Chapter 1: Egypt, 1300 BC
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.
Chapter 2: Pisa, 1065 AD
2. Pisa, 1065 AD
Crowley had grown rather fond of all the city-states that sprang up across the countryside after Rome fell from power. It was an ideal region from which a demon could base operations: full of haughty nobles with big egos and ridiculous wealth to throw around, constant political infighting, and oodles of corruption everywhere he looked. He’d caused a war, broken up four marriages, and tempted half a dozen clergy, all since last Tuesday.
His recent successes had made him quite popular with the head office. Well, popular in the sense that most demons in Hell would stab him in the back given the opportunity, then claim his glory for themselves. Still, it was a fantastic position to be in. A veritable banquet of iniquity, served twice daily.
Even better, though, was the wine. Wine had been around for millennia, of course. In fact, Crowley had been present at that first moment when a human being had found a clay pot full of rotten, fermented grapes in the back of a dusty storage hut. He’d been the literal demon whispering in their ear to go on and give it a try. It had turned out to be one of the better things he’d been at least partially responsible for, and he had definitely reaped the rewards.
Like he was doing now, for instance. At his discreet suggestion, his favorite tavern in Pisa had begun carrying a large selection of local wines. Crowley asked the barman to select one he hadn’t tried yet, then settled back into his favorite dark corner. A table conveniently appeared there each time he walked through the doorway, along with a single plush chair. Crowley gave the wooden cup a swirl and let the aromas fill his nose. Not bad at all, and it tasted as good as anything he’d had lately.
The Romans had put too many odd flavors in their wine for his taste, but their descendants had learned that simpler was better: all one needed was fruit, yeast, and time. This one was different than the wines they were making in the lands to the north, had more acidity and sunnier fruit, but it was good. He ought to look into acquiring a barrel for his villa for the days he didn’t bother coming into town.
The tavern grew busier as the day stretched on. Crowley was on his fifth cup of wine by early evening, a time when men tended to stop in the tavern for a fortifying drink before heading home to their families. Literally men, since women weren’t welcomed in such places, and one demon, who didn’t particularly care about human notions of gender except when they could be used to an advantage.
“Simply beautiful, Signor Buscheto,” someone said nearby. The familiarity of that voice sliced through Crowley’s pleasantly relaxed countenance like a blade. “I can’t wait to see it completed.”
“May we be blessed to live that long!” replied another man, with a hearty laugh.
Crowley turned to his right as casually as he could manage. Sitting at a small table with a tray of cheeses and dried fruits between them, were two men. Well, one was a man, at any rate. The other was Aziraphale, whom Crowley hadn’t seen in over a century.
As usual, he was dressed in fine clothes that were at least two decades out of style. His blond curls spilled out from under a hat that was similar to, but not quite what the local nobles wore. His face was the same as always, blue eyes wide and sparkling with happiness as he gazed at the sheets of rolled parchment the man was showing him. He looked every bit a tourist from the lands to the north, and if he wasn’t careful, he’d likely get robbed on the street.
Fuck. Crowley had such a good thing going here. Pisa was a fantastic base of operations for him. He had everything he could possibly want, and lots of opportunities for temptations without having to travel far from home. Aziraphale being here, and speaking so animatedly to the city’s most renowned architect, could only mean that Crowley’s life was about to get more complicated.
He drained his cup and considered his options. He could slink away, go hide out in his villa for a month or so, and wait until the angel moved on. He was due for a long nap, anyway. He could confront Aziraphale now, today, and find out what he was up to. He could demand he leave, out of professional courtesy.
Or perhaps he could try again to garner the angel’s favor. He’d been rebuffed every time he’d brought up the idea of the two of them working more cooperatively, but he wasn’t going to give up just yet. He’d known Aziraphale for thousands of years now, would know him for at least another thousand, if all proceeded as planned. It would be beneficial for both of them to have something like a partner in this.
In the meantime, he needed another drink. He caught the barman’s attention with a pointed glance, then gestured to his empty cup. Within a minute, the barman was at his table, filling it once again.
“Anything else, Signor Crowley?”
Crowley considered: he might as well make his presence known before Aziraphale spotted him and decided he was up to no good. Pisa was Crowley’s turf, after all, and he wasn’t leaving just because competition had shown up.
“Pour two cups for those gentlemen as well,” Crowley said, gesturing at the table where Aziraphale sat with Signor Buscheto. He held out a stack of coins. The barman nodded.
A few minutes later, the barman approached their table with the drinks, gesturing over to where Crowley sat. When Aziraphale turned to look, Crowley smiled and waved his fingers. The surprise on Aziraphale’s face appeared genuine, as did the flicker of pleasure that Aziraphale quickly blinked away.
So there, he’d said hello. Crowley drained his cup and waited.
Aziraphale spoke for a moment to his companion, who looked over at Crowley and nodded. Aziraphale stood and crossed to Crowley’s table.
“My dear boy, it’s been ages. Whatever are you doing here?” He leaned down to grasp Crowley’s shoulder with one hand, as if they were old friends happy to see each other again after a long separation.
Wait, were they?
It was a moment before Crowley regained his composure enough to speak. “I’ve been in the area for a while now. Working.”
Aziraphale’s eyebrows rose. “I see. Well, we would love for you to join us. Please.” He turned back to the table where Signor Buscheto gave a merry wave.
Crowley suddenly had regrets. He should have slinked away when he had the chance, but there was nothing for it now. He’d bought them a round, and common courtesy suggested they invite him to join them.
“Oh, all right,” he said with a heavy sigh. “If you insist.”
“I do,” Aziraphale replied, taking Crowley by the arm and walking him to the table, as if he thought Crowley would turn tail and flee if he had a chance.
It was true, he would, so good move there.
Aziraphale introduced him to Signor Buscheto with great flourish, calling Crowley a dear old acquaintance from their boyhood days.
Buscheto winked at Crowley, gracious enough not to let on that they’d been introduced a year earlier at the home of a wealthy merchant.
“How goes the construction project?” Crowley asked, and Buscheto spoke for a good twenty minutes about the plans for the great cathedral being built in the center of the city.
Aziraphale listened attentively, his expression full of wide-eyed admiration, not unlike a maiden staring longingly at the man she wishes would court her. Crowley shifted in his seat irritably.
“And you, Signor Crowley.” Buscheto smiled magnanimously. “Could I persuade you to join the ranks of our many generous donors?” He nodded towards Aziraphale.
Aziraphale’s lips twisted into a smirk so impressive that Crowley felt his insides shiver. Did the angel have a wicked side he’d never let Crowley see? Maybe all these years on Earth had rubbed off on him after all. Crowley raised his eyebrows at Aziraphale and Aziraphale winked — actually winked! Crowley felt a stab of something like excitement, or intrigue. That was new.
But even better, it was interesting.
“I’ve heard there are plans to build a grand tower next to the cathedral.”
“Yes, indeed! We are many years from even considering its construction, but that is our hope. It would be the tallest tower in all of Europe, truly a marvel of engineering.”
“I think I would be interested in supporting the construction of such a tower in Pisa.” Crowley lifted his cup to his lips again. “Please do keep me informed.”
Buscheto laughed heartily. “Beware, Signor, I will remember this promise and hold you to it!”
Next to him, Aziraphale beamed. Crowley took a large drink of wine and tried not to think very much about the sudden fluttering in his belly.
They spent another hour together talking and drinking, an angel and a demon and one of the greatest architects of the time. When Crowley tried to push the discussion in a particular direction, Aziraphale would push right back, with the net result that nothing was accomplished that wouldn’t have been without their intervention.
When the sun finally began to make its descent known, Buscheto stood to leave, saying his wife awaited him at home. Crowley and Aziraphale were alone once more.
“How long will you stay in Pisa?” Crowley asked.
“For a while. I wanted to see the progress on the cathedral. It will be one of the most beautiful outside of Rome, apparently. And you?”
“I’ve got a villa in the countryside, not far from the city.”
“You aren’t in the thick of it, really? I didn’t know you enjoyed peace and quiet.”
“After five thousand years, one grows to appreciate such things.”
“I suppose so.” Aziraphale drained his cup. “It’s going to be dark soon. Should we take our leave?”
Neither of them had particularly much to fear from the darkness, but it wasn’t customary for people to walk about late at night. Not people who presented themselves with such propriety, anyway.
“Care to walk with me?” Crowley asked, standing.
Aziraphale stood and followed him.
They walked until they reached the inn where Aziraphale had let a room. Crowley doubted he slept, but he had to go somewhere at night.
Aziraphale didn’t seem to be in a hurry to go inside, though. He looked up at the sky, where stars were just becoming visible in the purple firmament.
“It’s beautiful here, isn’t it?” Crowley’s gaze swept across the sky, picking out the stars he’d built himself.
“Yes. I love evenings like this. Have you been to China?”
“I was there not long ago, and they have this new thing called a firework.”
“Do they now?”
“It’s incredible. They send small slivers of light up high into the sky, where they explode in a burst of color, shining brighter than the stars.” He looked as if he were remembering watching it, his expression one of wonder. “Isn’t it marvelous, what humans have thought up?”
“It is.” On this point, they agreed wholeheartedly. “Sometimes I think they’ll create better things than we ever did.”
“With the right guidance, of course. Left to their own devices completely, they’d probably just destroy themselves.”
Crowley frowned: it was a sobering thought, even for a demon.
“I will try to stay out of your way while you’re here, Angel, but if you need to find me, take the narrow road to the right just after you cross the river, over the hill. There’s a path through the vineyard leading up to the house.”
Aziraphale turned to look at him. His eyes sparkled in the dim light, and his pale skin faintly glowed. He was beautiful, even more than Crowley remembered.
“I shall keep it in mind,” Aziraphale replied, voice soft.
Crowley hesitated, the words will you come if I ask? pooling behind his tongue. He knew what the answer would be, though. He could see it already in the slight strain at the corner of Aziraphale’s eyes, as if he didn’t want to go inside yet, but also knew he shouldn’t stay, lest someone spot them together, alone.
