The sky was clear and the moon full, its light, a reflection of the sun, reflecting further in the line of blood that led down the hall of Crowley’s flat.
It was not a great deal of blood. Only scattered droplets, like breadcrumbs through a wood in a fairy tale, marking the path down which Crowley had gone. Dark blood against dark floors; without the moon’s cool glow, Aziraphale might not have seen it at all, though of course he knew it was there.
Still shaking in the silence, he did not follow it.
Crowley lived in the penthouse, of course, behind a severe door with a serpentine bell. Aziraphale had never been inside this particular flat before. It was only right that he should be here now, on the night he’d shown his cards to Heaven, thrown out the last of his plausible deniability where his association with Crowley was concerned. The day he’d damned himself.
“This reminds me of your last place,” Aziraphale said, keeping his voice light. “Where was it—Old Compton Street? Do you still have—” He froze. “Dear God, what is that?!”
They’d arrived at what Aziraphale took to be Crowley’s office—desk, chair, telephone—and there on the floor in an adjacent doorway was a puddle of putrefaction, black as tar and far fouler.
Crowley ignored the bait, Aziraphale’s inadvertent invocation of their absentee creator. He dropped his keys onto the desk with a small clatter.
“Ah, that’s Ligur,” he said, unbothered. “Well—what’s left of him at least.”
Aziraphale could not stop looking at it. “That’s—my goodness, what happened to him?”
“I did.” Crowley perked up for the first time since the airbase. “Or rather, we did.”
“You, me, and that bit of holy water from 1967. Told you I needed insurance.”
Aziraphale stared in horror at the liquefied remains. “You mean he’s been…”
“Melted,” Crowley confirmed. “Like the Wicked Witch of the West.” Aziraphale did not react. “Oh, come on—you can’t tell me you’ve never seen The Wizard of Oz.”
“Of course I’ve seen The Wizard of Oz,” snapped Aziraphale. “Do you mean to tell me—but how?”
“Bucket atop the door. Dropped right on him as he came in. It was self-defence, angel. Don’t look so scandalised.”
“Then this,” Aziraphale gestured at the mess, “is holy water?”
Crowley moved in the corner of his vision. Aziraphale’s arm shot out without his meaning it to, as if to hold Crowley away from the puddle.
“Stay back! Stand clear of it! I’ll—oh dear. I don’t suppose you’ve got a mop?”
“Just miracle it away,” Crowley suggested.
“I can’t! I can’t miracle it away—if I did, they would know, and they’d know I’m here, and—”
Aziraphale’s agitation ran its course and came to its inevitable, logical conclusion, which Crowley then verbalised.
“They already know,” the demon said. “More than enough. You can’t make things worse than they already are.”
Crowley was wearing his glasses. His face was tired. Aziraphale held the demon’s gaze, then huffed and snapped his fingers. What was left of Ligur vanished.
“Rest in puddles, old pal.” Crowley gave the now-clean spot in his doorway a very rude two-fingered salute.
“Please tell me you’ve got something in with a very, very high alcohol content,” Aziraphale sighed.
“You know me better than that,” Crowley said, leading Aziraphale to the liquor cabinet, which he saw was indeed very well stocked. “You pour. I need a bath. I smell like petrol and burnt rubber.”
“Why not just miracle it away?” Aziraphale asked snidely.
“Bath’s more pleasant.”
Crowley looked at Aziraphale, and Aziraphale looked at Crowley. The angel knew they were both remembering Rome, some two thousand years earlier, when they’d met by chance in a tavern, and Aziraphale had asked the demon to dinner, appalled that in all his time on earth he’d never had an oyster. There had been a bath just a ways down from the restaurant, and after dining they had retired there, full of good food, good drink, and good cheer. All in all, a memorably pleasant evening.
After that it had been some half a century before he saw the demon again.
Nobody before or since had done baths as well as the Romans. Though a quick soak now would not be unwelcome, Aziraphale considered, after the day they’d had.
“Look,” said Crowley, “the tub’s in the master. You take it. I’ll shower in the guest suite.”
“Oh, I don’t want to put you out—”
“Take the bath, angel,” Crowley said, with a wry smile, and slinked away down a long corridor.
It was very like Crowley to anticipate his desires. Aziraphale stared at the door Crowley had indicated held the master bath, hesitant. But it was just as Crowley had said. What was one more miracle, one more temptation, one more earthly indulgence? He could hardly get more…more whatever he was now.
Damned, doomed, and done-for.
The room he entered held a massive four-poster bed with a deep red bedspread. Luxurious, if one took an interest in such things. There was another door, which led to an ostentatious en-suite with a similarly gargantuan tub. Aziraphale started the bath, and as it filled, he delicately removed his clothes and took stock. They were the same things he’d been wearing at the time of his unexpected discorporation. The clothes were tidy, in excellent condition, which he supposed made sense, given they’d come into existence only a few hours before at the guileless behest of an 11-year-old boy. The body beneath was also the same as ever: ordinary of size and shape, all standard parts accounted for. It had all been very convenient, very neatly done.
What if the Almighty planned it like that all along?
The cavernous tub took ages to fill, and in the end the bath he took was more expedient than relaxing. Nor could the pleasure of having physical form again, especially a physical form in warm water, overcome his need to…
It had been terribly disorienting, his unwanted ascension, returning to roam London as a spectral shadow, unable to see Crowley and only barely able to hear him. Sharing a strange body with a human soul—a kind soul, to be sure, but nevertheless. Very disorienting indeed.
In Heaven he had dared to disobey, had gone to the globe and touched his finger to the familiar shape of the land that had been his home for so many years—the best years—and slipped through time, space, and Who-knew-what-else with a singular mission. He’d hardly even had to try to reach Crowley, as if his ethereal form already knew exactly which metaphorical numbers to metaphorically dial to get through.
He knew Crowley was just in the other room, not far at all, but sitting in the half-filled tub with the water starting to cool and only himself for company, a mad thought crossed his mind: that perhaps he wasn’t really here, that perhaps he’d never regained his old body, that perhaps they hadn’t stopped Armageddon and the world had ended and this—this bath, this flat, everything—was the dream of a dying angel, fallen in battle or condemned as a traitor, cast out of Heaven.
“How’s the corporeal form?” Crowley stood at the liquor cabinet, pouring two generous glasses of Macallan, when Aziraphale emerged, clean and re-clothed. Crowley himself was wearing a black silk robe over yet-blacker silk pyjamas. His hair was wet and unstyled. He still wore his sunglasses. “Everything still where it ought to be?”
“Quite so,” Aziraphale said, tugging at his waistcoat. “Remarkable trick, that. Remarkable boy.”
“Well, he was the Antichrist.”
Aziraphale acknowledged the fact with a nod and accepted the glass Crowley offered.
He followed Crowley to a fashionably stark sitting room, where the demon dropped onto a long leather sofa, arms and legs spread wide.
“Well,” Crowley said, raising his glass. “To Adam Young, former Antichrist, of Tadfield, Oxfordshire.”
“To Adam,” said Aziraphale, raising his own. “To humanity.”
They drank. They were quiet for a spell. Crowley made a show of trying to sit up and make room for Aziraphale on the couch. There had already been plenty of room, but Aziraphale took the gesture for the invitation it was and sat. As soon as he did, the enormity of the past 24 hours hit him like the blast of heat from the exploding Bentley. He was exhausted—by what had happened, and by what was still to come.
And if he was exhausted, Crowley must have been half comatose. Aziraphale wondered when the last time the demon had slept was. Strictly speaking, they did not need sleep, but Crowley had grown used to it over the centuries, had that enormous bed, and Aziraphale knew that for him the familiarity bordered on dependence.
What a sorry pair they made. And just when they needed their wits about them. They had meddled in the affairs of Heaven and Hell, and Heaven and Hell would exact their retribution. Agnes Nutter had known it hundreds of years ago. Choose your faces wisely, for soon enough you will be playing with fire.
He withdrew the fragile scrap of paper from his inside breast pocket and, setting his glass a safe distance away, unfolded it gingerly on the coffee table. He wished he had his gloves, handling such an artefact, but—
It burned down. Remember?
Suppressing a wave of grief, he asked, “Do you think it’s meant to be about the book shop? Perhaps we received it too late.”
“What are the odds that a single piece of parchment, containing a single prophecy, would fall out of a thousand-page book and directly into your hands, only a few hours too late for you to do anything about it?”
“No,” said Aziraphale, “I suppose that isn’t Ms. Nutter’s style. She is rather literal, though. In her way.”
“Witches,” Crowley scoffed. “So we’re to choose our faces, are we? Fat lot of help you are, Aggie.”
“Perhaps we’re meant to disguise ourselves,” Aziraphale suggested. “Change our appearances, go into hiding.”
“What, from Satan himself and all the archangels in Heaven? How long do you suppose that would last? A week?”
Aziraphale clenched his fists on his knees. “Then perhaps we’re meant to…choose other bodies to inhabit. Like I did, with Madame Tracy.”
Even as he said it, he knew it was absurd. Madame Tracy had been a jolly good sport, but they had been in dire circumstances. And besides, it wouldn’t be enough. Heaven and Hell would never stop looking for them. Not until they found them and brought them to heel. The two of them could not stop it. God would not stop it—if She was even still around.
How can someone so clever be so stupid?
“You were right,” Aziraphale murmured, looking down at his knees, a knot in his throat. “You were right all along. I was so foolish.”
Crowley shifted, coming to his defence. “I wasn’t right. How was I right?”
“You said that no one was listening. That there was no one who would understand, no one who would try to stop it. I should have listened to you.”
“If you’d listened to me,” Crowley said wearily, “we’d be halfway to Alpha Centauri by now and this bloody rock would be in worse shape than old Ligur.”
Aziraphale swallowed and, greatly daring, said, “It’s not too late.”
At Crowley’s unresponsive stare, he added, “To leave.”
Crowley stared longer. Then he turned his face up to the ceiling, appearing to concentrate.
“You feel it?” he asked a moment later. “It’s shut down. They’ve closed off the exosphere. Walled up tighter than the M25 tonight. Nothing in or out.”
“You got through the M25,” Aziraphale pointed out.
“That was fire, angel. This is a holy celestial roadblock. I’m surprised you can’t feel it yourself.”
Aziraphale closed his eyes and concentrated, up, up into the farthest reaches of the borders of Heaven’s domain—and there he felt it, as real as an armoured and guarded fence. “We’re on house arrest.”
“Nowhere to run,” Crowley agreed. “Reach out.”
Aziraphale frowned, puzzled…and then he understood. He closed his eyes again and sent the same inquiring energy not up, but out, out to the edges of London, where he ran into a barrier that, for all it was ethereal, was utterly impenetrable to any beings of their kind. He bit his lip. “Indeed.”
When Aziraphale opened his eyes, he found Crowley was watching him, the corners of his mouth curving down, dark glasses covering his eyes.
I should have gone with you. I should have let you take me away. But Crowley was right. As small a part as they’d played, who knew what would have become of things had they not been there to, at long last, finally steer the right boy in the right direction?
Aziraphale valued his life. And Crowley’s—dear, dear Crowley. But they were just two beings among billions on earth, centillions who had never deserved to suffer. And they were among them, were more a part of them than they were of Heaven or Hell. They belonged to the earth, and the earth to them, more than it ever belonged to Heaven or Hell or—for a very long time—even the Almighty Herself.
Perhaps She could drown the world and put up a rainbow, perhaps Heaven could lay waste to it in the name of glorious victory, and none of them so much as shed a tear. He and Crowley could not.
“I opened a summoning circle,” Aziraphale confessed, “to speak to Her. It’s the last thing I did before I was discorporated.”
Crowley’s mouth hung open. “God discorporated you?”
“Oh, no, not at all, in fact I…well, I wasn’t able to speak to the Almighty, exactly.”
“Who’d you speak to, then?”
Aziraphale met Crowley’s gaze for a moment before averting his eyes. “Well. An…agent of the Lord.”
“You talked to God’s secretary,” said Crowley, with understanding.
“More of an answering service,” Aziraphale said miserably.
In his shame at his naïveté, he could hardly bring himself to look at Crowley. But when he did, he found Crowley with the same expression he’d worn on the bench earlier, at the bus stop. There Crowley had invited him in, offered his hospitality and his kindness, the kindness he refused to admit was as much a part of him as anything. Crowley had asked him to come, so quietly—if you like—allowing Aziraphale the option of refusing. As if he expected it. Two celestial beings at an earthly bus stop, caught in between Heaven and Hell, alone in the entire universe. Two orphans. Two exiles. Our own side.
