The air in the Ritz was vibrating. All around them, the humans seemed to be aware that something catastrophic had been narrowly avoided, and, as memories that couldn’t quite be slotted into something comprehensible were fading, they nonetheless found themselves celebrating. There was a newfound appreciation for life all around them, and it was infectious.
On an ordinary day, the angel dining there that lunchtime might have felt overwhelmed by the energy of the place, but today, it was nothing but a pleasant background hum to accompany his own elation. Armageddon was averted, they had escaped the wrath of Heaven and Hell, and he had asked the Archangel Michael to miracle him a towel.
“You’ve told me that story three times now,” Crowley said. He was clearly doing his best to maintain his cool demeanour, but Aziraphale could see the amusement twitching at his lips. More than that, he could feel the euphoria radiating from the demon, so strong it drowned out the eight million humans in London.
“Well, it’s a good story.” The champagne and his good mood made Aziraphale slam his hand down on the table harder than he intended, earning a subtle, but definitely disapproving, glance from a nearby waiter.
“It is,” Crowley agreed. He leaned back in his chair, his attention so fully fixed on Aziraphale that the angel felt it like a focused energy beam. It was more intoxicating than all the champagne they’d been drinking, though the champagne was probably responsible for the way the image of Crowley’s face swayed and swerved in his vision. When Crowley smiled, it was like a dimmer switch being gradually turned up until the intensity of the light was almost unbearable. Aziraphale wanted to get closer to that light, to dance in it… to be burned by it.
“Goodness,” said Aziraphale. “We’ve been here for hours!”
“You’ve said that several times, too.”
“Yes, I suppose I have...”
For a long moment, they simply stared at each other. Crowley was difficult to read with his glasses on, but Aziraphale had had millennia of practice and knew that he was waiting for Aziraphale to call an end to the lunch. The problem was, Aziraphale didn’t want this lunch to end either. He entertained a fleeting fantasy of staying here forever, dining eternally at the Ritz with Crowley, while the seasons changed and centuries turned unheeded around them.
“Don’t you want to see your bookshop?” Crowley suggested, and Aziraphale jolted back to reality, suddenly wondering if he had accidentally voiced his daydream out loud.
In all the excitement, he had quite forgotten that he hadn’t actually seen his bookshop yet. Crowley had said it was fine, but he did want to see for himself.
“Yes, I suppose I do,” Aziraphale agreed. He imagined going to the back room and working through a sizeable chunk of his wine collection with Crowley; yes, that would do very nicely as a substitute for the Ritz. No humans, for one thing, and perhaps Crowley would lose the sunglasses once they were alone.
When they emerged onto Piccadilly, the bright sunlight seemed jarring. The day had been so long, it felt like night should have fallen already. The thrum of tourists, shoppers and afternoon traffic was so at odds with how he felt that he stalled just outside the hotel, momentarily distracted. It took Aziraphale a moment to remember that he was about to invite Crowley back to the bookshop for – well, it wouldn’t be a nightcap at this time of day, but it wasn’t like they were on a schedule any more, and –
When he finally turned to look at Crowley, whatever words he had been about to say died on his lips. Crowley was looking at him, into him, so intently that it stole his breath. He had removed his glasses, heedless of the humans all around them, and his yellow eyes caught Aziraphale’s and held them intently, keenly.
Aziraphale took a step closer. He opened his mouth to say something, but every coherent thought had been evacuated from his mind. He closed his mouth again, and saw Crowley’s eyes flicker briefly down to his lips.
In that moment, Aziraphale knew this wasn’t a day for their usual post-lunch drinking session. The entire world had shifted on its axis, and so had they. In that terrifying, horrifying, magnificent moment, Aziraphale knew with absolute certainty that Crowley meant to kiss him.
He froze still, holding Crowley’s gaze unflinchingly while anticipation gathered as a knot in his stomach and radiated a warm sensation through every nerve in his body. His lips tingled expectantly, his heart shuddered to a halt and he had quite forgotten to breathe.
They might have stood there for hours, as far as Aziraphale knew; the sky might have darkened, lit up with the lights of the city at night, and then brightened with a new dawn countless times over and he would have known nothing but the magnetic pull of demonic eyes.
In reality, it was probably only moments before a distant smile curled at Crowley’s lips. He took a half step forwards so that they were separated by mere inches and lifted his hand to squeeze at Aziraphale’s arm. The angel’s heart stuttered to an uneven, but thankfully unnecessary, rhythm.
“Enjoy your bookshop,” Crowley said. Then he took a step backwards, gave Aziraphale a wave, turned, and walked away.
Aziraphale stared after him, the air suddenly sucked out of his lungs. Crowley was almost out of sight when he belatedly waved back.
The bookshop was not entirely as he had left it. Cataloguing the new additions at least gave him something to do to quieten his thoughts for a while, so Aziraphale gave himself diligently to the task.
After a while, there wasn’t enough cataloguing to keep him busy, so he thought it best to get on and read the new books. It was only right, after all, for a bookseller to know his stock. Even when he had no intention of selling it.
Biggles Goes to Mars was not Aziraphale’s usual fare, but, well, lots of things were different now.
Though he wouldn’t admit it out loud, children’s books were more entertaining than prophecies. Although he did roll his eyes at the descriptions of Biggles’ Martians; there had been Martians once, of course, but they’d only lasted a few centuries before the planet’s magnetic field had been inconveniently misplaced. Aziraphale had visited a few times, back when it was verdant and green, but, well, then the humans had invented wine and Earth was generally a much more pleasant place to spend his time. Not to mention, it was his job to keep an eye on the humans.
At least, it had been his job. He wasn’t really sure he even had a job anymore; Upstairs hadn’t been in touch since the whole failed execution incident. Presumably they thought he was part demon now.
Perhaps he was part demon now. Or, at least, rather more like one than he had supposed.
Biggles Goes to Mars. He forced himself to refocus. Children’s books were a far more productive use of his time than dwelling on –
But it was too late, because Crowley was never far from the surface of his thoughts, and those thoughts had only become more intrusive in the week since their lunch.
Hundreds of times over the last week he had relived that moment outside the Ritz. He knew now that he should have said something, anything. He should have suggested drinks at the bookshop before they even rose from the table. At the very least, he should have called after Crowley as he walked away. Why hadn’t he? How had he been so disarmed by a look he had seen countless times over the millennia?
And oh, it wasn’t even like that was the first time he’d thought about kissing Crowley. The idea had been tickling the back of his mind for centuries now. But this was the first time he’d thought it was actually about to happen, that there was no reason for it not to happen. And he had wanted it, with a bone-deep ache, unlike anything he had felt before. At the same time, though, considering it now made him want to run far away, never to speak of the possibility again. It was wrong to want it. Worse than that, it made no sense; what could a life with Crowley possibly look like? They were too different for it to ever amount to anything.
It was one thing to long for something held behind a pane of glass; it was quite another to have it right there, potentially for the taking. What if having turned out to be not so pleasing a thing, after all, as wanting?
What if it was better?
Aziraphale had occasionally mused that he didn’t need an enemy when he had his own brain to contend with, and right here was a case in point. How was it possible to want something so badly it ached, yet also want everything to stay exactly as it was?
So now here he was, a full week later, casting furtive glances at the phone, willing it to ring, yet dreading that it might do so.
It had been silent all week.
He should call Crowley, he thought for perhaps the hundredth time. Just to say hello, maybe invite him round for tea, show that everything was the same as it had always been. He’d done it countless times before; how difficult could it be?
He hesitantly reached for the phone, held his hand just inches from the receiver, as he had hundreds of times before.
Not yet. He rose from his chair and began pacing around the shop. To distract himself, he looked around, studying his surroundings. Everything here was just very slightly off since the fire: the books were different, the layer of dust was gone, and the feeling of Crowley’s presence was muted.
Everything always came back to the demon. Crowley had been right all along, of course, about everything, and that rankled because he was supposed to be the intelligent one. How could he have got everything so terribly wrong?
The sound of the bell over the door made him jump. He whirled around so quickly he stumbled a little, startling the unwitting would-be customer so much that she immediately retreated back to the street.
Aziraphale stared at the door as it closed behind her. He’d known it wasn’t Crowley, of course – Crowley had this energy about him that he’d have been able to sense from outside – but hope was a treacherous thing.
He looked at the clock: it was four in the afternoon. A perfectly reasonable closing time, he decided, certainly for one uninterested in selling. He turned the sign around to Closed and locked the door.
He glanced at the phone again. Still silent.
Perhaps Crowley was having one of his long naps. He had earned it, certainly, so Aziraphale could hardly begrudge him that, though he felt a pang of loneliness at the prospect.
But what if something had happened? What if Hell had caught up with him, taken Crowley to face his sentence. They could have utterly destroyed him, while Aziraphale was here fretting about picking up the phone –
The phone made it into his hand this time, but he took a deep breath and replaced the receiver. He would know if anything had happened to Crowley, he was sure of it.
He would know, wouldn’t he? He’d be able to sense if Crowley was somehow no longer in existence. Surely.
Just the thought of it caused an unpleasant tightening in his chest. He glanced at the phone again.
It was ridiculous, and he was being ridiculous, but he couldn’t stand it any longer. To Hell with it, he thought, and he dialled Crowley’s number. It had only rung once when he thought better of it and went to hang up, but Crowley answered before he could disconnect the call.
“Crowley.” Aziraphale couldn’t keep the relief out of his voice. “I thought something might have happened to you.”
“Still here,” said Crowley. “You took your time, didn’t you?”
Aziraphale decided to ignore that, since he had no answer for it, and Crowley was just as capable of picking up a phone as he was…but he suddenly wished he had come up with some pretext to call. He’d had a week to think about it, after all. After an uncomfortably long silence, he said, “I, uh, wondered if there have been any developments. Has your side been in touch?”
A beat before Crowley responded, “We went through this, angel. I don’t have a side any more. But no. I did see Gabriel on Saville Row yesterday. He tripped on a kerb that was miraculously a couple of inches too high.”
Aziraphale smiled despite himself. “A terrible shame I was not there to thwart you.”
“It is a shame.”
Crowley’s serious tone caused Aziraphale’s smile to falter. Before he could stop himself, he blurted, “Perhaps you would like to come over for tea?”
There was a painfully long pause before Crowley responded. Aziraphale was about to add “Maybe next Thursday”, just to seem a little more casual, when Crowley said, “Sure. I’ll be there in twenty minutes.”
“Oh. Wonderful. I’ll get the kettle on.”
As Aziraphale put the phone down, a nervous fluttering took root in his stomach. He was being silly, he knew. He’d had tea with Crowley countless times.
This was different, though. No intelligence to share, no Arrangement, no apocalypse to avert. It was rare that they spent time together just because. What if Crowley interpreted his invitation as a solicitation for something more? What if he didn’t?
Fifteen minutes later, he was still pacing, when he felt the unmistakeable aura of Crowley’s presence nearby. It was a pleasant energy; it made him feel warm and caused a slight tingle down his spine. In anyone else, he might have called it love, but Crowley was a demon, and, more to the point, he exuded this feeling all the time. No one, not even an angel, felt love all the time.
The door opened, and instinctively, or perhaps to pretend he wasn’t hyper-aware of Crowley’s presence, he called out, “We’re closed!”
“You should lock the door, then,” a familiar drawl retorted. Crowley stood in front of the door, backlit by the low Sun through the too-clean windows.
“I did lock the door,” Aziraphale muttered, but he was smiling helplessly. Crowley was smiling too, and there was a hint of amusement to his smile that made Aziraphale want to just –
“Tea,” he blurted before his mind could get too carried away. “I’ll fetch the pot.” He turned on his heel and hurried into the little kitchenette.
It was a transparent delaying tactic, and he knew it, but he needed something to give him just a moment to figure out what to do, or say, or think. As though he could achieve in that moment what the last week had failed to deliver... Slowly, deliberately, he filled the kettle and turned it on.
He could have miracled the tea, of course, but indulging in too many frivolous miracles and drawing unnecessary attention to himself seemed unwise at this juncture. Or perhaps he just wanted something to do with his hands. He stared at the kettle, listening to the bubbles rising and breaking on the surface. He thought idly of the bath in Hell. The dank smell of the place, the oppressive air, the look of horror on the other demons’ faces as the holy water left him unscathed…
Did Downstairs think Crowley was an angel again now? Was he, just a little bit? What did the distinction even mean anymore?
Aziraphale looked up with a start. Crowley was leaning against the doorframe, watching him intently. His eyes were concealed by those confounded glasses, but the crease of his brow revealed a look of concern.
Aziraphale blinked. The kettle had evidently clicked off some time ago. The water would no longer be optimal temperature for –
A glass of wine suddenly materialised in his hand. He shot Crowley a grateful half-smile. “Thanks,” he mumbled. “I was… somewhere else, I think.”
A slight hint of those demonic yellow eyes was visible over Crowley’s glasses. They were scrutinising him. Aziraphale felt a prickle on the back of his neck and the kitchen was suddenly far too warm. He slipped past Crowley, studiously avoiding looking at him, though his treacherous breath caught as his hand accidentally – accidentally – brushed the demon’s side as he passed.
He made himself busy moving piles of books from chairs, trying not to notice the way Crowley slithered into one, and then took a seat a respectable distance away.
“Bottoms up, my dear,” he said. He took a gulp of wine and tried to ignore the tightening in his throat. His pesky body had some inconveniently human reactions, sometimes.
“So, what’s going on?” Crowley leaned forward, studying him. “I mean, we have a lovely lunch at the Ritz and then you don’t call…”
“Neither did you. I’ve been busy.”
“Busy.” Crowley looked around the bookshop, his gaze falling on Biggles Goes to Mars. “I see.” He swigged his wine and flopped back in his chair. “’S no fun, having wiles,” he proclaimed. “Without, y’know. Being thwarted.”
“I should think it would make it rather easier.”
Crowley held up his glass. “So, you see my point.”
“Anyway, I haven’t sensed anything… wily.”
“You have been paying attention, then.” Crowley seemed unduly pleased.
Always, Aziraphale thought, but… “Occasionally,” he said with forced casualness. “Just to ensure you’re not…wiling.”
“Got so bored I thought about setting a hospital on fire.”
Aziraphale gave him a scandalised look, but a half-hearted one; he knew Crowley wouldn’t do anything of the sort. “At least do something useful,” he admonished. He took a sip of wine. “If you want to burn down a building, there are plenty of Lloyd Webber theatres.”
Crowley grinned. “Now there’s my bastard angel.”
Aziraphale gave him a reproachful look. “When it’s empty.”
Crowley sighed. “Fine. You’re no fun.”
“I am lots of fun,” Aziraphale replied, curtly.
“You think cataloguing books is fun…”
“You think sleeping is fun…”
Aziraphale had been preparing a retort about Crowley’s abysmal taste in music, and so was momentarily stymied. “Yes, all right. Only…” he trailed off and shifted uncomfortably.
“Only?” Crowley prompted.
Aziraphale sighed. “Only, I thought it might be wise to, you know, keep our distance. So as not to attract any attention.”
Crowley pulled off his sunglasses at last and fixed him with that intense stare. “They’re not paying attention to us. You didn’t see Gabriel’s face – they’re terrified of us. Anyway, it’s way too much paperwork to execute an invincible angel.”
“How can you be so sure?”
Crowley shrugged. He probably didn’t know; he was just sure of everything. Aziraphale envied him that.
“That’s helpful, thank you,” Aziraphale said, archly.
