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the first week of the rest of their lives

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On the Tuesday after the apocalypse wasn’t, they went to the theatre. Crowley had called into the bookshop with tickets to Dr Faustus, and after the play they went for dinner in Chinatown.

On Monday it had been the Tate Modern.

“It really is a splendid view,” sighed Aziraphale, looking down on the city and the brown gleam of the river almost at their feet. A curtain twitched closed in the building opposite.

“One of mine, actually.”

“This view cannot possibly be one of yours!”

“No, you idiot, not the view, why would I have made a view? - the overlooking those flats there.”

In the glass-walled flat below the twitching curtains, a cleaner was slowly hoovering, clearly visible to anybody looking out from the museum.

“They had a court case about it and everything. Wanted the viewing deck closed so they weren’t overlooked.”

“Wouldn’t – wouldn’t curtains have solved the problem without a court case?”

“That’s what the judge said, too.”

He looked unspeakably pleased with himself. Aziraphale instinctively schooled his face to disapproval, before he remembered that there really wasn’t any need for that sort of thing any more. And besides, they were terribly expensive flats, so it wasn’t as if the people living there couldn’t afford curtains, was it?

Crowley was looking at him over the top of his sunglasses, so he let his face do whatever it was it had wanted to do in the first place. The twin reflections smiling back at him in the dark glasses twinkled fondly. Indulgently, probably. If he had been asked to put an adjective to Crowley’s face, it would have been delighted. Something beginning with delight, anyway.

 

On Wednesday Crowley brought him three punnets of Scottish raspberries. He closed the bookshop so as not to encourage anybody else to eat brightly coloured soft fruit in the company of precious old books. (He had increased his opening hours since it all happened, basking in the presence of human beings enjoying things that he also enjoyed, but he still had a moral responsibility to not lead them astray into mixing raspberries with first editions.)

He had some 1976 Bordeaux that went beautifully with the raspberries, so they drank that until it was all gone and then Crowley sat on his sunglasses and decided to go to sleep on the sofa rather than sober up, and Aziraphale sat across from him reading Keats until he woke up. He didn’t snore, but he did snuffle very faintly for the first hour, sprawled on his back, and breathed quite silently once he curled onto his side.

 

On Thursday, Aziraphale vehemently objected to a restaurant where food was served and eaten in complete darkness, so instead they had a picnic in St James’s park, for old times’ sake.

“It’s not a moral objection to darkness, I promise,” he reassured Crowley. “Darkness and light, ying and yang and all that – I’ve just read very bad reviews about the food.”

He wasn’t sure the demon was entirely mollified, but then Crowley produced a splendid picnic with champagne and asparagus and a very good pork pie, and as all of these were Aziraphale’s favourites it seemed fairly safe to assume there were no hard feelings. They lay back on the grass side by side, leaning on their elbows to watch civil servants eat sandwiches, and tourists and groups of language students take photographs and pay five pounds for an ice cream. (Crowley claimed that this was also his doing, but Aziraphale had a sound enough grasp of human economics to know that they were perfectly capable of overcharging tourists for ice cream all by themselves and he was just making it up, also for old times’ sake.) A pelican almost ate a pigeon, but Crowley gave an elegant snap of his fingers and the two surprised birds found themselves a safe distance apart as one grey feather drifted down into the lake.

“Oh, thank you!” exclaimed Aziraphale, turning to him in – surprise? Was he really surprised? It wasn’t at all out of character, so that feeling must have another name.

Crowley shrugged. “Just keeping my eye in,” he said.

He miracled away the grass stains on Aziraphale’s coat later too.

 

There was no sign of Crowley on Friday.

In the bookshop, Aziraphale had a very pleasant conversation about the Albigensian Crusades with an elderly woman wearing socks with sandals (he discreetly cured her arthritis as she left), and exchanged small talk with three different customers. One of them was studying the history of the English seminary in Valladolid, she said, where Aziraphale was almost certain he had spent a weekend at the turn of the seventeenth century, filling out paperwork with Crowley.

They had been running into each other all over the place, so it only made sense to combine forces when it came to reports back to head office. The copy/paste and find-and-replace functions in popular software were among the modern human innovations that Aziraphale admired the most, and had they existed in 17th century Spain the two of them could have finished in half the time: Heaven and Hell had very similar tastes in bureaucracy and when objectivity was your goal, an angel’s and a demon’s account of a blessing and a tempting were really very similar. You just had to remember to change the verb as appropriate (“Oh for – you didn’t tempt her, I tempted her, this is your copy we’re doing now! Look, it’s got these stupid little wings on the top.” “Oh dear, you’re quite right - I’ll just cross it out, shall I? They might get suspicious if there are no mistakes, mightn’t they?”) and to send the right report to the right place (once, in Armenia, Aziraphale had almost given the game away and sent Crowley’s report to Heaven: they’d had to drink a great deal of local wine that night to get over the scare it had given them).

