept deeply the night through, but he woke at his usual time, and truly did seem his old self again. Or maybe Crowley's brains were scrambled from starting his day with a very eager Aziraphale rolling into his arms and kissing him soundly. For quite some time.
He did manage to get breakfast into them, and they closed the shop and the flat up until their next visit. There wasn't much to tidy away, even with all the cups of tea.
“Oh my,” Aziraphale said, looking at the floor of his shop. “I didn't intend that.”
Crowly gave a low whistle. Everywhere Aziraphale had walked in his semi-angelic form, there were golden footprints burned into the wood of the floor. He knelt by one and hovered his hand over it. It was pleasantly warm and rather tingly, and he looked up at Aziraphale. “Might want to invest in some carpeting, angel. That's not going to buff out.”
Aziraphale groaned. “I know, I know,” he huffed. “When we're back, I'll figure something out.” He took back the Gladstone bag that Crowley had insisted on carrying, and had put down for about half a second. “Bloody angels,” he muttered, which Crowley found, somehow, absolutely hilarious.
“Well they are,” Aziraphale said as he locked the shop up.
“I'm not disagreeing,” Crowley said. Aziraphale seemed to be making up for his day in bed with extra piss and vinegar. This was going to be the best drive ever.
Aziraphale shrieked charmingly until they hit the outskirts of London, at which point Crowley looked over and saw he'd fallen fast asleep.
He frowned, and started to look for a place to pull off, just for a moment. Whatever Aziraphale had been through, he was still healing, and it made Crowley itchy.
Soon enough he came to a nice lay-by and pulled over, just long enough to unfold a blanket that had been stashed in the back seat, and tuck it around the sleeping angel, who hardly stirred.
“We'll be home soon,” Crowley murmured, and kissed Aziraphale's cheek, glad no one was around to see him be so soppy.
They were – Crowley made record time, and also fulfilled his own personal goal of having six police cars begin chasing him down at as many different points. He did slow down when he hit their village, but that was only blending it. Nothing to do with anything else.
He pulled into their little drive, and shook Aziraphale's shoulder. “Wake up, angel,” he called softly. “You can get right back to bed.”
“Mmmph. No. No, I'm awake.” Aziraphale yawned, blinked, and looked around him in surprise. “How long was I asleep?”
“Two hours or so,” Crowley said. “Come on. Nice big snuggly bed all waiting for you.”
Azirapahel smiled, and leaned in to kiss Crowley's cheek. “No, not yet. I'm fine, dear boy, I promise. Nothing a cup of tea won't set right.”
Crowley made grumpy noises, but Aziraphale actually did seem pretty chipper after they shared a cup of tea and some canoodling in their front room.
He unpacked upstairs while Crowley intimidated a new orchid and promised himself that he wouldn't hover. Aziraphale was perfectly fine. He'd come back without a scratch on him, just a bit tired. And he'd rested, and they were home now. Not that the bookshop wasn't home, it was, but this was home home, the first place they'd kissed, and Aziraphale could sleep as much as he liked and there were books and food and tea everywhere and it was okay. Everything was going to be okay.
Aziraphale found Crowley curled in on himself, halfway under a table in their conservatory, head buried in his knees.
“Oh, my demon boy,” he murmured, and knelt down by him. “Poor love. I scared you, didn't I?”
“I'm so sorry,” Aziraphale said. “But I'm home now, I promise. For good – forever.”
“Don't make me a promise you can't keep,” Crowley said in an ugly voice.
“I would never,” Aziraphale said, and he sounded so utterly offended, but in his extremely uptight way, that Crowley had to look up at him.
Aziraphale was almost twitching with indignation, and he was so...so homey . He was really a very handsome man, Crowley thought, who had just found his era of dress and found no need to change, and it read as frumpy now. And his...well, his soul was rather frumpy. Aziraphale liked bowties and doing the dishes and old books and builder's tea. All of these things rolled off of him, along with a healthy layer of 'oh, do leave me alone, no, not you Crowley'.
Maybe it was the smell of tea and wool, or Aziraphale's inherent Aziraphale-ness, but Crowley uncurled himself and crawled into his lover's arms right there on the floor amidst the bags of potting soil and spare bits and seeds.
“I would never promise you that, if I didn't absolutely know I could keep it,” Aziraphale said, just to make sure he got his point across. “No one is taking me from you. Or you from me, for that matter.”
Crowley nodded, and worked on believing. He wasn't great at it, but he'd believed in Aziraphale, and it had paid off thus far. So maybe he was getting a little better.
“I can't...tell you everything I did,” Aziraphale said slowly. “And there's bits no one should ever know. But I can tell you I fought her. Across galaxies. Fought fought.”
“You're terrible at fighting, though,” Crowley said. “You were the worst knight I'd ever seen.”
“I loathe it,” Aziraphale said. “But I wasn't really trying, when we did the whole knight thing.” He was quiet for a moment. “I lead a platoon in the. Uh. The Big One.”
“Oh,” Crowley said.
There was more quiet, filled with the sound of a countryside in spring.
“I didn't see you,” Crowley said. “I didn't fight very much.”
“I did,” Aziraphale said, very grimly. “It...it isn't a sin, but it ought to be. What I did.”
“Shut up,” Crowley said, turning and kneeling in front of Aziraphale. He clutched his angel's shoulders hard. “Shut up, shut up. Whatever you did, that's past. New world. New side.”
“Old memories,” Aziraphale snapped. He visibly took control of himself. “Never mind. They're not important.” He sighed, and rested a hand on Crowley's cheek. “You are. So I can still be a warrior, if I need to be.”
“But it's over now, and you can be my grumpy, countrified bookseller,” Crowley said. “Please. Just...be you.”
“With such pleasure,” Aziraphale said, and pulled him into a hug. “I love you, Crowley.”
“I love you too,” Crowley mumbled into Aziraphale's shoulder, holding him tight. He wondered if he could get a few more days' worth of not letting the angel out of his sight. He thought maybe so.
32 Some old habits died hard. Including being simultaneously brilliant and terrible at demoning.[return to text]
33 Though after Crowley's tip, she wasn't an employee much longer. Instead she could take three months off working, add to her portfolio, shop it around, and eventually wind up at a small high-fashion atelier.
She would own it within the decade and set off a revolution in sustainable, ethical fashion. If his bosses had cared, Crowley's would have been furious . [return to text]
Such are the chains of events we put in motion without knowing any better.
34 Sure they didn't need to eat, but Aziraphale had clearly got into the habit, and Crowley figured it would be fortifying in spirit even if not necessarily in matter.[return to text]
This chapter is everything I have ever wanted to write in my life.
(feat. bonus sustainable fashion reference!)
i just really love writing and posting this story, so please look forward to a surfeit of chapters this coming week :)
It was another week before they didn't instinctively reach for one another after just a few minutes out of sight. They usually slept holding one another; that didn't change. But Aziraphale now read wherever Crowley was, or Crowley would drape himself over a piece of furniture and find something to occupy his time while Aziraphale puttered about nearby.
Sometimes they were out of each others' line of sight for too long, like when Aziraphale pulled weeds at the far end of the garden, nearly under the hedge that bounded their property. It had only been a few minutes, but he reached back behind him, and Crowley's hand slipped into his.
