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“your hand

touching mine.

this is how

galaxies

collide.” 

―  Sanober Khan

 

---

 

 Aziraphale is confused the first time he sees a human cry.  Eve’s eyes go distant and glassy. They were never like that before, and he can see the price of knowledge reflected there.  A small fire burns to keep them warm, and she buries her face in her hands as Adam sleeps on the sand alongside her.  It frightens Aziraphale at first, he thinks she might be dying.  Her shoulders heave, and small choked sounds wrench their way out of her throat.  Her hands shake when she reaches down to cradle the growing swell of her belly.  

As Aziraphale studies this phenomenon, there is a shift in the atmosphere, the sharp scent of ozone that gives way to a sudden presence alongside Aziraphale.  

“Hate to see that,” Crawly says, and sits down next to him.  

Aziraphale furrows his brow. “What’s wrong with her? What’s she doing?” 

“Well, she’s crying for starts.”

Aziraphale looks away from Eve and toward Crawly.  “But why?”

“Take your pick. She’s thirsty, hungry, pregnant and wandering the desert.”

“No thanks to you,” Aziraphale comments with a tight smile.

“I didn’t know what would happen,” Crawly mutters.  If Aziraphale didn’t know any better, it might sound remorseful, but everyone knows demons are unrepentant.  Or that’s what he’s been told.

Eve wipes her face, under her nose.  Her eyes are bloodshot, her body sags.  

“Seems so…painful,” Aziraphale murmurs. 

“It can be,” Crawly says lightly.  Aziraphale frowns. It doesn’t seem possible that he is the only one experiencing a dearth in human understanding in this. Crawly glances over and shrugs.  “There’s a great deal of weeping in Hell,” he explains. “It’ll stop, eventually. It always stops.”

Aziraphale doesn’t care to speculate, it seems as if Eve may go on like this forever, that she will always be this heavy.  “Why are you here?” he asks, watching as Crawly swirls an old Enochian sigil in the sand with a fingertip, and destroys it before completion.  He gathers the grains of the earth in his fist. Sol sets behind Crowley’s head and it almost looks as if there’s halo over him, the way it frames.

“Where else would I be,” Crawly asks, looking off into the distance, “this is all there is.”  Sand runs out through the gaps between his fingers. 

 

---

 

Eve is Aziraphale’s favorite.  God had done better the second time around, he thinks.  Eve is more curious than Adam, kind and strong of character; wonderful human qualities, breathed into Eve by God Herself-- and leading, ultimately to humanity’s undoing.  

Really did seem a bit harsh.   Aziraphale rather thought curiosity was one of mankind’s best features, without it there is no ingenuity, no inspiration.  No growth. 

But it is not Aziraphale’s place to question such things.

If anyone should have been punished for it, it probably should have been Aziraphale.  It was his first posting and he should have absolutely been sacked for dereliction of duty.  He was on apple tree duty, after all.

The serpent seemed so harmless, though.

There is much talk amongst angels concerning the foul rot of the demonic soul, how their very presence corrupts that which is good and virtuous, and their only desire--their only true desire-- is to drag every last soul down into the sulphuric depths of the Fiery Pit with them.  

Aziraphale wonders if any other angel has actually bothered themselves enough to carry on a conversation with a demon before smiting it.  There’s not much to be gained from violence aside the perpetuation of violence, while patience, and a little kindness, can yield a richer understanding of all things.

And besides, the serpent was rather lovely to behold, always coiled over the flat rocks, bathing in the warm sunlight.  Aziraphale wasn’t surprised when Eve began talking to him. In the garden she tended to each creature, no matter how small.  Even the unseemly scarab beetle would scuttle its way into the shelter of her open palms. How was Aziraphale supposed to know it was a demon from all the way up on that wall?  Aziraphale speaks to snakes too, these days Well, not all of them, just the one, and he’s only a snake sometimes.

Now, banished into the wilderness, Eve walks alongside the zebras and traces their stripes.  She helps the shrews guard the burrow when their young are born. Birds flock to her bare shoulders and there she holds them, fingers idly stroking the length of their feathers.  They allow this from her, but startle and fly off as soon as Adam extends even a glance in their direction.  

She laughs and says to him , “You go too fast,” and shows him the right way to touch-- softly, slowly.  She teaches his hands gentleness. They reach for one another in the darkness, taking delight in turns, and finding solace when all is bleak.  

The day Abel dies, Eve can not tolerate a hand laid upon her, not even in comfort, but slowly, agonisingly, her anger over the briefness of Abel’s life fades into the swell of grief.  She looks like she’s been carrying boulders on her shoulders where once there were birds. Aziraphale isn’t sure what to do, and feels very much like he’s a spectator to something that isn’t his to see-- but he feels locked in this moment, in some way, with her.  Eve, with all her understanding, and Aziraphale with none. He wants to be taught, the same way she taught Adam, made to understand. Aziraphale is beyond time, his knowledge is vast and transcendental, but he knows nothing of what it means to be human. There is a different sort of wisdom to be learned here.   Aziraphale can feel the way love shifts when the grief touches it--senses how the shape of it changes to accomodate the tidal swell of heartbreak.  Feeling love has never him hurt this way. 

Adam holds Eve in his arms and draws his fingers down her back.  He gathers her tear stained face in his hands. He kisses her cheeks, her forehead, gently presses their lips together for a moment, then again, and again, until their mouths only part for breath. They cling to one another, palms stroking over flesh like they intend to push the despair out from where it’s caged within their ribs. 

He and Crawly are both a little perplexed by it at first.

 

“What are they doing?” Aziraphale asks, tilts his head to get a better look.

“What are they doing, what are you doing. They’re having a moment.” Crawly turns and begins walking in the opposite direction.  “Is voyeurism a sin?” he asks himself, “Might be. Depends on what you’re voyeuring, suppose. Best you don’t risk it, come along angel.” 

“No, not that , the other bit,” Aziraphale says, and moves to follow.  He didn’t mean the love-making, though that was peculiar at first too, he’d never seen it done that way.  In Heaven, sex, as a concept, involves a similar merging into unity, rare and nearly unheard of. No one quite understands it; perhaps a shred of soul drifts directionless and becomes lost into another.  It is said that there are some souls created with a missing piece that can only be restored when finally they come together. It is a joining of disparate essences, back into one composite.

It sounds romantic.  

It’s not.

God just thinks scavenger hunts are fun.

Aziraphale touches the tips of his fingers to his mouth and presses his lips against them.  When he glances up, Crawly is staring. “I haven’t seen them do that before. What do you think it means?”

“Couldn’t say,” Crawly says, and swallows, and doesn’t stop looking at Aziraphale’s mouth.  “You can try it and see?” 

“On you?”

“Or not,” Crawly says, tone immediately turning defensive, “was just an offer. I wasn’t tempting, or anything, don’t flatter yoursel-- it’s not like I care.”

“I never said you did,” Aziraphale murmurs, furrowing his brow and not understanding the sudden hostility.  It isn’t as if he doesn’t know what it was a prelude to, but obviously there was a point when things detoured in that direction.  He supposes even a handshake could get intimate if you went about it with that intention.

“Don’t know why you’re getting worked up over it,” Crawly goes on, and pulls at the collar of his robe.  “Why is it so bloody hot out here Have you playing with the climate controls again?   What are you staring at?

More out of a desire to quiet him, than a sense of curiosity, Aziraphale goes up on his toes, takes Crawly’s face in his hands, and presses their mouths together. Softly, softly, he thinks to himself, recalling the first time he’d touched the petal of a rose-- delicate, careful not to bruise.  

Crawly sighs against Aziraphale’s lips, and goes still. Aziraphale watches his eyes fall closed the same way Eve’s did, and wonders what that means.  Is it a natural response? Sometimes when a human closes their eyes, they do it to obscure the truth. Or they’re tired and bored. Perhaps Aziraphale is reading too much into it. Or he isn’t doing it right.

The manic energy Crawly had been exuding a moment ago, floods out of his body in an instant.  It’s almost a miracle, the rapidity of this transformation. Aziraphale lingers for a moment longer when he’s sure it’s gone for good.

He pulls away, their lips part with a soft click. Crawly sways toward him and blinks. 

“Strange,” Azirapale says, and thinks immediately that it isn’t the right choice of words at all.

“Right,” Crawly agrees, voice gone airy and distant.  He has a glazed look in his eyes that wasn’t there before. “Don’t see what the fuss was about.”

 

---

 

As the world grows, Aziraphale sees less of Crawly.  It is to be expected, the population has begun to flourish despite the hiccups early on, and they both have their hands full.  Humans are creative creatures, unpredictable, constantly fluctuating--wildly dichotomous at times. They create their own trouble, fall into the snares of their own making, and yet they persevere in spite of themselves.  Aziraphale loves them for this-- how the best among them fight tooth and nail for every scrap of goodness in the world, and doing so not out of a sense of obedience , but because they see the intrinsic value in kindness.  They are all so limited, so young, and they always will be.  They die young, even when they are old, yet they leave so much of themselves behind.  

Humanity, Aziraphale thinks, is not so much stitched together by flesh and bone and viscera, but strung together in beautiful patterns of memory, and stories, and a sense of togetherness against the relentless unknown.  

He wishes the unknown had better things to offer, at times.  Your questions follow you to the grave and beyond, wondering goes on infinitely, and it is only your scenery that changes shape--not the material of your soul.  

Still, Aziraphale misses having someone to talk to, really talk to about all of this.  Despite their conflicts of interest, Crawly is the only one here with whom he has any sort of commonality.  The irony isn’t lost on Aziraphale. It’s terribly easy at times to forget he’s a demon, it’s easy for Aziraphale’s mind to wander in places that cross carefully set boundaries.  If Aziraphale weren’t something of a misfit among his own kind, he would not feel the compulsion to reach out and seek companionship in inappropriate places. God does not make mistakes, but perhaps She was not looking quite closely enough when She bore Aziraphale into existence.  

The rain has begun to fall in earnest, the villagers retreat to their shelters to escape the downpour, for all the good it’ll do them.  They’ll all be swept away soon. Aziraphale can’t allow himself to think about that too long. He shoves it down. He’s become good at that.  It’s upsetting, he can’t help it-- the senseless waste of it all .  Each human is so impossibly unique, each of them are priceless works of art, existing in this form for such a brief span of time before they’re called away.

“Time to fly, angel,” Crawly says , “there’s nothing more you can do here.”   

 

They make it to the hilltop and Crawly twists his long hair in a fist to wring it free of rainwater. The plaits have come loose, and Aziraphale admires the sharp line of his jaw, until he realises that it’s not something he should be doing. Lightning chooses that moment to bisect the sky in admonishment, and Aziraphale is quick to look away.  

They soar for miles with the wind lashing against them.  Rain streaks over Crawly’s dark wings, each drop shining crystalline and glittering in the moonlight when finally they reach clear skies.  Aziraphale isn’t sure where it is they’ve ended up, but there’s a grove below with tender clover blanketing the Earth, and both of them are weary enough to call it home for the night.  They lie next to one another in quiet armistice. Crawly stares hard at the sky above, unusually reticent.

Aziraphale sighs and marvels at the brilliant tessellation of stars spread against the infiniteness.  “They’re lovely tonight.”

Crawly smiles-- a wistful thing that doesn’t touch his eyes.  “They always are,” he says.

A moment passes.  “Should I have tried harder?” Aziraphale asks, it’s the same question he’s been asking himself since they left.  “So many people.. should I have done something? Isn’t that the point of me?”

“What’s done is done. Be careful of these questions, angel.” His words are a warning:  Don’t let what happened to me, happen to you.  Crawly turns to look at Aziraphale, frowns and looks back toward the stars.   “It’s all entropy-- Her, this place, you, me. We’re all just looking for meaning before it all falls apart, even God.”  He flinches as if invoking the Name burns his tongue. “Why else would She make this place, bear so many children into existence, create sides and play these games with us.”

“I’m not asking what She thinks, I’m asking what you think,” Aziraphale says.  “Could I have done more?”

Crawly is silent, contemplative, “Dunno. Maybe,” he admits.  “I’m glad you didn’t.”

“Why?” Should really be the inverse, bringing down an angel, even one as low-ranking and insignificant as Aziraphale, would mean a commendation for a demon.  Possibly an early retirement, even.

“I’m selfish, I suppose.”

“What does that have to do with anything?”

“Angel, please stop asking questions ,” Crawly says irritably, rubs a hand over his eyes. “Look.  Don’t take this the wrong way, but you’re sort of the only being in existence worth talking to.  If you get sent in front of a Holy Tribunal for rebellion who knows what your lot will send down as a replacement.”

“How could I possibly take that the wrong way?”  It’s a very sweet thing to say about another person, actually.  He’s accustomed to the archangels’ disdain. It is a dreadful sort of feeling, when you know you are unliked by those around you, and can not understand why.  He never gets that feeling around Crawly.

“I’m saying you’re a soft touch,” Crawly amends. Aziraphale smiles and nods, and Crawly grits his teeth.  “No, you… You’re nice. You’re--” he makes a dithering gesture with his hand toward Aziraphale, “you’re harmless.”

“Thank you.”

“You should have smited me a few times over by now.”

“Well, do unto others, I say.”

Crawly huffs something that might have been an exasperated laugh, or perhaps he’s just caught a bit of sand in his throat.  “These aren’t compliments, actually?” He says it like he’s trying to sort it out for the both of them.

“Oh dear,” Aziraphale frets. “Sorry about that.  Try again,” he encourages, straightening his shoulders and tilting his chin up to appear more defiant.  “I’ll get the reaction right this time, go on.”

The corner of Crawly’s mouth turns up, and he says wonderingly, “You really are something else, aren’t you?”  

Aziraphale has no idea what that even means, but he feels suddenly overcome with gratefulness for Crawly-- for the way he led Aziraphale away before the waters grew too deep and Aziraphale had stared straight ahead, because he could not afford to look back on the suffering he’d left behind.  He had been ashamed in that moment, ashamed of God and Her wrath, ashamed of himself for being obedient instead of brave, but Crawly was merciful where God was not. 

He doesn’t push in places where Aziraphale feels sore and confused, and for that, Aziraphale is thankful.

Aziraphale doesn’t know if it is this feeling which possesses him to press up on his elbows and cross over into Crawly’s space, or if it’s lingering sense of Crawly’s melancholy with his eyes cast toward the Heavens. Words seem too clumsy this moment-- too loud and inefficient to convey the thing Aziraphale feels stirring in the core of his being.  