It seemed like a divinely ordained sign that he ought to telephone Crowley to ask if that had been Valladolid or some other arid fanatical Spanish city (Aziraphale hadn’t much cared for Spain in the 17th century. The wine was good but there is such a thing as too many monks), but Crowley didn’t answer. He waited 30 minutes and tried again, but there was still no answer so he went out to see a book dealer he knew.

He thought about leaving a note on the door for Crowley, but he wasn’t as confident as all that that nobody was watching them and it seemed an unnecessary risk to take. He had, in fact, begun to write the note before reaching this conclusion, and found himself unable to decide between a breezy ‘Crowley – gone to Elephant and Castle’ and ‘Dearest Crowley – gone to Elephant and Castle’ as his opening sentence. ‘Dear Crowley’ had been easy to reject as too formal, too impersonal, but choosing between the other two options had proved uncomfortably challenging.

Somebody had been changing things in Elephant and Castle. Almost certainly a property developer rather than the forces of Heaven or Hell, but Aziraphale didn’t enjoy the visit as much as he had expected.

 

The bookshop was just as he had left it when he got back, with the key difference that Crowley was there. In the rush of pleasure at the sight of him, Aziraphale didn’t even say anything about his feet being on the furniture.

“You called me, angel? Twice?” he said, taking his feet off the sofa as if unwilling to take advantage of Aziraphale not telling him to take his feet off the sofa. He was very fair-minded like that.

“But you didn’t answer.”

“I was out - had to do a quick cursing. Every member of UKIP,” he said. “You know, the racist ones. With the flags.”

“Oh. I see,” said Aziraphale, who had not read a human newspaper in twenty years and did not see at all. He felt very warmly towards the concept of democracy but found himself deeply confused by its practice. The celestial press had always offered a helpful summary, but his subscriptions seemed to have been automatically cancelled around the time of his extraordinary rendition and he just couldn’t bring himself to start buying The Economist so that he could leave it in the lavatory and not read it like the humans did.

“Probably cursed enough without my help, but you know how it is. Some people are just begging for it.”

“You can’t mean – you’re getting assignments? That they’ve contacted you?”

“God no - like I said, some people are just crying out for a cursing. Freelance. Anyway, why’d you call me?”

“I can’t remember now. But now that you’re here, what do you say to a glass of Pouilly Fumé and a spot of dinner?”

Dinner turned into gin chasers at the Savoy American Bar turned into breakfast, and neither of them went home until Sunday.

 

On Monday Aziraphale opened the bookshop and let people in to look at the books again. Every time the bell above the door rang he looked up expecting it to be Crowley. It wasn’t that very many customers came in, but after the fifth time he turned to see a fifth person who wasn’t Crowley, Aziraphale realised he was being ridiculous and just telephoned him. It was so clever of the humans to have invented a way to hear somebody’s voice right in your ear, especially when the voice said “Hi, Aziraphale!” like that, casually intimate, like he was pleased to hear from him.

And it turned out he was more than happy to come to Jermyn Street that afternoon too.

Aziraphale’s tailor was a man of consummate discretion who didn’t even blink at the sight of the lean lines of Crowley in his sunglasses lounging in his shop, watching Aziraphale try on jackets.

“I wanted a second opinion, you see,” explained Aziraphale unnecessarily. “I’ve had a change in my – professional circumstances -” he glanced at Crowley to see how this euphemism would go down.

“That’s putting it mildly,” Crowley muttered.

“So I thought it was time for a bit of an update to my image, and my friend does have quite an eye for these things. More modern than I am, you know.”

“Also putting it mildly,” Crowley muttered again, but he didn’t react to Aziraphale’s flagrant and public use of the word ‘friend’.

“Very good, Mr Fell,” was his tailor’s only comment.

His assistant, a young man by the name of Nathaniel, wasn’t quite as expressionless. His eyes widened at the sight of Crowley, flicked down his physical form and up again as if performing some arcane measurement unconnected with tailoring. He looked at Aziraphale and back at Crowley with his eyebrows very slightly raised before his professional mask came back down and he smoothly offered them both coffee as if Aziraphale had always brought a good-looking demon with him to his fittings. Aziraphale had had 6000 years to get used to human reactions to Crowley’s human vessel, and he knew what Nathaniel’s eyebrows had been saying. Crowley’s smirk said he knew it too, but his focus and hands-on approach to evaluating the cut of Aziraphale’s jackets suggested he wasn’t going to bother making a temptation of it.

