They hadn't properly been to a museum together in a couple of years. Of all the places the two of them met up during the anti-christ years, museums had been Crowley’s favorite. As spaces they were just so... human. Not that there were many places you could go on the planet to escape humanity if you wanted to, but museums tended to be one of those places of unguarded emotion. It was enough to make a demon reconsider his place in the world, which he supposed was the point.
Crowley had been to a few opening nights at galleries without Aziraphale, but those pit stops hadn't been about Art so much as they'd been about the stark distinction between the solace art can bring to a soul and the greed, avarice, and lust that usually floated around circles of artists. Easy temptations as those things went.
Strictly speaking, whenever Crowley met Aziraphale at a gallery before the Apocalyse That Wasn't, that had not been about Art either, but distracting Aziraphale and coaxing him into a contemplative mood about the nature of humanity as represented in chaotic drip and splatter paintings or calm, staid blocks of color was an even easier temptation than the ones he pulled on the artists. Probably because he knew Aziraphale so very well and was well-versed in his opinion on wine and canapes to be had at quaint little bars inside museums. The angel's opinion was, almost unwaveringly, strongly in favor.
This time it was about the art. Outwardly and ostensibly, anyway. Inwardly it was also about the itch that had been working its way down Crowley's back like the universe’s slowest drop of infernal sweat for the last month or so. Once a being became used to looking over their shoulder they would be doing it for the rest of their life. Just because the thing they expected to find there had stopped looking at them did not mean the being could just accept they were free and move on with their lives sans hunted and haunted feeling. Crowley and Aziraphale had effectively scared off Heaven and Hell for the time being, but that didn't mean they'd scared them off forever, and there were ever so many seconds between now and forever when Crowley's growing paranoia might prove itself well-founded.
Because of this, staying in one place became harder and harder every day. He had not yet successfully convinced Aziraphale to truly get out of dodge, though he’d floated many tempting destinations: the cusp of the aurora borealis, a dynamic volcano range on Venus, Iceland. The angel resisted every invitation. He claimed he needed to do inventory on the newly restored bookshop, which had quickly turned into what might be a several year long effort to re-read everything in it and check Adam's handiwork for discrepancies. But even with this undertaking Crowley had successfully gotten him out of the shop a few times.
Usually that happened when Crowley became so tired of sitting in patches of sun and pretending to be interested in Foucault that he threatened to go somewhere else on his own and Aziraphale, who had been reluctant to let the demon out of his sight since they'd been returned to Earth more or less unharmed, promptly closed up the shop and offered to come with him. Crowley was still working out how he felt about this development, but for now he more or less approved.
They didn't have to hide anything anymore, which meant he didn't have to hide how important their shared history was to him and how much genuine pleasure he got from luring Aziraphale out on small adventures. Which was how they now found themselves in an art museum looking at a sculpture titled Lilith and comparing it to their memory of the real thing.
"She looks hungry," Aziraphale said. "Did that girl ever look so hungry to you? Do you remember?"
He had his head tilted back to look up at where the life sized sculpture was mounted above them on the wall. His left hand rested in the front pocket of his overcoat, but his right arm hung at his side, pinky just barely brushing against the back of Crowley's hand, a gentle reminder that they were both still there.
"They were all made hungry at first, weren't they? For each other and for the horizon? Insurance, I’d say."
Crowley had his right arm crossed behind his back, holding the elbow of his left close to his side. It was to keep himself in check. As much as Aziraphale did not like to take his eyes of Crowley in this shiny new world, Crowley did not like to take his hands off Aziraphale.
They were both fighting millennia of incompatible conditioning in their own ways. Some days it resulted in time spent pressed together and getting so wrapped up in each other's bodies they forgot to speak. Some days it resulted in arguments neither of them knew how not to have. It was all very different from the bickering and careless touching that had come before. The weight of their changing relationship was heavily yoked across Crowley's shoulders, but it was a weight he welcomed.
"To make sure the hard work was appreciated, you mean?" Aziraphale asked.
"To make sure everything got kicked off. You don't think They had us make all of that just to let Their creation be contained to one small walled in oasis in the desert? Come on, angel. You know better than that."
Aziraphale cleared his throat. "Why shouldn't I believe She wanted them to be happy, to revel in the beauty gifted them?"
"Angel," Crowley said.
It was half admonishment and half question. After everything, finally, Aziraphale had to know that the Almighty's intentions weren't universally good for those in Their charge. The two of them were proof of that. Or, at the very least, they were proof that just because machinations had been put into place, that didn't mean they were worthy of being seen through. Or that the beings doing the overseeing wouldn't twist them to their own ends when left to their own, bloodthirsty druthers.
He turned his head to look at Aziraphale's face. Aziraphale's blue eyes were staring steadily into the blue eyes of the sculpture. It really was very lifelike, with its clear, piercing eyes and the smoked, charred appearance of the bent and crouching body. One hand ground itself to the wall and one hand ended at the wrist as if it was meant to be disappearing into the boundary between them.
Myths circulated among some of the humans that Lilith had somehow straddled realms, that she conquered angels and birthed demons. Of course, no demons had been born of another body. All of them, to Crowley's knowledge, had been born of only the fault lines that ran through their own cracked shells. Crowley, who had many faults, had also once been charred all black and shadowed with the red of his wounds.
“The very making of them was a promise,” Aziraphale insisted.
“To who?” Crowley asked, incredulous. “There wasn’t anything to it. Here, have some green things and some new creatures and some teeth. Gnaw your way through the world, you’ll figure it out.”
