Actions

Work Header

Rip It Up and Start Again

Chapter Text

---

The habits of 6,000 years are not broken in a day. Even very big changes often express themselves incrementally. You might call it a “slow burn” effect.

Aziraphale returned to his bookshop at last on Sunday evening, pleasantly full of champagne and buoyed by victory, albeit a victory he couldn’t quite comprehend yet. He had been eager to see the dear place again, and inspect the Richmal Cromptons Crowley mentioned. There were also a full back-issue collection of New Aquarian magazines, and a glass dish of sherbet lemons on the counter beside the till. It was a nice touch.

He had switched on the lamp above his desk, set the needle onto a recording disk of Schubert's Symphony No. 9, and begun to read, starting with “William Goes to the Pictures”.

By the time he finished “William the Lawless”, the sun was peeking through the windows and it was time to open the shop. Aziraphale drew the blinds and flipped the sign to open. It was a beautiful day outside, the sort of particularly golden late August morning that seemed all the brighter for its promise that the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness was on its way, but not yet here. Inside the shop remained dim, a few dust motes dancing in the rare shaft of sunlight that managed to squeeze its way in through the books. It was the way Aziraphale had always liked the place, an antidote to Heaven’s blinding radiance.

A customer wandered in, and then another. The sound of them shuffling quietly amongst the shelves was the usual background noise of Aziraphale’s days, and ought to have been comforting. It was not.

Aziraphale had seen Hell for the first time. He looked anew at the familiar dusty, dingy walls and piles of clutter in his bookshop, the silent shambling customers, and some part of him shuddered faintly in recognition. For a wild moment, he thought of setting it all on fire again himself, and this time watching it burn. Perhaps it was demonic influence. Perhaps it was something left over from wearing Crowley’s skin. Perhaps he only needed a few days to calm himself, to recover.

That would be it, he told himself. Thanks to Adam, everything was back to normal. And that was all Aziraphale wanted, wasn’t it?

So he got on with it. He tidied books, rearranged shelves and swept floors. He found a nice spot to display the Richmal Cromptons.

And on the seventh day, he shut the shop, locked it, and went to see Crowley.

--

“Hello? Crowley? It’s me. Helloo?”

The raw concrete corridor to Crowley’s flat was empty, and dark, and Aziraphale pressed the snake-shaped buzzer again. A shadowy figure could just be made out standing beyond the frosted glass door to Crowley's flat. Aziraphale waved at it.

"Aziraphale?” It sounded like Crowley.

"Yes! I was in the area, I thought I’d drop in. Er."

There was a pause. “Definitely you?”

“Of course it’s me. Why wouldn’t it be me?”

The door opened just a crack, and Aziraphale could hear sniffing. A moment later it swung open, and there stood Crowley, in black shorts and a t-shirt, his hair sleep-rumpled, his sunglasses absent. It was a charming spectacle, in its way, even though he looked far from pleased.

“Oh, you were sleeping!” exclaimed Aziraphale, contrite.

“Awake now, aren’t I,” scoffed Crowley, and turned on his heel, stalking loose-limbed back into the flat. He left the door open in silent invitation, and Aziraphale followed as the demon disappeared into its mysterious depths. Aziraphale waited awkwardly in the first room, unsure exactly how welcome he was. Through the wide picture window, London glowed in the early morning light.

“Your plants look well,” he called.

“They’d better,” muttered Crowley, reappearing an instant later, now fully dressed with his sunglasses in place. There was an extremely small cup of coffee in his hand, and a mug of what looked like cocoa which he held out wordlessly.

Aziraphale took it gratefully. “How kind, thank you.”

The night of the Ineffable Incident, as Aziraphale now referred to it in his mind, he had visited Crowley’s home for the first time. They had sat around the frankly ridiculous marble desk, with Crowley in the gilded chair that looked like a throne, and Aziraphale perched on the smaller one dragged from the side of the room where it now stood against the wall again. This time he dared to sit in the larger chair, in hopes it would be more comfortable. It wasn’t.

Crowley simply stood, holding his coffee, and regarded him with confusion.

“Seems like just the other day we were here working out how to wear each other’s faces,” said Aziraphale. He sipped his cocoa.

“It was,” said Crowley, impatiently. “Angel, is something wrong? Only you’ve literally never dropped in on me in the entire 6,000 years I’ve known you.”

“That can’t be right,” protested Aziraphale, and thought about it. “Even if it is, there’s nothing wrong. We’re friends, aren’t we? You said we were best friends. And I...”

Crowley peered over the sunglasses at him, his eyebrows a question.

“I wondered. Since we find ourselves rather at a loose end.” Aziraphale fiddled with his mug, running a fingertip around the rim. It was time to be brave. “I thought you and I deserved a holiday.”

One peculiarity of Crowley’s corporeal body, even in human form, was how rarely he blinked. He did not blink now, and he was very still. “When a man is tired of London,” he drawled, and left the quote hanging.

“He is tired of life, oh yes, Dr. Johnson! Crowley, my dear, I had no idea you were familiar with his work.”

Crowley shook his head. “Dunno who that is. Saw it on the cover of Time Out last month. Angel, are you serious? A holiday? For… us?”

“Well, why not? It was just a sort of, a sort of whim, I suppose, to go somewhere quieter for a while. A bit of fresh air. Not too far from young Adam, I should like to be able to keep an eye on him. I fancied the South Downs, actually. There must be some village with a decent Bistro or two.” The more he spoke the idea aloud, the better it appealed to him.

Crowley put down his untouched coffee and reached into the back pocket of his trousers, although how it was possible to keep anything in so constrained a space was a mystery to Aziraphale. He took out a slim wireless telephone, nodding vigorously and tapping at it. “Yep, yep, South Downs, don’t see why not. How does one of these grab you?”

He passed the black slab across and showed Aziraphale how to “scroll”, and before his eyes appeared the details of a half dozen cottages in various quaintly-named villages.

“Ohh,” said Aziraphale in astonished delight. He stabbed a finger at the picture at the bottom of the screen, a higgledy-piggledy ramshackle brick building that seemed to have been constructed across at least 3 centuries. “How about that one?”

Chapter Text

---

Paradise Cottage was fully booked for the next fourteen months, so Crowley rang them up and it became free the following day. By the next afternoon the two of them were bowling down the A3, all tolls waived, Aziraphale clutching onto the dashboard for dear life as Freddie Mercury assured them both of his desire to “break free”.

If Crowley’s driving was alarming on the streets of London, then down narrow winding country lanes it could only be ten times more so. Aziraphale could not even close his eyes, for fear of visions of young women on bicycles piling up upon the Bentley’s radiator as they charged ever onward.

“Please, Crowley!” he wailed, as Crowley swung the car violently sideways towards a petrified rabbit. "Do, please, look out! You’ll get us both discorporated, and I don’t even know if we can get new bodies any more!”

“We’ll be fine,” protested Crowley, not slowing down one jot.

The rabbit, miraculously, escaped damage.

By the time they reached the village of Milton, Aziraphale was as utterly convinced of the foolishness of the whole idea as he had ever been of anything, and would have given it all up for tuppence. He thought fondly of his abandoned bookshop and swallowed back a wave of nausea.

A hand landed on his shoulder and patted it gently. “Hey, Angel. We’re here,” said Crowley, leaning in close. “May as well check it out.”

“Oh yes, oh indeed, oh let’s,” said Aziraphale, and hoped he sounded more keen than he felt.

They had taken a screeching left past the Post Office down a lane lined with ancient trees before turning onto an old stone-paved driveway after another mile or two, although it was hard to tell quite how far at Crowley’s speed. The stones led towards a small wrought-iron gate in a beech hedge, and behind it sat the cottage, warm brick glowing in the late Summer sunshine. It looked even more haphazard than it had in the photographs, its roof a geometrist’s nightmare of intersecting slated planes where it had been added on to through the ages. Behind it hills and valleys rolled outwards and away, down and down towards the ocean, too distant to be seen.

The cottage key was located in the secret hatch of a small ceramic frog beside a pot of pansies on the doorstep. It wore the particularly beleaguered expression common to frogs, but then, mused Aziraphale, wouldn’t anyone who had a key in their stomach? Crowley was first in, bouncing up the stairs with more vigour than his usual louche dawdle, then stopping dead on the landing.

“Angel,” he called out, in a strangled-sounding voice. “Aziraphale.”

“What is it, Crowley dear?” replied Aziraphale, wrestling his travelling-case from the Bentley’s boot. It was of a considerable size, given his propensity to wear real clothing, and a struggle to manage. He had owned it since the eighteenth century and couldn’t help feeling that travelling storage had been better accounted for in those days.

“There’s only one bedroom,” yelled Crowley, sounding… was it panicked?

With a faint tearing sound, the case broke free of its confines and landed on Aziraphale’s foot. “Drat,” he said, and then remembered that Heaven was almost certainly not watching. He cast his eyes briefly upwards, then back to the case, noticing the long rip in its tartan cloth side. “Fuck,” he muttered, with considerably more feeling, and dragged the thing indoors.

“Of course there’s a bedroom,” he called back. “You can’t get a cottage without any bedrooms. I thought you’d like it.”

“I know you can’t get a bloody cottage without bloody bedrooms,” said Crowley, leaning down from the top of the stairs, practically levitating with something that did look increasingly like panic. “What I mean is, this cottage has only one bedroom! And in it, is only one bed!”

“What on earth is the matter with you?” huffed Aziraphale, running a hand over the torn cloth of his case and mending it regretfully. It was simply too bad, he’d always know the damage was there now. “It’s all yours, you know I don’t really do sleeping.”

Crowley froze on the spot, very much as if he had indeed forgotten that fact. “Right,” he said slowly. “That’s right. Yup. Sloth being a sin, of course. I’ll, er. I’ll just..?”

“You don’t mind if I use the wardrobes, do you?” asked Aziraphale. He regarded the narrow staircase, and then his overstuffed luggage, with a sinking heart. He would have to unpack in the sitting room and carry his things up in stages, it seemed.

Crowley clicked his fingers and the case vanished. “No problem,” he said. “I’ll go and… I’ll… yeah, something.” He stalked down past Aziraphale and out of the door towards the Bentley, unfathomably disgruntled.

Six thousand years, and yet still Aziraphale found Crowley as impossible to understand as he ever had. Fascinating, wonderful, and always somewhat unexpectedly kind, all of those things, he thought as he gratefully unfolded his clothes from the travelling-case where it had been miraculously transported to the bed, and hung them up in the wardrobe. But unfathomable, just the same. If he was honest with himself, Aziraphale was hoping this holiday might also resolve a few of those ancient mysteries. To what end, he was not yet wholly ready to admit.

His personal articles stowed, Aziraphale closed the doors and was confronted with himself, reflected in the large oval mirror set into the wardrobe’s front. Behind him stood the bed, a mighty creation of dark oak, with crisp white linens and a pink chintz counterpane, resolving itself even as he watched into a much more appealing tartan. The colours came out differently than he had expected; scarlet and a dark, sophisticated charcoal, with highlights of white and gold, but the effect was pleasingly cosy so he let it be. A bunch of dusty polyester roses stood in a jug on the windowsill, and as a final touch Aziraphale made them real. They smelled wonderful and were exactly the same shade as the red in the counterpane. He couldn’t help feeling they set the whole room off beautifully.

Satisfied, Aziraphale wandered happily about the cottage’s remaining rooms, altering very little, really - just a touch more space for bookshelves in the large cupboard that had been optimistically advertised as a “snug”, drying out the damp in the North-facing walls, and ensuring the charming casement windows were also perfectly weatherproof. The place seemed suffused with a calm simplicity, the rooms spacious and airy despite their low beamed ceilings, and largely devoid of artworks or ornaments. Upstairs was no more than the bedroom and a bathroom, in which an extravagant claw-footed bath sat beneath a window half obscured by ivy.

Downstairs lay a sitting room dominated by a fireplace of the sort Aziraphale could remember being used to roast entire pigs, though now a black iron stove sat within it, and wicker baskets of logs took up most of the space to the sides. A single venerable squashy sofa and a tall rocking chair faced one another across the room, with a coffee table between them.

One could reach the aforementioned snug through a very old low door beneath the stairs, and through another door, a kitchen with scrubbed wooden cabinets and white marble worktops. It was large enough to comfortably fit a small dining table, and an extension housed the laundry machinery, not that they were likely to need it. The windows at the rear of the house faced the sun and the whole place seemed flooded with light. Outside an unkempt lawn full of daisies and buttercups stretched out under a small gnarled tree. It was all rather lovely.

He had just put the milk pan on the range for a cup of cocoa and was wondering where Crowley had got to, when Crowley himself returned.

“Dear fellow! Where have you been? Would you like cocoa?”

Crowley was frowning at him, looming in the doorway like an elongated bat, one hand clutching a brown paper bag of what appeared to be liquor. He gestured with it towards the general space about them. “S’this your idea of a joke?” he asked.

“A joke?” repeated Aziraphale weakly, wondering what was the matter this time.

“The tree out there.”

Azriaphale turned to peer out of the window. It was a very nice tree, so far as he could tell, although he’d never really known much about horticulture. Then a very horrible thought struck him.

“Oh no,” he breathed. “It isn’t?”

