Chapter 1: An Uneasy Detante
Things were strained.
It had all seemed so promising after their little switcheroo. Heaven and Hell were appropriately terrified of them and they'd been left alone. There had been a lovely meal at the Ritz, a walk in the park, and Crowley had felt a shared sense of relief with Aziraphale that was so strong he almost felt he could reach out and hold it in his grasping fingers.
Crowley was more free than he had ever been before, and not just because he’d shaken off the spectre of Hell always looking over his shoulder. He'd been able to show up a few days in a row at Aziraphale's shop, much more contact with the angel than he'd ever felt comfortable initiating before without having a Very Important Issue (real or otherwise) in his back pocket as an excuse.
Aziraphale had welcomed him each time with a smile that lit up his entire expression and a warm, "My dear, what a lovely surprise." And before Crowley could stammer out a paper-thin pretense for his sudden appearance, Aziraphale would begin to fill him in on the events of his morning and inquire about what Crowley had been up to. Tea was made; chairs were settled into. When afternoon turned to evening, they exchanged the tea for wine and talked about utter nonsense, laughing easily together.
It had all been quite exquisitely domestic.
They'd even begun to touch hands sometimes, to catch each other's attention, or to make sure a brilliant remark was being given the consideration it warranted. Each time he felt Aziraphale's velvety soft skin brushing against his, Crowley had to fight against the odd sensation of being too large for his body, as though he was in danger of imploding or melting away into nothingness. For a being who could shapeshift at will, feeling a reckless lack of control over his physical form should have been terrifying.
Instead, it made him feel like he was flying, swooping over the streets of London, dive bombing the trees and coming so heart-stoppingly close to them that he could feel the leaves brush against his wings as he pulled up just before crashing. He could taste the danger of it on his tongue, the iron tang of adrenaline biting into his taste buds. It felt dangerous. Addictive.
There was only so long Crowley could float along like that before the second-guessing started in.
On the fifth day after the apocalypse, Crowley climbed into the Bentley and froze, hands tightening on the wheel. He’d been about to smash the accelerator and tear off at top speed to the bookshop, just as he had each of the previous four days. Five days in a row was a lot—and it was more than five days, really, if you factored in the time they spent together during their frantic efforts to stop the end of the world.
Better not to push it. He could spend a day or two away, give Aziraphale some time and space to himself before dropping in again. Crowley decided to spend the day finding mischief to get up to instead, scattering minor inconveniences behind him like a trail of breadcrumbs that would lead him back home, but his heart wasn't really in any of it. He wanted to be somewhere else.
He slept that night and through the next day, mostly for want of anything interesting enough to distract him. When he finally got up, he walked around aimlessly for as long as possible to avoid glancing at his answering machine, where no messages from Aziraphale awaited him.
That was when Crowley got drunk, which led inevitably to him stalking about, then to him threatening his phone.
"Listen, I'm trying to give you a chance, here," Crowley reasoned with the device, which quite rudely sat there, unaffected and silent. "Either you ring—and you'd better be sure it's Aziraphale on the other end—or I'm not sure what might happen to you. Your purpose is to ring. You're meant to help with communication." He leaned against the desk, menacingly. "So," he began, then took a deep breath and yelled, "help me communicate!"
When the phone continued to be obstinate, Crowley stalked around it in a wide circle. It’s entirely possible he may have hissed at it a few times. With a snap, the phone suddenly found itself torn apart, its composite pieces scattered over the surface of the desk.
“It’s no good complaining now,” Crowley intoned, his voice buttery and low. Dangerous. “I did warn you.”
Crowley’s mobile shuddered a bit in his pocket, clearly gripped by terror at what had happened to its distant relation on the desk. The demon merely patted it through the tight denim. “You’re on thin ice yourself, but I’ll give you a bit more leeway.” He didn’t want to say it out loud and give the mobile a false sense of security, but he was rather attached to his progress on several mobile games.
Glaring at the wreckage of electronic parts, Crowley resolved to get drunk again. It was certainly easier than calling Aziraphale himself, which Crowley couldn't imagine going well. He had no idea how to ask if he was welcome to visit without sounding pathetic, and he knew Aziraphale wouldn't turn him down, even if he'd really like to. It made him feel like he was the lowest, most wretched creature in existence, but what he really needed was to know that Aziraphale wanted him there. He couldn't exactly be straightforward about that, could he?
A full day later, he was lying under that same desk, surrounded by mostly empty bottles. He’d put on some music and was snapping to the beat, torturing his phone further by reassembling it and then destroying it again with each twitch of his fingers.
“How does it feel to be disappointed, hmm? Perhaps you’re beginning to understand. Your lack of compliance is what’s brought us here. All you have to do is—”
Crowley bolted upright, banging his forehead on the underside of the desk so hard that his vision actually blurred. He hadn’t even known his body was capable of producing such a reaction. Surely he was hallucinating. That couldn’t be…
“Aziraphale?” he answered, hoping he was talking to an apparition of Aziraphale and not the actual angel in the flesh. Crowley was a mess; his tortured phone’s parts were dancing around the desk in utter confusion, the room was in complete disarray, and he was drunker than he’d been in quite awhile.
Considering how he and Aziraphale could probably represent Great Britain in the Olympics if competitive drinking were ever adopted as a sport, this was saying something.
“Oh, thank goodness!” The angel’s voice echoed in the sparse environment of the flat and Crowley began to panic in earnest. “I hadn’t heard from you in a few days,” Aziraphale continued, his footsteps slow but growing closer.
Hurriedly, Crowley sobered up, bearing down as he forced the rum, vodka, and tequila out of his system and back into their respective bottles. (Or, in his haste, he may have gotten them all a bit mixed up, but he really couldn’t be blamed, given the circumstances.)
“Given we’re in a bit of unprecedented territory, you’ll forgive me, I hope, for bypassing the lock on your flat’s door,” the angel went on, and from the sound of his voice, he seemed to be hovering just on the other side of the office door.
“Unprecedented territory?” Crowley asked, stalling for time.
“Well,” Aziraphale began, sounding thoughtful, and Crowley put his arms in the air to celebrate. That pensive sound in his voice meant the angel could go on for minutes, thinking aloud. He’d be too distracted to remember they were speaking through a door and decide to come in. “It’s been merely a few days since our sides…oh.” Aziraphale paused, and Crowley could almost hear the wounded little expression on his face. “As you’ve said before, they aren’t our sides, are they? Not anymore.”
“Heaven never deserved you, angel,” he said, while he was distracted with taming his hair and finding where his sunglasses had gotten to.
Crowley’s eyes widened. Where had that little burst of earnestness come from? Well, all right. He knew where it had come from, but who had given those words permission to claw their way out of his mouth?
“Ah. I…well,” Aziraphale stammered. “That’s very kind of—no, I shan’t say that. I appreciate that perspective, Crowley. I must confess, while I don’t miss the difficulties and disagreements I had with…with Above, I have been struggling with a sense of loss.”
Crowley paused in his frantic attempts to restore his office to something Aziraphale would classify as normalcy, thinking about how painful the break with Heaven must be for him. Crowley had no regrets about slamming the door on Hell and everyone in it, but he did know a thing or two about being cast out of Heaven.
“Oh, my,” Aziraphale cried, his dismay evident. “Imagine me, explaining to you what this feels like. I’m so sorry, Crowley. I know my feelings on this must pale next to what you went through, and I never intended to give you the impression I saw some sort of parity there.” Aziraphale continued to stammer out apologies, stopping and starting and almost talking over himself.
Crowley couldn’t let him suffer any longer. Though he was nowhere near ready, it was time to face the music.
Aziraphale gave a little jump when Crowley abruptly opened the door separating them, his hand fluttering over his heart, but he recomposed himself relatively quickly.
“Honestly, Crowley, you must know I would never compare my situation with Heaven to yours. I would never—”
Crowley waved a hand, almost the same gesture he used to manifest a miracle. “Don’t worry about it, angel. ‘M not offended.”
“Goodness, thank you. I felt so terrible…well, no more of that, then.” Aziraphale shook his head as though to reset himself, his bright white curls shining in the light as he did. “I truly am sorry for breaking in, as well, but I was so worried, Crowley. I feared someone from Below had caught on to our little trick with the body switching and they’d come for you. I tried calling this morning, but,” he paused, his eyes drifting over to the wreckage on Crowley’s desk. “Ah. You appear to have a small issue with your telephone.”
Crowley eyed the ruined electronics, then turned back to Aziraphale. “It needed servicing.”
“Couldn’t you just…” Aziraphale mimed his own miracle gesture, a downward pull of his arm that looked more like he was turning on an antique lamp than performing a task beyond the bounds of human understanding. Crowley found it adorable, and upon allowing himself to acknowledge that, had to fight down a lurid string of cursing that would make the roughest of his former colleagues blush.
“Trying to keep those to a minimum,” he answered, congratulating himself internally on his quick thinking. As a bonus, it was a particularly delicious lie, given the literal thousands of times he’d used his powers to disintegrate and re-integrate the phone that morning, alone.
“Oh!” Aziraphale paled. “That does seem rather a good idea. I’m afraid I’ve been going about business as usual, myself. I’ll be so cross if I've done something to attract unwanted attention to the two of us.” He worried his hands together, the knuckles turning white under the sheer weight of angelic guilt.
“No worries,” Crowley said, breezily. “I’m sure it’ll be fine.”
“And you’re fine, as well. As I said, I was a bit worried. It had been a few days, you see.”
“So you said before,” Crowley answered, feigning nonchalance to cover the unpleasant mix of anxiety and excitement flowing through him. If he didn’t know better, he’d say his face had gone a bit numb with the effort.
He’d never considered Aziraphale would miss him after only a few days, even if it was only out of concern for his safety.
“I suppose, well, now that I know you’re safe, I should…go?” Aziraphale said, the wringing of his hands not slowing a bit. “You’re fine, so I’ll just leave you to it, shall I?”
Crowley opened his mouth to answer, and nothing came out. He’d never been angrier at his vocal cords in his long, long life.
“Not that I’m suggesting you’re up to anything! I didn’t come here to accuse you, or thwart you, as it were. I merely…” Aziraphale trailed off, visibly frustrated.
As Crowley had observed earlier, things were strained.
“Lunch?” Crowley proposed, allowing his hip to pop out of joint so he could affect an appropriately casual lean against his desk.
Aziraphale looked a bit like someone had thrown something at him unexpectedly, and he’d caught it without knowing what he was doing. “I’m sorry?”
“Must be about that time, lunchtime?” Desperately hoping the wild guess was correct, Crowley glanced around, as though a clock would suddenly appear where there hadn’t been one before. He wrestled his mobile from his pocket, brandishing it like a prize once he got a glimpse of the time. “Just gone eleven, see? There’s that kebab place that just opened. I’ll buy, come on.”
“What? There’s what?” Aziraphale was puzzled, but then seemed to register what Crowley was proposing. He smiled, looking surprised but pleased. “Oh, some lamb does sound scrumptious. And do you think they offer that lovely yogurt sauce to accompany?”
“Only one way to find out, angel.” Crowley swept one arm toward the door, the other coming lightly around Aziraphale’s shoulders just long enough to urge him forward before Crowley pulled away. Aziraphale straightened a bit at the contact, and Crowley could swear the angel was blushing a little.
He forced himself to ignore the way Aziraphale's delight painted itself over his face. Aziraphale was fairly glowing in the darkness of Crowley's flat, his mouth just a bit open and his eyes softening. Crowley knew he wasn't in the best state of mind after the last few days, and it was all too easy to willfully misinterpret Aziraphale's general aura of acceptance and love as something more personally directed toward Crowley. Aziraphale always did get quite excited when he was about to indulge in some delightful food, and it was surely no more or less than that.
Their meal went…fine. Most of the conversation was a rehash of recent events, though they both studiously seemed to be avoiding the more sensitive bits. Not that Crowley minded if they never again mentioned his somewhat humiliating pleas for Aziraphale to run away to Alpha Centauri with him, or the way he’d been near crying and devastated in the bar when he’d thought Aziraphale was gone forever. Mostly, they talked about the surprising bravery of Adam and his young friends, and gossiped about whatever was going on between the witch finders and their respective witches. (Aziraphale thought both pairs had found true love, but Crowley had his doubts. He was fairly certain both witches could do better.)
Crowley walked Aziraphale back to the bookshop afterwards, both of them quiet as they took in their surroundings along the way. He suspected his angel was marveling at everything around them, thinking about how it all could have been lost. It was in the way Aziraphale’s eyes followed the quiet movements of the leaves and the comings and goings of humanity as it went about its business as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened. (And to them, of course, nothing had.)
It pained Crowley to stop at the door to the shop, but he was afraid of what he would say—what he might do if he were to go inside. Better to keep a little distance until he had his head back on straight. He’d almost lost Aziraphale forever, and he’d not risk jeopardizing their friendship by making things irretrievably awkward.
“Crowley!” Aziraphale called him back, just as he was about to disappear around the corner. “The ducks must be getting very hungry, don’t you think? Perhaps we should visit them?”
Crowley stared at the pavement. As painful as this was, existing in this space where he knew he’d said too much, exposed too much of his internal world, and without the safety net of The Arrangement to reassure him that they’d simply have to keep in touch, if only for ‘work’ reasons—he realized he could take comfort in the fact that Aziraphale seemed to be trying just as hard as he was to keep their connection alive.
“Yeah, can’t let the ducks down,” he answered, still staring at a blemish on the sidewalk just beyond the tips of his shoes. “Tomorrow, two o’clock?”
“Our usual bench,” Aziraphale confirmed, and Crowley could hear the relief and warmth in his voice.
Aziraphale brought the food: cracked corn for the ducks and snacks for the occult and ethereal beings in attendance. They spread everything out on the bench between them, the sounds of them wrestling with the wrappings to toss bits to the ducks the only breaks in the silence. After what seemed like hours (but was only twelve minutes; Crowley was keeping tabs on the time and suspecting one of his old co-workers must be elongating the seconds to torture him) Aziraphale finally spoke.
“Do you have any plans? Any thoughts on what you’ll do with yourself now that you don’t have…Below…to answer to?”
Crowley tried to decide what to say. ‘Thought I’d hang around for a millennium or two seeing what you get up to’ didn’t seem like a particularly cool answer.
“Well,” he began, shrugging. “S’pose I could travel. See what’s become of some of the places I haven’t been back to for a while.”
“Ah.” Aziraphale looked down at his lap, where he appeared to be trying to reduce a small chunk of bread down into its component molecules. “I thought as much.” A smile forced its way onto his face, getting nowhere near his eyes. “Should you wish to keep your flat and return to London at some point, I’d be happy to look in on your plants. I hope you don’t mind, but I noticed how lovely they were when I stayed there while I was in your…well, before our trials.”
Crowley would have been angry at whichever idiot had given Aziraphale the impression Crowley was about to disappear for a few centuries, were he not the twat in question. Instead of being merely angry, he was furious enough to set himself on fire.
“Might not leave right away,” he hedged, wondering if he could walk this back without doing something unforgivable, like crying or begging Aziraphale to come with him. You know, again. For a third time, suggesting they run away together, just to get the inevitable refusal.
“Ah, well then,” Aziraphale said, brightening a bit. “For a trip like that, you’d probably want to take some time. Think back, you know, to decide where you’d like to go.”
“Right.” Crowley shrugged. “Might put it off for a decade or two.” Aziraphale’s cautious smile turned to outright beaming, and Crowley simply couldn’t be expected to exist under such conditions without buckling. He looked away. “What about you? Any first editions you’d like to traipse off in search of? Pop over to Japan to study under a sushi master?”
“Nothing as ambitious as that. I do believe I’d like to stay put, keep on with my bookshop. These last few years have been rather a lot. Wouldn’t mind catching my breath, as it were.”
Crowley would always wonder if he’d somehow acted as the harbinger to what happened next. He’d been so reassured to hear Aziraphale was staying in London and changing as little as possible about his routine that Crowley had allowed himself to get complacent. He’d looked up at the sky, thinking what an unseasonably lovely, cloudless day it was, when a lightning bolt split the heavens in two above them. Crowley reared back in shock, but Aziraphale sat impassively next to him, not even flinching. It was as though he’d somehow been anticipating this very thing, but judging by the look on his face, it was more like dread than anticipation.
And Gabriel came striding out from behind a nearby tree, a particularly ugly smirk stealing across his features when he took in the angel and the demon sitting together on the bench.
Chapter 2: Gabriel's Revelation
The Archangel Gabriel appears, and Crowley and Aziraphale find out what Heaven and Hell think of their sudden immunities to hellfire and holy water. (Spoiler alert: They're wrong!)
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Gabriel flung his arms out wide, a gesture that would appear welcoming on anyone else.
“Traitors!” he greeted them.
“Gabriel,” Aziraphale acknowledged, his tone clipped.
“Wanker,” Crowley added, narrowing his eyes behind his sunglasses while his fingers twitched.
Crowley remembered every moment of the smug, businesslike, murderous zeal Gabriel had shown when he thought he’d been dealing with a compliant Aziraphale who would walk into hellfire and die without a single protest. Crowley would be lying if he denied how much he wanted to wreak painful and lasting retribution for what the Archangel had said and done. His entire corporation itched to take action, but Crowley heeded his serpent instincts to sink deeper into the grass, allow his prey to betray his most critical weaknesses before it was time to strike.
“You think you’ve fooled us, don’t you?” Gabriel’s teeth shone bright white through the cold upward pull of his lips. Crowley felt Aziraphale stiffen beside him, and he willed the angel not to give anything away until Gabriel monologued his secrets like a Bond villain.
