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On a Wing and a Prayer

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On a Wing and a Prayer

 

Crowley’s flat

Five weeks after the (Not) End of the World

 

What Crowley needed was a plan.

In all his years on planes celestial and mundane, he’d never needed a plan. There’d always been The Plan, with no need to lower the case. Sure, the lords of hell got a bit vague and mumbled when asked about the details of said Plan, but it had always been there, and it had never left space for whatifs and wherefores. Angel or demon, you stuck to The Plan—which generally meant doing whatever someone at a higher pay grade asked at any given moment.

Ineffable, the angel called it. The word Crowley used had an eff as well.

But if there was A Plan now, no one would be telling him about it. He had no paperwork to file, no scheming to do, no will of evil to enact. Every last cosmic distraction had gone, leaving him with nothing to do but faff about the flat watching crime procedurals, skimming the tabloids, and making pointed threats at that uppity rhododendron that kept refusing to flower. Oh, he muttered sometimes about getting out, seeing Alpha Centauri for a few years or so, but it never came to anything.

Occasionally—usually after a bottle or two—he’d take out his phone. Let his finger hover over the name, plan be damned.

Because, while Crowley didn’t have a plan, he did have a goal.

They’d left the Ritz, he and the angel, and there’d been no Plan and no plan. There’d been only a look, unfocused from champagne. A stretched smile. An offered lift. And as they’d pulled up at the bookshop, eyes that met too long. Crowley thought he might say something, might have found his moment.

But the memory hit him sideways. He always remembered it like that, tight, braced for impact.

You go too fast for me, Crowley.

And he’d held his tongue.

So had the angel.

As it turns out, once you get into a rhythm—too fast, too slow, or otherwise—it’s hard as heaven to change the beat.

They saw each other more often now, of course. Lunches had become regular. Sometimes tea or brunch. Every few days, Crowley sat around the bookshop for a while, watching the angel chase away customers or re-organize the same bookshelf three times in an hour.

It was wonderful: it was more than Crowley had thought they’d ever be allowed.

But it wasn’t everything.

At the end of it, Crowley still said goodbye. Still came home to a flat that somehow felt less and less like his home. Or perhaps, he was beginning to realize, it had never really been a home in the first place.

Crowley needed a plan.

So when, on that nice and sunny morning, he opened Metro to see the date printed coolly above a write-up for Jardin’s tenth anniversary, the words lit a kindling-feeling. It spread as neat and tissue-thin as the paper itself. Something…something almost like a plan.

One final temptation before hanging up the pitchfork.

Aziraphale would be fussy about it, of course. Crowley had suggested Jardin for lunch once before and been subjected to a litany of complaints about trendy décor taking precedence over flavor and culinary skill. The angel had nattered on about it for almost half an hour, in fact.

So, despite the fact that Crowley rather liked the place[1], he’d known better than to suggest it a second time.

This, then, would take a bit of convincing. Luckily, that played to his strengths.

C’mon,” he opened. Not an impressive foray, of course. Just a warm up.

Even over the phone, he could see the angel’s withering look. “You know how I feel, Crowley.”

“The reviewer at Metro raved about it.”

“Reviewers are shills impressed by food in spherical form.”

“I promise there’s nothing about spheres. And it’s ten years since they opened. They’re bound to have improved, haven’t they? Stood the test of time?”

 “Time is no guarantee of improvement.” 

“Oh, I dunno. Look out your window.” He looked out his own at humanity streaming by. “Wasn’t so long ago they were dropping like flies out there from dysentery and cholera and the like.”

We might drop from dysentery if we eat at Jardin.”

He rolled his eyes. He was going to have to sweeten the pot, then. “The write-up mentioned a new dessert. A tart. Pastry chef’s French an’ everything. Critic raved.”

“A tart?” Aziraphale couldn’t hide the edge of interest in his voice, even as he tried.

“Mmm-hmm. Some sort of fruit and crème—with almond, maybe?”

“Almond?” This had a distinctly squeaky quality.

“Weren’t you just saying something about that?” He put on his best prim, angelic voice. “ ‘Why can’t anyone do anything with proper crème these days? It’s all whipped air and flavored foam and non-dairy such and such—’.”

“I don’t sound like that,” the angel huffed, sounding exactly like that.

Beneath the surface tension of reluctance, however, Crowley heard it.

“Come on, angel. What else have you got to do these days?”

Crowley knew that pause, that sustain, and he knew well how to play it. You tempt, you wait—one golgotha, two golgotha, three golgotha—and then…

“When did you have in mind?”

Crowley grinned. “Next Sunday. I’ll pick you up at eight.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Jardin met four of Crowley’s five usual criteria for a restaurant:  it had a nice selection of reds, an abundance of dark leather and exposed concrete, other patrons who routinely wore their sunglasses indoors, and a tendency to play anything-but-pop music. Crowley’s fifth criterion, unfortunately, was that the angel liked it.

Chapter Text

 

The Garden of Eden

4004  B.C.

 

It was a nice, sunny day.

The nice part was unsurprising as nice was the usual name of the heavenly game, meteorological or otherwise.

The day part, however, was still fairly new. Chopping up multi-dimensional existence into discrete units was going to take a spot of getting used to, Crawly supposed, but it did help keep track of things—a bit like cubbies in the cluttered drawer of the universe.

The sunny part wasn’t so bad either. At first Crawly’d thought the sun was a bit showy, really, all massive and fiery and “look at my celestial magnificence.” But after a few days of sunning himself on rocks, he had to admit—though not too loudly, mind—that God might be onto something here. Warmth was an amazing sensation. Crawly’d felt scorching, sizzling, blistering—he was a demon after all. But warmth? A demon could get used to that.

The human liked it too, it seemed. She’d walked right up and sat down beside him easy as you like. Didn’t know any better, did she?

“Hullo,” she said, with the smile of someone who’d known only sunny days and paradise.

“Uh, hi.”

“Some weather we’re having, eh?”

“Issssn’t it jussst.”

Crawly curled up a little tighter. He was meant to be causing trouble: they’d been pretty clear on that score when they’d sent him up. And here she was, looking so innocent and uncorrupted. She didn’t even know enough to find the silence awkward.

But his heart wasn’t in it today. He wanted to lie in the sun—enjoy the warmth for a few days. A little warmth wasn’t so much to ask, was it?

“Haven’t seen you around before,” she continued.

“Yeah, I’m, uh, I’m new in these parts.” He held his tail out to her as amiably as he could. “Crawly.”

She gave it a polite shake. “Eve.”

“Eve. Nice to, uh, to meet you. You… enjoying the garden?”

“No complaints.”

“Good. Good.”

That would make it tough. Tempting beings in need, well, that was no trouble at all. Easiest thing in the universe tempting the needy. But these humans? Almighty didn’t make a demon’s job easy. Warm, sure, but not easy.

He looked around half-heartedly. If he found something fast, he might be able to say he’d put in a try for the day. Enough to keep home office happy while he took in a bit more sun.

And there was one way to tempt even the most devout, the most innocent.

He’d learned that one the hard way.

“Perhaps you’re a bit…” He slid down from the rock and wound himself up the tree beside. “…hungry?”

A sweet blink. “I can’t eat that.”

He gave the branch and, by extension, the red, dangling fruit, a wiggle. “I thought you had dominion over all things?”

“All except that.”

His voice leaned in. “Ever wonder why?”

She blinked again.

“I mean, God put you here. God put it here. Why couldn’t you eat it?”