His fingers smoothed out lapels, fastened and unfastened buttons, pinched seams. If Aziraphale had had any idea Crowley would enjoy it this much, he would have invited him to join him at suit fittings centuries ago.

“Now that neither of us has a head office any more, how do you decide who to tempt and who to curse these days?” Aziraphale asked him as they strolled back to the bookshop in the late afternoon sun, a suit with a slightly more modern cut duly ordered.

Crowley shrugged. “Just make my own mind up, I suppose. Do some research, see who deserves it. I started with the Mail Online so it was pretty clear-cut, actually.”

“What is the Mail Online?”

“Oh, believe me, angel, you’re better off not knowing.”

“And Nathaniel? You weren’t tempted to tempt him, so to speak?”

“Course I wasn’t, a man’s tailor is sacred! Besides, he wouldn’t have done it – he thinks I’m your – you know. Bad for business, to come between a paying customer and his – you know.”

Crowley was inscrutable at his side, but Aziraphale found his face trying to express all kinds of feelings at once – admiration of Crowley’s sense of honour, surprise at his knowledge of what would or would not be bad for business. And another big, bright feeling he had no name for at the thought of Crowley as his – you know.

They had a splendid dinner in little dimly-lit French place in Soho, and Aziraphale imagined a very nice bottle of port back at the bookshop before inviting Crowley there to share it with him. Often Crowley would just follow him home without being invited, as if they were both pretending they’d just bumped into each other by accident and happened not to have anything better to do. But that was before.

“Port gives the worst hangovers in the world, did you know that?” Crowley slurred when the bottle was all gone. “Don’t know who got credit for that one. Nice drink, lovely drink, shame it makes you want to die in the morning.”

“Such a shame,” Aziraphale agreed sadly, watching Crowley stretch out on his sofa. He did like port. He liked Crowley stretched out on his sofa, too.

“’f you wanna -” he stopped and tried again, enunciating heroically through the alcohol: “ – if you want to sleep, s’a proper bedroom you can have. I hardly ever use it.” As soon as he’d said it he wasn’t sure if that last was supposed to be an incentive or not. Before, perhaps it would have been: it stood to reason that a servant of Hell could more easily occupy a room that an angel hardly ever used. But now it sounded – dismissive? Distancing?

“Got pyjamas too, if you’d like them,” he added, to soften it.

Crowley waved off the pyjamas, but he did disappear off to the under-used bedroom. Aziraphale sat up reading Dylan Thomas (“We are not wholly bad or good, who live our lives under Milk Wood”) until the hangover started to make its presence felt. He was very aware of Crowley, somewhere above his head, asleep. It was a nice role reversal, to think of his friend up there while he was down here. If he raised his eyes it wasn’t to the heavens, it was to his demonic counterpart, his partner in blessing and temptation, and if he wanted to, Aziraphale could just climb a single flight of stairs to join him. (“You're thinking, you're no better than you should be, Polly, and that's good enough for me. Oh, isn't life a terrible thing, thank God?”)

He made tea when it was light outside, two cups, and did just that.  

The door was ajar and creaked only very slightly as he went in, soft-footed in slippers. Morning light crept through the half-open blinds, revealing Crowley stretched out on his stomach, face hidden in the pillows, one bare arm outstretched like half a crucifixion.  

“Good morning,” said Aziraphale, quietly so as not to startle him awake. “I’ve brought you a cup of tea.”

Crowley stirred, slowly rolled on to his back to squint up at him.  

“Oh that’s – urgh, wow, there it is, that’s a hangover alright,” he said, clutching his head and grimacing theatrically.

“Oh, allow me - ” Aziraphale miracled it away with a flick of his fingers, casual like his voice on the telephone, intimate like hands in his hair.

Crowley sighed and relaxed, pushed himself up on his elbows still blinking and tousled with sleep.

“Nothing stopping me saying thank you now, is there?”

As the sheet slipped down Aziraphale could see that he was bare chested, that his jeans were discarded on the floor. He might, theoretically, be naked in what was nominally Aziraphale’s bed. He found himself unable to ignore the thought that were they human, this would mean something.

“I suppose not, no.” Aziraphale licked his lips. Without allowing himself to think about it he sat down on the edge of the bed and held a cup of tea out to Crowley. Didn’t look away while he drank some and handed it back, the line of his throat moving as he swallowed.

Crowley was looking right back at him, face soft and serious, his eyes very golden in the morning light.

He glanced at the space in the bed beside him, made the smallest movement of his head in invitation.

