“Isn’t this nice?” says Aziraphale with badly feigned casualness the next time Crowley stops by for a late night drink.
Crowley is all set to reply, words lined up in his mouth waiting to go, when Aziraphale adds,
“I mean, all of the books and furniture and bottles of wine and things?”
“…yes?” says Crowley. He takes another swig of Shiraz.
It’s just so pointed, Aziraphale must mean something by it, and all Crowley can figure is that it’s a backhanded criticism of his own living situation. Doesn’t feel called for. Minimalism is a choice. It’s not like Crowley forgot to fill his flat with a bunch of clutter.
Aziraphale gives him an unreadable look and then sips his own wine, eyes briefly closing in appreciation. Crowley plays the fun game with himself where he pretends not to watch the line of Aziraphale’s throat working, the way the tip of his pink tongue peeks out to catch any errant drops.
Crowley has never won the game, not once in thousands of years, but Aziraphale has also never noticed, so.
Call it a draw.
“Have I shown you my new houseplants yet?” Aziraphale asks, setting down his glass and making as if to stand.
“Several times?” Crowley tries to keep the snap out of his voice, because Aziraphale clearly cares very much about this latest acquisition to his household; every time Crowley glances in their direction, he gets the sense that Aziraphale is covertly studying his reaction.
The plants are—they’re fine. Obviously spoiled, but that’s not Crowley’s problem, is it? Thing is, he doesn’t see why Aziraphale needs so many all of a sudden. If Aziraphale wants to see flora done right, he could always just spend more time at Crowley’s instead of making these weird little digs about cushions or whatever.
Anyway, Aziraphale’s sense of how to furnish a flat is so—so tame, and stuffy and safe. it’s boring, that’s what it is. Just looking at all the overstuffed chairs makes Crowley want to fall asleep. For hours and hours. And then maybe never leave.
He’d sort of thought that stopping an apocalypse together would settle all the unspoken things between them, but the main difference is that now Aziraphale has channeled all his armageddon-quashing nervous energy into doing up the restored version of his bookshop. Suddenly, there are shopping bags, and Pinterest boards (Pinterest! Aziraphale didn’t even have an email address until 2006) and endless rounds of Oh, what do you think of this colour, is this fabric really alright, I just don’t know, Crowley what do you think.
Must be nice, Crowley thinks, a little snidely, to be an object of such care.
Is Crowley jealous of a musty old flat above a used book store? In the millennia he’s spent slowly twisting his own heart around Aziraphale’s little finger, it’s not the weirdest thing he’s been jealous of, to be honest.
Surely it’s up there, though.
Crowley slips off his sunglasses, closes his eyes, rubs at his temples.
“Oh, are you tired?” Aziraphale asks solicitously. “You know, this sofa looks as if it would be extremely comfortable for naps, doesn’t it?” He rubs his hands together. “Let me just go fetch you a nice cozy afghan.”
The sofa is comfortable, that’s the worst part.
Or, it’s not the worst part, it’s not even in the same galaxy as the worst part, it’s not fit to brush the hem of the worst part’s garments, but it’s the worst part that Crowley feels comfortable looking at head-on when he wakes up from maybe an hour of dozing.
Crowley stretches. No cricks anywhere. He frowns at the cushions, thinks, You win this round, you pillowy fuckers.
“You’re awake,” says Aziraphale, looking up from his book. “So.” Without moving, he has the air of someone with a pen poised on a clipboard, avid. “How was it, would you say?”
“Upholstered,” says Crowley. He holds up a hand to the upper edge. “Yea tall. Roughly sofa-shaped.”
Aziraphale pouts. “You know what I mean, how—”
“Nap in it yourself, if you want to know,” Crowley says, ungracious, flinging off the afghan. The thing about starting a conversation with this is nice, he thinks, unbidden, is that usually this refers to the company, not one’s own fucking decor. “Or don’t, because you don’t even sleep, so what’s the point?”
This earns him an absurdly wounded look. Absurd because it’s a stupid fight, absurd because Aziraphale has no right to look that put out, absurd because Crowley’s heart lurches anyway, screams fix it fix it now.