She shrugged. “Dunno. S’ppose there’s some reason. Adam said so. God said so. Seems like a consensus.”

He darted his tongue out, annoyed. “What, are you gonna spend your whole life listening to what everyone else says you should do?”

A new furrow creased her utterly smooth brow.

“You wanna let them decide who you are? What you eat? What you know?”

Her eyes tipped, slightly, up toward the apple.

Carefully, he pressed the branch down with his tail, letting it dangle closer to wide eyes. “You have to think for yourself. Do your own thing. Ask questions.”

She plucked the apple down. Turned it over in her fingers.

She thought.

This story didn’t end well, he could attest. He still wasn’t sure, however, that it was the Wrong thing.

With a smile, she took a bite and laid back on the rock to soak up the sun.

Or would have if the sun had not been suddenly and newly obscured by a gray cloud.

In the dimmed light, a spot of white caught Crawly’s eye. A lick of flame just visible on the eastern wall.

Curiousss, he hissed and abandoned his rock to investigate.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The Judean Desert

30 AD

 

Crawly curled up tight and looked out across the open gold of desert. The sky was a violent blue, and the quiet reminded him of sitting among stars, staring into the bared heart of a galaxy.

In places like this, Truth lurked nearer the surface. This was a place of riddle and insight. A pulse point of the universe, best suited to meditation and contrition and contemplation.

In short, it was a dreadful bore.

How anyone could spend forty days here, Crawly would never understand.

“Hello, friend.”

When Crawly turned to look, he found the man smiling at him. “You can come closer, if you like. Out of the sand.”

Crawly did like. Sand was far and away one of the worst things about manifesting corporeally. Even as a snake, it got everywhere.

“I suppose you’re here to tempt me, too?”

“Ssssomething like that.” Crawly’s tongue darted out.  “Issss there anything you’d like, particularly?”

The man’s smile deepened, etching happy lines at the corners of his eyes. “It’s no fun if you do it like that.”

“Doesn’t hurt to assssk. Could ssssave us both a lot of time.”

The chuckle was as warm as the stretch of rock on which they sat. “I like you, demon. You’ve a better sense of humor than the others did.”

Against his best judgment, Crawly found he liked this man, too—though, truth be told, he was far from what Crawly’d expected. There was nothing grand or beautiful about him: no flowing hair or radiant light or fearsome countenance. The sun silhouetted only narrow shoulders and cast shadows across sand-beaten skin. Hell, the man’s eyes didn’t even twinkle.

He didn’t look like the son of the Almighty. He looked like…a man. Just a man.

“What’s your name, demon? I’m Joshua bar-Joseph, by the way. In case they didn’t tell you.”

They had told him a name, in fact, but it wasn’t this one. It was a name that had no pronunciation in the tongues of men—it was Their name.

“I’m Crawly.”

Crawl-y?” The man pulled a face. “‘A little on the nose, isn’t it?”

Suddenly self-conscious of his low and coiled state, Crawly stretched out into human form, more comfortable meeting this man eye-to-eye. Sand dribbled away from all the places it had gathered between scales.

“Yeah, I s’pose it is a bit obvious,” Crawly admitted. “Don’t think I could pull off anything more traditional, though. Belial, Azazel, Baphomet. A lot of expectation attached to a name like that.”

“And you want to be your own man.”

“Or woman,” Crawly said with a shrug. “Or snake.”

 “I see. You’d know best, of course,” the man conceded before letting out a weary sigh and returning his gaze to the emptiness of the desert. “Well, then, Crawly. I suppose we ought to get down to business. What have you got planned?”

“Oh, I haven’t decided. I try to take these things as they come, you know? Don’t like anything to feel too rehearsed.”

“Your friend Hastur suggested I use my heavenly powers to turn these stones into bread.” He picked up a pebble and flung it into the sands below. “Not very creative.”

 “Yeah, nah, that’s, uh, that’s not really his strength.”

“The demon…Ligur I think his name was? He tried to convince me to throw myself down from this height so as to force the angels to catch me.” He shook his head. “Almost nonsensical.”

“Especially if you know the angel who’d be doing the catching. I’ve seen his hand-eye coordination.”

An appraising look. “And what do you propose? I’m guessing you’ve got something better.”

Crawly wished, and not for the first time, that he understood the effing ineffable Plan. What the heaven was he meant to be accomplishing here?

“I dunno. I mean… can I be honest with you, Josh?”

“Please,” he said like a man who knew better.

“Honestly, I think the humans will do worse than anything I could.”

A hint of sadness. “You might be right.”

“It’s a dangerous business, this Messiah thing. If you’re serious about it…about teaching people and bringing God’s kingdom to humankind…sure, I mean, as agendas go it’s not my cup of wine obviously, but it’s not a bad idea. It’s just…well, the world’s a big place, Josh. There’s a lot of people out there.”

Crawly swiped his hand through the air, and sand swirled up from below, whistling in wide arcs before resolving into a shimmering, intricate map of the world. It hung, translucent and dazzling on the wind in front of them: a picture that wouldn’t be seen again on Earth for another fifteen hundred years or near.

“Now, we’re here, you see?” Crawly pointed to one of the grains of sand and it twinkled, tiny in the vast expanse. “But that’s such a small place. There are kingdoms far beyond. And I’m not just talking about Rome and Gaul and Egypt.” As he spoke the names, small swaths lit up here and there, but large portions remained dark and unnamed. “There are countless kingdoms beyond anything even the Romans have seen. And they’re all…well, they’ve got a lot in common, really. They could all benefit from what you have to say.”

Crawly watched the man’s eyes drift, entranced, across the map.

“Seems to me,” he pressed, “that if you really wanted to do good—really wanted to improve humanity on a grand scale—it might not be such a bad thing using some of that almighty power of yours. Make your own kingdom, a godly kingdom, run on everything you’ve dreamt of. Peace, equality, kindness—all that. You could spread that message farther and deeper than the Romans have spread theirs. Probably a spot better than what they’ve come up with, if I’m honest.”

Crawly, in the last four thousand years, had learned a thing or two about temptation. He saw the briefest flicker of it in the man’s face now—weak but blinking open sleeping eyes. It conceded the point.

“That’s what the Almighty wants of you, isn’t it? To spread Their message to every corner of the world? To—”

Crawly stopped. Just beyond the floating map, a small, white dot had appeared on the horizon. He recognized it instantly.

Floating sand collapsed back into the dunes below, leaving only scraped blue skies.

The man beside him didn’t miss it.

“Someone you know?” He looked between Crawly and the approaching figure, interest now obviously diverted.

“Yeah…we’ve, uh, we’ve met a few times.” Crawly kept eyes on that growing white dot and tried to ignore the thing. How long had it been? Three thousand years or so? And still…this ridiculous thing. This turn in the chest, this fluttering, like the memory of a wing stretched overhead.

Every other step, the angel stopped and shook out his robes, gesticulating angrily at the sand and dusting at himself with fervor. He carried loaves of bread and a ceramic jug—no doubt sent to break the man’s fast as a reward for avoiding all those demonic temptations.

An awkward time for a quick catch-up.

“And that’s my exit,” Crawly sighed, giving the man beside him a grudging nod. “Congratulations on, you know, avoiding temptation, I suppose. And good luck with the whole Messiah…thing.”

“No hard feelings, yeah?” He set a hand on Crawly’s shoulder. There was something unsettlingly knowing about it.  “And, you’re right, you know. Power can be a way of getting your message across, of being heard. Sometimes even for the good. But can I tell you another truth, my friend? One deeper and a little harder to divine?”

