Actions

Work Header

In Pleasure's Clothes

Chapter Text

It was an evening in late June, or possibly early July, the first time it happened. Aziraphale remembered particularly because  the street outside his shop was still firmly in the vibrant and glittery throes of Pride season, festooned in rainbow regalia from streetlight to shutters. 

It was quite late in the evening. Aziraphale was locking up, preparatory to going upstairs, when he spotted Crowley coming, as Aziraphale thought, across the street towards the shop. 

Aziraphale straightened, a smile threatening, and unlatched the door again with a thought. It had been a day or two since he'd seen the demon, and the prospect of an evening spent languishing in a bottle of red with him was cheering indeed. Except, as it transpired, Crowley's destination was not the bookshop at all. 

It was one of the quirks of living in Soho that one often encountered, mostly (although hardly exclusively) on Friday and Saturday evenings, gaggles of young people in revealing attire, passionately energised at the thought of grinding their intimate parts on one another in one of the district's myriad clubs. Aziraphale certainly didn't mind -- on the contrary, he'd cast an appreciative eye over more than one young man as he passed the bookshop, especially when the craze began for mesh jerseys and midriff-baring things that were far more crop than top. 

In retrospect, it should have been obvious from what Crowley was wearing that he had a similar destination in mind, but then, Crowley had always garbed himself like an expensive, Gothically-inclined rentboy; and moreover, Aziraphale had known him for several thousand years and had never known him willingly go anywhere cramped or sweaty unless he was on the job.1 Since the not-apocalypse, Crowley, like Aziraphale himself, had been a free agent: no longer did he tempt, torture or titillate in the name of Hell. Crowley was evidently not under anyone's orders.

And yet, the fact remained that he was crossing the Soho street at pace, wearing an unfamiliar leather jacket with studs on it and a springy-looking top which glittered like haematite and had (there were no two ways about it) been left apparently unfinished by the manufacturers, stopping abruptly above Crowley's navel. 

Aziraphale stepped back from the window, nonplussed, as Crowley, thus attired, passed without affording the shop a second glance. 

He wasn’t going the right way for any of the larger clubs and he wasn’t – yes, all right, the jacket was leather, but Aziraphale dismissed with a skittish mental curlicue the idea that Crowley intended to spend his evening at any venue nominally or aesthetically dedicated to that material. He was two stone too slender and – as the springy top and its dimensions made obvious, although Aziraphale knew it anyway – far too follicularly challenged for that. But there was one place, appropriately hollowed out in the cellarage of a shop (of the kind that now appeared in perfectly ordinary shopping centres, but which still had a cordoned-off backroom selling colourful plastic items with the IQ of a bright Tamagotchi, and also chocolate dicks), where Aziraphale really could imagine him fitting the bill. After all, Crowley enjoyed be-bop. 

Aziraphale hadn’t been inside a club during ‘club hours’ for twenty years. He knew the cocktail menu but mistrusted the very notion of what he persisted in calling “disk jockeys”. Of course there were places that needed a guardian angel, though he hardly thought such ministrations underpinned Crowley’s patronage. And anyway, Aziraphale thought, there were enough hovering spirits, better and more humane than either of them, tethered to those places by association and memory.That being the case, Aziraphale could only conclude that Crowley had dragged himself up in this garish outfit (which, yes all right, looked more than slightly fetching) because he wanted, for personal reasons, to slither into a club full of overheated young men in sartorially unimpeachable style. Crowley had decided, driven by some unknown motivation, that this was what he was going to do with his life now;2 no longer content to spend a wholesome Friday evening in the bookshop flat, no! Instead, for Crowley, the draw of the body glitter and the sensual bath bomb, the bright pink shop frontage and the slyly cocked eyebrow.3

Aziraphale didn't know what the reason was, and that infuriated him. 

Crowley, by this point in Aziraphale’s denunciation, was fully out of sight, but far from out of mind. Aziraphale went to bed, or rather, he went upstairs and lay down on a soft horizontal surface clutching a well-worn first edition of Brideshead Revisited. For once, though, Waugh wasn't enough to hold his attention, although Aziraphale did manage to muster a frisson of the old familiar irritation as the plot devolved into all that terrible business with Sebastian and his German friend. What was he doing with himself, Aziraphale thought crossly, as if he hadn't read the book a hundred times. What life choices, when he could be having a quiet evening with his friend who loved him dearly.

Possibly there was some element of projection at work. 

Aziraphale sighed and removed his reading glasses. Presuming that Crowley did not in fact intend to spend the rest of the world’s life in a cellar under Wardour Street, Aziraphale could and would ask him about it the next time they met, and then see. It was probably all some ridiculous misunderstanding which Crowley would clear up at once.4 Brideshead Revisited set atop his current bedside stack, Aziraphale decided, mistakenly, that a little sleep would help him.

Angels very rarely dream, but Aziraphale had a disconcerting one that night, and awoke so discombobulated, that – notwithstanding a terse and inangelic vocabulary – he accidentally sold four books in one morning. A favourite cup chipped between his fingers. The newspapers, which Aziraphale still had hand-delivered (much as he enjoyed meandering through to Argyll Street, via the skincare concessions in Liberty, to purchase the Guardian, The Celestial Observer, and occasionally The Lady or Vogue),5 looked as though somebody had put their size twelves across them in an hobnailed boot. He was distressingly low on oolong, and someone had been sick on the kerb outside his shop. 6 The unprecedented sales in his bookshop meant unprecedented footfall, and Aziraphale’s headache made squinting and scowling at each customer equally incrementally more taxing as the morning wore resentfully into its afternoon sequel. 

And then the bell jangled, and Crowley walked in.

Walked, thought Aziraphale resentfully, wasn’t the word for it. 

Crowley lurched like a tarantula at the awkward adolescent stage, lolled (almost in both senses) beside a new display-case which Aziraphale had been most displeased to discover that morning. The demon cast a sunglassed eye over its contents – Michael Field, Amy Levy, a nice reprint of Flush and three different biographies of Vita Sackville-West – with an expression which, even at a distance and behind those lenses, a quivering Aziraphale recognised as both sardonic and meaning. The angel accordingly tried to look like he had no idea who Crowley was. The demon approached the desk.

Crowley smiled at him, hatefully cool and cheerful. “Lunch?” 

“It is three p.m.,” said Aziraphale, and he meant it to sting. 

“Is it?” Crowley asked. He looked at his wrist, where his watch wasn’t, and touched his bare skin with an abstracted and reminiscent air, the vaguest hint of a secretive smile playing over his lips, and Aziraphale hated him.

“Yes,” said Aziraphale (devastatingly, he trusted), and jabbed at the till-buttons. Since he was neither selling nor cashing up, this had a bad effect on the till and made it emit receipt-paper. The torn-off stub accused him of selling Pride and Prejudice for £5.99, which was offensive.

“Oh,” said Crowley, who still had a little bit of glitter about his temples. “Late one. So, come on, come on.” 

"Has it never occurred to you," Aziraphale asked flatly, "that if you will loaf over and ask me to lunch at three in the afternoon, it is very likely that I will already have eaten?" 

"Yes," said Crowley, lavishly unfussed, "but I've known you six thousand years, angel. You can always eat again." 

"I will have a coffee," Aziraphale said, after a long, cold moment. Part of him longed to turn Crowley down flat, but the sensible bit of him was more interested in mining him for information, and it never did to cut off one's own nose to spite one's face. 

They went to a luridly-coloured cafe in a neighbouring street, which had won Aziraphale's heart by opening mainly at eleven in the morning and occasionally not until two, according to the proprietor’s whim. Aziraphale thought this an admirable exercise of free will, and also enjoyed their bubble tea, which he often dropped in to order when passing. Crowley, naturally, ordered tea on its own; it was only right and proper that Aziraphale should ask for a waffle with gelato and strawberry sauce, just to make sure the poor dears were taking in enough cash to meet the exorbitant rent. 

"Wonder what that's made of," Crowley mused, pointing at the elaborately bedecked waffle on Aziraphale's plate. "It's sparkling, look." 

"Ah, yes," Aziraphale said, following Crowley's line of sight. "Edible glitter. All the rage in summer these days. Mainly cornstarch, I believe." 

"Is it," said Crowley, smiling. He had propped his chin in the palm of one hand and was eyeing Aziraphale with an unreadable expression, mouth quirked at one corner. Aziraphale felt abruptly quite sick of Crowley’s inscrutability (though what, he wondered, would become of Crowley scrutable?), and took the feeling out on his waffle, stabbing at it fiercely enough that one tine of his plastic fork crumpled in on itself. 

"Oops-a-daisy," said Crowley, repairing it, which only served to irritate Aziraphale more. 

"Speaking of glitter," he said, "there’s some in your hair." 

“Is there?" Crowley cocked his head slightly, making the stuff twinkle in the light from the street. "Maybe it's just my natural verve expressing itself. Had you thought of that?" 

"No," said Aziraphale sourly, and glowered at his gelato. 

A waiter, with the impeccable discernment and tact common to his kind, chose this moment to appear at Crowley's elbow, cloth in one hand and menu in the other. He was obviously about to ask if Everything Was All Right and whether Anything Was Wanted, but before he could do so, Crowley looked up, the waiter looked down, and both of them broke into identical expressions of pleased surprise which made Aziraphale feel slightly sick. 

“Hey, Anthony,” said the waiter, and Aziraphale broke out in prickly heat. Absolutely fuck off, he thought, unbidden, and did not wish the thought unthought. Anthony. It wasn’t that he disliked it, but it simply wasn’t Crowley’s name . It was a garnish, an adornment – not unlike the glitter, he thought, as the waiter dropped the cloth on the table (Aziraphale regarded it as he would have done a cow-pat) and put a smudged, stamped hand on Crowley’s arm. Crowley smiled.

“Hey! Long time no see.”

As they’d very obviously seen each other night before, Aziraphale thought this at best a feeble witticism, and continued to sulk into the strawberries.

Aziraphale had always disliked watching Crowley interact with anyone else -- anyone, anyone at all, excluding small animals and that time Crowley had got stuck at a party talking to Mother Teresa.7 He had spent millennia not looking directly at the issue, knowing it must reflect some enormous flaw8 in himself, but he knew it to be true. Crowley had, and had had, other friends: he did not spend all, or even most of his time (until recently) with Aziraphale. So it was all perfectly quotidian, but at the same time made Aziraphale feel deeply catty and possessive. 

With this young person, though, the usual low simmer of irritation had instantly become a frenetic boil. Possibly it was the fact that he was touching Crowley, as if Crowley were not an immortal occult being, shaped by God's own hand and subsequently varied through theological misunderstanding, but instead the glittery Camden layabout as which he self-fashioned. Possibly, it was the fact that Crowley had been with the waiter and his ilk last night, when Aziraphale had been perfectly open to spending a pleasant few hours with him – which the serpentine bastard must have known – only to be roundly ignored, in favour of a sweaty cellar and music with unintelligible words. Not a nice burgundy and something amusing on toast, oh no. Not the choicest newcomers in Aziraphale’s drinks cabinet. Not friendship

The waiter was slim and dark-eyed and Aziraphale begrudgingly admitted this probably had something to do with it as well.9 He was experiencing a growing urge to kick Crowley under the table and then exclaim piteously about it, as if it had been an accident. 

Then the young man produced a leaflet, slightly crumpled, from the back pocket of his jeans (Aziraphale was frankly astonished said jeans had room for anything except his pert buttocks)  and proffered it: "Did anyone give you one of these at Throb? You'd be really welcome." 

Throb, thought Aziraphale furiously. Throb! He could feel a long-threatened red mist descending. His tea-cup clattered like the shutting gates of Hell. 

Crowley was pretending not to notice. Aziraphale knew it was pretence, because he'd caught a sidelong flash of the yellow eyes and a twitch in the jaw before Crowley determinedly pasted a smile on his face and looked away, turning his shoulders towards the waiter. 

"Oh, yeah, I've seen these around. The protest against the Johnson Bill, right? Portland Place?" 

"That's it," said the waiter. He was looking at Crowley as if he was dessert. Which he bloody well wasn’t. In fact if, metaphorically speaking, the waiter so much as picked up a spoon in reference to Crowley, Aziraphale was prepared to chop off said waiter’s hand at the wrist. 

Unexpectedly, Crowley turned to Aziraphale. "Robbie has a hand in organising this," he said brightly, waving the leaflet under Aziraphale's nose. "Sure I'll be there. Important stuff." 

Robbie swayed off, which was improbable unless those stupid jeans were predominantly lycra, and Aziraphale, whose red mist had become a vast plume of carmine indignation, tried to plot a response that would not register as if written in the oversized, spiky capitals of a spinster attempting her first anonymous letter, finally throwing down the devastating: “Oh, please!” 

Crowley raised an eyebrow. A bead of gelato dropped onto the back of Aziraphale’s hand. Crowley looked at it, and then flicked his eyes back up to Aziraphale's face, looking somewhere to the right of amused. "Good shot," he remarked drily. 

Aziraphale tsked and wiped the back of his hand on his napkin (not cloth. He hoped it was recycled paper, at least). 

"What's that face?" Crowley said, in the same half-laughing tone. He sounded as if he were addressing a child who was doing something entertaining but was too young to understand why, and Aziraphale hated it intensely. 

"Well," said Aziraphale, unable or unwilling to hold his tongue entirely. "A protest? As if. It’s patently a transparent attempt to seduce you." 

" As if?" Crowley repeated. He was properly smiling now. "Don't worry, angel. I know it's not really your scene. I won't ask you to chaperone -- promise." 

The red mist was now the sort of near-sentient fog which had no place anywhere outside a Gothic novel. Aziraphale crossed his legs under the table and drew himself firmly upright. "I will have you know, " he said tightly, "that were you to actually want my company,” – a little quaver here, but Aziraphale flattered himself that the dreadful import of his words was too mighty for it to register, – “ it would most certainly not be the first protest I've been to. Far from it, in fact. Far from it!" He brandished his fork threateningly. 

