It is Crowley’s first contract in months.
He’s growing anxious in his own skin these days, but when the message comes through — youngest son, keep it clean, keep it simple — his scales start singing.
“Can you do it relatively quick?”
Gabriel is the eldest of the siblings who have invited him into their library on a very pleasant Sunday afternoon.
“I can do my very best.” Crowley uncrosses his legs and leans forward. With a flick of his wrist, an apple appears in his palm. “Poisons are my specialty, unless you needed something a bit more…showy.”
“No,” Gabriel says quickly. He waves a hand. Crowley nods and leans back in his chair, taking a bit of the apple. Michael, one of the sisters, looks decidedly uncomfortable. “Just…clean. Keep it clean.”
“Mother will be…upset if there’s any blood,” Michael says.
Crowley nods. “Right. Quick and painless then.”
Gabriel raises a brow. “No one said anything about painless, demon.”
Crowley bristles. He isn’t…he’s not a…he sighs. “Well. I’m sure you’ll be pleased with the results. You say he’ll be at your family’s country manor for the summer? I’ll need to be there, just to determine how best to finish the job, so to speak.”
“There’s a guest suite on the property,” Michael says. “I…suppose you could use that.”
Crowley nods. “It’ll do.” He pauses, looks at each of them in turn. “Do you have a…particular reason for wanting your brother dead?”
“Inheritance,” Gabriel says vaguely.
“Ah.” Crowley understands, now. He’s been in situations like this before — less favored siblings quite sure they’re not going to get what they think they deserve. And he’s gone through with it, quite a few times. But, for whatever reason, this particular family…unnerves him. He’d like to leave their library as soon as possible. Get on with the job at hand.
“Well,” he says. “I’ll get to work then, shall I?”
Gabriel nods and stands, seeing him out of the library and down the hall. At the front door he pauses. “If this…succeeds. Just know we may attempt to procure your services again in the future. For a job well done, anyway. Any slip-ups, demon—” Crowley resists the urge to hiss. “Well.” He smiles. It’s meant to charm, in most cases, Crowley can tell. It is not, in this one. That is quite obvious.
“Here.” Crowley reaches in his pocket, pulling out a piece of obsidian. “This is so I can communicate with you. Keep it on your person, you’ll know when I call.”
Gabriel hesitates. It’s black magic, this stone. But Crowley doesn’t have time for pseudo-moral arguments. They’ve already signed the contract, in blood. The deal has been made, the price, brokered. Crowley reaches out and slips the stone into Gabriel’s pocket.
“Don’t worry your pretty head over this,” he says, grinning. “You’re not my first, and you certainly won’t be my last.” He pulls his sunglasses from his pocket and puts them on. “I’ll let you know how it’s going.”
“But you don’t know where the manor is—”
Crowley waves over his shoulder, and the door slams shut behind him.
It’s a gorgeous estate he observes, standing in the back lawn and looking over the rose garden. Crowley has a soft spot for flora, but flora doesn’t have quite the same feelings for him. Some of the begonias tremble as he walks past. He shoots them a look and they grow still. Whip you into shape, he thinks, before remembering that, if all goes well, he won’t have to be here longer than a week.
There’s a perfect red apple sitting on his desk in the guest house, just waiting for someone to take a bite.
He turns. There are only two servants in the entire place, a young man and woman, married for just a few short months. Her name is Lily, Crowley remembers, and she’s far too young to be in charge of such a grand place, but she seems capable enough.
She’s holding a tray of tea in her hands and sets it down on the table in the garden.
“Thank you,” he says.
“Of course, sir. Aziraphale—” She pauses. “His lordship, I mean, will be here shortly.”
“Are you friendly with the master of this house?”
She nods. “He’s quite good to us when he visits.”
“And he visits every summer.”
Lily nods again. “He does. To read and write. My husband thinks, also to…” She pauses. “Ay, I shouldn’t sir.”
Crowley reaches for a cup of tea, dropping in a sugar cube. “No,” he says, stirring it in. “Go on.”
Lily sighs. “Well. My husband thinks it’s also to…get away from his family, for just a bit. They’ve come to visit many times before and they’re…well they’re a great deal more difficult to serve than Mr. Aziraphale.”
Crowley nods. Lifts his cup and takes a sip. “I’ll bear that in mind,” he says.
“Don’t know if we’d keep working for the Fells, really, if Mr. Aziraphale didn’t come each summer.” She glances about, as though the garden walls might be listening. “If you ask me, I think he should stay away from them.” Crowley raises a brow. He feels a little bad, drawing the truth from her. People tend to trust him, but a bit of magic can go a long way. And he needs information. “I think…I think they might try to have him killed.”
Crowley pauses. Takes another sip. “Now that,” he says, “is a fascinating piece of information. I trust you haven’t shared that with his lordship.”
“Oh no, Mr. Crowley, sir. Not at all. I’d…” She looks frightened. Crowley winces internally. He’s gone a bit too far. “I’d very much appreciate it if you didn’t repeat that.”
He tries to smile reassuringly. “Of course, love. Though I can’t speak for the roses. Never know what they get up to.”
This startles a laugh from her, and she seems calmer.
Crowley sits at the table once she’s gone, enjoying his tea and listening for a carriage to arrive. It’s nearly lunch when it does. He’s working in his sketchbook by then — while his front as a Fell’s summer tenant working on his portfolio is just that, Crowley has always had quite a talent when it comes to art, so it’s a front fairly easy to maintain. And while the roses seem to have a bit of an attitude, they’re skilled at posing, and it’s been some time since he did a decent set of still lifes.
“Mr. Crowley?” Stuart, Lily’s husband, steps out of the house. Crowley turns. “His lordship’s just arrived, if you wanted to go out to meet him.”
Crowley nods and gets up, abandoning his sketches. He trails through the house, far smaller than the one he met Aziraphale’s siblings in, but still quite grand. There’s a long table set with a few plates for lunch. Lily looks up from where she’s pouring lemonade and gives him a smile.
Outside, a man is animatedly chatting up his driver, who laughs in response. They get his suitcases unloaded and shake hands.
“Really, Frank, a pleasure as always.”
“Oh, Mr. Fell, you know the pleasure is all mine.” The man hauls himself up to the front of the carriage and gives them all a wave before urging his horses forward.
Crowley stands apart, observing. He had not known what to expect after hearing Gabriel talked about his brother. Nothing had been complimentary, really, though one of them, Uriel, had tried to cut in that while Aziraphale was universally disliked amongst their siblings, no one could deny that he wasn’t intelligent, or well read.
This trait is immediately obvious to Crowley. Eyes, he has always believed, are where to look first when considering a mark. And Aziraphale’s are blue and bright and sharp. There’s something behind them, something working and cataloguing everything around him, including Crowley.
“I don’t know you, sir.” He’s helping Stuart with his things. “Are you a new member of the staff?”
“I’m your tenant.”
