It’s surprisingly easy to fall back into routine after the end of the world.
Or what wasn’t the end of the world, but had been intended as The End.
Aziraphale ran his bookshop as eccentrically as ever.
Crowley did… well, whatever it was Crowley did when they weren’t together. Met with his accountant about his numerous investments or something. A nightclub he owned. He also owned a strip club or brothel-- Aziraphale had never been quite sure, and he thought Crowley did that intentionally. He had yet another business at the docks-- which Aziraphale was fairly sure involved being the head of a crime syndicate. Something-something, temptation and vice, something-something.
Crowley had always been vague when he talked about it. Aziraphale wasn’t sure if it was because Crowley knew Aziraphale didn’t get the ins and outs of business and investments, or because he knew Aziraphale would undoubtedly disapprove.
Aziraphale didn’t understand business. He knew how to run his bookshop and keep his accounting up-to-date and pay all of his bills on time, and that suited him.
Whereas Crowley thought in grand landscapes, Aziraphale liked to keep his world much smaller.
Granted, Aziraphale had his own accountant who handled his investments and finances. Someone had to, what with the change in hands from one generation to the next, the need to constantly maintain and update Aziraphale’s paperwork and identification (and false identities) he needed through the years.
His accountant knew what Aziraphale was, which was why the firm went to the lengths they did to make sure he got to keep living in London and maintain ownership of his bookstore without problems.
Aziraphale could miracle away any issues he might run into, but he liked to try to keep things as above the board as he possible-- even when it took a little, er, creative engineering.
Point was, life continued.
Pretty much exactly as it had before.
Which was enough to have them both wary and suspicious.
Crowley was already on the bus when Aziraphale boarded it. He was seated at the back of the mostly unoccupied vehicle, long limbs sprawled haphazardly as he busied himself scrolling through his phone.
Aziraphale didn’t look at him as he took a seat on the row before him and opened his novel, head bowed but eyes flicking over the different faces.
“Well? Any sightings?” Aziraphale asked in a hush.
“Nah, nothing,” Crowley answered. “Neither hide nor hair.”
“And you still haven’t received any, uh, orders?”
“‘Fraid not,” he answered. “Not that I ever got too many. Mostly left me to my own, and I sent in the reports and paperwork. You?”
Mouth twisted, Aziraphale stared at the words on the page without seeing them. “Same.” He opened his mouth, then closed it, face scrunching. “What do you think it means?”
There was silence for a long time behind him.
“I don’t know,” Crowley finally admitted with a heavy sigh. “I honestly don’t know.”
They met for breakfast.
It was a simple little cafe, quaint and charming, with an outdoor balcony so they could enjoy the sunshine brightening the day.
They’d spent time together outdoors, of course, but one couldn’t really explain away sitting at the same table as coincidence like they might two strangers sharing a park bench or feeding the ducks.
“Still nothing?” Aziraphale questioned, adding strawberry preserves to his croissant as Crowley sipped his coffee.
To the casual onlooker, they would have thought Aziraphale focused on his breakfast instead of checking dark corners and reflective surfaces to assess their surroundings.
He may have looked like a humble bookshop owner, but he had been a soldier of Heaven for longer than the Earth existed, had been part of more wars than he could keep up with-- both human and celestial-- as a soldier, spy, priest, or healer.
“Nothing, angel.” The sun was just bright enough to make his serpentine eyes visible as he flicked a furtive glance around. He’d been in nearly as many wars as Aziraphale, but as a spy and assassin more often than not.“No orders. No check-ins. No threats.”
“Do you think they’re biding their time?”
“The suspicious part of me wants to say so, yeah,” Crowley said. “But the logical part of me thinks maybe they cut their losses and moved on.”
Tea poised at his lips, Aziraphale paused, head tilting. “What does that mean?”
“It means… it means they scratched us from the books. Terminated. No longer employed. Don’t let the door hit you where the dog should have bit you.”
He lowered his tea, frown deepening. “Don’t let the…? Oh, I see. Yes.” He dropped his gaze, contemplative. “But we’ve never not had orders.”
Crowley reached across the table to pluck a strawberry from Aziraphale’s plate. “That’s called ‘freedom’, angel.”
Biting his lip, he finally looked at Crowley, head-on rather than stealing glances. “It doesn’t feel like freedom. It feels like… like Noah’s ark once the rain stopped.”
He nodded. “What now?”
Aziraphale bought out the shop next to his.
“What’s all this?” Crowley questioned when he came by the shop early one morning.
Workmen were everywhere, and Aziraphale was stressed and hovering.
Though he’d moved all of his books and things out of potential harm's way, it was still extremely stressful to have so many people intentionally wreaking a sort of havoc on his shop and his nerves.
“Well, if we’re not receiving orders, I thought perhaps it wise to, erm,” Aziraphale gestured distractedly, a waggle of fingers and glance toward the register, “ensure things, as it were. Settle.”
Crowley’s gaze drifted over the shelves now missing their usual clutter of books. “I thought you were pretty well settled before.”
“Well, yes, but…” Oh, how to explain. Things were the same and yet so very different to the point it was quite unsettling. He’d had direction. Orders. There had been a system he was a part of, and he knew how it worked and what to expect, and now… now he didn’t have any of it. He was adrift. “Before… before I was assigned here. In London. In this shop. When the world got too big for me to wander on my own.”
Aziraphale turned and found Crowley watching him with that ever intent expression Aziraphale had never felt worthy of being the focus of.
“And now… now I live here, if that makes sense. It’s my home.” His blue eyes swung around to take in the contractors hard at work, tearing down walls to expand his book shop. “Creating a contingency plan now that I’ll no longer be granted stipends and accommodations, well, that was just the logical step.”
“Yes, but to sell your books, angel,” Crowley breathed, eyes pained behind his glasses as he shook his head. “You don’t have to do that. If it’s about money, I can--”
“No, no, I’m sure I could manage,” he insisted, “but I thought it best to adapt, you see?” Crowley pulled back, mouth twisted as he considered the shop and then Aziraphale again. “If I tear down the walls and expand. I can move my collection to the second floor, but keep the ground floor as the bookshop proper.” He rocked up on to his toes and back, forcing a smile as he wrung his hands. “There’s even going to be an area for coffee and pastries. There on the far end. Some tables and chairs. It’ll be… welcoming.”
Crowley lowered his head to give him a flat look over the rim of his glasses. “Angel, you hate having people in your shop.” He watched the workers tear a hole in the wall, then back. “You’d have to hire employees. Get computers and accounting software. You couldn’t run it all on your own.”
“Well, I… yes, I suppose it would be… fair to say I disliked customers-- b-but that was when they might try to buy from my personal collection. That won’t be an issue anymore. They’ll be kept separate. On the second floor, see? People can peruse them, but they aren’t for sale and aren’t to leave the second floor-- that much will be very clear.” He pointed to a sign clearly stating no food or drink beyond this point as a person reached the curling stairs to the second level.
Crowley was watching him with a shuttered expression that made Aziraphale squirm.
All this worrying probably wasn’t a good look, all the uncertainty.
Aziraphale wondered if Crowley thought the pressure might send him running back to Heaven.
He swallowed. “This is my home, after all.”
Crowley looked at the workmen and said nothing.
When they met at the park, they sat on far ends of the bench like they usually did, watching passersby and enjoying the warm weather.
Aziraphale hated when they lapsed into silence. His brain was full of buzzing and noise and questions and worry.
The expansion of his shop had been a much-needed distraction.
It wasn’t that Aziraphale was afraid.
Or, well, he was. Naturally. He’d existed a certain way for thousands of years, had existed within particular confines, had acted per specific laws and understandings. Now everything was different.
Except for how it wasn’t.
