Crowley had a strange habit of asking others—others meaning, generally speaking, Aziraphale—questions that he himself wanted to be asked. Or, on occasion doing things. This was a belated realization on Aziraphale’s part, partially because he didn’t do it too terribly often. Instead, he did it just often enough for it to be noticeable if one were to, say, know him for 6,000 years and take the time to squint a little.
It was also because it wasn’t exactly a very demonic way to act. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you—Aziraphale knew the notion well enough since it was his people who tended to adhere to it. That was more about being an affable person than anything else however. Crowley was…more selective with his application.
This was one of several things that occurred to Aziraphale during one of the First Few Weeks of the Rest of His Life. He’d closed the bookstore permanently for a short while—not that anybody could really tell the difference from its usual capricious schedule—in order to process everything that’d happened. He’d learned it was good practice to do so after a few millennia spent hanging around on Earth and an unknowable number left to go lest he actually lose his mind. Losing one’s mind was generally frowned upon in the heavenly community as well as on Earth, so he made it a habit to, after something particularly trying occurred, take some time alone afterward to sit and think.
This was in opposition to Crowley’s general approach which was to sleep for a few days straight and then get on with it. He remembered things well enough, held onto them, but he didn’t like to do much else with them. It was more like possessing a large storage unit in which anything not immediately useful was shoved, piling up on top of everything else already cram-jammed under so many years of life, and locked away, perhaps never to be seen again.
Aziraphale’s storage was more like an infinitely large backroom lined wall to wall with shelves which he tucked things away on. They were more compartmentalized and he looked them over a bit before storing them. He knew where they were if he ever had need of them but he, admittedly, was not much better at doing anything other than letting the shelves fill up once he’d given them a once-over. They gathered dust and, truth be told, it was easy for things to get lost.
The guise of organization and closure was enough for Aziraphale, always had been. Unfortunately, he was beginning to realize, that often meant that some things—generally small at the time, but stacking up over the decades like so many pamphlets stuck between much larger volumes—got overlooked, and sometimes those things were important.
Aziraphale discovered this in part after attempting something called “self-reflection” which he’d read about in a self-help book he’d picked up on a whim and started to page through one night in the midst of dealing with the upshot of the whole non-apocalypse business. He wasn’t usually one for fad-genres but he did like to see what humans thought of themselves and happenstance had brought the book into his hands, so he thought he might as well take a look.
While he sat tucked away in an armchair in the loft above his shop—how relieved he felt to be able to return to it; nothing could have made him happier—poking through the book, he decided would try out some of the techniques inside. It wasn’t like he was much of an angel anymore anyway, so trying even more human pastimes felt less like he was tempting fate than usual. Besides, at the moment, he could use a distraction.
It took a few tries but eventually he got it. That was all well and good, but getting it ended up making him feel foolish more than anything else. Foolish and—not good. Like he’d told someone he cared about a lie, not to protect them but to protect himself. Or like he’d hurt someone he cared very much about and hadn’t even bothered to notice.
He should have noticed it the First Night of the Rest of Their Lives. It was more obvious then than it had been perhaps ever before, everything made transparent by the reality of the world having an expiration date having whacked everyone upside the head.
They’d returned the items as was necessary—Crowley had wanted to find a cliff to chuck them off of and Aziraphale understood where he was coming from but thought they probably ought not to push their luck vis-à-vis meddling with the course of things—and were waiting for their bus. Or a bus at least. One that was close and not too full.
“You can stay at my place,” Crowley said to him, softer than usual, “if you like.”
He’d pushed back against the offer out of habit and Crowley argued back which wasn’t that abnormal. The tightening of his expression was. Even when he’d given in and agreed it’d been a logical decision. He really didn’t have anywhere else to go, after all. It was polite of Crowley to offer—strange but not unheard of—and convenient for him, nothing more.
Not to him at least.
Aziraphale was in a state of quiet shock after everything, his nerves still high and his being rather exhausted, but Crowley had managed to get into high spirits somewhere between the start of the bus ride and the arrival at his flat. He leaped down off the bus, ignoring the steps, and bounded up to the door, looking impatient while Aziraphale thanked the bus driver and came down at a less manic rate of speed.
Glancing around, Aziraphale noted where they were. It wasn’t as if he didn’t have a general idea of where the flat was, but it’d been a long time since he’d been there and the city was ever-changing, molding and remolding itself around them.
“Come on then,” Crowley insisted, waving a hand pointedly toward the door. “If you’d wanted to stand around and stare at the bloody sky all night you needn’t have come here to do it.”
Aziraphale blinked and shook himself, laughing quietly. “I would think some appreciation of the universe and all the beautiful things in it isn’t out of the question after what almost was, don’t you?”
Crowley rolled his eyes and unlocked the door. Despite his response, Aziraphale followed him in afterward. The night sky was lovely but standing out in the open probably wasn’t the smartest idea at the moment.
He locked the door when Crowley didn’t, too busy whizzing about turning on lights and kicking things into the corners, and glanced around. The space was almost painfully modernist, all sharp lines and neutral colors (mostly black). Aziraphale wondered what on earth Crowley was cleaning up because there hardly seemed like there was anything around. He wandered further in though and found a small living space that wasn’t nearly so harsh. There was a burgundy armchair that looked well-loved and approximately thirteen beanbag chairs stacked into what could only be called a safety hazard in the corner.
Aziraphale skirted around them cautiously not wanting to accidentally topple them. Shoved into the opposite corner was an oversized bookcase about a century and a half too old to be anywhere other than a museum. It clashed obnoxiously with the rest of the space, all cherry-wood and intricate design and careful craftsmanship. Aziraphale liked it quite a lot. It was stuffed full of an incredible amount of records, CDs, cassette tapes, the occasional book, and a few bulging manila folders that looked purposefully ignored. Most of the wall adjacent was taken up by an obnoxiously large television and mess of cords big enough to make him stop worrying as much about the beanbag mountain, but he was more interested in poking around the various globes stacked on top of bookcase.
The room didn’t have any windows but it felt worlds homier than the intimidating throne and detached minimalism of the entryway. It was a mess, but it was infinitely more…Crowley. Aziraphale felt something in him settle somewhat and he allowed himself to feel a bit glad he’d come here after all.
He was spinning one of the globes about when he heard Crowley shout, “You’d all best behave yourselves. You know what’ll happen if you embarrass me…” at who-knows-what from across the flat. A few moments later and he finally reappeared, still brimming with energy. When he caught sight of the other being he came to a halt and leaned against the doorframe (it took him a few tries but he eventually managed it). “Making yourself at home I see.”
Aziraphale blinked and pulled his hand back. “Oh, I’m terribly sorry. I didn’t mean to take advantage. Tell me where you’d like me to avoid and I’ll be certain to—”
“That’s not what I meant!” Crowley interrupted him with more force than was probably necessary. Aziraphale blinked, not expecting the edge of panic in his voice. However, Crowley was quick enough with his recovery. “I wouldn’t have invited you over if I wanted you stand in the doorway all night, would I?”
“I suppose not.” Aziraphale moved his hand up to the globes again, brushing carefully over one. “These are lovely. It’s a shame they’re all gathered in one place.”
Crowley frowned. “What’s wrong with that? If they’re all here I can see them all at once. It’s not like I have customers to decorate for.”
Aziraphale supposed he had a point. “I see.”
Crowley moved then, forward at a pace and stride that for him was hesitant, over toward Aziraphale and the globes. He stopped with a few feet between them and looked over his collection, his features softening slightly. “Glad to see they’re all safe. Hate to see five centuries of work down the drain.”
Aziraphale couldn’t help but think of bookstore, burnt to the ground. He forced a smile. “I’m glad you didn’t lose your home as well.”
Crowley froze, realizing the implication of his words too late. “Ach—I’m—I didn’t mean—”
Rather than let him continue to stutter, Aziraphale reached hand out and placed it on his shoulder, patting a few times for good measure. “It’s quite alright, dear boy. I didn’t take any offense.”
Crowley looked down at where Aziraphale’s hand had been for a few seconds too long and then yanked his chin back up. “Right, well. You can stay as long as you want. It’s not really your style, but it’s better than nothing.”
Aziraphale blinked, surprised by Crowley’s generosity even after all these years. He couldn’t help but smile. “Thank you.”
There was a beat of silence then that he didn’t quite know how to interpret. He and Crowley stood across from each other, not saying anything which wasn’t so abnormal, but something felt odd. There was some tension there and Crowley was acting expectant. Time was still moving like it was headed for something specific, but Aziraphale for the life of him couldn’t riddle out what it could be.
While he was scraping around for something he might have forgotten he noticed Crowley had already taken his glasses off, something it took him hours and ordinarily a few drinks to do, if he ever did, in the shop. He was glad to see it. Crowley seeming comfortable would be helpful in calming his own mind down.
He thought of something then and knew that had to be it. “I won’t stay too long, of course,” he added, remembering far too late not to impose and feeling embarrassed about it. “I’m sure I can find somewhere to be out your hair soon.”
Something twitched in Crowley’s expression and he stood up straighter from where he’d been leaning into the conversation. He cleared his throat. “Good plan. Right on. Wouldn’t want this place to start smelling too holy after all.”
It was a little stilted but still much closer to normal than things had been that night, so Aziraphale grasped onto it and ran, complaining about the other angels smelling Crowley at his place. A bit of meaningless but steadying back and forth later, Crowley suggested he sit down which he did, perching on the edge of the armchair. He’d always felt uncomfortable occupying what was clearly someone’s favorite spot, but he knew he’d feel more ridiculous trying to sit properly on a beanbag (and he didn’t want to risk an avalanche).
Crowley, who’d never heard of such a feeling as he was always stealing Aziraphale’s best reading chair to sit sideways in, his long legs dangling over the arm, when he was over, shifted uncomfortably. “Any interest in a drink? I’ve got some decent stuff lying around.”
Aziraphale was—aptly—tempted but felt his mind could do with something less altering at the moment. “Just tea for me, if you don’t mind.”
Another strange beat like an echo bouncing back a few seconds too late. “Right. Got it. Just give me a—”
And then he was gone, disappeared off somewhere into the depths of the flat. When he returned he had two teacups in hand and, inexplicably, his sunglasses were back.
Aziraphale decided not to mention it. He could be touchy about his eyes after all. Instead he took the cup of tea and murmured his thanks. He took a long sip while Crowley managed to wrestle one of the beanbag chairs down without knocking the whole pile. It was rather impressive. He tossed it off to the side and flopped down into it, setting his teacup to the side and not touching it.
He let out a dramatic sort of sigh, stretching out long like a cat. As he relaxed he kept his legs spread out in a ‘V’, the heels of his shoes digging into the rug below and his arms flung up over his head. He looked pliable enough to be unconscious, uncaring of the way the position made his shirt ruck up somewhat. Aziraphale couldn’t help but sympathize with what he could only suppose was the demon’s exhaustion.
Crowley stayed like that for a few minutes, shifting now and again as if trying to get comfortable on the chair and sighing off and on. Aziraphale let him be and sipped his tea, watching the steam slowly escape Crowley’s cup until the wisps were almost invisible. Around then Crowley sat back up and things proceeded more normally, as if a switch had been flipped.
Crowley pushed his glasses back up his nose and looked resigned, picking up his teacup solely to fidget with it.
“So, the world didn’t end,” Aziraphale ventured.
“The world didn’t end,” Crowley agreed.
“But I have a feeling it’s not over yet.”
Crowley chuckled. “It’ll never be over. Not completely. Short-term-wise, it’s over for just about everyone but us if that makes you feel better. You angels like that kind of selfless shite, don’t you?”
Aziraphale managed to breathe out something like a laugh. “Generally yes. Now? Undetermined.”
That made Crowley actually laugh, loud and familiar, the noise filling up the vacuum around them and lightening the room. Crowley flipped over so he was lying on his stomach with his feet kicked up, which looked to be just about uncomfortable enough to mean he was settling in. “Look out now. God’s still listening you know. Better say Twelve Hail Mary’s quick if you want to actually make it to the first day of the rest of your life!”
“It’s Ten Hail Mary’s, Crowley.”
“Aha! I know that, but I didn’t say it, see? I’m watching my back.”
The conversation, having built some momentum, got on well enough after that. Crowley had a bottle of gin in his hand without having gotten up sooner than later and eventually Aziraphale gave in and imbibed along with him. He might actually be struck down by lightning before tomorrow—who knew? Might as well make the most of the time he had left.
Between the warmth of the tea and the slickness of the alcohol down his throat, soon enough Aziraphale was voicing his quite numerous worries aloud (what would happen to Adam? What would happen to them? What could they do about it? What if this was a fluke and it would all start again tomorrow? How many humans had suffered already without the apocalypse even happening?) and Crowley was countering him in that unique way of his wherein he mostly quipped and told Aziraphale that he was being ridiculous, and occasionally said something profound or even kind. He had to admit that it did always make him feel better to hear Crowley knock over his worries like a row of dominos, at least when they were born from a restless mind and not something actually important.
The night wiled on and Aziraphale purposefully waited until he knew Crowley was too drunk to be smarmy (well, purposefully smarmy at least) to voice the concern that had been weighing on him as heavily as ever.
He ran his finger around the neck of the bottle which was well on its way to empty and forced himself to say it and get it over with. “I wonder if we did the right thing….in the end.”
Crowley’s glasses had slid far enough down his nose that Aziraphale could see him blink his hazy yellow eyes at him. After a pause, he pushed them back up and took a breath. “The way I see it, if we learned anything today it’s that there’s no right or wrong. It’s all politics in the end, and no one likes politics—”
Aziraphale attempted to interject but Crowley seemed to be on one of those rolls of his and he thought it best to just let him finish. He’d either say something ridiculous and change the subject or something semi-coherent enough to settle Aziraphale for the time being.
“How it is is you either hurt someone, or you don’t. Granted, sometimes you’ve got no choice. Like that Pollution guy—one creepy bugger they were. Felt like the kind of person you invite over because you feel obligated and you wake up and find them staring straight at you in the middle of the night—anyway. Point is, I didn’t feel so bad when that kid stuck ‘em through with your sword, you know?”
Aziraphale hummed, too paranoid to agree or not agree although he secretly felt about the same.
“But when I had to make old Ligur knock the bucket as it were, I couldn’t help but feel kind of bleh somewhere—” He gestured vaguely to his stomach. “—‘round here. Sure he was going to drag me to pits of hell and always had that weird lizard thing on his head, but we had some laughs, him and me. Even got him to take a selfie once—course then he did chuck my cell into a pit…”
Aziraphale blinked, a bit surprised to hear it. He wasn’t about to say it, but he wasn’t so sure if Gabriel or Michael had somehow met an untimely end in the midst of things that he would feel particularly bad about it. “Hastur too?”
Crowley made a noncommittal noise that turned into a very committal head shake.
Aziraphale nodded and pressed his lips together. “How do you know? If you’ve hurt someone or not, that is. Obviously, if you disintegrate their very being that’s a tad obvious, but what if it’s not? How are you sure?”
That drew a laugh out of Crowley and Aziraphale had to push down on some reactionary irritation. “I guess you wouldn’t know, being an angel and all. I guess the first thing you’ve got to do is admit you can hurt people. After that, you just know. I’m a demon of many talents, but I can’t teach you that. Depends if you care or not I guess, but that there, that’s black and white. You care, or you don’t. You feel bad, or you don’t. Can’t half-ass that.” He deflated a bit afterward, taking another swig from his bottle.
