It was ambitious of him, to be sure, but Crowley figured it was high time for him to be seen to be as useful as Hell thought him to be. It’d been over a century since his last commendation – completely undeserved, but that was a minor and unimportant detail – and to be entirely honest with himself if not with Aziraphale Crowley felt uncomfortably rusty when it came to advanced political machinations. In this century, he’d invented a few bits and bobs, gotten a few people nailing dramatic things to doors, and thoroughly and repeatedly corrupted an Agent of Heaven but for the most part, humans were being more inventive than he’d given them credit for in a long time. It wouldn’t hurt, he reasoned, to spice things up and stretch some unused muscles, and anyway England was fucking dull this time of year.
He was about half day’s ride out from Roscommon and gaining plenty of ground on the English forces, who Crowley knew would take their sweet time moving further inland as armies tended to do. The stolen horse’s black flanks were rain-slicked and the middle of Ireland not much warmer or nicer than London, but the change of scenery appealed to him immensely. Dark green hills rose vaguely into the muzzy fog, the summer air cold and fierce and heady as he blew damp up through his ratty moustache, and night was coming fast and mysterious without a lamp or fire in sight. Crowley could see why some of the humans still kept milk out for fairies, though he himself hadn’t seen one in this country since painting yourself blue went out of fashion.
The saddle squeaked rhythmically beneath his sore arse, loud enough that Crowley timed it to a rude song he’d overheard in a Southwark tavern over the winter and never quite got out of his head, to Aziraphale’s exasperation. He leant deliberately hard on the r sounds, trying out the accent slide from Scots to Irish and laughing aloud at his own unpractised rasp. Better to sound Scottish, maybe – some of them insisted they were all Celts here and who was he to argue? Aziraphale was better at languages in general but Crowley liked the play-acting of sliding from one region to another within the same family, the silly exaggerated Breton roar to the flat Parisian nasalness, the vibrant hum of sameness kicking within Rajbanshi to the more fluid Bangali. As the big gelding’s hooves sucked and popped through the black mud westwards, Crowley tried translating the drinking song into languages he didn’t remember very well. Aziraphale would remember – fuck the laird, take his inenekazi. It didn’t scan but he coughed and bellowed it out anyway, letting it bounce and echo off the Corrshilabh hills.
By nightfall the rebel scouts heard him and came down to stop his passing. The demon watched them until they were close, then slid his glasses on and clicked his tongue to the gelding for a trot to meet them. Horses, like cats though not at all like dogs, didn’t generally like his sort – he could feel the beast’s distaste as it reluctantly shifted gait between his legs. The scouts pulled up their own scruffy ponies as Crowley approached. One was barely a man, ferret-faced and freckled; he scrunched up his nose with obvious mistrust as the other, an older dark-haired man with a patch over his eye, hailed him in Irish.
“What business, you? Where from?”
Crowley tugged his horse to a stop and pushed his soaked dark hair out of his face, much good it would do him for the strangeness of his glasses this far in wild rebel country. The gelding champed and snorted. “Dublin!” he announced cheerfully in the same language, or so he hoped. “Via Roscommon. I’m here to throw in my lot with Mór Ó Néill.”
The older man looked slightly amused, which Crowley took to be a good sign. “You don’t sound like a Dublin man.”
Crowley blew rain off his lips and stood up a little in his stirrups to stretch the ache in his thighs, ignoring a wary glare from the young one as he tossed his cloak over his shoulder to show where his sword was. He hadn’t ridden a horse in a long while and was still very sure it was a waste of time. Riding out here had been overkill, slightly, with the army on foot miles behind him, but he’d waited for months in the Dublin garrison and felt impatient to put his plan into motion. “I came across the sea with the English,” he explained, “but I’m a brother to the cause. From Dundee, me. I wanted to be the one to put a blade in Essex’s heart, but I’ll settle for telling my grandchildren I rode with Mór Ó Néill.”
The scouts exchanged a significant glance. The older one actually laughed, the creaky sound so sharp in the muffled dark of the foothills that Crowley’s horse snorted nervously. “Well, Scotsman. You’ve heard some grand things and no mistake – are you sure you came up from Roscommon, true?”
“This morning,” said Crowley, less certainly. Surely he hadn’t gotten this wrong – these men were here, clad in the rebels’ dark leather and green sashes, and there’d been no mistaking the thousands mustering to stomp across the Liffey and lay waste to the Papists and the poor. “Essex is on his way with a few thousand at least."
“We’ve heard different.” The man eyed him beneath his heavy brows. “Have you a torch?”
The teenager piped up reedily. “Padraig – you’re not letting him come with us, with that sorry fucking excuse-”
“If he’s come from Roscommon, Ó Domhnaill will see him,” the older man said firmly. “And the English wouldn’t send a spy with such shite Gaeilge. Use your head, Seán.”
“Ó Domhnaill?” Crowley clarified sharply.
“Aye. It’s no great names you’ll be rubbing shoulders with in these mountains, Scotsman, though might be you see some English whipped and running with their tails between their legs. Our Ó Néill will see Essex gone from Eire within the year.”
In the camp, things were made clearer and Crowley began to regret riding a horse all fucking day for this stupid fucking country. The one they gave the lofty title of Mór Ó Néill had gone to face Robert Devereux, the bastard invader Earl of Essex who Crowley had been intent on seeing killed by some very angry and righteous Irishmen. Neither man, however, was here in Sligo. Instead was one of Ó Néill’s commanders, the Red Ó Domhnaill, who Seán the child scout insisted was the greatest soldier Ireland had ever seen and who Crowley had never fucking heard of. An Englishman did indeed march from Dublin via Roscommon with an army at his back, but he wasn’t Essex.
