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the technology is neutral

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For many years, the King’s Cross area of London was known for its grim and noisy railway station and the drug addicts and sex workers who frequented the streets around it, which also boasted a handful of insalubrious nightclubs and a cinema known as the Sodom Odeon. Officially trading as the Scala cinema, it was one of Crowley’s favourite haunts.

At infernal staff meetings, he naturally claimed personal responsibility for the debauchery that took place at its infamous all-night screenings, and was resentfully congratulated by his colleagues. But as with so many of his supposedly evil deeds, Crowley had done absolutely nothing to either bring explicit films to the screen or to inspire their audience to re-enact amongst themselves what they saw there. He mostly went along because he liked the films. He liked the fact that unlike most of London in the 80s, you could get a drink there after 11pm (not that he had any need to comply with arcane alcohol licencing laws, or had any trouble conjuring up a bottle of whatever he liked at any hour of the day or night, but he privately applauded the Scala’s determination to helping a diverse population of Londoners get drunk late into the night. Drunk people were easily tempted people, after all.)

He liked the seedy atmosphere of human beings enjoying things they weren’t supposed to be enjoying, which in this particular establishment included illicit substances and sexual intercourse in a semi public place with other human beings of the same gender. As mortal sins went, all of these seemed strictly harmless to Crowley, but it would have been counterproductive to raise this with Head Office. They had their moral guidelines to follow just like the other side did, so he paid lip service to company policy when he absolutely had to, and kept his opinions to himself.

On this particular Saturday night in 1986, Crowley was at the Scala on business. That is to say, he had business to conduct and had chosen to conduct it here because he liked the place. He was supposed to be tempting a young man by the name of Alfie, and having watched Alfie successfully resist all temptations at previous all-night screenings, he was starting to wonder if he might have to lend his own physical form to the endeavour just to get the job done. (The fact that an unsavoury individual had noticed poor lonely Alfie as potential easy prey was neither here nor there – his assignment was the temptation, and if he chose to get personally involved rather than leave it to another human who might do something truly unpleasant with it, then that was perfectly within his remit. Hell didn’t micromanage.)

The cinema was half full, the first film of the night had begun, and the Red Stripe was flowing freely. Crowley had champagne instead. (Aziraphale had introduced him to it a few centuries ago and they often ended up sharing a bottle when they ran into each other. He couldn’t have said when it had become his favourite drink, but along the way it had.) He had just rearranged things to have a good view of Alfie, sitting alone and managing not to make eye contact with anybody, when he felt the arrival of a celestial being in this most unexpected of places: as if summoned by Crowley choosing to enjoy champagne without him, Aziraphale of all people had just manifested in the row in front of him. His stupid human heart gave a little skip of delight at the sight of him.

For a moment he toyed with the idea of just doing his job and getting out of there, but he knew he wouldn’t be able to do it. He wanted to see Aziraphale – he always wanted to see Aziraphale. Just because they usually met in more respectable surroundings didn’t mean they couldn’t meet here too. Maybe he could knock the temptation off quickly and persuade Aziraphale to come for a decent drink with him somewhere? He usually could.

“Aziraphale! What brings you here, business or pleasure?” he said, manifesting into the seat next to Aziraphale and making him jump. (Interestingly, Aziraphale had chosen one of those double seats designed for two people who wanted to sit especially close together.)

For form’s sake he made an honest effort to sound appropriately demonic, to insinuate evil-doing even when he was actually just going about his business. It seemed to reassure Aziraphale that they both knew where they stood, even if he couldn’t keep it up for long.

“Crowley! I wasn’t expecting to see you here,” Aziraphale said, looking over his shoulder in a way that made him look distinctly guilty. “And, well, it’s a little bit of both, I suppose.”

Crowley was intrigued. “Oh?” 

“Primarily I’m doing a divine consolation for that human over there.” He indicated a young man seated on the same row as Alfie, giving off waves of nervousness so powerful they created a six foot exclusion zone around him. “He’s terribly lonely and in need of a fortifying moment of human connection.”

“Fancy that,” drawled Crowley. “I’m here for a corruption. That one over there.”

“And what form is your corruption supposed to take?”

“Look around you, angel. What form do think it’s supposed to take?”