Crowley shrugged. “Wouldn’t be hard. We’re both much, much smarter than you are. But since neither of us knows what you’re on about, perhaps you’d like to stop talking rubbish and fuck off? We have ducks to feed.”
Gabriel laughed, and it was a ghastly, disingenuous noise. “This little act. The two of you in the park, just like all those clandestine meetings you thought we never knew about. Like you’re just acquaintances. Did you think you would fool us into thinking…this…” he made a terrible motion, like he was stirring an enormous mixing bowl with his entire, open hand, “…was all so innocent. That the two of you aren’t…ugh, I can’t say it. It’s disgusting.” He looked like he was about to gag. “Manifesting human reproductive organs and squashing them together?”
Crowley heard Aziraphale’s affronted gasp and he rushed to speak first. This was not the time to tip their hands, no matter the fallout.
“So what if we are?” Crowley said, leaning over a bit closer to Aziraphale. The movement pressed their arms tightly together, shoulder to elbow, and Crowley could have groaned at the heat he felt coming off the angel. It was probably the by-product of righteous anger, but if he wanted to believe it was the flames of imagined passion lighting Aziraphale from within, well, that was his own business as a demon of free will. “You can’t do anything about it. Heaven and Hell tried their best to destroy us, and your efforts came off a bit limp, really.” Crowley’s face stretched into a lazy grin. “Impotent.”
“Ah, yes,” Gabriel said, putting his palms together in front of his face, as though he were praying. Crowley was fairly certain Gabriel didn’t bother with that much anymore, unless it was in supplication to his own ego, but he supposed that was between Her and Her underlings. “We’ve been doing some research. Did you think we wouldn’t learn who your human friends were? You had two witches with you when your little band of sacrilegious heathens interfered with The Great Plan. Maybe you think all of us Above are unaware of the profane magic some of these vulgar humans have cobbled together.”
“Oh no, we did believe that,” Aziraphale said, finally joining the conversation, and Crowley could hear in his somewhat painful overacting that Aziraphale had gotten over the initial shock of Gabriel’s accusation and they were both on the same wavelength, at last. “However did you discover us?”
“You really have been on Earth too long, Aziraphale. Heaven knows all. And we’ve figured out how you both got your immunities.”
“Ah.” Aziraphale paused, glancing over at Crowley for the first time since Gabriel had appeared. Other than an almost imperceptibly raised eyebrow, Aziraphale was masking his true reactions rather well. “I wouldn’t dream of depriving you of the enjoyment of explaining your triumph to us in detail, as you’ve gone to all the trouble of coming down to Earth to do just that.”
“Yes!” Gabriel clapped his hands. “I couldn’t wait to see your faces. You’re about to be squirming like the little vermin you are, Principality.”
Crowley clenched his jaw hard enough to ache as he watched Gabriel kneel in front of Aziraphale, a stomach-turning mockery of supplication. “Not only am I about to reveal that we have your depraved game all figured out, I’m also going to tell you, little angel, something you don’t know.” He leaned even closer. “I’m going to tell you how the demon is going to stab you in the back.”
Aziraphale grabbed Crowley’s hand, intertwining their fingers and squeezing, hard. He settled their joined hands on his knee, and squared his already upright posture in silent defiance of Gabriel, on the ground in front of him. “Now I know you’re lying.” Aziraphale’s tone was low, but savage. “Crowley would never.”
Gabriel’s phony congeniality vanished, and with a snap, he was back on his feet, towering over them. He laughed, and it was a vile, sickening noise.
“Let me lay this out for both of you,” he snapped. “You enlisted the help of two dark witches to interfere with The Great Plan, and then once you knew your necks were on the chopping block, you got them to do another favor for you. They cooked up some kind of spell or incantation—Beelzebub was pretty sure about this one—oh, yes, Crowley. Hell knows what you’re up to as well. We have more than a few backchannels in place now. Then you executed their spell while you were…” Gabriel dry-heaved a few times, looking like a cat trying to expel a particularly recalcitrant hairball, “…fornicating. I have it on reliable authority that the mixing of your occult and celestial energies, combined with the humans’ magic, is what gave you your immunities to holy water and hellfire.”
Gabriel beamed at them, triumphant and oblivious to his own idiocy.
After half a beat of dumbfounded incredulity, Crowley forced his jaw to drop, to put sorrow and panic into his eyes as he let his glasses slide down on his nose. Aziraphale looked back at him, doing a remarkable job of feigning a similar reaction.
“Aziraphale always told me how formidable you were, Gabriel. That I was lucky he was my adversary here on Earth instead of you. I never understood until just now how right he was.”
“I’m just getting started, sunshines,” Gabriel bragged. “We’ve done our research. No plan, no spell is foolproof, and yours rests on some rocky footing. You see, you have to maintain the connection!” He swept his arm out, as though he was presenting the coup de grâce. “The immunity will wear off unless you keep refreshing it. And you thought we wouldn’t find out!”
“So what?” Crowley said, standing up and sauntering into Gabriel’s personal space, hoping to unnerve him. “If you think I won’t keep having my delicious angel…” he let his voice drip with demonic, lascivious sin before he trailed off.
Gabriel ignored Crowley, leaning around him to look Aziraphale in the eye. “Did you hear that? He doesn’t love you, he can’t! He lusts after you. What are you going to do when he gets bored? You’re a toy. He’ll leave you, and without constant exposure to each other, I’ve been assured your immunity will wear off.”
“I wouldn’t,” Crowley said. “Even if I wanted to, that’d get me killed too. If you think Hell would let me go—”
“They can, and they will. Beelzebub had some very interesting things to say about morale Below, since they were deprived both of the war and watching this thing,” he gestured toward Crowley, a careless, throwaway movement, “die. It’s been all they can do to keep the riots in check, and any further reminders would be enough to tip the balance. They’ve decided just to wash their hands of you, Crowley.” Gabriel shook his head. “Kicked out of Heaven, and now ejected from Hell, too. What an odious creature you must be.”
“So Crowley’s safe?” Aziraphale asked, and Crowley couldn’t stop his exasperated groan before it erupted from him. Of course that was Aziraphale’s takeaway from all this. Stupid, self-sacrificing angel.
“And so is Aziraphale, as long as we stay together,” Crowley said, hoping the fire in his eyes was getting through to both angels, for different reasons.
Gabriel brushed past Crowley and stalked over to Aziraphale where he sat alone on the bench, now looking very, very small. “Hell might not have standards or discipline, but Heaven is ever vigilant. We’ll wait, no matter if it’s a year, a century, a millennium. When he tires of playing with you, we’ll finally be able to execute your sentence properly . So enjoy your sins of the flesh while you still can, little angel.”
And in the blink of an eye, Gabriel was gone.
Crowley whipped around to check on Aziraphale, and his knees nearly buckled. Aziraphale had collapsed back against the park bench, looking like he’d been punched squarely in the face. His skin was always pale, but now it had gone sallow, face devoid of the usual blush of wonder and love for all things.
“Angel, come on.” Crowley grabbed Aziraphale’s hand, hauling him to his feet. It was like pulling dead weight, and Aziraphale’s shoulders bowed forward, directing his thousand yard stare straight at the ground. “I’m taking you home.”
“It isn’t safe for you to be there,” Aziraphale whispered, and Crowley goggled at him, bending to catch the angel’s eye.
Crowley couldn’t believe it. Aziraphale had been there for the entire confrontation with Gabriel, and this was what he had to say?
“According to Heaven’s favorite bureaucrat, I’m quite safe anywhere. You ridiculous angel, it’s you we need to be concerned with.” Crowley made an executive decision for the two of them and began to pull Aziraphale along, back toward where the Bentley awaited. “I’m taking you home, and we’re going to make a plan.”
The car ride was tense and silent, made worse by Crowley forcing himself to keep to the speed limit (well, nearer the speed limit than usual) and obey all the traffic signals. It already seemed that Aziraphale had overloaded and one more shock might push him into full catatonia. If Crowley was to figure this out, he’d need his better half, his voice of reason and temperance, firing on all cylinders.
When they reached the bookshop, Crowley took his time leading Aziraphale to the back room, then circled back to make sure the Closed sign was out and the lights in the shop were off. They’d already had enough interruptions to be getting on with. By the time he made it back to Aziraphale, two cups of piping hot tea in his hands, he saw the angel had perked up a bit. His posture was upright again, and a little of the color had returned to his face. If it weren’t for the grim look settled on his features, Crowley might have felt a little more relieved.
“Thank you, my dear,” Aziraphale said, absently, as he accepted the teacup Crowley offered him. He made no move to drink it, or even look at it.
“Angel, we’re going to be all right,” Crowley began, sitting carefully on the other end of the sofa, giving Aziraphale as much room to himself as possible. “That idiot told us everything, he just couldn’t help himself. We can make a solid plan.”
Aziraphale’s expression remained resolutely unchanging, and worry gnawed at Crowley’s insides.
“We’re in good shape here. We really are,” Crowley insisted, unable to understand why Aziraphale seemed so grim. They’d been through worse together—much worse. This was child’s play by comparison.
“I’m afraid I’m not quite so confident as you are,” Aziraphale said, his voice barely rising above a whisper. It certainly wasn’t what Crowley wanted to hear, but at least Aziraphale was talking.
“It’s simple,” Crowley stood up, pacing. He always thought more clearly on the move, with somewhere for his excess energy to go. “They already think we’re…” Crowley stopped, about to say ‘fucking’, but he was fairly certain hearing that word would cause Aziraphale to shut down for good. “…being intimate. And that’s with no proof other than the two of us spending a little time together behind closed doors. So it’s easy. We just meet up for a bit every day, where they can’t see what we’re up to. We can alternate, if you like, do a little time at yours, then go to mine the next time. Sprinkle in a few dinners out, some walks in the park.” Crowley looked closely at Aziraphale, who seemed to be getting more upset, not less. “It’s not so different from what we’ve done recently. You know, since the whole…antichrist situation.”
Aziraphale nodded, but he looked even more miserable. Crowley couldn’t figure it out. All he could think was that this was a horrible life sentence for Aziraphale. Trapped in constant contact with a demon, forced to act as if they were romantically entangled when it hadn’t been until recently that the angel could even admit they were friends. A painful, cold ache reached down Crowley’s throat and into his stomach as he considered how off-putting this must be to a heavenly being like Aziraphale. The very idea, consorting with a demon, sullying his corporation by contact with one of the Fallen.
Much as it stung, Crowley couldn’t blame him, not really. He knew what he was, and while he had accepted his lot, perhaps it was more than Aziraphale could take.
“I know it isn’t fair, angel. We’ll be careful, though, and I promise I won’t—”
“—We can’t.” Aziraphale looked up, the fire back in his eyes and clarity returned to his features. “Gabriel was right. They’ll never relent. We could keep this up for centuries, and they’ll strike the moment we falter. We can’t possibly continue the ruse indefinitely. It’s mad to think we could.” He nodded, a tight little gesture, with his lips pressed together in determination. “There’s nothing for it. I’ll turn myself in.”
“What!” Crowley felt as though he'd been punched in the gut. “No, of course you won’t do that. What are you thinking of?”
“You’re safe, Crowley. Hell intends to leave you alone. I won’t allow my…predicament to dictate how you spend the rest of eternity.” Aziraphale flapped his hands, gesturing widely around him. “Can you honestly tell me you’d spend the rest of your existence chained to my side? You wanted to travel, Crowley. I’ve never seen you so lightened from your burdens as you’ve been since we stopped the war.” He looked like he was about to cry, and Crowley couldn’t take it, couldn’t stand the sight of his misery. “I couldn’t do this to you. Not solely on my account.”
“Do you honestly think,” Crowley spat out, feeling angry now, “that I can just waltz away from here, not caring at all what happens to you? That I can just leave you here, and not know they’ve come for you until you suddenly stop answering the phone?”
“I wouldn’t do that to you,” Aziraphale murmured. “I intend to turn myself in quite presently. I’ll tell them I couldn’t stand the suspense, and I’d simply like to get it over with.”
“You can’t.” Crowley knew he still sounded angry, but it was all pain now. His head was spinning. He couldn’t allow this to happen, no matter what it took. "I won't let you."
“I have to.” Crowley knew that tone. Aziraphale was resolute, every inch the powerful angelic warrior that had always waited dormant below the soft, affable exterior he projected to the world. “It’s been a good run, Crowley, and there’s no one I’d rather have shared it with. Switching bodies bought us a little time, but I’m afraid that’s all for me. It’s time to face the music, as they say.”
“How do you propose I live with myself, knowing you’ve done this? Gone to your death to save me the inconvenience of weighing your sofa down a few days a week? I know I’m a demon, but you can’t think I’m this selfish.”
“There’s no possible way we could be convincing, Crowley. I’m merely attempting to be realistic.”
“We don’t have to be convincing! They already believe it.”
“They have suspicions, and they’ve jumped to a wild conclusion. I’d expect nothing less from Gabriel, but the other Archangels are a bit more circumspect. They’ll all be watching, you know what Heaven’s surveillance is like. If they fail to see any evidence to support their supposition, Michael or Uriel will certainly begin to entertain other explanations.”
Crowley opened his mouth to argue, but Aziraphale cut him off.
“But if I surrender, they’ll have nothing to investigate. They’ll assume they were right, and that will be that.” Aziraphale nodded, a brisk, grim thing. “You’ll be safe.”
“Then we’ll give them evidence,” Crowley countered, his heart pounding uselessly in his chest.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Aziraphale said, rounding on Crowley and looking truly angry, now. “I’d never ask you to…never expect you to engage in physical—” He stopped himself, filled with so much discomfort that Crowley could feel it like a third presence in the room.
“Never ask me to what?” Crowley asked, annoyed enough that he had no qualms poking the angel a little, refusing to make any of this easier for him.
“You know perfectly well what sort of…activities I’m referring to.”
Crowley’s eyebrows arched. He looked at the blush cresting high on Aziraphale’s cheeks, the way his chest was heaving with quick, deep breaths.
“Do you think I’m afraid of a bit of snogging?” Crowley asked, letting his voice dip into something quietly dangerous.
Aziraphale squeezed his eyes shut and Crowley took a bit of dark satisfaction at the reaction. He stalked closer, careful to still keep a little more than an arm’s reach away. This was what Crowley did best, where he could rely on his instincts to guide him through. He understood just when to prod and when to give a little space, how to tease the truth out of someone when it was the last thing they wanted to say.
“I expect you’re disgusted at the very idea of having to do something like that with a creature like—”
“I’m not disgusted by you, Crowley.” Aziraphale’s voice was low, soft. Wounded. He looked up, pleading. “I merely suspect we wouldn’t be able to pull this off.”
“So you think I can’t do it?” Crowley gestured to himself. “I’m practically made of sin, angel. And you can be very convincing when you want to be, you know you can. I’ve seen you construct flights of fancy that would put the finest actors to shame, if it helped you avoid selling a book.”
“You’d really consent to spending eternity—a never-ending parade of years and decades and centuries—pretending to…to…canoodle with an angel.”
Crowley sighed. This would all be so simple if he could just vomit out what he was truly thinking, but then everything would really be over. Yes, Crowley wanted to spend eternity with Aziraphale, no matter what silly term they used for it or what form it took. But he wouldn’t be pretending, he’d merely have what he’d wanted for nearly as long as he could remember. And if he said that, no force in the universe could keep Aziraphale from running away from him. Or worse, sitting him down and kindly explaining why he’d never want what Crowley wanted.
It wasn’t the most constructive reaction, and Crowley wasn’t proud of himself, but his humiliation over his predicament began to fuel the easiest emotion he could use in a last-ditch effort to protect himself.
“You know, it’s funny. I never thought you’d give up so easily. That you’d quit . Thought that was my lot,” Crowley said, spitting out the words as he began stalking the room again.
“What are you—”
“It was always me trying to cut and run. Don’t you remember? Things get to be too much? Sleep for a century. Head off to Alpha Centauri. You were the one who always stood your ground, insisted we keep trying even when it looked hopeless.”
“I don’t understand what this has to do with—”
“You’re quitting. Are you tired , Aziraphale?” A bitter edge of mockery had seeped into his voice, and he hated himself for it but he kept going. “Ready to abandon the Earth? Because you know your side doesn’t care a whit about what happens down here. Hell, they actually want it gone. And my lot? Well, they do so like to watch things burn. So I’m supposed to protect all this,” he waved his arms furiously around him, as though he could point at every unique thing on the Earth and force Aziraphale to acknowledge that he was giving up on them, “on my own.”
“It isn’t a matter of what I want , Crowley, and you know that. It’s a matter of what is practical. It’s simply no good discussing what’s fair or the way things should be. That’s for children, and we’re both quite beyond that. Once they have time to start actually looking, there’s no way we could convince a single denizen of Heaven or Hell that we’re…romantically…entangled…” Aziraphale said, choking out the last few words as tears threatened yet again, but he stood tall. Defiant. Ready to fight.
That was Crowley’s angel. As exasperated as Crowley was, he’d always admired how strong Aziraphale could be when he was resolute. Crowley would never win this argument if he didn’t up the ante, do something drastic to prove his point. Failing wasn’t an option.
“I could kiss you right now, you know. Show you how wrong you are,” Crowley purred, his eyes darting over Aziraphale’s face, hungry for any indication of his reaction. That gasp…was it shock? Disgust? Or something warmer, more visceral than that?
Perhaps Crowley could pull the truth from him, but he knew he couldn’t do it with words.
He took a step closer. Aziraphale didn’t move.
“Would you smite me?” he asked, pure innocence on his face, eyes wide and questioning. “If I dared to show you? If I dared to see how convincing we might be if we really tried?”