Crowley, if he did say so himself, had for the duration of the ride and the months leading up to it been convinced that his plan was a stroke of hellish genius worthy of the Dark Ages. A proper way to return to some proper demonic doings, knocking self-righteous Protestant against furious Catholic and getting Essex killed in the middle of nowhere, bog country. Rumour had it the queen took the man into her bed whenever he was home, so what more scandalous and delicious way to unseat the frankly fucking tiresome Elizabeth Regina? In his head, a day and now several thousand years ago, Crowley had imagined Her Majesty having a wee heart attack or choking on a bite of partridge at the news of her much younger lover’s death in the Irish wars. Maybe the English would lay off their very boring thumping of Ireland for a while, Crowley’d get another commendation and Hell off his back, and Aziraphale would never need know a thing.
Many of the people in Ó Domhnaill’s camp were starving. He’d heard this in Dublin but the reality was quite another thing – Crowley could see Famine’s hand writ pale and obvious in the drawn, lean faces and the children’s swollen bellies. He was given a weak dollop of stew and a flea-ridden blanket and declined evening mass, claiming to be tired and bunking off to the furthest campfire after he’d repeated what he knew of the English forces to someone more senior than the scouts. The priest, Crowley knew by the telling steadiness in his own gut and the restlessness to the rain-soaked crowd who gathered to hear him, was only a lay brother and not very good at his job. Real consecrated ground lay a ways out of the mountains, Sligo Town or further.
He was very cold and very pissed off. When no one was looking, Crowley edged close enough to the fire to put his feet in the flames and sulked. Fucking stupid, to come so far without getting better intelligence than these ragged fucking hill people – fucking hubris, Aziraphale would say. He was now very glad the angel hadn’t insisted on coming with him after all.
He pulled the letter he’d received just a few weeks ago, back when he was still Corporal Anthony Crowley and in the service of the Crown, from his pocket and hissed a little spell to keep the rain off it as he smoothed it over his knee. The post came to the Dublin garrison back-dated by a few months, so Aziraphale had written it in late spring and it showed. His elaborate handwriting spilled off the pages with the thrill of his favourite season, magicked so that only Crowley’s yellow eyes could read his scribble:
…the daffodils by Southwark Cathedral have gone, finally, but there’s roses now and I want to spend a good few hours reading the new Ovid translation there on Thursday. I think I have a new project, which I can’t tell you much about, though I might say when you’re back. I keep thinking you’ll be here tomorrow or the next day and have half a mind to come get you from Ireland, with the news so grim and contradictory. I have to confess I’ve been finding excuses to go to court just to see if anyone’s heard anything new – although I must say I had the most wonderful dinner at the palace last week, the biggest trout caught this season, so it’s not exactly a hardship. It’s very different from the last time I was there.
With some effort, Crowley pulled his sluggish resentful mind from the mire and tried to remember when that was. Aziraphale had been back for a quarter of a century, though now that they’d been apart for months the time felt shorter since Safed. Crowley narrowed his eyes at the flames and conjured up, briefly, the heat of the sand by the riverbank there where the angel had fucked him for the first time – that felt like five human lifetimes ago. Their rhythm in London, Crowley south of the Thames and Aziraphale somewhere posher just north, had the eternal long-stretching feeling Crowley remembered from several particularly good present-days. It made the previous time Aziraphale had been in London difficult to pin down. Perhaps it’d been before this fucking ponderous stretch of Tudors, Satan help them.
Crowley pulled his damp cloak tighter around his narrow frame and shuffled Aziraphale’s letter closer to his body as women who must’ve been camp followers passed by his fire, their eyes dull and disinterested by a ratty anonymous newcomer despite his strange dark spectacles. He turned the page, already well-folded, to the best bit:
I know you won’t have news from me in a while so I’ll respond to the part of your last letter I’m sure you think has kept me up at night. I won’t lie to you but I won’t have you holding it over me – I can see how smug you’re looking, please don’t flatter yourself – so let me assure you that self-pleasure is held as no exceptional sin by any of the human thinkers and writers I find compelling. I almost want to tell you that I’ve fucked my tailor while you were away, the dark and very handsome one; but you would know that was a lie, dear Crowley, and so I will be honest when I say I spent the better part of yesterday thinking about your cock in my mouth, how hard and wonderful you get against my tongue at the first touch even after I’ve had my fist in you, the particular edge to the taste of your come when it’s been a very long, long time and I can make you say the Lord’s Prayer if I cared to…
Despite his foul mood, Crowley nearly leapt out of his skin into serpent form when he read this line and a horse whinnied shrilly two tents over. He muttered a furious curse on the nearest grazing meadow, crossed his legs, and flicked down past Aziraphale’s extremely earnest and extremely arousing last three paragraphs to the post-script:
I hope the project will be resolved by the time you get home so you can’t go poking your nose in, but I suppose I should tell you a bit about it anyway: there’s an old Kabbalist of Luria’s in London, someone I knew vaguely from sharing Moishe’s table. Her name is Rachel. She was a daughter of Hayyim Vital, who I told you about – I doubt you’ve got anything from Galilee in your damned mind besides your own reason for visiting but he was very good to me and I won’t hear you saying anything snide. It’s stupid of me, Crowley, but I can’t stop thinking about this woman. She’s not too old but she’s been running for a very long time. We’ve only spoken once, in Italian, but I don’t think I can bear the idea of what Rachel wants to do. There are a few Jews still here in secret and this – not to be over-earnest, my dear – feels too like a miracle to be a coincidence. The Domus Conversorum won’t get this one, if I can help it – nor will you.
It was this last line that had been pounding in the back of Crowley’s head behind the drinking song and the list of painful ways Essex might plausibly die in battle. Nor will you, as if Crowley had some lasting investment in this part of Aziraphale who had gone quiet in Safed, seen something new and unreachable of God in the mitzvot and set Hell as an afterthought in his head. Even long after the expulsions, Aziraphale was profoundly concerned with the Jews who lived in secret in England. The idea of them converting at the Domus Conversorum, the little place at Chancery Lane that was occasionally home to Continental Jews if they promised to give up their blasphemous ways and take on the new faith, was deeply painful to the angel in a way that felt personal.
