Aeliana was finally coming to the end of a miserable day. She’d been working behind the bar since sun up. The only thing she’d eaten was some bread and a few grapes that she’d begged off of Cassia, another barmaid, earlier that afternoon.
Her head hurt, her feet hurt. But more than anything, Aeliana had reached the end of her rope with the men who came tumbling in after the gladiator fights at the Colosseum to shout at each other, grope her, and drink until they fell over.
She needed a new job.
As she contemplated, not for the first time, asking her cousin about any openings selling refreshments at the theatre, yet another man took a seat at the chair in front of her. She managed to stifle a sigh, but didn’t bother to hide her annoyance. The man in question looked particularly ridiculous. His hair was an unnatural and fiery red and styled in the fashion of the most pompous of senatores. Over his eyes, he wore some strange concealment: two dark black discs held in place by a rod on the outside of each that hooked over both of his ears.
Gods give her strength.
“What’ve you got?” he asked, and before she could point at the sign above her, he added, “Give me a jug of whatever you think’s drinkable.”
Aeliana grabbed the one closest to her and handed it over. “Jug of house brown. Two sesterces.”
As he handed her the payment, she had the thought that she would gladly give up every, single thing she owned to get to go home already.
Aziraphale was idling at a table in a little tavern he’d come across in Rome on his way back from performing a bit of angelic inspiration. Nero was still a boy, but everyone Upstairs had high hopes for him.
Aziraphale was less than convinced. Gabriel had many good qualities (Aziraphale was sure he must have. Give him a minute, he’d think of something), but he was a terrible judge of human character.
Still, an order was an order.
Aziraphale thought perhaps a hobby might help open Nero’s mind a bit, so he awakened an interest in music in him. It’s impossible to tell how these things will work out until they’ve, well, worked out, but Aziraphale believed that his good attempt warranted a treat. In that spirit, he decided to take the long way home and make a stop at Petronius’s new restaurant while he was in the neighbourhood.
He still had some distance to travel to get there, but he’d decided to take a break and get away from the hot Roman sun a bit. The tavern he found himself in wasn’t the kind of place where one ate the food, lest they run the risk of contracting any number of diseases that humans hadn’t even identified yet.
“What’ve you got?”
Aziraphale’s head shot up at that distinctive voice, and he saw Crowley sitting at the bar.
“Give me a jug of whatever you think’s drinkable,” he continued.
“Jug of house brown. Two sesterces.” The barmaid passed Crowley a jug, and Aziraphale noticed the way that her appreciative gaze lingered on Crowley’s fashionable and extremely fetching hairstyle.
There was always a low level hum of attraction and lust in the air when Crowley was around. In fact, Aziraphale couldn’t recall a single time, after their first meeting on the wall, when he hadn’t watched Crowley dazzle and transfix every poor human that they encountered. He’d even seen Eve give him the eye when he was in his human form, back in the day, and she’d been with child at the time.
Aziraphale couldn’t blame them for falling victim to Crowley’s considerable wiles. He was a demon, after all. Tempting was in the job description. Plus, he’d clearly designed his human form to be utterly irresistible to all humans, from his eye-catching hair down to his stylish clothing. It was overkill, if you asked Aziraphale. But then, he supposed, overkill wasn’t really a thing with demons.
As Aziraphale watched, Crowley handed over the payment, and the barmaid maneuvered it so that their fingers brushed. Aziraphale decided that he’d do him the favour of intervening, in the spirit of cooperation.
He stood up from his table and called out, “Crawley? Crowley?” Crowley turned to look at him, surprised, and Aziraphale continued, “Fancy running into you here.”
He sat down beside Crowley and noticed the annoyed look on the barmaid’s face at Aziraphale having interrupted them.
He searched for something more to say and settled on, “Still a demon then?”
Crowley answered back incredulously, “What kind of a stupid question is that? ‘Still a demon?’ What else am I going to be? An aardvark?”