Crawly looks at him questioningly right before Aziraphale leans down and brushes their lips together. The sadness and underlying infernal ire that seem inextricable from Crawly’s soul dissipates the moment it happens, the same way the nervous energy faded away the last time they did this.  It’s odd how he can parse these things from Crowley, usually anything that isn’t LOVE or HATE, all the Big Emotions, only register as a blip to Aziraphale’s higher senses. He’d go mad otherwise.

Aziraphale pulls back when he feels cool fingertips touch the column of his wrist.  

It doesn’t make sense that these stolen kisses seem perfectly innocuous, even the right thing to do, while Crawly’s hands on him feel dangerously ambiguous.

Aziraphale turns on his side, and tries not to look at Crawly the rest of the night.  He allows himself to drift off into sleep-- it really is useful once you’ve learned how.  Shuts down all manners of precarious thought.

By first light, Crawly is already gone.

 

He begins to miss Crawly after this.  There is a distinct feeling in the pit of his stomach after they part, a fluctuating hollowness that dims at times--but never disappears completely. This is how an addiction first unfolds itself; the mind perpetuating behaviours it finds rewarding.  Like all addictions, it must be repressed and maintained, and like all addictions--even the strongest convictions waver when measured against it.  

 

---

Aziraphale isn’t sure what it is the people of Pompeii have done wrong, but whatever it is, God makes Her opinion of it quite known.  

It’s very reminiscent of the Sodom and Gomorrah business, where both sides of the Heaven and Hell equation dabbled in its destruction, and of which Aziraphale wanted no part.  He’d known some lovely couples in the village, had even been invited over for dinner a few times.  They’d played scheherazades. Hardly anything sinful about that. Sure there were some bad eggs in the village, but you’d be hard pressed to find a place that doesn’t contain a few terrible neighbours.  And it wasn’t as if Lot was any better than the rest of the sinners!  While a few men might have had somewhat lascivious designs where Aziraphale, specifically, was concerned--offering up your daughters as a sensible resolution for misplaced affections, is just demented .  He’d left Lot’s company post-haste.

At least with Sodom and Gomorrah, he’d been given word of Sandalphon’s planned assault on the town.  It was brought up in the annual strategy meeting, and Aziraphale had begged that any merciful alternative be considered. His pleas were met with unilateral derision, and Aziraphale grit his teeth and bore it obediently, then rushed overnight to save who he could under the cover of darkness. 

 What he’d found was Crawly ushering some of the very same people Aziraphale had broken bread with, out of the village.  There hadn’t been time to ask questions, they’d briefly shared a shocked moment of eye-contact, then Crawly tossed him a bag and whispered camels are that way, and it wouldn’t occur to Aziraphale until later that they’d both been there doing the same exact thing: Rebelling against orders. 

Neither of them spoke of it after, but there has been this tacit understanding lingering between them ever since.

He couldn’t have known then the precedence it would set.

And what Aziraphale was afraid would happen, happened.  Men recorded the burning of the city as a treatise on sexual morality-- perpetuating oppression, homophobia, and willful ignorance for years to come.  No one ever seems to think before they smite. 

His trip to Pompeii is incidental, as incidental as anything can be one is living within intelligent design.  A nice young man in Naples boasts about the Pompeiian vineyards, the rich soil capable of producing the most luscious bounties.  Aziraphale fancies himself something of a connoisseur of fine taste, and he’s been spreading blessings throughout the Scandinavian peninsula for so long--there, in the freezing cold--surely he’s due for a holiday.  No one will notice if he goes off the grid for a few days.

Upon docking, he asks a local for food and entertainment recommendations, and the man says I know just the right place, gives him directions and winks, which seems an odd thing to do.  It makes sense the moment Aziraphale finds himself in a tavern surrounded by graffiti of people involved in various arrangements of sexual congress.

“Oh dear,” Aziraphale murmurs to himself, grimacing at something involving two men, one woman, and a highly conspicuous shrub. He finishes his first cup of wine and averts his eyes.

“Good thing you weren’t around for Nero, if a bit of erotic art gets you pink at the ears.

“...Crowley?”  Aziraphale turns and looks over his shoulder, sees no one, turns back around, and nearly jumps out of his seat when he finds Crawly-- Crowley now, he has to keep reminding himself -- sitting across from him.  

Aziraphale puts a steadying hand over his heart, sighs and glares a bit.  “Why must you always sneak up on me?” He knows what Aziraphale’s nerves are like.  Sometimes, Aziraphale thinks Crowley does and says things to work his various, admitted, neuroses on purpose. It’s as if he very much desires attention-- negative or otherwise.

“Fancy meeting you here,” Crowley says, eyebrow rising. “So early, too.  Were you blessing someone upstairs last night?”

“No,” Aziraphale replies absently, noticing how Crowley has let his hair grow a bit from the short crop he wore earlier in the century, humidity makes the hair flip and curl at the nape of his neck. “A young man named Pliny ferried me over at dawn.”

“No, I mean what are you doing here.  In a brothel.”  He points aside to the man, the man, the woman, and the shrub, painted up there above the hearth.

“Pardon?” Aziraphale asks, still distracted with reacquainting himself with Crowley’s appearance.  He’s taken to wearing smoked spectacles since their invention. It’s for his own safety. Humans can have violent notions against otherness.  Aziraphale misses the strange focus of his eyes, Crowley has such an expressive face. He’s gotten better at keeping his emotions from leaking out, that sometimes Aziraphale needs those eyes in order to gauge Crowley’s state of mind.  It’s not fair for Aziraphale to resent it. They’re on opposite sides, after all, and Aziraphale’s empathy perception is one of his few distinct advantages over Crowley. Crowley might be able to read thoughts with some effort, but even thoughts can lie, where emotions rarely do.

He thinks he might be staring at Crowley, and his cheekbones, and the downturn of his mouth which makes him look like he’s on the verge of a perpetual strop.  He’s always been rather pretty--in a severe, sort of delicate way.

Wait-- what did he just say?

“Broth--oh. Oh.  Well, certainly not that I can assure you!  I’d asked a local where I could find a decent meal, and this is where they sent me.  I’d no idea I was being led into a den of lust.” He wrings his hands in his lap, nervously pops an olive into his mouth and tries to look anywhere where sin isn’t happening.  He isn’t quite sure how he missed it before, possibly he’d been too focused on finding a decent meal. This establishment is brimming with carnal intent.  No wonder Aziraphale feels restless and oversensitive in his own skin.

Behind Crowley, right over his shoulder, a man’s eyes linger on the slope of Crowley’s neck where it meets the shoulder.  Aziraphale’s mood darkens. He stares back until the fellow has the decency to clear his throat and return to his drink, and then it’s Aziraphale’s turn to fixate on the exact same spot like he might burn away the invisible touch of malintent.

“I’d ask the same question of you,” Aziraphale says lightly, too lightly, it comes out accusational. “The locals seem rather familiar.

Crowley’s face contorts with unmistakable disgust, he makes a gagging sound. “Ugh!”

“What?”

“I was just joking with you-- how could you even-- don’t be ridic--they’re humans!”

“Well, it wouldn’t be unheard of.”  The Nephilim.  The Incubi. Neither side is blameless.

“Disgusting,” Crowley says again, “they’re not even the same species as us.  They’re--they’re babies for Satan’s sake.  I’m far too old for--I’d never , not with a human at least.”

Against his better judgement, Aziraphale finds himself asking, “With what would you.. you know..” he points timidly to another piece of naughty art, and watches Crowley’s cheeks go red red red.

“The colosseum!” Crowley blurts, and Aziraphale reels back a bit.  “No, I’m here for that. For the colosseum. I did that. Not that killing each other for entertainment part, they came up with that on their own.  I thought there was just going to be gambling, maybe some mimes, a little torture through bad theatre.  Not literal torture in a theatre.  Leave it to humans to always throw a spanner in the works.

“It is often either sex or violence, with them,” Aziraphale admits, brow furrowing, “not sure what the shrub is there for, if I’m being honest.  Is it a metaphor?”  

 

It’s too easy resettling into each other’s space, picking up conversations that were cut short years ago, as if no time has passed.  They talk through breakfast, drink much more than what would be considered appropriate for this time of day. It’s nice. It’s really very nice having Crowley to sit with, and speak to without having to censor himself.

“So, Nero then, odd duck that one,” Aziraphale announces, proud of himself for not fumbling the words.  “I reckon he’s fitting in quite well now that’s he’s..er.. Below.”

“Yeah, always had a penchant for per--py--pryoma--he liked playing with fire.  Among other things.” Crowley shudders and grimaces. 

“Yes, I heard.”  Heaven wasn’t happy about the burning of all those Christians, not when the Good Word had just begun to spread.  They haven’t blamed Aziraphale for these setbacks outright, but Gabriel did tell Aziraphale to not worry about it anymore, and we’ll bring in a specialist, in a passive aggressive tone of voice, then nodded toward Michael.  Aziraphale took that to mean another catastrophe was in the works. Have none of them figured out that Aziraphale simply can’t be everywhere at once? 

It’s like none of them understands that humans come to these things in their own time. Fear only creates paranoid humans.  When those people come to God, they come out of fear, and love which is rooted in fear is fundamentally destructive. Aziraphale has seen enough of the abuses of the world to know this is true.  Fear, and love, ought not be conflated.

 

“--and you know what,” Aziraphale blurts, wine spilling over the lip of his goblet, “I don’t think I’m good enough for them.  I never have been.  The n’agels. The other ones.” He points up.

“Oh, come on,” Crowley says, face scrunching up like it’s the most ridiculous notion he’s ever heard.

“No, it’s obvious! I’m just not like them.  Gabriel and Michael, Uriel, they’re all so.. Righteous and awe-inspriorr… awe-inspire...Awesome.  And I’m well. Me.”

“FUCK! THEM!” Crowley says, overly loud and Aziraphale has to shush him when a few locals turn to look. “I said what I said. I think you’re good and enough.  I’d ask you to be my guardian angel in a heartbeat.”

“Do you mean that?”

“I think you’re beautiful.”

Wait. What? 

“What?”

“Shit. What I said was, ‘I was glad to hear you’d been stationed up north’,” Crowley mutters, sways in his seat and sets an elbow on the table.  He swirls his finger in front of Aziraphale’s face, and Aziraphale’s eyes cross trying to track the movement. “”Stuck out like a sore thumb, you would have.  This,” he pinches a white tuft of Aziraphale’s hair between his fingers, “can sssee the stardust on you.” 

Aziraphale huffs and pushes the hand away, his fingers brush over Crowley’s knuckles, and Crowley props his cheek in an open palm, blinks dreamily.  “Used to work with the stuff, you know, from Before. Could tell from the moment I saw you, what you were made from.”

“Aren’t we all, to a degree,” Aziraphale murmurs, and feels a wave of melancholy over something that was clearly so precious to Crowley having been taken away from him.  Nothing sadder than an artist separated from him tools.

“You’d be surprised.  Sss’like,” Crowley hisses, nose scrunching up as he tries to put word to thought, “God tempts too, d’you know that? Why else would She have put you up there?  She knew I was.. I. You understand me, don’t you angel?”

“No,” Aziraphale hiccups, takes another drink, and tries to parse whatever it is Crowley’s trying to explain.  “No, m’afraid you’re drunk and not making much sense, my dear.”

“Right! Exactly! You understand that it doesn’t make any sense.”  He sighs, and slouches back into his seat, his mood changes abruptly into something more morose. “I never make any sense.”

Aziraphale can’t agree with that.  If anything, Crowley is painfully, acutely pragmatic and insightful at times, but Aziraphale suspects he means another thing entirely, and that meaning eludes Aziraphale’s understanding.

“Well, I’ll toast to that,” Aziraphale offers instead, and Crowley shrugs and extends his cup.

The moment their cups touch, the Earth shakes beneath them.

It’s a quiet rumble, a thing that makes the first layer of dust shift from off the stones and twirl in sunlit motes through the air.  Wood creaks, and the men in the tavern murmur nervously to one another.

“Was that you?” Crowley asks, suspiciously.

“What-- of course not!”

“S’all right if it was, nothing to be embarrassed about.”

“That was only once ,” Aziraphale sputters indignantly, “Jericho was a long time ago, there was a war going on and fine, perhaps I panicked . ” He hadn’t meant to cause an earthquake, he’d just had anxiety over the whole affair.  It was terribly embarrassing. He was designed to be a warrior of God, but humans go about conquest with such blood-drenched violence. Their determination to survive is paradoxical to their utter lack of self-preservation.  Aziraphale finds living peaceably quite simple. He can go long stretches without conflict. It might have been poor judgment giving men a sword, seeing as how they so often perish at the ends of them.  

“Let it go, Crowley.”

“The same way you let that big wall go tumbling down?”

“How many times do I have to say--”

There it is again--a shifting of the earth from below, the groan and crack of rock and sediment that does not easily give.  Crowley’s cup tips over, wine spills across the table and drips claret onto Aziraphale’s white robes. They look at one another, Aziraphale can see wide, golden irises peer up from behind dark lenses.

“Not you,” Crowley says.

“Not me,” Aziraphale confirms.

“Right. Time to sober up,” Crowley’s eyes clench shut, his face tenses in concentration, and Aziraphale does the same.  The pleasant sluggishness of inebriation dissipates at once, his mind sharpens and with it comes an instinctive feeling of unease.  Something is about to happen. He can feel it. Aziraphale gets right out of his seat and walks out the door, leaving Crowley to call after him with with an annoyed, “ I’ll just pay the tab then, shall I?”  

Demons may be able to play fast and loose with the physics of reality, but Aziraphale is fixed into the mechanics of creation itself, more elemental, less metaphysical.  He kneels down, presses a hand flat to the earth and feels the burning and surging underneath. The earth is stirring in the deep, letting loose a moan that resonates in dikes and conduits, and it only becomes louder and louder with every passing moment.

“Guh,” Crowley says behind him, “do you smell that?”

“Hush please, I’m trying to concentrate,” Aziraphale tells him, and mutters something distracted and nonsensical about fault lines.

“It’s sulphur. Sulphur. You know. Brimstone, sulphur, same hellish difference!”

“I know what sulphur is Crowley, you don’t need to keep saying it!”  

“We’ve got to leave. If my lot finds you here with me--”

Aziraphale groans miserably.  “It’s not your lot, it’s--”

It happens quietly at first.  Aziraphale stops speaking when he feels Crowley’s hand fumbling against his shoulder, tapping with increasing panic.   Attention drawn from what’s happening below, Aziraphale turns his eyes to the horizon. In the distance, a massive plume of ash geysers into the sky, the shock of the pressure pop scatters the clouds above, and sound races inevitably toward them.  

