They came like flashes, bit and pieces of a time Crowley did not remember. Had no real want of anything to remember that particular time, as it were. And rather did forget about the flashes when reality dragged her ugly hand back around. Only, reality wasn’t quite as ugly as she used to be. Not really, not anymore. Not two years since when reality bent to the will of an eleven-year-old, and what that really meant was everything was done again, slightly to the left, and the world was better for it. For now, anyway, and Crowley always had a bit of healthy fear in his heart about it. Especially given their time frame, now. Two years and no word from either side. Two years and nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing but these dreams, that was; dreams that he wasn’t about to let ruin anything. Because, after that split in reality and some odd time, he’d really made something of this newfound freedom. That something was currently where he chose to place the blame for his sudden being of awake, rather the dreams where the fault truly lied.
Crowley listened to the shower in a bit of blissful accordance, rolling onto his front to bury his face in the pillows and smile. Beside him, the bed was still warm, the pillows in a sorted disarray that could only mean his partner had only just gotten up, had only just started the shower. These dreams did pick a fine time to wake him, all in sarcasm, as it was always better to wake when the bed was full. But he waited. And listened. The shower had that sort of soft, soothing noise that made his skin prickle in memory. He might like to shower. Might even like to join the current one, but there was a certain comfort to the bed at this odd hour of the morning. Five, the clock read, offensively before the sun had even risen. Somehow, between the warm quilt at his shoulders and the evidence of their night still around him, Crowley couldn’t really bring himself to care.
Instead, he listened for the shower. It was always in perfect condition, never squeaky and never dirty. Sleek, just like the rest of the flat, with dark walls and modern fixtures. Not all of it fit the same theme, of course, but that was of little concern. It had stopped being of concern two years prior, when some of the sharper things had become a bit softer. Not just in the bathroom either, but the lounge and the study. The study had even found a plush armchair shoved inside of it. A second desk. It was all rather lovely and domestic, and he’d come to rather enjoy these quiet, early mornings. As much as he might have hated them even two years and a day before. But, two years and a day before, he wasn’t getting much sleep as it were. This day, he’d been asleep since midnight and was feeling rather fresh for it.
By the time the shower water died away, Crowley had nearly fallen back. But the sudden silence perked his ears, and his eyes opened once more. He looked towards the door and counted the seconds until it opened. Never any steam, because Aziraphale didn’t shower too hot, and he always left it clean when he was done. No miracles, though. Precisely done up so sparkling by hand, the very same way he wrapped a towel around his waist and padded out into the bedroom barefoot. Something about the air had him looking particular fond of himself, humming and smiling as he moved about the room.
Yes. This was exactly what Crowley had decided to do with his newfound freedom. He had decided to do Aziraphale, in a manner of speaking. In a manner of every speaking; Crowley was just admiring him, the way he walked about the room. There were bruises blossoming up around his chest and collarbone, even lower, Crowley suspected, but the towel was righteously placed.
Aziraphale was making some attempt to pick up the room after their night before. There were clothes scattered about and even a blanket. Really, though, all it took was one glance over to Crowley before he melted and dropped whatever article he’d managed to pick up. He slipped over to the bed after that and sat down on the edge, turned just so that he could put his fingers through Crowley’s hair. For a time, Crowley had considered keeping it tucked and short, nicely styled as always. A very persuasive afternoon had him thinking otherwise, and now it was getting long. Long and curly, even, because he hadn’t found any time to straighten it out, as he had back when he wore it long more often. Out of practice.
“Morning,” Crowley muttered. His eyes dipped closed again, and he thoroughly enjoyed the light tugs.
“I didn’t expect you’d be awake this early,” Aziraphale said in such a sing-song voice.
Crowley hummed in response, “didn’t expect to either, but someone woke me up.”
“Oh. Oh, my, I’m ever so sorry, my dear. I didn’t mean—”
“It’s alright, angel, it’s alright,” Crowley was halfway between an exasperated sigh and a laugh. What he managed was to pull Aziraphale’s hand from his head and grip it. “What’s on the books for the day?”
“Well, I do need to attend the bookshop, dear. Whatever you get up to is entirely your own decision.”
“I should like to get up to absolutely nothing,” he replied and made a point of shifting under the blankets.
“Yes, though I might trouble you for a ride.”
Crowley snorted. That meant getting up and getting dressed. It meant a lot more than that, something like breakfast, keys, or something to drink. Then driving, which always required a bit of effort. Crowley had made more effort in the last twelve hours than he’d been prepared for, and truly didn’t want to make anymore of any type. Aziraphale had asked, though, and did so with such a look on his face that Crowley did almost feel sorry for him. There was a bit of sympathy, somewhere. Most likely, it was tucked where he’d last seen his trousers.