He and Crowley still met at their usual spots.
Still ended up in the backroom drinking for the evening until it got unreasonably late.
Aziraphale maintained distance, kept looking over his shoulder, worrying about them being seen together, about the danger it would put them in, what his superiors would say if they found out-- only to remember he no longer had superiors to answer to.
He was acting out of six thousand years worth of habit.
Only to remember it didn't matter.
They’d been together to stop the end of the world.
Heaven and Hell saw them together, saw them as traitors in league with each other. They’d already outed themselves. Perhaps not as friends, but certainly on the same side.
Which meant… it meant no longer being afraid when they were out together.
Or, well, the fear was slowly ebbing as time passed and it seemed Heaven and Hell really had cut their losses and forgotten about them.
Aziraphale pivoted on the bench, pushing with his legs so that he slid closer to Crowley.
The demon startled and jerked, pulling back the arm that had been stretched across the bench and leaning away from the sudden and excited invasion of personal space.
“Do you know, my dear,” Aziraphale began, clapping his palms together as he smiled, “I think you might be right.”
“Heaven and Hell cutting their losses. Scratching us from the books.”
Relaxing, Crowley settled into his seat and waved a hand. “We’re free agents, angel.”
Aziraphale twisted, hands clasped in his lap as he fidgeted with the gold ring around his pinkie. “Well, not agents.”
Crowley had a moment of being unsure what to do with his limbs what with Aziraphale now sitting right beside him. Carefully, cautiously, he put his arm back as it had been, now stretched behind Aziraphale’s back.
When Aziraphale turned to smile at him, Crowley jerked his arm away again like a teen on his first date.
“We would just be free,” Aziraphale said.
“We’re not free agents,” he clarified. “We’re just… free. To do as we like.”
“Whatever that may be.”
A beat passed, and Aziraphale turned to sit straight again, hands folded in his lap and a pleased sort of smile on his face.
Crowley blew out a breath and let his arm rest across the bench, warm against Aziraphale’s back.
“I was thinking,” Aziraphale began.
It was a rather lazy afternoon. The earlier rainfall had most people still indoors as Crowley and Aziraphale meandered through the park.
It wasn’t Aziraphale’s words that startled Crowley so much as it was the way he’d looped his arm through Crowley’s as he said it.
Aziraphale leaned in close, holding up his other hand as he cast a conspiratorial eye around. “Now bear with me here--”
“Angel, if this is about practising magic tricks for when we visit Adam--”
“What? No! He’s the Antichrist. He can think things into being the same as we can.”
Crowley looked down at their looped arms before squinting. “Then what are you up to?”
“I was thinking of redecorating.”
“Redec-- was the remodel not enough? Angel, are you sure you’re alright?”
Aziraphale rolled his eyes. “Not the shop, Crowley. My flat.”
He patted Crowley’s arm with his free hand. “Which is why I thought of you. You know more about… er, aesthetic--”
“Don’t strain yourself, angel.”
“--so that you might have a better idea of what to do with the space.”
Crowley squinted at him, mouth twisted. “I think you’re giving me too much credit. Also, how detailed are we talking? I don’t think I’ve even been in your flat.”
“You are very particular in how yours looks,” Aziraphale countered. “And you’ve seen my flat.”
“No, I pick you up in the bookshop, or we drink away the evening in the back, but I’ve never been upstairs.”
“Well, it’s nothing special.” He made a face, arm still looped through Crowley’s, but bringing his other arm up to hold onto his sleeve. “It’s, uh, rather sparse, actually. I don’t use it much. Or at all. Which is what made me think about it.” He turned pleading eyes on Crowley. “Oh, please, won’t you help? I want to do this right but have no inclination where to start. You’re the one w-with… a bedroom and sleep habits and furniture--”
Crowley squawked. “What? You don’t have any of that?”
“Well... no. Decorating and furnishing it was sort of an afterthought since I never use the space.”
“But now you actually want to… use it. And live there.”
“While having turned the shop into a proper bookshop.”
“‘Going native’, I think is the phrase.”
Crowley stopped them in their trek, slipping his arm from Aziraphale’s grasp to turn and face him, hands on his shoulders and studying his face. “Are you sure you’re alright? A-are you having, like, a mid-life crisis or something now that Heaven’s cut you loose? You’re worrying me. What’s next? Cherry red sports car?”
Aziraphale reached up to pat Crowley’s hand in reassurance before they began walking again. “If I’m to live here, don’t you think it’s time I actually settled like I live here?”
Crowley’s mouth twisted, before he shrugged and spun back around, hands in the pockets of his jeans and sauntering. “If you insist. And it can’t be that bad. You’re probably not giving yourself enough credit.”
“I stand corrected,” Crowley said, voice flat and brows raised. “Angel, why didn’t you tell me I needed to stage an intervention?”
Aziraphale wrung his hands and cast his gaze around the kitchen and living room. The wood floors were unpolished and warped. There was a random couch Aziraphale couldn’t remember-- it had clearly become the home of rats or something. The plaster was cracked. The windows coated and opaque.
Aziraphale winced and stole a glance at Crowley. The demon was staring at him with a look that demanded explanations. Good ones.
“I did say I don’t use it,” Aziraphale hedged.
“Who could?” Crowley raked his hands through his hair. “This looks like someone’s attic! If you weren’t going to live in it, why not use it for storage?”
“Because it’s a flat.”
“No, no, angel, it’s not.” His boots echoed on the floorboards, pausing when one of them creaked under his weight. His gaze fell and became a scowl. “I don’t suppose Adam thought to fix things like structural damage when he restored your bookshop. Angel,” he sighed, head rolling around as he threw out his hands, “you’ve had this shop for two hundred years!”
“I am aware I’ve been somewhat negligent--”
Crowley wagged a finger at him. “No ‘somewhat’ about it. This is absurd. This is… going to be a from-the-ground-up job, Aziraphale. Not just paint and moving around furniture. It would be easier to just come live with me.”
He spun, fingers in his hair and scratching his scalp. “We can get you some magazines, educate you on styles and colour palettes and furniture--”
“Take a look at the blueprints--” Crowley faltered, like his brain just caught up to what he’d heard. He whipped his head around. “What was that?”
“I said, ‘okay’.”
Aziraphale swept his gaze around with a nervous laugh and rubbed at his arm. “Staying with you while we get this sorted. If you don’t mind the company...”
Crowley blinked. “I’ll manage.”
“I didn’t mean for this to be such an inconvenience--”
Silence settled, both of them watching the other and trying to read the things they weren’t saying.
Fear hit the angel, like a hard punch to the gut, leaving him with the distinct impulse to gasp for air like he couldn’t breathe. It was too big and too risky. Aziraphale backpedalled. “I mean, I don’t actually need to stay over. I can continue on in the bookshop as I have been. A-and I can hire contractors--”
With his sunglasses on, Aziraphale couldn’t read Crowley’s expression, but he felt the demon studying him, felt as scales tilted, forcing a decision, and then Crowley was all lithe, sensuous movements again, hand waving dismissively.
“Don’t be daft, of course you’re gonna stay with me. I’m pretty sure I have a guest room-- and if not, I’ll just make one. Get you used to living in a flat like a normal person. I can drop you off in the mornings. Pick you up for dinner. I’ll buy you some magazines and introduce you to one of those home improvement channels. But first… ” He spun on his heels with a snap of fingers like a whiplash. “Oi. Floor structure. You first. You’re not falling on my head again, and I’ll not have Aziraphale falling through. Get. Your. Shit. Together. There will be no sag or rot, are we clear? No? Nothing? Fine. Burning once wasn’t enough for you? Want a second go? I will hire contractors to gut you--” The whole building creaked and straightened to attention around them. Crowley smiled. “There we go. Much better. Roof? You, too. Good. I hate repeating myself. Ugh, that couch. Back to Hell where you came from. Belzebub thanks you for your service. The windows, Aziraphale, the windows!” he mourned, movements exaggerated as he turned to Aziraphale looking pained. “They might as well be boarded up! There’s no natural light at all!”
