Angels are creatures of habit.
That’s not quite right.
Angels are creatures of ritual. It’s the celestial equivalent.
They’re perfectionists. They’re the original perfectionists.
They are, in fact, a tiny bit obsessive.
Crowley likes to think that he’s a bit more relaxed. It comes with the territory. Those who saunter vaguely do not colour-code their underwear drawers. Absolutely not. It’s practically his demonic duty to let that sort of thing slide.
Crowley is a creature of habit.
He wears black. He wears red. He wears both of these in whatever shape and style is the contemporary equivalent of cool. It’s a suitably diabolical colour scheme, colours of darkness and temptation. It’s pretty striking, if he says so himself.
And it’s comforting, after thousands of years of messing with ever-so-temporary humanity, to find that some things remain the same.
These days he wears suits. Black suit, red shirt, black tie. Occasionally he’ll mix it up and wear a black shirt with a red tie. Black sunglasses.
Today he’s wearing lipstick.
The Apocalypse-That-Wasn’t shook him. That was the thing. They’d lost the Antichrist, the torturers of Hell had started scratching Crawly on the blades of their knives, there’d been that moment when he’d thought the angel was dea- inconveniently discorporated, and a bloody awful rain of fish, and then the world had broken and been put back together again, and now he wasn’t allowed to be ‘messin’ people about’. That’s an awful lot to take in over seven days.
After a week like that, painting your lips the colour of the blood of your enemies is really the only sensible thing to do.
He’s thinking about getting heels, too, as he saunters into the bookshop, brand spanking new and without so much as a soot-smudge. Slim, sharp, spiky ones that clack when he walks. Something that says “Kicked Destiny in the Bollocks” with a side of “murder”. As a general rule, he’s not one for the violence (mayhem, mischief and mind-melting frustration, on the other hand…), but after a week like that, the ability to terrify people straight into the second half of fight-or-flight without ruining a good suit with maggots sounds like just the ticket, as the angel would say.
The angel in question barely lifts his head at the clinging of the bell above the door, immersed as he is in a box of dusty and undoubtedly unhealthily old and mouldy books, but he does open his mouth (definitely a health hazard, Crowley thinks, if they had health. Which they probably don’t. He’s not sure. He’s been having this creeping feeling, late at night, early in the morning, smoking one last cigarette, drinking one last bottle, that they might be more human, this time around. That Adam might have fixed them up proper, leeching away their immortality until they get old and crumble away. He feels old, sometimes, now) to say “I’m afraid we’re closed at the moment, stock audit, terribly boring, won’t be done for quite a while, feel free to come back next month or never, maybe never –“
Crowley keeps walking forward, prowls the shelves, poking at the occasional Boys’ Own Adventure’s peeling cover. It’s distinctly unsettling, like going back to the Bentley to find it’s not quite where you left it, or that Aziraphale has gotten over his tartan phase (he hasn’t), or the sense that ineffability is failing and letting you age. He doesn’t like it. Pouts a little. Ignores the sound of the angel’s voice, lets it fade into familiar, comfortable background.
Almost doesn’t notice when it falls abruptly silent.
He looks up to see Aziraphale staring at him, mouth slightly open.
“What?” he asks, confused.
The angel blinks. If it wasn’t for the way the light from the shop window fell, illuminating his face and the wall behind in a strange suggestion of a halo (that’s been happening more and more recently. Crowley wonders if it’s Adam’s idea of a joke), he’d look like a rather confused fish.
“What?” he asks again. “Have I got something on my face?”
At least, that’s what it sounds like. That can’t be right.
“Angel,” Crowley says, slithering (as best he’s able with two feet) up to the desk. Sinuous, he always did like sinuous. He smiles, predatory.
“Are you freaking out about my lipstick?”
“What? No!” the angel squeaks, then clears his throat. “You caught me by surprise, my dear, that’s all. I haven’t seen that shade of red in a while.”
Crowley stifles a laugh and perches on the edge of the desk, thinking back.
“Huh. I guess you’re right. ’45, maybe?”
“I think they’d just given you a commendation for the Third Reich.”
After all this time, you’d think he’d be used to it. You’d think he’d see it coming. Every time he gets called below, every time, it’s the same damned thing. Dagon shakes his hand, compliments Crowley on the execution (oh god) of some particularly horrific evil that Crowley hadn’t even known was happening, hands him a nice shiny medal. Or a nice rusty soot-smudged bloodstained medal. This being hell, after all.