“All right. Well, if you’re that worried they’re going to catch up with us, we could always switch permanently.”
Aziraphale actually entertained the notion for a moment. Not because it was a good idea; it wasn’t. Switching places for a short time was all well and good, but it wasn’t a pretence they could keep up forever. He considered it because there was something, well, tantalising about the thought. Inhabiting Crowley’s body had been fun, but he hadn’t really had chance to enjoy it that first time…
The thought of enjoying Crowley’s body caused his treacherous human blood to rise to his cheeks. He hurriedly sipped some wine, hoping Crowley wouldn’t notice.
Crowley always noticed. His yellow eyes were fixed on Aziraphale’s face, and that was definitely a smirk twisting his lips.
“I think not,” Aziraphale said, at last. “Heaven would definitely notice that something was wrong if I suddenly took to spending my time in grimy public houses.”
The corner of Crowley’s mouth twitched. “I can drink perfectly well here.”
Aziraphale inwardly winced at the thought of leaving Crowley alone with his wine cellar. “Better not,” he said. “Perhaps you’re right and they’ve decided to pretend the whole thing never happened.”
Crowley nodded slowly. His gaze appeared to be fixed somewhere around Aziraphale’s mouth. He wondered if there was a wine stain there. He meant to reach for his handkerchief but found himself quite unable to move under the intensity of Crowley’s attention.
“Perhaps,” Crowley agreed, not releasing his gaze. “But is being caught even what you’re afraid of?”
“Of course,” said Aziraphale, far too quickly.
Crowley finally looked away, and Aziraphale realised he’d been holding his breath. He didn’t even need to breathe, but he felt a deep sense of relief when he finally exhaled.
Crowley didn’t seem to notice. He was now looking casually – almost too casually – around the back room of the bookshop. In an offhand tone, he said, “We could still run off together.”
Aziraphale gave a choked laugh. “You can’t run away from the combined forces of Heaven and Hell.”
“Sure you can. They’re preoccupied with Earth right now. No one’s paying attention to Alpha Centauri.”
Aziraphale took a large gulp of wine. “I need to be on Earth,” he insisted weakly. “You know. Thwarting.”
“If I’m not here, there’ll be nothing to thwart now, will there?”
“You would go by yourself, then?” Aziraphale tried so hard to sound casual, but he knew his thin voice betrayed him. Crowley had said he was going to go alone before, of course, and he hadn’t, but probably just because there was an Armageddon to stop. Now there was no reason to stay. Was there?
He realised Crowley hadn’t responded. He was leaning back, looking at the ceiling as though there were answers up there.
There was a long silence. Aziraphale was holding his breath again, and he couldn’t look away from the demon sitting on the other side of the room. Crowley was slumped back in his chair, but he was holding himself taut. Aziraphale could hazard a pretty good guess as to what was on his mind, because it was preying on his mind too. After six thousand years, why was it still so difficult to just say it?
And what would he say, if he could bring himself to do so? How could he explain that he wanted something in theory, but was terrified of the reality? It was one thing to fantasise about kissing Crowley, but to act on it would be to upend their relationship and steer it on a new, unchartered course. Aziraphale was not good with change. Much better to leave things as they were.
But things had changed, for better or worse, since the aborted Apocalypse. There were no longer Sides to worry about, not for them. Every entirely logical reason Aziraphale had ever had for not acting on this in the past had evaporated. If he didn’t seize this opportunity, would another six thousand years pass them by? If not now, then when?
Crowley was sipping his wine and staring into the middle distance. Before he could think better of it, Aziraphale said, “I think you should go. To Alpha Centauri, I mean.”
That snapped Crowley out of whatever was preoccupying him, and Aziraphale immediately regretted it, not least because it wasn’t really what he meant, at all. “Not forever,” he added hurriedly. “Just for a couple of centuries. Long enough for them to stop looking for you.” Long enough for me to get over this, he added silently.
Crowley looked at him, his eyes narrowed. “Perhaps I will,” he said, and it was a less of a threat than a promise.
“I hate to think of Hell catching up with you,” Aziraphale almost tripped over his words in his haste to overwrite what he had said. “Now that I’ve been there, I…well, if I were in the habit of sleeping, I think I’d have nightmares.”
Crowley’s expression softened just a little. “I think that’s what they’re going for. Anyway, Heaven might be shinier, but it’s no picnic either.”
Aziraphale could hardly disagree, so he simply shrugged.
“And those other angels are total dicks to you,” Crowley continued. “You know that? Was all I could do not to punch them, frankly.”
“The other demons aren’t very nice to you, either.”
“Well,” Crowley shrugged. “They’re demons. Comes with the territory. Angels, now…” He gesticulated wildly with his wine glass, splashing a few drops on the carpet, and Aziraphale wondered how much he had drunk already. “Angels, they’re supposed to be beings of love, right?”
“Hmm,” Aziraphale agreed, noncommittally.
“But they’re bastards. And not in the nice way that you’re a bastard, I mean. Just… dicks. All holier than thou, and – “
“Well,” Aziraphale cut in, “they are literally – “
“Oh, shut up.” Crowley waved his hand dismissively.
“At any rate,” said Aziraphale, “I fear you may have become acquainted with an, ah, atypical specimen.”
At that, Crowley grinned. “You don’t say.”
Aziraphale shifted uncomfortably. “You’re not exactly conventional yourself.”
“Exactly. Match made in Hea – uh, Somewhere,” Crowley said, with a grin.
Aziraphale had to force his smile, because his brain was already kicking into overdrive, analysing that remark: so flirtatious, so presumptuous, so true. It made him feel daring. Before he could think better of it, he suggested, “How about the Ivy?”
Crowley looked confused for a moment while he caught up to the sudden change in topic, but then a smile spread slowly across his face, reaching his eyes. “As it happens,” he said, “a table for two just became available.”
And, oh, there was no reason for that smile to do that squirmy thing it was doing to his insides, but it felt delicious. Aziraphale couldn’t quite resist offering a hesitant, shy smile in return.
“It’s not that I dislike modern theatre,” Aziraphale insisted over dessert, while Crowley looked on, bemused. “It’s just so… showy.”
He punctuated the point by setting his tea down so hard that some of it sloshed onto the saucer. Crowley followed the roiling motion of the tea, amusement playing across his face. “Phantom’s the longest-running musical on the West End, angel, not sure it counts as modern any more, I’m afraid. Now Hamilton. That’s modern. And rather good,” he points out. “One of your lot, I suppose?”
Aziraphale hesitated, briefly considered taking credit, but admitted, “I haven’t seen it. But no, actually. Came up with that all by himself.”
“You haven’t seen it?”
“Well, tickets are – “
“You have supernatural powers,” Crowley cut in.
“Yes, well, that would be frivolous, not to mention it would be inappropriate to deprive a legitimate – “
“Oh, spare me.” Crowley sighed dramatically.
“Anyway,” Aziraphale said. “I know you invented the jukebox musical just to get to me. A low blow.”
“Now why would I do that?” Crowley protested.
“Demon?” Aziraphale pointed out, reasonably.
“Got me there. But I don’t go out of my way to torment you. I’m here for the humans.”
“Your fingerprints were all over that one,” Aziraphale insisted, though he was starting to doubt himself.
“I swear I – “ Crowley frowned, looking up at the ceiling. “Wait… no, you’re right. I was still mad you wouldn’t give me holy water.”
“I knew it.”
“To be fair,” Crowley said, “I didn’t know how popular they were going to become. I had nothing to do with Mamma Mia!.”
Aziraphale sighed. “That was one of my lot,” he said miserably.
“See, you don’t even need me, Heaven’s capable of evil deeds all by itself.”
“I don’t need you for your evil deeds,” Aziraphale agreed. He immediately regretted saying it when a slow grin spread over Crowley’s face. “Don’t say it,” he cautioned.
But Crowley was a demon, so of course he said, “But you do need me.”
“Well.” Aziraphale swallowed hard and furtively looked around the restaurant. There were too many people here for his conscience to allow him to miracle a little asteroid to thoroughly end the conversation. “Perhaps. I’ve grown accustomed to you.”
“Accustomed.” Crowley’s eyebrows climbed over his glasses. “Well, be still my beating heart.”
Aziraphale rolled his eyes. “You don’t have a beating heart.”
“Figure of speech. You’d miss me, then,” Crowley said. “If I went to Alpha Centauri?”
Some loose tea leaves had made it through the strainer into the bottom of Aziraphale’s cup. Some humans believed they could read people’s fortunes in tea leaves, and, while Aziraphale knew that wasn’t true, he wondered whether, if he stared at them enough, they might just show him the way out of this conversation.
Even when it became apparent that Aziraphale was not going to respond, Crowley seemed unperturbed. He leaned back in his seat, smiled, and said, smugly, “You’d miss me.”
Aziraphale was in the back of the bookshop reading 101 Things a Boy Can Do. Not one of those 101 things sounded like something he was interested in doing, but, then, he wasn’t a boy, and never had been. They didn’t make books called 101 Things an Angel Can Do, and Aziraphale wasn’t sure he would want to read it even if they did.
He was learning how to build a treehouse when the bell over the shop door alerted him.
“Very much closed,” he called.
“I think your would-be customers have figured that out by now.”
Aziraphale set the book down and smiled as Crowley came through to the back. “Good afternoon,” he said.
“It is a great afternoon,” Crowley agreed. “Look what miraculously became available.” He held out a smartphone.
“New iPhone?” Aziraphale hazarded a guess.
“You think I’ve been hanging out at an Apple store so soon after Gabriel tried to burn me alive in the original model?” Crowley screwed up his face, then shook the phone again. “Read what’s on the screen. They don’t do paper tickets.”
Aziraphale did so, and if his heart had been beating it would have skipped. “Stalls?” he said breathlessly.
“Of course. Only the best for my angel.”
Aziraphale almost hugged Crowley. He was almost grateful when the bell over the front door suddenly rang, allowing him to cover up the aborted motion by turning swiftly around and moving over to the doorway so that he could see out into the shop.
He froze, and his giddy excitement fractured in an instant. There, idly browsing the shelves near the door was an unmistakable figure in a well-tailored suit.
Panicked, he looked back at Crowley, who was idly scanning the book on his desk. When he looked up, Aziraphale frantically gestured for him to stay back and out of sight.
“Gabriel,” he greeted the new arrival with obviously forced, thin smile. He shot a sideways glance towards Crowley, who had remained mercifully out of Gabriel’s view and was now grimacing and making stabbing motions.
“Aziraphale.” Gabriel’s greeting was similarly curt. “I require some more of your pornography.”
Aziraphale rolled his eyes. “There are no humans here,” he said. “How can I help you?”
“We have a business matter to discuss,” Gabriel said, with a smile that made bitter anger curdle in Aziraphale’s stomach.
Aziraphale sighed. To Crowley, he said, under his breath, “You should go.” And to Gabriel, “I don’t believe we have any business.”
Crowley held up his phone. “Starts in an hour,” he mouthed.
Gabriel moved to stand in the entrance of the back room. He didn’t seem surprised to see Crowley, but his face screwed up in an expression of distaste as he said, “I knew something smelled bad.”
Aziraphale glanced nervously at Crowley, expecting him to respond with a suitably cutting barb. Instead, the look Crowley was giving Gabriel was one of pure contempt. His hands were clenched into fists, his jaw set square. In six thousand years of knowing the demon, Aziraphale didn’t think he’d ever seen such an expression of hatred. He anxiously placed himself in between them, worried they might be about to discorporate each other.
“There’s no need for that,” he said in a warning tone to Gabriel, though it was intended for Crowley, too. “Crowley was just leaving.”
Aziraphale didn’t need to turn around to see Crowley’s hurt expression. He felt a pang of regret, but Gabriel was right there and what else could he possibly do?
There was an interminable pause, during which no one said anything. Gabriel was looking over Aziraphale’s shoulder at Crowley with a condescending expression that said run along then, making Aziraphale think decidedly un-angelic thoughts. When he couldn’t stand to look at Gabriel any longer, he turned around to face Crowley, who looked like he’d been struck.
Aziraphale tried to mouth the words I’m sorry, but Crowley wouldn’t look at him. He stared at the floor, then over Aziraphale’s shoulder to glare daggers at Gabriel, then at the door. He took a deep breath, squared his jaw, and said, “All right, then,” before vanishing on the spot.
Feeling wretched, Aziraphale faced Gabriel. “What do you want?”
Gabriel beamed. “I am to be your replacement, to watch over the peoples of Earth and guide them towards the light.”
Aziraphale raised his eyebrows. “My replacement? Bit of a demotion, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Gabriel agreed. “This is entirely beneath me. But I, as you know, am best equipped to take on this task, since I know how to blend in with the humans.”
The bell over the front door rang, and Gabriel actually grinned. “Observe,” he said. He made his way out into the shop, calling, “Greetings, human. Do you wish to acquire a material object?”
Aziraphale followed, standing at Gabriel’s shoulder. He recognised the customer; she was a PhD student from UCL, who frequently came in to browse, but had never attempted a purchase. Insofar as Aziraphale liked any customers, those were his favourite sort. Right now, she looked somewhere between confused and terrified. She cast a glance over to the shelf of historical Bible editions she had been working through the previous week, then back at Gabriel, who was still grinning inanely at her. She gave a weak smile, said, “I’m okay, thanks,” and backed hurriedly out of the door.
“Flawless,” said Aziraphale, in the most cutting tone he could muster, though he was taking mental notes to learn this new technique for frightening off customers.
“She was not going to buy anything,” said Gabriel, with a shrug. “She made a foolish choice to be a student in London and therefore has no money. Now, where were we?”
“You were relocating to Earth, apparently.”
“Only temporarily, of course,” Gabriel assured him. “We’re taking it in turns in future, just a century or two each. Now that we’ve seen what six thousand years in this place does to an angel, well…” he looked Aziraphale up and down with an expression of severe disappointment.
Not too long ago, that might have made an impact on Aziraphale, but now, it was all he could do to keep from rolling his eyes. “Where on Earth will you be based?” he asked. “I hear New Zealand is very pleasant. Lots of sheep.”
Gabriel’s insincere smile returned. “Right here, of course. All of us will be using this delightful ‘book shop’ as our base of operations.”
Aziraphale gave a choked laugh. “No, you most certainly will not.”
Gabriel gave his most patronising smile. “Oh, we will. Standard protocol when an angel is cast out. Seizure of assets obtained while engaging in illicit activity.”
Aziraphale could only stare blankly at him, so many thoughts racing through his head that none were quite fully formed. The one that bobbed to the surface long enough for him to give voice to was, “Cast out?”
Gabriel gave a broad shrug. “Well, you’re most certainly not one of us anymore.”
Only a slight shift in Gabriel’s eyes betrayed that he was still unnerved by the feat he believed Aziraphale had performed. Aziraphale tried to remember how it had felt to stare down Michael, to see all those demons cower before him, and tried to force that same defiance into his voice as he said, “Out of the question. I am going nowhere.”
“There is one alternative.” Gabriel paused, his mouth a thin line. “We can hand you over to Hell to deal with.”
“Do that, then,” said Aziraphale, sounding far braver than he felt.
“Of course, they don’t work for free down there. In return, we’ll deal with the demon Crowley.”
Gabriel smiled, and Aziraphale’s heart sank. “And if I hand over the bookshop? What happens to Crowley then?”
“Oh, we’ll just thwart him in the usual way. Can’t be too difficult, if you were managing it.”