Aziraphale took a step toward him. “Crowley—”
A group of drunken young men rounded the corner, laughing and singing, and walked right into them.
“S-s-sorry!” one said, turning back and holding his arms out wide. He was young indeed, dressed in that manner all sons of the local nobles did, with enough flair to make it clear they wanted you to notice, but not so much as to be ostentatious.
“Signor Crowley!” another called. He staggered back to where Crowley was standing.
Ah — of course. Crowley’d spent an afternoon with this one’s father not so long ago, while the boy looked bored out of his mind in the chair next to him.
“Alfonso, isn’t it?”
“It is!” The boy leaned in, apparently intending to kiss his cheek in greeting, but instead staggered into Crowley’s chest with a peal of laughter.
“Oh dear,” Aziraphale said, and stepped in to help him back to his feet.
“Yes, thank you,” the boy replied while his friends laughed and called for him to come along. “G’night Signor Crowley! G’night Signor Crowley’s friend!”
Crowley cast a sideways glance at Aziraphale, who seemed to be trying very hard not to laugh. The boys continued on, singing loudly once more.
“You seem to have made a few friends during your time here,” Aziraphale remarked.
“Yes, I suppose I have.”
They stared at each other for a long, awkward moment.
“So I don’t suppose—” Crowley began, just as Aziraphale said, “It was good to see you again.”
Right. Crowley took a deep breath, one he didn’t need, but that gave him an excuse to settle into his sudden, unreasonable disappointment.
“And you as well.”
Aziraphale held out a hand. Crowley raised an eyebrow, smiling. “If you’re going to be here for any length of time, you should learn the proper way for friends to bid each other goodbye.”
“We’re not friends,” Aziraphale said, frowning slightly.
“Yes, we are, and that’s not the point.” Crowley gave him a long look, and Aziraphale sighed.
“All right, fine. Educate me.”
Why the hell he was doing this, Crowley had no clue. He hesitated a moment more, but Aziraphale continued to stand there, waiting, so he leaned in to kiss Aziraphale’s cheek. He went to the left, but Aziraphale must have gone to the right, because the next thing Crowley knew, their lips were pressed together. Crowley didn’t move, didn’t breathe, didn’t dare do any of things he suddenly wanted to.
“Oh!” Aziraphale said, stepping back quickly. “I’m sorry, I—”
“No, it’s fine,” Crowley said, though it was anything but. He forced a smile. “Let’s try again. Go to the left this time.”
Aziraphale nodded, and Crowley leaned in once again. His lips met Aziraphale’s cheek this time, against skin so much softer than he’d expected. He heard a small intake of breath, then felt lips gently brush his own cheek in return. Time slowed, both of them existing in that moment where their faces touched and warm breath stirred the other’s skin.
It was not at all like kissing a friend, Crowley realized.
Aziraphale stepped back, cheeks pinker now than Crowley had ever seen them. “Well, that was… most informative. I shall keep it in mind.”
“Just remember to go left.”
“I will, yes. Sorry for the…” He gestured at his own mouth.
Crowley couldn’t help smirking, just a little. “Don’t tell me you’d never kissed anyone on the mouth before that.”
Aziraphale went from flustered to indignant in the space of a second. “That’s none of your business.”
“Of course not.”
“I’m sure it wasn’t the first time you ever…” Aziraphale seemed to think better of it. “Well. I should go up. So much to do, you know.” He took another step back, towards the door of the inn.
“Good night, Angel.” Crowley touched the brim of his hat, then turned and walked away before he could do or say anything else he would undoubtedly regret for the next century.
Even though it had been unintentional, now he’d always know what Aziraphale’s lips felt like pressed against his own. He could’ve gone another thousand years without that knowledge weighing him down.
A month-long nap was starting to sound very appealing.
Chapter 3: Paris, 1850
3. Paris, 1850
Aziraphale hadn’t intended to walk into a brothel. Honestly, it had been a lovely little cafe last time he’d been here, with the most delicate and flavorful crepes in the city.
“Hello, my love,” a young woman said, wrapping her arms around him nearly the moment he’d closed the door behind him. Her eyes were glassy, her cheeks tinted with far too much rouge, and despite her youth, she was missing quite a few teeth. “Fancy anything special tonight?”
“Oh, dear, no,” he replied, a bit more hastily than he’d intended. “Just looking for someone.”
“Well, you found someone.” She leaned in to nuzzle his neck.
“Someone else, actually.” He stepped away, holding her at arm’s length. At her look of shock, he added, “Apologies, my dear. I’m afraid I’m not interested in what you’re offering.”
She gave him a shrewd look, then shrugged. “If it’s a bit of the other sort you’d prefer, that’s down the alleyway, to the left.” She turned away, tossing a braid over her shoulder.
Yes, definitely a brothel. The red lamp outside ought to have tipped him off, but he was thinking with his stomach, as usual.
Still, there was something familiar about the place, a feeling that tugged at the very center of his being, almost like desperation. He might have business here after all.
The room was dimly-lit and smelled stale, as though the windows were rarely opened. The clientele were mostly drunk and subdued, which was probably best for the scantily-clad women draped over their laps. Aziraphale headed to the bar on the far wall.
“A brandy, please.”
The barman gave him a dubious look, but poured the drink anyway.
He leaned against the bar and studied the scene around him, still trying to sort out what it was he was feeling here. It wasn’t quite desperation, now that he thought about it. More like frustration. He didn’t usually find himself drawn to such negative emotions, preferring to lean toward feelings of love and spiritual longing. Perhaps he’d been led here tonight by something other than a craving for sweets after all.
The feeling grew and faded over the next ten minutes, then disappeared entirely. Perhaps it was nothing. He should finish his brandy and go, though maybe he’d cast some sort of blessing on the place first, a protection for the women who worked here. He took another sip, watching a girl who seemed terribly young struggle on the lap of a beastly-looking man across the room. A little push, and the man passed out cold in his chair. The girl stared down at him for a few seconds, then carefully climbed off him, looking relieved.
“Cognac,” said a voice to Aziraphale’s left, low and demanding, and vaguely familiar. He turned to see a woman staring down the barman. Her long auburn hair was mussed and her skimpy satin gown was torn. Irritation rolled off her in waves. She didn’t cast so much as a sidelong glance toward where Aziraphale stood.
“You planning on paying your tab this time?” the barman replied.
She glared at him, then slammed her hand flat down on the wooden surface of the bar. The barman rolled his eyes, but when she pulled her hand away, a gold coin remained.
The barman took it and poured her a drink.
“Thanksss,” she said, and turned to gaze across the darkened room.
Aziraphale gasped. “Crowley?”
The woman looked shocked for a brief moment before a sly smile spread over her face. She picked up her drink and walked toward him, hips swinging as she did, head tilted and fingers wrapped delicately around her glass. The closer she drew, the clearer her identity became. Her eyes gave her away, for one thing, but the way Crowley moved was as familiar to Aziraphale as the books in his London shop.
She leaned in close to him and took a sip of her drink. “Angel, what are you doing here?”
“I was hungry,” Aziraphale replied. At Crowley’s raised eyebrow, he snorted. “Oh, honestly, nothing like that. I mistook this for a cafe.”
“Of course. Because that happens all the time.” Crowley turned at the sound of a raised voice nearby, and Aziraphale saw the dark bloom of a bruise on her cheek. He reached out to touch it, and she caught his hand, pushed it away.
“My dear, what the hell have you got yourself into?”
Crowley’s smile was feral. “Don’t worry. He paid well for it, in more ways than one.”
Aziraphale wasn’t sure what to say to that. It was hardly his business how Crowley went about his — er, her work. Still, it was more than a bit shocking to see her like this, to know what she’d just got up to in a grungy bed, in the name of tempting a human. He could smell it all over her, the scent of sweat mingling with something stronger, almost rancid. He felt an odd impulse to miracle it all away.
“Aren’t you sweet?” Crowley drawled, red-painted lips curling around the words. “So concerned for my well-being.”
“I’m concerned for the well-being of everyone in this establishment.” Aziraphale gazed out over the room, but no one seemed to be paying the two of them any attention. “You’re not typically this” —he gestured at her torso— “shapely as a woman, are you?”
“Not usually, no.” Crowley ran a hand over the swell of her breast, down to flat plane of her stomach. “But I like this form. It’s deceptively strong. And it weakens men, which makes this part of the job very easy.”
“Weakens them, really?” Aziraphale took a good look. Crowley was shorter now than she typically was when in human female form, with a tiny waist and plump breasts. Her hair cascaded over her shoulders, long enough nearly to reach her navel. Her eyes looked more hazel than snake-like in the dim light. Her clients were probably too drunk to notice their precise nature anyway.
“You’re staring at my tits.”
“Well, they’re very ample, aren’t they?” He’d never taken more than an aesthetic interest in the female form, and Crowley knew it.
“I’m not sure they’re worth the trouble, though. They get in the way, for one thing. I had a hell of a time finding a gown that fit over them. Still, they provide a good distraction.”
“I’m sure.” Aziraphale took another sip of brandy. “I don’t mean to pry, but I felt drawn to this place, as if someone was in trouble.”
“Everyone here has more trouble than they deserve.” Crowley looked away.
Aziraphale hesitated. That was true, of course, but the fact that Crowley seemed displeased by the level of misery around them was a surprise. “I rather had the impression it was you who was in trouble.”
Crowley turned toward him, her face twisted into an indignant scowl, but before she could say a word, she was caught by the arm and whirled around by a large man. He wore a half-buttoned-up military uniform and appeared to be extremely drunk.
“There you are,” he grunted, and pulled her against him. One large hand slid down to grab a handful of Crowley’s arse, bunching the fine fabric of the tattered slip she wore. “Wasn’t done with you yet.”
“I was done,” Crowley said, and pushed him away with what should have been an impossible amount of force. “You got what you wanted, and now it’s time for you to go.”
The man went stock-still, his eyes glassy and expression flat. “It’s time for me to go,” he repeated.
“Remember what we discussed,” Crowley added, her voice sickly sweet.
