While Aziraphale was partially responsible for bus travel, Crowley had also taken credit for it.
Aziraphale had thought the idea of giving everyone the option to travel for a reasonable price, sharing the experience with one’s fellow man, all while minimising congestion and aiding the environment, was clearly suitably divine. He had explained this to Crowley in detail in the early days of public transportation, glowing with satisfaction of a job well done.
The fact that he then had never ridden on a bus if he could help it, moving from horses and horse-drawn carriages to private hire taxis and then finally to the Bentley - which he had a tendency to treat as his own personal private hire taxi when occasion arose - was something he had absolutely refused to acknowledge at any point in the subsequent decades, and Crowley had given up trying.
Crowley also took credit for buses because they involved sharing the experience with one’s fellow man, and because they were "reasonably priced". In fact, he’d lifted a copy of Aziraphale’s report wholesale, copied most of it out replacing the word "good" with "evil", and added a few bits. His final submitted version contained a notable addition in the form of a whole subsection titled The Smell, but otherwise it was nearly verbatim apart from a few footnotes.
He therefore considered quite rightly that, unlike Aziraphale, his refusal to use public transportation of any kind contained not the faintest whiff of hypocrisy.
And yet there they were, on a bus.
And it didn’t even smell that bad.
Crowley was sitting quietly, because he ached.
And that was another thing annoying him. His physical body was a part of himself he’d always considered an optional extra. Convenient. Fashionable. Devastatingly attractive. Just another set of clothes, really. It had always been a slightly lower priority than the Bentley, because Head Office would replace a body, but a mint condition 1926 Bentley was unique. Now, though, on a bus puttering through rural England he couldn’t help but be aware of a pain and exhaustion like he’d never felt before that stretched across every part of him, from his physical form, to his hidden wings, to every dark corner of his mind.
He’d held himself and his car together for just long enough to do what was needed, and now every part of him was brittle and cold. The world was safe, though. Maybe that could be enough.
The fact that his largest contribution to saving the world had been to encourage a scared child was an uncomfortable fact that he was endeavouring to bottle up. He was actually doing quite well at bottling it up because of all the other uncomfortable facts he was currently dealing with that he couldn’t even begin to figure out how to bottle up.
Such as: Hell was going to find him, and make him pay.
Such as: Heaven probably weren’t going to throw a party for Aziraphale either.
Such as: he was never going to see Aziraphale again.
Such as: one of the very last moments in the entirely of his six thousand year friendship-slash-one-sided-adoration-thing with Aziraphale would involve sitting on a damned- blessed- bus, crawling through dark country lanes, with the driver humming along to a local radio station that contained more advertisements for DIY stores than it did actual music.
All of these uncomfortable facts and other very similar uncomfortable facts were an endless, raucous parade through Crowley’s mind. As parades went, it was impressive. It was very bright and sparkly and loud, and made it almost impossible to pay attention to anything else.
Soft, reassuring, solid, irritating, beautiful angel. Always the one saving grace.
Bus seats never really had enough room for two adults to sit comfortably and maintain their personal space. Crowley had detailed this in footnote four, subsection 3 of his report and had felt very pleased with it. He was now being forced to consider that he should have let Aziraphale take credit for that bit, because being pressed into such close contact with the perfectly familiar shape of his friend might just have been the only thing keeping him together.
They didn’t touch much. Their hands sometimes came into contact as they passed wine bottles and glasses between each other. If needed, they’d brush off dust from the other’s coat. They’d been known to shake hands or mime cheek kisses or perform whatever greeting the location and decade deemed appropriate. Occasionally one will barge the other against the wall just to make a point about how not nice he is. But they don’t sit squashed next to each other: shoulder to shoulder, leg to leg, demonic cold and dark to angelic warmth and light, fashionable black to comforting and ugly cream.
Aziraphale was quietly contemplative. He was holding the last prophecy from Agnes in one hand and looking down at it, with the kind of dreamy look of someone who isn’t really there. Crowley just basked in the contact, doing what he could to distract himself from the chain of horrors no doubt coming his way. Aziraphale’s soft warmth almost glowed beside him. It always did. In the early days Crowley had told himself that was Angelic Grace or some similar line to prevent himself from having to deal with the fact that it clearly wasn’t. He hadn’t bothered with that lie for a while, and on the first and last bus ride of his life, he certainly didn’t try. He was instead doing his best not to move, afraid that any reminder of his closeness would make Aziraphale sit up straighter, or shuffle away, giving him space with a "terribly sorry, that can’t be comfortable".