“How about it, angel?” he asked.

An honest question asked honestly, the same way Crowley asked him all the important questions that he had always said no to. He couldn’t remember why, now - fear, probably. Of disobedience, of what might happen to Crowley. There was no trace of mockery, no safe ironic distance in what Crowley was asking, and it struck him now that he no longer had any reason to refuse, that to turn down what he in fact wanted would be to do his friend a great injury.

The simplicity of his choice left Aziraphale’s human body deeply, profoundly affected. His heart, his nervous system, the hairs on the back of his neck, his involuntary physiological responses were all electrified. There was only one answer he could possibly give.

He heard himself reply, “Yes. Yes, alright, let’s,” and then in one movement he was closing the gap between them, sliding into bed with Crowley and right into his arms like he’d been doing it for thousands of years.

Crowley was naked, he realised with a thrill almost too sharp to bear. He twined around Aziraphale, not like a snake but like a man, kissing his mouth and holding him close. One lean thigh pressing between Aziraphale’s, clever fingers pushing his shirt up to touch his bare skin.

“Aziraphale,” he murmured between kisses, “alright if I make your clothes go away?”

“Yes, of course. Whatever you like,” Aziraphale murmured back, and then there was nothing between them at all and Crowley was moving down his body, touching him everywhere.

Lie down, lie easy. Let me shipwreck in your thighs, he thought. It was easy, now. The easiest thing in the world to be here in this bed, with his friend giving him pleasure. Dylan Thomas knew – so many humans knew all about it and Aziraphale should have listened to them a long time ago. He should have listened to Crowley a long time ago too.

He arched his back at the first touch of Crowley’s mouth, undone and overwhelmed, spreading his legs shamelessly in encouragement. Crowley made a small noise at the back of his throat and took him in deeper still. Once he glanced up, hair falling into his face, and their eyes met with a jolt of recognition like electricity: this was Crowley, foul fiend, hereditary enemy, co-conspirator and partner in disobedience, drinking buddy, executive taxi service, rival and friend, the only constant in his life on earth, and now he was – he was -  

Aziraphale was about to say something, but Crowley beat him to it.

“Just – lie there and let me do this, will you?” he said, and Aziraphale had to close his eyes against a wave of celestial love that he knew would only make things awkward.

They said it was supposed to take effort for angels to do this, but Aziraphale may have had more natural talent than most. Or more likely Crowley did, he thought breathlessly a few minutes later, because he had indeed just lain there as instructed and let Crowley do something complicated with his tongue that had made him come so hard he almost discorporated.

And he wasn’t finished: even as Aziraphale continued to lie there, trying to make sense of how these new sensations fit into what he thought he knew about earthly delights, he was aware of Crowley almost vibrating with impatience at his side. It seemed the height of selfishness to make him wait, so Aziraphale let himself be coaxed over onto his stomach, happy to let Crowley have his way with him.

Inasmuch as he had any expectations at all, he was expecting Crowley to move on and take his own pleasure, having already been more than a gentleman about the whole business. (Aziraphale’s hands’ on experience might have been limited, but he did run a bookshop in Soho. He knew perfectly well how not-a-gentleman would treat a sexual partner, and it was a long, sordid way from what Crowley had just done. Perhaps getting to know the other person for 6000 years before going to bed together helped?) 

In short, he was willing and ready to be fucked, even to be fucked hard and fast and without much finesse, but that was not what Crowley did. Crowley settled back between his legs, nudged his hips up, and then his tongue was back in a new place and all Aziraphale could do was clutch helplessly at the sheets, tender and aching and open for him until he was coming again, a blissful whiteout more intense than anything his human body had ever felt before. Possibly it was more intense than anything his angelic form had ever felt either, but there was something so wonderfully worldly about what they were doing that celestial experiences seemed beside the point. 

“That was – absolutely wonderful, Crowley,” he said weakly into the pillow, limp with pleasure.

Close to his ear, Crowley’s smug voice said, “I haven’t finished yet.”

He might have been showing off (he was definitely showing off), but Aziraphale forgave him wholeheartedly as soon as he started to move.

This was intensity on yet another level, Crowley’s body within his body, lighting sparks up his spine until it felt like his hair was standing on end. Crowley’s breath was harsh in his ear, finally letting himself go but still making sure to take Aziraphale with him, everything winding tighter and tighter and deeper and deeper. Crowley leaned forward to kiss him despite the awkward angle, and all Aziraphale could do was let himself be kissed with what felt like tenderness until he was coming again, for a third time, washed away with it but still aware of Crowley holding him close, holding him through it, whispering something so quiet he couldn’t make it out.