“The O.P. riots? Qu’ils mangent brioche ?” 

The fog suddenly became black ice. “Chaeronea. The Law Reform Society. The MRG. Civil rights for all, for all persons – standing and in several cases lying with the poor children protesting their inadequate care as they suffered from a disease that I believe your colleagues regarded as one of their finer hours.”

“Hey,” said Crowley, genuinely alarmed, “That was nothing to do with me –”

“Oh, no, precisely. Nothing to do with you in implementation and absolutely fuck all in the succour provided. And there have been plenty of other causes which even your goldfish memory might – remember Anti-Section 28? Writing the Ithaca Statement? Lesbians and Gays Support The Miners? But you don’t actually know where Wales is, do you? And as for your whereabouts on the night of Stonewall, Crowley, some of us were fighting the good fight while some of us were sleeping off dry Martinis with the entire cast of Oh! Calcutta. Which is not - absolutely not to omit your behaviour throughout the 1960s. While you were robbing churches and growing a pageboy bob – ”

“It was not,” Crowley said furiously, “a pageboy bob. It was an Andy Warhol reinterpretation by actual Toni and actual Guy  –”

“I was trying to make poor Ken Halliwell see a decent psychoanalyst. You’re a fiend.” 

“That is the general idea, angel,” Crowley spat. “But forgive me for wanting to make the best of whatever world we’ve got left.”

Aziraphale seethed. The remains of the waffle were forgotten, and he set down his fork. "Yes, well. That's rather part of the job description, isn't it? Forgiving? Even when --"

"Even when?" Crowley leaned forward across the table. "Even when what? Go on, angel; you've started; you might as well finish." 

"I'll get the bill," Aziraphale said, and stood. He half-expected -- well, mostly expected -- Crowley to abandon him there and then, bracing himself for the probability that, when he turned back from the counter, the demon would be gone, nothing but his dust left behind. To his surprise, Crowley was loitering by the door when Aziraphale had handed over the appropriate monies and glowered a little more at Snake-Hipped Robbie at the till. 

"Get a last barb in, did you?" Crowley said. 

"Certainly not," said Aziraphale, striding past him and out of the door, choosing not to add that this was largely because he didn't care to waste his breath on anyone who thought Club Crowley the hottest destination of the summer. 

It was gratifying when Crowley followed, and unreasonably infuriating when they parted on the corner of Dean Street, Crowley bidding him farewell with apparently blithe unconcern. Aziraphale didn’t see him still standing there ten minutes later, of course, but in thought pursued a genuinely blithe and unconcerned Crowley back to Mayfair, where – the angel had no doubt – the demon’s overpriced cell of a flat was now wall-to-wall firemen and rainbows and whatever else Crowley had apparently decided were the accoutrements of the modern homosexual (this was egregious projection on Aziraphale’s part. Firemen made him feel all fluttery and odd, and during the 1980s he had indeed experimented with a tartan tie in seven+ colours).  Except, oh no, Crowley was the modern homosexual, the right-on demon who’d clearly decided to celebrate the not-apocalypse by showing off his abdomen and working his way through a quantity (not quality!!) of unsuspecting men. And posing sycophants like Robbie. And he, Aziraphale, renegade Principality and Crowley’s actual friend for six thousand years (Aziraphale was internally shrieking again, and if human, would have had a headache) was meanwhile just –  right there!

Aziraphale moved all his Gertrude Stein to the shop window, and aggressively ate a KitKat. It wouldn't do his midriff any good, but he thought the cheap chocolate would pair well with the general taste of enervation in his mouth. 

In the event, Aziraphale found that his petty move soon rebounded upon him. The Gertrude Steins seemed to act upon the local female populace as catnip: Aziraphale spent the remainder of the afternoon chivvying girls in dungarees away from the first editions, whilst cursing Crowley, Soho, and himself. He closed the shop at five and went upstairs in pique, albeit not before collecting the remainder of the eight-pack of KitKats with which to soothe himself. 

Upstairs in his bedroom, six KitKats and two gins and tonic down, Aziraphale wondered irritably whether Crowley was actually intending to go to the Johnson Bill protest and, if so, whether it was out of a desire to seduce That Boy10 or out of a broader inexplicable drive to Involve Himself in the Community. Crowley had always disdained the whole idea of Community, and Aziraphale found to his mild annoyance (surely this was unbecoming of an angel!) that he'd rather preferred it that way. Perhaps he would go along too, just in case. It wouldn't do to have Crowley making a scene.11

What he hadn't counted on was A Scene -- not the one he'd expected, but definitely A Scene nonetheless -- taking place in the street the following afternoon. He knew it was a scene, because there were a number of people looking at it, and when Aziraphale stepped out of the shop to investigate, it became very clear that It was Crowley. 

Crowley had grown his hair. For over a minute, Aziraphale genuinely thought that was the extent of it, and could condemn neither the overweening vanity of a demon who marshalled the universe’s occult potencies to lengthen his locks, nor the shallowness of the perambulating flotsam who stopped on path and pavement to admire it. Aziraphale could see nothing at all excessive about staring raptly at Crowley’s dark-red waved hair and letting one’s ice-cream melt and one’s produce fester as the early-evening traffic built. Humans were, after all, mere mortals. 

Crowley even had that very charming topknot, which always put Aziraphale in mind of a ballerina, above the abbreviated cascade of beech-red waves which, in toto, strongly evoked both the late 2000s and – as an enchanted adolescent girl with a chunky pink phonecase was also loudly realising – Aziraphale’s (joint-)favourite member of the heartwarming programme about buying American men button-down shirts and normal shoes.12 Aziraphale was even happy that Crowley's hair was bringing Soho to a standstill. Then the audience parted, slightly, and Aziraphale’s eyes became saucers.

Crowley had grown his hair, and acquired clothes that – Aziraphale didn’t rightly know what to call them.The main garment was, technically, he supposed, a dress. Of course they’d both been women, for Apocalyptic and pedagogical purposes, and also for more social reasons back in (respectively) 1484, 1663, 1927, and – simultaneously, in a then-rare burst of shared purpose in trying to stop Satanists infiltrating a girls’ boarding school – in 1933.13 Indeed, if Crowley had expressed a desire to be henceforth Antonia of the close-fitting Chanel as opposed to Anthony J. Crowley of the leather-based Balmain, Aziraphale could never have admired her less for it. But this was definitely Crowley as Aziraphale knew him (as the dress’s contours made perfectly clear, good Lord) in some sort of clinging, changeable-coloured slip, the kind of thing Cleopatra might have worn as an act of vengeance, beneath an elaborate, cropped black jacket that looked as though its brocade was having a tantrum and that was at least nine-tenths shoulders. This ensemble was worn above, and in a technical but simultaneously laughable sense over what Aziraphale could only call leg coverings (he doubted they were substantial enough for leggings) fashioned in a mixture of haematite, onyx, and jet. They told Aziraphale almost everything there was to know about Crowley’s lower half. Aziraphale could only assume the vain bastard had had to lie down to put them on, then realised Crowley had probably miracled them straight on to his naked legs, and was so offended that his own (sensibly socked, shod, and slack-clad) legs almost gave way.

This was to say nothing at all of Crowley’s shoes, or rather boots. Aziraphale refused to consider these and instructed his brain to wipe all traces. The heels would have been considered immoderate even in the French courts most addicted to immoderation, and worn only by the most decadent favourites of the most extravagant rulers, the very last night before the pitchforks and the tumbrels and the revolutionary bonfires arrived. The boots were pointed and astonishing and Crowley’s walk - that syncopated jutting thing that proclaimed that Crowley had never done an honest day’s work but was about to take the night apart with his hipbones - existed only in the most nominal relation to them. The stilettos suggested that they could kill a man, and that said man would just be grateful for the favour. The sharpness of his sunglasses and the overall glinting, sinuous, embellished effect made him look like a spiteful, gorgeous manifestation of the latest Parisian fashion feud. His hairstyle was that of a gay Renaissance poet. The sigil on his ribcage (visible through the dress) made him look like an absolute tart.

It was an outfit calculated to arouse, and what infuriated Aziraphale above all was the fact that it was having instantaneous effect. 

It wasn’t that such extravagant ensembles were rarely seen in Soho. It was more that they were rarely seen at this time in the afternoon, barely even tea time,  and that the wearers were usually possessed of far less natural charm and pizazz than Crowley. Part of it was owed to his demonic wiles, but part, Aziraphale had to admit, was simply Crowley’s human form itself, all long clean lines and that splendid, sinful red hair. He looked, Aziraphale thought painfully, like a man determined to deliver himself like a box of Belgian chocolates straight into another man’s arms, and Aziraphale fizzed with indignation at the prospect. 

He wasn’t conscious of having locked up the bookshop until he realised that he was on the pavement outside it, keys in his pocket and determination in his mind. Crowley could still be seen — one could hardly avoid seeing him — slinking around the corner, some six foot eight in the heels, looking like a glamorous giant sent to enact sex magic upon the earth, or at least upon Soho and perhaps also Seven Dials. It wasn’t exactly difficult for anyone — even someone as generally inept at the job as Aziraphale had historically been — to follow him. 

Crowley sashayed down the pavement like a scythe, cutting an effortless path through the crowd, and in his lengthy shadow scurried Aziraphale, feeling dumpy and infuriated. Every so often he would pause, and Aziraphale's heart would flutter, fearful of discovery, but then on would go the hips again. Aziraphale had never seen anyone but Crowley walk hips-first; it so defined his gait that Aziraphale was sure he would have known Crowley anywhere by it, even from a great distance and without his spectacles.14 

Evidently and irritatingly, Aziraphale was not the only person in Soho for whom this was true. When Crowley did eventually halt outside a very crowded and garishly-signwritten bar (Aziraphale hovered furtively on the opposite pavement) two men appeared instantly to greet him at the door. 

The men stretched up as if to be kissed, like eager acolytes. Crowley duly kissed them, folding himself nearly in half, it seemed, to do so. Aziraphale seethed. He could just have levitated up to Crowley’s lips and possibly also set fire to a postbox, but aside from the many other unimpeachable reasons why that wouldn’t be happening, it was at least four hours too early for any such behaviour to pass as unremarkable. 

Aziraphale had never seen Crowley kiss. He’d assumed it was an anatomical possibility. And, of course, kissing humans was well within the demonic tempting field — unless you were a demon with frogs or spores or flies on your face, all of which understandably tended to put the humans off. Indeed, in one sense sexual temptation fell rather more squarely within the demonic duties than Crowley had been for some time. But Aziraphale, recoiling from the bar’s sound system but intrigued by the repurposing of leather goods as decorative ceiling-ware, didn’t think Crowley had kissed those men in order to tempt them sexually.

Correction: Aziraphale didn’t think Crowley had kissed those men in order to tempt them sexually and indenture them thereby into servitude to a Lord of Hell and thus to eternal damnation. 

He suspected, scurrying to the far side of the bar and wondering whether gin & Dubonnet had come back in (one of the handbags nailed overhead had most strongly evoked the Queen Mum), that Crowley had kissed those men in order to have a nice time.

“Drink?”

“Gin and Dubonnet, please, with three cubes of ice and absolutely no lemon - I am not particular as to the glass. Oh,” Aziraphale added, blushing as he glanced up. “I’m sorry. You’re on the wrong side of the bar. For serving drinks, I mean.”

“But not for ordering them,” the man said affably. 

“Oh, well, that’s awfully kind,” Aziraphale replied, trying to crane past and see what Crowley was doing. 

The man -- who was middle-aged, Aziraphale supposed, and wearing a leather jacket, but not in a way that felt terribly on purpose -- followed his gaze and smiled. "Some outfit, that." 

"Quite," Aziraphale said, flustered at having been caught staring. He really had always been rather awful at stealth. He forced himself to look away, at least temporarily, from where Crowley was holding court on the other side of the room, surrounded now by no less than three fawning young men. 

"Not really my sort of thing," the man said, catching the barman's attention with one upraised hand, "but impressive, I suppose. One large Chardonnay, please, and a gin and Dubonnet with -- let me see -- three cubes of ice and absolutely no lemon." 

He looked back at Aziraphale, evidently pleased with himself, and Aziraphale threw him a kind smile as if scattering largesse. Humans did, bless their dear little hearts, tend to get so impressed with themselves over having successfully committed minor details to memory for longer than a thirty second span. 

Aziraphale ventured another glance across the room. Crowley was now seated, one long leg thrown carelessly over the other, in rapt conversation with a blond boy in white jeans. The boy's hand, Aziraphale noticed with furrowed brow and pursed lip, had come to rest on Crowley's knee, and Crowley, the abject tart, was permitting it. It really wouldn't do -- not that it was Aziraphale's business, of course, but his sense of propriety was ruffled. 

"Is that your ex or something?" 

"Pardon?" Aziraphale blinked, and the man smiled understandingly. 

"You keep --" The man inclined his head, gesturing towards Crowley, and Aziraphale felt himself go pink. 

"Oh! Who? Oh, him?” Aziraphale said, as if there were other places one could look than at the terrible redhead mercilessly destroying lives in the garments of a glittering deity from a 1970s space movie. “No, no. No, not at all. I mean." Aware that he was being rather unconvincing, Aziraphale admitted, "I do know him. I was just wondering what he was up to." 

"Courting attention, by the look of it," said the man, "so best not give him any. I'm Marcus." He held out his hand. 

Not giving Crowley any attention, Aziraphale thought,  was far more easily said than done. Still, he managed to focus himself sufficiently to shake Marcus's hand and offer his own dusty pseudonym, little-used since he stopped frequenting gentlemen's clubs where one was expected to have a first name other than "Mister." 

The drinks arrived. Aziraphale tried to take in his surroundings, but could hear Crowley’s laugh again. He’d always thought Crowley laughed like a prince. He’d never heard Crowley laugh like that when Aziraphale hadn’t been the cause of, or at least involved in, the sound. 