“About the President and how he should—”
“Hussssh, now, darling. That is our little sssecret.” She reached out and gave the man a small shove in the sternum. “Time to leave now.”
“Time to leave now. Bonne nuit, mademoiselle.” He doffed his cap and stumbled toward the door.
Crowley watched him, then shuddered slightly. “That’s over, then.”
The man’s stench still filled the air around them. Aziraphale waved his hand in front of his face. “I do hope it was worth it.”
Crowley snorted. “Careful what you wish for, Angel.”
“Anything I ought to be warned about?”
“No. Not yet, anyway. We’ll have to see if he follows through.”
“Hello, sweet thing.” A man had appeared behind Crowley, and from the expression on Crowley’s face, had put his hands in a very unwelcome spot.
Crowley’s eyes went full snake, the whites disappearing completely.
“Oh dear,” Aziraphale said, reaching for Crowley and pulling her away from the man. “I’m afraid this one’s mine for the night.”
The man laughed, swaying on his feet. “You’re in the wrong cathouse, foreigner. Boys are for sale just down the street.” He reached for Crowley again.
Aziraphale didn’t even pause to think about it; he tucked Crowley into his side with one protective arm around her, and glared at the man. “I said, this one is mine.” His voice was permeated with more than a touch of the wrath of Heaven, and though he didn’t know it, he began to glow just a bit.
The entire place went still and quiet, and every eye turned to look at them.
“Oh, I am definitely yours,” Crowley purred, wrapping her arms around Aziraphale’s neck. She smiled serenely, then pulled him down into a kiss. It wasn’t a chaste kiss by any stretch of the imagination; it was exactly the sort of kiss one would expect to see in a brothel. It was the sort of kiss Aziraphale hadn’t expected he’d ever experience, least of all from Crowley, who tasted like cognac and smelled like fire. Aziraphale actually forgot where he was for one long, glorious moment.
Catcalls erupted around them, and when they pulled apart, the man had wandered back into the shadows. Everyone else had gone back to their business, as if this sort of thing happened all the time.
Crowley reached up to wipe her thumb across Aziraphale’s mouth. “Made a mess of you, didn’t I? But it worked.”
Aziraphale stared at her for a full second, then forced himself to look away. “Might’ve warned me first.”
“No time. I thought your wings were going to pop out for a moment there. Then we’d really have had a mess on our hands.”
Aziraphale’s jaw clenched. It was true; he’d almost lost control, and for what? To protect a demon, who’d been here tonight putting into motion some hellish plan, and who was entirely capable of taking care of herself. What had he been thinking?
“I never knew you had it in you, Angel.” Crowley looked inordinately pleased about the whole thing, which was almost never good. “We should leave together so it looks like you’re taking me home with you.”
Aziraphale glanced down at her. “Dressed like that?”
“A nice warm coat in my size is waiting by the door.” She raised her eyebrows.
“Ah. Yes, of course.”
Aziraphale helped her into the coat, though she hardly needed assistance. It was another of those odd things humans did where women were concerned. She fastened up the coat, then went on her toes to give him a soft, lingering kiss.
“Got to make it look good,” she whispered at Aziraphale’s slight startle.
“All right,” he said, and kissed her again, properly. Her mouth opened easily under his, and he slid an arm around her waist, pulling her tightly against him. Her eyes were dilated when they pulled apart.
“You’re full of surprises, aren’t you?” She grinned up at him, then continued at a volume intended to carry, “I’m all yours, Monsieur.” She looped an arm through his and let him lead her out the door.
They walked quietly along the dark street for a while. When Aziraphale turned to look at Crowley again, she was dressed elegantly, her hair swept up from her face. The bruise was gone, as was the garish makeup. The sigil below her ear had returned, curling serpent-like on her skin. He had a wild impulse to lick it.
He shoved that right back down where it had come from.
“Are you all right?”
“Of course.” Crowley’s lips twisted into a smile. “Temptation accomplished. That’s another good report for me, and they’ll likely stay off my back for a few months.”
Aziraphale could relate. “So where will you go now?”
“I’m not sure. I’m rather enjoying this form. I may want to take it for a spin somewhere a bit warmer.” She looked up at Aziraphale. “I hear the Greek islands are lovely this time of year.”
“I imagine so.”
“I don’t suppose—”
“No,” Aziraphale said, and stopped, turned to face her. “I’ve work to do, in London. I can’t… well, I appreciate the offer, of course.”
“What offer?” Crowley smirked. “I was going to ask if you knew of any good inns, preferably with a view of the sea.”
Aziraphale felt his cheeks warm. Of course Crowley hadn’t been offering… that. Goodness, it was just a few kisses, after all. It had been a convenient way to get out of a sticky situation, and nothing more.
He managed a casual shrug. “I honestly couldn’t say. I haven’t been there in a century.”
“Ah well. I’ll manage.” Crowley took a step back, hands clasped primly in front of her. “I’m off, then. See you around?”
“I’ll look forward to it.”
Crowley smiled. “Yes, I imagine you will.”
There was a loud noise down the street. Aziraphale turned to look, and when he turned back, Crowley was gone.
Demons, honestly. So dramatic.
Aziraphale pressed his fingers to his lips and sighed. Best to put this evening out of mind for a long, long time.
Chapter 4: Chicago, 1925
4. Chicago, 1925
Crowley walked along the pavement at a steady pace, not so briskly as to draw unwanted attention, but also not so slowly as to get in anyone’s way. He glanced around him before taking a quick left into an alley.
The door he stopped in front of was completely ordinary: peeling paint, a rusty brass knocker, and no street number to be seen. Crowley ignored the knocker and used his knuckles instead, four staccato raps.
There was a pause of nearly 30 seconds before the door opened just enough for a woman to peer out at him. Her gray hair was pulled into a bun on top of her head. She wore the sort of faded house dress common to women her age.
“Whaddya want?” she asked, staring at him suspiciously.
“Delivery for Gamino.” Crowley replied, flattening out his voice to match the local accent.
She looked him up and down, then stepped back, opening the door wide enough for him to pass through. He stepped forward into a very ordinary-looking sitting room. A basket of movie magazines sat next to a pair of threadbare arm chairs. A tinny tune came from the wireless on a far table. A old teapot next to it held a bouquet of wilted flowers, the only spot of color in the room.
The woman settled into one of the chairs with a grunt, then picked up a magazine with a glossy photo of Rudolph Valentino on the cover. She leafed slowly through the pages, then nodded her head toward the back of the room. “Through the kitchen.”
He tipped his hat and walked through the doorway. There was indeed a kitchen on the other side, but just past the icebox another door was open, revealing a stairway leading down to what must be the cellar. Faint music and voices drifted up, curling around Crowley’s ears. He headed down the stairs.
There was another door at the bottom, so he knocked again, the same as before. A small window in the door slid open, revealing a pair of wizened, tough-looking eyes. Music and cigarette smoke poured through the gap.
The eyes stared at him, waiting.
“Delivery for Gamino,” Crowley said once again. The man nodded. The window slid shut and the door opened. There was a second man seated on a chair in the corner, lighting a cigarette. Propped against the wall next to him was a submachine gun.
“Two bits,” the man said. “Cover charge.”
Crowley fished a coin from his pocket and handed it over.
“And I gotta frisk ya. No weapons allowed.”
“Understandable.” Crowley held his arms out to the sides. The smoking man barely paid them any attention, as if he thought Crowley posed very little threat.
“A’right, yer good.” The man opened yet another door and nodded for Crowley to walk through. Crowley nodded his thanks.
The room was smoky, dimly lit, and crowded with at least fifty people, all dressed in fine clothes with drinks in hand. A band played on a small stage in the corner, but the center of attention was the bar, which took up an entire wall. Three bartenders worked furiously behind it, while two other men carried trays of glasses back and forth from what appeared to be a storeroom. Crowley straightened his tie and headed for a barstool that had just —unexpectedly, for anyone who might have been watching— been vacated. He settled in and waited his turn with the bartender.
He ordered a sidecar, then turned to look around the room. A handful of evergreen boughs and colorful electric lights were hung here and there, distracting from the dark, dank walls. Thick electrical cords were strung across the ceiling, from which hung makeshift light fixtures. There were no windows anywhere, so the air was thick and stale with smoke. There were rooms in Hell better decorated than this, but Crowley supposed the humans weren’t so picky these days.
These humans all seemed to be having a very good time, all things considered. The mood was festive, the alcohol flowed freely, and the lively music had everyone’s feet tapping. It was a different world down here than it was in the streets above. Fascinating, really.
“I’d like another gin fizz, please,” someone said nearby. “And a bit more gin this time, if you wouldn’t mind?”
“You’ve got to be shitting me,” Crowley mumbled as he turned to look. Sure enough, Aziraphale leaned against the bar just a few feet away, chatting amiably with the bartender. He was dressed in his usual manner, wearing a bespoke cream-colored suit that looked out of date to everyone but him. His hair was neatly slicked back from his face, though, a single concession to the times.
Crowley’s drink appeared at his elbow. He handed the bartender a few coins, waving off the change, and fixed his gaze on Aziraphale.
The angel began fidgeting in the midst of his conversation, as if he were feeling an itch in an unreachable spot. After nearly a minute of this, he frowned and turned to look around the room. His eyes widened when he finally spotted Crowley, his mouth forming a perfect little ‘O’ of surprise.
Crowley raised his glass in greeting, not daring to expect anything more, but Aziraphale picked up his drink and crossed the short distance between them.
“Crowley, is it really you? It’s been… oh dear, two years?”
“Three.” Not that Crowley was counting. “How have you been?”
“Oh! Very well, thank you. Cheers.” He raised his glass and clinked it against Crowley’s. “It’s a pleasure to see you again. Happy Christmas.”
Crowley frowned. “Is it?”
“Yes! Tomorrow’s Christmas Eve, actually. That’s why I’m here.”
“Christmas is why you’re in a speakeasy in Chicago?”