“What do I get in return?” Crowley asked, a bit of a smirk popping up on his lips.
“Would a kiss do? I’m really a bit, well,” Aziraphale shifted slightly. “Sore.”
Crowley’s eyes snapped open about as fast as he made it up to his hands, instead of lying flat on the bed. “Sore? Angel, are you alright? Did I hurt—”
“No! No, heavens, Crowley, no,” Aziraphale laughed. Okay. Crowley frowned a bit and shifted down to his elbows. “It’s nothing more than an ache. It should be gone by supper time. We were awake quite late last night.”
“I should hope so. Now, about that ride?” Aziraphale pushed off the bed to return to his earlier musings. The bedroom was a mess, speaking for perspective. It was usually quite spotless, and only because Crowley liked it spotless. Mornings like this were the one exception, and only because Crowley liked to sleep.
Still, once Aziraphale was awake, there really was no hope in going back to bed, especially not now that he wanted a ride to the bookshop. Crowley did the only thing he could and rolled out of bed, leaving the sheets and blankets behind that he might just stride about the room stark naked. There wasn’t time for scandal or shame, and there never had been. Aziraphale only looked at him once, and it was with a rather kind of fondness in his eyes than anything else. Some time ago, just a month over a year, Aziraphale might have stuttered and covered his face gone red. Now, he was used to it. If anyone could ever really be used to Crowley walking around without clothing; the little side glance was caught. Appreciated. And stored away for later.
For present, Crowley pulled on some fresh underwear. After they’d survived an Apocalypse that didn’t happen, then more importantly, after they’d survived Heaven and Hell, Aziraphale had made a rather pointed attempt at a joke. Which, he was getting better at. This joke had been particularly about Crowley’s wardrobe, which consisted of tight briefs and jeans that had no business fitting properly on anyone who might otherwise be as endowed as he—it was Aziraphale, mind—preferred. Not that Crowley had kept that around all the time, not when his fashion was concerned. Once Aziraphale had learned that secret, his joke had been so fittingly that Crowley would need a new wardrobe if he was too limit occult power.
Crowley’s reply had been along the lines of the fact that Hell had better things to do than account for what genitals, or lack thereof, one demon Crowley had. Still, the joke had been funny, and Aziraphale had been pleased with himself.
As it stood, Crowley’s wardrobe had not changed. Crowley had not changed, save that his hair was down around his shoulders again, and that he didn’t use so much magic anymore. None, if possible. He’d had to learn to park the Bentley properly, which had been the most annoying. Everything else fell into place; it just meant they couldn’t dine at the Ritz quite as often as they like. Crowley had money, they both did, but not quite enough to sustain a life of luxury and bribes for an extended time period.
If things were to continue, as they did, with neither of them moving much in the way towards resolution. Only because it was difficult. Crowley would have to find a job. Aziraphale might have to sell books. That was a far-off future, for now, at least a decade. Along with their plans for fixing the new mess. The only plans Crowley cared about anymore were what clothes to wear and if Aziraphale wanted breakfast.
“Not today, I think,” Aziraphale said, still naked. Truly naked, now, the towel on the ground. He was looking in the full-length mirror, a twisted little look on his mouth.
“Alright, angel. What are you looking at, anyhow?” Crowley had picked a maroon, silken button up to go with his jeans today.
“You’ve made quite a mess.”
“Nothing clothes can’t cover.”
“Yes but, well,” Aziraphale sniffed and made a pointed press over his chest where the bruises were thickest, and his nipples were an angry red.
“Ah,” Crowley understood, but there wasn’t anything to do. “I’ll be gentler next time.”
“Yes, next time.” Aziraphale left it at that and began to dress. “Some cocoa might be nice.”
Crowley gave an off-handed salute before he pulled on one of his less-than-nice sports jackets and slipped out the bedroom. Aziraphale always took longer to get dressed, which was no surprise given what his wardrobe was made of. That, and they shared the same closet, where Crowley had been occupying since he’d rolled out of bed. It gave plenty of time for Crowley to get a start on things, though. He still didn’t eat much, didn’t drink much outside of wine or the occasional liquor. What he did do was cook and make drinks. Aziraphale took out the trash and did general pick up; Crowley cooked and took care of the plants. Before he came to bed every night, Aziraphale took care of the plants a second time like Crowley didn’t know. He did know, and he didn’t care.
