I picture it soft, and I ache.
Aziraphale wasn’t entirely sure what he was expecting in the wake of the Armageddon-that-wasn’t. For management upstairs to regroup and decide that, really, all things considered, it wouldn’t do to have a rogue angel running around; for the Almighty to weigh his sins and turn his wings to black, his Grace to rot in his chest; for Adam to have a pubescent tantrum and decide to end the world, after all.
But really, things continued on much as they had before, as if the earth and all of humanity hadn’t been moments away from destruction. The slow days creeped by, the heat of summer having finally peaked and begun the descent into a crisp and pleasant autumn, his favorite ice cream stand was taken over by one selling hot cider and cocoa, and no one appeared in a blaze of light to rain down divine or hellish wrath.
The only true change, apart from Adam’s additions to his collection, was Crowley’s near constant presence.
Although they had hardly been strangers before, they were immortal beings, and time meant far less to them than it did to humans--even in recent years, days or weeks would often pass unremarked before they spoke again. Before the Antichrist’s birth, there were whole years and, especially early on, even decades and centuries that would go by without any sort of contact. Yet ever since they stepped off the bus that brought them to London, seemingly by silent agreement, they had begun living in each other’s pocket.
That first night, Aziraphale slept on a comfortable bed beneath an eiderdown duvet Crowley had brought into existence, shrinking his own terribly modern bed to make space for it in his room. He supposed Crowley could’ve created a separate room for him, given that the whole flat was willed into existence where a janitor’s closet had once been, or cleared the furniture from his sparse living room and had him sleep there, but he didn’t seem willing to part, and Aziraphale felt much the same.
“It’s funny,” he said into the dark of the room. It smelled faintly of incense, but mostly of Crowley, and though the fluffy white comforter had only just been brought into existence, it smelled like him too. Aziraphale was more comforted by it than he would’ve ordinarily admitted to himself, being too tired to will away the persistent feeling that something about Crowley settled him, made him feel right . “I don’t think you’ve ever really let me in your flat, and here I am, with my own bed.”
“You’ve been here,” Crowley said irritably. “You were here earlier this year, we had brandy.”
“Yes, but only for a moment,” he insisted. “I came to meet you so we could see Come From Away in the West End, and you weren’t ready yet.”
“I was doing my hair!”
“You’re a demon ,” he reminded him, exasperated. “You can just will your hair to do what you like, you don’t have to use product.”
“I like doing it, it’s never quite right if I manifest it,” Crowley muttered, and Aziraphale rolled his eyes. “Just because it’s dark doesn’t mean I don’t know you’re rolling your eyes at me.”
“You have hellish night vision,” Aziraphale huffed.
“Don’t need it to know you’re being an ass, angel,” Crowley said. “Go to sleep. I just did a bloody lot of heroic acts for a demon, and I need to sleep off all this righteousness.”
After their brief stints in Heaven and Hell, returning to their own skins and dining together at the Ritz, there was a moment of hesitation as they finally left the building, standing at the curb beside the Bentley. Crowley looked at Aziraphale, brows raised above his glasses, and Aziraphale looked at Crowley, nerves buzzing in his stomach.
“I suppose you can drop me at the bookstore,” he said, though the idea made his heart sink.
“You could come back to mine again,” Crowley said, after a moment. He swallowed, shifted his weight. Aziraphale was reminded of a cold night in the sixties, Crowley’s voice gentle and vulnerable.
“I--well, I wouldn’t want to intrude--overstay my welcome--”
“Just come back to mine, angel, please,” Crowley said, and he sounded exhausted, as if he was begging Aziraphale to cut to the end of it, to save him the convincing and reassuring. Aziraphale nodded, something sharp stuck in his throat, and that was that.
They established a routine. They spent most of their evenings at Aziraphale’s bookshop, lounging in the back room as they often had before, drinking wine and bickering and reading to each other, which Crowley seemed to enjoy quite a lot for someone who claimed to loathe books, but once it reached midnight, Crowley would stand, and that was Aziraphale’s cue to finish up his paragraph and collect their dishes. He would lead the way up the rickety staircase to the small flat upstairs, and Crowley would collapse in the bed he’d manifested for himself--having quite rudely shoved aside Aziraphale’s own to the far wall, which was admittedly rarely used before--while Aziraphale washed their glasses and plates in the small kitchen. Crowley would only take his sunglasses off once Aziraphale had turned out the lights, and they would sleep til morning, when they would go to whatever cafe or bistro they could agree on for breakfast, and while away the afternoon in St. James Park, or strolling through a public garden, or taking a country drive. They would bicker almost the whole day about where they would eat dinner, spend hours indulging in good food and fine wine, and return to either Crowley’s flat or Aziraphale’s bookshop, and so their days went, as the leaves turned and the days shortened, and Crowley’s phone dinged with a photo of Adam in his Halloween costume--a witch, and Dog dressed as a black cat--and the windows began frosting in the morning, though the house plants Crowley had begun accumulating on the sill remained dutifully lush and healthy; Anathema wished them a happy Thanksgiving, with a long message about the inherent artifice and immorality of the holiday. And still Crowley stayed.
Why? Aziraphale wanted to ask him, why millennia of the way things were, and now this ?
But while Crowley seemed to have little issue upending every unspoken rule they’d ever written for themselves, Aziraphale was not so flexible, and they had spent thousands of years never quite addressing whatever it was this had stemmed from. Words, Aziraphale had always felt, were for bickering about where to eat for lunch, or hashing out ontological debates, or other trivial nonsense; there was no need to trifle with the imprecision of language, with phrasing and the possibility of being misconstrued, when it came to important matters if the other person simply understood, without needing it said. Six thousand years ago, when Aziraphale had met Crowley on the wall of Eden, watching the first two humans set out to begin the rest of history, something deep within him, more central even than his Grace, had thought, oh, it’s you, and that had been enough for him--for both of them, he assumed--for three millennia.
However much he wanted to ask, he didn’t know how. The words simply weren’t there.
He wasn’t entirely sure why he didn’t send Crowley away, or depart from dinner on his own one night, restore things to the way they had been. Occasional lunches, drinks in the back room, dinners at the Ritz; separate their lives once more. There was just--something deeply unpleasant, and, yes, terrifying, about the prospect of parting. And that was enough for him to put aside his six thousand years of reticence, and allow Crowley to fill all the empty spaces in his life, build a place for himself in every moment.
And, he supposed, he did the same. There was now a pale tartan blanket thrown over Crowley’s grey sofa and a number of fluffy throw pillows, a variety of appliances appearing in his kitchen--Crowley didn’t even possess so much as an electric kettle for tea, the animal--a lamp casting a warm light in his--their--bedroom, beside Aziraphale’s white bed so at odds with Crowley’s black and grey scheme. Everywhere he looked in Crowley’s flat, there was evidence of his presence there, and Crowley had infected every corner of Aziraphale’s in kind. However intimate he had thought their lives together were before, this was nothing he had experienced or imagined. Everywhere he looked, there was Crowley.
He ought to have been unsettled, that he had allowed a demon to enter his life so fully, but he couldn’t summon anything that was stronger than the contentment he felt scooping up Crowley’s black coat from where he’d thrown it on the dining table and hanging it in the coat closet, or making two cups of tea instead of one without thought, and without needing to ask how he took it.
“What is this oat milk everyone keeps going on about?” Aziraphale asked at the grocery store, turning a bottle of it around in his hands. “It seems everyday, they’ve invented some new kind of milk. Have you tried it?”
“Don’t start, angel,” Crowley groaned, his forehead pressed against the cool glass of the refrigerated section, where it had been for several minutes. A woman with a toddler on her hip frowned at him. “It’s hard enough to feed you without you turning vegan . Just get the normal milk and let’s go .”
“You’re disturbing the other patrons, Crowley, really,” Aziraphale said as Crowley breathed on the glass and pulled back to write ‘help’ in the condensation. “You have no sense of adventure. And there are different types of milk, different brands . I was reading the paper this morning and I think we ought to switch to rBST-free milk, that artificial growth hormone isn’t kind to the cows.”
“This isn’t kind to me ,” Crowley whined. “I don’t even eat at home, what are we shopping for? Let's go. "
"You aren't as innocent as a cow, are you?" Aziraphale said archly, and took up a carton claiming to be organic and grass-fed. "You take milk in your tea, Crowley, this concerns you too. Do you think organic implies hormone free, or is that a separate category?"
"I think I'd rather be discorporated than keep talking about this," Crowley said. "Look, this one says grass-fed, hormone free, the cow in the picture is smiling, let's go. "
"Fine, fine," Aziraphale muttered, putting the milk he'd suggested in the basket. "You have remarkably little patience for an immortal being, you know."
"Trust me, angel, I have plenty of patience."
"Well, I've never seen it," Aziraphale muttered. “Come on, then, before you get bored and start spoiling people’s groceries.”
“Oo, I hadn’t thought of that,” Crowley said. “Good idea, I’ll try that next time we’re here.”
“Lord, give me strength,” Aziraphale sighed, leading him to the front of the store.
Crowley imitated him mockingly, and pulled out his phone. “Look at this, I missed a call from Adam. Surprised the boy is still alive, I’d have thought we’d been here longer than a human lifespan.”