Aziraphale laughed easily, as one does when they’ve been drinking for a while. “I’m in a speakeasy because there are no other places to get a drink, and I’m in Chicago because this is what I do at Christmas.”
“You spend Christmas in Chicago?”
“No!” Aziraphale huffed, as if he were honestly surprised at Crowley’s ignorance of his holiday plans. “Every year at Christmas, I choose a place to travel to where it seems my help is needed. Then I look for people who need help and… help them.”
“Christmas miracles, eh? How sweet.”
Aziraphale beamed. “I suppose it is. I used to go from Christmas Eve straight through to Ascension Day, but Above started getting snippy about it. Said I was overdoing it. So now I restrict myself to just these few days.”
Crowley took a drink to keep himself from saying what he really thought of Heaven’s policy on that.
“The troubles here keep making the papers, so it seemed a good year to come visit.” Aziraphale paused and looked sharply up at Crowley. “You haven’t had anything to do with it, have you?”
“With Al Capone and his lot?” Crowley shook his head. “No, they’ve done that all on their own. I’ve been watching the situation for a while, and Head Office finally asked about it. I thought I’d come take a look.”
“And take some of the credit?” Aziraphale gave him a judgmental look over the rim of his glass.
Crowley shrugged. “Won’t make a difference to the humans if I do, and it saves me the trouble of causing actual mischief.”
Aziraphale looked thoughtful at that.
The band’s tune shifted from a lively number to a slower one, and the floor was suddenly filled with dancing couples.
“So when do you start your miracling?”
“Tonight. I may even start with some of the people here.” He gazed out at the dancing couples, then leaned closer to Crowley. “See the couple there, the woman in the yellow dress? They’ve been trying to have a baby for years, with no success. But tonight will be a lucky one for them.”
Crowley gaped at him. “You can actually do that? Make her pregnant?”
“Well, not me personally, of course! I can put the suggestion of romance in their heads and insure everything else will be ready. They’ll still have to pull the trigger, as it were.”
“And if they don’t follow through?”
Aziraphale appeared to concentrate, gazing at them for several seconds. He suddenly blushed and looked away. “I’m fairly certain they will.”
Crowley turned to look: the couple were pressed tightly against each other now, and kissing in a way that was generally considered indecent in public. He frowned. “I think you overdid it.”
“Oh dear. I might have done.”
“Look, they’re leaving. Ah — no, they’re heading for the toilet.”
“Yes, well.” Aziraphale coughed. “It’s not as if a bed is required for these things.”
Crowley had the misfortune of having just taken a sip of his drink. He sputtered, wincing at the burn of cheap alcohol going into places it shouldn’t. “Angel, you shock me.”
“Apologies, my dear.” Aziraphale smirked and turned to signal the bartender. “Though I think you like it.”
Satan help him, he did like it. There was something about Aziraphale being even the slightest bit wicked that made his head spin with thoughts he’d never admit to, even under torture.
Aziraphale turned back with a fresh round of drinks. “See the man over there, the one in the pinstripe suit with the mustache? Unbeknownst to him and several hundred others in the vicinity, the factory he works for was planning to close its doors before the New Year. But that won’t happen now.” He looked very pleased with himself.
“So he’ll continue to have money to spend in illegal bars!” Crowley replied, with exaggerated enthusiasm. “Well done, you.”
Aziraphale rolled his eyes, but took a rather large sip of his own illegal drink.
“You know what we should do tonight?” Crowley said with a conspiratorial grin.
“I haven’t the faintest.”
“We should get absolutely plastered and give everyone in this place a Christmas miracle.”
Aziraphale stared at him. “How drunk are you?”
“I’m serious, Angel. Any miracle either of us performs will have positive and negative effects we can’t possibly predict. Why not give them all something and see how it pans out?”
“That’s… no, that’s not the idea at all.”
“Oh, come off it. Your miracle baby over there could grow up to be a serial killer. That factory you’re saving could be dumping poisonous chemicals in the river even as we speak.” He tapped his finger against Aziraphale’s chest. “You’re giving them what they think they want, but what if what they want isn’t what’s best for them?”
Aziraphale’s expression was somewhere between outraged and crestfallen. “Well, I suppose that could be, but… Oh, for heaven’s sake, we can’t know all possible outcomes of our actions, can we? We can’t let that stop us from doing what we think is right.”
“Exactly.” Crowley grinned. “Humans are predictably unpredictable. Even with the best of intentions and perfectly performed miracles, there’s always the chance they’ll cock it up spectacularly. That’s what makes it fun.”
“Fun,” Aziraphale repeated, frowning. “Right.”
“Cheers,” Crowley said, and downed the rest of his drink. “So, what do you say, Angel? Up for some drunken Christmas miracling?”
Aziraphale sighed and downed the rest of his drink as well. “Heaven help us. Yes, all right.”
They had three more rounds of drinks, then started making their way around the room, selecting people from the crowd. Crowley tried to keep the miracles small at first — enough extra cash to make the rent, the exact card someone needed to win a key hand of poker, and in one case, a connection between two people who fancied each other but were too shy to say anything.
As he moved on, though, the wants became larger, more consuming. One woman was broken-hearted over a lover who’d just left her. A couple were consumed with worry for a very ill child at home. A man dearly wished his mistress’ husband would drop dead of a heart attack.
Crowley paused at that one. He avoided killing people, as a rule. He didn’t mind nudging them do the killing themselves, but it didn’t seem appropriate for a Christmas miracle, did it?
Oh, Hell’s bells, what kind of demon was he? A mere hour with Aziraphale and his personal moral code was flipped upside-down. Fuck this, he thought, and headed to the bar for another drink.
“I think we should move on,” he told Aziraphale two rounds later, slurring his words slightly now. “Find another place to hand out miracles.”
“Yeah, thass… yeah.” Aziraphale was worse off then he was, having had an hour’s head start.
They paused in the flat at the top of the stairs to perform a miracle for the old woman who watched the door (she’d have the pleasure of meeting Rudolph Valentino in person very soon), then headed out onto the street. It was dark now, but the city was lively as people rushed about, finishing their Christmas shopping in the glow of electric streetlights. That made for a number of easy miracles as people found more money in their pockets than expected, or exactly the right gift for a loved one on the nearest shelf.
They wandered by a shanty town, miracling hot meals and warm blankets all around. They blessed entire apartment buildings with heat that would last all winter, without coal or fuel oil. Crowley even miracled a pile of fish heads for an alley overrun with feral cats, to Aziraphale’s amusement.
They ended up in the back of a large department store, watching as children sat on a brightly-costumed Santa’s lap and told him what they wanted for Christmas. Aziraphale was probably blessing their Christmas trees with curly-haired dolls and red fire engines. Crowley, on the other hand, delighted in insuring children would open packages containing toy tommy guns and child-sized fedoras on Christmas morning, to the shock and horror of their parents.
“You’re enjoying this far too much,” Aziraphale said when Crowley snickered for the dozenth time.
“I really am.”
“The store will be closing soon, I think.”
“And I should probably stop before Hell gets suspicious.”
Aziraphale turned to smile at him. “Were you really being that good to them all?”
“Don’t you trust me, Angel?”
“Not even a bit.” Aziraphale looped an arm through Crowley’s, an old habit now. “Shall we?”
They wandered through the store toward the exit, getting distracted a few more times to perform small miracles. It was proving more difficult to turn it off than Crowley had expected, though. There was just so much need everywhere around him, so many people in distress despite the seasonal cheer. It closed in on him, overwhelming in a way he hadn’t felt before, threatening to drag him down. He grimaced, nearly losing his footing in the middle of the lighting department.
“Are you all right?” Aziraphale stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. His blue eyes were full of concern, and the sight of them threw Crowley off-balance even more.
“I’ll be fine. I forgot how much it takes out of you, though.” He winced. “I’ve got an awful headache now.”
“You poor dear. All this doing good isn’t so good for you, is it?” He glanced up, then smiled at Crowley. “Oh, goodness. Do you mind?”
“What are you—” Crowley looked up to see a sprig of mistletoe hanging from an art deco chandelier above their heads. He looked back at Aziraphale. “Are you serious?”
“It’s meant to be good luck,” Aziraphale replied. “And you’ll feel better, I promise.”
He ought to say no and walk away. He could count the kisses he’d shared with Aziraphale on one hand, and each one had left him feeling bereft for months. Years, even — he hadn’t got over Paris for nearly a decade. But Aziraphale smiled up at him now, blue eyes sparkling, and Crowley didn’t dare refuse him. What if it was never offered again?
The store was emptying out. No one was looking. Not that it mattered; it would be easy enough to turn all eyes away from them. He shrugged, trying to look casual, aloof. “All right.”
Aziraphale smiled once more, then went up on his toes and pressed his lips against Crowley’s. It was just a simple, sweet kiss for a moment, nothing more, and then Crowley’s mind went blissfully blank. The clamor of needy beings all around him vanished, the tension of the evening draining away like magic. He sighed against Aziraphale’s mouth, deeply relieved.
Aziraphale pressed in again, lips moving softly against Crowley’s now. Neither of them made a move to deepen it, and Crowley had the feeling it would quickly end if either of them did. He let himself drift in this space where all he felt was Aziraphale’s calming presence around him, his gentle kisses a blessing on his skin, on his soul. He wasn’t sure how much time had passed when Aziraphale finally pulled away, catching Crowley’s bottom lip as he did and sucking on it lightly. Crowley thought he might melt into the floor.
“There,” Aziraphale whispered, and kissed him once more, a coda of something so like affection it made Crowley’s chest ache. “Better?”
He was better. Completely, one hundred percent better, as if all the weight in the world had been lifted from his shoulders.
“Did you just give me a Christmas miracle, Angel?”
Aziraphale bit his lip and shrugged. “Perhaps. Was it what you wanted?”
Crowley carefully clamped down on the thoughts that rose to the surface of his mind. What he wanted was never to be uttered aloud. This was close enough, more than he could hope for, really. He nodded.