“Right here, angel,” he'd murmured, and Aziraphale had sat back, and they kissed. Just a small one, just a reassurance. You're there. I'm here. We're together.
At least the terrible exhaustion had faded; Aziraphale slept and rose early and cheerfully went on rambles or worked in the garden or tidied up the kitchen with no visible ill effects. Crowley had spent a day or two on edge, pillows and blankets strategically hidden throughout their house and their teapot always clean and ready, the kettle always full. But all that happened was that Aziraphale stumbled over a cache of particularly nice floor pillows, and they made out on them while the angel teased him about snakes and nests and 'oh I'm the hedonist am I?'.
Crowley was so happy he didn't even get snitty back.
Well, not very .
Time healed, and Aziraphale and Crowley had got in the habit of letting it do so. The hot explosion of an early summer helped; it burned away the icy cold of Heaven and the firmament, the chill of waiting for a loved one you didn't know for sure was coming home.
The front garden bloomed because it was terrified not to, and pink roses unfurled their blossoms again when Aziraphale walked into the house.
One warm night, Crowley decided the roses had the right idea.
“Fancy a late-night picnic, angel?” he asked casually, like he didn't already have a basket with some chocolate bombes and a bottle of a hearty red and a thermos of tea (just in case of chilly weather) in the Bentley. Because that would be pathetic and unbecoming to a demon, even one so thoroughly head-over-heels in love as Crowley was.
“It is lovely tonight, isn't it?” Aziraphale mused. He looked thoughtful, gave a little wiggle, and Crowley knew he'd won this one. “Oh, go on then. Temptation accomplished.”
“I've got everything packed up already,” Crowley said, definitely casually, and offered Aziraphale his arm for the short walk out to the car.
“Oh, Crowley.” Aziraphale paused and kissed him. “You're the most dreadful influence. No one should be as indulged as much as I am.”
“No,” Crowley agreed. “No one else, anyway.”
“That was not my point,” Aziraphale protested, as Crowley delivered him to the passenger door.
It was a short drive and Crowley wasn't even too terrifying about it, as the car slipped through the darkness out further into the countryside. They parked in a lay-by, and Aziraphale insisted on taking the basket while Crowley could carry the blanket.
“I've got a torch somewhere,” Crowley said, fumbling in the boot. He would have to be much better organized next time, none of this doing anything with the sad light of his mobile phone while Aziraphale just patiently waited.
“Oh for pity's sake, you've also got a me,” Aziraphale said, and snapped his fingers. A dozen little lights floated about his head, something like a halo made of ultra-bright fireflies. They floated in the air for a moment, and then strung themselves out, casting just enough light to show the stile, and the path beyond it.
“And you don't even need batteries,” Crowley, who had never bought a battery in his life, said admiringly. He took his pinch like a demon, which was to say he yelped 'Ow!' and looked deeply offended and carefully examined his side for any bruising.
Aziraphale rolled his eyes and took lead, the path narrow enough that they couldn't walk side-by-side. It skirted a field of sleeping sheep, and dipped into a small woodland before re-emerging in an open field. Thick grass and clover and chamomile scented the air, and a subtle miracle from both of them ensured no stinging nettles.
Aziraphale laughed softly as he felt angelic and demonic energies working together, and he turned and pulled Crowley into a hug. “I love you.”
“I love you too, you daft old thing.” Crowley kissed his cheek. “Come on. I want to be away from the trees.” Wistful, without meaning it, “I want to just see the night sky.”
“You're so lovely in starlight,” Aziraphale murmured, and led him to the center of the field. His lights went out one by one as they settled, finally only one remaining. Aziraphale made a motion with one hand and it went out. Here in the field, away from the trees, there was just enough light to see by from the moon and stars.
“Oh,” Crowley said, disappointed. “They were so beautiful.”
“You should have said,” Aziraphale scolded. “Set out the blanket, I have a treat for you.”
“This is supposed to be my treat,” Crowley bitched, but he did lay out the blanket, and Aziraphale opened the basket and poured them each a glass of wine. They toasted one another, and drank, and Aziraphale set their glasses safely aside.
“Lie down, with your head in my lap. There, that's perfect,” he murmured, guiding Crowley into place. He loosed his demon's hair from the elastic that held it up out of his face, and ran his fingers through the thick waves. “Beauty,” he praised, and set about putting tiny points of light among the locks of hair. They didn't cast any light, just glittered in a small constellation.
“Oh, nice,” Crowley said happily, when Aziraphale showed him what he was doing.
Aziraphale worked easily in the dark, pausing now and then to have a sip of wine. Tiny stars in place, he added a small plait, Crowley's hair now long enough to really get creative with.
“Sit up, and see what you think,” he said, helping Crowley up.
Crowley leaned forward so a curtain of hair swung into his face, and delighted in his pretties.
“A few stars just for you,” Aziraphale promised, and leaned in for a kiss. “This is wonderful, darling.”
Crowley returned the kiss with interest, the taste of each other mingling with wine. Pretty soon, the kisses became more intoxicating, and they lay on the soft blanket, the stars their only ceiling.
“Would you like to...” Crowley asked, a little shy.
Aziraphale was quiet a moment, stroking his back. “I don't want to make an Effort,” he finally admitted. “But I would love to – to worship your body, darling. Please, would you let me?”
Crowley swallowed hard. “I think. That would be all right. Yes.” He pulled Aziraphale in for a fierce kiss. “Let me love you like this, though? With kisses, and touch and all that?”
“Oh, heavens, of course.” Aziraphale laughed and hugged him. “I'll even get naked too. Just.” He sighed deeply. “Ugh, gender. You know how it is.”
“More for me!” Crowley said cheerfully. “Speaking of. Any requests?”
“Demon's choice,” Aziraphale said, and kissed him through the making of the Effort. “Well?”
“Well, what?” Crowley cackled a little. “You've got to unwrap your surprise to find out what it is, lazy.”
Aziraphale sighed deeply, fetched him a gentle thump on the arse, and set about unwrapping his surprise. Never one to delay gratification, he had Crowley out of his clothes in record time. Even the skinny jeans.
“Ooooh, lovely!” he cooed, resting a hand over Crowley's sex when that was revealed. “Just like our roses.”
“Mmmhmm.” Crowley sighed and stretched, enjoying the warm pressure there, the promise of things to come. “My turn now.” He sat up and slipped off Aziraphale's coat, kissing the line on his neck where collar met skin. “Such an awful lot of layers.”
“You love it,” Aziraphale smirked. He ran a hand down Crowley's side, admiring his spare figure. “Some of us don't have the fashionable body of the era, and have to find our own way around it.”
Crowley's snort was completely inelegant. “Fashionable body my arse, you love being an unfashionable old pansy.”
“Well, obviously.” Aziraphale smiled as his pocket watch was carefully removed, and then his waistcoat unbuttoned and added to the growing pile. Crowley moved to his shoes and socks next, and Aziraphale gave a little gasp at the soft touch of kisses to first one instep, then the other. “Oh, darling...”
Crowley smiled and sat up, long limbs like spilled cream in the starlight, the tiny lights in his hair sparkling as he moved. “I love your body. Thank you for coming back to it.”
“What you wouldn't want to do this when I was was ten foot tall and radiating celestial light?” Aziraphale teased.