“ Really , Crowley, it was only a few minutes, and we needed food,” Aziraphale said. “Well. I wanted food. Go on, call him back, it could be important.”
Crowley was already putting the phone to his ear, and Aziraphale piled their groceries on the conveyor belt with a sheepish, ‘what can you do’ smile at the cashier. She returned it, scanning their groceries as Crowley listened to Adam chat excitedly on the other line, occasionally making noises to acknowledge that he was listening, or pitching in with suggestions of mischief and villainy. He offered his card to the cashier before Aziraphale could fish out his wallet, and though he knew money was no object to either of them, he felt warmth blossom in his chest and, he was certain, his cheeks, and he smiled at Crowley.
“You two are cute,” the cashier said, leaning in conspiratorially. “You remind me of my boyfriend’s parents. Twenty years and they still go on dates!”
“Oh,” Aziraphale said, his cheeks reddening further, and he hoped Crowley wasn’t listening. It sounded like he was very focused on talking Adam through how to break into a locked car. “How lovely. That’s...very lovely,” he muttered, and picked up his bags as quickly as he could, frustrated for reasons he couldn’t quite identify when Crowley picked up the rest, still holding his phone in one hand.
At the beginning of December, Aziraphale’s phone rang, which it rarely did at this hour when Crowley was sitting right next to it, unless he’d scrawled it on a bathroom stall with promises of bizarre work or sexual favors as a prank. He answered it apprehensively.
“Aziraphale! It’s Anathema,” she said, as if he wouldn’t recognize her voice. “Sorry it’s so late, it’s been a busy day.”
“Anathema, dear girl!” he cried. “Don’t worry at all. How is the winter treating you?”
“It’s alright, I suppose, much colder than back home,” she said. “I thought I’d packed enough heavy clothes, but I suppose not. Listen, I’m calling to invite you and Crowley over for a winter solstice celebration.”
“Winter solstice celebration? Goodness me, it’s been a fair few years since I’ve attended one of those!” he said, looking up to meet Crowley’s eyes--well, his glasses. He looked intrigued as well. “What, pray, will this entail?”
“Nothing you’re imagining, I’m sure,” she laughed. “Adam and his friends will be coming, so we’ll just do dinner and gifts. It’ll be my first winter solstice away from my mom. I have room for the two of you to stay with me, but Mr. Shadwell and Madame Tracy are staying at the inn in town if you’d rather.”
“Oh, there’s no need for that, we’ll stay with you. This sounds lovely! We’ll be there! The day of the solstice, then?” Crowley raised one brow, and Aziraphale gave him a thumbs up.
“Might as well come the night before,” she said. “Adam’s looking forward to seeing you.”
“And we him!”
“The twentieth, then,” she said. They chatted for a few minutes, catching up on recent events--evidently, Newton had gotten a job at a local shop, and Adam was grounded for planting a stink bomb in his teacher’s car--before her cat apparently attempted to swallow a piece of plastic, and she excused herself from the phone with a shriek.
“Where, exactly, are we going on the winter solstice?” Crowley drawled from the chaise he’d draped his long limbs over.
“Oh, dear me, I shouldn’t have given your response without speaking to you first, that was terribly rude,” he said, turning a bit red. He’d sort of just...assumed. “Ah, Anathema has invited us over to hers for a solstice celebration. Adam and his friends will be there as well, and Mr. Shadwell and Madame Tracy.”
Crowley scowled. “Ugh, we’ve got to spend the holidays with Tracy and Shadwell ? Why didn’t you just tell them we already have plans to, I don’t know, sing carols and honor saints?”
“Because we don’t,” Aziraphale said irritably, his excitement fading. “Well. I suppose you don’t have to go,” he told him, though the idea began to lose its shine when he pictured boarding the train to Tadfield and leaving Crowley behind for the holidays.
Crowley frowned, as if he hadn’t considered the possibility either, and didn’t like it any more than Aziraphale did. “No,” he said at last. “Can’t leave you alone with that ridiculous bastard, can I? I’m sure he’ll find a way to send you back into Heaven’s jaws somehow. Besides, can’t have you being a good influence on Adam without me there to balance it out. The twentieth, then?”
Aziraphale beamed at him. “The twentieth! Oh, Crowley, we’ve got to start shopping, I can’t believe we waited this long. What do you think Newton would like? History, perhaps? Oh, I don’t know him terribly well, we could ruin everything if it’s wrong…”
The winter continued, and nothing changed; or rather, everything continued to change. Aziraphale began to make two cocoas every evening when they returned home, Crowley’s piled with marshmallows over the rim of the mug, and Crowley always had to remind Aziraphale of his before it got cold, and he would collect them both when they were empty, returning them to the cupboard miraculously clean.
Aziraphale continued his new, post-Armageddon hobby of knitting, tutting over dropped stitches and muttering patterns so he wouldn’t forget. Crowley had recently downloaded Growtopia on his phone, and was determined to completely ruin the game’s economy by the holidays. They fought over how warm they would set the thermostat--Crowley, being cold-blooded, demanded that it should be stifling, while Aziraphale, who enjoyed a chilly room so he could wrap himself up in warm clothes and a mound of blankets, disagreed completely--and the music they would play on Aziraphale’s old phonograph. They read the paper in the mornings, trading comments about human politics, and they often went to see shows on weekday evenings, when the crowds would be thinner, and everyday Aziraphale willed himself to be discomforted by what his life had become, and everyday, he found himself more and more incapable of living without the comfort of Crowley’s presence on the sofa beside him, or just in the next room.
When the twentieth came, they loaded the Bentley with the boxes of presents and their suitcases, the good car dutifully accommodating all their cargo, and set out for the village. Crowley complained that Aziraphale had given so many books, insisting that nobody read books anymore, and Aziraphale replied that he didn’t think an upstanding eleven year old such as Adam had much use for a leather jacket, did he? and Queen blared just a touch too loud for Aziraphale’s taste all the way, while Crowley drove just a touch too slowly for his own taste.
They arrived at Jasmine Cottage in the afternoon, and the sunny day had clouded over and begun to snow, just a light dusting that turned everything pale and shiny, like new--though, of course, Crowley and Aziraphale had been there when the world was new, and there was no snow at the time. Crowley parked by the gate, and when they opened the doors, the curtain over the kitchen window swished, and a dog began barking inside. The door burst open and Adam ran out, grinning, Dog at his heels.
“Adam!” Aziraphale crowed. They hadn’t seen him since Armageddon was averted, but they had talked to him on the phone plenty, and he was constantly sending Crowley photos and videos on his mobile phone. It had seemed easy to keep in contact with him, as if they had been in his life all eleven years--as if they were meant to be his godfathers, and he their godson.
“Hey, Aziraphale!” He leaned against the gate, eyeing Crowley as he lifted a box of presents from the backseat. “Are all those for me?”
“No, no, of course not,” Aziraphale said, laughing. Adam pouted. “A few are, of course, but there are others coming to Christmas, you know.”
“It’s not Christmas,” he said, lowering his voice. “Don’t call it Christmas, Anathema doesn’t like it. It’s winter solstice, which is the longest day of the year, but it only gets better from today, she says. Or tomorrow, I guess. Hey, can I have my presents tonight?”
“You’ll have to wait like everyone else,” Crowley called to him, but gave a wicked smile. “Unless you sneak a peek, of course. Guess no one could stop you.”
“Oh, don’t start, you old serpent,” Aziraphale said, picking up his suitcase and one of the boxes.
“Whaaaaat, just want to make sure he knows his options,” Crowley said, and Aziraphale shook his head. Adam opened the gate for them, and tried to take the box of gifts from Aziraphale, eyes far too wide and innocent, but he pulled away with a tsk.
Anathema appeared from the house, smiling at them on the porch. “I was worried about you driving in when it started to snow,” she said.
“No need,” Crowley said. “The Bentley won’t crash. Nothing short of the apocalypse itself can best that car.”
“Right,” Anathema said, following them through the door with a laugh. “You can put the gifts under the Yule tree.”
“Looks like a Christmas tree to me,” Crowley said, just to be contrary, and Aziraphale swatted his arm.
“It’s a Yule tree,” Anathema said, pursing her lips. “Come on, your room is up this way.”
“Room?” Aziraphale said, but followed her up a narrow staircase to the landing above, and she opened one of the doors.
“Sorry it’s a bit small,” she said, in that frank way she had that said, sorry only in the sense that I can’t change it, but since I can’t, I don’t particularly care and I expect that you shouldn’t either. “It’s the spare room.”
It was, in fact, a single spare room. The ceiling was slanted, the two sides coming together above the four-poster bed, curtained with gauzy fabric that shifted in the airflow from the vents on the floor. A wardrobe was in one corner, and a chair in the other, and there was hardly room to walk on either side of the bed. The one, singular bed in the room. Aziraphale didn’t look at Crowley behind him.
“The sheets are clean. Be careful that you don’t leave the lamp on too long, or it’ll catch fire,” she told them. “Old wiring. I’ll go put the kettle on.”
“Actually, cocoa if you have it, if you don’t mind,” Crowley murmured, sounding distracted. “Lots of marshmallows in one, just two in the other.”