“Why are you bullying my flat? And who are you to talk of light? You practically live in a-a cave,” Aziraphale protested as the room exploded with light as the grime vanished away and the windows expanded in size.
“Aesthetic, angel. And you’re gonna be living there, too, until we get this sorted. Honestly, Aziraphale. So much potential-- wasted. All this time you could have had, I don’t know, all the things I thought you already had. Nice things. Reading nooks and bubble baths. Fuzzy slippers.”
Crowley was snapping his fingers. “Alright, next. Proper wood floors. Polished and shined up. Mm, too light, too dark, no, no, yesss, that’ll do. Alright, walls, don’t make me threaten you like I did the floors. Shape up. No cracks, no cobwebs-- and I mean through the whole flat, don’t make me walk room-to-room! Good. Now, give me some colour-- lessss colour, we’re going for warm and inviting, not water-to-wine red! Better. Better. There. Next: fireplace, straighten up. Clean up. How about a mantel? Make it white. Walls, how about some trim to match? Touch more sssophisticated than-- there we go. Blessed Heaven, is that meant to be the kitchen? I suppose it was-- two centuries ago. Nope. To Hell with you, too. We’ll get cabinets and appliances later. What’s another basic?” he murmured, rubbing his chin as he looked around. “Ah! Replace all the wiring. No electrical fires. I want smoke detectors. Gimme sprinklers-- throughout the whole building! Fix the plumbing, too. Do you think I’m playing games? What else? Central air! Ceiling fans. There we go.” He turned. “Let’s see… Did I miss something? Structure, floors, ceiling, windows, walls, wiring, plumbing, and air… okay!” He clapped his hands together. “Now we have a starting point. The blueprints will be at my flat once we get there.”
Aziraphale blinked in awe as he looked around at the wholly transformed space.
Crowley was by the fireplace, running an appreciative hand over the mantel and murmuring praise.
It could have been his imagination, but Aziraphale thought the apartment might be sparkling.
“I think you’ve traumatized the poor thing,” Aziraphale confessed, feeling both guilty and oddly impressed by the transformation.
“Not yet, I haven’t,” Crowley threatened. He turned, hands in his pockets as he swaggered toward the door. “Angel, how do you feel about Thai food for dinner? We’ll get it to go and eat at my place. I’ll get you started on some magazines.”
The coffee table was littered with cartons and plates, glasses of wine, and a half-empty wine bottle.
Crowley had gotten up, restless in that way of his, to wander around the back of the couch, arms folded as he leaned to peer over Aziraphale’s shoulder as the angel flipped through the interior design magazine.
Brow furrowed, Aziraphale made an unhappy, frustrated noise. “This is all just… complicated. And overwhelming. How am I to decide? ‘Oh, I like this room, but not that sofa. I don’t like this room, but I like that chair. This throw is a nice colour. Oh, well, this whole room is an abomination, kill it with fire?’”
“Precisely like that, angel,” he laughed, moving to clap Aziraphale’s shoulder and catching himself, snatching his fingers away.
He stopped when Aziraphale’s hand shot out, fingers curling around Crowley’s hand.
Aziraphale twisted to look up at him. Though he tried, he couldn’t see past his reflection in Crowley’s sunglasses. “What if I don’t like what I pick?”
“Then we change it. Pick something else.”
Aziraphale softened his grip but didn’t let go. “You can’t just do that with furniture and other… home things.”
The corner of Crowley’s mouth crooked up in the barest smile, and he shifted, turning his hand so he could wrap his fingers around Aziraphale’s wrist. “Yeah, you can, angel. Just like I did earlier. Keep changing it until you get what you want. Whatever makes you happy.” Aziraphale opened his mouth to protest, and Crowley held up an index finger. “And, as a form of payment for goods, we pass around a few extra miracles. Sound fair?”
Aziraphale wondered if Crowley could feel his heart’s rapid thrumming through the pulse point of his wrist. Maybe it was the wine and good food. Perhaps it was this strange intimacy of being in Crowley’s flat as a guest. Maybe it was the charged intimacy of the moment, their voices low like someone might overhear.
There’d been a shift between them since the Not!End. It had been slower and more tentative than Aziraphale expected.
Or, well… Aziraphale had changed. He wasn't hyper-vigilant when they were out together. Didn’t have to be afraid that someone might see them and jump to entirely right conclusions.
They were excommunicated. No one was watching them.
If he wanted to stop fighting the gravitational pull that had seemed to be drawing them back together, kept them circling each other… he could.
Aziraphale had once worried his touch might burn Crowley. There was so much propaganda between their two sides, it was hard to know what was fact and what was conjecture because no one really knew.
After the Fall, it wasn’t like the two sides were talking, comparing the differences and changes. The rebellion had happened. Angels took up arms against one another. The host of Heaven became two opposing sides, and when it was said and done, a third of the angels were cast out, and both demons and hell were created. A line had been drawn in the sand: ‘them’ and ‘us’. And the two sides being locked in eternal conflict had become a self-fulfilling prophecy. They fought because they were supposed to.
But things were different on Earth. It was an isolated world where Crowley and Aziraphale could just… be. Finally free of war and expectations and orders you were meant to follow without knowing who gave them or why.
‘That’s called ‘freedom’, angel.’
Aziraphale squeezed Crowley’s hand, a painful buildup of fondness and hope threatening to break free of his ribs and overflow. “That sounds… yes.”
Crowley’s smile became more pronounced before he pulled away, fingers slipping from Aziraphale’s. He came around the couch and began clearing away their mess from dinner.
Aziraphale sat forward. “Oh, let me--”
Crowley flicked him a glance over his glasses, eyes crinkling at the corners with his smile.
Aziraphale really wished he would take them off.
Now that he thought about it, Aziraphale realized Crowley usually only removed them once he’d consumed an exorbitant amount of alcohol, and they were both well and truly drunk.
Frowning, Aziraphale considered him. Why would Crowley hide from Aziraphale?
The demon was grinning. “Don’t worry about it, angel. You’ve got a much bigger job to worry with,” he teased, straightening with cartons and plates. “More wine? Or would you like some tea?”
“Tea would be lovely,” Aziraphale sighed, pulling free a sticky page marker and pressing it to the glossy magazine page, before making a notation of it in the notebook Crowley had given him.
They were having breakfast at a cafe again.
This time because they could, rather than to test boundaries.
Crowley had never liked food as much as Aziraphale, but-- for some reason-- the demon never minded eating something if he stole it from Aziraphale’s plate. Like it was a game they’d been playing since the first time they'd shared a meal together.
“Dear, why don’t you order some of your own if you’re hungry?” Aziraphale chuckled, as Crowley leaned back, biting into a strawberry and looking self-satisfied.
“Nah,” he drawled. “It’s more fun this way, angel. Makes them sweeter.”
“You can’t steal what’s gladly offered,” Aziraphale chided, snapping his fingers to make more fruit appear.
Examining a strawberry like it were a jewel rather than fruit, Crowley mused, “Those more creative and poetic than I would make reference to hearts and love, at this point.”
“You never give yourself the credit that you deserve.”
Scoffing, Crowley brought the berry to his lips as he drawled, “You’re the bookworm, angel. I’m just a serpent.”
“Wily old serpent. I think you are masterfully creative and poetic.”
Crowley sucked strawberry juice from the pads of his fingertips and waggled his eyebrows. “Perhaps that’s just a clever deception on my part.”
