Shop. Office. Reception.
Those seemed like big claims for a sign above what was essentially a large shed, but at least Aziraphale had finally found the place. Eden Fields, the campsite that would be serving as ‘base camp’ for Gabriel’s ridiculous ‘resilience building exercise’. Gabriel had only provided scant directions, and whereas Aziraphale’s colleagues had all planned to drive here and might have at least benefited from the use of satellite navigation, Aziraphale had come on the train, having to complete the rest of the journey to the campsite on foot. He'd needed to successfully navigate along winding country lanes, squeezing up against the bramble and nettle-covered verges to try to save himself from being hit by cars travelling at unreasonable speeds around the blind bends. It had been against the rules for one of his colleagues to offer him a lift - all part of Gabriel’s ‘resilience building’ approach - not that any of them would have done so anyway had they been permitted to.
As Aziraphale had trudged along those lanes with his tent and other supplies stuffed into and securely attached to a cumbersome rucksack on his back, his clothes getting repeatedly snagged in the brambles, he had grown more and more resentful of Gabriel’s insistence on resilience . Perhaps those who worked for him wouldn’t need to be so resilient if he didn’t foster such an unpleasant working environment.
Aziraphale took a moment to catch his breath before pushing open the door to the shed. He had to weave his way around shelves, rails and display units full of blankets, outdoor clothing, insect repellent, sunscreen and duck food before finally making his way to the reception desk at the back. The space behind it housed a desk, chair, laptop, printer, and a shelf full of neatly labelled box files. Aziraphale still thought the description of ‘office’ on the sign was a bit of a stretch. Aziraphale rang the bell on the reception desk to solicit someone’s attention, gazing around the shed as he waited. He spotted a sign on the back wall displaying the campsite's WiFi password, so he quickly entered it into his phone. At least he would have internet access, thank God for small miracles.
Aziraphale was just wondering whether anyone had even heard the bell when the shed door opened, and one look at the man who walked in had Aziraphale thinking that maybe this whole thing wouldn’t be quite so bad after all. He might very well have been the most attractive man Aziraphale had ever had the pleasure of meeting, with long copper red hair half tied back in a bun, he was tall and slender, wearing a tight grey T-shirt and even tighter black jeans, which rather than leaving nothing to the imagination, served to furnish Aziraphale’s imagination with all sorts of inspiring images indeed.
The man quickly appraised Aziraphale and stepped behind the reception desk.
“Hi, welcome to Eden Fields, I’m Crowley. Do you have a pitch booked?”
“Hello. Ah… yes. Well, there should be a booking,” Aziraphale hedged. He wouldn’t have put it past Gabriel not to have bothered. “My name is Aziraphale Fell, I’m with Celestial Enterprises?”
“You’re one of Gabriel’s lot?” Crowley scrunched up his face with apparent disgust. Since the feeling was evidently directed at Gabriel rather than himself, Aziraphale warmed to the man even more.
“I’m afraid so, yes.”
“My condolences. Gabriel and the others arrived about an hour ago. Friendly bunch, aren’t they?” Crowley asked sarcastically.
“I’m sorry. I hope they didn’t cause you any trouble.”
Crowley made a noncommittal sound comprising primarily consonants. “To be honest, my main concern was that the size of Gabriel’s ego might knock everything down when he came in here.”
“Yes, I can see why. Now that you mention it, that might explain why he chose such a large open plan area for our office.”
Crowley laughed, the sound of it making Aziraphale’s heart flutter. His lips stretched into a grin and the corners of his eyes crinkled, rendering him somehow even more attractive.
“I don’t know how you stand working with them.”
“No, neither do I. This trip is going to be intolerable.”
“Well, if there’s anything at all I can do to make your stay more pleasant, please do let me know. I’d be happy to help in any way I can.”
“Oh… thank you, that’s very kind of you.”
“I assigned your colleagues pitches right at the top of the hill; I assume you’ll be expected to pitch up next to them, sorry. Gabriel pissed me off, he was insisting on all sorts of bullshit. He wanted me to allocate you all pitches without electric hook-ups, and when I explained we didn’t have any, he wanted me to switch off the power, except to his own , of course. What an arsehole.”
“So we will have electricity?” Aziraphale asked hopefully. He had brought his tablet with him, planning to spend the evenings recovering from whatever Gabriel put them through during the day by doing some writing, and after meeting Crowley, he was feeling rather inspired.
“Yeah, you will, and access to toilets and hot showers, they’re in the block just behind here. Gabriel wanted me to arrange for only cold water to be provided for you. I told him if he wanted to bathe in cold water there’s a muddy lake I could direct him towards. Last guy who went in there ended up with a really nasty case of swimmer’s itch.”
Aziraphale grimaced, that didn’t sound pleasant.
“Don’t worry, you can only get it if you go into the water. There are these little worms that burrow into your pores and get stuck and die, and then your skin gets inflamed and itchy. The lake’s just on the other side of the hill, keep walking straight and go past the row of poplars and you’ll get to it. You know, just in case you want to invite Gabriel for a nice pleasant walk and then accidentally slip and nudge him into the water or something.”
“I’ll keep that in mind, thank you.”
“You are very welcome. Right, you’ve got pitch E04, just keep going up, you’ll find it. I’m sure you’ll see your colleagues anyway. Is there anything else I can do for you?”
“Ah… no, I don’t think so. Thank you.”
“I’d say ‘have fun’ but I don’t think that’s very likely. Just let me know if you need anything, I’m always around here somewhere. I lock up at about nine but I’ll be around all night; I sleep in the tent 'round the back here by the shower block. Don’t be afraid to come get me if you want me.”
Aziraphale couldn’t imagine a situation in which he would ever feel it necessary to disturb Crowley in his tent, but again, he couldn’t help the way his imagination was sparked by the offer, his mind conjuring scenarios of Aziraphale slipping into Crowley’s tent in the middle of the night following the provision of a secret invitation, and receiving a very enthusiastic welcome in response.
“Thank you, that’s very kind of you," he repeated.
“No trouble at all. See you around. I’ll probably pop up in a bit, see if you need anything.”
A rush of excitement rippled through Aziraphale’s chest. Crowley wasn’t just handsome, he seemed very lovely, and Aziraphale was already eagerly anticipating having the opportunity to speak with him again. How Gabriel could have behaved so reprehensibly towards him was unfathomable.
“Thank you. I’ll see you later then.”
“Looking forward to it. Bye, Aziraphale.”
Hearing Crowley say his name sent a thrill shiver shooting up Aziraphale’s spine. He gave Crowley a grateful smile and then navigated his way back through the cramped space to the door, taking care not to knock anything over.
Although slightly re-energised by his meeting with Crowley, Aziraphale still trudged unenthusiastically up the hill. It didn’t take long before he could make out the figures of Uriel, Sandalphon and Michael, all busily putting up their tents, although it looked like they were almost finished, just hammering the last couple of pegs into the ground.
“Nice of you to join us, Aziraphale!” Michael shouted down the hill. Gasping for breath as a result of the exertion, Aziraphale didn’t bother trying to reply. His thighs burned and his hip twinged, so despite the presence of his infuriating colleagues, it was with deep sense of relief that Aziraphale finally reached the flat ground at the summit of the hill.
“Michael, Uriel, Sandalphon, how lovely to see you all," he panted, trying to get his breath back.
“How was the train journey?” Uriel asked with a sneer.
“Rather lovely actually,” Aziraphale lied. “The scenery was very pleasant and I enjoyed having time for some reading.”
That part was true, although what Aziraphale had been reading was in fact the first part of the story he’d been working on, an angel/demon romance that was just getting to the good bit… He was thoroughly looking forward to having some quiet time to keep working on it later.
“How nice for you,” Uriel said bluntly, making no effort to disguise her insincerity. “We’ve basically finished here, we’re going to head into the village. Have fun putting up your tent.”
All three of them sniggered and turned their backs on him, returning their attention to finishing pitching their tents. Good riddance. Aziraphale dropped his rucksack to the ground and knelt down on the grass, grateful that the weather was at least dry, and got to work unpacking his own tent and everything he would need to successfully put it up. He’d never actually done this before and prayed it wouldn’t be that hard. The one he’d sourced was the smallest on the market, an all-in-one with two poles that crossed in the middle and only four pegs - one for each corner. Surely he’d be able to pitch it without too much trouble.
Aziraphale rolled out the tent and set out his mallet, pegs and the folded poles in front of him. His three colleagues disappeared off down the hill, probably in search of the nearest pub for lunch, and Aziraphale was grateful for the solitude. He just hoped that Gabriel didn’t suddenly pop up from nowhere to ruin it. The company notwithstanding, the campsite actually seemed like a rather nice place. Not quite meeting the standard of ‘Eden’ in its name perhaps, but the fields were green and well-maintained, surrounded by a verdant array of trees in full leaf and a larger forest in the near distance. Aziraphale inhaled deeply, drawing the pure, clean air right to the bottom of his lungs, and closed his eyes, listening to the soothing melodies of the birds singing all around him. He was determined to try to make the best of this, and once again thought about the handsome site manager he’d just met.