“Bloody Michael,” Aziraphale finishes between clenched teeth, looks at Crowley whose face reads equal parts horror concerning the oncoming disaster, exasperation at Heaven’s indiscriminate vengeance, and slightly impressed at Aziraphale’s off-colour vocabulary.  

They can hear the shockwave coming, people screaming whose ears it has already reached. 

“Steady there, angel,” Crowley mutters and cool fingertips slip reassuringly across Aziraphale’s knuckles. 

Instead of jerking away, instead of a closed clasp that resembles a handshake, Aziraphale interlaces their fingers completely.  His thumb overlaps Crowley’s thumb at the knuckle, holds it pinned in soft curve of his purlicue. Something like static passes between them, humming and resonating in Aziraphale’s teeth, raising gooseflesh all over, then heat.  Just a little.  A tiny, lurid flash that begs for recognition.  It isn’t only heat, it’s a feeling. Aziraphale tightens his grip reflexively, trying to bring it into focus.  Now isn’t the time, it’s really not the time, but what is that?   

Crowley twitches, an awkward expression passes over his sharp features the moment he realises what Aziraphale is trying to do-- and then it sounds like the word is ending.  

Aziraphale remembers the day of the Fall-- the abrupt fracture in Heaven, how something felt strange and broken in a place Aziraphale could not see or touch, but nevertheless felt its existence.  He remembers sensing the anguish from his own kind as they were cast down and down and down, the last bellow from the Morningstar as God sealed him away forever-- and God let loose a cry so incomprehensible and piercing, that Aziraphale thought surely he’d been unmade as well.  

So. It’s not as awful as that.  But that isn’t saying much. He didn’t have physical ears then, couldn’t sense physical pain, and turns out a sonic boom in reality is not a terribly comfortable experience.  Both he and Crowley are knocked back against the wall of the tavern, their hands ripped from one another. Aziraphale struggles to prop himself back up.  He can’t hear what Crowley is saying through the ringing in his ears, but if his mouth is anything to go by, he’s currently listing off several creative expletives and directing them all at God.  He points at Aziraphale, points up at the Heavens, goes to make a rude gesture with two fingers that Aziraphale disrupts with an expeditious swat to the hand.

The old serpent does get terribly defensive, at times.

Everything happens, and it seems to happen all at once.  Time races when its moments become filled by chaos. Perhaps it only seems fast, it’s hard to tell.  Aziraphale can’t mark the day by the sun’s path across the sky-- the world has gone dark and the sky is turned to ash.  It’s difficult trying to sort out where to direct the humans, because nowhere is safe. The sea has retreated, pumice and smoking embers rain down, the boats can not come close enough to ferry the people to refuge.  

Aziraphale loses Crowley in the darkness at one point.  Terror settles as burning coal in his belly the moment he turns around and Crowley is no longer at his back.  

“Crowley,” Aziraphale says, and with a thought and a wave he clears away the ash cloud from where it’s constricting around him.  “Crowley!” he says again, louder this time, and squints through the murky grey film cast around him for any form or shape, any movement of something long and slender whether upright or slithering.  “Oh bother,” Aziraphale mutters to himself, prays no one from Upstairs is watching too closely, and allows his halo to emerge gleaming and resplendent into the plane of reality.  

Divine light floods into being, great beams of it cutting through every last particle of dust, so much so that Aziraphale squeaks a bit in surprise and makes a conscious effort to turn down the brightness. Would really only add insult to injury to burn out the retinas of anyone that happened upon him in this state.  

Aziraphale gathers up a deep breath and yells, “ Crowley! We can’t stay, this is going to get much worse!  Where are you?” 

No answer.  

Aziraphale fidgets with his hands in front of himself, before lowering his fists to his sides with a frustrated stamp of a foot.  The ground shudders beneath him, and Aziraphale has no idea at this point if he’s done it himself, or if it’s the next eruption due any moment.  “So help me God, Crowley, I--I’ll--if you don’t answer me this instant I’ll be very cross !”

“Damn it, angel, just wait a--” down by a collapsed structure, about thirty metres away, Aziraphale sees something move. The figure is hunched over, digging around, but there’s no doubt as to who it is.  Aziraphale would recognise his form anywhere, even painted in the monochrome of volcanic dust.

“Don’t frighten me like that again,” Aziraphale fusses, rushes over to Crowley in time to see him clear away the last of fallen debris.  “I must insist we-- Crowley, what on earth have you found?”

There, huddled underneath the cracked beams and jagged rock, lies a woman and child. They seem to have been caught underneath the rubble, at once trapped and protected.  Aziraphale’s breath catches, “The poor things,” he laments, then jumps and throws a protective arm in front of Crowley when the humans begin stirring where they’re huddled together. The mother curls protectively around her child.  

She blinks and looks up, first at Crowley.  Her eyes widen when they come to fall on Aziraphale.  “Apollo?” she asks in a reverent tone.

Aziraphale laughs self-consciously and touches his face.  “Oh no, no, my dear. I haven’t the bone structure for--”

“She’s talking about your bloody halo, angel, you’ve got starlight orbiting your head.  Put that thing away before it attracts any of your lot who stayed to watch the finale.”

Aziraphale had forgotten all about it. With a thought he hides his halo away again.

“We don’t have time to lead them out of the city, do we?” Crowley asks, voice grim.  

Aziraphale purses his lips.  Shakes his head. They barely have seconds.  

“And the day started out so well,” Crowley mutters grumpily.  “Right. ‘Kay. Disappear them.”

“Me?”  

“Yes, you. Hurry up!”

Aziraphale starts pacing.  “Why not you! You’re better at these things.  You won’t get audited the way I will. I--I haven’t done it to a human before, only things!  I could send them both inside the actual volcano without having meant to!  I’ve already got enough on my conscience, what with--” he gestures at Crowley, and Crowley rolls his eyes, “and the sword, and the flood, and Jesus, and now this!”  He can’t deal with this pressure.  It’s one thing to be indirectly involved, it’s quite another to be solely responsible for mayhem and death.  The woman and her child won’t stop staring at Aziraphale like he’s God, or a god, and the hope in her eyes might be wonderful for her, but it’s terrifying for Aziraphale.  What if he gets it wrong?

“First off, I’m about to try something stupid and amazing, so I need you to do this miracle so I can save us.  Second, if you don’t disappear them, they’ll end up dead the same way, so really you would have just helped destiny along. Third,” Crowley thinks a moment, then makes a funny noise with his mouth and points a finger in Aziraphale’s face.  “Third is shut up, you’re not going to send these mortals into a lava pit because you’re just not going to do that, all right?  I know you won’t.  You’re too clever to do something that dumb.  Now snap your fingers if you please, and send these two off somewhere nice.”  He crouches down, instructs the two to hold tight to one another, and to not let go until they see light again.  Crowley ruffles the child’s hair, shakes away some of the dust that has gathered there, and a touch of fondness eats away at Aziraphale’s equivocation. 

Crowley has always had a soft spot for children, ever since he saw Eve push her sons screaming into the world, teeth gritted and eyes focused through the pain.  She held her son for the first time, covered in God knows what, shrieking like he’d already had enough of the whole damn world. Eve glittered with pride, and Crowley had grinned, nudged Aziraphale with an elbow and said not bad for a bit of lust, eh? 

“Here we go,” Aziraphale says, more for himself than anyone else, closes his eyes and concentrates hard on where and connects the invisible strands of space and time and matter.  He hears an explosion, but if he disconnects from the link between Here and Them and There right now, he’s afraid he won’t have enough time to knit it all back together.  It becomes much harder to hold steadfast when he hears Crowley emit a pained sound, something rough eeking out from behind gritted teeth.  

And then everything goes blessedly silent. 

Aziraphale secures the last few threads of the miracle so that everything and everyone will fall into the proper place.  He closes his eyes, snaps his fingers, and makes it happen.

He can’t be certain he hasn’t thrown them a few kilometres to the west and directly into Vesuvius, but Aziraphale feels very optimistic when he looks down and sees the empty space. 

“Well,” Aziraphale says proudly, straightening his garments and cracking his knuckles, “Bob’s your uncle!  Crowley, look.”

“Little busy right now, angel,” Crowley growls.

Aziraphale turns around.  Glances up. And is stunned into inertia.

His eyes shift from the massive, all consuming and impenetrable cloud of smoke and fire ahead of him, to Crowley, to the apocalyptic mass of gas and obliterated super heated rock that for all intents and purposes should have long past blown apart their corporeal forms-- to Crowley who leans toward the scene, hands outstretched and shaking.

Nothing else moves, not the air or the ash, everything aside from Crowley’s trembling body, remains perfectly still.  

“Pardon me, but… did you stop time?” Aziraphale asks, and it’s probably a question that can be saved for later.  Clearly this is taking quite a bit of effort to maintain, and they still aren’t out of danger. Reality and time are terribly co-dependent creatures and can not be separated indefinitely.  But it is a stunning sight-- Crowley, especially, is stunning. Crowley’s determination, against time and nature and reality, is an entire force to be reckoned with. Aziraphale wonders what it is inside of him that inspires such resolve. 

“Yeah. Cool, innit,” Crowley says, quite casual about it even though his voice is straining.

“Extraordinary,” Aziraphale admits.  “I didn’t know demons were capable of that.”  He makes an encompassing gesture toward the deadly plume of smoke and fire.  Entire parts of it are blurred from the velocity at which it was travelling when it was stopped mid-surge.

“Be surprised-- nngh --what a little imagination can do.  Look, I.. urrghh.. Can’t hold this much longer. Disappear us somewhere. Don’t argue.  You’ve just practiced. Fuck me, why is time so heavy?”

Aziraphale doesn’t argue, not about the swearing or disappearing.  He always feels obligated to discourse, but mostly it’s out of the Heavenly imperative that says Aziraphale should, and has little to do with Aziraphale’s actual feelings on the matter.  Aziraphale isn’t supposed to have many of those--feelings, that is, beyond a desire to serve and love God.

Yet here Aziraphale stands, watching Crowley hold back time, and feeling quite a lot.

He isn’t sure where to grab to establish a connection-- Crowley’s hands are right out.  Each long finger is beset with tremors, so Aziraphale settles for grasping him by the arm, presses his thumb into the soft underside of Crowley’s elbow-- and there it is again.  That same hot frisson from earlier, passing out of Crowley and into Aziraphale. It feels a bit like trying to hear music from another room, the melody distorted and unrecognisable through the barrier of walls.  And he shouldn’t-- Aziraphale really shouldn’t address the peculiarity of that right now, but..

“Is that the electricity in the air, or is it you I’m sensing?”  Aziraphale asks, suspiciously.

Crowley says something that isn’t a word, just a jumble of consonants.  He squeezes his eyes closed, entire body tensing. Time and reality ripple ominously, the great calamity gains on them.

“Oh my,” Aziraphale squeaks, then makes an Effort. 

The world shifts under their feet.  Bit nauseating on the body actually, teleportation is nothing when you’re more Light than Form.  Aziraphale hopes he doesn’t accidentally discorporate them both in transit. He needs his body to be a body, exposing his ethereal conformation in all its transcendental radiance would probably blast away half the continent of life.

Aim for land, Aziraphale thinks, focuses on the first location he imagine-- a forest, a blanket of clover-- and does his best to steer clear of thoughts of the sea.  Wouldn’t do to go through this day, just to end up drowned. There are whales in there too, big enough to accidentally swallow a man whole, and all manners of carnivores and-- well, that’s the least of it.  Aziraphale had been there on The Fifth Day. God put a whole Kraken down there in the deepest ocean trench, ominously bellowed THAT’S FOR LATER!! and Aziraphale carefully backed away from the shoreline.

When the world stops spinning, Aziraphale lets go of Crowley and stumbles forward, sways on his feet, but manages to get his bearings after a moment of deep breathing.  Crowley on the other hand looks positively ill.  He’s stooped over, hands on his knees, and listing dangerously to one side.  Their bodies may not be subject to every human limitation, but there are certain restrictions as to how much power one can flex while channeling through this compact, corporeal form.  

“There, there, now,” Aziraphale murmurs gently, guides Crowley into a sitting position, and secures him to his side with an arm draped over the crown of Crowley’s shoulders.  “A marvelous job back there,” Aziraphale can’t help but praise him for it.  “Well, done you.”

 “Really?” he asks airily, sounding quite like a person who might have sustained a concussion. “D’you think so?” Crowley rubs his cheek against Aziraphale’s shoulder, and there’s something very sweet and very tender about Crowley when he forgets to be jaded and impervious. 

“Were you always so talented?” Aziraphale asks, because it’s something he’s wondered many times over.  He doesn’t pry into Crowley’s past, and Crowley only alludes to it in drunken inferences, and sideways comments. It seems cruel to ask for specificity when it obviously still upsets him, and they may bicker and disagree on occasion, but Aziraphale is deeply opposed to seeing Crowley hurt. 

“Nnf,” Crowley says, and that’s progress too.  He usually gets unreasonably upset when Aziraphale tries to bestow compliments. Body slumping against Aziraphale, he closes his eyes.  He hardly weighs anything, it’s no trouble arranging him so that Crowley’s head rests comfortably on top of a thigh.

“Wish I could have known you then,” Aziraphale murmurs, a secret for himself. “It would have  been so much easier.” They could have been near each other without the fear of discovery driving an invisible wedge between them.  There would not be the constant tension of Right and Wrong dividing them. Aziraphale fears Crowley, not because he thinks Crowley would ever do anything to bring him harm-- but because he knows he won’t.  The trust is inescapable, it stings with the certainty of absolute conviction. The liberty Aziraphale feels around Crowley is terrifying, because it implies there is a need to be free from something.  It implies Aziraphale is trapped.

Aziraphale does not look at Crowley and see an evil thing, or wrongness. He does not see the sterility of perfection, either.  Crowley is a patchwork of every home he’s ever had, and a child of neither.   

He’s special.

Carefully, Aziraphale uses his thumb to smear a half-moon through the fine dust still left on Crowley’s cheek, and presses a kiss into the spot.

 

---.  

 

The late fourteenth century is Aziraphale’s least favorite so far.  It has everything: Civil wars, toxic nationalism, violent conquest, famine, epidemics.  

It’s the plague that needs minding at the moment.  Or, more likely, Upstairs has finally conceded that Aziraphale is rubbish in war zones, and have set him to the simplest task:  Making sure Pestilence goes on undisturbed.

