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Inauspicious (But Not Impossible)

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“Look thou but sweet, and I am proof against their enmity.”

- William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

 

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[1596]

 

Aziraphale had, of course, seen Romeo and Juliet.  He was at The Globe for its very first performance, actually, and he found it to be brilliant, though William did have a tendency to throw rather serious religious terminology around in borderline-blasphemous ways.  Romeo is a clever boy, I’ll give him that, the angel thought as he watched Romeo purge himself of sin with a kiss, but I do hope he atones properly later.  Really, “dear saint, let lips do what hands do”?  He should know better than to use prayer for temptation.  Actually, that sounds a bit like- At the thought of him, Aziraphale’s head turned and his blue eyes scanned the crowd. 

Almost everyone was watching the young actors with reverent attention – Will certainly has a hit on his hands with this one. – but Aziraphale looked for an outlier, someone leaning casually on the margins of the crowd, feigning boredom at such a human love story, serpentine eyes hidden by dark lenses.  He could see no one matching this description.  Aziraphale really wasn’t surprised.  After so many chance meetings, he had begun to sense the demon’s presence before he saw him, and nothing on his angelic radar told him Crowley was nearby.  He was surprised, however, by the twinge of disappointment he felt.  He frowned.

Better that he’s not here, anyway, he told himselfAs the play continued and Juliet learned Romeo’s family name, Aziraphale let his mind wander a little.  He could imagine exactly how Crowley would have picked that last scene apart, smirking, teasing him with comments like “so that’s what saints get up to on Earth, then?  Saints?” and “just touching someone’s hand’s a sin, now, is it?  If all Eve had to do was touch Adam’s hand, my job would’ve been much easier.  Your lot’s getting strict, angel.” 

He certainly would have laughed in the lovely, hopeful silence after the lovers stared into each other’s eyes and Juliet said “you kiss by the book.”  And then, Aziraphale thought with a small sigh, when he ran out of snide comments, he surely would’ve asked me to take care of some demonic work he found too troublesome.  Always up to something.  As Aziraphale imagined this interaction, he had the same star-struck, soft look on his face as most of the other theatergoers, and yet, if the man next to him had asked the angel what those last few lines had meant, he wouldn’t have been able to tell him.  His mind was elsewhere.

On the stage, the human playing Juliet softly cried “My only love sprung from my only hate!  Too early seen unknown, and known too late” and Aziraphale, lost in thought, didn’t hear her.

 

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[1941]

 

A flash of light, thunder louder than the first storm over Eden.  A tremor as fragments fall at their feet.  A realization, an affectionate smile, and a real, honest miracle, one just for him.  A brushing of fingers over his as he takes hold of the heavy bag.  A tightness in his chest, a pounding in his ears.  And then he is alone again, standing in the rubble of a bomb, a hundred-year-old church, and the last of his defenses.

 

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[June, 1945]

 

Start small.  “Oh!  Um- yes, okay, just the other day, I came across a lovely woman crying in the park, so I sat with her, and it turned out that her husband was-” Aziraphale paused, eyes tightening in sympathy, voice dropping quieter, “abusing her, so I spoke with her until she felt better and gave her just a little more strength so she could leave him and find a safe place for her and her daughter.”  Aziraphale paused, hoping that Helen and Sophie were doing okay in their new home, that Gabriel would be pleased.

Gabriel frowned, looking to his left with narrowed eyes, then back at Aziraphale.  “You do know we don’t generally condone divorce, Aziraphale.”

“Well, yes, but, Gabriel, she- Yes, I know.”  Aziraphale swallowed and forced himself to change the subject, still not feeling brave enough to venture into describing the real, most important miracles he had been up to lately.  He had a feeling Gabriel would disapprove of his dealings with the spy ring, despite the fact that he had accomplished more genuine good (and more Nazi-thwarting) through working with the humans than he ever could have done on his own.  Well, up until the mishap with the books and misplaced loyalties, anyway.  And he didn’t dare tell the archangel where he had gone after that.

“Okay, I encountered several young women just today who were eating lunch and feeling very poorly about their appearances.  Two of them were talking about trying new ‘miracle’ diets involving cigarettes,” he winced, “and another one was trying to eat as little as she possibly could, a very unhealthy way of thinking, the poor girl.  So I interrupted their thoughts a tad, encouraging them to love themselves and enjoy their meals without any guilt.  Their new happiness will certainly spread to those around them, too.”  That’s got to be a winner, Aziraphale thought with a big, bright – and just a tad nervous – smile.

“Humans and their food,” Gabriel scoffed with a roll of his eyes.  “I just do not get it.  It’s only fuel: just consume what you need to stay alive and get on with it.”  Gabriel laughed coldly.

For a split second, Aziraphale’s face fell, then he recovered.  “Yes, well, they have created a very wide variety of dishes, and human taste buds allow for… but I see your point.  Um…”

Aziraphale considered what Gabriel’s reaction to a battlefield story would be.  Would he approve of Aziraphale setting foot in the trenches when he was technically given instructions to stay in London during the war?  Did Gabriel have any idea what those young, terrified soldiers had gone through in those cold, foreign lands?  The least Aziraphale could do was make them a little more comfortable, a little safer, through a few small blessings from a humble medic they honestly didn’t remember seeing around before but who assured them he was always nearby… His thoughts were interrupted by Gabriel clearing his throat.

“Listen, Aziraphale, this is not a performance review.”

