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Aziraphale is nowhere as surprised as he might have been, before, when Crowley shows up at his shop in the middle of the day with no reason given. Since — well, everything, they’ve stayed rather closer than their previous usual had been, even as it had been over the past eleven-ish years of the not-quite-the-Antichrist’s upbringing.

Which is all to say, Crowley has been about Aziraphale’s sphere a great deal more than he had been before the averted end of all things. Which would have all been fine, honestly, if not for the little street fair the week before.

On entering the bookshop, Crowley loses just a fraction of his swagger. And everything would probably have proceeded apace as per usual, except Crowley has always had an eye for flash. For any kind of glitter, anything sparkly or shiny. And Aziraphale had entirely forgotten, but his wrist—

Well, Crowley notices.

He catches the glint off Aziraphale’s right hand and grabs it. “What’s this?” he asks, his question in a surprisingly reasonable tone, as he reaches to pull Aziraphale’s sleeve away for a better look at it.

Aziraphale had entirely honestly forgotten, but: around his right wrist right now is a beautifully articulated and segmented, golden snake with an enamel red apple in its mouth. Once Crowley has exposed the rest of his wrist to get a better look, it’s rather unavoidably obvious.

“What is… this?” Crowley repeats, in a rather more worrying tone.

This isn’t what Aziraphale had intended, in any way, and it takes a terribly long moment before he finds his voice. “So, er, I was at the market?  The lovely little street fair the other day, there was this lovely girl there selling her jewelry and, erm.”

Aziraphale clears his throat. “Well, she showed it to me because, she said, she’d had the oddest feeling she should bring it and a few other things she normally doesn’t because they’re too expensive to sell at a steet fair, and well,” Aziraphale pauses to corral his thoughts.

“To be honest, I do think she might have a touch of the sight, some of the things she said, so it just sort of seemed… like I should?” he ends, a bit breathlessly, for all that breath shouldn’t really matter to a being such as himself.

Crowley just stares at him. It is a horribly vulnerable and tender look that Aziraphale has no idea what to do with. Eventually, Aziraphale tugs his sleeve back down into place and fixes his perfectly fine bowtie. “I, erm, it’s... I do understand entirely if you feel it’s not... appropriate.

“But,” Aziraphale hears himself saying, in a very small voice, somewhat to his surprise. “I did also... there was something else she had that I — well it was sort of terribly presumptuous of me, but I bought it for you, um, she had to reset it, it was a pendant, but.” He digs through his desk and after a brief moment he produces a small box and hands it over to Crowley.

Crowley opens the box looking for all the world, as he does so, as though it contains holy water which Aziraphale feels is not especially fair but he cannot really blame Crowley either, considering.

It is a miniature sword. Beautifully wrought in copper, with a delicate pattern of inlaid silver on the blade and a leather hilt, and Aziraphale is not certain Crowley will appreciate it for what he means it to be but neither can he take it back now.

Crowley stares at the small box in his hand for an excruciatingly long time, saying nothing at all. After long enough of that, Aziraphale feels compelled to say, “Ah, oh dear, I -- really am so sorry, I certainly intended no offense, it just seemed so right, I’ll just,” and Crowley interrupts him. “Angel,” he says in a terribly raw voice, and takes the bloody thing out of its box and holds it up to the light.

It glints in the light, looking almost aflame.

And then Crowley sets it in his left ear[1] Crowley had not had a piercing in that ear in years, Aziraphale was reasonably certain, but that’s hardly a difficult bit of reconfiguration of a corporeal body. [Hide footnote.]. It is the perfect length; it looks stunning against his throat.

“Oh!” Aziraphale says, taken aback, finds his hand pressed against his mouth. He hadn’t imagined Crowley would look so utterly striking, wearing it. He hadn’t been sure Crowley would even accept the gift at all when he had purchased it.

Crowley reaches out to Aziraphale’s wrist much more carefully this time than before, pulling it to him. He tugs Aziraphale’s sleeves out of the way and presses an open-mouthed, wet kiss to the delicate inner skin of Aziraphale’s wrist, his tongue pressing against the bracelet and skin both, and Aziraphale is desperately relieved that Crowley does, apparently, understand precisely what Aziraphale had meant.

When Crowley starts to pull away, Aziraphale reaches up to softly cup his jaw, the left side of his neck, and leans in to touch his forehead to Crowley’s, to run a thumb over the pleasing curve of Crowley’s mouth and the space where earring meets ear. Were they human, they would be sharing breath; it is terribly, wonderfully intimate.

