Aziraphale is not actually sure when he fell asleep, he just knows that at some point his eyes closed and then suddenly they were open again, with no real reason for it, except he feels like the bus just juddered unexpectedly. He looks around but no one else on the bus appears jolted or otherwise moved from the positions they were in. There's a blonde woman with a blue scarf just to the front of Aziraphale, her nose deep in a book, another woman with dark hair sitting across from them and a couple at the back. All of them look sleepy and distracted and still. But something woke Aziraphale up...
This is when Aziraphale realises that his head is actually resting on something that isn't the back of the bus seat. Something warm and soft and smelling faintly of burnt metal. He lifts his head slightly and realises Crowley's arm is slung out along the back of his seat, and Aziraphale has been sleeping with his face squashed into Crowley's shoulder all this time. Not that the demon cares, he has managed to balance this lengthening of the right side of his body with the scrunching up of the left side of his body and is currently curled up against the bus window fast asleep, his breath making a little circle of condensation on the glass and his sunglasses slightly askew.
Aziraphale knows well that Crowley can sleep like the dead, anywhere. There's been a few times in the last few centuries when he's come into the bookshop to find Crowley impossibly stretched out on the ceiling, fast asleep. Most of the time Aziraphale has left him to it, before he got peckish and batted Crowley with a broom until he woke up so they could go and have sushi.
So it wasn't Crowley who woke him up, although now he's awake the warmth of Crowley's arm around the back of his chair, hand dangling over the side onto Aziraphale's right shoulder, is distracting enough. But there was something...
He glances around again. Nothing seems amiss. They're in a country lane somewhere, and Aziraphale's inner sense tells him they're still fairly far from Oxford, let alone London. He takes in the other passengers again...and pauses.
The blonde woman in the blue scarf sitting to the front of him, facing across the bus rather than down it, has taken her nose out of her book and is looking at him. Right at him, with an intent gaze. When Aziraphale first noticed her he thought she was a young woman but now she's looking at him, he realises she is older, although she could be from forty to sixty, it's hard to tell. And she's staring.
Belatedly Aziraphale realises that they probably look like an odd couple, him and Crowley, what with him looking rather ruffled around the edges and Crowley still singed from head to toe. But usually people don't notice them no matter how they look. They go about their daily lives and the humans go about theirs and no one really pays any attention to them unless they're making a scene. Aziraphale puts it down to them having a little bit of whatever Adam has in spades – suspicion slides of them like water off –
But she's noticing them. The two of them. She's taking them both in, this nondescript woman with a blue scarf on a night bus to Oxford. And then Aziraphale notices the front cover of her book is blank. It's just a light blue, like the blue of Heaven. There's no words on it.
The strangest idea occurs to Aziraphale. He looks back up at the woman. Her eyes are the same blue of Heaven and she's smiling now, a sweet, small smile. She's smiling at him and Crowley the way he's sometimes seen the rather alternative people of Soho or old ladies in St James Park smile at them when they're walking along bickering. A sort of fond, knowing smile.
It couldn't be, Aziraphale thinks, suddenly pinned in place by those blue eyes. That woman couldn't be...Her?
And if it is...Her, then She is watching him and Crowley, She knows about him and Crowley...and She's smiling. Like it's fine.
Crowley's arm moves suddenly as he shifts, the hand on Aziraphale's shoulder brushing down his arm, and the touch makes Aziraphale jump, momentarily knocking the breath out of him. He turns to glance at Crowley, who is peeling his face off the window and pushing his sunglasses up with the hand that isn't lingering on Aziraphale's arm so he can look outside.
“Where'n earth're we?” he mumbles, voice still slurred by sleep.
Aziraphale looks back over at where the woman was sitting – but She's gone. There's only an empty seat there now, with a nondescript blue book balanced on the edge of it. Then when Aziraphale blinks, that's gone too.
Crowley's hand brushes at Aziraphale's arm again as he attempts to right himself in the seat, and Aziraphale's whole arm tingles. “'S all dark outside,” he complains.
Aziraphale tries to pull himself together. “We're still about twenty miles out from Oxford.”
Crowley slumps again, says “ugh”, takes off his sunglasses and stretches his arm back out onto Aziraphale's shoulder, curling into the window, his red hair pushing up against the glass. “Wake me up when we're there.”
“Oxford or London?” Aziraphale asks, only to receive the rather snappish reply of “Wherever, angel.”
Crowley settles back down again, closing his eyes, holding his sunglasses in his lap. Aziraphale looks back over at the seat recently vacated by...Someone. He remembers the smile, so fond and gentle. Like it was fine. Like everything was fine. Like he and Crowley being...him and Crowley...was fine.
