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to the end of time

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Just how far would you go for him?

 

To the end of time.

To the end of the Earth.

 

◦◦◦

 

Aziraphale has not been in Hell before. Which isn’t at all surprising; angels don’t belong in Hell, after all. They aren’t wanted there and they have no reason whatsoever to be there, just like demons have no business in Heaven. Actually, there is even that unspoken but not exactly unofficial rule that angels aren’t allowed to go to Hell.

Aziraphale can just file that away to all the other rules he’s broken, now. That list keeps getting longer.

(“I just - See, I simply feel that, somehow, we really shouldn’t be doing this all the time. It’s nothing personal, my dear, but -”

“It’s just dinner, angel. Nobody’s going to make you Fall for that.”)

Somebody could make me Fall for this, Aziraphale thinks now, while pushing himself through the ocean of reeking, cold, flies-and-lice-infected bodies. His lips are firmly pressed together, and he hasn’t taken a proper breath since he took the escalator that brought him Downstairs. It isn’t like he needs to breathe, technically, so it’s fine, but Aziraphale has long gotten used to the ability to breathe and gasp and sigh, so it is rather uncomfortable. But keeping his lungs empty is better than having them full with rotten air.

It was surprisingly easy, getting here. He hasn’t even been discovered so far, and he very strongly hopes that he won’t be, because that would make everything much more difficult. The thing is, Aziraphale doesn’t exactly know what he is doing, because he’s never been in Hell before and he doesn’t know his way around, and all those horrible bodies and lost souls aren’t making it any better. In fact, he is two seconds away from a full blown panic, and he doesn’t know what he is doing.

Six decades ago, Aziraphale met a demon. A demon that was rather polite for a demon, though that was most likely tactic. But she came into his bookshop and asked to talk to him, politely, and Aziraphale let her talk, and he listened, and he still stood exactly where he was hours later, long after she had left the shop.

And now he’s in Hell, his itching skin all too similar to that of a demon. His shoulders keep twitching because his wings keep twitching; they feel cramped and dirty and twisted beneath this new, different kind of invisibility. But there’s nothing Aziraphale can do about that now, so he just ignores it and proceeds pressing forward through the mass of demons, trying to step on not too many toes along the way.

“Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear,” is the mantra he mutters to himself, unaware that he is muttering anything at all. His eyes scan his surroundings, searching, but it’s too dark down here and Aziraphale isn’t made for this, and this body of his is a little short-sighted, anyway, and he feels horribly, gut-wrenchingly blind.

Yes. Somebody could make him Fall for this, and in fact somebody is already making him Fall for this, but that couldn’t possibly matter less at this point.

 

◦◦◦

 

He finds Crowley after eons. Or maybe Crowley finds him, or nobody finds anybody at all and Aziraphale sees a flicker of golden eyes just by chance, and decides to follow that flicker because he has not yet gone fully insane.

Someone steps on a scaled tail and there’s a hiss that sounds achingly familiar. Aziraphale drops to his knees without thinking. He is being stepped on, too, but he doesn’t mind, he doesn’t even notice . It’s even darker now that he’s nearer to the floor; he narrows his eyes as he tries to see something, anything. What he sees, then, is a slithering form somewhere in front of him, between legs and feet and ripped clothes. Aziraphale recognizes the glint of scales, he would recognize him without having to see him at all, and he follows on hands and knees as well as he can, eyes fixed on the snake that apparently hasn’t noticed him yet.

“Crowley,” Aziraphale whispers, willing his body not to start coughing when he does take a gulp of air. “Crowley -

He doesn’t dare calling out any louder, but the sounds around them are drowning out his voice, and Crowley doesn’t seem to here. So Aziraphale keeps following - following feeling and instinct more than anything, really - and simply pushes everybody else out of his way, not much caring about politeness any longer. (He will feel bad about that later.)

Eventually, his dirty fingers touch equally dirty scales, and they wrap around the snake's tail and hold on tight, in a desperate, not-ever-letting-go-again kind of way. That particular feeling is strong in Aziraphale's chest right now, and all of a sudden breathing becomes difficult for a completely different reason.

"Crowley," he whispers again, and maybe the snake realizes to whom those fingers gripping him belong, because he stops fighting to free himself.

Bright yellow eyes look at Aziraphale, suddenly, and there's definitely some sort of shock in them, but Aziraphale barely notices. He draws in a shuddering breath that leaves him again in a brittle sigh, and then he, because he is Aziraphale and he is panicking, starts babbling.

"Oh goodness, finally, I already thought you were lost to me, my dear! Do you have the slightest idea what I went through for your sake, because I hope that will keep you from ever, ever doing something like this again. Now, if you please -"

Someone else is about to step on Crowley, again , and Aziraphale doesn't like that in the slightest, so he bats the offending foot away. His other hand is still keeping Crowley from going - slithering - anywhere at all, his grip probably a little too tight. Crowley hasn't yet said anything. Aziraphale probably loses hold of his sanity for a moment, because what he does next is trying to crawl away from all those other demons, his demon's tail still firmly in his hand. Crowley makes confused and affronted hissing noises, but Aziraphale is barely listening. He keeps on rambling, instead, his voice a husky mess and breath hitching, and he only stops crawling when his head bumps into what seems to be a wall.