“I haven’t seen you here before,” Marcus said, putting a hand on Aziraphale’s arm. “Just visiting, are you?” 

“In the neighbourhood,” said Aziraphale. Marcus’s shoulder was blocking his view of Crowley. It wasn’t helpful.  

Of course, Aziraphale didn’t need to see Crowley to think of him. There were times - indeed, the new novels of the nineteenth century had provided useful paradigms - when it felt as if they were connected not by the thin scarlet thread so beloved of romantic humans, but by a great swinging bargepole, heavy and unbending, that impeded all Aziraphale’s movements and was less a tether than a yoke. Wherever he moved, unless he was actually mid-gavotte, it seemed his steps were in some measure dictated by Crowley’s. Not that he could flatter himself with having understood the demon. The abbreviated haematite ensemble of a few nights ago and this evening’s astonishing vision in heels indicated how wrong he’d got him.

He agreed to another drink.

And yet here they were, still yoked together - although that was wrong, wasn’t it? They weren’t in tandem. No shared burden now — all that was gone. They were just serpent and shadow. No mission; no need for counter-strategy. No need for comradeship at all, perhaps; perhaps Crowley had recognised it sooner. Aziraphale realised how little he was enjoying his emancipation. He felt suddenly he had as little understanding of a world without Crowley as he had of a universe without the world. Ridiculous to feel his presence so keenly as an absence. He could hear him still, laughing. (Aziraphale had a private devotion to Crowley’s laughter). 

I decry, Aziraphale thought, with the clarity of a heavenly being who hasn’t yet realised his martini is very strong, every second he is not talking to me at my behest, and I would never compel him; I want him to come to me of his own free will. I resent this glittering finery because he has not put it on for me. I think he’s going to let that boy touch his —

“Sorry? You want — my ‘ phone number?”

In theory, Aziraphale was aware that he did have a telephone number. Privately he suspected it of being an act of Crowley that the little sequence of numbers had even been revealed in print, such that people could ring the bookshop with abandon, demanding folios and first editions and, occasionally, that Aziraphale surrender his premises to the local mob, Or Else.15 It was just that, first of all, he didn't know what it was;16 and second of all, the fact of being asked for it put an uncertain feeling in the pit of his stomach.

"If that comes as a surprise to you," Marcus said, "I must be losing my touch." 

Oh God, thought Aziraphale frantically, and wondered if it would be ethically questionable just to slip Marcus into a pleasant little waking dream, just for long enough for Aziraphale to return from whence he came. Manfully,17 he decided the miracle would be frivolous and said aloud instead: "Oh, I'm afraid I've rather given you the wrong idea. I am dreadfully sorry." 

Marcus did not look surprised, and Aziraphale was unsure whether this made things better or worse. Then Marcus said, "You should stop pining over him, you know. I don't think you're his type," which definitely swung the mercury towards worse, mostly because Aziraphale was miserably certain it was true. In stouter spirits he might have found the gumption to laugh a bitter and world-weary laugh and direct Marcus and his thoughtful jacket towards six millennia of wing-drooping ineffable misery. But that would have taken a third drink and stoutness of a less abdominal, more emotional kind that Aziraphale currently possessed.18

Instead, he smiled apologetically, ordered Marcus another drink, and slid off his barstool (dreadful, dangerous things) with only one muffled yelp. As he hurried to the exit — acceleration through the crowded bar now permissible since Aziraphale was not above performing miracles due to social embarrassment — he noticed that the slim young creature in white was now entirely seated on Crowley’s knee. Both boy and demon were laughing.

 

Back in his room above the bookshop (an irritating note through the door left a telephone number and inquired for Joe Orton paperbacks), after streets festooned with couples (necking, talking, definitely not threatening each other with Alpha Centauri), Aziraphale unfurled his wings, just for a moment. They stretched half the width of his bedroom from tip to tip and, in the mirror, he could see as ever that they were ivory and albus, snowdrop and pearl, their tints turning in the light to be crocus, dove-grey, slightly silver and blue. He rolled his neck and shoulders and tried the long, settling exhale. He wasn’t totally sure why he’d done it. He reminded himself that wings do not necessarily reduce the appearance of one’s waistline in comparison, and that you cannot really outfly buttered crumpets and cheesecake. Indeed, even if the appearance of snow-white wings did distract the human populace from one’s circumference and one’s shortness of leg (and Aziraphale was willing to bet that wings granted directly by the Deity would distract most humans from his proportional shortcomings), that didn’t mean that one would or should be able to compact oneself into a pair of white jeans. And even if he did, thought Aziraphale with the bitterness of imminent tears (Aziraphale, through history, had a bad though unconscious habit of unfurling his wings when alone and trying not to cry), Crowley would not want him to sit on his lap.

The fact was, though, the buggering mess of it all, which Aziraphale felt  tipped it all from maddening to ludicrous, from unfortunate to pathetic, and which he’d been worm-eaten and concealing since 1941, was that he didn’t want to be the one to sit on Crowley’s lap. 

He wanted to push Crowley onto his bed and take him apart. He had spent six thousand years on this mortal earth, astounded by the beauty and complexities of human folly and endeavour, blessing as best he could all the endearing ways they found to love each other, and not untouched by that scattering of mortal light himself. He had at some moments been a fellow-traveller. He had never, of course, been entirely honest; but his desires had (nearly always) been kind. 

What he felt for Crowley was not kind. It was savage in its possessiveness, unreasonable, persistent, as timeless and impossible as a cat yowling all night in the yard. It stalked Aziraphale; it stained him like a birthmark; it liked to mock him by appearing before his face and laughing at him for having misunderstood it all so long. It forced Aziraphale out of being the kind of human he’d so convinced himself to be — genial, patient, sweetly diffident, jolly — and told him he was a ruthless vengeance machine with supernatural wings, the direct offspring of a deity so possessive of humanity that She’d murder her own Son just to make a point. Aziraphale imagined kissing Crowley and weighed that against, say, the fall of civilisations and nonetheless felt frightened that he wouldn’t be able to stop once he’d started.

He wanted to be good to him, of course. He loved the demon, the impossible inquisitive angel who had always been more beautiful than any of the leisurewear Heaven-workers with their over-abundant teeth. As Aziraphale folded his wings away, he remembered Crowley’s, the softness of black feathers with their jet and peacock light, the spectacular iridescent darkness that looked so utterly inviting to the touch. Eleven years and an impossible three months ago, they had sat in his shop, pissed and (in Crowley’s case) extraordinarily beautiful, and in the Park, and throughout Crowley had been threatening him with an eternity of Julie Andrews, and even now intermittently Aziraphale thought I shouldn’t mind an eternity of hearing Julie Andrews if what I was looking at were your wings. He wanted to take Crowley for an eternity of British Museum brunches and makeshift picnics on park benches; and delicious little morsels before dawn at Borough Market; and to tell him stories about marches and protests and members’ clubs and all the assignatory love stories told through a delicate wineglass and the sleights of hands and eyes. He wanted to say: look, I was there; I have been to Arcadia; I know all about it. Even if only as a visitor. He wanted to pull together all the strands of love and history in the world, and invite Crowley to admire their weaving and their resplendence.

And then, as above mentioned, he wanted to fuck Crowley into the bed.

It was dreadful, it was inconvenient, it was wholly implausible, and embarrassingly unlikely, and the impulse had never been more depressingly visceral than when seeing the infernal trollop consorting with that boy on his knee.


 

1Aziraphale could, just about, muster a nice colour in what passed for an English summertime. Crowley had had sunburn in 1843 and been angry ever since.[ return to text ]

2 Aziraphale detected no hint of a spiral in this thought. [ return to text ]

3 Aziraphale knew perfectly well, and at first hand, that the signifiers of contemporary gay life extended rather beyond this remit of Kylie Minogue’s dressing room, but then again, see footnote 2.[ return to text ]

4As if Crowley’s response to the ridiculous were to clear it up.[ return to text ]

5He subscribed to Country Life, the result of an advertising campaign where subscribers also received a free tartan ballpoint-style souvenir pen. Aziraphale had seen similar pens advertised as part of life insurance plans, but couldn’t justify a need. He did not subscribe to Gay Times, but he liked the pictures.[ return to text ]

6As Aziraphale furiously put it, we are all of us lying in the gutter, but only some of us are chucking up there.[ return to text ]

7That, Aziraphale readily conceded, had been one of the funniest moments of his life.[ return to text ]

 8Aziraphale felt unable to give it a stronger definition. Not enjoying watching the social machinations of a demon could hardly be deemed sinful in an angel. Not enjoying it because you wanted the demon to concentrate on you undoubtedly could. [ return to text ]

9He himself was of course not snake-hipped. In fact, Aziraphale often felt that it was only in the strictest anatomical sense that he was hipped at all. 

[ return to text ]

10Aziraphale thought it highly unlikely any political backdrop would be necessary for the seduction of Robbie, feeling that whatever part of Crowley so fascinated Robbie, it wasn’t his morals.  [ return to text ]

11Part of Aziraphale was also thinking that if he stood close enough to Crowley throughout, that man and hopefully others might take them for a couple (incorrect) and assume that Crowley was off-limits (definitely correct). Aziraphale had used this tactic before, and was not even ashamed of it. [ return to text ]

12Joint with all four other members. Aziraphale adored Tan for obvious sartorial reasons, although – with deep regret – could not endorse an incomplete tuck. Bobby made him wish, with painful yearning, that he’d had a son; Antoni made Aziraphale devoutly glad Crowley had not. Aziraphale most often tried to imagine what he’d say if he met Karamo in life and after rejecting inadequate witticisms, always concluded that he would probably faint. Crowley liked Bobby and Tan and thought the others were fools.[ return to text ]

13The Satanists, terrified by the darkness of the schoolgirl heart, retreated (pale and muttering) before half-term, stranding Aziraphale (who felt honour-bound to observe his notice period) and Crowley (who for reasons mysterious remained too) there until Christmas. Miss Fell was humiliated in the staff-student hockey match, and Mamzelle Glissant told all the fifth-years about Collette.  [ return to text ]

14Aziraphale, of course, did not need to be short-sighted, and had indeed in the past experimented with being long-sighted, but currently was enjoying the sensation of being able to blur out things more than twenty yards away when he took his glasses off. [ return to text ]

15Aziraphale was never conscious of dealing harshly with these types, but they did have a tendency to come a cropper in mysterious ways. One especially persistent chap had accidentally brutally stabbed himself in the stomach while shaving. Another had fallen out of a window and landed on the local Brexit Party candidate.[ return to text ]

16He knew Crowley’s, obviously, but that was sensible because that was a number he might need to dial.[ return to text ]

17Aziraphale obviously was not a man as such, but descriptivism. [ return to text ]

18And, given the specificity of “six millennia” and the tiny tyrannosaurus cufflinks Marcus was - as Aziraphale now noticed – wearing, a full and frank explanation would have necessitated not so much a cosy waking dream as, rather queasily, a hard factory reset.[ return to text ]

Chapter Text

A dejected Aziraphale opened three bottles of wine.

 

It was a decision he would come to regret before he'd reached the bottom  of the first bottle, but all the more so the following morning when, having so thoroughly intoxicated himself that he'd neglected to purge the alcohol from his bloodstream, Aziraphale woke with what felt like an especially untalented brass band clamouring through his head. He wasn't aware of having actually gone to sleep -- it wasn't one of his regular habits -- but he certainly felt the return to consciousness, neck stiff and head pounding, and groaned aloud. It had been more than a thousand years since Aziraphale's last hangover, and he now remembered why he'd always taken such pains not to repeat the experience during the intervening period. 

 

He supposed it would be considered in extremely poor taste to use up a miracle on a hangover cure. At any rate, he undoubtedly deserved to suffer. 

 

It wasn’t until he had gingerly consumed two cups of strong tea and a slice of dry toast that the noise in the street began. At first, Aziraphale thought it was merely an extension of the chaotic din within his own head, which seemed to be getting, if anything, worse rather than better. Aziraphale hadn’t such a thing as an aspirin in the flat, not normally ever being so stupid as to need one. Soon, however, he determined that the noise seemed to be getting closer, resolving itself into discrete shouts and chants, and Aziraphale scurried to the window, remembering -- "Oh, the damned protest!" 

 

It was an uncharacteristic thought, Aziraphale being usually cheerfully first in line to any and all public demonstrations in the district, armed with an icebox full of a seemingly endless number of bottles of water and, where appropriate, a limitless willingness to dispense the sort of hug which would leave the recipient feeling loved for days.19 Today, though, as he watched the throng passing with their signs and their shouting and their youthful exuberance and narrow waists, Aziraphale didn't feel at all in the mood to join them. 

 

The trouble was, he absolutely had to, because Crowley would be there.

 

Truthfully, Aziraphale hadn't believed, brooding over his waffles, that Crowley had any real intention of showing his infuriatingly attractive face in support of anyone's cause. He still largely doubted the cause part, but there seemed a reasonably high likelihood, given recent events, of Crowley trolling up to Portland Place in painted-on jeans and fuck-me glasses as a means of garnering attention from bloody Robbie, or -- or untold legions of other handsome young men. Attention, it seemed, was Crowley's key desire, preferably from the gay community, and the fact that Aziraphale would gladly have lavished the same on the undeserving strumpet every moment for the rest of his eternal life20 was quite evidently (and understandably, Aziraphale sighed) insufficient. 

 

Crowley was probably even now daubing FUCK THE POLICE onto his naked chest in body glitter, shimmying his jeans low enough on his hips to show off not only the gorgeous lines of his Adonis belt, but also a suggestion of pubic hair (auburn) and the fact that trousers this tight did not permit the wearing of briefs. 

