Anael turned up at the bookshop around two in the afternoon, too late for lunch and too early for tea, and this, Aziraphale reflected, was representative of the manner in which he was turning out to be a general nuisance.
“And they’ve only written this many books in the last six thousand years?” Anael said, pulling out another book from the shelf by hooking a finger over its binding, in exactly the way that book preservationists don’t. Aziraphale winced.
“Well, no,” he said. “This is a bookshop. I don’t have a copy of every book.”
“But surely people want to have all the options?” said Anael, looking bewildered. “Do they buy books here anyway?”
“They don’t when I can help it,” Aziraphale said absently. “Would you mind—it damages the binding when you—oh, for Heaven’s sake.” Anael had just dropped the book to the floor, sending up a little cloud of dust. He looked up, brows knitting together in confusion.
“Can’t you just miracle it whole again if it breaks?”
“It’s simply not the same.” Aziraphale gestured at the book, which picked itself up and filed itself away again with a little rustle of offended pages. Perhaps he could declare it to be tea-time early and take the excuse to go in the kitchen and collect his thoughts. Anael wouldn’t know the difference.
“I’ll never understand human things the way you do,” Anael said admiringly, as if reading his mind, and Aziraphale twitched with guilt. “You’re the biggest expert out of all of us. Well, except for Her, of course.”
Aziraphale produced a weak smile. He had received no instructions whatsoever from Upper Management about the reason for Anael’s visit, a state of affairs which never filled one with confidence. Anael hadn’t been clear about that either. When Aziraphale had opened the door, he’d said something vague about being here to ‘check up on things,’ whatever that meant, and then sidled over to pick through the bookshelf.
He seemed friendly enough—mostly, in fact, he seemed young—but that sort of thing tended to come easily to angels, no matter what their underlying motives. It was remarkably easy to glow with the love of all creation without ever once being specifically helpful to anyone in particular.
The dust cloud must have reached Anael’s face at that point, because he sneezed twice in quick succession and then looked shocked about the experience.
“Ah, well, one does tend to pick things up over time,” Aziraphale said. He sat down, crossed his legs, and took yet another stab at getting Anael to explain his presence here. “Will you be staying long?”
“Mmm, not sure,” Anael said vaguely, looking back at the bookshelf he’d been ravaging. “Depends really. Is this what you do with your day mostly?”
“Oh no,” Aziraphale lied. “I’m usually off doing blessings and miracles, of course. And thwarting like anything. Busy as a bee. You were lucky to catch me at home.”
Anael bit his lip. A strange expression crossed his face, as if he were a child who’d spotted unattended sweets and hoped no one would notice.
“Thwarting what? No, um, no… friends... visit you often?”
Aziraphale felt his stomach drop alarmingly. So. That was what this was all about. He’d been half-expecting this since 1020 AD.
“Certainly not. Who would be visiting?” he said repressively. He tried not to think of anyone in particular, as he’d found that doing so seemed frequently to result in that person turning up. The perverse timing of Hell, he imagined.
“I don’t know,” Anael said. “You don’t have any friends at all?”
“I have a wide circle of acquaintances,” Aziraphale said stiffly. “Were you thinking of someone in particular?”
“Oh, just wondering, you know, generally,” Anael said, crossing to sit in the only other chair not currently covered in books. A look of brief distress crossed his face. Reaching under himself, he extracted an antique silver snuffbox, which he examined with interest. “What’s this? Do you put food in it? What’s food like?”
With just the diabolical timing Aziraphale had feared, the door banged open, knocking even more dust free from the walls. He was starting to wonder if he hadn’t let the dust situation get a bit out of hand.
Anael shot to his feet.
“Hello, angel,” Crowley said, bounding up the steps into the shop. He pulled off his sunglasses, exposing his yellow eyes, at the precise moment that he caught sight of Anael—and froze in place, mouth half-open, foot still raised. He couldn’t have looked guiltier if he’d been caught clean-handed doing good works.
Aziraphale tried frantically to think of an explanation, racking his brain for something that would—
“Hi,” Anael said breathlessly. He twisted his hands together in front of him and bit his lip yet again, blue eyes shining.
Well. If Anael had an interest in Crowley, that cast an entirely new and awful light on his presence in the bookshop.
“I’ll put the tea on,” Aziraphale said, and left the room.
