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A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down

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When Aziraphale caught Mrs. Dowling smoking by the rose trellis, he knew they were in serious trouble.

Mrs. Dowling wasn’t a smoker. She certainly had never shown an appetite for her husband’s cigars, but there she was now—holding a Hoyo De Monterrey Double Corona, furiously puffing away with a determined gaze.

*

“Oh, she’s thinking about divorce,” Crowley told him. They were at the Victoria and Albert Museum’s silver collection, another secret rendez-vous. Aziraphale watched his reflection on the gleaming surface of an abundance of goblets. He looked pale and panicked, and seeing that made him realise I’m slightly alarmed.

“She can’t do that,” he said.

“She should,” Crowley noted, fanning himself with a brochure. His hair moved in the breeze, and Aziraphale caught a whiff of Nanny Ashtoreth’s perfume: floral, powdery, the scent of wilting flowers in a cemetery. “Thaddeus is a right prick.”

“He is a buffoon,” Aziraphale agreed carefully, somewhat distracted. “Nevertheless, they had an Evangelical wedding, and Heaven won’t stand for the separation of the Antichrist’s parents. Technically, they cannot even get divorced.”

“Practically, the rate of Christian divorces is higher than secular ones.” Crowley tilted his chin up to get a better look at a chalice. He had such a lovely neck. The scent of the perfume would be strongest just behind his ears. Aziraphale would only have to lean in. Inhale.

“It’s against the Scripture,” Aziraphale said, defeated. Crowley cackled: the kind of laughter Aziraphale so liked, even though it always meant Crowley was mocking him.

“It’s against the Scripture,” he repeated sarcastically. “Please, have you seen what it says about me? Load of dung, the Scripture is.”

Aziraphale refused to dignify that with an answer. He discreetly shuffled towards a selection of plates. He liked plates. He was a gentleman quite taken with them, giving no notice to his disagreeable colleague who sauntered behind him, rounded him up, hunted him down. A lock of russet hair brushed Aziraphale’s shoulder as Crowley leaned closer, pointed a finger.

“Whoa, look,” he said. “You’re finally reunited.”

Aziraphale pressed his lips into a thin line. He had that plate for only a century—he quite liked it, to be fair; of course Crowley would recall such a minor detail. They were in love, after all; but they were professionals—mentioning their mutual infatuation would be untoward, acting upon it even more so. He gave in to the momentarily temptation of relishing in Crowley’s body heat before Crowley pulled away: he had always been the first to retreat.

Aziraphale watched him walk to a display of spoons, the little ponytail slightly bobbing, hips swaying, soundless on his feet.

God have mercy, he loved him.

“Anyway, tell your side not to get their toga in a twist,” Crowley said leisurely. “I’ll handle it.”

“You have a plan?” Aziraphale asked—he couldn’t help how hopeful he sounded, how he beamed, how he quickened his steps to rush after Crowley.

It was all right. He’d never quite reach him. There would always be a few polite centimeters separating them.  Often, the entire length of a bench.

“She told me she just needed some space,” Crowley said, vaguely scratching at his neck. “I suggested she takes Warlock to the South Downs, they have a holiday home there. Long weekend. I’ll tag along, of course, mind the kid while she minds her business. I reckon she’ll sort it out. Return quite refreshed.”

“Oh, you’re brilliant!” Aziraphale congratulated him. The flush on Crowley’s perfect cheekbones didn’t go unnoticed. It’d be easy to have him: a few compliments; the words yes; me, too: I love you back.

Surely, he must have guessed.

Aziraphale kept himself in check, and limited the display of affection to one firm pat of Crowley’s back. He arched into the touch nevertheless.

“‘Twas easy, we’re girlfriends,” he babbled. “You should come along, though.”

Aziraphale’s hand dropped. “I don’t suppose she’ll need a gardener for only a couple of days.”

“Yeah, that’s the tricky bit.” Crowley tapped the brochure to his chin, thinking. “Warlock’s in a delicate place. He can feel something’s off with his parents. Very susceptible to temptation. If you’re not there with your heavenly influence, who knows, it might be his downfall.”

Aziraphale straightened up, squared his shoulders. Right. Business. He considered the matter quickly, sensing the urgency in Crowley’s nonchalant plea.

“I could be anybody,” he mused. “They wouldn’t recognise me without Brother Francis’ makeup. Do you suppose they’ll need a butler, maybe?”

“She needs space,” Crowley reminded him gloomily. “Won’t take staff, just me. Not even bodyguards.”

“Right.” Aziraphale clicked his tongue. Looked Crowley’s reflection over, hands in his pockets, hips cocked. His face softened. He glanced away, and said, mildly, “Well. I could always be your husband.”

He could hear a choked-off sound, and waited a beat until Crowley could breathe: patience was key with him. He peered back at him sideways, Crowley’s eyebrows still arched and mouth agape, a gasp fogging up the cabinet’s glass.

“Husband, ngk, yes, of course,” Crowley stuttered  and shrugged, shoulders rolling back as if they had no sockets. “I mean, why not? Might as well. Tie the bond. Yeah.”

“You could tell her we had pre-arranged plans,” Aziraphale said, ignoring the flush he felt spreading from his chest. Husband, husband—but it was only pretence. No need to make a fuss about it. This was about work, their respective calling. About stopping the Apocalypse. “I could help looking after Warlock, too.”

“I’ll think of an exhaustive explanation,” Crowley said, then grinned. Reached for Aziraphale, raising a brow in challenge. “We should practice hand-holding, huh?”

It was asked in that jesting but secretly eager tone that always made Aziraphale’s heart sink. He squeezed Crowley’s elegant hand, but only briefly, then he let him go, apologetic.

“I’m sure we’ll give a most convincing performance anyway, darling. Tea? I’ve always liked V&A’s buffet.”

“Yeah,” Crowley said, fretting with his fingers. His smile was forced, but no less fond than ever. “Let’s grab a cuppa, angel.”

*   

There was fog hanging over the garden when Aziraphale came to meet Mrs. Dowling on the morning of their little outing. He hoped it’d swallow him. He felt awkward and stiff, and entirely transparent. The jig could be up any minute. He liked to think he was a terrible liar. He knew he wasn’t.

Still—wasn’t it suspicious that a stunning lady like Mrs. Ashtoreth would marry someone wearing a cable-knit sweater and a parka? Crowley’d chosen his outfit—said he shouldn’t look upper-class, explained how it was part of their cover story, but Aziraphale suspected she was just having a laugh. At least Aziraphale could keep the shoes and the trousers, and the ring too, just worn on a different finger.

“And how did you meet?” Mrs. Dowling asked him while he helped packing the Rolls-Royce. She had seven items of luggage. Aziraphale reckoned she had a plan to never come back. Their mission was to make sure she did.

“There was an apple tree,” he said distractedly, then sobered up. Of course. Right. “We were in Kew Gardens, I mean,” he explained while shoving the last bag into place. Miraculously, it fit. “I saw her admiring the apples, and—well, you know how it goes. She walked up to me, we started chatting. It was raining, I offered my—umbrella, and one thing led to another. I took her to eat oysters, she’d never had them, would you believe that, and then, then—the fog, the bridge—the trip to Paris.” He gave a convincing dreamy sigh, and closed the boot gingerly. “We never stopped loving each other. But it took me a while to realise we even began to love. Silly of me, really. No one makes me smile like my dear Cr—Antonia.”

Mrs. Dowling nodded with a patient smile, coral-red lips stretched too wide. She must be used to men talking on and on. He was about to apologise for babbling, until he noticed the wistfulness in her gaze.

“That’s what marriage should be all about, isn’t it?” she asked. “Marrying your best friend. Someone who loves to be with you.”

“Marriage is a duty,” Aziraphale hastened to add. “An, er, sacred bond—”

She looked over his shoulder, and smiled again, showing teeth this time. “Here she comes.”

Crowley was walking towards them through the lustrous grass, little Warlock hoisted up in her arms, and a Batman duffle bag thrown over her shoulder. “He packed himself,” she announced proudly.