“You were too beautiful to be true,” Crowley admitted. “It was incredible. But this is you, isn't it?”
“Very much so,” Aziraphale said, and they paused so he could draw Crowley into his arms and give him a little cuddle. “I love this body too. And yours.”
Crowley just smiled and tucked his face into Aziraphale's neck while he got to work on the buttons of his shirt.
Aziraphale amused himself by pressing kisses to whatever part of Crowley was in reach, be it his face, or taking his hand for a moment to press kisses to the knuckles, an echo of courtly greetings, or kissing a trail down his chest. The night air was balmy against his skin, and Crowley's hands tickled a little, especially around his sides.
“I know you're doing that on purpose,” Aziraphale said, and Crowley ignored him, pushing him to lie down so as to better get his trousers off, the last few layers to add to the pile of their clothes.
Their bodies entwined under the starlight, and they fed each other wine and chocolate, giggling together and gazing up at the night sky, at millions of stars reaching up, forever and always.
“All right, darling. Time to get some use out of that Effort,” Aziraphale finally said. He rolled them over so Crowley could lie on his back and gaze up at the stars.
Well, first he could gaze up at Aziraphale, who bent over him with soft kisses, whose body so invited touch. He had so recently had to be a warrior; it was good to see him back in himself, in warm flesh and a soft tummy made for taking naps on, strong legs and gentle, square hands. Crowley would never get enough of touching Aziraphale, but he got plenty of it in then, until Aziraphale's mouth, working its way down Crowley's body, became too distracting. Until Crowley's body became too full of fire and touch and the stars in the sky and the stars his lover had put into his hair.
He moaned at the first touch of Aziraphale's tongue between his legs. His angel was so good at this, it hadn't lasted nearly long enough the last time they'd done this, and they were in the mood so rarely. Crowley could only throw back his head and ride it out, legs thrown over Aziraphale's shoulders, those firm, square hands on his thighs, and his mouth , his mouth was so good and warm--
It took a little while for Crowley to sort himself out enough to breathe again, and blink, and snuggle into Aziraphale's arms with a small, happy sound.
Aziraphale stroked his skin, soothing the last shivers away with his warm hand going down Crowley's back, over his hip, squeezing his thigh just a little, then starting over again. Crowley felt...loved. Cherished. Held. Safe. All the amazing things he had with Aziraphale, all the feelings he'd thought were lost to him forever, right here in one perfect being.
“Do you want to get dressed?” Aziraphale asked softly. “I'll help you.”
Crowley shook his head. “Not yet. You?”
“Not yet.” Aziraphale hugged him tightly. “I love you. Was that good for you?”
“It was wonderful,” Crowley promised him. “Thank you so much. I love you, Zira.” He turned so he could look up at the sky but still stay tucked very close in Aziraphale's arms. They'd have to get dressed and go home eventually, but it was hours until dawn. They had no need to rush; now or ever.
35The picnic blanket lived there permanently. For emergency purposes. [return to text]
Aziraphale braided Crowley's hair under the apple tree. It was a simple plait, a little high on his head, in hopes that this would help keep the hair off his neck.
Summer had come in full force, and they were in the middle of a nasty heatwave. Aziraphale was using his old standbys of natural fibres, plenty of shade, cool drinks, and a general angelic propensity to a stiff upper lip to survive the weather.
Crowley was using his old standby of bitching mightily and flinging himself down miserably wherever he could, in order to survive the weather. He had added 'wearing the bare socially-acceptable minimum', which he had hoped would annoy Aziraphale, but instead seemed to delight the angel entirely. Technically, Crowley supposed, this was a win-win situation, but mostly having his calves vocally admired just made him a bit self-conscious. To say nothing of his chest. Or his back. Or everything else, all of which Aziraphale had praised at one point or another.
Today's whinge had been around how his hair was very heavy and hot, and had resulted in Aziraphale threatening to dump a bucket of water on his head, and in actually dragging him out to their garden, plunking him down in front of the bench, and braiding his hair up off of his neck.
“There,” Aziraphale said, as he finished the heavy braid off. He'd taken to carrying elastics and hair grippers around in his pockets ever since Crowley's hair had grown long enough to need them. “I can put it up in a bun for you,” he offered, but Crowley shook his head.
“This is fine. Thanks, angel,” he said, lounging back against Aziraphale's legs. His seersucker trousers felt nice against Crowley's skin. “Didn't think you'd want me to hack it all off again.”
“Absolutely not,” Aziraphale said firmly. He settled his hands on Crowley's shoulders, and started to massage his neck, thumbs digging in perfectly. “Besides, the heat will break soon, darling.”
“Nghhh,” Crowley said, as something gave a little pop and a release, and his neck let go of tension he hadn't even known about.
“Goodness, what did you do without me?” Aziraphale murmured. He leaned over and pressed a kiss to the top of Crowley's head, and continued the massage.
“Was a snake,” Crowley mumbled, and groaned when another muscle released. “Oh, angel.”
Aziraphale laughed softly. “Snakes are just one long spine, aren't they? Pretty nearly? No wonder you carry all your worries here, love.”
Crowley had almost stopped shivering when Aziraphale called him that, but his overwhelming reaction came back now, full force.
“Oops,” Aziraphale said, when Crowley looked back to glare at him. “Oh, my dear.” He touched a fingertip to Crowley's cheek, not-very-discreetly wiping away a tear. “I do apologise.”
Crowley just sniffed and turned back, and was proud of himself for not actually turning into a snake and going to hide in the grass. Aziraphale would probably try to feed him a mouse or something equally soft and terrible.
They lapsed into contented silence, drowsy in the hot sun, and even Aziraphale's hands slowed and stopped, all tension soothed away.
Crowley tilted his head back and dozed in the summer heat, sunning his bare belly and enjoying the feel of Aziraphale's knees behind him.
“Love you,” Aziraphale murmured, a fingertip just caressing one cheekbone. “My happy snake.”
Crowley wrinkled his nose, but he also smiled and finally opened his eyes to look up at Aziraphale.
“Happy now,” he agreed, and sighed. “Think I was carrying that since you had to fight.”
“Oh, darling.” Aziraphale said. “I've put you through too much.”
“Technically, Heaven has,” Crowley pointed out, shutting his eyes to drowse a little more in the sun. “Wasn't your fault I thought you'd been killed, when your bookshop burned.”
“Well, it was my foolishness walking into that circle...oh, don't give me that look, it was,” Aziraphale scolded. “I am sorry, Crowley. I mean it. That's twice you...” He paused and swallowed hard. “If it was you. If I thought I'd lost you even once.” Another pause. “I don't know what I'd do. I can't – no, I won't imagine it. I couldn't stand it.”
Crowley turned his head and kissed Aziraphale's knee. “Hush, angel. You don't have to imagine it. Never going to happen.”
“And you'll never have to go through that again,” Aziraphale said, stroking his hair. “We're free. Budge over, I want to hold you properly.”
“It's nine hundred degrees out,” Crowley whined, but he also budged over so Aziraphale could slip down to the ground. It wasn't so bad under the trees, he guessed, sitting in the cool grass. And Aziraphale, who managed to be deliciously warm to the touch at all other times of the year, was now...not like being held by a hot water bottle. Perhaps there was something in all the seersucker.