Hell has given Crowley similar orders.  Once again, they’re in the same places, and essentially meeting the same ends.  Even if Aziraphale wanted to partake in this half-baked utilitarian plan Crowley insists is right , on the basis of energy efficiency and Vacations Are Nice, and of which he defended in a 14,000 word dissertation delivered unto Aziraphale via raven over the period of a year-- there is simply too much work to be done for one supernatural entity right now.  

Hell loves the hysteria and violence that widespread disease brings.  Heaven rejoices when humans, in their desperation, turn to the church in record sums.  The mortals don’t connect rampant sickness to lack of sanitation, and they die from it. Really, this is everyone’s fault.

Aziraphale and Crowley both remain fairly intoxicated throughout the period, truth be told.

Whatever it takes to get through it.

People are starving, death clings to their shoulders, haunts their footsteps.  The streets stink like rot and disease, human woe pours into Aziraphale from every angle.

And Crowley chews the very neurons of Aziraphale’s stress limit.

He’s something sent straight from Hell to drive Aziraphale into an aeons early retirement.  Crowley is hardly fulfilling his typical roll as a menace to society, quite the opposite in fact, he performs more blessings and miracles than Aziraphale has done in the previous two decades combined. He’s become intolerable, he doesn’t shy away from projecting how overwrought he is by the state of things.  It’s like he’s feeling it at Aziraphale, and the moment Aziraphale tries to have a conversation over how very grumpy and sad Crowley is--the demon hisses, then guzzles down whatever passes for alcohol, and slips out of sight as soon as Aziraphale’s back is turned.  

Aziraphale is accustomed to Crowley’s tantrums, his general disposition of not-so-covert angst, his mischiefness and chaotic machinations, but the recklessness has never been this destructive.  It’s almost as if he wants to be caught, and Aziraphale must spend this evening like many before it; with a growing sense of dread as he asks the locals one by one if they’ve seen Crowley pass through. 

“He’s yea high, walks funny, wears dark spectacles,” and, “You know.. Good cheekbones? Nice to look at in a rather slender, needs-saving-from-himself sort of way? Has trouble with S’s when he’s.. nevermind, thank you,” and, “Ginger.  He’s ginger.”

Aziraphale finds him in a dirty alley that smells like death, slurring his speech and healing orphans.  It’s as endearing as it is exasperating. Aziraphale fusses and fusses, not because he disapproves, but because he can not suffer the thought of Crowley being dragged away and annihilated for doing the right thing.  As efficient as Crowley is at adaptation, at times he profoundly lacks any semblance of self-preservation, and this worries Aziraphale. He has seen Death en masse-- through war and pestilence, through common stupidity, through disaster.  He has witnessed death’s indignities, and its relief, and worst of all-- the way people continue to walk and speak and carry on about their days, while a hollowness spreads at the heart of them and freezes away all that once thrived there. This too, is a sort of death, and Aziraphale has noticed something:  Humans die quietly, even when they die in violence, but the ripples they leave behind are somehow as powerful as any cosmic shockwave.  

Human grief is significant.  Perhaps more powerful than love, or hatred--it is a force that alters the material of a soul. Aziraphale has known this as a truth since the first death.  Before Abel, Aziraphale had only really seen the passing of stars, how they shed layers over time as they burned out, some dying in cataclysmic explosions that rip entire holes through space and time.   Much like those starving singularities left after the collapse of a star, Eve’s grief was consuming. It bore weight and had its own gravitational force from which no light could escape, and he’d felt Eve being torn asunder by it.  

The world is full of grief, now.  It always will be. Just because Aziraphale is accustomed to the shape of it, and has experienced it himself in varying degrees as humans he’d grown fond of slipped away from their anchor in reality-- it doesn’t mean he wants to bear the full weight of it.

Crowley has become something Aziraphale can not stand to lose.  It is impossible to pinpoint, precisely, the moment they made a habit of each other. Discovery is a perpetual fear lodged in his throat, and so Aziraphale drags Crowley away from his good and selfless deeds, and back to his own accommodations, keeps an eye on him from running off.

“Azrira--Azriraffff,” he giggles, not yet sober, “angel, if you wanted me in your room, you only need ask.”  

Oh dear Lord, the flirting and innuendo again.  Crowley seems only capable of making empty passes, or starting arguments in this state.  Often both.  

“You can not keep doing this,” Aziraphale warns, maneouvering Crowley toward the bed, “you really can’t.”

“You do it then,” Crowley challenges, trips over his own feet, and smiles lopsided, triumphant, the way he does when he’s won an argument.  Unimpressed, Aziraphale rolls his eyes where Crowley can see. “Why not? You feel their suffering don’t you?”

“Of course I do,” Aziraphale tips Crowley back onto the bed and kneels to undo the lacing of his boots.  The demon goes down with a sigh, spreads his arms in such a way that the long flares of his dark sleeves fanned across the bed look almost like wings.

“‘Course you do. Because God made you to feel it.”

“Yes.”

Crowley props himself up on his elbows and looks down on Aziraphale.  “How d’you ignore it?”

Aziraphale’s fingers cease their movement.  He shakes his head, incredulous that his motives are being questioned by a demon, even one as highly irregular as Crowley.  “This isn’t-- do you think this is easy for me?”

“I don’t think.  Why do you pretend like it is?”

“I don’t have a choice,” Aziraphale blurts. The confession lingers plain and burdensome in the silence that comes afterward, its underside sharp with implications. “N..no, I--I mean,” he stammers, “it’s not my place.  I am an instrument of God’s will, and God’s will is unimpeachable. I’m not a part of this Design, I am only a facilitator of the devices within it.”

“How many times have you told that little speech to yourself?” Crowley regards him, yellow eyes travel the path of Aziraphale’s face, and he lies back down.  “A facilitator. Sounds lonely,” he mutters.  

Count on Crowley to slice past all sense of accountability and faith, and right into insecurity.  Aziraphale wonders, not for the first time, if Crowley realises just how unsettling his observancy is.  His insight is too keen, it’s the most dangerous thing about him.

“There is no loneliness in the presence of God.”  

“Oh angel,” Crowley sighs, “everyone gets lonely.”

Aziraphale wants to disagree because that can’t be right.  True for humans, maybe, but not God.  Not demons who feed off malcontent, or angels who are cut from Love itself.  He stands and leans over Crowley’s prone body. The sheets are cool against his palms as he settles them on either side of Crowley’s shoulders, and Aziraphale hears a quiet catch of breath below him.  

“And you?” he asks, “Are you lonely?”

A muscle in Crowley’s jaw flickers.  He murmurs, “Yes,” and Aziraphale hates the admission as soon as it’s out.

“Even when I’m here with you?”

“Especially when you’re here with me.”  

It might be the worst thing Crowley has ever said to him. “Tell me how to fix it.”

Crowley shakes his head.  “You wouldn’t be asking that if you knew how I--” he cuts himself off, abrupt. “Don’t need you to fix me, angel.”

Well, that’s not fair, that’s not what Aziraphale meant at all.  He might make the perfunctory comment concerning The Enemy, but it’s never intended as judgement.  Never intended to diminish his character.  He would not alter Crowley at all. Vain wishes that Crowley had never fallen have nothing to do with Crowley’s nature, and everything to do with Aziraphale’s.  

He has selfish thoughts when it comes to Crowley, which is intensely vexing when measured against Crowley’s propensity for acts of selflessness. 

“I don’t want to fix you, Crowley,” Aziraphale explains.  “I have no interest in a you that isn’t you. ”  He pauses, his own honestly makes him nervous.  “Besides, who else would keep me on my toes, the way you can?”  Aziraphale doesn’t mean in the context of their jobs, certainly not, but in the way Crowley is a challenge to Aziraphale’s foundations.  Little by little, Aziraphale shifts, just so.  

And who else would tempt Aziraphale into such painfully endless introspection.  God, it’s exhausting, knowing thyself.

“M’not not ginger either.” Crowley grumbles, unable to take the compliment and instead deflecting. The pink tip of his tongue licks his bottom lip, makes it shine with saliva, and everything compels Aziraphale to lean down and taste whatever it is that haunts Crowley’s soul for himself.  

Crowley’s eyes snap open at the last second, and Aziraphale holds still. It’s been a long time since he’s done this, and isn’t sure if it’s welcome anymore.  He hopes it is, and that it still works, desperately wants to soothe away the turbulent edges of Crowley’s emotions.  

“See, this is what I was worried about. You don’t need to do that.”

Aziraphale bumps their noses together.  “Might help. It has before.”

“It won’t work.”

“Do you know that?”

Crowley shrugs helplessly, his gaze unwavering on Aziraphale’s mouth.  

“Then hush,” Aziraphale says, and Crowley makes a small sound when Aziraphale presses their mouths together-- a noise that is open and unguarded the way Crowley never is.  But the feeling of heartache lingers unabated.  Aziraphale crowds in closer, because he feels something happening , something close to inevitability, something straining for congruency.

He has learned a little from the other times they’ve kissed or touched in the past, knows just how to cup the line of Crowley’s jaw to gentle him. He knows that if he kisses the corner of Crowley’s mouth, he’ll turn to chase it.  

Crowley doesn’t reach for him, which Aziraphale is grateful for, but his exhales are stilted, shaky, and he’s still broadcasting that awful ache and panic and need.  It doesn’t abate the way it has before, it only grows louder, and makes Aziraphale angry, he wants it gone.

Determination is where Aziraphale makes a mistake.  Plain stubbornness. This time he’s too slow in drawing away.  He’s never lingered long enough to find out what happens when you just don’t stop kissing.

One moment his fingertips are smoothing over the column of Crowley’s throat, and then, somehow, a hand is fastened in the hair over Crowley’s ear holding them together.  The other hand charts a path low on Crowley’s ribs, fingers tripping over the wrinkles in his shirt. Stop, Aziraphale tells himself, and presses closer, kisses Crowley’s mouth open, slips his tongue inside, and this has Crowley making those noises again.  

It isn’t like the other kisses, not a thankful brush of lips against a cheek, or assuaging curiosity, or the unfocused blur of a stolen kiss under a canopy of stars.  No. This is something else. This is… this is intimacy-- exquisite and undeniable and completely out of control.  He’s considered Crowley in relation to sex before, in the idle way people might imagine what their friends look like without clothes, and in the less idle way where Aziraphale thinks about what it would be like to remove Crowley’s clothes himself and put his hands all over Crowley’s skin. What would he be like?

If this is anything to go by:  Mind-numbingly beautiful.

Crowley is starting to writhe underneath him, and Aziraphale only means to pin him down, still him, and succeeds in the exact opposite.  He grabs hold, thumb pushing over the hidden seam of a hip bone, and instead of pushing down, he’s pulling Crowley up, pressing against. It should be a reality check when he realises Crowley is hard, and even more shocking when Aziraphale moves against him and becomes dimly aware that he is in the same state.

Should be a call back to propriety, back to the safety of arm’s length.

Should be.  Should be.  

It isn’t, and he can’t remember what the reasons were as to why they shouldn’t be doing this, or if those reasons were ever good enough to warrant stopping.  And what is it truly costing? A little virtue? That’s nothing. And the possibility of getting Crowley pliant and content for once, is worth something.  Crowley’s tongue is soft and his mouth is warm, perfect, but he’s still a mess of conflict. This isn’t helping at all, it’s not enough.

“What am I doing,” Aziraphale rasps into the crook of Crowley’s neck, and bears his weight down against him, gritting his teeth when Crowley gasps in response.

“Getting me sorted,” Crowley says weakly. 

“Oh gracious,” Aziraphale pushes a hand underneath Crowley’s linen shirt, desperate to get to his skin, scratches his nails over ribs.  “I-- that’s not it anymore,” he says, kisses Crowley hard and reaches for the ties of his breeches. “I shouldn’t be…”

Crowley jerks his face aside, breaks the kiss. An inhale hisses between his teeth.  The loss of that connection is enough to bring some order back into Aziraphale’s thoughts, hold still his spine from where he was close to rutting them together.

Blinking, Aziraphale lets go of Crowley’s hair, pushes up on his elbows.  He’s afraid to look down, afraid of what he’ll find on Crowley’s face.  

Guilt drops heavy and leaden when he finds Crowley’s arms still outstretched across the mattress, his hands fisted in the sheets, white-knuckled and trembling.  He’s kept them there this entire time, and Aziraphale curses himself for all occasions in the past where he made Crowley feel as if he wasn’t allowed to take comfort for himself.  He’s created this disparity between them, set the boundaries with little care, and did not think of what it meant.

“Please don’t do that again,” Crowley says, voice rough, “until you know what for.”

The request falls like a slap across the face.  “I won’t. Forgive me,” Aziraphale murmurs. Crowley is still breathing heavily, still has not opened his eyes.  Aziraphale tries stretching out his senses for any indication as to how Crowley is feeling, and meets a stone wall.  “I underestimated…” He stops. Has no idea how that sentence would have ended.  

“Yeah, me too,” Crowley says, some of the tension leaving his body.  He pats the space alongside him and Aziraphale, still looming, gets the hint and lets his weight fall to the left.  “I’m going to sleep in five seconds, and spare us the awkwardness. Any objections?”

“None,” Aziraphale says, relieved.

“Great. Ugh.” He’s asleep before Aziraphale counts to five.  There really are worse defence mechanisms-- some people use emotional displacement, Aziraphale has found merciless repression and over-analysation to be quite adequate.  Crowley adopts the patterns of a person with a case of narcolepsy.

Aziraphale extinguishes the candles, and gathers Crowley to his side.  He fits neatly into the concave of his body, before that subconscious serpentine instinct takes over and Crowley seeks out warmth with all four limbs.    

 Aziraphale traces the lines of Crowley’s fingers, and forgets to say his prayers.  

 

---

“I don’t like your hair like that,” Aziraphale informs Crowley, taking off a cap that is not his own and smells like executioner’s sweat, and aristocrat blood.  He hangs it on the back of his chair, then realises two things simultaneously: That was a rather rude way to put it. And it implies that Aziraphale has preferences having to do with Crowley’s appearance-- which he does, of course.  It’s difficult not to develop biases when Crowley presents so many options. Aziraphale has serious questions for whomever constructed this form to look fetching in every single item of clothing, and why they built it to cater to individuals with very specific tastes.  Something about Crowley begs for solid weight to settle over over his fine bones.

“At least I try,” Crowley says with a pointed look at Aziraphale’s own mess of recalcitrant fluff.  He slides bits of crepe and brûléed peach across his dish after never having taken a single bite.  “I was just going to tell you that you look nice in dark colours, but I suppose I’ll be keeping that to myself.”  With a shake of his head, his hair miraculously falls from its styling, swings loose and wavy to the crown of his shoulders.

