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Future Imperfect

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On the first day of the rest of their lives, Crowley and Aziraphale have tea at the Ritz. Crowley's car gleams in the newborn sun, and Aziraphale's bookshop is quite as dusty, ungleaming and wonderful as it ever was, with nothing to say that either was ever anything else except for the ash on a ruined suit in the back of Crowley's closet.

On the second day, the demons show up. Crowley escapes in a whirl of uprooted plants, broken furniture and torn feathers, making he-- Adam bent for leather down the phone wires and blowing the transformers out behind him as he goes (because he's certainly not doubling back this time). He runs for the first, the only place he can think of: the bookshop.

It reeks of frankincense and holy light, and Aziraphale is laying in a pool of blood on the floor.

Correction: Aziraphale's corporation is laying in a pool of blood on the floor. The angel's nowhere to be found.

Crowley blesses so virulently that the cup of stone cold Darjeeling on the counter turns to Sauvignon Blanc. Then he does the only thing he can do, and runs.

And keeps running.

*

"Din't think I'd find you here," says a too-familiar voice, years later, drawing Crowley's attention out of his cup.

"Ngk," Crowley says to the fifteen year-old Antichrist who's just pulled up a chair in the dingy pub in Naro Moru. Then, to the aged Kenyan bartender, "Bring the bottle."

"Oh, I don't drink. S'not allowed. I'm on a school trip," Adam adds. He is the most glowingly, healthily tanned British schoolboy Crowley's ever seen, out of a beautiful childhood and well on his way to devastatingly gorgeous.

"Ah," Crowley says.

"You should prolly go home," Adam tells him, casual as can be. "I've started paying attention to the world, see-- really paying attention to it, I mean-- and lately I've realised how much I love where I live. Like, Britain. All of it. I 'magine it's a lot safer there."

Crowley's blood runs colder. Manchester save him, it's an Antichrist who's had time to come into his powers, who's become conscious of his abilities and effect on the world. Who apparently is offering Crowley protection.

You know, I think I will, is what Crowley means to say, right before running out as fast as he can. "Aziraphale," is what he blurts out instead.

Adam's eyes are full of unfathomable pity.

"I don't know," he says.

*

Crowley goes home.

Not London-home, or Manchester-home (turn of the 19th century), or even Edinburgh-home (for a brief bit around 1560), but someplace new. He looks for somewhere as far out of the way as possible and ends up in cottage country.

It's cold and grey and usually very wet. Crowley sulks and buys double-glazing for the windows, and his closest, elderly neighbours make their thoughts on his solitary lifestyle known by constantly badgering him very politely with casseroles and hand-knit jumpers.

*

"Anything?" Crowley asks Britain's youngest member of parliament ever, nineteen years old and currently holding the only Green Party seat in the House of Commons.

"I'm sorry," Adam says, his regret crystal-clear even over the crackling phone line from Parliament.

After making his terse goodbyes, Crowley goes to terrorise his plants. He doesn't feel any better when the philodendron's weeping leaves onto the carpet.

*

It's probably about time to replace his computer, Crowley thinks, though by now it's become more of an afterthought that he has every four months or so. The gleaming black box on his desk is more of a decoration than anything, a momento quickly becoming nostalgia for minimalist decor and white leather furniture that's unlike anything found in his creaky, snug little cottage. He's not quite sure what kind of computer would be owned by the kind of human he's pretending to be, though, because he's not quite sure what kind of human he's pretending to be.

One night, Crowley absently turns the machine on out of a bored and idle curiosity about how it actually works.

DAMN IT, CROWLEY, DON'T YOU EVER TURN THIS INFERNAL THING ON? the screen yells at him immediately.

He drops his espresso all over the carpet.

I'VE BEEN WAITING FOR ALMOST THREE MONTHS, shouts the text box onscreen, accompanied by a cheerful ding.

Crowley's hand inches for the cursed dagger in his desk drawer.