Aziraphale couldn’t even managed a cutting response; he felt like he was fracturing, and the slightest movement might cause him to shatter and discorporate on the spot.
“I thought so. Now,” Gabriel continued, clapping his hands together, “I know you’ve been here a while. I can give you an hour to clean out the demon smell, then I’ll be back to take over.”
Aziraphale managed a curt nod.
“As the Almighty likes to say: So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye.”
And with that, Gabriel vanished, leaving Aziraphale staring resentfully at the space he had vacated.
He wasn’t sure how long he stood there, but gradually the dull rage gave way to panic. He looked around the back room at the stacks of books and scrolls, his mug on his desk, the sofa he’d added just for Crowley. He moved out into the shop and started pacing. The towering shelves represented centuries of collecting. His misprinted bibles, his books of prophecy, even the new books from Adam; the thought of handing any of them over to Gabriel made him feel nauseated.
His mind started racing. Gabriel had said he was going to use the bookshop as a base; he’d said nothing about requiring that the contents were intact. He could stand to lose the building, but not the books. Impulsively, he did the only thing he could think of to do: with a wave of his hand every book in the shop vanished.
He stood in the centre of the shop, staring at the shelves that stood empty for the first time in more than two hundred years. Then, he turned the sign on the door around to Closed, and wandered out into the street.
At first, he walked aimlessly. Soho was coming alive with night-time revellers and he had to pick his way through them as he walked down the street. All across London, curtains would be going up soon, including the one at the Victoria Palace, where he should have been sitting in hushed anticipation. He stopped walking suddenly, causing the people behind him to curse as they fought their way past. He checked his pocket watch. There was still time, if he was fast. He set off at a hurried pace, a path of sluggish pedestrians clearing miraculously before him.
Along Oxford Street, the crowds became thicker, and suddenly, believing that a clear path would appear in front of him stopped working. He craned his neck to see over the crowd, and glimpsed flashing lights ahead. The acrid smell of smoke was in the air.
A murmured rumour rippled through the crowd that there was a fire on Argyll Street. Aziraphale closed his eyes and heaved a sigh: the London Palladium.
In the end, it took him another half an hour to wend his way around the obstruction towards Mayfair, and, when he arrived at Crowley’s building, it was with the dejected knowledge that King George would already have taken the stage at the Victoria Palace.
A quick miracle got him through the main door, but he knocked politely once he reached the door of Crowley’s flat.
When Crowley’s head appeared through a crack in the door, he didn’t look surprised. “Come in, angel,” he said. “I think I have something of yours.”
He opened the door gingerly, and Aziraphale soon saw why. Where usually there were wide open spaces, now Crowley’s flat was a constricting maze of towers of books.
“Sorry,” Aziraphale said. “Rather panicked, I’m afraid. They’re – they’re taking my bookshop.” His voice cracked a little. He took a deep breath, tried to compose himself. “Are we too late for Hamilton?”
“’Fraid so. I mean, we could walk in halfway through Act One…”
Aziraphale shot him a stern glance.
“Yeah, didn’t think so.”
“I am sorry,” said Aziraphale. “It was…most kind of you to get those tickets, and I’m afraid I’ve…” he trailed off, looking helplessly around at the stacks of books. “I don’t know what I’m going to do,” he added plaintively.
It was a sign of how distraught Aziraphale was that Crowley barely even winced at being called kind. “All right,” he said. “First things first, they do eight shows a week. We’ll go another time. Second of all, sit down.”
“I – I should have just told him to leave,” Aziraphale said.
“Yeah,” Crowley agreed. He gestured towards the one end of sofa that was not covered in books. Aziraphale sat down. The sofa was hard, designed for style, rather than comfort. Quite unlike his bookshop. Aziraphale stared blankly at one of the towers of books.
Crowley disappeared for a moment, reappearing with two glasses of wine. Aziraphale took one gratefully, and Crowley perched on the edge of the coffee table, the only remaining clear surface.
“I would have fought him with you, you know,” Crowley said.
Aziraphale stared miserably into his glass. “I know,” he said. He couldn’t bring himself to tell Crowley what Gabriel had threatened to do.
Somehow, he had managed to do the wrong thing at every single turn, as usual. He looked around at the towers of dusty volumes taking up most of the floor space of Crowley’s usually conspicuously clean flat. “Sorry about the books. I’ll find somewhere else to send them.”
“Why don’t you leave them here,” Crowley suggested, “and take a holiday?”
“We could sample every crêpe in France. Attend every performance of Into the Woods on Broadway. We could even tour libraries, if that’s what you want. That’s the whole point: we’re free.”
Aziraphale couldn’t even focus on the array of possibilities on offer, or point out that Into the Woods was no longer playing on Broadway, because he was too busy wondering if Crowley was even conscious of the casual way he had said we.
“Yes,” Aziraphale repeated. “I’ll go away with you.”
Crowley looked shell-shocked, apparently not having even entertained the possibility that Aziraphale would not reject the idea as he had in the past. “Uh, all right,” he said. “So, what’s it to be? Crêpes? Theatre? Are there theatres where they serve crêpes?”
“I certainly hope not,” Aziraphale said, horrified. “But no. I want to go to Alpha Centauri.”
Crowley’s eyebrows shot so high they almost disappeared into his hairline. “You want to what?!”
“I would like to go to Alpha Centauri. With you. Please,” Aziraphale repeated.
Crowley’s yellow eyes narrowed. “Are you really Aziraphale? Did Gabriel… do something?”
Aziraphale sighed and stared down into his wine. “I’ve never been. But I’ve wondered about it, since you mentioned it the first time.”
“We should have gone then,” Aziraphale said with a wry smile. “Left them all to it.”
“Nah,” Crowley gave him a curious look. “Then there’d be no theatres left at all.”
A nagging thought prodded at the back of Aziraphale’s mind. He leaned back, a note of reproach in his voice, as he said, “The Palladium is a beautiful building.”
Crowley’s smile morphed into a smirk. “It was playing Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat.”
“Ah,” Aziraphale set down his empty wine glass. “I see your point.” Out of obligation, he added, “I trust no one was hurt?”
Crowley rolled his eyes. “’Course not. Miraculous escapes, the lot of them. The stupid coat burned to a crisp, though.”
“Of course.” Aziraphale allowed himself to smile. He leaned forward and took Crowley’s hand in his, the daring of it sending a thrill coursing through him. “I mean it,” he said earnestly. “About Alpha Centauri.”
“Oh, uhhh,” Crowley stared dumbly at their joined hands. Then he turned his hand over and threaded their fingers together. He looked up, his eyes wide and bright, and Aziraphale was suddenly flooded with a pleasantly warm feeling. Crowley squeezed his hand and said, “It really is the best time of year. I promise you’ll like it.”
“A wormhole?” Aziraphale gave a sceptical look at the swirling vortex that had appeared right over the BT Tower. “It’s a little… obvious.”
“You mean like a whole new continent rising from the ocean? Or a kraken? Or – “
“All right,” Aziraphale gave a dismissive wave. “Humans are good at overlooking things they don’t understand. But what about Heaven and Hell?”
“Well, the sooner we get a wiggle on,” Crowley pronounced the words carefully, mockingly, “the less time it’ll be here for them to notice.”
They were standing on the roof of Crowley’s building, looking over the London skyline towards the north. Aziraphale cast a glance to his left, taking in the lines of Crowley’s profile against the bright city lights, as the demon stared straight ahead at his handiwork. Aziraphale took a deep breath and tightened his grip on the case full of books – his only luggage – in his right hand, while his left reached for Crowley’s. The demon’s fingers entwined with his, and the corner of his mouth twitched in a smile.
Aziraphale released his wings. It was like setting down a heavy load at the end of a hard day, and he sighed in contentment as he stretched his neck. Crowley stared at him, an awed expression on his face. Aziraphale squeezed his hand, and then watched, as great black wings appeared on his back, silhouetted against the London night.
With a wordless glance, they took off together, soaring through the London sky towards the vortex of a miraculous wormhole that joined London to a planet four and a half light years distant.
Emerging from a wormhole was not dissimilar to the feeling of being squeezed out of Madame Tracy’s body and back into his own. It was tingly and a little disorienting. He patted himself down, verifying that everything was intact, and then looked up.
Crowley was standing casually in front of him, for all appearances unaffected by the ordeal of the transport. His vast black wings reflected a myriad of colours in the sunlight, glinting blue, purple and red. He was staring straight at Aziraphale with an expression of wonder that would have quite stolen his breath, had he been breathing.
And that reminded him: “Can we breathe here?”
Crowley shrugged. “If you like. Won’t get much oxygen, though.”
Aziraphale tore his gaze away from the demon to look around. They were standing on a cliff top, overlooking a vast ocean. Below them was a beach, much like those on Earth, with golden sand. Beyond, a forest stretched as far as he could see, verdant green, but utterly silent.
“There are a lot of trees,” Aziraphale observed. “Why so little oxygen?”
“Not much land,” said Crowley. “Planet’s mostly water.”
“Any…locals?” Aziraphale asked, realising it was a little rash of him to agree to this trip without knowing a single thing about the planet.
“Not a bug. This planet… well, you’ll see. Civilisations rise and collapse here all the time. All the life was wiped out not so long ago, and only the plants have come back. Bit of sea life. Nothing that’ll bother us.”
Aziraphale was suddenly very glad he’d had the forethought to bring books, because an utterly lifeless planet seemed exceedingly dull to him.
“But you like humans,” he pointed out. “Why would you want to come somewhere with… nothing, no one?”
Crowley inclined his head. “You’re not no one.”
Aziraphale found himself quite unable to look directly at Crowley, as heat rose to his cheeks. He looked out towards the sea, hoping a light ocean breeze might cool him down, but he couldn’t keep the smile from spreading across his face…and he could feel the weight of Crowley’s gaze.
“C’mon,” Crowley said, grasping his hand. “Leave the books. I want to show you something.”
They walked along the cliff edge as it jutted out into a peninsula, steep drops down to the beach on either side. It was eerily quiet, just the lapping of waves at the shore beneath them, and their footsteps forging untrodden paths. There were no birds, no sight or sound of animal life at all, beyond the two of them.
Eventually they came to where the cliff ended, at a point jutting out into the sea, and Crowley paused. Aziraphale, beside him, turned to look at him. He was smiling in a casual, carefree way that Aziraphale had not seen in a long time. It smoothed out the lines of his face and made him look quite angelic, with the snake tattoo and blackened wings adding an enticing edge. He was beautiful. Looking upon him now, backlit by the sun hanging low on the horizon behind him, Aziraphale could barely spare a thought for his bookshop.
“We’ve come on the perfect day,” Crowley said, interrupting Aziraphale’s train of thought. “This’ll be an amazing sunset.”
Aziraphale had watched many sunsets in his long years on Earth, but couldn’t recall ever intentionally watching one with Crowley. It seemed a sad oversight that he was quite determined to spend many years making up for. He tightened his grip on Crowley’s hand, and felt a thrill course through him at the answering squeeze.
It truly was a spectacular time of year. As the planet passed directly in between the twin stars of Alpha Centauri A and B at the closest point in their orbit, the two suns appeared on opposite horizons. To their left, the deep orange glow of the setting Alpha Centauri B. And on the other side, the rising Alpha Centauri A.
“It is quite beautiful,” Aziraphale murmured. He meant to refer to the simultaneous sunrise and sunset, but what had really caught his eye was the play of deep ochre light suffusing Crowley’s wings. Set against the deep orange sky, he looked the most truly demonic Aziraphale had ever seen him, and the most beautiful.
When Crowley turned to look at him, Aziraphale felt as though his heart had jumped into his throat. “Worth the trip?”
“Very much so.”
They stood in silence, watching as one sun vanished beyond the horizon and the orange sky faded to blue, while the second sun charged upwards, bringing a second day. Its light glinted on the surface of the sea beneath them.
“It won’t get dark for weeks,” Crowley said.
“We’ll have to stay a while, then,” Aziraphale mused. “I imagine the night sky is spectacular here.”
Crowley looked surprised, as though he had expected Aziraphale to travel light years for a simple evening’s entertainment. After a long pause, he said, “Yeah. C’mon, I know just the place.”
He tugged on Aziraphale’s hand and led him down the other side of the cliff, to where a path led down towards the beach. There was no reason for a path to exist, with no animals to wear it down, so Aziraphale was quite certain it had only materialised because Crowley willed it into existence.
Crowley’s imagination, it turned out, extended much further than that. When they reached the shore, they came to a perfectly formed beach house. So perfect, in fact, that it was likely modelled on a holiday brochure. It had floor-to-ceiling windows that faced out towards the sea, and a large deck, raised over the beach, with two reclining chairs perfectly positioned for watching the suns rise and set.
Aziraphale realised that they had paused, and that Crowley was looking at him expectantly. “It’s lovely,” he confirmed, eliciting a delighted grin in response.
Crowley led them inside. Of course, there was electricity, because it wouldn’t have occurred to Crowley that there wouldn’t be. Generated how, exactly, was unclear.
“Solar panels?” Aziraphale suggested.
“Sure,” Crowley shrugged. A groaning, creaking sound suggested a large solar panel had just materialised on the roof, as though it had always been there.
There was running water, too, but Aziraphale thought it best not to ask about the plumbing, for fear that the application of logic to the situation would cause the whole miraculous mirage to disappear.
The interior was the very image of a promotional picture from a travel brochure. An elegant chaise longue against one wall, a large sectional sofa, a coffee table with an array of those books of photographs of other beachside resorts. A large vase of twigs in the corner, for whatever purpose was served by those vases of twigs in hotel rooms and show homes everywhere. At the back of the room was a small kitchenette, quite superfluous, since they would have to miracle any food they wanted here, but presumably there because Crowley assumed it would be.
Realising that Crowley was looking at him, he smiled and said, “It’s perfect.”
He could feel Crowley relax beside him. “Well,” he said, “all that imagination must have taken it out of me. Think I need a nap.”
Aziraphale tried not to let his disappointment show; he wasn’t in the habit of sleeping, and had hoped they would explore together, or perhaps curl up on that sofa with some miracled wine and talk about nothing, enjoying the freedom to simply be together. Crowley seemed to be waiting for some response, which was odd – it wasn’t like he needed permission – so Aziraphale hummed and said, “Good night, then.”
Crowley gave him a strange look. “Wake me up tomorrow,” he said, and then he disappeared through a door that presumably led to a bedroom, and closed it behind him.
Aziraphale stared blankly at the door. What did tomorrow mean, in a world of perpetual daylight? How long did a day last on this planet anyway?
Suddenly feeling quite alone in this strange world, he went to make himself a cup of tea. The kitchenette was equipped with an electric kettle, and he opened a cupboard to reveal a whole shelf of angel wing mugs. He picked one up and turned it over fondly in his hands; it was just like the one Crowley had gifted to him several years ago (as a joke, he assumed, though he used it unironically). By willing it hard enough, he opened another cupboard to reveal an entire collection of teas and cocoas.
Definitely a frivolous miracle, he chided himself, but was anyone keeping score any more - and did he even care if they were?
Feeling just a little rebellious, he added a side of devil’s food cake and made his way outside. With a wave of his hand, his case of books appeared beside one of the chairs, and Aziraphale settled in to while away whatever passed for a day here.
