Crowley didn’t invite people to his flat.
It was the same sort of thing as not letting anyone see his eyes. It drew a line. Made a boundary. It wasn’t that he had to cover them; human perception was easily modified, and demons weren’t going to be bothered. It was that he wanted to.
But Aziraphale needed somewhere to go, and before he knew it, Crowley was offering his place. They went back to London, riding side by side with nothing to hide anymore.
Crowley had stopped time on his own, using his own personal flame of power. He hadn’t dared touch the Unholy Darkness, not at that moment, not with Lucifer’s rage beating at the air around him and shaking the world beneath his feet. And that meant that on a personal level, he was as close to powerless as he had been since—he didn’t even know. Since the War. Combine that with all the emotions he had felt, and he was tired— not sleepy, which was just an indulgence, but actually exhausted.
He wanted to sleep. He wondered if sleep would help.
He didn’t notice that he was slumping towards Aziraphale until Aziraphale noticed he was slumping towards Aziraphale. “Go ahead,” Aziraphale said. “I don’t mind.”
“You don’t mind what?”
“I don’t mind if you lean on me to go to sleep.”
A large number of things collided in Crowley’s head, some of which had gone unsaid for centuries. “I don’t—I don’t sleep where people can see me,” he managed.
“You know how, in movies, humans will find another human asleep and write on them with a marker? Never mind, of course you don’t. The point is, in Hell, they use a hot poker. Sleep is about being safe, and safe is about being alone.” And the last thing Crowley wanted right now was to be alone, because he could still feel, like an echo, the devastating sense that Aziraphale was nowhere on Earth— as if the ever-present, soft glowing scent of him had been snuffed out completely—and just the thought of it made him want to do something un-demonic like break down sobbing, and—
Aziraphale pulled Crowley towards him. “My dear,” he said softly, “please go to sleep. I may not indulge in it, but I can tell that you need it. I’ll keep watch.”
“You may be the dangerous one, but I can keep us safe. I promise. Go to sleep, Crowley.”
At the moment, Crowley didn’t feel like the dangerous one, or anything other than the exhausted one. “Wake me if anything happens.”
“And wake me when we get to my flat.”
“I will. You’re safe, Crowley. I promise.”
Crowley thought about explaining that it wasn’t going to work. The coach was full of humans, he wasn’t in his apartment, and Aziraphale’s shoulder was as comfortable as a shoulder, which was to say, not very. But closing his eyes would make Aziraphale happy, so he did it, letting out a small sigh. Aziraphale was here. That was the important thing. Crowley could smell him again, like something sweet on the tips of his tongue. Aziraphale was here. “Don’t go anywhere,” Crowley mumbled.
Aziraphale said something soothing, but Crowley didn’t catch the words.
Lucifer was coming up through the ground. Not the radiant archangel, not the sympathetic presence who had been the first to listen when Crowley talked about his doubts, but the beast of pure wrath, the font of all Hellfire, and everything was on fire. Everything was on fire, the precious books, the bookshop, and Aziraphale was nowhere and Crowley couldn’t find him and—
No. Dream of something better, Crowley.
China. Aziraphale finding out about noodles. The amusement on his face turning to delight at the fact that I say, these are rather good, and the buzz of the marketplace all around them fading into a marketplace in Morocco, fading into
Crowley jolted awake and groped to make sure he had his dark glasses on. They were slightly askew. He sat up and straightened them.
They got off the coach, Aziraphale tipping the confused driver generously to make up for the trouble. And then they were outside the building that held Crowley's flat.
Up the lift. Crowley didn’t want to rescind the offer even if he could have, at that point. But it was giving him an uncomfortable flutter in his stomach, and he would have thought he’d be all out of nervousness after the day he’d had.
He unlocked the door and waved Aziraphale in before him, the way Aziraphale always did at the book shop. It was too much to expect the angel to actually like the place. It wasn’t his style, and he would notice the aura of terror hanging over the plants. Aziraphale preferred cozy places, preferably lined with bookshelves, with a kettle on the stove and—
The smell hit him at exactly the same moment that Aziraphale spun around, grabbed Crowley by the jacket, and propelled him forcibly back outside.
“Angel, what—” Crowley started, and then stopped as he saw the look on Aziraphale’s face. “He deserved it,” he said finally, and it sounded small and tremulous because of the day Crowley had had, not because the horror on Aziraphale’s face was wrenching and awful and he would almost have let Ligur have him in order to not be looked at like that. “That was Ligur, and he deserved it a thousand times over. It’s just Hell business, angel. Nothing to do with you.”