But really, dear boy, the computer continues, practically exuding an exhausted, frumpy sigh from its vents, it's good to see you again.

"Aziraphale," he croaks. "What-- how are you--"

Never mind that now. Just get me out of the Internet, please.

"Where the fuck have you been?" Crowley shrieks, jumping to his feet. "Do you know how bloody long it's been? They've been after me, you stupid angel, and I thought they might've gotten you, and I've spent all this time looking for you, but now it turns out you've just been prancing around in the bloody Internet!"

The cursor blinks coldly at him. Then, quite deliberately, it types, Sodom and Gomorrah.

Crowley freezes.

Lot's wife. The great flood. The plagues of Egypt. The fall of man. The Fall, Crowley.

Crowley has to sit down again.

Ineffable mercy, Aziraphale tells him coldly, is not merciful.

"...I'll get on finding some way to get you out of there," is all Crowley can manage, before fleeing the room.

*

I got into my computer's wiring just after they forced me out of my body, Aziraphale tells him, as Crowley fiddles around with the computer's monitor settings. It took them long enough to figure out where I'd hidden that I managed to pop into the neighbour fellow's computer and out from there. Of course they were chasing me by then, so I couldn't stop. It took almost three years for me to lose them, and by then my corporation was long gone, obviously.

"Three years?"

They were angry.

"So, what, you've just been living in the Internet ever since?"

Yes.

"Ha. That's just wrong."

Why?

"Well, it-- you. And computers. How did you even know the Internet existed?"

I'm not irreparably stuck in the past, Crowley, Aziraphale snaps. I don't still go around speaking Akkadian in a toga. Sooner or later, I always do catch up with the current times. At least I knew how to turn my computer on.

"I knew how to do that. I just didn't want to," Crowley snarls, but they don't speak for the rest of the week.

*

In the end, Crowley has to assemble Aziraphale a new body the hard way: molecule by molecule. It's not so difficult after he's got the first strand of DNA mapped out, giving him a blueprint to follow for putting the molecules together, but it's still a slow process, especially since Aziraphale keeps interrupting.

There's no need to do it like that, Crowley. Make it... better.

Sweating with strain, Crowley growls, "Better?"

Yes, well. You know. The cursor manages to sniff primly. Fit.

Crowley nearly screams as the half-formed whirlwind of carbon chains and nitrogenous bases and macromolecules tries to dissolve in a spray of nuclear fission.

There's a roar, and a FWOOOP, and an almighty BANG as Aziraphale's essence lunges out through the USB port and Crowley's computer explodes backwards into the wall. Crowley lands hard on the floor with Aziraphale's body sprawled full-length on top of him.

"Ooh," the angel groans, blinking dazedly. "I've got eyes again."

"What do you say?" Crowley asks nastily. "Pretty sharp, huh?"

Aziraphale looks at his scarred, naked body in dismay. "Crowley, is this--"

"That Judean camel driver who did that thing with the cactus. Yeah."

The angel's broken-nosed, bushy-browed peasant face takes on an expression of fury.

"I'd say that's pretty fit, wouldn't you?" Crowley sneers.

His brawn would put a rugby player to shame. Aziraphale examines himself again, looking mollified but still slightly desperate.

"Yes. Well. It's not-- that is to say-- I wouldn't say it's very me, would you?"

Crowley throws a blanket in his face and storms out of the cottage for a long stalk down the beach, hurling stones at the ocean and sinking the gulls.

He comes back to find supper on the table, and an angel that manages to look frumpy in a hand-knit jumper three sizes too small rehearsing apologies to the faucet.

*

"I've got a spare bed in here. In storage," Crowley adds quickly. "With my other... spare... things. I'll have to go in and make it all up."

"Please," Aziraphale says politely.

"Of course you know this is a huge imposition."

"Of course."

He snakes into the room through the barely open door, not letting the angel peek inside. "One second."