For a moment, just a moment, the look in the man’s eyes reminded him of a shining, clean feeling. A feeling he’d had in a place he could barely remember. A place from before the Beginning.

“Yeah…alright.”

“Sometimes quiet and unwavering acts of love speak more loudly than a thousand clambering spears and shields.” A smile, soft as song. “More loudly than all the angels of heaven or the demons of hell.”

Warm wind gusted, tickling sand against Crawly’s neck. It matched the stupid tickle in his chest at the word.

Quiet and unwavering acts of...

That word.

Crawly hadn’t considered that.

“Whatever you say, Josh,” he sighed, deciding not to point out that the man might find a few spears and shields handy when he started preaching against Roman rule. “You’re the Messiah, after all.”

He laughed and maybe his eyes did twinkle—just a bit. “Shall I say hello to the angel for you?”

But Crawly was already slipping back into scales and slipping away. “I was never here, Josh.”

“One more piece of advice, then, before you go…?”

Crawly gave a peeved sort of hiss. “Let me guessss. ‘The meek sssshall inherit the earth’? ‘Love thy brother as thysssself’?”

The man’s smile didn’t waver as he turned back to survey the desert once again. “Think about ‘Crowley.’ It would suit you.”

Crawly hated to admit it, but the Messiah had a point there.

He wondered if the angel would agree.

Chapter Text

The Globe Theatre,

London  1601

 

“The stench really is remarkable.” Aziraphale scrunched his nose at the masses teeming around them. He got that same look when Crowley mentioned some foul deed he’d perpetrated. Or when Crowley suggested pub food.

“You’re the one who wanted to make him popular,” Crowley pointed out as he leaned back to let the oyster wench pass. “And you could stop using the nose, you know, if it’s so awful.” Though Crowley’d long since grown accustomed to them, he didn’t see the point in most of these bodily appendages anyway. Toes, teeth, fingernails. And the bellybutton. He didn’t even bother manifesting that one most of the time.

The eyes, though—he liked the eyes. You could see some lovely things on this little world.

He glanced over at the angel and adjusted his sunglasses.

From somewhere Crowley hadn't caught, Aziraphale had produced a vibrant peach which he was now running under his nose. “If I turn of my sense of smell, I won’t be able to enjoy this.” A reverent inhale. “They’re perfectly in season at the moment.”

The bite was a pop of skin followed by an indulgent squish and a low, moan-shaped noise Crowley wished he could lie out on, languorous and warm as a rock.

That wasn’t an angel’s noise.

Sometimes, Crowley had to turn off a few bodily functions of his own.

He cleared his throat and his thoughts. “Look, angel, I don’t have time for your—“

“Oh, don’t start with that.” Aziraphale wiped a bead of juice from his mouth with a pout. “You’ve been in a foul mood ever since you arrived.”

“I’m a demon! Whad’dya expect me to do, giggle?”

But of course the angel was right. He was in a foul mood, and it wasn’t from the stench or the angel’s noises or the general fug of discontent he was meant to luxuriate in as an agent of the Dark Prince.

It was the play.

“Another tragedy,” he groaned. 

“Oh, but this a marvelous one! ‘Two households, both alike in dignity’…”

“Load of melodrama if you ask me. How old are these kids anyway?”

The angel’s nose turned up. “Honestly, I’d think a demon would prefer tragedy.”

Crowley grit his teeth[1]. He wasn’t about to start trying to explain why the tragic story of two lovers kept apart by the feuding of their flawed and fundamentally indistinguishable houses really wasn’t his favorite sort of story these days. “Look, I’m not here for the entertainment. Did you tempt the man or not? I’ve got a report to write, and I don’t want—“

“I’ve already written it,” Aziraphale said, flat, drawing a scroll from, assumedly, the same place he’d kept the peach. The bow around it was crisp and black.

Crowley stared. He decided not to point out that Hell didn’t really go in for bows. “You…you wrote it already?”

“Had to do mine.” He shrugged. “Always best to do the paperwork when everything’s still fresh on one’s mind, I find.”

Crowley preferred to do his later over a glass of wine. Or three. Helped when he needed to embellish the details.

Scroll in hand, Crowley turned the thought over several times. His first instinct had been one of gratitude, but now…looking into the angel’s unmoving eyes, suspicion took its place. “How…how did you do it? The tempting, I mean.”

“You could read the report.”

“You know I’m not a reader, angel. Give me the highlights.”

Aziraphale shifted. “I…well, he was a strapping young man.”

“Right.”

“And…, I was tired and sore from the horse and ready to come home, so, I…I took the easy route, you could say.”

Crowley was afraid to guess what that meant. “The ‘easy route’?”

“Yes.”

Crowley blinked. “Do you…mean you…?”

The angel didn’t say anything and definitely didn’t look Crowley’s way.

“You…” He searched for a heavenly euphemism. “…knew him?”

The look of scandal on Azirphale’s face was frustratingly charming. “Absolutely not! Nothing so tawdry. Just a little…flirting. A challenge to his machismo. That sort of man will do almost anything to impress a young lady.”

“Young lady?” Crowley tried to be circumspect as he inspected the angel for any visible sign of the feminine. You really couldn't tell anything in those breeches. “You…changed?” He’d never seen Aziraphale take any other form. Didn’t even know he could. He’d assumed it was the sort of thing heaven would find a bit too flamboyant.

“Oh, not really. You know, a glamour here, a glamour there. Although I did put on enough to fill in the dress. And I plaited my hair.”

Crowley swallowed. It was no use trying not to picture it as the angel spoke. Shocking white plait, cinched waist, a swell here, a hint there. Satin or lace or, hell, rough-spun on pale skin. Crowley felt a little stutter as the image pulled into focus in his mind. He could only imagine what the poor man had suffered. Crowley might have stolen more than a few cattle. 

“I do enjoy plaiting hair,” the angel went on sweetly through another bite of peach. “I could do yours sometime. If you like. Might look fetching.”

That was as much as Crowley could take. “Not really my style, angel…just…it worked, then? The…” He had been poised to say seduction but decided better. “The temptation?”

Aziraphale balked. “What do you mean? Of course it worked!”

“Don’t get your feathers ruffled. I’m sure it was a lovely…plait. I just meant that you…you did the job.”

A bite and a sigh. “I did.”

“And you wrote the report.”

“I did.”

“Well, that’s… thank you.”

“Oh, I don’t know about thanking each other. Makes it all sound a bit too…collaborative.”

Crowley grunted. A bit too collaborative. Yeah, he had been. And not nearly collaborative enough. “Right.”

Perhaps something had shown on his face because the angel’s expression softened. “Still, you should stay. We can…enjoy the play, can’t we?”

If there was one thing Crowley didn’t want from the angel—ever—it was pity. Pity was worse than revulsion. Worse than coldness. Pity was the pretty face the Holy put on disdain.

“Don’t see why I should sit through to the end,” he grumbled. “‘A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life’…gave it away right in the beginning, didn’t he?”

The angel wore his hurt the same as those ridiculous hose: a perfect fit and oddly flattering. “A story’s not all about the ending. You can know how it ends and still want to know how they arrive at it, can’t you?”

Crowley made a non-committal noise—the kind that wants to salvage anger even in the face of a better option.

“Oh, you are in a strop.” The angel pouted for a moment before some thought lifted into a smile. He held the fruit out in Crowley’s direction. In the muzzy light of the playhouse, the fuzz of its skin shimmered velvet. “Here. Have a bite. I challenge you to find anything tragic about it.”

