"D'you hear that?"
"Hear what?" Aziraphale wasn't paying much attention to Crowley, who had spent the last thirty minutes discussing some bebop group or another who may or may not have been folkloric creatures of immense stature. He instead had his hands in his pockets, shoulders scrunched up around his ears against the dismal chill of London in the fall, and was rather grimly contemplating the obscene possibility that he might have to finally give in and replace his beloved overcoat. All the tender care and minor miracles in the world couldn't hold it together much long--
Crowley yanked him, rather literally, out of his reverie. "It's coming from over here," the demon said insistently, long fingers ruthless at Aziraphale's elbow as they abruptly turned the corner onto a narrow side street.
"Really!" Aziraphale squawked. "I should hardly think--"
And then he heard it.
A chorus cried out to them, its voices high pitched, plaintive, and very, very young.
"Oh," he said, and suddenly it was Crowley being dragged along in his wake as he marched towards the cardboard box several meters further down the pavement. "Are those--"
"Kittens," Crowley said grimly. His sunglasses flashed in the glare of the streetlights as he released Aziraphale's elbow, reaching to shove them more firmly up his beakish nose. "Abandoned," he added, as if it were the most distasteful thing he'd heard in his six thousand years of life.
"Resourcefully put up for adoption," the angel corrected philosophically, indicating the Sharpie-writ "FREE" on the side of the box with a vague gesture of one hand.
Crowley scoffed. "Same difference."
With a purse of his lips and a sour chord struck on his heartstrings, Aziraphale didn't bother to argue. He tugged neatly at the legs of his trousers and crouched down, unable to help the soft noise that tore itself from his throat as he took them in, properly. Tiny things, their eyes still blue as they tottered around, weak and bedraggled. "You poor dears," he whispered, reaching down to run the backs of his knuckles over downy soft fur.
His lanky shadow shifted awkwardly, standing with hands in his pockets and slouched like a great dark stain in Aziraphale's periphery. "You can hardly leave them here," he insisted, as London finally gave in to her most basic instincts and began to rain droplets so fine they could almost be classified as fog.
"'I can hardly leave them'," Aziraphale repeated scornfully. "Oh, they're suddenly my responsibility? Aren't you also standing right--ow!"
He jerked his hand out of the box, and a tiny striped kitten followed, attached by needlepoint teeth to his index finger. "My word!"
Crowley sniggered. "Feisty." He popped open an umbrella which hadn't existed a moment ago, drizzles of rain dutifully pattering across the plastic, and snapped his fingers impatiently. "C'mon angel, up you pop. We've got to get them back to the bookshop before they turn into furry little ice cubes."
"The bookshop," Aziraphale said blankly. A furrow dug its way between his brows as he peered upwards suspiciously, barely paying attention as he carefully and oh-so-gently disengaged the tabby from his finger.
"Can hardly take them to Mayfair can we?"
Aziraphale deflated. "No," he sighed, cradling his attacker to his chest as he deftly scooped its two petite siblings up in one hand. Herding cats, he reflected, was hardly difficult compared to the handling of tempermental occult forces. "The lilies are probably just the first of many potential toxins in your flat."
Crowley broke out into a grin, too full of teeth to be quite human and too wild to be sincere. "Yes, exactly! Precisely what I was thinking, angel, my how we spend too much time together. Finishing each others' sentences next. Come on--"
Shedding, Aziraphale realized, allowing himself to be dragged upright and shuffled along the street. He just didn't want them shedding all over his pristine, minimalist, dust free --
"Can I hold one?"
"What happened to ‘shared responsibility’?" Crowley sniffed.
Aziraphale, as an angel, was quite above petty vindictiveness, and as such he did not shove Crowley into the gutter to ruin his expensive shoes in the rapidly widening flow of stormwater, no matter how much he wanted to. "They're shivering, my dear boy," he said instead, sickeningly sweet and patronizing. "And you're cold blooded."
The umbrella bobbed above their heads as Crowley's shoulders slumped. "Ah."
They walked silently for several blocks, the kittens tucked carefully into Aziraphale's waistcoat and cradled from below by hands that had once been crafted from the aether for the express purpose of smiting Gods' enemies and meteing divine justice.
"I've always wanted to be one of those shops with a cat," Aziraphale said thoughtfully. He hadn't, actually, but now that the thought occurred he found himself rather warming to the idea. The tabby, in particular, showed promise--cats could be trained with a bit of effort, couldn't they? Claws would certainly be a deterrent against customers touching his books.
The demon looked down at him aghast. "You aren't actually planning to keep them?"
"Whatever else am I supposed to do with them?"
"Give them away!"
"Abandon them, you mean!"
Crowley spluttered indignantly, drawing to an abrupt stop and puffing out his thin chest like some kind of ostrich in the midst of a teenage rebellion. "I most certainly do not!" he said hotly.
"Who would I give them to? You don't want them," Aziraphale pressed ruthlessly, the whipcord crack of his voice probably undermined by his awkward, slipping shuffle back under the umbrella as his shoes- their tread worn away decades ago- lost traction on rain-slick concrete. He glared upwards, refusing to say a polite "thank you" as he was steadied by his elbow, and stuck his chin out mulishly as he waited for Crowley's retort.
"That… witch? With the excruciatingly boring boy toy?" he attempted weakly.
"Ah, yes. Let's ring her up!" Aziraphale leaned up onto the balls of his feet, flashing the shiny, customer service smile he rarely (read: never) practiced. "'Ms. Device, how are you? You're well? How lovely! Anyhow, would you like some familiars? Two of them are even black!'"