He makes some frantic noise with the wardrobe, bangs about the dresser for a bit and rattles the window frame a few times for good measure. He also sweeps the dust from the bed's duvet with one withering glower, but then pulls the duvet it off and shakes it about clumsily for good measure, desperate to eliminate all traces of the dust built up on the extra bed that's been sitting here, made up and unused, for six years.

*

The nearby village where Crowley does his shopping buzzes with talk for a long time after Aziraphale's abrupt arrival. To Crowley's eternal humiliation, Aziraphale doesn't seem to notice anything wrong, and bobs along after Crowley like a chatty cork in the village duck pond, gossiping happily with every nosy busybody that glances his way and making frequent pronouncements about the virtues of human eyeballs.

"Will your guest be staying with you long?" asks Crowley's elderly neighbour, bringing him the third pie of the week just for the chance to come over and get a glimpse of the new arrival. "He can't be your brother, of course; you two are just like night and day."

"Yep," Crowley mutters, steering well clear of the sibilants. "Thank you. No need to bring any more pie, though; really, we've got enough."

"A big man like that needs feeding!"

"Don't trouble yourself," Crowley glares.

"I insist," she says, smiling very sweetly.

"Don't you like peach pie?" Aziraphale asks at dinner, nibbling at his third slice.

"I love it," Crowley says savagely, impaling the remains of his green beans. "They were just starting to ignore me!"

Aziraphale hums and putters and makes Crowley's lapsang souchong with exactly the right amount of sugar. Having gotten quite accustomed to being able to have a right good sulk whenever he feels like it, Crowley glares at the angel for making him relax and slinks off to bully the African violets.

*

Crowley's in the midst of giving his bluebells a good pep talk when the cottage window next to him slides open and Aziraphale pokes his head out. He's covered in dust and holding a ragged cardboard box. Aziraphale's enthusiasm for spring cleaning has so far mostly just managed to spread the dust out of the spare room and all over the cottage. He seems to enjoy the excuse to poke through Crowley's things entirely too much.

"Crowley, is this-- is this a Christmas card from Adam?"

"Oh. Yeah," Crowley says, more concerned with side-eyeing the ivy that grows on the cottage wall. Its tendrils are creeping dangerously near the window. He once tried to put the fear of Crowley into the ivy's tough little stems, but that battle with the wiry, resilient seaside plant had ended in such ignominy that Crowley now just does his level best to keep the ivy out of sight of his indoor plants, lest it give them ideas.

Aziraphale vaguely waves a card written in rebellious orange marker. "Dear Uncle Tony?"

"He sends one every year. Letters, sometimes. There's a bunch for you in there, too." Crowley coughs suddenly and moves away, waving the watering wand vaguely at the bluebells. "Dunno why he sent 'em here."

*

Soon enough Aziraphale gets annoyed with the whispers, too. Or, more precisely, he gets into a blazing but poisonously polite row with the vicar of the village church.

The vicar loses, though of course he doesn't admit it. It's very difficult to win an argument about the Bible with a being whose business it is to have memorized every line of every holy book ever written.

The vicar's wife runs the little Polish restaurant down the lane where Crowley likes to go for dumplings on Tuesdays.

"I'm sorry," Crowley says, very slowly, "what do you mean we can't come in?"

"You've got a couple of tables free right there," Aziraphale points out helpfully.

"I'm afraid not," the woman says, her lips thin and pinched. "They're unavailable."

"Why?" Crowley demands, feeling the weight of eyes on the back of his neck as people linger in the street behind him, watching.

She looks down her nose at them and Crowley's blood boils. "I think it would be best if you go."

"Excuse me?" Crowley sputters, fast losing his temper. He feels Aziraphale's hand suddenly pinch his elbow and ignores it, seeing only the way it makes the woman's cheeks flush in anger. "I've been coming here for monthsss!"

"My dear," Aziraphale says beneath his breath.

