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The Last Temptation of Crowley

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Cocoa was a vile thing, Crowley decided, unless you had an angel to make it for you.  So far, the Second Day of the Rest of the World wasn't going very well: he'd slept badly, for starters.  Crowley made a face and poured the burned glop down the drain.  He snarled at his wayward ficus on the way out, and if he'd hung back a moment longer, he might've seen the tree tremble.  It might even have cheered him up.

As if all of that weren't bad enough, Aziraphale took forever to answer the door.

"Really, must you wake the neighbors?" asked the angel, cautiously peering outside.  His teacup sent misty tendrils drifting up in front of his blue eyes, and Crowley thought the effect profoundly disturbing.

"Just let me in," he hissed.

Aziraphale did as he was told, stepping out of the way as Crowley stormed inside.  He blinked a few times, completely ignoring the cup in his hand.

"What are you staring at?" Crowley asked gloomily.  "Have you finally realized what you've been letting in by the front door for all this time?"

"No," Aziraphale said, still staring. "It's that you're, er, not wearing sunglasses."

Crowley ran a hand across his forehead, and then swore. Aziraphale cringed. Maybe that explained why the shifty bloke in front of him had driven off the road and hit a telephone pole.  He was sure he hadn't done it on purpose, none of the usual rearview-mirror tricks, though those were certainly some of his favorites.  Irritably, Crowley snapped his fingers, and things suddenly looked a lot more normal.

"Is that better?"

"No sense wearing them inside," Aziraphale said, and took a sip of tea.  "I assume there's a point to this visit, so we might as well get on with it."

Crowley muttered to himself and followed the angel, but he left on his glasses.

There was much less space in the back room than Crowley remembered.  He spent a good ten minutes staring at the unfamiliar volumes behind the glass doors of Aziraphale's carefully kept cabinets, wondering if the angel would actually break with habit and sell the blasted things.  There were bunches of full boxes shoved up against the wall, which was odd and disquieting, especially since he wouldn't be able to tip his chair as far back as he liked on account.

Aziraphale shuffled back in with two cups in hand, looking confused again.

"Crowley, please," he said.  "You're making me nervous.  Sit down."

Crowley couldn't think of anything to say that wouldn't get Aziraphale's feathers in a twist—strange, that he didn't feel like doing even that—so he settled for taking the angel's usual seat and sliding as far back as he could until he collided gracelessly with cardboard.  Bloody paperback overstock, real gem of a joke.

Aziraphale set a cup down in front of him, and then sat down in the other chair.

For a moment, Crowley couldn't think of anything but the smell of properly made cocoa, and he'd downed half of it before he realized it also contained peppermint schnapps.  He set the cup down, blinking in surprise.

"Thank you."

"Out of sorts and polite," Aziraphale said, taking another quiet sip of his tea.  "You'd think the world was ending."

"Oh, shut up," Crowley said to his cocoa.  "I'm not out of sorts.  I'm…"  He waved his hand in the air, searching for what he was.  "Hungry.  Have you eaten?"

"I made scones this morning, in fact. Would you care for any?"  Aziraphale waved his hand at the plate abruptly and conveniently sitting between them on the table.

Crowley wrinkled his nose, recalling last time, which had involved raisins and had not been at all pleasant.  "Only if they're—"

"Blueberry, for heaven's sake," Aziraphale sniffed, and polished off his tea.

They ate in silence.  Several scones later, it occurred to Crowley that he was in trouble, because the visit didn't actually have a point—none other than that he'd ruined his cocoa and meant to ask for some, except he hadn't had to ask.  Aziraphale was looking at Crowley as if he'd forgot more than his glasses, which made him squirm.

"Did you have something else in mind?" Aziraphale asked.

"Er," Crowley said, lifting some crumbs up from the tabletop by crushing them with his fingertip, "sort of.  I thought we might…"  Go for sushi to celebrate the return of the whales sounded remarkably stupid even by his standards, and besides, he was neither drunk enough to say it, nor even drunk period.  "Lunch," he said finally, brushing his hands off over the plate.  "I thought we might do lunch."