Aziraphale smiled when Crowley basically climbed into his lap, limbs all tangled and head ultimately resting on his shoulder. He trailed a fingertip down Crowley's bare calf, enjoying the feel of wiry hair that lead to pretty little scales on his feet.
“I love you,” Aziraphale said softly. “That you know that – it's very important to me.”
“I know, Zira,” Crowley said, and turned his head a little to kiss whatever came to hand. He could feel the hardness of Aziraphale's collarbone under his lips, and nuzzled a little. “Promise.”
“Good. Aziraphale stroked his hair, and kissed the top of his head, a benediction.
“Angel? What did you do, to fight Michael?” Crowley asked quietly.
Aziraphale sighed. “A lot of things. Angelic fights...are complicated.”
“Tell me?” Crowley asked. “Please? I want to know what you've been through.” For me, he didn't add. For this beautiful world, for what we have, I need to know what you gave for kisses sitting on the grass under an apple tree and champagne and tea brewed too strong with milk. Tell me what I am worth to you, me, who's not worth anything to anybody.
Aziraphale was quiet a long time. “I do apologize,” he said finally. “We...did not fight on human time. I had to gather my thoughts.” He dropped a kiss on Crowley's head. “We met in Heaven, of course. Dreadful place, isn't it?”
Crowley shivered, remembering light and cold. He hadn't thought Heaven would be so cold; not when Aziraphale was so warm. Maybe that was why his angel wore sixteen layers of clothes at all times.
Or that was just his personality. Honestly, it was even chances.
“Michael is vicious, but not necessarily very smart,” Aziraphale said. “It was her, and Uriel as her second. So I knew this was her revenge, not any other entity's.” He smiled thinly. “Though I suppose if She wanted to smite me, there would have been less drama about it.”
“I'd have had a couple fewer blisters,” Crowley grumped, because it seemed on-brand. Also Aziraphale gave a silent laugh that Crowley felt where their bodies pressed together, and it was the best gift he could ever dream of.
“I have always been afraid, when I have to see them. Any of them. Well, you've met them. They are...cruel,” Aziraphale said, with sudden tears in his voice. “I am not like them, and we both knew it.”
“No,” Crowley said fiercely. “You're not. You're you . You're my angel.”
Aziraphale hugged him for a moment. “And very grateful I am, for all of that,” he said. “But this time was different. I wasn't afraid. I was angry .” He smiled, Crowley heard it in his voice. “Also with the ten foot tall semi-angelic form thingy. No flaming sword, more's the pity.
“Michael and I wrestled. Fought. A real punch-up. We are evenly matched in strength,” Aziraphale explained, while Crowley very carefully tried not to picture a fist hitting his angel, because that was unbearable. He was not very good at it, and he wrapped his arms around Aziraphale, holding on tight.
“We fought to a detente, limbs locked. Very beautiful in its way, I imagine,” Aziraphale said. “And then – you know the battle between Merlin and Madam Mim?”
Crowley smiled. Aziraphale had read The Once and Future King aloud to him when they first moved in. Poor old Tim. He wrote the most beautiful words. “Yeah, he murmured. “Did you become a germ?”
“And a galaxy, and a tiger, and a thousand other things.” Aziraphale was smug , and Crowley loved him so much he didn't know how to hold it all. “Oh, she's not slow, Michael. She countered me. We fought across time and the stars. She nearly had me, dragon to lamb.”
“You turned into a lamb ?” Crowley screeched.
“It made sense at the time! Now hush, and let me tell my story.” Aziraphale gave him a tiny thump, which had more in common with a caress than even the lightest smack.
In the grass, with the bees buzzing, with that , Crowley tried to imagine Aziraphale a warrior, and just couldn't .
“I'm afraid that was why I was so exhausted, when I came home,” Aziraphale said softly. “She nearly won.”
“But she didn't,” Crowley said too quickly.
“But she didn't,” Aziraphale agreed. “It was...not pleasant. We were both injured.” He was quiet a moment. “Our blood spilled has birthed new galaxies,” he said. “There would always have been that. If –.” He didn't say the unspeakable. “You could have gone there, and been surrounded by me.”
“No, I couldn't,” Crowley said harshly. “The only way I want that is this, right here, right now. To be in a universe of you, I couldn't stand it. To have you all around me, not able to hug, to touch, to kiss, that's the only thing that would have killed me.” He was breathing hard. “I promised myself. If you lost. I'd make a go of it. Try to love this world without you. I don't think I can, but I'd try .”
Aziraphale made a raw sound, and managed to get his arms and legs around Crowley, the two of them lying in the grass now, holding each other. “You're so brave. How are you so brave ?”
“No choice,” Crowley said, and found Aziraphale's mouth for a long kiss. “Also, I knew my side were assholes from the start. No...manipulation. Your lot had you believing soft was a bad thing to be. That you didn't measure up. 'Course you were careful. How else would you survive?”
Aziraphale breathed very deeply, his eyes closed tight. “Can we have that conversation another time?”
“Sure. Of course.” Crowley had the sinking sensation that this was perhaps the first time Aziraphale had considered what Heaven had done abuse .
Definitely a conversation for another time. For the moment, he stroked Aziraphale's hair and kissed him and tangled them even closer together. He'd have a lot of grass stains to magic away later, and looked forward to it.
“Right. So. Battling in the stars. Lamb. Dragon.” Aziraphale startled Crowley with a smile. “Angelic bodies still in Heaven, locked together, perfectly matched. I imagine we looked like a sculpture.” He thought a moment. “Not yours, mind.”
“They. Are. Wrestling ,” Crowley said through gritted teeth.
“Mmm. As you say, dear,” Aziraphale said. We are nonbinary asexual beings and even I know they're not fighting, he did not say. It was a comfortable old argument, essentially his favourite cardigan, but not quite right for the moment.
“Anyway, she was tearing my throat out when I slipped back into my body and kicked her in the shin, and sat on her,” Aziraphale said.
“You what ?” Crowley's eyes were wide, his jaw dropped. He did wear his emotions on his sleeve – at least around Aziraphale – and Aziraphale loved it.
Aziraphale laughed, and kissed Crowley's cheek, he was so pleased with this reaction. “Winner subdues the loser. She set out to kill me, I set out to win. I won. She yielded. Rules are rules.”
“You cheating bastard,” Crowley said, voice full of love and admiration. “I adore you.”
“And I, you,” Aziraphale said, delightfully English and prissy and self-satisfied and Crowley was about to turn into a snake, he was so in love. “So there you have it. That was my fight.” His smile faded. “I didn't like it, Crowley. It hurt.”
“I know, love,” Crowley murmured. “But you said yourself. Rules. You won.” He touched Aziraphale's throat. “You've healed. Strong and healthy and here with me.”
Aziraphale smiled, and kissed him. “I am. We'll have so many summers. There's so much to do together, in the world. I would have cheated and fought anyone for that.”
Crowley laughed, and hugged him, memorizing again the feel of their bodies against each other, the grass crushed under them, the roses on their house, and the whole world, which was theirs.
The heat broke with a mighty rainstorm on the day of Adam's birthday. They had sent gifts, of course, to the boy who should have been their godson.