“Nanny helped a little,” Warlock said modestly. That was a score for Heaven, but Aziraphale barely even noticed it. He couldn’t look away from Crowley. They should’ve practiced hand-holding after all. How was he to approach her in a convincingly married manner? Should he run up to her, tear off the bloody parka and lay it on the ground so she wouldn’t step into a puddle? It’d been a while since he saw anyone do that—but her presence must be noted by him in some meaningful way, mustn’t it?

That’s when he realised he was still staring.

That should do. His yearning look. The same as usual. 

“Ready, my dear?” he asked as Crowley handed over the duffle bag. Their fingers briefly brushed. A millennia of almost-accidental finger-brushes. Oh yes, they did have this under their belt.

“Yeah, I’m driving,” Crowley said, matter-of-fact.

“Darling, you mustn’t.”

“I am,” she insisted. “It’s a deadly race to Hampshire, and we shall win. Isn’t that right, Lockie?”

“We shall win, we shall win,” Warlock agreed.

“But dearest,” Aziraphale tried again, and was promptly ignored as Crowley set to strap Warlock in the car seat. He turned, desperate, to Mrs. Dowling, who looked all too amused. “You shan’t let her, please, she really is a horrid driver.”

“I have ears,” Crowley grumbled. “I have a licence as well.”

“For a steam dray,” Aziraphale muttered.

“I’m calling shotgun,” Mrs. Dowling said with a smirk. “I love fast cars.”

“Attagirl,” Crowley said, and Aziraphale could only watch with concern as Mrs. Dowling slid into the passenger’s seat, willingly putting her frail life at risk.

“I love fast cars,” she said again, running a well-manicured hand over the wooden dashboard. “And  I love tailored suits, a nice pair of dress shoes, expensive watches and manly man, and that’s how Mommy fucked up her entire life, Warlock.”

“Music!” Aziraphale chimed while Warlock started giggling. “Oh, we didn’t forget to bring some compact discs, did we?”

“There’s a Best of Queen somewhere here,” Mrs. Dowling said.

“Let’s refrain us from Queen,” Crowley noted with restraint, and pulled on Warlock’s safety belt to test it. “Comfy?”

“Fuck,” Warlock said, delighted. “Mommy said fu-u-uck!”

*

There were worse places to be than Chawton. (For instance, trapped in a car with a demon manically zooming along the A31 while everybody put on a brave face and pretended they hadn’t seen her cut between two lorries.)

Chawton was all green pastures, rolling hills, neat gardens, charming chalk cliffs. He could appreciate it, if he tried hard enough. He’d always been a city boy, as soon as cities started to be a thing. Cities meant comfort and civilisation, a great selection of food, and varying company, people always coming and going, the lull of traffic, and fascinating little conversations: you could just sit at a railway station and listen for hours.

Here, all he could hear were some stray sheep, the rumble of thunder and the rustle of leaves in the chilly wind. The silence was terrifying. Vast and empty, like Heaven.

Not like there was anything wrong with Heaven. At all.

As soon as they entered the Dowling’s cottage, an immense relief washed over him. Shelter at last. It was rustic, yes: but delightfully crowded with cozy leather sofas and armchairs, a plush rug here, a cheery fireplace there, lace doilies and billowing curtains everywhere. He could picture himself by candlelight, a blanket in his lap and his feet in a basin of warm water, reading till the break of dawn and sipping on cocoa. And Crowley—of course Crowley will like it here as well. He knew that the first thing she’d do would be to take in the impressive height of the ceiling, all that open space. She wouldn’t like the trophies, but the dark shade of the timbre would please her. He knew which chair she’d take for herself: the one with the best view on the largest window, so she could watch the birds and laugh at their poorly executed aviation.

“So this is the living room,” Mrs. Dowling said, comfortably easing into the persona of a bubbly hostess, even though she was clearly hanging on by a thread. Aziraphale sent some angelic calm towards her. “Kitchen, restroom, and the bedrooms are upstairs, yours is the one on the East side.”

Aziraphale smiled at her politely as Crowley entered with a dozing Warlock, craned her neck and whistled in appreciation. It took Aziraphale a moment to realise what’d been said, the danger lurking in those innocent, unremarkable sentences.

He’d have to share a bedroom with Crowley.

*

The Almighty was clearly testing him. Or, on the contrary: maybe all of this was a reward for his good work so far.

He kept telling himself that as he watched Crowley’s mesmerizing rear sway in a tight hobble skirt. They went to a trek on the slopes of the South Downs. She and Warlock took the lead on the narrow, muddy dirt road, while Mrs. Dowling and himself lagged behind at a more comfortable pace.

“We’ve been walking on for-everrr,” Warlock complained dramatically, head thrown back.

“Sorry, you have to stay in practice,” Crowley said, unperturbed, “otherwise, how will you lead the armies of Hell to battle?”

Mrs. Dowling chuckled at that, and glanced at Aziraphale. He didn’t know what to do with the unprompted attention. He was preoccupied with lusting after a demon and surviving the blast of freezing gale. He pulled up his shoulders and held his head like a turtle. His ears were cold. They wouldn’t be cold if Crowley were kind enough to lick into them, as he did once as a joke. Aziraphale couldn’t stop thinking about it. It happened in the Dark Ages.

“Y’know,” Mrs. Dowling said, “I always pictured Mrs. Ashtoreth’s husband to be more like, I don’t know, the Gomez type. She’s so gothic.”

Aziraphale didn’t get the pop culture reference, but recognised it as such. It had to be from a movie or television show; but the name rang a bell. He ran through all the contemporary books he’d devoured, cross-referencing Gomez and gothic, and within two shakes of a lamb’s tale, he could blurt out an appropriate answer. “I’m afraid I’m no good at tango; I prefer the gavotte.”

Mrs. Dowling laughed again. It didn’t reach her eyes, but it was a start. Aziraphale’s heart went out for her: she deserved better. Deserved the world.

Well.

Her son was heir to the Earth. But not like that.

“I guess it’s the eccentricity that matters,” she said.

“Do you find me eccentric?” Aziraphale asked, eager to be distracted. Humans tended to sniff him out, but he never managed to locate what gave him away. He was either completely ignored, or treated like an old confidant. He couldn’t count the drunk waywards who cried on his shoulder, or even crashed his couch; the amount of bread and fish he gave away. Lives he touched, improved—but could never save.

“I mean it as a compliment,” Mrs. Dowling said. She kicked at a rock, hands in the pockets of her Burberry coat. The way she watched it roll away struck Aziraphale as essentially human. The same expression on millions and millions on faces. Kicking rocks, aimlessly. There was never a reason they did it. It was endlessly fascinating. Aziraphale felt love flare up in his chest, shining bright: divine.

(The kind of love Crowley deserved. The kind she was denied. What he could give her instead was both holy and base. Being in love: how selfish—but oh, a thousand times hallowed.)

“I suppose we are an odd pair,” Aziraphale remarked. He watched Crowley’s skirt dance around her ankles, the heavy peacoat flaring out like wings. She had a pretty pillbox hat that stayed firmly in place despite the wuthering wind, and her hair was arranged into flawless curls that resisted the weather vehemently. She was cheating.

(Who wouldn’t love her, he wondered. Why couldn’t God—but that way lay doubt.)

*

Crowley ignited the logs in the fireplace within a matter of a second, and they set to toast marshmallows with Warlock. The scent of melting sugar was overwhelming. Aziraphale always regarded American desserts to be inferior to a lovely British biscuit, but he wasn’t about to offend their hosts by voicing his opinion. Mrs. Dowling had kicked off her shoes and curled up on the sofa with a book on  marketing, headphones in—but quite reluctant to leave their company.

Aziraphale, with his armchair pulled close to the fire, understood her need to linger: humans were social creatures, and so were angels. They were supposed to live in flocks. When he took this assignment, he was rather anxious about how he’d react to isolation, but he felt assured that God would take care of him.

He wondered if Crowley ever felt lonely.

He watched her sitting on the carpet with Warlock on her knees; oh, there were always kids hanging off Crowley. She loved that they had no brain-to-mouth filter. Said they were hilarious; meant they were honest—in their need, in their rage. All that attention they shamelessly demanded: and how Crowley never got tired of telling them just one more tale, with the endless patience no parent could have—but a Creator, perhaps.