Another step, and still Aziraphale stayed put. They were close enough now for Crowley to feel the heat pulsing off the angel, holy energy he couldn’t contain when he was this flustered.
“Would you forgive me, for having the audacity to try?”
“Crowley, please,” Aziraphale begged, as Crowley obliterated the last of the distance between them. Satisfaction joined the tangled roil of his emotions as he noted the indecision in Aziraphale’s voice, realized that deep down inside himself the angel didn’t know if he was begging for Crowley to give up or to kiss him senseless.
“You can stop me, you know,” Crowley whispered, a hair’s breadth away. He could feel Aziraphale’s deep, open mouthed gasps ghosting over his lips. “You should stop me now, if that’s what you want.”
Aziraphale still didn’t move.
With a low growl of victory, Crowley closed the final gap, pressing his lips to Aziraphale’s and running both hands up the angel’s back. His fingers curled in the fabric, hungry and possessive, pulling it taut and drawing their bodies tightly together.
He waited for Aziraphale to stiffen against him, to panic, to pull away. To tear Crowley’s heart from his chest and take it with him as he ran.
Instead, he melted. He was like liquid fire and Crowley was immolating, drinking in the angel’s commitment to the kiss. Their mouths opened and Crowley pressed forward, tasting him and memorizing every inch of what he explored. They traded low, needy moans, and Aziraphale raised his hands to cup Crowley’s cheeks. It was gentle at first, the touch feather-light, as though Crowley would shatter if he pressed too hard.
The almost unbearable softness didn’t last, though, but evolved into something more wanting, greedier. Aziraphale’s fingers brushed Crowley’s earlobes and he shivered, just as Aziraphale’s grip tightened and changed the angle of the kiss, taking control. Crowley hung on, dizzy with want as Aziraphale plundered him. His knees weakened and his legs threatened to give out, but when he started to pull back, Aziraphale tugged him closer, supporting Crowley’s weight as he all but collapsed against him.
The deep kisses changed to long, languorous caresses of Aziraphale’s lips against every part of Crowley’s face he could reach. The sheer tenderness of it was like nothing Crowley had been prepared for, and it was all he could do to stay upright, to keep breathing. He nearly wept at the extra time and care Aziraphale devoted to the exploration of the brand beside Crowley’s ear, the serpent that embodied his demonic nature.
It was so much, and Crowley couldn’t keep up. He’d started this, but Aziraphale was a step ahead of him at every turn. Crowley wanted it to go on forever. He bit down on his tongue, desperate to keep his thoughts from bubbling forward and ruining everything.
I love you, angel. I’ve always loved you, I think. Please don’t give up. Don’t leave me. I need you.
Aziraphale found Crowley’s mouth with his again, and he slid his hands inside Crowley’s jacket. Crowley keened as teasing fingers slipped down his sides, came to rest on the small of his back. He felt warm and wanted, and it was everything he’d thought he could never have. Didn’t deserve.
But that was true, wasn’t it?
The bleak thoughts invaded, chasing away the warmth and care radiating from Aziraphale, drowning out the richness of his touch. Crowley didn’t deserve this. He couldn’t impose this on Aziraphale, couldn’t sully his perfect angel so.
He could pretend, he’d have to allow himself that much. The ruse was for Aziraphale’s safety, and Crowley would do anything to secure that. What he couldn’t do, was take more than what was truly, willfully given. Indulging, exulting in the angel’s touch, this closeness, the intimacy, this was Crowley’s greed manifesting itself. He was meant to be proving to Aziraphale that they could be believable, that, if called upon, he could provide evidence to Heaven and Hell that their imagined connection was still intact.
Taking more was just that. Taking. Taking advantage.
He allowed himself one last moment’s worth of the dizzying, rapturous heights of this feeling, of relishing Aziraphale against him, clutching at him. He allowed the need to flow through him one last time, and then released it. He turned impassive and pushed back, trying not to look at Aziraphale’s flushed cheeks, his heaving chest, or the way his fingers twitched toward Crowley as he broke the connection between them.
I love you, he thought, helplessly, and then banished those words to the deepest, darkest part of his cold, demon soul.
“See?” Crowley said, hating how unaffected he sounded, even as he was relieved he could pull it off. “I told you. Perfectly convincing, if we have to be.”
“Perfectly…?” Aziraphale murmured, his eyes still glazed over. Crowley ignored it, refusing to let himself read anything into it. He’d been radiating waves of lust and want, and even Aziraphale’s angelic resolve couldn’t block that out entirely.
“You aren’t sending yourself to your death. We’ll meet in private, once a day, and if either of us sees someone from Above or Below, we’ll put on a little show for them.” Crowley folded his arms over his chest, where his battered heart was still hammering. “I won’t hear otherwise, because if you think you’re going to leave me on Earth alone to protect it, you should think again.”
“Ah,” Aziraphale said, looking everywhere but at Crowley as his hands fluttered around himself, setting his clothing back to rights, brushing down his hair. Crowley noticed tremors in Aziraphale’s fingers and savagely beat back the impulse to cradle those hands, kiss that excess energy away. “It really wouldn’t be fair, me leaving you to defend all these people on your own, I suppose.”
“Right. So.” Crowley leaned casually against the wall, a master of the art of affecting coolness and abject boredom. It was an excellent survival tactic for unbearable conversations. “Let’s start off at mine. Come around after you close the shop, and we’ll order in some food. Bring a book or two, if you like. You should stay the night. Really make our point.”
Crowley didn’t wait for Aziraphale’s response before he was out the door.
It's my birthday! :) I hope you enjoy the chapter.
Chapter 3: The Plan Begins
You may notice the number of chapters has dropped from 7 to 6. I have condensed three of the later chapters into two, but there is plenty more of the Pining Crowley coming regardless.
Aziraphale’s tentative knock, just before seven o’clock, was so quiet that Crowley could only assume Aziraphale had meant for it to be missed entirely. He could picture it, the angel shrugging and going home when Crowley failed to answer, protesting later that he’d assumed Crowley had forgotten.
The very notion that Crowley could have put Aziraphale’s imminent appearance out of his mind was ludicrous. He hadn’t been able to get it out of his head, no matter how much skulking he’d done in the dark corners of his flat or scowling he’d done in the direction of his terrified plants. He’d attempted to rearrange some things to make a sitting room of sorts, coaxing into being the sort of worn-in, comfortable furniture Aziraphale favored, only to replace it with the sleek, unforgiving things more in line with his own taste. Crowley couldn’t decide which was worse: making his angel uncomfortable after he’d insisted they spend the entire evening together, or being caught caring too much about Aziraphale’s comfort.
In the end, he just cleared the entire space, deciding to tell Aziraphale to miracle up whatever he’d like while Crowley ordered the food. He was nearly high on the delicious feeling that came from dodging an uncomfortable decision, whistling a song he couldn’t remember the name of when the barely audible knock came.
“Angel,” Crowley said, opening the door wide to welcome in a surprised looking Aziraphale. He leaned forward as Aziraphale passed, pecking him harmlessly on the cheek. “Never can be sure when there are eyes on us,” he whispered before pulling back.
“Quite,” Aziraphale said, his posture even stiffer than usual, his knuckles white on the handle of the small satchel he was clutching. Crowley choked back his disappointment at how much even relatively innocent displays of affection disturbed the angel, careful not to let any trace of it show on his face.
The plan continued as Crowley had envisioned it. Aziraphale was charged with creating an area to accommodate them while Crowley excused himself to the office to arrange for dinner. He could, of course, call a banquet’s worth of food into being with a lazy flourish of his hand, but he knew Aziraphale. Things he really valued—books, comfortable old clothing, food—never seemed right to him unless they were ‘real’. They were things to be labored over and maintained with love and care. The craft was as important to the angel as the final product, as though the effort was something tangible woven into their makeup.
Once the call was made (after a good deal more agonizing over which of Aziraphale’s favorite places to order from) Crowley strolled back to the angel, whom he found sitting on the edge of a black, leather sofa. He was in a posture Crowley would recognize as Aziraphale’s under any circumstance: back ramrod straight, legs firmly pressed together, and hands lightly covering his knees.
“Ah! Crowley,” Aziraphale said, giving off an air of being surprised to see him. “I…I wasn’t sure what you’d favor, or if you wanted me to select something solely for myself. We’re behind closed doors now, I know, so I thought perhaps you might be planning to leave me to it here and…sleep, or…well, I don’t know. But I also didn’t want to presume to conflict with your decorative scheme, you see.”
Aziraphale seemed to run out of steam then, his shoulders sagging a little as he met Crowley’s eyes for the first time since turning up at the flat.
“Did you want me to leave you in peace?” Crowley paused, because in all his worrying about how the evening would go, he’d never considered this. He’d anticipated some awkwardness, perhaps rampant over-thinking and over-discussion about their plan to fake a torrid love affair. What he hadn’t expected was for Aziraphale to propose they treat each other like strangers, not after all they’d been through together.
“No!” Aziraphale said, and looked immediately as though he’d love to pull the word back into his mouth. “What I mean to say is, that would only be my preference if it were yours.”
“Well, that’s sorted, then. I’ll stay out here if it’s all the same to you.” Crowley looked around, realizing his own ambivalence toward food meant there was nowhere in his flat suited to having a meal. “We’ll need a table.”
Aziraphale nodded and made several measured, careful movements. A small, wooden table stained a deep, rich brown appeared, flanked by two sumptuous-looking chairs upholstered in scarlet. Place settings followed a moment later, the white of the porcelain and bright gold of the cutlery a stark contrast against the dark background. Crowley snapped his fingers, relocating a perfectly cultivated flowering plant from his garden to the center, and narrowed his eyes at it to remind it to stay pristine.
“Lovely,” Aziraphale breathed, rushing to the table to admire Crowley’s addition. “Any meal would be enjoyable at such a table.” He looked over his shoulder, raising a curious eyebrow. “Truly, any sort of cuisine at all.”
Crowley smirked, knowing Aziraphale was trying to be coy and indirect, but he was dying to know what sort of food was on the way.
“It’ll be Chinese, from that little place you raved about last February,” Crowley said, satisfaction rushing through him when Aziraphale gasped with pleasure.
“Oh, marvelous. Did you happen to remember those…the…things…” the angel said, miming what looked oddly like packing snow together into a snowball in front of him, but Crowley knew what he meant.
“Of course. Wasn’t sure what you’d be in the mood for, so I just got all your favorites. We can keep anything you can’t finish now warm for later."
Aziraphale frowned. “I’m absolutely certain that particular establishment doesn’t offer delivery. Are you quite—”
“Oh, I think they added that recently,” Crowley said with an offhand shrug. “Enough people must have requested it.” This was of course wildly downplaying the campaign he’d waged against the married couple who owned the place, employing gross misuse of his demonic wiles.
Aziraphale had once lamented their absence of a delivery option, you see, so Crowley found a way to adjust reality accordingly before he’d even considered quite why…and that was enough thinking about that, Crowley decided.
They stood in awkward silence, everything arranged with the food still a half hour out. Crowley could sense Aziraphale nearly vibrating below the surface, potential energy threatening to turn kinetic. Given the level of tension in Aziraphale’s shoulders, Crowley began to worry for the structural integrity of the building his flat was in. He sighed, enjoying a last moment of peace before leaping headlong into the breach.
“All right, out with it, angel.”
Aziraphale dithered, a nervous giggle escaping him along with snippets of words it was impossible to make any sense of. Crowley was patient, linking his hands behind his back and leaning away, waiting in silence for Aziraphale to spill whatever was troubling him.
“Well,” Aziraphale began, after several interminable moments of stalling. “I suppose, I’m concerned about the ground rules.”
“Pssh, I’m a demon. What do I know about rules?”
“Crowley,” Aziraphale pleaded, and Crowley relented.
“Yes, fine. Ground rules.” He sighed. He supposed he understood Aziraphale’s general idea, but knowing the angel, it wouldn’t be a simple process. “You want to really hash this out, don’t you?”
“Ah, well, not as such.” Aziraphale looked pained. “May I be honest?” Crowley nodded, making a ‘go on’ gesture with his right hand. “I really wish we didn’t have to have it out so explicitly. I’m not very comfortable with it. But I fear I’m much more uncomfortable with the notion that misunderstandings between us are inevitable if we don’t.”
“So…you want to talk all of this out. But without the talking part.” Crowley grinned as Aziraphale grimaced, and Crowley knew he should feel bad. In his defense though, Aziraphale was being ridiculous and couldn’t expect Crowley not to enjoy it at least a little.
Aziraphale shut his eyes tight, balling his fists at his sides as he seemed to shove the words out against his will. “What, precisely , are the boundaries for us? I would assume the rules are different for public and private behavior, but it’s necessary to note that neither of our former ‘sides’ seem to have much respect for privacy, and I am therefore struggling to make a determination even on that! I refuse to allow this situation to damage our friendship. You’re far too…”
He cut himself off, his eyes flying open and his hand covering his mouth. He locked his gaze to Crowley’s, his expression pleading, and Crowley’s heart pounded. “You’re far too dear to me, you see, to risk.”
Crowley’s legs threatened to give out beneath him, probably from the wave of angelic emotion roiling the atmosphere in the suddenly too-small room. He stumbled over to the newly-miracled, impressively uncomfortable sofa, relieved when Aziraphale followed after without needing to be asked. Crowley steeled himself, committing to at least a few minutes of raw honesty. It was the least he could do in the face of Aziraphale’s outburst of candor.
“We both need to remember what the stakes are, here,” he began, and took a deep breath in preparation for the most vulnerable earnestness he’d ever endured in his life. “There’s nothing— nothing on this planet —I wouldn’t do to secure your safety.”
“No,” Ariraphale broke in, panicked. “You mustn’t believe that. I simply won’t have you damning yourself to a life of discomfort and regret solely on my account.” The angel looked as though he was reconsidering the whole plan, and Crowley needed to shut that down, post-haste.
“It isn’t just on your account. If Gabriel follows through and ki—” Crowley’s voice broke, but he savagely forced himself to swallow and forged ahead, before he could stop himself. “If he makes good on his threats and I lose you, I’m as good as gone myself.”
Aziraphale’s gasp was a harsh sound, cold and pained. “You can’t feel that way. Please take that back.”
“I can’t,” Crowley said, helpless. “I’m being honest with you. Isn’t that what you wanted? Aziraphale, when you were discorporated...the fire..." Crowley choked up and had to stop for a moment. "I thought the Earth was doomed and I didn’t even bother to run.” Crowley reached out and took Aziraphale’s chin in his hand, and with a gentle firmness, urged him to look up. He needed the angel to understand, for both their sakes. “I’m not just doing this for you. It’s self-preservation, and I can’t change that.”
“Crowley,” Aziraphale breathed, and leaned his cheek into Crowley’s hand, his eyes fluttering shut. It killed Crowley to do it, but he pulled away, watching Aziraphale startle at the abrupt end of contact.
“We need to stay focused. Now we both understand what we’re fighting for. You want to define the boundaries, and I’ve told you I have none, not where this is concerned. That means we work with yours.”
Aziraphale seemed to be breathing quite quickly. “Ah. So. Where to start.” His feet began to tap nervously, his dapper shoes making tiny clack clack noises on the floor while the most infernally distracting blush colored his cheeks. “Well, I should confess, I haven’t kept up with our current era’s standards for public displays of affection. I have noticed some... goings on around my shop, but I’m also aware Soho has rather a liberal concept of such things.”
Ah. This , Crowley could work with. Abstract concepts were so much easier to discuss.
“In public? Generally, hand-holding is pretty unremarkable. As is the stray arm around the waist or shoulders. But, as you pointed out with Soho, a lot of it has to do with your surroundings. A peck on the lips would be fine in St. James’ Park, but probably not much more than that. In a club, though? Somewhere with dark corners, cheap drinks, loud music? Well, that’s the sort of place anything goes. And there’s plenty in between.”
“I see.” Aziraphale’s brow furrowed.
“Perhaps you might…trust me?” Crowley ventured. “I have a kind of sixth sense for these things, probably part of the whole temptation package.” At Aziraphale’s silence, he tried to backtrack. “I know I’m a demon, and asking you to trust me with something like this must seem—”
“Not at all, my dear boy,” Aziraphale said, the tension going out of him. “I’d be quite grateful to merely place myself in your hands, as it were.” He was thoughtful again before he continued. “I know we had a somewhat successful…trial run…yesterday, but I must confess, I’m still concerned about believability. Six thousand years of precedent is difficult to break with, and I don’t have—” He stopped, squeezing his eyes shut again. “I’m afraid I haven’t much experience to draw from.”
Crowley sat there in silence for much, much longer than anyone would consider polite in the face of such an admission. He’d privately entertained two theories about Aziraphale: Either the angel was almost completely innocent, or had indulged in as many consensual, pleasurable acts as he could throughout human history. It appeared the truth was much, much closer to the former than the latter.
“I wouldn’t worry. You were—” Crowley’s head felt muzzy, and he couldn’t stop himself from internally filling in everything he wished he could say. You were perfect. You were everything. You were finally mine. “—more than adequate.”
“I can hardly recall,” Aziraphale muttered, looking adorably baffled. “It was a shock at first, and then so unfamiliar I wasn’t sure what to make of it.”
It wasn’t the grandest praise Crowley had ever been graced with in regard to his snogging skills, but he was too enchanted by Aziraphale’s befuddlement to take it too personally. He was about to reassure the angel again, remind him that he would have guidance through this whole ordeal, when Aziraphale cracked Crowley straight down the middle with two short sentences.
“I don’t suppose you’d be willing to…practice a bit? Allow us to gain a bit more familiarity with each other?”