His eyes welled up and spilled over. Crowley sat up straight as a rod, as if Aziraphale’s tears had triggered an alarm. “Hey—”
“The things I said to you,” Aziraphale managed. “I said horrible, cruel things to you. And they weren’t true. I knew they weren’t true even as I said them, but I said them anyway.”
“Forget about it,” Crowley said. “It was the end of the world, tempers were high, we—we all said things we wish we hadn’t said.”
“They were going to destroy you,” Aziraphale insisted. “You asked me to go with you and I—”
“Forget it,” Crowley said with urgency. “It was stupid, I was off my head, just—please forget it—”
“I believed—ah, it was so stupid of me to believe. It’s just like you said—”
“I didn’t mean—”
“I believed in Heaven. I believed in the mission, that we were bound to serve Her, and to serve the humans, and to do good. Has it always been this way, and I just never noticed?”
“You’re an angel,” said Crowley. “You see good in everything.”
“I see good in the wrong things. I put my faith in them, my trust in them, until it’s too late.”
“But it wasn’t too late. Everything’s all right now.”
“For the world,” Aziraphale said quietly. He looked at Crowley. “When do you think they’ll come for us?”
Crowley took a moment.
“They’ll leave it overnight,” he finally said. “Give us time to stew. But my lot, at least—they’ll be quite eager. Love a good execution. Hastur especially. Probably sharpening knives as we speak.” He looked at Aziraphale. “They’ll be working together, of course—Hell and Heaven. Have to get their jollies somehow, now we’ve stopped their war.”
Aziraphale retrieved his handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed at his eyes. “I never expected to see Gabriel and the Prince of Hell working together.”
“Nice to see them put aside their differences, though, isn’t it?”
“Perhaps that was how She planned it all along,” Aziraphale said. “Two opposing forces brought together in harmony for the common cause of smiting us.”
“Wouldn’t put it past her,” Crowley echoed.
“How much time,” Aziraphale ventured with a deep breath, “to ‘stew’?”
Crowley’s eyes were unreadable behind his glasses. “I wouldn’t expect to see teatime tomorrow.”
Aziraphale nodded shakily. Well. That was that, then. After all this time and immortality, the unexpected end had finally arrived. At least he wouldn’t have to worry about what would become of his books.
“Angel,” Crowley said. “Falling, it’s—it’s bad, really bad, I won’t lie to you, but—you can survive it. You’ll be alive after. And at least you won’t have to answer to them anymore.” He jerked his chin up at the ceiling.
Aziraphale appreciated the encouraging words, but they were unnecessary. “Oh, I don’t think I’m going to fall.”
“Well, it’s not like there isn’t precedent,” Crowley said. “Case in point.”
“Yes, of course you’re right, but…as you said, that was a long time ago. Under…different management. No, I’m quite certain now that they—”
Certainty did not make it any easier to say the words.
Crowley’s forehead creased in a frown. Aziraphale dropped his eyes. “What?”
“They think Falling is…too good for me. Possibly they even think I want to fall; they already think—well, our association, yours and mine, had raised some eyebrows upstairs. No.” Aziraphale pushed past the lump that threatened to choke the words, “No, they’ll not settle for anything less than complete destruction this time.”
“Why not? You said it yourself, they have to get their ‘jollies’ somewhere. And Gabriel’s been out for my blood for centuries—so to speak.”
“He’s a bastard, don’t get me wrong, but—”
“I think I know Gabriel rather better than you do after all these years.”
When Aziraphale looked again, Crowley’s mouth was parted in horror, though he sensed Crowley still didn’t really believe him. Aziraphale, for his part, felt quite calm about the whole business. He expected it would be over with quickly, the way all his meetings with Gabriel were over with quickly—the Archangel had never spared much time for him. One swift death blow, then. The way one swats an irritating insect. A summary execution.
He was less sanguine about Crowley. He had pictured Crowley’s destruction countless times, had the dread and horror down to an art form. Every time they’d met over the years, Crowley was risking his life, something Aziraphale reminded him of over and over again. Aziraphale did not sleep, but he did not need to sleep to have nightmares about Crowley being found out, being dragged below or even killed right in front of Aziraphale whilst he could do nothing but watch.
“And you?” he asked, knowing the answer and fearing it all the same. “What will Hell do with you?”
“Oh, slow and torturous death, of course.” Crowley shrugged. “Eyes gouged out, fingernails ripped off, sodomised with a red-hot poker, that sort of thing. Grand finale, a bucket of holy water over the head. Not too creative, most demons.”
Aziraphale felt his gorge rise, went ice cold and clammy. “We have to think of something,” he said, almost frantic. “Choose your faces wisely—what does she want us to do?”
“You’re the expert. You pieced together Tadfield, Adam Young, all that.”
“Yes, and it took me all night to do it. And that was with the entire book. All we have now is one line of vague prophecy and, if you’re right, some six to eighteen hours in which to decipher it.”
“All night?” Crowley frowned. “What night?”
“Oh, I—” Crowley had forgiven him, or at least dismissed, the unkind and untrue things he’d said earlier. His forgiveness was a gift, but Aziraphale’s guilt was not assuaged. More than once had he treated the demon poorly, with cruel barbs and falsehoods. It would not happen again, not with whatever time they had left. He owed Crowley that much, at least.
“I’m sorry,” Aziraphale said. “The night the young lady left her book in your car—well, I brought it in and spent the next several hours poring over it, and, well, in the morning, I found out where the boy lived. It was very cheekily done. You see, the ‘number of the beast’—”
“You figured out how to find the boy this morning?”
Oh, dear. He’d really stepped in it now. “Well, yes.”
The frown between Crowley’s brows deepened. “I rang you this morning,” he said. “You were in a strop over something, couldn’t wait to get me off the line. You knew then?”
Aziraphale let his silence answer for him.
“And at the bandstand later?”
“I should have told you,” Aziraphale hastened to say. “I know that. But I still thought at the time there was something I could do, something Heaven could do, to stop it. I thought if I could only explain it properly, tell them where the boy was, then—then things would all work out. I didn’t mean to keep you in the dark.”
“You lied,” Crowley said.
Aziraphale went quiet. He licked his bottom lip. There was a chill in the flat he had not noticed before.
Crowley brought his hand to his face, reaching up under his sunglasses with thumb and forefinger to rub at his eyes. He let his head fall onto the sofa’s back, face to the ceiling. He looked so terribly tired.
“If I could do it over again,” Aziraphale began, but Crowley cut him off, rolling to his feet with serpentine grace. Glass still in hand, he made his way back to the liquor cabinet. Aziraphale remained on the sofa. Crowley took an awfully long time refilling his drink.
“Look,” said Aziraphale, feeling reasonable, “I know I should have told you straight away, but would it really have changed anything? If we’d got to Tadfield earlier?”
Crowley returned with a glass filled almost to the brim. When he sat, the glass rocked, and a small amount of liquor spilled over the rim onto his long fingers. He did not seem to notice.
“Heaven and Hell already knew we’d been…colluding,” Aziraphale continued.
“Right,” Crowley agreed. There was a forced lightness to the way he spoke that made Aziraphale’s heart sink. “Doesn’t make a difference. Armageddon stopped, Antichrist de-fanged, you don’t trust me—everything’s back to normal.”
Aziraphale wished he was sober, and he simultaneously wished he was far, far drunker. “I really am sorry.”
Crowley had not been turned towards him in the first place, but now he turned even further away from Aziraphale, mouth twisting bitterly. “Don’t be,” he said. “It’s not like I didn’t know where I stand with you. You’ve always made that abundantly clear. And it doesn’t matter—especially since I’ll likely be wiped out of existence in the next 24 hours anyway. Cheers.” He raised his glass, then downed a significant amount of its contents without waiting for Aziraphale to raise his own, or to respond.
“Oh, for—what do you want from me?” Crowley pleaded. “Do you want me to say I forgive you? Fine, I forgive you.”
He made the words sound mocking, and Aziraphale remembered—how could he forget?—speaking the same nonsense to Crowley on the pavement hours earlier, in the bandstand before that, doling out forgiveness by rote, like so many communion wafers, uniform, dry, and tasteless.
“You’ve no cause to feel grief over me, angel,” Crowley went on. “It’s like you’ve always said—we’re enemies. Angel, demon, opposite sides. You can’t betray me because there was never anything to betray. Don’t tear yourself up over whatever you think I’m feeling, because I don’t have feelings—I’m a demon, I’m from Hell, I’m evil incarnate—”
“You’re not,” Aziraphale protested.
Crowley heaved himself off the sofa, still holding his drink, as if he couldn’t stand Aziraphale’s proximity.
“What did you think would happen?” he demanded. “If you told me? Finding the boy and stopping Armageddon was my idea from the beginning. You had to be talked into it! What did you think I was going to do if you told me you’d found him?”
“I don’t know!” Aziraphale cried. “You were very keen on killing him—perhaps I thought you would make me do it.”
“When,” Crowley said, “in the entire course of history, have I ever been able to make you do anything?”
Aziraphale winced. “I wasn’t thinking like that!”
“Right, no, you were just thinking, Crowley, that rotter? Can’t trust him for anything. Better keep this one under my halo. Better tell Gabriel,” he spat, “like a good little angel of the Lord.”
Aziraphale sat up straighter. “I am an angel of the Lord! I—was an angel of the Lord, at least.”
“And I’m your sworn nemesis,” Crowley said, “never mind the six years I spent playing nanny to a small boy—”
“The wrong boy.” Sometimes Aziraphale really couldn’t help himself.
“—which, again, was my idea, not to mention the six thousand years before that, when I—fuck.”
Crowley pulled at his own hair, making it stand on end. His face was wretched behind the glasses. Aziraphale realised he had never actually seen Crowley this agitated before, bar once, perhaps—earlier that evening, at the airbase, when Aziraphale, in desperate terror, had raised his long-lost gladius, only to lower it and shout: or I’ll never talk to you again!
“Fuck,” Crowley swore again. “I told you I was leaving for another star system. I asked you to go with me. I knew you had a low opinion of me, but you’d think, at the end of everything, that just one time you might—”
“It’s not that—”
“I’d have done ANYTHING for you!”
Aziraphale knew, rationally, that Crowley had performed no miracles, had exercised none of his power. He was therefore at a loss to explain why he felt as if he’d been punched. Breathing was a struggle, and his kind didn’t even need to breathe.
“Oh,” he said. “Oh, my—you must know, you must, how dear you are to me. Of all the beings on—”
There was a sickening crunch, and Aziraphale recoiled at the sight of Crowley’s bloodied fist, clutching shards of what had been his whisky glass as more jagged pieces fell to the floor at his feet.
He looked at Crowley’s face, and was certain that the demon would strike him, grab him by the collar and shove him against a wall the way he had in Tadfield, wrap that bloody hand around Aziraphale’s neck and do to his throat what he’d done to the glass.
But Crowley didn’t touch him, didn’t hit him or throttle him, didn’t even move.
“Fuck you, Aziraphale,” he said.
Then he was gone—not with supernatural speed, but with speed nonetheless, down the hall, where he disappeared.
Seconds later, a door slammed with a crash so violent the vase nearest Aziraphale trembled on its pedestal.
Crowley slapped at the wall with his uninjured hand and managed to turn on all the lights in the washroom at once. He slapped at it again until the room dimmed, leaving him enough light to work by, once he removed his sunglasses, and not one lumen more. He studiously avoided the wall-sized mirrors, focusing instead on the hand he’d just used to crush half his favourite set of whisky snifters.
Jagged bits of glass stuck out of his palm, which was covered in blood, opaque and obscuring no doubt many smaller shards beneath. He turned on the tap and shoved his hand under it, hissing as the water came into contact with the wounds. Not holy, just regular old municipal, but it still stung. He ran the tap until the hand was nearly clean, but when he turned it off, blood quickly welled up again from the half-dozen cuts he could see in the moment before they were again submerged in red.
He knew he could, and probably should, will away the damage, heal his hand and the shattered glass as well, but something stopped him. Or perhaps nothing pushed him to it. It was just a hand, just a glass. He’d done it to himself. And as neither the hand, nor the body attached to it, nor the demon inside it were likely to be around much longer, he couldn’t really find his way to caring.
