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Noisome Breath

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“The wandering eye that I have caught
Is as hot as a wandering sun
But I will want for nothing more in my garden, start again
In my hardening to every heart but one”
-Joanna Newsom, “‘81”

 

 

“You can stay at my place,” Crowley hears himself say. His voice sounds thick and soft and lacks all of his usual demonic guile. If anything, he sounds comforting, which is a timbre he wasn’t aware demons were even capable of achieving. Aziraphale had just looked so sad at the reminder of the bookshop’s demise, and after the day they’d had, the thought of the angel standing in the dead husk of his beloved shop seemed decidedly unfair. Whether it’s Adam’s recent influence or simply his friend’s miserable expression that makes him offer this refuge, Crowley isn’t sure. Yesterday he might have convinced himself it was temptation he was offering. Today he doesn’t give a damn. He takes the briefest moment to observe this before deciding that he’s too bloody tired to keep up snark and sarcasm. He tucks back into a corner of his mind and gives his humanness permission to seek camaraderie. “If you like,” He adds as Aziraphale turns slowly to face him.

Countless emotions play across Aziraphale’s face in the course of a few seconds and Crowley wonders if the angel is feeling as weary as he is. “I don’t think my side would like that,” he replies, his expression finally landing on melancholy.

Crowley stares for a moment. Although he’d never admitted it out loud, it had been millennia since he last thought of them as being on opposite sides. The notion had fluttered out of his head sometime around the angel’s admission to giving away his flaming sword. If anything could have driven the point home for Aziraphale, he would have thought holding the line with the rebellious Antichrist and a demon to deny Gabriel his war would have done it, but he knows the angel’s ways are hard to change. “You don’t have a side anymore. Neither of us do,” he says, suddenly grateful for the sunglasses hiding the play of emotions he suspects is startlingly close to what he had just seen on Aziraphale’s face. “We’re on our own side. Like Agnes said: we’re going to have to choose our faces wisely.”

Aziraphale falls uncharacteristically silent at this, losing himself in thought as Crowley waves down the bus.

They settle in for the ride back to London, Aziraphale sliding into the seat beside Crowley and folding his hands primly in his lap. Crowley spares a thought for the Bentley as the faint brush of Aziraphale’s shoulder against his own serves as a reminder that this bus is a foreign vehicle. The dimensions of it feel all wrong; far too large, yet far too cramped. In the past week, the world has taken on a sensation of some great breathing creature, expanding and contracting as it repeatedly pushes the two of them together just to wrench them apart again. Crowley supposes dully that this bus is just one more facet of that feeling and he ought to prepare himself for the world’s next breath. 

He stares at the scrap of paper containing Agnes’s final prophecy, but can’t seem to get his mind to focus on it. He turns it over, flipping it between his fingers. He passes it from hand to hand, pinching a different corner of the paper each time. Each time he switches hands, he absentmindedly taps it against his knuckles for a few beats before starting the restless cycle over again. After 30 minutes of incessant fidgeting, Aziraphale reaches over and gently plucks it out of the demon’s hands, settling his own serenely back in his lap. Crowley feels an unexpected relief at this as though a weight has been taken off him. He sighs, crosses his arms, and sinks as far as he can into the bus seat. 

The ride passes in silence. Crowley can’t recall silence ever stretching so long in each other’s presence, but he finds he doesn’t mind. It’s companionable. Comforting. He lets himself relax into the realization that he’s in the presence of the one soul he doesn’t need to constantly perform for. The demon rolls its eyes from the balcony in his mind and every other fiber of Crowley hisses and shoos it away. Staring at his reflection in the bus window, he lets his thoughts drift back over the events of the past few days.

He tries to pin down the exact moment he lost his favor in the eyes of Hell. There’s a whole string of increasingly pathetic minor inconveniences that he’d passed off as wiles, but no one had ever seemed to care about what he was actually doing on Earth. Not as long as the damned souls kept rolling in. And humans had certainly come up with enough evil on their own that he could take credit for to balance out his lack of actual work. The Fields of Meggido then? That would have been the moment that he could no longer fake his way through the whole cock-up with the Antichrist. Hastur had hated him long before that, though there was nothing unusual about a demon hating someone. It’s the opposite that would be suspicious.

They can’t know about the Arrangement. There’s no way. It’s too inconceivable…

Whatever the spark had been, the incident with Ligur and the holy water was the explosion. It was impossible that Hell would let slide the extinction of a Duke at the hands of a lesser demon. If nothing else, they would come for him for that act alone and they would be ruthless.

I didn’t force him to open that door. The choice was his. Not that it matters…

Except there had been far more than just that act. He’d gone and discorporated the other Duke. There was the business at the airbase with the horsepersons. The entire apocalypse that he’d helped thwart. He’d been the literal devil on the Antichrist’s shoulder, Aziraphale’s counterpart as they swayed him away from both sides, their faces bared for Heaven and Hell and everything in between to see. An angel, a demon, and this stupid, beautiful, impossible planet that they’d come to adore in spite of everything. 

He’d never fit in Heaven. And then he’d despised Hell. But then he found the space in the middle. A space where the shades of grey not only lived but flourished. An unexpected inbetween where humans didn’t just survive; driven by their impermanent existence, they thrived. They created. And while he wasn’t one of them, witnessing their arc had been stunning. 

Not one of them, but not alone either. He tries to glance at Aziraphale in his peripheral vision but finds his sunglasses blocking him. Instead, he settles for feeling his presence through the strange blindsight he’s developed specifically for the angel. A sixth sense that isn’t necessarily supernatural, it’s just that other relationships don’t get several thousand years to evolve.

A sixth sense that had been snuffed out earlier today in the burning bookshop…

Crowley clears his throat loudly and shakes his head, trying to physically shove the thought away. He feels Aziraphale stir but doesn’t turn to look at him. Grabbing for a familiar mantra to clear his head, he recites it in his mind with the glassy proficiency of one who has had hundreds of years to practice. He focuses on it with a laser intensity until unwelcome memories begin to fade into the background.

Foul words is but foul wind, and foul wind is but foul breath, and foul breath is noisome...

 

***

 

When the bus pulls up outside Crowley’s building, Aziraphale stands and leads the way to the street, thanking the driver profusely. Crowley raises a surprised eyebrow at Aziraphale’s back, but shuffles after him, deciding not to break their comfortable silence just yet. He had half expected the angel to stubbornly return to the ruined shop and worries that saying anything could still sway him as such. Better just to shut up and see where this goes. 

Aziraphale waits on the sidewalk for Crowley to catch up, rocking slightly on the balls of his feet. He lets his eyes dart to Crowley with a quick smile before dropping them to his hands to peer at the prophecy with a hawk-like focus that the demon suspects is entirely feigned. The silence stretches on, beginning to feel like a challenge to see who will last the longest. Crowley smirks at the thought. With a dramatic bow, he opens the door and gestures Aziraphale in using an after you sweep of his arm.

The elevator ride passes with more nervous bouncing from Aziraphale. Crowley leans against the wall and watches, wondering idly if they can make it to his door before the angel bolts.

But he doesn’t bolt. He clasps his hands behind his back and walks with Crowley to his door, shooting him sidelong glances and small smiles. Crowley can’t quite see all these smiles, but he’s familiar enough with Aziraphale to feel them.

 

***

 

Crowley’s flat is not a home. It never has been really. It’s a homebase. A perch he returns to when he has time to kill or if he’s bored and wants to sleep. He keeps it dim and empty these days, a cool and sanitary collection of barely furnished rooms connected by bare hallways, as though physically surrounding himself with stillness can force the same effect on the noise in his mind. A mantra he can live inside. It doesn’t work of course. There is about as much of the subdued hush present in Crowley as there is personality in the flat.

When Crowley unlocks the door with a snap of his fingers and pushes it open, Aziraphale makes the briefest second of eye contact before following him across the threshold. Crowley does his best to stop analyzing every tectonic drift of body language radiating from the angel, but the longer the quiet lasts, the more meaning he tries to find in the mundane. He shuts the door and holds up a finger in the universal  just a minute gesture, leaving Aziraphale in the entryway to disappear into the kitchen where he can dig up a bottle of wine and collect his thoughts. 

As he pulls the cork free and tosses it onto the counter, he curses this silent challenge he set for himself. It had made some semblance of sense when he was worried about Aziraphale changing his mind and fleeing at the slightest noise, but standing here now, it just feels like madness. Everything about today feels like madness. He finds himself almost praying that Aziraphale will spare him and speak first. There is a valiant attempt at convincing himself this is because he wants to be the victor in this bizarre game, but only after squashing down the voice whispering about needing the angel’s approval. Needing to believe that all is well and sharing this space is more than just acceptable; that they can drink and banter like normal, enjoying each other’s company in this calm at the eye of the hurricane. Needing to keep Aziraphale in his sights after thinking the inferno in the bookshop had stolen him.

He shakes his head vigorously and steadies himself on the counter. So much for collecting yourself. He heaves a sigh at his hands, takes a swig straight from the bottle, and ambles back to where he left Aziraphale.

The angel has begun an exploration of the flat and Crowley finds him standing in the office looking around curiously. Aziraphale’s gaze lands on the thermos on the desk as Crowley enters, and a ripple of worry passes across his face which he quickly draws into a stony expression. Crowley offers a grunt as explanation and uses the wine bottle to gesture at the puddle of ex-Ligur in the doorway. He moves to sit on the edge of the desk, offering Aziraphale the bottle. The angel cocks his head at the mess and accepts the bottle without looking. He lifts it and drinks, waving his other hand absently at the doorway, casually miracling away the muck and any remaining traces of holy water. With a proud little smile he turns to Crowley, looking like he’s about to speak, but falls still with his line of sight locked on something over the demon’s shoulder. Confused, Crowley arches an eyebrow and turns to follow his stare.

Ah. Probably should have found a closet to shove that in. Looking at the charred stone pulpit sculpted to resemble a dove in flight, he briefly teases the idea of letting every pent-up thought and feeling pour out of him. What would you do, angel? If I threw it all at your feet, what would you do? Would you run? Smite me where I stand? Help me pick up the pieces? The thought dissipates as quickly as it had materialized and he lets it drift away. Desperate to keep Aziraphale in the flat, he falls back on the safe bet of feigned nonchalance, turning back to offer a grin and a shrug. Aziraphale’s eyes dart between Crowley and the dove a few times, puzzlement drawing deep lines across his forehead. Then with an almost imperceptible shake of his head, he hands the bottle back and gingerly steps around the glossy star charts strewn about the floor to continue his investigation of the flat.

He doesn’t make it far. The bottle is at Crowley’s lips when he hears a gasp and a delighted cry from the other room.

“Goodness! Crowley! You keep a garden!”

Crowley smiles as the familiar comfort of the voice washes over him, then repositions the aloofness on his face to go join Aziraphale. The wine bottle sits forgotten on the desk.

“Yeah, well…just something to do,” he says casually, leaning against the doorframe. Aziraphale is standing in the center of the room craning his head around to take in the lush greenery with wide, awe-struck eyes.

“My dear boy, a crossword puzzle is ‘just something to do.’ A veritable jungle in one’s flat is a different matter entirely.”

“If you say so. I chalk it up to earthly delights.”

Aziraphale clicks his tongue disapprovingly. “Honestly, is there anything you don’t try to make hedonistic?”

“I’m a demon,” Crowley responds flatly. “Hedonism’s in the job description. But all I meant is that Hell isn’t big on...” he waves his hand around the room. “Neither was Heaven if I remember right.”

“No, they’re rather...minimalistic,” Aziraphale agrees with a grimace.

Crowley thinks of the kitsch and clutter of the bookshop and feels a sharp pang of sadness for his friend. He jumps to push the conversation forward before Aziraphale has a chance to follow the same gloomy train of thought.

“Anyway, I talk to them,” he nods at a fern beside the door and a tremble of anticipation passes through its fronds. “Makes them grow properly.”

The diversion is too successful. All of Aziraphale’s attention is drawn to focus on Crowley, who immediately notes his mistake as he sees the joy dawning in the angel’s eyes.

“You talk to them?” With a bright smile blooming across his face, Aziraphale turns to a golden pothos spilling its vines out of a wall planter. “He talks to you?”

“Wait. No. Don’t.” Crowley rushes forward to try and stop what he sees building in Aziraphale, but he might just as well have stepped in front of a bus. The angel has swiveled his attention to the plant and he begins to shower it with affection.

“What golden words has he been pouring into your leaves to make you as lush as this? Look at you! You perfect, beautiful drop of sunlight!” Aziraphale looks up as Crowley reaches him. His smile reaches its peak intensity as he looks back and forth between Crowley and the plant.

“Angel. Please. You’ll give it the wrong idea. They’re on a very strict diet,” Crowley begs, trying to situate himself in front of the plant like a shield.

Aziraphale manages to sidestep just enough to reach one hand into the vines and gently tickle the leaves. A rustling shudder runs through the plant. “So marvelous. So verdurous ! It would seem our Crowley has at least one more wile hidden up his sleeve,” he hums into the plant. The vines fall still. Then a cluster of vibrant red flowers bursts into existence under Aziraphale’s fingers. The angel removes his hand and straightens, looking immensely pleased with himself. He tilts his head to one side and beams at the preposterous foliage, similar to an adoring parent celebrating their child’s latest crayon masterpiece.

Crowley stares in shock for a few seconds. Then he throws his head back and groans dramatically. “You broke my plant.” 

Aziraphale’s smile holds fast.

 

***

 

Eventually, Crowley gives up. He prepares an excuse of apathy in case the demon pipes up from his balcony again and he needs something to throw at it; no use worrying about his plants being spoiled if Hell is moments away from punishing him for treason. The truth of the matter however, is that Aziraphale’s joy has reawakened in full force where there had been such defeat at the bus stop and it’s all Crowley can manage to not bask in it. At first, he moans about his plants being cloyed to death, but takes no real action to stop Aziraphale. Gradually, he quiets and returns to settle against the doorframe and watch. 

Aziraphale moves dreamily among the plants, working his soothing enchantment across the strange indoor garden, coaxing new growth into the room. The earthy smell of flowers and greenery creeps into the sterile air of the flat, bringing a comfortable warmth to settle on Crowley as he watches. It’s barely perceivable at first - just a bit of tension bleeding out of his shoulders. But gradually the feeling seeps up his neck and he leans his head to rest against the doorframe. He can’t recall ever relaxing, yet alone smiling, in the flat before, but here he is doing both.

Then Aziraphale looks up at him with a spiky little snake plant in his hands. “I honestly didn’t think that would work, but I seem to have convinced the dear to bloom,” he chuckles triumphantly, holding the plant up so Crowley can see tiny, white star-shaped flowers entirely out of place and bursting from each stalk. 