Aziraphale stayed put, however, probably thinking about prophecies. So Crowley stayed put, thinking about Aziraphale.
The bus stopped at Crowley’s flat.
Obviously the bus stopped at Crowley’s flat. That was where he’d directed it to go.
The problem was, he and Aziraphale hadn’t really finished their conversation.
Or rather, Aziraphale hadn’t really committed to anything, a fact which Crowley had forgotten in the confused mixture of aching tiredness, panicked fear, and ignoring-all-of-that-because-Aziraphale-was-sitting-next-to-him that had been the bus ride. He only remembered that Aziraphale hadn’t committed to anything when the bus stopped at his flat and it all came crashing back, accompanied by the realisation that if he had to hear another rejection or say a final goodbye right this moment because he’d gone too fast, he might as well have just told the bus to go directly to Lourdes and jumped straight in.
Aziraphale - beautiful, clueless, idiot Aziraphale - simply stood up and stepped out of the bus - with an extremely sincere thank-you and goodbye-miracle for the driver - as if it was all settled and he hadn’t spend centuries dithering over every one of Crowley’s tentative advances. Then, quick as a flash, he resumed contemplating the prophecy. It was probably a good thing he didn’t seem to expect Crowley to say anything. Crowley had just had to bite his own tongue hard enough to bring tears to his eyes to prevent himself from commenting that Aziraphale was coming with him, since the last thing he wanted was for Aziraphale to realise this fact and scurry off somewhere else like a fluffy, self-conscious cloud of good will.
The interior of Crowley’s flat was enough to jolt Aziraphale from his reverie. He’d been inside before, of course, waiting for Crowley to finish sorting his hair before lunch usually, but he didn’t make it his own the same way that Crowley considered the bookshop to have a permanent, open invitation for him. As such, it had been a few years.
‘Oh,’ he said. ‘You’ve redecorated.’
Crowley frowned as he steered Aziraphale away from his office where he strongly suspected the melty-demon-goo pile would derail pleasant conversation. ‘I suppose I have,’ he replied. ‘When were you last here? Ninety-something? It was a lot whiter back then.’
‘Yes,’ agreed Aziraphale. ‘It was.’ There was something in the wrinkle of his nose that told Crowley he hadn’t been a fan, but then, nothing about Crowley’s flat was the sort of thing that he’d like, then or now. It had never bothered Crowley before. His flat was exactly how he wanted it to look. Now he suddenly wished he had some books because the blessed angel looked just a little bit lost, and that was all it took to activate within Crowley an inherently undemonic protectiveness that despite centuries of trying, was entirely undiminished.
‘Yes. Well. Make yourself… comfortable.’ Crowley was racking his brain trying to remember if he had tea. Or wine. Miracled up food and drink were never quite the same as the real stuff, and Aziraphale sometimes got sniffy if Crowley miraculously happened to have some that until a few moments before had been someone else’s.
There was at least a sofa. It was smart and black and modern. Aziraphale lowered himself down onto it, sitting tidily upright, the same as he always did, but looking inherently wrong in the surroundings. Crowley was about to crack and tell him to just will up a tartan blanket, but Aziraphale opened his mouth.
‘I suppose we’re in agreement about what to do now,’ he said. His voice was incredibly calm.
‘You suppose… what?’
Aziraphale’s brow furrowed. ‘The prophecy.’ Crowley stared at him. ‘I thought you’d worked it out?’
‘Why would I have worked it out? I’m not the expert on prophecies here!’
‘Well it was a long bus ride! What else were you thinking about but the future?’
‘Other things!’ said Crowley.
Aziraphale shifted and then his confusion softened into something that made Crowley want to melt with a mixture of both warmth and embarrassment. ‘I suppose you must be tired after all the Apocalypse averting you did,’ he said.
‘Yes, that,’ agreed Crowley desperately. ‘I absolutely… averted the apocalypse.’ He sat down beside Aziraphale and sighed. ‘Fine, OK. Prophecy. Future. "Choose your faces wisely..."’
‘Obviously we need to disguise,’ said Aziraphale. There was a barely suppressed excitement in his tone.