Once Crowley had blinked enough to allow time for his brain to reboot, he wondered if he shouldn’t, perhaps, just launch himself forward and kiss Aziraphale until the next ice age. That could possibly be enough time for him to map out everything he wanted to know about Aziraphale’s mouth, about the sounds a touch could pull from him, but Crowley felt he’d have to try it to be sure.
“I wouldn’t put you through that, Crowley, if not for how high the stakes are. Aziraphale fidgeted, the worry-wrinkle between his eyebrows deepening. “It’s only…well…of course I…” He looked helplessly at Crowley, stammering more when he was met with continued silence. “I hold your safety in my hands, and I fear I’m unequal to the task.”
Crowley’s buzzer sounded, and it took almost a solid minute for him to remember about the food delivery.
“I’ll go downstairs to meet the delivery person, then?” Aziraphale said, after the second, longer buzz came over the intercom. That was enough to shake Crowley out of his stupor.
“No, no. I’ve got this handled.” Crowley snapped to buzz open the security door on the ground floor, then fumbled his way up to open the door. He somehow managed to exchange some cash (who knew how much, but the deliverywoman seemed pleased) for the food, and then kicked the door shut.
“That smells scrumptious. Shall we put a pin in our previous discussion while we enjoy dinner, my dear?” Aziraphale smiled at him, and Crowley wondered if this was what an aneurysm felt like. Not five minutes ago, Aziraphale wanted to bloody practice snogging. Now, before they resolved anything, he wanted to sit and eat as though…ah. Actually, when Crowley really considered the situation, Aziraphale’s behavior was perfectly normal. For Aziraphale.
“Whatever you like, angel.”
They ate—well, Aziraphale ate, Crowley picked, and both of them downed a moderate amount of a 1947 Cheval Blanc St-Emilion—and apart from a few abortive attempts from Aziraphale to field some polite dinner conversation, the room was remarkably quiet.
Just when Crowley was sure he couldn’t take it anymore, Aziraphale broke, his chopsticks clattering to his plate.
“I do so dislike when we’re at odds, my dear, or when there’s such uncertainty between us. We had a few peaceful days to treasure there, didn’t we, after we made it through our trials? I wish I’d known it would end so soon.” Aziraphale’s eyes were sad, and Crowley simply couldn’t let that stand.
“You’re right, this is ridiculous. We’re both thousands of years old. We can be adults about this.” Crowley slammed his goblet to the table, breaking it, which Aziraphale reversed with a distracted downward pull of his hand. “Once you’re done with dinner, we’re going to snog until neither of us feels awkward about it anymore.”
“I. Well.” Aziraphale stared down at his plate, then gulped back the remains of his glass of wine. “I rather think I’m finished, in that case. No sense in delaying when it’s obvious we’re both a bit preoccupied.”
They moved to the sofa, Crowley feeling as though he was having an out-of-body experience, watching from someplace along the ceiling as they both crossed the room and sat down. There was a moment of silent discomfort, and then Aziraphale looked at him, the corners of his eyes crinkling as he offered a shy smile.
“Start small?” Aziraphale asked, holding out one of his finely manicured hands. His skin was soft beyond all belief when Crowley reached out, gently caressing Aziraphale’s wrist with his thumb.
Aziraphale’s eyes fluttered shut as he took a slow, deep breath. “That’s quite nice, really. Are you absolutely certain this isn’t indecent behavior in public spaces?”
"Yes, angel," Crowley said, adding a particularly artful eyeroll for effect. It was just to show his good-natured exasperation, and certainly wasn't grandstanding to hide how nervous he was. He was a particularly worldly demon, and this wasn't bothering him. Not a bit.
Crowley felt a gentle tug on his hand, urging him closer, and he took the hint. Even in his serpent form, he couldn't have slithered over more sinuously, and he felt a flare of something in the general area of his stomach when Aziraphale guided Crowley's arm over his shoulder. The feeling intensified as he let go to slide his own hand under Crowley's jacket to find that same spot on the small of his back that he'd caressed during their first kiss, in the back room of the bookshop.
He was starting to think of that as Aziraphale's spot, that little patch of hyper-sensitive skin. It was the angel’s now, Crowley realized, so much more than it had ever belonged to him. Aziraphale owned it, as surely as he owned the demon's ruined heart, and Crowley finally understood exactly how fucked he was.
"Is this..." Aziraphale began, sounding breathless and overwhelmed, and everything about that tone of his voice went straight to Crowley's raging sense of reckless want. He had to take a deep, deep breath, which Aziraphale mirrored, as though he was having just as much trouble keeping himself in check. "...is this all right, my dear?"
"Yes," Crowley said, the word carried on a helpless sigh, and he wanted to leap into the deepest, darkest pit in Hell, anything to hide from how wrecked he was, just from this.
"Would you mind, terribly, Crowley, if I were to initiate this...this..." Aziraphale struggled with what to say, looking adorably frustrated and embarrassed, and Crowley would have enjoyed watching him squirm under different circumstances. As things stood, though, if Aziraphale didn't kiss him sometime in the next 2.6 seconds, Crowley was going to combust.
"Of course I don't mind, angel.” He was almost impressed with himself that he didn’t simply start begging, but just in case he sounded a bit too eager, he added, “'S kind of the point of the evening, isn't it?"
And something in that seemed to awaken some sort of resolve in Aziraphale, whose chin raised just a bit, his eyes gleaming with purpose as he closed the distance, pulling Crowley toward him until those last aching inches of separation were obliterated.
"Crowley," Aziraphale whispered, just before their lips met, and Crowley shivered against him as Aziraphale set about dismantling him piece by piece. It began with a series of soft, almost painfully short kisses as Aziraphale's free hand slid just behind Crowley's ear, tangling in his hair to hold him in place.
Aziraphale granted him no mercy, though, and began to deepen each press of their mouths just a little more than the one before, ramping the intensity up so slowly that Crowley almost didn't notice how lightheaded and lost he'd become. He clung to Aziraphale's lapels, seeking out the strong, comforting presence against him.
His angel was warm and welcoming, but the solid anchor of his arms grounded Crowley just enough to reality that it was almost maddening. He couldn't merely drift away, lose himself in the rushing stream of sensations. At every moment he was reminded this was his beloved angel, his constant in a universe of uncertainty, and nothing in his millennia of existence had adequately prepared him to survive this terrifying experience of being given exactly what he’d always wanted.
By the time Aziraphale ventured his tongue into Crowley's mouth, Crowley's head had begun to go fuzzy, unable to form anything like a coherent thought. His mind was filled only with vague concepts like warm and soft and angel, so all he could do was moan deep in his chest when Aziraphale pressed more intimately into the kiss.
The desire to climb into Aziraphale's lap, straddle him and feel the strong solidity beneath was almost too much to bear. It was only the wordless fear of going too far, pushing too much and losing what he had, that kept Crowley in check.
"I'm simply not certain this is helping at all," Aziraphale gasped, nuzzling against Crowley's chin as his mouth sought out the hollow at the base of the demon's throat. "Is it still meant to feel this way?" he whispered, lips like the brush of a butterfly's wings against the skin there. "So overwhelming?"
"I couldn't possibly say," Crowley answered. It was the truth, although his demonic soul revolted at the notion that lying or even minor subterfuge was well beyond him at this point.
"What do you mean, you—" Aziraphale asked, pulling back a little to stare directly into Crowley's eyes. "You must have some idea from similar situations—"
"Nothing like this," Crowley admitted, still so utterly dismantled that he was powerless to be anything but honest. As though he'd ever experienced anything close to this before.
A small shift later, he was shivering as Aziraphale traced his index finger carefully along the line of Crowley's cheekbone, gaze darting from there, to his eyes, and back to his lips.
"Something from a temptation, surely? Having to commit yourself to it for reasons other than personal interest? Or has it always felt like..." Aziraphale drifted off, and Crowley almost finished the sentence for him: a dizzying want so demanding it threatened to take you over completely?
"Sorry to let you down, angel. Nothing's ever felt like this before. I'm just as lost as you are."
A wave of familiarity—an echo of centuries upon centuries of friendship and bickering and the terrifying feeling of being truly understood—washed over Crowley then, and he tightened his grip uselessly, the fabric of Aziraphale's clothes straining between his fingers.
"We're in this together, then," Aziraphale said, impossibly fond. "I'm not sure I could withstand it any other way."
At that, Crowley's dormant sense of self-preservation reawakened, and he cleared his throat, pulling back just a little. He was starting to hope, to believe this was more real than he knew it was. Aziraphale might look wrecked and wanting, like he needed this as much as Crowley did, but Crowley had to remember what he was. He was a demon, and his own lust and temptation had to be rolling off him in waves. Even an angel couldn't remain unaffected by that.
"I think we've gotten comfortable enough to ensure we're convincing," he said, his voice breaking a little halfway through. "I'm getting rather tired, too.”
Oh good, he’d regained the ability to tell lies with a relatively straight face.
"Ah, yes." Aziraphale pulled back a little as well, the fingers he'd been using to trace the contours of Crowley's face breaking contact. "We have had quite a day."
"Make yourself at home. I'll just be in the bedroom." He stopped himself before getting up, watching as a storm appeared to play out on Aziraphale's face. "You can wake me in the morning, if you like, before you leave? Perhaps we could whip something up for breakfast?"
"That would be nice," Aziraphale answered, seeming distracted.
Crowley had almost escaped, his hands on his knees to brace himself as he stood, when a troubled-sounding hmm from Aziraphale stopped him.
"All right, out with it." At Aziraphale's puzzled look, Crowley continued, "Something's bothering you, that's your 'I'm quite vexed' hmm. "
"Well, it seems to me...it's a shame to waste this time when we could be using it to ensure our comfortable familiarity for the somewhat revised physical dynamic we'll be expected to portray, in case we're surveilled."
Now, Crowley wasn't a slouch in the brains department, but no one could be expected to have their soul snogged directly out of their body by the being they'd wished for eons would do just that and then go on to decipher sentences like the one Aziraphale had just constructed. And frankly, Crowley was fairly annoyed Aziraphale was still capable of sounding like his usual, literate self given what they'd just finished doing.
"Wha?" Crowley groaned, eloquently.
"I could miracle the sofa a bit softer if you'd like, and you could kip down right here?" Aziraphale pointed to his lap, and Crowley's mind stopped operating entirely. "I could set myself up with a book or two, and we could gain some extra comfort and familiarity with each other in a somewhat passive, longer-term way?"
"You want me to sleep in your lap?" Crowley knew he sounded like an idiot, but his capacity for coherent self-expression was becoming steadily more limited.
"I could get you a pillow if you prefer, but I do believe some incidental contact would be the best way to foster more mutual acquaintance with this sort of casual intimacy."
Helpless, Crowley choked out, "Sure." Immediately, he began considering the merits of simply letting go of sanity completely.
"Excellent." Aziraphale stood, then went back to Crowley's entryway. He dug three thick, ancient books out of the satchel he’d left there, followed by a (particularly ridiculous, when you considered that Aziraphale's vision could be perfect without assistance if he merely willed it so) pair of reading glasses, which he put on as he made his way back to the sofa.
He sat, leaving room to his right to arrange his books, and then looked expectantly to his left, raising his arm and silently inviting Crowley to get himself settled.
"Right," Crowley said, changing into a pair of black, silken pajamas with a snap of his fingers, and then laid on his side, allowing Aziraphale to pull him in a bit as his head was pillowed on Aziraphale's lap.
"These are lovely," Aziraphale said, running his hand lightly along Crowley's shoulder. "Quite soft and luxurious. They suit you."
Once he seemed to be done exploring the fineness of the fabric, he felt fingers threading through his hair, brushing through with such gentleness that Crowley couldn't help letting out a long, satisfied sigh.
"Thank you for this," Aziraphale said, just as Crowley wondered if he might actually begin to purr.
"For wha'?" The words fell out on a yawn, Aziraphale's gentle touch lulling him further toward sleep.
"I know this is for my safety, Crowley. It's a favor I'll never be able to repay, and I need you to understand how grateful I am."
All Crowley could do was hum as slumber rose ever further to take him, the serenity tinged with an edge of regret. This, the closeness with his angel and the permission to show how deeply Crowley's devotion to him ran, it should have been idyllic. Instead, it felt stolen—bittersweet, even—as Crowley’s consciousness faded to the feeling of Aziraphale's fingers brushing back his hair.
Chapter 4: Beelzebub
Have you wondered, at all, what Beelzebub makes of this new situation with Aziraphale and Crowley?
Crowley woke to a warmth so exquisitely worth basking in that he nearly allowed an instinctive shift into his serpent form before he stopped himself. He had a vague sense there was something unusual going on, and even floating on the edge of consciousness he knew to be careful about displaying supernatural powers when he didn’t quite remember the circumstances he’d fallen asleep in.
“Ah! You’re awake,” Aziraphale’s voice floated down to him, and it all came back at once. The agreement to practice themselves into familiarity, the tense dinner, the snogging on the couch, and then the most restful sleep of his life in the angel’s lap.
“Yeah, figured it was about time to release you.” Crowley sat up, knowing he must have imagined how Aziraphale’s hand stuttered out toward him when they broke contact, as though he hadn’t wanted to let him go. Must have been stretching, or shaking out pins and needles after sitting in one position for so long. “D’you know what time it is?”
“Just past ten o’clock,” Aziraphale said, closing the book in his now-empty lap and giving it a pat on the cover.
“Bloody hell, Aziraphale. You didn’t have to stay trapped here for so long. Could’ve shoved me off when you wanted to leave this morning.”
“I didn’t—” Aziraphale began, cutting himself off with that soft, nervous laugh of his. “I suppose I didn’t even think of it. You looked quite serene, and I would’ve hated to risk waking a demon before he’d finished his rest.”
“Yes, I am fearsome, aren’t I?” Crowley hissed a little to punctuate, grateful to Aziraphale for steering the conversation into something that felt more normal. “I did, however, promise some breakfast last night, didn’t I? Unless you’d like to get on with opening your shop, that is?”
“Oh, I rather thought I’d close for the day. And breakfast sounds lovely.”
“Someone come in yesterday and eye one of your books too closely?” Crowley asked, and felt like doing a little victory dance when a familiar look of irritation came over the angel’s face.
“Well, yes, if you must know. He’s been in three times now, looking at the same four books, and I’ve just about run out of reasons why my 1919 copy of Wells' The Undying Fire isn’t in any shape to sell at the moment.”
Crowley cackled, padding in his bare feet to the kitchen and giving the appliances a stern look to let them know he expected them to function perfectly, despite the fact they’d hardly ever been used before. “What can I get for you? Pastries? Some sort of scramble?”
The words were out of his mouth before he'd really thought about what he was saying. He didn't have the ingredients for any of that on hand, and 'miracle' ingredients would never sit right with Aziraphale. Oh, he'd be too polite to protest, but he'd never enjoy any of it. Why did he keep saying things that only made the situation between them more awkward?
“Not that I don’t appreciate the offer, Crowley…” Aziraphale began, and then trailed off, worrying his hands together.
Berating himself internally, Crowley wondered why he’d thought they could struggle through a night of somewhat forced intimacy only for the angel to voluntarily stick around longer than necessary. Of course he wanted time to himself, he’d probably become so uncomfortable it would take hours of quiet reading to feel quite like himself again. Idiotic of him, really, to jump to conclusions this way.
“…it’s just, there’s a lovely little cafe I noticed not too far from here, and I expect they would still serve a full English breakfast this time of day. That certainly does sound scrummy, doesn’t it?”
“Sure,” Crowley said, trying not to look too disappointed. He wondered if Aziraphale would ask for a ride over there, or if he’d just sprint away as soon as Crowley stopped assuming their time together would continue.
“Lovely.” Aziraphale beamed. “Will you need some time to freshen up before we go? I confess, I could stand to splash a bit of water on my face and spruce a little with a minor miracle or two.”
It took a moment for all that to sink in. Aziraphale was assuming they would go together, as though there had never been a question of separating.
Crowley felt a satisfied hiss threatening to emerge, so he coughed to cover it up. “Yeah, all right. I’ll go to my room to…” He gestured at himself, then mimed pulling on some clothes in a way he was sure must have looked cooler than he thought it had, because if he allowed himself to realize how dorky it actually was, he’d run away and never come back.
Once they were ready and then walking down the street, everything felt much better, perhaps even approaching normality. Aziraphale was chattering on about the books he’d read while Crowley slept and Crowley let the sound of the angel’s voice wash over him, subconsciously syncing the rhythm of his steps to the cadence of Aziraphale’s speech. They reached the cafe and chose an outdoor table, where Aziraphale was quite pleased with the breakfast on offer as Crowley sipped at black coffee and let the warming breeze waft over him.
It was all very charming and peaceful. So perfect, in fact, that when he felt a telltale prickling on the back of his neck, he wasn’t at all shocked that something would happen to muck it all up.
Crowley reached across the table, letting his hand cover Aziraphale’s as he leaned in, slowly. “Be cool, Aziraphale, but I’m pretty sure someone from my side just popped up to Earth not too far from here.”
“Oh!” Aziraphale’s eyes widened, but then he appeared to remember himself, pursing his lips and obviously trying his best to look thoughtful rather than alarmed. “Are you quite certain?”
“Yeah, always a change in the air when a demon pulls themselves up from Hell. Not hard for someone like me to sense it, if you know what you’re watching for.”
“Have you spotted them yet?” Aziraphale asked, his eyes moving side to side, checking the late morning foot traffic behind Crowley for anything suspicious. At the shake of Crowley’s head, Aziraphale looked resolved and then turned his hand over to clasp Crowley’s before he pulled, bringing them much closer together.