“Oh, I hope it's dry in Tadfield,” Aziraphale fretted, as he watched huge, cold raindrops pour out of the sky.
“Nope,” Crowley said, after he'd checked the weather on his phone. “Guess he really has gone over all human.”
“I suppose it's for the best,” Aziraphale said. “But it doesn't seem fair.”
Crowley was of the belief that nothing was fair. Fair would have been being able to slip behind his angel and wrap his arms around Aziraphale's waist and hold him close for the last few millennia, rather than just the last few months. At least they had this now, and he could press a kiss just behind Aziraphale's ear, fluffy curls tickling his nose.
Aziraphale turned around in his embrace, and Crowley went warm down to his toes as Aziraphale put his arms around Crowley's shoulders and tilted his head up for a slow kiss.
He sighed at the sound of wings unfolding, the second embrace of white feathers wrapping around him, the way the light changed. Crowley rested his hand at the small of Aziraphale's back, old velvet soft on his fingers. Everything was soft, and he pressed a long, almost desperate kiss to Aziraphale's throat, pulse under his lips. It was fair that Aziraphale finally had someone who loved him, who lived beside him and reminded him of that every second of every day. So maybe there was something in fair.
They looked up at the sound of laughter outside, and (once Aziraphale drew his wing aside) saw children running in the rain. They were all soaked to the skin and glowing with it, shrieking and jumping in puddles and splashing each other, drinking in the end to the long heatwave.
“Oh, look,” Aziraphale said. “How lovely, to take such joy in the world.”
Crowley grinned, still held within the soft circle of Aziraphale's arms and wings. “Joy. Yes.” He watched a small child who was mostly bright yellow rain slicker jump into a puddle and nail her brother with a wave of water. If she had a little demonic help with her aim, he wasn't going to tell.
Crowley manifested his wings, and curled them in so the tips pressed against Aziraphale's hips. “Tag, you're it!” He turned, dodged between soft white feathers, and ran for the back garden. A little bit of magic, and no one would notice them – or their wings.
“Tag?” Aziraphale cried, but the wild weather must have had an effect, because he ran after Crowley, hot on his heels.
Crowley whooped and led them out into the back garden. Fat raindrops soaked him almost immediately, and he whirled to grin at his best friend.
Aziraphale had shed his coat and waistcoat on the way, and was already laughing his head off. A little paff of feathers bonked Crowley on the side of the head.
“Oi!” Crowley laughed, dodged, and fetched Aziraphale a little smack on his seat with the tips of his wings.
“Cheeky,” Aziraphale warned. He dodged around Crowley and took a flying leap, landing right where he knew water tended to puddle. It was handy to be in his little domain, and he got Crowley good with a giant splash of muddy water.
“Oh, I'm cheeky?” Crowley demanded, starting to chase after Aziraphale. He passed a handy bucket and doubled back to their rain barrel, now close to overflowing – the rain showed no sign of abating.
“You wouldn't,” Aziraphale said. He'd stopped just a few feet away as soon as he figured out what Crowley was doing.
“I would. Demon! Remember?”
“With your icy feet? I'd never forget,” Aziraphale informed him. He was standing carefully, balanced on the balls of his feet, poised to dodge or run as needed.
Slowly, Crowley raised the bucket, brimming with fresh water.
“Oh, you're a cold-blooded one,” Aziraphale said, stepping to the side so that now they circled one another, slow, slow, careful. It was fighting, but it wasn't. It was living in their bodies, cold rain falling, skin glowing, the lush feeling of playing in the rain as children did. They had never been children.
“Ssssnake,” Crowley hissed. His eyes went fully golden, no separate iris, and he hissed out a forked tongue.
“Wait, you can do that?” Aziraphale said, pausing in genuine surprise.
Crowley hissed again, his snakey tongue darting out. “Yesss,” he said, looking rather proud.
“Well you haven't done it in front of me yet,” Aziraphale said. He whipped out a wing, hit the bottom of the bucket, and sent the water straight into Crowley's face. And took off running.
“Angel!” Crowley sputtered, and Aziraphale was laughing so hard he couldn't breathe as he dodged through a handy gap in the hedge and out into the fallow field. He whooped when a bucketful of water hit his back, utterly drenching his wings, Crowley clearly hot on his heels.
They chased each other around the field play-fighting the whole time, glorying in the rain and the freedom to do as they liked.
Crowley quickly figured out how to flick a mist of raindrops off of his wings and at Aziraphale, who shook his head and wiped the water out of his eyes with an indignant 'oi!'. So Crowley did it again.
“You jammy little – “ Aziraphale tried to insult him through his laughter, but knew it wasn't working. He snapped his wings out wide, and tried to copy Crowley's movements, flicking his wings up, and managing to only get himself, and the field around him, and utterly miss the demon.
Crowley grinned, and did it again, a little slower, so Aziraphale could see. “Like this – no, you need to change the yaw of each wing. Truce, and I'll move your wings into place?”
“Truce,” Aziraphale agreed, standing still while Crowley slipped behind him. His hands were so gentle as he shifted Aziraphale's wings to the proper extension and angle.
(They had told stories, in Heaven, of demons who ripped off angels' wings. Crowley kept one hand on Aziraphale's back to soothe and steady him, just in case he needed it. He must have heard the stories too. As though Aziraphale would ever think Crowley could hurt him. He made a mental note to give him a little extra love when they were done water-fighting.)
A particularly strong band of rain came through just as Crowley finished nudging Aziraphale's wings into place, and he extremely helpfully demonstrated the flick and sent a healthy splash into Aziraphale's face. This time, at least, he had his proper revenge.
“Bloody hell!” Crowley sputtered, shaking his head and laughing.
“See, there's advantages to not having neat wings,” Aziraphale taunted, before he turned and ran. His messy feathers held water where Crowley's tended to shed it. It made for heavier wings, but exceedingly sweet revenge, as he nailed Crowley with a double-wingful as soon as he caught up.
“Brace yourself, sweetheart,” Crowley growled, and went for Aziraphale in a rugby tackle, bringing him down carefully.
Aziraphale yelped and beat at Crowley's back with his wings – never hard enough to hurt, of course, but certainly to get his point across. “I'll sweetheart you!”
They rolled around on the field, getting properly muddy and wrestling haphazardly, neither of them particularly trying. Aziraphale wriggled out of Crowley's grasp and then flopped over onto him, his face buried in black feathers that smelled like cinnamon and cloves.
“No fair, you outweigh me!”
“Well, maybe you'll finish your cake once in awhile,” Aziraphale declared, happily spread-eagled and making himself as heavy as possible.
Slithery snake that he was, Crowley escaped and tried to get up, only to get tackled by his angel and land face-first in a particularly muddy puddle.
Aziraphale started giggling when Crowley rolled over, and was laughing too hard to hold onto him, and so lost his wily adversary in the wind and the rain again.
He managed to get up and run after him, dodging through the rain and getting a few more flicks with his wings in. He only accidentally whapped Crowley on the head once.
“Oh my dear, I'm so sorry, did that hurt?”
Crowley waved it off, still laughing, and got his revenge by clapping his wings around Aziraphale's sides, a kind of full-body play smack.
