“So, what brings you up to London?” Crowley asked at last, when they had reached the fifth course of the tasting menu, were well into their second bottle of wine, and were reaching a shared rosy glow of contentment.
They were dining in a tiny restaurant hidden behind a shop in Soho. The kind of tiny restaurant that Crowley was pretty sure was booked up months in advance. He was also pretty sure Aziraphale had not bothered to book, as he had apparently only decided to take the train to London that day. They had seats next to each other at the single counter anyway. It was a very Aziraphale place, Crowley thought, with chefs that greeted him by name and an ever-changing menu. Nothing like that, he suspected, in the South Downs.
It was also full of people in expensive clothes barely tasting their beautifully prepared, half-foraged food because they were photographing it so they could casually let the world know they had seats there. Normally this kind of insult to the chef and food would have given Crowley any amount of pleasure, and all that bored self-indulgent wealth have given him lots of opportunities to do bad, but he had long ago decided that when he was with Aziraphale, he was off the clock.
Aziraphale, perched primly on his stool, fiddled with a very beautiful plate of what mostly looked like autumnal flowers and crystals of berry salt, but had some sliced duck hearts hidden among them. “Oh, dear,” he said. “I do feel rather bad eating duck. When we’ve spent so much time feeding them, too."
“Circle of life, angel.” Crowley speared a slice of duck heart from his own plate and popped it in Aziraphale’s mouth, avidly watching the surprised look, then the fluttered lashes and slight pink flush in the apples of his cheek. “There, that doesn’t actually feel bad at all, does it?” He could feel himself flush a little as well.
“I concede the point,” said Aziraphale, once he had swallowed. “That was succulent."
Succulent. There really were words that were sinfully inappropriate for that innocent mouth. Crowley felt he should encourage more.
“Glad we settled that. Now answer the question.” Crowley waited patiently for Aziraphale to admit he was bored witless in Suffolk, the food was no good, the weather was dismal, there were no decent drinking companions, he missed his book shop and he was going to give retirement up as a bad job and move back to just across the river from Crowley.
“I need you,” said Aziraphale, which was far more straightforward than Crowley had been expecting, even after two bottles of wine. The angel stared at his plate, turning as red as the little gems of pomegranate seed on it.
“Well,” Crowley said, at last, trying to keep any giveaway hoarseness out of his voice. “Here I am."
“It’s just that—oh, dear, some things are so difficult to say over the telephone apparatus, aren’t they? Especially if you have your voice messages on. It feels so impersonal, and I really couldn’t wait any longer to ask."
“Good strategy. I’m right here, go ahead,” Crowley said encouragingly, wondering if he should reach for the angel’s hand. Unfortunately, the angel’s closest hand was gripping cutlery as if it was a lifebouy. Crowley considered putting his hand on one invitingly touchable thigh instead.
“Will you come to a party with me?"
Crowley blinked, daydreams dissipating. “Angel, I don’t think we go to the same kind of parties."
“I’m afraid you’re right, my dear,” Aziraphale said miserably. “It’s a Christmas party. Goodwill to all is not really your area."
“I have no objection to Christmas parties,” Crowley said slowly. There had been a time when it was caught up with the memory of nails and crosses, but that had been a long time ago, and humans didn’t live very long anyway. “They’re quite useful. All that booze and resentment. Did you know I invented Secret Santas?"
“A family Christmas house party,” Aziraphale clarified.
“Well, I can do those, too,” Crowley said. “Do you know how much crime spikes over the holiday period?"
“No,” Aziraphale said firmly. “If you’re coming, I want you to promise to behave yourself."
“Well, if you don’t want me to come, you should just say so,” said Crowley, although he wasn’t actually willing to let go of the idea.
“Please come,” Aziraphale said, with an edge of desperation that Crowley found highly interesting.