“Good.” He tugged Crowley toward the entrance of the store once more, his tone the same as always, as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened at all. As if Crowley’s entire existence hadn’t just been shaken to its core. Again.
Aziraphale chattered on, oblivious to Crowley’s sudden emotional crisis. “I’ve no plans yet for Boxing Day, if you think you’ll still be here? There’s a restaurant I’ve been longing to try, and I wouldn’t mind having company.”
Crowley tried very hard to feel nothing. The cold air outside helped. “If I’m still in town, yes.”
He needed a couple of days to decide if he could bear sitting across from Aziraphale anytime soon, with the memory of that kiss so fresh on his lips. Maybe a few years.
He bid Aziraphale goodbye with a brisk handshake, as per the local custom, then turned his face into the cold wind.
Satan’s massive, hairy balls — what had he done?
Chapter 5: West Berlin, 1987
5. West Berlin, 1987
The tip of Dieter’s tongue poked out of his mouth in concentration. “Don’t move.”
Aziraphale didn’t dare move. The fact that he was trusting the safety of his eyes to someone with quite so much cocaine in his system was one of the stupider things he’d done lately. Lately being in the last week, if he was generous.
“There.” Dieter sat back, grinning. “You look hot.”
Aziraphale picked up the small hand mirror to take a closer look. He’d let Dieter dress him tonight, for starters, then let him style his hair. (How he’d achieved quite that much height with hair product alone was astonishing.) And then Dieter had come at him with black eyeliner. For months now Aziraphale had politely declined Dieter’s many offers to make him look “bangin’.” Tonight Dieter had pulled a puppy dog face so pathetic that Aziraphale had finally given in. He already regretted it.
There were thick black lines drawn around his eyes, giving him an almost cat-like appearance. He supposed it blended well with the ripped jeans (he did not understand why anyone would intentionally destroy a perfectly functional piece of clothing) and tight black t-shirt (he had no idea what a sex pistol was, and was afraid to ask). Aziraphale set the mirror down and forced a smile. “Well… it’s different, isn’t it? Thank you, Dieter.”
Dieter stared longingly at him, then leaned in, clearly angling for a kiss.
“When are we leaving again?” Aziraphale asked, dodging out of the way at the last moment. “If I must spend another moment staring at these bleak concrete walls while fun and frivolity await us, I’ll simply combust.”
“The others went on ahead.” Dieter caressed Aziraphale’s cheek. “There’s no hurry. We can go whenever we like.”
“No time like the present, I always say.” Aziraphale stood and plucked a tattered denim jacket from the back of his chair. It was in only slightly better shape than the jeans.
Dieter climbed to his feet, trying and failing to hide his obvious disappointment. Aziraphale was going to have to have a chat with him very soon about his crush. It wasn’t going to lead anywhere, and the sooner he made Dieter understand that, the better. It was threatening to interfere with his work here, which was the bigger concern. If things didn’t change, Aziraphale would have to find a new accommodation in this already overcrowded city.
“All right,” Dieter said, pulling his own jacket on. It was covered with colorful patches representing the many bands he followed. He picked up the mirror to make sure his own hair still maintained its impressive volume, then nodded toward the door. “Let’s go.”
It was well past dark out, the time of night when Berlin really came to life. No one could bear to stay in their bleak little flats when there was so much to see and hear and do in the city’s bars and cafes. They’d stay out past dawn, when the opening of bar doors caused everyone to wince in the bright morning sunlight, like vampires caught out.
The pace of the nightlife here was brutal, and it had taken Aziraphale some time to adjust to it. Adjust he had, though: he didn’t require sleep, and could drink quite a lot without it slowing him down, to the amazement of his flatmates. He’d even tried cocaine once, but it had just made him sneeze.
Dieter chattered rapidly as they walked, his high really kicking in now. He stuck close to Aziraphale’s side, so close that Aziraphale kept his hand in his pocket lest Dieter try to hold it. They met their flatmates at an open-air cafe for a bite to eat and a fortifying cup of coffee, then headed out to the first bar of the night.
It was one Aziraphale had been to many times before. The interior was gritty and smoky, as so many bars in Berlin tended to be, but not as loud as the live music venues they frequented. This was a place people came to drink and talk, which was much more Aziraphale’s speed.
“You look like you need another drink,” Elke said, settling in Aziraphale’s lap. Her hair was bright blue this week, shaved along one side of her head and styled into spikes everywhere else. “Oooh, who did your eyes?”
“Dieter,” he replied, taking the offered glass. “And thank you.”
“You look hot.” She grinned at him, teasing.
“He said the same.”
“You’ve got to tell him, love. He’s head over heels for you. If you’re not careful you’re going to break his heart.”
Aziraphale groaned. “I’m rubbish at this sort of thing.”
“Your German is getting better, so you can’t pretend not to understand him anymore.” She raised her eyebrows. “Wanna make out?”
“I — of course not!”
“Not with me, silly.” She looked pointedly over his shoulder. “With him.”
“You just criticized me for leading him on!”
“Not Dieter.” She made an exasperated noise and grabbed his chin with one hand, the dozen or so bangles on her wrist jingling as she physically turned his head. “With that one. He’s been giving you the eye ever since you walked in.” She leaned in to whisper in his ear. “He wants a piece of this.” She pinched his arse, giggling.
“Oh, will you stop!” He pushed her off his lap and looked again.
The man was facing away from them, but Aziraphale had to admit he looked very appealing from behind. He was tall and lean, wearing leather trousers that clung to all the right places, and boots of the sort popular among the boys who frequented punk clubs. He wore a sleeveless jacket, presumably to show off his lean, sculpted arms, with studded leather cuffs on both wrists. He was deep in conversation with a woman who had a wild mane of platinum blonde hair and wore the tightest, tiniest dress Aziraphale had ever seen. She put a cigarette to her black-stained lips. The man leaned in with a lit match, and the overhead light caught the shiny leather covering his arse just so.
Aziraphale and Elke made the exact same noise.
“Looks like he’s got someone’s attention already,” Aziraphale said, clearing his throat.
Elke took the glass out of his hands and downed half of it. “That is just unfair.”
Aziraphale was about to make a pithy comment about life not being fair by design, when the man turned around and looked right at him. It was a good thing Elke had taken his drink, because Aziraphale would have dropped it straight to the floor.
“Oh good lord.”
Across the room, Crowley smirked at him.
Aziraphale’s face heated with embarrassment. He’d just been ogling Crowley’s arse, for Heaven’s sake. Not that it was the first time by any means, but he’d done it with an actual bit of lust in his heart, not even knowing who it was. In other words, a sin. A tiny, harmless one in the scheme of things, perhaps, but still. Aziraphale winced.
“He’s coming this way,” Elke hissed. She squeezed Aziraphale’s hand and slipped into the crowd.
Crowley sauntered across the room toward him, turning heads in his wake. The view from the front was just as impressive as the view from behind. So impressive, in fact, that Aziraphale had to force his gaze to stay above the waist. Even Crowley’s hair was a thing of beauty, achieving that rare combination of loft and shine that would make Aziraphale’s flatmates green with envy. Crowley stopped before Aziraphale, practically posing for effect.
Vanity was also a sin, but he was a demon, wasn’t he?
“Crowley,” Aziraphale said in greeting, trying to keep the tone of his voice as flat and unimpressed as possible.
Crowley glanced casually at the man sitting next to Aziraphale at the bar, who rather suddenly realized he needed a toilet. Crowley took his vacated seat, smiling coyly. His eyes were completely hidden behind his customary glasses, but Aziraphale still felt like Crowley was looking right through him.
“What?” Aziraphale asked after a long moment.
“You look hot.”
“Oh, for— I haven’t seen you in nearly a year, and that’s what I get for a hello?”
Crowley turned to signal to the bartender, whose attention it was ordinarily impossible to get. “Two more of these.” He held up his own empty glass. The usually-surly bartender nodded, smiled, and gave Crowley a big thumbs-up.
Aziraphale only barely resisted rolling his eyes.
“Nice to see you too, Angel.”
“Yes, of course I’m pleased to see you. I’m just surprised. What are you doing here?”
“Same as you, I expect. Political turmoil ahead, tensions rising in the streets. Cold War threatening us all.”
“Here to speed up the End Times?”
Crowley snorted. “Hardly. The Soviet Union is doomed to failure. I’m just helping speed things along.”
“Like the riots in East Berlin last week? Was that you?”
Crowley shrugged noncommittally. “Well… I mean, I convinced Bowie to play the concert next to the Wall, and the rest just sort of… happened.”
“That was a good concert,” Aziraphale admitted. He didn’t always appreciate Crowley’s taste in music, but there was definitely something special about that Bowie fellow.
The bartender handed them their drinks, still looking somewhat dazed. Crowley released the poor man with a wave of his fingers. The bartender’s expression fell immediately into its customary scowl, tinged with confusion.
“And you, Angel? What are you doing here?”
“Here to keep people’s spirits up amid the political turmoil, rising tensions, and threatening Cold War.” Aziraphale held up his glass and Crowley met it with his own. “Cheers.”
“Keeping spirits up, are you? Is that why there’s a young man glaring at me as if he’d like to set me on fire?”
“Oh no,” Aziraphale groaned. “Dieter’s one of my flatmates. He’s got a crush, poor thing. I’m afraid I’ve given him the wrong idea.”
“That you’re interested?”
“Worse. That I’m playing hard to get.”
Crowley glanced over at where Dieter was undoubtedly seething, then turned a sly smile back to Aziraphale. “Want to do something about that?”
Aziraphale tried not to let his immediate suspicion show. “What do you suggest?”
Crowley reached for Aziraphale’s hand under the bar and tangled their fingers together. “I’m your ex, come all the way from England to convince you to take me back.”
“My ex?” Aziraphale felt a strange shiver run through him. “Convince me how?”
Crowley leaned in so close Aziraphale could feel warm breath against his lips. “Like this?”
“Oh,” Aziraphale said, and didn’t think, didn’t hesitate to close the gap between them. It had been more than half a century since they’d last kissed properly, and he’d had a lot of time to think about it. Sometimes under rather embarrassing circumstances, but then, he was posing as a young man here, and certain behaviors helped keep up appearances.