“Your family’s tenant, more specifically.” Crowley extends a hand. “Anthony Crowley. I’m working on my portfolio for the summer, heard a rumor you had a guest suite and decided to see if your brother Gabriel might rent it to me. He was quite amenable.”
Aziraphale looks more than skeptical, probably because no one has ever called Gabriel amenable, but he shakes Crowley’s hand all the same. “Yes, well. Never one to miss an opportunity at profit, my brother. Am I in time for lunch?” he asks Stuart, who nods.
“You are, sir. Lily thought you and Mr. Crowley might like to dine together.”
Aziraphale looks back at Crowley, still unsure. Crowley can’t blame him, but he steps forward and rescues Stuart from having to carry one of the heavier suitcases. “Ah.” Aziraphale’s expression brightens. “Thank you.”
“Not a problem.”
Aziraphale smiles and heads inside.
“So you’re an artist?” Aziraphale asks. They’ve moved their lunch outside, after Aziraphale complained that Crowley sitting on the opposite end of the table reminded him too much of home. Crowley quite prefers this, actually. Better to keep an eye on the tempestuous begonias.
“I am.” He pushes his sketchbook forward. Aziraphale picks it up with, well. Lovely hands.
Everything about him, Crowley notes, is…quite lovely, actually.
Handsome, of course and a voice primed for story telling. He flips through the sketchbook and makes little sounds of absolute delight. Crowley finds himself smiling.
“You’re quite talented.”
“Ah, well. Thank you, Mr. Fell.”
Aziraphale shakes his head. “Please,” he says, waving a hand. “Aziraphale will be fine.” He takes a bite of his salad. “Do I call you Anthony, or—”
“Crowley. I…I prefer Crowley.”
“Wonderful.” Aziraphale looks around, obviously at ease. “You know, we did have a renter once before. I was much younger, of course, and this was when my mother came here as well. But we had a very lovely gentleman stay with us one summer, and he was a writer. Wrote the most gorgeous poetry, really wonderful man. He, honestly, inspired me.”
“You’re a writer?”
“Well.” Aziraphale takes a sip of his lemonade. “Not in any official way. But I dabble. I try. It’s not…entirely appropriate, I suppose.”
Crowley leans back. “So if you’re not a published author, what do you do?”
Aziraphale laughs. “That’s a very good question, honestly. Mostly I look after some of my family’s less used properties. Insuring the renters are taking care of them and that the staff is happy. Sort of guiding them in the right direction on projects and such. I actually oversaw the renovation of this property two summers ago. Gabriel gets very bored with things like that, and none of my other siblings are…well we could say that I just find it easier to talk to people outside of our inner circle.”
“An admirable trait.”
“You’d think,” Aziraphale mutters, the first less than jovial thing he’s said all afternoon. He sighs. “It will be very nice to have someone here this summer. You’ll be here the entire summer?” he asks, looking hopeful.
Crowley nods. “Of course.”
Until I’ve finished with you, he thinks, though the thought is…less than pleasing.
Quite a disaster, this already is. Doesn’t do him any good to be endeared. But Aziraphale is exactly that — he is soft spoken and clever, that’s very obvious. And kind! It oozes off of him in a way Crowley’s never quite seen before. He’s certainly taken care of people who were fundamentally good before, but Aziraphale’s the first one he’s forged any semblance of a connection with.
And it’s only been a couple of hours.
This, he decides, won’t do.
“I’m so sorry,” he says, standing. “Can you excuse me? The lighting is wonderful and I wanted to go for a walk and get some sketches in before nightfall.”
“Of course!” Aziraphale says. “Enjoy yourself. Perhaps later this week I’ll join you. I have more than a few places I’ve explored on my own over the years that I think you might need some help in finding.”
Crowley hesitates, then nods. “That would be lovely,” he says, and heads to his guest house.
Shit, shit, shit, shit.
Crowley kicks at one of the kitchen chairs in his little suite. This is a problem. This is a problem and he is not equipped for this.
No, that’s not it. He’s certainly equipped for this, because Aziraphale wouldn’t be the first sickeningly pleasant person he’s been assigned to before, but Gabriel is expecting things to go a certain way, and Crowley’s contract, Crowley’s blood contract, still burns his fingertips. He can still see where he pricked the skin and none of this will do.
He’d wanted to get in, get Aziraphale taken care of, and be out of here by the end of the week. Now he’s planning riverside strolls and dining with his mark at lunch.
Right, he thinks. Moratorium on meal times. He can’t have dinner with the man, lest he fall prey to Aziraphale’s ridiculously charming small talk. And he can’t agree to go on walks with him, or he’ll have to listen to it there, too.
No. Crowley is a snake, first and foremost. Both literally and figuratively. He can take care of this, he can slither his way out of this situation, easy.
The next day, when he spots Aziraphale having breakfast on the terrace, he gives him a curt nod and heads into the trees behind the house. Aziraphale doesn’t follow, but the next afternoon he does offer to meet Crowley by the lake. Crowley declines, claiming he’s doing color studies in the field all afternoon, and the day after that it rains from morning ‘til late afternoon, so he doesn’t even have to see Aziraphale until he dares to dine with him that night.
“Are you comfortable in the suite?” Aziraphale asks. They’ve moved to a smaller table, which is a problem, but Crowley is dealing with it. “I could have anything you like brought in, should you need—”
“Everything is satisfactory,” Crowley says quickly, sipping on his soup. He’s tried his best to curtail the conversations, keeping his responses clipped and quiet. “I appreciate the offer, though.”
Aziraphale pauses over his bowl, then nods. “…Of course,” he says.
And it’s in that moment that Crowley realizes Aziraphale has…finally gotten it.
Clever, clever boy, Crowley thinks, as Aziraphale excuses himself and leaves Crowley to finish his dinner alone.
The next morning there are no offers for breakfast, no invites to tea or requests that Crowley walk into town with him to meet the woman who runs the little shop that sells paints and brushes and such things. Crowley pretends to be thrilled by this. Pretends to be happy. He starts working on the plan, every so often throwing his gaze at the apple on his desk.
Crowley’s apples are poisoned, but not with anything you might expect. He markets himself to idiots like Gabriel as an assassin, as a man capable of cold blooded murder, but the reality is so much less impressive. Murder, in Crowley’s opinion, is messy. It invites far too much anguish and suspicion into the equation.
Really, Crowley’s always believed — there’s nothing like a good old fashioned eternal sleep. Other creatures like him may be inclined toward death and destruction, but that doesn’t do anything for Crowley. And besides, what’s the fun in a deal if there aren’t any loopholes involved? An eternal sleep always has loopholes. Plenty of things could lull someone from their perpetual slumber:
The smell of tea on a rainy Tuesday afternoon, perhaps. The sound of a good friend playing the piano on somebody’s birthday, he’s always liked that one.
Of course his favorite by far, the one he’s most proud of, would have to be true love’s kiss.