“Angel?” Crowley managed, just before Aziraphale’s mouth covered his.
All at once, the feeling of familiar normalcy that had settled around them shattered, and Crowley was lost all over again, floating through the haze that feeling Aziraphale’s mouth moving over his always doomed him to. He kissed back, barely able to remind himself to keep things relatively proper so they wouldn’t get kicked out of the cafe.
“Quite sorry for the abruptness,” Aziraphale whispered, pulling back to ghost his lips just behind Crowley’s earlobe and then down his neck. “If someone from your side—well, your former side—is watching, I thought it’d be best if we gave it our all to look convincing.”
“No, no. Yes. Ah,” Crowley stammered. “Good thinking.” Crowley nearly slumped bonelessly into his chair when he felt the barest edge of Aziraphale’s teeth play over his skin. “And far be it for me to be a prude, angel, but this might be a touch too far for polite company.”
Well, that and Crowley wasn’t sure he could keep from moaning out loud if Aziraphale continued.
Aziraphale pulled away, but seemed to double down on the hand-holding to compensate. Whatever he was doing to the back of Crowley’s hand with his fingers, Crowley hoped he would never stop. The coffee in Crowley’s cup vibrated with his repressed energy, and he staved off the satisfied sigh that threatened to emerge by concentrating on scanning the crowd to find the demon he was sure was there somewhere.
And suddenly, there—a very familiar shape in the crowd, altered a bit to avoid causing a scene among the humans enjoying the uncharacteristically sunny afternoon.
“Beelzebub,” Crowley hissed, and Aziraphale’s fingers stilled for a moment, then set about caressing the skin on the back of Crowley’s hand with an aching amount of intensified vigor. Crowley tensed, about to get up to keep Beelzebub away from Aziraphale, but Aziraphale leaned in and brushed his lips against Crowley’s neck.
“Don’t go, my dear. Stay here. We’ll face this together.” Aziraphale paused, then laid his head on Crowley’s shoulder. “And this is the point, isn’t it? They’re meant to see us together, to re-enforce the story.”
“Yes,” Crowley allowed. He set down his coffee, afraid he’d spill it, given the shaking he was still trying to control. He could handle just about anything his literally God-forsaken life had thrown at him, but this was the most important test he’d ever faced. Aziraphale’s safety was in his hands. This wasn’t the little dance they’d done around all the ridiculous scrapes Crowley had gotten the angel out of, each one something the angel could have handled on his own if he’d been a little more frivolous with the miracles. He was actually counting on Crowley now, no fallback plans, walking a tightrope with no net beneath him. If Crowley screwed this up, Aziraphale would pay the price.
“Fanzzzzzy meeting you two here,” Beelzebub said, leaning against one of the columns holding up the cafe’s awning.
“We’re going to have to ask you to stay back,” Crowley said, fighting to keep his tone even. “You see, the angel’s eating, and your stench is sure to put him off his appetite.”
Beelzebub looked Aziraphale up and down, smirking. “Your pet looks like he could use a bit of appetite suppressant. Gabriel did mention how surprised he was you would take up with such a terribly pudgy excuse for an angel as a plaything.” Beelzebub sidled closer, getting dangerously close to Aziraphale. “And how right he waszzzz.”
Crowley could feel Aziraphale go rigid, putting a protective arm around his stomach. That was all it took to rocket Crowley out of his discomfort and into full protection mode.
“You always were disappointingly narrow-minded, you annoying, buzzing insect. You profane this angel’s perfection by daring to stand this close to him.” Crowley picked up Aziraphale’s fork, stabbing a bit of sausage hard enough to scrape the metal audibly against the plate, and brought the morsel to Aziraphale’s mouth. “Go on, beautiful,” Crowley said, leaning out to meet Aziraphale’s eyes. “You know how I love to watch you enjoy things.”
Aziraphale’s lips closed around the fork, and Crowley pulled it back the moment Aziraphale faked a pornographic moan. His hand flew to the angel’s cheek, feeling his jaws move as he chewed, and Crowley was glad he’d gotten quite good at sublimating his reaction to watching Aziraphale eat.
Beelzebub laughed, a terrible, low, buzzing sound. “So this is what you see in him. Of course, you’d want to watch him debauch himself. It’s even more fun than doing it yourself, isn’t it, Crawly?” Beelzebub stifled another ugly laugh. “Ah, sorry. Crowley . I do forget you fancy yourself higher than the slithering beast you truly are.” Beelzebub’s nasty gaze landed on Aziraphale now. “You do know, little angel, what a reprehensible creature he izzzs. The thingzzzzzz he’s done. He’s corrupted so many of your beloved humans, you know.”
Crowley cringed. Beelzebub was actually going to succeed in making Aziraphale disgusted with him, and none of it would even be a lie. There was nothing he could do, so he just sat there, mute, and waited for Beelzebub to go in for the kill.
“It isn’t your fault that your point of view is so low, so primitive,” Aziraphale said, dabbing at his mouth with his napkin and then pulled up to his full height to glare at Beelzebub. “Though perhaps it is, on second thought. It isn’t that you’re incapable of better, which is tragic, really. I know that demons can be much, much more than what you have settled on for yourself.” He gave Crowley’s hand a meaningful squeeze and met his eye for a brief, longing look. “Your perspective is flawed, you see. From the moment Adam and Eve chose to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, they gave humanity a beautiful gift. Free will. Crowley hasn’t corrupted anyone. He’s given them the opportunity to be tested. I lament that any of them have failed that test, but that is simply part and parcel of free will.”
A somewhat embarrassing, surprised gasp escaped Crowley, and he wished it was safe to ask if Aziraphale truly meant what he’d said.
“Crowley and I are honest with each other now, something I’m ashamed to tell you I’ve had much more trouble with during my association with him than he’s had with me. We both know what we’ve done and who we’ve been before now. I’m humbled that either of us have had a hand in shaping things on Earth with those actions, but given the great test humanity has recently passed with flying colors, I can say I feel truly at peace with it all. With my place in it. And especially,” Aziraphale said, squeezing Crowley’s hand, “Crowley’s place in it.” Aziraphale hummed a bit, a satisfied little noise, and then tucked back into his breakfast.
And if watching Beelzebub, veritable right hand to Satan, fume at being ignored by a Principality on the outs with heaven wasn’t the most entertaining sight Crowley had ever seen, he didn’t know what else it could be.
It took a moment, but Beelzebub regrouped, taking a deep breath to try something different. “It almost szzzzoundszz, little angel, as though you love him.”
Aziraphale paused almost imperceptibly, a freezing of his arm so brief that Crowley was certain he was the only one who’d noticed. It was enough to send a cold pang to the center of his chest, and he knew Aziraphale would never be able to lie, not about this. More than any angel Crowley had ever encountered, love was central to Aziraphale’s very being. He reveled in it, was fueled by it. He’d never be able to taint that with a falsehood like this. Crowley tried to keep his face neutral, hoping whatever story Aziraphale could tell himself about loving all of God’s creatures would be enough to let them fake their way through this.
But thankfully, Beelzebub, ever the impatient demon, solved it for them before either Crowley or Aziraphale could say anything.
“I think you do love him, don’t you? It’s written all over your pathetic face.” Beelzebub stalked even closer, far too close to Aziraphale, and Crowley put his arm around the back of Aziraphale’s chair. It was as much to ground himself as to reassure Aziraphale. “Let me tell you zzzsomething, from someone who really understands what it is to be a demon. He can’t love you. He isn’t capable of it. He can’t love anything .”
“If there is one thing I would deign to tell you, and this is with absolute certainty,” Aziraphale said, in a voice that could cut glass, “it’s that Crowley is capable of anything. Love, above all else, is not beyond him, no matter what you say.”
Beelzebub laughed again, finally abandoning the effort to goad Aziraphale and moved on to Crowley. “You’ve really got him tricked, haven’t you, Crowley? I’d almost like to give you another commendation for it. Imagine, turning Her emissary on Earth into such a fool. I’d ask how you did it, but I’m sure I already know the answer.” Beelzebub leered, and Crowley’s free hand curled into a fist so tightly that his nails broke through the skin of his palm. “You do remember, don’t you…what it felt like to have everything that mattered ripped out of us? When we Fell?”
“I’m going to guess that’s a rhetorical question,” Crowley said, trying to sound bored.
“And what did She replace it with?” Beelzebub continued, sputtering so loudly that several people nearby whirled around to watch. Crowley quickly sent those people thoughts to preoccupy them, reminding them of errands they really needed to run elsewhere, or friends who lived nearby they wanted to drop in on. “Nothing. That’s what’s inside us, and you know it. Nothing . You’re no different from me, Crowley. You’re no different from any of us.”
Crowley took a heaving, angry breath, and then unleashed himself.
“Angel, I’d like you to bless this glass of water for me, please. My old pal Beelzebub looks rather parched.” Crowley grasped blindly around the table for the glass, not taking his eyes away from Beelzebub for a second.
“Am I hitting a little too close to home?” Beelzebub laughed again. “You’re empty, and spending time with this—” Beelzebub stabbed an angry finger toward Aziraphale, “—undeserving maggot of an angel will only remind you of how much you lost. Being so close to all of his Grace is going to twist what’s left of your soul into something even smaller and more petty. This angel is a betrayer of his own kind and doesn’t even Fall for it. And what are you always moaning about, Crowley? How little you did to deserve it? Doesn’t it szzzzsting?”
“You’re right,” Aziraphale whispered, and Crowley felt a horrible, wrenching pain slice through him at the sound. Everything went still and cold, almost as if Crowley had just stopped time.
“Angel,” Crowley said, trying to sound normal, and not as though he was begging Aziraphale not to give up on him.
“It isn’t fair,” Aziraphale said, looking stricken. “We lost so many angels in the Fall. I never knew why. I waved a sword while everything I knew ended around me and I was too afraid to say anything.” He looked at Crowley, a haunted ache in his eyes that made Crowley wish he could soothe it away. “I might have killed you. I could have done, in the battle, and I would never have known—” He choked off into a sob, then appeared to swallow back his pain. “All because I was naïve and too cowardly to think for myself.”
“How can you even bear to look at me?”
“You…” Crowley gritted out, hating that he sounded so weak, especially when he knew Aziraphale needed him to be strong enough for both of them right now. “You are the most beautiful being my unworthy eyes have ever beheld. I am in awe of you. Not because I’m trying to gorge myself on a good time before moving on, but for eternity.”
“My dear,” Aziraphale whispered, and Crowley slid forward, off his chair, to kneel in front of the only being in the universe who mattered. He took Aziraphale’s hands into his own and was shocked to find they were both trembling.
The words were out before he could stop them.
“I love you, Aziraphale.”
Aziraphale blinked back tears and Crowley was only half-aware of Beelzebub’s theatrical groaning through the white noise drowning out everything else in his mind.
Crowley had finally done it, screwed up and released the secret he’d been carrying for thousands of years. But because this was him , a demon, a creature who was twisted and corrupted, Aziraphale would only hear it as a lie—just another part of this damnable ‘act’ they were putting on to keep Aziraphale safe.
“I don’t deserve you,” Aziraphale rasped, reaching out to run his thumb over Crowley’s cheek. “But I am yours, if you’ll have me.”
The next logical step came to Crowley, a searing lightning bolt of an idea that made him feel as empty as Beelzebub had accused him of being, only moments ago. He didn’t have to fake the tears that fell, but he ripped his soul apart to make them appear happy instead of devastating. He snapped, feeling an object fall into his palm, and he offered it up, bowing his head.
“Then marry me, angel. Marry me, and we’ll run away together.” Crowley waited, holding out the ring for Aziraphale to take or refuse. Crowley had willed into being a band of the brightest gold inlaid with a shimmering strip of cosmic dust.
When he’d still been an angel, he’d been so lonely, working on his own among the stars. He’d wished for someone to gift a nebula or galaxy to, to exalt in creating something simply to give another being joy. Once they'd met, he’d always wanted to give Aziraphale the stars. This was the closest an unworthy creature such as Crowley could come to that.
“How could we marry? I’m sure whatever records there are on file for A.Z. Fell are muddled at best,” Aziraphale said, sounding breathless. Trust Aziraphale to ask about practicality, rather than point out the abject insanity of a demon asking to marry an angel.
“We don’t have to bother with any of that,” Crowley said, his voice shaking. “If you put this ring on, it’s as good as done, as far as I’m concerned.”
“You’ll need one as well,” Aziraphale said, and Crowley felt insane as he snapped again, making a matching band appear on his ring finger. “Right, my dear boy. You’ve always been far braver than I, when it truly matters.”
Aziraphale held out his hand, fingers splayed, and wordlessly asked Crowley to slip the ring onto his finger. It took two tries, with Crowley battling against yet another uncontrollable tremor, but he held his breath and slid it home. It nestled there, on Aziraphale’s soft, yet strong hands, and looked as though it had always been there.
“You’re delusional, Crowley. You both are,” Beelzebub growled. “You’ll come down off this high of destroying our Master’s plans for glorious victory, and that empty chasm inside you will scream to be free. When you tire of befouling your pet angel, as soon as you let that bond break for even a moment, Heaven will have him.” Beelzebub zeroed in on Aziraphale. “And he’ll never feel a single pang of guilt for it, Principality.”
Beelzebub gave them a mocking bow and then opened a molten rift in the asphalt to disappear, leaving only a slight pop behind as proof of the whole, ugly encounter.
Crowley scrambled back into his seat, panic turning him cold. They both sat there, poleaxed, in complete silence. It wasn’t until the waiter stopped by their table a few minutes later that they were snapped back to reality.
“Crowley,” Aziraphale began, his voice shaking, and Crowley couldn’t take it. He couldn’t risk not being in control of what happened next. This was all about lying and scheming and subterfuge, and he couldn’t expect the angel to sully himself with that.
“I’m sorry, Aziraphale.” Crowley glanced around quickly, finding they were alone, and he pulled his glasses down to look Aziraphale in the eye. “I should never have escalated the plan that way before discussing it with you.”
“You…you’re sorry?” Aziraphale said, blinking slowly, as though he was struggling to understand.
“I let Beelzebub get under my skin, angel, and I acted without thinking.” Crowley hated himself, allowing his temper to flare, burning away his self-control and making the Blessed truth claw its way out of his mouth. “Now Hell will think we’re married, and Jesus Tapdancing Christ, I said we were going to run away, too.”
“Crowley,” Aziraphale whispered, breathing hard.
“Imagine, me thinking you’d leave London…the bookshop! I’m so bloody stupid —”
“ Crowley !” Aziraphale said, letting a little of the Principality into his voice, and Crowley actually cowered for a moment before he mastered himself again. “Please listen to me.”
“Yeah,” Crowley nodded. Aziraphale was right. Crowley shouldn’t get the dignity of giving the litany of his most recent sins. Aziraphale was more than due the right to berate Crowley himself.
“I froze. I folded,” Aziraphale said, frowning. “You said you let Beelzebub get to you ? I agreed with that rubbish. Out loud! I put you on the spot and left you to figure out what to do on your own. What choice did you have? I’m absolutely ashamed of myself.” Aziraphale toyed with the ring on his left hand and Crowley wondered if Aziraphale even registered what he was doing. It must burn him, a symbol of a holy union given to him by a demon.
“You defended me,” Crowley forced out through the constriction in his throat, a burning feeling that came with holding back the humiliating tears that threatened to fall. “Even if you were lying—”
“I wasn’t.” Aziraphale looked horrified, and it was only then that Crowley realized he’d just accused an angel of lying. “I meant every single word, Crowley.”
“You couldn’t,” Crowley gasped, but backed off when Aziraphale gave him a bit of a warning look. That was his I simply won’t brook any argument on this point voice, and Crowley knew all too well the futility of trying to contradict Aziraphale after that. The angel was far too good, too forgiving, and this needed to serve as a reminder for Crowley to be even more careful not to take advantage of those good graces.
“I suppose you were just trying to strengthen our story…” Aziraphale said, his voice small, “…with the…proposal business?”
Crowley suddenly found his coffee cup fascinating, shoving his glasses back up his nose to hide as well as he could. He should agree right away to reassure Aziraphale that he hadn’t just taken the opportunity to bind them together when that clearly wasn’t what the angel would ever have chosen for himself. Couldn’t quite make himself say it, though—even he couldn’t lie that convincingly. He’d have to sidestep the whole question.
“Can’t argue it wasn’t effective,” Crowley pointed out. “Made Beelzebub frustrated enough to leave us alone.”
“For now,” Aziraphale added, sounding ominous. “The question is, what will they do next?”
“We’ll go mad trying to anticipate them. We can’t just react to what they say, not unless we want to make a complete mess of things. I’ve forced us into enough of a corner as it is.”
“I think we can manage this corner just fine,” Aziraphale said, sounding a little guarded. “I’ve been tiring of the bookshop, to be honest. Some of my longer-term customers are starting to show quite a bit of skepticism about my lack of aging, as well.”
“But you love—”
“I love the books , Crowley,” Aziraphale said, cutting in. “I can love the books anywhere, as long as there’s somewhere to put all of them. Or most of them, anyway. I suppose I could let a few of the less interesting volumes find new homes. I’m sitting on enough inquiries I’ve received through the electronic mail you helped me set up to do quite a culling, should I want to do so.” He paused. “But I suppose you’d miss the bustle of the city, wouldn’t you? If we moved very far?”
“Are you kidding?” Crowley goggled at him. “I’ve spent more than a century making life in London as annoying and inconvenient as I could. Getting away from it would be fine with me. Not really fair of me to muck things up and then disappear, but I’m a demon, aren’t I?”
“Do you have any thoughts about where you’d like to go?”