“Angel,” Crowley says softly. “What the Heaven are we doing, here?”

Aziraphale feels his mouth go a bit tense and set, but he doesn’t pull away. “Well, they have nothing to do with it, nor Hell for that matter,” he hears himself say, very firmly, and then finds himself having to contain his startle when Crowley wraps his arms around Aziraphale tightly enough that if he needed that breath he would probably be having trouble getting it right now.

Aziraphale has been hugged before, of course, and he has even been hugged as desperately as this, but not recently and certainly not in similar circumstances. It’s a very strange dissonance, but after a moment he reciprocates the hug and when it becomes clear Crowley is going to keep hanging on for some time, he settles his hands on Crowley’s hips.

Our ssside,” Crowley whispers against the skin of Aziraphale’s throat before clearing his own and saying, “Please tell me you have something worth drinking on hand, angel.”

What he does not do is let go.

Aziraphale waits a moment, and then another and then coughs delicately. “I do, of course, but you’ll have to let go of me first…?” he trails off.

Crowley pulls away enough to grace Aziraphale with a rather piercing look, before grasping Aziraphale’s braceleted wrist. “Seems like the point of that,” he punctuates with a squeeze, “is that I never do.”

Aziraphale feels his cheeks flush, an incredibly unaccustomed sensation. When he realises that what he is experiencing is the somatic human response of blushing, he feels his cheeks heat even more.

Aziraphale thinks something that isn’t their usual is called for, and busies himself digging out and a bottle of cognac and the crystal he bought in Sweden in the 1970s — it’s modern enough Crowley will appreciate it. His pours are a bit generous but that seems reasonable enough, under the circumstances. Crowley’s hand lingers softly against Aziraphale’s as Aziraphale passes him his glass.

Aziraphale sits down on the only seating large enough to accommodate more than one person[2] In fact, this was also the only actually comfortable seating in his entire shop. Crowley had manifested it from one of his chairs one night in a snit, oh, in the late 1950s it had to have been. [Hide footnote.] and given the lack of personal space since Crowley first noticed the bracelet, it should probably not be a surprise when Crowley sits — or sprawls, really — as much on top of Aziraphale as next to him with his legs draped across Aziraphale’s thigh and his left arm behind Aziraphale. It is though, at least a little, because even at their drunkest and most vulnerable they have never permitted themselves much physical intimacy before now. It is wonderfully new and terribly strange.

“Ah,” Aziraphale says. “Erm — comfortable, are you?”

“Oh yes,” Crowley says. “Very.”

“Well,” Aziraphale says, faintly. “That’s good, then, I suppose.” After a moment, Aziraphale rests his free hand on Crowley’s leg and leans into his side. Given the opportunity, it seems foolish not to enjoy the closeness.

Aziraphale takes a fortifying sip of his cognac and puts the glass down, steeling himself. “Thank you,” he says.

Crowley looks over his glass of cognac and his glasses at Aziraphale, his eyes just visible over the tops of his very dark red lenses. He is stunning like that, a rainbow of reddish-gold shades between the earring, the cognac, his eyes, and his beautiful hair. “Just so I’m totally clear on this — what, exactly, are you thanking me for here?” Crowley asks.

“Well, I could give you a list, but mostly for not laughing at me for my ridiculous impulse purchases,” Aziraphale says.

“Oh, I’d never,” Crowley says, quickly, and drinks from his glass just as quickly.

“It’s just, you’re very important to me, Crowley, and I — don’t honestly care what anyone else thinks of that, anymore,” Aziraphale says, nervously twisting the apple in the snake bracelet’s mouth around. It moves smoothly, bounded only in how far it will twist by the snake’s fangs and the apple’s stem.

“Except possibly the Almighty Herself, I suppose,” Aziraphale adds after a moment, still looking down at his bracelet. “But if She has any objections She hasn’t registered them yet.”

When he looks up Crowley is looking at him with that same horrible raw, tender look as when this whole daft exchange started and Aziraphale cannot deal with this as sober as he is. He snags Crowley’s glass out of his hand, as it is the closer of the two, and downs what is left of it. Then he wraps his own arms around Crowley and buries his face in Crowley’s neck because he has absolutely definitely exhausted his supply of words on this topic.