No one ever figures out true love’s kiss. Crowley isn’t sure why. It seems rather straightforward to him. It must be his lonely side coming out, the side that’s a bit desperate for romance. That’s probably why he’s fallen for Aziraphale’s charms so quickly. Any handsome man would do, he thinks, even as he knows — blood well knows — that isn’t the truth. Either way, it doesn’t matter. It’s best for them both if Crowley keeps his distance, and best for Crowley if he gets the job done quickly.
No sense dragging it out.
Once Aziraphale stops paying attention to him, of course, it becomes far easier for Crowley to get to know him in his preferred manner.
He is, after all, a shapeshifter.
Aziraphale spends a great deal of time in the garden, reading or writing, writing letters or simply enjoying the sun. Crowley takes his usual serpent form and slithers his way toward him, snipping at the occasional critter who gets too close. It always feels good to stretch out and just be what he is, though he’s more than once been quite afraid that he’d forget how to switch back. He’s seen it happen before.
Crowley gets as close as he can, curls up, and watches. He plans to watch and lurk all afternoon, until Aziraphale goes inside to have dinner.
His plans are completely ruined when Aziraphale stops reading his book, sets it down, and turns to make direct eye contact with him.
“You are new,” he says, and stares.
Crowley blinks. He’s been found which is ridiculous. He’s cleverer than this, isn’t he? Shouldn’t he be? He hisses, and Aziraphale asks.
“Oh you’ve got fight. Are you venomous? Tempting, maybe? Have you an apple in those coils?” Crowley hisses again. “Ah, well. I understand. You wouldn’t be the first one adverse my company this week.” He lifts his book and Crowley feels a pang of guilt in his snake-gut. He’s talking about him.
Of course, snake Crowley doesn’t need to worry about getting attached, right? Snake Crowley is just a snake, and can do as he pleases. It won’t be snake Crowley doing the deed, fulfilling his contract. Snake Crowley can, if he so chooses, slither right up to Aziraphale, curl up on one of the empty chairs, and bask in the sun.
Aziraphale makes a delighted noise, moving the chair so it’s further in the sun. “Wonderful. I was worried I’d be spending the entire holiday on my own. Well, I’m not sure a snake really counts for much company, but you won’t hear me complaining.” He leans back in his chair. “I had hoped, of course, our guest would be a bit more…congenial. He’s certainly not rude, by any means, but it’s obvious he’s quite focused on his work, which is fine. I understand.” Aziraphale glances at Crowley. “You’ll let me know if I’m bothering you, won’t you?”
Crowley gives a soft snake sigh, which doesn’t really sound like much, and closes his eyes. He’s learned more about Aziraphale in the last five minutes than he knew before, so he won’t be complaining about that. No, he thinks he’s deserved a bit of a nap, so he settles in for the afternoon until he’s awoken a few hours later by a piercing scream.
“Lily! Lily, there’s no need—”
“Sir, that’s a serpent. A serpent in your garden!”
“Lily, please, there’s really no need—”
She points. Crowley flicks his tongue out. “That’s a sign, sir. A terrible sign.”
“Oh, he’s not a sign of anything. Please don’t fret, I hate when you do.” Aziraphale calms the girl down and ushers her back inside. When he returns, Crowley is sliding off the chair. “Going then?”
Well, he wants to say, naturally. He’s gathered what he needs, done what he needs to do. Of course he’ll be going. And if Crowley the man doesn’t make an appearance soon, people might get suspicious. Aziraphale sits back down and watches him go.
“Perhaps tomorrow,” he says, more to himself than anyone else, Crowley assumes.
Back in his guest house, Crowley becomes rather more people shaped, grabs his sketchbook, and heads toward the garden.
Aziraphale is back to reading his book, and looks up when he hears someone approaching. Crowley notes that his smile does flicker, for just a moment, before he appears to be glowing again. “Mr. Crowley. To what do I owe the honor?”
“Nothing, really. Good day?”
“Of course. Always a good day here.” He puts a ribbon in his book. “Are you going to join me for dinner? I’ll understand if you don’t want to.”
“I can’t,” Crowley says. “Must eat and head back out to the field.”
Aziraphale nods. “Certainly. Well, perhaps another night.” He picks up his book again, effectively closing himself off. Crowley hesitates, thinking he might just decide to change his mind, but…
No. No, he needs to keep working, keep formulating his place.
He also needs to contact Gabriel, who had tried to reach him three times that afternoon. Not really looking forward to that.
“I don’t understand why it isn’t done yet,” Gabriel says over the stone. “This was supposed to be easy.”
“Your brother is proving to be a difficult mark,” Crowley says. “I need a bit more time.”
“You were advertised to me as the best, Crowley. I really expected more.”
“Hire someone else then.”
Gabriel hesitates. Multiple contracts are a bad idea. Someone always starts talking. Crowley could care little for his reputation, he knows he’s good at what he does, knows he has the talents necessary to complete the job. For Gabriel to doubt him would invite mayhem into his life. And Crowley knows — the family fears him. They’re more than terrified he might turn them all into toads in their sleep.
He still might do that, just because he doesn’t really like them. The fact that it’s not Aziraphale contracting the untimely ruin of the rest of his siblings only fuels Crowley’s belief that the wrong heir is being removed from the picture. Aziraphale would never think of hiring Crowley to do something like this.
And what do you know about what he’d do? a voice asks.
Enough, he thinks.
“I’m sure you’ll see it through to the end,” Gabriel says, and terminates the connection.
Crowley huffs. “Ass.”
He starts visiting the garden as the snake more regularly, and Aziraphale starts watching for him. Crowley the man disappears sometime after breakfast, and Crowley the snake stops by just before lunch. If Aziraphale is in a good mood, he shares. And he is usually in a very good mood
A week after he first appeared they seem to be friends. Aziraphale knows it won’t do him any good to carry on a conversation with a snake, so beyond the simple, “It’s good to see you again,” he gives snake-Crowley each afternoon, their time spent together passes in silence. Aziraphale doesn’t seem too interested in extending anymore dinner invitations, and Crowley feels satisfied because he’s getting to do what he wanted to do — bask in Aziraphale’s kindly glow — while not getting attached.
Which is why two things surprise him come the end of the week.
Aziraphale asks: “Would you care to join me at an event this weekend? Lord Preston is having a party for his youngest daughter, and I attend her birthday every summer. I’d love if you’d join me?”
And Crowley answers: “I don’t see why not.”
It seems to throw them both off.
“Oh.” Aziraphale looks startled, but pleasantly so. He smiles and stands. “That’s wonderful,” he says. “Really. Do you have something appropriate to wear? I’m sure you do, but I’d be more than happy to send for something.”
“I…” Crowley doesn’t know what to say. He’d had no intention of saying yes, but as soon as Aziraphale asked the answer just…came out.
Perhaps the snake had…gotten attached.
“I have something,” he says. “And I’d be very happy to join you.”
Aziraphale grins. “Excellent. It’s always a wonderful party, I assure you.” He sits back down and scrawls something on a piece of paper that Crowley realizes is the invitation. Unsure if he should linger, Crowley awkwardly excuses himself and rushes back to the guest house.
