Aziraphale knew when it started; his ugly, unholy obsession.
He was standing on the edge of Eden, staring out into a desert that would become the collective history of mankind to come. The demon Crowley had slithered into the garden on his watch and set forth the motion of the universe and then, he had talked. Aziraphale had expected... something else. Demons were crafty and unpredictable, and they didn't take time to reassure fretting Principalities that they had done the right thing, but Crowley had.
He knew it was temptation. From the very moment Crowley had smiled at him, yellow eyes soft, crow’s feet crinkled, laugh low and warm. There could be no other explanation for the way he had wanted so instantly and covetously. Angels had no such feelings. Want was vague and suspicious and it represented a failure of celestial conscious.
Thunder rolled through the sky chasing its lightning and the angel Aziraphale sheltered a serpent under his wing, heart thumping in his chest; the beginning of an end.
The great flood. The crucifixion. The crusades. The fall of Rome. The Reign of Terror. No matter where Aziraphale went, Crowley found him. It was like going crazy in slow motion, century after century, dark robes and ruinous curls, long lean legs that crippled empires and Aziraphale right along with them. But the worst torture was the way Crowley looked at him so tenderly, with such bemused affection, and Aziraphale hated the ache of it.
Demons didn't love because they couldn't, and yet... there were moments when Aziraphale would catch Crowley at ease or unaware, defenses down, no wry eyebrow or guarded comeback. Just a demon looking at an angel like maybe that didn't have to matter.
This was the part that hurt the most. Crowley was a snide, snarky serpent with blasphemy on his tongue and lust on his lips. He seeded discord wherever he went and in true demonic fashion, he enjoyed it. But chaos is a far cry from cruelty; Crowley was careful to cause problems never harm, he misdirected and redirected and inconvenienced, but he was careful. The very old, the very sick, children, mothers, innocents. Crowley protected them all, and Aziraphale didn't understand why he bothered. Demons liked to hurt things.
As was the breadth of mortal history, the second world war was ugly and hard and before the dust had settled over Warsaw Aziraphale found Crowley in a gutted restaurant without a roof, drowning himself in gin at what was left of the bar. “Drink with me, angel.”
“I don't think—”
Crowley reached into his pocket and tossed a tiny pair of cream-coloured infant shoes at his feet. “There were barrels of them just like these. Drink with me.”
“Oh, Crowley.” Aziraphale said softly, “I'm so—”
“Don't say you're sorry,” Crowley said coldly. He poured himself another shot, looked at it blearily, and then drank from the bottle instead. Not wanting to look at Aziraphale he stared at the wall in front of him. “You don't believe I can feel anything anyway.”
Aziraphale said nothing because Crowley was right; he didn’t believe it, he knew demons couldn't feel, but it didn't stop his heart from breaking when he watched one cry.
Things were changing and Aziraphale was terrified. After Warsaw, Crowley was different. In a lot of ways harder, in so many more, softer. He arrived at Aziraphale’s bookshop at odd hours with wine or spirits that he knew Aziraphale would like, nibbles. He became a purveyor of fine chocolates and cheeses, interesting conversation, sullen silences that felt better with company. Aziraphale was going out of his mind; Palov’s angel chasing sunglasses in crowded streets for a chance-on-purpose meeting that he shouldn’t want.
The cycle was endless, his mind wandering from this or that to Crowley, Crowley’s company, Crowley’s body, and then yanking himself back by a short mental chain. What a failure he was, a silly soft angel so lonely he had fixated on the one creature in existence who could never… but, wasn’t that his favourite form of self-flagellation? Guilty, guarded, late at night, eyes closed but fingers too proud to wander below the belt. When he imagined what it would feel like, it was always frenzied and desperate, forbidden, but no matter how careful he was to angle his thoughts, to discipline them, every pathetic fantasy ended the same sad way: Crowley would be gone the morning after and Aziraphale would be shattered and alone.