Aziraphale pursed his lips and didn’t look around, in a way that implied he didn’t need to rather than that he didn’t want to. Not his first time here, Crowley concluded with a little thrill he couldn’t explain.

“Well far be it for me to tell you how to do your job, but I still don’t see why your side automatically assumes all of this is so terrible,” Aziraphale said primly. Then he added uncomfortably: “Although I suppose our policy isn’t much more coherent, when you think about it.”

“They don’t spend enough time on the ground,” Crowley told him, and an unspoken luckily for us passed between them in silent eye contact. “It’s like reading the Michelin Guide but never eating in any of the restaurants.”

“It is rather, isn’t it?”

Crowley couldn’t help but bask in Aziraphale’s smile. Honestly, Heaven and Hell would do much better leaving the finer points of human morality to the two of them.

Aziraphale continued: “Most of the updates are so contradictory that I don’t know how you could call them a policy at all, so I’ve decided to stick to the original definition where it’s not a sin when it’s conducted with love.” 

“You’re calling this - ” Crowley made an expansive gesture at the writhing bodies around them, both real and celluloid. “Love? I think you’re confusing it with a different four letter word beginning with L.”

“Of course it’s love! Why can’t they love another person’s physical form for a few minutes? Nobody said it always had to be until death do you part. I always put more weight on the old ‘all that survives of us is love’ than the revisions anyway - I’m not even sure they checked with Her before they wrote some of the newer parts!”

Crowley narrowed his eyes, recognising that something was being quoted but not the source.

“Oh my mistake,” Aziraphale corrected hurriedly. “I meant ‘the greatest of these is love’. It’s just that some of the English poets have such a lovely way with words they sound like they might be eternal, don’t you think?”

What Crowley thought was that talking about love with Aziraphale was an extremely dangerous idea, regardless of whether he was quoting English poets or Aramaic disciples. They had an understanding - well, two understandings, and one of them they could talk about and the other they absolutely could not. Time to change the subject before anything got out of hand.

“So you’re being creative with company policy, is what you’re telling me,” said Crowley, needling him to get them back on safer ground.

“No! Of course not! That’s practically disobedience and we know how that ends!”

Crowley raised an eyebrow at him, and he did at least have the decency to blush.

“I just mean that I’m very sensitive to love, and if Gabriel or anybody wanted to carry out an audit, I’d be perfectly able to provide them with the paperwork.”

“Yeah well, I’m here to make somebody feel hollow and dirty inside. You sure the same activity can really have two such different outcomes?”

Many years later, a handful of world-dominating tech companies would coin the phrase ‘the technology is neutral’. This expression mainly served to absolve the world-dominating tech companies of any responsibility for the negative impact of their products on human society, but was not in itself untrue: it all depended on the use that any given technology was put to. Much the same could be said about sex. It could, as Crowley argued, be the first step on the slippery slope to Hell, easily encompassing selfishness, disappointment, cruelty, depravity and sadism, leaving all the participants degraded and diminished: neutral like the automatization of the disability benefits claim system, if you will.

Alternatively, as Aziraphale maintained, sex could also be transcendently pleasurable, a physical expression of a deep spiritual connection between two people as well as a means to strengthen that bond, or a fleeting moment of mutual satisfaction generating a genuine spark of love between strangers who would never set eyes on each other again. The sex itself, as the technology companies might have said, was neutral, and Crowley and Aziraphale were simultaneously both right and both wrong.

It was neither here nor there that Crowley was spectacularly bad at making people feel hollow and dirty inside. He had an innate respect for the concept of free will, and on the occasions where he personally physically tempted a human, he scrupulously did nothing at all to set the direction: his only job was provide the rope, so to speak, and not everybody used it to hang themselves. Yes, he’d endured a handful of truly nasty encounters with people who absolutely deserved what they had coming to them in the afterlife, but the vast majority had been nothing worse than inept and a little bit self-centred. This, again, he did not think it worthwhile bringing to the attention of his superiors. Let them waste their time trying to claim souls just for a little bit of sex: it wasn’t his fault if it didn’t work, was it?

“But listen, Aziraphale,” he said. “Seeing as we’re both here with the same goal, wouldn’t it be more efficient to put your human with my human and save ourselves the trouble?”