Aziraphale frowned, still unsure of it all. “You just…know?”
“Or you know and you don’t want to think about it so you pretend you don’t know.” Crowley ran a hand through his hair, shrugging his shoulders up to his ears. “Anyway, wouldn’t know anything about it. It’s no regret city here in the demon’s den. Never guilty a day in my life. It’s in the job description.”
He wasn’t drunk enough to be able to overlook the blatant lie, but Aziraphale figured it would be better if he didn’t mention it anyway. The words swam dizzily around his head, left for later, and they moved on. Aziraphale brought out the scrap of singed prophecy he’d grabbed back at the airbase and they started coming up with theories about it.
That was about as far as his memory managed to last before things started slipping away. He awoke the next morning with an unpleasant crick in his neck to find that he’d put himself in the unfortunate position of moving from drunk to hungover. He would have been more surprised, not really being one for finding sleep a necessary process, but yesterday had been a lot. His soul was immortal but his brain was, more or less, human and sometimes a bit of rest did it well.
He waved his hand in an attempt to get rid of his headache and found that he could still perform miracles to some degree because it quickly dissipated. He sat up and slowly began to recall this and that. He glanced around and found the floor scattered with paper, crumpled and striped with ink taking the form of something vaguely like writing. He bent to pick up the one nearest his feet and found Crowley was still asleep laid out face-down across four or so beanbags. (Perhaps that was why he had so many.) It didn’t look comfortable but it was probably better than sleeping on the floor.
Aziraphale scanned the paper, figuring it would be amusing at least. Miraculously they’d made it till morning which meant they had time to actually riddle out what the prophecy meant. However, at the bottom of the paper he found something circled far too many times. He squinted to make out the tight, messy script (Crowley’s doing, no doubt). He read it once, then twice, then fumbled for the prophecy. Found it shoved back in his coat pocket, luckily. Read it once, twice, thrice—back to the paper.
He ran a hand through his hair. Still capable of miracles indeed. He needed to wake Crowley. They had work to do.
A couple of days later, Aziraphale was relieved to find that by the luck of God, or Lucifer, or someone else entirely, plus a bit of liquor-based thinking, he and Crowley had managed to survive their respective trials and punishments for one another, and were back on earth again all in one piece. He could still hardly believe it even as he ran his fingers around the cool stem of his champagne flute and awaited the food he’d ordered in celebration.
He couldn’t seem to keep from smiling—at the other patrons, at Crowley who was seated next to him, not having ordered anything but sipping at his drink steadily enough, at the very walls of the Ritz all around them. The bookstore was back in almost mint-condition, they’d successfully avoided Armageddon, and they hadn’t been painfully snuffed out of existence by their respective ethereal agencies. He knew sooner than later he’d begin to have new concerns, but for now all was well and he couldn’t help but indulge in a bit of optimism just this once.
It should be noted that this was still during the period of time in which Aziraphale had yet to notice the extremely obvious, rather important thing hovering around right under his nose (as it had been for an embarrassingly large number of millennia), but he thought here he might have to be excused. Happiness, while enjoyable, could be quite a self-centered emotion in certain circumstances.
Moreover, Crowley was acting normal enough and had even toasted to the world earlier. He’d always been the more optimistic of the two of them anyway, so Aziraphale figured if he felt as light as he did Crowley must be up among the stars. Something within him twitched uncomfortably at the thought, but he ignored it.
They spoke about their respective experiences as well as nothing in particular until the food came. Crowley ordered another drink and Aziraphale dug in. He couldn’t help but release a contented noise as he did (partly because that morning he hadn’t been sure if he’d ever be able to experience humans’ culinary ingenuity again and partly because the food here was just so delicious). The brightness of this place and humanity all around him and a future still to come, well, certainly it couldn’t be better than this, could it?
As he chewed he glanced over at Crowley who was giving him something of a consternated look. He thought it was probably because the demon had never taken much pleasure in food, although he did partake from time to time when pressed. “What are your plans?” Aziraphale asked, hoping to give him something else to think about and genuinely curious. “Now that everything has settled somewhat.”
Crowley shook himself and fiddled with the fork he wasn’t using. “Dunno. Hadn’t thought about it much. Might take the Bentley out for a spin. You?”
Aziraphale chewed thoughtfully. He’d been trying not to think about it much in case something went horribly wrong, but he had a great deal of ideas. First of all, however, he knew he ought to, as mentioned, take some time to think it all through and get some of the initial worrying he knew would strike at some point over with. He expected he’d get to it after this and went to tell Crowley as much but the demon was already continuing without him.
“I suppose we could do stuff now without having to worry so much about being immolated over it, you know, you and me,” Crowley pointed out, nonchalant until he rushed into his next sentence. “Wouldn’t have to be anything much. Feed some of those blasted ducks in the park. Ride that big, silly circle thing over by the South Bank. Not suggesting we pick up and go off to the other side of the world or anything.”
(That in hindsight, Aziraphale had to admit, was a bit too obvious to excuse having not noticed.)
Aziraphale blinked at him. He had a point, and he had to admit that it would be nice to not sneak around so much anymore. He also thought that this had to be Crowley being revealingly kind again. Surely the last thing the other being would want to do after finally being granted something like freedom was hang around Aziraphale. He’d been doing that for the last 6000 years after all. Aziraphale thought he ought to let him off the hook sooner than later. It would work out well that his own plans were solitary.
“That is true,” he agreed. “I’m sure we’ll get around to that at some point. But I actually had been thinking of what I wanted to do, at least at first.” He drug his feet for a moment pushing some noodles around his plate. Crowley sometimes got offended when he deflected his attempts to be considerate, although Heaven knew he’d go to the grave denying it, so he wanted to be careful when he responded. “I suspect you’ll already know what I mean. I’d…meant to tell you at some point today anyway.”
Abruptly Crowley sat straight up in his chair from where he’d been slumped in it before, causing it to screech briefly as it was pushed back a bit. Aziraphale looked up at noise from where he’d been seeking solace in his place setting. “Crowley? Are you quite alright?”
Crowley coughed and pulled his chair back in a couple inches, sitting back again. If he didn’t know better Aziraphale would have sworn there was some pink on his cheeks. “Yep, all good here. Nothing to worry about whatsoever.”
Aziraphale doubted that was the case but he knew from experience that dragging things out of Crowley tended to ruin otherwise perfectly good days so he let him be for now. “Alright. Well, I’d just wanted to inform you that I’ll probably be closing up the bookstore for a while and…taking some time for myself. You know how I get after things like this, so I figure I ought to lean into it, you know? Take it in stride. I’ll still be around, of course, and you can ring me if something comes up.”
Crowley’s smile grew very tight and his fingers curled around the edge of the table. He sat up again, slower this time and reached for his drink. “Right. Of course. Life of the party, aren’t you? Miraculously avoid death and the end of the world and the first thing you want to do is lock yourself in with a bunch of musty old books and stare at a wall alone for a few good weeks. It’s the obvious choice, now that I think about it.” He downed what was left in his cup in a few long swallows.
Aziraphale hurried to backpedal. Apparently his phrasing had still been too pointed. “Crowley, I wasn’t trying to offend you—”
“What’s to offend?” he asked, too loud for where they were, standing up from the table abruptly and digging his keys out of his pocket. “You want to go wallow in thine holy musings same as always, that’s your issue. Got nothing to do with me.” And then he was walking out of the restaurant, ignoring the stares of the other diners, a blur of black leather amongst so much white and tan.
“Crowley!” Aziraphale called after him, exasperated. He huffed, magicking up some money to leave on the table and hurrying off after him. Crowley was right. Some things really didn’t change.
He caught him outside in the process of unlocking the Bentley. “Crowley! You didn’t have to storm out like that.”
He couldn’t see Crowley rolling his eyes but he could feel it from his posture. “Got anything interesting to say to me or can I go?”
“Why are you upset? It’s been like this for longer than I dare remember. I thought you’d be, well, as content as you can be with everything sliding back into place.”
Crowley stared at him for a few long moments saying nothing which was somehow so much worse than him shouting back. “We can’t all be as complacent with how things are as you, angel,” he finally replied, much softer than before. He wrenched the door open and waved a hand over it. “See you whenever.”
And with that the Bentley went tearing off down the road, almost hitting approximately three pedestrians and a fire hydrant before swinging around a corner out of sight. Aziraphale stood frozen for a period of time, trying to brush off what Crowley had said. There was nothing wrong with wanting things to be peaceful. He’d get over whatever it was that had upset him at some point.
In the meantime, Aziraphale turned and began his walk back to the bookshop, telling himself that this would blow over like so many of Crowley’s outbursts before. The sky was a rare combination of clear and blue and life was all around him, and he thought that should help him to reposition his mood.
It didn’t work out, of course, because the world, like both of them and everything else in it, was not prone to change without effort.
Time went on as it always did. Aziraphale closed the bookshop and took time to read and think and write and watch the colors of the days pass by outside his windows, pulled along by the constant waves of passerbys. After a week or so he ventured out, wandering along familiar paths and unfamiliar ones, the green of the park and the grey-brown cobblestone of various side streets. He walked among the people and no one thought anything of it. He looked up to the Heavens now and again, but all was quiet.
It seemed that things really were going to be okay after all. He stayed out one night late enough to watch the moon rise and wondered if he’d ever find his way back Up There again. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to, although there was something to be said for losing what you thought was your home and your identity for ever so long. Sure, it was full of war-hungry fools for the most part, but he’d always had a place to return to in it through the eons and across countries and over lifetimes.
And now he didn’t. There was the bookshop, but no building lasted forever. He knew that well enough. In the meantime, he supposed he’d have to step out into all this newness that had always been there, but which was alien to him and find something for himself amongst it. The notion made him feel nervous and so he’d headed back inside.
He spent the night digging through his shelves, picking up whatever caught his eye. Finding something so stable in life as Heaven and his role in the Host had been to him was rare, even in literature. To many people it was their nation or their countrymen, both of which were a bit out of the question for him. Others rejected the idea of having that kind of rock to cling to, but Aziraphale doubted he would ever be among them. Complacent or not, he didn’t like the idea of things being ephemeral, at least not all of them.
It was part of the reason he liked books. Once written, they were as they were. He could return to them whenever he wanted and not have to worry about finding some new strange chapter that changed the whole story. He would always have them, he knew, and perhaps even his role as a bookkeeper, and that was something. Some people did cling to work, but he’d found that wasn’t very motivating after a few centuries and he enjoyed the books as a hobby more than anything else.
Others clung to their families because there was no changing bloodlines or out of genuine love for one another. What a strange bond that was, to know that the others would be there whether you hated them or cared for them, sometimes separate and then rejoining some generations later like two clocks vacillating in and out of sync. Took the choice out of things a bit, but also helped with the whole other-person-deciding-to-up-and-leave thing. Even when they were gone, they weren’t really gone.
Aziraphale closed the book in his hands. He ran his thumb over the title: Pride and Prejudice. What an interesting family. In fairness, he knew that new families could be started from a slightly different sort of bond, but he didn’t think he’d known where to begin with that.
He sighed, feeling the increasingly familiar hollowness in his chest that was loneliness. He knew it was rather counterproductive to cling to the one thing from his old life that was still around, but he couldn’t help it. So the next morning he finally picked up his phone and rung Crowley.
There hadn’t been so much as a peep from him over the past week which wasn’t particularly unexpected. Aziraphale often was the one to reach back out after a tiff. Not always, but for the small ones, fairly often. And it usually worked. Crowley’s dramatics were, well, dramatic, but short-lived. He had bigger things to worry about now anyway, same as Aziraphale. He thought they might even be able to talk it over together.
In the end, however, he was the one with the thwarted efforts. Crowley didn’t pick up that day, or the day after, or several days after that. Aziraphale began to grow concerned, but he also didn’t want to intrude on Crowley’s freedom. For all he knew, the demon could be halfway across the world or off in the stars. He wandered sometimes, not as much as he used to, but instinctively nonetheless. It was disappointing somehow to think about, but there wasn’t much he could do.
He began to reopen the shop now and again. He opened a few windows to let the late spring air drift in and saw a few regulars who’d been allowed to stick around because they knew better than to ask to buy anything, using the place as a library more than anything else and always being gentle with the books. Aziraphale poked through some of the new books Adam had left for him and wondered if he ought to call Anathema who’d been kind enough to give him her number and see how everyone was doing.
It all made him feel a bit better, but that was nothing compared to one night a few days more after he’d restarted his routine right after closing. The bell jingled as the front door opened and he went to call that the store was closed, thank you very much, and found Crowley standing in the doorway, looking about the same as always.
Aziraphale couldn’t help his gasp of surprise. “Crowley!” He approached without thinking, moving until they were at a reasonable distance to hold a conversation. “You hadn’t been answering my calls so I thought it might be a while before I saw you again. How have you been?”
Crowley shrugged, digging his hands deeper into his pockets. “You know. Same as always I guess.”
Aziraphale sort of doubted it but knew he’d answer the same if asked. “Ah, that’s good to hear. What have you been up to?”
“Same as you I suppose. Took some time off from it all. Slept a while then got back to it.”
Aziraphale was unsure what “it” was exactly, but he supposed he’d never really known what all Crowley got up to in his free time. “Not….tempting anyone are you?”
That drew a small grin from Crowley. “And if I was? I’ve got free-will now, angel, nothing you can do about it.”
“Nothing but lecture you about morality,” Aziraphale said, not really planning on it. He was just glad to hear his usual pattern of response, to see him and be near him again. To know not everything was different.
“Bah.” Crowley waved a hand. “You wouldn’t waste your time.”
Aziraphale laughed, happy to be known, happy to be familiar. Twilight spread out across the bookshop, filtering in between them and he thought that maybe this was what he needed to turn things back off their heads again. It felt stilted, but that would dissipate with time as it was prone to doing.
“Dinner?” Crowley asked after a pause and Aziraphale was eager to acquiesce.
Things slotted back into place somewhat after that, or they did so in appearance. Summer approached promising to be hot and sticky, and Aziraphale saw Crowley every few days or so.
Nice as it was at first to have someone to talk to and to be around his friend again, Aziraphale could sense that something wasn’t quite right. At first he thought it might just be the whole “the world almost ended and we both about not only died but had our very existences eviscerated but now here we are same as before” thing but, even if that was present, it wasn’t the main issue. That feeling of massive change fading back into peaceful banality skirted around the edges of the room, but it was quiet. No, whatever this was, it was loud enough for even Aziraphale, who had been known to misread a room before, to notice.
Aziraphale felt settled after his time considering all that had happened, so he thought it must be Crowley. He was acting normal enough. After you knew someone for 6000 years there wasn’t a lot you could to do surprise them. They fell into a routine, a pair of actors who’d been doing the same show for their entire lives with only one another, and Crowley was good at it. But tedious as it might have seemed, it never got boring, not with Crowley, and it always felt natural.
Aziraphale could tell Crowley was acting the way he thought he was supposed to act. He made jokes and leered and drove the Bentley around too fast and even laughed on occasion but it felt like a mask. There was something hidden underneath, but Aziraphale couldn’t for the life of him figure out what it was. This was particularly concerning because it meant that Crowley was trying very hard to keep it hidden.