Crowley stands and stares dumbly, feeling his words leave him with his breath. Aziraphale is an impossible light in the dimness of the flat, shining under the boughs of Crowley’s plants as he coos sweet nothings into their leaves. 

Stupid, beautiful, impossible angel.

There is swift contraction in Crowley’s chest as he watches his old friend. Not quite pain, but not entirely comfortable either. It is the strange wistfulness that comes with admiring from afar. A bone deep affection that started as a seed long ago but has had millennia to plunge roots deep into him. It is a familiar stutter when his heart begins to trill an unbidden grace note before each beat. The pressure of the sunglasses against his temples is suddenly unbearable and he lifts a hand to the quickening pulse in his eyes to pluck them from his face. He tosses them clumsily onto the nearest plant stand. The grace notes quicken and he squeezes his eyes shut against them, pinching the bridge of his nose.

Similar to smelling ozone before a storm, he feels what’s building before it happens. Aziraphale, the incredible bastard, has unwittingly found the perfect way to rub his heart raw. He feels everything he’s been pushing down inside him accumulate at once, fighting to ride the emotional wave to the surface. Extinguishing Ligur, discorporating Hastur, the burning bookshop, thinking he’d lost Aziraphale, actually losing the Bentley, the fear that Hell could kick down his door at any moment and drag him away from this perfect moment - drag him away from Aziraphale... It all seems to precipitate out of him, leaving him too thin, too dilute. 

Too exposed. The crack in his armor leaves space for older, more dangerous memories to fill the void. 

Even through closed eyes, he can feel that ethereal light emanating from Aziraphale. That perfect and unique glow that he’s drawn to like a moth to a flame. It hits him, refracts through him, and sends an amber spark flickering against the inside of his eyelids. He grits his teeth as he feels an old panic beginning to stir, threatening to wake from its hibernation.

No. Not now. Focus. He casts a line into his mind, reaching for a distraction. An image of ducks in St James’ Park surfaces. Focus, you absolute idiot. Think of anything else. Do the Shakespeare thing. A second cast doesn’t reel in his familiar mantra, but the memory of a quirky little restaurant in Denmark where Aziraphale had enthusiastically introduced him to gravalax. 

In the present, he hears Aziraphale asking a philodendron what its name is. Crowley feels his heart swell like a sea at storm. The floor beneath him seems to tilt. Something about breath...Noisome breath. Behind his eyes, the light grows brighter.

Find a distraction and FOCUS. A final desperate reach into his memory banks returns unhelpfully with the bookshop, peaceful and dusty, shades drawn against the world, the angel at his desk and the threadbare old sofa in the corner that somehow knows every contour of the demon’s body. 

It burned down...remember?

A faint ringing begins in his ears.

Bugger this for a lark. Crowley opens his eyes and shoves off the doorframe, moving towards Aziraphale. The angel manages to quirk his head to one side and pull on a curious expression before Crowley is on him.

It’s not aggressive. Quite the opposite in fact. Crowley moves in a slow and lost sort of way, his shoulders slumped and his eyes downcast. With uncommon delicacy, he loops one arm around Aziraphale’s waist and pulls them loosely together, letting his other arm hang at his side. He buries his face into Aziraphale’s shoulder and takes a great shuddering breath.

Aziraphale goes momentarily stiff. With a surprised sound, his hands flicker up towards Crowley’s arms like startled birds unsure of where to land. Then as quickly as his body had gone taut, the tension melts from his muscles and he relaxes into the embrace. He allows one hand to find a gentle perch between shoulder blades.

“Hell of a day,” he murmurs in Crowley’s ear. 

Crowley tightens his grip at the absurdity of this understatement. Making a series of unintelligible bleats into Aziraphale’s shoulder in response, he brings his free arm up to coil around the angel’s neck and pull him closer. Aziraphale obliges, wrapping his other arm around Crowley and pulling their bodies into a knot. 

He feels his calm returning under Aziraphale’s touch. The amber spark fades and blinks out. The panic in his gut yawns and rolls over, returning to its slumber. He allows himself to drift away. In some corner of his head, he’s aware that Heaven and Hell will still come for them. That they haven’t seen the end of this conflict yet. But standing here in Aziraphale’s arms, it feels as if he’s floating peacefully out to sea and watching their problems grow distant on the shore. With Aziraphale’s warmth pressed against him, his breath by Crowley’s ear, and the faint thrum of their heartbeats mixing, the sensation swells to an all-consuming comfort that pushes his heart down to settle somewhere in the region of his stomach.

And bloody hell, but has Aziraphale always smelled this good? Crowley is suddenly very certain that the divine mélange wrapping itself around his senses is what poetry was invented for. Cataloging it could fill entire books and is suddenly the only important thing in the world. He breathes in and deep, ancient forests mix with the faintest memory of citrus blossoms. Old books and rich wine mingle on a cool salt-tinged breeze. Sun-warmed grass blends impossibly with petrichor. Each breath seems to bring new scenery, evoking emotions that he can’t quite define. Crowley feels positively drunk on it.

Slowly, he lifts his head from Aziraphale’s shoulder and rests his temple against the cushion of blonde curls. “I’m sorry about the bookshop. I should have been there sooner. I…” He drifts off, unsure of what else to say.

“I’m not sure if there was any avoiding it,” Aziraphale says softly. “Part of this earthly existence and all that. Things, people, places. They come to an end.”

“Not us ,” Crowley replies hoarsely. “Not the world.”

“No. I suppose not.” Aziraphale sounds like he’s speaking through a smile. 

Crowley takes another deep breath of Aziraphale’s scent (rosemary, crisp autumn leaves, bergamot) and lets it out as a sigh, moving to rest his forehead against the angel’s. The world breathes with him again, shrinking everything down to just the two of them. 

What would you do, angel? What if this is our last night together and I left you without knowing? What if...

He stops thinking. With a feather touch, he brings the tips of their noses together and traces a line up to space between Aziraphale’s eyes. He tilts his head forward and presses hip lips to the tiny crease forming there.

Aziraphale falls utterly still. “Crowley, I-” 

“Hrmm?” Crowley traces an arc of soft, chaste kisses above Aziraphale’s eyebrow.

“But-” 

“Mmrr,” he continues his path around Aziraphale’s temple, lingering on his cheekbone. Framing a question in a meaningful gesture, he lets his arms relax and begins to pull away, allowing Aziraphale an escape if he wants it.

The angel responds immediately with a short intake of breath as he pulls Crowley in like a shipwrecked sailor clinging to a scrap of driftwood. “Oh,” he says in the smallest whisper.

There’s his answer then. Crowley smiles without breaking the contact his lips have to Aziraphale’s skin. He lets out a sound that’s something between a sigh and a laugh. Slowly and purposefully, he moves his mouth down as Aziraphale tilts his chin up and they both fall into the kiss.

For all the six thousand years he’s had to imagine what kissing Aziraphale would be like, he still managed to imagine it wrong. For one thing, he certainly didn’t expect it to hurt . From the strange region in his core where his heart had settled, it feels as though someone has suddenly inflated a balloon. His pulse rockets into his eardrums, dragging his heart back to his chest with a thud. The fit of Aziraphale’s lips on his is so perfect, so right , that it leaves him lightheaded, unable to fathom how he’s survived so long without it. The kiss is an electrifying, lifegiving thing and Crowley gives himself over to it completely.

Unbelievable blessed things, human bodies. The thought bubbles to the top of his mind then immediately pops with a sharp inhale through his nose when Aziraphale’s lips gently part. Answering the invitation, Crowley darts his tongue out to lightly graze Aziraphale’s, returning with the taste of wine and oranges and jasmine. 

Who gave you the right to taste like this, angel?  

With a soft hum that sounds almost like a plea, Aziraphale unravels their arms just enough to bring his hands up to either side of Crowley’s face, weaving fingers behind his ears and into his hair. Crowley feels a jolt of exhilaration, realizing that somehow - impossibly - Aziraphale wants this too. He wraps both arms around Aziraphale’s ribs and draws him in hungrily, suddenly needing as much contact between their bodies as possible. They stagger as one to the wall, Aziraphale’s back landing between two massive fiddle leaf figs.

The kiss expands into something desperate as Crowley feels need unfolding inside him. He’s wanted Aziraphale for so long, but he never realized until this moment how much he needed him. It’s a physical ache in his center that flares into pleasure with every movement and sound coming from the angel. He starts to perceive in flashes, as though there is too much sensory information to possibly take in linearly. Hands at the back of Crowley’s head manage to be both gentle and demanding. A tongue drags timidly across his lip before returning for a more daring exploration. There is a trembling inhale from Aziraphale when Crowley catches a lip in his teeth and gives it a brief tug. Soft whimpers and sharp sighs pass between their mouths. Each burst of sensation is a wave rolling over him, pulling him deeper.

Stupid, beautiful, impossible.

He breaks from the kiss momentarily to try and gather his thoughts into some semblance of something he can recognize. Chest heaving, he stares into Aziraphale’s half-lidded eyes and fails spectacularly. All he can see is hazy blue boring into him, that wild halo of luminous curls, the soft patch of skin under the jawline where a pulse is hammering. The thoughts he had tried to collect fall through his fingers like water. He moves forward in a rush and kisses Aziraphale’s neck, working his way towards that visible heartbeat, needing to feel it, needing to taste it. He rakes his hands up the angel’s back, slowing his pace when he reaches the spot between his shoulders where wings would meet human flesh. There’s an electric crackle under his fingers and a pleasant tingle shoots up Crowley’s arms to the shoulder. Acting on instinct, wanting more of the angel, he reaches for Aziraphale’s wings.

Aziraphale gasps and tilts his head skyward, arching his back wildly. Crowley intends to move into the newly created space beneath Aziraphale’s jaw. He sees the pale expanse of skin, thinks amorous thoughts, begins to move his head…

And in a rush that feels like a gust of wind, time freezes. The tangle of their bodies crystalizes and Crowley feels the incorporeal extent of himself rocketed elsewhere. The feeling is familiar. Very familiar. In a way, it’s similar to discorporation, without the pesky dying part.


Huh, he thinks. Then he relaxes into the well-known drag.

Chapter Text

“For which of my good parts did you first suffer love for me?”

-William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing

 

 

When he feels the stretch of his wings unfolding lazily above him, Crowley opens his eyes slowly and takes in his surroundings. He stands in the middle of a calm silver sea which stretches past the horizon. He knows immediately where he is. He knew before he landed. He had transported Adam, Aziraphale, and himself here just hours earlier in a last desperate attempt to change the tide. And though this corner of the ether is not the same as the one they visited earlier, it’s unmistakable. It has a sort of smell and feel to it that’s akin to stepping into your home after being away on a long holiday; impossible to describe properly, but instantly recognizable in the unique feelings and memories it summons. 

He takes stock of himself and notes that the burning need which had soaked into his limbs has been left behind in his body. If a cold shower isn’t available, a trip to the ether will do the trick and it will do it much faster. Although he reckons reentry will be a beast.

There is a rustle of feathers to his right and turns to see Aziraphale, his bright white wings fanning out behind him.

“Oh dear,” the angel says softly. He glances at Crowley and offers a shy smile. “Well, I suppose this was inevitable.”

“You take all your dates through the fabric of space and time for a jaunt in the ether then?” Crowley replies, hoping he sounds casual. The amount of effort he pours into not staring at Aziraphale’s mouth could move mountains. He muses on the fact that even in the absence of his human lust, he’s still inexplicably drawn to Aziraphale. The angel would probably call it ineffable. Crowley would tell him to shut up.

Aziraphale stifles an unangelic snort of laughter and leans over to give Crowley’s shoulder a playful nudge with his own. “I mean this. This place, you old serpent,” he lingers fondly on the word as though it were endearing to him. “This piece of the ether. This is...mine. And no, I’ve never had a visitor.”

Crowley stares wide-eyed, his mouth opening slightly in surprise. He’s never fully understood the ether realm, but he knows enough. He knows that it’s the dimension where an angel’s - Fallen or otherwise - wings exist. He knows it exists in a space outside of Earth, Heaven, and Hell, and that time doesn’t operate how one would expect, if it operates at all. And he also knows that all supernatural beings carry a piece of it with them in a sense. A personal pocket of the ether that acts like a subconscious, formed and shaped to fit that creature’s specific needs, desires, and musings. Like a turtle drawing into its shell, an angel or demon can retreat into their private ether. It’s not without its dangers, however. The longer your body is left uninhabited, the harder it can be to find your way back. The idea of getting lost in thought applies quite literally.

What Aziraphale has done is invite Crowley into his mind. The amount of trust in that act makes him dizzy.

Which is why, unsure of what else to do in the moment, Crowley settles on gawking. He does a slow turn in place, taking in the setting with new reverence. The sky is painted by the dark blues and yellows of early twilight, spilling a rich golden light over everything. In the distance, Crowley can make out a small island where a single tree grows; the lone landmark in an otherwise barren setting. The sea stretches out in every direction, calm and seemingly endless. Looking down, he can see that the two of them are standing directly on the surface of the water. It’s a dramatic effect, but the ether and Aziraphale are both a bit dramatic by nature.

The water around them is reflective as a mirror. Crowley stares down at his reflection under his feet. Whether by some trick of the twilight or just the nature of this place, his eyes are especially bright and luminous against the dark backdrop of his wings. He can’t help thinking that his golden eyes are beautiful, but immediately wonders where the thought came from.

“Cat got your tongue?” Aziraphale says at his shoulder.

“It’s just - it’s not what I expected, angel,” Crowley breathes, straightening to gesture vaguely at the vast space around them. “I guess I always assumed you would have more...uh. Well, more. I’ve seen your nest of a shop after all.”

A smile drifts down Aziraphale’s face, starting as a warmth in his eyes and slowly finding its way to settle on his lips, as soft as a feather on the surface of a still pond. “The bookshop was me, but it’s not all of me. This is me too.” He sighs contentedly, clasps his hands behind his back, and begins to stroll towards the tree jutting out of the water. 

Each step the angel takes sends out a faint halo of ripples beneath his feet, and Crowley hears a hazy echo of Aziraphale’s voice, slightly amplified with each footfall. “I was afraid you’d be hell incarnateI hoped you’d be heaven incarnate. But you’re not either of those things. You’re much better…”

Crowley finds himself rooted in place, lost in the words spoken just hours earlier and staring at this other side of his old friend. For all Crowley calls him angel, it’s become startlingly easy over the years to think of him as just a person. His kind and bumbling companion who loves old books and good food and delights every year at the crocuses showing their faces before winter has fully bowed itself out. That ever present and comforting hum that fills the background of his mind. Just Aziraphale. But here, with his majestic wings tucked easily against his back, bathed in golden light that makes his whole body glow, utterly tranquil and at ease … the word “angel” suddenly doesn’t seem big enough. In a rush of unexpected emotion, Crowley feels overwhelmed by the image, as if it’s too much beauty to take in without splitting in two. He’s about to look away when Aziraphale stops and glances over his wing, the smile lingering in his eyes. “Are you coming, my dear?” 