Crowley groaned. ‘Look, I don’t think a false beard is going to cut it, angel,’ he said, thanking his lucky stars, for the thousandth time, that Aziraphale’s day job had prevented him from going into theatre work full time. Crowley’d already had to sit through fourteen amateur productions over the years, and he dreaded to imagine how many it would have been if Upstairs hadn’t expected the occasional report. ‘They’re licking their wounds right now, but it’s not going to take long for them to pipe up and remember, oh yes, we know who we can blame for this, and they’re going to pull out all the stops looking. If I’m going to go, I don’t want to be running away wearing a dress while I do it.’
‘Crowley!’ Now Aziraphale was almost pouting, as if Crowley wasn’t having enough of a problem already. ‘What will they do to you, in Hell?’
Crowley’s stomach lurched. ‘Probably better not to dwell-’
The image of the puddle of Ligur floated across his mind. His throat was suddenly dry. ‘Execution, I expect. Probably holy water. Poetic justice and all that. There aren’t that many ways to- do the deed.’
Aziraphale had briefly frowned at the "poetic justice" but fortunately he didn’t ask. Instead he sat back, looking satisfied. ‘Exactly,’ he said.
‘Well sorry if I don’t sound quite so enthused at the prospect as-’
‘Crowley, we switch places!’
Crowley meant to reply. He really did. He meant to say "what?" or "are you insane?" or "have you been drinking?". Something in Aziraphale’s exalted triumph at the sheer absurdity prevented him from doing so. He merely stared, his mouth dropping open.
‘Look,’ Aziraphale continued. ‘I go to hell disguised as you. They use their holy water. I could wash my hair in it!’
‘No.’ Crowley had found his voice at least.
‘No, absolutely not,’ he continued. ‘We don’t know that they’ll use holy water. They might feed me to something. They might-’
‘What possible alternative is there? And while I’m in Hell, you can go to Heaven and-’
‘I will not let you go to Hell to be killed while I go to Heaven for a telling off!’
Silence followed. He hadn’t exactly meant to shout. He sat, breathing, fists clenched, staring at Aziraphale.
Aziraphale’s face suddenly crumpled into a smile and then a short laugh, neither of which had any humour in them at all. ‘Is that what-? You think I’m due for a telling off?’
‘That’s how your lot do it, isn’t it? Rude notes from Michael! Performance Improvement Plans! Shitty reassignments to another department!’
‘I suppose you’ve forgotten the flaming swords, the world-ending floods, the work to cause the Apocalypse just to settle a score with Hell, and the fact that, as you’ve been trying to tell me for decades, they are not my lot,’ snapped Aziraphale. Then: ‘Oh.’
Silence followed once more.
‘About time,’ Crowley managed to spit out, at last, despite the fact that the whole world was suddenly spinning about his head, and every single part of him was experiencing every possible emotion all at once and converging on panic. He was proud of that line. Later he would tell himself that being able to speak at all demonstrated his ability to keep calm in the face of monumental pressure.
They both sat for a few moments. Crowley was trying to focus through the pounding in his ears.
‘What are they going to do to you?’ he asked at last, cursing his general priorities that a matter of life and death seemed more important to follow up on than maybe getting Aziraphale to actually say the words that they were definitely and resolutely their own side.
‘Well, I’m not certain,’ said Aziraphale as he held up the scrap of prophecy for Crowley to reread, ‘but I rather think hellfire.’
Crowley let out a breath. ‘Right,’ he said. He frowned. ‘Just for stopping a measly little Apocalypse? I mean, I basically tempted you into all of it, really. That’s hardly on you.’
That earned him another almost smile, that was so painfully unhappy he immediately had to restrain himself from leaning forward.
‘The Almighty’s view is… ineffable,’ said Aziraphale slowly, ‘but the Archangels rather run the place without Her input most of the time, and they take a rather... Old Testament view to things like crime and punishment. Even if there hadn’t been the question of the Apocalypse, I believe fraternising with a demon for six thousand years would probably tip the scales.’
Crowley felt his lips twitch upward at the infinite propriety of Aziraphale’s manner, even discussing his own death by hellfire. As it so often did, it brought out certain baser instincts. ‘Well,’ he drawled, ‘strictly speaking, we haven’t done any actual fraternising, so-’
His brain immediately short-circuited when Aziraphale grabbed his hand and laced their fingers together. ‘Oh do shut up, Crowley,’ he said. ‘You’re the one who’s been saying it, all this time. This is our side. And if I am not on their side, then I am their enemy. So: we switch places. We be each other. We survive. We win.’
Crowley made a croaking noise in his throat that even he couldn’t pretend was a coherent sentence. Everything had suddenly started happening.