Maybe he had known, somewhere deep down. It’s good to have war paint, days like this. Crowley upends the bottle over his mouth, and nothing comes out. He tries to wave at the bartender for another, and smacks a hand into something cold, damp, and sludgy.
The cold, damp, and sludgy is seeping into the seat of his suit trousers too. There’s something sticky in his hair. He rubs a hand across his mouth, and it comes away red.
“You were drunk for a week afterwards.”
The angel sounds worried, Crowley realises, coming back to the present with a thump. It makes sense. Aziraphale was the one who pulled him out of that particular gutter. He probably thought he was going to have to fish hungover Adversary out of someplace slimy again.
“Correlation does not imply causation, angel.”
“Lipstick does not equal dumpster-diving-for-drunken-demon,” he explains, rattled. “Generally it just means “demon likes lipstick, high heels to follow”. Did I ever say thank you for that, by the way?”
“High heels?” Aziraphale asks, pursing his lips slightly. There’s a slight swooping sensation in the pit of Crowley’s stomach. If Adam has given him middle-aged digestion, he swears to G- Sa- someone –
“Sure,” he says, biting back nausea. Adam-dammit. “Why not? Hastur’s five inches taller than me, angel, the looming bastard is laughing at my delicate stature, laughing – “
“I guess I just thought,” the angel interrupts, quietly, “especially after everything, that you’d give all this up.”
Crowley’s brain stops. It whirs feebly, trying to reconnect, while from far away he feels his mouth run on autopilot.
The angel spreads his hands, helplessly. “The war’s done. It’s over. You don’t have to be the Adversary anymore. You could just…stop.”
Crowley’s reeling. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Aziraphale looking concerned, and tries to school his features to nonchalant disinterest. It’s just –
It’s just that if anybody, anybody, but the angel had asked, if hell had demanded an explanation, if his radio had upped and said, one morning, CROWLEY, WHAT IS THAT ON YOUR VAGUELY MALE-LOOKING BODY’S FACE? He would have shrugged and said “demon”, and that would have been it. Demons transgress. They cross lines. It’s what they do.
But that’s not it. Or it is, but not for the right reasons. He’s a demon. A former angel. He doesn’t have a gender. Sometimes he likes to remind himself of that. Sometimes he’s had a no good, very bad, awful day, or week, or century, and this is what he needs. Sometimes he just likes the colour.
Aziraphale doesn’t just meant that, though. He means all of it. He means tying up all the telephone exchanges for an hour at lunch-time, he means going down Oxford Street the wrong way at ninety miles per hour. He means watching Golden Girls instead of working hard and scaring pot-plants and accidentally sinking the ducks at St James’s Park and never buying petrol.
That’s not the job. That’s just him. That’s all him.
And Aziraphale is never going to believe that.
He flashes back, abruptly, shockingly vivid, to the conversation in the Bentley, during the hunt for the Anti-Christ. I can’t explain it any better than that. Especially not to you.
Crowley’s not sure what he says in response. Something light and mildly sarcastic, no doubt, something that puts Aziraphale at ease. The angel stops looking worried, goes back to his books as Crowley turns to leave.
Crowley needs a drink.
Someone is shaking his shoulder.
“G’way, ‘ngel,” he mutters into what feels like dirt. It’s cold, and gritty, with a smooth solidity beneath it that feels like cobbles.
Something clinks next to him, and he feels, rather than sees, the empty bottle roll away from his slack hand.
“Wake up, love,” a voice says. It’s familiar, but it’s not the angel’s, and Crowley feels a sense of quiet relief in whichever bits of him aren’t currently pounding with pain, heaving with nausea, or making friends with freezing, dirty chunks of ground.
A gentle hand rolls him over, and Madam Tracy blurs above him, face creased with concern.
“Mr Crowley?” she says, then grabs his arm and lifts, until he’s upright again and leaning on something warm and solid. It takes a step forward, and he staggers, but stays standing. Starts walking.
He wipes a hand across his mouth, and it comes away red.
They’re drinking tea in silence, around the dining table in the kitchen of Madam Tracy’s flat. Shadwell had stomped past on his way to bed an hour ago, growling “A’ight, ye great southern pansy?” which, Madam Tracy explained, was about as close as he ever got to sympathy.