“Uh, right. Yes.” He shakes himself from his reverie with a swift twitch of his wings and hurries to catch up with Aziraphale. The ripples spreading beneath his feet bring his own voice back to him, muffled as though he were speaking into a pillow. “Reality will listen to you right now. You can change things…” He falls into an easy gait beside the angel.

“Never heard echoes here before,” he says. “Bit weird, that.”

“A tad strange, yes. Though I’ve never visited twice in such quick succession, so who knows how much time has actually passed here,” he takes a breath and holds it for a few seconds before pressing on. “And of course, you being here - and I do mean you and here specifically - might be making things a bit wonky.”

Crowley arches an eyebrow. “Wonky.”

“Yes, wonky! Bringing another person into my mind in a split second, er… heated decision. Well. I’m not surprised there are some ripples is all.”

“Uh huh.”

Aziraphale shrugs. “It’s the ether. You know as well as I do how odd it is here. If there are rules to this place, I’ve yet to figure them out. I’ve always assumed that was part of the point. It’s meant to be ineff-”

Crowley cuts him off with a groan. “ Don’t say it’s ineffable. I’m sick to death of fumbling in the dark.” Aziraphale chuckles quietly by his side.

They continue their walk to the tree in silence for a few moments before Crowley pipes up again. “Inevitable though?”

“Ah. Right. Caught that, did you?” A bit of the nervous bumble creeps back into his voice.

“Hard to miss, angel. You chose a pretty big stage to shout it from.”

Aziraphale opens his mouth twice to speak, seems to think better of it both times and snaps it shut. Crowley feels a rush of endearment as he watches this, promptly becoming aware of the lack of sunglasses hiding the softness in his eyes. He manages his composure by the time Aziraphale finds his voice. “I haven’t been here in a very long time,” he says quietly. “I used to visit quite often, but over time I found I needed it less and less.”

As much as he tries to divert the train of thought, Crowley thinks of his own pocket in the ether, locked away deep in the center of him. He tries to imagine deserting it for long stretches of time and quickly forces his mind elsewhere as he feels a wave of melancholy approach him. “How long’s ‘a very long time’?”

“1941,” Aziraphale’s voice is almost a whisper.

Crowley stops walking. “1941,” he echoes. The significance of the date isn’t lost on him. He flashes back briefly to Aziraphale’s puzzled expression at the sight of the charred dove lectern in his flat. He feels his wings twitch on his back by some reflex and there is an urge like muscle memory to ignore this statement and change the subject. Around him, the air shimmers like a mirage. Something about being in Aziraphale’s ether with him seems to push Crowley to put a voice to thousands of years of emotions and questions. He starts small, hoping Aziraphale will meet him halfway. “Why 1941?”

Aziraphale stops and turns to him. He wears a soft determined look that Crowley thinks is similar to his own budding feeling of openness. “The church? The books? My dear boy, surely you remember.”

“Oh, I remember. A demon hot-footing it into a church makes for a pretty strong memory.”

“Yes. It does. I came here after that night to ruminate and found it was rather like placing the final brushstroke on a painting,” he reaches out a hand to Crowley and laces their fingers together. “That was the day the final piece fell into place,”

“Ruminate,” Crowley replies flatly.

“On you. Us.”

An achingly slow second passes as Crowley stares at him. He had gathered by now that Aziraphale’s feelings at least somewhat matched his own - the frozen tangle of their bodies back on Earth being something of a giveaway - but hearing Aziraphale stamp an exact date on it stirs something new in him. It had taken him all the way to the 20th century to figure out? And then...what, he’d just accepted and ignored it for the next 80 years? “But...you never did anything about it,” Crowley says, trying in vain to wish the brittleness out of his voice.

“There was nothing for it at the time,” Aziraphale replies, giving his hand a small squeeze. “It was too dangerous. And not just the threat of our head offices, which, by the way, was a very real fear. The thought of hurting you? Or chasing you away for good? That was far more frightening than anything Heaven could do to me.”

Crowley allows himself a puff of incredulous laughter at this. “You actually thought after everything I’d put up with you could chase me away? It’s been six thousand years. I think it’s safe to say you’re stuck with me at this point.”

Aziraphale smiles and lets out a little hum. “I don’t think I can explain it properly. The tree will help,” he nods in the direction of the island. With a gentle tug, he pulls Crowley into motion and they continue their walk. 

Crowley watches the ripples expand under their feet, hearing their voices disappear into the ether. You can change things...  

“Honestly though, it took you until 1941?” he says as the last of the echoes evaporate.

“I told you, it was a process!” Aziraphale huffs. “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Crowley interjects with a small pfff sound. “Alright then, if you’re so clever then when did you figure it out?”

A crooked smile teases the corner of Crowley’s mouth. “Right, so remember that day in Eden when it rained for the first time? And you, uh,” he lifts one wing above Aziraphale’s head in pantomime. “About then.”

It’s Aziraphale’s turn to stop and stare, pulling Crowley to a halt with him.

“You’re not serious. How could you possibly-” he sputters, eyes wide. “Just like that?”

Crowley shrugs. “Just like that. Oh, don’t look so surprised. How many angels would even consider showing a demon the smallest act of kindness?”

“But- Something so large- It’s- Crowley, it’s too much to just know all at once.”

“It’s not. It’s love, Aziraphale. Some things are effable,” the ether pulls the words out of him hot and heedless before he has a chance to think. He presses on before his brain can catch up with the rest of him. “Sure, it grew from there. It’s been growing a long time, but that’s always been the center of it. The heart wants what the heart wants,” Aziraphale’s shock gains a layer of bewilderment as his brow furrows. “Look, if you need a way to explain it away, you can just say it’s my fiendish nature,” Crowley adds quietly, dropping his eyes to his feet. “I’m a demon. I covet. It’s what I do.”

“Oh. No. Oh, my dear,” Aziraphale untangles their fingers and reaches out to cup Crowley’s face lightly in both hands, lifting him until their eyes meet again. The angel’s gaze is so full of affection, tenderness, and longing when it washes over him that Crowley feels beauty threatening to overwhelm him once more. “I want to show you something,” Aziraphale drops a hand from Crowley’s face and holds it out to him.

Crowley takes it.

 

***

 

The island is less a land mass and more a mound of earth rising just above the water. End to end, it can’t be any larger than the bookshop. Besides the tree, the only other thing on the island is a squat old tree stump, grown over with moss and ferns. The tree is a lush orange tree, covered in delicate white blossoms and ripe fruit. Crowley can’t resist laughing at the sight. 

“A fruit tree?” he teases affectionately. “You have a fruit tree in the middle of your mind palace? You don’t think that’s a bit on-the-nose?”

“Hush, serpent.”

“Why not an apple tree though?” Crowley says with a devilish smirk.

“It used to be,” Aziraphale points at the stump.

Crowley sputters a bit before finding his voice. “You cut down your apple tree?” A hand flies to his chest in mock anguish. “You wound me.”

“Oh, hush. There are other fruits, you know,” he smiles and pulls his wings in close as he ducks under the boughs of the orange tree. “Besides, I didn’t cut it down. It fell on its own. Ineff- er, mysterious nature of the ether, one presumes. I showed up one day and it was just gone.” The branches gently rustle as Aziraphale pulls aside leaves in search of the perfect fruit. Crowley follows him in, crossing his arms as he leans against the trunk to watch.

Aziraphale’s fingers explore the branches as tenderly as a practiced lover. He lightly strokes and squeezes oranges, then carefully releases them back to their branch once he discerns their level of ripeness. His hands skim blossoms with expert care so as to not leave behind a single bruised petal. Golden twilight seeps down through the branches, creating a shifting dappled pattern across his wings as he moves the leaves. Crowley stares, hypnotized.

When Aziraphale finds what he’s looking for he hums with satisfaction and plucks the orange from the tree. Cradling it reverently, he walks to the stump and perches on it comfortably, crossing his ankles to one side. He takes a moment to look around him, smiling serenely at the sky, the stump, the tree, and finally Crowley, the new variable in his ether. Then he returns his attention to the orange in his hands and begins to peel.

A fine mist of juice jumps from the spot where Aziraphale’s thumb digs into the orange, adding it’s aroma to the air. Careful to not mar the fruit, he peels the skin away in strips and the sound of tearing pith dances up to join the rustle of leaves and lap of water. When the orange is freed from its skin, he raises a thumb to his mouth and sucks at a dribble of juice before pulling the fruit into two halves. He does all of this slowly, savoring each step of the process.

Crowley takes in the whole display from his position by the tree. He can’t help feeling like he just witnessed the most hedonistic act of his life. The idea of an angel so deliberately activating all five earthly senses in such quick succession is so absurd it’s laughable. Somehow, watching Aziraphale do exactly that feels as natural as breathing. When the fruit is held out to Crowley, he doesn’t give it a thought. He pushes off the trunk and moves to the angel to accept the offering. Without a word, he settles on the ground beside Aziraphale with his back resting against the stump. He pulls one knee up to point at the sky and stretches his other leg out in front of him.

Following Aziraphale’s lead, he pulls a slice of orange free and pops it in his mouth. The fruit and juice that fills his mouth, while sweet and tart and delicious, brings much more than just the taste of oranges. He can taste the sun that ripened it, the blossom it started its life as, the faintest whisper of honey from the bees that pollinated it. His vision is momentarily dominated by images of the birds that once roosted in the branches and the soil the tree grows in where its roots mix with old apple wood. His eyes shoot open in surprise at the same time that Aziraphale’s close with a decadent sigh. Crowley is shocked, though he shouldn’t be. What he’s eating is a slice of pure angelic imagination.

He swallows and stares at Aziraphale until the angel opens his eyes. He holds the orange in front of him and demands breathlessly, “What. The heaven.”

Aziraphale laughs. “The ether made some truly marvelous changes to the old Eden designs, wouldn’t you say? They’re a bit more work, oranges, but thoroughly worth the effort.”

“If this had been in Eden, humanity would have gone in a very different direction,” he mumbles, peering at the tree suspiciously. “You’re sure this all this angelic essence won’t make me explode, right? You do remember I’m your hereditary enemy?”

Aziraphale shrugs. “Any other angel’s ether might be uncomfortable for you. I can’t even imagine what Sandalphon’s must be like,” he suppresses a shudder. “I assure you, you’re quite safe in mine.”

“Hm. Right then,” Crowley leans back against the stump and puts another piece of the fruit in his mouth. The experience is similar to before, but as he chews, the images in his head change. He sees the apple tree in Eden, his view quickly panning east to show him the garden walls which are crumbling rapidly. From somewhere deep within him, he feels a pang of sorrow appear like a hairline crack in a piece of pottery. He swallows and the feeling vanishes.

“Okay, that. What was that?” he holds the fruit up in front of him again.

Aziraphale is staring up into the tree’s leaves, apparently deep in thought. He shakes himself back into the moment at the sound of Crowley’s voice. “Hmm? Oh dear. Er- what did you see?”

“Eden, but its walls were crumbling. And there was a feeling with it too. Sadness maybe? Regret?” Crowley tries to pin it down, but it had been too short-lived.

“Disillusionment,” Aziraphale says quietly. “I’m sorry. I let my mind wander. I don’t have many pleasant thoughts associated with Sandalphon.”

“I don’t remember him being in Eden. Or the walls falling for that matter.”

“He wasn’t. That wasn’t technically a memory of Eden,” Aziraphale drops his gaze to the ground and reaches out a hand to idly brush a fern with his fingertips. “It was here. My ether used to be Eden. I suppose maybe it still is, but things started to change a little bit with each visit. Sometimes they would change quite a lot. The walls came down after Sodom and Gomorrah,” He sighs and lifts his hand back to his lap. Crowley stares into the canopy of the orange tree where Aziraphale’s mind had wandered; the only beacon in this vast mirrored sea. In the edges of his vision, he can see the angel close his eyes and eat a slice of orange. His mood seems to brighten a bit. “I believe we entered where the eastern gate used to be, but it’s been gone for so long that it’s hard to tell anymore.”

Crowley feels recognition shoot through him and he sits up again, turning to point at the stump. “So this…?”

 The tree, indeed,” Aziraphale smiles.

“When did it fall?”

“Around the time we landed on the Arrangement,” he pauses, then points at the orange in Crowley’s hand. “Do you want to see? I think I could guide you.”

Unable to find the proper words to respond to this offer, Crowley just nods. Aziraphale breathes deep and closes his eyes. “Whenever you’re ready,” he says.

Making a point to chew very slowly this time, Crowley eats another wedge of the orange. The angel’s direct concentration has a drastic effect. Instead of brief flashes, he finds himself plunged into Aziraphale’s memory. 

 

Eden is still recognizable, but very different from how it had been in the beginning. The walls are gone, as are the surrounding sands, replaced by the silver sea. There remains a great deal of the garden, but the water is encroaching on the greenery, leaving it noticeably diminished from what it had once been. The sun is high and he moves along the garden paths absentmindedly, taking in old landmarks with slight interest. The old crack of disillusionment still runs through him like a wound that can never fully scar, but it has also gained new layers. Minute cracks and fissures have joined it, expanding into an intricate web. Slim fingers of doubt and despondency mingle in the tiny gaps. He feels brittle. Strained.

But there is something else as well. Something that lies above the latticework of cracks, encircling him. A warmth. An unexpected camaraderie that feels like it could hold him together if he should need it. Friendship daring to grow where there should be nothing but salted earth. A demon willing to perform blessings and an informal agreement that confirms they will continue to meet. An excuse to continue their fascinating orbit of each other. He thinks of bright golden eyes and smiles. 

When his feet bring him to his destination, he stops to stare. The apple tree is gone, something new growing alongside its remains. The first thing to be added to this shrinking ethereal refuge.

 

Crowley swallows and returns to himself. He nudges Aziraphale out of his reverie. “What had you so down, angel?” he asks softly.

“Ah. That’s a bit complicated,” Aziraphale looks at him fondly. “Angels aren’t supposed to bend and change. Being resolute is part of what defines us. Trying to bend would only break the part of me that makes me an angel, but the longer I spent on Earth and watched Heaven do terrible things to innocent people in the name of ineffability...well. I could feel myself trying to bend. There were times that Heaven’s capacity for cruelty seemed greater than Hell’s,” his brow furrows and he lets his gaze sweep out over the water. “When I came here after the flood, the sands were gone. That was the first time I wondered if I was going to Fall,” he adds, his voice cracking slightly.