Aziraphale smiled, warm and teasing and soft at the edges. ‘Goodness,’ he said. ‘If I’d known this was all it took to quieten you up, I’d’ve done it decades ago.’
‘You-’ Crowley gestured vaguely at Aziraphale with their joined hands - which he was absolutely not letting go of even if it killed him because it had taken six thousand years - ‘You- you- absolute bastard!’
Then he laughed.
‘So?’ said Aziraphale.
Crowley breathed in. He didn’t really need to, but there was comfort in the human approach: the regular rhythm of air in his lungs. He was a demon but- he did things that demons didn’t. He breathed. He slept. He drank. Sometimes he ate. He averted Apocalypses. He held hands with Angels.
‘I still don’t like it,’ he said at last. Then he felt a sudden rush of panic. ‘The switching plan, I mean, not the-’ He tightened his grip on Aziraphale who, fortunately, didn’t seem to have considered he might mean anything else.
‘Nor do I, much,’ Aziraphale said. ‘But I really do think it’ll work.’
Crowley pulled Aziraphale’s hand towards him and held it in both of his. Aziraphale’s skin felt warm, and soft, and somehow relaxed, like holding Crowley’s hand was where he belonged, like he didn’t want or need to be anywhere else. Finally unburdened, the part of Crowley that he had been violently suppressing for millennia whenever he was around Aziraphale reared up and filled his head with suggestions. Suggestions like: "throw yourself into his lap" and "touch his hair - I bet it’s the softest, fluffiest hair in the entire universe" and "kiss him immediately", and a whole book of other things, the likes of which were so painfully undemonic he was half surprised he didn’t fall down dead where he sat. Instead he reasserted control, screaming too fast at his thoughts in exactly the same tone he used when one of his plants had a leaf spot, clamping down and carefully burying all but one, tiny, delicate, slow thought.
He leaned into Aziraphale’s shoulder, then rested their heads together, temple to temple.
‘My dear,’ said Aziraphale, and there was the tiniest shake in his voice, just the smallest release of tension that Crowley couldn’t miss and that made his heart soar.
‘Angel,’ said Crowley. He tried to imbue it with a tone that made clear that, while he’d always known and meant the implications of the nickname, now he really meant them.
‘We should probably switch soon, of course,’ said Aziraphale. ‘To practice. And we don’t know when-’
‘Of course,’ said Crowley. Neither of them moved. ‘Maybe just a minute or two…’
‘Yes, just a minute!’ Aziraphale squeezed his hand and pressed towards him in return.
Crowley felt himself smile. It should be absurd, intolerable, ridiculous. Instead it was… nice.
The switch was easy. The follow-up, less so.
‘You’ve got to sit up straighter!’ Aziraphale insisted.
‘This is straight!’
‘You have such terrible posture!’
‘I don’t need posture, I’m a demon!’
‘Honestly if you can’t sit up a bit we’re going to have to dig out a corset or something,’ said Ariraphale with a huff. ‘Or-’ He snapped his fingers.
Crowley was immediately surrounded by a stiff, itchy pokeyness that made him jump out of his skin and did, in fact, make him sit up much straighter.
‘Just a bit of starch in your shirt!’ said Aziraphale gleefully.
‘Starch in my underwear too!’ muttered Crowley. He gave Aziraphale - who was currently attempting to lounge on the sofa with much more success than Crowley was having at acquiring a posture - a dirty look. Then he stood up and rearranged his trousers without breaking eye contact. That, at least, knocked some of the unnecessary glee out of Aziraphale’s eyes. When he sat down, however, he made sure to sit up straight, because he was slightly worried that if he didn’t, the next step actually would involve Aziraphale miracling him a corset.
As he sat, he placed his hands together delicately, every move careful, calculated to maintain the two-hundred year old coat he was doing his best to think of as fashionable. Truthfully, he knew, the success of this plan wouldn’t hinge on the straightness of his back, but that was easy for Aziraphale to correct, easy for them to bicker about. If the Archangel Gabriel could sense the lack of angelic grace in his heart… there was nothing to be done.
‘Has it changed much?’ he asked. ‘Heaven, I mean.’
‘It’s bigger,’ said Aziraphale.
‘Spread your legs a bit more, Angel,’ suggested Crowley. ‘I invented manspreading, after all.’
‘You invented what?’ Aziraphale obediently shifted his legs further apart. Crowley attempted to leer more out of habit than anything else. While he sat, however, upright and uptight, it felt difficult to even pretend to summon the expected feeling. Especially about a slightly worried looking version of himself.