Crowley licked his lips. "I suppose it does seem a bit insensitive."
"Just a bit ."
"I repeat: two black cats, my dear! Sergeant Shadwell would have a conniption !"
"With a hellhound in the house, Crowley?"
"Oh, bugger it all--fine, keep them then! I shan't help with the litter boxes!" Crowley threw his arms wide, forgetting about the umbrella he clung to so tightly, and they were both- quite abruptly- veritably doused with water as a nearby awning chose that very same moment to collapse at one corner. (If by "chose" one meant "was forced by virtue of a wild umbrella knocking out its supports".)
The demon froze, both arms wide and looking like rather a drowned kitten himself as his clothes slumped and clung unflatteringly.
"Raining harder now," he said blankly.
"The Bentley," Aziraphale pointed out, not unkindly, as his hair curled damply about his ears, "might be a better idea than walking the rest of the way to the shop, don't you agree?"
They expected to find it at the next street corner, and so there it was--sleek and dark, the rain parting across its bonnet like something almost biblical. (Or was this another sort of story? "It was a dark and stormy night…")
Aziraphale hardly needed Crowley's pointed, steaming reminder to dry himself before stepping into the beloved car; his triplet charges, after all, were a reminder in and of themselves. "I do hope they weren't wet for too long," he fussed, gently popping a button on his waistcoat to peer in at them. They weren't asleep, so far as he could tell, but they were taking their circumstances with a typically English stiff upper lip, burrowing into the warmth of his body and curling themselves up tightly as they shivered.
Crowley scoffed, lounging with one bony hand on the wheel and looking for all the world as if he did not care a whit. But the heater kicked on a moment later, heavy air rolling across their cheeks, and Aziraphale settled contentedly back into the leather seats.
"If you'd like any hand in naming or raising them," he said lightly, "you will be helping with the litter boxes. And their feeding."
Shoulders scrunched and taking a turn too sharp, Crowley shot him a scathing look from behind omnipresent sunglasses. (It took talent, to recognize these expressions with so much of his face obscured, but Aziraphale had rather a lot of practice.) "Kittens," he said derisively. "For hea-- Sa-- something's sake, angel. You know they get bigger, don't you?"
"I don't wish to have this argument again."
"'I don't wish to have this --'"
Aziraphale broke into Crowley's mockery by reaching into his waistcoat and removing a kitten- one of the little black ones, this with a smudge of white just to the left of its pink nose- to place, silently, on the demon's lap.
They rode, neither saying a word, for the full length of Jimmy Buffet's Radio Ga Ga , barely loud enough to be heard above the driving rain. Crowley gradually untensed, switching hands on the wheel so he could curl the other, loose and tentative, about the tiny creature making itself at home in the crook of his hip.
"I want full visitation rights," he finally said, sharply, as they parked- for a certain definition of "parking"- in front of the bookshop.
"My dear, that was never in question," Aziraphale said exasperatedly. "Since when have I ever turned you away from my door?"
"The year was four hundred and twenty-three AD," Crowley began grandly. " You were living in China, I was--"
"How about in seventeen sixty-seven--"
"Counts even less !"
"Just come inside , Crowley." Aziraphale opened the passenger side door, a familiar elixir of frustration and fondness blooming inside of his chest. He tuned out his companion's continuing snide chatter as they dashed through the rain- not that it dared to touch them, now- and into the bookshop, where ancient wiring hummed moodily to life and dusty fixtures reluctantly lit the space.
(To a certain definition of "lit".)
Crowley cradled his tiny charge to his chest with both hands, bony elbows sticking out sharply into space, and Aziraphale- after a moment's debate- carefully transferred the other two to him as well. The second black kitten immediately sought its sibling, curling up rather more on top of than next to it, but the tabby sank sharp claws into the expensive silk of Crowley's shirt and determinedly dragged itself up into a position of authority upon his shoulder. Crowley sucked in a breath, and his glasses slipped just far enough down his nose to reveal wide, startled eyes.
"I'm going to fetch some linens to build them a bed," Aziraphale explained, politely refraining from commenting on Crowley's discomfort. He spared the tabby a smile, stroking gently beneath its chin and receiving a minute hiss of annoyance in response. "You should take them to the couch, my dear."
It wasn't proper for an angel to have favorites among God's creatures, he reflected as he bustled towards the largely-unused flat above the shop, but if Aziraphale were to be honest, one ferocious little beast had already claimed a special place in his heart.
"My newest Adversary," he murmured, and found himself smiling at the joke as he rifled through his sheets.
Crowley, when he returned to the back room, was already quite asleep. This was probably meant to be a silent protest against being left alone with responsibility , which was not a very demonic situation in which to find oneself, thank you un kindly, Aziraphale, next time just smite me, will you--
(Mostly, it just made Aziraphale smile.)
He was slumped back with his neck at an angle that would be quite unpleasant to awake to, were he human, and his ungainly long legs sprawled in front of him. The black kittens- the twins, Aziraphale was thinking of them- had crept suspiciously towards his knobbled knees, peering down a distance that was likely beyond their infant comprehension, while the tabby remained on his shoulder, claws dug in and shoulders hunched as it hollered its displeasure.
"Hungry, I expect," Aziraphale told it apologetically, as he rescued its squirming siblings from their precarious position on Crowley's thighs and transferred them to the softest and oldest of his tartan sheets, scrunched up around a throw pillow to form a bit of a nest. "I haven't the slightest what one is meant to feed a kitten."
