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Seven Days in Purgatory (Or, Aziraphale Really is Stupid, for Someone So Smart)

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It had been seven days since the day the world was supposed to end. Days of beautiful, sunny, August weather neither too hot nor too cold, perfect, as it were, for long strolls in the park with a certain occult entity, and outdoor dinners in the evening air. The world had ended, heaven and hell had rained their judgement down upon them, and things were, essentially, exactly as they had been before. Aziraphale, ever a creature of habit, thought he ought to find this return to normalcy comforting. Somehow, though, he couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong. Standing in the bookshop, a light breeze of warm summer air ruffling the curtains through the open windows, Aziraphale felt he might be beginning to understand that enigmatic human phrase “you can never go home again.” The world had reasserted itself and everything he had treasured before was back in its place (plus a few first edition adventure books that had found new places on the shelves) but something, the shape of which Aziraphale could barely perceive, hovered in the background of his consciousness, monumentally shifted.

The phone rang as he was carefully re-shelving “Kidnapped” by Robert Louis Stevenson which had definitely not been in the shop a week prior.

“Dinner, angel?” came the sibilant hiss on the other line, no introduction necessary. “There’s a lovely little place, just opened up around the corner from my flat. Thai food. I think you’d like it?”

“Of course, I’d love to my dear!”

“Great. I’ll pick you up at six then?”

“Jolly good!” Aziraphale said, but Crowley had already hung up.

He and Crowley had certainly been seeing a lot of each other over the past seven days. Perhaps more than usual, but in the aftermath of the Apocowasnt it was hard to stay away from the one other being who remembered what had happened. Although the frequency of their meetings had changed, their routine, like the bookshop and the Bentley, were carefully the same. Crowley picked him up in the Bentley and they went to dinner, or they met up in the park and fed the ducks.

That first night after the night after the world should have ended, driving back to the bookshop from the Ritz, Aziraphale had still been tingling a little from either the champagne or the aftereffects of cramming his immortal soul into Crowley’s corporation. Dinner had been pleasant, Aziraphale had talked and talked into the night while Crowley mostly sat silent and listened, but now they were both silent. An indefinable feeling (ineffable, Aziraphale might have said before the events of the past week) had crept over the back of his neck. Crowley pulled up carefully to the curb, so unlike a day before when the same-but-different car had screeched around the corner and Crowley, frantic and apologizing had all but begged him to get in. They sat there in silence, the Bentley idling at the curb, and Aziraphale thought with a stab of something like fear, this is where it changes, this is where it happens but could not for the eternal life of him have said what he thought would happen or what he thought would change. Without conscious direction, Aziraphale’s corporation, drew in a breath to speak, sat up straighter, and with a shock realized he was about to say something, words that had formed in his mind centuries ago if he was being honest, but which he had really only recognized abysmally late in the 1940s. “Crowley, you must know, I…” he began just as Crowley said, “I suppose it’s getting late angel.” And then before he knew it, Crowley was getting out of the car and opening his passenger side door and they were both standing on the pavement outside the bookshop.

“What were you saying angel?” Crowley asked breezily, adjusting his sunglasses with one lanky arm so that they covered his eyes completely.

“Oh, um...you must know that I enjoyed dinner immensely. We ought to do it again. Tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow, then” Crowley said softly after a moment and got back in the car. Aziraphale watched the Bentley drive away before unlocking the bookshop with a wave of fingers that only trembled slightly.

--

Aziraphale’s nose was deep in a book when a certain demon sauntered into the shop at six thirty (punctuality was a virtue after all, and even with Hell sort of out of the picture for now, it wouldn’t do for Crowley to go around being virtuous, now would it?).

“Angel,” Crowley said, “tempt you to dinner?” Aziraphale, rousing himself from “The Black Arrow” (really, Stevenson was rather good, not what he would have picked up before last week, but a surprisingly nice addition to the shop) allowed Crowley to take his arm and lead him out to the Bentley on the curb.

The new Thai place had been nice. So too, was the upscale rooftop cocktail bar Crowley had taken him to afterwards. “Cocktails,” Aziraphale mused, hiccupping a little, “so...ingeniously…human. Wine, of course, is more traditional.” Aziraphale rolled the remaining liquid around in his glass and poked at the ice with the little umbrella. “But these are so clever...and the way they name them...I mean, sex on the beach?...sounds demonic”

Crowley held up two hands in mock offense, but he was smirking all the same. “I had nothing to do with it angel, they come up with these things all by thems--” he was cut off abruptly by Aziraphale placing two fingers gently across his lips, a momentary drunken impulse to stave off the same conversation as usual. Crowley’s lips were warm and dry under the pads of Aziraphale’s fingers. He got a look on his face that Aziraphale found completely indecipherable, and then slowly, cautiously, raised his own hand to remove Aziraphale’s fingers and place them back on the table.