He thought perhaps he could guess, though. He’d had 6000 years to work it out, after all.

 

 On the second Tuesday after the apocalypse that wasn’t, Crowley was already there so he didn’t need to call round. They went to the Royal Observatory in Greenwich and sat in the dark through a show at the planetarium.

“I made that one,” Crowley whispered to him as a glittering nebula unfolded above their heads.

“It’s lovely,” Aziraphale whispered back, patting him fondly on the knee. “You did a very good job.”

“Probably wouldn’t have liked living there as much as here, though.”

“No, I suppose not. I’m terribly glad you didn’t go, in the end.”

“Ehhh, what would I have done out there all by myself anyway?”

“I’m not entirely sure what we’re supposed to do with ourselves here now, either,” Aziraphale confessed. The darkness of the planetarium did rather invite confidences.

“I told you: we go freelance.”

“Freelance?”

“Yeah, freelance. Self-employed. No more Heaven and Hell telling us what to do. No more paperwork.”

“I didn’t really mind the paperwork all that much,” said Aziraphale, thinking of that weekend in the seminary. It hadn’t been anything remarkable, but he had always enjoyed Crowley’s company.

“Well, we can make up some of our own then,” Crowley told him, and it was impossible not to hear the fond indulgence in his voice. It had been there since the beginning, after all, the sort of grace he could never truly earn. “Design a flowchart. Reporting procedures. Whatever you like.”

He hadn’t taken his hand off Crowley’s knee and now there didn’t seem to be any need, so he left it there. It was very dark, and Crowley didn’t seem to mind.

 

After dinner he asked Crowley, “Would you like to come back to the bookshop with me?”

The second half of the sentence had been supposed to be an offer of something – not to do their paperwork together, no need for that now - but now the question was out there alone, nothing more and nothing less than what Aziraphale had said. Crowley would come if he wanted to.

“Yeah, alright then,” said Crowley, linking his arm through Aziraphale’s as they fell into step together.

They were kissing before the door was even closed behind them, clinging to one another in the streetlit dark.

Crowley kissed with a desperate intensity he wasn’t expecting, pushing him further inside until his back hit a shelf and they couldn’t go any further without letting go of each other.  Crowley’s hands were all over him, his clothes parting for them like the Red Sea for Moses. Only the fastening to his trousers put up any kind of defence, not that Aziraphale had asked it to defend him. He quite specifically did not want to be defended from whatever Crowley was trying to accomplish, and rather wished his trousers had been more supportive of the endeavour.

“Why are your clothes so complicated?” Crowley complained. “Are these some kind of bloody – celestial chastity trousers?”

“No, they are the finest English tailoring 1956 could offer.” Aziraphale told him, aiming for sniffy but mainly sounding breathless and half-way to ravished.

“Oh, well then, same difference.”

And with that Crowley dropped to his knees. Would have dropped to his knees, but Aziraphale caught his arms and held him on his feet.

“No, not – come over here, sit down.”

Crowley stumbled where Aziraphale pulled him, unsure what was wanted of him until he was sprawled on the sofa, Aziraphale sinking down between his legs. He pulled off his sunglasses then, looking down at Aziraphale with his mouth hanging open in almost comical surprise.

“Aziraphale, what are you - you don’t – are you – it isn’t – nrgh,” he said. “Oh alright then.”

“I’m not going to insult you by calling these celestial chastity trousers, but I would like you to know that they could be. I don’t know how you get them on.”

Crowley just blinked those golden eyes at him, Aziraphale’s hands under his shirt and fumbling at his fly apparently all it took to leave him speechless.

“Well, never mind, I suppose we’re not trying to get them on just now anyway,” Aziraphale told the pale strip of skin above his waistband, and after that neither of them said anything that made much sense. But they found that they understood each other perfectly just the same.

  


 

 

EPILOGUE

On the second Wednesday after it wasn’t the apocalypse, Aziraphale telephoned Crowley only an hour after he had left, and Crowley answered with a “Hi!” that sounded suspiciously like he was happy.

“Who is Boris Johnson, and is it a good thing or a bad thing for somebody to think my hair looks like his hair? From the context I should imagine it’s a bad thing, but - ”

Crowley’s scowl was almost audible.

“I don’t know, but I’m going to find out,” he said grimly, and hung up.

The Bentley roared up outside the bookshop with a flashy squeal of tires not long afterwards, the back seat strewn with newspapers. Still scowling, Crowley brandished one out of the window as Aziraphale emerged from the bookshop, its front page depicting a jowly, venal-looking blond man.

“Get in, angel,” Crowley yelled, flinging open the passenger side door. “We’re going cursing.”