He appeared to be in a sour mood, and so Aziraphale chose to ignore that comment and continue to make small talk. He mentioned Petronius’s restaurant and discovered that Crowley had never tried oysters.
Aziraphale gaped at him a moment and then, without thinking, said, “Oh, let me tempt you…err...that’s your job, isn’t it?”
The look Crowley cast him in response was such a sinfully attractive combination of amused and smouldering that...the barmaid nearly swooned in response.
“Well, ahh, anyway.” Aziraphale’s cup, which was sitting on the bar top, began to tremble. Aziraphale, suddenly extremely thirsty, fumbled with it and took a long, fortifying sip. “Tempt anyone interesting?”
Then there was the time in Sparta when Crowley disguised himself as a soldier to infiltrate the army and nudge some skirmishes in the right - or rather, wrong - direction. Aziraphale had been in there to perform a few minor miracles at the time.
The reaction of the citizens to Crowley was, predictably, utter mayhem. Crowley could scarcely walk two metres without encountering a man or woman staring appreciatively at the comely curve of his shoulders accentuated by the breastplate or the length of his impossibly long, bare legs beneath his armour.
“Anyhow, these lot are getting too soft for Hell’s standards. Management sent me over to re-ignite their bloodlust so that they get back to the killing bit,” Crowley explained to Aziraphale as they finished their lunch and got ready to leave.
Crowley bent down to retrieve his spear and shield from where he’d stored them under the table. Aziraphale’s eyes darted to the passing Spartans as they all very poorly pretended they were ignoring the display.
“You’re going to start a riot,” Aziraphale admonished.
Crowley straightened and raised an eyebrow. “I told you, that’s why I’m here, angel. To sow discord in the ranks and make them all eager to prove themselves.”
By seducing them? Perhaps Hell was more devious than Aziraphale gave them credit for being.
“That’s a rather cruel way of doing it,” he said.
Crowley pointed at himself. “Demon, remember? Besides, it’s just a bit of standard manipulation. Have you got any better ideas?”
Aziraphale recognized that it probably wasn’t very angelic to offer a demon suggestions on how to more effectively do his job. He shook his head.
“No. Carry on as you like. You’re the expert,” he said.
“Don’t see me telling you how to do your job,” Crowley muttered.
Similar situations had happened so many times over the years that Aziraphale lost count of them all. By that point, they were barely even worth noting.
The Scottish Highlands in 1432. Venice a few years after that. Amsterdam. Good Lord, Amsterdam.
Richard Burbage at the Globe Theatre waving away Aziraphale’s praise of his performance to stare at Crowley in his handsome black doublet and practically purr, “And what does your friend think?”
That business in the Turkish bath was probably the most egregious example. Aziraphale had nearly made the water boil when Crowley strode in and the dizzying wave of pure lust from the other patrons hit him.
The duplicitous “Captain Rose Montgomery,” aka Greta Kleinschmidt, who had taken the time to admire the demon in his dapper and well-tailored suit and fedora between threats on his life.
And while Crowley chose to present in a male form more often than not, being a woman did nothing to dampen the sensual magnetism that attracted the humans to him like moths to a particularly devilish flame.
The most recent example of this was the six years that he spent with Warlock as Nanny Ashtoreth. Mr. Dowling wasn’t home much, but when he was, it seemed to Aziraphale that he spent all of his time with Crowley.
The severe black dress and intricately curled wave of Crowley’s hair suited that form perfectly, of course, but that was no excuse for a married man to be lavishing another woman with so much attention. Honestly, Americans.
By far the strangest of these incidents was when Aziraphale found himself stuck inside of Madame Tracy’s body. Crowley, who Aziraphale had recently believed he’d never see again, came striding out of the burning Bentley, bebop blaring, and looking very much like the avenging angel he must have been so long ago.