“I believe you. I trust you. But you are not going back in there until I get the mess cleaned up.”
Because Aziraphale could touch the holy water, Crowley realized belatedly, and Crowley couldn’t. Aziraphale wasn’t horrified at him. He was horrified for him. Almost shaking with the thought that he could have made a wrong move, and could have been the mess on the floor rather than Ligur. “I was careful—” he began.
Aziraphale was already back inside the apartment.
Crowley let out his breath and leaned against the far wall.
It didn’t take long. Aziraphale must have used miracles, probably to make sure he got every speck of blessedness. After a moment, he opened the door again, looking much calmer. “You can come in now.”
Crowley came in. “You made my flat smell like lemons,” he remarked. There wasn’t even a stain where Ligur had died. Crowley could still smell a hint of holiness in the air, like light without mercy, but that was swiftly fading. And the rotted smell of Ligur was gone completely.
His flat was still not going to smell completely like him anymore, because Aziraphale was in it. And Aziraphale smelled holy, underneath his cologne, but somehow it was different when it was him. Not threatening.
“I’ll make us some—” Aziraphale cut himself off. “Er. I shouldn’t presume, it’s your flat. Crowley, what on Earth have you been doing to this vegetation?”
“Gardening,” Crowley said. “I’ll make us some tea.”
Usually, when Crowley wanted a cup of tea, he went to the bookshop and bothered Aziraphale, who made sure you had something to drink as a matter of spinal reflex. He did have a kettle and a teapot, though, and a quick perusal of the kitchen cabinets yielded several blends that Aziraphale had gifted him with over the years. Probably because he had said something nice about them. He couldn’t recall.
He put the kettle on. He could have managed hot water instantly through a miracle, but he would have had to draw on Hell’s power to do it.
When he came out of the kitchen, Aziraphale was sitting somewhat gingerly on Crowley's pristine and largely unused sofa, examining the scrap of paper he had salvaged from Agnes Nutter's book. "Do you know what it means?" Crowley asked, sprawling beside him.
"I have an inkling, at least. Crowley, I hate to ask, as exhausted as you still must be, but is anyone listening to us?"
"Nobody can listen to us inside the flat," Crowley said. "They can talk to us through the television, but not eavesdrop. I've put in a bit of effort over the years to be sure of it. Didn't you do the same for the bookshop?"
Aziraphale shook his head. "If Heaven found out there was a spot they couldn't surveil, they would instantly know there was something to surveil. And besides, I kept assuming they were on my side."
“I’m sorry,” Crowley said, rather to his own surprise.
“I mean, I’m not personally apologizing for anything, I just—argh. Heaven has never deserved you.”
“I’ve been a rather bad angel—” Aziraphale began.
“The heaven you have. The rest of them are arseholes—”
“But I’m not sure,” Aziraphale went on, “that’s entirely a bad thing. Except it is a bad thing, by definition, but I’m not sure it’s a bad thing—there’s an unfortunate lack of vocabulary for this particular situation. At any rate, I’d rather have you than be a good angel.”
He didn’t mean it that way, Crowley reminded himself. Sometimes, things that Aziraphale said cut to the bone, and it wasn’t just the times when he expressed his contempt for Crowley, the fraternizing, the it’s over. It was the times when he sounded like Crowley meant the world to him. Because Crowley so much wanted that to be true.
“I don’t know what they’re going to do to me,” Crowley said. Saying it out loud made his stomach do an uncomfortable flip. “It could be eternity in the deepest pit. It’ll be holy water if they can get some, I think. Hell has a rough sense of justice that way. But either way . . .”
Either way, Aziraphale wouldn’t have him for much longer.
“That’s what the prophecy is about,” Aziraphale said. “Heaven will want to be rid of me, and that means ‘playing with fyre.’ Hellfire. They’re going to burn me.”
“And to get hellfire, they’ll have to exchange something with Hell, and that would be the holy water.” Would it be better to just go out, and be nothing, than to face unending suffering? With unending suffering, there was at least the hope that someday it would end, that things would change somehow, but would that illusion make it better, or worse? Add to that the fact that he wouldn’t know if Aziraphale still existed or not . . . “They can’t burn you.” Except, of course, they could. “They think they’re the good guys. Doesn’t that mean anything to them?”