“I’m not sure either of us would be carrying out our instructions if we do that,” Aziraphale worried.

“Ehh, of course we would! Think about it: yours needs a moment of spiritual connection, mine needs to get laid. I’m not seeing a material difference there - it’s just different terminology for the same thing.”

Aziraphale thought about this. “I suppose they do have free will, don’t they? It’s up to them what they get out of it.”

Crowley nodded encouragingly. He and Aziraphale usually did see eye to eye on this, even when their head offices didn’t.

“You’re sure that all yours needs is to – get laid? That doesn’t seem enough to count as a mortal sin, if you don’t mind me saying.”

“Oh, I don’t mind at all – I agree with you. But it’s what Head Office told me to do, and you know it’s not really worth arguing with that lot.”

Aziraphale nodded in pained understanding. “Yes, I know the feeling. I’m perfectly happy to provide spiritual connection if need be, but there are plenty of ways to go about that, aren’t there?”

“Shall I do the honours, then?” asked Crowley. Aziraphale gave him another one of those soft smiles that made something happen in an undefined spot inside his ribs, and sketched out a half bow from his cinema seat to say be my guest.

Three rows ahead of them, Alfie turned his head just as Aziraphale’s human looked his way, and offered him a shy smile. Crowley discreetly raised his left hand, and sent a small group looking to sit together into the same row. He and Aziraphale watched contentedly as various polite and formulaic phrases were exchanged, with the net result that Alfie kindly stood up and moved four seats down the row until he was in the seat beside Aziraphale’s human, who instinctively reached out to steady him as he almost tripped in the dark. And with that, the wheels were set in motion that would culminate in a civil partnership ceremony in 1998 and whether the initial encounter was recorded as a spiritual consolation or a temptation, both or neither, the technology at least was neutral. Free will, and all that.

Crowley relaxed back in his seat and decided not to bother moving when his shoulder brushed Aziraphale’s. He hadn’t seen this film before, and he couldn’t ask for better company to enjoy it in.

He was just about to offer the angel some champagne from his can of Red Stripe when he became aware of a fashionable and impressively muscled individual on his other side trying to get his attention.

Before he could do anything to dismiss the intruder, Aziraphale leaned forward and said mildly: “Terribly sorry, but he’s with me.”

Crowley whipped his head round to stare at him so fast his sunglasses almost flew off. That was all it took: moving his head too fast and he knew he’d given himself away.

“Sure about that, are you?” said trendy and muscular, putting his hand on Crowley’s leg with a leer of unassailable self-confidence that appeared to place his temporarily fashionable physical form above the eternal goodness and kindness and generosity of an actual angel.  

He plucked the hand away and leaned back, allowing his shoulder to once again rest against Aziraphale in the double seat. “Yeah, he’s sure,” he sneered.

What else could he possibly have said? You go too fast for me, Crowley was one thing, but Crowley was a demon and even in the eyes of an arrogant nobody trying to pick him up at the Sodom Odeon, he didn’t have the strength of character to turn away from Aziraphale. That had always been Aziraphale’s job: he’s not my friend, I don’t know him, I’ve never seen him before. Crowley was supposed to ask, and Aziraphale was supposed to say no, and then maybe, and finally oh, alright then. Everything would fall apart if Crowley started saying no, wouldn’t it? They had the Arrangement, and everything else that they didn’t talk about orbited that Arrangement in delicate, intricate balance. Who knew what one word off script might do?

If Aziraphale said he’s with me in a place like this where it meant something very specific, then Crowley was with him, come what may.

Trendy and muscular pulled a face and stalked off, muttering under his breath, but Crowley wasn’t listening. There was a very human sort of panic ringing in his ears, because he could actually feel Aziraphale’s interest: he had spent 6000 years observing Aziraphale enjoy the sensual earthly delights of champagne and chocolate and cherries and cashmere, and cold water on a hot day, and a roaring fire on a cold day, and was now somewhat overwhelmed to find all of that urgently directed at his person. He shifted as languorously as he could, his human heart thumping to the rhythm of be cool be cool be cool he might not even ask you don’t even have to say yes be cool be cool.