They were interrupted by a change of plates. Aziraphale had barely touched his duck hearts, which struck Crowley as interesting, as the angel’s conscience rarely lasted long when it came to food. Surely the honeyed figs would keep his attention longer. They had been one of his favourite foods for literally thousands of years. As Aziraphale poked vaguely at his plate without even tasting it, Crowley found himself quite concerned.
“So what is actually up? Spit it out, angel."
Aziraphale sighed. “It's awkward. I’m afraid I got myself into a bit of a mess."
“And you need a wicked demon to do the dirty work of extricating you? Well, that’s what I’m here for. Your personal evil hero. So tell me all, and eat your pudding.” He scooped some of his own fig onto a spoon, and offered it, feeling a stab of glee when Aziraphale docilely accepted it ono his mouth.
“Oh, that really is delicious,” Aziraphale said, cheering up. “I suppose the situation isn’t so bad, really. But I’m afraid I told a bit of an untruth."
“Do tell,” said Crowley, repressing a grin.
“Well, there’s this lady who runs an antique shop in the main village. Nell. Charming lady, and really, her collection is quite exquisite. And very interested in books. We fell into the habit of lunching together quite often.”
Crowley was aware of a stab of jealousy. Of course, it was ridiculous to think Aziraphale didn’t have any dining partners other than himself. He was too amiable, and far too fond of his comforts. Still. He’d barely been living out in the country for three months, he didn’t have to rush to find a regular lunch partner, let alone a charming one. What did Aziraphale care for charm? He wouldn’t spend so much time with him if charm mattered.
“Hmph,” he said.
“Well, it seems, she got the impression that we were dating.” Aziraphale turned bright red. “That she and I were in a relationship,” he half whispered.
“Don’t be ridiculous! There are rules about that kind of thing. I don’t want to end up chained under a mountain because I fathered a giant monster."
“Things have gone that far?” Crowley could feel his eyebrows shoot up.
“No!” Aziraphale bit into some fig in an offended way. “I wasn’t aware they had gone anywhere at all, that’s the whole point. Until she tried to kiss me."
“I don’t suppose you told her politely that you were fond of her but just not attracted in that way,” sighed Crowley. “That would have been too easy."
“I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. I’m rather afraid,” Aziraphale said, “that I told her I was sorry for the confusion, I was already married."
“I see,” said Crowley, who had a feeling he knew exactly where this was going. “So where is this spouse?"
“Working in game development in London and unable to come down because of crunch time.” For a moment Aziraphale looked proud of himself for knowing the terms, but then his face sank into troubled wrinkles again. He took a deep breath. “And, you see, I have a picture of us with the Bentley on the mantlepiece. Nell went straight over and picked it up and said she’d assumed you were my nephew, but now she could see the way you were leaning into me. And that we are a darling couple, and surely you were coming down for Christmas, and why don’t we stay with her family? Always room for more."
“You have a picture of the Bentley on your mantlepiece?” Crowley asked, touched to the bottom of his black heart. “I knew you loved her deep down."
“That’s not the point."
“No, the point is that you told a really stupid lie and instead of admitting to it, you’re going to dig yourself in deeper,” Crowley said happily. It sounded like his kind of situation. “Well, I’m glad to lend you a spade."
“Oh thank you, Crowley,” Aziraphale said, eyes round with gratitude.
Crowley drained his glass. “Better practice calling me Anthony, sweetheart."
“You don’t need to be sarcastic about it.” Aziraphale pursed his lips, looking hurt.
“I’m not. You can’t go around calling me by my family name after marriage unless we were at Eton together or something, and I don’t think I can pull that off. Although I’m sure you could. Still, awkward if someone asked us which year and turned out to have gone there."
“We don’t have family names. But—s-sweetheart? Is it really necessary to call me sweet-h-heart?"
Crowley sighed. “We’re really going to have to work at this, aren’t we? No, it’s not. Angel will do just fine for a start. Humans usually use it as an endearment, after all,” he added disingenuously.