“Oh yes,” said Crowley. “It very much is.” He took a step forward, setting the bag on the table where it landed with the distinctive ‘clonk’ of glass that confirmed Aziraphale’s suspicions. Arms folded, he regarded the quivering Angel. “You really didn’t do it on purpose? The apple tree in the garden, Paradise Cottage, Milton Village?”

Aziraphale dropped his wooden spoon with a clatter and collapsed into the nearest chair, horrified. “Crowley, you must believe me! I hadn’t the slightest idea!”

Crowley grimaced, rolling his eyes so hard Aziraphale could tell he was doing it even behind his glasses. “The worst bit is I do, I completely believe you. This better not be some new Plan of Hers.” He reached for the bottle once more, unwrapping it with a suspicious frown. “Found the off-licence, at least. Wine selection was atrocious, I warn you, so I asked what sort of thing they could recommend that was local, and got this. Any glasses in this hovel, Angel?”

Tutting, Aziraphale fumbled for a pair of tumblers from the cupboards, and set them down. The bottle was heavy brown glass with a cheaply-printed label reading “Scumble”, and the bottling date had been written by hand in biro. The liquid it produced was an unappetising cloudy yellow and smelled very strongly of apples. Both Aziraphale and Crowley regarded it with trepidation before lifting their glasses.

"To the world?" asked Aziraphale.

"Nah, done that. To new beginnings," said Crowley.

Their gazes met for a long moment.

“Bottoms up, then?” said Aziraphale at last, and Crowley groaned and threw back the entire glassful. Hastily Aziraphale followed suit and both immediately grimaced.

“What on earth is in this stuff?” choked Aziraphale, as Crowley ripped off his sunglasses and glared afresh at the label.

“Apples, it says,” he croaked. “Well, mostly apples. Fucking Heaven, this might be the worst thing I’ve ever tasted.”

The colour inside the bottle darkened slightly, and Crowley refilled both glasses without listening to Aziraphale’s protests. As the afternoon slid into evening the level of the bottle dropped, and far more pleasantly now it had been transformed into a 10 year old Talisker single malt.

It was so nice to truly relax, certain no-one was watching, for the very first time. Without even the waitstaff of the Ritz in earshot, Aziraphale was able to get the full story of Crowley’s trip to Heaven, and if there was some disgruntlement at the discovery that most of Hell had now seen Crowley’s earthly vessel in nothing but his underwear, Aziraphale did explain that he had simply been concerned for Crowley’s lovely suit.

“The socks,” Crowley had wailed. “Why keep the bloody socks on, then? They all think I’m weird, now!”

They moved through to the sitting room, where Crowley lit the stove with a careless click of his fingers, fire being more his department. Aziraphale ventured to loosen his tie and even undid the first button of his waistcoat, rocking back to prop his feet on the coffee table as Crowley claimed the sofa for his own without dispute.

Eventually Crowley started on about whales again, and for once Aziraphale couldn’t help countering. “But what about octopuses, because, you know, actually, if you look into it, octopuses are also jolly clever. Jolly clever, and their brains work completely differently, because they don’t have brains in their skulls… not skulls… their head-bits.”

“Head bits,” repeated Crowley, sniggering into his glass.

“Whatever, I shall call them head-bits if I want to, don’t interrupt you foul fiend, they have brains is what I’m saying, brains! Yes! All over! Completely made of brains, Crowley, no I’m not making it up. Brains and tentacles! Think of that. So really, fuck whales, I’m sorry, but fuck them.”

“Say that again,” said Crowley, leaning forward. He was swaying slightly, though his voice was oddly sober.

“Octopsh,” said Aziraphale, and tried again. “Hocdopushes,” he said, and shook his head. “Brains, Crowley. Full of ‘em! That, that is what I’m saying.”

“And what about whales?”

It took no little effort to focus on Crowley’s face, but it was worth any effort, because Crowley was so terribly, terribly beautiful. Especially now, when he was looking at Aziraphale with such glorious, burning intensity. Such pretty eyes. Very carefully, Aziraphale rehearsed the phrase in his head, so that he could enunciate it clearly.

“Fuck them,” he said.

Crowley stood up so suddenly he banged his head on a ceiling beam. “Ow,” he snarled. “I’m going to bed, see you in the morning, don’t forget to sober up, goodnight.”

Aziraphale watched him go, and felt his stomach drop at the loss. Ridiculush, he told himself. Ridiculous. The bottle was almost empty, so he tidied up the last of it, and went back to the kitchen to make the cocoa he had abandoned that afternoon.

He sat in the kitchen to drink it, looking out at the garden, sobering up as the sky outside grew darker and darker and then slowly light again. He watched as a fox slunk through the undergrowth outside, pausing, one forepaw lifted, to sniff the air, and then a few hours later an owl swept silently through the trees on pale outstretched wings. It was a long time since he’d seen owls, he thought. You used to get a lot more of them, once upon a time.

He hoped Crowley was sleeping well.

Chapter Text

---

The following morning dawned bright and clear, as perfect a late summer’s day as could be imagined. Aziraphale explored the garden, which was rather larger than it had appeared initially, and discovered a narrow, gated lane towards the back. With only a few small nudges it led almost directly to the centre of the village, and the point where it emerged over a narrow stone stile was so tucked away that anyone would struggle to notice it without having found it already, particularly after Aziraphale inched a yew tree just a little to the right to conceal it further. One couldn’t expect to find everything simply on the doorstep, as it was in London, but the walk there and back took barely half an hour; exactly the sort of stroll to give a body the appetite for breakfast afterwards.

He found a Post Office and picked up a copy of the Times, and then after a brief hesitation, another of the Independent. It was sad, but one could never really trust a Murdoch paper, however respectable its original provenance. He ambled back to the cottage and settled himself back down at the kitchen table, dutifully reading every page even if he didn’t take much of it in. There was very little mention of the events that had almost ended the world, and from what he could tell, people seemed unwilling to consider it much more than an inexplicable mass delusion, and the prevailing opinion was that anyone still discussing it must be a mere crackpot.

The stairs creaked with the sound of footsteps, and despite himself, Aziraphale jumped at it. The thought occurred to him: he lived with someone now, officially, even if it mightn’t be for long. He lived with Crowley.

"Our side," mouthed Aziraphale to himself, and felt the words warm him, even if he didn’t quite understand what they meant, yet.

Crowley appeared in the doorway. “There are roses in my bedroom.”

Aziraphale beamed at him over the top of his newspaper. “Oh, yes!” he said, setting it down on the kitchen table and reaching for the stovetop espresso maker, which miraculously boiled at that precise moment. “Do you like them?”

Crowley watched him pour the coffee and push it across the table towards him. He sat down with a sigh.

“Yes,” he said, and drank it. His hair was rumpled again, and it made Aziraphale want to reach out and smooth it down. That would of course have been inappropriate, so he didn’t.

“Did you… sleep well?” asked Aziraphale. It was the sort of question one read about in books, but it still seemed an odd thing to ask.

“Fine, yeah. Good sleep. You should try it.”

“I’m sure I shall at some point,” replied Aziraphale, folding his newspaper neatly, pleased that all seemed to be well. “I was thinking I might have a look around the village, perhaps find somewhere nice for dinner tonight, if you’re amenable?”

Crowley was indeed amenable, or as near as he got to such, so in short order they found themselves wandering down the back lane into Milton. The air held a faint scent of dust and honeysuckle, and the hanging baskets framing almost every door buzzed with fat bees. Postcard-perfect houses of brick and whitewash peeped over ancient hedgerows, and further towards the main street the roads broadened and buildings changed to old grey stone, their windows widening into such a proliferation of local Artists Galleries and Teashops one might have thought them an infestation, reproducing by spores.

It had been almost a week since Aziraphale ate food, and teashops meant cake. Indeed, the first one they entered served over two dozen different sorts of cake, all homemade, and the cheerful lady behind the counter was delighted to enumerate the qualities of every single one.

It also had a back garden, with a handful of outside tables under striped umbrellas, and a pond with some ducks. Nearby to it a group of young mothers sat out for a coffee with their infant children, babies too young to walk and a toddler throwing ricecakes at the ducks with rather more force than aim. Several of the ducks had wisely elected to leave the boy’s immediate vicinity and wander amongst the tables instead, pecking up beetles and crumbs.

Aziraphale gently shooed one away from a wicker chair so he could sit down opposite Crowley, who had taken his coffee and wandered outside somewhere around about the carrot cake. It quacked at him indignantly.

“Battenberg,” announced Aziraphale excitedly, setting down the little plate and taking up a forkful. “Not an easy decision, I can tell you. Still, it’s so rare to find a good one, and I’ve always been a devil for Battenberg. Ah. Er. Well, a something, anyway.”

Crowley was leaning back in his chair, giving him the flat not-quite-smile that meant he was trying to hide his amusement, or at least trying to give the impression that he was. “Is it?” he asked. “Good, I mean.”

Aziraphale chewed thoughtfully, and swallowed, closing his eyes in bliss. The cake was buttery, almondy, moist, but not remotely heavy. A soft moan of pleasure escaped him. “It’s very good,” he said, diving in for another bite. “Oh, my goodness.”

Crowley cleared his throat. “We’ll be coming back here then,” he said, half to himself, and busied himself with his coffee.

“I had a thought,” said Aziraphale, tapping the sides of his mouth delicately with a napkin. “We could go to the seaside. It isn’t far.”

“What for? We just got here.”

Aziraphale paused, fork held in midair. “Well, what do you mean what for? To look at the sea. Eat icecreams. Maybe oysters. Holiday things.”

“Not a fan of oysters,” sniffed Crowley. “Or the sea. Too much water, makes me nervous.”

Aziraphale frowned. “You don’t like oysters?”

“Nope,” said Crowley, popping the final consonant. “Do you remember Petronius?”

“Petronius? Oh, yes, from Rome! Goodness, that’s going back a while.”

“You kept banging on about his oysters, so I went and tried them out.” Crowley grimaced, sticking his tongue out at the memory. “Disgusting. Like salty, chewy mucus. And I swear they were wriggling, do you know they’re still alive when you eat them? Never again. Put me off food entirely.”

“Hmm,” said Aziraphale. “I suppose they are an acquired taste. But what do you mean, entirely? Do you mean to tell me you haven’t eaten food since Rome? That’s absurd!”

“I still drink things,” shrugged Crowley. “Lots of things, actually. Alcohol. Coffee. Well, pretty much just alcohol and coffee now I come to think of it.”

“Oh, and I’m the one who put you off! This is dreadful, Crowley, I feel responsible.”

“Well, to be frank, Angel, I can’t say I fancy the aftermath either. You know. Digestion.” He pulled a face again.

“I never bother with that part. Miracle it all away before anything of that sort can take place,” said Aziraphale airily, waving his fork in the air.

Crowley raised his eyebrows, and turned back to watching the ducks. “No wonder they had a go at you for frivolous miracles.”

Aziraphale looked down at his plate, and the half-eaten Battenberg. It was very good indeed, too good to share really, but there would be other slices. He could go and get more at any time. Carefully, he lifted the next mouthful onto his fork and held it out towards Crowley, his other hand cupped beneath in case it fell. “Have some cake,” he said.

“No,” said Crowley, without moving.

“Go on. I insist.” Aziraphale waggled the fork slightly.

“I’m not eating cake.”

“It’s nice. You ought to try it.” A few feet away the group of mothers had noticed and were beginning to giggle. One of them was attempting a very similar maneuver with a jar of baby food and her child. She winked conspiratorially at Aziraphale.

“I don’t want to try it,” growled Crowley.

“It’s only a tiny bit.”

The conversation continued in like manner for a good few minutes until with a snarl, Crowley lunged forward and ate the cake in an unmistakably snakelike fashion. Aziraphale was slightly relieved to see the fork still intact.

“There, you see!” he said, quietly spearing his own next mouthful. “Wasn’t so hard.”

Crowley chewed like a dog with a toffee, looking bewildered more than anything, and swallowed as if he’d had a golf ball stuffed down his throat. He stood up. “I’ll meet you back at the cottage,” he said, and left, stalking away while Aziraphale’s mouth was too full to object.

Aziraphale finished his cake and purchased some more to take home. He bid a friendly farewell to the group of mothers, unobtrusively blessed their babies and wandered back home in his own time.

On the way he stumbled across a restaurant with a dubious-looking menu and on balance elected to leave booking a table for another day. He also discovered the Tourist Information Office housed a very small branch of the local library, complete with a regularly-meeting poetry group, and even better, that the Post Office sold dog biscuits. He ambled home rather pleased with himself.

--

When he lifted the latch to the cottage gate, Crowley was standing in the garden, talking to the apple tree. It seemed a rather stern conversation, for some reason.

“Hello!” he called, waving, and wandered into the kitchen to find a cake tin. Crowley followed him in, peering over his shoulder as Aziraphale unloaded his shopping.

“What’ve you got?”

“I brought back some more Battenberg,” said Aziraphale, cutting a slice for himself. It was rather a large slice, he realised belatedly, as he put the meagre remainder into a large blue tin, where it looked decidedly small and lonely.

Crowley crossed to the cupboard where glasses were kept, and took down two. From the refrigerator was produced a bottle of sparkling white wine, which he uncorked, pouring both glasses with practiced grace.

“It’s a nice day again, I thought we could drink this in the garden. Saving that bit?” he asked, nodding at the tin.