“I think,” Aziraphale said, “they’ll do it, and decide that it must have been a good thing to do because they’re angels. The thing is—” He twisted his hands together. “The thing is—”
“What is it?”
“There’s a way out. Maybe.”
Crowley didn’t expect that there was. Aziraphale probably meant to try to talk to God again, and Crowley knew, too well, that what you got when you talked to God was silence. “Angel . . .” he said gently.
“The thing is,” Aziraphale said, talking louder and faster, “there’s a fairly high chance of simply exploding from incompatible energies, and there’s no guarantee that our bodies would shield us from our respective environments, and there’s every chance that we get caught, and what with one thing and another I couldn’t live with myself, or more to the point, die with myself, if I didn’t at least ask you if I could kiss you.”
Crowley’s brain did what cars did when they encountered a telephone pole at speed. Which is to say, it stopped dead, with all his thoughts crumpling and splintering from the impact. At length, a syllable clawed its way out of the wreckage.
“Nglr . . .?”
It wasn’t a very good syllable.
“I would understand if you said no,” Aziraphale went on, looking at him beseechingly, “and it wouldn’t change a detail of our—our friendship. Because I’ve recently realized that our friendship is the most important thing in my universe. And I’ve never asked if you’re interested in—the various things I’m interested in—and if you aren’t, I can live without them forever. But—”
“Nuh,” Crowley managed, shaking his head slightly. What he meant was, I haven’t said no. Don’t start assuming I said no. Just give me a minute. Maybe several minutes.
Aziraphale, of course, interpreted the headshake entirely the wrong way. “Well,” he said, closing in on himself, “yes, I—I didn’t entirely think so. Forget I said—”
“No!” That was a syllable that made sense. That was good. “I didn’t,” Crowley stuttered, “I wasn’t—I don’t—you can—if you want, I—”
“Are you quite all right?” Aziraphale asked, brow wrinkling with concern.
“I mean,” Crowley said, desperately knitting together the remnants of his thoughts, “I would like—if you want—”
The kettle whistled.
Crowley discovered he had a little power left in him after all when the kettle exploded violently, probably doing a great deal of harm to his immaculate kitchen. The burner, acquiring a minimal sense of self-preservation, quietly turned itself off. He didn’t care about that. He fought off a wave of dizziness—he really was desperately close to empty, if he felt like that. “I would like to,” he said hoarsely. “Kiss you.”
“Oh.” Aziraphale made that expression that made him seem to glow as if the sun had come up—not holy radiance, but pure Aziraphale radiance. “Well then.”
He slid towards Crowley. Crowley sat up and slid hesitantly towards him.
Crowley made a wordless noise of distress as Aziraphale reached for his glasses, and Aziraphale stopped instantly. “It’s all right,” he said, “off or on, it’s all right either way, but your eyes—I like your eyes.”
Crowley didn’t like people looking at him without his glasses. But the soft look in Aziraphale’s own blue eyes said that he meant it, meant it absolutely, and Crowley thought, maybe it would be all right if . . .
He took off his glasses slowly, experimenting with how it felt. Aziraphale smiled at him, and then closed the distance between them, and then neither of them were looking in the other’s eyes.
Crowley wasn’t sure if it was a good kiss or not. Humans had written a lot of poetic things about kisses over the years, and it didn’t live up to the poetry. No explosions, no out-of-body experience. But Aziraphale’s lips were soft, and nice, and Crowley could have spent a year exploring exactly how they were soft and nice, and all in all, he made a small sound of protest when Aziraphale drew back and looked at him. “You’ve never done this before, have you?” he said.
His hand was on Crowley’s face, very gently. Crowley found himself leaning into the caress. “I’ve,” he said, “I’ve.” He should probably say, of course I’ve done this before, I’m a demon, I tempt people, do you think I’ve never tempted people like this? “I—who would I have done this with? Have you? Done . . .”
"Many times," Aziraphale said. "And other things."
"Other—you're an angel!"
"I think we've established that I'm not a very good one." But there was a certain smugness in the way he said it. "You must tell me," he added, with urgency, "if I do or ask for anything you don't want to do. Or even anything you don't want to do yet. The last thing I want . . ."
"Is to go too fast for me?" Crowley said, feeling the full force of the irony. He studied Aziraphale, who was looking at him with utter sincerity. “What happened to you?”