No, let us not conquer the Heavens,” she quoted by heart, flames reflecting in her dark glasses. “It is enough to have the power to do so. War engenders war, and victory defeat. God, conquered, will become Satan; Satan, conquering, will become God. May the fates spare me this terrible lot!

There was no fear in her voice. Aziraphale drew his own courage from that. Crowley, his hero: such an unlikely saviour. Hair like blood and hellfire; the mark of the beast she’d became, by her ear; the eyes, once a warm brown. And how beautiful she was, exactly like this—beautiful by her own right, her fairness no longer the praise of her Creator. She made herself, a shape-shifting serpent, bones that were shattered in the Fall mended, burnt wings restored, alive and untamed.

She had the Antichrist in her lap, and her voice not wavered once as she told him about the power he had to break her anew.

*

With her back to him, Aziraphale could see the scars between Crowley’s shoulder blades, the low cut of the silk slip exposing the mark of gruesome wounds, a bitter reminder: an angel did that to her.

It could have very well been me.

She turned to him in the half-light of the bedroom, fumbling with her pearl earrings: they were like droplets of water trembling on the soft lobes. “You sure you don’t want me to take the sofa downstairs? Last chance.”

“I’m quite alright, thank you,” Aziraphale said, sitting in bed stiffly, back straight, striped pyjamas buttoned all the way up.  “Wouldn’t be the first time we’ve slept together,” Aziraphale added, mostly to placate himself. All those inns, taverns, dingy motel rooms and luxurious hotels: staying up late to talk the night away, watch the sun rise in each other’s eyes. Crowley’s sofa in the bookshop, where he would often spend the night in recent years, curled up as a snake or letting his long legs dangle from the armrest, too knackered to care.

“Never shared a bed,” Crowley said. “Just checking if you’re comfortable. My feet are very cold.” She put her clothes in the sturdy dresser. As she bent forward, Aziraphale noticed she had shaved her legs: a glance confirmed her chest and armpits had met a similar fate.

Many people share a bed,” Aziraphale said defensively. “It doesn’t have to mean anything.”

“Right,” Crowley muttered. She made quick work on the straps of her stuffed bra, shrugging it off and pulling it out from under the slip. Her movements were very sharp and pointed.

“Come here,” Aziraphale said, softening. Crowley glared at him, but obeyed. She climbed into  bed, but settled to sit atop the patchwork quilt, at arm’s length. It hurt, a little: Aziraphale longed to embrace and comfort her. Made no move to do so. “You know,” he said, “we’re husband and wife for this weekend. We might just behave as such; cannot raise suspicion.”

“Yeah, I get that,” Crowley spat. “That’s the plan.”

“So I don’t mind sleeping with you,” Aziraphale clarified, searching for the right thing to say and settling on, “We could even cuddle.”

Cuddle.”

“You look rather cuddly, dear.”

Crowley scoffed, and pulled her legs up to her chest in a show of protest. She was wearing lace knickers, taut over her bulge. “Cuddly, me. What a laugh. Lots of—bones. Never got used to having a humanesque skeleton. It’s just odd.” She pulled a face.

“No pressure,” Aziraphale said, sliding down the cushioned headboard a little. “Let me just remark in passing that I’ve been told I’m rather cushy.”

It worked. Crowley turned to him so fast her neck nearly snapped.“Who told you that?”  

“Oh, I don’t know,” Aziraphale mused, drifting further down into the pile of pillows. “I get it all the time. I have the reputation of being quite an excellent bedfellow.”

“Do you?” Crowley asked, getting to her hands and knees. She crawled closer, and hissed, “Scoot over.”

Aziraphale lifted the blanket graciously, smirking. Crowley made sure to kick him as she wiggled in; her feet were terribly cold, and her hair still smelt of smoke and marshmallows.

“Must be very proud of yourself,” she mumbled. “Bedfellow par excellence.” 

“See for yourself,” he said, and kept perfectly still until Crowley deigned to hug him. She lay her head over his chest, arms around his torso.

“Bastard,” she whispered. It made Aziraphale chuckle; made him hug her back. “Oh bless, that’s a nice hug.”

“‘m an angel. Best hugs in the universe,” he mumbled into her hair as he made the lights go out with a snap. Darkness fell over them, warm and heavy like a comforter.

“Certified by God Herself, I bet,” Crowley slurred.

“Mmm, of course. I have a stamp of approval on my feathery bum.” He scoffed at his own little joke. Such lowly humour; he couldn’t help it—Crowley always brought it out of him. Such a bad influence.

He froze when he felt her hand slide to his buttocks; cup a cheek. “Here?” she whispered into his neck wetly.

“Crowley!” he gasped. There was an urgency in his voice that sounded dangerous; that was begging to—

Begging for—

“Oh,” Crowley said, and withdrew her hand. “So it’s platonic, yeah?”

“Obviously,” Aziraphale said, and he felt like he needed to add something else—a sermon on Heaven and Hell—not on wouldn’ts but shouldn’ts and can’ts.

“It’s alright,” Crowley said. “Point taken, keeping my hands to myself.”

Aziraphale didn’t want her to do that. Wanted her to touch him again; explore to her leisure. Undo each button. He would just lie there, and nod his consent as she lavished him with attention, lapping at his neck, his chest, lower, untying his trousers—

“Hope I didn’t—” Crowley began.

“No, it’s okay,” Aziraphale said, choked off, a little. “It was an honest mistake.”

“Yeah. Just that.” Crowley buried her face into his chest, still in his arms, but out of reach forever. He couldn’t see what expression she had, but he reckoned it’d break him. He kissed the top of her head, and held on tighter.

*

There was no heartache breakfast food wouldn’t cure: crisp bacon, fried eggs, black pudding, mushrooms and sausages with tomato and baked beans—nothing beat a full English. There was a cup of smoky lapsang souchong tea waiting for Crowley, and masala chai for Aziraphale.

(The pub down the road didn’t usually engage in deliveries, but that morning, they’d felt inspired to do it.)

“Something smells amazing,” Crowley mumbled. She’d made pretense of having a morning shower and now emerged clean as snow on a mountaintop, hair dry but let down, the trail of her silk bathrobe floating behind her like the Styx river. Aziraphale felt a pang of disappointment when he noticed Warlock was already with her; he hoped they’d be able to talk in private. He didn’t let his chagrin show, and beamed at them both.

“Good morning! Little Warlock, I believe you’ll find some cocoa waiting for you.”

“I drink coffee,” he said, reluctant to let go of Crowley’s sleeve. “De-caf. That means they take the caffeine out of it, but it’s still an adult drink.”

“Well, of course,” Aziraphale obliged. “You’re a big boy now, with refined tastes.”

“That’s right. I like hot chocolate as well,” Warlock explained as he climbed into a chair. His legs would reach the ground soon. He was growing so fast, their little omen: and the world wasn’t getting any younger.

“Chocolate or coffee, darling?” Crowley asked him, sauntering to the counter. It was an American style kitchen, opening into the living room. It still felt too small for them as Crowley stepped up to him, surveying the options. Her eyebrows raised over the frame of her sunglasses. “You outdid yourself,” she whispered.

“Thank you,” Aziraphale said, and before he could think about it too much, kissed her cheek. It was fleeting: the casual intimacy of married couples, just a small way to show appreciation—but if she so fancied, she could take it as a peace offering. Her lips parted.

“I want a Starbucks,” Warlock reached a decision before she could say anything. “I want a venti almond latte and I want extra-extra cream but no caffeine.”

“What do we say?” Crowley asked, stepping back from Aziraphale.

Warlock sunk down in his chair, arms thrown over his head . “Ple-e-ease?”

Aziraphale had to admit he looked adorable in his dinosaur PJs, hair ruffled and puppy-eyes activated; very cute for the son of Satan.

“What do we say?” Crowley asked, bending down so they were at eye-level.

Warlock straightened his posture, and delightedly yelled, “I want it now!”—and snapped his fingers.  

Aziraphale held his breath.

There was a very real possibility that the latte would appear in front of him: what would be more effective to summon it than the intense yearning of a child, their unrelenting want?