“Flattery will get you nowhere,” Azriaphale chastises.

“Where does sincerity get me?”

Aziraphale dabs the corners of his mouth with a linen napkin. “Look Crowley, last time I tried doing your job, humans discovered gravity.  I’m no good at temptations.  I’m not sure what I was even thinking.  Saw the apple, and took one out of your book.  I can’t imagine how this benefits you.”  He sighs. “Where is it I’m supposed to go?”

“What?” Crowley asks, eyes squinting at Aziraphale behind his glasses.  

“What do you mean, ‘What’?” Aziraphale whispers, “Isn’t that why you’ve come?  For the.. you know,” he won’t say The Arrangement out loud, Crowley knows well enough.  

Crowley says nothing for a moment, but he’s frowning and folding his arms in front of himself.  “Isaac was a massive, massive success. What the hell are you talking about.”

That isn’t what he wanted to say.  Aziraphale can tell because he knows the way Crowley’s body looks when he’s saying one thing, and thinking another.  Those folded arms aren’t frustrated, they’re there to create distance, it’s a protective mannerism.

Aziraphale tries to think of what he must have done to make that happen.  “Gravity is a miracle,” he says absently.

“Yeah, a big quantifiable miracle.  When they figure out that an equation binds them to the earth, not the invisible hands of the Almighty, they begin to question everything .  Humanity wants answers, they want proof. Ineffability isn’t good enough for them, anymore.  Like it or not, science will replace Her.”

“Science isn’t evil though.  It’s an interpretation of God’s works.”  Aziraphale flashes back to the dozens of times he’s worked Crowley’s temptations which appeared, for all intents and purposes, to be missions that consisted primarily of bringing forth important realisations.  A gathering of knowledge, or its dissemination. Aziraphale has performed countless acts of inspiration, and these temptations and fomentations hardly felt any different. Really, most of it seemed beneficial. He rather thought Crowley was saving all the dirty work for himself, and giving Aziraphale temptations that were easier to excuse in his own conscience.

“They don’t see it that way.  Better to have faith in the thing that you understand.  I mean, these humans are really clever.  I thought I was making art, but apparently I was doing physics! I can’t even figure out long division, much less quantum mechanics.”  He shakes his head of those thoughts, then shrugs, dismissive. “Honestly, what did She expect, history repeats itself.  She keeps creating variations of us, expects loyalty and love and fidelity, gives us brains, and then becomes angry when we--”

“Why did you come here?” Aziraphale interrupts.  “Why do you keep doing this?” All the saving, he means, all the chasing after Aziraphale he does. It can’t only be that he’s not keen to endure a replacement.  That can’t be it, not anymore. He’s going to get himself in trouble, and then it’ll be Aziraphale’s fault.  

Crowley’s mouth shuts with a click.  He shifts uncomfortably in his seat, reaches for the handle of the fork and taps his fingertips against it before setting his hands in his lap.

When he speaks, it’s very soft.  “Don’t you know?” he asks.

 

Aziraphale, unnaccustomed to his heart refusing to translate why it throbs with such haste, shakes his head.

Crowley smiles, bittersweet and fond all at once, and Aziraphale resists the compulsion to lean in and kiss him clean of sorrow.

 

---

 

Aziraphale knows.

When he knows, he can’t understand how he didn’t know sooner.  All the moments he spent not knowing, seem so obvious now.

He Knows the instant their knuckles bump as Crowley passes the old, dusty bag full of old, dusty books, and Aziraphale is standing in the rubble of an old, dusty church, watching Crowley’s back.

 

Love.  

 

Not the kind of Love he was born from, but a close friend of it.  Perhaps that’s why it’s taken so long to place. Aziraphale loves so much, feels positively effusive with it at times.  

Aziraphale understands the love of the shepherd. Even through humanity’s many disappointing moments in history, he has looked after them, and loved them for nearly 6,000 years.  He’s never been a particularly impressive angel, he can admit that.  You are the station that you are, and Aziraphale will never have the might of an archangel, or the righteousness of a seraphim-- but none of the other angels can understand how simple blessings of love and mercy and kindness, are powerful and precious.  

He knows the Love of God, because faith is a type of Love which estranges so many, but has only ever felt like the most perfect and peaceful comfort when Aziraphale has been in Her presence. Truly in Her presence.  She puzzles him constantly, and upsets him repeatedly, but he really does trust Her plan.  What child isn’t perplexed by their parents at times? It’s just so easy to forget that he too, is subject to limitations, and She is not, and sometimes faith seems so naive.  It is a love and trust that takes discipline.

And he loves with simplicity, with appreciation of the small things that add joy into a life.  Aziraphale loves the way coconut milk tastes in curry, and the way sunlight refracts through panes of glass at midday and casts rainbows across the tops of his hands.  He loves the first crack of tempered chocolate, and the sound of wind whipping linens strung up on the line. He loves the scruff behind a dog’s ears, and watching the ants carry away crumbs left behind by lovers picnicing in the park.  

While bits of these kinds of love are a part of what he feels for Crowley, they are neither the definition, or the extent of it.  

It’s all ferocity and serenity, hope and anguish, and Aziraphale burns with it.

Now that he knows, now that he has named it, it’s easy to see that this is what all of the tension between them has been about.  That’s where the joy sparks from when he hears Crowley’s voice, and that’s the ache he feels when they’re apart, and that’s the fear which leads Aziraphale into refusing Crowley the tools of his own destruction.  Even when it means an entire century spent alone. Even though Crowley asks so very, very little of Aziraphale, and gives so very, very much.

They go for dinner at Hotel Café Royal at Crowley’s insistence.  There’s no talk of the century they spent apart and the argument that precipitated it, and Crowley has little to say on his activities throughout those years because he slept through most of it.  Bit dramatic.   Aziraphale struggles to keep track of the conversation, his mind feels as scattered as the foundation of that ruined house of worship.  This is A Lot to process, and while Aziraphale excels at multitasking, that’s rather to do with the minutiae of work. Not sorting the content of his own heart and soul.

“You’d think they’d get tired of war and genocide, by now.  But no, they just keep sorting out ways to do it better!  Or worse.. Would it be ‘worse’?  ‘Better’ sounds weird to say. Don’t be mad, but I gave a Harvard professor the formula for Napalm,” he confesses, and is quick to add, “didn’t know I had done.  Has to do with a rubber boot and--It’s a long story. Aziraphale.”

Aziraphale glances up from his uneaten rhubarb fool, uncharacteristically uninterested in dessert, and only partly listening to Crowley’s idle chatter.  “Yes?”

“You’re being very quiet.”

“Perhaps I missed the sound of your voice,” Aziraphale admits, because it’s true, and it’s always nice to see Crowley scowl and blush at the same time.  

“You’re insufferable when you’re grateful, do you know that?”

“I’m not sure you mean it,” Aziraphale smiles, swirls his spoon through cream that’s been stained pink, and furrows his brow.  “You always know where to find me,” he says, and watches Crowley sit back against his seat, “how do you always know?” The reasons need to be said out loud, and Aziraphale wants never to hear it out loud.  He’s afraid of what the answer might be, is desperate to have it acknowledged, and isn’t sure whether he wants Crowley’s silence or his concessions, more.

Crowley is expressionless for a split second, then he shrugs indifferently.  “Luck of the devil.”

“No,” Aziraphale says.

“Told you I’m selfish.”

“That’s not it, either.”

“No,” Crowley mutters, “it’s not.”  He pushes his uneaten homity pie toward Aziraphale and sets his elbow on the table, rude , and his chin on his fist.  

It isn’t until he’s gotten Crowley through the door of his book shop, that the panic sets in. They’ve been alone together hundreds of times, but now there’s context. Aziraphale hadn’t known what it was then, to yearn. It skittered along the peripheral of his mind like an epiphany not yet brought into focus and manifested in passing glances, brushes of hands, Aziraphale’s smattering of kisses through the millennia.

“So you finally got your shop in order, I see,” Crowley says, running his hands over books and shelves as Aziraphale puts on the kettle and does deep breathing exercises.  

“What do you think?”  Aziraphale asks, while the rest of him wonders what on earth is he’s supposed to do with this?   There’s no one he can talk to about it, no one who can guide him through it.   Aziraphale is just one out of an entire multitude, each angel is replicated with varying degrees of difference according to their purpose, but all are given orders, and one set of rules. He should not want for anything beyond that uniformity.  There is a default setting.

Yet here he is, watching Crowley from around the corner as he trips over a knap in the rug because he drags his feet walking around Like That-- and Aziraphale wants very much.

Crowley gestures about when Aziraphale emerges from the kitchenette with two teacups.  “It’s very you isn’t it,” he declares, taking his tea and immediately turning it into scotch, which Aziraphale finds rather vulgar considering this is fine china and not crystal.  “Could stand a hoovering, but otherwise, y’know.  Very twee,” he says in one of those funny voices he uses to distance himself from being too nice.  “Had no idea your collection had gotten this big, are you sure the books aren’t reproducing?”

“I’ve had to rent spare storage, actually,” Aziraphale admits.  “Are you going to let me thank you without telling me to shut up?”

Crowley rolls his eyes.  “Fine. But don’t say they K word.  Or the T word. Or call me anything that might rhyme with ‘mice.’  Don’t say anything.”

“Well, how do you expect me to--”

“Your welcome. Now, have you seen what Americans are putting inside of Jell-O late-- Oh sod this.

Crowley kisses him-- stops mid-word, cups his lovely hands over Aziraphale’s ears, and proceeds to simply.. lay one on him.  It’s clumsy, undeniably impulsive. He doesn’t even realise they’re stumbling together until Aziraphale’s spine lands against something hard.  Distantly, he realises that Crowley’s hand has moved to cradle the back of his head to protect it from getting bumped against the cast stone of a column, and the sweetness of it makes something tighten in his chest.

Aziraphale picks up on the inward scream of panic Crowley releases when he realises he’s done something without thinking it through, and has gone and made himself vulnerable to rejection.

The moments required for Aziraphale’s rational mind to catch up are paradoxical in that they seem lightning quick, and go on forever.  He mmf’s into it, startled more than anything, but then the mmf, warms into a hum, one adjustment to posture and really, now it’s a very nice kiss.  They always are. They’ve become good at this, and the knowledge of it is something that slithers warm in the pit of Aziraphale’s stomach and coils tight.

Aziraphale knocks that silly hat off Crowley’s head, and tugs him closer by the necktie.  Crowley’s sunglasses dig against the bridge of Aziraphale’s nose, and the dear demon might be built of straight lines and spindly angles, but he’s softer than anything under Aziraphale’s hands. There isn’t much comparison-- a few humans throughout the years who mistook the nature of Aziraphale’s love and attention, and all whom were met with gentle redirection-- and then there is Crowley. 

Aziraphale has never thought to want anyone else because deep down, past blood and sinew and bone, through arcane power and Light, at the very core of his soul where God whispered every truth that ever was and bore Aziraphale into being-- it has always been Crowley. It always will be Crowley.  They are for each other.  

And they can’t be together, not like this.  Not without risking everything.  This is too much. It’s happening too fast, without enough consideration for the consequences.

If they were ever to be found out, Aziraphale might fall, possibly worse, but Crowley would be unequivocally destroyed .  There is no worse crime for a demon, than to love. That’s what he’s been receiving from Crowley this entire time, he only didn’t recognise it through the cacophony of their mutual conflict.  All these long years, and discovering all the ways love hides and passes itself off as other emotions, is still surprising.

It was a mistake, it had to have been a mistake, casting Crowley away from the light of God’s Love, setting him down to the wolves and expecting him to conform.  There’s too much good left festering within him, and Aziraphale finds himself growing resentful of the haste with which irrevocable consequences were inflicted, with no duty of care.  The only thing evil is really capable of loving is itself, and that simply does not apply to Crowley. Someone got it wrong.

God. His mouth.

There’s a hand in the center of Aziraphale’s chest, not quite pushing him away, but not drawing him any closer either.

When Aziraphale pulls back, Crowley exhales shakily.  His eyes are still closed, lips parted, and Aziraphale feels just as lost as Crowley looks.  The hand on Aziraphale’s chest curls into a fist, and Crowley stares at that hand instead of looking Aziraphale in the eyes.

“It’s just you.”  Crowley sounds so resigned, like the words are something being called forth after a long, tough battle to keep them trapped behind his teeth. “You’re the reason for all of it.”

“I know,” Aziraphale says, unable to organise the jagged ends of his own truth, but not wanting to deny Crowley his own.  He deserves that. “Thank you for looking after me, and for my books.” They’re still very close, Crowley is still touching him, and Aziraphale is still staring at his mouth.  “I think… you should leave. For now.”

“Probably right.”

“It’s only that…” Aziraphale struggles for the right words.  Swallows. If he says too little he might ruin everything, and if he says too much he might ruin everything.  It’s not a rejection, it’s a We Can’t Now, and a Maybe, and a, “I need to think.”

“Yeah that’s fair,” Crowley exhales slowly, removes his hands from Aziraphale’s chest, and looks puzzled when he tries moving backward and finds that he can’t.

“Oh,” Aziraphale loosens his grip on Crowley’s necktie and smooths it back into place.  “Whoopsie daisies.”

Crowley shakes his head, and bends down to retrieve his hat before heading toward the door.  “I’ll be around,” he says, doffing the hat and slipping outside with all the smooth nonchalance of someone trying very hard to appear bullet-proof, and not fooling Aziraphale for a moment.

The silence Aziraphale is left with is-- oh wait he’s coming back.

“Not in a creepy way, right,” Crowley explains, sticking his head through the crack in the door, with the sort of aggrieved facial expression one has when they’re trying to make a point that was never sought after, and they’re painfully aware of it. “I’m not stalking. I’m just aware. That’s not the same. It’s not weird or anythingHas to do with radar and-- literally take the 390, and I’m-- yeah. Night, angel.”  He ducks away again and Aziraphale hears a faint, what the fuck coming from outside as the door swings shut. The bell above the jamb chimes mournfully when he leaves for good without giving Aziraphale the chance to tell him to stop assuming things about how Aziraphale thinks.

 What a strange night.  What a ridiculous mess of a demon.  Aziraphale laughs helplessly and tries not to focus on the way silence yields to aching, or how love is a thing not felt wholly the heart, or the soul, but pulses down into the tips of fingers.  It grows in bones and manifests as an irrepressible need to reach out, and hold, and dissolve yourself into another. Aziraphale’s hands only feel full with Crowley caught underneath them.