Crowley shrugged. “Might like a large garden.” He thought for a moment more, then added, “Maybe a sitting room that gets a lot of midday sun?”
“I know this will sound silly,” Aziraphale said, cautiously, “but Conan Doyle—”
Crowley interrupted with a groan. “Not that utter bore.”
Aziraphale let out a heavy sigh. “We aren’t likely to run into him, my dear, as he’s been gone for nearly a century. But he did write a rather fascinating volume of Sherlock Holmes short stories where the old boy retired to Eastbourne. It sounded so lovely I made the trip down there, oh, must have been sometime in the 1930s. Charming place. I’ve sometimes thought about spending some time there.”
“That sounds like a place to start,” Crowley agreed, beginning to think of a plan. “Listen, it won’t take more than an afternoon’s work for me to close out my place in Mayfair, but you’ve got much more work than that ahead of you at the bookshop.” Crowley still couldn’t quite believe they were really talking about this, but if he stopped moving and thinking, he was afraid he would just collapse into a puddle and lie there twitching. “I’ll do the legwork, scope the place out, find some candidates to run by you.”
“Hardly sounds fair to you,” Aziraphale worried his bottom lip between his teeth, and Crowley had to lock himself in place to keep from dashing forward to take over those particular duties.
“Think of it as payback for all the times I rigged our coin tosses against you when we had The Arrangement.”
“I knew it!” Aziraphale cried. “I knew I simply couldn’t have had such rubbish luck.”
“I was doing the world a favor, really,” Crowley said, shrugging. “You were better than I was at both of our jobs.”
“Flattery will get you nowhere on this point.” Aziraphale was trying to look grim, but a little grin was poking through.
“How about if I do an in-depth survey of the restaurants around Eastbourne and factor that heavily into my search?” Crowley said, tilting his head back and sprawling lazily in his chair. He’d been planning to do this anyway, but if it helped him soothe any ruffled feathers the angel might have over his less-than-scrupulous coin tossing, what was the real harm in pretending it was extra work he was electing to take on?
“Oh, that would be lovely. I’ll consider not being quite so cross with you, then.”
“I wonder if I could still get anything done down there today.” Crowley considered his watch, surprised that so much of the day was already gone.
“You could find lodgings, at least,” Aziraphale said. “Oh, I could do the work of arranging a lovely room for you that’s miraculously available, if you’d like, save you the trouble?”
Crowley groaned, finally seeing the hole in the plan. “I can’t stay down there, angel. I’ll have to come back to London every night, or those bloody idiots Above and Below might think we’re on the outs.”
“Oh, that will never do. That’s far too much. I’ll simply have to come with you, and deal with the bookshop after we return.”
“Angel,” Crowley said, mentally doing the math on how quickly he could make the trip back and forth if he really pushed the Bentley to her limits. “It’s no trouble, really. Don’t really mind spending the extra time in the car, since it’s only been a few days since I thought I’d lost her for good.”
“I suppose we could begin this way, see how we get along on our tasks, and re-evaluate in a few days. I’ll focus on an accounting of my books and which I can re-home. It’s a wonderful excuse to close for a few days. That should be enough to put off that horrid man after my Wells.”
Crowley tossed some bills down on the table, assuming they would be more than enough to cover their tab (and because he expected it to be so, they were.) “Walk you back to the bookshop, angel?”
“Oh, I’m in the opposite direction. I don’t want to be a bother. I’d intended to hail a cab from here.”
“Yeah, of course,” Crowley said, trying to hide his disappointment. He started to rise from his seat. “Makes sense. I’ll just—”
Aziraphale stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. “My dear, would you promise to check in with me while you’re away? I know we’ll see each other each night, but there’s been so much activity from Above and Below and I’m afraid I’ll be quite worried if we don’t stay in contact.”
“Yeah,” Crowley said, softening. “That’s a very sensible idea.”
They both stood, and Aziraphale pulled him into a firm, determined hug. “For appearances,” he whispered into Crowley’s ear, and Crowley just grunted in response.
“I’ll see you later tonight with an update,” Crowley said, pulling away, and began walking as quickly as he could back to his apartment.
Chapter 5: Cottage Hunting
Crowley’s mind was racing even faster than the Bentley as he sped toward Eastbourne, contemplating the estate agent’s name he’d scrawled onto a slip of paper before heading out. He hadn’t had an appointment when he’d awoken (with his head on Aziraphale’s lap, a detail his memory not-so-helpfully supplied) that morning, but the agent would be under the impression that she’d been anticipating his visit for weeks as soon as he walked in and planted the idea in her mind. She was, right now, compiling a list of suitable, available cottages in the area, though if anyone had pressed her, she wouldn’t be able to say why.
He might have felt guilty about some of this if he weren’t a demon. (And honestly, she was going to benefit quite a bit from the arrangement. When they located an appropriate property, he wouldn’t be wasting anyone’s time with drawn-out haggling. He’d simply miracle up whatever the asking price was and she’d be making a hefty commission.)
An hour and a half later, when he strolled in with a somewhat bored look on his face, she was ever so pleased to see him. She flushed with pleasure at how dead-on her instincts were about what her new client and his husband would be interested in, and they headed out to look at the first place on her list.
He’d dismissed the first place right away when they arrived, though he’d gritted his teeth through a brief look around for politeness’ sake. If he’d been looking solely for himself, he wouldn’t have bothered. Hell, he probably would have made sure to be extra demanding, just to let the estate agent know who was boss. This, though, was something he was doing for the angel as well as for himself, and something didn’t feel quite right to him about doing it in a way Aziraphale wouldn’t have approved of.
The second place was more interesting, and the agent won several points for herself when she was able to give him some intel on the properties surrounding it, as well as the closest pubs and restaurants. He was taking a third, slow meander through it when his mobile rang, Aziraphale’s name and photo shining up at him from the screen when he stole a look at it.
“Sorry, must take this,” Crowley said, and turned away to answer.
“Crowley, are you there?” Aziraphale’s voice, sounding a bit worried, erupted from the speaker as soon as Crowley had tapped the talk button. “I’ve been telling myself you’re fine, that it was quite a long drive and I’m sure you’re very busy, but after our…run-in…this morning, I simply couldn’t bear to wait any longer to confirm that—”
“’M fine, angel,” Crowley said, cutting Aziraphale off with an air of exasperation he really didn’t feel. “Looking at the second place now, getting a feel for the area.”
“Oh, that’s lovely, then,” Aziraphale said, and Crowley caught himself smiling a little, thinking about bringing back information for him later that night. Perhaps he could even get out his overhead projector, make a real production out of it.
“Any sign of either of our…” Crowley began, then glanced at the estate agent, who was trying to look busy inspecting the cottage, but who was clearly listening in on his conversation. He couldn’t blame her, eavesdropping was one of the more satisfying minor sins, and she could surely justify it to herself by deciding she was merely getting to know her clients better. “…old friends, there in London?”
“Not a peep,” Aziraphale said. “What do you think of Eastbourne?”
Crowley shrugged a little, trying to come up with an answer. Honestly, he didn’t much care where they went next, aside from making sure they could both still indulge in some of their most favorite Earthly pleasures. “Quiet,” he began, wishing the estate agent would give up her act that she wasn’t hanging on every word of his side of the conversation so he could just ask her to give Aziraphale her pitch for the area. “Good soil,” he added, realizing he had checked on that.
“Oh, that’s a relief. I’m sure you’ll grow some fine specimens there, good soil or not, but I’d like you to be…” Aziraphale struggled for a moment, and Crowley could picture the thoughtful look he was sure Aziraphale was wearing. “…well, happy with the things that matter to you.”
Crowley pictured what he’d never dared to imagine before in his life: moving boxes, arguing over whether furnishings should be sleek and black or cozy and tartan, and both of their mugs sitting next to each other in a battered, wooden cabinet. The things that mattered to him had never been better, in so many ways. He even determinedly overlooked the bitter reality that they weren’t exactly choosing this so much as being forced into it. It was hard to be too angry when he had the intimacy of Aziraphale’s gentle voice in his ear, saying things that betrayed such fondness that he nearly wanted to weep from it.
“I think I can make this work,” he said, trying to sound casual, sprawling over a half wall separating the kitchen from the eat-in area. “Could be a nice change from the city.”
“Wonderful,” Aziraphale said, almost more of an exhale than actual speech. “I’ll let you get back to it, then. It’s back to inventory and culling for me, as well.”
“Don’t work yourself too hard, angel. I should be at yours by 9:00. Maybe we can get a late bite?”
He was glad there was silence on the other end for a moment, as his thoughts when he said ‘bite’ went straight back to the feeling of Aziraphale’s teeth just grazing the side of his throat that morning, when they were outside at the cafe. The world went away for a moment as Crowley floated in the memory, his fingers idly tracing the edge of his belt buckle.
“I’d like that a great deal.” With that, Crowley was about to hang up, but a series of indecisive noises from Aziraphale’s end stayed his hand, and he waited.
“Perhaps you could stay here with me, tonight?” Aziraphale asked.
Crowley swallowed hard. He knew that had been the plan. He’d said it himself, that they’d trade off nights to keep up appearances. But something about Aziraphale actually asking him made him tremble a little, and he didn’t trust his voice to answer without sounding shaky.
“Yeah,” he said, clearing his throat and trying to sound businesslike. “It’s a solid plan.”
He cut off the call before he could say anything more mortifying than that, looking at his watch to see how much time he had left before he should head back to the city.
A few hours later, Crowley was back in the Bentley, speeding along the roads that would lead him back to London. He gave a slightly worried smile to the delicate cardboard box sitting in his passenger seat, spoils from his stop at one of the nearby bakeries so he could bring back a selection of the local goods for Aziraphale to sample. He’d done this to himself for centuries, picked up some little trinket or treat for the angel, only to get painfully self-conscious when it came time to hand it over. He wasn’t even sure why he did these things, given the discomfort they caused.
Crowley pictured the look of delight Aziraphale wore when he received a surprise like this, a slight flush on his cheeks, sometimes even a gasp and a hand over his heart. Yeah, Crowley wasn’t even trying to fool himself anymore. He did these things to make Aziraphale happy, to be what made Aziraphale happy.
He wasn’t sure if it was his betrayal of Lucifer or shite like this that made him a horrible demon. Probably, they were about neck and neck.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t bringing back news of a surefire, perfect property he’d found, one they could both be comfortable in. The four places he’d managed to get to were all fine, in their own ways, but none of them were exactly what he’d been hoping for. He’d still show the photos to Aziraphale, of course. That would surely help him narrow down his search, but it would also burn a lot of time, long hours when Crowley was terrified the angel would get it in his head for them to spend practicing again.
If they practiced much more, Crowley would fold like origami, he knew he would. It’d all come out in an embarrassing confession, all the hope he still harbored, though he knew he didn’t deserve any of what he had with Aziraphale. He just had to stay focused on all the reasons coming clean would be disastrous, and keep away from Aziraphale’s lips. And his hands, come to think of it. And bless it, the way his arm felt, curled protectively around Crowley’s shoulders when he'd awoken with his head still pillowed on Aziraphale’s lap.
Really, he just had to avoid the entire Aziraphale. Easy. He’d done that for centuries. (Never mind that he’d had to take a nap that put Rip Van Winkle to shame to do it, or suddenly find urgent business he had to get to on an entirely different continent. Couldn’t be that hard to do it while they were both in the same building, could it?)
Yeah, it was clear to him all over again. He. Was. Fucked.
It was smooth sailing through dinner, as Aziraphale was always reliably distracted with wine and food. Even the drive home had felt safe, with Aziraphale still wondering aloud if that had really been a faint hint of basil in the strawberry crumble. It wasn’t until they arrived back at the bookshop, both of them still crowded together a bit as the door shut behind them, the room so dark he could just make out the details of Aziraphale’s face.
The silence lengthened and took on a life of its own, unwinding itself in the shadow of Aziraphale’s hopeful expression.
“My dear, I know you must be tired after such a long day. Perhaps we can discuss what you found tomorrow morning?” And with that, Aziraphale put his hand out, turning away a little, as though to lead Crowley through the shop and toward the stairs leading to…well, whatever Aziraphale had been hiding up there since he'd opened the place. Crowley wouldn’t know, as they’d always stayed on the ground floor before.
He couldn’t move, staring dumbly after Aziraphale. Literally, could not even twitch. Lucifer and God Herself could arrive right now and start doing the gavotte with Aziraphale and he still wouldn’t be able to so much as blink.
“Crowley? Are you quite—oh, my. How dreadfully selfish of me to not have noticed how exhausted you were before now.” Aziraphale dithered, his hands fluttering around Crowley’s shoulders, then moving to put one warm palm over Crowley’s forehead, as though he was checking for a fever.
The absurdity of that finally jump-started Crowley again, and he delicately reached up and eased Aziraphale’s arm away.
“Sorry, angel. I’m fine. I suppose it all just caught up to me. Let me get a bit of coffee into myself and I’ll be fine to go over what I found in Eastbourne.”
“I simply won’t hear of it,” Aziraphale said, with absolute finality. “I’m packing you straight off to bed, and I won’t hear another word about it.”
Crowley considered this. Aziraphale certainly wouldn’t want to sleep, not with his books calling out to him. He was probably still focused on culling out his collection, and it must be taking him forever to consider each and every volume in the place. He’d never waste an entire night babysitting a demon while he slept, not with so many more interesting tasks calling out to him. This was a lucky break! It had to be. Yes, a good night’s sleep and Crowley could finally get his head back on straight.
Tamping down all evidence of his relief over this development, Crowley said, “If you think so. I suppose I wouldn’t say no to a bit of a rest,” and he added a particularly artful shrug to punctuate just how little he was bothered by all of this.
Aziraphale did take his hand then, leading him upstairs into a small set of rooms filled with overstuffed furniture and trinkets from an immortal’s lifespan worth of travel.
A lazy snap had Crowley in his jet black, silk pajamas, and he waited (tapping his foot for effect) for Aziraphale to invite him to get settled. For as much as Aziraphale always professed to find no real use with sleeping, his bed looked sumptuous. Fluffy pillows and luxuriously worn-in sheets awaited him, along with a cream-colored chenille blanket that was so soft when Crowley leaned down to brush the back of his fingers over it, he nearly keened out loud.
Instead of simply waving an arm toward the bed and telling Crowley to feel free to go to it, Aziraphale ran a graceful finger down the front of his body and his ever-present, ever-so-out-of-date outfit was replaced with a long, cotton dressing gown. He’d even conjured up a sleeping cap to cover his snow-white curls, and the adorable flush covering his face made Crowley’s heart pound in his chest.
“What are…” Crowley said, trying to sound unaffected, and failing. “What…” he added, trying to start again. (And failed, again.) “I didn’t…” he finished, truly showing off his skills as a silver-tongued, renowned expert in subtlety and temptation.
“Oh, you wouldn’t mind, would you? It’s not an especially small bed, and honestly, spending last night in such close quarters helped me so much."
“Helped you…?” Crowley asked, his head about to detach itself and float away for less confusing environs.
“Become more at ease with this whole…relationship business.”
“Relationship?” Crowley parroted, blinking rather more than a being, occult or not, should really need to.
“Crowley,” Aziraphale said, coming forward and taking Crowley’s hand, “I’m simply terrified I’ll do something while we’re being watched by Above or Below that gives away that we’re not, strictly speaking, telling the complete truth. “Each time we’ve…well…practiced, it’s made me so much more comfortable with the entire affair.”
“Oh.” That was it. That was all Crowley could choke out. Oh.
“I know it’s an awful burden for you.” Aziraphale pulled their linked hands apart, looking uncertain for the first time since they’d arrived upstairs. “Perhaps I’ve asked for too much? I’m dreadfully sorry.”
He moved to reverse his change of clothes, but Crowley caught him mid-gesture.
“Of course not, angel,” Crowley said, sighing. “Sorry, I’m so exhausted I must be slow on the uptake. Figured it would take a lot more than this to get you to try sleeping.”
Squeezing his eyes shut, Crowley let out a prayer he was certain would never reach its destination. Please let the angel be intending to sleep. He couldn’t even consider how the night would go if he had to try to sleep while Aziraphale just laid there and…did Hell only knew what for hours when, judging by the size of the bed, they would hardly have room for one of Aziraphale's beloved misprinted bibles between them.
This became Crowley’s routine for nearly a week: Wake up and have breakfast with Aziraphale, speed off to Eastbourne to look at properties, return to London for dinner and a debriefing of the day’s events, and then studiously try to ignore that he was laid down next to the angel he’d been pining for since before humans recorded time. They’d quickly given up switching off between the bookshop and Crowley’s flat, if only because the bookshop was so much more comfortable. Every night, they slipped between those buttery-soft sheets and Crowley refused to consider how Aziraphale’s skin still put them to shame.
With all the activity, “practicing” had eased back quite a bit. They were both so busy, their gestures of affection were nearly all in public and done for appearance’s sake. They held hands while walking down the street, gave little more than pecks on the cheek or chaste kisses when they might be observed, and in private, Crowley kept the kissing to a minimum and feigned deep sleep the moment his head hit the pillow each night.
While he was relieved not to have to nurse himself through a confusing mixture of affection, lust, and guilt, he couldn’t help feeling disappointed.
This was what Crowley had wanted, he reminded himself time and again. He’d spent quite a bit of time ranting to himself while driving alone through the countryside listing the endless reasons why he couldn’t just give in and indulge. Losing himself in the plushness of Aziraphale’s mouth or stealing a caress across his cheekbone or through his hair was taking advantage . It was exactly what he imagined his demon soul was crying out for, to just give in to what he wanted and to hell with the ethical ramifications. He wasn’t even supposed to have ethics, he thought, bitterly, but he did have standards. Aziraphale was his friend—well, he was more than that, more than humans with their mayfly lifespans could possibly have invented a word for.