“Crowley,” Aziraphale sighed, one brow sweeping up as he fixed him with a look. “I have known you for six thousand years. I have it on good authority I know you fairly well. You are brave and clever and loyal and kind-- and you are brilliant-- but I don’t think even you could carry on a deception for that long.” Aziraphale laced his fingers and rested his chin on them, fondness seeping into his voice and softening his smile. “And while you may lie to your bosses-- and even yourself-- I see the many facets of you. I don’t understand why you can’t-- or won’t-- see them, too.”
“You’d think,” Crowley murmured, gaze remote and cast off to the side. “We do lie to ourselves, don’t we?” Aziraphale watched one of Crowley’s masks fall into place as he straightened, leaning forward to swipe another strawberry. “I mean if I was playing a long game, who's to say I didn’t get confused what game it was after a while? Playing in the dark. Cards too close. Not close enough. Misunderstanding the rules-- or they keep changing. Thinking I was laying out my cards... only to realize I was the only one playing.” He sighed, heavy and exhausted, as he slouched in his seat. “I’m tired just thinking about it.” He frowned contemplatively at the berry. “What’s it called when you risk it all-- but there are no stakes or prizes? A fool’s game?”
Stomach twisting, Aziraphale reached across the table, the tips of his fingers brushing Crowley’s hand. The demon startled and looked at him. Aziraphale seemed to be making him do that a lot lately.
Worriedly, Aziraphale studied Crowley’s face. “I didn’t mean to say something to upset you. You do yourself a disservice, but I didn't mean to imply-- I don’t think you’ve ever played a long game with me.”
A smile pulled at Crowley’s mouth, and he turned over his hand, capturing Aziraphale’s fingers. There was enough morning sun to make Crowley’s resigned, ocher eyes visible behind his shades as he lifted Aziraphale’s hand, pressed his lips to his knuckles.
“Not one I could ever hope to win, at least.”
The sun was warm, the sky was a robin’s egg blue with only a scattering of clouds.
Crowley was stretched out on his back on the checked blanket, hands behind his head.
The wicker basket Aziraphale had prepared sat between them, a bottle of wine peeking out and a lavish array of sandwiches, fresh bread, cheese, clusters of grapes, chocolate-covered strawberries and pretzel sticks, truffles all neatly arranged on trays and platters.
Aziraphale lay on his stomach with several interior design magazines, a notebook, and the blueprints to his flat spread out. He had an electronic tablet of Crowley’s own design, some one-of-a-kind device that sounded exorbitantly expensive and could even work underwater.
It wasn’t human in origin, not with the way Aziraphale was able to add images from the magazine to the device's screen with little more than intent and a wave of his hand. He was able to move and organize them just as quickly, a few swipes and taps, with a responsiveness that seemed intuitive.
The angel would have been more suspicious were it not so very like Crowley. Further, the device was proving overwhelmingly helpful organizing Aziraphale’s thoughts and ideas.
“I like this,” Crowley announced, holding a cluster of grapes over his mouth and plucking them free with his teeth.
“The black grapes are especially sweet,” Aziraphale agreed with a smile, watching, mesmerized as Crowley’s lips parted, the tip of his tongue visible in anticipation of the sweet fruit he lowered into his mouth. Realizing he was staring, Aziraphale blushed and jerked his gaze away, giving the tablet his undivided attention. “I’m sure it would make a lovely wine,” he stammered, face flaming hot.
Crowley gave a dramatic eye roll, twisting and pushing up onto his elbow. “Not the grapes, angel! Well, yes, alright, the grapes, but I meant more,” he made a broad, sweeping gesture as he struggled to find the words, “all of it. Taking a drive, coming way out here. The basket and lunch and the… I don’t know, picturesque nature of the moment.” There was pink to his cheeks, glasses having slipped down his nose just enough to allow him to meet Aziraphale’s gaze over the rim. “This. Here. ...With you. We’ve never gotten to do this before.”
A decades-old memory. The two of them in Crowley’s car, voices soft in the charged space, the moment too monumental and dangerous. All the things Aziraphale hadn’t known how to deal with-- truths and feelings-- overwhelming him. The knowledge he was committing treason. That he would do it again-- if it was for Crowley. And oh... and that was dangerous. So very dangerous.
Both of them had committed treason. Had committed treason… to ensure they could commit more treason. Together.
He should have walked away.
They both should have.
It would have been the smart decision. The safe one.
Instead, they’d dug themselves deeper.
It was perhaps then that Aziraphale realized their Arrangement went far beyond just a mutually beneficial collaboration.
They were actively deceiving their superiors and defying their respective sides to choose each other.
When Aziraphale had realized what he was doing and why, that he would do it again, would do something even more dangerous and reckless were it for Crowley— it had terrified him.
Now here they were.
And they didn’t have sides to worry about anymore.
“We can now,” Aziraphale heard himself say. A blush, hot and prickly spread over his face and he turned his head away, lashes fluttering as he stammered, “I-I mean… if you want to, of course. There’s no one watching us, I mean. No, uh, pretense o-or Arrangement. We can just-- er.”
“We don’t have to hide anymore,” Crowley said.
Aziraphale lowered his gaze, fiddling with the corner of the page in the magazine, rolling and unrolling it until it curled, feeling Crowley’s eyes on him like a weight that forced the breath from his lungs and made it hard to think.
He swallowed hard like he had a too moist cake stuck in his throat. “We’re free to do as we like. Whatever that may be…”
Crowley’s eyes narrowed, lips pursing for a long moment.
Aziraphale was ready to burst from the desire to squirm under the weight of Crowley’s gaze when the demon finally spoke.
“What if I tore down the walls?” Aziraphale blurted.
Crowley blinked, head tilted. “What?”
Chancing a glance before he let his gaze skitter away, Aziraphale gestured toward the blueprints. “The walls. Like I did in the shop. Expand the flat. It’s rather small as it is now. It would give us more room to work with.”
With a slow blink, Crowley dragged his gaze from Aziraphale to consider the blueprints. He was quiet for a long moment, and Aziraphale didn’t think Crowley was actually looking at the designs. Aziraphale thought Crowley seemed to be internally debating with himself, from whatever he’d been about to say, before he let it go with a sigh.
Aziraphale wanted to apologize, tell him to say whatever he’d been about to.
Instead, he bit back words same as Crowley was doing, shifted his focus to the blueprints with more attention than it required.
Crowley tapped the page. “Aren’t there offices there now? Where the previous owner did bookkeeping and what have you?”
Crowley squinted at him. “Then, aren’t you going to need that space for your business office, as well?”
“No, because I can turn the back room into an office and do any bookkeeping from there.”
“...then where are we going to drink?”
A surprised laugh burst out of Aziraphale, and he clapped his hand over his mouth. “I’m sorry! That wasn’t at you. I mean, it was, but I just… it has become such a habit for us, hasn’t it? Drinks in the back room, I mean. Even before the bookshop. It was the back room pubs and taverns and inns. I’d have a flat. You could just… come upstairs.”
Crowley’s mouth twisted, jaw jutted to one side as he murmured, “Take me back to yours that will be fine.”
Crowley shook himself, settling back down with grapes to his lips. “Nothing, angel, just thinking.” He plucked one free. “If you have the space, I would definitely use it. Live comfortably. Bigger kitchen. Bigger bathroom. Bigger bed.”
A smirk, impish and teasing pulled at the corner of Aziraphale’s mouth, and he slid Crowley a sidelong look. “Now, why does that sound like you’re leading me to temptation?”
Crowley spluttered, laughed, and then choked on a grape, jerking to lean on his elbow as he struggled to cough and laugh at the same time.
Aziraphale snapped his fingers with a grimace. “Sorry.”