Some days, Aziraphale took tea in the morning. A rarer occasion called for coffee. But mostly, he wanted cocoa. Cocoa was something Crowley was more than happy to make and had become quite good at it. Days that started as early as this one called for the magical use of technology, rather, because Crowley was still half asleep and not willing to spill boiling milk on himself. Either way, Aziraphale understood and was appreciative. The humans had come up with rather clever ways of making the morning rush easier. Though, rush was never quite what they did in the morning.
It was nearly six-thirty before Aziraphale popped out of the bedroom, still fashioning on his bow tie as he joined Crowley in the kitchen. The cocoa was steaming on the island in front of the empty chair, and across, Crowley was leaning into his hands and flipping through a magazine. Morning was less a rush and more a slow crawl to the starting line, which was how they both preferred it. Allowance for a slow start was the only reason Crowley really agreed to the five am alarm clock.
“You have any plans today, my dear?” Aziraphale wondered.
Crowley shook his head and grunted, “could stick around the shop, if you like.”
“Oh, and leave you terribly bored all day? I’d have none of that.” He took a sip of his cocoa.
“It’s hardly boring to spend a whole day asleep,” Crowley peeked up at him. Inside the flat, Crowley did not wear his sunglasses. Nothing had changed in his dislike for his own eyes, but there was still something to be said for the safety of home and the safety that Aziraphale provided.
“You shouldn’t spend all day sleeping. That can’t possibly be good for you. I’ve been reading these articles, you see—”
“Angel, I’m not human,” Crowley reminded. Aziraphale’s nose crinkled up.
“Is it strange that I need reminding of that?” there was a sudden change in his tone, like he was ashamed. Like Crowley had snapped at him.
“No, it’s not,” Crowley reacted quickly. He slid out of his chair to come across the island, to wrap his arm around Aziraphale’s shoulders and kiss his head while he drank from his mug. Two angel wings comprised the mug, and Crowley had a matching black one in the cupboard. They’d bought it online.
“Just because we’re playing human doesn’t mean we’ll ever be human.”
Crowley just shrugged and squeezed him a little harder. “Seems to me there’s nothing wrong with just being us, hm?”
Aziraphale nodded. Whatever that meant. It still made him smile.
“Come on, let me drop you at the shop. I think I’ll stop by that one downtown. You know the shop that has all those plants? I’ve been thinking about getting a new one.”
“My, that would be lovely. Liven up the place a bit, I think.”
“New blood, more like it.” Crowley pressed one more kiss to Aziraphale’s temple before stepping off to let him stand. Once Aziraphale had finished his cocoa, he stood quite still while Crowley fixed his bow tie for him. Afterward, they went straight out. Crowley had the keys, and he held the door open for Aziraphale before locking up.
The bookshop was all just the same as it ever was: A.Z. Fell & Co.. The letters meant all but nothing, which invalidated the comment Aziraphale had made in 1941 about Crowley’s letter for a middle name. He’d never quite figured out what the J should stand for, and eventually, it wasn’t a bother. At least he’d crafted a rather creative name, he thought. A.Z. Fell was just Aziraphale with dots and phonics. It made for a rather nifty business name, though. One that Aziraphale had built up out of the ground, even if it was just a front for his avid love of books.
His collection had been impressive as it had been irrevocably on fire. Crowley had been in that fire. After the fire, and after the Apocalypse-that-Never, the bookshop and her books had all returned. The books weren’t quite right, though, when Aziraphale looked closely. Many of them were rather sparking children’s books, all first edition and all in tip-top shape. Which meant, at the end of the day, that Aziraphale had lost most of his collections to a reality crafted by a child. He had, then, convinced Crowley to drive him to Tadfield so he could have a word with the would-be-Antichrist. Two years later, the collection was larger than ever with children’s books included.
Then, and in a matter only of dropping off, Crowley didn’t have to worry about how legal it was for him to sit halfway perched on the sidewalk. He wasn’t getting out of the car, and it wasn’t turning off. The car no longer ate his cassette tapes and CDs, which was nice.
“Well, I’ll be off then,” Aziraphale chimed.
“Nice day to you,” Crowley didn’t miss a beat. He sat rather still with his hands on the wheel when Aziraphale leaned over to peck him on the cheek. Crowley crinkled his nose and turned for a real and proper goodbye kiss, then waited for Aziraphale to blush, bid goodbye, and disappear off into the shop. Crowley didn’t leave until the sign read ‘open’, and Aziraphale was safe inside.