Aziraphale managed to slot the three parts together to assemble his first pole and successfully slid it through the slit in the canvas. One down, one to go. So far so good. Unfortunately, the second pole was less cooperative, and Aziraphale was still battling with it when he heard footsteps and the rustle of clothing behind him. Aziraphale’s heart leapt into his throat. Gabriel would have loudly announced his presence long before now, which could only mean…
“Hey. Nice tent.”
“Oh… thank you. It will be, I hope.”
“Want me to help you get it up?”
Oh, you certainly will , Aziraphale thought, looking forward to zipping himself up all cosy and alone inside his tent at the end of the day.
“Thank you, that’s very kind of you. I’m having a little trouble with this pole.”
“Let me see?” Crowley elegantly lowered himself to the ground, sitting with his legs crossed beneath him. His knee was brushing up against Aziraphale’s thigh, which was extraordinarily distracting, his heart now beating a little faster. He handed the pole over to Crowley, who inspected it and narrowed his eyes as he tried to slot the pieces together. “Yeah, some of them are a pain in the arse like this, a bit defective but they still work. You just have to make sure to line it up properly,” Crowley explained, twisting the pole and positioning it at the opening. “It’s a tight fit but if you get the right angle it should slide in easily enough.”
Aziraphale pressed his lips together. He could feel his cheeks burning as his mind once again latched onto Crowley’s words, taking them entirely out of context and supplying him with some rather tantalising mental imagery. Crowley came up onto his knees and leaned forward to pull the tent towards him, bracing himself with one hand on the ground, giving Aziraphale a fantastic close-up view of that delectable arse. Aziraphale licked his lips.
Crowley fitted the last section of the pole and pushed it through the small gap in the canvas, diagonally crossing the first one.
“Just got to work it in here… and then… pops right up!” Crowley announced. Miraculously, the tent was suddenly… well, tent-shaped.
"Oh… thank you!"
“My pleasure. Let me know if you need help getting anything else up. Or down, of course. I’m very versatile.”
Aziraphale would have loved to have thought that Crowley was flirting with him, but not only was that extremely unlikely, he was well aware of his tendency to misinterpret things, and nothing in the way Crowley had said it suggested he might have been implying any other interpretation. That logical thought process didn’t stop Aziraphale’s imagination from running away from him again though, and his eyes were drawn to Crowley’s hands and his long, slender fingers.
“Um… thank you. Right, just the pegs then.”
“I’ll give you a hand if you like?”
Oh, please do.
“That would be wonderful, thank you.”
Crowley winked and scooped up the pegs, the metal clattering together in his grasp. Just knowing how much Gabriel would hate the fact Aziraphale was thoroughly enjoying himself so far was enough to fix an unyielding smile to his face. The effect Crowley winking at him had was something he was trying not to pay too much attention to right now.
“I’ll push them in a bit and then you can finish off with the mallet, sound good?”
Aziraphale nodded, his eyes widening as Crowley squatted down to push the first peg into the ground, his T-shirt riding a little way up and exposing a tantalising expanse of skin above the waistband of his jeans. Aziraphale crouched down and whacked the top of the peg with the mallet a few times, imagining it was Gabriel’s head.
Four pegs to whack into the ground, four unbearable colleagues. How fortuitous.
“That’s it, it’s all the way in,” Crowley observed, and Aziraphale wondered whether he’d been a little too enthusiastic and persistent with his hammering. They circled the tent, fixing the other three pegs into position (whilst Aziraphale visualised the smug faces of Uriel, Sandalphon and Michael, respectively), and then stood back side-by-side to admire it. Aziraphale was just about to thank Crowley again for his assistance when Gabriel appeared, striding up the side of the hill without even slightly losing his breath.
“Aziraphale, you made it! Not been getting someone to put your tent up for you, have you? This trip is about building your own personal resilience, not relying on other people to sort things out for you.”
“Well, I think that resilient people are probably rather adept at accessing the skills of others when needed,” Aziraphale defended. “Being able to rely on the support of others makes one more resilient, does it not?”
“I think Gabriel’s just used to having to do everything alone,” Crowley interjected, turning to Aziraphale and raising his eyebrows in a manner that Aziraphale interpreted as suggestive. “Anything else I can help you with?”
“No, I think I’ll be all right now, thank you.”
“All right, see you around. You know where I am if you want me. Take care, Aziraphale. Later, Gabe.”
Crowley sauntered back down the hill, Aziraphale’s gaze trained on him until he disappeared from sight.
“That man is insufferable,” Gabriel grumbled.
“I found him to be very helpful. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get my bed sorted out.”
“Don’t get too comfortable, at two o’clock we’re going to be going out into the forest for your first resilience building task. It’s a good one, you’re all going to love it!”
Gabriel disappeared off into his own tent and Aziraphale blew out a long breath. A quick glance at his pocket watch revealed he had about forty-five minutes until two, hopefully he would be left alone until then. If he’d actually enjoyed the company of his colleagues, or even just been able to tolerate being in their presence for more than the shortest bursts of time, Aziraphale would have quite liked to have joined them at the pub, to enjoy a nice hearty hot meal to fill him up after the exertion of the day so far. Whatever Gabriel had in store for them that afternoon would undoubtedly drain his energy reserves even further, but Aziraphale couldn’t face voluntarily making conversation with Uriel, Sandalphon and Michael. Instead, he pulled the straps off his camping roll and sleeping bag and laid them out on the groundsheet before depositing the rest of his belongings in a neat pile in the corner of the tent and heading back down the hill. Maybe Crowley would be able to recommend somewhere he could get something to eat.
Aziraphale’s stomach started doing pleasant fluttery things in anticipation of seeing Crowley again as soon as he approached the reception/office/shop shed. He pushed open the door, delighted that he wouldn’t need to summon Crowley this time, the site manager busy on his laptop in the ‘office’ at the back.
“Hey Aziraphale,” Crowley greeted him brightly, glancing up from the screen. “What can I do for you?”
“Gabriel has something planned for us starting at two o’clock; I was wondering if you knew of somewhere I could get some lunch and be back by then? Somewhere my colleagues definitely won’t have gone to?”
“Stay here if you like, I can make you something.”
“Reception, office, shop and café?” Aziraphale asked. Crowley grinned.
“Not usually, but I don't mind making you something."
"Oh, I wouldn’t want you to go to any trouble on my account."
"It's no trouble. I'll be making myself something anyway. We can have lunch together. Please? You can keep me company, give me some insider info on Gabriel."
"Why would you want information about Gabriel?"
Crowley shrugged, an expression of mock innocence on his face. "No reason, just making conversation. Of course, if you told me which car belonged to Gabriel and then something unfortunate were to happen to it, that would be entirely coincidental."
Aziraphale laughed softly, that fluttering in his stomach intensifying. He started to feel rather nervous, his pulse quickening when Crowley got up from his desk and approached him.
"Lunchtime. Follow me."
Crowley led him to a quiet, partially secluded little patch of grass around the back of his tent, where he prepared Aziraphale a cup of tea using a camping stove and then disappeared into his tent, returning a moment later with a cheese sandwich.
"Want me to fry it? Fried bread and melted cheese is the epitome of unhealthy campsite food."
"That actually sounds delicious."
Aziraphale was being honest. It was a far cry from his usual fare but something about the physical fatigue induced by his arduous walk from the train station and then up the hill carrying all of his gear, not to mention all of the fresh air, seemed to have temporarily diminished his usual standards.
"Yes, thank you."
"Terrific." Crowley unceremoniously plopped the sandwich into a frying pan with plenty of oil and settled it on the stove.
It did in fact turn out to be rather delicious, and certainly very filling. They enjoyed pleasant conversation whilst they ate, only talking about Gabriel for a short while, although Crowley was a very good listener and allowed Aziraphale the luxury of getting some things off his chest about work that he'd never actually shared with anyone before. The more time Aziraphale spent with Crowley, the stronger his infatuation became, and he had to keep reminding himself that he had only just met the man today .
When the time came for Aziraphale to drag himself back up the hill to face whatever Gabriel had planned, Crowley gave him a pear to take with him in case he got hungry later, and Aziraphale's heart felt like it might burst out of his chest.
Crowley was perfect .
The task turned out to be an orienteering style activity, to be completed individually, that involved retrieving coloured flags from the forest, armed only with a compass and a map. Aziraphale was supposed to locate the blue flags, but after over three hours of searching he had still not found a single one. Having eaten the pear that Crowley gave him but still feeling quite peckish, Aziraphale eventually gave up. It had finally reached the point where dealing with Gabriel’s lecture about how useless, hopeless and inept he was would be preferable to spending another minute going around in circles in that forest. He was, unsurprisingly, the last to return to 'base camp'.