Crowley sidled into the kitchen a moment later, glancing around like he might be followed. The sunglasses were back on.
“What in Hell’s name is thisss?” he hissed under his breath. “Who iss that?”
“His name is Anael,” Aziraphale said with studied calm. He poured hot water into the teapot and placed the lid on firmly. He could get through this. He’d gotten through the early Middle Ages, when everyone forgot what a manicure was for several hundred years; he could get through one visit from a coworker. “Upstairs sent him. I had thought you might take the opportunity of my departure to escape, but I suppose that would have been too sensible to countenance.”
“I see you’re in a lovely mood,” said Crowley. “He was staring at me! I could hardly turn around and walk out like I’d gotten the wrong shop. What is he here for? Does he know what I am? Your people certainly are laying it on thick with the muscles in the bodies they’re issuing these days,” he added, unnecessarily.
“As to the purpose of his visit, your guess is as good as mine,” Aziraphale said, ignoring the other question, and banged the teacups onto their saucers. He hoped Crowley wasn’t going to try and get himself wrapped up in another ill-advised friendship. Aziraphale already spent too much time worrying about Hell discovering Crowley’s first. “Just… try to act normal.”
“Normal,” Crowley repeated dubiously. “Right, then. I suppose I’ll keep the glasses on.”
“A little late, but perhaps advisable, my dear. And find a reason to leave soon.”
Crowley got a recalcitrant look on his face, as if he didn’t like being ordered off their interesting new visitor. Then a different thought visibly occurred to him, and his brows drew together. “Is he staying? Here?”
“I suppose he must be,” Aziraphale said. He jammed the lid on the teapot with some force. “We really haven’t discussed it, but he hasn’t said anything about leaving, so I’m afraid he’s on indefinite assignment.”
Crowley’s face didn’t actually change, but something about the lines of it suggested a sharpening attention. It made Aziraphale feel a little queasy. He didn’t like Crowley’s newfound interest in this guest or his unwillingness to leave when given the chance.
“But—but you haven’t got a second bedroom.”
“Honestly, Crowley!” Aziraphale said, turning on him in exasperation. “This is the least of my concerns, or yours. I should think you’d be concentrating on keeping yourself from being discorporated. Or worse.”
“I can look after myself,” said Crowley, recalcitrant.
“Yes, but I wish you’d let me look after you,” Aziraphale said.
There was a sound at the door, like a tiny excited scream. Crowley turned and pushed it sharply open, and they heard a muffled yelp from the other side. He let the door swing shut again without bothering to go through it, and leaned in close, lowering his sunglasses to search Aziraphale’s face with his yellow gaze.
“I can look out for myself, angel. I always have.”
No, you haven’t, Aziraphale thought, and carried the tea tray past him into the shop.
Anael was sitting where he’d been left, his eyes a bit more watery than they had been. A red mark was coming up on his forehead. It didn’t make him look any less lovely, though. Young angels these days did seem to take a bit more care in selecting and modifying their corporeal forms than Aziraphale had in his time, and this one must have modeled his look off a work of art. Giovanni Battista, perhaps.
“Do you take sugar?” Aziraphale said, and then rolled his eyes at his own stupid mundanity. “Well, I’ll give you some to try, it’s nice.”
“Oh, thank you,” said Anael. He took the teacup as if it were quite a fascinating new type of explosive device and gave Aziraphale a dazzling smile in return.
“You drink it,” Crowley advised. “With your mouth.” Aziraphale frowned; he couldn’t tell whether that was meant to be innuendo. Crowley leaned back against a bookshelf, arms folded, and crossed one ankle over the other.
Most of the tea did wind up in the right general area, at least. Aziraphale miracled up a towel.
He would have simply gone to fetch it, but he was strangely loath to leave Crowley alone with Anael again, now that he saw Crowley leaning at him. He wasn’t sure which of them posed the greater danger to the other; it seemed advisable not to find out. Anael had recognized Crowley when he’d arrived, and Aziraphale could see in retrospect that he’d been fishing for information even before that. He clearly knew more than he ought to. It was unclear, however, what he intended to do with that knowledge.
Anael didn’t look like an angel on a mission to pluck out evil, root and branch. He looked, in the main, eager. And a bit damp.