At least, not in the way of things that could be purchased at nearly eleven in the evening on a miserable London night--and there was hardly anything in his kitchen except for alcohol and pastries, neither of which, he assumed, were appropriate even for an adult cat.
He settled one knee on the couch next to Crowley, ignoring the vaguely sinister snoring emerging from the human-shaped being's mouth, and slowly reached out. "May I?" he asked, his hand hovering in the air, as distrustful blue eyes glared back at him.
"Mrowwww ," it said, but it didn't take a swipe at him.
"If you shan't let go, it may be very painful for the both of you," Aziraphale told it dryly, and tiny claws visibly retracted. He beamed, scooping the kitten up deftly. "What a good little beast you are. Shall we double check the kitchen? Perhaps I've forgotten something. You seem to have teeth, I'll hazard you could eat a bit of rice."
"Yes, or chick--oh!" Aziraphale's eyebrows shot towards his hairline as his tiny charge squirmed abruptly, taking off diligently for his shoulder. "Quite fond of that, aren't you?"
On Crowley, the tabby had sat atop his suit jacket, holding on with its claws and surveying the bookshop; now, it wedged itself against the crook of Aziraphale's neck, between bare skin and the thick cowl of the overcoat. "RRAAT ," it told him, right up against his ear.
"I'm looking, I promise!"
"I'm trying to sleep , angel," Crowley complained from the other room, his voice groggy and tired.
"And I'm trying to feed the children. How are the twins doing out there?"
"If you mean the squawling masses, they're currently making a break for the dust bunnies beneath your armchair."
" Rowl !"
"Yes, I concur--then catch them , you foolish serpent!"
"I refuse to be ordered around by a cat!"
"My dear, you are being ordered around by me ."
"Well, that's alright then!"
"Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit."
"Explains why you're so fond of it. No, you don't!"
There was a great thump, several plaintive yowls, and then a groan. "Caught your stupid kittens," Crowley said, his voice muffled and annoyed. "You should have set this bedding up in the tub, where they can't claw their way out on the porcelain. Easier to keep a bloody eye on."
Aziraphale beamed. "What a wonderful idea!"
He looked back at the fridge, and the smile dropped. He shut it, chewing anxiously at his lip, and considered their options. Neither of them, he assumed, knew nearly enough about what ingredients there were in a bag of cat food to just miracle some up. That left…
For any other purpose, he wouldn't ask. He shouldn't . It was nearly midnight, and the storm raged on beyond the grime coated windows of the shop; it was hardly polite, or appropriate, and--
He deflated. "Now that you're up," he said, "would you mind tempting the local vet to pay us a house visit?"
"Sorry?" Crowley stared up at him as he returned to the back room; the demon was sprawled on his stomach, hair disheveled and one foot beneath the couch, with a kitten grasped gently-but-firmly in either hand. The coffee table appeared to have been nearly up-ended in some form of wild lunge.
"The veterinarian," Aziraphale repeated patiently, straightening out the rug and righting the table with a blink. "Wouldn't you like the peace of mind of knowing they're healthy? And I haven't a thing for them to eat, but surely the vet has a bit of kitten food on hand."
Sunglass lenses winked up at him, judgement somewhere in their blankness. "No milk, even for your tea?"
"I read somewhere that dairy is actually unhealthy for cats."
"Can't possibly be."
"The cats in that kids' movie drank milk. Irresponsible of them to show that , if it were the case--of course," Crowley paused frowning. "The cats did also play the piano, and somehow two managed to be a racist caricature of Chinese people--"
"My dear, do you even hear yourself sometimes."
"Unfortunately, more often than not I hear you ." He rolled over, thrusting the twins into the air impatiently. "If you want me to call the vet, you've got to take these."
"Oh," Aziraphale sighed, crouching down carefully to avoid dislodging the tabby on his shoulder. The twins complained loudly at the transfer, squirming and flailing with all the strength available to their petite limbs. "We're going to make terrible parents," he fretted. "I haven't had to feed something on a set schedule since we were on the Ark!"
Crowley wrapped a soothing hand about his ankle. "Cats are quite annoying about their feeding times, I hear," he said dryly. His long fingers met easily, even with Aziraphale's thick woolen socks, and they drummed anxiously against the soft surface. "The little brat screeching in your ear seems to support the idea," he added sourly.
"Obnoxious imp." Crowley sneered as he released Aziraphale, producing his mobile phone from the inside pocket of his suit jacket. It was already dialing the veterinarian without even the press of a finger--perhaps an effect of demonic manipulations, or perhaps- more sinisterly- simply a feature of the semi-sentient uber modern monstrosity in and of itself.
"Hello?" A woman said, her voice tinny with static and shaky with confusion--bemused as to what she was doing, answering the phone at 11:45 on a Tuesday night, no doubt.
"Yes, hello," Crowley said smoothly, in that rich voice like butter that he only ever knew how to use when what he was saying didn't matter much. "There are three freeloaders in a bookshop in Soho who expect to be fed."
"Be nice," Aziraphale warned quietly, juggling kittens as he regathered the linens, and Crowley mouthed it back with an annoyed wrinkle of his nose.
"We've rescued some poor darling kittens, and we're very underprepared to be handling them," he wiled, tucking one arm back behind his head and arching his back a bit as he wriggled into a more comfortable position on the plush antique rug. "Such sweet things, and far too young to yet be away from mummy. We're oh so worried about the darlings." His grin had too many teeth when Aziraphale glanced back, exasperated, from the stairs.