A book sat face down, unread in Aziraphale’s lap. The tea that kept miraculously refilling sat on a table beside him as he leaned back and took in the view. The cake sat half-eaten; miracled food tasted so bland. The sun arced quickly across the sky, much faster than on Earth, giving the illusion of time passing at a hurried pace.
There were two moons visible from here, following the sun across the sky. Lit by a sun on either side, they both appeared full even during the day, a constant reminder that this was an alien world.
The sun hung in the west now, the ocean beneath it shimmering in its light. Having counted out the sun’s journey across the sky, Aziraphale calculated the day here to be much shorter than on Earth, perhaps six hours. That stood to reason; this must be a chaotic system, with the gravitational instability of two stars tugging the planet into wildly varying orbits, never having time in which to settle down and have its rotation slowed by tidal forces. That must have been what Crowley meant when he talked about civilisations here collapsing; they could rise when the planet was on a stable orbit as it was currently, but, sooner or later, the unstable gravity would fling the planet far from the warmth of the twin stars, and everything would have to start again.
It was strange, to think of this tranquil place being the scene of chaos as civilisations fell, wiped out without a thought. All because these two stars were bound inexorably together, engaged in an eternal dance and entirely ignorant of the chaos wrought around them. What was the Almighty’s purpose in creating such a place of chaos?
It turned out that, when one started questioning Her will, it was quite difficult to stop.
Before long, Aziraphale saw the sun dip below the horizon, and then the second sun rose to chase its fallen companion across the sky. He began to feel restless and wondered if he should wake Crowley. There was no reason to, no schedule to keep, except that he wanted the company. Why else were they here, after all?
The suns carried out their dance twice more, and Aziraphale watched the play of light over the water in a sort of trance. At some point, he might have begun to doze lightly; one minute he was watching a moonrise, the next the light had changed and he was startled to awareness by the slide of a patio door.
He glanced up to see Crowley emerge from the bedroom, out onto the deck. He was wearing black silk pyjamas and rubbing his eyes in a delightfully human way that did squirmy things to Aziraphale’s insides.
“Good morning,” Aziraphale said brightly.
Crowley flopped into the chair beside him and a coffee appeared in his hands. “Is it morning?” he asked, squinting up at the sun.
“Good question.” Aziraphale followed his gaze. The sun was high up, so it was close to either noon or midnight, depending on which sun one chose to follow. He fished his pocket watch out; it was quarter past nine back in London, but he had no idea whether that was morning or evening. He shrugged. “It can be whatever time you want it to be.”
Crowley grinned and took a sip of coffee. “In that case,” he said, setting his coffee down. It morphed into a glass of whisky.
“Oh, really!” Aziraphale muttered in disapproval, but he gave Crowley a plaintive look until a matching glass appeared in his own hand. He settled back against the chair with a contented sigh.
“How’s your book?” Crowley asked.
“Hmm? Oh, very good,” said Aziraphale, who wasn’t even sure which book was resting unopened on his lap.
“Can I tempt you from it for a walk?”
“Oh, tempt away.”
They finished their whisky in companionable silence, and, when Crowley rose to his feet, he was wearing his usual black jeans and t-shirt, though he had foregone the jacket. He reached out a hand and Aziraphale took it, allowing himself to be pulled to his feet. He felt a thrill race through him when, instead of releasing his hand, Crowley laced their fingers together and led him down towards the beach.
They talked idly about nothing as they walked; Aziraphale would stop to pick up a shell and remark on its colours, and Crowley would point out particularly interesting trees along the top of the beach. All the while, Aziraphale was hyperconscious of Crowley’s hand entwined with his, sending sparks all the way up his arm to bloom in his chest. He kept stealing sideways glances at the demon, thrilling in how he talked so animatedly about the way the changing patterns of day and night on the planet affected plant growth.
Beside them, the water lapped against the shore in a steady rhythm. As the day wore on and the sun beat down, the cool water looked more and more inviting. At length, Aziraphale stopped walking and reluctantly released Crowley’s hand. He took off his shoes and socks, rolled up his trousers, and waded into the shallow water. His shoes hung loosely from the fingertips of his right hand, and he reached his left out to Crowley. The demon stood back from the water’s edge, arms crossed over his chest, but the hint of a smile played at his lips. Eventually, he relented, miracling off his own shoes, stepping into the water and taking Aziraphale’s hand, as they continued their walk with water lapping over their ankles.
Eventually they ran out of beach, the way interrupted by a sheer rock face, so they left the water and lay down on the sand, a giant tartan beach towel miraculously appearing beneath them. Lying side by side, with their fingertips idly touching, and the warmth of the sun on their faces, Aziraphale was quite certain he could stay here for an eternity and never want for anything.
He cast a glance towards Crowley, whose eyes had drifted closed as he basked in the sun. He was awake; Aziraphale could sense him, a pleasant thrum of contented energy. It would be so easy for Crowley to lean over and kiss him now; he had to know by now that it would be welcomed.
“What are you thinking so loudly about?” Crowley said.
When Aziraphale did not immediately respond, Crowley turned his head towards him and lazily opened his eyes. Aziraphale felt something stir inside him.
“Sandcastles,” he said hurriedly. “I was thinking about building a sandcastle.”
It started off as a lie, but, as he said it, he began to picture Leeds Castle as it had appeared in the thirteenth century, rendered in sand, and the thought felt like a challenge.
“You want…to build…a sandcastle,” Crowley repeated slowly. A smile fluttered across his lips. His eyes drifted closed and he turned his head back to face the sun high above them. “Go on, then. No miracles. I’ll know if you cheat.”
“Very well.” Aziraphale hauled himself upright. A children’s bucket and spade appeared beside him. He shot a glance down to Crowley, who was chuckling to himself, and, without opening his eyes, waved for Aziraphale to get on with it.
So, he did. His memory of the real castle wasn’t perfect, but he was fairly sure he could reproduce the gist of it. He started by marking out the floor plan, quickly realising the small children’s bucket and spade wasn’t going to be up to the task. He cast a quick glance downwards to verify that Crowley’s eyes were still closed before discreetly making them larger.
“You didn’t last long,” said Crowley, smirking.
Lacking an eloquent response, Aziraphale kicked some sand at him and got to work.
Aziraphale was putting the finishing touches to one of the windows, so absorbed in his task that he wasn’t aware that Crowley had moved until the demon stood right in front of him.
“If you kick this castle down,” Aziraphale said, not looking up from the window, “I will personally douse you in holy water.”
“Thought hadn’t even crossed my mind,” Crowley plainly lied. Then, “I brought you tea.”
Aziraphale looked up; Crowley was holding out an angel wing mug filled with a hot Darjeeling. Aziraphale accepted it with a half-apologetic smile, though he still eyed the demon warily as he walked around the sand structure.
The castle stood around six feet tall and sported an impressive array of turrets. Rather more than the real Leeds Castle; he’d got a little carried away once he got the hang of turrets.
“There’s at least a dozen miracles holding this together,” Crowley remarked, as he appeared around the other side.
“Obviously,” Aziraphale conceded. “The windows kept collapsing. And I started off too big and couldn’t reach the top.”
Crowley grinned. “The real Leeds Castle’s in a lake.”
Aziraphale gave a delighted wriggle that Crowley recognised which castle it was meant to be, and was about to miracle a glorious lake, when Crowley held up a hand to stop him. “Spade,” he said.
Aziraphale handed him the spade, and he set about diligently digging a trench around the castle, his tongue poking out of his lips as he worked. Aziraphale stood back as he drank his tea and watched, his heart so full he thought it might burst. Eventually, needing a distraction, he set down the mug and returned to his windows.
The sun was touching the western horizon when they retreated back to their beach towel and sat back to admire their work. The setting sun cast a warm glow over the castle as the tide came in to fill the lake around its base. The drawbridge threatened to collapse, until a particularly stern glare from Crowley saw it re-evaluate its structural integrity.
Aziraphale miracled them some wine as they watched the second sun rise to cast new light over their castle. “We could build a full-sized one,” he mused aloud. “I’ve always thought it would be grand to live in a castle.”
“Wouldn’t matter how big we made it, it’d be overrun with books within the week.”
Aziraphale hummed in agreement, not seeing the downside. “There could be whole towers of books.”
“So that’s what the extra turrets are for.”
Aziraphale smiled into his wine, lost in his fantasy of a castle filled to the brim with books. Crowley was there in his fantasy castle, too, tripping over books and complaining about it, while also helping him to build more turrets.
“Very draughty, castles,” Crowley said.
Aziraphale considered that. “Even miraculous castles?”
“Hmm,” Crowley sipped his wine. “Always fancied a cottage myself.”
“A cottage?” Aziraphale turned to him in a raised eyebrow. He knew the barren, modern flat wasn’t really Crowley’s taste, of course, but a cottage was about as far removed from that as it was possible to get.
“Nice big garden,” Crowley continued. “Space to properly terrorise some plants into submission.”
That helped Aziraphale to picture it; Crowley working in the garden while he sat in a comfortable armchair, a book and a cup of cocoa by his side. He watched as the waves rushed into their moat, the castle miraculously uneroded. After a long moment, he added, “Close to the beach.”
“Not too far from London, though. Close enough to get to the theatre.”
Aziraphale reached for his hand and threaded their fingers together. “Sounds perfect.”
With no day and night, and no schedule to keep, there was no routine to Alpha Centauri life, but they fell into a haphazard one anyway.
Crowley slept a lot, and Aziraphale would turn to his books for company. His favourite days were those when, instead of retreating to the bedroom, Crowley would sleep beside him, either on a chair on the deck or sprawled on the sofa. When he woke, they would go for a walk, along the beach, or inland through the forest, where Crowley would habitually snarl at any plants he felt were not pulling their weight, and Aziraphale would quietly caress them and tell them they were doing an excellent job.
More castles sprang up along the beach. Some were elaborate gothic fortresses with lakes where mermaids sunned themselves on rocks (Aziraphale’s addition) and dragons curled around the towers (Crowley’s). Others became sprawling cities reminiscent of Carcasonne, as Aziraphale got carried away with his towers and turrets.
Every day, they watched the dual sunsets from the deck or the beach or, when it rained, through the window, huddling under a blanket on the sofa. Every day, the setting of one sun and the rising of the other became spaced out by a few more minutes, until, at last, there was a distinctive dusk period in between. That became the perfect time for a bonfire on the beach, where Aziraphale would toast marshmallows and Crowley would sit back with a glass of wine, yellow eyes ablaze as the light of the flames danced across them.
And every day, whether it was sitting by the fire or watching the sunset, or when Crowley brought him tea as he read, Aziraphale’s gaze would flicker down to his mouth and he would think that this moment was the one in which Crowley would kiss him. Then, Crowley’s eyes would glaze over and he would turn away, and Aziraphale learned to be content with the shy smiles, long shared looks, and the gentle clasp of a hand.
Sometimes, they spent time apart, too. Crowley was prone to bouts of brooding, when he would wander off into the forest alone. Occasionally, he would return with potted plants, and, before long, what Aziraphale was fast coming to think of as their house resembled a jungle.
When Aziraphale walked alone, he returned to that spot high on the cliff tops, where he was surrounded by the sea on three sides, and thought of warm orange light on black wings.
Crowley was asleep in the bedroom one day when curiosity got the better of Aziraphale. Before he could talk himself out of it, he filled a bowl with water and carefully blessed it. He was standing in the middle of the room, holding the bowl, when Crowley decided to wake up.
Aziraphale shot a warning glance to where he hovered near the bedroom doorway. “Don’t come any closer.”
“Why?” Crowley asked around a yawn. “What are you up to?”
Crowley stumbled in his haste to stagger backwards. “Are you mad? What on Earth – “ he broke off as his back hit the doorframe.
“I just want to try something,” Aziraphale started to explain.
“And I just wanted to see if my best friend fancied a nice stroll on the beach, and I wake up to find he’s holding a murder weapon.”
Aziraphale gave him a look that said don’t be so dramatic. “Just give me a hair or something.”
“Oh no. I’m not coming anywhere near you.”
Aziraphale sighed, set the bowl down on the table, and walked over to where Crowley was pressed against the wall, his yellow eyes fixed on the bowl, until Aziraphale was only a foot in front of him. Crowley’s eyes moved their gaze as he said, “Wait. How do I know you don’t have any on your hands?”
“I was very careful,” Aziraphale said, but he took a step back.
Warily, Crowley lifted his hand and plucked out a red hair from his head. He held it out, his brow creasing in a frown. “And why, exactly, do you need to test a Crowley-killing device?”
“Just an experiment.” Aziraphale gave him a grateful smile, took the hair, and returned to the bowl. He took a deep breath, steeling himself. He wasn’t even sure what he was hoping would happen, he just needed to know.
He dropped the hair in. It floated on the surface of the water intact, entirely unaffected.
Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Crowley craning his neck for a better view.
“So?” Crowley called. “What’s the result of the experiment?”
Aziraphale glared at the hair, which had become attached to the side of the bowl, water sluicing harmlessly over it. “Inconclusive,” he said.
“Well, all right then. Time to stop playing with murder weapons and go for a walk?”
Aziraphale glared at the hair a moment longer, then sighed. “Why not,” he said.
He considered pouring the water down the sink, but was worried about residue. Even though it appeared to be harmless, one could never be sure. Instead, he vanished it with the wave of his hand, bowl and all.
Over by the wall, Crowley visibly sagged with relief. As they walked outside together, the demon gave him a sidelong look. “Care to tell me what that was about?”
“Just a hypothesis,” Aziraphale said. “I wondered if perhaps you’re not entirely a demon any more. If you have, as they said, gone native.”
“So I really am immune to holy water? Nice.”
“Well, it’s unclear. It’s also possible that I’m no longer entirely an angel. Perhaps I can no longer bless holy water.”
“Maybe both,” Crowley pointed out.
“Perhaps both,” Aziraphale agreed. “I would need to try it with verifiably holy water.”
“Hmm,” Crowley grimaced. “I’d rather you didn’t, if it’s all the same. I’m not fond of the stuff.”
“You’re not just a bit curious?”
“Nope,” Crowley grinned.
“But if they come for us again, it would be useful to know – “
“Fine,” Crowley said with a sigh. “I’ll help with your experiments if it makes you feel better.” He put out an arm to hold Aziraphale back. “Stand back,” he said.
In front of them on the beach, a pillar of flame appeared. Aziraphale swallowed nervously. Its unnaturally intense roar was deafening in his ears, and its light seared his retinas. He was unable to look away.
Distantly, he became aware that Crowley was nudging him. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw he was holding out a hand. With some trepidation, Aziraphale plucked a hair from his head and handed it over. His stomach clenched as he saw Crowley walk towards the flame and casually reach his hand inside. His arm was unharmed, but beyond that, Aziraphale couldn’t see.
An interminable wait, then Crowley removed his arm. He absently vanished the flame, and Aziraphale felt his tension drain away. Crowley was staring at his hand, his lips pursed.
“Well?” Aziraphale prompted.
Crowley came over to him, and held out his hand. A single strand of blond hair lay on one finger, unscathed. They both frowned at it, until a stray breeze carried it away. Crowley gave him a quizzical look.
“Well,” Aziraphale said, “I suppose…” he trailed off, unsure what any of it meant.
“What did Agnes mean, then?” Crowley wondered aloud. “Was the swap unnecessary, after all?”
“I’m not sure,” said Aziraphale. “It could have developed later, perhaps. I think I still believed Heaven was good, or that being good meant something, until…”
“Until Gabriel told you to shut your stupid mouth and die already?”