Aziraphale was looking at him the way he looked at pommes dauphinoise. That is to say, with appreciation, reverence for the Almighty’s creation, respect for the craftsmanship of whoever might have assembled the dish, as well as with hungry and undisguised desire.

Well. That’s new, thought Crowley stupidly.

“I’m sorry, Crowley, that was terribly presumptuous of me. But I’ve barely had a chance to talk to you, and…”

“S’fine.”

He turned slightly so he could look Aziraphale in the face, and they gazed at each other for an endless second that went on and on, time slowing down as the tension built and built and built.

“We could, you know,” Aziraphale said offhandedly, but it was the same offhand tone he used for suggesting they could go and have lunch at a particular restaurant in Belgravia where they had buffatta brought in from Italy every Friday and it happened to be Friday.

Crowley blinked at him behind his sunglasses and tried to think of something intelligent to say. “Nah,” was all he managed, and even he could tell it was the weak, breathy sort of nah that positively invited Aziraphale to talk him into it. As soon as it had passed his lips, he wanted Aziraphale to talk him into it.

“It can be quite wonderful, you know,” Aziraphale said. “You must let me show you! If you’ve only been doing it to torment the poor humans and make them feel hollow and dirty inside then no wonder you didn’t enjoy it!” 

Crowley opened his mouth and closed it again.

“You mean - here?” he managed. There was the edge of a squeak in his voice that he certainly hadn’t put there himself. “Where anyone could see?” Exhibitionism was another one of those sins that didn’t seem all that serious to Crowley, but that didn’t mean he was interested in trying it for himself.

“Oh, not if you don’t want them to see. Not that anybody would look twice at us here, but I’ve worked out a little trick to provide some privacy, if that’s your only objection! Besides, my side were expecting a minor miracle that I didn’t even use thanks to your intervention, so you’d be doing me a tremendous favour if you let me use it on you. Keep the accounts in order, you know.”

He smiled nervously. Again, Crowley just opened his mouth and closed it again.

“You’re always happy to have lunch with me, and drink all that wine - what’s the difference between one worldly pleasure and another?” His face fell. “That is, I’ve always just assumed you were happy to have lunch with me, but I - ”

Crowley never had been able to withstand Aziraphale’s big sad eyes. “Oh, for - yes, of course I am, I like having lunch with you. Happy now?”

Something inside of him clenched almost in pain at Aziraphale’s transparent smile of relief. Don’t make this more than it is, he told himself sternly. He’s a being of love, not a human: it doesn’t mean any more to him than sharing a steak frites and a bottle of cabernet sauvignon. Just because you’re going native after so long on earth, doesn’t mean he is!

“I really think you’ll like this, too. Do say yes, Crowley.”

What else could he possibly say?

“Oh alright, then, fine. Yes. What harm can it do?” Crowley replied, even though he knew exactly what harm it could do. But Aziraphale was smiling at him like that, and the harm was all for himself anyway. He never had been any good at denying the angel what he wanted.

 

In Crowley’s previous experience, these things often started with kissing. As a demon with a well-developed self-preservation instinct, Crowley had been very strict with himself and spent very little time wondering what kissing Aziraphale might be like. 

Which was just as well, because he was not about to find out.

As he began to lean in, assuming that kissing was step one, Aziraphale stopped him with both hands on his shoulders, holding him at arms’ length. He closed his eyes and with a susurration that Crowley felt more than heard, his wings appeared above his head.

Not his wings as Crowley had seen them in the Garden, but his wings in every position at once, surrounding them in a hemisphere of white feathers that cut off the sound of the cinema, the blue light from the film, everything except the two of them.

Aziraphale beamed proudly at him, and slid to his knees.

“Huh. Clever trick,” Crowley said in a strangled sort of voice. It was mainly due to surprise that Aziraphale would risk the knees of his trousers on a floor like this, with a little bit of surprise that his own body appeared to be reacting very, very strongly to what the position implied was about to happen next without the slightest Effort on his part, and only a fleeting, barely-there, not-even-worth-mentioning flicker of hurt that Aziraphale didn’t want to kiss him.

“I imagine them in all their configurations at once, and it provides just enough privacy for this,” Aziraphale replied from between Crowley’s legs, hands already on his fly. “It’s barely even a miracle, and if they ask I can just say I used it on the human, can’t I?” 