Crowley sighs. “I slept great, just the right amount of sink, not too soft, room enough for all my limbs.”
“Well,” says Aziraphale, brightening for some reason, “wonderful, that’s—”
“Which are not your limbs,” Crowley continues. “You being the one who owns this sofa, and therefore the only one whose opinion actually figures into it.” He’s working himself up now, doesn’t care, hates that his instinct is to jump about like a dancing monkey whenever Aziraphale is in a mood, even when the mood makes no bloody sense . “So maybe you can stop constantly asking what I think of the furniture, because mostly what I think is that it’s your furniture, and I don’t really care!”
Aziraphale’s face falls. The book slips from his hands. “Oh,” he says quietly.
FIX IT, YOU VILLAIN, shrieks Crowley’s heart.
Crowley retrieves the afghan from the floor, attempts to fold it in jerky motions.
“I thought,” Aziraphale says. He swallows and shakes his head. “Well, doesn’t really matter, I suppose.” His smile is stoic and watery. His lip trembles.
All Crowley has managed to do to the afghan is sort of ball it up. “Aziraphale,” he says. “Look, sorry, I—”
“Not your fault,” says Aziraphale. “Not your fault, I—well, I never should have assumed.” His face does something complicated and painful. “Don’t know why I did, to be honest,” he tells the floor.
“Listen,” says Crowley, wretched and lost beyond measure. “If you want--decorating opinions that badly, I can--”
“Oh no,” says Aziraphale. “I’ve taken up too much of your time with this nonsense already.” He raises his arms above his head, executes a deeply unconvincing yawn. “That said, it’s getting late and I was going to make an early start of it tomorrow—”
“Your bookshop doesn’t have hours,” Crowley objects, “what, d’you need to set an alarm to not open it—”
“Crowley,” says Aziraphale, and it sinks in then, that Crowley is being kicked out, that Aziraphale is trying to be nice about it, Crowley still has some minor degree of remaining pride.
“Fine, yes,” says Crowley, levering himself to his feet and attempting a nonchalant pose. Why are his pockets too small for his hands, who designed these things. “Have a marvelous time greeting the dawn.”
Aziraphale calls two days later. They meet at an Ethiopian restaurant in Soho, have a long, leisurely meal that only sometimes feels hollow and off. They’re only blocks away, but Aziraphale doesn’t ask Crowley up to his flat, after, and Crowley can’t think how to ask. He could invite Aziraphale back to his, but all the judgmental commentary about the importance of coziness is still ringing in his ears, to be honest. He doesn’t need to go around exposing more of himself to Aziraphale.
Crowley doesn’t call. He doesn’t stop by the shop. A week passes, in the tiniest crawling increments, and then Aziraphale calls again, invites him to try a new ceviche place.
“How’s the, how’s the redecorating going,” Crowley asks, idly twirling his fork.
Aziraphale swallows a mouthful of salmon, shoots Crowley a shocked, reproachful look. “Don’t be mean .”
Crowley spreads his hands in a gesture of innocence. “Genuine question.”
“It’s on hold at the moment,” says Aziraphale stiffly.
They finish eating in silence.
The only way forward is to talk about this, Crowley realizes in horror two nights later. He can’t let six thousand years of companionship and camaraderie and affection die without ever even learning what he did.
Also, he has the sneaking suspicion that Aziraphale is acting a little ridiculous, and he wants to be proven right.
Crowley paces his flat. (There is a lot of pacing room. That’s one thing that can be said about it.) He formulates a plan. He calls Aziraphale. Then he glances at the kitchen clock and realizes it’s three AM, but before his body can finish processing that jolt of panic, Aziraphale answers on the first ring.
“Crowley,” says Aziraphale, breathless like maybe he dove for the phone.
Let a demon dream, alright?
“Can I stop by,” says Crowley, glaring at the clock’s digital output like he can will it forward or backwards to a more reasonable hour.
“My place is a bit of a mess, to be honest,” says Aziraphale.
“That’s fine,” Crowley says. “I just—want to see you. I think we need to have a conversation. Doesn’t have to be right now,” he adds. “Sorry if I woke you.”