 

There are years of empty hands.

 

---

 

It makes sense to stay together the night the world doesn’t end, it’s the only thing that makes sense at the moment, actually.

“Stay there a mo’,” Crowley says once he’s let them through the door and directed Aziraphale to a sofa.  “ Don’t go near the office.”

“Why not?” Aziraphale asks, looking is the first thing you want to do when someone tells you not to go looking.  Aziraphale wonders if it’s meant as some odd sort of temptation, but Crowley is throwing off his singed coat, unbuttoning the sleeveless jumper underneath, and folding them over the back of the chair.  He pushes up the sleeves of his shirt and ruffles his hair absently. It’s a temptation, all right, but not an intentional one. There is no centimetre of skin to which that shirt does not cling. 

Crowley scrubs tiredly at the back of his head. “Trust me, angel,” he says, grabs a flat mop from the broom cupboard, and throws it over his shoulder like he’s off to fight a war. “I’ve a messy situation in there. Couldn’t clean it up earlier because someone was rowing with a militant christian, and getting themselves discorporated.”

“I’m not certain Mr. Shadwell meets the requirements for a militant christian.”

“He had a gun!” Crowley shouts.  “He’s literally in an army!”

“Oh good Lord.”

“I can’t believe you’re defending him.”  Ah. He’s gone and developed a grudge against the man.  Aziraphale can feel that now. Doesn’t matter to Crowley if Aziraphale had been the one negligent enough to step onto a live transport sigil.  By Crowley’s reasoning, it never would have happened if Mr. Shadwell hadn’t barged in with notions of diablerie, and heterosexuality.   

 “An odd tuba, and a twenty-six year old unemployed virgin, is what he had.  Doesn’t even have those anymore, what with poor Major Milk Bottle gone--God rest his soul.”

Crowley snorts, laughs and covers his mouth, points an accusatory finger at Aziraphale.  “Don’t do that. Don’t make me laugh when I’m trying to be pissed off with you.”

Aziraphale wants to kiss him.  Instead he says, “I am sorry for alarming you,” which seems a piss poor description for the state of despair he’d found Crowley in inside that pub, but Crowley would hardly appreciate attention being drawn to that display.  Even if had been heartbreakingly sweet.

“Only time I’ve ever been late,” Crowley mumbles, “today of all days.” He trudges off into the flat, led by his swinging hips and a Libman Freedom spray mop, and Aziraphale tries to figure out how this somehow qualifies as watching pornography.  Brain goes through a series of responses centering around arousal.  

Aziraphale has applied so many careful boundaries to keep them both safe from harm, and he isn’t sure what they mean anymore.  The harm is done, or it’s well on its way. These are dangerous times to live in exile, to be set apart. Hasn’t it always been dangerous to be a thing that reflects otherness, though?  It’s a tenet transcendent of the universe-- there are always forces waiting in the wings to bear anomaly into uniformity. The greater the chaos, the stronger the pull for equilibrium. Aziraphale has seen it happen to humans thousands of times--life itself is the result of imbalance, death is technically a correction.  Bodies shut down, their souls scatter to another plane.

When angels and demons die, really die, they are extinct.  There is no soul left, no more, not even a meandering, mindless state of oblivion.  There is no shred of self left for Death to reap.   

It’s really not a matter of if at this point, but when .  Heaven and Hell could be sending someone to fetch them this instant, rather than delay until morning.  Who can be sure. He keeps flashing back to the image of Crowley doubled over, forced down to his knees as Satan clawed his way up from the Pit-- the look of unguarded terror in his eyes as he tried to say good-bye and Aziraphale refused to hear it, refused to let him give up.  He’d never seen Crowley afraid, never like that, never so overtly. Aziraphale would do anything to keep from seeing him like that again.

Aziraphale has to be the one to sort this out, he’s good at plans.  

Crowley might be the one who shows his affection in grand gestures, toiling endlessly to keep Aziraphale out of harm’s way.  But Aziraphale has done his fair share of protecting, as well. They might have been discovered centuries ago had Aziraphale acted on every compulsion he’s ever felt toward Crowley, and only succumbing when he’d rationalised it by lying to himself.  Crowding himself into Crowley’s space in some convoluted effort to calm him, was only ever an excuse. Aziraphale just wanted to be near him.

He doesn’t know how to love without doing it with every fibre of his being, no one ever taught him how.  Maybe no one ever taught Crowley either, and that’s why this vacillation around it hurts them so. They were not constructed to love quietly, or in pieces. 

Aziraphale wedges himself into the corner of the sofa, sinks into it after a moment.  At least the human soul was not designed to be any one thing. They are born malleable.  Their free will goes on infinitely.

Crowley returns, dressed down in a plain grey vest and soft pyjama bottoms, smelling less like Melted Bentley, and more like himself.  Which isn’t to say the ungodly crossover of cat urine and rotten eggs that tends to accompany his brethren. Crowley only ever smells clean and lovely and only a little bit like a pile of burned leaves.

“Do you ever wish you were one of them,” Aziraphale asks, “the humans, I mean.”

Crowley makes a high-pitched non-committal sound and sets the flat mop back in the broom cupboard.  “Only sometimes. Why, do you?”

“Only sometimes” Aziraphale says, and half-smiles, “It’s that.. they’re free, aren’t they?  Maybe not with each other, not in the micro sense, but they’re given self-determination. It’s embedded in their souls in a way..well.. It’s not the same for us.  I don’t know. Perhaps God did get it right with them.”

Crowley lets himself fall backward over the head of the couch, and sort of oozes himself into a lounging position on the opposite end.  His eyes are so kind when they aren’t glowering, when the edge of his cynicism softens. He pats the top of Aziraphale’s knee, lets his hand drop, then slowly wedges the tips of his middle and forefinger between Aziraphale’s thigh and the sofa cushion.  Aziraphale isn’t sure if that’s supposed to be a comforting gesture, or if Crowley thinks if he did it discreetly enough, that Aziraphale wouldn’t notice.  

“Listen,” Crowley says as if he is preparing to relay something deeply monumental, “and trust me when I say this, angel.”  He leans his temple against the sofa’s headrest. “Everyone, and I mean everyone-- is shitting themselves. Always. Constantly.”  

That hadn’t been the response Aziraphale was expecting at all, and Aziraphale can’t catch the surprised huff of laughter before it’s left his throat.  Crowley smiles--a genuine smile, not the Mocking Smile, or the Baring Teeth Smile, or the I’m Up To No Good Smile. His real smiles are rare, precious, and Aziraphale hoards them in his memory in a very safe place. 

“I’m serious,” Crowley continues, passionate and gesticulating, “They are! Your lot, my lot, Satan, Gabriel, the humans, the bloody ducks at the park, the blokes down at Whitehall, even God, especially God-- we are in a perpetual state of shitting ourselves.  Doesn’t matter the species. None of us know what’s going on, none of us feel free because of it, and existence is horrible, it’s fucking lunatic, and the only way we get on is by trying not to concentrate on how terrified we are all the time.”  

Aziraphale blinks. Inhales. “Right.  All right. And this means...?”

“Dunno,” Crowley shrugs, and lets his head rest against the sofa again.  “That’s probably the point: We know bugger all. That’s the only normal thing about any of it. We can only do our best, I suppose.  And… if you find one thing, one person,” his eyes linger on Aziraphale before sliding away, “who makes existence feel a little less terrifying.  A little less lonely. Maybe that’s okay. Maybe that’s part of what makes the relentless shitting of yourself a little worth it.”  

“Oh,” Aziraphale says, and because he can’t help but make Crowley squirm a bit, “To confirm, you are implying that you want to, ah.. shit.. yourself.  With me.” 

“Well, I mean, it sounds weird when you say it,” Crowley doesn’t quite meet Aziraphale’s eyes, he rubs the back of his neck and gestures ambiguously.  “ But everyone else wants me extinct and the humans all have such early expiration dates, and it’s so boring otherwise. So yeah, suppose I must do.” 

Aziraphale grabs one of Crowley’s hand in both of his own, opens his mouth to return the sentiment, but Crowley ruins the moment and says, “But you have to tell them it’s my fault.”

Aziraphale drops his hand.  “If you even think I could--”

“Please. Just tell them,” Crowley begs, leaning forward with one leg tucked up underneath him.  “Tell them I tempted you into it, and they might have mercy on you. All you have to do is be penitent.”

“Penitent,” Aziraphale huffs and pats the tops of his thighs.  “No. I shan’t be penitent, and you won’t be sacrificing yourself.  I will sort this out.”

“Angel,” Crowley groans. 

“I don’t think I’d want to be recycled back into Heaven at this point,” Aziraphale interrupts, his gaze catching on Crowley’s knees, the tiny slump of his belly where he slouches forward.  “I think it would be a sort of death,” he murmurs, “to be brought to heel.”  

It used to seem like the most terrifying thing in all existence, the prospect of being cast down from God’s favour, much less annihilation.  But there are worse things, aren’t there? There are more terrible things to be, than orphaned to Satan, or dead.

Living a lie can be worser fate.

“I’d fall for you,” Aziraphale says earnestly, feeling suddenly very sure of himself, and very brave.  “I would. I don’t care what happens, I won’t be separated from you.”

“I’d never let that happen,Crowley says it as if all the powers of Heaven and Hell are at his command, and in that moment, Aziraphale believes him.  “We can still off out into the stars, no one would find us.”

“They would eventually.”

“I’ll build you a new galaxy then, I’ll figure it out. Off the map. They wouldn’t know where to look.” 

Aziraphale smiles over at Crowley.  “Careful there, you’re verging on a romantic archetype.”

Crowley makes a gagging noise, then disagrees. “Practical.  I’m being practical.”

“There’s nothing practical about offering to build your former adversary a galaxy, despite being stripped of the ability, for the sole purpose of running off with them into it.”  Aziraphale reaches over and rubs a knuckle over the wee snake design by Crowley’s ear. “Face it my dear, you’re rather Byronesque.”

Crowley scowls but doesn’t argue, turns his palm up in offering when Aziraphale touches the top of his hand. They sit quietly, their fingers interlacing gradually as the seconds move by and bring them nearer to an inevitable separation.  Even though Aziraphale can see it coming, it’ll still be a surprise when it happens. Whether they’re off planet, or in Piccadilly Square, it won’t matter. They’ll sneak up on them when their backs are turned.

He’s always had a way of walking straight into traps.  It isn’t naivete, so much, it’s in his nature to want to see the best in people.  It’s hard to tell when you’re built specifically to sense the goodness in things. It’s rare that people are genuinely rotten to their core, if maliciousness was always so obvious, it could be easily avoided.  It is whenever someone has the capacity for both good and evil that things intermingle, ideals become involved, people convince themselves of their own integrity and it projects outward. Turns grey and confusing.  He wishes he were more like Crowley, and could see everything with such poetic austerity.  

He wishes-- 

Wait. 

“Hold on. Be quiet,” Aziraphale says, mostly to his inner narrative. Good gracious, how it babbles.

“I didn’t say anythi--”

“I wish I were more like you.”  Aziraphale says, slowly. 

“Eeugh.. weird.” 

He feels something cobbling together in the back of his mind, and that’s a plan. That’s definitely a plan.  “Or, perhaps.. If I were you.”

“Are you trying to suggest possession again?  Look, I love you, but I’d rather you not explode me like a tomato in the microwave, if we can help it.  Bits everywhere. I just had the carpets steamed.”

“No, not possession, I mean transference.  If we could--hold on, what did you just say to me?”  Aziraphale’s heart hammers against his ribs, brain rewinding in on itself.

 “Have you ever put a tomato in the microwave, it’s-- what?”

Aziraphale stares at him. And stares at him, and here they are, back to The Moment.  A part of him has always known, but out loud it’s devastating--in the best, most extraordinary way possible.  Anyone who claims love is somehow better, or more meaningful when left to subtext, is either gravely mistaken or blinded by privilege.  They’ve never kept it silent because it was safer, and they’ve never fallen in love with someone in spite of every ingrained construct that informs them whom to love, and how to do it.

Crowley’s brow is knitted together in confusion, then slowly, with no small degree of utter panic, it dawns on him.  “Ohshit.”

“Crowley--”

“Shut up!  Don’t address it for Satan’s sake!”

Aziraphale shuffles closer to him.  “We should say these things. You never know if--”

Crowley slaps a hand over Aziraphale’s mouth, then presses it tighter when Aziraphale tries speaking against it.  “No. I’ll be no use if you-- just take my word for it. Later, when everything is settled down, and if we aren’t both greasy spots on the floor, if you still--I don’t know-- feel the same.”  Crowley winces and whispers to himself in that habitual way of his, “Six thousand years. I can’t believe I’m doing this to myself.”

“Bhht whhfff ff ff rr rfffh hhn?” says Aziraphale, behind the hand.

“It won’t be the last chance.  Don’t make me be the optimist. Now tell me something nice and clever about transference.”

His hand slips away and Aziraphale’s lips feel sensitive with the loss of Crowley’s warmth.  He almost ignores Crowley’s plea for reticence, pessimistic or not, there is an urgency that comes with facing your own demise that incites confession.  That’s why humans drag ministers and priests and loved ones to their bedsides before the soul relinquishes the body, in order to express love, make apologies, and ask their lawyer to delete their browser history.

It might be morbid, seeking closure as a precautionary measure, but there’s so much unresolved tension between them.  The Heaven and Hell versus Them solution might take a bit of chicanery, but it doesn’t take a genius to sort out the cure for romantic and sexual tension which has been gradually stoked through six millennia.

He can’t be thinking about that right now.  Perhaps Crowley is right, and this isn’t time to indulge any erotic fantasies that have to do with pinning Crowley down against the couch and softly touching his hair, while professing love.

Aziraphale settles for a healthy medium.  “I didn’t mean it when I said I didn’t like you.  You’re my best friend, too.” Crowley’s face does that thing where all signs of tension smooth away from the corners of his mouth and eyes.  “Now, this isn’t a euphemism for sex,” Aziraphale qualifies, clearing his throat, “but I need to put my essence in you.”

Crowley’s pupils dilate regardless. He swallows.

 

 

“You ready?” Crowley asks uncertainly.  His hand is open, some small device is suspended a few centimetres above his palm, revolving madly in mid-air.

“Nearly, just working off a bit of the collywobbles,” Aziraphale says, and ignores Crowley’s eye roll.  “What’s that you’re playing with?”

“Lazy yo-yo.  Whirlyboy thing.”  He extends the hand toward Aziraphale.  The pronged wheel continues spinning for as long as it takes for Crowley to let go of it with his mind, and falls to the sofa.