Music strummed through the angel’s voice, and, though Crowley hadn’t bothered to eat since the first day of Creation, he found his lips wanted to part. His mouth flooded with saliva.

“Come on.” A wiggle of fingers. “A little taste will wipe that scowl right off.”

Crowley ran his tongue along the backs of his teeth.

On stage, the lovers clasped hands against the better advice of their elders. The sweetest honey is loathsome in its own deliciousness.

He swallowed saliva and the idea of honey as he stood to leave.

“You wanna make me smile, angel, invite me to something with a happier ending next time.”

 

 

 

 

[1] Teeth, he had to concede, did occasionally have their uses.

Chapter Text

Near the Dowling Estate

Five Years until the (Not) End of the World

 

If there was one truth in human history—one distillable constant to Crowley’s millennia spent among the generations of humanity—it was this: no matter when, no matter where, being a woman was, on balance, always a little bit harder.

There were the shoes, for starters. Crowley had stopped manifesting arches and toe joints to accommodate, but that only helped so much. And then the undergarments. Satan, the undergarments. She’d heard women throughout the ages curse the Devil Himself for subjecting them to whaleboning and girdles and control-top pantyhose and push-up brassieres. Crowley could definitively say, however, that none of those had been the work of her lot. That was usually about men.

And, let’s face it, men were also often one of the harder parts of being a woman. Crowley found she spent a large chunk of her time in female form thinking of how one might creatively discorporate a male starting with his most tender bits.

In fact, it was the very thing she was ruminating on now.

She shouldn’t be. It was a lovely day, and there were plenty of other lovely things to ruminate on. Summer announced itself in the ripe green of grass and the lazy hum of bees and the scent of lavender from a further field. The sun beat, breeze tempering a stodgy heat. Warlock and the other children were squealing with joy, and for once it wasn’t because of some game on one of those infernal tablet computers. Warlock was playing his first game of the season out on the pitch, and, if Crowley remembered the rules correctly, his team was, in fact, winning.

Crowley, however, was losing.

“That—that’s a free kick, right?” The man, a member of Mister Dowling’s ever-present staff, had been sitting beside her in the stands, inching closer and making ever more intrusive chitchat since the match had begun. His smile exposed perfect white teeth. His manner exposed something more crooked.

“Oh, I wouldn’t know.” She gave a half-hearted shrug as she imagined how much blood there’d be if she decapitated him right then and there.

“I thought you Brits knew everything about soccer.” A meaty hand clapped her shoulder.

She dusted at her sleeve and decided to forego the correction. “And I thought you Americans didn’t like football.”

“Oh, we like football. Real football.” He stretched a little and gave her an up-and-down look he didn’t try to hide. “Do you know anything about American football?” As was often the case, Crowley had noted, the man asked a question he had no interest in her answering. “That’s a real game. Soccer’s alright for kids, sure. But football’s a game for men.”

The image flashed through her mind again. No, no. That much blood would ruin her frockcoat. And she quite liked this one. It had terrific pockets. “Is it.”

“Gets quite rough, football.” Fricatives wafted the smell of lager. The hand found its way to her knee. “But some people like it like that...” And a centimeter higher.

With a barely concealed yelp, the man withdrew the hand as if he’d gotten a sudden and nasty shock. Which, of course, he had.

It did not, however, have the desired effect.

“Oh. A spark.” He leaned in to whisper. “I knew there was something there.”

 “Sir, we are at a children’s sporting event. We are both in the company of our employer. That sort of behavior is absolutely inappropriate, and I’ll thank you to control yourself.”

“Mmm. Tad said you were the stern, uptight type. Tell me, Nanny. Am I being naught—“

“Lilith, me darlin’!”

It took Crowley a moment to place the over-rounded bend of the vowel and the over-rounded stretch of belly. Luckily she remembered just before he wrapped her in an affectionate embrace.

The American moved back, as much to avoid the gardener’s girth as anything else.

“Sorry t’be tardy, love, but the rosebeds don’ mulch themselves. Hope I din’ miss too much of young Warlock’s debut?”

The American found his voice again. “I…I’m sorry. You are…?”

“Oh, bless me.” He shook the other man’s hand with off-putting enthusiasm and what Crowley could tell was more pressure than was comfortable. “Francis Fell. Gardener and, uh, doting swain.”

When the angel leaned close to plant a chaste kiss on her cheek, Crowley was absolutely unaware of anything but the sudden warmth of lips and the strangely not-off-putting tickle of sideburn. The angel had whispered something, she knew, but she couldn’t have said what it was for all the tea in hell[1].

When she didn’t respond, the angel leaned in to kiss her other cheek. This time, she rallied.

The angel repeated his words, hot and near. “You look like you’re about to call up hellfire and brimstone.”

“I’ll forgive your tardiness this once, angel. Come, sit close.”

Somehow, Aziraphale managed to squeeze himself into the impossibly narrow space between.

The American looked as if someone had just burned his country’s flag and tossed the ashes down in his lap. “You…you two are--?”

“I’m a blessed man,” the angel said with that ridiculous, toothy smile.

Even like this—Satan help her—even like this, there was something refreshing in the angel’s sweetness. Crowley always felt it, soft in her chest, like the brush of wings.

Primly, sure to stay in character, she reached across and took one of Aziraphale’s hands in her own, threading finger through finger.

His hands were warm and smelled of gardens.

The American stared, eyes on the angel’s teeth. Though he didn’t ask it aloud, the question on his face was clear: why?

This American needed to go. She was having a moment here.

She gave the man a cool look, wishing she could remove the sunglasses and pin him in yellow. Instead, she settled for allowing a little of the serpent to seep through. “He’s a blesssssed man, as he says.” She cut her gaze in the direction of the large gardener’s lap meaningfully.

Even after the American slunk away, looking confused and more than a little disgusted, Aziraphale stayed close.

Their shoulders touched.

“Uh, thanks, angel.” It sounded softer than she’d intended.

When Aziraphale turned her way, past the bushy eyebrows and the buck teeth, Crowley couldn’t miss it. The man underneath. Blessed.

He gave her hand a squeeze. “Don’t mention it.”

Out on the pitch, Warlock had taken down the other team’s striker with a savage tackle, and his father gave a whoop of approval that was taken up by most of the American crowd.

Crowley couldn’t help but beam proudly herself. “That’s right, Warlock, dear! Put forth your Scythe and Reap, love!”

The boy stopped to find her voice. Smiled. Waved. And then, graciously, he bent down and offered the other player a hand up from the grass.

The angel’s let out a smug hmmph of delight.

The two of them sat, hand in hand, until the whistle blew and the game was over.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] All the tea in Hell is, of course, of the Long Island Iced variety. While not originally of demonic origin, the drink had brought so many otherwise innocent souls into sin that Satan adopted it officially.

Chapter Text

Crowley’s Flat

The Night of the (Not) End of the World

 

Evil, it had been established, never sleeps. Crowley himself indulged, of course, but otherwise, on the whole, the maxim stood.

The question occupying Crowley at the moment, however, as he watched Aziraphale circle his flat like a jumpy mouse dropped into a maze, was the inverse proposition: does Good sleep?

Given that Evil is boundless and ever abroad, Good would have to keep up, wouldn’t it? Good couldn’t be seen slacking. There was a whole deadly sin for that: one of Crowley’s favorites, in fact[1].