He ceases his sputtering to say, "Ouch," with feeling. Then he turns around, leans against the wall and draws his knees up against his chest. He closes his eyes, breathing heavily - he's almost wheezing at this point, really; this air isn't good for him. He works the tiniest miracle and hopes that nobody here will pick it up, and after a few seconds it seems like nobody will - no, the demons just continue walking or standing around, and nobody spares Aziraphale a second glance. They even give him a bit more space, which is truly lovely of them. They could just keep doing that, and in the meanwhile Aziraphale would just work on, well, trying to keep his thoughts in order. As far as there is any sort of order possible when he is in Hell and when his skin is itching so much and when there are flies and dirt and darkness everywhere and when the sky is so, so, so far away.

"What the hell are you doing here, Azi -"

"Shhhhh!" Aziraphale hisses, eyes flying open, and only now he notices that the tail he's been holding has turned into an ankle, and that Crowley is sitting next to him, in his human body; his eyes are still the same. Aziraphale lets go of the demon's ankle and slaps his chest instead. "What has gotten into you?! Calling me that here, in the midst of - of - these people!"

"These people," Crowley intones, an imitation of Aziraphale's voice that lacks heart and intent, "these people! What are you doing here, ange -"

"Shhhhh!"

"You shouldn't be here at all! Who let you in?!"

"I sneaked in!"

"You didn't. You wouldn't be capable of sneaking even if -"

"I can sneak. In fact, I am very -"

"Yes, fine! Fine. But why? And what are you doing there, get your hands off -"

"Sorry", Aziraphale hurries to say, pulling his hands back. They moved on their own account and went on assuring themselves that Crowley was alright, and they did that by running over his shoulders and arms and chest, and that was not very good of them. Not very  good at all. "I'm sorry, I don't - I don't know what got into me, I - Oh dear, we really should get moving, this is not at all a safe place to stay. Maybe we could -"

Crowley flicks the angel's forehead, which results in Aziraphale making an offended noise and giving Crowley a hurt look. "Now, that was entirely unnecessary, and rude."

Crowley ignores him. "I'm asking one last time," he says. He sounds only slightly hysterical, but still hysterical enough to make Aziraphale frown. "What are you doing here?"

"I'm getting you back, of course," Aziraphale replies because really, isn't that obvious?

Crowley's eyes are the only bright thing in this whole blasted place, even when the look in them is absolutely blank. "Getting me back," the demon repeats, looking at Aziraphale in that exasperated and uncomprehending sort of way. He uses that sort of look on bad days, when Aziraphale gets over-excited about food or a book or a play. When Aziraphale gets over-excited on good days, however, the looks it earns him are much more -

"Hey," Crowley snaps and flicks Aziraphale's forehead again. The angel hopes that won't become a habit. "Still with me? You want to get me back?!"

"Yes."

"Back where? Back to the humans?"

"Is there another species in the Creation you have to tempt into sinning?"

"It's never a good sign when you get sarcastic, Az-"

"Shh."

"It isn't! You don't even get sarcasm most of the time -"

"I get sarcasm just fine!"

"You don't," Crowley says as if that puts an end to this particular discussion. "You can't just come here and drag me out of Hell by my ears!"

"But that's exactly what I'm doing," Aziraphale says as if that puts an end to this particular discussion. "Of course I would rather not pull you by your ears, dear boy, so if you'd just come with me -"

"I'm not coming with you. If you think -"

"But -"

"Quiet, I'm tal-"

"You stay quiet!" Aziraphale snaps, getting Crowley to raise his brows. "I came here, to Hell, and it was not easy, and I didn't do it for fun! Now, I'm not here to fight with you, so -"

"Why are you here, then?"

Aziraphale's mouth opens to say something and immediately clothes again because, apparently, it is also at a loss for words. He swallows, knowing that his eyes are wide and his cheeks flushed. Which is wonderful, really, no problem at all.

"I asked you a question, angel."

“I told you already,” Aziraphale huffs. "And would you stop calling me  -"

"Oh, sheesh. You clearly worked some kind of miracle here, otherwise somebody would've long thrown you out. And you look horrible , by the way, this -" Crowley gestures at Aziraphale's dirty clothes, his too dry skin. The grubs in his hair. (Aziraphale still doesn't know where they came from. They were just there one morning.) "Doesn't suit you at all."

"It's a disguise," Aziraphale defends himself. Then he winces, because that was a lie, wasn't it? "Well, sort of."

"You should just go back Up," Crowley says, uncharacteristically serious, and already moves to stand up and - and leave.

The panic that floods Aziraphale's veins makes him doubt that this body is just a vessel. It has to be more connected to his soul, the way it acts - because Aziraphale doesn't make it act, right now. He wouldn't dare to grab Crowley's jacket like this, he wouldn't dare digging his fingers into the demon's arm and holding him so tightly that it must hurt. No, no, no, that's only the body, and the panic that makes it so hard to think is only - only…

"Crowley," he says, and Crowley stares at him, his golden eyes wide. "Crowley, don't. Must you be like this? Just come back home with me, you don't have to stay here."

Crowley yanks his arm out of Aziraphale's grip, but at least he doesn't stand up. "Look, angel, I don't know what you're getting at, and I don't know why you're here. Didn't they send someone to, er, wise you up?"

"There was a demon, yes, but she obviously lied."

"She didn't lie."

Aziraphale stares at him, mouth opening and closing again, and his skin is still itching.