“Ah. Neat.” Aziraphale takes a deep, steadying breath, and lets it out.  “So, keep moving until you’re sure you’re here.” Here, meaning Aziraphale’s body.  “And don’t break the connection until I’m inside you. There will be a moment of overlap, try not to get discombobulated as to where you end and I begin.  Don’t linger in that space. We can’t have a de-souled body tearing around London.”  He grabs Crowley’s hand. “This might feel rather intimate, I’m afraid.”

“Just go fast.” Crowley licks his lips and shifts in his spot.  “Everything sounds like double entendre, c’mon then, hurry. One..” Crowley counts, tightening his grip on Aziraphale.

“Do not let go.”

“I fucking won’t. Jesus.  Two…” They lock eyes.  “Three.”

Blackness.

 

Nothingness seems to go on and on and on where Aziraphale is locked into a soundless, thoughtless place.  He can’t feel anything but the emptiness. The disorientation is immense, and Aziraphale begins wishing his mind would just stop working, because it’s dark here, and he is so, so, alone.  

It could’ve been hours, minutes, for all Aziraphale knows it’s been weeks, time isn’t working right, but then suddenly the void is ripped from him and-- Crowley!   He only knows it’s Crowley because, somehow, it feels like him, as if Aziraphale can recognise Crowley from the brush of a shadow against his mind.  Aziraphale chases that presence, summoning every shred of voiceless energy to scream Crowley’s name into the crushing vacancy. He feels it when they meet, because Crowley slams into him, pouring relief and joy and concern into Aziraphale, and Aziraphale immediately wants to latch into Crowley and drink deeply from the source of his Light; a part of Crowley that perhaps no one else but God has touched, and instantly Aziraphale is possessive of that thought.  It settles in his heart, burns.

He knows what needs to come next.  Aziraphale tries to orient, but instead of Crowley allowing Aziraphale to pass by, he’s pulling him in .  Crowley doesn’t mean to, Aziraphale knows he doesn’t because they’re embedded in one another, but some bit of Crowley that never learned control stretches out involuntarily, grabs hold and can’t seem to remember how to separate.

It’s like a lightning storm going off, the cosmos unfolding around them, a hundred stars expanding and exploding all at once, the electric blue and hazy pink dust from a helix nebula unravelling like the threads of an iris.  Countless galaxies, cold planets, all so unfathomably beautiful, and terrible in their solitude, and Crowley shows him one after the other as if to say Look at what I made , while Aziraphale can only think Look at what was taken from you.   

Aziraphale moves forward.

And here is the epicenter of Crowley’s pain and grief and the aching loneliness that has carved its path through the middle of him.  A near match to Aziraphale’s own. The desperate longings of their hearts exposed like raw nerves. I know, Aziraphale tries to tell him, I know this feeling as if it were my own.   It’s jarringly intimate, the feeling of understanding and being understood, this way.  Crowley winds mental fingers into Aziraphale, and Aziraphale gives a little jolt, then he longs,   then he gently pushes back.  It makes Crowley that much more frantic to hold on.  He’s always so controlled with his powers, but strip him down to his soul, take away the safety of delineation, of a mask, and Crowley is all ache and need and ferocity and love. 

They’ll be stuck like this if Aziraphale doesn’t do something.  

He wards Crowley back and back, back to the peripherals when Crowley is too distracted with  dragging his soul against Aziraphale in a decidedly wanton manner. Aziraphale sets him there, just on the other side of between .  And bolts. 

Crowley hates that.  His misery unfolds like tentacles, but Aziraphale avoids, pushes himself through the link, and here’s the blackness again--fading and flickering and--

Aziraphale is the first to open his eyes. 

Immediately, he notices that the colours aren’t right, everything has become slightly dichromatic.  Bit too much blue and green, the light hurts his eyes, and Aziraphale had actually thought it had been too dim when he first entered Crowley’s flat. The colour blindness likely isn’t as pronounced as an actual snake’s vision, but Aziraphale thinks back to Crowley’s art, the cosmos lit in breathtaking spectrums of light and matter and texture, and Aziraphale mourns.

Slowly, Crowey’s eyes open, there’s a sheen to them, watery, as he fixes Aziraphale in an unfocused gaze.  

“All right?” Aziraphale asks, and strange how he sounds like himself and nothing like himself all at once.  “Sorry… my body does that quite easily.” He reaches over, cups Crowley’s face in his hands, and uses his thumbs to wipe the tears away.  “You were the one who taught me what this was, remember?”

Crowley sniffs, opens his mouth.  Closes it. Gives Aziraphale a once over and puts himself out of arm's reach.  “This is doing my head in.”

“Why?” Aziraphale asks, looking at his own face and seeing all of Crowley’s expressions there, which is interesting, but not at all disturbing. “You’re still you, think of it as a costume change!”

“I look at myself a certain way, and I look at you a certain way.  It’s weird, is all.”

“Ah,” Aziraphale says, understanding, and tries not to be indelicate, “proclivities.”

 “For Satan’s sake, angel, ”  Crowley says, a little choked, he gets off the sofa, paces, scrubs the back of his neck with a hand, looks at that hand, and gets ruddy in the cheeks. “You aren’t supposed to know stuff like-- how can you even--”

“I live in SoHo,” Aziraphale sighs, “I read books.  I’ve studied human nature for six thousand years. I know the type.  I think you might have invented the type.. you know.. actually..So.  Great job.” Aziraphale means that, really really means that.  “My dear boy ,” he says, sliding his hands down his ribs and over his abdomen, “you really have got to let me feed you up.”  He runs his fingers over the prominence of Crowley’s collarbone and it raises goose flesh on his arms, scrubs his palms through Crowley cropped hair, tugs lightly, and shivers all over.  This body is starved, in more ways than one.  Of course Aziraphale has always had a hedonistic streak, but still.  He looks up at Crowley.  “Good Lord, Crowley. You really shouldn’t deny yourself this way, it isn’t healthy.”

Crowley opens his mouth to speak, then flees to the bar and drinks directly from a bottle of 99’ Laphroiag.

 

---

 

“Do you really think they’ll wage war against the humans?”  Aziraphale asks later, when their souls are situated back in their usual homes, and Aziraphale has eaten his fill, and the champagne buzz has Crowley artfully draping himself in the chair.

“Of course they will.  It’s personal now.”

“Seems rather unsporting,” Aziraphale mutters. All of humanity’s weapons mean nothing to an enemy who can turn bullets and bombs into balloons with a single snap of the fingers.  “And what of us?”

Crowley shrugs.  “Suppose we’ll figure that out.  Just because we’ve bought ourselves a bit of time, doesn’t mean they won’t still be back to make an example out of us.  I’m not sure which side hates traitors more. Probably should keep close, in case of emergencies.”

“Oh,”  Aziraphale says, then, “Oh. I actually meant..” he lets his hand clasp over Crowley’s wrist, over the watch, presses his fingertips to the underside where soft skin maps over blue veins, and watches Crowley’s hand ball into a fist.  “Unless you’d prefer to wait until the second attempt on our lives.” Lord, he hopes that’s not the case.

Crowley composes some sort of non-word with his mouth, swallows thickly, musters up a brilliant façade of indifference when the server comes over at precisely the right moment to deliver the bill.

 

---

 

They go back to Aziraphale’s shop after lunch. He’s been imagining his books all flaked to cinders for going on twenty-four hours now.  Aziraphale examines his desk and suspects Crowley might have done a spot organising while he was in earlier, that’s all right. It’ll be back to Aziraphale’s system or organised chaos soon enough. 

 It really is a relief when the door closes behind them and a cursory glance shows everything else back in place, with perhaps a few new additions to inventory.  Awfully nice of that dear, dear boy. Aziraphale is so glad he didn’t actually kill Adam. He had no idea he’d been capable of entertaining such desperate measures.  Beings are prone to all manner of uncharacteristic actions when everything they love is on the line.

Crowley swaggers his way over to the desk, fidgets with a set biros in their glass jar while Aziraphale reaches over to remove those cumbersome spectacles and set them aside.  

“Told you it was all present and accounted f--”

Aziraphale grabs Crowley by the unbuttoned ends of his jacket, jerks him half a foot to the right, and startles him into fumbling the rest of that sentence.  He puts his hands on either side of Crowley’s face, tips his chin up, and kisses Crowley the way he’s been yearning for since 1941.  

It’s meant to be more of a declaration of intentions, the beginning of a slow build-up, but he must have overshot the mark.  Emotions explode out of Crowley, so much so that Aziraphale is dizzy with the force of it, has to throw out a hand and steady himself. Crowley clings to Aziraphale’s coat collar like a lifeline, he pushes his body up against Aziraphale, holds them flush together and refuses any quarter, even as the buttons of the old waistcoat rasp and catch between them. Their teeth click, and Aziraphale grapples for control over it for all of half a second, before that seems like a stupid idea and twists his fingers into Crowley’s hair-- feels utterly triumphant when Crowley grunts and shivers all over.  His mouth falls open and Aziraphale slips their tongues together, tastes expensive champagne, eagerness and love, even that arcane spark of God’s Light which never really left Crowley’s soul.  It has dimmed and gone deprived, and the place where it resonates aches with the tenderness of a slowly healing wound, but neither Heaven nor Hell were capable of extinguishing this part of him.  

Aziraphale wonders how very different they might have been, had they never met.  Would he have become as rigidly irreproachable as the archangels-- cold and myopic, and uncaring of suffering as long as the ends justify the means.  And would Crowley, in his despair, have let the darkness swallow him whole, and eat away all that was once good and right, until he could see no beauty, nor feel any tenderness.  

Or would they have been the same misfits as ever, just lonelier, and without the other to temper all their bizarre idiosyncrasies.

It isn’t worth thinking about.

Not that Aziraphale can really, at the moment.  Not with Crowley pressed against him this tightly, and feeling everything out in the open where any empath walking by might develop an inexplicable blush, before scurrying on about life. 

“I can’t believe you didn’t think to do this to yourself. Clearly this body needs it,” Aziraphale says, switching the angle of his head to kiss Crowley deeper.  “Whatever have you been saving yourself for?”  

Oh, that’s no good.  He’s goading him. That’s really not nice… 

Aziraphale still wants to hear it.

“Do you really never shut up,” Crowley manages, not taking the bait.

“Rude,” Aziraphale says without venom, and uses his weight to crunch Crowley up against the desk until there’s nowhere for him to go but up on top of it, and he goes so willingly.  Aziraphale situates himself in the V of Crowley’s leg, grabs him under the knees and yanks him forward until their pelvises rub together.  Crowley complies perfectly, hitches a thigh over the swell of Aziraphale’s hip and won’t let go for anything. Aziraphale has no idea how he’s doing it in those skin tight trousers, he could hardly sit.  Surely he didn’t miracle elastic into the material blend.

“Crowley..” Aziraphale swallows.

“Yeah I know,” Crowley answers, more air than sound, his hips judder forward. “I’m lying, I' don't know, but this feels…”

“Exactly,” a little bit of dry friction has no business being this stimulating. Never does when Aziraphale is on his own, and On His Own is the limit of his experience. Adding Crowley into the equation of sex is something new entirely.  It’s much more than A Thing That Feels Nice, it’s an urge to grab hold and give of yourself, a need to see the thing you love made vulnerable and to reciprocate that vulnerability.

“Angel,” Crowley’s fingers are hard at work undoing the tartan bowtie.  “This is probably not a desk activity,” he says and makes absolutely no attempt to move at all.

“I--,” Aziraphale can’t clear his head, Crowley’s just projecting so much, he’s so loud-- not with his voice, but with his need His love has gone concealed for long that it’s nearly turned into a scar on his soul, and that wound hurts, it needs tending.  If Aziraphale could just take the edge off of it, he could do a much better job of healing it.  

  “I’m going to make you come,” Aziraphale blurts, “then I’ll take you upstairs and fuck you properly oooOOH my goodness, I’m so sorry, that was--” Aziraphale quickly undoes the top button of his shirt from where it feels like it’s strangling him, “that was so impertinent, I’m so sorry.  But I am going to.  I can’t think with you like this.”

Here ?” Crowley protests, “you’re mental, I’m not--”  he shudders into a hasty silence the instant Aziraphale shoves a hand between them, rubs over the bulge in his trousers with an open palm. Crowley pushes his face into the crook of Aziraphale’s neck, whimpers, curls his shoulder into Aziraphale, and shakes apart. Small choking sounds vibrate against Aziraphale throat, more beautiful than any chorus of Heavenly Hosts.

“That’s it,” Aziraphale murmurs, stroking Crowley’s hair and kissing the little snake below his temple, “there we are. I knew that would help.”  Aziraphale breathes a sigh of relief. Just as he’d hoped, the edge of Crowley’s overwhelming infusion of emotion settles and makes it easier for Aziraphale to concentrate.  His hand lingers over the damp spot on Crowley’s trousers and feels him still twitching, still hard, and Aziraphale is suddenly very desperate to peel him out these clothes and see the mess he’s made of him. Then do it all over again.

“Not sure if I did that right,” Crowley says, his voice muffled against Aziraphale’s shoulder.  He lifts his head up and blinks blearily at Aziraphale. “M’bones feel all wibbly.”

“Well, you were rather.. pent up.” Aziraphale wraps his arms around Crowley and helps drag him to standing, has to do a bit of manhandling and has a lovely moment with Crowley’s bum when Crowley sways a bit too far backward and nearly falls.  “There’s a good chap,” Aziraphale says when Crowley seems steady, awkwardly pats the center of his chest and tries to ignore how his own skin is hypersensitive to the point that even feeling Crowley’s warmth through the barrier of his shirt seems thrilling.  “We’ll get you cleaned up, you might need a moment to-- I can make tea?” 

Crowley says, “Ngk,” and crashes their mouths back together.

“Yes, all right,” Aziraphale manages, “this is fine too,” and Crowley crowds him back toward the staircase that will lead to Aziraphale’s bedroom.  Lord, it really is like trying to wrangle a scarecrow. There’s a loose limbed flailing quality to Crowley that rather makes Aziraphale wish he had an extra pair of hands to help box him in and make him feel secure.  He almost draws out his wings, the only thing that stops him is the case full of porcelain Precious Moments®️ angel figurines that Crowley has been inflicting on him since the late nineteen-seventies. They’re no Gian Lorenzo Bernini, but Aziraphale cherishes them just the same, and he’d hate to see them get toppled.

