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By the Still of Your Hand

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The bell over Aziraphale’s shop door jingled. It shouldn’t have. He knew perfectly well he’d closed the shop before he settled in for some light reading.

“There you are, angel,” said Crowley, breezing in like he’d been invited. “Come on, now. No time to waste.”

“Really, you might have rang ahead,” said Aziraphale. He stretched, and was surprised to find his spine cracking. Oh dear, he must have sat for longer than he recalled. “I was in the middle of reading—”

He was distracted by the wicker basket in Crowley’s hand.

“Reading…?” prompted Crowley.

Aziraphale said, distractedly, “Oh, just, ehm, grape juice.”

“And what does—” The demon peered over the rim of his sunglasses. “—Marcus Aurelius have to say about grape juice?”

Aziraphale looked down and flushed. The food had not been the main thrust of the passage. The point had been— The point was—[1] “That wouldn’t be another one, would it?”

“Another—?” Crowley’s head followed Aziraphale’s line of sight. “Ah. No, not another Antichrist. Picnic, angel!” He flipped open the basket, revealing a tantalising glimpse of wine bottles and packets wrapped in paper.

“Are those—?”

“Yes, yes, cucumber sandwiches from your favourite tea place,” said Crowley, already bundling Aziraphale out the door. “It’s amazing what becomes takeaway when you wave the right credit card.”

The pavement was bathed in streetlight, the sun already sinking below the skyline. “Oh, but it’s already evening.”

“All the better to beat the crowd,” said Crowley.

Aziraphale would protest, but there was a manic edge to the way the demon practically vibrated in place. And besides, it would be a sin to let the sandwiches go to waste. He held his tongue, and didn’t say a word when Crowley took the corners too fast, when he headed north instead of towards Hyde Park, when he didn’t turn on his infernal bebop.

They ended up in Hampstead Heath, which was suspiciously devoid of people for such a warm evening.

“What a spectacular view,” said Aziraphale. Perched on the top of Parliament Hill, the cacophony of London’s streets had calmed into a glittering sea of lights, stretching to the horizon below them. Crowley simply gestured at the picnic basket, which unfolded like origami before them.

The cucumber sandwiches were as wonderful as he remembered, each bite a careful balance between the creamy trust in an old recipe and the crisp satisfaction of each perfectly-made triangle. Scrumptious. As were the cheese with the hand-washed rinds, the baguettes baked in a generations-old oven, and the Languedoc he had to wrestle out of Crowley’s hands, only to find a finger of wine left.

Aziraphale’s glare was lost entirely on the demon, who had flopped onto his back in the grass. He'd lost the glasses at some point.

“They won’t be there one day, you know,” said Crowley, his words blurring into each other. “Put too little stuff in them and they never ig—ing—light on fire. Put too much and—” He made an inscrutable hand motion, nearly hitting himself in the face.

Aziraphale followed his gaze, tipping his head back to look at the stars. Had they always been so dim? Even the Milky Way was a subtle smudge against the black sky.

The electric lamp had a lot to answer for. Red wine bitter on his tongue, Aziraphale said, “But that won’t be for a while yet.”

“Doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Ticking bombs, every last one of them,” said Crowley, “And then they’ll turn into a former shell of themselves, and then those will collapse on themselves, and those, until everything is a yawning black hole of nothing, and a billion billion billion billion—”

Aziraphale glanced longingly at the hamper. “My dear fellow…”

“—eons later, even those will evaporate away, and the universe will be literally nothing but randomly flashing lights until those go out too.”[2]

The wind rose and rustled through the mighty oaks. The sounds of London at night were far away and indistinct.

“And us,” said Aziraphale, when it was clear the diatribe was over.

Yes,” said Crowley, anguished.

The entire evening turned on its head, like a pane of glasswork seen from the other side. Aziraphale found a bottle of prosecco, and busied himself with the ritual of opening it, for want of something to do with his hands. He reviewed the facts, which were:

  1. Crowley had invited him to a picnic, but had not eaten or drank anything except the bottle of Languedoc.
  2. From his sloshed state, it wasn’t his first tonight.
  3. Therefore, at some point, Crowley had decided he hadn’t wanted to drink alone and found Aziraphale.

“You know,” said Aziraphale, carefully pouring himself a glass, “I wouldn’t mind spending the end of the world with you. Again, that is.”

Crowley threw an arm over his eyes and mumbled something indistinctly.

“What’s that?” said Aziraphale.

“I said, what’s the point of it all?”