Another good chase later, they wound up on the far side of the field, breathless and muddy and somewhere beyond soaked to the skin. The rain was finally beginning to let up to something gentler, and Crowley raised a wing, inviting Aziraphale under it, a kindness waiting six thousand years to be repaid.
“I certainly wouldn't want to get wet,” Aziraphale teased, but of course he went easily, and even more easily into Crowley's arms, where they could kiss in the (relative) dry.
“Never that,” Crowley agreed, kissing Aziraphale's forehead, tasting rain and love. “Good grief, angel, have you ever been such a mess?”
Aziraphale looked down at himself – his pale shirt was pretty well transparent, sticking to his skin, and his trousers were soaked. He wasn't even terribly muddy – the rain had washed it all off. At least Crowley's black clothes hid the wet, and some of the mud. He giggled. “Oh, goodness. I'm a picture.”
“Yes, you are,” Crowley said warmly, pulling Aziraphale in for another kiss.
“Let's get you warm and dry,” Aziraphale said when the wind started to pick up, bringing the smell of sea and chilling them both. Crowley hadn't started to shiver yet, and Aziraphale was going to see to it that he didn't, either.
Under cover of wings, arms around each other's waists, they walked across the field and through their back garden and up to the house, dry and snug.
The moment they were inside the garden door, Aziraphale stripped them both down to the skin.
“Why angel, I didn't know you were in the mood,” Crowley teased, and got a smack on his bare bottom for his cheek.
“Into the sitting room with you, please,” Aziraphale ordered. “I'll be there in a moment.” He paused. “You can build a fire if you want to be useful.” It would save him the miracle or the time spent kneeling in front of the fireplace when he could be getting Crowley dry and warm.
A quick trip to their linen closet resulted in something less recognizably Aziraphale and more a mobile pile of robes, towels and blankets appearing in the sitting room doorway a few minutes later. Aziraphale had already thrown on a dressing gown and got the worst of the water out of his hair, and he quickly set the pile down next to a chilly-looking Crowley curled up in front of a healthy fire.
The angel dove into his work with considerable energy, starting with towelling Crowley down. He wasn't gentle, but the rough brush of the towel kept Crowley's blood moving and meant that he was pink and glowing when Aziraphale helped him into his dressing gown. It was one Aziraphale had bought on a whim and planned to give as a gift, but when your demon lover is starting to catch a chill, waiting for the proper season meant nothing.
“Oh, angel,” Crowley breathed, looking down as he was dressed. It was quite a long robe, the rich black velvet spilling onto the floor around his feet. The sleeves were wide, bell-shaped and long, nearly medieval as they fell just to his fingertips. Aziraphale tied the dressing gown shut at the waist snugly, making sure nothing would slip open and expose tender skin to the air.
He rested his hands on Crowley's shoulders, where tiny red flowers were embroidered, falling like snow along the body of the robe, and examined him carefully.
“Oh good. I thought it would flatter you,” Aziraphale said. He urged Crowley to sit again, and attacked his hair with one of the towels while Crowley was still too startled to protest or try to help. Taking care of his love was Aziraphale's job, and his great privilege, and he wanted everyone to know it.
Soon, red curls emerged from the drying hair, and Aziraphale was satisfied that Crowley wouldn't be chilly from wet hair. He'd grabbed a wide-toothed comb, secret in the pocket of his own robe, but that could come later. Right now, he shifted to sit on the floor with a fresh towel, taking Crowley's feet into his lap. The fire was lovely and warm against his back, and he sighed a little, soaking it all in. He didn't run cold the way Crowley did, but it did feel nice to be dry and snug and warm himself.
There were patches of pretty little scales on Crowley's instep that Aziraphale had been all too pleased to rediscover, and he stroked them now, a little hello, before he bent to his work. Crowley's feet were white and cold to the touch, and Aziraphale wrapped them in the towel, rubbing briskly. He always did get too cold when his feet were bared.
“Angel, no, I'm fine,” Crowley tried to protest. “You don't need to...do whatever it is you're doing.”
“Of course I don't need to,” Aziraphale said cheerfully. “But I want to. And you'll be so much more comfortable, darling.” He rubbed in between each toe, got the blood flowing, and just squeezed a little, cautiously using a tiny bit of angelic warmth. It didn't hurt Crowley, though, just made him smile, and relax.
Aziraphale turned it into a bit of a massage, soothing any tension. He loved Crowley's feet – loved his whole body – and savoured this act of love. They had had such fun, and this was the perfect end to playing in the rain.
He leaned over, kissed one instep, then the other, smiling when he heard Crowley's breath hitch. There. Let him know how loved he was. Let him see it, incontrovertibly; an angel had kissed his feet.
Aziraphale gently let Crowley's feet go, content that they would be warm now, and moved back to sit on the sofa. He was pleased with how they slipped together, his silk dressing gown luxurious against Crowley's velvet.
“You're too good to me,” Crowley said, letting Aziraphale gather him close. It was nearly dark out; the rain had stopped but the clouds remained, had grown thicker, and promised an early evening. Everything tasted like the end of summer.
“No such thing,” Aziraphale said, holding this most precious being close. “I love you. Thank you. That was fun.”
“I love you too,” Crowley said, head resting on Aziraphale's shoulder. “And I'd hope so. I'm always fun.”
Aziraphale laughed and tilted Crowley's face up for a kiss. “Well, sometimes,” he teased, and laughed when Crowley wrinkled his nose. “I did that. When I was you. Couldn't help myself.”
“'Course you couldn't,” Crowley said, settling a little more comfortably. This was better than Aziraphale at his feet. That was fine, touching even; Crowley knew an act of love when one came up and whacked him in the face. But this was them. Equals, making each other laugh in between kisses, a demon and an angel fighting to a detente again. “Thank you for the dressing gown. It's beautiful.”
“You're very welcome,” Aziraphale said. “You're beautiful, and you complement it well.” He grinned at the look Crowley gave him, and kissed him on the tip of his nose. “Oh hush. Let's enjoy the fire until it's time for dinner.”
Crowley snuggled a little closer, winding himself more firmly into Aziraphale's lap. They'd probably go out; they mostly did for supper. That meant clothes, and all the bother thereof. He'd worry about that later, though. Right now he felt delicious and warm and loved, and the memory of rain and laughing and play-fighting his angel was fresh and new, and that was all he needed.
36And to the boy who was their godson. Every year Nanny sent a card and an age-appropriate very loud toy, and Brother Francis sent a card and an age-appropriate book with a valuable lesson to learn about all living creatures. They saw no real reason to stop, although Warlock was pleased that both packages had the same return address now. He had always been pretty sure, and here was proof he was right.[return to text]
I'm pretty sure the next chapter will be the end of this story (though probably not this particular series!). Then again, I've not finished writing it, so who knows...
At one point Aziraphale recites part of Rilke's Herbesttag, and it does help to be familiar with the poem. (Also I have him recite it in German, because we're both a little unbearable.) My favourite translation is here: https://www.dylanmeconis.com/monday-morning-poem-lord-it-is-time/
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Crowley woke up slow on the last day of August. It was raining, of course, and the patter of raindrops on the roof was the first thing he heard. Aziraphale's happy hmm as he sipped his coffee was the second, and it was that which had Crowley smiling and worming a little closer to the source of delicious warmth in their bed.