"Yes, that would be lovely," Crowley answered to whatever unintelligible thing the poor woman had said on the other end of the phone. "Shall I give you the address?"
"Your other father is a bit of a Fool," Aziraphale told the kittens. "In the capital letter, literary sense, as much as the other."
"Mmrrmph ," interjected the tabby, and the twins grumbled their agreement.
"Yes, of course, my dears. I remain quite fond of him as well."
The flat above the bookshop was much like the bookshop below; it was full of precious tomes and (supposedly) unstylish tartan, and it was just as dusty--dustier, in fact, since Aziraphale did nearly all of his living down among the main portion of his collection. The dust there was purely an aesthetic choice, designed to discourage customers; here, it was the grime of decades.
"This is what the humans call a 'bathroom', or a 'water closet', or a 'restroom', or a 'commode'--my," he settled the linens into the tub with one hand, the twins in the other, and hummed thoughtfully. "They do like their euphemisms, don't they?"
"Mm. I believe this marks the end of your acquaintance with my shoulder, little one." He scratched at the tabby's forehead, smiling at the sensation of needle-claws flexing in the fabric of his shirt, barely reaching the skin below. "Your siblings miss you, I'm sure, and I shan't be far."
"RRRRAT !" It hollered, hissing and spitting as it was lowered into the tub.
"Ugh," said Crowley, lounging in the doorway. "Can't we at least give away that one?"
"Don't be ridiculous." Aziraphale settled down with his back against the side of the tub, groaning softly with sudden exhaustion as he extended his legs before himself and crossed them primly at the ankle. "That one's my favorite."
"Ugh . You're joking."
He smiled serenely, studying his fingernails in the soft yellowed light of the LED light bulbs he'd finally installed after another lecture on accountability and conservation from the inimitable Ms. Device. There was a manicure in his near future, it seemed. "Reminds me of you."
Crowley spluttered, throwing his arms into the air and storming off. "Do an angel a favor, work your wiles over a mobile connection --not easy , you know! Not easy! And this is the respect--doesn't even deserve to be called respect--"
"Have you begun thinking of names for them? I'm leaving it up to you," Aziraphale called after him, and the stomping noises stopped.
The demon reappeared in the doorway to the bathroom, fingers twitching at his sides. "You're letting me name them?"
"As a thank you, for your remote temptation of the veterinarian."
"She'll be here in fifteen minutes. I've left the shop unlocked and told her to let herself in." Crowley sidled further into the room and stepped, delicately, over Aziraphale's legs. "I'm not naming them Mary Kate and Ashley just because you've taken to calling them 'twins'," he added snidely, bending over at the hips to peer down at the kittens in their bathtub nest.
There wasn't a point in responding; they both knew Aziraphale hadn't the slightest what Crowley was on about. He rested his head back against the cool lip of porcelain, studying the cracked plaster of his ceiling in a way that said plaster had probably never been studied in the whole of its life.
"Mojo," Crowley said decisively, "and Dot."
"And the tabby?" Aziraphale asked with a smile.
"I wasn't questioning you, my dear; merely curious." Aziraphale let the topic drop and held out a hand, offering a beatific smile. "Let's get some tea on to greet the poor woman when she arrives, hm?"
"Might want to clean up a bit up here," Crowley added dryly. His hand was cool and dry, and strong, and he pulled Aziraphale easily to his feet. "Hardly looks as if anyone lives in this flat."
"Because no one does ."
They were standing very close, their hands clasped and toes nearly knocking together within their boots. It was a quiet moment, as so few moments were between them. Crowley swallowed heavily, opening his mouth to say something and then seeming to think better of it. With the flicker of an inhuman tongue, he closed it once more.
Aziraphale smiled, softly, and after a crooked, fond moment, Crowley echoed it in return.
And Sally shrieked, "MRROOOOWL !"
"Attention hog," Crowley snapped.
Aziraphale’s smile broadened, and he squeezed his hand before he stepped away. He turned for the door, calling innocently over his shoulder, "Told you it reminded me of you, my dear."
(Crowley's indignant spluttering followed him down the stairs.)
By the time Dr. Malhotra- a lovely woman who was as pleasant as she was confused, a sweatshirt and trenchcoat drawn overtop of her Superman pajama pants- arrived, the flat was neat and clean, if shabby in its accoutrements--despite Crowley's many attempts to "help". She pronounced each of the kittens to be female, quite healthy, and surprisingly devoid of fleas--
Crowley tipped down his glasses to peer suspiciously at Aziraphale, at that--
and left them with a supply of formula, kitten food, and litter which should more than get them through the month. There were also pamphlets, offering guidance on vaccinations and sundry other concerns.
"Emergencies only, next time," she said firmly, bundling her thick black hair back under the hood of her sweatshirt and hitching her substantial tote bag firmly onto her shoulder. "My wife's ruddy pissed at me for wandering off in the middle of the night and in a storm, no less. Yeah?"
"We're so very sorry," Aziraphale said weakly.
"Customer service." She flashed a white smile with the kind of sly, good-natured humor that was ever-so-deeply endearing. "I expect complete loyalty, boys; if I hear you've been visiting with some other vet I'll be very cross. Oh!" She paused on the threshold, chin tucked down into her coat against the impending chill of the rain. Her brown eyes crinkled warmly at the corners. "And welcome to parenthood."
Aziraphale laughed gently. "Thank you, madam. Now hurry off safely to that lovely wife of yours."
"Oh, she’s lovely alright--right up until she knees me in the kidneys." She laughed, glancing over Crowley's lanky, uncoordinated limbs. "Mm. Have a nice night, gentlemen."
