Aziraphale is aware that staring for extended periods of time goes against social convention, and staring at women even more so. But, it’s not as though he makes a habit of it. Women are very lovely, as are men, but not so much though that his appreciation for them could be considered gawking. This, however, this is definitely gawking. He just - well. To say that he can’t help it is a lie and also very ungentlemanly, but it is extremely difficult not to stare, let alone gawk like some sort of baboon.
And it’s all Crowley’s fault.
Not because what he’s currently gawking at is the bust of his best and oldest friend in the unfathomable universe, but because it was her stupid idea to be the damned nanny.
“It’s too much, isn’t it?” Crowley asks, frowning at her breasts. “I never seem to get them right. Always too much or too little.”
“There’s no such thing,” Aziraphale says before he can stop himself.
“Yeah, yeah, all bodies are beautiful and other heavenly tripe,” she says, batting the air, “I look sort of top-heavy, don’t I?”
Admittedly, yes. Her - er - assets don’t give the impression that they, well, came standard. But there is truth in that because they definitely didn’t. They’re just more… pert and… opulent, than one might expect for a woman of her age and that implies a bit about the state of things, doesn’t it? Same with the extra padding around Crowley’s hips and backside. But there’s nothing wrong with it. Aziraphale himself has made some adjustments to his corporation since he got it and humans do it all the time with dyes and needles and scalpels. Nothing wrong with body modification.
And besides, plenty of people are more endowed than others. That’s fine. Every body is beautiful and all that.
Though, some more than others.
Crowley huffs. “Angel, you’re staring.”
“No, no I -”
She lets out a breath and her chest evens out to something more proportional. Damn. Not that she isn’t still lovely just - well. Aziraphale ought to quit while he’s ahead before he says something out loud.
“You were, but it’s fine.”
“Fine? It’s - “
“If you were staring, Aziraphale, they were definitely too big.” Aziraphale flushes, the mortification sinking in his stomach like a hot rock in his stomach. She’s not going to let him live this down for a while.
“Oh, don’t get embarrassed,” Crowley says. “You’re gayer than pink ink. You didn’t mean anything by it.” There’s a bit of irritation to her words that Aziraphale isn’t sure what to do with. On one hand, it’s good that she’s not mad at him, though he can’t see her getting that upset over this after so many years, but he’s not sure what that irritation means. Is she irritated that he’s paying attention or is she irritated that he wasn’t?
“It won’t happen again,” Aziraphale lies.
Crowley rolls her eyes. “Anyway, what do you think of the heels?”
Crowley’s reasoning for posing as Warlock’s nanny is two-fold. For one, it is her job to look after the newly minted would-be Prince of This World. Everyone Below is expecting her to lead him down the left-handed path, providing a good bad upbringing. It makes sense for her to be as close as possible to the boy. The second is that Aziraphale is truly terrible with children. He is supposed to love them like he’s supposed to love everything but Aziraphale really, really doesn’t. He doesn’t hate them, not at all, he just prefers them in their own spaces, with their own families and friends and not all that close to him.
So, of course, it makes sense for Crowley to take the childcare role. However, what Aziraphale isn’t going to mention is that it would be just as easy to persuade the Dowlings to hire a male nanny as it is to ensure that Crowley is the only applicant for the job. But the reason Crowley insisted on showing up as some sort of infernal Mary Poppins, Aziraphale suspects, has something to do with the fact that Crowley sometimes prefers to portray a womanly visage to the world.
Aziraphale had only been marginally aware of Crowley’s dress at Golgotha, as he was much more focused on the brutality on display. But, despite the cruelty, he had noticed that Crowley bore more resemblance to Mary Magdalene than to Aziraphale himself. Then there was Scotland where her hair was braided through with intricate knots and flowers. Then it was Italy, during the Schism and the plagues, and all the nastiness of that century. At first, Aziraphale had assumed it was born of strategy, that Crowley would change forms as he saw fit, to tempt whoever he needed however he saw fit. Of course, that was before he really began to know Crowley and as soon as he was not just willing to trade jobs with Aziraphale, but sought it out and did exceedingly well at it, the idea went completely out the window.
Aziraphale still doesn’t want to assume, given that would be rather rude, but he’s fairly certain that if Crowley were to be forced to pick between “man” and “woman” for the rest of his eternal life, he’d find a loophole and pretend it was a purely rebellious act. He probably wouldn’t admit it, but Aziraphale suspects that gender is just another thing he slips in and out of, like the snake he is, shedding skin when it needs to be done because sometimes it’s just too painful not to.
And to say that fact is of little consequence to Aziraphale is incorrect. It is of a lot of consequence. A whole lorry full of them, really. There are reasons Crowley, and everyone else, thinks he’s gay, the first being that it’s exactly the impression he’s going for and the second being that he is. Or, rather, sort of. Mostly. Aziraphale presents himself as a gay man. It’s disarming to most, unless they’re threatened by gayness in general, and he likes looking nice and put together in the way older gay gentlemen tend to. He also likes the community, always has, and has both a soft spot for and kinship with those who know the pangs of forbidden love and disapproving society. He knows what it feels like to be looked at as, well, defective, by the closest thing he has to family.