“Patience!” Aziraphale blurted, still staring at the spot where the latte wasn’t, but could be,  when Warlock finally started bending reality to his will. “You will find, I think, that patience guarantees you all wishes—and they will be sweeter, for you waited for them,” he babbled.

Warlock looked at him, unimpressed. “You sound like our gardener,” he accused.

“Francis is my twin brother,” Aziraphale said, the lie tripping from his tongue easily as he ignored Crowley waving at him not to complicate their backstory. He brushed down invisible lint from his sweater (another bloody sweater—this one with elbow patches), and said with a casual air, “Anyhow—I hope you listen to him, and me.”

“He’s okay,” Warlock said diplomatically, but with a glint in his eyes that betrayed how his sympathies had been bribed with sugar cubes and apples. (Aziraphale occasionally confused children with horses.) 

“Have you ever had to wait for something to get it?” Aziraphale chatted, and proceeded to portion their breakfast. Warlock would want at least five bangers, and Mrs. Dowling, poor darling, deserved the ripest tomato; but the best pudding should go to Crowley.

“Once I asked for a tricycle for Christmas,” Warlock recalled, staring into mid-distance to see the eternity of his six years unfold before him. “Aaand I knew I’d get it, and that made it better, I guess, because then Nanny got it for me and I was very happy.”

“See,” Aziraphale pointed a butter knife at him triumphantly, “a lesson in perseverance. Do you know that word? Perseverance, waiting for something despite difficulties or delays. Can you spell it for me?”

“Pee,” Warlock tried, then started to giggle.

Aziraphale was aware that Crowley was watching them; he could see her wistful smile from the corner of his eye, just the hint of it at the corner of her lips. It occurred to him that Crowley deserved more mornings like this, tranquil and domestic, away from work—and together; they both needed  the privacy of it.

It was becoming impossible to find an unobserved moment. The Dowling house was under constant surveillance; angels would swing by Aziraphale’s bookshop in the small hours, demons physically manifested in Crowley’s flat, or they’d be both called into the office on short notice—Dagon had just as bad timing as Michael. These stolen moments here: these were all they’d get. Aziraphale still mourned how he believed there’d be a thousand more years to share earthly delights with each other—picnics and dinners: opportunities gone, perhaps forever. Was it hypocritical to think they’d just have to bide their time a little longer?

What reward was waiting for them that’d be worth the restraint?

Shouldn’t they just take whatever they desired? Grab at each other—but it went against everything he believed.

*

Crowley kept on her leather gloves. The inch of skin showing just above her wrist was entirely too tempting. Aziraphale’s gaze followed the line of blue veins, his reading shamefully forgotten in his lap—a first edition of Sanditon by his darling Miss Austen, nothing less. His finger was idly placed between two enthralling pages as he watched Crowley and Warlock across the table, making their way through a fairytale that was decidedly not part of Chawton House’s library's collection (far too many werewolves and beheadings).

He wished Miss Austen was there with him.

He used to come here quite often; sit in this very reading room with the white paneling, or stroll in the garden—there, just by that lovely oak: Miss Austen and he would sit and talk, surrounded by her lovely aunts. How well-versed were they all in the heart’s affairs! He told them about Crowley and their advice stayed with him, how they urged him to make his love known and propose at once. He was always welcome, even when they stopped taking visitors. He would send in his card and read Miss Austen’s manuscript, the ink still wet, asking her a thousand questions which were met by the most fascinating answers, and after a while, peppered with threats that if he wouldn’t send Crowley a letter, Miss Austen would write one herself in his hand—

“When will I learn to read properly?” Warlock asked.

“You are reading very properly,” Crowley reassured him, turning a page.

“You’re making excellent progress,” Aziraphale chimed in.

Warlock only frowned at the praise. “No, I mean,” he said, “when will I read with my mouth closed?”

“The proper way is the loud one,” Crowley mumbled. “Can’t stand this modern fad of burrowing your head into a story and not sharing it with anybody. Selfish, if you ask me. Angel, remember the meadhouses?” She glanced at Aziraphale, expression quite taken—nostalgic; it drew Aziraphale right in.

“A bard would come…” he said. He remembered the songs, yes; but what he remembered the most fondly was Crowley, bold on mead or ale, in armour or a tunic, always laughing. The mirth in his eyes as he looked at him, and the cordial smile Aziraphale mustered in response, still quite convinced they shouldn’t fraternize too much, but that socializing was only polite. At one point, he started seeking out his company. At one point, he couldn’t resist the pull of him. How sweet it was to fall; and lo and behold, he wasn’t cast out. Such caution, when he might as well had taken the Austens’ advice, and confessed a few centuries earlier. For all that Heaven seemed to care, he could’ve licked the mead away from his smiling lips.

But what now? Hadn’t their situation changed significantly?

The world was ending. What else would be lost in the flames?

“...when we got married,” Crowley said.

“Pardon me?” Aziraphale blinked himself alert.

“I was explaining to Warlock that we had a bard sing to us on our honeymoon.” Crowley leafed through the rest of the fairytale, the pages whispering until she reached the end: then, silence. “There were blooming flowers,” Crowley said softly, “not a sign of decay; there was champagne and angel cake, and I wore a beautiful white dress. Azi was in all black, imagine that.”

*

She descended the sweeping stairs, and every movement was poetry: she walks in beauty, like the night of cloudless climes and starry skies. And all that’s best of dark and bright— Byron’s words were stuck on Aziraphale’s tongue. He knew it was an ordinary moment: he’s seen her come and go through and from a thousand rooms; but he appreciated it all the more for how brilliantly familiar it was, when historic events might have been afoot so soon.

“He’s asleep,” she said, and Aziraphale felt a moment of relief: the Antichrist was dreaming.

“You’re an angel,” Mrs. Dowling called from the sofa.

Crowley waved it away. “Only technically. It’s a species.” 

Mrs. Dowling laughed at that. The sound of it let Aziraphale unwind further, sinking into the armchair where he’d been attempting to finish Sanditon, which he borrowed. (He was fully intending to return it. One day.) He hadn’t noticed he’d been so stiff. He used to be such a jaunty creature, carefree like the birds of the air. Well. He was trying to be like that, anyhow. He’d been known to be fretful, of course, what with the pressures of his job to influence the whole of humanity to the Light, but this new sort of existential dread and the crushing weight of potential failure didn’t sit well with him—not at all.

“Now that it’s just us adults,” Mrs. Dowling announced, stretching, “what do we say to rosé?”

“Yes,” Aziraphale said all too quickly, then mouthed at Crowley, “Make it Château des Muraires, please, I had a day.

“Séduction Côtes de Provence?” Crowley asked out loud as she waltzed into the kitchen, hips swaying so suggestively Aziraphale had to look away.

“I don’t think we got that, just a Chloé,” Mrs. Dowling said with pursed lips.

“But you do.” Crowley produced the bottle from the fridge, and held it up triumphantly. “Chilled and everything.”

“Oh wow. How did I not notice that?”

She knows me so well, Aziraphale thought as he watched her fetch three crystal wine glasses. (The Dowlings only had plain glass ones.) She served them gallantly, then took her seat on the armrest of Aziraphale’s chair.

He downed half his glass.

The mix of grenache, cinsault and syrah was delicately sweet; the note of berries even more so, but with a deft acidity... It occurred to him that he wouldn’t enjoy the taste at all without Crowley’s company. He would’ve given up drinking and eating if it weren’t for his companion: if he didn’t have such a sympathetic ear to listen to his latest culinary escapades. God forbid, partake. The joy would be robbed even from his favourite sushi place, if Masuda-san didn’t ask about Crowley.

You’re my society, he realised. Where will I be, when I’m banished from you? An exile called back home to Heaven. Where will I find you, when Earth is no longer?

He listen to her chat with Mrs. Dowling—about work in PR, memos with certain exaggerations, annoying colleagues and well-deserved holidays, Switzerland and skiing, exotic fish, films, politics; she navigated the conversation with such covetable ease. Aziraphale felt that his own quips were sorely lacking in depth or wit, even though he’d mastered the art of conversation in the 1800s. He could only ever talk with Crowley, really—for sure, he could’ve carried on about the weather for hours, but to share anything truly personal with humans: that was unthinkable. They could never reconcile with his angelic part: the angels, on the other hand, could never accept how human he was. In the whole world, it was Crowley alone who really knew him for who he was. To be known; to be accepted, loved; wasn’t that all that every conversation, every connection aimed for?

