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these furious passions, these chances

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London, 1941

 

Jesus fucking Christ, he’s in love with Crowley.

Aziraphale claps a hand over his mouth, as though he’s at risk of saying it out loud, all of it—blaspheming and swearing and realizing that he’s in love with Crowley, all in one go. He presses his fingers hard over shock-parted lips.

His other hand clutches the precious satchel of books that Crowley saved for him: Crowley, who knew him so well, who anticipated before even Aziraphale what the angel would need.

Crowley, who went out of his way in the midst of flaming death and possible discorporation to rescue these few fragile objects that would matter to Aziraphale. Crowley, who he hasn’t seen in too long—but who never stopped showing up regardless to save him from the preposterous situations Aziraphale found himself in all too often.

Only Crowley, only Crowley alone of everyone on God’s green earth and above and below it, only Crowley would have known and thought to do this one thing for Aziraphale.

And Aziraphale is suddenly, petulantly, excitedly, fantastically, horrifically, completely and utterly in love with Crowley. Crowley, who is unexpectedly fetching in a fedora.

It isn’t sudden, no, not that. That’s not fair. It’s been there a long time, Aziraphale knows—but it took the scorching heat of a German bomb and the cool leather grip of the bag in his hand to bring it to the surface.

He’s standing still, staring at nothing really save an intense and suffocating love for Crowley, when the object of his affection wheels around.

“What?” says Crowley. “No ride?”

Aziraphale coughs, which he thinks is excused by the dust-clouds arising from the crater of the former church. From a distance comes the banshee wail of air raid sirens. He forces himself through his reverie and makes his feet catch up with Crowley, even if his mind is spinning.

The Bentley is the lone vehicle left gleaming in London, not that the populace can see its sheen or the authorities on the ground track the movement of the car as it glides through broken streets.

Aziraphale sits on his hands. The satchel is wedged in down by his feet, and Crowley is chattering on about this wartime atrocity or that as though no years have passed at all, and Aziraphale has never been happier that he does not actually need to breathe.

By the time they pull up by the bookshop—miraculously whole throughout the Blitz, along with the streets around it—Crowley seems to have sensed that something is amiss. “Aziraphale?”

“Why, yes, dear.”

“We’ve been sitting here for five minutes.” The car has indeed gone quiet at Crowley’s bidding. “This still your establishment?”

“Oh, I,” stammers Aziraphale, “I—I’m sorry, it’s all of the surprises and double-crossings of the evening, and that nasty explosion. My head must be somewhere else.”

Crowley’s eyebrows knit together, as close to concerned as he can come off when hidden behind dark glasses. Aziraphale has missed his eyes.

Christ, fuck, Aziraphale has missed his eyes.

“I’ll see you in,” says Crowley, and when Aziraphale makes only the faintest token noise of oh-really-you-needn’t-bother protest, Crowley comes around the car, swings open the passenger door, and offers his arm.

Aziraphale is terrified to touch him. Aziraphale wants nothing more than to touch him. Staring won’t do any longer, so at last he grips Crowley’s forearm and lets the demon lever him up and out.

“The books,” Aziraphale says faintly, and Crowley, with an indulgent roll of his eyes, fetches them for a second time that evening. He keeps Aziraphale on his arm, the satchel dangling from his hand. Aziraphale is escorted into the shop, whose locks and doors pop open for Crowley as though he lives there also.

(As though he lives there!)

Aziraphale frowns, tries to remember when he gave Crowley such free access. He needs to snap out of this—this haze. This panicked, lovesick state, entirely new—entirely new to acknowledge for what it is.

There’s a war on, for God’s sake. Every war is wretched, but this one has surpassed all others he’s borne witness to in horror and brutality. Aziraphale’s newfound dilemma is nothing, he tells himself firmly. Anyway, there’s nothing to be done for it.

He pulls away from Crowley, and goes to bar the door behind them; it doesn’t occur to him until it does that Crowley might be planning to leave, that Crowley could have somewhere else to go or someone else to see.

Crowley makes no protest.

Aziraphale draws down the heavy blackout curtains next, bustles about to ensure they’re all firmly secured. The shop plunges into darkness, and Crowley makes himself useful by lighting the oil lamps with some pointed snaps of his fingers.

“Don’t like what you’ve done with the place,” says Crowley softly, to break the silence.

Aziraphale almost starts laughing, quite hysterically, and he thinks Crowley might join him. Even after everything they’ve seen over the centuries, these cruel, tragic days weigh heavily, and they’re both worn out, worn thin.

Crowley’s observation verges on entertaining because the bookshop is a sad shadow of itself. There’s thick dust everywhere, and books tilted at haphazard angles. There are holes in the carpets and a menagerie of both washed and unwashed tea-cups scattered about. He rarely if ever opens the store these days.

London is a shell crushed underfoot, its citizens in agony, and it’s all that Aziraphale can do to distribute as many small miracles as he can in a day, to try and alleviate some of the suffering. It’s rather like tossing a stone into the ocean for all the ripple effect; but he tries, he does.

“I was afraid—“ Aziraphale hesitates, goes to rescue a swiftly tilting book-pile before it topples, “—that since I hadn’t seen you, it must mean your side was busy. With this.” A vague, shuddering shrug at where they stand.

“No,” says Crowley, with the grace not to look offended. He seems happy enough to be reunited that he doesn’t wish to jeopardize it with another row so quickly. “Don’t get me wrong, we’re out there, mucking around, but people—people did this on their own. They come up with worse ideas than we ever could down there.” He tilts a thumb floor-wards.

Aziraphale is terribly glad to hear it—well, parts of it—to hear it confirmed, though he’s known in his heart of hearts, that Crowley wouldn’t willingly cause more pain in a world already howling with grief. The sunken, carved-out dread Aziraphale lives with begins to recede, as he realizes that Crowley has been the absent factor.

“Dear boy,” says Aziraphale, unable to swallow it back down. “I’ve missed your company.”

Crowley doesn’t put any real effort into his smirk. It slips, faltering, across his lips. “I’m here now, angel,” he says.

“Drink?” blurts Aziraphale, tripping them over onto well-known ground.

“Thought you’d never ask,” says Crowley. He radiates a relief Aziraphale can’t bring himself to look too closely at yet.

They retire to the shop’s backroom, both toting a lamp. Aziraphale hasn’t kept this space in any better state, but Crowley doesn’t seem to mind. He deposits his lamp on the side table, then shifts a wobbling tower of books from the sofa to the floor without comment. He sprawls on the sofa as per usual, and if there’s less space because of Azirapale’s additional detritus at least Crowley’s sprawl is unchanged. He fits right in amongst the chaos.

Aziraphale pours them two generous measures of scotch while he thinks about that. It doesn’t seem right, during wartime, to indulge to excess in what is so scarce to the citizenry. Everyone else is under rations—he should be no different. He tells Crowley as much as he passes over the drink, trying, and not trying, to brush Crowley’s fingers as he does so, and thus succeeds in nearly spilling it all over him.

Crowley smiles up unbothered, and Aziraphale swallows. “Didn’t expect to get drunk tonight,” Crowley says. “But next time I’ll bring some of the wine I stashed after I learned my lesson during the siege of Paris.”

Aziraphale settles into his armchair, takes what he hopes is a rather measured sip. The burn of the liquor centers him. “What did you expect?”

“Sorry?”

“To come of tonight. Rather big risk you took, you know. Your side is bound to notice such a fiery intervention on your part in the middle of London,” says Aziraphale. He sips again, less measured this time.

“...that blew up a church,” Crowley hastens to remind, kicking out his mile-long legs and crossing them at the ankle. “If they took note, I’m sure they’re thrilled. Probably earned myself a medal.” He swirls the liquid in his glass with an elegant rotation of his wrist. “Told you. I don’t like to see you embarrassed, or discorporated, and you’d gotten mixed up with the wrong sort. The worst sort humans have on offer at the moment. Saw that it was reaching a boiling point, so I intervened. Simple as that.”

“Well,” says Aziraphale.

“Don’t think twice about it,” says Crowley. “I didn’t.”

“It was awfully good—I’m glad you were there,” says Aziraphale. “Bit of a pickle I found myself in.”

“You do enjoy pickles,” agrees Crowley, trying to steer them away from Aziraphale’s gratitude, as though it makes him itch. “Now really—”

“But I must properly thank you for—for the books—”

Crowley is growing less relaxed in his sprawl, shifting away from the lamplight. “Just a little thing,” he says, gone unreadable behind his dark glasses. “You needn’t fuss over it.”