Aziraphale shook his head. Crowley tucked the bottle under one arm and passed him a drink, carrying his own past the back of Aziraphale’s chair. His long hand reached around to take the last piece of cake.

“Finish it off, then,” he said casually, and wandered back whence he’d come.

Aziraphale blinked for a moment in shock, then scrambled to his feet. “You don’t have a plate!”

“It’s a garden, Angel,” yelled Crowley.

--

There was a small bench at the back of Paradise Cottage that sat dab in the centre of a sunbeam, with blossoming bushes to either side, and a view over largely empty fields and orchards. Crowley was sitting down upon it already, or rather had thrown his limbs against it and resolved them into a position that reasonably approximated sitting.

Aziraphale joined him. He ate neatly and quickly, trying not to stare too much at Crowley beside him, taking tentative bites and chewing with slow thoughtfulness. He wasn’t drinking the champagne, Aziraphale noticed. He had a suspicion Crowley didn’t quite know how to start an ordinary conversation without a bottle of alcohol nearby, which was a very endearing thought.

“You keep plants,” said Aziraphale, tucking his empty plate away under the bench. He sniffed at the one beside him. “Why does this one smell of roses, do you know?”

Crowley snorted derisively. “Because it’s a rose. A briar rose, actually, the wild sort.”

“Oh, I see. It’s very nice. Do you know what the rest of them are?”

With a put-upon sigh, Crowley began to point out the rest of the plants in the garden. The one to the other side of the bench was a hydrangea, and the long purplish one by the hedge was a buddleia, alive with hungry butterflies.

It was very pleasant to listen to him talk, the drawl of his voice unhurried and soothing. He seemed very knowledgeable, but then Crowley often was. His plants back in London were always wonderfully verdant. Astronomy, too, had always been one of his pet subjects, and Technology. None of it stuff that Aziraphale knew one jot about, which made it even more fascinating to listen to. It was hardly surprising when the stars began to appear above them, and Crowley was still talking.

He looked up, and fell silent. The birds had gone to sleep by this hour, and nothing stirred but the gentle susurration of leaves.

“You don’t really see them properly, in London,” said Aziraphale at length.

Crowley hummed.

“Which one is Alpha Centauri?”

“Can’t see it from this hemisphere. Nearest thing would be that one, down there, Albireo, at the head of Cygnus. Not quite the same, still a double star, but I mucked up the gravitational pull so they’re drifting apart. Very slowly, but, well. Not ideal.”

Straining his eyes considerably further than human sight could usually manage, Aziraphale suppressed a brief flicker of anxiety that someone, Upstairs or Down, would notice what he was doing. It was a difficult habit to break, and this was a rather larger use of his abilities than simply rearranging walls or changing the colour of a coverlet, but really, he thought, what was the point of having miraculous powers and not using them? He concentrated, and managed to focus on a pair of stars, impossibly distant in the lightless empty vacuum of space. One was large and golden, the other small and sapphire blue.

The effort involved meant it took him a moment fully process what Crowley had told him.

“I’m sorry, did you say you mucked up? Does that mean you helped Her to make the stars? Is that how you know Alpha Centauri?” he asked, turning suddenly to his companion, still staring up at the sky.

Crowley sipped at his flat champagne, the glass still almost full, and grimaced. Fresh bubbles fizzed miraculously up inside the liquid. “Some of them.”

“You must have been fairly big, then. Someone important.” Aziraphale was doing his best to tread carefully, but he’d been curious about this for a while. He’d seen Crowley stop time, and conjure alternate dimensions. Aziraphale was fairly certain he couldn’t do that sort of thing himself without considerable strain.

“Long time ago.” A sadness washed over Crowley’s expression, his ever-maintained veneer of cool briefly swept away. It squeezed at Aziraphale’s heart, and he suddenly felt terribly guilty for even thinking of asking.

“I mostly did administrative work, before,” he said, conversationally. “Filing names for cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind, you know the sort of thing, terribly dull. Then one day Michael came around asking for volunteers to go downstairs, and I said, ooh, yes please. Raring to go, as they say these days.”

Crowley leaned his head back. “I don’t think they say that these days.”

“Oh. Well, they used to.”

The faintest rustle came from in the undergrowth and the fox’s muzzle peered out from under the buddleia, eyeing them suspiciously.

“Anthony, there you are,” said Aziraphale, and reached into his pocket for the dog biscuits purchased earlier, tossing a few gently out onto the moonlit grass within the animal’s reach.

Crowley frowned. “Anthony?”

Aziraphale smiled as he tucks the biscuits away. “I’m fond of the name.”

“It’s my name.”

“I suppose he reminded me of you,” said Aziraphale, as the golden-eyed, tawny beast slunk cautiously forwards the food, watching them all the while. “In some ways. Besides Anthony isn’t really your name, is it? You’re Crowley.”

Crowley looked back up at the stars. “Wasn’t always.”

The conversation had managed to get away from Aziraphale again. “It’s a good name. And you chose it, as I recall. I like it very much.”

“I did choose it,” conceded Crowley. “Mind you I chose Anthony, too.”

“And J,” added Aziraphale, smiling. “All excellent names.”

“Why thank you, Mr Fell,” said Crowley. “I never asked, what do the A and Z stand for?”

“I don’t know,” admitted Aziraphale. “It never came up. Anthony Z, I suppose?”

“Oh, you don’t want Anthony. Too common these days. Every Tom, Dick, and Anthony’s called… no, wait, that doesn’t work,” said Crowley. He regarded the fox, now crunching greedily through its dinner as if it hadn’t eaten in days. “Not the table manners that reminded you of me.”

Aziraphale laughed aloud at that, and at the memory of Crowley in the teashop gardens. "Did you like the cake? I'm sorry if I forced it on you, my dear."

Crowley pondered. "It was all right. Got a texture, hasn’t it? Not slimy. Not sure it's my scene, really. But, you know. New beginnings."

His shoulders had relaxed, at last, and he leant against the bench almost exactly as if they were back in St James’ Park, except now they had it all to themselves. Just them, and the moon, and the stars, and the soft sound of Anthony the fox still eating dog biscuits. The bench at Paradise Cottage was a touch smaller, too, so that Crowley’s outstretched arm lay almost touching the back of Aziraphale’s neck. Aziraphale shivered, not only from the night’s chill.

Chapter Text

---

If Aziraphale had entertained any concerns about living in one another’s pockets, they proved unfounded. Within the week, their days had found a companionable pattern, with Aziraphale claiming the snug as his own, and Crowley often to be found in the garden outside.

No longer under Heaven’s command, Aziraphale turned to reading once more. He befriended the village’s Librarian, a charming young person with pink hair and a large quantity of tattoos, and ordered in books of Philosophy and Theology that had always intrigued him, but which he had never dared to seek out before. A. J. Ayer gave him a headache almost instantly, while Nietzche seemed impenetrably obtuse, and Jaques Derrida was worst of all. Boethius at least made sense, but most rewarding was G. K. Chesterton, Aziraphale having already guiltily enjoyed most of his crime novels. However, there were a good deal of questions being asked within the covers of any of them, and when his brain began to buzz with confusion, he would take walks about Milton, absently performing a few small miracles as he went.

One morning he returned to find Paradise Cottage had acquired a garage that looked to be quite as old as the house itself, with the Bentley ensconced within, and a large Edwardian-styled greenhouse in the garden. A few days later, the snug became mysteriously as large as the kitchen, and the cottage’s internet listing started to return an error message. He could find no indication that either Upstairs or Downstairs even noticed. There were no more memos to Head Office, no more unexpected visits from Gabriel and Sandalphon. The Summer drifted slowly into Autumn; as he walked, Aziraphale found himself crunching acorns and sycamore keys underfoot, and in the hedgerows blackberries grew fat and delicious. For the most part, it was blissful.

Yet the best of all was the knowledge that Crowley was always nearby. Not so long ago, they could easily have gone several decades between seeing one another, a thought that already seemed too strange to be believed.

The hollow at the centre of Aziraphale’s being that once held his allegiance to Heaven was not so frightening with Crowley there. If anyone understood what it was to be an outcast, it was Crowley, and if he could manage, Aziraphale would find the strength to do the same. Every few hours, when empty loneliness clutched at his soul, he would pause, listening, and somewhere would be the sound of Crowley mumbling to a plant, or whistling Queen songs, or snarling at daytime television. He wasn’t sure quite why Crowley watched it, and Crowley had explained that he used to just keep track of Piers Morgan and report whatever he was doing back to Hell as Crowley’s influence, until eventually watching had become a habit.

There was now a mirrored flatscreen television in the sitting room, and Crowley showed Aziraphale another wireless service that enabled one to watch a huge number of filmed theatrical and operatic performances. In the evenings they would sometimes share the sagging, overstuffed sofa to watch them, even if Crowley did tend to fall asleep without sufficient explosions to hold his attention. He woke up once to find Aziraphale sobbing over the ending of La Traviata, and responded by threatening to put on The Sound of Music next time.

But sometimes, when Crowley dozed, Aziraphale would quietly turn the television off, instead, and simply regard his friend. His only friend by every reasonable assessment, but his best friend nonetheless.

Angels can sense love. He had known Crowley loved him for a long time, and though it had taken many years to realise it, he knew he loved Crowley, too.

He just wasn’t quite sure what to do about it. He wasn’t quite sure what to do about anything, any more.

--

It was a fine sunny Saturday at the beginning of September, the air crisp and fresh, when it occurred to Aziraphale that they had not yet ventured to Tadfield as intended. He wandered out to find Crowley in the warmth of the greenhouse, delicately pressing seeds into a tray of tiny pots of soil that looked as if they would be far too small for fully grown plants. He could only presume the demon knew what he was doing.

“Wondered when you were going to remember that,” said Crowley, wiping slightly muddy hands on his trousers. He had foregone the usual jacket, tie and waistcoat he always wore in London, and was simply dressed in a t-shirt, the deep V of the neckline exposing several inches of narrow chest, with his sunglasses perched atop his head. “Let’s go, then.”

“Yes,” said Aziraphale, distractedly. For a brief moment he had been reminded of wearing Crowley’s shape, and how tempting had been the urge to strip off all the layers of black, if only for a look. “Quite so.”

On a map, Tadfield appeared to be just over an hour from Milton. In the Bentley, it was barely forty minutes, although if Aziraphale had been able to age, he would have passed at least ten years in that time. Even now, Aziraphale could feel the waves of love emanating from the little village. It wasn’t as strong as it had been when they first visited, but it was undoubtedly still there.

Jasmine Cottage was not hard to find, framed now by trees beginning to turn bronze, and Aziraphale unhitched the gate, clutching a tin of fancy biscuits procured as a gift in his free hand. Crowley had suggested wine. Aziraphale was beginning to wonder if that hadn’t been a better idea, but it was too late now. He knocked on the door and waited.

A tall young man in a floral dressing-gown opened it and peered at them myopically.

“Hello. Is Miss Device home?” asked Aziraphale.

“Well. Funnily enough. There is no Miss Device,” began the young man, with a sheepishly smug smile, then suddenly gaped at Aziraphale in horror. “Oh God, it’s you. Ana, it’s them!”

From behind the man, whose name Aziraphale dimly remembered was Newton, peeped Anathema herself. She was clutching a mug of tea in her left hand, on the third finger of which Aziraphale noticed a ring she had not worn on their previous meetings.

“Hello,” said Aziraphale again, smiling. He couldn’t be quite sure how well this was going.

Anathema shook her head incredulously, reached out, and dragged him forwards. “Oh my God. Get in here before someone sees you.”

The interior of Jasmine Cottage was exactly as cramped as Paradise Cottage was not, and getting themselves inside and seated around the kitchen table required some significant manoeuvring and squeezing before anything like comfort could be achieved. The restricted space was not helped by the fact that every wall was hung with a remarkable amount of ornamentation. Anathema’s tastes, much like any witch Aziraphale had ever met, were both eclectic and extremely thorough. Sacred Hearts jostled with Pentagrams, elephant’s heads were quite as common as human or goat ones, and there was a general theme of astral bodies and heavy-handed symbolism.

“Listen,” said Anathema urgently, once she and Aziraphale were seated. “I can’t help you. I’ve got no predictions left. Whatever it is that’s gone wrong now, I don’t know anything about it.”

“Nothing’s gone wrong, who said anything had gone wrong?” said Aziraphale, still smiling, although it was becoming slightly strained.

“Oh please, an angel and a demon show up at my house, within a month of what I’m pretty sure was supposed to be the Apocalypse? Sure, why would I think anything was wrong?”

Crowley had remained just outside the room, leaning on the doorframe, slightly stooped in a way that was clearly meant to look cool and relaxed, but was not wholly successful. He made a faint sound of wordless alarm.

Aziraphale gaped. “A what? How… why would you think… um.”

Anathema flapped a hand dismissively. “It’s fine, I haven’t told anyone. You are, though, don’t bother denying it. Why are you here?”

Aziraphale held out the tin of biscuits with a hand that shook slightly. “Oh, well. Just wanted to see how you all were, and that sort of thing, if we aren’t interrupting. That’s all.”

Anathema took the tin distractedly, setting it to one side with no sign of opening them, which was disappointing. They were a rather nice shortbread, of a sort that went particularly well with tea. Newton, who had disappeared upstairs as they entered, reappeared, his glasses and normal attire restored, and silently began to fill the kettle and fetch mugs from a cupboard. Aziraphale decided he liked the lad.