“Nearly there,” Crowley said, his voice smoothly amused. “Takes a bit of practice.” He smiled toothily at Anael, who looked like he couldn’t decide whether to be frightened or fascinated. Aziraphale pinched the bridge of his nose and wished for strength. He would have prayed for it, but it didn’t seem wise at the moment to invite more attention. He wondered if he should address the demonic elephant in the room, or if perhaps despite all evidence to the contrary Anael had missed it, or—
“So you really do have a demon friend,” Anael blurted out. Well. That answered that, in the most terrifying way possible.
“In the flesh,” Crowley said.
“More of a nemesis,” Aziraphale said, simultaneously. Crowley turned and looked at him, his face blank. “We’re nemeses, and, you see, Crowley occasionally stops by to discuss—work matters—very occasionally—various important, er, struggles between our two sides—We, erm, we, well, we negotiate—”
He trailed off, unable to think of what they might negotiate. Anael looked impressed anyway.
“Wow, nemeses! Can I watch?” he asked, and then blushed, for some reason. “I mean, the negotiations?”
Crowley’s eyebrows arched high enough to be visible above his sunglasses.
“—in any case—that is, tell me your purpose in afflicting this good place, foul fiend,” he said, looking at Crowley desperately for help. He rather regretted making the tea, now. He might at least have thought not to bring out three teacups.
Something similar must have been occurring to Crowley, because he pursed his lips and leaned forward to pick up his teacup with an air of irony.
“Why do you think I’m here?” he asked. He took a sip of the tea.
“I’m sure I really couldn’t say,” Aziraphale said, glaring at him. Crowley might not commit as many evil deeds as he pretended to, and he didn’t deserve discorporation or whatever else Anael was here to do to him, but the creature did live to be insufferable.
“I can come back later if this is an inconvenient time,” Crowley said. “I didn’t realize you had a… houseguest.”
Anael, who had looking back and forth between them as though he were watching a tennis match, blinked to be addressed, although Crowley hadn’t actually looked at him. “Oh, me?” he said.
At this, Crowley did turn to stare at Anael. He waited another moment and then pushed himself upright off the bookshelf, slinking around the edge of the room while the two angels watched. When he’d arrived at Anael’s chair, he stood over it, hips cocked.
He looked Anael over, then, slowly and carefully, taking in his body from the tips of his golden curls to his toes and all the muscles in between. Anael drew up his knees, drawing back into the shelter of the chair, and stared up at Crowley in return, looking awed.
They made quite a nice pair, aesthetically speaking, Aziraphale thought, although he didn’t personally go in for Anael’s calculatedly naïf style. They were both so slim and chiseled-looking, like they’d been carved by the same sculptor. The dark and the light, good and evil, ideally matched. Aziraphale felt unaccountably depressed about it.
“Please, don’t mind me,” Anael said awkwardly after several seconds, when it became clear Crowley wasn’t planning to speak. “I don’t know when I’ll be leaving, anyway.”
“You don’t,” Crowley said. It took the form of a question, but had nothing of the right tone. He looked at Aziraphale, and then back to Anael, who looked half-melded with the chair at this point. “Tell me, have you ever met a demon before?” he asked softly. He was almost purring now.
Anael bit his plump, pink lower lip and looked up wordlessly, his blue eyes wide and guileless, the question hanging between them in the silence.
Aziraphale cleared his throat loudly. “I think it would be best if you did come back another time, after all,” he said.
Crowley didn’t look at him. Instead, he continued to regard Anael through slitted eyes, his tall form bent and poised over him, motionless.
Aziraphale gave up on any subtlety and gestured sharply, twitching the teacup out of Crowley’s grasp and banishing it with a snap of his fingers. “I think it would be best if you came back later.”
“Far be it from me to dissssssobey the commandss of heaven,” Crowley hissed, and he disappeared with a pop, leaving an uncharacteristic smell of sulfur behind.
The two angels sat and finished their tea in silence. Aziraphale felt too low and irritated about Crowley to contribute anything to a conversation, and Anael seemed equally disinclined to talk. Every so often, for no reason Aziraphale could discern, he sighed softly and rested his chin on his hand to gaze at nothing. It was extremely annoying. Aziraphale had to find something to do to occupy him.
After failing for some time to think of any better ideas, he suggested he and Anael go for a walk in the park to spread a bit of benediction about the place.
