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it's affection, always

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After the Apocalypse-that-never-was, Crowley develops a second lease of life—or, in any case, that’s how it seems to Aziraphale. As someone who’s most comfortable amongst the dust and comforting paper-smell of his bookshop, he’s surprised by how willing he is to humour Crowley’s new, constant desire to explore everything the world (or, well, they’re still mainly sticking to England) has to offer. Four mornings out of every five, Aziraphale wanders downstairs to find Crowley already there, flicking lazily through a book and armed with Plans.

“I thought we could go to Stonehenge,” he says, on a Tuesday in October.

“York’s supposed to be…nice, this time of year,” he says, on a Sunday in February.

“We could see how Milton Keynes is getting on,” he says in April, which sends Aziraphale’s eyebrows up to his hairline. “They’ve still got those—” Crowley waves his hand around. “—concrete cows. Roundabouts.”

Aziraphale keeps saying yes, which seems to surprise Crowley just as much as it surprises Aziraphale. The Bentley still fills him with a bizarre amount of trepidation for an immortal being, and yet he climbs into the passenger seat willingly every time, puts up with Crowley’s taste in music and disregard for traffic laws and—yes, fine: enjoys himself.

It’s not always gallivanting around the country. Crowley takes him to practically all the well-reviewed restaurants in London and some of the crap ones as well (because it’s important to make up one’s own mind about these things, of course). He insists on dragging Aziraphale to movies, with no through-line that Aziraphale can discern: Crowley watches action blockbusters and sappy rom-coms and slice-of-life indies with the same air of badly concealed interest. The only thing Aziraphale notices is that, somewhat ironically, Crowley is not a fan of horror.

It has taken Aziraphale over a century to budge from his position that no motion picture can match up to the quality of a good book; it’s an argument that he and Crowley have been revisiting since 1902. But, all the same, he finds himself looking forward to these excursions almost as much as he looks forward to the dinner that follows.

Still, sometimes Crowley takes it too far.

“Why must they insist on re-releasing animated films as…what are they called? Computer generated images?” The smirking sidelong look Crowley gives him tells him he’s gotten it wrong. “Surely this is a waste of everyone’s time.”

“Oh,” Crowley grins, “it was one of mine, actually. I came up with live-action remakes back in—” He hisses speculatively through his teeth. “—the early nineties, I think. Never expected them to catch on. Humans are funny like that.”

Aziraphale frowns at him, trying to convey heavenly disapproval. He’s not sure it works, since Crowley just grabs him by the arm and subjects them both to a sequel of a reboot with enough explosions to give anyone a headache, even an ethereal being. Aziraphale would never admit to liking it, but Crowley’s smug expression when they get pizza afterwards tells him that he noticed the way Aziraphale was leaning forward in his seat, just a little bit, towards the end.

Rarely, they spend time in one of their apartments. Crowley’s is a little sparse and unfriendly for Aziraphale’s liking—and there’s that awful statue to consider, just sitting there and making his cheeks feel warm every time he looks at it. Crowley seems a little more at home in Aziraphale’s flat, but he always seems to take up so much space, sprawled over Aziraphale’s sofa or even just lounging against a wall. It makes Aziraphale feel nervous.

It’s better when they’re drinking. Then, they both go loose-limbed and lazy, glasses of expensive alcohol hanging from their fingers. Crowley takes his sunglasses off; Aziraphale loosens his bowtie. When he’s drunk, Crowley has a tendency to giggle and a habit of forgetting to hide his wings—Aziraphale finds it all rather sweet, really.

*

Crowley doesn’t actually have to do Bad Deeds anymore; neither, technically, is Aziraphale obligated to do Good Deeds. They’re free agents, bound only by their own powers and whims. This has led to Crowley saying, on more than a few occasions, “Power corrupts,” to which Aziraphale replies, “Normally because one of your lot is hanging around.”

What’s concerning (depending on one’s point of view) is how often Crowley’s post-Armageddon Bad Deeds can appear to be—well, Good.