Besides which, it hurt, and for once he found he rather liked the pain. He’d never been a masochist, never been drawn to violence. In his work, he’d always preferred a more refined approach to sowing chaos, a more elegant means of making trouble. Personally, though there was no one in Heaven or Hell who could rival Aziraphale for hedonism, Crowley too liked to feel…good.
Pleasure-good, that is. Not morally good. Morality could get fucked.
Stupid to lose his head like that. It wasn’t as if he didn’t know where Aziraphale’s loyalty had always been, that in a face-off between himself and Heaven, Aziraphale would choose Heaven, always. He was well aware of the chasm between his view of their relationship and the angel’s own opinion—well aware that what he wanted from the angel, the angel would never be able to give. Would be shocked and disgusted at the very suggestion.
He was just fucked, that was all. Fucked in the head, fucked in life. Being front and centre for the near-end of the world would do that, he supposed. Finding Aziraphale gone and the book shop in flames hadn’t done much for his mental state, either. Then there was the whole impending execution business. Really, it had been a very long day. No surprise his nerves were frayed to breaking. Aziraphale’s pity, on the heels of yet another reminder that the angel would never see him as anything but an enemy, would be enough to drive any demon off his head. Not that there was any other demon besotted by a bloody angel.
Over the years he’d been stabbed, shot, beaten, burnt—hurt more than he could remember and worse than any mortal could have withstood—but a little demonic miracle and he was right as rain. Now, he snagged tweezers from a drawer (which might not have been there moments earlier, but that hardly counted as a miracle) and set about removing bits of glass from his hand the manual, mortal way. When he was confident he’d got them all, he fetched the first aid kit (also a new addition—what did a self-respecting demon need with plasters?) from under the sink and wrapped the still-bleeding hand with thick layers of gauze.
He admired his work. Not bad for a demonic amateur. Then he chanced a look in the mirrors.
Gazing back at him was a human face. It was at least a clean face, his having washed the soot and grime off in the shower earlier. His hair went every direction, and not in a way that looked tousled or wind-swept or in any way deliberate. Dark half-circles under his dead snake eyes. Pale, gaunt, more than a bit sloshed. A dead demon walking. He put his sunglasses back on. I wouldn’t love me, either.
Aziraphale stood helpless for a full minute. Then he shook himself and took a shuddering breath, still unnecessary but somehow steadying.
He snapped his fingers to produce a broom and dustpan, then proceeded to sweep up the broken glass as best he could. He had never actually swept before and found he was quite inept, the bristles picking up the blood and smearing it across the floor in scratchy, uneven lines. He should have miracled a mop. Or miracled the whole mess away, as he’d done with Crowley’s late colleague, but that had the feeling of convenience, taking a shortcut that he did not deserve. And applying himself to the task kept his mind, and his trembling hands, occupied. So he swept, and he gathered up the shards in the dustpan, and then he went in search of an appropriate receptacle.
He was unfamiliar with this flat, unlike other domiciles Crowley had kept in the past, where Aziraphale had spent more time. Aziraphale had been in his shop in Soho for some two hundred years, but Crowley was more of a nomad.
He started heading the opposite way down the hall by which Crowley had just left. It was very late and very dark, and he could find no switches, so he picked his way cautiously through the shadows.
The journey took him through Crowley’s office again, where he stepped lightly over the empty spot where the deceased demon, Ligur, had been left. Neither holy water nor demonic remains could harm Aziraphale, even had there been anything left, but like walking over a grave, it still felt prudent to stay clear.
Without the distracting puddle, he could better take in the room’s details. There was a throne-like chair he recalled from the 17th century. There was a massive writing desk, on which sat Crowley’s ansaphone, a tartan flask Aziraphale remembered well, a pair of long black rubber gloves, and peculiarly, a snow-white toupee. No bin for depositing the glass. The rest of the space was frightfully bare. If this was how Crowley preferred to live, he must have loathed Aziraphale’s little shop with its clutter and dust. Not that either of them needed concern themselves with that any longer.
Behind the desk hung a sketch, a draft of Mona Lisa, by all appearances original and authentic, if he was any judge of Leonardo’s signature. In a corner, a pedestal held a black sculpture of a falcon. In the corner opposite, he startled to find another bird—a stone eagle, instantly familiar. Not much had come through that bombing, apart from himself, Crowley, and his books, the ones Crowley had saved from destruction for no reason at all except that they were important to Aziraphale. He recognised the stone eagle as another survivor. Crowley must have taken it from the ruins, perhaps going back for it later after he’d driven Aziraphale home, perhaps miracling it away. It was theft, of course, and theft from a church—Aziraphale ought to disapprove. But the feeling welling up inside him was not disapproval.
That night in 1941 had meant something to him beyond words. They had not seen each other since the 1860s, when they’d argued horribly and parted on the worst of terms. Aziraphale had half expected he’d never see Crowley again, especially by the time the new 20th century rolled in without a word from his ally/adversary. And by the 1940s he’d rather thought it might be all over with anyway—the end times arriving, without warning, on a rising tide of death and destruction, lapping now at England’s shore.
He’d been doing the best he could, with little guidance from upstairs—Heaven had been pursuing other concerns—and evidently making a hash of it. Then Crowley had appeared in the nick of time, sudden, unbidden, a sharp-dressed saviour hopping around almost comically in the hallowed cathedral: Aziraphale’s guardian fallen angel. It had wrought a change in him, one he’d feared to reckon with then and ever since. To see this relic of that night here, in Crowley’s home, one of his apparently few possessions, would seem to indicate it had meant something profound to Crowley, too.
Outside the office, he found Crowley’s plants. The demon had kept plants indoors for as long as indoors had been a concept. Rarely had they lived where one could keep an outdoor garden, not after leaving the garden; they were both drawn to the humanity as well as anonymity of densely populated settlements. Yet Crowley had brought some of the garden with him everywhere he’d gone since, long before such a thing was even practical, cultivating a small Eden in his every dwelling place.
Here he’d installed dozens of lush, green plants, artfully arranged along two walls and reaching up to the high ceiling. The city twinkled and gleamed through the window; by day there would be plenty of sun to nourish their growth. Aziraphale took one thick, dark leaf between his thumb and forefinger, caressing it, feeling it soft and cool and yielding against the gentle pressure. He’d never been much for gardening himself, not even during his improbable employment as the Dowlings’ gardener. Gardening had a tendency to get dirty. No, he much preferred to stay out of the sun and away from potting soil. Crowley had eventually stopped trying to give him plants for the book shop, after Aziraphale had found himself resorting to miraculous means to keep even the hardiest of succulents alive. It had never failed to astonish him that a being who existed to serve the powers of darkness should show such interest in things so small, so green, and so bright.
What a shameful, stupid angel he’d been.
Forcing himself to continue on, he made his way down the corridor. As he approached its end, where it split in two directions, the sculpture on display came into focus: Hellenistic in style, two winged figures—male, curly haired, quite nude—engaged in close combat, bodies flush against each other, muscles straining.
His face warmed. He had seen similar works over the centuries, human men entwined and unclothed, fighting one another for sport or otherwise. He’d spent some time in Greece when pankration had been en vogue. Very free with nudity, the Greeks. Very…interesting ideas about sexuality.
(There had also been a great many artistic representations of a rather embarrassing incident in the eighth century BC in which an angel, out for an evening stroll, had forced an elderly shepherd into an impromptu wrestling match, which the angel lost. Gabriel would later deny he’d been drunk at the time, but Aziraphale had always privately thought otherwise. The humans, at least, found the whole thing deeply inspiring.)
But Aziraphale had never before seen anything like the statue in Crowley’s hall. Nothing so…intimately suggestive. The darker of the figures was winning the match, pinning the fairer figure with its—his—entire body, wings arcing proudly upwards. Aziraphale stood staring at the sculpture for some time, walking around it to appreciate it from different angles. It stole the air from his lungs, planted an ember in his belly and thoughts in his mind that he’d worked hard to dispel over many, many years.
And Crowley had it in his flat, here, where he probably walked by it every day. How long had he had it? Aziraphale had not seen it in his other homes. What had he thought when he’d acquired it?
Aziraphale burned with embarrassment—not for Crowley—and ached with regret. Crowley would be cross that Aziraphale had found this, or any of his treasures, but particularly this. It felt like peering into the depths of Crowley’s soul, bare and raw, and finding inside what he had always known was there—knew it because it was inside him, as well.
At the end of everything, just one time…
Crowley’s wrath would be short lived. They were short lived—long lived, rather, but not long for this world.
When Aziraphale could tear himself away, he found the kitchen, for all appearances never used. A brief exploration yielded a waste bin at last, and he tipped the contents of the dustpan into it, then set it and the broom aside. He wiped his sweating palms on a tea towel. Then he retraced his steps back through Crowley’s flat to the sitting room.
There was more blood he’d missed, a trail leading down the hall the way Crowley had gone. Aziraphale followed it with his eyes until he could see it no longer. His heart, a useless and troublesome organ, pounded.
He would not go after Crowley. This was Crowley’s home, after all; he was entitled to his privacy. He knew where Aziraphale was. When—if—he wanted to see Aziraphale again, he had only to return to this room. The angel could wait. He was good at waiting. He’d stood guard at the gates of Eden for centuries. He would stand guard for Crowley for at least that long. If, of course, they had that long.
Perhaps he would sit guard instead. He was, all at once, tremendously tired.
He dropped onto the sofa, shoulders sagging. He was a being of love. Forgiveness was his trade. But Crowley wanted neither from him, would offer up neither—not then, possibly not ever. Quite probably not ever, now that ever, for them, had a rapidly approaching expiration date.
And Aziraphale could not blame him. How many times had Crowley showed him over the years, in word and deed, what Aziraphale meant to him? How faithful he was, how constant, how very, very patient. And Aziraphale had taken for granted that it would always be thus, that he could have Crowley’s devotion and his company and still keep him at arm’s length—still keep his own angelic reputation untarnished—for the rest of time.
Now here they were, and time had run out.
Aziraphale rose to his feet again, with sudden conviction and shaking hands. He would not force Crowley to face him, but neither would he let Crowley spend any more of the precious few hours they had left alone and in the dark.
He followed the trail of blood. It led to the master bedroom and then to the en-suite with its door shut tight, only a sliver of light visible under it. He could hear nothing from behind the door. Perhaps, despite the light, Crowley wasn’t inside. He could have left the flat entirely, by miracle or even by the front door, and Aziraphale, preoccupied with his sweeping and snooping, might not have noticed.
But mad though it was, he could feel Crowley on the other side of that door. It was not a flight of fancy: Crowley was there. Aziraphale knew it.
There was no answer, but he had hardly expected any—aside from, possibly, fuck off.
“Crowley?” he ventured. Still no answer.
He laid his right hand against the wooden door. No miracles, no tricks.
“I don’t know if you can hear me,” he said quietly. “I don’t expect you want to see me right now. But there are things I have to say, and I’m afraid we don’t have very much time left. I’m sorry it took the end of the world for me to understand. I’m sorry I’m so…so slow. So foolish and afraid.”
He rested his head against the door. It had grown heavy, filled with wretchedness. “I’m a coward, you know. Always have been. Eve and Adam—they were thrown out of the garden, with nothing, just for eating an apple, and I said nothing. One million people, and tens of millions of animals, drowned, just like that—and I said nothing. They murdered Christ, sent him to earth only to die, and I stood by and watched as the nails went into his feet—”
He had to collect himself. It was not easy, grappling with it all—the loss, the destruction. Those humans so long ago, so brief, their lives not even a stitch in the long tapestry of time, but Aziraphale had been there, and he remembered. The boy from Nazareth, of course, had lived beyond his years, as he was meant to, all part of the ineffable plan—but to what purpose? To what ultimate end? Here and now, just a stroke of luck away from the end of everything—what had it all been for? The absurdity, the cruelty, the senselessness?
“You,” Aziraphale said to the closed door, “you always questioned. You criticised. You said the things I was too afraid to say. Too afraid to even think.”
There was still no answer. But Crowley was there.