It wasn’t as if the other being was particularly forthcoming on certain, more personal topics, but he certainly didn’t shy away from confrontation. If he had something on his mind, be it something between them or something Aziraphale knew nothing about, he was bound to come out with it sooner than later. Sometimes he did seem to want Aziraphale to ask him about it, prompt him, and enjoyed making a bit of a show out of resisting (very briefly) before launching into it. That wasn’t it either.
After he’d noticed, Aziraphale had tried on several different occasions to prod Crowley into telling him if something was wrong, or if he had something he wanted to discuss, and he hadn’t budged an inch. It’d begun to irritate him after a while to the point where he started getting up and leaving if he noticed Aziraphale trying it, so he pulled back for the time being. He went back to trying to figure it out on his own which was a fool’s errand. Crowley was very open about things (to the point where he was too open about certain things (Aziraphale really would rather have not known about that one time back in Wales with the priest and the goats and the—well, he daren’t think of it even now)) until he wasn’t. Compensation, Aziraphale supposed, and misdirection.
He just didn’t see why, if it wasn’t something between them, Crowley wouldn’t tell him. In the past if couldn’t say anything he’d at least wave his hand and say “Work stuff” and they could move on. So it must be between them, but what about? It could be quite literally anything. Aziraphale was also nervous to broach the topic after last time he’d said something wrong back at the Ritz. He had a strange feeling that, even after all this time, or maybe especially, the friendship between them could be broken, and that it was more at risk for shattering now than it ever had been.
With too many options and too much at stake to begin trying things randomly, Aziraphale felt stuck.
The only thing he knew for sure was that Crowley was tired. Whatever he normally did to rest, he wasn’t doing it. Aziraphale hadn’t seen him without his sunglasses much recently and even then it was only for a brief moment so he could clean the lenses, but that small bit of time was enough to see circles clinging underneath his eyes that hadn’t been there before. It wasn’t helping either of them seeing how being tired made Crowley more irritable and less open than usual, and the fact that whatever this was was actually affecting Crowley’s health made Aziraphale feel desperate.
He was sitting in his shop one late afternoon, thinking about it, as he often was nowadays, spinning a pencil between his fingers. The light was turning from gold to amber, shifting smoothly from the brightness of the day to the warmer, ambient time of late afternoon. He looked outside to watch the traffic move, and thought, rather off topic, that he might like to take some time away from the city when he could. Summer was turning out to be so lovely this year.
Minor distractions aside, Aziraphale felt he had three options:
1. Go on acting like this was completely fine and never mention it. Hope things just turned out alright
Pros: very safe which he liked, doable
Cons: it would drive him insane to pretend like everything was fine and one day he’d certainly snap and it wouldn’t be at all planned and—no, 1 wasn’t a realistic option at all.
2. Confront Crowley directly about it and demand an answer
Cons: Confront Crowley
3. Try to get Crowley in a state where he would just bring it up himself eventually
Pros: The only semi-realistic option
Cons: well, he would feel bad about it.
He didn’t really want to get Crowley drunk to pull this out of him. It seemed manipulative and not the sort of thing he’d want done to himself. Unfortunately, he was about out of options and when he’d asked earlier that day Crowley hadn’t seen the invitation for what it was and had accepted.
At least, Aziraphale thought, replacing his pencil in the cup with the other writing utensils, after tonight it might be over and done with. He could figure out what was wrong and fix it and things would get better. Wouldn’t they?
Crowley arrived relatively on time, sweeping in as the sun stepped out for the evening. He followed Aziraphale up to the flat on top of the store easily enough and simply starting drinking when offered.
The good part of this plan (well, the other good part) was that drinking with Crowley was always fun. The wine took some of the sharpness recently gained by the other man and smoothed it out. Aziraphale wanted to be good and sure that Crowley was out of it enough to not immediately lash out so he carried on like he normally would for a good long while.
In the meantime, the night crowded in around them and shadows shifted on the walls as if giving the two of them space. Crowley sprawled further and further across the sofa, the curvature of his spine going almost serpentine. Four and a half bottles of wine found themselves emptied of their contents and it seemed like it was about time for Aziraphale to do what he’d come here to. He’d been surreptitiously dispensing of the majority of his glasses of wine after at the first bottle and a half so as to stay cognizant. Luckily Crowley didn’t seem to notice at first and then wasn’t about to notice anything not directly presented to him.
“What d’you suppose they’re doing now?” Crowley slurred, almost sloshing the wine in his glass onto Aziraphale’s carpet. (Aziraphale fought back a wince. It was a sacrifice he was willing to make.) “You know, those guys—” He pointed down and then up. “—and them?”
Aziraphale wondered the same thing. They’d discussed it briefly on and off, and neither of them had much of a clue. “They might be waiting for a second Armageddon. I’ve read about certain doomsday cults which anticipate a certain date then, when nothing occurs, simply move onto the next. They don’t stop believing, just call it a clerical error. Fascinating, isn’t it? Not that I’m calling Heaven a cult.” He glanced suspiciously upwards.
“Ehh, might be. Little cult-y, that place there. Kicks you into a burning pit of sulfur if you break even one of their rules, won’t let you talk to anyone outside the cult unless you want to be thrown into a big vortex of infernal fire... Hell’s more like a shitty business compared to that place,” Crowley mused. “Might just up and attack one day. Might get bored of waiting for Her to get around to it and kick things off themselves. Might want to call that bicycle witch, see if she can make up her own prophecies…”
Aziraphale shuddered at the thought of not being able to remotely anticipate The End, but thought Crowley actually had a point. He’d been wanting to contact Anathema for a while now and still hadn’t gotten around to it. Sadly, that coherence made him think he wasn’t as close as he’d thought.
Crowley abruptly squashed that worry by plucking his glasses off his face and setting them aside, revealing the shocks of gold that were his irises before he rubbed a hand over his face and covered them. Aziraphale metaphorically sat forward in his seat. It seemed the hour was upon them.
“Don’t know why I’m talking about that anyway,” he muttered. “S’not them I care about.”
Aziraphale nodded. “We don’t have to talk about that right now.” There, this would be a good time to change the subject, although he wasn’t sure exactly how to go about that. He’d been thinking on this for a while, but he was never sure how to bring this sort of thing up with Crowley. Usually he just went with whatever came to mind, which was inconvenient as his mind chose that moment to stall out entirely.
Fortunately, for some reason drunk-Crowley was a better ally than his own brain. “It’s just all this end of the world stuff, or beginning, whatever. Feels like you have this picture of how it ought to go down. Ah, there’s the burning crosses and the sea’s bubbling like anything, you might say. Here comes the Heavenly Host to slice us all up like deli meats. But then that doesn’t happen and you go, ah well, that’s probably for the best. Still, half an Armageddon is different from no Armageddon. Got to deal with the consequences of that, you think, stupidly.”
Aziraphale blinked, trying to decipher what exactly Crowley was getting at other than the general discomfort of seeing a planet on the verge of extinction snap back to acting like it never happened. “But that’s not what happened…?” he prompted, unsure if he was headed in the right direction and hoping, even if he wasn’t, that was vague enough to get him to keep talking.
Crowley shook his head. “No consequences. No good ones, no bad ones. It’s driving me crazy.” He sighed heavily, staring up at the ceiling, suddenly lying still. “I just….I thought things would be different, you know?”
They were certainly getting somewhere, but unfortunately Aziraphale still didn’t understand the premise of all this. “They are different, Crowley,” he pointed out, trying to be gentle about it. “The world’s still here for one.”
“No they aren’t,” Crowley growled, sitting up unsteadily to look more directly at Aziraphale who froze where he was. “Nothing’s different. Nothing that matters at least. Everything’s the same as it always was. We’re just the only ones who know it.”
“Well, isn’t that good? You have the Bentley back, I have my bookshop. We’re freer now than we’ve ever been.”
“That’s the hell of it! Of course I’m glad the world didn’t get blown to smithereens by 20 million self-righteous, lunatic supernatural beings but that’s not—” he huffed, losing track of his words as he was wont to do when too drunk to stand straight. “It’s not—I mean, it doesn’t…it doesn’t matter.”
Something in Aziraphale’s chest ached at the way Crowley’s face had fallen. He looked as though he was on the verge of giving up at something completely, staring off into the ground. He looked exhausted, like the weight of 6000 years of life was suddenly weighing down upon him at once. Simpler than that, he looked distraught. Not just like he’d given up, but like he’d given something up.
Aziraphale swallowed hard, gripping onto his knees. Things had escalated rather more quickly than he’d anticipated. He thought he’d get anger, resentment, maybe even fear, so to be blindsided by this was unbearable. “I’m afraid you’ve lost me.”
Crowley didn’t seem to be listening to him any longer, speaking into the night as if he wasn’t there. Aziraphale supposed that was the point, but it didn’t make him feel any better. “And the even worser of it is for a bit I thought things had changed. I thought, ‘Crowley, this is it. You’ve been waiting 6000 years and it was finally all worth it. Nice job with that one. Longest con in the history of cons right there. Maybe patience isn’t an enormous waste of time after all.’” He sighed and allowed himself to slip off the edge of the couch and onto the floor. “It was different, I swear it was…you didn’t want to go with me and then you did. It was—it was different, I felt it.” He swallowed hard. “But it was just me. It’s always just me. Same old, bollocks-for-brains flash bastard putting the—you know, the whatsit before the carriage. Animal. Tall, clopping thing—never mind. Point is it’s just me falling again, like always.”
“And sometimes I think I see a bridge across the way finally or else I just want to see what’s there. Just want to know if there’s even anything on the other side, that’s all. But I can never tell. Just know I couldn’t live with myself if there was something and I went off without it.” He shook his head, strangely lucid for a few short seconds. “Nothing’s different, angel. Never is. I’m starting to think it never will be.”
Aziraphale couldn’t do anything for a small collection of moments. A few things began to fit together in his mind, but it was guilt more than anything else that rushed through him. He knew it then. He knew he’d done something wrong. He knew that he’d hurt someone. He knew that he’d hurt Crowley.
The feeling intensified went he swore he could see an abnormal shine to Crowley’s eyes, like cutting open a lemon with a cut on your hand, and only grew stronger when Crowley did move to swipe at them. Aziraphale couldn’t help but move then, sobering up in a second and then dropping down onto the floor, moving until they were side-by-side. Normally he wouldn’t dare try to touch Crowley for more than a few seconds and even then only casually, but he was moving on instinct, attempting emotional triage as best as he knew how.
He wrapped his arms around Crowley who was shaking and hardly sitting upright and pulled him into his chest. Crowley moved after a moment and Aziraphale braced himself to pushed away, but all that happened was warm, thin hands pressed into his back and Crowley leaned further into him. His hold tightened until Aziraphale felt that if he had to breathe he might be struggling. As it was, all he did was hold him in return, running a steadying hand up and down the length of his spine, feeling the knobs of it easily through his shirt.
Crowley was warm and solid in his arms and he dug his fingers into the back of Aziraphale’s jacket and got his lapel wet. Like a summer shower, the worst of it didn’t last long. His sorrow swelled and withdrew, quick as it had come, leaving only puddles in its wake. Aziraphale realized soon enough that Crowley had fallen asleep or at least fallen unconscious in his arms.
He let out a shaky breath of his own and held him for longer than was entirely necessary, just to take in the smell of him and the feel of the fabric of his shirt and the solidity of his skin. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d hugged Crowley, or if he ever had.
He’d thought he wouldn’t have liked it or wanted it, but it certainly seemed like he’d been wrong quite a bit as of late and perhaps for some time.
Aziraphale could still feel the ghost of Crowley’s fingers digging into his back after he moved him back up onto the couch and laid a blanket over top of him. He felt in a state of shock as he nipped down to the shop briefly to grab something to page through while he kept watch over his friend. He wandered around the shadowy nooks between shelves and pulled something at random when he thought he was taking too long.
Back upstairs he miracled himself a cup of tea, not wanting the screech of the kettle to wake Crowley, and settled in with something called a “self-help” book. He’d grabbed it on a whim and hadn’t thought much of it, but now he thought it might do him some good after all.
Aziraphale wasn’t sure whether or not he hoped Crowley would remember the night’s events. He couldn’t predict what on earth might happen if he did remember. He might ignore it completely, lash out, disappear for weeks again, or any other number of things. Even if he did remember he might pretend to not.
The last one worried Aziraphale a bit, but he didn’t think it would ultimately affect his general plan going forward. He’d read and thought a great deal all through the night and now into the late morning. Crowley was still sleeping soundly, occasionally making funny sounds that Aziraphale thought might be snoring. Rather than go down to open the shop he’d brought up a new armful of books and maps with him and sat at his kitchen table, waiting.
Admittedly he was nervous about all of this, but he knew he had to do something to make amends. He loved Crowley, had for quite a while now, but he’d shrouded those feelings for the sake of both of their safety (not that that’d worked out, but not for trying). He’d certainly felt the burden of secrecy lifted off him somewhat after everything that had—and hadn’t—happened, and was being, in his opinion, exponentially more flippant about their association than he’d ever been before.
It seemed that Crowley wanted something more, however, and had for a long time. Love being so multi-faceted and ambiguous could be a bit difficult when you were taught from the start of existence to have equal love for all God’s creatures. Friendship, companionship, brotherhood—it wasn’t so difficult to hop from agape to fraternity and Aziraphale felt he’d made the jump well enough. Anything beyond that though, well, he simply hadn’t thought of it.
Until a bit more than a decade ago his sole mission had been to carry out his angelic duties, and since then he’d been doing his very best to help avert the end of the world, which didn’t leave much time for pondering his “personal life.” He’d never imagined himself in a position to have one—had been made that way in the first place—and so there was nothing to miss even after his newfound freedom.
It seemed things were different for Crowley. That didn’t surprise Aziraphale too much. Things were always different for Crowley.
When he thought about it now, Aziraphale was relieved to find he didn’t feel nothing. When he thought about it and looked over at Crowley, the lines of his face softer than usual, the red mess of his hair drooping down onto the couch cushion, he felt something stir in his stomach. It was small, like the bud of a seed not quite ready to burst free from the ground, but it was there.
He wasn’t sure if that was the right feeling or not. He’d read millions of books on love over the years, countless descriptions, vague and in-depth, beautiful and tragic, but it was one of those few things the written word couldn’t do justice. It would be, he thought, rather like trying to describe the feeling of biting into a warm crepe from his favorite bakery. It was a fruitless task.
So he was unprepared which he disliked, but if nothing else he could try. He knew the general motions, the gist per se, and maybe that would be enough. He would try at the very least. He would try for Crowley.
Crowley groaned himself awake a bit before noon. The table and part of the floor of the loft were covered in books and papers as a result of Aziraphale’s work, and there hadn’t been any knocking by customers who chose not to read his sign on the door of the shop in quite a while now.
He went to sit up but almost immediately sank back, clutching at his head and wincing. “Hell, it’s bright in here…”
“Good morning,” Aziraphale called. “Seems you had a bit too much last night and fell asleep. If I were you, I’d do myself a favor and get rid of the headache now.”
Crowley waved a hand at nothing in particular and stopped holding his head quite so tightly. “Again? You let me fall asleep drunk for the second time in a month? If you’re peeved about something I did, do me a favor and just tell me directly next time.” He lurched up into a sitting position, still rubbing at his eyes, and pushed the blanket off onto the floor.