“Congratulations, by the way,” said Crowley, addressing Newton.

Newton flinched, and stared at him exactly like a rabbit transfixed by a snake.

“You got married,” said Crowley, speaking slowly and clearly.

“Yes!” said Newton. He relaxed by a fraction. “Yes, we did. Thank you. It was a bit spur-of-the-moment, just a registry office thing. We’re going to have another one so my mum can be there. She was a bit upset we did it without her. And Ana’s mum, too. Her ‘mom’.”

“How wonderful, that sounds lovely. I could do you a blessing, if you like,” said Aziraphale. It would probably still count, he thought, thanking Newton as he took his mug of tea.

“Oh, well. That’s a very kind offer,” said Newton, though he looked confused. He set down a small plate of biscuits, not the ones they had brought, but the irregular, small-batch sort. He didn’t sit down, instead installing himself behind Anathema’s chair, cradling his cup of tea and looking nervously over at Crowley.

“Any reason you wanted it to be quick?” asked Crowley.

“Just, sometimes you just have to live in the moment. Take risks,” said Anathema. “Who knows what’s going to happen next, right?”

“That’s true,” said Crowley. “No book now, is there.”

“It’s great,” said Anathema firmly. “I get to choose whatever I want to do. Anything at all. Whatever I like!”

“Yes,” said Aziraphale, with feeling. He took a biscuit. They were golden and crumbly-looking, and smelled faintly spiced. “Making our own destinies, and so on.”

“Whatever that means,” muttered Crowley.

Anathema frowned at him. She appeared to be staring rather hard, which was unnerving.

“And how is young Adam?” asked Aziraphale, stirring another sugar into his mug. “Back to normal, I hope?”

“He’s fine. He usually comes over on Thursdays after school, actually, you could come by and ask him yourself. What’s the deal with your auras?”

“I didn’t know we had any,” said Aziraphale, perfectly honestly. He took a bite of his biscuit. It was very good.

“They were really faint, and now they’re much brighter. Sort of rainbow. Like Adam’s.”

“I say, these are delicious,” said Aziraphale. “Do they have cinnamon in?”

Anathema continued to stare for a moment, then shook her head, and pushed her glasses back up her nose, seemingly done with her interrogation of their auras. “Yeah, and cardamom. It’s an old family recipe,” she said. “I’ll make you a copy.”

Aziraphale considered this. He knew, abstractly, that food was made, in much the same way as clothing was sewn. It had never before occurred to him, however, to make food himself. It might be rather fun, he thought. “That would be lovely, thank you.”

They talked for a while, the conversation slowly becoming more comfortable, or at least less painfully awkward. Aziraphale took another biscuit, and eventually the discussion arrived at the Ineffable Incident.

“It’s like it never happened, except it did,” said Anathema. “Everyone’s just ignoring it. Even you find it really hard to remember, don’t you, Newt?”

The young man shrugged. “It’s just sort of hazy. I’m sure you’re right, though, dear.”

“Adam remembers,” she said. “That’s why he comes over, I think I’d go insane if I couldn’t talk to him at least. That, and I’m teaching him witchcraft, obviously.”

“Obviously,” agreed Aziraphale, with some trepidation. “I should like to see him, I think. Would he mind if we came back on Thursday?”

Behind him, Crowley groaned theatrically, and was ignored.

“That sounds great,” said Anathema. “And… just to check. You’re sure there’s nothing the matter. Nothing at all. No disasters on the horizon. You’re sure.”

“My dear lady, I can assure you, I have no idea,” said Aziraphale again, then leaned forward, curious. “Unless there’s something you can tell me?”

“No!” Anathema all but yelped. “No. I don’t see anything, I don’t know what’s coming, it’s a little weird, but whatever. Forget I asked.”

“Of course,” said Aziraphale, taking another biscuit doubtfully. They really were very good. “We’re all as much in the dark as one another, now.”

“Would you even tell me if you did know?” asked Anathama, twisting the ring on her finger fretfully. “What if you’re hiding it?”

“Okay, right, sorry, I can’t stand this much longer,” announced Crowley. “No-one’s hiding anything, everything’s fine, Angel, can we go home now?”

“Like we’d believe you? You’re a demon!” snapped Anathema, an edge of hysteria entering her tone once more.

“What?” said Newton.

“Oh,” said Anathema.

“Figure of speech,” said Crowley.

“Is it?” asked Newton.

“Totally,” said Anathema.

“You called him Angel,” said Newton, looking at Crowley with dawning horror.

“Just a nickname,” said Aziraphale brightly. “Do you know, I think it’s time we were off, actually.”

He pushed back his chair with a terrible screeching sound over the stone-flagged floor and shuffled his way out into the hall as quickly as space would allow. Anathema followed them to the door, leaving a bewildered Newt in the kitchen.

“I’m so sorry!” she whispered.

“Could make him forget he heard it,” muttered Crowley, his expression dark.

“We can’t. That would be bad,” said Aziraphale, and looked at Anathema hopefully. She shook her head.

“No,” she said. “I’ll talk to him. It’ll be fine.”

“Of course. I have absolute faith in you,” said Aziraphale. He was getting quite good at lying these days.

--

Aziraphale was still fretting when they arrived back at the cottage. Crowley switched off the ignition, sighed, and turned to his passenger.

“It’ll be fine,” he said, and Aziraphale glanced at him anxiously. With the sunglasses, it was sometimes frustratingly hard to tell what Crowley really meant, and this was one of those occasions.

“Will it?

“Just, stop fretting,” said Crowley. “Go and, I don’t know, have a nap or something.”

“Do you think a nap would help?” asked Aziraphale. He hadn’t done that in a long time, but perhaps Crowley had a point. It was a terrible thing, to be discovered after six thousand years under the radar, and his thoughts were wheeling about like autumn starlings. Maybe a sleep would help. He nodded.

“Thank Hell,” muttered Crowley, and shooed him out of the car.

Aziraphale entered their home and climbed their stairs still in something of a daze. He stood and looked at the bed.

It had been many years since Aziraphale had worn a nightshirt, although there was probably one upstairs at the bookshop somewhere. He supposed he could miracle one up, although he never liked to do so. He carefully removed and folded his bow-tie, waistcoat, braces, boots, trousers, socks, sock garters, shirt, undershirt, and vest, and decided that to simply retain his drawers would probably do.

It certainly looked inviting, he thought, climbing under the covers and lying down experimentally. The mattress was soft, and the sheets were pleasantly cool. Outside the window he could hear birds chirping. Aziraphale closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

“Oh,” he said aloud. The bed smelled of Crowley. It was a warm smell, earthy and smokey, and not necessarily one particularly conducive to sleep. For a panicked moment, Aziraphale wondered about getting up immediately and taking a bubble bath instead. That was usually his preferred way to relax, on the rare occasions he wasn’t in the mood to read.

But then he might have to explain why he had changed his mind, which wouldn’t do at all.

He lay, paralysed with indecision, as the covers warmed up and the scent of clean linen and Crowley curled around him comfortingly. There was no denying it was pleasant, and the day had been a long one. The last few years, indeed, thought Aziraphale, wondering when exactly he had last tried sleeping. He had a feeling it was after that trip to Paris, with the unfortunate guillotine business, and the much more pleasant crepes afterwards. Or was it more recent than that? He couldn’t recall.

Still wondering, his breathing slowed, and the angel fell asleep.

Chapter Text

---

When Aziraphale woke, he could smell cocoa. There was a warm, steaming mugful on the nightstand beside him, and on the other side of the bed sat Crowley, illuminated in a shaft of sunlight, just looking down at him. He had taken off his sunglasses, and he was smiling, fine lines at the corners of his yellow eyes crinkling in a most charming way. It was the nicest thing Aziraphale could ever remember waking up to.

“Hello,” said Aziraphale. “That was lovely.”

“Liked it, then?” asked Crowley.

“Very much,” said Aziraphale, truthfully. It had been very pleasant, even if he couldn’t remember it, as if a secret hiding place had opened up where nothing could bother him, and he had emerged from it refreshed in a way that was unfamiliar. He could quite see why Crowley enjoyed it. Aziraphale sighed happily, and wriggled his shoulders against the soft, warm linens. It felt delicious against his bare skin.

“Did you want me for something?” he asked, eyes closing again.

“Just checking up on you. Wouldn’t mind a kip myself, but I didn’t want to impose.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry!” Aziraphale began to sit up, then remembered he was wearing very little. Awkwardly he pulled up the covers around him like Grandmother in Red Riding Hood.

“No, no,” said Crowley, shaking his head and standing up at once to back out of the door. “Don’t let me hurry you. Drink up, get dressed, I’ll be downstairs.”

Aziraphale took up his cocoa and blew on it, pondering. He’d never particularly seen the point before, but now he rather fancied investigating sleep further. At the same time, he didn’t want to keep Crowley from it. He ought to buy a nightshirt, and then perhaps they could both sleep at once. It was a very large bed, after all. Of course, another bedroom could also be miracled up, but that idea did not appeal so much. A different bed would not smell of Crowley.

Aziraphale drained the mug and rose to dress himself. It was bright sunshine outside, he realised, as he wandered downstairs, and the clock told him it was past 10 in the morning.

“All yours, my dear!” he said. “I might pop into the village.”

Crowley was at the kitchen table, sunglasses back on his face. “Yeah,” he replied, apparently very interested in his wireless telephone. “Have fun.”

Aziraphale headed directly to the grey stone building that housed the village’s local library branch, arriving just as it was opening up. Anathema had given him an idea, and he fully intended to carpe the old diem. Kay, the delightful librarian with the pink hair, helped him to find several baking books with mouthwatering photography, and even ordered him another which would have recipes from the Ancient World. Aziraphale was in raptures at the thought of eating Mersu again after so many thousands of years. He bustled his books up to the checkout desk with his mind full of plans.

“Mr Fell,” began Kay cautiously, checking out each book with a little handheld gadget that went ‘beep’. “You always look smart. Do you think I could get away with gold lipstick at work?”

“Oh, well, I don’t see why not.” Aziraphale tweaked his bow-tie with pride. It was nice to be appreciated, he thought.

Kay nodded, satisfied, and pushed the stack of books towards him. “That’s what I thought. There was a lady I saw the other day, gave me the idea. I just wondered if it would be unprofessional. But it you think it’s ok, well, it probably is, right?”

“I’m sure it would be charming,” smiled Aziraphale, already thinking about where he could buy ingredients.

--

While Crowley slept, Aziraphale rolled up his sleeves and had a bash at cooking. He had been to the butchers, and the fancy delicatessen, and the cookware gift shops in the village, and come home laden with so many new and exciting purchases that he had to discreetly miracle up a little wheeled tartan trolley to carry them home in. Biscuits were all very well, but having discovered the village’s main restaurant to be deeply disappointing, he was in the mood for something more savoury, and had procured the ingredients for a simple menu of steak with Bearnaise sauce. With some salad leaves from the garden it would be delicious, he was certain, and he made sure to buy two fillets just in case he could persuade Crowley to join him.

It did not go well.

He began by putting the steaks on to cook, on the assumption they would take longest, and then popped out to the garden. It was remarkably hard to determine what sort of leaves were edible when they were still on the bushes, so he tried tasting a few, and after a good traipse about the place was most disgruntled to find none of them seemed to be what he was after at all. His mood was not helped by the sight of smoke escaping from the kitchen window.

Aziraphale dashed back indoors, pushed the window wide open and began desperately wafting at the thick black smoke with a tea-towel, to little avail. He hauled the steaks from under the grill and glared at them. They had shrunk to half their size and looked like small charred bricks. He chewed his lip anxiously. Possibly they just needed a moment to rest.

“Bearnaise or bust,” he said aloud, and began assembling his ingredients.

Crowley appeared from upstairs, waving his hands to miracle the air clear as he approached.

“Smells like Hell in here, and I should know. Angel, what are you doing?”

“I’m peeling an onion,” replied Aziraphale, with all the grace he could muster whilst leaning over a kitchen wastebin.

Crowley leaned over and observed, his head on one side. “Are you?” he asked dubiously.

“This is called a vegetable peeler, and this is an onion, Crowley. I am peeling an onion.” It was true that it didn’t seem to be working very well, but Aziraphale was determined.

“Not sure you do it like that.”

Aziraphale was determined, but also distinctly stressed. He could feel the twitch of his wings threatening to burst into the room, and suppressed it with effort. “Dear fellow,” he said, through gritted teeth.

Crowley looked at his face, nodded rapidly, and left him to it. A moment later came the sound of explosions and American accents as the television was switched on, and Aziraphale took a deep breath, girded his metaphorical loins and set back to his own battle.

Two hours and several failures later, he was done, and there was not a single utensil purchased that day that was not lying about the kitchen in some state of disrepair. He lit a candle, poured two glasses of an indifferent wine which immediately became a particularly fine Mersault Charmes he remembered from 1846, and glared at a side-plate until some perfectly grilled and completely out of season asparagus appeared upon it.

“Dinner,” he announced loudly, “is served.”

From the other room he heard the television fall silent, and Crowley sauntered into the kitchen. Aziraphale gestured gallantly for him to sit down. He did not.

“You’re not going to make me eat that, are you?” said Crowley, looking horrified.