And there’s the fact that he prefers men aesthetically and sensually. Women are nice, but men are much nicer.
For hundreds of years, Aziraphale had been comfortable thinking of himself as a man who was attracted solely to other men, even if neither of those things was entirely accurate. He’s not really a man and has no particular attachment to the idea of being a man, and he’s only ever had sex with men, but that’s a level of nuance that human language doesn’t really have space for. Angelic language doesn’t either, as concepts like gender and sexuality are vague and ill-defined for all of them. Regardless, the closest Aziraphale has ever gotten to describing himself is as an agender, demisexual, homoromantic celestial being, but that’s a mouthful. Gay suits his purposes just fine. Or, at least it had.
He’s in the rose garden, pretending to know what he’s supposed to be doing. He’d done some research about watering and planting schedules and PH levels, but it was too much information to process and also frightfully dull so after a few hours he decided to say to Hell with it and to cheat with magic. And magic is exactly what he’s doing when he spots Crowley coming up the path, baby Warlock in a pram. There’s nothing that should be enticing about it - Crowley’s in a pantsuit for Heaven’s sake - but it is. She walks the way she always does, like her hips are a pendulum beholden to the Earth’s orbit above functionality, but she does it with confidence. She carries herself with the quiet ferocity of a queen or a lioness; a woman who could just as soon devour you as give you the time of day. Plenty of other servants are afraid of her and though Aziraphale has never been afraid of Crowley, he can certainly pretend the severe curl of her lips makes him tremble for that reason.
“You’re going to kill those poor roses,” she says, parking the pram in front of a bush of Candy Stripes.
“And then I’ll resurrect them,” Aziraphale says.
Crowley snorts. “Honestly, did you do any preparation for this at all?”
“Of course!” That earns him a skeptical eyebrow. “Alright, I made an attempt. There are a lot of things to know about flowers and shrubbery.”
“Too bad the Dowlings weren’t looking for a cook.”
“Oh, no,’ Aziraphale says, “I’m just as dreadful at that. I’d imagine. I’ve never actually attempted it.”
Crowley shakes her head, sunlight glinting off the tiny jeweled snake pin in her hair. “Well, I suppose it’s better this way. Best to kill the roses and not the Americans.”
Aziraphale huffs but chooses to ignore her. “What’s the best for roses, then?” He asks, running a finger over the petal of a Claude Monet.
Crowley lets out a disgusted little huff. “Vain little bastards. Sensitive, too. They wilt for anything. Crippling fear of failure should do it if you can manage.”
“They’re flowers, Crowley. I hardly think it’s necessary to traumatize the poor things.”
“Pretend you’re one of those overbearing mums who won’t accept anything less than a Doctorate.”
“I can’t do that! That’s ridiculous.”
“Fine,” she says, “have shitty roses, then.”
Aziraphale purses his lips the best he can with the disguise in place. He’s not all that interested in discussing the garden at the moment, but he doesn’t want to let Crowley go and lose the conversation just yet.
“How’s the boy doing?” He asks.
They both look down at the tiny child who’s staring wide-eyed at the world, chewing on his blanket.
“He’s a baby. They don’t do much.”
“But he’s not setting fire to the drapes or causing animal attacks? Anything of that nature?”
“No, but he would be keeping me up at all hours if I slept. That ought to count for something.”
“I’m fairly certain all babies do that.”
“Sleep deprivation is positively devilish. Sleepy drivers kill just as many people as drunken ones,” she crouches down, tugging the blanket out of Warlock’s mouth. “Don’t they?” She coos, “yes, and you know it, don’t you? Our clever little Destroyer of Worlds. Thinking outside of the box already, our marvelous little beast.”
Warlock giggles, positively delighted with his nanny’s attention. Aziraphale would mention that, thus far, Warlock has only managed to partly inconvenience Crowley, and if anyone were keeping score that puts him behind all the babies that run their parents ragged but that seems pointless. Besides, he likes Crowley like this. He likes seeing her a bit soft - or, softer, rather. Once the whole dread of the antichrist being on earth wore off, she proved rather affectionate towards the child, though she’ll deny it. Crowley may have Hell fooled, but she’s a tender heart, not that deep down, prickly, grumpy, sarcastic exterior notwithstanding.
Warlock grabs Crowley’s glasses, but she stops him before he can get his fat little fingers around the frames. “Look at that,” she says to Aziraphale, “thievery.”
“Yes, he’s quite the menace. Truly a terror.” Aziraphale can’t quite keep the laughter out of his voice.
Crowley looks up at him, a slight sneer on her wine-dark lips. “It’s not my fault I’m winning. Up your game then, angel.”
“Oh, I’m sure I must. I’ve already lost so much ground, it seems.”
It’s hard to tell if Crowley is scowling, given the glasses, but the way she purses her lips indicate it’s a strong possibility.