Aziraphale raised an eyebrow.  "My dear, it's not yet noon."

Now, lately, when Aziraphale said that, it did funny things to Crowley, such as make him want to use words that no respectable demon should want to use.  It didn't even occur to him to realize that Aziraphale hadn't pointed out that they had just done lunch the day before, as the angel was usually wont to do.  At least not for a few seconds, at which point Crowley decided to panic, which entailed standing up, which entailed slamming into the box of who-knew-what-overly-expensive-children's-book.

"Fine, then, there's time to kill," he said brightly, pacing into the kitchenette empty-handed before returning to fetch the cups and pacing back.  "Do you have any wine?"

"Actually," Aziraphale said, following Crowley into the kitchen, which he was most certainly not supposed to do, "I have plans."

Crowley dropped the cups into the sink and squeaked, "What?"

Aziraphale looked away quickly, like he was about to apologize.  "I thought I might take a stroll to Lower Tadfield and—"

"Stroll?  That'd take you all day," Crowley said, turning fast enough that he knocked into Aziraphale, who had the plate in hand, but not for very long.

"I don't walk as much as I ought," Aziraphale said, evasively, staring down at the shattered china.  "The weather's been fine, so—"

"I'll drive you," Crowley said, guiltily waving the mess away.

The ride was as quiet as breakfast, despite Crowley's best attempts at speeding and general belligerence.  There wasn't much traffic, which defeated the point, and Aziraphale was annoyingly composed.  The angel sat with his hands folded neatly in his lap, calmly watching the passing scenery while the wind whipped his pale hair this way and that, a splintered, graying halo in the sunshine.

Crowley blared the Bentley's horn and cursed at a passing cyclist.

"Was that really necessary?" Aziraphale asked, and the touch of his hand on Crowley's shoulder was so unexpected that Crowley almost let go of the wheel.

"You can never be too careful these days," he said, lamely, flicking his eyes up to the rearview mirror.  Aziraphale was looking to the side again, hands re-folded in his lap.

"Ah," he said.

That did it.  Crowley couldn't take any more of this imperturbability; it just wasn't…wasn't proper.  He reached for the glove compartment.

Aziraphale caught his hand.  "What's got into you?"

Crowley wrenched it free, and then gripped the wheel.  "You're being secretive!  What's so important out in Lower Middle-of-Nowhere, which, need I remind you, is all set straight now, that you can't be buggered to do lunch?"

"We did lunch yester—"

"Tell me."

"Business," Aziraphale said, and Crowley knew by the angel's tone that he'd lost.

"Nothing you'd like my interference in," Crowley supplied.  "Not that they aren't just brilliant that way all by themselves."

"It's follow-up," Aziraphale said, as if sounding tart took considerable effort.

Crowley took the turn without flipping his signal and stared at Aziraphale, horrified.

"You mean you've received Orders?"

Aziraphale blinked at him, something at which he was getting awfully good.  "No, my dear, I haven't," he said, and Crowley almost missed the rest of what was coming out of his mouth.  "Whatever gave you a strange idea like that?"

"I, er," Crowley said, focusing on the road.  "Nothing."

"I think you need a holiday," Aziraphale said, patting his shoulder sympathetically.  "I hear Greece is quite charming this time of year."

Crowley pulled over, screeching the Bentley to a halt.

"Get out of the car, angel."

*        *        *

Once he got back to London, Crowley decided that the only way to deal with kicking the closest thing he'd ever had to a friend out of his car was to get trollied.

Aziraphale did, indeed, have wine.  One of the lower cupboards in the back room was devoted entirely to bottles of Claret, Riesling, and about anything else that a discriminating individual could possibly wish to use for the purpose of drowning out guilt that one is not supposed to have.  Crowley selected two bottles of the best vintage of Wehlener-Sönnenuhr that he could find and went looking for a corkscrew.

Three hours later, he left sober.

*        *        *

The ansaphone clicked to life around five in the evening, and Crowley had the stereo system up so loud that he almost missed it.  Wagner, after all, took precedence.