This kiss was different than his memory of the last one. Crowley’s lips moved against his slowly, the tip of his tongue grazing Aziraphale’s every second or so, just enough to tease. Aziraphale pushed in, trying to deepen it, but Crowley didn’t let him, kept it on the edge of sensual. Aziraphale whimpered against his lips, and one of Crowley’s hands slid around the back of his neck possessively. They turned toward each other, thighs woven together, and oh, how Aziraphale wanted.
He pulled away, suddenly remembering they were in public, in full view of a bar full of mortals.
“No one cares, Angel.” Crowley’s lips traced along the shell of Aziraphale’s ear, making him draw in a breath. “It’s fucking Berlin.”
“Yes. Right. Of course.” Aziraphale couldn’t remember ever feeling this flustered. His clothes felt overly tight and his… oh dear. His jeans, in particular, had grown rather tight. He shifted uncomfortably.
Crowley snickered, because of course he’d looked down. Of course. “Making an effort, are we? Are you sure you weren’t leading that boy on?”
“We all live in close quarters. I thought it best to blend in.” Aziraphale clenched his jaw, trying to will the thing to behave, but it seemed uninterested in cooperating. “Are these always so difficult to manage?”
“What, cocks? Oh, yeah. At first, anything sets them off. You’ll get the hang of it, though.” Crowley chuckled and kissed just below his ear, his breath damp and warm against Aziraphale’s skin.
Oh, that was not helping the situation.
“I certainly hope so. Just” —he held up his hands— “back off a moment, and maybe it will go away.” Aziraphale looked up at the ceiling, anywhere but at Crowley’s… everything.
“So you were happy to see me, then.”
Aziraphale had walked right into that one. “I suppose I was. A bit.”
Crowley looked down again. “More than a bit, I’d say. What are you packing, seven inches?”
“Oh, for—” Aziraphale swiveled toward the bar and picked up his drink again. Honestly, Crowley was positively evil sometimes. “Did it work?”
“Did what work? Oh!” Crowley paused a moment. “He’s not glaring at me any more. Looks a bit dejected actually.”
Aziraphale winced. “Was that unkind?”
“Possibly. But better than continuing to let him think he had a chance, wasn’t it?”
Aziraphale picked up his drink again, swirling the ice in the glass. He was just so frustrated, with everything, and he hadn’t had a moment to himself in months. If anyone would understand, Crowley would — right? Aziraphale set the glass back down with an audible thunk.
“I know this is terrible of me to say, but I don’t like this place very much. It’s all so bleak and desperate. Everyone’s just living for today, like they think there won’t be a tomorrow. I don’t feel like I’m making a difference at all. I’m probably making it worse.”
“Nooo,” Crowley said, with the same tone one uses to assure a friend their new hairstyle is flattering when it most definitely isn’t. “I’m sure that’s not true. You’re very good at lifting people’s spirits.”
“Not as good as I ought to be. I miss my bookshop, and the wonderful restaurants in London, and—” He took a big sip of his drink, mostly to shut himself up. What sort of angel whinged about things like this?
“Your bookshop is fine. I’ve kept an eye on it, just as I said I would.”
“Thank you.” Aziraphale sighed. “I shouldn’t have come here. I’m making a mess of everything.”
“Then leave,” Crowley said simply.
“I can’t leave.”
Aziraphale huffed. “Crowley, I have an assignment. I can’t just say, no thanks, I’d rather hang about London, eat sushi and drink wine all day.” He felt himself grow misty-eyed at the thought of it.
“You can choose how to go about it, though, can’t you? I don’t see why you have to go undercover like some sort of government spy. You could live in London and pop down here every other day, raise spirits quietly. No need to interact with anyone.”
Aziraphale frowned. He’d always preferred to mix with the people and work close to the ground, as it were, but in this case, perhaps he’d got himself in too deep.
He sighed. “As much as it pains me to admit it, that’s a good idea.”
Crowley gawked at him, apparently rendered speechless.
“I could go home for a small break, at least, and work out a way to support the locals from more of a distance.”
Crowley took a large sip of his drink. “Yes. Of course you could.”
“I’m no good to anyone here if I’m spiritually exhausted.”
“Self care is important.”
Aziraphale took another sip of his drink. The thought of going home, even for just a few days, was a great relief. It would be best to put some space between himself and these mortals anyway.
“I still feel horrible that I hurt poor Dieter.”
“I wouldn’t say that. Look, he’s found a friend.”
Aziraphale turned to see Dieter talking to a young man with short blond hair and a similarly patch-covered denim jacket. Aziraphale didn’t recall ever seeing this young man before, so they must’ve just met. They seemed very taken with one another, considering.
He glanced over at Crowley. “That was very sweet of you.”
“What was?” Crowley replied, feigning innocence. “Your friends seem to be leaving.”
Across the room, several of Aziraphale’s flatmates looked to be readying to move on to the next bar. Changing his approach to this assignment was sounding like a better idea with each passing moment, but not just yet — he should wrap up his loose ends here first. Still, the idea of facing yet another night of drinking and clubbing was almost unbearable.
Aziraphale turned to Crowley. “Want to pretend to be my former ex-boyfriend for the night?”
Crowley hesitated, his expression clouded. “Ahhh—”
“No, never mind. You’ve things to do, I know. I won’t keep you.” Honestly, why had he even asked?
“Angel...” Crowley hesitated, as if working out how best to let Aziraphale down easily. “All right, fine. One bar, then I really do have things to attend to.”
Aziraphale tried very hard not to let on how pleased he was. “One bar. I’ll buy you as many drinks as you want.”
“Good. I’ve done a shitload of coke tonight and need to come back down anyway.”
Aziraphale pushed himself to standing. “How much do you have to take before you feel it?”
Crowley stood and wrapped an arm around him, tucking his fingers into Aziraphale’s back pocket. “You don’t want to know.”
Aziraphale slid his arm around Crowley’s narrow waist. It ought to have felt odd, but it didn’t.
“Your makeup really is fantastic,” Crowley said as they made their way across the bar. “That’s a good look on you.”
“Hush,” Aziraphale said, though he couldn’t help feeling pleased.
“Soooo,” Elke said when they were all out on the street. “Going to introduce us?”
Everyone was looking at them almost gleefully. Even Dieter, with his arm wrapped around the new boy he’d just met, was smiling.
“This is Crowley,” Aziraphale said, leaning into him a little. He hesitated, then looked up at him. “My former ex-boyfriend, visiting from England.”
“Hello, Crowley,” they all said in English, grinning at him.
“Hullo,” Crowley replied, grinning right back. “Where to, kids? As long as the music’s loud and there’s plenty to drink, I’m up for anything.”
Aziraphale made an exasperated noise, but he couldn’t help smiling. He was probably going to regret this, but maybe it would be okay to pretend, just for tonight.
Chapter 6: London, 10 days ago
Note the rating changes to Explicit for this chapter.
London, 10 days ago
Crowley parked the Bentley in the spot that always popped into existence when he pulled up to the bookshop. He stroked a hand over the car’s bonnet before walking away, still amazed she was so fully restored. She preened a bit under his touch, as if she were as pleased as he was. He glanced up at the sky as he walked down the pavement. Dark clouds threatened overhead, but rain knew better than to touch his car.
The bookshop’s sign was flipped to ‘closed’ and the interior was dark. He touched the door handle, but the door didn’t budge. He took a step back and glared at it. After a moment, the door shuddered open apologetically.
“Honestly,” he muttered. He locked the door again behind him and picked his way through the darkened shop. “Angel?”
He found Aziraphale in an armchair in the back, a cup of tea in hand and an open book on his lap.
“I wasn’t expecting you until later.”
Crowley shrugged. “Got bored.”
“The kettle’s still hot.” Aziraphale nodded toward the small kitchen.
“No thanks.” Crowley sat on the squashy sofa and stretched his legs out before him. “Don’t mind me, I’ll just kip here a while.”
“You’re here to sleep on my sofa, again?” Aziraphale sounded amused.
“Yeah. S’damn comfortable.” Crowley yawned. “Wake me when you want dinner.”
The bookshop was his favorite place to nap lately. It was warm and cozy and imbued with Aziraphale’s calming presence. His flat was stark and angular in comparison, and still smelled faintly of dissolved demon. It was so much easier here to close his eyes and drift for a while, letting his mind wander where it wanted.
When he awoke, Aziraphale’s chair was empty. There was a soft patter of rain against the windows, the sound nearly pleasant enough to lull him back to sleep. Curiosity got the better of him, though. He sat up and stretched, then took off his glasses and set them on the sofa table.
Aziraphale was standing in the front room of the shop, staring out the window at the rain. Crowley moved closer, as silently as he could manage.
Ah, no — he wasn’t watching the rain. A young couple stood huddled just outside the window under the eaves, trying to avoid the worst of the downpour. They laughed and pushed wet hair from each other’s faces, then seemed to get lost in each other’s eyes. Crowley had seen this enough to know what would come next.
One leaned in to kiss the other, tentatively, as if it was the first time. They pulled apart, staring at each other with wide eyes, then kissed again, more passionately than before.
Crowley glanced over at Aziraphale, expecting to see him smiling fondly at the young lovers outside. He looked troubled, though, almost sad.
Aziraphale jumped slightly. “Oh! Sorry, I just.” He gestured at the window. “I’d closed the shop, you see. Whenever it rains, people try to come in just to escape it, and they drip everywhere, make a terrible mess. These two tried the door, and I thought they’d go on, but then.”
Crowley nodded his head at the pair, who were snogging furiously now. “Did you do that?”
“No. That’s all them.”
Something wasn’t quite right. Crowley studied him for a moment.
“Does it bother you?”
Aziraphale suddenly looked very interested in the stack of papers on the counter before him. “Of course not, no. They’re obviously in love with each other. That’s what humans do, isn’t it? It’s perfectly natural. Why should it bother me?” He said all of this very quickly.