It made quite the image. Madame Tracy seemed to agree. Oh my, she gasped inside of their shared consciousness.
The feeling of her keen interest slid down their spine like warm honey.
Now is not the time for all that, Aziraphale responded back firmly.
Dear, that’s not me, she said.
Aziraphale was just about to ask what she meant by that when all hell broke loose.
All of which was to say that over the years, Aziraphale had learned how to tune out that pesky, skin-prickling feeling whenever it was thrust upon him. With ease borne from millennia of practice, he pushed it down and tucked it away so that it wouldn’t spoil their friendship. It was a small price to pay for Crowley’s company.
After Aziraphale and Crowley stumbled and crashed their way into somehow saving the world, with the help of an entirely too precocious eleven year old Antichrist, they took a bus and headed back to Crowley’s flat.
Heaven and Hell weren’t going to let them enjoy their victory for long, and they needed to come up with a plan.
“We should swap bodies,” Crowley said later that night as they continued trading the wine bottle back and forth between them. They were taking turns refilling it.
Aziraphale blinked at him. “We should...what?” he asked.
“Think about it. ‘Choose your faces wisely.’ Heaven is coming for you and Hell is coming for me, right?” Crowley asked.
“Yes,” Aziraphale agreed.
“And what do you think Gabriel and the others have planned for you?”
“Total oblivion,” Aziraphale answered without hesitation. “Hellfire, I suppose. They’ll want me permanently gone.”
“And it’ll be holy water for me,” Crowley said. “My lot have no creativity, even in their torturing. Hastur will demand payback for what I did to Ligur. So what if we give ‘em the old switcheroo? I become you and you become me. Hellfire is like a trip to the spa for me, and you could do the backstroke in holy water.”
Aziraphale thought about it. “You think a glamour will be enough to fool Gabriel and Beezlebub?”
“I’m not talking about some little glamour, angel,” Crowley clarified. “Both sides would see right through it, and all that angelic love you’ve got would be as obvious as a neon sign in Hell.”
“So then?” Aziraphale prompted.
“We don’t glamour ourselves, we switch bodies.” He jabbed a finger into Aziraphale’s collarbone. “I get inside your human vessel and you get inside mine. We take the whole body: the outside, yes, but also all the goopy inside bits. That way they won’t be able to detect anything’s off.”
“But what if having angelic love makes you susceptible to Hellfire?” Aziraphale asked.
Crowley scoffed. “You know love isn’t what makes an angel or a demon, Aziraphale. It’s Her grace - or lack thereof. And all the ethereal love in the world won’t give me that, just like stripping love away from you won’t take that with it.”
“You’re sure it’ll work?”
Crowley waffled. “Let’s say 85% sure,” he hedged. “But that’s better odds than either of us have of surviving if we don’t try something.”
Aziraphale had to admit that Crowley made a good point, and the idea fit with Agnes’s posthumous advice. Plus Aziraphale could think of no viable alternatives, except that popping out to Alpha Centauri suddenly sounded like an excellent option.
“All right,” he agreed. “How do we do this?”
The answer to that question turned out to be very carefully. After a few fits and starts, including one disorienting attempt that ended in Aziraphale finding himself writhing on the floor in Crowley’s serpent form, they finally managed to get it right.
Aziraphale, now in Crowley’s human body, rolled his shoulders to try and adjust. He stared down at Crowley’s long, elegant fingers and gave them a curious wiggle.
“How odd,” he mused.
A soft, keening sound made him look up. Crowley, now in his body, was rubbing a hand over his - well, Aziraphale’s - well, someone’s heart.
“A lot to get used to,” Crowley grunted. “What about you? Any love left in there?”
Aziraphale closed his eyes and focused, but all he felt inside of Crowley was emptiness. Like being alone in a pitch black room.
He opened his eyes and said, “No love.”
Crowley nodded briskly, eyes trained somewhere over Aziraphale’s head. “Good, then I think we got it.”
