"It's only a sin in excess, my dear," said Aziraphale. "Like gluttony."
He dabbed the corners of his mouth with a paper napkin. They were sitting at a plastic table in a cramped and ill-lit Indian restaurant in Islington which just so happened to be the best in the city: Aziraphale had boasted about it and in the aftermath of an extremely good curry Crowley was prepared to admit you could take Dishoom and stuff it up your arse. Aziraphale hadn't even let Crowley look at the menu.
He was so thoroughly stuffed with pilau rice that it took him a moment. What were they talking about? Sins, that was it. Crowley with a hand over his abdomen watched the angel sopping up the last of his balti with naan—not letting a single drop escape him—and said, "Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Have you done it?"
"Mmph?" said Aziraphale politely through a mouthful.
"You've bloody done it," said Crowley. "You've been having sex!" He pointed at the angel accusingly. "Haven't you!"
Aziraphale blinked. "Well. You know. When in Rome—"
"You've been having sex in Rome?"
"No! Well, I mean, technically, yes, but it's a saying, Crowley. I didn't mean just in Rome—"
"You've been having sex in other places?" Crowley said. Shrieked, slightly. The other diners were looking around at them. The owner of the restaurant loomed suddenly over Aziraphale's shoulder, frowning at Crowley.
"Just a misunderstanding," Aziraphale said hurriedly.
"I can't believe you had sex and you didn't tell me," Crowley said in the Bentley.
Aziraphale was examining the leaflet about domestic violence shelters he'd been given. "It didn't really seem important?" he said. "Gosh, this is a good cause, isn't it."
"Miracle them some donations, then," Crowley said. "Who was it, then? Cleopatra? Everyone had sex with Cleopatra. I had sex with Cleopatra."
(This was a bit of an exaggeration; Cleopatra did famously clutch a serpent to her bosom, but Crowley wasn't even in Egypt at the time.)
"Er," said Aziraphale. "No?" He coughed. "Her boyfriend, actually."
Crowley cast his mind back. "Curly hair, kind of an arse?"
"No, the other one."
"Not the brother," Crowley said, and then, "Oh fuck me, you had sex with Julius Caesar."
"Well, in Rome, yes. Crowley, why on earth are you making such a fuss about this?"
"Hang on, hang on," said Crowley, who was a few steps behind on this conversation, "who did you have sex with not in Rome?"
"People!" said Aziraphale, with a helpless hand gesture. "I don't know—lots of nice Babylonians—all fully consensual, of course—I actually think I," he coughed, "started a trend, for a while, but Heaven felt they had to clamp down on things after the Nephilim and so on—"
Crowley gaped at him. "Bloody hell. Next you'll be telling me you have descendants."
"I, er," Aziraphale said, "almost certainly not."
"You, though," Crowley said. "Sex. You. You, having sex."
"I also like sushi," Aziraphale said with sudden bright briskness. "It's just one of those body things. I'm sure you're well aware, sins of the flesh and so on. You are a demon. But as we all know bodies are created in the image of God, so none of it's a sin unless you're behaving, er, sinfully."
"Right," said Crowley slowly. "So you… eat sushi."
"I do," Aziraphale agreed. He cleared his throat. "Only ethically sourced sushi, of course. Sustainably fished. If you know what I mean."
"Right," said Crowley, who had no idea what he meant.
"It's not as if you didn't know about sex, Crowley, really," Aziraphale said. "The seduction of innocents is rather your thing, isn't it? I'm sure you've been having simply enormous quantities of sex with humans for thousands of years. It's what you do."
"Oh yeah," said Crowley quickly. "Loads. All the time."
"Yes," said Aziraphale. "Well."
There was an awkward pause while they both tried to simultaneously catch each other's eye and avoid each other's gaze. This is a tricky manoeuvre even for ethereal (and occult) beings who are not strictly bound by the laws of physics. It should not be attempted while driving a classic Bentley at roughly ninety miles an hour along the six-lane stretch of the A1 right outside Angel Tube station.
"Watch out for that—!"
An elderly pedestrian at the pelican crossing had a miraculous escape. Crowley hissed between his teeth (at least, presumably it was between his teeth) and reached a decision.
"Well," he said, grinning suddenly and madly at the road, "how about it, then?"
"I beg your pardon?" said Aziraphale.