He’d seemed distracted these twenty-odd years but Crowley had assumed it was a phase. Genuine gestures to the old faith, or humans who sought to translate it directly and beautifully and well, unnerved him coming from the angel. Crowley had hoped that the last century’s burnings and smashed-up holy places and expulsions might have taught him better; instead, it compelled Aziraphale to something that Crowley might have termed higher if he held his nose. These days, Crowley had some sympathy for the Catholics, who hid in priest-holes in England and starved in Ireland and had a charming and mostly anachronistic preoccupation with the concept of Hell, which they’d inadvertently replicated in the Vatican’s bureaucracy. But it’d been a very long time since he’d allowed himself to think seriously about God, even when Aziraphale talked about love and Crowley remembered where he’d learned the word.
In the morning, he woke abruptly in a threadbare stinking tent he shared with the two scouts who met him in the pass. People were rushing close outside and Crowley, woken from a vivid and very self-indulgent dream where Aziraphale took him against the wall of Southwark Cathedral with the smell of roses all around, was wet and flushed and cross at the noise. Seán, who Crowley had learned was Padraig’s orphaned nephew, was sitting bolt upright with a hungry look in his hollowed-out blue eyes, and seemed not to notice the self-consciousness with which Crowley quickly flicked his blanket over his own lap as he sat up too.
“The English will be up the pass in a day,” Seán burst out. “As far as the eye can see, the lads said, but we’re not marching out to meet them! Staying here, like fucking cowards.”
Crowley rubbed his temples and adjusted his glasses, which had fallen down his nose as he slept. “That seems like the sensible fucking strategy,” he groused, and realised a beat later that he’d used the wrong accent and spoken English too.
The boy froze, eyes narrowing with suspicion. Crowley froze too, but for another reason – something in his gut was wrenching, twisting like a churchyard’s ley-pull but different, a distant awful howl going up and making itself distinct in his ear from the Irish readying to fight. The hairs on the back of Crowley’s neck stood straight up and he shivered hard, but the feeling remained.
It was an official summons, and it felt extremely pissed off.
Technically he wasn’t allowed to fast-travel to the bowels or at least front offices of Hell in front of humans, but Crowley was tangled in his scratchy blanket and Seán was watching him with dawning horror as something about him began to look or feel wrong. The demon watched with some distaste as the boy crossed himself and scrabbled for a weapon.
“Oh, fuck,” Crowley said dully, and blinked out of existence.
Crowley, buzzed the voice of the Lord of the Flies.
He’d never taken to Beelzebub even before the Fall, though that was true of nearly all the demons he now called his superiors. She’d been fucking insufferable then, prim and proper and completely obsessed with ritual, and now she kept faithfully to her own deeply predictable schedule of inciting wars and lust at regular intervals. Right after the Garden, she’d also come on to Crowley, which he’d found sort of flattering at the time and now deeply regretted even entertaining. Hers was a dull, blunt mind and she’d never had the slightest bit of curiosity about humans. She’d stopped coming in person to his annual reports some time around the construction of the Great Pyramid of Giza.
Which made it a bit more frightening, now, staggering to his feet and coughing in the wake of a mighty clap of sulphur. The visceral yank Hell-wards had singed his leather jerkin and nearly eviscerated his trousers; Crowley nearly used the Lord’s name but thought better of it. Beelzebub was lounging in a thorny chair on a small dais in the dingy stone room, one leg cocked lazily over the arm as her ever-present flies crawled and buzzed in her hair. There were a few others behind him, Crowley could sense, but he didn’t bother looking – they’d be hidden behind observation shadows and the Lord of the Manor was the one whose attention he needed to hold. This could only be about a Matter of State, to bring him in so suddenly and without any warning. An emergency. Something, perhaps, like Hell’s Designated Representative On Earth carrying out a very intimate and very illegal fraternisation with a certain angel.
“Hi – hello,” he started, swaying a little and forcing himself to stand still on his scorched feet. His glasses had been very inconveniently magicked onto his head, forcing him to look the other demon in the eye. “Lord Baal. It’s been a minute. Or a millennia.”
Her black eyes bored through him as she yawned deliberately, a fly crawling up her throat onto her purple tongue. The humans had thought that up ages before she’d taken it into her own self-presentation, Crowley remembered. Very uninspired, this one. It almost made him wish he still had his run of immortal forms – he’d give Hell a good update in human ideas of damnation.
“Anything wrong?” he tried. “I was, er. In the middle of something.”
Waiting for some humans to win a battle and lose the war, Beelzebub boomed. Her voice crackled – an old trick, but one no less unpleasant on Crowley’s mostly human-shaped ears. He winced.
“I actually had – well, more of a plan than that, Lord. It was a bit complicated, I’m sure you’ll appreciate, but years – years!, actually, in the making. I could’ve, ah.” He hated himself for stammering and bit down on his tongue until he tasted blood, willing himself not to think of Aziraphale. “I’m sure I could’ve filled everyone in after the commendation. Not to be too presumptuous, y’know, but. It was going to be quite the coup, if you catch my meaning.”
You think small, Crowley. His Unholiness has no time for that.
Crowley stopped himself short of making a snide remark about the last time Lucifer had actually been interested in speaking to his right-hand demon. He swallowed and breathed in the close, stale sulphurous air. Smells like home, he reminded himself firmly. Pull yourself together .
“Perhaps you’re here to enlighten me.”
Beelzebub drew herself up to her not-overly-impressive height, slithering out of her lounge into what passed for a deadly serious contemplative sit. Somewhere behind him, someone’s pincers clacked and echoed. There was a faint hiss.
The angel. Aziraphale .
Crowley experienced his very long life flashing before his eyes. It took about thirty seconds. He couldn’t trust himself to speak and so nodded, as if he’d stored that name somewhere in the back of his mind and let it sit untouched for a few thousand years. Guilty, guilty, guilty .
We have intelligencccce. She drew out the word and let it hang deliberately, dropping it like a humming anvil on his ears.
“About – the angel?”
About the Other Side. The Lord of the Flies spat and a maggot landed on the floor. They are planning something. It has to do with a place the humans call the New World.