He almost tripped over the ficus, which kept falling over, on his way to the office.

"Aziraphale, is that—"

"Yes," said the angel, sounding uncharacteristically tired.  "I, ah, noticed—"

"I left a cheque on the fridge," Crowley muttered.

"Er, yes."

The silence was deafening, except for The Flight of the Valkyries in the background.  Crowley stopped the music with a thought.

Aziraphale swallowed, and then said, "I don't suppose you'd like dinner?"

Half an hour later, they occupied a corner table in an Indian establishment whose name Crowley could never remember even if he'd just looked at the sign two seconds ago.  Aziraphale ordered masala chai and shot Crowley a look that indicated the waiter had probably asked him a simple question for which Crowley had no answer.

"What?"

"Be a dear and bring him a mango lassi," Aziraphale said, and the waiter went away.  "You," he said to Crowley, "are impossible, and I haven't felt like telling you that since—well, never mind.  You're acting as if—have you received a message?"

Crowley laughed sharply.  "No, thank G—no, I haven't.  None at all."

Aziraphale sighed and spread his napkin in his lap.  "All's well that ends well." 

"Would you stop reminding me?  We're supposed to forget."

"It's just…"  Aziraphale pinched up a bit of the tablecloth, trying not to smile.

"Yes?"

"They're so happy."

"Oh," Crowley said bitterly, "I see what you're on about.  Spying so you can gloat over your little triumph, et cetera—"

"Our triumph—"

"Masala chai, mango lassi.  Sir?"

Crowley glared over the drink and picked up his menu.  "After you."

Aziraphale ordered something that Crowley had been too lazy to try for a long time, so Crowley ordered the same thing.  The angel scowled and pulled the menu out of his hand, thrusting both placards back at the waiter.  It didn't suit him.

"You were saying?" Crowley prompted, hoping that he sounded sincere, because he actually was being sincere, and surely Aziraphale knew that took some doing.

Aziraphale shrugged, sipping his tea politely.  "They're utterly content.  That's all."

"You didn't spend hours out there watching nothing," Crowley accused.

"No, I didn't," agreed the angel, lifting his napkin to his lips, which was unexpectedly distracting.  "But I should hardly think you'd want to hear about it."

"Try me," Crowley said, finally picking up the lassi.

Aziraphale made another face—Crowley wished he'd stop, it wasn't normal—and shrugged.  "I called on Jasmine Cottage."

Crowley slurped on his straw, frowning.  "And?"

Aziraphale blushed and picked up his tea.

"Really, Crowley. It would hardly be right if I told you."

Crowley stared at him, and then recovered himself and summoned a proper sneer.  "Yet there's nothing wrong with spying?  Angel, tsk," he sighed.  "You're slipping."

Aziraphale's cup wobbled as he set it down, spilling some tea on the white tablecloth.  "Honestly, one would think you didn't know what I meant—"

"Demons, you know," Crowley said, sarcastically, making the universal, circular gesture signifying completely and utterly mad at his temple. "Horribly slow."

Aziraphale threw his napkin at Crowley, which shocked the demon enough to drop the subject.  Unsurprisingly, they ate in silence, but at least the music was good.

*        *        *

Crowley woke up with a headache.

Grumbling, he slid out of bed and staggered over to the window.  Another disgustingly sunny day; Crowley wondered how many of them the kid thought he could take.  He rubbed his eyes, trying to focus on the street.  London had already been up for hours, blithely going about her business and leisure.  A young couple strolled by.

Crowley yanked the curtains shut and retreated to the bathroom.

Much like sleep, hot water was one of Crowley's superfluous pleasures.  His shower head had about six different settings, and it was definitely an XTRA-HI kind of morning.  He turned his face into the spray and stood there until he couldn't feel the pain in his temples anymore.  They hadn't even gone back to Aziraphale's for a drink. By the time dinner ended, the angel had been in some kind of hurry to get back.  Blasted books.  Crowley had remained in the no-parking zone till after Aziraphale was inside. He sucked in a mouthful of water, spat, and played the scene over and over.