Aziraphale pushed past the grief that made his voice waver. “I’ve loved you for a very long time, you know. And I tried, I tried to rationalise it away, because it couldn’t be. Everything I thought I knew, everything I’d been told, by the highest and the holiest—it all said that I couldn’t. That we couldn’t. And even if they were wrong, it wouldn’t matter. I belonged to Heaven, and you belonged to Hell. I tried to tell you what you were risking, just talking to me, just…being my friend. If I’d let it become anything more, and you suffered for it, I—I couldn’t have borne it.”
He closed his eyes. Visions that had plagued him for centuries—if Hell found out, nothing Crowley could say would make any difference. If Heaven knew, Aziraphale might fall. But there was nowhere to fall from Hell. If it happened to Crowley because of him—no. He would not allow it to happen. Even if it meant spending the rest of time denying himself.
“I came close,” he said softly, “very close, once. Do you remember that night in—I think it was 1967? You were planning to burglarise a church. I’m sure you had some brilliant plan, out of one of those films you enjoy, with—oh, I don’t know, a trapeze artist or something. All for holy water. I couldn’t let you do it. So I popped round to St. Anne’s with a thermos. Do you know, I wiped it down with bleach and left it sitting overnight to be sure it was entirely dry on the outside before I gave it to you? And after I did, you offered me a lift, and I wanted to go with you so very, very much. But I couldn’t.”
Instead he’d stepped out of Crowley’s car and walked home, the long way, red-eyed, hands shoved deep into the pockets of his trench coat, not entirely sure he hadn’t given to Crowley the instrument of his own destruction, remembering the desolate look on Crowley’s face as Aziraphale had turned him away once more. Passers-by had averted their eyes.
“There was another night, during the war—it was during the Blitz—you’d come out of nowhere and—you did give me a lift home that night, and you’d—you’d saved me, you’d walked across consecrated ground for me, you’d even saved the books, and—and I loved you so much then, I burned. I felt myself burning like the star over Bethlehem. I thought everyone, every angel, every demon, even the Almighty Herself must see it. And right then, that night, I didn’t care if they saw.”
He could not go on. And yet he must go on. “When you dropped me home, I wanted to ask you in. I bit my tongue to stop myself asking. It was wrong, everything I’d ever been told said that it was wrong, that we weren’t meant to be together like that…”
His handkerchief was quite useless. “You were terribly handsome that night. I don’t know what you got up to during that time, but you looked…very dashing.” He closed his eyes against the memories, flooding in, out of order. “I always loved your long hair. The way you used to wear it, in the garden. And after. Though I have to say, apart from the hair, which I miss very much, these more contemporary fashions suit you very well. It was a sin to conceal you under shapeless robes for so many centuries.”
He would get through this. He would. There was more he had to say, so much more, centuries’ worth. But he had so little time.
“Crowley,” he said, “my dear. I would give anything to go back and do it again. To do it differently. To say yes every time I said no. To show you how I love you, as you have shown me. To be worthy of you. And I know you hate when I say so, but—I see the goodness in you. Just as you see the darkness in me. You prove every day that we are more than what we’re prescribed to be. And if these truly are the last hours we have, then there’s no one else, not in Heaven or in Hell, or on earth or Alpha Centauri, or in any universe, that I’d want to spend them with.”
Still no answer from behind the door. Aziraphale swiped at his face with his useless handkerchief, rubbed at his stinging eyes. It was all right. He had hurt Crowley irrevocably. Perhaps, given another century or two, he could have made amends. But they simply didn’t have the time.
If he had to spend what was left with his own guilt and Crowley’s silence, so be it.
Crowley listened. Couldn’t help it. Bless his stupid fucking brain, his imagination. It kept things interesting, but interesting, of course, was a double-edged (flaming) sword.
Countless times, in low, weak moments—and there had been a lot of them—he’d imagined the angel saying the same sort of nonsense to him, speaking lines Crowley had written for him in his head. Confessing tender things, sweet things, things Crowley would rather plunge into a pool of holy water than admit wanting, things Aziraphale would sooner fall to Hell than ever say. Crowley was very good at hearing Aziraphale’s voice in his head. He’d accumulated a library of such fantasies over the centuries, all of them better than the bullshit the angel was churning out now, and no less unbelievable.
The mortification was scalding. To be subjected to this pity was worse than Aziraphale rejecting him at the bandstand, worse than Aziraphale rejecting him on the pavement outside his shop, because at least those Aziraphales had meant what they said. Still in Heaven’s good graces, still toeing the party line, those Aziraphales had been free of any obligation to comfort.
Crowley was sure the angel meant it kindly, humiliating as it was to hear. That was Aziraphale all over: beneficent, patronizing, and oblivious. He never meant to be cruel. It just sort of happened.
Crowley’s fist clenched hard enough to start his hand bleeding again, but he didn’t care. Perhaps he should be sober, but Aziraphale’s saccharine monologue was already excruciating enough slightly drunk, with everything fuzzy and muted. Perhaps he should be drunker, then. Unconscious might be a good place to start.
So Aziraphale felt sorry for him. Wanted to cheer him up a bit before he went to his death. Wanted to spend their last hours giving a poor imitation of what Crowley had wanted for ages. You had to give him credit for trying, even at the last hours of their lives, to give angelic succour—and to a demon no less. A low, foul thing, not to be trusted. A beast. A monster.
A horrible thought crossed his mind, flitted away, and came back to roost. If Aziraphale thought him unworthy, then let him be unworthy. Let him be a monster. Let him be everything the angel saw him as being: wicked, unholy, evil. Let us see how far the angel’s pity went then.
They were both going to die—what the Heaven did he need with dignity anymore, anyway?
The Angel of the Eastern Watercloset Door nearly fell through it when Crowley jerked it open. He’d been on the floor with his legs crossed, leaning back against it. He caught himself with a hand and looked up at Crowley. His face was wet.
“Get up,” Crowley said.
Aziraphale got to his feet. “Crowley—”
“Save it. I don’t want to hear it. Not your pity, and not your angelic horseshit. Take your clothes off.”
The angel’s jaw dropped. In other circumstances it might have been funny. “What?”
“You love me?” Crowley mocked. “You wish everything was different? Prove it.”
Aziraphale’s throat moved as he swallowed. “I don’t understand.”
“Don’t you?” Crowley snarled. “Don’t tell me you love me like an angel. Don’t tell me you miss my long hair for pure, aesthetic reasons.”
He took a step closer to Aziraphale. The angel stepped back. Crowley bared his teeth, his guts twisting. Taking it back already, angel? No surprise there. But it ached all the same.
“You want to show me how much you love me?” he sneered. “Take your clothes off. I don’t want to die without having you at least once.”
After all, a pity fuck was better than no fuck at all.
Aziraphale blinked several times in rapid succession and seemed to lean away from Crowley, which was just as well. They would have this out now and be done with it. Aziraphale would wriggle his way out, all “so sorry, my dear” and “what a ghastly misunderstanding” and flee the room, leaving Crowley alone to consider whether it would be better to duck into the nearest church tonight and gulp down as much holy water as he could before Hell got to him and made him rue ever being created.
“Put up or shut up, angel,” he said. “I’m calling your bluff.”
“I’m not bluffing,” the angel said.
“Right. You’ve loved me forever, only you can’t tonight, you’ve got a headache,” Crowley taunted. “Or is it your precious virtue you’ve got to protect? Maybe you want to clear it with upstairs first? I know how much you hate to disobey orders.”
Aziraphale stared at him, for several aching seconds, then closed his mouth. His eyes were wild with panic. His throat moved again; his chest rose and fell beneath the layers of coat, waistcoat, and shirt. He would start stammering out excuses any moment now, start backing out the door.
The angel inhaled audibly through his nose. His eyes dropped.
He began undoing his tie.
“I am not bluffing, Crowley,” he said tightly. “And I don’t pity you. I pity us both. And I know it’s my fault.”
“I told you I don’t want to hear it,” Crowley snapped, not quite believing what was happening right in front of him that very moment and struggling to keep his upper hand.
Aziraphale looked back at him with a wounded face and very blue eyes. “I meant everything I said.”
“If it’ll get you to take your kit off faster, then sure, I believe you.”
The angel removed his jacket with short, jerking motions. His hands were trembling. “I don’t deserve your trust, I know that. But really.”
“Keep going,” Crowley said.
Aziraphale kept going. He paused long enough to lay his jacket on a chair, then went to work on his waistcoat.
“Do you know,” he said evenly, “when I imagined this happening, it wasn’t like this at all.”
“Yeah?” Crowley couldn’t quite convey the disdain he wanted to convey whilst he watched the angel’s clothes slowly disappearing, layer by fussy old-fashioned layer, unwrapping like a gift in a dream. Still, he tried to inject as much venom as he could. “What did you ‘imagine’?”
Aziraphale had undone his waistcoat and was plucking at the buttons of his shirt. “That you would come to me,” he said in a low voice, “not in anger, but in joy. You would ask, and I would say yes. We would…hold each other.”
He let the shirt and tie drop to the floor and stood in front of Crowley in shoes, trousers, and vest. “And you would kiss me. I always imagined kissing you, probably more than anything else.”
Crowley stared at the notch of Aziraphale’s throat, refusing to look at his face. He couldn’t bear those eyes again. “Keep going,” he said.
Aziraphale huffed. “This is ridiculous, Crowley.” He reached for the buttons on his trousers. “Are you just going to stand there, then?” he snapped. “Or is that the idea, humiliation?”
In fact, Crowley had been so fascinated watching Aziraphale bare more and more of himself that he’d forgotten the ultimate goal of this exercise. Without taking his eyes off the angel, he loosened the belt of his dressing gown and shrugged it off his shoulders. The rest, including the sunglasses, stayed on.
Aziraphale bent to remove his shoes and socks, stepping out of them and his trousers together, and then he stood in front of Crowley in vest and shorts—purest white, both of them. Crowley stared. He hadn’t seen this much angel skin since the Roman Empire. Fashions had changed, and Aziraphale with them—buttoned, laced, covered up in layer after layer, a new barricade for every century Crowley had spent desiring him.
Realizing he was looking at Aziraphale like a shy but lusty virgin on her wedding night, Crowley mustered up what wiles as he could and circled the angel, eyeing him up and down, leering at him, a predator. A serpent. The very first, in fact—first and most dangerous. For it was he who had unleashed upon the new earth the most bittersweet of fruits, knowledge: knowledge that destroyed innocence and brought down Eden, a light that shone on every shadowed thing, hidden and hideous, exposing it for what it was—hypocrisy, senselessness, pain.
Knowledge wasn’t power, like the humans said. All it got you was a front-row seat to the shit-show. Better to be like the angel, credulous and innocent, thousands of years old and still green as the garden. Aziraphale should never have known Crowley wanted him. He would have been safer not knowing Armageddon was on its way, happier not ever knowing Crowley at all. It would have been better for him that way. Interfering with Heaven’s designs would have never even occurred to him. He would have been a very good angel, exemplary, promotions galore, instead of a traitor. He would have survived.
All Crowley had ever done in his worthless existence was ask questions, plant seeds of doubt, spread knowledge around like a disease. And where had it got him? Hell, for starters.
Aziraphale stood in his underclothes, his back ramrod straight, uncowed by Crowley’s lecherous menace. He was beautiful, soft, lush, lickable. Immaculate.
Crowley should leave him be, walk away. There was nothing he could do, nothing he had ever done for Aziraphale but drag him down and desecrate him. The least he could do now, if he had an ounce of decency, was stop this madness. But who expected decency from a demon? Not Aziraphale, obviously.
When he circled back round to Aziraphale’s front, he did look at the angel’s face. “Ssstill ssaying yess, dearesst?”
Aziraphale met his stare with calm defiance. “You don’t frighten me, Crowley. In all the time I’ve known you, I have never been afraid of you. I have been angry with you, I have loved you, and I have been afraid for you, but I have never been afraid of you, and I won’t start now.”
“Your misstake,” Crowley hissed. He nodded at the angel’s underthings. “The resst of it.”
Aziraphale did not hide his eyes or stop watching Crowley as he pulled his vest over his head and slid his shorts down his thighs. Crowley felt his gaze even as he watched the exposure of skin he hadn’t seen since the baths in Subura, the body that belonged to the being he wanted more than anything in any universe.
The angel’s cock wasn’t quite hard, but it wasn’t quite flaccid, either, Crowley noted with interest. He looked Aziraphale over again, from his bare feet to his pale gold hair, drinking it all in and yet still parched. “Get on the bed.”