Then, he pulled off back on the street. Nothing of his driving habits had changed either. Miraculously, he was actually quite good at driving without all the demonic assistance. While he couldn’t drive 100 miles-per-hour through downtown London anymore, not without severely wounding either himself, someone else, or his car, he could still drive. Fast and well. Faster than Aziraphale liked and slower than he did, but it was something of a compromise at least. Aziraphale was more comfortable in the car with him. That, and the ability to listen to someone other than Queen, was certainly a win. Even more so than his newfound driving skills, he found.
Which eventually took him just to the shop he wanted to visit. Maybe new plants weren’t very high on the list of things they needed to be worried about, but it gave Crowley something more to do than positively nothing, which is what he had been doing for two years. That wasn’t entirely true, even if it was what he preferred to dwell on. He had learned a few things. Not all cars had cassette tapes. And, his computer wasn’t as stupid as he thought. As it turned out, he had been the stupid one. Then, finally, he’d learned that sound systems needed speakers and was quite put out when that meant he needed to buy speakers, because his sound system had stopped producing sound not fourteen seconds after that fact. Other than that, it was mostly the computer he spent time with when Aziraphale was at the shop. With financial sheets and investments. Boring.
Plants were not boring. Crowley liked plants. He liked that he could make them luxurious and green just with a bit of water and yelling—and that none of it was magic. It was real. Maybe he didn’t take kind care of his plants, but he did take good care of them. They were his pride, at the moment, something like children. The four that he had were growing large, large enough that he should think about acquiring some trimmers while he was at the plant shop; he was at the plant shop. He’d even parked properly on the side of the road where it was allowed. No tickets for him.
Once inside the shop, it was really all about looking. The trimmers were easy enough to find, and he plucked those from a shelf before turning and nearly walking straight into the short attendant on duty. She was lovely, young, and with glasses perched up on the end of her nose. She had blonde hair in curls that had been tied up in a loose ponytail for the work. Then, her name tag read Victoria—not that Crowley had ever taken to calling humans by their names just because they wore them out on their shirts. He imagined that would be awkward.
“Hello, sir. Can I help you find anything?” Victoria asked.
“I’m alright,” he replied. “Just looking around,” with a pointed glance off towards the section where they had the actual plants, not just things to care for them. She seemed to notice his gaze, which was unfortunate. Her eyes perked up; she wanted to help.
“Oh, looking for a houseplant, then?” she asked.
Crowley grumbled something that wasn’t quite words, more a sound, but nodded.
“Wonderful! We’ve got quite a selection, and even some books to help in first time—”
“Won’t be necessary,” Crowley said, who already had an eye on a particular potted plant. One that he was sure would fit right in among his plants, currently. Victoria left him alone after that with a red face and muttered apologies.
Crowley stepped across the little establishment to a green little plant with lovely red flowers. A laceleaf, it was called, and the red added for spectacular color. It nearly had the look of lilies if one didn’t look close enough, but Crowley knew better. He knew more about plants than he had any real right to, but he needed something to get up to in his time. Plants were a personal hobby. One of the only hobbies he would proclaim to have, and the only things that took up any of his personal time in the flat. Before Aziraphale had moved in. Now there was so much more to devote personal time to. Like dusting and cooking. And Aziraphale.
New plants could really make the scene, though, and this one was bright red and pretty. If it survived, it might even make a lovely centerpiece for a table somewhere. Crowley didn’t really have a dining room. They usually ate at the island, if they ate, and otherwise it was in the bedroom for much more intimate reasons. Like strawberries. Crowley might learn to grow strawberries one day, too. For now, he brushed his fingers over the plant leaves to ensure that he wasn’t about to purchase a plant with no hope. Hope, this particular plant did have, though. He inspected it with a smile on his face—no other plant in the building looked half as good anymore, and he’d only looked at the one. The laceleaf. A beautiful, flowering leafy plant. He was thinking about how lovely this color would really look in the plant room, against the window or the otherwise black of the wall. Not that his flat wasn’t all the rage in modern architecture and planning, but the neutrals were getting old.
He scooped up the plant, the trimmers, and plopped them down on the counter where Victoria silently charged him. He did feel a little bad for his sudden snap, but it was worth it in the end to find himself a lovely new plant. Might it not have caught his eye so early, he might have stayed to look around and find another. Something more to occupy his time, but the one would do for now. He would need to devote all his attention to her if she were to grow as lovely and green as the others had. If she managed to survive, he would revisit the shop for a different one. The idea of flowers was growing on him.