Aziraphale relaxed a little. “I’ve noticed. Charming, isn’t it? They must have some residual memory of angels watching over and guiding them."
“Smiting their firstborn, visiting plagues on them and turning them into pillars of salt."
“Is that really necessary, my dear?"
Crowley frowned. “On the subject of endearments..."
“Well, ‘my dear’ will do quite well, won’t it?” Aziraphale paused, struck by a sudden thought. “This is going to be easier than I expected. When I think about it, we do already act like a married couple from a human point of view."
Crowley stared at him for a bit, but Aziraphale seemed quite cheerful and unconscious of having said anything of any particular importance.
“I suppose we do,” Crowley said at last, as the figs were exchanged for what he suspected was raw egg foam dolloped on slices of melon and pear. Aziraphale, having seemingly unloaded his worries, sampled it with ecstatic relish.
“Oh, you really must try this. So delicate and rich."
“Not ‘my dear,’” Crowley decided suddenly, on the basis of how Aziraphale looked with a tiny fleck of egg foam on his lower lip.
“Why not?” Aziraphale blinked his lashes at him.
“You call everyone ‘my dear’. You’ve called the chef ‘my dear’ three times already tonight. You called the snot-nosed child you tripped over on the way in ‘my dear’.You call pigeons ‘my dear’ when you feed them. I think that, as your husband, I deserve something more special. After all, I only call you ‘angel’. I require my own, unique endearment."
Aziraphale was so perplexed that he paused with his spoon on the way to his mouth. “Why? What would you like me to call you?"
Crowley gave him his most slow, careful smile, all exposed teeth and just a hint of tongue flashing briefly between them. “Oh, angel, I think I’ll leave that up to you. I can’t wait to hear what you come up with."
Aziraphale was spending the night at the bookshop and, Crowley assumed, spending it in deep passionate reconnection with his collection. On the walk back he took the angel's hand and tucked it into his arm before crossing the road, getting a slightly flustered sidelong look in return.
“Thank you, my dear. But I am capable of crossing the street by myself. I’ve been used to cars on the road for nearly a hundred years."
“Practice,” Crowley said firmly. “If you walk a cubit away from me, everyone will think we're on the point of divorce. We can work up to hand-holding.”
Aziraphale stole another glance up at him, looking becomingly flustered. “Cubit. That’s uncharacteristically old-fashioned of you, dea— Anthony."
“Perhaps I’m feeling nostalgic.” He paused at where the Bentley was parked half on the pavement and stroked her roof lovingly with one hand. “Hey, baby. Papa’s back. Do you know that Papa loves you?” he crooned.
“You’re not that car’s father," Aziraphale said testily.
“You’re her Papa. I’m Daddy."
Aziraphale detached his hand from Crowley’s arm and went inside, without inviting Crowley to follow. The bell jangled and the lock turned.
Crowley stared at the locked door, and decided he wasn’t exactly displeased with the flounce. The time until Christmas seemed ripe with opportunities.
1) I don't usually have two stories running at once, but given how research-heavy The Entire Bloody Boring Fourteenth Century is, daily updates on it are unlikely. I thought I needed something tropey and shameless to be going on with to fill my insatiable hunger to write and post about the boys. Don't worry, I will update every couple of days at the least.
2) So I thought I would use the "one fill per chapter" rule on Ineffable Husbands Bingo and fill as many as I could, which is obviously a brilliant idea. Although I don't think Serial Killers AU is actually going to be cropping up in this one, not without a major mood change
3) Story title and chapter titles are lyrics from Kylie Minogue songs, in honour of Dagon, who spoke to Crowley through the Pop Princess' voice. Does that mean my Paperwork Queen will turn up? Will they be series Dagon? Who can tell.
4) Dear Kanna, didn't you just finish a Fake Marriage ineffable husbands story? Yes. Are you sick of the trope yet? No. It's totally different this time because it's Aziraphale's idea and he actually asked first. At least that's my story.