Aziraphale clung to his dignity as best he could. “Of course not. I’m not going to make you do anything. If you don’t want to try my Filet Mignon a la Bearnaise, then that is entirely a matter for you.”

Crowley regarded the table before him. On a plate before each chair sat a cold, congealed, blackened lump that had once been steak, and some watery, tarragon-flavoured scrambled eggs. He picked up the nearest wine glass.

“Good effort,” he said, and took a swig.

Aziraphale could bear no more. He slumped into a chair and carelessly waved a hand at the bombsite that had once been their kitchen, rendering it miraculously clean and tidy once more. “Bother it, Crowley, I tried so hard!”

“Mm. Tell you what. I bet Anthony would eat it. Garden?”

“Oh! Yes, garden!” Aziraphale picked up his own wine, brightening. He took a long and much-needed drink, peeled off his “Angel in the Kitchen” apron, and followed Crowley outside.

--

“I was thinking,” said Aziraphale, as they sat companionably upon the bench, which was rapidly becoming his favourite place in the world. “I should get myself a nightshirt.”

Crowley burst out laughing. “A what? Angel, no-one’s worn nightshirts since… I can’t even remember how long. Pyjamas. You want pyjamas. Just miracle some.”

“My dear, you know I don’t like to do that.”

Crowley rolled his mouthful of Mersault around, savouring it. For someone primarily an aesthete, he was more than capable of a little hedonism, thought Aziraphale fondly, and felt glad he had chosen this particular wine. The plates of charred steak lay out on the grass before them, waiting for the fox’s appearance, and some small birds had ventured down to peck at the supposed Bearnaise. The sun was dropping towards the horizon, and overhead flocks of swallows were beginning to cluster along the telegraph wires and chatter to one another.

“Well,” said Crowley, drawing out the vowel enticingly. “Apparently there’s this chap in Brighton who makes clothes the old way, Edwardian stuff like your coat. I could take you there, see if he’ll do it. Get you a new waistcoat, too, so I don’t have to be embarrassed to stand next to you.”

“What’s wrong with my waistcoat?” asked Aziraphale, looking down at it. The plush of the velvet had worn away entirely around the buttons and most of the bottom hem, but it wasn’t as though it had holes in it. It was very nice, and fitted perfectly around his tummy. He had purchased it from a very sweet tailor in Soho over a hundred years ago, the same time he had bought his favourite coat.

“It’s terrible. A terrible waistcoat. Trust me.”

“I suppose it is a bit worn. Do you mean he hand sews them?”

Crowley nodded. “Saw it on TV. All by hand, you’ll love it. You could get some new shirts, or something. Anyway. And it’s by the seaside. We could get sushi.”

“Sushi,” sighed Aziraphale with longing. “What a good idea. Yes, let’s.”

--

Chapter Text

---

The young man in Brighton was as good as Crowley had said. It was inexpressibly soothing to once again feel sure, practiced hands winding the cloth tape-measure about his chest and waist, scribbling down the measurements without all the bother of having to try things on and simply hoping they would fit. Aziraphale could have spent hours in the tiny attic studio discussing the niceties of fine tailoring.

By the time it came to choose fabrics, he was as jolly as a sand-boy, and feeling just a little bit daring. He flipped past the twills and velvets until he reached several vibrant woollens.

“This one,” he said decisively, indicating a jet-black windowpane check on a tawny mustard background.

The young man nodded, and jotted it down. “You’re sure?” he asked.

Aziraphale looked over to where Crowley had been staring out the window in near-catatonic boredom for over an hour now. It was quite possible his lovely eyes were closed, even. The sunglasses made it sometimes hard to tell. “I’m certain,” he said, and smiled.

They paid, and as good as his word, Crowley took them to a deeply fashionable conveyor-belt sushi restaurant. Every mouthful was a delight, and soon the plates stacked up beside them in towering piles. Crowley ate nothing, content to simply sip sake, delete every fifth contact from all mobile phones in the building, and break the wi-fi. It seemed to cheer him up, and Aziraphale could not find it in himself to object.

The Palace Pier was a thing of beauty, and Crowley smiled with satisfaction at the thronged arcades. In lieu of any ducks, Aziraphale suggested they feed the seagulls, until Crowley warned against it.

“Best not. They’ve been under a fair bit of influence from, uh.” He pointed downwards meaningfully. “Might take your hand off.”

“Did you do that?” asked Aziraphale, already suspecting he knew the answer. It was exactly the sort of low-level evil Crowley specialised in.

“Oh look, ice creams,” said Crowley, pointing over Aziraphale’s shoulder, and headed off. By the time Aziraphale caught up he was already paying the vendor for two enormous vanilla cones with chocolate sauce. He handed one to Aziraphale then gave his own to a small child, on the basis that its parents would be furious that it had accepted.

The ice cream was delicious, and the two of them wandered back down to the shoreline while Aziraphale enjoyed it. Crowley skimmed stones and hid a few swimmers’ towels, and Aziraphale went paddling in the excruciatingly icy sea, until his feet were pink and white and almost too swollen to fit back into his boots. Crowley mocked his tartan socks and Aziraphale scowled at him, fumbling his laces with cold fingers and muttering about people who didn’t understand fun.

It was a truly marvellous day.

It wasn’t until they’d driven home that he realised he hadn’t asked about a new nightshirt, or pyjamas, or whatever it was to be. He watched Crowley climb the stairs to the bedroom, and sighed. Aziraphale took a copy of Alain de Botton’s latest work, retrieved his bookmark from the relevant page, and settled down to read in the snug. It was harder to concentrate than usual.

--

On Thursday afternoon they returned to Tadfield once more.

Adam and Dog were in the garden of Jasmine Cottage as they arrived, wrestling with a stick. Dog bounded over first, licking Aziraphale’s hands and leaping up to leave muddy prints on Crowley’s trousers, which he miracled away irritably. A red ball appeared in his hand and he threw it to the other end of the garden. Dog, overjoyed, raced off after it.

“Gracious me,” said Aziraphale, beaming. “You look very smart!”

Adam looked down at his clothes with a shrug. “It’s just school uniform,” he said. “The grammar school makes us wear ties. It’s rubbish.”

“Smash the system,” said Crowley approvingly. “How’s it going, anyway?”

“Okay, I s’pose.” He looked at his feet and scuffed at a few leaves on the lawn.

“Are you sure?”

Adam looked up at them and smiled, an uncombed cherub from some Renaissance masterpiece in an ill-fitting blazer and an untucked shirt.

“I’m glad you’re here. Ana and me have been wanting to talk to you. Pepper and Brian and Wensley are my best friends, but they don’t really understand, and they don’t really remember. Or they do, but not properly. It’s better that way, I think.”

Aziraphale studied Adam, this small and lanky creature before him, so fragile and yet so strong. What was it like, to be human and eleven years old? Impossible to imagine. “That sounds rather lonely,” he said gently.

Adam looked him in the eye. “Being different to everyone else around you? Knowing more than they can ever even understand?” He pulled a face. “You manage.”

There was a snort of amusement from Crowley, who was idly examining a nearby tree with white bark. “He’s got you there.”

“Well,” said Aziraphale. “You’ve got us, here. I said we’d be beside you, Adam, and I meant it. If you should ever need us.”

“You said that, I didn’t,” muttered Crowley, apparently addressing a leaf. Dog bounded towards him happily and dropped the red ball back at his feet, then proceeded to piss on the tree’s trunk in sufficient volume that the demon was obliged to skip out of the way, snarling. He threw it again, and Dog scampered again off with boundless joy.

Adam’s gaze never faltered, but he grinned. “You tried to shoot me.”

Before Aziraphale could summon a suitable answer, Anathema appeared in the cottage doorway. “You got here!” she exclaimed. “Come on in, I made more biscuits.”

“Biscuits!” said Aziraphale, with unfeigned delight, and hurried indoors.

Ana was already sitting down at the kitchen table as they piled into the cottage, with Newton standing anxiously behind her. Luckily Adam was only small, and Aziraphale was able to tuck himself into a seat at the table without too much trouble. Crowley hung back as before.

“Crowley, do come in. There’s plenty of room.” Aziraphale patted the chair beside him, and looked meaningfully at Crowley, who shrugged.

“Can’t,” he said, and pointed.

Aziraphale followed the line of his finger. On the kitchen wall, below a Welsh lovespoon and just next to a faded cross-stitch reading “Blesse thys Messe” was a small replica tile bearing an inscription in Sumerian runes, not a language one often saw any more. Specifically, it was in a notably colourful dialect thereof.

“Oh, sorry!” Anathema jumped up to stuff the plaque into the nearest cupboard, turning as she did so to explain to Adam. “It’s an ancient ward of protection. It says ‘Let Evil Begone From This Place’.”

“No it doesn’t,” said Crowley drily. “It says ‘Fuck Off Demons’.”

“Crowley,” said Aziraphale. “May I remind you there are children present.”

“S’alright, I don’t mind,” said Adam, through a mouthful of biscuit. He looked not so much offended as delighted.

Across the room, Newton cleared his throat nervously. “You really are a demon, then?”

Crowley stepped through the doorway and smiled, the sort that was very wide and showed every tooth. He draped himself into the last remaining chair, leaning back in it with a foot resting up against the rungs of Aziraphale’s. “Shall we check? Would you like to see my true form?”

“Crowley!” snapped Aziraphale again, at the same time as Anathema said “Newton!”

For all real intents and purposes, both Aziraphale and Crowley’s true forms were the ones they were currently wearing and had inhabited for the past 6,000 years. However, Crowley was perfectly capable of shapeshifting into something that could make any human pass out instantly, if they were lucky, or leave them a permanently drooling shell of themselves if not.

“Please excuse my husband,” said Anathema, rolling her eyes.

Aziraphale smiled. “If you’ll excuse mine,” he replied, without thinking.

There was a long pause as the room digested that statement. Adam sniggered.

Gleefully, Anathema slapped the kitchen table. “I knew it! I knew that’s what was up with your auras, didn’t I say, Newt? You owe me five stupid British pounds, pay up.”

“Oh, we’re not,” said Aziraphale, looking to Crowley for help, as he ever had.

Newton was fishing a five pound note out of his wallet. “Boyfriends still counts,” Anathema told him, holding her hand out.

“We’re definitely not.” Crowley’s tone was flat and his volume high enough to cut through all excitement. Something in how absolute he sounded pinched at Aziraphale’s heart.

“Rainbow auras aren’t gay anyway,” said Adam. “You said. It means it’s a soul’s first time on earth. It was in your books.”

“That’s completely right,” agreed Anathema, though she seemed flustered. “I didn’t mean any offence, I’m sorry.”

“None taken,” said Crowley, and Aziraphale pulled the plate of biscuits a little closer.

It had never bothered him before, when people had made such assumptions. He had rather liked it, in fact. It felt different now, however, somehow too sharp, too close to something he was not yet brave enough to reach out towards. He wondered how Crowley felt about it.

There was talk about the planning of weddings and how outrageously overpriced they were, and Anathema waxed wroth for a while about the Wedding Industrial Complex, which turned out to be more of a metaphor than a real place. Aziraphale offered sympathy without really understanding, since as far as he could recall one simply bought new clothes and signed a church register. Evidently things had become more complex since he had last attended such an event. It ended with Anathema inviting them to the ceremony and copying down the biscuit recipe by hand, despite Aziraphale’s protestations that he would remember it and Crowley’s offer to photograph it with his telephone.

They talked a little about Adam’s new school, which he did not seem particularly impressed with.
Newton explained that he was between jobs and wondering whether to take up Madam Tracey’s offer to train him as a massage therapist, a job which involved no computers at all, and Aziraphale made encouraging comments in an attempt to drown out Crowley’s sniggering.

At length the hour grew late enough that Adam had to return home, and Aziraphale and Crowley took that as their cue.

“I’ll walk you back,” said Anathema, reaching for her keys, and Crowley held up a hand.

“I’ll do that. Not like much is going to come at me.”

“That’s not why,” snorted Adam. “It’s so I actually go straight home and don’t go and scrump apples with Dog.”

“Really?” Crowley raised his eyebrows as he led the boy away. “Let’s talk about that, shall we?”

Aziraphale offered to help wash up, though he proved to be very bad at it, so Anathema handed him a teatowel and took the broken mugs out to the bins behind the cottage while Newton took over at the sink.

“Newton,” asked Aziraphale cautiously once they were alone. “I wonder if you could help me with something.”

Newton looked mildly terrified, but since that appeared to be his usual state, Aziraphale did not let it put him off.

“What do, er. What do humans wear in bed, these days? Is it pyjamas? Where does one buy them?”

The young man appeared in danger of scrubbing right through the plate in his hand.

“Um. Anathema threw mine out, actually. I’m allowed a t-shirt and boxer shorts if it’s cold, but otherwise. Er. My old ones were from Marks and Spencers I think. My mum bought them for me.”

As he spoke, Newton’s face had flushed to an alarming shade of puce, and Aziraphale elected not to press further.

He remembered disrobing for the bath of Holy Water in Hell, and the vest and shorts he had discovered beneath Crowley’s remarkably tight trousers, and the similar combination the demon had worn when Aziraphale had surprised him at his London flat. So that was both underwear and nightwear, he pondered, and one purchased it at Marks and Spencer. How ingenious humans were.

And then Crowley returned, with suspiciously apple-sized bulging pockets, and it was time to drive home.