“I’ve got plenty of those,” she said. “Adam piles his cup full of them, turns the whole thing into soup.” The floor creaked as she left, and Aziraphale and Crowley stood completely still in the room until they could hear clanging in the kitchen and Adam’s voice chattering excitedly.
Aziraphale cleared his throat and ventured into the small room, putting his old and worn leather suitcase on the bed. It wasn’t anything, really; it was just a few nights, and it was hardly different from sleeping in separate beds in the same room. After a moment, he heard Crowley follow him, his suitcase’s wheels rolling loudly on the wood floors. Aziraphale began putting his clothes away in the wardrobe, and finally met Crowley’s eyes.
“Are you going to put your clothes away?” he asked. “It would save us room, if we could keep the suitcases under the bed.” This is nothing, he was saying without saying. Not even to be remarked upon.
Crowley just looked at him, quirked one brow, and then nodded, swinging his own absurdly large black case onto the bed. If you say so.
Aziraphale began chattering about how lucky it was that it had snowed just in time for their celebration, and how wonderful it was going to be to see everyone again, and Crowley argued that he could go the rest of his infinite days without seeing Shadwell and be happier for it, and Aziraphale reminded him that it wasn’t entirely Shadwell’s fault that he’d sent him through the gateway, he really didn’t know, and they continued bickering until Adam came thundering up the stairs to demand what was taking so long.
They sat at Anathema’s table catching up until the sun began to set behind the white clouds, and walked with Adam to his parent’s house to have dinner. Aziraphale had reminded Crowley that to normal humans with no knowledge of the supernatural or divine, it was terribly strange for two men to suddenly show up acting like their child’s godfathers, and even with Adam’s unintentional reality-bending persuasion to accept them, it would do them well to keep in their good graces. Crowley had reluctantly agreed, and so the three of them walked in the snow, Aziraphale carrying a wonderfully decorated cake he had manifested when he realized they’d forgotten to make something, and Crowley carrying two boxes of Christmas gifts under his arm.
“My parents are alright, really,” Adam assured them.
“Wasn’t worried about it,” Crowley said, though both of them knew that he was, just a little.
“They seem nice on the phone!” Aziraphale said. “I do hope they enjoy their gifts. I’d hate it if they got a bad impression of us, and forbade us from speaking to you.”
“I don’t think they’re going to get a restraining order if Mrs. Young doesn’t like her blouse,” Crowley pointed out. “It’ll be fine. Worst case, I’ll make them like us.”
“But you can’t!” Aziraphale cried, eyes flickering to Adam between them. “Adam is right here, Crowley, and you’re talking about influencing his parents. Really .”
“I’m fine with it,” Adam said as they arrived at his house. “Just don’t make them weird or anything.” Crowley stuck his tongue out at Aziraphale in victory, and Aziraphale rolled his eyes, wishing that he wasn’t carrying the cake so he could make sure his bow tie was straight. What an impression that would be, a crooked tie .
Crowley leaned over and fixed the lapel of Aziraphale’s coat. “Can’t have you ruining our reputations,” he said with a grin.
Adam opened the door, calling out, “Mum, dad, Crowley and Aziraphale are here!”
“Goodness me, you’re a bit early, aren’t you,” Mrs. Young said, appearing from the kitchen. “Dinner isn’t quite ready yet, but--my Lord, is that a cake?”
“We thought the occasion called for it,” Aziraphale said, passing it to her with a humble smile. She led them to the dining room, placing it in the center of the table with wide eyes. “Now, where should we put the gifts?”
“Gifts?” Mr. Young called from the kitchen. “Good lord, Deirdre, were we supposed to get them gifts?”
“No, no, that’s not at all necessary,” Aziraphale said. “We just thought we’d pick something up! Oh, I’m Aziraphale, and this is--”
“Crowley,” he said, flashing a big smile at Mrs. Young. “What’s for dinner? Smells delicious.”
“Lasagna,” Mrs. Young said. “It’s my husband’s favorite thing to make. Is that alright?”
“Sounds fantastic,” he said, and managed to make it sound genuine. Crowley had never had much appreciation for food, Aziraphale knew. Good alcohol, certainly, but he almost never ate unless it was with Aziraphale. Aziraphale was much more apprehensive about the quality of Mr. Young’s lasagna; he was all too familiar with what passed as English cooking.
A timer beeped, and Mr. Young made a sound of satisfaction, clanging around as he, presumably, pulled the pan out of the oven. “Perfect, perfect,” he said. “Deirdre, put down a trivet, will you?”
“Already done, dear!” she called. “Oh, I suppose I’ll take the presents, Crowley, if you like.”
Mrs. Young laid them gently on a table in the hallway, and Mr. Young appeared with a steaming pan of lasagna, a proud grin on his face. “You’re in for a treat, lads,” he said. “Secret family recipe!”
“I can’t wait!” Aziraphale said, and tried to sound like he meant it. The whole room stank of hamburger now.
Adam helped his mother set the table, and Mr. Young brought out a salad and a basket of rolls. The five of them sat, Crowley and Aziraphale facing the Young parents, Adam at the head.
"Help yourselves!" Mrs. Young said, and Aziraphale set to serving himself and Crowley both, as he knew Crowley wasn't particularly adept at judging portions. Usually they were brought to him at a restaurant, and he ate a few bites before passing the rest to Aziraphale.
"So Adam tells us you're that young woman Anathema's godfathers, then?" Mr. Young said, after a few minutes of quiet eating and congratulations to the chef. It was just as bland as Aziraphale had feared, but he soldiered bravely on. Gabriel would've been proud, he suspected, if he'd put half the devotion he gave to those performative noises of appreciation towards his heavenly duties.
"Ah," he said, glancing at Crowley out of the corner of his eye.
"Yes, good woman, Anathema, her grandma Agnes did a lot for us," Crowley said easily.
"How did you come to be an American's godfathers?" Mrs. Young asked, with a touch more suspicion than Aziraphale cared for.
"I told you, mum, her mum's from London too," Adam said. "Dad, this is really good. Your best lasagna yet!"
"I think you're right, Adam, I think you're right," Mr. Young said. "Save room for that cake, though, son, it looks professional. Did you get it from a shop?"
"Yes, back in London," Aziraphale said, because he couldn't very well say he'd replicated it from a television program Anathema had on in the background. "Tell me, how did you two meet?"
They told a very long story about a college class and a bar they both attended and a concert in the north canceled due to rain, which Aziraphale thoroughly enjoyed, because he always enjoyed a good love story, though Crowley kept rudely and unnecessarily freezing time to make faces at Aziraphale and Adam.
"How did the two of you meet, then?" Mrs. Young said finally, sharing a dreamy expression with her husband.
"Well," Aziraphale said slowly. "We were in a garden, both of us taking strolls, and we just sort of…bumped into each other, I suppose, introduced ourselves, starting chatting, and the rest is history."
"How positively romantic," Mrs. Young said, and Aziraphale started.
"I'm sorry?" He said delicately.
"Well, Arthur and I just met in school like anyone else, a garden sounds like something out of a story," she said.
"It's the story, Deirdre," Crowley drawled, passing a sharp grin to Aziraphale. "The very first."
They left the Young residence at Adam's bedtime, walking close together through the powdery snow. Aziraphale's chest felt warm, pleased at how well the dinner had gone, and his hand kept brushing Crowley's as he swung his arm between them.
"Well, that went well," Crowley said, echoing Aziraphale's own thoughts. His voice was soft, the blanket of snow quieting every sound.
"Yes, quite well," he said, and hummed. "Seem like good people, the Youngs." His hand brushed Crowley's again, and something in his chest jolted--surprise at the sudden contact, he supposed.
"Must be, to raise the Antichrist to tell Satan himself to shove it." Another brush of contact, another jolt in his chest. Aziraphale smiled.
"Yes, must be," he agreed. Another brush of hands. He supposed he should move away, but it was nothing, and Jasmine Cottage was just down the street, and his mood was too high to care too much.
Another brush of hands, and Crowley cleared his throat, a wet and rough sound. His next step was just a little away from Aziraphale, and their hands didn't brush again.
He let them into Anathema's home quietly, mindful that she had told them she would be out performing a ritual and Newt had to wake up early for his shift. The stairs, quite miraculously, did not creak as they ascended them.
The spare room looked even cozier and more intimate in the dim light of the single lamp, and the warmth in Aziraphale's chest seemed to solidify and ooze into his stomach, nerves bubbling like cocoa in the pan before the milk is added. He exchanged his clothes for pajamas with a snap of his fingers.
Crowley seemed frozen, looking sightlessly somewhere just above the bed--perhaps out the window--and Aziraphale shifted his weight. It's nothing, he reminded himself. No different from sharing two beds in one room. He climbed under the covers and looked up at Crowley expectantly.
"If you're not ready for bed, we'll have to go downstairs," he said, feeling terribly awkward. Crowley turned his unseeing gaze to Aziraphale. "The lamp, remember."
He made a noise of agreement, and switched his own clothes for pajamas as well, settling himself carefully beside Aziraphale beneath the quilt. Aziraphale turned out the lamp, and heard Crowley take his glasses off, setting them on the windowsill behind the bed.