Aziraphale stared at him a moment longer before obeying. He laid back, half upright and half reclined, against a pile of pillows at the head of Crowley’s bed. He went without a trace of nerves or self-consciousness, his skin, the dusting of blond hair all over, darker around the pink cock resting against his succulent thigh, all unspeakably lovely against the dark reds and blacks of this bed in which no one else had ever lain.
He did not appear happy. Well, neither was Crowley. Let the angel feel even an ounce of his pain, if he was truly sorry. Let him feel it even if he wasn’t.
Crowley began to unfasten the buttons of his silk pyjama top. It did not need unbuttoning—it was loose enough to be pulled off over his head—but he did not want to take his eyes off Aziraphale for even a second. Conversely, the more time he spent on the buttons, the more time Aziraphale had to come to his blessed senses and stop him, for fuck’s sake, to get up and leave before Crowley could make this degradation any worse. Which Aziraphale would do, surely. At any moment.
Crowley climbed onto the bed on hands and knees, still with the bottom half of his pyjamas on. He climbed up and over the reclining, nude angel. Aziraphale continued to stare, lifting his chin as Crowley loomed over him.
When he was straddling Aziraphale’s chest, inches from Aziraphale’s face, he knelt up and reached for the drawstring of his trousers. He fumbled with it, fingers clumsy, pushed down the waistband, and got his cock out, already hard, though the rest of him felt like jelly.
“Suck me,” he said, voice shaking.
The angel blinked but did not look away. He looked no more moved than if Crowley had asked him to pour another glass of scotch. He would refuse. Surely he would refuse, recoil in disgust, scoff at Crowley’s audaciousness. He’d been a good sport, commendably tolerant, but now Crowley had taken it too far. An angel, fellating a demon? The perversion.
Aziraphale broke their gaze and looked down at Crowley’s cock in his hand. The angel’s face was terribly close. A muscle in his jaw twitched. Then he lifted his own hand and held Crowley’s cock in it. He looked back up, directly into Crowley’s eyes, and put the demon’s cock in his mouth.
Crowley could have discorporated at once. Aziraphale! Defiant blue eyes open and locked on his own, lips stretched around him, sucking him, half his length in the angel’s mouth, shamelessly lewd. Aziraphale’s mouth was hellfire-hot, his tongue wetting Crowley all over. Crowley made a helpless noise, planted his hands against the headboard for balance, and couldn’t stop his hips from hitching, pushing in further without meaning to. The head of his cock bumped against the back of the angel’s throat; Aziraphale only fluttered his eyes a moment and sucked him harder.
Never in his wildest fantasies could he have pictured this. He would never have been able to look at Aziraphale again after imagining his cock between those lovely lips, wet with the angel’s saliva, Aziraphale working him like a pro.
It should have been impossible for anyone to suck a cock like that whilst at the same time so clearly projecting their deep, deep disappointment in its owner. So long he’d wanted this, dreamed of it even, Aziraphale’s sweet mouth around him, stroking him with lips and tongue, and now it was happening, and he was sick over how it had happened, sick of himself—but at least it was happening, wasn’t it? It would have to happen this way. He’d been an idiot to ever imagine a scenario in which Aziraphale came to him willingly, even eagerly, wanting him. A cold, loveless fuck at the end of the world was more than he deserved.
As Aziraphale worshipped his cock, he closed his eyes against the disapproving blue stare and pictured the angel some two thousand years earlier when they’d met by chance in Rome. He had been having a bad decade—a bad century, really, full of bitterness and wondering what the point of it all was—and there was the angel, the angel, as if sent specifically for him, offering—not for the first time, and not for the last—just a bit of kindness, just when he’d needed it. He’d taken Crowley to dinner, the first of what would be hundreds of dinners, and lunches, and the occasional brunch once brunch had been invented, as if they were already old friends. The angel had devoured his famed oysters with a look of ecstatic bliss, and Crowley had watched his bright eyes, his kissable mouth, and understood for the first time how he wanted to see that very same look on that very same face again and again and again.
Crowley whimpered, not only with pleasure, though Aziraphale was very, very good at pleasuring him. “Stop,” he gasped. He was going to come or to cry, either of which would be humiliating. He opened his eyes and put his unbandaged hand in the angel’s hair, pulling him away, slipping from the divine wet heat of his mouth.
Beneath him, Aziraphale breathed heavily, his lips shiny and swollen. The hand that had been guiding Crowley’s cock now rested on Crowley’s silk-covered thigh. For long moments they breathed together—but not together, Crowley knew. Worlds apart.
The angel was no longer looking at him, and his face was a riot of emotion: grief, anger, and others Crowley couldn’t name. Aziraphale dropped his head back to the pillow and turned his face away.
“Is this what you wanted?” His voice was pitched low. “Is this how you imagined it?”
“You’ve got no idea what I imagine,” Crowley panted, knees quaking.
“You could tell me,” Aziraphale said bitterly, looking back at him again. “You could talk to me, like I’m your friend, not treat me like a whore.”
“Friend?” Crowley bared his teeth again and deliberately echoed Aziraphale at the bandstand. “We’re not friends.”
It was the first time the angel had heard it coming from the other direction. His face crumpled. Crowley instantly wanted to take the words back. Instead, he averted his eyes from Aziraphale’s pain, backed off just enough to give the angel space, and rasped, “Turn over.”
Aziraphale did not move. “No.”
Crowley inhaled sharply. Now, at last, finally he’d pushed too far, trod right over the limits of Aziraphale’s divine patience and tolerant pity, and the angel would push him aside, dress, and leave. What was a little mouth fuck, anyways, but this—he would smite Crowley straight back to hell before he’d let Crowley bend him over and violate him in this way.
“If we’re going to do that,” Aziraphale continued, steely voiced again, “I want to look at your face, and you are damned well going to look at mine. And will you please take off those infernal glasses.”
The heart Crowley didn’t have twisted in his chest. He should have known Aziraphale would call his bluff again. “Get yourself ready,” he barked, climbing off the angel and off the bed to finish undressing. The glasses were staying. Then, as an afterthought, before Aziraphale could snap his fingers: “The human way.”
Aziraphale huffed quietly. “I don’t suppose you have anything around?”
Crowley opened the drawer next to the bed, grabbed the bottle, and tossed it.
Aziraphale turned it over, examining the label. It must have met with his approval, because he popped the cap.
And then—oh—he spread his legs and arched his back, wanton, stretching like a cat in a sunbeam, and reached behind and down, up and inside. Crowley froze, pyjama bottoms halfway down his thighs, transfixed. He couldn’t see Aziraphale’s fingers from this angle, but the flex of the angel’s forearm, the deep inhalation and long sigh, were obvious enough, and nearly enough to end him.
He had never asked, not wanting to know, but he had assumed the angel had taken lovers over the centuries. No one who indulged in food with such orgasmic delight could possibly be chaste. He had clearly lain with humans before (at least Crowley hoped it was humans; the idea of another angel—or, Satan forbid, another demon—was too horrifying to contemplate), had likely been fucked before, the way he attended to this task with no hesitation whatsoever, only cool resignation.
Aziraphale gasped with what could have been pain or pleasure, still moving his own fingers inside himself, and Crowley couldn’t stand it any longer. He dropped the remainder of his clothes to the floor, keeping his glasses on, and scrambled back onto the bed, over to the angel, pushing his knees apart to get a better view. Aziraphale had closed his eyes; he opened them now and focused them on Crowley. He seemed about to speak, but then he closed his eyes and his mouth and said nothing. Crowley looked him up and down, from his flushed face to his darker cock, now full and shining wet at the tip, to the space between his full thighs, between his buttocks, where he was withdrawing his two fingers—
“Don’t stop,” Crowley choked. Aziraphale stilled, then slipped his fingers inside again, slow, with purpose. Crowley had never seen anything more erotic than those thick fingers, slick with lubricant, pushing past the slight resistance and into Aziraphale’s tight, clenching hole. In to the second knuckle, then further, then sliding out until only the tips remained inside, then twisting up and all the way in again, coaxing him open, giving him pleasure, readying him to take Crowley’s cock. He longed for a camera to capture it, tried to imprint the image into his brain to hold onto for as long as he had left on earth. No dream, no masturbatory fantasy his overactive imagination had ever come up with, approached the reality.
Releasing the angel’s knees, Crowley smoothed his hands down the angel’s calves, to his ankles and his feet, which he held for a moment before skimming back up again, over the knees, up Aziraphale’s sumptuous inner thighs to where they met his groin. Just above where Aziraphale was still slowly fucking himself with his fingers, Crowley cupped the angel’s testicles in his hand and gave a gentle squeeze. Aziraphale made a sound like he’d been punched. When Crowley looked up, Aziraphale was watching him. Even like this, even with the angel more or less at his mercy, doing nearly everything Crowley had demanded of him without complaint, spreading his legs and opening up his body for Crowley’s use, one look from him nearly sent Crowley to his knees to plead for forgiveness.
Aziraphale’s cock was inches from his mouth, hard and arching upwards, a trail of clear fluid from the tip down to his belly underneath. Like a man starved, Crowley took it in his hand and guided it into his mouth, laving it with his tongue and bathing it with his spit before taking the slick length as far down his throat as he could manage without any demonic miracles. Aziraphale moaned, the sound of it shooting directly to Crowley’s own cock, which ached in sympathy.
“Oh,” Aziraphale murmured, “my darling…”
Crowley withdrew enough to just skim his teeth over the sensitive glans, a warning, and Aziraphale groaned and stopped speaking.
It had been some years since he’d done this, but it was, like the humans said, like riding a bicycle. He relaxed his jaw and pulled out every trick he’d learned in six millennia. Let any of the angel’s human lovers do better, he thought, sucking the head of Aziraphale’s cock before swallowing him all the way down to the dark blond hair at the root.
Aziraphale’s other hand, the one not moving between his thighs, had been gripping the bedspread, but now Crowley felt the fingers slipping through his own hair, scratching gently, massaging his scalp but not directing him anywhere. Soothing. He brought his own spare hand down between Aziraphale’s legs. He found Aziraphale’s bent wrist and followed it to his hand, its palm wet with lube, to his fingers, three of them now pressing inside his body. Manoeuvring carefully, Crowley slipped one of his own fingers between the angel’s. Aziraphale cried out. Crowley sucked his cock harder in reply. The angel was outrageously tight inside, squeezing around their fingers. The mechanics were challenging in the snug space; to add his finger, he practically had to hold the Aziraphale’s hand.
“Crowley,” Aziraphale whispered. It sent the same frisson down Crowley’s spine as my darling, but it was no false endearment, only his name—the one he chose for himself—and he couldn’t very well protest the way Aziraphale said his name. Certainly not without taking Aziraphale’s cock out of his mouth, which he began to think he might not ever do. He could happily stay here between this angel’s thighs, sucking his prick, fingering his tight hole, giving him pleasure for the rest of eternity.
Which, for them, would be quite short.
Before Crowley could dwell on that any further, he withdrew his finger from Aziraphale’s body and his mouth from Aziraphale’s cock and knelt up. Under him, the angel looked ripe enough to sink his teeth into, all rosy skin and delectable sweat.
“Turn over,” he tried again, hoarse.
Aziraphale shut his eyes, expression mulish. His fingers were still inside himself; his other hand, no longer able to touch Crowley’s hair, rested almost protectively over his own cock.
“No,” the angel said.
Crowley exhaled hard through his nostrils and grabbed Aziraphale by the thighs, shoving them back even further, bending him almost in half as the angel whimpered under him. So helpless. He was so helpless, so vulnerable. One of them was, at least. Crowley wanted to believe it was Aziraphale.
“I’m going to take you now,” he bit off, barely managing to get the words out. They did not sound at all threatening or demonic, and he cursed the limitations of this mortal form. The venom was gone, he’d lost it entirely, and there was no getting it back with Aziraphale under him, looking at him like that. “You’d better have that hole nice and ready,” he tried again, and that sounded more like it, even as it made him hate himself that much more.
Aziraphale did not answer, but a moment later he carefully withdrew his fingers from his body. He wiped them on the comforter, leaving a smear of lubricant, staring up at Crowley as if daring him to object. But there was no cause for Crowley to be angry about a stain. He wouldn’t have time to need to have it cleaned.
“Take off your glasses,” Aziraphale said.
“Hold your legs,” Crowley hissed.
“You are not the only one hurting, Crowley,” Aziraphale snapped.