Aziraphale’s first mortal lover left affronted and unimpressed, but the second to the fiftieth were easier. Aziraphale found Crowley in parts and pieces all over London. Green eyes with a hint of yellow, red hair in thick waves, underfed young men with sharp hip bones and slinky bodies who fucked like they were hungry. He never bedded the same one twice, always ashamed of the way Crowley’s name sat on his tongue when he kissed them or that his hips stuttered to end wishing even one of them remembered the sun-warm sand of Jerusalem.
Aziraphale had to have been tempted. There was no other explanation for the way his entire immortal existence had slowly swirled around Crowley like a galaxy formed around a black hole. He felt like he was leading a double life: pompous, stuffy Aziraphale who liked books, and tea, and poached salmon on toast, who blushed hot and pink at the mere hint of carnal pleasures, and Aziraphale undone after hours, yet another mortal substitute keening as he was coated in hot spunk and holy divinity. And he did bless them, again and again.
“You’d have enjoyed it more if you’d relaxed a little,” Crowley was keeping pace with Aziraphale as they walked through a series of knotted back alleys and unlit side streets. Like always, knees and hips tangled up in asymmetric swagger. “You’re too uptight.”
“That film was practically pornographic.”
“It was French,”
“That’s no excuse,” Aziraphale said, but he knew better. He’d had his share of skinny French men, all knees and elbows, eager to do anything he wanted. “It was crude.”
Crowley chuckled. “It’s been how many centuries, and here I am still surprised by how hard you work to keep that stick up your arse. It was a good story, gotta admit that.”
“It was fine,” Aziraphale replied, irritably. It was a good movie, an achingly slow Romeo-and-Juliet style romance between two forbidden lovers that hit too close to home for comfort. The sex didn’t bother him, but the familiarity…? “I didn’t mind the dialogue.”
“Bit like us, eh?” Crowley probed. “Heaven and Hell, complete opposites, I mean buggers the lot on both sides—yours especially—but, we’re not really like our own.”
“I am,” said Aziraphale.
“You wouldn’t catch the archangel Michael at the theatre with a demon.”
“Must you always do that?” Aziraphale snapped, gnashing his teeth at the way Crowley managed to press right on the exact places he was sore. “It’s bad enough that I—that I fraternize with you socially, but must you forever remind me each time that I shouldn’t?”
Crowley looked like he had been kicked. “I just meant that you and I are different.”
“I’m exactly the same.”
“Right,” Crowley blinked into the glow of the streetlight and swallowed hard. “Stupid me to keep forgetting. I mean, the late nights and the talks and the dinners and movies—”
“Better the devil you know,” Aziraphale said because he had no excuses.
“Is that all I’ll ever be to you?” Crowley asked. “Fiend, devil, demon?”
“It’s what you are, isn't it?”
“Yeah, well. Nobody ever asked me first.” There was a moment of aggrieved silence and then, “I’d give anything to be—” Crowley didn’t say ‘what you want’ but it hung in the air dangerous and honest all the same “John Lennon—or someone. Fancy bloke, Lennon.”
The world was ending and Aziraphale was clinging to the only thing that made sense to him: good was good and evil was evil. He was standing in the center of a park bandstand, pleading with Crowley to do it right for once and be the cruel, callous thing Heaven had always insisted he was. That was the cure: for the world, but also for the way Aziraphale clung to him. If the sun set on the mortal coil and Crowley was kind and sweet and funny… no, he couldn't bear it. He needed him to be an ugly, unfeeling thing. He needed it to be true because if it wasn’t, there was no time to fix all the ways he had been so heartlessly wrong.
“If you kill him, then the world gets a reprieve and Heaven does not have blood on its hands.” The strangling grip of reality was squeezing the air out of Aziraphale’s chest as he prayed that Crowley would do as demons do: one mortal child for his own sorry hide.
“Oh, no blood on your hands?” Crowley snarled. After all this time—after everything—he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “That's a bit holier-than-thou, isn't it?”
“Well, I am a great deal holier than thou. That's the whole point!”
“Fine, have it your way angel.” Crowley looked as broken down as Aziraphale felt, but where Aziraphale was petrified he was furious. “I’m leaving, Aziraphale. You win.”
“You can't leave Crowley,” his voice cracked. “There isn't anywhere to go.”