--

“She’s having visions, according to Adam,” said Crowley, and Aziraphale frowned, wondering if he had missed the beginning of the conversation somehow.

“Who is? Ana?”

“Yup. Usual prophetic nonsense, flying cars, people in funny clothes,” said Crowley, casually screeching around a hairpin bend. “Sword-wielding angels on a stormy hilltop. And a few other things. Adam drawing Tarot cards and a fox eating cake in a garden. Under an apple tree.”

“I’d never feed Anthony cake. It would be bad for him.”

“Depends on the Anthony.”

“Oh dear,” said Aziraphale, a little flustered by Crowley’s smile. “I did wonder, after we saw her last. Do you think any of it is likely to be accurate?”

Crowley looked over his glasses at Aziraphale, without slowing down. “From her? Wouldn’t you?”

“Oh dear,” sighed Aziraphale again. “It was all going so well, too.”

“Ah, it’s not so bad,” said Crowley, catching some air over a small humpback bridge. “Keep us busy.”

“I don’t want to be busy,” thought Aziraphale. He didn’t know what he did want, but he was aware it probably had more to do with the word “boyfriends” than “prophecies”. Maybe even “husbands”.

He regarded the apple Crowley had handed him as they got in the car, and took a large, resigned bite.

--

Chapter Text

---

It was a glorious morning, the skies clear and bright with a light chill just beginning to touch the air, so Aziraphale decided to make the most of it. He brought his book out to the garden, and sat on the bench to read.

If he spent more time watching Crowley’s intense conversations with various plants, perhaps that was simply the fault of Richard Dawkins’s tedious proselytising.

The demon was examining the little tree in the centre of their garden, the one he had said was an apple tree. There were a number of orchards around Milton village, and most of them seemed heavy with fruit at the moment, but not theirs, on which nary an apple could be seen. Aziraphale wasn’t quite sure why that would be, but certainly Crowley was not pleased, hissing furiously as he pruned a leaf here and there with precise savagery.

The September sunshine was pale but no less glorious for that, and it caught on Crowley’s hair, painting the strands a brighter red that almost shimmered as he circled the unfortunate tree.

“Do you remember when it was long?” asked Aziraphale, unable to stay quiet a moment longer.

Crowley paused mid-snip, and faced him in confusion. “Not following.”

He had begun, so Aziraphale took the plunge and continued. “Your hair. I just - here you are, in a garden, and it reminded me of how you looked when we met.”

Frowning, Crowley nodded. “I remember. You think I should go back to that?”

“Um,” said Aziraphale. He was faintly aware of his heart beating extremely quickly for some reason, and his breath becoming shorter. “You could. Actually I liked it best in Mesopotamia, with the little, you know, braids.” He drew a finger down the side of his head, to indicate.

“Huh.” Crowley turned away. Back to his plants, Aziraphale assumed, but it wasn’t so.

He had set down the shears and dug his fingers into his hair, sliding them across his scalp. As he did so, the strands of dark copper lengthened. Drawn out under his hands, the hair fell past Crowley’s jawline, the longest it had been in centuries, then down and down until it hung just below his shoulderblades, rippling in waves like a burning waterfall. It was quite the most beautiful miracle Aziraphale had ever seen.

Crowley shook his head, and ran his fingers through it twice more, separating out the soft curls and pulling it back from the sharp angles of his face so that the weight of it hung mostly over one shoulder. He turned back to Aziraphale. “Like that?”

Aziraphale stared, aware that his mouth was open. It required a conscious effort to close it again and remember how to speak. “Yes,” he said.

“Might get in the way. You’ll have to put the braids in for me later, not sure I remember how,” said Crowley, grinning like a snake. It was as if he knew the effect he was having, and enjoyed it.

Emboldened, Aziraphale beamed back at him. “You could get rid of the sunglasses, too. I’ve never liked them.”

Crowley’s smile vanished, and he bent to pick up his pruning shears once more. “That,” he said, “would be a bit of a giveaway. We’re not in Mesopotamia now, Angel. Not all of us get to play human.”

“Oh,” said Aziraphale, and the moment was lost. “Of course. My apologies.”

He gave up on the book shortly after, and went indoors to stuff it back onto the shelves of the snug.

--

The parcel containing Aziraphale’s new waistcoat arrived later that morning, along with two new shirts in fine pale linen, all wrapped in acid-free tissue and quite simply splendid. It was so long since Aziraphale had owned new clothes of really good quality, and he could not help putting the whole lot on immediately. He paired it with a rather stylish dark-flecked tweed bow tie and found himself preening in every reflective surface he could find. The greenhouse, with all its glass, was an excellent spot.

“Do you like it?” he asked, and Crowley rolled his eyes. It might not have been the first time Aziraphale had asked.

“Yes, Angel,” he said, and muttered something that sounded like “Rupert the Bear.”

Aziraphale did a little twirl. “Do you know what I’d really like? A public dance. I learned to dance quite well while you were asleep all that time. Why don’t we have those any more, they used to be such fun. There was punch, and music, and all sorts.”

“They do,” said Crowley absently. “Call them nightclubs these days.” He saw the look of hope in Aziraphale’s eyes and shook his head vigorously. “Oh, no. No no no. You wouldn’t like it. Lots of beebop.”

Aziraphale pouted, but Crowley would not be moved. Still, it couldn’t dampen his mood for long. A thought had been germinating in his mind and now was as good a time as any to act upon it. He smoothed his hands appreciatively over his bright, woollen stomach and wandered down to the village for supplies.

The owner of Freeman’s Grocers was a charming, ruddy-faced old man with an extraordinary overbite who reminded Aziraphale of someone he couldn’t quite put his finger on. He was talking to his young son and spraying around some sort of air-freshener as Aziraphale entered the shop.

“Bathing in slurry or sommat, I ha’n’t smelt anything quite like it in all my days!” the old man was saying. “And did you see ‘im face? Boils and pox like I never seen! Can’t be selling anything ‘ee touched, dirty bugger, you go around and check the produce, boy. Ah, Mr Fell! What can I do you for, sir?”

“Good morning!” said Aziraphale, producing his shopping list. “Just a few little sundries. Has something happened?”

“Arr,” said Mr Freeman. “Fella just been in, unpleasant sort of customer. Not that he bought anything. Never you mind.”

The excellent Mr Freeman was able to provide all that Aziraphale wanted, and he returned home to bake. It was becoming rather a meditative exercise for him, now that he had practised a little more, and with care and unhurried attention (and careful reading of recipes) the whole process could be very soothing. He rather needed soothing, just at present. He had very a nasty feeling about Mr Freeman’s previous customer, and the woman with gold lipstick in the library.

He had hoped, in his usual cowardly fashion, that he and Crowley would have more time. A breathing space to collect themselves, to understand what they could be in this new world. He supposed they had, if only of a month or so. Now it seemed that was drawing to an end already and very little had been resolved. It was a frightening thought, but Aziraphale had decided anything since the Ineffable Incident, it was this: he did not wish to be afraid, not any more, not after six thousand years in constant fear of falling.

Aziraphale baked through the afternoon into the evening, after Crowley had popped his head around the door and announced he was turning in. Outside, the squeaking of bats became the hooting and calling of owls as the night drew on. Aziraphale hummed to himself, whipping cream and neatly arranging apple slices, taking solace in these small rituals. Whatever was coming, he hoped he and Crowley would face it together.

By early morning he felt he had a very creditable spread prepared. He buckled plates and glasses into the lid of a picnic basket and carefully laid his goods within its gingham-lined interior.

Last of all, he made himself a cup of cocoa, and retired to his snug for a little reading and some Schubert while he waited for Crowley to rise. A novel called “American Gods” had been waiting for him and with a sigh of pleasure he opened it to the first page.

--

A knock sounded at the door to the snug, and Crowley peered in. His hair was still long, tied back low on his neck with what looked like a leather bootlace.

“Look, I can’t stand it any more. What’s the basket about?”

Aziraphale reached for a bookmark, and placed it with some surprise at page 400. It had proven rather an absorbing read, if also a frankly preposterous one. More gods than one could shake a stick at.

“Oh, I lost track of the time!” he exclaimed, glancing at the clock. “I’m so sorry.”

“Is it cake? Is it cake for us, or what? Because it smells bloody amazing and I’m just going to eat it if you take much longer.”

“Not much longer, I promise,” said Aziraphale, patting Crowley’s shoulder as he squeezed through the corridor past him and up the stairs. He fetched the coverlet from the bedroom, the basket from the kitchen, and carried them about a dozen yards out to their little apple tree, where he began to set everything out.

“What is this? What are you doing?” asked Crowley, following him out of the house.

Aziraphale spread his arms out wide and smiled. “The Ritz is a bit of a distance from here, don’t you think? So I thought we were about due for a picnic.”

There was a fractional change in how Crowley was standing. “A picnic?” he asked warily.

“Yes, my dear,” said Aziraphale. “I think it’s time.”

Crowley sniffed. “Bit chilly. Not really weather for it.”

Aziraphale merely looked at him. Spread across the rug on china plates were a tarte tatin, a pear and ginger teabread, and the pièce de résistance, a passionfruit pavlova. There was a jug of pouring cream, and one of miraculously hot custard, and a thermos flask of mulled wine. Aziraphale flicked out his coat tails behind him and sat, pouring a tumbler-full for himself.

Grumbling, Crowley joined him, though he didn’t have quite the limbs to sit on the ground without resembling a partially-squashed spider and it took him a while to arrange himself. Aziraphale cut a piece of tarte and passed it over to him, and begrudgingly, Crowley ate.

“This,” he said a moment later, somewhat indistinctly. “This is very good.”

“I’m glad,” said Aziraphale. He waited until Crowley’s mouth was full once more, then took a deep breath. “Well. Here goes. Firstly I want to apologise. I’m afraid I’ve treated you rather badly, Crowley. I owe you a great deal more than I can ever repay.”

“You don’t,” said Crowley, swallowing rapidly and immediately setting down his plate.

“Come now, my dear. Almost since we met, you’ve looked out for me. You’ve taken terrible risks for my sake.”

“No I didn’t, not really. I fell, I’m a demon, eternally cursed, irredeemable, what did I have to lose?”

“We both know that’s nonsense. If they’d caught you, fraternising...”

Crowley waved a hand, cutting him off. “I tempted an actual angel into a pact with a demonic entity. Frame it right, I could probably have got a medal.”

Aziraphale took a moment to consider this, as Crowley kept talking, leaning urgently forward as he spoke. “You don’t need to apologise. You trusted me. You actually believed that a demon would do blessings and miracles, just because I said I would.”

“I never doubted,” said Aziraphale, wondering quite why that was for the first time. He had known, somehow, from the first, that any promise Crowley made to him, he would keep. That the demon was more constant, more faithful than any Angel Aziraphale had ever met. If he’d had fears, they were only of Heaven’s wrath, were they ever to have been found out. The thought made Aziraphale sigh.

“You’ll never know what that meant to me, Angel,” said Crowley. “I’d missed it so much.”

“But I’ve been such a coward, for such a long time,” persisted Aziraphale. “I didn’t dare question things, I think I was worried you’d turn out to be right. Those poor drowned children. The plagues. And still I did as I was told.”

“You’re not a coward. I know what those bastards are like, remember.”

Aziraphale looked up through the tree’s branches, collecting his thoughts. He noticed the tiniest green lump at the edge of one branch, the first of their apples at last. To think that they had nearly lost all of this. To think that Heaven would have welcomed such a thing.

“Wasn’t I?” he asked Crowley, his heart rising in his throat. “All those centuries, trying to cling to certainties that didn’t really exist in the end.”

Crowley was watching him, utterly still. “I’m your certainty. I exist. You can cling to me, always, Aziraphale.”

Aziraphale could feel the tears prickling against his eyes. This wasn’t going quite as he had anticipated, but then, with Crowley, what ever had?

“Thank you,” he said, although it came out a bit wobbly. “That sounds lovely.”

Tentatively he reached across to where Crowley’s long, bony hand lay against the plaid coverlet, and laid his own atop it. Crowley’s hand turned over, stretching, and Aziraphale wound their fingers together. The skin felt dry, and cooler than his own, and the rush of love that poured into Aziraphale’s touch was breathtaking.

“Oh,” he said shakily. “It’s so much.” He looked up to Crowley’s face, trying to explain, but Crowley was staring at him, equally stunned.

“What is?” asked Crowley hoarsely.

“The love,” said Aziraphale, awed by it. “You love me so much, my dear.”

“Well, yeah,” said Crowley. “Always have.”

“I could always sense it,” said Aziraphale. “I didn’t realise what it was for a while, but it’s always there, always, and it’s grown, if anything. You’ve been so patient, loved me for so long, and I’ve never deserved it.”

“You do. Don’t argue.”

Aziraphale gulped a tearful laugh, and grasped Crowley’s hand tighter. He heard Crowley suck in a sudden breath, staring down at where they were touching.

“There’s something,” he said, so softly it was almost inaudible. “Is that what it is? Warm and bright… and good.” He looks at Aziraphale. “I can feel it too. I remember. The love.”

“I’m so glad, my darling,” said Aziraphale, blinking away the tears that blurred his vision. “Because I love you very much, you know. Not as an Angel loves the world, I mean I do, but I don’t only love you that way. I love you, Crowley.”

“Oh,” said Crowley, still staring at their joined hands. His eyes behind the dark glasses were wide.