After a careful amount of time spent arranging the laceleaf in the front seat of the Bentley, he took a moment to check his watch. It had taken precisely an hour to do all this, which meant it wasn’t even midday yet, and he had the rest of forever to be back at the bookshop for closing. Maybe under the tempting of a spot of dinner, Aziraphale might close early. Hopefully, it wouldn’t come to that, but Crowley was willing to use every tool in his arsenal to fill his day with useful activities. Until it was time to sleep again.
Crowley had time to slump in his seat and sigh before taking off. Thankfully, he could still run the Bentley on empty—petrol was expensive and it wasn’t something he wanted to worry himself or Aziraphale over. Nothing was worth stressing Aziraphale out, especially not money. Money, money, money—and it did so make the world go round. Crowley was learning that quickly. Aziraphale took care of the laundry, and Crowley took care of the finances. Only because he’d been working finances for a while, with the experience in investments. Not because he enjoyed it, and not because they were going to be happily living in a fancy London flat forever.
Said flat was Crowley’s destination, and he carried his new plant and trimmers up to the door and let himself in. When Aziraphale wasn’t here, it was a cold and empty reminder of the life he’d been trying to leave behind. Life as a demon, specifically. Without Hell breathing down his neck, it had all seemed like the perfect time. He’d stopped tempting, but that had been the only change. His flat was still dreary and empty, though Aziraphale had made it feel more like home. Aziraphale in person only, because even with all of his things neatly scattered about, it still looked like an empty flat for one. A flat that Crowley had never considered important or home, just a place to come back to. At least the plants hadn’t changed; he hoped they never would, even if situations took him elsewhere.
For now, elsewhere was just the plant room. It was clear the plants were expecting something else from the way they had been trembling upon his entrance, but that expectation died when the new plant was introduced. Suddenly, she was the brightest little one in the room, with her red flowers and eagerness to please. Crowley admired it, of course, and set her up near the windowsill before reaching for the plant mister. While he misted, he didn’t speak, nor did he yell. He just stepped about the room and gave each plant the water it needed and inspected the leaves. No spots, but it was clear what leaves he would be needing to sheer off. If they grew much larger, they wouldn’t fit in the room; they were already due enough as it was to be re-potted. He needed to plan a day for that.
“Now,” he said, loudly in comparison to the stunted silence, “this is something I do for your own good. If you grow too large, and it will strain you in the future.” That was when he produced the trimmers.
The plants did tremble at that.
“I know, I know,” Crowley said. He tried to remember the way Aziraphale talked to them when it was late, and he thought Crowley couldn’t hear. “It will be alright, it’s for the better. I’ll make it quick, and nothing too much.”
Which didn’t seem to calm them any, but it was a try. It wasn’t so much his words were wrong, just the plants’ utter distrust for him. Given the way he normally treated them, this was a sudden and strange turnaround. Still, their trembling subsided when it turned out that Crowley wasn’t lying to them. In fact, he had chosen a particularly long stem off the largest plant and snipped it right off. He inspected the damage carefully, then snipped another small one. After an apology, he moved to the second plant and continued in the same manner. He meant them to be small enough for survival, nothing more. When that proved true, no more than ten stems cut from the plants, they believed him.
His attention went to the new plant, then, the laceleaf. He was starting to think that potting needed to happen within the week, because she was very much a large plant already. A few good days of shouting and threatening, she’d surely be ready for a bigger pot. That would give him something to do until Saturday, when they did have a reservation. They’d been waiting weeks on it, nearly two months; they just had to get there first. Crowley had nothing special planned, but the Ritz was special all in its own. They’d dined there after their survival, and Crowley had asked Aziraphale to move in between courses. Until then, he would need to buy the materials. He only kept spare pots around, but they could do with some new soil, as well.
With the list in his head, he stepped off into the study to actually put it to paper. No doubt exited; he knew he would remember the list, but something about making one on a small piece of note paper just felt so domestic, it made his heart sing a bit. He might even stick it on the fridge for Aziraphale to see in the evening and ask him about it before they shut the lights off. He rather liked that feeling. It was the same one he got when they were in bed; Aziraphale would sit propped against the pillows with plenty of reading material, should he choose not to sleep, and Crowley would curl up with his face in Aziraphale’s hip and fall right asleep. Even if Aziraphale didn’t sleep, he still spent the night there, and that. Well.