When Gabriel revealed that there had never been any flags to find and praised Aziraphale for demonstrating determination and resilience by staying out there for so long, Aziraphale thought he might actually explode. Gabriel clapped him on the shoulder and insisted on buying everyone dinner at the pub Uriel, Michael and Sandalphon had found earlier, and there really was no way to get out of it. The only saving grace was that the food was exquisite , whereas the company was like having someone lightly but persistently rub a cheese grater over your face whilst singing songs from The Sound of Music, badly.
When they finally got back to the campsite, Aziraphale couldn’t wait to crawl into his tent and finally relax . He zipped it up behind him, rolling his shoulders and letting out a long sigh before rummaging in his bag for his tablet and settling down on top of his sleeping bag. He pulled his phone out of his pocket, copying the campsite WiFi password to his tablet, and navigated to Google Docs.
Aziraphale felt the tension drain from his muscles as he opened Balance , a short enemies-to-lovers story he'd been working on about an angel and a demon gradually realising how much they had in common and the value they could both bring to the world.
There is no light without darkness, no relief without struggle, no thrill without longing… right, let's get these two into bed, shall we? Where was I…
Aziraphale re-read the last couple of paragraphs he'd written and then wiggled his fingers, eager to carry on. The demon had just slammed the angel up against a bookcase, their bodies pressed flush together as he growled his disapproval of the angel pointing out some of his nice qualities. The angel tilted his head up slightly, his lips almost brushing against the demon's, an invitation to finally yield to what they had both been trying to deny for so long.
Aziraphale was writing the story from the angel's point of view, and, inconveniently, as he now tried to visualise the next part of the story ready to write, he found that the image of the demon in his mind had changed. No matter how hard he tried, Aziraphale could not help but imagine the demon as tall and slim, wearing tight-fitting jeans and a dark grey shirt, his hair, which had once been black, now russet red, longer, wavy and styled into a half-bun.
Aziraphale closed his eyes and lay back, resting his head on his travel pillow. He pictured the whole scene in his mind, the searing kiss that they shared, the hard length of the demon's erection pressing into the angel's stomach, confined by those tight jeans, the frantic removal of clothes as they stumbled to the bedroom, millennia of yearning finally coming to a head…
Aziraphale picked up his tablet again, ready to write, but he just couldn’t make it work. He went back through the whole thing, altering his description of the demon to match the image he now had in his mind, changing elements of the demon's character to match Aziraphale’s impression of a certain insanely attractive campsite manager.
Crowley had certainly proven to be inspirational to Aziraphale's writing. Once Aziraphale had made the edits and got back to adding to the story, he found the words flowed easily, the story practically writing itself, and as Aziraphale continued to picture the events occurring in his story, he found himself getting rather physically affected.
"I knew you’d help me get something else up," he whispered to himself. He abandoned his story just as the angel and demon made it to the bedroom, awkwardly setting his tablet aside as he shifted his hips and unbuttoned his trousers. He accidentally pushed his hand against the screen in the process.
Printing - Balance.gdoc
" What ?" Aziraphale gasped out loud, his stomach sinking and his heart leaping into his throat. "No no no no no…"
Aziraphale frantically tried to cancel it, but it wasn't clear whether he'd succeeded or not. He felt lightheaded, his heart absolutely pounding against his sternum. He took a few deep breaths and desperately tried to calm himself down.
It's all right, it can't possibly have connected to a printer around here, it'll just come out of my own printer when I get home, or nothing will happen at all. It's fine, everything's fine.
It took a while for the adrenaline to clear from Aziraphale’s bloodstream, and he was no longer in the mood, for now anyway, for what he'd been planning to do. Instead, he managed to get some more writing done (involving the demon doing some very interesting things with his tongue in the bedroom) before the fatigue reached the point where it weighed down heavily on him. He changed into his nightclothes with a warm jumper on top and snuggled down into his sleeping bag, his hands starting out resting innocently on his stomach but then absently drifting lower, images from his story very much still in his mind.
Aziraphale awoke early, the golden light of dawn pouring in through the canvas. He wriggled around a bit and stretched, discovering the location of the aches that had inevitably set in after a night of sleeping on the ground. He adjusted his position, easing the discomfort slightly, and picked up his phone. 5am. Still time to snooze for a little while before Gabriel’s first task of the day.
Aziraphale wasn't quite awake enough yet to do any actual writing, but he closed his eyes and thought about what would happen next in his story. The angel would feel as though the demon was all over him, exploring every inch of his body, the scorching touch of his hands, lips, teeth and that sinful, extraordinarily talented tongue…
"Rise and shine!" Gabriel’s booming voice emerged from just outside the tent. Aziraphale grimaced. "Up you get! There's lots to do, and you'll need to complete the first task before you can have breakfast!"
Aziraphale was sure he hadn't fallen back asleep. He picked up his phone. 5.36am. He glowered in the direction of Gabriel's voice and then sluggishly got dressed before begrudgingly emerging from his tent. Gabriel’s smug, smiling face greeted him.
"You said we'd be starting at 7."
"You must always be prepared for the unexpected, that is an important part of resilience."
Gabriel clapped his hands together with glee as Sandalphon, Uriel and Michael also emerged from their tents. Aziraphale was gratified to see that they were at least looking as bleary eyed as he felt.
Gabriel led them back into the forest, where they had to construct a bag, using only the materials available to them in the forest, to successfully carry a rock across a stream. Aziraphale would have struggled to think of a more pointless task no matter how hard he tried, although he had a sinking feeling that Gabriel would somehow have found a way - it was still early in the day, after all.
Eventually, after multiple failed attempts (this whole thing really did just seem to be an exercise in enduring failure, hardly a great attitude to instill in your workforce), Aziraphale was able to fashion a sort of sling out of ivy that he'd tied together to form a criss-crossed mesh, and successfully transported his rock to the other side. His reward was a bowl of soggy cornflakes and a tepid cup of tea.
After breakfast, Gabriel had them all working on designs for a team flag. Not as a team , as would perhaps have been logical, but once again as individuals. Gabriel would choose the best one and fly it over their tents that night. Aziraphale painted a skull and crossbones and spun some bullshit about 'stealth' and 'seizing opportunities'. Unsurprisingly, his flag wasn't chosen. Michael was the victor, with her elaborate representation of a biblical angel with hundreds of eyes that would watch down over them.
After they'd cleared up the flag-making supplies, Gabriel sent them off for lunch. His colleagues actually invited Aziraphale to join them, but there wasn't a snowball's chance in hell he'd be spending more time in their presence if he didn’t have to, so he said he wanted to take a walk by the lake while he had chance.
Of course, what he actually did was make his way down the hill to Crowley’s multipurpose shed.
The thought of seeing Crowley served to lighten the fatigue and frustration that had consumed Aziraphale all morning. He popped into the toilet block first, checking his appearance in the mirror on the way out. He grimaced at the dark circles under his eyes and encouraged his fluffed up curls to sit a little more neatly on top of his head. It wasn’t great but it would have to do.
"Aziraphale, hi! Rough morning?"
"You could say that." Aziraphale picked up a cereal bar from one of the shelves and took it over to the reception desk. He secretly hoped Crowley might invite him for lunch, but he was determined not to be too disappointed if he didn't.
"Yes, thank you."
Crowley took the money from Aziraphale for the cereal bar and gave him his change. A sense of unease prickled up Aziraphale’s spine. Crowley seemed distracted.
"Are you all right, my dear?"
"Yeah, I'm good, thanks. I hope you have a better afternoon."
"Thank you. Perhaps I'll see you later?"
"Er… yeah, maybe."
"All right. Goodbye."
Despite his best efforts, Aziraphale couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed as he turned away from Crowley and navigated around the obstacle course of shop displays on his way back to the door.
"Oh… er... Aziraphale?"
"Yes?" Aziraphale turned back to him, the corners of his lips curling up into a smile. Crowley made a strangled sort of noise and rubbed the back of his neck.
"Did you… er… ngk… did you happen to send something to the printer here?"
Aziraphale’s heart plummeted into the depths of his stomach, his heart shifting to an uncomfortably fast rhythm with a powerful thump.
"It's just… something came out of the printer last night, I'm just trying to figure out who it belongs to."
Oh fuck! It had to be my story! Oh no no no… What if he read it? Aziraphale stared hopelessly at Crowley, trying to decide what to say. Should he just pretend to know nothing about it?
"It was a story?" Crowley ventured, and the effects of the adrenaline coursing through Aziraphale’s bloodstream intensified. He realised that if he was sure he hadn't printed anything, he would have said so by now, so he could hardly get away with denying it. There was no way Crowley would believe him if he tried.