Aziraphale takes a shaky breath and Crowley feels the angel’s hand on his back. It finds the base of his wing and fingers delicately move up to lace into feathers, carefully smoothing and straightening the dark vanes. Aziraphale seems to recenter himself with the act, his breath steadying. It’s a simple thing, but somehow manages to feel far more intimate than the embrace that their bodies are locked in back in the flat.

Crowley feels understanding start to seep through him with a leisurely capillary action. He knows better than anyone the consequences of an angel asking too many questions. Trying the twist his thoughts and feelings around the laws of Heaven had snapped him in half. Of course he Fell, always rushing into everything half-cocked and fueled by emotion like he does. Of course he had loved Aziraphale so quickly and so fiercely - he excelled at falling after all. And of course it had taken Aziraphale so much longer to pin it down. It was miraculous that he had managed it at all.

“You won’t Fall, Aziraphale,” he murmurs. He relaxes into the hand at his wing and leans his head to rest on Aziraphale’s thigh. “I don’t think you could. You’re the strong one. Just look at how much your Eden has changed. This place is you. Your mind . You’ve changed it and you’re still an angel. All this shouldn’t even be possible, but here we are.”

The angel exhales sharply through his nose. “Can I show you one more memory? I want you to understand what happened in 1941.”

Crowley nods and hums his approval to the request. Aziraphale’s fingers are still woven into his wing when he looks up and absorbs the serene face and closed eyes. He takes another piece of fruit into his mouth.

 

He walks across the water in a daze, his feet carrying him to the island by their own accord. His heart and head both feel very full. It had been nearly 80 years since their last meeting and things hadn’t been left on a good note. He was beginning to think that things may very well have been left on the final note. 

So he’d spent the decades fumbling, trying to find some balm for the cracked and brittle pottery he carried. He’d learned to dance, filled his bookshop with countless relics, and even tried to make friends with a human, remembering too late that this meant watching them grow old and die. 

The brittleness remained. He always did his angelic duties, never rebelling enough to shatter but often finding new miniscule fractures in the expanding web. Interactions with Heaven left him cold and Earth was becoming dull when experienced alone. 

He was desperate enough now to try his hand at putting an angelic spin on some wiles. Though if tonight’s business with the Nazis was any indication, he was terrible at it. He’d tried to convince himself that it was the Arrangement itself that was the rush and a good wile or two would bring the feeling back. He knew better.

Then Crowley had just...waltzed back into his life. Over consecrated ground. To save him from certain discorporation. As though the past 80 years hadn’t happened. Sweeping through the church like a hurricane, he’d dropped a bomb on three Nazi spies, taken care to preserve the books he knew were so precious to the angel, and then casually driven him home. He’d even made a point to give the Nazis their chance to run from the bomb, planting his signature seed of free will; giving foul deeds a means of self-destruction under the proper circumstances.

That night, as bombs dropped on London, they had toasted their good fortune and lack of paperwork in the miraculously protected bookshop, falling back into each other’s company as if no time had passed. Even in the middle of a warzone, it was so easy. So warm and comforting. So companionable. So…

He’s at the tree now. Mechanically, he chooses an orange and sits on the stump, but he doesn't peel it. He holds it in his lap and stares out across the water. The deep golden twilight is the difference from his last visit; an extraordinary beauty found between two extremes.

...Perfect. It was so perfect.

Everything had just...fit. Sitting here now, he realizes that for the first time in decades he hadn’t felt like he was desperately holding his fragile ceramic frame together by himself. A demon had walked in and put his hands precisely where they needed to be. Applied the exact pressure required. Held him together just by being there, with an invisible touch that he hadn’t known was there until he’d lost it. The only person who understood him - who could understand him.

The serpent of Eden. His serpent. His love. Of course.

 

Crowley swallows and sits in a daze for a few seconds. He knows the correct pressure to apply to the current situation; where to touch and prod and hold the conversation to give Aziraphale the support he needs. It’s second nature to him and has been for thousands of years, he had just never realized how much the angel needed it. He rustles his feathers under Aziraphale's hand to get the angel's attention. 

“Do you want to know what I was doing for those 80 years?” 

Aziraphale grimaces. “I don’t know, do I?”

Crowley shifts his weight so that he can rest his head in Aziraphale’s lap, craning his neck back to look up into his eyes. He grins. “Sleeping.”

The angel blinks. “Sleeping,” he says flatly. “I was half mad with worry that I’d chased you away for good, and you were sleeping.”

“First of all, you should try it sometime, it’s nice. And second of all, it’s a very effective way to make time disappear when you miss someone but figure you’ve burned a bridge beyond repair.”

“An 80 year nap seems a bit excessive, don’t you think?” Aziraphale scoffs. He does his best to sound annoyed, but a flicker of endearment passes over his eyes. 

“I didn’t mean to take an 80 year nap. It just started as a normal nap, but every time I tried to get up, I just thought about how angry you had been about the holy water and the fraternizing. I thought you wouldn’t want anything to do with me. Head office didn’t have much work for me at the time so I just kept sleeping.”

“So we both thought…”

“Seems that way,” he stares up at the golden light glowing through Aziraphale’s hair. “Do you want to know what I did when I woke up?”

“You mean besides ‘hot-footing’ into a church?”

Crowley laughs. “Before that part," he says, the impish grin returning to his face. "I set a network of half-witted Nazi spies onto the trail to find the best books of prophecy in London. Made sure their most convincingly angelic agent recruited a certain A.Z. Fell. Pulled some strings and made sure the double-cross happened where and when it did.”

A few beats of stunned silence pass. “You didn’t! Crowley, are you lying to me? Because you know I can’t always tell. Why on earth didn’t you just come by the shop?” Aziraphale’s eyebrows make an effort to disappear into his hairline. 

“Uh. Well to be honest, planning the whole scheme so I could sweep in and rescue you seemed easier at the time. And no, I’m not lying.”

“Oh honestly, that’s preposterous, even for you,” Aziraphale huffs.

Crowley smiles and closes his eyes. He breathes in the heady scent of oranges. “I missed you, angel. I guess it made me a little stupid.”

He observes the edges of Aziraphale’s reaction through his blindsight. There is a subtle shift of weight as muscles release the slightest tensions, a yawn of negative space appears when Aziraphale lifts his head, a tiny eddy in the air is created by the soft hitch of breath when he smiles. He quiets and grows content. Through closed eyes, Crowley sees it all with perfect clarity.

They sit like this for a while, savoring the tranquility. Their half-eaten orange, forgotten and no longer needed, fades and disappears into the ether. Crowley loops an arm around Aziraphale’s calf when he feels a hand running into his hair. Some time later, a wing stretches around his side to find his own, white feathers sliding between black with a slight tingle of static charge.

“Oh!” Aziraphale says suddenly, revelation bright in his voice. His wings snap back behind his back. “I think I’ve cracked it!”

Crowley lazily opens one eye. “You’ve what now?”

“The final prophecy!”

His eye slips shut again. “Are you telling me you’ve been working on math problems this whole time?”

“No! What? No! Of course not! It’s been something of a distracting evening so I haven’t given it my full attention, but then all this and - and memories! And wings!” Aziraphale stammers excitedly, his words tumbling out of him and falling in heaps at his feet.

“Angel, shhh. Breathe. Then speak.” 

Aziraphale makes a commendable attempt, taking a few huge breaths in rapid succession. Crowley can feel him beginning to tremble.

“Right, so it’s safe to assume that Heaven and Hell will come for us after what we did. Foolish to assume otherwise, really. And it’s a well known fact that neither party has any originality. They’ll want to make examples of us and it will be in the most uninspired way possible. Agnes says I’ll be ‘playing with fire,’ so I think extinction by hellfire for me is a certainty,” Aziraphale rambles cheerfully. Crowley opens both eyes this time. “And the equivalent for you would be-”

“Holy water. Yeah. I fail to see the silver lining here.”

“She also says to ‘choose your faces wisely.’ Crowley, what if-” he pauses for another deep breath. “What if we trade places? You go to Heaven and face my hellfire and I go to Hell to deal with your holy water. An angel wearing the body of a demon would still be an angel. Holy water would roll right off me! Like a duck!”

Crowley sits up and turns to face him fully, a bit of the angel’s infectious excitement catching in him. “You think she meant trading bodies? Is that even possible? That seems like a damn sight more than some minor miracle.”

“It would be! It probably should be impossible, but so much of what’s happened in the last few days should have been impossible. And all of this?” he gestures frantically at the seascape around him. “You said it yourself, it shouldn’t be possible, but here we are,” he leans forward and earnestly cups Crowley’s face in his hands. “A demon and an angel, apparently in love? Everything about this is impossible, which is exactly why it can work. It’s too ineffable for anyone to figure out.” He presses their foreheads together, breathing heavily. 

A demon and an angel, apparently in love. Crowley feels the words resonate through him and he can’t help smiling. He coils a hand around the back of Aziraphale’s neck and holds the two of them in place.

“What did you have in mind then? I’m pretty sure I missed the body swapping day at miracle school.”

“It wouldn’t be a miracle I don’t think. Not really. We might even be able to do it now, judging on how I was able to bring you into my ether without issue. But...I think there’s more,” his eyes sweep over Crowley’s face as he speaks, taking in as much of him as he can while they are this close. He bites his lip and summons the courage to continue. “We could take it further. Actually become each other. We could...mix,” the angel shouldn’t technically be able to blush in the ether, but he seems to be managing it anyway. 

“Mix,” Crowley tries out the word and feels an unprompted shiver in his wings, as though some fundamental part of him understands and is trying to explain it to the rest of him. “More than we currently are?” 

Aziraphale drops his hands and pulls back, nodding. “Only if you want to. I imagine it’s rather intense. It, ah, starts with the wings I believe,” he says, glancing over Crowley’s shoulder. “Our anchors to the ether. From what I understand it’s a total blending of two beings. For a time.”

Crowley thinks of that fragile pottery; of diving into it and swirling through it. He imagines a storm raging against its walls and shattering it from the inside. “It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s just that... It’s loud in here,” he taps the side of his head. “Sometimes it’s too loud even for me. A ‘total blending’ would bring a lot of demon into you.”

“And a lot of angel into you, by that logic.”

“You talked about bending and breaking. What if we mix and…” he trails off.

Aziraphale looks at him very soberly. “My dear, of all the things I could have Fallen for over the years, loving you was never one of them. You’re the only thing I managed to remain completely resolute about,” he gestures at the tree as if to illustrate this. “If anything, you’re the reason I never Fell.” 

The angel holds zealous eye contact for a few moments, as though this is something he deeply needs Crowley to understand and the knowledge is something he can pass directly through their gaze. Then he softens and a smile eases onto his lips. “But I won’t force you into anything you don’t want. Say the word and I’ll take us right back to your flat. We can come up with some other plan I’m sure.”

Crowley’s thoughts float back to the crackle beneath his fingers when he had instinctively reached for Aziraphale’s wings back in the flat. He hadn’t thought about what he was doing, he just knew he needed more and he knew how to reach for it. He wonders if, on some level, that primal part of him had been trying to take the wheel and drive him home. The agitated rustle of feathers at his back seems to whisper to him in a language he can almost parse, creating a haze in the air as volatile as the memory of a dream. A faint breeze rustles through the leaves of the orange tree as though in response.

And Aziraphale really is the strong one. He hadn’t said that just for the sake of comfort. It was a truth that he knew and believed in his core. Over the millennia, he had watched his friend embody all the best traits of angels and humans in tandem; gentility, honor, and resolve, but also delight, compassion, and curiosity. Such dissonant facets that coexisted in him so effortlessly.

Friendship daring to grow where there should be nothing but salted earth.

Sitting on the tiny island in the middle of what used to be Eden and staring into the angel’s eyes, Crowley feels the last fragment slide into place. This won’t break him. Aziraphale won’t Fall. They’ve been holding each other together for thousands of years without even realizing it, seamlessly filling in the cracks and relieving the strain in each other through a second nature that came as natural as breathing. They were made to mix. It’s being apart that is out of place.

“I trust you, Aziraphale. I want to,” he says, feeling his wings unfold above him. “You might have to take the lead on this one though.”

Aziraphale grins sheepishly. “I’m afraid my knowledge is limited to what I could glean from books, and the poets all tend to be quite flowery. But, I think…” he stands, pulling Crowley to his feet with him. The angel’s wings begin their own rustling as they face each other. “I think we just relax into it.”

The restlessness in their wings grows, white and black feathers fanning and stretching by their own accord, impossible to ignore. Crowley breathes deep and gives up trying to control them. Their bodies move together and he steadies himself against Aziraphale, hands traveling delicately up each other’s forearms, coming to rest near elbows. Two shaky breaths are drawn as they move to touch their foreheads together.

Two pairs of wings expand to their full breadth, then curl forward to lace their feathers together, encasing the two bodies in a cocoon. A static charge starts where the feathers meet, creeping up the length of their wings and into their bodies, drenching their spines in an intoxicating warmth.

Wings bed deeper into each other and hands tighten around elbows. The warmth prickles into their cores, through their limbs, up their necks, and into the space behind their eyes. Blue and gold bore into each other as the curious sensation of unraveling begins. Unlike the rush of wind that shot them into the ether, this is slow and dreamlike. Releasing a final breath, Crowley lets go and allows himself to drift away.

 

***

 

There is a bundle of memory that Crowley holds deep within himself. Its existence is accepted because it is an inextricable part of him, but he never touches it anymore. The edges are too sharp and the core of it threatens to consume him. The memory is a twisted thing, preserved in amber and set far back on the highest shelf of his mind to gather dust. Sometimes he will stare at it moodily from the safety of the ground, never climbing higher to inspect it closer, always looking away before he loses his way back. Other times, the light will catch the murky prism just so, amplifying an old grief and sending an ephemeral mote dancing through him. When this happens, he will steel himself against the awful light and reach out to the lower shelves, fumbling blindly through old comforts, searching for something to steady himself on. Something safe that he can hold and stare into the center of until the amber sliver winks out.

When he lets go of his final tether in Aziraphale’s ether and allows his consciousness to float free, the chunk of amber teeters and falls from its shelf, shattering inside him. 

He doesn’t remember his Fall so much as he experiences it again.

Chapter Text

“There are many forms of love and affection, some people can spend their whole lives together without knowing each other’s names. Naming is a difficult and time-consuming process; it concerns essences, and it means power. But on the wild nights who can call you home? Only the one who knows your name.”