She stays for a few more minutes until Warlock gets fussy and they have to go back inside. Aziraphale watches her sashay and winds up chopping a perfectly good bud off a rose bush in his distracted state.
They’re in the bookshop. It’s Easter, and the Dowlings have made the trip back to America to make an appearance at the White House’s Easter egg hunt, surprisingly without their nanny in tow, so the two of them are left up to their own devices once again. Crowley is currently lounging on the fainting couch, eating a cheap chocolate rabbit face-first.
“I hope you don’t do that with real rabbits,” Aziraphale says.
“Piss off,” she grouses. She looks like she usually does when she’s only Crowley and not Nanny Ashtoreth. Today that means skinny jeans, long hair straightened and pulled half up, and just the hint of pink stain on her lips. “Aren’t you supposed to be spreading goodwill or peace on Earth or whatever?” She asks, rolling her wrist.
“Well isn’t there something you’re supposed to do for Easter? I’m sure your side has some kind of nonsense they want you to do.”
Well, yes. He was supposed to appear to a group of worshippers in the American south and inspire some sort of divine revelation, something about starting another Revival that would lead to a new religious sect. This one was to have even more impassioned shouting and raising of hands and dreadful soft-rock “worship” music. He’d mailed the secretary a copy of The Passion of the Christ instead.
“Already finished,” he says. “Aren’t you supposed to be doing something demonic?”
“Already done. Every bag of jellybeans in Atlanta, Georgia has been sold out except for the licorice ones.”
“How exactly is that demonic?”
“No one likes licorice, angel,” she says. “I have just ruined the last minute Easter baskets of at least a dozen children.”
Aziraphale rolls his eyes. “You fiend.”
“And don’t you forget it,” she says, taking a big bite of the chocolate rabbit’s ear.
Aziraphale takes a sip of his cocoa to cover up the smile that’s blossoming on his lips. It’s useless to deny how fond he is of his demon at this point, though he’s not sure he wants to make that too clear to her all the time.
“How’d you manage to get out of going to America, anyway?” Aziraphale asks. “Warlock is only three.”
“I didn’t have to do a thing,” she says. “Turns out Family Values is also code for pretending you raise your own children in public so no one thinks you’re an awful parent.”
“Seems a leap in logic,” Aziraphale says.
“Doesn’t matter if it is or isn’t, they’re bound to look bad if they show up with a nanny rather than by themselves. How Harriet is supposed to run a non-profit, organize Thaddeus’s life, and do all the parenting on her own is beyond me but they’ve been expecting that for a few hundred years now, haven’t they?”
“You remember when they used to raise the kids in groups? Whole bunch of mums and grandmums, aunts and sisters taking care of the children? All the men hunting and sailing and dying of exposure? I miss that,” Crowley says.
“It was much nicer. They seemed happy.”
“Humans weren’t meant to be alone, angel,” she says, “‘s not good for them.”
Aziraphale nods. As the gardener, he’s usually alone, unless Harriet comes to visit. When the weather is nice, she’ll come out into the rose garden with a cup of tea she pretends to like and sits in the quiet she pretends makes her feel better. Aziraphale had been irritated by it, at first, forgetting that she wasn’t actually intruding on his space and she was supposed to be there. After a few visits, she started talking to him, just general pleasantries at first, but after a time she started opening up to him. Now the calm air does make her feel better, but it’s mostly because Aziraphale is telling it, too.
“You know Mrs. Dowling doesn’t have a mother? Or a sister? She’s completely in the dark with mothering,” Aziraphale says.
“It shows,” Crowley says. “Not that she’s awful or anything -”
“No, of course not.”
“- she just has no idea what she’s doing. No patience at all with the babbling and the questions and the refusal to eat anything green.”
“I told her she should talk to you,” Aziraphale says.
Crowley sits up, eyebrows knitted together over her dark glasses. “Why?”
Aziraphale wavers. “Well, you do know a lot more about childcare than she does. You’ve only been on the earth since before there even were children. You’ve quite literally seen it all. And you are raising her son.”
“You do realize that I could give her awful advice. I could tell her to deny him attention. Or scold him for everything. Or I could have her lie to him.”
“But you won’t,” Aziraphale says.
“You don’t know that.”
“I do. You like children too much.”
“Did you miss the part where I just told you I ruined Easter for a large metropolitan city full of children?”
“Right, how could I forget. A plague of last-minute licorice. You’ve outdone yourself, my dear.”
Crowley huffs and discards the uneaten half of the chocolate rabbit on the end table, muttering something that sounds a lot like patronizing bastard .
“Regardless, you know I know nothing about actually raising a child. I can’t have her asking me questions. I’ll stick to instilling love and compassion for the living world in the boy. You can have the bathing and the feeding and all the rest.”
Crowley shrugs. “Just as well. You don’t want her spending too much time around the gardens anyway. Don’t want the staff to get ideas.”
“Ideas about what?”
“Oh, you know, the usual.”
“With me? You can’t be serious.”
“I know it’s absurd but people talk. Doesn’t matter that you wouldn’t. Stranger things have happened.”