Aziraphale half-laughs. “You know I don’t sleep.” Then, “If you think it will help, yes. Come over.”
“What,” says Aziraphale, squinting in his doorway. Crowley had expected (maybe on some mortifying level, hoped for) tartan pyjamas, but he’s just as buttoned-up as always. The only new feature in his ensemble is the downright perplexed expression he’s giving Crowley’s best money tree plant, which is currently extended to him as a peace offering.
“I know you said on hold,” Crowley says, “and that’s fine, you don’t have to take this. But I thought—since you like plants now, it might—fit by that sofa, add a little, uh, pop of green. It’s supposed to be lucky in some cultures, not sure about that, but. If it throws off the balance of the room I have another one, too. If you want! Only if you want, of course.”
Aziraphale pinches the bridge of his nose. “You,” he says at last, “are sending extremely mixed messages.”
“I have no idea what messages I’m sending,” says Crowley.
Aziraphale regards him for a long moment. He takes the money tree, steps back inside, and gestures for Crowley to follow.
Inside, most of the new pillows and blankets and things are gone, the absence stinging more than it should. The sofa Crowley briefly slept on is still there, though. Crowley deposits a very tattered book on the floor and takes a seat. Even with this rift between them dangling messy and unresolved, it’s nice to be back.
Aziraphale perches on the edge of an armchair. He hands a Crowley a cup of very hot chamomile tea, which Crowley accepts gratefully. Chamomile tastes mostly like grass clippings to him, but at least the teacup gives him something to do with his hands, and a convenient means of hiding his face if things get dicey.
“So,” says Crowley. “Talking. Not really sure where to start, but—”
“Can you please just tell me,” Aziraphale breaks in unsteadily, “if I have reason to hope?” He sits back, breathing hard, as if astonished at his own outburst.
“Uh, what?” says Crowley, and Aziraphale sags. “No,” says Crowley, “I don’t mean what, like however you think I mean what. I mean what, as in what?”
“How can you not understand,” says Aziraphale despairingly. “The—the furniture, and the wine and the houseplants, I don’t know how much more blatant I could be without adding an armoire full of black T-shirts and slim-fit jeans.”
Crowley stares at him. “Whatever it is that you think you’re clearly saying, could you please take a step back and say it all much, much more clearly?”
At that, Aziraphale sits up straight. “Oh,” he says, eyes widening. “Oh no. Oh, my dear— ”
“What,” says Crowley.
Aziraphale is wringing his hands. “Did they take it from you, or did you lose it after you Fell?”
“Lose what,” Crowley snaps, voice rising.
“The Customs,” says Aziraphale, as if that clears anything up. “The angelic social mores.” The look he gives Crowley then is agonizingly gentle. “No, of course you wouldn’t know. I’m sorry. You don’t remember, do you?”
“I think it’s fucking clear I don’t,” says Crowley. “I’m not an angel.”
“Maybe not technically,” Aziraphale agrees, “but I assumed—oh I had to assume, didn’t I? I’m so sorry!” Then, “Demons don’t nest, do they?”
“Nest,” Crowley repeats blankly. “Like birds?”
“Like angels,” sniffs Aziraphale.
Crowley cannot believe he ever thought they would clear this up via talking. “Demons...don’t...build nests,” he hears himself say.
“Not ever?” Aziraphale asks. “Not even when they court?”
Court . Crowley can barely make sense of the word. His first thought is of his trial, the one Aziraphale attended in his place, wearing his skin.
“Demons definitely don’t court,” says Crowley. “They fuck sometimes, but it’s—I don’t know if you’ve ever seen anything about the mating practices of insects but it’s more—like that. There’s no guarantee all parties will come out in one piece. Never seemed worth it, frankly. I like my pieces where they are.”
Aziraphale takes this all in with a series of slow, horrified nods.
“Wait,” says Crowley, “what do angels do?” He’s never pictured angels engaging with each other at all, outside of maybe mandatory team-building exercises.
“They nest,” says Aziraphale.
Crowley waits for this to all make sense. “What, instead of fucking?”