"And yourself," Aziraphale called, but the door was already shutting firmly behind her with the half-hearted jingle of a bell.
(The actions of every inanimate object within the bookshop, you’ll have noticed, were characterized by some degree of reluctance. This was an effect that Aziraphale had carefully honed and cultivated throughout the years, namely by way of failing to perform routine maintenance on a single thing in the shop.)
Crowley settled his hands on the angel's shoulders, releasing a heavy breath with no small amount of annoyance. "How old is that mattress upstairs?" he asked. He sounded quite suspicious, and also rather tired, like he was on the brink of just sagging forward to drape over Aziraphale's back and let himself be held up. "I've no intention of entrusting you alone with the animals when you can't even keep a plant alive for more than a week."
They both looked to the brown fern sitting lifelessly in the far corner of the shop.
"If you don't feel like driving all the way back to Mayfair in the middle of the night, you can just say so,” Aziraphale huffed, feeling the heat of embarrassment in his cheeks. “There's no need to get snippy."
"You just read your little pamphlets and let me do all of the actual child rearing, hm? The mattress , angel."
"As old as the bedframe." Aziraphale blinked, then hurried to add, "But it's never so much as been sat on. I'm sure it's fine."
"Ugh." Crowley's fingers drummed across his collar bones; he could picture the particular sneer of disgust crawling its way across the demon's face. "It'll have to do, I suppose. Your couch is terrible."
"It is incredibly comfortable!"
"For sitting, yes--but not for sleeping , angel. Far too short."
"I suppose I must defer to your expertise on that count, my dear boy."
"You should try that more often in general," Crowley sniffed, letting his hands fall away as he headed for the stairs. "Six thousand years, you'd think you'd have learned I have a good idea once in a while."
"Once in a while," Aziraphale agreed solemnly, and Crowley threw him a sour look over his shoulder.
"Damned by faint praise," he muttered, then waved a dismissive hand. "You know, among the other things. I'm going to bed; wake me up when Sally's gotten a bit less lippy."
“Yes, dear,” Aziraphale said fondly, and reached for the veterinary pamphlets.
They lasted him to about three in the morning, when he made the transfer from his armchair and a nip of brandy to his desk and a never-ending cup of tea. He told himself firmly, turning the page of an elaborate treatise on the history of drinking water treatment practices, that he would not check on the kittens before the sun rose. They'd been well fed and fast asleep when Dr. Malhotra had left, and he hadn't heard a peep since, even from Sally--it was a foolish, selfish urge, and one that would be likely to wake Crowley.
(Crowley may not need to sleep, but he did quite enjoy it.)
Aziraphale broke around five-thirty.
Sally was curled as tightly as her awkwardly-shaped four-week-old body could manage, with Dot likewise pressed up against her. Mojo was rather more on her back, exposing a soft, round belly, and her pink tongue stuck slightly out from between her teeth.
It had been a very long time since Aziraphale had been immediately responsible for the health and well being of another creature. He'd forgotten the peculiar feeling--like terror and joy, all at once.
He watched them for a few minutes, standing in the doorway to the bathroom without turning on a light. The faint illumination which slipped up the stairs was more than enough, even without the benefits of his otherworldly eyesight; they barely moved, but for rising chests and twitching paws.
The dreams of an infant, it seemed to him, must be a remarkable thing, almost wholly untainted by experiences of the world and technicolor with imagination and warmth. Of course, all dreams seemed a bit like miracles to him--he’d never had one. He didn’t even sleep.
With a sigh so quiet it was barely audible even to himself, Aziraphale closed the door to the bathroom and shifted his attention--not to the book lying open and waiting on the desk down below, but to the other somnolent inhabitant of the flat above the bookshop.
The demon was spread eagled on his stomach across the bed, under the quilt but above the sheets, his suit exchanged for soft cotton pajamas and his glasses carefully folded onto the bedstand. At this angle, without his conscious alteration of the world around him, there was an obvious and endearing cowlick at the back of his head.
Aziraphale breathed out silently, letting himself linger for just one moment. He'd been in love for so long he sometimes forgot what that felt like, too. Times like this were a reminder.
He went back downstairs.
"My dear," Aziraphale said severely, "you are teaching your siblings bad habits."
Sally blinked back at him from the bookcase. She was wedged in between the tops of the books and the shelf above, bushy tail lashing with excitement and one paw still sticking out from where she'd ambushed his sleeve as he reached past her to shelve some new inventory.
"Mrrt ," she told him. "Mrrraatrat ."
"What 'siblings'?" Crowley asked derisively. "These two wouldn't know the meaning of the word 'mischief' if it transformed into a dog and chased them down the street . Bloody disappointed, I am."
Eyes glittering with amusement, Aziraphale half-turned away from his books, taking a moment to consider the demon--and to let him stew distrustfully over the coming retort.
Lounging, he was, with one leg thrown over the arm of the chair and the other resting on the coffee table. The twins were much the same; Dot had draped herself over Crowley's shoulder and up his arm in such a way that had forced him to leave it rested against the far wing of the armchair for nearly an hour, and Mojo was turned on her back between his thigh and the chair, black little paws in the air and furry belly temptingly exposed for scratches. Every minute or two, Crowley obliged her.
"Did you hear that?" Aziraphale asked Sally, holding eye contact with Crowley for one more moment before he turned to twinkle at her instead. Alone among the darlings, she'd kept the blue eyes. "Your other father's proud of you, little Adversary."