Crowley reaches up, cupping the back of Aziraphale’s head, and twines his fingers in Aziraphale’s hair, scratching gently at his scalp. Aziraphale makes a noise that, if pressed, he might admit was a little undignified but would never admit was something akin to a purr. “Oh, angel,” Crowley says and presses another wet kiss to the side of Aziraphale’s face, lets himself taste the skin there, lets his tongue slide into the shell of Aziraphale’s ear. It is even more blatant than the kiss earlier and Aziraphale shivers happily.

“Well, I do have another question for you,” Crowley says after a long moment and Aziraphale worries at his lip, wondering, but Crowley’s hand doesn’t move from his hair. “Am I taking you to lunch like I meant to when I popped in, or are we ordering in your bodyweight in Thai?”

“My bodyweight in Thai seems like it’d be just a bit excessive, my dear,” Aziraphale says, relieved and amused. “But ordering in does sound nice.”

Crowley extricates himself from Aziraphale’s embrace sufficiently to fish his phone out of his jeans pocket and jab at it, presumably in doing so acquiring a hopefully more reasonable fraction of Aziraphale’s bodyweight in Thai.

Aziraphale removes himself entirely and stands to take off his jacket and hang it up. He rolls up his shirt sleeves and flips the store’s sign to closed, a thing he would have done much sooner if he hadn’t been utterly distracted. “Well,” he says primly to Crowley’s mirthful eyebrows, “I’m hardly going to deal with customers during lunch with you, am I.”

Crowley doesn’t say anything but he does slide his glasses off — an intimacy that Aziraphale has never seen Crowley bestow on anyone else since he took to wearing the blasted things, and only rarely on Aziraphale. Granted, they spend sufficient time apart that Crowley could have a whole host of people he goes without lenses around, but it does seem unlikely.

Aziraphale busies himself clearing several stacks of books off the short stool so that there will be some place to put the food. It takes longer than it might as he ends up reorganising them as he does so, carrying them off to other parts of his shop.

“I had meant to ask you properly, you know,” Aziraphale says, into the surprisingly comfortable silence, after he finishes. “I just wanted to see what it felt like to wear it, and it was comfortable enough I entirely forgot about it for a bit, and then you just — well, I wasn’t expecting you today, and there we were.”

Crowley just looks at him with those beautiful searing yellow eyes of his and the sword both gleaming in the glorious last of the summer sunlight filtering in, with a soft expression that Aziraphale’s seen across a table just an impossibly distant hand’s reach away for almost as long as they have known each other, and Aziraphale feels confident, for once, that he has done both the right thing and the kind thing.

Lunch is a still frankly ridiculous spread of food delivered to the shop, and finds their limbs tangled up again on the couch, sharing judicious sips of bitter ya dong Crowley materialised from who knows where. Crowley feeds Aziraphale forkfuls of noodles and, more surprisingly, lets Aziraphale feed him bits of fried tofu.

Somewhere along the way, Aziraphale ends up losing his vest and half his shirt’s buttons have come undone somehow as well; he’s not entirely certain how or which of them did that. Crowley’s shirt goes missing, too, and his skin is terribly warm — at odds with his snake-like eyes, and Aziraphale leans into the warmth gratefully.

The last few bites of lunch are languorous and sleepy and Aziraphale wipes his hands with the wet napkins the restaurant had thoughtfully included, before pulling out the second novel in the science fiction series he’s been reading — it’s mostly a project in morbid curiousity as it’s one of the various additions his shop had acquired in the wake of the world not ending and its restoration, but it is interesting.

Aziraphale just very much hopes that Adam had not included it because he has personally read it as, while it’s got a great deal of action the boy would probably enjoy, it’s also… well, torture is a mainstay of the hexarchate, and that’s really just the start of the disturbing content. Aziraphale truly does not miss torture being a central, foregrounded backbone of most human society; that’s something the humans have done rather well in getting away from.

Crowley just gives him an amused look and starts playing a thankfully quiet game on his phone. He seems perfectly willing to stay tangled up here with Aziraphale instead of going off to do — whatever it is he’s been doing to keep himself busy in the wake of Heaven and Hell trying and failing to deal with each of them respectively.

Aziraphale only notices the time when the sun eventually dips low enough that it’s not entirely comfortable to read, anymore, and sits up. Crowley grumbles sleepily, having drifted off at some point, Aziraphale has no idea when.