“It meant quite a lot to me,” says Aziraphale. He’s unable to take Crowley’s many offered outs and leave it be.

“Wasn’t—wasn’t my intention,” Crowley mutters.

“What was your intention in doing it, then?” asks Aziraphale, who, instead of swerving away, seems intent on chasing after his doom like a dog after a bone.

“Knew how upset you’d be to find them lost,” Crowley says. “You’d set up caterwauling for the rest of the night and maybe into the next decade about it. Much easier for me to keep them whole than have to listen to that.”

“Mmm-hmm,” says Aziraphale. He’s known Crowley long enough to sense precisely when he’s lying—or at least when he’s not actively telling the entire truth.

The panicked, extremely loud voice that has set up in his mind yelling about being in love with Crowley is now yelling, rather insistently, that Crowley loves him back—that Crowley has loved him for longer than Aziraphale can likely recall knowing him. A hundred thousand small gestures from Crowley over the millennia are adding up into something much, much larger, and they’re unspooling like an out-of-control film reel behind Aziraphale’s eyes.

“Let’s talk about something else,” says Crowley, rather desperately, downing the last of his scotch.

Aziraphale echoes his motion, then fumbles to place his empty glass on the carpet. He needs—

—he needs to have this over and done with, addressed and categorized and put up on a high shelf. It’s an impossible situation that can’t have a proper resolution. And they risk upsetting the Arrangement that has sustained them both so well if they don’t take matters into their own hands and get this ironed out and under control. He’s only just gotten Crowley back.

“It’s come to my attention that I love you,” says Aziraphale.

Crowley freezes in place. He goes so still that Aziraphale wonders if he or Crowley have paused time on instinct to delay the approaching conversation. Crowley’s freeze lasts a few moments longer, and then he says, half-strangled, half a croaked question, “You’re an angel. You love everyone?”

“Anthony,” says Aziraphale tightly, trying out the name, finding it satisfactory for his purposes, and leaving no room for argument, “take off those damned glasses.”

Crowley reaches up and complies after a heartbeat to consider it. His yellow eyes are round in the lamplight, and the emotions behind them are a mix of two that Aziraphale has not glimpsed there before: vulnerable and afraid. A blink and that is hidden, gone; his eyes shutter best they can; he waits.

“Pray let me amend that,” says Aziraphale. “I should have specified. It’s come to my attention that I am in love with you.”

“A—a joke, then,” Crowley tries. “What’s the punchline?”

“I think that you may be in love with me also,” says Aziraphale, deciding to be polite about it and not presume—even though, now that he’s willing to acknowledge it, he can feel love flowing from Crowley in waves so insistent it’s a wonder he hasn’t been bodily knocked over.

“Aziraphale,” says Crowley. He does not, Aziraphale notices, deny it.

“My dear Crowley.”

They sit like that for a precious, golden stretch of time that lasts, when Aziraphale counts, for roughly forty-four seconds. Still, it’s beautiful, it’s perfect, it’s a bright, shining burst of warmth and accord such as he has never experienced and does not think Crowley has either. To love, and be loved in return! There’s a song or seven million about it. He’s never felt so close to human, or so very alive on this earth, or so happy.

He holds this wondrous knowledge close to his heart, and then he folds it up and tries to tuck it away.

“It will never do, of course,” says Aziraphale. “We need to come up with a plan.”

Crowley’s expression shifts from basking snakelike in their new heat to badly scorched. “A … a plan.”

“Certainly,” says Aziraphale. “We’re an angel and a demon. It’s unheard of. It’s distinctly at fault. As soon as the home offices got wind, there’d be—excuse me, dear—hell to pay, and Lord knows what manner of punishment. No, you know we can’t even consider—really, why are you looking at me like that?”

“You just told me that you love me,” says Crowley through his teeth, “and now you’re telling me that you can’t love me?”

“Well, I don’t expect that it will stop,” replies Aziraphale. “No, I’m sure that I won’t stop. But in terms of—in terms of acting on it, Crowley. Obviously, there’s no way. It’s not possible.”

“It’s obviously possible, if I love you and you love me!”

“Shouting about it won’t make this any easier,” says Aziraphale. This isn’t going well at all. He expected that Crowley would like to have it aired so that they could compartmentalize and try to put it behind them. But he should have anticipated that Crowley’s demonic reaction would be anything but practical. To be fair, it’s not entirely practical, on his own end, to feel such a wonderful shiver at hearing Crowley declare that he loves him for the first time, even if his voice is raised rather rudely. Practicality may be headed out the window. “Let me pour you another drink.”

“I don’t want a fucking drink,” says Crowley. It appears to be a night of firsts. He pushes to his feet and starts pacing, making irregular zigzags around book-piles on the floor. “I want to be allowed to be in love with you.” One stack collapses in his wake but straightens itself of its own accord. “Six thousand years, angel. Six thousand years and I hear you say it—and then you say, we need a plan to keep ourselves from—“

“Please,” says Aziraphale, scratching his flummoxed head. “I’m sorry, I am, but surely you must grasp—they’d never let us alone, never. They’d find out, and they’d separate us, and I’d not be able to see you again. You can’t ask that of me. You won’t, I know you won’t.”

“It’s incredible how much you choose not to look directly at,” says Crowley, but his tone has dropped in volume and severity. He sounds sad. “They don’t care about us, angel. They haven’t uncovered the Arrangement after all this time, why do you think—?”

Aziraphale turns his face away and looks at nothing.

“Oh,” says Crowley. “Oh. You think She’d disapprove. That’s it. Can’t go about openly loving the unforgivable. Might Fall yourself, and we couldn’t have that, could we?”

“I didn’t say that,” whispers Aziraphale.

“You as good as did. I don’t follow how you believe She has a plan for everything and Her hand in all of it, and not consider that this is Her will also.”

That gives Aziraphale longer pause; he grapples with it a while. “What She gave is free will, and the ability to know right from wrong, and to make the best decisions,” he manages at last. “An angel and a demon together is intrinsically wrong. That’s just the way of things. It’s unnatural. It defies Her laws. It’s a—a temptation—that’s meant to be resisted. Of course we can’t know Her ultimate plan, it’s—“

“If you say ineffable, I’m leaving and you’ll not see me again,” Crowley snaps, and there’s enough hellfire in his features now that Aziraphale’s stomach plummets. “That will be on you, love, no one else.”

Aziraphale believes him. “Please—please don’t,” he says. “Please sit back down so that we can figure this out.”

There’s a pronounced tension that nearly recoils and catapults Crowley out of the shop. But eventually he lets it carry him in the other direction, where he collapses back onto the sofa. His pose has none of its usual cheeky insouciance. He props an elbow on the arm of the sofa, puts a hand over his eyes and forehead and doesn’t look at Aziraphale.

Aziraphale finds himself helpless to gaze anywhere else. He clasps his hands in his lap to have something to do with them. “Forgive me for starting that so badly,” he says. “I’ve never—it never occurred to me how to have such a conversation.”

Crowley makes a noncommittal sound. Aziraphale says, “I don’t see that anything should have to change. The Arrangement has worked so well for us, and we enjoy each other’s company, yes? Isn’t it comforting to know that we feel the same way? I thought—I thought you’d be happy.”

“I was,” says Crowley, still not glancing over nor removing his obscuring hand. “For forty-four seconds, I was the happiest being in the cosmos. Fucked me right up, it did.”

So he had been counting also. Aziraphale flinches, surprised at how much pain is creeping into the newly-discovered spaces in his heart. Why must it hurt so to pursue the course that is clearly correct by every Heavenly edict?

After some time in the most uncomfortable silence Aziraphale can recall between them, Crowley heaves a sigh, like he’s made it out at last through a difficult maze. “Nevermind. I’m sure you’re right. You must be right. We’ll go back to how it was. We’ll thwart each other’s acts, and when the madness out there is over, we’ll go to dinner, and go to plays and concerts and gallery openings and museums, and sometimes I’ll pop by to save you, and I’ll keep on loving you, Aziraphale, and it won’t matter.”

“It matters to me,” says Aziraphale. His throat feels sickeningly tight. “It matters very much to me. And I will love you in return. Why isn’t that enough?”

Crowley draws his hand away from his eyes. They flash golden in the gloom. “If it were enough, you’d not be keeping us from—how did you so charmingly put it? Ah, yes: acting on it. What’s the use if I can’t tell you all the time, and buy you little things that make me think of you when I’m somewhere else, and reach for your hand under the dining room table, and—”

“Stop,” Aziraphale breaks in, his heart beating too fast. “Just stop it, please.” Crowley does, momentarily; he shuts his mouth, now giving off such intense misery where there had been unbounded adoration that Aziraphale feels it like a blow to his head.