Crowley’s not sure why he needs sympathy. The Apocalypse is over. He’s drunk as a skunk that robbed a liquor store. He’s (probably) immortal. No one from Downstairs has come to punish him yet. The angel’s fine.
He explains this to Madam Tracy, who says “Of course, love,” and offers him a top-up.
“He cares about you a lot, you know,” she says, after a while.
“Who? Shadwell?” Crowley asks, deliberately misunderstanding. He doesn’t want to hear…whatever it is she thinks she knows. She doesn’t know anything.
“Mr Fell,” she corrects, and Crowley let his head fall to the table with a thunk.
“Nah. F’r that, he’d hafta get that people are real. Real people. With…with feelings, an’ lipstick, an’ that. Can’t keep them up your sleeve for when you need something. Shleeves kill them. An’ then I have to bring them back, an-“
There’s a careful hand on his shoulder, and Crowley shudders. “Think I’ma sober up, now,” he mumbles, and does.
“Thanks for the tea. Sorry about the – “ he waves a hand, uncomfortable; how do you encompass passing out in a gutter, getting rescued, drooling on near-strangers’ shoulders, drinking their tea, and talking to them drunkenly about feelings (Which he doesn’t have. Feelings, that is) in a single motion.
She seems to understand.
“No problem love. And –“
Crowley turns back, hand on the door.
“If you ever need a cuppa,” she continues, smiling faintly, “or a chat with someone who’s been inside your young man’s head, in a manner of speaking. Or someone to shop with,” she gestures towards his face, now devoid of both dirt and red, “you know where to find me.”
Crowley tries to smile back, nods jerkily, and escapes before he can say anything too incriminating.
It’s only when he’s home, locking the front door and glaring half-heartedly at the nearest plants, that it occurs to him to wonder why Madam Tracy referred to Aziraphale as his young man.
He wakes up to the blinking light of the answerphone as it sears through his lids, his head dangling over the arm of the sofa.
He scowls at it, hoping that if he does that long enough, the light will stop. It doesn’t. Instead, the machine starts playing the message, unprompted.
Crowley pulls a cushion out from under his neck and attempts to smother himself with it.
“My dear, it’s me,” says the machine. It sounds flustered, nay, frazzled. Crowley is briefly, viciously pleased. “You caught me at a bad moment, yesterday, I think, though of course that’s no excuse. I fear I may have been a tad insensitive. And, well, I…that is to say, I mean…”
There is a mutter that sounds startlingly, bizarrely, like swearing.
“It’s my turn for the Ritz, I think,” the angel continues. “If you like. Erm…call me back, if you get this?”
The machine beeps.
Crowley stays frozen to the spot, cushion balanced on his face, for a brief moment, then groans.
It’s too early for this.
He goes for a walk.
The streets are packed. Crowley barely notices, his feet tracing a familiar path without his brain bothering to intervene.
When he comes to a stop, he starts, taking in his surroundings. Of course.
He can’t bring himself to feed the ducks.
Crowley sits on their usual bench, tips his head back and closes his eyes. Maybe he’ll have another nap. Maybe he’ll go somewhere else for a while. He contemplates leaving London, no forwarding address, and enjoying humanity in some other part of the world. He misses Gomorrah, suddenly, misses the trees and the sunshine and the little dog that used to sit outside the place with the cocktails and sleep on the innkeeper’s feet.
Something thumps down on the bench beside him, and he startles, eyes flying open to see an unruly tangle of limbs spread every which way, and a bright grin shrinking into something apologetic.
“Sorry mate, didn’t realise you were asleep,” it says, smiling ruefully. “Mind if I pull up a bit of bench?”
“Not at all,” Crowley says, minding a great deal.
“Lovely day,” the bench thief says, gazing out across the park.
“Mmph,” Crowley shrugs, non-committal.
“I think I’ve seen you here before.”
“Aren’t you usually with that other bloke? Curly hair, tweedy-looking. Tartan scarf and spectacles.”
Crowley resists the urge to snarl at the perfectly innocent nosy little bench-stealing git. It’s not their fault he’s nursing the ghost of a hangover and a completely corporeal sulk.
“Aw, hell,” the thief says, sounding genuinely saddened. “That’s twenty quid I’m never seeing again.”
