The village is almost eerily quiet. There’s an owl somewhere in the distance, hooting softly. It’s a little bit spooky and under normal circumstances Crowley would be in his element. But the heartbroken expression on Aziraphale’s face when he reminds him about the demise of his bookshop takes the edge off the victory somewhat, and reminds him in turn that the shop isn’t the only thing to have gone up in flames.
They sit on a wooden bench opposite the church, passing a bottle of red between them, waiting for the delivery driver to pick up the items. They’re assuming there will be a pickup, that there are plans in place to clean up when things go awry. If things have indeed gone awry. If their improvised bullshitting didn’t turn out, by some wild miracle, to be somewhere in the ballpark of right.
Aziraphale has been uncharacteristically quiet for much of the walk from the airbase, and Crowley’s starting to worry that his disincorporation, temporary ride with Madame Tracy and their subsequent tearing apart has taken more of a toll on the angel than he‘ll let on.
He finishes their current bottle and replaces it with a fresh one, a Chateau Brabant 1991, one of Aziraphale’s recent favourites, passing it to him. ’Are you all right, angel?’
Aziraphale takes it hesitantly. ‘Crowley…. I want to tell you… I’m… I am sorry.’ There’s a lot of weight to his words, and Crowley doesn’t know what to say because a lot has happened, a lot has been said, over the last six thousand years, and it’s an unspoken thing between them that no apologies are necessary. Yes, Crowley did apologise in Soho, broadly, for whatever it was he’d said that meant the angel kept turning him down and refusing to leave with him, but that doesn’t count. Desperate times and all that.
‘You don’t have anything to be sorry for.’
‘I do. I put my trust in Heaven when I should have put it in you, the way you put yours in me. I was sure if I could just speak directly to God, She would stop all the nonsense.’
‘The war, you mean.’ But he speaks softly. It’s akin to calling Aziraphale naive and he doesn’t mean it to be insulting, he really doesn’t. The angel’s nigh on perfect just the way he is. He wouldn’t change him for… well, for anything. Besides, knowing what’s really going on isn’t always the best plan, in his opinion.
But Aziraphale nods his agreement, his acknowledgment. ‘Yes. The war. You were right, of course, all along. They don’t care about the humans.’
‘It’s understandable, you thinking that they would. I mean, Gabriel’s always been a dick, in my opinion, but you can’t be blamed for imagining that God might give a shit for Her own creation, at least enough not to burn it all in a pointless war to... what was it Adam said, see who has the best gang?’
‘Precisely. It’s one thing your lot not caring, but I thought... I mean, if Heaven doesn’t, what have I been doing all these years? What was the point?’
Crowley shifts on the bench. He isn’t feeling great himself; forty miles of driving in a car that’s on fire without turning into a pudding of flesh, stopping time and re-starting it without his brain dribbling out of his ears; it’s quite exhausted him. Honestly he just wants to curl up in bed for a decade or two. ‘I hate to say it, but i think that’s the ineffable bit.’
For a time they sit in a comfortable, familiar silence, passing the wine between them. Crowley isn’t sure Aziraphale’s even noticed the vintage but it doesn’t matter. It’s the thought that counts. The last thing he wants to do is sober up. If he does that, the full impact of what they’ve just done might just make itself known. He just wishes he actually felt like he’s drunk the best part of three bottles of red.
‘Why didn’t you leave?’
The question takes him by surprise. ‘What?’
‘You said you were going home - to… Alpha Centauri, wasn’t it?’
‘I told you, I changed my mind. No fun without you anyway.’ Aziraphale tips the new bottle to his lips and Crowley watches in amazement as he drains half of it. ‘Um….’
‘I should have gone with you. I’ll regret that, possibly forever.’
He’s taken aback by that, tries to downplay it. ‘No need. It doesn’t matter anymore. I was being a coward, didn’t want to fight, didn’t want to die. Didn’t want you to die.’ He reaches over and takes the bottle from Aziraphale’s hands but when he accidentally brushes the angel’s fingers he hesitates. All this, it’s part of a larger conversation he doesn’t feel equipped to have right now. ‘It all worked out. You and I are still here and there’s still an earth for us to live on.’
‘If our respective sides will let us stay.’
There’s that. Neither of them are going to be very popular with their superiors (and he uses the term extremely loosely). Then again, something about that final prophecy of Agnus’ is rattling around in his head. It takes another swig of wine to bring it into focus and he smiles.
‘Oh. Yes. She really was a genius.’
Aziraphale takes back the bottle. ’Who was?’
‘Your prophetic witch.’