It wasn’t a very specific question, but Aziraphale seemed to understand it anyway. “I suppose,” he said, “I lost Heaven. Or they lost me.” He caressed Crowley’s face with his thumb. “And without Heaven, all I had was you, and the world.” He leaned forward, pulling Crowley’s head down. “And I will,” he murmured against Crowley’s skin, planting tiny kisses along his jawline, “not—lose—”
Crowley shuddered hard as Aziraphale’s lips brushed his name. Aziraphale flinched back. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize—”
“It didn’t hurt,” Crowley managed. It was just—demons’ names were used to summon them, or hurt them, or for all sorts of Hellish paperwork. This was probably the first time in the universe that a demon’s name had been cherished. The bolt of it had gone straight through him. “It’s just that if we go from this—” He swallowed. “If we go from this back to ‘we aren’t friends’ and ‘I don’t even like you,’ I don’t—” I don’t know if I could stand it. Demons weren’t supposed to feel grief, and they certainly weren’t supposed to be broken by it. But the idea of it—even the idea of it.
“I will never say those things again,” Aziraphale promised. It had the weight of an oath.
“Okay,” Crowley said, not feeling suave. “Okay. Yeah. I’m glad.” He leaned his head on Aziraphale’s shoulder. “I’m . . .” More than glad.
“You’re exhausted,” Aziraphale said. “I’m sorry, my dear, I shouldn’t have sprung this on you when—”
“Don’t.” It came out unexpectedly vehement. “Don’t,” Crowley went on, in a quieter tone, “apologize. If this is the last night we have . . .” Then he wanted to be right here, doing this.
“We can switch bodies,” Aziraphale said.
Crowley hadn’t expected that. Anything like that. He drew back a little, but left his arm around Aziraphale. “What?”
“‘Choose your faces wisely.’ I wear your face, you wear mine. I get taken to Hell and doused in holy water, and you get taken to Heaven and immersed in hellfire. Holy water and hellfire work on essence, not form, so we should be fine. We point out that if we can survive that, we might have all sorts of impossible new powers, and do they really want to face them? And then they either panic and throw the full force of Heaven and Hell at us, or they let us leave and count themselves lucky that we don’t bring down the roof on our way out. I think—I hope—they’ll be so shocked that they take the latter option.”
“There are a lot of places,” Crowley said, “where that plan can go wrong.” Stepping into Heaven—would Aziraphale’s body shield him, or would it hurt like holy ground? Surely it would hurt like holy ground. He was a demon. And everything in him fought against exposing Aziraphale to Hell. What if one of them came back and the other didn’t? And—as Aziraphale had pointed out when Aziraphale lost his body—there was a fairly large chance that trying to put an angelic essence into a Hell-created body would blow them both to kingdom come. Kingdom actually didn’t come. Whatever.
“It’s desperate,” Aziraphale admitted. “But nothing like this has ever been thought of, and that gives us a certain advantage.”
“They’ll never see it coming,” Crowley acknowledged, “if it works.”
“Yes. But we can worry about that in the morning. I’m virtually certain that nobody is going to do anything tonight; they’ll be regrouping. And I was wondering . . .”
Crowley tensed slightly. And other things. Aziraphale was going to ask about sex.
And Crowley didn’t know, that was the thing. Did he want sex? What was attraction anyway? Crowley’s fascination with the sounds Aziraphale made on encountering cheesecake, to the point where he had considered blindfolding him and surprising him with cheesecake just to hear the noises—was that sexual? He had known for a long time that he would do a great many things to make Aziraphale smile, and in theory he thought he might like it very much too, but for once in his life, he actually understood what too fast meant—
“I was wondering,” Aziraphale said, “if you would like me to hold you while you sleep properly.”
“I,” Crowley swallowed, “I would like that.”
Aziraphale made a flourish with the hand that wasn’t wrapped around Crowley, and the two of them were clothed in nightgowns that were as archaic as the rest of Aziraphale’s dress sense. With sleeping caps.
Some things, evidently, didn’t change. Even if Aziraphale had, upon abandoning Heaven, discovered there was such a thing as initiative and decided he’d quite like to take some, he still had the fashion sense of a brick. Crowley found his lips quirking into a smile. “Come on,” he said. “Let’s sleep, then.”
And he led Aziraphale into the bedroom.