“The point is—” Piles of books were starting to come back to him, in disjointed fragments. “the smell of fried sausages and their earthly shells, the taste of marchpane and China, um, the impression of grape juice and—”[3]

“Not the blessed grape juice again,” said Crowley, sitting up indignantly. His hair was wild and his eyes wilder. “What is it with you and grape juice?”

Aziraphale folded his hands in his lap. “I’m afraid I’ve made a hash of explaining.”

“You don’t say?” said Crowley, slumping back against the earth like Adam waiting for the divine spark.

Aziraphale took a deep breath. Despite the greenery surrounding them, they weren’t so far from humanity that he couldn’t feel their dreams and optimism wafting across the hill like a summer breeze. Those clever, clever humans, with their words and thought preserved in ink.

“I’d been wondering the same thing as you,” he confessed, still studying his hands. “What the point of it all was. And then it occurred to me to consult the experts.”

Beside him, Crowley was as still as a statue, not even breathing.

Aziraphale couldn’t look right at him and continue, so he didn’t. “Who else has been on Earth for six thousand years, seeing only the dim outlines of Her plan? Who has been trying to make sense of it all anyway, over countless lifetimes?”

Crowley shifted closer. “And what did the experts say?”

His hand had landed a fraction of an inch to the left of Aziraphale’s hand. Reaching out to close that insurmountable distance was— “What is good in people,” he recited, “- and consequently in the world - is their insistence on creation, their belief in friendship and loyalty for their own sakes—”[4]

“Oh for G— S— Someone’s sake,” said Crowley.

“It’s true!” said Aziraphale. “If it doesn’t matter what the Plan is—” Aziraphale raised his voice to be heard over Crowley’s sudden shout. “—then it only makes sense to create meaning through—”

“Say that again,” croaked Crowley.

“It only makes sense to create meaning through each other?” said Aziraphale.

Crowley hissed, “No, the other thing.”

“What other—?” It struck Aziraphale, then, that he’d spoken his secret out loud. “Oh.”

He made the mistake of looking at Crowley, who was staring like Aziraphale had both hung the stars and took a swan dive among them.

“Well,” said Aziraphale, losing his nerve. “I mean, you must have known.”

“Must have known—!” Crowley sputtered, flailing upright. He was a dark silhouette passing across the bright band of city lights as he paced. “Oh, ‘course. I must have known that—that ‘but it’s the Great Plan, Crowley’ and ‘you can’t judge the Almighty’s plans, Crowley’ actually meant bollocks to the Great bloody—”

“Will you sit down!”

Crowley sat.

Aziraphale squared his shoulders. “Words may have been said. But we stood next to each other going against the Great—” Of all the times for his voice to break. “—Plan. We’re the only ones on our side.” The distance between them yawned. “Aren’t we?”

“‘Course we are, angel,” said Crowley, and then immediately looked furious with himself.

“Then why are you all the way over there?”

Crowley gave an ugly laugh. “Shouldn’t you be worried about falling?”

“My dear,” said Aziraphale, “Heaven has no hold on me. Why should y—Hell want me?”

“You must be joking.” Crowley half-rose, and then sank back on his heels. “Great shining angel like you, surrounded by those chorusing wankers, and still able to look at the bloody Word and say, ‘No, that’s not for me’? Why wouldn’t Hell want someone who can tell Heaven to fuck off and not blink an eye?”

“Tell Heaven to—” Aziraphale was at a loss for words. “My dear boy, I can’t even tell you to do anything.”

“Can’t tell me to—Don’t I always—?” Crowley snapped his mouth shut with a click.

The air hung heavy between them, at odds with the gentle summer breeze. Aziraphale wet his lips and whispered, “Won’t you come here?”

Crowley scrambled towards him as if pulled by a string, and then hovered in front of him, his hands an inch from Aziraphale’s knees. Aziraphale could feel the phantom heat of him.

“You can touch,” said Aziraphale, hoping his voice was less shaky than the rest of him.

Crowley’s hands handed on his knees, gripping Aziraphale’s thighs through his trousers for a brief moment, before darting up to clutch Aziraphale’s wrists, like he was afraid he wouldn’t be allowed. Aziraphale knew the feeling, and had to compose himself a moment before turning his hands palm-side up in silent invitation.

Crowley’s hands trembled in his. “Palm to palm is holy palmers' kiss,” he murmured.

Aziraphale looked at him in surprise.