“Morning, love,” Aziraphale said softly, and Crowley gave a full-body shiver, thought about turning into a snake to show Aziraphale what he thought of that word first thing in the morning, and did so.
Aziraphale giggled as a very long snake slithered into his lap (despite the wiggles that inevitably accompanied Aziraphale's joy), worked its way up his belly, and finally took a long slurp of his coffee. “You can have your own mug, you know.”
Crowley gave him quite the Look for that, and took another noisy drink.
“I'm pretty sure coffee isn't good for snakes,” Aziraphale pointed out, petting the top of his head. Crowley had opted for a big snake, and his head was nearly the size of the palm of Aziraphale's hand.
“I'm not a ssssnake,” Crowley said, transforming back, careful not to send anything flying and to still be draped around Aziraphale. He darted his tongue out – human – and poked the shell of Aziraphale's ear.
Aziraphale giggled again, and chased his mouth down for a proper kiss. “ Do you want some coffee? There's most of a pot just downstairs.”
Crowley shook his head and wrapped his arms around his angel, snuggling close. Even with the whole snake thing, he was still mostly under the covers. “Jus' want you.”
“Then you shall have me,” Aziraphale promised, bussing his forehead. “Happy first year in our house, by the way.”
Crowley's eyes widened. “Oh. So it is.” A whole year, four seasons, three hundred and sixty-five days of every single day sharing his life with Aziraphale. Sharing a bed at night, gardening together, trying to cook, doing the shopping, re-organizing the library again . All the things that made a life.
“It's a lot, isn't it?” Aziraphale asked softly, when Crowley shook his head and came back to himself.
“You make it sound a chore,” Crowley said, and got tackled by a very offended angel for his words, Aziraphale all but pinning him to the bed and kissing him until they were both dizzy.
“You know bloody well that this has been the happiest year of my life,” Aziraphale said, and blinked his eyes hard. “Oh, Crowley. It has. Truly.”
Crowley cradled him a little closer, glad to feel the angel's weight all down his body. Aziraphale was so perfectly there. Actually being in his body had been the most delicious thing, and this was second-best. Maybe even best; he couldn't kiss Aziraphale when he'd been in his body after all.
“Just the first of many,” he promised, one hand on the back of Aziraphale's head, stroking his fluffy curls. “Next year'll be even better.”
Aziraphale gave a damp giggle. “I won't disappear on you for hours to go fight an angel, for one.”
Crowley tightened his arms instinctively. He still had nightmares about Aziraphale's throat torn out, or Aziraphale simply not coming home, ever. He was pretty sure he'd kept them to himself, at least. His angel didn't need to know such things, not when he was home and safe and they didn't have to worry about such things again.
They kissed themselves out, openmouthed and soft. Crowley was still waking up, half-dizzy with how sensual the world was. Soft mattress behind him, under a light quilt, and of course his angel pressing down heavy on him. Their hips together, one hand tangled in Crowley's hair and his mouth , that clever mouth, tasting everything in history, not least of all Crowley himself.
They snuggled a little longer, after kisses petered off. Aziraphale couldn't imagine ever growing tired of holding Crowley, of touching his body and feeling the way they fit together. Their bodies aligned beautifully, fitting around each other. They'd learned how to fit around one another, books and plants, Aziraphale's broad chest and Crowley's long legs.
Aziraphale ran a hand down Crowley's side, firm enough not to tickle, enjoying the feel of soft silk over Crowley's ribs and waist and bony hip.
“I love you,” he said, smiling so much he thought he might burst. “Do you want to do something today? Something special, I mean. Since it's a kind of anniversary.”
Crowley shook his head, then grumbled as his hair fell into his face. It was down to his shoulderblades now, a riot of auburn curls, and did so get in the way.
Aziraphale smoothed it back off of his face, lingering a little to pet. He loved that they both had curly hair. It was something they shared, like the wings, and it was utterly human, unlike the wings.
“No,” Crowley said, now able to actually see. “Unless you really want to.” He trickled fingers down Aziraphale's chest, resting on the curve of his belly. “We've had so many firsts, and now we won't have as many. We've had holidays here, and we know what the sky looks like in autumn and I've kissed you by the bonfire on Guy Fawkes' Night. I want...a day of not-firsts,” he tried to explain. “Things we've done before, things we know we love.” He looked down. “We do that all the time, though,” he said softly. “If you want to do something special, we'll do that.”
Aziraphale pushed down a burst of emotion. Crowley, quiet and vulnerable, needed to be treated gently. “Oh, darling. No. What you said – that's perfect. That's so perfect.” He touched Crowley's chin, tilted it up, kissed him softly. I want to do what you want, he tried to get across. You ask for so little, and it breaks my heart. I'd give you the whole world, if you liked. Lay the stars at your feet and weave you a coat of sunshine, a blanket of your favourite roses.
Crowley was a champion whinger, but he didn't truly ask for very much. Affection, sometimes – not that Aziraphale usually let him go wanting. Attention, also sometimes. But to do something special, or go somewhere different, or for a treat just for himself? Hardly ever.
Aziraphale loved to indulge as much as he was indulged. To give love freely, and to have it be accepted , to watch Crowley bloom, to have someone truly treat it as a gift – these were the happiest things in his life.
The best way to show Crowley was to do, anyway. Aziraphale cuddled him a little longer, kissed him a few more times – they had done all of that before, hundreds, maybe even thousands of times now. “I'll bring you breakfast up here,” he offered. “If you want to stay in bed.”
Crowley shook his head. “Nah. I'll get up.” He pressed his face into Aziraphale's neck. “In a minute,” he mumbled.
Aziraphale laughed. “Well, hold on,” he warned. Crowley was wrapped around him just right, it was...well, not easy to sit up, and then ease off of the bed, his lover clinging onto him like a very gangly koala, but he managed it.
“Not the duvet too,” Aziraphale said firmly. It had somehow stayed around Crowley, rather like a very dramatic cape. “I'll trip going down the stairs and break both our necks.”
“Awwwww,” Crowley whined. “You wouldn't.”
“The duvet stays in our bedroom,” Aziraphale informed him, and it dropped from Crowley's shoulders.
Balancing carefully, Crowley's legs tight around his hips, Aziraphale got them downstairs and deposited at their kitchen table.
The rain had chilled the air, so the next thing was to slip his dressing-gown off and get it onto Crowley. He was pleased that Crowley didn't protest – maybe he was still sleepy, or maybe he truly was chilly, but either way, he'd be snug in the morning chill, and Aziraphale could bustle around making toast and giving Crowley his morning cup of coffee.
Crowley's brain slowly clicked back online. It had fully shut down about the time Aziraphale had picked him up and carried him downstairs . Apparently hauling boxes of books around gave even round, lush, hedonistic angels the fucking body of a superhero . Crowley wondered how he could get Aziraphale to do that again. It had been – okay, it hadn't been comfortable, necessarily. Clinging onto a large, mobile person was not always easy. But it had been worth it, to feel Aziraphale's body move, the way his hips took the stairs, one arm hard around Crowley's waist, holding him in place.
And then. And then . When his brain was very vulnerable and broken and still running around in a circling singing about Aziraphale toting him downstairs like a sack of grain, to get Aziraphale's own dressing gown wrapped around him. The heavy silk smelled like him, it was warm from his body heat, and Crowley was only very barely able to deal with being bundled up against the chilly morning in white silk and gold and blue embroidery.