"I'm so sorry, it was an accident!" Aziraphale blurted out. "I had it open on my tablet and I was just putting it down and I must have pressed something… I really am terribly sorry!"
"It's ok, you don’t need to apologise, we don't charge for printing or anything," Crowley responded lightly. "So, you're saying you didn't mean to print it?"
"Certainly not, no!" Aziraphale replied hurriedly, feeling hot and dizzy with embarrassment, eager to escape from Crowley's inquisitive gaze. "I really am very sorry."
"Really, it's ok. So you definitely don’t want it?"
"No! Thank you."
"Ok. No problem. Um… bye then. Have a good afternoon."
"Thank you. You too. Goodbye."
Aziraphale, however, did not have a good afternoon. It took a long time for his body to settle from the panic he'd experienced, his stomach had been rumbling from about three o'clock onwards since he hadn't eaten anything more than that cereal bar, and Gabriel had set them the ridiculous challenge of climbing up a slope covered with an oily tarpaulin. This again appeared to be a lesson in enduring failure over and over again. Covered in oil and mud, hands grazed from slipping off the tarp completely several times and grasping for purchase on rough logs and rocky ground, Aziraphale trudged down to the shower block and lingered beneath the water, savouring the warmth, the sound of rushing water, and the moment of solitude.
He dried and dressed in clean clothes, squeezing the old ones into his laundry bag and slinging it over his shoulder. He was still squeezing his damp hair with a towel when he stepped out of the shower block and saw Crowley, who immediately froze when their eyes locked. Oh God, was this how it was going to be now? Aziraphale's skin was already flushed from the shower, but he could feel the heat prickling his cheeks.
Aziraphale would have no choice but to walk past Crowley to get back to his tent, so not acknowledging him at all wasn't an option. He forced a shaky smile and continued on his way.
"I read your story," Crowley blurted out when Aziraphale neared him. Aziraphale's heart leapt up into his throat.
Oh no! Oh please no no no!
"I just thought you'd just been reading it, but there are notes on it… that means you were writing it."
Oh Lord have mercy, haven't I suffered enough?
"Ah… yes. I was," Aziraphale admitted coyly. There really was no point in trying to deny it.
Crowley pouted. "It's not complete. I didn't get to finish. Neither did they, for that matter," he added with a wink. Aziraphale could feel a flush creeping up from his throat all the way to the tips of his ears.
"Er no, I'm planning to finish tonight. Writing it, I mean."
"Could I get a copy when you do?"
"S'ok if not, just thought I should ask. You're a really good writer."
Aziraphale breathed out a huff of laughter. "You don't have to say that."
"No, it's true! And… um... the angel sounds really hot."
"Oh good Lord…" Aziraphale covered his face with the towel.
"Sorry. I wouldn't have read it without asking if I'd realised it wasn't just something you'd printed off the internet, but honestly, it's really good, but I totally understand if you don't want to share the rest. Can I just check though… it has a happy ending, right?"
"Yes, of course." Aziraphale draped the towel around his neck and sighed.
"Happy to hear it. You ok? You look exhausted."
"Gabriel had us doing more ridiculous nonsense this afternoon."
"Ugh, I'm sorry. Anything I can do to help?"
Aziraphale’s stomach started fluttering again, the intense pulsating embarrassment gradually settling into something more bearable, allowing him to focus on other things. Like the way Crowley was looking at him, so sincere, concerned and maybe even fond. "Oh, no, thank you, I'll be all right."
"What did he make you do?"
"Repeatedly attempt to climb up a slope covered with an oiled tarpaulin."
Crowley stared at him incredulously. "Wow, he really is a wanker. You done for the day now?"
"Yes, thankfully. I can't wait to eat something, I'm famished."
"Would you like to have dinner with me?"
Aziraphale's lips parted but he didn't respond right away. He would, of course, be expected to have dinner with his colleagues, but he really didn’t want to. He couldn’t very well just slink off without saying anything though, and he certainly hadn't recovered from the mortification of accidentally delivering a copy of an unfinished draft of an erotic story, complete with notes to the effect of, 'describe his prehensile tongue here' and 'should he have hemipenes since he was a serpent? That might be fun...' to the man now standing in front of him. Aziraphale cringed internally. But Crowley had been very nice about the whole thing. He'd even called him a good writer.
"I'll take that as a no. Sorry, Aziraphale, I really didn't mean to make you uncomfortable."
"No, no, I'd love to have dinner with you! I'm just expected to have dinner with my colleagues and I can't think of any way to get out of it."
"Yeah, ok, I understand. Come and see me after if you want though, for dessert. Or something. Only if you want to. I'll be here."
"Thank you, that's very kind of you. Well, I'd best be getting back to 'base camp'." Aziraphale sighed and rolled his eyes. "Goodbye, Crowley."
"Bye Aziraphale. See you later maybe."
Aziraphale smiled in response and then began the agonising trudge up the hill. Every muscle in his legs and back objected to the strain he was putting them under after that ridiculous activity Gabriel had subjected them to this afternoon.
Aziraphale distracted himself from the discomfort by thinking about Crowley. As the initial embarrassment continued to fade, he was able to focus more on the pleasant things that had happened. Crowley had invited him to dinner! He'd asked about the ending of his story, and it did genuinely seem as though he'd enjoyed it, rather than finding the whole thing hilarious and wanting to read more just for some kind of comedy value. He'd smiled at him, asked if there was anything he could do for him…
All sorts of things, my dear.
Aziraphale accompanied his colleagues to the pub for dinner, his thoughts persistently turning to both Crowley and what the angel and demon in his story would be getting up to once he had chance to do some writing later. On the walk back to the campsite, Aziraphale outwardly winced as he thought about how obvious it might have been that he had modelled the physical appearance of the demon in the story on Crowley. Crowley had only made reference to the angel . He'd said he sounded hot . Aziraphale felt a little warmer as his treacherous mind read into this, given the parallels between his descriptions of the angel in the story and his own appearance. Had Crowley been flirting with him? Aziraphale’s heart was racing with anticipation when they got back to base camp, his colleagues disappearing into their tents while Aziraphale secretly slinked off down the hill in search of Crowley, excited by the prospect of dessert .
He pushed open the shed door, and Crowley immediately glanced up and grinned.
"Does this mean I successfully tempted you into dessert?" he drawled, and it may have been Aziraphale’s imagination, but he seemed to elongate the double s sounds, speaking in a low hiss, speaking of temptation. Aziraphale's stomach flopped over. Is he teasing me?
"Yes, you certainly did."
"Terrific, because I got something special."
"Why are you being so nice to me?" Aziraphale asked. He hadn't really meant to, it had just sort of spilled out.
"I like you," Crowley said softly.
"Oh. I like you too."
"Well, that's good then." Crowley's grin widened and he rose from his chair, coming around to the front of the reception desk. "Would you accompany me to the dining room?"
"The dining room ?"
"That patch of grass where we had lunch yesterday."
"Ah. That sounds wonderful, thank you."
Aziraphale followed him outside and settled himself on the camping chair that Crowley set out for him (the fact that only a single chair had been set up made him wonder if Crowley had thought it more likely that Aziraphale wouldn't be joining him) beside the campfire.
The sun had nearly set by now, bathing the campsite in an ethereal golden glow, and as Aziraphale admired it, inhaling the fresh, pure air right to the bottom of his lungs, he experienced a relatively unfamiliar sense of peace.
Crowley busied himself lighting the fire and then set up his own chair across from Aziraphale, sitting down and smiling at him. He lifted an iron kettle onto the grate above the fire.
"Ready for your dessert?"
"Yes please," Aziraphale responded politely, which for some reason Crowley seemed to find amusing. Crowley laid out a piece of foil on top of the grate, placing down a peeled banana, through which he pushed a skewer before topping it with marshmallows and a rather generous amount of chocolate. He then pulled the edges of the foil together to wrap it.
They shared some pleasant conversation, occasionally drifting into short, comfortable silences, until steam started billowing out of the spout of the kettle and Crowley busied himself with making Aziraphale a cup of tea.
"Can I just say something about your story?" Crowley ventured tentatively after passing him the cup. Aziraphale squinted at him. "It's a good thing, I promise!"
"Yes, all right."
"I mean, obviously it's really hot and exciting but you know what else I loved? How there's this undercurrent all the way through about not being defined by where you came from or what people expect of you, having the freedom to decide who you want to be and what you stand for."
"Oh… thank you, that's kind of you to say."
"I hope you don’t mind, but I’m really glad I got to read it. That banana should be ready to eat now, by the way,” he added immediately after, effectively changing the subject.