Crowley sucked in a sharp breath of air before grinning and looking at him over his glasses. “If you want me dead, Aziraphale, there are better ways.”
The angel’s expression darkened, tone flat and dripping venom. “Oh, Above and Below will rue the day I ever lose you.” Crowley’s smile fell off, jaw slack. Aziraphale straightened and stammered, “I-I just, uh… I mean, apologies. I didn't expect my temptation joke to, well--”
“Leave me gasping?”
The grin Crowley gave him was slow and crooked. “I wasn’t trying to tempt you, angel. I’d love nothing more than to spoil you, but.” He shrugged, lazy and careless, before setting the grapes aside and laying back down with his hands behind his head. “Heaven is an empty and pristine showroom floor, sterile as an operating room. Hell is a cramped, filthy basement with questionable puddles and a rat infestation. You deserve a place of comfort. A refuge you want to come back to.” He turned his head. “Isn’t that why it’s called ‘home?’”
Opening his mouth, Aziraphale faltered, torn between two different lines of thought.
He looked down at the magazine, the modern Victorian style in a monochrome palette.
It wasn’t just…
Having a place to lay your head at night wasn’t enough to make it home, he wanted to say. It depended on what the person used the space for. If they saw it as home.
It didn’t feel like a home.
He didn’t think Crowley saw it that way.
His flat was where he went when he wasn’t working or with Aziraphale.
It was... full of empty-space. Not just for the aesthetic, ‘minimalism’ or whatever they were calling it. It was negative space. Seemed to throw a spotlight on what wasn’t there.
It felt like a waiting room. A space between spaces.
Biting his bottom lip, Aziraphale ran his fingers over the pages of the magazine.
What would it take for Crowley to settle and consider a place home?
Aziraphale turned, a brilliant smile illuminating his features as Crowley’s appreciative eye swept over Aziraphale’s flat.
The L-shaped kitchen was to the right, the white cabinets installed and stainless steel appliances in place. There was a large island that acted as both counter space and table, with a granite surface and bar chairs on two sides.
The living room had inset bookshelves on either side of the fireplace, and more in the wall where the living room met the kitchen. There was an exceptionally cosy window reading nook that cast the room in cheerful natural light.
He didn’t have furniture or decorations yet, but the promise of what it could be gleamed all around them.
“Moving day already?” Crowley asked, brows high in surprise like he’d just remembered an appointment he had to keep.
“Not as of just yet, no.”
A grin split Crowley’s features. “Better not be! I’m not prepared! I’d have brought wine! Flowers! A house warming present!”
“Oh,” scoffed Aziraphale with a dismissive wave as he looked away, embarrassed and delighted. “That’s unnecessary.”
Crowley pointed to the doors to the bathroom and bedroom. “May I?”
Aziraphale grinned wide, nearly bursting with giddy happiness as he gestured. “Please.”
He didn’t know if Crowley would notice how much influence he had over the decisions regarding the flat-- the emphasis that the space was both cosy and welcoming, the high ceilings, the natural lighting, the white trim and grey walls-- but Aziraphale hoped he would like it.
Crowley slipped into the bathroom.
Aziraphale sunk his teeth into his bottom lip, blushing and squirming.
Crowley’s various exclamations of surprise and delight were like a sound beacon giving away his location as he made his way through the space-- “A balcony?? Oh, angel, I am very impressed!”-- before he emerged-- grinning-- from the bedroom.
Mirroring grin in place, Aziraphale rubbed his thumb into the palm of his hand, practically vibrating with excitement. “Well?”
Crowley lowered his glasses as he spun to take it all in again. “It’s fantastic,” he enthused. “This calls for celebration. What do you say? Dinner, anywhere you like. My treat.”
“Oh, I couldn’t,”
“Don’t play coy, angel,” he teased.
Aziraphale’s hands fluttered uselessly, trying to emphasize the lack of furniture and decorations. “But I’m not even moved in!”
Rolling his eyes, Crowley ushered him toward the door, hands on Aziraphale’s shoulders and lips near his ear. “And when you do, I’ll bring over wine, and we can celebrate properly.”
“So, when exactly is the...” Crowley faltered, mouth open and words lost somewhere on his tongue, or maybe in his wine glass-- given the look he gave it as though it had said something rude.
Aziraphale had his feet tucked beneath him as he pulled the soft buttercream coloured throw off the back of the couch and settled further into the corner of the expensive sectional sofa. The black leather was so soft Aziraphale was convinced inhuman forces were to blame-- or credit, really.
He wasn’t necessarily cold-- angels didn’t get cold-- but he did find it homey and comforting in ways he wasn’t sure how to articulate. He wasn’t sure unnecessary comforts could be explained.
Once settled with a wine glass in hand, Aziraphale realized Crowley had never finished his line of thought. He looked at the demon, head tilted and brows raised in curious encouragement.
Crowley was staring at him, expression pensive.
It was the look he got when he was lost in thought. When he was questioning something.
Aziraphale wondered if questions counted as prayers. Humans did it all the time, one-sided communication with God, hoping for a response or guidance or understanding. What were such thoughts if not questions you wanted answered? And who else but God to answer them?
“What’s the matter, Crowley?”
The demon turned his head, the light catching on his glasses as his expression slammed shut.
“Hm? Nothing’s the matter.” He set aside his wine glass to get another slice of pizza from the box.
“Then what are you thinking?” Aziraphale pressed. He wanted to ask why Crowley was wearing his glasses inside the flat. When did he take them off? Why did Crowley only take them off around Aziraphale when they were both several bottles into a case of wine? What did Crowley see when he looked in the mirror? How was it different from what Aziraphale saw when he looked at him? Instead, he said, “You didn’t finish what you were saying. And then you had a look like… like you were thinking about something else and none too pleased with whatever it was.”
Crowley gave the pizza slice more attention than it warranted. “Just a thought, angel. Don’t worry about it.”
“I’d still like to hear it,” Aziraphale encouraged, “if you want to tell me.”
There was a pause, Crowley twisting his mouth before he dismissed the offer with a shake of his head.
“Don’t worry about it,” he insisted.
“...Can I ask you something then?”
Crowley spread his arms with a temptatious smile. “I am an open book.”
Aziraphale chuckled and sipped his wine. “You are a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma, and dressed in finely tailored clothes.”
Crowley’s smile became a grin. “Come on, angel, we’ve known each other too long for me to be anything of the sort.”
He waggled his head. “I suppose one might think that. Books always portray immortality as a curse, everything becoming triflingly dull and predictable.”
Crowley let his head fall back with a heaved sigh. “Save me from edge lords and dark romanticism.” Straightening, he jabbed a finger in the air. “Now that! That is boring and predictable.”
“My point is that no matter how long we’ve known each other, I would never dare think I know you.” Crowley frowned and Aziraphale continued, “I mean, you and I were never supposed to be friends. We didn’t even admit to it. We just had the Arrangement. It’s only since we both settled in London that you and I became more social with one another. But I never know what you are going to do next, much less what you are thinking.”
Crowley retrieved his wine glass, contemplating it. “Sometimes I think we have been here too long,” he admitted. “That’s not to say I regret or dislike it. I like it. Obviously. But I think-- if it was just me-- then yeah, I can see how that would get lonely and miserable.” He wet his bottom lip, all attention focused on the glass in his elegant fingers. “But I’ve got you. Somehow, that makes all the difference. Even when the world has been miserably dull--”
“The 14th century.”
“Dear Somebody!” Crowley exclaimed, clenching a fist. “I will never know torture worse than living through that century.” Aziraphale chuckled, faltering when he felt the weight of Crowley’s gaze on him. Their eyes met, and Aziraphale saw his throat bob. “...Unless, maybe, were I expected to go through any of it without you.”