It was funny, all this awkwardness over sleeping arrangements, given that Aziraphale had never really slept terribly often before he and Crowley had begun sharing their time like this. He knew Crowley slept every night at least, sometimes for days or weeks--a whole century, even, from time to time--but unless he'd had a particularly taxing time of it, Aziraphale almost never slept. He didn't see the point, when he could spend the night reading or exploring or meeting interesting people in interesting late-night food establishments.
But he did see something to it now, he supposed. The routine of going to bed each night when Crowley did, rising together and starting the day with rituals of coffee and breakfast and the morning paper.
"You know," Crowley drawled in the dark. "We didn't meet the first time on the wall."
"What?" Aziraphale frowned, searching his long memory. "Of course we did."
"Well, we spoke the first time, I suppose, but I already knew who you were. Didn't need an introduction," he said.
Aziraphale was quiet. "When did we meet, then?"
"I saw you guarding the tree," Crowley said, his voice sounding soft. "Trying to entertain Eve throwing your sword around. Chatting about her baby." He paused. "You looked at me in the brush and said, 'oh, hello, Snake,' and I didn't know what to think. And then I," he stopped again.
"Yes?" Aziraphale prompted, and he felt like his heart had stopped beating, waiting with the rest of his body and his soul for Crowley to continue speaking.
"Dunno," he said at last. "Waited for you to get on and then I corrupted Eve, I suppose. She told me your name. Said you were a terribly nice fellow."
"Oh," Aziraphale said, disappointed for reasons he couldn't explain. "That was kind of her."
Crowley said nothing to that, and they lay still for what felt like hours, Aziraphale's mind racing with confused and formless thoughts.
Just as he finally drifted to sleep, he heard Crowley murmur into the dark, his voice thick and so quiet, Aziraphale almost couldn't hear it over the hum of the heater. "I noticed your eyes, angel. Big and open and blue like the sky.”
Aziraphale woke in the morning with hair in his face and someone's breath on his neck. His eyes blinked open slowly, and when he tried to move, he realized his limbs were entwined with Crowley’s, his face pressed into the crook of Aziraphale’s neck. Though he was taller, he had bent so he could press as much of his body into the warmth of Aziraphale’s, like a snake sunning. Aziraphale smiled into the crown of his head, and closed his eyes. When he opened them again, some hours later, Crowley was gone and the bed was cold.
Shadwell and Madame Tracy arrived that evening in a flurry, having to chase down their taxi twice to retrieve forgotten items. Madame Tracy wrapped Aziraphale in an uncomfortably tight hug, and Shadwell clapped a hand on Newton Pulsifer’s shoulder, loudly reminding him, definitely not for the first time, that he was supposed to find and eliminate witches, not play house with them.
“Well,” Newt said nervously, “aren’t you supposed to find and eliminate them, and not attend their winter solstice celebrations?”
Shadwell narrowed his eyes at Newt, then burst out laughing, throwing an arm around him. “It’s Christmas, laddie, we don’t celebrate witch’s holidays. Now come on, bring me inside, I want to know what’s for dinner!” Anathema rolled her eyes and led them in.
Crowley and Aziraphale were responsible for much of the meal, as neither Newt or Anathema were particularly adept cooks, and though Adam’s friend Wensley insisted his mother was teaching him how to make lots of good and healthy meals, none of them were quite comfortable trusting an eleven year old with an entire holiday banquet.
It felt odd, having everyone together again for the first time since what was nearly Armageddon. Pepper and Crowley were engaged in a lively discussion about the morality of assassination, which prompted Aziraphale to kick Crowley under the table multiple times. Wensley kept trying to convince Shadwell that witches, should they exist--Anathema, the most obvious example of a supposed witch, being an occultist--really probably weren’t that bad anyway, and probably should be left alone, which entertained Anathema greatly.
Adam kept trying to guess at what presents Crowley and Aziraphale had gotten him, growing more and more outlandish as he went. He’d gone from a new bicycle to a baby dragon for Dog to play with.
“You’re lucky,” Newt told him. “My godparents always got me just one gift together, they said married people only had to buy one gift. Never made any sense to me, you’d think with two incomes but just one household, they ought to buy more gifts. Not, er, that it’s all about the gifts, of course,” he said, with a sidelong glance at Aziraphale.
“Well, we aren’t married,” Aziraphale said nervously, beginning to wonder why, exactly, even their friends seemed to think they were together, and wondering even more why he cared, “but I suppose even if we were, we would still get him a few gifts. He’s our godson, after all, he gets a bit of special treatment.”
“You aren’t married?” Anathema said, brows knitting together. “But I thought…”
“Angels and demons don’t get married,” Crowley interrupted, his voice tight. “Doesn’t happen.”
“But, it’s legal now,” Madame Tracy said. “I read it in the paper, all those lovely parades persuaded them.”
“Parades?” Aziraphale asked, confused as to how, exactly, he managed to miss parades of angels and demons in the streets.
“Yes, with all the rainbows and glitter,” Tracy said. “You can’t have missed them, loud as they are!”
“Oh, yes, the pride parades,” Aziraphale said, chuckling. “I’m not quite sure it was the parades that did it, but, well that isn’t precisely the issue.”
“Is it Heaven and Hell?” Pepper interrupted. “I bet Adam could make them let you. Couldn’t you, Adam?”
“It isssn’t like that ,” Crowley hissed, losing his patience, and Aziraphale patted his hand reassuringly where it lay on the table, but Crowley yanked it back, scowling at him. “Why doess it matter? Don’t you people have anything elssse to talk about?” Aziraphale felt as though he’d lost all footing in the conversation.
“Right,” Madame Tracy said slowly, pity clear in her voice. She exchanged a look with Shadwell--well, she tried to, but the man looked almost as confused as Aziraphale was. “So sorry dear, of course.”
“Sorry,” Anathema said, giving them a peculiar look. “Sorry, it’s just that Agnes said...well, I should’ve asked before I gave you a room together, I just assumed--”
“They don’t want to talk about it,” Adam interrupted, with that finality in his voice which was well beyond his years. “Let’s talk about something else.”
“My dad wrecked our car,” Brian said helpfully. “It didn’t explode like I thought it would, but my mum was still really mad.”
“How about presentss?” Crowley said, the hiss in his voice less pronounced. “Everyone finished? Yess, good, presents, then.” He waved his hands and the remaining food on the table disappeared, the dishes flying back into Anathema’s cupboards miraculously clean.
The four kids sprang up, dashing into the living room to rifle under the Yule tree for the boxes with their names. The adults got up more slowly, the awkwardness palpable in the air, and Aziraphale tried to catch Crowley’s eye, to communicate his amused--that’s what that fluttery, pleasant-yet painful feeling in his stomach was, certainly--exasperation in their silent way, but Crowley wouldn’t look at him, and Aziraphale followed him into the living room, feeling wrong-footed and hollow.
The gifts were distributed quickly, if chaotically thanks to the children, and when Aziraphale handed his gift to Crowley, the demon frowned at him. “What’s this?”
“Your gift, of course,” Aziraphale said, giving him a bright smile.
“Oh,” he said. He handled it gingerly, like it was fragile--or maybe explosive--and Aziraphale’s smile dimmed.
“Is something wrong?” he asked hesitantly. He knew their conversation in the other room had been awkward, but he wasn’t going to rescind the gift he’d worked so hard on. He wasn’t even sure why it had been so awkward, they’d been mistaken for a couple by humans who didn’t understand what it was to know someone as truly and as long as they had known one another a thousand times before. It really shouldn’t be any different.
“No,” Crowley said, his expression, for the first time in probably five thousand years, unreadable. “I suppose I rather thought we’d have Christmas just the two of us.”
“Oh,” Aziraphale said. “I’m sorry, my dear, I thought we’d do it with the--” the family , he supposed would be how a human would put it, but they weren’t human, and they didn’t have a family, really. Just each other. “With the others.”
“Right,” Crowley said. “Right. Sorry, angel.”
“Not at all, dear, not at all,” Aziraphale said. “I can keep it until we return to London, if you like--”
“I didn’t say that,” Crowley said, snatching the box back. “I’m opening it now.”
“I don’t see how that’s fair,” Aziraphale argued, “given that I don’t get my gift now.”
“It’s not about the gifts, angel, it’s about the reason for the season, and the thought, and all that,” Crowley said, and began tearing at the paper.
Aziraphale rolled his eyes indulgently, passing out the rest of the gifts and sneaking little glances at Crowley as he struggled with the box. He’d worked so hard on it, searched all the best yarn shops in London for the perfect skeins. He even had to sit on hold for hours with the manufacturer of the yarn he chose because he needed another skein from the same dye-lot, knowing that Crowley would want only the best, and he’d notice even a minor inconsistency in the coloring.
“Angel,” Crowley said, and Aziraphale turned to face him fully. He’d taken the sweater out of the box, and laid it on his lap, smoothing his hands over the front.
“Do you like it?” Aziraphale asked anxiously. The others--except Adam’s friends--had paused in their unwrapping to watch. Crowley snapped his fingers, and the shirt he had been wearing was replaced with the sweater. “It’s mohair, the best I could find.” The yarn was pitch black, the halo of fuzz seeming to blur Crowley’s outline, make him look immaterial and soft around the edges. Ethereal, almost.