He pushes Crowley’s jacket off his shoulders, gets a hand under the hem of his shirt, and strokes the skin at the small of his back. Crowley can’t seem to remember how to undo his belt and says, “Please-- yeah, fuck, help me ,” when Aziraphale moves to assist.  A minor miracle absolutely has to be performed to keep from tripping backward over a display stacked with the David Sedaris collection he’d gotten for one dollar apiece at a rummage the last time they’d tossed for Reno.

“My, you’re enthusiastic,” Aziraphale says, and frames Crowley against the wall halfway up the stairs.  He remembers being in this position at the old convent, reversed of course, and how Aziraphale had clenched his hands into fists to keep from reaching out and felt a little love and desperation trickle out of Crowley and into the space between them.

“Ya think?” Crowley tries to deadpan, but it screams of Six-Thousand Years.

Aziraphale pulls away to catch Crowley’s eyes, but Crowley strains forward to chase a kiss.  “Hold on,” Aziraphale sets his hands on Crowley’s shoulders and gently presses him back.

“We’re going to talk about this some more, aren’t we? For fucks sake, Angel, and I mean that literally, I don’t know how much more amenable I can get!

 “No! Well, yes, I--” 

“Typical!” he hisses, and a little smolder of hellfire lights up at the spiked tips of his hair.  “Just typical! I should have brought my PowerPoint.”

“You have a PowerPoint on what exactly--” Aziraphale shakes his head, “Mind your temper and just listen to me, this is important, I--” he looks at Crowley and his petulant bottom lip, and the way he burns, and Aziraphale sighs helplessly. “I love you.  All the parts of you. Not just the good parts, but the wily and ornery and sad parts too. I thought... you should know.”

There’s silence, and there’s Crowley’s yellow eyes--wide and shocked. He swallows.  “Show me.”

“What?”

Crowley yanks Aziraphale in by the collar, the fire dies down to smoke, and he kisses Aziraphale breathless. “Show me.”

Well, he doesn’t really need to be asked a third time.  Within a minute he’s got Crowley up the stairs, completely undressed, and pressed down against the sheets.  The wee pants and vest that Aziraphale miracled Holy Water out of four hours ago, are discarded at the foot of the bed, and somebody will need to press out all the wrinkles from Aziraphale’s favourite suit, but that’s so far from anyone’s concern this moment.  

“What the sort of angel are you,” Crowley asks, breathless and flushed to his ears, both hands snagged into Aziraphale’s hair as Aziraphale works his fingers into him.  

“Not a very good one,” Aziraphale admits, and opens his mouth to taste the skin at the hallow of Crowley’s throat, crooks his fingers and smiles when Crowley’s stomach muscles spasm, and his back arches off the bed. Thank God, he was getting worried they’d forgotten to put a prostate in when they’d corporated this body.  Aziraphale once knew a Virtue who’d popped in for a looksy, and they’d neglected to install entire set of lungs.  He didn’t finish the world tour, needless to say.

“Nng..! Blimey, Aziraphale, a little warning would have been--” another adjustment, a sharp bite over Crowley’s left breast.  Crowley’s hips press down onto Aziraphale’s fingers. “Nevermind,” he finishes, voice gone high and wispy.

By definition, it takes time to go about things the slow way.  Aziraphale likes the method of humanity, all the routines and rituals they employ, seeing as they are unable to perform miracles and skip steps.  They go through the process of living life, moment to moment: Wake up, eat, take the tube to work, endure each joyful and awkward moment of interaction with one another, sleep, and breathe, and breathe and breathe, and do it all over again.

Remain in the moment, is a common theme among humans, as if they’ve been given any other choice-- but what they mean is be present.  There are thousands of insignificant minutes in a lifetime, you have to pay close attention so as not to miss all the beautiful and heart-breaking and rare moments that will never come again, and be able to recall them with clarity, because those are the moments that feed the material of a soul.

Aziraphale takes his time.

He’s half worried Crowley will finally get fed up and miracle himself slick and open and ready, but he doesn’t.  Crowley holds on to Aziraphale and prints little kisses on his shoulders, strokes his clever fingers through Aziraphale’s hair when he has to turn his head to calm down and exhale a long, slow breath, against Crowley’s belly.  He shakes when Aziraphale can’t resist shuffling a little farther down to suck wetly at the head of his cock, because it’s right there, begging for it.  He wants to do everything with Crowley, honour each moment and make Crowley feel every inch of loved.

“You were right,” Aziraphale tells him, kissing his way up Crowley’s disturbingly slender hips, his navel, the cleave of his chest, the throb of his pulse, and rests his elbows on either side of Crowley’s shoulders.  “It’s just us now. You, me, and our seven billion humans,” he holds himself off of Crowley’s body and slowly presses inside of him, hears Crowley’s devastated fuck, to Aziraphale’s overwhelmed Oh my goodness-- both for the same reasons.

 He’s never been inside another person before-- well, not like this. Madame Tracy was a very different sort of possession, and being inside of Crowley’s corporation only half-counts because it was just his body after all, and lacked his favourite bit of Crowley-- which is Crowley, himself. Crowley is all heat and the blinding pulse of love between them, and Aziraphale’s body notches against him in a way that’s too perfect not to have been planned by The Almighty, Herself. 

“We belong together,” Aziraphale says, moving inside him, unable to help the shallow, incremental rolls of his hips.  Crowley hisses, trembles, his mouth falls open and Aziraphale kisses his cheek. “You really are beautiful. I know you know that, what with the tight trousers and all, but I mean the incomprehensible parts.”  He rests a hand over the center of Crowley’s chest and feels the bittersweet resonance of his soul.  

Crowley purses his lips, reaches up and covers Aziraphale’s eyes with his hands.  “Don’t look at me like that.”

“Like what?”

“Like you see me.  Don’t see me,” Crowley says softly and pauses.  “Especially not while you’ve got your dick in me.  I’m really trying very hard to be sexy, and I can’t do that when you’re tapping into my soul.” This is said just as softly, but with that familiar dry edge of humor to deflect from the vulnerability.  Crowley moves his hands away from Aziraphale’s eyes and rests them over his ears, pulls him down for a kiss, then whispers, “If you don’t move in the next ten seconds, I might accidentally set us on fire.  I-- really, it’s been a problem. Dunno if it’s the frustration or what, but if you don’t want another inferno you should--”  

Aziraphale moves; pulls out, finds it unbearable to be so far away, and slams back into him.  

“Jesus ,” Crowley squeaks.

“Please don’t bring that up,” Aziraphale says desperately, and does it again.  He knows a little bit about what this body likes from having been in it-- a soft touch to the throat will give him goose flesh, a palm cupping a hip will result in a quiet gasp.  Aziraphale had been paying attention. 

He slips a hand behind Crowley’s head, pulls the hair at the nape of Crowley’s neck, and Crowley pants and arches into it.  Fingernails drawn over Crowley’s flanks, earns a scrape of teeth against Aziraphale’s shoulder and both of their groans are nearly indistinguishable from one another.  

Aziraphale nudges his nose against Crowley’s, “I love you like this,” he tells him, and Crowley moans and writhes with each snap of Aziraphale’s hips; complete perfection when he’s moving and held safe under Aziraphale’s body.  “You’re the best thing in the entire universe.” He means it, it’s not just the lust talking. “Better than that pistachio Crème brûlée we had in Cassis, and you know how I felt about that.”

“Will you always be this chatty during sex,” Crowley gasps, trying to sound like he hates it, and failing miserably. 

“Might do,” Aziraphale grits out, thrusts beginning to stutter and grow arrhythmic. “I should have done this to you eras ago, you feel incredible.”  His actual feelings, Aziraphale means, though he means Crowley’s body as well. He’s never sensed from Crowley the thing he’s feeling now, never this pure and unrefined and--

“Oh God, you’re happy,” Aziraphale says, watches Crowley’s mouth open to deny it, and before he gets a chance, Aziraphale kisses him.  Swallows the denial off the tip of his tongue, and makes Crowley own that feeling. “You deserve it,” Aziraphale tells him, “You do. You deserve it.”

Crowley makes a small, broken sound, grabs Aziraphale by the wrist and shoves it down between them.  The room starts shaking the moment Aziraphale sorts out what it is Crowley needs, and he can’t help it.  It’s only a little quake, won’t hurt anyone, a little broken glass is a small price to pay to feel Crowley like this.  Aziraphale has never wanted to see anything come so much in his entire existence.  

Crowley is quickly dissolving into urgent whimpers, his entire body is tensed, and there’s thunder and lightning going on outside now, and the ground is still shaking.   Aziraphale has never felt more powerful, more completely at peace, and Crowley has never felt so unbearably within reach, so imminently present, as he does now. His arms are shaking where they’re banded tightly over Aziraphale’s back, almost like he’s afraid Aziraphale might be ripped away at any moment, but there is no fear right now-- there is only the need, and the love, and the great burning heart of hope.  

Crowley cries out when the pleasure crests over him, and Aziraphale groans sympathetically when he feels the pulse of his cock, and wetness spreading between them. Aziraphale bites his bottom lip and can’t stop fucking into Crowley, even though it sounds like he needs a second to get his breathing under control.

But Crowley doesn’t complain, quite the opposite, he tells Aziraphale, “Hard as you want,” and, “hurry before you open a sinkhole in the middle of London, you nutter,” which is practically a term of endearment coming from Crowley, and it's the only permission Aziraphale needs to haul one of Crowley’s legs over his shoulder and fuck him with the sort of chaotic single-mindedness he typically reserves for thwarting apocalypses.  Good Lord. He’s nearly got Crowley bent in half.

“You’re very bendy aren’t you,” Aziraphale blurts, head full of gibberish, takes one look down and sees the way Crowley’s body takes him, how his flesh trembles with each rough smack of hips, and it unhinges Aziraphale.  

There’s a massive crash of thunder that Aziraphale can practically feel in his teeth when he spills hot and perfect into Crowley. Crowley yelps, and Aziraphale isn’t sure if it’s because of the sound or what it is Aziraphale has just done inside him.  It's all pleasure, of course it is, but it's also the sweetest annihilation-- it breaks down Aziraphale into splinters, and rebuilds him anew.

He doesn’t realise he’s still thrusting lazily into him, and the haze of orgasm still hasn’t subsided when he feels Crowley pushing urgently at his shoulders to create a little hollow of space between them, and start stroking himself off.

“Again?” Aziraphale asks weakly.  He feels like he’s just been drained of six-thousand years worth of invisible tension, he has no idea where Crowley is finding the energy for this.

“Can’t help it,” Crowley says quickly, eyes shut and body already seizing up, “Wasn’t expecting--you felt so, ugh, really sanctified just then.”

Aziraphale feels too dumb to psychoanalyse that at the moment, says, “You have strange kinks, Crowley.” He gets two fingers and slides them inside Crowley, alongside his cock, enjoys the sight of Crowley jolting and of his long fingers working himself to completion, and Aziraphale has to bite down on his bottom lip when he feels Crowley tighten and tip over into pleasure.  This orgasm is much dimmer than his other ones, but there’s that same burst of happiness and fierce love that’s been there since they started.  

When he’s finished, Aziraphale slips gently out of him, quietly miracles away the mess even though Crowley cracks open a vaguely offended eye.  He won’t thank him for it later if he wakes up covered in whatever it is that composes their semen, and while Aziraphale finds the thought of Crowley strutting around with his come inside of Crowley appealing, he doubts Crowley will enjoy his very expensive trousers having a damp bottom.  

He secures Crowley to his side and pulls the sheets up around them, smiles when Crowley’s arms and legs begin hooking over him in an affectionate scramble of long limbs.  

“Oh look,” Aziraphale says, glancing out the window to find the sky lit up in a stunning palette of ochre that melts into lavender, blends into deep azure, and looks strangely unlike London’s usual sunsets.  The righteous beauty of the storm, and the foundational shift of earth has gone, and been replaced with the beauty and comfort of serenity.

“Been saving you all this time, and you’ve got control over tectonic plates and weather  like a bloody X-Man.”  Crowley mutters into Aziraphale’s shoulder and yawns.  

“I wouldn’t call it contr--”

Both of them jump and scramble to sit up against the headrest of the bed when the room is suddenly cast into blinding white Light.  Aziraphale thrusts his arm across Crowley’s chest in some fruitless effort to protect him from it, and Crowley is grabbing for his hand and this is it , Aziraphale thinks.  Word of the traitor has finally reached Her ears, and She has come to put a stop to all of it Herself.  He tries to tell Crowley he loves him, but the Holy Light brings a piercing ring that drowns out his voice and then--

 

CONGRATULATIONS!

 

Confetti and glitter explodes into the room.

 

YOU HAVE FINALLY FINISHED THE SCAVENGER HUNT, AZIRAPHALE, TOOK YOU LONG ENOUGH.  OR DID IT? I AM BEYOND TIME AND ITS FEEBLE TRAPPINGS. I CAN NOT RECALL.  

“Lord?” Aziraphale asks, the same time Crowley spits out, “Mother??”

TA-TA, FOR NOW.

“Wait, you can’t just--” the white Light is gone in an instant, and Aziraphale blinks the spots out of his eyes.  “Leave,” he finishes lamely, and slowly turns to look at Crowley.

He expects any number of reactions from him-- anger at God’s games and the calibration of wasted time, sadness at the loss of Her presence yet again, maybe his hair catching fire like it did before.

But what he finds is Crowley blushing furiously and asking in a slightly dismayed tone of voice, “Do you think She was watching this whole time?”  His hair sparkles with gold and silver glitter. One last curly strand of confetti wafts down from the ethereal plane before it seals off, and drapes itself over Crowley’s head

“Well.. She is everywhere.”  Aziraphale says uncertainly, and watches Crowley sink back down under the sheets in embarrassment.  Aziraphale joins him after weaving a miracle with a snap of his fingers, wouldn’t do to get glitter in sensitive places.  Crowley’s arms and legs twine over Aziraphale eventually, then his entire torso, then he’s just lying directly on top of Aziraphale.  

“You can be a snake,” Aziraphale tells him, “if you want to. I won’t roll over and suffocate you, I promise.”

“Ss’okay,” Crowley murmurs and rubs his cheek against Aziraphale’s chest.  “Maybe later. Can’t do this quite as well as a snake,” he tips his chin up in offering, and Aziraphale smiles down at him, presses a lingering kiss to his lips and strokes his fingers down the furrow of Crowley’s spine.  Traces the constellations of freckles marking his back.

 Outside, the sun dips below the horizon, and one by one, miracle by miracle, the darkness is driven back by the gleaming hearts of Crowley’s stars.