A kiss is but a little sweetness,
Leaping the road to rapture.
Philip Moeller, The Roadhouse in Arden
Aziraphale sank to his knees in the sand, exhausted.
He’d done his part, and it was over now. He was ready for a very nice holiday, preferably as far away from here as possible. The Andes, perhaps. He’d been meaning to learn to knit, and that lovely woman he’d met last time he was there had offered to teach him. Of course, that was several hundred years ago now, so she had undoubtedly passed on. He could probably find someone who’d be willing to help him. Yes, South America might just feel far enough away.
And besides, there weren’t any alpacas on this continent. Lovely creatures, alpacas. He longed to pet an alpaca again. He longed to do anything pleasant and mindless again, actually.
“Well, that was impressive.”
A shadow fell over Aziraphale, shading him from the harsh sunlight. He looked up, squinting. There was a man standing there, dressed in the fine linen garments typical of the upper class. He was tall and very thin, and— ah. Not a man at all.
“Crawley, is that you?”
“Ah, right. Sorry.”
Crowley sat next to Aziraphale in the sand and gazed out at the water. “So did you do that bit? With the parting of the sea and all?”
Aziraphale shrugged. “I helped. Gabriel did the heavy lifting, as it were. And Sandalphon — well, let’s say he enjoyed letting it all crash down again.”
“And all those plagues. Nasty business.” There was more than a touch of admiration in Crowley’s voice. “Sometimes I wonder which side will ultimately do the most damage to these mortals. I think yours is winning at the moment.”
Aziraphale ought to have argued that it was a just cause and therefore not at all comparable with anything Hell might cook up, but he didn’t really have it in him at the moment. He shrugged and stared out at the sea, at the small waves lapping up on the sandy shore. So calm and peaceful now.
“Bringing Death in was a nice touch. If you’re going to terrorize an entire civilization, might as well do it with style.”
The memory of that night, of the screams of horror all around, came rushing back in. Aziraphale groaned and dropped his face to his knees. “I’d rather not discuss it right now, if you don’t mind.”
“Right, of course.” Crowley sat quietly next to him for a few minutes. “The bodies of all those soldiers will probably start washing up on shore soon.”
“I just meant that this might not be quite so relaxing a spot as you imagined.”
“Well, do you have a better suggestion?”
Crowley pushed to his feet and held a hand down to Aziraphale.
Aziraphale hesitated. Why should he trust this demon at all? They’d spoken amicably each time they’d met, but it wasn’t as if they really knew each other. There was no telling where taking Crowley’s hand might lead. It could be the start of Aziraphale’s downfall.
Still, he had a point about the bodies.
Aziraphale stood without Crowley’s help. He straightened his clothes — not nearly as stylish as Crowley’s, but he hadn’t wanted to attract attention to himself, given the situation — and gave him an expectant look.
Crowley’s smile was all business. “There’s a shop over in town that makes an excellent beer. The shopkeeper has eight daughters —well, probably seven now— who do the brewing, all apparently virgins.”
“What has that to do with brewing beer?”
Crowley looped his arm through Aziraphale’s and guided him up the beach. “They say the best beer is brewed by virgins. Complete bullshit, if you ask me. Just lets the man charge more and keep his daughters around to work for him.”
Aziraphale sighed. He should have miracled himself off to South America when he first thought of it.
“An’ then Michael was like, ‘I know, we should do locusts next, it’ll be great,’ and y’know how diffi— dif— that I don’ like lossa bugs. One’r two bugs s’fine. I don’ mind. But giant swarms of ‘em, ev’rywhere.” Aziraphale shuddered, then hiccuped.
“Nasty wee buggers,” Crowley agreed. “And then when they all died — couldn’t yer lot’ve miracled ‘em away? The stench was bloody awful.”
“The frogs, tho” —Aziraphale tapped himself on the chest— “tha’ wuz mine.”