Then Crowley says, “If I could stop loving you, I’d have done so sometime around Mesopotamia.” He’s sunk down into the depths of the sofa, more resigned than angry. “If you think I haven’t tried—tried everything imaginable—even tried to sleep it off once for a century—tried to let you be, until there was some pickle that pressed the matter—tried to tell myself there was nothing for it, because you’d never—there was no way you could ever—” He shakes his head. “It’s worse now, knowing that you can. But won’t. I can’t believe it’s worse.”

“Oh,” says Aziraphale, who has begun, he thinks, to radiate misery himself. “I’m so very sorry.”

“Right, then,” says Crowley. “I’ll be on my way.”

No,” says Aziraphale, so sharply that he startles them both, and Crowley glances at him from behind his shielding hand. “Nothing has to change. Any other night you’d be here until morning, drinking and talking with me. You can’t go now, you simply can’t—”

“Angel.” Crowley has begun to rub tiny circles into his forehead, as though trying to press away a fearsome headache. “I don’t know what you think I am, but I’m not good like you, and I’m not strong enough to sit here at the moment. I promise you, I’ll find a way in the future—I’ll make it back to what we were. But I—you told me you loved me, and I can’t—I can’t even touch you. Can’t hold your hand and say it back properly. I feel like I’ve been run over by the Bentley, then had it reversed a few more times to really drive the message home. At least give me the dignity to go lick my wounds in peace.”

“All right,” says Aziraphale. He bites his lip. The despair coming off of Crowley feels thick in the air, and he wonders how much of his own sorrow and confusion are combining to create an unbearable miasma. “But it’s—it’s not safe out there, Crowley. Stay here tonight, and I’ll go upstairs.”

Crowley raises elegantly arched eyebrows, that seem to say oh, really, might some more bombs drop on me, whatever shall I do, but then all the fight goes out of him and he slumps back with a nod. “Fine. Long enough day as is.”

Aziraphale knows that he should gather himself up from the chair, then, and go upstairs. He’s determined. But the abject wretchedness of Crowley’s hunched figure is too painful to abandon. What kind of angel is he if he leaves someone suffering so greatly? Someone he loves? Especially when it is within his own power to alleviate, at least to some extent?

“You might, you know, at least once,” Aziraphale ventures, and Crowley gives him a confused glance. “Hold my hand and say it back properly, I mean. I don’t see the harm in just this once.”

He watches Crowley’s jaw clench in the flickering half-light. He can sense a gathering storm, and prepares himself for a burst of demonic sarcasm or affront at the suggestion—a suggestion that is, Aziraphale realizes, as cruel as he’d meant it to be kind. He deserves whatever happens next.

To his astonishment Crowley gets up, but not to leave the shop in a huff. He takes the three steps between them in one, then drops down onto his knees before Aziraphale’s armchair. Gently, as though he expects to be shaken off, he reaches for Aziraphale’s left hand and encloses it between both of his own. When he tilts his head up his fathomless eyes are wide and earnest.

“Aziraphale,” Crowley says. “I’ve loved you from the first moment I saw you, and I intend to love you at the last. Loving you changed me. I became better, better than I was even before I Fell. You’re the only one for me in this whole blasted universe, and there isn’t a second I’m not glad of it. If you’ve come to trust me after all this time—trust that I love you, angel, and I’ve tried to love you best I can.” A relieved shiver goes through Crowley, like a crushing weight has been lifted from his shoulders, and then he smiles, a little. “Actually, you know, that felt good to say? Get it all swept out from under the rug. Thanks, I—”

“Kiss me,” says Aziraphale, whose heart is about to beat out of his chest.

Crowley’s lips part in surprise, his cheek reddening as though Aziraphale has slapped him.

“Just the once,” whispers Aziraphale. “It can’t be wrong to kiss me once.”

The conflict on Crowley’s face looks fierce enough to tear him apart. But it only lasts the space of a breath, and then Crowley is surging up against him. He takes Aziraphale’s face into his hands and kisses him as though he has been offered a stay of execution from certain death.

Aziraphale isn’t sure what he expected. Perhaps for a thunderbolt to shoot down from the sky and cut them in half. Perhaps for the heat of Crowley’s mouth to burn him. Perhaps to feel nothing but indulgent curiosity, as he has in every act humans would term sexual or romantic before.

What he doesn’t expect is for his whole body to light up, for every nerve ending, gloriously electrified, to call out for more. What he doesn’t expect is for the press of Crowley’s mouth on his to feel like something that has long been missing.

How could he have spent so many years searching for what he never knew how to have in the first place?

How can Crowley’s tongue, darted furtive between Aziraphale’s lips, then growing bolder, shift the way the ground feels beneath Aziraphale’s feet?

How can Crowley kiss him so carefully, and also with such wild desperation? Crowley kisses him as though the world could end right now and he would be content—

They keep kissing, just like that. It goes on and on and on; Aziraphale’s lips swell from the pressure but that only makes him feel it more. By now Crowley is straddling him in the armchair, settled in Aziraphale’s lap, a perfectly balanced weight, and Crowley won’t stop kissing him.

Eventually—it’s been so long Aziraphale considers, then hopes, that the war outside has ended without them—it dawns that Crowley won’t stop because he’s taken Aziraphale at his word: one kiss. Just the one. If he stops, so does the chance to kiss Aziraphale, and so Crowley doesn’t stop.

Aziraphale’s heart aches for them both, and his body, well—it aches in strange and wondrous new ways. And since Heaven hasn’t struck them down yet, nor Hell cracked open—

He breaks off the kiss, and Crowley gives a muted cry of dismay but holds himself still. Doesn’t try for anything else, shifts his weight as though to clamber away from the chair, and that’s what decides Aziraphale.

“One—one night,” says Aziraphale. He catches hold of Crowley’s wrist. “Can there be harm in a single night?”

“Fuck,” exhales Crowley. The air whooshes out of his lungs like a pinned balloon.

“Yes, exactly,” says Aziraphale, and Crowley blushes. Aziraphale feels himself grin. “Oh, dear, you didn’t mean it that way. You meant it the other way.”

“Angel,” says Crowley, “let me be clear as crystal. I mean it every conceivable way if you’re involved.”

The wave of possessive desire that crashes through Aziraphale is less expected than a lightning bolt, and leaves him reeling. Where did that come from? One thing to love, surely, and another to want to take, to claim.

One instinct is angelic; the other, he’s not so sure of its point of origin. It’s far too dangerous what they’re doing. He should have gone upstairs and left this to settle, but he’s crossed over a line that has become a moat; there’s no going back now that he knows the precise measure of Crowley in his lap.

“One night,” repeats Aziraphale. “Would that help?” What he means is would that be enough, and now the both of them are more than aware of the answer.

“No,” says Crowley, for them both. He reaches up and delicately thumbs Aziraphale’s kiss-swollen lower lip. “But it’s more than I ever thought I’d have. I’ll take whatever you’re willing to give me.”

He will, notes a suddenly sly and distinctly voracious voice in Aziraphale’s head. It’s then he recognizes at least some of this drive: Crowley is the finest of rare delicacies, and Aziraphale is starving.

So: “One night,” says Aziraphale. “With the understanding that it can’t happen again, and we’ll resume our Arrangement in its more standard form.”

“Do you want me to sign something?” asks Crowley. “I’ll sign. Give me the papers.”

“Kiss me again,” says Aziraphale.

This kiss from Crowley is even better. Thrilled, thrilling, joy imparted from his lips where before Crowley tasted of shock and distress despite the heat between them. He tastes better than anything Aziraphale has found on Earth; he tastes of starlight. Greedy for more, Aziraphale finally lets himself touch, slides his arms around Crowley’s waist to pull him closer.

Crowley is gladly tugged in, the hum of his approval against Aziraphale’s lips. Then he settles down in his straddle, and—

“Ah,” says Crowley, expression equal parts stunned and admiring. “That’s, ah. Quite the Effort that you’ve made there.”

“The sight of you like this, the feel of you, inspires,” says Aziraphale, honest. “If you prefer a different bodily configuration, however, that’s easy enough—“

“God—Satan—that shouldn’t sound sexy,” says Crowley, his fingers trailing now through Aziraphale’s hair. He tilts in Aziraphale’s hold to better study his face. “We don’t have to—we can do anything you like, angel. I mean it, anything. I’m yours.” Crowley swallows. “For one night.”