Crowley passed Aziraphale a plate, which he placed on his lap, and Aziraphale reached out and carefully grabbed hold of the foil on each side, although perhaps not carefully enough, grimacing and instinctively retracting his hands in response to the intense heat of the fire.
"You ok? Did you get burnt?"
"No, no, I don't think so," Aziraphale was quick to reassure him, examining his hand, which although warm, showed no sign of injury. "Just hotter than I was expecting."
"Well, it is a fire," Crowley teased, and Aziraphale dipped his chin, cradling his hand in his lap and staring down at it, the blood rushing to his cheeks making him feel even warmer than the fire. "Let me see, make sure it's not burnt."
"Honestly, it's fine."
"Aziraphale, give me your hand."
Aziraphale tentatively held out his hand and Crowley tenderly began to examine it, sweeping his thumb over his palm and fingers a few times in an exquisitely gentle caress. Aziraphale’s skin tingled, goosebumps erupting far away from where Crowley was touching him.
"I have some cream for burns in the shop, I'll be right back."
Cream for invisible burns? Aziraphale’s heart was racing, the heat that had spread throughout his whole body mostly focused in a dense, tight coil in his abdomen in response to Crowley’s tender, caring touch. Aziraphale tugged his jumper up over his head, needing to do something to cool down, and smoothed his hair back down. He heard the quiet sound of Crowley’s boots brushing through the grass as his footsteps grew closer.
“Here, this’ll help.”
Crowley crouched down right in front of him, squeezed some kind of cream onto his fingertip and then, being painstakingly thorough about the whole thing, gently rubbed it into the invisible burns on Aziraphale’s hand. Aziraphale swallowed roughly.
“That feels nice, thank you.”
Once Crowley was satisfied that all of the cream had been thoroughly absorbed, he carefully picked up the foil himself, depositing Aziraphale’s dessert on the plate resting in his lap. Aziraphale waited a little while before very carefully pulling the foil apart, picking up the skewer and bringing the banana to his mouth, wrapping his lips around it and licking off the molten combination of marshmallows and chocolate. He hummed with delight around the delicious mouthful and then took a bite of the banana itself.
“Oh, that is scrumptious! Thank you, my dear.”
“Enjoying it, are you?” Crowley asked teasingly as Aziraphale licked melted chocolate from his lips before taking another bite. He made a very satisfied sound and closed his eyes, and when he opened them again, found Crowley leaning forward, resting his chin on the back of his steepled hands and watching intently.
“It’s delicious, thank you. Aren’t you going to have one?”
Crowley shook his head, his eyes never once leaving Aziraphale’s. “I’m fine,” he murmured so softly that it was barely audible.
They talked in between Aziraphale’s mouthfuls of chocolate-covered banana and sips of tea, and Aziraphale took his time, not wanting the evening to end. He was enjoying Crowley’s company immensely, and it was certainly serving to take his mind off everything Gabriel had made him endure over the past couple of days, and the relentless snide comments he’d received from his colleagues about his performance.
In the end, it got so late that Aziraphale felt guilty for keeping Crowley awake since his job seemed like the kind that would involve getting up early in the morning. Aziraphale was also keen to get a bit of writing done before he went to sleep. But when he announced his intention to go back to his tent, Crowley kindly offered to walk him back there, and Aziraphale’s heart soared.
Once they reached the top of the hill, Crowley stepped close to him. "Enjoy your writing,” he whispered, presumably to avoid Aziraphale’s colleagues hearing him. “There's going to be a storm overnight; make sure you wrap up warm."
"I will, thank you. Thank you for everything, I've had a really lovely time."
"Will I see you for breakfast?" Crowley asked, tilting his head and looking, unbelievably, rather hopeful.
"Yes, I'd like that."
"Terrific. Looking forward to it. Can I… um… can I kiss you goodnight?"
Aziraphale blinked, not quite able to believe this was actually happening, but quickly recovered himself. He certainly didn’t want Crowley to misread his hesitation. "Oh… er… yes, of course."
Crowley softly brushed his lips against Aziraphale’s, and Aziraphale’s hand settled lightly on his arm as he parted his lips and kissed him back. It was brief and chaste, but enough to send hot sparks skittering down Aziraphale’s spine.
"Goodnight, my dear. Sleep well."
"Yeah, you too. Sweet dreams." Crowley took his hand ( not the one he had believed, despite all evidence to the contrary, to have been burned) and squeezed it gently before turning and walking away, disappearing down the dark hill.
Aziraphale shone his torch on his tent, locating the zip and letting himself in, clambering inside with a huge smile on his face. He changed for bed, putting on his warmest jumper over his pyjamas, and snuggled down into his sleeping bag with his tablet on his lap. He was feeling thoroughly inspired to write. Crowley had actually kissed him! Aziraphale was already excited about seeing him again tomorrow morning, although his stomach twisted as he wondered what might happen afterwards. Gabriel had something else planned for them before lunch and then that would be it, time to return home.
Aziraphale opened up his story, his fingers fluttering over the screen rapidly as the words flowed easily from his mind. Millennia of longing culminated in the angel and demon finally being free to fully express their feelings for one another, their desire for each other. It wasn't long before the demon was performing some remarkable acts with that equally remarkable prehensile tongue - lots of wrapping around, gripping, tugging, that sort of thing - the angel enjoying the unique sensations elicited by the attentions of that long, slightly rough, incredibly dextrous forked tongue. Aziraphale brought the theme of the story, that of balance and union, into the scene, and when he’d finally finished drafting it, he switched his tablet off and snuggled down into his sleeping bag, trying to decide whether he was brave enough to actually share the ending of the story with Crowley tomorrow. It started to rain, the droplets hitting the canvas and generating a peaceful, soporific ambience. With a deep, contented sigh, Aziraphale drifted off to sleep.
Aziraphale awoke with a start, his bloodstream flooding with adrenaline and his body racked with instinctive panic as the taut film of wet canvas hit him in the face and moulded against his features. He thrashed around in the darkness, extracting his arms from his sleeping bag and batting the fabric away from his face, wincing and sucking in a sharp breath when his knuckles collided with one of the tent poles. Gaining a little more conscious awareness, Aziraphale took a moment to try to steady his breathing, lifting the canvas up away from his face with one hand and feeling around beside his sleeping bag with the other until it came into contact with his torch. He hurriedly switched it on, his eyes confirming what he had, of course, deduced already. His tent had collapsed on top of him. It seemed an unlikely event, and his stomach knotted as he considered that human intervention might have been involved. In an attempt to demonstrate resilience in the face of these conditions, Aziraphale blinked back his tears and continued to focus on his breathing until his heart no longer felt like it was trying to pound its way out of his body.
The thundering patter of raindrops against the canvas clued Aziraphale into the fact that the weather had got considerably worse since he'd fallen asleep, just as Crowley had said it would. Aziraphale set down the torch and located his phone, switching it on to see what time it was. 1.36am. He put his phone back down on the groundsheet, freeing up his hand to scrub roughly across his face. There was obviously no way he could go back to sleep with the tent like this, he’d probably end up suffocating, but it was pouring with rain, and any light from the moon would undoubtedly be masked by thick clouds, rendering the campsite unsettlingly dark. At the thought of trying to restore the tent to its former upright position, Aziraphale’s resilience crumbled, and he allowed the tears to well up and slip free from the corners of his eyes. He couldn’t face it, and he wasn't going to. He was going to go and seek help from Crowley. He had, after all, told him to call on him if needed anything. Aziraphale’s stomach twisted even more as he feared how Crowley might react to being woken up in the middle of the night, but he hoped he would be glad that Aziraphale had felt he could come to him. Besides, the alternative course of action was unbearable.
Aziraphale carefully manoeuvred his way to the opposite end of the tent, locating the zip and opening it, immediately struck by the force of the wind, driving the rain in through the gap he’d created. He squeezed his eyes closed and huffed out a breath, rummaging around for his coat. He just about managed to keep the canvas up enough, by resting it on the top of his head, to free up his hands to slip his shoes and coat on, and then grabbed the torch and scrambled his way free, beginning the treacherous journey down the hill.
He clutched his coat tightly across his body but the rain still managed to seep in through the gaps. He tried putting the hood up twice before surrendering to the wind that kept whipping it back off, hurrying down the hill as fast as his fatigued body would allow, taking some amount of care to avoid slipping. He hesitated as he finally approached Crowley’s tent around the back of the multipurpose shed. He couldn’t exactly knock , how was he supposed to get Crowley’s attention? He certainly couldn’t just walk right up to the tent and unzip the doorway without making Crowley aware of his presence first. As much as Aziraphale might have liked to fantasise about Crowley visiting his own tent in the middle of the night, Crowley wouldn’t necessarily feel the same way.
"Crowley?" he whispered, his voice barely audible even to himself over the unrelenting rush of wind and thundering pitter-patter of rain against the ground and the tent. He took a deep breath, approaching more closely and raising his voice. "Crowley? Crowley, I'm sorry, are you awake?"