It’s the height of summer when Crowley announces they’re going to the zoo. Aziraphale doesn’t quite understand the impulse but he shuffles into the kitchen and sets about making them some sandwiches anyway (jam for Aziraphale, marmite for Crowley).

“There’s really no need to fuss, angel,” Crowley says, helping himself to a biscuit from Aziraphale’s tin.

“If I don’t make it, you won’t eat anything all day.”

Crowley stares. “I don’t—we don’t need to eat.”

“Oh,” Aziraphale says, pausing. “Well. It’s still worth keeping up appearances, old boy.”

He sees Crowley disgustedly mouthing old boy and elects to ignore him in favour of pouring tea into a flask. It’s sugary but black—a compromise of a drink.

Aziraphale expects Crowley to drive them to London Zoo, and it’s only when they’re hurtling out of the city limits that he thinks to ask.

“No,” Crowley says, “we’re going to the Lake District.”

“But…that’s five hours away,” Aziraphale exclaims. “The sandwiches will go soggy.”

Crowley glances, sidelong, at him. “I’ll get us there in three.”

“Oh, dear.”

*

They are, in totality, at the zoo for less than an hour. This is the amount of time it takes for Crowley to systematically release each animal from its enclosure.

*

“Stop worrying,” Crowley says on the drive back. “They’re not going to hurt anyone. As soon as they leave the zoo they’ll find themselves back at home. The humans, too.”

Aziraphale worries his lower lip. “You mean…”

“I’m not saying it’s a perfect solution,” Crowley says, “but it’s a sight better than dying in captivity.”

“Well, yes, I suppose, but…”

“But what, angel?”

“You were doing the right thing,” Aziraphale says, voice small.

Crowley goes very still. The rest of the drive passes in silence.

*

It takes half a bottle of whiskey in Aziraphale’s living room before Crowley, dripping off the sofa, says, “’s not like it’s a bad thing for me to do the good thing, anymore.”

“Of course not,” Aziraphale, who is not nearly as drunk, replies.

“It’s the—” Crowley’s hand flaps around. “—snakes. ‘Cause I am a snake, you know, sometimes. And it’s—you can’t put them in those bloody cages. It’s shit. Can’t even stretch out to their full length in those tanks.”

Aziraphale makes a sympathetic noise.

“C’n I just, go to sleep here?” Crowley asks, stretching out. The backs of his hands are starting to acquire a distinctly scaly sheen—a sure enough indicator that Aziraphale will come downstairs in the morning to find a giant black snake curled on the rug in front of the fire.

“Of course you can, my dear,” Aziraphale murmurs. Crowley’s eyes are already closed.

*

Aziraphale doesn’t see Crowley for a week after that.

*

“We’re going clubbing.”

Aziraphale startles, jerking up from the book he’s reading about early romanticism. “We’re—what?”

“There’s a club in Peckham I’ve been meaning to check out,” Crowley says. “It has a disco night. I miss disco.”

Crowley’s concealed in the shadows of the bookshelves—it is eleven at night, after all, and the only light in the shop is emanating from Aziraphale’s reading lamp. It’s almost certainly a deliberate choice, for dramatic effect, and Aziraphale can only just make out the amber glint of Crowley’s eyes, piercing through the darkness.

Abruptly, Aziraphale realises that Crowley is daring him to say no.

He realises that, this entire time, Crowley has been daring him to say no. He wishes he knew what any of this meant.

“My love, it’s almost midnight,” Aziraphale says weakly, not knowing what Crowley wants from him. He’s telling the truth, insofar as fifty-three minutes to constitutes almost.

“The perfect time to go out,” Crowley responds.

“I haven’t anything to wear,” Aziraphale says.

Somehow, he can feel Crowley rolling his eyes.

“Are you coming or not?”

“Well, I suppose so,” Aziraphale says. “I don’t mind disco.”

“I know you don’t,” Crowley says, stepping closer. Aziraphale gulps.