“But with me? Can you honestly - Harriet? No.” It’s not that Aziraphale can’t fathom the idea - okay it’s partly that, but it’s mostly that he just can’t see Harriet being at all interested in someone who looks the way Brother Francis does. And that had been intentional, too. He wanted to look unconventional, in part to teach young Warlock a lesson about inner beauty and in part to keep any ideas about affairs out of anyone’s mind.
Crowley snorts. “She’s not bad looking.”
Aziraphale scoffs. He takes another swallow of cocoa. It’s gone cold and thick and he loses the desire for it immediately.
“It’s not like it’s never happened before, either. The lady of the house and the groundskeeper? Happened all the time back in the day. Still does.”
“That’s like saying you and Mr.Dowling could be an item,” Aziraphale says.
Crowley grimaces, making a disgusted squawk. “No!”
“You are the nanny. That’s also been known to happen.”
“Satan’s sake, angel, don’t put that in my head.”
Aziraphale doesn’t mention that Hell might consider it a good thing, tempting a supposed Family Values politician into an affair with the help. Especially if he’s the antichrist’s earthly father. It could inspire all manner of tension in the family dynamic and shape Warlock’s childhood for the worse.
But Crowley would never, and Aziraphale isn’t going to make her think that he might have thought she would.
“Besides,” Crowley says again, “I don’t think I’m his type.”
“No,” she says, flatly. “I don’t exactly exude sex appeal.”
Well, that’s not true. She’s always had an air of sensuality about her, particularly in the way she laughs and smiles and especially in the moments where she calculates her temptations and mischief. And her form, no matter what else changes, is always sleek and sinuous. She’s like water, slipping easily into the cracks you weren’t aware you were exposed before her, seeping into your space, your thoughts, your life until you can’t seem to extricate yourself. But as easy as she gets in, she leaves, slipping through your fingers like she wasn’t even there in the first place. She could ruin any man, or woman, or otherwise aligned or unaligned person she wanted. She certainly has with Aziraphale.
“See?” She says bitterly, “that’s what I mean.”
“What’s what you mean?” Aziraphale asks, caught off guard.
“Nevermind,” Crowley huffs. She flops backward, on the wrong side, and tumbles off the couch and onto the floor.
Aziraphale doesn’t get to see Crowley that often. In the past fifty or so years they’ve seen each other more frequently than they have in the past three hundred, and in much closer proximity than they had been before. These past eight or so has increased that proximity tenfold. She’s there, less than 200 meters away most days, and knowing that is enough to make Aziraphale giddy and terribly nervous, like a schoolboy with his first crush. It’s both easy and difficult to be around Crowley so often. They both know where they stand, how they feel, what they’d want if they were allowed, but they know they can’t and it’s that tension that makes it nigh unbearable. It’s that tension that keeps him from leaning into Crowley’s space, from laying tiny kisses on her knuckles, from letting those walls down and feeling .
If Aziraphale had his way, this could be an opportunity. They could pretend, just for a little while, that they weren’t Crowley and Aziraphale. They could pretend they were just two humans drawn to each other by attraction and kinship, falling in love and only kept apart by something as small and impermanent as a job. It would break his heart in the end, he knows, but that’s a feeling he’s gotten very familiar with over the years. They’ve had so many almosts over the millennia; their kisses almost meant something, Crowley almost stayed, Aziraphale almost said something, they almost went together, almost, almost, almost. What’s one more, really?
It’s one of those rare days where Azirapahle feels comfortable wandering into the house. Usually, he keeps to himself as there’s really no reason for the gardener to be wandering around inside and frankly he’s not that fond of the humans that live in it. Warlock is an alright child, but he’s still a child. Harriet Dowling is nice enough but so often flustered and busy. Thaddeus. Well, he’s a Republican. As far as Aziraphale is concerned, it’s a good thing he’s not around.
Regardless of all that, Aziraphale is comfortable escaping the heat today, as most of the Dowlings are away and the rest of the staff is minding their own. He finds Crowley and Warlock in the media room, both planted on the floor despite the very expensive and comfortable looking leather chairs behind them. The room is awfully dark, only illuminated by the overly large television screen and the colorful chaos on it. They’re playing some kind of game with a princess and a turtle and go-karts. It’s very loud and bright and fast, but it does look like fun.
Warlock shouts, throwing his arms in the air. “I win!”
“You also cheated,” Crowley says. She’s sitting with her legs at the side, bent knees peeking out from under her skirt.
“Did not!” Warlock defends.
“And now you’re lying.”
“What have we said about lying?” Crowley asks, looking as stern as ever.
Warlock sighs. “Lying is fine if I do it to other people but not to nanny.”
“So, were you cheating?”
“No, you’re just bad at games,” Warlock says, not looking at her.
Crowley smiles. “Good boy. Never admit to impropriety. Work on looking someone in the eyes when you lie, though.” Aziraphale knows she’s caught on to his presence when she tells Warlock to raid the kitchen for snacks.