“It isn’t?  Oh!  Um, then, you summoned me for…?”  Nothing good, that’s a guarantee.  And right in the middle of a perfectly rainy day and a good book.  Aziraphale looked away from Gabriel’s intense purple eyes to glance quickly around the area of Heaven to which he had been summoned.  Why he bothered looking around, he didn’t know: he saw the usual empty white space, clean lines, crystal-clear window panes, and Earth’s most magnificent landmarks beyond the glass, covered with a thick blanket of clouds.  He noticed a few more buildings had popped up since the last time he had visited Heaven.  No other angels were close by.  He met Gabriel’s eyes again, a look of curious optimism on his face.

“I know, it looks great up here now, doesn’t it?”  Gabriel flashed a big smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes.  “We changed the lighting since you were up here last, made it a little less soft, much more practical.  Gosh, we may have even redecorated some since then.  It has been a long time, hasn’t it, since you were last in Heaven, Aziraphale?”  Aziraphale smiled uneasily and gave a short nod.  Not that long, he didn’t think, but then again, he couldn’t exactly remember.  “I thought you were due for a visit up here.  It must get tiresome being around humans all the time.”  The word “humans” was particularly tinged with disgust, as if he were talking about gangrene or mustard gas, not the whole of humanity, Aziraphale thought.  “What do you even do all day?  Surrounded by earthly trivialities: food, drink, pleasure, affection.  How do you stay focused on your work with so many” – Gabriel paused, a sharp glint in his eye – “distractions?”

Aziraphale felt the clenching in his stomach that he had come to recognize, after thousands of years inhabiting a body, as nerves.  Something wasn’t right.  “Distractions?  The humans?  But, well, Gabriel, they are the work, aren’t they?  Trying to help them, guide them through challenges, save them from the forces of evil and all that?”

“Ah, yes, speaking of evil forces –“  Gabriel was cut off mid-sentence by a commotion to their right.  A group of four angels had appeared, dressed in attire Aziraphale hadn’t seen in ages, literally, and carrying swords.  “Well, look at that.  Back from fighting the good fight.” 

Aziraphale’s brows knit together.  Fighting?  But the war is over… And then one of the angels turned around and Aziraphale knew they had not been fighting any human war.  Sprayed across the angel’s front, dripping from his sword, was a dark, silver substance that could only be demon blood.  Shocked, Aziraphale started, wondering Whose? and then catching himself as he noticed Gabriel watching not the other angels, but Aziraphale’s face.  Gabriel clapped him hard on the shoulder.  “Aziraphale, relax!  That’s a job well done, that is.  We should go congratulate them.  Another demon eternally vanquished.  Another victory for the forces of righteousness.  Why do you look upset?”

Though he didn’t physically need to, Aziraphale took a deep breath, blinked slowly, and willed his heartbeat slower, his face calmer.  Then, he mustered up an anxious smile.  “Upset?  I’m not… upset, why would I be?  Good job,” he said with raised voice in the direction of the battle-weary angels, though not quite loud enough for them to hear him.  But the question still echoed loudly in his mind: whose blood is that?

“Good,” Gabriel said, “because I’d hate to think that your many years on Earth with all the humans and that demon – What’s his name again, Crawley?”  He waved a hand in front of his face, implying that Crowley’s actual name really didn’t matter at all to him.  “I’d hate to think that he was causing you to have any doubts as to your, ah, allegiances or your mission.”  Gabriel started to walk slowly around Aziraphale, circling behind his back; Aziraphale held still and tried to will his face to hide his panic as he watched the blood-spattered angel laugh with his comrades. 

“Humanity seems to have rubbed off on you a good amount, so we know what considerable time spent away from our kind can do to an angel.  I do hope you’re avoiding any personal contact with the demon, as much as possible, anyway.  We can’t stand for any fraternizing.”  Aziraphale’s cheeks flushed.  He knows.

Gabriel stopped just behind Aziraphale’s right shoulder, lowered his voice, and said, “I thought you could use a reminder of what our kind does to demons.  Just in case.”  He paused just long enough for the tips of Aziraphale’s ears to turn pink, then clear up when Aziraphale realized his body’s reaction and stopped it.  “We do the same to angels who disobey, or worse: they Fall.  You couldn’t have forgotten that.”  Just stay still and be polite and get out as soon as you can.  Gabriel walked slowly back in front of Aziraphale and plastered his unnerving grin back across his face.  “That’s all.  Head back to your humans.  Go fight the good fight.  We’re counting on you, Aziraphale.  Don’t mess up.”

On the pristine floor, two small pools of silver spread as the angel wiped his blade clean.

Aziraphale smiled tightly, nodded, and disappeared.

 

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[June, 1945]

 

Crowley had spent the same afternoon having a similar conversation with his superiors.  Well, similar in its message, though very different in its delivery.  He, too, had been inconveniently summoned: in his case, by the snap of Beelzebub’s slick fingers.  Infuriating, really, since he had been driving the Bentley at a cool 100mph down a long, empty road when it happened, clearing his head, more important things to worry about than the whims of Hell’s minions.  Oh, you’re probably wrapped around a tree by now, he imagined with a sigh.  So much work to bring you back from that.  Why can’t they just use the bloody telephone?

Crowley faked a smile that faded as quickly as it had formed.  Looking from Beelzebub to the shadowy corner where Hastur and Ligur lurked, he pulled the brim of his hat a little lower and folded his arms across his chest.  “Why do you think I called you, Crowley?” Beelzebub asked impatiently.