‘Well, yes, she was. Why?’
‘Because I know what her last prophecy means.’
The bus does indeed take them back to London, drops them around the corner from Crowley’s building, and Aziraphale trails after him up to the flat.
‘I’m not even sure I can pull something like that off,’ Aziraphale’s still complaining.
‘Of course you can! How long have we been hanging around one another?’ He unlocks the door and lets them both inside. It’s a stark place, and what remains of Ligur is still on the floor of his office. He kicks the door closed to hide the mess and swipes a couple of cut crystal glasses along with a decanter of ridiculously expensive brandy. Leading Aziraphale through to the lounge, he pours two generous drinks and hands one to the angel.
‘Make yourself at home.’
The black ‘L’ shaped couch with its red and grey cushions is the only furniture in the room, except for a smokey glass coffee table. There’s a state-of-the-art 4K television on the wall which Crowley never watches, and the through into the corridor, which leads to the bedroom, a plinth with a statue on it is half-hidden in darkness. It’s a statue he’d rather Aziraphale doesn’t see.
He drops into the couch and watches Aziraphale pace the room.
‘Please sit down. I know it’s not the greatest plan, and I know we don’t have the best track record….’
‘That’s not it.’
‘Then what is it?’
‘Are you sure you want... I mean, wouldn’t mind being… inside this body?’
Crowley grins. He can’t help himself. ‘Now that’s a loaded question if ever I heard one.’
Aziraphale looks at him plaintively. ‘Please take this seriously.’
‘All right, I’ll take it seriously if you do.’
‘Then why on earth would you ever ask that?’
He’s has no idea what answer to expect, but ‘something Gabriel said’ never crossed his mind. ‘Gabriel? Why would you listen to a single thing that stuck up, arrogant, holier-than-thou git had to say?’ Aziraphale doesn’t answer, purses his lips and drinks the brandy. As he drinks, his expression changes. ‘Oh, my dear, that’s a lovely brandy.’
‘Isn’t it? Angel, sit down.’
He does, finally, further along the couch than Crowley likes but it’s a start. ‘You know, for six thousand years - give or take - you’ve been my only constant. If anything happens to you, I won’t… I can’t….’ Words don’t seem adequate; all the words in the world and he can’t find the right ones. ‘We need to do this, we need to get out from under Heaven and Hell.’
‘I understand that. But you’re so… beautiful, so….’ He makes a gesture with his hand, ‘perfect.’
‘I’m supposed to be. I can’t tempt if I’m not tempting now can I?’ He pushes his sunglasses up into his hair and turns to look at Aziraphale. He’s used to seeing adoration in the angel’s eyes but there’s something new there now too. For a moment, there’s a sensation of drowning. ’You’re beautiful too.’ It’s out before he can stop it. The most dazzling smile he’s ever seen lights up Aziraphale’s face before he looks away, suddenly shy.
‘Hardly. Let’s face it, I have a sweet tooth.’
‘You don’t have to tell me that. I’ve been enabling your sweet tooth since they discovered sugar.’
‘It’s made me soft.’
Crowley’s definitely lost now. ‘What are you talking about?’
‘I’m taking about you… coming in… to me.’
‘I’m not sure you mean that to sound quite so… inviting.’
Aziraphale might actually be blushing. ‘You’re being vulgar.’
‘You started it.’ Crowley refills their glasses. ‘Remember the night in 1961 when you gave me the holy water? Remember what you said to me?’ Aziraphale nods. ‘Remember why?’ Another nod, this time after a hesitation. ‘So, you know how I feel about you. That has never and will never change.’ He throws back the brandy. ‘Come on. Let’s go to bed.’
‘You’ve just cited that night in 1961….’
‘To sleep, angel.’ He stands and wiggles his fingers in invitation. It’s a surprise when Aziraphale takes his hand. ‘Last time I let you out of my sight, you accidentally disincorporated and ended up in the body of a middle-aged medium.’
‘That wasn’t my plan and it wasn’t my fault.’
Crowley leads him to the bedroom, switching off the lights with a click of his fingers, plunging the flat into darkness. In the bedroom he brings up a couple of low level lights in the floor. It’s a huge bed, and Crowley lies down on one side of it, fully clothed except for his jacket and his shoes.
Aziraphale frets for a bit then joins him, a few layers of clothing lighter, absolutely not touching. Except that when they relax, the backs of their hands drop against each other, and when neither of them make the effort to move, Crowley presses his fingers between Aziraphale’s.
Neither of them speak, for now they’ve said everything they need to say. Tomorrow ’s another day, and if they make it through that, then they can talk.