 

Aziraphale swallowed, shook himself, and sighed. The point was -- the point was, he told himself cattily, vanquishing the hangover after all with a thought, that if Crowley would preen in front of half London, displaying his many assets for all and sundry, Aziraphale would at least make one among the sundry. After all, there was a lot of harm for a demon to cause at a protest. It was Aziraphale's solemn duty, really, to ward off trouble.

 

As he moved through the thickening crowd towards Portland Place, icebox in hand, Aziraphale was on high alert for red hair and dark glasses, pausing to scrutinise any lanky figure in black. So focused was he on searching out Doc Martens and post-Gothic glamour (see also: stiletto boots and abbreviated jet) that he didn't actually spot Crowley until he almost literally walked into him, because -- well, because -- 

 

Crowley was in white. 

 

Specifically, he was wearing an absurdly beautiful three piece suit in a cut that fell somewhere between fin-de-siècle and F. Scott Fitzgerald,21 and in which Crowley shone pristine in the sun like a bride gone to her wedding.22 Aziraphale had not seen Crowley in a three piece suit since the late nineteenth century. And Aziraphale had never seen Crowley, outside of the occasional waiterly subterfuge, in white.  

 

Above the starched collar and the glorious sheen, his hair looked especially red, as if he were crowned in flame, and something like a memory tugged at Aziraphale's heart, an impression of golden eyes and white feathers. 

 

Aziraphale staggered, clattering the coolbox and breaking into a perceptible sweat beneath his Factor 50, and Crowley, of course, chose that moment to notice him. 

 

“Hello, angel,” he murmured, and Aziraphale all but tripped over his ankles.

 

“Yes, well, good morning, yes.” 

 

“Just water?” Crowley scooped a bottle out of the coolbox, and Aziraphale noticed that the thread in his shirt-cuffs was the purest, palest champagne. His cufflinks were shaped like tiny white wings. 

 

“Anything else would be dehydr… oh, really,” he muttered, as Crowley’s unsealed Evian developed notes of lemon zest and Anjou pear, medium-full with admirable complexity, lively acidity, and excellent persistence on the palate. It effervesced towards the rim with all the celebration implied by Crowley’s raiment, and which Aziraphale did not feel.23

 

"Come on, angel," Crowley teased, "the finer things, and all that." 

 

"A protest," Aziraphale said coldly, "is no time to enjoy the finer things. Not that you got that message, to judge by your --" He gesticulated up and down the length of Crowley's body, face half-averted. Hopefully Crowley would assume this was motivated by high-minded disapproval, rather than by the fact that Aziraphale couldn't trust himself to look at Crowley like this without welding goggles or one of those little boxes the humans used to watch solar eclipses without enucleating themselves. 

 

Crowley thrust his hands into his pockets, to devastating effect. His posture was now one Aziraphale had more frequently seen in 1890s lithographs of young men posing in boaters alongside their smug, portly patrons. It made Aziraphale feel very portly indeed, without any of the smugness to compensate. 

 

"Don't you like it?" Crowley angled his hips as if to show off the ensemble (which needed no assistance). "I'd have thought it was right up your street. A hundred years or so out of date, buttoned to the throat. All the favourite old showtunes." 

 

Aziraphale sucked in a breath. "If you're going to insult me, I shall leave. I don't know why you're here, anyway -- you've never shown the slightest interest in this kind of thing before. I don't see why you'd begin now, unless you're using it as some sort of sexplatform." 

 

"A wh -- a sex platform? A sex platform? What the fuck is a sex platform?" 

 

A small crowd was gathering within the larger one; Aziraphale had no doubt that part of it was to do with how staggeringly beautiful Crowley looked, but also suspected it was being compounded by his continued repetition of the phrase "sex platform," at ever-increasing volume.

 

“Timber,” hissed Aziraphale. “But not on your stupid ‘phone.24 Protest as pickup joint.”

 

"A p--" Crowley cut himself off with a laugh, which Aziraphale privately thought very bad form, not least because when Crowley laughed like that it was very difficult to concentrate on anything else. "A pick-up joint. Right, obviously. Terrible use for a protest. Much better just to rock up with a crate of Evians and toddle around the sidelines, fussing and telling yourself you're being radical." 

 

That was too far. Aziraphale drew himself up to his full height, regretted not for the first time that it was lesser than Crowley's, and said, "Oh, I suppose you think you're the radical one, do you? Just because you've finally discovered what your cock is for, and now you think the natural next step is to strut around peacocking and evangelising the terribly radical concept of sex -- which, my dear boy, some of us discovered the joys of in ancient Rome." 

 

"Oh, ancient Rome." Crowley sneered at him, and Aziraphale could see behind the glasses that his pupils were narrow slits, drawn close with anger. "Yes, that was your time, wasn't it, angel? Nothing to do but loll around in warm weather in a toga, drinking oceans of wine and occasionally suggesting to the odd gladiator that he might shove his pike down his own throat instead of into his precious opponent, and what a shame about Pompeii. Oysters." 

 

"I don't know what you're implying," Aziraphale hissed. The small crowd was definitely thickening, and he now feared actually being overheard. 

 

"You'd have been happy if everything'd come to a stop right there, wouldn't you?" Crowley accused. "You had your manuscripts, you had your nice comestibles -- you were all right, Jack, as they say. You come to these things and pretend you want to help effect change, but that's the complete opposite of what you really want. You don't want anything to change." 

 

"Crowley --" 

 

"No, no!" Crowley held up one elegant hand. "No. Little thing like an apocalypse would have put you off your dinner, turfed you out of your bookshop. Better get it out the way so we can all go back to being exactly the bloody same as we were before, because what else could anyone ever possibly want?" 

 

"I know things change," Aziraphale snapped. "The evidence is before my eyes, wouldn’t you say?" He gestured at Crowley expansively and angrily. 

 

"Well," Crowley said, nodding, "yeah, thanks for noticing. Astonishingly enough, it's on purpose." Abruptly, he softened, his shoulders sinking, and he held out a hand. "Come on, angel. This is what happens, all right? Stuff moves on. Humans do it, and they're much, much stupider than we are. Live a little." 

 

Aziraphale hesitated. Crowley's hand was outstretched, palm upwards, and Aziraphale badly wanted to take it, to feel its unnatural warmth against his own. Perhaps Crowley really was trying, and Aziraphale had been reading him wrong. Perhaps -- 

 

Then a young man near Crowley's elbow shouted " kiss and make up!" and Crowley laughed, shrugged, lifted the hand, set his fingers against Aziraphale's jaw, and they weren't warm at all as Aziraphale had expected, but cool instead, like raindrops. 

 

"Don't be so stuffy," Crowley said, and kissed him. Sweetly.

 

For a brief, shining second, it was transcendent. Had not Aziraphale dreamed for millennia of this moment? Of Crowley's hands on his face; of Crowley's clever mouth stopped in its sneering, pressed to his; of Crowley's --

 

Then the clapping started up, and Crowley broke away, grinning, and inclined his head, as if acknowledging his admiring throng. Aziraphale instantly saw red, and when Crowley, incredibly, leaned in to repeat the fiasco, Aziraphale shoved him away as much with his grace as with his hand, trembling, embarrassed and furious. 

 

"What on earth do you think you're playing at?" he demanded. 

 

"Playing?" Crowley said. "Playing?" He looked, Aziraphale noted with some surprise, as angry as Aziraphale felt, as if it had been him, and not Aziraphale, who had been wronged. "Fuck me. Playing. You know what, Aziraphale, I'm starting to think I should have come dressed as a buttered fucking crumpet if I'd really wanted to impress you. This, this is just Too Much, isn’t it?" Crowley was now doing the sinuous wiggling thing with his head and arms and shoulders which always put Aziraphale in mind of those long-limbed balloon creatures they put outside car dealerships for the apparent purpose of terrifying small children; the worst part was that Aziraphale was still attracted to him. 

 

"Impress--" 

 

"Know where you are with a crumpet!" Crowley spat, very much reminding the angel of when his angry demon had come equipped with fangs. "Know where you are with your bow-tie and your waistcoats and your slim lavender volumes and your 'Ballad of Reading Gaol'! Your coyly curated window displays and your free hugs and that oooh matron voice you do when you're pretending to be shocked -- so fucking radical, isn't it? The playing fields of Soho have made you frightf'ly brave!” 

 

“Take that back about Soho, what’s she ever done to –”

 

“Oh yes, you're London's fairy godfather all right; you've got an intimate knowledge of all the great gays of history -- just a shame not a single one, Aziraphale, would understand why you're like this with me, because nobody but you thinks the world should have come to a halt with bloody green carnations and crumpets that get your cuffs all buttery --" 

 

"Stop saying crumpets!" Aziraphale raged, managing at the last second not to actually stamp his foot.

 

“Is there another way of getting you to listen?” 

 

There was something badly wrong in Crowley’s voice but Aziraphale was too far gone to care.

 

“You know nothing about green — about any of that time, except that Your Side –“

 

“I don’t have A Side, we have —“

 

“Our side was not the side bribing hotel staff and raiding public toilets and encouraging parents to kill their children and typing poisonous little gossip items into internet websites, Crowley. It never has been.”

 

“Oh no, your side is all sad lilies and poetry written about your Victorian boyfriend dying in prison.”

 

“Have you ever seen the inside of a prison, Crowley?” Aziraphale asked him, frighteningly. “Because I have.”

 

They glared at each other, and around them the polluted sky got a little darker; the smell of the unwashed pavements rose up a little more strong and sour, and all the ice surrounding Aziraphale’s Evian began, conclusively, to melt.

 

Crowley’s face was red and smarting. Aziraphale raised an eyebrow. 

 

“No more questions?” he asked, with horrible faux-surprised sarcasm. “But you’re usually so keen on questions, my dear! If rather less interested in the answers.”

 

“Stop it,” Crowley warned. “Aziraphale.”

 

“That’s the thing, isn’t it?” Aziraphale taunted, warming to his theme, feeling the spurious excitement of a man demonstrating the cooking of pavlova while trying to pretend his entire kitchen’s not on fire. “You can’t meditate on anything,  anything that’s not easy and showy or – with your outfits. Or,” he gestured between their mouths, “your cheap stunts. ” He expected interruption there, even allowed for it, but Crowley was just motionless, black shades turned towards him with lowered head: even when a man bumped into him, passing down the street, Crowley didn’t move. 

 

Aziraphale told himself he was still en route to triumph. “I for one welcome change, of the right sort.”

 

“As long as it doesn’t go too fassst, eh?” Crowley asked, and the cruelty in that soft hiss turned the clouds to lead. The demon took a half-step towards Aziraphale, and each felt the other’s breath on his face. 

 

“You’re a relic,” Crowley said. “Millsstone. The sslowest - and Satan forbid we should any of uss go too fasst. Get out of here!” 

 

But despite the injunction and the sweeping gesture, it was Crowley who went off storming down the street, as if suddenly bonelessly disappearing into the packed crowd. Uninvolved, the heavens opened and the summer road was suddenly awash; the last glimpse Aziraphale had of Crowley, as he disappeared into the shouting, clamorous crowd of his new London, was of that perfect white suit speckled with rain. 

 

*

 

He could have flown, of course, but he hadn’t slept (Aziraphale hadn’t noticed the point when sleep or its absence had injected themselves into his existence as notabilities, but without them he felt tired and tiredness connected him with Crowley’s parting shots like the ache of a war wound). Dawn came with its July brazenness and Aziraphale stood staring at his window, looking at his opposite neighbour’s houseplants (recalling Crowley); the tatty rainbow bunting swinging defiantly from the frontages and then trailing into the gutter below (like Crowley); the one-footed black-winged pigeon making its piratical way through a takeaway box before having urgent sex with the lid (ugh, also Crowley ). He’d made up his mind late the night before, and in the morning light hadn’t dropped the subject. He’d given himself a destination, but the sensation was still one of fleeing, not of pilgrimage but of flight. 

 

He could have flown but he was defiantly determined to be modern (“modern”), albeit not to the exclusion of comfort. He packed, more for the look of the thing than otherwise, collected his passport and took a taxi. There was a boy playing the second-hand piano in St Pancras, with much mention of angels and dinners and alternative pavement coverings  — Aziraphale shot the boy such an involuntarily reproachful look that he stopped, starting again with an even worse song about having tired legs and not being able to find a lover. 

 

Aziraphale did not want somebody to love. He couldn’t imagine having a deficit. 

 

He could have flown but instead he went under the ground, under the water. Nearly four hundred feet closer to Crowley’s nominal employers than usual. Not that one detected it, at this distance. First class meant a breakfast he’d initially assumed he wouldn’t have the heart/strength/will to eat, but somewhere under the sea he found himself picking at the croissant and thinking his dispirited thoughts while sinking two eggs and a heavily-upgraded pot of tea. He read the book most relevant to his destination and thought sad breakfast thoughts over skinning milk and crumbs. 

 

I am miserable, thought the angel. I am covered in bread and despair. 

 

Paris was hot and not yet quite forsaken for the summer. Aziraphale looked at his case until it folded itself into a smart gents’ wallet, and set off. It was unlike him – and unlike his destination – to walk, but walk he did. He had a little business down the side of Gare du l’Est (which is not, despite its name, desperately far from its more hebridean colleague), where twice-daily deliveries of food reached those individuals brave, desperate, and fortunate enough (that trifecta of fleeing contingencies) to have survived from Lebanon or Syria to Paris. Aziraphale passed by on the same side and the breakfasts doubled in size. Certain police officers in the Jardin Villemin turned back unexpectedly from the south-eastern gate of the park, and decided to visit the chocolate museum instead of bothering the asylum seekers sitting on the already-hot grass. Some of the visitors found chocolate and Euros in their pockets. Some of the interpreters found deliveries of soap, shoes, and papers. And, indeed, bottles of Evian. He argued with Crowley in his mind about it, but they were words of hurt, not doubt in himself.