He quit, he hears that demon say again. Changed jobs, you know.

Aziraphale thinks that he might be losing feathers.

I've no idea why. Why do you even care?

Maybe more than feathers, really.

No. No, I don't think he'll come back.

"I thought," Aziraphale swallows thickly, "I thought they… took you." His voice is nothing more than a breathy and weak little thing, so he clears his throat to strengthen it. "Because of me. I mean, us - because of what we've been doing"

"Feeling guilty, huh?" Crowley says. "Is that why you're here?"

Guilt. That's… a feeling Aziraphale knows, if only fleetingly. He knows that he enjoys food and wine a little too much, and that he is too fond of his books and also of - Crowley might be the reason Aziraphale grew more familiar with guilt, lately, but even their fraternizing isn't something that makes Aziraphale feel as terribly, mind-numbingly guilty as this.

He knows Hell now, after all, intimately. And Crowley is here, maybe he even belongs here (he can't possibly belong here) and besides Earth, this is the only home he knows. And yes, Aziraphale feels guilty, but -

"No," he says, his voice trembling a little. "No. Not because of that."

"Why then? I thought you'd be glad to be rid of me."

It's a snarl, or a hiss, or maybe it just sounds small and tired and sad; Aziraphale can't tell. He can't say anything, either, just looks at Crowley and tries to understand how he can say something like that.

("The feeling is mutual, obviously," Aziraphale said, the last time they spoke. In truth saying things like that is awfully easy.)

A few seconds tick by - though they don't, not really, because seconds don't exist down here. But a few moments pass, anyway, and they are slow and sticky enough that Aziraphale can almost taste them. Maybe that’s just the corrupt air, though.

Crowley snorts and then he stands up. Before he can go, Aziraphale pulls himself up, too; his legs carry his weight only barely. Hell is spinning around him and his hands are trembling, and every breath he takes sounds rattling in his ears. He puts one hand on the damp wall to support himself.

"I'm sorry I bothered you," Aziraphale makes himself say. "I only thought to…." He trails off. None of the things crossing his mind is something he can say. And so he finishes, rather lamely, "I had a reservation, for us, when you would come back."

"Angel," Crowley sighs. It's one of those sounds he's been making for thousands of years. Aziraphale still isn't sure what it means.

"Oh, don't worry, it's perfectly fine," he says, sounding too cheerful in his own ears, too jarring.

Crowley doesn't say anything.

"I'll just go alone," Aziraphale says. He takes another one of those rattling breaths and moves to leave, to just walk away, but it seems that his feet don't want to walk, let alone away. His knees give in and he nearly falls, but two hands grab him and somehow keep him on his feet. Golden eyes flicker over his body; Aziraphale can't say whether the look in them is concerned or annoyed.

He wills his legs to carry him, this time, and pointedly takes a step back, away from Crowley. "I'm sorry, I am", he says and smiles, briefly, even though his lips don't want to. He doesn't quite manage to meet, let alone hold Crowley's gaze. "If this is what you want, of course I won't keep you from it."

Crowley stays silent, still, and Aziraphale swallows and manages another weak and fleeting smile, then he turns and walks away.

A voice holds him back.

"A reservation, you said?"

Aziraphale's knees buckle again. It's relief this time, though.

 

◦◦◦

 

He miracles himself into his bookshop; the sign at the door is already flipped to Closed.  His chest is heaving with troubled breaths and for the first time in millennia he feels like he needs that air, like he will wither and die without it. He knows that he doesn't feel like that because of the lack of air in his lungs.

There's a bed upstairs, but Aziraphale doesn't get that far. No, he lies down right where he appeared, in the middle of the bookshop, on the floor. On his back, at first, then face down, because his wings need the air more than his lungs. This entire body feels out of place, he himself feels too big and also too small for this skin. Shudders run through him every few seconds, and he doesn't know what to do. He summons his last bit of power to miracle his disguise away, but breathing doesn't become easier.

His wings are a mess. He is indeed losing feathers, has lost quite a few already, and what's left feels sticky and filthy and not white at all. He can't muster enough energy to clean them, so he just keeps lying there.

Crowley finds him like that, later. Of course Crowley finds him. Aziraphale didn't hear him enter, but now he does hear Crowley's voice.

"Angel. Aziraphale, my god."

"Blasphemy," Aziraphale wants to chide, but the word ends up being just a whimper. He's hurting, so much, everywhere, and he isn't quite sure what's happening.

There's a too loud thud when Crowley drops to his knees next to him. His hands hover over the angel's body, unsure where to to touch, unsure if they are allowed to touch. Aziraphale tries to keep breathing, and he keeps his face turned into the ground, because he can't possibly stand to look at Crowley right now.

Crowley promised he would come back. He did, after Aziraphale told him about that nice little restaurant he found, where they play that sort of music that Aziraphale can't bear but that Crowley loves. And Crowley groaned and said yes, fine, you manipulative puppy, whatever he exactly meant by that. But he did promise, and he kept his promise and he's back on Earth, he's back, and everything else is… trivial.

"What did you do?" Crowley whispers. He sounds unfamiliar, almost, but only because Aziraphale never heard him sound like this, so… ragged.

I Fell , Aziraphale says, just a little.

He doesn't say it out loud, but he doesn't need to; Crowley hears him, anyway.