-Jeanette Winterson, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit

 

He had loved being an angel. His skill with the art of creation was recognized throughout Heaven and he delighted in shaping the stars. He found the perfect way to hang them across the sky in flowing calligraphy, writing in a language only he fully understood. He invented new colors to paint nebulas with and learned to sculpt solely for the joy of making moons. Michael had once wondered aloud if perhaps he had gotten a bit carried away with his Jupiter assignment, but held her tongue when she beheld Io’s volcanic beauty for the first time. He was quiet and friendless, this lesser angel, seeking the happiness in his work that he could never find among his peers. While the other angels didn’t understand him, they all admired his art.

One in particular took special interest in his talents. A mentor who seemed to see the sky writing for the song that it was and told the angel as much. His talent was not one that could flourish under the strict law of Heaven. Life, art, beauty, and love are chaotic by nature, this is what defined them and made them special. How can life flourish without free will? How can art be made without love? Passion and curiosity were the true sparks of life and being so alive couldn’t possibly be a sin...could it? The angel felt seen, heard, understood for the first time. It was freeing. He took Lucifer’s words in, gathered them close around his heart, examined them. And he began to ask his own questions.

When judgement was enacted and the Morningstar was thrown from Heaven, the young angel learned about sides. There was no grey in the eyes of Heaven. There was right and there was wrong. Anything that fell in the grey was considered a corruption and thrown out with the wrong.

And so he Fell, not realizing it was even a possibility. His Grace was a thing he had never thought to give a name to until it was ripped out of him. Bound to the Morningstar as though by an invisible chain, he was dragged down.

 

***

 

This is wrong! Crowley flails with wild animalistic gestures, grasping for the safety of the low shelves, reaching for Aziraphale. There is nothing.

I only ever asked questions.

He Falls.

 

***

 

The feelings of betrayal and loss began to smolder as panic overcame all other thought. His colors and his skywriting became a blur around him as he plummeted through the skies he had so lovingly painted. He could remember writing in the stars, somewhere in their depth he had signed his name, but he could no longer read the words. He never would again. His art had been created for Heaven and in the heavens it would remain. The name he once held was lost, faded from the sky like a dying star.

At first, he screamed. One hopeless word fell from his tongue over and over, turning to ash around him. His final reckless prayer.

Why?

Eventually, he quieted. He found the descent was easier if he curled himself into a ball. Hugging his knees to his chest, he imagined he was a meteor. A shooting star painting one final and fleeting brushstroke across the sky. He hoped he was beautiful.

 

***

 

Crowley feels himself slipping away. He knows that when he lands, the demon will take over. Really take over this time. There can be no piecing the broken shards of amber back together. It’s existence on the shelf was too impossible to begin with. The prism was his final act of defiance as an angel; the spark he held onto and bullied into staying alive, preserving it mid-decay before its half-life could consume too much of it.

But staring into the exposed core of the prism stirs old thoughts out of their atrophy. He remembers that this last rebellion had bled into his first act of defiance as a demon. Not just daring to love, but having the audacity to love an angel. Allowing that love to seep through him and fill every corner of his being, coloring him in with new shades. Hues that had no business living in a demon. It was a flower that had been tenacious enough to burst through pavement; a fierce and free kind of love that neither angels nor demons should be capable of.

No fall could take it from him.

He feels his descent slow. Then, like a ribbon of milk being poured into a cup of tea, he feels Aziraphale swirl into him, the angel’s voice ringing in his head like a bell.

I didn’t know! You slipped away so quickly. Oh, Crowley, I didn’t know.

S’fine, angel. I think...I think I knew you’d catch me.

Is that what I did?

More than you know.

Even as he thinks the words, he can feel them becoming less true. The two of them begin to billow around each other and the division between angel and demon blurs. He can feel them blending into something else - something new and intricate and singular. The complex snarls of knots that makes up their minds begin to slowly unwind and twist around the two of them, stitching together into new helixes around the churning cloud.

Gradually, Crowley realizes that they have stopped falling. They hang in the air like smoke, drifting against a dark and starless sky. He can’t see their mingled form, but he doesn’t need to. Aziraphale is everything he can feel, smell, and taste. The angel is the air in his lungs, the blood in his veins, the electricity traveling between his neurons. Seeing him would mean feeling less of him, an idea which is wholly unacceptable.

As the last threads of their awareness braid together, there is the profound sensation of a dream solidifying into reality. A perfect summer day unfolds around them. The kind of perfection that is so rare, most people must settle for experiencing it through books and imagination. There is the feeling of an endless expanse of sky above them and a lush bed of grass below their back. Their sense of sight slowly comes into focus and they see warm sunlight trickling lazily through trees. Somewhere nearby, a stream burbles and splashes, while much closer by, there is a picnic basket with its bounty laid out on gingham. Birds sing and the subtle fragrance of fruit and sun-warmed grass hangs on the air. 

While this first page started in Aziraphale, it is penned in both of them now. 

A picnic? You took us for a metaphysical picnic?

I have always wanted to take you for a picnic. And if not now, when?

The afternoon wanes as they lie there basking in each other, the simple act of breathing flooding them with euphoria. The sun paints a golden twilight before showing herself out with a fiery curtsey. In the deepening dusk, tiny points of yellow light flare languidly in and out of existence. 

Fireflies?

I’ve never actually seen fireflies.

It’s strange, isn’t it? Living as long as us and finding there are still new things to see.

Ineffable, one might say.

Oh, hush.

The fireflies gravitate towards them as the curtain of night falls, congregating in an ephemeral halo around their head. There is an electric tickle behind their eyes, then the insects drift into the sky where they transform into a sea of twinkling stars. Staring up at the new lights in the sky, they realize that their memories of each other have been written across the sky in a hand that is familiar, though it belongs to neither of them. The truths behind every shy smile and furtive glance, every restless night and fitful decade, are suddenly revealed. They begin to catalog the memories fondly with this new context, creating a map of new constellations to navigate by. 

You really made that face back in 1941? 

The heart wants what the heart wants.

Hm. Indeed. What are we calling this one?

The Lovers?

Not then we weren’t.

Weren’t we?

The last star they map finds them in a room lined with empty shelves extending up the wall and disappearing into darkness. The floor is littered with amber shards and they stoop down to inspect the debris.

Alpha Centauri...you helped make it?

I did. I remember liking how it turned out, but the actual memory is gone.

Let’s visit sometime.

I’d like that.

They carefully sweep the fragments into a pile and carry them out in cupped hands. There is a chill creeping into the air as they find their favorite places in the sky and delicately hang the shards among the stars. As each tiny prism settles into its new home, the amber color bleeds out of it, leaving a clear crystal to catch the light in new ways. When all that is left is a handful of sparkling amber dust, they turn to The Lovers and toss the dust into the sky, signing their name as a star cluster beneath the constellation. They admire their stars for a time, breathing each other and delighting again in the hum this creates in their center.

For which of my bad parts didst thou first fall in love with me?

You always did like his funny ones.

Who doesn’t like comedy? And that’s not your line.

For all of them together.

When the sun rises, Aziraphale’s summer has melted into the cool crispness of Crowley’s autumn. The world is a blaze of color and they pick their way through a dense forest. The wind dances through the trees, whispering to them urgently in words they can’t quite hear. The brisk smell of dry leaves lays on top of the heavier aroma of mushrooms and sour apples. There is a bittersweet surge of wistfulness in their heart as they behold a world which feels so beautiful and desperately alive even as it decays. Every leaf seems determined to maintain its grasp on its tree, and when each one inevitably falls, it feels like its own distinct tragedy.

They talk less, here in autumn. It does not feel like a place for talking. Instead they walk, regarding the forest with hushed wonder. They let the emotion of the season flow through them and pull them forward, taking comfort in their entwined warmth.

The sun is low in the sky when the trees give way to a placid lake ringed by the smoldering reds and oranges of the forest. On the bank, a bonfire crackles invitingly and they move to rest in its heat. Woodsmoke and the lap of water work a potent charm to pull them deeper into this dream within dreams. Again and again, they float up on thermals created by the fire, twisting and purling in the wavering air as their constellations return to the sky. They float among the old memories whose new facets gleam in the firelight, then drift back to the ground as gently as the leaves falling around them.

As they feel winter curling its frost around the final sighs of autumn, they realize that this has not been a place of tragedy and decay. It is a place of preparation as the world readies itself for a long slumber. Life tiring itself out with a final burst of art and beauty before sinking into hibernation, trusting in winter to preserve and guard it so it can be reborn in spring.

Crowley fades back into Aziraphale as snow begins to fall. A pale sun rises behind the clouds, revealing barren trees and a frozen lake in a world void of color. The falling snow absorbs sound, deepening the silence and leaving a cloud of pensiveness over the landscape. They feel lethargy working its way into their limbs, tempting them to lie down and sleep with the rest of the world, but they know they have more to do before winter ends. To fight off the fatigue, they rise from the shore and stroll out over the frozen lake. 

Is it safe?

It won’t break.

It could.

Not here I don’t think. Not if we don’t want it to.

The snow beneath their feet yields with muffled crunches as they make their way out over the ice. When they reach the center of the lake, they give in to whimsy and lie on their back, fanning their limbs out to create a snow angel. They lie in this etching, the single stubborn point of color in a vast bleached hemisphere, and stare into the sky until the clouds exhaust themselves and dissipate.

Resonating through the depths of the lake, there is a sonorous cracking sound which echoes through the ice and along their spine. The sound bursts out of them and scatters into the air as though their body was an amplifier. As though this were some cue they had been waiting for, they sit up and inspect the ice under them. Peering into the lake through the imprint made by their body, they can see a deep crack slicing through the rippling layers of ice, stark and white against the darkness of the water. They reach out curiously and touch the frosted-glass surface, feeling a prickle when their fingertips make contact and a rush of memories flows into them; memories belonging to the lake of minerals accumulated in its sediment. 

Satisfied, they stand and push snow aside with their feet in order to follow the jagged trail of the crack as it leads them back to land like some alien treasure map. The copse of trees they find themselves deposited into is a different type from the rest of the forest; a dissonant chord played above a song that harmonizes in spite of expectations. They weave a path through the slender trunks, trailing their fingers over the bark as they pass. Another prickle passes under their fingers as the trees eagerly tell them the cherished secrets held in their roots and bark.

There is a hum and a smile. A deep breath of the frigid air. The angle of the sun changes to turn the blanket of snow into a field of glittering diamonds. They return to their roost by the shore and, willing the fire back to life, they wait.

Night tightens around them and The Lovers return to the center of the heavens, an axis the sky seems to rotate around. The fire crackles and pops, sending a shower of sparks spiraling into the air where they settle in to become new stars, revealed by the tilt of this new season. The lovers on the ground study each one in turn, threading constellations together and adding to their archive.

Poor Shakespeare. I’m quite sure he had no idea what hit him.

I doubt he minded. We made him a legend.

Yes, but surely a human having that many epiphanies is exhausting. Like constantly being struck by lightning.

Not my fault you weren’t getting my messages.

I could say the same, my dear.

Hard to see the forest for the trees. Or the sky for the stars I suppose.

Hm. Doubt thou the stars are fire? Doubt that the sun doth move, doubt truth to be a liar, but never doubt I love. That was you?

Mm. You always did like the gloomy ones.

But especially that one.

You’re welcome.

The night draws on. When they feel the subtle shift in the smell and temperature of the air, they know to begin their work. Carefully, they draw inward to the safety of their center and seek out the cracked and brittle pottery. Wrapping delicate yet confident hands around it, they map every crack with the gentlest fingers. 

In some spots, dozens of miniscule fractures have layered on top of each other to create inverted islands of brittleness, held together by some miraculous force of will. Using the pads of their fingers, they press firmly on these crumbling islands, loosening ceramic dust that they can then scrape away, leaving behind pockmarked scars. 

In other spots, there are larger and more menacing fissures running through the pottery, sometimes overlapping, threatening to shatter the frame at the next errant thought. They run the length of these with their thumbs, applying the pressure needed to coax and soothe the cracks into clean breaks. They hold the liberated pieces as though they were the holiest of relics rather than broken shards of ceramic.

With steady breath and utmost concentration, they dip into knowledge gifted from strange trees and a frozen lake, drawing the necessary components to them like water from a well. By a combination of art and alchemy, they mix tree sap and lake water, adding gold to the mixture and balancing out the minerals using borrowed mastery. When they are satisfied with the lacquer they have mixed, they begin to repair the pottery. They work slowly and meticulously, understanding the weight of the task. The large pieces are rejoined using the lacquer, the seams solidifying into strong veins of gold. The smaller scars they fill and smooth over until they are flush with the surface, peppering the ceramic with splashes of golden freckles.

When they finish, they sit back and lovingly inspect their work in the glow of the fire. The pottery is perfectly restored to its original shape, made stronger and more beautiful for having been broken. In the flickering light, the gold ripples and flashes, exactly the color of a serpent’s eyes.

It is in a grey predawn light that they stand and resume their journey. The late winter frost crunches under their feet as they walk briskly around the lake and into the woods, feeling revitalized. 

The final transition of seasons is anything but subtle. Crowley’s spring refuses to wait for winter to shake the inactivity from its limbs, pushing life and color into the world wherever it can find a foothold. Around them, crocuses and snowdrops forge dogged paths up through cracks in the frozen ground, surging skyward, vibrant and impatient. They follow this path of flowers, the trees thinning around them before finally giving way to a wide, open field. A golden dawn sends spears of light through a dispersing fog and into a sea of spring flowers.

The scene is a lush, eager explosion of life to soothe the deep frozen contemplation of winter and they feel their heart swell at the sight, knowing that their circle is nearing its close. The feeling of completion hangs in the air, tantalizing and comforting. They let their feet carry them towards it.

The weather here is dithering and turbulent, and they find beauty in all of it. The sun makes intermittent appearances through heavy clouds, warm and bright every time it shines down on them. The clouds oscillate between lazy white puffballs accompanied by a cool breeze, and dark brooding storm clouds that, for all their menace, never do more than mist them with a refreshing drizzle. They find they especially enjoy these rainfalls, savoring the clean air rich with the earthy smell of petrichor.

They walk through the animated landscape by vague muscle memory, relaxing into the growing feeling of destination, letting it steer them. Chalk hills appear in the distance and the subtle smell of salt creeps into the edges of the air. The feel of landscape trails hazy half-memories behind it, into the back of their mind.

Do we know this place? It feels like… 

Like a dream.

Whose dream?

Both of ours? 