Truthfully, Crowley didn’t know what it all meant. They’d never talked about it; it’d never been mentioned. Sure, he kissed Aziraphale when he pleased and made love to him when they both pleased, but outside of that. It could mean anything. They were just pretty words at the end of the day. Words they never said, really. Making love could easily be replaced with a vulgar little phrase, but Crowley had learned fast that Aziraphale didn’t like the vulgarity of fucking and preferred to leave that to action only. Everything else seemed to have the same look as love, the same smell, at least. A pleasant routine they could fall into, not too different from how they normally carried themselves, only there was far more kissing. Which sounded like love. Love. Whatever it meant. Surely, Crowley couldn’t feel love—being a demon. This warmth in his chest was a cruel left-over joke that God Herself had given him as a reminder that he could never go Home.
Whatever Home meant, these days.
Crowley eventually snorted and hung his list on the fridge, as he’d pleased, and opened it then to grab something to drink. Standing there in his empty flat, he realized how much he didn’t know. How much he wasn’t aware of how. And more important, how much he didn’t have to do. Sure, he might turn on the telly and waste away for the rest of the day watching reruns of Golden Girls. Maybe he would turn on the computer and read the news, see what the humans were getting up to all on their own. Not entirely on their own, he supposed. After Hell had lost him, surely, they’d thought well to send more demons upstairs long term in order to garner more souls, or whatever it was he was supposed to be doing.
Satan didn’t need to know he’d spent six-thousand years making heart-eyes at an angel, because that was his secret. Not even the angel needed to know. He could barely be pressed to remember, often times, if he got drunk enough. That made it easier. Less thinking. Less wondering what it might cost if Aziraphale were to return his affections, and oh—Crowley did so loathe thinking. By the time he’d downed a bottle of wine and all the bad thoughts he could muster, his phone was ringing in his back pocket.
He answered it.
“Crowley, where are you?” Aziraphale asked.
He didn’t even answer. He sobered himself, instead, on impulse—didn’t think one bit about the power it would take to do so, then stepped out of the flat with his keys. The drive should have taken ten minutes, given the traffic at this time of day. Often, it was faster to walk to the bookshop than to drive, but they both did prefer the quiet time—Crowley made the drive in four minutes, to find Aziraphale standing on the sidewalk tapping his foot, looking ever nervous. Even when he saw the Bentley skid to a stop right in front of him, his demeanor didn’t change. He just hurried into the passenger side and held his case close to his chest. No hello. Not even a glance.
“Do just drive, Crowley,” Aziraphale muttered.
Thoughts just poured out like rum, there. Aziraphale was mad at him. Aziraphale had been afraid that Crowley forgot him—Aziraphale convinced himself that Crowley had forgotten him. Or worse, something horrible had happened, and all expecting Crowley to save him as he’d done in the past, Crowley was rather getting drunk in the kitchen and still forgetting all about him. Time had just disappeared. He hadn’t noticed. He’d been too caught up in his own stupid thoughts, and stupid thoughts again, that three minutes later they were at the flat building. Aziraphale was none for shocked by the speed. He was quiet, still. And he followed into the building quiet. Up the stairs, quiet. Into the flat, quiet. The only noise he made was setting his case on the desk.
“Aziraphale, are you alright?” Crowley finally had the courage to ask.
“I did have an affair I didn’t tell you about. I didn’t think it would be very important, mind, because it was purely business.” Aziraphale was already pacing about the study.
“Wait. Affair? What are you talking about?”
“A meeting, a meeting. Calm yourself, really,” Aziraphale urged. Though, in truth, there could be no such thing as an affair outside of them. Whatever they were. They’d never talked about it. Aziraphale didn’t have so much more a name for it than he did that copy of Agnes Nutter’s book.
Crowley just huffed.
“I met with someone. I’ve met with him a few times, on occasion, mind. He brings me books, we haggle. Mostly, I get what I want, and he leaves rather displeased. This time, well, not so much.”
“He mess with you, then?” Crowley had plopped himself down at the desk, feet propped up on the desk. He watched Aziraphale pace in front of the desk, before the windows.
“No, not precisely. It was just, well,” Aziraphale stopped in front of the desk. “Crowley, I’m a bit afraid, I suppose.”
At that, Crowley pulled down his legs and leaned forward onto the desk. “Angel, if there’s anything—”
“No, no. I don’t, no. That’s not what I mean, it’s just. Well,” Aziraphale folded his hands, “he made a comment, of sorts.”
“Yes, and before you make word of me being all worked up over a comment, I assure you—”
“I made no mention, angel,” Crowley raised an eyebrow. “What’s the comment, then?”
“He said I hadn’t aged a bit. Not once. Not in the fifteen years since I’d last seen him—oh, and Crowley,” Aziraphale said this part like they were gossiping over wine at a tavern, “he’s gone positively gray and wrinkled, already. Rather quite sad, I’d say.”