 

There were certain feeling memories along this stretch; the lounging students whose eyes made Aziraphale sigh; the canal-side cafe where he’d taught Crowley the French word for ‘gizzards’ in happier times. The pink-fronted boutique where once or twice he’d bought Crowley presents, in that strange, sweet stretch of time where they’d decided to imagine and celebrate each other’s birthdays. There were old men playing boules in a square, Aziraphale noted, and then laughed hollowly, because of course those old men were so much younger than him. Every tree; every boulevard; every church on streets called Dieu or Beauparie or Malte . Every corpse rotting in the cemetery, for whom the world really had ended in the 1800s or even sooner, would always be younger than him. Disconcerting to rank oneself with the dead and lifeless things – but then again, Crowley obviously did.

 

Then the long and slightly teary walk away from Republique, a place he’d never liked because the marble face reminded him of Crowley. The dutiful new diversion to the Bataclan. South into Saint-Ambroise, and now a serious effort must be made. There was a raised and half-partitioned set of shops, twelve steps higher than the absurdly narrow and high-curbed side of the street. Three or four shops with nineteenth-century (a pang, there) sign-writing; the larger pair of them (predictably) devoted to flowers for the dead. He bought the predictable lilies, and horrified the florist by demanding daisies, purple hyacinth, statice (this caused some difficulties until the puzzled woman saw a vase of stems on the floor) and a few white carnations.25 It was a short walk after that. 

 

The glass was new. Aziraphale had heard about it, of course, but the last time he’d made this particular pilgrimage there had been nothing to keep him from running a hand along the smooth stone in greeting, across the crimson26 imprints of many a holy palmer’s kiss. Instead, Aziraphale found himself held a polite six inches back from the tomb, yet another unwanted separation. 

 

He sighed. At this time of year, the cemetery was often thronged with tourists, but today it found itself mercifully quiet; Aziraphale couldn’t rightly say if he’d had a hand in this or not. Still, he was grateful there was nobody there to witness him setting the flowers down and, perhaps (he could admit it to himself) letting slip a little tear or two he’d been withholding. The carnations had achieved their rightful hue, threaded with chartreuse, and Aziraphale thought of gentlemen’s clubs and light-hearted arguments and careful exchanges of wit meant as courtship. Oscar had — he’d found Aziraphale entertaining, a compliment the angel had never forgotten. 

 

“Well,” he said softly, foolishly, “this is a mess of my own making, isn’t it?” 

 

The tomb kept its peace. Aziraphale remembered Oscar’s face by lamplight, in the glory days; and how it had looked here, in Paris, at the end.

 

“It’s better,” he hastened to add, “in many — I mean, lots of things are better for the poor dears. They won’t be treated as you were, darling, in this part of the world at least – though enough of the fight goes on.” His eyes filmed over for a moment, remembering, and he felt a drag of self-recrimination at his own selfishness, not being – out there now. He was , often enough – as if there could be enough! Oh, God , he thought, wretched, and fervently hoped that She wasn’t listening.

 

And that the grave’s inhabitant was.  “But Crowley — you remember Crowley? He’s right about me, really. I do miss our world.” He paused, then admitted: “You were right about him, too,  of course. Me and him. I do. I always have, I see that now, but I don’t think I’m quite what he’s looking for, now that he’s actually looking.” 

 

"Who's looking for what?" 

 

Crowley's voice was neither entirely unexpected nor completely unwelcome, but Aziraphale did wonder how long he'd been standing there.

 

"Thought I'd find you here, angel," Crowley said. 

 

The white suit had vanished, to be replaced by an approximation of his usual get-up (a sort of Mourning Aesthetique SS19): black trousers that might or might not have been actual suede; Chelsea boots of the sort whose mass popularity in the 1960s had been Crowley’s doing before those clever boys from Liverpool thought of them; and a black t-shirt in a fabric that had made it its business to cling. No jacket, which surprised Aziraphale, though it was mid-July. Bare, Crowley’s arms looked long and pale and defenceless, freckled and, if Aziraphale was honest with himself, overly bony. Aziraphale could, if pressed, have made quite an extensive inventory of things about Crowley that were imperfect, but somehow none of these things would ever make a dent in the enormity of how Aziraphale felt about him. It was, he thought, infuriating. Or — well. At this point, devastating. 

 

“I don’t know why you’d look,” Aziraphale said, tearing his gaze from the soft, rarely seen crook of Crowley’s inner elbow where the veins stood out blue against the skin. “Millstone that I am.” 

 

“Demons like millstones. Blake said as much… dark satanic mills? Never mind, not my best.” 

 

Aziraphale turned his gaze back to the tomb. “I come here occasionally. As befits a relic.”

 

"I know. I've seen you do it -- sort of." Crowley scrunched up his face, eyeing the tomb. "Made an impression on you, this one, for a mortal." 

 

"You never liked him," Aziraphale said. 

 

"He was an absolute pillock," Crowley pointed out, though not unkindly. "Brought everything on himself before any of our side could get a word in edgeways. First rule of misbehaving is you don't sue for libel when it's true. Plus, he always thought he was hilarious.

 

"He was," Aziraphale said, soft, remembering how very much he'd laughed and how very much Crowley had hated it, for reasons Aziraphale couldn't examine too closely just at the moment. Crowley was shifting about, in evident unease.

 

"Yeah, well." Crowley sighed. "Look, I -- said things." 

 

"Yes," Aziraphale said tartly, "that's traditionally what happens when you open your mouth and form words." 

 

Crowley threw him what Aziraphale mentally categorised as a look of exasperated pleading. The demon was moving from foot to foot restlessly, which was not unusual for Crowley – he’d never really, Aziraphale thought fondly, got the hang of legs, but then he’d given himself so much to work with, when a shorter pair might have been simpler – but this oscillation seemed more frenetic than was customary. "I know I said things,” Crowley repeated. "Look, I'm apologising here." 

 

"Are you?" Aziraphale pushed, although he could feel himself melting. He would always, whatever the circumstances, melt before any suggestion of warmth from Crowley like an ice-cube in the sun, a quality he quietly despised in himself. 

 

"Yes," Crowley said emphatically. "And honestly I'm very happy to chat about it more -- very happy! But if we could nip out the side gate and do it there, I'd be, y'know." He shoved his hands into his pockets and indicated with his whole body. "Not as bad as your actual church, this, but it's still a bit itchy on the soles." 

 

"Oh!" Aziraphale cried, as light dawned. 

 

"Yeah, they had to go and consecrate it, didn't they? Couldn't just leave it alone, give us lot a chance to enjoy it as well." He was moving hopefully towards the exit, or at least inclining that way like errant punctuation, and so Aziraphale gathered up his wallet and his emotional energies and followed. 

 

Once outside the gate -- which wasn't the one Aziraphale had entered through, and which was almost within sight of the tomb -- Crowley relaxed in physical terms, but the crinkles of concern at the corners of his eyes were still visible even behind the dark glasses. Aziraphale leaned his weight gingerly against the wall and looked at him. 

 

"I see you're back in black," he said after a minute, when Crowley made no move to resume the conversation. 

 

Crowley shrugged. "Yeah. Well, my other -- aesthetics -- didn't seem to be doing what I wanted them to, so why go to the effort, eh?" 

 

"I thought they were working rather splendidly," Aziraphale said, surprised. "You were gathering crowds.

 

"Oh, crowds," Crowley said dismissively, scrunching his nose, as if he couldn't understand the compliment inherent in having half of gay Soho trailing in his wake, breathless at the very sight of him. Then he took off his sunglasses and looked at Aziraphale directly, pupils slitted and sclera milky beyond the gold.  "You weren't keen. I thought the white one was a shoo-in." 

 

The familiar weight was beginning to take root again in Aziraphale's stomach. "So you were poking fun with that one." 

 

Fun?” 

 

“You were dressed – as me.”

 

Crowley immediately and disconcertingly replaced his sunglasses, but didn’t speak for a long time. “I was dressed by your tailor,” he said, at last; or more properly, mumbled.  “I had to spend three hours looking at piping. I thought you’d like it better than – before.” 

 

“Than what?” asked Aziraphale, conscious of the hot Parisian sunlight,  and the incomprehensibility of both (a) Crowley even locating Gervaise, let alone commissioning from him a three-piece suit in pearl, the process of which presumably involved Gervaise taking empirical measurements that made Aziraphale feel dizzy 27 (b) the theory and practice of Crowley, world (as of late) without end.

 

“Than me. You’re not a millstone,” Crowley went on, looking as though his admission re: not being liked was the equivalent of being a cat caught biting its tail. “Anchor, possibly. I thought… I thought something would happen after that lunch, at the Ritz, and it didn’t, and I…” 

 

Aziraphale was conscious of gazing at Crowley in a perceptibly tender and enlightened way, heightened by seeing the reciprocal flush snaking up Crowley’s white neck as he directed his shaded gaze virtually anywhere but at the angel. “You – went on about being a fully paid-up member of the – for centuries. Beyond gavotting. You’re quite right that I’ve not been… as active. And I couldn’t help but noticing you’d never, well –”

 

“Asked you to dance?” asked Aziraphale, sounding precisely how he felt. 

 

“Yesss,” hissed Crowley, sounding for all the world as if he wanted to say “no”. The flush was kissing his earlobes now. “And I didn’t know. What you’d most like. My next try,” he admitted, in the tones of one with enormous toothache, “was going to be The Earl of Southampton. 1593.” 

 

“Oh, Crowley.” 

 

“If it’s dead fat Oscar,” Crowley stammered, “you’d better tell me. I’m not doing the teeth. Or the voice. But I’m – I kissed you and you didn’t like it,” he finished, suddenly. “I don’t think I can solve that with clothes.”

 

"Oh, Crowley," said Aziraphale, again, and Crowley actually winced. 

 

"Look, don't -- don't act like you're sorry for me, angel; anything but that. I've embarrassed myself enough as it is." He swallowed. “Celestial compassion gives me rashes.”

 

Aziraphale moved towards him, and his heart clenched when Crowley actually drew back, taking a step away down the dusty street. Aziraphale sighed. He said, "Crowley, it wasn't that I didn't like it. Don't you know I've spent --" He screwed his courage to the sticking-place -- "centuries, really, imagining it?" 

 

Crowley looked as if he was afraid to move the muscles of his face in any way at all. It was an unaccustomed look on him. When he removed his glasses again, his eyes looked an awful jaundiced amber, too much milk and not enough honey. At length, his jaw worked, and he said, "Imagining --?" 

 

“Imagining you looking at me the way I look at you when you aren’t paying attention,” Aziraphale confessed wretchedly, “although why you would, when you could have any one of those men from the bar, or — or your Robbie —“ 

 

Crowley’s brows were drawing closer and closer together as if he had moved beyond confusion and into the despairing headache stage. “Who’s Robbie?” he demanded, weakly but with obvious sincerity, and something in Aziraphale’s not-quite-soul seemed to give way, a sensation of crumbling which, nevertheless, let the light get in.

 

"Do you mean to say all that--" Aziraphale windmilled his arms vaguely-- "performance, all your gaudy outfits -- they were to impress me?"

 

Crowley looked as though he found this both obvious and sadistic.28 He looked, in truth, as though he might be about to confess that a concerted campaign of showing-off over six thousand years had been more to do with impressing one (1) angel than had been hitherto suggested. His lips trembled. "Much good they did.” He sounded on the brink of shutting down, pulling away much further than the edge of the pavement and the curve of the street; Aziraphale recognised it in his voice. "When you just don't want me." 

 

"Oh," Aziraphale said, with a certain tremulous defiance, "I want you, Crowley. So much, you can't comprehend it, but I want you. Not -- crop tops or high heels or even cufflinks, although they’re  – obviously – and I’d never mind them on occasion, you know, high days and  —“ A momentary arching of red eyebrow thrilled Aziraphale, but it was fleeting. “But they’re only -- Crowley --" He caught the demon by the arms and held on. "I want you to kiss me because you mean it, not as a, a stunt or a performance and I thought -- oh --" 

 

He broke off, helpless, and simply looked at Crowley. Crowley looked as though Aziraphale were speaking a foreign language (which was technically impossible, but Crowley nonetheless seemed to require a good deal of translation). 

 

"You -- you want me to kiss you?" 

 

He sounded so desperate that all Aziraphale's protective instincts took over at once. "Crowley," he said almost threateningly, "if you don't kiss me properly before this is over I don't know what I'll do, I really don't. So -- oh, do come here." 

 

He took Crowley's hand, his soft, neatly-manicured fingers threading through Crowley's slender black-painted ones and, this time, they flew. 

 


 

19 If the placards within a thirty-metre-radius of Aziraphale suddenly found themselves issued with a generous re-application of apostrophes, then so much the better. Aziraphale could not quite bring himself to chant “All cops are bastards”, feeling it a species of professional hypocrisy and having a hereditary weakness for uniforms, but police who came near Aziraphale in his recreationally militant form tended to change career soon afterwards. Since the time of the suffragettes, Aziraphale had been responsible for fifteen watercolour artists, eight charming B&Bs in seaside towns, ten bee-keepers, three nursery-school teachers, one totally organic vegan spa in Tuscany, a donkey sanctuary in Menorca, three Quaker meeting houses, a Viennese chocolatier, eighteen small antiques shops in and around the Home Counties, sixteen piano teachers, and forty-two market gardeners. [ return to text ]

20 And while not “the gay community” in toto, Aziraphale knew himself to be a very gay angel, which had the same quantitative relation to human gayness that Adam’s strength of belief had to the most fervent tenets of Wensleydale, Brian, and Pepper.[ return to text ]

21 Aziraphale resolved at once on a scene of emotional recriminations with his tailor.[ return to text ]

22 Rev 19:8.[ return to text ]

23 Though he did long to ask where Crowley’d bought his brogues.[ return to text ]

24 Aziraphale went out of his way to enunciate the apostrophe of elision, as a point of pride. [ return to text ]

25 Aziraphale asked for white carnations, and the florist was certain that’s what she had handed to him. [ return to text ]

26 And scarlet, and fuschia, and pink, and occasionally blue.[ return to text ]

27 Moreover, if Gervaise had been keeping a stock of those delectable cufflinks in reserve, unmentioned, Aziraphale was going to tender a strongly-worded remonstration on exceptionally stiff card. [ return to text ]

28 His face broke out in a minuscule spasm at the word “gaudy”, because even if Aziraphale didn’t recognise Balenciaga repurposed by an angry gay intern sacked from Karl Lagerfeld who stole a mile of metallic thread on their way out, Crowley did and there was nothing gaudy there. [ return to text ]

Chapter Text

Mysteriously, a room had become available at the Ritz and then immediately booked in a name that started with an A and ended in a squiggle and several loops. Mysteriously, the room was in fact the Suite Imperiale, which (as any discerning traveller knows) is modelled largely on Marie Antoinette’s bedroom at Versailles and looks rather as if all the absolute monarchies of the world have just re-decorated for a great autocratic gay wedding night. The sofas have swags and the swags have tassels. Anything not actually gold is pink, the baldaquin might have made Liberace want to tone it down, and the great fat Parisian doves who sit cooing obesely on the windowsills overlooking one of the most beautiful squares in the world envy the gold wings of the bath-tub tap. 