“I didn’t say it should. I just expected a display of love would make you happy.”
“Why should it make me happy?” Aziraphale replied, with a strange tension in his voice.
“Because you’re an angel. And that’s what angels are all about, isn’t it?”
Aziraphale carefully stacked the papers in his hands, then set them down in the exact same spot they’d been before. “Am I an angel, still? After everything?”
“Of course you are.” Crowley crossed to stand next to him. “Why would you think otherwise?”
“I don’t know.” Aziraphale’s face was turned away from him, but the emotion in his voice was clear. “I’ve felt so lost lately. We helped save the world, but… Sometimes I think I don’t want to be an angel anymore, if it means I must align myself with them. Operate by their rules.”
Crowley sighed and reached up to touch his hand to Aziraphale’s back, where his wings would be if unfurled. “You know I feel the same.”
“Yes, but it’s just Hell you’re giving up. You never had much allegiance to that place to begin with. Heaven, though… I thought our purpose was to bring good into the world. To make people’s lives better, to give them hope for the future. I truly believed, and then—” He shook his head. “I don’t know who I am without that.”
“We’re still who we always were, deep down.” Crowley slid his arm around Aziraphale’s shoulders, pulling him in close. He half-expected Aziraphale to move away, to distance himself from Crowley’s touch, but he didn’t. “I meant it when I said we’re our own side now.”
Aziraphale turned in his arms and looked up at him. “What does that mean, though?”
“I think it means we can make our own choices, good or bad, according to whatever moral code we’ve come around to, after all this time.”
“We?” Aziraphale smiled, just a bit. “Do you really think you and I share a moral code?”
“I think we have more in common with each other than with Heaven or Hell.”
Aziraphale looked skeptical.
“You know that thing humans draw with circles that overlap?”
“A Venn diagram,” Aziraphale said with more than a touch of smugness — just as Crowley had expected he would.
“Exactly.” Crowley drew two overlapping circles in the air with a fingertip, creating lines of sparkling flame. “After all this time, our two circles overlap more than either of us do with Heaven or Hell.” He drew additional circles on each side, making the overlap as tiny as he could.
Aziraphale raised an eyebrow, unimpressed.
“My point is,” Crowley said, waving the drawing away with one hand, “that we have the same free will humans do. We aren’t beholden to anyone but ourselves.”
Aziraphale considered this. “Perhaps. Of course, that means we’ll have to live with the consequences of our actions, just as humans do.”
“Don’t we already?”
Aziraphale turned to look out the window again. “I suppose we do.”
The couple outside were talking now, smiling at each other. Something stirred in Crowley, something he hadn’t let himself think about in a long time.
“Angel,” he began, but the words he wanted to say seemed to stick in his throat. He pressed his lips together, suddenly uncertain. A long moment passed quietly between them.
Aziraphale sighed. “I’ve never told you how much it pleases me when you call me that. I’m sure it’s easier to say than my mouthful of a name, but it also feels like an endearment.”
“It is. It always has been.”
Crowley steeled his nerves, then took a step forward and wrapped his arms around Aziraphale. Aziraphale sighed and leaned back against his chest, like it was the easiest thing in the world. It felt so good to hold him like this, better than Crowley had even imagined. He hooked his chin over Aziraphale’s shoulder and pulled him even closer.
“My dear boy,” Aziraphale said, his voice soft, his gaze still fixed out the window.
“And I’m rather fond of you calling me that, as I’m sure you know.”
Aziraphale let his head fall back against Crowley’s shoulder. He covered one of Crowley’s hands with his own. “Are you trembling?”
“No, of course not.” Fuck, was he? He tried to rein in all the emotions swirling inside him. How did angels manage to stay so calm all the time?
Aziraphale breathed deeply, his chest rising under Crowley’s arms, then exhaled slowly, smoothly. “Crowley… do you love me?”
Something shifted in the air around them, plucked the strings of the atoms between them. Crowley closed his eyes.
He’d known Aziraphale for six thousand years now. They were best friends, of course, but they were more than that. Aziraphale was the only being in the universe Crowley truly trusted. He was the one Crowley thought of when he was lonely and wanted company, the first one Crowley wanted to talk to when something good had happened. Or something bad, for that matter. Working so closely with him these last few years had been — well, for lack of a better word, heavenly. Now they had eternity before them, and he never wanted to be apart from Aziraphale again if he could help it.
He opened his eyes.
“Yes,” he said, sounding surprised even to himself. “I suppose I do.”
“But do you love me like that?” Aziraphale asked, nodding toward the couple outside the window. They were kissing again, softly now, delicately.
“Angel,” Crowley whispered, his lips against Aziraphale’s ear. “Have I not made it clear over the last several hundred years how much I want you?”
“You haven’t,” Aziraphale said, his tone a touch indignant. “Not at all.”
Crowley thought back on all the moments he’d flirted with Aziraphale, teased him relentlessly, then pulled back before he revealed any actual feelings. Maybe he hadn’t been so clear about it after all.
“I never thought I had a chance.”
“Oh, my dear.” Aziraphale turned in his arms and looked up at him, his face so open and hopeful that Crowley stopped breathing altogether. “You most certainly do.”
A diffuse glow was all around them, emanating from Aziraphale. He seemed completely unaware of it.
“See?” Crowley said, gesturing. “Definitely still an angel.”
Aziraphale laughed, a beautiful sound, and then he went up on his toes and kissed Crowley.
It was hardly their first kiss. Crowley remembered every single time their lips had touched, whether by accident or intention. He especially remembered the way each kiss had made him feel, like he wanted to stop time and live forever in that moment where Aziraphale wanted him, even if they were just pretending.
Aziraphale’s mouth opened under his and Crowley lost himself in the slide of their tongues together, the feeling of Aziraphale’s lips moving with his, his body warm against him. Aziraphale’s arms went around him, holding on tightly. Crowley let himself be pulled forward as Aziraphale leaned against the counter, let himself fall into him completely.
“Wait,” Aziraphale said, breathless, and Crowley froze, ready to apologize for the fierceness with with he’d kissed him. Aziraphale’s mouth was reddened and wet, and his eyes were dark, and Crowley realized he wasn’t saying stop at all. Aziraphale pushed the stack of papers off the desk and hopped up on the counter behind him. The papers fluttered to the floor.
“Come here.” He reached for Crowley with both hands, drew him between his spread thighs. Crowley had enough presence of mind to miracle the shades shut on the windows before Aziraphale kissed him again. Hands slid down Crowley’s back, almost to the swell of his arse, then dipped just beneath the waistband of his trousers. Crowley whined into Aziraphale’s mouth: another few minutes of this and it would be undeniably clear what he wanted.
Aziraphale’s thighs tightened around Crowley’s hips, and ah — it was already clear.
“Angel,” he said, meaning it as a warning.
“Yes,” Aziraphale gasped, apparently having interpreted Crowley’s warning as a green flashing light. His hands were already working at the front of Crowley’s trousers.
For a full second, Crowley was certain he was dreaming. He’d had this dream before, actually, and it usually ended with him waking up with sticky sheets and a vague feeling of guilt.
“This all right?” Aziraphale asked, voice dead sexy, his fingers poised at the waistband of Crowley’s pants.
Crowley’s cock was so, so hard, but he wanted — no, he needed to be sure of this, that it wasn’t just an escalation of the game they’d been playing for centuries. “You really want to do this, with me?”
Aziraphale’s hands came up to frame Crowley’s face. “I’ve wanted you for ages, my dear. I didn’t think I’d ever get to have you. All those times you kissed me — you’ve no idea how much I thought about it.”
Crowley touched his forehead to Aziraphale’s. “You never said a word. You never let on at all.”
“I didn’t think it would be allowed, then.”
“Everything is different now.” Aziraphale kissed him again, sinking fingers into Crowley’s hair and licking into his mouth.
Crowley moaned in a way he’d usually find horribly embarrassing. He had absolutely no fucks to give right now though, because this was happening and everyone was sure, and yes please, carry on with the foreplay.
And oh, Aziraphale was good at kissing. Crowley had known this for a long time, had even wanked while thinking about it more times than he could count. It had been a few decades since the last time they’d kissed, though, and he’d forgotten just how perfectly their mouths fit together.
Aziraphale was soft and warm under his hands, and he smelled amazing, tasted better. Crowley had to make this moment last, to mean something beyond fleeting physical pleasure. He slowed the pace of the kiss, drew it out, and Aziraphale followed him, making soft sounds against his lips. Through the physical connection between them, Crowley became aware of something more, something intangible, a sensation that began to build. It was as if they were kissing each other on every plane of existence.
This was going to be so good.
“May I?” Aziraphale asked, his hands tugging at the waistband of Crowley’s pants once again. “I need to touch you, please can I?” He sounded almost frantic with need.
Crowley’s knees threatened to give. “Fuck, yeah, touch me, please.”
Aziraphale’s fingers wrapped around the length of him and stroked like he knew what he was doing. Crowley didn’t even have it in him to be surprised. Aziraphale’s mouth was on his neck now, lips trailing down sensitive skin. Crowley clenched his fingers into Aziraphale’s waistcoat, riding the building sensation that seemed to be everywhere inside him now.
“I feel it too,” Aziraphale said against his throat. His hand was slick, stroking in a way that made Crowley think it was probably how he touched himself, and that thought was enough to make him groan.
“I need,” he said, and reached between them, pressed a hand between Aziraphale’s thighs, not sure what he might find. There was a hard length there, pushing up against his trousers, and Crowley wanted it in his hand fucking yesterday.
“Is it all right?” Aziraphale said, warm face buried in Crowley’s neck. “It’s what I prefer, I suppose, but I didn’t ask what you wanted.”
Crowley kissed his temple. “I want you exactly as you are, just as you want to be, always. Now, may I?”
Aziraphale nodded and kissed him again, and the feeling of connection surged between them.
Crowley didn’t bother with practicalities; he simply opened Aziraphale’s trousers with a thought and took his cock in hand. It was hot and hard against his palm, thick like the rest of him, and Crowley had plans for it — so many plans.