“Don’t we need to recount the deeds of the day first?”  His joke fell flat as Beelzebub glared at him.  “Lord Beelzebub, I haven’t the faintest idea why I’m here.  All I know is that I do have a car racing at a considerable speed down an English road that is typically not very populated this time of day, therefore probably doing absolutely no damage at all,” except to the car, “and what a wasted opportunity for mayhem-"

Beelzebub interrupted him.  “Crowley.  Since you’re in a hurry, we’ll get right to it.  The angel Aziraphale." Crowley held his face steady, but felt a nervous energy start buzzing inside.  “Confess.”

Speechless, Crowley blinked slowly.  Sure, they often asked how he was getting on with fouling the angel’s ethereal plans, occasionally making jabs about how unbearable his wholesome company must be, but confess?  That’s new.  He cleared his throat.  “Well, y’know, he keeps on doing his good deeds – trying, anyway – and I keep on, er, stopping him, yeah, or at least swooping in after and messing it all up, canceling out the good will.”  He shrugged, trying very hard to appear calm.  “Like always.”  Confess?  What do they want to hear?  What do they know?  And isn’t it the other side that does the confessing?  Oh – oh, is Aziraphale being asked to do the same?  Crowley felt sharp, cold fear in the pit of his stomach.

Scowling, Beelzebub walked closer to Crowley.  “Sure, that’s been the story for thousands of years now, always the same, and yet the reports we get from others who’ve been up there, who’ve seen you, are much more detailed and problematic.  Especially one filed about a month ago.”

Shit.  Shit shit shit.  “Ah, a month ago, yeah?”  He screwed his face up in exaggerated confusion.  “Think I was in Berlin still.  Loads to do there, you know, what with the-“

“No, this was London, Crowley.  You must remember.”  It was a statement, not a suggestion.

Crowley froze, taking a split second to consider that the forces of Hell might, actually, for once, know exactly what they were talking about.  It hadn’t happened before, and of course, it was his luck that it would happen now, about this.  He checked his emotions, straightened his shoulders, and met Beelzebub’s eyes.  “I’m certain I have no idea what you’re referring to.”  Beelzebub grinned a slow, excited grin.

 

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[June, 1945]

 

When Crowley finally made it back to the Bentley, he discovered that it wasn’t a tree, as he had feared, that had stopped it, but rather, a long stretch of empty field.  Turns out, a car whose gas tank had been on E since it was purchased has an awfully hard time maintaining speed when the demonic forces behind its wheel pop into another realm and leave it to its own devices.  Crowley gave a small mutter of thanks, wrenched open the door, and climbed tenderly into the back seat, lying down, head in his hands.

His car was fine, but Crowley himself was significantly worse for the wear.  While only about ten minutes had passed by on Earth, a good – well, rather, bad – week had just crawled by in Hell.  A week that Crowley had spent in restraints, being subjected to the lack of mercy of any demon who wanted to try out new and innovative torture techniques on the one who had received a commendation for the Spanish Inquisition.  Turns out, a lot of nasty characters had heard about that and were all too pleased to take Beelzebub up on the offer.  Crowley gave them no information, but they didn’t seem to truly want any.  They were simply sending a message about loyalty.

At the end, he was threatened with an eternity of pain if he didn’t shape up, made to sign some paperwork for his file full of convoluted paragraphs all saying, essentially the same thing – “You’ve been warned.” – and sent back to Earth.  To continue striving against the forces of good.  Just not from a close distance, and not with any emotions behind the work except hatred of joy and love of chaos.

Crowley’s hands shook.  His wrists burned from the blessed metal of the restraints.  His head was pounding.  He didn’t even want to think about his wings, what shape they were in after Hastur, with his affinity for fire, had gotten to them.  He groaned.  His mind was, at the same time, reeling with a plethora of half-formed thoughts and distressingly empty of anything useful.  Angel, the first word that stood out amongst the mess.  My fault.  My nature, tempting.  Never again.  Because Crowley knew what they would do to him, knew he could take it, take most of it with an insolent smile, even, but Aziraphale – either side could ruin him, and Crowley suspected that that would ruin Crowley.  Message received, he thought with a sigh as he curled up, wincing, and drifted off to a troubled sleep.

 

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[June, 1945]

 

Aziraphale reappeared in the bookshop, his copy of Ovid’s Metamorphosis in his hands again, open to the exact page he had been reading when called up to Heaven.  After taking a second to get his bearings, he quickly set the book down and clasped his hands together to keep them steady.

His first instinct was to pick up the phone, call Crowley, check up on him, but he knew he was under much closer surveillance than he ever had been before.  Aziraphale closed his eyes, and the image of the sword dripping with silver came to him again.  It couldn’t have been his.  For starters,  Gabriel would have been much more pleased if it had been.  Probably would have made me take a part in it all.  He took a shaky breath.  All because of – “No.”  He stopped his thoughts, careful just in case someone was paying attention.  Foolish.  Utterly foolish. 

Aziraphale now knew there was love that Heaven did not approve of, knew it could easily be Crowley’s blood next time, and he could not let that happen.  He wouldn’t.  He was, after all, extremely well-practiced in measuring words, checking himself, resisting.  In many ways, he had been doing that since the Garden.  Just a moment of weakness, he thought, entirely my fault, and already over and done with. 

He wondered if Crowley had faced any reprimanding of the demonic sort, though he figured it was more likely they had given him a commendation for his part in meddling with an angel’s virtues.  As he tried to calm the swirling sea of his mind, Aziraphale took a sip of his tea and realized it had long since grown cold.  Instead of miracling it warm again, he set it down, staring pensively out the bookshop window at the gray drizzle outside, allowing himself to think about everything except that afternoon last month, the one where he had stepped self-assuredly, foolishly, over a line he himself had drawn in the sand, in the Garden, ages ago. 