Aziraphale lowered his glass, brow furrowing and stomach coiling inside him. “...Is that what’s bothering you? Afraid Heaven or Hell will eventually coming after one of us? Me?”
Crowley turned his head away. “Just being morose because you brought it up. Lonely immortality. You and I both know Hell’s much more likely to come after me. I think it’s easier for both sides to just take a page from the Almighty’s book, though: toss us out and never look back.”
“But that’s my point,” Aziraphale insisted, empty wine glass set aside and hands folded in his lap. “I don’t know that. What you think, I mean. And we have known each other for a long time, but there are things you do… I don’t understand.”
“Then ask,” he shrugged.
Aziraphale waited, watching him with consternation as he tried to puzzle through the moment. Their shared history was an accumulation of so much-- time and memories and new-found understanding. Right alongside all the good, there had also been a growing mountain of questions and confusion and doubt.
They could live for all of eternity and Aziraphale would never claim to know Crowley. Aziraphale honestly couldn’t say he knew himself. He’d spent millennia lying and in denial out of fear.
What lies did Crowley tell himself?
“Why don’t you take your glasses off when it’s only you and I?
It was less obvious, but Crowley’s posture went bowstring taut, the breath he didn’t need catching in his lungs.
Aziraphale shook his head and watched him. “Humans… they startle easily-- maybe not so much in this era-- so I can understand why you wear glasses in public, as well as being part of your… uh, aesthetic. But… I’ve never understood why you started wearing them around me. When we first met, and in the years afterwards, you never wore them.”
“They didn’t exist yet,” he answered, voice a hoarse whisper.
Aziraphale’s mouth twisted into an unhappy, frustrated line. He tried to find the words, in any language, to express what he meant so as to be understood. Mortal forms were so limited. Were he and Crowley roaming free in the cosmos in their true forms, this would not be nearly so clumsy and ham-handed.
“But you’ve no need to hide from me, is what I’m saying,” he clarified, slow and purposeful, eyes locked on Crowley’s face.
Arm sliding off the back of the couch, Crowley slowly reached for his glasses.
The soft tremor of his hand didn’t miss Aziraphale’s notice.
Crowley’s eyes were closed when he removed the shades. Even when he opened his eyes, he kept them lowered, hiding his eyes as set his sunglasses on the table.
It felt symbolic and fragile and monumentally significant.
But Aziraphale couldn’t help wondering where he’d gone wrong to ever make Crowley feel he needed to hide.
When Crowley sat back, eyes still lowered, he worried his fingers in his lap, thumbnail strumming against another nail in a soft, repeated click. The silence settled heavily over them, uncomfortable as wearing wet clothes, and seconds passed like the drip, drip, drip of water on the floor.
Throat bobbing, Crowley rolled his shoulder and tilted his chin up-- all brave defiance and challenge and bravado Aziraphale knew so well-- as he leaned back into the leather of the couch.
“There’s a difference in seeing someone and being seen,” Crowley said.
His eyes were startling. They were striking and brilliant and other.
And the fear in them broke Aziraphale’s heart.
He wanted to do something completely irrational, wanted to cross the space and crawl into Crowley’s lap to hug him, to hold on with everything he had, willing Crowley to understand him.
In their true forms he could.
Even in this form, had he permission, he could share with Crowley all the things he felt. The fondness that was squeezing his lungs so tight he couldn’t breathe. The way seeing Crowley through the millennia brightened Aziraphale’s world, and how much he looked forward to the next time they might pass like ships in the night, fleeting and too brief. How when the world was ending, Aziraphale didn’t want to save it for books and restaurants and trivial things that were forever changing.
He hadn’t wanted to lose Crowley. Their friendship. Walking the earth together as they had from the beginning, just two celestial bodies caught by gravity to orbit each other.
Aziraphale couldn’t say that, though. He didn’t know how. The words couldn’t find their way to his tongue.
“There’s no need to hide from me,” he said again, shaking his head to emphasize his words. Language was so limited and crippling. “There’s never been a reason to hide from me. Why would you? I am not God that you should hide your nakedness in shame, Crowley. I have seen you from the beginning and love you all the same.”
Crowley drew in and let out a shaky breath as he dragged his gaze away, out the window. “Yes, I forgot. Angels: hardwired to love everything. Whether they want to or not. Silly me.”
A muscle in Crowley’s jaw ticked, and Aziraphale tossed off the blanket.
Crowley blinked, jerking and leaning back when Aziraphale sat beside him on his knees and facing the demon. “Wha--”
Aziraphale took his face in his hands and held him there. He made Crowley look at him, made him stay still and be seen.
The hands that curled around Aziraphale’s wrists shook.
Studying his features, Aziraphale traced the pad of his thumb under Crowley’s eye, bold and striking as the demon himself.
“Crowley, no matter what propaganda we were told, you know we have free will. You and I are proof of that. Angelic indifference and even disdain for Earth and humanity are proof of that.” He smiled, heart aching with all the love and adoration and sadness he didn’t know what to do with. “I love you because I have spent six thousand years walking the Earth with you, you silly serpent. I love you because you’re you. It’s why we became friends to begin with.”
Crowley shut his eyes, brow furrowed and tormented. “Aziraphale… I’m a demon.”
Like that was all that mattered.
Like it was a sole defining descriptor.
As though he were a one-dimensional creation whose actions would forever make him unworthy of anything worth having, like love and friendship and redemption.
Aziraphale leaned forward, resting their foreheads together. “And?”
Crowley spluttered a laugh, and though his eyes were dry, the sound was wet with unshed tears. “‘And’ he says. Like it’s just that simple.”
“It is that simple,” Aziraphale insisted, lifting his head to look at him. Crowley's dark lashes parted, this time meeting Aziraphale’s eyes with something like relief and hope and aching. “Crowley, you’re my best friend. As you are. All of you. I want to be the person you run to, not the person you hide from. Okay?”
Throat clicking on a swallow, Crowley gave a small nod, and Aziraphale’s smile widened.
Then, because it made the most sense, he shifted and sat where he was, back against the arm of the couch, and the blanket and wine relocating with a snap of fingers.
“Now,” Aziraphale began, “what were you saying earlier that you never finished?”
Twisting so they were facing one another, Crowley drew in a deep breath, trying to steady himself. “I, uh… Oh, heaven, what was it? Oh! When is the official grand re-opening of the shop? Also, when is moving day?”
The Grand Re-Opening was chaos, much to Aziraphale’s dismay and Crowley’s hissing delight.
All of Aziraphale’s years of having odd hours, chasing people off, refusing to sell any of the books in his bookshop had only managed to create a reputation of mystery and magic that had people flocking to the bookshop in droves.
Gone were the enchantments for musty odours and dampness, the pressing sense customers needed to be elsewhere. Instead, the shop smelled like new books-- and old ones-- of potential and adventure and history and magic. It smelled like coffee and freshly baked pastries, like the flowers Crowley had shown up with that morning and put into a vase by the cash wrap.
It had been to Aziraphale’s extreme dismay he’d had to remodel the store to incorporate a proper cash wrap and registers. Further, they’d had to install computers, which Aziraphale was none too skilled with and had yet to learn.
Making him utterly reliant on his new staff to handle sales.
Crowley had momentarily considered miracling up the equivalent of Xanax for angels. If angels could moult from stress, he thought Aziraphale might.
Instead, Aziraphale had flitted about the first floor, and even the second, helping customers find books and recommendations, steadily keeping up a bright smile as he talked to the throngs of people who kept coming in waves.
Crowley stayed the entire day, tucked away in a corner sipping coffee and offering Aziraphale an encouraging smile and thumbs up when the angel's wide eyes swept the shop until they found him. Each time, the tightness building in Aziraphale's chest would loosen, and he would heave a relieved sigh, smiling in return, grateful beyond words he wasn’t alone.