“I’m sorry it took me so long to catch up,” said Aziraphale.

“Don’t be. Worth it,” said Crowley, biting his lip as if he too was trying not to cry. “You love me.”

Aziraphale smiled. “Yes, my dear. I do.”

Holding Crowley’s hand felt different to anything Aziraphale had ever experienced before. The sense of love that surrounded them bloomed brighter and larger, and there was a feeling of freedom to it. He wondered how it must feel to Crowley. He seemed rather overwhelmed, but then so was Aziraphale. This was not a dutiful love, but one of choice, and desire, and it made more difference than expected.

Aziraphale revelled in it, breathing deeply, learning the precise texture of Crowley’s skin at last, even if it was just one hand. He mapped it with his heart, and inscribed it onto his soul.

“There’s an apple up there, by the way,” he said, pointing.

Crowley looked up, startled, and saw it. “Huh. I thought the blessed thing must be barren.”

He shifted position at once, as if he wanted to stand up and examine the fruit, then stopped.

“It’ll still be there tomorrow,” he said. His thumb rubbed gently at the back of Aziraphale’s hand.

--

Hours later, Anthony the fox slunk towards the forgotten spread of pavlovas and tarts, tongue lolling hopefully, and Aziraphale worried that so much sugar would be bad for his teeth.

“Once won’t hurt,” said Crowley, his smile flashing white in the darkness.

“Oh, you demon,” laughed Aziraphale. “He can’t have all of it though, help me pick these up. There’s plenty left, I shall keep some to take to the Pulsifers for tea.”

Grumbling quietly, Crowley helped to pack up the remains of the picnic, and they went indoors. If change was afoot, then at least some changes were for the better.

Chapter Text

---

“There’s something I ought to tell you,” said Aziraphale the following day. It was a drizzly, grey morning, which seemed fitting for bad news.

“I’m afraid I think we’re being watched, by your former Head Office and my own. A number of people in the village have mentioned some peculiar-sounding characters to me which very much sound like either Upstairs or Down. Given how bad they appear to be at going undercover, I’m afraid they may be, shall we say, Senior Management.”

“I know,” agreed Crowley glumly. “Pretty sure I saw one of yours hanging around the Garden Centre last week, the beige one. Well, you’re all beige, but I mean the really beige one, the one that was a human back in the early days. Shortarse with a bow ‘round his neck.”

“Sandalphon,” sighed Aziraphale. “Ugh. What do you think we should do?”

Crowley shrugged. “Not much we can do. Although it might be worth warning the humans. Speccy Boy and Book Girl, and the kid of course.”

“You know their names,” said Aziraphale, without much censure. He reached across to touch Crowley’s hand and felt a warm shiver of joy across his skin. “I suppose we shall be seeing them on Tuesday, but I wonder. I think it might put my mind at rest to warn them as soon as we can.”

“Can’t hurt.” Crowley smiled at him, squeezing his hand in return, just briefly. He tossed back the last of his coffee, pushed back his chair, and grabbed his jacket.

--

It was the weekend, not that the Pulsifers seemed to keep any sort of office hours, so when they arrive in Tadfield Aziraphale had reasonable hopes of finding them in. He was disappointed.

“Perhaps we should have telephoned?” he asked Crowley anxiously.

Crowley was leaning on the garden’s iron gate, looking utterly unbothered. “Never mind. Pub?”

Tadfield was idyllic in a more parochial, less well-heeled sort of way than Milton, although the two were very similar. It still maintained a village green, and beside it a pub of the sort that had put away its horse brasses, painted its woodwork a shade of anaemic teal, and begun to serve “paninis” instead of “toasties” at double the price. Outside the door, baskets of fading flowers hung above a few empty wooden picnic tables.

“Cold out here,” grumbled Crowley, folding his arms across his chest.

“You could always wear a jumper,” Aziraphale told him, and Crowley recoiled in disgust.

He pondered whether it was worth explaining why exactly he had wanted to sit outside in the middle of Tadfield, when the point became moot. Out of nowhere, a small black-and-white bundle of hairy enthusiasm rocketed across the grass and jumped into Crowley’s lap, slathering his face with loving kisses.

“Get off!” Crowley flailed wildly at the dog whilst trying to keep from knocking his wine over, and narrowly avoided falling off the bench.

“Dog!” called Adam cheerfully, from a dozen yards away. “Get down, you bad Dog!”

He ran towards them, a lead dangling in his hand, and the rest of the Them following on his heels. Aziraphale bent to ruffle Dog’s fur, and fished one of Anthony’s biscuits from his pocket. Dog fell upon it eagerly, and it kept the beast away from Crowley.

“He slipped his lead,” said Adam as he approached, none too apologetically, and grabbed Dog’s collar to clip it back on. “He must like you. What are you guys doing here?”

Aziraphale smiled. “Hello there, Adam. How nice to run into you. We were hoping to see Ana, but she wasn’t in.”

“They went to visit Newt’s mum for the weekend,” replied Adam, though he was addressing Crowley. “Your hair’s long.”

Crowley was surreptitiously miracling canine saliva and dog fur from his clothes. “Well spotted,” he said, in a tone that dripped sarcasm.

"It's very long," said Wensleydale admiringly.

Pepper pointed at Aziraphale. “I remember you. You were at the Airbase when we went on that weird Open Day. How come you’re back?”

“We’ve, um, moved to the area?”

“They’re friends of mine,” said Adam. “Like Ana and Newt.”

This seemed to be accepted this easily enough. Three pairs of eyes regarded Aziraphale and Crowley warily, childhood shyness laced with just a soupçon of sullen teenage suspicion. They all looked much as they had before the Ineffable Incident: Pepper watchful and guarded, Wensleydale anxious, and Brian hanging back behind them all, confused but mostly just extremely grubby.

Aziraphale rubbed his hands cheerfully. “Now then. Who here fancies an ice-cream?”

Any faintly lingering hostility in the atmosphere instantly disappeared.

“With a flake?” asked Wensleydale hopefully. Aziraphale looked at Adam for an indication of what might be an appropriate response, and the boy nodded fractionally.

“Absolutely!” agreed Aziraphale. “Why not!”

--

The Them’s favourite hangout was not kind to ecru linen, and Aziraphale was very grateful to Pepper for the loan of her red poncho to sit on, even if it was proffered with some considerable eye-rolling. He arranged it neatly across a bit of tree stump, and lowered himself onto it with care. Dog frolicked merrily around him in the fallen leaves, and Aziraphale hoped that the squelching ground underfoot was only mud. In any case he knew it would not be kind to his boots.

Nearby, Crowley leaned against a tree in his usual nonchalant fashion, his expression unreadable behind his glasses. The Them had finished their icecreams on the walk over, and seemed confused as to why Adam’s grownup friends were still around.

“So!” said Aziraphale. “I understand you’ve all started Higher School?”

“High School,” corrected Adam. He was sitting on the nearest thing to a chair in the vicinity, surrounded by items of childhood detritus. Wensleydale and Aziraphale sat before him like an audience, and Brian was cross-legged on the ground a little further away. “It’s rubbish.”

“It is rubbish,” said Pepper. She was collecting small nuts from the ground and seeing how far she could throw them. Her aim and ferocity were rather alarming. “You have to wear a tie. My mum says they’re sublimating our individuality to make us more susceptible to the propaganda of the status quo.”

“Excuse me, what does that actually even mean?” asked Wensleydale, and Pepper rolled her eyes as if the question was beneath her. Aziraphale suspected she was avoiding answering it. He wasn’t sure he could have done so himself.

The stump beneath his rear was far from comfortable, and Aziraphale adjusted his position awkwardly. “Well. You all had a good summer, I hope?”

Wensleydale nodded. “My parents took me to Jodrell Bank, actually, and it was very interesting.”

“Me and mum went to Corfu,” said Pepper. “It was wicked hot, and I got heatstroke, and then we missed our flight and had to sleep in the airport overnight.”

“And of course there was the, um. The Open Day. At the Airfield.”

“Yeah,” said Pepper, sounding uninterested. “I suppose.”

“It was pretty boring,” agreed Wensleydale. “No offence, Mr Fell.”

“What about you, Brian?” asked Aziraphale, hoping he had remembered the dirty boy’s name correctly. He hadn’t joined in with the conversation at all, yet, still sitting at a distance with his knees drawn up and his arms wrapped around them.

“My dad’s girlfriend’s pregnant,” mumbled Brian. He appeared to be mostly speaking to his own shoes.

The Them received this news in the same silence as Aziraphale and Crowley. It didn’t sound like an entirely joyful announcement, and it certainly didn’t seem to answer the question that had been asked.

“Actually, I didn’t know your dad had a girlfriend,” said Wensleydale.

“He met her at a Graduate Recruitment Fair,” said Brian, even more quietly.

Pepper’s head snapped up to attention. “How old is she?” she demanded.

Brian looked wretched. “23. She’s very pretty.”

“23 is quite old,” said Wensleydale thoughtfully. “But your dad is... very old. He’s got a beard and it’s mostly grey.”

Brian unfolded suddenly, throwing himself back against what was hopefully only dirt and dead leaves. His eyes were closed and his face screwed up with anguish. “Mum’s really pissed off. She says he’s a fuckstruck idiot. She says it won’t last.”

Under his breath, Crowley muttered something that sounded like “fuckstruck” in an admiring tone, as if he was making a note.

“Now, you can’t know that,” said Aziraphale hurriedly. “Love is a very powerful thing. The greatest of all! It can move mountains.”

“If it is love,” scoffed Pepper. She kicked at a pile of leaves. “Societal conditioning and ego massages, that’s all. When the novelty wears off she’ll go, and he’ll just have to pay child maintenance forever. Serves him right.”

“No,” said Brian, opening his eyes to look at her. “I want… I want the baby to grow up with a family. Not like you and me, like Adam and Wensleydale. But I always wanted Dad to come back, too. I don’t know what I want. I wish it hadn’t happened.”

“But actually, it has happened,” said Wensleydale helpfully.

There was another long pause, and Aziraphale struggled to think of what to say. Misery and confusion were rolling off Brian in waves so strong it was quite distracting.

It was Crowley who broke the silence. “Adam. What do you think?”

Adam had been scratching Dog’s head and poking the ground with a stick while he listened. He shrugged and spoke slowly, as if thinking aloud.

“I think everyone’s right, sort of. They might break up, but they might not, and we don’t know how much they love each other, but probably neither do they. I mean, my mum and dad have been married forever, a few months is nothing. And like Wensley said, it has happened, there’s going to be a new person, this baby, so all we can do is love it. That’s all. Love the baby as much as we can, and maybe it’ll turn out okay.”

Brian sat up, and Adam smiled at him. “That’s the main thing, I reckon.”

Relief settled upon Aziraphale. “Well said,” he murmured, and shared a look with Crowley. The demon looked equally pleased, although he was clearly trying to hide it.

Adam grinned and stood up, warming to his subject. “Maybe it’ll be really good. I mean, you’re going to be the best big brother, and we’re going to be brilliant aunties and uncles,” he said, enthusiasm aroused. “We’ll teach them how to climb trees and do the best weapon combos in Fortnite.”

Brian sniggered, and even Pepper seemed to already be considering the matter in a more positive light. Aziraphale was a being of pure Love older than these children could even imagine, and he was pretty sure he couldn’t have put it any better. Any fears he might have had for their wellbeing seemed suddenly rather silly. What extraordinary creatures these humans were, so full of love and imagination and hope, hope above all.

Although as to what Fortnite was, he couldn’t imagine.

--

On their way home, Aziraphale popped a note through the door of Jasmine Cottage inviting them for tea on Monday, and Crowley scrawled his telephone number at the bottom just in case. They drove back to Milton, where a cellar of fine wines and a garden bench awaited them.

--

“What was all that about, then?” asked Crowley, one bottle down already. They had taken up their usual seats on the bench in the garden, sharing some deep red oakey vintage of Crowley’s conjuring.

Aziraphale pondered the question. “I suppose I just wanted to make sure they were all right. It was hardly a walk in the park, after all, all that business with, well.”

“The Apocaflop. The narrowly averted supernatural annihilation of their entire world. Armageddidn’t.” Crowley swirled the liquid in his glass, experimenting with names. It seemed to amuse him, a corner of his mouth twitching as if he was trying not to laugh at his own jokes.

“Quite so. But Adam’s right, they really don’t seem to remember much at all.”

“And that was worth the whole afternoon, was it? Could’ve clicked your fingers and found that out in two minutes.”

“I’m sorry, dearest,” said Aziraphale, fond even in the face of Crowley’s dismissiveness. “I like to be old-fashioned about things, you know that. However, I don’t think we need worry about them. Certainly not with Adam around.”

“He’s a remarkable child. Even now.” Crowley had taken off his glasses and untied his hair, and was running his fingers through the long strands distractedly. “Did you warn him about the, hmm, troublesome elements in the area?”

“No. I didn’t feel I could mention it in front of the other children,” sighed Aziraphale, half-hiding his face in his own glass of wine. He should have managed that better, really.

“Probably fine,” said Crowley. “It’ll be us they’re after.”

“What a comforting thought.”

Aziraphale gazed broodily out to where a few dog biscuits awaited Anthony’s return. It didn’t do to watch Crowley playing with his hair for too long. It only made Aziraphale want to touch it himself, and he wasn’t quite sure if that would be welcomed.