He’d been blessed with a best friend. He watched her dance with Mrs. Dowling, half-drunk on the rosé, one of Crowley’s favourite songs with the drums and the synthesiser playing softly from her hand phone. Did Mrs. Dowling know how lucky she was to have Crowley as her confidant? Crowley would fade out of her life, of course: she couldn’t share eternity with the humans she so loved—but she gave Mrs. Dowling this moment, fully: held her hand in a disco dance, singing together how they were going to take Manhattan first, and then Berlin. Aziraphale drummed on his knees and smiled whenever Crowley glanced at him, which was often. He laughed when Crowley finished the dance by swooning into his lap, and helped her up to the armrest. She was flushed, catching her breath, the sunglasses sunk a bit low on her nose. Aziraphale adjusted them for her, brushed her hair from her glistening forehead.

“We’re officially too old to dance,” Mrs. Dowling observed, pouring herself another glass of rosé. She sat on the ground, back to the sofa, mascara running down her cheeks. A new song came on, something about pale blue eyes.

“We’re ancient,” Crowley growled. Aziraphale nodded his agreement. Facts were facts.

“How’s your eyes?” Mrs. Dowling asked. “Should we dim the lights?”

“I’m fine.” Crowley rubbed at her eyes, then blinked as if testing them. Their sensitivity wasn’t a complete fabrication, per se. The sunglasses helped convince humans they were an ordinary colour, and that the pupils were perfectly round. An exhausting mind trick, but perfectly necessary, as evidenced by the incident where Crowley had slipped up and found himself on the stake. It had taken him years to get his body back.

“Let me,” Aziraphale said, tenderly placing his thumbs on her fluttering eyelids behind the sunglasses, then stroking the crow’s feet. Crowley peered at him: only he would perceive her eyes as yellow.

“Y’re so cute,” Mrs. Dowling slurred. “Look atcha, socute.”

“That’s not a word I’d use,” Crowley said, but her voice was mild. She pulled back, sitting up tall on the armrest. “We’re absolutely delightful, but far from cute.”

“Well, we’re quite adorable,” Aziraphale argued. Crowley swayed a little, so Aziraphale put a steadying hand on her back. Kept it there.

 “You are adorable, yeah, I’m—charming, that’s it.”

“But aren’t you just a little bit precious?” Aziraphale teased. Crowley hissed at him. Mrs. Dowling laughed; it sounded teary. They both looked at her: she couldn’t hide how her lips trembled.

“Oh no, Harriet, what is it?” Crowley asked. She shook her head, and tried to take a sip—her glass was empty already. She knocked it to her teeth.

“I miss ‘im,” she said, weepy.

None of that,” Crowley objected, and slithered down to the ground to comfort her. She collapsed into her embrace readily, while Aziraphale, guardian of humanity, could only watch her be soothed by a demon.

Nothing made sense anymore. 

“I said it now,” Mrs. Dowling hiccuped. “I miss th’ wanker.”

“May I ask...why?” Aziraphale enquired. At least it seemed to help: he saw her think about it, eyes clouded by alcohol and tears clearing up with a terrifying certainty as she held onto Crowley tighter.

“I still love ‘im,” she said. “He loves me. Isn’t it stupid to run away, when the last thing I want ‘s to be apart—” She sniffed. “I dunno, I want to spend more time with ‘im, and I’m just mad that he’s not with me, that’s the issue, so how would divorce solve that? Fucking divorce, of all things! What’s my fucking problem?”

“He bloody well should prioritize you over his job, that’s what,” Crowley said.

“He doesn’t even like his fucking bosses,” Mrs. Dowling complained. “Don’t tell ‘im I told you that. Why won’t he spend more time with the people he loves, doing the stuff he loves—his first loyalty is to me. I’m his partner, goddamnit.”

Aziraphale watched Crowley miracle her a handkerchief, and thought, how am I the Thaddeus in this situation? How did I ever sink so low?  

*

Crowley made pretense at taking a shower after they tucked Mrs. Dowling in and Aziraphale blessed her with the sweetest dreams. He was alone in the bedroom, and tormented by doubt. His fingers were linked in prayer, but it’d been a while he’d actually—

God was busy; why would She care about the inner turmoil of him, out of all Her beloved creatures—

He disobeyed once and they never talked again.  

“What’s with the flood of tears today?” Crowley asked with poorly veiled worry. Aziraphale hadn’t noticed her come in; didn’t notice his own tears. He touched his cheeks, and was taken aback to find them wet.

“It’s nothing,” he said.

“Big ol’ nothing, you can see it from space,” Crowley scoffed. She walked to the bed, shedding her bathrobe on the way so all that remained was the silk slip, with the delicate lace trimming, so fetching on her. “C’mon, out with it.”

“Mustn’t grumble.” Aziraphale sniffed and smiled reassuringly, but she saw right through it: it hurt when she did that—hurt more when she didn’t. She knelt on the bed, and reached to wipe his face. He grabbed her wrists. “Don’t. Tears of an angel. They’re sacred.”

Crowley scoffed. “Like I care.”

She touched her thumbs to his cheek. It seared, but didn’t hurt, not him; the tears disappeared. He looked at Crowley, the painful twitch of her lips, and how she grinned through it.

“I wish we could stay,” Aziraphale said, voice breaking.

“I can make it happen,” she replied brazenly, but kept caressing his face.

“Stay forever.”

“Well. That’s a tad more complicated. You don’t even like it here, do you? It’s as countryside. as it can get.”

Aziraphale got to his feet. “Still. I wouldn’t mind eternity here.” He stepped to the window, and looked out at the darkened garden without seeing it. The reflection of the bedroom, Crowley sitting on the quilt was superimposed on the glass, on his mind. The ring of light around her. Her halo, a black hole; wings like the night.

“Are you sure? There aren’t even pubs,” Crowley said. “There’s a pub.”

“There’s a you, idiot,” he blurted. He couldn’t keep it in any longer—wouldn’t; too much depended on honesty. He had to do something incredibly stupid, incredibly brave, and tell her—just tell her—

“Me?” Crowley pointed at her chest. “I’m glued to you, angel. Anywhere you go, I’m accidentally there.”

“But you’re mine for this weekend!” Aziraphale shot back, desperate to make her understand; “Mine to love,” he said, “mine to touch,  unobserved, and it’ll soon be over, just a reminder of everything I’m losing as the end draws nearer!”

He put a shaking hand over his mouth. Hardly dared to look at Crowley. She was speechless for a moment, gaze flicking over Aziraphale’s figure in disbelief;  then she whined, face crumbling into a miserable expression.

Aziraphale dropped to his knees in front of her—what was he to do? It was sacreligious, the worship he’d shown to her: even his attachment—she wasn’t his to keep; nothing was his; not his books, his wings, his essence of being. All belonged to the Lord.

“I want you in a way I cannot say,” he confessed. He didn’t seek absolution when he kissed her knee. There were dangerous thoughts in his head: how Crowley’d been mistreated, when she deserved to be spoiled; how no ineffable plan warranted the scars on her back; how Aziraphale had the power to bestow love on her—show her that she was cherished, even desired and needed, not in some vague, celestial fashion, but in the flesh’s actuality, in every single way Aziraphale could love her.

Kneeling was divine love, the worship of agape, and holding her trembling knees was caritas, the charity of neighbours; it was filia, the love between good friends when he burrowed his head into her lap, to console and be consoled; eros was when she burrowed her fingers into his curls, drew him closer, and how eagerly he followed the gesture: how he kissed her, just where her thigh met her hips, and the silk had slipped.

“Fuck,” Crowley said, breathless. “Aziraphale, what the Heaven—”

He peered up at her. She bit her lower lip. “I can stop,” he offered.

Crowley yanked him closer. He discovered he loved it when she was rough with him; when she was pulling his hair. “Don’t you dare,” she said. “You thought this through, yeah?”