 

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[May 8, 1945]

 

The park was full to the brim with joyous people, the energies of the crowd adding to the heat of the perfect spring day.  As Aziraphale walked amongst the people, he could feel the glow of their happiness, as tangible, warm, and powerful as the heat.  To his left, a circle had formed around a group of revelers who were dancing; to his right, two couples jumped over the walls of a fountain and splashed into the middle of it.  A young woman smiled at him and said “you need more color today” as she tossed red, white, and blue ribbons around his neck.

“Oh!  Why, thank you, dear,” he replied.

She kissed his cheek and disappeared back into the crowd.

Aziraphale was happy for them, he really was.  How could he not be?  The war was finally over and they had won, and now, the well-deserved celebration had begun.  Normally, this kind of human joy was contagious, especially to angels, who were already predisposed to getting caught up in feelings of love and joy, but this particular angel carried memories that weighed heavily on him, preventing him from fully surrendering to the revelry.  This particular angel, just a few weeks earlier, had been in the trenches and had seen the war firsthand.  This particular angel, before the trenches, in the wake of a bomb, had discovered a desire that had refused to quiet down, even in the cacophony of war.  This particular angel wanted a drink.  He headed for the closest pub.

The front room overflowed with people; Aziraphale could barely push the door open.  Somewhat miraculously, an empty stool appeared at the bar, and the bartender headed right over to take the order of the new patron with the halo of bright curls.  As Aziraphale drank, he tried not to think of all the human suffering of the past six years, of the challenges yet to come for wounded soldiers, grieving families, innocent victims of hatred and cruelty wandering free from camps across the continent.

He was shaken from his thoughts by a piercing, happy shout from the next room over.  “More bubbly, yesss?” the familiar voice yelled, and a crowd cheered in response.  Aziraphale looked up from his glass, staring blankly through the rows of liquor bottles behind the bar as he considered, for a brief moment, making a run for it.

He hadn’t seen Crowley since he had dropped him off at his bookshop after the bombing.  Since then, Aziraphale had processed and decided on a course of action that he now, as he felt the demon’s presence approaching, realized was far too bold and terrifying to actually follow.  Maybe he could sneak out of the door before –

“Angel!”  Too late.

Crowley was positively beaming, a rare expression for him.  Leaning his side against the bar, he stretched his right arm across the wooden surface, amongst the glasses, and rested his temple on his fist, staring at Aziraphale.  “Thought you might be around here somewhere!  Nice touch, the ribbons.  Had a hand in wrapping up the fighting, did you?  Your lot must be pleased with you.”  He turned and caught the attention of the bartender, ordering a sinfully large number of bottles of champagne for the revelers behind him.

“No,” Aziraphale responded sadly.  “I tried, but… I suppose, in the end, the humans just tired of it.”

“Ah, well-" Crowley squinted at Aziraphale’s face, leaning closer and reaching a hand out to touch his cheek.  “Is that lipstick?”  The demon looked appalled, and Aziraphale could have sworn he heard a touch of jealousy in his voice.

Scrubbing the spot Crowley had touched, Aziraphale smiled.  “Just a nice girl out celebrating.  She gave me the ribbons.  Her fiancé has been over on the front for too long, and she’s tremendously relieved to hear the news.”  He paused, then realized something.  “Shouldn’t you be working to keep them at it instead of celebrating peace?”

Crowley’s face twisted in disgust.  “Between you and me, I didn’t like the war any more than you did, angel.  They’re too good at it.  Destruction, I mean.  Bit nerving, er, nerve…wracking, that’s it, if you ask me.  They barely need me around anymore.  And it’s been hell to deal with them,” he pointed downward, “always asking for reports, wanting to know how busssy I’ve been inventing new weapons and gases and…”  He saw the beginnings of a judgmental scowl on Aziraphale’s face; Crowley’s eyes narrowed behind his glasses.  “Come off it.  They’re morons.  I’ve just been laying low while the humans do the work for me.  Like the Reign of Terror all over again.”  While this wasn’t entirely true, he didn’t feel like fielding questions about his work with various spy rings all afternoon.  Better to let Aziraphale believe he had been slothful these past years.

The bartender returned.  Crowley stopped to drain the rest of his glass, then pass out bottles to crowd.  He had clearly been drinking for some time already – Aziraphale knew the signs by now. – and Aziraphale felt a strong desire to catch up.  Crowley turned back to him.  “Ah, I sense a corner booth just opened up toward the back.  C’mon.”  The demon grabbed four bottles of champagne, abandoning his empty glass, and snaked through the crowd, Aziraphale anxiously following in his wake.

They stopped at a dimly-lit booth in the back corner.  Aziraphale slid behind one side of the table and took a deep breath.  It was dawning on him just how enormous the gap is between desire and action, thought and reality.  Crowley’s presence hadn’t made him nervous for a good thousand years now, and yet, today, he was ready to bolt, unsettled and untrusting of himself.  And then Crowley, popping the cork off a bottle, smiled at him, nearly the same smile he gave when handing him the books in the rubble, and Aziraphale felt his anxiety succumb to something else, a warm feeling spreading across his chest.  When Crowley side-stepped the chair opposite Aziraphale and slid into the other side of the booth, beside him, the last of his nerves vanished.  “Cheers, angel,” Crowley said fondly, taking a swig from the bottle and then handing it to Aziraphale.  He drank happily.