Aziraphale waved his hand and made a full length mirror appear on Crowley’s wall. He examined himself in it, moving his head from left to right. His fingers skimmed over the snake sigil next to his ear.
With deliberate effort, he relaxed his posture and attempted Crowley’s usual, insouciant slouch. “Hey angel, fancy a drink?” he tried, calling on an image of Crowley asking him that a thousand different times in a thousand different places over the millennia.
Through the mirror’s reflection, he saw that Crowley watched him intently. He was still rubbing the heel of his hand over his heart.
“Are you all right?” Aziraphale asked, turning around to face him.
Crowley nodded. He looked confused more than anything. “I think so? It’s been awhile since I was an angel. Feels different now.” He tugged at the end of Aziraphale’s bow tie to unknot it and then released the top button of his dress shirt. “Why does your heart beat so fast?” he asked.
Aziraphale frowned. “It doesn’t beat, usually. Not unless there’s something wrong.”
“Well, it’s doing the Macarena right now,” Crowley answered.
Aziraphale didn’t know what a Macarena was, but he gathered enough from context to understand Crowley’s point.
“Should we switch back?” Aziraphale asked with concern.
“No, no. Just...go on. Talk about something else. I’ll figure it out,” Crowley said with a grimace.
“Well,” Aziraphale began delicately, “since you asked. Do you have any suggestions on how to deal with all of the attention I’m going to get by being you?”
Who knew how long it would take Heaven and Hell to retaliate? They might be stuck in each other’s bodies for days or weeks, and Aziraphale didn’t think he could learn to ignore the stares the way that Crowley always had.
Crowley frowned. “Attention?”
“The...you know…” Aziraphale said, trailing off significantly.
“Aziraphale, I have no idea what you’re on about,” Crowley said.
“The…lascivious attention,” Aziraphale answered.
Crowley froze, leaving Aziraphale’s mouth gaping quite unattractively. “The what?” he demanded.
“Because of all your…” Aziraphale gave a demonstrative shimmy to illustrate Crowley’s sexual wiles.
Crowley gasped and made a sound Aziraphale was very sure had never before come out of his own mouth.
“Good Lord,” Aziraphale said. “What’s wrong?”
“Do that again,” Crowley said.
“Do what again?” Aziraphale asked.
“Whatever you just made my hips do. Do it again.”
Aziraphale repeated the move, and this time, Crowley grunted and stumbled back.
Alarmed, Aziraphale reached for him, which caused Crowley to move away even farther. His eyes were wide as saucers, his mouth hanging open.
“Crowley - “
“You!” Crowley shouted and pointed an accusing finger at Aziraphale. “You…! ‘Too fast,’ you lying...”
First the desk began to tremble and then the whole flat shook, floor moving dangerously under Aziraphale’s feet.
Oh dear. “It’s the angelic power, it’s too much for you. We need to - “
“This is not angelic power! I know angelic power!”
Aziraphale finally managed to grab Crowley’s arms, holding him securely.
Crowley began to glow with Heavenly light. Surprised, Aziraphale released him and Crowley ended up sprawled in his chair, still beaming out ethereal radiance. Aziraphale had never been on this side of it before. It was blinding.
“You need to stop,” Aziraphale said. “You’ll call too much attention to us!”
“I don’t know how to!” Crowley cried. “It’s your body! You’re…you’re…”
“What?” Aziraphale asked. He placed a hand on the desk to stay steady himself as the whole room continued to shake.
“In love with me!” Crowley shouted. “You’re completely in love with me!”
Aziraphale stared dumbly back at him, gobsmacked. “Sorry?”
Crowley searched his face. Those may have been Aziraphale’s eyes gazing at him, but the piercing, serpentine look in them was all Crowley. “How have I never seen it before? How has the whole world not seen it? It’s beating louder than a rock band in here. It’s hotter than the bloody sun.” He gave an incredulous laugh and clutched his chest.