Metaphysics aside, however, Aziraphale did look tired. The first yawn had been understandable enough, coming as it did while Crowley tried to explain, with little success, the purpose of a wireless router.

The second yawn had burst through the angel’s admiration of Crowley’s tropical orchids[2].

The third came just as Aziraphale’s circuit brought him to the statue, where it battled a puzzled smile and a lean in for a closer look. “What the deuces are they—“

“Fancy a lie down?” Crowley interrupted, directing the angel away. “The bed’s through there if—”

The look on Aziraphale’s face told him he’d been dangerously misunderstood.

“If you want to rest.” As if to illustrate, Crowley stretched his arms theatrically. “I’m knackered myself. Could do with another century-long kip, probably.”

The mouse in the maze appeared to have gotten an electric shock. “Oh…well. Yes. I suppose I wouldn’t say no to a rest. Tiring business, the Apocalypse. I’ll, uh…I’ll take the sofa.”

They both looked at the black sofa skulking in the center of the room. Corners glinted and pristine leather menaced. It looked as inviting as a metal bench in a heatwave. When Aziraphale finally worked up the courage to sit, the cushions growled resentfully.

“Modern furniture,” Crowley explained. “Not really about comfort.”

“I should have known modern design was one of yours.” The angel gave him a small smile.

It bolstered him. “We could…I mean, if we’re both going to lie down, I don’t see why we couldn’t…?”

A swallow. “Oh, I don’t know.”

“Your virtue’s safe, angel. Besides, we’re about to spend Devil knows how long wearing each other’s faces and bodies around. I think we’re past the point of blushing about lying in the same bed.”

As it turned out, however, they weren’t.

The moment they were lying beside one another, the angel blushed furiously. It was uncomfortably charming[3].

They stared at each other, as far from sleep as two beings—celestial, infernal, or otherwise—could possibly be. Neither suggested sobering up. Alcohol, at the moment, was a marvelous ally.

“Well,” Crowley said unhelpfully.

“Yes.” Aziraphale agreed. “Rather.”

Sheets whispered as they turned away from each other, back to back, Crowley on his side, the angel on his—a miniature cosmos on thousand thread-count silk.

“G’night, angel.”

“Um…yes. Good night.”

Silence.

The first few minutes eked past, and Crowley was sure he’d never been less relaxed in his life. Each shift registered Richter-like; each sound poured through a funnel into his ear.

One of the nice[4] things about linear time, however, is that it just…moves on, continues, end over end, until a person can grow accustomed to even the most unnerving events. And so, eventually, as time ticked forward, the strangulated muscles in Crowley’s back loosened, the whites of his eyes faded. Shoulders rounded forward, and he let himself stretch: all of him, corporeal and non-corporeal bits alike. It was a hellishly good feeling. Manifesting in a physical body wasn’t terrible, but it was irritating: something like walking around with a pebble in your shoe except, in this case, his body was the pebble and the shoe was a radiant form of demonic energy that permeated all that had been or would be from the beginning of creation to the end of time.

Beside him, the angel’s breathing stopped, which Crowley took for a good sign.  He’d relaxed enough to give up the illusion of oxygen-carbon dioxide exchange and had even begun to release his corporeal hold a bit. In the space at their backs, reality slackened, fluttering between this world and beyond.

It was in this way that Crowley got a peek.

It wasn’t the sort of peek one got, say, through a lit window from behind bushes. This was in a mirror, darkly, and had nothing to do with eyes. Crowley stayed turned away, but he saw it nevertheless: the angel, Aziraphale—all of him, dazzling as a beam of sunlight might be if it could multiply itself infinitely and blaze across every wavelength and color at once.

Had Crowley been pretending to breathe, the sight would have taken his breath away.

So rapt was he, in fact, that he startled stupidly when the angel spoke.

Spoke is, perhaps, an inaccurate term. What Aziraphale said was not aloud nor in any language that has ever sounded on the Earth. It was a celestial tongue—one Crowley had not heard in more than six-thousand years and one no human could ever hope to comprehend. To human ears it would sound like nothing so much as Beauty shaped around Truth: the cool whisper of wind on a spring morning. The ache of bowed strings. The ecstatic crash of waves on a still and empty shore.

The closest translation into human English, however, would be in the decidedly less transcendental vicinity of: I’ll show you mine…

Crowley forced a useless breath. And another.

He was vaguely aware of the spot where he gripped the sheets.

He wanted to throw open the curtain and let the angel look—yearned for it in a way that had 6000 years at its back. He longed to show and to be seen as he hadn’t been seen since Before. Since his wings had burned black.

But he knew better. He had to measure it. Tread lightly.

He didn’t want to go too fast.

A fraction—as titillating a fraction as he could manage—Crowley released his hold on reality, too. Between their backs, matter bucked and waved as if caught in a breeze. For the first time in his corporeal existence, Crowley felt the prickle of hair on the back of his neck. The uncanny thrill of being watched by a hundred eyes.

When the angel’s wing touched his in that space between it was soft and almost. Feathers and light slid for no more than a held breath. Nothing to see.

But to feel

Crowley still remembered—still relived often in the pit of his stomach—the sensation of his Fall. The pull and the terror, the blistering heat that that gave way to creeping cold and to the gleam of amputation.

This was the opposite—not a Fall but an Ascent, electricity pinging to both poles at once. It worked down his spine like a teasing finger, stroked up his leg like a wanton hand. It grabbed him, firm, about the middle and filled him until there was nothing left but surrender and a hunger too hot and immediate to name.

No, he could name it. It was warmth. That warmth of the Beginning, before everything else.

Around them ions rattled, every atom singing, echoing in those hollows between electrons.

He was panting (uselessly), he was sweating (uselessly), and he’d cried out, he was sure, whether in this reality or the one beyond he didn’t know. A moan, a prayer or both at once.

How does a demon say hallelujah?

At the sound, the angel startled, and the curtain drew taut once more.

Another fall.

A diz z y pop and

a lack.

“I…I don’t know if this is a good time to…”

Everything settled back into the mold of reality, sliding around the angel’s tiny, earthly voice. Crowley became aware of his eyes again, sight and color returning in patches as if he’d stared too long at the sun. When he touched them, he found them damp.

“There…there’ll be a lot happening tomorrow.” The angel’s voice juddered as he stood, renewed breaths uneven. “I’ll, um, I’ll keep a watch.”

But Crowley heard the words behind—a different sort of unspoken language.

It was that same question again.

What if I did the wrong thing?

And Crowley wondered, as always, if there was ever a right one.

Alone again, he rolled over until he was on the other side. It was still warm.

He breathed in that familiar scent and tried, desperately, to rest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] In the same way waiters at posh restaurants are asked to try dishes so as to make recommendations, demons are required to indulge in each of the deadly sins in order to more effectively tempt humanity. Crowley had spent much of the doldrums of prehistory trying them out one by one. For his money, sloth had the others beat by a country mile, though lust could come a close second when the timing was right. He’d never quite got the hang of acedia, so he was glad when they knocked that one off and replaced it with a proper, respectable sin like envy.

[2] Tropical orchids did not typically thrive in London, but Crowley’s orchids knew what was good for them.

[3] Crowley was, in fact, briefly tempted to rearrange his rank ordering of the deadly sins.

[4] And terrible.

Chapter Text

Jardin

Six weeks after the (Not) End of the World

 

This had not been a part of the plan.

Crowley leaned into the hostess’s stand, a dark wood and brushed nickel affair like almost everything around them. Where another man might have raised his voice, Crowley refined his—sharpened it to a point which jabbed invisible punctuation between letters. “A.J. Crowley. Check again.”