"You can't Fall just a little," the demon replies, voice bordering on shrill now. "You Fall, or you don't. There's nothing in between."

There's this.

Crowley doesn't reply. Instead he puts his hands on Aziraphale's wings and pulls at them, trying to spread them properly. The angel whines, but Crowley shushes him, and then he starts plucking at the feathers and grooming them, slowly and thoroughly. Breathing does become easier now, so Aziraphale breathes. Crowley's hands are surprisingly warm, surprisingly gentle. Nobody has touched Aziraphale's wings in thousands of years, and he thinks he will never let anybody else touch them again.

They are still white, so it turns out when Crowley is done. They are white, and Aziraphale rolls around on the floor for a moment, grunting softly as he tries to find a comfortable position. He ends up with his wings wrapped around him, his face buried in white softness. They still hurt a little, and he wants to take a bath even though he already is entirely clean again, even though he is forgiven . But he will be fine. Crowley is back, and Aziraphale will be fine.

"I've never met anyone as stupid as you," Crowley says, sounding somewhere between exhausted and impressed. "You're never going to Hell again."

"I hope so," Aziraphale manages, his voice coming out muffled.

"That wasn't a suggestion, angel."

"I promise."

Crowley keeps quiet. Aziraphale lifts one of his wings to look at the demon, who is still sitting next to him on the floor. He isn't wearing his sunglasses, and his hands are dirty.

"And you," Aziraphale says, "don't do that again, my dear."

Crowley clenches his jaw, but he nods, and Aziraphale is satisfied.

After a while, Crowley lies down next to him, because Aziraphale can't be convinced to move, not even by miracle. The angel spreads his wing over Crowley, moving closer until he can press his forehead against a bony shoulder. Crowley lets out a quivering breath, but he stays where he is, and he doesn't push Aziraphale's wing away.

Aziraphale falls asleep, and Crowley is still there when he wakes up a few days later.

 

◦◦◦

 

Crowley asks exactly once.

"You risked everything," he says after clinking their glasses, "for this. Why?"

Aziraphale knows a lot of things. He knows everything an angel has to know, for one thing, about Her and the ineffable plan, and he also knows everything about the history of mankind, even though he sometimes can't recall the details. He knows which wine goes best with which food, and he knows about books - every kind of books. You could ask Aziraphale every possible questions, and if he didn't know the answer already, he would come up with a good one within minutes.

He doesn't come up with a good answer now.

"Maybe I did feel a little guilty,” Aziraphale says as he brings their glasses together, and Crowley snorts.

They don’t talk about it again.

(Until.)

 

◦◦◦

 

He figures it out when they are standing in the ruins of a church. Which is a rather ironic place to figure out that you are in love with a demon.

It's obvious, of course, now that he thinks about it. It's also horribly wrong, and it makes him very anxious, and after his first trip to Hell he is quite afraid of two things: losing Crowley again, and starting to Fall again.

So he buries his newly acquired knowledge somewhere deep. Tries to leave it behind in the remains of stone and glass when he follows Crowley out of the ruins.

It stays there for just a few decades, in the end.

Aziraphale pulls it out of the ruins and dusts it off when the world almost ends - after the world almost ended, really. To be precise, he remembers and accepts that he is in love when he is in Hell again.

He's standing in front of a jury of demons and feels horrible for two reasons: he is in Hell again, obviously, and he broke his promise.

But that's fine, he guesses, because he and Crowley came up with this plan, together. Crowley allowed him to go to Hell, basically, even though he wasn't happy about it. Aziraphale isn't happy about Crowley being in Heaven, either.

But that can't be helped now, and so Aziraphale takes a bath and asks for a rubber duck.

 

◦◦◦

 

Being in Crowley's body feels odd, and at the same time like home. It took some time until Aziraphale figured out what to do with these long limbs, this tallness and the general lack of softness, but by now he knows.

Which is why it is not difficult at all to use these hands to pull Crowley into a hug, and to hold him tight enough that he can't push Aziraphale away. Not like he tries to push him away - Crowley doesn't try to do anything. He just stands there, in Aziraphale's body, and he even makes a surprised and muffled sound with Aziraphale's voice. Aziraphale pinches his eyes shut and holds the demon tighter.

They swap back.

Aziraphale's arms are still around Crowley's neck when they are back in their respective bodies, but now he is standing on his toes to make up for their difference in height. It still feels the same - it doesn't really matter in which bodies they are, as long as Crowley is in the one Aziraphale is hugging at the moment.

Crowley is all tensed up, and he doesn’t relax even after a few minutes. He does put his hands on Aziraphale’s back, though, and he still makes no move to push Aziraphale away, and that’s good. It’s good , and so they just stay like this for a while, until Crowley breaks the silence.

“What’s gotten into you?”

Aziraphale opens his eyes; he can see the shelves of his bookshop when he glances over Crowley’s shoulder. They met in the park, but they wanted to switch back somewhere a little more private. The angel swallows, and he finds that he isn’t yet willing to pull away.

“I’m sorry,” he says, and somehow that makes Crowley tense up even more.