"I was in here lasssst week!" Crowley yells. "Now ssssuddenly you won't ssserve--"

"Crowley," says Aziraphale in his most severe tone.

Crowley yanks his arm from the angel's grip, turns on his heel and stalks away down the street, leaving neighbours whispering in his wake.

Aziraphale catches up with him two blocks later, adjusting his cashmere scarf about his throat. "I told you not to encourage Paul to put those verses in," he says quietly.

Crowley bites his tongue so that he doesn't bite Aziraphale.

"Er. I'm sure part of it was my fault," Aziraphale goes on consolingly, and the damned concern in his tone only irritates Crowley further. "They aren't very used to Judean camel drivers around here."

"How," Crowley demands furiously, "does this not make you ssssick?"

To his surprise, Aziraphale laughs out loud. "Oh, my dear," he says bitterly, "I've seen 4chan."

*

That night, every flower in the vicar's prized garden dies a horrible and terrified death.

Crowley's neighbour brings him and Aziraphale flans and crumbles every day of that week. So does half the village.

*

"I can't believe it," Aziraphale moans, from his bedroom down the hall. He mostly uses it for storing books and his growing collection of jumpers, which he carefully rotates wearing so the neighbors, who pay more attention than your average Londoner, don't notice him sticking to a single outfit for weeks at a time. He won't wear interchangeable black like Crowley because then what would he do with all these lovely pocket squares?

"Mphrl," Crowley says, his cheek still lined with red from the rug where he fell asleep happily drunk the previous night. Cross with the kink in his neck, he wonders if he might have happily, drunkenly picked a nice bed to pass out on instead.

"I can't believe I've gone and done it again. I-- drat!"

"Vanity's a sin," Crowley teases, leaning on the door frame.

"I'm aware," the angel snaps, turning away from the mirror in the wardrobe door. He's rumpled and shirtless, his black curls in a hopeless mess and his arms crossed defensively over the bit of pudge on his chest and belly.

Over the last few months, Crowley'd noticed that pudge growing from a little softness to a proper spare tyre but hadn't said anything. To be fair, Aziraphale wears the weight extremely well, softening up his corporation's broad-shouldered muscle with a rather nice bit of padding. By the angel's scowl, though, he doesn't think so.

"Angel, for Adam's sake. It's fine."

"Easy for you to say," Aziraphale says tetchily.

"Are you dense? We don't eat the same. Food's not my pleasure, angel!"

"Well, then what is?" demands Aziraphale. "You don't do anything except torture your plants and drink wine and spend all your time hanging about while I'm trying to read and bothering me and--"

The angel's mouth pauses in a surprised O shape. Crowley's cold blood does its best to flush hotly in his face.

"Oh, my dear boy," Aziraphale says, so very gently.

"Shut up."

"No, I--"

"Angel. Sssshut. Up."

*

Aziraphale doesn't say anything for the rest of the day, just spends his time casting Crowley a great deal of worried glances that Crowley pretends not to see. All the same, Crowley finds himself dully unsurprised when his bedroom door creaks open late that night.

The side of the mattress sinks.

"It seems you've had a while longer to adjust to these things than I have," is all Aziraphale whispers. "Your patience means everything to me."

Crowley regards him through wary, narrow yellow eyes. "And?"

The angel laughs, exhausted and surprised. "Oh, Crowley. My very dear boy. And of course I love you, too. How could I not?"

And when he slides between the sheets in a tangle of warmth and soft skin and wet, clumsy lips against Crowley's in the dark, it's an impossible kind of perfect that Crowley will never, ever admit to.

*

It's the four thousand, two hundred and ninety-third day of the rest of their lives, and Crowley wakes up with sunlight shining in through the bedroom window, the ocean surf pounding outside and his arm over Aziraphale's soft waist. The angel hums and flicks a page of his Chaucer, and his cold feet are tucked between Crowley's calves.

Very quietly, just in case Anyone's listening, Crowley asks for all the rest of his days to start like this.