They passed the rest of the afternoon in that corner, laughing, catching up, bickering occasionally, and drinking heavily.  At one point, the bar nearly emptied when people started buzzing about Churchill addressing the crowds.  Aziraphale tipped a bottle all the way back, drinking the last drops and setting it back on the table with a loud thud.

“It’s not over yet, you know,” he said morosely.

“What’sssss not?” Crowley hissed lazily.

“The war.  Japan is, well, still going, lots of deaths there still.  Boys aren’t home yet.  Feels a bit…”  He searched his hazy mind for the right word.  “Premature, this.”

Raising an eyebrow, Crowley turned his full attention to the angel.  “Come on.  It’s winding down.  The worst is over.  Let them have their fun.  Let us.  Everyone needs it, after all thissss.  Thought we were done after the Great one, but no, it was so Great, let’s go and have another,” he said sarcastically as he struggled his way through opening another bottle.

They sat in silence for a few seconds, then Aziraphale muttered something.

“What?”

“The camps, Crowley.  Did you- Do you know what they-“

Behind his glasses, Crowley closed his eyes for a second.  “Yes.  I know.”  He looked away.  For a fleeting moment, he worried that Aziraphale would ask if he had had a hand in any of that, worried that the angel actually thought Crowley was capable of even contributing to such unspeakable evil, but the moment came and went in silence, and Crowley, realizing he had been holding his breath, exhaled.

“So how can I, in good conscience, celebrate when…”  Aziraphale stared sadly at the bottle in his right hand, his left resting on the corner of the table between them.  Suddenly, he felt Crowley lean forward and place a cold hand next to his, close enough that their little fingers touched just slightly.  Aziraphale met his gaze, surprised but calm.

“You have to celebrate sometime, Aziraphale, or you’ll go mad,” Crowley said, voice low and serious.  “It’s endearing, how much you care, really, how much you worry, it’s so… you, but you can’t lose yourself in it.  No need to play the saint all the time.  This whole area is so sssaturated with love even I can feel it.  Give in to it, just a little, today of all days.”

So, he did.  He knew this wasn’t what Crowley meant, but it was what Aziraphale had longed to do for years now, and he had just gotten the encouragement he needed.  Staring at Crowley, he took a shallow breath, leaned in a little closer, then all the way, and pressed his lips to Crowley’s.  He felt Crowley’s whole body freeze.  Slowly, his hand found Crowley’s neck, thumb tracing his sharp jawline.  Relax, it’s okay, can’t you feel that?  It must be okay.  After what felt like the longest second in the history of time to both of them, Crowley made a soft, resigned sound and returned the kiss, grabbing Aziraphale’s collar and pushing himself forward, closing the space between them.  Aziraphale parted his lips slightly and found Crowley’s tongue with his own.  Crowley, no longer restraining himself, pressed Aziraphale back into the dark leather of the booth, hovering over the corner of the table, urgent and desperate to be closer, to lose himself in the angel’s warmth. 

People shuffled past them, but most were too wrapped up in their own merriment and inebriation to even notice the embrace.  No human could have understood how this one seemingly-ordinary moment had irreparably altered the immortal lives of two unearthly beings.  For them, it felt as if the stars themselves were shifting in novel ways, rearranging themselves, forming newer, brighter constellations to lend light to the darkness they had been wandering in for thousands of years, and yet the humans passed by, oblivious.

Eventually, Crowley pulled back, taking a few heavy breaths with his eyes closed before slowly opening them.  “Aziraphale,” he whispered sadly.  “What in Heaven are you thinking?”  His hand was still clenched around the angel’s collar; he couldn’t let go, not yet.

Aziraphale smiled adoringly.  “That I should have done that years ago, when you saved me in that church.”  Gently lowering his hand to Crowley’s shoulder, he noticed that the demon was shaking.  “I am sorry, it wasn’t right of me to just assume… Should I have asked?”

“No,” Crowley quickly answered.  “But… You can’t just expect… Are you prepared for what this means, angel?  For all of it?”  The corners of Aziraphale’s smile dropped slightly.  “Why do you think I haven’t, in all these years…”  He struggled to find a way to tell the angel all he needed to say.  If you start this, I can’t stop it, I’ll push you farther, go too fast, all in, now, today, and if that somehow doesn’t cause your Fall tomorrow, there will be inevitable, awful consequences and I won’t be able to stop myself or them from hurting you.  “I shouldn’t have… we can’t.  They’ll…”  As he stumbled gracelessly over his words, he watched confusion, then doubt, then pain, cross Aziraphale’s perfect face, and something in him snapped.  Images flooded his vision: hellfire, shackles, sharp knives, golden blood staining white feathers.  “I’m sorry.”  He stood up, teetering to one side before finding his balance and stumbling out, hoping to Heaven and Hell that neither of them noticed, knowing he was beyond forgiving, not knowing Aziraphale would forgive him, somehow, anyway.

Unfortunately, the head offices had been paying more attention to their operatives than they had hoped.  They were each summoned a month later.

 

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[1967]

 

A gentle glow from the neon lights of clubs.  A heartbroken, fearful glance at Crowley behind the driver’s seat.  A tartan thermos, passed ever so carefully.  An impossible decision, one made after many fretful nights and one gloomy afternoon, curled up inside the safe, familiar comfort of his wings, considering all it meant to hand this power to Crowley.  A means of destruction, the ability to remove from Aziraphale the center of his universe and leave him standing, alone, at the edge of an event horizon, a swirling disc of burning stars.  A suicide pill, an escape from Hell and Heaven’s wrath, one that, Aziraphale now knew, Crowley just might need some day.  A kinder end than argent blood on angelic sword or eternal agony in Hell’s shackles.  An apology for compromising his friend’s safety.  A guarantee he won’t do it again.  A promise to Crowley, yes, but even more to himself, a vow of restraint, knowing nothing can stop the death of a star once it starts burning itself away, nothing can reverse the inward collapse into destruction, not even the purest light.