 

Aziraphale was a bit pink about all of the above, but absolutely defied Crowley to say anything. The latter was circling the suite’s drawing room and clashing rather acidly with the burgundy-through-scarlet palette of the drapes.

 

“Well, this is,” he began, moving his hands as if he didn’t know what else to do with them. He wasn’t quite looking at Aziraphale, and his face was flushed to the hairline. 

 

“Crowley,” Aziraphale said, feeling agonisingly fond. How absolutely like him it was, to have spent what Aziraphale now realised were millennia on astonishingly elaborate courtship rituals, only to have no idea what to do when success was his. 

 

“It’s just all — I’m,” said Crowley, pacing. Loping. Stalking. 

 

Aziraphale intercepted him in front of a statue of cherubs arguing over what he devoutly hoped was a horn of plenty. Crowley looked at Aziraphale as though he might be holy water masquerading as a relaxing pillar of fire, then pretended to be studying the cherubs. 

 

Aziraphale bit his lip, then took Crowley’s hands in both of his. “ Crowley,” he repeated, softly (the demon twitched), then: “I don’t want us to misunderstand each other, not again. I love you.” The words, he was amazed to find, came easily. What was not easy at all was to go on speaking rationally at the look on Crowley’s face. “I love you. I’ve been — quite embarrassingly in love with you for some considerable time. That's why, when I thought you were doing all that to impress other people, or because you were bored with me, I -- well.” 

 

Crowley’s eyebrows had made a bid for his hairline. He looked as if he’d been punched and was still summoning the energy to try and breathe again. 

 

Aziraphale prompted, very conscious of Crowley's silence and  trying not to sound either alarmingly desperate or as if dealing with an incompetent fool, “Do you love me?” 

 

“Yes,” Crowley said at once. His voice was barely a croak; he cleared his throat and tried again, looking as if it pained him. “Of course,  of course I love you. I’ve never loved anything else. I can’t remember not loving you. I’ve been waiting, and —“ 

He broke off, and Aziraphale’s chest was so full of him he couldn’t, for a moment, speak for fear of crying. 

 

“Stop, then,” he managed, at length. “Stop waiting, and kiss me.” 

 

“I might not match up to the Ancient Romans,” Crowley pointed out, half-hedging. “And your other conquests. I might not  match up to all your  comrades .” 

 

“You are — I think we’ve both been very stupid.”

 

“Speak for yourself, angel,” Crowley said, and kissed him. 

 

When Aziraphale had been Crowley, when he’d been to Hell, for that harrowing which had become such a glorious performance of Crowleian grace, Aziraphale had marvelled at the lithe beauty of Crowley’s body. They’d swapped in Crowley’s flat, under cover of darkness, and Aziraphale hadn’t really felt able to study it as he would wish – it was underhand, unsporting,  unethical – before he stripped to his swimming costume in front of Beelzebub and co. Aziraphale doubted that demons usually bathed in socks and Edwardian beachwear, but (a) he hadn’t wanted to be indicted for some strange form of autophilia and (b) he doubted demons were familiar with bathing or bathwear  at all . They were such a smelly, buggy lot – all warts and toads and strange clouds of dipteric headgear, faces clammy or pocked with acne or smudged with plain demonic grime – and then there was his darling, so delicate and lithe and with a colouring all his own. It had been marvellous to inhabit Crowley’s body, but it was infinitely preferable to feel it warm and responsive to his touch. 

 

He brought up his hands to cup the sides of Crowley's face, the sharp lines of his jaw.29 Like this, he was acutely aware of the discrepancy in their heights, in a way that made his stomach twist interestingly; Crowley's hands were more uncertain, finding Aziraphale's shoulders, then his upper arms, and then his back, but never quite settling anywhere they landed. Aziraphale wanted Crowley to be certain. 

 

He drew his thumb along the line of Crowley's jaw and thrilled when Crowley's mouth opened against his own, as if Crowley were taking direction. Aziraphale kissed him until the uncertain hands took a firm hold of his jacket, then pulled away long enough to say Crowley's name, struck by a sudden urge to see his face like this, what his eyes looked like as they stood here in the most ridiculous hotel suite in Paris, kissing in the world’s sixth act. 

 

Crowley looked, not remotely to Aziraphale's surprise, slightly lost and entirely beautiful, the whites of his eyes swallowed by honey-gold and the slitted pupils dilated to fat ovals. He looked -- aside from the incidental, unimportant things: the artful arrangement of his hair; the odd little shoestring necklace; the hipster-fit t-shirt -- in all the ways that mattered, he looked as he had looked in Eden. Aziraphale felt wrung out at the thought of it; if Crowley had kissed him then, what might the world have been? 

 

He must have stared too long, because Crowley's brows drew together and his hand came up to cover Aziraphale's on his face. "Angel?" The luminous eyes searched Aziraphale's. "What -- did I do it wrong?" 

 

"Oh, my dear." Aziraphale turned his hand in Crowley's, lacing their fingers. "Not at all. I only wanted to look at you." 

 

" Now you want to look," Crowley said, trying and largely failing to sound disgruntled about it, and Aziraphale smiled. 

 

"Yes," he said, "now. When you're just you. I've always wanted to look at you, Crowley."

 

“There are better things,” the demon suggested, “than looking.” This was both true and the recognised arch-formula for temptation stretching back to the first curve of serpent around blossom-strewn apple bough. Aziraphale spent a happy moment remembering what his other great friend had said about temptation, and brought Crowley’s face close enough to bite at his lips. Crowley, not at all eloquently, said “Ngk” in the back of his long white throat, and they went tumbling down onto the bedecked, swagged ridiculousness of the pink-and-gold sofa and its fourteen hundred cushions. 

 

Aziraphale saw the colour bloom in Crowley’s neck, chased the flush up to his ear with lips and tongue, and it was a delicious not-surprise to find out the noises Crowley made when you licked his sigil. The two of them came perilously close to falling off the sofa, angel atop demon, because Crowley was mainly leg and Aziraphale, enraptured, kept kissing him and making him writhe; but somewhere in the midst of it Aziraphale had an inspired thought and suddenly Crowley was instead blinking up at him from a position of rapt, arching surprise on a cloth-of-gold après-Versaille bedspread in the next-door bedroom.

 

“Whose idea was that?” Crowley asked, significantly less intelligent than usual, and Aziraphale blushed and started to explain, before realising that Crowley’s uncertainty meant they’d been having the same thought, and that explanation would be a squandering of time. Aziraphale accordingly just groaned and put a hand up Crowley’s shirt. You are entirely beautiful and I have waited six thousand years for you , Aziraphale thought but didn’t say, and although the justice was questionable – he had run from Crowley and sometimes sought him and sometimes hidden badly in gay clubs and sometimes recognised him across crowded rooms and under visors – the idea of it came unbidden. If Crowley had kissed him in Eden there might have been no goodbyes, but Aziraphale had to acknowledge he’d also enjoyed the hellos. He said  hello now, like an idiot, when he’d shrugged off Crowley’s tshirt and Crowley had curled up towards him with his hair on end like feathers, and Crowley, breathless, smiled. He was looking up at the angel in a way Aziraphale recognised and which made him feel faint, and simultaneously they both started on the plethora of buttons which concealed Aziraphale’s body beneath the first of four layers of clothes.

 

"Honestly," Crowley said, in breathless indignation (Aziraphale was very pleased to have made him breathless, and held him more snugly by the hips, leaving him to work), "it's  July, Aziraphale; did you really need -- the bloody  waistcoat -- "  

 

"I have  standards, as I'm always telling--oh, Crowley." Aziraphale broke off mid-sentence at the sensation of Crowley's mouth hot against his neck, having unbuttoned the collar of his shirt with impatient hands. The tie was goodness knew where. Crowley's hands were moving swiftly at the task of infiltrating the rest of the shirt, and it was all Aziraphale could do to close his eyes and hold on. 

 

"God," Crowley said, almost a prayer, when the shirt was fully open and he could set his hands on Aziraphale's warm waist beneath. "Look at you, angel." 

 

The tone of his voice was reverent and, for a minute, warmed Aziraphale all over. When he opened his eyes, the look on Crowley's face matched his voice, but then Aziraphale let his gaze travel further -- drinking in the broad freckled shoulders and the narrow chest beneath; the slender waist; the shallow of Crowley's navel which seemed to beg for Aziraphale's tongue -- and something prickled uncomfortably in him. 

 

"Don't look  too  long, I think," he said, suddenly awkward. "I'm not like your decorative pieces from your clubs, I'm afraid. You won't catch me stuffing myself into white jeans. I'm not --" 

 

But Crowley was looking at him with that wide-eyed, dropped-jaw expression Aziraphale knew of old, the one that said he honestly could not comprehend what Aziraphale was banging on about and would have given anything just to get him to stop. "Aziraphale," he said carefully, "you're  you. I've been staring at you for six thousand years and comparing everybody else I've ever bloody met to you -- and, before you say anything, they all come up short." He laid his palm, flat, against Aziraphale's chest, then drew it down, and Aziraphale shivered. "There's not a bit of you I don't want to put my mouth on, so can you stow the crisis of confidence for a minute, or, you know, permanently, and just --?" 

 

"Well, when you put it like that," Aziraphale gasped, clinging to Crowley's shoulders. 

 

"I do," Crowley said, and went for his belt. 

 

Things went rather blurred after that. Somewhere along the way, Aziraphale found himself on his back, pinned under Crowley's slight weight. This hadn’t been entirely his plan, of course – indeed, he’d imagined quite the opposite – but it would have been churlish to complain, and Crowley in applying hands to buckle appeared to have gained all the confidence the angel had lost. Said angel couldn't have said whether the disappearance of their remaining garments owed anything to magic, or whether Crowley was just alarmingly good at distracting him from events with nipping kisses to the throat. At any rate, he found to his astonished delight that Crowley felt just as wonderful naked between Aziraphale's thighs as had ever been imagined in a fevered stint of yearning masturbation; and moreover that Crowley couldn't seem to stop touching Aziraphale, even in places Aziraphale hadn't considered and of which he had never been very proud. Specifically, Crowley was groping Aziraphale's arse while biting at his nipple as if it had personally done him an injury and, apparently, Aziraphale couldn't get enough of it. Crowley’s mouth descended from nipple to ribcage (or, at least, the place ribcage was last sighted) to stomach – Aziraphale missed the moment for anxiety and then it seemed rather hypocritical to worry  after the fact,  although nobody looked at their best from this angle - and then Crowley was (there was no other term) slithering further down so that his shoulders were between – no, in one case  underneath Aziraphale’s thigh, and nudging – well, nudging. Aziraphale experienced a momentary anxiety about squashing Crowley or embarrassing Crowley or accidentally tugging too hard on the beech-red hair which suddenly seemed long enough to spill through  grasping fingers.30 And then Crowley looked up at him with a mingled flash of determination and defiance, and took Aziraphale’s cock into his mouth.

 

He looked very lovely doing it. Aziraphale had always imagined as much, but the reality of it -- of seeing the sneering twist of Crowley's mouth curved around the head of his prick; of  feeling  his serpentine tongue flatten there -- was very different from any idle fantasy. It knocked the breath from his lungs, and his fingers flexed unconsciously in Crowley's hair. Stunned, he heard himself, as if from a great distance, say Crowley's name. 

 

Crowley's eyes, when they met his, fairly glowed. A flush stole across his cheekbones under the freckles, and then Crowley's lashes fluttered, as did his tongue, and Aziraphale couldn't look at him anymore. 

 

It had been a long time since anybody had done this for Aziraphale. Not, perhaps, in the grand scheme of things, but he hadn't -- indulged -- since before the Great War, by which point it had already occurred to him guiltily that using a willing boy's mouth while thinking of Crowley's might be rather unangelic. Now, though, this was Crowley's mouth around him, hot and blissfully wet; Crowley's tongue seeking out all his most sensitive places. The joy, never truly anticipated, of having his beloved before him like this, combined with the more visceral and base pleasure of having his cock sucked eagerly by a forked-tongued being who didn't need to breathe left Aziraphale quite wrecked. He was conscious of making rather a mess, leaking pre-ejaculate in urgent, unseemly pulses that made him jerk helplessly into Crowley's mouth. When he dared to open his eyes again, he saw that Crowley's lips were wet with it. As he moved, little rivulets of slick descended from the corners of his lips down to where his hand worked what his mouth could not reach. He looked gloriously debauched, drunk on the all-too-human filthiness of the act, and Aziraphale thought: if anyone else has had him like this, I shall kill them; and if they're dead and buried, I shall dig them up and kill them again.

 

He is mine, his heart and mind went on, in a glorious cacophony of triumph over which he could not detect the small real sounds of his own gasping, the stuttering rhythm of which had set Crowley’s hips rocking against the bed. He is mine, and no deep waters or dark nights or apocryphal motorcyclists shall ever separate me from the — Crowley bobbed his head and the angel’s thought shattered. 