The trail of wildflowers eventually leads them to a garden set inside a low wall, gone slightly wild with rosemary, primrose, and bluebells fighting their way through dense ivy and tall grass. They know this place is their destination, with the unequivocal certainty possessed by one within a dream. Past the garden, a small cottage can be seen, peeking around an old oak tree. Beyond the cottage, the hills give way to the sea.

The cottage has a strange feeling of familiarity wavering in the air about it. The lay of it against the land and the fragrance of herbs and salt on the cool breeze wraps them in a primal comfort. But at the same time it seems out of focus, like a mirage that could disappear if they get too close. They regard the cottage beyond the garden as a dream not yet made real, and using their dreamer’s logic, they respect this. They settle into the garden instead, content to remain in orbit for now.

The dark clouds clear once more, revealing a late afternoon sun. They walk a slow and carefree path through the garden, jewel-toned dragonflies and tiny white butterflies dancing their jerky rhythms in the air around them. Following their whims, they find secret nooks in the foliage to duck into, joyful and giggling like a child as they seek hidden treasures. They stop to admire every simple detail of the overgrown undergrowth, delighting in the chaotic beauty driving the life around them. Periodically, they turn their face to the sun to let warmth and satisfaction roll over them. 

They are full, here in this garden. Full of heart, mind, and soul. Full of each other. Full of love. As the sun dips behind the hills and into the sea, drawing this final season of their heart towards its close, they feel complete.

They sit beneath the oak tree and rest. Two souls, as one.

 

***

 

As the late spring dusk deepens and their constellations return, Crowley knows there is one final star to chart. They hold it to their chest in a closed fist, relishing the thrum of their combined essence as it spins around this final unknown.

Crowley holds out their hand and slowly uncurls their fingers.

You can stay at my place.

Aziraphale’s joy bursts into life deep in their cells. Love lights them up from the inside, refracting through the new prisms to send kaleidoscopic lights dancing against gold-veined walls. In their hand, Crowley holds open the door to his pocket of ether, inviting the angel to share it with him. 

They cross the threshold as one person.

Chapter Text

“We are strong, we are faithful
We are guardians of a rare thing
We pay close careful attention to the news the morning air brings
We show great loyalty to the hard times we’ve been through
We are filled with riches and wonders
Our love keeps the things it finds”

-John Darnielle (The Mountain Goats), “Riches and Wonders”

 

Crowley enters his space with closed eyes and breathes deeply through his nose. He wants to take in the smell first before moving on to any other sense. Old books, dust, tea leaves, cocoa. An undercurrent of orange blossoms so subtle that he’s never registered it before now, though it’s always been there. Home.

Very slowly, he becomes aware of Aziraphale’s hand in his. He feels the grip tighten as the angel sucks in a tiny gasp beside him. “Oh. Crowley…” his voice is a whisper, as shaky as a breeze through the trees.

Crowley lets his eyes flutter open and sweep around the room, lingering on every detail. The overflowing bookshelves, the threadbare rugs covering the grooves worn into ancient hardwood, the antique writing desk piled high with papers. Afternoon sun streams in through the window above the desk, illuminating dust motes in the air. A steaming mug of cocoa sits picturesque in the middle of the sunbeam. Aziraphale’s bookshop is pristine and perfect, exactly as it had been before the fire.

His gaze finishes its affectionate stroll around the shop, coming to rest on Aziraphale. The angel’s free hand has moved to his mouth and he stares at Crowley with wide glistening eyes.

This is it, angel. My final page. All of me includes all of you. You are the home I carry on my back and now you know. 

He says none of this out loud. He doesn’t need to. Instead he smiles and lets understanding pass between them in the new language they had written in the stars. 

Crowley lifts their linked hands and presses his lips to Aziraphale’s knuckles before disentangling himself. He tucks his wings in close against his back and begins to weave a meandering path through the shop, pausing at landmarks that hold significance for him alone. There is a tome on the front table that he caresses the spine of as he saunters by, delighting simply in the way the embossed binding feels under his fingers. As he passes the pillars that hold up the balcony, he loops an arm around one and spins in a dreamy circle like a child on a maypole. When he reaches the phonograph, he shoots a toothy grin over his shoulder at Aziraphale. Holding eye contact with the gawking angel, he quickly touches one finger to his tongue, then traces it around the lip of the bell as though it’s a wine glass he can coax a crystal resonance out of. A tinny echo of Freddie Mercury flows into the air. 

Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? 

Aziraphale jerks from his trance and lets out a peal of laughter that rings high and clear through the shop. He moves to trace Crowley’s steps, catching up with him at the writing desk where the demon is piously touching each kitschy statue and bobble in turn. When he completes this ritual, he bends his face to the tendrils of steam coiling from the mug and breathes deep, holding the sweetened breath. He floats over to the sofa and lets his wings fan out behind him as he sinks deep into the cushions, slinging an arm over the back and releasing the breath as a sigh.

Aziraphale falls still by the desk, his brows knitting and his eyes suddenly focusing on the middle distance. The air around him shimmers briefly. “You watched it burn,” he murmurs. He deflates a little as the full meaning of this seems to fall on him very suddenly. 

Crowley closes his eyes and nods. It feels far off now, the memory of that pain. At the time however, standing in the burning bookshop - frantic, helpless, and assuming the worst about Aziraphale - had felt like turning to ash from the inside out. For all intents and purposes, it was the equivalent of his mind going up in flames. It had torn through every layer of him with terrifying efficiency and plunged a devastating wound into the deepest part of his heart. He had almost retreated into his ethereal bookshop right then, with the intent of curling into a ball inside his wings until he faded into the nothingness surrounding the ether.

He had lashed out and grabbed Agnes’s book instead. It had been a blind attempt to hold onto some piece of Aziraphale, but he found it prodded at his optimism just enough to get him out the door to at least finish what the angel had started. Sitting here now, he wonders vaguely if Agnes had planned it that way.

He’s strangely calm as he examines the memory. It was a horrible thing, and yes, it had broken him in horrible new ways, but broken things can be mended. They can never be put back exactly as they were, but they can be made resilient and whole again. With proper care, they can be remade better.

“Crowley, I… I can’t even imagine…” Aziraphale trails off, sounding on the verge of tears.

Crowley opens his eyes, suddenly worried that this place will project his thoughts onto a guest in the same way he had received images from Aziraphale’s ether. “It’s okay, angel,” he says softly, steering his mind away from the memory. “Really. All this? It was never about the shop. It’s always been about you, and here you are.”

Aziraphale steadies himself against the desk chair. For a moment, he looks like he might sink into it, but changes his mind halfway through the motion and slides in next to Crowley on the sofa instead, filling the space beneath his arm and leaning in to him. Even though they don’t technically inhabit physical bodies in the ether, there’s something profoundly comforting about perceiving the angel’s weight next to him and the way they fit together.

“What was it before the bookshop?” Aziraphale asks in a far-off way, as though he were asking for a bedtime story.

“Loads of things. You moved around a lot for a few millennia in the beginning and it was all I could do to keep up. In the past couple centuries, it’s sometimes just been St James’ Park or the Ritz.” Crowley thinks back over some of his favorite iterations of his ether. “You remember that little hut you kept outside Leeds in the 1400s?”

Aziraphale shudders. “I remember staying there only when work demanded it. The roof always leaked and no amount of miracling seemed to get rid of the smell of chickens.”

“I liked it,” Crowley says with a laugh. “It was simple. There was no one around to keep up appearances for. And you were bored enough without your books that I actually convinced you to play dice with me.”

“Oh lord, I think we drank an entire winery that night,” Aziraphale chuckles weakly.

Crowley nods and grins up at the ceiling. “I made some crass comment about the chickens around the sixth bottle and you laughed until you cried. I didn’t know angels could do that. I honestly thought we might both discorporate from laughing too hard.” He lets the memory of wine and dice and an angel overflowing with mirth in a humble thatch roofed shack play before his eyes and sighs dreamily. “I loved that awful little hut. It was a frequent ethereal haunt of mine during the Spanish Inquisition.”

“That was almost 100 years later!”

Crowley shrugs as best he can with Aziraphale pinning his shoulder. “You didn’t have roots for a long time. No place that seemed like home anyway. The Leeds hut felt more you than anyplace else for centuries.”

They sit silently for a spell, the warm, musty comfort of the bookshop making their eyelids heavy. Aziraphale yawns and sinks a little deeper into the sofa.

“Mm. You remember that big library in Dublin?” Crowley says sleepily. “The one you hardly left in the 18th century.”

“Ohh, Trinity College Library,” Aziraphale replies, excitement edging into his voice. “Marvelous place. Simply marvelous. Safeguarding the Book of Kells remains my favorite assignment to date,” he pauses for a moment. “Wait, are you saying…”

“Yep.”

“Your ether. Yours. Anthony J. Crowley, the serpent of Eden, who, in his own words, ‘doesn’t read books.’”

“I don’t see why it’s so surprising. We’re sitting in a bookshop right now.”

“Yes, but you have a connection to this place on Earth. Crowley, Trinity College Library ? Did you ever even set foot in it?”

Crowley smiles at the memory stirring to the surface of his mind. “Sure. Once.”

Aziraphale sits up and turns to look at him, a bemused look on his face.

“You were two days late to a meeting we had planned,” Crowley explains. “I came to find you.”

He thinks back to walking into that immense corridor of a room, lined with alcoves of beautifully carved floor-to-ceiling bookshelves along its whole length. He had been so annoyed as he stalked the corridor, peering into every little room, his anger growing with each one. 

Then he’d found Aziraphale. 

The angel was near the end of the long room, tucked back into a corner of one of the alcoves. He was balanced at the top of a ladder, his chin resting in his hand and elbow propped on the top rung next to an open book. His other hand rested lightly at the corner of the page. Sunlight spilled in through the window next to him, drenching everything in a pale yellow light. He was as still as a painting, the dust floating in the air the only hint of movement. The look on Aziraphale’s face had been one of absolute bliss and serenity. Crowley froze just outside the alcove, spellbound by the sight, forgetting to breathe, wondering at the sudden tightness in his chest. Every scrap of his anger and frustration melted away in an instant, replaced by that perfect image. It seemed unimaginable, unfair, absurd that anything so beautiful could exist. The moment holds him in its grasp to this day, a lump rising to his throat at the thought.

He hadn’t disturbed the angel in that flawless moment. Instead, he left without saying anything and waited for Aziraphale to track him down some weeks later, bumbling apologies about losing track of time. The idea of tearing the angel away from the library was so offensive to him that, when they went over their assignments as per the Arrangement, Crowley had suggested a coin toss and rigged it against himself for the first time. He took on a handful of blessings and left Aziraphale to his books.

It didn’t come as a surprise at all when, the next time he ducked into his ether, it was that sunny alcove in the library. A place that spoke of peace and happiness and, above all, Aziraphale.

He clears his throat. “And I did. Find you, I mean. You were really wrapped up in your work at the time and I didn’t have the heart to bother you, but…” he scratches the back of his head awkwardly, trying to find the right words. “You just looked so happy. Like you fit perfectly in that place. I hadn’t seen you quite like that in…well, ever. It made an impression.”

Crowley feels like he’s done a rubbish job explaining the importance of that moment, but he watches Aziraphale’s expression soften and travel through fascination, affection, and finally land on understanding. Seeming quite satisfied, he settles back against Crowley. There is a small puff of amused laughter as he mutters, “Trinity College Library,” to himself.

As they recline against each other, Crowley finds himself trying to trace the bizarre zigzagging path that brought them here. He tries to consider the past 24 hours as one discrete day rather than a disconnected collection of jarring events, but finds it slightly dizzying. There seems to be no logical road from the explosive argument at the bandstand to the soul-crushing fire in the bookshop to the madness at the airbase. The silent bus ride, Aziraphale working casual miracles on his plants, the kiss... No matter what angle he examines it from, all of these things somehow connecting and leading to this moment seems impossible. This moment in Crowley’s flat that they froze in place, stepped inside, and stretched out to last as long as they needed in order to interpret one another. A moment made to last an eternity. 

It feels like nothing could have possibly led here, not if they had another six thousand years to try. But at the same time, it feels like everything has always been leading here. 

Crowley feels the comfort of the bookshop settling on them again, tempting them to lay down their burdens and stay. The cushions under them seem to pull them in, begging them to rest. He’s familiar enough with the insidious haze that surrounds his demonic ether to know that they shouldn’t linger here much longer. Crowley pushes back against his nature, opening yellow lamplight eyes to take in the shop one last time.

“Angel?” he mumbles into the stillness.

“Hmm?”

“I’m going to take us back now. If that’s okay.”

Aziraphale sighs and nuzzles into Crowley’s shoulder. “S’probly a good idea.”

Crowley closes his eyes, lets out a breath, and takes them home.

 

***

 

As gently as drifting back to consciousness after a nap in the sun, they come to be back in their bodies. Before anything else, Crowley becomes aware of a cacophony of earthy smells from the miraculously enhanced plants surrounding them. The coolness of the flat contrasted with the warmth of Aziraphale’s body pressed against him comes into focus next, followed by an acute awareness of his mouth pressed against the angel’s neck. His fingers dig into shoulder blades and hands are tangled into the hair at the back of his head. He remembers to breathe and finds it difficult against a tightness in his chest. His body floods with the heat he had left behind.

Heart thudding, he pulls back and lifts his head to meet Aziraphale’s eyes. Eyes that suddenly remind him of a silver sea with endless stars reflecting against their depth. Eyes he knows better than his own, yet he feels he’s seeing them for the first time as he looks into them. He wonders briefly if the flecks of gold he sees mixed with the blue are just a strange trick of the light.

Time has not passed on Earth. Nothing has changed. Except everything has changed.

Crowley lifts a hand and lets it glide softly down the side of Aziraphale’s face, coming to rest at his jaw. The angel’s hands drift to Crowley’s shoulders, finding purchase at his lapels. It’s all either of them can do to stare, lips barely parted in awe. 

“Angel… Oh, angel, ” Crowley finally breathes, brushing a thumb against the corner of Aziraphale’s lips.

They move together slowly and magnetically. “My dear ,” Aziraphale whispers and Crowley catches the words in his mouth.

It’s not the frantic, hungry kiss they left behind. They pour themselves into each other fully and tenderly, but without desperation. They kiss like seasoned lovers, hands at each other’s faces and in each other’s hair, reciting sacred verses from memory. They kiss like old friends, smiling and laughing into each other’s mouths, fighting tears as they reread their favorite passage in their favorite book for the thousandth time. They kiss like soulmates, every paired breath a resonant chord, every movement harmonious, perfect complements to each other in every way. 

Desire and passion burn in them and warm them, but the uncontrolled need which had been burning through them cools to an ember. This time, as the kiss expands, it grows like a flower instead of a flame. 