“What.” Crowley says, flatly.
“Oh, well, we had a bet,” the thief says, as Crowley turns confused eyes upon them. They seem to be reasonably young, with an impish face and rainbows painted (and smudged) across their cheeks. “I thought you two were a couple. Barry went for unresolved sexual tension, and when we hadn’t seen you for a while, Quinn bet you’d split up.”
Crowley makes to get up, already wondering where he’s going to go. The flat’s empty, and still smells of melted Ligur, despite that particular demon having been resurrected in Adam Young’s great “Turn It Off And Turn It Back On Again” reboot of the universe. He doesn’t want to go to the bookshop. He doesn’t trust himself not to say something stupid. That leaves the Ritz, and Aziraphale won’t be there yet.
“Sorry, sorry, that was totally out of line, please don’t let my fit of foot-in-mouth chase you out of the park.”
A hand grabs his sleeve. He contemplates smiting it.
“It’s just,” the thief says, “you always looked so happy, that’s all. I’m…I’m really sorry it didn’t work out.”
Crowley deflates, sitting back on the park bench with a sigh and a silent wish for a cigarette. After a moment he holds out a hand. “Crowley,” he says, and the thief shakes it, surprised and pleased all at once. “Liza.”
“It’s ok,” he adds.
“The day. I wouldn’t go as far as lovely, but…”
“It is a bit grey, isn’t it,” Liza says, leaning back and staring up at the clouds.
“So what’s with the,” Crowley waves his hand, “rainbow face? Hen afternoon, or something?”
“Nah,” she laughs, “just came from the March.”
Crowley must look puzzled, because she continues “you know? Pride? Queers of the world unite?”
He thinks about that for a moment.
“Good for you.”
Liza grins again, and her whole face lights up.
They chat for a little while, this and that, did you hear about the -? Seriously? What about -? Totally underrated, that album – until the air cools down and the street lamps begin switching on, pale in the early evening light.
“If you don’t mind me asking,” Liza says, after they’ve swapped numbers and are moving towards the park exit, Crowley having offered his arm like the gentleman he’s never been, “what did happen with you and the tartan-scarf bloke?”
“Not what you’re thinking.”
They pass the ducks, and he feels a vague pang of guilt, vows to bring them bread next time. If there is a next time.
“We were never…that,” he says, after a minute. “We’ve known each other for a long time. And we didn’t exactly get off to the best start. There’s all this…stuff, that he disapproves of, and I don’t think he understands that it’s not just stuff, that I can’t just take it off like a suit or a job or lipstick, that there isn’t another, better me underneath all that. There’s just…me. And I don’t think he’s ever going to-“
His voice is shaking, he realises, aghast, and then Liza’s hugging him tightly, and he can smell facepaint and beer and lavender shampoo, and he hugs back, sudden, grateful.
“Call me,” she says, as she walks away, waving. Crowley runs a hand over his face, and thinks maybe he might.
The angel picks up after the first ring.
“See you at eight, usual table.” Crowley says, all in one breath, and hangs up.
He stares at his plants.
The angel’s already there, anxiously early where Crowley is fashionably late. He looks up when Crowley enters, looking –
Crowley shoves his hands in his pockets, mouth suddenly dry.
Saunter, he tells himself. You’re a demon. Act like it.
He’s concentrating so hard on sauntering that he almost trips over a chair-leg. Luckily the angel isn’t looking, facing the other way as he waves for the waiter.
“What’ll you have, my dear?” he asks, as Crowley arrives, and makes a spirited effort at lounging insouciantly in his chair.
Crowley orders automatically. He wonders if, at this point, he might as well say ‘the usual’ and have done with it. It’s been several decades, at least.
They sit in silence until the starters arrive. For a while, there are only the discreet sounds of hungry but well-mannered people eating.
And then Aziraphale puts down his knife and fork with a slight clink, dabs at the corner of his mouth with a napkin, and clears his throat.
Crowley looks up from his intense examination of the tablecloth.
“My dear,” the angel says, folding and unfolding his hands on the tabletop, “I fear I owe you a grave apology.”
“Started the party early, did you?” Crowley asks, with forced joviality. “You’re a sentimental drunk, angel.”
“Please don’t,” Aziraphale says, agitatedly. “Please let me finish.”