This, he thinks, is very bad, even though there isn’t a single bone in his body that seems to agree. It’s a quaint thought, the idea that this might be a mistake, but all Crowley can think about is how this…this is what he’d wanted from the start.
No. No, this can’t continue. He’s going to have to take care of it all sooner, rather than later. If he starts dining with Aziraphale now, though, it might raise suspicions. The party, he realizes would be the perfect place. Plenty of people around so someone could make a scene, could blame the heat or the food. And Crowley could slip out unnoticed, never come back.
“Right,” he says. The apple is still sitting on his desk, and he picks it up, gives it a lazy toss. “Time to pick our poison.”
Crowley’s never really been to a party — it’s not exactly his forte — and he’s never had the desire to entertain, to make small talk, to mingle. Aziraphale senses this, leans in close and says, “Just follow my lead,” before hooking their arms together.
The sudden contact is the most they’ve ever touched, and it throws Crowley off entirely.
But Aziraphale is taking the lead, pulling him through the party and nodding to different guests.
“Those are the Grossmans, just over there. Lovely couple, never had any children, but they have at least eleven pugs at any given moment. And over there is Lady Beverly. Her husband died under mysterious circumstances ten years ago, but we don’t talk about that.” He pauses. “And, of course, the Prestons.” Aziraphale gives them a nod of his head and they wave to him. “Really, everyone in the area is quite friendly. Only my siblings ever make it awkward.” He flags down a server, releases Crowley’s arm, and picks up two glasses of wine. “Here. Liquid courage,” he says.
“Thanks.” Crowley drinks deeply. His free hand slips into the pocket of his jacket and feels for the apple there. Small, deep red, and carefully crafted. Tonight has to be the night. He glances around, looking for an easy method of delivery. The Prestons have a beautiful garden, the roses calling out to him from their dark corners. Aziraphale is talking to Lady Beverly who, while more than likely a murderess, is exceedingly dull. Crowley excuses himself and ventures out into the garden.
There is no apple tree, but that’s never stopped him before. Crowley very much doubts the Prestons are aware of things their gardener gets up to, so no one except said gardener will probably be very surprised to find one of the trees growing apples come morning. Crowley touches the bark, urges the tree to consider becoming something new. Above him, beautiful red apples start growing out of the branches. He pulls the one from his pocket, raises it to one of the limbs, and lets it hang.
Back inside, Aziraphale has moved on to a different conversation. Crowley grabs two more glasses of wine from a passing server and heads toward him.
“—really was a wonderful suggestion, Edgar. I’ve enjoyed reading it this summer.” Aziraphale spots Crowley and waves him over. “This is the gentleman I was telling you about. Mr. Crowley is renting the guest house from my family this summer.”
Edgar is a small, plump, and jovial man. Crowley instantly likes him. “An artist! We don’t get too many here for the summer.”
“It’s a gorgeous valley,” Crowley says. “I haven’t done it the justice it deserves.”
“Nonsense,” Aziraphale says. “He’s being humble, I’ve seen his sketches he’s brilliant.” He takes the glass Crowley offers him. Crowley feels guilty manipulating him, watching as his forehead grows a bit redder, but he shakes that off. In ten minutes, the job will be done, he’ll be gone, and no one here will even know what happened. “Can you excuse me?” Aziraphale asks. “It’s so bloody hot in here, all of a sudden.”
“It’s cool in the garden,” Crowley suggests, this time offering his arm. “Take a stroll with me?”
Aziraphale looks surprised, but happily so. He grins and accepts. “Of course. Edgar, I’ll see you later.” He lets Crowley lead him from the party, sipping his wine. “Don’t know what came over me.”
“Too many people,” Crowley says. “Have you seen the Prestons’ fruit trees? I’d love to come back and sketch them in better lighting.”
“I’m sure they’d allow it,” Aziraphale says. They move further from the crowd, until the talk is just a dull murmur behind them. “I had no idea they grew apple trees though.”
“Yes! Look at those, as red as anything.” Aziraphale untangles himself from Crowley’s arm and moves closer. “Such a rare sight, I’d never noticed before.”
“Too busy being the most pleasant man at the party, I suspect.” Crowley sips his wine.
Aziraphale turns to him. “Do I overdo it, you think? I never mean to. It’s only…well, it’s rather stupid, really, when I say it outloud.”
Crowley frowns. “I doubt it would be. I’ve never heard you say anything stupid before.”
“Well, how could you?” Aziraphale asks. “You avoid me at every turn.” He pauses. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. Blame…blame the wine.” He ducks his head, takes another sip. Crowley has no excuses for his behavior, so he remains silent. Aziraphale says, “My siblings are unpleasant. They’re rude and inconsiderate and I have always tried my hardest to compensate for the traits I feel they lack. So if I am excessively kind, it’s only because the majority of my family are excessively cruel.
“Family,” he adds, trying to laugh it off. “How do we live with them?”
“Dunno,” Crowley says. “I don’t have any.”
Aziraphale’s soft bravado droops for a moment. “…Oh,” he says. “I’m very sorry.”
“Are you? Wouldn’t you rather have no family at all, considering?”
Aziraphale looks away, then up, considering the stars. “I don’t know,” he says. “When I was a boy, we were very happy. My mother was around, we took trips a lot. To the sea, especially.” He steps back, leaning against the trunk of the tree. “I miss those trips the most, I think. I remember I was swept out and Gabriel…Gabriel rescued me. Michael put a blanket around me. Mother carried me back to the cottage and everyone spoiled me the whole rest of the day. Ice cream and whatever I wanted for dinner. Forehead kisses,” he says, laughing.
Crowley steps closer. “What changed?”
Aziraphale sighs. “Money, I suppose. Investments yielded profit. The stakes were higher, responsibilities more important. Suddenly everyone was jealous of one another, worried they wouldn’t get their share. My mother isn’t even ill,” he spits. “And they’re talking about how to handle her affairs when she passes, who will get what. Frankly I’m surprised no one’s tried to have me killed,” he mutters. “Not that I haven’t had my suspicions.”
So clever, Crowley thinks, for the hundredth time.
“Yes,” Aziraphale says. “I’ve sussed out a few attempts, ferreted them out in the end. Gabriel thinks he’s smarter than he really is. At this point though, it’d take something like magic to do me in.”
Crowley sips his wine, says nothing.
“I suspected you, at first.”
It’s a miracle he doesn’t choke.
“Strange man, suddenly living in my family’s guest house? I told you, our last renter was when I was very young. I just assumed Gabriel had lost all semblance of honor, planting a cheap killer under my nose, thinking I would just…”
Aziraphale laughs. “Now? Now you avoid me at every turn. I have to corner you to get you to speak to me.” He drains his glass. “I assume if you’d wanted to kill me, you’d have done it by now. Been a bit more…charming.”