“Yes.” This is their new, temporary Agreement, and Aziraphale intends to abide by it. Even the Lord Herself wouldn’t punish them for one night, he’s all but convinced of it now. I’ve tried so many years to thwart the demon Crowley, and lessen his wily ways, Aziraphale might assert. I thought I’d try a rather more extreme way of thwarting.

Aziraphale’s hands are suddenly busy on Crowley’s clothes, trying to undo buttons and zippers at the same time and making a mess of it. Crowley grins, watches Aziraphale’s fingers fumble. “You know, you could miracle this all away.”

“I’m aware, thank you,” says Aziraphale, now making quicker work of the line of dark buttons down the front of Crowley’s shirt, “only it occurs to me that I’ve wanted to undress you for quite some time.” The shirt parts, showing a tempting slice of Crowley’s abdomen and the shadow of one hipbone. Aziraphale’s pulse quickens. He slides the fingers of both hands under Crowley’s open collar and pushes the shirt from his shoulders.

Crowley twists to help, and then he’s half-naked in Aziraphale’s lap. His pale skin glows in the lamplight, his body lean and strong, the sharp lines of him comprising the finest art Aziraphale has seen. Aziraphale explores every uncovered angle with his fingertips, as though he will be made to redraw this divine geometry from touch alone.

Crowley’s hair is shorn short as is the wartime fashion, the shortest that Aziraphale can recall since Rome, but it is still as silk-soft as Aziraphale could wish when he runs a questing hand through it. Crowley leans back on his haunches, preening a little, as though he knows exactly what he looks like, and lets Aziraphale take his fill of caresses.

“You are so lovely,” Aziraphale says.

“Bugger off,” Crowley says, but there’s no heat in it. “Now you. ’s only fair.” At Aziraphale’s nod, Crowley unknots his tie and starts on his buttons, all deft eagerness. He leans in to kiss each revealed inch along Aziraphale’s shoulders. He spends a while at the dip of Aziraphale’s throat, and Aziraphale puts his head back, eyes fluttering closed, the tender track of Crowley’s lips transportive.

No one has touched him like this—like they love him, like every single bit of Aziraphale must be witnessed and admired. He’s had lust directed at him often enough, he’s had plenty of kisses on his throat, but those were nothing. A simple pleasure to consume, analogous to a pastry from a shop that didn’t specialize in baked goods. Pressure and friction, before. Not adulation. Not this rapturous investigation. It borders on idolatry, Aziraphale thinks. Crowley is worshipping him with his mouth.

A little puffed gasp escapes Aziraphale’s lips, and Crowley pauses. He finds his way back into a proper, traditional kiss—though nothing about them kissing is proper nor traditional—then meets Aziraphale’s eyes.

“All right?” Crowley murmurs, and Aziraphale realizes that he’s interpreted the gasp as dismay instead of desire and affection so deep that Aziraphale thinks his love for Crowley must comprise the very marrow in his bones. “Tell me what you like in this. I want to give you everything I can. But if I’m doing something wrong—”

“You mistake me, dear,” says Aziraphale. “It is more than all right. And it is not too much. It is not enough. I would have all of you.”

“I’m going to need you to be a great deal more specific,” says Crowley. He shifts in Aziraphale’s lap, a suggestive movement that attempts to be casual. “There’s a lot of things that might mean.”

“I mean precisely all of them,” says Aziraphale.

“Go on,” urges Crowley. “Clarify. Devil’s in the details.”

Aziraphale has a veritable feast on display, and he cannot keep his hands off of it for long. He thumbs one of Crowley’s flat nipples, watches in appreciation as the flesh pebbles and peaks at his touch. “I intend to fuck you,” Aziraphale tells Crowley’s nipple, then the other, as he turns his attention toward it. “I’m hoping, very much, to be fucked by you.” He glides his hand up, up, over Crowley’s throat, presses the tip of his pointer finger to Crowley’s lips. Those lips part as Crowley’s eyebrows fly toward his hairline, and Aziraphale pushes his finger into the hot wet of Crowley’s mouth. “You mouth fascinates. Your tongue. I would also see what you can do with them. I expect that you are dextrous.” On cue, Crowley’s tongue, more than a little forked, swirls around the pad of Aziraphale’s fingertip. “And of course, I should wish to taste you in a similar fashion.”

“Mmm-mff,” says Crowley around Aziraphale’s finger, which Aziraphale withdraws after a few more moments of watching it slide, slick and shiny, in and out between Crowley’s rounded lips. Crowley licks his lips thereafter, then tries again: “All in one night?”

“All in one night, yes, I’m afraid,” says Aziraphale, calling himself back to their bargain, and banishing the conjured mental images of laying Crowley in his bed for the stretch of the week, or even the year—the war doesn’t need them, they shan’t be missed—but he pulls himself together. “That is, if you agree?”

“I think we’d best get started,” is Crowley’s answer, “deadlines and all.”

“Indeed.” Aziraphale considers him, suddenly so famished and wanting that the idea of moving anywhere else, of any further delay, seems untenable. “Should you be quite comfortable like this?”

“Like—?” Crowley starts, but Aziraphale is now several steps ahead, banishing all of their clothes in an instant, his hands at the ready to palm the curves of Crowley’s ass as soon as they are on offer. He palms them, then, and squeezes, appreciative, and Crowley nearly upends their chair with his body’s surprised jump.

Crowley recovers fast enough, realizes then that Aziraphale’s cock, long and thick and hard for him, is now between them also. As is Crowley’s, a strained, extraordinary curve, and it’s simple work for Crowley to reach down and take them both in his hand. His beautiful, able fingers bind them together, all matched velvet heat, and he strokes them, once, twice, again.

Aziraphale pushes up into that grasp, his cock against Crowley’s cock. His eyes fix on Crowley’s. While Crowley’s hand moves, they watch each other, amazed and overwhelmed, Aziraphale thinks, in equal measure, at how brain-boilingly good such a simple action feels.

Crowley keeps stroking them. “Aziraphale,” he says after a while of it, as though helpless to do anything else, “if you’d have me—”

“I would,” says Aziraphale.

“Best do it quickly,” says Crowley. “I won’t last. The look of you like that, angel, the way you feel—”

“I should like to have spent a good while at this,” Aziraphale tells him, but he complies with Crowley’s wishes. He seeks the way into Crowley’s body and presses one miraculously oiled finger there. He finds that Crowley has worked miracles of his own, takes his finger, then fingers, easily, enough oil in him that it drips down Aziraphale’s thighs also. He thinks about it staining the upholstery of his—their—armchair, incontrovertible proof that this occurred after the night is over. “I’d have opened you by degrees. Had you feel everything.”

“There’s nothing that I’m not feeling at the moment,” says Crowley. He knees up in the sparse room between Aziraphale’s thighs and the armrests, lifts himself free of Aziraphale’s fingers as though they are an unendurable hindrance. “I’d have you fuck me before you change your mind about it. That’s my greatest concern, if you’d know.”

“Crowley,” says Aziraphale, quite overcome, “oh, my dear, I won’t,” and Crowley coats oil over Aziraphale’s cock, then moves into place and guides Aziraphale inside him. Crowley’s thighs are shaking, with effort or emotion or both; Aziraphale, enraptured, is glad to let him be in control, to have what he would.

Aziraphale holds quite still, watches Crowley’s face as he sinks down onto the first inches of Aziraphale’s cock. Aziraphale’s cock is welcomed into tight, exquisite heat, so tantalizing it’s tricky after that not to thrust up and in deeper, but he grips the arms of the chair and waits, and waits.

Crowley, to Aziraphale’s surprise, is taking him slowly after all his pleas for haste, his expression nothing short of a riot. Crowley’s fingers dig into the top of the chair for leverage, one on either side of Aziraphale’s head, and then he swoops in and kisses Aziraphale hard.

He takes several more inches, and they share a groan; Crowley’s tongue ranges Aziraphale’s mouth, as though it is utterly necessary that they be joined in all places. Soon enough, however, Crowley stops kissing him.

“Oh God,” Crowley says to Aziraphale’s cheek. “Oh, God.”

Whether he’s realized his blasphemy or not, whether it’s intentional or not, Aziraphale has in that moment forgotten how to care, because right then Crowley is fully seated, and all of Aziraphale is buried in him. Time seems to spin out of alignment, flows around their armchair like rushing water around a rock, while they stay fixed in place, staring. How long they remain like that, Aziraphale cannot guess.