‘Never mind. Heaven. Tell me.’
‘I haven’t spent much time there,’ said Aziraphale. ‘Just reporting in and the like. It’s so much nicer here.’
‘Well that’ll help me. I mostly remember the boredom.’
‘It’s become rather bureaucratic, I’m afraid,’ said Aziraphale.
‘"Become"?’ echoed Crowley with skepticism.
‘It feels like they’ve rather lost touch with, well, why they even exist,’ added Aziraphale, almost sounding guilty for admitting it, despite everything.
‘Ah, yes, "lost touch",’ said Crowley. ‘I don’t know how I’ll recognise it at all.’
Aziraphale chose to ignore that for some reason. ‘Tell me about Hell,’ he said briskly, looking as if he was bracing himself.
Crowley felt an urge to fidget rising, and he rubbed his fingers together, maintaining his angelic posture as well as he could. Aziraphale would see Hell soon enough, of course, but- he shouldn’t have to. He was too- He was an angel, in the purest sense. He was made for places with soft light and love and joy and string quartets and little hors d'oeuvres made of fancy cheese.
He should not, however, go in unprepared.
‘It’s… overbearing,’ said Crowley at last. ‘You’ll be surrounded on all sides. It’s not all fire and brimstone and screaming. The back office is more.. dark. Claustrophobic. Expect to be pawed at, and have things crawl and slither over you, and whisper despair in your ear. Just try not to react. If they smell fear on you, you’re done for.’
Aziraphale considered this. It was hard to tell what he was thinking, behind the sunglasses. For the first time in a very long time, Crowley was forced to curse his own fashion choices.
Eventually Aziraphale spoke, and when he did, it sounded like he was desperately trying to be deliberately calm. ‘Will they… torture me much, before they try to kill me, do you think?’
Crowley leapt to his feet. ‘Will they-? What? No. They-’ He broke off. His hands were shaking. ‘If I thought for one moment this would be an extended torture show then do you think I’d have said yes to letting you go down there?’ He ran his hands through his hair, momentarily distracting himself with the revelation that it was, in fact, the softest, fluffiest, most angelic hair he’d ever felt. He twirled one of the curls around his fingers experimentally. This was strange. It looked better on Aziraphale, he was pretty sure. He dropped his hands, realising he couldn’t just stand there playing with his - or possibly Aziraphale’s - hair. Not with the whole torture question hanging in the air.
‘But-’ And Crowley could almost hear what Aziraphale was thinking. But it’s Hell. But you’re demons.
‘We don’t- we don’t really go in for torturing each other down there, you know. I mean, we don’t… demons don’t exactly value each other. But most of the torture is saved for- not us.’
Aziraphale’s mouth was open, still clearly confused, and Crowley realised with immediate, terrified, heaviness that he couldn’t omit this one detail. There wasn’t a lot he and Aziraphale hadn’t talked about, over the years, but there was one thing.
He clenched his hands.
He took a deep breath.
‘It hurts, angel. To fall, I mean.’ Aziraphale sat up straight immediately. ‘It hurts badly enough that you lose sight of everything else. After that, torturing each other is sort of… pointless. Nothing can compare. And half of us are into that sort of thing anyway.’ The last bit of levity, true though it was, didn’t really do the job Crowley had hoped it would of distracting Aziraphale from the overall heaviness.
‘But- you- you- you said you sauntered.’
‘Just because it hurts it doesn’t mean you have to abandon all dignity,’ said Crowley. ‘I didn’t want them to think I wanted to join their stupid gang.’
Aziraphale looked up at him featurelessly.
‘Will you take the glasses off!’ demanded Crowley at last, finally cracking under the pressure of not knowing.
That won a small smile. ‘Yes, I can’t imagine what it’s like, not being able to see your dearest friend’s eyes all the time.’ Aziraphale was, however, fundamentally kind, and he pulled them off. Snake’s eyes looked up at Crowley, but the careful frown wasn’t an expression he was used to seeing on that face.
‘Fine, all right, if we survive this, I’ll stop wearing them around the house,’ groused Crowley. ‘Look, I’m not saying they won’t give you a bit of a kicking, but no proper torture. Unless you count having to look at Hastur’s face.’
‘Oh, well, that’s all right,’ said Aziraphale. ‘They gave me worse than that in the Bastille. And in Pentonville. And the food.’ He shuddered delicately, in a way that was entirely like himself and even more entirely unlike Crowley.