Crowley always looks like a distinctly stylish denizen of hell: he wears black all the time, the sunglasses, accessories that flash green and silver. But tonight—Aziraphale thinks about temptation and sin and has to shake himself out of it, has to stop himself from staring.

Crowley’s not wearing his sunglasses but there’s still a ring of black around his eyes, smoking out towards his temples. His shirt’s made of mesh, with a sequinned serpent twisting around his torso, and—Aziraphale hesitates to look down, but he has a strong suspicion that Crowley’s trousers are leather. The overall effect is that (not for the first time) Aziraphale is forced to remember how horribly attractive Crowley is. Also not for the first time, Aziraphale wonders why Hell couldn’t have sent one of the demons with cockroaches where their eyes should be to be his adversary. He doesn’t like to consider himself shallow, but it almost certainly would’ve made things easier over the years if Crowley had had cockroaches where his eyes should be.

Aziraphale realises he hasn’t said anything for a good few minutes.

“Um,” he says, which is worse.

“We don’t have to go if you’ll be uncomfortable,” Crowley says. “It was just a thought.”

Unfortunately, even if Crowley did have cockroach-eyes, Aziraphale suspects that he would still be in love with him. What a mess.

“Um,” he says, again. “Do they sell those cocktails I like?”

“Strawberry daquiris? Yeah, probably.”

“Well, that’s alright, then,” Aziraphale says. “I’ll go.”

*

They don’t stay in the club for very long. For one thing, Crowley’s a terrible dancer; he accidentally hits four separate people in the face with his flailing limbs while Aziraphale tries to hide his laugh behind his drink. Since there’s no chance of anyone doing the gavotte in an establishment like this, Aziraphale is settled against one of the less sticky sections of wall, playing with the pink umbrella in his cocktail. He supposes he could attempt this modern style of dancing, but it all seems very imprecise and messy. Better to watch.

He does start tapping his foot when ABBA comes on. He loves ABBA.

It’s just after one in the morning, and Aziraphale’s on his third daquiri, when Crowley stumbles over to him and shouts, “I know a dessert place that’s open this late,” over the music.

Aziraphale offers him the last of the cocktail to say thanks. He knows that Crowley secretly likes sweet things.

*

Another month passes: they watch Les Misérables in the West End; they go to Alton Towers; they visit a coffee shop that charges £7 for a latte and Crowley nearly throws a fit even though he’s the one who came up with over-priced coffee in the first place; Aziraphale discreetly alters the weather when Crowley takes them to a beach in Brighton.  

Before they know it, it’s been a year since the end of the world.

A card comes through the post for Aziraphale; Crowley gets an email. Both are from Anathema, telling them she’s having a little get-together to celebrate the anniversary.

“Weird thing to be celebrating,” Crowley says.

“Perhaps she means the anniversary of herself and Mr Pulsifer…getting together,” Aziraphale says, without much hope of that being the case.

“In any case, I don’t know why they want us there.”

“Oh, I’ve kept in touch.”

“You…what?”

“Well, they’re all such nice people, and it is something of a bonding experience, saving the world. So we call each other on the telephone and exchange postcards and things.” Aziraphale smiles. “I think she’s going to invite us to the wedding.”

“What an honour.”

“There’s no need to be sarcastic,” Aziraphale says firmly. “Surely you have—people, other than me? Friends, I mean.”

Crowley splutters incoherently for thirty seconds without pausing for breath. He goes very red in the face.

“That answers that, then,” Aziraphale says. “I’ll tell Anathema we’re coming. And you’re going to be nice.”

Crowley makes what sounds like a low whining noise.

*

Tadfield never managed to get out of the habit of having perfect weather for the time of year. As they walk up the path to Anathema’s cottage, the sun shines, flowers bloom and Crowley—as always—complains about the heat.

“If you’d just take off the jacket, my dear,” Aziraphale is saying when Anathema opens the door.

“Aziraphale!” she smiles. “Crowley! So good to see you. I’ve just put the kettle on—tea?”