“If you recall, there was nothing I could do about it last time, being in a similar state,” Aziraphale pointed out, waving a hand at the few blinds he’d opened so that they closed again, darkening the room. “I simply didn’t want to wake you. I thought it would be rude.”
Crowley huffed at him, distracted by looking around for something. “Then you ought to know how it feels! It’d be rude any other time but in that sort of situation it’s practically passive aggressive.” He continued to dig around the couch, growing more frantic, and Aziraphale realized what he might want.
He stood and came nearer while Crowley continued to complain. “Politeness isn’t an excuse. It’s never an excuse, especially not with me, least of all now. I mean—”
Aziraphale sat gingerly next to him, leaving space but perhaps not as much as he usually would, and held out his sunglasses, neatly folded and kept safe in his pocket for this moment. Crowley fell silent and took them, muttering something that sounded vaguely grateful. He slid them back on and Aziraphale sighed, looking down at his hands.
“I’m sorry, Crowley. It was just…you’ve seemed tired recently. I thought you might not be getting enough sleep.” He forced himself to raise his eyes and look at him while he spoke. “I know waking up isn’t pleasant, but either of us could wave the symptoms away and I thought if the wine could help you get a solid night’s rest…” He shrugged, feeling a bit guilty. This was technically his fault after all. “I was worried is all.”
Crowley shifted next to him, looking down at where he was holding onto the edge of the couch cushion. He cleared his throat and pretended to be fiddling with his watch. “I’m alright, angel. Don’t waste your good-will worrying about me.” A pause, and then, “Did we come up with any other life-altering solutions to any riddles last night?”
Aziraphale allowed himself to relax slightly and give a small smile at the memory. “I’m afraid that was a once in a life-time feat. I believe last night we mostly spent our time arguing over the humans’ latest astrological discoveries and their naming of them.” The lie didn’t feel good, but it was easy enough to let slide off his tongue.
Crowley hummed. “Give us another six millennia or so. I bet we could do it again.”
Aziraphale tilted his head sportingly and allowed another bout of silence to settle between them. He looked Crowley over meanwhile, trying to tell if there was anything he wanted to say or if he didn’t believe him. It was relatively pointless since he could only read Crowley about half of the time when he didn’t want to be read. All he achieved was causing Crowley to begin shifting restlessly again.
One more beat and still nothing. Well, nothing to do but move on in that case. “Tea?” Aziraphale suggested.
Crowley sat quietly at the end of the table while he nursed his way through his first cup. Aziraphale sat in the chair next to him and returned to his task, sipping slowly enough that his tea began to get cold and had to be urged to hold a semi-respectable temperature.
“What’s all this?” Crowley asked, setting his cup down and peering around the apartment. “A book fall apart on you? There’s a few down there that look like they’d burst apart if you so much as breathed on them so it wouldn’t surprise me.”
Aziraphale resisted the urge to digress and instead took the opportunity to bring it up as casually as possible. “Fortunately, no. I’m actually planning a trip.”
Crowley’s brow furrowed above his glasses. “A trip? You? To where? I thought you’d found a crepe place in London.”
“I have, although their fillings occasionally leave something to be desired.” Aziraphale mentally shook himself. No distractions. Get to the point. “I just wanted to get out of the city for a short while after everything that’s happened. Thought I’d nip out to the countryside for a day or two. The days have been so mild lately and there ought to still be some flowers in bloom.”
Crowley sat back in his chair, looking calculating. “Ah. Got it. Makes sense. Guess almost-Armageddon can make people do some crazy things. It can get you out of Soho, for example.”
Aziraphale ignored him. It was true he was something of a homebody, but he was hardly against travel from time to time. “I think I’ve found just the place. Right near a forest, little creek…”
“How exactly do you plan to get there?” Crowley asked, leaning forward now to catch a glimpse of the map Aziraphale had marked up. “Don’t think that’s near any bus stations.”
The statement was leading. Aziraphale felt proud for having caught it but also aware that he surely wouldn’t have noticed it last week. Would have thought this was just Crowley asking questions, as he was wont to do. “I was wondering if you might like to come along with me?” he blurted, forcing himself to be out with it already. “That would solve the transportation problem well enough.”
Crowley froze, opening his mouth and then closing it. He rocked back into his seat. Aziraphale waited patiently—and nervously—for him to say something. Slowly but surely his expression shifted, but not the direction Aziraphale might have hoped or guessed. Instead, he looked slightly suspicious. “You’re asking me so you can weasel a free ride out of it?”
Aziraphale blinked and then hurried to correct himself. He could see now how that could have been misread and it was the last thing he wanted. He did not want Crowley to think he was only asking him along to be polite. “Not at all!” It seemed he was going to have to try his hand at this earlier than he’d thought. Beating around the bush wouldn’t cut it right now. “I…would like it if you’d join me. I think it would be enjoyable.” Crowley still wasn’t budging as much as he would have liked, so he grew just a bit more reckless. “I think I owe you a raincheck. After Alpha Centauri and all.”
Finally the demon’s expression softened and he looked down at the table. “’suppose that’s better than wanting me along for my car—which I was only kidding about. That’s not—you don’t need to. You should go and enjoy your trees and whatnot. I don’t even like trees all that much. Far too tall, drop insects on your head, terrible in a thunderstorm. I’ll still drive you if you like. I just won’t stick around after.”
Aziraphale frowned, honestly disappointed. He wondered when things had gotten to this point. Was it because of the non-apocalypse? Or were the chains Crowley had on himself there even before? Without thinking much of it he reached out to touch Crowley’s wrist, pressing his fingers to it. “Please, Crowley. I’m not asking out of guilt. Please come with me. I want you there or—or I won’t go at all.”
Crowley looked down at the point of contact and Aziraphale could feel the tendons in his wrist jump but he didn’t move otherwise. At least until Aziraphale ran his thumb thoughtlessly over the one of the bones that stuck out there, curious. Then he pulled his hand back and sighed heavily, letting his head fall back. “Fine. I’ll tag along. Wouldn’t want you to miss out on the grass this time of year. I hear it’s quite green.”
He sounded put-upon and normally Aziraphale might have pulled back, but not today. Today he held his ground and smiled. “Wonderful! How would you feel about leaving tomorrow?”
It took a bit of persuasion but eventually Crowley agreed (again) and was actually waiting outside the shop in the Bentley in the hazy grey of the next morning. Aziraphale was a little concerned that England had decided to be done with sunny days on the precise day they set off, but as they drove along the sun split through the clouds, burning the grey away until only pale blue was left.
Crowley griped about the early morning departure but Aziraphale thought it was for the best for two reasons: the first being that there wasn’t quite as much traffic so the probability of them actually hitting anyone was decreased by a small percentage and the second being that he was impatient. He’d wasted enough time as it was misunderstanding things, and he wasn’t sure how long it would take him to get this right now that he’d begun, so he supposed he ought to start as early as possible. (A third, unvoiced reason was that England could very well decide at any moment that it was quite through with summer and they wouldn’t see the sun again for weeks.)
He was, however, trying very hard not to think of the second reason because it only made him aware that he had no idea how all of this was supposed to go or the steps that should be taken. For once Crowley’s driving was of use as enough of a distraction to keep his mind generally off it. (On the other hand it meant they would get there sooner but well, if Aziraphale let his mind run on like that he’d be a mess before nine and that wouldn’t do.)
Whether he was prepared or not, quickly than perhaps was safe, they left the city behind, shrinking slowly in the distance until was nothing more than a glimmer of modernity in the back of their minds. Green replaced it soon enough and Aziraphale found that the land was very much in bloom. Flowers of all colors gathered along the sides of the road and stretched off into the occasional field full of them. He wondered if someone had planted them or if they’d just ended up that way, all swaying together.
Crowley changed CDs a couple of times and, although they seemed to be different, they looped the same sounding songs over and over. Aziraphale didn’t mind. It was peaceful enough, the silence between them missing the tension it’d begun to hold recently for the time being. They drove further and further out, and then a bit further for good measure until there was nothing around them but farms, and they saw approximately one other car every once in a while.
“Almost there,” Aziraphale noted. “Turn right up here.”
Crowley did as he was told, but grumbled, “Where exactly are we headed? There’s nothing over here that would be marked on a map. Did you just pick a big white blank area and choose that?”
The Bentley bumped along the unpaved road and Crowley—for the first time in quite a while—by choice slowed down to a near crawl, wincing. Aziraphale felt a bit bad. He had almost lost it not so long ago, but he also knew driving it over some bumps wouldn’t cause it to explode, or anything else they couldn’t fix.
“There’s a forest up here actually,” Aziraphale replied. “But I did try to choose an area not near anything else in particular. When I said I wanted to get away I did mean away.”
“So away in the sense of the middle of absolutely nowhere.”
“Well, yes, I suppose.”
Crowley sighed, but Aziraphale ignored him as the forest rose into view. Soon after the road came to a rather abrupt end. There were tire tracks that went off further into the field in front of them but there wasn’t a road proper. The car came to a stop and Crowley put it in park. “Here we are. Near absolutely, bloody nothing, as requested.”
“Come on now.” Aziraphale pushed the door open and climbed out, pleased immediately by the sweet, clear scent of the air and the quiet all around them. The city was very nice, but he did miss this sometimes. He wondered if they might even be able to see stars that night.
“Am I meant to just leave my car here? Out in the sun?” Crowley complained from where he was climbing his way out of the driver’s seat.
“Crowley, you park on the street. It’s out in the sun all the time. I think it’ll be fine. You could change the way it looks if you don’t want it sitting out as it is.”
Crowley frowned. “I couldn’t do that. That’d be disrespectful.”
“Then just leave it be. We ought to be able to keep an eye on it well enough.” He opened one of the rear doors to pull out the bag of things he’d brought with him. “Honestly if anyone else shows up, I’ll probably request that we move somewhere else.”
When he glanced up Crowley was looking at him questioningly, leaning over top of the car. “You could just make them stay away if that’s how you feel. One road to get down here. Just put some grass over top of it and no one will know it’s here.”
Aziraphale tilted his head, going around the car and beginning to head off toward where he could hear water trickling. “I suppose one could do that, if they were so inclined.”
He heard Crowley sigh too loudly behind him and had a feeling that the road would now appear very much overgrown to anyone who might drive by it. He smiled, unable to help himself and something fluttered inside of him. It did that sometimes when Crowley did something for him, particularly when it was unnecessary, and particularly when not directly asked. He’d not thought much of it before but now wondered if there was something to it.
As he walked through the field, the grass brushed against his calves, growing high when left to its own devices. He was headed toward a large ash tree he’d spotted a ways off, one of the trees that’d found its way out of the forest and into this more open space. The rest congregated further south in a bunch, quietly watching over the others who’d strayed.
The sky was full of blue now, right to the brim, and the sun was drifting down in waves, warming his skin as he walked along. It smelled precisely how he thought summer should smell. Aziraphale was glad at least the setting of it all was working out. He turned to see Crowley stalking along behind him. He hadn’t changed his usual manner of dress much aside from leaving his jacket behind and rolling up the legs of his pants slightly.
“Don’t you think you’ll get warm wearing all that?” he asked, slowly so they were closer together again.
Crowley glanced down at himself and shrugged. “Doesn’t bother me. Rather this than whatever those things you’re wearing are.”
Aziraphale frowned, looking down at himself. “They’re khaki shorts,” he said, unable to keep from sounding hurt. “They’re functional.”
Crowley looked a bit strained but didn’t push it further. “Whatever you say, angel.”
The ground sloped down then and the ash tree had risen up high above them, covering them in its shade. Aziraphale could see the little stream now and it very much was a little stream, more rocks than water in several places, but it was doing its best to burble along. He stopped and looked around. “How would you feel about setting up here?”
“By ‘setting up’ you mean laying the one blanket you brought down in the dirt here rather than off in that dirt over there? Because if so, I’m all for it. That dirt over there looked a little dodgy.”
Aziraphale did not roll his eyes because it wasn’t polite but he thought about it. “Good.” He moved so he was just out of the ash tree’s reach and pulled out the blanket he’d brought. He laid it out and set his bag down, moving to straighten the corners. “There we are.”
Crowley flopped down in the grass beside it flat on his back, looking up at the sky. He stretched and the sun glinted off the black off his clothes. Aziraphale was reminded of the first time he’d come slithering up the side of the Wall, scales glinting similarly. He’d never thought of Crowley as someone who might like to “sunbathe” as the humans called it, but perhaps he did.
Slowly, Aziraphale, settled beside him, pausing an anxious moment before he lay down as well, folding his hands on top of his chest. There were a few wisps of clouds in the sky, barely holding their shape, drifting along idly. “I’ve read that some people like to look up at clouds and find shapes in them,” he mentioned for something to say.
“Humans’ll look for meaning in anything,” Crowley replied, his tone light enough that it didn’t come off as dismissive. He tucked his hands behind his head and crossed his legs at the ankle. “Might get boring if they didn’t come up with so many different meanings for the same things. ‘s like that for the stars too. Go anywhere and they’ll teach you different constellations.”
“That’s true. I guess that’s part of the whole free-will situation. Imagination comes along with it. Dreams, hopes, desires…” Maybe that was it, Aziraphale thought. He’d shied away from having those things before now, but maybe Crowley hadn’t. He sat back up, not very comfortable on the ground and looked down at his friend. He could see that his eyes were closed through his glasses.
“Their lives are short enough that they try to find meaning in them. They don’t live long enough for that to get old and for them to just start living.”
“Is that what you do?” He continued to look Crowley over while he wasn’t being observed, over the long, lean lines of his body. Something in the back of his mind hissed that he shouldn’t be doing this but it didn’t seem as strong as it used to and Aziraphale pushed it down. He wasn’t doing anything wrong.
Crowley laughed. “I try. Gotta cut them a bit of slack. Getting told something is ineffable, as it were, doesn’t really stop you from wondering if maybe, in some special way, it actually is effable, after all, and wouldn’t it be neat if you were the one who found that out? Imagination comes with downsides. Hope too, all that stuff. Real easy to start, real hard to stop.”
Aziraphale watched Crowley’s lips as he spoke, watching the curve of them and the brief flashes of his teeth. Many of the passages he’d read spoke about lips. Aziraphale couldn’t help but find himself more interested in what he couldn’t see however. His hands, tucked behind his head. His eyes, almost always out of sight. The parts of himself Crowley kept hidden were often the most unique and the loveliest.
Aziraphale swallowed and pulled his eyes away. Had those thoughts been there all along and he’d been ignoring them? If not, were they meant to rise up so quickly now?
At least they were there. He allowed himself to feel relief at the discovery. One of his biggest fears was that, after everything, he still wouldn’t be able to feel anything.
It occurred to him belatedly that Crowley might expect a response. “Why would you want to stop?”
“Eh… It’s not so fun after a while when you keep hoping for something you realize you’re never going to be able to have.” He shifted slightly where he lay. “Gonna go to sleep for a while I think. Be a dear and wake me up before I’m too well-done.”
Aziraphale blinked. “Alright.” Crowley went silent next to him and he looked out at the pops of purple and yellow and orange all around them, not quite hidden amongst the grass, then at the living wall of the forest and then back to Crowley who did seem to have fallen asleep at the drop of a hat. He thought that, despite everything they’d been put through for the sake of it these past few weeks, the world still seemed to him quite beautiful.