When Crowley feels hands slide under his lapels and up his shoulders, he stretches his arms back so the jacket can fall down his back like water, pooling on the floor at his feet. His hands return, flying naturally to Aziraphale’s collar to pull the bowtie free of its coils, going to work on the buttons beneath it. He knows it would only take a wish to make every stitch on them vanish, but there is an unspoken understanding between them that this isn’t the way. Not this first time. They want this slow build of excitement, the tactile information under their fingers as each veil drops, revealing new secrets gradually. The work of peeling away each layer feels at once meditative and thrilling.

Piece by piece, their clothing is scattered around the garden - a camel hair coat lies tangled with a black linen vest, a waistcoat hangs over the broad leaves of a ficus, a snakeskin shoe ends up across the room in an overly enthusiastic attempt to kick it off. Every veil that falls reveals new stretches of skin to explore, new lands for their hands and mouths to quest through.

Crowley’s effort at the buttons rewards him with an exposed collarbone and he lunges forward, kissing, nipping, licking his way up the cords of Aziraphale’s neck, tongue and teeth asking questions of the body beneath them. When he catches an earlobe between his teeth, the angel leans his head against the wall and sucks in a quivering breath, a question answered. 

Even as he leans into the mouth at his neck, Aziraphale’s hands flutter between them to Crowley’s chest, his fingers dancing over the buttons of the shirt like prayer beads, his lips breathing devotions into the cool air. Once the layers of fabric are teased apart, hands slip effortlessly underneath and across Crowley’s skin. One moves down his ribs and around the small of his back, pulling him closer, while the other stays at his chest, a thumb tracing its question in a tight spiral around a nipple. His vision momentarily blurs at the sensational rush of thousands of years of longing turned over and laid bare in an instant, tended to with warm, loving hands. A gasp tears through him, one arm shooting out to brace against the wall as his forehead falls to Aziraphale’s shoulder, his body yielding its loud and candid answer. 

Aziraphale pauses. The hand at Crowley’s chest travels up his neck and tilts his chin up so their eyes meet. Braced half against the wall and half against the Aziraphale, he forces his vision to focus on the flushed face in front of him. There’s a flicker of concern there, floating just above the other waves of emotion.

“You’re alright?” Aziraphale asks, very gently. 

Crowley instantly understands his meaning. At a glance, his violent reaction and sudden loss of balance must seem very much like the panic from earlier. The careful attention radiating from Aziraphale touches him more than he expects and he feels that warm, ethereal light shining into him again. Where once it had amplified old sorrow, it now catches the new aspects of his memories, finding every spot where jagged fragments have been polished into briolettes and hung across the sky, filling him with glimmering lights.

Expletives fly out of his head and he reaches instead for the only exclamation that makes sense. “ Stars, yes,” he murmurs, smiling weakly. “More than alright.” 

Satisfied, the worry on Aziraphale’s face dips back beneath the surface of the waves, a wanton smile rising to replace it. He drops the hand from Crowley’s face to the slim silver scarf hanging around his neck, grabbing it and pulling him in to kiss him fiercely. They melt back into each other, Crowley coiling his arms around Aziraphale and pulling him away from the wall. 

The angel’s hands begin a descent, brushing lightly over ribs, slowing at the demon’s beltline where a thumb dips below the waistline to dig into a hip bone.

Every foul word that had attempted escape comes rushing back and Crowley releases a swear as a hiss. Breath erratic, he lets his hands move on their own, balling them into Aziraphale’s shirt and pulling it free from his belt. The slow and careful falling of the veils quickens, gauzy silks pushed aside as though urged on by a gust of wind. It is with exaggerated, turbulent movements that their shirts find their way to the floor, Crowley closing the space between them before the fabric lands. He lets his teeth travel the length of a shoulder as he sweeps his hands across Aziraphales’s back, touching as much of him as possible.

When Aziraphale’s fingers slide their way to the belt buckle, Crowley feels a powerful wave rise within him. He shoots a glance over his shoulder. “The bedroom-” he says breathlessly, biting his lip as Aziraphale drags his belt free.

Aziraphale’s eyes go wide and he cuts him off with a vigorous shake of his head. He looks up into the boughs of the garden - for there can be no doubt that a garden is what this room has been transformed into - which now stretches out across the ceiling to form a flourishing canopy. “No - here ,” he snaps his eyes back to Crowley’s. 

The pistons in Crowley’s brain fire rapidly for a few heartbeats, processing this statement. Not a question - a statement. With a sharp nod, he flings an arm out behind him and snaps his fingers, vanishing the bed from the room down the hall and rematerializing in the middle of the garden. 

“As you wish, angel,” he purrs, managing a rakish grin. 

Aziraphale’s eyes narrow mischievously. Leaving one hand to hook fingers into a belt loop, he lifts the other to the back of Crowley’s head. He pulls their mouths together at the same time as he yanks the belt loop, bringing their bodies flush. 

Briefly, Crowley sees stars in his vision. Then he feels the wave break. He lets it carry him, Aziraphale in tow, to the bed where he pushes the angel down into the sheets. Snakelike, Crowley follows him down, moving fluidly up his body. He pauses at the buttons of Aziraphale’s trousers and watches the angel’s face as he works the fastenings apart. Aziraphale leans on his elbows and stares back, rosy and breathless, all composure lost. Even with these last veils still fluttering precariously in place between them, Crowley can’t help but feel that they are laid bare. An angel and a demon made utterly vulnerable yet completely unafraid before each other.

Holding the angel’s eyes with his own, Crowley bends to nip at a hip bone as it is exposed to the air, causing Aziraphale’s eyes to flutter skyward as he sucks a sharp breath through his teeth. With a crooked smile, Crowley drags away the last woolen layer.

Aziraphale lets out a trembling breath and scrambles after him, perching in front of him on the edge of the bed. His fingers shake as they fly to Crowley’s beltline to tease apart the buttons. Hazy blue eyes stare up into half-lidded gold as the final veil between them is pulled away.

They fall back into the bed as though it had its own gravitational pull; a force of nature, absolute and uncontrollable. A force that Crowley feels is more akin to breathing. He holds Aziraphale’s face and kisses his lips, his eyes, his forehead, his jaw. As he locks his knees on either side of the angel’s hips and pushes him down into the pillows, Crowley can’t help but feel like the world has finally breathed them in.

There are seams between them, here in the maw of the physical world. Stark junctures where demon and angel collide, impossible to ignore, but ignoring it is no longer their goal. They relish in finding the seams and drawing the extraordinary magic out of these inbetween places.

Mouths open against each other, fitting together effortlessly, but they also find new terrain to explore - lips at a neck, dragging hot breath down a pale chest, a flickering tongue across the crest of a hip, teeth grazing a thigh. Questing and questioning. Fingers twist into bright bonfire hair as slender hands snake under a gleaming snowfield back, arching forward at the touch. The fire encircles and warms, flames lick and swallow but never destroy. 

Golden eyes shine up the length of the body before them, twin suns rising above a silver sea. There is a gasp and a ragged sigh as a serpent’s name falls from an angel like a prayer, a flame whispered into a paper lantern to carry its secret message into the sky. Hands travel up the expanse of the sea like ships charting unknown waters; attentively, carefully, navigating by the glow of the lanterns, letting the wind carry them. 

A second set of hands fly out to meet the questing ships, catching them by the wrists, pulling the fire up and away from the snow before it can melt. Mouths lock together once more, fingers finding snowdrift hair, exploring strands of moonlight made gossamer.

Trailing each other like stardust, they rotate. There is a hitched breath as an angel rises against the body above him, his arms encasing them with unprecedented strength. He lifts, turns, lays this other half of himself against the pillows like a cherished treasure; his fire, his gold, his sea of stars.

Like flowers seeking sunlight through frozen ground, hands reach up to find the angel, grasping him, holding him, torchlight hair against the pillows guiding him. The sea of stars beneath him eases him into a safe landing, ever steadfast, refusing to let him stumble and fall. A calf coils around the back of a thigh and a serpent releases an angel’s name to dance on the breeze around their locked bodies, a map to take them home.

A back arches, as flexible as a willow branch, and a hand finds the hip at its base. The crown of moonlight dips to the chest beneath it and the slender hands find its silken strands once more, steadying, calming. Always adoring, never falling. When the moon rises again, the hands below it take a new form, wrapping around a back like vines of night-blooming jasmine, drawing the angel’s light closer.

The lovers lose themselves in their dance, existing briefly as one body, as turbulent and lifegiving as a thunderstorm.

 

***

 

In the beginning, an angel and a demon met in a garden, a stunning visage painted by an almighty hand. They examined each other curiously and cautiously, the angel offering unlikely kindness and shelter, the demon asking questions that were left hanging in the air around his head like a nebulous halo.  

What if I did the right thing? ...It’d be funny if we both got it wrong, eh? If I did the good thing and you did the bad one?

They began their strange star-crossed orbit of each other, always close but just out of reach. Millennia later, they meet in a garden of their own creation, this time examining each other closely and dearly. Stars aligned as they answered old questions and asked new ones, finally drawing their circle back to its beginning like a serpent swallowing its tail...

 

***

 

Crowley wakes twice during the night.

The first time, he’s pulled from dreams of Eden by a sudden and heavy dread, momentarily certain that the whole night has been a dream - a wonderful dream, but one that has now ended and the wretched pining is waiting to take him back into its clutches. Then he feels Aziraphale’s warmth pressed against his back, an arm draped across his waist, and the moment passes. He lies there and waits for his heart to settle, listening to the slow and steady breath against his ear. 

“Angel?” he whispers into the darkness. There’s no response except the even breathing of one anchored very securely in sleep.

As delicately as he can manage, he rolls over to face Aziraphale, needing to see the unlikely sight of the sleeping angel for himself. He studies his lover in the cool dark of the garden, his supernatural eyes seeing everything in the low light, and makes a mental imprint of the extraordinary image to hold in his heart. He lifts a hand and traces a spectral line with his thumb up the angel’s jaw and across the apple of his cheek, then twirls one finger into a wisp of his mussed hair. Aziraphale does not stir. 

Beautiful. Impossible. 

The vaporous concept which had been hanging just out of reach condenses and falls on him like a gentle spring rain. 

Ineffable...

There is a fluttering in Crowley’s chest that rises to a lump in his throat and a hot prickle behind his eyes. He shuts them and pulls that floral citrusy scent deep into his lungs, holding it there, wanting to keep it there. Then he folds himself into the angel, wrapping arms around his middle and burying his face into his chest. Aziraphale sighs and shifts to accept his weight, but, incredibly, sleeps on. Entangled with his love, Crowley drifts back to sleep.

The second time he wakes, he floats hazily back to consciousness, still wrapped up in Aziraphale. He doesn’t know if it’s been minutes or hours, but he does know that the arm he positioned under the angel has fallen asleep and is starting to bristle uncomfortably with pins and needles. Squinting in concentration, he eases back and drags his arm out from beneath Aziraphale as gently as he can, wincing at the angry rush of blood flowing back into his fingertips. Crowley shifts onto his back and glares at his treacherous hand, mouthing silent curses and flexing between splayed fingers and a closed fist. 

Aziraphale stirs in his sleep and Crowley freezes with his fist in the air. He turns to look at the angel, hoping that this spell of sleep cast over him can be made to last a little longer. Aziraphale mutters a string of unintelligible sounds and rolls slightly into the space made by Crowley’s retreating form. He’s not sure, but Crowley thinks he catches the word “ducks.”

“What about ducks, Aziraphale?” he murmurs fondly, the tingling in his hand forgotten.

Another stream of nonsense falls from the sleeping angel’s mouth. This time Crowley is almost positive he catches the word “biscuits.” Aziraphale sighs hugely, apparently satisfied in whatever point he just made. He closes the rest of the distance between him and Crowley and nestles in snuggly next to him. Warm feet slip together with his own, much colder toes. An arm slings across his chest and the angel brings his head to rest on Crowley’s shoulder. The breathing beside him resumes its slow rhythm. 

Crowley lies mesmerized for a few moments before remembering his hand, still raised in the air. He lowers it slowly, shifting his body to better fit against the one next to him, and wraps his arm around Aziraphale’s shoulders, sliding fingers up and into his hair. 

A wave of love washes over him, lying in their darkened garden. It flows into and through him, wrapping around his heart and flooding every hidden place within him. He wonders how it’s possible for one person to feel this much all at one time  

He whispers into the darkness again, “Angel?” When there’s no response, he lowers his face to the downy mess of hair, placing a kiss on the top of Aziraphale’s head. He stays like that for a few breaths, then pours out words that he’d worried could only be pulled out of a demon while in the ineffability of the ether. They bubble up inside him and he lets them spill out, hot and heedful and true.

It doesn’t matter that Aziraphale can’t hear the words. Aziraphale knows. Aziraphale has already experienced the entire spectrum of the words. As an angel, he lives and understands the words every day. They are the fundamental building blocks of what he is. Crowley doesn’t say the words for Aziraphale. He says them for himself. He holds the sleeping angel and whispers into his wild thistledown hair, “I love you, Aziraphale. I love you, I love you, I love you…”

 

***

 

The next time Crowley wakes, sunlight is pouring into the flat. He’s lying on his back with Aziraphale’s head still on his chest, but the angel has turned so that he faces the lush canopy spreading across the ceiling. He is humming very softly to himself, a sound Crowley can almost feel more than he can hear. In the light of day, the change to the room is even more shocking. There are no visible patches of wall or ceiling through the foliage and some of the vines have started to make their way across the floor, twisting tentative fingers up the bed frame. The air is heavy with the smell of leaves and loam and flowers.

Crowley stretches luxuriously. “It’s a damn shame I’ll have to replace all my plants,” he says, sleep still heavy in his voice. “You’ve absolutely ruined them, angel.”

“Crowley, don’t you dare!” Aziraphale gasps, rolling onto his stomach and propping on his elbows so he can scold the demon more directly. He opens his mouth to say more, but cocks his head to one side curiously and falls silent when he looks at Crowley.

“Kidding, Aziraphale. Kidding,” Crowley yawns, easing himself up onto the pillows a bit. “What’s that look for? Do I have bedhead or something?” 

The angel scoots closer to Crowley and stares intently into his face. “My dear, your eyes.”

Crowley blinks. The memory of looking into Aziraphale’s eyes after returning from the ether bobs to the surface of his sleep-addled head. For a moment, he had been sure he saw new colors there, but it had been dark and they had immediately found a multitude of very distracting things to do with their bodies, so he hadn’t given it more than a passing thought at the time. Staring at Aziraphale now, in the bright white light of morning, there can be no mistaking the change. His pale blue irises are flecked with gold; a sprinkle of tiny amber freckles in some places, strands of gold weaving naturally into azure skeins in others. 