“Hold. Your. Legs.”
Only the knowledge that Aziraphale, if he wanted, could snap his fingers and send Crowley flying straight through the reinforced glass window stopped him from backing down. He could not give more than Aziraphale could take.
Aziraphale did not move, his face a mix of defiance, anguish, and resignation. “Don’t take this from us both,” he said.
Crowley set his jaw and released one of Aziraphale’s legs. He held the other leg, manhandling the angel into the position he wanted, exposing his tight little hole, enticingly pink and wet. With his free hand, Crowley grabbed his own cock, lined it up against Aziraphale’s entrance, and guided it into the angel’s body, pushing insistently until the tip of it slipped inside.
Aziraphale gasped. Crowley squeezed his eyes shut against the wave of pleasure, the tight heat around the sensitive head of his cock—wanting to slam inside as deep as he could get, to plunder the angel’s divine depths—wanting to hold off, to slip inside so sweetly and so slowly that the angel would beg him to be filled up. He forced his eyes open again to look at the place where they were joined, where Aziraphale’s flesh-and-blood form yielded to him, opened up to him, let him in.
He resisted the urge to thrust and instead slid in carefully, inch by inch. There was no begging. Aziraphale gasped again and clenched down, and Crowley froze, terrified he’d hurt the angel, searching desperately for a sign that it was okay. But how could he hope for a sign that it was okay, he thought, a bit hysterically, when none of this, nothing he was doing, nothing about any of this at all, was even the slightest bit okay?
Aziraphale relaxed again, and with a grimace, Crowley pushed a little more of his cock inside. The angel groaned. His eyes were closed tight. He wouldn’t want to look at Crowley, of course. He was probably lying back and thinking of England. He was probably a thousand miles and as many years away, possibly in another bed, with another lover, a proper lover, one he loved in return.
Crowley shifted his hips again, and then they were flush against Aziraphale’s thighs. He was inside, all the way inside, as close to one with this angel as he could ever hope to be. It had taken six thousand years. Two thousand years of loving him. Half a millennium of attempting to court him without letting on that’s what he was doing. Perhaps a few centuries of outright wooing. A decade working together, so he’d thought, to avert the end of days; two humiliating rejections; one Armageddon. In the end, it had only taken the end of the world and their own certain destruction for Aziraphale to stop saying no.
He was so tight, so hot inside, and Crowley’s prick had never felt better or more at home. Heaven, what he remembered of it, had nothing on this.
Did the angel feel tainted by Crowley’s touch? Defiled by Crowley’s cock? Wrecked and ruined by demonic lust? The beast had him now. Did he still pity the monstrous creature?
Crowley could stay there forever, inside Aziraphale, between his lush thighs, staring at his beautiful face, all pinks and whites and golds. Only the face began to blur, and his own breath came short, and he was shaking all over.
Aziraphale’s eyes were open now. “Crowley,” he said very softly. His face blurred even more, and Crowley blinked it away as much as he could, which only made things worse as the evidence began to roll down his cheeks.
Aziraphale was reaching up, up to him, with both hands, and when he placed them on either side of Crowley’s glasses, the demon could do nothing to stop him. Aziraphale lifted the glasses from his face and set them gently aside. He looked at Crowley, and his mouth curved up in the loveliest and most anguished of smiles.
“Oh, my love,” he whispered. “There you are. There you are.”
It was awful, and Crowley knew those horrifying noises he heard were somehow coming from him, from somewhere between where his chest ached and his eyes, now utterly exposed, watered freely. Before he shook apart and collapsed, or discorporated, or worse, he lowered his upper body so that he could plant his hateful, traitorous face beside Aziraphale’s neck, down in the dense bedding where Aziraphale could not see him, could not look at him with those terrible, beautiful, all-knowing eyes that cut right through him to the ugliness inside, the regret, the despair.
It shouldn’t be possible. He thought he’d purged this human weakness after leaving the burning book shop and settling in at the pub to ride out the apocalypse with nothing for company but the angel’s favourite single-malt Scotch and his own grief. He shouldn’t have anything left in him—but then he was a demon, he was officially damned, and perhaps an excess supply of unwanted human emotion was part of the package. It certainly felt like damnation.
He was gasping for air, desperate, like a mortal drowning at sea. Aziraphale’s arms were around his back, tight around him, holding him afloat. He didn’t notice himself going soft, but he felt when he slipped out of Aziraphale’s body. The next instant Aziraphale’s legs wrapped around him, heels digging into the backs of Crowley’s knees, keeping him trapped there in the cradle of Aziraphale’s hips.
“I went back for you,” he blurted out before he could stop himself, “to the book shop.” It was impossible to speak like this, drowning, every other syllable swallowed up like seawater. But he swam on, equally unable to stop, the words a deluge unto themselves. “To ask you to come away with me. Again. Couldn’t leave without you. But it was burning up, and I couldn’t find you. Hastur, he said they would come after you, too. Hell, or Heaven, someone—your shop was on fire, and you were gone. It’s—hundreds of years, I’ve been able to sense you, find you, anywhere you were, but…you were just…gone…”
“You already knew,” the angel murmured, understanding. “When I found you, after it happened—you said you’d lost your best friend. You already knew I’d been discorporated.”
There was a howl inside of him, fighting to be released. He clenched his teeth to keep it in, choked on it. “I thought you’d been destroyed.”
He was shaking, and Aziraphale was whispering things to him, soothing rubbish things, things he had never imagined Aziraphale saying to him even in his lowest fantasies. A hand stroked down and back up the heaving line of his spine. The other went to his hair, cradling his head, holding it close to the angel’s shoulder.
“My dear,” the angel sighed, “my dearest, my beloved.”
Which only made things worse, made his entire body seize up even though the pain was not physical, made him grip Aziraphale tighter, tighter, arms going under his back to squeeze him like the constrictor Crowley had been six thousand years ago when he’d first seen Aziraphale, holy and unstainable, guarding his post with a fiery sword and a bit of bemusement, like he wasn’t quite sure why he’d been put up there but was determined to make a good go of it.
Perhaps if he allowed this thing his corporeal form insisted on doing run its course instead of fighting it tooth and nail, it would have been over with quickly. He’d have to ask Aziraphale later if that was how it worked.
Aziraphale’s face was against his neck, the slight bump of the angel’s nose, the tickle of his lashes, damp now, too. Oh—he’d made an angel cry. What a cock-up, what a perfectly demonic thing to have done. Of all his sins and crimes, this could well be the worst.
The angel’s eyes were wet, and so were his lips, smooth and damp and ever so warm pressed against Crowley’s neck, again and again, murmuring more tender nonsense hotly against his flesh.
“’M sorry,” he finally gasped against Aziraphale’s thoroughly damp shoulder. “Sorry, so sorry—”
Aziraphale shushed him, petted his hair and his back some more, and Crowley left off apologizing and focused his energies on wrestling this human form back under his control.
At last, when he was sure he could get the words out more or less properly, he nestled his nose into the junction of angelic neck and angelic shoulder and half croaked, “When I imagined this, there was considerably less crying.”
Aziraphale laughed. Crowley felt it run through his own body, close as they were.
“Oh, I was quite sure there would be some crying,” Aziraphale said. “Had to have been.”
“Clever you,” Crowley said thickly.
Aziraphale squeezed him again, then relaxed a bit, still keeping him close. “I’m sorry, dearest.”
Crowley was still choking, sure as if some supernatural hand had wound itself around his corporeal throat. “M—me too. For everything.”
“Aren’t we a pair,” Aziraphale said fondly.
“Couple of sorry bastards,” Crowley agreed, meaning it in many senses.
Aziraphale continued to stroke his back for some time. Absurdly, Crowley was reminded of Warlock Dowling as a small child, how in his guise as nanny he’d rubbed the boy’s back when he was ill or throwing a tantrum. Crowley hadn’t been sure whether doing such a thing would soften him away from his Satanic destiny, or whether it would draw him closer to his nanny and her hellish influence, or whether, demonic considerations aside, it was just the right thing to do for the poor brat. Though in the end, like so many things, it had not mattered.
Aziraphale tried to move him, to lift Crowley’s face, and he resisted, unable to bear the thought of Aziraphale seeing him like this, of their eyes meeting and setting off another torrent of dramatics. Fearing the state of Aziraphale’s hips and back, though, Crowley moved himself, out of the embrace of Aziraphale’s legs and off to the side, where he could continue to hide in the truthfully ridiculous number of pillows he had on this bed.
Aziraphale followed right after, lying half atop Crowley’s back and half beside him and tucking his face in where Crowley was attempting to bury his own. He pressed his lips to Crowley’s exposed cheek.
“How do you feel?” Aziraphale whispered.
Crowley contemplated. “Wrung out. Like a damp flannel.”
“Would you turn over?”
The request was phrased so gently after Crowley’s vicious demands that Aziraphale do the same for him. He made a questioning noise.
Aziraphale shuffled somehow even closer. His weight on Crowley’s back, warm dewy skin from chest to feet, felt wonderful. “I should very much like to kiss you,” he said.
Crowley’s blasted heart thumped. Yes, he’d rather steamrolled past that part, hadn’t he? He burned with shame. He’d stuck his cock inside the angel, done it more than once, and they hadn’t even kissed. How Aziraphale could stand being near him, he had no clue.
It hurt to turn, to roll over so that he and Aziraphale could lie next to each other, face to face. It hurt to be bare of his glasses, naked and vulnerable. And just as he’d feared, Aziraphale did look at him as he’d done before, when with one glance he’d blown a cannonball-sized hole through Crowley’s defences, and it did come close to drowning him again.
Aziraphale steadied him with both hands on his cheeks, one thumb brushing over his lips. The angel leaned in and kissed him.
The softness of his mouth broke something in Crowley, made him open his own mouth at once, offering to the angel anything he cared to take. Aziraphale sighed, warm and tasting faintly of scotch. Crowley’s shaky hands came to grip Aziraphale by the forearms, then moved to his shoulders to drag him closer; his leg hooked around Aziraphale’s without him meaning it to. He would accept no space between them, not a millimetre of air keeping them apart. He welcomed Aziraphale’s tongue with his own, sucked Aziraphale’s lower lip the way he’d sucked his cock, melted into the angel until they could have been one being, until time could have stopped on its own, no demonic intervention required.
Aziraphale gave him one last delectable closed-mouth kiss and said, “There. That’s better.”
“How you imagined it?” Crowley whispered, dizzy, grateful to be lying down.
Aziraphale’s smile could have lit the entire flat. “Better.” And then they were kissing again, hungry as only beings who had waited as long as they had could be, urgent as two lovers at the end of time.
Crowley had Aziraphale in his bed—willingly, it would seem—and he had barely scratched the surface of all the things he’d dreamed of doing with him. The angel’s hands needed kissing, each finger receiving its own attention and care, and his wrists, where the skin was so fragile and pale. His neck and shoulders were an irresistible expanse of kissable, biteable skin, to say nothing of his chest, his stomach, his hips, that luscious cock—
Crowley could have spent a blissful hour tasting every part of him there was to taste, but Aziraphale was already scrabbling at him, half lifting and half dragging Crowley until he was again above Aziraphale, looking down at him in astonishment whenever he wasn’t kissing the angel’s open, panting mouth.
Aziraphale grabbed him by the buttocks and ground their hips together. “My dear,” he gasped, “I believe—a few minutes ago—we were in the middle of something quite lovely.”
Crowley frowned but did not stop pressing kisses to every square inch of angel he could reach. “You—” he panted. “You want that?”
“Very much,” said Aziraphale, then moaned as Crowley latched onto a pleasing spot where angelic neck met angelic shoulder and sucked on it. “If you had asked me,” he laughed softly, as if Crowley bullying him into bed had been an amusing lark and not the most brutish and vile act the demon had ever committed against his person, “I would have told you, that’s what I want, if—”
Aziraphale went quiet. “If this is our only chance,” he whispered.
Crowley stopped peppering kisses along Aziraphale’s collarbone and leaned up to rest his forehead against the angel’s.
“Can’t be,” he said. “Won’t be. I won’t allow it. We will think of something, Aziraphale. I swear.”
He felt Aziraphale’s fingers weave through his hair, stroking his scalp. Felt the angel nod.
“I trust you,” Aziraphale said.