He settled in to read one of the books he’d brought along with him and the morning passed by them like water slipping down the stream. Sometime closer to noon Crowley awoke without much fanfare stretching and sitting up. He leaned back on his hands and looked around.
“Good nap?” Aziraphale asked.
Crowley hummed, sounding slightly drowsy yet. “Good book?”
Aziraphale nodded. “It’s…enlightening.”
“Not necessarily. Most works of decent literature are enlightening in one way or another.”
“Guess that’s why I tend not to read them. Can’t have anything lightening my thoughts.”
“You could now,” Aziraphale pointed out, trying not to sound too hopeful.
“…I suppose. Not too much though. It’s more fun this way.”
Aziraphale noted his page and closed the book. “It seemed to…bother you that not much had changed. After everything that happened, I mean. I thought you might be up for trying some new things.” He was treading on unstable ground, he realized. He didn’t want to imply too much lest Crowley suspect there was something he was missing (or, if he did remember, become defensive over it).
Crowley turned to look at him. “You’re the last person I want to be lectured by about that. You haven’t tried anything new that wasn’t edible for centuries.”
Aziraphale flinched back. He knew that wasn’t exactly true, but there was frustration underneath the statement and he knew now where it came from. He looked down at his lap.
“Ach, look, I didn’t mean that. We’re both stuck in our ways,” Crowley amended. “We’re probably the two biggest hypocrites in the history of existence as it is. Pointing fingers at each other seems a bit much.”
“No, you’re right,” Aziraphale murmured, steeling himself to say something he’d meant to for a while now. “I’ve been wanting to apologize for saying that I wouldn’t go with you. I was uncertain about everything at the time, but that’s no excuse. I needn’t have been so cruel about it. I never meant to hurt you, Crowley.”
Crowley only looked at him for a moment and then he forced a laugh. “I told you, it was only a joke. It didn’t mean anything. It was the end of the world, neither of us was thinking straight. And what’s this about ‘hurting my feelings’? I’m a demon, angel, I don’t get hurt feelings. What’s gotten into you?”
Aziraphale frowned at the deflection. “It did mean something. Don’t lie to me Crowley. Not about this.”
The other being’s expression twitched and then fell. “Fine. Maybe it was serious at the time, but that doesn’t mean it matters.”
“It matters to me,” Aziraphale said, standing firm. “I’ve been thinking about it since then. If not for Alpha Centauri then for that night at the bus stop. Even then, after everything, I still pushed back against you and I shouldn’t have.” He noticed Crowley’s hand right next to him and had the urge to take it, to touch him somehow. They felt suddenly so far apart despite sitting next to one another. So he did, reaching out and wrapping his fingers around his palm. “I’m sorry.”
Sometimes Aziraphale could feel very clearly the 6000 years they held between the two of them, their own small galaxy filled with so many moments and conversations and interactions in the form of stars in constellations that only the two of them knew, and this was one of them. Birds twittered somewhere up above them while Crowley moved his gaze from Aziraphale’s face down to their hands and then off toward nothing at all.
He took his hand back and leaned away slightly. Aziraphale felt something inside him ache but he didn’t push further. Was this how it’d felt for Crowley? If so then why would he want it to continue? Why continue to let himself hurt?
“Okay, you’ve said your apology. Your conscience is clear again. Can we move on? Yes?” Crowley suggested, strain audible in the last word.
Aziraphale didn’t want to, but he knew it would be for the best so he nodded, retreated. Crowley then did one of the things he was best at which was completely changing the subject to something not even on the same planet as related. He glanced around and latched onto the small pile of books Aziraphale had brought along. “What are you reading these days? Series or something?”
Aziraphale heroically fought back the urge to tell Crowley about the books in earnest, knowing it wasn’t the time. It occurred to him belatedly that it might not be such a good thing for Crowley to have seen them. Crowley grabbed the one on top and began to peruse it, his eyebrows pulling together after a moment.
“Are you reading…romance novels?”
Aziraphale tried to keep his expression flat. He wasn’t embarrassed about reading them in general—books were books—but he did worry Crowley might start to suspect something. “That one is, yes. I’d neglected the genre for a while so I thought I ought to catch up. It wouldn’t do to be biased as a bookseller, would it?”
Crowley scoffed. “Some bookseller you are. When was the last time you actually sold a book?”
Aziraphale relaxed slightly, thinking it might not be a problem after all, but then Crowley continued to dig through the pile, flipping over book after book.
“These are all romance novels…” Crowley marveled. He looked up at Aziraphale and cocked an eyebrow.
Aziraphale swallowed. “I told you, Crowley, I’m catching up with the genre. I—I found an auction recently of a collection that had a lot of them and I scooped them up and—”
Crowley started laughing loudly, tossing the book still in his hand to the edge of the blanket.
“What?” Aziraphale demanded, gathering his books closer to himself, re-stacking them gently. “What, pray tell, is so funny? Romance novels are no lesser than any other novel, you know!”
Crowley waved a hand at him dismissively, still chuckling. “It wasn’t a value judgement on the merits of literature. I don’t give a damn about that. I’m laughing at you, because you’re lying to me which means you’re not just reading them because you feel it’s your duty as a bibliophile. No, you’re reading them for some other, personal reason which—” He shook his head. “Well, She has always loved Herself some irony, hasn’t She?”
Aziraphale blinked, not understanding what this had to do for God and Her general ineffability. “I don’t—”
“You want to read? Fine, but you’re not going to learn anything useful like that. Try these on for size. I’ll check back with you later to see how well you’ve been absorbing your lessons.” He laughed again as a new pile of books fell into Aziraphale’s lap from nothing and then began, inexplicably, tugging off his shoes.
Aziraphale glanced at the new books and found himself faced with a great deal of bulging chest muscles and women whose clothes seemed to be having a difficult time staying on their bodies. He flushed, pressing his lips together and pushing the harlequin novels away from him. It wasn’t as though he’d never looked at them before, but he’d certainly never owned one. Where would he keep it? Next the original pages of Plato’s personal musings?
“That’s not funny, Crowley. There’s a difference between literature and…these.”
“What happened to ‘all books have merit’?” He was pulling off his socks now and tugging the legs of his pants higher. “Give ‘em a chance at least. Live a little.” He stood up, a long roll of his body, making a Crowley-shaped shadow up against the sun.
“That doesn’t apply here. What are you doing?” Aziraphale squinted up at him, bringing a hand up to help.
“Saw a fish down in the creek. Gonna try and catch it,” Crowley said, heading down that way.
Aziraphale moved so he was kneeling and could track the other being’s movements better. “Why? Neither of us are going to do anything with it. Why not just leave it be?”
“I won’t kill it,” Crowley griped. “Don’t get your halo in a twist.”
There was a small splash as Crowley stepped into the stream and more to follow as he walked down along it. Aziraphale almost pointed out that he was unlikely to catch anything stomping around like that, but Crowley didn’t seem interested in further conversation, putting more distance between them than could have ever been necessary rather efficiently.
Aziraphale sighed, trying not to feel put-out. Trapping Crowley would do no good and he knew it, so better to just rally and try again later. He pushed Crowley’s socks into his shoes and set them lined up just next to the blanket. Then he looked down at the mess of books all around him and began to stack those as well. He purposefully tried to avoid looking at the scandalous covers of the novels Crowley had dropped into his lap for a minute or two before he gave up.
He glanced around to make sure Crowley hadn’t snuck his way behind him and was well out of range, then surreptitiously picked the top book off the pile and inspected it. He flipped through the pages, eyes snagging on the explicit language without meaning to. He ran a hand through his hair and shifted over to the side of the blanket that was dappled with shade.
He’d read a chapter here and there of books like these when he was out looking for new items to purchase, sheepishly hiding among the shelves while he did so. He’d read plenty of erotica in his day—history was often sanitized far more than was necessary—but this felt different. This was basically…pornography. He had to admire the gumption of someone who’d put their name on this kind of book, he would admit.
It occurred to him that maybe Crowley had a point or that this was a hint toward what he wanted. It wouldn’t hurt him to give them a try (he’d been lying about the romances anyway; he’d already read them all at one point or another). He’d heard people made sacrifices for love. So he steeled himself and settled in to read.
Embarrassingly in hindsight, he passed a few hours in a row that way. The books were a quick read for him and once he got over his initial aversion he found they weren’t so bad. He wasn’t sure they were all that realistic, but some parts were interesting. One included a time travel subplot which he rather enjoyed. He appreciated the author taking a step outside their comfort zone.
Meanwhile, the sun drew higher and higher in the sky, reaching its sweltering peak directly above him. What clouds had been there before dissipated and Aziraphale moved further into the protective shade of the ash tree. It was still muggy and he had to stop his body from sweating eventually because it was becoming a bit much.
Still, it was overall enjoyable. Every once in a while a cooler breeze would waft through, brushing up against the branches of the tree, playing them like wind chimes. The air here was so sweet and ripe, and he loved the feeling of life all around him and not just life, but life in harmony. Everything here had its role: the insects and the birds and the trees and the flowers. It was rare he felt such balance and it always reminded him of Eden.
He thought, however, as he had there, that it would be much better with some company.
The thought crossed his mind when he finished another of the books, closing it and setting aside. He thought there must be a midpoint between the beautiful but intangible, fragile concept of romance in his own volumes and the blunt, visceral consummation of it in the harlequins. He thought that that was something he could want, but he also had a feeling he wouldn’t know it until he felt it.
With that he’d pulled his head out of his books and realized that much more time had passed than he’d thought and Crowley was nowhere to be found.
“Crowley?” he called to the empty field. Aptly, he received no answer.
He hurried to his feet and moved quickly to make sure the Bentley was still there. (He didn’t really think Crowley would outright leave him here without so much as a pithy note, but there was always a small chance.) It was. Aziraphale walked back down to the blanket and then on to the small creek, peering up and down it and seeing nothing.
Anxiety coiled inside of him. Anything could have happened to him. Just because Aziraphale’s side was leaving him alone for a while didn’t mean Crowley’s would do the same. “Crowley!” he shouted. “This isn’t funny!”
Still nothing. He walked a bit further down along the creek, peering around foolishly before he reminded himself that there were far more intelligent and effective things he could be doing, what with being an angel and all. He huffed at himself and cast out for Crowley. He was rather good at sensing his aura after 6000 years. A couple moments of concentration later and—there.
Aziraphale let out a sigh of relief. It seemed he’d wandered off into the forest. Aziraphale didn’t think about it further before heading off that way, not quite as tolerant of the sun now that it was beating down on his back.
The forest was further than it looked but it was, at least, blessedly cool and verdant. It was filled with far more mobile occupants than the field had been and there was rustling and birdcalls abound. Aziraphale walked through the soft, dark earth along what seemed to be a path, drawn by something deep inside of him, moving until he found him.
Crowley was standing off of the path, looking down at something. He fit in better here among the trees. It was darker and noisier, but still peaceful and full of life. He stood unmoving in his tank top with his pants still rolled and his shoes still off. Aziraphale let out a sigh of relief.
“There you are. You could’ve at least told me if you’d wanted to walk over here. You can’t just disappear like that. I was worried you might have been…” he cast a nervous glance downward. “….you know, taken.”
Crowley remained silent and Aziraphale’s worries came rushing right back to him. He approached slowly, wanting to see what he was looking at. As he approached, open as he was, he felt a sting of something hurt. Crowley still didn’t move when they were side by side.
Aziraphale looked down and saw it.
“Fell from its nest,” Crowley said finally, pointing vaguely upward. “Still alive I think, but its mother hasn’t coming back for it in near two hours now.”
Aziraphale knelt down to get a better look at the small bird. It squirmed in the leaves and squeaked at him but very clearly couldn’t get all the way back up the tree on its own. He glanced back up at Crowley in surprise. This was what he’d been doing all this time?
“I see.” He stood back up, brushing off his knees. “Had you thought of…putting it back yourself?”
Crowley frowned at him. “Of course I have. But I’ve read that you shouldn’t do that. It’s easy to hurt the thing and I’ve heard that if you touch it the mother’ll smell you and she won’t take care of it anymore and it’d be right back where it started.”
Aziraphale blinked, not prepared for how passionately Crowley felt about this. He himself felt bad for the poor thing, of course, but he had a feeling it ran deeper for Crowley. Familiar hurts tended to lead to fiercer kindness. Carefully he reached out and set a hand on the demon’s shoulder, squeezing gently. Similar to Eden indeed.
At least there was some good news for the bird. “I’ve read that as well, but it’s an urban legend. Not the accidentally hurting it part, but the scent part. Mothers won’t reject the baby just because someone else picked it up.”
Crowley turned toward him, raising his eyebrows. “Are you being serious? Or are you just trying to make me feel better about it?”
“Why would I do that? Poor fellow’s had a difficult time of it already without me lying to you about how to help it.”
“So I could—” Crowley looked up at the tree again and back at the bird and tensed like he was going to move toward it. Then he abruptly took a step back. “You ought to do it. I’d probably just hurt it. Its bones are so tiny and I’m—well, you know.”
Aziraphale hated to hear Crowley speak that way. It made something inside him ache. “It’s stronger than it looks. It survived the fall, didn’t it?” he pointed out, gentler than before. “Take it carefully into your hands, take some dirt with you if you have to, and don’t close them.”
Crowley still seemed uncertain. “What if it struggles and I drop it—”
“Crowley, you’re a magical being. Just hold it still if you don’t want it to move. Not with your hands but with your mind.”
Crowley took a breath he didn’t need and nodded. “Okay. Alright. Okay.” He approached the bird slowly and knelt down, taking it ever so gently into his open palms and cradling it there.
It occurred to Aziraphale that either of them could miracle it back up into its nest in a millisecond but he thought this would be good for Crowley to do himself. He supposed it was the next logical step, but he was still slightly surprised when Crowley pulled his wings out, making them tangible and visible. Aziraphale took a few long paces back as Crowley stretched them and shook them out.
Aziraphale watched him with interest. He’d always liked the way they looked on him.
Crowley didn’t waste time however. Soon enough he was up off the ground and into the treetops. Angel and demon wings appeared rather clunky, but actually if you knew how to use them they were quiet and maneuverable. It’d been a very long time since Aziraphale had flown himself and he thought he’d be quite clumsy at it if he tried. In contrast, Crowley looked like he knew exactly what he was doing.
He was up and down quickly enough, only stumbling a bit when he hit the ground, looking back up at the tree. Aziraphale walked back toward him. “Alright?”
“Think so.” He kicked at the dirt below him.
“I’m sure it’ll be fine,” Aziraphale assured him, smiling. “It was lucky you found it.”
Crowley turned back to him, his expression uncharacteristically soft. Aziraphale felt some sort of urge rise up within him, but it wasn’t anything particularly carnal. Instead it made him want to reach up and take Crowley’s face in his hands, stroke over his cheekbones, hug him close again.
Crowley cleared his throat. “Yeah well. It’d best hurry up and learn to fly already so it doesn’t happen again.”
Aziraphale laughed for lack of a more productive response. “Would you like to head back out of here for a while?”