"Sex," Crowley said. "You. Me. Sins of the flesh." He laughed. "The pleasures of the world, angel. Your place or mine?" He spun the wheel and the Bentley did a screeching turn into the wrong end of a one-way street.
"Oh," said Aziraphale. He had gone quite pink. "Oh, I… no. Thank you. I really shouldn't."
Crowley braked hard. The Bentley shot through the T-junction and came to a dead stop in the middle of the Euston Road. Cacophonies of horns sounded. A double-decker bus swerved to avoid a horrible fate. "Why not?" demanded Crowley.
Aziraphale coughed. "Not that I'm not flattered, my dear," he said. "I am. Truly. I just don't think it would be quite right."
Crowley snorted. "Haven't we been over this? When was the last time either of us heard from our bosses? Heaven doesn't care anymore, angel."
"Well, I, er," said Aziraphale, "I wasn't really thinking about Heaven, exactly. More…"
Crowley watched him with the golden-eyed patience of a serpent poised to strike.
"…the Almighty?" Aziraphale said.
"God," said Crowley flatly.
"You won't have sex with me because you think God might not like it."
"Yes," said Aziraphale. "Exactly."
"But you did have sex with a lot of nice Babylonians."
"That's different! They're human! Can we talk about this at home?"
"Oh," Crowley said, "ssso it's becausssse I'm a demon, angel, is that it?"
"If you must know," said Aziraphale, very pink now, "it's because you're my best friend."
Crowley started the car again, oblivious to the traffic jam that had built up around him, which in any case parted like the Red Sea to let the now sedately purring Bentley through. He did not say another word. He did jab a finger pointedly at the car's speakers, which started playing Schubert's 'Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy' at top volume. Aziraphale wisely did not comment.
"My dear," Aziraphale said back at the Soho bookshop, "won't you come in for a snifter?"
Snifter, mouthed Crowley, disbelieving. "No," he said.
"You seem a little upset."
"I'm not upset," Crowley said.
"I think you may have misunderstood me," said Aziraphale. "The thing is—
—that humans, of course, being human, tend to die. It's one of the most reliably human things that humans do. This being the case, it is very hard for a being who is six thousand years old and counting to consider any sort of relationship with a handsome Babylonian a prelude to commitment.
Descendants, of course, are a commitment, but Aziraphale had never gone in for that sort of thing and had always felt rather embarrassed that his angelic colleagues, the forefathers of the Nephilim, didn't seem to have quite understood about consequences, sexually speaking. (It never occurred to him at the time that they didn't care; now, millennia later, he has a guilty suspicion.)
In any case, sex was undeniably a delightful pleasure of the body, rather like good food; but it was also part of a mystic whatchamacallit by which two souls might be bound in eternal something-or-other. Like, for example, Adam and Eve, whose devotion to each other Aziraphale had found extremely touching, particularly as he had seen for himself how terribly lonely Adam had been before Eve turned up.
He explained all this to Crowley, who frowned.
"You're saying you don't want to have sex with me because I'm not going to die?"
"I'm saying that given our, er, situation," Aziraphale took a breath, "we could hardly have any sort of casual entanglement, my dear. It would be very foolish to pretend otherwise. And serious relationships ought to begin with commitment. It's only right. And we aren't committed—"
"—you ought to be committed—"
"—so it's Wrong," said Aziraphale, and narrowly avoided adding, so there.
"Are you telling me," said Crowley slowly, "that you won't have sex before marriage?"
Aziraphale said cheerily, and slightly manically, "Not with you!"
"How am I supposed to marry you?" Crowley demanded. "I can't set foot in a church without hopping."
"It could be a civil ceremony," said Aziraphale, and then he closed his mouth abruptly. A strange hush fell over the square metre of Soho pavement where they stood as they stared at each other.
"Well," Crowley said after a moment. "When you put it like that."
The ceremony was one of bell, book and candle, since that was the only ceremony Sergeant Shadwell knew.
Aziraphale made an attempt to insist that the book ought to be the Bible, but Crowley put his foot down and the angel's heart wasn't in it anyway; they went with a rare first edition of Oscar Wilde instead.
The Westminster Abbey bell-ringers, if questioned, could not have quite remembered who had scheduled a bell ringing day, or why: the Queen's birthday had been last week and Corpus Christi wasn't till next weekend. But all the same they showed up in good humour and got on with ringing the changes. Tourists enthusiastically took photos of them bobbing on the ropes, and the peals sang out across Westminster and echoed through the morning sunshine over St James's Park.