“That was faith,” Aziraphale said. “And faith is perhaps the most important thing a being can have.”
He looked at Crowley with a fierceness in his eyes that reminded Crowley of kneeling on a tarmac and wondering, for just a second, what part of him was going to end up with a flaming sword in it. He still felt a little guilty for that fear, for being afraid of Aziraphale of all beings, but in his defense, a lot of acutely predicted unpredictable things had happened up to that point and he had quite lost his grip on the way things were supposed to be.
“Don’t know from faith,” Crowley grumbled. “The only thing I believe in is you.”
Aziraphale’s gaze softened considerably. “There was good to be found in Heaven when we were building,” he said. “Surely you remember that. And if there ever was good I think there still must be.”
“Good and altruism are not the same thing,” Crowley said. “Good can mean anything, depending.” They both knew that to be true. It was in fact the truth The Arrangement was predicated on.
"I'm just having a hard time of it, my dear," Aziraphale whispered. "I feel so...alone without all the rest of them, even after everything. Cut out, something has been cut out of me and while it is still hurting, it doesn't help when you gloat."
"I wasn't–" Crowley started, but he bit himself off.
Of course he was, though he hadn't meant to be. Not that his intention mattered when it was his utter certainty in the fallibility of Heaven that rubbed Aziraphale raw.
Crowley had tried for thousands of years to get Aziraphale to believe that they themselves were all they really had, and now they were. In theory he had won, but in practice they had both lost a lot. And while Crowley had never believed in Hell—because by its very nature Hell did not give demons things to believe in so much as it gave them a shared enemy in Heaven—Aziraphale had believed in Heaven. Wholly. With every part of himself.
Aziraphale was a creature of love so purposeful that he believed all angels were creatures of love, and that love was meant to be their purpose. Even when confronted with proof of the contrary, he never stopped believing his brethren could be better. Crowley was positive that Gabriel, for instance, would not be able to pick love out of a lineup if it offered itself up with an explanation, a prayer, and a perfectly tailored pair of trousers. Aziraphale, in contrast, didn't know how to let love go. He loved when it was a celebration and he loved when it was a wake. Aziraphale loved Crowley, against all odds, or maybe because of them. Maybe because of how odd the pair of them were, because they'd lived so long in each other's pockets it couldn't be helped.
Crowley loved Aziraphale because, well, the list was very long, but one of the bullets was definitely the way he was currently standing in a public art museum, eyes misting under the pressure of their new lives catching up to him. The new absences in both of them were heavy, but they were free to feel that heaviness, and wasn’t that something.
They could, perhaps in time, come to fill those absences with each other, but it would have to be done carefully, deliberately, and with the knowledge that it was impossible to make another being your whole world. It was also unfair. At the very least you needed to take up some of that space yourself. Just to give your beloved a place to come home to.
Crowley released his grip on his own elbow. He bumped Aziraphale's hand with his to warn him that there was movement incoming. Then he reached out, wrapped an arm around Aziraphale's shoulder, and pulled him close so that he could press a quick kiss to his forehead before letting Aziraphale tuck his face into Crowley's black, padded shoulder.
"I don't mean to gloat," he said. "But I won't lie to you either."
"No," Aziraphale said, voice muffled in Crowley's jacket collar. "I don't want you to. You never have have you?"
"Not when it mattered," Crowley said.
Aziraphale wiped at his eyes with a quick, small movement that Crowley pretended not to see.
"Do you remember what happened to her?” he asked. “I'm afraid I never made it a point to check up."
"Just as well. I'm sure she'd had enough of angels there by the time she'd been replaced. But yeah, she did alright. She survived for a time."
"They're all so very good at that," Aziraphale said. "They look fragile, but they're all so very resilient."
"So are we," Crowley said. "It's hard to tell sometimes whose image any of us were really made in."
Aziraphale reached across Crowley and grabbed a hold of his free hand. He squeezed it tight before loosening back into a more relaxed grip. They stood like that for another fifteen or so minutes while Aziraphale composed himself. He let out a few shaky breaths that Crowley would never mention, tilted his head up to kiss Crowley's cheek, and then pulled away.
The sudden emptiness at his side reminded Crowley that they likely weren't alone, but when he turned to survey their surroundings none of the handful of museum goers were paying them any mind.
"Where to now, angel?" Crowley said.
Aziraphale pulled the map from his pocket and studied it. “Oh look, he said, as he pointed to a purple square. “They have some Monets.”
Crowley sighed. “Fine. But I did tell him, I said Claude, if I see another water lily for the rest of my life it will be too soon.”
Aziraphale folded the map and slid it back into his pocket. “And what did he say to that?”
“That’s quite the point,” Crowley said, mimicking a French accent. “And then he went into that cathedral because he knew I couldn’t follow. The bastard.”
“Ah, Rouen,” Aziraphale said. “Well, you can’t argue with an impending sense of mortality anyway.” He stepped away from Crowley to move on to the next gallery.
Crowley took one last look at the frozen Lilith and then followed. “I’ll have you know I can argue with anything. Those were some nice sunsets though. He captured that alright.”
“Mmm, I remember Mesopotamia, right before the clouds rolled in. A sunset always could still that forked tongue of yours.”
“I’ll sssstill my tongue on you.”
Aziraphale laughed. The sound of it startled both Crowley and the humans near them. “Oh yes, I’m sure,” he said. “But let’s save that for later.”
Crowley trailed after Aziraphale and thought that, of all the promises available in the world, the promise of a later was his absolute favorite.