Crowley swallows. “…If I’ve offended, sir. I apologize.”
Aziraphale sighs. “Please,” he says. “Please don’t call me sir. I had hoped I might…that someone might make my summer a bit less…”
“Lonely?” Crowley offers.
Aziraphale smiles. “How’d you guess?”
“One tends to…well. Same boat,” he offers weakly.
“It’s a terrible feeling, isn’t it? To be surrounded by people, to be loved by people and still—” He exhales, closing his eyes and letting his head fall back. “I recognized what you were and I thought we might…that we could—”
“We could still,” Crowley hears himself say. No. No, no, no! We couldn’t do anything — “Summer’s hardly over.”
Aziraphale drops his gaze back to Crowley and smiles so bright and so beautiful that Crowley is struck, struck clean through.
The thought, how could anyone wish you dead, comes upon him like a wave.
“Apple?” he asks weakly.
“I don’t see why not,” Aziraphale says.
Crowley nods, reaches up into the limbs of the tree, and picks one, carefully avoiding his own.
As Aziraphale takes a bite, and then another, and then another — as he doesn’t drop dead, or into a deep, deep sleep, or fall over frothing at the mouth — Crowley’s heart beats faster and faster in his chest, until he’s quite sure it’s going to burst.
He has never been in love before.
He wasn’t aware how much like dying it could feel.
“So this is where you get to when you’re gone all day?” Aziraphale opens the picnic basket and pulls out the bottle of wine Lily had packed for them and pulls the cork. “It is very beautiful out here.”
“Isn’t it?” Crowley closes his sketchbook and tosses it aside. “I’m sorry I didn’t let you join me sooner. You’ll enjoy the sunset.” He takes a glass of wine offered to him. “Cheers.”
Aziraphale grins. “Cheers indeed.”
Crowley sips his wine. There’s an apple sitting back on his desk in the guest house, but he hasn’t thought about it much since the party. Gabriel’s tried to speak with him twice, but Crowley has no intention of calling him back.
Over the years, Crowley has done terrible things. He’s under no delusion that he is a good man. But sitting with Aziraphale, watching the sun go down, drinking wine and trading stories — he thinks that he wants to be better. Perhaps not wholly good, but then, he has never met anyone who is.
“It’s truly beautiful here,” Aziraphale murmurs.
Crowley sees no point in concealing his desire. It’s part of who he is. He looks straight at Aziraphale and says, “It really is.”
Aziraphale goes redder than the sunset.
They start to dine together more frequently, and almost constantly outside. Crowley comes to realizes how much Aziraphale adores the garden, and starts asking Stuart about what he plants there. They trade flower tips, and Aziraphale says, his tone pleasantly surprised, “I didn’t know you were a botanist.” He pours Crowley a cup of tea.
“Amateur,” he says. “At best. Hardly something I’ve any talent with.” He gives the roses a sidelong glance. They say nothing, as per usual. “This garden is a triumph, though. Your staff have quite a talent with keeping this place up.”
“Stuart and Lily are a gift,” Aziraphale says. “And they’re all we really need here. I’m really the only guest this place accommodates. You know,” he adds. “The house is…it’s more than big enough for two. I’m sure you enjoy the privacy of the guest suite, but if you were interested in spending any of your nights in the main house that’s…well, it wouldn’t be a problem for me. And Gabriel wouldn’t know, of course.”
Crowley keeps his eyes on the rose he’s been toying with. It’s…an offer, if he’s ever heard one. He thinks idly that Aziraphale might be better suited for this line of work than he is, but pushes that aside.
“…It does have a smell that…lingers.”
“That’d be the water damage from last Spring,” Aziraphale says.
Crowley looks up. “Have you a room with a view?”
Aziraphale smiles. “Yes,” he says. “I most certainly do.”
Sitting in the grass by the begonias, Crowley lifts pencil in hand and continues sketching.
“How still should I remain?” Aziraphale asks, clearly impatient.
Crowley smirks. It’s the most bothered he’s ever seen him, and just yesterday Crowley had called him stunning. The flush that had crept up his neck made Crowley’s heart soar.
“Well, no dancing, at least.”
Aziraphale sighs. “I can’t dance,” he says. “No skill at it whatsoever. Well—” He pauses, looks thoughtful. “I did learn the gavotte a few years back, but it’s already gone out of style.”
Crowley raises a brow. “All those high kicks? I should bloody well hope so.”
“Can you dance? I didn’t see you jumping at it when we were at the Prestons’ a few weeks ago.”
“I can sway elegantly from side to side,” Crowley says. “You’ve moved your head, face the roses again.”
Aziraphale clucks his tongue. “Terribly bossy, you are.”
“You were the one who suggested this.”
“Well, yes,” Aziraphale says, huffing irritably. “But I did so because I thought the idea was ro—” He pauses. Crowley’s pencil slows. “I thought it might be fun,” he says quietly.
Crowley glances at him. “Are you not having fun?” he asks.
“No!” Aziraphale says quickly. “I mean…I mean yes, of course I am. Of course this is fun.”
Crowley sets his book down. “I’ve nearly finished anyway,” he says. “Besides, I don’t need to be looking at you to remind myself what you look like.”
The effect of his words is a match being struck. Aziraphale looks at him sharply. Crowley turns away.
“Why do you do that?” Aziraphale asks.
“I’ve no idea what you mean.”
“Yes you do.” They’re sitting, so to move closer Aziraphale has to crawl to get to him, but it’s worth it once he’s done it, because he puts his hand on Crowley’s cheek so gently, Crowley’s very certain he will shatter.
Crowley looks at him.
Aziraphale smiles. “You look away, like you’ve something to hide.”
Crowley stares, no idea what to say. No one’s ever touched him like this before, never reached out with such feeling. He leans forward, catching himself by gripping Aziraphale’s arm. “You bewitching creature,” he says, breathless. “You have no idea.”
There’s a beat. A breath. Aziraphale tips his head as Crowley leans in, and they meet perfectly in the middle.
Crowley’s feelings on intimacy have always been clouded by the fact that he is, at heart, a wretched man. That should he even possess a heart, it is naturally decayed. But when he kisses Aziraphale, when he leans in for more, when they topple over in the grass and Aziraphale rolls him to his back and kisses Crowley’s neck with fervor, he understands. He understands all the ways in which he has been wrong.
The roses politely turn away.
“You know I can hear your gears turning,” Aziraphale says. “Will you just come to bed already?”
Crowley turns from his place at the window, looking out over the grounds. “Hm?”
“You heard me.” Aziraphale tosses his book onto the nightstand with his glasses. “That’s enough,” he says, rising from bed and coming to stand beside Crowley. “Wherever you are, it’s not with me, and I think that’s incredibly selfish of you, considering we have only a few weeks left—”
Crowley cuts him off with a kiss. He doesn’t want to think about that last bit. He wants to think about this, the part where Aziraphale presses him against the window and makes him feel…makes him feel —
Makes him feel.