 

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[Evening, (What Was Thought to be) The Last Day of the World]

 

On the journey back to London, Crowley attempted to find something, anything, to take his mind off the events of the past week and the warmth of the angel’s shoulder pressed against his arm in the too-small bus seats.  He settled for staring at an advert for a production of Romeo and Juliet above one of the windows.  Crowley had, of course, seen the play, though not the first production, nor this most recent one.  He had happened upon it while on assignment, finding the target of a temptation amongst an audience sometime in the late 1700s.  He hadn’t caught the whole play – Whole thing’s like two bloody hours, isn’t it? Shakespeare does know how to drag a story on, soliloquy after soliloquy, even when he’s gone and spoiled the ending in the first minute.  Makes them sit through it all anyway, genius. – but he had seen enough to decide it was, over all, a ridiculous play.  A thirteen-year-old falls in “love” with a 20-something just because he’s clever enough to gild his seduction attempts in holy language?  Please.  I appreciate a good temptation as much as the next demon, but that’s not love.  Half an hour together, if that, and they’re planning the wedding? 

He rolled his eyes to himself, then glanced over at Aziraphale, who appeared to be asleep, his head tipped forward, chin to chest, and his eyes closed.  The beginning of a thought about time, loads of it, and love, real love, started to come to him, but he sighed it away before it fully formed.  The fact that, if he were truly honest with himself, Crowley would have to admit he fell for Aziraphale a few minutes into that first conversation in Eden, didn’t cross his tired mind.  Crowley was skilled at many things: denial was certainly one of them, as was living amongst contradictions.

Stupid kids got themselves in way too deep.  Should’ve known it was a death wish, what with their families’ histories.  Dying for someone you’ve only just met isn’t noble: it’s brainless.  You just both end up dead.  His face softened, though, as he thought about how Aziraphale had been willing to die for him, how he would have gladly done the same, hands tightly clasped, Adam in between, facing Satan himself, more terrified than he had ever been, even during the Fall.  Terrified because he now had so much to lose.

He felt that all-too-familiar tug in his chest, the way his heart started to beat faster, as he watched the sleeping angel’s head bob and his eyes flutter open.  Crowley shifted slightly over and slowly stretched his arm out across the back of the seat.  After a few minutes of trying his best to stay awake, Aziraphale’s eyes drifted closed again, and this time, his head rolled to the left, resting gently on Crowley’s shoulder.  Instantly, Crowley stopped breathing.  This happened for a number of reasons, but the main one was a desire to let Aziraphale sleep peacefully.

A bit lazy of Will, too, really.  How many times has that story been told, anyway?  Troilus and Criseyde, Pyramus and Thisbe, it’s all the same.  That did seem to be his M.O., though, adding heaps of talking and sighing to borrowed stories.  Oh, and that bit about the stars being crossed against them!  Pure slander.  I made those stars, well, I helped, anyway, and I know they’re not out to curse anybody.  You can’t go around blaming the stars when you follow an impulse and get caught in the consequences.

But Crowley knew all too well how it felt to be trapped in grudging loyalty to one side of a war you didn’t enlist in.  He was proud of himself for the small, daily acts of obedience, for doing just enough to stay under the radar, for controlling himself in order to keep Aziraphale safe.  Their story could have had a tragic ending years ago if they had been a bit more impulsive, more naïve, more fearless.  Their sides certainly would have– But now they’re going to, anyway.  We’re fucked, no matter what.  Dismal as that idea was, it ignited a small, hopeful thought that sparked to life in Crowley’s mind.

The bus slowed to a stop in front of his building.  Crowley took a deep breath (which his body desperately needed).  “Aziraphale.  We’re here.”

The angel started with a small noise, realized where his head had been resting, blushed, and sat up, rolling his shoulders and regaining his impeccable posture.  “Sorry.  Was I asleep?  I don’t normally… But, long day.  Well, you know.”  He glanced sheepishly at Crowley, then stood and exited the bus.

Upon entering his flat, Crowley realized it was still in a state of disarray from Hastur and Ligur’s unexpected visit.  While Aziraphale stood nervously just inside the main door, Crowley rushed into the study and snapped his fingers.  Instantly, the puddle of used-to-be-demon vanished, the book pages littering the floor flitted back into their book, and the bed in the room across the hall made itself.  Leaning on the edge of his desk, he took a second to try to compose himself.  He was full of frantic energy, excited and petrified at the same time.  What’s there to lose?  His face contorted as soon as the thought came to him.  Oh, no, don’t say that.  Only a 6,000 year old friendship, his trust, our lives.  Crowley weighed the risk of losing Aziraphale – the feeling still fresh in his mind, tinged with the scent of burning paper – against the possible reward for acting, now, when they finally had the chance and might not be discovered.  With a frustrated groan, he ran a shaking hand through his hair, muttered “screw this, I’m doing it,” and walked quickly back to the living room.

Aziraphale was sitting in one of two large armchairs, ones Crowley had chosen for aesthetic more than function, in the grey, chilly, sparsely-furnished room, gingerly removing his shoes.  Since Crowley didn’t own a coat rack, he had neatly folded his coat over the arm of the other chair.  He looked up at Crowley, who was leaning in the doorway, hands in his pockets, a strange expression on his face that Aziraphale couldn’t read.  Unfazed, Aziraphale smiled adoringly at him.  “Thank you for letting me stay.  Awfully kind of you.”  Crowley fought the immediate urge to tell him to shut up.  “I’ll be out of your hair tomorrow, I promise.  Just need some rest first.”  The angel yawned and stretched, then started to untie his bowtie.