Aziraphale experienced a rush of relief when he saw a glowing light emanating from inside the tent, illuminating the canvas. When he saw the end of the zip start to move, his eyes pricked with tears again. He breathed a sigh of relief in response to the squeaky sound of the zip being hurriedly undone, his heart soaring when Crowley pulled the canvas back.
"Aziraphale! What happened? Oh my God, you're soaked, get in here!"
Aziraphale didn't waste a second before complying with Crowley’s instruction, ducking his head and stepping inside, beyond relieved to have some shelter from the elements. Crowley quickly zipped up the door behind him.
"I'm so sorry to disturb you! My tent collapsed," Aziraphale panted between ragged breaths.
"What the fuck? How ? I checked it!"
"Yes, I know. I think perhaps Gabriel might have been responsible. 'Resilience building' and all that."
"You're not serious? That bastard!" he hissed.
"Yes he is, rather."
"Fucking hell, you could have suffocated!"
“Oh, no, I rather suspect he was watching to ensure that didn’t happen.”
“Oh well that’s all right then,” Crowley sneered sarcastically.
“I’m fairly sure I woke up straight away. I felt it hit me.”
“Did the poles knock you? Are you ok?” Crowley reached up and swept Aziraphale’s damp curls back from his forehead before tenderly smoothing his thumb across it. Aziraphale shivered.
“No, no, I’m fine. Thank you.”
Crowley shook his head and blew out a long breath. "Right, well, I'll deal with Gabriel tomorrow. There's no point in us trying to get your tent back up in the dark in this weather. You can stay here with me."
Aziraphale hadn't thought particularly thoroughly about what might happen when he made it to Crowley’s tent, assuming that he would just accompany him back up the hill to help him re-erect his own. But now that Crowley had offered for him to stay, Aziraphale felt even more tension drain from his body at the thought of not having to go back outside. As an added bonus, he would have the opportunity to spend the whole night (what was left of it, anyway) close to Crowley. The space inside Crowley’s relatively spacious tent suddenly started to feel much smaller.
"Are you sure?" he asked hesitantly, the need to be polite winning out, but prayed that Crowley would say yes, another violent shiver coursing through him.
"Of course! Fuck, you're freezing… wait here, I'll go and get some stuff from the shop."
"You really don’t have to do that."
"We're gonna need it. Get your wet clothes off before you freeze to death; there's a towel in the corner there. Make yourself as comfortable as you can, I'll be right back."
The tent was illuminated by a proper camping lantern standing up in one corner, and once Crowley had disappeared and zipped the tent back up behind him, Aziraphale was quickly able to locate the towel, sighing with relief as he pressed it against his damp face. He squeezed as much of the moisture out of his hair as he could and then stripped off his coat and shoes. His jumper wasn’t too wet, although some water had somehow managed to drip down the back of his neck and trickle down his spine, and he tugged at his collar to try to stop his T-shirt from sticking to him. His pyjama bottoms had fared much worse, and Aziraphale winced as he peeled them off. He dropped them onto an empty patch of the groundsheet, grimacing even more at the wet slapping sound they made on contact with it.
Aziraphale rushed to dry his legs off as much as possible before Crowley came back, then settled himself down on the end of Crowley’s sleeping bag with the towel draped over his lap.
“Aziraphale! Let me in, will you? My hands are full!”
Aziraphale clambered up onto his knees, awkwardly trying to keep himself covered with the towel with one hand while unzipping the tent with the other. Crowley ducked down low and clambered inside, dumping a pile of soft things on top of Aziraphale.
“Sorry. It’s just some dry clothes and a sleeping bag, oh and an extra blanket.”
Aziraphale reflexively touched his hand to his heart, a pleasant ache building there. Crowley was so generous and thoughtful. He thought back to their kiss earlier. Was there any chance of anything happening between them that could last after Aziraphale left the campsite in the morning? Later this morning , he reminded himself.
“You really didn’t need to go to all this trouble, but thank you, I’m very grateful.”
Crowley threw his coat into the corner. He had presumably run the short distance to the shed, as he didn’t seem too wet otherwise, although his hair, which was flowing freely around his face, was coated with a fine spray of moisture. He scrubbed his hand through it, ruffling it up, and Aziraphale found himself feeling a little envious. He would have loved to have run his fingers through those silky-looking strands. This was the first time he’d actually seen Crowley with his hair fully down, and found himself rather mesmerised.
Crowley smirked at him and Aziraphale realised he’d been staring, a little warmth building in his cheeks. He gazed downwards and began sorting through the pile of stuff Crowley had dumped onto his lap until he came across a pair of soft jogging bottoms, which, after reflexively checking to ensure Crowley was no longer watching him, he hurriedly tugged on, immediately feeling better for it. He swapped his T-shirt for the one Crowley had provided, then pulled a thick fleecy jumper on top. He wrapped his arms around himself, savouring the incredible softness of the material.
“Oh, um, yes, thank you.”
Crowley turned back around and smiled softly. “Feeling warmer?”
“Getting there, thank you ever so much.”
“S’no problem. Look, er… if you’re comfortable with it, might be a good idea for us to zip the sleeping bags together; share body heat,” Crowley mumbled, sniffing and clearing his throat. Aziraphale’s stomach swooped and his pulse quickened with anticipation. Did Crowley actually believe there was a chance that Aziraphale might not be comfortable with that? Aziraphale tempered the enthusiastic agreement that threatened to escape from him; what if Crowley was only offering because he was concerned for his wellbeing? He had, after all, been quite easily able to see how cold he was.
“Are you comfortable with that?”
“Of course. If you are, I mean.”
“Yes, thank you, I think that’s a good idea.”
“Ok. Good. Right. Give me a hand with this?”
They worked together to join the two sleeping bags to make one big one, Aziraphale’s mind conjuring up images of the two of them snuggled up close to each other, imagining the sensation of having Crowley’s warm body pressed up against him in so much detail that he could almost feel it. Very soon he wouldn’t need to imagine anymore.
Once it was ready, Crowley allowed Aziraphale to get into the sleeping bag first, then draped the blanket he’d brought with him from the shop on top of it before clambering in himself. Aziraphale wasn’t sure what position he should be in, so just lay on his back, waiting to see what Crowley would do. Crowley shuffled across and snuggled up close to him.
“Roll over? Let me warm you up?” It was distinctly phrased as a question, a hint of uncertainty lacing Crowley’s voice. Just in case that uncertainty was rooted in any kind of question about how Aziraphale might feel about the whole thing, Aziraphale determined to somehow demonstrate to Crowley just how comfortable he was with the prospect of all this.
Aziraphale rolled away, and Crowley shuffled in even closer, pressing the length of his torso up against Aziraphale’s back and draping his arm across his body, rubbing his hand up and down over Aziraphale’s chest. His body was twisted slightly, his hips tilted down and his bony hip nudging against Aziraphale.
“This ok?” Crowley whispered near Aziraphale’s ear, making him shiver. Crowley clutched him tighter.
“Yes, thank you. Much better.” Aziraphale winced, dissatisfied that he had adequately conveyed his feelings. “This feels wonderful.” Aziraphale relaxed even more into Crowley’s embrace and pressed back against him.
Aziraphale hummed with contentment in response and settled his own hand over Crowley’s, tenderly smoothing his fingertips over the back of it. Crowley nuzzled the nape of his neck, his lips ghosting over the sensitive skin there, and Aziraphale’s skin prickled with goosebumps.
“Thank you,” Aziraphale whispered. “This feels incredible. I’m so exhausted.”
“Yeah, I can imagine. Can’t believe Gabriel would do this to you after everything he put you through earlier.”
Aziraphale hummed in agreement. “I’m aching in muscles I didn’t even know I had.”
“I might be able to help with that?” Crowley suggested softly. Aziraphale’s breath caught, and feeling cold was certainly no longer a problem, a hot fluttery feeling building in his abdomen. He swallowed roughly, not sure what to say, again afraid of coming across as overly eager. “Would you like me to?”
“Yes please, I’d love that.”
He felt the rush of Crowley’s breath against his neck as he exhaled, almost as though he’d been holding it in, waiting for Aziraphale’s response. “Yeah? Ok… um… where does it hurt?”
Aziraphale groaned exaggeratedly. “Everywhere.”
“ Everywhere ?” Crowley chuckled softly and withdrew his arm from around him. “Maybe we can work up to that, but how about I start with your shoulders?”
“Thank you,” Aziraphale whispered, trying not to read into what Crowley had just said. His treacherous mind furnished his imagination with pleasant thoughts of Crowley’s perfect hands massaging every part of his body that ached, although they weren’t, of course, all aching for the same reason.
“Roll onto your stomach.”