“Coffee,” Crowley says, following Anathema through the door.

“Some tea would be just lovely,” Aziraphale adds. “I take it with four sugars and a dash of milk.”

“And how do you take yours, Crowley?”

“Black,” says Crowley, because he forgets he doesn’t still have an image to maintain.

“Of course.” Anathema bustles into the kitchen, long skirt trailing behind her. Aziraphale is trying very hard not to step on it; Crowley appears to be doing quite the opposite. “Aziraphale’s been telling me all about your adventures, Crowley. I keep meaning to see more of this country, but—oh, I suppose Tadfield just has my heart. Funny how that happens.”

Crowley seems to be struggling to choose which one of them to glare at.

“They’re not adventures,” he says. “Just…trips. Excursions.”

“Right, of course,” Anathema says, busying herself with the kettle. “Newt hardly ever takes me on dates anymore. It’s no matter—there’s only one nice restaurant in the village and we both prefer staying in anyway. Still, it’s nice to get all dressed up. Put the effort in.”

“That’s nice,” Aziraphale says vaguely, more focused on the panic he’d seen flash through Crowley’s expression. “Has he proposed yet?”

Anathema laughs. “No, no, the ring’s still in his sock drawer. I think he has some big plans about doing it when I take him to California for Christmas. But Madame Tracy popped the question to Sergeant Shadwell a few weeks ago! I expect it’ll take them a couple more hours to get here—never on time, those two. Would you like some Jammie Dodgers? I make sure to have a good few packets around whenever Adam comes over.”

“That would be perfection,” Aziraphale smiles. “Crowley, dear?”

Crowley winces. “No, that’s—I prefer Party Rings, myself.”

Aziraphale, who once watched Crowley eat an entire packet of Jammie Dodgers in one sitting with the excuse: It’s gluttony, I’m allowed, chooses not to comment.

“So we’ll just,” Crowley says, “go through, then. To the living room.”

“Right, of course,” Anathema says. “Second door on your left.”

*

“Anathema thinks we’re a couple,” Crowley murmurs once they’re out of her earshot, stealing one of Aziraphale’s biscuits.

“Oh,” Aziraphale says.

*

He spends the rest of the afternoon not knowing what to do with his hands. Do they normally rest on his lap like this? Does he keep them so unnaturally still? Should the palms even be able to sweat, they way they are now?

Secondly, does Crowley’s leg always bounce up and down like that?

They’ve been squashed together on account of there not really being enough space in Anathema and Newt’s living room for eight adults and four unruly children. It’s not the closest they’ve been—on any other day, Crowley would sling his arm over the back of the sofa and stretch his legs out and say something sarcastic about angels getting too close to demons. Today, Crowley is sat not unlike a Victorian lady trying to balance a book on her head.

On Aziraphale’s other side is Anathema, who is still remarkably attuned to auras and keeps glancing nervously over at them. To her right is Adam Young, halfway through his consumption of a Swiss roll. His parents, seated across from him on wooden chairs pulled in from the kitchen, keep glancing at each other as if to say: ‘You tell him to stop.’

It is approaching the realm of unbearably awkward when Aziraphale levers himself up from the couch and announces: “We’re just popping out, to the—corner shop? Does anyone, um, want anything?”

“Some alcohol would be good,” Anathema says.

“Another Swiss roll,” Adam says.

“You’ll be sick,” Pepper says.

“Right,” Aziraphale says, grabbing Crowley’s hand and pulling him up. “Back in a tick.”

*

“Do you even know where the corner shop is?” Crowley asks, holding Anathema’s gate open for Aziraphale.

“Of course not. I just want you to stop being weird.”

“Oh, I’m being weird?”

“Yes! People have thought we’re a couple before. There was that—nun, and that nice waiter who gave us the free cheesecake, and, well, all the forces of Heaven and Hell.” Aziraphale takes a deep breath. “It doesn’t…matter, does it? Make you uncomfortable?”