A faint sliver of hope began to kindle and gurgle in Crowley’s stomach, which was still so travel-sick and lurching that he didn’t bother to quench it right away. Perhaps. If there was the smallest chance – with both Heaven and Hell nearly a century behind, or caught up eagerly in the tearing-open of several major religions coinciding across continents – but softly, softly, to preserve this wild possibility that Hell had not worked it out. Nor will you.
“They’re – planning a fair bit. The Europeans, anyway. The English-”
Despite the distinctly European bent of her language, the mere mention of a pedantic-sounding distinction between the factions of humanity made Beelzebub’s nose wrinkle and her flies buzz more violently. Aziraphale is in Eng-land, she said with exaggerated patience.
“I’d…had a notion,” Crowley said, slowly.
He has powerful friends in England. The Other Side is making powerful friends. For the New World. For the place they call Vir– She scowled. V-Virginia.
Crowley realised she thought this was a reference to something else. He swallowed a sharp exhale. Beelzebub may never have been the sharpest stake in the bear pit but the others watching would know – might have studied human behaviour closely enough to see uncertainty or a holding-back in his own body language. Crowley was not too proud to think he hadn’t inherited a few tells over the past five thousand years and a bit, though he was generally better at keeping a straight face than Aziraphale.
That is for you to find out.
He did exhale this time. “Very good, Lord Baal.”
This is important, Crowley .
Fucking clearly, he thought, and bowed his head in something like a contrition he’d never put on with Beelzebub before. She frowned but vaguely.
Our Lord Master has interests in this New World.
I don’t just mean commendations, she hissed, and leaned forward slightly on her chair of thorns. Crowley could smell her breath from where he stood. Play this right, demon, and you could come home. Now don’t fuck about.
There was a communal hiss of agreement from the shadows and reality snapped back in.
Crowley reeled. He was suddenly on the deck of a ship inhaling a mouthful of sea spray – that didn’t help but the majority of his balance left him in the fast-travel, which he would realise later he hadn’t been forced to do in about seven centuries. It was terrible for one’s digestion and it was still raining, heavier than it had in Ireland and dark again. He staggered, put his palms down on the slick deck, and wondered if the battle in the pass had already happened.
No one seemed particularly alarmed or surprised to find Crowley on the ship. He returned belowdecks greetings cautiously as the storm picked up, noting that the sailors were mostly West Country and that they seemed to be heading eastwards on a short sail. Not soldiers but merchants, out of Bristol, maybe, England-bound after Ireland; he decided that if Hell had magicked him onto the ship mid-journey, it would be more prudent to pretend he knew where exactly they were going and not to ask too many questions.
There was a scattering of other passengers in the hold with mixed accents and dress, a wealthy Wexford family who were all green around the gills and two young men who sounded East London. Crowley settled down near them, bracing himself against one of the ship’s creaking ribs as the vessel moaned and heeled a little against the wind. Someone was praying in the dark, saying the dangerous Catholic words out loud and going mercifully unheeded.
He closed his eyes briefly and tried to work out what came next while attempting to concentrate on something other than the strong mingled smell of vomit and piss and brine. Unlike what he could see of the other passengers, he wasn’t worried about the ship sinking – the sailors on deck didn’t seem particularly bothered by the weather and he doubted Hell would let him get discorporated immediately after giving him a Task.
You could come home.
They’d threatened this before – or promised. They still genuinely thought it was a nice thing to offer, as Hellish interventions went. Crowley hadn’t a fucking clue, however, what was meant by the intelligence – Aziraphale at present only had a few regular human friends, most of them genuinely inconsequential people who only made sense as acquaintances if you knew the angel as well as Crowley did. Certainly none of them, so far as he knew, could be connected to some of the English forays to the New World. Unless Aziraphale hadn’t been telling him everything.
This, of course, was meant to be the way of things always, but the idea made Crowley want to sink the ship out from under him in the middle of the Irish Sea.
One of the young men a few yards away was laughing softly. Crowley slipped off his glasses to see better in the dark; one of them had his hand on the other one’s leg, stroking teasingly close to his cock, and was grinning in the dark. Something in Crowley’s stomach either reappeared or displaced itself. He suddenly felt very tired and very, very old.
The one being teased pushed his companion back an inch and held up what was between them – a pamphlet, barely visible by the little snatches of light from the lamp swinging crazily from a beam. Crowley was even more startled by the words than the Catholic prayer or the intimacy when the young man read it aloud, just loud enough to be heard over the groaning of the storm-wrenched beams. He’d heard the lines before, but from the poet himself, and the man – who Crowley had let fuck him once after he opened a play, who people would call mocking after in the Cambridge streets for his girlish cat-like saunter before he made his name in London, Kit Kit Kit – was dead these six years.
“The Shepherds’ Swains shall dance and sing / For thy delight each May-morning / If these delights thy mind may move, / Then live with me, and be my love.”
Crowley’s stomach rolled with the ship and he averted his gaze from the lovers. There was only one home worth going to, and that was the last place – for now – Hell would think to look for him.
If he was really attempting to be more vigilant and not blow his own cover, it was probably prudent to dispose of the most obvious evidence. The key to Aziraphale’s City rooms, however, had been expensive to cut and time-consuming to magic, and it’d seemed a shame to waste without at least letting the angel know what was going on. This was probably how he framed it to himself last night.
He woke up with his nose shoved into Aziraphale’s bare back and reflected that this might have been extremely stupid, coming straight here. The docks, which he didn’t especially remember reaching, were closer to the City than his own room and it had been a long few months but undoubtedly Hell was keeping an eye on him. But the fast-travel had fucked with his natural rhythms and good sense, making him feel as though he’d run the whole way from Dublin to Sligo and doubled back on himself whilst gently hallucinating, and so apparently he’d ended up here, possibly even without waking Aziraphale. Now it was late morning and felt like a new fucking century, which it almost was.