“What for? If there’s another apocalypse that needs to be prevented -”

“No! No, of course not, nothing of that sort.” Aziraphale laughs one of his nervous little laughs and immediately tries to cover it up, clearing his throat and taking a step back. His jittery hands run over Crowley’s jacket to straighten it, but Aziraphale manages to convince his fingers to stop touching Crowley . Even though there’s nothing he would rather do at the moment; Crowley does look touchable right now and they’re safe and free after all, and the tension of eleven bloody years is crumbling away all at once and -

“Would you stop fidgeting?” Crowley says, his hands on Aziraphale’s shoulders, shaking him gently. “You’re making yourself nervous. You’re making me nervous. You’re even making your blasted books nervous.”

“I know, I know, I’m sorry. I don’t mean to.”

“Just say what’s on your mind. Can’t look into your head, you know.”

“Oh, you could,” Aziraphale says, and he’s first smiling, then frowning. “Though I’d rather you wouldn't, my dear, I’d like to tell you myself.”

“Tell me what yourself?”

“That I’m sorry.”

“You’re insufferable,” Crowley tells him, his tone dry and serious. The look in his eyes is probably either incredibly annoyed or incredibly fond; Aziraphale isn’t entirely sure. He bets it’s the latter, though. Crowley takes his hands away from the angel’s shoulders. “You already told me that you’re sorry, I’d like to know why.”

Ah, yes. Why. Why has become a steady incertitude over the last few centuries, especially in the last eleven years. Why has turned out to be the word Aziraphale has pondered over countless times, and the question he still doesn’t know a good answer to. Except, maybe - finally - he does.

“Well, for starters,” he says, willing his voice to sound even and collected, “I was awfully - awfully awful to you, several times, and also rather rude.”

“You’re physically incapable of rudeness, angel.”

“We both know that’s a lie,” Aziraphale says, even though he rather wishes it was the truth.

Crowley sighs and makes one of his Gestures - Aziraphale still, after six thousand years, isn’t sure what a Gesture like that means, or if Crowley wants it to be anything at all, maybe he just wants it to be an odd and technically unnecessary hand movement. Aziraphale likes those gestures; in fact, he finds them rather endearing. Also, Crowley is smiling, and his glasses now sit low enough on his nose that Aziraphale can see his eyes. The look in them is indeed fond.

“I don’t care much for rudeness, anyways,” Crowley says, doubtlessly to soothe Aziraphale’s conscience. Aziraphale’s conscience is not willing to be soothed just yet.

“But I do, so I’m apologizing, and accepting that apology would be the polite thing to -”

“Insufferable,” Crowley says again, and Aziraphale pouts, so the demon rolls his eyes and makes another Gesture - this one Aziraphale knows, is intimately familiar with; it’s the mocking imitation of the gesture all priests make when they give absolution. It’s absolutely ridiculous that a demon is doing that right now, in front of an angel no less, and naturally Aziraphale has to laugh.

Crowley joins in, and it’s lovely. He also says, “I forgive you,” and means it, and that’s even lovelier.

“Besides,” the demon says then, “it’s not like I’ve ever not been rude to you.”

“You’ve been extraordinarily kind to me.”

“Er -”

“You have! In your own, uh, slightly demonic, I guess, way.”

“Right.”

“Yes.”

“And you have been extraordinarily rude to me, in your own, slightly angelic, way.”

“Indeed, I have.”

“And we’re both okay with that,” Crowley says, nodding, “You apologized, I apologized -”

Aziraphale frowns. “You don’t need to apologize for being kind, and you didn’t."

“- and I’m glad we talked about this, but now we can go, yeah? Today’s a good day to get drunk together, but first we could have lunch at -”

“I don’t want to have lunch,” Aziraphale interrupts, his tone a little absent, and Crowley stares at him.

“You don’t want to have lunch,” Crowley repeats. He frowns and looks Aziraphale up and down, brows raised. “That fire didn’t hurt your body in some way, did it?”

“Hmm?” Aziraphale makes, confused. Then, “Oh, no, don’t worry, dear boy. I’m perfectly fine. I’d just rather stay here, to talk.”

“Oh,” Crowley very eloquently replies. He pushes up his glasses. “No. No, I think I don’t feel like talking. I like my plan better.”

“Crowley, please. I wasn’t done yet.”

A sigh. “With apologizing?”

“Yes.”

“Angel,” Crowley says. His hands are back on Aziraphale’s shoulders. “We just saved the world. It’s fine, it’s done, we’re international heroes, and with a little bit of luck, nobody else will ever know. We did a good job, and we’re both still here, and right now’s not the time for apologizing.”

“But I don’t want to have lunch,” Aziraphale says again, stubborn as ever. “I’m sorry I went back to Hell. I knew I promised that I wouldn’t.”

Crowley just looks at him for a rather long time. Well, at least Aziraphale thinks he does, Crowley could just as well be looking at his shoes. “It wasn’t like you had a choice,” he says then, sounding uncomfortable. “Or I, for that matter. And we’re fine, aren’t we?”

“Yes,” Aziraphale hurries to say. “Yes, of course, just - I do hope we don’t have to go back. To our respective...” He indicates Up and Down with two vague gestures.

Crowley shrugs. “Eh, I’m sure they’ll leave us alone for a while.”

“No, I mean -” Aziraphale takes a breath. “I don’t want to go back. Ever. And I would be… happy, very happy, if you stayed here, too.”

Another long stretch of silence. Crowley looks away and shuffles his feet, and they both look at his snakeskin shoes. The air is very heavy, but Aziraphale can't quite say with what.