“Crowley,” he says, before he can chicken out.
“Trying to sleep here,” Crowley grumbles, eyes squeezed closed.
Aziraphale ignores this. “Your offer of me coming to your place...is that still...I mean, would it still be okay if I did that?”
There's a little pause. Crowley doesn't move or open his eyes, but his non-Aziraphaled hand fiddles with his sunglasses in his lap before he says, “Always, angel.”
Crowley's voice sounds odd, like it's hopeful and not used to being hopeful. He doesn't move a muscle. His hand is still on Aziraphale's shoulder, deceptively casual.
“Oh,” Aziraphale says, for something to say. “Okay then.”
There's a weird silence. Then Crowley says, “Now can I finally get some rest? In case you didn't notice, I drove a burning car a bloody long way to prevent the Apocalypse today which was only slightly exhausting.”
Aziraphale sighs but doesn't dignify Crowley's sarkiness with a response. He waits twenty minutes or so, then, when he sees the lights of Oxford appear on the horizon, sends a little suggestion to the driver that maybe he would like to do an impromptu jaunt to London for, oh, let's say triple the pay, and checks on Crowley. Crowley is back in the land of dreams, now drooling against the window.
Aziraphale lets himself relax, just a little, and then a little more, until his head is back on Crowley's shoulder.
After all, it's awfully warm and soft, and although he hasn't been driving any burning vehicles, he did drive a scooter, which in his opinion was tiring enough. So Aziraphale closes his eyes and falls asleep too.
The bus driver keeps driving onto London, because even though it's the middle of the night, triple pay is triple pay.
10 years later
In Crowley's opinion, Aziraphale's sinful behaviour has only gotten worse since the Nope-ocalypse happened. Not in that way. Well, slightly in that way. Well, more than slightly. But also in other ways, such as gluttony (spends literally half his time eating now), pride (spends the other half of his time stroking his favourite books) and right now he is doing an excellent job of exhibiting sloth.
They were meant to meet twenty minutes ago. Crowley is still on a bench in St James Park, waiting. He'd text Aziraphale, but it would probably take the angel another twenty minutes just to work out how to reply. Aziraphale and smartphones have taken to each other like a duck to investment banking.
Speaking of ducks...Crowley miracles a bag of seed into his hands. If Aziraphale is too busy sleeping to watch the feeding frenzy, that's his fault. Although the sleeping part was Crowley's fault. After showing him other...sinful things...he showed him sleep, and Aziraphale did actually take to that like a duck to water. His bed is now the softest, most comfortable bed in the universe. It has an actual layer of cushions. Sometimes they spend all day on it.
Something about the angel is definitely different. It's as if Aziraphale has decided, once and for all, to throw caution to the wind and have as many human experiences as he possibly can. To enjoy himself as much as he possibly can. He doesn't seem to give a fig for repercussions anymore, for no discernible reason. It's been fantastic.
Crowley stands up to feed the ducks, when a woman also sitting on the bench – a woman who wasn't there two seconds ago – suddenly says, “Hello Crowley.”
Crowley freezes and glances back. She's a blonde woman of uncertain age, nondescript apart from very blue eyes. In her hands is a book with a blank cover on it.
Usually Crowley can smell an angel or a demon a mile away. He's much better at it than Aziraphale. But he can't smell anything about this woman. She doesn't even smell human.
The woman smiles. It seems like an non-threatening smile, although Crowley has never been one to judge appearances. Nevertheless, he sits back down on the bench.
“Hello,” he says as casually as he can. “How the Hell do you know my name?”
The woman keeps smiling, and there's something about that smile, something that strikes a memory in Crowley...because he's seen that smile before...but it was a very, very long time ago...
“Holy hell,” he realises.
“Not exactly,” says God, still smiling. “How are you Crowley? It's been a while.”
Crowley decides that it's probably about time he started running. It's been a long time since the Old Testament but that doesn't mean God isn't any more forgiving these days. For all he knows, this is the longest amount of time any demon has spent talking to God before just bursting into holy fire or something. Aziraphale is going to turn up late and find Crowley has turned into a pile of ash with a pair of sunglasses balanced on the top.
God's enigmatic smile turns into a full grin. “Don't worry, I'm not going to smite you. I have people for that.”
Crowley shifts in his seat. “Not reading my mind are you?”
“I don't need to, it's written all over your face.” God pauses for a second, then seems to reach a decision and puts Her book aside in favour of rooting through Her pockets and pulling out a sandwich wrapped in clingfilm.