Crowley laughed, a bright ringing sound. Aziraphale looked up at him. He’d never heard a sound like that coming from a demon before. He didn’t even know demons could laugh. Or smile. Or be fun to hang around with. Crowley was, though. Maybe it was all the time he’d spent on Earth. It probably got lonely, even for demons. Heaven knew it did for angels. He hiccuped again.
“Why frogs? I get the other plagues, but frogs? What’re they gonna do?” He gestured expansively with both hands. “Be cute at you?”
Aziraphale snorted. “I knoooow! They’re so cute, wi’ their buggy eyes an’ an’ an’ sticky feets.” He raised the jug of beer to his lips and took a large drink before passing it back to Crowley. “But in those numbers, y’know? Lossa people were ‘fraid of ‘em. Screamin’ like… loud.”
“Of frogs?” Crowley took a drink, then wiped the back of his hand over his mouth. “Do they eat them here?”
Aziraphale tried to remember if he’d eaten a frog recently. He hadn’t had much time to eat anything in the last few months. No time for anything pleasant at all. “I dunno.”
“Anyway, I liked tha’ one. Clever angel, you.”
Aziraphale smiled, biting back the urge to thank him. Wouldn’t do to thank a demon for complimenting the plague he’d cast on Egypt, would it? There was something he’d been meaning to ask for a while now, though. He took a breath to steady himself, and pointed at Crowley meaningfully.
“Why’re you here, anyway? She was leading this one Herself, so it wasn’t like you could’ve done any therr…” He concentrated, forcing himself to sober up enough to be coherent again. “Thwarting of our…intentions.”
“I’m here as n’observer.” Crowley took another drink and briefly lost his thought, then seemed to find it again. “Th’thing is, when Heaven is gonna do some smiting, Hell wants a front row seat.”
“Yeah. Nobody smites like the Almighty, lemme tell you.” He looked upwards and shivered slightly. “When we heard She was pissed off at the Egyptians, we started placin’ bets.”
“I think Satan himself got closest, but nobody guessed the scope of th’ thing. Like how the Pharaoh would be ready to give up, then She’d make him change his mind again?” Crowley shook his head. “Thass some masterful shit, right there. You gonna free people from slavery, might as well go big.”
“That She did.” Aziraphale reached for the bottle and took a long drink.
“Anyway,” Crowley continued, “I suppose you’re done here for a while.” He sounded as if he’d sobered up.
“Yes, I think so. The Egyptians will need some time to clean up the mess, and the Israelites have quite the journey ahead of them.”
“You gonna stick around to see what happens?”
Aziraphale shook his head. “I was thinking of going away for a bit. South America, perhaps.”
“Ah, yeah. They make this fantastic drink from fermented maize. You ever tried it?”
“Yes, I know it.” Aziraphale smiled. “I didn’t realize you’d been there.”
“I’ve been everywhere, Angel.” Crowley lifted the jug and drained the last of it. “You up for another?”
“No, I don’t think so. I’ve got a ways to travel. Best to be clear-headed about it.” Aziraphale stood.
“Good thinking. Don’t want to wind up in Antarctica this time of year.” Crowley stood as well, and they walked out of the shop side-by-side, into the harsh sunlight in the street.
“Well,” Aziraphale said, turning to face him. “It was… good to see you again, Crowley.”
“And you as well.”
Crowley leaned in to kiss Aziraphale goodbye, as was the local custom. His lips brushed against Aziraphale’s cheek, soft and dry. Aziraphale was still a bit drunk and didn’t think, just kissed the air next to Crowley’s cheek.
Wait, what in Heaven’s name was he doing? One didn’t go around kissing demons as though they were friends. What would the others have said if they’d seen him just now, consorting with the enemy?
Aziraphale took a quick step backwards, arms wrapped awkwardly around himself.
Crowley’s eyes narrowed, and Aziraphale had the distinct impression he was disappointed for a brief moment, before a cool smile smoothed over his face once more.
“Until next time, Angel.” He turned and walked away.
Why would a demon go about kissing people anyway? It made no sense, none at all.
Crowley disappeared from view.
South America would be lovely this time of year. Yes.