“Yes,” Aziraphale lied.

“What did you have in mind?”

“Plenty of things. Each of them very pleasurable for the flesh.”

They stared at each other. Crowley didn’t let go of his hair. He felt dizzy in a good way, which was certainly a new experience.

I thought,” Crowley said, “that I’d love to suck your cock.”

She watched him intently. Aziraphale didn’t even flinch. Fellatio was surely not the most complicated thing she could come up with—it was to test him.

“I can’t see why not,” he said. “I’d be much obliged.”

“Good,” Crowley said, slow and measured, despite how her chest heaved, “because I’ve got some ideas. Been thinking about it. You and me. Your dick.”

Aziraphale raised a single eyebrow.

“Me sucking it,” Crowley elaborated.

“Sounds like a fair deal.”

“You have one ready?”

“I have it right here.” Aziraphale palmed himself, not looking away for a moment; Crowley’s hips bucked in response.

“For fuck’s sake, angel,” she said, “you told me I was going too fast.”

“I did,” he admitted, “when there wasn’t only five years left, and I believed—”

“Am I your end-of-the-world shag?” Crowley interrupted. Pulled at his hair again.

“You’re my—” Aziraphale gasped. There wasn’t a word for it, was it? Or maybe there were thousands of it: love, darling, affinity, everything, everything.

“Get up here,” Crowley growled, and made space for him on the bed. Aziraphale followed, fumbling with his pyjama buttons—he made it as far as two.

“Would you mind terribly if we dimmed the lights, darling?” he asked.

She snapped her fingers and said, as darkness fell, “I’ve seen you naked though, so too little, too—well. Not too little. A fair size, a fair bit later?”

“It’s just…” Aziraphale didn’t even know what it was. Crowley waited for his answer, idly combing her hair behind her ears—when Aziraphale realised why she did that, a warm rush run through him, starting from his groin. What if he wasn’t up for it—to give Crowley the pleasure she so deserved? “Could you kindly take the lead?” he asked, not exactly timid,  but not confident either—nothing like the cocksure heroes of romances he’d devoured.

Crowley gaped at him, but there was just surprise there, no disappointment; she smiled like the cheshire cat in the moonlight, and purred, “Didn’t take you for a pillow principality.”

“Hold your horses, don’t crown me yet,” Aziraphale fussed even as he lay back on the mount of cushions. “Fortunes may be turned.” 

“That’s how it is.” Crowley adjusted the straps of her slip. Her figure was tainted blue, long limbs almost luminous in the indigo hue, and her yellow eyes smoldering in the dark.

“Is it?” Aziraphale said in a small voice.

“So I hear. Wouldn’t know.” She slid under the bedding. “I’m a virgin.”

Oh.”

Crowley wore the white blanket like a wedding veil as she leant in to kiss his cheeks, his nose, his jaw: not the mouth. The cotton was cool and soft, a comforting shelter falling over them. Crowley kissed his neck, hidden, and Aziraphale could’ve just let the blanket obscure his vision, focus on the sensations—but he didn’t want to. Not a moment could be wasted when Crowley was so sweet to him, kissing his collarbones, his chest. Aziraphale might’ve cheated a little: the darkness wasn’t as complete as it should’ve been, moonlight finding its way through the thick duvet, the little floral print casting shadows like a canopy.

Crowley buried her face into his soft belly, holding his hips down with a steady hand that was clammy where skin and skin met. “You’re alright,” she whispered, “you’re alright, you ain’t gonna mess this up—”

Aziraphale wanted to thank her for the reassurance, then realised she was talking to herself. Darling Crowley: to doubt herself when Aziraphale had submitted himself wholly to her mercy!

“Just like that,” he said in encouragement, arching into her touch. “Firmer.”

She gripped his hip harder, in experiment; Aziraphale answered with a moan he would’ve stopped under normal circumstances. Wouldn’t have arched his neck, and definitely wouldn’t have said, “Touch me like that.”

Crowley grabbed his cock, and they both gasped. Her fingers were strong and long, encircling him perfectly.

“I’m so hard for you,” Aziraphale said, awestruck, breathless; he repeated, “For you, Crowley.”

It wasn’t a physical reaction: his body wasn’t wired like that, even this human-like, sexed form. He had to make an effort, so conscious that it was for their mutual pleasure, how his skin heated, his pupils dilated, his cock stiffened, all revealing his mind’s purpose: to be made one; to unite.

Crowley looked at him, eyelids drooping. “Well,” she drawled, “I’m pretty hard for you as well.”

They snickered. It didn’t feel like sin: it felt like mischief. There were no rules for angel and demon relations, because they were not supposed to exist. He was to regard Crowley as something degraded, remote from himself, a threat, a warning, a nightmare; he should have felt no desire to be in her company, let alone want her lips on him. Any yet—they weren’t so different like this: exalted by the same desire, laughing together, clinging to each other.

Crowley’s breath over his swelling bulge. His hunger to be inside of her, a direct drive that would’ve guided him even if he knew nothing of lovemaking. Deft fingers finding his length, easing it out of his pyjama trousers. The first lick, her lips around him.

Easy as that. A taste from an apple. Forbidden knowledge.

He was filled with love for her, this old serpent, and fought for breath as he watched her take him in, her face contorting in pleasure. She felt exquisite, her mouth so wonderfully hot and wet. He eased himself deeper, as if he always knew how to do it; cupped her face, stroked the mark of the beast.

“How does it taste?” he asked softly. She rarely had an appetite for things: he never saw her savour anything so eagerly, and it made him feel extraordinary, that he’d be craved like this. She made a noise in response, close to a whimper, and Aziraphale caressed her face again to console her—then gasped when he felt her tongue wrap around his cock.

Wrap around twice.

She could do the oddest things with her tongue.

Aziraphale started to form an idea of what having a cock was all about as he felt the lovely, slippery softness of her tongue pulling at him, her head perfectly still, a dreamy expression on her face. She made him dip in and out of her mouth, tugging on his cock—and oh, mercy, he could hardly bear the bliss of it.

The blankets around them started to feel far too hot and heavy, suffocating; he wanted to be rid of clothing—it burned his skin; he wanted to strip Crowley, reveal her body flushed and warm for him, keen to be explored and pleased; he imagined himself bowing his head to her lap, licking at her until she squirmed and screamed, came apart on the tip of his tongue. Just picturing this sent shudders of ecstasy all over his body; he stilled, chest heaving, gripping Crowley’s jaw and worried that this was it, this was all he could give—but he hadn’t spilled.

Crowley pulled back; he felt his cock sliding out of her mouth, cradled on her forked tongue, then hitting her chin as she nuzzled up to it. “Close call?” she asked, her delicious voice raspy. “I felt it.”

Aziraphale looked at her hooded eyes, her spit-wet lips glinting.

“I want you to sit on my face,” he said.

It was an expression one would pick up in Soho.

Crowley arched a perfect eyebrow. “Oh yeah?” she asked. “You want that? That’s what you want?”

“Yes, I just said—”

Crowley lifted the hem of the silk slip with a bright grin, revealing her flimsy underwear. Well. There was no misunderstanding there. Her wet cock was straining against the lace. What a pretty cock it was; Aziraphale hadn’t considered it before how it would look up close, in such an intimate situation. It’d been over six hundred years, and he still hadn’t gotten over Crowley’s freckles.

“Goodness gracious, I want you,” he said wretchedly.

Crowley climbed him in one smooth motion. The blanket fell off them as Aziraphale was pushed to his back and Crowley took her seat over his face. She was as close as Aziraphale needed her; however, her knickers were in the way of his aspirations.

“My dear,” he said, partially muffled—his head was bracketed by strong, slim thighs. “Your lingerie.”

“As if you couldn’t tear it off me,” she said in downplayed challenge; manipulation, strangely, was not her forté—she’d always been too transparent.

Aziraphale dropped his voice to a whisper, and stroked a careful finger between her cheeks. “I’d feel sorry for it.”

“Won’t you feel sorry for me?”

“Poor darling,” Aziraphale teased. He rubbed his nose over her scrotum, affectionate, and heard her palms slam against the headboard. Grinned to himself.