“Is this what you’ve been hiding?” Crowley asked, lips quirking up in a smile. “Sneaking out of the room to do when you think I’m not paying attention?”
“Well--yes,” Aziraphale said, turning a bit red. “I thought I was being quite discrete, actually. Does it fit?”
“Like a glove,” Crowley said, and flashed him a smile. “Thanks, angel.”
“Of course, dear boy,” Aziraphale murmured. “Right. Adam, you haven’t opened my gift to you yet, have you?”
The rest of them picked up where they had left off. Aziraphale had given Adam a thick blue sweater--not, tragically, made by hand, as he hadn’t had enough time to knit everything--a white scarf that he had knitted himself, and the full set of Percy Jackson books. Although Aziraphale himself wasn’t a terribly big fan of most modern fiction--or, of course, paganism--he knew from their many conversations about books that Adam would probably like the story of an ordinary boy born from extraordinary stock, thrust into a role he wasn’t prepared to occupy and yet, inexplicably, was the perfect person for.
Crowley had given Adam an outrageously expensive and, he had assured Aziraphale, equally outrageously cool leather jacket, which Aziraphale had thought was quite ridiculous on its own, but then Crowley said, “check the pocket,” with a lazy and wicked smile, and Adam pulled out a small key with a Triumph keychain.
“Crowley, my dear,” Aziraphale said slowly, “what is that?”
“The key to Adam’s motorbike, of course,” Crowley said, turning that grin on him, and Aziraphale gasped, but the sound was drowned out by the sound of the children shrieking with joy, Adam’s friends crowding around him.
“Where is it?” Adam cried.
Crowley waved his hand, then pointed out the window to the street. “Outside,” he said. “By the Bentley.”
The children raced outside, and Aziraphale bustled after them, swatting Crowley on the arm when he caught up. “You wicked old serpent!” he cried. “A motorbike? He’s eleven .”
“It’s plenty small for him,” Crowley assured him. “And it’ll get bigger as he needs it to.”
“He’ll kill himself!” Aziraphale gaped at the offending vehicle, a sleek black thing that absolutely radiated mischief and tomfoolery, except for the little sidecar that looked to be about the perfect size for a small dog, which was just plain cute.
“Relax, angel, do you really think I’d just give him a motorbike without taking precautions?” he sighed. “It’ll never wreck, not ever, and even if it does, he’ll escape miraculously unharmed.”
Aziraphale shook his head, snapping his fingers to manifest a white helmet that dangled from one of the handlebars. “I’ll see to that,” he muttered. The helmet had strict instructions to keep the boy safe no matter what, or there would be a terrible divine retribution the likes of which Earth hadn’t seen in thousands of years. “Honestly, Crowley.”
“Honestly what, angel?” Crowley said, rolling his head to look over at Aziraphale. “Look at him, he’s happy, and he’ll always be safe on it, everyone wins.”
“You’re lucky I’m not human,” he huffed. “If I wasn’t, I’d have been dead ages ago from the stress you put me under.”
“If you were human, you’d have been dead about five thousand, nine hundred, and thirty years ago,” Crowley said, and Aziraphale pressed his lips together.
They watched the children fawn over the motorbike for a while, the other adults smiling indulgently at them, and Aziraphale couldn’t help but peek at Crowley’s face. He wore the smallest and most content smile Aziraphale had ever seen on him, as if all he had ever wanted these six thousand years was to see Adam grinning wildly like an eleven year old should, as if he had no concerns but how he was going to hide his new and certainly forbidden gift from his parents. Then he looked down at Aziraphale, and the smile grew even softer, and Aziraphale couldn’t help but return it, his disapproval melting away like snow under the springtime sun.
This is what it was all for, he thought hazily. This moment. That smile.
He only wished he could see Crowley’s eyes.
There was more food after all the presents had been opened, and the conversations were easier, mostly revolving around the children’s gifts--and Shadwell’s, a collection of letters from various Witchfinders Aziraphale had laying around that he’d bound into a book for the strange old man--and as devoid of awkward moments as any family dinner could be.
Aziraphale was relaxed when he and Crowley finally retired, the awful tension of dinner completely forgotten after the festivities, and he hummed as he readied himself for bed.
Once he was dressed in his pajamas, he eyed Crowley, who was still dressed, sitting on the edge of the bed in his absurdly, distractingly tight jeans and his new sweater. “Are you ready for bed, my dear?” he asked. “I can make a light of our own if you’re not.”
“No, no, I’m ready,” Crowley murmured, snapping his fingers to change into his silky black pajamas. “Did you really knit that sweater by hand? The whole thing?”
“Well, yes,” Aziraphale said, frowning. “There isn’t much I could think of to get you that you couldn’t create from nothing yourself, so I thought I’d make you something the long way. Thinking about it now, I suppose it doesn’t make much of a difference, you’ve got another black sweater either way--”
“It does make a difference,” Crowley said, and he smiled almost as he had outside in the snow, that soft and small thing Aziraphale would do anything to see again. “Thanks, angel.”
“Of course, Crowley,” he said, and patted his hand as he got under the covers. Crowley waved a hand to turn off the lamp, and Aziraphale heard him take off his sunglasses.
“Crowley?” he said softly, after a long moment.
“You don’t have to wear your sunglasses all the time, you know,” he said. “Not--not when it’s just you and me.”
“I don’t wear them all the time,” Crowley said. He sounded strained, and Aziraphale could picture the way his jaw was clenched, his brow furrowed, even if he couldn’t see it in the dark.
“You take them off when we’ve been drinking,” he allowed. “But any other time, you wait til it’s dark.”
Crowley was quiet. “Maybe I just don’t want you seeing them.”
“Why not?” Aziraphale frowned. “I know what they look like. I know you’re a demon, it doesn’t shock me to see them.”
“Yess it doesss,” Crowley hissed. “I’ve ssseen your face when I take them off, like you’re--like you’re--”
“Like I’m what, Crowley?” Aziraphale snapped. “Let there be light,” he said, and a ball of pale white light appeared above them. He propped himself up on one arm, looking into Crowley’s yellow eyes, unwavering. “Like I’m what? How am I looking at you?” He wasn’t sure why he was so...so angry , he was hardly ever angry, angels weren’t supposed to feel angry unless it was on behalf of Heaven and the Almighty, but it filled him up, in a way it hadn’t in a long time, and he didn’t even know what it was directed at. Not Crowley, exactly, but certainly something Crowley-adjacent. “Tell me what I’m thinking, Crowley, because apparently I’m entirely unaware, and I would surely like to know.”
Crowley blinked at him, as if he wasn’t expecting this reaction. He turned his head so he was looking up at the ceiling instead of at Aziraphale. “You think they’re--disgusting,” he said, and his voice sounded so defeated . “Evil.” A small and humorless smile pulled at his lips. “Wicked.”
Aziraphale frowned, and all the anger drained out of him. “I don’t,” he said softly. “Crowley…” he trailed off, the words stopping in his throat, as they always did. After a long moment of warring with himself, wondering what he should do, what he should say--if he should do or say anything at all--he finally lifted his hand and, pretending that it wasn’t shaking slightly, cupped Crowley’s cheek, turning his head to face him. His grip was gentle but firm, forcing Crowley to hold his eyes. “I don’t think they’re wicked. I don’t…” he trailed off again, completely lost. How could Crowley think this? He’d always thought that Crowley just knew him, could see right through him, how could he have missed the mark this badly?
Crowley stared at him, unblinking as he often was on the rare occasion he removed his glasses, mouth slightly agape. Aziraphale wasn’t sure how long they were there, silently looking at each other, before Crowley finally said, “I don’t blame you, angel,” and removed his hand so he could look away again. “I don’t like them much either.”
“Crowley,” Aziraphale said desperately, his hand useless on the bed between them. “I don’t--I do like them, how can you--”
“They used to be golden, you know,” Crowley said, and it would’ve sounded casual if it wasn’t for how thick his voice was. “Before...before I fell. All shiny and gold like--well, like gold. All the other angels, they had that metal all over their face, in their hair, their--” he wrinkled his nose, “their teeth. Never cared much for that, but the others...I thought it looked nice. Beelzebub, before, her hair was all shiny and golden, and Lucifer, he looked like he was made from it. You know Michael, she’s got it all over her face. I just had my eyes, and I suppose I liked them. Not many of the others had the eyes, you know. I know angels aren’t supposed to care much about what they look like, but they all do, you know that, even Gabriel’s got his bloody tailors.”
Aziraphale nodded, fighting off the familiar impulse to disagree with something that was blasphemous to say but was, technically, true.
“My eyes were my favorite part about me, I guess, physically or--or whatever. And then I Fell, and the first thing I saw when I got a look at myself were these big yellow signs reminding me and everyone else that I’m a demon.” His face contorted. “Not only that, but the Serpent of Eden , the originator of all sin, as if Eve didn’t choose to eat the apple. As if I wasn’t just reminding her that she had choices, whatever God told her otherwise.”