Crowley tensed. ‘They don’t have many Michelin stars Downstairs, you know,’ he said pointedly. ‘Let’s focus on getting this right, or we’ll both be toast.’ Then he winced, because if either of them were going to be toast, it wasn’t the one of them who could walk through Hellfire without even blinking.
Aziraphale must have seen something in his face because he gave a prim nod, and then all of a sudden he sprawled back over the sofa, now taking up three people’s worth of space.
‘Relax, angel,’ he said, in a voice that could only be described as a drawl. ‘It’s just Hell.’
Crowley’s mouth dropped open. Being addressed as "angel" brought on a number of complicated sensations in his body that he didn’t have anywhere near enough time or inclination to unpack right then. ‘Well,’ he said at last, ‘my dear. If it’s not too much trouble, I thought I might get myself a spot of refreshment.’
Immediately a couple of dusty wine bottles and two glasses appeared on the table and Crowley looked around. That hadn’t been him. ‘Where did you-?’
‘Oh, just happened to have some in the wine cellar,’ said Aziraphale, still playing at being him, with a vague hand gesture.
Crowley examined the bottles. They were clearly real. Aziraphale - no matter what body he was in - would never drink wine miracled from the raw firmament of the universe. It tended to be sour. They also weren’t from Aziraphale’s cellar: Crowley knew that collection well enough, and also knew that it wouldn’t have survived that fire.
‘You- you stole-’
‘They were about to be made into Sangria by a billionaire's spoiled son.’ Aziraphale smirked. ‘I replaced them with something more suitable. Come on, angel. Stealing from the rich is a long tradition. Practically heavenly of me.’
He was laying it on a bit thick, Crowley thought. But he’d still stolen- The fact that Crowley was feeling a bit warm around the collar was, he told himself, absolutely completely one-hundred-percent because he was actually having to wear a collar for the first time in a very long time.
‘Well,’ he said at last, rounding his vowels out determinedly, and trying to sound like he was trying to sound reluctant and failing absolutely miserably. Two could play at this game. ‘While a bottle of Château Lafite Rothschild does sound absolutely scrumptious, I really must object. It’s right there in the commandments, plain as day.’
They stared each other down for a few long moments until, as one, they smiled and then laughed. Something tight and coiled inside of Crowley started to loosen, just a little. They weren’t quite fooling each other, but they didn’t have to. They only had to fool a bunch of absolute wankers who’d never looked twice at them and certainly hadn’t read most of their reports.
‘I’ll get the bottle opener,’ said Aziraphale, unfolding from the sofa and, well, sauntering over to the kitchen, doing something weird and complicated with his legs as he did.
‘I do not walk like that,’ complained Crowley.
‘Oh my dear, you very much do!’ called back the angel, and would accept no further argument.
It turned out Heaven also doled out "a bit of a kicking", behind closed doors, before the official parts. Gabriel - too tidy, too smug, too official - wasn’t there, but the creep behind Sodom and Gomorrah was. Crowley accepted it with the quiet dignity of all the best martyrs of legend. Aziraphale did not like to suffer, but he would have his pride.
And it was more than worth it to see the eyes of the cold, smug, self-righteous, hypocritical pricks that ran Heaven filled with real fear for a change when he shot fire at them.
And then they finally went for lunch.
After the Ritz, Aziraphale slept.
That hadn’t exactly been the plan. Not that there was a real plan any more. There wasn’t anything. But Crowley’s plan, insofar as it had existed, had been to go back to the book shop, maybe have a conversation, drink some more wine, hold hands again, and possibly if things were going really well, broach the subject of what did it mean to be on our own side, and what did too fast look like in these post-Apocalyptic days. In his mind, that was what a truly great plan looked like.
As with the previous Great Plan, it had been scuppered.
They had got to the newly reincorporated bookshop, of course, and they had found wine. Adam had brought back that too, for which they were both thoroughly grateful. They’d sat down to drink it, and they’d sat down together, with Aziraphale squashed against him just like he had been on the bus. Crowley had thought everything had been going swimmingly. They’d even leaned into each other, safe at last, sated with good food and champagne, and Crowley had remembered to pull off his sunglasses. Then somehow, despite the fact that he didn’t need it, Aziraphale had fallen asleep.