Warlock scrambles up to his knees then out the doorway, muttering a hello to Aziraphale as he does. When his footsteps no longer pound down the hallway, Crowley turns to face Aziraphale, her hands folded primly in her lap. Her blouse is white today, with lace frills around the collar and bust.
“If you’ve come to counter my infernal influences you’ve done a poor job,” she says. “Giving me a freebie?”
Aziraphale fidgets with the floppy hat in his hands. “Well, I can’t try to tip the scales too much, can I? You have your time and I have mine.”
The sly slime on Crowley’s lips means she doesn’t believe a word of it. She’s right to, after all.
“Well then, what are you here for?”
“You have the night off this Sunday, don’t you?”
“Same as every week.”
“Good. I was wondering if you might like to accompany to The Black Swan? To discuss business, of course.”
Crowley’s smile twitches minutely, but enough for Aziraphale to catch. “For business, of course,” she repeats.
“There’s only so much privacy around here,” Aziraphale continues, “as I’m sure you’re aware. And it looks odd, perhaps, that the two of us - well, what does the gardener need with the nanny? Not that I don’t enjoy your company regardless,” he says.
“You’re rambling again, angel,” Crowley says. She looks up at him over the rims of her glasses, serpentine eyes glimmering in the low light. Sitting there, so poised and prim, unblinking eyes focused solely on him, she looks every bit the predator she is. Of course, Aziraphale is in no danger, never has been with her, but there’s another almost here again. She could shift and slither forward, and all it would take would be a single strike to discorporate him. He’s never asked whether she’s venomous or a constrictor, but it hardly matters; one good hit can take down anything and that that would be it, no more Aziraphale, for a time. It’s thrilling a bit, to think about the potential danger, even if it scarce exists. All that’s best of dark and bright , indeed.
“You alright?” Crowley asks.
Oh. Right. They were having a conversation. “Yes. I -” the rest of his sentences dies on his tongue as she rises up, her skirt riding up just a touch higher.
“What else did you come in for?” She asks.
“Well, I, it was hot outside and there’s not a lot to really do without all my books -”
She smirks. “You missed me.”
Aziraphale huffs as best as the teeth of his disguise will allow but doesn’t respond with words. Whatever is likely to come out of his mouth is either going to be too cold or too sentimental.
She keeps the wicked, toothy smile as she tilts her chin up, as she often does when she’s amused enough to tease him and pull him into another one of her little games. “Come over here if you’re so bored, then,” she says, patting the carpet next to her.
If Aziraphale were braver, he’d call her out on the blatant flirtation, but he isn’t. He does, however, cross the distance between them and sit next to her, legs crossed. Crowley swings around, stretching her legs out straight in front of her, leaning back on her elbows. The angle makes her chest stick out further than usual, enough that they’re right in Aziraphale’s eye line and he couldn’t avoid looking if he wanted to. He hasn’t gotten to see all that much of them, given she’s displaying far less skin than usual and wouldn’t dare expose herself, being a professional and all. Still, from what he can see they’re lovely. They rise and fall with her breath, and Aziraphale can’t help but wonder what they might feel like against his hands and if he could feel the way Crowley’s breath trembles through them if he were to cradle them while nibbling at her ear. And, of course, he wonders if she went to the effort of breasts, might she’ve made an Effort elsewhere?
“Aziraphale, are you paying attention at all or am I just talking for my health?” Crowley snaps.
“I'm sorry what was that dear? I was - er - focused on other things.”
Crowley scoffs, sitting up straighter. “I said - wait, are you staring at my tits again?”
Aziraphale resolutely does not allow himself to blush. He cannot, however, keep his eyes from bulging or his mouth from flapping on unspent syllables. “I never -”
“You were!”She jabs a finger in his chest.
“No, I wasn’t staring. I was simply - they - you did put them right there. I wasn’t trying to. That would be improper. You know me.”
“I think you’d be used to them by now. It has been a few years, now, hasn’t it?”
Aziraphale falters. What is he supposed to say to that? He’s already embarrassed himself enough by getting caught. Now Crowley is going to think he’s a pervert. He can’t stand the thought of her upset with him over it. It’s not like he means to, just that, well, he’s hopeless. She wears femininity so well and he’s so unused to enjoying it. He’s had years to learn when and where to steal glances as her more traditionally masculine visage and she definitely hasn’t caught him staring at her legs in at least a few thousand years because of it. Still. It’s rude, he knows. But he doesn’t want her to think he doesn’t approve. Breasts or no she makes a handsome woman, but the breasts are a wonderful accessory.
“What’s a few years to us? It’s… still, a bit new to me is all. I’m adjusting,” he says. He’ll pat himself on the back for not technically lying later.
“Yes, well. I imagine it’s not as much of an adjustment for me as it is for you.”
That’s apparently the wrong thing to say because Crowley stiffens her shoulders in a way that betrays her irritation.
“Right,” she says, no longer looking at him.
Dammit. Aziraphale is at a loss as to what to do or say to make it better, so he changes the subject instead. “What is this, then?” He gestures to the screen in front of them.