"I'm not going anywhere," Crowley says eventually. He sounds a little off, his tone too even.

"Well, you left before," Aziraphale says and immediately feels bad, because that came out sharper than he intended. He tries to paddle back. "You had your reasons, I'm sure, and I know that it wasn't any of my business - and that it still isn't, really, and I don't mean to order you around or anything, but I -"

"Spit it out, Aziraphale."

" - simply prefer not to be alone, you understand, and you are the only and best friend I have in this world, and I'd rather not lose you again."

Crowley's hands are fidgeting around at his sides. Aziraphale swallows and looks at them, then away, trying to avoid the demon's gaze. It's most certainly fixed on Aziraphale now, and Crowley's not smiling anymore.

"I'm sorry," Aziraphale says again. "I am. I had no right to convince you to come back, then. You were clearly tired of Earth, and of me, but I - I didn't care, and I'm sorry."

"Stop saying you're sorry," Crowley tells him. "It's getting ridiculous. Let's just have lunch, okay?"

"Crowley -"

"No," Crowley cuts him off. His voice is just as sharp as Aziraphale's was earlier, but given that Crowley is a demon, it sounds much more impressive. "Has it crossed your mind, just briefly, that I might not want to talk about any of this right now?"

Aziraphale inclines his head, thinking. He feels incredibly awkward. "Well, you said a few minutes ago that you don't want to, but -"

"Nope. No buts. I don't want to. That whole thing happened two centuries ago, it doesssn't fucking matter."

Things are never going well when Crowley starts to hiss, that Aziraphale knows by now. He swallows. "I didn't mean to upset you," he says carefully.

"I'm not upset," Crowley hisses, throwing his hands up. He's glaring at the angel through his glasses, and it's obvious that he is upset, very much. "I don't know why you're making such a big deal out of - things. This. Whatever this is. I don't even know what you're apologizing for, you didn't do anything wrong."

"I didn't do a lot of things right either, though," Aziraphale argues. His tone has lost its sharpness, but it's got a rather anxious  edge to it now. "Regarding you, I mean. I just kept pushing you away, and now I want to -"

"I'm going to have lunch," Crowley announces, stalking past Aziraphale and obviously intending to leave the bookshop..

"I don't want to have lunch," Aziraphale says for the third and final time, his voice small and quiet.

"I'm going to have lunch alone, then," Crowley spits, opening the door. He curses, and then he's gone

Aziraphale flinches when the door slams shut. He swallows thickly, feeling like he just ruined a perfectly fine post-almost-apocalypse mood.

 

◦◦◦

 

Six days later, the phone in the bookshop rings. Aziraphale stands up so abruptly that he knocks his chair over and then realizes that he doesn't need to stand up to reach the phone, because he's already at his desk, and the phone is sitting on his desk.

Aziraphale carefully picks up the chair, eyes fixed on the still ringing phone. He clears his throat and keeps staring at it, until it goes to voicemail.

See, Aziraphale's phone is very nearly ancient. There's no answerphone. Therefore, the phone going to voicemail is technically impossible.

"Hello, dear boy," Crowley's voice says, in a long-suffering tone, "I'm not able to pick up the phone at the moment, but please leave a message after the tone, I'll get back to you as soon as I can."

Aziraphale wrinkles his nose. "You're mocking me."

"Am not," the demon replies. Then, "beep."

Aziraphale sighs.

Crowley leaves his message, "Pick up the bloody phone," and hangs up.

Two seconds later, the phone starts ringing again, and Aziraphale takes the call.

"Hello," he says.

"Hi," Crowley answers.

Aziraphale gingerly sits down, his free hand fiddling around with a button of his waistcoat. He stares at nothing and waits, not knowing what to say. Thankfully, Crowley has pity on him and breaks the silence after a while.

"I wasn't tired of Earth," is what he says, "and certainly not of you. That's not why I left."

Aziraphale blinks. "No?"

"No."

"Oh."

"Yes."

The angel clears his throat again. "I don't understand why, then."

A long pause. "You know," Crowley says then, "you're really stupid for someone so clever."

"Yes," Aziraphale agrees, "so you said."

"You never told me how you did it," Crowley says.

Aziraphale feels like they're changing the topic. He doesn't really know if he wants that. Not that he wants to hear how clever and simultaneously stupid he is, but he is interested in whatever keeps making Crowley say that. Because Aziraphale really isn't sure if he knows.

"I told you," he says carefully. "I Fell a little."

"But how?"

Aziraphale looks down at his knees. He imagines Crowley lying on the sofa in his big, empty flat, while Aziraphale is here in his tiny, filled-to-the-brim bookshop, and he really wishes that there weren't on two different ends of the same line.

"Angels are self-sacrificing creatures," he mutters. "That's a default setting."

"S'not."

"It is."

"You help humans, you protect humans. You don't sacrifice yourself for them, that's what that other guy did."

"He didn't, really."

"Whatever. You're not -"

"I thought," Aziraphale speaks over his friend, his voice tight, "that they kept you Down there, against your will. I thought they'd taken you because you knew me - too well - and that they didn't allow you to come back home."

Crowley stays silent, so Aziraphale swallows and continues.

"I tried a lot of things to go Below, but they wouldn't let me in. So I had to - twist the rules a little."

"You don't twist rules, angel," Crowley says. "That's my job."

"Exactly."

The demon huffs. "So, what did you do? Committed some sins, or what?"