“And this is what you do every day?” Anael asked. A small child with ice cream entirely covering the lower half of his face stared at them as the top scoop began to fall off his listing ice cream cone. Aziraphale miracled it firmly back on.
The park was busy, in such lovely weather. The ducks were being fed so well that they were able to choose between the particular sorts of bread they liked best. A juggler was performing on the pavement, and families had gathered around to watch. A few yards away, someone was leaning against a tree in dark clothing, his face hidden in the shadow of the leaves. Aziraphale squinted at him.
“Of course. When I’m not working on a larger project, that is.”
A woman walking on the pavement just outside the park with her arms full of grocery bags was struggling to hold on to one of them. It was slipping down her hip, and since, as the laws of the universe dictate, a carton of eggs was balanced on its top, disaster loomed ahead.
“See,” Aziraphale said, and nodded at the bag, steadying it very slightly and lightening its weight. The creases on the woman’s forehead smoothed out, and her pinched mouth relaxed.
“And that will help their immortal souls?” Anael’s voice was tinged with doubt. “Really? Just keeping people from dropping things they’re holding?”
“Oh, certainly, my dear. As well as the souls of those around them. You’d be surprised at the sort of thing that turns someone from Her light,” Aziraphale said. “It’s more often the little irritants than major disasters. That’s why Crowley—” He stopped, biting his tongue. He hadn’t meant to bring up Crowley—although if Anael were here to smite him, it did seem odd he hadn’t done it by now. Everything about this day was odd.
“That’s why Crowley what?”
“Never mind,” Aziraphale said.
Anael hesitated for a moment, and then blurted out, as if he couldn’t stop himself, “What’s it been like to have a nemesis all these years?” He looked frankly fascinated by the idea, expression open and innocent.
Aziraphale blanched and opened his mouth, but he couldn’t think of a single thing to say. It was so much easier to avoid questions from Gabriel and Michael than to lie to that face.
“How do you—Crowley and I aren’t—how do you know who Crowley is, anyway?” he asked in a rush, giving into the impulse he’d been fighting all afternoon.
“Oh,” Anael said guiltily, “I just heard about him, I guess. And you. Around. In Heaven.”
“Around?” Aziraphale repeated, stomach sinking. That clarified nothing.
It was Crowley behind that tree. Aziraphale was almost sure of it.
“Oh, no, no,” Anael carried on obliviously. “Not those guys, no. Just us younger angels. We talk amongst ourselves, and some of us have visited down here, so, you know, word gets around. We wouldn’t talk to the bosses about it or anything.”
“I see,” Aziraphale. He was trying to decide whether or not to feel relieved.
“It’s amazing how he doesn’t have, like, any boils at all. Crowley, I mean. It seems like most of them have boils,” Anael continued, sounding inexplicably crestfallen. “Unless… are there some in, well… other places?”
“No!” Aziraphale said loudly, and then sighed and rubbed his face, squeezing his eyes shut. “I mean, I suppose there might be. I wouldn’t—but… no, I certainly don’t think that’s likely. He wouldn’t, well, allow them. At least, I highly doubt it.”
It really didn’t seem likely, in Aziraphale’s opinion, although he had never been forced to consider the issue before. Crowley was always so careful about his appearance, unlike Aziraphale, who always wound up looking a little fussy and frumpy in every era. Crowley paid attention to these things.
He might have chalked up Crowley’s attention to his form to a difference between angels and demons, but Anael looked just as unlikely as Crowley to ever allow himself to look anything but flawless.
“Listen, are you here about Crowley?” Aziraphale asked, finally just coming out with it.
“Oh, no, of course not, simple curiosity,” Anael said hurriedly. “Just a standard territory visit, you know, checking in, seeing what you need and so on. So, he eats food, too? How long have you done that together?”
“I—well, yes,” Aziraphale said. He was entirely at a loss. Nothing about Anael’s questions made the least bit of sense, and he didn’t know what to do anymore except answer them. “I suppose we ate together for the first time in, well, in Rome, it must have been.”
“In Rome during the Roman Empire, you mean? You were both there?”
“Yes. We were. I introduced him to oysters,” Aziraphale said, remembering.
“Wow,” Anael said, and the tone of his voice made Aziraphale stop in the path. Anael kept walking for a moment before realizing, and then turned around. Aziraphale stared at him, taking in his flushed cheeks and parted lips.