Crowley snorted, rolling his eyes. “It was just a line.” His eyes were telling a different story, darting between Aziraphale’s eyes and his mouth like it was more than he could hope for.

“Won’t you give us a real kiss, then?” Aziraphale found himself saying.

His eyes closed of their own accord as Crowley leaned in—and then fluttered open at the press of lips against his palm. He caught the sharp edge of the demon’s smirk before he pressed a matching kiss to Aziraphale’s other palm.

“Really—” Aziraphale had time enough to say, before Crowley slithered closer and pressed his lips against Aziraphale’s.

They were soft and insistent, and yielded so beautifully when Aziraphale deepened the kiss. The demon was like the tide under his hands, surging forward and then drawing back, dragging Aziraphale under with the wet, hot press of his tongue, and dashing him on the stinging sweetness of his nipping teeth.

Aziraphale surfaced for air and dove right back in.

Mouth occupied, Aziraphale tugged at Crowley’s hands until they landed on the top button of his waistcoat. Crowley made short work of it, and then started working on the bowtie and collar, his mouth following after his hands.

“Hurry, hurry,” gasped Aziraphale.

Crowley gave a sharp nip just below his jaw. “If you wanted me to hurry, angel, you’d not wear something with so many buttons.”

“Oh for crying out loud,” said Aziraphale, making to miracle it all away. Crowley stopped him with a hand on his wrist.

“Let me,” he said, simply, and all the buttons and ties undid themselves.

Crowley peeled away the layers like he was uncovering hidden treasure. Aziraphale would be flattered by his archaeological care in any other context. “I don’t mean to rush you, but could we get a move on?”

“Angel,” said Crowley, in delighted mock-horror. “Patience is a—”

“Don’t you dare,” said Aziraphale, and dragged Crowley’s hands down to the fly of his trousers.

Crowley darted in for a kiss, laughing into his mouth. The feeling in Aziraphale’s chest threatened to burst out of him, as sweet and sparkling as the forgotten prosecco. He arched into the touch as Crowley’s clever hands dove into his pants—

—And froze.

“Well,” said Crowley, after an excruciating pause. “Do you show this to all the boys or am I just special?”

Aziraphale flushed. “Well, I’ve never had complaints before!”

Crowley growled. “Had many occult lovers now, have you?” There was a dark note to his voice that Aziraphale had never heard before.

“What does the occult have to do with—oh.” Between Aziraphale’s legs, a seam had opened up, letting the light of his true self spill out from its corporeal shell, like light through the crack of a door. As he watched, Crowley traced the edge of the split, and Aziraphale’s body simply opened up for him, that bubbly exhilaration welling up until—

“Wait!” cried Aziraphale.

But it was too late. Aziraphale expanded in the warm London air, his ethereal form unfolding to its full size, layers upon layers of wings hiding the wheels singing out Doubt-doubt-doubt-doubt like a Tibetan prayer wheel.

“Oh, angel.” Crowley looked so small sprawled out in the grass, pity in his voice.

Aziraphale hated them both, the shame and distance between them. He reached down and pulled Crowley out of his corporeal body.

They’d known each other before time, in the way angels knew each other and all of Creation—with the cold, impersonal faith that it was all created as it was meant to be. Whatever Crowley had been before, it had nothing on the form before him now, all dark ribbons coiling and writhing in the air in an endless dance.

Won’t you let me take a look? said Aziraphale.

The ribbons continued to coil, shimmering with iridescence, but one edge had come loose, fluttering in an unseen breeze.

Upon closer inspection, the ribbons were less satin than lacework, tiny words writhing against each other in a cramped script that was just beyond Aziraphale’s understanding. He’d only meant to unfold his wings to take a closer look, but Crowley darted among them, tunneling into the cradle of them like he was seeking warmth.

Oh, you poor thing. Aziraphale tucked the cold little thing closer to himself, as the edge of the ribbon abruptly resolved into Hypocritical much, angel?

Aziraphale couldn’t huff in laughter in this form, but his wheels were jolted out of their well-worn groove. Still, he let Crowley push aside the next set of wings, settling among the feathers like he’d always belonged there.

What’s this I’ve never been this close how far will he let me go read the uncurling ribbon spooling out into the night sky.

It was hard to lie with Crowley so many layers beneath his usual defences. As far as you’d like to go, my dear.

The demon paused, ribbon becoming indecipherable again. And then he gently nudged aside the next layer of wings. Aziraphale trembled. He was so close, Aziraphale could feel every brush of his ribbons as they rippled and unspooled.