It feels like nothing he’s experienced, all other unfortunate lovers rendered into pale ghosts, because it seems to Aziraphale then that he and Crowley have always been joined like this. Instead of a new discovery, it is a retrieval, a piecing back together of what they already are. It is not an indulgence but a completion. There are many jagged edges in Aziraphale, parts of him that have never made sense, made him into something so different than his fellows. All is explained as Crowley fits against him, as Aziraphale fits within Crowley, as their broken edges meet and make them seamless.

No wonder they functioned so poorly when apart. No wonder the world found occasion to throw them together, again and again and again, century after century, even when they tried to stubbornly go their own way. They are, it seems, intended not to be two, but one.

Time resumes when Crowley lifts up and then lowers back down, much faster this time. It’s almost jarring after what Aziraphale has discovered, even if the motion spikes pleasure through to his core. Aziraphale feels that his jaw has dropped and he closes his mouth with a click. He reaches and cradles Crowley’s cheek in the palm of his hand. Crowley works his marvelous hips faster, as though he might dissuade Aziraphale from saying anything about it, but Aziraphale says, “My love—”

“Don’t,” snarls Crowley then, demon-quick. He fucks himself on Aziraphale’s cock, his speed breakneck now, like the pace might carry them both away, but it’s shudderingly spectacular, and Crowley succeeds only in heightening their pleasure triple-fold. “Fuck. Fuck. I knew, I always—but—you said. It isn’t supposed to be like this.”

Aziraphale gives him a rather dazed smile. “What is it supposed to be like?”

“Not this,” says Crowley. “We aren’t supposed to have this. Fit. You said so.”

It’s then that Aziraphale realizes his fingers on Crowley’s cheek are wet. He smooths the escaped tears away. “But I have you now,” Aziraphale tells him. For emphasis he takes Crowley’s cock into his other hand, feels the rock-hard silk of it, makes a fist and learns the length of him. “I love you. I never won’t.”

Crowley’s answer is an exhale and a moan bound up tight, and he rides Aziraphale yet harder. His hips are perfect pistons, infernal machines, and the tight, slick grip of his body on Aziraphale’s cock is nothing short of rapture. Now Aziraphale thrusts up to meet Crowley’s descent, sheaths his cock somehow still deeper, then deeper still. If he could he would capture the look on Crowley’s face in oil on canvas to keep it for the rest of his days.

Once Aziraphale learns just how Crowley likes best to be stroked, it’s easy, so very easy, to push Crowley all the way to the brink and over it. Crowley comes with an exclamation of astonishment and praise, stripes Aziraphale’s chest and belly in liquid white. Aziraphale keeps moving his fist on Crowley’s cock, selfish for more, greedy for it, and Crowley gives a shaky laugh.

He clenches on Aziraphale, brings Aziraphale closer to the quick, then to Aziraphale’s chagrin stops moving. He balances over Aziraphale with only the head of Aziraphale’s cock still inside.

“You’d tease me now?” Aziraphale demands, too frustratingly close to his own reward to remember magnanimity.

“Would I?” says Crowley, but he’s climbing off of Aziraphale, the loss of him almost too much to bear. Aziraphale makes an undignified sound, then watches as Crowley, with supple grace, slides to his knees between Aziraphale’s spread legs. The sight of this naked kneeling is unexpected, and it encourages Aziraphale rather than allows his ardor to flag. Crowley’s face is upturned to him, hair dishevelled, his mouth very red. His yellow eyes are enormous, black-flooded with satisfaction. “Here, angel. Like this. I want you to. Mark me.”

“Mark you,” says Aziraphale, so they’re clear, but he’s already taking his cock in hand. Crowley’s intention is all too evident, and now all too easily done; Aziraphale has been ready to go off, he thinks, since the first touch of Crowley’s lips to his. “Mark you. Perhaps not. But paint you—”

Aziraphale gives over to the build of it then, sparked at the last by the needful flash in Crowley’s eyes. He comes hard, biting his lip so as not to cry out or say anything irretrievable, though he can’t swallow Crowley’s name. Crowley’s name spills out of his mouth in wonderment as he spills over Crowley.

Crowley closes his eyes, his face far too serene for the circumstances, as the warm pulse of Aziraphale’s seed lands across his cheeks and nose, his lips, his lips that part, eager to receive it. Aziraphale’s essence drips in Crowley’s hair, on his forehead, his chin, and Crowley smiles full-bodied, eyes still closed, tongue impertinently flicking out to taste.

“Oh, my,” says Aziraphale, somewhat startled at himself in the aftermath, but Crowley looks so pleased that it’s impossible to feel any regret. Instead Aziraphale runs his thumb over Crowley’s cheekbone, smearing a pearlescent line there and marveling at his composition. Crowley turns his head and kisses Aziraphale’s fingers.

“Well,” says Crowley. It’s strangely not awkward in the aftermath, it’s peaceful, blissful, as though within the bookshop the world is briefly made right, even while all is aflame beyond it.

“Well,” agrees Aziraphale. He feels euphoric, better than he ever has, fiercely glad that they’d brokered for the whole night together instead of a single round. He’s already ready for more, if Crowley is, knows that this has awakened the insatiable part of his own nature. Could keep going and going and going, on and on, so long as Crowley’s eyes and Crowley’s lips are before him.

“I’d say that was a success,” says Crowley, now—oh—now dragging his own fingers through the stunning mess Aziraphale made of him, then sticking them into his mouth, the image of debauchery. He does that a few more times before he deigns to miracle it away. “Sofa?”

“Yes,” says Aziraphale, warmly relieved to have a direction to go in. They transfer to the sofa, Aziraphale reclining first, then Crowley crawling over him. Crowley settles at once into the arms that Aziraphale wraps around him, Crowley’s cheek pressed to Aziraphale’s shoulder. The sofa is rather too short and narrow to lie comfortably, but it grows around them, lengthening, widening. Aziraphale isn’t sure which one of them does it or if they do it at the same time.

“My dearest,” murmurs Aziraphale into Crowley’s hair. He has a strange thought, half-terrible, half awe-inspiring, that if a German bomb should fall now and find them here, it would be no great hardship. If Aziraphale were to discoporate right at that very moment, he would not mind, save the difficulty of knowing whether he might find Crowley again.

This latter thought makes him tighten his arms around Crowley. “Tell me you’ll stay safe,” Aziraphale says, veering from their current pursuit. He follows the theme. Narrows his eyes. “Those Nazis knew your name. They knew your name, Anthony, before I ever did. Why did they know your name? ‘Your fame precedes you.’ What does that mean?”

Crowley gives an amused sort of grunt against Aziraphale’s neck. “That’s what you’re thinking about? Nazis? I must be losing my touch.”

“Really, Crowley!”

“Oh, it’s all right, angel. They’re a pack of rabid dogs, them. Nothing I can’t handle, and they’re like to tear themselves apart first. I think it’s great fun to watch their shitty plans crumble, so I’ve been on the front lines of helping with that. Some British counterintelligence, some time at Bletchley Park, a little jaunt over to France every now and then to help stir up some Resistance. Fomenting chaos as I go. All pretty standard. You needn’t worry.” Crowley’s voice is light, but theatrically so, false-sprouted cheer.

“Crowley,” says Aziraphale again, and this time he strokes his hand up and down Crowley’s naked back. “Really.”

Crowley quivers against him like an instrument being tuned under Aziraphale’s fingertips, and then all his strings go slack. He turns his head on Aziraphale’s chest. Meets his eyes.

“I want it over,” Crowley says flatly. “I want this war over and done with, and I’m afraid it’s just getting started. It feels like the end of the world is coming.”

Aziraphale sucks in a shocked breath. “Has—is the Antichrist—?”

“No, no. Nothing like that. None of the Great Plan. Just humans figuring out how to murder each other with staggering efficiency. It’s going to get a lot worse before it gets any better.”

Aziraphale breathes more evenly again, tries to quiet his ratcheted-up heart. “You could—you could stay here for the duration,” he hears himself say. “Use the bookshop as a meeting-place, an office, base of covert operations, whatever you need. I never open anymore, not really. I don’t think either of our sides would notice, everyone’s so caught up—”

“No,” says Crowley, but he’s gentle about it. “My thanks, but I think we both know that isn’t possible. One night, and back to how it was before.”