He looked frankly indecent.
“Anael, you haven’t got—you haven’t switched on all the various, er, parts of your new body, have you?”
“Um, well, actually,” Anael said, looking over his shoulder at passers-by, “it’s a bit of a trend… all of us do it these days, really. It’s so important to like, really understand what mankind is feeling, don’t you think? I mean, you keep your body on, don’t you?”
“In moderation,” Aziraphale said.
“What’s moderation?” Anael asked.
“—you see, Plato—” said Aziraphale hopelessly, not at all prepared to discuss philosophy with his mind in such a jumble; and then he caught sight of Crowley again, this time behind a bush, and gave up. “Will you come out of there,” he said. His voice was quite a bit louder than he’d meant it to be.
There was a moment of silence, and then Crowley sauntered out from his hiding place as innocently as if he were in the habit of running errands in the middle of hedges. His hips were loose as usual, head arrogantly cocked.
He looked perfectly ridiculous. Aziraphale glanced to his side; judging from Anael’s expression, he didn’t share the same view.
“So, what do you think?” Crowley said to Anael. He was ignoring Aziraphale completely, which was maddening. “Has he shown you the ducks? I quite like the ducks, myself.”
“No! What do you do with ducks?” Anael said eagerly. No one could possibly be that interested in everything all the time, Aziraphale thought uncharitably. It had to be a put-on.
“It’s getting late, and we’re going to be leaving the park anyway,” he said to Crowley, “so I didn’t want you to waste your time any further lurking about.”
“I expect you have to go home with your asssssociate and get to ssssleep,” Crowley hissed. Behind him, a tall, sharply-dressed businesswoman carrying a folio broke the heel off her shoe and cursed freely. The child with the ice cream cone looked gleeful.
Anael looked starry-eyed. “Wow, do you really sleep?” He pronounced the word like it was an exciting new club drug. “Like, in a bed? All night? Wow!” Crowley smirked at him. He had stopped looking at Aziraphale again.
“Don’t get attached, please,” Aziraphale whispered sharply. “He won’t be staying long.” “I thought you didn’t know how long he wass ssssstaying,” Crowley whispered back.
“No, but Anael is—”
“Do you think he was issued that body as it is, or has he done after-market modifications? He’d probably show you—” said Crowley, leaning closer.
“Crowley!” Aziraphale said, genuinely shocked. “It’s not like you to be crude.” He remembered abruptly that he was meant to be thwarting, and shot the heel back onto the businesswoman’s shoe, which unfortunately made her stumble again.
“It’s not like you to be taken in by appearances,” Crowley said. As the woman stumbled, she lost hold of her folio, all its contents scattering across the path. Aziraphale glared up a little eddy of wind which gathered the papers implausibly together again.
“I am not being—I don’t know what—for the hundredth time! I’m simply trying to get through a—performance review, presumably—” he said, wishing Anael wouldn’t keep standing so close.
“I invented performance reviews,” Crowley snapped. “That is not what this is.”
Aziraphale threw up his hands in exasperation. The businesswoman tripped and fell into the lake with a splash. The ducks sent up a flurry of furious quacks and flapped at the water with their wings.
“Should we be helping her?” Anael said anxiously. Everyone ignored him.
“Why do you care so much?” Aziraphale said. “Why are you sticking around him so closely? What’s your fascination with him?”
“My—” Crowley spat.
“Only, I don’t know if she can get out,” Anael said.
“Yes, your! You haven’t taken your eyes off him all day!”
Anael plucked at his sleeve. “Oh, Aziraphale, shouldn’t we help that woman? Now the swans have started—”
“Enough!” Aziraphale shouted, and he snapped his fingers. Quacks, honks, and cries of outrage were all cut off in an instant as the three of them blinked out of existence and back into the bookshop.
Anael was still standing close, one hand on Aziraphale’s arm. Crowley glared at them both, unfazed by the change in scenery, his shoulders drawn up tense as a predator about to spring.
Aziraphale couldn’t bear to argue with him anymore. And in any case, it was high time he found out what in the name of the Almighty was going on around here. He turned to Anael, pinning him with his sharpest gaze.
“Why are you here, Anael?” he asked. “What was your assignment, exactly?”