“Wellll...I’ll just go get us another round then, shall I?” Crowley said airily making a move to get up from the table and suddenly Aziraphale couldn’t stand it anymore.

“Let’s just go back to the bookshop,” he found himself saying. “I’ve restocked a few good vintages since the fire. Adam tried you know, but an 11 year old has no idea what good wine is...”

“Well,” Crowley said, and the indecipherable look was back, ever so fleetingly before he broke into a smile. “You have always had excellent taste in reds.”

They were silent again on the short drive back to the bookshop. Aziraphale chose not to sober up for the ride and felt like he was floating. He saw Crowley’s hand resting by the gear shift and thought of fingers brushing his in 1941 as a satchel of old books was exchanged. It hit Aziraphale like a thunderclap then, like a good old fashioned smiting, and he quite literally forgot to breathe until they pulled up at the bookshop. Aziraphale walked inside and sat down in a daze. Crowley had already opened the first bottle of wine and was gently sauntering back to the couch when he noticed Aziraphale’s face.

“Angel are you aright--”

“Why didn’t you say anything,” Aziraphale interrupted.

The demon leaned back against the desk and opened his mouth and Aziraphale knew, just knew, he was going to deliberately misunderstand, or say something cruel or absurd just to throw him off the scent.

“Don’t.”

Crowley closed his mouth again. Adjusted his lapels, looked down. When he looked back up, his face, what Aziraphale could see of it anyway under the sunglasses, was unaccountably sad.

“I rather thought I did say something.”

Aziraphale thought of Crowley hissing at him “we’re on our side” that disastrous afternoon at the bandstand. He thought of him asking, begging, twice to run away together. He thought of the way Crowley’s mouth curled up a bit on the word “bastard” that night at the Ritz just seven days ago. “Oh,” Aziraphale said.

“Can’t we just go back to how things were before?” There was a sort of pleading note in Crowley’s voice that Aziraphale had hardly heard before in the 6000 odd years of their acquaintance.

“Before? You mean all the tempting and the thwarting and the redundancy of the whole thing? You hated the 14th century,” Aziraphale said incredulously.

“No, no, of course not.” Crowley came and slouched next to him on the couch. “I mean the last few years. The lunches, the walks in the park, drinking in your back room like we are now. We just...we never talked about it before, what’s the point of talking about it now? Let’s just go back to how it was before.”

And suddenly the forced normalcy of the last few days came crashing back on Aziraphale, made sense in context. Suddenly Aziraphale was angry, blindingly, terrifyingly angry, at himself almost as much as at Crowley.

“You stupid, ridiculous snake,” he said, standing. “I saw you in the bar after the bookshop burned down, you were a wreck I...the way you said my name when I arrived...you think that I could just move on after that? That I could pretend it never happened? You and I...we switched bodies. What if they hadn’t used hellfire in Heaven? What if it had been something else? You would have died in my place, you think I don’t know that? I would have died in yours. And I’d have done it without a second thought.” Aziraphale was breathing heavily even though, technically speaking, he didn’t have to breathe at all. Something hot and uncomfortable was clawing at the back of his throat and he felt with astonishment a new kind of wetness in his eyes. “We’re just not going to address any of it? Was that your plan, to just go on as if nothing at all had happened?’

Crowley’s mouth was open. “Aziraphale,” he stammered and that was new, the demon lost for words. “Aziraphale, are you crying?”

It was such a very human thing to do, but yes, Aziraphale reached up a hand to check, and indeed he was. “Crowley, just….take off your glasses.” Aziraphale says quietly. “Please.”

Crowley did. In one fluid movement, his yellow eyes were revealed, and he was standing worriedly next to Aziraphale, wringing his hands.

“Oh, Crowley, love,” Aziraphale said testing the word out on his tongue. Applying it to the demon did not feel as heretical as perhaps it should. “Why didn’t you say anything a week ago, that night after the Ritz?”

Crowley was silent for a long time, his inhuman eyes as inscrutable as his sunglasses, then he reached up with one hand and quietly brushed the tears from Aziraphale’s cheeks. Aziraphale leaned into the touch and Crowley permitted it, ever so gently laying his hand against the side of Aziraphale’s face.