“Bugger,” Crowley said.  “Are you being cheap on me, is that it—you wouldn’t even take me shopping to replace my ruined underwear, huh?”

Aziraphale emerged from between her thighs, manhandling her down to his chest. Crowley eeked, bracing her hands against the wall. Her hair fell forward as she looked down at him,  panting.

“This is one night only,” Aziraphale told her, voice barely a tremble. He could imagine it, still: he’d take her to Paris—Crowley on his arm, in a suit or a gown, as they visited the lovely little boutiques on Rue Saint-Honoré; they’d browse delicate lace things for a whole afternoon; he’d help her into her stockings for dinner at L’Espadon—roll them up her long, slender legs, fix the garter; reward her with a kiss to her hipbone for her patience.

“I know we only have tonight,” Crowley said, “I know that, that’s why I—” She pinched the bridge of her nose with a painful expression. “I want it to be good,” she said, defeated. “Memorable. I want you to remember.”

Aziraphale squeezed her thighs in reassurance. “How could I ever forget you?”

“They might make you.”

“No, never. Not you, Crowley. Not my girl.” He sounded as fierce as he felt. He grabbed at her underwear, and yanked it off her. Crowley made a noise as the fabric tore, something of yearning and relief.

Aziraphale spread her buttocks, lapped at the rim. It made her gasp wetly. Aziraphale wanted more sounds like that from her: more sounds of pleasure—something to remember, yes. There might be an opportunity to unite like this again: to taste her, feel her, push inside—but the future was so uncertain. This was what he could give her, at present, so he gave it his everything: sucked and lapped and nibbled, allowing himself to be messy and eager, until he was wet from chin to nose and Crowley couldn’t stop moving, circling her hips wildly and fervently bouncing. He held onto her thighs, but not to steady her—to encourage her to ride it out, squirm and moan.

His own erection was growing almost painful, but he didn’t mind it. He wanted to focus entirely on Crowley, savour the clean, salty taste of her skin. No delicacy could compare, none of his favourite desserts, when he had her on his tongue. He wanted to indulge her completely, obeying her whims, following every sway of her body, licking her open in servitude. He was attuned to every push, every tremble, and only wished he could see her, head thrown back and mouth slack, dancing for their satiation.

She ground down harder; Aziraphale was grateful he didn’t need air, and thus could safely suffocate in her and only die a little death. She grabbed his hair again, guiding him up for a breath. They looked at each other, Crowley’s hair in disarray and Aziraphale’s jaw aching.

“Fuck me,” Crowley said. Aziraphale followed her command: got up to his forearms promptly, and made quick work with the buttons of his pyjamas, fingers quivering. He had on a pristine white undershirt. Crowley was a few steps ahead of him: she straddled his hips nimbly, grabbed his hot and heavy cock. Her fingers were slippery with lubricant. Aziraphale snorted, thinking, call that a frivolous miracle, but went cross-eyed and light-headed as Crowley stroked him, shaft to tip. He hardly had time to kick off his trousers: they were pooled around his ankles when Crowley sank down onto his cock.

“Cor blimey!” he gasped.

“Thank you for not invoking the Almighty directly,” Crowley said through gritted teeth. Aziraphale wiggled, which made the angle inside of her shift—she hissed and squeezed around his length, which had Aziraphale swearing again.

“Golly!” he said. “Are you quite all right, my dear?”

“Splendid,” she rasped. Reached for Aziraphale’s hand, who linked their fingers together.

“Does it hurt?”

“‘Course it does, that’s the fun part.”

“Take it easy,” Aziraphale pleaded, and kissed her knuckles. Crowley closed her eyes; neither of them moved. They were closer than ever, Aziraphale buried in her pulsing heat to the hilt. He needed to savour it—to remember every twitch of muscle, every breath withheld.

Crowley caressed his hand, and said, quite broken, “I want to feel it tomorrow.”

“If I could, I’d make love to you until the next century.”

Crowley’s breath hitched, and he gave her a tentative push; she kept her eyes closed, and whispered, every word bleeding with love, “Then get on with it, will ya?”

Aziraphale rolled his hips again. Up and down, back and forward: watched her move with it, head rolling back, how the pale arch of her throat flashed. She was incredibly tight around him, dripping wet, and he felt like they were supposed to stay like this forever, permanently linked: that this would be the only eternity that wouldn’t terrify him, taking Crowley infinitely, letting her take him, moving together as aeons faded. Just the two of them in this bed, moving like the ocean, wave after wave through hundreds of years, never ceasing.

He pulled her down for a kiss. They both hesitated, lips just brushing over for a moment, then melting together. She tasted, faintly, of apples. He rolled her to her back, knees pulled up to her chest, and kissed her again, rocking into her deeper, each long drag of his cock more lazy and luxurious. Crowley found his buttocks, and slipped a finger inside, then two, rubbing at his prostate, which was definitely cheating, because it made his toes curl and everything ache deliciously.

“We could just never come,” Crowley proposed. “Make it last.”

“That’s an option,” Aziraphale agreed, “if we concentrated.” He didn’t feel quite focused, not when Crowley curled her fingers and tapped.

“Then again,” she said, grinding her hips up into his, “we put in all this hard work.”

“That, we did.”

“And I want you to come inside me.”

Aziraphale thrusted into her much more sharply than intended. “Is that so?” he gritted.

“Yes,” Crowley mused, keeping up a composed façade—an admirable effort Aziraphale was tempted to ruin with another deep jab.

“Why?” he asked innocently. The best way to victory was to turn the enemy’s weapons against them.

He should’ve known sex would make them competitive. He should’ve.

“Because I, ah, I dunno, it would be nice to feel your come? Dripping out of me, that is. Wonder how it feels, being so—claimed.”

“It would definitely ruin your knickers," Aziraphale reminded her, and added a twist of his hips he felt particularly clever. Crowley yelped, and gripped his shoulders. Aziraphale tried his best not to smirk; hid it by leaning into her hair, and whispered, “You could be summoned back to Hell in your slip and underwear. No one would know you’ve been frolicking with an angel, but you would feel it. My dear, you’d be quite wet with it.”

Crowley thrashed and moaned; Aziraphale drove his point home with a savage thrust, expecting it to send her over the edge. He could see the lovely face she’d make, could almost hear her scream—and Crowley did hit his prostate head-on.

He came.

It was gobsmacking.

He was staring down at Crowley in disbelief, and felt himself spilling and spilling inside her. His entire body was seized by bliss; he could hardly make a sound, just gaped, watching as Crowley’s eyes darkened; she made a face that Aziraphale could only call a shit-eating grin even in polite company.

But all was not lost. It was a rather nice orgasm, for one thing; and even though he’d grown quite comfortable on Earth, his stamina was still superhuman. He did not collapse; hardly shuddered. Stayed steady on his elbows, and refused to go soft just yet. Crowley’s expression faded into something of awed worry, and she whispered “are you kidding me” as Aziraphale cracked his neck to one side, as if he was just getting ready.

“Come for me, please,” he said gently.

She frowned. She still had two fingers up his arse, and he was buried inside her completely; she looked thoroughly debauched too, one strap of her slip sliding down a narrow shoulder, her russet hair fanning out on the pillows, and lips kissed a matching shade of red.

“Why?” she asked, as if she had absolutely nothing to do with the present circumstances.

“Because I asked very nicely,” Aziraphale said. Made the tiniest push, and watched her writhe. “Don’t you always make my wishes come true?” 

“Only when you ask very nicely,” Crowley grumbled.

Aziraphale kissed the grimace off her lips, and whispered, burying his fingers into her hair, “Please, please come for me, Crowley.”

He held her through her climax. That was all he wanted: to cradle her to his chest as she moved on his still hard cock, got her orgasm from him, crying out his name. She clawed at his back: he let her. Bit into his neck. He would wear the mark of her fangs proudly. He soothed her, thanked her, praised her: kissed the top of her head, caressed the wounds on her back.

“Fraternizing,” Crowley complained. “You called it fraternizing, you twat.”

“I’m sorry I ever hurt you,” he said. She curled over his chest, and he kept her safe in his arms. They had until sunrise.