If he hadn’t had his head lolled on Crowley’s shoulder in a way that was profoundly new and making Crowley’s insides do little dances every time he thought about it, it would have been almost insulting. Instead Crowley had miracled up a blanket - which was cream coloured tartan, but instead of solid stripes it had rude phrases discreetly embroidered in a way that was just subtle enough Aziraphale might not notice - and tucked it around Aziraphale. Then he settled back to alternate between brooding, drinking, and watching over Aziraphale like a mother hen.
The problem was, he wasn’t tired.
No, that was a lie. He was tired. But he was also keyed up. Like that time he’d accidentally ingested an entire ounce of souped-up cocaine back in the eighties. He couldn’t turn off his mind.
This was freedom, then. This was free will. The Apocalypse had been averted, for now, and Downstairs had agreed to leave him alone, for now. He was… unemployed. Unemployed by a trick that surely one day someone would figure out.
It was funny. He didn’t like Hell. But he really didn’t like Heaven. Bright. Shining. Empty. Cold. Contemptuous. They looked on an angel who’d saved more lives and more souls than any of them ever would and all they saw was a problem, someone to snarl at and hurt and try to kill. Crowley curled his lips and bared his teeth. He expected Hell to be exactly what it was. Heaven was supposed to be good. It was supposed to be divine and beautiful and wonderful.
He didn’t really remember it, from before. Not properly. And back then it hadn’t mattered. He’d been too busy creating the wonders of the universe to worry too much about what was going on at the office. Until one day it turned out the bosses didn’t like that he’d asked so many questions, that he’d made life sound just a little too complicated for people to be comfortable.
A sudden noise made him yelp and jump and before he had time to properly process, he realised he’d miracled away an entire family of mice from Aziraphale’s walls. Oops.
Next to him, Aziraphale stirred. Double Oops. Crowley winced.
Blue eyes peered up at him. ‘Oh goodness,’ said Aziraphale, in a slightly fuzzy voice. He sat up straighter, which unfortunately meant he was no longer leaning on Crowley. ‘I didn’t realise that just happened. I was just sitting there! I am terribly sorry!’
‘When was the last time you slept?’ asked Crowley out of interest. Sloth was one of the ones Aziraphale didn’t typically indulge in, after all.
Aziraphale frowned. ‘I think I had a bit of a nap in 1946,’ he said. ‘It had been a very long few years.’
‘Well you’re overdue then. No wonder you’re tired. You can sleep more. I don’t mind.’ He was fairly confident he’d hit just the right tone of fond benevolence and allowed absolutely no hint of any complicated feelings to show.
‘Not so much tired as… well, do you know, I think this is the most relaxed I’ve ever felt?’
‘Relaxed?’ It definitely wasn’t a yelp, he told himself.
Another gentle frown graced Aziraphale’s face. ‘Yes. Don’t you?’
‘Oh. Yeah. You know me. Relaxed. Totally relaxed. Not tense at all.’
‘Do you really not feel it?’
‘We saw the literal Devil right in front of our faces-’
‘-and barely survived, only for the entire forces of Heaven and Hell to try and kill us-’
‘-which they failed to do-’
‘-barely failed to do, only because of some scrap of paper from a mad prophetess just happened-’
‘Crowley!’ Aziraphale took both of his hands.
Earlier Crowley had assured himself that he was cool and calm and collected, and just because Aziraphale appeared to be finally dismantling the carefully constructed wall between them, it didn’t mean that he, Crowley, had to turn into a mass of nerves every time Aziraphale removed another brick. All the same, there was something very compelling about having his hands gripped as he was bared down on by the full force of angelic love that he’d previously only really seen as a generic, worldly love. It turned out it was also quite specific. And that made it extremely difficult for Crowley to remember what he’d been thinking.
‘Hi,’ he said weakly. Aziraphale watched him, and he squirmed into the silence. ‘Look, sorry, I just… forgot how much Upstairs gives me the creeps.’
‘Well then,’ said Aziraphale. ‘It’s an extremely good thing that we stopped the war, or else it’d be like that everywhere. Celestial harmonies, I think you said.’
‘They don’t… like you much, up there.’ That was it, of course. The contempt in their eyes. Even after Crowley had filled them with fear, that was what haunted him now. Could Aziraphale ever really be safe?
‘They don’t like you much down there,’ retorted Aziraphale.