It took Crowley a moment but eventually he nodded. Aziraphale began walking back the way he’d come and Crowley followed him. He was quiet the way he tended to be around humans (at least new ones) and hardly ever was around Aziraphale, but he didn’t push him. Instead, he just checked now and again that he was still walking along behind him.
Soon enough they were stepping out from the cool jade of the forest and into the humid topaz of the field. Aziraphale was wondering what to do next when he noticed two things. The first was that Crowley still had his wings out. Aziraphale couldn’t blame him for that one. They got rather cramped when they were put away all the time. The second however—
“Crowley,” Aziraphale scolded mildly, pausing where they were only a few yards from the picnic blanket and the ash tree. “Your feet are filthy.” And they were, dirt from his walk through the forest clinging to them up to the start of his ankles aided no doubt by his earlier dip in the stream.
Crowley came to a jerky stop and glanced down. “So?”
“Don’t you think you ought to wash them off and put your shoes back on?”
“Scared of a little dirt, angel?” he asked, something of the regular lilt back in his voice.
Aziraphale took that as a good sign. “No, but you are not allowed anywhere near my picnic blanket until you clean them one way or another.”
A slow smile spread across the demon’s face and Aziraphale thought he really should have known better. He turned and started to make a run for it in the blink of an eye.
“Crowley!” Aziraphale began to chase after him before he thought better of it. Without thinking much of it he snapped his fingers instead. “Oh no you don’t! I’ve had that for fifty years and haven’t gotten a spot on it!”
“What a shame there’ve been no inventions that wash things like dirt out of fabric,” Crowley called back, stopping right next to the blanket. “Not even going to try to stop me? Giving up off the bat is still losing, you know. Don’t think it’ll stop me from—yeouch!”
Crowley leapt back from where he’d begun to step onto the blanket, glaring at it and then at Aziraphale. “What the hell was that?”
Aziraphale tried not to look too smug and approached at a slower pace. “Nothing much. I just blessed it is all. Step on it all you like but I don’t think doing so in bare feet is the smartest choice.”
Crowley scoffed at him. “And you act like I play dirty. Are you even allowed to bless things anymore?”
“Guess I must be.”
Crowley grumbled something under his breath and headed down toward the stream, keeping a good five feet between the blanket and himself as he went. He was walking tenderly, leaning on his left side, and Aziraphale felt a pang of guilt. He hurried to follow after him. Crowley sat down on the edge of the creek and hissed as he put one foot after another into the water.
“I’m sorry, my friend,” Aziraphale said, “I didn’t mean to hurt you. I really wasn’t thinking.”
“That’s usually the case,” Crowley grumbled.
Aziraphale pouted—he tried not to, but he couldn’t help it—and settled gingerly down beside him. “At least let me help you.” He bent to reach into the water, running the pads of his fingers along the underside of Crowley’s right foot and taking the pain away as he did.
Crowley had opened his mouth—presumably to protest—but the removal of the hurt seemed to distract him because he closed it again. Aziraphale decided that meant he could keep going at least for the time being and so he set about washing the dirt off his feet. Rubbing gently over the skin was enough to get the job done, although Aziraphale took the time to run his thumb along the high arch of Crowley’s foot a few times. The skin there was softer than he would have imagined it to be.
Crowley yanked his leg back before he could continue, splashing him with water in the process. “This isn’t John 13,” Crowley objected. “I can do that myself, thank you very much.”
Aziraphale flinched back from the water. “I was only trying to help…” He hadn’t even thought about what he’d been doing that way, but now that he did he didn’t really mind the interpretation.
Crowley ignored him pointedly so Aziraphale moved back from the water somewhat, watching Crowley’s wings shift as he bent over, balancing him out. Lovely as they were, they could also do with a good brushing. Wings were nice and all but they were a nightmare in terms of upkeep, near-impossible to reach on your own and terribly easy to ruffle.
Something like a memory flickered in Aziraphale’s mind suddenly. It seemed to be from the night the world didn’t end, from some point between being lucid and waking up the next morning, so it was blurry but it was there. Crowley pestering him to let him see his wings again, something about seeing something earlier. Him giving in eventually and Crowley moving to look them over with the intense concentration of a very drunk person who thinks they’ve come up with an ingenious idea. Crowley crowing in success and a slight pinch that he hardly felt thanks to the alcohol.
It was a bent feather. Nothing horrendously painful but not particularly pleasant either. Aziraphale thought he might have felt it earlier, but given the whole Satan-himself-clawing-his-way-out-of-the-depths-of-Hell-to-directly-in-front-of-them thing he hadn’t put much thought into it. In hindsight it was amazing Crowley had noticed it.
The memory didn’t end there though. It went on for at least a little while, and he remembered Crowley running his long fingers through his feathers, straightening them out. Lovely as it felt, it was an intimate gesture. The memory grew fuzzy and faded away. Brief as it was, it made Aziraphale feel all the more sure of himself and determined to really try.
Without saying anything, he moved so he was further behind Crowley, sitting in the soft, tall grass. He hesitated only briefly before he ran a hand along the top of his wing where it was most solid, supported by the bones there. The top feathers were rougher than his but they glimmered iridescent in the sunlight, turning shades of blue rather than black.
Crowley jerked and tucked his wing tightly to his back turning to give Aziraphale the same sort of look he imagined one might get from trying to lift up someone’s skirt without asking first. “What?”
“I—I just thought you might like them straightened.” Aziraphale swallowed. “You did the same for me, after all.”
Crowley froze and turned back around. “I didn’t think you remembered that.”
“I’m glad you did it. It’s been a long while. I suppose it must be the same for you.”
“Don’t force yourself, angel. I just wanted to stretch them for a bit. Wasn’t supposed to mean anything else.”
“I didn’t think it did.” Aziraphale pressed his lips together and decided to try something else. “You should let me, Crowley. I know how uncomfortable it feels to have them mussed like this.” A pause and still no agreement. Aziraphale panicked his way into something like recklessness. “I’d like to do it.”
The following silence was very loud. “You’d…like to do it?”
In the past Aziraphale would have hurried to say something along the lines of, “Well, you know me. Not the biggest fan of dishevelment.” He almost did, but caught himself. “…yes.”
Crowley took a deep breath—still unnecessary but breathing did other things besides inflating one’s lungs—in and out. “…alright.”
Aziraphale felt a rush of excitement at the acquiescence and hurried to get to work. Crowley was still tense but he at least let his wings back out somewhat. Aziraphale went about running his fingers through the feathers, straightening them as he went. He found that while Crowley’s top feathers were a bit rough the ones tucked underneath were soft as anything. It was quite nice so he carefully pressed his fingers between a line of feathers at the top of his wing and pulled them downward, running his fingers over the down underneath the whole way.
Crowley made a small helpless noise and Aziraphale felt something inside of him stir. He lost himself easily in his task, moving from the primary feathers in toward those closer to Crowley’s spine. He ran his fingers through and then went back to smooth them, spending more time on some tougher spots. Close up Aziraphale could better see the extent of the damage and wondered how he’d lived with them like this for so long.
It occurred to him that it’d been quite a while but there was a service for that kind of thing in Heaven. Probably not so much in Hell. He knew some demons didn’t even have wings anymore. Aziraphale brushed reverently over the point where his wings met his skin, slipping his fingers through the accommodating slits in the back of his shirt to do it. Crowley had been squirming for a while now but at that he finally pulled away fully.
“That’s it,” Crowley snipped. “That’s enough of that.” He turned to face Aziraphale, putting his wings safely out of reach. He shook them and fluffed them out a bit as he did.
Aziraphale sat there with his hands up for a moment before he dropped them. “What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know what you’re doing or if you even know you’re doing it, but I can’t deal with it,” Crowley said, sounding angry and a bit hurt. He was hiding most of the latter but not all of it.
“What am I doing?” Aziraphale asked, wishing he could pull Crowley’s sunglasses off his face although it was one of the very rare occasions that they were being used appropriately.
Crowley glared at him. “Don’t expect me to believe you’re completely unaware of it. You’ve been doing it more today than you have in I don’t even know how long.” Aziraphale played dumb although he had an idea of what Crowley was getting at. “Fine. Touching me. It—means something different to me than it does to you, so just stop it and we won’t have an issue.”
Aziraphale straightened the collar of his shirt out of habit. This was the time not to back down, but to get at whatever this odd resistance was once and for all. “And if I don’t stop?”
Crowley’s eyebrows drew together tightly. “Then we’ll have an issue.”
“I think in this case having an issue would be better than pretending the issue doesn’t exist and tiptoeing around it.”
Crowley looked up at the sky dramatically. “You don’t even know what we’re talking about. You’re just arguing with me to argue.”
Aziraphale swallowed back his retort. This wouldn’t get them anywhere. He sat back further and stopped circling around it. “I know more than you might think.” Crowley opened his mouth again and he hurried to interrupt him. “Wait, please. Please allow me to try and explain. I’ve been doing a great deal of thinking as you know and I’ve had some…epiphanies as of late that involve you. I don’t want to keep them to myself any longer. Give me a moment to explain. That’s all I ask.”
Crowley sighed, slouching somewhat where he sat. “Aziraphale, nothing in Heaven or Hell could keep you from saying something if you want to say it. Go on then.”
Aziraphale didn’t like that he couldn’t read him particularly well at the moment but tried not to dwell on it. He cleared his throat and began. “I’m afraid I’ve been rather neglectful of you for a while now. I see now that you’ve wanted our relationship to change or evolve and I was blind to that desire. Please understand that it wasn’t out of rejection, but out of ignorance that I failed to respond in any encouraging way. I never…I never thought that I could have something like this. That I would be allowed to.
“That’s what today was. Me trying to…make up for it I suppose. I’ve loved you for a very long time, Crowley. I wish that you’d tell me you knew it, but I’m afraid that you didn’t. You were always brave. You showed me what you wanted long before it was safe and I was….I was a coward.”
“I was! I know now that it’s not wrong to want things, but that doesn’t make it safe. But it doesn’t matter anymore. I don’t want to be safe. I don’t have any…practical knowledge of any of this, but I want it. I want it with you, Crowley.”
Crowley sucked in a breath through his teeth and tucked his wings in, pulling them tight to his body. Then all at once they were out of sight once more. Aziraphale quietly mourned the loss of them. “That’s not what I meant. Listen, I know that you love me. I’ve always known that.”
Aziraphale blinked at him, perplexed. “You…have?”
Crowley gave him a look. “Of course. You’re literally an angel. You’re pre-programmed to love everything that doesn’t cause you immediate harm and even then you’d cut it a break and feel bad for it. And that’s not…what I want. I don’t want that heavenly compassion for all living things bullshit. I don’t want you to love me the same as everything else and I don’t want you to try to act like you love me different just because you found out that’s what I want. Look, I know it’s not your fault. That’s the way you are and I’m just selfish. This is half the reason I didn’t say anything because I knew something like this would happen.”
“Why do you say that?” Aziraphale asked, trying not to feel hurt. He knew why Crowley might not believe him after all, and that had to be enough.
“Because if you did actually feel how I feel of your own volition something would have happened that night after the lack of Armageddon. But it didn’t. You saying yes didn’t mean anything. Nothing changed.”
Aziraphale had figured as much. He nodded, collecting information still. He’d decide soon enough what to do with it. “And what was the other reason?”
“You said that was only half the reason you didn’t tell me. What’s the other half?”
Crowley looked at him incredulously. He’d been quick to respond this whole time as if all of this had been building inside him for millennia—and he supposed it had—but now he was slower. Eventually he coughed out a laugh. “What do you think? You didn’t exactly seem that interested. Other men would’ve had me arrested for some of the things I said to you, the way I looked at you. I’m not a big fan of setting myself up for failure unless the world hangs in the balance. Besides, it never mattered. I knew that from the second you told me you’d given your sword away.” He lifted his head back up to face Aziraphale. “I don’t deserve you, angel. I never have.”
Aziraphale felt an unexpected spike of anger at the words. He’d been forming sentences in his head this whole time, trying to craft a good enough response, but that went right out the window. There was only one thing he had any intention of doing at this point and that was showing Crowley just how wrong he was.
“Crowley,” he murmured, reaching up at last to pluck the glasses off his face. All at once Aziraphale could see how deep that wound was and how it didn’t have to do with him entirely. That was it. The still air around them was growing unbearable and Aziraphale couldn’t take it any longer. “You’re wrong.”
He kissed him. It wasn’t graceful in the least. Aziraphale did all but fling himself onto Crowley, aiming and going for it. Fortunately Crowley caught him and the action was simple enough that even a novice like him could figure it out on his first try. Crowley’s mouth was warm and yielding under his. He wasn’t sure how it would feel and at first it was a bit odd, but quickly he decided he liked it well enough.
Aziraphale pulled back after a moment, staying on top of Crowley but checking to see if he’d finally managed to do the right thing. Crowley’s eyes were wide and he looked a bit in shock. Aziraphale moved his hands up to cradle his cheeks, running his thumbs over the peak of his cheekbones as he’d wanted to before. That warm, eager thing within him wiggled at their proximity.
Crowley finally came back to himself and swallowed hard. “I am not wrong. You’re just doing what you think you ought to. What you’ve read in those books. I don’t want your pity.” He squirmed under Aziraphale who held him in place.
It made him a bit nervous to not listen to what Crowley was saying, but something inside of Aziraphale felt sure that he was doing the right thing. This was about Crowley having gotten foolish ideas in his head about worth, not about him actually saying no. “This isn’t pity. I was reading the books because I’ve never done anything like this before and I wanted to do it correctly. Or as well as I’m able.”
“Then what is it?” Crowley demanded, his voice growing strained. “An angel can’t love a demon. Not like this. That’s not how it works.”
Aziraphale held him tighter. “I think we ought to have learned by now that ‘how it works’ is nothing more than a figure of speech. I’m not an angel loving a demon. I’m me loving you. And I see now that I’m not going to convince you of that entirely today, but you have to trust me. I’m sorry I instilled so much doubt in you and that it took me past the end of the world to figure it out. I told you once that you go too fast for me, but I think that recently it’s been me going too slow.”
Crowley shook his head, still looking like he was trying incredibly hard to think of another deflection or argument. “You’re bluffing, or—or something. I don’t know exactly what you’re doing but—”
Aziraphale smiled. “You’re wrong.”
Crowley stared unblinking at him for a long moment before something in him broke and he lurched forward to kiss Aziraphale back. It was messier this time and wetter. Aziraphale could feel the sharp edge of Crowley’s teeth against his lips at one point and realized it was intentionally rough. Crowley had shifted from deflection to intimidation. It was true that Aziraphale suddenly felt quite out of his depth, but he wasn’t scared. He sat back and took what Crowley was willing to give him.
Sure enough, the forced violence of it soon melted into something a lot more like desperation. Crowley began to lean further into him and then there were hands grasping at the back of his shirt, not unlike the other night, fingers gripping tightly. Things slowed down and Aziraphale moved forward to again meet him halfway. Things were simple after that.
Aziraphale decided he liked kissing because it was an action that could only show affection. It couldn’t be misinterpreted any other way. It was as blatant as it could be and so Aziraphale kissed Crowley over and over again. Crowley was making small sounds against his lips and eventually opened his mouth wide enough that Aziraphale supposed he wanted him to try dipping inside.