There didn’t seem to be anything to say to that, so Crowley slid a little lower in the seat to give him easier access, bringing his legs closer together so he could feel the angel between his thighs. It seemed only polite to close his eyes as Aziraphale drew him out, stroking him to full hardness before that blond head leaned in and his cock was enveloped in glorious wet heat.

Nobody else but Aziraphale heard him gasp.

“Alright?” he asked casually, looking up with one hand still confidently wrapped around Crowley’s cock and his lips almost still touching it.

“Fine,” he croaked, unwisely opening his eyes to the arresting tableau. “Just – fine and dandy.”

“Oh, good,” said Aziraphale, putting two fingers into his mouth and then pressing them against the opening to Crowley’s body as he swallowed his cock again. Crowley hadn’t intended to gasp again, but one of them certainly gasped and given that Aziraphale’s mouth was full, he supposed it must have been him.

He made all sorts of muffled noises he hadn’t expected to make, but they must have all unequivocally expressed enjoyment because Aziraphale didn’t stop again. He just moved his fingers slowly, relentlessly inside Crowley, where they seemed to complete the circuit his mouth had begun, magnifying every sensation.

Physically, it wasn’t so very different from the sensations you could experience doing this with a human, except that it was. Perhaps an angel’s mouth and hands innately carried some kind of celestial power and that was what he could feel. Or perhaps it was that when he opened his eyes just the tiniest bit, it was already enough to see pure white feathers, to recognise who was kneeling at his feet and – and – oh God – sucking his cock. Not that he had forgotten for a second, but it was one thing to know, with his eyes closed, that Aziraphale was giving him a friendly blowjob because he enjoyed earthly pleasures and wanted to share them with him, and quite another to open his eyes and actually see Aziraphale sharing them with him. Aziraphale, Angel of the Eastern Gate, the one who’d given his flaming sword to the first humans, going down on the demon Crowley at the Scala cinema aka the Sodom Odeon, Kings Cross, London.  

It would have been nice to linger on that thought and what, if anything, it might mean, for a bit longer, but having opened his eyes the overwhelming reality of it became more overwhelming than he had bargained for, and Crowley bit his lip very, very hard so as not to cry out, and came.

When he finally opened his eyes properly, prepared to re-engage with reality and face the consequences of what they had just done, Aziraphale was watching him, poised to stand, hands on Crowley’s knees for leverage.

“Uh,” said Crowley.

“Stand up, would you, my dear?” asked Aziraphale.

“Stand up?” he echoed, incredulous but too undone by sensation to express the full force of his disbelief. “I can barely even remember my own name after that, and you want me to stand up?”

“Your name is Anthony J Crowley, apparently, although you never did tell me what the J stood for so I can’t help you there,” he said, not hiding his smile. “Do stand up, I promise you’ll like it.” 

Crowley laughed in spite of himself, took Aziraphale’s hands and let the angel pull him to his feet. God help me I like him, he thought helplessly as Aziraphale turned him in his arms, guiding him to bend slightly at the waist as he eased Crowley’s trousers down past his hips. I like him so much.

In his 6000 year career as a demon on earth, Crowley had made a point of sampling all humanity’s transgressive thrills as they came in and out of fashion through the ages, and to be honest had found most to be not especially thrilling and only mildly transgressive at best. (He was a demon, after all, so perhaps his standards were too high.) Gambling was just dull; he had spent 6 years dressed as a woman without significant adjustments to the male-perceived body he’d been issued and found it more time-consuming than dressing as a man but otherwise unremarkable; he’d robbed several banks without so much as a flicker of excitement, and intermittently accepted the sexual invitations of human beings who promised something truly ground-breaking only to find it more of the same old, same old.

Aziraphale said: “Brace yourself against the wall, my dear” and kissed him on the cheek. Fondly. Like he liked him, personally. It was unbearable.