"A few, yes." The greatest sin Aziraphale has ever committed is wanting Crowley back in the first place, but he's not going to tell him that. Not on the phone, anyway.

"It was all for the greater good, of course," he adds quickly, playing around with the telephone cable. "That demon was a lot better at your job than you, I'm afraid. You did some very demonic mischief, but she…" He trails off for a moment, thinking. Then, "It was easy, convincing myself that you would be… better for, you know, mankind."

"Ah."

"It's the truth, after all."

"Well -"

"It is. Look what you did. You saved the world."

"I didn't really. Besides, you weren't exactly idle, either."

"I'd have been, without you."

Crowley doesn't know what to say to that, apparently, because he changes the topic again. "Falling's not always a quick process."

"Not always, no," Aziraphale says, shaking his head in agreement. "I Fell very slowly. It took a few decades." He listens for a reply, but there's nothing. He can't even hear Crowley breathe. "It would have taken some more, probably. But as soon as I was… low enough to… to not be noticed, Downstairs, I… well. You know what I did."

Crowley stays silent for a long time, and when he finally speaks, he sounds a little strangled. "But you're still an angel."

"Oh, yes. I was forgiven."

"Just like that."

"They never even mentioned it. Not to me, at least." He briefly presses his lips together. "I think it was an order from Above."

"All the way Above?"

Aziraphale gives an affirmative hum in response. He's never been sure about it until now. Hasn't even allowed himself to think about it, actually, because being thankful for Her forgiveness is one thing, questioning it another. And Aziraphale has been very careful after his Almost Fall. Well, at least until he found that he couldn't stay away from Crowley for longer than a few decades, and until the word almost ended. Since that, he's been just as careful as he was before his Almost Fall, and probably even a little less.

"Huh," Crowley makes. It's a rather broken sound, and it worries Aziraphale quite a bit.

"Are you alright, my dear?"

"Yes," Crowley says absently.

Aziraphale shifts on his shair, nervous. "Let's have lunch."

It startles a laugh out of the demon. "It's two am."

"Yes," Aziraphale says. "Let's have lunch."

 

◦◦◦

 

They have lunch. In this context, "lunch" means "good wine", and that lunch takes place in Aziraphale's bookshop, where they sit in their respective armchairs, both looking at the glasses in their hands. The mood is rather odd, but not exactly uncomfortable, and Aziraphale is mostly just glad that Crowley is back.

"What I meant to say the other day," the angel says eventually, "is that you are very dear to me. I think I didn't manage to wrap it up in the right words."

Crowley squints at him over the rim of his glasses. He hasn't taken a single sip of wine, which is highly unusual and worrying, but he looks rather relaxed, sitting low in the armchair, one leg loosely thrown over the other.

"I know that I'm dear to you. You tell me all the time." Crowley sighs, and maybe rolls his eyes. "Well, you keep telling everyone, really. There's nothing and noone that isn't dear to you."

Again not the right words, then.

"No," Aziraphale says. "No. I mean, of course, yes, everything is dear to me. I am an angel, after all, and we -"

"- love everything the Creation has to offer, yes, I'm aware. You're very loving creatures. And also bastards."Aziraphale shoots him a minor glare, but Crowley just shrugs that off. "Can't deny that," he drawls, and finally takes a sip of his wine.

Aziraphale thinks it best to get back to the matter hand. "Angel's aren't actually supposed to be fond of demons, you see."

"Yeah, you told me a few times. That you don't like me."

Aziraphale can't say anything to that. He just looks at Crowley, frowning, and wonders why they are always talking past each other.

Crowley leans forward, putting his glass on the low table between them. "We're friends, angel. We're going to stay friends. And you don't have to apologize, not for anything."

Aziraphale's fingers tighten around his own glass. He can't hold his friend's eyes for longer than two seconds. "I think you don't understand," he says anxiously.

"I do -"

"No, you just said it, that I always told you that I don't like you. And all those other things. That's not alright, it isn't. I lied to you, about that, and I want you to know that I lied. Because I do like you, very much."

"I know that, Aziraphale, you -"

"I'm scared that you don't."

"Yes, I've noticed," Crowley says, rather dryly.

Aziraphale takes a deep breath and sets his glass aside, too. Not really the right time to get drunk. He manifests a plate with some biscuits instead and offers it to Crowley, who declines with a shake of head. Aziraphale starts nibbling at a biscuit. He doesn't look at Crowley and after a few minutes, the demon groans quietly.

"Look, if you want me to leave, just say so."

Aziraphale's eyes snap back to him and he sees that Crowley is already standing up. The biscuit disappears and Aziraphale is standing up, too, prepared to follow the demon.

"Please, stay. You don't have to go."

Crowley stays. He shoves his hands into the pockets of his slightly too tight pants and looks at Aziraphale, seeming a bit tired, and wary.

"Better for mankind, huh?" he asks.

For a second Aziraphale has no idea what he's talking about, but then he remembers their earlier conversation on the phone. "Of course," he says.

"That's why you came for me, then."

"No. Not at all. I -" Aziraphale takes a deep breath he doesn't technically need. "I missed you. Terribly. I didn't know what to do without you. I loved you, an awful lot. I still love you, more than an angel is required to love anything or anyone, and -"

Aziraphale stops talking. He stops talking not because he doesn't know what to say, or because there is nothing else to say, even though he already said everything that matters. He stops talking because Crowley is in his space all of a sudden and also because Crowley is kissing him all of a sudden and because talking itself is suddenly the very last thing on Aziraphale's mind.