“Mister Crowley—“

“Check again.”

“Of course.” The hostess’s smile seethed politely as she took a quick glance at the computer screen in front of her. “Oh, would you look at that. There’s no reservation under that name. Perhaps it was for a different evening…?”

“I’m quite certain it wasn’t. Eight-thirty, October the twenty-first. Crowley. Party of two.”

“I’m sorry, sir,” she said in a tone that walked straight backwards across the meaning of the words. “There’s nothing on the book.”

Until now, Aziraphale had stood back, eyeing the décor and tutting occasionally when the ambient music grew particularly experimental. At Crowley’s lowered voice, however, he finally stepped up to give the hostess an apologetic look. “Crowley, there’s no need to torture the poor girl.”

This is not torture,” Crowley said, not taking his eyes from the hostess. “But it can be.”

 “Oh, don’t be absurd. We can go somewhere else. I’m sure—“

 “Did you have something to do with this?” The voice jabbed in Aziraphale’s direction now.

“What in heaven’s name—“

“You didn’t want to eat here.”

“I—I won’t even dignify that implication with a response.” But he did, of course. “You know I’m trying not to draw attention from…upstairs. I wouldn’t have chanced it. And since when do you need reservations, anyway? Why don’t you…use means to get a table, if you’re so keen.”

“I can’t any more than you can.”

“Well, then…that’s that. Let’s make reservations for some other night.”

Crowley had planned to be smooth about this. He’d planned to slide this detail into the perfect moment. A delicate segue. A hint.

As it was now, it came out rather more peeved. “It’s our anniversary, angel.” He pointed to the date on his watch. “Another day won’t be.”

That stopped it. Opened mouth, wide eyes, eyebrows that disappeared into hairline: Aziraphale looked every bit the stereotype of a man who’d just realized he’d forgotten his anniversary.

No, worse. Like a man who’d just realized he had one in the first place. “Our…our anniversary?”

“Anniversary?” The hostess joined in abruptly in a voice that might have been perfectly at home describing a car crash. “You two?”

They both turned to look at her, but neither said a word.

“Like…you’re an item?”

Crowley heard it: the tiny jangling bell of something that might be opportunity. “Yeeeeah…yeah we are. An item.” He glanced at Aziraphale and let his glasses fall down just enough to reveal a snake-eyed wink.

The angel looked like nothing so much as a deer staring at an oncoming lorry. “Oh…ah, yes. We’re, um…together. Romantically. Today’s our anniversary... Six…thousand and…twenty second.” The words unraveled as he said them.

A pause. Aziraphale was doing that thing with his hands, a nervous little fidget at sleeves. Crowley’d first noticed it in Rome, when they’d been on their second jug of brown and the angel had asked what he’d been up to and Crowley’d mentioned the orgy. He’d thought the angel might wear the toga-ends to a fray. It was lovely that fidget.

Crowley steadied himself against the pause, said a little prayer,[1] and went for it.

“Ha, six-thousand years. Yeah, feels like that sometimes.” Grand and performative, he put a loose arm around the angel, letting his hand come to rest lightly on a rounded waist. Soft, Satan help him. The angel was so soft. And warm. “And we were really dead set to have a nice romantic—"

“You and…him.” The hostess was looking at them as if trying to identify something scraped off the bottom of a bus seat.

“I…I beg your pardon?”

“I just mean, well….you two don’t, you know, go together.”

Crowley glanced at the angel. Though his first instinct at the suggestion was one of demonic violence, Crowley had to admit he knew what the hostess meant. It was true on first blush. Aziraphale never really fit with anything around him, but here, in the midst of so much mahogany and black and distressed metal, it was even more pronounced. Here he stood out like a meringue in a box of mousetraps.

Aziraphale, on the other hand, did not seem to understand. The fidget had stopped. “And what is that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing, sir. It’s just… we don’t get many waistcoats here.”

“I’ll have you know I purchased this waistcoat from Smythe and Sons—one of Soho’s foremost gentlemen’s clothiers! Master Smythe did the top-stitching himself.” A sniff. Crowley hoped the young lady would be too unaware of gentlemen’s clothiers to know that Smythe and Sons hadn’t been in existence since 1835. “Unlike your outfit, my dear. Stitched by a machine and a exhausted child, no doubt, and exactly like a thousand others made the same day.”

Crowley chanced a look at Aziraphale’s face. Righteous anger—the angel did wear it well.

“I suppose my...husband here,” –Crowley was surprised at how little Aziraphale’s voice hesitated over the word— “merely appreciates things that are one of a kind.” Waspish, he closed the respectful distance Crowley had left between them until he was nestled almost entirely in Crowley’s arm. He didn’t look so much like the cat that ate the canary as the cat who had eaten the rather large display of canaries at the local pet shop and gone on to decimate the entire canary population within a twenty mile radius.

Crowley couldn’t help it: he was smiling again.

He cleared his throat and tried to smooth himself out, but it was no use. The smile wasn’t going anywhere. “Yes, as my, as my husband says,” A little internal jangle at the word. “I appreciate the finer things. Which is why I was hoping to celebrate here tonight by spending quite a lot of money on a romantic dinner.” He set a fifty pound note down on the stand. “Perhaps there’s someone you can speak to…?”

The hostess stared for a moment at the angel’s smug face and then at the money, and, as wait staff are often forced to do, she chose pay over pride, leaving to find her supervisor.

The man who greeted them next had the recognizable air of someone trying to be in charge and a thin sort of mustache that wasn’t helping his case. “Gentlemen, I hope you’ll forgive the delay. Did I hear correctly? You’re Mister A.J. Crowley, sir?”

Crowley was finding it harder than usual to pull off his air of suave condescension with the angel nestled into the crook of his body, but he managed a decent, “That’s me.”

“I apologize for the confusion. Your name wasn’t put in the book because of the…extensive nature of your requests. The room is arranged, of course, but I’m afraid we’re going to have to place a brief credit hold beforehand. The tally will be…um, substantial, and—”

“Yeah here.” He pulled a card from his pocket and tossed it in the man’s direction. “Whenever you’re ready.”

Crowley wasn’t thinking about the bill. He wasn’t thinking about the man. All he was thinking about was the feeling of the angel’s hip and shoulder and…the smell of his hair. His cologne.

And that word. How easy it had seemed in the angel’s mouth.

Husband.

Crowley, like enlightened humans these days, didn’t believe in signs or portents. Unless, of course, they pointed in a direction he liked.

And that—that word—had to be a good omen.

““Ahh, yes. Very good, sir. If you and your charming companion would follow me?”

 

*****************

Still Jardin

Still six weeks after the (Not) End of the World

 

It wasn’t until Crowley entered the room that the thought occurred to him.

He might have gone a bit overboard.

In the design phase of his plan, every new idea had seemed a subtle addition—a flourish on an otherwise understated message, each little detail just so much filigree.

Now, however, as he took in all those details at once—the supple amber lighting, the meandering strains of Bach overhead (in lieu of the house music), the delicate white linens masking harsh black lacquer,  and, at the center, the total solitude of a table for two in a room big enough for twenty—well, taken together it seemed a tad…dramatic. Less filigree, more fireworks and neon signs.

“Oh my.” Aziraphale froze in the doorway, eyes gone darting.

For a chest-tightening moment, Crowley was afraid he might object.

“Something wrong?” It took everything he had to keep this breezy, light.