Indignant spluttering exploded from the armchair--and then Mojo sprinted past, her fur standing on end and her startled sister on her heels.
"I did not express any sort of fondness or approval for that--" Crowley gestured wildly with his now-free arm-- "That--"
"Demon?" Aziraphale suggested innocently.
"-- Beast over there on the shelf." He kicked his foot slightly, a peevish note to his voice as he added, "And now you've scared off the twins."
"You did that yourself, my dear boy." It wasn't a lie, although a proper truth would involve admitting he'd had an inkling it could result.
Aziraphale shelved his book, noting that Sally had disappeared to find a new ambush point while he'd been distracted by her sisters, and dusted his hands contentedly. Life, on a personal level, had rarely been better; the kittens introduced a lovely variety to his routine, he was actively cultivating human connections for the first time in a century, and Crowley had been living in the flat above the bookshop for six months, one week, and two days.
They did not talk about it.
"Lunch?" The demon asked, somehow managing to drape himself even more bonelessly over the armchair as he twisted and slouched until his cheek rested on his forearm on one of the arms. His legs both had to be kicked over the other, to accommodate.
He simply hadn't left since they'd adopted the kittens, at least not for any substantial amount of time. The next morning he'd gone to Mayfair and returned with a selection of feline-friendly flora, and every once in a while a new knick knack or tchotchke or piece of artwork appeared, downstairs or up, without Aziraphale really being aware that Crowley had been doing anything other than riding the Tube during rush hour just to stir up trouble.
(It didn't count as meddling when all he had to do was eat a particularly pungent tuna sandwich, and it rather kept him from getting bored and reorganizing Aziraphale's shelves again.)
"Any preferences?" Aziraphale asked, though he wasn't much paying attention to the response. Crowley would talk and talk and talk about their options, but the truth was he rarely cared--takeaway, sit down, curry or sushi; it didn't seem to matter much to him. It was the action that was important, the routine or the break thereof.
(The company, an angel carefully did not assume.)
Mojo and Dot were cowering together in a single cat-sized gap in the second lowest shelf in the next row. Aziraphale leaned down, extending a slow, calm hand to stroke down their spines, smoothing metaphorically-ruffled feathers and literally ruffled fur.
"Angel, are you even listening to me?"
"Rarely, my dear."
"Then you deserve everything that's coming your way," Crowley said snidely, and Aziraphale turned a frown on him over the shoulder of the obscenely soft (but slightly lopsided) jumper Madame Tracy had knit for him.
"What in the heavens is that supposed to--"
"My!" Aziraphale wheezed, the highspeed collision of four grey paws with the plane of his back knocking all of the air from his lungs. He clutched at the bookshelf to hold himself off of the floor, and Mojo looked on in stiff-spined concern. Dot stretched out, slowly, to sniff at his temple, a ticklish little puff of cold air and the brush of whiskers.
"Mrrp ." Sally purred, tail lashing with delight, and settled into a contented loaf on his right shoulder blade as he continued to try and catch his breath.
Crowley, the devil, was laughing so hard he'd have been crying, if only he were human. "What a beastly little thing you are, mm?" he declared, scooping Sally off of Aziraphale and holding her aloft with her hind legs dangling into space.
"Mrrrrowl ," she told him, with a flash of sharp white teeth, and Crowley answered with a slow, toothy grin of his own.
"We were going to get lunch," Aziraphale said weakly, drawing himself properly upright, but he had ceased to be of interest to either of the two most mercurial creatures in his life.
"That wasn't a bad bit of stalking," Crowley said, with all of the air of a high level executive begrudgingly giving credit to an underling, and all of the reality of a nominally unemployed demon holding an adolescent cat firmly at arm's length with a gentle grip around its ribcage. "At least, not for a brat whose favored father thinks tartan is an appropriate camouflage for Hell."
A striped tail lashed. "Raat ."
"There's no need to defend his poor choices, beastie. You aren't on trial for them. Look, if you really want to hone your craft--"
"Quit that. I'm trying to give you advice!"
"I do so know what I'm talking about--!"
Aziraphale settled onto the floor, a familiar swell of fond exasperation rising through his chest, and rested his head against the worn wood of his bookshelves. He wished he could claim that this was a first, or even a second or third for Crowley (on whom Aziraphale placed the full onus of responsibility, as Sally was a seven month old kitten and not a six millennium old human-shaped being), but the fact of the matter was that such arguments were a biweekly occurrence.
"Mrrp ?" Mojo asked, butting her head against the side of his, and Aziraphale smiled.
"Hello, darling." He reached carefully over his shoulder, drawing her out of her crevice--she took the manhandling with quiet befuddlement, blinking up at him with intelligent hazel eyes as he settled her into his arms- on her back the way she liked- and after a moment's thought, she began purring with the rumble of a gentle engine.
(His five favorite sounds: the purr of each of the kittens, the purr of the Bentley, and one particular indignant splutter.)
Dot batted lightly at his shoulder, demanding her fair share of the attention her sisters were receiving. "Mrow ," she told him.
"Mrow," he echoed awkwardly, trying to wrap his mouth around the sound.
Mojo twisted curiously in his arms, and Dot sat up straight, her green eyes wide. "Mowrow ," she said, batting clawlessly at him once more.
"Rrrow ! Mrow !"
"Mrrrat !" Mojo interjected, before Aziraphale could mimic Dot.