Crowley raised an eyebrow, wondering if his angel really was dense enough to think that Crowley would let him spend the night in that demonically uncomfortable chair.  Yes, lord, I suppose he must be.  “I do have a bed, you know.  It’s much more comfortable than that chair.  It’s actually designed for sleeping, believe it or not.  I know you don’t sleep much, but I thought you would’ve at least heard of beds.”

Aziraphale’s cheeks turned slightly pink and he waved his hand in front of him, dismissing the idea.  “I’m perfectly fine here.  I wouldn’t want to impose.”

"Impose?” Crowley said slowly.

“Yes, well, it’s your bed, and you need your rest, too.  Probably more than I do.  How you managed to drive that car all that way when it– oh, dear, I’m sorry,” he said quickly, seeing the need for a subject change in the tension growing in Crowley’s shoulders.  “I shouldn’t have brought it up.  But you really do need to–“ he yawned, “rest up.”

Crowley sighed a long sigh and slid out of the room.  He’ll need convincing.

Good, thought Aziraphale.  I’ve convinced him.  He had noticed a few burn marks on Crowley’s clothes that looked like they went all the way through to the skin.  He wondered if the demon hadn’t noticed, or if he didn’t have the power to heal them after everything else he had managed that day.  Sleep was the best way for him to replenish his energy.  Heaven knows he’ll need it.  And we’re both in enough trouble now, anyway.  While he didn’t often use his, Aziraphale did know all about beds, thank you very much.  He knew exactly what often happened when two humans shared one, and he knew that being caught in bed with someone on the opposite side, regardless of what may or may not have transpired in the night, could be very bad for both of them.  My side would be furious.

For all that Aziraphale had been through that day, the way his mind worked when he wasn’t concentrating remained unchanged.  Old habits die hard, and he had endured thousands of years of conditioning.  He tugged his bowtie off and unbuttoned the top button of his shirt.  They would be called for soon enough and would have to answer for all they had done.  He needs his strength.

To Aziraphale’s surprise, Crowley sauntered back in with an open bottle in his hands, pausing again in the doorway.  “Tempt you with a nightcap?”  Aziraphale felt a heat spread in his stomach: Crowley had vanished his soot-covered clothes and was now only wearing what looked like black silk pajama bottoms, socks, and, of course, his sunglasses.  He stared at Aziraphale with a hopeful, slightly sinful smile.  Too stunned to scoff at his lack of modesty, Aziraphale looked him over silently – Important to check for burns, he probably won’t even notice if I don’t point them out – until Crowley cocked his eyebrow.  Aziraphale nodded mutely.  Crowley smirked.  “Good.”  He crossed the room and sat, not in the other chair as Aziraphale expected, but on the floor at Aziraphale’s feet, legs folded, back against the metallic coffee table.  Without thinking, Aziraphale leaned forward.  Crowley’s gaze fell on the V of skin at the opening of Aziraphale’s collar for a bit too long, then he refocused.

“Cheers, angel.”  Crowley winked and took a swig from the bottle, then passed it to Aziraphale.  “To another war won,” he said, and Aziraphale almost choked on the champagne, coughing to keep the liquid out of the wrong pipe (a definite design flaw).

“Another?  I dare say this was the first like it.  And I’ve never slept through so much as a day, unlike someone I know,” he teased, “so if another Armageddon had tried to happen, I certainly would know.  I’m also not sure it counts as a win, per se.  We stopped it, yes, or, well, rather, Adam did, but we have yet to see the aftermath.”

Oblivious as always.  Taking the bottle back, Crowley smiled at him, eyes bright and alive behind his glasses.  “Ah, you know what I mean.  I seem to remember us sharing bottles after a number of wars.  Sure, maybe there weren’t celestial and occult forces involved, and maybe, yeah, they weren’t going to literally end the world, but they sure felt massively important at the time.  Important enough to celebrate when they ended, anyway.  Especially on VE Day.”  He let Aziraphale process this while he took a long drink of champagne.  Aziraphale watched the bare stretch of Crowley’s throat as the wheels turned in his mind.  When Crowley lowered the bottle again, he knew Aziraphale had finally understood: he was gazing at the floor, hands clenched together, a flustered look on his face.

“I…” Aziraphale started, and when he met Crowley’s eyes again, Crowley could see all of the fear that Heaven had instilled in his angel since then.  Gone was the faith and confidence he had mustered in that pub years ago; it had been replaced by a thorough understanding of expectations and consequences, of how things worked up above and down below, of the punishments waiting for them if they got too close.  “We can’t.  You said so, remember?  Crowley, we’re in enough trouble as it is, and if they, oh, if they hurt you because of me, I just…”  The angel’s blue eyes grew slightly red around the edges and his voice shook. 

Crowley set the bottle down and leaned forward, hands on his knees, gazing up at Aziraphale.  “Exactly my point.  We’re already in trouble.  C’mon, how much worse could it get?  And I really doubt they’re even paying attention right now.  They’re putting away armor, talking down the troops, explaining over and over again how it all went wrong to various departments.  Can’t even imagine all the paperwork involved.  For once in all the time that they’ve existed, I think they’re too busy to bother us.”

Aziraphale thought about this.  Then he reached out and touched the sides of Crowley’s glasses.  “Please, may I?  I need to see your eyes if we’re going to talk about this.” 