“Angel,” Crowley insisted as he followed Aziraphale up the stairs to the flat, “we really don’t have to do this now.”
“Why wouldn’t we?” Aziraphale asked, glancing over his shoulder.
Crowley’s glasses had slipped down his nose, making his wide eyes visible, his brows raised to his hairline as he waved behind them with his free hand. A wine bottle and a box of chocolates were held in his other arm. “Because you just finished your Grand Opening and must be exhausted? I am fairly sure most of London made an appearance. Anathema even brought Adam and the Them!”
“I think it’s the four of them that are referred to as ‘Them,’” Aziraphale commented, searching through his pockets for the keys.
Crowley watched him, head angled.
So many things had changed recently. Being excommunicated after the Not End of the World. Aziraphale deciding to settle down and make London his home instead of a base of operations. The remodelling of the shop. Aziraphale moving in with Crowley during all the renovations. Even the angel’s wardrobe had changed.
Aziraphale was still dressed in a three-piece suit, but it was modern and impeccable.
That morning, when Crowley had shown up before the official opening to congratulate Aziraphale, his mouth fell open when he’d seen the angel, both in surprise and at how well he looked in the new suit, before stammering and handing over the bouquet of flowers.
Pushing his glasses up and rolling his eyes, Crowley said, “Not the point, angel. I’m just saying you must be worn out. We can go back home and you can rest. I'll run you a hot bath. You can soak and relax with a glass of wine. I can see the progress another time-- when you haven’t been on your feet all day talking to the thousands of people parading through your store and buying books. It’s a lot. And a lot of change.”
Sliding the key into the lock, Aziraphale turned his head to give him a tired smile. “I would prefer to do this now,” he insisted, softly, opening the door just enough and stepping to the side in wordless invitation.
Mouth twisted, Crowley considered him for a long moment before clicking his tongue and relenting, stepping past him. “As you wish, angel.”
Crowley only got about three steps into the flat before staggering to a halt.
Aziraphale hung back, bottom lip caught between his teeth as he shifted, worrying and twisting his hands and fingers.
The flat was finished.
The kitchen was an open L-shape with a large island and barstools, white cabinets and warm granite countertops. There were different plants set around to offer a pop of colour. Ivy tucked into the corner. Succulents along the window frame. Lavender in a square pot in the middle of the island.
The living room was open and airy, even with it dark outside the bay window and reading nook. The walls were the soft neutral colour Crowley initially picked, with the trim, fireplace mantle, and inset bookshelves in white. The bookshelves were on either side of the fireplace and filled with books and more houseplants. Wall sconces gave the room a soft glow. There was a sectional sofa identical to Crowley’s, and an overstuffed armchair and ottoman were placed near the bookcases. A familiar buttercream throw blanket was draped over the back of the chair. There was even a very modern and very slim flat-screen mounted on the wall above the fireplace.
Crowley turned, glasses slipping down his nose to reveal wide, blinking eyes. “It’s finished,” he said, voice flat with shock and surprise like his brain couldn’t compute any response more complicated than stating the obvious.
Aziraphale grinned and nodded, coming forward to take the wine and chocolate from Crowley before he dropped them. “It is indeed.”
Aziraphale was warmed down to his core as Crowley reached to remove his glasses, faltered, and then slowly pulled them off, tucking them into his pocket. His serpentine eyes were wide, brows raised and forehead wrinkled as he huffed out a laugh complicated by the contradictory emotions it seemed to contain.
Disbelief and happiness, yes, but… something that also seemed sad. Disappointed.
Aziraphale frowned, tilting his head in confusion.
“Congratulations,” Crowley blurted, shaking himself from his stupor. “It looks amazing.” With a sharp snap, a flat square in wrapping paper and ribbons appeared leaning against one of the barstools. “I got you a housewarming present.”
Biting hard on his bottom lip, Aziraphale blushed. “You didn’t have to,” he demurred. “You’re why this was possible, to begin with.”
“Nonsense,” said Crowley, waving away the comment before moving to the kitchen and searching through the cabinets for wine glasses. “This calls for celebration.”
“You haven’t seen the rest of it,” Aziraphale pointed out.
Crowley looked at him over his shoulder, one brow swept high and hands raised to cabinet doors. “Want me to see all of it first?”
His hands fell and he turned with a nod, movements lacking his usual swagger. “Alright, then. Lead the way, angel.”
Cheeks bunched and rosy, Aziraphale shook his head and gestured. “Oh, no, please. After you.”
He followed Crowley into the bathroom, fidgeting as his nerves and stomach wound and twisted around like coiling snakes.
Crowley let out a low whistle, gaze sweeping over the grey woods wallpaper, the glass shower, the couple’s vanity and mirrors, and the large bathtub one could just sink into or sit back and read.
Aziraphale was looking forward to many hot baths in his future.
“Angel, this is slick,” Crowley said, voice low and impressed. He opened the door connecting the bedroom and bathroom via a hallway with a door to a walk-in closet on either side. They made Crowley laugh, turning to give Aziraphale a wink over his shoulder. “Little bit much for one person who always wears the same thing, angel. Points for style, though.”
Not meeting his eye, Aziraphale shrugged and rubbed at his arm. “...I thought it perhaps time for a change from the way things have always been.”
“Gonna start collecting clothes like you do books?”
Aziraphale quirked a brow and bit back a smile. “Not so much.”
When they stepped into the bedroom, Crowley let out a breath of sound, eyes widening as they swept over the open space, the white trim paired with grey walls and darker grey curtains. There was a velvet chaise lounge the colour of charcoal in the corner, accented with cream-coloured throw pillows with black designs. The snow-white down comforter and pillows contrasted sharply with the large bed’s black, tufted headboard, matching nightstands, and the leather bench at the foot. There was a white area rug for another splash of colour contrast.
It was too dark to see, but on the balcony, there were flower boxes and a table with two chairs, perfect for breakfast or late-night cocoa.
Crowley turned, wide-eyed and slack-jawed, to stare dumbfounded at Aziraphale.
Face pink, Aziraphale bit hard on his bottom lip, trying-- and failing miserably-- to hide the giddy and pleased grin spreading across his features. He pointed to the door leading out to the central part of the flat again. “Shall we go open that wine now?” he asked, turning and opening the door.
“All this time!” Crowley exclaimed, following after him. “All this time you’ve been holding out on me! You’ve got style and taste and an eye for aesthetics, angel! All this time you’ve been living out of a cluttered bookshop and wearing clothes that have lived longer than most people!” He snapped his fingers and the bottle of wine on the counter became three, wine glasses and corkscrew appearing at the ready. “This definitely calls for celebration.”
Aziraphale gave him a shy and pleased smile over his shoulder as he set about opening the first bottle. “So you like it then?”
Pulling back one of the bar stool chairs, Crowley plopped himself onto it, all long limbs and pointy angles. “Like it?” He splayed a hand to his chest. “Someone as my witness, I am thoroughly impressed.” Crowley grinned, accepting the glass of wine Aziraphale held out before tapping his foot against the wrapped gift. “C’mon, open your housewarming present.”
“Oh, alright,” Aziraphale tutted, cheeks hurting from his inability to stop smiling.
He bent, lifting the gift with utmost care, setting it on the chair Crowley pulled out for him.
Now it was the demon grinning cheekily and looking pleased with himself.
Aziraphale was extra careful as he slipped a finger between the tape and paper, before he began folding it back.
He squawked, head snapping in Crowley’s direction. “Crowley!”
The demon was beaming, all too-white teeth and crinkles at the corners of his eyes. “Do you like it?”
“Please tell me you did not steal a Van Gogh for my housewarming present!”