Aziraphale did as instructed, sighing contentedly as soon as Crowley’s hands pressed into his sore muscles.
“Might be more effective if I get my hands under your jumper. That ok?”
“Yes, of course, thank you,” Aziraphale replied as steadily as he good, his breathing quickening at the thought of it. Crowley’s fingers slipped beneath his jumper, the tantalising glide of his hands over the relatively unsubstantial material of the T-shirt fuelling the fire starting to burn within Aziraphale’s abdomen. As Crowley began to work on his muscles, Aziraphale felt like he was melting into the base of the sleeping bag. He shifted his hips a little, relishing the friction generated by the movement, hoping Crowley would approve of how much he was enjoying his thorough, attentive touch.
After finishing with his lower back, delivering Aziraphale to a state of relaxation coupled with exquisite tension, Crowley rolled over, and Aziraphale did the same to face him.
“Better?” Crowley murmured softly.
“Much. Thank you.”
“Really, that was wonderful. I can’t thank you enough for doing all this for me. You’re very kind.”
“Believe me, I’m enjoying myself too.”
Aziraphale smiled and leaned in to press his lips to Crowley’s, the two of them sharing a tender, unhurried kiss. Aziraphale was amazed by how comfortable he felt with Crowley, having only known him for such a short time. The arousal that had built while Crowley had been touching him settled into a pleasant, low thrum, and Aziraphale inhaled deeply, focusing on the pleasantly soporific sound of the rain beating against the canvas. His lips curled into a smile at the sensation of Crowley tenderly carding his fingers through his hair.
"Have you plotted revenge yet?" Crowley whispered. Aziraphale’s eyes fluttered back open and he sighed.
"I haven’t even thought about it, although that’s hardly surprising, I have been rather distracted,” Aziraphale said teasingly. Crowley grinned and leaned in to press another kiss to his lips. “Anyway, it wouldn't do any good, Gabriel would just admonish me for demonstrating a lack of resilience, I expect.”
"Would you mind if I were to exact some form of revenge? I can make sure there’s no way for you to be implicated," Crowley suggested slyly, winking at Aziraphale, causing his stomach to swoop and more blood to rush to his cheeks.
"Oh… no, not at all, that should be fine. That would be rather lovely, in fact. Thank you."
"You're welcome. I have some ideas already," Crowley whispered, his hot breath on Aziraphale’s ear making his skin erupt into goosebumps. "We should probably get some sleep soon.”
“Mmm,” Aziraphale agreed contentedly, stroking his hand languorously up and down Crowley’s arm.
“I’ve been thinking… since you did wake me up in the middle of the night and I basically rescued you… do you think perhaps I've earned myself a bedtime story ?"
Crowley raised his eyebrows, and it took a second for Aziraphale’s sleep-deprived brain to work out what he was asking for. His expression reflexively tightened. He had, of course, been considering sharing the rest of the story with Crowley, but telling him the story and watching live as he reacted to it was quite different from just sending a copy to his printer.
"No pressure, I'd just love to hear how it ends. Did you manage to finish writing it?"
"Yes, I did. In draft form, anyway, it still needs some editing."
"But you know what happens?"
Crowley gave him irresistible puppy dog eyes and snuggled a little closer, flexing his hand where it now rested on Aziraphale’s hip, holding him a little tighter and setting off a flurry of sparks in Aziraphale’s abdomen.
"Are you going to tell me?" Crowley wheedled. He licked his lips, and Aziraphale closely followed the movement of his tongue.
“I’m considering it,” Aziraphale teased, and Crowley’s hand slid up along the length of his side, curling around his nape and drawing him into another kiss, this one longer, languid, something he could quite easily come to crave. Aziraphale hummed with satisfaction against Crowley’s mouth, shuffling himself closer and parting his lips. Crowley eagerly accepted the unspoken invitation and deepened the kiss, sending blood rushing to Aziraphale’s groin. When they parted, Crowley released a shuddering breath.
"Mmm," Aziraphale agreed.
“I’m not,” Aziraphale whispered bashfully, shaking his head a little, “but thank you.”
“Yes you are. Look, um… I know from the booking details Gabriel left that your company is based in London. Do you live there?”
“S’not too far, really. Do you think you might… um… do you think maybe we could see each other again after you go home? Like, keep seeing each other, I mean? You know, like… go out?”
Crowley sounded nervous again, and Aziraphale was absolutely dumbfounded by it, but his heart soared to learn that Crowley wanted to see him again after this too. It wasn’t just a campsite fling. Was that a thing? Well, if that concept did exist, this apparently wasn’t an example of it. Aziraphale smiled fondly.
“That would make me very happy.”
Crowley exhaled a long breath. “Yeah? Ok, great, um… I’ll give you my number before you go. Maybe we could get together for dinner or something?”
“That sounds wonderful.”
Crowley kissed him again, and Aziraphale allowed his hand to explore a little more than just Crowley’s arm, slipping down his side and then up over his back, encouraging him to come closer. Their kiss built in intensity, rendering Aziraphale breathless by the time they separated.
“And maybe when we meet up, you could give me a copy of your finished story?”
“Perhaps I’ll send a copy to your printer before I leave today,” Aziraphale replied, his tone equally light and teasing.
“I’d love that. You sure I can’t persuade you to tell me about what they get up to though? I’d really love to hear you talking about it, describing it to me.”
Crowley captured his lips in another kiss, theoretically giving Aziraphale time to contemplate his request, although his brain was barely functioning, rendering that rather impossible.
“Really?” Aziraphale asked breathlessly, gasping and squirming when Crowley once again slipped his hand in between his T-shirt and jumper.
“Hell yeah, absolutely.”
Aziraphale took a deep breath. "All right… I might be able to do that. Although I think I’d prefer to show you,” Aziraphale said bravely, his pulse quickening and his blood rushing in his ears.
"Didn’t realise you’d brought your tablet with you?"
"Oh, um… I didn’t. "
"Oh…” Crowley squinted at him, and Aziraphale was able to detect the precise moment that he deduced the meaning of his words, his eyes widening and his lips parting, drawing in a shaky breath. “Wow… um… yes, oh my God, yes , please show me."
Crowley had barely finished speaking before his lips crashed against Aziraphale’s again, drawing him into a fierce, hungry kiss that stoked the fire raging within him, a pulsating hot pressure building in his gut.
"Who do you want to be?" Aziraphale whispered breathlessly. "The angel or the demon?"
"The demon, obviously ."
"Yes, obviously… very demonic, aren't you? Rescuing me, bringing me warm clothes and blankets…" Aziraphale couldn’t resist the opportunity to tease.
"Yeah, but I'm gonna take them off you now, aren't I?”
"Yes, you are. Good point."
"Demon kinda looks like me too,” Crowley added between pressing kisses along the length of Aziraphale's throat. Aziraphale tipped his head back to give him more access.
"Oh. Yes. That was a recent revision," he admitted, a satisfied sigh escaping from him as Crowley focused his attention on a sensitive spot beneath his jaw.
"Wait… really?" Crowley propped himself up and looked at him curiously.
"Sorry… I just… after I met you… ah… I mean, you're very attractive, and --"
Crowley's smile broadened more and more as Aziraphale rambled on, until eventually he cut him off. "It's ok, you don’t have to explain. Nice to know you were thinking about me," he drawled, nuzzling Aziraphale’s neck. "I've been thinking about you ever since we met."
"Oh…" Aziraphale’s eyes fluttered closed as Crowley began to gently suck on the delicate skin of his throat. "Thank you," he whispered, not sure what else to say, feeling a puff of air against his skin as Crowley softly laughed.
"And for the record, I'm flattered, not at all offended that you chose to associate me with a demon. The whole point was that the demon had a little bit of good in him anyway, right?"
"Well, he might be about to," Aziraphale whispered teasingly, butterflies flitting about wildly in his stomach in response to his own courage.
"Ohhhh… well, now I’m intrigued," Crowley drawled, his hands starting to explore Aziraphale’s body, gliding up over his back and nape, tangling in his hair as he drew him into another kiss. "Maybe give me a bit of an overview of what to expect?"
As Crowley’s lips brushed against his in a series of tender kisses, Aziraphale searched for the words to articulate aloud what had come to him so easily in writing. "Oh, um… yes, of course, all right. Well, the story is about the balance between good and evil, you see."
"So I went for a… ah… well, a 'yin yang' sort of situation," Aziraphale explained bashfully, drawing a version of the symbol in the air in a way that he hoped would convey his meaning.
" Ohhh… wow… ok…"
"Are you all right with --?"
"Yes. Yes. Very much all right," Crowley replied enthusiastically, licking his lips, his shoulders visibly rising and falling more rapidly now, his gaze fixed intently on Aziraphale for a moment before he pulled him roughly against him into a fervent kiss.