Crowley, who was used to others needing to be shielded from his eyes, instead, cringed at the request, but muttered a quiet “go ahead” and let Aziraphale remove the glasses from his face.

“Thank you.  I, um, okay, Crowley, I see your point, but… well, what if you’re wrong?”

“Me, wrong?”  Crowley gave a small, impatient laugh.  “Never wrong, me.  They’re not watching.”  Aziraphale still hesitated.  Crowley’s golden eyes narrowed, bracing himself as he said what he knew he had to say next.  “If you really want, I’ll leave you to your intolerable chair and go to bed alone.  No tempting, I promise."  Aziraphale made a face that seemed to say oh, come on, look at you right now, and Crowley answered with a smile that said fair enough, no additional tempting, then.  "Look, I seem to remember that you’re the one who started all of this, you know, back then.  But, er, if don’t feel… that… anymore, then…”

As Crowley started to lean away, to pull back from him, Aziraphale reached down and grabbed hold of his hands.  “My dear, my feelings haven’t changed.  How could you think…?  They never will.  I just, well, I learned I needed to be more cautious.”  He gave Crowley a look of concern, then glanced away, thinking.  After a few seconds, his smile returned.  “Really, it’s unsporting of you to say I started this.  You’re the one who struck up the first conversation, after all.  The one who got me out of tight spots countless times throughout the centuries, always turning up just in the nick of time, pretending you just happened upon me when I needed saving.”

It was Crowley’s turn to blush slightly.  He was finding it hard enough to sit still and bite back his usual sarcasm as they talked this over; did Aziraphale really need to point out that he had been lovestruck for thousands of years?  He looked down at the floor and muttered “You’re hopeless.  Started to wonder if you’d lost your mind at one point, sitting in a human jail just waiting for the guillotine.”  His gaze returned to Aziraphale’s face.  “What would you do without me?”

They both laughed, then fell silent for a moment, lost in shared memories.  Aziraphale sighed.  “Maybe you’re right.  Not about that,” he chuckled, “but about tonight.”  He stared intensely at Crowley.  “If you really do want to chance it, knowing what you’re risking, then, well, I suppose this is our chance, and-"

Leaping up from the floor, Crowley grabbed Aziraphale’s face with both hands and kissed him.  After recovering from the shock, Aziraphale sunk into the kiss, tipping back as Crowley nudged one knee in between his and leaned over him, practically climbing up into his lap.  Desperate but gentle, Aziraphale touched Crowley’s bare shoulders, ran a hand down his chest.  Crowley braced himself against the back of the chair with one hand and tangled the other in Aziraphale’s curls.  A long time passed. 

This time, Aziraphale was the one to pull back first.  Crowley’s eyes flew open in fear, but fluttered closed again as Aziraphale tilted his face upward to press kisses to the demon’s jaw and neck.  Underneath the smoke and sweat from the day, Crowley tasted of familiar, ancient spices mixed with, though Aziraphale couldn’t name it, the dust of forming stars.  “This is… you are… perfect,” Aziraphale whispered, and Crowley moaned in response.  He leaned back and his blue eyes, certain once again, met golden ones.  A shiver tumbled down Crowley’s spine. 

“About that bed you mentioned,” Aziraphale said coyly.

“Yes,” Crowley growled, grabbing hold of the angel’s shirt and lifting him to his feet.  Another kiss, this time with Crowley’s arm snaked around his waist, pushing their hips together.  “Yes,” the demon said again, pausing for a moment to catch his breath and search Aziraphale’s eyes for any hints of hesitancy.  Finding none, he grinned, grabbed his hand, and led the way to the bedroom.

 

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[Morning, The First Day of the Rest of Their Lives]

 

The morning brought peace.  Aziraphale awoke to the warmth of bright rays of sun streaming through Crowley’s bedroom windows onto his body.  Realizing they had forgotten to close the drapes in their preoccupation with each other, he attempted to lift his hand to gesture them closed, but he couldn’t: Crowley’s whole figure was wrapped around Aziraphale’s body.  The demon snored faintly, head buried in the side of the angel’s arm, and he didn’t dare move and wake him.  A smile spreading across his face, he looked down at their entangled limbs – Crowley’s arm draped across his waist, his leg thrown over Aziraphale’s leg, his heel tucked under Aziraphale’s ankle – and the rumpled sheets at their feet. 

Aziraphale covered the hand on his hip with his free one and slowly, gently pressed a kiss to Crowley’s forehead.  There would be time to talk of sad things, the repercussions of their actions yesterday, both public and private, and what kind of future, if any, they had before them now.  He knew he couldn’t hope for their superiors to pardon them for their transgressions; he also could not comprehend how they could be justly punished for loving one another.  After all, wasn’t that what angels were supposed to do, when it came down to it: love?  And wasn’t seducing an angel just a white feather in a demon’s cap?  As Aziraphale looked fondly at the tufts of red hair sticking up in all directions around Crowley’s head, he knew he was being dishonest if he pretended this love was like any other he had known, heavenly or otherwise.  And Heaven was well-practiced at killing joy they found innovative, unnecessary, earthly, indecent.

Still, this did not worry Aziraphale.  Something had shifted yesterday, and not by Adam’s hand, but by his and Crowley’s, in the night.  Something in the stars.  Crowley would wake and they would plan over breakfast, come up with something.  For now, Aziraphale closed his eyes, pushing away all thoughts of the future, peaceful and contented in the press of Crowley’s body at his side, the warmth of golden sunlight on his face.