Crowley stretched his toes and inhaled the smell of bread baking across the street and the angel’s own heady mix of frankincense and summer and the slightly sweet sweat he did in warm weather. His arm was around Aziraphale’s waist and the slight swell of the angel’s breath into his ribs and back and comfortable belly made Crowley want to die with fondness and a deep ache that felt not dissimilar to rage. He curled a little tighter to collect himself, breathing deep, and tried to remember his path here the night before. Or perhaps they’d docked during the day – the last few days ran into one.
He stroked the soft inside of Aziraphale’s thigh tentatively. The angel really had slept through him arriving – Crowley felt sure he’d remember having woken him up.
A tendril of consciousness touched his mind and the suddenness and tenderness of it made Crowley bite his own tongue and sit bolt upright. “Fuck,” he snapped, and Aziraphale sat up too and smacked his head directly under Crowley’s chin and nearly severed the now-bloody tip of his tongue. “FUCK- ”
The naked angel blinked as Crowley rolled out of bed in agony and went staggering for a glass of water. “Crowley-?”
“No, it’s the fucking Pope-” He bashed his foot on the bedside table and nearly turned the house into a raging fireball, which Aziraphale might never have forgiven him for. “Oh, Heaven, that fucking – do you attack everyone who crawls into your bed unannounced?”
Aziraphale was laughing, rearranging himself to slide over the edge of the bed and follow him around the room. He was still blinking sleep from his eyes – unlike him, to cling so thoroughly to unconsciousness – and his hands darted and fussed as he directed Crowley’s bad-tempered hopping and forced him to sit. Crowley opened his mouth, but before he could complain Aziraphale had slid his thumb against the demon’s tongue and the coppery-smoky tang of blood was quite gone, the sharp stab of pain a distant memory. And then Aziraphale bent and pushed his fingers through his hair and kissed him deep and slow and pulled away to lick the blood off his lips and Crowley could’ve discorporated right there, on the spot, it felt so so so fucking good -
He pushed him away, panting slightly, and reared his head back snake-like to examine him properly. Aziraphale’s white hair had gotten longer and shaggier in his absence, still fashionably cut but visibly absent-minded, and he wore a new pearl-drop earring that contrasted nicely with the blue of his eyes. He’d gotten fatter from good eating – his frequent court trips, Crowley remembered, and wondered if this had something to do with the New World Intelligence – and looked like what he was in this late morning sunlight pouring through the expensive glass windows, that was to say divine. Aziraphale watched him watching him and tilted his head a little, a little delighted smile hovering on his lips.
“That was quite the entrance.”
“Yeah, well.” Crowley probed the inside of his cheek experimentally with his newly-healed tongue. “Thanks for that.”
“Hello to you, too.”
“Hi. Could I have some water?”
Aziraphale crossed the room to the dressing table and poked about, sniffing at the various glasses left there. This, too, was unlike him – Aziraphale was only untidy when he was very depressed or very preoccupied. The latter seemed more likely, as the rest of him was clean and well-kempt enough from the smell.
The angel offered him a cup of wine, which Crowley downed in a single long swig. He could still taste salt and sulphur mixed unpleasantly in the back of his throat and sucked hard at his teeth, wincing at the sharp bite of liquor on the way down. Aziraphale settled next to him on the bed and reached over to straighten his shirt collar.
“I’d tell you you stink,” he offered, “but I’m sure you know that. Rough trip?”
“Positively hellish.” Crowley took his first deep breath in a while and glanced over at him. He was here, finally, and his head in one place – let that aside for now. His hands curled reflexively around the curve of the wine cup. “I’m sorry I didn’t wake you up. Or send word. Bit of an unexpected journey, and I needed…I suppose I just needed some sleep.”
“I’d ask how it went,” Aziraphale said lightly, “but perhaps I should just ask how many miracles need doing to counteract whatever you did over there.”
He held off touching him for a moment, waiting politely until Crowley finally put down the cup and turned his face towards him with two fingers along his strong jaw. Aziraphale raised his hand too, thumbing over his lip and chuckling at the odd silky down of his moustache. It was a poor excuse for facial hair, Crowley knew in his heart of hearts, but it’d looked rakish and impressive for a time in the Dublin soldiers’ garrison, and he tried to explain as much to Aziraphale.
“I had a facial scar, too – I duelled an officer. Everyone was wild about me. The Catholics and the Protestants and the English and the Irish. I could’ve stopped the war in its tracks, if I wanted.”
“Oh, my dear. You’re very impressive. What happened to keeping a low profile?
“I wanted-” But whatever poor lie he might’ve had the brain capacity to make up in the moment went, because Aziraphale was tracing the lines of his chapped lips and smiling at him like he’d just confessed the last three millennia’s worth of sins, and Crowley’s want was simultaneously too general and specific and not requiring a further word.
Aziraphale was getting hard already as he pushed Crowley back, unbuttoning his shirt and whispering a fond chiding spell to clean the garment as he slipped it over the demon’s head. Crowley was vaguely aware he might spot some of the Hell-singed burns but then his hips lifted up helplessly and Aziraphale’s attention was entirely on him, painfully intent and overwhelming.
“Hold on,” Crowley panted. “Just – no, okay, yes, now-”
The angel’s hand ran down his side and stopped at his hip. “Yes?”
“Yes. Yes. Yes, damn you, you know-”
“There’s no need for that.” Crowley nearly passed out at Aziraphale’s mouth, hellfire-hot and specific, on his neck, sucking the soft place just above the tip of his collarbone and dragging down to leave a mark by his nipple. “Did you get my last letter?”
“I – think so. Was that the one where-” Crowley moaned and snarled, furious and wet and already mostly incapable of speech “- oh, angel, I missed-”
They’d spent longer apart before without making nearly as much of it since they’d first started fucking nearly three decades ago, but something was different now and Crowley wasn’t complaining. Perhaps it was the heavy reality he had within him, of the fact that Hell had something intended and so perhaps did the Other Side and that he and Aziraphale were under scrutiny of the worst sort, or Aziraphale’s own very modern experimentation with masturbation, but there was something specific about this that made Crowley absolutely early-century feral and Aziraphale heavy-lidded and holy-strange. Three of Aziraphale’s fingers curled deep in his slick hole and Crowley could feel the weight on him like a lodestone, the central bearing weight of a temple, a spear in his gut. He made a noise that might’ve been heard in Limbo.