They go to bed. Crowley sings to the moon and the stars as Aziraphale forces him undone. How exquisite this is, he thinks. How absolutely mesmerizing it is, to watch another person fall apart in the most beautiful way, because you touched them, because you said you loved them. He feels renewed in these moments, distraught when they’re over.
“Later,” Aziraphale always promises, before falling asleep.
Crowley is a shapeshifter, sleep has never been something he’s especially needed. But in this bed, with Aziraphale, he finds himself nodding off, waking in the morning when the sun is well above them and breakfast has long since been served. This is a place he could stay forever, of course. What difference would it make if he went back or not? No one but —
No one but Gabriel would know.
Crowley curses himself one morning, hastily dressing and flying down the stairs.
“Crowley, love, your breakfast—”
“Can’t!” he shouts, before running back in and kissing Aziraphale’s forehead. “Moment of inspiration,” he says. “Must run.”
“Well don’t be late for lunch at least!” Aziraphale calls after him.
Crowley grins, then remembers himself. He should call Gabriel, should use the stone, but that’s simply out of the question. No, he’ll have to do something drastic. The window of opportunity has closed, Crowley’s too far gone, now.
He loves Aziraphale, far too much, far too soon. Loves him all the same.
That night, when they’ve finished with one another, Crowley leans over and presses his lips to Aziraphale’s temple.
“Sleep long, sleep deep, and make no sound. And when the sun is high, ye shall not rise, ‘til true love’s kiss doth open thine eyes.”
Aziraphale takes a very deep breath, and Crowley disappears into the night.
“It’s late,” Gabriel snarls. “And you have disappointed me.”
“Sorry I couldn’t call,” Crowley says, lazily perched on a statue outside the manor. “Was a little busy.” He leaps down, dark cloak billowing behind him. “Murdering your brother.”
Gabriel’s eyes go wide. “You…you did it.”
Crowley raises a brow. “Yes,” he says, hitting the s a little hard, for Gabriel’s sake. He produces a wooden box from inside his cloak. “Here.”
“What is—” Gabriel takes it, looks inside before shutting it with a start. “We said to keep it clean, this is…this—”
He shows Crowley the heart inside the box and moves to drop it.
Crowley catches it with one deft hand. “What kind of assassin would I be if I’d made a mess of a simple heart removal? Or do you doubt me?” He pushes the box back into Gabriel’s hands.
Gabriel’s jaw works uncomfortably. Of course he doubts Crowley, that much is obvious. But Crowley’s calling his bluff, testing the waters, testing his fear.
“I don’t,” he says. “Where is his body?”
Crowley leans against the statue, inspecting his nails. “Unfortunately the official story will have to be that your pesky little brother’s gone missing. Sordid affair, kidnapping, however you’d like to spin it to your dear old mum.”
Gabriel looks at the box. “But he is…dead.”
“As a doornail.”
Crowley snaps his fingers and their agreement appears in his hand. “Then my contract with you is complete. Your end of the bargain needs to be upheld, Gabriel. If you don’t mind.”
“And the stone,” Crowley adds. “I’ll need that back.”
“Certainly. Give me ten minutes.”
“I’ll be waiting.”
When Gabriel returns, it’s with Crowley’s promised payment, and the stone. “All present and accounted for.”
Crowley weighs it in one hand and, satisfied, pockets the stone with the other. “Then our business is concluded. Don’t,” he adds, “contact me again. You’re the most difficult client I’ve ever had.”
“And this has to be the absolute worst deal I’ve ever made,” Gabriel says cheerfully. “I think we can agree on a, ah, mutual split?”
“Indeed.” Crowley turns, snaps his fingers, and is gone in a rush of dark feathers.
“I have no idea why I slept so late,” Aziraphale murmurs.
“No one tried to rouse you,” Crowley asks, helping him button his waistcoat.
“Oh, Lily and Stuart have better things to do than make sure I don’t oversleep. But I rarely do.”
Crowley looks at him, leans in and kisses his cheek. “Must have needed it, love.”
“Yes. I must have.” Aziraphale yawns one last time and rolls his shoulders. “You weren’t there this morning. Out painting?” He holds up Crowley’s fingers, and Crowley realizes they’ve still got a bit of dark red blood under the nails.
“Capturing that sunrise,” he says easily.
Aziraphale threads their fingers together. “You should wash up, I’d love to sit in the garden with you this afternoon. We…we should talk.”
Crowley’s stomach drops. “Of course,” he says. “A good idea.”
Aziraphale kisses him and turns to head downstairs, while Crowley goes and heaves nothing into the wash basin.
He’s still a bundle of nerves from his late night adventure. He feels guilty, killing that pig, feels like it didn’t really deserve to die, but…some things must. Some things must, so other things won’t.
In the garden, he calms his nerves and sips his tea, while Aziraphale makes idle small talk about the begonias.
“You know…my family has another house, further south of here. By the sea.”
“The one you told me about? That night of the party?”
Aziraphale nods. “No one even knows we have it anymore. Gabriel’s quite certain it’s been sold.”
“Did you make sure he believed that?”
Aziraphale glances over and grins. “I may have.”
Crowley moves to sip his tea. “Wicked thing,” he murmurs, over the edge of the cup. “Clever.”
“I wanted something of my own, in case I…I needed to get away. The deed to the house is in my name, the land produces things and makes a decent profit. And the sea,” he says, growing wistful. “Oh, Crowley, you’d love to paint that sea.”
Crowley sets down his cup, leans in and puts a hand behind Aziraphale’s head. “I’m sure I would,” he says, before kissing him deeply.
After a few moments, Aziraphale asks, “So will you?”
“Will I what?”
“Oh, don’t make me say it.”
“But I’d much rather you did,” Crowley says against his mouth. “Say what you’d like from me. Angel.”
“I am no—”
“Indulge me,” Crowley says. “And tell me what you want me to do.”
Aziraphale sighs. Kisses him back. “Run away with me. Let’s run away to the sea and not ever look back.”
Crowley grips Aziraphale’s shirt in his hand. Nods. “Of course,” he says. “Of course I will.”
“Say you love me.”
“I love you.”
“And I’ll say it—” Aziraphale kisses him again, and again, and again. “I love you. I love you wretchedly, I love you completely, I—” He stops. He stops because Crowley has let go of him, and stood so suddenly he’s knocked his own chair back. “Crowley—”
Crowley steps back. “I…I can’t.”
“What do you—”
“I can’t do this to you. I’m sorry. I just—”
“Crowley, explain yourself.” Aziraphale stands. “You’ve only just said—”
“You shouldn’t love me. You wouldn’t, if you knew.”
Crowley shakes his head. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, but I can’t do this to you.” He turns on heel and flees the garden, Aziraphale calling after him.
Crowley had never meant to go down this road.
He’d been born, like most men. Not formed from ash or clay, not forged in the fires of Hell or anything like that. He’d been born, and he’d been raised.