That was stranger and Aziraphale didn’t know at all what he was doing. After a bit of floundering Crowley drew his tongue out to join his and that made things better. The slick friction of it made Aziraphale shiver even though he could clearly feel the fabric of his shirt sticking to his skin (he’d stopped paying enough attention to not perspiring some time ago) and he made a sound himself without thinking much of it.
Crowley growled back as if in response and pressed further up against him, rewrapping his arms around his shoulders as he went. Aziraphale could feel something hard pressing up against his thigh and he couldn’t help but pull back to see. He was all but immediately distracted. Crowley was panting above him, his eyes bleary and his pupils dilated, wide and black and hungry, like Aziraphale had never seen.
Without giving it even a moment of rational thought, Aziraphale grabbed Crowley and pushed him over so he was flat on his back in the grass. He hovered above the other man, propped up on his hands, unmoving. They stared at each other. Aziraphale came to his senses all at once. “I’m terribly sorry. I don’t know what came over me—”
Crowley laughed, stretching out underneath him. “Don’t be sorry. Looks like you have some instinct for this in you after all.”
Aziraphale flushed, unable to keep from feeling some relief at the discovery. Crowley looked quite willing, anticipatory even and Aziraphale couldn’t help but lean in to kiss him silly again. Crowley clung back onto him, going as far as to hook an ankle around his thigh in an attempt to pull him closer. Aziraphale moved in a bit more and Crowley spread his legs further to make room. He pulled back to kiss Crowley’s tattoo and up along the side of his face to his hairline.
Aziraphale had a moment of lucidity wherein he recognized the desire to keep going but also knew he didn’t know exactly how to go about that. He wanted it to be like this, at least this time, wanted to be the guide so Crowley could come along for the ride. Unfortunately he was realizing that his complete lack of proper experience was going to make that difficult. He let out a breath and dropped his head down onto Crowley’s chest.
Crowley made a dissatisfied noise but that was followed by hands running slowly up and down his back. “Are you alright?” he asked. His voice was lower and rougher than usual.
The thing inside of Aziraphale which was very awake now ached at the sound. “Yes, more than alright. It’s just—don’t laugh, but…” He trailed off, pushing himself off so he could flop down in the grass next to Crowley, staring up into the bright blue above. “…I want to keep going like we were, but I don’t exactly know how. I’m not the most experienced in that area, as you could imagine.”
Crowley shifted beside him, rolling onto his side and propping his cheek up with his hand. He ran his eyes over Aziraphale’s body, painfully blunt about the drag up and down and Aziraphale squirmed in the grass. Crowley smiled at him, all teeth. “What you’re saying is you want to top but you’ve never done this before.”
Aziraphale blinked at him, not sure precisely what that meant but able to gather enough through context clues to get on. “I suppose. I just don’t want to do it wrong.”
“I don’t think there’s such a thing, angel.” His lips curved suggestively around the word and Aziraphale thought he wouldn’t be able to hear it the same way again. “I doubt you’re as naïve as the boys upstairs would like to think. You’ve still got some instincts left too. That’s more than enough. Besides, you don’t have to worry about impressing me. I’d be pleased as punch if you let me rub off against your leg. I’m still not convinced this isn’t all some hyper-realistic dream, after all.”
He grew more serious then while Aziraphale tried not to balk at his language. “The only thing I want is to make sure you’re not gonna regret this. I couldn’t live with myself if you did.”
Aziraphale frowned, reaching a hand up to run it through Crowley’s hair. It was very soft and smooth and stayed standing up despite him disturbing its structure. “That’s just it. I want you to stop worrying about me. I know what I’m doing at least in theory. I just want to make certain—that is, I’ve tried to glean some concrete ideas about how it’s done. I even read some of those ridiculous books you conjured earlier—”
Crowley gaped at him. “You actually read those? God, you must be more serious than I thought. I can’t believe you didn’t burst into flame.”
Aziraphale was momentarily distracted by the fact that the light around Crowley’s head looked like a halo and as such wasn’t as offended as he might have been. He cleared his throat. “They weren’t that bad, although I don’t think they were terribly helpful either.”
Crowley collapsed on top of him, laughing. Aziraphale could feel the vibrations of through his chest and he couldn’t help but laugh too, wrapping his arms back around Crowley. He liked feeling his weight on top of him and the ability to hold him without asking permission or being nervous about him pulling away and hearing him laugh like this despite the strange path of the day and—oh.
Aziraphale realized in that moment, in a flowering summer field outside of England, out in the open with Crowley over top of him, laughing into his neck, that this was what’d been missing. Somewhere between the hesitant esoteric prose of his old novels and the brash—if occasionally realistic—mechanical descriptions in the harlequins was this. This burbling sort of joy that came from two becoming one, nervous and uncertain, and not unlike the feeling of freefall. He thought perhaps this was the midpoint he’d been seeking and unsure if he’d be able to manage it, and he found he liked it very much indeed.
Aziraphale tugged Crowley closer and kissed at his neck while he finally settled down somewhat. “I just want it to be good for you,” he told him, surprised by the way his own voice sounded when he said it. “I want to show you just how worthy you are.”
Crowley sucked in a quick breath and pressed his hips hard up against Aziraphale’s. “Jesus Christ.”
Aziraphale laughed. “There’s no need for that. You see what I mean now, but I’m afraid I’ll still need some help.” He reached without much thought to press a hand between Crowley’s legs to feel at the arousal there and the demon really truly groaned. Aziraphale found he liked that quite a bit too. “Like this for example.”
“Give me a minute…” Crowley complained, wriggling until he was off to the side of Aziraphale again. “I can’t explain anything like that.”
Aziraphale mirrored him, rolling onto his side as well. He pushed some grass out of the way and smiled. “Of course.”
Crowley huffed. “You don’t have anything right now do you? Genital-wise I mean.”
“No. You do.”
Crowley shrugged a shoulder. “Yeah well. Got used to it after a while so I don’t bother to get rid of it much. It’s not hard, you just have to make the effort.”
“Actually,” Aziraphale said, fighting to keep a straight face, “from what I’ve felt so far I’d say it is rather hard.”
Crowley raised his eyebrows up high into his hairline and rolled back onto his back, covering his face with his hands. “Ugh, I can’t believe I’m going to let you fuck me.”
Aziraphale laughed. “Come on, it was good, wasn’t it?”
Aziraphale was enjoying himself but thought they ought to get a move on before the sun set and he was still sexless. “Alright. What sort of…effort should I make?”
Crowley uncovered his face and glanced over at him. “Doesn’t matter to me. Different strokes for different folks as they say. Me, I like any and all strokes. Depends what you want to do I guess. If you actually want to do me in the Biblical sense you might as well make yourself a penis. No point in messing about with other stuff right now when you can have whatever you’d like down there.”
Aziraphale frowned at the casual blasphemy but moved on easily enough. He thought maybe he would like to, but— “Is that something you like?”
Crowley blinked and had enough socialized decency somewhere within himself to look sheepish. “Er, yeah. I do. Not all the time, but I’d like it with you.”
That was good enough for him. Aziraphale made the necessary effort and suddenly found himself with a new piece of anatomy. It was strange to have something there, but he thought he’d get used to it quickly enough. Besides, he’d had another thought which was tangentially related to effort. He’d read that getting someone with a penis to ejaculate was relatively simple and quick and there was something of a refractory period involved. That would make it easy enough to deal with himself and get it out of the way if necessary so he could focus on more important things.
That said… “Would you mind switching?” Aziraphale asked. “From a penis I mean.”
Crowley blinked at him. “You know we can both have one. It’s allowed last time I checked. When I said ‘Biblical sense’ I didn’t really mean it literally.”
“I know. And if it makes you more comfortable, by all means stay as you are. I was only asking if you would mind.”
Crowley blinked again and shrugged. “I don’t mind, but I’ve gotta warn you that you’re making life way more difficult for yourself than it has to be.” Aziraphale watched with intrigue as the tent in his pants sank out of sight. “If you have any interest in actually getting me off this’ll take a while.”
“That’s the idea,” Aziraphale told him, rolling back on top of him and slotting their mouths back together.
It was incredibly easy to start back up where they’d left off. Aziraphale found that the new organ between his legs was quick to take interest in the proceedings and with it there the feeling that’d been contained within him thus far was given a physical outlet to express itself. It didn’t help that Crowley had begun rubbing up against him in earnest. Nice as it was to keep kissing, Aziraphale got the feeling that he ought to be moving in something of a downward direction so he went about that soon after.
He kissed down the long line of Crowley’s neck to his collarbone and ran his fingers along the V-neck of his shirt. He glanced up to see Crowley watching him with wide, bright eyes. His face was more open than Aziraphale usually saw it and he thought that it was very good that he’d managed to riddle this thing between them out (even if it’d taken him a while to do it).
“I love seeing your eyes,” Aziraphale said because he thought it fairly often but hardly ever thought he could get away with saying it. He retraced the triangle of fabric. “I know why you wear the glasses but it’s such a shame.”
Something like embarrassment crossed Crowley’s face and he glanced away. “Yeah, well. Do you need me to tell you what to do next or have you got an idea?”
Aziraphale ignored the deflection for the time being. He knew the general gist of the process and thought they probably ought to begin shedding clothes sometime soon. As much as he wanted to take time to explore Crowley’s body and indulge in this, he had a hunch that once things began moving again they would go rather fast, six millennia of space collapsing all at once between them and sucking them in. He supposed there would be time for the rest later, plenty of time.
He pushed at Crowley’s collar again. “Do you mind if I just…?” Aziraphale held up a hand as though he were about to snap his fingers (which he was, if allowed).
“Right now?” Crowley demanded, moving restlessly below him. “I’d really appreciate if you would.”
Aziraphale did and all at once their clothes were gone and they were skin to skin and the reality of it all snapped into focus amid the summer haze. Crowley made quite the sight stretched out bare in the grass, impatience manifesting in his expression and movement although he did little to remedy it. Aziraphale looked down at his friend and felt nothing less than pure desire rush through him. He braced himself against the sensation and the ingrained urge to run from it.
This was not like the desire for food or water or comfort. This was white-hot and addictive. This was temptation incarnate. Aziraphale wanted to have Crowley, all of him, right now and perhaps forever after that. This was a one-way street. There’d be no undoing it after it was done.
“Aziraphale?” Crowley pulled him back to the present, looking at him with concern.
It helped to hear his voice, to remember what was at the root of all this. Aziraphale smiled foolishly because there wasn’t much else to be done. “Aren’t you just perfect?” he praised, and then stopped moralizing and kissed him already.
Crowley’s body was hard and a bit pointy beneath his but he didn’t mind it. The feeling of their skin together on the other hand was incendiary. Aziraphale pulled back and curled into himself when Crowley moved his hips again and managed to rub directly up against his cock. Aziraphale reopened his eyes after the shock of sensation had subsided and found Crowley grinning up at him.
“Good, isn’t it?”
Aziraphale had to agree. He returned to his earlier task of kissing down along Crowley’s body, over the flat planes of his chest, down to the dip of his stomach and out toward his hipbones. Crowley adjusted beneath him about halfway through, making room between his legs for Aziraphale to be. It required Aziraphale to sit back up and he took the time to press his thumbs into the sharp points of Crowley’s hipbones before he slid his hands down over his narrow hips to his thighs and back, still floored by the ability to touch and feel freely. Crowley’s skin was smooth and warm from the sun and tasted fresh like the air all around them.
Aziraphale leaned down again, moving back up to tweak curiously at Crowley’s nipples. It made Crowley hiss so Aziraphale tried again with his tongue and found fingers digging into his back again. Crowley swore loudly and Aziraphale kept on, happy with the reaction he was getting.
“Jesus, angel, when you snapped our clothes off I thought you were going to get on with it,” Crowley complained, pressing his thighs against Aziraphale’s waist. “I made you get yourself a cock for a reason, you know.”
Aziraphale bit lightly at Crowley’s collarbone. It earned him another noise and nails as well as finger pads against his back. “You can’t blame me for getting distracted.”
“I can and I will.”
Aziraphale chuckled and kissed Crowley on the side of his jaw. “And what good will that do?”
“Not much,” Crowley huffed, “but this might do something.” He was reaching down then and wrapping his hand around his cock without warning.
Aziraphale couldn’t help but groan at the contact, almost collapsing down on top of Crowley. He caught himself in time but didn’t stay steady for long since Crowley began to move his hand soon after. Aziraphale felt his hips twitch instinctively in Crowley’s grip and for a long moment he was bowled over by the feeling and the awareness of something coiling tight in his gut. It was unlike anything he’d ever felt before and it took him a moment to even begin to deal with it.
Crowley rubbed his thumb over the tip and Aziraphale couldn’t help but press his face back into his chest as another desperate noise was pulled from his chest. Crowley ran his free hand up and down his back steadily. “There we are, now we’re getting somewhere,” Crowley purred. “You should let me suck you off. I think you’d like it.”
Aziraphale had a feeling that he would, in fact, like it, but that wasn’t supposed to be what this was about. He forced himself to reach down and grab Crowley’s wrist so he would stop moving it. He’d been going slowly in part because he could, but also to attempt to build his own confidence up before he tried something less beginner-friendly. He saw now that if this was to go the way he wanted it to he didn’t have the benefit of taking his time.
Crowley seemed confused when he looked back up at him, so he hurried to reassure him even as he pulled his hand away. “Maybe—maybe later.” He steeled himself and sat up further so he could slip his fingers carefully between Crowley’s legs. “I asked you if you’d mind switching for a reason, you know.”
Crowley made an aborted kind of noise and opened his legs further, collapsing back down flat onto the grass when Aziraphale finally touched him. Aziraphale for his part was glad Crowley hadn’t retorted because he found himself in no state to form any kind of proper response. Crowley was so warm and wet and soft here and it took his breath away. He ran his fingers between the folds of skin spreading the slickness of him up and down. He could feel the small, spongy declivity where he knew he could push his fingers in further, but he only ran them over top of it for the time being. Eventually on one stroke he went high enough that the tips of his fingers bumped over small bulb that was Crowley’s clitoris.
Crowley cried out and dug his fingers into Aziraphale’s hair, pressing further against his hand. Aziraphale, not particularly interested in teasing him further, took the hint and moved so he could grind the heel of his hand up against his clit more directly this time.
“Fuck, angel,” Crowley whined, voice ragged. “Be careful with that; it’s sensitive.”
“Sorry.” Aziraphale took his hand back so he could just look for a minute. “Oh, darling, aren’t you just the loveliest thing I’ve ever seen?” He pulled one of the lips of his cunt to the side just to get a better view and found he couldn’t take it anymore.
He moved so he could lie down properly and press his mouth between Crowley’s legs. It occurred to him that he had no idea what he was doing but he soon discovered that it didn’t matter. He found immediately that it was very messy business, but he couldn’t bring himself to mind. He did move up somewhat to lick at Crowley’s clit. It turned out to be a good place to start.
Crowley jerked bodily underneath him and fairly constant stream of sound began to pour from his lips, sometimes taking the form of words, sometimes not, filling the generally quiet air around them. Aziraphale found it very encouraging and started sucking on his clit. He stayed there for a while, wrapping his hands around the base of Crowley’s legs partially for somewhere to hold and partially so he didn’t choke him which seemed like it could be a danger that came with the territory.