“Well, I know you don’t eat much, but it’s past time I ordinarily eat dinner,” Aziraphale says. “Do you — would you like to join me?”

Crowley blinks at him very slowly and deliberately, the only way he ever does. “Why wouldn’t I?’

“Oh, I don’t know, it’s not as though we’ve ever spent this much time together before, I thought maybe you’d like your space,” Aziraphale says.

“Had my fill of space, over the years,” Crowley says. “Didn’t like it that much, to be honest.”

Aziraphale is torn between pleasure that Crowley is in no hurry to be rid of him and, well — a terribly complicated tangle of feelings about his relationship with Crowley as it was prior to the antichrist’s birth.

Crowley dons his his shirt and his glasses both. Meanwhile, Aziraphale does button his shirt back up but he does not bother with his jacket or his vest, and leaves his sleeves rolled up, as they get ready to go out. It’s not terribly subtle, as a display of his bracelet and his comfort with Crowley, but neither is he trying to be.

They go out for sushi at Aziraphale’s favourite place, a place not even Gabriel could ruin with his uninvited appearance a scant decade and change prior. They sit next to each other up at the bar, as Aziraphale hadn’t bothered ensuring a table was free.

Crowley lets Aziraphale feed him a few pieces of each of his favourite rolls in return for letting him feed Aziraphale the rest. They drink several bottles of sake, as well. It would have been shochu but Aziraphale doesn’t want the memory of a single moment of this even a little blurred.

It’s not precisely decadent — Aziraphale has had vastly more decadent meals by far — but it is, all the same, one of the most delightful meals Aziraphale can recall ever having.

By the end of the third round of food, Aziraphale is pleasantly full and very pleased, and that is when Crowley finishes the last of his sake and, in a quiet voice, says, “I hadn’t… I knew you cared for me, angel, but I really didn’t think you’d ever admit it in as many words. Much less — do something about it, let alone something as… flash as this,” he says, his hand rubbing gently at the sword he’s wearing.

Aziraphale puts his chopsticks down neatly across his saucer, and looks over directly at Crowley, who is wearing much more revealing lenses than he’s favoured for the last couple of decades, and takes a deep breath. He doesn’t need the breath, but it is still calming. “Well, I was so very afraid for so very long. Of being — well, a bad angel. Of failing God and Heaven, and Falling.

“And it isn’t that I want to Fall, you see, but — well, the prospect of another holy war and the end of everything does rather leave one prone to introspection and re-evaluation,” Aziraphale pauses.

“Given how damned long it’s been, if my feelings for you were going to go away because I pretended they weren’t there, because I kept you just at arm’s reach, you’d think they bloody well would have by now,” he adds, looking down again at his own bracelet before looking up again. “And I realised that I don’t, really, want them to. So, I suppose, what I realised is that it doesn’t really matter if I am a bad angel; if I have failed God and Heaven; if I am going to Fall.

“The things I’ve worried so much about that are under my control are ones I would never change, and… the rest is beyond my control. So it doesn’t matter if I shout it, or what I do to acknowledge it. I’ll say it every day, if you’d like,” Aziraphale says, and he means every word of it. His feelings for Crowley are something he’s struggled with for so long, but here and now it’s shockingly easy. If, in the end, he Falls — well, he won’t be alone, will he?

“And as for flash,” he adds, lightly. “Well, I have a lot of lost time to make up for, don’t I?”

Crowley just reaches over and cups Aziraphale’s jaw, impossibly tenderly. He doesn’t do anything, just leaves his fingers there. When Aziraphale reaches up with his own hand, his braceleted right hand of course, to cover Crowley’s and lace their fingers together, he says, “You were right, you know. About the point of this. I don’t want you to ever let go of me.”

He brings Crowley’s hand to his mouth and kisses his knuckles, and it’s a promise of his own.

[1] Crowley had not had a piercing in that ear in years, Aziraphale was reasonably certain, but that’s hardly a difficult bit of reconfiguration of a corporeal body.

[2] In fact, this was also the only actually comfortable seating in his entire shop. Crowley had manifested it from one of his chairs one night in a snit, oh, in the late 1950s it had to have been.

The science fiction series referenced in the story is the Machineries of Empire trilogy, by Yoon Ha Lee. It is excellent military space opera, but probably not something Aziraphale would have ever sought out for himself. It is left to the reader to decide why it was one of the new additions to the shop.