Aziraphale swallows, his throat tight. One more week, perhaps, he wants to propose. One year, he wants to say. One whole war. One lifetime. Another, and the one after that. I didn’t know, Crowley. I didn’t understand what it would be like. I didn’t know what we were. The words are so thick in his mouth as to be unspeakable. He’s going to choke on them, drown in them on dry land.

“I’m sorry,” says Aziraphale instead. He’s lost track of his apologies tonight. “I shouldn’t have suggested it.”

“‘s all right,” says Crowley. “Isn’t it interesting, us being on the same—to be assisting the same side of things, for once. Even Hell has no use for Nazis. We’ve been pitching them into the pits for now.”

“Yes,” says Aziraphale, cautiously feeling his way through it. “Interesting indeed.”

“Anyway, enough of that,” says Crowley. “I believe we have a more pressing matter at hand. The clock is ticking.”

“Yes,” says Aziraphale, with a good deal more feeling. “Yes.”

That’s all Crowley needs to hear. He slips from Aziraphale’s grasp but doesn’t go far, ends up sitting on his knees between Aziraphale’s legs. He trails long fingers, silk-light, up the inside of Aziraphale’s leg, then higher, and Aziraphale obligingly makes more room for him to settle there.

“Do you remember the first human you took to bed?” Crowley asks.

“I—pardon me?” The question is so unexpected that it takes Aziraphale a moment to parse it, as though Crowley has spoken in a language other than English. Aziraphale blinks at him. Crowley ducks down and kisses his navel, dips his tongue there.

“Do you?” Crowley’s query, like his tongue, is persistent.

The truth is that Aziraphale does not. There have been so many intriguing faces over the millenia, sweets tasted for a night, as recalled as one remembers any meal. Some few stand out as particularly decadent or delicious; others not quite worth the time it took him to indulge. Most are settled in his memory in a sort of warm glow, largely unexamined, not pressing, but still a part of him. Aziraphale purses his lips, absolutely not pouting as he thinks about it.

“I do,” says Crowley. “I saw when you went off with him. It was in Jerusalem, before Golgotha. A singer of songs or storyteller, I believe. Charming. I didn’t fault you then, and I wouldn’t now.” His mouth moves lower along the swell of Aziraphale’s belly, ignoring the hardening jut of his cock to veer down over one flank. Crowley’s pointed teeth skim his skin.

“I really don’t see how—”

“Thing is, he was hard to miss,” Crowley tells the tender flesh of Aziraphale’s thigh. “Tall, he was, and red-haired.”

“Oh,” says Aziraphale softly, then “oh,” as Crowley licks a line up to the very center of him.

Crowley’s eyes, yellow gold in the faint light, flicker up from between his legs. “I don’t think you’re aware of how many people you’ve let into your bed with my coloring,” he says. “I used to try and keep a tally, but I kept running out of room.”

Aziraphale bites his lip. It’s true, he sees the parade of them then, it’s astonishing, breath-stealing, all-reason-defying that he had refused to examine the pattern. “Forgive me,” he whispers.

Crowley’s eyebrows go up while his tongue is quite otherwise engaged, and Aziraphale’s whole body bends toward him like a pulled-back bow.

“There's nothing to forgive,” Crowley says a few moments later. “It used to give me hope, you see. I’d let myself think, on occasion, that your body wanted me, even if your mind was entirely unclear about it.”

Crowley,” Aziraphale says. He feels on the verge of tears, on the verge of laughing helplessly, torn asunder and then cleaved apart as Crowley’s tongue presses inside him. “My dear, I did, I did want you, I think I have, for a very long—I’m sorry I—oh, oh, oh—I do, love, I do want you, please—”

If Aziraphale has been rolling about in bed with redheads in full-blown denial, Crowley also has occupied himself quite a bit elsewhere. His tongue is practiced, masterful, sly as anything. He tongues Aziraphale open with languid laziness, as though they have every night in the universe left to them, then switches to a quick-dart recklessness, delving and electrifying his very depths.

Crowley goes back and forth in his technique, feeds previously unknown fires of pleasure only to wet them down, and Aziraphale begins to think that this way lies madness.

Aziraphale’s voice grows hoarse pleading with him. He’ll beg him to stop, that he can’t possibly take any more, but soon enough he’ll be wailing for more, more, Crowley, please, please, I need it, I need you, you couldn’t possibly deny me—

It’s the opposite of how Aziraphale took him. Crowley makes of him a slow-savored meal, an entire banquet, sampling Aziraphale lick by lick, bite by bite, swallowing him down in increments. It’s the first time he has ever seen Crowley feast.

By the time Crowley moves back up over him, Aziraphale is unthreading at the seams, his heart beating out of control, eyes streaming with tears. Crowley pulls free his fingers from where he has spent so long stretching Aziraphale without respite that Aziraphale could be fucked, he thinks, by a whole phalanx of Crowleys and not have nearly enough Crowleys to get through the night.

“Tell me,” Crowley says, his tongue flicking out to taste the salt on Aziraphale’s cheek. “I need to hear it, angel.”

That Crowley could be the one needing at that juncture makes Aziraphale writhe, until he remembers through his lust-fogged brain that Crowley has spent six thousand years hoping.

“I am very much in love with you,” says Aziraphale, chest heaving for more air. “I want you to fuck me. Please, Crowley, darling.”

For half a second Crowley closes his eyes, as though committing that to sense-memory, and then he opens them, his eyes locked on Aziraphale’s as he moves to thrust in. His cock is so hard that Aziraphale gasps at the unyielding demand of it.

Aziraphale’s head is soon thrown back and his back arched up to take Crowley all the way. The length and girth of Crowley’s cock seems shaped for both unparallelled, gorgeous torment and its relief, as though Crowley knows just how much Aziraphale needs to be satisfied.

Yet thoughts of torment go out the window when Crowley starts to move. He rocks into Aziraphale, slow and sweet, taking care to strike just at the flint deep inside Aziraphale, until all Aziraphale can see are sparks.

Crowley does that again and again, unerring, undeterred in this pursuit, so persistent that Aziraphale stares up at him, dazed, hardly registering how it is he’s coming without warning already. Aziraphale comes untouched save for the slick drive and drag of Crowley’s cock. He claws at Crowley’s back, demanding answers. Crowley smiles, and kisses him, and keeps at it.

No one has loved him like this and will not again, Aziraphale knows. He asked to be fucked, but that isn’t what this is. Crowley is possessing him, not in the way that is covetous, or demonic, but rather filling him up entirely, flooding into each and every corner of Aziraphale. Crowley’s body covers his just exactly, his hips at work between Aziraphale’s trembling thighs, his mouth on Aziraphale’s, his tongue on Aziraphale’s, his hands full of Aziraphale’s skin, grasped everywhere, always finding a new place to reach and claim.

Aziraphale isn’t sure what he expected—only not this. Crowley had surely earned a hard, punishing fuck, should he have wanted it, could have used Aziraphale as he pleased. Six thousand years of thwarted love and lust practically demanded it.

But what seems to please Crowley is a purposeful merging, a melding, each bare inch of them blended. Aziraphale feels a sharp burst of his earlier revelation, that they are better as one than two, more resilient together than apart.

A spiralling, speculating portion of his brain begins to wonder if what Crowley is doing is grinding away all of the barriers between them until there will be nothing left to distinguish who they are, just two souls melted back down to the essence of a single soul, holding fast lest they be pried apart again.

On a level, Aziraphale knows that’s ridiculous. Anyone who happened upon them in the shop just then would see what’s occurring in plain terms: Crowley atop him, anchored by the clutch of Aziraphale’s thighs, Crowley slow-thrusting. Aziraphale given over to groans and gasps, not even trying to suppress his volume as Crowley continues to wring every aftershock of perfect pleasure that he can out of Aziraphale.

They make for an erotic tableau, but do not, otherwise, give any indication that they are being soldered together, soul-deep, except perhaps in the way their eyes meet and do not once look away, nor blink, since they do not need to.

How long they go on like that, Aziraphale will never be able to say. He loses count of how many times Crowley makes him come, until he stops trying to count at all. Neither of them has ever been with another who can match them in celestial biology, and there seems to be no logical reason to stop when their bodies have no logical limits.

All that is human about their forms is that sweat runs over them, that Aziraphale’s belly between them is slick with seed, that between his legs he is wet to dripping and full with Crowley’s spend. Crowley had asked, the first time, if he could stay inside him to find his release; and Aziraphale was unable to answer out loud, could only pull him farther in, cinch his legs around Crowley’s back so that there was nowhere else for Crowley to go, kiss Crowley breathless and past all want of breath.