Crowley laid a hand over Aziraphale’s. “We’ll be alright, you know.”

Warmth and joy spread through Aziraphale from Crowley’s touch, and that was more than enough to soothe his fretting. He liked holding Crowley’s hand.

“Our side,” he said, and wondered what that might yet come to mean.

Chapter Text

---

Aziraphale was watching the gate on Monday, and hurried out to meet Anathema and Newton as they arrived, still clutching a half-drunk mug of cocoa in his eagerness.

“Hello!” he called.

Anathema didn’t seem to quite notice him. She was walking down the garden path like Dorothy encountering Oz for the first time. Behind her, Newton waved awkwardly.

“Oh my god,” breathed Anathema. “Look at this place.”

Obediently, Aziraphale did so.

It was true the garden was looking wonderful, more so than most in the village as far as he could tell. As far as Aziraphale knew, it was simply down to the time of year. Years were so quick, he often found it hard to tell what month he was in, and it seemed very possible that October might always be as lush as it was at Paradise Cottage.

The leaves upon most of the trees had turned, not brown, but infinite shades of gold and red, like a fire. Very few had fallen to the ground, which was still carpeted in grass dotted artfully with daisies. A rabbit hopped nonchalantly under glossy-leaved bushes where red and purple berries hung in profusion, and songbirds of various sorts eyed them as they warbled from the trees.

The scent of one particular yellow flowering bush was heavy and sweet in the air. Aziraphale thought it might be jasmine, but of course he couldn’t be quite sure, and in the centre of the lawn stood the apple tree, now clustered with small green fruits, though none had yet ripened.

“Oh, well, the garden is rather Crowley’s domain. He’s probably tending his plants, shall we see?” asked Aziraphale, ushering them through.

The original greenhouse had expanded at some point and through an archway to its rear now lay a stone-flagged orangery, where espaliered fruit trees lined the raw brick walls and manicured potted trees stood arranged in perfect symmetry. There was a wood-burning stove to one side, unlit in the warm room, and beside it sat a tall, ornately gilded chair, upholstered in crimson velvet behind a similarly ridiculous marble desk. By rights they should have looked incongruous, yet somehow the combination worked. Seated at it was Crowley, his long hair piled up into a messy bun and a smear of dirt across his cheek, a small potted plant being scrutinised before him. He looked up and scrambled to put on his sunglasses as they approached.

Anathema was in raptures. “Look at the glass, the arches… it’s so gothic! And the trees!”

Crowley looked smug.

“It’s like a church!” said Anathema.

Crowley abruptly ceased to look smug. “No it isn’t.”

“But better,” said Anathema hurriedly. “Way better. Oh, oh, and look at that, oh my. Wow. Oh.” She turned to her husband, swaying on her feet for a moment and grasping his arm as if for support.

“Are you alright?” he asked anxiously, and she nodded, looking up at him with shining eyes.

“Newton, you’re going to have to trust me on this. We need to get married here.”

Aziraphale, being an angel, loved all humans. It was a generalised sort of love for the most part, and more specifically he usually loved them when they didn't bother him too much. Rare was the human that Aziraphale became close to individually. They were so fragile, with their brief flickering lifespans, that it didn't pay to become attached too often.

But he liked Anathema, very much. And her suggestion was rather touching.

“Now, Crowley,” said Aziraphale, as the demon rose from his seat in immediate outrage. “Let’s not be hasty. It might be rather fun.”

Crowley was stalking towards them, fury upon his face.

Newton pushed his glasses back up his nose. “I thought we were getting married in the Village Hall. We’ve paid the deposit.”

“Sweetheart,” said Anathema patiently. “I am literally a multi-millionaire. It’s fine.”

“Absolutely not,” declared Crowley. “No no no. No.”

“Would there be many guests?” Aziraphale asked, looking about the space. It could be expanded if necessary, of course.

“Is anyone listening to me?” demanded Crowley, not that Aziraphale paid him much attention. He was warming to the idea already.

“About a dozen for the ceremony,” said Anathema. “Just family and attendants. And then maybe seventy for afterwards, but it’s fine, we’ll use the Village Hall for that, we’re not going to impose.”

“You’re absolutely not,” Crowley agreed. “Because this? Is not happening.”

“Oh, Crowley, you could do the floral arrangements!” said Aziraphale delightedly.

Crowley rounded on him. “Do I look like a bloody florist?”

Aziraphale shot him a reproachful look. “We don’t have to, of course. It’s up to you.”

He met Crowley’s gaze calmly, and waited. Even behind the sunglasses, he could tell Crowley was glaring, and the only thing stopping him from manifesting some horrifying presence was likely the knowledge it wouldn’t scare Aziraphale at all.

It didn’t take as long as he’d feared for the demon to groan in defeat.

“Fine!” said Crowley, throwing up his hands. “Fine. Just, tickety-boo. Yup. Why not.”

“How marvellous!” said Aziraphale, leading everyone back to the house. “Now, let’s go inside. I have some peppermint brownies that need to be eaten up. They turned out very nicely, though I say it myself.”

Behind them came the sound of a small plant-pot hitting a brick wall and smashing to smithereens, before Crowley followed.

--

The Pulsifers seemed just as awed by the interior of Paradise Cottage as they had been by the garden, and Aziraphale was so charmed he could hardly help but give them the tour.

“And this is the snug, my little Inner Sanctum,” he said, ushering them through from the kitchen.

“This… how does this fit? The house isn’t big enough,” said Newton, blinking in confusion. “It’s like the Tardis.”

“Is it?” asked Aziraphale, looking about himself at the shelves that stretched from floor to ceiling, packed with no more than a few hundred of his most favourite books. A Persian rug lay in the centre of the stone flagged floor, and by the window stood his writing desk and his armchair, but there was very little in the way of other ornament, and certainly nothing approaching the clutter of the bookshop. It wasn’t as if he’d miracled everything down from London. He’d been very restrained, to his mind at least. “What’s a Tardis?”

“An imaginary time machine,” said Crowley, loping through the doorway, a glass of what looked like whiskey clutched in one hand. “Well, sort of a time machine. Also a spaceship. Stands for Time And Relative Dimensions In Space. Goes whoosh.”

Aziraphale looked at Crowley in surprise. “How do you know that?”

Crowley fiddled with his glass and made a few incoherent noises before answering. “Just watch a lot of TV.”

“Holy shit,” said Anathema, from outside the room, and Aziraphale went to find her, wondering if this tour had been a bad idea.

“This is signed,” she said, pointing at the rather lovely Mona Lisa cartoon on their sitting room wall. “By Leonardo daVinci.”

It was a nice picture, Aziraphale had always thought so. She had such a sweet smile. He had not actually realised that it was one of Da Vinci’s original sketches, but he supposed it made sense, knowing Crowley. He was something of a connoisseur, and had patronised many artists over the centuries. He’d even made time for it when he was asleep for most of a century, popping over to the Netherlands in 1832 to speak to the brothers Geefs about a potential commission for Liège Cathedral, and had been most proud of the result.

“It’s just there! On your wall!” spluttered Newton, which was a peculiar sort of objection.

“I suppose everything has to be somewhere,” said Aziraphale, abandoning any plan to take them upstairs. “What can I get you to drink? I have biscuits, if you don’t fancy cake.”

--

Two teas, one cocoa, a top-up of whiskey and four peppermint brownies later, it seemed time to broach the unfortunate subject at last. Aziraphale glanced at Crowley, who nodded, and took a deep breath.

“Lovely as it is,” he began, and Newton’s eyes went suddenly wide. He pointed at Crowley, outstretched arm trembling.

“What has happened to your hair?” he all-but-shouted.

There was a long pause while the other three occupants of the table stared at him in confusion.

“It grew,” said Crowley, exasperated. “Have it short again if everyone doesn’t shut up about it.”

“Oh, darling!” protested Aziraphale. The endearment was out before he could stop himself, and Crowley’s expression melted instantly. He reached to touch Aziraphale’s wrist.

“I won’t, you know I won’t,” he murmured.

On the other side of the table, Anathema held out a hand silently to Newton, who was already reaching for his wallet. Aziraphale took the diplomatic decision to ignore it, cleared his throat, and began again.

“Lovely as it is to welcome you to our home,” he said, “I regret that there is also a less happy purpose to this meeting. I’m afraid it appears we may still be under the surveillance of Heaven and possibly also Hell. Probably nothing to worry about, but it seemed wise to warn you both.”

“I know,” sighed Anathema, her shoulders sagging. “I saw them. Well, I didn’t see them, but I saw them.”

“...Oh?” said Aziraphale encouragingly.

Anathema set down her fork, pulled off her glasses with a huff of frustration and set her hands to her temples.

“I’m having visions,” she announced. “Not much, just flashes here and there. Mostly it’s little things like bad traffic on the way to see Newton’s Mom, but sometimes it’s more than that. Just now when I walked into the greenhouse I saw Newton and me standing there getting married, with flowers in our hair and stars around us. Sorry, by the way.”

“Not at all,” said Aziraphale, and earned himself a scowl from Crowley.

“But yeah,” sighed Anathema, only half listening. “We got lost on the way over and came back through Milton village, and there was this completely gross dude by the grocery store? And a woman by the library with a glowing white head like a streetlight. I don’t know how I knew it, but I knew they weren’t really there. They were more like echoes, after-images or something. And I’m pretty sure they weren’t human.”

“No,” agreed Aziraphale quietly. Anathema was still speaking, increasingly agitated, and Newton had leant over to rub a hand on her back, his expression concerned.

“The biggest was one time I saw four figures on a purple hill, three golden and one more kind of bronze? And I was there, and I knew they were there to cause trouble, and it was bad but I couldn’t make out what exactly was happening because some voice was saying ‘tell the Governor, tell the Governor’. I had the worst headache after that one, I swear.”

“Ooh,” said Aziraphale sympathetically, although he was struggling somewhat to keep up.

Anathema was still going. “And then the next one is like, oh, the postman’s going to be late on Friday. There’s no order to any of it, it’s crazy!”

“So you know when these things are going to happen. That’s useful,” observed Aziraphale.

“Most of the time, but not always. And I don’t know who the Governor is, do you?”

“No idea, I’m afraid,” said Aziraphale. Crowley shook his head.

She sighed. “Okay. I’m doing some research. There was a Governor in this area a few hundred years ago, that might be it.”

“Have you, uh, told anyone?” Crowley rolled the amber liquid around in his glass, and took a sip.

“Only Adam.”

“And you haven’t seen anything suggesting you or Adam might be in any danger?” pressed Aziraphale. “Or observed any peculiar strangers around Tadfield?”

“Not at all. Not that I can remember, anyway. I can check when I get back home.”

“She’s writing them down,” said Newton proudly, and added: “I’m helping.”

Aziraphale sipped his cocoa and pondered another brownie. There were hardly any left, and it would be more like tidying up than indulging, or perhaps he should give them to the humans to take home. Anathema looked tired, and worried.

“How are the wedding plans?” he asked diplomatically, and she brightened at once. The conversation turned to music, and gift lists, and flowers. Crowley had a few begrudging ideas about the latter subject, and by the time she was shrugging on her coat to leave, Anathema was once again her best self, laughing and happy as she tucked her arm through Newton’s.

“There was another one about you two, I remember now,” she said as she closed the gate behind them, almost as an afterthought. “You were standing in a room of fire, but it didn’t burn you. You were fine.”

“Interesting. Do you recall anything about the room?” asked Aziraphale.

“It was on fire,” she said, and shrugged apologetically.

--

It was chilly that evening and they had decided to remain indoors, for a change. There was no reason for Aziraphale to take the rocking chair when the sofa was big enough for two, and extremely comfortable besides. The stove was lit, and the room was cosy enough that Aziraphale had taken off his bowtie and unbuttoned his waistcoat entirely.

“If I did do floral arrangements,” Crowley said, leaning back in his usual sprawl, one arm thrown perilously close to Aziraphale’s shoulders. “Not that I’m going to, but if I did, they’d be fucking amazing.”

“The most amazing,” agreed Aziraphale. “Listen, my dear. I may have got carried away, again. If you really don’t want us to host the ceremony we don’t have to.”

Crowley grumbled for a moment but his heart didn’t seem in it. He reached to top up his glass with another splash of the delightful 1887 Petrus they were sharing and made no reply.

Aziraphale smiled. Fondly, he tucked a stray lock of auburn hair behind Crowley’s ear, lingering a moment with his fingers against cool, dry skin. “In any case, thank you for indulging me, my love.”

Any pretence at disgruntlement from Crowley evaporated instantly, and he leaned into the touch like an animal being petted. His mouth opened and closed a few times before any words came out, and then suddenly he frowned.

“Won’t work every time.”

“What won’t?” asked Aziraphale innocently. He took Crowley’s hand, lacing their fingers together once more. It was just as heady as at first, a warm wave of joy that thrummed deep in his soul.

More than anything, he wanted to kiss Crowley. He wanted it so badly he wasn’t sure where to begin, and so he simply looked at Crowley, and waited, and hoped, and Crowley looked at him, and neither one of them moved for a long moment.

“I thought I was the demon,” Crowley mumbled, and turned away, taking another gulp of his wine.

“Well,” said Aziraphale, trying not to feel too disappointed. “They do say couples grow to become more like one another.”