Crowley stares at the sandwich. God unwraps the clingfilm. “It's peanut butter and jelly,” She says. “I know it's more an American thing, but to be honest I think I'm a bit addicted. I can't get enough. Humans are so clever. Would you like some?”
“Er,” Crowley says. “No thanks.”
This is not what he would have predicted, if he had ever predicted meeting God again, which he hadn't. Sitting on a park bench whilst God devours a peanut butter and jelly sandwich like She hasn't eaten for weeks. Crowley would think it was all a big hoax except he keeps sensing these odd waves of peace and tranquillity coming off Her, like Aziraphale sometimes has when he's really happy but much stronger. It's...well, it's Heavenly.
“Okay,” Crowley says, once God has finished tearing apart Her sandwich. “So if you're not here to smite me, what are you doing here? Gods don't talk to demons.”
God throws Crowley an indecipherable look as She licks Her fingers clean of peanut butter. “Now, who on earth told you that? Oh, never mind, it doesn't matter for now. Crowley.” She balls the clingfilm up with Her hands. “Things are getting bad again. In Heaven and Hell. There may be another...event. Not on Earth, it's protected for now, but in the other planes certainly.” She pauses. “But this time I don't want you two getting involved in it. You've done your part.”
Crowley doesn't bother asking who 'you two' are. She's got to know about him and Aziraphale. She's bloody omnipotent isn't She. He'd asked Aziraphale about it once, idly, questioning whether She might know, and for some reason Aziraphale had just beamed at him and said something along the lines of it's fine, which was not exactly what Crowley had been asking.
He sighs, trying to pull himself together. They'd both known it was coming, round two, but he'd been hoping for more time. “If it's a fight between Heaven and Hell, we can't not be involved. We're a demon and an angel.”
God snorts. “Oh, you know you two haven't really been that for a long time.”
Crowley doesn't know what to say to that. He both knows and doesn't know what She means. God pats the seat between them, like She wants to pat his hand but is worried he might make a run for it if She does.
“Crowley,” She says. “The reason I'm here is because I have something to give you.” And She slides an iron key along the bench between them.
Crowley stares at the key. It looks innocuous enough.
“That's the key to a cottage,” God tells him. “In the South Downs. It's a nice cottage, by the sea, has a big garden. Beautiful sunsets. And anyone living there won't be found by anyone. Not by Heaven or Hell. The beings living there will be...entirely protected. For as long as they like. Do you understand?”
Suddenly everything inside Crowley has gone very still. He reaches out and pokes the key. It remains a key, as ordinary as anything else on Earth. He glances up at God, who is watching him, Her blue eyes dancing. “Why would you do this?” he asks.
God smiles. “You always did ask a lot of questions,” She says, which is not an answer, and both of them know it.
Crowley looks down at the key, weighing up his options, but to be honest, he doesn't have many. If Heaven and Hell are planning a big fight, then they will recall Crowley and Aziraphale eventually, their little tricks notwithstanding, and there will be nowhere they can hide that they can't be found. Except for, perhaps, a little cottage on the South Downs.
Crowley takes the key and pockets it. “From what I remember,” he says, trying not to sound bitter, “You threw me out for asking a lot of questions.”
God laughs. It's a strange, bright sound. “That's why you think I cast you out?”
“Well, why else would you have?” mutters Crowley.
“Well, think about it,” God says. “If you were still in Heaven, would you really be happy there? Would you really be you? And if you and Aziraphale were both angels, would you both be on Earth? It's one angel and one demon stationed on Earth, that's the rules.” She shrugs. “Someone's got to be the demon in that equation.”
Crowley stares at the duck pond. God stands up, brushing off sandwich crumbs from Her coat and collecting up Her strange, blank book. “You mean to say,” continues Crowley. “That I got cast out for the simple reason that I had to if I was going to end up...here?”
God smiles, wrapping Her scarf around Her neck. “Perhaps I'll see you again, Crowley,” She says, and vanishes, leaving Crowley blinking in surprise and clutching his bag of duck food.
He's still clutching it when Aziraphale arrives two minutes later. He hurries towards Crowley, panting and red-faced, and says, “I'm sorry, those bastard customers, honestly Crowley, I don't know what I'm going to do with them – ”
And Crowley makes a decision all at once and stands up, taking Aziraphale's hands with a casual ease that surprises both of them. “Angel,” he says. “Let's get retired.”
Aziraphale blinks three times in rapid succession. “Sorry, what?”
Crowley lets go of one of Aziraphale's hands and pulls the iron key out of his pocket, holding it up between them.
“I've got one Hell of a story to tell you,” he says.