He sipped his coffee automatically, and that helped with the whole brain-going-kablooey thing too. By the time Aziraphale delivered a plate of toast to the table, swimming in butter and with a little pot of jam next to it, he was capable of speech again.
“Thank you,” he said, and took his usual half-slice to nibble on.
“Of course, dear,” Aziraphale said, and dug in himself, putting a very healthy dent in the jam.
They ate quietly as the rain tapered off, clouds eventually parting to reveal the bluest of blue skies. With the sun coming out, their kitchen warmed up nicely, but Crowley would be discorporated to the farthest reaches of the universe before he took Aziraphale's dressing gown off just because he got a bit warm.
They did dress eventually, meandering around each other in their bedroom. Crowley managed to get into his drawers and a shirt before getting distracted by an equally half-dressed Aziraphale lolling on the bed.
He lay down with his head in Aziraphale's lap and pressed kisses to his thighs, smiling when he felt the muscle jump under his lips.
“May I do your hair today?” Aziraphale asked, slipping his fingers into Crowley's curls. “Just a plait, keep it out of your eyes.”
“I'd like that,” Crowley purred. He usually magicked it into behaving, maybe put it in a ponytail if he was going to work in the garden and needed to concentrate. But Aziraphale had done his hair before, many times, so that was all right. It was nothing new.
Crowley thought about a year ago. If he'd told that Crowley one-tenth of his life now, he'd never be believed. Sure, he maybe would have agreed that Aziraphale loved him, in that floaty not-real way that angels loved everything and everyone. Crowley-of-a-year-ago might possibly even have agreed to growing his hair out. That was about it.
And instead, Crowley-today rolled over and wriggled on the bed until he was lying atop Aziraphale, forearms framing his angel's face and smiling down at him like the enormous sop he really was.
“Hello, my dear,” Aziraphale said, and leaned up for a kiss. “I wonder how many times we've done this?”
“Hundreds,” Crowley said, and paused, and thought. “A hundred, at least. I think?” He wound a blond curl around one fingertip. “It's been less than a year since the first time I kissed you,” he said. “Well, a proper kiss.” One that meant I love you, you're my heart's desire, I'm yours forever, rather than just a greeting, or an agreement, or all the things that kisses had meant through history.
“I know. We've so much time to make up for,” Aziraphale agreed. Another kiss laid on Crowley's mouth, soft and sweet. “I'm going to love you forever. Someday it will be thousands of kisses just like this, and then millions, and then higher than we can count.”
Crowley nodded, and ducked his face to press against Aziraphale's chest. It was bare, the skin warm, wiry hair rough against his face.
Aziraphale held him like he was precious, which was weird and new, but that was going to be weird and new for...a long time. Crowley sort of hoped not forever, but he wasn't sure about that.
When they'd got enough of cuddling for the moment, dressing resumed. Aziraphale combed Crowley's hair out and braided it back neatly, ending with a kiss to the crown of his head. It felt familiar, and good.
They decided to go out on one of their favourite rambles. Not terribly long, just a path that lead over gentle hills, white chalk standing out. Aziraphale wore a waxed gilet, because of course he did, and Crowley opted for as much Helle Hansen as he could dream up.
“Oh, honestly,” Aziraphale said upon seeing him, but they set off nonetheless, meandering their way across the sweet countryside. The sun was gentle after the rains, and the earth smelled like ripeness, with fat grains in the fields ready for harvest.
“Herr: es ist Zeit.” Aziraphale's voice was low and sweet and good on the words. “Der Sommer war sehr groß. Leg deinen Schatten auf die Sonnenuhren, und auf den Fluren laß die Winde los.”
“Oh, Rilke,” Crowley said after a moment. “Poetry, angel?”
“It seemed right,” Aziraphale said. “The final sweetness is being driven all around us, love.”
“And then spring will come,” Crowley said, not sure why he needed to argue. “And the land will grow again. It's already coming on the other half of the world. Nothing's ending.”
“Oh, Crowley.” Aziraphale stopped them in the shadow of a copse of oak and holly. “Darling boy.” He reached out, took Crowley's hands in his. “It's a turning wheel. Things end, then come back. But some things are eternal. Like us.” He squeezed softly. “You have a house now. You will not live alone, and there's no restless and uneasy wandering for you.” Aziraphale smiled. “If you even tried to wander, I think someone would bring you home. Mrs Miller to start, she needs someone to talk roses with.” He cleared his throat. “If I hadn't found you first and hauled you back in time for tea.”
“Of course. Of course, you're right, I just --”
But Aziraphale was already pulling him into a hug, there in the shadow of the trees. “Oh, my darling. I've given you so much cause to doubt.”
“No! It's not --”
“It is, though,” Aziraphale said. “Oh, not all of it. Your lot – they've been as cruel to you as mine to me. I know what that does here.” He rested a hand over Crowley's heart. “And I know you've given me trust I didn't always earn. It's nearly autumn, love. It will be winter soon, and spring after that, and summer again, and soon we'll be two years here. And I'll love you even more. I swear to you. That never changes.”
“Oh.” Crowley swallowed hard. “I wish I had words. For times like this.” He tried to remember poetry, and failed. He was good with dirty limericks, not good with the things Aziraphale liked.
“Don't need words. You show me, every day.” Aziraphale hugged him again, then took his hand, the two of them moving into the shaded copse.
“I carry your heart with me,” Crowley blurted out, half-remembering, hoping he remembered right. “I carry it in my heart.”
Aziraphale stopped, his hand tight on Crowley's. “Then it's forever safe,” he said in a thick voice. “Wouldn't want it anywhere else.”
“Right,” Crowley said, breathing hard now. Why was love so terrifying? “Right. Safe. With me.”
“Safe, with you,” Aziraphale said, in a voice that was a heartbeat away from bells and holy promises. He rubbed his thumb across Crowley's knuckles, and for a moment Crowley saw eyes and wings, and then there was a breeze. An oak leaf drifted down, and all was still again, the land as old and well-worn and comfortable as it always had been, and his Aziraphale just the same.
They kissed under a young oak tree, dappled with sunlight, and walked on, hand in hand, along the well-worn path. They'd done some of the wearing themselves, they came this way so often. It was a chilly walk in winter, exposed to the icy air that came off of the sea; perhaps they'd only come this way once or twice more this year.
They would be back in spring, though, Crowley thought. When the world woke up, and after a winter of long nights by the fire and love and sleeping in and all good things. Maybe this year they'd go to Istanbul for Christmas, or to London, or Edinburgh. Or they could do that another year. They had plenty of time for all of it.
And so it ends.
I think this will become a series -- there are definitely bits in this story that need to be resolved, and also I love them, and I love their life and I love this version of what happens after the book, so there will certainly be more of this story. But this seemed a good place to end it. It's been just over a year since I moved and started a semi-new life, so we'll all be going into a decrease of firsts together.
Mrs Miller is a nod to Broadchurch, although she's not Ellie Miller. Ellie deserves so, so much better than to be saddled with Crowley as a friend ;)
Crowley recites a line from an e.e. cummings poem, of course.