Crowley hissed giggles into his wine glass, and Aziraphale continued removing the paper from Almond Blossoms before standing back to admire it.
“Oh, it is lovely, isn’t it? I always did love his work.”
“See, look! I even restored the original pigmentation!”
Though he tried, Aziraphale’s disapproving look held too much fondness to be convincing. “You cannot go around stealing priceless paintings--”
“They won’t even notice--”
“--as a house warming present, Crowley!”
“Not just any house warming present! And I wouldn’t do this for just anybody!” He sat back, elbow over the back of his chair and looking far too pleased and painfully fond. “Honestly, angel, the things you drive me to do! Tch, oh, the way you tempt me to sin!”
“I did no such thing!”
Crowley wagged a finger at him. “No, no. You did. You always do. Who’s the tempter now, hmm?”
“Silly old serpent,” muttered Aziraphale, smile at the corner of his mouth and six thousand years worth of fondness in his voice.
Mouth twisted, Crowley pointed to him. “You know… you say that with the exact same inflexion one might expect of Christopher Robin and ‘silly old bear.’ I’m honestly not sure how offended I should be.” Aziraphale’s smile grew. “I’m not an imaginary friend, you know. Or, if I am, we should probably both seek extreme levels of counselling. Perhaps lessen our alcoholic intake. The hallucinations are just too realistic.”
Aziraphale slid him a look. “If you were imaginary, you wouldn't have gotten all the accommodations you have, I never would have defied Heaven, and I certainly wouldn’t currently be holding a stolen Van Gogh.” Though he protested, his gaze swept around trying to decide where best to display it. “And how can you possibly think the museum won’t notice if one of their pieces goes missing?”
“Because I replaced it with an exact replica that no one will ever be able to tell is a fake. Or well, not a fake, but a copy.”
Aziraphale carried it toward the bedroom and decided that, yes, it would look lovely displayed there. And with a snap, it was.
He came back, pouring himself a glass of wine and taking the seat next to Crowley. “Then why not give me the copy instead of stealing a painting?”
“Aziraphale, I am wounded,” Crowley exclaimed, hand to his chest, “that you don’t think yourself worthy of committing grand larceny for. Love yourself as I do, angel.”
“As you love yourself or as you love me?” Crowley spluttered, blushing and stammered. Aziraphale chuckled. “Set yourself up for that one. See? I learn.”
“That you do,” Crowley agreed, twisting to take in the flat again. “Honestly, Aziraphale. What you’ve done with the place is... remarkable, especially never having a place of your own before. You’ve managed to balance airy with cosy and stylish. This is something I would like to come home to.”
“Then, why don’t you?”
He shrugged, resettling. “Ah, y’know. I do things on whims based on the current fashion. Got an interior designer, let them go to town, call it ‘aesthetic’.” Leaning, Crowley placed his elbow on the granite countertop, chin in hand. “I think it’s a bit of a bad habit, actually.” Aziraphale tilted his head, and Crowley gestured with his wine glass. “Well, when you settled in London, the head office was still sending me all over. My flat here was like having a room anywhere else when on assignments. Some near six thousand years worth of constantly being on the move, or rolling into town for a week only to be expected to be in another country by dawn, or that you might get assigned somewhere else and I was prepared to find myself there as well. ...I guess I never really settled or treated London like it was my home any more than you did. My flat’s always been an... in-between place, not a home.” He looked around. “Not like this.”
“...Then why not make it home?” Aziraphale asked again.
Crowley twisted his mouth, forehead wrinkling. “I, ah, well, I guess I could, but now that you’ve got me thinking about it,” his eyes met Aziraphale’s as he spluttered a laugh, “I admit I don’t actually much like the place.”
Cheeks rosy with a heat that had nothing to do with the alcohol, Aziraphale set aside his wine before folding his hands in his lap, gaze downcast. He bit his lip and tried to slow the rapid pounding and fluttering of his heart. Honestly, the things it was doing inside his chest probably ought to be worrying. Or would be if he was human. It was worrying as a celestial being.
“...You misunderstand,” Aziraphale hedged. Oh God, this should have been easier, he thought. He was reasonably sure of the outcome, but that didn’t make that small bit of doubt swell like a pufferfish in his throat. Crowley raised his brows in question. Aziraphale flushed darker, stealing a shy glance before his gaze skittered off. “Why not make this your home? Here.” He swallowed. “With me.”
There was a pregnant silence, and, in his peripheral, Aziraphale could see Crowley straighten.
The demon’s lips were parted, brows nearly meeting his hairline as he just… stared.
Oh God, perhaps Aziraphale had misread them. Or maybe, what had once been there-- or he’d thought it was there-- had long since passed. Maybe Crowley only--
“But it’s a flat for one,” Crowley rasped, jerking Aziraphale’s blue eyes to his face.
Slowly, Aziraphale shook his head. “All of it… is meant for two,” he said carefully, thinking of the couple’s vanity in the bathroom, the separate closets, the size of the bathtub and shower, the bed. The plants.
Aziraphale didn’t know if it was better or worse that Crowley wasn’t wearing his sunglasses. He couldn’t tell if the fear clear on the demon’s face was caused by what Aziraphale was revealing or because Crowley didn’t know how to gently turn Aziraphale down.
The angel swallowed and tried to smile, but it was fragile and filled with a dreadful sense of having made a huge misstep.
No way out but through, he supposed.
“We’re finally free to do as we like. And… and I want to be the one you run to, Crowley. I want to be 'home' for you.”
Throat bobbing, Crowley pushed himself out of his seat, feet planted and posture straight.
Aziraphale held his breath. It felt like his heart did, too, going still in his chest for a second that stretched into eternity.
“Angel…” Crowley opened his mouth, faltered, and then tried again in a raw whisper, “can I kiss you?”
“Oh, I wish you would,” Aziraphale confessed.
Crowley needed no more encouragement than that, surging forward, hands cupping Aziraphale’s face and then sliding his fingers into his hair as he brought their mouths together, the kiss closed-lipped and trembling.
Aziraphale curled a hand around Crowley’s hip, the other sliding around to press into his back, the slightest pressure to assure Crowley he was right where Aziraphale wanted him.
Crowley drew his mouth away, millimetres between them, and panting like he’d run to Aziraphale. “This is what you’ve been trying to say. This whole time. And I couldn’t hear you.”
Crowley either didn’t need a response or wasn’t expecting one because then they were kissing again, this time open-mouthed and a little desperate.
Aziraphale could feel Crowley shaking like he might fall apart. Like this very act might be enough to break him, send him shattering into pieces at Aziraphale’s feet.
Lifetimes. Centuries. Millennia. They had lived through countless moments of electrifying tension, both of them balanced on a wire and wanting to push boundaries, all too aware of the puppet strings holding them in place, the collar choking them, the sharp edge of a knife pressed against the other’s throat.
Now they were kissing and laughing against each other’s mouths, breathy, punched out sounds that were all celebration and relief and freedom after more than six thousand years of holding their breath and keeping their distance.
“I love you,” Crowley rasped. “I love you.” He dropped his head with a derisive shake, and there was a smile to his words, “I have since you told me you gave away your bloody sword.”
“Did I ever tell you I lied to God about that?” Aziraphale asked, a giggle in his voice and dancing in his eyes.
Another laugh, happier and accompanied by a grin, bubbled out Crowley. “Of course you did.” He chuckled and shook his head, helplessly. “I stole a painting, but you lied to God. Angel, what am I going to do with you?”
“I don’t know,” Aziraphale admitted, smile sweet. “But we have the time to find out. And a place to call home in the meantime.”
“Oh, angel,” Crowley breathed, lips pressing to Aziraphale’s forehead before their eyes met. “My home is wherever you are.”