For a moment Crowley clung to the idea that what was happening here was more of the same: a tired, boring temptation only made more predictable by the fact that the temptee was an angel. But as Aziraphale ran warm hands over his thighs and ass, pushing his jacket up out of the way so that anyone here might have seen him offering himself, he knew that wasn’t true at all. His pulse wasn’t racing because of some low-grade sin or the tawdry temptation of a celestial being. Aziraphale pressed close against his back, went up on tiptoes to land another kiss on the edge of his jaw with a sort of pleased hum, and Crowley knew the transgression was all his own: if his knees were weak, his bones liquid and his skin electrified everywhere Aziraphale touched him, it was because he’d finally found something really forbidden and flung himself headfirst into it.

In their feathered cocoon of bright darkness, feeling Aziraphale’s cock hard against his ass as his fingers slid inside him, stretching and opening him so deliciously he couldn’t catch his breath, there was no hiding from the terrifying reality that he loved Aziraphale, had done for millennia, would do anything for him and if today was any indication, would let Aziraphale do anything at all he wanted to him for vanishingly little in return.

Or maybe not so little, he thought hysterically as Aziraphale’s cock breached him, thick and hot and so good he couldn’t stand it. And then it was gone.

“You’re too tall, here - like this,” Aziraphale murmured, pressing a firm hand to the back of his neck and pulling him a half step backwards to make the position that much more degrading: Crowley bent over with his face to the wall, offering his ass to be fucked. It should have been degrading, the potential for it shivering at the horizon, and he couldn’t pretend that wasn’t part of the thrill, part of what was turning him on so much. But the greater part of it was the gentleness with which Aziraphale touched him, his hands that lingered and his breath harsh in Crowley’s ear as he slid first those sweet fingers and then the thickness of his cock inside, the way they both groaned together as he bottomed out –

“Oh, Crowley,” he breathed, reverent. “You’re – oh, I - ”

Crowley could almost pluck the missing words out of the air; I love you, was what the angel was feeling but not saying, and Crowley had known that for centuries too, but not quite so literally as tonight. It was in every caress, the care he took to make sure Crowley was ready for him, those hands that moved his body like it was precious, the softness of his voice and the way he cut himself off, like it was a struggle to hold something back. 

Crowley knew all about that.

Aziraphale wasn’t going to change the rule of eternity just because of one incandescent fuck, and if he couldn’t protect himself in the heat of the moment then Crowley would have to do it for him. He wouldn’t be able to stand it if Aziraphale spoke the truth without wanting to and tried to take it back later; he was selfishly protecting himself, Crowley told himself with his last ounce of composure. It wasn’t kindness to respect Aziraphale’s ridiculous scruples, he was being selfish, he was.

“Stop talking and fuck me like you mean it,” he hissed through gritted teeth, as mean as he could make it. It won’t be me who tricks you into damnation.

Aziraphale held still inside him for a heartbeat, arms tight around him, and the moment stretched out unbearably with all the potential for ruin strewn around them. I should never have let him ask, I should never have said yes, it’s too much for him and he’ll never forgive himself if I force him to face it now -

Aziraphale took a deep, shuddering breath and murmured, “Of course, my dear. Whatever you want,” like he honestly believed it was what Crowley wanted, and started to fuck him in earnest.

And what about me? Who’s going to tell me to keep my bloody mouth shut? Crowley asked himself as the pleasure built, each thrust deep and perfect and unbearable. He’d been with a human once who’d clamped his hand over Crowley’s mouth in the heat of the moment, terrified of discovery, and that was what he needed now: for Aziraphale to realise the danger, if he still wasn’t ready (he’s never going to be ready, said a little cold voice in Crowley’s head. He’s an angel and you’re a demon, what are you thinking? That he’ll choose *you* over Heaven?) and make sure Crowley didn’t say anything they couldn’t ignore.

It was his human body that saved them; that, and Aziraphale’s skill in making love to him (it was a slip, to think of it like that - they were fucking and that was all there was to it). It was wave after wave of pleasure so intense he couldn’t possibly speak, Aziraphale’s cock touching that place that set off fireworks inside him, his hand wrapped tight and perfect around Crowley’s cock, and as orgasm overtook him for a second time it took away any dangerous words he might have choked out and swept them away in wordless release, safe and undeclared.

Aziraphale came deep inside him seconds later, thrust hard two, three, four times and then went still, trembling, his arms tight around Crowley and his breath sounded dangerously close to tears.