She was called Lillith, the one who raised him. She had a careful, wicked hand. Her children who did not flourish in the dark arts did not last long in her home. Crowley has no idea where his less talented siblings went, he only knows he never saw them again.
He was by far her favorite. She would remind him of his place in the world, to take what was his and crush his foes like dust beneath his heel. “You,” she would whisper, tucking him in for the night, “are my little serpent. And you will choke the light from this world. Promise me that.”
“I promise,” he’d say, enjoying too much when she kissed his forehead with cold, dark lips.
Crowley ached for light as a child, and learned to hate himself for it, when all was said and done.
Lillith is long gone, now. Crowley was always meant to find someone like him, bring more creatures into the world. It was more likely than not Lillith’s line would die with her children — he doesn’t think any of his own siblings have done what she expected. And he hadn’t lied to Aziraphale, when he said he didn’t have a family. Lillith had always made it clear — she was not their Mother.
Crowley stands in the field where he’s spent so much time this summer, the field where they drank wine and stole glances.
“Why are you doing this?” Aziraphale says from behind him.
“Don’t come closer.”
“I only want to love you. I only want to spend my life with you. Why are you pushing so hard?”
Crowley turns. He wants to pretend that he isn’t what he is. He wants to pretend he can flee to the seaside with Aziraphale, no secrets between them.
But he can’t. And he won’t.
“Your brother hired me to kill you,” he says. He steps forward.
Aziraphale steps back.
“He’s afraid you’ll inherit more. All of your siblings are.”
Aziraphale shakes his head. “I don’t understand. My mother isn’t dying. My mother is fine.”
“I can’t explain it to you,” Crowley says. “It’s just what I was hired to do.”
“Hired. So he paid you.” Crowley nods. “I see.”
“But I…I couldn’t.”
Aziraphale looks at him sharply, and Crowley’s heart plummets. “Explain that.”
Crowley tries stepping closer again, but this time Aziraphale stays still. “Don’t you know?” he asks. “Can’t you see?” He runs a hand through his hair and laughs. It sounds manic to his own ears. “I—”
Aziraphale kisses him. Crowley isn’t sure what to do with his hands, as much as he isn’t sure why Aziraphale is kissing him. He’s lied, he’s plotted, he’s schemed. But the kiss is soft and careful, and that doesn’t seem fair to Crowley.
He pulls back. “...Aziraphale.”
Aziraphale sighs, reaching up to cup Crowley’s cheek. Crowley is struck by the same feeling he had at the party — how could anyone want you dead? — and leans into the touch.
“Look at you,” Aziraphale says. “It really is lonely being a creature like you, isn’t it?”
Crowley embraces him. “You don’t have to forgive me. You don’t have to love me.”
Aziraphale leans back, his eyes brimming with tears. “But I do. Oh, Crowley I do.” He kisses him again, and again. “Whatever you have done, I forgive you,” Aziraphale says. “I forgive you and I want you to come away with me.”
“I lied to your brother, I told him I did what he paid me to do.”
Aziraphale laughs. “Then we’d best leave soon, don’t you think?”
They kiss again. The afternoon is passing by. Crowley feels a sharp change in the wind, like something is coming, something new and enormous and good. He clutches Aziraphale’s hand in his as they walk back to the house, discussing the future, the sea, and the world.
“What color is the sea cottage?” Crowley asks, allowing Aziraphale to play with his hair.
“I think...brown.” Crowley makes a noise. “And what color would you have it be?”
“Blue,” Crowley says, stifling a yawn. “Match your eyes.”
“I am,” Crowley says. “And you don’t even know the half of it.”
Aziraphale kisses the top of his head. “We’ll paint it blue,” he murmurs. “We’ll do whatever you like.”
“I can’t swim.”
“I’ll teach you.”
“Can’t even float.”
Aziraphale laughs. “I’ll teach you that, too.”
They settle into a comfortable silence. After a few moments, Crowley says, “I’ve never killed anyone. Just...feels like you should know that. And I was never going to kill you. It was just—”
Aziraphale shushes him. “It’s late, my dear. And I love you.
Crowley wakes and stretches, content. Today they’re going to pack, and ideally by nightfall, they’ll be on the road. He’s never fled someplace with someone, and the whole thing strikes him as rather daring. Brave is not a word he uses to describe himself. But Aziraphale had said it, early this morning when Crowley had heard him getting out of bed.
“Brave and noble and bold.”
“That’s why it’s my opinion of you, my dear.” He’d kissed his forehead. “Go back to sleep. I’ll see you after breakfast.”
Crowley washes his face and puts on something comfortable, throwing his coat over his arm and taking the stairs down two at a time. He’s never felt joy this way before, never had plans to leave a place knowing there was something for him beyond.
“Lily!” he calls. “I’ll take coffee this morning, need my energy.”
“Yes,” someone says. “I suspect you will.”
Crowley’s blood runs cold. “...Gabriel.”
“Mmm, the very same.” Gabriel is sitting at the end of the dining room table, sipping on a cup of tea. Behind him stands a creature Crowley is quite familiar with, and one he had never wanted to see again.
“Hello, failure.” She’s perched on the table, eating an apple, wearing Lily’s clothes. “Found this,” she adds tossing another apple in the air. “You left a few behind last time we were all together. Real useful in finishing the job you couldn’t seem to do.”
Crowley turns to wears Aziraphale normally sits, but the chair is empty. Aziraphale is sprawled on the floor.
“No.” Crowley rushes to him, falling to the floor and pulling Aziraphale into his lap. “What did you do?”
“What you were paid for,” Gabriel says, standing. He lifts a wooden box from the table, the same one Crowley had given him. “Imagine my surprise, and disgust, when I discovered that this was the heart of a pig.” He tosses it to the side, where it hits the wall and falls to the floor, clattering open. The rotting heart tumbles out. “Did you really think I was that stupid?”
“Yes,” Crowley hisses. “I did, and I do. You’ve gone and made a stupid mistake, making a deal with that thing. If you think you’re free, just because the job is finished—”
“Silence,” Beelzebub says. “So much for being the favorite now. Now, you’ll never work again. Now, I have the complete freedom to demand our siblings hunt you down. You violated a contract, Crowley. A blood contract.”
“Rot in hell,” he snarls. “Both of you.”
Beelzebub grins. “Gladly.”
Crowley looks down. There’s sliced apple on the plate at the table, a piece taken from it. He’d have only eaten something they never eat if Lily had given it to him, if she’d been the one to offer it. Considering Beelzebub is wearing Lily’s clothes, Crowley assumes that’s what happened.
“Where are the servants?”
“Safe,” Gabriel says. “I only needed one person to die today.”
Crowley brushes the hair from Aziraphale’s forehead. “Wake up,” he murmurs. “We have to go to the sea, love. You have to wake up.”
Nothing. Crowley trembles. He has never been so thoroughly emptied before. He woke up, and he had the world. And now, his world is slipping away, fading in his arms.