“Hush.” Aziraphale’s hand over his mouth, sliding down to pressure lightly on his throat, the slow thrust of him up. His cock hard against Crowley’s leg slick with his own pre-cum and his arse twitching and heaving under Crowley’s grip despite the deep calm tone of his voice. “I have neighbours.”
“It’s not the fucking Sabbath.” It occurred to him that he didn’t know, precisely, what day it was, and he decided quickly that it was a Tuesday. “Now fuck me, please, angel. That can be your first fucking – miracle.”
Aziraphale’s pupils were blown and the thrust to his fingers deliberate; he hissed a little at the word miracle , an uncanny echo of Crowley’s own sounds. He rubbed his thumb over Crowley’s cock as he twisted his fingers slightly, making a delicious wet sound that got Crowley’s own hands scrabbling helplessly against the angel’s fine silk blankets. He wished for claws to tear the place to pieces; he wished for wings-
He blinked sweat out of his eyes and actually laughed aloud as Aziraphale swore softly and rutted harder against his leg – the angel’s own wings were slowly unfolding from his back, glowing white and mighty and unfurling restless and in starts that matched the way Aziraphale was fucking him with his hand. Crowley distantly remembered there’d been a heavenly choir the last time he’d seen them, or maybe he’d just done a bad impersonation of one while Aziraphale self-consciously got them out for a stretch. Now he was laughing genuinely delighted through his teeth, wriggling his own shoulders as Aziraphale’s wingspan filled the room and stopped achingly precise just short of the walls, his fingers stretching Crowley’s hole and shuddering to a stop at the same time.
“Your turn,” Aziraphale gasped. “Go on.”
They hadn’t done this for a long time. The last time had been near Mount Sinai and Crowley had briefly winked out of existence on one of his many orgasms – something about the form of the seraphim as made in the human’s image, the refashioning of desire, the simultaneous corruption or translation of God’s intent. Aziraphale’s pinions swept from his chest down his stomach to his thighs, his fist pulsing hot in Crowley’s cunt. Crowley flexed his hips up and roared and out his own wings came, beating once helpless and thunderclap-loud and then arching up around the angel.
There wasn’t enough space but it didn’t matter. Aziraphale worked his hand inside him until he came all over his wrist hot and slick and arching. The tightness of the room added to the power of the wave that came over him, the pressure that groaned in the beams of the room as Crowley’s wings flexed beneath their combined bodyweights. Aziraphale was panting in his ear and kissing his neck and making a guttural noise that was quite unlike him.
“Oh, you feel so good-”
“Cum for me again. Let me feel you, let me-”
“OH please angel, please please please oh fuck you fuck you please I missed you – oh, I missed you inside of me so tight like this, fuck, your cock-”
Crowley was aware one of them might break the windows but flexed his wings anyway, pulling himself up so he was grinding his full weight down on Aziraphale’s fist and heaving himself into wet hot oblivion. The angel’s wings swept around him and he was wrapped in light, Aziraphale’s open flushed face barely visible, Crowley’s own cum and sweat sticking stray feathers to his thighs. Aziraphale pushed in close out of the haze and bit his lip hungrily, then spat in his open mouth and growled, “Mine.”
He immediately came again and the windows did break, all of them, and when he opened his eyes some time next week or year Aziraphale was bent over him, stroking down his chest lovingly, his wings flared back and his lips visibly swollen from kissing as he pushed Crowley’s hair back and peered into his face. Crowley vaguely turned his head and caught his hand in his teeth wolfishly, tasting himself tangy and warm on Aziraphale’s palm. He grabbed his wrist and sucked his fingers, making eye contact to see the flustered desperate question in Aziraphale’s eyes.
“Please,” he murmured dutifully, humming against the soft tips of his fingers. His hips were still shaking. “Fuck me into the next century.”
Aziraphale gave a little strangled chuckle and curled his fingers against Crowley’s tongue, stroking the spot he’d bitten earlier. “We haven’t gotten to say that one yet.”
“-have this one, yes.” He slid his fingers out of Crowley’s mouth to rest against his chin and bent his head to kiss him again, his wingtips curling to stroke Crowley’s, so sensitive along the big bones Crowley nearly screamed as he shuddered through another aftershock. “Yes, my darling. You can have anything you ask for.”
“I want your cock.”
“That’s very unoriginal,” Aziraphale purred, and Crowley swore at him silently in several different languages for how quickly he’d recovered his composure. Aziraphale caught the psychic chatter and sent back a dappled laugh, brushing a feather deliberately over his still-twitching cock and making Crowley snarl.
“It has been six fucking months, angel, and if you think I’m going to wait here like-” He was struggling but bit Aziraphale’s fingers again for some focus “-like some fucking cherub who’s just gotten his wings, my darling, you’ve got another thing coming.”
“O, Serpent. Terrifying servant of Hell.” Aziraphale was very casual with that word these days and it nearly threw Crowley, but then his hand skimmed over his hipbone again and stroked over his soaked pubic hair and Crowley was nearly floating, horrifically fucking in love and screamingly aware of how well Aziraphale knew which parts of his body responded best to touch. “Another thought coming. Is the phrase, I believe.”
“Cum in me. Cum for me. Fill me up, angel, show me – show me…”
And then Aziraphale was inside him and Crowley imagined windows bursting across the city of London.
Afterwards, they kept their wings long enough for their breathing to slow, wrapped up in a messy unnatural tangle of warm limbs and racing pulse points. Crowley lifted a hand with some effort to trace the lines of Aziraphale’s pinions, which were quite unlike his and more reminiscent of something big and predatory from another continent than his own. Despite being mostly black and the predictable hellish design, Crowley had once figured out from a book in Aziraphale’s study that the shape and feather-pattern his wings were closest to a barn owl’s. He couldn’t say if this had been a product of the Fall or God’s own design – he couldn’t remember thinking of his wings as something very remarkable Before, at least not as remarkable as anything else.