Too much too far he wouldn’t want to see— Aziraphale grabbed for the slippery ribbons before the demon could untangle himself from Aziraphale’s wings. —what I really am just let aside to wait until the end— Abruptly, he reached the end of the ribbons and they fell apart, revealing an endless set of hands groping blindly in the dark. —all the stars have died until time loses all meaning—

My dear, that’s quite enough, said Aziraphale, and unfolded his final set of wings.

Crowley shrank back (—he sees he sees he sees—) until Aziraphale closed all of his eyes. The first touch against one of his wheels was tentative, but quickly grew bolder as Crowley mapped out the shape and size of them, the inscriptions carved into the surface.

A gentle hand brushed against his eye, and Aziraphale blinked it open. You won’t be alone. Crowley touched another eye. I’ll always be there. A third. Where would I go without you?

The inward-facing eye blinked in surprise, then squeezed shut.

Aziraphale shouldn’t have been surprised when Crowley touched the next set of eyes, ones that he’d always kept carefully hidden from Heaven. Who else but you would listen to me? Why does nothing make sense? Where are we to go from here?

His wheels started up the old familiar hum. Doubt-doubt-dou—

Crowley had grabbed a wheel, the edge digging into his palm. His ribbon floated into view. We’ll figure it out, angel. But I’m curious about—

A dozen eyes flew open before Crowley could reach beyond them. Beware, beware, beware.

Aziraphale might as well have rolled out the red carpet for the demon. He fluttered open more eyes. Wouldn’t you rather look over here? I could tell you about our dream cottage in the South Downs. We’d have a greenhouse for your plants and a garage for your automobile.

Crowley’s hands stilled.

We’d be together until the end of time, until the stars cool and the skies darken, until we’re the last two croutons in the universe.

Photons, angel, said Crowley. Why would there be croutons at the end of the—oh, that’s clever. That’s good. You almost distracted me.

Please, my dear.

The ribbons twisted. The hands clenched and unclenched. Why won’t you let me in?

Aziraphale wasn’t like Crowley. He couldn’t wrap words in multiple layers of meaning, cocooning himself in layers of sarcasm and wit. There were no words for this. He could only open eyes that had refused to see the darkest corner within himself for millennia, revealing the sucking void of doubt that had been there since that first terrible cry of Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?

It might destroy you, said Aziraphale to the hands that were already reaching out.

Eh, said Crowley, I’d still be a part of you, and pressed his hand against it.

Aziraphale had watched a documentary narrated by Stephen Hawking with Crowley, made more entertaining with the demon's scathing commentary every few minutes and some rather nice mulled wine. There had been a lot of fuss over a large boom, and rather more than he cared to learn about the atom. But what Aziraphale remembered most was this: two black holes falling in a death spiral towards each other, obliterating themselves in a grand spectacle of light.

He felt Crowley fall into him, filling up that aching void until there was nowhere else for it to go and it spilled out of him, bursting with—with—


Aziraphale came back to himself, swimming in an ocean of stars, as Crowley gently folded the last of himself into his corporeal body. Constellations blazed down on them, the Milky Way a roiling gash through the Heavens. Unmoored, he grabbed for Crowley, desperate to be one again.

“Angel, what are you—”

“Get in me now,” said Aziraphale, hardly recognising his own voice.

Crowley groaned and sank into Aziraphale in one smooth stroke. Normally, Aziraphale would be more cognisant about the number of miracles it took to get here, but all he could be arsed to care about was don’t stop, don’t you dare stop

The hot, slick slide was perfect, and then Crowley wrapped a hand around his cock and Aziraphale was coming undone again, supernovae coursing through his veins.

Dimly, he was aware of Crowley following him over the edge and then collapsing besides him.

Other senses were coming back to him. The tickle of grass blades against his back. The knowledge of his place in the universe. The faint sounds of London at night.[5] Aziraphale stretched and felt his wings in that other place finally stretch as well, after being folded up for so long.

“My dear,” he said finally. There was an urge, a new one, to stretch out his hand and find Crowley’s, and so he did. It fitted rather well in his hand. “You know that I’d never—”

Crowley made an incomprehensible sound and sat up. He did not, Aziraphale was pleased to note, let go of his hand. “You know, I could murder a panzanella right now. You wouldn't happen to know where we could find some this time of night?”

“No,” said Aziraphale, truthfully. “But I’m sure we could find out. Together.”

Crowley looked down at their hands and then back up. Aziraphale didn’t need to see his face to know he was smiling.