He mouthed back down and found that Crowley was so achingly wet that there wasn’t much else he could do but lap it up, filling his mouth with the taste of him. The slick friction of it all made his head spin, as did the fact that he could feel Crowley’s cunt twitching against his lips as he worked. He licked in as far as he could go and then pulled back to suck at his labia, trying each idea out and gauging the reaction.
Aziraphale pulled back just long enough to get a look at Crowley who was the very definition of wanton at the moment, breathing hard, face flushed, pupils blown wide when he glanced up at Aziraphale for the briefest second before he got back to it. This time he went further and slipped just the tip of his tongue inside. Crowley all but shouted. Aziraphale only pressed in further.
He thought he could do this for hours just to feel Crowley flex and press up against him, to hear the veritable symphony of noises he was making, to taste him in the back of his throat, to have this intimate, sensitive place all to himself. He didn’t get to stay that long but he was allowed to keep at it for quite a while.
Crowley hadn’t been guiding him much with the grip he had on Aziraphale’s hair, at least at first. Right around the time that Aziraphale’s jaw began to ache somewhat he felt pressure against his head, pushing him further up. It took a couple of times for him to realize it was purposeful but when he did he latched back onto Crowley’s clit and stayed there.
“God, Aziraphale, please, I’m almost—” he cut himself off with a moan. “—almost there…”
“Tell me,” Aziraphale begged. “Tell me how.”
“Mmm, fingers, get your fingers in me—” Aziraphale did, carefully pressing in one and then two when he found that Crowley’s body was incredibly open for him, holding his fingers more than squeezing them like he thought it might.
Crowley made a strangled noise. “Don’t just leave them there, move them.”
Aziraphale did, pressing them in and out, and hell, it was so easy to do. Crowley threw his head back again. “Yes, just like that, only faster—add another if you like, and your mouth, please, your mouth again—”
Aziraphale felt he got the picture which was good because Crowley dissolved back into wordless sounds soon after. He pressed yet another finger inside and this time it wasn’t quite as easy but it got better as he moved them. The noise it made, the squelch of it, was particularly lewd and it made his cock—which was, admittedly, beginning to hurt from how long it’d been straining between his legs ignored—twitch. He put his mouth back to Crowley’s clit and sucked hard and that seemed to be the ticket.
Crowley tensed and cried out, high and reedy. He clenched up against Aziraphale’s fingers and shook beneath him, coming in a series of steady waves rather than all at once. Aziraphale ate him through it until the noises turned into quieter mewls and he pulled back. He kissed a sloppy line back up Crowley’s body to his neck, completely drunk on him.
“You tasted so good, my darling, so beautiful, so good for me,” he said mindlessly, lips pressed right below his ear.
Crowley made another helpless noise although Aziraphale was barely touching him. “Aziraphale—don’t—you don’t have to—”
Aziraphale really couldn’t care less about what he had to do at the moment. He knew exactly what he was doing and he wasn’t about to stop for anything. “I could have you like that for eons, taste only you for the rest of eternity.” He reached down to rub circles around Crowley’s clit which he was delighted to feel twitch against his fingers. “You could do that again couldn’t you? I could make you do it again. Would you like that, love? You could have whatever you like, my mouth, my fingers—just for you. Only for you, my lovely.”
Crowley sobbed above him, clinging to him harder than ever. “Stop, please, God, angel, you’re killing me—”
Aziraphale moved so he could look him in the eyes. “Never.”
There was something very breakable in Crowley’s eyes, something like belief for just a moment before he blinked it away. “Fine, but at least have the decency to fuck me while you’re at it. Please, I’ve been waiting so damn long.”
Aziraphale blinked, caught a bit off guard. “Can I?” he asked, wanting to more than anything but determined not to be selfish.
“You’d better, unless you want to see me actually lose it.”
He didn’t need to be told twice. Crowley was still wonderfully wet and he felt open, but Aziraphale still felt like he had to be gentle. His hand shook as he held onto himself and the head of his cock slipped over top of Crowley’s hole the first time before he managed to get the angle right to actually enter him.
His attempt at a measured speed didn’t last, unfortunately, since his will-power had been worn down to almost nothing and once he felt the hot clutch of Crowley’s body around him he couldn’t help but push all the way in. It didn’t seem to matter. Crowley took him inside easy as anything, gasping out a broken, “Yes” as he did.
Aziraphale didn’t think that they could do anything that would feel more intimate than before but this was something else entirely. Aziraphale moved without thinking, sliding in and out just slightly. It made both of them groan. He clenched his teeth at the pressure all around him. “I’m not going to last long, I don’t think,” Aziraphale forced himself to say though words weren’t coming all that easily to him at the moment.
“Don’t expect you to,” Crowley growled back, clenching and unclenching around him distractingly, “but you need to move.”
Aziraphale supposed he had a point, so he let loose the restraints on himself and began to move in earnest. The friction of it was intoxicating and Aziraphale couldn’t help but move faster to get more of it. The image of his cock sliding in and out of Crowley’s body was obscene and he couldn’t stop watching it for several long moments. He saw Crowley bring a hand down to rub haphazardly at his clit meanwhile and looked back up to find the demon with his eyes squeezed shut and his mouth open. He was quieter this time, but was still producing a steady stream of affirmatory noises.
Aziraphale could feel Crowley speed up his movements, grinding his hand hard and without much specificity against his cunt and occasionally bumping his fingertips against where they were connected, and gripped harder onto his hips, hoisting up his legs and growing more desperate with his thrusts. He could feel the coiling in his stomach again, more so than before until it was nearly unbearable.
Everything was fading away aside from the point where they were connected, but Aziraphale could still feel when Crowley came for a second time, gasping and shuddering, squeezing hard around his cock. That was it for him. It seemed like he was going to learn how it felt for the world to end after all. His orgasm certainly crashed through him like the wrath of heaven and hell put together. The upside of it was that immediately afterward, he got to learn how it felt for it to be rebuilt right back around him.
Light filtered back in, lower now that it was something like late afternoon. The wind rustled the grass around them and Aziraphale could feel it brush against his arm. He found that he’d promptly collapsed on top of Crowley who hadn’t seen fit to move him. He felt like his mind had been scattered to pieces and tossed around the field. It was difficult to think of much at all, much less actually process anything that had just happened.
He really only had one thing repeating over and over in his mind. “I love you,” he said, impressed by the roughness of his own voice. “I love you so much, darling. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner.”
Crowley shifted slightly below him. “Don’t apologize. You’re ruining my afterglow.”
At least he hadn’t outright objected. That was progress. Aziraphale noticed that they were still attached and moved to amend that. Both of them hissed at the loss. They were both very sticky as well and he doubted Crowley wanted him laying on top of him and crushing him after all of that so he moved to get off but Crowley grabbed his arm.
“Wait.” He wouldn’t meet Aziraphale’s eyes when he looked. “Just…stay here. Just for a while. Please.”
Aziraphale couldn’t imagine how he could possibly say no to that. “Can I kiss you? Or would you rather I not? It might be a bit unhygienic—”
“You think I give a damn? Kiss me, angel.”
Aziraphale did, thoroughly, pressing into Crowley and re-familiarizing himself with this taste of him. “You were so good,” Aziraphale told him, pulling back so he could kiss other parts of his face as well. “So good for me, pet. You felt so wonderful.”
Crowley let out sharp breath. “You don’t have to do that, you know. I didn’t actually do anything. Just laid there and had a vagina.”
Aziraphale hummed. “I don’t know about that, but that’s not really the point.” He pressed his face into Crowley’s neck and held onto to him. “You deserve to hear those kinds of things and I wish you would believe them.”
Crowley scoffed at him and so Aziraphale was forced to move so he could look him in the eyes again. “I’m afraid I’m rather serious. I’ve spent far too long not saying them to you and I feel that you haven’t had anyone to say them to you instead. I hadn’t so much as hugged you in as long as I can easily remember until a couple nights ago. I know I probably won’t convince you today, but I will someday. You deserve the world. I’ve never loved anyone the way I love you, and I never will.”
He felt a weight lifted off him having said it. He returned to the safe nook underneath Crowley’s chin afterward, aware that he’d made himself quite vulnerable just now and not altogether used to it. He felt an arm come around to hold him and heard something that sounded suspiciously like sniffling above him.
“I love you, angel,” Crowley said, voice wavering. “I’ve always loved you.”
Aziraphale kissed the patch of skin under his lips and let him be for a short while, let the world go on without them for just a bit. He knew they ought to do something with themselves before the sun actually started to set, but he couldn’t help but want to live in this moment forever. He supposed some things always did stay the same.
He thought about the bird, for whatever reason. He couldn’t help it. He almost brought it up but decided against it. He didn’t think he needed to. They both knew what it meant. He could let it be what it was.
“Was it okay?” he eventually couldn’t help but ask.
Crowley laughed, pressing his face into Aziraphale’s hair. “You’re really asking me that?”
“It’s an honest question. I want to know how to improve.”
Aziraphale had that feeling he got when Crowley was rolling his eyes again. “You did very well all things considered. You’ll last longer with time and practice. There’s more to it with other combinations but we can cross that bridge when we get there. As for the first bit, well, I dunno. I don’t really have anything to compare it with, but it seemed quite good.”
Aziraphale frowned. “Really?” He couldn’t imagine anyone seeing Crowley like that and not wanting to go down on him.
“I’m not as experienced as you probably think. Sexual temptation wasn’t ever really my scene,” he admitted. “I dabbled but that was it.”
Aziraphale ignored the slight feeling of relief that came with the knowledge. “I suppose we’ll just have to practice then, until we get better.”
“I suppose,” Crowley said, sounding rather sleazy. Aziraphale found he didn’t mind it.
He did force himself to sit up then, the world swinging right-side up again. He stretched his arms above his head and looked down to find Crowley doing the same, stretching out long in the grass. Aziraphale noted the way his back curled when he did with fascination. He looked up steadily and unblinking when he was done. He waved a hand lazily and the mess on both of them was gone which Aziraphale appreciated a great deal.
“We might want to get going,” Aziraphale pointed out. “We managed to get this sorted in one day so there’s really no need to stay the night out here.”
Crowley sat up as well. His hair was mussed from laying so long but he didn’t do anything about it. “We can go if you want, but I’d had it in my head that I’d like to stay and see the stars out here. London’s such a smog fest these days you can’t see a thing. We don’t have to, just thought it might be nice.”
Aziraphale felt the thrill of planning for a future rise up within him. He thought that maybe this was what freedom was supposed to feel like. “Crowley…” He couldn’t help but lean forward and kiss him, reaching down to hold his hand afterward, just to keep touching him. “You’re right, I think that sounds lovely.”
“…we might want to do it with clothes on though. Don’t you think?”
“Ah, you’re no fun. Besides you’re the one that miracled them away. I don’t know where they are.”
“They’re right over there, see? And I didn’t say they had to stay on permanently…”
“Fine. You’d better un-bless your damn picnic blanket then or you’ll have to go get them yourself.”
Some weeks later, one cooler Wednesday afternoon the normally peaceful atmosphere of A.Z. Fell & Co. was broken by a shriek that came from somewhere near the front of the store. Aziraphale jumped up from where he’d been inspecting an old faded volume he’d found recently and went to see what’d happened to cause such a reaction.
He found one of the shop’s two customers—the other being an elderly woman Aziraphale saw often who never asked to buy anything and didn’t bat an eye at the disturbance (he liked her quite a lot)—crowded back against a bookshelf, looking horrified at something or other. Aziraphale quickly rounded the corner and saw the issue.
Descending slowly and calmly from the windowsill and onto the floor was a fairly large snake, about the size of a boa constrictor. It flicked its tongue lazily at the woman who yelped again and slithered leisurely toward Aziraphale, its black scales glittering in the sunlight as it went.
It was true that oftentimes when the shop was open—which seemed to be even less frequently and more sporadically than before—if one was to look closely they would find that it had gained a new resident. The shop snake generally could be found sunning itself in the window on the left side of the shop amongst a small forest of potted plants that had also recently cropped up where they hadn’t been before. Today, however, the snake didn’t seem content to stay out of sight until the shop closed.
Aziraphale sighed, giving the snake a look that was supposed to be reprimanding but turned fond rather quickly. It flicked its tongue at him and he bent down so he could hoist it up onto his shoulders. It curled around him accommodatingly, scales still warm from basking. The woman watched with rapt horror and looked at Aziraphale as if she wasn’t sure he was right in the head.
“I’m sorry he frightened you,” he said, forcing himself to make an effort toward customer service. “He usually stays up in the window. He’s really rather docile.”
The woman seemed unconvinced. “You let it just roam around?”
Aziraphale frowned. “Like I mentioned, he normally stays there in the sun, but yes. He’s not one to be kept in a cage, but I’ll go put him in the back since he’s being disruptive.” With that, he turned and went off that way.
“You didn’t need to scare her,” Aziraphale scolded the snake, running his fingers gently over a length of its body. It flexed around his neck. “You could have waited until she’d left the aisle.”
The snake hissed mildly at him. They reached the backroom and Aziraphale held out an arm for the snake to descend. It went, down onto the desk below, coiling there.
“Wait upstairs if you’d like. I won’t stay open much longer. I just have a bit more work I’d like to get done first.” The snake stared at him unblinkingly and didn’t move, so Aziraphale let it be and returned to make sure the woman was alright.
She’d already left by the time he got back to her which was perhaps for the best. She’d been eyeing a few of his original Shakespeares and he hadn’t appreciated it. He nodded at the other woman who was still caught up in her book and went back to his desk. It was quiet for a short while and Aziraphale became lost in the pages before him. He was drawn out again by the sound of murmuring. He wondered if the woman had a friend who’d come in.
It continued briefly and then he heard the sound of the front door opening and closing. The friend leaving? He hadn’t heard them come in, but he hadn’t been paying much attention. But then, he heard what could only be the lock on the door clicking shut. Afterwards, an anticipatory silence. Aziraphale sighed and took off his reading glasses. He stood and headed toward the door. No point in playing dumb.
Crowley, no longer a snake, stood leaning up against the front door and the store was noticeably empty aside from the two of them. He smiled smugly when Aziraphale approached. “What was that you called me? Docile?”
“Just thought you might want to close a bit early tonight, that’s all.”
Aziraphale raised his eyebrows, moving until they were quite close. “I’ve requested before that you just ask if you want something, you know.”
Crowley shrugged noncommittally. Admittedly this was something of an improvement. At least he was being more direct. “I knew you’d be too nice to throw them out.” Aziraphale continued to stare him down and eventually he broke, looking petulant. “And, yes, I wanted them out of here already.”
Aziraphale pressed up against him fully and kissed him for his efforts. Crowley curled around him in a familiar way and kissed back eagerly.
Things were different and the same, as they often were. It would take more time before certain things changed permanently, but both of them were working on it, working on their future. Aziraphale couldn’t help but feel like, as long as the two of them were together, everything would turn out alright in the end. In the meantime, he’d found that being in love came with a great deal of benefits which both of them were eager to take advantage of.
“Was there anything else you wanted?” Aziraphale asked, pulling back and smoothing a hand down over Crowley’s lapel. He stole his sunglasses with the other, always ready to be rid of them. He offered Crowley a knowing smile. The book could wait until later anyway.
Crowley smiled back, his eyes lighting up. “Well, now that you mention it…”
Aziraphale was tugging him back further into the bookshop before he could finish, flipping the closed sign as he went.