“Well…” Anael said guiltily, gazing at his feet. “I wasn’t, well, assigned. Not what you’d call officially assigned, on official business, I mean.”
For once, Aziraphale was speechless.
Anael risked a glance up at them under his lashes and then hastily stared at the floor again, wringing his hands. “It’s just that Heaven is such a boring place to try out a body, and I’ve always wanted to meet you! Both of you, really,” he said. “All us younger angels know about you Up There, and I just wanted to see what it was actually like. To be, you know.”
“Embodied?” Crowley said.
“In love,” Anael said.
“Ah,” Crowley said. He didn’t look at anyone for a moment. And then, to Aziraphale’s surprise, he stood up and walked into the back office, leaving Aziraphale and Anael alone in what was all at once a pin-drop quiet room.
Aziraphale opened his mouth to correct Anael and found the words wouldn’t come out. We’re not, he meant to say. We’ve never been. We’re only. He couldn’t—he wouldn’t say it. He felt very conscious of his own hands fidgeting with his waistcoat pockets in the silence.
It was absurd to think that Anael had come down here and wasted his time to see Aziraphale and Crowley, when all the while, there was nothing there to see. Only long lunches, and duck-feeding, and drinking too much wine; only phone calls and sitting on benches and driving in the Bentley and reminiscing; only—an ordinary little life. Only his life, here, with Crowley. This life he’d rather venture into hell for than lose.
Ah, he thought, and glanced towards the office, heart beating hard in his chest.
“Anael, my dear,” he said gently, regrouping, “I know things can feel urgent when you’re very young, but there’s many years ahead for you to find your own—friendships. It’ll happen when you least expect it, I imagine. And then, as well, it may take you quite some time after that to realize what you’ve found.” He smiled, a little painfully. “But time is on our side, you and I.”
“I suppose,” said Anael. He sounded dubious, his mouth turned down at the edges. Aziraphale would have been too, at his age. Everything seems so urgent to the young.
“You ought to be getting back Upstairs now, I should think,” said Aziraphale, and Anael nodded reluctantly. A moment later, he was gone.
Aziraphale looked down at his own manicured nails and sighed, and considered fleeing the city and abandoning his bookshop for good. Then, instead, he went into the back office to deal with Crowley.
When he went into the room, Crowley was waiting for him. He looked tense.
“Listen,” Crowley said, shifting his weight. “I’m sorry, about, well, all of that.”
“All of what?” said Aziraphale.
Crowley’s face was lined and exhausted, showing his age for once. An image surfaced in Aziraphale’s mind of Anael in the shop earlier, pulling carelessly on the spines of the books, young and foolish enough to think that a thing could be mended without being changed.
“You know exactly what,” said Crowley. “I never meant to cause any, well, talk.” His mouth was firm and serious, pinched in at the edges.
“I had thought I was being—I knew what I might look like, all these years, but I didn’t—intend to give you such an... unearned reputation.”
“Unearned?” Aziraphale said, feeling stupidly like a parrot. His face was suddenly hot. This had really been an exceptionally trying day, and now Crowley was talking nonsense.
“Of course unearned.”
“I’ve never heard such a stupid idea in my life.” They were closer together now, but Aziraphale wasn’t certain which of them had moved. “Unearned—do you really think I needed your help in developing a reputation for having an inappropriate relationship with you? I should think my behavior for as long as we’ve known each other speaks for itself, thank you very much. Do you really think no one else can—can see that I want—”
He stopped, unable to stand looking into that unreadable dark glass anymore, and reached up to take off Crowley’s glasses, folding them carefully and placing them in his pocket. He understood the need for them in the human world, but he wished Crowley wouldn’t hide his eyes when they were alone.
Without the glasses, Crowley looked real, newly vulnerable and uncertain.
He looked as if he could be touched.
And so, gathering all the courage he hadn’t used during the last six thousand years of pointless cowardice and delay, Aziraphale cupped Crowley’s face in both hands, and tilted it down, and kissed him.
Crowley was motionless, wire-tight with tension, for a long, sickening moment. Aziraphale broke off and began to draw back, trying to think of something to say, some excuse—
—and Crowley surged against him and kissed him deeply, his tongue pushing into Aziraphale’s mouth as if the chance might be snatched away at any moment. He grabbed Aziraphale’s hands tightly by the wrists, squeezing hard and twisting them behind him, so that Aziraphale’s back arched. Aziraphale felt like a mouse caught by a predator.