This was a familiar and well-trod argument between them, but Aziraphale, valiantly, didn’t fall into the familiar groove of it. “That’s--well.” Aziraphale stopped, and took a deep breath to steady himself, though of course he didn’t need it, and tried to work past the painful weight in his chest, like Crowley had reached through his ribs and pressed his heart too hard between his hands. “Well, if you weren’t the Serpent of Eden, we wouldn’t have met.”
Crowley snorted, startled. “No, angel, I suppose not.”
“But--well, that’s not the important part, what I mean is--oh, Crowley ,” he broke off with a sigh, shaking his head. He didn’t know what he meant, or what exactly he was trying to say, even though he started this. “I don’t think your eyes look evil, I think--well, I’ve always thought they were rather beautiful.”
Crowley blinked, and frowned, and blinked again. He turned his head so he was looking at Aziraphale. “What?”
Aziraphale’s face was so hot he was wondering if the Almighty had heard him, and set his head on fire as punishment. “I mean...well, I always thought they were such a pretty and warm color, like daffodils in the spring, and you know how I love daffodils--well, that’s not relevant--but they always just looked like...you.”
“Like me?” Crowley said. He sounded dazed, as if he’d missed a step taking the stairs, and was trying to regain his footing.
“I don’t know how else to say it,” Aziraphale said, blushing, impossibly, even more. “They just always looked like you , and that’s...well, that’s a good thing.”
“Are you,” Crowley said, and stopped. He licked his lips and tried again, summoning an imitation of his usual wicked smile. “Are you saying you think I’m good looking?”
“I’m saying , I think your eyes are--” he stopped, sighing. “Oh, Crowley, could you just listen for a moment.”
“I’m listening, angel,” he said, his voice gentle again.
“I just want to see your eyes,” he said finally. “I like seeing them. I miss when you didn’t wear those blasted things all the time and I could see your whole face and what you were feeling and--could you just leave them off, Crowley, please,” he said, and would not admit to anyone, not even God herself, that he was pleading. “When it’s just us, or us and the others. Could you just try?”
Crowley looked at him for a long and agonizing moment, and finally nodded. “Sure, Aziraphale,” he said softly. He looked away, and Aziraphale could feel a finality to it. “I’ll try.”
“Thank you, my dear,” he murmured, and waved his hand to extinguish the light he’d so dramatically summoned. He heard Crowley turn over--turn towards him--in the dark, and Aziraphale laid himself down carefully, facing the demon. He could just faintly see Crowley’s yellow eyes in what little light came through the window, pupils blown wide, and he held them, neither of them even pretending to sleep.
Finally, what felt like an eternity later but probably wasn’t, Aziraphale finally felt the exhaustion of their conversation creep up on him, and his eyes fell closed. He could’ve sworn he felt Crowley’s cool hand take his, the one that lay between them, the one that had cupped his cheek that night, the one that he’d grasped facing the end of the world just a few months ago, but he supposed he could’ve been dreaming.
He woke to find every inch of himself pressed against Crowley again, his arm tingling where Crowley lay on it, his own face shoved into Crowley’s neck--he noted with mild and sleepy horror that he had drooled on him a bit--and his other arm draped over Crowley’s waist. It was an awkward and loose-limbed hug, and though he ought to have been embarrassed to find himself in this position once again, he simply couldn’t bring himself to care. He tightened his grip on Crowley, burrowing his face into the collar of his worn Queen pajama shirt, and fell back to sleep in moments.
When he woke properly, it was to Crowley--wearing his new sweater, Aziraphale noted with a warm feeling in his chest--fixing his hair in the mirror on the inside door of the wardrobe, and he turned to look at Aziraphale, uncertainty in his yellow eyes, unobscured by the sunglasses that still lay on the windowsill, and Aziraphale beamed at him.
“You look wonderful, my dear,” he said softly, and Crowley smiled, just a little. “Your hair, I mean.”
Crowley’s smile widened. “Of course, angel,” he said, turning back to the mirror to continue fussing with it, as it presently resembled a cockatoo. “Of course.”
That afternoon, before Crowley and Aziraphale returned to London, Crowley went to visit with Mr. and Mrs. Young to ‘persuade’ them to allow Adam to keep the motorbike. Aziraphale disapproved enough that he didn’t want any part of it, but not enough that he was going to stop it.
Instead, he spent the afternoon drinking tea and chatting about the validity of various unexplained phenomenon with Anathema. He found her company to be quite pleasant, and though he’d tried to refrain from getting too attached to individual humans in his many long years, it seemed he’d made an inadvisable but inevitable exception for this small crop of them.
“Listen,” she said, when they’d reached a comfortable lull in the conversation, “I’m sorry about the whole...room thing. Assuming you and Crowley were together, like that.”
“It’s alright,” he said, shifting awkwardly. He supposed it was their short lifespans that gave humans the inexplicable desire to talk things out all the time. “You’re not the first.”
“It’s just,” she began, then stopped. “Sorry.”
“It’s just what?” He took an uncomfortable sip of his tea.
“Well, it’s just, Agnes said you were,” she said at last. “And Agnes has never been wrong, but I guess...well, I guess I must’ve been wrong. Her prophecy just seemed so clear.”
“What,” Aziraphale tried, but the word came out strangled and wrong. He cleared his throat and tried again. “What, exactly, did her prophecy say?” He’d read the whole book cover to cover, and he hadn’t seen anything about him and Crowley being together .
“‘Hear me, Anathema, and open ye minde, for the Angel and Devil who has’t cometh together in purest union, shall be thy dearest friends and allies,’” she said. “I was sure, after it all, that’s what it meant.”
Aziraphale remembered the prophecy vaguely, but he’d had no idea what it meant, and it hadn’t seemed important at the time. “Well,” he said, and for some reason, he felt something akin to disappointment. “I suppose the union refers to our Arrangement. Sometimes we...helped each other out, with our work.”
“Right,” Anathema said, though she didn’t sound convinced. “Sure.”
They returned to London at a comparatively leisurely speed of 80 mph, the quiet of the ride broken up by Queen and occasional conversation about what they ought to do when they got home, both of them insisting that the other’s residence needed renovation.
“You run a bookshop, angel, and no one can find any of your books because there hasn’t been any kind of organization since 1810,” Crowley said, exasperated.
“Well,” Aziraphale sniffed, “I suppose the atmosphere discourages the kind of buyers I’m not particularly interested in.”
“All of them, you mean.” Crowley grinned. It was nice to be able to see the way his eyes crinkled when he smiled.
“No, the...the uncommitted ,” Aziraphale said.
“No one is as committed to your books as you are,” Crowley said, shaking his head fondly. “You just don’t want anyone to buy them.”
“If they aren’t going to take care of them and love them as well and as much as I have, then I don’t want them buying the books,” Aziraphale insisted. “Besides, you’re one to talk. You know your flat is supposed to be a home, and not some kind of bizarre modern art show.”
“My flat is stylish ,” Crowley said. “Minimalism is in , angel, not that you’d know anything about that.”
“Not everything that’s stylish is good, Crowley, really,” Aziraphale said. “Couldn’t we just lighten it up a bit? Maybe add some bookshelves?”
Crowley considered this. “One bookshelf,” he said at last. “You can have one.”
“Oh! Crowley, thank you,” he cried. “And perhaps some knickknacks to place around, just give it a bit more character--”
“Give him an inch and he takes a mile,” Crowley muttered. “ No knickknacks! ”
They had dinner at Aziraphale’s favorite sushi restaurant when they arrived back in London, and by the time they had reached it, Crowley had agreed to three bookshelves, one of which was allowed to have a single shelf of knickknacks and photos, so long as the photos were of people Crowley didn’t loathe, and Aziraphale had agreed to let Crowley devise some method of coherent organization for the bookshop. Aziraphale was certain this was going to come to no good--Crowley had told him he currently had a one star rating on Yelp, and he wasn’t particularly inclined to see it rise. He felt that those truly dedicated to obtaining rare books and first editions wouldn’t be dissuaded from his shop by the online commentary of tourists.
Though their holiday had been quite enjoyable, returning to the bookshop felt like slipping into a comfortable and well-worn pair of pajamas. “Ah, it’s like a breath of fresh air, coming back, isn’t it, Crowley?” he sighed.
“A breath of musty air and probably some mold spores, more like,” Crowley said mildly, but it seemed he was at least a little glad to be back. “Come on, I think a perfect Riesling just appeared in your wine cabinet.”
They savored the wine Crowley had manifested for them, chatting about Adam’s motorbike and a rare new plant Crowley was hoping to pick up from his most trusted seller--though he would rarely admit it, he had strong feelings about plant poaching, and he had brought terrible fates to several individuals who had tried to sell him plants obtained in such a way--and what Aziraphale’s newest knitting project was going to be.
“I’ve got my eye on this wonderful deep red Angora yarn I saw in a shop the other day,” he said, “what would you say to another sweater? I think you look rather dashing in this one,” and Crowley’s expression did something strange.
It was late when they retired to the small flat upstairs, and it wasn’t until they reached it that Aziraphale realized, with an absurd sinking feeling, that they were going to be sleeping in separate beds once more.
His eyes flickered from his bed to Crowley’s to the man himself, startled to find Crowley watching him, looking oddly vulnerable without his glasses. Aziraphale said very cleverly, “I suppose...well, I suppose.”