“Mario Kart,” Crowley says. “‘S a racing game.”
“And how do you make it go?”
Crowley snorts. “Oh no, angel, you wouldn’t like it. Too many buttons and things to keep track of.”
“I could manage it. It’s a game, after all, and I picked up chess quite quickly.”
“You can hardly manage a landline.”
“That’s different. This is supposed to be fun.” He’s pouting, he knows it, but he’s never been above that sort of thing.
“Alright, if you think you can manage it,” Crowley says.
“I’m an angel. I’ve managed several Popes and the invention of trousers. I can manage this.”
The game is… well. It’s nothing like chess. It takes far too long to get him set up with his character - a small spotted mushroom man - and then once the game begins he keeps running into walls and over banana peels and hit with shells. After three laps he gives up and wills his kart to go faster in a minor, extremely selfish miracle. Crowley does accuse him of cheating, which he denies. Eventually, his minor miracle is met with an equally petty bit of magic that increases the amount of shells chucked at his character’s head, which is, in turn, met with a bit of magic that might just change the rules of the powerups. In the end, it’s far too much magic to be reasonable and much more fun than chess.
The pub is nice; upscale in taste but casual in atmosphere in the way their usual dining experiences are not. It’s dark wood and low lights, cozy in the way a pub ought to be, though the lingering smells of spilled beer and grease are absent. Aziraphale is, admittedly, a bit of a snob when it comes to food. His love of good food and his love of decadence usually amounts to high price tags and calorie counts, neither of which are actually things he needs to worry about. It’s not a sin to enjoy the finer things in life, that’s what they’re there for, after all. If he wasn’t meant to enjoy rich cream and herb butter, soft bread and flaky pastry, gravy and demi-glace, he simply wouldn’t be able to. Yes, that means he typically frequents more posh places, but if they sold brie en croute out of a food cart, he’d eat it there, too.
He’s already settled in, looking over the menu when Crowley walks in and he… Aziraphale isn’t quite sure why seeing Crowley present himself as a man is so surprising, but it is. It’s something that Aziraphale has learned to pick over the years, though they’ve never talked about it. There’s a distinct difference in the way he holds himself when he’s aiming for male as opposed to female. He’s more casual as a man, for one. As a woman, he’s much stiffer, more serious, and just a tad more intimidating. It’s difficult to describe, as often there’s really no difference outside of clothing choice or softer features, but he gives off a different sort of energy. It had taken far too long for Aziraphale to catch on, but when he did he tried to be accommodating. He hadn’t brought it up though, as it’s much too personal, but he’s done his best to flow with Crowley’s changing tides.
This time, however, there’s something different about the way Crowley is carrying himself. The aura he’s projecting says man , but almost a little too insistently. Rather than looking relaxed in his swagger, he looks like he’s squirming in his own skin. Or maybe it’s Aziraphale. Hours ago Crowley was in a dress and kitten heels, but that’s never stopped him before. Aziraphale isn’t going to ask, he’ll just go along with it and respect the air his dear friend is trying his best to give off.
Crowley smiles that easy, lovely smile he always does and slouches into the seat across from Aziraphale. They greet each other with the usual pleasantries, order their drinks and something to nibble, and settle into the usual banter.
“He’s started cursing,” Crowley says, “quite adept at it, too. You should’ve heard the things he’s said about his tutor.”
Aziraphale grimaces. “He has his powers then?”
“What? Oh, no. No, nothing like that. Regular human curses. Swearing, name-calling, anatomically impossible declarations of ill-will, that sort.”
Aziraphale breathes a small sigh of relief. Perhaps if he never really comes into his powers they can avoid Armageddon all together. “Oh, good.”
“Any progress on your end?”
“Oh! Yes. He found a baby bird in the garden and put it back in the nest all by himself.”
“Can you do that with birds? They don’t get suspicious about humans touching their young?”
“Not as far as I’m aware. I don’t think they have a good sense for that.” And if they do, Aziraphale will make sure it’s not an issue when he checks on the nest later.
There’s a lull in the conversation for a bit and Aziraphale is about to ask more about the development of the young antichrist when he catches the glimmer of light off the pearl studs still in Crowley’s ear.
“You’re still wearing your earrings?” He doesn’t mean it to be a question, but it is nonetheless.
“Oh.” Crowley tugs at his ear, almost shyly, pulling the studs out too quickly to come off as casual. His nails, too, are still painted the soft fleshy pink they have been for a week. “Sorry,” he says, “forgot.”
“You needn’t apologize, dear. You’ve done nothing wrong.”
Crowley shoves the earrings in his jeans pocket. He wavers, like he’s about to say something, but instead stammers out a timid, “yes, well.”
They should address it. Aziraphale really ought to say something, if only to quell the irritation he can feel coiling in Crowley’s body. “You do know I don’t mind,” he says.
“Don’t mind what?” Crowley asks.
“However you choose to - present yourself. It would be a touch hypocritical of me if I did.”