Crowley dried and dressed quickly, careful to remember his sunglasses.  He terrorized the plants for a while, but his heart wasn't in it, so they got a reprieve and a thorough watering.  If it wouldn't rain outside, then Crowley would do his best indoors.

At noon, he dialed Aziraphale's number.  No answer.

"Prat," he said, and hung up.  His chest hurt.

The best method for clearing one's head, as far as Crowley knew, was feeding the ducks in St. James' Park.  And if that failed, at least it was a jumping-off point for other pursuits.  What Crowley failed to take into account was that Aziraphale wasn't going with him, and the former usually depended upon the presence of the latter.

"Hallo," Aziraphale said from a distance, already standing in their favorite spot.

Crowley took a crumpled paper bag from his jacket, where it had spent the past fifteen minutes as an unattractive lump.  "We have to stop this," he said decisively, opening the bag.  "People will talk."

Aziraphale took the piece of bread that Crowley offered him. "Are you feeling all right?  Before you tell me that's a stupid question, I would like to point out that, in this case, blaming my wine is not an option, and you technically have no excuse."

Crowley ignored the him and tossed an entire piece of bread into the water.  Four ducks attacked it at once, a loud flurry of green and brown feathers.

"There's no reasoning with you, is there?"

"Did you go back?" Crowley asked, intently watching the ducks fight.

"I beg your pardon?" Aziraphale asked, tone migrating quickly from baffled to affronted.  "No, if you must know," he added, understanding, "I've been here all day."

Crowley glared at him.  "Here here?"

"Of course not!  London here."

"What on earth were you—oh," he concluded. "And I suppose they're very happy."

"Actually, they had a spectacular row," Aziraphale said, reaching for the bag.

"Dare I ask why?"

"I asked kindly if I might treat Madame Tracy to lunch, and her young man threw a fit.  It's all been sorted out, though.  We had a lovely chat.  They're moving soon."

"I suppose you sold them a honeymoon in Greece," Crowley said acidly.

"Oh, no," said Aziraphale placidly, tossing a bit of balled-up bread to a neglected white duck.  "They have a charming little place in Cornwall lined up.  Madame Tracy said they'll be naming the cottage Shangri-La."

Crowley couldn't decide whether doesn't sodding exist or how bloody romantic was the more inappropriate response, so he mumbled something between the two and earned himself a funny—and, much to his satisfaction, troubled—look from the angel.

"Nothing says you can't have a look yourself," Aziraphale said, and took the bag to the trash.  The white duck waddled up and tugged on his trousers, complaining softly.

Crowley looked around and realized that they were, for once, utterly alone.

*        *        *

On Wednesday, Crowley didn't get up.

The phone rang twice, but he didn't answer.

He didn't get up on Thursday, either.

The phone rang once, but the ansaphone was silent.

He suspected the plants were having a field day.

*        *        *

Anathema, Crowley had to admit, was an attractive woman.  If you liked that sort of thing.  It was a good thing that Newton Pulsifer did, and even better that she liked him back.  Come to think of it, Crowley hadn't seen two people so in-like for ages.

The cottage was a shambles.  They had every window in the place open, so finding a niche wasn't so difficult.  Unseen, Crowley leaned through the nearest windowsill to the bed.  What he really wanted was to leave, but stubbornness kept him rooted to the spot.  When it got to be too much, the creepers were an excellent distraction.

They were beautiful, both of them, with flushed skin and plaster in their hair.

*        *        *

That evening, Crowley found himself in Aziraphale's back room, glaring hazily at the boxes.  He set his wine bottle down and gave the nearest one a hard kick.
       
"The trouble with this is," he began, and then paused.  "Boxes.  Everywhere."

"Lots," Aziraphale agreed, giving the boxes an accusing look.  "Loads. Skeins—"

"That's yarn," Crowley said, vaguely proud of himself.  "With needles."

"Croquet," Aziraphale agreed wistfully.  "Always meant to learn."

"Nonono, s'knitty—knit—knitting," Crowley managed.  "Hooks and that.  Lots of…of…"

Aziraphale gazed at him expectantly, unusually nice-looking in the low light.