“I…” he started and stopped, swallowed, reptilian eyes suspiciously glossy themselves. “you told me once I went too fast for you.” His hand was so careful on Aziraphale’s cheek. “I figured, I’ve waited a few millennia. I don’t mind waiting a few more.”

“Well, I mind!” Aziraphale huffed out. And before he could lose his nerve, he pressed his lips up against Crowley’s. It was a chaste kiss and Aziraphale was going on pure instinct. He knew that humans did this but wasn’t really sure what the value was, that is until Crowley made a small noise of surprise and opened his mouth to Aziraphale’s and wormed the one hand not on his cheek into Aziraphale’s waistcoat, pressing it up against his chest. Aziraphale found one of his hands in Crowley’s hair quite without knowing how it got there and on impulse, stroked the other between his shoulder blades, between where his inky black wings would emerge. This time Crowley made a sound that was definitely not surprise and Aziraphale realized with shocking clarity, angel or not, he would burn the whole world with a flaming sword just to hear that sound again. Crowley backed them up without breaking the kiss until he was half sitting on Aziraphale’s old wooden desk, and Aziraphale was standing between Crowley’s spread legs. Crowley pulled away and whispered “Angel,” into Aziraphale’s mouth in such a tone that Aziraphale just had to kiss him again, this time long and slow and deep like they had all the time in the world. When they broke apart again, Crowley’s yellow eyes were full of wonder, pupils large and inky black. "I love you," Aziraphale whispered helplessly, the words torn out of him in a rush.

“I would have been happy,” Crowley started, then pulled back, looked Aziraphale full in the face. “I would have been happy with things just as they were, with our lunches, with our walks. I would have been happy being in---” he stuttered, “well, being with you. Just like that. I never expected you to say it. I never thought you’d want to do it this way. Are you sure this isn’t all too soon?” There was a guarded wariness to Crowley’s face that Aziraphale wanted to kiss away, but he knew that he needed words for this.

“The world ending, then not ending, and burning in hellfire but not burning….well it makes an ethereal being think about what’s really important,” Aziraphale said. “it makes a being think about all the things they would miss out on if this world were going to end. And most of those things…” Aziraphale drew in a breath. “Most of those things are you my dear. My love. I couldn’t bear it if the world ended again and you didn’t know how I felt.” Aziraphale’s hands, quite of their own accord, had migrated to Crowley’s waist. He spread his fingers experimentally on the demons’ sharp hipbones and Crowley shivered in response. “I’m sorry I was such an idiot, love, about not hearing what you were saying. I...I didn’t know a demon could feel--”

“Yes, well,” Crowley said and looked away, a blush rising high on his pale cheekbones. “I didn’t think so either, but this is possibly uncharted theological territory…”

And that may be the closest Crowley would ever come to saying it out loud, but Aziraphale beamed anyway. “Crowley,” he said, “I don’t suppose you’d want to kiss again?”

“Oh yes,” Crowley said enthusiastically, then slightly less sure, “as long as you want to?”

“We do all sorts of things humans do, why not this?” Aziraphale said, going for casual, but Crowley saw through it in a second.

“I’ve never done it either Angel,” he said, which Aziraphale found a bit surprising. “Seemed too messy with humans…” Crowley shrugged. “But I’ve wanted to with you. Oh, I’ve wanted…” Crowley pushed his hand into the angel’s blonde hair, drawing him closer. An unfamiliar heat sparked down the angel’s spine. “We can figure out what we like together,” Crowley said against his lips. “After all, size and shape are only options…”

After that, they did not speak, at least not in the traditional sense, for a very long time.

--

On the second Sunday after the apocalypse that wasn’t, fourteen days after the day the world was supposed to end, Crowley drove the Bentley to the bookshop to pick Aziraphale up for dinner at the Ritz. Sliding into the leather passenger seat as Crowley held open the door, Aziraphale reflected that nothing had changed, not really. The bookshop was just as it had been before the apocalypse, and the Bentley gleamed. They still fed the ducks in the park. But, even though it had taken seven days after the apocalypse to happen, the world had shifted minutely, profoundly on its axis. After dinner at the Ritz, as they enjoyed dessert and champagne, Aziraphale in a rush of boldness, reached his hand across the table and left it pointedly, palm up in front of Crowley. As the corners of Crowley’s mouth quirked up and the demon’s delicate, serpentine fingers closed around his, Aziraphale couldn’t help but feel he would gladly live through the end times all over again just to be here, like this. And somewhere God chuckled softly as she shuffled her cards.