‘Yes but they’re demons! It’s sort of expected. Wouldn’t really be Hell if people went around liking each other. Heaven’s supposed to be all...’ He gave a vague gesture with one arm and then immediately mourned the loss of Aziraphale’s hand holding his. ‘Love. Forgiveness. Charity. Hope.’ Aziraphale opened his mouth. ‘Yes, all right, I know it’s not, and it never has been. I know it’s just names of sides. I’ve known that for far longer than you have so stop looking at me like that! I just didn’t think it was possible to dislike you. Look at you… you’re all angelic and- and-’ He waved his hands and then abruptly stopped when his brain caught up with his mouth. ‘Any time you want to interrupt me before I say or do something we both regret would be great.’
‘Oh, Crowley.’ Aziraphale gave him a smile of near infinite softness and leaned forward to rest their foreheads together, his eyes closed. Crowley froze on the spot, terrified that to move would send Aziraphale scuttling backwards, recreating distance. Instead Aziraphale’s hand came to rest gently on Crowley’s jaw. Suddenly everything was both too fast and not fast enough all at once. ‘I’m afraid it’s taken me rather longer than it should have to find my way to our side. But now I’m here I’ll fight for us and for the world if I have to. Forgive me?’
‘Of course,’ said Crowley, throat dry. It wasn’t very demonic, of course, to forgive people, but he was having an increasingly difficult time thinking of the last particularly demonic thing he’d done.
Aziraphale shifted, not - somewhat unfortunately - to kiss him, although for a moment Crowley really thought he might. It was probably better that way. Crowley wouldn’t have the faintest clue what to do if he had. It wasn’t that he hadn’t kissed anyone before, of course - although he hadn’t made a habit of it. He just hadn’t kissed anyone who actually mattered. And given the charges Aziraphale had mentioned when Crowley had broken him out of Pentonville in the 1880s, Crowley rather suspected he was at a bit of a disadvantage on that front, which only made the whole thing seem more nerve-wracking.
Instead, however, Aziraphale pulled Crowley into him, wrapped his arms around him, and leaned them both against the back of the sofa. They were close enough that Crowley couldn’t properly focus on Aziraphale’s face.
‘If you wanted to sleep, I’ll keep an eye out,’ Aziraphale offered.
‘There’s probably nothing to keep an eye out for,’ Crowley conceded with a huff.
‘Well I’ll be awake anyway.’
Crowley shut his eyes. He didn’t need sleep, but it wouldn’t hurt, and it definitely didn’t hurt being held onto by an angel who seemed to have entirely forgotten that he’d been the one who hadn’t wanted this for so long. Possibly when Crowley was less tired and on surer footing he’d poke at that a little bit, tease out some answers. When did you change your mind? Was it the Alpha Centauri thing, because we can still go there? Was it saving the book from the fire? Was it when I encouraged the kid, because I don’t want to put you off, but I’m pretty sure I also taught him the word "fuck", albeit under mitigating circumstances?
Still. There was one question. If he dared.
‘Aziraphale?’ He opened his eyes.
Aziraphale had been staring lazily at the ceiling, but he turned. ‘Mm?’
‘It’s not going to take another six thousand years for a kiss, is it?’
Aziraphale went very still for a moment. Crowley cursed himself, but also did his best to remind himself that all things considered, this was actually a fairly mild expression of desire compared to the whole Alpha Centauri thing, and Aziraphale hadn’t made a run for it yet.
Then Aziraphale leaned forward, ever so slightly.
‘I think we can manage a little faster than that, my dear,’ he said. Crowley smiled to himself. ‘Three thousand years, perhaps,’ added Aziraphale, his tone teasing.
Aziraphale’s face was suddenly a beautiful mockery of wounded innocence. ‘I thought you liked that I was something of a bastard,’ he said.
‘Oh just shut up and give me a kiss,’ said Crowley.
And Aziraphale did.
It was, as kisses went, somewhat unremarkable: carefully chaste, with noses smushed together a little awkwardly. No choirs of angels descended, fortunately. Nor did dark and shadowy forces appear to cast judgement. It was the sort of kiss that millions upon millions of humans exchanged with their loved ones every day. But that was, perhaps, to Crowley, what made it the most remarkable thing of all. An angel and a demon, and a very human moment that no one would dare take from them.
He curled his fingers through Aziraphale’s hair - at last - as they parted.
‘Oh,’ said Aziraphale, with a happy little sigh. ‘That was…’
‘Mmm,’ agreed Crowley, in a murmur he entirely forgot to try and make sound cool and collected. ‘Shall we do it again?’
‘One of your better ideas, my dear.’
And so they did. And while no fireworks went off inside the bookshop, a neighbourhood party some four streets away suddenly - miraculously - had a professional grade display that sparkled across the sky well into the night.