Crowley snorted a laugh.
“The problem is, though, as I’m sure you can gather. We don’t—well, we don’t age, Crowley.”
“No, no we don’t.”
“The only thing about you that’s changed since I met you on that wall is your hair,” Aziraphale gestured. “Even then, you’ve grown it out again.”
“You’ve a finer taste in clothes, I’ve noticed. Those rags didn’t suit you,” Crowley leaned back into the throne. Now that he’d seen there was no real threat, he relaxed.
“Yes, well,” Aziraphale made a pointed look at Crowley, “I do rather prefer the new wardrobe on you, too.”
Crowley gave a bit of a smirk. Idle flirting had always been their game, whatever it meant. It just seemed a natural thing to do, especially now when they were comfortable with it. It didn’t have to mean anything. It didn’t have to mean that Crowley had been madly in love with him since the day they met. It certainly didn’t have to mean that Aziraphale returned those feelings. One, because Crowley was a demon. Two, because Crowley was a demon. Still, he could live with the idleness of their togetherness. It was comfortable and fine. Familiar, even.
“I’m just worried, I think,” Aziraphale said after a time. “If he’s noticed, others are bound to. I can’t brush it off with good hygiene forever, you know. Someone is bound to notice something is wrong.”
“Well enough, I suppose. Thought we could just keep going for the old descendant trick.”
“Yes, but that usually requires the going away bit. Unless you plan on paying for movers, we’re a little stuck here. Not so many options now that we aren’t to be using magic.”
And what of the point was that, really. Crowley had to wonder. He’d already used magic once that day. There had been no smiting. Maybe they wouldn’t be able to pop over to Germany, maybe, for a time and return later as different people, but there still had to be some magic involved. Moving was a hassle in the human manner, and it would take a lot of time. More time than they probably had, if Aziraphale’s fear was as important as he was making it seem. It wasn’t so much an issue of being found out, as no one would believe them. It was suspicion, though, which wasn’t a good thing. Not because it meant humans were suspicious, but because it had the potential to draw other forces near.
“What did you have in mind, then?” Crowley was beginning to fear the answer.
“Well, I thought a more personal change might be in order. I do rather like it here, after all. Soho, I mean. It’s been home for quite some time.”
“Yes, indeed it has.” He might need a glass of wine for this, he thought.
“I’d rather not leave, is what I’m saying.”
“Noted. Gathered. Understood.”
Aziraphale straightened up his waistcoat. He stepped around the desk to be closer, where he leaned back into it and nearly thought to reach out for Crowley. Rather, he kept his hands to himself and found another spot in the room to stare at. He did this when he was nervous; eye contact became difficult, as did words and proper sentences in proper fashion. He knew how obvious he was when he got this way, but it was hard to help himself. Saying things so plainly when he was certain of the outcome was hard, if only because he didn’t want those outcomes to take place. Not between the two of them. Not with Crowley. They’d done their fair share of arguing, and once it had nearly meant the last time they’d seen each other.
“If I only changed, you understand,” Aziraphale started. Crowley’s eyebrow immediately raised, because a change was attempting to sound like a bit of magic. Just what they shouldn’t partake in, lest they bring too many wandering eyes.
“It wouldn’t be a big change, you see,” to mitigate the anger behind Crowley’s eyes, a nervous laugh. “Just enough to keep suspicion off, and rightfully so, I wouldn’t need the same trick again for quite some time.” Aziraphale laughed again. “Until people began to notice, and then, yes. Done.”
“Done,” Crowley repeated.
Aziraphale was having a hardy time keeping his smile up and his hands spread. He could already see what was about to happen; he and Crowley were going to argue. There was nothing to be done about it, but it had to be done. So, he breathed deeply and buried his nails into the fabric of his slacks. Braced himself. Breathed again and let his smile twitch away.
“I was thinking I might, well. Strictly speaking, it is sticking with the idea of a family member, just different, I suppose. Since we wouldn’t have to leave and return, it can’t possibly be a child, but I could be a sibling, and well,” Aziraphale was doing more talking with his hands than with his mouth. Crowley’s arms were crossed, and he wasn’t impressed.
“A name change, then?” Crowley grimaced. That wasn’t ever going to work.
“No! No, something more concrete. I did say it would be a personal change, and well, it wouldn’t be something so strange that we’ve never partially done it before. Well, I haven’t. Not fully, at least.”