“It's a big universe,” he gestured widely around them. “Stupid thing is, up until now I figured even if this all ends up in a puddle of burning goo we could go off together.”
“Go off together? Listen to yourself.” Aziraphale couldn’t breathe. This was it, everything was ending, and he heard his own voice reply as if in a fading nightmare: “We are an angel and a demon. We have nothing whatsoever in common. I don't even like you!”
“You do,” Crowley countered. “But even after all this time, you’ll never—”
Whatever he was going to say next was cut short, his back slamming into the pillar of the bandstand. Aziraphale’s hands were fisted in his lapel, mouth hot and urgent, tongue tangled up with his own. Reality blurred for a fraction of a second and Crowley was being shoved against a bookshelf instead. It rocked unsteadily and then settled, Aziraphale’s thigh forcing Crowley’s knees apart until they both hissed at the desperate friction in between.
Aziraphale was losing his mind; kissing Crowley eclipsed every kiss he’d had before, every wishful paramour. Centuries of quiet pining and guilt, it didn’t matter if demons couldn’t love because it was the end of the world and lust was enough. It was enough that Crowley moaned when Aziraphale’s thigh fucked against the bulge in his jeans. It was enough to touch him, to give in once and pretend. He wasn’t afraid of the morning after—there wasn’t going to be one, there was just clinging to one another and drowning.
“Aziraphale—hang on a second, let me—I haven’t—” Crowley’s lips were red and raw, spitshine reflecting off his chin, sunglasses pushed wildly up into his hair “—we can, angel. Anything you want—fuck, everything you want. But you have to tell me—”
“Tell you what?” Aziraphale asked absently, busy kissing bruises into Crowley’s neck to taste the salt of his skin. Centuries of temptation, of desperate wishes, and now they—
“How to do it for you,” Crowley flushed against him.
Aziraphale froze, a cold icy feeling flooding his gut. Crowley couldn’t mean…
“Come off it, I’m a quick study,” Crowley was trying to kiss him again, but Aziraphale stumbled backwards nearly tripping over his own feet. “Aziraphale?”
“Crowley, you can’t possibly… have you never…?”
“It’s fine, angel! If you just—”
“You waited for me.” Aziraphale felt sick to his stomach.
“Who else would I wait for?” Crowley was looking at him like he’d grown a second head because he didn’t understand . There was no fixing this mess, there was no tomorrow; only the chasm opening in Aziraphale’s chest when he realized that Crowley thought this was a ‘first’ and not an ‘only’ because it implied that all along, despite everything, despite the imminent end before them, Crowley had an unwavering faith that Aziraphale had never had.
“I… I can’t do this,” Aziraphale said, and like the coward he was, disappeared.
Crowley was frantic. He had spent hours looking for Aziraphale, not entirely sure what had gone wrong but mostly sure it was his fault. On the third pass, he spotted him and the Bentley squealed to a stop streetside. He wrenched open the door, “Angel!”
“I'm sorry! I apologize. Whatever I said I didn't mean it,” he waited for Aziraphale to respond and when he didn’t, he pleaded. “Work with me, I'm apologizing here. Yes? Good. Whatever it was that set you off, we can talk about it later. Get in the car.”
“The forces of hell have figured out that is was my fault,” he confessed. “I mean, that was all a matter of time, but. We can run away together! Alpha Centauri. Lots of spare planets up there. Nobody would even notice us. Not in the middle of a war, anyway.”
“Crowley, you're being ridiculous.” Aziraphale’s heart jumped into his throat, realizing that if he said yes, Crowley would. He’d abandon everything, poof, like that. “Look, I—I'm quite sure if I can just—reach the right people then I can get this all sorted out.”
“There aren't any right people!” Crowley looked ready to drop to his knees if that’s what it took. “There's just God, moving in mysterious ways, and not talking to any of us!”
“Well, yes, and that's why I'm going to have a word with the Almighty—” Aziraphale was lying and he didn’t even know why he was doing it “—and then the Almighty will fix it.”
“That won't happen!” Crowley said, dragging his palm down his face, stricken and frustrated. “You're so clever. How can somebody as clever as you be so stupid?”