They folded their wings away around the same time in order to clean up, somewhat regretfully but without discussing it. Crowley did the windows and vanished the mess all over the sheets and Aziraphale went downstairs to fetch them the bread and cheese he’d left on the side after his supper the night before. They sat naked with one of the newly restored windows propped open, comfortably warm with the breeze ruffling the windowbox of flowers Aziraphale had planted in the autumn. Ironically, the angel killed most things he grew unless he used a bit of magic to help them along – Crowley liked to say that Heaven focused too much on humans and animals, that demons existed to keep things in balance with green thumbs.
Aziraphale munched and stroked his hair and listened while Crowley told him about Ireland, albeit slightly abbreviated and with his own venture to Sligo more deliberately intended. He asked about the Catholics and the lay brother’s mass, and what people in Dublin believed when they didn’t have soldiers outside their door. Crowley didn’t think it was quite so simple but told him what he knew, and about the food he’d eaten in his favourite pub and the dancing people did in secret and the news of Ó Néill’s rebellion as received by the lay people he’d met. News came to England in fits and starts, all Protestant, and Aziraphale listened intently and told him something about the doings at court. The queen was displeased with Essex and there were rumours he might be executed as a traitor if he kept this up. Crowley wasn’t sure whether to be dismayed about this or not. Maybe the wicked old bird had a few years left in her yet. This might give them a bit of respite, whatever the great powers were planning.
“I heard one of Marlowe’s poems,” he remembered. “On the boat back. He was a talent, wasn’t he.”
“Oh, I don’t know.” Aziraphale examined his own fingers and licked a spot of cheese from them – Crowley felt a faint stirring that took him a little aback as he watched. “He was very good, yes, and I know you liked him, but he was always a bit – blunt. For my taste. A little naive, too."
“You didn’t like the buggery stuff. With the king and the hot poker.”
“Oh, just very traditional. That wasn’t one of yours, was it?”
Crowley sort of wished he’d thought it up, but he did have to admit it was more Beelzebub’s style. Marlowe would have made an excellent demon had he been born in slightly different circumstances. “No. But he would’ve had quite a career, I think, if he’d had the chance to grow up a bit. He was very young.”
“Yes,” Aziraphale allowed. “There’s a lovely new theatre in Bankside. Very big. The Lord Chamberlain’s Men are doing a Roman play, something new.”
“One of yours?”
“Oh, no. I’ve been too busy, and I sort of thought I’d wait until you got back. I figured you might like a bit of culture to welcome you home, you know.”
There they were. Crowley hesitated and refilled the cup of wine that had been knocked over in their haste, pulling it back up to the bed and offering it to Aziraphale. “Is this still your project, what you’ve been busy with? The one you wrote about in your last letter.”
The angel swilled the wine thoughtfully and leaned his bare knee against Crowley’s. “Yes, actually. Are you surprised?”
“But you disapprove,” he noted, a little edge of reproach seeping into his tone.
Crowley grumbled and rearranged himself so their hips touched. He was a little dehydrated and the travel-sickness of crossing dimensions was still in him after all, though he briefly thought it’d been fucked out of him: his head ached and he couldn’t quite grasp at magic yet to nudge the pain away. “I just don’t get why you’ve got to be so particular about certain humans. You get invested and put your energy into something, and before you know it I’ve gotten up to three sorts of trouble and you’re a decade behind me. It just seems a bit unprofessional.”
Aziraphale scoffed softly, waving his hand so the wine turned to water and handing it over without asking. Crowley drank deep.
“You do exactly the same. Like with Yeshua. Or da Vinci, or Marlowe, even. Or your Irish Catholics, not that the Catholics deserve it in general, after what they’ve done to the Jews.”
“Marlowe was different,” Crowley snapped. “That was just sex. I was intrigued. Not that you bore me, but you were distracted. And spare me your generalisations.”
“And the carpenter?”
That was different too, for other reasons, but Crowley just shrugged. He had a genuinely difficult time saying the man’s name and that reality always felt a little embarrassing around Aziraphale, who often pursued the subject with uncomfortable candour now they’d had a good millennia and a bit to consider the man’s strange, screaming death.
Aziraphale matched his shrug, pushing his hair out of his eyes and huffing a little sigh.
“How is she, then?” Crowley asked, reaching for a compromise.
“She’s living south of the river. Her name’s Rachel, I think I told you. She’s miserable. Forty-odd years old, not married and no children, barely speaks English. She wants to convert so she’ll get some housing and feel safe, like she’s not the only Jew left in Europe. But it’s a genuine conviction, Crowley, that’s what I don’t understand – not that she believes in Christ, but she believes she’s sinned somehow. She came up from the south and went to Italy – bam. Another expulsion, and the last of her family killed.”
“And you feel like the only bit of family she’s got left, so you feel responsible,” Crowley observed quietly.
Aziraphale grimaced. “I wouldn’t say that. I don’t know.”
“Don’t presume,” the angel snapped. “I told you – I won’t have you making fun of this. Or you can go home right now.”
“Well, I will later,” Crowley growled. “Or now, if you want. I thought you might be pleased to see me.”
“Clearly, I was. I am.” The angel sighed and glanced at him, swiping the back of his knuckles over Crowley’s stomach hair as a light warning. “Just you’ve been away for a long time, my dear. There’s been a lot happening in London, including some things I can’t tell you about. So be patient with me.”
The way he phrased this – intimate and yet pushing away – hit something sour in the back of Crowley’s throat. He took a deep breath to steady himself and figured he might as well.
“Hell knows. About the New World.”
Aziraphale’s brow furrowed slightly. “What?”
“They called me in when I was in Ireland. Before I could see the battle, actually. It wasn’t everything I made it out to be.”