After that Crowley does not ask, but seeks his end in Aziraphale, over and over, making up for too much lost time while they try to stave off the approach of day.

So it becomes a reality that they are forged together—everything about them is mingled: bodies and breath, sweat and tears and seed, blood from bitten lips. It is an old cliche, Aziraphale knows, to question where one of them ends and the other begins; he does not question it, for they are without separation, without delineation, without end.

Oh. Crowley is speaking into his ear, urgent-voiced, when his teeth and tongue are not teasing Aziraphale’s lobe. Crowley is saying, “Please don’t,” and that brings Aziraphale back up from where he’d been submerged. He tries to focus.

“What, my dear?”

“Please don’t ask me to stop, angel, I can’t,” says Crowley. “You’ll have to be the one to do it. I thought I’d be able to, but I can’t. I can’t.”

When Aziraphale focuses further he sees that Crowley’s expression is torn up—part ecstasy, part agony, while his hips move, and his cock thrusts true into Aziraphale. It has been many hours like this, and while their flesh—and their will—is willing, Aziraphale becomes aware with creeping dread that outside it must be morning.

Crowley drops his head to Aziraphale’s shoulder, and Aziraphale reaches to run fingers through Crowley’s sweat-drenched hair. He understands what Crowley is asking for: just as when Crowley thought that all they would share was a single kiss, and so sought to kiss Aziraphale ceaselessly, Crowley cannot be the one to finish this, to break them back into pieces. He will, Aziraphale knows then, keep going and going and striving within Aziraphale, for as long as Aziraphale permits it—Crowley would keep them just like this.

Aziraphale has learned, too late, that he would also. But he made a bargain with Crowley, and, for all purposes, with God. She has not yet punished them for this night; Aziraphale will not—cannot—test the limits of Her mercy.

And so, although it wrenches him apart in too many ways to count, he is the one to stop them at last, since Crowley asks it of him. He takes one more joyful flowing over for himself, carving into his heart what it is to have Crowley in him like this, what it is to be loved so much. He kisses Crowley’s swollen mouth to taste them both there, to remember what they are.

Then he sets gentle but firm hands to Crowley’s hips—these hips that he has gripped all night, that will bear his marks for days thereafter—and he stills Crowley’s relentless motion. He eases Crowley back, and out of him, curls his hand around Crowley’s cock, impossibly slick, hard as it was when he first pressed into Aziraphale. Crowley does not help, but he lets himself be moved. His face is mashed hidden against Aziraphale’s neck. His shoulders are shaking.

Aziraphale does not think he can survive the sight of Crowley’s tears at the loss of them, and Crowley must have similar thoughts, for he does not raise his head. Instead, Aziraphale strokes Crowley’s cock, his fingers tightening, whispers in Crowley’s hair, “One more time for me, my love. I want you to think of nothing else but my hand on you. Can you feel that, Crowley, how hard you still are, how perfectly you slide in my grip? Give over, dearest, take this from me, and let me have you once more.”

He brings Crowley off with agile twists of his wrist, pulls the last hot spill of Crowley from his lovely body to wash against Aziraphale’s chest and stomach. Crowley comes with a soundless shout, his mouth open and panting on Aziraphale’s neck, his hands closing convulsively on Aziraphale’s arms, Aziraphale’s thighs, all of Aziraphale’s body that yields so readily to the dig of Crowley’s fingers.

There’s nowhere to go after that, nowhere good, so they lie collapsed together for too long.

Into the silence Crowley says, “I love you, Aziraphale. I love you.”

“And I, you.” It’s so easily said. So incomprehensible to know how to live.

“Thank you,” says Crowley, and he draws himself up and away. Their bodies are loath to unseal, skin clinging to skin, but another blink and they are both clean and clothed, and Crowley is able to shift to the foot of the sofa.

Aziraphale had rather intended to remain in the state they made together for a good while longer, but he knows Crowley’s little miracle to be the prudent one. He sits up also, finger-combing his hair into order and trying to ignore the feeling that the whole world is teetering on the brink for reasons that have nothing to do with the war.

“Please don’t thank me,” says Aziraphale. Then all at once he is pulling at his own hair rather than smoothing it down. “Oh, Crowley, I can’t bear it.”

Crowley looks over at him, cants his head. With a jolt Aziraphale realizes that his glasses are back in place, obscuring his eyes. If Crowley had begun to plead that they not be put back in their former configuration, Aziraphale thinks he might’ve stood stubborn, resolute, with a resistance to push back against, something to be self-righteous about.

But Crowley sitting quiet and coolly resigned has the opposite effect. It slices Aziraphale to the bone, spills out his innards. He will become undone, watching Crowley prepare to walk away like he promised.

“Sure you can,” says Crowley. “We had a bargain. I’m a demon of my word.”

“But,” starts Aziraphale, his eyes entirely too wet, “but we didn’t know. How we would be. That was—that was—transcendent. Maybe—perhaps I was wrong and you were right all along, and we’re meant to—“

“Let me stop you there,” says Crowley. He’s near expressionless with the glasses on, and Aziraphale has to dig his fingernails into his palms to keep from leaning over and snatching them straight off Crowley’s nose. “I need to make two things clear.” It’s not a good sign—it’s a horrible sign—when Crowley turns and reaches for his jacket, slung abandoned over his arm of the sofa hours before. “One. I knew, angel. How we would be, if we ever got here. I’ve always known, and I agreed to one night just the same.”

He puts on his jacket. Summons his hat to his hand from wherever it’d made off to. He doesn’t put it on, but holds it in loose fingers.

“Two,” says Crowley, “I need you to be as sure. It’ll half kill me to leave you now. But that will be better than watching you try and convince yourself to be with me while you keep looking over your shoulder. This has to be what you want, not what you might get away with.”

Aziraphale is cut clean open, all his insides out, and he feels hollow, numb. He casts his eyes downward, castigated. His tongue feels sizes larger, won’t work, can’t speak the words that could convince Crowley to stay, because he doesn’t know them yet.

Crowley nods. Jams his hat on his head like armor. Gets up, the shifted weight on the sofa cushions jostling Aziraphale as badly as a blow. But Crowley isn’t gone yet. Crowley’s coming towards him. The least Aziraphale can do is tilt his head back and gaze up.

“Meant what I said,” says Crowley. “I loved you at the first, and I’ll love you at the last. I don’t mind waiting, now that there might be something to wait for.” He bends in and kisses Aziraphale, too light to feel more than the barest sweep of his lips.

Aziraphale wants to seize him by his lapels and drag him in and never let him go, but his fingers twitch, frozen. Crowley nods again, straightens up, makes for the doorway.

Aziraphale panics. Say something. Anything.

“Crowley,” manages Aziraphale at last. “Thank you for the books.”

Thank you for waking me up with them. Thank you for bearing with me after it took a satchel and an exploding church to realize what I’ve known since the beginning.

Wait for me.

All of this goes unsaid, but Aziraphale desperately hopes that he will hear it regardless.

Crowley turns back to him. Tips his hat. Then he goes out through the darkened shop. Aziraphale hears all the locks pop open for him, as though he lives there.

Aziraphale sits alone for a long time. When he gets up, he follows in Crowley’s path. He throws back the heavy blackout curtains from the windows and brings in as much sunlight as he can. Today, he thinks, and from then on, he will open up the bookshop for the broken city.

 

 

 

The Present Day

 

Dessert is reduced down to crumbs and the champagne is drained away at the Ritz. It is the finest meal of Aziraphale’s vast, lengthy life.

Actually, he supposes, this life is quite new. He might never have made it back to Earth in a body all his own, but Adam gave him a second go of it.

Everything, thinks Aziraphale, as he watches Crowley over his last sip of champagne, is very old and very new.

It’s inevitable that Crowley will offer him a lift. It may be the case that for once they have nowhere in particular they need to be, but some things do not change, and Crowley is functionally incapable of not offering to take Aziraphale wherever he wants to go.

Once or twice over the years, this very generosity and double-edged intent of action nearly caused them to upset the bargain they struck long ago.

The great majority of the time, Crowley kept his word. During the war, he’d returned to Aziraphale’s shop with his bottles of stashed wine not two weeks after their night. Conversation flowed as though nothing had happened—though Crowley passed the evening perched at Aziraphale’s desk, like he could not safely sprawl across the armchair or the sofa. Aziraphale had miracled away the signs of them, but both knew they were still there.