“He said what?”
“Oh,” Crowley cringed. “I guess I didn’t tell you that part.”
“At any rate,” said Aziraphale. “Now we know.” He carried on walking along the beach.
“Right,” said Crowley, falling into step beside him. “But what do we know? I mean, what are we? Not human?”
“I do not believe humans possess the ability to fly through space,” Aziraphale pointed out. “Or breathe air this thin. Or go without sleep.”
“I’ve slept a bit.”
“Nonetheless, we’re certainly supernatural, but not strictly aligned to either Heaven or Hell.”
“Oh.” Crowley suddenly stopped walking and grasped Aziraphale’s arm. He was grinning wickedly. “I was right, wasn’t I?”
“We’re on our own side. Like I said.” Crowley released his arm and carried on walking, still grinning to himself. Aziraphale absently raised a hand to the place on his arm where Crowley had touched him.
“You know, angel,” Crowley called back to him, “you really should listen to me. I think I’m challenging you for your status as the clever one.”
The rising and setting of the two stars had moved out of sync by a few hours now. According to Aziraphale’s quick calculation, that meant they’d been on Alpha Centauri for around three months. It also meant there were a few hours of darkness between the setting of one sun and the rising of the other. Crowley liked to use that time to sleep. Aziraphale liked to come out to the beach and enjoy the darkness.
The stars looked much the same from Alpha Centauri as they did from Earth, with one exception: a new star in Cassiopeia altered the constellation from a “W” to a zig-zag. That was the Sun, and, around it, far too small and faint for him to see, the Earth and every human who had ever lived.
It was a bright star, being so close, but just a star. Not as bright as Sirius, which lay close to the horizon, and only one of around six thousand visible from this place with its perfect darkness. When seen like that, as one tiny invisible rock around one fairly unremarkable star, it was difficult to imagine why the affairs of humans seemed quite so important.
It was remarkable, though, to think that, on that one little rock, so insignificant that it went entirely unseen by the rest of Creation, all of human history had played out. Every war ever fought, every alliance ever forged. The humans had developed architecture and music and theatre, all on that one tiny planet, with their infinitesimally short lifespans, all because they had been granted the security of a stable planet and the ability to retain knowledge through the generations.
A part of him missed it. Missed the creativity, the music, the food. The way they had taken something as necessary as sustenance and turned it into something so enjoyable; it was so very human. He might not need to eat, strictly speaking, but he could murder a curry right now.
Orion moved higher in the sky, bright and distinctive enough that it was familiar to him even from modern-day London. But, in London, he would not have been able to make out the pink smudge of a nebula just below the belt. One of the ones Crowley had built? He wondered what planets lay that way, orbiting the new stars forming in the nursery of the nebula, and if there was any other species out there nearly as interesting as the humans.
The horizon turned a dusky orange as sunrise approached. Aziraphale watched as, one by one, the stars of Cassiopeia twinkled out, overwhelmed by the coming dawn, until only the Sun remained. Then that, too, was gone, and the first glint of sunrise appeared over the horizon. He stayed and watched as the sky turned from orange to blue and the warmth of the sun touched his skin. The shadows grew gradually shorter as the day stretched out, until the sun hung high in the sky.
Aziraphale stretched out his wings, enjoying the warmth on his feathers. Before long, he began to crave the entirely different warmth of Crowley’s proximity, and he made his way back down the cliff side towards the beach.
Crowley wasn’t at the house. Aziraphale checked the deck and the bedroom, but the house was empty. He closed his eyes and focused on trying to sense him. He was close, he could feel that. And content. Guided by instinct, he walked along the beach to where the sheer cliff face loomed over the sand.
There was a large grey boulder at the bottom of the cliff, part of an old rock fall. Draped across the top was a large black and red snake.
Aziraphale hung back for a moment and watched him. He hadn’t seen Crowley’s snake form in six thousand years, and he’d been a little preoccupied back then. All that worrying about the first humans being ejected from Eden; somehow, he had never had time to notice the way Crowley’s scales shimmered in the sunlight. He hadn’t even realised Crowley still occasionally adopted this form.
He was staring again, he knew, but there was no one around to judge. Tentatively, he made his way over to the rock, round to the far side, to keep his shadow out of the way of the basking snake. He perched on the edge of the rock. The snake’s head lifted, watched him, then settled back down on the rock. His tongue flickered, scenting the air.
Up close, the black scales glinted with hints of blue and purple where the light hit them. They looked so smooth, like glass. Aziraphale tentatively reached out a hand and gently ran his fingers over the scales. They were indeed smooth, and warm from the sun. Aziraphale smiled to himself and idly ran his hand up to scratch Crowley’s head, which elicited a long hiss. In a real snake, that might have been a warning, but Crowley was arching into the touch like a cat, and, when Aziraphale withdrew his hand, Crowley followed him, slithering into his lap and coming to rest with his head on his knee.
They sat together like that for some time, Aziraphale tracing the patterns of Crowley’s scales from his head and down his back, as he stared out to the vast ocean. The sound of waves lapping against the shore was technically identical to that on Earth, but it seemed hollow without the accompaniment of birds or the laughter of humans swimming or surfing among the waves.
He idly rubbed the scales between Crowley’s eyes. The eye he could see was fixed on him. He could see Crowley’s usual form in that eye, though this one was tinged with red around the outer edges. The look was the same, though, as the one Crowley gave him whenever they were sitting in the back of the bookshop and Aziraphale was trying to work himself up to saying something.
Aziraphale looked back out to the ocean, but kept up the motion of his fingers against Crowley’s head. He took a deep breath of the ocean air. “I think I want to return to Earth,” he said at last.
Crowley went very still. Aziraphale darted a glance down to the head on his knee. Crowley was still watching him intently. Aziraphale wondered if snakes had ears. Regardless, he presumed Crowley could hear him in this form, so he ploughed on, “Not right away. When you’re ready. But I do want to go back.”
He felt Crowley’s tail slip around his back and curl around his waist. With his free hand, he ran his fingers over the scales of Crowley’s tail. The tail slipped around his wrist and began to curl around his arm.
“Really, Crowley,” Aziraphale muttered, but he didn’t make any move to untangle himself. It felt strange, but pleasant, like an embrace. That pleasant energy Crowley radiated seemed to permeate his skin, little tendrils of warmth that suffused his body.
He understood now that it was love, that feeling he sensed from Crowley, and he probably didn’t exude it all the time at all, just whenever Aziraphale was around.
“I’m afraid you’re right, my dear,” Aziraphale sighed. “For someone so clever, I really am quite stupid.”
Crowley lifted his head, just a little, from Aziraphale’s knee, and tilted it in question. Aziraphale traced the scales around and beneath his jaw and rubbed gently at his throat. “But you knew, of course. That’s why we’re here, after all.”
He could feel Crowley undulating against his spine. It felt good, like he imagined it would feel to have someone rub his back and tell him everything was going to be all right.
“I’ve known for a thousand years that there was a risk of falling, of course. If Heaven had ever found out about the Arrangement, I’m sure I’d have been cast into hellfire centuries ago. I should count myself lucky it took so long, really.” He gave a weak smile.
To his disappointment, Crowley began to unravel himself. First from where he was twisted around Aziraphale’s arm, then his head slithered off his knee, and finally he retreated to an empty part of the rock. Aziraphale felt bereft. But then he saw Crowley’s form begin to shift and change, and, gradually, he morphed into the human-like figure Aziraphale knew. He craned his neck, stretched his huge black wings out behind him, and turned to face Aziraphale.
“Easier to talk like this,” Crowley explained.
“Hmm,” Aziraphale agreed, trying not to show that he was disappointed to lose the contact.
Crowley took a deep breath and stretched his jaw. “You didn’t Fall, you know. You would know, if you had. Trust me.”
“Didn’t I?” Aziraphale said dryly. “I worked with a demon to thwart the workings of Heaven and was cast out.”
“Well, Heaven’s become a bureaucratic mess that’s completely lost touch with the world. They don’t deserve you.”
“Who does, then? Hell?”
“No one really,” Crowley said. He met Aziraphale’s eyes. “Reckon I’m the best you’ve got, though.”
The urge to look away, to laugh or make a joke, was overwhelming, but Aziraphale forced himself to hold Crowley’s gaze and say, “I know. Likewise.”
A genuine smile spread over Crowley’s face.
Aziraphale took a deep breath and continued, “You really have been very patient with me. I know that I owe you an apology. Several, really. I should have asked Gabriel to leave, not you.”
“Yeah,” Crowley agreed. “Or let me smite him.”
Aziraphale smiled. “Or that. At any rate, even after I did that, you were still kind.”
Crowley snorted in disbelief. “I wasn’t being kind. I was angry, you know. Livid. Stormed back to the flat, ready to fly off here by myself and never speak to you again.” He began picking at imaginary lint on his knee. “Called you all sorts of unpleasant names. Set fire to the Palladium. Even came up with a plan to fill every theatre in London with a jukebox musical and get you house seats for opening night.”
“And I would have deserved it.”
“I was going to bring back that Spice Girls musical.”
Aziraphale grimaced. “No one deserves that.”
A wry smile curved at the edge of Crowley’s mouth. “Then your books appeared. Mountains of books, everywhere I looked. One pile squished one of my favourite plants.”
Aziraphale winced. “Sorry.”
“Ah, well, I did think about burning them all, of course.”
“Of course,” Aziraphale agreed, knowing that wasn’t true.
“But then you showed up and you were so upset, and… well, it’s difficult to be angry with you when you’re like that.”
Crowley looked out towards the sea, carefully avoiding looking at Aziraphale. They sat in silence for a moment.
“Do you often revert to being a snake?” Aziraphale asked, after a while.
Crowley looked momentarily confused at the change of subject. “Ah, sometimes. Yeah. Not usually when anyone else is around, but…” he trailed off, and Aziraphale smiled.
“I don’t mind,” Aziraphale said. He felt a flush creep across his cheeks. “Quite like it, actually.”
“Yeah?” Yellow eyes met his, searching. Aziraphale held his gaze, trying desperately to will down the blush that was now creeping down his neck.
Apparently satisfied that he was telling the truth, Crowley began to morph again, and Aziraphale found himself wrapped tightly in smoothly scaled coils. Crowley’s head was on his shoulder this time, tongue flickering against the crook of his neck, and he shivered.
It became something they did, when they wanted quiet time together. Aziraphale would be reading in his chair on the deck, or on the sofa, and the snake would creep up his leg and wind its way around him. Sometimes, Crowley would sleep like that, head buried in Aziraphale’s neck or against his chest. Occasionally, Aziraphale would even fall asleep too, though he slept only lightly.
He discovered that he could dream.
It was frightening, the first time it happened. The dream was pleasant enough; he had been back in the bookshop, drinking wine, but, instead of being on the other side of the room, Crowley had been draped over him, laughing and smiling, with their limbs entangled. As Aziraphale wasn’t accustomed to dreaming, when he woke to find himself in an entirely different place, wrapped in a snake, he was so unnerved he jumped up from the sofa, frightening Crowley so much he changed forms and they collapsed in a tangled heap on the floor.
“Wha’ happened?” Crowley slurred as he tried to extricate himself.
“Sorry, my dear,” Aziraphale mumbled, embarrassed. He scrambled up and helped Crowley off the floor. “I fell asleep. Not used to it, gave myself a bit of a start.”
Crowley’s eyes went wide. “You sleep now?”
Crowley chuckled. “’S not meant to make you jump.”
“If you must know, I had a dream.”
“Scary one?” Crowley inclined his head. “Get bitten by a snake?”
“Not scary at all.” Aziraphale found himself unable to meet Crowley’s gaze. “Just… I didn’t know they were so vivid.” He could almost picture it still, the scene of them casually entwined on the bookshop sofa, but it felt as though he was grasping at it through fog, and gradually, it evaporated beyond recall.
“Well?” Crowley prompted. “What was it about?”
Aziraphale gazed off into the distance, frantically combing through his thoughts for an image that had entirely dissolved. “I don’t remember.”
Crowley shrugged and turned towards the kitchenette. “Tea?” he called over his shoulder.
“Yes. Please.” Aziraphale stared at his back, still clutching at the remnants of a faded vision.
He couldn’t remember the image, but he could recall the feeling: a deep sense of contentment, and a searing desire for touch.
He took to sleeping regularly. Not every day, but whenever the opportunity to rest entwined with a snake presented itself. In sleep, he could chase that feeling in which the hunger he couldn’t quite define was sated. When he awoke, it was always with a profound, but not at all unpleasant, ache.
Before long, they stopped pretending that they fell asleep together only by accident. Aziraphale moved into the bedroom, even miracled himself pyjamas (brushed cotton, tartan), and would climb under the duvet and sigh contentedly as the serpent wrapped itself around him.
The two suns moved closer together, chasing each other across the sky each day before they plunged over the horizon, one after the other, and left darkness in their wake. They must have been here almost half a year, though Aziraphale wasn’t keeping count well enough to know how long a year was here. A little longer than an Earth year, he estimated, but by no more than a few months.
In fact, it was seven months and six days after their arrival – counted in Earth time – that Aziraphale woke in darkness to find himself entangled not with a snake, but with Crowley’s human-shaped form.
His first reaction, on waking to the unfamiliar sensation, was to tense. He relaxed almost immediately, but the momentary reflexive tension was enough to wake Crowley, who blinked blearily. He nuzzled into Aziraphale’s neck, perhaps instinctively, then went still.
“’m sorry,” came a mumble against his shoulder. “Must have de-snaked in my sleep.”
Feeling Crowley start to pull away, Aziraphale slipped his arms around him and held him close. “It’s all right,” he murmured around a yawn.
Aziraphale hummed assurance into his hair and took a deep breath. Crowley’s hair smelled of cinnamon; it made him think of winter in London and roasted chestnuts and open fires. He felt Crowley relax against him, and they both drifted back to sleep.
It was still dark when Aziraphale woke again, a nagging thought in the back of his mind that he couldn’t quite place. He was distracted from reaching for his thought by the realisation that his arms were still full of Crowley. His head was tucked into the crook of Aziraphale’s neck, one arm flung lazily across him, and their legs were tangled together as though Crowley’s had forgotten that they were not currently part of a snake. It occurred to Aziraphale that, in six thousand years, they had never actually embraced before, even in the casual way of friends. He had never realised just how well they would fit together. He held Crowley close and, without thinking, placed a gentle kiss against the top of his head.
Crowley stirred, wriggling delightfully as though wrestling himself from the hold of sleep. One eye opened just a sliver, glinting in the pre-dawn light. “Still dark,” he mumbled, pressing his face against Aziraphale’s neck and wriggling closer.
The thought that had dragged Aziraphale from his sleep surfaced once again. He ran a hand up Crowley’s arm to his shoulder and gently shook him. “Wake up, my dear,” he murmured.
Crowley made an incoherent grumbling sound against the skin of his neck.
“Come and watch the sunrise with me,” Aziraphale urged.
“Looks the same as sunset,” Crowley protested. “Just played backwards.”
“Just this once?”
Crowley shook his head peevishly and tried to burrow closer. Aziraphale sighed and, with some effort, extricated himself from the tangle of limbs and climbed out the bed. Crowley made a high-pitched whining sound and grasped plaintively at the empty air.
“We can come straight back to bed afterwards,” Aziraphale promised.
“Fine,” Crowley groused, swinging his legs dramatically over the side of the bed as he rose to stand. He stretched, causing the top of his black silk pyjamas to ride up and reveal a flash of skin. Aziraphale’s breath caught and he looked hurriedly away.