Crowley spreads his hands, palm up, in the air before him.
“I…firstly, I very much need to apologise for my…my Third Reich comment. That was shockingly insensitive, and-“
“You didn’t even have to pull me out of a gutter this time,” Crowley interrupts. “Nothing to worry about, really.”
“The gutter,” Aziraphale says, dangerously, “is not the point. It was terribly callous of me. I knew you’d taken it to heart and there was no earthly reason to bring it up-“
There’s a slight ripping sound, and Crowley becomes aware that Aziraphale is slowly, methodically shredding a napkin into thin little strips. And he doesn’t seem to have noticed.
“But,” the angel continues, “more importantly, I think, I simply must apologize for what I said next. I’ve made mistakes, over the years, Crowley, more than I care to admit, and possibly the biggest blunder of them all is the assumptions I’ve made about you.”
Crowley realises that his mouth is hanging slightly open. He closes it with a quiet snap, and wishes his wineglass full again.
“I realise that I made it seem…as though I want you to change. Or that you weren’t as important as…as that spark of goodness we spoke about, when…well, you know when. It was you all along, wasn’t it? Not a job, or a trick, or a, a t-temptation?”
The angel is staring intently at his folded hands, as though he can compel them to stop trembling. Crowley wants to reach out and take one.
“I misunderstood you so dreadfully.”
Crowley doesn’t take his hand. He doesn’t want to do this in public, this is theirs, this is private, but the angel seems to have shrunk, somehow, and he finds he doesn’t like it at all. Crowley concentrates, reaches out with a single, invisible wing, and wraps it around Aziraphale’s shoulder.
The angel shudders, and looks up, something like hope (wonder?) in his pale eyes.
Crowley wants to forgive him. He wants to shout. He wants to laugh, hysterically, at the ridiculous, ludicrous bloody ineffable universe.
He says “What brought this on?”
And winces. Tightens his wing around Aziraphale’s back, as though to soften the words.
The angel straightens, and meets his gaze for the first time this evening, faintly amused.
“I have eyes, my dear. And yesterday, well, I couldn’t bring myself to take them off you.”
Crowley’s bemusement must be a picture, because Aziraphale laughs as he elaborates. “You are rather striking, you know, even without lipstick. With it, you are positively mesmerising. And once I was looking, well…”
“Your face is an open book, my dear, even if I sometimes take too long to understand the import of what I’ve read. I was certain I’d hurt you, though I couldn’t say why, and then you seemed to laugh it off, and I thought, well, I must be mistaken, mustn’t I? As if you could be hurt by something I said.”
Aziraphale pauses, fiddling with the stem of his wineglass.
“But I couldn’t stop thinking about it,” he adds suddenly, raising his eyes again. “And I kept thinking about it. And at around four o’clock this morning, I realised what I’d done. What I’ve always done.”
“Please,” the angel says, reaching across the table and taking Crowley’s sweaty hand in his. “I can’t expect you to forgive me. I’m not sure I can even forgive myself. But I would…I would very much like to try to…to earn that. Your forgiveness, I mean. If…if that would – “
“Angel,” Crowley says, and he can’t even imagine what he sounds like right now, if the relief and the heart-ache and the tremulous hope and mind-numbing terror and the lo- he can’t say it, he’s not even sure he can think it – is as plain in his voice as it is in his head, as overwhelming.
But Aziraphale seems to understand. “Oh, my dear,” he says, eyes fixed on Crowley’s, and it is wonder, isn’t it, and shock, and doubt, and fierce, fierce joy.
Crowley forgets about the Ritz, forgets about private, and personal, about heaven and hell and Arma-bloody-geddon, and kisses Aziraphale.
Demons are creatures of habit, angels of ritual. This isn’t either, not yet, but, Crowley thinks, vaguely registering that the restaurant has fallen away and smells like bookshop, sliding his hands into the angel’s hair, it could be. After all, they have time.
 Aziraphale would tell you that “obsessive” is perhaps a little strong. Hardly fair, my dear. Crowley would cough “tartan”, and then blink at you innocently. If he was in a particularly bad mood, he might have some stories to tell about people who sit up all night reading apocalypses and letting themselves get jumped by amateur exorcists.
 Although technically, as a demon, not being allowed to do something was tantamount to an order to do the thing, right now, with extra blood and heavy on the screaming.