Time wheeled on, and Crowley had, once or twice, seemed to test the waters. “Anywhere you want to go,” he said, and Aziraphale was forced to hurt both of them badly, lest all be lost: “You go too fast for me.” A soft-voiced stab of a reminder. He was still too much in the habit of looking over his shoulder. And again, decades later, with the ridiculous plea for them to escape to Alpha Centauri. There’d been no way, then.

But everything is different now. Very old and very new. A side all their own.

Aziraphale sets his champagne glass neatly in place beside the empty tea cup. “Perhaps you could give me a ride home,” he says. He intends, now, to try and stay a step ahead of Crowley at their game.

Crowley tips his head so that his glasses slide down his nose. He seems incredulous to be beaten to the punch. “Eh?”

“If it isn’t too much trouble,” says Aziraphale, dabbing his lips with his napkin. Outwardly calm, his heart in his breast is racing a mile a minute.

“Think I can pencil you in,” says Crowley.

The radio is turned off in the car, which renders the thud of Aziraphale’s heart treacherously loud. It’s astonishing that Crowley cannot hear it; it is all that Aziraphale hears. He sits on his hands.

When they pull up at the shop, Aziraphale says, “Drink?”

“I’ve been known to,” says Crowley, and he puts the Bentley into park. His mood is light, teasing; good. There will never be a better day than this one, thinks Aziraphale, the day that they chose each other.

Crowley, with his longer legs, reaches the door first. All the locks pop open for him, as though he lives there also.

Aziraphale steps in directly after him. The way the door is closed goes like this: Aziraphale reaches out, grabs Crowley by the collar, hauls him back against the door, and kisses him as though they’ve defied Heaven and Hell and won.

Since that’s the case, it is a very, very enthusiastic kiss. Crowley’s mouth opens against his in surprise, then in unabashed welcome. Aziraphale reclaims that precious space that has so long been his with his tongue, both hands caught up in Crowley’s hair. This feels like the safest spot for his hands to go, lest they roam too far before Aziraphale has a chance to sort out what he needs to say.

Aziraphale kisses him, and kisses him, refuses to let up or move back even for air, glad that breathing for them is an ornamentation. The single kiss goes on in such a way as to recall their first.

For Aziraphale, at least, the sensation of it— the shock of recognition, the way the Earth had moved under his feet because Crowley was kissing him—it is never far from his mind. He tries to return some of that revelation now.

This time it is Crowley who pulls back when their lips are kiss-stung and sensitive, Aziraphale who almost cries out in dismay but keeps himself quite still. Crowley hasn’t moved from the door, doesn’t try to push Aziraphale away nor try to touch him. His hands are balled fists, restrained.

“Angel,” Crowley says in a scraping voice. “What’s this, then?”

“Anthony,” says Aziraphale. “If you would kindly remove those glasses.”

It’s a softly pitched request—Crowley doesn’t have to—but then he does, he does. The glasses fold into a pocket. Crowley’s eyes are nearly all serpentine, a sign that he’s concentrating so hard on something that’s not his corporeal form that his eyes have decided to revert without the rest of him. He waits.

That propels Aziraphale over. “No more waiting,” he says. “None. I’m quite sure now. I’m entirely decided. I’ve never been so certain about anything.”

“You’re—you’re going to have to expand on that for me,” says Crowley. “It’s been a long time since we’ve talked about anything of the sort.”

“My dear,” says Aziraphale, “since then, we’ve never talked about anything else.”

It’s true, and Crowley knows it. Uncountable conversations have been exchanged between them in the interim, useless interchanges. Utterly meaningless when compared to the unspoken dialogue they maintained with looks and glances, the brush of a fingertip or the graze of an arm, their eyes in communication constantly.

But Crowley has more than earned the right to hear it said aloud—for Aziraphale to speak the words he didn’t have until today.

“I was wrong about near everything I said that night, save that I was in love with you, and would remain so,” says Aziraphale. At Crowley’s indrawn breath, Aziraphale reaches for one of his hands, carefully opens the clenched fist finger by finger. “I know I’ve behaved abominably where we’re concerned. I don’t—I don’t deserve you, Crowley, after the way I acted. But I don’t believe I can live without you, not for another minute.”

Crowley is fighting a losing battle to keep his expression neutral. It’s melting like a lit candle, the shield of his cynicism burning away under the heat of hope. But he says, “How—how is it you’re sure?”

“There are too many reasons why I love you to name within the next six thousand years,” says Aziraphale easily, because that’s the case. He slots their fingers together. “The events of the last few days were also rather persuasive in this direction. But the final piece, if you’d know, was when the prophecy came to me. She knew. Four hundred years ago, Agnes Nutter already knew what we would be to each other. What we would be willing to do for each other, and how that was our only way to survive. Don’t you understand what that means?”

“Please, enlighten me,” Crowley drawls, but his fingers close with promising fierceness around Aziraphale’s.

“We were always supposed to end up here,” says Aziraphale. “Together. The only true prophetess Earth has ever had, and she set down, in her way, that we—an angel and a demon, hereditary enemies—would have to switch our faces so as not to be destroyed. How could that be written if it were not—if you and I loving each other was not part of the plan all along? No one knew of the Arrangement save us. Not a soul on Earth, or in Heaven, or in Hell. We should have been strangers in Agnes Nutter’s world. But she knew, and she foresaw.”

“Huh,” says Crowley, squinting as though to see far-away text more clearly. “Hadn’t thought about it like that.”

“Bugger if I know if it’s the Ineffable Plan, or another plan, or our plan, that we set in motion the moment we met,” says Aziraphale. He knows he’s winning ground when Crowley grins in delight to hear him profane ineffability. “And I won’t presume to know Her will. But frankly, I think She’s chosen to stay out of it.” He tilts up to steal another kiss while Crowley considers this. Aziraphale can almost see the sleek modern machinery of his brain whirring.

“The will that I presume to know is my own,” Aziraphale goes on. He’s come to the crux. “And I want nothing so much as you. I want us. I love you, Anthony J. Crowley, and I never won’t, and it’s about damned time I did something about it.”

“Aziraphale.” Crowley’s throat works on a hard swallow. His eyes are incandescent.

“My dear Crowley.”

Now forty-four seconds tick by, then fifty, then a full minute. Two. Three. Five. This time they aren’t counting, entirely too busy kissing to be bothered. It becomes apparent that they might never make it away from the doorway, so fast is their reunion commencing there.

Aziraphale only just manages to say, between frantic kisses he isn’t sure which of them is more responsible for, “Sofa. Quickly.” Then, as he’s tugging Crowley along with him across the shop: “I’d like to make a bargain.”

Crowley blinks sideways, his mouth twisting into a half-smile. “What do you propose?”

“Why, I haven’t done that yet,” says Aziraphale, beaming back beatifically as Crowley nearly trips on the carpet. “No, I think we had best start again with having you stay the night.”

“Ah,” says Crowley, the smile flattening back down to a line. “I can abide those terms.”

Aziraphale all but throws him down onto the sofa. Follows after, straddles those thrice-damned hips. “And the night after that,” he says.

He kisses Crowley’s neck, his throat, the hinge of his jaw. “And the night after that.”

Kisses Crowley’s mouth, warm and wondrous. “And the night after that.”

Crowley’s arms wrap around him. How perfectly they fit into place, as though Crowley’s arms are meant to encircle him. Like they are.

“All nights,” says Aziraphale. “Every night.”

“An expert negotiation, well-argued,” says Crowley. He starts to undo the buttons on Aziraphale’s vest with a sly miracle while his arms stay fixed. He's smiling again, ear to ear. “Persuasive. But that’s an awful lot of nights to barter for, angel. What do I get in return?”

Aziraphale pauses midway in kissing along Crowley’s jaw. He lifts his head. “Let’s go upstairs. Come to bed, and I’ll show you.”

“Sold,” says Crowley. “You’ll find the papers already signed.”

Happiness such as Aziraphale has not seen on him before brightens Crowley’s beauty into splendor—never has it been more clear that he was an angel once.

But Aziraphale prefers him just like this. They are not of Heaven, or Hell, but of Earth. They are as it should be. As it was written. As they began to write together and now will add to chapter by chapter by chapter. It started, fittingly enough, with a satchel of books.

They go upstairs. It’s at least a week, by Aziraphale’s rough estimate, before they come back down. Crowley offers to drive Aziraphale to breakfast—a table has just become free at The Wolseley. Aziraphale kisses him, takes his arm.

It’s Crowley who reaches the door first. All the locks pop open for him, because he lives there.