They stayed in their pyjamas, but Aziraphale insisted they wear shoes for the walk up to the cliff top. There was a chill in the pre-dawn air, but it was not unpleasant, and a very light breeze rustling through the trees inland. The sea was just a faint murmur, far beneath them. By the time they reached the peninsula, the sky was light and the eastern horizon was a deep pink.
“If I counted right,” said Aziraphale, “the second sun should be directly behind the first one, so it will look like there’s just one sunrise.”
“So, you woke me up in the middle of the night for literally the least interesting sunrise of the year?”
“It’s special. It only happens once a year.”
“Here, maybe,” Crowley grumbled. “On Earth, it happens every bloody day.”
Aziraphale took a step closer to him and tentatively laid his head against Crowley’s shoulder. He only realised he was holding his breath when he felt Crowley’s arm around his shoulders, pulling him closer. He exhaled a shaky sigh and slipped his own arm around Crowley’s waist.
They watched in silence as a light glinted on the horizon, rapidly expanding into the disk of a sun, throwing shafts of brilliant light over the still water. The pink sky gave way to vivid blue, and the last few stars vanished from view.
As the sun’s lower rim cleared the horizon and it began its ascent into the sky, Aziraphale said, “Thank you for watching with me.”
Crowley didn’t answer, but the arm around his shoulders tightened. Aziraphale’s eyes drifted closed. Crowley had a heartbeat today, a steady rhythm that he could feel pulsing against his cheek. It was fast, like they had been running a marathon rather than standing on a cliff top. But, of course, it didn’t function like a human heart, so it meant nothing.
“It’s strange,” Aziraphale mused, “that we’ve never watched a sunrise on Earth.”
“I don’t do mornings.”
“Would you, just once?”
“On Earth? With you?” Crowley gave a mirthless laugh. “I don’t know, angel. We might be seen. Fraternising.”
“Oh, would you let that go,” Aziraphale said. “You know I didn’t mean it like that. And things are different now.”
“How different are they, exactly?” Crowley withdrew his arm and took a step away, so that they were facing each other. “I’m still a demon, you know.”
“No, you’re not.”
Crowley folded his arms across his chest. “I am. Whether or not holy water can do anything to me. Everything that made me Fall is still true. I think the Great Plan is garbage. Heaven is full of uptight arseholes. I really can’t stand The Sound of Music. And I do actually find disrupting the Tube at rush hour highly amusing. And if you can’t accept all that – “
“Accept it?” Aziraphale interrupted, his voice raised more than he had intended. “I don’t need to accept anything, because I agree with you. About everything. Well,” he hesitated, lowering his voice a little, “not the public transportation issue, I might still have to thwart that sometimes, but the important things.”
Crowley cocked an eyebrow. “You agree that Gabriel needs to go fuck himself?”
“Yes,” Aziraphale insisted. “Very much so. And the next time I see him, I will tell him so. I told you I was sorry for how I handled that. I panicked. He threatened you.”
“You’ll tell Gabriel to go fuck himself?” Crowley looked unconvinced. “To his face?”
“Well, perhaps not in so many words…” At the look on Crowley’s face, he amended, “All right, yes, in so many words. Would that help?”
Crowley looked down, then took a small step towards him, before looking up to face him again. “Would it help with what?”
“You tell me. Are you angry with me for not choosing you sooner? For not abandoning Armageddon to run away here?”
Crowley sighed and rubbed his hand over his eyes. “I’m not angry with you, angel. I just don’t think you’re sure. And you need to be really sure if we’re going to… if we go back to Earth.”
“I don’t know why you would think that,” Aziraphale said, defiantly. “Why would I run away to a deserted planet with you if I wasn’t sure?”
“Because you had nowhere else to go.”
“You think this was a last resort?”
Crowley threw up his hands. “Kind of, yes.”
Through the fog of frustration in his head, a small part of Aziraphale had to concede that was true. Or it had been true. He could see now that it was the best thing he could have done, of course, but how could he have known that before? He would never have imagined that living with Crowley was, in fact, incredibly easy, and that, if he could help it, he never wanted to stop doing it.
“I don’t take leaps as easily as you do,” said Aziraphale, fretfully.
Deflated, Aziraphale took a few steadying breaths, then said, “Why are you here, then?”
Crowley took a half step closer to him and said, quietly, “Because you’re here.”
“Oh.” They stood in silence for a moment, before Aziraphale said, quietly, “I’ve never really thought of you as a demon, you know. Some of the first words you ever said to me were kind.” He held up a hand to forestall Crowley’s inevitable protest. “And I don’t entirely understand why you Fell, and I didn’t, when I broke more rules than you ever did. It’s…”
“Are you going to say ‘ineffable’”?
“Well, it is.”
Deciding it was time to take a small leap, Aziraphale dared to take a step closer and hesitantly laid his forehead against Crowley’s shoulder. Crowley’s arms came around him, and he heaved a sigh of relief as he slipped his own hands around Crowley’s waist and held him tight.
Crowley idly traced his fingers over Aziraphale’s back. “You never did this before your water experiment,” he said quietly.
“Technically true,” Aziraphale conceded. “I would have, though. If I thought you’d let me.”
“I’ve wanted to. For a long time.”
Crowley went very still. Then he gathered Aziraphale even closer, and he heard the faint, reverent whisper of “Angel” against his hair. The love pouring from Crowley was so intense that Aziraphale had to hold on to him to stay upright. Any more than this and he would surely discorporate. He held on tightly until the feeling subsided enough for him to regain his footing. Reluctantly, Aziraphale pulled away and withdrew his arm from around Crowley’s waist, but, as he moved to walk away, he clasped Crowley’s hand and they walked hand in hand back down the cliff to the beach.
Despite Crowley’s earlier protestations at being roused from slumber, he didn’t go back to bed. They miracled themselves dressed and ready, and, while Aziraphale was standing outside on the deck deciding what to do with his day, Crowley appeared with two steaming mugs of tea. Aziraphale accepted a mug with a shy smile, but Crowley avoided meeting his eyes and seemed uncharacteristically subdued as they took their chairs.
Aziraphale idly wondered if he could miracle the two chairs into a single long sofa, but it would be equivalent to shouting how much he craved the physical contact. So, instead, he pretended not to notice the demon’s withdrawn mood and talked idly about his plans for the day, involving a new castle design that maximised the potential for turrets. Crowley nodded in the right places, but said nothing, even when Aziraphale deliberately goaded him by musing about the best way to build a dungeon cell out of sand.
Eventually, Aziraphale had to ask, “Is everything all right?”
Crowley gave a noncommittal hum. “Just tired. Got woken up early.”
Aziraphale gave him an apologetic smile. “You can go back to bed.”
Crowley shook his head, then rose to his feet and brought out his wings to stretch. “Might nap on the beach for a bit, if you’re building this turrety monstrosity.”
Aziraphale hid his smile in his last sip of tea.
Aziraphale built, with a large snake coiled in the sand beside him. It was ostensibly asleep in the sun, but, occasionally, one yellow eye would open and watch his progress.
The single sun was starting to arc westwards by the time Aziraphale sat back on his heels to admire his finished structure. The snake slithered over to his side and morphed into the man-shaped Crowley, who sat beside him in a tangle of knees and elbows, worrying his lower lip between his teeth as he looked over the finished construction.
“You don’t like it?” Aziraphale prompted.
“Nuh, it’s not that,” Crowley frowned. “It’s just… not very turrety, is it? Downright restrained on the turret front, in fact. Not a single turret in sight.”
“Well,” Aziraphale sat back with his arms around his knees. “It’s not so much a castle, this one. More of a cottage, really.”
“Hmm, I see that.”
“The roof is thatched.”
“The upstairs is mostly book storage, of course.”
“Of course,” Crowley nodded.
“The garden can be bigger, if you like.”
“Nah. Can’t be giving those plants ideas above their station.”
Aziraphale smiled and tucked his chin against his knees. As silence settled between them, he reached for Crowley’s hand. He felt a thrill chase down his spine as Crowley shifted closer to him on the sand, until their sides were pressed together.
The last glimmer of sunlight disappeared beneath the horizon, giving way to the dull glow of twilight. Still looking straight ahead at his cottage, Aziraphale confessed, “I don’t think I know how to do this.”
It took so long for Crowley to respond that Aziraphale wondered if he’d fallen asleep again. Eventually he said, “Looks like you do. This would win any sandcastle contest on Earth. Do they have sandcastle contests? Must do. They have contests for everything these days.”
“You know I’m not talking about sandcastling. Sandcottaging.”
Crowley sighed. “What are you talking about, then?”
Aziraphale swallowed nervously. That was the thing, wasn’t it? He didn’t entirely know what he was trying to do. In the end he settled for, “I know I’ve done everything wrong.”
“Worked out all right,” said Crowley with a shrug.
“Well,” Crowley scrunched up his face, “we can get you another bookshop. One’ll crop up - they go out of business all the time these days.”
“Oh, yes,” Aziraphale agreed. In fact, he’d entirely forgotten about the bookshop; he’d been thinking of that moment outside the Ritz again.
“You know what would help scare off customers?” Crowley continued. “A bookshop snake.”
Aziraphale reluctantly wrenched his train of thought back to his hypothetical new bookshop. “Would that scare people off?” he mused. “They might see it as an attraction. It is Soho, after all.”
“A vicious bookshop snake,” Crowley clarified.
“Vicious, really?” said Aziraphale, unconvinced.
Crowley scowled at him, and changed into his snake form. He lifted his head to be at eye level with Aziraphale, bared long fangs and hissed menacingly.
Aziraphale smiled and tickled him under the chin.
He wasn’t sure it was possible for snakes to look affronted, but, somehow, Crowley managed it. He morphed back into his human form and scowled.
“You were saying?” said Aziraphale, lightly.
“Well, I don’t need to scare you,” Crowley grumbled.
“I’m sorry,” said Aziraphale. “You would make a very threatening guard snake. Truly terrifying.”
“I could lie behind the books and jump out at people when they pull one off the shelf. Or jump out from behind the counter when they go to pay. Or – or! - I could hide on the top shelves and jump down on people.”
“That’s a lot of jumping for a snake that spends most of his time sleeping.”
“I’ll jump out at you one of these days,” Crowley grumbled under his breath.
Aziraphale chuckled and leaned his head against Crowley’s shoulder, and sighed as he felt Crowley’s arm reach around him.
As the light faded, Crowley miracled a bonfire beside them and handed Aziraphale a hot cocoa. He held it between his hands, enjoying the warmth as he watched the light from the fire dance over the cottage. It was all too easy to imagine that light coming from inside, from an open fire, in front of it, two figures entwined on a large comfortable sofa, one reading and the other asleep in his arms.
So much for his attempt to show Crowley the life he wanted them to have together; it seemed all Crowley wanted was for things to go back to the way they had been before. Yet here he was, holding him beside a bonfire. It was all terribly confusing.
“We don’t have to go back to Earth,” he offered against Crowley’s shoulder.
“Yeah, we do. You think I haven’t noticed you haven’t eaten in months?”
“Miracled food doesn’t taste the same,” Aziraphale sighed.
“No cars out here, either. Brilliant inventions, cars.”
“Hmm. Maybe we could nudge them towards better renewable energy sources.”
Crowley made a strangled sound. “That sounds like a you thing, angel.”
“You want the humans to still be around a few centuries from now, don’t you?”
“I suppose,” Crowley sighed. “Fine, I’ll help with renewable energy. But I draw the line at efficient public transport. That’s all you.”
“I tried that with Crossrail,” Aziraphale said, tersely. “You had to get in there and mess it all up.”
“Ah, that was glorious.”
“You do realise it’s not actually your job to frustrate my plans any more, don’t you?”
“Might not be my job,” said Crowley, “but can’t I do it for fun?”
“Yes, fine,” Aziraphale sighed. “But you might try the occasional miracle. I know you secretly enjoyed covering them for me.”
“No more than you enjoyed tempting.”
“True,” Aziraphale agreed. He took a sip of cocoa and leaned his head back against Crowley’s shoulder, privately thinking that it was being tempted that was the best feeling of all.
Aziraphale was not a forest person. This was much further into the forest than Crowley had taken him before. It was dark and damp and he was learning that it wasn’t quite true that there was no animal life on this planet, because he could definitely feel insects biting his neck and ankles.
Crowley was excited about this walk, though. So much so that he was holding Aziraphale’s hand and swinging it wildly while he talked about the fascinating resilience of plant life. The plants here could hibernate, he had discovered, shutting down when the planet flew too far from one of its suns, and then springing back to life when the warmth and daylight returned.
It was perfectly fascinating, and Crowley could just as easily have told him all about it while tucked up on the sofa under a blanket instead of dragging him out here on this hike.
“How much further?” Aziraphale asked in a tone that was definitely not a whine. “I’m being bitten to pieces here.”
“Nonsense, there aren’t any insects.”
“There are,” Aziraphale insisted. “Bitey ones.”
Crowley made a frustrated sound and tugged on his hand. “The sooner we get there, the sooner we can go home, all right?”
Aziraphale tried to pick up the pace, but kept stumbling on twisted undergrowth and fallen branches.
At last, they came to a halt at a tree, and Crowley stared at it triumphantly. Aziraphale gave him a questioning look. “We came here to see a tree?”
“Look at it,” Crowley said with awe in his voice, gesturing upwards.
Aziraphale looked up. It was an especially tall tree, larger than the ones around it. He made what he hoped was an impressed sound.
“Up,” said Crowley.
Crowley gestured towards the top of the tree. “What I want to show you. It’s up there.”
Aziraphale stared at the tree, then at Crowley. “You want me to climb? That?”
Crowley shot him an exasperated look and quietly brought out his wings.
“Ah,” said Aziraphale, catching on. “I see.”
They flew to the top, where a wooden structure was balanced precariously in the canopy. Aziraphale kept his wings out as he landed, half expecting it to give way, but it held miraculously firm. He felt something strange as his feet settled on the platform; flashes of the love that had gone into building it. He turned curiously to Crowley. “So this is where you’ve been going when you go out on your own?”
“Yeah, mostly,” said Crowley.
“How many trees did you have to kill to build this?”
“Only the misbehaving ones. Stop looking down.”
Aziraphale wrenched his gaze away from the steep drop below them. Crowley was holding out a hand towards him, yellow eyes wide and questioning. Aziraphale took his hand and moved closer to him. Crowley was wearing a faint smile, and Aziraphale noticed he’d allowed his hair to grow a little longer; it was just starting to cover his ears.
“Look at the view, angel, not at me.”
Oh. He’d been staring again. Flustered, he turned away, and what he saw made him stagger and clutch at Crowley’s hand to steady himself.
The view was spectacular. They were above most of the tree canopy, the forest a carpet of green beneath them that stretched as far as he could see on either side. Ahead, the forest gave way to the ocean, and behind them rose snow-capped mountains.
“It’s wonderful,” he sighed.
Crowley shrugged. “I know you like watching sunsets. And backwards-sunsets. Not like there’s much else to watch here, so. Another place to watch from. If you want.”
“How long is it until sunset?” Aziraphale mused, seeking out the suns. They’d moved apart a little now but were close together, just over Crowley’s shoulder.
Crowley followed his gaze. “First one should be down in an hour. Second one maybe twenty minutes later? Here,” he led Aziraphale back from the edge, where a comfortable sofa had just appeared. There was a table beside it, with a steaming mug of cocoa and a well-worn copy of Regency Buck.