“Oh…no, no. It’s…it’s just…very different from the rest of the place. It’s…not what I was expecting.” He reached out and ran a finger along the gold-framed print of Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights that stretched the entire length of one wall. When he looked up at the painting proper, he blushed and turned away. “The reputation led me to expect more, oh, I don’t know. Leather. Minimalism.” He lifted his hand to indicate the music. “Bebop.”

 “Yeah, well, you can’t always judge by reputation, angel,” he sighed, falling into his chair and making straight for the bottle of wine decanted on the table. “They’re probably just trying to put in a little extra. Make up for the wait. I think you put the fear of God in them.”

“Old habits die hard,” Aziraphale said and nodded as Crowley offered to pour him a glass, too. “What are we drinking, then?” A theatrical waft. “A robust red, from the smell…?”

“Of a sort.”

The angel sipped, face moving from enjoyment to puzzlement. He reached out and turned the bottle to better see the label. “I knew that tasted familiar. Lafite Rothschild, 1900.”

Crowley drank in lieu of answering. Yeah, maybe he’d gone a bit overboard.

“That’s a rather unbelievable vintage for a place like this.”

“ ’s like I told you. Place has hidden depths.”

“I suppose it might do.” Aziraphale ran a finger around the lip of his glass with a canny smile. “Though the customer service leaves something to be desired.”

“Yeah, sorry about that. And uh, you know, thanks for playing along.”

“Of course, husband,” he said with a strained chuckle into his glass. “To tell the truth, that was rather fun. It reminded me of that football game of Warlock’s. With the American chap, do you remember?”

Crowley rolled his eyes. “What a knob.”

Though Aziraphale scrunched his nose at the language, he nodded at the sentiment just the same. “And a bit of a tell-tale, too. You know I had staff members congratulating me for months after?”

They laughed for a while about the Dowlings and about little Warlock who was sure to require a qualified therapist, they felt, in a few short years. Crowley had been so content during their time with the Dowlings, and he’d liked little Warlock. Of course, he usually did like kids. Kids knew how to have a good time, and they questioned everything. They pushed limits, and not out of malice, as adults might. With kids it was all curiosity—testing the bounds of their place in the universe. Crowley’s favorite sort of sinning.

He thought about those times, now and then—about hours spent sitting in the yard, listening to Warlock’s questions about the sky as he watched the gardener go about his gentle business.

Apparently, Aziraphale had liked it, too. “I love gardens. Always have.” He sighed and drained his glass. “I miss it sometimes, the garden.”

Crowley was about to ask which garden he meant, when the waiters arrived with their meal. Or, more accurately, their many meals. Crowley had requested more than enough for two ethereal/occult beings to have multiple entrees, but of course that wasn’t the way of it. It was all for the angel, a fact that became ever clearer as each dish was laid out.

A neatly arranged line of sushi; a plate of oysters on smoking ice; some elaborate sort of sandwich on plaited brioche; salmon poached in pears; a salad of grapes and peaches and escargot. And, of course, crepes.

Seeing the artful plates crammed, rim to rim, across the table, jostling with the half-drunk wine bottle sealed it. He’d definitely gone overboard.

The look on Aziraphale’s face as he took in each new dish, however, made it hard to have any regrets.

“Oh, uh, yeah. I ordered ahead. Hope you don’t mind,” Crowley explained, lamely.

 “Oh, no. It’s perfect. I’m famished, and this…well, there’s a little of everything, isn’t there? A rather…eclectic mix.” Knife and fork began their attack with enthusiasm. A good sign.

Crowley sat back. Perhaps dramatic and overboard was precisely the way to play it, then.

He rewarded himself with a long pull of wine and an uninhibited view of the angel eating.

He’d long loved watching Aziraphale eat. Generally speaking, non-earthly creatures, be they ethereal or occult, didn’t eat. The lot upstairs seemed to think it too hedonistic an indulgence for the holy; his lot seemed to think it not hedonistic enough. But the angel engaged in the simple earthly pleasure with an abandon he showed at no other time. Watching the angel eat those oysters in Rome had been a revelation. It was the first time Crowley had felt pleasure—genuine, aching, stomach-tightening pleasure that was beyond his control. It wasn’t pleasure that came from the clean contentment of holiness or the taboo degradations of the damned: it had been a simple, sharp pleasure as he watched Aziraphale slurp against oyster shells.

He’d thought about that moment more than he would ever admit.

Aziraphale seemed aware he was being watched, though he’d closed his eyes to appreciate a final bite of brioche. “You’re…you’re not going to eat?” Tongue darted out to clean lips. “Even now?”

“Oh, um, maybe dessert. Here, try a crepe.”

The angel’s pout of disappointment was quickly remedied by the remembrance of crepes. He pulled the plate closer and inspected it. For what, Crowley had no bloody clue.

“Crepes aren’t normally on the menu here,” Crowley interjected. “But, uh, the chef seemed amenable and he’s French, so... are they any good?”

The noise Aziraphale made over the first bite was almost obscene. “Mmm. Downright Parisian. Do you—” He dabbed at his mouth. “Do you remember that little creperie in Paris? Armand’s?”

Crowley nodded, remembering the tiny, dark café where the angel had eaten crepes and fussed over his outfit and cajoled him into ordering a third cabernet.

“He was such a nice man.” Aziraphale said, wistful. “Kept trying to get us to rent that back room for the night, remember? I suppose we were a bit drunk to be getting out.”

Crowley sighed. For such a bright man, Aziraphale did have some rather large blind spots. “He thought we were a couple, angel. He was trying to rent us the room for…” An elaborating gesture.

That damned look of surprise. Crowley hated what it did in his chest.

“Oh. Oh I see.” He chewed on this and another bite of crepes slowly. “But why in heaven would—”

“You kept reaching over to adjust my cravat. And dust crumbs from my coat, remember? And you kept telling me how ‘fine’ they looked?” Crowley remembered. After several glasses, the touches had gotten less precise. Angel fingers had brushed his thigh. It wasn’t a thing you forgot.

“Oh.” Another delicate dab at lips, this time more self-conscious. “I had no idea.”

“I didn’t mind.” Crowley squeezed the stem of his glass. He recognized a moment when he saw it. “I never do, angel.”

It was funny, Crowley’d always thought, how silence sometimes plays like music. There are tense staccato silences and silences adagietto and silences that sustain, bar upon bar.

This silence went ritardando, slowing to a beat measured in breath that came with a little more heat and a little more effort.

Another lick of lips, and Aziraphale met his eyes. 

Crowley took off his glasses.

Slowly, in time with the silence, Aziraphale reached across the space between and straightened the lapel of Crowley’s jacket. Dusted an entirely non-existent crumb from his shirt. The angel’s hand, warm, came to rest atop Crowley’s. Just resting, without demand.

“I don’t mind any of it, angel.” He turned his hand to clasp Aziraphale’s. “Anything you like.”

Crowley’s heart was the only thing that hadn’t fallen into beat. It drummed uselessly, syncopated against his stomach.

He barely heard the waiter enter.

“Your tarte aux pommes, sirs.”

The plate set down between them. Thin slices of apple, elegantly arrayed, shining in gold light.

It hit a familiar note.

Something flickered in the angel’s face, and he withdrew his hand slightly.

It was a sour note, and it cracked the silence.

“This…this would be …the famous tart, then,” Aziraphale attempted with the cloying and false-cheer Crowley had heard from a hundred angels. “It looks wonderful.”