He presses his lips to Aziraphale’s brow, intending to say goodbye, to rage as long as he can against Gabriel and Beelzebub, until he is either destroyed or they are —
But Aziraphale isn’t dead. Crowley senses this immediately, and isn’t sure they can’t, too.
“Aziraphale,” he says.
“Useless,” Beelzebub snaps.
Crowley looks up at her, and dares to smile. “Those were my apples you said?”
“...Yeah. Listen, it doesn’t matter, you’re finished so just get up—”
“You should have kept a better eye on me,” Crowley says. “Should have checked up on Mother’s favorite.”
“She was never—”
“It’s too late now,” Crowley says. “You could have had me finished off ages ago, if only you’d been paying attention. Tell me, your new contract. Is it satisfied?”
“Of course it is!” Beelzebub gets off the table now, slowly approaching him. “Because I know how a deal is made. A proper deal.”
“Right. Proper.” Crowley looks down at Aziraphale. “Sleep long, sleep deep, and make no sound. And when the sun is high, ye shall not rise, ‘til true love’s kiss doth open thine eyes.” He laughs. “That’s old magic, that is. Older than us, older that even her. Real easy, too. Just a few words, a nice apple that never rots. Oldest trick in the bloody book.”
Beelzebub looks over her shoulder at Gabriel, properly frightened.
Gabriel moves toward them. “What does that mean?”
Beelzebub urges him back. “Nothing!” she says, grinning. “Nothing. It meanz nothing.”
“It means,” Crowley says, “that I win.”
He leans down, holding Aziraphale’s face in his hands, and kisses him.
The effect is immediate. When Crowley pulls back, Aziraphale gasps, coughing and spitting apple onto the floor.
“What in the—” Crowley kisses him again. “Mmph!”
“You beautiful thing, you absolutely incredible creature.”
“Look at you. Oh, look at you.”
“What happened to me? Gabriel is here, he’s found us out, he—”
“He’s over there, love. And he looks very put out.”
Aziraphale turns to look at his brother. “Gabriel.”
Gabriel turns to Beelzebub. “Finish the job,” he snaps. “The job I’ve hired you to do, finish it.”
Beelzebub takes a step back. “Our contract is satisfied,” she says.
“Then we’ll sign another.”
She shakes her head. “Thiz party is no longer interested,” she says, before snapping her fingers and disappearing in a puff of putrid black dust.
Gabriel looks from the place where she was standing, down to Crowley and Aziraphale, who are helping one another to their feet.
Aziraphale sighs. “Gabriel. It’s over.”
“You.” He points at Crowley. “There are other people I can hire to take care of you.”
“Good luck finding me,” Crowley says. “And good luck finding anyone of my kin to do another job for you. Should’ve read the fine print.”
“Loopholes,” Crowley says. “Always have a loophole handy. Really does you good in a pinch.”
Gabriel.” Aziraphale’s tone is clipped and sharp enough that both Crowley and Gabriel turn to him. “I have no intention of taking your money. If you’d stopped for one second to ask me, to get to know me at all, you’d understand that. But, in light of recent events, I must say that there’s really only one thing I want from you.”
“Oh? And if I won’t give it to you, you’ll what? Tell mother?”
“Yes,” Aziraphale says, easily. “I will.”
Gabriel sighs. This...seems to placate him. For now. “Fine,” he says. “Fine. What is it you want? How much? I can have it sent by the end of the week, just don’t—”
“I want to be left alone,” Aziraphale says. “I want you to leave here and never bother me again.” He pauses. “I also want this house.”
Gabriel looks rather stricken. “You...you don’t want money.”
“Mother isn’t even ill and you’re talking about divided the inheritance, but no, Gabriel I don’t want money. I’ve plenty of my own. I’ve invested quite soundly over the years. No,” he says again. “I just...I want you to leave me alone. I’ll write, of course, and I’m sure we can arrange the occasional holiday visit. But please don’t send assassins after me again. It’s a dreadful feeling, always wondering if I’m going to be murdered.”
Gabriel seems to consider this, then nods. “Fine,” he says. “I’ll...leave you alone.”
“And you can have this house.”
“Perfect. You can send the deed to the old sea cottage,” Aziraphale adds. “That’s where we’ll be staying.”
“The cottage was sold years ago. It’s not—” He stops. Narrows his eyes. “You stole it.”
“You weren’t using it, don’t be such a pill over the whole thing.” Aziraphale straightens his waistcoat. “Now. Do we have a deal?”
Gabriel sighs. “Fine.”
The two brothers shake. Crowley would have added a few more provisions, a loophole here and there, and negotiated maybe a small pile of coin, but — in the end, they have what they want.
They have their freedom, a house by the sea — and all the time in the world.
“May I ask you something?”
“Of course. Anything.”
Aziraphale rolls over in bed. The window is open and the sea just beyond it is crashing against the shore. Crowley closes his eyes, pulls Aziraphale close, and listens to the tide coming in.
“There used to be a snake who would visit me in my garden. You wouldn’t happen to know anything about that, would you?”
Crowley opens one eye. “Aziraphale. What on earth makes you think I’d know anything about a snake in your garden?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Just seems like something a wily old magician like you might know a thing or two about.”
Crowley laughs. “An interesting question, angel. I’ll mull it over.”
“Are you going to insist on calling me that? Angel?”
“Do you intend to live the rest of your life as a being of pure love and goodness?”
Aziraphale huffs. “In your mind’s eye only, it would seem.”
Crowley laughs. Kisses him. “It’s only my opinion of you, love. And I’ve no intention of changing it any time soon. But, if you don’t like it—”
“No,” Aziraphale says quickly. “I...I didn’t say that.” He tucks himself closer. “I do like it,” he says. “And you...you should keep calling me that, if you’d like.”
“I would like that, angel.” Crowley kisses him again. “I’d like that very much.”
On a beach by the sea, a place Crowley has never been, a joy he has never experienced before now, Aziraphale rolls over in the sand and asks, “Is there a loophole where we’re involved, my dear?”
“You mean the deal we have about who makes dinner when the cook has the night off? I told you, we’ll just go to that little French spot—”
Crowley sighs, rolling to his side as well, kissing Aziraphale’s forehead. “No,” he says.”No loophole. No contract. No deal. You and I, angel…” He sighs, shrugging.
“Oh, please finish that sentence,” Aziraphale says, pushing himself up on one elbow and grinning.
Crowley laughs, falling to his back and looking up at the sky. Aziraphale’s face fills his vision, and he reaches up to stroke his cheek with the back of his hand.
“You and I are just...meant to be,” Crowley says. “We should really thank your brother, you know.”
“I already sent him some flowers,” Aziraphale says, and they kiss.
“How would you like to lay here,” Crowley suggests, “and settle down for a nice, eternal slumber, just until dinner?”
“Oh.” Aziraphale stretches out beside Crowley in the sand, one arm around his waist, pressing his lips to the curve of Crowley’s neck. “I’d like that very much,” he says. “Very much indeed.”