"Well, which of you am I supposed to answer now?" he asked, bemusedly. "I--"
He glanced up to find Crowley staring at him from behind dark sunglasses, mouth hanging slightly open. He broke out into a smile, feeling his cheeks flush red with embarrassment, and turned Mojo out of his arms with a gentle nudge. "What?"
Crowley visibly swallowed, his long arms retracting and cradling a mildly-offended Sally into his chest as if he'd forgotten which of the cats he was holding at that moment. "Nothing," he said defensively. "What, what? One thing to talk to the cats, a whole other to talk like them. I'm not allowed to watch you make a fool of yourself?"
"I generally try to give you the benefit of privacy," Aziraphale said scathingly, "or should you rather I involve myself in your petty arguments with your adolescent daughter?"
"MRAOW ," Sally added, clawing her way up to Crowley's shoulder and crouching there like a tuft-eared gargoyle, and Crowley reached up to scratch under her chin with a scowl.
"What?" he sniffed, turning up that long nose of his. "I didn't start it."
Aziraphale stared at him exasperatedly for a long moment, and then dragged himself to his feet. There was real, genuine annoyance at the demon sparking through his veins for the first time since any of the various events surrounding the Non-pocalypse. "She is a cat , Crowley," he said sharply, dusting off the seat of his trousers.
"I didn't say Sally started it," Crowley snapped back, his eyes quite literally flashing with anger, bright enough to be seen even through the glasses. "You're the one who calls her your new Adversary!"
"Oh, my dear." Aziraphale rocked back on his heels, feeling his breath stolen for the second time in a single day. How lucky he was, not to need it when push came to shove. "I didn't think," he said quietly.
Crowley deflated just as quickly as he'd gotten fired up, looking rather as if he regretted having said anything at all. "Yes, well--"
"My dear, surely you must recognize that such an endearment is only an endearment because of its emotional connection to yourself," Aziraphale said firmly, striding forward and stretching onto his toes to pluck Sally from the demon's shoulder and drop her gently to the floor. He took Crowley by the chin, tipping his face down as if he could meet any gaze but his own in those damnable reflective lenses. "I have no need nor wish to replace you, Anthony J. Crowley. Nor could any six months' love of a precocious kitten possibly compare to--"
He paused. Swallowed heavily. Neither of them, he noted distantly, was breathing much at all.
"Well," he said, clearing his throat and dropping his gaze. His fingers straightened out the collar of Crowley's shirt and jacket without his telling them to. "We, ah, had been discussing lunch."
"Er, yes." Crowley cleared his own throat, taking a long, long step backward and artfully re-mussing his clothing as if it were second nature. "Perhaps it would be best-- I mean-- Well, it has been a bit of time since--"
"The Ritz?" Aziraphale said hopefully.
"--I went back to Mayfair," Crowley finished awkwardly.
"Oh." Aziraphale rocked back on his heels. "I see," he said; the words came as if from a great distance, the mouth shaping them hardly even his. For a moment, he'd thought them on the edge of--
But that was silly. It had always been silly, which is why he'd spent the last several centuries growing ever-so-good at stopping himself from wanting it. This was simply a moment of weakness , and the first in such a rather long time that it could hardly even be regretted--
"Unless," Crowley blurted.
Aziraphale blinked. "Unless?" he asked suspiciously, and Crowley threw his hands in the air, spinning around and pacing off in a dramatic flourish before pivoting and stalking right back over to the very taken aback angel in the middle of the bookshop.
"Unless ," he said rather desperately, "you want me to stay?"
"Of course I want you to stay!"
"You've never said !"
It was Aziraphale's turn to fling his hands into the air. "Haven't thrown you out, have I?! You've only been living in my flat for six months!"
Crowley spluttered. "I didn't think you'd even noticed, to be honest."
"How could I not notice , you foolish serpent? There are--" he pointed to their left-- "Plants, everywhere! And your little--" he wiggled his fingers-- "Knick knacks, all over the shelves, I have to keep telling people they aren't for sale--"
"Nothing in this shop is for sale, if you can get away with it--"
"--And the refrigerator never has the same food in it twice--"
"I get bored--"
"--And you." Aziraphale grasped his upper arms, a melancholy sort of smile stealing across his face. "My dear, we've seen more of each other in the last six months than in the decade prior, and we spent most of that badly raising a child together." He squeezed lightly, his voice gentle as he added, "I noticed that you moved in."
"So I've gathered."
"Going to tell me why?"
"Oughta check up on old Warlock," Crowley said faintly. "Let him know we replaced him with a trio of cats, and that we do, in fact, love them more."
"That's a terrible thing to say!"
"Well, it's true, isn't it? Smug faced little git with no interest in smiting or tempting, despite all of our best efforts--"
"Just because he wasn't particularly ambitious--"
"That's the understatement of the year."
"I just don't understand you sometimes, my dear!"
"Changed my mind. That's the understatement of the year. The decade." He held up a finger. "The millennium."
"Crowley, be serious --"
"I think something was said about the Ritz?"
"Bugger the Ritz!" Aziraphale exploded, and Crowley's eyebrows shot up above the frames of his sunglasses.
"G-- S-- Fuck, you haven't caught something from a human somehow, have you?" he asked anxiously, setting the back of his hand against Aziraphale's forehead as if his hands weren't always cold with poor circulation and the angel weren't always warm with the burning flame of divine righteousness.
"You're an idiot," Aziraphale said blankly. "You are, without a doubt, the least intelligent not-person I have ever had the pleasure of knowing, with the exception of all the rest of us."
Crowley snatched his hand back, mouth dropping open and twisting with insult. "And you're supposed to be the nice one!"