Crowley watched Aziraphale scoop into the pastry, avoiding his eyes and withdrawing his hand entirely.

The flutter in his chest clotted. Why did he do this? Why did it always play out the same? Before, Crowley’d thought it might be habit or nerves or uncertainty… but they were free now, in a fashion. And there could be no uncertainty: Crowley had made his intentions very clear here. It really didn’t get any clearer, barring a flashing neon sign that proclaimed, ANGEL, I HAVE BEEN IN LOVE WITH YOU FOR 6000 YEARS YOU ABSOLUTE TWIT.

Crowley considered manifesting this sign for longer than he should.

The truth was, he was beginning to feel the inevitability of only one remaining explanation. The one he hadn’t wanted to consider. Hadn’t let himself consider in centuries.

Maybe Aziraphale simply wasn’t interested. Maybe their relationship was as he liked it. Maybe this was and always would be their Arrangement.

Crowley did the best he could to scrape up the broken pieces of his dignity and his composure. It was too much work to find words, so he resorted to the wine glass instead.

Well, he’d done it. He had been clear. Now all there was to do was… enjoy what they had. Enjoy what made the angel happy, what made the angel comfortable. Lunches, wine, the occasional bout of flirting. Perhaps it was another enjoyable dish to him, the flirting. An interesting delicacy to be sampled, enjoyed, digested. But not a meal for every day.

They were best friends. Crowley liked that, of course he did. He could do that for another six thousand years. He could sit and watch Azirphale eat his tart and wipe the crème from his lips like that…make that little hummy moan and—

“Damn it, angel!”

Aziraphale’s brow drew together and a very heavenly tut escaped him. “I can’t see there’s any need for such language.”

“Wha—Language? There sodding-well is!” Crowley felt his eyes dissolve fully into those of a serpent. “Why?”

Aziraphale set down his fork and sat back, silent.

“Why do you do it?” Crowley pressed.

Where he might have expected confusion, the angel’s face showed only fear. Discomfort.

So he knew. He knew what this was about.

And still he said nothing.

“Is it some sort of angelic game? Torture the demon? Tempt me ‘til I break?”

Now there was confusion. “Me?! Tempt you?” Aziraphale scoffed. “You’re the demon! Don’t talk to me about tempting.”

Snake eyes rolled.

“Look,” said the angel. “I know you. I know what you’ve gotten up to…temptation-wise. You did it to Eve. And Cain. And in Gomorrah—yes, I heard about that. And Caligula?” A sniff. “I’ve never wanted to become another notch on your demonic bedpost.”

That hit him sideways. “What are you talking about, angel?”

“That’s just it! I’m an angel. I’m meant to feel…warm sorts of feelings. Tender feelings. But you’re…not. You’re meant to tempt. You were built to be all promises and no…” The angel had clearly gotten himself into a thought he didn’t want to finish.

But he didn’t need to finish it. Crowley understood.

He took a breath, just to have something to do.

 “I’m not an idiot, Crowley.”

“I know you’re not, angel.”

“I’m well aware of what you’ve been—of what we’ve been doing…But demons aren’t meant to be able to…they can’t…”

The word went unsaid but absolutely heard.

Love.

The angel pushed past it. “I’ve never known if it can even be…real for you. Or if this…this is how temptation is meant to feel.”

 “Look. It’s…it’s not like that. This isn’t the will of the dark one. It’s not some plot or trick.”

“No trick?” Aziraphale said, gesturing to the room around them. “Feels like the classic temptation setup to me.”

That hurt.

He did his best not to wince. “It’s not a temptation, angel—not like that. There’s no will of evil. Hell, I don’t think there was will involved at all. It wasn’t a choice. I know demons aren’t meant to…you know. But… I can’t explain it. It’s…“

“Are you going to say ‘ineffable’?” the angel hazarded.

 “No. I am certainly not.”

There was a spark in Aziraphale’s eyes. It was sharper than anything Crowley had seen there before. “What is it, then?”

They stared at each other.

Crowley didn’t want to say it. He had kept the word—that word—tucked away for so long. Since Josh had said it, and he’d held it up to the light and seen it reflect the truth back at him. It felt limned in something precious—something that would tarnish if he let it out into the air.

But the angel wasn’t going to budge. He had that stubborn, patient look.

“I don’t want elaborate gestures or setups or tricks, Crowley. I want the truth. I want to hear you say it. What is it?”

Crowley swallowed. He would try it once, with all he had left.  Not the word, maybe, but the Truth.

“It’s a miracle, angel.”

Aziraphale’s face—the slight part of lips, the softened eyes, the hint of a smile at their corners—made it all worth it. All of it. Since the beginning.

“Oh…Crowley…that’s…” Light danced off tears.

He hid his embarrassment in the last few sips of wine he could squeeze from the bottle. “Yeah, yeah…come on, angel. Don’t get weepy on me.”

“But that’s a beautiful thought, isn’t it? That a demon who could—that this—was part of Her Plan? For you? For us?”

Crowley could hear the capital letters, sour. “Bugger Plans, angel. We make our own plans.”

Something shifted behind Aziraphale’s eyes, and the angel gave him a look. It was a look Crowley couldn’t have imagined on that face. It put him in mind of a mousetrap after all. “But…don’t you think it would be funny, my dear? If you did the Good thing, and I…”

Carefully, angelic fingers broke off a piece of the apple tart, and he held it out in offering.

Light shone, alluring, off a slice of apple.

“….did the bad one?”

There was no pause, no thought. Crowley took the bite straight from the angel’s fingers, sweet and rich smoothing together with the taste, ever so slight, of Aziraphale’s skin. A once-forked tongue traced every contour, and the angel’s eyes slowed, blinked long.

It was the most tempting thing Crowley had ever beheld.

 “Is it…is it good?” Aziraphale’s voice came breathy.

He let his tongue swipe the last, lingering hint of crème from the tip of a finger. “Heavenly.”

The silence was back, but this time, the tempo quickened. Crowley wanted…

No, that was all. He wanted. He wanted a hundred things and nothing in particular at the same time. But it was all the angel. Just the angel and everything that surrounded him.

“Aziraphale, I—“

The sensation as Aziraphale’s lips met his was an odd one. It put him in mind of watching the entirety of London’s mobile phone network spark and spit and crack before giving out altogether. Random firings zipped and popped like fireworks across his cortex: A wing overhead. Animals marching two by two. Have not saints lips? The smell of crepes. Of burning bookshops. The touch of a shoulder. Of eyes. Of wings.

And then there was nothing but the angel and the soft slide of his tongue, of the hand resting on the nape of Crowley’s neck, the sudden lack of space between. And the kiss. The kiss. The Kiss.

It sustained, a heavenly note held.

When they finally came up for air, Crowley’s lips moved for a few seconds before sound emerged. Even then, all they managed was a dizzy, “Love.”

“Pardon, my dear?”

He took a gulped breath to attempt a full sentence. “It’s love, angel.”

Aziraphale set a gentle hand on his face. The Love in his eyes was the sort that gets capitalized.  “Of course it is…angel.”

Crowley started object to the epithet, but he didn’t get far, mouth taken up with more pressing matters.

The kiss was warm, and Crowley curled up on it like a rock in the sun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Over the centuries, humans have recorded many of what they claim to be “Satanic prayers.” These often involve blackness, death, fire, and blood and tend to pay little attention to prosody or form. Actual Satanic prayers however, rarely mention anything as gauche as blood, have quite strict rhythmic forms, and tend to resemble, more than anything else, human limericks.