Crowley licked his lips, suddenly very aware of the faint rumble of carts two streets away and the chirp of birds out the window, the faint stink of the city brushing past the flowers. Neither of them had ever quite worked out how the surveillance worked , or if it was ever in place at all with any regularity or pattern – they had good reason to believe Heaven and Hell didn’t know about some of the things the two of them had done, or about the length of their long-standing association, but they’d discussed it before and at least agreed it was a possibility. They had also never quite figured out what they’d do if they were discovered properly. Best not to think about, and all that.
But the taste of sulphur was on his tongue still and Crowley knew it would not do to keep the angel entirely in the dark. Aziraphale was watching him seriously, his blue eyes dark and narrow and oddly unreadable.
“You know I love you,” he blurted out, and immediately winced at how earnest he sounded.
“Oh.” Aziraphale rolled onto his stomach and propped his chin up on his hands, frowning. “Oh. This is serious, then.”
“Yes,” he admitted. “I think so.”
“All right. Well. Tell me what you can?”
“You have friends. Who are – connected to the New World, somehow. English people, not the people who live there. Explorers, maybe? They said it was to do with Virginia.”
“Well, I know Raleigh, obviously.” Aziraphale chewed his lip thoughtfully. “But so do you. So does everyone. And word has it he’ll be out of favour again within the year, so I highly doubt he’ll be back making his tobacco money in the new century.”
Raleigh. Crowley considered this, a little annoyed he hadn’t thought of it sooner. Sir Walter Raleigh was a cunt, though clever and not half bad as a poet – the poem of Marlowe’s had been part of a dialogue between the two, a leftover from one of their salons, hence its publication so long after Marlowe’s death – and not quite the kind of ruthless that Essex was. Crowley might’ve felt a little conflicted about killing Raleigh, though he supposed he would’ve done it if he’d thought it was useful or quite as satisfying as killing Essex, who was deeply annoying and murderous without any creativity to it. But Aziraphale was right – Raleigh had been out of favour for a long time, long enough that the queen in her ageing paranoia would be rid of him for good sooner rather than later. They’d spoken about it just before he left, Crowley recalled.
“Anyone else? Or would you not tell me.”
The angel glanced at his own hands and folded them carefully against Crowley’s thigh. “I’d tell you, I think. I mean, if you really thought it was important. They pulled you in? Like-?”
“Hell, yeah. Bee- – herself.” He waved a hand impatiently. They’d once had a theory that naming the angels or demons involved might call their attention, which Crowley was pretty sure he’d disproved during several drunken and very vulgar rants about Gabriel, but Aziraphale was still cautious about this sort of thing.
“Yes. Not great, or nice on the stomach.”
“I did hear a rumour,” Aziraphale said slowly. “About some people putting a company together for some kind of settlement. But that’s nothing to do with me, really. Did they say it was my doing?”
He hesitated. “I – don’t think so.”
“You’re a bad liar, my dear.” The angel wrinkled his nose and rolled out of bed, going to his wardrobe to pull out a light green robe and arrange it over himself fussily. He tied it across his stomach and fixed Crowley with a thoughtful, vague look that travelled over his body and ended somewhere on the painting across the room, the only one they hadn’t knocked over.
“I have some ideas,” he said slowly. “But you’ll have to trust me to follow them up first, all right? Don’t look at me like that – it’ll be better if we don’t both know, you know that.”
“Just let me, will you? Trust me. If I find anything out that you need to know, I’ll tell you.”
I trust you, Crowley wanted to say, have it spill over his tongue as easy and stupid as I love you or fuck me ‘til I cum around you, but he kept his mouth shut. Aziraphale crossed back across the room and took the cup of water from him to water the flowers absently – they were, Crowley noted, already drenched from the storm that had swept up from the Irish Sea across London. He made a little note to spell them for good drainage later and maybe put some of the fear of Lucifer into them when Aziraphale wasn’t looking. It built character for the plants.
“I think,” he started carefully, “it might be a good idea to lay low for a bit.”
“Yes, you’re probably right.” Aziraphale twitched his robe under him as he returned to bed and stretched out on his side, yawning despite how long and heavy he’d slept in the night. “I was thinking of going to the country house for a bit anyway, while you get reacquainted with London. I’m thinking of becoming a patron to a theatre company.”
“That’s-” His tongue felt heavy in his mouth and Crowley willed himself not to get impatient. “What I mean. Lay low from humanity for a little while. Not be seen to do frivolous things, unless you’ve got some godawful special miracle planned for one of the actors or something. Just – ordinary, everyday Heaven and Hell sorts of things. Let the humans take their course for a while and keep our heads down, play the good angel and demon.”
“Frivolous things,” Aziraphale repeated, and his eyes glittered faintly where he lay. “You mean Rachel. My poor Jewish lost cause. My sentimental divine meddling.”
But there he was, suddenly: the Angel of the Eastern Gate. Sometimes the power of it hummed up through his skin, wrathful and mighty and strange, and Aziraphale – his Aziraphale, silly and fumbling and yes, sentimental in his everyday lovely way – didn’t need wings to be seen as he was Made. He lay quite still and so did Crowley, who’d forgotten briefly how to breathe. There’d been far too much divine and unholy power around and in him over the past few days, and he rather felt as though his skin might burst.
Crowley held his gaze for a moment and looked away.
“Theatre companies,” he finished. “Things like that.”
He could still feeling Aziraphale watching him. After a moment, the angel touched his hip and his voice was in his head: I love you too. “Alright,” Aziraphale said aloud, his tone light and quite different, as though he hadn’t said anything else. “They don’t really need my help, anyway. They’re doing just fine on their own. One of their actors is a marvellous writer.”
Relief bloomed in the pit of Crowley’s stomach, absurdly simple and all encompassing. Perhaps they’d be all right after all. Perhaps they’d get a few years longer, if nothing else. He wouldn’t go away for a while. “You’ll take me to one of their shows? That Roman play?”
“Of course,” Aziraphale said, and that was the last time they spoke about Rachel.