The horizon was glowing already.

*

Aziraphale knew all about morning-after regret. The only regret he had now was having to leave the bed at all: but Warlock was an early riser, and Crowley had to go and make him breakfast. Her scent lingered. The air was heavy with the smell of sex. He opened the window with a wave of his hand, and lay there, tangled in the sheets, naked, listening to the wind.

One time hadn’t been enough. Two neither. He’d lost count of kisses and positions, tangled in his memory into one moment of truth where they could be their realest selves, share their genuine aspect with each other. His name never rang so familiar as when Crowley had screamed and moaned it; it felt like he didn’t have a body before she had touched it.

Any evidence of this night would soon disappear. The room would air out, and he’d make the bed, fold the pristine covers so there wouldn’t even be a wrinkle that betrayed: she lay there. He’d need to get back to London early, get ready to be Brother Francis, and not see Crowley until Monday, just in passing. Bleak prospects to have. Would it be better, he wondered, if he never knew what he was losing? But did it matter, really—he wanted to give this night to Crowley; he did; now his hands were tied, and empty.

He dressed himself dragging out each moment, fussing endlessly with the buttons of his cardigan, groomed his hair with unnecessary care. His luggage waited, packed with things he never needed but which made humans feel better, a toothbrush, a razor; he wished he had something of Crowley to keep. It was just a goodbye, not a farewell, but it certainly felt like it.

He found her in the kitchen with Warlock and Mrs. Dowling, who was scrolling her phone half-asleep as Crowley poured her coffee. He watched Crowley’s face through the swirling steam, and there was some relief there: the same old Crowley as ever—they’d still be friends, and associates; there would be meals shared and smiles exchanged, and good conversation; but they had a mission to see through, and no more distractions or liabilities would be permitted. Risking it all for a few more occasions of romancing would be incredibly selfish.

“No, you’re leaving already?” Mrs. Dowling asked, pouting.

“I’m afraid so; I have a bus to catch,” he said. “Urgent appointment.”

“Lemme walk you to the gate, angel.” Crowley put the kettle aside, not even glancing at it, just looking into his eyes. Aziraphale’s heart leaped at the promise of just another stolen moment. It was dangerous, how thrilled he was; he’d have given everything for a proper goodbye kiss.

It felt like a sign that Warlock perked up, and said, “Let’s wave bye-bye.”

Crowley hauled him up (what else was to be done?) and the three of them walked into the garden. There was mist over the grass, the silhouette of the trees uncertain, as if the world was still being dreamt into existence. The door of the white picket fence opened far too easily: no wall to tear down, no storm brewing on the East.

“Well then,” he said, lingering. Crowley stood in the garden with the child, and he thought, perhaps one day. Our own little cottage. She’d like it. If the world is saved, along with our memories.

“See you later,” Crowley said with forced cheer, but too hopeful to be genuine.

“See you later alligator,” Warlock repeated obediently. Aziraphale smiled at him miserably.

“Be good,” he said. He begged.

The bus stop was a short walk’s distance. He didn’t go that way. He strode to the line of trees billowing on the park’s edge, the branches reaching for him. He followed the little dirt road until there was nothing around him but whispering leaves, then a clearing. It was a Sunday morning: not a soul around. He unfurled his wings, and flew away.

*

Tchaikovsky at the Albert Hall had always been a special treat. They loved to watch The Rite of Spring with Crowley, and had their special point system for comparing it to earlier performances. Crowley still preferred the Parisian premiere.

Aziraphale didn’t have the usual bounce in his steps. He felt quite leaden, in fact, and didn’t even dress up for the occasion, just put on his usual cream-coloured coat and the bowtie that’d stuck with him through long decades. It made him feel safe. He was rolling his ticket anxiously (an empty piece of paper that would convince anyone asking that he had a box-seat reserved), quite uncertain how he should conduct himself in Crowley’s company. He could no longer pretend they were married; but it would be hypocritical to claim they were merely allies—although he tried to tell that to himself. A fallen angel—what was he thinking? But it was Crowley—dear Crowley—associate, colleague, friend, soul mate, enemy, adversary, the categories in constant overlap and shift, and now a new term added to the dictionary of their acquaintance: lover.

He pulled apart the red velvet curtain of their box; wasn’t it ridiculous that they had no place in Heaven or Hell, but they had one here, in Albert Hall’s grand tier, and a hundred benches all across the city, tables reserved when needed, and they never considered how fragile this system was, how feeble, just one wrong step, to be just once spotted—

But his worry eased as soon as he spotted Crowley sprawled on his usual seat on the left. For now, all was well: he was there. He was wearing a three-piece suit, the tie’s knot lowered, three buttons undone and dress shoes substituted for Chelsea boots that looked slightly charred. Aziraphale felt like a giddy groupie when Crowley smiled at him, that winning, handsome smile of a rockstar.

He kept his composure as he took his seat on the right,  and said, measured, “Evening.”

“Hey babe.” With that, Crowley leaned in for a kiss. Aziraphale turned away in the last minute, bewilderedly blinking at the orchestra as Crowley’s lips brushed against his cheek. Oh, it felt lovely; he curled his fingers into fists, a thrill running through his body to feel the softness of that mouth, the scratch of invisible stubble. “What’s wrong?” Crowley whispered against his skin. 

“Darling, we talked about this,” he said. He aimed for playful chiding, but his throat was closed off.

Oh,” Crowley sighed, still close; his sweet breath tickled. “My bad.” As always, he pulled back.

Aziraphale reached to put a steadying hand on his knee; but what would that lead to? One touch of comfort—then the next; he would cup his cheeks, brush his hair. It wouldn’t even have to be sexual: intimacy was dangerous enough.

“We can’t,” he said softly. It sounded too loud in the plush darkness of the box.  The orchestra was tuning up, guests were chatting and taking their seats, but there was a stillness in the air: the weight of words unsaid.

“No, no, I know, I know,” Crowley said, not looking at him. He adjusted the sunglasses as if it’d hide the fact. “Makes sense,” he added, “I just thought, y’know, that we just wouldn’t do the sex part until we saved the world and whatnot, but y’re right, PDA is a risk, got it.”

“Rather,” Aziraphale said. It would’ve been easy to leave it at that; it would’ve been, if Crowley’s mouth hadn’t twitched. Aziraphale knew all his tells. It was not the time to be a coward. They had hope yet. “I just wanted you to know,” he said, “that I do dearly want to kiss you.”

“Who wouldn’t,” Crowley shot back, a beat or two too late. He crossed his arms over his chest and put his feet up to the railing. Aziraphale turned to him fully. Watched his stern expression crumble immediately.

“You know me,” he said gently. “You know how I can be. Just one sip of wine is never enough, and I won’t just take one bon-bon—my dear boy, if I kissed you now, we’d be snogging ‘till kingdom come.”

Crowley scoffed, but it was affectionate. He gave him a tender look from behind his sunglasses. “Wouldn’t mind that, to be honest.”

“Me neither. That’s the problem.”

“All right. Point taken.” He sniffed, and adjusted his undone collar. “Y’know what, this is enough.”

“What?”

“This,” Crowley indicated the auditorium with a sweeping gesture. “Being social. I don’t ask for more, y’know. This is love.”

Aziraphale opened his mouth to argue—that it was nothing, nothing compared to what he wanted to give: a proper date at the Ritz, a stroll through Berkeley Square—an invitation to his flat—but realised that Crowley was right. They could love each other like this, even if it was mostly professional, or at least a tad too formal, with that annoying gap between their chairs. They could work together. And if they managed to prevent the end of the world—well, that was cause for celebration.

“This is love,” he agreed. He yearned to take Crowley’s hand, but knowing he didn’t need to for his love to be felt was a reassurance he sorely needed; he sank into his chair, looking ahead. The auditorium darkened.

“Just meet me in the middle,” Crowley said. “Whenever you can. I know you can’t do it always, but please. When you can—”

“I’ll be there for you,” Aziraphale promised. “I’ll try my best.”

Nobody could see it in the darkness—no mortal could see it anyway—but their wings were spread around each other as the first notes started to play.