“It’s just earrings,” Crowley growls. “I don’t care.” He crosses his arms over his chest, tucking his hands under his arms. He’s looking away, too the right and the side shades of his glasses won’t let Aziraphale see his eyes at all, or any hint as to why he’s so testy all of the sudden.
Though, Aziraphale has a guess.
He also has no idea how to bring it up.
Their starters arrive an, saving them from an awkward silence. Or, a more awkward silence than there already was. Aziraphale does not bring up the nail polish, or the way Crowley is obviously off-kilter, fidgeting in his seat and drumming his fingers against the table. Crowley doesn’t say anything either.
Aziraphale is settling in for a quiet night with a glass of brandy and a bawdy romance novel when there’s a knock on his tiny shack’s door. There’s only one person who visits the gardener’s quarters, so he opens the door without checking.
“I need a drink,” Crowley says without preamble. She looks haggard, to put it kindly. Her hair is falling flat and losing its curls, her blazer is wrinkled, and her lipstick is smudged. Aziraphale waves her inside.
“Whatever happened, Crowley?”
“I hate ten-year-olds,” she says, flopping onto Azirphale’s couch. She doesn’t even bother sitting with any of the decorum she’s been pretending to have.
“You don’t really,” Aziraphale says, handing her a drink that just recently came into existence before settling down next to her.
“You know, I wondered why originally. Why start the whole apocalypse business when the antichrist is still a child? Why not wait until he’s at university, majoring in comparative literature and thinking he knows everything already? When he thinks he can solve the world’s problems with Atlas Shrugged and condescension alone? I get it now. Self-absorbed college twats have nothing on ten-year-olds with too much money and dubious morals.” Crowley downs her entire drink in one gulp Aziraphale offers a generous refill.
“What did he do?”
“Not just him. He’s got, friends. Five of ‘em. It’s a sssleepover.”
“I am not paid enough for this.”
“We only have a few more months,” Aziraphale says.
“Oh, good,” Crowley sneers, “then we get to deal with it on a global scale. Isn’t that just going to be delightful? Can’t wait.”
Aziraphale’s stomach churns painfully. Right. He’d forgotten about that, as strange as it may seem. The doomsday clock has been ticking louder and louder over the past eleven years and he’s been deaf to it. He’s been so focused, frankly, on the domesticity of it all. It’s been nearly three hundred years since he’s had a single long-term assignment like this, and never with Crowley so nearby. And perhaps it’s not the same as playing house , so-to-speak, but they haven’t had to wait more than a few days between meetings.
And now they’re months away from the end. Because, if you were to look at it objectively, Warlock may be a normal spoiled child, but he’s not as much of a pacifist as Azriaphale would have hoped. He’s a wild card, in the way children typically are, and that’s not ideal.
“Ugh. Angel, don’t get morose on me. I can’t tonight,” Crowley says.
Aziraphale forces a shaky smile. “Right. Sorry.”
“I don’t know about you, but I’m not spending the next few months here. I’m giving notice next week,” Crowley says after a bit.
“Is Hell going to let you do that?”
Crowley sits up, shrugging out of her blazer and tucking her sunglasses into the breast pocket. “They’ll have to. ‘Sides, ‘s not like a few more months are really going to do much. He’s set in it now. Whatever he’s going to be on Doomsday is what he is today. I’m not going to make him more evil, am I?”
“No, I suppose not.”
“I’ll tell them I’m preparing or something. Not even a lie.”
“What will you do?” Aziraphale asks, sipping his own drink.
Crowley runs her fingers through her hair, shaking it out into loose waves. “Dunno.”
The mood of the night has dimmed significantly and Aziraphale can’t help but reflect. This could easily be their last few months together, but he can’t let himself dwell on that, can he? Because if he has to face the reality that he’s wasted so much time, that there is no time left… it doesn't bear thinking about.
“I’m sure you’ll like to get back to your bookshop on a more permanent basis,” Crowley says.
“Yes,” Aziraphale says. “I think I would. Thought, it will be strange, don’t you think?”
“Oh?” Crowley cocks a single eyebrow.
“We won’t be seeing as much of each other. It will be strange, not looking out the window to see you hissing at the hedges.”
“Of course you’d find that charming. It’s not charming, it’s plant management. They’re terrified of me. I’m terrifying.”
“Oh, yes, positively ghastly.”
“I am! I’m a demon, it’s what I do. Ask anyone here, and they’ll tell you, I’m a nightmare made flesh.”
It’s Aziraphale’s turn to laugh. “Not quite a nightmare. Perhaps some other sort of dream.”
“Oh, come off it.”
“I can’t believe you haven’t heard what the staff thinks of you.”
“That I’m scary, yeah. Get that a lot. Or used to, anyway.”
“No, dear, you’re scary in the way vampires in teenage romance novels are scary.”
Crowley groans. “Hush.”
“What about any of this says scary-sexy? None of this is anywhere close to erotic,” she says, gesturing to herself.
“Well,” Aziraphale swallows hard, “there is a certain thrill to the idea of a matron with a firm hand.”