"I had been trying to get at something." Aziraphale pinched the bridge of his nose. "And you are-- Willfully, I swear, you're-- Willfully --"
"Are you sure you aren't sick? It's only you're normally a right bit better with your words--"
He threw out his arms, frustration snapping out so sharply he lost control, wings following behind in an explosion of feathers. "I'm in love with you!"
Like a fish.
For a very long time.
Needless to say, it was hardly a promising reaction.
Aziraphale turned away, carefully taking his emotions by the reigns and tucking them back in their proper places, much like his wings. "Apologies, darlings," he said in his warmest and most soothing voice, looking around for the kittens, but Sally had taken refuge beneath the couch with no obvious intention of emerging, and the twins were nowhere to be seen. He pinched the bridge of his nose.
Immune to headaches though he may be, sometimes--
Fingertips brushed his shoulder, feather light and tentative, and were promptly snatched back, their owner retreating several steps away before Aziraphale even turned around.
Crowley looked… awkward. Crowley was often awkward, of course, all bipedal and multi-limbed without a proper sense of what he was meant to do with them, in a way that often had Aziraphale wondering if he hadn't been a serpent even before the Fall. (The negative connotations wouldn't have existed, of course. Crowley became the negative connotations.)
But Aziraphale had never seen him look so--awkward . Right there in the middle of the bookshop, where he'd been at home just as long as Aziraphale had.
"You, er." He gestured weakly at the demon's hair. "Sorry."
Crowley brushed away the feathers with a heavy frown. "Bit melodramatic," he said distastefully, "don't you think?"
"Sorry about that, too."
"No, you're not."
"Well, I am a bit ."
He shoved his hands in his pockets, hunching in on himself as he sidled, unsubtly, closer to Aziraphale. "So, you, er… How long?"
"Long enough that I can hardly remember…" Aziraphale spread his hands helplessly, willing Crowley to understand how difficult it was to say the things that had always gone unsaid. "Not."
"But you can?"
"Remember a time before it."
He'd forced himself to stick to the company line (more or less) those first thousand years or so, and it was hard to fall in love when you were constantly telling yourself he was Evil. It had taken another several thousand years before he figured it out, too, if he was being honest--and apparently he was. "I suppose."
Crowley looked quite satisfied with the answer. "I win then," he said smugly, his thin shoulders back and pointed chin jutting. "Because I don't."
"Remember not being in love with you.”
(There was a moment where Aziraphale expected to be surprised.
It was immediately displaced by the realization that no, of course he wasn’t shocked. Neither of them should be. This was as inevitable as it was ineffable , and they weren’t exactly subtle . This realization allowed him to focus on the more important part of Crowley’s assertion.)
Aziraphale spluttered. "That doesn't mean you win --"
"This isn't a game ; we aren't competing--!"
"Except we are, and I won--"
"And even if we were, I-- well, I said it first--!"
"That doesn't matter!"
"I should very much think it does!"
"Moving into your apartment was clearly a declaration--"
"That you're tired of paying rent , mayb--mmph!"
Long fingers curled around the back of his head, dry lips pressing gently, insistently, and Crowley must have taken off his glasses. Aziraphale made a small noise in the back of his throat. His eyes fluttered shut, and his hands found his demon's hips to draw him closer.
"Finally," Crowley said, as he drew back.
Aziraphale smiled giddily, his fingers clutching tight in the expensive fabric of Crowley's suit. "Yes," he said. There were no other words. “Yes.”
"Finally," Crowley repeated, his grin all teeth as his eyes- his lovely, lovely eyes- sparked with mischief, "I've figured out how to win an argument."
And just like that, Aziraphale rediscovered an elaborate vocabulary.
“I changed my mind,” he groaned. "You're a terrible creature, and I do want you to leave." He pinched Crowley's side, scowling, and the demon yelped and threw back his head as he broke into laughter. "We were having a moment, you-- you--!"
"Fiend?" Crowley drew him backwards, steering unerringly towards the couch without even a glance over his shoulder. "Serpent?” He wiggled his eyebrows unbecomingly. “Wily minx ?"
"I don't even like you,” Aziraphale sniffed.
"Because you love me."
"Yes, well, you're constantly telling me what terrible taste I have--"
The backs of Crowley's knees hit the couch, and he let himself topple at an angle, dragging Aziraphale haphazardly down on top of him. They weren’t in much of a position to continue kissing, but that didn’t matter, much; there’d be plenty of time for that kind of thing, and even this simple intimacy of touch had been denied them for so long. The angel buried his face in the demon's stomach, finding himself aggrieved and overjoyed and so very charmed, all at once.
Fingers stroked hesitantly through his hair. One of the cats- Dot, since Crowley would have shooed off Sally and Mojo was probably still in hiding- leaped up to settle in the small of his back.
Crowley veritably radiated contentment, even with one leg hanging entirely off the couch and the other knobbly knee bent and sticking into the air between Aziraphale and the cushions. "You do have terrible taste, and also absolutely no sense at all. Luckily, I've enough of both taste and sense for the two of us to share," he said magnanimously.
"I knew you were a liar, Crowley, but I didn't realize you were delusional ." Crowley spluttered indignantly, and Aziraphale's shoulders shook with laughter. "My dear," he said softly, nosing briefly at Crowley's stomach- reveling in the surprised jump of muscles- before turning to settle his cheek against it. "My dear, dear boy."
They were quiet for a long, wondrous moment.
"Your daughter," Crowley said eventually, his voice thoroughly disgruntled, "is attacking my ankle."