Then Crowley had to kiss him again, had to taste his lips and caress his tongue and breathe his air, and Aziraphale was undulating beneath him, rocking up into him, lifting one leg and hooking it over Crowley’s thigh to pull him closer, and it was only a matter of slight shuffling before Crowley was between his legs again, hard cock nestled between the angel’s buttocks. This time it was Aziraphale who took him in hand and guided him inside, breath hitching as Crowley penetrated him again, eyes open, watching Crowley’s face all the while, and Crowley could not imagine ever denying this angel anything, even if he wanted to.
He rocked them both gently at first, hands roaming over everything he could reach of Aziraphale, wanting to touch, to kiss, to look his fill, enough to last an eternity. The angel’s arms, his legs, his pliant middle, the downy blond hair. Hands that had performed countless miracles, that were performing them even now as they stroked Crowley’s hair, his shoulders, his arms all the way down to his wrists and back up again.
To be touched like this, loved like this—for he was past denying what the angel felt, indeed radiated like the sun—was almost more than he could bear. He’d had sex before, even once or twice with someone who cared for him, or at least for the version of him they thought they knew. Those encounters, however meaningful at the time, now seemed as intimate as brushing shoulders with a stranger on the street.
And sweet sinful fuck, was it hot. Aziraphale beneath him with his face flushed and hair mussed, beyond unbuttoned—tight and writhing on Crowley’s cock, begging for it even, at last. The angel was a talker—who would have guessed?
“Oh,” Aziraphale gasped, “oh, Crowley, that’s perfect, you’re—darling, please, like that, oh, fuck me harder—”
He could deny the angel nothing. Never could do, really. He pulled away, withdrawing until only the head of his prick was held in the tight clasp of Aziraphale’s body, and then slid home again, harder, fucking more delicious gasps and moans from that beloved mouth.
The pleasure was beyond reckoning. It made him drunk, loose lipped, and he fought not to say all the things he wanted to—you’re beautiful, you’re incredible, you feel amazing around my cock, you’re the only good thing that’s ever happened to me, I want to make you scream my name, I think I’ve loved you since the garden…
With a faint pop and a rush of relief, like stretching out a tight muscle, his wings were out, filling the air above them, reaching beyond the tops of the bedposts, casting new shadows on the walls. An instant later, Aziraphale’s appeared as well, as if awakened by his own. They spread out to either side of Aziraphale, filling the width of the bed and spilling over both edges.
Crowley stopped moving and looked down at him in astonishment. “That’s never happened before.”
Aziraphale’s eyes were wide, but he was smiling. “No, not for me, either. Rather—” He stretched his back, rolled his neck and shoulders, and adjusted his wings beneath him, settling them into a more comfortable position with a pleased little wriggle that made Crowley’s cock twitch inside him. “Rather freeing, though, isn’t it?”
Crowley moved his own wings, shook them out, beat them once in the air, which had the effect of forcing his cock deeper into Aziraphale’s body. The angel’s eyes fluttered closed. He was laid out like a banquet, flushed skin, bright hair, long wings of purest white stretched across Crowley’s dark sheets.
“You’re gorgeous,” Crowley said before he realised he was saying it. He started to move inside the angel again, half hoping Aziraphale hadn’t heard him.
Aziraphale shook under Crowley with each thrust and gazed up at him as if he was the divine one. “My darling,” he said, “you are exquisite.”
Crowley hadn’t meant to fish for a compliment, but it warmed him. Even knowing Aziraphale enjoyed his company, he had wondered if the angel found his physical form…well, repellent. Humans were one thing, he knew he was attractive enough to them, but they were mortals, insensitive to what he was underneath. He’d wondered if Aziraphale, by contrast, saw the taint of evil in him, if in the angel’s eyes he was repulsive. He didn’t know the angel’s type, if the angel even had a type. But if the trembling beneath him, the mouth open on a constant unsteady moan, was any evidence, the angel’s type included Crowley.
“What do you need?” he said, giving it to Aziraphale good and proper, making him feel it, tearing his eyes from Aziraphale’s face to watch the angel’s cock twitch and leak with every thrust, to look down at his own cock driving into Aziraphale’s lovely hole again and again. “Anything you want, anything...”
Aziraphale groaned. “You—oh, darling, would you...”
“Yeah?” He should be mortified at his own breathlessness.
“Ah,” the angel said, looking chagrined himself, “would you be terribly annoyed with me if I wanted to turn over now?”
Crowley half collapsed onto him, laughing, still hard where he was snug inside the angel but the rest of him gone wobbly and joyous.
“Only—this is lovely, of course, I adore it, only it’s a bit hard on the hips, and there’s my wings, and I think that, since we’re here, we might as well try…”
“Any position you like, angel,” Crowley chuckled, then kissed him—cheek, temple, forehead, and lips—before leaning up and slipping out of him. Aziraphale sobbed at the withdrawal, but then stretched his legs out with a sigh of approval. They shifted and sorted out limbs and wings until Aziraphale was lying comfortably on his front, left leg bent just slightly, and Crowley was lying across his back, in a bed of white plumage, holding his thigh and sliding back inside him with an embarrassing whimper.
“You’re so good to me,” Aziraphale whispered.
“‘M not good,” Crowley protested, thrusting languorously, stroking the angel’s thigh with his hand, stroking him inside with his cock. “Demon, remember?”
“You’re good to me,” Aziraphale insisted, bringing his own hand to entwine with Crowley’s on his leg, squeezing their fingers together for several seconds before bringing both hands to his own cock where it rubbed wetly against the bedsheets.
In fact Crowley had been rather horrifyingly awful to Aziraphale that night, was wrenched with guilt over it, but it was all too complicated to sort through, especially balls-deep in Aziraphale’s plush, perfect bottom, reaching heights of ecstasy he’d never known existed. His fingers, woven between the angel’s own, tight around Aziraphale’s hard, silken cock. His nose in Aziraphale’s fresh-smelling curls. The angel, his angel, sighed and moaned, warm and heavy and beautifully bewinged in his arms.
Apparently satisfied with Crowley’s technique and happy to let the demon play with his cock as he pleased, Aziraphale’s hand went wandering again, coming back to grip Crowley’s thigh, his hip; fumbling up to reach for Crowley’s face. “Kiss me,” he demanded, turning his head, blindly seeking Crowley’s lips, and Crowley kissed his way from the nape of the angel’s neck to the shadow behind his ear, to the ear itself, to the angel’s jaw, and finally to the angel’s mouth, which opened for him at once. “Make me come,” Aziraphale whispered, and it was a miracle—Aziraphale’s, no doubt, and fortuitously timed—that kept Crowley from shooting off just then. Instead Crowley made an animal-like noise into the angel’s mouth before latching onto the juncture where angelic shoulder met angelic neck and sucking hard as he pumped the angelic cock in sync with his own hips.
Aziraphale was nearly shouting, writhing between Crowley’s hand and cock, nonsense words mostly, some that might have been curses in languages long dead and forgotten. The hand not trapped under him found its way into Crowley’s hair. Crowley felt dull nails dig into his scalp, felt the velvet grip around his cock tighten a moment before Aziraphale said, quite clearly, “Fuck,” and came.
He shook, and shook, wings extending, and Crowley forced his hips to stop moving whilst he held and stroked Aziraphale’s cock through it, until he could swipe away the last drop of semen with his thumb, until Aziraphale started to soften in Crowley’s palm, until his wings settled and his breathing began to slow.
Crowley was suddenly bitterly regretful that he hadn’t been able to look at Aziraphale’s face mid-orgasm, that he hadn’t made this last longer, that he hadn’t finagled some way to get Aziraphale into bed decades or centuries ago. He craned his neck for another kiss. Perhaps reading his mind, Aziraphale released his hair and twisted his face around until Crowley could kiss his mouth again and see his face, a rosy portrait of bliss.
“My dear,” Aziraphale said when Crowley relinquished his kiss, voice little more than a raspy croak.
“Was it good?” Crowley rued the words as soon as they were out. It sounded like he was fishing for compliments again. And what was Aziraphale going to say—absolutely pants, my boy, better luck in the next life?
But it had to have been good. If it wasn’t, he would spend whatever hours he had left dedicated solely to doing better.
“I did say I wouldn’t lie to you,” Aziraphale said, and Crowley felt his heart stop. Stupid things, hearts. Who needed them anyway?
The smile the angel gave him then was lascivious. “I’ve never been more thoroughly pleasured in all my life,” he said.
Crowley turned away to bury his burning face in the nape of Aziraphale’s neck, where the blond curls ended. He was on a roll with saying humiliating things, and the words hung in his mouth, begging to be let free: I love you, I love you so much, I love you more than anyone has ever loved.
“Me too,” is what he said, or rather mumbled into the angel’s white wings.
“Oh, but darling,” Aziraphale said, arching slightly and pushing his bottom backwards as if to confirm Crowley’s cock was still inside him, “you haven’t—you can finish, you know. I want you to. Inside me, if it’s all the same to you. Though if you’d rather ejaculate on me, that would also be more than agreeable. Only, do you mind terribly if we change positions again? I should like to look at your face, and this is causing quite a crick in my neck.”
Crowley did not mind, but he did need a moment to recover from Aziraphale saying inside me, not to mention suggesting he’d be amenable to Crowley coming on him—where did his angel get these ideas? When he thought he could move again without accidentally fulfilling Aziraphale’s first request before he could honour the second, he backed up and let the angel roll onto his back again.
As before, the moment of penetration was rapturous, Aziraphale opening up to him as sweetly as could be, allowing him back inside, and he groaned until his hips were pressed against the angel’s thighs.
“You feel wonderful,” Aziraphale crooned.
Crowley began to move again, slow at first, in case Aziraphale was sensitive, and then quicker, at a pace that would bring him to release. He did not want to further tax Aziraphale’s body, which had already been so very, very good to him, and he’d been on the brink of orgasm for so long anyway that he wasn’t surprised when he felt the ball-tightening, toe-curling surge of pleasure begin.
“I’m going to come,” he gasped.
Aziraphale smiled under him, beatific. “Please do,” he purred.
Crowley could, would, deny him nothing. He groaned a vowel that might have been the start of Aziraphale’s name, perhaps the start of the word angel, and felt his entire being—physical and metaphysical, corporeal and ethereal, seize with pleasure.
Time stopped. Not truly—he had to be concentrating for that, and he was leagues past concentration—but the feeling was much the same. He came at the end of a thrust deep in Aziraphale’s body…and then, in a fit of sudden wildness, since the angel had more or less invited him to, he pulled out, cock in his hand, and spent again on Aziraphale’s hip, his belly, his softening prick.
The sight of his come marking Aziraphale’s body flooded him with possessiveness, and he shakingly pushed himself back inside whilst he was still hard enough to do so. Penetrating Aziraphale again, pushing into his tender, wet hole, and knowing that he’d been the one to make it that way, forced another full-body shudder to run through him, and the arm he’d been trying to brace himself with went boneless. He collapsed onto Aziraphale yet again, feeling like a rag doll, like a downed tree in a windstorm, uncertain if he was panting or crying or laughing with sheer joy, or perhaps discorporating. His wings, limp as the rest of him, fell heavily atop them, a soft, dark blanket, feathers intermingling with Aziraphale’s.
He might have fallen asleep. Some time passed, that at least was certain, for the next thing he knew he was on his back looking up at the ceiling, and Aziraphale was on his side next to him, petting his hair. And fussing.
The angel looked down at himself and then at the sheets. “Quite messy, lovemaking,” he observed.
Crowley pulled a face at lovemaking, but the shiver it sent through him at the same moment kept him quiet.
“Could do with a towel,” Aziraphale continued. “Not to mention some fresh linens.”
Crowley’s head lolled to the right. Aziraphale was looking pointedly innocent and helpless.
No amateur at this game, Crowley closed his eyes and concentrated. A second later, the soiled bedding was replaced with freshly laundered, and a warm, wet flannel was folded neatly on Aziraphale’s hip.
“Ah,” the angel said, attending to himself, “how thoughtful of you.”
“Lazy angel,” Crowley admonished with a drowsy smile, as if he wouldn’t move stars and planets for Aziraphale at nothing more than an angelic pout. “Should have known.”
“Yes,” Aziraphale agreed, dabbing at a spot of jism on his sternum as if Crowley had been derelict in not miracling it away, “you should have.”
Crowley rolled over, feeling every aching muscle, to press him down against the mattress and kiss his pert, pink mouth. Once he got started, it was difficult to stop.