Aziraphale just stared at the scene, blinking. His throat felt constricted.
“Uh, I can get a different book, if you like,” Crowley suggested, his voice laden with uncertainty.
Aziraphale shook his head, not trusting himself to speak, and took a seat at one end of the sofa. It was strangely similar to the one back in his bookshop – his old bookshop – that Crowley had draped himself over countless times. Never while Aziraphale was sharing it, though. He looked expectantly up at Crowley, waiting for him to join him, but Crowley held back, biting his lip. Then he was transforming, becoming longer and thinner and scalier, and then a black and red serpent was climbing up Aziraphale’s leg and winding its way around him. Aziraphale smiled wistfully. He had been hoping for the other form, but this one was delightful, too. He found Crowley’s head where it lay nestled against his shoulder and scratched him gently between his eyes. “Thank you,” he whispered.
The only answer was a low hiss, and the flicker of a forked tongue against his earlobe.
Aziraphale had perfected the art of reading while wrapped in snake. Crowley always left his hands free, though, in his more attention-seeking moods, he would nudge his hand with his head, demanding to be touched any time a page was not actively being turned. He was good at creating a perfectly shaped bookrest in Aziraphale’s lap, and using the tip of his tail to hold pages open. It was perfect, really. Certainly no need to wish he was awkwardly trying to read over the top of a human-shaped head in his lap.
Aziraphale was so absorbed in his book that the first sun was halfway through setting by the time he noticed it. He put the book down and gave Crowley a pat on the head to wake him. Crowley looked up and adjusted his position for a better view, but he stayed in his snake form while the first sun vanished from view. A light pink glow filled the western horizon, still mostly drowned out by the light of the second sun that was chasing down the first.
In between sunsets, Crowley unravelled himself and transformed to sit, human-shaped, beside him. Aziraphale tentatively moved towards him, and was quietly thrilled when Crowley shifted so that Aziraphale could lie back against his chest.
The second sunset was always the more spectacular. As the sole source of light, it plunged the horizon into vivid shades of pink and orange as the sun fell from view. The way the light transformed the tree canopy was captivating, painting it with different hues as the sky transformed, and beyond the edge of the forest the sea glimmered.
Aziraphale barely saw any of it, so captivated by the warmth of Crowley’s body against his back, the arms that held him in place and the fingers absently tracing out demonic symbols on the back of his hands. They lay in comfortable silence for a while, and Aziraphale watched a bright gibbous moon high above them drift towards the west.
“We should go,” Aziraphale said reluctantly, as the light faded. “As it is, we’ll already be walking through the forest in the dark.”
“We can fly, angel.”
“Oh.” Aziraphale looked towards the sea, where their house must be. It was probably no more than a few minutes by air. “So we can. Why didn’t we fly here?”
“Because I knew you’d hate the walk. Still a demon, remember.”
“Hmm,” Aziraphale considered that. “I have to say, the comfortable sofa and the cocoa really add to the whole evil vibe.” Not to mention the cuddly demon, he chose not to add.
“I’ll have you know lots of people would consider being trapped in a tree with a vicious snake very terrifying.”
“Oh yes, I’m terrified.” Aziraphale’s tone was sarcastic, but he realised belatedly that he actually was. Fear was prickling at his skin like the insects he was certain he hadn’t imagined, and he had to keep reminding his heart that it didn’t need to beat that fast, or, indeed, at all. Surrounded by the love that was cascading from Crowley, and imbued in the place he had built for them, it was no use pretending he couldn’t feel it. He wondered if Crowley could feel it too.
He’d read in a book once that the only time someone can be brave is when they’re afraid. “Crowley,” he said softly, not daring to move or breathe, lest it shatter his nerve. “May I ask you something?”
He felt Crowley hum in agreement against his hair as much as he heard it. He took a moment longer to try to subdue his nerves, but, when he tried to take a breath, it was shaky. He couldn’t see Crowley’s face, but he closed his eyes anyway before venturing, “Have you ever kissed anyone?”
He wasn’t sure what Crowley had been expecting, but it was evidently not that. He suddenly froze, his fingers stilling where they had been tracing out patterns on Aziraphale’s arm. “Uh…” he seemed to be searching for an answer. “Sure. Some. Not many. Very few really. Part of the job, you know. Tempting.” He trailed off, then paused. “You?”
Aziraphale hesitated. Flashes of nineteenth century gentlemen’s clubs flitted through his mind. “I thought I should try it out,” he said. “See why the humans enjoy it so much.”
Crowley chuckled. “Like crêpes.”
“And?” Crowley prompted.
“Well,” Aziraphale gave a wry smile, “I preferred the crêpes.”
“Oh.” Crowley’s voice was flat.
“The thing is,” Aziraphale explained hurriedly, “they were just…That is to say, I wasn’t – “ he gave an exasperated sigh, wracking his brain for what he wanted to say. He sat up, turning just enough to face Crowley, only just visible in the moonlight. Throwing caution to the wind, he said, “To Hell with it – or to Somewhere – what I’m trying to say is that I would very much like to kiss you. That is, if you want to. Is that… is that something you’ve ever considered?”
In the faint glow of moonlight, he could see that Crowley’s brow was furrowed. Aziraphale’s heart sank.
After an agonisingly long pause, Crowley said, “Have I considered it? Only every day for the last six thousand years.”
“Oh.” Aziraphale felt suddenly lightheaded and as though he had quite forgotten how to move. “Well then.”
“I didn’t think you wanted…”
“Oh, I do,” said Aziraphale. “Very much.”
“Are you going to?” Crowley prompted.
“I – I think so, yes,” Aziraphale said, weakly. It took a few moments more for his muscles to respond to his brain’s frantic command, but then he leaned over and pressed his lips against Crowley’s.
It wasn’t anything like his experimentation in the gentlemen’s club. There was fire where their lips met, and his veins lit up and engulfed him with the need to press himself closer. He grasped Crowley’s arms to steady himself, whimpering as the slow slide of yielding lips filled his head with static.
When at last he pulled away, he realised he was straddling Crowley. He wasn’t even aware of having moved.
Crowley’s arms were around his waist, holding him in place. His breathing was shallow. He looked up, his serpentine eyes glinting in the moonlight. “Are you sure?” he breathed.
“Very.” Aziraphale leaned back in and brushed their lips together gently. He ran his tongue over Crowley’s lower lip and a shiver chased over his skin. He felt Crowley’s fists clench in the back of his waistcoat before his lips parted and Aziraphale unconsciously bucked his hips as he was welcomed into the heat of Crowley’s mouth. He ran his fingers through Crowley’s hair, twisting it around his fingers as he deepened their kiss.
Crowley’s tongue was deft against his; it flickered in a way that lit sparks in his core and made him want to beg to feel that tongue everywhere. Crowley’s hands moved to his hips, pulling him in closer and Aziraphale broke off the kiss with a gasp.
“Too much?” Crowley panted, releasing his hold.
“No,” Aziraphale leaned in again, trailing frantic kisses along Crowley’s jaw. “Please don’t stop.”
Crowley slid hands into his hair and brought their mouths back together, then sank back against the sofa cushions with a groan. Aziraphale followed him down, chasing the kiss. They lay stretched out together, legs entwined, bodies pressed together from hip to sternum. Aziraphale’s hands were everywhere: first, tangled in Crowley’s hair, then running down his arms, then grasping at his hips to pull him closer. He pressed a kiss against the corner of Crowley’s mouth and worked down his throat, lips and tongue pressing against his skin. Crowley arched up into him, gasping, “Ah, angel…”
Aziraphale tugged at Crowley’s shirt, pulling it free from his jeans to slide his hand inside, palm flat against his heated skin.
Crowley made an incoherent sound and grasped his shoulders. “Angel… aaaaah I can’t believe I’m saying this, but you need to slow down.”
Aziraphale paused in the act of licking Crowley’s collarbone and pulled away. “You want to stop?”
“Not stop, no, just…” Crowley brought his hand up to trace the side of Aziraphale’s face, then leaned up to brush their lips together gently. “If you keep this up,” he whispered against his mouth, “I am going to go far too fast for you.”
Aziraphale returned the kiss softly and they sank back into the sofa cushions, all silky slides of supple lips between whispered endearments and tender caresses of roaming hands. The fire that had been roaring through Aziraphale banked into glowing embers that still sent occasional sparks along his veins wherever they touched.
At one point, they switched places, so that Aziraphale was underneath, with Crowley plastered over him and kissing him deeply and lazily with long, languid strokes of a wicked tongue. Aziraphale’s arms were around his waist, holding him close.
The second moon was rising now, just a few days past full, casting a soft, pale glow over the forest. The light of the dual moons caught the outline of Crowley’s hair and made his skin shimmer. It made him look ethereal, like the angel he had been once. As they held themselves just a breath apart, Aziraphale traced fingers over his cheekbones and whispered, “You are quite astonishingly beautiful.”
Crowley made a grumbling sound of protest and buried his face against his shoulder. Aziraphale could only just made out the mumbled, “That’s you, angel, you’re – “ he pressed a kiss against Aziraphale’s neck. “You’re like the sun.” He licked a trail up Aziraphale’s throat and kissed under his jaw. “You’re Goddamn radiant.” He ran kisses over towards his ear. “And you can burn.” Aziraphale gasped, and grabbed fistfuls of Crowley’s shirt as teeth scraped lightly over his earlobe.
This was the most decadent Aziraphale had ever felt, far more so than in the finest restaurants. He idly wondered if this wasn’t exactly what they had been made for; with no need to sleep or eat or even breathe, was there any reason to ever move from this spot?
Crowley’s wicked tongue flickered against his ear. “Still want to go back to Earth?” he whispered.
“Hmm,” Aziraphale turned his head to recapture Crowley’s lips for a deep slow kiss. Then he pulled away just enough to say, “Actually, I was just wondering if there was any reason to move from this spot ever again.”
“None I can think of,” said Crowley, and he leaned down to begin a thorough exploration of Aziraphale’s throat.
Aziraphale threw his head back with a whimper and carded fingers through Crowley’s hair. “Crowley…” he sighed. He tugged lightly on Crowley’s hair, pulling him up so that he could see his face. In the dim light, he could see the question in his eyes.
“Do you want me to stop?”
Aziraphale shook his head. “On the contrary,” he said breathlessly, “I would – that is, if you’re willing, I would be most obliged if you would…” he screwed his eyes shut. There was a rushing sound in his ears and his head was swimming. He took a deep, shuddering breath.
“Anything, angel,” Crowley murmured, placing a gentle kiss against his forehead.
Aziraphale ran a thumb over Crowley’s cheekbone and tucked his hair behind his ear. He looked directly into Crowley’s eyes as he said, “Would you please make love to me?”
Crowley went very still, then he collapsed against Aziraphale’s chest with a strangled cry. Aziraphale hesitantly ran a hand down his spine and began, “Only if you – “
He was cut off by a sudden barrage of kisses, as Crowley gasped, “Yes, yes, yes,” against his mouth.
Aziraphale kissed him back, more frantic now, as desire coiled tightly within him. Crowley positioned his hands between them and worked frenziedly at the buttons of Aziraphale’s waistcoat. Aziraphale sat up enough to shrug it off over his shoulders, then, while he had Crowley kneeling up over him, he worked his hands under Crowley’s shirt and tugged it upwards. They broke off the kiss to pull the shirt over Crowley’s head. Crowley knelt back, his eyes wide.
“Are you sure this isn’t too fast?” Crowley asked.
Aziraphale ran his hand over the exposed skin of Crowley’s chest, over his stomach and around his waist. “It’s perfect,” he said. Hands back up on Crowley’s shoulders, he pulled himself up enough to place a chaste kiss against his lips. “I promise you, I have wanted this for a long time.”
A wistful smile passed across Crowley’s face. “Well,” he said, “it’s about time.”
Their kiss was deep and slow as Crowley tugged at his bow tie and cast it aside. Then he worked along Aziraphale’s jaw and down his throat as he flicked open the buttons of his shirt. With each button he undid, he flickered his tongue against the skin there, following up with the firm press of lips. Heat gathered low in Aziraphale’s belly and he pressed his hips upwards, seeking pressure against the growing hardness there. All of a sudden, the friction was gone as Crowley rose to a kneel, but then he guided Aziraphale up towards him and kissed him as he worked his shirt off.
He was then gently being guided back down, Crowley surging over him, sprinkling kisses over every inch of exposed skin, flicking his tongue over sensitised nipples and nuzzling his belly with muffled words of reverence.
Aziraphale was babbling incoherently, he knew, a rambling mixture of words of encouragement and gasps of Crowley’s name, interspersed with choked cries. He felt the palm of Crowley’s hand press against the bulge in his trousers and he threw his head back with a whimper, pressing his hips upwards against the contact.
“Angel,” Crowley murmured against his skin, his voice thick with adoration. He kneaded Aziraphale through the fabric of his trousers, and Aziraphale let out a guttural groan.
“Please,” he whispered. He glanced down and saw Crowley looking up at him. There was a wicked grin on his face. Maintaining eye contact, he lowered himself down and placed a firm kiss against his erection. Aziraphale bucked his hips helplessly and closed his eyes, biting his lip to hold back a whimper.
Then, at last, Crowley’s hands moved to the buttons of his trousers, opened them, and tugged them down. Aziraphale let out a moan of relief as his cock sprang free, constrained now only by the light cotton of his underwear. He lay back, dazed, and belatedly realised Crowley was tapping on his hips. He lifted them clumsily so that Crowley could pull his trousers off, then shivered as a cool breeze blew over his heated skin. Crowley had shifted down to rid him of his shoes and socks and finally discard his trousers, and then he was pressing feather-light kisses against Aziraphale’s feet, his ankles, up his legs, and behind his knees. Aziraphale wantonly spread his legs, a shudder coursing through his body as Crowley kissed the sensitive skin of his inner thigh. Fingers traced out the shape of him through his underwear, gently teasing, and Aziraphale lost control; with a thought, his underwear vanished.
Crowley chuckled, and Aziraphale shivered at the breath passing over his overstimulated flesh. “Impatient, are we?”
“You have no idea.” Aziraphale said, through clenched teeth, arching into Crowley’s touch.
And without warning, Crowley took his entire length into his mouth. Aziraphale howled and threw his head back.
Oh, that tongue could do wicked things. He could feel it flicker over the head of his cock as he was engulfed in the glorious heat of Crowley’s mouth. His fingers threaded through Crowley’s hair, holding him in place, as he unrestrainedly bucked his hips. Crowley’s hands worked under his arse, lifting him, encouraging him to thrust harder.
A demanding heat began to twist low in Aziraphale’s abdomen, shooting tendrils along his nerves. He frantically gasped Crowley’s name and tugged on his hair, pulling him away.
He lay back, overwhelmed, sparks flickering in disjoined thoughts, as Crowley crawled up to hover over him. Crowley traced his lips faintly over Aziraphale’s collarbone. “Do you want to stop?” he asked.
Aziraphale shook his head. “Only for a moment,” he said, his voice shaking. “It was about to…er, end…too soon.”
“It’s all right,” said Crowley, his hand ghosting over Aziraphale’s cock. “If you want to…”
“Not yet.” Aziraphale pulled him in for a kiss, deep and messy, while he tugged awkwardly at Crowley’s belt.