“Make me…?” Crowley whirls around, taking his sunglasses off. “It doesn’t make you uncomfortable?”

“Why would it?”

“I’m a demon, Aziraphale,” he says. “You’re a bit out of my league. Besides, I never thought you noticed before. You always seemed so—oblivious.”

“That’s not it,” Aziraphale says. “No, it’s that—oh!” He feels his face breaking out into a beatific smile. “It’s that all these years you’ve been taking me out on dates, and she’s the first one who’s noticed. Oh, Crowley. It’s awfully nice of you. You should’ve said something.”

“That’s—” Crowley starts, face turning fuchsia. “I—”

“I’m not—oh, really, it’s such an American phrase—‘out of your league’, my dear,” Aziraphale says. “I am very much in your league. Or—in love with you, at the very least.”

Crowley drops his sunglasses.

“I didn’t think you could,” he says quietly. “Love a demon.”

“We’re a little past that, don’t you think?”

“Right, yeah,” Crowley says. He’s staring at Aziraphale like he’s never seen him before. “But you never said anything.”

“Neither did you!”

“And I was supposed to make the first move? Oh, hi, angel of the Lord, I know that I Fell and that our kinds are mortal enemies and that you’re not even supposed to be into sins of the flesh, but would you like to be my boy-friend?” He sing-songs the last part, like he always does when he’s uncomfortable. Aziraphale, despite himself, finds it endearing.

“Six thousand years…” Aziraphale murmurs. “You’d think one of us would have thought to say something before now. Even—the world was ending.”

“And I asked you to run away with me!”

“I just thought that was—”

“Cowardice?”

“I do wish you’d stop saying such mean things about my boyfriend,” Aziraphale says.

“I—” Crowley swallows. “I haven’t said yes yet. Or—said it back. Whatever.”

“Yes, I know—would you hurry up? Leave it any longer and an angel might start to wonder whether his feelings are reciprocated.”

Crowley kisses him. He has, Aziraphale considers, always preferred actions to words.

*

The wonderful thing is that Crowley calms down a bit. Not immediately—the month after they get together, Crowley unearths a copy of the Kama Sutra and gets ideas about trying things. But by the following spring, things feel considerably more settled.

For one thing, they’ve moved in together.

It had felt presumptuous, but Aziraphale’s bookshop really was the better option. Crowley’s always been cold-blooded, and a little more warmth in his life can’t hurt; even if Crowley still hisses the word cosy, Aziraphale knows he loves living here. He knows that Crowley loves him.

“Do you want to go out tonight?” Crowley asks through a yawn. He’s loose-limbed across the sofa, head in Aziraphale’s lap. Aziraphale cards his fingers through Crowley’s gradually lengthening hair and hums, speculative.

“Not really,” he says. “We can order in. How about Thai?”

Crowley’s eyes slip shut as Aziraphale works through a tangle. “New place just opened up in, um, Mayfair. S’posed to be good.”

“Lovely,” Aziraphale says. “Although we should really go out this weekend. It’s our nine-month anniversary, you know.”

“I know,” Crowley murmurs. “Are we ever going to stop tracking it by the month? We’re immortal beings—think about when it gets to one-thousand-three-hundred-and-fifty-five-years-and-nine-months.”

“You think about that?” Aziraphale says, lump in his throat.

“Well, there’s no need to get—” Aziraphale notices that Crowley’s eyes are very tightly shut, now. “We’re forever, right? This is forever.”

“I wouldn’t have it any other way, darling.”

Crowley’s smile, when it’s genuine, has never lost the quality that makes Aziraphale’s breath stutter.

“So, nine months,” Crowley says, trying to hide his face against Aziraphale’s stomach. “Where d’you want to go?”

“We could go on that picnic,” Aziraphale says, just to see Crowley’s reaction. He’s surprised when Crowley looks up at him with his golden eyes warm, considering.

“Hyde Park? Sunset?”

“I’ll bring the food if you pick the wine.”

“It’s a date,” says Crowley.