“I’m trying! I don’t know how to say this. I’d rather we not fight over it—”
“So, it’s something we’re going to fight over, is it?” Crowley had already figured it out; Aziraphale knew from the way that he was standing up from the throne and creating distance.
“I would hope not…” Aziraphale trailed off and bit into his lip. “It would involve magic.”
“And we’ve already agreed not to use magic. So, what, we’re just going to bust out as much as possible all at once, so Heaven and Hell knows we’re up to something?”
“No! No, that was not the plan. As I stated, it would be a one-time use, and I wouldn’t have to do it again for many, many years. It would be no different than pushing away a ticket.”
“I haven’t gotten any tickets,” Crowley hissed at him.
“Of course, you haven’t, I would know,” Aziraphale was frowning now too. “You don’t even know what my plan is yet—you might even like it, if you would take a second to listen.”
“Oh, I am listening, angel. I’m hearing magic. You’re the one who said we should stop using it!”
“Yes, but this is an important matter! Our livelihood is quite at stake here, Crowley.”
Crowley was about to ask exactly what livelihood Aziraphale was referring to, but he caught himself on his teeth and sneered instead. That would have been going too far. Just because he was angry didn’t mean he was going to undermine the life they’d been building. It was mundane and full of routines, but he enjoyed it just because of that. In the same way that he enjoyed having Aziraphale around, he enjoyed the life they’d created together in whatever context they’d created it. Still, the silence had said it all for him, and Aziraphale took a step back.
“What’s the plan, then?” Crowley sighed, defeated.
“I could pose as my own sister,” Aziraphale shrugged. “Shouldn’t be too difficult, though we may have to take time to get some new clothes for me. New parts to accommodate and all that,” he shifted uncomfortably.
Crowley was just staring at him.
“A woman?” Aziraphale tried again. He hadn’t been expecting silence. “Please, it’s not as if you haven’t—”
“I was one, for the job, I mean,” Crowley corrected, "but it never really felt right. I had no intentions of making the change permanent."
“It wouldn’t be permanent, just cosmetic. And it’s not as though it really matters what I look like. I’m still me—and you’ve quite had your fill of my—”
“Yes, yes,” Crowley raised his hand to cut Aziraphale short. “I just wasn’t expecting this, is all. You’ve been, well, you, for as long as I can remember. It’ll be different.”
“But I will still be me, just less suspicious.”
Crowley folded his arms and shifted his weight from one foot to the other, then back. He looked at Aziraphale, who was still firmly staring at the floor, then over to the windows. Then back to Aziraphale, who was fidgeting. Back to the windows. It wasn’t as though the idea was off-putting, though he realized his response had entirely said that. They were genderless as it was, everything else was an effort or a preference. Crowley clearly didn’t much care what he presented as, because it didn’t matter. Aziraphale didn’t see to either, with how simply he’d come to this conclusion. It was just different. Crowley had started not to like different some time ago, because things were comfortable the way they were now.
“I’d understand if you wouldn’t like it,” Aziraphale continued, nervous. “I’d even understand if you wanted to end our little arrangement—”
“No, no that’s not. Shit,” Crowley sighed. “I’ve made a mess of things once again. I’m quite good at that, me. Making a mess of things.”
“I think I’d rather spend the night to myself, if that’s alright,” Crowley muttered. “I need to think about this. And—” he pointed at Aziraphale, “this is not about the lady thing. If you think that would help, fine, I don’t care. Be a lady, be anything in between. Turn into some bedtime monster, for all I care, it’s just the magic that I care about.”
Aziraphale nodded, though he didn’t look convinced. His arms were wrapped rather protectively around himself, now, and his eyes were squinted like he might cry. But, if space was what Crowley needed, space was what Crowley would get. It was better than arguing, and hopefully, the constricted timeline would mean he wouldn’t disappear. That they would talk in the morning over breakfast, one that Crowley had prepared quite wonderfully, and all would fall back into place. He hoped, anyway, because dinner wasn’t on the menu this evening.
Only after the door to the bedroom clicked shut, and it did click, did Aziraphale drop his arms and release a breath. He’d spend the night in the lounge and poke through a couple of books, assuming he’d be able to concentrate. If he couldn’t, he would work more on this plan of his and really focus on what future that would cause. What he’d built with Crowley was too precious to let go, even if it didn’t have a name, and even if it could fall apart at the slightest second. For all he knew, this was just a momentary diversion from some greater cause, and it would end as suddenly as it had begun. He prayed for that not to happen, but he would keep his prayers to himself. Crowley would hear none of them, and God certainly wouldn’t, either.