 

“Crowley —“ He clutched at Crowley’s bare shoulders as if it might anchor him to the earth. Crowley groaned against him, reverberating through Aziraphale’s whole body, and Aziraphale’s breath hitched. His thighs jerked apart. He groped for Crowley’s hair again as if to pull him away, everything suddenly too much.

 

When Crowley lifted his head, it seemed at once a blessing and a curse. His mouth was wet, bruised-looking, and his eyes were dark and dreaming. He murmured something — angel — and rubbed his hot cheek against the underside of Aziraphale’s cock where it was damp from his mouth. Aziraphale had to bite back a cry, even before Crowley applied himself to blind nuzzling and aimless kisses at Aziraphale’s trembling thighs. His hands, too, seemed to be everywhere at once. Crowley’s long fingers sought him out between his thighs, knuckling at the hot stretch of skin below his balls, and Aziraphale felt himself losing all grip on the situation. 

 

Crowley.”

 

“Do you have any idea how you look,” Crowley smiled, perfectly hypocritically given the state of his face and the long perfection of his white and freckled body, his moving hips. Absurdly, Aziraphale was tempted to speak of the pot calling the kettle black or the angel calling the demon — the demon calling the angel — but his body was at this stage very much the motorist and he (wrongly) thought himself incapable of speech. Crowley groaned, and reapplied himself with quicker and now more confident motions of lips and serpent tongue, and Aziraphale was running towards the inevitable before he realised that where there had previously been two roving hands before, behind and between his thighs, there was now only one. Electric certainty of suspicion flashed down Aziraphale’s spine, and he craned to know.

 

“My darling, are you —?” 

 

Crowley made a soft sound of — assent, perhaps, around him, and pressed with his fingers. Aziraphale’s breath caught. Crowley rubbed at him in a way that felt so unerringly good, Aziraphale was actually cross about it, especially because he could see Crowley’s other shoulder moving tellingly, his arm snaked beneath his body, and his hand — 

 

“Crowley,  come here and kiss me.” 

 

That did it. Crowley, as if powerless before that tone in Aziraphale’s voice, surged up over him, all reddened mouth and wild eyes, his fingers still working between Aziraphale’s thighs. Aziraphale swallowed, hips lifting into the touch, and eyed Crowley’s cock between them, stiff and slippery where Crowley had been touching it, keeping it from him. He reached for it and Crowley whimpered, pushing into his hand, lips parting against the angel’s. 

 

For a long moment, Aziraphale kissed him like that, learning the heavy curve of Crowley’s prick in his hand and thumbing at the slick crown of him. Crowley’s tongue was just as thrilling in his mouth as it had been when put to other uses, and Aziraphale shivered, sucked at it, moved his wrist just so until Crowley gasped against him. 

 

“That’s it. Don’t you see, this is my job.  Mine. ” There had been a way things could have gone (Aziraphale was no fool and it would have been highly enjoyable), but if Crowley supposed that that was what Aziraphale had been imagining for an endless collection of years, driven by longing and jealousy and an underlying template of being a vast winged mystery inadvertently combined with the possessive fury of a spectacle-wearing queen, then he was mistaken. Aziraphale had a million books and a hundred languages at his disposal, but what he actually chose was to keep saying mine into Crowley’s mouth, until even the demon’s memory of his smirk was gone (replaced with breathless surprise), and said demon was a shaking, trembling, bow-taut mess in his lap, and Aziraphale was aching to be inside him.

 

Crowley’s own hand had gone still, and Aziraphale took him by the wrist, gently, and tugged. Crowley lifted his head at this, looking sex-drunk and a little desperate. “Was it not —?” 

 

His voice broke and so, too, did Aziraphale’s heart, just a little, at the look on his face. Crowley, for all his foibles, did so want to please, to be good. Aziraphale would never have said it aloud, but really it was the core of him, his accidental demon, his feckless fallen angel. 

 

“Darling,” Aziraphale promised, “it’s lovely, you’re lovely, but just now it isn’t what I want. Do you mind?” There were fragments of calculation on Crowley’s anguished face, and Aziraphale could excuse whatever – assumptions – had been made, a thousand times, partly because he loved him dearly and partly because Crowley had gone  absolutely pliant  the moment Aziraphale had seized his wrist.

 

He looked as if he couldn’t mind anything Aziraphale might do, which was intriguing and made Aziraphale’s stomach dip pleasantly. He said, shakily, “Whatever you —" and then, when Aziraphale touched him carefully between the thighs, “oh, fuck, angel.” He bit his lip, pink against the white of his teeth. Aziraphale kissed the bitten lip and, when Crowley shuddered against him, took the opportunity to push him back among the lush pillows, settling himself between Crowley’s splayed legs. 

 

He could still feel the shape of Crowley’s fingers where they’d been inside him, and the burn of it, like a brand, seemed to urge him on, set him biting at Crowley’s long throat as if nothing could be enough unless it left a mark on him. Beneath him, Crowley arched, clutching at Aziraphale’s shoulders. 

 

“I didn’t think you’d be like this,” he confessed in a breathless rush. “Thought I’d have to — but you’re —"

 

“I’m going to take care of you,” Aziraphale promised. Crowley was so hot inside, his body grasping at Aziraphale’s fingers as if desperate for him, which seemed right. “Because you’re mine, aren’t you?” 

 

Crowley thrashed against the pillows, strands of red hair sweat damp and sticking to his forehead. “Always yours,” he gasped, eyes screwed shut. “I’ve been telling you and telling you.” 

 

“I’m listening now,” Aziraphale said. Crowley took a breath that ended somewhere between laughter and a sob, and Aziraphale kissed at his skin to watch the muscles jump.

 

“On a practical note,” the demon gasped out, writhing,  “you know, while we’re – ” Aziraphale was arranging his legs and Crowley apparently couldn’t look at that, couldn’t watch himself being positioned-- “is this going to –?” 

 

As if I’d let it. No, darling, there are – ways and means, in our situation.31 And, Aziraphale thought, presumably a dozen expensively-branded bathroom products doubling as a cornucopia of (we wish that we could tell our readers that the term Aziraphale thought was not “sex aids”, but we would not wish to mislead the public). But nothing he couldn’t do for Crowley right here, with a thought. Crowley’s eyes widened, then shut tightly.

 

“Fucking hell,” he breathed, after a moment, and although Aziraphale deemed this a misappropriation of victory, Crowley was arching and pushing against him, almost  through him, as his own heat was supplemented and everything made very much easier. He clutched at Aziraphale’s arm, shook it gently, and tried to open both eyes to fix him with a look. “Where did you learn that? Who for ?” 

 

“Only a prologue, darling.”

 

" This  had better be only a p--oh, bloody hell." Crowley was tense and trembling at Aziraphale's hands, a thought which made Aziraphale flood with heat. He crooked his fingers, withdrew and pressed in deeper, and felt breathless at the way Crowley's body opened for him, wanting. He imagined how Crowley's heat might feel around the splay of four fingers, his wrist, his -- 

 

He pulled back, swallowing hard, and met Crowley's pained murmur with a soft sound of reassurance. "We can do better than that, I think," he said shakily, and took firm hold of Crowley's thighs, hitching him closer. 

 

"Oh, fuck, please," Crowley said, in a voice gone high and tight. He had opened his eyes again, and they were now, Aziraphale saw, fixed firmly between their bodies, full of something that was a little more greed than longing. "Put your cock in me. Aziraphale. Fuck me." 

 

"Well,  really," Aziraphale said, conscious that he was, ridiculously under the circumstances, going pink. He might have said more, but then he caught the sly grin on Crowley's face, and after that there was absolutely nothing to be done but fuck the devil out of him. 

 

Not all at once, of course. Slowly, lovingly, in stages that would leave Crowley pinned and shaking on the bed, mind blank of everything but Aziraphale's name and how it felt to be full of him, to be his. Aziraphale pushed into him carefully, carefully, and watched the tendons strain in Crowley's long neck as he threw back his head and pressed back insistently onto the intrusion. Ceowley's own prick curved up against his concave belly, puddled in its own slick, and Aziraphale's mouth flooded at the sight of it. Next time, he thought, he wanted that in his mouth, in his throat, but for now he twisted his hips and thrust home, loving the way Crowley surged up to meet him, gripping urgently at his waist. Aziraphale covered Crowley’s hands with his own and lowered them both towards the bed, rocking his hips with a practised ease that made Crowley shout and clutch again. Aziraphale -- gently, insistently --  returned Crowley's hands to the mattress, and at the next thrust the demon once more attempted the grasping manoeuvre, but found he couldn’t manage it. His wrists were fast against the bedlinen as if pinned, and when he gaped up incredulously at the angel, Aziraphale was smirking. 

 

It wasn’t very angelic of him, he knew, but then he didn’t feel very angelic just now, with Crowley spread out naked before him, pinioned like a butterfly to a card.  His. 

 

"You bastard," Crowley accused, strained. "I should've known." 

 

Aziraphale laughed, rolled his hips, and admired the way Crowley hissed and arched his back, chest and shoulders lifting helplessly off the bed. "You should," he agreed. "What was it you said about me? That I was --" 

 

"Oh,  fuck," Crowley spat again as Aziraphale fucked into him, hard and unwarned-for. "You are, you are, but keep going, please; you know it's what I like best about you -- angel --" 

 

Aziraphale smiled and trailed a hand down his chest, obliged him by setting a rhythm. “The point is, Crowley, however much attention you attract, only  I will see you like this. Clear?”

 

“Perfectly,  sodding – do you think I’d want anyone else when – fuck , do that again!”

 

“I don’t intend to  let you want anyone else,” Aziraphale said. “You’re mine. Repeat it, please.”

 

“ – all absolute  filth up in heaven, yes, I’m yours, all right,  yours , please,  please .”

 

Crowley’s eyes were wide, plaintive; his exposed throat shone with sweat and Aziraphale felt his rhythm stutter at the sight of it, Crowley caught like this beneath him. He laid his palm over Crowley’s larynx, cupping the hectic pound of pulse in his hand, and watched Crowley’s eyes close as he, very slightly, pressed down. Crowley didn’t need to breathe, but he inhaled sharply through his nose all the same, and Aziraphale gasped in answer. 

 

“Mine,” he repeated, withdrawing his hand. He took hold of Crowley’s narrow hips instead.

 

"Give me my hands," Crowley begged, "Aziraphale -- I want to touch you, can I --" 

 

Aziraphale, manipulated by the catch in his voice, relented, and Crowley's arms went immediately around his neck, pulling him down. He wanted to kiss.

 

After that, Aziraphale rather lost himself. Crowley's mouth was hot on his neck, his jaw; then Crowley said fuck me in his ear as if Aziraphale were not already giving it the best he could, and in the rush of thrones-and-dominions possessiveness that ensued, Aziraphale actually contemplated unfurling his wings for leverage. He clutched Crowley to him, bracing his knees on the mattress and holding Crowley still, the better to drive into him, and this seemed to suffice, at least from the sounds Crowley offered up, high in his throat. 

 

"My darling," Aziraphale said, "if I had my way, I'd have you dressed like this all the time, just for me, in nothing but your sweat.  Crowley--" 

 

Crowley's cock was sliding wetly between their stomachs and Aziraphale fumbled to take hold of it, thumbing the crown and then tugging at it with clumsy urgency. Crowley's sounds of desperate approval had become frantic cries now; Aziraphale torqued his fist, the heaven-gold of his ring caught between his skin and Crowley's, and Crowley, taut and trembling, capitulated at last to Aziraphale's will. 

 

He fell back, golden eyes wide and all the sense tumbling out of them as he came. Aziraphale registered feeling like nothing so much as God on the Seventh Day, and then collapsed too, coming inside Crowley with barely a second’s pause and with a force that shocked them both. He was disquieted to find himself biting Crowley’s shoulder, and then gabbling into his neck. He had no idea what he said in that last volley of words, but it made Crowley gasp, and then cling on all the tighter. 

 

Their bodies stilled together. 

 

“Did you get your wings out?” Crowley asked, blearily, when he’d summoned the strength so to do.

 

“No, why —“

 

“I thought I saw them.” He didn’t sound worried. He sounded, Aziraphale proudly concluded,  fucked . “Angel,” Crowley purred, and the way he said it made Aziraphale’s unnecessary heart give a big, ridiculous thump. 

 

“My dear?”

 

"Nothing," Crowley said, after a moment. "You should take a picture, because this'll probably be the only time you leave me speechless." 

 

Aziraphale laughed, relief and joy intermingled, and kissed Crowley's face, the sharp angle of one cheekbone and the place in front of his ear where the sigil curlicued across his skin. "On the contrary," he said, "I shall take that as a challenge." 

 

For a space that could have been anywhere between twenty minutes and two hours -- occult and ethereal beings all tended to have a loose grasp on the concept and fabric of time32 -- they drifted, tangled in the ludicrously opulent bedclothes and in each other. Crowley's fingers were making repeated passes down Aziraphale's sides, to his waist, and then up his back; they settled on his shoulderblades, rubbing up and down the spurs of them, and then Crowley said: "All this time, and you know what I've never seen?" 

 

Aziraphale cracked one eye. "A straight banana?" he suggested, lazy and disaffected. 

 

Crowley swatted him on the arse and went on unperturbed. "I've  never seen,"  he said, "you – as you were created, angel. It’s always been clothes, or – garb – or a necessary distraction by an Antichrist. I thought I did, for a minute there, but you said…" He trailed off. "Wishful thinking. Spread your wings for me?" 

 

Aziraphale was instantly engaged with the situation, his heart skipping at the look on Crowley's face. It was plaintive, wistful; Aziraphale felt his wings unfurl, pearl-white and powerful, almost of their own accord, and saw Crowley's eyes widen in something like gratitude. The last time Aziraphale had stretched them, he had been misery-stricken and morose, and now -- 

 

"Yours too," he said, insistent, and watched Crowley's expression shift from worshipful to wary. 