“I don’t,” Aziraphale said. “I’m not.”
“Aziraphale, are you really lying to me when the truth is about to start an earthquake in central London?” Crowley asked.
“I’m not lying!” Aziraphale said. “I’m...I…”
An image popped unbidden into Aziraphale’s head of Crowley, in Pompeii, days before the volcano was set to go, handing a young boy a sweet, his hand trembling slightly. Crowley tossing Aziraphale a bag of saved precious books.
Crowley dancing to disco music and wearing silly bellbottomed trousers, sending Aziraphale a wild grin across the room.
Crowley in Paris, in Rome, in Venice, in Madrid, in America, in Tokyo, in Constantinople, in Cairo, in Nairobi, in Brussels, in Edinburgh, in London and London and London.
Crowley grinned one of his own devious grins, utterly wrong on Aziraphale’s face. “Yeah, oh,” he said, then pushed himself out of his chair and kissed Aziraphale.
Aziraphale gasped into his mouth and returned the kiss. And Crowley’s body liked that. He could feel the reaction instantly, a dark curl of lust starting in his toes and travelling upward, making him itch and tingle.
The television crashed to the floor, shattering into a million pieces.
They jerked apart and looked at the mess of glass and metal on the still-shaking floor. Crowley burst into laughter and then flicked a hand and returned it unharmed to its place on the wall.
“You can really feel that inside of me?” Aziraphale asked.
“Obviously,” Crowley said, sounding thrilled. “I don’t know how it all fits in here. You can’t have missed this. Angel, it’s impossible.”
“I...I don’t think I missed it, exactly. Of course, I did know that you’re a dear friend - “
“These are not ‘dear friend’ feelings, Aziraphale,” Crowley countered.
“Yes, well. I suppose I must have...pushed them...err…”
He trailed off, realizing something. Closing his eyes, he once again tried to feel inside Crowley for anything. Any love, any fondness. Anything that would indicate a reciprocation of feelings on Crowley’s part. There was still nothing - just that yawning blackness.
But Aziraphale had seen Crowley be kind. He’d seen him be joyful. This couldn’t be right, could it? He tried again, desperately, searching around every corner and under every rock. It was all empty.
The disappointment and humiliation hit Aziraphale at the same time, making him feel lightheaded. “How unfortunate,” he said, forcing his eyes opened.
The trembling of the walls lessened.
“Unfortunate,” Crowley repeated.
“Yes,” Aziraphale said. “I’m so very sorry for doing this to you.”
The shaking stopped. Crowley’s glow went out like a switch being flicked. “You’re sorry.”
“Hard to put the cat back in the box,” Aziraphale said awkwardly. “But you have my word that when all of this is over - if we’re not both annihilated, of course - I will do my utmost to ensure that these...revelations...in no way affect our friendship.”
Crowley blinked at him, face pulled into the kind of expression Aziraphale used when customers inquired about the price of his Oscar Wilde first editions.
“You have got to be kidding me,” he said flatly.
Aziraphale took a deep breath, swallowed down the embarrassment and said, “I’m afraid that my...body’s reactions to you have clouded your mind, Crowley. You can sense my feelings towards you, and that means I can sense your feelings towards me. Or, rather, the absence of them. I do know you’re a demon, and there are certain things that - “
“Oh, for - “ Crowley began, cutting Aziraphale off. “I hid them, you idiot angel.”
“Before we made the switch. I locked them up so you wouldn’t see. Here.”
He lifted a hand and placed it on Aziraphale’s temple and then closed his eyes. Aziraphale did the same. For a moment, nothing changed, but then Aziraphale felt something click, like a door being unlatched.
Crowley’s hand dropped away, but Aziraphale kept his eyes shut, combing through the darkness until he found it. A dim, tiny spark at the very bottom of his belly.
“Need to hide it when I go down to Hell, don’t I?” Crowley said.