Crowley is kissing him.

That's rather odd, but he should probably kiss back. It's the polite thing to do.

The thing is, Aziraphale hasn't ever really thought about kissing in his very long life. He'll read about it sometimes or see couples kiss on the street, and he'll naturally find that endearing, but he has never really thought about kissing itself. Well, except one time. One time, he thought about what kissing Crowley might be like, but he didn't have a real idea, so he just filed that thought away somewhere and told himself that, should Crowley ever want to kiss him at some point, Aziraphale would most likely be fine with it.

He is most certainly fine with it, right now. His body seems to be, at least, because his hands have found their way to Crowley's jacket, where they are currently holding on tight to avoid the demon from taking a step back. They're as close as they can possibly be while still fully clothed, but somehow Crowley's hands on Aziraphale's back and the other one at the back of his neck still try to pull him closer. Aziraphale doesn't mind. He presses closer himself, in fact, and kisses Crowley back with everything he has, and wanting to be polite has not a single thing to do with it.

"You're an idiot," Crowley hisses at him, when they break apart after what might just have been another thousand years; Aziraphale has lost track of time. "An idiot ," Crowley continues, and gently flicks Aziraphale's forehead, which he has not done in centuries.

"Please don't do that," Aziraphale says, beaming. He tightens his hold on Crowley's jacket, the leather feels good in his fingers.

"Ugh," Crowley makes. "I can't believe this took six thousand years , bloody hell. Do you know how long I've been waiting for this?"

Aziraphale frowns at that. "Six - oh dear. You have?"

"Yes! Yes, I have. And I thought you were just ignoring it, because it's forbidden and stuff, but you didn't even notice ! The whole time!"

"I did notice it!" Aziraphale says, flustered. He can't see Crowley's eyes, so he takes off the demon's sunglasses and slides them into the pocket of his leather jacket.

Crowley blinks, then narrows his eyes at him. "When?"

"Oh, in that church. You remember that, yes? You protected my books. I thought it was rather -"

"Nonono, wait, hold on," Crowley cuts him off. "What about when you went to Hell?"

"Oh," Aziraphale makes. "Yes. I told you, I'd missed you terribly. But I didn't really notice… the other thing, no. It was forbidden, after all."

Crowley seems rather angry. For an unfathomable reason, Aziraphale finds that incredibly endearing, even when Crowley growls, "You went to Hell and back for me, and you didn't notice. You acted like it was nothing to you, like -"

"It was not nothing to me," Aziraphale interrupts, as softly as one can interrupt somebody, and runs his hands soothingly over Crowley's chest. "It was rather unpleasant, I'll have you know. Not that I minded, of course, but -"

"That's the point!" Crowley snaps. His fingers have wanders down to the angel's waist by now, digging into his sides. "It was no big deal for you. It still isn't. You were willing to Fall for me, just like that, two centuries ago. And now you tell me that you love me."

"Well, I -"

"I've been wanting this for six blasted millennia. I quit my job and went to Hell because I couldn't stand being around you and thinking about you all the time while you were so - so! And then I took this damned job back, because you asked , and because being without you was even worse, and then I continued pining my arse off like some kind of - of -"

Aziraphale thinks about it for a moment. "Lovesick maiden?" he suggests then. "I can't think of anything better at the moment, I'm afraid. Maybe -"

"You are insufferable," Crowley tells him, and kisses him again.

It goes on for quite some time. And when they stop kissing, they still don't pull away completely. It's the second hug they share, Aziraphale realizes, burying his face in the crook of Crowley's neck while the demon's nose is in Aziraphale's hair.

"I'm sorry it took me so long," Aziraphale mumbles. "You can keep on ranting if you want, I don't mind."

"S'fine," Crowley replies, his voice muffled. "And stop apologizing, I said."

"Of course, my dear," Aziraphale says obligingly.

Crowley sighs. He sighs a lot these days. "You're not going to Hell again," he says. "And you're also not allowed to keep candles here anymore."

"I need candles to read sometimes."

"There's electricity, for somebody's sake."

Aziraphale huffs, but gives in, "Fine." He pulls away a little to look at Crowley, who looks back at him with a flicker of irritation, but mostly just with fond exasperation. Aziraphale can't stop smiling. "For six thousand years, you said? Truly?"

Crowley huffs. His hands are still on Aziraphale's sides, and now they pull the angel closer. The demon is also blushing, just a little. "Maybe not the whole six thousand years, but - er. Well."

Aziraphale raises a brow, and Crowley rolls his eyes.

"Okay, fine. Fine. The whole six thousand years, but it got gradually more annoying."

"Annoying."

"Yes."

"So since Eden, then?"

"Can we stop talking about this? It doesn't really matter, does it?"

Crowley pulls away and helps himself to a biscuit, then takes his forgotten wine glass and sits down again. He seems rather flustered, and Aziraphale is silently happy that it's this way around for a change. He follows suit and sits down as well, this time on the armrest of Crowley's chair.

They continue having lunch, and nothing really changes.

(Except that Aziraphale's fingers find their way to Crowley's hair, somehow, and except the kissing.

They kiss quite a lot.)