 

Crowley’s demonic miracle took care of the mess as Aziraphale came back to himself, pulled out slowly and put his clothes to rights. That is, Crowley’s demonic miracle took care of the mess that affected Aziraphale. His human form was his own, and if he chose to wriggle his jeans back up with Aziraphale’s come still trickling out of him, then that was nobody’s business but his.

They didn’t look at each other as Aziraphale’s wings retracted and the world came back into focus: the boom of the film’s soundtrack, the distracting flicker of the screen in the dark, humans moving around them.

Crowley collapsed back into the cinema seat and stared firmly at the screen. He had no idea what was happening in the film and didn’t much care, but he needed just a moment to pull himself together before he could look at Aziraphale.

Aziraphale slumped down beside him. Their shoulders still touched.

“Well,” the angel said finally, still smoothing out non-existent creases in his jacket and firmly not looking at him. “What did you think of that?”

“Yeah,” Crowley managed hoarsely, not looking at him right back. “S’ alright.”

They watched the screen in silence for an uncomfortably long time that was probably only a couple of seconds until Crowley couldn’t stand it.

“So that’s a, that’s – divine consolation? That was what you called it, right? And it’s not a sin?”

“Well, it could be for you I suppose, if you do it without love.”

Crowley couldn’t help it: he laughed. A bitter, spiteful little laugh, exactly the kind of laugh you’d expect from a demon who most certainly didn’t love anybody, especially not the angel who’d just shown him a divine consolation, because what could anybody do with that kind of love except keep well enough away from it?

“But it’s alright for you, because you love everybody you do it with?”

“Yes, exactly - ” Aziraphale began, turning to meet his gaze at last.

Crowley saw the exact moment the penny dropped, and it hurt exactly as much as he’d known it would.

Aziraphale’s face fell. For a moment he looked so utterly stricken that Crowley couldn’t help reaching out, putting a consoling hand on his sleeve. It was harder for him, of course it was. He had so much more to lose.

“I didn’t – that wasn’t – and anyway, you - ”

“Oh, I know, angel. You don’t have to convince me of anything,” Crowley told him. He had a horrible feeling he might cry. “Here, this is champagne, not Red Stripe, d’you want some?”

“No, thank you, I think it’s time I – I really ought to be – going now. So nice to see you.”

 And with that he stood, offered Crowley a smile so weak it was dead before it reached his face, and positively bolted out of the cinema.

Crowley stayed at the Scala for the rest of the night, drinking lukewarm champagne from his bottomless can of Red Stripe. He watched all four films, and in the morning he couldn’t have named a single one of them.

 


 

By the summer of the year 2019, many things had changed in King’s Cross. The railway station was still there, but a famous architect had built it a new roof and a juggernaut media franchise had stuck the numbers ‘9 ¾’ to the wall and was now charging tourists a startling amount of money to take their photograph next to it. The prostitutes and drug addicts had mostly been driven out by shops selling things that nobody particularly needed and by the London headquarters of two world-dominating tech companies. A property developer was trying to market the area as a ‘Knowledge Quarter’. Whether or not this should be considered an improvement would depend very much upon where you were standing.

The Scala itself was still standing where it always had, although it no longer operated as a cinema. It caught Crowley’s eye as they crossed the road, and he almost didn’t notice that Aziraphale had stopped to let a group of Italian schoolchildren pass. There certainly hadn’t been any Italian schoolchildren here 30 years ago. He forgot about it again when Aziraphale put a warm hand at the small of his back to usher him safely through the traffic. Not that Aziraphale’s hands on him were anything unusual these days, but there was nothing like almost losing the world and everything in it to make you appreciate every little detail of what you had.

Perhaps the route had been deliberate, or perhaps Aziraphale’s desire to experience Europe’s longest champagne bar (which had, after all, been trading at St Pancras for a number of years now) was not quite as spontaneous as it seemed. Crowley found he wasn’t entirely surprised when Aziraphale refilled his glass and asked:

“Do you remember 1986, my dear?”

“Some of it,” replied Crowley guardedly. He preferred not to remember the haircuts, and the government of the day, and especially not the coffee that a British railway station might inflict on unsuspecting travellers. (It was one of his, but he got rather defensive if anyone brought it up).