No one remembered to bring a candle, so Madam Tracy popped into a Yankee Candles and purchased one which claimed to smell like Belgian waffles. Then no one had a lighter, so Crowley did the finger-snap trick he'd perfected in 1925 for cigarettes. (Cigarettes were one of Crowley's better inventions.) The tiny little flame was barely visible under the brilliant June sky. "It doesn't smell that much like Belgian waffles, does it?" said Aziraphale, disappointed.
Crowley did a minor demonic miracle, after which the surprised candle smelled exactly like Belgian waffles. Then he took off his sunglasses.
And then they got married.
The form of the ceremony involved slightly more 'avaunt!' than is generally the case, but nobody really minded, although Aziraphale's expression grew fixed and Crowley was trying not to snicker. The vows were simple. The angel said them calmly and with confidence. The demon sniffled a bit and then glared at everyone as if daring them to say anything.
The rings were plain gold bands, handed over insouciantly by Adam Young, whose parents had been slightly surprised to find themselves driving to London that morning but had been soothed by the opportunity to visit Oxford Street and say repeatedly, "What a lot of tourists!"
The rest of the Them, also present, watched with steely expressions. They were armed with baskets of confetti and the merciless determination of adolescence. When the time came, no one in a fifty yard radius would escape unconfetti'd.
"I now pronounce ye man and wife!" finished Shadwell triumphantly.
Crowley put his free hand, the one that wasn't firmly gripping Aziraphale's, over his eyes.
"Wrong on both counts, actually," said Aziraphale.
"Married," hissed Madam Tracy.
"What?" said Shadwell, who was going deafer in his old age.
"Married, Mr Shadwell! You pronounce them married."
"Of course they're bloody married," said Shadwell. "I married 'em, didn't I? And a good thing too, eh, Mrs Shadwell?"
Madam Tracy dimpled. The Them, spotting that this was their chance, started enthusiastically hurling confetti in all directions, but mostly at each other. Dog jumped around barking excitedly and put his muddy paws on Aziraphale's white suit. Anathema got the giggles and hid her face in Newt's shoulder, causing Newt to trip and fall into the duckpond.
It was, in every way, a perfect wedding: and afterwards they had champagne at the Ritz.
"All right, then," said Crowley, quite drunk, and smiling so broadly that the points of his teeth caught the light. "Now will you have sex with me?"
"Of course, my dear," said Aziraphale, also rather tipsy. They were both sitting on the bed in the Ritz's lavishly appointed bridal suite, which had miraculously been freed up by a last-minute cancellation. Aziraphale was feeling pleased with the world at large, especially since Crowley had magically removed the muddy pawprints on his suit and then glared at Dog hard enough that it hadn't happened again.
"Cause that's the only reason, y'know. Only… on'y bloody reason." Crowley took another swig of champagne from the bottle which the hotel had thoughtfully provided. He passed it to Aziraphale, who followed suit and then set the bottle aside and started undoing his ascot.
"Gosh," said Crowley, staring at Aziraphale's hands, where there was a ring, and also at Aziraphale's throat, where he'd undone the collar stud.
"I thought you'd done this before?" Aziraphale was smiling. "Loads, you said."
"The thing is," said Crowley slowly, "the thing is… the kinds of humans who want to have sex with demons, they're a bit…" he made an uncomfortable wobbly hand gesture. "Bit weird! Bit bloody weird, angel! So, I don't know, maybe not loads. Not loads." He coughed. "Still. Married you, didn't I? And you've done it loads." He scowled. "Babylonians," he added, darkly.
"I suppose I have," Aziraphale said. "Don't worry, my dear. Forsaking all others, I believe we said."
"I'm not jealous," said Crowley at once. "I just fancy some sex. With someone who's not going to be really weird about it. That's all. Pleasures of this world. Like I said! Only reason."
"Of course," Aziraphale said. He stood up, took off his shirt, hung it on the back of a chair, and sat back down on the bed next to Crowley.
"Only reason I married you," insisted Crowley again, turning towards him. "Not for a mystic whatchamacallit or spiritual communion or eternal bond of love and trust or any of the rest of it your angelic mumbo-jumbo. It's just sex, all right?"
"Well, then," said Aziraphale, and reached out for him, still smiling irrepressibly, "we had better get on with it, my dear."