"I think we should go over some of what you've already read first," Aziraphale suggested breathlessly.
"Mmm. Couldn't hurt to refresh my memory."
"You'll have to use your imagination for this part and pretend we're standing."
"I think I can manage that. Got a very active imagination, me."
Their conversation was punctuated with kisses, hands roaming more and more confidently, the chill Aziraphale had experienced not long ago well and truly vanquished by the warmth of Crowley’s body and the heat building inside him.
"Well, if there's anything else you'd like to contribute to the story, any suggestions you'd like me to consider, please do feel free to deviate from the narrative."
Crowley roughly pushed his hand under the hem of Aziraphale’s T-shirt, the contact against his bare skin triggering a surging pulse of arousal and making Aziraphale moan against Crowley’s mouth. Crowley thoroughly explored the contours of Aziraphale’s back, alternating between smoothly gliding his palm over his skin and roughly grabbing at him, holding him close.
"He had him up against the bookcase, yeah?" Crowley whispered between ragged breaths when they separated.
"Yes," Aziraphale panted.
Crowley's eyes flashed with hunger and he retracted his hand from under Aziraphale’s shirt, roughly pushing him to lie on his back before swinging his leg over his hips, pulling himself up to straddle him. He lowered himself down, their bodies flush together, and rolled his hips, grinding against Aziraphale.
"You feel good, angel ."
Aziraphale thrust his hips up to meet him, getting lost in the moment, but realised that Crowley would be relying on him to take the lead, to show him what happened next. He thought back to his story, the way the angel had pushed back against the demon, using his superior strength to guide him towards the bedroom until they crashed down together onto the plush mattress. That would be difficult to recreate in these conditions, so he skipped ahead, grabbing the hem of Crowley’s jumper and pyjama T-shirt together and lifting them up, encouraging him to tug them up over his head.
“You said balance , right?” Crowley whispered before planting a series of kisses along the line of Aziraphale’s jaw. “So I presume anything you take off me, I also get to take off you?”
“That seems fair, doesn’t it?”
“Works for me.”
One by one, they divested each other of every item of clothing, the cool night air no longer a concern as they thoroughly explored each other’s bodies. Aziraphale was barely able to suppress a choked moan when Crowley wrapped his long, dextrous fingers around the part of him that was aching the most, grasping but not moving, perhaps intending to move onto what Aziraphale had described to achieve that state of ‘balance’. That wouldn't be advisable tucked up inside the sleeping bag though.
“We should probably get out of the sleeping bag for the next part."
Crowley’s eyes flicked towards the enclosed end of the sleeping bag and he let out a breathless huff of laughter.
“Yeah, probably a good idea. How did they do this? Side-by-side?”
“That seemed most fitting.”
“Couldn’t agree more.”
Crowley clambered out of the sleeping bag first, hovering over Aziraphale on his hands and knees for a moment, leaning down to kiss him again before shuffling to the side to let him make his own way free from the warm cocoon they had created. When he did, Crowley draped the blanket over Aziraphale's shoulders, and even through the haze of his intense arousal, Aziraphale felt a warm pulse of affection diffuse throughout his chest at the gesture.
“Demon on the left, yeah? Sinistral and all that?”
“On the angel’s left.”
“But if you’re lying on your side…”
“The reader’s right.”
“How does that…?”
“Crowley, please ,” Aziraphale urged, taking it upon himself to lift Crowley and manhandle him into position, his actions eliciting a low moan from deep in Crowley’s throat.
“ Fuck , you’re strong.” Crowley grabbed hold of him and pulled him close, lavishing hot, open-mouthed kisses down the length of his throat.
“I’m an angel,” Aziraphale forced out between ragged breaths, moaning as Crowley sucked on the delicate patch of skin beneath his ear.
“You are,” Crowley breathed reverently against him. “I can’t wait to have you in my mouth.”
Aziraphale certainly didn’t need any more encouragement. He shuffled away slightly and reoriented himself, gasping with shock and pleasure at the sudden sensation of being engulfed in the tight, wet heat of Crowley’s mouth. Aziraphale took a second to catch his breath before reciprocating, quickly becoming dizzy with the combination of sensations he was experiencing. Just like the demon in the story, Crowley proved able to do very interesting things with his tongue, and Aziraphale savoured every moment of it, until the two of them collapsed together, exhilarated and sated, finding their way back into the sleeping bag and each other’s arms.
Aziraphale was exhausted, having only got a few hours of sleep before Crowley had accompanied him back to the top of the hill to re-erect his tent before his colleagues woke up. It was pointless, Aziraphale would just have to take it down again in an hour or so, but Crowley had suggested it would be worth it just to imagine the look on Gabriel’s face when he saw it. The way Crowley laughed when he suggested that Aziraphale pretend nothing untoward had happened at all had made Aziraphale feel very warm and fuzzy inside. They’d parted with a lingering, tender kiss, and Aziraphale had climbed inside his tent and begun to roll up his sleeping bag and pack away his belongings. When he picked up his tablet, he smiled to himself, immediately loading up his story and sending the final pages to print.
Later that morning, Aziraphale headed down to the everything shed, leaving a very bemused-looking Gabriel in his wake, his heart leaping into his chest when he stepped inside to see Crowley holding a stack of A4 paper, the contents of which he was reading intently. There was a discernible flush across his cheekbones.
“Good morning Crowley.”
“Hi… angel . Thanks for my little present, I’m thoroughly enjoying it.”
Aziraphale could feel his own cheeks heating. “I hope it holds some fond memories for you.”
“That’s definitely an understatement, but yeah, it’s amazing, and believe me, I plan on making a lot more fond memories with you as soon as we can.”
“I’ll look forward to that,” Aziraphale said sweetly.
“Me too. Speaking of which…” Crowley put down the stack of paper and picked up one of the campsite leaflets, which he held out towards Aziraphale. “I’ve written my number on it.”
“Oh, thank you. I’ll text you mine.”
Aziraphale folded the leaflet and secured it carefully in his pocket.
Aziraphale smiled and nodded, following Crowley back out of the shed to his little dining area, glancing up at his tent and allowing memories from the early hours of the morning to flood his mind. He would be indulging in some very pleasant daydreaming on the train journey home this afternoon. He was even feeling rather inspired to do some more writing. Breakfast, both the food and the company, was wonderful, but the time went painfully fast, Aziraphale’s heart aching at the prospect of saying goodbye. He gave Crowley a sad smile.
“I’m gonna miss you,” Crowley said softly, taking each of Aziraphale’s hands in his and stroking his thumbs across his knuckles.
“I’m going to miss you too.”
“Want a lift to the station later?”
“Technically, I think that’s against Gabriel’s rules.”
“That means yes, doesn’t it?” Crowley teased. Aziraphale chuckled.
“It does. Thank you, my dear.”
“Hey, um, before you go off for whatever nonsense you’re going to be doing this morning, can I just double check something with you?”
“Which car belongs to Gabriel?”
“Oh… um, the ridiculously oversized silver Mercedes.”
“Thought so. Terrific, thanks.”
“Why do you ask?”
“Oh, no reason. It’d be a shame if something were to happen to such an expensive, flashy car though, wouldn’t it?”
“It wouldn’t be a shame at all.”
Crowley laughed openly, his mouth stretching into a wide grin and the corners of his eyes crinkling.
“Mmm, I think you might be right. Don’t worry, angel, leave it to me.”
“I do hope whatever you have in mind will be a true test of Gabriel’s resilience .”
“Oh, absolutely .” Crowley winked and leaned in for a kiss. Aziraphale gently cradled the back of his neck, lightly scratching his fingernails over Crowley’s hairline.
“I’d better be going,” Aziraphale said with a sigh.
“Yeah. Ok. I’ll see you in a few hours, yeah?”
“Yes, you will.” They kissed again, and when they parted, Crowley had a sly smile on his face.
“If you need something to distract you while you’re doing whatever it is… I’ve actually had an idea for a follow-up to your story.”
Crowley grinned and raised his eyebrows, his warm breath ghosting over Aziraphale’s ear as he whispered to him. He had clearly been paying attention to the notes Aziraphale had left on the original draft he’d seen, describing intricate scenarios involving wings, hemipenes, and a demon who could manifest additional, flexible appendages and do some very intriguing things with them. Aziraphale’s blood rushed towards his groin and he reflexively touched his hand to his cheek, suddenly feeling incredibly warm.
Crowley pulled away and smirked proudly at him. Aziraphale swallowed roughly and cleared his throat.
“Yes… that… um… that is a very distracting thought.”
“Happy to be of service. Go be resilient, angel. Stay focused now, yeah?”
“You tempting, wily creature,” Aziraphale growled playfully, adjusting his trousers before giving Crowley one last quick kiss.
“Yeah, ok, if you say so, but I assure you… you haven’t seen anything yet.”