“I suppose you’ll want breakfast in bed, too,” he murmured against Aziraphale’s lips.
“I’m partial to crepes,” the angel murmured back.
“I know you are.”
Crowley rested his forehead against Aziraphale’s for a moment. As last meals went, you could do worse than crepes. For his own last meal, he could do far worse than Aziraphale.
He settled with his head on the angel’s chest. “Do you really miss my long hair?”
“I meant every word I said,” Aziraphale repeated, his fingers stroking Crowley’s scalp. “But I like your hair short like this, too.”
“I’d wear it long again. For you.”
“That’s a lovely thought.” He could hear Aziraphale smiling. “Yes. When this is all over, if you’d like to, I’d love if you wore it long again.”
A lovely thought indeed. Charming idea.
He’d told Aziraphale he would think of something, some way out for them. At the airbase in Tadfield, the angel had forced his hand, and in the moment of crisis, Crowley had come through. But he could not stop time forever.
And so Aziraphale would not see him with his hair long. Not ever again.
The weight of Crowley’s dear auburn head on his breast was an anchor in a storm. Their union concluded, the wave of pleasure now a ripple against the shore, dark clouds made themselves known once again, threatening what was yet to come.
Oh, to stay in this bed for the rest of time. A good few centuries, at least, would it take to slake his thirst for the beloved creature lying half atop him, legs tangling with his own. And then to venture out, hand in hand, returning to the world they’d saved, the world they’d nearly lost, to all that they loved and all they had yet to see.
Aziraphale had never been to Hawaii. He’d always wanted to, had never been sure what held him back, but with Crowley in his arms now he pictured it: together, the two of them on a pink beach in short sleeves and bare feet, with garlands of bright flowers around their necks and slushy cocktails, the kind with little paper parasols, in their hands. Looking west to watch the sun set on another stolen day, snatched from the jaws of a doom deferred.
The knowledge that it was never to be was devastating. He scratched his fingers through Crowley’s hair. Crowley had always been the cleverer of them, the schemer, the manipulator, and now Aziraphale willed him to do it again, to conjure up one single, better idea. It was not his own death he feared, but what might be done to Crowley by his people. Heaven, at least, had a sense of justice, perverted as it may be. Hell had no such scruples.
Only when he heard a croak of protest did he realise he’d wrapped his arms around Crowley and was tightening them by the moment. He let go at once, petting Crowley’s hair soothingly.
“Alright?” Crowley asked. His mouth was pressed against Aziraphale’s chest, scratch of stubble and warm, soft lips.
“Yes, darling, perfectly,” Aziraphale said. “I don’t believe I’ve ever felt better. Physically, at least.”
Crowley seemed to mull this over.
“Not really saying much, though, is it? Since this physical body is about six hours old.”
“I suppose you’re right. Thank Heav—thank Fortune for Adam Young.”
“Mmm,” Crowley grunted his agreement. “I do. I’m sure your last vessel was very charming, but I wouldn’t fancy having to share you with Sergeant Shadwell.” Crowley pressed a kiss to his sternum. “Besides, I’ve grown rather fond of this form of yours.”
Aziraphale’s mind skipped immediately past the twinge of amusement-cum-revulsion evoked by Crowley’s mention of the good sergeant. His corporeal insides twisted for an altogether different reason.
It had been most miraculous, the speed with which, drifting disembodied through the ether, he’d located a hospitable hostess—within London, even—for a homeless heavenly host. A receptive body, he’d told Crowley.
Aziraphale had just delighted in being a receptive body, he thought rather crudely. Of course, that had been an entirely different variety of possession than what he’d done to Madame Tracy—not intangible, but earthly, transcendent, exquisitely carnal.
Pity I can’t inhabit yours.
Their lovemaking had not resulted in any explosions beyond the metaphorical, not that either of them had paused to consider the possibility. Crowley’s feet burned when he stood on consecrated ground, a splash of holy water would annihilate him; Aziraphale was surely at least as sanctified as anything the humans had blessed—who knew what his touch could have done to Crowley? Incinerated him on the spot. For all that he was immortal by humble human standards, Crowley was so frighteningly vulnerable when it came to the divine.
But Aziraphale wasn’t.
He had been silent for some time. Crowley lifted his head, looked at Aziraphale, and frowned. “What is it?”
Aziraphale licked his lips. “The prophecy. Agnes Nutter. Choose your faces wisely—I think I have an inkling of something.”
The seed of hope in Crowley’s yellow eyes made Aziraphale weak. He took Crowley’s face in both of his own hands. “Do you trust me?”
He knew how loaded a question it was. He’d given Crowley little reason to trust him lately, not his loyalty and not his competence. Crowley loved him, he knew, more than his own life; Aziraphale had felt it in every touch and every tear, and even now he felt it, surrounding and enveloping them as surely as Crowley’s black wings. But that did not mean the same thing as trust.
“’Course I do,” said Crowley.
Aziraphale held him, just looking at him, until he could speak again, knowing what it meant to receive this gift.
“Thank you.” He stroked Crowley’s temple with his fingers. “Thank you.” He cleared his throat. “I may,” he said, “have an idea.”
Before they even set about trying to switch, they went to the kitchen, where Aziraphale had Crowley bring him a glass of water from the tap, which he sanctified in short order. He recited the ancient prayer in Latin, though it wasn’t strictly necessary. For an angel, the words were superfluous. But Aziraphale took comfort in tradition.
“That’s it?” Crowley asked, clearly unimpressed. “Just a bit of Almighty arse-kissing and this stuff is suddenly lethal?”
“Well, the blessing has to be done by—my dear,” Aziraphale huffed, “I am truly sorry I made you wait a century for it, but could we perhaps argue about that another time?”
About Aziraphale’s plan they had argued at length, as they had always been inclined to do, though never before in the same bed. And in spite of their nakedness, and in spite of the stakes, it felt a little like old times. Perhaps in reverse—their relationship, for the most part, had always been Crowley trying to persuade Aziraphale to take risks, with Aziraphale stonewalling until he finally surrendered. In a way, they were already getting into character.
“No,” Crowley had said. “There is no way in Heaven you’re going down there, not looking like me, not looking like you, not looking like Lucifer himself.”
“Well, I’m not letting you go, either!” Aziraphale had said, filled with indignation. “They’ll have to discorporate me first!”
“They will! With relish!”
But it was only the same old Arrangement. One last go, for old times’ sake. A millennium they’d spent dancing like this—you do mine and I’ll do yours; you be me, and I’ll be you. Circling and circling one another over a thousand years, over six thousand years, heavenly bodies orbiting the same star.
They had to reopen a cut on Crowley’s hand to test the hypothesis, to spill more blood, this time on a pair of saucers obtained from the kitchen. Once before, and once after. Aziraphale conducted the experiment both times, first in his own form, then wearing Crowley’s gloves, apron, and precious earthly body. Then he tested his own blood, then a single hair from each of their heads, methodical, taking no chances.
“It will work,” he said, looking down at the makeshift crucibles, with more confidence than he felt.
Crowley leaned back against the counter some distance away. He’d kept at arm’s length since they’d ventured out of the bedroom, as if he wasn’t permitted to be near Aziraphale now, even as he inhabited Aziraphale’s body. “And if it doesn’t?”
He spoke with forced casualness, avoiding Aziraphale’s eyes, shoulders slumped with the anticipation of defeat.
Aziraphale crossed the distance between them and took Crowley’s hands in his, lacing their fingers together. He waited patiently until Crowley raised his chin, only enough to meet Aziraphale’s eyes. Aziraphale squeezed his hands in thanks. He felt a deep serenity wash over him.
“Then we die,” he said simply, for it was true, and they both knew it, and what was the good in dressing it up as something else? They would die, as they had seen billions die before them over the countless centuries of their lives. They had dwelled on this earth far longer than most, been blessed with a hundred lifetimes over. Who could ask for more than what they’d had?
“We die,” Aziraphale said, “knowing that it was for the world. Knowing that—for one moment, at least—we loved, and were loved in return.”
He released the other pair of hands and took the other body in his arms, holding it tight. A heartbeat later, he was enfolded.
This satisfying, sweet closeness, warmth against warmth, soft against soft. He’d been without it for so long. And now he knew—mortal human bodies he’d held before, touched before, lain with before were pale substitutes for this embrace he’d denied himself for ages. Prayer candles against an inferno, rivulets against the roaring sea.
Crowley sniffled, with Aziraphale’s nose. “How do you stop this blasted body leaking from the eyes?” he muttered thickly.
Aziraphale kissed his own temple, beneath which laid Crowley’s magnificent mind and soul, and said, not very apologetically, “I think that one is on you, dear.”
Crowley, then Crawly, had been given his snake form and snake name specifically for the garden job. Before the garden job, he’d been nothing, the charred and loveless remains of what had once been an angel of the Lord, devoid of substance, bereft of purpose.
From the snake form, he’d conjured up a Man form, the better to introduce himself to the Man-shaped angel that guarded the wall they called East. He’d been watching the angel for some time—reconnaissance, he’d told himself—admiring its expressive face, its tall upright stature, its limbs (four in all), the shock of colourless hair atop its head. Crowley had made up his own Man shape from a mishmash of observation, memory, and guesswork. He’d watched the angel and the humans. They stood on two legs apiece, so he gave himself two legs. The angel covered most of itself in a garment—which disappointed Crowley for reasons it would take millennia for him to understand—but the humans were bare, at least at first, though that was not much help either, since their bodies were rather different compared to each other, so he left that middle part of sort of hazy and blank for the time being.
He had dreamlike half-remembrances of his time as an angel, a recollection of Her giving him a long mane of blood-red curls, and though it was probably no more than a pathetic demonic delusion, he gave himself the long red curls all the same. Made himself just a bit taller than the angel. He found the new form suited him and was usually better received than his snake form, and so he’d kept it, altering it every so often to keep up with the times, the fashions, and his oscillating genders.
Now he stood outside that form, looking at it as a stranger, whilst Aziraphale tried to make its legs move the way Crowley made them move. The angel was rather good at it, which Crowley should have found annoying, but mostly it was surreal to see Aziraphale moving his own earthly vessel around like a puppet. Aziraphale was him, and he was Aziraphale, and only hours ago he’d had Aziraphale in his bed, had been inside Aziraphale in the base, carnal sense. Even now, inhabiting Aziraphale’s body, he could feel where he’d penetrated the angel, the familiar faint twinge of the freshly fucked. He wondered if, when it was all over, if by some true miracle they managed to survive and switch back, if Aziraphale would return the favour, bugger him so thoroughly he’d feel it all the next day. Perhaps by then he might even believe he could ask for such a thing from the angel.
Looking at Aziraphale was like looking into a mirror. Their images were mirrored again in the great east-facing windows of the study, their reflections, clear in the dark, fading to translucence with the rising sun. Soon it would radiate throughout the flat, this sun, the same sun She had created to shine over Eden, bathing everything in holiness—the same sun that had emerged after that first rain, drying their damp wings where they stood side by side on the wall, watching until Eve and Adam were out of sight—the same sun that came through the clouds after the Storm, warming the deck of the great wooden ship where it rocked like a cradle in the middle of the endless sea, refracting to form a different kind of arc overhead, a false promise, a beautiful lie—
The same sun that made his plants grow. That made all things grow.
This sun never reached the basement. Upstairs, they only thought they knew its light. But it was never made for them.
Crowley had built nebulae, knit galaxies from nothing more than dust, seen stars as far as the human imagination could reach and further still. But this star would always be his favourite.
Passing steadily overhead, just as She’d made it, its light gracing one land after another, one people after another, on its ancient and constant course. It would awake a different earth today than the one it had set on: a changed earth, an earth that had scraped by and survived by the grace of a human boy. Lives had been lost. Continents had risen, and monsters, too. Things long beloved had burnt and were no more. But it would go on. Whatever happened next, in Heaven and Hell, was of no consequence. With them or without, it would go on.
The angel, with Crowley’s legs but Aziraphale’s stride, came to him by the window. He took Crowley’s hand—Aziraphale’s hand—once more. They stood there together, in the sun, watching their reflections fade, greeting the gift of another new day.
Ich weiss jetzt was kein Engel weiss
(I know now what no angel knows)
Der Himmel über Berlin/Wings of Desire (dir. Wim Wenders, 1987)