“No,” says Aziraphale primly. “Not instead. It’s—it’s part of the courtship ritual. You have to be able to build a decent nest if you want to be seen as a viable mate—”
“Like birds,” Crowley repeats, disbelieving.
“Not like birds, birds got it from us,” shrills Aziraphale.
Crowley summons all of the bird knowledge at his disposal. It isn’t much. The ducks in the park, a vague sort of kinship with magpies and ravens and the like. He thinks he might’ve seen a documentary about penguins at some point where they were constructing nests out of rocks, although come to think of it, that must be a comically poor choice of bedding.
Not like, for instance, the sofa Crowley’s sitting on.
The extremely comfortable sofa.
“Oh fuck,” says Crowley. He raises an accusatory finger. “You were nesting.”
“Yes,” Aziraphale grits out.
“For who?” Crowley asks, before he can stop himself, before he can fully realize how painful it is, the mental image of Aziraphale endlessly fretting over making his space comfortable for a mate, cuddling up all cozy with a mate, conducting—fucking—avian courting practices with some lucky stranger who isn’t even Crowley.
Aziraphale’s only answer is a flat, disbelieving stare.
“Wait,” says Crowley, looking around the flat once more. “Wait wait wait wait.” The napping sofa. The houseplants. The, on the face of it, bewildering comment about skinny jeans.
Aziraphale buries his now-scarlet face in his hands.
“Oh,” says Crowley. “Oh, angel— ”
Aziraphale peeks up through his fingers, and Crowley bolts off the sofa, crossing the room in two strides. He gently takes Aziraphale’s hands in his, drops down to bring their faces close to the same height.
“What’s the next step,” Crowley says, low and urgent.
At that, Aziraphale lets out a choked, interrogative noise.
“Of the—” What the fuck is Crowley’s life, “of the angelic courtship ritual, Aziraphale. What is the next step?” He squeezes Aziraphale’s hands. “How do I say yes?”
“Ah.” Aziraphale licks his lips, nervous. “By staying?”
“Okay,” says Crowley. “Good. Will I fuck anything up if I kiss you?”
“No,” says Aziraphale, shaking his head very rapidly. “That should be—fine, that should be perfectly—” He doesn’t say anything else for a while because Crowley is kissing him.
Crowley pulls back eventually, because straining up to kiss someone while kneeling on the floor doesn’t feel like the best use of his body right now.
Aziraphale’s lips are very red, his hair is mussed, and he’s cradling the back of Crowley’s head like it’s something precious. He is intensely beautiful like this, and he has been building a nest for Crowley.
“So,” says Crowley, climbing onto Aziraphale’s lap to make the point clear, “ mating .”
“Oh,” says Aziraphale with a wild laugh. “I suppose I didn’t explain that part—”
“Is angel sex like—”
“Don’t say bird sex,” Aziraphale chants, “don’t say bird sex, don’t say bird sex—”
“Is bird sex like angel sex?” says Crowley shrewdly.
“I don’t actually know the particulars of how birds mate?” Aziraphale says. “I assume they don’t temporarily meld their divine essences?”
“Is that how—”
“Yes,” says Aziraphale. He strokes Crowley’s hair, smiling like he’s got a secret. “You’ll like it, I promise.”
The easy confidence makes Crowley shiver. Aziraphale’s smile widens, as if Crowley has done something wonderful.
Then reality intrudes, deflating bastard that it is.
“I don’t know if I can,” says Crowley. “If I lost all the mores, I don’t see why they’d let me keep the fun part.”
“May I?” Aziraphale asks, and Crowley nods, even though he has no way of knowing what’s on offer.
Still holding Crowley’s head in his hands, Aziraphale leans forward, tips their foreheads together, and sort of hums.
Everything goes white. Crowley can sense hazily where the bounds of his existence lie, can feel the delicious vibration of every atom of Aziraphale’s being, beloved, loving, and then all of Aziraphale gives sort of a flutter and they’re moving through each other, lapping and receding like an ocean, like two oceans, like the same ocean, swirling over and around and inside itself, faster and harder, but at the same time softer, impossibly sweet—
Aziraphale breaks the contact with a start. “Mm,” he says breathless, eyes closed, “You’re good at that.”