For now, though, he pressed both their lengths together and took over stroking. Aziraphale gasped, mouth open against Crowley’s, looking beautifully overwhelmed. The connection between them bubbled and ebbed, then rose again, like a wave lifting their feet from the ocean floor. Crowley regretted not taking more of their clothes off, but he couldn’t be arsed to do anything about it now. There would be time later for more, for everything.
“Yes, that’s,” Aziraphale said, pressing his forehead against Crowley’s. “Oh, fuck, that’s good.”
Crowley had never heard Aziraphale use that particular word before, and he would’ve pledged his soul to Heaven to hear it again. He caught Aziraphale’s mouth in a filthy kiss, grasping the back of his head with his free hand and holding him there.
Aziraphale whined, fingers digging into Crowley’s hips hard enough to leave bruises. Oh, Crowley hoped there would be bruises.
“I’m—” Aziraphale said before Crowley cut him off again with his tongue, and Aziraphale’s hips arched off the counter. Crowley hadn’t been that close yet, had been focusing his strokes on getting Aziraphale there, but the surge of pleasure and belonging and pure, brilliantly-hued love that sang between their ethereal beings pushed him to climax. They both cried out, clinging to each other. It was unlike anything Crowley had ever felt before.
They came down slowly, foreheads pressed together. Aziraphale got rid of the sticky mess between them with a wave of his hand, then wrapped his arms around Crowley’s shoulders. He was glowing faintly, warm white light pulsing softly from his skin.
“That was,” Crowley said, and couldn’t think of a word to describe it.
“It was.” Aziraphale hummed, then tilted his face up to kiss Crowley softly. “Is it always like that? It’s a wonder humans ever get anything done.”
Crowley shook his head. “That was not human sex, Angel. That was something else altogether.”
“Oh?” Aziraphale smiled. “So there’s no reason for me to be jealous of all the humans you’ve fucked over the millennia?”
Crowley whimpered. “Oh, bless it, say fuck again. I’m begging you.”
Aziraphale smiled wickedly, then leaned in close enough to whisper into Crowley’s ear. “Fuck.”
There was a dirty talk kink to be explored here, but not right now.
“I love you,” Crowley whispered. “So very much.” He suspected Aziraphale had felt exactly how much just a few moments ago when they were connected about as intimately as two ethereal beings can be. (Why had no one ever told him about that? Not that he could —or wanted— to imagine any of the denizens of Hell exploring that particular phenomenon together.)
“Oh, my darling. And I love you.” Aziraphale sighed happily, apparently disinclined to let Crowley out of his arms any time soon.
Crowley didn’t mind at all. After thousands of years of waiting, they had nowhere else to be.
Chapter 7: Epilogue: Hong Kong, 2020
Surprise epilogue, because it didn't quite feel over yet.
Epilogue: Hong Kong, 2020
Well, Kowloon, to be technically correct — Aziraphale loved this hotel with its spectacular view of Victoria Harbour and the city’s skyline just on the other side. Seated at the 30th-floor bar with that expansive view before him, it was hard not to feel a little awestruck by it all, at how much it had changed over the centuries. And humbled by it too — that was something Aziraphale felt more and more these days.
The bartender gestured to his empty glass, her eyebrows raised in question.
“Yes, thank you.”
She brought the bottle over and refilled it, then tapped at the small screen behind the bar, no doubt adding it to his tab.
There was an insistent buzzing sound to his left. Aziraphale turned to look, out of curiosity more than anything.
It was a mobile phone — someone had left it behind. Aziraphale picked it up, intending to hand it to the bartender for safekeeping, but it buzzed in his hand once again. A text message appeared on the screen:
The idea of getting you a mobile phone in the first place was that you’d take it with you when you leave, Angel
Aziraphale blinked. This mobile did look familiar, now that he thought about it. He touched the small button at the bottom and an image appeared: a photo he’d taken of a favorite sculpture in the Vatican Museum. A hand could be seen behind the statue’s head, giving it a pair of rabbit ears.
“Oh my goodness.” Aziraphale turned to look around the bar.
The phone buzzed again: Right behind you, accompanied by a few emojis Aziraphale had come to learn were considered rather vulgar.
Aziraphale swiveled in his seat, trying to school his expression into something other than sheer delight at the sight of Crowley.
It was difficult, as Crowley looked particularly good at the moment. He was dressed as impeccably as always, hair styled perfectly and suit tailored so well it looked like a second skin. His face, though, was what did Aziraphale in. Even with his customary sunglasses in place, his expression was one of barely-constrained happiness. He frequently looked that way now, and always when he looked at Aziraphale.
Aziraphale gave up trying to look cross and grinned at him. “You came all this way to bring my mobile?”
“Yes.” Crowley took the seat that had suddenly appeared next to him at the otherwise crowded bar. He gestured to catch the bartender’s attention. “Angel, we talked about this.”
“I’m sorry, dear. I keep forgetting I have it.”
“The idea was for us to be able to communicate over long distances—”
“Rather than rely on guesswork or miracles, I know.” Aziraphale took a sip of champagne. “Though honestly, if by communication you mean sending photos of yourself in various states of undress—”
“Oh, Hell, that was once. I sent you one dick pic, and you flipped your shit.”
“I opened it in front of a vicar!”
Crowley’s face formed a smirk, and Aziraphale held up a hand.
“I know precisely what you’re thinking, so no need to say it.”
The bartender set a glass of champagne in front of Crowley. “Would you like to start a tab, sir?”
“Put it on mine,” Aziraphale replied, and she nodded.
“And I know,” Crowley said, leaning in conspiratorially, “That you saved that photo into a folder that contains many other photos of me, some of which I wasn’t aware existed until I snooped.”
Aziraphale’s face suddenly felt warm. “Oh?”
“That’s not the only photo of my cock you have, you naughty angel.”
“Crowley, my dear.” Aziraphale reached out to take his hand. “You know how beautiful I find you. Sometimes I want to preserve the memory, that’s all.”
“Please tell me it’s wank material.”
Aziraphale tried his best to seem disapproving. “I’m hardly away from you enough these days to need anything more.” He held up his glass. “Are you just playing delivery boy tonight, or are you here for another reason?”
“Oh, damn. I could’ve shown up at the door of your hotel room with the uniform and everything. Missed opportunity.”
“Honestly, I liked this very much. It was romantic.” Aziraphale squeezed his hand. “Like something out of a film.”
“Did you now?” Crowley looked as if he were making a mental note of it. “No other reason, honestly. I missed you and decided to text you, then realized your mobile was still on the bedside table.”
“Well, thank you for bringing it to me. I’ll try not to forget again.” And he would try, though it was terribly nice to get an unexpected visit from his partner. There were probably more effective ways of arranging such a rendezvous, of course.
“How is it going here?” Crowley asked.
“Very well, actually. The New Year celebrations are underway and people’s spirits are high. I haven’t done much more than observe, really.”
Neither of them had, lately. The world seemed to have fallen into greater and stranger chaos since the not-apocalypse, and they weren’t sure how much or even whether to interfere. Both Heaven and Hell had been quiet lately too, as if everyone was waiting to see how the humans managed without them.
Crowley and Aziraphale both felt this year would be pivotal one way or the other. Elections were terrifying all around.
“So you’re free tonight?” Crowley took a sip from his glass. “Nothing I’m keeping you from?”
“Not a thing. I’ve got a very nice room with a big, comfortable bed and an incredible view.”
“Tell me more about this bed.”
“It’s been terribly empty.” Aziraphale slid fingers up Crowley’s forearm. “Mostly because I don’t sleep at all when you aren’t around to cuddle me into it.”
“Well, I don’t mean to impose, but I did just pop around the world to bring you your mobile, and didn’t make arrangements for anything more.”
“As if I’m going to send you back to London without a proper thank you?” Aziraphale’s hand moved to rest on Crowley’s thigh.
“I also set out the rubbish bins yesterday, just as you asked, and was uncharacteristically nice to all the plants.”
“Is this one of your kinks?” Aziraphale asked, giving him a suspicious look. “You do good deeds so the angel will reward you with sexual favors?”
“No!” Crowley said, flushing adorably. He paused, then looked thoughtful. “Maybe.”
Aziraphale smiled. “You are such a curious creature.”
“You love it,” Crowley replied.
They had a few more rounds, chatting and people-watching as the bar grew more and more crowded.
“There are fireworks tonight,” Aziraphale remarked. “Should be spectacular.”
“I had a rather different sort of fireworks in mind,” Crowley said with a leer.
Aziraphale rolled his eyes. “I walked right into that one, didn’t I?” Crowley’s lewd sense of humor was very predictable. Aziraphale secretly loved it.
“You did, my love.”
Aziraphale turned to look at him, surprised. Crowley was staring out at the sparkling skyline, glass raised to his lips.
Of all the endearments he used for Aziraphale —many of which were not fit for print, let alone anyone else’s ears— that was the first time Crowley had called him that. Aziraphale’s heart soared, in that way poets had written about through the ages, and that he’d always assumed was mostly dramatization.
Crowley turned to look at him. “What?”
“I love you.” Aziraphale was sure his smile was ridiculous, but he couldn’t help it.
“I know.” Crowley downed the rest of his champagne.
People around them began to chatter excitedly and draw closer to the windows. The fireworks were starting.
They had a fantastic view right where they sat; they only needed to turn to look. The fireworks were as spectacular as ever, and went on so long Crowley began fidgeting beside him, his attention span apparently exceeded.
Aziraphale turned, intending to ask him to be a bit more patient, but Crowley wasn’t watching the fireworks at all. He was looking at Aziraphale with such a soft expression that Aziraphale thought he might melt into his seat.
“What is it, dear?”
Crowley took his hand, laced their fingers together. “I was just thinking about how much I want to kiss you right now.”
The fireworks reached a blazing crescendo out over the harbour. Everyone around them had mobile phones out, taking photos and videos. Aziraphale suddenly found he couldn’t care less.
He leaned toward Crowley, and smiled.