“I’ll give you a lift. Anywhere you want to go.” Crowley tried to keep any hint of temptation out of his voice. It was just an offer. He especially did not say, “Back to mine? I could show you just how very grateful I am with a thousand sweet pleasures each more decadent than the last. Only allow me the privilege of touching you and I will cement this new, deeper alliance between us with passion fiery enough to overwhelm any love of Heaven still tethering your heart.”
Aziraphale looked ready to bolt at the slightest provocation. He licked his lips in an unnecessary display of nerves, as though he could hear all the offers Crowley wasn’t making.
“Perhaps.” Aziraphale gave him a tremulous smile. “Perhaps we might go for a bit of a drive? Not—not anywhere in particular. Maybe—oh—maybe somewhere we could see the stars?”
Instantly, Crowley hit the gas. It wouldn’t actually keep the angel from exiting the vehicle, but speeding through traffic might discourage him. “I know just the place!”
Aziraphale’s hands hit the dashboard and the door frame, bracing himself against the sudden acceleration. “Not so fast!” he cried. “You’re going to hit that man!”
Veering around the pedestrian into the oncoming traffic was easy enough, but it didn’t seem to please the angel very much.
“We’ll be discorporated! Goodness knows how much paperwork I shall have to do. Losing a body in a traffic accident!”
“It’s fine,” Crowley drawled, speeding up. “You can blame it all on me. Not your fault if it’s a demonic traffic accident. Anyway, I do actually know how to drive. No one is getting discorporated.”
Unfortunately, there was no appeasing the angel. He kept whinging and complaining until they were well out of London, racing down a country road in the darkness. Even then, he almost choked himself to death spluttering when he noticed a rabbit sitting in the middle of the road, mesmerized by the Bentley’s headlights. There wasn’t time for him to call out a warning before Crowley swerved deftly around it.
Aziraphale laughed aloud in relief. “Oh! Well done! I didn’t think you saw her.”
“Course I saw her.” Crowley scowled. “I pay attention. Got better things to do than cleaning rabbit guts off the tires, don’t I?”
Aziraphale’s laugh lightened into a friendly chuckle. “No, callous slaughter is not your style at all, Crowley.” Inches away from the sort of compliment that Crowley would spend centuries turning over in his mind, the angel seemed to think better of it. “I say! This is rather thrilling, isn’t it?”
Grinning in surprise, Crowley poured on a little more speed. Aziraphale kept smiling, even as they flew over a hillock, all four tires leaving the ground. When they landed, he laughed so joyfully. Thrilled. Crowley was thrilling him.
Part of the demon wanted to keep driving forever, but his angel would definitely get suspicious if the sun came up before they reached their destination. Besides, the angel wanted stars. What the angel wanted, the angel got. Soon enough, Crowley found the little hilltop in the fallow field, with nothing about except a few snuffling moles and a lightning bug or two. Parking the car smoothly, he managed to restrain a sigh when Aziraphale left him.
Happily, instead of standing with his hands folded to look up at the sky as he usually might, Aziraphale perched primly on the cooling hood of the Bentley, hands in his lap. Crowley sprawled next to him. Of course, the hood wasn’t that big. It wasn’t the demon’s fault that his knee brushed against Aziraphale’s thigh or that his shoulder nudged the angel’s elbow. You couldn’t expect a demon to sit up straight.
If Aziraphale noticed, he didn’t complain. He just looked up at the stars with quiet, angelic joy for all creation. “They really are so very lovely, aren’t they?”
“Beautiful,” Crowley agreed, looking at the way moonlight toyed with the pale curls haloing Aziraphale’s gentle brow.
“Can I share a confidence?”
Crowley shrugged and said, “If you like,” because it was a significantly more effective way of encouraging conversation than seizing the angel by both lapels and begging or demanding to know every single thought that had ever passed through his head.
“I’ve always loved the stars.”
Since angels were charged with loving every aspect of the heavens and all the beauties of the world, this was hardly a secret. Crowley didn’t snort or disparage, though. He waited.
“I used to admire him, you know. The Morningstar. All the star kindlers, really. The things they made were so beautiful. I didn’t have a task in those days, other than appreciating creation, and the stars were my favorite bit.”
“We all did,” Crowley said gently. “Not just the angels who wound up on my side. Everyone admired him in those days. Even the Almighty loved him best.”
Looking down at his own folded hands, Aziraphale said, “I wonder sometimes, if things had been a little bit different, if I would have—”
“Not you,” Crowley said instantly. “Not ever you.”
Aziraphale turned to face him, surprise widening his eyes so expressively. Everything he ever felt was so plain upon his face. He wouldn’t survive trading places with Crowley for thirty seconds.
“Hell has standards.” Crowley tried hard not to bite his lip as he pointedly faced the stars. “You don’t meet them.”
Jostling Crowley’s shoulder with his elbow playfully, the angel’s sudden grin beamed up toward the sky. “Isn’t that something to be grateful for,” he said before graciously changing the subject. “Do you have a favorite?”
“A favorite what?”
“Star.” Aziraphale waved an expansive hand up toward the diamond studded expanse of black, as though there was any way to tell the things apart at this distance without a telescope.
“All the same to me.” Crowley shrugged. If the gesture conveniently pressed his shoulder just a bit more against Aziraphale’s upper arm, it wasn’t enough to make the angel move away.
“I’ve always liked that one.”
Crowley doesn’t shudder, but it’s a near thing. The star to which Aziraphale points is too faint to be seen by a human eye, just barely luminous enough for an angel to glimpse through all that atmosphere and distance. It’s also one of Crowley’s. His very first, in fact. Everyone teased him about it at the time. Lucifer himself said it had a bit too much carbon, even for a white dwarf. Stars weren’t supposed to be literal diamonds, after all.