“Bedroom,” Aziraphale gasped—but the bed they found themselves in a moment later wasn’t his own. They must be in Crowley’s flat, he realized—dragged back to the predator’s den—and with the very small part of his mind that wasn’t reveling in that, he was pleased he’d finally get to see what it was like.
“Thank Heaven one of us has done this before, at least,” Aziraphale said, breaking out of the kiss for a moment. Crowley looked shifty. “You mean you haven’t?”
“I hadn’t gotten around to it,” Crowley said defensively, and Aziraphale felt an overwhelming surge of fondness in his chest.
“Or perhaps you were waiting to do it with someone you—” he started, and Crowley kissed him like he was trying to shut him up, his fingers threading into Aziraphale’s curls. He rolled them over so that Aziraphale was on top.
“You haven’t either,” he said, something dark and possessive coiled up in his voice, ready to strike. “You haven’t, with anyone.”
Aziraphale let his head fall back as Crowley tugged gently at his hair. “I haven’t,” he agreed. He hadn’t; he’d never done anything like this; he felt raw, exposed, desperate to stop and to keep going. He hadn’t known his body could feel like this. He hadn’t known this was what having a body was for.
Crowley’s other hand was trailing down his back. Aziraphale didn’t know where his belt and waistcoat and jacket had gone, or when. A moment later, his trousers vanished too. He clung to the headboard like a life raft.
“You won’t,” Crowley suggested.
Little shocks of pleasure sparked up Aziraphale’s spine as Crowley’s long, clever fingers worked their way inside of him, slippery and insistent. They twisted, pressing knuckles mercilessly into sensitive places, and he gasped aloud.
The bed must have been enormous, because Crowley rolled them again, and they didn’t fall off. He pulled out his fingers and Aziraphale felt something hot and blunt pressing against him where he’d been worked open, a wordless question.
“Oh, yes, my dear,” he answered it aloud. And, wrapping his legs around his demon, he pulled him in, closer than close.
One of them gasped, though he didn’t know which. He could feel Crowley hot and hard and overwhelming inside him, and above him, and all around him, and he loved the newness of the feeling with a fierce, new love.
“All right?” Crowley said, searching his face as if he expected to find discomfort or regret. His hips were twitching forward like he didn’t know how to control them.
“Divine,” Aziraphale said. He brushed his hands over the smooth muscles of Crowley’s back, his biceps, his thighs, taking him in and feeling him withdraw, and then taking him in again. “It feels—oh, you can’t imagine.”
He remembered reading D.H. Lawrence, suddenly—sex, which breaks up our integrity, our single inviolability, our deep silence—and thought of all the other poems he hadn’t understood, all these years—all the time he’d wasted, rounded off and perfectly alone; in silence, not knowing—torn, to become whole again—
“Can I—” Crowley hitched Aziraphale’s leg higher and fucked into him once more, his hips flexing in sinuous movement. His face was screwed up in effort, dripping sweat. He was so beautiful Aziraphale felt it like a blow.
“Please,” Aziraphale breathed. “Please, like that—”
“I can’t—I’m going to—”
Crowley let go of Aziraphale’s leg and dropped to his elbows, shuddering.
“Yes,” Aziraphale said, “yes, oh yes, my dearest,” and felt Crowley come inside him, and came himself, unexpectedly, abruptly, like falling into some new heaven far below.
They lay in the aftermath and stared at the ceiling.
“With my body, I thee worship,” Aziraphale said, mostly to himself. Crowley, next to him, laughed out loud. It was a surprisingly young laugh, the kind of sound Anael might have made.
He should be grateful for Anael’s visit, really. He was grateful. He was also terribly glad that he’d gone away.
“I suppose that is what it means,” Crowley said, turning and bracing himself on one elbow. Aziraphale curled close to him, looking into his yellow eyes.
“Yes,” Aziraphale said. “I hadn’t quite seen how before, but it is, isn’t it.”
“Not quite the usual way of things for my kind.”
“Nor mine,” Aziraphale pointed out.
“Might work for our kind, though,” Crowley said softly. “I will if you will.”
Aziraphale tilted his head up for Crowley’s kiss. “I will.”