 

"Mine aren't," Crowley said, uncharacteristically hesitant, and then broke off. Aziraphale knew, of course, what he was about to say. Crowley's weren't glistening white as Aziraphale's were; they hadn't been for a very, very long time. Crowley's wings no longer wore the hue of Heaven -- but then, Aziraphale thought tartly, he didn't care to think about Heaven any more. A choice had come between Heaven and Crowley, and he would choose Crowley again on any occasion. 

 

"I've told you," Aziraphale said, carefully, "I want you just as you are. Please let me see?" 

 

“I’d really rather – ” but even as Crowley made an obstinate face, he gave in, and the air pulsed around them as Crowley's wings, night-dark and star-threaded, spread above the bed like an iridescent canopy, more intricate and impressive than anything the Ritz could have found for any amount of money. Here, it felt to Aziraphale as if nothing could touch them, and he relaxed fully into Crowley’s side, tangling their legs once more.

 

"Perfect," he declared, and meant it.

 

Crowley hadn’t moved or spoken since his wings unfurled; not even permitted himself the sinuous stretch of neck that was as natural to him as breathing to a human. He had just stared, waited, for a verdict on Aziraphale’s face and in his voice. When it came, he heard Aziraphale’s tone, and dared to look up. Between the two of them, now, the bed was entirely shielded from everything beyond, the black feathers of Crowley's wings overlaid with Aziraphale's white. 

 

“Something like that,” the demon agreed shakily, and pressed his face to Aziraphale’s neck. 

 

Morning came in a blink, heralded by the grumbling of Aziraphale's stomach, and the – to Crowley at least – highly unwelcome and unexpected knock on their bedroom door. Crowley swore with more sibilance than was easily-explained, confirmed he wasn’t still a winged creature transfigured in the ineffable embrace of another Deity-shaped being with a feathered span of over ten feet, remembered he was nonetheless naked with slitted yellow eyes, and burrowed angrily under the covers. Aziraphale smiled beatifically.

 

Entrez! he trilled, as if being found naked in bed with another man33 at the Ritz was just something that happened to Aziraphale, on an unremarkably regular basis, and that in any case he was at peace with it. Beneath the bedspread, Crowley bit his thigh. Aziraphale kicked.

 

Bonjour! he beamed.  Merci beaucoup.34

 

Bonjour messieurs!  replied the waiter, as if finding men naked in bed at the Ritz was something that happened to him every day, and indeed it more or less was. Voici vos petits déjeuners!35

 

Aziraphale’s smile was radiant. Crowley bit his thigh again, and was ignored.

 

Voici les œufs brouillés à la truffle noire. Voici les œufs bénédictines au saumon fumé. Voici les œufs au plat caviare. Voici la corbeiller de nos boulangers, avec le beurre Bordier. Encore des œufs. Encore des viennoiseries.36

 

–  Merveilleux.

 

Aziraphale sighed happily. Marvellous, indeed.

 

The man continued.  L’assiette de fruits rouges. L’assiette du fromage. Un chocolat chaud et un espresso. Et encore nos cocktails detox. Le jus orange-carrotte. Le jus orange-gingembre. Le jus carrotte-orange-gingebre. Le printanier: banane-bitterave-citron-jaune-goji -37

 

Crowley, incredulous, allowed a furious, red and ruffled head to emerge above the bedsheets. He had somehow acquired some Ray-Bans. “ Detox ? Did we order this?”

 

“We most certainly did,” Aziraphale said joyfully, accepting a pad to sign (Crowley clutched the sheets around his white and freckly form with an outraged modesty not usually associated with the underworld, or, indeed,  with Crowley ). With more interchange of French civilities and a great deal of mutual bowing, Aziraphale and his fellow connoisseur of outlandishly-priced breakfast foods parted, the best of friends, one of them naked. 

 

When did we order this, angel?”

 

“Don’t be difficult, Crowley. Will you take caviare, or truffles? Cheese? And which of the smoothies?”

 

Crowley was about to say he didn’t do breakfast, he didn’t do cheeses, and he certainly didn’t do blessed – bloody – smoothies. But then he looked up at Aziraphale, and he fell.

 

“I’ll take an espresso and the truffles and – oh, yeah, some of those chocolatey things. And a croissant. But  don’t bring that bloody – rabbit food – anywhere on my side of the bed.” His crossness did not daunt the angel. He had waited some time to hear Crowley designate “his” side of the bed. Especially when the demon leant against him then, and added, “Please.”

 

Aziraphale, of course, could deny him nothing, even without a please. Short work was made of the berries and hot chocolate and immoderately diverse variety of eggs (Aziraphale applauded them all), although Aziraphale hazarded that the work might have been shorter still, had he not been so preoccupied with watching Crowley. It was so rare to see him eat more than the most cursory of morsels; now, Aziraphale thought smugly, he must have been running low on fuel, exhausted by his endeavours. At any rate, he ate an entire  pain au chocolat and then went back for another. 

 

Afterwards -- when the sticky remnants had been licked from lips and brushed from cheeks; and when any sense of stodginess had been subtly nudged into nonexistence -- Crowley rolled him onto his back, and this too, Aziraphale had no wish to deny him. 

 

"Last night," Crowley said. It sounded like the beginning of a sentence, but Crowley only followed it up with kisses to Aziraphale's throat, and so Aziraphale stopped waiting for the rest, preferring instead to tip back his head and surrender lasciviously to sensation. 

 

Crowley had kissed most of the way down his stomach before he resumed, "you were very  bossy." 

 

"Didn't you like it?" Aziraphale asked, in the unconcerned tones of one who knows already the answer to his question. 

 

"It won't always be like that." 

 

"No, dear." 

 

Crowley shouldered in between his thighs and pressed a kiss to the base of his cock, now stiffening anew. "I won't always let you have your way." 

 

Aziraphale wriggled pleasantly beneath him, spreading his legs in entreaty. "Of course not, dearest.." 

 

Crowley, looking intent and extremely purposeful, and not at all like a besotted recent virgin determined to please, slicked Aziraphale with a thought and followed the thought with his fingers. It was exactly what Aziraphale's posture had, of course, demanded. Crowley said: "Sometimes, it's my way or the highway, just so we're clear." 

 

"Very clear, darling," Aziraphale soothed, and bit his lip as Crowley pushed into him, the thick thrust of his cock a perfect and desired burn. 

 

Crowley nodded, as if satisfied that his petition had been heard, and proceeded to fuck Aziraphale exactly as thoroughly and fiercely as Aziraphale wanted. 

 

Out of a kindness born of love freshly consummated, Aziraphale decided to let him think it had been his idea. 

 

It was almost noon before Aziraphale, now covered in his own come and feeling deliciously debauched, decided they ought to shower and dress, or at least magically approximate the two. There was a lovebite in the hollow of Crowley's throat and Aziraphale could just picture it rubbing against his collar as they meandered down the Left Bank. 

 

"Darling," he said, turning over luxuriously in the disarranged sheets, "what would you say to crepes?" 

 

“We’ve just had breakfast.”

 

“Oh, but — aeons ago. And I know a marvellous little place off the Rue Merry, fifth generation, and they — Crowley, are you  reading ?”

 

“I am, rather. Isn’t it yours?”

 

Aziraphale, nonplussed, had to confess that it was, but he had no notion as to why.

 

“Bit of a fool, that Sebastian.” He snapped  Brideshead Revisited  shut. “Right, come on. Before your friend comes back with encore une assiette and I have to discorporate the Paris Ritz’s best bellboy.” He looked challengingly at Aziraphale from beside the wardrobe, as challengingly as a much-bitten demon can look when he’s naked and clashing with nineteenth-century drapes. 

 

"My  friend," Aziraphale said primly. " Hardly." 

 

"No, he won't be," Crowley observed, "if he sees you like that. Much as I like it." He gesticulated in the general direction of Aziraphale's naked -- well, everything -- and the angel blushed. 

 

"I  was  about to correct that," he said, tightly. 

 

"Hang on a tick," Crowley interjected, pulling himself upright enough that Aziraphale lifted his head and paid attention. "Can I --" 

 

"Yes?" Aziraphale prompted, after a moment's throat-tightening silence. 

 

Crowley drew in a thoughtful breath. "Would you mind if I -- I mean, would you let me dress you?" 

 

Aziraphale instantly felt and, probably, looked rather sick. Human bodies, he’d discovered, had a terrible propensity for playing out on a muscular level what should properly have been the business only of the brain, and he never ceased to be amazed by just how much and how suddenly the things could hurt. He’d always got a kick out of Crowley, as the tune went, but sometimes it could also feel terribly as though Crowley had kicked him, somewhere between the chest and guts (though with Aziraphale this was definitely a soft border in all senses). But given their activities and, moreover, their conversation of the last twenty-four hours, to discover that he was sartorially wanting, that Crowley thought him inadequate, perhaps even  embarrassing

 

“No,” said Crowley, urgently, and then about thirteen times more with variations: “no no no no. Hey. Angel, not like that.”

 

Aziraphale accepted the arms being wrapped around him, and tried not to look tearful.

 

" Not like that,"  Crowley insisted, and squeezed him hard. 

 

"This is mine," Aziraphale said in some surprise, looking down at the white linen suit which had materialised upon his person, and which he had last seen, he thought, in India, some time in the 1930s. 

 

"Yes," Crowley said: "I just missed it. And I wanted -- here." 

 

He stepped back, took Aziraphale's hand. As if through some cunning magic trick of his own,38 something metallic and shiny appeared in Crowley's palm; Aziraphale only recognised it when Crowley had begun fastening it through the cuff of his shirt. 

 

"Oh, my darling!" 

 

Crowley threw him a look under arched eyebrows and grinned. "They're not my style, but too nice not to get use out of. Of course they were for you." He straightened the little angel wings and stepped back, eyeing Aziraphale critically. "And just another touch --" 

 

Aziraphale lifted his chin obediently as Crowley unfastened his tie and unceremoniously vaporised it. Crowley's fingers followed, soft on his neck, and, next, Crowley's mouth. 

 

"Always wanted to do this," Crowley said into the warm hollow of his throat. Aziraphale felt the murmur of his breath all down his spine. "I know you don't like to leave the house bare-necked, angel, but give me a minute." 

 

Crowley's lips traced the curve of his throat, raising goosebumps in their wake. Aziraphale closed his eyes, taking hold of Crowley's shoulders -- gently at first, and then, when Crowley's mouth opened wet and hot against his neck, more urgently. 

 

"You'll leave a mark," Aziraphale protested, and Crowley laughed, then descended, sucking at him so intently that Aziraphale could feel the blood surging under the skin in the shape of Crowley's lips. 

 

"Naturally," Crowley said, leaning back as if to admire his handiwork. "Fuck, you looked so good in the sun like this, Aziraphale. Before the war, with your neat little shoes and your, your bloody  pith helmet." He shook himself, and a familiar cravat, the work of Carnaby Street, materialised around Aziraphale's neck. "There. Your modesty's protected." 

 

Aziraphale flushed slightly, remembering the last time he'd worn this -- not with this suit, certainly, but he couldn't fault the combination. Crowley, evidently, remembered too, the corner of his mouth curving up. 

 

"Not too fast for you now?" he murmured, and Aziraphale shook his head, holding out a hand for Crowley's. 

 

"Just fast enough, dear boy. Shall we go?" 

 

Crowley agreed, and so they strolled through the city, hand in hand if not consistently  in step. Later there would be a detour across the river, past the Louvre (where Crowley would eye several potential wall hangings, and Aziraphale flatly refuse to queue) to a certain bookshop where Crowley would murmur to the proprietor and Aziraphale would suddenly own several volumes – St. John, Trefusis, a memoir of James I – decidedly not for sale. But before that, there were crepes. And they saw that it was good. 


 

29 Aziraphale himself simply had to trust to faith that his jaw was there.

[ return to text ]

30 It was, in fact, now long enough not only to spill through grasping fingers, but actually to be fisted by the handful. This was because Crowley had just made it longer, because Crowley – although more off his personal map than Aziraphale currently had the wit to realise – had very definite if fragmentary thoughts about how he wanted this to go. Some parts were the result of distracted improvisation, but one part was a long-held and now incarnate desire to feel Aziraphale’s hand tugging at his hair. Also, Crowley was spectacularly vain about his hair and the way Aziraphale grabbed at it validated him. [ return to text ]

31 Crowley thought that Aziraphale’s terminology made them sound somewhere between disgraced housemaids and recalcitrant dowagers doing something illicit in the Blitz, but didn’t much care.[ return to text ]

32 Crowley, in particular, absolutely embellished the notion of “lateness”, and made it glow.  [ return to text ]

33 Ostensibly “another” and, indeed, ostensibly “man”. Also, “entrez” means “come in, either persons plural or singular but with whom I am unacquainted!”. [ return to text ]

34 Aziraphale is polite.[ return to text ]

35 Bonjour, multiple sirs! Here are your breakfasts![ return to text ]

36 Here are eggs with black truffles! Here are eggs Benedict with smoked salmon! Here are eggs with a plate of literal caviar. Here is our rustic receptacle of expensive baked goods, with butter from Sant-Malo, which obviously speaks for itself, multiple sirs found naked in the suite Imperiale! Here are more eggs. Here are Viennese pastries, which are not unlike our rustic receptacle of expensive baked goods, except for the fact that we do not pretend they are rustic. [ return to text ]

37 The plate of fruits red! The plate of cheese! One hot chocolate and one espresso! And as well our overpriced fruit juices, which we present to you under the name “cocktails detox”. I see, monsieur who is visible above the bedclothes, that you are a connoisseur of the cocktails detox, for you have ordered three of them! [ return to text ]


38 Rather more cunning than anything Aziraphale had done as magic [ return to text ]

.