"Plaster," Crowley said miserably, taking a long swig of wine.

Aziraphale screwed up his face as if something was bothering him.

"Y'see, it was…hair.  And vines.  With plaster.  And skin, you'd honestly think—"

"Crawl—Crowley—"

"'S 'mazing," he mused, "what you can do with it."

"With what?" Aziraphale asked uncertainly, reaching for Crowley's bottle.

Crowley swiped it away with a hiss. 

"Plaster," he repeated, annoyed that Aziraphale's eyes wouldn't keep still so he could look into them.  "Like snow, but the difference is—" he sighed "—'s not cold."

"No," Aziraphale murmured, smiling almost sadly.  "No, it's not."

*        *        *

Crowley woke up with another headache.  Fuck this, he thought, and got up.

The drive to Lower Tadfield improved his spirits, as Saturday drivers were notoriously touchy. By the time he reached the old airfield, he'd caused no fewer than two near-collisions and several double-takes.  Perhaps he'd drive without his sunglasses more often.  He parked in a rutted grassy spot and headed for the woods.

Crowley could hear a dog chasing something in the underbrush.

He found the boy sooner than he'd expected, perched alone in a tree.  Adam was watching the dog's progress, shading his eyes against the relentless sun, content. 

Crowley stepped cautiously through the brush, till he was close enough to touch the tree's trunk.  Briefly, he remembered the snag of bark on his scales.

Adam Young looked down at him, his eyes quick as a bird's.

"Hallo," Crowley said awkwardly, trying a smile.

"You shouldn't be here," said the boy, thoughtfully, but he smiled back.

"You shouldn't be apart," he added.

*        *        *

And, just like that, they weren't.

Aziraphale looked up from his book, tried to say something, and failed. 

"When did you—"

"Now, I think," Crowley said, equally confused.  "I was—"

"Sick of driving?" Aziraphale asked, smiling, and for the first time, Crowley noticed how tired the angel looked.  The faint lines about his eyes were worse than usual.

"No," Crowley said, remembering a far older pair of eyes peering at him.  "Yes. It's…"

Aziraphale stood up, setting his book aside.

"Complicated," he sighed.  "Yes, I know.  And entirely—"

"Don't use that word. If there's anything I'm sick of, it's ineffability."

Aziraphale smiled again, nervous, as if he had another plate to break.

"Actually, my dear, I was going to say—"

Crowley never found out what he was going to say, because he threw all discretion to the wind, complexity and ineffability be damned, and kissed Aziraphale till his sunglasses were skewed so badly that he couldn't see straight. 

Aziraphale made a strangled noise, but he didn't protest.

"I, um," Crowley panted, not entirely sure what to do next.

Aziraphale just stood there with his arms around Crowley's neck, blinking.

"Plaster?" he suggested, and Crowley laughed, kissing him all over again.

*        *        *

The bed was a mess before they even got there, partly because Crowley had already spent entirely too much time in it.  Aziraphale studied the sheets dubiously, but Crowley dragged him onto the mattress before he could protest.

"This is terribly unfair," Aziraphale murmured, running curious hands up Crowley's arms.  He gazed up at Crowley absently, perhaps thinking it was all a dream.

"You wish," Crowley said, working a finger in between two of Aziraphale's buttons.  "Maybe I was too quick to judge.  Nice, really, your ineffability."

"Oh, do be quiet."

Unfortunately, Crowley was no such thing.  Aziraphale's skin took a beautiful flush under Crowley's fingertips, and when they touched, bare from shoulder to toe, he whimpered rather indignantly.  Aziraphale chuckled in his ear, twining around him like one of Anathema's creepers.  Crowley closed his eyes and moaned.

"Crowley," Aziraphale whispered, voice harsh as they moved.

"Don't make me say it," he hissed, gasping against Aziraphale's skin.  "Don't—"

"My dear, I wouldn't—wouldn't dream of—of—"

"Angel," Crowley breathed.

He held Aziraphale and meant it.