“I forgive you,” Aziraphale said, but they both knew it meant goodbye.
“I'm going home, angel. I'm getting my stuff and I'm leaving.” Crowley gave him a last, lingering look before the petty anger of hurt took over. “And when I'm off in the stars—” he threw open the driver’s door, arms wide and accusing “—I won't even think of you.”
The world didn’t end, but Aziraphale’s reality imploded. Everything he’d attached himself to or held dear, everything that he had been so sure and certain of, it had all gone up in smoke. He’d watched a demon cry for the second time in a Soho bar, grieving for him of all worthless reasons. In the span of a week, things that were supposed to matter… didn’t.
Presently, they were sitting on a tiny bench in Tadfield drinking stolen supermarket wine and waiting. The small talk had been pinched and awkward, because what could you say after all was said and done? A parcel man had been by to collect and presumably store the personal effects of: one Famine, one War, and one Pestilence, along with the sword of one angel so close to falling he could already feel the rush of the air combing through his wings.
“Oh. There it is,” Aziraphale who had been staring up the laneway for an absent few minutes took a second to recognize that the bus had arrived. “It says 'Oxford' on the front.”
“Yeah, but he'll drive to London anyway. He just won't know why.”
“I suppose I should get him to drop me off at the bookshop.”
Crowley looked at him with a gentle, pitying expression. “It burned down, remember?” Aziraphale had forgotten. A pause, “You can stay at my place if you'd like.”
On impulse, ever the good soldier: “I—I don't think my side would like that.”
“You don't have a side anymore. Neither of us do,” Crowley took a deep breath. “We're on our own side. Like Agnes said, we're going to have to choose our faces wisely.”
The bus ride to London was silent. Aziraphale wasn’t sure how to put anything that had happened into words. The bus did indeed drive to London, but the climb up to Crowley’s penthouse apartment was heavy. Crowley waved his hand to unlock the door and breezed in, dumping his jacket and keys on a sleek, modern coffee table, “Mi casa es su casa.”
“It’s very… clean,” said Aziraphale.
“I have more wine if you want.”
“Please.” Aziraphale paused and said “Crowley...” at the same time that Crowley said ‘Aziraphale’. They tripped over ‘you first’, ‘no you’, until Aziraphale said, “I’m sorry.”
“For leaving when I did,” he hesitated, “And for everything else.”
“Nothing to be sorry about,” Crowley said breezily. “It was my fault for going along with it, right? I mean, end of the world panic, looking for that last hurrah.”
“The last… what?”
“You know, the last hurrah,” Crowley handed him a wine glass but avoided looking him in the eye. “Everything is about to go pear, people drink, they fight, they fuck, whatever helps. I get it. Although, if I’d had known there would be a final exam I might have studied.”
“Crowley it wasn’t—”
“I get it,” was the clipped reply. “No need to trip over yourself.”
“If you would let me—”
“Aziraphale, stop. It’s fine. We’re going to drink—a lot, I’m hoping—deal with this face business of Nutter’s, and if the ol’ hag got it right, live to talk about it tomorrow.”
It was now or never. All the ways Aziraphale had been wrong, all the things he had to atone for… when it looked like there was nothing left but hours and minutes, that the whole world would burn down around them, all Aziraphale had wanted to do was hold on hard and fast because he had never loved anything—not God, not earth, not the dozens of surrogate mortals that represented the collateral damage of his caring—the way he loved Crowley.
Aziraphale took the leap, “I love you.”
“Oh good grief, please don’t do—” Crowley waved a hand in Aziraphale’s general direction “—whatever it is you’re trying to do. It’s embarrassing for both of us.”
“I… don’t understand. I thought you…?” Oh no. Oh no, no, no.
Crowley looked skyward and sighed heavily. “Look, we both know that opposite sides or our own sides, I am what I am, and you are what you are. Thank-you works fine, none of that… touchy-feely ethereal angel gratitude for me, thanks. Gives me hives.”