“Your suits fit you rather well. Your blouses are tasteful but still highlight your bust. You have lovely long legs. And then there’s -”
Crowley starts laughing. She only gets louder when Aziraphale grumbles his irritation.
“Sorry, it’s just, it’s like you’re trying to sell me a mattress.”
“I’m only stating facts.”
“Sure, but are you really qualified to judge what’s sexy on a woman?”
“Why wouldn’t I be?”
“You’re not attracted to women,” Crowley huffs. She drains the rest of her drink.
“No, but I am attracted to you.”
Aziraphale is only aware of what’s come out of his mouth because it’s caused Crowley to blink and stutter.
“Oh, come now, you have to have known.” Sure, Aziraphale has never said it out loud, but he’d just assumed Crowley knew, the way he knows the same about Crowley. She has to be aware, doesn’t she? She’s used that smile and those sinful hips to her advantage more than once.
“But you - I - maybe when I’m - you are?”
“Always,” Aziraphale says.
Crowley continues to stumble over her own tongue, so Aziraphale takes it as an opportunity to make it clear to her.
“Darling,” he takes her hand, “why do you think I stare? The things I’ve thought about you - so many very indecent things. I love your long legs, and when you wear your heels I can’t help but think about what they’d be like pressed into the small of my back. The way your hips swing makes me wonder how you’d roll them when you’re sitting in my lap. I think about how soft and delicate your breasts might be if you’d dig your nails in my hair if I were to take you in my mouth. And of course, I wonder, seeing as how you’ve made such wonderful curves, what I might find beneath your skirt.”
She blinks a few times, clearing her throat as Aziraphale kisses her hand, pressing his tongue to the skin just once, just a hint of what might be to come.
“And when I’m - not like this?” Her voice is a touch breathless.
“Much the same,” Aziraphale says.
She scoots closer, their thighs touching on the couch, the alcohol on her breath sharp in the scant air between them. “You don’t care?”
“I do care. I care very much. Because it’s you.”
“But you -” she licks her lips, her tongue flickering in the air just a bit.
“Whatever you’re hung up about, I can assure you, it’s not a hang-up for me.”
“You mean that?”
“Shall I show you?”
She gulps and gives the faintest nod before Aziraphale draws her forward into a kiss. It’s not their first, not by a long shot, but it’s the first in every way that really counts. It’s a greeting, an agreement, a declaration, a promise, and so much more.
She is soft and sweet, like honey and cinnamon on his lips, and it doesn’t take long for him to pull her into his lap. He meets her like he does any delicious thing: carefully, thoughtfully and luxuriously, intent to prove that he means it. It’s not just that she’s attractive, that he’s as interested in her now as ever, it’s that this is Crowley, his beloved, tenderhearted, silver-tongued demon.
There is a bed in Aziraphale’s quarters, but they don’t make it there. They make love on the couch, a little awkwardly with both of them still half-dressed and her legs splayed, one over the back of the couch, one on the floor, but they make it work. Every bite of her teeth against his jaw, every drag of her nails, ever desperate, awestruck whimper and moan brand themselves into his being like a tattoo. He can only hope that his greedy mouth and hungry gaze does the same for her, though if the starry gaze in her eyes is anything to go by they just might.
After, they lie together, albeit a little awkwardly on the couch, sticky with sweat and other fluids, the air still ripe with sex and the last echoes of needy, pleasured cries. Neither of them is too keen on fixing it, at least not yet.
“Does this mean, all this time, you were actually staring at my tits when you were staring at my tits?” She asks, nuzzling into his chest, fingers playing idly with the fine hair on his stomach. She’s wrapped herself around him like a weed but he can’t say as he minds it.
Aziraphale's soft laugh jostles her just a little. "Yes. I know it's rude but you did a very nice job with them," he says, smoothing his hand up and down her side.
"I thought they bothered you."
"Is that why you were so upset?"
She nods against his chest.
"I thought it bothered you," he says.
She hums. "Thought you didn't like them," she says. "I didn't realize... you've known for a while, haven't you?"
“Which part?” He doesn’t want to say, for fear that he’ll overstep and ruin the moment. Ruin whatever new thing they’ve forged here tonight.
“That I -” A sharp beeping cuts her off and she rolls her eyes, wiggling out from underneath him as she scrambles under the coffee table for her skirt.
She huffs, silencing her phone and tossing it back on the table. “I have to go,” she says, so soft and quiet like it might break something if spoken too loudly.
“Fine. It’s only the boy.”
“Oh. Well, you’re welcome to come back if you’d like.”
“Best not,” she says, sweeping her hand in front of her. She’s back to normal, now, her hair curled tight, make-up impeccable, clothes on and unwrinkled. She leans over and kisses the soft frown off Aziraphale’s lips. “Tomorrow, take me somewhere?”
“It would be my pleasure,” he says.
He walks her to the door, stealing one last kiss before she goes. He watches as she fades into the clear summer night, gone from sight but just as present as the stars that twinkle above.