Crowley shivers. Aziraphale peers at him, reaches up to wipe away the tears streaming down Crowley’s face, which is how Crowley learns he was crying. He doesn’t even have the energy to feel embarrassed.
“Can be a little overwhelming at first,” says Aziraphale soothingly, rubbing circles in the small of Crowley’s back, “But you did so, so well.”
“Can we,” Crowley strings together, “again, sometime.”
“Of course, but it takes hours to really do it properly,” Aziraphale informs him, “and you have to—stretch and meditate and hydrate beforehand, if you’re being responsible.”
“Okay,” Crowley says. There are more emotions inside him than really fit comfortably. Most of these are huge and messy, so he yanks at the narrow thread of misapprehension instead. “What happens if you’re not responsible?”
Aziraphale’s forehead wrinkles. “You can get stuck.”
“Oh,” says Crowley. “Well, fuck.”
Aziraphale pulls Crowley’s mortal body closer, arms tightening around him, and Crowley feels trapped in the absolute best way possible.
“We could do it the human way tonight, if you like,” Aziraphale offers. “Have you, before?”
“Nah,” says Crowley. It feels like a good excuse to keep touching, though, and without the prospect of an ecstatic oblivion. He clears his throat. “But I’m willing to, anything, if you want—”
“It’s nice, I think,” says Aziraphale. “Sort of complicated, but. We could cheat a bit.”
They cheat quite a bit.
Later, they lie together, Crowley’s head pillowed on Aziraphale’s chest, Crowley’s arm draped around Aziraphale’s middle. “Are there any more steps to this—courtship thing?” Crowley says. “Will I have to—perform a dance or grow different wing feathers or give you rocks?”
“Rocks,” Aziraphale echoes flatly. “Why would—oh, it’s bird jokes.”
“Are we,” Crowley takes a breath and prepares to sound very stupid, “are we—mated now? By, you know, angelic standards?”
“We are,” says Aziraphale, pressing a kiss on Crowley’s brow. “We are.”
Crowley sits bolt upright. “Wait. When you say mating—”
“I didn’t say mating, you said mating,” Aziraphale mumbles irritably. He reaches up to tug Crowley back down.
“No, no, listen to me,” says Crowley, dodging his hold and surging out of bed. “Is there a chance, Aziraphale, is there at all a chance that either of us is going to get pregnant from any of this? Or, or—lay an egg?”
Aziraphale shakes with laughter.
For longer than you’d think was necessary, given he’s supposed to be a creature of mercy and all that.
“So, no,” Crowley says.
“Oh, no no no,” Aziraphale pants. “Absolutely not.” And here Crowley is expecting something comforting and grounding about how, for instance, neither of them has a womb, but what Aziraphale actually says, with utter certainty, is, “God wouldn’t want us to bear young.”
“God,” Crowley says thinly, “has been pretty fucking ineffable lately.”
“Oh,” says Aziraphale, eyes wide. “We should probably—we should probably use protection the next time we—” he gestures between their foreheads.
“Protection,” says Crowley. “Is there such a thing as a soul condom?”
“We’ll figure it out,” Aziraphale says serenely. He holds out his arms again. “Come back to bed?”
“I like the mattress, by the way,” Crowley thinks to say as he climbs back in to lay half on top of Aziraphale. “And the pillows and the sheets.”
“Oh, do you?” Aziraphale preens. “I thought the sage green would bring out your hair, but it’s nice to be sure.”
Crowley’s face stretches into such a ridiculous smile that he feels a profound relief Aziraphale can’t see from this angle. He gets the sense Aziraphale might be able to tell, anyway.
“So, you’ll be staying, then?” says Aziraphale.
“Yeah,” says Crowley. “Traffic’s a nightmare at this hour, so.” It’s probably about 4 AM. He yawns. “Might as well.”
“And who knows when it’ll clear up,” Aziraphale murmurs. “Could be ages and ages.” He’s playing with Crowley’s hair. If Crowley wasn’t so tired, he’d purr.
“Not sure we should risk it, frankly,” says Crowley, settling in.