“I’m not—I’m not thanking you, Crowley!” Aziraphale had no idea how he thought this would go, but this wasn’t it. He was suddenly desperate for Crowley to understand, or at least acknowledge, what he was saying, and what it meant. “They told us you couldn’t.”
“Couldn’t what…?” said Crowley, looking at him strangely.
“The first day—and I felt it, Crowley, I wanted and—you were… they were… nobody was ever nice . Or kind, to me. And they said you couldn’t be… but you were,” it was all coming out in a rush that Aziraphale had no control over. “I thought it was a temptation, all those years, because demons don’t… but I did, and then I thought: just once and—”
“Aziraphale, full sentences. I have no idea what you’re saying,” Crowley lied, trembling, knuckles white against his wine stem. “What do you mean ‘temptation’?”
“I thought it was your fault, Crowley! That I felt the way I did.”
“You thought I tempted you? What—that doesn’t—hold on,” Crowley pinched the bridge of his nose. “Every angel in creation knows what temptation does, it makes you—”
Aziraphale looked ashamedly at the floor. “It did.”
“They told us a lot of things,” Aziraphale gathered himself together. “That demons were these… cruel, bloodthirsty, untrainable things . I mean, some are, I suppose. But they didn’t leave room for exceptions, and you aren’t… I wasn’t supposed to ask questions! But I had so many. How could they be right?” He looked up brokenly, “I remember Warsaw. I remember Zanzibar, and Sudan, and Rwanda. I remember how much it hurt you.”
“If you knew I could… why didn’t you…?”
“Because what am I, if I’m not an angel?” Aziraphale wanted him to understand why, no matter how poor the reason. “I wanted to believe the lie. I suppose I needed to believe it.”
“And the other night?”
“I was…” Aziraphale cringed. “Giving in.”
“Did it at any point occur to you to ask me?” Crowley drained his wine, already refilling it and reaching out for Aziraphale’s still untouched glass. “In six-thousand fucking years, did it never actually cross your mind to go ‘oh, well, he’s right here, let’s have us a cozy little chat’? I was right here! The whole time, Aziraphale. Right here, never left.”
“You really are stupid. Just…” Crowley struggled, “Just… so stupid.”
“I know that also, I’m afraid.”
“But,” there was a heavy sigh as Crowley worked out what to say next. “There’s a good chance that either one or both of us are going to be melted down for spare parts tomorrow, and I’m not going to spend it mad at you. I am mad. Pissed, if we’re doing the whole sharing and caring part of this terrible evening, but tonight, right now, let’s pretend.”
“I can do that,” Aziraphale said because he really could.
The adrenalin and charm of getting away with upsetting the Great Plan all wore off in the middle of brunch at the Ritz. Crowley had figured out Agnes’ prophecy shortly before dawn after Aziraphale’s mind had drawn its final blank. Choose your faces—one another’s faces!—Crowley in Heaven, Aziraphale in Hell. It had worked! It had bloody worked.
But everything that had been tabled to point was smouldering to flash.
“I suppose I should… go home.” Aziraphale said cautiously, sitting in the passenger side seat of the newly restored Bentley after Crowley had paid for their meal on absolute insistence. “I’m sure there’s lots to do and you have… things, I’m sure…?”
“Blow it up your arse, Aziraphale. Now we’re fighting.”
“What, right now?”
“Twenty-four-hour recess over,” Crowley said, stomping the clutch and hitting the gas. “We’re going for a drive, and we’re gonna have a nice long argument. Lots of expletives.”
“If you think that will help.”
“No, but I think it will make me feel better.” They took a corner so hard and fast Aziraphale wasn’t sure he was going to hold onto his brunch. “You owe me an apology.”
“I’m sorry,” Aziraphale said, gripping the dashboard.
“A real apology.”
“Crowley, I…” he didn’t know where to start. “I misjudged you for—well, for almost all of time, really. I believed things, even when the contrary was staring me right in the—WATCH OUT FOR THAT LORRY!—please, must we be driving for this?”
“I was stupid.”
“You were that.”
“I was cruel.”