Crowley quirked one brow.
“Should I--” Aziraphale cast around for something to say. “Should I turn up the heater, then? I...I don’t want you to get cold, tonight. It seemed like I was helping you keep warm, at Anathema’s, I suppose.”
Crowley looked back at the beds, then at Aziraphale, and raised his hand very slowly. With a flick of his wrist, the beds came together to form one, made of a dark wood with a deep red eiderdown comforter, and what looked to be absurdly soft white sheets. Crowley leaned against one of the bedposts, hands going into his pockets, his eyes never leaving Aziraphale’s.
“Oh,” Aziraphale said, warmth bursting in his chest. He couldn’t quite repress the bright smile that sprang to his lips. “Oh, what a beautiful bed. Thank you, my dear.” He busied himself washing their wine glasses from the evening and readying himself for bed, and when he climbed in, Crowley was already there, eyes closed and his breathing deep and even.
Aziraphale smiled at him, snapping to turn the lights out, and hummed contentedly.
“Is this...alright?” Crowley whispered into the dark of the room, and Aziraphale started, having thought he was asleep.
“Yes,” he said, but his voice came out too high, and he felt Crowley shift, as if he was going to do something--get up, maybe, or separate their beds once more--and without giving himself a moment to think about it or doubt himself, Aziraphale tucked himself against Crowley’s side, his head resting on the demon’s shoulder. Crowley froze, even his breath stilling, and Aziraphale cautiously raised an arm to wrap it around him. “Is this alright?”
“Yeah,” he said, his voice coming out in a rush of breath. “Yeah. Of course, angel.” He relaxed in small increments, and finally, he put his hand on Aziraphale’s arm where it lay across his stomach. Aziraphale smiled and closed his eyes, falling asleep the way he ought to have been doing it for six thousand years.
Christmas Eve was spent seeing a matinee of some awful American action movie full of explosions and guns at Crowley’s insistence, and then, even worse, rearranging Aziraphale’s books.
“You said I could, angel,” Crowley reminded him.
“Yes, but I was hoping you’d forget ,” Aziraphale grumbled.
“I never forget when I’ve won,” Crowley said. “Now hand me that autographed Keats, I think we should keep the signed ones together in their own section.”
By the end of the evening, even Aziraphale had to admit that the place seemed a bit more peaceful and inviting, and he decided he’d just have to switch up the hours a bit more to compensate for it. Crowley’s next target was the flat upstairs, which he insisted looked exactly like the rooms occupied by an impoverished spinster he knew in the late eighteenth century. Aziraphale agreed to new floors--it was possible they were slightly worn down and creaky, and possibly would have caved in a century ago if it weren’t for the divine miracle that had brought them into existence--and a granite countertop in the kitchen, which he allowed despite Crowley’s promise that it was the first step towards modernizing the kitchen, which he would do if it was his last act on Earth.
They went to bed together, as they had been doing for months, and wrapped in each others arms, as they been doing for a few days, and Aziraphale’s heart felt so full that he said, without thinking, “what if you moved in here?”
Crowley stilled, and Aziraphale, perhaps even more shocked than Crowley, did too. “Moved in?”
“Well,” Aziraphale said slowly, and as he thought about it, he began to warm up to the idea. “We’ve been staying together for a while now, and I thought it would just make a certain sense.”
“Moved in,” Crowley muttered.
“Yes, moved in,” Aziraphale said defensively. “Is it really so strange of an idea? We’ve practically been living together since Armageddon.”
Crowley was quiet. “Do you know why I asked you to stay with me?”
For the same reason we’re sleeping together and you saved me in the church during the Blitz and I’m letting you change my bookshop, which I love more than anything except--
That was a dangerous train of thought.
Because of this , he wanted to say. Because of whatever this is. But that was a dangerous thought too.
“Because,” he said, and Crowley sighed.
“I was afraid, Aziraphale,” he said, sounding resigned. “I was so, so afraid that you’d go home and I wouldn’t hear from you, and I’d come to find you and your bookshop would be gone and replaced by some, some bible store full of shirts with little fish on them and I’d never see you again.”
“I think those shops are one of yours, actually,” Aziraphale said faintly. “Not ours.”
“Aziraphale,” Crowley said. “That’s not the point.”
“I know,” he said quietly. “I know.”
The silence between them felt heavy, and lingered for several long minutes.
“I was afraid too, you know,” Aziraphale said. “That--that Hell would come for you. Or maybe Heaven.” Crowley didn’t say anything. Aziraphale wasn’t even sure he was still awake, and that emboldened him. “I was on Earth, you know, when the second round of angels were thrown out. The...the ones who--were too close with the humans on Earth. The ones who created the Nephilim. I saw what Heaven did to the ones the angels loved. They destroyed them, and they said--it was just rumor, you know, it’s not what the Almighty said--but some of the others thought She sent the flood to show humanity what would happen to those who--well. Broke those sort of rules. About who they could…” he searched for a word. “Fraternize with. And I didn’t--still don’t, I suppose--believe it’s outside the realm of possibility that Heaven would seek to make an example of you too.”
Crowley said nothing, and Aziraphale was both relieved and, absurdly, disappointed that he must not have heard. But he felt Crowley’s arms tighten around him, perhaps in sleep, or perhaps not.
Aziraphale woke on Christmas day alone, and felt something sink in his chest until he heard Crowley’s telltale footsteps on the staircase up to the flat.
“Angel,” he called, and Aziraphale sat up, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
“In here, Crowley.” He could hear the sound of mugs clinking in the kitchen, and moments later, Crowley rounded the corner with a steaming cup of tea in one hand and several boxed pastries in the other.
“I was thinking,” Crowley said, his glasses still on. Aziraphale tapped the side of his own face to remind him, and Crowley scowled at him. He passed Aziraphale the mug and set the pastries down on the bed before removing the glasses, tucking them into an inner pocket of his coat. “I was thinking ,” he continued, “we could stay in today.”
“Stay in?” Aziraphale asked, taking a sip of his tea. Things that were miracled never quite tasted exactly right, but Crowley did create the best approximation of his favorite. “It’s Christmas.”
“What, are you wanting to go to church?” Crowley asked, and Aziraphale shrugged.
“Perhaps,” he said. “I was thinking I might perform a few miracles, really get people in the spirit and remind them what it’s all about.”
Crowley sighed, and finally nodded, clearly thinking it over. “Fine. Yes, that’s good, I think, actually. What about the morning? And the evening. Can you do your miracles in the afternoon?”
“I suppose,” Aziraphale said suspiciously. Crowley was full of nervous energy, and it was making Aziraphale nervous as well. “What’s going on, dear boy?”
Crowley hummed, not quite looking at him. “Nothing, really,” he said. “I got you pastries from that bakery you like.”
Aziraphale beamed at him, his suspicion lifting for a moment. “I thought they were closed for Christmas,” he said, reaching for a box containing a strawberry cream cheese danish.
“It was the strangest thing,” Crowley said casually. “The owner just met me at the door, said she had no idea why she was opening, it being the Lord’s birthday and all.”
“Crowley!” Aziraphale cried, swatting at him. “Mrs. Lark is a friend of mine, you know.”
“Everyone is a friend of yours, angel, it’s part of the job description” Crowley said, and rolled his eyes. “Eat up.”
He manifested his own cup of tea, and they lay in bed all morning, Aziraphale against the headboard with his knees drawn up to his chest, and Crowley sprawled across the end of the bed, gesturing widely with the single pastry he was working on and getting crumbs everywhere, which Aziraphale waved away with an indulgent sigh every so often.
When the grandfather clock downstairs chimed to let them know it was noon, Aziraphale pursed his lips. He didn’t want to go, really, the bed was comfortable and Crowley’s company even more so, but he supposed he’d have to eventually. The pastries were gone anyway, and if he didn’t get going soon, he’d while the whole holiday away.
“Suppose I’d best get ready,” Aziraphale said reluctantly.
“Suppose you’d best,” Crowley said, far too casually. “Miracles to perform and all that.”
He narrowed his eyes. “What are you planning, Crowley?”
“Oh, nothing, just some Christmas wiles, nothing major,” he assured him. “I’d better get along, priests to tempt and all that.”
“Crowley--” Aziraphale started, but he was already sauntering out of the flat, and after a few moments, he heard the bell chime and the shop door swing closed.
It was dark when Aziraphale returned to the bookshop, feeling more tired than an angel should. He hoped Crowley meant it when he said he wanted to stay in tonight, he didn’t feel up to doing much more than curling up on the sofa in the backroom and debating the merits of Shakespeare compared to Marlowe.
He picked up the phone to try and call his mobile phone, but it went straight to voicemail, and Aziraphale frowned. He didn’t think that had ever happened. Crowley even left it on at the movie theater, making sure to turn the volume all the way up in case he got a call.
“Very strange,” he murmured into the dim room, and the ceiling above him creaked as if in response. He frowned, unease settling in his stomach.
He climbed the stairs to the flat hesitantly. The door was closed, but a light shown under it, as if someone was inside, and a thump from within confirmed his suspicions. No one except Crowley had ever been allowed in his flat, and if Crowley was gone…
A sick feeling building within him, he creaked the door open with a nervous, “hello?”