That was what he forced himself to focus on when he walked into The One, the cottage that he knew was meant to become theirs. It was perfect in every way, from the way the sun came into the place in the afternoon to the large reception room on the ground floor where Crowley could already imagine copious bookshelves and stacks of books. The garden was huge and gloriously underdeveloped, so Crowley could start from scratch and create exactly what he wanted. It even had a glass-walled conservatory where he could care for his indoor plants. The top floor was overrun with three sprawling bedrooms, so there’d be no chance of continued temptation to share a bed. There could be a little separation, just enough to keep himself from taking too much, but he’d able to see his angel was there and safe.
It was absolutely ideal, and he ignored his disappointment at the thought of no more accidentally brushed hands in their shared bed as the estate agent began the paperwork to make an offer.
Aziraphale was uncharacteristically quiet in the Bentley the next day as they drove to Eastbourne for Aziraphale to see the cottage.
“Listen, I know it’s difficult, the idea of leaving London and the bookshop,” Crowley began, not sure what to say, but he couldn’t take the silence a moment longer.
“The book culling is coming along fine,” Aziraphale said, clearly distracted by something. “Thank you for asking.”
“I didn’t,” Crowley noted, confused. “Listen. Angel, I promise I’ll stay out of your way as much as possible. Wait until you see the place. There’s plenty of room for both of us. You wouldn’t have to see me for days if you didn’t want to.”
Aziraphale’s forehead wrinkled in confusion and he opened his mouth, clearly about to say something. Crowley knew he should be watching the road, but he trusted the Bentley knew where they were going by now and would see them there safely even without his guiding hands. Whatever the angel had been about to say, it died before he found the words for it, and his shoulders sagged, resigned.
“Yes,” Aziraphale said, quietly. “I’m sure it will be exactly what we need.”
The troubled air around Aziraphale didn’t retreat even after they reached the cottage, though he put on a good front for the estate agent. He nodded and smiled appreciatively at all the correct moments as she showed them around, but the façade vanished as soon as she excused herself to allow them to talk in private.
“Do you hate it?” Crowley said, leaning down to try to look Aziraphale in the eye.
“No, of course not. It’s marvelous.” He was clearly telling the truth, Crowley could tell. “It’ll be a squeeze for my books, but only just, and I was fearing much worse on that front.”
“I do know how important they are to you, angel. I wouldn’t have brought you to a place where you couldn’t have what you needed.”
Crowley tried to tamp down on his exasperation, understanding that Aziraphale hadn’t chosen any of this, and he should be relieved they were moving forward with the plan at all. Aziraphale had wanted to quit, just days ago, and allow himself to be destroyed. The thought sent a chill of fresh panic through him and it was all he could do not to pull Aziraphale into his arms and confess it all.
Aziraphale softened, though his eyes remained heartrendingly sad. “Of course you wouldn’t. I apologize for being so disagreeable. It would be a pleasure for anyone to spend a retirement here.”
Crowley smiled back. “I suppose that’s what we are,” he said, a bit of wonderment in his voice. “Retired.”
They stared at each other for a long moment, and Crowley could have sworn that Aziraphale was holding himself back from saying more, just as Crowley was.
“Listen, I should finish taking care of the details with the agent,” Crowley said, needing an escape before he said something foolish. “They’ve accepted the offer, and we’ve only got to let them know that we’re moving ahead and want to close as soon as possible.”
“Of course,” Aziraphale said, taking a step backward. “I’ll just wait in the garden.”
Aziraphale had been acting so oddly that Crowley rushed through the conversation with the estate agent, nodding impatiently as she talked about closing dates. She nearly balked when he told her they’d be forgoing the home inspection to speed things up until he snapped his fingers and nudged her into forgetting her concerns. She nodded and shook his hand, still a little dazed but not too addled to drive. He left her, with a wave, in the front drive.
He felt idiotically nervous as he made his way to the back garden, wanting to scoop Aziraphale up and take him off to one of the local restaurants he’d found. Surely that would be a sufficient distraction, at least for now, to keep the angel from ruminating too much on how he could have gotten here, about to share eternity with a demon in a lovely three bedroom cottage with attached garage.
What he hadn’t been anticipating were the wrenching sobs he heard as soon as he let the back door shut behind him.
“Aziraphale!” he called, rushing over as Aziraphale startled, then began hurriedly swiping at his eyes.
“I’m here,” came the answer, with a false cheeriness that put a cold, hard lump in Crowley’s throat.
Crowley kneeled in the grass next to Aziraphale, pushing away the odd thought that the angel had risked grass stains on his treasured outfit to be here, crying, all alone.
“We don’t have to do this.” The words came out of Crowley in a rush, each one tumbling after the others. “I know it’s what I said we’d be doing, in front of Beelzebub, but I’m sure we can walk that back.”
“No, no. I’m being ridiculous,” Aziraphale said, more to himself than to Crowley, an unfocused, far-off look in his eyes. “Don’t cater to it. One of us has to be sensible.”
“You were crying.” He hadn’t meant to say it, to force a confrontation on this, but his shock at seeing it had robbed him of the ability to hold himself back. He’d seen Aziraphale close to tears many times, but the unbelievable strength at the core of him always seemed to be enough to keep them from spilling over.
“I did admit I was being ridiculous,” Aziraphale said, just a trifle annoyed. “It’s nothing. I promise. I remain committed to our plan.” A beat of silence followed, and Aziraphale seemed to steel himself. “Dinner?”
Crowley sighed, his head falling forward as his shoulders drooped. Maybe if he could make himself small enough, he could hide away and never have this conversation. He could always shift into his snake form, but even he had to admit that didn’t seem likely to solve anything.
“I’m so sorry,” Crowley whispered. “You’re miserable.”
The wait for a response, the white noise pounding in his ears to the beat of his heart, was a dull, unrelenting pain until Aziraphale said the one thing that would make it worse.
The words were crushing, this confirmation that the angel felt trapped, cheated of the life he wanted and deserved by the idiocy of Heaven and Hell and one demon who would never just leave him alone. Crowley began to cry himself, his heart breaking for Aziraphale as much as it was for himself.
“Don’t you remember that I’m a terrible liar?” Aziraphale asked, putting a gentle hand under Crowley’s chin and urging him to look up. His other hand removed Crowley’s glasses, carefully setting them to the side as he brushed away the tears with his thumb.
“What…what does that…”
“Don’t you think you’d be able to tell, when I kissed you, if it was all a lie?”
“I don’t—” Crowley protested, his mind racing to make sense of what Aziraphale was saying.
“This,” Aziraphale said, gesturing around them, “and you, my dear, are all I want in this world. Not to fool Heaven or put one over on Hell. For myself. For you.”
“What are you saying?”
Aziraphale swallowed hard, squaring his shoulders. “I can’t do this to you. And I’m a coward, but I can’t do this to myself. I can’t be this close for eternity to everything I’ve wanted and know it’s all a farce. I don’t know what this means, if I should just turn myself in and get it over with. I’m not afraid of what Gabriel said, that you’d tire of me and leave me to my doom. I know you’d never do that, but I can’t let you make this sacrifice. Seeing it,” he said, looking around again, “and having it become real…it’s put some things into rather sharp relief.”
“Yes, perhaps I should turn myself in. Get it over with, and free you from this.” Aziraphale nodded, resolute. “If I could ask you to make sure the books and all the silly little trinkets I’ve collected over the years find good homes? Some of it belongs in a museum, surely. It’s probably been selfish of me to hold onto those things all this time.”
The angel continued on, as though Crowley hadn’t said anything at all. “I’m so sorry for the expense of all this, all the time you took to find this lovely home. You should move here, I think. Let your world slow down a bit, shut out all of the noise." He smiled, and it was a sad, rueful little thing. "Raise the plants that will flourish under your hand.”
“Aziraphale, you utter moron, if you don’t stop talking this instant I promise you that I will rain brimstone down upon the Earth until you finally shut yourself up.”
Aziraphale blinked at him in confusion, head tilted to the side and brows furrowed.
“Forgive me for this, all right?” Crowley asked, and then he surged forward. Their lips met and Aziraphale yielded immediately, Crowley’s tongue searching to tempt and taste his beloved, utterly blind angel. How could a being of Aziraphale's intelligence exist in such close proximity to Crowley for even a few days without sussing out that Crowley was completely and hopelessly in love with him? It simply beggared belief.
They broke apart, gasping for breath, as they clung to each other in the dewy grass.
“What?” Aziraphale asked, and Crowley nearly laughed at how stupid they both were.
“I want this too. No subterfuge, no plan, no sham of a relationship just to keep you safe.” Crowley’s head was spinning, unable to accept the fact that this was all real. His angel was solid and warm in his arms, trembling just as much as Crowley was.
Aziraphale’s back straightened, and his eyes were steely with determination as he held Crowley’s gaze.
“I love you, Crowley. I’m in love with you.”
A sob escaped Crowley as he heard the words, and Aziraphale cupped Crowley’s cheeks in both of his hands and dotted kisses over his face, his fluttering eyelashes, high on the apples of his cheeks.
“I…” Crowley began, his breath cutting off as he tried to continue. He screwed up his courage and tried again, only to fail, squeezing his eyes shut. It actually hurt, not being able to say it. The words sat in the depths of him, pounding out a dull ache. His arms and legs felt heavy with it and each breath stung as he tried to draw them in.
“It’s all right, my dear. My love, my dearest, dearest one.” Aziraphale’s low voice was a comfort, but one that Crowley’s cowardice didn’t deserve. “I can feel it, you know, the strength of it coming from you. I don’t need the words. You’ll get there, and I can be quite patient. And even if you don’t, I trust you, Crowley. With my life. With everything. You don't ever have to say it for me to know.”
Crowley shook his head, unwilling to give himself a pass on this one. Aziraphale had said it, so there should be nothing for him to fear. Crowley had already said it, for fuck’s sake, when he put on that bloody proposal for Beelzebub’s benefit. Why, then, were the words refusing to come out of his traitorous mouth now ?
“I hate myself,” Crowley spat out. “Why can’t I—”
“I imagine it’s my fault,” Aziraphale said, his expression turning mournful. “I pushed you away so many times. I was so frightened, you see, of what would happen if either of our sides saw what I felt for you. I couldn’t indulge it, but the desire was so strong I had to quite vehemently deny it. I was sure I would Fall, but you…they would have taken you, destroyed you. Either of our sides might have, really. I was terrified of losing you, but my method of keeping my distance injured you.” He nodded, placing a single, almost chaste kiss on Crowley’s lips. “I’m quite determined to spend eternity undoing the damage, you beautiful, wonderful bit of perfection.”
Crowley trembled, feeling utterly unworthy of the infinite wellspring of gentle love within Aziraphale. He had to do this. He could do this. He longed to give this final gift to Aziraphale and himself—to finally let the truth free.
“I do, you know,” he said, shaking in earnest as Aziraphale pulled him into his chest. His voice was trembling so badly it was almost impossible to make out what he was saying. “I do lo—love…you.”
“Oh, my love,” Aziraphale sighed. “You are the bravest, most astonishing being in the universe.”
“No.” Crowley shook his head, the praise searing him around the edges, a reflex of pain to keep him from forgetting himself, from believing he was worthy.
“I can see I shall have to be quite unrelenting, now that we’re being honest with one another.” Aziraphale tipped Crowley’s chin up, resting their foreheads together while the afternoon sun bathed them with its light. “I shall love you until you can see in yourself what I see, and then I shall love you some more. Beyond the end of everything, Crowley. This is an angel’s vow, you know.” Aziraphale laughed a bit, his eyes wrinkling at the edges. “You really shouldn’t question an angel’s vow.”
“I can’t promise anything,” Crowley mumbled. “I’m a demon, you know.”
“Take me home, my demon?”
Aziraphale laid a gentle kiss on the tip of Crowley’s nose, then struggled to his feet. With a gallant wave of his hand, he offered Crowley some help, and they kept holding hands on the way back to the Bentley.
(If Crowley could have thought of a way for them to get in the car without letting go, he would have done it. He never wanted to let go again.)
If the Bentley had been floating a few meters above the road, Crowley wouldn’t have been a bit surprised. He’d never felt lighter himself, almost as though he was drifting on a gust of wind with his wings unfurled. He kept sneaking looks at Aziraphale, who sighed and blushed whenever their gazes met.
“I won’t be taking it back, you know,” Aziraphale said, clearly teasing. Crowley wanted to tell him it was too soon to make jokes like that, with the acrid taste of dread and disbelief still lingering in the back of Crowley’s throat. Better to keep the mood light, let himself enjoy this dreamlike state a bit longer while it all still sank in.
“I’m glad, because that cottage cost me a bloody fortune.”
“Oh, goodness. How thoughtless of me. Of course I’ll be paying for half.”
“Angel,” Crowley said, fondness making his tone breathy and light. “I miracled the money. Hell’s terrified of us. They won’t say a bloody word.”
“You…oh.” Aziraphale blinked, as though he was resetting his entire worldview. “There’s no one rationing out the miracles anymore, is there?”
“I don’t think you’ll be getting any sternly worded memos, if that’s what you mean.”
Crowley snuck another look at the angel, only to gasp when he found Aziraphale holding up his left hand and admiring the wedding band there.
“We’re…” Aziraphale stammered, when he caught Crowley looking. “We really are…married?”
“Angel, if you need some time,” Crowley began, suddenly serious, “you don’t have to consider that a done deal. You were willing to wait for me to be able to say…the thing. I can wait for this.”
“Oh, no,” Aziraphale said, horrified. “You aren’t putting me off, Anthony Crowley. You proposed to me and I accepted.”
“Whatever you say.” He tried to act nonchalant, though he knew the huge grin on his face was a dead giveaway. “I could take it or leave it, myself.”
“This does actually bring something to mind,” Aziraphale said, rightly ignoring Crowley’s nonsense. “We have rather gone native here on Earth, haven’t we? Really adapted to the local culture.”
“Yeah, I suppose angels and demons don’t get married, do they? And especially not to each other,” Crowley said, wondering what Aziraphale was on about. He had that delighted, enchanted look on his face, not unlike the one he wore whenever he discussed the many merits of crepes.
“In some human cultures,” Aziraphale continued, his voice as light as a feather, “marriages aren’t considered official until they’re consummated.”
The words danced in Crowley’s head for a moment, mixing around like they were at a ball sometime in the Regency period. They pranced in figure eights and chassées while Crowley tried desperately not to steer the Bentley into a ditch.
“Ah, I suppose I should have asked,” Aziraphale said, sounding uncomfortable after he didn’t receive a reply after several long moments. “It’s perfectly fine if your interests don’t run toward the more physical expressions of devotion. It certainly isn’t a requirement, of course. I never meant to give you the impression—”
“For the love of everything that’s infernal, holy, and in between, angel, I’m begging you not to take that back.” Crowley’s knuckles whitened as he death-gripped the steering wheel. “My interests run there. They run all over the place.” He looked at his sumptuous angel, blushing back at him but with a glint of hunger in his eyes. “They do a bloody marathon if it’s about you.”
Aziraphale shifted in his seat, almost as though the upholstery was burning him.
“I suppose I might have mentioned it when we were closer to London,” he noted, and Crowley threw back his head and laughed.
There was an electricity crackling between them as Crowley hurled the Bentley toward the curb outside the bookstore, assuming she would tuck herself into her usual spot. It was all he could do not to sprint for the door as soon as they were both out, and he certainly didn’t have the patience to wait for Aziraphale to dig his ancient key out of one of his many pockets.
He snapped the door open, hardly breaking his stride as he pulled Aziraphale after him, and then slammed the door behind them with a thought. He had Aziraphale up against it before either of them could blink.
“Oh, Crowley ,” Aziraphale moaned, sounding wrecked already, and Crowley groaned into his neck as he nibbled at the skin there. “Darling, I certainly don’t want to wait, but surely upstairs would be preferable?”
Crowley shook his head, sucking a deep, dark bruise over Aziraphale’s jugular, then pulling back to admire his work.
“Waited long enough, angel. So, so long.” Crowley knew it couldn’t be attractive to whine this way, but given how much he wanted this, he had little control over it, really.
“My dear, my love, I know. But wouldn’t you rather lay me down, show me what you can do with that sinful mouth?”
“Fuck,” Crowley said, pressing his angel up against the door with more purpose. “Yes, point taken. I think I can make it.”
“We shall make the endeavor together,” Aziraphale said with a laugh, pulling himself free as Crowley tripped after him.
“You’re too coherent,” he complained. “Gonna change that.”
Aziraphale shed his outermost layer on the way and had the buttons of his waistcoat open by the time they’d reached the bed. Crowley vibrated with barely restrained energy as the outer coat was laid carefully over a chair and then whimpered at the deliberate care with which Aziraphale removed his bow tie.
“Angel, I know you’ve kept that outfit in good condition for longer than is certainly reasonable, but I’m not sure how much more—”
“Perhaps you can show me how it’s done, then?” Aziraphale said, gesturing gracefully down Crowley’s body with his free hand, and even in Crowley’s lust-addled state he could recognize an invitation.
Crowley chucked his glasses across the room, tugging at the rest of his clothes in an almost random order. He expected Aziraphale to laugh, or at least admonish him for his lack of patience. Yet, as he stole a look across the room, Aziraphale was gaping at him, eyes wide and dark as his chest heaved. By the time Crowley shimmied out of his far-too-tight trousers, Aziraphale looked positively feral.
“Could you come to me, my dear?” Aziraphale whispered on a shaky breath, holding out his hand.