“I was thinking of the time we had sex at the Scala, specifically,” Aziraphale said, dabbing his mouth with his napkin and looking right at Crowley, which was really his signature move of emotional bravery and deflection rolled into one.

“Oh. Right. The time you fucked me up against the wall and wouldn’t tell me you loved me? I do remember that.”

Pain flickered across Aziraphale’s face but he only turned his gaze away for a second, and Crowley immediately wished he hadn’t said it.

“Just so.”

“Sorry, Aziraphale.”

Aziraphale reached out to cover Crowley’s hand with his own.

“No, you’re quite right, that was exactly what I did. I know it’s a little late, but I wanted to apologise - it was intolerably selfish of me. I wanted more of you without offering you anything more of me.”

Crowley turned his hand so that his palm was touching Aziraphale’s, laced their fingers together. When he shrugged dismissively, Aziraphale’s whole arm moved with him.

“I knew what I was getting into. I said yes, didn’t I?” 

“You did say yes, but I don’t think that excuses my cowardice afterwards. I did know, you know. How you felt.”

Crowley shrugged again, tighter, and Aziraphale’s foot caught his barstool and pulled them a little closer together.

“I’m not complaining - you showed me a good time, didn’t you?”

“That was certainly my stated goal at the time, but looking back I wonder if I didn’t come closer to fulfilling your job description than my own.” His mouth did the thing it always did when confronted with something really rather awful that he wasn’t going to put into words, and it seemed like a pinch of supernatural power was justified to bring them properly close, with their legs tangled together and Crowley’s free hand on Aziraphale’s knee.

That made his mouth do a different, wobbly thing. “I certainly didn’t bring this up for you to console me, Crowley, but thank you all the same.”

“So why did you bring it up?”

“Because it’s been preying on my conscience for 30 years, if you must know. I’ve wanted to come here since it opened, but there wasn’t anybody else but you who I wanted to go with and I could hardly invite you to come here without saying something about 1986, could I?”

Crowley smiled helplessly at him. “Of course you could. You know you could.”

“Yes, well, all the more reason not to, then. I have standards, you know.”

“I do know, angel.”

“I was wondering if you’d like to call in there, later. It’s a nightclub these days, but just for old times’ sake. To put old ghosts to bed, so to speak?”

Old habits die hard, and it took a lot out of Crowley not to produce a demonic leer at putting ghosts to bed, but he managed it.

 

They did call in there later: their names were miraculously on the guest list, and on the guest list for the VIP bar upstairs. Aziraphale had gestured wordlessly to the main room, where the cinema had been, and Crowley shook his head. So they went upstairs instead, and had a drink looking out over the Pentonville Road, and Kings Cross, and all the countless human lives unwinding below them and around them and all across the city.

They both had standards these days so no old ghosts were literally put to bed, but as it got later Crowley did crowd Aziraphale into one of the darker corners where he could slide his hands up his shirt as he kissed him without attracting too much attention.

“If you want to do this here, I would consider it more than fair,” Aziraphale said breathlessly, pulling him closer and tipping his head back to be kissed again.

“Mm. Tempting, but…” he ran his hands across the soft skin of Aziraphale’s back and ribs, felt the shiver that ran through him as his touch lingered.

“But perhaps we’ve moved on from there?”

“Yeah, something like that. Or at least, in five more minutes we will have,” Crowley told him, pressing him against the wall with his whole body and kissing him again, deeper and more urgently, thrilling at how easy it was. “Ten minutes, max.”

None of the humans drinking and dancing at the Scala that night paid much attention to what appeared to be two fellow humans making out in a corner: it was the sort of thing people did in nightclubs. Had they been watching, the servants of Heaven and Hell might have been a little more surprised, and a great deal more disapproving, but there was so much they didn’t understand about humanity, and the fact that technology and plenty more besides can be neutral, that it would have taken at least six thousand years to explain it all.

Fortunately, they weren’t watching, and after eleven minutes Crowley and Aziraphale left the former Sodom Odeon and went back to Soho, and the bookshop, where they could do whatever they liked together without anybody else to say whether it was good, or bad, or somewhere in between. The English poets and the apostles had been right about love, after all.