“It has a kind of poetry to it, don’t you think?” Against Crowley’s silence, the angel’s voice took on a defensive quality.
“Guess it’s alright,” the demon managed to say.
Aziraphale sniffed, the way he always did when someone refused to yield to his obviously superior taste. He really liked it. Preferred something made by Crowley to every other star in the heavens. “Well, they’re all very nice,” he said with bad grace. “Which one do you like best?”
“Here.” Crowley couldn’t stop himself. “Earth. With you.”
Angelic pout twitching up into a smirk, Aziraphale said, “That’s cheating, my dear.”
“Not if we change the rules,” murmured the demon.
Aziraphale bit his lower lip. “I suppose when you offered to take me anywhere I wanted to go, you thought I’d choose a restaurant.”
“You still can,” Crowley said. “Anything you want, angel. Dinner at the Ritz? Kippers in Norfolk? Sushi in Tokyo?”
“What I want isn’t safe.”
“I can keep you safe,” Crowley lied, wishing with every ounce of his being that it could be the truth.
“Sometimes, I really believe you can. At least, I want to.”
It was going to happen. Aziraphale was staring at Crowley’s lips with a hunger usually reserved for raspberry coulis over fresh peach melba. After six thousand years, Crowley was going to finally, finally kiss him.
“Maybe, if we’re very clever, we can keep each other safe.” Aziraphale slowly unfolded his hands to gently entwine his fingers with Crowley’s.
It was better than a kiss. Better than anything Crowley had known to want. This was a declaration. This was Aziraphale feeling exactly the way Crowley did: that big, terrible feeling, unnameable and extreme. They both gave their hearts to it. Together.
Crowley surged upward, but the kiss he pressed against Aziraphale’s soft, open mouth was as chaste as could be. Barely a brush, really, in the grand scheme. Good thing, too, because even that made the angel explode into jubilant giggles. He squeezed Crowley’s hand in the darkness, staying close, even as he threw his head back to laugh. Happiness bubbled out of him like music, filling the world and ringing up to the stars. Crowley made him happy. That happy. Just by kissing him.
Pain lanced through the demon’s head.
“—shouldn’t be able to affect one of us,” a distant, infernal voice said.
Agony split Crowley’s skull, surging down his spine. Aziraphale’s face melted into the stars overhead, swirling with bright, burning light. Beneath him, the warmth of the Bentley froze into hard, uneven stone.
“Not much of a demon, is he?” That was Ligur’s voice. “Must’ve got him ‘cause he’s weak.”
“Could just kill him.” Hastur. Wherever you found Ligur, there was Hastur. “No point letting a weak demon live.”
“It’s nothing to do with weakness.” Crowley recognized the third voice now. One of the torturers. Chax or Shax or something. Never left Hell, he didn’t have to do much with Crowley’s work in Outreach. “The ithil-spawn turns a human’s imagination against ‘em. Shows him his deepest fantasy, like a good dream. They don’t fight it because they don’t want to, no matter how much pain the connection causes.”
“They say Crowley has imagination.” Hastur sounded slightly confused, and therefore at his most dangerous. “That’s what they said about that roads thing he did. It was imaginative.”
“No, really? One of us? Lucky devil.” Whipping tentacles beat against the back of Crowley’s neck as they tore free of his spine. “Last damned soul we fed to this thing got to experience the carnal delights of three pagan goddesses devoted to his pleasure. Kept talking about it, even while we were buggering him with hot pokers.” Shaz ended his speech on a little squeak, as though someone had him suddenly by the throat.
“Lucky,” said Hastur. “How is this torture? You’re supposed to torture. Good dreams don’t sound like torture.”
“Keeps ‘em fresh,” Chaz gasped. “We only use it on the ones who’ve been around for a few centuries. The spawn feeding sodding hurts, I can tell you. Even if you haven’t got what they need to get the good bit. Plus, when the damned wake up, they’re still here. It’s effective, Duke Hastur. More than effective. Promise.”
“Crowley!” A fist connected with his jaw, knocking him upright. Ligur’s scowling face filled his vision. Beneath the lizard’s twisted maw, the human form he assumed to cart him around was scowling, too. “You’re late for the meeting, and we’ve got better things to do than collecting the likes of you.”
Crowley cracked his neck and straightened his jacket. He had one chance, and he knew it. Demons didn’t give second chances. “You can’t talk to me like that,” he said. “I’m a Duke of Hell!”
Hastur always said he didn’t like jokes, but Crowley’s deepest, darkest fantasy being his exact rank was funny. So, so funny. He burst into hysterical laughter. Ligur joined in with little huffing snorts.
“You’re not a Duke,” Ligur said. “You’re a maggot.”
“You!” Hastur howled with glee. “You? A Duke of Hell?”
Aspiring to Lordship or, Satan forbid, a throne, would be treasonous. Dreaming about being just like Hastur was hilarious.
As for Crowley’s actual dream?
He remembered the truth now. There had been no drive. No stargazing. No sympathy for the Fallen. Crowley went too fast for Aziraphale. He always would. Holy water or no holy water, Aziraphale was never going to choose Crowley’s side over what he had in Heaven. And regarding the possibility of a kiss—
Crowley wanted to vomit.
Fortunately, Hastur planted a fist deep into the demon’s stomach, giving him the excuse. When he finished, he grabbed Chad by the leg. Pulling it up as he rose, Crowley tripped the torturer backward into the pit of wriggling, tentacled creatures. Shrieking and kicking, Shad tried to evade the groping, hungry suckers. The ithil-spawn were just beasts. They didn’t know they couldn’t feed off a demon until they bit him enough to give it a solid try.
“Come on, maggot,” Ligur grunted. “Meeting.”
Slouching pointedly, Crowley sauntered after him through Hell.