The grin fades from Crowley’s face as he stares, awe moving in to replace it. “Uh. Yeah… You too.” 

“You brought the stars back with you,” Aziraphale breathes, transfixed. 

“Mended with gold,” Crowley mutters at the same time, his mind far away. “Wait. Stars?”

“It’s subtle, but…” Aziraphale shimmies up a little closer to examine Crowley, bringing their faces very close together. He places his hands on either side of the demon’s face and gently guides his head through the light a few times, laughing faintly. “Stars. Still gold, but ringed in stars.”

Crowley works to push the remnants of sleep off his mind, wanting a firmer grasp on the moment. He tries to comprehend the gold-veined eyes holding his gaze, but finds himself very distracted by the hands cradling his face. He squashes the urge to close the small gap between them and kiss Aziraphale, remembers he doesn’t need to anymore, then tumbles spectacularly off the train of thought when Aziraphale closes the gap for him. He loses a tiny yelp in the angel’s mouth, then relaxes and allows himself to fall back into the pillows under the angel’s weight. 

Aziraphale smiles against him and pulls back slowly, looking as love-drunk as Crowley feels. He sighs and folds his hands on the demon’s chest, resting his chin on top of them and managing to somehow appear more cherubic than usual. “Let’s do the swap,” he says dreamily. “I want to show you your eyes.”

“Wha- Right now? I do have mirrors, you know.” 

“Tsk. Where’s the fun in that? At any rate, there might be something of an adjustment period once we trade, so we should probably do it sooner rather than later,” the angels says. He looks up at Crowley innocently. “Your body makes walking look very difficult. Who knows how long it will take me to learn.” 

Crowley releases a snort of laughter. “Excuse you, angel, but did you just make a joke? At someone else’s expense? While lying naked in bed with a demon?” He lets his eyes go wide with melodrama and shakes his head. “I have truly ruined you. Heaven will never take you back now.” He threads a hand into Aziraphale’s hair as he speaks, his voice soft and fanciful, too content to put any serious effort into the snark.

The angel blushes and huffs, “Isn’t that rather the point? The part about Heaven I mean. Not, er...the other bits.”

“Mm-hmm,” Crowley smiles and muses at the faint flicker of relief he feels, realizing he can still embarrass Aziraphale; that, in spite of the past few days, they are still fundamentally themselves. Everything has changed but nothing has changed. “Alright then, show me my eyes.”

He lets his gaze float up and into the canopy before closing his eyes and allowing his blindsight take over. In the same way that his heart and lungs know to pump blood and draw breath, he finds his sixth sense knows what to do. With his finger on the pulse of it, he notices new enhancements to the way he senses the edges of Aziraphale. When he seeks out the shape of the angel, he still finds the edges, but he also feels depth. As if Aziraphale was a book he could open and lose himself in, Crowley feels the poetry of him, the song of him, the fine vellum and ink that compiles his story into physical form. Enchanted, he starts to read.

There is a tingle in the hand at Aziraphale’s head and in Crowley’s chest where the angel is leaning. They both recognize it as an invitation, a request sent between them on a molecular level. You are welcome here, come in, if you like.

The now familiar milk-into-tea feeling flows between them as hot amber and cool white eddy together to become warm gold. Instead of unwinding and restitching together like they had previously, they float here, taking stock of themselves in this inbetween place. They know their way this time and finding the necessary pieces comes easily. Aziraphale offers Croweley the leather and vellum and ink of the book, keeping the poetry and the song for himself. Crowley does the same, giving an empty vessel to the angel, holding back the serpent to pour into the new tome. 

The gold churns and Crowley feels the hot amber drain away, pulling the creamy whiteness back into his body with him.

He doesn’t open his eyes right away. Instead he lies there for a few deep breaths, marvelling at how warm he feels. Unbelievably warm, like he’s sunk into a hot bath. Is he always this warm? Hardly seems fair.  

Logically, he knows he’s not in his usual body, but it still comes as a shock when he heaves a sigh and hears it flow out of him in Aziraphale’s melodious voice. His eyes snap open in disorientation. With a start, he looks down to his chest where his fingers are laced into fiery hair, his own yellow eyes peering back at him.

“Bloody hellfire and holy water,” Crowley splutters in Aziraphale’s voice, pulling his hand back and easing up onto his elbows. “I was expecting it and all, but this is- This is still just so-”

Aziraphale smiles sweetly with Crowley’s mouth and rolls onto his side facing the demon, leaning his head into one cupped hand. “Ssstrange?” he offers, then claps both hands over his mouth, eyes opening wide in shock.

Crowley stares at the mortified look on his face and fights to contain the burst of laughter he feels bubbling in him. Aziraphale pulls his hands from his mouth and looks at them as though they’ve betrayed him in some way. Crowley’s lip quivers and a tiny snort escapes through his nose. Still leaning on an elbow, the angel opens his mouth to say something but promptly clamps it shut and starts running his tongue over his teeth with a distracted frown. Seeming to remember Crowley is there, he swivels yellow eyes up to look at him. “What in Heaven’sss name...” This time he claps both palms over his entire face and flops onto his back with a groan.

Any hope Crowley had of staying composed flees at this display and he dissolves into laughter. He falls back onto the pillows and loses himself to it completely. Hearing the clear chiming giggle of Aziraphale’s voice pour out of him adds a layer of absurdity that only serves to drag him deeper into the throes. He looks over at the angel and feels a fresh wave of chaotic glee crash into him at the sight of his own demonic face, one slitted pupil peeking aghast between fingers. 

“Is it always like thisss?” Aziraphale hisses miserably. “How on earth do you talk ?”

“Angel, oh my g- Oh hell ,” Crowley wheezes, clutching at a stitch forming in his side. The laughter holds him in its grasp, roaring through him until tears prickle in his eyes. 

It’s a simple thing, laughter; infectious, healing, incredibly human. As it courses through him, Crowley realizes how absent it’s been in his life lately, and how much he needs it. He remembers the crazed fits of laughter in a hut outside Leeds, falling apart into hiccups and snorts that wrung joyful tears out of them. He thinks back to dragging Aziraphale to the opening night of Much Ado About Nothing at the Globe, chuckling and smiling and observing the way the angel beamed beside him, only now realizing how much of Aziraphale shone through the lines of that play. Memories surface of late night conversations in the bookshop dissolving into utter silliness as London slept around them. In the present, he lets the laughter carry him away, feeling an angel’s heart swell in his chest.

Aziraphale tries to remain resolutely grumpy in the face of it, but it seeps into him, manifesting first as a weak snicker through his nose. When Crowley throws out a hand to grasp his arm and bury a tear-streaked face into his shoulder, hopelessly lost in giggles, the laughter finds its purchase in Aziraphale and he breaks into a grin. Tethered to Crowley by merriment, love, and an absolute understanding of each other, he is pulled into the wake to ride out this surge of carefree emotion with his friend.

They cling to each other, howling and gasping for breath, until eventually they can’t even remember what was so funny in the first place. The laughter feels rich and cleansing as it pulls through them, leaving the pleasant ache of stretching underused muscles in their stomachs. They laugh in a wild and unburdened way, far closer to humans than angel or demon.

Gradually, the wave finds its way to the shore. They lie in the surf, oversensitive and catching their breath, giggling weakly as tiny aftershocks lap over them.

When calm finally returns, Aziraphale scrubs at his eyes and rolls back onto his side facing Crowley. He draws a deep breath and pulls a look of extreme concentration onto his face. “Honestly though, who needs a tongue that is this flexible?” he says, speaking very slowly. Relief replaces the concentration at the lack of elongated ‘S’ sounds.

Crowley snorts but maintains his control. “Snakes, I guess? You get used to it. Practice some ‘S’ words if you’re worried.”

“Oh! Stars!” Aziraphale exclaims, suddenly remembering what had prompted the switch in the first place. He wiggles up against Crowley and props himself in his previous position on his chest, bringing their faces very close together. 

Crowley wipes the tears from his eyes and focuses on Aziraphale. The golden spotlights that shine into him seem normal at first; the serpent’s eyes he’d never quite been able to make look human, for all his attempts with demonic miracles. But as he examines them, Aziraphale tilts his head a fraction and the light catches them in strange new ways. Briefly, he had seen a sparkling ring at the edge of the iris, like a corona around a star. He lifts his hands hypnotically to Aziraphale’s face and guides it slowly through the light, mirroring the angel’s movements from just moments ago. While in motion, the coronas seems to gather light into them, sending it back as halos of tiny multicolored stars.

“Stars, indeed,” he murmurs, letting his hands drop.

“Mended with gold,” Aziraphale breathes, deep in his own reverie as he stares into the eyes in front of him. He sighs and settles his head onto Crowley’s chest.

Crowley smiles up at the canopy. The room feels more like a grove hidden away in some enchanted forest than a living room in London, let alone a room in Crowley’s dark and barren flat. He’s almost ready to admit that perhaps the angel’s influence on the plants is something he could get used to, but frowns curiously at a splash of color across the ceiling. “Were those there before?” he asks, pointing up at purple clusters of wisteria blossoms hanging heavily above the bed.

Aziraphale turns and follows his eyes up, letting out a little puff of laughter. “Definitely not,” he says, sounding awestruck. “It would seem laughter truly is contagious. Your plants have been quite receptive to, er… Well, love.” He blushes a little, an effect that Crowley finds very surreal witnessing on his face from the other side. Aziraphale points at the bedpost where vines have crept and twisted their way up towards the headboard. “They kept growing well after you brought the bed in here. Responding to...um. Us. One would imagine anyway.”

Crowley thinks back to waking in the night and releasing long-held sentiments into the air while Aziraphale slept. He replays the memory of dropping the final hidden veils around his heart and whispering his deepest truths into the angel’s sleeping form. He feels his face grow warm and he squints at the meddling vine on the bedpost suspiciously. “Cheeky little shits,” he mutters.

He feels a playful pinch at his elbow. “Really, my dear. If we’re going to pull this off, you need to stop making me curse.”

Crowley rolls his eyes. “Yes, yes, I’ll behave. I’ll be positively tickety boo!” he chirps, slipping into the angel’s mannerisms flawlessly.

Beside him, he feels the Aziraphale shift. Then a pillow arcs over him and hits him squarely in the face.

 

***

 

They wile away the morning, occasionally trying to hone their plan for duping Heaven and Hell, but mostly giving in to distractions. Crowley makes Aziraphale practice saying “selfsame serpents” and “sibilance,” the latter of which the angel protests as being absolutely unfair. They lie on their backs in bed and confuse the plants, Aziraphale humming sugar into them in Crowley’s voice while Crowley yells salt at them in Aziraphale’s. For a spell, they lie on their stomachs and stare at their strange new eyes. When they find they’ve both been craving tea, the angel miracles a tray into existence, unwilling to leave the bed for a journey to the kitchen. He tucks into it eagerly while Crowley cradles a warm mug and pours milk into it very slowly, mesmerized by the Brownian motion.

He is staring into the swirling mug when the thought shoots through him like lightning: In six thousand years, there has never been a more perfect morning. He looks up at Aziraphale, happily wearing the body of a demon as he munches a shortbread biscuit and rambles about Oscar Wilde, and feels resolve crystalize within him. 

This will work. I will make this work. I will do whatever horrible damned acts need to be done to make sure there are more of these mornings with this beautiful impossible perfect angel. 

“I think I’ll go to the bookshop,” he says.

Aziraphale stares, his lecture derailed. “The… burnt bookshop? Whatever for?”

Crowley shrugs and sets the mug on the tray, rolling off the bed. “If Heaven is going to look for you anywhere, they’ll probably start there.” He starts searching the garden for Aziraphale’s clothes, pulling on pieces as he finds them. “And Hell will probably look for me here. We have enough to answer for without them finding us like this,” he says with a sly smile.

Aziraphale is silent for a while before sighing into his tea. “Yes, that’s sensible. Agnes didn’t specify when anything would happen, but it’s safe to assume it would be soon. I suppose I was just hoping we could...stay like this.”

“Angel, there is nothing on this earth or off it I want more than to stay in that bed with you for the next six thousand years,” he says, buttoning his shirt. “Which is why I think we should get a wiggle on. Get out in public, be seen, be bait. Let’s get it over with, yeah?”

“And I should stay here waiting for demons to whisk me away to Hell? That doesn’t seem very proactive.”

“Tell you what,” Crowley responds, fumbling with his bowtie. “If neither of us have been picked up by, say, 2 o’clock, let’s meet at St James’ Park. We’ll stay out on the town being as brash as possible until our bosses are furious enough to kidnap us.”

Aziraphale brightens a little. “The Ritz?”

“Absolutely the Ritz.” He gives up with the bowtie and walks to the bed, flopping down in front of Aziraphale. The tea remains miraculously unspilled. “Tie this bloody thing for me?” 

Aziraphale glances at the mug and smiles. “You could just miracle it you know,” he says, going to work on the tie with Crowley’s slender fingers.

“I could, yes,” Crowley says quietly. He leans in and watches the stars flickering faintly at the edges of the serpent’s eyes and laughs very softly to himself when he smells orange blossoms. The secret poetry of Aziraphale shining through the skin of a demon, a subtle brightness only visible to Crowley’s newly enhanced sixth sense. 

He lifts a hand to cup the side of Aziraphale’s face, brushing a thumb over a too-sharp cheekbone. The fingers at his collar fall still when he drifts in and gently kisses the angel. He tastes tea and shortbread, but also the faintest murmur of citrus and flowers.

“You still smell like you,” he breathes against Aziraphale’s mouth, pulling back just far enough to let the words out. 

Aziraphale places his hand over the one at his face and smiles. “As do you, my dear.”

“Bit weird that.” Crowley hovers there, savoring the scent as Aziraphale eases the loops of the tie into place. 

The angel hums and kisses the tip of his nose.

“Right then,” Crowley says, knowing that if he doesn’t leave now, he’ll fall back into the pillows for the rest of the day. He drags himself from the bed and shrugs into Aziraphale’s coat. “See you at the park? Don’t forget to practice walking.”

Dread floods the angel’s face. “Oh no,” he groans. “Oh no, oh no, get a move on so I can figure this out without you laughing at me.”

Crowley grins and sees himself out. He stands in the hallway for a moment after shutting the door, then sighs and leans back against it. He closes his eyes and lifts a hand to touch his lips where the taste of orange blossoms lingers, a song he carries with him. Gathering his resolve close to his heart, he pushes off the door and leaves to say goodbye to the bookshop.