“Yes, I can feel it now,” Aziraphale said. It wasn’t strong enough to make Aziraphale accidentally level a city block, the way his own feelings clearly had been for Crowley. But there it was, flickering like a match in the dark. “How nice.”
Crowley sighed. “Aziraphale, would you open your eyes and look at me - look at you - oh, just look, would you?”
Aziraphale did as he was told. Crowley snatched the glasses off of Aziraphale’s face and tossed them on the ground.
“Look,” he said again, gesturing at himself in Aziraphale’s body. “Look at your hair! How is hair this short always so messy?”
“Hey now - “
“And bow ties. Who wears bow ties anymore? You and little children who get dressed by their mothers for fancy parties, that’s who.”
The little spark of Crowley’s regard was starting to grow inside of Aziraphale, thin shoots branching out in spiraling tendrils.
Crowley tugged on the lapels of Aziraphale’s coat that he wore. “There are other coats, you know. Fashionable ones that aren’t two hundred years old. You might consider trying one. You’re damnably cautious and hopelessly old fashioned and ruthlessly kind. Do you get it yet?”
In 2004, Aziraphale had been in New York City and witnessed the annual lighting of the Christmas tree in Rockefeller City Center. He was glad for the experience, because it gave him the perfect metaphor for what it felt like to be inside of Crowley’s body at that moment.
The hollow shell that Aziraphale had first stepped into was gone. How could he have ever thought that was really Crowley? The feelings inside of him were so big and complicated. Love twined with longing around his heart, an old and brittle ache. There was sorrow, too, and regret. But yes, Aziraphale could feel tumultuous joy, and all the way on the bottom, tiny and buried very deeply, was hope.
“Oh,” he said, overcome by all of it rushing in at once. “Oh my. I always knew you were lovely.”
Crowley grabbed Aziraphale’s face in his hands and then made a frustrated noise. “We need to change back. I can’t have this conversation looking at myself anymore.”
They clasped hands and reversed the process, sliding back into the correct bodies. The first thing that Aziraphale noticed was the power humming dangerously beneath his skin. He balled his hands into fists and pushed it back down to something manageable. Then he took a deep breath and gave himself a happy shake.
“Much bet - mmph!” He didn’t get to finish before Crowley was on him again, this time in the right body, his familiar face so dear to Aziraphale.
Crowley was right. How on Earth had Aziraphale missed this enormous thing thrumming inside of his chest? It felt like standing side by side at an airbase at the end of the world. Like a friendly face in a dirty tavern full of drunken Romans. Like the back of his bookshop on a cold winter’s evening, the two of them sharing a bottle of Scotch. It felt like Crowley, just there, lodged inside his heart. Good Lord, what a blind fool he’d been.
After a moment, they pulled apart and Crowley grinned. “You think I’m gorgeous,” he said smugly. “I felt it. Hit me like a lorry.”
“Yes,” Aziraphale found he could think of nothing to say in response. His cock twitched inside of his trousers as if in agreement. “Yes. I rather do.”
Crowley’s smile grew, losing his smugness until only happiness remained. “We might die tomorrow,” he said.
“We might not,” Aziraphale replied.
“Still,” Crowley said, “it’s always smart to plan for the worst.” He guided Aziraphale’s coat off of his shoulders and began to unbutton his shirt.
“Are you using your wiles on me?” Aziraphale asked.
“My…” Crowley rolled his eyes and didn’t stop undressing Aziraphale. “I’m begging you to fuck me, angel.”
Aziraphale swallowed and suddenly, without meaning to, removed every stitch of clothing from both of their bodies.
Crowley barked out a laugh and Aziraphale replied with a sheepish grin.
“Oh well. Right, yes. I would certainly be amenable to...that is…” Aziraphale stuttered.
“You want to fuck me too,” Crowley said.
“So very much,” Aziraphale admitted.
“Well then, angel. Lead on.”