“Uh,” Crowley’s voice called. “In here.”
Aziraphale breathed a sigh of relief, and pushed the door open, but it wasn’t his flat that greeted him.
Crowley had described it once as ‘a sad antique studio, in the least hip way possible,’ because it was mostly just one room with a kitchen, a dining table, a fireplace, and in a nook hidden from the door, the bed--and, of course, at one point, the bed s .
Now, however, he was greeted with a quaint and cozy living room. A candle that smelled something like pine and cinnamon was burning on the mantle, which was now wooden and white rather than raw brick, and above which hung a flat screen television. There were several throw blankets folded neatly on the end of an inviting tartan sofa, and one of those soft, furry pillows Aziraphale had considered purchasing on a cream-colored chaise. On the coffee table, which had not existed before he left, was a beautiful orchid; and in fact, now that he noticed, there were a number of houseplants around this new living room, and they looked familiar.
“Crowley?” Aziraphale said, disbelieving.
“In here,” Crowley said again, from the direction of a new door that was open just a crack.
Aziraphale approached it, taking in the sight of a gleaming kitchen around the corner he hadn’t seen from the door, and pushed it open.
The room was just small enough to be cozy without feeling at all crowded, and Aziraphale noticed another fireplace, this one lit, but the most important thing, of course, was Crowley, standing at the foot of the bed he’d created several days ago, chewing his lip nervously.
“What...is this, my dear?” Aziraphale asked. He felt as though the air had been snatched from his lungs.
Crowley opened his mouth, closed it, then opened it again. “I was going to give you a bad quarto of Hamlet I found back in the seventeenth century,” he said. “For Christmas, I mean.”
“Oh,” Aziraphale said, as if that was a relevant response to his question. “How kind of you.”
“I didn’t think that was quite right, though,” Crowley said. “After...after everything. You can still have it.”
“Thank you,” Aziraphale said faintly. Crowley had his glasses on, he noticed, and...and a bouquet of flowers in his hands. “Your glasses, dear.”
Crowley made a strange sound, halfway between a laugh and a sigh, and took them off. “You said I should move in.”
“I did,” Aziraphale said, feeling both more satisfied and more apprehensive now that they were getting back to what he felt was the most pressing matter at hand, which was that he had left one flat and returned to an entirely different one.
“I can change it back, if you don’t like it,” he said.
“No,” Aziraphale said. “No, I do.” And he did. It wasn’t cluttered, but it felt cozy and inhabited; it wasn’t stuck in the past, but it wasn’t horribly modern either. Well, except for that shiny kitchen, but they could discuss that later.
“I tried to do it so we’d both like it,” Crowley said.
“I do,” Aziraphale told him. He felt very far away from the conversation, and yet painfully close, like he was standing very near a very large fire. Perhaps it was the fireplace. Yes, that must have been it. “I do like it.”
“Your flat took a lot of convincing,” Crowley said. “To do what I wanted it to.”
“Our flat,” Aziraphale corrected. “Is that...I presume that’s why you changed it?”
“Yeah,” he said, and met his eyes properly for the first time since he’d walked in. His pupils were wide, and his eyes were desperate. “Is that alright?”
“Of course,” Aziraphale said, melting a little. “Of course it is, my dear boy.” Now that some of the shock was wearing off, he felt something like joy soaring in his chest. “How could it not be?”
Crowley gave him an uncertain smile, and both their eyes fell to the bouquet in his hands.
“Uh,” he said. “I was going to give you this a while ago.”
“About a century and a half ago, actually,” Crowley said. “But then we...well, we had that thing in the Park in 1861.”
“Oh, dear,” Aziraphale said faintly. He knew the flowers well; broom, myrtle, and a bright red tulip in the middle.
“You liked that flower language nonsense the humans were doing,” Crowley said. Broom, myrtle, a tulip. “You kept sending me coded bouquets and I had to keep that book you gave me in my pocket so I’d know what the Heaven you were saying.”
Broom, myrtle, a tulip; a single, bright red tulip.
“Do you remember when we saw As You Like It?” Crowley asked, and Aziraphale nodded mutely. Surely, Crowley had lost the book; surely, he’d had to pick up another. They weren’t always consistent, these dictionaries of flower languages. “That part you liked, the one that was in the book too.”
“‘Good shepherd, tell this youth what ’tis to love, It is to be all made of sighs and tears; It is to be all made of faith and service; It is to be all made of fantasy, All made of passion and all made of wishes, All adoration, duty, and observance, All humbleness, all patience and impatience, All purity, all trial, all observance,’” Aziraphale murmured. “More or less.”
Crowley smiled. “Do you,” he stopped, shifted his weight. “Do you remember it? All that stuff from the book?”
“Yes,” Aziraphale said. “Of course I do.”
“Do you know what these are?”
“Broom, and myrtle,” he said, and swallowed hard. “A tulip.”
“You know what it means,” Crowley said.
"Humility, and love, and," he stopped, eyes flickering up at Crowley and back to the bouquet. "And a declaration of love."
"Yup," Crowley said, drawing the word out. Aziraphale felt frozen in place. He wanted to move, or say something, but he didn't know what, didn't know how. "Not to rush you, or anything, but," he said, after several long beats of silence, "you're kind of leaving me hanging here, angel."
"Oh, Crowley," he murmured, and a dam in him broke. His eyes filled with tears, though for what, he wasn't sure. "Oh, my dear, dear boy, are you sure?"
"Am I. Am I sure? " Crowley said incredulously. "Aziraphale, I've been sure for six thousand bloody years, I don't think it's my feelings that need to be said, here."
"What do you mean?" Aziraphale asked, his eyes meeting Crowley's. He frowned.
"Don't play stupid, angel," he said. "I've been in love with you since I met you on the wall of that bloody garden."
"You've what? " Aziraphale's voice came out oddly pitched, and Crowley squinted at him.
"Are you trying to tell me," he said, "that all this time, you didn't know?"
"No, I didn't know , why would I know , don't you think I would have said something? ” Aziraphale demanded, gaping at Crowley.
“No,” Crowley said, and Aziraphale had to admit that was a fair assumption. “I thought you were, I don’t know, being considerate of my feelings.”
“Crowley,” Aziraphale said, and took a shaky and uncertain step towards him.
Crowley watched him carefully, holding the bouquet so tightly that his knuckles were white, and it was probably through the sheer force of his will that the stems weren’t breaking.
Aziraphale reached out, and took the bouquet in his shaking hands. “Crowley,” he said again, and put one hand on the demon’s cheek.
“Aziraphale, please ,” Crowley begged, his voice rough, “I know I go too fast for you, but it’s been six thousand years, angel, please --”
Aziraphale kissed him.
For a moment, Crowley did nothing, shock freezing him in place, which was slightly inconvenient because Aziraphale had never actually done this before, and slightly awkward, too, because something deep in the pit of his stomach was telling him that he was somehow misinterpreting all this and Crowley was going to push him away and ask him what the Heaven all of that was.
But after a moment, Crowley made a desperate noise low in his throat and wrapped his arms around Aziraphale and pulled him so close, the bouquet was crushed between them, and Aziraphale let it go without thought, sliding his hand into Crowley’s hair and fisting the other in his sweater.
“Angel,” Crowley whispered against him. “Angel, angel, angel.”
Aziraphale nipped his lower lip to quiet him, but of course, Crowley only made more noise, a low keen that made Aziraphale feel like he was going to come apart, and Aziraphale pulled back, breathing like he’d just run a marathon and, like poor Pheidippides, was going to collapse dead at any moment. “Crowley,” he said, “are you sure?”
“If you ask me if I’m sure one more time, I’m taking my interior decor and I’m leaving ,” Crowley growled. “Please, angel, would you just believe me? Would I lie to you--about this ,” he clarified, before Aziraphale could make the usual point that he was, of course, a demon.
“No,” he said, “No, I suppose you wouldn’t,” and he kissed him again.
“You know,” Aziraphale said, some years later. He sat at their dining table, the morning paper open in front of him as he ate his pastry. Crowley was leaning dangerously far back in his chair, tapping insistently at his mobile. “I’ve been thinking.”
“Aren’t you always?” Crowley asked.
“Yes, dear, I rather think that’s the point of consciousness,” Aziraphale said, rolling his eyes. “No, I’ve been thinking about something important .”
“Is this about all those cottages you keep looking up on my phone?” Crowley asked, quirking one brow. Aziraphale gaped at him, and Crowley laughed. “You know the web page doesn’t close when you leave the app, right?”
“No,” Aziraphale said, blushing. “No, I didn’t.”
“So is this about that?” Crowley asked, and put all four of the chair’s legs on the floor, much to Aziraphale’s relief. He leaned forward.
“I...yes, it is,” he admitted. “It’s just that--well, the city is getting a bit loud,” he said, “and busy, and crowded, and Anathema told me lovely things about the cottages in the South Downs.”
“I liked the one with the big space for a flower garden,” Crowley said, beginning to smile. “And room for Dog to play, when Adam comes to visit.”
“Yes,” Aziraphale said, returning it. He reached out and took Crowley’s hand in his, turning it over to link their fingers together. “I quite liked that one too.”