“I was… unworthy of everything you did for me, century after century. Of the two of us, you always had the faith, Crowley. I think that’s the bit that scared me most, and I—”
Crowley slammed on the breaks and Aziraphale braced for impact but instead, Crowley cut the engine and looked at him. “Okay, stop. Apology accepted.”
“I didn’t even get into—”
“You don’t need to get into it. I know what your lot is— was —like, and I know what they say about you, me, and the universe. I am a demon, you are an angel, blah blah.”
“Awful candid of you,” Aziraphale felt slightly ruffled.
“See, finally, there you are.” Crowley opened the car door, “You’ve always been a stuffy fussy pain in my ass. Books, tea, poached salmon on toast. Got around over the centuries, which trust me we will be talking about that, but all the rest is exactly to spec.”
“Angel, do you love me?”
“Yes.” He did. He did, so hard, so much, forever.
“Now for all the money in the pot,” Crowley took off his glasses, slitted yellow eyes leaving no question of exactly what he was. “Are you going to believe me if I say it, too?”
“Right, well. Seems like you’ve got two options. Option one, I drive you home.”
“And option two…?”
“I drive you home anyway, but you finally show me what all the fuss is about.”
Kissing Crowley was different, this time. Sweet and addictive; memories of fruits and flavours eclipsed by time and shared only by two improbable beings. Crowley was spread out on Aziraphale’s navy bedspread, half-dressed, fly undone, shirt and jacket puddled on the floor. Aziraphale was licking into the heat of his mouth, biting at the bow of his smile.
“Please…” Crowley had no idea what he was asking for, but he was asking.
“I'll take care of you.”
“This is—angel—I can't—!”
“Shhh.” Aziraphale's perfect nails were dragging pink lines across Crowley's concave chest, branding ownership into the white of his skin, counting the spaces between every stickish rib, pinching the candy pink of his nipples. "Do you remember Jerusalem?"
“God—yes, so hot, the sand.”
“Cold as balls—oh fuck! ”
Aziraphale pressed against the bulge in Crowley's jeans with his thigh, kneeling over him and panting into his neck. He knew it all: salt, sand, sun, a hundred thousand breathless evenings staring up at the same stars. Crowley knew them. Crowley was there .
“Let me.” Aziraphale didn't need permission but he asked anyway, peeling Crowley's jeans down to his knees, black briefs along with them. Crowley's cock was pretty; pink-headed and peaking uncut, long but thin, velvet ballsack drawn tight. He kissed that first, that pretty sack, tongue memorizing the seam of it before kissing base, shaft, head.
“You're still dressed. If you want—if we’re gonna…?” Crowley panted, and it was true. Aziraphale was still dressed. Right down to his shoes. But he wanted to give. Only give.
“Let me, this time. Just like this.”
He didn’t ask why. Trust; pure and clean. Something in Aziraphale snapped. He was feral and wanton and driving down on Crowley's perfect prick, sucking it wet and sloppy. He loved the way it blunted against the back of his throat, forced it further to feel the way every nerve in Crowley's body tensed. He wanted him to come like this; different than all the others he'd taken. He had never done this, not like this, never as a service, never for them.
“I can't—angel—I—” Crowley's palms were thumping uselessly against the coverlet, wanting to touch but having nothing to reach for, squirming in his own skin.
Aziraphale sucked harder, fingers digging bruises into Crowley's bony hips, keeping him nailed to the bed. He wanted to see him, wanted to feel him, wanted —Aziraphale pulled off with a wet pop and spat into his hand, crashing his mouth against Crowley's as he fisted that perfect pink prick. Hot, wet, more, yes. Crowley came over his knuckles in creamy pulses, and Aziraphale couldn't resist the urge to lick the spunk from the hinge of his thumb before he kissed it back into Crowley's panting mouth as they stilled, exhausted but sated.
“Well,” Crowley wheezed.
“All that fuss? Decent reaction really.”
Aziraphale chuckled softly, rearranging a stray red strand that was threatening to fall over Crowley’s forehead. “I love you, Crowley. For exactly what you are.”
“Love me enough for round two?”
“Stupid angel,” Crowley was smiling and Aziraphale felt whole in a way he never had before.