Crowley ended up having to help him, and made short work of kicking off his jeans. Then Aziraphale slid his hands inside Crowley’s underwear and grasped his bare arse. “I want you,” he murmured into the kiss.
Crowley must have understood his intention, because he groaned and nodded frantically. Aziraphale pulled off his underwear and cast it haphazardly to the side. He ran his hands up and down Crowley’s thighs, over the slight curve of his arse, and up his back. He hooked a leg over Crowley’s and clumsily flipped them over, the sofa miraculously extending to give them space.
Crowley sank back into the cushions and pulled Aziraphale down to kiss him. Aziraphale lingered there a while, enjoying the sensation of Crowley’s quick tongue in his mouth. But then Crowley arched against him, and he felt the firm press of Crowley’s cock against his hip. He found it with one hand and squeezed, just hard enough to make Crowley’s entire body jerk.
Aziraphale worked his way down Crowley’s neck to his shoulder, licking beads of sweat from his collarbone while he slowly began to move his hand. A litany of blasphemy poured from Crowley’s lips and his fingers tangled in Aziraphale’s hair.
Having Crowley’s body laid out for him like a glorious buffet, Aziraphale didn’t know where to begin. He moved haphazardly, kissing across Crowley’s chest to suck gently on his nipples, then licking into his navel, then placing kisses against the jut of a hipbone. He discovered that Crowley hissed when he used his teeth, and that soft, barely perceptible touches made him writhe delightfully.
At last, he was eye level with Crowley’s cock. It strained upwards as though seeking his touch. He tentatively licked along the underside, and Crowley cried out. Encouraged, he took the head into his mouth and tried to replicate the thing Crowley had done with his tongue that had felt so good. His tongue wasn’t quite as dextrous, but it seemed to be working; Crowley was gasping and arching into him.
Keeping his mouth wrapped around Crowley, Aziraphale ran a finger backwards over his scrotum and over a sensitive patch of skin that made his hips buck helplessly, until he encountered the tight pucker of his anus. With a little miraculous lubricant, he gently pressed against the ring of muscle. With a strangled sound, Crowley bore down on him and his finger slipped inside. At the first feeling of that tight heat, Aziraphale’s arousal gathered into a knot and he had to pause and force it down. Crowley impatiently bucked his hips, up into Aziraphale’s mouth, and then back onto his finger. Aziraphale managed to settle into a rhythm, his mouth moving up and down Crowley’s cock while his finger slid in and out.
When Aziraphale felt that he wouldn’t be able to stand this much longer, he gradually introduced a second finger.
“You don’t have to do that,” Crowley groaned, arching his back. “I can take you.”
Aziraphale let Crowley’s cock slip out of his mouth with an obscene sound. “I’m enjoying it,” he said. And to punctuate his point, he crooked his fingers, making Crowley’s entire body jerk.
“Please, just do it. I’m begging here.” Crowley spread his legs wide and brought his knees up to his chest, and Aziraphale thought he might combust from the view.
Unable to wait any longer, he knelt between Crowley’s thighs and slowly withdrew his fingers. He felt Crowley’s entrance twitch against his fingertips as he pulled away. Then, his hand shaking, he finally lined up his cock and pressed gently. He hovered there for a moment, overcome with the realisation that this was finally happening.
Crowley wriggled impatiently against him, and, all of a sudden, he saw the head of his cock slip inside, and he fell forwards onto Crowley with a full-throated groan. He jerked his hips once, twice, and then he was sliding all the way in with miraculous ease.
Buried inside, he held still for a moment, placing a shaky kiss against Crowley’s throat. It was overwhelming; the heat and the overpowering feeling of love gripping the most sensitive part of his corporeal form.
He started to move. Slowly at first, a gentle rocking that caused pleasure to swell in his belly. He took Crowley’s erection in his hand and gradually began to thrust in earnest, moving his hand to the uneven rhythm. Every time he hit home, tendrils of electricity pulsed through him, and soon he was lost to it, mindlessly plunging in as pleasure soared through him. At some point, he realised his wings were out, beating in the air as though they could balance him against the inevitable Fall.
Crowley was gazing up at him with an expression of awe as he thrust into the demon’s body over and over again. When finally their eyes met, Crowley’s whole body jolted, and he gasped Aziraphale’s name as he came over his hand and both of their chests.
Aziraphale deliberately held his gaze as he lifted his hand and licked it clean. Then, he held Crowley close and flipped them over, throwing out another miracle to keep himself firmly situated inside Crowley’s body. Sitting up, with Crowley kneeling in his lap, he kissed along Crowley’s jaw, licked a trail around the shell of his ear and murmured, “Bring out your wings.”
Vast black wings erupted from Crowley’s back, blotting out the stars behind him. Aziraphale lay back and arched up, burying himself inside the willing body straddling him and letting out a low, throaty groan.
Crowley began to move, riding him, and Aziraphale gazed up, captivated by the view. Crowley’s striking figure, the wide yellow eyes focused entirely on him, immense black wings stretching out, outlined by the dazzling array of stars above them. Just over Crowley’s right shoulder, he could see the constellation of Cassiopeia, with the Sun twinkling brightly. With the vision of Crowley among the stars he had helped create seared in his mind, Aziraphale arched up one final time as pleasure crashed over him and he felt the shuddering release of orgasm inside Crowley’s body.
For a while, he lay still, as aftershocks shuddered through him. Then, Crowley fell forward onto him, and he groaned as he felt his cock slip free. He wrapped his arms around Crowley and gathered him close, rearranging their limbs into a more comfortable position as he wracked his addled brain for adequate words to explain just how much this demon meant to him.
Distantly, he registered that Crowley was chuckling, a soft vibration against his chest. His eyes shot open.
“Sorry,” Crowley said. “It’s just, I’ve spent six thousand years tempting people and I have never come across a bigger hedonist than you.”
Aziraphale’s aggrieved glare was lost over the top of the head nuzzling into his neck, so he settled for a grumbled, “You have spent thousands of years tempting me, my dear.”
Crowley lifted his head and gave him a wicked grin. “And thousands more to come, I hope.”
The sunrise found them still on the treetop. During the night, the sofa had grown to fill the entire platform, giving them room to roll back and forth as kisses and touches ebbed and flowed between them.
As the first rays of the first sun passed over them, Aziraphale pulled back just enough to look at Crowley’s face. His lips were red and swollen, and curved in a blissful smile.
Aziraphale traced a thumb gently over Crowley’s lower lip and followed it with a kiss. “What would you say to an actual bed?”
Aziraphale hauled them both to their feet and looked around. Their clothes had been scattered haphazardly, and some had fallen to the base of the tree. He was considering miracling them on when he caught sight of Crowley stretching. Entirely naked, his wings extended and bathed in the light of the morning sun, he looked magnificent. All thought of their clothing forgotten, Aziraphale reached out his hand. Crowley took it, and they launched themselves into the sky.
High above the tree, they circled each other, a little giddy, pausing to embrace and kiss in the freedom of flight.
Pulling away from the kiss, they rested their foreheads together as they rose and fell to the beat of their wings, and Crowley said, “So, the treehouse thing. Good idea?”
Aziraphale looked down towards the platform that was now entirely covered in a sofa, with a scattering of discarded clothing. “A wonderful idea,” he confirmed.
Back at the house, Crowley hovered in the entrance to the bedroom, his eyebrows raised in question.
Despite the activities of the night, Aziraphale still felt a blush rise to his face. “Do you want to…?”
“Right now,” Crowley said, “I want to sleep. But when I wake up, if there happens to be an amorous angel nearby…”
Aziraphale slid an arm around his waist and kissed him. “Consider that temptation,” he said, “most thoroughly accomplished.”
They’d slept like this many times now, curled up together, but it felt different this time. This time, before he drifted off to sleep, Aziraphale could lean down and brush a gentle kiss against Crowley’s eyelids and across his lips. He could run his hands up and down Crowley’s spine and whisper words of endearment, and feel the way Crowley’s grasp on him tightened. As he drifted off to sleep, it was with the knowledge that no dream could come close to thrill of this reality.
Days blurred into each other, some spent entirely in bed, others involving long walks that culminated in passionate outdoor lovemaking sessions. And, on some days, Aziraphale would still open a book out on the deck with a snake curled around him. The two chairs had become a sofa now, so that they could stretch out together. Crowley had learned that shifting back into his human form was the best way to seize Aziraphale’s attention from his books, and he used this knowledge liberally.
Gradually, the suns moved apart and the days began to blur together until they were separated only by a brief twilight. Aziraphale and Crowley were walking along the beach in this short gap between days, talking idly, when Aziraphale glanced up at the sky. He paused, and Crowley moved closer to him, squeezing his hand in question.
The night was too short now to get properly dark, so only the brightest stars were visible. Out to sea and high above them, a solitary star twinkled alone. Crowley followed his gaze. “Earth?” he guessed.
“Hmm. Well, the Sun.”
And then it vanished from view, because his vision was filled with Crowley leaning in to kiss him, and that was always a good distraction.
A few days later, he found Crowley out on the deck, draped across their sofa and staring out to sea. He didn’t look up when Aziraphale came out, but he lifted up his legs to he could slot underneath, then draped them over his lap.
“Treehouse, tonight?” Crowley suggested.
Aziraphale hummed in agreement.
“We need a plan to get your bookshop back.”
“Oh.” Aziraphale had actually quite forgotten. It seemed such a trivial concern now. “You know, I think perhaps we can just let them keep it. I was never a very good bookseller, you see.”
“No,” Crowley agreed. “Too averse to selling books.”
“Quite. It was really just a place to store them. I thought perhaps I could store them somewhere else.”
Crowley looked warily over the rim of his coffee mug. “Where did you have in mind?”
Aziraphale glanced down the beach. It was hidden from view by the many castle monstrosities out there, but somewhere along that stretch of sand was a lovingly sculpted cottage.
“Angel,” Crowley’s voice sounded slightly strangled. “When I mentioned wanting to live in a cottage…I meant eventually. We don’t have to do that right away.”
“Oh,” Aziraphale frowned. “Is that where the bookshop snake thing came from?” Crowley nodded. “Is that what you want, or what you think I want?”
Crowley shrugged. “You were the one who said I went too fast for you.”
“That was more than fifty years ago.”
“Angel,” Crowley sighed, “it took you six thousand years to hold my hand. Then, a few months later, you’re carving the most perfect, idyllic cottage straight out of centuries of my fantasies.”
“Well then,” Aziraphale ran his hands along the legs draped over his lap. “Perhaps we’ve waited long enough.”
They took one last stroll along the beach, hand in hand. All their sandcastles were still miraculously intact. As they walked past them, they reminisced about their favourite parts: Aziraphale had a ranking of turrets, and Crowley was especially proud of how his moat work had come along as he’d become more accustomed to the strange flow of tides on the dual-mooned planet. When they came to the cottage, Crowley kissed him fiercely and they made love in the sand, all reverent touches and whispered promises.
Evening found them back in their treehouse, curled up under a blanket, with a bottle of miracled wine passing back and forth between them.
“We’ll be able to get real wine soon,” said Crowley.
“Hmm. And crêpes.”
Aziraphale gazed fondly at him, recalling the first meal they had shared two millennia ago. “The Bentley will have missed you.”
“I’ll be able to drive faster out in the country.”
“Good Lord,” Aziraphale sighed. He was about to launch into a lecture about the dangers of being discorporated when he caught sight of the sun touching the horizon. He gathered Crowley into his arms and they sat back and watched as one sun vanished beyond the ocean, just as the other arose on the opposite side.
It was just like their first day here, and yet, Aziraphale thought as he held Crowley close, everything was wonderfully different.
Aziraphale awoke with a start. He hadn’t meant to doze off, but it happened frequently these days, now that he was accustomed to sleeping.
A book lay in his lap, an empty teacup on the table beside him. He cast his gaze over the cottage garden, where he had been idly watching Crowley work when he’d fallen asleep. It was quiet.
Aziraphale stood up and stretched. His shadow was long, suggesting it was probably about time they thought about leaving. He walked towards the roses where Crowley had been working earlier.
When they’d moved in a year ago, the garden had been wild and unkempt. A combination of Crowley’s strict discipline and Aziraphale’s apologetic encouragement had turned it into a blissful paradise.
Finding no demon by the roses, Aziraphale called out, “Crowley?”
A hiss prompted him to look up, to where a large black serpent was wound around the branches of the apple tree.
“Now really,” Aziraphale chided him. “What if the postman saw you?”
Crowley lowered his head to meet his, forked tongue flickering lightly against his lips.
“Please change shape,” said Aziraphale. “I love you dearly, but I am not going to kiss a snake.”
The transformation was so sudden that Aziraphale was suddenly knocked to the ground by a falling demon. He sat up, dazed, his arse sore and a strangely gleeful Crowley straddling him.
“Do you?” Crowley asked.
“Do I what?”
Aziraphale frowned. “You’re infuriating. Demanding. Overly melodramatic. Evil.” He placed a firm kiss against Crowley’s lips. “And yes, I love you very much. You know that.”
Crowley grinned. “Fuck me.”
“Was that an exclamation or a request, dear?”
Crowley leaned in and nipped at his earlobe. “Both.”
Aziraphale checked his pocket watch. “Just once,” he sighed. “Then we really do have to go.”
Crowley kissed that spot just behind his ear that made him wriggle. “Twice,” he said. “I can drive fast.”
On the short walk back to the car that night, Aziraphale couldn’t stop gushing.
“And to think for a couple of hours I actually started to like Thomas Jefferson!”
“You met him then?”
“Hmm, in Paris. Just imagine his face if he – “ Aziraphale’s thought was suddenly interrupted by the appearance of three angels surrounding them.
“Well, look what we found,” said Gabriel.
“How disgusting,” said Uriel.
Aziraphale darted a quick glance towards Crowley beside him. He was facing ahead, stony faced, his lips pursed and thin.
“Had a pleasant date at the theatre?” Michael sneered.
Aziraphale took a deep breath and grasped Crowley’s hand, entwining their fingers. “Yes, actually,” he said defiantly. “It was lovely, until we were rudely interrupted.”
He was impervious to their outraged exclamations, because Crowley was squeezing his hand. Crowley lifted his free hand and flames licked up from his palm into the air. He looked at Aziraphale, raised an eyebrow and said lazily, “I know you asked me not to, but…”
Aziraphale smirked. “I’m not going to stop you. In fact…” he held out a hand and Crowley lit hellfire in his palm, too. It was the first time he’d actually touched it, and it tickled. He watched the flames for a moment, keeping his expression carefully neutral, then looked up.
All three angels took an immediate step back.
“What are you?” Gabriel exclaimed.
Aziraphale pretended to consider that. “Good question. Not entirely sure. But I think the answer is…his. And if you don’t like that, you are most welcome to very fuck off.”
There was a tense moment in which he thought the angels might fight him, and he really wasn’t game for a celestial battle in the middle of Victoria Street. But, between their shock at his impudence and their horror at the hellfire, they clearly thought better of it. A brief exchange of glances, then they vanished.
When they were gone, Aziraphale heaved a sigh of relief and looked at Crowley. He was beaming. He squeezed Aziraphale’s hand, then lifted it to his lips and brushed a kiss over his knuckles, peering up at him over the top of his glasses. Aziraphale felt a tremor run down his spine.
“Angel, you’d better check us in to a hotel right now, or I’m going to do something very indecent right here in the street.”
“Right,” Aziraphale swallowed hard, flustered. “How about the Ritz?”