Closing the distance was easy. Crowley was drawn, as he ever was, to Aziraphale. He tried not to worry about what Aziraphale was thinking now that he was completely on display, trying to hide his sudden self-consciousness by heading directly for that damnable line of buttons down the front of Aziraphale’s shirt.
Crowley knew he must look infinitely better in his clothes than out of them. He’d always thought the litheness that defined his serpentine form translated into a sort of scrawniness as a human, and he hoped it wasn’t too off-putting. Aziraphale loved him, as mind-blowing as that idea was, and surely that could carry them through.
“You…” Aziraphale gasped. “Crowley, you are the most gorgeous, sinuous thing.” He stepped back and Crowley cringed a little, exposed with nowhere to hide.
“Angel, please,” Crowley said, reaching for the buttons again, only to be batted away.
“I’m dreadfully sorry. I know we’re both feeling impatient, but I simply can’t rush past this.” Aziraphale’s lips parted as he took in every inch of exposed flesh, and Crowley shivered as fingers delicately played over the harsh lines of his abdomen. “You are exquisite.”
“I’m not,” Crowley groaned, letting his head drop to Aziraphale’s shoulder, needing so badly to hide.
“Oh, my dear. You really don’t know, do you? I wish you could see yourself as I see you. Perhaps you’ll believe me, one day.”
“Angel…” Crowley begged, not even sure what he was begging for.
“And this…Effort you’ve made,” Aziraphale said, and Crowley almost passed out when he felt the warmth of Aziraphale’s hand curl gently around his cock.
He let out a long, growling moan, feeling absurdly proud. It had never crossed his mind that Aziraphale would ever see the bloody thing, much less begin worshiping it with long, smooth strokes of his palm.
“Of course you invented Temptation, my dear. Just look at you. I simply can’t help myself. Could you sit on the edge of the bed, please, just there?”
Aziraphale gestured at the bed and Crowley scrambled to comply, while Aziraphale rustled around in the top drawer of his nightstand. When Crowley spied what could only be a surprisingly modern-looking container of lube in Aziraphale’s hands, the thrill of want that swept through him brought him a little bit back to himself.
“What do you have there, angel? I’m fairly certain that isn’t Heaven-issued equipment.” Aziraphale didn’t even have the decency to blush as he went to his knees at Crowley’s feet.
“These pleasures humans tie themselves into knots over, and that Gabriel and his ilk look down upon,” Aziraphale began, his hands sliding lightly over the hypersensitive skin of Crowley’s inner thighs as Aziraphale eased his legs apart, “I’ve wrestled with the morality of them as well.” A series of gentle kisses followed Aziraphale’s hands, and Crowley keened.
“You love every one of these guilty pleasures, angel, and you know it,” Crowley managed to grit out, his gaze following every movement Aziraphale made.
“Oh, I do,” Aziraphale said, leaning closer to lick along the crease where Crowley’s leg met his torso, and Crowley finally released his death grip on the blanket to sink his fingers into Aziraphale’s hair. He got a pleased hum in return, and he briefly considered just hauling Aziraphale onto the bed with him to move things along a little faster.
Aziraphale lifted his head to fix Crowley in place with a look of unabashed hunger.
“I take issue with the term ‘guilty’,” Aziraphale continued, as he wrapped his hand delicately around Crowley’s cock again. “I struggled with that characterization myself, but I do believe I’ve found my peace with it all. Why would the Almighty create these marvelous gifts if they weren’t meant to be enjoyed to their fullest?” He bowed his head and licked the bead of precome from the head of Crowley’s cock and Crowley had to bite his lip to hold back his shout. “I’m afraid you’ll find me quite without shame where this is concerned, my dear, and so grateful I’ve allowed myself to indulge in these little experiments on my own if it allows me to show you how much I simply adore you.”
“Angel!” Crowley yelped, as Aziraphale tugged him forward, nearly off the edge of the bed. Crowley fell back as his legs were neatly arranged over Aziraphale’s shoulders, and then groaned loudly as the warm, wet heat of Aziraphale’s mouth closed over the tip of his cock. “Fuck…oh, Aziraphale.” Aziraphale hummed, pushing forward just a bit, and Crowley’s eyes fluttered closed.
He fell into a teasing, torturous rhythm allowing the cock he was worshipping only shallowly into that fucking heaven of his mouth, but it was bearable when Crowley reminded himself that he really shouldn’t want to rush through a single moment of this. It might have been five minutes or a few years when Aziraphale pulled back, licking and sucking along the leanness of Crowley’s thigh before he managed to speak.
“My dear,” he said, and Crowley could hear him gasping a bit, the sound of it going directly to his already painfully hard cock. “We should discuss how we might most enjoy our lovemaking, before we’re too overcome to have the conversation properly.”
Crowley’s mind boggled that Aziraphale could still manage to sound so much like himself, especially when Crowley was panting like an animal and writhing into the blanket at every touch of Aziraphale’s hands.
“Yes,” Crowley gritted out.
Aziraphale stilled. “’Yes’, you agree we should have the conversation?”
“No. Yes to all of it. Bloody everything. If it exists and you want to do it, I want to do it.”
Aziraphale chuckled, easing back and, with surprising strength, rearranging Crowley more fully onto the bed. He was now lying in the proper direction and feeling bereft at the sudden distance between them. He held back his complaints, though, as Aziraphale set about removing the rest of his clothes, his darkened eyes playing over the planes of Crowley’s waiting body.
It was possibly the best idea Crowley had ever come up with to put on a bit of a show for Aziraphale as he waited. He let his hands slide lightly down his chest, whimpering just a bit as his fingers brushed over his nipples, and then he finally let a hand wrap around his cock, sliding lazily along its length as he watched Aziraphale’s shaking hands pulling at his clothes.
“That simply isn’t fair, my dear. I need to finish this, but you’re making yourself quite irresistible.”
As much as he'd loved being the singular focus of Aziraphale's devoted attentions, this felt more natural to Crowley. Pride flared to life within him at the idea that a swipe of his thumb over the head of his cock could make Aziraphale's eyes go dark like this, and what he wanted the most was to do whatever would pull another reaction like that out of his angel.
“Get over here, then,” Crowley purred, “and fuck me. Or let me fuck you.”
“Yes,” Aziraphale growled. “To all of it.” And Crowley laughed, amused to have his own words echoed back to him.
Aziraphale settled onto his side of the bed and Crowley shuffled over to him, finding him warm and yielding as they pressed closely together. They searched each other's faces with their eyes and hands, blissfully unhurried now that they were finally here. The drive to overwhelm Aziraphale with the brightness of his love and the sharpness of his lust burned so brightly Crowley wondered how he had ever contained it.
HIs eyes wandered further, washing over the sweet expanses of skin Aziraphale had revealed, following his gaze with his hands and letting his fingers play lightly over the curves and hollows. He was still overwhelmed with the shock of suddenly being let in this way, of not simply being entrusted with these intimacies, but being enthusiastically welcomed in.
Aziraphale had given him so much, made this existence worth sticking around for, and Crowley had to fight against himself to not just curl into a ball and feel woefully inadequate. He could feel Aziraphale trembling against him with every touch, sighing when the sensations of being revered by Crowley's hands got to be too much. Every reaction stoked the fire in his belly, made him want to spend forever learning how to give the world and the stars and everything beyond to his angel.
He got hungrier the longer they touched and kissed, grew greedier at the idea of turning this little plateau of bliss into more. His hands grew bolder, finally slipping down to rest his hand lightly against Aziraphale's cock. The Effort his angel had revealed was long and mouth-wateringly thick, and Crowley couldn’t wait to swallow it down to the root.
“I want to suck you,” Crowley growled, nudging a flushed, overcome Aziraphale onto his back to hover over him. Crowley licked a path down his plush stomach, drinking in the glorious scent of him as he laid there, trembling and wanting.
“Oh please, Crowley. Please,” Aziraphale begged. “I need you so much.”
"Tell me what you need," Crowley answered, wanting to hear it, to know he was giving Aziraphale everything he wanted.
"Your mouth," Aziraphale gasped, panting around the words. "Oh, my good Lord, I want it so badly."
Crowley finally let his lips close over the angel’s cock, slowly taking it in until it lodged, solid and blessedly real at the back of his throat. He moaned around it, tears of gratification prickling at the corners of his eyes, and then he started to move. Aziraphale’s hands flew to Crowley’s head, his fingers tangling through the locks of hair to slow him down.
“I’ll embarrass myself,” Aziraphale said, urging Crowley to take up a slower pace until it was almost too deliberate. Crowley shook with the effort to keep himself from goading the angel to pound into him, to use his mouth to chase toward oblivion. Damn the angel’s patience. He needed to feel Aziraphale shaking apart and know he had been the one to bring him there.
The lube was pressed into his hand and Crowley took the hint, his eyes rolling back at the thought of what they were about to do together. Crowley struggled with the cap, shaking as he opened it, and let the lube coat his fingers. He found Aziraphale’s entrance with the tip of his index finger, circling the edge to spread the slick before pressing inside. That first finger went in so easily that he soon followed it with a second one, keeping them pressed tightly together for now at the sound of Aziraphale’s hissed exhale.
“Oh, I love you, you marvelous creature,” Aziraphale said, following that with babbled, barely coherent praise at the feel of Crowley inside him for the first time. “Your clever fingers, oh, you’re perfect.”
Crowley had to concentrate to keep up the deliberate rhythm with his mouth, nearly lost at the feeling of Aziraphale both inside him and surrounding him. It was so much, but he was greedy. He wanted more.
He one-handed the lube, somehow managing to coat the fingers of his free hand, and snaked his arm behind himself. He teased at his entrance the same way he’d done with Aziraphale’s, making himself push back onto his fingers to finally chase that feeling of fullness he needed. It was so much that his head was spinning, every molecule of him fixated on taking both Aziraphale and himself apart. It took every ounce of his supernaturally-enhanced focus and a good portion of his serpentine flexibility to keep up all of his movements, and even so, he had to sync the rhythm of his hands and the pace of his mouth just to stay sane, his body shaking with barely held back ecstasy.
It seemed to be the swirling of his tongue around the tip of Aziraphale’s cock each time he pulled back that finally did it, finally pushed Aziraphale too close to his own breaking point. The angel’s hands tightened in Crowley’s hair as he was shoved back, Aziraphale’s chest heaving as he took in the sight above him. Crowley could see the moment Aziraphale realized that both of Crowley’s hands were busy, and he surged forward to pull Crowley into a deep, dirty kiss.
“You need to be inside me,” Aziraphale gasped, pulling back just enough to choke out the words. “I’ll go mad if I don’t feel you pounding into me, right now.”
Crowley hissed, satisfaction bolting through him at the idea of giving Aziraphale what he'd asked for. Shifting their position to roll Aziraphale back a bit, he admired the way the angel’s body was fully on display as he lined himself up. There was a moment of resistance as the tip of his cock pushed at Aziraphale’s entrance, but he was welcomed inside as Aziraphale relaxed beneath him. They both moaned, their breath mingling in the space between them, and their foreheads pressed together.
“You feel perfect,” Crowley babbled. “We’re going to do this forever.”
“Wouldn’t be long enough,” Aziraphale answered, pulling Crowley into another kiss as they both began to move.
Crowley’s first real thrust was tentative, searching for what made Aziraphale shiver and moan. They were learning each other, discovering this new, shared language they’d spend eternity speaking to each other. Hands drifted over skin, mouths connected and then roamed every sensitive hollow of each other’s bodies they could reach.
Crowley’s thrusts grew regular, but he kept them slow, grinding his teeth together to manage it. He shook harder in his restraint as he drew out Aziraphale’s bitten-off cries, pulling nearly all the way out, then sliding home again, rolling his hips to give every inch of himself to his angel.
His forehead dropped to Aziraphale's shoulder, where he could feel the warm exhalations of his angel's sighs against his cheek. Strong hands wove themselves into his hair, softly pulling at the strands and sending rushes of pleasure throughout his body. His arms and legs tingled, as though every tiny piece of him was attuning to the feel of Aziraphale around him.
"Oh, Crowley, you're lovely," Aziraphale panted, absorbing the careful thrusts Crowley was making into him with soft, overwhelmed cries. Crowley couldn't look away, watching every detail and drinking it in, memorizing it. The decadence of it, how Aziraphale's body welcomed him in, flaming hot and soft as Crowley rocked into him, was addicting.
The selfish, most demonic parts of him screamed for release, to fill Aziraphale up and be welcomed into euphoria on the other side. He could easily draw Aziraphale along with him by taking the angel’s cock into his hand, changing the angle of his thrusts to slam into Aziraphale’s prostate.
He compromised by speeding up his pace, listening to each caught breath and deep moan he was able to wring from Aziraphale. Every little tremble of almost unbearable softness and warmth beneath him went straight to his center and burned, goading at him to go deeper, harder. Crowley gritted his teeth and did just that, relishing the way Aziraphale's gaze held his.
"Slower, please," Aziraphale said on a gasp, and Crowley nearly stopped himself completely, his heart pounding at the idea that he'd hurt his angel somehow. Aziraphale understood right away and moved his own hips again, urging Crowley to fall back into a more deliberate rhythm.
"I'm lovely," Aziraphale said, reaching up to run his hands through Crowley's hair. "I just can't bear the thought of finishing."
"All right," Crowley said, leaning forward to draw Aziraphale into a deep, dirty kiss. He could do this. He'd waited millennia for his chance to be here, to be this to Aziraphale. Certainly he could stave off his own release to give Aziraphale what he needed.
Crowley's entire body burned with the effort of holding back, and he had to squeeze his eyes shut to stay focused. Watching the way the angel reacted to each movement was now threatening to finish him, and he'd be damned all over again if he allowed himself to fail.
"Oh, my dear, " Aziraphale moaned, as Crowley began to twist his hips each time he buried himself inside that maddening, perfect heat. "I cannot believe how exquisite you feel."
Crowley groaned, gritting his teeth as he nearly failed to catch himself before he plummeted over the edge. A little curl of shame lodged in his chest at the idea he'd nearly finished himself off at a little praise, and without making sure Aziraphale got there first. It wasn't that much to ask, that Crowley should find a way to draw this out, especially as his entire body was singing with the most intense pleasure he'd ever felt.
But again, Crowley was a demon, and a particularly greedy one. There was a limit to how long he could hold himself at the edge, no matter how sweetly Aziraphale begged. He wasn’t ready for their first time together to be over either, not even with the thought that they weren’t exactly bound to the limitations of their human-like bodies and could simply go again if they decided they wanted to. Crowley pulled out completely on his next thrust, watching Aziraphale curl upward toward him at the sudden sense of loss.
“Crowley, no. Please, please," Aziraphale said, looking bereft. "I need you.”
He ignored the pleas, needing all his concentration to rearrange their bodies as quickly as possible. He shifted to straddle Aziraphale, urging him back toward the pillows to sit up a bit more. With the last shreds of his sanity, he lined Aziraphale’s cock up with his own entrance and sank down in one quick movement, moaning loudly into Aziraphale’s neck as he fell forward.
“Oh, fuck me,” Aziraphale said, turning his head to bite down on Crowley’s earlobe, hard. The pain sent a sting of pleasure-filled, painful lust to Crowley’s core, and he sat up and began to move.
“No, fuck me ,” Crowley said, proud that he had enough brainpower left to make the joke. Aziraphale moaned and reached up, both of his hands finding Crowley’s and he gripped hard, interlacing their fingers together. The leverage helped Crowley lean back and readjust, and the change in angle slammed the head of the angel’s thick cock directly into Crowley’s prostate with each downward motion.
Crowley trembled, locking his gaze with Aziraphale's as he continued to move, eyelashes fluttering with each burst of pleasure that rocketed through them. He fought the oblivion raging in his mind to concentrate on tightening around Aziraphale's cock, relishing every tiny reaction he could pull out of the angel.
Without a free hand to fist over his cock, it seemed to take a blissful forever for him to even approach his peak, let alone push himself over the top, but that only gave him more time to give Aziraphale what he needed. Crowley rocked his hips downward again and again, watching as Aziraphale moaned and sighed each time they came together.
"I love you, angel. I love you." The words came so much more easily when they were connected this way, when Crowley was open and wanting, and Aziraphale was there, solid and real and everything Crowley had ever pined after. He’d gladly, happily split himself down the middle and let Aziraphale in, knowing he’d find nothing but love and acceptance in return. He was so grateful that tears sprang from his eyes as he continued to chant out his devotion.
“Oh, my glorious Crowley. I’ve loved you for so long. I need you, you beautiful demon.”
With one last movement, Crowley sank himself down, the stinging ache on his prostate and the words that Aziraphale let loose in the air between them mingling to finally push him over the edge. He painted his release over Aziraphale’s chest, and Aziraphale pulsed inside him with a long, throaty groan.
As they both tried to recover, tumbled together in a wreck on the bed, Aziraphale gently maneuvered them, arranging them next to each other. Crowley burrowed into his side, reveling in the warmth of the arms encircling him as he tried to float in that liminal space between real life and whatever dream they’d stumbled into together.
“Give me a minute and I can go again,” Crowley said, the yawn he let out making the words almost intelligible, and Aziraphale chuckled.
“Don’t worry, my dear. We have forever, after all.”
And with his face nestled into Aziraphale’s neck and his long, gangly limbs tangled around Aziraphale’s body, Crowley allowed himself to succumb to sleep.
Thank you so much for coming along on this tropey ride with me. Thank you for your kudos and comments--they have brightened my days so much! I hope you enjoyed the story! (I still owe some comment replies, I know! I will be replying to everyone who took the time to give me their thoughts, I promise.)